WHAT IS KRISHNA CONSCIOUSNESS?

By Ananta Sesa Dasa

The Vedic Care Charitable Trust follows the principles of Vaishanavism. Many supporters of the VCC are well versed in Krishna Consciousness; however, since the VCC welcomes every spiritual seeker, it seems appropriate to take a bit of time to discuss the history and philosophy of the movement.


History
Krishna Consciousness is our original spiritual understanding, which means that its history is actually as old as the universe. However, we will start the history a little more recently.

The Vedic culture (Veda means sacred knowledge) began in India over 5000 years ago. This culture is so named because of it’s spiritual and ritualistic adherence to the Vedas. The four Vedas (Rg-veda, Sama-veda, Atharva-veda, and Yajur-veda) were delivered to the people of India by Vyasadeva in order to make this most ancient wisdom available to all. The Vedas are very technical and difficult for the common person to understand, so other writings were brought into being as a way of bringing wisdom and truth to the less intelligent of society. These works were the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Contained within the Mahabharata is the Bhagavad-Gita, considered by many to be the Bible of the Hindus, but of course, it is really the Bible of humanity.

The Bhagavad-Gita tells the story of a conversation held between the great warrior, Arjuna, and Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personification of the Godhead. Taking the role of guru, or spiritual coach, Krishna carefully guides Arjuna towards spiritual awakening and full knowledge. This text is left as humanity’s instruction manual. Its teachings are simple and to the point, but sadly, human ego drove some to abandon the true message of Krishna Consciousness, and instead to manipulate it to serve their own sense gratification for power and wealth.

Because of this corruption, Lord Krishna entered the world. This time, he appeared as a devotee of Krishna called Lord Caitanya (1486-1534). Caitanya fought against the corruption caused by ego and initiated a spiritual awakening through the sankirtan movement. The sankirtan movement, which is the chanting of the holy names, is the simplest method of reviving our dormant Krishna Consciousness.

The teachings of Lord Caitanya have been passed down from guru to initiate for the last 500 years, which brings us to the founder of Krishna Consciousness in the West, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada (1896-1977). Shortly before his death in 1933, Prabhupada’s teacher, Bhaktisiddhanta Swami, instructed him to bring this ancient knowledge to the West. Prabhupada was finally able to make this a reality in 1965.

Swami Prabhupada arrived in New York in the fall of 1965 virtually penniless, but he was able to set up a small store front temple at the former Matchless Gifts giftshop on 2nd Street. From there he began to chant, give teachings from the Bhagavad-Gita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and other important scriptures. Very slowly people started to notice, listen, and begin to follow the teachings from this spiritual coach. As the 60s moved on, and with the help of some prominent figures such as Allen Ginsberg and George Harrison, the movement grew in popularity and attracted many followers. (It attracted our own Gurudas in 1967).

During the final years of his life, Prabhupada travelled around the world 14 times and wrote over 50 books. He worked tirelessly to make Krishna Consciousness the world-wide movement that it is today.


Philosophy
The basic philosophy of Krishna Consciousness begins with the idea that we are not the physical bodies that we believe we are. Material conditioning has made us accept many falsehoods. Instead, we are spirit soul, which is part and parcel of Krishna.
In the beginning, humans existed in their original constitutional position, as the appendages of God. There was no sense of ego or desire to become anything more. We simply served the Lord and fulfilled His Divine Will. However, as time went on, a false ego developed within humans. This ego insisted that mankind was not just an appendage of God, but rather was its own person. With that mentality, desire for sense gratification developed and grew.
The created world had so many allurements, beauty, sex, wealth, power, entertainments, and so forth, that humanity forgot its true nature. As a result, we spent our time seeking these allurements and trying to find happiness within them. Of course, this is impossible. Any happiness found in this world is temporary, and when it is gone, it leaves a gap that brings misery. Suffering is the common state of existence for one who has forgotten one’s true nature.
True happiness can only be found in the eternal, which means letting go of all our temporary attachments and surrendering to Krishna. By doing so, we may return to our original constitutional positions as servitors of the Lord and find genuine happiness through that service. But how do we do this?

Lord Caitanya taught that the easiest method for reviving our dormant Krishna Consciousness, our love of Krishna and understanding of our true self, was through the chanting of the Holy Names of God. Within the Vedic traditions, the name of God, the image of God, or anything else associated with God is identical to God. So, when we chant the names of God, we are bringing Him into our presence.


The greatest desire of humanity is to see and know God. “I really want to see you Lord,” George Harrison sang in My Sweet Lord. There is a great deal of doubt and skeptism in this world about the existence of God, even from so-called believers. Like Doubting Thomas, they want proof, but it seems no proof is forthcoming. Another line from Harrison; however, says “it won’t take long my Lord”. This is acknowledgement that if one begins the process of chanting the Holy Names that one will quickly experience God and have the proof that is desired. One will soon be in the presence of God.

The Maha-Mantra
The chanting that Lord Caitanya spoke of is called the Maha-Mantra (the Great Mantra). It is comprised of three of the names of God: Hare, Krishna, and Rama.
Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna
Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare
Hare Rama, Hare Rama
Rama Rama, Hare Hare

Hare is the spiritual energy of God, and also represents the feminine aspect of the divine as Radha. Krishna, a name that implies universal attraction, is the Supreme Personification of the Godhead. Rama, who entered the world in human form, is the supreme enjoyer. It is through Him that we find true happiness. (Readers from a Christian background may find a strong similarity to the Trinity. Krishna would equate to God the Father, Rama to God the Son, and Hare as the Holy Spirit.)

Lord Caitanya taught that a devotee of Krishna should chant this mantra on a string of japa beads (similar to a rosary). The string contains 108 beads, and one chants the mantra once on each bead. After 108 times, one round of japa is completed. Caitanya advised that one should chant 64 rounds each day. In this way, the mind would constantly be focused upon Krishna to the exclusion of everything else. Recent spiritual guides, such as Srila Prabhupada, have lessened the number to 16 rounds per day due to the pressures and duties of modern life.

The key point is to ensure that one is constantly thinking of Krishna. The process of Bhakti-yoga requires that one offer devotional service to the Lord with love. So, one’s actions should be directed toward the service of the Lord and one should always be thinking of the Lord. In this way, one will remember and regain one’s original position as servitor of the Lord, and not be bothered by suffering from the illusions of the material world.

Love, Medicine, and Music: The Flipside of the Sixties

An Evening with Gurudas Prabhu 2018

Dear Devotees and Readers,

Please accept my humble obeisances, all glories to Srila Prabhupada!

Thinking back to the evening, amid the music and the stories, and the sense of shared space and warmth that comes with gatherings such as this, one quote from Gurudas Prabhu has remained with me above the others, “We have family, now we need community.”

In some ways the sentiment might be baffling.  What is a community if not a kind of family?  Yet, as Gurudas Prabhu spoke on a time gradually fewer will be able to remember, fondly wearing the hat of his beloved Guru, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, I began to understand.

Much like today in many ways, 1960’s America was nothing if not a time of change.  Revolution followed revolution as a disenfranchised youth sought change and reformation in every place that offered it, and some, like Gurudas Prabhu, sought a spiritual revolution, a revolution of the heart through a radical decision to be happy without everything American consumerism told people they needed.

Many encountering what came to be known as the “Hare Krishna Movement,” or Gaudiya Vaishnavism in non-colloquial terms, had families, but family, like many people find, isn’t always the same as community, isn’t always the same as a group of people from different backgrounds and experiences choosing to be with each other out of love rather than obligation.

As Gurudas Prabhu told stories and shared memories of meeting the Beatles, his friendship with George Harrison, and his personal relationship with His Divine Grace, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, what stood out was his gentle love and affection for everyone he spoke of.  In a time when practitioners were being kidnapped off the streets to be held by the police or their families, coming from a background of social and civil activism, Gurudas Prabhu seemed to have never hardened, instead telling story after story of how Bhakti Yoga became revolutionary to so many, as Srila Prabhupada taught his clumsy and heartfelt disciples that in Bhakti Yoga there would be no difference between the men and women, no value to be put on class or race, that to be gentle with themselves and to learn was enough.

With shining eyes, as he discussed his early memories, Gurudas Prabhu said, “don’t beat yourself up—do things sincerely.  We are children.” When many find it easy to stress the aspects of discipline or austerity in a practice, the urge to put rules above affection, Gurudas Prabhu painted a unique picture of the social stresses of the time through a distinctly personal lens, that allowed no room for distancing the people of the 1960s from the social and historical personalities it’s viewed through now.  Because for Gurudas Prabhu, as he recalled his friends, his journey, and his guru, what he shared were memories and all that comes with them, rather than a speech or a lesson.

As we closed the evening with more kirtan and food, everyone sought to make sure Gurudas Prabhu received his refreshments first.  Yet as other students and myself sat on the floor to sing more kirtan while food was being served, Gurudas Prabhu held a pair of kartals with great care and seated himself on the floor with the rest of us, food temporarily forgotten as he sang with all of us, his smiling face that of a joyful youth.

A man who learned that the permission to be happy and serve the ones you love was a revolution to last generations, carried on the back of a gentle Swami from Kolkata to California, to meet Gurudas Prabhu and so many others as they were.  “We are children”, he said.  “Just do things sincerely.”

Thank you so much to ASSG, SOAC, and the Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, and everyone from CSI who helped out for sponsoring this experience and allowing this event to be possible, and thank you, most sincerely, to Gurudas Prabhu himself.  The evening you gave to our campus and our humble club was an experience as valuable as it was special, and truly an evening to be cherished beyond all words.  Being able to share these aspects of Bhakti Yoga with the CU Boulder community was an honor made possible by all of you.

Sincerely with Affection,
Your Servants,
Panchali Walford & The CU Boulder Bhakti Yoga Club

To order Gurudas’ books, click here.

Peace is preferable to War

San Franscisco, June 2nd, 2018.

After 50 years of service to Krishna and Prabhupad I am saddened by the divisiveness of his family.

I am tired of the sectarianism, that separates rather then unites us.
We can do so much if we cooperate with the principals that Prabhupad gave us.

There are so many devotees feeling alone and apart. These schisms are based on adopting body consciousness which boxes people into surface identities that separates us.

Krishna’s variety encourages celebrating our differences rather than hating the unknown… This is counterproductive and not Vedic, which encourages sanatan dharma,  which transcends and supersedes this mundane thinking.

When so many people are trying to serve Krishna but in slightly different ways, instead of conflict on the mental platform, we can cooperate better. In other words, why can’t we get along?

We started as a growing family and helped Prabhupad and yes we grew because Krishna blessed our endeavors. We grew on the simple principal – das and das and “love and trust”.

As we grew like all movements and groups, some get titles, property wealth, false adoration, e.g. power. These hard hearted devotees take advantage of the soft hearted adherents. Many over the years have ignored our principals, so much so that changes were made to Prabhupad’s words, ideals and plans.

The soft hearted ones are true bhaktas and bhaktis as we were devotees and not business people per se. Of course all types are needed, but the merchant Vaisha types took advantage of the simple Brahmin devotees.

So I have seen this phenomena before: The beginning zeal and idealism tarnish into complacency and power struggles based on the ego false separations; but even the Bhagavad Gita started on a battle field, so it is under Krishna’s purview and these quarrels are material nature. But we could and should know better.

Prabhupad was our example on good manners and good management.

So I am sadden by so many mistakes and even insidious acts over the years, a far cry from Vaishnava ethics and behavior. Yet we have evolved and despite the mistakes, the broken marriages, the mistreatment of woman, children and men… Yes, also impersonalism in the guise of personalism and complacency.

Yet we have started farms, restaurant and schools, etc etc. etc. and grew in spite of a somewhat dysfunctional family, we are. We have grown. And as I travel around the world, I see great hope for our movement and our future. And any movement is made up of individuals. E.G: The army uniform and the person in the army are different. People and governments etc.

So we devotees, as individuals have rebelled against bad behavior, and carried on our Sadhana practices, which transcends sectarianism; we persevere through troubled waters, resolute in purpose, Bhakti Yoga or Love for Radha and Krishna; Our unified goal. And if we love them, then we can love others here on this planet, seeing into hearts and souls rather then dwelling on surface bodily perceptions.

So many devotees have left the ashrams and communities and forged ahead on their own. It is challenging to be transcendent of the material world (as we know better) when we are in the midst of nescience.

That is why community is important.

And yes, we have grown and yes, started so may projects including planetariums, but neglected one thing and that is devotee care.
So I started the idea and some very sincere souls coalesced together to help me actually begin to care by identifying those devotees who are isolated and poor and neglected – after years of service – by the insensitive authorities.

So by Krishna’s, Radarani’s,  Prabhupad’s  and Bhakti Tirtha Swami’s blessings and empowerment I started out. Planting the message of devotee care. Aradhana Devi Dasi, a once successful model and actress reached out to become our C.E.O. and together we formed the Vedic Care Charity.

We have ambassadors and well wishers all over the world, and we’re grateful. We have many amazing carers and doctors,  we’ve a few competent Administrators, and Matthew J. Morreale is our office affairs assistant.

But even today as we are helping people, we are mistrusted and sometimes attacked or more often, met with complacent interaction waiting for each other to support us.
Lots of lip service but few real supporters.
I believe in deeds not words.
So we are caring for people today, when many devotees who have served for many years are neglected and are kicked out of the temples, put out to pasture or thrown on the garbage heap of callous society,  alone,  and afraid.

We at the V.C.C., are here for you!

We have trained professionals who are doing out-reach now. Caitania Priya dd and Chaitanya Swarup das are caring personally and running our medical front: and with Rama Narashima das (UK), Mathura Lila (Canada), Devaki dd &  Stritama dasi  (Florida),  Bhagavati dd (Belgium), Prashanti dasi (Texas), Ram Tulasi das &  Ananda Shakti dd (Oregon),  Gopaswami das & Krishna Caranaravinda dd (France), Jaya Krishna das (Florida), Vasanta das (California), Heather Holman (Arizona) and Bhakti das (NY);  they are all carers or trained counselors facilitating this project.

We’ve helped fifty devotees in great need in the past two years alone, some for much longer. To mention a few: Mahananda das (ACBSP), Krsna Pryia dd, Caruhasa dasa (ACBSP)Mahaksha das (ACBSP), Ishan Chaitanya das, Bhakti Vasudeva Swami (Iskcon), Manohara dd, Jatayu das (ACBSP) and many more who prefer not to be mentioned.

Now we are working towards our first retirement village and care facility in Sedona, Arizona.

Please come to our seminars and please donate your time or funds (Lakxmi).

Thank you very much,

THE IMPORTANCE OF CHARITY

By Ananta Sesa Dasa

The question of charity has long been of concern within the Krishna Consciousness movement. Should a devotee give in charity, and if so, how and to whom? In answering these questions, let us consider a couple key passages.

Acts of sacrifice, charity, and penance are not to be given up, but should be performed. Indeed, sacrifice, charity, and penance purify even the great souls (Bhagavad-Gita 18.5).

So, the Bhagavad-Gita instructs the devotee to perform acts of charity, which are beneficial to the improvement of the soul. However, it also warns that charity must be given in the proper mode.

Charity in the mode of goodness is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return (Bhagavad-Gita 17.20).

In the purport to this passage, Srila Prabhupada writes: “charity given to a person engaged in spiritual activities is recommended.” This means that charity is a positive and purifying activity when used correctly.

It is sometimes asked why the devotees of Krishna do not engage in charity work like other religious organizations. Prabhupada would often speak against “mundane charity”, arguing that we cannot do anything to improve the material condition. So, donating money to homeless shelters, cancer research or the police officers benevolent fund will do little but mask the symptoms of the real disease that is playing mankind. Instead, one should engage in real charity—something that will help mankind overcome the material condition and find his way back home to Godhead.

Money should be given to promote Krishna Consciousness around the world—to support those who travel to preach, distribute books, and offer prasadam—in short, to support those things that will awaken the dormant Krishna Consciousness that lies within all.

Prabhupada explained the idea like this:
It is impossible to improve people’s material conditions. Material conditions are already established by the superior administration according to one’s karma. They cannot be changed. The only benefit we can render to suffering beings is to try to raise them to spiritual consciousness…If one is at all sympathetic or able to do good to others, he should endeavor to raise people to Krishna consciousness
(Srimad Bhagavatam 5.8.10, purport).

While it is very important to promote Krishna Consciousness, it is equally important to provide the services necessary for devotees to stay on the path of Krishna Consciousness. This is why organizations such as the Vedic Care Charitable Trust qualify as worthy charities. The VCC does not support mundane activities, but rather, it supports transcendental ones.

The VCC is not a mundane charity, nor does it encourage fruitive activities. It works to support those devotees who dedicated their lives to the service is Krishna. It operates on the principle of “das anu das”, the notion that we are the “servants of the servants”, a concept strongly promoted by Srila Prabhupada.

The VCC seeks to establish retirement villages and hospice facilities where devotees can associate with other devotees, regularly chant and hear about the glories of the Lord, and be fed only Krishna prasadam. Far too many devotees leave this body in the company of strangers, materialists who know nothing of devotional service, and some may begin to falter in their faith due to lack of genuine association. The VCC is working to change all of that.

Your donations and service do not support medical research, animal slaughter or financial greed. Your donations to the Vedic Care Charitable Trust only go to support the cause of Krishna Consciousness and all of the devotees who have served. Please consider making a donation or offering your service to this worthy charity today. Hare Krishna!

Please visit the Who-We-Serve page @ www.vediccare.org/who-we-serve or the VCC Out-Reach program page @ www.vediccare.org/out-reach-teams.

Geopathic Stress & Earth Acupunture

Intelligence or chaos ~ Chapter 2

Chapter 2
Intelligence or chaos ~ the teleological argument

A book written by Hari Krsna das (Henk Keilman)

“The numerical coincidences (necessary for an anthropic universe) could be regarded as evidence of design. The delicate fine tuning in the values of the constants, necessary so that the various different branches of physics can dovetail so felicitously, might be attributed to God. It is hard to resist the the impression that present structure of the universe, apparently so sensitive to minor alterations in the numbers, has been rather carefully thought out.”

Paul Davies PhD, physicist

3D illustration of neurons (brain cells) and nerve synapses in the human brain, the most complicated organ of the human body. The human brain consists of an average of 100 billion neurons and the human body consists of about 75 trillion cells. The complexity and the organizational level of the human body and brain are indescribable. But even the structure of the smallest atom, the hydrogen atom, appears to have a complexity and a structured balance that cannot be comprehended. From the smallest sub-atomic particle, up to the living organisms and clusters of Milky Way systems, the universe is permeated with an indescribable level of organised complexity

The first atheistic proposition: complexity is the result of chance and chaos

Most committed and outspoken atheists come from the world of science and philosophy. Dawkins and Baggini for instance, are considered to be authoritative academics. They believe in the scientific method and they often consciously position themselves as being completely opposite religion— which they call ‘superstition’ — to show that they represent reason. They suggest that religion belongs to the realm of emotions and feelings, where people can vent the thought that they ‘feel that there has to be something more’. They are firmly convinced that there is no, and that there cannot be any rational or scientific foundation for the proposition that the universe arises from and is governed by an intelligent power.

Please continue reading or download your free PDF here.

To Collect Debts, Nursing Homes Are Seizing Control Over Patients

From The New York Times: A New York State statute to protect the infirm has become a routine tool for nursing homes to ensure bills are paid.

Lillian Palermo tried to prepare for the worst possibilities of aging. An insurance executive with a Ph.D. in psychology and a love of ballroom dancing, she arranged for her power of attorney and health care proxy to go to her husband, Dino, eight years her junior, if she became incapacitated. And in her 80s, she did.

Mr. Palermo, who was the lead singer in a Midtown nightclub in the 1960s when her elegant tango first caught his eye, now regularly rolls his wife’s wheelchair to the piano at the Catholic nursing home in Manhattan where she ended up in 2010 as dementia, falls and surgical complications took their toll. He sings her favorite songs, feeds her home-cooked Italian food, and pays a private aide to be there when he cannot.

But one day last summer, after he disputed nursing home bills that had suddenly doubled Mrs. Palermo’s copays, and complained about inexperienced employees who dropped his wife on the floor, Mr. Palermo was shocked to find a six-page legal document waiting on her bed.

It was a guardianship petition filed by the nursing home, Mary Manning Walsh, asking the court to give a stranger full legal power over Mrs. Palermo, now 90, and complete control of her money.

Few people are aware that a nursing home can take such a step. Guardianship cases are difficult to gain access to and poorly tracked by New York State courts; cases are often closed from public view for confidentiality. But the Palermo case is no aberration. Interviews with veterans of the system and a review of guardianship court data conducted by researchers at Hunter College at the request of The New York Times show the practice has become routine, underscoring the growing power nursing homes wield over residents and families amid changes in the financing of long-term care.

In a random, anonymized sample of 700 guardianship cases filed in Manhattan over a decade, Hunter College researchers found more than 12 percent were brought by nursing homes. Some of these may have been prompted by family feuds, suspected embezzlement or just the absence of relatives to help secure Medicaid coverage. But lawyers and others versed in the guardianship process agree that nursing homes primarily use such petitions as a means of bill collection — a purpose never intended by the Legislature when it enacted the guardianship statute in 1993.

At least one judge has ruled that the tactic by nursing homes is an abuse of the law, but the petitions, even if they are ultimately unsuccessful, force families into costly legal ordeals.

“It’s a strategic move to intimidate,” said Ginalisa Monterroso, who handled patient Medicaid accounts at the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home until 2012, and is now chief executive of Medicaid Advisory Group, an elder care counseling business that was representing Mr. Palermo in his billing dispute. “Nursing homes do it just to bring money.”

“It’s so cruel,” she added. “Mr. Palermo loves his wife, he’s there every single day, and they just threw him to the courts.”

Brett D. Nussbaum, a lawyer who represents Mary Manning Walsh and many other nursing homes, said Mr. Palermo’s devotion to his wife was irrelevant to the decision to seek a court-appointed guardian in July, when the billing dispute over his wife’s care reached a stalemate, with an outstanding balance approaching $68,000.

The Palermos at the Mary Manning Walsh Nursing Home, which had tried to obtain guardianship over Mrs. Palermo. Credit Piotr Redlinski for The New York Times

“The Palermo case is no different than any other nursing home bill that they had difficulty collecting,” Mr. Nussbaum said, estimating that he had brought 5,000 guardianship cases himself in 21 years of practice. “When you have families that do not cooperate and an incapacitated person, guardianship is a legitimate means to get the nursing home paid.”

Guardianship transfers a person’s legal rights to make some or all decisions to someone appointed by the court — usually a lawyer paid with the ward’s money. It is aimed at protecting people unable to manage their affairs because of incapacity, and who lack effective help without court action. Legally, it can supplant a power of attorney and a health care proxy.

Although it is a drastic measure, nursing home lawyers argue that using guardianship to secure payment for care is better than suing an incapacitated resident who cannot respond.

Mr. Palermo, 82, was devastated by the petition, brought in the name of Sister Sean William, the Carmelite nun who is the executive director of Mary Manning Walsh. “It’s like a hell,” he said last fall, speaking in the cadences of the southern Italian village where he grew up in poverty in a family of eight. “Never in my life I was sued for anything. I just want to take care of my wife.”

A court evaluator eventually reported that Mr. Palermo was the appropriate guardian, and questioned why the petition had been filed. But the matter still dragged on, and Mr. Palermo, who had promised to pay any arrears once Medicaid completed a recalculation of the bill, grew distraught as his expenses fighting the case reached $10,000.

In the end, Medicaid’s recalculation put his wife’s monthly copay at $4,558.54, almost $600 less than the nursing home had claimed, but still far more than the $2,642 Mr. Palermo had been paying under an earlier Medicaid calculation. As soon as the nursing home cashed his check for the outstanding balance, it withdrew the guardianship petition.

“They chose to use a strong-arm method, asking for somebody to be appointed to take over her funds, hoping for a rubber stamp to do their wishes,” said Elliott Polland, Mr. Palermo’s lawyer.

Many judges go along with such petitions, according to lawyers and others involved in the process. One judge who has not is Alexander W. Hunter Jr., a longtime State Supreme Court justice in the Bronx and Manhattan. In guardianship cases in 2006 and 2007, Justice Hunter ordered the nursing homes to bear the legal costs, ruling they had brought the petitions solely for the purpose of being paid and stating that this was not the Legislature’s intent when it enacted the statute, known as Article 81 of the Mental Hygiene Law.

Last year Justice Hunter did appoint a guardian in response to a petition by Hebrew Home for the Aged at Riverdale, but in his scathing 11-page decision, he directed the guardian to investigate and to consider referring the case for criminal prosecution of financial exploitation.

The decision describes a 94-year-old resident with a bank balance of $240,000 who had been unable to go home after rehabilitative treatment because of a fire in her co-op apartment; her only regular visitors were real estate agents who wanted her to sell. After Hebrew Home’s own doctor evaluated her as incapable of making financial decisions, the decision says, the nursing home collected a $50,000 check from her; it sued her when she refused to continue writing checks, then filed for guardianship.

“It would be an understatement to declare that this court is outraged by the behavior exhibited by the interested parties — parties who were supposed to protect the person, but who have all unabashedly demonstrated through their actions in connection with the person that they are only interested in getting paid,” he wrote.

Photographs of the Palermos from the late 1960s. Mrs. Palermo, now 90, has been living at the nursing home since 2010. Credit Nina Bernstein/The New York Times

Jennifer Cona, a lawyer for the nursing home, called the decision “grossly unfair to Hebrew Home,” but said she could not discuss details because the record was sealed.

Many cases in which judges grant nursing homes’ guardianship petitions never come to light. But one that challenges the legal propriety of such petitions for bill collection is now pending before the Appellate Division of the State Supreme Court. Without explanation, that record, too, is sealed from public scrutiny.

“There is no transparency in the whole process,” said Alexandra Siskopoulos, a lawyer who represents a relative of the nursing home resident in the appellate case — a relative who had wanted to take the resident home. “Unfortunately, people’s eyes are not opened until it’s their family member, and at that point, it’s too late.”

Throughout the country, data is lacking on the most basic facts about guardianships, even how many there are. In New York State, with different rules in 62 counties and no centralized database, it has taken a team of researchers more than two years to collect information from a fraction of case files in 14 counties, said Jean Callahan, the director of the Brookdale Center on Healthy Aging at Hunter College.

Preliminary findings of the center’s study are not expected until later this year, but at the request of The Times, the researchers undertook a breakdown of the petitioners in a sample of the 3,302 guardianship cases filed in Manhattan from 2002 to 2012. More frequent petitioners than nursing homes (12.4 percent) were hospitals (16.1 percent), friends and family (25.3 percent) and Adult Protective Services (40.1 percent).

New York’s guardianship statute was part of a national movement to limit guardianships to the least restrictive alternatives necessary to prevent harm. A petition is supposed to be brought only by someone with the person’s welfare at heart, and guardianship is to be tailored to individual needs, taking into account the person’s wishes.

Instead, Ms. Callahan said, “it has become a system that’s very focused on finances.”

One afternoon, Mrs. Palermo dozed in her wheelchair while her husband described their careful preparations for old age, and the shock of discovering that papers drawn up by an elder law specialist were insufficient protection.

He recalled the fear and anger he felt when he first read the nursing home’s petition, on his bus ride back to a rent-stabilized apartment on East 36th Street filled with mementos of their happy marriage. They have no children. “Who better than me, the husband for 47 years, that she gave power of attorney?” he asked.

As his voice grew anguished, Mrs. Palermo began to moan and cry out incoherently. “Are you O.K., baby?” he asked, jumping up to embrace her. “Now, don’t do that. Come on, give me a hug.”

He soothed her in Italian, speaking of the polenta he had made for her that morning. He wheeled her to the dining room. Later, he would serenade her.

But in the night, again he could not sleep for worry. He fingered drafts of his own petitions, hand-lettered pages that he debated sending to nursing home administrators. One was addressed “To God and to whom it may concern.”

“I’m trapped in a web of people and lawyers that will exhaust my 50 years of sacrifices and savings,” he wrote. “Please, dear God, grant me strength and wisdom to take care of my wife.”

If not now, then when?

Love Is The Best Medicine & The Soul Of A Farmer
By Lisa

I would describe Jatayu’s situation as being similar to watering a garden with roundup. Dying a slow death.

He has been a farmer and lived on fresh vegetables his whole life. In tune with nature, in touch with the seasons, one with the outdoor world. Almost every day of his adult life in contact with sunshine, fresh air.

Now he lives on a diet of prescription drugs, confined in a small hospital room where fluorescent lighting has replaced the sun, and the stale, cold recycled air is filled with sickness and death. There are no birds or trees and you never see the sky. There is constant, amplified, artificial, surround sound disturbing noises coming from all directions that even ear plugs would not allow one to escape.

They keep him sedated to keep him calm. Yes he has a heart condition, but he doesn’t like having to take to take ten different drugs or endure their severe and countless side effects.

He enjoyed the carrot juice I brought for him but was so weak he could barely hold the cup to drink it. We joked that I didn’t grow the carrots but I juiced them. We wanted to take him for a walk outside, in a wheelchair, a little fresh air after almost 3 weeks in this environment. But the nurse said no. That they didn’t want to stimulate him because he could get upset. I would be more than upset in his condition too. So we opted for a few slow laps around the nurses stations on his floor. He brightened up as we began softly chanting while we walked. Passing door after door, you could not avoid seeing or hearing the sufferings of his neighboring patients. He said he had seen it all since he had been there. Even though a few of the nursing staff were exceptionally joyful and happy to see him, it was a sliver of light in what could be the scene of a twilight zone nightmare movie.

Once you are in this system, you may never get out. I’ve worked in nursing homes before. With all its good intentions and well meaning staff, the patients were kept sedated too, because there wasn’t enough personalism to meet their needs if they were too functional. Many of them wanted to die than live in this kind of hellish prison. I could understand why. I would too. After a few months of seeing the inside of an elder home system and crying myself to sleep on a nightly basis with the sadness I felt, not being able to really help the residents, I quit and went into private duty caregiving, where I could have more personal care and time with the elderly in need.

Jatayu was functional but barely. He has round the clock supervision and is definitely not able to care for himself. He was shaky, unsteady, and had a risk of falling sign on his door and wristband, likely due to the medication. He said there is not much personalism in there and was confused why they can’t they pay the staff more to give better care. His room was a mess and he lacked proper warm clothes and a suitcase. I understand that his state of mind at the time of his car accident was in rough shape, and that all of his possessions are in mixed chaos in his van.

Devaki dd had brought him a cd player, headphones and chanting music to listen to, but the staff don’t have time or interest to manage helping him play it and he thought the batteries had died. So it just sat on his bedside table unused. I asked him what was his favorite kirtan music and he said Prabhupada chanting. So I pulled up one of Prabhupada’s YouTube videos on my phone and played it next to his ear as he laid in bed. He smiled, started crying saying Prabhupada, Prabhupada and soon drifted to sleep.

As my friend Gajendra and I prepared to leave, we leaned over to whisper goodbye. He started to cry again as he expressed to us how grateful he was we came to visit him and began telling us about Haridas Thakur in relation to Sri Chaitanya, how the company of devotees is the most meaningful thing in life.

He said being in a place like that, on so many medications, with no exercise or sunshine makes you wither away. He didn’t think he has long to live and wants to die in the company of devotees. He said he has never suffered like this before and you could tell the experience has left him with a heavy heart, a fragile body and a confused mind.


I left the hospital with my own deep sadness and confusion. How is it possible that there is no solid, functioning, fully funded Krishna Conscious, devotee living option, center(s), for those in need, whether senior citizens, hospice care, disabled, homeless? A kind of spiritual retirement farm of low income or high means, anywhere in Alachua, in Florida, in the US or the entire world? Those residents with means would pay for care and help offset the expenses of those who could not pay.

Jatayu was moved to a senior care center in St. Pete today for rehab, but I don’t think that’s the kind of rehab that will help him. He wants to stay where there is devotee association.

I am aware and very much appreciate what Gurudas, Aradhana and locally, Devaki of the Vedic Care Charitable Trust is trying to do in this arena. It’s an enormous task and the best and only program it seems that is even addressing this issue in the devotee community. But as wonderful as it is, unfortunately they are not receiving adequate support. Is it possible that we can organize a meeting in Alachua with the VCC team to expedite a plan for increasing their resources, organization and funding?

If I am incorrect in my understanding, that there is no established care home or center, anywhere in the world, at this time, where a devotee like Jatayu would be welcomed, cared for and able to live out the rest of his life in peace, with dignity, in the association and protection of devotional caregivers, would someone please contact us with this information.

With the population of aging devotees growing, why isn’t this kind of service or facility a foundational priority, to uphold the core principals of Krishna Consciousness pivotal to the mission Prabhupada stood for?

What is self sufficiency and sustainability that does not care for devotees in their darkest hour?

What is the point of having countless other types of worldwide spiritual projects if we are not able to provide the most basic caregiving, especially at the end of life?

Why not start teaching our children the importance of self sufficiency, that includes increased awareness around death and dying through intergenerational living programs that train and employ younger caregivers, and farmers?

When I first came to the Alachua community more than 10 years ago, I was most inspired by the simple living, high thinking teachings of the Krishna philosophy. I had never heard of any religion or spiritual organization with this focus, and I had never met a spiritual farmer.

Meeting Jatayu and having a direct, real world experience of these combined principals for conscious living was a core element in furthering my association with the temple and devotees, and I would say a pivotal reason I am still here. It gave me a kind of optimism that there really were people on this planet that had an understanding of the right ways to live in harmony with the Earth while seeking God.

It was a natural step to connect with Jatayu. His bright and bubbly personality mixed with his dedication for returning to natural farming was impactful. He lived and breathed having his hands in the soil and I had a longstanding desire for living in a spiritual, green community. He was always at the temple every Sunday with tables full of produce he had picked that morning. He wanted an ox and told stories of his early days as a devotee farmer. It didn’t take long for us to realize our combined talents and optimism would be able to advance his efforts and greater outreach for organic produce education, and I soon joined his farm to create and manage his first Community Supported Agriculture/CSA farm program.

Soon after that, because of him, I started my first real garden. We laughed at how the deer ate the whole thing, right before harvest time, before I could. From there I grew a multitude of new endeavors and ideas, diving even deeper into connecting gardening and healthier living. My kitchen also became an indoor garden (deer proof) where I experimented and watched in wonder as new things came to life, and turned them into everything from kale chips, hummus, kombucha and wheatgrass juice to fermented vegetables and seed butters. And there were always talks and dreams of having a cottage industry farm business in the devotee community.

Working with Jatayu was the most meaningful right livelihood job experiences I have ever had. One that gave me a new lease on life I wanted to share with the world. I watched in awe as the public and devotees alike sprouted new energy and vitality every time we would set up the vegetable stand, both at the temple and local farmers markets. It brought people together and gave them something to believe in, formed lasting friendships, it motivated a priority for better health, it raised awareness about natural living, a vegetarian diet, Krishna. It was a place many stood in line to talk with Jatayu about farming as they filled their baskets with a rainbow of fresh living foods to feed their families. But more than that, I witnessed them filling and feeding their hearts with hope in something deeper than words can describe. There was an air of truth that became evident in this space, where Krishna smiled and gave his blessing. I miss this time and I miss the Jatayu that I witnessed bringing vibrance, life, love, hope and meaning into the lives of many. I will always remember with great affection, the effect he had on my life.

People may ask, what about this mistake he made, or this thing he didn’t do. I do not judge these things, that is Krishna’s job. But I do want to honor his efforts and successes where he invested his entire life. I think we all would like that people remember the good we did in the world instead of finding judgement with our faults.
I make this plea for his welfare, to create a path of gratitude, returning our appreciation for what he did do to bring attention and real world application to Prabhupada’s mission for self sufficient farm communities.

We may have lost the ability to have him serve as a role model and teacher for devotional farming, but we should not lose the lessons of the seeds he planted.

His heartbreaking circumstance shines light on a beautiful opportunity and raises important questions that can’t be ignored. I can’t help but ask, if this need is not seriously addressed now, then when?

In service,
Hare Krishna
Lisa

Travels with Gurudas in Europe

Travels with Gurudas in Europe

By Gurudas, edited by Anata Sesa das

Bhakta Chaitanya Swami met me in Montreal for a festival of India, and he invited me to the summer festival in Lithuania. Since I experienced other festivals in The Ukraine, and Czech Republic, I agreed to go with him. At the other festivals, I was impressed with the enthusiasm, discipline and receptiveness of the participants. 
As a result, I asked if I could go to the Czech Republic as well. I had visited there four times previously, and had many friends in that part of the world. The trip was arranged, and the challenges in traveling became lighter due to the grace and mercy of Krishna and Prabhupada.

I met Prabhupada when he came west. Working together, we started, formed, and built the beginning foundation of Krishna consciousness in the Western world and then internationally. We started with nothing– just the Swamiji. We had no tulsi beads, mridanga’s, kartals, prayers books, elders to learn from, no movement, no money or anything. What we had was the Swami who gave us the Vedic culture. Prabhupada once said, ” I gave them something tangible–the Vedic culture.”

As I experienced Krishna’s love inside and out, I wished to give both Radha and Krishna’s love to everyone. This love is present whenever I see new temples, with old familiar photos of my parampara gurus, beautiful decorated Deities, and Prabhupada sitting there regally. I feel that divine love in other places half way around the world when devotees speak the same language through prayers, bhajans, kirtans and service attitudes.

Prabhupada gave me the principal das anu das, which means, we serve each other with love. Due to this principle, I want to see the successes of my spiritual family.
 Therefore, when I see progress such as Govinda’s restaurants, bakeries, farms,  prasadam factories, beekeepers, children, people hugging, people smiling, people ecstatically dancing with an attitude to serve,  it brings joy to my heart.
 In spite of growing pains, and some mismanagement, I see ongoing progress of Krishna consciousness in the West.

This was the wish of Bhaktivinoda Thakura and Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati. The essence is the same as when Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu changed people’s lives through the Maha Mantra. His efforts brought the holy names to every town, village and country. All of this was accomplished because of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and it is still going on


.

After landing in Latvia, we were met with smiles respect and garlands. We rode to Riga, where I was greeted with a kirtan party, and given a tour of the Riga Krishna temple. The building included a restaurant, an ayurvedic clinic, residential quarters for men and woman, and a very nice room for me. I was informed by the lovely lady hostess, that my Braja brother Dina Bandhu would be sleeping across from me later that night. Old friends and new friends are met on these magical Krishna tours.

The next morning, we piled into a van with Dina Bandhu, His assistant Arjun, the wife of the driver and his child sat in the front seat, and other devotee girls sat in the back seats. We stopped and had a prasadam picnic near a sea-side resort. We explored the resort, and then went on to Vilnius, Lithuania. Once again, we were greeted by a kirtan party (just like the old days). I was escorted to a very nice suite. It had one room with a desk, couch, and table. There was also a kitchen and sleeping quarters. The site had workshop rooms, p

ools and saunas. A lake and forest were nearby.
While in Latvia, I had two assistants assigned to me.

The next morning, Bhavananda, one of the assistants, took me to me to a large tent wherein about 800 devotees were ecstatically chanting and dancing. It contained an altar with all our inspirations decorated beautifully. There were also altars on the side.

While there, I proposed several seminars:
1) “Prabhupada is with us”
2) “Every town and village” {the history of Krishna Consciousness in the Western World}
3) “Krishna Consciousness is a great and joyful adventure”.


I spoke morning, evening and in between, while the younger devotees lapped up the nectar like kittens. The various Swamis also appreciated the talks, and asked questions from me. This is a list of the Maharajas present: Shubha Swami,
Dhirashanta Swami (He was with me as a bramachari during the early days in Vrindavan), Niranjan Swami, Sat Chid Ananda Swami, Chaitanya Swarup Swami, Chaitanya Swami, and Dina Bandhu.

The morning kirtans involved lively dancing and nourishing holy names. There were also gifts presented by many, including some artists. Kunda data devi dasi (Kamile Tamosulnaite) gave me some art etchings as a gift.

We rode to Riga with a nice family. The driver was a gifted astrologer and palmist; while his mother was an elderly devotee. Another bright-faced Bramacharini squeezed in. As we entered Riga, and crossed the river, I saw the old and new towns. The temple was in a great location. Kirtan and smiling devotees greeted me again in Riga. In fact, warm welcomes seemed to great us at each placw we visited.

I gave the evening class.  As someone in Britain once said, “Gurudas mixes Prabhupada and Krishna.” When I discuss Prabhupada as a person, I speak of his courage, humor, wit, intelligence, compassion, and open mindedness. The third generation of devotees only know Prabhupada through his wonderful writings. Many realizations come from this awesome and instructive perspective, so when they see Prabhupada in his personal way, they understand his real greatness. They see that he practiced the shastras daily, and they see how he manifested the Vedic culture in the modern materialistic world. People say that “my realization and flavor of Krishna Consciousness has changed for the better,” and “I feel you have brought Prabhupada to us.”

Most of the Eastern European devotees lived under strict totalitarian regimes, they already lived simply, and so they eagerly accept the simple living and high thinking, as well as the exoticness of the Krishna consciousness philosophy.


We went early to the airport, where we took Ryan airlines to Prague (or Narayan airlines, as we like to say). In Prague, we met some old friends and recorded a few bhajans such as “Gauranga Bolite Habe”, “Gurudev Kripa”, “Nitaipada Kamala”, and the “Hare Krishna Maha Mantra”. After the recording session, I gave a class at the Prague temple.

Jay Gurudev, a College Professor, arranged for me to stay in a college facility in a room overlooking a running track and footbal field. The Prague skyline could be seen in the distance as soaring swallows zipped near the window.

The next day, I had breakfast with Prema Priya and Puniya  Palika . Their daughter was getting married in a few weeks. After breakfast, Puniya Palika and I walked through a green park and past an old monastery. Then we got on the bus (they don’t charge seniors) and rode to a Krishna temple in Prague. At the temple, I met Sridhar Swami from Poland, who was at Chestahova in 1976 when Avenesh Chandra, Bhakti Bhibhava Swami, Suhotra and I were there. Chitrashekar was also present.

A photographer from Poland picked us up in a car, and we rode to the riverside docks. Puniya Palika arranged a boat ride. Then we met Captain Milan, and meandered peacefully in the middle of the river. This allowed us to see Prague, the beautiful city of towers, from another perspective. Thank you Krishna for opening doors, introducing me to people, allowing me to serve, and taking me on boat rides.

The next day I saw my old friends from Prague, and I gave the Sunday love feast talk. One of the old friends at the Prague temple was Kate, who ran a hotel castle, and theater. She is probably going to live at the Prague farm to continue her devotional life.

Padapangana took us to Nava Sady, a village where many devotee families live and work at the Damodar prasadam, catering and manufacturing plant. I was given a tour of a building next door that was new since the last visit. Panga told me of a big factory in a nearby town that was a possible site for the Vedic Care Charity (www.VedicCare.org).

I usually stayed with Lila Purosshattam, but Stitha Krishna Swami was staying there, so I stayed with Pada Panga and his family. They showed me before and after photos of the temple. There were two abhisheks, and one julan ceremony taking place. Maharaja and I sat on the vyas together. I like him because he is genially humble, curious and scholarly.

During the morning class on Janmashtami, the devotees asked me what quality of Srila Prabhupada impressed me the most? I responded, “His mercy”, and everyone laughed. Then I spoke about Prabhupada’s forgiveness, mercy, and inclusiveness. My friend, Shymananda, gave me a Venu Gita by Shivaram Swami that I read on the ride. I enjoyed devouring the nectar just in time for Janmashtami.

Padapankija told me that he bought another building in a nearby town, and asked if I would like to see it for a possible care facility. Purroshattam, Stitha Krishna Swami, Shymananda, Puniya Palika and I rode to the factory building. It is huge and can have many uses. We again talked about using the building as a care for devotees facility. Such a facility could house a school, care rooms, and a multi-faceted healing center (which could include Vedic arts and culture healing workshops). There would also be room for administrative offices and an organic farm plot. We will see what Radha Krishna have planned for us.

After the Vyas Puja feast, we rode to the Prague  Krsna Dvir farm with my good friends Pada Pankaja, Puniya Palika, and Shyamanada. We stopped at a Govinda’s restaurant in a nearby town and I saw my old friend Lilla Shakti, wife of Priya Kirti. She ran over and embraced me. Their son, Vamsi, smiled and greeted me.
He had two ice creams with umbrellas, and I always have a gift for him, so we made a paper car and boat. Later, I remembered how to make a paper airplane for him. I discovered that the Govinda’s restaurant also fed homeless people after closing.

I stayed with a wonderful family: Keshava Puri, Yoga Mayyee and Bhakta Mayee. Bhakta Mayee was a special child, who also warmed up to me as I was playful with her. They were formal at first, but soon they relaxed and we became a family, which I considered a great compliment. They took me to a Castle on the way to the post office. Deena Bhandu was arriving, so we reunited at a lunch from the devotees that run the Balaram restaurant in Prague.

On Sunday, I was visited by Martin Bursik, the minister of the Environment in the Czech Republic, and his wife.  Two other friends happened by. Ladislav Heryan , or Ladin as he is known, is a priest for the youth, and the other was a priestess from the Ukraine.

I opened up the Trutnov Open Air Music Festival with them two years earlier. She held the Ukrainian flag, and a 32-person kirtan band appeared on stage. We reminisced and exchanged many ideas. Martin had once met the Dalai Lama, and had a ring given to him. When their child chimed in sweetly I said, “She is the future.” They excitedly said, “That is what the Dalai Lama said to her also.” We proposed to form a gathering with the theme “Spirituality and the Environment”, and invited the Dalai Lama as well.

I am especially fond of Priya Kirti and family and we talked about starting a Vedic care project over lunch prasadam. Kesava Puri drove us back to Prague, I stayed at the college and gave two classes at the Prague temple, and a love feast with Nara Hari and Maha Duti Swami.

The next day, at the Airportin Belgium, there was a terrorist alert and I had to move through security twice. Finally, I spied a tilak and a devotee wearing it, and he helped out with suitcases. We rode through the Belgium countryside and a WW II battlefield before arriving at Radhadesh. Aradhana, who so expertly arranged everything, was meeting me from England. She is very thoughtful and expert, so the classes, meetings and tours at Radhadesh were paced nicely.

In fact, she facilitated my whole trip wonderfully. I toured the wood furnace, solar heating, the guesthouses, seminar hall, restaurant, boutique bakery, art gallery and museum.


Bhagavati, a wonderfully intelligent and competent devotee, has already been assisting devotees who died in Radhadesh. She is maintaining a room in cooperation with us at the Vedic Care. She is a devotee of Kadana Kanana Swamiji, who I had met before, (so another old Swamiji friend–there are so many). He sings like an angel and has overcome many obstacles by Krishna’s protection and Grace.

Ram das and Dhiti Dasi, artists from California, were teaching an art class and we became friends. Other devotees, such as President Manohar das and Mahaprabu were hospitable. We had some meetings regarding care for devotees as a possible college course. Eventually.  Dina Dayal, the director of the Bhaktivedanta College, took me on a tour to nearby rock formations.

We met with Bhagavati many times in an attempt to secure our plan to continue her service of care.  She had served three dying devotees recently, and it is important to secure more rooms for this purpose.

 Aradhana and I rode the train to London. It was a pleasant and easy ride from St. Pancreas station to London. My friend Yasodananda was there and greeted us.
That night, there was a house gathering with more Prabhupada katha.

The next morning, we attended a Srimad Bhagvatam class at Sri Sri London Iswara temple in Soho. Aradhana arranged a two-day filming with Barnaby at Birkbeck University, followed by an evening gathering

 on Radhastami in London. Deena Bandhu gave me his last copy of Vraja lilla and I gave a two-hour talk during which I read from Bhakti Rasamirtra Sindhu, Venu Gita and the Vraja lilla. I shared how Radaharani is the giver of compassion, and manifested Vrindavan for Krishna’s pleasure, and her wonderful qualities.

After some more filming, we took a train to Elstree and lunch at Sri Kama’s and Kishore’s. Then we visited Bhaktivedanta Manor, George’s garden, and did some filming in Prabhupada’s rooms. We then met with Gaura and talked about how they would adopt care for elderly devotees.  He also proposed a book launch tour for my up-coming book of my classic photos of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami.

An evening gathering at Gangamata’s Gauidiya Math was very nice.
 I had a morning meeting with Rama Narishima, Aradhana, and Radha Priya dd.
Then we traveled to Gatwick, where as usual, my competent wearer of many hats helped rearrange suitcases crammed with many gifts and appreciations.

As always, it is rewarding to bring Prabhupada’s compassion, mercy, humor, flexibility, adventurous curiosity, and open mindedness to many. One can witness the transformation as the flavor of Krishna changes from the awesome and stern instruction to real personalism, love and understanding of how it began.
I watched as stoic faces changed into smiles, tears and laughter as they met Swamiji. This is my and our legacy.

‘INTELLIGENCE OR CHAOS’ ~ The Fallacy of Atheism

‘INTELLIGENCE OR CHAOS’
The Fallacy of Atheism

A book by Hari Krishna Das (Henk Keilman)

Chapter 1
The mystery of existence

“The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible at all” Albert Einstein

Unimaginably large numbers!

When I look out of the window of my study to the world outside, I see the world as we know it. I see trees, gardens and buildings in bright sunlight, except for the shadow of the occasional cloud passing overhead. Around me, life is taking its course. Nothing remarkable, as you might say; everything is just as we know it. However, behind this everyday reality is a universe of an almost unimaginable size and complexity.

We can forget this universe so easily in our daily routine of work, grocery shopping and enjoying our free time, but it is nevertheless always present, just behind that blue or cloudy sky, and it is full of truly astonishing phenomena. Take the phenomenon of light for example, which makes all life on this planet possible. It is only because of light that we can actually see anything of the world around us, yet rarely do we consider that this light has just made a huge cosmic journey simply to get here. Emanating from what we call the sun, a relatively small star known as a ‘yellow dwarf’ in astronomer’s jargon, the light that reaches our planet earth has traveled 150 million kilometers at a speed of about 300,000 kilometers per second taking roughly just 8 minutes to complete the journey.

The sun may be small compared to other stars, but the force that she produces is still unimaginably powerful. Every second our star produces an amount of energy that equals the explosion of 1 trillion hydrogen bombs of 1 megaton. In this same second, the sun produces enough energy to keep the entire world economy going for 500,000 years based on our current energy usage. Due to the enormous amounts of energy being produced and the speed at which it travels, we can feel the influence of the sun almost immediately despite her distance from earth. On a hot summer’s day, her heat can be unbearable and we are grateful just to find a spot in the shade.

However, the sun is only a glowing pin-head compared to the total size of the universe. To be really impressed by the cosmos, we have to wait until the sun disappears behind the horizon and darkness sets in. After sunset, the true scale of the universe becomes more apparent as numerous stars, star systems and other celestial bodies appear in the night sky. For those of us not living in towns and cities and not hindered by light pollution the night sky would be filled with thousands of stars. Nonetheless, no matter how impressive a view, we would only be witnessing a tiny part of the entire universe, a fraction of a fraction of an immeasurably large space.

Our solar system with its 8 planets Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

For those who really want to understand the universe we have to enter the domain of extremely large numbers. The distances within our own solar system are already enormous. Earth is part of a collection of nine planets, including the lonely outer dwarf planet Pluto. The distance from the sun to Pluto is, on average, 5 billion kilometers. If we were to travel by spaceship at the impressive speed of 60,000 kilometers per hour, then we would need to travel for 10 years to cover this distance. But if we zoom out further, then our solar system disappears into nothing. Our collection of planets is a minuscule part of a much larger entity; a galaxy called the Milky Way. The distance from one side of this system to the other side is 100,000 light years. One light year is the distance that light travels in one year at the speed of 300.000 km per second, or 9.4 trillion (9,400,000,000,000) kilometers. If we continued to travel in the spaceship that took us to Pluto at the same speed, it would take us 1.8 billion years to travel from one side of the Milky Way to the other.

Nevertheless, we would still be safely within our own star system. However, if we ventured to travel to our next nearest major star system, the Andromeda galaxy, then we would have to cover a distance of 2.4 million light years. If we continued to travel at this same speed, it would take us no less than 43.2 billion years! These distances are simply beyond human comprehension. We can hardly pronounce such numbers, let alone imagine them. Who does not, from time to time, look up to the stars in the sky and wonder with slight apprehension where it all ends?

The Andromeda star system is located at a distance of 2,4 million lightyears from our solar system.

As large as the universe is, however, so the inhabitants of this planet appear to be insignificant and small, and I am not just referring to our size. One only has to watch CNN to be faced with the crude facts; a civil war raging in one part of the world, some bomb attacks in another part, which is pretty much a daily menu of news facts. Of course, we also invent medication, we build sea walls and dams to protect millions from drowning and we create institutes that advance prosperity and social justice. Art, culture and science are also expressions of human activities, aimed at positive human development. However, looking at our own history, we mostly seem to be specialised in warfare and fighting each other. According to a New York Times article published on July 6 2003, over the past 3,400 years humans have been entirely at peace for just 268 years, or just 8% of recorded history. That means there were wars going on for 3.132 years somewhere on the planet. These wars have claimed between 150 million to 1 billion casualties. That’s not a very good statistic, and it says a lot about the human condition. The relative peace of the past 65 years is mainly due to the existence of nuclear weapons, which make it impossible for us to have large scale wars. While most wars, in hindsight and almost without exception, seem to be useless, a nuclear war is useless in advance. The so-called MAD doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction is an insurmountable obstacle to any potential aggressor based on even the most primitive calculations.

Nevertheless, smaller wars and battles continue as humans fight a complicated battle in their struggle for survival against real or alleged enemies and threats. This battle is fought with intensive emotions and is literally of vital importance to each individual. But placed into perspective, these great and small human activities take place against the backdrop of nature and the infinite universe. Only one hundred kilometers of atmosphere separate us from the unreal reality of this immeasurable, unimaginable universe. These one hundred kilometers above our earth are the boundaries of the tiny bubble in which earthly existence takes place. This tiny bubble, earth and its atmosphere, floats in an immeasurable ocean of cosmic energies of outright extra-terrestrial proportions.

The difference between the immeasurable universe and human worries is surreal. It is a remarkable contrast; the cold, uninterested magnitude of the universe set against the intense emotions and awareness of our minuscule existence, occurring simultaneously and of course, both equally real. But, what is ‘real’? Why does reality exist? Just like everyone looks at the stars now and then and wonders about the vastness of the universe, everyone will sooner or later also wonder why we exist and why everything around us exists. Sometimes reality seems unreal, intangible and even dreamlike whilst at other times reality feels like a strong and tangible presence. What is most remarkable is that reality appears to be inflexible and it does not seem to be interested in us or our well-being. Both the world and the universe just exist, distant and indifferent; at least so it seems. In the words of Richard Dawkins:

“The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”

This causes humans many problems. We wonder, why is there something instead of just nothing? Why does reality exist the way it does? Why is reality at every level so immensely complicated? And why is reality permeated with undesirable things such as old age, disease and death and other types of suffering. Is there an explanation other then the one provided by Dawkins above, or is that it.

These questions lay the foundation for this book. They are the starting-point towards the question that defines the mystery of existence and that is the most important question that humans can ask themselves: Does God exist or not? Does existence – small or gigantic – spring from an unconscious and unintelligent chaos, or is it created by awareness and intelligence and does it have a purpose and a design? The answer to these questions provides an insight into the role and position of humans in the universe. Do our lives have meaning or is our existence toally lacking any purpose? Do humans exist with an intention, or do we just float around in the cosmos without ever achieving anything? Or, as the famous atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell put it so strikingly: “Man is an unfortunate accident, a sideshow in the material universe – an odd accident in a forgotten corner.”

Ultimately, we are of course all interested, out of normal self interest, in our own position and perspective in life. At the deepest level, this perspective is completely determined by the answer to the question of whether God exists or not.

Thanks to: NASA, ESA and the Hubble Heritage Team STScI/AURA
The Andromeda system is situated at an impressive distance of 2.4 million light-years away from us. This distance is nothing compared to the distance to NGC 1300, a spiral-shaped star system that is situated at a distance of 61 million light-years away from us in the Eridanus constellation. The star system has a cross- section of about 110,000 light-years; just slightly bigger than our own Milky Way.

Philosophical analyses has shown that this question, is the determining factor for the way we view reality and the universe. All philosophies can, in the end, be divided into two fundamental categories. The first category is atheistic in its core and states that the origin and the functioning of reality is based on chaos and coincidence. The second category is theistic in its core and regards the universe as an organic reality that was created and is managed by intelligence. Other philosophies that are essentially agnostic – and therefore do not explicitly state whether God exists or not – are often considered to be atheistic. In many cases, they will say that the intelligent coordination of the universe is an improbability. Therefore, they implicitly – and based on elimination – have a preference for chaos and coincidence as the most probable explanation for the origin of the universe.

Of course, within each of these categories there is a huge diversity of philosophies with many differences in nuance. Nonetheless, the dividing line is striking and this has an all-determining effect on all aspects of a philosophy, such as the theory of knowledge (epistemology), the theory on the nature of being (ontology), theories concerning moral values and meaning (ethics) and, in the end, the description or perception of our physical and scientific reality (physics and metaphysics). Indeed, social and political ideologies are also largely defined by this split. Denying or confirming the existence of God therefore leads to opposite philosophies and completely opposite answers as far as the origin and meaning of existence is concerned. Do our lives have a deeper meaning, or are our lives meaningless; a random evolutionary accident? Is man just a product of matter, or is there another type of energy that defines our consciousness and our individuality? Is death the absolute end of our lives, or do our lives continue beyond the boundaries of death? Is there a final heavenly (or hellish) destination past earthly existence, or is our short earthly existence the beginning, middle and end of the story? Theistic or atheistic philosophies will answer these questions in totally opposite ways leading to very different world perspectives which strongly affect everything we think, say and do. Even scientific disciplines such as physics and cosmology are strongly influenced, both directly and indirectly, by the dividing line between atheism and theism. As an interesting side note, it is precisely these sciences, combined with mathematics, that contain the initial answers to the question of whether the universe is governed by chaos or intelligence and thus, whether God exists or not. Given the impact this question has on our life, individually and in society, this really is the most important question that humans can ask themselves.

The images of this rich set of star systems are made by La Silla Observatory of the ESO in Chile. The thousands of star systems that are situated in this small area of the firmament provide us with a look into the distant past of the universe and makes us realise again how enormously large the cosmos is. Just underneath the bright stars in the centre of this image there is a group of star systems called Abell 226. The Abell group is situated at a distance of some billions of light-years away from us. Behind these objects there are even more star systems, they are less bright though, but still at even greater distances of about 9 up to 10 billion light-years. The light we see today coming from these systems has therefore traveled for 9 up to 10 billion years in order to reach us. This also means that we are looking back in time at a universe that existed 10 billion years ago.

This book attempts to answer this question, not by serving dogmas, but by critical analyses, based on philosophical and scientific research. This book compares the scientific and philosophical arguments in favour of the existence of God or against the existence of God and puts atheism against theism, chaos against design. It does this by focusing on some important changes in scientific thought, especially in the area of physics and cosmology where new and completely revolutionary discoveries have been made. These discoveries and insights reveal a universe that is infinitely complex, infinitely organized and infinitely mysterious. The level of organized complexity is so huge that this can only be explained logically by the presence of an all-pervading intelligence and an omnipresent awareness. Such an all-pervading intelligence can be called by any name and each label can be granted to it. God, of course, is the most obvious name: all-pervading intelligence and omnipresent awareness are qualifications that can only be attributed to God. The problem however is that the term God is burdened with a controversial history, created by humans. These are all controversies that, almost without exception, stem from ignorance, sectarianism, fanaticism or a corrupted desire for power. The intention of this book is to demonstrate, based on objective and scientific foundations, that intelligence and consciousness are the driving forces behind the universe, regardless of the burdened history of what that implies. This burdened history is what it is, but it does not alter the reality of these new scientific insights and the philosophical consequences of these insights. Where science directed humanity towards materialism and atheism over the past 200 years, we now see a way of thinking in the opposite direction. This direction is of a spiritual nature and implies a scientific rehabilitation of God. The facts that science has revealed over the past decades confirm that a universe without God is simply untenable, despite desperate and sometimes exotic attempts to do so. If we consider all the arguments, there can only be one logical conclusion: the universe is governed by intelligence and consciousness.

Whether God exists

This, therefore, is the central theme of the book, as the (sub)title indicates: ‘Intelligence or chaos: the misconception of atheism.’ This book discusses the scientific and philosophical arguments for and against the existence of God, atheism versus theism, and in scientific terms, intelligence and design versus chaos and coincidence. There will be few people who do not know the term ‘God’, but on the other hand it is a concept with a wide range of interpretations. Therefore, it is important and necessary to define and describe the concept of God. With respect to this, I do not intend to get caught up in analyses and definitions that are too technical, but I intend to focus on the general, common meaning of the concept God. This meaning is mostly associated with the manner in which the nature and the being of God is described. For instance, is he personal or impersonal; is he one with his creation and the universe or is he transcendental and outside of his creation? Is he personally involved with the universe or is he in control at a distance? What are his qualities and attributes? There are mainly two visions regarding the being and the nature of God, monotheism and monism.

Within these categories are several schools of thought with important nuances and differences, but this book will primarily deal with the core concepts. Monotheism states that one divine Supreme Being exists that has personal, transcendent characteristics. Monotheism also states that the world— the universe— is an emanation and creation of God. According to this vision, both God and his emanations are eternal energies. The Christian doctrine deviates somewhat from this view, since creation is not considered to be an emanation, but as something that was created by God out of nothing. This is called ‘creatio ex nihilo’ by Christian theologians. Here, but also in other aspects, there are nuanced differences between the various monotheistic traditions. What the different monotheistic schools do agree on is the absolute unity of God, which is at its core both personal and transcendental. Within this unity there is, however, a multitude of diversity: first of all, between God and His energies, and accordingly, between His energies mutually. This principle is the essence of monotheism.

In Christianity the unity of God is not entirely without controversy; the doctrine of the Trinity states that God is really three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and not one person. Effectively, and implicitly most Christian theologians see God as fundamentally One, yet simultaneously many, or three in this instance. Despite this nuance, Christianity is generally accepted as a monotheistic religion. Quoting the words of Jesus in John 5.44: “How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and you do not seek the glory that is from the one and only God?” Jesus was clearly of the opinion, as was official Jewish doctrine at the time, that God is one.

Richard Dawkins during the launch of his campaign in 2008, where London buses were decorated with atheist slogans.

Monism also states that there is one divine Supreme Being. The difference is, however, that this Supreme Being is impersonal by nature. The monotheistic God is often associated with an impersonal, all-embracing, undifferentiated, and infinite state of pure energy, made of pure and impersonal consciousness. According to monism, it is only this state of absolute unity that is real and the universe, with its diversity and multitude, is just an illusionary reflection of this divine energy.

Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are considered to be monotheistic religions. However, despite many misconceptions, Hinduism is also, at its core and by origin, a monotheistic doctrine. The philosophical core of Hinduism is mainly founded on the Vedanta philosophy, which is of a monotheistic nature. On the other hand, Buddhism and certain movements within the Vedanta school, such as Advaita Vedanta, are monistic by nature. The famous Dutch philosopher Spinoza (1632 – 1677) was also a monist who saw the world as the expression of an underlying, all-embracing and impersonal reality. Spinoza identified this underlying reality with God. The doctrine of Spinoza was an important influence on the thinking of Albert Einstein. Einstein believed in Spinoza’s image of God: ‘… a God that revealed Himself in the systematic harmony of the universe’. He did not believe in a God that interfered with the fate and the actions of man.

The two main movements, monotheism and monism have numerous variants such as pantheism, panentheism, polytheism, and deism. The first, pantheism is a variant to monism. According to pantheism, God only manifests Himself in the universe and does not differ from the universe in every respect. Deism and panentheism are sub-divisions of monotheism. Deism is a movement that has been popular amongst Western scientists and emerged as a result the scientific revolution in the 17th century followed by the Enlightenment in Europe and the United States during the 18th century. Deism is a form of monotheism, with the distinction being that the deistic God does not interfere directly in the world, in human affairs and nature. The latter is, according to deism, governed by the laws of nature, which were ultimately created by God. Panentheism is a concept that is perhaps not quite so familiar. It means that God is transcendent and above creation and, at the same time, He is immanent and manifests Himself in creation. Effectively, it is not really different from monotheism, which also acknowledges the simultaneous transcendence and immanence of God. Polytheism, the believe in many gods and goddesses, is sometimes a disguised form of monotheism. The pantheon of gods are effectively demi-gods and part of a divine hierarchy. For instance in Hinduism demi-gods are charged with ruling and managing the universe on behalf of, and in the service of the supreme God. Other traditions such as the polytheism found in ancient Egypt, Greece or Rome are truly polytheistic, whereby the different gods and goddesses are considered to be separate entities each with their own individual powers.

In the following treatment of theism and atheism, I primarily refer to the two main groups of theistic philosophies, which are monotheism and monism. For the sake of convenience, I indicate both traditions in this book as theistic. In later chapters, the differences between these two traditions will be explained further.

In religions and theistic philosophies, in both monotheistic and monistic variants, God is defined as the Supreme Being, almighty, all-knowing, omnipresent, eternal and infinite: the creator and maintainer of the universe and of all life in the universe. Furthermore, God is described as loving and merciful. A theistic world view assumes that such a being, in whatever shape or form, exists. Moreover, this implies that the universe is an organic unity, governed from an intelligent and conscious centre.

The four propositions of atheism

The atheistic world view denies the existence of such a Supreme Being and denies that the universe is an organic unity governed by an intelligent centre. Apart from admitting that there are some basic, blind laws of nature, atheism claims that the universe consists of an infinite number of material particles that reside in an infinite and empty space. Since the particles are fundamentally separated by space, they are independent and therefore on a large scale governed by coincidence and chaos. Atheism also denies the existence of another reality, apart from or next to the material reality. One of the most leading advocates of this worldview is, without question, the ethologist and biologist Richard Dawkins. He even placed atheistic advertisements on London city buses. In his book ‘The God Delusion’ he defines atheism as follows:

“An atheist in this sense of philosophical naturalist is somebody who believes there is nothing beyond the natural, physical world, no supernatural creative intelligence lurking behind the observable universe, no soul that outlasts the body and no miracles – except in the sense of natural phenomena that we don’t yet understand. If there is something that appears to lie beyond the natural world as it is now imperfectly understood, we hope eventually to understand it and embrace it within the natural.“

Another atheistic thinker Dawkins quotes is Julian Baggini. He explains atheism in his book ‘Atheism, A Very Short Introduction’ as follows:

“What most atheists do believe is that although there is only one kind of stuff in the universe and it is physical, out of this stuff come minds, beauty, emotions, moral values – in short the full gamut of phenomena that gives richness to human life.”

Based on these definitions, but also based on the definitions of other atheistic thinkers, atheism is founded on four propositions or basic assumptions:

  1. The universe consists of material particles that exist independent of each other and that move independent of each other within the infinite void. The total of the movements and interactions of these particles is governed by coincidence and chaos, combined with a number of simple and blind laws of nature. This is also called ‘pluralism’.
  2. There is no central intelligent coordination within the universe and the universe is not an organic unity. There exists nothing apart from or outside the perceptible, physical material reality or the world of matter.

Proposition 1 and 2 together are also called ‘materialism’.

3. Even if there were to be a beginning of the universe, the origin of the universe has to be ultimately simple. God is by definition a complex being and, therefore, He cannot be the ultimate cause. The existence of a complex being such as God would demand that He would have been created by something else.

4. The universe is imperfect from a human perspective. That imperfection manifests itself most clearly in the presence of useless suffering that each living creature is faced with. This contradicts and undermines the position of God as almighty and merciful.

The first two propositions together are called ‘materialism’; it holds the view that matter is the only real substance in the universe. In this view, it is also emphasized that matter may be one substance, but that this substance is split up into innumerable particles. These particles are separated from each other by empty space. Materialism states that this combination of material particles and empty space is eternal and that there is a no cause for this.

The third proposition makes an exception to this, since it does state that there is a possible cause of the universe. This proposition claims that, should the universe have a cause at all, then this cause must ultimately be simple. This proposition is very relevant since modern cosmology assumes that the universe did have a beginning and has not always been there, nor will it always be here.

The fourth proposition is the most important one, since in the end most atheistic arguments can be reduced to this, or are indirectly derived from this. Consciously or unconsciously, atheists refer to the issue of the imperfect universe and the suffering in the world as the most probable reason why God could not exist. In the following chapters, the above-mentioned four propositions will be discussed in detail and refuted one by one relying on scientific and logical arguments.

Quotation of Einstein, cited by Fred Hoyle in ‘The Intelligent Universe’ Richard Dawkins
Bertrand Russell “Religion and Science (Oxford University Press, 1961)
Richard Dawkins in the “God delusion” page 35
Richard Dawkins in the “God delusion” page 34

To be continued