The editors of Back to Godhead welcome correspondence pertaining to the subject matter of Krsna consciousness. All letters will be personally replied, and correspondence of special interest will be published regularly.
Dear Citsukananda dasa:
I wanted to send this letter to you to express my deep appreciation for your concern during my recent stay in San Francisco. My trip to California was for the purpose of seeing some friends and relaxing a little after the very strenuous meeting of the National Federation of Priests' Councils Executive Board. We have been trying very hard to change the priorities of the Catholic Church and to educate our people to a deeper concern for the things of God. It seems that our efforts are meeting with some success, but God is the provider, and He will give what is necessary when it is time.
When I first saw the devotees on Market Street I was fascinated by the chanting and the youth of those who were dancing and singing. One of the girls gave me a copy of the magazine and invited me to the temple. As you know I spent many hours watching and enjoying this wonderful phenomenon. Having seen many false things in my life as a Catholic and as a priest, I wanted to be sure that what I saw was genuine. I came to the temple not so much for curiosity as for the purpose of learning something of the secret of the joy and peace I saw in the eyes of those devoted to Krsna. My heart was overjoyed to find what I found. The chanting and dancing are so simple and yet so meaningful in their approach to God.
While in San Francisco I thought of nothing more than of Krsna and His devotees. Since I have returned to Pennsylvania I have thought of little else. I have been reading the Gita and cherishing the thoughts contained there. I am in the process of thinking of the connection between Krsna and Christ and Catholic teaching. By no means am I a follower of the false Christ which has been taught for so long in so many churches. I have long known that God has a deep cosmic significance which has been overlooked for so long. Some of the things I have been reading in archaeology, scripture, and human behavior have led me to a consciousness of the overwhelming goodness of God and of His great love for us.
I recall the words of St. Paul in one of the New Testament Epistles: "O how great are the riches and the depths of the knowledge of God; how inscrutable His ways." Here was a man caught up into the seventh heaven of God consciousness who abandoned everything he ever was to bring awareness of God to mankind. I see so many similarities in the two scriptures, and I can only think that perhaps God speaks to men according to their own condition and for too long we have tried to say that one way is God's. Who are we to try to limit God: The all-important thing is God consciousness. All things follow from that. Whether one follows the prayers of the Catholic Mass or the prayers of the African native, one always seeks God.
There are so very many questions that I have wanted to ask you, but did not because I was not willing to interrupt the chanting or any of the work of spreading Krsna consciousness by taking all your time. I was grateful to you for taking time on Friday to speak to me. May I ask you some of these personal questions which to me give an idea of the value that Krsna has for the devotee. First, I am wondering about the place of sex in the life of devotees such as the young men and women of the temple. As a Catholic priest who lives a life of celibacy in dedication to Christ, I am interested to know what the devotee of Krsna thinks about celibacy. Is this any problem for those trying to follow Krsna? Do the devotees accept celibacy for life or for a period of time only? What is the attitude of the devotee towards sex? Is sex a good thing or something evil? Does Krsna demand abstinence from sex as a sacrifice or as a way of being free from material attachments?
Also I would like to ask you about the matter of money. I know that in any society money is necessary to maintain a church or a temple. One of the devotees told me that the spiritual master provides for the students. This is a very real problem for me since I know for us how many millions of dollars must be spent on buildings and how much on personal living expenses: food, clothing, car fuel, etc.
There are so many mundane things to talk about, but I feel that I must know some of these things in order to place all doubts about the personal motivations of the devotees in abeyance. Would you be so kind as to answer these questions sincerely. I would appreciate knowing many, many things about the devotees of Krsna because I believe in the transcendental value of such devotion and must be able to answer the objections of those with whom I speak. Already the people I have told this to have many questions. Quite soon my classes will begin, and I will have an opportunity to talk of Krsna consciousness to this group of people anxious to know about God. Likewise I intend to talk about my wonderful experience with you in my church at Mass. I will do this after I receive the record I ordered from Boston.
May I thank you for the feeling of warmth and friendship and love which I felt while with you. I know that this is the warmth, friendship and love of Krsna which shines through you. Please be assured of my constant prayers for all of you to Lord Jesus that he may grant to you the fullness of Krsna and all good things which come from Him.
Father Ernest P. Kish
Dear Father Kish,
Please accept my greetings. The San Francisco temple has sent us your letter in hopes that we could print it so that all could read and share in your inspiring response to the Hare Krsna movement. They have also requested that, as editors of the magazine, we answer the questions which are in your letter.
Your feelings of spiritual joy on witnessing the devotees chanting Hare Krsna in the streets and in the temple are symptoms of love of God, the pure, original feelings of the human being. Love of God, as demonstrated by the chanting, is not a sectarian concern. It is the essence of religion to call on Him, and who can object? Certainly there is no objection from the spiritual point of view; the only objection is from the viewpoint of material prejudice. God Himself is understood as transcendental to sects; He is not the God of merely the Christian people, or the Hindus, or Muslims, or Jews or any sect. In the scripture Bhagavad-gita, which you are reading, Krsna, who is accepted in all Vedic literature as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, declares, "I am the father of all living entities." There is thus no question of His being the father of only one sect; He is the father even of the lower animals, the trees and all life, regardless of one's particular religious faith. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, another Vedic scripture, the devotee-sage Sukadeva Gosvami was asked what the first-class religion among all religions is. He replied, "That religion is first-class which invokes our natural love of God." He did not say, "The best religion is Hindu," or "Christianity is the best." The test of first-class religion is whether the followers are developing love of God; it does not matter what the religion is. Your letter reflects awareness of this standard, based on pure feelings of love of God, and that is why it is so refreshing and encouraging.
You write that you want to ask many questions "in order to place all doubts about the personal motivations of the devotees in abeyance." I can reply for all those devotees of ISKCON who are fully and sincerely engaged twenty-four hours daily in this practice of devotional service that our only motivation is to please our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who is a pure devotee of the Lord. As for the motive of Srila Prabhupada himself, that is certain: he is engaging all the activities of his mind, words and heart in the worldwide propaganda of pure love of God. All that you saw in San Francisco which so moved you, such as the spontaneous joy of the devotees engaged in Krsna consciousness, is only due to the causeless mercy of our spiritual master. Whatever God consciousness we have developed and we are practicing comes from the instruction of the bona fide spiritual master. He is passing it down to us so kindly, from an unbroken line of disciplic succession going back 5,000 years to the time when Bhagavad-gita was spoken by Lord Krsna. Whatever is in the Gita is confirmed by our spiritual master, without misinterpretation, change or addition. Thus we can answer your questions on the basis of the authority of our spiritual master and upon the words of Krsna spoken in Bhagavad-gita.
You have asked about the place of sex life in Krsna consciousness. What is the Krsna conscious devotee's attitude toward celibacy? According to the Vedic system there are four orders in spiritual life, and in all but one of them complete celibacy is the rule. The first order is called brahmacarya, or student life. The unmarried student spends his entire time in study and service to the spiritual master. In this country, as you have seen, both boys and girls have adopted this life and are strictly following it; they do not indulge in illicit sex in any way whatsoever. And, as you saw in their behavior, they are not suffering any inconvenience from such restriction. When one is able to taste the transcendental bliss of devotional service, bhakti-yoga, there is no question of hankering for material pleasure. Our real eternal self is spiritual, and once this eternal relationship to the Supreme Spirit, or Krsna, is invoked in the heart of the aspiring devotee, he constantly wants to feel that transcendental pleasure of service to God, without stoppage, and he considers sex life to be abominable because of its inferior quality. This is true for the girls as well as the boys. It is no less than miraculous that in this age, when the whole materialistic society is concentrating on sex life as the ultimate goal of life, ISKCON devotees are refraining from such practices so easily.
After receiving training as a brahmacari for some time, the student may, with the sanction of the spiritual master, get married and live peacefully as a householder in Krsna consciousness. In Bhagavad-gita Krsna declares, "I am sex life according to religious principles." What kind of sex life is religious? That which is only for producing children is acceptable; otherwise it is forbidden as much for the householders as for the single students. To raise a child in Krsna consciousness is a great service, and Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, the guru (spiritual master) of our spiritual master, who was a strict celibate throughout his entire life, said, "I would be prepared to have sex a hundred times if I could raise Krsna conscious children."
Srila Prabhupada is very fond of his married couples. The principle of marriage in Krsna consciousness is not sense gratification but mutual cooperation, for man and wife help each other to become Krsna conscious. Such pure couples are going all over the world chanting Hare Krsna and opening Krsna conscious centers.
If a single student does not feel the need to be married, he may eventually take sannyasa, which is the renounced order of life, dedicating all his energy to preaching according to the order of the spiritual master. It is said that fifty percent of liberation is achieved if one can become free of mundane sex life. Since spiritual life means to become liberated from this material world of misery, illicit sex life is not good, since it is the single greatest attraction drawing us to material life. If we can rid ourselves of the desire to remain in this temporary world of death, we can become eligible to experience transcendental bliss.
The matter of money is best explained by the founder and spiritual master of ISKCON in a commentary to his translation of Bhagavad-gita: "Every endeavor requires a place to stay, some capital to use, some labor and some organization to make propaganda, so the same is required in the service of Krsna. The only difference is that materialism means to work for sense gratification. The same work, however, can be performed for the satisfaction of Krsna. That is spiritual activity." The fact is that the devotee has actually abolished his own account; for his own maintenance he uses only what is necessary to keep body and soul together, but for the spreading of Krsna consciousness, the topmost welfare work for all humanity, huge sums of money are required. From sales of books and magazines, the money is put entirely, one-hundred percent, into printing more books and future issues of the magazine. The maintenance of the many temples is supported by private income, from householder devotees who work at jobs and contribute their income, as well as from sales of Spiritual Sky incense and private donations.
All of us are living entities completely dependent on Krsna for our maintenance. Man proposes and God disposes. Because Krsna is maintaining the animals and the nondevotees, we are confident that, as we endeavor to manage efficiently whatever is given to us, Krsna will surely provide for those engaged in His pure devotional service.
I hope that this has answered some of the many questions you have asked about Krsna consciousness. Our spiritual master is currently making a world tour and promises soon to be in the New York-Philadelphia area. We will keep in touch with you as to when you could most likely meet him. It would be very wonderful if you could meet with His Divine Grace and speak of some of the feelings which you have expressed in your letter about Krsna consciousness. And, since you are living in Philadelphia, we humbly invite you to visit and associate with the devotees there and attend their classes and Sunday feasts if possible. Thank you again for giving us spiritual encouragement to carry on our work for the Supreme Lord and His pure devotee.
Satsvarupa dasa Adhikari
Editor, Back to Godhead