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Thoughts on Shambo the bull, and other sacred animals

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It seems like everyone wants to read about Shambo the bull. My blog visitor numbers have never been so high. Even at the London Rathayatra festival on Sunday, people were asking us: “Is this a protest march for Shambo?”

The story of Shambo the bull is of course a sad tale. Despite last minute sea changes in the legal decisions, and despite much public sympathy, 20,000 signatures and a hundred sitting in protest at the temple in Wales, Shambo was ultimately taken away to be killed.

His plight, and the plight of those trying to save his life, was not really sympathised with by certain journalists. Reading the situation as being one of sentimental monks fretting about their pet bull, they castigated them for not seeing the relative importance of a ‘pet animal’ when compared to the health of other cows or indeed of humans who might catch TB.

Other writers, catching the fundamentalist fatigue in the British public, noted that here was another case where one groups eccentric religious laws were meant to be pandered to at the expense of us all. Other farmers have had their herds culled due to TB infection, and many other farmers lost their entire herd to foot and mouth disease within recent years. They were also troubled by their loss but ultimately had to do the decent thing and surrender them for slaughter. Why so much fuss about one “sacred” bull?

They’re missing the point. Shambo was sacred not because he was a bull living in a temple. And he was not sacred because some Hindu monks had designated him as such. And he was not sacred because he was a Hindu bull. As bulls go, Shambo was no more or less sacred than any other bull happily grazing in any field.

All bulls, cows, and indeed all life, is worthy of our reverence and protection. The world’s oldest scripture calls upon us to see a spark of the Divine in all beings, and especially in those animals which have been designated by God to provide for our existence in some way. Through them, we come to see our connection to the Divine and how we are cared for. The Skanda Vale temple just happened to be one of the few places in the country where this approach to the sanctity of life was honoured and practised. And Shambo – for a few brief years – just happened to be on the receiving end of such vision and generosity.

Perhaps we have all participated in bringing about the natural catastrophes that now threaten farmers everywhere. Incessant demand for meat and increased milk yield have turned our four-legged mothers and fathers into walking bags of hormones and antibiotics. Who knows what natural bovine immunities become extinct after generations of this treatment?

Ultimately the Vedas explain that ahimsa or non-violence is the path that human beings are meant to tread if they wish to make progress on the upward path. The repercussions of this choice will restore nobility to our increasingly violent society and safeguard us all. And non-violence begins with our tongue; not hurting others with our words, and not hurting others with our choice of food.

This was written a few centuries ago by Thiruvalluvar, an Indian poet, in his book Thirukural or Sacred Couplets :

How can he practice true compassion
who eats the flesh of an animal to fatten his own flesh?

Riches cannot be found in the hands of the thriftless,
nor can compassion be found in the hearts of those who eat meat.

He who feasts on a creature’s flesh is like he who wields a weapon. Goodness is never one with the minds of these two.

If you ask, “What is kindness and what is unkindness?”
It is not-killing and killing. Thus, eating flesh is never virtuous.

Life is perpetuated by not eating meat.
The jaws of Hell close on those who do.

If the world did not purchase and consume meat,
no one would slaughter and offer meat for sale.

When a man realizes that meat is the butchered flesh
of another creature, he will abstain from eating it.

Insightful souls who have abandoned the passion to hurt others will not feed on flesh that life has abandoned.

Greater than a thousand ghee offerings consumed in sacrificial fires is to not sacrifice and consume any living creature.

All life will press palms together in prayerful adoration
of those who refuse to slaughter or savour meat.

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Helping people up the ‘Ladder of Ideas’

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A member of our congregation recently asked me how to communicate the basic ideas of Krishna consciousness to an newly interested person. I replied that Srila Prabhupada showed us many ways to talk to new people, but that I felt it was important to have a number of ideas with logical connections between them. “Get them nodding from the beginning,” I told him. “You need ideas with which a thoughtful, spiritually-minded person can agree. Get them agreeing with five easy ideas before you introduce any difficult ideas. Most importantly, they should be ideas that you can memorise, in the right order, and recall immediately.”

I call my list of points my ‘ladder of ideas’ with each point being a rung on the ladder. I try to avoid having anyone jump up more than rung at once. I have slightly different ladders for different folks. Perhaps readers can send me their own favourite ‘ladder of ideas?’

Here’s one I used recently which spanned maybe three conversations with the new person:

1. The biological senses are insufficient to understand the universe, what to speak of its origin.

2. Vedas are one source of information. Why not at least hypothetically have them as a reference point?

3. What do they say? That there is matter and spirit. The body is matter and soul is spirit.

4. Spirit survives the experience known as death – therefore we survive death.

5. Which means we were also there before the experience known as birth.

6. Reincarnation takes place.

7. According to the level of consciousness and the accumulated reactions from all actions, the spirit acquires a new body.

8. This repeated birth and death, and the suffering and frustration which accompanies it, is possible to escape through a process known as yoga.

9. There are many different forms of Yoga, designed for different levels of human capability. Mantra meditation is powerful for the present age. The Hare Krishna mantra is the recommended mantra.

10. There are recommended disciplines to accompany the Yoga practices, just like diet goes with medicine if you want to return to full health.

11. These disciplines are non-sectarian and you will find them embedded in all spiritual paths and recommended by all saintly teachers.

12. The spiritual principles of mercy, truth, cleanliness and austerity can be introduced into one’s life by these four cardinal disciplines. When your personal choices in life become informed by your recognition of the value of these disciplines, you introduce powerful enhancement for your spiritual path.

13. There are three levels of progressive revelation of the divine: Brahman – the divine white light, Paramatma – the indwelling universal soul and observer, Bhagavan – the original and supreme personal intelligence behind all existence.

14. We are all related to Krishna and we can experience our unique relationship with Him as we walk the path of liberation.

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British rain stops for London Rathayatra

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Today has been the London Rathayatra. The sun shone pleasantly, and with just a little cooling breeze, a river of Vaishnavas flowed down Piccadilly Street, Piccadilly Circus, Haymarket then flooded into Trafalgar Square. I am always delighted each year when I now habitually pause at the Ritz Hotel to gaze at the thousands of happy faces stretched out for almost a mile. Hands are raised in blissful dance and at least four kirtans echo off the high buildings.

Dozens of brightly coloured, red, blue, green and yellow awnings set up amidst the fountains of the famous Square played host to devotees attracting tourists and fellow devotees to Krishna in a variety of ways. There’s a Musical Mantra Meditation stall, a Japa booth, Vedic Science, the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust from Sweden displaying their books in many languages; the main stage with the steps to the National Gallery forming a perfect amphitheatre; each of them was busy all day as Trafalgar Square was thronged with a sea of faces.

Our congregationally-run “Questions and Answers” tent has been a real team effort today. Dave Edwards organised the rota and brought the cloths and decorations, Marianne was first at the stall while the procession was on, then Gail, Mandi, Sejal, Dipti, Chris, Alan, Justin, Lisa, Tribhangananda, myself and many more manned the stall during the day. Our pleasant task was simply to ask everyone whether they were adequately ‘connected’ to the Vaishnava network and, if not, to suggest ways in which they might take advantage of our services.

We explained about ISKCON membership and the benefits we send out; our various groups dotted around the country; and other festivals and events they could attend. Although we have many functioning groups there are hundreds of other devotees who are missing out on information, knowledge, good association and many experiences of Vaishnava life. Congregational development means to try to ensure that our organisation caters for those who wish to have our services. Many people gave us their personal details to stay in touch after the festival.

I met many interested people, quite a few of them fresh to Krishna, there in the Square simply because they’d always heard about the devotees but saw an advertisement in a paper for musicians. I met Amanda and Jane, two young women who’d been to Goa, got interested in Hinduism and now wanted to pursue their interest. I also met John, a musician from the Scissor Sisters band, and I also met many, many old friends who, concerned about my health, asked me: “How are you?”

Best of all was that the numbers who turned out for Rathayatra were not disappointed in their desire for a big Vaishnava day out – and that in a month which has seen the worst British weather for many years, it didn’t rain once!

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The ‘Stuffy’ man who saved England

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Lord Dowding. The course of the war in Europe was changed by this non-smoking, non-drinking vegetarian who believed in reincarnation.

I live quite close to the north London borough of Stanmore. There’s an old estate there known as Bentley Priory which has been a base for the Royal Air Force since World War Two. The place is closing today as a functioning RAF base.

During the Battle of Britain, the first ever battle fought entirely in the sky, Bentley Priory was the very nerve centre of operations. Britain had invented the electronic miracle of Radar which allowed observers to know just how many enemy aircraft were approaching, from which direction and how fast. All the information from all the observation posts around the country was telephoned here, and it was from here that the various squadrons of Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft were alerted.

Chief of it all, and the brains behind what in those days was the most advanced electronic operation in the world, was Air Chief Marshal Lord Dowding. When I was a child my father would explain just how grateful we should be to Lord Dowding because he had saved ‘England in its darkest hour’ so he was something of a family hero. Dowding was someone who, if he’d lived to meet a Vaishnava, would probably have joined ISKCON and risen rapidly through the ranks. He followed our ‘four regulative principles’ even though to do so amongst fighting men brought him much derision. He was consequently known as ‘Stuffy’ for not joining in the normal merry-making. His vegetarianism was seen as particularly odd.

Lord Dowding was concerned for the welfare of all the young pilots, many as young as nineteen, who were sometimes two or three times daily taking off to do battle with the enemy in the skies over England. He knew that his decisions to send them up often meant the premature end of their young lives. He thought of himself as a mother hen and the pilots as his ‘chicks.’

He began to vividly see those young pilots after their deaths. They would appear in his room at Bentley Priory. As a result he believed that the soul lived on after death.

Yet his mistake was communicating this belief to others. In addition to thinking that he was odd for his disciplined personal habits, those surrounding him began to think that he was slightly losing his mind.

Although he saved his country from invasion, and did it with very little manpower and resources; and though he took risks that others considered foolish, his reward after the War was an inferior overseas posting. He never fully got the recognition he truly deserved.

Some of Dowding’s officers from Bentley Priory were accommodated in a large local house known as Piggott’s Manor. Here they would rest, eat and sleep and talk about that days fighting up in the clouds. Many years later Piggotts Manor was purchased by a young musician who invited his friends to come and live there. His friends named the place Bhaktivedanta Manor in honour of their spiritual teacher.

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Saving an African child’s life – with cow dung

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Srila Prabhupada consistently stressed how important it is to understand the gifts of nature and of God’s plan for humans – who would think that cow-dung is an important part of it all?

Today I learned of how a small amount of traditional guidance saved the lives of many children in Africa. It was a fascinating story told to me by a visiting old friend and I thought I’d share it with you.

Vidura das, an Irish devotee of Krishna, lived in Kisumu, Kenya for many years. He and his African wife Esther set up a large-scale food distribution programme for needy people. And in northern Kenya there were plenty of needy people. What concerned him most was that there were many children who died young. “We discovered that the very area where we were living had the highest infant mortality rate in the world,” he explained.

To distribute food as a religious act, and yet to watch parents grieve over their dead children was an intolerable situation for a compassionate devotee like Vidura, so he started to ask questions around the area. Dirty drinking water was the obvious culprit, but when he enquired of the mothers why they did not boil the water they replied that they did not have the money to buy charcoal, the commonly used fuel.

Remembering that the guru of the Hare Krishna movement had always praised the cow for providing, amongst many other gifts, the sustainable fuel of dung, he explained to the women that Indians have for centuries mixed dung with straw and dried it to create an everlasting supply of good quality fuel. But the local Africans needed to be encouraged to refrain from slaughtering their cows if they were going to create a sustainable fuel source. They also had to overcome the prejudice – given to their tribe decades ago by Christian missionaries – that dung was dirty and never to be touched.

After some period of encouragement, mainly to women who already trusted him as ‘Father Vidura,’ some families complied followed by many more. “Eventually health workers were coming up from Nairobi to see why children in our area were living longer than children throughout Kenya,” Vidura said. The project was an overwhelming success, and received endorsement by the tribal patriarchs, who, as children, remembered their mothers talking of cow-dung as fuel in their village but who had switched to the more expensive wood after the missionaries had persuaded them to change. It was only a small change to revert back to a more traditional fuel – and dung has to be the cheapest and most abundant thing in the world – but it made a world of difference.

Vidura went on to introduce the spinning wheel and the loom, and is now in dialogue with President Musoveni of Uganda to introduce hemp as a major crop for the villagers who live around Lake Victoria.

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How Ireland became invisible

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Here is a map of the British Isles. You can see England, Wales and Scotland – known collectively as Great Britain – on the right hand side, and Ireland on the left hand side. Ireland is the small island off the coast of Great Britain.

This is the map of the British Isles I grew up with. And this is the view that children growing up in Ireland would have seen if they’d watched the BBC television weather forecast any evening during the 1950s and 60s. The British weather presenter would stand up against a map like this one, all covered in lines and symbols to indicate the ‘ridges of high pressure’ and the ‘isobars’ and tell us what the weather was going to be the next day.
Ireland was much bigger physically of course, but because most of it was Eire, the independent Republic, the British didn’t show it on the television weather map. They simply showed blue water everywhere south of Northern Ireland. It was as if Eire didn’t exist. The political identity was a more important reality and the physical existence simply disappeared.

Hence a generation of Irish children became confused, thinking that their nation was a small piece of land. Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, Limerick and Galway were all nowhere to be seen – all under the deep blue sea.

The BBC corrected their presentation later on, but still managed to diminish the importance of Eire through a carefully contrived map and shoulder position (see picture)

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Vaishnava teachings – Krishna consciousness – calls upon us to correct our vision of reality by understanding what we are deliberately obscuring. The fact is that we often only see what we ourselves choose to see; or what more powerful forces want us to see.

Krishna is real. In fact He is the most real, being the very foundation of reality itself. Yet maya, the illusory power under whose influence we experience and move, causes us to be conscious of only a small portion of reality.

But just as Irish children came to understand, through correct information, that their nation was much bigger than they’d been allowed to believe, so through a process of correct information and re-training our vision, we can gradually come to experience reality as it is.

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Scripture, the greatest revolution

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A leaf from the Dead Sea Scrolls. I finally get to see them…

I saw a fragment from the Dead Sea Scrolls today. I have always found these ancient texts intriguing and was happy to finally have a chance to inspect a portion of them. I suppose that growing up in the 60s and 70s while there was a restriction on public access to the scrolls made me want to see them even more. Of course, today I only got to see a fragment displayed behind thick glass in the British Library’s low-lit exhibition, but still, it was rewarding after such a long wait.

The scrolls are the writings from a group known as the Essenes who lived by the Dead Sea in Israel many years before the birth of Christ. They lived by a strict code of discipline and had a philosophy that was at variance from the standard Jewish teachings of the time. They lived at some distance from Jerusalem and were later persecuted. Before their scrolls were destroyed they placed them in clay jars and hid them in nearby caves on a somewhat inaccessible cliff. The desert climate and the atmosphere in the caves kept them all remarkably well preserved until they were discovered by a shepherd boy in 1947.

For many years Christian scholars kept them away from the public and gave many excuses as to why they could not be displayed. The Church found the contents of the scrolls very disconcerting. On the one hand the Biblical Book of Jeremiah was found and proved to be one of the earliest texts of its kind. On the other hand, they found that many of the sayings of Jesus were already in existence even before he had uttered them. Since Christianity is based on the unique contribution of Christ and his beautiful parables, it came as a great blow to many Christian scholars that Jesus was speaking the words of a Jewish sect that pre-dated him.

As Vaishnavas, we do not find it troubling that a great saint speaks words written years before him, in fact we only fully credit him as a saint if he speaks in this way. His unique contribution is that he manages to preserve the essence of the teachings, not that he produces something new. Yet the message of Christ has always been seen as a particularly new revelation precisely because it was in distinct contrast to anything that had been spoken before. How could Christ be the unique son of God if many others had already spoken the same thing before him? For this reason there was great reluctance to publish the contents of the scrolls, and certainly immense resistance to the French Catholic group of scholars giving them for wider scrutiny. But eventually they did, and the place of Christ within a Jewish historical setting was confirmed.

The controversial history of getting God’s message down in writing and out to the public has always been fraught with difficulty and has been one of high drama right through the centuries. Saints wrote to help others, and if their message was controversial and challenging, those in power tried to stop them. Translations from an elite script into a common language often disturbed the powerful, and when printing was invented the events became even more dramatic. Many faithful people were viciously persecuted and killed as the collection of books known as the Bible were translated from Hebrew to Greek, to Latin and then to German and English. The Jews were defeated in battle, their Hebrew scriptures destroyed and their people and culture dispersed throughout the world. In our own Vaishnava tradition, Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakur was ordered to be murdered because he was translating from Sanskrit into Bengali for the common people. He escaped his would-be killers and we are all the beneficaries of his writing today. And yet the struggle goes on. In more recent times our devotees in Soviet Russia have been imprisoned, tortured and killed for having ‘seditious’ books and they have resorted to copying out texts in handwriting. All this makes written or printed scripture the most revolutionary, world-changing type of literature.

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Tyndale’s English translation of the Bible. Possession of this could get you burned at the stake back in 1537

In the current exhibition at the British Library there are sacred writings of three faiths, Christianity, Juadaism and Islam. There were fragments from the Codex Sinaiticus, written in the fourth century in Egypt and one of two earliest Bibles in the world; a Bible in Syriac from 463; and an illuminated Lindisfarne Gospel page from Northumberland, England around 700.

As you may imagine from my obvious enthusiasm, I like religious books, particularly from those periods when great changes in society were brought about by a religious message. I imagine the saint writing on the papyrus or leaf all those centuries ago, and marvel at what motivated them and whether they knew what a transformation they would bring about with their handwriting.

I have a very modest collection of old texts in my home, some handwriting and some print. The earliest is a leaf from an illuminated manuscript prayer book page from 1250. There is a page of one of the first printed Bibles from 1496, a Geneva Bible page from 1558, and of course a King James of 1613. I also have on display a 500 year-old Torah section in Hebrew.

My main excitement in life, however, has to have been present at one of the most spiritually transformative periods in history. When I first met the devotees in 1974 and they described how Srila Prabhupada was at that very moment translating the Srimad Bhagavatam from the original Sanskrit into English for the very first time, and that they were printing his writings, and that I could personally help this great saint to bring about a spiritual revolution in society, I was hooked. I felt immensely privileged just to be able to help someone as great as him in such an historical mission. And when I sat in front of Srila Prabhupada with other young book distributors and he looked at us and said: “Thank you for helping me” I felt that my heart would burst out of my chest.

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Srila Rupa Goswami (1489-1564) wrote many revolutionary books in Sanskrit

I felt that same sense of history when in 1976 I was on a street in Liverpool and opened a box of newly translated and published Nectar of Instruction. The cover bore a painting of the saint Srila Rupa Goswami writing the original in mediaeval Vrindavan. Somehow, I felt a connection through Srila Prabhupada, right down through the years to this great Vaishnava; that I was able to help him in his mission to uplift the lives of millions of people. I felt his blessings that day, and especially at the end of the day when the box was empty!

My own contribution to the spiritual literature revolution – apart from selling the books – has been meager but not without some reward. In Africa I was able to assist in the publication of two local language books; the Sri Isopanishad in Swahili and The Teachings of Prahlada Maharaja in the language of Ethiopia, Amharic.

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The Ethiopian language of Amharic. You can now read about Prahlada and Lord Nrsimhadeva in this language.

Srila Prabhupada’s words are in around 100 languages now, giving many new souls the chance to taste the happiness of Krishna consciousness. Perhaps my contribution to rendering his teachings in different languages is not yet over – he said that we must ‘deliver your countrymen’ so, being born in Wales I would like to see Srila Prabhupada’s words in Welsh within the next year.

I would like to use this blog to invite all readers to take their place in history and join in the spiritual revolution. Please buy some bulk copies of Srila Prabhupada’s books and distribute them locally. You will change someone’s life.

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God is Great

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Stephen Hawking may not believe in God, but without religion as the moral and ethical basis of society would he still be alive?

Recently I was asked by Ben Davies, editor of The New Statesman magazine, to contribute to the online debate surrounding the new book God is Not Great. The book is yet another which preys on the commonly held fear that strongly held religious beliefs inevitably lead to terrorism. Although the book creates a feeble strawman stereotype of religion as anti-intellectual tribalist fundamentalism and proceeds to then knock that strawman over, the author, Christopher Hitchens, fails to recognise what sort of society we would all be living in if, as he suggests, our religious and moral underpinning was done away with in favour of a purely science-based system of ethics.

Srila Prabhupada consistently spoke out against the modern misconceptions of scientists and philosophers when they made speculative pronouncements about God and religion. He knew that the intrinsic faith of people can be eroded by atheism, especially when that atheism is made to appear rational. Vaishnavas are not alone in pointing out logical flaws in the materialistic worldview and I therefore hope my readers won’t mind if I share this piece with them. Its by a Jewish radio show host, a rabbi who lived, and debated, for ten years in Oxford. Voted Preacher of the Year by the Times, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach wrote this piece for the Jerusalem Post a few days ago.

God is greater than Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens’s rancorous attack against religion, God Is Not Great, is
the number-one book in America. Three years ago he and I debated religion in
New York City . I looked forward to the debate because I had always admired Hitchens’s iconoclastic mind and barbed pen.

In our debate, he did not disappoint. He began with a typically acerbic attack
against religion, saying that Stephen Hawking had more wisdom in his tiny
little finger than all the pages of the Bible combined.

When my turn came, I responded that the great, wheelchair-bound physicist was
fortunate that religion rather than evolution had influenced British morality.
I had hosted Hawking at Oxford for a lecture a few years earlier, and found him
to be a man who loved babies. Our daughter Rochel Leah had just been born, and
Hawking insisted on holding her in his withered arms by having his wife wrap
them around the infant.

He is a very incapacitated man, and some evolutionary biologists maintain that
a life like his should never have been preserved in the first place.

Whereas the Bible establishes the infinite value of every human life, healthy
or diseased, no less an authority than Francis Crick, Nobel laureate and
co-discoverer of DNA, suggested that babies should be considered alive only two
days after birth, during which time they could be examined for defects. If
defects were found that were sufficiently deleterious, the infant could
presumably be eliminated with impunity because it had not yet become alive.

Similarly, Crick proposed redefining death as occurring at a predetermined age
such as 80 or 85, at which time the person would automatically be declared dead
and all his property pass on to his heirs.

THANKFULLY for Prof. Hawking, the society he lived in embraced biblical
morality and rejected the establishment of survival of the fittest as a moral
principle. Prof. Hawking is not the fittest, but that does not mean he should
not have been given the medical care by which he survives.

And for all his own brilliance, this is where Hitchens goes seriously astray.
Without the Bible, how would we even know what good and evil are? Through
science? Like the idea of Prof. Bently Glass, who suggested that the notions of
good and evil be completely divorced from their moral connotations and
redefined as what is good or bad for the development of a species? Would we
then justify the elimination of carriers of disease or the mentally defective,
the interbreeding of which might be “bad” for the health of the species?

Hitler used this very argument as the rationale for his program of euthanasia
for the mentally infirm, saying, “In nature there is no pity for the lesser
creatures when they are destroyed so that the fittest may survive. Going
against nature brings ruin to man… and is a sin against the will of the
eternal Creator. It is only Jewish impudence to demand that we overcome
nature.”

In his book, Hitchens mocks the Ten Commandments. Didn’t the ancient Israelites
already know that thievery and murder were wrong? Quite right. Mankind would
have easily legislated much of the morality contained in the Bible even without
God.

But then the whole point of the Ten Commandments is the establishment of
absolute, divine morality. These are not laws legislated by man and subject,
therefore, to human tampering. They are the absolute rules that dare never be
changed – at any time, at any place, under any circumstances.

Hitler also believed in “Do not murder.” But it was his law that had been
legislated, and it was therefore he who determined to whom it applied and to
whom it did not. Indeed, Hitchens overlooks that the world’s foremost genocides
have all been committed by secular, atheistic regimes that maintained the right
to determine which lives were worth preserving, and which worth discarding.

Hitler murdered at least 12 million. Stalin, another 30 million. Mao, perhaps
40 million. And Pol Pot killed one third of all Cambodians in the mid 1970s.
The number of people killed by the secular atheist regimes of the 20th century
dwarfs by far those killed in the name of religion since the beginning of
recorded history.

WITH ITS famous pronouncement that all humans are created in the image of God,
the Bible establishes the absolute equality of all humankind, regardless of
race, gender or ethnicity. Charles Darwin, however, thought differently, “The
more civilized so-called Caucasian races have beaten the Turkish hollow in the
struggle for existence. Looking to the world at no very distant date, what an
endless number of the lower races will have been eliminated by the higher
civilized races throughout the world.”

According to Sir Arthur Keith, Britain’s leading evolutionary scientist of the
mid-20th century, Hitler’s ideas of a master race were the direct product of
evolutionary thinking. Keith wrote:

“To see evolutionary measures and tribal morality being applied vigorously to
the affairs of a great modern nation, we must turn again to Germany of 1942. We
see Hitler devoutly convinced that evolution produced the only real basis for a
national policy… The means he adopted to secure the destiny of his race and
people were organized slaughter… The German Fuhrer, as I have consistently
maintained, is an evolutionist; he has consciously sought to make the practice
of Germany conform to the theory of evolution… war is the necessary outcome
of Darwin’s theory.”

Thomas Huxley, the man most responsible for the widespread acceptance of
evolution, remarked, “No rational man, cognizant of the facts, believes that
the average Negro is the equal, still less the superior, of the white man.” In
fact, after evolutionary theory was posited in 1859, questions of whether
blacks were even of the same species as whites changed to questions of whether
or not Africans could survive competition against Europeans.

The momentous answer was a resounding no. The African was the inferior because
he represented the “missing link” between ape and man, according to the
evolutionists.

So before Hitchens claims, as he does in his subtitle, that Religion Poisons
Everything, he might stop to consider that the only basis for a belief that all
human life is both equal and of infinite value is the Bible that he treads on
with such glee.

The writer’s latest book is Shalom in the Home. He is also author of Moses of
Oxford
, which includes lengthy discussions of his debates on evolution with
Prof. Richard Dawkins at Oxford.

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In Radhadesh for a few days

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Chateau de Petite Somme, Durbuy, Belgium, now the Radhadesh temple and home to the Bhaktivedanta College

This morning I attended a pre-breakfast engagement ceremony in the home-temple of Vivaswan das over in the Edmonton district of north London. Before breakfast is a good time for such religious functions, especially when they conclude with parathas (potato-filled wheat griddle cakes) and jalebis (bright orange and curly sweets). I then drove through the glacial traffic to get to the M25 motorway and on to Heathrow for a flight to Brussels.

I’m over here in Belgium at the Radhadesh temple, an imposing castle now home to a Vaishnava community. I will be teaching a short course on congregational development to a group of our young students attending the Bhaktivedanta College. The students receive credits from the university of Wales at Lampeter for the Vaishnava teachings they learn here. It all goes towards their final BA in Theology. Its very convenient for them to learn while living in a temple. University can play havoc with anyone’s determination for spiritual life, so at least many of the standard allurements for students are not be found here!

There’s also some Sanskrit modules taught, as well as western philosophy and other modules which will add to their competence as a modern devotee of Krishna. My short course comes under the heading of ‘Vocational Skills’ and we will be discussing philosophy, preaching, pastoral skills, and the practical side of creating systems and structures to support our movement’s growing number of members.

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Wedding Enlightenment

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Peter McNulty the English toastmaster. At today’s wedding he told me that he writes Srila Prabhupada’s analogies into his own speeches!

Today I conducted my second wedding of the year. The first was a few weeks ago at a stately home, Goodwood House in Sussex, the former home of the Duke of Richmond, now belonging to Lord Marsh. After everything that’s happened to me over the past few months I have found that some of the intricate ceremony and passages of the Sanskrit have become a little fuzzy. My memory does not appear to be up to standard. Luckily it came back to me today and I found myself to be in good form.

The wedding was held in a hotel on the bank of the River Thames in central London. The second-floor suite for the ceremony had a high 180 degree curved window. The view through the window at one end was of the Houses of Parliament, and at the other end the MI5 building. What an imposing backdrop for a wedding.

The family had invited a toastmaster to be with them for the day. I’d met Peter McNulty before at several other weddings I’d done. He actually reminded me of a couple of stories that I used to tell during my weddings and helped to jog my memory. He said that he regularly repeated my stories at his own speaking engagements and hoped that I didn’t mind. I said of course not, and smiled to think how the stories we tell as devotees and the philosophical points they illustrate might be passing into society without us even knowing. We had a deep talk afterwards about people, happiness, the meaning of life, that sort of thing – and it turned out that during the 1970s he’d been a policeman on Oxford Street and in the West End of London for many years. While his colleagues had all been arresting the Hare Krishnas, he had always liked us and allowed us to continue with our ‘singing and dancing.’

There are many, many people who quietly say: “I like the Hare Krishnas.” They like us for many reasons, but often because Vaishnavas through their words offer a fresh perspective on life. And a wedding is actually a very good opportunity to offer people some enlightening words. At the typical Indian wedding in Britain there are an average of 200-300 guests, most of whom not overly conversant with many aspects of spiritual teaching. There will be many English friends and colleagues of the couple who have never been to an Indian wedding before, and everyone is very attentive due to the nature of the occasion.

In our Vedic scriptures there is much wisdom on life and particularly on married life. As devotees we simply have to choose carefully what to say on each occasion and enlightenment will come as a result. I’m not talking of some notion of mystical nirvana here, just a feeling within our listeners that some clouds have been dispelled and clear vision has been restored.

At a wedding I tend to speak on morality and the sanctity of marriage, then add some Vedanta philosophy at the end. And yes, I do talk of health, happiness, and spirituality in family life. When I repeat these messages to the audience, couples often come up to me afterwards and shake my hand and say: “You know, we just want to thank you and say that we’re glad that someone is speaking about marriage like this. It’s refreshing”

English people are somewhat charmed by the festivity and colour of an Indian wedding. They are fascinated by the deeper meanings hidden in the rituals and without fail they join in with the Sanskrit chanting when I invite them. It is a great sight to see 200 people chanting Swaha! and Jaya! and of course quite significant when they enthusiastically chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra!

And I suppose if you multiply 200 by the number of weddings I’ve conducted – around 400 – you’ll get 80,000 people from all over this country having chanted just once with some degree of enthusiasm. Not my life’s work perhaps, but a nice little extra offering to Krishna. Om Shanti.

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