NRI Achievers sought out the Chairman of the Vrindavan Heritage Tower and the Krishna Leela theme park, Shri Madhu Pandit Dasa, a Padmashri awardee, to converse on the philosophy behind the design and structuring of the immense theme park coming up at Vrindavan. In this feature, he answers the queries posed by our writer. Presented here are his responses, largely in his own words …
Central to Hinduism is the holy trinity of divinity in the form of Bramha the creator, Shiva the destroyer and Vishnu the protector. And Krishna is portrayed as an avatar of Vishnu. How come Lord Krishna then has become so iconic, with an universal appeal to people from across the globe? What is it about Krishna that mesmerises people harking from other cultures – mysticism, zest, festivity, frolic, what ?
“The very name “Krishna” derives from the root (dhatu) “Krish.” This is the same root from which the word “akarshan” is derived as well, which means attraction. Thus the meaning of “Krishna,” is: “All Attractive.” Parashara Muni defines the ‘Supreme Absolute Truth’ to be the person who is all attractive. He further defines attractiveness as an outcome that derives from the possession of six opulences – wealth, strength, fame, beauty, knowledge & renunciation. Parashara Muni further analyses that anyone possessing all six opulences to an unlimited extent, will be the Supreme Lord, Bhagavan. Krishna has amply demonstrated how He possesses all these opulences to an unlimited extent, and thence fits the description of the Supreme Lord. Therefore His name, Krishna. It is but natural therefore that people from all over the world are attracted to Krishna, as He is the Supreme Lord of everything that is in this creation.
“Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, “mattahparataramnanyadkinchidasthi” – “there is nothing superior to Me”. Lord Shiva in the Padma Purana says “aradhananamsarveshamvishnoraradhanamparam” – “the worship of Vishnu is the highest.” Lord Brahma says in the Brahma Samhita “ishwarahparamahKrishnah…sarvakaranakaranam” – “Krishna is the supreme controller and the cause of all causes.” So both Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma accept Krishna’s instruction in the Gita that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In fact in the Padma Purana it is mentioned: “yastunarayanamdevam brahma-rudradi-daivataihsamatvenaivavikshetasapashandibhaveddhruvam” – “A person who considers Demigods like Brahma and Shiva to be on an equal level with Narayana is to be considered an offender.” This establishes that Krishna’s position is not be equated with that of anyone else, including Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma, although they are the greatest personalities in this universe.
“In the Vedas, personalities like Brahma, Shiva, Indra, Surya, Ganesha et al are described as “Devatas” or Demigods, while Krishna or Vishnu is the Parama Purushottama or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Why this distinction ? Because Krishna has created all the Devatas and hence His position is always superior. In fact in the Gita, Krishna confirms this – “ahamadir hi devanam” – “I am the source of all the demigods.”
The Rig Veda says “om tad vishnohparamampadamsadapashyantisurayah” – the demigods are simply waiting to have Darshan of the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord Vishnu.” The Vedas are definitely monotheistic because they establish Krishna or Krishna’s incarnations such as Vishnu and Narayana to be the Supreme Person. It is a recent widespread misconception that Hinduism is polytheistic, which has no basis in the Vedas.”
While Buddhism, variously called a religion and a way of life, originated on Indian soil, it seems to have receded to the background here in India but thrives in many other parts of the world as a dominant religion and way of life. In the same context, how do you explain the phenomenon where the Krishna cult is witnessing a rising wave of universal and global following all in a relatively short span of time within our lifetimes ?
“Lord Buddha appeared about 2500 years ago. At that time the Vedas were being misused. There is a portion of the Vedas where there are allowances for animal sacrifice. Although the Vedas do not encourage the eating of meat, they do recognize that there will always be some people who cannot do without it. Hence the Vedas allow for it under highly restrictive conditions. This is like the government issuing licenses to open liquor vends. The government doesn’t want to encourage alcoholism, but it will allow the selling of alcohol under some restrictions. This is because though the government doesn’t want it, there will still be some people who cannot do without it, and hence the government allows it in a limited fashion. The Vedas allow for animal sacrifice and meat-eating in a similar fashion. However people started misusing this allowance, using it to justify the wholesale slaughter of animals. And meat was sold in temples as “Prasad”. Since animals too are the children of Lord Krishna, He took compassion on the animals and incarnated as Lord Buddha. In order to stop the killing of animals, Lord Buddha rejected the Vedas and said ahimsa paramo dharma. Thus did He wean people away from killing animals. Lord Buddha propounded the ‘voidistic’ philosophy that when our existence is destroyed, we attain nirvana or liberation. Buddhism became widespread in India.
“About a thousand years later, Lord Shiva incarnated as Adi Shankaracharya. Adi Shankara vanquished the Buddhists with his philosophical prowess and made them accept the Vedas. Thus Buddhism lost its following in India, and people once again started following the Vedas. But to achieve his mission, Adi Shankara propounded the ‘impersonalise’ philosophy, which is akin to Buddha’s voidistic philosophy so that people can easily make the shift. He said that Supreme Absolute Truth is impersonal and when we attain mukti, we merge our existence into it.”
“This was a slight improvement over voidism. After Adi Shankara came the Vaishnava philosophers, Sri Ramanujacharya and Sri Madhvacharya, who with their philosophical prowess, unseated the ‘impersonalize’ philosophers and established that the Supreme Absolute is a person, Lord Vishnu and that after we attain mukti, we retain our individuality in the spiritual world, Vaikuntha. This understanding was further enhanced by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared about 500 years ago and who gave the ultimate understanding of Krishna’s supreme position. Hence Lord Chaitanya’s movement is attracting more followers as the time goes by, as it is the ultimate philosophy.”
How do you propagate emotional and devotional surrender to Lord Krishna through your spiritual management and promotional strategy, in this fast paced world where technology has become a dominant creed of our life?
“The method of surrender to Krishna is made very simple in the modern age: “kali kale nama rupe avatar” – in the modern age, Krishna has incarnated as His holy name. In order to surrender to Krishna, all that we have to do is to chant the Mahamantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare,” for a fixed number of times daily. And whenever we get time, read Krishna’s instructions in the Bhagavad Gita. Children, students, corporate professionals, retired senior citizens – regardless of age, religion, race, nationality, profession – anyone and everyone can chant this Mahamantra and be happy. We invite people from all religions to chant Hare Krishna without any restriction. In fact, this principle is seen in all religions. Even Christianity and Islam recommend the chanting of the Lord’s holy name. If someone is not comfortable with chanting Hare Krishna because of his religion, he may chant the Lord’s names given in his religion and still derive the same ultimate benefit. The principle is to surrender to the Supreme Lord Krishna with love and devotion, through the process of chanting His holy name.”
Contemporary times are manifesting a movement towards interfaith harmony as religious feuds have eroded the faith of humanity in religion. Viewed from this point of view, how do you find the challenges of propagation of faith in Lord Krishna around the globe?
“We have the highest regard for other religions. Srila Prabhupada, our Founder Acharya, has said that we accept Jesus Christ and Mohammed the Prophet as Acharyas. They are bona fide messengers of God. So also Lord Buddha, Guru Nanak and others. They have all propagated the same message of God, in different places under different circumstances in different ways. But the principle is always the same – to surrender to the Supreme Lord Krishna with love and devotion, through the process of chanting His holy name. Hence everyone is welcome to unite under one roof by chanting the Lord’s holy name. Everyone is welcome to chant Hare Krishna, be happy and go back to Godhead. We do not discriminate on the basis of caste or religion. And as I had mentioned earlier too, if one is uncomfortable with chanting ‘Hare Krishna’, then by all means may he chant the Lord’s names given in his religion and he will still derive the same ultimate benefit. Understanding this principle is the key to universal harmony. Our aim is to know the truth. Believing in God or believing that there is no God is not going to help. We want that people must learn the truth about God. By reading the Bhagavad Gita, anyone can become proficient in the science of spirituality and know without doubt about the existence of the Supreme Lord Krishna. The knowledge of the Gita can dispel the darkness of ignorance and lead to a harmonious cooperation with all other religions.”
So how do you link “spiritual quotient” as a mood of convergence of body, mind and spirit, with a sense of unity of consciousness in life?
“In the Gita, Lord Krishna explains that our body consists of two components. The first is the gross body comprising earth, water, fire, air and space. These five elements make up the body that we see consisting of bone, blood, flesh, senses, organs etc. The second component of our body is the subtle body comprising the mind, intelligence and our false ego (the sense of identity that I am such and such a person). Now Krishna analyses that we are not any of these things. We say my hand, my legs, my eyes, my mind, my intelligence etc. I possess consciousness which cannot be attributed to any of these things. That means that we have an existence independent of both the gross and subtle bodies. And we possess consciousness. To understand this is the first step in spirituality. To know that I am a conscious person residing in a body made of gross and subtle elements, is the spiritual student’s first lesson. As we improve our “spiritual quotient” by understanding more of this knowledge from the Gita, the more we understand how this body, mind and intelligence are superficial impositions on my true individuality as a devotee of Lord Krishna.”
How do you rate the response of economically advanced western nations to the Hare Krishna movement in terms of the numbers – followers, the size of the temples, their capacity to offer different facilities et al., to retain the faith structure of followers for a long time?
“Knowledge has no boundaries. Developed or developing or under-developed states of countries and economies do not really matter. People everywhere are interested to know the truth. Spiritual conviction develops on the basis of the universal knowledge of the Gita, which teaches us the ultimate truth. Once a person is in knowledge, the person’s conviction cannot be shaken. Hence our mission is to simply present the ultimate truth given in the Gita without any change as taught by our spiritual master Srila Prabhupada. People from all parts of the world are interested to know the truth of the Gita as long as it is presented without our own interpretation.”
Tell us more about the various charitable activities and community service rendered by the Hare Krishna Movement in different parts of the world to ameliorate human suffering.
“Apart from spreading the unadulterated message of the Gita, we have taken to intervening into social structures via other programmes as well over time. Akshaya Patra, for instance, is a free midday meal programme in government schools all over India, which was initiated by ISKCON Bangalore. Nearly 1.5 million students benefit from this programme daily, which has become the world’s largest NGO-run school midday meal program. This programme is run in partnership with the government. Free meals to widows of Vrindavan is another such programme. Value Education for school children is yet another such programme. Organic farming is one more initiative that has benefited many farmers in Karnataka. We also plan to start a free boarding school in Vrindavan, for children from economically challenged sections.”
How do you see your upcoming Vrindavan Heritage Tower and Krishna Leela Theme Park becoming a ‘signature tune’ of ISCON and transforming Vrindavan into a pulsating centre for Krishna-bhakts?
“Vrindavan for ages has been the place of pilgrimage for Krishna lovers and devotees. To herald the importance of Gita in contemporary times, what better place than that of the speaker of the Gita, Lord Krishna? The Vrindavan Heritage Tower will have facilities for courses teaching the Gita from Basic to Advanced levels depending upon the student’s capacity. The indoor theme park is based upon the life and times of Krishna, and will present the teachings of Krishna in a contemporary and interesting way that is attractive to both the young and old alike. A 900 seater state-of-the-art auditorium will give opportunities for promotion of Indian art forms like music, folk dance etc.”
Salient features of Braj Cultural Heritage?
“Braj has its own distinct art forms. Dance forms like Mayur Nritya and Charkula are quite lively. Folk dances like phoolonki Holi are very popular. All of them celebrate Krishna by relating His activities through their own forms. Cow’s milk and milk products form an inseparable part of Braj culture. The lassis and Mathura pedas are famous and all time favorites. Seasonal sweet dishes like gajak add to the variety. This is because of the culture of maintaining Goshalas in Braj. Braj also has innumerable places of historical importance, since they stand testimony to the various activities of Krishna as described in local folklore as well as the Vedas.”
How do you manage the financial aspect of such comprehensive and huge projects within and outside India, especially with regard to Innovation In design, architecture and resource mobilization?
“The projects and social initiatives of the Hare Krishna Movement are inspired by Srila Prabhupada our beloved spiritual master and the founder and acharya of the world-wide Hare Krishna Movement. Our capital is not money - our real capital is the devotion in the hearts of thousands and millions of devotees of Lord Krishna the world over. Our asset is the blessings of Srila Prabhupada and our investment is dedication and selfless service. All these ingredients really make the successful project. Srila Prabhupada has inspired in the hearts of many devotees round the world to not only contribute in the form of money but also in the form of selfless service. We have roped a whole bevy of consultants for the building – this Vrindavan Heritage Tower and Krishna Lila Theme Park at Vrindavan. We have with us Thronton Tomasetti, who are looking into the structural design of this skyscraper tower. Thronton Tomasetti were the ones who have the unique distinction of being known as the super-tall design firm. The upcoming tallest building in the world in is being overseen by the Thronton Tomasetti firm.”
How do you link corporate governance with the philosophy of Bhagwat Gita where Krishna is the centre of all cosmic activities?
“Bhagavadgita gives us complete knowledge on how to live one’s life, depending fully on the Lord and offering everything to Him. It also gives us the highest of ethical, moral and spiritual instruction. Good corporate governance is based on principles of highest morality and conduct. Gita should thus become the beacon for corporate governance as it can give one the highest moral and ethical principles.”
What is the focal area of your media management to make Hare Krishna Movement a truly universal movement in nature, impact and diversity?
“The fundamental principles of the Hare Krishna movement are universal in nature. It is not meant for any particular, caste, creed on gender. Its principle of total surrender to Krishna and accepting as the Lord of all the universes and the real enjoyer is universal truth. It is not meant for only Indians or Hindus. Thus we see that Hare Krishna Movement attract following from all parts of the world. People from different nationalities, castes, religions have accepted these principles.”