PROFESSORS BOW TO SASTRA
M a r c h 1 – 3 , 2 0 0 1
ON MARCH 1 I AWOKE WITH MY LEFT EYE QUIVERING. I remembered reading somewhere in Çréla Prabhupäda’s books that such quivering is either an auspicious or inauspicious omen. I wanted to check the books to find out which, but by the time I had finished my rounds and done my püjä it was time to go on saìkértana. Maheçvara däsa, a disciple of Bhakti Caru Mahäräja, picked me up at 9:00 A.M. and we left for our appointments.
Our first stop was a printing office, where a gentleman named Peter greeted us warmly. Peter has been a donor of mine for many years, and I keep in regular touch with him. A pious man, he believes in God but sometimes complains that He is “a little late in answering my prayers,” or “sometimes doesn’t reply at all!” We sat chatting about the recent earthquake in Gujarat, and I explained the law of karma. Years ago he wouldn’t have been interested in such philosophy, but our friendship has made him receptive and he listened carefully, considering all the points. Later, as he wrote out a check to help my Festival of India in Poland, I noticed a large frame on the wall behind his desk. It contained a quote written in an old-style English font describing the glory of a printing house. I thought that with a few small adjustments it nicely described the purpose of our Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publishing house:
This is a printing office
Crossroads of civilization
Refuge of all the arts
Against the ravages of time
Armory of fearless truth
Against whispering rumor
Incessant trumpet of trade
From this place words may fly abroad
Not to perish on the waves of sound
Not to vary with the writer’s hand
But fixed in time, having been verified in proof
Friend, you are standing on sacred ground
This is a BBT (sic) printing office!
As we drove around Port Elizabeth looking for a bank where we could cash the check, I became nervous. We were driving through several native townships or ghettos. Most of the black and colored people of South Africa still live in impoverished conditions, despite the ending of apartheid several years ago. As a result, a significant number of them resort to crime to survive. Maheçvara was telling me that a number of his friends had been recent victims of burglary, car theft, or mugging. He said the police are often slow to respond to crimes because the local gangs have more sophisticated weapons than they have. The police even hire well-armed security guards to protect their stations!
Recently, the secretary of one of Maheçvara’s close relatives was kidnapped along with her car by a man at a red-light traffic signal in downtown Port Elizabeth. She survived only when the kidnapper stopped at the next signal and opened his door to shout to a friend, at which point the young lady gave him such a kick that he literally fell out of the vehicle. She jumped into the driver’s seat and sped away.
The other evening Maheçvara himself was driving home from work when suddenly he saw a row of bricks across the road in front of him. Knowing it was a trap he accelerated over the barricade, blowing his two front tires as he got away. In his rear-view mirror he saw the men who wanted to accost him run out from the bushes cursing.
After hearing all this I wondered again if I had come to the right place to collect funds. I thought, “What I go through for the people of Poland!”
When we finally found the right bank to cash the check, I entered the building and waited in line. I had a strange feeling that something was wrong. As the lady in front of me cashed her own check and put what appeared to be a large sum of money into her purse, I looked around nervously. Walking past me and through the door, she was suddenly attacked by thieves who grabbed her bag and ran. As she screamed and people panicked, the security guards drew their guns but didn’t fire because of the large crowd. As they chased the thieves, I took my money from the cashier and quickly left the scene.
Ten minutes later, as we turned a corner on the way to our next appointment, two men, fighting brutally, spilled onto the road. Both of them were bleeding profusely, lunging at one another with knives. A large crowd gathered to watch. Swerving to avoid the men, we drove off quickly.
As if that wasn’t enough, 2km down the road we witnessed a terrible car accident. Figuring that the stars weren’t with us that day, I concluded that the best thing to do was go home and chant, so Maheçvara drove me back to the temple. That afternoon, out of curiosity I looked up references to omens in Çréla Prabhupäda’s books and concluded I would have been better off to have done so that morning!
atha vraje mahotpätäs
tri-vidhä hy ati-däruëäù
utpetur bhuvi divy ätmany
In the Våndävana area there then arose all three types of fearful omens— those on the earth, those in the sky and those in the bodies of living creatures—which announced imminent danger.
Purport: According to Çréla Çrédhara Swami, the omens were as follows: on the earth there were disturbing tremors, in the sky there were meteors falling, and in the bodies of creatures there was shivering, as well as quivering of the left eye and other parts of the body. These omens announce imminent danger.
I didn’t go out the rest of the day but chanted and daydreamed that perhaps one day Kåñëa would send a generous sponsor my way who would support my preaching. Recently, a devotee wrote me that she didn’t feel it appropriate for sannyäsés to collect money. I replied that I fully agreed with her but that currently I had no choice. I told her that last year more than 750,000 people walked through the gates of our Polish festival. That’s no ordinary Sunday Feast program! Big preaching requires sufficient funds. Çréla Prabhupäda writes, “Every endeavor requires land, capital, organization and labor. Just as in business one requires a place to stay, some capital to use, some labor and some organization to expand, so the same is required in the service of Kåñëa. The only difference is that in materialism one works for sense gratification.” (Bg. 12.11, purport)
I concluded my letter by saying that when Kåñëa sent me a patrol like King Açoka, who financially supported the spread of Buddhism all over India in the second century, to support my preaching, then I would sit happily all afternoon with people like Peter the printer and teach them how to practice Kåñëa consciousness.
Later in the afternoon, Puruñottama Kåñëa came home and asked me to participate in a meeting at the University of Port Elizabeth that concerned his daughter, Josila. A first-year student at the university, she had objected to an assignment her professor in Business Management had assigned. The assignment asked the students to develop a marketing strategy for a theoretical meat-packing company that was falling behind in sales. Josila had protested, first to the professor and then to the university administration, that writing such a paper conflicted with her religious beliefs as a member of the Hare Kåñëa movement. Meat-eating was sinful, she said, as it involved the cruelty of killing innocent animals. In her heart she simply couldn’t write a paper promoting such an evil act. Over several weeks she rallied the support of many students and even lobbied a number of professors. Her challenge became the talk of the campus.
As a result, the university called for what it described as an Extraordinary Meeting of the Forum for the Promotion of Equality. The meeting, consisting of senior faculty members to consider both sides of the issue, was to gather evidence to present to a committee that addresses students’ grievances and attempts to find solutions. Puruñottama Kåñëa wanted me to represent his daughter, as I think he was little awed by the august assembly of professors.
We arrived just as the meeting was about to begin. When I walked in with my bright saffron cloth and daëòa, most of the professors stared in disbelief. One of them muttered, “My God, what is this?”
I took my seat at the table along with Puruñottama Kåñëa, but the chairman asked Josila to wait outside for the duration of the meeting. He then briefly introduced the purpose of the meeting and asked each member to introduce themselves. One by one the professors announced who they were. When it was my turn, I identified myself as a student of India’s greatest spiritual emissary to the Western world, His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami. I explained that I was a sannyäsé, a monk, visiting their country to introduce the teachings of India’s great spiritual classic, the Bhagavad-gétä. I spoke briefly about Çréla Prabhupäda’s contribution in the field of literature, and concluded by saying that I was honored to be present at this meeting. I actually surprised myself with how articulate my introduction came out, and I felt at ease when I saw several professors nod their heads in acknowledgment of my short presentation.
Then the debate began as to whether Josila had the right to refuse an assignment based on her religious convictions. Her business lecturer, Professor Boshoff, was obviously disturbed that a young student had challenged him and made such a fuss all over campus. He argued that the subject of promoting meat sales was nothing to get in an uproar about. “After all, the meat-packing industry is one of the most important and respected businesses in the world.” At that point, Professor Naidoo, the head of the Pharmacy Department, said he felt the whole issue could be avoided simply by changing the subject matter of the assignment from meat sales to clothing sales. Professor Boshoff wouldn’t accept that solution. Then the chairman turned to me and asked if I would explain why Josila was so disturbed about writing an assignment on the promotion of meat.
Relishing the opportunity to address so many learned men and women, I stood up and spoke slowly, choosing each word. Using çästric quotes and analogies, I explained the difference between the body and the soul and elaborated on the theory of reincarnation. I went on to explain how there is a soul in every living creature. Killing animals, I said, is tantamount to murder. Noting that the professors were coming from diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds (Christian, Muslim, and Hindu), I concluded my talk with a punch: asking Josila to write about promoting the sale of meat was like asking a Christian to write about promoting the devil, a Jew to promote the Holocaust, and a Muslim to promote Mohammed as an ordinary man.
A long silence followed my presentation. Finally, the chairman asked if anyone had any questions for me. When a few professors spoke in support of what I had said, Professor Boshoff walked out in a huff. The chairman then closed the session, saying the committee would meet privately the next day to form a resolution. He thanked Puruñottama Kåñëa and me for participating, and we left.
The next morning I received a call from the chairman. He thanked me for participating in the discussion. He said my presentation had been the deciding factor in the committee’s resolutions, which he would have delivered to Purusottam Kåñëa’s house later in the day. That afternoon, a university car delivered the following paper to our door:
Resolutions of the Extraordinary Meeting of the Forum for Promotion of Equality:
- The Department of Business Management be requested to find, in this case, an alternative assignment subject that is acceptable to the Kåñëa faith, but that is comparable, in all ways, to the current topic.
- That from this point on, academics be asked to provide alternative topics for assignments where there is a possibility that the given subject may be offensive to minority groups.
- Academics be asked to provide alternative questions in exam papers, where there is the possibility that the given subject may offend members of minority groups, such as the Kåñëa faith.
That evening Puruñottama Kåñëa, Josila, and I had a small celebration. We had challenged a respectable academic institution’s dealings with us, a religious minority, and had won. The professors involved had made their decision based on the teachings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupäda. It was a small but clear victory for Lord Caitanya’s saìkértana movement. We hanker for more such opportunities in the service of His Divine Grace.
Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Kåñëa, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence. That chanting is the waxing moon that spreads the white lotus of good fortune for all living entities. It is the life and soul of all education. The chanting of the holy name of Kåñëa expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life. It gives a cooling effect to everyone and enables one to taste full nectar at every step.
—Çikñäñöakam, Text 1