By Vraj Bihari Dasa
As I sighed in disbelief, a friend assured me that although horrifying, it’s true – the city is under siege by terrorists. Just then a frenzied neighbor rushed in screaming that the police had gunned down two terrorists a mere hundred meters from our temple. As sirens blew, and panic spread, fear gripped the city. Confusion and uncertainty loomed large on our faces. Meanwhile other terrorists had taken hostages in two premier hotels – also not far from the temple – and the commandoes rushed in. Seventy-two hours later, the terror drama ended, but nationwide expressions of anger and anguish continued for weeks.
“What’s the relevance of Krishna consciousness now, if you can’t usher in a political revolution?” challenged a student. Three hundred thousand citizens had gathered at a rally the previous day, demanding military action against the neighboring country. As I search for answers, and seek strength through spiritual practices, I am also faced with the challenge of counseling young, disturbed minds.
I assured my restless audience that we certainly need to do the needful to protect innocent citizens, and we all stand united to combat terrorism. However, at another level we also need to individually transcend problems that seem overwhelming at the present, but are blinding us to the real problems facing all of us, all the time. Terrorism or no terrorism, the ugly reality of birth, death, old age and disease always stares at us, threatening to prolong our sojourn in this world (BhagavadGita: 13.9). A spiritual practice transforms our consciousness, and helps us remember the Supreme Lord at the time of death. This ensures that we do not take another birth in this miserable material world, but rather join the Supreme Lord in His abode, for an eternal life of bliss (BG: 8.16).
“But the tragedy has consumed my consciousness. I can’t chant, I see no hope”, confessed another devotee. My thoughts went back to the history of Indian independence struggle of the 1920’s…
Bigger emergency than terrorism
The Nation was up in arms against British terrorism. General Dyer had ordered firing on innocent citizens gathered at a peace rally at Jallianwala, Punjab. Thousands had died under England’s persecution, and now the Indians wanted independence from British rule. Young Abhay Charan (Srila Prabhupada’s household name), in his first meeting with Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Thakur, his spiritual master, voiced his support to the freedom cause. Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati had urged Abhay to spread Lord Chaitanya’s spiritual message to the English-speaking world. Abhay protested, “As long as we are a dependent Nation, Krishna consciousness has to wait”. The whole country would have agreed with Abhay, but Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati boldly declared, “Krishna consciousness is the real emergency, and it can’t wait for independence. Lack of spiritual awareness is the only problem, and God Consciousness is the only solution”.
Six decades have passed since Indian independence. The saga of untold human deprivation and abuse – now inflicted by the Indians themselves – is a chilling reminder of the terrible times we are living in. Recession, starvation due to hoarding of essential food grains, domestic violence and breaking of the family unit, and child molestation are a few of the rising ills affecting the hapless millions. Waves of different events lash at the masses and the whole Nation rides on terrorism, the cricket world cup, and elections.As another ‘wave’ of‘breaking news’ waits to hit the screen, families sit glued to their T.V sets. The masses are thusconvinced – “Krishna consciousness can wait”.
Srila Prabhupada’s appeal to transcend
Srila Prabhupada’s life changed after that first meeting with Srila Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati, and he dedicated himself to the cause of spreading God consciousness to the misdirected civilization. Years later as Srila Prabhupada started the Back to Godhead, India had been forced to enter the Second World War. As bombs dropped in Calcutta, Srila Prabhupada was busy writing the timeless spiritual wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita.
A couple of decades later at New York, as Srila Prabhupada managed his fledgling ISKCON, the youth voiced angry protests against America’s participation in the Vietnam War. Srila Prabhupada challenged his young followers that the war would be a non issue in a few years, but we will continue to get battered and bruised by the cruel and indefatigable laws of material nature. During the 1971 Indo-Pak tension, a reporter pleaded with Srila Prabhupada to urge General Yayaha Khan (of Pakistan) to stop this bloody war. He once again exposed the ugly reality of death staring at us always “Will you not die if there is no war?” challenged Srila Prabhupada.
Are we then to turn a blind’s eye to the day-to-day crisis of this world?
A devotee fights the terrorists
No! A devotee of Krishna surely does the needful to address different fleeting problems of this world, but simultaneously works to free himself from the bondage of repeated birth and death.
Mr. Nilesh Ghosalkar, a trained fighter with the Mumbai Police is also a devotee, attending regular temple programmes. He was on the frontline, fighting the terrorists in one of the hotels, and narrowly survived the war. He sought the blessings of devotees and combined his heroic combat with devotion to Lord Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada explained the need for ksatriyas, the warrior class whose principal duty is to uphold law and order in the society. If an emergency arises, we are not against violence against the terrorists, just as a surgical operation to remove a tumor from the body is not deemed as violence by the suffering patient.
Krishna Consciousness gives strength to combat tragedies
Krishna consciousness may not stop aggression by the terrorists, betrayal by loved ones or devastations by Tsunamis. As exemplified by Nilesh, life becomes tolerable and hopeful for a devotee because he discovers a tangible purpose in life, to cultivate a relationship with God, and plan his journey to his real home – the spiritual world. As the rain of problems shower unabatedly, a devotee carries the umbrella of Krishna Consciousness practice. This keeps him sane even as events in this world get bizarre by the day.
Perfecting the rare human life
After evolving through 8.4 million species of life, the conditioned soul gets a human body. Human life is a rare opportunity to end this cycle of transmigration. Unlike the other species whose life is governed by pre-determined behavioral patterns, the human life offers the soul the power to choose and desire. A human being’s choice to connect to his spiritual nature, his ardent desire to obtain the Lord’s mercy, and his sincere devotional practice ensures that his suffering in this world is for the last time.
The Srimad Bhagavatam reveals the example of king Khatvanga who ruled the Earth, and won many battles on behalf of demigods – the higher, and more evolved beings on other planets. Pleased with his service, the demigods offered a benediction. The king desired to know how long he would live. Being endowed with superior powers, the gods revealed that the king’s life would end immediately. Khatvanga, at once relinquished his wealth and kingdom, and focused exclusively on God, Krishna. This way he secured his journey back home to the kingdom of God. A devotee realizes that this world offers dangers and death at every step. (Srimad Bhagavatam 10.14.58). Knowing any day could end his term in this bodily existence, a devotee remains alert to his Krishna Consciousness duties through the process of internal purification, while simultaneously engaging in his worldly responsibilities.
Holy Name – the real Panacea
The internal purification begins with the vibration of the transcendental sound
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare
This Hare Krishna mantra is a sound descending from the spiritual plane. As we connect to this spiritual sound, we learn to see the myriad events of our daily life in a broader perspective, and deal with them maturely. Besides soothing the mind during troubled times, the holy names also gradually awaken our dormant relationship with Krishna.
“My dear King, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom”. (Srimad Bhagavatam12.3.51)
Srila Prabhupada encouraged us to chant this mantra in the mood of a helpless child calling out to the mother for shelter. Besides, devotees also chant for the welfare of others, and offer heart-felt prayers for the grief-stricken families directly affected by the terrorist attacks.
A devotee is not an escapist nor does he have the ostrich’s ‘head-in-sand’ approach of ‘all’s well’. As a humble servant of all, he plays his part in helping others, and connecting all living entities to God. In January’ 2006, His Holiness Indradyumna Swami, a leading traveling preacher of ISKCON, was in the thick of action at Tsunami hit areas in Sri Lanka. A Lankan army Major confessed to Maharaj that there is no dearth of physical relief and economic aid as donations are pouring from all over the world. “Can you address the grief, the trauma that has affected their psyche? That’s more important now”. Indradyumna Swami rose to the challenge and promptly lead hari naam sankirtan – the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. Thousands of local villagers joined in the ecstatic chanting – the religious practice for this age – to drown their sorrows, and rejoice in the awakening of their natural love of God. The devotees also distributed prasadam, sanctified food offered to Krishna. In a few hours, Indradyumna Swami and his team had become an integral part of the village family. Krishna had united them all on a higher platform. Chanting Hare Krishna thus helps us carry out our individual, national and humanitarian responsibilities more soberly, happily and effectively.
More blasts coming up…
The neighborhood is once again resounding with deafening blasts and shrieks, but of a different kind. Indian Cricket team has pulled off a cliffhanger, and a pompous wedding ceremony has its Bollywood numbers blaring off the sky. Seems a good reason to rejoice, and forget the terrorism issue. Never mind the millions dying to Aids, starvation, drug abuse, road accidents and a thousand other things. It also seems Krishna Consciousness can wait for the Indians – or can it?
The author is a celibate teacher at ISKCON ashrama at Chowpatty, Mumbai