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Reforming the reformer

Wednesday, 06 December 2017 / Published in Recent Media / 7,719 views

In the following article Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur describes Krishna consciousness as the only genuine reform process. He says that anyone who takes shelter of any other process to reform society is in need of reform themselves.

By Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakur Prabhupada

The world stands in no need of any reformer. The world has a very competent person for guiding its minutest happenings. The person who determines that there is scope for reform of the world, himself stands in need of reform. The world goes on in its own perfect way. No person can deflect it even the breadth of a hair from the course chalked out for it by providence. When we perceive any change being actually effected in the course of events of this world by the agency of any particular individual, we must know very well that the agent possesses no real power at any stage. The agent finds himself driven forward by a force belonging to a different category from himself. The course of the world does not require to be changed by the agency of any person. What is necessary is to change our outlook on this world. This was done for the contemporary generation by the mercy of Sri Chaitanya. It can only be known to recipients of his mercy. The scriptures declare that it is only necessary to listen with an open mind to the name of Krishna from the lips of a bona fide devotee. As soon as Krishna enters the listening ear, he clears up the vision of the listener so that he no longer has any ambition of ever acting the part of a reformer of any other person, because he finds that nobody is left without the very highest guidance. It is therefore his own reform, by the grace of God, whose supreme necessity and nature he is increasingly able to realize, by the eternally continuing mercy of the Supreme Lord.

From The Harmonist, May 1932, issue number 11. Article originally titled, “Sree Chaitanya in South India”. Pages 325-326.

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14 Responses to “Reforming the reformer”

  1. Akruranatha says :

    This is a sobering bit of information. I guess this means all of my criticism and anger about how other people are doing (or neglecting) their service is totally misguided?

    Was it Pundarik Vidyanidhi who got chastised (slapped) by Lord Jagannatha in a dream because he thought critically about the Lord’s pujaris having left too much starch in His clothes?

    But what about those whose service really involves instructing others in how to do things (i.e., reforming them)?

    Or what if there are opposing elements who might do harm to our service or to the asssets we may be deputed to protect as part of our service? Don’t we have to at least recognize the need to properly deal with such “enemies”?

    Is the instruction Srila Sarasvati Thakur Prabhupada giving here practical for those who are involved in carrying out responsible service?

    Is this instruction meant for everyone, or is it just for uttama adhikaris (who do not distinguish between devotees, innocents and demons, but see everyone as serving more nicely than themselves?

    [I actually think it is meant for everyone, even the neophyte, but I am not sure how it can be practically applied by one who lives in the world and has to deal with bad actors.]

    How would we like our policemen to go around thinking no one was in need of reform? How would they protect us from the bad guys in that case?

    Or is it that they are supposed to recognize that, just as the criminals are being directed by a “force belonging to a different category”, so too are the enlightened policemen in apprehending them and bringing them to justice?

    This article reminds me of the story in the Bhagavatam where Dharma in the form of a bull would not name Kali yuga as his tormentor, even though King Parikshit had caught Kali red handed. Dharma said, different philosophers assert that various causes are responsible for the effects we perceive, but ultimately it is the Supreme Personality of Godhead that is the origin of everything (janmadyasya yathah)

    It also reminds me of the invocation to Isopanisad, and Prabhupada’s magnificent purport. The phenomenal world, being an emanation from Krishna, is also perfectly equipped, and there is a perfect arrangement for all living beings (who are also perfect emanations). It is just our resistance to acting as His parts and parcels that prevents us from perceiving the perfection of the whole situation.

    But then, why is there “transcendental anxiety”?

  2. Praghosa says :

    Dear Akruranatha prabhu,

    Yes the example of Dharma very much mirrors the mood of this essay by SBSST. We may have so many duties and issues to deal with in life but ultimately we have to be convinced that the most important thing of all, both for us and every living entity, is developing our relationship with Krsna. If we become distracted from that by getting bogged down into thinking that we can solve the social, economic, cultural and whatever other problems of the world by some other arrangement then we have fallen foul of what SBSST is highlighting in his essay.

    There are many references in sastra that reflect this dynamic:

    tyaktva sva-dharmam caranambujam harer – One who has forsaken his material occupations to engage in the devotional service of the Lord may sometimes fall down while in an immature stage, yet there is no danger of his being unsuccessful. On the other hand, a nondevotee, though fully engaged in occupational duties, does not gain anything SB 1.5.17

    devarsi-bhutapta-nrnam pitrnam – O King, one who has given up all material duties and has taken full shelter of the lotus feet of Mukunda, who offers shelter to all, is not indebted to the demigods, great sages, ordinary living beings, relatives, friends, mankind or even one’s forefathers who have passed away. Since all such classes of living entities are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, one who has surrendered to the Lord’s service has no need to serve such persons separately. SB 11.5.41

    In other words, unless one is Krsna conscious, all his material possessions are zero, but when this zero is by the side of the Supreme One, it at once increases in value to ten. Unless situated by the side of the Supreme One, zero is always zero; one may add one hundred zeros, but the value will still remain zero. Unless one’s material assets are used in Krsna consciousness, they may play havoc and degrade the possessor. SB 4.3.17 Purport

    “One who has unflinching devotion for the Personality of Godhead has all the good qualities of the demigods. But one who is not a devotee of the Lord has only material qualifications that are of little value. This is because he is hovering on the mental plane and is certain to be attracted by the glaring material energy.” Citizens under the guidance of a Krsna conscious king will become devotees, and then there will be no need to enact new laws every day to reform the way of life in the state. If the citizens are trained to become devotees, they will automatically become peaceful and honest, and if they are guided by a devoted king advised by devotees, the state will not be in the material world but in the spiritual world. All the states of the world should therefore follow the ideal of the rule or administration of Maharaja Ambarisa, as described here. SB 9.4.22

  3. Akruranatha says :

    So, the Krishna conscious king, in guiding the citizens, is not “reforming” them. He does not see any need for reform, but is really carrying out his duty in accordance with the Lord’s arrangement.

    The same goes for Krsna-conscious parents who train their children, and even Krishna conscious cops who arrest burglars and drag them in handcuffs down to the station for booking. They are not “reforming” the world, but are playing out their designated roles in accordance with the Lord’s perfect plan for the world.

    All the time, they are remembering the Lord and seeing how his creation is perfectly arranged: mam anusmara yudhya ca

    How does this insight practically affect us? Will it make us complain less about the shortcomings of our modern economic system or social system? (Does it make us more socially conservative and resistant to change, like religious teachers who supported slavery as “God’s arrangement,” or the Church that aligned itself with the “ancien regime” in Europe?)

    Will we be more tolerant of mismanagement in our temple, or of the leadership of ISKCON (or of those who oppose our temple management or who oppose ISKCON’s leadership)?

    Does this insight have an effect sort of like the “serenity prayer”, that we become accepting of things we cannot change but still change the things we are supposed to change? Is it somehing like the “Alcoholics Anonymous” catch phrase, “Let go, let God”? [Of course I know it is much deeper than that]

    I raise these questions because people often tell me I am too naive and accepting. I am a Pollyanna who sees the world through rose-colored glasses and is not willing to call a spade a spade. Wise well wishers warn me I lack judgment and discrimination and am unrealistically optimistic about the ability of different devotees to get along and work together. But statements like this from SBSST seem to reinforce my compulsion to at least try to cultivate the mood of blaming no one but myself, and to expect the best from other devotees.

    I think I see what you are saying Praghosa Prabhu: The main thrust of the article is that the primary need for each of us is to become Krishna conscious, and not be distracted by other so-called problems, and if we do become Krishna conscious, nothing can really bother us (although our duty may involve struggle, as Arjuna’s did).

    I am intrigued by the statement, “This was done…by the mercy of Sri Chaitanya.” What was done? What does SBSST mean?

  4. Praghosa says :

    Presumably SBSST is indicating that “The world stands in no need of any reformer [acting independently of Krishna]”

    SBSST clearly states that there is a perfectly competent person to look after even the minutest need of reform – Krishna. So logically if someone is acting on behalf of Krishna then whatever reforms they introduce will be on behalf of Krishna. Srila Prabhupada came to the west to help reform western society from being engrossed in materialism, Lord Caitanya did the same 500 years ago.

    Obviously these kinds of reformers and those working on their behalf are most welcome – yada yada hi dharmasya

  5. Madhavananda Das (Orissa) says :

    Krishna says we should act according to our sva-dharma. He says if we try to do someone else’s work (even if we can do better) then we are putting ourselves into danger. For us, “sva-dharma” is following guru’s instructions. If guru tells us to create a revolution, then we must. If guru tells us to be an authority and instruct others, then we must. However, if we don’t have such sanction then we have no right to self-appoint ourselves as judges and jihadis against whoever we deem to be offenders. Padma Purana says if we don’t act according to sastra we will simply create a disturbance. And what is the sastric injunction?

    aśraddadhāne vimukhe ’py aśṛṇvati
    yaś copadeśaḥ śiva-nāmāparādhaḥ

    Preaching to those who don’t have faith or who are reluctant to hear from you is an offense to the holy name.

    Mahaprabhu taught if someone has faith in us and requests our opinion, we should speak. But if they don’t have faith and don’t ask, better be silent. Before Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya and Prakashananda Saraswati, Mahaprabhu was quiet until they asked for his opinion. Only after they requested him, did he speak, and then he spoke like a bullet — no compromise.

    If we are conditioned souls then we’re not the seers we are the seen. We can’t say who is good or bad. We should do whatever Krishna has given us to do.

    If we found out that some temple presidents were stealing money, how many devotees would respect them? What if we discovered they were also having illicit sex with others wives? What if we found out they had killed brahmanas, killed cows, and broken deities and temples? Who would respect such persons?

    But what if these rascals were eternal associates of the Lord, and those heinous acts were their service to the Lord? What if their names were Jaya/Vijaya-Hiranyakasipu/Hiranyaksa-Ravana/Kumbhakarna?

    What about someone who supported Duryodhan and tried to kill Krishna, Arjuna and the pandavas? Could we accept him as a leader, a great devotee, a mahajana?

    What if his name was Bhishmadev?

    We are not the seers.

    As for me, I’m not going to start distributing guns for the revolution, until Krishna or his representative appear before me and give clear instructions to do so. As for the many Don Quixote’s in this world, let them battle with their windmills; my personal role in the reform movement is doing what I’ve been instructed to do.

  6. Pandu das says :

    After reading Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Prabhupada’s quote, I was flooded with a series of questions, which took 60% of my allotted space to express.

    Then, after reading the preceeding comments, I see that my questions were already asked and answered.

    I used to wonder why there’s a “Re-Think Comment” button. Now I have a reason.

    I’m going to chant some japa now.

    Hare Krishna.

  7. Dear prabhus,

    It is enlivening to see a topic put before us, to pass comment, or give our realizations – this is real freedom – Krishna katha. Perhaps this could be a regular feature on Danadavats, what do you think Praghosa prabhu?

    What I gather from this statement by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, is that, in spite of the inability of anyone to reform things – because Krishna is the ability in man – there is a way to do so. The defining words to this effect are: “What is neccessary is to change our outlook on the world. This was done for the contemporary generation by the mercy of Sri Chaitanya. It can only be known to recipients of His mercy”.

    It is impossible to do anything major in world affairs without Krishna’s fulfilling ambitious quests for change on the political or revolutionary level. But those devotees who are invested with Lord Chaitanya’s mercy, can can cause positive changes with the backing of the holy names of the Lord. In other words, only a devotee can make things really happen, whereas those who think they are the doers, do not actually do anything but obey their inferior desires for control.

    So when a devotee preaches towards changing societies’ ‘outlook’, to shift the world’s mindset to an acceptable level conducive to accomodate real change, that is setting the spiritual revolution alight. In this regard, the devotees are the doers, whereas, the illusioned reformers are not the doers.

    Ys, Kesava Krsna dasa.

  8. sita-pati says :

    The call to revolution is there:

    On the other hand, that literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms, pastimes, etc., of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.

    Srimad Bhagavatam 1.5.11

    This discussion thread is interesting. I get the feeling that the question of adhikara may be involved.

    Madhavananda prabhu says:

    If we found out that some temple presidents were stealing money, how many devotees would respect them? What if we discovered they were also having illicit sex with others wives? What if we found out they had killed brahmanas, killed cows, and broken deities and temples? Who would respect such persons?

    But what if these rascals were eternal associates of the Lord, and those heinous acts were their service to the Lord? What if their names were Jaya/Vijaya-Hiranyakasipu/Hiranyaksa-Ravana/Kumbhakarna?

    What about someone who supported Duryodhan and tried to kill Krishna, Arjuna and the pandavas? Could we accept him as a leader, a great devotee, a mahajana?

    What if his name was Bhishmadev?

    We are not the seers.

    In the case of all these people, the example is that devotees do actively oppose them. Arjuna never personally disrespected Bhismadeva or Duryodhana, but he did do his duty with respect to them. In a similar way, would it not be the case that a devotee would do something if he found a temple president or other authority stealing money, or say, abusing children in the gurukula?

    Or would he be inactive in the name of a higher level of vision?

    Is not dutiful action without considering oneself the doer and with detachment from the results our ideal?

    Personally if I became aware of a devotee abusing children, for example, I would act – understanding him to be eternal spirit soul and a sadhaka, but understanding nonetheless that both he and I have our roles to play in the drama of life.

  9. Praghosa says :

    Yes Sita-pati prabhu if we are acting in Krsna consciousness and under the shelter of authority then surely whatever action we will take will be auspicious. Still we should distinguish such action from other morally right action that is undertaken independently.

    The story of Srila Prabhupada’s reaction to the pretty bizarre story of a temple president and his wife’s association with chicken was interesting. He complimented the devotees for not taking the law into their own hands. Though it was very difficult, they continued to serve under the authority of the TP and his wife until they could report the situation to a higher authority. So even when something is clearly wrong there is still no loss to inform one’s authority before taking action.

    Another interesting aspect to the above pastime is that Srila Prabhupada didn’t take a decision himself, rather he appointed the much maligned and thankless entity to make a ruling – a committee!

  10. sita-pati says :

    Thank you for your insight Praghosa Prabhu – and also for the hard work that you do here at

  11. Akruranatha says :

    I remember hearing Srila Prabhupada refuting the Malthusian idea that as the population grows, mankind will suffer from a shortage of the necessities of life. I do not remember if I heard a tape recording, or read it in a book, but Srila Prabhupada said something to the effect: “My guru Maharaja said there is no shortage of anything but Krishna consciousness.”

    When he rode through some areas in the U.S. that are sparsely populated, Srila Prabhupada pointed out this was proof there is no shortage of space and that the world could sustain a much larger population if things were properly distributed in accordance with the “isavasyam” principle.

    Regarding SBSST’s statement regarding individuals who appear to be change agents in the world, that “The agent finds himself driven forward by a force belonging to a different category from himself”, there is another statement about a “different category” in SBSST’s writing which has recently come to my attention [referring to the time a soul becomes self-realized]:

    “At that time the awakened soul says in effect to the mind and body: I am not identical with you. I do not want what you require. I have long believed that I was identical with both of you and that we shared the same interests. But now I find that I am categorically different from you. I am made wholly from the principle of self-consciousness, while both of you are made of dead matter . . . I refuse to be a slave anymore.” (From “Vaisnavism: Real and Apparent” by SBSST, as quoted in “Nama Rahasya” by His Holiness Sacinandana Swami.)

    The soul is “categorically different” from the material mind and body. It belongs to the spiritual category of Krishna and His internal energy.

    There are many statements in the Bhagavad Gita that describe how an enlightened yogi perceives all material activities as taking place by the interaction of the modes of material nature, or the senses interacting with their objects. For example:

    “When one properly sees that in all activities no other performer is at work than these modes of nature and he knows the Supreme Lord, who is transcendental to all these modes, he attains My spiritual nature.” (BG 14.20)

    Mundane “reformers” are identifying with their bodies and minds and thus are being directed by the three gunas, but devotees practice reforming themselves by sankirtan.

    I can’t help feel that when devotees argue over perennial ISKCON “controversies”, the modes begin acting on us.

  12. shiva says :

    Part 1

    Akruranath you wrote

    This is a sobering bit of information. I guess this means all of my criticism and anger about how other people are doing (or neglecting) their service is totally misguided?

    Well, yes and no, it depends. Criticism is alright under the right circumstances, anger is a sign of ignorance (There is divine anger, but that is something else). Srila Saraswati Thakura words can be seen as explaining this verse from the Gita

    ye yatha mam prapadyante
    tams tathaiva bhajamy aham
    mama vartmanuvartante
    manusyah partha sarvasah

    As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Prtha.

    Srila Prabhupada would say or write often

    “Mahatma Gandhi he used to say that “Not a blade of grass moves without the
    sanction of God.” It is a fact. It is a fact. Nothing can be done without His sanction.”
    (Bhagavad-gita 5.7-13 — New York, August 27, 1966)

    Whatever anyone is doing is being done under the guidance of the Lord. Everyone follows the path of the Lord in all respects. The point Srila Bhaktisiddhanta is making is that we should try and understand what is reality and what is illusion. Reality is: everything that is going on is being directed to happen by Paramatma. We should understand that we nor anyone else can affect the course of reality because we are all under the same controlling agent. Does knowing this mean that we shouldn’t criticize what anyone is doing because we know they are being sanctioned by the will of God in their actions? No, we can criticize, but we should try and understand what is reality and what is illusion.

    The vision of seeing everything as the will of the Lord is the vision of the uttama adhikari bhakta. No one else can see with that vision at all times. Other people may see with that vision occasionally, but due to not being on the higher level they cannot maintain that vision. They will generally see everyone and everything acting under their own will and direction. The uttama adhikari always sees everyone serving Krsna. In order to preach he has to tell people to change what they are doing, he has to ignore that he sees everyone serving the will of the Lord, so he takes on a lower vision. Not that he stops seeing everyone doing the will of the Lord, he just disregards that vision when he acts to change the direction of peoples lives.

  13. shiva says :

    Part 2

    From the purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 2.3.21

    As stated hereinbefore, there are three kinds of devotees of the Lord. The first-class devotee does not at all see anyone who is not in the service of the Lord, but the second-class devotee makes distinctions between devotees and nondevotees. The second-class devotees are therefore meant for preaching work, and as referred to in the above verse, they must loudly preach the glories of the Lord. The second-class devotee accepts disciples from the section of third-class devotees or nondevotees. Sometimes the first-class devotee also comes down to the category of the second-class devotee for preaching work.

    If you can rise to the platform of uttama vision, then due to that understanding of seeing everything under the direction of the Lord, the Lord becomes revealed through seeing that direction.

    Krsna says in Srimad Bhagavatam 11.13.24

    manasa vacasa drstya
    grhyate ‘nyair apindriyaih
    aham eva na matto ‘nyad
    iti budhyadhvam anjasa

    Within this world, whatever is perceived by the mind, speech, eyes or other senses is Me alone and nothing besides Me. All of you please understand this by a straightforward analysis of the facts.

    Because Krsna is controlling everything as Paramatma, then we can see Krsna through the actions of everyone. In a film whatever appears on the screen is meant to appear there due to the control over the film by the writer, director and editor. Because of that control they can if they desire include a message for one or more people that will only be recognizable to the people the message is meant for. Those people can only see the message if they know the creators of the film have inserted a message just for them.

  14. shiva says :

    Part 3

    Similarly a person who can understand the above verse is eligible to see Krsna everywhere.

    Bhagavad-gita 6.30

    yo mam pasyati sarvatra
    sarvam ca mayi pasyati
    tasyaham na pranasyami
    sa ca me na pranasyati

    For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.


    A person in Krsna consciousness certainly sees Lord Krsna everywhere, and he sees everything in Krsna. Such a person may appear to see all separate manifestations of the material nature, but in each and every instance he is conscious of Krsna, knowing that everything is a manifestation of Krsna’s energy. Nothing can exist without Krsna, and Krsna is the Lord of everything — this is the basic principle of Krsna consciousness. Krsna consciousness is the development of love of Krsna — a position transcendental even to material liberation. At this stage of Krsna consciousness, beyond self-realization, the devotee becomes one with Krsna in the sense that Krsna becomes everything for the devotee and the devotee becomes full in loving Krsna. An intimate relationship between the Lord and the devotee then exists. In that stage, the living entity can never be annihilated, nor is the Personality of Godhead ever out of the sight of the devotee. To merge in Krsna is spiritual annihilation. A devotee takes no such risk. It is stated in the Brahma-samhita (5.38):

    santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti
    yam syamasundaram acintya-guna-svarupam
    govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami

    “I worship the primeval Lord, Govinda, who is always seen by the devotee whose eyes are anointed with the pulp of love. He is seen in His eternal form of Syamasundara, situated within the heart of the devotee.”

    At this stage, Lord Krsna never disappears from the sight of the devotee, nor does the devotee ever lose sight of the Lord. In the case of a yogi who sees the Lord as Paramatma within the heart, the same applies. Such a yogi turns into a pure devotee and cannot bear to live for a moment without seeing the Lord within himself.