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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

‘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

The Success Story of Sudhama Maharaj

By Gurudas,

A gray faced man let Varuna and I into the national hotel.
He buzzed us through a heavy metal latticed door.
We walked up the dingy stairs to the third floor.
The halls were filled with debris, needles, children’s toys, clothes, and a cat wandering aimlessly..

We went to the third floor.
Some of the doors were open, with music, shouts, and various members of humanity inviting us into their dens.

Our mission then was to find Sudhama. Sudhama who loved and served Prabhupad. By now his disease had spread, and he was dying.
Loud sounds music, arguing, people banging on the walls greeted us.
Sudhama’s room was at the end of the hall of many small rooms.

Even though he was sick and dying, his room was meticulous, and everything was in place, there was a bed a small desk which was now an altar, a hot plate in the kitchen area.  His clothes were pressed and grains were in jars/pressed and immaculate, hanging on a pipe.

The window looked onto a a brick alley. Someone was banging on the wall again. Sudhama said “come in”,  weakly when we knocked. He was skinny and emaciated, yet he smiled and perked up when he saw us. He was frightened, his eyes were hollow.


They said “I don’t want to die”. However he was too weak to entertain, and we asked him if he would like to get out of this unsavory hotel. He immediately said yes, and we arranged for him to fly to the Los Angeles Krishna Temple, and into the loving care of Omkara devi dasi. Subsequently the transition in a proper manner and environment.

This is just one instant where I was privileged to be at the bedside or helping a great Vaishnava into Krishna’s care.

Hare Krsna! Jaya Sudhama Maharaj!

Care of Devotees

By Gurudas

To all Vaishnava devotees,

Prabhupad said “Those who have given their lives for Krishna should be taken care of at the end”.

When I said “Prabhupad sometimes I am sad by the way people treat each other, and sometimes…. Prabhupad replied “Why sometimes, we should always be compassionate.” And he bandaged my foot; himself, in Vrindavan when my foot was cut.

I heard recently a female devotee who gave ten years of full time service to Temples, was neglected by the devotee administrators, and shipped off to her parents who do not support Krishna consciousness and eat meat, etc.

There are too many stories of neglect or even abuse to elders and devotees in general.

Do not turn your backs on aging devotees who have served for most of their life; some for 50 years.
We are not ready to be forgotten.
We are still serving,

Das anu das is one of the main principles Prabhupad gave us. And it works when we perform it sincerely.

Again: “Any one who has given their life for Krishna, should be cared for at the end.”… A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad.

We at the Vedic Care Cooperative want to provide a model Vedic atmosphere for devotees and other spiritual seekers in need. However we cannot do this in every town and village, so we will assist, teach care, give classes, create more devotee care-giving Out-Reach Teams, etc.; but we really want all of you to take notice and create care places in your temples, homes, etc.

We can be examples of a positive alternative to the Callous apathetic material world, by caring for our own.
Please don’t turn your back!

We could be you,as you are getting older and you never know when you will be in need of care.

Please act on this need, or support our VedicCare.Org.

Truly yours,
Gurudas

Where is the Love and Trust?

by Aradhana devi dasi

I recently watched the great black and white movie by Frank Capra, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ with James Stewart. Frank said that James Stewart’s appeal was that he was unusually usual; we can’t help but love him and the parts he plays.

In this particular movie, James plays an average guy with great aspirations. Unfortunately, he’s unable to achieve what he sets out to, but in the end, he achieves so much more, and is dearly loved and cared for by the community. It’s very inspiriting. Even God has a voice in the movie and is guiding events; such a rarity in movies today. It’s definitely one I’d recommend.

As a filmmaker, I keep up with what’s happening in the film business, and sadly what the industry has mostly been promoting over the last 30 to 40 years is atrocious. My husband (writer/director) and I (actor/producer) are set to make movies that will inspire again, that will empower and enlighten the masses, in the hopes of bringing them close to God; even if it only reminds them that God is something to actually be considered, it will be a success. We’ve created ~ what we hope will become ~ a great film studio, Yoga-Maya Entertainment.

But why do I ask about the Love and Trust?

‘Love and Trust’ is disappearing from our entire society, and not only from society at large, but even in our spiritual communities ‘Love and Trust’ is becoming very rare. In ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ this ‘Love and Trust’ is real and thrilling.

So what happened to humanity and it’s ‘Love and Trust’?

In my humble opinion, we’ve been bombarded and manipulated by leaders who’ve mostly been trained as lawyers, and whose business thrives by a lack of trust and increased conflict. This, in x trust, and in this way it permeates every culture and society, including the spiritual ones. People are stressed, tired, abused and constantly cheated and cannot therefore trust one another. Without trust, there is no love, and without love, there is no care.

Since the inception of the Vedic Care Charity (www.VedicCare.org) nearly two years ago, the Vaishnava community have been extremely skeptical and some even averse to our Devotee Care endeavor. A few well-wishers and trustees have asked: What is there to be skeptical about? We just want to assist, serve and care for devotees in need, and most importantly, we want to bring back the ‘Love and Trust’ in our hearts and society.

Sadly, and most unfortunately, the VCC is still being challenged today. Serving under these conditions is already hard, before adding the small amount of funds available to lend assistance to all the devotees we know are in need right now; really, it’s not even possible, were it not for the VCC team being full-time volunteers.

The VCC have not only been threatened with unfounded law suits, and been called scammers in online forums, but we’ve received ‘demands’ for open accountability with heavy undertones of accusation. As a charity we comply with all legal requirements, of course, but we’d so much prefer being approached in a more respectable manner; not charged as guilty before even starting.

I was expecting a more personal welcome; somehow, to be given the benefit of the doubt and treated in a caring, more forward thinking way. We never expected being talked to in an incriminatory and threatening way. It’s as if some are just waiting for a little mistake to bring the house down.

On the other hand, when ‘Love and Trust’ is the norm, with all our 1134 ‘likes’ (today) on ‘The Vedic Care’ Facebook page giving a little monthly (sadly not the case at this time), we’d be able to run our website and outreach teams so nicely, giving the reactive and urgent care needed now.

So, we’re left with a few questions still:

Where did the love, care and trust go? How can we relate to one another as spiritual seekers when there’s so much animosity? Have we forgotten that love and trust is actually what makes a community successful? Have we forgotten that love and care is the light that inspires us to truly help one another in times of difficulty?

The Vedic Care Charity will keep going, as we strive to serve Srila Prabhupada and his mission, trusting that we will actually create our VCC model facility; a place to welcome devotees in their later years who are unable to care for themselves. We already have a number of devotees lined up for our model facility in the USA, and we hope to accommodate so many more through the fulfillment of our other wonderful plans.

In closure, I must share our puzzlement, that in almost two years of full-time work, building and promoting the obvious, urgent and real need for care in our society, and that, with high hopes of bringing back the ‘Love and Trust’ the society once had, there have been few sincere inquiries as to the nature of our personal health, spiritual or material needs. Although this is heartbreaking news, we’ll continue, happily and with enthusiasm; confident that Srimati Radharani and Srila Prabhupada will bless us with success in our endevours to manifest this so needed service.

It’s a wonderful life, indeed.

Part 5 – YOU ARE NOT THIS MIND

We are devotees. We know the philosophy. And we readily repeat it. “You are not this body. You are not this mind.” But one who really understands that “I am not this mind.”, that person is on a liberated platform. On a liberated platform, and qualified to engage in devotional service.

When we say, “qualified to engage in devotional service”, one can say, “Well, I have been doing that for years.” Devotional service. There are so many kinds of devotional service. Building a temple room, cooking for the Deities, distributing the books, keeping accounts, cleaning the temple, polishing the brass, maintaining the vehicles…… there are so many ways. And then of course we have shravanam kirtanam, smaranam vsihnu.

But why did Srila Prabhupada sometimes talk about practicing Krishna consciousness on the mental platform, or about the show bottle? Why did he talk about the rubber –stamp process? What do these things have in common? What they have in common is that they all officially look like devotional service, but the one thing that is missing in all of them is love. It is not that this kind of service is not progressive. Of course it is. But ultimately, Krishna wants our love. Krishna wants our love in the present moment, moment to moment. And when we come to that point, even if only for a moment, it is in that moment that we will sense Krishna’s loving reciprocation. That is a moment of realization. In that moment we have transcended the mental platform.

brahma-bhutah prasannatma
na shocati na kankshati
samah sarveshu bhuteshu
mad-bhaktim labhate param
(Bg 18/54)

brahma-bhutah – being one with the Absolute; prasanna-atma – fully joyful; he never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.

Krishna consciousness actually begins on the liberated platform. But Krishna consciousness is so nice because in Krishna consciousness, the means and the goal are one and the same. One can be Krishna conscious in a second. Krishna consciousness is simply a matter of understanding and accepting. Krishna consciousness is simple for the simple. These are the words of Srila Prabhupada as he presents the teachings of Lord Caitanya and the disciplic succession.

Krishna tells us in Bhagavad-gita that we should abandon the fruitive demeanor. Don’t be concerned about success or failure, gain and loss, victory and defeat. Why? Because these are all symptoms of a self-centered orientation. The self-centered orientation and the devotional orientation are mutually exclusive. Therefore if we want to love Krishna, we have to abandon our self-centered orientation.

But how to do this? Let’s consider the qualities that Krishna mentions in the brahma-bhuta shloka. It is not that these qualities cause the attainment of pure devotional service. Rather, they are symptomatic. It is simple for the simple. And one can do it in a second. In all of the other branches of yoga, the means and the goal are different. But the aesthetic beauty of Krishna consciousness is that now the means and the goal are one and the same. Therefore one can become Krishna conscious in one second.

So what is the quality of bhakti-yoga that distinguishes it from all other forms of yoga? It is love. It is bhakti. To live in love is a choice. Hankering and lamentation are symptoms of the modes of passion and ignorance. But love leaves hankering and lamentation behind. Just sit with the feeling of love for a moment and notice that hankering and lamentation evaporate. This alone is a profound realization. Therefore in the beginning, bhakti-yoga is about tuning the heart.

Just as one has to tune a stringed instrument, so we have to tune our hearts. We have to tune our hearts and cultivate the ability to live on the love platform. Let us have the wondrous experience that love is self-satisfied. And therefore in one second our hankering and lamentation depart, and our love can flow to Krishna. Our devotion to Krishna is pure, because we are asking neither for relief nor for favors. And in that moment we can sense Krishna’s reciprocation. We can understand that “Krishna loves me.” One can do this today. Or one can wait for 50 years, or 50 births.

We may not be on the platform of raganuga bhakti, but we are experiencing our connection with Krishna. We are connecting with Krishna with love. Bhakti yoga. We are off the mental platform. We will think to ourselves, “Oh, this is so nice.” And we will want more. Srila Prabhupada once said that to me. He did a pantomime of a drug addict shooting up, and he said, “Krishna consciousness is like this.” That was in 1968. Some things take time. The thing about Krishna consciousness is that it’s too simple for most people. They cannot accept that it can be so simple. Srila Prabhupada would say, “Simple for the simple.”

This doesn’t mean that one won’t be forgetful. It doesn’t mean that we won’t become fruitive or frustrated, or impatient, or despondent. But the difference is that having tasted the beauty and simplicity of Krishna consciousness, we have something solid to return to. And every time we tune our hearts and focus our love on Krishna we progressively understand that this is a consistent experience. Krishna consciousness is not just a wonderful philosophy. It actually works. Krishna is just waiting for us to love Him, and immediately He reciprocates with us. It is that simple.

Then gradually we learn to carry this way of being into the arena of our daily activities. And our activities turn into devotional service. Our hankering and lamentation depart. And we realize that “I am not this mind.”

By Ishan das