We welcome your letters.
Write to BACK TO GODHEAD
51 West Allens Lane
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19119
Please let me tell all of you there that in my opinion Back to Godhead magazine has never been better. Srila Prabhupada wanted things in ISKCON to expand, improve, etc., and surely Back to Godhead has set the standard of constant endeavor in this direction. He wanted it to be on a par with the likes of Time and Life. Actually, this magazine is already surpassing them.
Kowloon, Hong Kong
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What a great magazine you have! It's a blessing to receive such inspirational messages and photos every month. As a graphic artist, I applaud your magazine's design and illustrations. Every issue is proof of the living reality of the message of Swami Prabhupada. Haribol!
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Due to my present circumstances, I cannot yet fully enter into ISKCON and become an initiated devotee. For a long time I was upset with this situation, but after speaking with the devotees about my problem, I am comforted to know that Krsna will protect me as long as I continue following the four regulative principles and chanting Krsna's holy name.
I have a few questions: (1) I often talk to friends about Krsna. But I have been wondering, is it O.K. for me as a lay person to be discussing what little I know about Krsna consciousness and distributing books on Krsna consciousness, or should I avoid such activities? (2) Is it offensive for one who is not initiated to wear tilaka? (3) Even though I am not initiated, is it appropriate for me to honor Srila Prabhupada by placing a picture of him on a vyasasana [a seat of honor reserved for the spiritual master] in my home? (4) Is it all right for a person such as me to invite Tulasi-devi into my home?
Wade A. Ryan
OUR REPLY: It is very good that you are telling others about Krsna. Don't worry that you don't know everything. If you can present what you know with conviction, that will be effective preaching. Srila Prabhupada encouraged his disciples to immediately begin preaching according to their realizations. As you preach, your realizations will increase.
Of course, preaching should also inspire you to read Srila Prabhupada's books to be better equipped to preach. If you read his books regularly, you will be able to preach nicely. The basic philosophy of Krsna consciousness is actually very simple. There may be many details in the books, and you may not be able to remember or explain everything, but if you present the basic philosophy, that will be good. You can also encourage others to read Srila Prabhupada's books. Don't be hesitant. Do it as much as you can.
As for wearing tilaka, you don't have to be initiated. But you must remember that wearing tilaka means you are declaring that you are a devotee of Krsna, so you must act like a devotee. That means, of course, that you shouldn't wear tilaka and then engage in nonsense or sinful activities. Otherwise, your desire to wear tilaka is a good sign; it shows your allegiance to Krsna.
Yes, you can worship Srila Prabhupada directly. He is the siksa-guru (instructing spiritual master) for everyone. We have to go to Krsna through the guru. If you see Srila Prabhupada as your siksa-guru, that is very good. Eventually, though, you should formally accept a spiritual master through initiation, because that is a Vedic injunction. You can feel sure that if you sincerely accept Srila Prabhupada's guidance through his books and his International Society for Krishna Consciousness, then he will help you find a bona fide spiritual master from whom you can take initiation.
You can worship Tulasi-devi in your home if your home is pure. In other words, there should be no breaking of the regulative principles there no meat-eating, no illicit sex, no intoxication, and no gambling. If you want to worship Tulasi-devi, always remember that she is a very exalted devotee of Krsna. You should care for her as you would an ordinary plant, but there are also certain things that devotees don't do in caring for her, like using chemical insecticides, for example. We suggest you ask the devotees at the Los Angeles temple who take care of Tulasi-devi for more guidance concerning the details of her worship.
To have a pure devotee like Tulasi-devi in your home is a powerful advantage for making spiritual advancement. But just as fire is beneficial if used properly but dangerous if misused, associating with Tulasi-devi can be dangerous if you commit offenses to her. That can hurt you spiritually. So the best thing is to take ad vantage of the benefits of worshiping Tulasi-devi sincerely, while being very careful to avoid offenses.
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I would like you to explain the following statements taken from a lecture by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in the September 1987 issue of your magazine: "Now, according to the state law, if I kill somebody, I should also be killed. The law of nature, or the law of God, works similarly. But we forget our past life. No one thinks, 'It is because I killed this person in my past life that he is now killing me.' But although we forget our past life, Krsna does not forget. And He reminds us: This child killed you in his past life, so now you can kill him in the womb.' Krsna is described as upadrasta and anumanta, 'the witness and permitter.' So He sees everything, and then He reminds everyone how to act in order to enjoy or suffer the fruits of their actions. Sometimes He reminds us to kill someone, and sometimes He reminds us to protect someone."
These statements seem to allow us to justify killing. Also, in the Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, "One who is not conducted by false ego and whose intelligence is not entangled, even though killing in this world, is not killing." But surely it would take a great soul to be able to tell when killing is justified. Otherwise, everyone could kill as they like, offer it to God, and consider it justified.
Perry Hall, Maryland
OUR REPLY: In these statements Srila Prabhupada is making the point that karma is retributive. In other words, we reap what we sow. As an example, he explains that if I kill someone, that person will have the opportunity to kill me in our next life. Srila Prabhupada says that the person I kill may not remember in his next life that I killed him previously, but Krsna, as the witness of everything, does remember, and He in a sense reminds him that he should kill me. That means the person will feel a desire to kill me, even though he doesn't realize where the desire comes from.
The interactions of the living entities according to the laws of karma are very complicated. It is impossible for us to understand how karma is working in all the events of our lives. But we shouldn't think that we have no free choice. We can't use karma as an excuse for our sinful acts. We are forced to act strictly under the laws of karma only as long as we maintain desires to enjoy the material world. Even though Krsna "reminds" me to kill someone, if I no longer desire to enjoy material life by engaging in fruitive activities, I do not have to act on that reminder. And if I do act on it, then I implicate myself in more karma.
You see, as Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, He is the source of all remembrance. If we desire spiritual life, Krsna will help us remember Him. If we want material life He will remind us how to fulfill our material desires.
As you point out, people may also want to take advantage of Krsna's statements in the Gita to justify killing. But no one can cheat Krsna. Krsna's direction is not just some impulse within one's mind. For Krsna's pure devotee, the direction is perfectly clear. As Srila Prabhupada once said, "Krsna tells me directly." So unless we are actually on the stage of receiving direct instruction from Krsna, we must be guided by Krsna's pure representative, whose symptoms are given throughout the Vedic literature. One important symptom is that he is always engaged in glorifying Krsna. And He has no selfish interests. One who claims to be acting on behalf of God must exhibit the qualities of a pure devotee.
Krsna asked Arjuna to kill on His behalf because it was part of Krsna's plan to rid the world of demoniac kings and establish God conscious leadership for the benefit of the whole world. Krsna always acts to save the fallen souls, and sometimes His mission involves killing. Of course, since the soul never dies, Krsna's so-called killing is really meant for the "victim's" purification. In this age, however, Krsna has come as Caitanya Maha-prabhu, who is Krsna in His most merciful form. Lord Caitanya doesn't kill anyone, but He kills the demoniac mentality of people in this age by inducing them to chant the holy names of God. Everyone should follow His example, as He has requested, and not concoct some program for killing on behalf of the Lord.
Yet we should still understand the philosophical point that killing can be good if the cause is Krsna's cause. Anything used in Krsna's service is good. Srila Prabhupada gave the example that a knife can be either good or bad, depending on how it is used. Out of lust a person can kill with it, but a devotee can use it to cook for Krsna. What is apparently violence may also be used for Krsna. But then it is not actually violence. For example, if you were to intentionally cut into someone with a knife, you would probably go to jail, but when a surgeon uses a knife to cut into someone to, say, remove a tumor then his action is certainly not violence; it is beneficial to the patient.
Arjuna's fighting was also not real violence, in the sense that it was ultimately for the good of the world. A devotee cannot perform violent acts, and Arjuna was perplexed on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra because he thought he was being asked to commit violence. Krsna had to convince him otherwise. Then for Arjuna the order to kill was clear and direct. Unless we are definitely getting direct instructions from Krsna, we shouldn't presume that we can kill on His behalf.