An address given on Indian Republic Day,
January 26, 1992, in San Diego.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, directors of the Federation of Indian Associations,
Thank you for giving me this opportunity to address you. As you can see, I am not born into an Indian family. So it is natural to ask, "What is my connection here? What do I have to say that may be relevant to the occasion?"
It has been noted that a convert's zeal is at times more than that of a native. The native born into a tradition sometimes takes it for granted. But the convert, after carefully studying the matter, makes a conscious choice with heart and intellect to accept a particular path. So his is a deep and loving conviction. Kipling has written, "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet." The fact that I am standing before you in Vaisnava dress calls that premise into question.
Vaisnava tradition teaches that we are dasa dasa anudasa, the humble servants of the servants of the servants of the Supreme Lord. Or as Caitanya Mahaprabhu says, trnadapi sunicena: "One should chant the holy name of the Lord in a humble state of mind, thinking oneself lower than the straw in the street." So I hope not to violate this principle of humility.
I have been asked to take a moment and explain my personal progression towards practicing a way of life based on the Vedic teachings.
I was born here in southern California and raised in Laguna Beach, where I surfed, rode a motorcycle, went to high school, and was accepted into a prestigious university. I was set to live a life based on the so-called American dream. But inside I felt a deep vacuum.
I have thought about that emptiness I felt, and I can divide it into three general categories: philosophical, ethical, and personal.
Philosophically, I am indebted to my Christian upbringing. The basic moral principles taught in that tradition served well to help mold my character for the better. But still I couldn't find substantial answers for some unsettling questions.
Daily we see disparities in life. If there is a just and merciful God, why are some born with sight, some born blind? Why are some rich, some poor? Why do evil deeds apparently go unpunished? How can we live only one short life and then potentially spend eternity in a fiery hell? Searching through the words of Western philosophers and writers, I found no truly satisfying answers.
Ethically in social concerns and personal moral standards I saw a society decaying at the core. I protested Vietnam but then saw Central America, the Middle East, homelessness, inner-city blight, and the global environmental collapse. The list goes on and on.
If I may be allowed one aside, here are two lists compiled by the California State Police and the California Department of Education. They show the top discipline problems in schools in 1940 and again in 1990. I'll read the problems of 1940 first.
Top Problems in 1940
2. Chewing gum
3. Making noise
4. Running in the halls
5. Getting out of line
6. Wearing improper clothing
7. Not putting paper in the wastebasket
As you can see, quite dangerous. Now for the problems of the 1990's.
Top Problems Today
1. Drug abuse
2. Alcohol abuse
My spiritual master referred to children as "the flower of a society." But here we see what our cultural climate is bringing forth. No doubt we've made progress, but in what direction? The moth also progresses, but into the flame. And what you find in education is just a sample of the decay in almost every sphere. It was a grim picture I saw, and with no visible means of relief.
In my personal life also in my sense of self-worth, fulfillment, and satisfaction I felt emptiness.
As I have said, I was born into a well-to-do family. I had all I wanted and more, with a successful career path and a comfortable life before me. All I had to do was stay on the conveyor belt, so to speak, and I'd "have it all."
But to live a pampered life of high-tech creature comforts is ultimately shallow and meaningless, and I knew it. There had to be more depth and purpose to life.
So philosophically, ethically, and personally I felt a great vacuum.
Into that emptiness, by the mercy of Sri Krsna and my spiritual master, I received the message of Bhagavad-gita.
pavitram idam uttamam
su-sukham kartum avyayam
"This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed."
Again, Krsna says in the Gita,
mattah parataram nanyat
kincid asti dhananjaya
mayi sarvam idam protam
"O conqueror of wealth, there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon me, as pearls are strung on a thread."
These are deep subjects we could speak about extensively, but for the sake of time I will touch on them only briefly.
The principles of karma and reincarnation answered my doubts about a God of justice and mercy. As explained in the Bhagavad-gita, each life is part of a progressive education. The soul transmigrates from life to life, each life preparing and prodding us to return to our real home, the paravyoma, or spiritual world, for loving association with the Supreme Lord.
To quote Shakespeare in a transcendent light,
All the world's a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.
The apparent inequities are all part of a divine choreography directed by the loving hand of Lord Sri Krsna for our eternal benefit. Now the parts of the puzzle began to fall into place, creating a worldview that was philosophically sound and satisfying.
Ethically, the Vedas present the concept of a society based on dharma, or religious principles. In the Bhagavata Purana, dharma is compared to a bull, its four legs being truthfulness, compassion, external and internal cleanliness, and austerity or self-control. Underlying and supporting all this is the concept of seva, or selfless service to the Supreme, with all living beings understood to be His parts and parcels.
By applying these principles ourselves and teaching them to others, we can foster a moral vision that can potentially relieve the multiple social ills we face.
We've spoken of philosophy and ethics. Now as for our personal sense of satisfaction: In the Bhagavata Purana the soul is referred to as pariksit, or the examiner. Like Diogenes, who wandered Athens searching for an honest man, the soul is searching life after life for a truly satisfying and fulfilling relationship. In Christian weddings the ceremony often concludes by the couple's saying, "Till death do us part." A perceptive person will note that however happy a couple may be, death will inevitably come and we will all be forced to part ways.
But if we are convinced that we are eternal, we must naturally find a relationship that is eternal. That relationship is our relationship with Krsna.
Material enjoyment inevitably reaches a saturation point. Ever wonder why everything is advertised "new and improved"? Because the old taste or experience has become stale and pedestrian.
But the name "Krsna" literally means "the all-attractive," or the fountainhead of all pleasure. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu describes loving service to the Lord as anandambudhi-vardhanam, an ever-increasing ocean of spiritual happiness.
The daily acts of devotion taught in the science of bhakti-yoga helped reawaken within me the realization that God truly does exist and will reveal Himself as we surrender unto Him.
As a hungry man, upon eating, feels satisfaction and renewed strength, by practicing a daily life of devotion I found profound peace and enlightenment. The process is genuine and personally verifiable.
So philosophically, ethically, and personally I was enlightened and satisfied when East met West through the Bhagavad-gita and the guidance of my spiritual master. Therefore I stand before you in Vaisnava dress.
Now, how do I believe this applies beyond my own experience? Currently there is much ado over the five-hundredth anniversary of Christopher Columbus's coming to America. But it's interesting to note: he wasn't looking for America, he was trying to find India. Of course, he was trying to find jewels and gold and spices. But India's real wealth, and her gift to the world, is her vast treasure of Vedic knowledge and spiritual vision.
Communism has collapsed, and capitalism is struggling as well. People everywhere are searching for an alternative worldview.
I had an uncle who used to say, "There's more than one way to be wrong." It's not that if one concept is found bankrupt its opposite is automatically valid. There is talk of a New World Order, but that new order can be just as confused as the old one. The compass of transcendental wisdom found in the Vedas can help us set the right alternative course.
My story is far from unique. We find it played out again and again. The official name for the Hare Krsna movement is the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. We represent 350 temples, farms, and asramas in seventy-five countries, with books in more than seventy languages. From the former Soviet Union to China to Africa to the Middle East to a proposed bullock-cart procession across Cuba, we find the same result. Regardless of cultural climate, religious tradition, or money in the bank, people all over the world are taking to the Vedic world-view and having their lives immeasurably enriched and enhanced.
Recently I was in India and went to purchase a lota [a small metal pot]. In the shop there was a metal lota and a bright orange plastic one. The metal lota was twenty rupees, and the plastic lota cost more. Now, you know that a metal lota is easy to clean. Beverages taste much better from a metal utensil. Metal doesn't crack. In other words, metal is better in every regard.
So I asked the shopkeeper, "Why would I want to pay more for an inferior product?"
The shopkeeper responded in almost reverential tones, "But it is plastic, like in America."
We are being sold a materialistic worldview of ever-increasing consumption. But it's time to stop and take stock of what it has done for us and our society. Are we better off and happier because of it?
Today we are honoring Republic Day. I would like to remind you that you are the custodians of a precious, noble, and much-needed legacy. The world is crying in darkness, and the light of the Vedas can dispel that darkness. The Bhagavata Puranaadvises, "If a gentleman sees a blind man going down the wrong path, how can he sit idly by?" It is our sacred duty to make our personal lives examples of the Vedic teachings and give this knowledge to others.
In closing I'd like to leave you with an example drawn by my spiritual master. If you have a blind man and a lame man, neither one can walk. But if the blind man with good legs carries the lame man who has good eyes, together they can travel successfully. Similarly, India, exploited for centuries by foreigners, is like a lame man. And America is like a blind man, physically sound but with dim vision and little sense of direction. But together they can both travel successfully.
If East meets West and they combine under the guidance of Vedic insight, the whole world will benefit. That is India's true wealth and her greatest gift to humankind. Thank you and Hare Krsna.
Badrinarayana Dasa is ISKCON's Governing Body Commissioner for southern California and several of the western and mid-western states. He is also president of the San Diego temple.