Photo by: Ananta Vrindavan
- Krishna and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance -
by Rohini-suta dasa (Ronald E. Boutelle)
Table of Contents
Chapter Six: The Third Light
The great sage, Narada Muni (NA-ra-da moo-knee) is glorified throughout the Shrimad-Bhagavatam as an empowered incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Narada’s sacred mission, mentioned throughout the Vedas, is to propagate devotional service. Being extremely pleased with His beloved servant, Lord Krishna has given Narada Muni unparalleled freedom to travel throughout both the material and spiritual worlds.
One day Narada came upon a brahmana (BRA-mon – priest) who was busy performing his morning rituals. With a strong sense of distinction, this particular brahmana took great pride in his ability to recite the Vedas from memory.
Upon seeing the illustrious saint approaching, the priest asked him where he was going. When Narada Muni said that he was on his way to see Lord Krishna, the priest immediately asked Narada for a special favor.
“What is your wish, my dear brahmana?”
“When you see the Lord, please tell Him that I have thoroughly memorized all the Vedas. Also tell Him that besides this achievement, I am constantly performing many feats of austerity. Therefore, after telling Lord Krishna of my accomplishments, please ask Him when I shall be returning to the spiritual world.”
Agreeing to ask the Lord, Narada bid the priest farewell and continued on his journey. After traveling for some time Narada saw a lowly cobbler busy at work.
He, too, was curious about Narada Muni’s destination and when Narada told the cobbler that he was on his way to see Lord Krishna, the cobbler also petitioned Narada to ask the Lord how much longer he would have to wait before going back home, back to Godhead.
“Yes—certainly—just as soon as I see Him.” Narada promised the cobbler that he would return later with the Lord’s reply.
When Narada finally reached Vaikuntha (vie-coon-tha – the spiritual world) and was seated next to Lord Krishna, remembering the questions, Narada asked the Lord how much longer the two men would have to remain in the material world.
Lord Krishna then replied--“As far as the cobbler is concerned, you can tell him that after leaving his present body he shall come directly here. However, the brahmana, he will have to endure many more births. I do not know when he is coming.”
Astonished with this reply, Narada said, “My Lord, your answers puzzle me.”
“Soon you will understand for yourself, My beloved son. When these two men ask what I was doing when you saw Me, tell them that I was busy threading an elephant through the eye of a needle. Go, now, and deliver my answers to them.”
When Narada returned to earth and met again with the brahmana, he told the priest exactly what Lord Krishna had said. He told him that he would have to experience many more births within the material world and that the Lord had no idea when he would be liberated.
Upon hearing what Narada declared, the brahmana shook with rage and said that he didn’t believe him. “In fact,” he said, “I don’t accept that you were even with Lord Krishna. If you saw God as you claim, then tell me this: What was God doing when you saw Him?”
Narada again replied as he had been instructed and told the brahmana that the Lord was threading an elephant through the eye of a needle.
Growing noticeably impatient, the brahmana snapped back that he didn’t believe such nonsense and that Narada was simply wasting his time with his double-talk. “How can you expect me to believe that you have been with God? Any fool knows that it’s impossible to thread the eye of a needle with an elephant. Please leave me alone.”
Narada could immediately understand that the man had very little faith and that he was simply a common dilettante. Narada Muni quickly departed, leaving the proud brahmana to his prayers and austerities. It was nearly noontime when Narada arrived where the cobbler sat working under a large banyan tree. note #1
Upon seeing the Lord’s devotee, the cobbler offered his obeisance’s and gave him a place to sit and some cool water to drink. Obviously eager to hear what Lord Krishna’s reply was, Narada assured the cobbler that the Lord was very pleased with him and that this would be his last birth within the material world.
Unable to contain his good fortune, a burst of joy swept through the heart of the humble cobbler. Regaining his composure, again the cobbler addressed the great sage. “Dear Narada, please tell me just one more thing. What was my Lord doing when you saw Him? Please tell me if you can.”
Wondering what his response would be, Narada Muni told the cobbler that the Lord was threading the eye of a needle with an elephant. Again great jubilation swept over the cobbler as he proudly exclaimed, “Oh, my Lord is so great. He can do anything!”
Quite amazed with the cobbler’s reaction, Narada said to him, “My dear cobbler, do you really believe that God can push an entire elephant through the eye of a needle? Isn’t this quite preposterous?”
With folded hands and tears in his eyes, the humble cobbler gazed toward heaven and then started to speak. “Of course I believe that my Lord can thread the eye of a needle with an elephant. Oh, great sage, just look at this—on the ground here, beneath this enormous banyan tree.
There are hundreds of seeds everywhere and when we take a close look, please consider that in each of them there exists an enormous tree, exactly like this one. If my Lord can place a huge banyan tree inside this tiny seed, surely He can easily thread an elephant through the eye of a needle.”
Although Narada Muni had told these two men the identical thing, what a dramatic difference in the response he received! Unlike his conversation with the brahmana which revealed little faith, this time Narada perceived enormous faith, thus understanding why Lord Krishna had spoken as He had. Not only did the cobbler have faith for the parts of God that are easy to believe, he had faith to accommodate the inconceivable parts, as well. Because of the cobbler’s faith, he was ready to meet his Lord.
* * * * *
Doubt”—In all the English language I can’t imagine a word with a greater potential to wreak havoc in a person’s life. Especially within the realm of religion, doubt is our worst enemy because it takes us down the wrong path. In the book, Through The Eyes of Jesus, Jesus said to His followers, “When you doubt, you place a barrier between you and Me.” (C. ALLEN AMES, Through The Eyes of Jesus, p. 112, The 101 Foundation, inc.) The dictionary’s definition of doubt seems quite accurate: “1) to be uncertain or undecided about. 2) to tend to disbelieve. 3) a wavering of opinion or belief. 4) lack of trust. 5) a condition of uncertainty.” (Webster’s College Dictionary, Random House, inc., 1991)
There is need for concern here. Should doubt succeed in destroying our faith in God, the worst possible consequences will invade our lives. Like many others before me, I have also had to do battle with this tenacious adversary of the soul. At times it has been a fierce struggle.
Faith tends to dwell inside two spheres—first within our heads and then within our hearts. I say that faith first transpires within the mind because every religion places a premium on hearing the Word of God. As with everything else we hear, these divine sounds initially enter the mind and then undergo the process of judgment.
Somehow, God help us, if we can treat the Word of God kindly, the divine sound will remain faithful—deep within us. But it is doubt that makes this much easier said than done.
Unfortunately, since my upbringing didn’t include going to church, I was mostly on my own, relying on my gut feelings. Yet, the world around me was so confusing that I spent long periods in my life just trying to understand what was really important. It was only then that I was able to pursue my feelings with any gusto.
And then, BANG, deep within the Adirondack Mountains I discovered that I needed help. Pursuing the truth is not such an easy thing—especially alone. Blessed by the hand of Providence, I had discovered Lord Krishna and He became the person whom I decided to place my faith in. But at the very moment I found Him, I also found doubt. In fact, I see a very obvious connection between God and His phenomenal greatness and the bullish questions that attacked me—commensurable, it seemed, in both size and jurisdiction. This conflict has been a constant challenge for me, but one that I am winning.
Instead of the spiritual coma which once afflicted me, now I feel alive and spiritually strengthened—most significantly due to my faithful prayers.
GALATIANS 2:20 & LUKE 18: 1—"The real life I now have within this body is a result of my trusting in the Son of God (who said)—that men ought always to pray."
CHAITANYA-CHARITAMRITA, MADHYA-LILA 22.105—"One who hears the Hare Krishna mantra thus vibrated is awakened to spiritual consciousness."
Furthermore, St. Gregory of Sinai, one of the early Christian Fathers, has stated that of all the methods to revive one's spiritual life, the "most powerful means is ceaseless prayer."
St. Gregory of Sinai
As my curiosity about the faithful began to stir, I read about the famous son of Abraham and his unshakable convictions—his sacrifice of Isaac, and how God blessed Abraham for his unflinching devotion (Genesis, chapters 15-22). And who hasn’t felt thrilled hearing about Peter walking on water (Matthew, 14:23-32)—walking upon his faith?
Besides studying what the Holy Bible teaches about faith, I have also studied various testimonies showing how faith has wrought miracle after miracle in the lives of various believers.
A lady living in Nevada was severely crippled. She couldn’t walk. She couldn’t wear shoes. In fact, she was so badly deformed that she had to be carried in a type of sling. After many years of suffering and seeing her condition only deteriorate, her doctor decided that only a major operation would bring her relief.
When the ambulance came to take the lady to the hospital, before leaving the house the woman insisted on taking her slippers. The afflicted woman hadn’t been able to walk in slippers for nearly twenty years, nor was there any hope that she would be able to, ever again.
Undaunted, this lady persisted, telling her husband that after she got to the hospital, Jesus was going to heal her. She said that the corridor floors would be too cold for her bare feet. She told her husband that she wanted to visit everyone and show them the mercy of Jesus, once she was healed.
That happened on the day before her operation and later that night, while everyone else slept, this woman prayed and at two o’clock in the morning, shattering the silence, the nurse on duty suddenly heard the strangest sounds—almost like rifle shots. Running to investigate, she discovered the not-so-crippled lady standing in the hallway wearing her slippers. She said that she wanted to show everyone how Jesus had just healed her.
The “rifle shots” had been her twisted bones being snapped straight by Jesus. All the next day she walked the hallways, telling everyone she met about her most wonderful savior, Lord Jesus Christ. This woman never lost her faith, and from the report I heard, after this happened, any doctor wanting to practice medicine in the state of Nevada is first required to read the case history of this incredible patient.
* * * * *
One kind of envy that I openly admit to is that I am envious of people who have unshakable faith in God. This is the kind of faith I want to possess—the kind that makes one willing to challenge all doubt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be such “a knight in shining armor?
All of us can appreciate that God is capable of the unthinkable—or the impossible—which makes Him absolutely incredible. God is truly inconceivable. But this very fact can also pose an enormous problem for us. In other words, He is capable of such indescribable wonders that His deeds simply will not compute inside our feeble little brains.
It has been said that the mind is like a computer—always calculating. Indeed, in many ways the mind is like a machine. Considering this, what if I were to hand a person who didn’t understand pocket calculators very well; a brand-new calculator and have him turn it on?
OK, fine. Then, let’s say, I asked him to add thirty-five billion plus sixty-two million, by pressing the appropriate buttons. What would happen each time he tried to work the calculator? In one way or another the calculator would simply freeze up.
Furthermore, what would happen if I continued giving this person a variety of astronomically large numbers to add? Not only would the calculator freeze up each time, but the man would quickly conclude (doubt) that the machine was worthless, thus destroying his faith in calculators, altogether.
Doubt is such a trickster! There is nothing wrong with the calculator. Rather, it is only a simple machine, made to handle only certain size numbers. Uncommonly large numbers, such as 35,000,000,000,000 or 62,000,000,000 appear totally inconceivable to it.
This is what is wrong with the mind. It, too, is only capable of analyzing things “so big.” Try to fit Almighty God into it and He just won’t compute. What a field day for doubt to run its sinister plots!
To a large degree this has been the problem I’ve had to resolve. Using my cramped little mind to contain the Infinite has never worked for me. Obviously we need something much greater than our mental capacity to accommodate all that He is, and that is called faith.
If we could just have the same faith as the simple cobbler our lives would overflow with joy. Just as the Brahmana and the cobbler had their elephant stories, as we shall soon read, Lord Krishna has given us our elephant stories to hear.
As I have mentioned, certain aspects of God are very believable, while other parts are simply inconceivable. Although our elephant stories are true, they will, nevertheless, challenge our faith in different ways. Not only will they bring us in contact with the easy-to-believe parts of God, they will bring us in contact with the inconceivable parts, as well. Hopefully, after reading this book, everyone can take great delight in them, praising God for His incredible wonder.
* * * * *
At times, even covered by thick shields (made from both iron and hardened leather), elephants have been trained to perform a variety of tasks. This included their role as the first “armored tanks” when they were used during the fierce battles of ancient times. For instance, in the Battle of Hydaspes (326 B.C.), the Indian army, commanded by Rajah Paurava, charged Alexander the Great with over two hundred elephants in full battle dress.
Other elephants have been trained for the sole purpose of dragging valuable lumber in the form of massive logs, out of long-forgotten forests. These 7000 pound “elephant bulldozers” can easily pull 4000 pounds, and twice that amount for a short distance. The pulling power of just one elephant is greater than that of sixty strong men! And when working with other elephants, their combined strength is just awesome.
photo by: Steve Evens
Elephants have been called upon to pull just about everything imaginable. But on one morning, over five hundred years ago, even their combined might was thwarted, greatly disappointing a famous king who had desperately ordered their use in an ancient festival. What follows in an eyewitness account.
“Outside the garden, when it was time to pull Lord Jagannatha’s cart, all the workers tried to pull it but it would not move forward.”
(Note: This attempt to move Lord Jagannatha’s cart (jog-a-nath) happened at the beginning of a famous religious parade, performed every year in Puri, India).
Carts being pulled by ropes
Large wooden deities of Lord Jagannatha, Lady Subhadra (soob-ha-DRA), and Lord Balarama (ball-a-ROM) are placed in the carts and taken for a ride, lasting for many hours. They are recognized as divine manifestations of Lord Krishna, His sister, and His divine brother in deity (statue) forms. They are worshiped today in many Hare Krishna temples throughout the world.
Weighing many tons, the carts in this story were built with massive timbers and stood forty-five feet. When the festival was about to begin, throughout the state of Orissa and further, thousands of pilgrims converge on the site to help pull the Lord’s car by grabbing onto the long ropes provided. However, on this particular morning when it was time for the lead cart to begin moving forward, for some inexplicable reason its enormous wheels refused to turn.
“When everyone saw that they could not budge the cart, they abandoned their attempt. Then the king (Maharaja Prataparudra – ma-HA-RAJ pra-TA-pa-roo-dra) arrived in great anxiety. He was accompanied by his officers and friends. The king then arranged for big wrestlers to try to pull the cart, and even the King joined in, but the cart could not be moved.
“Becoming even more eager to move the cart, the king had very strong elephants brought forth and harnessed to it. The strong elephants pulled with all their strength, but still the cart remained at a standstill, not budging an inch.
“As soon as Lord Chaitanya heard this news, He went there with all His personal associates. They then stood there and watched the elephants try to pull the cart. The elephants, being beaten by the elephant trainers were crying, but still the cart would not move. The assembled people cried out, ‘Alas.’
“At that time, Lord Chaitanya let all the elephants go free and placed the cart’s ropes in the hands of His own devotees. Lord Chaitanya then went to the back of the cart and began to push with His head. It was then that the cart began to move and ramble along, making a rattling sound.
“Indeed, the cart began to move automatically, and the devotees simply carried the ropes in their hands. Since it was moving effortlessly, they did not need to pull it. When the cart moved forward, everyone began to chant with great pleasure, ‘All glories! All glories! All glories to Lord Jagannatha!’ No one could hear anything else.” (BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA, Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 14.47-57, © BBT-Int’l, 1983)
Shortly after the miraculous way in which Lord Chaitanya moved the enormous cart, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu (at the age of twenty-nine years old) traveled by foot from Puri, all the way to Vrindavan, nearly a thousand miles journey, one way.
During His arduous trek, He passed through the dense jungle forests of Jarikhanda (JAW-ree-kan-da), assisted by Balabhadra Bhattacharya (ball-a-bud-ra but-a-CHAR-ya), a highly respected priest. Based on the firsthand accounts that the Lord’s traveling companion later gave, this is what happened when Lord Chaitanya entered that dense and foreboding jungle:
“When the Lord passed through the solitary forest chanting the Holy Names of Lord Krishna, the tigers and elephants, seeing Him, gave way. When the Lord passed through the jungle in great ecstasy, packs of tigers, elephants, rhinoceros, and boars came, and the Lord passed right through them. Balabhadra was very much afraid to see them, but by Lord Chaitanya’s influence, all the animals stood to one side.
“One day a tiger was lying on the path and Lord Chaitanya, walking along the path in ecstatic love, touched the tiger with His feet. The Lord said, ‘Chant the Holy Name of Krishna!’ The tiger immediately got up and began to dance and chant, ‘Krishna, Krishna.’
“Another day, while Lord Chaitanya was bathing in a river, a herd of thirsty elephants came there to drink. While the Lord was bathing, the elephants came before Him. The Lord immediately splashed water on the elephants and asked them to chant the name of Krishna. The elephants, whose bodies were touched by the water splashed by the Lord, began to chant, ‘Krishna, Krishna‘ as they danced and sang in ecstasy. Some of the elephants fell to the ground, and some screamed in ecstasy. Seeing this, Balabhadra was completely astonished.
“Sometimes Lord Chaitanya chanted very loudly while passing through the jungle. Hearing His sweet voice, all the does came near Him. Hearing the Lord’s great vibration, all the does followed Him left and right. While reciting the following verse (from Scripture), with great curiosity the Lord patted them: SHRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM (10.21.11)—”Blessed are all these deer because they have approached the son of Maharaja Nanda (Lord Krishna), who is gorgeously dressed and is playing on His flute. Indeed, both the does and the bucks worship the Lord with looks of love and affection.”
“While Lord Chaitanya was passing through the jungle, five or seven tigers came. Joining the deer, the tigers began to follow the Lord. Seeing the tigers and deer follow Him, Lord Chaitanya immediately remembered the land of Vrindavan. He then began to recite (another) verse describing the transcendental qualities of Vrindavan: SHRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM (10.13.60)--“Vrindavan is the transcendental abode of the Lord. There is no hunger, anger or thirst there. Though naturally inimical, both human beings and fierce animals live together there in transcendental friendship.”
“When Lord Chaitanya said, ‘Chant Krishna! Krishna,’ the tigers and deer began to dance and chant, ‘Krishna.’ When all the tigers and does danced and jumped, Balabhadra saw them and was struck with wonder. Indeed, the tigers and deer began to embrace one another. Touching mouths, they began to kiss. When Lord Chaitanya saw all this fun, He began to smile. Finally He left the animals and continued on His way.” (BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA, Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 17.25-43, © BBT Int’l, 1983)
Lord Chaitanya having fun
with the animals
Sadly, my dilemma is that even if I read an eyewitness account or an historical record, I’m not always capable of accepting it as the truth. The irony of my predicament is the fact that some of the most unbelievable things that I am asked to accept are found right in the very same books that I need to believe the most—the Holy Scriptures. What a curious quandary to be in!
I think most of us are somewhat familiar with these unbelievable stories. In the Holy Bible it is said that Noah lived to be 950 years old (Genesis 9:29). Elsewhere it is said that Moses held out his rod and parted the Red Sea (Exodus 14:21).
There is also the story of Jonah and how after he was thrown into the sea, a great fish swallowed him. He remained inside the fish for seventy-two hours. After offering prayers to the Lord, the fish was ordered by God to “spit up Jonah on the beach, and it did.” (Jonah, chapters 1-2). These are just three of the many examples available—taken from Holy Bible, but as we will soon read, there is plenty to struggle with in the Vedas.
However, because many have grown up with the Holy Bible and have heard these stories repeatedly, belief in them is actually widespread. The real difficulty, however, is when we are asked to consider something different, even when there is so much more to know. This is especially true when a new religion (containing new insights) comes along, such as the Hare Krishna Movement.
If we look, however, we can discover many similarities. One thing that is common to both Christianity and the Hare Krishna tradition is that their Scriptures are said to be fact, not fiction. Jesus Christ did walk on water; Jesus did appear in person to His disciples after His crucifixion; as a baby; Lord Krishna was factually snatched up into the sky by a great demon who was able to transform himself into a mighty whirlwind; Lord Chaitanya did prove that God is more powerful than many mighty elephants, and later He did make wild elephants chant and dance.
Certainly elephants are colossal creatures, nearly as enormous as some of the stories found in our Scriptures. This points to the problem. If we are unable to accept the Holy Scriptures, how are we going to believe the word of God? How are we going to believe the “Good News,” containing God’s will for us?
Although the accounts of Lord Chaitanya’s divine pastimes definitely consists of great wonder, they are actually much easier to believe than other things I’ve read. These other stories are found in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam and elsewhere. However, let us not forget that it was Lord Chaitanya, Himself, who described the Shrimad-Bhagavatam as “the spotless” Scripture (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila 5.41). In other words, there is no error or fiction within its pages.
During some of my early attempts to read the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, rather than experiencing a surge in faith, instead I found myself bewildered. Absolutely preposterous, is how I responded to much of it! Instead of faith swelling inside me, doubts appeared. What was I to do? I didn’t want to appear unfaithful, but who wants to fake it, either?
At least the problem was clear and it didn’t take long to discover that the Vedas contain vast amounts of inconceivable information, boggling my mind in the same way that sixty-five billion won’t compute inside a pocket calculator. Compounding my difficulties, the Lord’s beloved saints kept reminding me that there is no room in the Scriptures for error, and that everything actually happened, as written.
Again, while parts of God and His Holy Scriptures are easy to believe, there are other parts that have really given my faith a spin. I am grateful to Lord Krishna. Today my faith is on much firmer ground.
For well over thirty years, the publishing arm of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (Bhaktivedanta Book Trust) has printed and distributed millions of books about Lord Krishna, worldwide. Just their sheer numbers dictate that many of them will be picked up and read. Spending time with the word of God is how our faith matures and I hope that Krishna and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance will rally a sincere desire for His audience. If doubts should arise, then hopefully, explaining here how I have managed to circumvent this enemy of the soul will help others do the same.
I am trying to be honest while at the same time trying to present ideas that work. I understand (in theory) that the stories found within the Scriptures are not fiction, but are factual. As I have said before, this is the judgment of the saints and just because it doesn’t compute inside my tiny brain, still I must accept this and I do. Otherwise, what I am declaring is that I am smarter than they are. I definitely don’t need to walk down that road! But still, the difficult alternative of “blind faith” isn’t so palatable either. I’m sure you would agree.
To get me over this perplexity, a new and more plausible approach was required in order for my faith to remain healthy. Thankfully, being able to achieve this has significantly helped me to avoid the doubts that had earlier plagued me. This alone lends significant credence to my solution.
I must admit that on one level the Vedas do read an awful lot like science fiction. Not only do they consist of some of the world’s oldest literature, they also contain accounts which take place on different planets. Besides this, most of the stories are so wild that they would even boggle the mind of Steven Spielberg. This is why it can be so difficult to remain faithful, especially when the final word is that the stories are not fable, but factual.
My solution to all of this has been to devise a new category of literature that I simply call “spiritual fiction.” This should not be confused with science fiction, which is merely an invention of the human mind and has little nourishment for the eternal soul.
I want to emphasize here that this is my solution—part of my message—and in no way am I speaking officially or trying to represent anyone, except myself. But “spiritual fiction” makes perfect sense to me, and, as I said, allows for my faith (and interest) in God to abide unharmed.
Actually, this concept has encouraged me to read about Lord Krishna, rather than scoff at the astonishing stories I’ve heard about Him. I have been encouraged rather than discouraged to hear about topics that otherwise I may not have been so keen to listen to. By remaining receptive to God’s word and side-stepping my previous misgivings, I have discovered many important things about my message.
Remember, my message was the very thing that I was searching for all along, but to remain alert to it required that I remain attentive to God’s word.
Again, please understand that this has simply been my personal effort to make the inconceivable conceivable, and thus protect my faith. I am trying to avoid the very things that doubt wants me to say—”That’s impossible! How can that be true? Any fool knows that it is impossible to thread the eye of a needle with an elephant!” So for now, until the Lord blesses me with the eyes to see things properly, whenever I come across an inconceivable story, I merely place it into the category of “spiritual fiction” and continue to read, undisturbed.
What this concept of “spiritual fiction” does, then, is to change the preposterous into the believable—at least giving it tremendous accountability. There are at least a half dozen ways that “spiritual fiction” does this.
I am now going to tell you about a very famous elephant—Gajendra (ga-jen-dra)—that I once read in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam. However, Gajendra lived on a different planet, located in a different universe, whose ocean consists of milk, instead of salt water.
Behold!—all it has taken for the inconceivable to show itself is this one sentence (“an ocean of milk”). But, as I have done, let us simply place this story of Gajendra within the realm of “spiritual fiction” and discover what happens.
#1. The first thing we can substantiate is that the saints not only accept this story of Gajendra, but they read it, rejoice in it, and glorify it.
SHRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM (1.1.2-3)—”This Shrimad- Bhagavatam propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. O expert and thoughtful men, relish Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literature. This Shrimad-Bhagavatam is the literary incarnation of God, and it is compiled by Shrila Vyasadeva, the incarnation of God. It is meant for the ultimate good of all people, and it is all-successful, all-blissful and all-perfect.”
The most important point is that the saints accept it. This immediately tells us that the history of Gajendra is not ordinary, at all—certainly not science fiction. Rather, it is something quite unique that the saints cherish. This is significant and reveals that “spiritual fiction” is both valuable and sacred. If the Holy Fathers accept something, then likewise, what they accept becomes holy, worthwhile, full of integrity, worshipful, and substantial.
#2. Not only do the saints cherish the story of Gajendra, as we have just read in the above verse, they highly recommend that we read it, too. This becomes another virtue which places “spiritual fiction” within a very special category of literature.
#3. Another point is that due to its fascinating content, “spiritual fiction” acts to naturally stimulate our interest in God. God is the greatest. Nothing is more interesting than God. Without being interested in Him, how will we ever become eager to discover His message? Again, this lends special credence to the idea of “spiritual fiction,” helping us to understand that this is not ordinary literature at all, but an exclusive subject matter, altogether.
#4. What I like the most about “spiritual fiction” is that each and every story is used to glorify God. In the chapter, “Attaining the Supreme,” in the Gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna:
“One should meditate upon the Supreme Person as the One who knows everything, as He who is the oldest, who is the controller, who is smaller than the smallest, who is the maintainer of everything, who is beyond all material conception, who is inconceivable, and who is always a person. He is luminous like the sun, and He is transcendental, beyond this material world.” (BHAGAVAD-GITA 8.9)
Within the book where we find the story of Gajendra, there is also this statement: SHRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM (1.2.14)--“Therefore, with one-pointed attention, one should constantly hear about, glorify, remember and worship the Personality of Godhead (Krishna), who is the protector of the devotee.”
Reading “spiritual fiction,” then, accomplishes the spiritual injunction to remember God in these various ways.
#5. There is one final consideration regarding “spiritual fiction” that is quite interesting. This has to do with the nature of divine sound. In his book, Vaishnavism: Contemporary Scholars Discuss the Gaudiya (gow-DEE-ya) Tradition, Mr. Steven Rosen speaks with Dr. Guy L. Beck, whose doctoral thesis is titled: Sonic Theology: Hinduism and the Soteriological Function of Sacred Sound.
During his discussion with Mr. Rosen, Dr. Beck mentions that sacred sounds have four parts: three parts hidden from us and one part that we hear. This information, he said, is found in hymn 164, in the Rg Veda (Rig Veda). note #2
This is how Dr. Beck put it: “The fourth part is the part that we hear in the world, and the other parts are hidden--they are the spiritual aspects, or, let’s say, they are the un-manifest aspects of the sacred sound. Now, it is this un-manifest dimension that the (saints), or sages, have been able to tap into--the hidden areas of sound.”
Dr. Beck then goes on to explain to Mr. Rosen the absolute necessity to approach sacred sound (prayer) in the proper way. Here is what he said: “There are other aspects, too, like the phonetics and the meter (rhythmic pattern). The metrical element in Vedic sound has a tremendously religious dimension in the sense that the pronunciation is of the utmost importance in manifesting the un-manifest. Secondly, the metrical structure of the mantra (mawn-tra: chant or prayer) has to be according to a variety of meters. (There are) over one hundred different types of meters.” (STEVEN ROSEN, Vaishnavism: Contemporary Scholars Discuss the Gaudia Tradition, pp. 236-64, FOLK Books, 1992)
Do you remember me mentioning in chapter four, Shrinivas Acharya, and how, when his meditation broke he discovered that he was covered from head to toe with colored dye? In other words, as Shrinivas Acharya sat in devotion, properly chanting the sacred sounds, he entered into these hidden dimensions, as mentioned by Dr. Beck.
Other devotees have done this, too. Apparently they participated in these other dimensions for considerable lengths of time, even canonizing what they experienced by describing them in prayer, drama, poetry, song, and prose.
The point is, when these “hidden areas of sound” are explained to us (in scripture)—because they recount realities from supernatural sources, of course they are going to sound inconceivable. Therefore, when we read books such as the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, doubts can assault us. As Dr. Beck said, sacred sound has hidden dimensions. In light of all of this, it is quite conceivable that in part, what the Holy Scriptures are actually describing are these “unseen” dimensions, especially since the scripture are only concerned with sacred sounds, in the first place!
It is obvious, then, that whenever one contacts these other dimensions, the inconceivable happens. Shrinivas Acharya returned from this reality with dye all over his body. Narottama das Thakura woke from his spiritual trance with scorched hands. Saint Joseph of Cupertino “rose like a bird.” In rapture, he even levitated before Pope Urban VIII. Saint Theresa of Avila, the Blessed Margaret of Castello and many other Christian mystics also experienced the inconceivable. (RICHARD CAVENDISH, Man, Myth and Magic, Vol. 10, Marshall Cavendish Corporation, 1985)
(Part three of my book, Abandoned, expands on these hidden dimensions, especially from a Catholic prospective. A link to this free book is given at the end of this chapter).
In this same vein, after studying the book several times and noting its authenticity, I don’t see why we can’t accept as being true an event told by the Pilgrim in Helen Bacovcin’s famous book, The Way of a Pilgrim. This particular incident pertains to a spectacular dream he had, involving his spiritual master.
The dream took place after the Pilgrim had spent twenty-four hours praying--“not stopping even for a little while.” In this dream he saw himself in front of his late elder, who had already passed away. His deceased teacher was explaining to him the correct order to read the Philokalia (FEE-lo-call-lee-a). While the Pilgrim held a copy of the book in his hands, his spiritual master pointed to a page he wanted the Pilgrim to read—marking the page with “a piece of charcoal from the floor.”
The remarkable thing is that when the Pilgrim woke from this dream, although his Philokalia was lying open on a stone next to him, he “remembered distinctly” that the book had not been on the rock the night before. Not only was the book lying open, it was turned to the exact page he had been discussing with his spiritual master and indeed, the same-exact page was marked with charcoal—and “even the charcoal was lying beside the book.”
The Philokalia initially surfaced in Vienna, Austria, in the year 1782. It was first published in Greek. Its two editors, St. Makarios of Corinth and St. Nikodimos of The Holy Mountain were followers of the hesychast (contemplative) tradition that concentrates on ascetic life, The Jesus Prayer, inner stillness, and mystical union.
What we have here, then, is a total of five major aspects describing for us what “spiritual fiction” means. I’m sure that more could be added. Having attempted to define this standard, hopefully everyone will be able to better appreciate the story of Gajendra, the elephant.
It is said that anyone who hears this holy narration is blessed by the Lord. This benediction is the prologue to our greatest blessing--“The Third Light.” The narrow path leading toward heaven is illuminated by three divine lanterns. Achieving our spiritual perfection depends upon walking in their light.
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The most famous elephant of all time is Gajendra. The dramatic history surrounding this uncommon elephant was told by the great saint, Sukadeva Goswami (shoo-ka-dave go-SWA-ME), to the great emperor, Maharaja Pariksit. This amazing conversation took place thousands of years ago as these two men sat on the banks of the Ganges River, surrounded by a large assembly of devotees.
Maharaja Pariksit hears Shrimad-Bhagavatam
from Sukadeva Goswami
© Bhaktivedanta Book Trust
Sukadeva Goswami was the son of Shrila Vyasadeva, the “literary incarnation of God” who first rendered the Vedas into written Scripture. BHAGAVAD-GITA (10.37)--“Of the sages I am Vyasa.”
It was, therefore, from his divine father that the young boy, Sukadeva, first heard about the elephant, Gajendra. Later, when Sukadeva was only sixteen years old, he arrived in the midst of that great assembly.
Revered by all, Sukadeva Goswami was offered an exalted seat and the great king, Emperor Pariksit, began asking the boy about the essence of life—especially about what is the duty of one who knows he is about to die. This was the exact fate that had befallen Maharaja Pariksit. With only seven days left to live, the king sat continuously while the saintly boy held everyone in rapt attention. For the benefit of the emperor, the assembled sages, and for mankind everywhere, Sukadeva Goswami recited the Shrimad-Bhagavatam.
The Vedas take us back in time, so let us listen-in to one of the most remarkable conversations ever recorded by man.
Sukadeva Goswami said: “My dear King, there is a very large mountain called Trikuta (tri-KOOT). It is eighty thousand miles high. Being surrounded by an ocean of milk, it is very beautifully situated. Its three principal peaks, which are made of iron, silver and gold, beautify the sky. The mountain also has other peaks, which are full of jewels and minerals and are decorated with nice trees, creepers and shrubs. The sounds of the waterfalls on the mountain create a pleasing vibration. In this way the mountain stands, increasing the beauty in all directions.
“The ground at the foot of the mountain is always washed by waves of milk that produce emeralds. Trikuta Mountain has many lakes and rivers, with beaches covered by small gems resembling grains of sand. The water is as clear as crystal, and when the demigod damsels bathe in it, their bodies lend fragrance to the water and the breeze, thus enriching the atmosphere.
“In a valley of Trikuta Mountain there was a garden called Ritumat (ri-too-mat). This garden belonged to the great devotee Varuna (va-roo-na) and was the sporting place for the damsels of the demigods. Flowers and fruits grew there in all seasons. Among them were mango, coconut, date and pomegranate trees. There were palm trees, banyan trees and sandalwood trees. There were also grapes, sugarcane and bananas.
“In that garden there was a very large lake filled with shining golden lotus flowers and (many other) flowers which added excellent beauty to the mountain. Intoxicated bumblebees drank honey and hummed with the chirping of the birds, whose songs were very melodious. The lake was crowded with swans, cranes, and flocks of water chickens and other murmuring birds. Because of the agitating movements of the fish and tortoises, the water was decorated with pollen that had fallen from the lotus flowers. The lake was surrounded by flowers. The banks were also abundantly adorned with a variety of trees that yielded flowers and fruits in all seasons. Thus the entire mountain stood gloriously decorated.
“The leader of the elephants who lived in the forest once wandered toward the lake with his female elephants. He broke many plants, creepers, thickets and trees, not caring for their piercing thorns. Surrounded by the herd’s other elephants, including females, and followed by the young ones, Gajendra, the leader of the elephants, made Trikuta Mountain tremble all around because of the weight of his body.
“From a distance he could smell the dust of the lotus flowers, which was carried from the lake by the breeze. Thus surrounded by his associates, who were afflicted by thirst, he soon arrived at the bank of the lake.
“The king of the elephants entered the lake, bathed thoroughly and was relieved of his fatigue. Then, with the aid of his trunk, he drank the cold, clear, nectarean water, which was mixed with the dust of the lotus flowers and water lilies, until he was fully satisfied.
“Like a human being who lacks spiritual knowledge and is too attached to the members of his family, the elephant, being illusioned by the external energy of Krishna, had his wives and children bathe and drink the water. Indeed, he raised water from the lake with his trunk and sprayed it over them. He did not mind the hard labor involved in this endeavor.
“By the arrangement of Providence, O King, a strong crocodile was angry at the elephant and attacked the elephant’s leg in the water.
“The elephant was certainly strong, and he tried his best to get free from this danger sent by Providence. Thereafter, seeing Gajendra in that grave condition, his wives felt very, very sorry and began to cry. The other elephants wanted to help Gajendra, but because of the crocodile’s great strength, they could not rescue him by grasping him from behind.
“O King, the elephant and the crocodile fought in this way, pulling one another in and out of the water, for one thousand years. Upon seeing the fight, the demigods were very surprised. Thereafter, because of being pulled into the water and fighting for many long years, the elephant became diminished in his mental, physical and sensual strength. The crocodile, on the contrary, being an animal of the water, increased in enthusiasm, physical strength and sensual power.
“When the king of elephants saw that he was under the clutches of the crocodile by the will of Providence and could not save himself from danger, he was extremely afraid of being killed. He consequently thought for a long time and finally reached the following decision:
“‘The other elephants, who are my friends and relatives, could not rescue me from this danger. What, then, to speak of my wives? They cannot do anything. It is by the will of Providence that I have been attacked by this crocodile, and therefore I shall seek shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is always the shelter of everyone, even great personalities.
“‘The Supreme Personality of Godhead is certainly not known to everyone, but He is very powerful and influential. Therefore, although the serpent of eternal time, which is fearful in force, endlessly chases everyone, ready to swallow him, if one who fears this serpent seeks shelter of the Lord, the Lord gives him protection, for even death runs away in fear of the Lord. I therefore surrender unto Him, the great and powerful Supreme Authority who is the actual shelter of everyone.’”
In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam it is mentioned that in their previous births, both the crocodile and the elephant had been great kings. Gajendra had been a great devotee of the Lord, and his name had been King Indradyumna (in-dra-dyoom-na). For different reasons, both kings had been cursed—the first king being forced to take birth as the crocodile, and King Indradyumna as the elephant, Gajendra.
Because the profits from performing devotional service are never lost—(“In this endeavor there is not loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear”)—King Indradyumna, in the body of the stricken elephant, was able to remember prayers that he had recited to the Lord in his previous birth. Locked in mortal combat with the crocodile and remembering Lord Krishna, Gajendra began to utter these famous prayers to the Lord:
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Person, Vasudeva (another name for Lord Krishna). Because of Him, this material body acts due to the presence of spirit and He is therefore the root cause of everyone. He is worshipable for such exalted persons as Brahma and Shiva, and He has entered the heart of every living being. Let me meditate upon Him.
“An artist on stage, being covered by attractive dresses and dancing with different movements, is not understood by his audience; similarly, the activities and features of the Supreme Artist cannot be understood even by the demigods or great sages, and certainly not by those who are unintelligent like animals—nor can they express in words His actual position. May that Supreme Personality of Godhead give me protection.
“Renunciants and great sages who see all living beings equally, who are friendly to everyone and who flawlessly practice in the forest their vows—desire to see the all-auspicious lotus-feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. May that same Supreme Personality of Godhead be my destination.
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead has no material birth, activities, name, form, qualities or faults. To fulfill the purpose for which this material world is created and destroyed, He comes in the form of a human being like Lord Rama or Lord Krishna by His original internal potency.
He has immense potency, and in various forms, all free from material contamination, He acts wonderfully. He is therefore the Supreme Brahmana (God). I offer my respects to Him.
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the self-effulgent Supersoul, who is the witness in everyone’s heart, who enlightens the individual soul and who cannot be reached by exercises of the mind, words or consciousness.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is realized by pure devotees who act in the transcendental existence of bhakti-yoga (loving devotional service). He is the bestower of uncontaminated happiness and is the master of the transcendental world. Therefore I offer my respects unto Him. The material world is just like a shadow resembling You. Indeed, one accepts this material world as real because it gives a glimpse of Your existence.
“Since an animal such as I has surrendered unto You, who are supremely liberated, certainly You will release me from this dangerous position. Indeed, being extremely merciful, You incessantly try to deliver me. By your partial feature as Paramatma (pa-rom-OUGHT-MA – the Supersoul), You are situated in the hearts of all embodied beings. You are celebrated as direct transcendental knowledge, and You are unlimited. I offer my respectful obeisances unto You, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“Unalloyed devotees, who have no desire other than to serve the Lord, worship Him in full surrender and always hear and chant about His activities, which are most wonderful and auspicious. Thus they always merge in an ocean of transcendental bliss.
“Such devotees never ask the Lord for any benediction. I, however, am in danger. Thus I pray to that Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is eternally existing, who is invisible, who is the Lord of all great personalities, such as Brahma, and who is available only by transcendental bhakti-yoga.
“I do not wish to live anymore after I am released from the attack of the crocodile. What is the use of an elephant’s body covered externally and internally by ignorance. Now, fully desiring release from material life, I offer my respectful obeisances unto that Supreme Person who is the creator of the universe, who is Himself the form of the universe and who is nonetheless transcendental to this cosmic manifestation. He is the Supreme Knower of everything in this world, the Supersoul of the universe. He is the unborn, supremely situated Lord. I offer my respectful obeisances unto Him.
“I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by whose illusory energy the living entity, who is part and parcel of God, forgets his real identity because of the bodily concept of life. I take shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose glories are difficult to understand.”
Sukadeva Goswami continued: “When the king of the elephants was describing the Supreme Authority—the Personality of Godhead appeared before Gajendra. After understanding the awkward condition of Gajendra, who had offered his prayers, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari (Krishna), who lives everywhere, appeared. Carrying His disc and other weapons, He appeared there on the back of His (bird) carrier, Garuda (ga-roo-da), with great speed, according to His desire. Thus He appeared before Gajendra.
“He appeared there on the back
of His carrier, Garuda.”
“Gajendra had been forcefully captured by the crocodile in the water and was feeling acute pain. But when he saw the Lord coming in the sky on the back of Garuda, he immediately took a lotus flower in his trunk, and with great difficulty due to his painful condition, he uttered the following words: ‘O my Lord, master of the universe, O Supreme Personality of Godhead, I offer my respectful obeisances unto You.’
“Thereafter, seeing Gajendra in such an aggrieved position, the unborn Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, immediately got down from the back of Garuda and pulled the King of elephants, along with the crocodile, out of the water. Then, in the presence of all the demigods, who were looking on, the Lord severed the crocodile’s mouth from its body with His disc. In this way He saved Gajendra, the King of elephants.”
Sukadeva Goswami said: “When the Lord delivered Gajendra, all the demigods, sages and Gandharvas (gone-dar-vaz – celestial singers & musicians), headed by Brahma and Shiva, praised the activity of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and showered flowers upon both the Lord and Gajendra. There was a beating of kettledrums in the heavenly planets, the inhabitants of Gandharvaloka (gone-dar-va-low-ka) began to dance and sing, while great sages offered prayers.
“King Huhu, having been cursed by Devala Muni (day-va-la moo-knee), had become a crocodile. Now, having been delivered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he assumed a very beautiful form as a Gandharva. Understanding by whose mercy this had happened, he immediately offered his respectful obeisances and began chanting prayers just suitable for the transcendental Lord, the Supreme Eternal, who is worshiped by the choicest verses.
“Because Gajendra, King of the elephants, had been touched directly by the hands of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, he was immediately freed of all material ignorance and bondage. Thus he received the salvation of sarupya-mukti (SA-ROOP-ya-mook-tee), in which he achieved the same bodily features as the Lord, being dressed in yellow garments and possessing four hands.
“Upon delivering the King of the elephants from the clutches of the crocodile—the Lord, sitting on the back of His carrier, Garuda, returned to His all-wonderful abode and took Gajendra with Him.” (BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA, Shrimad-Bhagavatam, Eighth Canto, Chapters 2-4, © BBT-Int’l, 1977)
Because of the great danger he found himself in, Gajendra called out to God for help. Actually, there’s probably not a person alive who at one time or another has not invoked the Lord’s Holy Name—for a variety of reasons.
At this point, however, I fear that many readers may be confused over this book’s liberal use of the word “Lord.” Indeed, the Vedic Scriptures mention so many different Lords: Lord Krishna, Lord Balarama, and Lord Narayana. There is also, Lord Ramachandra, Lord Vishnu, Lord Buddha, Lord Jagannatha, Lord Shiva, Lord Nrishringha (n-ri-sing-ha), Hari, etc., etc. In fact, these names could easily fill an entire page, and more.
I am pleased to say that this confusion can be resolved quite easily. Because God can expand Himself unlimitedly (and He does), each manifestation has a suitable name. In fact, each expansion has many names. Furthermore, because of the fond tradition of giving God many “pet names,” each reflecting a particular aspect about Him in conjunction with a specific pastime or history, He has even more names.
The correct process for understanding Lord Krishna and why there are so many “Lords,” is to hear from His devotee. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains: “This indicates that the four-handed forms and other forms mentioned in Vedic literature are all emanations of the original two-handed Krishna. He is the origin of all emanations. As far as the four-handed forms of Krishna are concerned, it is stated clearly that even the most identical four-handed form of Krishna (which is known as Maha-Vishnu – ma-HA-vish-noo) is also an expansion of the Supreme Lord.
“As stated in the BRAHMA-SAMHITA (5.48)--‘The Maha-Vishnu, into whom all the innumerable universes enter and from whom they come forth again simply by His breathing process, is a plenary (complete) expansion of Krishna. Therefore I worship Govinda, Krishna, the cause of all causes.’
“Therefore one should conclusively worship the personal form of Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the source of all forms of Vishnu (four-handed forms). He is the source of all forms of incarnation, and He is the original Supreme Personality, as confirmed in Bhagavad-gita.
“Elsewhere it is said: ‘The Supreme Absolute Truth is a person, His name is Krishna, and He sometimes descends on this earth.’ In the Shrimad-Bhagavatam we find a description of all kinds of incarnations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In this list, the name of Krishna also appears. But then it is said that this Krishna is not an incarnation of God, but is the original Supreme Personality of Godhead. (BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA, Bhagavad-gita As It Is11.54, © BBT-Int’l, 1989)
Shrila Prabhupada further states, “He (Lord Krishna) has innumerable expansions. One who is engaged in the service of any of the forms of Krishna, or of His plenary expansions (such as Lord Jesus Christ), is considered transcendentally situated. One should also note that all the forms of Krishna are fully transcendental, blissful, full of knowledge, and eternal.” (note #5)
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It was during the time that I was living in my bicycle shop that I first read about the idea of a person being able to expand into exact duplicates. I was reading, The Autobiography of a Yogi: When Swami Yogananda (SWA-ME yo-ga-non-da) was a young boy of twelve years old he journeyed to the city of Benares (India) to locate his father’s friend—a gentleman by the name of Kedar Nath Babu. To locate the man, Yogananda sought advice from Swami Pranabananda (SWA-ME PRA-na-ba-nun-da), who with much clairvoyance advised Yogananda that Kedar Nath Babu would soon be arriving to meet with him.
Yogananda later found out from Kedar Nath Babu that while he (Yogananda) had been talking with Swami Pranabananda, a duplicate Swami Pranabananda had appeared before Kedar Nath while he was taking his morning bath and told him to quickly follow him to meet with Yogananda. In his autobiography, Yogananda says, “Now I find he can materialize an extra body and work through it.”
Researchers have come across this phenomenon time and time again, giving it the name, “bilocation.” In 1774, “at the deathbed of Pope Clement XIV, Saint Alphonsus Maria de’Ligouri was observed kneeling in prayer, although, in fact, he was confined to his cell (room) in a location four days journey away.” (ROSEMARY GUILEY, Harper’s Encyclopedia of Mystical and Paranormal Experiences, p. 57, Harper & Row, 1991)
(Note: Found in Part 3 of the author’s book, Abandoned - you will find more fascinating examples of bilocation.)
Most of us have been to a “fun house” and have seen our many reflections cast before us in a maze of trick mirrors. Of course, these so-called expansions can only create laughter, unlike the Lord’s expansions which are each understood to be, in completeness, His Divine Self.
After Lord Jesus Christ rose from the cross, the Holy Bible tells us that he changed his form. MARK 16:12--“Later that day he appeared to two (of his disciples) who were walking from Jerusalem into the country, but they didn’t recognize him at first because he had changed his appearance.” Jesus’ appearance may have been different, but it was still him.
Throughout the Holy Bible, God has appeared in an array of different forms (even a burning bush--Exodus 3:2).
To help us to understand these multitudinous forms, Shrila Prabhupada has taught us that God can be compared to a lit candle. This original candle, according to its own sweet will (nothing can force God), then ignites another candle. As Shrila Prabhupada has explained, millions of these “eternal candles” exist. Although they are identical in power, the proper understanding is that all the candles were lit by the first—Krishna.
The original candle is Lord Krishna. He is the true, inconceivable miracle, having always existed, and without source. No one created this “candle.” No one ever lit this “candle.” God exists, always has, and always will—burning brightly—a concept that gives me chills whenever I try to comprehend its full meaning.
One of the most unambiguous statements in the Holy Bible concerning God’s divine form is found in GENESIS 1:27--“So God created man in His own image.” Doesn’t this strongly suggests that like us, God has two arms, two legs, a head, a face, et cetera, thus matching the overall description of Lord Krishna. Although the Scriptures tell us that God has expanded himself into different looking forms, the Lord’s original Self looks quite similar to us. But, remember, His holy body is eternal and full of knowledge and bliss—not filled with blood and pus, or suffering from aches and pains. The Lord’s form may resemble ours in some ways, but in many more ways it is totally different.
Turning now to the importance of God’s Holy Name, within both the Christian and Hare Krishna traditions, the name of God is recognized as a sacred sound, fully invested with the power and presence of God Almighty. In the PADMA PURANA, this Scripture tells us: “The Holy Name of Krishna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krishna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krishna’s name is complete, and it is the form of all transcendental mellows. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krishna, Himself. Since Krishna’s name is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with maya (illusion). Krishna’s name is always liberated and spiritual; it is never conditioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the name of Krishna and Krishna Himself are identical.”
EXODUS 15:3--“The Lord is His name.”
As we all know, the Holy Bible mentions God’s Holy Name many times: JOHN 1:1--“In the beginning was the Word…and the Word (name) was God.”
HEBREWS 13:15--“Therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”
JOEL 2:32--“Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.”
PSALMS 8:1, 145:2, 148:13--“O Lord…how excellent is thy name in all the earth…I will praise thy name for ever and ever…Let them praise the name of the Lord; for His name alone is excellent.”
PSALMS 149:3,6 & 150:5--“Let them praise His name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him….Let the high praises of God be in their mouth….Praise Him upon the loud cymbals.”
PSALMS 113:3--“From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the Lord’s name is to be praised.”
PSALMS 116:3, 4, 8--“The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell got hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow. Then call I upon the name of the Lord….thou hast delivered my soul from death.”
During a conversation between Father Emmanuel and Shrila Prabhupada a number of years ago, a remarkable understanding was brought to light. Shrila Prabhupada asked the priest what was the meaning of “Christ.” Father Emmanuel explained that “Christ” comes from the Greek word Christos, meaning, the Anointed One.
At first glance, the words “Christos” and “Krishna” do sound similar, and Shrila Prabhupada went on to explain to his guest--“When an Indian person calls on Krishna, he often says, ‘Krishta.’
“Krishta is a Sanskrit word meaning, attraction. So when we address God as Christ, Krishta, or Krishna, we indicate the same all-attractive Supreme Personality of Godhead. When Jesus said, ‘Our Father, who art in heaven, sanctified be Thy name,’ that name of God was Krishta or Krishna.”
Father Emmanuel replied, “I think Jesus, as the son of God, has revealed to us the actual name of God: ‘Christ.’ We can call God, ‘Father,’ but if we want to address Him by His actual name, we have to say ‘Christ.’”
Leaning back, Shrila Prabhupada said, “Yes. Christ is another way of saying Krishta, and Krishta is another way of pronouncing Krishna, the name of God. Jesus said that one should glorify the name of God, but yesterday I heard a theologian say that God has no name—that we can call Him only Father. A son may call his father, ‘Father,’ but the father also has a specific name. Similarly, God is the general name of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose specific name is Krishna.
“Therefore, whether you call God Christ, Krishta, or Krishna, ultimately you are addressing the same Supreme Personality of Godhead. If you stop killing animals and chant the Holy Name of Christ, everything will be perfect. I have not come to teach you, but only to request you to please chant the Name of God. The Bible also demands this of you. So let’s kindly cooperate and chant, and if you have a prejudice against chanting the name of Krishna, then chant Christos or Krishta—there is no difference. Lord Chaitanya said that God has millions and millions of names. Because there is no difference between God’s name and Himself, each one of these names has the same potency as God.” (BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA, The Science of Self-Realization, pp. 112-13, © BBT-Int’l, 1977)
In light of this wonderful conversation, it’s no wonder that the Holy Bible (Ephesians 3:8) speaks about “the endless treasures available in Christ.” Just as Jesus revealed to Father Emmanuel God’s Holy Name--Christ—Lord Chaitanya emphasized the name “Krishna” and the prayer: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. As Shrila Prabhupada said, either name of God is bonafide.
Regarding “the endless treasures available in Christ,” the King James Bible interprets Ephesians 3:8 slightly different from what I have already quoted from The Living Bible. Instead, it mentions “unsearchable riches.” This means that even if you were to try for a lifetime to discover all the glories invested within the Holy Name, you would never succeed because these blessings are infinite in number.
We need to be blessed by God. Who can deny this? But I seriously doubt that many of us fully appreciate the enormous value of God’s Holy Name and just how accessible its treasures truly are. The Pilgrim echoes this very idea when he says, “It is more precious to me than anything else in the world.”
“Endless treasures” and “unsearchable riches”—surely this precious gift is what prompted Saint Paul to encourage the church to “pray without ceasing”(1 Thessalonians 5:17).
In The Way of a Pilgrim, it was wanting to know more about this very thing (how to pray without ceasing) that inspired The Pilgrim to begin his great journey, in the first place.
PSALMS 113:3: “From the rising of the sun unto the going down of the same, the Lord’s name is to be praised.”
Christ smiled upon him and his search was fruitful. The Pilgrim discovered the Philokalia, written by the Holy Fathers, and he learned that although a “Christian is bound to perform many good works, before all else, he ought to pray, for without prayer no other good work, whatever, can be accomplished. Consequently, it is just to pray often, to pray always, which falls within his power as the means of attaining purity of prayer, which is the mother of all blessings.” (HELEN BACOVCIN, The Way of a Pilgrim, pp.17-18, Image Books, 1978).
“Capture the Mother,” said Saint Isaac of Syria--“The Holy Name of Christ.” Thus The Pilgrim began his lifelong prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
* * * * *
Not daring to call what follows even a partial summary of these “endless treasures,” I have, nevertheless, gathered together a few notes concerning the Holy Name of God. There is, however, something that I will proclaim. As I mentioned at the end of chapter three, “The divine path is very narrow.” To help us, God has illuminated it with three great lanterns. The Third Light is the sacred sound vibration of God’s Holy Name.
Just as touching a match to the wick on a kerosene lantern “lights up” the path, likewise, reciting the Lord’s Holy Name ignites this third and most important light. Not only did Lord Chaitanya teach this, but the desert Fathers who wrote the Philokalia also declared this fact. HESYCHIUS OF JERUSALEM--“Once we have begun to live attentively in humility and recollection and prayer, we will make progress on our mental journey with the Holy Name of Jesus Christ, which will light our way like a lamp.” (HELEN BACOVCIN, The Way of a Pilgrim, p. 190, Image Books, 1978)
The best way I have found to understand the Holy Name is to understand it as a very special gift from God. “Prayer is a gift from God that can bring you all of God’s gifts, if you only believe.” (This is a direct quote from Jesus Christ, found in the fascinating book, Through the Eyes of Jesus, by ALAN AMES, Vol. 1, page 154.)
An inkling of the Holy Name’s great value is also found in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam (4.7.6). There it is said that once a poor brahmana (priest) worshiped Shiva (shi-va) for material prosperity and eventually Shiva told this priest to go to Lord Chaitanya’s disciple, Sanatana Goswami (saw-naw-TAWN go-SWA-ME).
It was there, Lord Shiva told the priest, that he would receive his heart’s desire. It was rumored that Sanatana had a rare “touchstone” and that whenever it was touched to iron, the iron would immediately turn to gold. But instead of safeguarding this immensely valuable stone, Sanatana casually left it lying on the ground where he kept his garbage.
When the poor Brahmana approached Sanatana and asked if he could have the touchstone that Shiva had mentioned, Sanatana pointed to its general location amongst the refuse. To finally possess a touchstone himself, the priest was momentarily overjoyed.
Although materially bereft, the brahmana’s reasoning facilities were quite alert and after he left Sanatana he wondered why, if a touchstone is so valuable, did Sanatana Goswami keep it with the garbage? “Obviously,” he thought, “Sanatana must have something of much more value.”
In haste the brahmana returned to where Sanatana was residing and asked him why such a priceless object was being carelessly kept with his trash. Sanatana replied, “While it is true that Shiva has sent you to me for the best benediction, actually this touchstone is not the most precious thing I can give you. If you truly want the best benediction, you will have to first throw the touchstone into the river,” which was flowing nearby.
Eager to take full advantage of this great opportunity, the priest threw the touchstone out into the middle of the river and again approached Sanatana. At this point, Sanatana Goswami initiated the brahmana into the chanting of the great Hare Krishna prayer for deliverance: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.
The Pilgrim: “So now I walk and say the Jesus Prayer without ceasing and it is more precious and sweet to me than anything else in the world.”
While organizing the material I had prepared for this final chapter, I couldn’t help comparing myself and my own spiritual plight to the value of chanting the maha-mantra (the great prayer): “The power of the Holy Name to absolve sins (past and present) is declared emphatically in the Scripture.” (SUBANANDA DASA, Shri Namarita, The Nectar of the Holy Name, p. xxvi, © BBT-Int’l, 1982. Hereafter cited as “Nama“)
I also found this quote from the GARUDA PURANA: “If one chants the Holy Name of the Lord, even in helplessness or without desiring to do so, all the reactions of his sinful life depart, just as when a lion roars all the small animals flee in fear.”
There is also an early Christian document called, The Mysteries of Salvation Revealed Through Ceaseless Prayer, wherein it states that, “every offense would immediately be purified by grace from the frequent calling on the name of the Lord.” (HELEN BACOVCIN, The Way of a Pilgrim, pp. 140, 147-48, Image Books, 1978)
I comprehend certain things much better now. I understand that the reactions from my sinful activities, from both this present life and my past lives, are what rebound upon my head, like many long-forgotten boomerangs that I once threw in a distant past. But what about these last fifty-some-odd years?
Considering that my life hasn’t been free from the sorrows of tribulation, it dawned on me that since the Scriptures tell me that my past misdeeds (and their consequences) have been wiped clean, the source of my “difficulties” must be Lord Krishna, Himself. He has been directly intervening in my life, setting up situations and events to bring me into the grace that I now feel today.
The important point is that I have sailed right through the most difficult storms and that each time, without a hint of doubt, I have been able to see that it was Lord Krishna who had protected me. What this appreciation is awakening in me, is that Lord Krishna is always with me and that He is truly my best friend.
This has taken time. It certainly hasn’t occurred overnight. But it’s an undeniable truth that is coming to light, more and more, ever so slightly, and bringing me great happiness and peace. For the first time in my life a heartfelt affection for God is part of my everyday life. The thing that just really impresses me about all of this is that, in my own estimation, considering my shameful conduct, God should have washed His hands of me long ago. How can I say that I don’t deserve this? But He hasn’t. This is what has really moved me.
Not only am I feeling a great sense of indebtedness to Lord Krishna, but I’m beginning to care about Him in a very special way that is helping me to stop and examine my every-day actions. I naturally think of Him and if I feel that doing something in particular would upset Him, I try not to do it. The most precious part is that even if I completely fall on my face, or forget about Him, I have the confidence that He will still love me and remain by my side. What else can I conclude about Lord Krishna except that He is indeed my very best friend, and that He is extremely merciful.
I have worked on this book for more over 20 years. Above all I hope that these few remaining pages will be a blessing to everyone who reads them. I have something wonderful to tell you about Lord Krishna and the icing on my cake is that Shrila Prabhupada has given me a great religion that adds tremendous authority and history to what I have discovered to be, “my message.”
The Holy Name of Lord Krishna is a very special gift—personally given by God (specifically by Lord Chaitanya) to anyone who will take it. There are “no strings attached” to this gift. Remember, this is being said by a person who stayed on the other side of the street to avoid being hassled. I think we all need to remember that just because we’re not interested in something now, doesn’t mean that it won’t become attractive to us in the future. After I first heard about Lord Krishna, eight years went by before I even cared to pay Him any significant attention.
But how can a mere name be more valuable than a “touchstone,” which would bestow upon its owner unlimited amounts of gold? We owe the answer to Lord Krishna and to His devotees. Therefore, I offer my respectful obeisances to my spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta
I also offer my respectful obeisances to Lord Krishna, who also appeared 500 years ago as Lord Chaitanya. Therefore, I offer my obeisances to Lord Chaitanya.
I offer my respectful obeisances to Jesus Christ and to the Holy Bible, who encourages us to honor the Lord’s Holy Name. HEBREWS 13:15--“let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually, that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”
I offer my respectful obeisances to the Lord’s devotees, everywhere, who “pray without ceasing.” And finally, I offer my respects to you, the reader, for letting me share with you “my message.”
* * * * *
By the year 1516 A.D. the stage had been set to unveil the greatest contribution ever made to the human race. Never before had such an “endless treasure” been unsealed for mankind to plunder.
Eager to see his beloved Lord, it was the great sage, Rupa Goswami (one of Lord Chaitanya’s chief disciples), who came before Lord Chaitanya and spoke this celebrated prayer: “I offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna Chaitanya who is more magnanimous (generous) than any other avatar (incarnation), even Krishna Himself, because He is bestowing freely what no one else has ever given--(the gift of) pure love of Krishna.” (BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA, Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 19.53, ©BBT-Int’l, 1983)
It was at this point in Lord Chaitanya’s divine drama that many in the audience had guessed His actual identity. “Just as a devoted dog can recognize its master’s voice, no matter what clothes the master wears, the lover of God can recognize the God of love, in whatever form He chooses to reveal Himself.” note #6
Able to accurately predict the future, the Vedas declare that even though kali-yuga (the age of quarrel) note #7 “is full of faults, there is still one good quality about this age. It is by simply chanting the Holy Name of Krishna, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.” note #8
It is precisely this great boon that Lord Chaitanya desired to inundate the world with--“a special creation of the Lord.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 11.97)
“Lord Chaitanya gave this concession (privilege) to the fallen souls of this age: ‘Simply chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra (great prayer) and you will be delivered.’ This is Lord Chaitanya’s special concession.” note #9
Indeed, Lord Chaitanya especially propagated this formula as “the most feasible means” for salvation in this age of kali-yuga. (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Antya-lila 20.8).
A great Christian tradition concerning these identical precepts also exist, although, unfortunately, it is not as well-known or appreciated as it should be. As I have been trying to interject all along, my Christian friends needn’t feel the slightest pressure to change their religion, but I do encourage them to discover for themselves the “endless treasures” available in Christ. Of course, regardless of one’s religion, such an important quest only finds interest amongst those meek and gentle souls, “who are sincere in their spiritual search and will recognize true instruction even when it comes from simple, ordinary people.” (HELEN BACOVCIN, The Way of a Pilgrim, p. 166, Image Books, 1978. Hereafter cited by title only)
In complete accord with Lord Chaitanya’s divine message, the Holy Bible clearly encourages us to approach God, which is expressed most perfectly through prayer (interior life). Remember, it was Lord Jesus Christ who said: “It behooves you to pray always.” (Luke 18:1)
Honoring these words of Jesus, the Holy Fathers gathered together in monasteries throughout the wilderness—great patriarchs such as St. John Chrysostom, St. Gregory of Sinai, St. Simeon, St. John Climacus, and many many others.
Early Christian Patriarchs
What they taught and practiced amongst themselves is also true today. They understood and wrote that “prayer is the chief and most powerful means of our renewal and transformation.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, p. 118)
Besides this, they taught that prayer is the best means for attaining both the soul’s salvation and the goal of spiritual life—”love of God.” They saw the act of calling out to Christ as “both the first step, and the crown of a devout life.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, p. 131)
In their wisdom, the Holy Fathers summarized the entire Gospel into one prayer (The Jesus Prayer): “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Within the Holy Name of Christ they discovered an “endless treasure.” They declared that, “It is more necessary to learn to call on the name of God than it is to breathe!” The holy Fathers referred to the Jesus Prayer as “the art of arts” and together they “abandoned every other spiritual pursuit” and began wholeheartedly calling upon the Name of Christ. As St. Nicephorus has written, “Only the interior life (of absorbing oneself in calling upon Christ) is a truly Christian life. All the Fathers give witness to this.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, pp. 74, 185, 177, 181).
Only the liberal, high-mindedness of God could plot such unconditional mercy. CHAITANYA-CHARITAMRITA, Antya-lila 1.108, 3.82 & Madhya-lila 23.1 --“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is known as Purushottama, the greatest of all persons, has a pure mind. He is so gentle….My dear Lord, You have set a plan in motion by descending on the material world….The most munificent Supreme Personality of Godhead, known as Gaurakrishna (go-ra-krish-na – Lord Chaitanya), distributed to everyone (even to the lowest of men), His own confidential treasury in the form of the nectar of the Holy Name. This was never given to the people at any time before.”
But some will ask, “How must mankind endeavor so as to embrace such a transcendental activity?” Referring again to the treatise, The Mystery of Salvation Revealed Through Ceaseless Prayer, this very question is addressed. Here, its wise author admonishes us that, “True prayer must have its conditions. It must be offered with a pure mind and heart, with ardent zeal, with undivided attention, (and) with reverence and deepest humility.” note #10
Let us be thankful. After all, who of us has a pure mind, what to speak of a pure heart? The Lord’s Holy Name is so great that even if these conditions are lacking, its mercy is still showered upon those who pray. This is the value of the Holy Name.
“Simply by hearing the Holy Name one becomes purified. Even if the Hare Krishna mantra is not chanted properly, it still has so much potency that the chanter gains the effect.”
Again, this is exactly what the desert Fathers taught regarding the name of Christ--“The power of the name of the Lord, if frequently called on, will bring fruit in due time--Even if this cry comes from a heart which is distracted and filled with worldly concerns, do not worry--for prayer will purify itself by repetition--even in one who seems to say it mechanically and without devotion, (it will) clearly and effectively bear fruit.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, pp. 91, 148-49)
As we are observing, in both the Christian and Hare Krishna traditions, frequent chanting of the Holy Name is the sacred path which leads to God. Saint Therese of Lisieux once said, “The power of prayer is really tremendous. It makes one like a queen who can approach the king at any time and get whatever she asks for.”
SaintTherese of Lisieux
Shrila Prabhupada explains that, “The devotee always prays to the Lord so that he may engage in transcendental loving service.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 22.16)
Prabhupada tells us that, “Chanting is a spiritual call for the Lord and His energy to give protection to the conditioned soul. This chanting is exactly like the genuine cry of a child for its mother’s presence.” note #11
It is not surprising, then, that the holy Fathers say the same thing about the Jesus Prayer. They write that, “It is a sincere cry of filial (childlike) love and trust in the mercy of God; it is a cry of a soul humbly aware of its weakness.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, pp. 120-21)
One of the nicest things about prayer is that that it is available to everyone. The Jesus Prayer or the Hare Krishna Mantra can be chanted by anyone, rich or poor, “regardless of caste, creed, color, or social position.”
Regarding Hare Krishna, Hare Rama: “Lord Chaitanya has given special stress to the chanting of these Holy Names as the basic principle of spiritual advancement.” (Shrimad-Bhagavatam 3.29.18). Lord Chaitanya has distilled the Vedas for us and is freely distributing its essence: the “endless treasures” of Lord Krishna’s Holy Name.
CHAITANYA-CHARITAMRITA, ADI-LILA 7.20-23--“The characteristics of Krishna are understood to be a storehouse of transcendental love. Although that storehouse of love certainly came with Krishna when He was present, it was sealed. But when Lord Chaitanya came with His other associates…they broke the seal and plundered the storehouse to taste the transcendental love of Krishna.
“The more they tasted it, the more their thirst for it grew….(they) danced again and again and thus made it easier to drink the nectarean love of Godhead. They danced, cried, laughed and chanted like madmen, and in this way they distributed love of Godhead. In distributing love of Godhead, Lord Chaitanya and His associates did not consider who was a fit candidate and who was not, nor where such distribution should or should not take place. They made no conditions. Wherever they got the opportunity (they) distributed love of Godhead.”
They danced, cried, laughed and
chanted like madmen
God has unlimited potencies and, “Similarly, in the Holy Name of Krishna there are unlimited potencies”—endless treasures. note #12
Not only is the name, “Krishna,” God’s most important or principle name, it is the most powerful of all the Holy Names of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, including Vishnu and Rama. Emphasizing this very theme, when Lord Chaitanya asked Ramananda Raya (RA-MA-non-da ROY – One of His intimate associates), “Among all worshipable objects, which is the chief?”—Ramananda Raya greatly satisfied Lord Chaitanya by replying, “The chief worshipable object is the Hare Krishna mantra.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Madhya-lila 17.51)
At this point we can easily see that the audible sound of “Krishna” (or “Christ”) is not ordinary. They may sound worldly, but they’re not. Rather, calling upon the Lord’s Holy Name envelops a person within an aura of sacred sound. Shrila Prabhupada explains how, “Sometimes Krishna descends personally, and sometimes He descends as sound vibration, and sometimes He descends as a devotee. There are many categories of avatars. In this present age, Krishna has descended in His Holy Name: ‘Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.’ Lord Chaitanya also confirmed that in this age of kali-yuga, Krishna has descended in the form of sound vibration. Sound is one of the forms which the Lord takes.” note #13
MATTHEW 17:5--“And behold a voice out of the cloud, which said, ‘This is My beloved son.’”
Knowing perfectly well the integrity of God’s character, the saints tell us that, “The name of God is never contaminated or subject to decay. There is nothing more pure than His Holy Name. It is simultaneously the most important aspect of devotional service, as well as the key ingredient that initiates us on the path of devotional service.”
Just as Lord Chaitanya’s distillation of the Vedas is found in His promulgation of the Holy Name, the same Christian conclusion can be gleaned from the Gospel of Matthew. This is summarized as follows: “Prayer is to have a pre-eminent place in our lives and it is to be frequent. Prayer is not only to accompany all our actions but is to precede them in time. (Therefore) we should always remember how impossible it is to succeed in acts of devotion without frequent prayer.” note #14
The Vedas completely agree: “Whatever one does in executing devotional service, must be accompanied with the chanting of the Holy Name of the Lord. Among the ways of executing devotional service, the nine prescribed methods are the best. (note #15) These processes have great potency to deliver God and ecstatic love for Him. Of the nine processes of devotional service, the most important is to always chant the Holy Name of the Lord.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Antya-lila 4.71)
Not only do the Holy Names illuminate the way for us, it has been determined that the person who chants the maha-mantra (great prayer) gets immediate results. In the same way that touching a piece of iron to a touchstone immediately turns it to gold, “simply by touching the Holy Name with one’s tongue, immediate effects are produced.” note #16
Saint John Chrysostom mentions that, “The sinful man becomes pure at the moment” he calls upon Christ.”
Shrila Prabhupada tells us (Shrimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.14) that, “The transcendental name of Krishna, even though uttered unconsciously or by force of circumstances,” works immediately, bestowing eternal benefits. “The chanter gains the effect.”
Chanting the name of God is also “the simplest way” to please the Lord.
SHRIMAD-BHAGAVATAM 8.23.16--“There may be discrepancies in pronouncing the mantra(s) (mawn-tra) and observing the regulative principles (not sinning), and, moreover, there may be discrepancies in regard to time, place, person, and paraphernalia, but when your Lordship’s Holy Name is chanted, everything becomes faultless.”
Again, I can only marvel at how the Christian Fathers were able to see within their own tradition of chanting the Jesus Prayer, the same spiritual wisdom found in the Vedas--“The sacred Scripture, which gives us God’s law, also gives us the means to fulfill it easily and joyfully….by spontaneously seeking refuge in prayer.” note #17
This sacred refuge is considered to be the perfect sacrifice (love offering) for this day and age, and constant prayer eventually “makes everything perfect.”
As just stated, “chanting the name of God is also ‘the simplest way’ to please the Lord.” The Holy Name of God has even been compared to a modern elevator. “If one practices forms of yoga other than bhakti-yoga (loving devotional service) and thinks that he has attained the ultimate, he is mistaken. He has to make further progress. If we are on a staircase and have to reach the top floor, which is the hundredth floor, we are mistaken if we think we have arrived when we are on the thirtieth floor. As stated before, the whole yoga system may be likened to a staircase, connecting or linking us to God. In order to attain the ultimate, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we must go to the highest platform, and that is bhakti-yoga.
“But why walk up all these steps if we have a chance to take an elevator? By means of an elevator, we can reach the top in a matter of seconds. Bhakti-yoga is this elevator—the direct process by which we can reach the top in a matter of seconds. We can go step-by-step, following all other yoga systems, or we can go directly. Since in this age of Kali-yuga, people have short life spans and are always disturbed and anxious, Lord Chaitanya, by His causeless mercy, has given us the elevator (a special concession) by which we can come immediately to the platform of bhakti-yoga. That direct means is the chanting of Hare Krishna, and that is the special gift of Lord Chaitanya.
“Therefore Rupa Goswami offers his respects to Lord Chaitanya: ‘You are the most munificent (generous) incarnation because You are directly giving love of Krishna. To attain pure love of Krishna, one has to pass through so many stages of yoga, but You are giving this love directly. Therefore you are the most munificent.’” (BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA, The Path of Perfection, p.112, © BBT-Int’l, 1987)
Love of God—this is what we find inside the seed. This love of God is compressed within the Holy Name, just as a huge banyan tree is packed inside a small seed. This is the merciful provision Lord Chaitanya is freely distributing. “Lord Chaitanya is so nice that one who simply takes the Holy Name will immediately develop love of God.” (BHAKTIVEDANTA SWAMI PRABHUPADA, Songs of the Vaishnava Acharyas, p.77, © BBT-Int’l, 1974)
Isn’t this what we want—to be closer to God? This is the gift of prayer. In both religious traditions, “To pray means to direct the mind and heart to constant remembrance of God—to arouse in oneself the love of God by saying the name of Jesus Christ in harmony with one’s breathing, and the beatings of one’s heart. We begin this process by vocally calling on the Holy Name of Jesus Christ at all times, in all places, and in all occupations, without interruption.
“Many pseudo-enlightened people regard this vocal and frequent practice of the same prayer useless and trivial, a mechanical and senseless occupation of simple people. Those who criticize frequent vocal prayer can be compared to little children who are being taught how to read by learning the alphabet first. They complain constantly (having to repeat the ABC’s). The benefits, the enlightenment coming from reading, which is the result of the repetition of letters, is for them a mystery.
“This mechanical exercise reveals a mystery of which they are, unfortunately, not aware. The name of Jesus Christ (has) self-activating power. They do not realize that the vocal but frequent call is imperceptibly becoming a true cry of the heart; that it is becoming interiorized as it were natural for the soul; that it enlightens and nourishes the soul and unites it with God. The power of prayer prepares it for union with God. You will have reached the summit of all virtues and become a dwelling place of the Holy Spirit.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, pp. 142-43, 154, 173, 187)
In the PADMA PURANA the Lord tells Narada Muni, “My dear Narada, I do not actually reside in my abode, Vaikuntha, nor within the hearts of the yogis. I reside where my pure devotees chant My Holy Name.”
To actually live within this realm of divine union is our goal and as the author of the CHAITANYA-CHARITAMRITA has declared, “The Holy Name of Krishna is so attractive that anyone who chants it becomes imbued with love of Krishna.”
We have briefly examined the “seed packet” and have tried to discern what it will produce. But still there is so much more to discover about this “endless treasure.”
For instance, could it be that this gift was only offered five hundred years ago when Lord Chaitanya was personally distributing it? No, because “Shastra (SHAWS-tras Scripture)--it is truth for all the days—past, present, and future.” note #18
Although “Lord Chaitanya appeared five hundred years ago, it cannot be said that now the potency of the Hare Krishna maha-mantrais less powerful than it was in His presence.” No, this gracious provision is ever fresh, imperishable, and everlasting for whoever embraces it. note #19
This supreme gift perfectly matches the supreme goal spoken about in the Holy Scriptures—attaining love of God. In other words, when you’ve got love of Godhead, you’ve got all there is to get. “It is exactly this criterion of love that is compressed within the Holy Name.” Remember, attaining love of God is the ultimate result of devotional service—the “development of genuine love for the Supreme Lord.” (Shrimad-Bhagavatam 1.7.7)
And as far as the quality of that love—produced by the Holy Name--“It is the unique and highest development of love of God!” This is “the ultimate benediction for all human beings--situating (them) within the Lord’s intimate circle of devotees.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Adi-lila 7.1, 7.17, & Introduction)
Shrila Prabhupada writes that, “Krishna and His devotees become perfectly intimate” within this yardstick of love, “enjoying transcendental bliss perfectly. Lord Krishna is indeed captivated by this standard of love.” note #20
The saints remind us that it is exactly this kind of love that Lord Chaitanya so highly praises. As we pray, this coveted treasure awakens within our heart. “It imbues the chanter with a spirit of devotion for the Lord, and makes one more and more greedy to achieve the shelter of the lotus-feet of Lord Krishna.” (Chaitanya-charitamrita, Introduction: Adi-lila, & Madhya-lila 8.8)
* * * * *
We all enjoy our hobbies. Although I don’t get the chance to get out into the field as much as I used to, my hobby is searching for old gold mines and lost booty. Who wouldn’t be excited to uncover a cave filled with an endless treasure, hidden by a long forgotten king. In every corner, trunk after trunk, I can imagine so many golden objects, shaped and molded into the most exquisite forms imaginable.
Besides all the gold, there would be a vast assortment of clothing, armor, weapons, spices, incense, scrolls, ornate boxes, pottery, rugs, jewelry, utensils, tools, precious stones, medicines, musical instruments, vials, and more—everything undisturbed for thousands of years and waiting to be discovered. Archaeologists readily admit that right now, in many different parts of the world, enormous treasures such as this are actually waiting to be found.
Priam’s Treasure: a cache of gold and other artifacts discovered in
Turkey by archaeologist, Heinrich Schliemann in 1873
Unlike a modern archaeologist, however, who has to be quite wealthy to mount an expedition for hidden treasure, a totally different kind of treasure, also containing an endless wealth, is within all of our grasp. The only “tool” we need to begin “digging” is prayer, and the holy Fathers have written that every person “has been given the ability to pray.” Because prayer is such a powerful and accessible “tool,” in every religion we find some form of prayer being actively taught.
In this final chapter, Krishna and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance has been exploring some of the common tenets concerning prayer, found within both Christianity and the Hare Krishna tradition. In both of these great religions, taught by their founders, saints, and Scriptures, emphasis on the Holy Name is emphatically stressed.
The Desert Fathers even say: “When the Holy Name of God is invoked, the person calling upon God becomes non-different “from the saints, the blessed, and the martyrs.” The Lord’s devotees have identified either of these two prayers,“Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare” or, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” as the most efficacious of all prayers.
“Awaken the zeal--chant His Holy Names” they exclaim! “Call on the Holy Name all your waking moments!” Ephesians 6:18--“Pray all the time.” 1Timothy 2:8--“I will therefore that men pray everywhere.”
Although the Holy Name, even when uttered just once is all-auspicious, what is most desirable is “frequent and uninterrupted” prayer. This is why you so often see the Holy Fathers of Christ and the devotees of Lord Krishna, holding in their hands their japa (rosary/prayer) beads—constantly chanting. Enlightened followers of either tradition will tell us to “give prayer the first place in our lives” and that “it fully satisfies the innermost demands of our devotion and Scripture.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, p.185)
It is also interesting to note that while special times are set aside for other acts of devotion, there is no appointed time set aside for prayer. For instance, what is to stop a person from praying while taking a long ride on their bicycle? Not only is “prayer the ‘primary method’ for our salvation, it is also the ‘most conducive method’.”
ACTS 2:21--“And it shall come to pass, that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
The Holy Name is purity personified. And it does just that—it purifies everyone it touches.
Unfortunately our “spiritual bicycles” are now covered with so much “rust and dirt.” A very strong solution—the Lord’s Holy Name—is now needed to release us from the grips of decay.
When applied, disturbing thoughts will dissolve away. The inclination to sin will vanish. Our weaknesses will be restored with strength, our bad character replaced with good character. Everything about us shall become faultless, deathless, perfect, and saturated with joy.
The most filthy part on any bicycle is its chain. If you ever have to remove one, your hands immediately become black. But also true, I find the chain to be the most intriguing part of a bike.
In my shop in Saratoga Springs, I cleaned “many a bicycle chain.” After using a special wrench to remove it, I would submerge the entire thing inside a vat of gasoline. Then after letting it soak for awhile, I would take an old toothbrush and scrub away—soon revealing, at least for me, a certain beauty.
I’m sure that my appreciation for the bicycle chain also has to do with what it accomplishes. This one continuous (circular) device connects the massive power of the rider, pushing down with his/her legs, with the exact essence that a bicycle is all about—to propel the rider forward. Repetitive prayer is also like a bicycle chain—both circular in design—and when chanted, bringing you back to where you started—only to commence again.
Think about it: the tires can be low, the handlebars loose, the gears stuck in low, the breaks not working, the seat too low, the back fender scraping against the wheel, spokes missing, the front wheel wobbly, and the fork bent—but—if the chain is OK, the bike will still move forward.
Likewise, our lives may be in similar disarray. We may come from a broken home. We may have been abused. Our marriage may not be working. We may be “spinning our wheels” at work. Our figure may look like a “flat tire.” And sadly, nothing may seem to be working in our lives. But by the Lord’s grace, everyone has been given the ability to call out to Him for help (to pray). In other words, by His grace, “the chain is OK” and we can still “move forward.”
Spiritually we are meant to advance. This is called spiritual maturity, and it is not surprising that chanting the Lord’s Holy Name has been recommended as the best way for us to mature.
Somehow we must know beyond all uncertainty that the Lord’s Holy Name will deliver exactly what we are looking for. This conviction will remove all doubt and allow for an ever-increasing love to fill our lives. This kind of faith can only manifest within us by taking the time to hear about God and by chanting His Holy Names.
Our walk with God is clearly a walk of faith. As Shrila Prabhupada mentions in the Bhagavad-gita, “It is only by faith that one can advance in Krishna (God) consciousness.” Of course, throughout the Holy Bible the message is also a call to faith:
GALATIANS 3:11--“God has said that the only way we can be right in his sight is by faith. As the prophet Habakkuk says it, ‘The man who finds life will find it through trusting God.’”
HEBREWS 10:39--“Our faith in God assures our soul’s salvation.”
And in the Chaitanya-charitamrita it is said that, “Faith is the complete conviction that simply by chanting His Holy Names one can achieve all perfection. That is called real faith.”
In a very similar fashion, the Christian Fathers understood that, “Faith is attained through prayer….For it animates man’s faith and is the source of all virtues.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, pp. 143, 145)
Mankind has been given not only a very special privilege, but also a very special opportunity. Lord Chaitanya knows perfectly well our precarious position. Our greatest blessing is that His love and promises will never disappoint us. They are sure to produce what He promises—compressed within His Holy Names.
Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu
Sadly, some of us are much like the “prodigal son” (Luke 15:11-31)—having turned our backs on our Heavenly Father. But unlike the young man in the Bible who could easily retrace his footsteps back into the arms of his family, we have been wandering in this material world for countless births, hopelessly lost and now locked tightly within the most degraded age of all (Kali-yuga). I have learned from Lord Krishna the way out of this quagmire and wanting to share with you His message—His message to all—I have taken the effort to write this book.
Please listen to Me, My children. Danger abounds. But My Sacred Names, once chanted, will light the way for you. They will show you the path, which will bring you back home. Everything you will ever need to return to Me, I have placed within My Holy Name. To start your journey, all you need is to begin honoring My Name with faith, humility, and devotion. Please be kind to each other. Be kind to animals. Help your spiritual master. Once you begin to call upon My Name, never stop. You are floundering in a very dangerous ocean. Like a lifeboat full of provisions, there is only one saving grace. I assure you. I say unto you: Chanting My Holy Name, Chanting My Holy Name, Chanting My Holy Name is the only way, the only way, the only way. Now please come home.
Shall we dare believe? Can we take the Lord at His word? Can He be fully trusted? Just as the farmer has faith in the fragile seeds that are within his fields, let us have faith in the “imperishable seeds” that never fail: God’s blessed words. If the farmers of this world, without any clear-cut guarantee, can have faith in nature, why can’t we have faith in “the Lord of nature,” who gives us His personal guarantee?
I have faith that Lord Krishna can be trusted to honor His word. God’s will for me, and for you, is to chant and honor His Holy Names (the most important part of “my message”). God has given His word that by doing so, all our dreams will come true.
I didn’t set out in this life to find Lord Krishna, by any stretch of the imagination. I was only looking for a bite to eat before catching a bus. But His Holy Name took effect and when I uttered “Krishna,” He came to me through His humble servant, Shrila Prabhupada (“One should know the spiritual master as Myself”).
This “God question” and “faith question” is something we all need to face and I thank Shrila Prabhupada—not for giving me an alternative to Christianity, but for helping me to become “alive.” (CHAITANYA-CHARITAMRITA 22.105--“One who hears the Hare Krishna mantra thus vibrated is awakened to spiritual consciousness.”
What I received from Shrila Prabhupada is faith in Lord Krishna and His Holy Names—much more valuable than any amount of gold. As the Lord tells us in the BHAGAVAD-GITA 9.3--“Those who are not faithful on the path of devotional service cannot attain Me, but return to birth and death in this material world.”
All that any of us require, then, is to allow ourselves to be touched by Lord Krishna’s “eternal touchstone,” Shrila Prabhupada. He will quickly give us faith in Lord Krishna, filling us with love of God.
My sincere hope is that my spiritual master, Shrila Prabhupada, and the devotees of the Lord are pleased with this book and that somehow it has been written nicely enough to increase everyone’s faith. My special hope is that Krishna and the Art of Bicycle Maintenance will kindle a keen desire within everyone to chant Lord’s Holy Names.
Since the essence of Christianity can be best understood by listening to the early saints of this great religion, let us end now with these words of St. John Chrysostom, who said, “I entreat you, brother, never stop reciting this prayer. Everyone should say the (Jesus) prayer no matter what he is doing…the name of Christ will regenerate and save the soul.” (The Way of a Pilgrim, p.185). For all my Christian friends, I hope they will embrace “the Jesus Prayer” and stop to ask themselves, “What would Jesus do?”
St. John Chrysostom
Let us all take to this “transcendental bicycle path,” chanting His Holy Names as we travel down it; discovering all the magnificent things that God has in store for us. Remember that, God helps those who help themselves.
Note #3 (Re: As mentioned in Chapter 4, read about the Lord’s magnificent intelligence, when as a mere boy Lord Chaitanya defeats the greatest mind in all of India.)
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