Open Mind - Season 8 / Episode 5 / January 2017
At the base of Bhakti yoga (=devotional practice), is the chanting of gods' names. The Krishna mantra in particular is referenced in the ancient Sanskrit texts as effective in Kali Yuga. It's kind of a main line, direct express connection with divinity. And the three words of the mantra, Hare, Krisna, Rama, are constructed in this 16-word order: "Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare."
The word Hare is the evocative of Hara, which is the name of Radha, god in feminine form. And one of the things that attracted me about the Krishna practice was that it had the insight to acknowledge divinity in both male and female form. So quite different from the misogynistic --paternalistic religious traditions.
So Hare is an invocation. It's an appeal to Radha, god in feminine form, to accept us in devotional life.
Krishna simply means the most attractive. It's a very universal name for divinity.
Rama means the highest pleasure possible. So through effective, authentic spiritual practice, yogis encounter the highest bliss.
Prabhupada was born into british colonial India in 1896. The image of Hindu culture at that time was not particularly flattering. The Christian missionaries who had come mostly from England, but from elsewhere, had taken it pin themselves to convert Hindus to the true light of the Christian church. And the one offense that they found most egregious was what they called idol worship. Of all the deities in India, of all the gods worshipped in India, was Krishna. Why Krishna? Because he's the god of love. The image of Krishna playing his flute and dancing with the cowherd girls of his village was everything objectionable to the enlightened European mind.
So here was Prabhupada, born into an orthodox Krishna worshipping family, a Vaishnava family. His father, Gour Mohan De had other children, but he saw something in this young boy, his son, who was named Abhay Charan -- that's the A. C. in his name, meaning one who is fearless having taken shelter at the feet of the lord. This young man, Abhay's father said, will succumb neither to the propaganda of the British nor the distortions of the Hindu intelligentsia. What he meant by that was the reaction of the Bhadralok, as they were called, the Kolhata Hindu intellectual class, to this infiltration by European Christianity was, "OK what do we have to do to make Hinduism acceptable to the rest of the world." So rather than educating themselves deeper about Krishna, their conclusion was, "let's just strip away everything that the Europeans find objectionable." What it leaves is a kind of monistic pablum which says, "don't be offended by these beginners in spiritual live who are worshiping Krishna and deities. These are undeveloped minds trying to grasp very sophisticated concepts, and when they've evolved more, they'll leave behind Krishna, and the worship of Krishna," and all that stuff.
So you have these two very powerful energies conspiring against personalism. Now it's very important to understand that what Prabhupada's contribution was, was to re-establish the validity of a personal divinity, and that's what the Krishna movement is all about. What he started was the Western world branch of this ancient, personalist tradition of Bhakti or devotional yoga.
Regina: Not only that, the brits were really creating extreme divisiveness between all of the religions within India that had previously live side by side. Hindus against Muslims and so on.
Year, in fact, Prabhupada's neighborhood was arbitrarily segregated by the British into ghettos. There was a Muslim ghetto and there was a Hindu ghetto. So from a young age, Prabhupada saw the consequence of that kind of bigotry, that kind of religious prejudice on the part of the British and part of the Raj. So imagine growing up, perhaps akin to what it's like being black or Hispanic in America. You're not the mainstream here.
Regina: And before, there was this cross-pollination between the cultures and religions.
They lived together side by side. Children played together. People did business together. It wasn't a problem until it was made a problem by the British, initially through census. On their census forms, they enforced people to say, "What is your religion? Are you Hindu or are you Muslim?" Before that, Hinduism was never a religion. It was a spiritual practice. The name Hindu isn't even indigenous to India. It's a name that was given by the British in their census forms. The word originally came from the Mughals, who pronounced their S like H. So the people living on the other side of the Sindh River became the Hinds. That's where the British got the idea of calling indigenous religions of India Hinduism. You never find that word in any of the Sanskrit text. The wisdom texts of India do not mention Hinduism anywhere.
Going back to that Joseph Campbell Monomyth model, there is a moment of what Campbell calls the meeting with the mentor. You hear something in your life that you may have heard 100 times before, but somehow, this person saying it to you, it gets through. That was when young Prabhupada, Abhay, met his guru, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. It was 1922. He was at a place called the Gaudiya Math, which was Bhaktisiddhanta's spiritual schools. Bhaktisiddhanta, who is a very erudite Krishna worshipper, when he saw this young man -- Prabhupada at that time must've been 26 years old -- the first thing that Bhaktisiddhanta said to him is, you look to me like a very intelligent fellow. Why don't you take this Krishna teachings and bring them to the West? Talk to people in English about the Bhagavad Gita, and the changing of the Krishna mantra, and living a devotional life.
To this day, I wonder what that must have felt like for him, on the first meeting with his guru, to be given this life mission. It was hard to get outside India in 1922. The only impression that people had in India at that time of America -- because the West meant the United States, right? -- was from 'National Geographic' magazine, 'Life' magazine...you know, nightclubs, and speakeasies, and drinking, and eating meat.... So the idea of voluntarily going into that hell to tell people "give up meat, give up drinking, give up sex outside of your life partnership, give up gambling, give... you have to be crazy.
The struggle for me as an author of this book was to make him human enough that readers would consider, "yeah, I understand this person came for me. I'm involved in this somehow."
Regina: Beings come with purpose. He was pre-wired for this purpose before his incarnation, and he was displaying his own passion and ecstasy at a very early age for this.
He had a small Ratha Yatra cart, which is a decorated model of the large Rath carts that are pulled through the streets each year in a big festival called the Ratha Yatra festival, the chariot festival. These are six, seven story tall huge, monumental, extremely heavy chariots with big wheels that weigh several tons, and they're pulled through the streets in the town of Puri in Orissa by millions of pilgrims on these huge, thick long ropes. Prabhupada was always excited by the description of this festival as a young boy and wanted a chariot like that of his own, so his father bought him a little wooden model, and Prabhupada staged his own Ratha Ytra festival in his neighborhood with all the kinds, called the kids around, 'hey, you play drums," he was organizing stuff end at age of six. He was showing his proclivities at a very early age.
Truth being told. It ain't easy, even for the avatars and the great souls. Nobody should have that idea that, oh, well, a great soul. He never suffered...you know the suffering, if anything, was greater.
All of a sudden, his India-centric focus of a life went global and he saw the possibility of bringing true spiritual knowledge to the entire world, and the idea of re-spiritualizing humanity became a reality for him. I always ask myself what is it that compels people to go past the limits that they set for themselves. What is it that allows us to do more that we think ourselves capable of doing?
The yoga practices, the spiritual practices do not imps anything new on us. They reawaken something that's already been there forever. So it's a return of memory, which is interesting because there are parallels in Holocaust studies as well of the return of traumatized or suppressed memory.
The canting of the Krishna mantra is for that purpose. It's to revitalize our knowledge of ourselves as divine beings. Imagine how liberating it would be to live like that, knowing yourself to be that no one can hurt you. That frees me up. It means I can be here and I can listen to you.
He has come to this point, studying under his guru, really imbibing this from childhood, you are not the body, you are an eternal soul, where he saw the possibilities of going global with this. Wow.
KALI : Goddess of Time, Creation, Destruction and Power
Kālī (/ˈkɑːli/; Sanskrit: काली), also known as Kālikā (Sanskrit: कालिका), is a Hindu goddess. Kali's earliest appearance is that of a destroyer of evil forces. She is the goddess of one of the four subcategories of the Kulamārga, a category of tantric Saivism.
Over time, she has been worshipped by devotional movements and tantric sects variously as the Divine Mother, Mother of the Universe, Adi Shakti, Adi Parashakti.
ShaktaHindu and Tantric sects additionally worship her as the ultimate reality or Brahman. She is also seen as divine protector and the one who bestows moksha, or liberation.
Kali is often portrayed standing or dancing on her consort, Shiva, who lies calm and prostrate beneath her. Kali is worshipped by Hindus throughout India. Kali is one of the ten Mahavidyas, a list which combines Sakta and Buddhist goddesses.
Shiva’s female consort is known under various manifestations as Uma, Sati, Parvati, Durga, and Kali; Shiva is also sometimes paired with Shakti, the embodiment of power.
The divine couple, together with their sons Skanda and the elephant-headed Ganesha—are said to dwell on Mount Kailasa in the Himalayas.
The six-headed Skanda is said to have been born of Shiva’s seed, which was shed in the mouth of the god of fire, Agni, and transferred first to the river Ganges and then to six of the stars in the constellation of the Pleiades. According to another well-known myth, Ganesha was born when Parvati created him out of the dirt she rubbed off during a bath, and he received his elephant head from Shiva, who was responsible for beheading him.
Shiva’s vehicle in the world, his vahana, is the bull Nandi; a sculpture of Nandi sits opposite the main sanctuary of many Shiva temples. In temples and in private shrines, Shiva is also worshipped in the form of the lingam, a cylindrical votary object that is often embedded in a yoni, or spouted dish.
Shiva is usually depicted in painting and sculpture as white (from the ashes of corpses that are smeared on his body) with a blue neck (from holding in his throat the poison that emerged at the churning of the cosmic ocean, which threatened to destroy the world), his hair arranged in a coil of matted locks (jatamakuta) and adorned with the crescent moon and the Ganges (according to legend, he brought the Ganges River to earth from the sky, where she is the Milky Way, by allowing the river to trickle through his hair, thus breaking her fall).
Shiva has three eyes, the third eye bestowing inward vision but capable of burning destruction when focused outward. He wears a garland of skulls and a serpent around his neck and carries in his two (sometimes four) hands a deerskin, a trident, a small hand drum, or a club with a skull at the end.
That skull identifies Shiva as a Kapalika (“Skull-Bearer”) and refers to a time when he cut off the fifth head of Brahma. The head stuck to his hand until he reached Varanasi (now in Uttar Pradesh, India), a city sacred to Shiva. It then fell away, and a shrine for the cleansing of all sins, known as Kapala-mochana (“The Releasing of the Skull”), was later established in the place where it landed.