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Suicide, Krsna-prema, and Bhagavad-gita

Saturday, 02 January 2010 / Published in Articles / 4,627 views

By Dhruva Maharaja dasa

It is regretful that everyone reading this knows someone who has committed suicide, unless you’re very young.

During our current Bhagavad-gita eCourse semester on one of the participants friend’s husband took his life while we studied Chapter 8, Attaining the Supreme, and thus the topic became magnified in our online forums.

What happens to someone who commits suicide? What if someone kills himself while chanting, or drowns purposefully in the Yamuna or Ganges? Won’t they attain a higher birth in the next life?

What is a ghost? How does a ghost leave it’s body at the time of death? Does everyone who commits suicide become a ghost?

Answers to these questions are just tips of the iceberg of wisdom lying in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literature. Yet our society, as a whole, seems to consider deeper understanding of such topics not so important. The proof? Read the first sentence again.

In Bg 7.16 Lord Krsna describes four kinds of people who render devotional service unto Him, and we praise these four. In fact, ISKCON focuses most of its attention trying to find them and introduce them to Krsna. However, in the subsequent two verses Krsna explains that these four are not pure devotees and that one must mature beyond such initial self-motivated fuel to actually enter into a loving relationship with Him.

“The devotees who want some benefit out of devotional service are accepted by the Lord because there is an exchange of affection. Out of affection they ask the Lord for some material benefit, and when they get it they become so satisfied that they also advance in devotional service.”

“But the devotee in full knowledge is considered to be very dear to the Lord because his only purpose is to serve the Supreme Lord with love and devotion. Such a devotee cannot live a second without contacting or serving the Supreme Lord.” (Bg 7.16 purport)

What is the difference between these two? And how can one advance from the lower stage to the higher?

The solution is in the purport to Bg 9.3:

“As far as the development of faith is concerned, one who is well versed in the literatures of devotional service and has attained the stage of firm faith is called a first-class person in Krsna consciousness. And in the second class are those who are not very advanced in understanding the devotional scriptures but who automatically have firm faith that Krsna-bhakti, or service to Krsna, is the best course and so in good faith have taken it up.”

Did you catch it?

The difference between the first-class and second-class devotees is being well-versed in devotional scriptures and thus attaining more firm faith.

Therefore, one who wants to advance from lower to higher stages should carefully study scripture in the association of devotees. This will increase one’s faith, and purify our desires.

Unfortunately the majority of people who begin devotional service gradually slip away. Statistics over the last 40 years in ISKCON reveal this. “If they are engaged in devotional service officially, with some ulterior purpose, they cannot achieve the highest perfectional stage. Most probably they will slip after some time. They may become engaged, but because they haven’t complete conviction and faith, it is very difficult for them to continue in Krsna consciousness. We have practical experience in discharging our missionary activity that some people come and apply themselves to Krsna consciousness with some hidden motive, and as soon as they are economically a little well-situated, they give up the process and take to their old ways again. It is only by faith that one can advance in Krsna consciousness.”

The logical conclusion in this discussion, therefore, is that one must study Srila Prabhupada’s books as well as render service; no matter what level of devotional service he or she has attained. Thus, once again we’d like to invite everyone to join our online Bhagavad-gita eCourse and take up this aspect of devotional development seriously. For more information visit:


  1. 0
    Suresh das ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Quoting Srila Prabhupada’s comment from his purport “We have practical experience in discharging our missionary activity that some people come and apply themselves to Krsna consciousness with some hidden motive, and as soon as they are economically a little well-situated, they give up the process and take to their old ways again”, will not work as a one-size, fits-all explaination of why people have left Krishna Consciousness in the past. There are many reasons why people have left, and many different types of scenarios. It is important to study all the various reasons, and find ways to win back devotees and supporters. Without fixing the reasons though, of why people left in the past, the problem is, because human nature tends to stay the same, history may only repeat itself again and again.

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    nrsimhananda ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    HG Dhruva Maharaja das stated re suicide (and other serious topics):
    “It is regretful that everyone reading this knows someone who has committed suicide, unless you’re very young….
    Answers to these questions are just tips of the iceberg of wisdom lying in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic literature. Yet our society, as a whole, seems to consider deeper understanding of such topics not so important. The proof? Read the first sentence again.”
    Not so important? Au contraire, in my 39 years in Iskcon. Devotees, in my experience, are not afraid to tackle the most vexing issues – more than any other people in the world. I, unfortunately, had a beloved stepson who committed suicide at 18. The willingness of devotees to explore the ramifications of such an event was limitless. Srila Prabhupada gives very cogent instruction regarding the taking of one’s own life. The siddhanta is black and white – or is it? Prabhupada embellishes the sastric condemnations with lessons of how the soul who has chanted Hare Krishna or served the pure devotee even slightly can be saved from the most hellish of destinations. Many devotees weighed in with their understandings (and this before the Folio or Internet). I appreciated all of their observations.
    Devotees have been forced by dire circumstances to research and study Srila Prabhupada’s books on various perplexing subjects. We are still exploring whether the soul came from Krishnaloka or from the Brahmajoyti, whether gurus can be authorized by ecclesastical bodies or must be accepted only on the basis of the relationship with the aspiring disciple, whether Srila Prabhupada wanted his books – and pictures in those books – to change slightly, dramatically, or not, etc. Both philosophical and managerial discussions are a hallmark of Vaisnava life. The conversations continue amongst Srila Prabhupada’s disciples, granddisciples, and chelas today. In my opinion, the devotees consider things profoundly; that’s probably why we argue so much with each other on various issues. It’s healthy and normal for people. I’ve never met a group of people – in this case, devotees – who consider so deeply.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -11 ) says:

    This topic of ISKCON learning to get better at retaining people once we have attracted them is very important, much more so (IMHO), than the “jiva fall”, “book change” and “ecclesiastical guru” issues identified by Nrsimhananda Prabhu.

    Retaining devotees and properly finding a place for them so they can keep serving in some suitable way and making advancement is a serious practical question about how to advance the ball (whereas those other issues seem to me to be manufactured excuses for unhelpful debating and quarreling).

    I am always happy to share my views on any issue with anyone (, but it seems to me ISKCON seriously needs to figure out how better to retain people. I cannot believe it seriously has anything to do with “jiva fall” or “book changes” (though it may well have to do, unfortunately, with guru fall-downs in some cases).

    There does seem to be a need for greater outreach to serve the needs of devotees who for some reason are no longer feeling inspired to help Srila Prabhupada’s ISKCON preaching mission. What is really bothering them? What would they like to see improved? What would they like to do for Srila Prabhupada if they had three wishes?

    I agree with Dhruva Maharaja that steady reading and study of Srila Prabhupada’s books is probably one of the best remedies. More access to better, more well-organized, interactive and interesting study programs could be one solution. Devotees who feel they are getting some mastery of the philosophy and mood of Bhagavad-Gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam will want to reciprocate more and feel their needs are being met.

    Some problems may stem from the legacy of the old economic model that devotees would “join” the movement by moving into and becoming economically dependent on a temple. This might be natural for brahmacaris, sannyasis and priests, but householders who are not clergy within ISKCON might feel better situated if they are earning “outside” and giving charity to support preaching programs, rather than trying to live on the meager DM a temple is able to pay them.

    We should find ways to better recognize such “lay” householders’ role in ISKCON and find how to engage them better so they do not get too entangled in mundane pursuits, or feel that ISKCON is failing to meet the spiritual needs of their families.

    I also think its time temples pay a reasonable tax to the GBC so it has some funds for tackling such strategic problems of general concern.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -11 ) says:

    One thing is, it is very important we never water down the actual spiritual standards that are required for full participation in Lord Caitanya’s sankirtan movement. Initiated devotees vow to chant at least 16 rounds a day and follow four regulative principles. Srila Prabhupada insisted that these vows be taken very seriously.

    If fact, one of his instructions for GBC members was that they should travel to temples in their zone to make sure that all “members” are following these principles of 16/4.

    In the Purport to S.B. 10.2.20, Srila Prabhupada has written: “The movement will go on increasing more and more, provided the leaders of the movement remain firmly Krishna conscious by following the regulative principles and the primary activities of chanting the Hare Krishna mantra regularly.”

    But what of those who are not committed enough to follow the regulative principles or chant regularly? They may not be “leaders”, but should they not also be encouraged to support and appreciate the movement at their own level, and be made to feel happy and proud about their decision to do so? Should we not have “lay” congregations who may aspire to improve their sadhana later, but for right now are content to simply show their support for ISKCON in other ways?

    Life Membership was one such program to encourage lay supporters. By becoming a Life Member, a person made a connection and had a common cause with ISKCON. It was hoped (and often was the case) that such members would be drawn closer and closer to ISKCON. They could stay in any ISKCON center 3 days per year, and while there would practice strict sadhana, attending full morning program (not to use it as a free hotel “perk” of membership), and in this way perhaps eventually become an initiated member later.

    It works. Whether with ISKCON, a listener-sponsored radio station, or Amnesty International, if you call a regular donor a “donor member” and appreciate them, you give them a sense of belonging and commitment. They are proud to be members and they influence their friends and associates to do likewise.

    Is there something we do (or have done) to those who have given up on ISKCON to make them feel not welcome, not part of the great mission, not properly appreciated for their own level of participation?

    Or does maintaining high standards of purity force us not to appreciate those who can’t or won’t remain participating fully at the level expected of initiated members? Thoughts?

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -11 ) says:

    There may be a lot of other reasons why people stop identifying themselves as members of ISKCON. Some become affiliated with other groups. Some may be uncomfortable about the idea of affiliation with any religious organization or mission. Some may have particular problems with the philosophy ISKCON promotes or the way ISKCON has been managed.

    [And maybe we could do a better job of explaining how ISKCON is managed and the practical challenges faced by devotees who are trying to perform the sometimes thankless task of management in ISKCON]

    But it does seem that many people, finding themselves unable to remain committed at the high level they were at some point inspired to commit themselves to, do not have a comfortable and satisfying way of relating anymore to their erstwhile comrades who have continued to remain as full-time or fully-committed devotees. They do not have a sense of “place” within ISKCON, and may feel ostracized.

    Maybe it would help if we could steer them into other forms of less demanding participation, such as Life Membership or something similar, while still offering them the respect and appreciation they deserve as people who like to chant Hare Krishna, revere Srila Prabhupada, read his books, accept that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, etc.

    When I meet people on book distribution who used to live in temples or were once initiated but have fallen away, my heart goes out to them in a special way. I want to be able to give them something special. I mean, I am out there trying to give Prabhupada’s mercy to anyone who will take it, but these people are already special recipients of Prabhupada’s mercy. I feel a special affinity with them, and a special obligation.

    Srila Prabhupada would often ask devotees to “bring back” certain disciples who had fallen away. In the latest “Memories” DVD, Ramesvar Prabhu recalls how Srila Prabhupada asked him to go “bring back” specific devotees. [My impression was that he meant to bring them back to the full standard of initiated temple devotees.]

    Fitting into the hierarchy of our communal ashrams may have made it awkward for those who no longer were able to remain ashram “material”. All of a sudden they were (artificially?) much lower than those with whom they “competed” earlier. Such hierarchies are normal parts of human social behavior, but perhaps we need to be conscious about these relations and somehow better adjust to the contemporary, congregational reality. Thoughts?

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    Karanodakasayi Visnu Dasa ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Dear Akruranatha Prabhu,

    I find your comments on ‘old’ devotees very congenial. I wholeheartedly agree with what you have said. We have to continue to endeavour to educate ourselves in what Krsna says about this whole matter: api cet suduracaro bhajate mam ananya-bhak…. Bhagavad-gita 9.30 and Srila Prabhupada’s purport. I just pray I can be of more help in this regard.

    Yours faithfully
    Karanodakasayi Visnu Dasa Vanacari

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -11 ) says:

    Dear Karanodakasayi Vishnu Prabhu,

    PAMHO. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

    I am sure if we brainstormed we could come up with a lot of “action items” for helping ISKCON identify and serve the needs of “old” devotees who have not remained as full-time temple residents.

    One thing is, we need to do a better job of staying in contact with people. I have heard from several devotees how sorry they were that, after they “blooped”, ISKCON devotees seemed to lose interest in them. No one wrote to them, visited them, checked up on how they were feeling.

    We might have felt, “They know where the temple is. If they want to see us they will come here.” I hope we did not feel, “We are busy with more important things. We do not have time for staying in touch with our ‘fallen comrades’.”

    As a preaching movement, we have an obligation to care for and listen sympathetically to those who have left, if they are willing to talk to us. We should not only be genuinely friendly with them (their “ever well-wishers”), but genuinely interested in how we might better accommodate them, help them find solutions for their conflicts, if we can.

    It is too easy to say, “He’s just in maya.” The whole world’s in maya, more or less. ISKCON’s mission is to find ways to help people who are in maya. Hospitals do not turn away people because they are sick. (That’s what health insurance does). ;-)

    People who have ever seriously chanted are less in maya than the general public. So a second thing is we need to be willing to listen and make adjustments in how we do things so we retain people better, at least in some capacity.

    Lord Caitanya’s movement is more versatile than just having one prescription: “Move into the temple.” Chapter 12 of Bhagavad-gita has a series of alternate prescriptions. One of the amazing things about Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam is how they embrace the whole gamut of spiritual practices, philosophies and social behavior from the Bhagavat standpoint, within the vision of pure bhakti as the goal.

    Not that we are unlimitedly accommodating. Vivekananda’s “yato mat, tato path” formula is too wishy-washy. There really are rights and wrongs, truths and falsehoods. But skilled devotees who know the goal can see how to nudge everyone in all walks of life into the kirtan, without requiring them to “join the army.”

    I think Dhruva Maharaja is on the right track by encouraging study through e-courses and other study groups, at least for some people.

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -11 ) says:

    Srila Prabhupada’s Purport to B.G. 9.30 (and the companion verse 9.31) is very interesting. We can read it over and over again and try to understand it. At least I still find it a little puzzling.

    In the Purport to 9.30, Srila Prabhupada explains that conditioned living entities have two kinds of activities, conditional and constitutional. But constitutional activities are those performed in one’s constitutional position (as explained a couple sentences later), so how can a conditioned soul have such activities?

    (I suppose even in our conditioned state we may be engaged by superior authority in devotional service, even though real bhakti is said to be performed in liberated brahma-bhuta condition beyond the three modes.)

    On the other hand, Srila Prabhupada explains that even for devotees there are conditional activities, such as activities for protecting the body or abiding by rules of society and state. But why should one who is fully cognizant of his spiritual nature be at all concerned for such conditional activities?

    (Well, I suppose even a fully transcendental devotee may be performing some service that requires it, so that he can stay alive, be effective and set a good example for others.)

    When Srila Prabhupada writes that sometimes it may be seen that a person in Krishna consciousness commits some act which may be taken as most abominable socially or politically, what does he mean? Is he speaking of a completely transcendental actor whose spiritual actions are mistaken as abominable by conditioned souls, like Krishna’s “rancor” pastime of leaving the battlefield?

    It seems from the rest of the Purport (and the following Purport) that he is speaking of temporary falldown of one who is not yet a perfect devotee. Devotional service is so strong that it will quickly rectify a beginner who keeps chanting Hare Krishna.

    Vaisesika said in a recent class that we may judge people based on what they have done in the past, or what they are doing now, but the most merciful way to judge people is on their potential for what they might do in the future.

    This merciful angle of vision seems to be encouraged by Krishna, who emphatically enjoins: If one is properly determined to be a devotee, his missteps are to be overlooked.

    Such merciful vision is even more prominent in Srila Prabhupada, who looked at many unqualified people and encouraged, “Come on, you can do it. You can be a pure devotee. Why not? Just do as I am doing.”)

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    Akruranatha ( User Karma: -11 ) says:

    I know a devotee who approached Srila Prabhupada privately and disclosed that he was having trouble following the four regulations, and Srila Prabhupada was very gentle and told him that a baby stumbles at first when learning to walk. Srila Prabhupada must have been responding to the sincerity and submission with which the devotee asked the question.

    Other times Srila Prabhupada publicly insisted on strict adherence. Radhanatha Swami recounted a time when a devotee at a public darshan in New Vrindaban asked about difficulty following due to weakness, and Srila Prabhupada roared, “Weakness? RECTIFY IT!!”

    Obviously our initiation vows of four rules and 16 rounds are our lifeline and most treasured possession. But those who have slipped away from strict adherence need to be encouraged and not pushed away. They are still much easier to reach than an average person. They may have even spent many lifetimes in spiritual practices that enabled them to do the service and chanting they have already done.

    Two verses from Narada Muni’s instructions to Vyasadeva on composing Srimad Bhagavatam come to mind:

    “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.” (S.B. 1.5.17)

    “My dear Vyasa, even though a devotee of Lord Krishna sometimes falls down somehow or other, he certainly does not undergo material existence like others [fruitive workers, etc.] because a person who has once relished the taste of the lotus feet of the Lord can do nothing but remember that ecstasy again and again.” (S.B. 1.5.19)

    Devotees who have “surrendered” at one time or other, especially those who lived in ISKCON temples, engaged 24/7 in bhakti yoga, and gotten initiated, are part of our ISKCON family somehow, even if they have lately become lax in their practice. They are something more than Life Members, because they have gone through a period of intensive training and made more significant sacrifices. We have a duty to engage such people and respond to their concerns and needs.

    Sometimes we may have put ISKCON’s need for their labor above their need for hearing and chanting, or made other mistakes. How can we rectify this and serve them better, while continuing with our broader mission of giving the holy name to everyone?

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