The editors of BACK TO GODHEAD welcome correspondence pertaining to spiritual enlightenment. All letters will receive personal replies, and correspondence of general interest will be published regularly.
I read in BTG, Vol. 10, No. 11, that your society recently acquired a twelve-story temple building near Columbus Circle in New York City. Isn't using a facility like this somewhat hypocritical for an organization that professes detachment from material things?
Dear Mr. Schaefer,
As far as renunciation of material things is concerned, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has commented in The Nectar of Devotion:
"One should not give up anything which can be utilized in the service of the Lord. For instance, we are using many machines for the advancement of our present Krsna consciousness movement, machines like typewriters, dictaphones, tape recorders, microphones and airplanes. Sometimes people ask us, 'Why are you utilizing material products if you condemn the advancement of material civilization?' But actually we do not condemn. We simply ask people to do whatever they are doing in Krsna consciousness. If the typewriter can be utilized for advancing our Krsna consciousness movement, we must accept it. Similarly, the dictaphone or any other machine must be used. Our vision is that Krsna is everything. Krsna is the cause and effect, and nothing belongs to us. Krsna's things must be used in the service of Krsna."
I have read in the Bhagavad-gita As It Is that to progress on the path of devotion to Krsna, one must be in the association of other devotees and under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master. Must this association and guidance be in person, or does studying the writings of the spiritual master amount to the same thing?
Dear Mr. Payne,
There are two kinds of association with the spiritual master by his physical presence and through his words. Srila Prabhupada has emphasized that associating with him by hearing his words or reading his books is more important than being in his physical presence. In a letter to one of his disciples, he wrote: "It is stated in the Bhagavad-gita that maya [illusion] is very strong insurmountable but that one who surrenders to Krsna is not touched by maya. So, all our books are as good as Krsna because in them we deal only with the topic of Krsna. Therefore taking shelter of these books means taking shelter of Krsna there is no doubt about it. If you stick to this principle, maya will not attack you."
As far as association with devotees is concerned, Lord Caitanya has declared that giving up the company of worldly-minded persons and associating only with devotees is the first principle of bhakti-yoga. Srila Prabhupada has established numerous Krsna consciousness centers throughout the world expressly for this purpose. Anyone can come and live at one of these centers, cultivate Krsna consciousness according to the rules and regulations prescribed by the spiritual master, and be completely free from the influence of mundane persons. Of course, such total involvement is often out of the question for a person with deep family and business commitments, but as far as possible anyone serious about advancing in Krsna consciousness should deal with non-devotees as little as possible and cultivate friendships with devotees through correspondence and personal visits to nearby Krsna consciousness centers. In this way any sincere person, regardless of his circumstances, can advance on the path back to Godhead.