Our regular readers may remember the article "Saved from the Clutches of Maya," which appeared in Volume 23, No. 8. It told of a devotee, Danavira dasa, who had formerly been a star volleyball player at UCLA, and of how he had given up his sports career for the life of Krsna consciousness. The article was accompanied by a full-page photo of Danavira in action on the volleyball court in 1970, and another photo showed him as he is nowadays, in his devotee garb. One reader was moved to write to us as follows:
I've been reading BTG for quite a while, and I still don't understand what the big deal is to play a little sports or to be a basketball player and preach Krsna's philosophy at the same time. I work, offer my food, and give a donation to the temple when I come. I do my best and I'm always enlivened and encouraged by devotees.
But what irritates me about a lot of articles, because I know devotees, is that it makes it seem as if once you're a devotee you never have problems, you never desire to play volleyball or other sports. It sounds very dogmatic to me. To me, it's fine if the writer wants to lead his life in that way, but I've been visiting temples for over ten years, and although I love and respect devotees, most of them I have observed are unable to not play an innocent game or exercise.
Everything isn't just a waste of time if you're not chanting Hare Krsna, so long as you have the right attitude. Please let's be more realistic. Maybe if you had articles admitting deficiency, you would attract more people who wouldn't be scared off by your demand of perfectionism. You may think this sort of article attracts people, but my friends are definitely scared off by the all-or-nothing attitude.
First of all, I will admit that Back to Godhead magazine sometimes misses its intended mark. It is not our policy to show devotees as completely perfect. If the image comes across as "we think we're perfect" that is due to our lack of expertise in the art of preaching, or our lack of self-realization.
In defense of BTG, however, there have been essays and pictures that do convey the "realistic," warts-and-all image that Jamie Reed would like to see more of. It's not uncommon for a writer to strike a sincere self-effacing tone, as we often see in the pieces by Mathuresa dasa and others. It's true that our staff photographer, Yamaraja dasa, is always trying to capture a photo of devotees chanting when there are no unshaven faces, sourpusses, crazy looks, mismatched socks, and so on. But the pictures don't lie. The all-too-human nature of the devotee is there for all to see in the photos, which are usually of very standard Krsna conscious activities.
This brings us to the point that there is a standard for followers of Krsna consciousness, and the purpose of Back to Godhead magazine is to portray it. It's "The Magazine of the Hare Krishna Movement," intended to espouse the philosophy of the Vedic scriptures, which is the philosophy of the contemporary movement formed by Srila Prabhupada, known as the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
To be an initiated member in ISKCON, one has to agree to follow four rules: no illicit sex, no intoxication, no meat-eating, and no gambling. In addition, the initiate agrees to chant the Hare Krsna mantra for about two hours daily on beads. Furthermore, a sincere devotee tries to fully engage his time in service to Lord Krsna. A person who cannot accept such a commitment should not become initiated. And if one is initiated and later falls below that standard, he or she can't be considered a genuine standard-bearer of the Hare Krsna movement
So the standard should be clear. If a person is below that standard, he is certainly not to be condemned or even unnecessarily criticized, but slack or frivolous behavior cannot be accepted as the standard in Krsna consciousness.
We would agree there is no "big deal" in a devotee's exercising to keep healthy and fit Lord Caitanya, who inaugurated the movement of chanting Hare Krsna five hundred years ago in India, used to bathe daily in the ocean, and sometimes He and His devotees would play water sports in the lakes. Unlike us, of course, Lord Caitanya and His associates were always merged in ecstatic love of God. Whatever they did, they never forgot Krsna for a moment.
It's also a fact that most full-time members of the Hare Krsna movement don't have the time or inclination to participate in or watch sports contests. Granted, Jamie may know some folks who chant Hare Krsna and play sports, but there comes a point when a devotee's serious commitment tends to preclude spending time in anything outside of direct service to Krsna.
Practicing Krsna consciousness is not just a matter of temporary life-style. According to Vedic knowledge, all souls in this material world are trapped in the cycle of repeated birth and death. undergoing uncountable miseries. The special purpose of human life is to awaken our spiritual consciousness, practice bhakti-yoga,and finally reach the goal of spontaneous love of God-Only in the perfected state can a soul attain liberation, break the bonds of repeated birth and death, and go back to the eternal, spiritual world for a life of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. Lord Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita (7.28):
Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life and whose sinful actions are completely eradicated are freed from the dualities of delusion, and they engage themselves in My service with determination.
Until we become completely absorbed in love of God, we have to remain in the material world to enact our different material desires or karma. So what's the big deal if someone wants to give up volleyball and instead accept service to God, as by chanting His name, hearing His glories, and preaching His teachings?
As Srila Prabhupada saw it there is, especially in the present civilization, an imbalance between the emphasis placed on spiritual and material values. Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master used to say. "The only shortage in this world is of Krsna consciousness." Plenty of attention is given to business and sports and entertainment but there exists very little genuine pure devotion to God. The Krsna consciousness movement therefore, was formed to help correct the imbalance.
The job of Back to Godhead magazine is not to show that some devotees play volleyball or golf. Although some may do that it is not the highest standard. It is also a fact that persons like Danavira decided to give up former occupations and are now fully engaged in worshiping and serving Krsna and spreading Krsna consciousness. Most regular readers of BTG demand that we keep this standard. Although Jamie may have been irritated that the article on Danavira seemed to show an all-or-nothing attitude, another reader complained that we had given too much attention to sports. He wrote, "Why the full-page picture of a man playing volleyball? If I want sports pictures. I'll buy Sports Illustrated!"
Editors can't please everyone. While well take the good advice not to try to portray devotees as angels who never have the slightest material desire or suffering, still, it's not our duty to show slack, substandard behavior. Because Krsna consciousness is so attractive, there are actually thousands of devotees around the world who are quite satisfied to engage themselves full-time in the type of devotional activities we normally depict in the pages of Back to Godhead. As Srila Prabhupada writes:
The seekers of the Absolute Truth are never allured by unnecessary engagements in sense gratification, because the serious students seeking the Absolute Truth are always overwhelmed with the work of researching the truth …. and that sort of engagement will make everyone happy because they will be less engaged in varieties of sense gratification.