Although it makes sense to purchase airline tickets or make hotel reservations through reputable firms, when tour companies try to give spiritual instructions, let the customer beware!
For example, Indrama, a magazine for tourists to India, recently carried a lead article titled "The Indian Trinity." Because tourists to the East are often curious about spirituality, the tour people want to satisfy them, but "The Indian Trinity" only proves the poor results of describing esoteric topics in an unauthorized way. The author, named Krishna Caitanya, completely reversed the standard purport of the Vedic scriptures concerning the existence of God and the demigods. A caption in large type summarized the essay:
Philosophical exploration is one aspect of man's search for a solution to the riddle of existence. The other and more fascinating is poetic legend. It is the second which gave birth to Hindu mythology. Symbolic ideas gain precision when the Deity is given form, says the author.
The telling phrase here is "says the author." In this case, the author has no credentials as a spiritual teacher or practitioner, but he gives his opinion that God is a myth. Of course, impersonal and atheistic interpretations of Vedic scriptures existed long before the tourist business, so we cannot blame Indrama for presenting the popular misconception. They are simply trying to live up to their slogan, "India packaged for you!"
But what do the Vedic scriptures actually say about "The Indian Trinity"? Is it true that when the scriptures portray God as a person it's to be taken as a mythological, poetic invention? Are the accounts of Visnu, Krsna, Siva, and Brahma only make-believe? Is the ultimate truth something beyond personality? The author of "The Indian Trinity" article holds the opinion that God is poetic myth, but the Vedic scriptures do not. Sri Krsna, declared throughout the Vedas to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, specifically addressed this subject in the most authoritative and widely read Vedic scripture, Bhagavad-gita (7.24-25):
Unintelligent men, who do not know Me perfectly, think that 1, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is imperishable and supreme. I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My internal potency, and therefore they do not know that I am unborn and infallible.
Thus the scriptures declare that God has unlimited eternal, blissful forms. In His original form in the spiritual world He is Krsna or Visnu. And when He expands as demigods to perform the administrative work of managing the material universe, He is Siva or Brahma. This viewpoint is held by all the acaryas, or teachers of the Vedas, who accept the Vedic scriptures as perfect guides for spiritual knowledge and who have written learned commentaries that guide the spiritual destiny of India. Teachers such as Ramanuja (A.D. 1017-1137), Madhvacarya (A.D. 1239-1319), and Lord Caitanya (A.D. 1486-1534) never misinterpreted the Vedas in a way to describe the Supreme Being or even the demigods as metaphorical or legendary. Neither did Srila Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedic scriptures, waste his time by telling concocted stories. Therefore, persons who want to find the hidden treasures of India's spiritual life should go to these direct sources: the scriptures and their authorized guides.
You can dovetail the desire for sightseeing in India with a desire for spiritual knowledge if you follow bona fide guides and stop at spiritual centers, such as the ISKCON temples located throughout India. ISKCON's Krishna-Balaram temple in Vrndavana, the site of Krsna's pastimes and one of India's most important spiritual places, is only an hour from Agra, the site of the Taj Mahal. So you can visit Krsna's birthplace either before or after your tribute to the Taj. Thousands of architecturally charming Krsna temples grace Vrndavana, and ISKCON's guesthouse offers comfortable accommodations along with an experience of genuine spiritual life. Devotees at ISKCON's Vrndavana center hold continuous melodic chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And even if you can only stop briefly, you can enjoy eating krsna-prasadam (food offered to Lord Krsna) at ISKCON's purely vegetarian restaurant.
Another important spiritual center is the birthplace of Lord Caitanya, in Mayapur, West Bengal. Writers have described rural West Bengal to be the most beautiful natural scenery in all of India. The ISKCON temple there includes a 3-acre garden, a 25-foot-tall fountain, a natural-environment zoo, large and comfortable guesthouses where delicious Bengali-style vegetarian cuisine is served, and association with ISKCON devotees from around the world. The Mayapur temple draws 1,500 tourists weekly, most of them coming especially to see the Deity forms of Radha and Krsna and to bathe in the Ganges, just a short walk from the temple.
At ISKCON centers in cities such as New Delhi, Bombay, and Madras, you can experience India's urban life and at the same time get in touch with the eternal wisdom of the Vedas.
If you're inclined to hiking and roughing it, you can join the ISKCON pada-yatra, a walking pilgrimage that has been traversing India for two and a half years. The pada-yatra, with its ox-drawn cart and pet elephant, is currently making its way to Badrinath, high in the Himalayas. Spiritually-minded walkers are always welcome.
Even if you can't travel to India, you can still experience the real India through the scriptures. But just as you shouldn't travel with improper guides, you cannot learn about spiritual India through superficial commentators. The translations of the classics Bhagavad-gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, Caitanya-caritamrta by His Divine Grace A C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, along with his clear philosophical purports, are available in more than thirty languages. By studying the Bhaktivedanta purports, you can meet the yogis, rsis, and other great personalities from Vedic literature, such as Vyasadeva, Lord Brahma, and Lord Siva. And most important, you can hear of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna. The Bhagavad-gita (4.9) describes the benefits of hearing about Krsna:
One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.
We needn't reject slogans such as "India packaged for you!" or "Discover India, Discover Yourself" But we should take tours guided by the sages and the saints. It is the mission of ISKCON to lead serious persons through the realms of Indian spirituality. – SDG