Live from Sri Mayapur Candrodaya Mandir! Feb 27th
Date: February 27, 2008
Verse: Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.13.1-3
Speaker: HH Devamrita Swami
By Ananda Tirtha (das) PVS (Mayapur – IN)
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nisamya vacam vadato muneh punyatamam nrpa
bhuyah papraccha kauravyo vasudeva-kathadrtah
TRANSLATION: Sri Sukadeva Gosvami said: O King, after hearing all these most virtuous topics from the sage Maitreya, Vidura inquired further on the topics of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, which he adored to hear.
PURPORT: The word adrtah is significant because it indicates that Vidura had a natural inclination for hearing the transcendental message of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and he was never fully satisfied though continuing to hear those topics. He wanted to hear more and more so that he could be more and more blessed by the transcendental message.
sa vai svayambhuvah samrat priyah putrah svayambhuvah
pratilabhya priyam patnim kim cakara tato mune
TRANSLATION: Vidura said: O great sage, what did Svayambhuva, the dear son of Brahma, do after obtaining his very loving wife?
caritam tasya rajarser adi-rajasya sattama
bruhi me sraddadhanaya visvaksenasrayo hy asau
TRANSLATION: O best of the virtuous, the original king of kings [Manu] was a great devotee of the Personality of Godhead Hari, and thus it is worth hearing of his sublime character and activities. Please describe them. I am very eager to hear.
PURPORT: Srimad-Bhagavatam is full of the transcendental topics of the Personality of Godhead and His pure devotees. In the absolute world there is no difference in quality between the Supreme Lord and His pure devotee. Therefore, hearing the topics of the Lord and hearing of the character and activities of the pure devotee have the same result, namely, the development of devotional service.
Today in this short time we have for class, I will try to speak of virtue and responsibility, and also the transformation between the Lord and his devotees. We hear from Srila Prabhupada’s purport that in the absolute world, there is no difference in quality between the Supreme Lord and his pure devotee. We can see that phenomenon of the absolute world so prominently displayed apparently in this world during the pastimes of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates, how the Lord and his devotees melted in regard to each other’s transcendental qualities.
Particularly, let us meditate on Lord Caitanya’s meeting with Haridasa Thakur in Jagannath Puri, how they approached one another and the reaction upon their meeting together. Naturally, Haridasa Thakur pays his full dandavats in the dust to Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya picks him up and they both embrace and cry unlimitedly in tears of ecstatic love. This is the hallmark of Lord Caitanya’s interactions with his associates, the constant embracing and shedding of tears in pure love. In this way, they are displaying, even within the material world, the interactions between the pure Lord, who is always supremely pure, and his pure devotees.
Krsnadasa Kaviraja Goswami presents an extraordinary insight into this situation of the embrace and the mutual shedding of tears of pure love. He explains that the Lord became transformed by the qualities of Haridasa Thakur and Haridasa Thakur became transformed by the qualities of the Lord.
How is it that the Supreme Lord is so affected by his devotee? We must be careful of impersonal understanding, which is so prevalent, especially pop impersonalism in the Western countries these days in which one thinks that because I feel good, that means God means good. Or because I feel miserable, therefore God must be miserable. This is not the mutual transformation that Kaviraja Goswami is referring to.
In this mutual transformation, everything takes place on the transcendental platform. The Lord is becoming transformed by the pure qualities of Haridasa Thakur. It is not that the Lord becomes transformed by the mundane qualities of living entities under the influence of the modes of material nature. So there is a difference in how Krsna becomes affected by his parts and parcels. As we know, the Lord is aloof from the actions and reactions of the material energy, but in Caitanya-lila, he shows how he cannot resist becoming influenced by his pure devotees to the extent that he even comes transformed by them.
Haridasa Thakur tells Lord Caitanya, “Don’t touch me, don’t touch me! I am the lowest of person. I am so sinful.”
Lord Caitanya replies, “I am touching you for my own purification because your good qualities, your transcendental qualities don’t exist in me.”
Now, in this mutual transformation, we must remember that one is always the Prabhu, the Supreme Lord, and one is always the servitor. It is not that becomes a quantitative mix-up. Yet, although the Lord is always who he is, he is eager to partake of the transcendental qualities of his devotee. In fact, he is more eager, Srila Prabhupada explains in this section, the Lord is more eager to serve the devotee than the devotee is to serve him.
Our ascent to reviving our proper qualities in relation to Krsna is driven by hearing about Krsna. Our understanding of virtue is far different from the mundane conception. First of all, it is the prime principle of Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement that virtue is brought about by hearing about Krsna, speaking about Krsna. The krsna-katha is transformational. We are not dealing with religious belief: We shall be saved because we believe a certain way or because we have certain external religious markings. No, we are saved because of the transformational activity of hearing and chanting about Krsna, which actually produces virtue and good qualities.
When Srila Prabhupada was on the Jaladuta in the Boston Harbor, he frankly assessed the situation before him: a population drowning in passion and ignorance. How will these people ever become Krsna conscious? Then he expressed his deep realized experience of the transformational power of talks about Krsna, Krsna’s holy name: Although the situation is impossible, because of the power of hearing about Krsna, the situation can be salvaged, and indeed, even the most fallen living entities can achieve perfection all because of the transformational potency of sri-krsna-sankirtana.
In this way, we are not speaking of religious faith as ordinarily understood. We are speaking about a bhakti laboratory process of the transcendental sound vibration entering the ear and the heart and producing virtue, producing divine qualities to the extent where at the level of complete purity, the Lord is eager to be transformed by the qualities of his devotee.
It is becoming very difficult for people today to understand what virtue is. In fact, even from the material point of view, you rarely hear mention of virtue and wisdom in terms of political leaders running for office. They do not promise the people, “I will be virtuous, I have wisdom.” Everyone promises, “I will bring about more economic development for you. I will bring about more wealth in your pocket.”
Politicians around the world remind themselves, quoting one famous American president, whenever the politician is perplexed how to appeal to the people, “It’s the economy stupid! It’s the economy! It’s the economy!” That’s what they want. They want money. They want to see how their financial prosperity is increasing. These are the issues.
No one goes around saying, “I have virtue, I have wisdom, and I will train the population in virtue and wisdom.” People don’t want to hear that because their judgments of what is good and bad are so economically driven that economic principles have become the virtues.
Therefore, the question is, in an exchange between two persons, is that exchange mutually beneficial for both of them as each person perceives it? So much so that I may be selling you something that may not do you any good from one person’s point of view, but if you think it does good for yourself and you give me money and I am pleased with that money, it is a mutually beneficial exchange. There should be great hesitation in applying the laws of the land to restrict such a mutually beneficial exchange.
We were speaking about this at our Chowpatty temple a week ago that to varying degrees, this is becoming the prime organizing principle of society, how to have exchanges in which one person gives money, the other person gives a product, and both persons are more or less satisfied by that exchange. This is the perfection of social organization to varying degrees. There may be some restraints in this country on selling certain types of things, and restraints in another country, or lack there of, but to varying degrees, this economic principle is the foundation of society today.
So people don’t know anymore what is virtue outside of situations that can be financially calculated. Here is a popular example that is given amongst so-called thinking persons. Who is more virtuous: Mother Theresa, Bill Gates, or Norman Borlaug? Now, you might think, well, obviously we all know, Mother Theresa is more virtuous. She was an ascetic, she was always living amongst the poor, clothed very simply, with very sad eyes upon seeing the suffering of others. Whereas, look at Bill Gates, filthy rich [laughter], the richest man in the world. How can there be any virtue there?
And who is Norman Borlaug? [laughter] Does anyone here know who Norman Borlaug is? No one? He is accredited with saving one billion people’s lives because he is said to be the father of the agricultural revolution, the innovation of chemical agriculture that covered the world and saved a billion lives at least.
Yes, so what about Bill Gates? He has used his fortune to establish charities to eliminate malaria, dysentery, and other scourges of the developing world. You may say that he is certainly not a saintly person. You may say that he is filthy rich, he is greedy, he looks like an overgrown teenage computer nerd [laughter], but look what he is doing for billions of people. Then look at Mother Theresa. She prayed a lot and she gave poor people very primitive medicine. In other words, they died, but they died with lots of prayers around [laughter], living in very harsh circumstances just surrounded by devotional mannerisms. These social psychologists point out that you have been fooled by an aura of sanctity.
When you look at the hard facts, Norman Borlaug is the savior of the world. One billion people, they calculate, have been saved because of the agricultural policies of chemical agriculture. Look at Bill Gates, countless people are being saved from malaria and dysentery. Then look at Mother Theresa, just because she acted like a saint, and clothed herself as a true believer and prayed a lot and spoke a lot of religious platitudes how many people did she actually save? Therefore, we must have a completely different understanding of what is virtue. In other words the traditional religious understanding of virtue has no practical impact in this world in terms of measuring against the philanthropic deeds of people you would never call a saint. So you must rethink your understanding.
Furthermore, you tend to think of virtue as an individual characteristic that can be cultivated. As an individual, you want to develop the virtuous qualities. Your scripture says:
srnvatam sva-katha krsna punya sravana-kirtana
By hearing about Krsna, real virtue, real piety develops in the heart. All right, that is your individual thing, but let us look at the facts. We can see from the facts that generally-there are always exceptions-but generally, morality is situational. People decide what to do and what not to do based on the situation they are in. Research has shown this. I’ll give you an example.
It has been shown by social psychologists that if you are passing in front of store that is selling fresh baked bread, and the street if filled with this smell, you will be more prone to do a good deed than someone who is walking past a clothing store and there is no smell of fresh bed in the air. Similarly, if you are at a pay phone you find in the coin return slot one coin is there, immediately after that you are more prone to try to help someone than otherwise. A third example: if you are reading a book and in the book you see the words “virtue, goodness, charity,” immediately after that you are more prone to help someone than someone who is reading a book in which they see the words “horror” or “terror.” Academics have spent much time and money researching these “crucial” situations.
What happens when there is global tragedy like war? Is it that terrible persons come to the fore and do terrible things? No, according to social research, good persons are put in terrible situations and therefore they do terrible things. By and large, there are always exceptions, but by and large that is the general rule.
There is some lesson in all of this for the devotees of the Lord. Look at Brahma’s situation. He has just dealt with the four Kumaras, catusa. Each of the four boys represents something very needed by human society: tapas, yoga, vairagya, sankhya. Lord Brahma is considering the whole earth’s situation, the whole universe’s situation, as we heard His Holiness Radhanath Maharaja explain in class. So he wants to make social system, a circumstance, a situation so that people can achieve the goal of their being in the material situation which is to revive their Krsna consciousness. He turns to the four Kumaras and gives them the justifiable request: “Will you please procreate so that we can build up a system in the world, a populated system, in which, through that system people can achieve the ultimate goal of life?” The four Kumaras tell him, “No. We’re not interested. We don’t want to enter into all of those activities.”
This is showing, the acaryas point that, that the four Kumaras want direct bhakti and not so much want to be involved with the manifestation of the varnasrama system. But Lord Brahma is thinking of the well being of all the conditioned souls in the universe. He knows that generally living entities are influenced by their situation so he has the responsibility to construct a situation in which people can gradually make progress to the ultimate goal because they are influenced by favorable circumstances for reviving their Krsna consciousness. He wants the four Kumaras to help in that.
But they refuse. Now he has Svayambhuva. He is requesting Svayambhuva, “You please procreate and also take responsibility for managing, take responsibility for protecting the living entities.” Syavambhuva Manu graciously accepts with great love, “Yes, I’ll do what you say.”
It is not so easy to take responsibility like that. We are finding out this to be so in our Krsna consciousness organization. Who will take responsibility for Srila Prabhupada’s movement as his disciples leave more and more, as they age more and more? Is it that everyone is jumping for the massive responsibilities? Is it that everyone is eager, “When will these old timers move on, we can take their spot?” There doesn’t seem to be a mass outpouring [laughs] of voluntary desire, but Lord Brahma also had this problem because what is going to happen is Svayambhuva Manu, as we’ll find out in the Fifth Canto, wants to retire. And the only person he can turn to is Priyavrata. All other options in the hereditary line have been exhausted. Priyavrata, he has been in seclusion receiving transcendental education from Narada Muni. Priyavrata has his mind set on remaining a brahmacari and having nothing to do with worldy rule, nothing to do with management.
This presents a problem for Brahma and Svayambhuva Manu because who will manage the world when there is a circumstance in which people can make gradual spiritual progress? And secondly, how can Svayambhuva Manu fulfill dharma by retiring from his extraordinary managemental burdens? The situation was so intense that Lord Brahma had to personally appear in order to lovingly break Priyavrata’s determination and this was going to be a difficult job, the Bhagavatam explains, because who is Priyavrata’s instructor? Narada Muni. Narada Muni has Priyavrata completely focused on brahmacarya, no management, no worldly responsibilities.
Brahma understands this is going to be a difficult task. He arrives at the Gandhamadana Hill accompanied by Lord Siva, accompanied by the personified Vedas, Marici, Vasistha, Atreya, all these great sages are in the entourage of Lord Brahma because this is going to be such a momentous occasion and such a difficult occasion. How to convince this person who is qualified to take up managemental responsibility?
Lord Brahma descends on his swan, and there on top of the Gandhamadana hill, you see Narada Muni, Svayambhuva Manu, and Priyavrata having their discussion. Lord Brahma arrives and the first thing Brahma does is let Priyavrata know, “I have been in contact with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Don’t be jealous of his order. After all, everyone accepts the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In other words, you may desire not to do this, but this is what you should do.”
Then Lord Brahma quotes many verses explaining that the living entity is not simply bound by his past karma, the living entity is not simply bound by his body, but the living entity is bound by the rules and regulations of dharma. In this way Lord Brahma prevailed upon Priyavrata. At the end, both Priyavrata and Narada Muni were very happy to follow Brahma’s order. They recognized, “This is the desire of the Supreme Lord.” And Svayambhuva Manu was definitely very happy because he could retire from administration which he needed to do how to set an example for others how not to cling to such extraordinary responsibilities until the end of life and also he needed to set the example for others that for one’s own purification this is the best thing to do.
Now in our attempts to staff responsibilities in our ISKCON society, at least to my tiny self, it is evident through traveling around the world that it’s not that devotees are jumping to take up responsibilities. In many places, there are no devotees to take up responsibilities. So what to do? Srila Prabhupada has explained that this Krsna conscious movement should always be a great challenge. In that way, devotees will feel enthusiastic to follow the regulative principles. Without that feeling of a challenge, they will become lethargic and slide under the grip of the material energy.
How is everyone to feel that challenge that there is opportunity for me to do something wonderful for me to do for Krsna and even though that wonderful service will require some austerity or purification, I am signing up for it? How to create that spirit so the Krsna conscious society to go on? It is an easy thing to do. As we can see, Brahma himself and Svayambhuva Manu had that problem, who is going to run the universe? Priyavrata didn’t want anything to do with it. He was rightfully thinking, “I don’t want to get involved in all this.”
Then Lord Brahma gave him a hint. In the process of Lord Brahma saying that no one can avoid the order of the Lord through either yoga, Vedic rituals, or through their own intelligence, manisaya-that’s the hint to Priyavrata. Manisaya, use your intelligence not to reject the order of the Lord but to follow it. Priyavrata got the hint. The answer was yukta vairagya as enunciated so brilliantly by Rupa Goswami.
“All right I’ll take up the post of managing all the planets of the universe, but I’ll do it in the spirit of complete detachment. I’ll do all my activities with the motive to please the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” In that way, Priyavrata combined the instructions of Brahma to manage, and Narada Muni to remain aloof. He properly combined them all to the satisfaction of his predecessors, Brahma and Narada Muni.
I remember one letter from Srila Prabhupada that is not in the Folio now, but I would have this letter pinned to my locker in the Henry Street temple, 1973, in Brooklyn, New York. And there Srila Prabhupada explained something that on one hand seems sad, but on the other hand seems joyful. The letter was written to a leader that was disappointing Srila Prabhupada. Srila Prabhupada wrote that:
“I am hearing such things about you that are making my heart feel very sad, very forlorn. I have given you the opportunity to be such a big leader on behalf of Lord Caitanya and now I’m hearing these things. Naturally you should understand how I am feeling.”
So we may see these things how we are disappointing Srila Prabhupada sometimes, not living up to his expectations. And Srila Prabhupada admitted, “I am feeling sad, I am feeling forlorn hearing these things, especially because I have given you such a big opportunity.” Then Srila Prabhupada concluded, “Never mind, I know Lord Caitanya will send me the right person to lead this movement. If not you, someone else.”
This is the surety of someone who understands Krsna’s plan will prevail, who will be the ones who will get the extraordinary opportunity to participate in that plan.
If you look at the situation-let’s talk about the first world, the developed world. We find that more and more people are becoming practically insane due to having no meaning in life. They are so disturbed by stress and anxiety. This is affecting our preaching. We have in our line the command to reestablish in some kind of way, make some effort to reestablish daivi-varnasrama. Just like the four Kumaras wanted pure bhakti, but Svayambhuva Manu took it as his job to make favorable circumstances. Because indeed most people are influenced by their circumstances.
Similarly, Srila Prabhupada taking the command from Bhaktivinoda Thakur through Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur down through Srila Prabhupada, he wanted that there would be a favorable attempt to make some kind of structural arrangement so that even those who are not strong enough to be Krsna conscious on their own will be influenced by circumstances and situations and in that way their gradual Krsna consciousness can be revived.
You remember in the last year of Prabhupada’s presence among us, a devotee asked Prabhupada, “Why this talk about varnasrama dharma? Lord Caitanya’s policy is to simply chant Hare Krsna. We thought that’s what’s it all about.” Just to make a powerful point, Srila Prabhupada said, “Lord Caitanya, he was from the spiritual world. We’re different. We want to help people.” That doesn’t mean, of course, that we shouldn’t chant Hare Krsna. It means that Prabhupada was revealing his extraordinary compassion how in so many ways to help people gradually become purified.
Now this varnasrama dharma has proven to be a great challenge for us. And sometimes the challenge has been so great we don’t even talk about it anymore. But what can be done? This is our parampara inheritance and we have to struggle with it. It is a fact that most people are influenced by their circumstances. Put a person in a good situation, it is highly probable that person will do something good. Leave a good person in a terrible situation and indeed, as social psychologists point out, the good person will do terrible things as has been seen in so many atrocities and genocides.
We have a lot of work to do and we have a lot of responsibility to be taken. Sometimes, even Lord Brahma becomes perplexed what to do. You’ll see that. After Svayambhuva Manu agrees, “Father, whatever you ask, I’ll readily do. But where should I be located, what to do about all the people, where should they stay? The earth has fallen into the Garbhodhaka Ocean.” And then Lord Brahma is perplexed, “Yes, that’s right. How can this situation be fixed?” And while Lord Brahma is thinking in perplexity, Lord Varaha emerges from his nostril.
We are also, although not Brahma, we are thinking in perplexity, “How we are going to not forget about our paramapra inheritance that Srila Prabhupada wanted that favorable circumstances be constructed so that people could become Krsna conscious. That’s why he pushed varnasrama dharma. It seems so difficult. It seems even inconceivable, but what can we do? This is our line.
In closing, particularly in the first world, we see massive social degradation, people becoming crazy because of stress and lusty affairs since such a young age. It seems that in the 60’s and 70’s, that was the Satya-yuga [laughter] and now. . . . Prabhupada came and got all the hippies of the Satya-yuga who really didn’t do anything for the most part degraded (if they did at all) until they were eighteen. Now all that degradation begins at the age of eleven and twelve. This has affected our preaching in my humble opinion. I have seen this around the world that devotees are perplexed that young people today are nuts [laughs]. Everyone is so economically obsessed. What to do?
Perhaps we need to take another look at Srila Prabhupada’s strategies. Maybe they weren’t antiquated or outmoded or maybe they weren’t dreamy at all. How indeed to create situations so that people can become good and how to take people out of situations in which they will do terrible things because the situation is terrible. That is a different way of looking at varnasrama dharma and our parampara inheritance.
So we have a short class today, fortunately for you, because kirtana was long. I’ll end with those thoughts. Thank you very much. Hare Krsna.