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ISKCON, the Devotees

This section of the FAQ covers general questions about devotees and their life style.

Q: How come you eat vegetables, don't they have souls too?

A: It is not that we are not allowed to eat things with a soul in them. After all, human bodies depend on eating organic substances since we cannot live on inorganic substances. Therefore the sastra has said which organic substances we should eat. After all, in the Veda it is said, jivo jivasya jivanam: "One living being is the food for another. This is the general rule."

Now each living being has a particular food which is meant for him. The human being is given vegetarian foods. Generally we do not kill the plants that we eat. For example, when we take a tomato, the plant lives on. Similarly for eggplants, beans, peas, squash, fruits and so on. Even cauliflowers and other flowering plants generally die when mature as do the grains in the field. The tree is not harmed when fruit is picked and the cow is not harmed when we take its milk.

But sometimes there is harm to the vegetable, but when we offer the vegetable to Krishna then it becomes prasadam and all sinful reactions for taking that vegetable are nullified. Just being a vegetarian is good, but not perfect since there are still reactions, although little. One should become a servant of the Lord and offer his food. Then there are no reactions at all, as confirmed by the Lord Himself:

yajna-sistasinah santo
mucyante sarva-kilbisaih
bhunjate te tv agham papa
ye pacanty atma-karanat

"The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin." (Bhagavad-gita 3.13)

Q: Why do devotees get new names? Where do the names come from and what is the tradition?

A: According to the Vedas the actual purpose of human life is self-realization. When one accepts a bona-fide teacher or spiritual master who can actually instruct him on this subject it is considered a significant event in one's life -- a second birth so to speak. All animals take birth from the womb of a mother, including human being, but when one seriously takes up the pursuit of higher spiritual knowledge and accepts spiritual discipline that is considered a uniquely human event or birth. Thus a new name is given, just as a name is given at one's first birth from the womb of the mother.

The Padma Purana, Uttara-khanda, mentions that it is essential for a disciple to change his name after initiation.

tan nama-karanam caiva
vaisnavatvam ihocyate

"After initiation, the disciple's name must be changed to indicate that he is a servant of Lord Vishnu. The disciple should also immediately begin marking his body with tilak (urdhva-pundra), especially his forehead. These are spiritual marks, symptoms of a perfect vaishnava."

If a person does not change his name after initiation, it is to be understood that he will continue in his bodily conception of life. In the Vedic traditions there are hundreds and thousands of names for God, names which highlight certain of His qualities or characteristics, or pastimes. A new initiate obtains one such name which is given to him or her by the spiritual master, with the addition of the word "das" which is added to the end of each new name. In Sanskrit, "das" means "servant of." Thus all of the names of the devotees in the Hare Krishna movement designate them as eternal servants of God, which, according to Vedic knowledge is the real designation of all living beings.

Q: Haven't you lost your individuality by becoming a devotee? I mean, you all wear the same clothes and stuff...

A: Why? I still pretty much feel like an individual. As a matter of fact, I feel that my life has been enormously enriched with the vast amount of information from ancient Vaishnava philosophy.

In the first place it has given me knowledge about my individuality, rather than speculation, and has established and confirmed my individuality beyond anything the "normal" world ever did. It has handed me an opportunity to use my individual talents in individual ways in the service of someone who actually cares for it: Krishna, the Supreme Lord.

The clothing? All the same? Well, if appearance is the criterium that makes you stand out as an individual, then pity on your shallow life. Our individuality lies in who we are, not in what we look like or how other people think we should be. What to speak of the social pressure that demands us to follow the "boys-don't-cry" dogmas of individuality.

By being Krishna's servant, I feel more like an individual than all these people who mindlessly follow fashion and pursue socially and artificially imposed goals of sense gratification that get shoved down their throats on a daily basis by newspapers, magazines, television, radio, theater movies, advertisements, and the rest of the modern "cultured" propaganda machine.

Nothing personal, though. ;-)

Q: Do you really think that women are less in some way?

A: According to the philosophy of the Krishna consciousness movement the body is only a temporary, superficial covering or dress. The "person" is the eternal soul within. In this life I may be a man, and in the next life I may take birth as a woman according to my activities in this life. Designations like higher, lower, fat, thin, pretty, ugly, etc. may sometimes pertain to the temporary dress, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with the soul within.

The Krishna consciousness movement is interested in the enlightenment and ultimate happiness of the eternal person and therefore gives full and equal opportunity for all who are serious to make spiritual advancement in this human form of life. There is no question of discrimination. Everyone who comes to this movement, regardless of gender, may pursue service to the Supreme Lord according to their God-given talents and propensities without restriction. So don't worry about that.

The statements in scripture are general and pertain to the fact that men as a class are generally more philosophically inclined than women. These statements were, perhaps, more true in previous ages than they are now in the Kali-yuga. As the Kali-yuga progresses the difference between various classes of men and women are gradually diminishing.

Another thing is that the Vedic definition and understanding of intelligence is not the same as that of modern science and psychology. For modern people intelligence mostly refers to the ability to accumulate and utilize material knowledge. In Vedic understanding the function of the intelligence is to evaluate the information supplied by the mind and to discriminate what should be done and what should not be done. According to the Vedic scriptures in the female conditioning, which pertains to the material body, this ability is less developed. This does not mean, however, that women are stupid.

In this world it is a fact that differences do exist between individuals. Some people are more intelligent than others, some are stronger than others, some are wealthier than others and so forth. Real equality does not mean to ignore these obvious differences according to some mundane idea of brotherhood. Real equality is to be found on the spiritual platform, where not only all human beings, but all species of life are seen equally by the self-realized sage.

Please read our article on Women in Krishna Consciousness for a more elaborate explanation.

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