Found in Sanga, Sanga 2004.

Q. I am a Hindu woman and I have been living with a married man for the past six years. This man left his wife and four children because of me but now the children need him badly, so I agreed that he should return to his family. Even though I agreed to let him return, I still feel I have committed a great sin in taking a father away from his children for such a long time. When I go to the temple I feel very guilty about this and would like to know if I will go to hell for what I did? Also, I still love him and would like to know if this is a sin as well? Is there any religious practice I can perform to overcome all this sin?

A. Yes, adultery is a sin. However, there is no sin one can commit that cannot be counteracted by chanting Krishna nama. At the same time, one cannot sin, chant Krishna nama, and continue to sin thinking that by chanting such sin will be overcome. This kind of chanting is an offense to Krishna nama, and when offended, Krishna nama will not give himself to the chanter. So chant and don’t continue to sin. The fact that you are still attached to this man does not make you sinful, and doing the right thing, as you have by giving him up, is more akin to actual love than the way in which you were relating with him previously.

Q. Why does a person choose to reincarnate into a body that becomes schizophrenic? I am doing a PhD thesis on this topic and am looking for opinions on the topic of reincarnating into difficult situations.

A. The “choice” to reincarnate is not one in which the soul consciously chooses a particular body. Indeed, reincarnation is the soul’s predicament, stemming from its ignorance. We choose to behave in certain ways in relation to material nature and material nature responds accordingly. No one would consciously choose to take birth as a schizophrenic or in any other difficult situation, but people do act in ways that causes material nature to respond to their actions with such a birth. Reaction to our actions is what the law of karma is all about. The choices we make in this life determine the results we receive in the next.

Q. I’m a Buddhist. When I meditate, I sometimes recite Buddhist mantras and at other times recite Hindu mantras, like the Gayatri mantra and “om namah sivaya.” I was wondering what your opinion on this is. Should I just stick with the Buddhist mantras or is it okay to mix the two?

A. It is said that chanting one mantra is most effective, ekam kevalam mantrabhyasa-matram kuryat. The reason for this is that it promotes the kind of single-mindedness (ekagra) necessary for successful meditation. This is so within one’s own spiritual lineage, and even more so with mantras from entirely different traditions. The mixing of mantras from different traditions is not recommended.

Q. This topic may seem frivolous, but it is an issue that weighs heavily on my mind. I have been a devotee for some time and have a physical deformity that I believe prevents me from becoming a better spokesperson for Krishna. This source of insecurity for me could be corrected by cosmetic surgery. If it were, I would feel better about my appearance and could more confidently and effectively serve Krishna. I know that this body is temporary, but I have a lot of years left in this world so I would like to know if it is wrong for a devotee to have cosmetic surgery? What is your advice?

A. Sometimes certain material circumstances bother a devotee to the extent that he or she becomes preoccupied with them and distracted from spiritual practice. This seems to be the case in your situation. In these cases, it is usually best to make whatever adjustments are necessary so that one can get on with devotional service. My advice is to go ahead and do what you feel is best for your spiritual life. Cosmetic surgery is not wrong for a devotee if he or she truly has a higher purpose in mind.

Q. Srila Prabhupada often criticized modern education in various ways and it seems that he held the view that educational institutions make people proud and more forgetful of who they really are. Should devotees following Srila Prabhupada discourage people from higher education since it seems to put them more into maya (illusion)?

A. Education is not a bad thing. Srila Prabhupada also asked some of his students to get a higher education for the sake of preaching, and it is very useful for those seeking employment for the sake of maintaining a Vaisnava family. His concern was that his disciples become devotees first and educated second. After all, there is a chance that in the process of becoming educated, one might lose sight of devotion and give intellect and education more credence than the means to realize ultimate reality. The only means of true knowing is self-sacrifice in devotion to God.

Q. Bhagavad-gita teaches that people should follow their natures and worship Krishna in ways that are harmonious with their natures. How necessary is it to go against one’s nature for the sake of adhering to the social norms accepted in devotee society? For example, how important is it to become a vegetarian to practice Krishna consciousness? Why emphasize a principle like vegetarianism that clashes with the acquired nature of the vast majority of the world’s population? Why not relax that emphasis and be more inclusive, encouraging people to chant and worship Krishna without restrictions? In modern times even Brahmins cannot follow restrictions, what to speak of ordinary people. Brahmins are supposed to be vegetarians but many are not, and in Bengal and Orissa a large number of Brahmins eat fish.

Even the Pandava Bhima was said to be a meat eater, and are we to conclude that every member of the Vedic warrior class (ksatriyas) were pure vegetarians? How about the so-called lower classes and the aboriginal people of India, must they also accept a pure vegetarian diet before they can become devotees? Emphasis on restrictions push away people who might otherwise be inclined toward devotional life, so why emphasize rules like vegetarianism?

A. Following one’s nature is an important instruction inasmuch as it is done in such a way that it leads to changing one’s nature. When I say changing one’s nature, I am referring to changing mentality, qualities, and activities of a lower nature to those of a higher nature. Ultimately, spiritual life is about change. In the third chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krishna emphasizes that people should follow their nature (sreyan sva-dharmo) with regard to prescribed activities. However, this instruction runs counter to his conclusion, stated in chapter eighteen, where he tells us to forego everything including our nature (sarva dharman parityaja) for the sake of spiritual advancement.

Of course, not everyone will be able to do this immediately. Therefore it is not always important to emphasize the need to give things up, including culturally dictated dietary norms. Even the great Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura said that he was prepared to serve meat to the British at his monastery in the sacred land where Sri Caitanya appeared in order to create a comfortable environment for them to come and learn about Krishna. It is understood that as people learn more about Krishna, they will want to change their lives in ways that will be more conducive to the culture of love for him.

Though at times he spoke about serving meat to induce the British to hear about Krishna, Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura never put those words into practice. Both he and Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada insisted that their disciples eat a vegetarian diet of foods offered to Krishna. Rather than draw the masses, they wanted to create a new class of brahmana Vaisnavas who would exemplify a standard of behavior and practice that was conducive to the culture of Krishna consciousness. They did not expect that the entire religious world would follow the standards that they set for their disciples.

Srila Prabhupada talks about this in a conversation with the poet Allen Ginsberg who asked, “What’s the future of a religious observance so technical as this? So complicated as this? Requires so much sophistication in terms of diet, daily ritual, arati, Ekadasi, all, the whole thing that you’ve been teaching, how far can that spread?”

Srila Prabhupada replied, “The whole idea is to keep the devotees always engaged in Krishna consciousness. Gradually, we shall introduce more and more so that he has no scope to go outside Krishna consciousness…so he can remain twenty-four hours in Krishna consciousness… That is my program. Krishna consciousness is not possible for everyone. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.19) we learn, bahunam janmanam ante. After many, many births one can come to this. So it is not possible that a mass of people, a large quantity of people, will be able to grasp it. Another place it is said in the Bhagavad-gita (7.3), manusyanam sahasresu. Out of many thousands of men, one may be interested how to liberate himself. And out of many such liberated persons, one may understand what is Krishna. So understanding of Krishna is not very easy thing. But Lord Caitanya is so munificent that He has given us an easy process. Otherwise Krishna consciousness is not easy because Krishna is the last word of Absolute Truth.”

Srila Prabhupada did make some concessions in introducing Krishna consciousness to people in western countries. Regarding vegetarianism, he was careful to make sure the diet was rich and delicious by any standard so that his followers would feel no compunction to return to a carnivorous diet. He was also well aware of the statement his guru had made about serving meat and mentioned it to his disciples a number of times. Although he never did so, it is conceivable that he might have agreed to employ this reasoning at some point in the larger context of encouraging a greater number of people to embrace Sri Krishna’s teaching in the Gita.

After all, Krishna himself speaks of different standards in the Gita. For example, in Bg. 9.28 he speaks of pure devotion when he tells Arjuna to offer him a fruit, flower, leaf, or water in devotion with pure (sattvic/prayatatmanah) standards. In the following verse he speaks of a lower standard when he says, “Whatever you eat, whatever you offer and give away, and whatever austerities you perform, do that as an offering unto me.” Krishna may not eat meat, but in this verse he says that if you do, still you should acknowledge God by offering the food to him in some way. Krishna does not say he will accept food that is not offered with sattvic standards but that the devotion present in such offerings will purify that person even if the offering is not perfect in terms of ingredients. Offering to Krishna what one is in a habit of doing will eventually bring one to the standard of pure devotion, where one does only things that are pleasing to Krishna. In this regard, Srila Prabhupada said that drunkards who consistently remember to acknowledge Krishna for the taste and effects of their wine would in time give up that wine and become devotees.

Once one attains the highest level of pure devotion, there are no rules because despite appearances all of the activities of pure souls are motivated by love of Krishna. Life in the lila of Krishna is entirely different from mundane life, and it transcends the life of the practitioner as well. If some devotees such as Pandava Bhima eat meat in Krishna lila, this is otherworldly and not something to reference as a standard for serious practitioners.

Otherwise, in general, if people are too addicted to meat eating, in the very least they should adjust their diet to the extent that their eating causes less suffering and is more environmentally sensitive. Throughout the world, socially and spiritually conscious people are already moving in this direction.

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