Congratulations on another excellentissue of BTG [Sept/Oct]. I especially liked the article about my dear friend Sridhara Swami, and the article on Bangladesh by Indradyumna Swami was quite enjoyable as well. If I may, I'd like to mention some of the courageous ISKCON devotees who first carried Srila Prabhupada's movement to Bangladesh.
In 1978, the year after Prabhupada's departure, Prabhavisnu Swami and Jayapataka Swami asked Vaiyasaki Dasa to go to Bangladesh with ISKCON's distinct message of love for Krsna. Vaiyasaki and Canuri Dasa, a French devotee, courageously journeyed to that primarily Muslim land and brought the holy name of Krsna. The early days there were rough. Rasika Dasa and Nisthula Dasa soon came with assistance. These devotees all risked their lives in a country where there was much animosity toward anyone or anything non-Muslim.
Nyack, New York
Four Stages of Life
Are the four stages of one's life brahmacari, grhastha, vanaprastha, sannyasi recommended in the present age?
Via the Internet
OUR REPLY: In general these four asramas are always recommended in any age because they are created by Krsna along with the four varnas: brahmana, ksatriya, vaisya, and sudra (Bhagavad-gita 4.13). In the present age, however, everyone is a sudra by default, and the sudras generally accept only the grhastha asrama (married life). Generally the vaisyas and ksatriyas accept the brahmacarya, grhastha, and vanaprastha asramas, and the brahmanas accept all four asramas. The Krsna consciousness movement is especially training brahmanas, and it expected that they will accept the four asramas. Of course, some brahmanas skip the grhastha and vanaprastha asramas and go straight to sannyasa, but that is a minority. There is a verse forbidding the acceptance of sannyasa in the age of Kali, but that is because most people are not qualified for sannyasa. Lord Caitanya, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and Srila Prabhupada, all of whom are perfect teachers of Vedic knowledge, accepted the sannyasa asrama, and Srila Prabhupada gave sannyasa initiation to many disciples.
Could you give me some guidance on improving my chanting?
Via the Internet
OUR REPLY: Chanting is very simple, but the mind has the tendency to wander. In Bhagavad-gita (6.26) Lord Krsna mentions the flicking nature of the mind, so we should not be at all surprised to encounter it. Arjuna complained to Lord Krsna that it was more difficult to control the mind than the wind (Bg. 6.34). Krsna, however, considered that it is possible to control the mind by suitable practice and by detachment (Bg. 6.35). Our practice is to chant Hare Krsna, and our detachment is to give up the four sinful acts. So we should not conclude that it is impossible, although it may sometimes seem that way.
During japa we can always try to bring the mind back to the holy sound of the maha-mantra, soberly considering that at the moment of death we must fix the mind on Krsna and death can come at any time. We can also consider the greatness of the holy name it is Krsna Himself and how Bhaktivinoda Thakura says that there is nothing of value in the entire material world but the holy name of the Lord.
The holy name can free us from all material distress and submerge us in an ocean of transcendental happiness. The holy name is well worth paying attention to. Japa is the practice of fixing the mind on Krsna's name whenever it runs off. You will get better gradually simply by practicing every day with awareness of its great importance, just as we improve at anything we practice. Moreover, Krsna is always inclined to help His devotees, so there is great hope for success.
Practice hearing and chanting the spiritual sound with enthusiasm, and you'll ultimately become absorbed in Krsna consciousness. You can also try tricks like chanting louder (so it is easier to hear) or faster (so there is no time to think about anything else). But ultimately we have to drag the mind back. When we start a new round on our beads, we can practice attentiveness with renewed determination and try chant with perfect attention as long as possible.
You can find more advice in books like The Nectarean Ocean of the Holy Name, by Sacinandana Swami, and Art of Chanting, by Mahanidhi Swami.
Avataras for Each Age
I read all the main topics on Krishna.com, and that was very helpful. I am very thankful to the team that developed the site. Could you please explain the different yugas and what form of the Lord appears in each?
Via the Internet
OUR REPLY: There are four yugas, or ages: Satya, Treta, Dvarapa, and Kali. Kali lasts 432,000 years. Dvarupa is twice as long as Kali, Treta is three times as long as Kali, and Satya is four times as long as Kali. The eleventh canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, chapter 5, identifies the yuga-avataras by color: (1) sukla (white) in the Satya-yuga (Bhag. 11.5.21); (2) rakta (red) in the Treta-yuga (Bhag. 11.5.24); (3) syama (dark blue) in the Dvaparayuga (Bhag. 11.5.27); and (4) generally Krsna(black), but in special cases pita (yellow) as Caitanya Mahaprabhu in the Kali-yuga (Bhag. 11.5.32 and 10.8.13).
Guidance for Deity Worship
Would you be able to guide me in deity worship? What are the offenses to be avoided? What must we think about and what prayers should we say in front of the deities, when bowing down, in kirtana, on leaving the temple, and so on? Can we really talk to the deities?
Via the Internet
OUR REPLY: We are to think that the deity of Krsna is identical to the Supreme Lord Krsna Himself, and thus we should cultivate awe and reverence for the deity. We should bow down before the deity upon coming into and leaving His presence. Prayers of great devotees of the past may be offered. Rupa Gosvamis Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, which Srila Prabhupada summarized in The Nectar of Devotion, tells all the offenses to be avoided as well as positive devotional activities to be performed, so it would be good for you to get that book.
Yes, we can talk to the deities by offering prayers, but we must be very spiritually elevated for the deity to speak to us.
The cover artist for the Sept/Oct issue was incorrectly identified. The artist was Madhava-priya Devi Dasi. We apologize for the mistake.