Found in Sanga, Sanga 2003.

Q. Thank you for the amazing and insightful Sanga: The Eternal Principles of the Bhagavata School. I agree with all your points regarding women and the importance of Bhagavata-dharma over Vedic principles. However, I wonder about the verse in the 12th canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam, the one regarding women becoming prominent in this age of Kali. The Bhagavatam clearly states that women will be more prominent in this age, so I am wondering whether we are to resist this as much as possible or accept that these things will happen and adjust to the inevitable, as you appear to be doing?

A. The 12th canto of the Bhagavatam does not say that women will become prominent. It says, dinah strainah kalau narah: “Men will become fallen and effeminate.” This could be construed to mean that men will come under the control of women, but that has been going on for eternity. At any rate, if women are to become prominent in Kali-yuga, then devotee women will come from this prominent sector and will take prominent spiritual roles in Gaudiya Vaisnavism.

Q. I have a dilemma. My adolescent son took initiation from a well-known Gaudiya acarya but on reflection felt that he had more or less been forced into doing so. I have already written to this guru expressing my feelings as I think such an initiation is not valid given the circumstances. Can you enlighten me on this matter and give me direction?

A. Initiation is two-sided as both the will of the guru and that of the disciple are involved. If your son feels that he was forced into initiation by circumstances and does not want to pursue a relationship as a disciple of a particular guru, he should write to that guru and respectfully state his position. The bond between guru and disciple is one of love, not law.

Q. I have had problems over the last few years with regard to following the regulative principles and have also found it difficult to steadily chant my sixteen rounds. If I get back on the strict path will it still be possible for me to go back to Godhead in this lifetime or considering my negligence will I be forced to take several more births?

A. When one attempts to scale the highest mountain, one must first pass through so many foothills. Thus in the course of going higher it may seem that one is going downward as one goes down the slope of one foothill and approaches the next one. From a distance, however, one can see that even walking the downward slopes involve moving higher. Yes, you can perfect yourself in this life in spite of your perceived shortcomings, but it is also good to remember that the journey is the destination, mama janmani janamisvare bhavatad bhatir ahaituki tvayi. Try and try again. Never leave the chanting of the holy name of Krishna and keep the association of advanced devotees.

Q. Can you please comment on the practice of looking for “signs” from Krishna?

A. Be careful not to let your imagination get the best of you. It is best to listen closely to Krishnaís representative, who is himself a billboard with neon lights pointing out the direction we must go to attain love of Krishna. If you follow Sri Guruís guidance, you will start to see signs that have been mentioned in scripture indicating your progress.

Q. How important is the traditional format of congregational chanting in Gaudiya Vaisnavism (using kartala, mrdanga, and Sanskrit or Bengali language)? Is it just one among other suitable forms of kirtana or is it an indispensable principle of kirtana in the line of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu?

A. Kirtana need not be done in Sanskrit or Bengali to be effective. Within Gaudiya Vaisnavism it is often done in Hindi, Orian, and other Indian dialects. In some places it is also done in other languages such as Russian, Spanish, or English. However, there is much to be gained from performing kirtana in the languages that the songs and especially the mantras were originally composed in, and if one takes the time to learn something of these languages, this is so much more the case. Therefore, I feel that it is important to practice and preserve this type of kirtana as it enriches the tradition, and regarding Bengali, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura said that he wanted the whole world to learn Bengali so they could read Caitanya-caritamrta in its original language.

Q. In Srimad-Bhagavatam there is a sloka about kriya yoga: evam nrinam kriya-yogah sarve samsriti-hetavah ta evatma-vinasaya kalpante kalpitah pare: When all of a persons activities are dedicated to the service of the Lord, those very activities which caused his perpetual bondage become the destroyer of the tree of work. (SB. 1.5.34) I see “kriya-yoga” as my own spiritual way. What is your understanding and vision regarding kriya-yoga?

A. This verse is part of the Narada-Bhagavatam, the speech of Narada to Vyasa in which he explains the gist of Srimad-Bhagavatam. It should be studied in context. While speaking ostensibly about niskama karma yoga, it points to bhakti yoga, and, indeed, this is made clear in Srila Prabhupada’s purport. The stress of the Bhagavad-gita on niskama karma yoga is also indirectly an emphasis on bhakti yoga. The yoga of action (niskama karma yoga or kriya yoga), in which the fruits of one’s endeavors and interests are offered to Krishna, leads to greater affinity for Krishna and exclusive engagement in his seva: sravanam, kirtanam, smaranam, etc.

Q. I have recently started chanting gayatri mantra and would like to know if I can chant gayatri mantra while working or during recreational activities and whether there are any restrictions on women chanting gayatri mantra?

A. Although there are various religious conceptions surrounding the gayatri mantra, Sri Jiva Goswami has demonstrated in both his Tattva- and Paramatma-sandarbhas that this mantra petitions only the supreme Brahman and his sakti. It is thus a Visnu/Krishna mantra, in which the chanter appeals for status in divine service. It is not to be chanted aloud, nor while one is engaged in other activities. It is meant for meditation (mantra dhyana), which should be done in a sitting posture. It should be received from a guru and can certainly be chanted by women. If you want to chant a mantra that will be effective even while working or during recreation, chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. There are no restrictions regarding chanting the holy name of Krishna and it is he who is petitioned in the gayatri mantra with the words ìdevasya dhimahi.”

Q. Why should we be punished for something that we have done in a previous life and cannot remember in the present? It seems unfair because had we known of the consequences it would have been easier to rectify ourselves.

A. The law of karma does not involve God’s punishing or rewarding us. It involves nature’s appropriate response to our will and our subsequent action in relation to her response. While other forms of life have no opportunity to understand this law, human life affords us the chance to become aware of it through introspection, scripture, and the insight of sadhus. Taking advantage of these facilities is what distinguishes humanity from other species.

Q. I don’t understand the nature of karma. It seems to be blaming the victim; for example, if I poke you in the eye with a stick, it must be because you are the sort of person who somehow deserves to be poked in the eye with a stick. I know this can’t be right. Please enlighten me.

A. Material nature and the individual souls (jivas) are both children of the same parent, each being powers (sakti) of God, and thus they work together. A tendency arises in the jiva, and material nature reciprocates accordingly. Thus evolution involves more than continuous and gradual adaptation to the natural environment. It involves the will of the jivas, to which material nature responds. Nature transforms and adapts in accordance with the will of the jivas. All of this is part of what we call the law of karma, which determines the kind of body we will acquire birth after birth.

The law of karma is the stern, just hand of material nature. It has not been superimposed on nature by a morally good God but rather functions accurately or justly of its own accord by reciprocating in kind the actions of the jivas—be they influenced by sattva (virtue), rajas (ambition), or tamas (torpidity). If no one else acknowledges one’s virtuous acts, material nature will take note and create circumstances that reward one. Similarly, if one escapes being apprehended for one’s misdeeds, material nature will extend the long arm of her karmic law and bring one to justice. What one sows, one reaps.

Our status within this law with regard to our past, present, and future can be understood by the following example: A person may have money in the bank which can be spent with a check. He may also have cash in hand that he is presently spending, and there is also money owed to him for work he is doing at present. Similarly, we all have a karmic bank account that will be drawn from, karma that is presently spending itself, and actions we are performing that are creating future karmic reactions. While we have no control over our previous actions, which we are presently experiencing the results of, we are free to choose our future by how we react to our present circumstances. What we are today is a result of our past, and what we do with that given situation determines our future. Thus the law of karma is not fatalistic, as it is often misunderstood to be. It absolves God of any blame for our fate, and squarely places all responsibility for our situation on our own shoulders.

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