ISKCON Derire Tree's Posts (13817)


Maharaja was hospitalized Sunday 3 May 2020 and diagnosed with encephalitis on Tuesday 5 May. According to the physician, his present condition is not life-threatening, and his health has significantly improved. He went into rehab Friday 15 this week. The rehab may take a prolonged time of therapy.

Maharaja had been living at his disciples’ house near ISKCON Abentheuer Goloka Dham since 17 March. From then on to the time Maharaja went to the hospital, he complained of increasing weakness of the memory, loss of cognitive abilities, and dizziness.

During the first week of Maharaja’s hospital stay, communication with him was difficult due to the disease, but has improved since about May 11. A Prabhu calls Maharaja every morning and cooks for him, and the communication is becoming more and more normal. Maharaja is feeling inspired about again associating with disciples and friends. He has also regained some of his mobility.

We are praying for Maharaja’s speedy recovery.

Your servant Vaidyanath Das


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A young person called on the phone: ‘I feel awful because I haven’t read many Hare Krishna books, and others have read so many. It makes me feel really bad. What should I do?’

There are many ways I could have answered this question theologically, and have in the past. It is a question that I had to answer for myself, many times. However, consider for a moment what type of relationship this young lady had with herself. Take a moment with that.

‘Not a good one’ I assume you may have thought. It is a ‘learnt’ relationship where in a situation of difference, she turned on herself like an upset parent ashamed of their underperforming child. In the mirror of herself, she was not enough, she was ashamed, and her soul felt unhappy.

When I asked her to imagine herself in years from now, to be her wisest compassionate self, how might she speak to this sad girl? In that moment she spoke perfectly, ‘I would hold her and tell her that she is a beautiful person, that I understand her pain and that everything will be okay. She mustn’t feel bad about herself’.

A watershed moment arrived with the glimpse of hope, an insight to where the problem was located. Not outside in the world of comparative objects, but rather inside in learnt behaviour. Somewhere at sometime she was made to feel so bad about herself, especially when compared to others. In moments that now reflect the same, the response was unconscious and immediate–’I feel bad about myself’.

Just imagine, Krishna is the ability in everyone that surrounds us. Wherever there is skill, talent, competence and wonder, it is a tiny spark of His unfathomable splendour. In what way could I ever compete, and by what standard is that to judge myself! I am a particle of that Divine Being, surrounded by his manifest potencies, in which, and if I surely look closely enough, I shall find Him. Through theology we can understand something of ourselves, but it is only by love or bhakti that we can grow. In committing to such a belief, it must inform how we then relate to ourselves.

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When there is no other glimmer of light
And the clouds of illusion cover my power of sight
Your every word illuminates my path from within
And You give me the faith to let my journey begin
When the unceasing rain of this world starts
It drips through the holes in the ceiling of our hearts
Yet You embrace me in Your pages
Under the protection and shelter of the great sages
I have given You my trust
And You have gently cleared my heart from dust
The turn of each page gives me life like Krishna’s loving gaze And for that, my dear Bhagavatam, I give You my praise
May I surrender to each word
May each pastime reveal the spiritual world
May I spend my life being guided by You
Because I realize that no one can love like You do
As every lovingly devoted soul prays
We learn and hear about how Krishna plays
I beg my mind never strays
And that my simple faith in You always stays


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By Madhava Smullen 

After suffering from increasing dizziness, weakness of memory, and loss of cognitive abilities, guru and GBC Bhakti Bhusana Swami was hospitalized on Sunday May 3rd in Germany. On Tuesday May 5th, doctors diagnosed him with a type of encephalitis, which causes inflammation of the brain. 

According to Bhakti Bhusana Swami’s disciple and servant Vrajendra Kumar Das, Maharaja is now on the gradual path to recovery. 

“His present condition is not life-threatening, and his health has significantly improved,” Vrajendra Kumar says. “He will go into rehab on Friday May 15th. The rehab may take months of therapy.” 

No one can visit Maharaja in the hospital due to strict COVID-19 restrictions, and he can be contacted only through Vrajendra Kumar Das and Caitanya-lila Dasi.

During the first week of his hospital stay, it was reportedly difficult to communicate with Bhakti Bhusana Swami due to his condition, but his communication abilities began to improve around May 10th. 

Vrajendra Kumar Das calls him every morning and cooks prasadam for delivery to the hospital. As Maharaja’s condition improves, he has expressed that he is looking forward to reading Krishna book with his disciples again. He has also regained some of his mobility.  

Meanwhile, his godbrothers and fellow GBC have requested devotees around the world to pray for his speedy recovery.

Bhakti Bhusana Swami was born in Germany, but spent part of his childhood in Chile. He met Hare Krishna devotees in in 1968, and was initiated by Srila Prabhupada during the ISKCON Founder Acharya’s first visit to Germany. 

After his time in Germany, Bhakti Bhusana Swami traveled within the (now former) communist countries like Poland and parts of the former Soviet Union. He opened many temples and outreach centers in Germany and the former communist countries where he was stationed. After relocating in 1981 to Argentina, he found himself in another dangerous destination as the country was under military rule. Bhakti Bhusana Swami continued to share Krishna consciousness with the local people despite the threat of danger and many obstacles.

In 1982 during a visit to India he was awarded the sannyasa order. In recent years Bhakti Bhusana Swami was focusing primarily on sharing Krishna consciousness in South America. He gives discourses in Spanish, German and English languages and is an initiating spiritual master within ISKCON.

A GBC member since 1987, Bhakti Bhusana Swami is the zonal secretary for Paraguay and acts as co-zonal secretary for El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Venezuela, Belize, Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Colombia.


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HG Parijata mataji, the moderator in Mumbai, introduced Maharaj first to the Zoom audience.

Facebook Live: Click here

In these times especially when we are dealing with this crisis and lock down, devotees hardly get to meet anybody, they don’t go outside, they have no visitors and we are isolated from the outside world. What can be more joyful than to have your spiritual master, your spiritual mentor, your spiritual teacher come and connect with you and it is this joyful experience that we are going to talk about today. In relation to this very special and unique home visits that maharaj is conducting in relation to temples and devotees’ homes. So before we speak to maharaj and we have some questions for him, we would first like to hear from him and get some guidelines, some inspiration which will help devotees to feel uplifted spiritually. Hare Krsna maharaj!

HH Jayapataka Swami: You see, the authorities say that fear and anxiety are a bigger danger than the disease. So I thought I should speak first to my zone and also to different continents where I have many disciples. So I give a brief introduction about COVID-19. Then explain how there is no allopathic treatment, no vaccine yet. We have some alternative treatments which we are trying and so far looks promising! And then I tell them to use this opportunity to read books, chant Hare Krsna and preach, using the internet they can preach. Some places they have Bhagavad-gita courses and 300, 500 or even thousands of people participate. So to use this opportunity, have japathons, have various programs, and then I would start visiting the different devotees. You know, many times devotees ask, I could visit their house. But actually it is very difficult. But by Zoom I could visit hundreds and hundreds of houses! And you know, people become really excited! I enter their houses, I see their altar. Sometimes they offer me arati, sometimes they offer me prasadam. I say that Zoom prasadam is low calorie, high love! Ha! So some people offer me garlands. Later on I ask them for their realizations. They say that is a very high point in life. They always wanted me to visit their house. And I came by Zoom! So I go everywhere. In Zoom sometimes we are waiting, waiting, waiting. We go by the names we see on the screen, we say the name, they realize I am watching, and they say now maharaj is in your house! And they raise their hands! And they are all excited! To make the devotees happy, what else is a better purpose of life? So like this we try and use this lockdown period. In the mornings I talk with countries in the east – Thailand, Malaysia, Australia, Singapore. In the evening, with countries in the West.

Parijata mataji: Maharaj, you have always been so pro-active in the media and it is so happy to see the devotees and they themselves are so happy to see you. So what is the most compelling factor that inspired you to start the home visit program?

HH Jayapataka Swami: I want to inspire the devotees to do some preaching. So meeting them and talking to them and also hearing from them of the different programs that they were doing. It was very enlightening. So it became a natural thing. It evolved. All the sannyasis, GBCs, gurus should also do this and see how their altars, how the devotees are, they feel very inspired!

Parijata mataji: Maharaj, do you feel a difference in your relationship before you started this program when there was before COVID when you were connecting to devotes by email or Facebook or even face to face, versus now when you have the home visit programs? Do you feel this has enhanced your connect to your disciples and devotees?

HH Jayapataka Swami: Certainly. I gave a program in Bengaluru. There were 3000 devotees there. So I gave a class. But devotees couldn’t speak to me much. It was a massive program. Here when you go on Zoom, each devotee family, we are talking to, face to face. Maybe 30 seconds or so. But that time they value very much! It is a personal time for them in their house! So I think for the disciples when they see me in big crowds, it is a little personal thing they appreciate a lot. And also it reminds me of them, I see how they are Krsna conscious and how their house is. How the deities are.

Parijata mataji: With the program being such a huge success, how do you feel? Would you like to continue this even after the lockdown? How do you see this program going forward?

HH Jayapataka Swami: During the lockdown devotees are all day long in their house. I would like to do this program even after lockdown but I could do it weekends or nighttime. But now I can do programs in the morning and evening. Plus meetings, classes. Today I had morning, TOVP Exhibits meeting, Eastern India Additional Council Meeting, then COVID-19 prasadam distribution meeting, then Caitanya Leela class, now we are doing this program. All day long process. So sometimes I do some exercises.

Parijata mataji: So besides this program being a big part of you connecting, I think it is one of the biggest medium through which you connect to your disciples and well-wishers, but you have so many of them across the globe. Would you also like to share what are the other ways you also connect? So many numbers, you probably have hundreds of devotees writing to you, wanting to get inspiration from you. So besides this program is there any other form of communication, any modes of communication you follow during this lockdown period?

HH Jayapataka Swami: Email, also with the help of UK disciples, Satyamedha Gauranga das, I have E-care program. Keep track of my devotees, aspirants and it is just rolling out now. And we are trying to integrate that as part of caring for the devotees.

Paritjata mataji: Besides connecting with disciples or well-wishers do you use the social media now connecting with leaders, mangers and for other managerial purposes?

HH Jayapataka Swami:: Like today I had a Eastern Indian Additional Council meeting with all the temple presidents of eastern India. And earlier this year I had a meeting with All India leaders using social media and Zoom. So now since we cannot travel, we use internet to have our meeting with our leaders. So in Delhi they are distributing 500,000 plates of prasadam every day. We are not able to distribute that much. We don’t have that much finance. We are in the village. But we are giving 5 or 6 thousand a day. Also giving grains to the Visnu temples in the area, to different Gaudiya matts and temples which are poverty stricken. Srila Prabhupada said that we should try to unite the Saraswat family. And he said, no one in a ten-mile radius around our temple should not go hungry because is the Father of everyone, Hindus, Muslims everyone! So in the presence of the father, the son should not go hungry!

Parijata mataji: Thank you so much maharaj for giving us an insight into this unique program and I think our viewers will now be curious to know how the program works. And we are very fortunate because maharaj has actually agreed to do a live with us! So we are actually going to do home visits and you can be part of that. Today maharaj is going to be visiting the homes of devotees. We are now on this journey with you and many devotees waiting to meet you today!


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Krsna consciousness is not a dreamy state of mind. Krsna consciousness is about realism. It is about actually seeing things as they are. To understand things a little deeper, then a little further; it is about looking up a little bit beyond the clouds. To actually see what is behind, and so on. Where is all this energy coming from? Even when we stand in front of the ocean and witness wave after wave washing ashore and we also notice that there is a powerful wind behind it, but where does all this energy come from? The sun is shining, but where does all this energy come from? All these planets are rotating, but where is all this energy coming from? And we feel dwarfed in front of a mountain, but what is a mountain in front of a universe? And what is a universe in front of many universes? How can we conceive the opulence of nature? And where does all that power come from? It always recalls the understanding of a Supreme Lord, a Supreme Controller. And when we come to the point of swallowing the bitter pill and actually accepting that we are not the Supreme, it hurts a little, but what to do? We are always inferior to the Supreme Lord, ouch! And when we actually come to the point that we are bowing down to Him, then everything finally starts to work!


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It was like the meeting of the brahmins, only some brahminswere not Vedic or even Hindu. Yesterday evening I was on the call with faith leaders of different backgrounds. Our subject was “Our Stronger Together Interfaith Zoom Gathering.” It was the coming together of groups from Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism and Hinduism and it was accomplished by way of zoom. Kevin Moore of the United Church was the convener and we spoke about the pandemic and how to respond to it. In other words, what are the different groups doing about it. I represented the Hindu community particularly for the Regent Park area.
It is encouraging to hear what goes on charity-wise, especially in the area of feeding folks in need. Each leader was actually a presenter keeping to the theme “From Our Hearts to Our Actions.” The allotted time for presentation was from 3-5 minutes. That ended up being a kind of joke being that almost everyone went over time. I guess each and every one takes pride in their services to others. The caring nature of the session was quite uplifting and I’m looking forward to a future venture as well.

Now I’ll let you see in part of my presentation. I expressed the need to not only tell my congregants but to whoever can be inspired to do so, to build up your immunity and strength through walking outdoors. “To combat the little demon, Covid, we require to work on resilience.” I felt passionate about saying and doing so. When you’re strong you can help others.

I did what many people do in our neighbourhood—walk the service road along the railroad tracks.
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I am 63 years old and this is first time I can remember to get locked down like this from a pandemic as covid19 outbreak. Spiritual life is as it is a social isolation unless it is for preaching purposes. Spiritual life is internalization, doing all the external activities for internal transformation. We want to find ourselves free from the bodily influence, gross and subtle as well. That way lock down is providing all day the opportunity for self- examination and self- improvement. Also the lock down has brought in many things positively in the outside world which our preaching couldn’t make it happen. From preaching Individuals take up lessons voluntarily but it isn’t official or state policy, the effects of preaching are generally not wide spread.

May be that Krishna has forced it on us and Krishna is giving us the exposure of what life can be all about. Life can go on with or without work, with basic necessities of life. In Lock down, what they haven’t locked down were vegetables, medicines, provisions and lock down has closed down cinema halls, sports stadiums, clubs, liquor shops and transport across the country (public transport esp, buses, trains and flight services). They allowed the agriculture and dairy industry to go on with their production. This is the point, we only need milk, vegetables, grains and dahls. Not even the fast food items which business is all closed down. Air, water, sound pollution has come down or almost nil. This is what happens when majority of people practice Krishna consciousness. The industry, the mega construction, the factories all were shut down. Because of lock down, these artificial needs and non- essentials were not available and which were harmful to health and health in general has improved. The hospitals were all shut down but patients weren’t suffering. This means the medical lobby was unnecessarily investigating and prescribing and this has stopped. Overall, simple living is enforced by the lock down. Devotees could happily realise this. We don’t know how the public felt all about this. Because they don’t have spiritual education or practices, they must have felt forced situation on them.

In the fear of contracting the illness, people have taken to better standards of cleanliness like taking bath, changing clothes, no open coughing or sneezing, confining the effects using masks etc, using more of ginger, black perpper, lemon, lavang, and turmeric which are natural antiseptics and immune boosters. Indians have also understood why Hindu traditions follow foot wash when coming home, not using shoes inside the house, using cow urine and dung to clean the surroundings, why during the occasions of birth, death, periods in women isolation is observed. Upper class people were keeping lower class people at a distance, not allowing them to mix freely. It isn’t discrimination but keeping hygienic standards. Later it has become a perverted practice of discrimination, because it was based on birth and both so-called high-class birth or low-class birth were all of low class standards only for want of spiritual education and training.

As devotees, we feel, we do take lessons from effects and practices of the Pandemic, avoid all unnecessary demands in life, save time to spare for spiritual awareness and advancement. We pray that after lock down also if people can avoid smoking, liquor, meat and sex and crime inciting cinemas, casinos, clubs, commercial sports industry, commercial hospital industry etc. it is good to emphasize on simple remedies for common ailments. Minimize or avoid gambling industry. Give more emphasis to the fields of agriculture and cow protection. In both these life line activities, avoiding artificial ways of enhancing production by using chemical fertilizer and pesticides is suggested. Not making agriculture a corporate industry but decentralizing it to individual farmers that way engaging the bulls for tilling and transport. This will enable using the cow urine and dung fully and not sending the non-milk yielding cattle to slaughter house.

Even without pandemic, devotees are in lock down mode only as the devotees are against the abuse of material sources of mother earth or consumerism of money mongers and sense gratifiers. Lock down time, we are able to give quality time to our spiritual sadhana esp kirtan, chanting and reading and maintaining our places with cleanliness and punctuality.

Pandemic has shown us overwhelming need of Krishna conscious preaching, the scope and practical benefits and a philosophy to live for in life. Of course the preaching, because of social distancing has gone to a new dimensiondigital or online praeaching like, zoom, twitter, face book, u-tube etc. people are already addicted to these things for getting spoiled, now the devotees can spread the message of Krishna consciousness and give sastric direction to society at large. A special note to India is that, in BJP Governance and shri Narendra Modi stewardship, sanatana dharma as practically and authentically shown by srila Prabhupada is the best alternative way of living and being scientific can have universal appeal and the devotees have to preach vigorously leaving the rest to Krishna. With social distancing and lock down over long periods, there is jolt in the material relationships and attachments of people and this is a plus point for Krishna conscious preachers.

Although everybody was giving many ideas how to deal with this pandemic, as Srila Prabhupada said only invocation of Krishna or God with nama sankirtana is the unfailing and positive approach to the present fearful condition of world.

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ISKCON Chennai has organised an online summer course for children on the theme – Covil 10 – Ten Temples of India (The Tamil word for temple is Covil). It’s going very well. The course will stretch to 30 days.

It’s very simple to do this course. Marketing happens with devotees forwarding news about the course to their friends, relatives and colleagues on social media. After children register, all you need to do is create a WhatsApp group and post the materials. One dedicated person is enough to handle it.

This is a very good method of outreach especially at this time when children are locked in. It will also help you raise funds for your temple. We are taking a registration fee of thousand rupees per child here in Chennai. Since the parents wanted, we are doing online sessions also. We have registered two hundred children in Chennai.

The program has been extended to children of Mayapur for free. We are very happy to hear that the 50 children of the SMIS are really enjoying the program and their parents are very happy.

These are the features of the program.
1. Mangalacharan prayers
2. Hare Krishna Japa (each of the 26 videos encourages the children to chant by giving one glory of Hari Nama in very simple terms)
3. Story (theme is “Covil 10” – Ten temples of India)
4. Bhajan
5. Drawing based on the story
6. Craft connected to the story
7. Quiz connected to the story

Please contact me if you are interested in doing this program and in using these materials. Just connect your children preaching leader with me. Thank you.

In your service,
Tarini Radha Devi Dasi.

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Hear from one of our GBCs as he shares some of his insights about the COVID pandemic, his unique way of connecting with devotees, keeping in touch with temples within his zones, and continuing to overcome personal challenges as he continues with all his duties.

Friday, May 15, 2020 at 11 AM Eastern US time, 8:30 PM India time

Live on Facebook 

(To see this event time in your zone, go here)

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Kirtan musician, Jahnavi Harrison and popular singer, Willow Smith have teamed up to release a new song entitled ‘Surrender (Krishna Keshava)’. The piece is a rendition of the sacred prayer for protection and shelter purportedly sung by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as he walked the length of India. This is a first time collaboration for Jahnavi and Willow, who met last year and share a belief in the power of music to heal, uplift and raise consciousness. ‘We had started it some months back, and had planned to revisit it at a later date,’ says Jahnavi. ‘When the world situation rapidly declined due to the coronavirus, we made a special effort to complete and release it, as an offering to the world during these challenging times. The prayer seems especially meaningful right now, and we hope that this song offers some heart relief to everyone who hears it.’ The track features vocals, guitar and violin by Jahnavi and Willow, bass guitar by Kishore Murti das and production by Shammi Pithia. The cover art was created by Mumbai based calligrapher, Jayant Silva, whose unique work features the Sanskrit lyrics.

Audio: kirtan by Jahnavi Jivana dasi.mp3

To listen to the complete track:

For a full list of all music links check here:



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Among the most striking of these passages from the Vedic sastras are the following:

In the Kali Yuga, wealth alone will be the deciding factor of nobility [in place of birth, righteous behavior or merit].And brute force will be the only standard or deciding what is righteous or just.

Mutual liking [and not family pedigree, social status, etc.] will be the deciding factor in choosing a partner in marriage; cheating will be the order of the day in business relations; satisfaction of sexual pleasure will be the only consideration of male or female excellence and worthiness; and the wearing of the sacred thread (Yajnopavita) [and not pious behavior or Vedic or Shastric learning] will be the outward index of being a Brahmin.

In the Kali Yuga, only one quarter of each of the four feet of Dharma [penance, truthfulness, compassion and purity] remains. And that too goes on decreasing day by day while the feet of Adharma [unrighteousness] increase greatly. So that in the end Dharma becomes extinct.

In that [Kali] age, people will be greedy. They will take to wicked behavior. They will be merciless, indulge in hostilities without any cause, unfortunate, extremely covetous for wealth and women. High social status will be attained by Sudras, fisherman and such other classes…

When deceit, falsehood, lethargy, sleepiness, violence, despondency, grief, delusion, fear, and poverty prevail, that is the Kali Yuga…

…mortal beings will become dull-witted, unlucky, voracious, destitute of wealth yet voluptuous, and women, wanton and unchaste.

Countries will be laid waste by robbers and vagabonds; the Vedas will be condemned heretics; kings will exploit their subjects, and twice-borns like Brahmanas will only think of the gratification of their sexual desires and other appetites.

Celibates [of the brahmacarya ashrama] will cease to observe their vows of study, purity and celibacy; householders will take to begging [instead of giving alms]; hermits [of the vanaprastha ashrama] will resort to villages [leaving their retreats in the forests]; and sannyasins will be extremely greedy for money. [ In short, the whole system of the Varnashrama Dharma will have broken down.]

Petty – minded people will conduct business transactions and merchants will be dishonest.

In the Kali Yuga, men will abandon their parents, brothers, friends, and relatives. They will occupy high seats [and pulpits] and will [pretend to] preach religion.

People will have their minds weighed down with constant anxiety and fear. This will be due to devastating famines and heavy taxation. The land will not grow food-crops, and the people will always be in fear of impending droughts. ( Bhagavad Gita 3:24, 25, 30-3, 35, 37-9)


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By Chaitanya Charan das

Speaking on the Mahabharata outside Bharata – at Princeton
During my visit to Central New Jersey, 2016, Govinda Prabhu and I spoke at Princeton University on the topic of “Tragic Hero? Lessons from the life of the Mahabharata character Karna.”
Vineet Chander (Venkat Bhatta Prabhu) serves as the Director of Hindu Affairs at Pinceton University; and he had invited me to speak on this topic. Later, it turned out that Govinda P was also there in Central New Jersey at the time of my program. So, both of us were asked to speak together.
I found it striking that while I have spoken at many colleges in India, I have never spoken on a directly scriptural topic in an Indian college. And yet here I was in an American college – and one of the world’s top colleges at that – speaking on an openly scriptural topic. What was even more intriguing was that nearly 50% of the audience was non-Indians – professors and students of South Asian religions.
Addressing the negativities that befell Karna, Govinda Prabhu spoke on how we all need to look for opportunity more than for sympathy. Addressing the Karna-Duryodhana friendship, I spoke on how a low self-esteem makes us emotionally vulnerable to be manipulated by whoever seems to offer us respect. I largely spoke on the points I have written in my question-answers on Karna below.

The audio-video of the talk is available here:
After the talk, on seeing the intense interest throughout of a pan-Indian and a non-Indian audience, I felt reinforced in my conviction realized that sharing life lessons through epics comprises an appealing and powerful way of connecting scriptural wisdom with people’s practical concerns – a way that we bhakti teachers need to tap much more effectively.

The Mahabharata is a fascinating book with many of its characters not clearly black or clearly white, but multiple shades of grey.

Karna is an intriguing character – virtuous, yet choosing the side of the vicious Kauravas; born as a warrior, but treated lifelong as charioteer’s son; great archer, but defeated and killed in a fight with another great archer.

Let’s see where he falls on the spectrum of black to white through a series of question-answers.

[For those new to the Mahabharata, here’s a brief introduction of Karna:

Karna, a prominent warrior in the Mahabharata, was born to Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas. As he was born through a mystical union of Kunti with the sun-god before her marriage, the maiden mother couldn’t take care of him. He was raised by a charioteer family and so was known as ‘a charioteer’s son’, not receiving the respect accorded to warriors. Nonetheless, he became a formidable archer and was befriended by the evil Duryodhana, who offered him a kingdom. Karna joined Duryodhana in many of his machinations against the Pandavas, eventually fighting on his side in the Kurukshetra war. He was killed by Arjuna on the penultimate day of the eighteen-day war.]

Was Arjuna’s killing Karna when he was chariot-less not unfair, being against the kshatriya codes?

The unfairness had begun from the Kaurava side decades earlier when they tried to poison Bhima and burn the Pandavas alive.

In the Kurukshetra war, at its start the commanders of the two sides had agreed upon the codes to be followed in the war. Dhrishtadyumna, the Pandava commander, had declared that their side would not break the war codes first, but if the Kauravas broke those codes first, then the Pandavas would not let themselves be held back by the war codes.

In the ensuing battles, the kshatriya code that a chariot-less warrior should not be attacked was violated first by the Kauravas’ side. On the thirteenth day, six of their maha-rathas including Karna ganged together to kill the chariot-less Abhimanyu. So, Karna simply reaped what he had sown – he violated the code first by attacking the chariot-less Abhimanyu and was paid back in kind, as had been agreed at the start of the war.

And the unfair attack on Abhimanyu was not a one-off incident on the part of the Kauravas. On the fourteenth day when Arjuna was striving to fulfill his vow to kill Jayadratha by sunset, his horses got exhausted, and needed rest and water. While Krishna decided to lead the horses away, Arjuna had to get off the chariot. Even on seeing him chariot-less, the Kaurava forces did not stop attacking him. To the contrary, they attacked him with greater ferocity, hoping to fell him in his dangerously disadvantaged condition. Still Arjuna held them back with his expert archery while simultaneously using mystical weapons to arrange for shade and water for his horses. In an all-out war, quarters are rarely given and Arjuna didn’t ask for them – neither should Karna have asked.

Karna himself violated that specific code on the seventeenth day during his confrontation with Arjuna. When Karna sent an unstoppable mystical weapon at Arjuna’s head, Krishna forcefully pushed the chariot into the ground so that the arrow hit Arjuna’s crown instead of his head. Arjuna’s life was saved, but his chariot got stuck in the ground. While Krishna jumped off the chariot to get it out of the ground, Arjuna was disadvantaged with an immobile chariot. Karna still attacked him and Arjuna didn’t ask to be spared, but fought back and defended himself.

So in the final confrontation, Karna’s reminding Arjuna of the kshatriya code was hypocritical. When Karna tried to take the high moral ground, Krishna exposed him thoroughly by listing all the times when Karna had paid scant regard to morality. Krishna’s fitting riposte silenced Karna whose head fell in an admission of his guilt.

Krishna deciding to illustrate the principle of shatho shathyam: with the cunning, one can be cunning, asked Arjuna to shoot Karna. By countering Karna’s arguments, Krishna had signaled to Karna that Arjuna would not desist from attacking. Karna could have taken that as a warning, re-mounted his stationary chariot and resumed fighting – or he could have fought from the ground itself, as had Arjuna on the fourteenth day. His neglecting Krishna’s warning was a monumental blunder that cost him his life.

Was Karna a better archer than Arjuna?

Let’s look at the relevant incidents in the Mahabharata.

1. The first Karna-Arjuna encounter was in the martial exhibition organized by Drona to showcase the skills of his students, the Pandavas and the Kauravas, for the pleasure of Hastinapura’s leaders and citizens. In that exhibition, Arjuna excelled all till Karna gatecrashed and demanded a chance to exhibit his skills. When granted that chance, Karna equaled the performance of Arjuna, though he had initially claimed that he would surpass Arjuna. Then, Karna asked for a chance to duel with Arjuna, but while the logistics were being worked out, the sun set and the duel couldn’t take place.

Result: Draw. Score: Arjuna – 0, Karna – 0

2. When Drona asked that as his guru-dakshina, his students defeat and arrest Drupada, the Kauravas sped off accompanied by Karna. But Drupada at the head of his forces defeated them. Then the Pandavas led by Arjuna attacked Drupada’s forces, and Arjuna defeated and arrested Drupada, doing what Karna couldn’t do.

Result: Arjuna demonstrated his superiority. Score: Arjuna – 1, Karna – 0

3. During Draupadi’s svayamvara, when Arjuna, dressed as a brahmana, won the princess’ hand, the kings felt that Drupada had insulted them by giving his daughter to a brahmana instead of a kshatriya. So they attacked Drupada. To defend their father-in-law, Arjuna and Bhima intervened and held the kings back till it became a face-off: Karna vs. Arjuna and Shalya vs. Bhima. While Bhima bested Shalya, Arjuna more than matched Karna, who thereafter decided to desist from the fight, saying that he would not fight with a brahmana.

Result: Draw. Score: Arjuna – 1, Karna – 0

4. When the Pandavas were living in exile, Duryodhana, at the instigation of Karna, decided to rub salt into their wounds by flaunting his wealth in front of them. But some Gandharvas who were sporting in that area blocked Duryodhana. In the resulting confrontation, the Gandharvas defeated the Kaurava forces, wounding Karna and causing him to flee, and then arresting Duryodhana. Later, when some Kaurava soldiers appealed to the Pandavas for help, Arjuna routed the same Gandharvas who had routed Karna, and released Duryodhana.

Result: Arjuna again demonstrated his superiority. Score: Arjuna – 2, Karna – 0

5. During the Virata battle, Arjuna fought single-handedly against the entire Kaurava army and defeated all the Kaurava generals including Karna. This was the greatest solo performance in the entire epic.

Some people argue that this contest did not accurately reflect their skills because Karna had not carried his Shakti weapon. But who is responsible for Karna’s not carrying the weapon? Isn’t a warrior expected to carry his best weapons when going for war? (Imagine a batsman after getting clean bowled for a duck in a World Cup final rationalizing his cheap dismissal: “I got out because I forgot to carry my best bat to the crease.”) And Arjuna did not get his formidable array of weapons for free – he performed severe austerities in the Himalayas to appease the gods and painstakingly add each powerful weapon to his formidable arsenal.

Result: Arjuna won fair and square. Score: Arjuna – 3, Karna – 0

So, even before their final decisive confrontation on the seventeenth day of the Kurukshetra war, Arjuna had unambiguously established his superiority.


Was Karna superior to Arjuna because he alone conquered the world for Duryodhana, whereas the four Pandavas together conquered the world for Yudhisthira?

Let’s first look at the incidents in question. When the Pandavas were in exile, Karna conquered all the kings of the world and with the tributes from them helped Duryodhana perform a great sacrifice called the Vaishnava sacrifice, somewhat similar to the Rajasuya sacrifice that Yudhisthira had performed earlier. For that sacrifice, Yudhisthira had sent four brothers to conquer the four directions.

Do these two incidents demonstrate Karna’s superiority? No, because Bhima during his eastward conquest had come to Anga and defeated its ruler. Guess who? Karna, no less. So if Bhima whose archery skills were not as good as Arjuna’s defeated Karna, how can Karna be considered better than Arjuna?

Was Arjuna alone capable of the world conquest that Karna had done? Actually, Arjuna was capable of much more than that, as can be inferred from two incidents.

  1. What to speak of the word’s kings, Arjuna had defeated the gods combined at Khandava – something which Karna had come nowhere close to doing, having been defeated by just one relatively minor set of gods, the Gandharvas.
  2. Arjuna had also singlehandedly defeated a whole army of deadly demons, the Nivatkavachas, whom the gods had not been able to defeat for a long time.  This feat was also something that Karna had come nowhere close to equaling, for he had been hard-pressed by just one demon, Ghatotkacha.

If Arjuna was capable of single-handedly conquering the world on Yudhisthira’s behalf, then why didn’t he do so? Because all four younger brothers wanted to assist their eldest brother and Arjuna didn’t want to deprive them of that opportunity.

Was Karna the second best archer after Arjuna?

No, because at least two other archers defeated him.

1. Abhimanyu: On the thirteenth day of the Kurukshetra war, when Abhimanyu penetrated into the Chakra-vyuha and wrecked havoc among the Kaurava forces, he overcame Karna twice, causing him to swoon and retreat. Karna realized that he couldn’t even match Abhimanyu, leave alone overcome him. So he prompted Duryodhana to ask Drona how the prince could be defeated.

2. Bhima: The second Pandava more than matched Karna.

As mentioned earlier, Bhima defeated Karna during his eastward conquest before the Rajasuya yajna.

During the Kurukshetra war, Bhima and Karna fought several times. On the fourteenth day, when Arjuna had taken a vow to kill Jayadratha before sunset, Karna tried to check Arjuna. To help Arjuna progress undistracted, Bhima challenged Karna and kept him engaged while Arjuna closed in on Jayadratha, Bhima matched Karna.

On the sixteenth day, Bhima held back Karna, who had been appointed the Kauravas’ commander, and then attacked Dushasana. In front of Karna’s eyes, Bhima killed Dushasana. Seeing Bhima’s power and anger, the horrified Karna dropped his bow. Similarly, in front of Karna’s eyes, Bhima also killed several other Kaurava brothers as well as Karna’s son and brother, and Karna could do nothing to stop him.

Karna did overcome Bhima once in a battle with bows and arrows, and mocked him by touching him with his bow and calling him a fat glutton. At that time, Bhima challenged Karna to a wrestling match, but Karna refused. Bhima had the power to pound Karna to death with his bare fists, but remembering Arjuna’s vow to kill Karna, Bhima desisted and left the arena. So the same event that is often seen as Karna honoring his promise to Kunti to not kill any of her sons other than Arjuna could be seen as Bhima honoring Arjuna’s vow. Overall, the results of the Bhima-Karna confrontation remain in Bhima’s favor.

So, Karna was no doubt a great archer, but he was one among many, not one above many, as was Arjuna.

Was Karna not unfairly weakened by Indra, Arjuna’s father, who schemed to take away his kavacha and kundala by coming in the guise of a brahmana asking for charity?

  1. Even with that impenetrable armor, Karna had been wounded and defeated several times (as discussed earlier) by Drupada, by the Gandharvas and by Arjuna at Virata. So the kavacha was not a winning advantage.
  2. When Indra came disguised as a brahmana to ask for it, eventually, at Karna’s insistent request, the god gave him the formidable Shakti in return. So, what was supposed to be a charity became a swap.

And how did this swap affect Karna’s fortune? His kavacha had not saved him from defeat earlier. And it may well not have saved him on the fourteenth night when Ghatotkacha was on a rampage, threatening to kill him and destroy the Kaurava forces. The Shakti weapon killed Ghatotkacha and saved Karna’s life. So in the swap Karna lost something that hadn’t saved him from defeat and got something that actually saved him from death.

Was the swap such a big loss for Karna? You decide.

Was Karna not a great hero – powerful, virtuous and charitable?

Yes, he had his good qualities. He was not a black character, but he doesn’t have to be made whiter than what he was.

After all, it was Karna who suggested that Draupadi be dragged into the assembly, who came up with the obnoxious idea of disrobing her publically, who called her a prostitute. It was Karna who suggested to Duryodhana the ill-advised plan of flaunting their wealth in front of the exiled Pandavas – the plan that came to grief due to the Gandharvas. It was Karna whose repeated bragging of his prowess that made Duryodhana foolhardy enough to challenge the Pandavas to an open war. It was Karna who killed Abhimanyu ruthlessly along with five other warriors, having been the first to instigate Duryodhana that some such extreme measure was necessary to bring down the young prince. It was Karna who, in response to Shalya’s sledging, foul-mouthed the women of Madras (Shalya’s kingdom), calling them unspeakable names.

So, though he had his virtues, he doesn’t need to be unnecessarily romanticized.

When Krishna offered Karna kingship of the Pandavas’ kingdom if he defected to their side, Karna by the side of Duryodhana. Doesn’t this make him a glorious example of a faithful friend?

Sadly, no. It makes Karna a classic but tragic example of a good person becoming bad due to bad association – and then mistaking faithfulness to that bad association to be a matter of honor.

It is true that Duryodhana helped Karna in his time of need by giving him the kingdom of Anga. And it is laudable that Karna was grateful to him for that generosity. Yet in the larger picture the Kauravas were immoral and evil. The way Duryodhana dishonored the Pandavas and especially their wife was heinous.

When an honorable person gets unknowingly entangled in something dishonorable, then honor requires that the honorable person come out of the mess on coming to know of it, not stay on in it in the name of honor.

To illustrate with a provocative parallel, suppose a starving boy in Pakistan is offered food and shelter by a group of terrorists who brainwash people into becoming suicide bombers. The boy may not be initially aware of the evil agenda of his helpers, but when he becomes aware, should he in the name of loyalty to those who helped him once continue lifelong to be a part of a machinery of death and destruction? Is Karna’s faithfulness to Duryodhana all that different from Mohammed bin Atta’s faithfulness to Osama bin Laden in becoming a suicide bomber who brought down the twin towers and killed thousands?

Karna may not have had any idea of the evil nature of Duryodhana initially, but when he came to know about it, he should have parted ways. But unfortunately, far from parting ways, Karna not only joined Duryodhana’s way, but also egged the wicked Kaurava further along that way. Karna, in his mistaken desire to please Duryodhana, suggested the dishonoring of Draupadi. Karna’s joining Duryodhana emboldened that arrogant prince to become even more insolent, imagining that he could excel the military prowess of the Pandavas, thereby courting self-destruction and causing world destruction.

What Krishna offered Duryodhana and Karna when he came as a peace messenger shows his extremely accommodating nature – his willingness to go to any length to avoid or minimize bloodshed. Krishna asked Duryodhana to give just five villages, but that evil prince rejected the offer.

Then Krishna knowing that bloodshed was inevitable decided to try to minimize it. He knew that the various formidable Kaurava generals like Bhishma, Drona, Kripa and Ashwatthama bore no animosity towards the Pandavas – they would fight only because they were obliged to. The only formidable Kaurava general apart from the Kaurava brothers who was bent on the fight was Karna. If he could be won over, then that would break the back of Duryodhana’s obstinacy. It might even persuade him to agree for a peaceful settlement. If not, at least it would shorten the fight. With this intention to minimize violence, Krishna invited Karna to come on the side of the virtuous Pandavas. And when Krishna offered Karna the kingdom, that offer was not as a temptation but as Karna’s rightful legacy as the eldest Pandava.

It was Krishna’s accommodating nature that he not only gave Karna a chance to do the right thing, but also offered him an unparalleled reward for doing the right thing. After all the wrong things Karna had participated in or even instigated, it could well be said that he didn’t deserve such an offer. Yet Krishna magnanimously made the offer, thereby making it as easy as possible for Karna to do the right thing at least at that late stage. When Karna refused that offer, he chose wrong instead of right – all due to a mistaken sense of honor.

From the devotional perspective, Karna rejected God for the world; he gave greater importance to being honored by the world than by God. He didn’t have the intelligence to recognize that whatever Duryodhana had given him ultimately belonged to God, who had given it temporarily to Duryodhana. And it was that God who was now offering him the world’s emperorship.

Even if Karna didn’t accept Krishna as the Supreme God and so didn’t consider his word authoritative, he could at least have accepted the authority of his worshipable god, Suryadeva. That effulgent deity advised Karna that for his own well-being he should side with the virtuous family of his birth and not the vicious family that he had befriended. Yet Karna stuck to his own notion of what would be honorable.

What Krishna was inviting Karna to was not defection, but redemption – a return to the path of virtue that Karna would probably have tread had he not become attached to Duryodhana.

To err is human, but to continue in error isn’t. And to mistake continuing in error to be loyalty is stupidity. And when that mistake causes the death of millions, that mistaken loyalty ceases to be mere stupidity; it becomes monstrous perversity. Karna’s mistaken loyalty was his greatest inner enemy and it made him a puppet in the hands of the evil Duryodhana.

Was Karna not disadvantaged during the final fight because of the curses of Parashurama and the brahmana that caused respectively his forgetfulness of the mantras for his potent weapons and his chariot’s sinking into the earth?

Yes, but again he was not the only one to be cursed. Arjuna was cursed by Urvashi to become a eunuch. And Arjuna’s being cursed was even more unfair than that of Karna’s.

Urvashi had wanted to unite with him, but Arjuna respectfully refused, regarding her like a mother as she had been the wife of his ancestor Pururava. Being infuriated at being turned down, Urvashi cursed Arjuna. So Arjuna got the curse without having done anything reproachable – in fact after having done something immensely laudable. Indra lauded him later, “Your self-control exceeds even that of the great sages.” In contrast, Karna’s curses were due to his having done something reproachable, even if it might not have been with bad intention. He lied to Parashurama, saying that he had been born in a brahmana family. And he accidentally killed the brahmana’s cow, mistaking it to be an animal to be hunted.

Further, many other people have also got cursed disproportionately for minor transgressions: Dasharatha, Pandu and Parikshit, for example. So there’s nothing uniquely tragic about Karna’s getting cursed – no need to make a martyr out of him.

Moreover, what happens to us is not as important as we respond to it. By choosing right responses, the effect of unfortunate happenings can be minimized. Arjuna used the curse to live discreetly as a dance teacher during the period when the Pandavas were expected to live incognito. Karna too could have done something to deal with the curse. To minimize the effect of the “chariot-being-swallowed” curse, he could have had a backup chariot always ready or could even have switched to an entirely different carrier, say, an elephant. To minimize the effect of the “mantras-forgetting” curse, he could have done austerities and acquired other weapons along with the mantras to hurl them – Parashurama’s curse applied only to the mantras he had given to Karna. Overreliance on one weapon, especially that is known to, even fated, to let one down is a suicidally unsound strategy – entirely unworthy of anyone who wishes to be considered as the world champion archer. And of course he could have entirely avoided this ill-starred conflict if he had had the good sense to listen to Krishna and chose the side of virtue.

Was Karna not disadvantaged lifelong because society considered him lowborn?

1. Yes, the notion that he was a charioteer’s son deprived him of the respect given to a son of kshatriya. Still, but he was also uniquely advantaged in having an impenetrable armor since birth. None of the Pandavas, despite being born from celestials, had a congenital armor – Karna started off with a big advantage over Arjuna. So, if in one sense, the match was fixed against him due to his presumed low birth, then in another sense, it was fixed for him due to his congenital armor. The net result could be said to be a level playing field.

Eventually, though Karna lost his kavacha, he did gain all the things due to a kshatriya: kingdom, the friendship of kings and the respect of kings – resulting again in a level playing field. Thus, his birth did not permanently deprive him of the things he merited.

2. If we look at things from a limited, this-life perspective, everyone gets some troubles despite having apparently done nothing to deserve them. Were the Pandavas not wronged when they had to live in the forest like fugitives after their residence in Varnavarta was burnt down? It was no fault of theirs that they were born in the same dynasty as the envious Duryodhana who made them the target of his wicked machinations. Were they not wronged when they were dispossessed of their kingdom and exiled through a rigged gambling match? Were they not wronged when their wife Draupadi was dishonored?

Yet despite the wrongs that happened to them, the Pandavas stayed on the side of virtue, whereas Karna chose the side of vice. If we use the wrongs that happen to us to justify our making wrong choices, then we can never make things right – we perpetuate a series of wrongs that make things worse for ourselves as well as others.

3. If we look at things from a more complete, multi-life perspective, then we understand that the problems we face in this life are due to our karma from previous lives. The Mahabharata mentions that Karna was demon named Dambhodbhava in his previous life. This demon had terrorized the universe on the strength of a blessing got from the sun-god. He had been blessed to have a thousand kavachas which:

i.   Could be destroyed only one at a time

ii.   Could be destroyed only by someone who had performed a thousand years of austerity

iii.  Would cause the immediate death of the destroyer of the kavacha.

This combination of blessings made his undefeatable till he met his match in the form of the divine sages Nara-Narayana, who are considered non-different from each other. They fought with him alternately, one fighting while the other performed austerity – both doing so for a thousand years. When the warrior would destroy one kavacha and fall dead, the ascetic would revive him by the power of his austerities and then they would swap places. The warrior would fight and finally destroy another kavacha after a thousand years till the ascetic acquired enough merit through austerity to take up the fight for another thousand years and destroy one more kavacha.

By this resourceful and arduous arrangement, those sages destroyed nine hundred and ninety nine kavachas. When just one kavacha remained, the demon fled to the shelter of the sun-god, who due to attachment to his worshiper refused to hand the fugitive over to Nara-Narayana rishis. Eventually, the demon was impregnated by the sun-god into the womb of Kunti and he was born as Karna. Simultaneously, Nara-Narayana appeared as Arjuna and Krishna to complete their unfinished mission of ridding the universe of the terrible demon.

Karna, due to his contact with the sun-god and due to his being parented by that effulgent deity, had developed some virtues. But due to the inclinations from his demoniac previous life, he also had some weaknesses. Thus, he became a complex grey character in the Mahabharata. And whatever he suffered during his life was the result of the bad karma he had done in his previous life.

4. The caste-by-birth notion that led to discrimination against Karna was a deviation from the Vedic norm, a deviation that is acknowledged in the Bhagavad-gita.

Krishna states in the Gita that the spiritual knowledge that he had given at the start of the creation (04.01) had become obscured by the power of time (04.02). Due to this decline of spiritual knowledge, the social order present at the time when the Gita was spoken (which is the same as the time when the Mahabharata occurred – the Gita is a part of the Mahabharata) had deviated from the spiritual standard. One sample of this deviation was the prevalence of the caste-by-birth idea, something contrary to the Gita’s teaching (04.13) that caste is determined by qualities and activities. As the caste system was rigid and stratified at that time, Karna was often labeled by his birth instead of by his qualities and activities.

Every age has its blind spots and its fallibilities – the problems resulting from those blind spots are one of the ways people in that age get the reactions to their past-life karma. To act virtuously while enduring various problems coming due to our past-life misdeeds is the defining challenge of life in all ages. Though Karna did act virtuously in several ways, his choosing the side of vice as a lifelong commitment was his fatal blunder.

Was it not wrong for Draupadi to dishonor Karna by stating during her svayamvara that she would not marry the son of a charioteer?

According to the Mahabharata-Tatparya-Nirnaya of Srila Madhavacharya as well as the critical edition of the Mahabharata prepared by the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute, Draupadi didn’t reject Karna – Karna contested and failed to hit the target. In these narratives, the incident of Draupadi rejecting Karna as a potential suitor didn’t occur at all. Nonetheless, because most extant versions of the Mahabharata do include this incident, let’s analyze its ethical dimensions.

The very word svayamvara (svayam – oneself, vara – bridegroom) implies that the occasion is a forum for the bride to choose her groom. So Draupadi had the right to choose her husband. The test of archery skill was an aid for her in making the choice, but ultimately it was meant to be her choice.

In the contest, the expected competitors were kshatriya kings. Karna put himself in a potentially embarrassing situation when despite knowing that many in society questioned his kshatriya credentials, he assumed that he could participate in the contest and marched to the central arena only to be stopped by Draupadi. A less presumptuous attitude could have saved Karna of the dishonor.

Was Karna not an exemplary man of honor that he promised Kunti that he would not kill any of her sons except Arjuna and kept that promise?

Yes, that was a laudable thing he did, but it would have been better if he had done what Kunti had beseeched and what even his worshipable deity and actual father Suryadeva had asked him to do: join the ranks of the virtuous Pandavas.

Due to his perceived low birth and the attendant lack of respect, Karna was forever craving for respect. This deep-seated status anxiety clouded his judgment, making him privilege honor over virtue. He mistook that being respected as a person who kept his word of honor was more important than leading a life of virtue.

To compensate for the lack of respect due to his perceived low birth, Karna had built a reputation for himself of being unflinchingly charitable. When Kunti asked him to come over to the side of his virtuous brothers, his status anxiety prevented him from doing the right thing. Yet it also couldn’t brook the idea of refusing her entirely, for that would sully his reputation. So, to preserve his reputation, he gave her another charity: that she would always have five sons, for he would not kill any of the Pandavas except for Arjuna. And to preserve that reputation, he honored that word by sparing the other four Pandavas.

Now his sparing their life was honorable, but a similar sense of honor among the Pandavas led to his life being spared too. As mentioned earlier, Abhimanyu and Bhima had both overpowered Karna – and they could have killed him. But to honor the vow of Arjuna that he would be the one to kill Karna, they did not take Karna’s life. So he spared others’ life and others spared his life – score even; nothing extraordinarily great about it.

By choosing his own reputation over the advice of his well-wishing parents to join the side of virtue, Karna chose the word of honor over the life of honor – a subtle but serious error of judgment.

To conclude, Karna demonstrates how attachment to bad association can not only make a good person bad but can also make that person mistake bad to be good.


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Trees Please by Bhaktimarga Swami

Bay Street is the place where many lawyers have set up office.  That might conjure up uneasy feelings for some people who venture that way on foot.  Being that simple monk that I aspire to be, I have little to do with legal affairs and not much need to venture down this street.  It’s definitely not my first choice to come to.  The place is rather bland from an optical perspective.  Perhaps the city is trying to change that.  They’re doing it with some green.  Yes, trees please?
On a strip of this thruway you now have a few welcoming trees and along with them some plaques to support their presents.
“If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.”  Hal Borland

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The next best time is now.”  Chinese Proverb
“Between a human and a tree is the breath.  We are each other’s air.”  Homage to the Ancient Celts
“Our best friend on earth is the tree.  When we use it respectfully, we have one of the greatest resources on earth.”  Frank Lloyd Wright
My walking partner, Nimai Nitai, and I were appreciating the newly planted friends although they have a way to go before they reach their splendorous self, but that’s okay.  “It’s just now coming,” is a common saying in English-speaking India.
My favourite line from Chaitanya’s verses is “one should be tolerant like a tree.”  In that regard they are our gurus.
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Sponsors For Mar 2020

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Sponsors For Apr 2020

List of monthly donors/subscribers:

Sponsors For Apr 2020

Gopinath Sevaks ($51):

Africa Devotee
Dr. Amit and Kim Singh
Ritesh,Tanvi & Soham Patel 
Anonymous donor 


Radharani Sevaks ($25):

Bindu Madhava das
Jason Wiley
Sundari Lila Devi Dasi 
Anonymous donor





Gauranga Sevaks ($11):

Bob Connolly
Ashwani Kumar
Anonymous donor 


Nityananda Sevaks   ($5):

Vijay Anja
Anonymous donor 


Srila Prabhupada Sevak
(one time/any amount)

Anonymous donor







You may also contribute by sharing content – audio, video, slides, games, comics, etc. with us and we shall host it free for the pleasure of vaishnavas. Send to


List of Donars - 2019

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List of Donors - 2016

List of Donors - 2015

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Varnasrama College — ONLINE ( will be officially inaugurated tomorrow, 15 May 2020 (Friday) with a global Go-Vrishabha Puja in conjunction with Vrishabha Sankranti. The main puja will be conducted at 7:30 AM India Standard Time at Nandi Sanctuary in Sridham Mayapur, West Bengal, India. 

Several groups of devotees around the world will also be participating in the global Go-Vrishabha Puja, including members of the Saranagati Village Community in Western Canada, GAURI at Gita Nagari Baru in Indonesia, the Sustainable Eco Alliance in the USA, the Yashodapur Eco Village in Cambodia and Mother Farm in Ukraine.

This auspicious event will be broadcasted live on Facebook. All devotees and members of the public are invited to join the event by visiting the Varnasrama College Network Facebook Page.

The online college will be launched with seven inaugural courses, namely: 

1. Vaisnava Vedic Sociology by Bhakti Raghava Swami;

2. Yoga Breathing Techniques by Prananatha das;

3. Vaisnava Understanding of Astrology by Gaura Nataraj das;

4. Basic Cow Care by Dayal Mukunda das;

5. Holistic Thinking and Vedic Sciences by Dhira Nitai das;

6. Dealing with Mother Nature by Hari Kirtan das; and

7. Bhakti Sastri by Vishnurata das.

Varnasrama College — ONLINE is a project initiated by His Holiness Bhakti Raghava Swami together with a group of devotees from different parts of the world — collectively known as the Varnasrama College Network — to establish a network of Varnasrama Colleges and Traditional Gurukulas all over the world to train and educate devotees and members of the public on Varnasrama Dharma. 

The mission of the Varnasrama College Network is to support the establishment of farms and village communities around the world based on the divine culture of Varnasrama Dharma, in line with the vision of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON).

This project is conducted in collaboration with the ISKCON Ministry of Education.

For additional information contact: 

Jonson Chong

WhatsApp & Telegram: +6011-20992209


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From Back to Godhead

Why are some people by nature outgoing and talkative while others are quiet and shy? What are the forces of nature that compel people to act the way they do? How do these forces work, and who is controlling them?

Dr. and Mrs. A. B. Bright and their two children have a small home, just suitable to their needs, in a peaceful country town. Dr. Bright is the local, M.D., a thoughtful, qualified man, respected for doing his job honestly and selflessly. His hobby: reading books of philosophy, poetry and science. Mrs. Bright and the children (the children aren’t in school) farm and garden around the house and care for the family cow. The Brights are mildly prosperous people who give thanks to God for the things they have and take their religion as a serious duty. By almost anyone’s standards, they’d have to be considered exceptionally pious. They don’t gamble, and for them intoxicants are strictly taboo they don’t smoke, and not to speak of liquor, they don’t even drink coffee or tea. Dr. Bright has seen too many of his patients bring trouble to themselves through extramarital affairs, so he’s always been faithful to his wife; and she, too, has always been faithful to him. The Brights decided long ago that killing animals is barbaric, so they never eat meat, fish, chicken or even eggs. All in all, the Brights lead a clean, simple and happy life. But the Brights are conditioned by a sense of happiness and knowledge. They are attached to their harmonious world. Therefore they are bound to the mode of goodness.

The Smiths, by contrast, live in suburbia in a stylish home filled with modern conveniences. Each morning Larry Smith gulps down breakfast in time to fight traffic to the office. There he sits all day dealing with different “headaches,” as he calls them. A hard job, but worth it, he figures, since it lets him afford the luxuries he enjoys and still have some money left over for the stock market and some rather shady business schemes he has going on the side. (“Money is the honey,” Larry says.) Gloria, his wife, wakes up in time to see that the two older children look decent (family prestige is important to the Smiths) and sends them off to school. She spends most of her day with the baby (“the one we didn’t expect,” says Larry). Either Gloria’s in the house with the TV going, in the playground with the other housewives and children, in the beauty salon, or (sometimes it seems like forever) shopping. All day the Smiths are active, on the go. At night they relax, but sometimes their minds are just so wound up that they can’t get a good night’s sleep. They squabble with each other, and sometimes they’re depressed, but as Larry jokingly philosophizes, “There’s no problem so great that sex can’t solve it.” On the weekends the Smiths make a show of being religious, but it’s more or less a social affair, since in fact they generally disregard the guidelines of their scriptures. This family is typical of the mode of passion.

The mode of ignorance is exemplified by the lives of John Dull and Betty Grumble. They never got married, but they live together, in squalor, in a cheap apartment in New York City. Welfare checks cover part of the rent, and at the end of the month John gets together the rest by peddling drugs. Religion, they both decided long ago, is something they want no part of. They spend their time sleeping (at least ten or twelve hours a day) or else getting high on drugs, feasting on beer and salami, and languishing in their apartment. For years they’ve dreamed about starting a commune in Spain, or perhaps Madagascar or Nepal.

What are these forces called “modes”? The modes of nature goodness, passion and ignorance are aspects of Krsna’s inferior energy. Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has innumerable energies. For our understanding, however, they have been classified in three groups: the inferior energy, which is material; the superior energy, which is spiritual; and the marginal energy we ourselves, the living entities. We are called marginal because we may come under the influence of either the superior or the inferior energy. For example, our body is Krsna’s inferior energy. That means that by nature it is temporary and is a source of ignorance and misery. If one identifies with the body or mind if one thinks that he’s an American or Indian, that he’s fat or thin, healthy or sick, Hindu or Catholic, democratic or communistic, and so on he then comes under the influence of the inferior energy and its material qualities. Thus one is impelled to act by the modes or qualities of material nature goodness, passion and ignorance. If we remember, however, that the life force the source of consciousness within the body is different from the body itself, and if we act in that remembrance, then we can free ourselves from the influence of the material energy.

The conscious spark that gives life to the body is a tiny particle of the spiritual energy of the Supreme Lord, and so it has an eternal relationship with the Lord. When we act according to that relationship, which is one of service to the Lord, then we are acting naturally, spiritually. Thus we are completely liberated from the modes of material nature, and we revive our natural spiritual qualities of eternity, knowledge and bliss.

We generally think that we’re in control of our actions and that we’re making our own decisions, but the supreme authority, Krsna, declares that this is not the case. He says that we are acting as puppets victims of the forces of nature. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna says, “All men are forced to act helplessly according to the impulses born of the modes of material nature; therefore no one can refrain from doing something, not even for a moment.” (Bg. 3.5) Not just you and I, but “no being existing, anywhere in the material world, is free from the three modes of material nature.” (Bg. 18.40)

To return to our earlier example, Dr. Bright, our learned physician, feels advanced in knowledge and materially happy in his peaceful library at home. But although his life may seem pleasant, he’s still in the bodily or material concept of life, and therefore he is in illusion. He thinks that he is Dr. Bright, an American, a middle-aged man, a husband, a father, a reasonable, well-educated country gentleman. But these designations are all material; they concern only the body and mind. Dr. Bright has not yet realized that he is neither his body nor his mind; he is a spiritual soul, an eternal servant of Krsna. Since he misidentifies himself with his body, he must come under the influence of the laws of nature governing that body. So he must continue suffering the bodily problems of birth, old age, disease and death.

If one in the mode of goodness is bound in this way, what to speak of those in the lower modes? Those in passion, like the Smiths, are bound by their attempts to satisfy their uncontrollable hankerings and longings. And those in ignorance, like Mr. Dull and Miss Grumble, are bound by madness, indolence and sleep.

Our real life, as we mentioned, is spiritual, and so it is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge. Under the illusion of goodness, however, we look for this reality in mundane learning and a feeling of material satisfaction. In passion we seek it in sex and possessions; and in ignorance we seek it in sleep and intoxication. Thus our pure spiritual nature is perverted by impure desires, born of the modes of nature.

When Bright, Smith, Dull and Grumble were born, they had no control over when or where they’d take birth, what kinds of bodies they’d be given or who their parents would be. Somehow or other, nature put each of them, helpless, into his own predicament. Now they thinkthat they’re controlling their fate, but actually their helplessness has not changed. Theyare still acting according to the bodiesthat a higher authority has given them. They are neither the proprietors nor the controllers of the actions and reactions of those bodies. They are simply drowning in the midst of a material ocean, being tossed by the waves of that ocean and struggling for existence. Therefore Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita, “One who can see that all activities are performed by the body, which is created of material nature, and sees that the self, the soul within, does nothing, actually sees.” (Bg. 13.30)

At this point we can hear ourselves protesting: “I have control over what I do. I can choose whether to go to the bar or the opera, whether to marry a prostitute or a Radcliffe girl. Nothing is forcing me to act.”

Yes, we have minute independence. Krsna is svarat, or completely independent; God can do whatever He likes. And since we are tiny parts of God, we also have His quality of independence but only in a minute quantity, proportionate to our size. Therefore, according to our desires, our body acts either in goodness, passion, ignorance or some combination. But whatever these desires are, they are material. They spring from our bodily concept of life, and therefore they are products of the modes of nature. And the ways we try to fulfill these desires are also material. Thus we are revolving in Krsna’s inferior, material energy. “Sometimes the mode of passion becomes prominent,” Lord Krsna says, “defeating the mode of goodness. And sometimes the mode of goodness defeats passion, and at other times the mode of ignorance defeats goodness and passion. In this way there is always competition for supremacy.” (Bg. 14.10)Just as the basic colors yellow, red and blue mix in different ways to produce an uncountable variety of tints and hues, so goodness, passion and ignorance mix together to produce innumerable illusions in our minds, This explains why the Brights sometimes quarrel over trivial problems; why the Smiths, and even Dulland Grumble, sometimes unexpectedly give to a bona fide religious charity; and why the Smiths go partying once in a while, drink too much, and find themselves hungover in bed the next morning, overcome by the mode of ignorance.

Like it or not, we should understand that we are now tightly tied by ropes of illusion. A man bound by the hands and feet cannot free himself; he must be helped by a person who is unbound. Because the bound cannot help the bound, the rescuer must be liberated. Therefore only Krsna, the fully liberated Supreme Lord, or His bona fide representative, the spiritual master, can release the conditioned soul. Without such superior help, one cannot be freed from the bondage of material nature. The only way to get completely free from its clutches is to surrender to the Supreme Person. Lord Krsna therefore says in Bhagavad-gita, “Thisdivine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Bg. 7.14)

The Brights and Smiths, and Dull and Grumble, can become free from the material concept of life simply by receivingbona fide transcendental knowledge. If one has been living in a dark room all his life, he is always floundering, unable to see things as they are. Once the lights are switched on, however, everything becomes apparent, and one can at once act properly. Similarly, with the light of transcendental knowledge we can overcome our bondage and act in accordance with our spiritual nature. Thus we can liberate ourselves from this material world. Krsna therefore says in the Gita, “One who understands this philosophy concerning material nature, the living entity, and the interaction of the modes of nature is sure to attain liberation. He will not take birth here in this material world again, regardless of his present position.” (Bg. 13.24)

Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare

One who is thus becoming freed from illusion and who is scientifically understanding his pure, natural consciousness is sure to become a devotee of the Supreme Lord. In the beginning such potential devotees naturally develop the desirable personal qualities that characterize the mode of goodness. They strictly avoid all sinful activities: they do not eat meat, fish or eggs, they take no intoxicants, and they do not gamble or engage in illicit sex. But, beyond that, they seek out a bona fide spiritual master and then cultivate transcendental knowledge under his guidance. Thus each day they hear scientific information about Krsna from Vedic scriptures likeBhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and they chant the holy names of God Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting this transcendental vibration is recommended in the scriptures as the best way to transcend the three modes of material nature in our difficult age of quarrel and hypocrisy.

A devotee of the Lord is free from bondage to the modes because his mind, body and words act spiritually that is, in relationship to Krsna. He always serves the pleasure of the Lord. For the sake of the Lord he will do any work needed, and for such work he will live anywhere whether it be in the country, suburbs or city. Such a Krsna conscious devotee accepts whatever is favorable to the service of Krsna and rejects everything unfavorable to that service. In Bhagavad-gita Krsna says:

mam ca yo ‘vyabhicarena
bhakti-yogena sevate
sa gunan samatityaitan
brahma-bhuyaya kalpate

“One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of spiritual perfection.” (Bg. 14.26)

Thus we can attain spiritual perfection simply by remembering our relationship with Krsna and acting in that relationship. We need not be disturbed by the modes of nature, for instead of putting our consciousness into material activities, we can transfer it to activities centered around Krsna. Such Krsna-centered activities make upbhakti-yoga. When we engage in this topmost yoga system, we acquire the same spiritual qualities as Krsna. The Lord is eternal, blissful and full of knowledge, and we are part of Him, as gold particles are part of a gold mine. Thus our spiritual qualities are similar to those of Krsna. The difference, however, is that Krsna is infinite, whereas the living entities are infinitesimal.

Although the modes of material nature are very difficult to overcome, we can overcome them easily if we have the mercy of the Lord, for the Lord, after all, is the creator and controller of the modes. And how can we attain that mercy?

yasya deve para bhaktir
yatha deve tatha gurau
tasyaite kathita hy arthah
prakasante mahatmanah

“The mercy of the Lord can be obtained only by those surrendered souls who have implicit faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master.” Such fortunate souls can at once become free from the three modes of material nature and regain their original spiritual nature, which is one of boundless transcendental joy in a loving relationship with Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” 


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From Back to Godhead

Although Lord Krsna wants our full surrender,
He encourages us to progress gradually to that exalted goal.

THE Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.29.11-12) states, “The manifestation of unadulterated devotional service is exhibited when one’s mind is at once attracted to hearing the transcendental name and qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is residing in everyone’s heart. Just as the water of the Ganges flows naturally down towards the ocean, such devotional ecstasy, uninterrupted by any material condition, flows towards the Supreme Lord.” In his purport, Srila Prabhupada writes, “No material condition can stop the flow of the devotional service of a pure devotee.”

Srila Prabhupada is describing the perfect stage, one in which a devotee has no distractions from Krsna’s service, no material desires, no failure to remember the beloved Lord. It is easy for us to admit that we are not at this level, but we should never lose sight that, as impossible as this sounds, it is what we want to become. We want to live with no interest separate from Krsna’s interest.

At the same time, I believe for myself (and I advocate to others) that we should engage our personal natures in Krsna’s service. There is no need to censor or forbid them. Our natures include our psychophysical tendencies, our cultural orientation, and our various drives. The scriptures assure us that it is impossible to kill desire and inadvisable to try. Rather, we are to engage ourselves and everything we have in Krsna’s service. When we reject matter in the name of renunciation, our renunciation is incomplete.

But how to practically engage ourselves and everything else in Krsna’s service? It has been a phenomenon in ISKCON that devotees join the movement and are told to surrender completely, to submerge their personal interests and engage fully in temple service. Many devotees put aside careers, propensities, sometimes even families and the many things they loved and thought part of themselves, to engage in devotional service. Then years later they begin to think differently. Sometimes they feel they were misled into surrendering something that did not need to be abandoned. Sometimes they feel they were manipulated by those who spoke of complete surrender but who were not themselves completely surrendered. Sometimes they simply feel that whatever propensity or interest they gave up was actually meaningful to them. Such devotees often turn back to those same activities and take them up again, not for personal enjoyment, but as a way to serve Krsna.

We call this varnasrama-dharma, the gradual process of renunciation and surrender. In Bhagavad-gitaKrsna recognizes that those who are not on the path of spontaneous and total surrender may need to offer what they like to do to Krsna. Therefore, the scriptures prescribe rules and regulations by which such activities can be performed. Krsna’s highest request is that we give up everything (sarva-dharman parityajya), but if that is not possible immediately, there is a process by which we can gradually approach that highest goal. A devotee should always be careful not to misidentify the gradual stepping stones with the ultimate goal.

Remember The Goal

We should remember the goal and we should never resent it. “Those persons who execute their duties according to My injunctions and who follow this teaching faithfully, without envy, become free from the bondage of fruitive actions.” (Bhagavad-gita 3.31) The goal is to turn our will completely to Krsna’s will and to have no separate interests; if at any point along the way this seems too difficult, we should not feel that Krsna is therefore asking too much from us. Rather, Krsna is trying to bring us to the standard of the residents of Vrndavana. In his purport to Bhagavad-gita 3.31, Srila Prabhupada writes:

But an ordinary man with firm faith in the eternal injunctions of the Lord, even though unable to execute such orders, becomes liberated from the bondage of the law of karma. In the beginning of Krsna consciousness, one may not fully discharge the injunctions of the Lord, but because one is not resentful of this principle and works sincerely without consideration of defeat and hopelessness, he will surely be promoted to the stage of pure Krsna consciousness.

In the meantime, there is still disparity between the ideal and our personal reality. It seems we cannot actually surrender to Krsna by giving up, throwing away, burning, sushing down the toilet all of what we thought we were. We must learn to render it, and in so doing, purify it, until it becomes an offering for Krsna. The philosophy ofBhagavad-gita assures us that dovetailing our propensities is a lower standard than being fully surrendered, as is evidenced in the verse describing the process of karma-yoga: yat karosi yad asnasi . . . Yat karosi (“whatever you do”) is not at the same standard as sarva-dharman parityajya. Existentially, however, if we must apply the yat karosiverse to reach the platform of giving everything, Krsna has encouraged it.

Even if we don’t resent the intensity of Krsna’s instruction, we may wonder what it can mean not to have any desire other than to do whatever Krsna wants done. I spoke about this with a Godbrother. In the discussion, he represented the superiority of complete surrender over dovetailing, and to reconcile the two sides he said, “What we must do is to approach the spiritual master unconditionally. The spiritual master, in his wisdom and knowing our nature, will engage us according to our propensity.” Surrender means to first accept the position of an unconditional servant.

To be unconditional, we have to be sincere. Sincerity requires humility; it requires that we admit that we have not completed or perfected our Krsna consciousness. When we understand our actual position, we will be willing to try in whatever ways are possible for us to find a personal surrender and we will naturally give up selfishness.

I tend to encourage devotees to perform whatever service they would like to do, even if it’s not what has been assigned, especially when they no longer feel able to carry out that other duty. Then, when they are engaged in whatever service they have chosen, I encourage them to remain faithful to it regardless of the austerities. Serving another, including serving the Supreme Person, is always filled with austerity. One of the greatest austerities a devotee experiences is coming face-to-face with his or her own weak-heartedness. Staying fixed in that particular service helps the devotee steady the mind and to find the inner consciousness of rendering the activity as service.

Ultimately, whatever we choose to do, we must purify it to the point that we are not only offering the fruits of an activity that is personally pleasing to us, but we are actually offering the activity itself for Krsna’s pleasure. When we present our offering, we will have to do it with fear and trembling, with the hope that Krsna will accept our tiny offering amid the millions of more wonderful offerings He is receiving.

Such devotional consciousness is within our reach. We are capable of becoming enthusiastic about our activities, and we are capable of working toward the goal of pure devotional service.

In ISKCON more and more devotees are reevaluating how we have separated ourselves from the world. Perhaps we do have something to do with family, society, country, and humanity, and perhaps we can become more whole and realistic. Perhaps we should address such issues and not speak always from the platform of the fanatical preacher. This is a sign of our movement’s maturing. At the same time, the devotees should never forget that ultimately we must disconnect ourselves from everything but service to Krsna. How we achieve that goal does not necessarily mean kicking off everything else, but learning how to use everything for Krsna. “According to the opinion of devotees, constant remembrance of the Supreme Lord is called samadhi, or trance. If one is constantly in trance there is no possibility of his being attacked or even touched by the modes of material nature. As soon as one is free from the contamination of the three material modes, he no longer has to take birth to transmigrate from one form to another in this material world.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.33.27, Purport)

Srila Prabhupada never emphasized that pure Krsna consciousness was beyond our reach. Rather, he encouraged us that it was attainable.

The Price Of Purity

Of course, there is a price. In a lecture Srila Prabhupada gave on March 13, 1974, in Vrndavana, he discussed Rupa Gosvami’s statement that if pure love of Godhead is available in the market, we should purchase it without delay:

Tatra laulyam ekalam mulyam. Rupa Gosvami advised, krsna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita matim kriyatam yadi kuto ‘pi labhyate. He advises that “Krsna consciousness, if it is available, you purchase. You purchase anywhere it is available.” That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s advice, that one should be eager to purchase this Krsna consciousness at any price. Generally, we think price means some, in terms of money, monetary transaction, say, hundred pounds or two hundred pounds or millions of pounds, billions of pounds, like that. The price is different. Here Rupa Gosvami says, “You purchase at any price.” But what is that price? . . . Laulyam, eagerness. That is the price. That is the only qualification. You must be very, very eager to see the lotus feet of Krsna in this very life. You must be very eager to talk with Krsna in this very life. But not to become sahajiya [sentimentalist]. By service. Krsna talks with the devotee, but not with the nondevotee. He says in the Bhagavad-gita, tesam satata yuktanam bhajatam[priti-purvakam]. Only persons who are always engaged in Krsna’s service, who have no other business. Satata. Satata means twenty-four hours. He has no other business. . . . And bhajatam. Bhajatam means in service. You must find out always some opportunity how to render service to Krsna. That is the qualification. It doesn’t matter what you are. You may be this or that. It doesn’t matter. But this eagerness for service can be acquired by anyone simply by sincerity. That is the price.

Prabhupada’s words are practical. If he had said we should think of Krsna at every second and never cease serving Him, never have separate interest, it would have sounded impossible for us. Rather, Prabhupada emphasizes practical service. By absorbing ourselves in the details of our activities, and remembering for whom we are performing them, we can become fixed in Krsna consciousness throughout the day. Prabhupada was expert at teaching an active form of self-realization.

I remember when I was younger and serving as the temple president in Boston. Although we may not have been inwardly meditating on Krsna or even free of material desires, we worked to the point of exhaustion to serve Prabhupada’s mission. Our lives were so demanding that there was no time to think of ourselves. We could barely keep up with the workload. If later, however, we found ourselves unable to maintain that pace, we had to find other ways to be Krsna conscious.


Another point Prabhupada emphasizes is expressed in the purport to Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.21.33:

The question may be raised that since the Lord is supposed to be worshiped by great demigods like Lord Brahma, Lord Siva, and others, how can an ordinary human being on this planet serve Him? This is clearly explained by Prthu Maharaja by the use of the word yathadhi-kara, “according to one’s ability.” If one sincerely executes his occupational duty, that will be sufficient. One does not need to become like Lord Brahma, Lord Siva, Indra, Lord Caitanya, or Ramanujacarya, whose capabilities are certainly above ours. Even a sudra [laborer], who is in the lowest stage of life according to the material qualities, can achieve the same success. Anyone can become successful in devotional service provided he displays no duplicity. It is explained here that one must be very frank and open-minded,amayinah. To be situated in a lower status of life is not a disqualification for success in devotional service.

Being frank means admitting to Krsna that we cannot do what He is asking of us; we are simply not pure enough, not surrendered enough, to do only what He wants without any self-interest attached. Being open-minded means expressing distress at our own condition. We want to be Krsna’s devotee, but we cannot become devotees without His help.

Srila Prabhupada continues: “The only qualification is that whether one is a brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya,or sudra, he must be open, frank, and free from reservations. Then, by performing his particular occupational duty under the guidance of a proper spiritual master, he can achieve the highest success in life.”

After admitting to Krsna that we cannot be perfect devotees, we don’t say, “Therefore I won’t do anything.” Rather, we say, “This is what I can do. I can offer my occupational duty and beg You to accept it.”

Finding The Balance

The first question ISKCON devotees often ask on this topic is how to find the balance between being guided by authority and self-determination. We have to follow a process of trial and error. One model is to surrender to a temple authority and to trust that he will guide us. Of course, a temple authority will naturally guide us according to the needs of the mission, some-times at the expense of our own needs. Sometimes, also, such leaders disappoint us in real ways and we may find ourselves becoming bitter and moving toward another extreme: complete self-reliance.

By trial and error we will find the right formula for ourselves. We may try to follow someone’s advice and see whether it works for us. If it doesn’t work, or works only partially to increase our Krsna consciousness, then we may need to find some adjustment. It is important, therefore, to develop a strong sense of conscience, and to be able to hear that voice within ourselves that tells us whether or not what we are doing is healthy for our devotional development. To acquire that conscience takes time and maturity.

Often our uncertainty about what we are doing stems from a misconception of what Krsna consciousness is about. In earlier years, I felt consistently dissatisfied regardless of what I was doing. If I was out preaching, I thought I should be doing more management. If I was managing, I felt I should be out preaching. At one point, a Godbrother pointed out to me how I never seemed to be satisfied, and he was right. Such restlessness is a sign of immature understanding. Perhaps we imagine that in the perfect state we will always feel completely elated moment-to-moment ecstasy about what we want to do. But the reality is that even when we choose the best situation we can imagine for ourselves, there are still difficulties. Even Prabhupada faced obstacles in his preaching, although he never doubted his mission. At such times, we have to continue in our service and wait out the dissatisfaction.

Ultimately, as we grow up in Krsna consciousness we will begin to be convinced that what we are doing is our best offering at the moment, and we will not be so dependent on outside validation. It’s so wonderful to see devotees who feel this conviction in their services and in their Krsna consciousness. Such devotees are very fortunate, and we see that they have struck their balance by the fact that they lose interest in developing a wide variety of skills, they are no longer restless, and they are fixed in their activities. Despite financial or other worries, they tend to understand that they are dependent on Krsna and to let go of those concerns.

There is no one way for all devotees to find such balance, but each of us must strive for it. It is not necessarily unhealthy to churn up our own histories in order to understand where we have been and where we would like to go in our attempt to surrender to Krsna. And in the meantime, we should be careful not to change the philosophy or resent the principles just because we may not be able to follow them. We should feel ourselves fallen and pray to Krsna for His support.

Early Training

One problem is that young devotees, especially, are not always sure just what their own propensities are. In such cases, it is healthy for a devotee to try to become a blank slate and to receive training in the temples in what the institution describes as complete surrender. That will form the foundation for later personal development. Those early days in the temple are a time of intense study and practice. Just as a college student studies more during his college years than at any other time in his life, so a devotee moving into the temple can take good advantage of the intense training. At the least, this will give a devotee the opportunity to theoretically understand Krsna’s instructions, and doing the needful according to the mission’s demands may even reveal his own nature to him. Personal service propensities are revealed more as a person matures.

Ultimately, we have to find out how to care for our own souls and offer them to Krsna. Because trusting ourselves completely is a risky proposal, we submit ourselves to the spiritual master and the Vaisnavas. We should have friends who will sympathize with our level of advancement and who can both listen to us and advise us in ways that preclude judgment. It is a delicate matter to decide what it is Krsna is asking of us, and it takes both prayer and support. Sometimes the signs are clear and sometimes they are not. Whatever we decide, however, it should carry the charge of spiritual reality and be free of stereotyped conceptions of what devotional service is.

As we are going through this process, we should check our spiritual vital signs. Just as a doctor will check our vital signs regardless of our complaint, to ascertain the general state of health, so we should check our spiritual vital signs: Are we feeling enthusiastic to serve Krsna? Do we have a taste forkrsna-katha, topics about Krsna? Do we want to associate with devotees? Are we aspiring for pure chanting? By checking these symptoms we will know whether we are proceeding on the right path.

As we progress, we should work as much with the realistic as with the idealistic. That is, we may not always know exactly what Krsna wants us to do, and even if we knew, we may not always be able to do it. Therefore, we can simply go on using our God-given intelligence to give everything we can to Krsna.

Prabhupada assures us that it doesn’t matter what we are as long as we are serving Krsna. Devotional service is not a hobby but a full-time engagement. We can see it as a mysterious, esoteric process, or we can follow Prabhupada’s down-to-earth instruction to engage always in service while thinking of the person to whom it is being offered.

With Prabhupada’s emphasis on service, it behooves us to discover our personal vocation that thing we can really do for Krsna and dedicate ourselves to it.


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