Krishna is the Original Cowboy! [A 1984 BTG Article]
The leader of the Hare Krishna movement in Dallas wants Texans, who may feel they are the original cowboys, to recognize Krishna and come and worship Him.
Srila Tamal Krishna Goswami Gurudeva is one of the present spiritual masters in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. He oversees ISKCON’s affairs in the south-central United States and parts of the Far East, and is the author of Servant of the Servant, a memoir about his activities in the Krishna consciousness movement. ISKCON Television taped the following interview in Dallas on May 30, 1984.
Reporter: Why did the Hare Krishnas participate in the Cotton Bowl Parade?
Srila Gurudeva: We feel that we are as much a part of Texas as anybody else. In other words, we are the Texas Krishnas. We were out there marching in the parade with our float. And we got a special prize, and everybody loved it. They loved it.
Reporter: All right. Given that, it seems to me that a parade is all pomp and flowers and glitter and so on. Where do you fit in?
Srila Gurudeva: We’re festive. We’re always singing and dancing. That’s what we’re famous for. We are the biggest parade people in the world. We’re always singing and dancing and making festivals.
Reporter: It seems on the surface that this somehow flies in the face of the anti‑material position you report to profess.
Srila Gurudeva: No, no, no. I’ll tell you why. There’s a distinct difference. The difference is that when we sing and dance and hold festivals, it’s in praise of Krishna, in praise of God. And we hope that we inspired other people at the parade to do the same.
Reporter: Are you saying that you alone, out of all those other people in the floats, were there to serve God, and everyone else was there to serve the population on the streets? Is Hare Krishna, the only way?
Srila Gurudeva: I don’t feel that way at all.
Reporter: How does Hare Krishna differ from other religions worldwide?
Srila Gurudeva: We have a lot of detailed information about God and God’s kingdom. That’s one big difference I see. And we practice strictly what we preach, also. But I don’t say it’s the only way. When I speak to someone about Krishna consciousness, I’m trying to think how to inspire him to serve God.
Just to give you an example, I was recently at the airport in San Antonio, and this state trooper came in. He must have been about six feet four. I was sitting there waiting to get on the plane. The state trooper came right up to me and I thought, “Okay, what did I do wrong?” Then he looked at me, and he said, “Do you accept Lord Jesus Christ?”
I said, “Certainly I do.”
He was a born‑again Christian. My feeling was that this man is a man of God, so I started to encourage him to preach to me. If I thought that we were the only way, I wouldn’t have let him get a word in edgewise, and I would have just preached to him. But I thought, “Okay, this man is doing some witnessing on behalf of the Lord. Let him witness. That will increase his love for God, and I will have helped to do that, so I would have been His servant. And that’s good.”
Reporter: Any good salesman knows that you let the potential buyer do the talking first. Is that what you were doing?
Srila Gurudeva: Oh, no. This man wasn’t about to buy anything I had to sell.
Reporter: Is that why you didn’t witness to him, so to speak?
Srila Gurudeva: No, because I could see that it was good for him to preach. He was going strong. He was speaking about God, so I thought, “Let him speak about God. It’s nice.”
Reporter: Did you feel because of his closedoffness he was not going to be open to you by the time he was finished? Do you feel that your religion was still better than his?
Srila Gurudeva: No. I was in ecstasy letting him speak about God. I thought it was great. I thought, “This is really fortunate. How many people would have a state trooper come up to them and start preaching about God?” Usually the only thing you do with a state trooper is you get a ticket. I thought, “This is certainly an arrangement by God that this happened.”
Reporter: You are obviously doing well for yourselves, both financially as well as in numbers. Do your numbers grow daily?
Srila Gurudeva: That would be nice.
Reporter: It’s not true?
Srila Gurudeva: It’s true. Sometimes they grow daily, sometimes they grow weekly. It’s hard to predict. After all, when you’re dealing with Ph.D. courses, you don’t expect too many candidates.
Reporter: Develop that point. It’s an interesting metaphor. I would like to hear it translated.
Srila Gurudeva: We give many guest lectures in colleges around Texas. It’s a good forum for our message, and while on campus you can see the composition of the student body. Freshmen are the top number. Sophomore students, a little less. Juniors, less. Seniors, still less. And the postgraduates, masters, and Ph.D. candidates‑‑very few.
Similarly, ours is the Ph.D. course of religious studies—Krishna consciousness. That means we are demanding the most rigorous adherence to God’s principles of any religion in the world. And we are giving the loftiest philosophical explanations of the science of God of any religion in the world. Krishna consciousness is the topmost knowledge.
Look at these books that are right behind us here. Here you see a whole library of knowledge. And these books, this knowledge, can change a person’s life and teach him how to realize the goal of life. The goal of fife is to become self-realized. The goal of life is to understand who you are and why you are on this planet. It’s not just to become another confused, lost person groping for some temporary satisfaction and ultimately ending up in frustration and death. The real purpose of human life is to avoid having to take another material birth again. The real purpose of human life is to go back home, back to Godhead.
Reporter: Let me put a hypothetical situation to you. I’m a normal Dallas kid, normal experiences, and so on. Let’s add to that that my father is a Christian clergyman. Let’s add that I have gone to a private Christian school, where every day began with the Apostles’ Creed and the Pledge of Allegiance. At fourteen or fifteen I began to think that perhaps my father doesn’t know everything I thought he knew all along, and, like many other American teenagers, I’m out of there. Does this happen among your children?
Srila Gurudeva: Not very often.
Reporter: Does it happen?
Srila Gurudeva: Sometimes. It happens with our adults, also. It’s not just the children. In other words, many are called, but few are chosen to enter the kingdom of God. Even in the Bible that is stated. We don’t expect that every single person who comes here is going to remain a devotee for life. Ours is not a place of indoctrination. It it is a place of teaching. We’re trying to teach people more about the science of self-realization. If someone learns two percent of that science, we consider that their visit here has been a success. That’s our outlook.
Reporter: Is it fair to children, who don’t have the choice, who are not at an age where they can make that choice?
Srila Gurudeva: Can I ask you a question? Is it fair for children to be subjected to four hours of television a day? Is it fair for a child to be subjected to the type of thing that practically every parent subjects their kids to in America these days? People feed their kids junk foods. Is that fair to that living entity, that organism, to be fed things that are going to harm his body and rot his teeth?
Reporter: I know of no religion that requires a child to sit down and watch television for four hours a day and eat Twinkies.
Srila Gurudeva: No? There is a religion‑‑it’s called “The Great American Way.” That’s the religion I’m talking about. I’m talking about Americana. I’m talking about the “good old American way.”
Reporter. If anything, that would be viewed as an a-religious expression that has nothing to do with freedom of choice for a religion.
Srila Gurudeva: It’s heavy indoctrination, and that’s my point. All parents, according to their way of life, subject their children to indoctrination.
Reporter: Indoctrination carries with it an assumption of will. Conditioning carries with it an assumption of response to an environment. I would suggest that a child watching four hours of television a day and eating Twinkies is not being indoctrinated but is in fact being conditioned. I would suggest that a child being drilled on catechism responses by an authority figure within a church or movement is in fact being indoctrinated.
Srila Gurudeva: Well, call it what you want, but anybody who sits in front of a boob tube for four hours and eats Twinkies is a vegetable, as far as I’m concerned. He’s just a vegetable. He may be a “free” vegetable as opposed to an “indoctrinated” vegetable, but he is a vegetable. So we want to turn out some intelligent beings. We feel that there’s enough vegetation already on the planet, and we would like to see some advanced creatures walking around on the face of the earth giving some direction to the world instead of having to open a newspaper every day and read about how every single country is at war.
Reporter: Well, how does your Dallas Palace help the world situation?
Srila Gurudeva: The Dallas Palace is really Kalachandji’s Palace. “Kalachandji” is a name for Krishna. As you’ve seen in our temple room, there is a Deity of Krishna. The Deity is like a statue of Krishna, but He is not just a statue. We take it that this Deity form of the Lord is a transcendental form that’s worshipable. This is stated in scripture, and we have personal experience of it. When I first came here, I thought, “This Deity deserves to have the best care. We have to build Him a palace.” And that was my whole motive. I was thinking that somehow Krishna is going to be pleased. It was an inspired feeling I had. I felt that this Deity is like covered fire; this Deity is so powerful that if He is worshiped properly He is going to attract all the people of Texas. All the people of Texas, because Krishna is actually a cowboy also. Krishna is the original cowherd boy.
Reporter: I beg your pardon?
Srila Gurudeva: In Texas, everybody feels they are the original cowboys, but the original cowboy is Krishna. Krishna’s activities five thousand years ago are described in our scriptures, and He used to take care of the cows. He was a cowboy. So, I feel that Kalachandji will be recognized as the original cowboy here in Dallas and that gradually the Texans are going to come and worship Him.
Reporter: You talk about Kalachandji as the Deity to be worshiped by Texans. It sounds almost like you are introducing idol worship to a rather conservative state. Don’t you expect a negative reaction from folks to that?
Srila Gurudeva: Well, I don’t base my actions on whether someone reacts negatively. In other words, I consider that if someone doesn’t understand something, it’s my duty to educate him and not back off if his reaction is based in ignorance. No. It’s not idolatry at all. An idol is an image. And the word image connotes something about the imagination. You imagine something, and you just start to worship it as God. That is not what we’re doing. Our Deity‑‑Kalachandji, or any other Deity Of Krishna‑‑is described in great detail in our scripture. This Deity was made exactly according to scriptural directions as being a likeness of the features of God.
When you put a letter in a post office box, it will go to its destination, whereas if you make your own box, the letter won’t go anywhere. Similarly, if you just worship some kind of stone statue according to your own imagination of God, it’s not going to help you. But if you follow the scriptural advice and make a Deity exactly according to the scriptural references, and if you worship that Deity according to the very strict principles mentioned in the scriptures, then you will find that your worship is accepted and received by the Lord. So we don’t call it idolatry.
Reporter: All right. But we’re talking about an East Indian culture, as compared to a cowboy culture. Do they have anything in common at all? How can they be related?
Gurudeva: The similarity is in the cows. Krishna is the original cowboy, because one of Krishna’s activities when He was present on earth five thousand years ago was to take care of the cows. And similarly, here in Texas, there are cows and there are cowboys taking care of the cows. Unfortunately, they are not taking very nice care of them. So the common factor is the cows. The distinction is how we take care of them. We want to introduce the original cow culture, which is based on the protection of the cows. Another name of Krishna is Govinda, or one who gives protection to the cows. We feel that the Texans should now learn that there is a better way to deal with cows than the way they’ve been dealing with them. In fact, we would say that if the Texans want to avoid massive karmic reaction they had better stop slaughtering cows immediately. We know if you keep up this type of sinful behavior of slaughtering cows, then there’s going to be a very severe karmic reaction. There are a lot of heavy karmic reactions coming.
Reporter: So everyone involved in the cattle industry who does not come to Krishna consciousness by the time of his death is moving in the opposite direction?
Srila Gurudeva: Not only individually, but as a group.
Reporter: Societies can suffer death?
Srila Gurudeva: Yes, there’s such a thing as national karma That’s what’s going on in the world today. And there is international karma. For all the abortion and all the slaughtering of animals, there is huge karma being created all over the face of this world, and the result comes in the form of unseasonable weather conditions‑‑drought, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes‑‑and ultimately, if it gets too heavy, atomic war. That’s international karma.
Reporter: And the Texans’ response to that might be, “If I want to avoid economic ruin, I’ve got to continue slaughtering the COWS.”
Srila Gurudeva: The arrangement of Krishna, God, is that man should cultivate the land and protect the cows. Everything that you need for a balanced, healthy diet can be gained from these two things‑‑wheat you grow on the land and the products that you can derive from the cow. But not the cow’s flesh.
Once you kill the cow, you lose all the valuable things you can get from milk. And, from a moral point of view, we feel that the cow should be protected. If she’s going to give you eight or ten years of her milk, that’s quite a contribution. So, as a matter of thankfulness, gratefulness to her, we feel “Let her live out her life peacefully. ” And if someone is really into eating meat, well, she’s going to die a natural death anyway. Then you can go ahead and eat the meat. Maybe the cow will be a little thinner and there will be a little less meat.
In fact, there was a very interesting study that revealed that if you produce beef rather than grains, it takes five times more land to get the same nutritional value. So this is a very sound economic policy‑‑to grow grains and vegetables and fruits and to take care of the cow and get her milk products ‑because then you have the food problem solved.
Reporter: Isn’t the idea of God as a cowboy kind of laughable?
Srila Gurudeva: In 1968 I was preaching on the streets of Los Angeles, and I met this preacher from a Baptist revivalist church. He was a very nice man. He appreciated what I was saying to him, and he said, “I want you to come to my church.” At the church meeting, I gave my sermon, and he gave his. And he was telling everybody in the audience about God. He said, “You know, no one has ever seen God. And do you know why? Because He’s so big that you can’t get far enough away from Him to actually see Him.” That was his explanation. Another explanation I heard is the common one that God is an old man with a long, white beard. He’s sitting on a big throne, and He’s got a line of people stretching out into infinity‑‑people with so many things they want to talk to Him about.
When I hear these things I don’t laugh, even though I could, because this is all speculation. They don’t know what God looks like. When you turn to most scriptures of the world, they don’t give very much information about how God looks, except to say that man is made in God’s image, which simply lets us know that God has a more or less humanlike appearance. But in the Vedic scriptures from India you get detailed information about the appearance of God. And just for your information, He happens to be, in His original form, a very beautiful, transcendental personality with exquisite features and qualities. That’s why we can develop love for Him. And one of His favorite activities just happens to be taking care of the cows.