New loving recommendations for live from Srila Gurumaharaja, Bhakti Aloka Paramadvaiti Swami:

Pronunciation of the Maha Mantra

Question: Is it important to pronounce the maha-mantra correctly? If I am listening to my chanting at normal speed, I realize that I rather say 'Hade' and not 'Hare'. Only when chanting very very slowly, I am spelling it correctly. Does this take the power from the mantra to a certain degree?

Answer: Generally the correct pronunciation of vedic mantras is very important. In order to make a sacrifice successful the mantra and the Sanskrit words must be chanted with the right pronunciation. But in this age of Kali yuga there are no brahmanas who are capable of chanting the mantras correctly. So in this age one can attain the highest benefit by chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra. This mantra is so merciful and at the same time so powerful that one gains the effect even if it is not chanted completely correctly.

For someone who just started chanting this maha-mantra, it is very much recommended to concentrate on the correct pronunciation of the mantra. This will also help us not to fall asleep while chanting. The lips and the tongue should actively be engaged in chanting the words of the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. The words should be pronunced and heared with great attention. Actually the process of chanting is very simple, and everybody can participate, but one has to practice it seriously and with great attention.

However the proper pronunciation is not the goal of chanting the maha-mantra. For very advanced devotees who really chant with a lot of affection, the pronunciation may not be so important.

It is important to chant a certain amount of rounds on their Japa mala (rosary with 108 pearls) ever day, with a lot of steadiness and determination. Of course the maha mantra can be chanted anytime and everywhere, but it is helpful to dedicate a certain amount of time especially for concentrated mantra meditation on the rosary. This will help us to establish a real connection with the highest spiritual plane.

Killing Animals vs. Killing Plants

Question: I heard that plants are also living beings, same as animals. And according to scientists they even feel pain and cry when they get hurt. So why is it that killing animals is bad but eating plants is ok, if both of them have to be killed? Wouldn't it be better to kill one big animal and feed eg 20 people with the meat, than killing many plants to feed the same amount of persons?

Answer: In this world every living being has to live off other living beings in order to survive. But everybody will agree that it is not recommended to cause sufferings to others unnecessarily, as such actions also produce unwanted consequences due to the law of action and reaction (Karma). Therefore it is important to avoid the exploitation of living beings and Mother Nature.

But to make the food free from karmic reactions one should offer it to the Lord before eating it. When we offer the foodstuffs with appreciation to the Supreme Lord the food will become spiritualized and free from reactions. It is then called prasadam, the mercy of the Lord. Such food is spiritually very powerful and it will even get a special taste.

Therefore the Lord explained what is favourable to eat for human beings, and what is not. Meat, fish and eggs are not favourable, and eating them will cause unwanted reactions or suffering. Whereas food, recommended by the wellwishers of all living beings, like vegetables, fruit, milk products, grains, etc are not only healthy and go easy with Mother Nature, but it is also possible to offer them to the Lord. In this way they will surely contribute to the harmony of society and the spiritual evolution of all living beings.

Actually not only the consumer of this prasadam will be benefitted, but also the living entities providing the food, like plants or in the case of milk: cows, will receive the mercy of the Lord. In this way everyone connected to this process will receive the highest benefit.

Generally, if we eat or use something without being grateful, we disregard the creator and maintainer of everything, the Lord Himself. And if we put our selfish interests above all loving recommendations, then the energy of our false ego will blur our intelligence, and it will become difficult for us to distinguish between favourable actions and unfavourable actions. So it is important to be conscious about what goes on our plate. More information can be attained on web pages such as www.spoonrevolution.com

Without giving love we will not receive love. It is not possible to develop selfesteem without being sincere to oneself and a wellwisher of others.

Offering food does not require great ceremonies, the most important ingredients are sincerity and love. This is what the Lord is looking for: our love and appreciation. So offering the food to God before eating it, is a very nice and easy way to establish a relationship with the Supreme Creator. Ultimately this will bring a lot of joy and freedom to our lives.

How to Meditate on the Japa Mala

Question: I often get confused when chanting, because I don't know how to put my focus straight. I understand that one should chant with the prayer to become an instrument of the love of God, but many times I cannot focus on the mantra when praying like this, and many other versions of this prayer come up. And if I just focus on the mantra, I feel that I am missing out on something, so most of the time I feel like a confused parrot when chanting til the japatime is up. It feels terrible to have this problem since chanting of the holy name is the all in all... So my question is if chanting and praying should be done separatly, simultaniously, mixed or in any other way...?

Answer: To chant the maha-mantra on the Japa mala is always auspicious. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu spread this mantra, which connects us with the abode of the highest love, and said that there are no hard and fast rules how to chant the mantra. Therefore we can chant this Hare Krishna maha-mantra everywhere and anytime.

For chanting on the Japa mala, Srila Prabhupada recommended that while chanting we should engage the mind in hearing the Hare Krsna mantra. So, simply by concentrating on chanting and hearing the sound vibration we will be connected with the transcendental realm.

We should always try to chant with all our heart. Do not try to concentrate the mind on something else as the mind is very flickering and will jump from one thing to the other. Just engage your senses in the Hare Krsna maha-mantra. The internal attitude, or the motivation, for chanting should be 'Oh my Lord, please let me be an instrument of your love, please let me do some service for you.'

It is not necessary to become a great singer or a nice musician to sing the maha-mantra. To chant it nicely means to chant it sincerely and with great attention.

Do bacteria have souls?

Question: My question involves the number of souls that appear in lower life forms compared with the number of souls in human and animal bodies. This doubt first appeared when I heard from a devotee that even cells have souls. I'm not sure whether this is true, but then I began to consider the number of other small living entities such as bacteria, which do have souls. With so many cells and bacteria present in a human or animal body, it appears that many more souls are occupying these lower forms. Do cells have souls? Why do so many more souls apparently appear in lower life forms than in animal or human forms? Please shine some spiritual light on this doubt which my material intelligence is unable to defeat.

Answer: One of the most important books about selfrealization, the Bhagavad Gita explains that humble sages see the various living beings with equal vision. This is because wise men know and see that all living beings have got the same universal father, who is also present in all of them as the Supersoul. From this statement we can see that there is no difference in the spiritual quality between the living beings. So there is the same kind of soul in a human being as in a bacteria or any other animal. Life is the active part, the soul or jiva, and exists independent from the body. The body is of material nature whereas the soul is of spiritual nature. Both, humans and bacteria, had to accept a material body.

The number of spiritual souls is unlimited. And there is one supreme being: the Lord himself. The number of human beings may be far smaller than the number of bacteria or other lifeforms. Therefore it is said that a good birth, a birth in a human body, is something very precious, and we should make all efforts to use this body for the right purpose: asking questions about transcendental topics. What is giving life to this material body? Where does the soul come from and where will it go? Is there somebody who created all of us? How can we get to know Him? Many answers to such questions are offered by the Bhagavad Gita. The Bhagavad Gita is like the manual that explains how to use the human form of life. It shows us how to reestablish a relationship with God. That is essential to develop spiritual consciousness and to become free from confusion. And in this way everybody will become happy.

How did we come into this World?

Question: I cannot understand how it comes that if it is so good in the spiritual world, how dumb we must be to force Krishna to remove us from there? I just really cannot imagine that all the material universes were created just for our sense gratification. Well it is logic: if we can't do it there, we must do it here, and actually we do not even enjoy it. It is like that. Did we personally ask to come here? Or is it that there is some downward degradation, away from Krishna? How do such toughts can come up within us if we are there? I really don't understand, but I understand that now I'm here. And then there is this material creation. How could I choose to come here? It's just unconcievable.

Answer: In the purport of the verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 3, chapter 16, verse 29 Srila Prabhupada mentions three times that a jiva that took birth in the spiritual world cannot fall down again, if not arranged and approved by the Lord himself.

It is a very surprising topic. Because the supreme Lord, the personality of Godhead, can do whatever He wants. He is free to do anything, and on top of it, everything He does is good and beneficial. He is the only wellwisher of all living entities. He is not against any single one of them, but for Him to exhibit His various pastimes, it takes many different, delightful things to happen, which in the long run give incredible blessings to the people in this world.

In this purport Srila Prabhupada says three times within half a page, that a living entitiy cannot fall from Vaikuntha, will not fall from Vaikuntha, never falls from Vaikuntha. Even though he says this so clear here, it happend later, that in the movement of my spiritual master - after his departure - interpretations were drawn from a few other indications, completely denying this puport and indirectly declaring that Srila Prabhupada is three times wrong; three times wrong in the same purport.

This topic was not only millions of times discussed, but also millions of times misunderstood. To understand, or not to understand the Lord, is purely a question of grace. Logical sequences do not necessarily favour us in this respect. The speculators have not only said that the jiva falls from Vaikuntha, but they are also claiming that jivas fall from Krsnaloka – that means falling from the personal, direct association with the Supreme Lord; falling from the nitya-siddha position.

This idea is not at all backed up by sastra. Of course, if Krsna wants any of his associates to go somewhere and to do something on His behalf, He would have the free will to do so. We cannot say, that Krsna cannot do this but in no way we can come up with a theory and try to substantiate it by wild speculations, which claims that every living entity comes from a personal relationship with Krsna in Goloka Vrindavan and fell down to this world due to misbehaviour there. If this is the case, there would be plenty of misbehaviour in the spiritual world, wouldn´t it? Just imagine if amongst the cowhard boys, here and there, the one or the other ends up missing. What would his friends think about: “Oh were is Gopa?” Then the others would say: “Don't you know what he did yesterday? Krsna told him to get lost.” Their hearts would be crumbled continuously in Goloka Vrindavana. How could you call it the spiritual world? If somebody from our own lines falls down, we are suffering. It is such an painful experience. So I am amazed, what the mind is capable to produce such ideas.

Well, sometimes Prabhupada may have mentioned in a letter to someone, that the idea, that we come from Brahman is rather impersonal. So he said, we do come from Krsna. We do not come from Brahman – because he could see, that their interpretation was: If I come from Brahman, then I better go back to Brahman again. They would not take Krsna in consideration as the supreme generating power.

Last not least the fall down, the return, the relationship and all the behaviour is covered by a certain veil. By the sweet will of the Supreme it is covered by a certain uncertainty which devotees have penetrated here and there with their tikas by saying things like: there was some apathy towards service; there was some indifference towards the Lord, there was some desire to control the nature; there was a misuse of free will. We argue in one way or another and that is kind of reasonable because you see that we can be good or bad according to our capricious decisions. It is reasonable that this capacity caused us at some point to go the wrong way.

So the veil is there, meaning you cannot see everything as clear as without the veil. The veil which is covering the relationship is a very sensible veil. There is a reason for that, because without that veil, there would be no question of free will. If everything would be crystal clear, our material existence would be a crystal clear nonsense and we would not have any choice to go on with our pleasure seeking mentality. It is very sad actually, people want the Vedas and Krsna to give things which Krsna prefers not to give, and due to that souls make concoctions, or even worse, they reject them all together. But it is not our right. We are simply meant to accept the guidance from the pure devotees, like Srila Prabhupada, who in a short purport emphaticly says, that nobody falls from Vaikuntha. Then we may speculate: “Oh, he means Vaikuntha, but from Goloka, yes we fall.”

First of all Goloka is part of Vaikuntha and not only that, it is the top most part of Vaikuntha and those who cannot see that, they cannot recognize that. Well, maybe they are prefering the relationship in awe and reverence, like the aisvarya relationship with the Supreme Lord and thus they do not pay special attention to the Lord. Even though, who can do away with the sweetness?

So, in this particular verse Srila Prabhupada makes it so clear that we will not fall down, when we reach Lord Krsna's abode. That means, nobody who has been there before fell down either. That is a logical sequence. But we did come from somewhere, and we did come from the Lord, because we did not invent ourselves. So there is an agency of eternal soul production, if you want to call it in that way. And they all get the chance to go there or to come here. It is up to him. It is behind that veil, because if we would remove that veil, nobody could be in maya for one second, because the crystal clear confrontation with the truth would make it impossible to go against the truth. So there would be no freedom. We would just be fabricated to fit in one single unit, which means submission, and then everybody in the spiritual world would be a naturally submissive devotee without any option; and that is too much robot like, it is too much zombie like, it is too mechanic and manipulated. So Krsna has not done it in that way.

Everything He does is good. He does not make anything wrong. We do, He does not.

These are not words taken out of someone's mind. All is described there: antaranga-, bahiranga-, tatastha-sakti; and the light, the brahmajyoti, the effulgance coming from the Lord in the form of sparks, which are just each and everyone part of His infinte energy. So potentiallity of individuality development by the sweet will of the Lord for raising in the soul the chance to come into a personal encounter with the origin of its existence. That is Krsna, the beloved of all souls.

Thank you very much Srila Prabhupada for giving so such clearity on this topic in this verse.

Real Identity and False Identifications

Question: What is the 'false ego'? Does it mean that there is no ego whatsoever?

Answer: Ego means 'identity', or 'self', distinct from the world and other living beings. In other words, Ego means individuality. False ego means wrong identification; identification with something we are not. So, the ego is there, this is not deniable. But we have to know what our real identity is in order to distinguish between the ego, the real self, and the false ego, or wrong identifications. Only then we will be able to get rid of the materialistic, self-centered and false ego.

False, or materialistic ego is the identification with matter. It is very self-centered. The origin of the false ego is the desire to possess material things in order to enjoy them. In this way we start to identify ourselves with material values and we become conditioned by the three modes of material nature, namely goodness, passion and ignorance.

In this conditioned state the living entities struggle very hard for gaining material values, but as a matter of fact it cannot solve the real problems of life: birth, death, old age and disease. With this wrong idea of ego, we think that we are a product of material nature and therefore we are runnig after illusory sense enjoyment. So absorbed in bodily consciousness we cannot understand our real identity, situation and purpose. We do not have clear knowledge of the existence and nature of God.

Often impersonalistic philosophers say that everything is illusion, everything is one, and they want to dissolve the ego. But we cannot give up our ego, as it means 'identity'. What we have to give up is the false ego, the false identification with matter. The self is not the illusion, but the bodily concept of life is the illusion.

And the first step in the process of realizing our true identity, also called self-realization, is to learn that we are not this body. With this information immediately the questions arise: so who are we? what is our real identity? The answer to these questions can be found in authorized Vedic scriptures such as the Bhagavad Gita: we are spirit souls. We are eternal, spiritual beings. But due to our material desires we had to take birth in the material world and we had to accept this material body. The Lord grants us a free will. So we are responsable for our actions and we decide whether we want to connect with the internal, spiritual energy of the Lord, or the external, material energy.

To purify our materialistic consciousness we have to become engaged in devotional service. By engaging in devotional service the original qualities of the self will become manifest. The Bhagavad Gita also tells us that we have to accept a spiritual master, a real representative of God, who is experienced in the science of self-realization and who can tell us how to serve God. Because that is something our mind cannot make up on its own account. In this way we will be able to give up our false identifications and start seeing our real nature, and the respective duties.

So you see, self-realization is a very scientific process. Due to our long misuse of the senses for sense gratification, we are confused by false identifications such as: my country, my house, my money, which make us forget our eternal relationship with the Lord. Sometimes persons even think they themselves have become God. Of course, that is very pleasing to their false ego, as they see themselves as the peak of all creation, having to bow down before nobody. But actually it is easy to see that it cannot be true: we are not able to maintain ourselves, nor anybody else. We are basically dependent on every apple and every corn of rice. We are parts and parcels of the Lord. Our relationship with the Lord is like the relationship of a father and his a son. The son has the same qualities as the father but they can never switch their identity.

The original existence or nature of living beings is eternal and full of joy and wisdom. We should never forget that. In this material world there are always anxieties and problems. But we do not belong here, because everything in this material world is temporal whereas we are eternal. So we should take this opportunity to get rid of false identifications and to become engaged in the loving service of the Lord by approaching those who are already engaged in His service.