During the three years I have been living at the ISKCON farm in Port Royal, Pennsylvania, I have noted with pleasure how things occur with natural regularity. The four seasons are well defined: Spring is spring, summer is hot and verdant, autumn brings a harvest of corn (this year about sixty acres) as well as potatoes and beans, and winter is a time of wood-Cutting, wood-burning, and snowfall. The cows produce their milk and offspring with natural regularity; even the births occur in regular runs, as this year first saw two new heifers and then three new bulls. The devotees also regularly go about their duties in the fields, the barn, or wherever, worshiping the Deity of Lord Krsna and chanting Hare Krsna.
Another regular occurrence around here is that each year the local newspaper carries an article commending us for our hard work and decency but condemning us for not being Christians. We always answer the criticism, and the paper prints our reply. A few weeks ago Jim Bauer, in his local column 'As I See It," wrote the following:
"First, concerning the 'activities' at the 'farm,' I would like to share some thoughts from my visit during the recent 'Open House Festival' held there.
"Frankly, I had mixed emotions about the whole experience. On one hand, I was impressed by the condition of the grounds, the friendliness of the people ('Krishna devotees') and their apparent total devotion to the cause of Krishna (they put me to shame with the zeal they have for their God). On the other hand, however, I couldn't help thinking how sad it is that so many 'good' people are being 'led down the wrong path.'
"They are deceiving themselves and others, too, when they say they worship the same God that Catholics, Protestants and Jews do. The Bible says there is only one God-God the Father, Son and Holy Ghost it says nothing about Krishna or anyone else being the true God.
"The question I think we have to ask ourselves is not 'Am I safe in the same county with these people?' or other similar thoughts, but rather, 'Why did these people choose their way of life and beliefs, and what can we do to insure that our children aren't taken down the wrong path?"'
Seeing the article, our temple president, Paramananda dasa, immediately seized the opportunity to inform local people of the true nature of Krsna consciousness. He wrote a reply that the paper published the following week.
"Dear Mr. Bauer:
"I thought your editorial in last week's paper contained some criticisms of the devotees of Krishna which were both inaccurate and misleading to the general public, so I would like to take this opportunity to reply 'as I see it.'
"Your point of criticism is that because the word 'Krishna' is not mentioned in the Bible as a name of God, in fact the Krishna devotee is not worshiping, glorifying, or serving God but someone else and is on the 'wrong path.'
"Actually the word 'Krishna' means 'all-attractive.' It is a name which describes the supreme qualities of God. There is no reason to say that if I call God Krishna He is no longer God.
"The principles of religion are not sectarian. One cannot rightly say that God is Christian, Jewish, Protestant, Hindu, or Muslim. It is like saying the sun is American because it rises every day in America. It also rises in France, Africa, and China. God is the father of every living being, regardless of what nomenclature people use to address Him.
"The Hare Krishna chant is a simple prayer, meaning 'O Lord, please engage me in Your service.' Why criticize a person for this? When I see a very devout follower of Lord Jesus, I am inspired by his example, I respect him, and I don't engage in envious criticism of him.
"Contrary to some popular rumors, the Krishna religion is not a new religion. Its scriptures, the Vedas, are 5,000 years old and predate all other revealed scriptures in the world.
"Also contrary to some popular conceptions, it teaches monotheism, the worship of one supreme God. The same principles of religion that are summarized in the Ten Commandments are given throughout the Vedic scriptures. If you judge the tree by its fruit, then you won't be sad and say that the devotee of Krishna is on the wrong path. As I see it, there is room for all of us in the kingdom of God."
Paramananda's advice that Mr. Bauer judge by the fruits is in line with the familiar Biblical teaching. The same teaching is found in the Vedic scriptures also: phalena pariciyate, "judge by the results."
When Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the Krsna consciousness movement, visited our farm in 1976, he also was concerned with the fruits of our Krsna conscious farming village. He liked the field production (that year we harvested five hundred tons of corn, thirty tons of wheat, ten tons of potatoes). He was astonished at the quantity of milk our cows were giving (at least six cows each gave eighty pounds of milk a day). And he specifically commented on the farm's atmosphere of happiness and harmony; even the kittens and dogs played together peacefully. Srila Prabhupada named the farm Gita-nagari, "the community where Bhagavad-gita is sung." He told us to go on developing the project as a transcendental village, living the way Lord Krsna lived when He appeared in the world thousands of years ago-depending on nature and the cows.
Columnist Jim Bauer also saw the fruits, but he wasn't able to appreciate them. Many of our visitors, however, have appreciated. One local farmer, Stan, an active member of a major Protestant denomination yet something of a philosophic seeker, had the patience and good will to sit and talk with us. He asked us about our understanding of God. We quoted the Vedic scriptures; he quoted the Bible. We also discussed our faiths on the basis of logic and human feeling. We talked for hours, personally, openly, and we had lunch together. Later Paramananda dasa showed him around the farm and exchanged ideas on farming. Stan was especially impressed to see we were plowing with oxen-a revolutionary innovation to most American farmers. By the end of the day Paramananda and Stan, despite their so-called religious differences, were fast friends. Stan wrote his own letter to the paper, which subsequently published it.
". . . After visiting the people at ISKCON and talking with Ben (Paramananda) and Bob for quite a long time, about God's world and His people, I find it to have been nearly impossible to disagree about any subject concerning the interrelationship of God, man and man's destiny, except possibly how, how fast, or how far man should acquire a 'back to the Bible' type of living. I would like to thank them for their fine hospitality and very good intellectual conversation, and I would like to recommend to everybody that you go visit with them to share and to learn. Keep an open mind, don't judge till you hear their side of the story lest ye may be judged also. Love thy neighbor by visiting them, and by all means get to know what good is-get to know what God is, for they do know about God and are more than willing to share God's love."
Such are the fruits of open-minded conversations between people of "different" religions. SDG