To Back to Godhead
You guys are really sad. For millennia religious sects have claimed to have the only way to God, and they have always been wrong. So are you wrong. As Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan says, “The ways to God are numberless as the grains of sand, unceasing as the rains of Dharma.”
It’s too bad that you close your minds to everything except what your Almighty Guru tells you. For example, I read in Back to Godhead Vol. 16, No. 6 (and elsewhere ad nauseum in ISKCON literature) that the practice of Raja Yoga is “unsuitable for the present age.” Well, it’s not. Just a little of the Raja Yoga practices can lead to advancement, as I can attest.
In your unthinking and bigoted narrow-mindedness you are as bad as Bible-beaters who still believe in the myths of Creation as presented in Genesis. The old beliefs are outdated. Why do you accept so blindly?
Sirs, you are correct that self-realization is the purpose of human life. But narrow-minded bigotry is not the most effective way to get there, nor is blind acceptance.
Richard L. Miller
If we understand you correctly, your idea is that everyone’s path to God is equally valid. From this it would follow (if we are to avoid being narrow-minded and bigoted) that our own path — that of Krishna consciousness — must also be valid. And since part of the understanding we have gained on our path is that some paths are more suitable than others, and that some are utterly useless, this too must be valid. This, of course, leads to the conclusion that your original idea is invalid.
Now, to set matters straight, the devotees of Krishna, far from insisting that ours is the only path to God, agree that there are many, indeed innumerable, paths.
That the paths to God are innumerable, however, in no way implies that all paths are equal. Although numberless medicines may be available, a diseased person ought not to think that whatever medicine he takes will be as good as any other. Some medicines are good only for particular patients under particular circumstances, some are effective but slow, some have undesirable side effects, and some are just utterly worthless. That medicines are numberless hardly means that cough drops, eye drops, or snake oil are just as good for treating diabetes as insulin. Among the numberless medicines, one has to take the particular medicine that qualified physicians prescribe for one’s particular disease.
Karma-yoga, hatha-yoga, jnana-yoga, and bhakti-yoga — these and several other paths are set forth in Bhagavad-gita, which is spoken by Krishna Himself. Sri Krishna is therefore renowned as Yogesvara, “the master of all yoga.”
Raja-yoga, or astanga-yoga, is also described in Bhagavad-gita by Krishna Himself, and devotees of Krishna therefore accept it as a legitimate path to God. Yet the requirements of this yoga are stringent — so stringent, in fact, that Arjuna, the original recipient of Bhagavad-gita, rejected the entire system as too difficult for him to practice.
Arjuna lived in Dvapara-yuga, an age more conducive to self-realization than the age we live in now. An intimate friend of Krishna Himself, Arjuna was a prince of exceptional saintliness. Yet even he professed his inability to follow this system. How then can ordinary people like us expect to be able to follow it now?
What does raja-yoga require? In Bhagavad-gita Krishna tells us only its barest essentials, yet even these are most likely well beyond our abilities. For example, one must retire to a sacred place, like the pilgrimage sites in the Himalayas or on the banks of the Ganges, practice absolute celibacy, live in total seclusion, and absorb one’s mind in unceasing meditation.
The last time I sped through Wilmington on Amtrak, past the office buildings and factory smokestacks, it hardly seemed the sort of sacred, secluded place that raja-yoga requires. I can just imagine a raja-yogi in Wilmington, emerging from meditation only long enough to drop by the post office and send testimony of his advancement to Back to Godhead. Considering the spirit of your letter, this is testimony we shall be careful not to accept blindly.
Nor do we recommend that you accept Krishna consciousness blindly. For thoughtful, cautious souls who wish to examine and question philosophical ideas thoroughly before accepting them, we have published more than sixty large books through which to investigate what Krishna consciousness is.
Although we never insist that ours is the only way, it is the way the Vedic sages most emphatically recommend for the present age. The same Bhagavad-gita that sets forth the many paths of yoga recommends one path above all — the path of bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness. In a former age, Satya-yuga, raja-yoga was the ideal means to attain perfection — but that was more than two million years ago.
In contrast, bhakti-yoga — and, in particular, the chanting of God’s names — is the method the Vedic sages prescribe as the only truly effective means of spiritual realization during our present age, the difficult time known as Kali-yuga, the Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy. We are hopeful that broadminded souls, eyes fully open, will carefully examine it and then accept it.
To Back to Godhead
Thank you for your thoughtful letter.
It is not my view that everyone’s path to God is equally valid. Some ways are long and difficult, others short and easy — is it not preferable to take the shorter way?
To set matters straight, the scriptural authority on Raja-Yoga is not the Bhagavad-gita but the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
The austerities of Raja-Yoga of which you have spoken, which appear to you as impossible, are grouped under the headings of “Yama” and “Niyama.” These may be considered as the ethical or moral foundation of Raja-Yoga.
Now, the virtues we are asked to practice are the same as those which most religions ask — celibacy, ahimsa or nonviolence, truthfulness, etc. These are really not at all difficult to practice, as I have learned from experience.
I may also point out that the main purpose of these requirements is to keep the yogi’s mind calm and unshaken. It is not unreasonable, therefore, in the present age, for the yogi to choose whatever moral or ethical system helps him to attain this end.
Furthermore, I don’t think one should allow the supposed difficulties of the system to frighten one off from Raja-Yoga. Even if one is not totally perfect in Yama and Niyama, one may still reap spiritual advancement, for this reason: Raja-Yoga is a scientific system of attainment — and if the practices are followed faithfully, the results will be forthcoming.
Your own system utilizes mantra yoga; I say, why not use all the other yogic techniques?
As for my familiarity with religious scriptures, I have devoted many years to the wholehearted and singleminded study of mystical writings of China, India, Europe, and all other lands. Although it is the work of a lifetime, I feel I have made a suitable beginning and am therefore entitled to speak.
I still feel that your system is incorrect in many of its statements — but I will allow the truth to bear witness to itself and write no more.
Richard L. Miller
We are in agreement: among the various ways to truth, the shortest, most direct way is the one we should prefer.
Now, let us consider. As you say, yama and niyama form the ethical and moral basis for yoga. To practice yoga one must be truthful, nonviolent, and so on. But these are only the beginning of raja-yoga. As you point out, raja-yoga is a scientific system. And in science we must proceed step by step.
(It’s strange, by the way, to find such an eclectic as you brushing aside Bhagavad-gita, the one book nearly the entire world accepts as the supreme authority on yoga. But anyway, let’s proceed.)
Raja-yoga gradually guides one through eight steps. As Patanjali tells us, yama and niyama are steps one and two. The third step is asana — sitting in postures for meditation. Then comes pranayama — control of the breath. The next step is to withdraw the senses from whatever they’re involved in. Then comes mental concentration. Then meditation. And finally one reaches the ultimate stage — samadhi, full absorption of one’s consciousness in the Absolute Truth. So by following all the steps of raja-yoga, one gradually comes to samadhi, the ultimate goal.
As I pointed out in reply to your previous letter, the path to samadhi through this eightfold system is arduous. Each of the eight steps calls for its own rigorous discipline. (And as in any science, if you don’t follow the procedure you won’t get the result.)
To give only one example, pranayama — control of the breath — means that ultimately the yogi has to come to the point of stopping his breathing entirely! Having accomplished this, he holds his senses so well under control that he can take the next step — withdrawing the senses from all material engagements.
Just from this one example, perhaps you can see why the Vedic sages who taught this yoga system in a previous age tell us not to waste our time with it now. If one follows the practices faithfully, the results will be forthcoming. Only one trouble: the practices are nearly impossible to follow.
In mantra-yoga, however — the path the Vedic literature sets forth for the present age — meditation is simple and direct. One need not go through the preliminary stages of mechanically trying to subdue the mind and senses by long, difficult exercises in sitting, breathing, sensory discipline, and so on. Instead, one comes directly to the highest stage — samadhi, constant meditation on the Supreme Absolute — by chanting the transcendental names of the Absolute.
According to Patanjali (sutra 2.45), one attains perfect samadhi simply by meditating on and surrendering to the Supreme Lord (samadhi-siddhir isvara-pranidhanat). In raja-yoga, one must undergo all the disciplines of the eightfold process, step by step, before one can attain this perfection. But by chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, one at once focuses one’s attention on the Lord, who is present in the form of His transcendental name.
According to the Vedic scriptures, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Supreme Lord, is nondifferent from His name. So by chanting His names we immediately come in touch with Him. What could possibly be more simple, straightforward, and direct?
You ask, “Why not use all other yogic techniques?” and you suggest that one choose whatever moral or ethical codes help calm his mind.
This hardly seems a wise suggestion. Suppose a diseased man says, “Why take only one medicine? Why not whatever medicine makes me feel good? Why not take all medicines?” Is this a very intelligent idea? The wise patient takes what the expert doctor tells him will best treat his disease. Similarly, the wise yogi, or the most intelligent person striving for spiritual progress, takes the method of yoga the Vedic literatures recommend for liberation in our present materially diseased age. The Upanishads say:
krishna krishna hare hare
hare rama hare rama
rama rama hare hare
iti sodasakam namnam
“The chanting of the maha-mantra — Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare — can wipe out all the contaminations of our present Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy. In all the Vedas, one can find nothing superior to this chanting of the maha-mantra.”
Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra is the most simple, direct, and easy way to attain the perfection of samadhi. It is therefore the way the Vedas most emphatically recommend for spiritual realization now.