The Straightedge Connection

Last year I joined the Hare Krsnas. And as if that wasn't enough to drive any respectable American mother to tears, these weren't just any Hare Krsnas: they were punk rockers.

Yes, I joined a punk rock Hare Krsna band.

I'd better backtrack and let you in on the full story. It all starts about two or three years ago. I was in a punk band called Beyond.

If you want to get accurate about it, "punk" isn't exactly the right term. Nowadays it's called hardcore, specifically, straightedge hardcore. Straightedge is a youth movement whose adherents pretty much follow the four regs* (well, at least three of them). All around the world there are hundreds of thousands of straightedge kids who don't take intoxicants, and most of them don't eat meat or gamble. They all look down on casual sex, and some of them are even strictly celibate. No lie.

Bhakta Vic Shelter

Bhakta Vic Shelter

Before I drift too far from the plot, let's get back to my old band, Beyond. We'd play concerts all over and sing about being straightedge and all this other socially conscious stuff. One day in Connecticut it so happened that we played a few shows with probably the most popular straightedge band in the world, Youth of Today.

I had heard that the lead singer, Ray, was into some far-out Krsna thing, and I guess I was pretty interested in the whole idea. I fancied myself a pretty darn spiritual guy. Hey, I even had dreadlocks and read the Old Testament. Besides that, one of my favorite bands was the Cro-Mags. They were the first Krsna influence on the hardcore music scene. Everyone considered them cool guys, so naturally Krsna had a good connotation in my mind, since I too, after all, wanted to be a "cool guy."

My questionable motives notwithstanding, when we played those shows with Youth of Today I found the singer, Ray, and eavesdropped my way into an interview he was doing with some kids who publish their own underground straightedge magazine. Ray was using words like transcendental and cosmic, which really piqued my interest. I asked a bunch of questions about the title of the first Cro-Mags album, "The Age of Quarrel."

As questions followed answers, I got more and more into it, sitting on the lawn before that concert in Connecticut. As a result of this meeting, I decided to check out Srila Prabhupada's books. From there on in, it's pretty much history.

Shortly afterwards I moved out to San Diego and joined a new band, Inside Out. In this band I tried to incorporate the message of Srimad-Bhagavatam. The result was an overtly spiritual, if still a little (or a lot) hodgepodge, band who rapidly became real popular.

As I mentioned before, in the hardcore scene the kids publish their own magazines, and around this time I also started doing one. I called it The Enquirer, and it was through and through about Krsna consciousness. I made and personally sold about 350 copies of the first issue.

By now Ray from Youth of Today was also in a new band, Shelter, which, like my magazine, was completely dedicated to Krsna consciousness. This was creating quite a stir in the hardcore scene, and Krsna would frequently pop up in any conversation you'd lend an ear to.

Once again my band and Ray's toured together. Picture eight punk "musicians," a bus full of saffron-clad teenage Hare Krsnas, and two gosvamis, masters of the senses: Gunagrahi Goswami and Dhanurdara Swami. (The gosvamis both showed the highest tolerance by putting up with us all for that two-week tour).

As we traveled around the country, it became obvious that Krsna consciousness had become a major force in hardcore. Imagine four hundred teenagers, most wearing tulasi on their necks, paying like five or ten dollars apiece to come listen to a bunch of Hare Krsnas. It's a far cry from getting ignored on the street corner.

Nor is it sheer numbers alone that's impressive. Have you ever been approached in a parking lot by five enthusiastic kids who spontaneously want to know how to offer their food to Lord Krsna and where they can get japa beads? It happened more than once.

By the time the tour was over, I had joined Shelter, and shortly afterwards I became a brahmacari, a student, under the care of Gunagrahi Goswami.

That was last year. Today I'm sitting behind a computer at ISKCON Philadelphia. On my right there's a desk that has a constant supply of at least fifteen letters from unbelievably intelligent and sincere people all over the world. I spend at least an hour and a half every day writing replies to their inquiries about Krsna consciousness.

Upstairs is the office of the record label we run, Equal Vision Records, which is a showcase for the growing number of Krsna conscious hardcore bands. Through Equal Vision we sell Srila Prabhupada's books and other Krsna conscious music and literature.

Locally, young people are showing up at our Sunday and Wednesday feasts. Four or five over the past four weeks have taken up sadhana-bhakti, the practice of devotional service, with sincerity and vigor. Ray has been initiated as Raghunatha Dasa. The Enquirer has reached its fourth issue, and more than three thousand have been sold and studied. There are new Krsna conscious magazines emerging, and it's seldom you see any zine (to use the lingo) that doesn't at least mention Krsna once or twice. Shelter has released an album, plus a single that has sold well into the thousands. The record sleeves are packed with information about Krsna. All of this has fallen upon earnest eyes and minds starving for something more than modern materialistic society can offer them.

To try to meet this ever-increasing demand for hardcore Krsna consciousness, we'll be releasing another LP soon, along with a single from a new Krsna conscious band out of Texas called Refuse to Fall.

By the time you read this, we'll be on the road again, touring the U.S. Besides our musical attack on maya,we'll have new booklets, pamphlets, and magazines printed and more in the works. Boredom is definitely not a factor when you're in Shelter.

This hardcore arm of Srila Prabhupada's movement has expanded beyond my ability to describe it. And it's continuing to expand exponentially. I only hope that more and more devotees will come forward to lend a hand in this wonderful opportunity to give real shelter to souls wandering homeless and aimless through the life-threatening Age of Quarrel.

The best part about the whole thing is that I've been blessed with the constant association of the members of Shelter and Equal Vision, who are such sincere and fired-up devotees. By their mercy, I'm managing to stay in Prabhupada's revolutionary movement for spreading Krsna consciousness. I pray that they'll continue to treat me so kindly, despite my constant flow of offenses.


This is a pamphlet I wrote for straightedge kids.

"First of all," he told me, "anyone who thinks there's any equality in this society is crazy." His right hand rested on the shallow stage. Casual.

Contrast his compelling voice: "I mean, you can't so much as set your big toe on the sidewalk without instantly being labeled up and down, stereotyped, and neatly filed away under everyone's preconceptions and prejudices. Ain't that right?"

Of course I had to agree. "Yeah."

"But why?" His words were punctuated with deep enthusiasm. "Why are we so totally lacking any living equality in this society? Why?"

I mumbled, "Uh… I don't… I guess… you know…"

"Because this society is based on bodies."

Pause: Dramatic effect.

"If you want to get right down to the hard reality, in their eyes you ain't nothing but a lump of flesh. They have no scientific understanding of the spirit soul, and that's why there's not a single shred of equality in their world."

Confident that I had heard all this religious rhetoric before, I protested: "Are you really trying to tell me that because they don't believe in some kind of soul, that's why people are prejudiced? I can't see how a 'soul' has anything at all to do with equal rights."

"All right, OK," he said. "Let's just say you're right: It doesn't make one fig's bit of difference whether you believe in some soul or not. Let's just say, for the sake of argument, that everything they fed you in Biology and Chem 101 was true: You're nothing but a chance combination of atoms. If we build our society and our personal lives around these beliefs, then we'll never ever have equality."

"Why not?"

"For one thing, no two bodies are the same. Everybody is different. Like the kid I used to sit next to in elementary school he was the best superhero drawer in the whole wide world. And me, I could barely draw a stick figure. Or that girl sitting behind me, the soloist for the glee club, or whatever it was. Her mouth could open up wider than her whole head and hit the highest notes you'd ever imagine. Meanwhile, they shoved me and my lousy alto voice wa-a-a-ay in the back. They practically had to bribe me to quit.

"So I wondered, How were we equal? I mean, my mom told me everyone was equal, and deep down inside I knew she was right. But if we were equal, how come I couldn't draw or sing as good as those other guys? How were we equal? I couldn't figure it out."

He had a point there. Plus I got a kick out of his stories, and he seemed to make sense. But for some reason I still couldn't bring myself to come right out and agree with him so soon. So I coughed up something like "Well, you know, I mean, different people may be good at different things, but we're all the same on the inside."

"Wait a minute!" His eyebrows arched over wide eyes. "What do you mean 'on the inside'? I thought we said it didn't matter whether there was a soul or not, that we were just bodies. Well, what the heck is so special about the inside of a body?"

"Come on," I said. "You know what I mean: Inside. Inside, in our minds, in our thoughts and feelings, we're all equal."

"We are?" He smiled. "But my mind ain't no way the same as Einstein's, or Joe Duncecap's, for that matter. Right? Our minds are just as different, just as unequal, as our bodies. I think you can see that."

"I guess so. But our emotions…"

"No two people have the same emotions. It's common sense. No two people feel the same way about anything."

"But everybody has feelings."

"That's it!" His face lit up. "You got it!"

"I did?"

"Yeah. You just hit the nail right on the head. Now we're starting to come to true equality. Everyone has the basic capacity to feel, to experience."


"But where do we get this ability from? Our bodies, our brains they're all made of atoms. Atoms don't feel happy, angry, or frustrated. They don't experience. They don't feel anything. This is common scientific knowledge. Atoms don't experience, they don't feel. But you and me we do experience. We do feel happiness, frustration, anger, elation. We're both aware of this conversation. So obviously we must be something more than atoms and electrons. And that 'something more' is where our true equality lies."

What he was saying was starting to click with me now. I don't know if I'm getting it down on paper as effectively as he said it to me, but his point was this: The modern belief that anything spiritual is just hocus-pocus, that everything (including you and me) can ultimately be boiled down to atoms and electrons that's the bogus idea that stripped equality from our world. Equality lies in the universal ability of every living being to experience life. That's the ultimate common platform of all living beings: the spiritual platform. But a machine doesn't experience anything at all. So when they claim I'm nothing but a "molecular machine," and by constantly pounding it into my head they get me to believe it, then they've robbed me blind of my equality. When I buy into their plastic lifestyles, I trade equality for a handful of cheap lifeless chemicals.

"But anyways," he kept on, "the fact is that we're not just a body. There's obviously something about us that is very different from the body something that gives us all the ability to feel and experience, something that makes us all equal. You can call it a soul if you want. And anyone or any system that denies the reality of this soul steals our equality right out from under our cold noses."

"I think I see what you're saying."

"Now we got to tear down all these bogus systems that try to deny us the soul."

Anticipation … Intensity.

"Now that we know where and how real equality exists, we've got to revolutionize and protest up and down until all the lies of this body-conscious world empire are fully overthrown."

"Well, how do we do that?"

"As long as the masses believe that they are the body, as long as they think, I am this white body, I am this black body, I am woman, I am man, human, animal, insect … as long as they accept this lie, fed by mass media ad campaigns and intensive social indoctrination, there will only be exploitation and inequality.

"And all these souped-up 'liberation' and 'equal rights' campaigns are unfortunately nothing more than a waste of time and energy, unless they're based on a scientific understanding of the spiritual self. When we really want to go beyond the catchy T-shirt slogans, when we really want to have equality for everyone, then we must fight with every last ounce of our strength for spiritual revolution.

"Every living being is a spirit soul. I mean, every last one of us we're all part and parcel of the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. That's real equality. And if we sincerely want to do something about it, we have to smash all this false materialistic propaganda of modern society, and we have to educate, on a massive scale, about spiritual reality. That's the whole purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement. That's what we're all about."

My dry mouth hung slightly open, speechless.

"So please," he implored, "do something to push on this movement. In whatever way you can, do something to advance this revolution."

He then moved off to find the next interested person. For days afterwards his words would repeat themselves over and over again in my head: "Do something to advance this revolution."

So I wrote this pamphlet in the hopes that those who read about our conversation will also be impelled to do something for real equality, to push on this soul revolution.

Anyone interested in any way can contact me: Bhakta Vic, 41 West Allens Lane, Philadelphia, PA 19119.

Bhakta Vic Shelter begins a regular column in our next issue.

The Shelter Mailbox

Kids from all over write to Shelter. Here are excerpts from some letters, with Bhakta Vic Shelter's replies.

When you first got into Krsna consciousness, did your friends joke you a lot? My friends seem to think it's a joke.

I thought my mom was cool about K.C., but I guess I was wrong. She flipped when she found out the Shelter show was at the temple. So I've unfortunately gone back to hiding everything at school in my locker.

Is hiding from my mom that Krsna is the way for me wrong?

In the mornings I've usually got enough time to chant one round on my beads before my mom gets up. Is that enough or should I try to do more?

When I'm 18, what needs to be done so I can move into a temple?



Vic at Lost Horizon, New York

Vic at Lost Horizon, New York

VIC: The first thing is friends. … Well, if my friends joked they did it behind my back, because as far as I know they didn't. Some of them thought Krsna consciousness was dumb or whatever. So what I did was I heard their comments out and weighed what they were saying, what gripe or difficulty they had with Krsna consciousness. Then I myself challenged the Krsna philosophy with that same argument and saw if Krsna consciousness could be defeated.

In most cases you'll find that your friends aren't saying anything intellectual at all. They're just name calling. But I found that a big reason behind this is their fear of losing your friendship which we should assure them is something that doesn't have to happen as long as they don't want it to.

You don't have to pay much attention to other people's opinions of you. The most important thing right now is your own opinion, and the opinon of the great spiritual masters.

In other words, don't let your friends bug you. But don't be insensitive towards them either, if you can help it. If you continue to develop your Krsna consciousness, just by being friends with you they'll make spiritual progress. So don't cut them off. But don't take them seriously either. They're in bigtime illusion, after all.

Next up … Is it wrong to hide from your mom that Krsna is the way for you? This is a much tougher question. When everything is said and done I would say yes, it is wrong. But you have to be careful not to blow her out of the water. You have to be tactful and give it to her slowly, in degrees, and not freak her out.

Of course, the most important thing is that you can go on chanting and practicing Krsna consciousness. So you have to judge for yourself, using your intelligence: will telling your mom all about everything infringe on your Krsna consciousness?

Anyway, if you want my advice, I think you should definitely make a goal of telling your mom all about Krsna consciousness and your involvement with it. But you should make it a gradual thing. Don't be defensive or self-righteous about it: "Mom, you're a materialistic demon!" But be open. They can write me a letter if they want. Whatever. But don't try to hide it. When you try to hide things, it only leads to distress.

One of the pillars of spiritual life is honesty. Just try to present the truth in a palatable way, and don't fry her out. How's that?

The next point is your chanting. I think it's fantastic that you're doing one round a day! That's great! Always do that one round without fail. If you can do more, go ahead, but first of all chant that one round, somehow or other. Krsna will be pleased, and He will work out some opportunity for you to chant more when the time is right.

For now, always do your round every day and try to remember Krsna throughout the day as much as possible, through His philosophy, His name, His form, His pastimes, and so on. You'll definitely see yourself making spiritual advancement quickly, and you'll notice purer and purer devotion manifesting itself in your heart. Go for it, and keep up the fantastic work!

At 18 you're going to move into a temple…. Ok, that's great. But for now become Krsna conscious as far as possible in your current situation. When 18 comes then we'll worry about 18. Temple life is dead serious and is a big step. My advice for you is to begin preparing now for temple life by becoming determined and serious at home and following a Krsna conscious life as much as possible. You may not be able to go the whole nine yards right now, but pick whatever you can do, and do it without fail, every day. If you start from now, by the time you move into a temple you'll be serious and sincere enough to really do great service to Srila Prabhupada and Lord Caitanya.

* * *

Everyone I know hassles me about Krsna. They always ask me when am I going to shave my head and go to an airport. I say, "When I'm ready." But that really doesn't bother me. What bothers me is they are always looking for an argument and questions I can't answer.

How do Krsnas feel about homeless people? Why are they homeless? Did they do something wrong in their past life to deserve being homeless, diseased and ill? Why?

In the past 11 months I have learned so many things I had no clue about. Like how short life is. So I'm always trying to live every day to its fullest and purest. All I want, Bhakta Vic, is to do right for myself, get enlightened, and be my own self, and also to find my own self. To me finding myself is going to take some time, but I'm scared. Am I just going overboard? No! I'm not afraid of how long it will take to find myself, just afraid to do it.

In my town I'm honestly the only one that is into Krsna consciousness. Seriously. Everyone in this town is infatuated with the newest clothes and cars, no intelligence that it all could be gone tomorrow. Death will come and go and they will have no control over it.


New Jersey

VIC: Your "friends" can be a hassle…. Well, try to see it as Krsna's mercy. He's giving you a chance to show real devotion to Him by undergoing so many trials. Any orangutan can act spiritual when everything smells like a bed of roses. But when things get difficult, that's what separates the sincere from the tag-alongs. This is a chance to show Krsna you're sincere. Seeing that, He'll give you more and more mercy and realization.

Anyway, if they want to argue, tell them you're not into it. Tell them that if they really want to argue, I'll argue with 'em. They can write me, and I'll be glad to hassle with them.

Your realizations about death and the futility of material life are really potent. Thanks for sharing them with me.

Homeless. A devotee is compassionate to everyone. He or she sees that in reality everyone is homeless. Our lifetimes last for the blink of an eye, and at death all of our flimsy makeshift shelters in this material world get torn away from us. We're kicked out, evicted, homeless.

Everyone from the diamond-ringer in the highrise office to the wino in the gutter is in the same position: homeless, without shelter. The only difference is that it's less obvious to the businessman than to the wino.

Yes, homeless people are in the sick position they're in because of their karma, things they did in the past. It's their own fault, when you get right down to it. According to karma, we all get what we had coming to us.

But the spirit soul doesn't deserve to have anything to do with karma at all. So a devotee doesn't become cold: "Oh, you deserve to be homeless!" Instead, the devotee realizes, "You're a spirit soul. You deserve to be happy, not suffering." So a devotee's mercy goes out to everyone. He or she tries to give everyone a home under the shelter of Krsna's lotus feet. That's real welfare work. And that's the real way to take care of the homeless.

* * *

What about sex? Can a Krishna have sex or not? I'm 17 and I don't have sex, but I think it's real hard to control it.


Salzburg, Austria

VIC: Sex desire seems difficult to control. It's true. But it's possible to do it successfully. Here's how.

Let me give you an example. Say you have a piece of pizza (ok, soy pizza). You're totally starving. I mean, you haven't eaten a crumb for days. So you have this piece of pizza, and you're just about to chomp on it, and up strolls little old me saying, "Wait a minute! Wait a minute! Don't bite into that pizza!"

You stop short and stare at me.

I say, "I want you to give me that pizza."

"No way! I'm starved!"

"Come on, just give it up. Give it to me."

But it's difficult. I mean, you're hungry! You just can't give it up. No matter how much you sympathize with me, you just can't bring yourself to give me that piece of pizza.

But then out from behind my back I pull out a piping-hot super-soy pizza with all kinds of amazing toppings and great heaps of sauce and everything you could ever ask for. Now I say, "Give me that slice, and I'll give you this whole pie."

All of a sudden it's very easy to give up your cold and greasy old piece of tofu-joy pizza.

It's the same thing to control sex desire. Just to try to sit there and hold your breath, repressing the urge, repressing the urge that doesn't do anything but get you completely frustrated. In fact, sex desire is impossible to control that way.

But if you get something better than sex, you right away lose your attraction for it, and then you can give it up without even hardly thinking about it, just like you gave up the greasy slice for a hot new pie.

But what's better than sex? In the material world, nothing. Sex is the topmost nectarean pleasure in this world (why do you think everybody's killing themselves over it?). But for one who has tasted even a drop of the ocean of transcendental loving service to the supreme reservoir of pleasure, Krsna, sex life becomes about as attractive as a piece of stool.

So one who wants to free himself or herself from slavery to the sexual organs should immediately take to chanting Hare Krsna. You'll experience things that make it easy to give up every vice you ever hated.

* * *

I must admit: I've read the Gita and the Upanishads and I feel they have helped me a lot. I'm gaining a lot of insight because of them. I have one BIG problem: Sex. I'm seeing this girl, and we have sex. I don't view it as illicit, though. I love her, and she loves me. We didn't have sex until we were sure we were ready. What I mean is we were responsible. Besides, wasn't Krsna somewhat of a ladies man?



VIC: Ok, you've got the sex problem. If you two love each other, that's very good. You can live together and help each other advance in spiritual life. That is perfect Krsna consciousness. But you have to be completely honest. Do you love her? Who is she? She's not the body. She's a spiritual soul, a part of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Loving the real her means treating her that way. "Making love" to a mental and physical combination of atoms and molecules is not loving the real her.

To love someone means to desire her highest welfare, all the time. In other words, you always want the best for that person. And what's the best thing for the person you love? Well, certainly it's not to tie that person tighter and tighter to temporary, illusory, miserable bodily existence. But that's what happens when we're attached to enjoying the material energy through the senses, and specifically through the genitals. If you look beneath all the romantic poetry and flowery phrases, that's what happens at sex, nothing else.

Would your relationship be harmed if you stopped having sex? Would this "love" keep going if either party didn't get what they wanted? Try this experiment for a month or so. If the relationship is one of true love, you'll find that by stopping sex your relationship will deepen and become more intimate and exciting. If it isn't real love, things will start to fall apart as soon as the bed isn't bouncing.

Real relationships are more than just sex or no sex. I hope you two will start to help each other along in spiritual life. You'll find that this is so much more intimate than mundane animal sex. It's a much deeper love. You might as well try it.

You ask whether Krsna was a ladies man. To be honest, Krsna's pastimes are above our current level of realization. Krsna's not a man, He's the Supreme Personality. He's not at all like me or you. He's in a class completely by Himself. Krsna is Krsna, and the spirit soul is His servant. But in the material world we're all trying to imitate Krsna and become supreme enjoyers. That's why there's war, divorce, breakups, suicide. It's just not our prerogative to imitate Krsna. Why? Because we're just plain not Him, and never will be.

The first, most essential principle of spiritual life is to realize (not just theoretically understand, but realize) that we're not the body, we're spirit soul. Once we're living every second of our lives aware of this fact, then we'll be able to understand Krsna's pastimes. For now, let's stick to the first point. First find out if you're the body and if sex has anything to do with who you really are. Then we can talk about Krsna's transcendental pastimes. [Dan and his girlfriend are now celibate.]

* * *

Let's face it, man, you joined a club just like everyone else. You all dress the same. You all have the same bald haircut. You all believe the same things.

You totally gave up your individuality, man. Sheep. You're no longer a person. You're just another Hare Krsna, like all the rest. Let's face it, you lost it.


Boise, Idaho

VIC: Hare Krsna and thanks for your letter. You seem like a person who values individuality very highly, but I think you've stumbled into self-contradiction. The philosophy in your letter denies true individuality and defines people as nothing more than production-line robots ready for mass social programming.

What you wind up saying is that people have to be made into individuals by the clothes they wear, the music they listen to, etc. In other words, it's the things we do that make us into individuals, and if we don't do the "right" things (like if we shave our heads and wear robes) then we lose our individuality.

If I have to make myself an individual, then I must not be an individual to begin with. I must be some kind of blank slate who has to go out and buy my personhood, wear my "individuality." So although I'm sure you think of yourself as someone who holds individuality very dear, you've turned it into something bought from a thrift store and a hair salon.

I don't subscribe to your opinion. Sorry.

We don't take individuality so cheaply in Krsna consciousness. We say that an individual is something you are, not something you become. In other words, true individuality is not external. It's not in the clothes you wear or the style of your hair. It's deep inside the self, an inalterable reality, and it can't be taken away from you by anyone.

I know from your past letters that you don't want to hear a "bunch of mumbo-jumbo from some wacked-out scriptures." So let me illustrate the point by using a common-sense scientific experiment that has nothing to do with "scripture."

Let's say you take three hundred people, dress them up in identical three-piece suits and ties, and line them up against a white wall. They all have identical haircuts too three hundred people wearing exactly the same clothes and hair. But if you go and talk to each one, you'll find that they're different people with individual identities and personalities.

This proves the simple point that it's not the clothes we wear that makes us the individual persons we are. It's something much deeper. I'm no more or less an individual in a green vinyl spiked jumpsuit and purple beehive hairdo than I am in an orange robe and a shaved head, because individuality has nothing to do with appearance. So just that devotees dress alike doesn't mean they've lost their individuality.

But we all believe the same things, so obviously we must be a bunch of "sheep." I don't want to be antagonistic or anything, Matt, but it seems like your idea of individuality is straight out of the dark ages or something: As long as I disagree with you I'm an individual, but as soon as we agree we become clones? It's just not like that.

Krsna consciousness is not a set of random beliefs. It deals scientifically with the subject of spirituality. It's a science, like math, for example. In common math everyone believes that two plus two equals four. Everyone believes exactly the same thing. Are you going to write letters to all the mathematicians and tell them they're dummies and sheep?

Not only is it untrue that a person loses his individuality by becoming Krsna conscious; our real individuality never fully manifests until we become Krsna conscious.

A devotee has an intense love for individuality and personality. Our philosophy is that they are two of the most essential ingredients of the deepest self. They're at the core of our very being. But by trying to hide behind the false identities and costumes we put on in the material world, we trade in that priceless individuality for a handful of ashes and dust.

In the material world everyone tries to get sense gratification. Thinking that we will be happy if we make the senses happy, we soon become bewildered and mistake the body and its senses for our true self. It's at that exact instant that we turn away from our real individuality and personhood.

The body is made of inert matter atoms, electrons, etc. Atoms don't have a shred of individuality or personality. Hydrogen is hydrogen. You've seen one, you've seen them all. Simple logic:

• I see the body as my self.

• The body is a lump of atoms and electrons.

Atoms and electrons are non-persons and have no individuality.

Therefore I see my self as a non-person with no individuality.

How you see yourself is what you become.

Anyway, Matt, what I'm trying to say is that we stifle our true individuality by accepting the idea that we are the body. As long as I identify with this body and try to enjoy its senses, I'm choking my real personality and individuality.

Krsna consciousness, believe it or not, is intended to uncover the true self, the real individual person. Behind all the masks. Beyond all the acts. It's a scientific way to rise above the confining illusion of identifying with the body.

Krsna consciousness doesn't take away individuality. On the contrary, it gives individuality the freedom to expand and express itself to its fullest potential.

I hope I didn't come off as arrogant or condescending in this letter. If I did, I apologize.

I just wrote because you seemed like a person who recognizes the value of individuality and I hoped we might both benefit if I shared with you what I have learned.

* * *

O.K. To start this off I want to say that I'm very ignorant as to what Krsna is really about. I feel that I have avery basic idea of what it is supposed to be, but that's about it. What I do know is that Krishnas are supposed to be against sense gratification. Correct? Supposedly by not gratifying your senses you gain a higher spiritual level. If I am correct in my understanding of this, I can see the point behind the idea.

But if you believe in not gratifying your senses how can you go to shows and dance and sing along and stuff like that? I mean pretty much the whole reason anyone, Krsna or not, goes to shows is because of the good feeling they get and the fun they have. A show is a total sense experience the sights of the band, the feeling of dancing, it's all totally your senses. So in fact dancing and going to shows or even singing or playing an instrument in a band is gratifying your senses. So what about it?


New Jersey

VIC: You're right. Sense gratification is exactly the opposite of Krsna consciousness.

So then what the heck is "sense gratification"?

When you do anything go to a show, type a letter, read a letter you're always involved in some type of sense activity. You're hearing the music with your ears, typing with your fingers, reading with your eyes.

But sense activity comes in two flavors: (1) material sense activity and (2) spiritual sense activity. To understand the difference, we need to know first of all what the terms "material" and "spiritual" mean.

The trademark of material consciousness is known as "I, me, mine." Thinking that I'm number one, the most important person that's material consciousness. And the actions I do in this consciousness are called materialistic. For example, because I think my stomach is more important than the stomach of the Ethiopian child, I keep eating meat and support an agriculture that robs the world of her ability to feed all of her inhabitants and more.

Another example: When I walk down the street, I somehow imagine that people in the passing cars are noticing me, the way I walk. They must be wondering where I'm going. Or at a hardcore show I'm thinking how everyone is watching me dance. I'm thinking that "I, me, mine" is the most important thing in the universe. That's materialistic consciousness.

In this consciousness I do something called sense gratification (or, in the terms of this letter, "material sense activity"). I use my senses to interact with the world around me, but the motive for the activity begins and ends with "I, me, or mine."

I get up and go to the store because I want a bag of potato chips. "I" is the center. Or sometimes we may get slightly more sophisticated and put "mine" in the center. My friends, my relatives, my race, my nationality, my gender. When someone works only for their country or something, this is usually mistaken for selfless activity. But it boils down to just an extended form of I-worship. I'm only interested in serving the larger group because Ihappen to be a part of it or I get some fringe benefit from doing that service.

So, yeah, I go to some hardcore show just because "I" want to get into the band and it makes "me" and "my" friends happy. Or I get into a band and play guitar for the same "I, me, mine" reasons. That's sense gratification.

Now let's get back to what spiritual sense activity is.

In Krsna consciousness the senses are fully active, but there's no self-centered interest. The devotee is motivated solely by the desire to serve the Supreme Absolute Truth, Krsna.

We can't do anything at all without using our senses. So if all sense activity were material, doing anything spiritual would be impossible. So we'd be stuck.

But Krsna consciousness is the method of using the senses properly. It's the science of spiritual sense activity, in which "I, me and mine" is completely kicked out.

So, hardcore shows. For the last two months, Shelter has been dormant while the other band members are in India. So I haven't been to a hardcore show in two months. And to be honest with you I couldn't care less if I never went to another one again in my life. But because there are people at those shows who are interested in hearing about Krsna consciousness, I'll go there and fully engage my senses in trying to serve the Absolute.

That's not sense gratification. But if I start to slip into the desire for personal fame and all that rock star stuff, or if I just want to go party it up in the pit, then it becomes sense gratification. That's why I'm trying to be very careful to avoid those things.