Are you Church or Chapel?

Boyton in Cornwall. It was a small village with two places of worship – one at either end of the main street. One was a church and the other a chapel, a situation which posed an existential question.

“Are you Church or Chapel?” was the question posed to my mother one day after we moved into a house in a small Cornish village. We’d moved there from our previous home – also in a small Cornish village.

Church or Chapel? It was an important question, for it defined the social circle we would be joining, our emotional support team, and ultimately our chances of salvation. The Church of England and the Methodist Chapel were the two places of worship in the village, one the establishment religion and the other dissident. The chapel stood at one end of the one street in the village, and the church was firmly at the other end. The blacksmith’s shop, with its fiery orange furnace, the heavy clink of hammer on anvil and the burning smell of sizzling horses’ hooves, stood right in the centre.

Half a century later, I still live in a small village, this time just four miles from the edge of the north London suburbs. You can’t get horseshoes made in this village, but there are still variant theologies poised at either end of the high street, not only Christian but Jewish, too. Quite literally at opposite ends of the parade of shops lies the United Synagogue and the Reform Synagogue. Which reminds me of an old Jewish joke. When rescuers finally discover the lone Jewish survivor of a shipwreck on a desert island, they find that he’s used bamboos and coconut leaves to build himself two synagogues, one at either end of the island. “Why two?” they ask, “There’s only you here.” “Oh, this one is where I pray,” he replies, “and that other one is the synagogue I wouldn’t be seen dead in!” I think you have to be Jewish (or married to one) to fully grasp the sad irony of that joke, but the meaning is clear: human beings tend to pull any religion in two, and for as much as they love one they tend to spite the other. The reality is not far from the joke. Some years ago, the Jewish population of the island of Bermuda was a mere 110 – and there were, indeed, two synagogues.

Just last week I was in Liverpool where there are two grand cathedrals, both built over many years and at enormous expense. They are connected by one short street that runs between them – Hope Street. Although named after a local merchant, the theological implications of the name have not been lost on the local clergy. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England live in hope of a full reconciliation between their respective denominations. Sadly, they have been trying for centuries without success. Religion, you see, would be so easy if it weren’t for human beings. We are influenced predominantly by raja and tama guna, the two forces of nature that ceaselessly pull us apart and then set us against each other. In this condition we are almost bound to project our own selfish concerns onto the pure messages of God. In doing so we appropriate the Divine and fashion Him in our own image then, because we are all individuals who, mostly, can’t agree with anyone else completely, we enter into conflict. Whatever the reason may be, we become heated in our opinions, find friends to support us, and then pull apart into distinct groupings.

What divides religious people? Often, it can be the very small things: bells, smells, decorations and robes, priests and songs, or whether being baptised with water is for babies or adults. Or the bigger things of which these are parts: Theology, liturgy, governance, gender issues, and whether God has a living representative on Earth and so on. But it doesn’t end there. History has shown, in every religion, that each division becomes rent by fresh divisions and the two become three, four and more. New theologies are developed to support human preferences, and the clear water of pure revelation becomes muddied by tribal thinking. In this way, the one great man who spoke the Sermon on the Mount is now represented by 41,000 different Christian denominations. The one Catholic Church, presumably in a bid to stave off the debilitating effects of multiple splintering, has given permission for no less than 23 different ‘Rites,’ 38 separate ‘Orders,’ and 272 distinct ‘Congregations,’ all with different costumes, customs, prayers and organisational structures.

The ‘Great Schism’

The tendency to divide is, of course, seen everywhere. We have become so accustomed to it that we may hardly even notice it at all. If we do, it may not even alarm us. Take sport, for instance. It wasn’t long after I joined my school rugby team that I learned that there were, in fact, two games of rugby: Rugby Union and Rugby League. The game originated in 1823 but only 72 years later, in 1895, the ‘Great Schism’ had taken place, never to be repealed. The ‘working class’ northerners had felt it necessary to separate from the ‘upper-class’ southerners, and the League and the Union were created accordingly. The game of rugby was itself an ‘upper class’ separation from the original game of football, played by all boys. In that game, the pulling apart continued to be a long-standing tradition of the game. Footballers were often pulled into two rival teams. A fan had to make his mind up who to support. There was, for instance, Liverpool and Everton in the same city; Rangers and Celtic in the same city of Glasgow, the two teams split along religious and social lines; and Manchester United and Manchester City, all rival teams for one town.


1895: Even the great game of Rugby football divides into two factions

But it is when the divisions occur in religions that the potential for rivalry can escalate into something far more serious. Religion is no game, and the issues involved are all of the ultimate importance. The issues are so serious to the adherents of denominations that strongly opinionated members of opposing religious tribes can often go to war with each other, each convinced that they have the blessings of the Divine. In my own lifetime I have personally experienced street battles between Catholic and Protestant in the towns of Northern Ireland and have witnessed tensions between denominations of Jews. I have read of open conflict between factions of Tibetan Buddhists, and I am all too aware of the immense chasm that exists between Sunni and Shi’a strands of Islam, with periodic warfare between them in different parts of the world. Vaishnavism has not always been immune from these schisms. The followers of the teachings of the great Ramanujacarya (1017-1137) were united for seven centuries, but then succumbed to conflict over cardinal philosophical points, eventually becoming the Tengalai (Southern School) and the Vadagalai (Northern School) sometime in the 17th or 18th century.


Two Vaishnava forehead markings for two schools of thought

In the Hare Krishna movement, the splintering tendency was regularly subjugated by the single, commanding voice of its founder-acarya who confessed “I am always afraid of this crack.” His urgent and repeated pleas for peace and unity amongst his followers didn’t stop some from splintering away during his life, and certainly hasn’t prevented them from doing it since. And, just as in Christianity, Islam and Judaism, where all fractures are done in the name of God, his son, prophet or blessed and inspired rabbi, in the Hare Krishna movement it was, and continues to be done, in the name of ‘what Srila Prabhupada really wanted.’ So it was that the ‘true’ followers of Srila Prabhupada began a campaign against all his other followers when they failed to support their views on how initiations would be conducted after his physical demise.

It was also how the similarly ‘true followers’ of Srila Prabhupada justified their transformation of a hitherto unknown Indian sannyasi into an international figurehead of messianic proportions. For them, who needed him to be so, the sannyasi became ‘the real inheritor of Srila Prabhupada’s legacy.’ The little-known sannyasi was preened, styled and re-branded by those who had left ISKCON as ‘Srila Prabhupada’s very dear friend who has come to give us the knowledge that he did not.’ The fame of the sannyasi followed a predictable arc. After some time, as his original supporters left him, he became convinced that he’d been used, and fell victim to fits of anger against ISKCON. It presumably didn’t occur to the ‘very dear friend’ that, when he told his excited and impressionable followers that ‘ISKCON must be smashed,’ that he might be stretching the limits of his much-vaunted friendship with A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami. Now deceased, the rifts that he managed to create, pulling apart communities, marriages and families, are all but impossible to heal. ISKCON has thus lost hundreds of members to this and several other breakaway movements – movements of varying degrees of integrity and endurance – all of which claimed to have adopted their stance because of a more refined understanding of the founder-acarya’s instructions. Such is theology, and such is life.

ISKCON members could help themselves by learning a bit more of religious history. They should know that all of this has happened before. They need to learn sufficient Vaishnava theology to identify and understand the veracity of ideas that arise from time to time within their own community. They should be aware when someone seeks the imposition of Judaeo-Christian notions upon Vaishnavism, such as the ‘ritvik’ idea of a truncated parampara, or the deification of an ordinary sannyasi as a moshiach (messiah). Splintering of a religious grouping is also exacerbated by poor spiritual leadership, sexual and financial scandals, poor governance and managerial ineptitude. ISKCON would be helped greatly by putting measures in place to prevent all of these. In addition, and because members of any group will periodically enter into conflict, the ISKCON machinery must allow room for overheated members to find their place, always using the oil of reason to reduce friction, and the water of understanding to cool things down.

Like the Vatican and its shepherding of a disparate flock of many-hued sheep, we may end up with several dozen ‘orders’ within the Hare Krishna movement, but at least they will be working under the same name and style. Theologies have a tendency of variation according to the very genuine physical needs and faith-levels of their proponents. As such, they won’t always mesh together, and practices may not always conform to strict orthopraxis, but splintering might be prevented, and we may all be spared the debilitation of any further reduction in size and influence. Splintering diminishes the strength of collegiate effort and repeated division is a scourge that ultimately ends in a loss of power and increased apathy. If people can be united to do good in the world it is helpful for everyone concerned.

So, was it church or chapel? It was chapel. Actually, to be more precise, it was both. I went to the Methodist chapel on Sunday where I enthusiastically sang Wesleyan hymns and learned the elements of faith free from unnecessary rituals, bell-ringing or stained glass, and then I went bell-ringing every Monday evening in the Church of the Holy Name, where I pulled thick, well-worn ropes beneath the bell tower to my heart’s content, sending loud, thunderous peals throughout the village.


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Golden Hours in Darkest Winter


Sunrise in England. Hard to catch it, sometimes, but always worth the effort.

This week I have been thinking about the Gayatri mantra and how it is chanted at sunrise, noon and sunset. Although the Hare Krishna maha-mantra can be chanted without following any ‘hard and fast rules,’ the Gayatri does have rules attached to it, and they must be followed in order to achieve the full effect. When I was living in the tropics, in East Africa, it was very easy to chant the Gayatri mantra at the same times every day. That’s because the sun always came up at six in the morning and went down at six in the evening. And when I was living for a few months on the equator, noon was easy to calculate because it was when the sun was directly overhead.

In England the sun rises and sets at different times each day, and its a little bit harder to chant at the right times. In this month of November, sunrise does not happen until around 7.30, and sunset comes upon all of us quite unexpectedly, right in the middle of the afternoon!

But a brahmana is meant to chant the Vedic Gayatri according to the movements of the sun, and so becomes a bit of a sun-watcher. However, brahmanas have almost a one hour period in which to chant their mantra, so there’s a bit of laxity allowed in their precision timekeeping. The old Vedic lengths of time are the muhurta, which lasts for 48 minutes; and the danda, which lasts for half of that, 24 minutes. A brahmana wanting to chant the Gayatri in the morning can do so any time from one danda before sunrise (24 minutes before sunrise) all the way through until one danda after sunrise (24 minutes after sunrise). Let us say that it is late November somewhere in England and the sun rises at precisely 7.36 am. The brahmana can chant his/her Gayatri at any time from 7.12 am until 8.00 am. The same rule applies for the evening Gayatri at sunset.

Punctilious brahmanas will also tell you that the most preferential time for chanting the Gayatri is slightly before sunrise, before the first glimpse of the sun disc can be seen; and slightly after sunset, when the sun has disappeared but before the stars can be seen.

For those who chant the Hare Krishna maha mantra, any time is a good time. However, it has been proven by thousands of years of experience that chanting any mantra is particularly efficacious during the early morning Brahma-muhurta period. That’s not because the mantra becomes any more powerful – its because the chanter can listen to the mantra with more concentration! The Brahma-muhurta is a golden period every morning before sunrise and it is highly recommended to take advantage of this little celestial secret of Mother Nature and to use this time to our great advantage. When is it, and how long does it last?

You’ll notice from the word muhurta that the golden period lasts for 48 minutes. It begins two muhurtas  – or 96 minutes – before sunrise. So let us say, again, that sunrise is at 7.36 am. Counting back 96 minutes (or one hour and 36 minutes) from 7.36 am brings us to 6.00 am. That means that the Brahma-muhurta begins at 6.00 am and will last until 6.48 am. This will be the best natural time for meditation or any kind of contemplative or transcendent activity.

In the summertime it will naturally be difficult for English people to take advantage of this golden period as it falls very early in the morning. Take the month of June, for instance. On the 6th of June, 2013, sunrise in England was at 4.46 am. Counting back 96 minutes from sunrise brings us to 3.10 am. That gives us a Brahma-muhurta from 3.10 am until 3.58 am. Taking into account getting up out of bed, brushing your teeth, having a shower and getting dressed, that would mean your alarm clock going off at 2.30 am. Which, if you want to get any beauty sleep at all, means that you would need to go to bed by 8.00 pm the evening before. Not easy with three children.

What it does mean is that as far as early morning meditation is concerned, the darker winter months in England – beginning right now – are the best. They’re an even better opportunity than living in India would give you. So I warmly recommend my readers to take full advantage and grab at least a few minutes of that golden period in darkest winter.

If you want to know the rising and setting times of the sun and moon throughout the year, this site may be helpful.


Filed under Journal, vaishnavism

Upanishads in a New Light


Manuscript of the Isha Upanishad

Dear readers, you may well know that the Upanishads are the cardinal philosophical scriptures for those who follow the Vedic tradition. All of them are important, but the Sri Isha Upanishad, or Ishavasya Upanishad (also known as the Isopanishad) is particularly interesting – along with the Katha, Kena, and Swetashvatara – for the Vaishnavas. So I was particularly happy to see that a devotee artist is making the Isopanishad accessible to a new generation that might not otherwise discover it. He is rendering the entire 19 verses in different word media with accompanying videos. If any of you feel his project is worth your support, do please make a contribution. The benefit of ‘Kickstarter’ is that if the total is not reached, you won’t pay a penny, no matter how much you pledge. Have a look today. JUST CLICK HERE 

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Girl Guides fall prey to Secular Inquisition


One of my favourite stories is the one about the boiling frog, who simply fails to realise that the water is getting hotter. His failure to comprehend the incremental rise in temperature (he’d jumped into a pan of cool water on an outdoor fire, you see) spelled his death. Similarly, the heat of fashionable nouveau atheism is increasing all around us. One writer who regularly does notice – and speaks up about it – is Melanie Phillips. I want to share her latest piece with you today.

Like a poorly knotted woggle, the attempt by the Girl Guides to rope in the new generation is now steadily unravelling.

In June, the Guides announced they were changing the historic promise made by all Guides and Brownies from ‘to love my God’ to ‘be true to myself and develop my beliefs’.

They would also drop the pledge to ‘serve my country’, which was to be replaced by ‘my community’.

According to the Chief Guide, Gill Slocombe, the old promise put some girls off because they found it confusing. The new formula, she said, would be easier for Guides to make and keep.

The change – which comes into force in six days’ time – was received with horror and outrage by Christians, and left many others bemused and uneasy. It seemed to be just a crude and shallow attempt by the Guiding establishment to rebrand itself as modern, by dumping timeless values.

Much worse was to follow, though. Guide groups in Harrogate, North Yorkshire, rightly dismayed by the proposed change, announced last week that they would encourage their girls and leaders to continue to use the old promise.

In a letter written jointly with a local vicar, they insisted the movement had to keep God at its core. Impeccably fair-minded and inclusive, they also proposed to offer the new promise to anyone who might prefer that form of words.

Yet in response, Ms Slocombe said such rebels need to accept this change, and even suggested they could be forced out of the movement altogether if they did not.

So much for diversity!

For with this not-so-veiled threat, the true intention of the movement’s leaders has been laid bare. A move they claimed to be more inclusive has turned out to be entirely the opposite.

Indeed, it now stands revealed as being actively discriminatory; far from pulling down any (mythical) barriers to joining the movement, the Guide leaders are actually putting them up.

Under the spurious guise of encouraging membership by atheists, or (inexplicably) those with an aversion to serving their country, the Guides are now threatening to expel those who wish to express a religious belief.

A belief, moreover, which forms the basis of the Christian values in which the Girl Guide movement is rooted, and on which its identity rests.

Yet this movement is now actively discriminating against those who wish to proclaim the continuation of those religious values at its own core.

Having dumped God and country altogether, it is now actually forbidding Guides – on pain of excommunication – to promise to serve anything beyond themselves.

Is this not beyond perverse? For there is no reason why the new promise needs to be exclusive of any other. After all, the Scouts apparently intend to offer atheists an alternative promise rather than abandon the existing one.

Other institutions have long done something similar to accommodate both believers and non-believers. When you swear to tell the truth in court, for example, or take the oath of allegiance as a new Member of Parliament, you are given the choice to swear on the Bible or to affirm.

Just imagine if you were forbidden to give evidence in court or take your seat in Parliament if you insisted on swearing on the Bible!

Of course, this would be utterly unthinkable. And yet that is precisely what the Guides are now doing. As church leaders have pointed out, this is nothing other than secular totalitarianism.

There is thus a weary absence of surprise upon learning that the Guides’ chief executive, Julia Bentley, formerly headed an abortion and contraception group. For it is hard to think of a background which more powerfully symbolises merciless and doctrinaire individualism.

Indeed, to Ms Bentley the Guides are the ultimate feminist organisation but  – tsk! – too middle-class.

Thus she revealed herself to be just another politically correct zealot, standing for the secular sectarianism of group rights.

For far from serving the whole of society, each such interest group exists to gain power over everyone else – and damns anyone who stands in its way.

Indeed, this is why ‘political correctness’ is not remotely liberal at all, but viciously oppressive. It is simply a mechanism for re-ordering the world according to a particular dogma – and thus inescapably stifles all dissent.

Innately hostile to traditional morality, it paves the way for a secular Inquisition in which today’s Torquemadas are the ideologues of such group rights – and it is Christians and other religious believers who are the heretics to be silenced by force.

It is, indeed, the principal weapon of unholy war wielded by the forces of militant secularism, which are intent upon destroying the Judeo-Christian basis of western morality.

It supplants traditional morality and the concepts of right and wrong, truth and lies by a creed which says in effect, ‘Whatever is right for you is right’.

It also seeks to replace patriotism and service to one’s country by serving ‘the community’. This is yet another slippery concept, which today can simply amount to membership of just such an interest group, which is in the business of elbowing out other interest groups in the greedy clamour for entitlements.

So the new Guiding promise is all about being true to me, myself and my beliefs, whatever they may happen to be. It represents the antithesis of duty to others. It says, more or less, ‘I promise to serve myself’.

It is a promise for a narcissistic, self-centred and morally vacuous age.

And now we can see also that it is about brutally trampling underfoot the beliefs of others. Pinch yourself: this is the Girl Guides we are talking about, for heaven’s sake!

They have now managed to embody the aggressive secularism and hyper-individualism that the retiring Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, talked about yesterday when he told BBC Radio’s Sunday Programme that British society was losing the plot.

As he said, religious faith underpins the existence of trust. When religion breaks down, trust breaks down. When society becomes secularised, the collapse of trust and the rise of individualism mean the breakdown of social institutions such as the family.

Worse than that, by replacing God with an ideology which brooks no dissent, individualism is a mechanism for illiberalism and even tyranny as these groups get their way through tactics of insult, professional ostracism or outright banning.

Now, though, some Christians are fighting back. Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, said that he hoped many others would join the rebellion by the Harrogate Guide groups.

And now some churches are saying they will deny the Guides the use of church halls, which hitherto hundreds of their groups have used for free.

As the Rev Paul Williamson, vicar of St George’s church in Feltham, west London, has said, it would be hypocritical of the Guides to expect to use the church’s premises after abandoning its core beliefs.

That’s the spirit! Such responses show that, faced with the kind of secular intolerance that is now in danger of pushing Christianity to the very margins of society, the Church is not altogether on its knees.

Churches should deny the Guides use of their premises. Guide groups should offer the old promise, and people should refuse to join those that do not.

Only through such mass resistance will the secular zealots who have hijacked the Girl Guides be faced down, and a great institution be restored to the defence of a decent society, rather than hastening its demise.

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Dance for the pleasure of The Avatars of Vishnu

Although I am from England and grew up as a Christian, I was always interested in Vishnu. When I became a Vaishnava I learned more about Vishnu from the scriptures. I have also raised my children on the same path. Here is a dramatic dance by my daughters Jahnavi and Tulasi, with Jaya Krishna Das. It describes the avatars of Lord Vishnu according to the early mediaeval song written by Jayadeva Goswami. You will hear me singing the song in the background.


The Ten Avatars of Vishnu


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Sampradaya and Parampara: Sweet as a Stick of Rock

A curious confection: The British ‘Stick of Rock’ is made entirely of pink and white coloured sugar and has the name of the seaside town where it is sold running all the way through it. No matter where you slice it, or suck it, you’ll always get the same name, the same sweet taste. So it is with the Vaishnava tradition. The sampradaya is sweet all the way through as is the Name of God. And the stick – the parampara – is the structure that delivers it.


The words sampradaya and parampara are often used interchangeably, as if they conveyed exactly the same meaning. Sampradaya means a school of thought or philosophical conclusion or siddhanta, embodied by a community of orthodox practitioners. Parampara is, quite literally, ‘one after the other’ – an historical chain of spiritual preceptors, each of whom was a legacy-holder for the same path and practice.

Sampradaya refers to what the sincere aspirant may contact in the here and now, how he may be taught the siddhanta in the present day, and locate a current exemplar of the tradition. Whereas parampara refers to how the siddhanta has been transmitted down through the years. It is a chain of illustrious preceptors, each of whom was connected to the previous one, either through accepting the teachings (siksha) or by becoming initiated with a mantra (diksha), or a combination of both. The parampara is a lineage of successive gurus which is established retrospectively, sometimes long after their physical demise. A leading member of the sampradaya – usually the current acarya himself – looks back over the centuries, traces his finger over the spiritual family tree, and concludes: ‘This is how we all got here.’

When we describe a parampara we single out certain persons who have contributed the most in establishing the siddhanta, explaining it to others; defending it from intellectual attack; and leaving behind a body of literature that served best to perpetuate the siddhanta beyond the lifetime of the authors. Yet in choosing some lineage-holders we simultaneously de-select others. They were not unworthy souls, rather, they were great Vaishnavas, each playing their part in supporting, defending and extending the sampradaya in their own time. But others were singled out to have their names as a permanent fixture in the list of the greatest historical contributors.

No devotees living today – including those who initiate disciples – know whether they will be ‘in the parampara,’ although by definition they are already ‘in the sampradaya.’ Of course, for disciples, their own chosen guru is the current representative of the parampara. But if the disciples do not initiate their own disciples then that singular branch of the parampara will terminate at the death of the last disciple.

It may be that the majority of current initiators in the ISKCON branch of the Gaudiya lineage – by this process of discipular termination – will not feature in the parampara 100 years hence, and what to speak of 300 years. They might be collectively featured in some future chronicle as the sincere and determined followers of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada; as those who met him personally and helped him in his mission to establish Gaudiya teachings outside India. But the moving index fingers of historians or acaryas of the far-distant future may pass immediately from Srila Prabhupada to the next major contributor in the chain. Names that are firmly fixed in the minds of all today, written in black ink as it were, may fade to grey or disappear completely, as many thousands throughout history have already done. Those who criticize the ISKCON movement for having what they consider to be less-than-suitable names ‘in the parampara’ should not unduly trouble themselves: time and tide will wash away anyone who is undeserving. And those who are already brilliant will continue to shine.


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Sadness of Delhi Rape Death: Words from a Friend

Words by B.B.Govinda Swami


I read, with sadness, of the death of the young Indian girl who was gang raped in Delhi.

My prayers go to that departed soul, to her family, and to her friend who was also beaten and thrown off the bus.

The present perverted culture of India allows rape and molestation of women to take place anywhere and everywhere in the nation.

I have been shocked in hearing the stories of my female students in Vrindavan;

A western lady told me how while standing in front of Radhe Shyam, her eyes closed in prayer, an Indian man approached her, grasped her breasts, touched her buttocks, and rubbed his hand against her private parts.

A forty-ish year old Indian lady told me how on Sri Krishna Janmastami, an Indian man pushed his genitals onto her as everyone was wedged in the crowd trying to have darshan.

I heard tonight on Indian TV that in one political party alone there are 31 accused rapists.

This tragedy stirs me up.

I wish the Indian youth were savvy enough, and courageous enough, to use the social media in the same way that it has been used over the past few years to bring a change to the status quo.

But I think the Indian youth are too afraid of what their parents and society would say. Rather, they use the social media to ape the degraded materialistic culture.

I wish the Indian old elite would do the right thing, step aside, and allow brains that work to develop a structure for the nation in which all the citizens were equal before the constitution.

Yet … a drastic change would bring no good result if there were no Krishna consciousness, God consciousness.

It has been said that the fish rots from the head down.

The world is rotting, India included.

Maybe India is rotting more … for turning away from its ancient spiritual traditions.

Did you ever visit a country of 1,241,491,960 people where over half of the people perform their toilet activities on the train tracks or the sides of the roads daily?

Urination in public is so socially acceptable?

Where people in towns and villages heap their trash in the middle of the national highways?

The rich build huge mansions, high boundary walls, and dump their garbage outside their walls.

Where sacred rivers have been killed, officially declared dead by the World Health Organisation.

Why? Due to the the unrestricted dumping of pollutants from factories and waste from slaughter houses? All run by greedy materialistic men.

A country where over 100,000 people die on the roads yearly, and where hundreds and thousands are left maimed for life.

Where there is noise everywhere, plastic everywhere, smoke and smog everywhere.

And to get the most simple deed accomplished you must give a gift?

As Prabhupada sat and wrote in his rooms at Radha Damodar, he stated that what we are seeing today is simply the burnt remnants of India’s great tradition of culture.

That was 50 years ago.

Yes, a revolution is needed. But, it should be a revolution of consciousness. Krishna consciousness, God consciousness.

These situations make me think, “if I were young I would join a revolution and pull down the rotten machine.”

Now, alas, I am too old to sling stones and could never tolerate gunfire.

But then, when I was young, I did join a revolution. And I am still a small part of it, and I am still trying to pull.

bharata-bhumite hoila manusya janma yara
janma sarthaka kari karo para-upakära

This is Caitanya Mahaprabhu’s mission, para-upakara.

His mission is to be very merciful to all people.

So, I will continue in the revolution of Srila Prabhupada and Caitanya Mahaprabhu.

I will continually try to assist my master to change the degraded consciousness of the world.

Please everyone, take the holy names, study the message of Bhagavad Gita, worship Sri Krishna.

By these activities, the degraded material consciousness of this world will change.

One poet said, “I’m starting with the man in the mirror.”

Another small Indian man said, “Be the change that you want to see in the world.”

Together …. Let’s make that change.

Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare


Filed under India, News Commentary

New Anti-Smoking Ad Campaign

Interesting to see that yet another hard-hitting anti-smoking ad campaign is about to be released here in Britain. Although there’s been drastic changes here in the past ten years, there are still so many smokers who cannot conceive of the devastating cancer that lies ahead for them.

In my childhood – in the 1950s and 1960s – just about everyone smoked – and they smoked everywhere. My local cinema was so smoky you had to look through a fug to actually see the screen. Trains, buses, restaurants, pubs and clubs, schools and even in doctor’s surgeries. The doctor might even be smoking when you went to see him!

Now things have changed, and I am stunned that things have changed so much in a relatively short space of time. Now if you want to smoke you have to leave the public building you’re in and stand out in the street,no matter what the weather. But despite this, the intelligent, thoughtful, health-loving British public just doesn’t get it: smoking kills. And its not propaganda.

There are still 8 million smokers in this country; that’s one in every five adults. Last year 800,000 tried to give it up completely, and half of them were successful. That’s great news.

But half of all smokers – that’s 4 million in this country – will go on to die from smoking-related diseases. That’s a crying shame. And in a country where health is paid for from public taxation – not by the insurance company or by the person who is ill – that places a significant drain on public finances. 4 million people needing expensive cancer care is very expensive. Its also wrong if people who made a decision not to smoke are indirectly forced to pay for the healthcare of those that do. And with the financial recession there’s less money to pay for sick people.

Maybe that’s why the government in the UK is working hard to discourage smoking. At least they’re paying £2.5 million for this new campaign that starts soon. But with total tobacco revenue standing currently at £12 billion it would seem that they’re not trying all that hard.

Here’s the new campaign:

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Aspects of a Successful Parampara


When one thousand people in the United States were asked the question: “What factors brought you to your present religious belief and membership of your current religious community?” the overwhelming majority, 85%, responded that ‘my friend got me interested,’ or ‘my friend was already involved,’ or ‘I went along to the meetings with friends.’ The findings of this survey suggest that a prime influence in religious self-identification (other than deeply-held personal conviction) is our circle of friends; and what we believe then influences our subsequent choices of friends. The committed relationships we maintain with our circle of friends also seem to be a key ingredient in the expansion, socialisation and sustainability of a religious community.

There will always be highly motivated, self-starting, lone seekers of spiritual wisdom. After a mystical experience, or a deeply heart-warming reading of an ancient text, and armed with only their own initial inspiration, they’ll search out a spiritual practitioner who can share his or her wisdom. They may even join a small, very dedicated, band of austere followers. In India it was formerly quite common for a guru to impart rahasya-vidya, secret teachings, to a handful of such disciples, sometimes only one or two. Those disciples would then pass on the secret mantras and tantras to another two disciples. Over the generations this would form a small and exclusive parampara; perfectly valid and intact, but not one that would have any far-reaching social consequences.

The paramparas associated with the Vaishnava community are, in contrast, dedicated to widespread dissemination of knowledge and practice. They are based upon the compassionate uplifting of humanity with the message of the most merciful incarnations and messengers of God. As such, the mantra – at least the particular parampara’s ‘great mantra’ – is distributed to all comers, irrespective of any material or social consideration. It is this friendship to all – the creation of lines of friendship so important to the socialisation of a religious message – that guarantees the widespread popularity of Vaishnavism and its endurance across the centuries.

Although a parampara is simply the handing down of knowledge from teacher to student – guru to sisya – it also generates a parallel manifestation due to its reaching out in friendship to others: a self-perpetuating community of spiritual friends that forms a distinct social grouping, steadily growing down through many centuries.

The authentic teachings of Vaishnavism in written form have become essential in perpetuating a parampara. For this reason modern-day Vaishnavas of ISKCON have digitized the founder-acarya’s teachings, audio recordings and visual images, and provided bomb-proof, museum-level archives for the original materials. Without preservation of the original teachings there would inevitably be philosophical divergence at some point in the future, threatening the perpetuation of the parampara.

But the other elements that serve to sustain a parampara are those that were amply demonstrated by the acarya himself. Firstly, the personal appearances: individual teaching and lecturing – upadesha and upanyasa – with guidance, correction, encouragement, and enthusiasm given to disciples by a living preceptor. Second, the formation of branches of the community, physical places where, in a dedicated environment, followers may gather together for prayer, meditation, worship and discussions. Third, the utter dedication to reaching out to others in a spirit of friendship: free hot meals of sacred food, theatre and colourful festivals, singing processions and sales of philosophical books in accessible language. It is difficult to imagine the present success of ISKCON without these components so generously arranged by the founder.

The sustainability of the parampara would thus seem to be best guaranteed by the preservation of the teaching; the living presence of the exemplars of the teaching; the proliferation of physical spaces where the practices of spirituality can prosper, and the spirit of reaching out to others. And of course, if everyone can remain friends then success is assured.


Filed under Community, Guru-Disciple, Hinduism, Religion, Small Groups

Guru and Disciple: New questions are the same as the old ones

I often get asked questions by people who are looking for a guru: “What sort of teacher should I be looking for?” is shortly followed by: “And where do I begin looking for someone like that?”

After they’ve thought a few moments the next question is: “What sort of things do I have to do before I can become someone’s student?” “What happens if I don’t quite measure up?”

Some time later the questions are more about what will happen after they become initiated: “What is he supposed to teach me?” “How do I know if he’s teaching me the right things?”

Lots of questions but, strangely enough, the same questions that people have been asking for a long time. Proof of this is that way back in the 14th century a great spiritual teacher named Vedanta Deshika gave answers to these questions in a short book  - Nyasa Vimsati. The answers proved so popular and correct that Gopala Bhatta Goswami included them in his handbook of devotional practise, standard for Gaudiya Vaishnavas for the last 500 years.

This is one post for those who like lists! (But worth the effort of reading it)

Fourteen Qualities of the Guru

Taken from the Nyasa Vimsati by Vedanta Deshika (1268-1370)

As included in the Hari Bhakti Vilasa by Gopala Bhatta Goswami (1503-1578)

  1. Sat-sampradaya siddham – He is firmly established in the sampradaya
  2. Sthira dhiyam – His mind remains firmly fixed, even in debates based on deceitful reasoning
  3. Anagam – Free from sin, and never swerves from shastra
  4. Srotriyam – Fully conversant with the Vedas and Vedanta
  5. Brahma nistham – He has resolute devotion to God, free from blemishes
  6. Sattvastham – Dominated by sattva guna
  7. Satya vacam – Free from deceitful speech, he always tells the truth
  8. Samaya niyataya sadu vritya sametam – Adept at anushtanams (prayers and religious practices).
  9. Dambha asuyadhi muktam – No inauspicious characteristics such as egoism or jealousy
  10. Jita visayi ganam – Does not engage in conduct prohibited by the Bhagavat shastras. Has controlled senses
  11. Dirgha bandhum – He is a friend and guide for all those who have sought his  refuge, always seeking their welfare, and lifting them up  to the ultimate destination
  12. Dayalum – Has spontaneous compassion and kindness for his disciples
  13. Skhalite sasitaram – Corrects his disciples and recommends improving actions for  them
  14. Svapara hitaparam – Determines what is mutually good for him and his sisya (disciple) and acts accordingly

Fifteen Qualities of the Good Disciple

  1. Sadh buddhi – Good intelligence
  2. Sadhu sevi – He has the disposition to mingle with, and serve, the sadhus
  3. Samucita carita – He is marked for his righteous conduct, both personal and social
  4. Tattva bodha abhilasi – Has an eagerness to learn spiritual teaching
  5. Susrusu – He excels in helping the guru in his seva
  6. Tyakta mana – He has become humble or at least free from the gross manifestations of pride
  7. Pranipatena para – He has implicit obedience to the guru and bows down in his presence
  8. Prasna kala pratiksa – He waits for the right time to clear his doubts about what he has learned from the acarya
  9. Santa – He is peaceful and self-controlled
  10. Danta – Controls both his mind and speech
  11. Anasuya – Free from jealousy
  12. Saranam upagata – Always eager to hear ‘instructions of divine grace’ from his guru
  13. Sastra visvas Sali – Has total faith in shastra
  14. Paristam prapta – Ready to undergo any tests set by the guru for assessing his state of preparedness to be accepted as a deserving disciple
  15. Krita-vid sisya – He will be a grateful disciple for all that is to be received from the acarya.

Vedanta Deshika concludes: “Tattvata – abhimatam sikshaniya.” (Truly, such a person with these qualities is fit for instruction by the acarya).

Four Key Instructions the Guru must teach the Disciple

  1. The creation, sustenance and dissolution of everything that is animate and inanimate are under the total control of the Lord and His consort. We have to comprehend the Lord as:

(a)    Jagat Karanan – The Creator of all

(b)   Jagat Rakshakan – The Protector of all

(c)    Sarva Samharakan – The Destroyer of all Creations

(d)   Karma Pravrtti Niyamakan – The Commander of all acts initiated by the soul

(e)   Sarva Karma Phala Dhayakan – The Granter of the fruits of all karmas

2. Understanding this unique role of the Lord, please do not consider anyone else as your goal.

3. Do not seek anyone other than Him as a means to reach Him.

4. Knowing that both fear and fearlessness about samsara arises from Him, please do not break His commands in shastra.


Filed under Guru-Disciple, Journal