In a recent meeting in Mayapur, India, the members of the Governing Body Commission of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness appointed several of my Godbrothers to posts of great spiritual responsibility posts requiring stringent vows of renunciation.
"So what?" is the likely response from many nondevotees. "What use to me is such renunciation?"
This outlook arises from an inability to appreciate genuinely spiritual persons and spiritual advancement. Most people hold materialistic values and are interested only in the advancement of material life, with an emphasis on competing for material goods. They haven't learned to perceive and to appreciate the subtler qualities of spiritual persons, nor are they able to share in the devotees' feelings of happiness and admiration on seeing others attain greater spiritual elevation. All these finer sentiments are suppressed when one hankers after bodily pleasures and material acquisitions.
Thoughtful commentators perceive unrestrained materialism as a destructive force in the world. "The squalid cash interpretation put on the word 'success' [is] our national disease," stated William James. To Alexander Solzhenitsyn, rampant materialism has a stifling effect upon personal growth: "Active and intense [material] competition permeates all human thought without opening a way to free spiritual development."
The Vedic literature also condemns unrestrained materialism: "Taking shelter of insatiable lust and absorbed in the conceit of pride and false prestige, the materialists, thus illusioned, are always sworn to unclean work, attracted by the impermanent. They believe that to gratify the senses is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus until the end of life their anxiety is immeasurable. Bound by a network of hundreds of thousands of desires and absorbed in lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense enjoyment" (Bg. 16.10-12).
Despite a materialist's attempts to enjoy, however, he meets with only suffering throughout his life. His attachment to mate, home, and wealth forces him to undergo constant anxiety to increase his standard of material enjoyment. Yet his hopes for happiness are never fulfilled. Whatever measure of material success may come his way is invariably marred by anxieties and fears of setback, and no amount of wealth or endowment of beauty can protect him from disease, old age, and death. Therefore those saintly persons who can free us from this precarious position by informing us of the highest purpose of life are the most valuable members of society.
According to the law of karma, after this present lifetime the soul will transmigrate to another body. But what kind of body that will be and what experiences the soul must undergo remain mysteries to the materialist. Not only is the common man in ignorance of these truths, but so too are the leaders of culture and civilization. Thus the present society is a case of the blind leading the blind, or in the words of the great spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, the cheaters and the cheated.
The devotees of ISKCON are providing information about how to liberate the soul from the entanglement of materialistic society, and they set the perfect example of how one should live. The spiritual values they teach are transcendental to any religion, and because they live in strict accordance with those values, devotees should be recognized as the most advanced members of society.
Although their work is not always readily appreciated, spiritual welfare workers serve humanity all over the world. As history shows, such persons are sometimes crucified, abused, or neglected, but they never lose their enthusiasm to take up their compassionate work. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna says such persons are more dear to Him than anyone else.
The appointment of new sannyasis and gurus within ISKCON is therefore not a mere institutional formality. Rather, the new leaders are genuinely advanced spiritualists who have been recognized as such because of their pure devotional character and spotless behavior.
Out of compassion for humanity and duty to his spiritual master, thesannyasi renounces all material preoccupations and attachments, including those in relation to wife and family, and devotes himself fully to helping others. All humankind becomes his family, and with full attention he dedicates himself to propagating Krsna consciousness throughout the world.
The guru's responsibility is to remove the sinful reactions of the spiritual aspirant and guide him throughout his spiritual life. A guru is thus not one who performs magic tricks or exploits people by claiming to be God. Rather, under his expert guidance, the less advanced spiritualists come to realize the ultimate goal of life. To execute their duties properly, therefore, the new sannyasis andgurus must actually be advanced spiritual personalities.
For example, Jagadisa Goswami, one of four newly appointed gurus, is pioneering educational work on the elementary and high school levels and has organized gurukulas schools on the Vedic model in India and many Western countries. In addition to the conventional subjects, gurukula students learn of the transcendental nature of the soul, without which knowledge one's education is incomplete.
Agrani Swami, another new guru, will be accepting disciples in the Caribbean, where many persons of traditional Hindu heritage have forgotten their original culture. In Puerto Rico, Jamaica, the Dominican Republic, and especially Guyana, Agrani Swami will be selflessly working to restore the original Krsna consciousness of people from many different racial, national, and religious backgrounds.
Although, as we have shown, there is much evidence that materialism is on the rise today, the desire for spiritual life is never extinguished from the heart. Wherever saintly personalities propagate bona fide spiritual life, many spiritual persons come forward. This has been especially true throughout the African continent, where Bhaktitirtha Swami is the newly appointed guru. And in India, Gaura-Govinda Swami, who has done much work in translating Srila Prabhupada's books into Orian, will be accepting disciples.
My friend Mahanidhi Swami, one of the newly appointed sannyasis, works in the Baltimore area and is especially keen to distribute the transcendental knowledge of Srila Prabhupada's books. He is also dedicated to going into the heart of the city to chant the holy names of God with the devotees. These methods of spreading the name and glories of the Supreme are recommended in this age as the topmost form of yoga. In this way, Mahanidhi Swami works without selfish motive to please his spiritual master.
These devotees and others work to benefit everyone in the world. Although it is a sad commentary on our times that such people are not widely recognized as the most important members of society, they are nevertheless providing the highest service to mankind. Nor will the world's neglect of their efforts deter them from their work. SDG