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Pursuing material education for a spiritual purpose!

Saturday, 12 May 2012 / Published in Articles / 3,886 views

By Varaharupa Dasi

When Srila Prabhupada preached in the early 60’s and 70’s, during the period of the hippy age, mostly all those who joined him were from the age group of 13 to 22 years, and a lot were dropouts from colleges. They were in search of something beyond material qualifications and thereby were attracted to Krishna consciousness very sincerely. Now we have highly qualified youth joining ISKCON, and college preaching is very successful especially in India through the IIT graduate preachers.

When I wanted to join ISKCON fulltime in 1975, my late father His Grace Vishnumurti Das prevented me from joining, since he knew how important education was especially for him, since he was from a poor family. He struggled hard to acquire his education through sponsorships and coaching classes.

He even argued with His Divine Grace A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada in 1974, whereby he explained, that to read and understand the scriptures and then to preach, some material qualification was required. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also took sanyasa at the age of 24, so that people would listen to Him when He preached.
ISKCON was also new at that time, and Srila Prabhupada was old, and not sure how long he had, and if he allowed me to drop my education at the age of 15 and take up to Krishna consciousness. Moreover, down the road, after Srila Prabhupada’s disappearance, many devotees left, because they felt a voidness in their lives, and I could have also felt the same. In 1975 Srila Prabhupada wrote a letter addressed to me, that going to England for higher studies should not be a problem, since I can associate with devotees in London, and chant and read and follow the 4 regulative principles. At that time, being young and naive, I was very bitter with my father’s decision. But now, looking back, I realise that he was 100% correct!. Now that I am qualified, when I preach, it carries weight, especially because my profile mentions my material qualification. So many senior devotees in our movement have gone back to college to complete their education .

Today, after almost a month of the passing away of my father, I am very deeply indebted to my dear father His Grace Vishnumurti prabhu for forcing me to complete my education and then to join ISKCON. In 1978 I joined as a full time devotee. He sponsored my travel and maintenance, and it is on even upto now.

All glories to such a wonderful father!

9 Responses to “Pursuing material education for a spiritual purpose!”

  1. Puskaraksa das says :

    Dear Mataji,

    Pranams. All glories to Srila Prabhupada. All glories to Sri Guru & Sri Gauranga.

    Mataji, I understand your emotion and appreciation for your father’s merciful and kind attitude.

    However, in regards to a larger debate about the value of academic studies before or after joining ISKCON, I personally think that this has more to do with karma and personal history, than with a general rule one should draw in favor or against pursuing academic studies…

    I agree that, on one hand, one may be able to serve ISKCON in a more efficent way, thanks to some practical knowledge of how to operate the material energy. As you mentioned, academic curriculum such as a PhD, a Master degree or an engineering diploma, etc., may also impress some of our interlocutors, even though we have to keep in mind that we also need plumbers, farmers, cooks, etc.

    Yet, on the other hand, we have to keep in mind that the ultimate goal of life is to achieve pure love of God. In order to do so, one has to be able to engage in ahaituki apratihata seva, unalloyed and ceaseless devotional service…

    This can be achieved only under the guidance and by the grace of such a bona fide spiritual master as Srila Prabhupada and his bona fide successors in the Parampara…

    In that regard, it is interesting to refer to this teaching of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu (C. c. Madhya 8.128):

    kiba vipra, kiba nyasi, sudra kene naya
    yei krishna-tattva-vetta, sei ‘guru’ haya

    “Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi or a sudra — regardless of what he is — he can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Krishna.”

    Srila Prabhupada comments this verse as follows:

    “This verse is very important to the Krishna consciousness movement. In his Amrita-pravaha-bhashya, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura explains that one should not think that because Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was born a brahmana and was situated in the topmost spiritual order as a sannyasi, it was improper for Him to receive instructions from Srila Ramananda Raya, who belonged to the sudra caste. To clarify this matter, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu informed Ramananda Raya that knowledge of Krishna consciousness is more important than caste. …/…

  2. Puskaraksa das says :


    In the system of varnasrama-dharma there are various duties for the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaisyas and sudras. Actually the brahmana is supposed to be the spiritual master of all other varnas, or classes, but as far as Krishna consciousness is concerned, everyone is capable of becoming a spiritual master because knowledge in Krishna consciousness is on the platform of the spirit soul. To spread Krishna consciousness, one need only be cognizant of the science of the spirit soul. It does not matter whether one is a brahmana, kshatriya, vaisya, sudra, sannyasi, grihastha or whatever. If one simply understands this science, he can become a spiritual master.

    It is stated in the Hari-bhakti-vilasa that one should not accept initiation from a person who is not in the brahminical order if there is a fit person in the brahminical order present. This instruction is meant for those who are overly dependent on the mundane social order and is suitable for those who want to remain in mundane life. If one understands the truth of Krishna consciousness and seriously desires to attain transcendental knowledge for the perfection of life, he can accept a spiritual master from any social status, provided the spiritual master is fully conversant with the science of Krishna. Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura also states that although one is situated as a brahmana, kshatriya, vaisya, sudra, brahmacari, vanaprastha, grihastha or sannyasi, if he is conversant in the science of Krishna he can become a spiritual master as vartma-pradarsaka-guru, diksha-guru or siksha-guru. The spiritual master who first gives information about spiritual life is called the vartma-pradarsaka-guru, the spiritual master who initiates according to the regulations of the sastras is called the diksha-guru, and the spiritual master who gives instructions for elevation is called the siksha-guru. Factually the qualifications of a spiritual master depend on his knowledge of the science of Krishna. It does not matter whether he is a brahmana, kshatriya, sannyasi or sudra. This injunction given by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu is not at all against the injunctions of the sastras. In the Padma Purana it is said:

    na sudra bhagavad-bhaktas te ‘pi bhagavatottamah
    sarva-varneshu te sudra ye na bhakta janardane

    One who is actually advanced in spiritual knowledge of Krishna is never a sudra, even though he may have been born in a sudra family.”

  3. Puskaraksa das says :

    Furthermore, in his introduction to Sri Caitanya caritamrita, Srila Prabhupada states:

    “When the Lord says that He takes charge of His pure devotee, He actually takes direct charge. A pure devotee is a soul who is forever surrendered to the Lord, just as a child is surrendered to his parents or an animal to its master.

    In the surrendering process, one should:

    ānukūlyasya saṅkalpaḥ
    prātikūlyasya varjanam
    rakṣiṣyatīti viśvāso
    goptṛtve varaṇaṁ tathā
    ṣaḍ-vidhā śaraṇāgatiḥ

    (1) accept things favorable for discharging devotional service,
    (2) reject things unfavorable,
    (3) always believe firmly in the Lord’s protection,
    (4) feel exclusively dependent on the mercy of the Lord,
    (5) have no interest separate from the interest of the Lord,
    (6) always feel oneself meek and humble.

    The Lord demands that one surrender unto Him by following these six guidelines, but the unintelligent so-called scholars of the world misunderstand these demands and urge the general mass of people to reject them.”

    Hence, the principle of accepting what is favorable for the performance of devotional service predominates; if carrying on with some academic studies is judged to be favorable by Lord Krishna’s representative (and not just according to our own estimation, as conditioned souls), then it is to be accepted. To the contrary, if it is judged unfavorable, it should be rejected!

    Besides, one should not entertain any interest separate from the interest of the Supreme Lord. In that regard, say if one pursued academic studies for the sake of pratistha, i.e. name, fame and adoration, or even for the sake of being able to afford some comfortable living, this would mean having some interest different from the interest of the Lord and could be rejected as unfavorable!

    Hence, this intangible principle remains and pervades all our teachings, from Śrī Caitanya Caritāmṛta Madhya 19.167 to Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī’s Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu (1.1.11):

    ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-
    śīlanaḿ bhaktir uttamā

    “‘When first-class devotional service develops, one must be devoid of all material desires, knowledge obtained by monistic philosophy, and fruitive action. The devotee must constantly serve Kṛṣṇa favorably, as Kṛṣṇa desires.’

    Therefore, our golden rule is to serve Krishna, as Krishna desires, which is indicated to us by Sri Guru, i.e. Sri Krishna’s bona fide representative, whatever form our seva may take!

    Hare Krishna

    Puskaraksa das

  4. Raktak Das says :

    Hare Krishna Varaharupa Mataji,

    Please accept my humble obeisances. All glories to Srila Prabhupad.

    I did not know that your wonderful devotee father His Grace Vishnu Murti Prabhu has left this world, I came to know through your article, thanks for that.

    He was a genuine Vaishnav, and met with the devotees always with a smile on his face. We saw him many many times in Vrindavan during Kartik and other times as well. He was very broad-hearted person and gave many times donations to the temple/Vraj Mandal Parikrama and sponsored the feasts. We are going to miss him.

    All glories to Vishnu Murti Prabhu, HARE KRISHNA.

    yours servant,
    Raktak Das

  5. pustakrishna says :

    I am speaking as one who has spent a good deal of their life in the material education system. I am Pusta Krishna das, formerly Pusta Krishna Swami, and now a physician-orthopedic surgeon for decades. I want to help sort out this question of material education in three ways.
    First, many of the bhaktas who later left the confines of the ashram and later had to earn a living for themselves relied upon a paucity of skills. Some ended up selling petty things like stickers to make a living. Some would call this “doing the pick”. It reflected their lack of skills and their aversion to regular work. It may also, in some cases, have enabled them to work for a boss which they didn’t like.
    Second, when I was a sannyasi and still attached to education, I was transcribing Srila Prabhupad’s translations each morning as his personal secretary. I had learned how to read the Devanagari and I was one of those early sannyasis who liked to quote sanskrit slokas. In those days, Hridayananda Maharaj was number 1 in this, and perhaps I was number 2, having a good memory, and a great interest in logical and scholarly lectures. In any case, I asked Srila Prabhupad if I could study the sankrit language in the university. Srila Prabhupad did not like the idea. Later when I too left the confines of ISKCON, I attended the University of California, Berkeley and did earn an MA in Sanskrit, Hindi/Medieval Hindi, and Indian history. It was a substantial study. I then went on to Medical School. So, at least for me, slightly rebellious as I was, Srila Prabhupad did not approve of material education, even when it involved deepening my understanding. Certainly, I think anyone who understands the Bengali language must have a richer appreciation, if they are Vaishnavas, of the exhaustive Bengali bhajans we have.
    Third, I heard one person who lived in Hawaii and had a number of daughters ask Srila Govinda Maharaj, another respected acharya, whether it was ok to send his daughters to college. His answer was interesting. He said, ‘it is like receiving a grant.’ If you received a grant you have a responsibility to pay it back. In other words, it is good for the devotees to realize that if they receive education, they have a responsibility to Krishna to pay it back with service.
    I hope this helps to clarify some issues. Everything is not an open and shut case.
    Pusta Krishna das

  6. Puskaraksa das says :

    Dear Pusta Krishna Prabhu, you are certainly gifted with a powerful intellect, amongst other skills, both on the material and spiritual level… Congratulations for that!

    As it is, one should not behave as kripana! I mean, one should engage all his talents and energy in Lord Krishna’s service (why crawl on the ground, when one can fly?), as and when required, which is to say, within the limits of the instructions of Sri Guru, i.e. Sri Krishna’s bona fide representative.

    That means that on one hand, one should not choose to do less, when one could do more, be it out of laziness or carelessness, or because of being distracted from seva, by Maya.

    On the other hand, service is granted. It is not that one chooses one’s service!

    So, if Sri Guru says “do this”, we will do this, whether we like it or not!
    If Sri Guru says “do that”, we will also do it, whether we think we have the necessary qualifications to do it or not, as if we follow the instructions of Sri Guru, he will empower us to perform the service we have been assigned to.

    In other words, we should give up the independent mood that we have been cultivating, as conditioned souls, from time immemorial.

    Krishna has His plans for each of us. Hence, the goal is to become an instrument in Krishna’s hands and fulfill His plan. In this way, Srila Prabhupada prayed to Lord Krishna, upon his arrival in the US, in Boston harbor:

    boro-kṛpā koile kṛṣṇa adhamer pratiki lāgiy ānile hethā koro ebe gati

    “My dear Lord Krishna, You are so kind upon this useless soul, but I do not know why You have brought me here. Now You can do whatever You like with me.”

    Then, what if we srived to fulfill our plan, rather than Krishna’s plan? Would we be in a good position?

    In that regard, Srila Prabhupada once said: “You have your plan, I have my plan and Krishna has His plan…”.

    So, the perfection of life is to become fully surrendered to Krishna’s desire. Since we may not be in a position to know what Krishna’s desire is for us, Sri Guru instructs us and engages us in service…

    Nevertheless, even if we get some guidelines from our Gurudeva, there may be, at times, some scope for us to try and surrender to the guidance of Caitya Guru, i.e. Sri Krishna within the heart…

    This may be particularly needed after the physical departure of one’s Guru as, till one reaches a certain level of purification, one may not be in a position to communicate with one’s Guru, for some time…

  7. Puskaraksa das says :

    Nevertheless, one should always strive to increase one’s surrender at the lotus feet of Guru and Krishna and make sure he or she is in communion of interests with them, i.e. make sure one doesn’t serve one’s own agenda, but their agenda!

    In that respect, Srila Gour Govinda Swami Maharaja explained, while commenting on Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 9.18.44 (Bhubaneswar — April 18, 1995), Who is a True Disciple?

    “One Indian poet has spoken of putra and mūtra. Putra means “son” and mūtra means “urine”. Both a son and urine come from the same genitals. If a son is an obedient devotee of the Lord he is called putra, or a real son; otherwise, if he is not learned and is not a devotee, a son is nothing better than urine. ⎯ (Śrīla Prabhupāda purport, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 9.18.44)

    Similarly, goes the relationship in between guru and disciple. The guru is the spiritual father and the disciples are his sons. He who cannot be a śiṣya, a disciple, is rejected. The disciple who understands Gurudeva’s desire and acts accordingly, is a first class śiṣya. The disciple who doesn’t wait for guru’s order, who understands what Gurudeva wants and acts immediately accordingly, is a first class śiṣya, disciple. The disciple who receives the order from guru then carries out that order, he is a second class śiṣya. The disciple who executes guru’s order irreverently is a third class disciple. When the guru orders him to do something, he grumbles, “O, I have difficulties. I have some problem. I would have done it but now I have a problem, my health is very weak.., etc.” With such grumbling, he acts. This is a third class disciple. It is not carried out with love. Then, the fourth one, he who refuses guru’s order, is rejected. He is like stool, stool is rejected. This fourth type is not a disciple at all.

    So tattva-ācāryas have said:

    harau ruṣṭe gurus trātā gurau ruñṭe na kaścana
    tasmāt sarva-prayatnenagurum eva prasādayet
    (Aditya Purāṇa)

    “If Lord Hari is displeased, Gurudeva can deliver him, but if guru becomes displeased no one can deliver him.” Then there is no place for you at all, everything is finished. Therefore, with utmost care the disciple should please guru: yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādo yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto ’pi.

  8. Puskaraksa das says :

    “Those persons whose consciousness is very low, completely covered with ignorance, nescience, they think guru is an ordinary human being, therefore sometimes they speak ill of guru, so they will take birth in the hog species for one hundred births. As long as Gurudeva is not pleased you should go on serving guru. If guru becomes pleased, all the sinful reactions of that śiṣya are immediately destroyed. If guru becomes pleased, Brahmā, Viṣṇu, Śiva, all the demigods, munis, yogīs, they all become pleased and they will shower their mercy upon that person. Kṛṣṇa also says (Bhāg. 10.80.34): guru-śuśrūṣayā yathā— “I am never as pleased with the person who strictly follow the principles of brahmacarya, the principles of gṛhastha-āśrama, the principals of vānaprastha-āśrama as I am pleased with the person who serves guru faithfully and pleases him.” Śāstra says, if someone thinks the guru is an ordinary human being, and the mantra is only letters of the alphabet, that the deity is an idol, definitely he will go to hell.

    In this Bhāgavata verse (11.17.27) Kṛṣṇa says:

    ācāryaṁ māṁ vijānīyān
    navamanyeta karhicit
    na martya-buddhyāsūyeta
    sarva-deva-mayo guruḥ

    One should not think the ācārya-guru is an ordinary human being. If someone thinks like that, whatever mantra he has received from that guru, will be useless. There will be no effect at all, and the devā-arcanā, the worship of the deity will never be effective, will never be perfect at all. Such a devotee cannot be a śiṣya and will be rejected. The disciple who is incorrigible, who cannot be corrected, who cannot tolerate or accept the discipline inflicted by guru, he cannot be a śiṣya at all. He should be rejected. He is like stool or urine. He refuses guru’s discipline, so he cannot be a disciple at all. In Bṛhad-viṣṇu-smṛti it is said, who is a true disciple.”

  9. Puskaraksa das says :

    “Guru, sad-guru has the right to inflict discipline. Disciple means under discipline. Guru inflicts very severe, most severe discipline on the śiṣya and that is beneficial for you, thereby you will be purified. The goldsmith puts gold into the fire repeatedly and he hammers and beats it many times, then again he puts it into the fire, then when it heats up again he hammers it. He does it many times, thereby the impurities will all be burned out and the pure gold will come out. Similarly, guru inflicts discipline, more and more severe discipline on the disciple, he puts you in the fire so that whatever impurities are there in you, will be burned to ashes; then only purity will remain. One who can tolerate the severe discipline of guru and can accept it gladly is a real disciple. If you cannot accept it, and instead you grumble, “O, Gurudeva is always scolding me, always beating me, hitting me, kicking me. I cannot tolerate it,” you are not a disciple at all. However, the disciple who accepts it gladly and never acts in such a way that will displease guru, he is a real disciple. He has full faith in the words of guru. He never acts in a displeasing way, in spite of severe punishment inflicted upon him. With his body, mind, speech, strength, wealth, whatever he has, he serves guru and pleases guru— he is a real disciple, and he gets the mercy of guru, and within a very short time, achieves perfection in life. He is the uttama śiṣya, the first class disciple. Otherwise without this understanding, one cannot be a disciple.”

    So, from this, we are reminded that, as Srila Prabhupada used to say, “spiritual life is like a razor’s edge!”

    Hence, one should not hanker for any material position… We have had so many material positions in our past lives, from king to servant, from man to woman, not to speak of all the species and planets we may have gone through…

    Therefore, thanks to the combined mercy of Guru and Krishna, time has come to finish up with material life. We are not meant to become one more teacher, doctor or musician! Even, if we have to act as such, for the sake of maintaining our body and family within the varnashrama system, we have to come to the conclusion that this lifetime (hopefully amongst one of our very few lifetimes left, if not the last one) is meant to serve and please Guru and Krishna, and become a pure devotee!

    We don’t care about any material position and spit on vanity!

    We only pray for unalloyed seva, ahaituki apratihata seva.

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