Thank you very much for the small article about Allen Ginsberg's passing away. Ultimately he helped Srila Prabhupada establish the Hare Krsna movement in America.
Jvala Nrsimha Dasa adhikari
Christchurch, New Zealand
Hare Krsna. My name is Dvijapatni and I am fifteen years old. I was born in a devotee family on Gita Nagari farm in Pennsylvania. My family and I now live in Maryland. Our family also includes a dog named Jordon. I mention Jordon because in the July/August issue of BTG there was an article that attacked and condemned having pets as part of a child's growing up, especially dogs and cats. The article referred to these souls as lower beings that would only lower our spiritual vision. My dog Jordon is not something that teaches me to "value bodily instead of spiritual pleasures." He has the place of a loved child in my heart, a dependent subordinate.
Owning a dog is not only about satisfying our own bodily pleasure. It's also about loving a fellow soul that is in the same material boat that we are.
The author [Urmila Devi Dasi] mentioned that animals do not teach a child universal love, because the same child who has a dog as a pet will still eat meat. I know from my own experience and observations that this theory applies only to children who have been told time and time again that eating flesh is acceptable. Any child who has the contents of a hamburger explained to him at an early age will instinctively recoil from eating it.
A neighbor child was eating a hamburger at a cookout when my younger brother went up to her and told her it was a cow. She did not believe him and went to her sister and asked if what my brother had said was true. Her sister uncomfortably confirmed that it was: she was eating a cow. The little girl refused to eat the rest of the burger.
We also have a friend who is ten years old. She chose to become a vegetarian at three and has been one ever since. She has a pet dog who saved her life. With equal vision, she loves all animals, and would not think of hurting a fellow being. She is not a devotee in the sense of being a Vaisnava, but simply a child who loves her pets.
I never thought this magazine could hold something that would make me feel so embarrassed. Although the author mentions in the last paragraph, "Let us teach our children to show spiritually equal vision," I found the article full of contradiction, narrow-mindedness, and a lack of spiritual vision.
I believe having pets can encourage spiritual vision. Children can relate soul to soul even when one soul is trapped in an animal body. I think it is something some adults have more difficulty with due to the pride they have in being humans.
The author said, "From Bharata Maharaja's story we can teach that we should not take an animal into our lives in the place of the Lord." Of course, this is true, but perhaps there is room for both in the heart of a child. Why would this author assume that an animal would "take the place" of the Lord? In childhood it is possible that both could be there. In fact, I have found that caring for Jordon has helped me develop compassion, responsibility, and a deeper sense of truth that spirit souls live in all creatures and that one can learn to relate to them as souls even when they are covered in a dog's body. "The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater." (Bg. 5.18)
I mentioned I was embarrassed by this article. I feel that it will insult many people, and it makes me reluctant to show BTG to friends who might be interested in Krsna consciousness. This publication is a representation of ISKCON and the people in it. Please consider carefully what is being printed, because I want to be able to uphold and support every word.
Dvijapatni Devi Dasi
URMILA DEVI DASI REPLIES: Thank you for your letter. I'm sorry you found my article embarrassing. It's true that Prabhupada sometimes says things that are difficult to hear and accept, and which seem odd to those of us living in Western society. It is he who condemns keeping animals simply as pets, while he teaches us how to give all entities spiritual love.
You take issue with my statement that caring for pets doesn't teach universal love, but in your examples, the children gained in spiritual understanding from instructions they received from Vaisnavas such as you and your brother, not simply from their experience with pets. American society, famous for meat-eating, abortion, and general violence, is also a society of pet lovers.
Srila Prabhupada certainly encourages us to see animals, and even plants and insects, as fellow souls traveling in this material world. If we see this way, we will give such souls whatever chance they can have for spiritual advancement. Yet we also have to keep in mind that souls in bodies lower than those of human beings are grossly in the mode of ignorance. And if we intimately associate with someone in the mode of ignorance, whether that soul is in a human or animal body, we will also develop qualities of ignorance.
There is a simple way to see if our attachment is on the platform of sharing Krsna consciousness with the animal, or trying to satisfy our minds and senses with something warm, furry, and dependent. Would we give the same care and affection to a soul whose body is distasteful to us? For example, would I hug and pet a cockroach, convinced that my motives were for his or her spiritual life?
In an agricultural society, householders are expected to have animals for practical purposes and give prasadam to all animals around their home. But they don't bring such animals into the home or love them as animals just as souls.
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I was around pets my whole childhood, caring for them, loving them and observing them. It was obvious to me they had a soul, as I did, because they had the same basic needs and feelings I did. When I finally (about six years ago) learned from your books that all living entities are spiritual, it made perfect sense to me, and I readily took to Krsna consciousness became vegetarian and started chanting and reading regularly. My many pets over the years helped me come to this point. Recently I've been explaining the philosophy of Krsna consciousness to my younger brother and sisters, who also love their pets, and they are also receptive.
We can learn from the example of Bharata Maharaja not to forget Krsna in favor of an animal, but in my case I came to Krsna because of animals. Bharata Maharaja was in the renounced stage, and a pet was clearly inappropriate for him. That's not true for children.
I have read almost all of Srila Prabhupada's books, and although I have seen him criticize people for loving their cats and dogs instead of loving God, I have never seen a place where he discourages children from having pets. After all, we should not love anything wife, husband, children, country instead of loving Krsna, but that does not mean that we should not have these.
My understanding is that children are naturally attracted to having pets because children are part and parcel of Krsna and have His qualities and propensities to a minute degree. Since Krsna has pets, children are spontaneously attracted to having pets also. The pets benefit by getting prasadam and being around spiritual vibrations, and the child benefits by giving these. And the child's heart becomes softened. At least that is my personal experience.
Bhakta Daniel Sho
URMILA DEVI DASI REPLIES: Observing animal behavior will certainly confirm the scriptural truth that animals are also souls, as much as human beings are. But though our experiences in the material world may help us take up Krsna consciousness, that doesn't mean that the experiences in and of themselves are to be continued once we take up spiritual life. For example, when someone involved with intoxication hears from Prabhupada that intoxication is in the mode of ignorance, he or she may at once agree, from direct experience. That doesn't make intoxication helpful for spiritual life.
When Prabhupada condemned the keeping of pets such as dogs and cats, especially in the house, he never distinguished that such instructions were only for renunciants or didn't apply to children.
Srila Prabhupada did, however, encourage all devotees of Krsna to treat all living entities with respect and give them a chance for whatever spiritual advancement they are capable of making. So when a devotee child sees a bug in the house, he or she will chant to it and carefully take that bug outside. Where I live, when we see deer or rabbits on our property (a rather frequent occurrence) we always chant to them. Not long ago an opossum was investigating our garbage. Our grown daughter quickly got some prasadam to feed it, which it happily ate. Such real spiritual love for all living entities animal, plant, insect does indeed soften the heart. But keeping an animal so as to have something warm and furry to hug and love is a definite spiritual distraction.
We are naturally attracted to so many things in this world as perversions of our original spiritual life or in imitation of the Lord. That everything is a perverted imitation of what goes on in the spiritual world does not, however, mean that whatever we have an inclination to do will bring us closer to the Lord.
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You said, "Indeed it is offensive to offer food to the Lord that a lower animal such as a dog or cat has seen first." I was of the opinion that God exists in each and every life/creature, even in the cats and dogs. In case such pets are kept in the house of an ISKCON believer, even those lives can be raised by getting such an atmosphere: the maha-mantra, the bells of the arati, the smell of food prepared and offer to God, etc.
URMILA DEVI DASI REPLIES: When the soul in the body of a lower animal sees food meant for the Lord, naturally the animal wants to eat that food. And nothing should be offered to Krsna if someone has desired to eat it before the offering.
It is possible for an animal to become so purified by association with a Vaisnava that the animal's seeing food before it is offered wouldn't be offensive. But such examples are rare indeed.
Animals are souls, as much as you or I, but they are grossly covered by the mode of ignorance. While in an animal body, it is almost impossible for a soul to come to spiritual awareness. Is there even a primitive system of religion in any species lower than human? Yet even the most simple human society has some concept of a higher, supernatural power.
There are many ways to give animals spiritual benefit without compromising our own Krsna consciousness. At the temple where we worship, for example, some cats have decided to live on the temple property. They sometimes sit outside the temple window to hear the chanting or classes. Devotees regularly give them prasadam. And the cats do service by eating mice and other pests.
The Western Kapila
I was saddened by the letter "Descartes and the Soul" [July/August], which made it seem as if the whole of Western thinking about the soul rests upon the conclusions of rationalism and atheism.
Actually, the philosopher G. W. Leibniz, who was opposed to both Descartes's rationalism and Spinoza's atheism, more truly represents Western philosophy's ancient religious roots in Orphism, Pythagoreanism, and Platonism. His theory of monadology (from the Greek monad, "number" or "unit") mirrors the teachings of Sankhya yoga and the Bhagavad-gita. Leibniz, who called himself the last Pythagorean, taught that God, the "Great Monad" (viz. Purusottama), exists in an eternal relationship with all other "minimal monads" (viz. jivatmas), both human and animal. He called this teaching the "perennial philosophy." Leibniz took his lead from the late Academic Platonists Proclus and Damascius, who taught that man consists of five bodies, or eidolon:
(1) Monedes (monad=pure spirit)
(2) Augedes (golden body=spiritual soul)
(3) Asteredes (astral body=soul)
(4) Eheredes (etheric body=ghost)
(5) Andredes (physical body)
Much as Bhagavad-gita summarizes all previous Vedic wisdom, so Leibniz united the three souls found in Plato's Timaeus(the plant, animal, and human souls, located respectively in the liver, heart, and head), with the tripar-tite division of man found in the New Testament epistles (body, soul, and spirit), and the Orphic-Pythagorean teaching of the ultimate individual monad, thus genuinely reflecting the ancient religious roots of Western philosophy and, just as true, uniting Western and Eastern theistic thought.
Leibniz was truly our Western Kapila.
Fort Myers, Florida
Member ISNS (International Society for NeoPlatonic Studies)
DRUTAKARMA DASA REPLIES: My response to the letter by Bhakta Jan, which appeared in the BTG Letters section under the title "Descartes and the Soul" in the July/August 1997 issue, was not intended as a critique of all of Western philosophy and theology. It was a very particular response to Bhakta Jan's implicit assertion that Descartes believed animals had eternal souls like those of human beings. I simply offered evidence that Descartes did in fact deny that animals had eternal souls like those of humans. I do, however, thank you for your informative remarks about the philosophy of Leibniz.
As reported in BTG, Srimati Vilasini Dasi left her body [expired] on July 8 in London. Vilasini was an old Prabhupada disciple. She joined in Washington in 1970 and moved to Detroit soon after. After some years she went to Europe and served in France and Belgium and finally spent many years as the head pujari for Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara. She spent most of her devotional career doing Deity worship and also worked for the BBT in the beginning years.
Vilasini was a completely dedicated disciple of Srila Prabhupada and never wavered in her determination to serve the Deities. Yet she could be difficult to deal with. She had a sharp, incisive intelligence, which she sometimes used to manipulate others. She wasn't malicious, but she wasn't easy to get on with either. Vilasini was aware enough to know her own defects even if she couldn't quite get on top of her critical side.
About four or five years ago she got a heavy dose of cancer and was given a few months to live. She retired from active service to fight the disease and went on a course of chemotherapy. After some time, the doctors told her that it was useless and that she had only a matter of weeks to live.
Then she met a natural healer who put her on a strict regime of diet and behavior. One of the things the doctor told her, without knowing her nature, was that if she was to survive she must change her attitude. Vilasini knew it to be true. She started chanting many more rounds every day, read Prabhupada's books for hours, and chanted the Nrsimha kavaca [a prayer to Krsna's form as Lord Nrsimha] every day. Over the next few years she actively sought out devotees with whom she had experienced difficulties and resolved their differences amicably.
For a while the cancer went into remission. The doctors were amazed at her improvement. She even tried to take up some regular service again. But each time she did so she had a relapse.
Finally last year she had to undergo chemotherapy again. Her physical condition deteriorated, and she entered a hospice in late June. Then early in the morning on July 8, she suddenly fell into a coma. The devotees were all informed and went immediately to be with her. Jayadvaita Swami [the editor of BTG] was also there and everyone chanted by her bedside.
After some twenty-five minutes she came out of the coma. Vilasini was a devotee who was always able to rise to the occasion no matter how she felt "do the needful," as Srila Prabhupada used to request. When she saw all the devotees, she asked for her beads and asked to be propped up in bed so that she could chant with them.
After about ten hours of Vilasini's obliging her friends with her association, the nurses asked the devotees to leave her room for a few minutes so they could do their duties. When they had left, Vilasini Prabhu took the opportunity to gracefully depart.
It was as good a passing as any sincere servant of Srila Prabhupada could hope for, and it appeared that she certainly got all the blessings of Sri Sri Radha-Londonisvara.
Hari Sauri Dasa adhikari
Postscript: A month after Vilasini's departure, my wife, Sitala Dasi, who was close friends with Vilasini since she joined in Detroit in 1970 and traveled with her to Europe, received a letter from Vilasini. She had written it in late June, a couple of weeks before she died, and had sent it to our address in Alachua, Florida. It arrived there on the day she passed away. It was sent on to us here in India.
It's a short note, only three sentences long, handwritten in hardly legible script. But the contents are some of the most wonderful I have ever read:
All the evil went out of me on Lord Nrsimha's appearance day at sunset. Sounds corny but it's true. I am getting well now.
How Many Souls Per Body?
Why do you refer to God realization as a science? I have always thought that the term "science" is applied to something material, and God realization is spiritual.
I have yet another question, which bugs me constantly. Biologists say that cells are living things. If that is the case, we should have trillions of souls in our body, one in every cell. How do you explain this?
Charu Lata Pandey
via the Internet
SADAPUTA DASA REPLIES: Science consists of knowledge that can be reliably verified by systematic procedures of observation. It is not necessarily limited to material subject matters. There are procedures of spiritual realization that yield results reliably, and these can be referred to as a science of self-realization.
Yes, there are trillions of souls in our body. These are souls of individual cells, but there is only one soul of the body as a whole.
That soul is linked in consciousness to the bodily senses (eyes, ears, etc.), and the souls of individual cells are linked to the senses of those cells (chemical receptors, etc.).
The editorial in our September/October issue included several typographical errors. The text was typeset last minute in Mumbai and skipped a proofreading cycle. We apologize.
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