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BACK TO GODHEAD
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I read Brahma-muhurta Dasa's article, "How I came to Krsna consciousness" (Vol. 17, No. 11), with great interest. I think the Hare Krsnas (along with the members of most other religions) are in danger of falling into the "virtue trap." How "good" should a person be? Should I stop hating? Stop gambling? Stop gossiping? Stop drinking? Take a vow of poverty? Become celibate? Stop eating meat? Stop desiring? Stop eating plants and die like the Sikhs sometimes do?
As beautiful and wonderful as Krsna is, I don't believe there is an absolute standard of virtue as the fundamentalist Christians also teach. You are "good" relative to somebody else, to the extent you make that person happy. But you cannot please everybody. If you are dissatisfied with simply pleasing yourself, then concentrate on making other people happy. In so doing, you will have achieved a "higher purpose" in life.
David S. Curry
Our reply: By "virtue trap" you apparently mean demanding such a high standard of rectitude from ourselves and others that neither we nor anyone else can follow it. Thus we seem hypocrites, and we turn off many people (such as yourself) from Krsna consciousness.
But the first point we must understand is that every one of us is already in a "trap," locked into the cycle of repeated birth and death. And that trap is one we've fashioned for ourselves through our own sinful (i.e., selfish) activities in this and previous lives. We already live in a "sin trap," if you will, bound tight by our karma.
So we have a problem: How can we break the bonds of karma and get free of birth and death? Lord Krsna answers throughout the Bhagavad-gita: "Just serve Me. Worship Me. I will release you from all reactions to your sins. Don't worry." These instructions are the basis of Krsna consciousness. Krsna, acting from within, helps us to be "good" when we surrender to Him; He removes our contaminated desire for sinful activities and purifies our heart, giving us the higher taste of ecstasy that comes with serving Him. At last He lifts us out of the world of birth and death and brings us back to Him in His own spiritual abode.
Now to your specific questions. How good should a person be? Well, devotees of Krsna define as good any action conforming to Krsna's instructions in the Bhagavad-gita and other scriptures, the instructions of a bona fide spiritual master, and those of realized saints and sages who are devotees of the Lord. We should conform to these instructions at every moment; so we should be absolutely good if we want liberation in this lifetime.
Should you stop hating? Yes. Stop gambling? Yes. Stop gossiping? Yes. Stop drinking? Certainly. All these things block spiritual advancement.
Should you take a vow of poverty? No; just live simply and use whatever you have for serving Lord Krsna. This is the standard of renunciation Krsna sets in the Gita.
Should you become celibate? If possible. Otherwise, get married or stay married and practice self-control by having sex only with your wife and only to have a child. Sex is the greatest material pleasure, and therefore sex desire is the greatest hurdle we have to cross in our effort to break free of material bondage. Minimization of sex is a must.
Should you stop eating meat? Absolutely. Killing defenseless animals just to satisfy our tongue is the greatest sin. Stop desiring? No. Start desiring to chant Hare Krsna and serve the Lord.
Should you stop eating plants? Of course not. Simply adopt a lacto-vegetarian diet and offer everything to Lord Krsna before you eat (see our "Lord Krsna's Cuisine" feature for more on Krsna conscious cooking and eating).
Finally, we must emphatically state that there is an absolute standard of virtue: what pleases Krsna is good; everything else is bad. And if we- live according to this principle we'll make ourselves and everyone we come in touch with supremely happy. But if we adopt some relative, self-formulated standard of virtue, we'll only perpetuate our miserable life in the material world and cause moral confusion among the gullible.
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Please send me a complete list of foods that are rajasic [in the mode of passion].
Reading your magazine brings much comfort and joy.
Long Branch, New Jersey
Our reply (from Visakha-devi dasi): Thank you for appreciating our magazine.
As for your inquiry. Lord Krsna describes the qualities of rajasic foods in Bhagavad-gita (17.9): "Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, pungent, dry, and hot are liked by people in the mode of passion (rajas). Such foods cause pain, distress, and disease." In his purport, Srila Prabhupada writes, "Foods in the mode of passion cause misery by producing mucus in the stomach leading to disease?"
Srila Prabhupada elaborated on this point in a letter to one of my Godsisters. "Foods in the mode of passion are those that are very rich, such as kacauris [deep-fried pastries stuffed with ground beans], halava [farina roasted in butter, cooked in milk or water, and sweetened with sugar], rasagullas [cheese-balls soaked in concentrated sugar-water], etc."
But that's not to say that devotees never eat rasagullas, kacauris, or halava. In fact, we eat these with great delight but only after they've been offered to Lord Krsna. Then they're no longer rajasic: they're transcendental to the modes of nature. By eating such transcendentalized food, we can rise above those modes and make solid progress on the path back home, back to Godhead.
For more on this subject, watch for our "Lord Krsna's Cuisine" article in the May issue of BACK TO GODHEAD.
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My self, wife, and two children are small subsistence farmers in the mountains of West Virginia. We subscribe to your magazine and think it's a beautiful message to the people in this world. Please, if possible, more articles on Krishna conscious farming, gardening, and food production should be included in future issues.
I am personally a great deal interested in the use of oxen and horses as work partners. Srila Prabhupada himself said we should "milk the cows and work the bulls." Is this only a symbolic suggestion? Does the movement have working bulls? Horses? I would like to correspond with anyone in the organization who is experienced with draft animals.
Hinton, West Virginia
Our reply: You're right of late we've been neglecting our farm communities in BACK TO GODHEAD. But we plan to rectify the situation soon with an article about the use of oxen at our Gita-nagari farm community in Pennsylvania. Srila Prabhupada's instruction to "milk the cows and work the bulls" was certainly not symbolic, and none have taken this instruction to heart more avidly than Paramananda dasa, the head of the Gita-nagari farm. For more information about the use of draft animals on ISKCON farms, write to him there. The address is in the back of this magazine.