In the opening article of the first issue of Back to Godhead, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the purpose of his magazine.
By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Srila Prabhupada once wrote of Back to Godhead magazine, “This paper is the beginning of my spiritual life.”
To commemorate the seventy-fifth anniversary of Back to Godhead, we present Srila Prabhupada’s opening article of his first issue of the magazine, which he launched on the appearance day of his spiritual master in 1944. The world was at war, and Srila Prabhupada discusses that harsh reality in light of the purpose of the magazine.
Man, having forgotten himself as the son of Godhead, has forsaken his real constitutional nature. He has misidentified himself with everything non-godly and therefore manipulates a material existence conducted by the mind and the six instrumental senses. He is concerned only with his material coverings of the gross body and the subtle mind but cannot see either himself or his so-called numerous fellowmen. This is what we mean by nescience,* which is darkness. Man, having designated himself with the relation of his vehicular body and the finer elements of mind and ego, etc., like the motor-car driver who has identified himself wrongly with the motor-car itself, has manufactured a civilization which is self-contradictory and self-denying.
His so-called rationality having not gone far above the rationality of the lower animals, he laments at the death of his fellowmen or at the loss of his own things, which he has never witnessed by real experience. This is what we mean by nescience, which is darkness. He slightly feels only, and that after the death of his fellowmen, that the body loses something that moves it, just as the driver moves the motor-car, but still, due to the darkness of nescience, he never concerns himself with the driver of the body but takes care superficially only for the body or the mechanical car.
In the darkness of nescience, he is fully amazed with the mechanism of the gross body, just like a boy who is amazed with the mechanism of the motor-car, but he hardly tries to understand that without a driver any amount of astounding mechanical arrangement of the motor-car or of the human body cannot move either of them even by an inch. This is what we mean by nescience, which is darkness.
The defect of the present-day civilization is just like the above. This is actually the civilization of nescience or illusion, and therefore civilization has been turned into militarization. Everyone is fully concerned with the comforts of the body and everything related with the body, and nobody is concerned with the spirit that moves the body, although even a boy can realize that the motor-car mechanism has little value if there is no driver of the car. This dangerous ignorance of humanity is a gross nescience and has created a dangerous civilization in the form of militarization. This militarization, which, in softer language, is nationalization, is an external barrier to come to an understanding of human relation. There is no meaning in a fight where the parties do fight only for the matter of different colored dresses. There must be therefore an understanding of human relation without any consideration of the bodily designation or colored dresses.
Back to Godhead is a feeble attempt by the undersigned under the direction of His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada, the celebrated founder and organizer of the Gaudiya Math activities, just to bring up a real relation of humanity with a central relation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
That there is a great and urgent need of a literature like this is keenly felt by the leaders of all countries, and the following statements will help much in the procedure.
Some time back a bold statement by the Metropolitan of India in the form of the Moral and Spiritual Re-armament movement was published in the Hindusthan Standard, in which the reverend Bishop declared that “India guided by God can lead the world back to sanity.”
The President of the United States of America in a message to the Senate stated that “the underlying strength of the world consists in the moral fiber of citizens. A program therefore of moral re-armament for the world cannot fail to lessen the dangers of armed conflict. Such moral re-armament, to be most highly effective, must receive support on a worldwide basis.”
Ex-president of the United States of America Mr. Herbert Hoover sent a message to a citizens’ meeting in New York which included the following words. “What the world needs today is to return to sanity and moral spiritual ideals. At the present moment, nothing so concerns mankind.”
Some 236 members of the British House of Commons jointly affirmed that spiritual principles which are the common heritage of all people are more fundamental than any political or economic issue. They also strongly affirmed that there is urgent need to acknowledge the sovereign authority of God in home and nation to establish that liberty which rests on the Christian responsibility to all one’s fellowmen and to build a national life based on usefulness, unity, and faith.
Sir Stafford Cripps, the Lord Privy Seal of Britain, in a meeting of Christians sometime in the month of September 1942, said that the kingdom of God would be accomplished through the divine power of love, and he declared that “the tasks before us are, first, so to conduct ourselves as individual Christians that in spite of the difficulties of our surroundings, we may work towards the establishment of the kingdom of God throughout our country and the world and, second, so to influence and change our social, economic, and political environments as to encourage both ourselves and others to take to the Christian way of life.”
The horrors of the war are pinching every one and all in the world, and a statement of Mr. Wendell Willkie after his return from Russia will tell the story of all other countries in the world. He stated that “five million Russians have been killed, wounded, or missing. At least sixty million Russians are slaves in the Russian territories controlled by Hitler. Food in Russia this winter will be scarce, perhaps worse than scarce. Fuel will be little known this winter in millions of Russian homes. Clothing except for the army and for essential war workers has nearly gone. Many vital medical supplies just do not exist.”
What is true for the Russian people is also true for other people, as we Indians are feeling the same scarcity, the same want, and the same disgust.
The disgust of the war is well summarized by the Foreign Secretary of Britain, Mr. Anthony Eden, who said that “this time we have to finish the job properly. We will not tolerate this business every twenty years. When the job is finished we must see that they cannot start it again. That is the will of the nation and the united nation.”
The Archbishop of Canterbury in his recent broadcast in London said, “In every quarter of earth men long to be delivered from the curse of war and to find in a world which has regained its peace, respite from the harshness and bitterness of the world they have known till now. But so often they want the kingdom of heaven without its king. The kingdom of God without God. And they cannot have it.
“OUR RESOLVE MUST BE BACK TO GOD. We make plans for the future for peace amongst the nation and for civil security at home. That is quite right enough and it would be wrong to neglect it. But all our plans will come to ship-wreck on the rock of human selfishness unless we turn to God. BACK TO GOD, that is the chief need of England and of every nation.”
And lately Sir Francis Younghusband while speaking at the World Congress of Faiths said, “Now that religion is everywhere attacked brutally, we look to India, the very home of religion, for a sign.” Sir Francis pleaded that India by her example might show the world how religion can be the most potent of all uniting forces in the conduct of human affairs.
Sir Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan, the great Hindu philosopher, addressing a crowded public meeting in Calcutta recently, observed:
“At a time like this when there is poverty, malnutrition of body and mind, when many people do not know what it is to have a cooked meal, or to lie on soft bed, when millions of homes turn into homes of hunger and prisoners of poverty, religious men will have to address themselves to the task of removing them.
“Today the world was noisier, more controversial and violent. There was more hope and more uncertainty, more aspirations and more frustration. And the years that intervened (from the last war) showed the bankruptcy of any spiritual value. The Versailles Treaty, the League of Nations, and the Disarmament Conference failed because they had not the background of public opinion to sustain them. This war, when it would be won, would prove to be the breeding ground of other wars if the peace was not saved. It could happen only if powerful nations ceased to take pride and glory in their possessions, which were based on the labor and tribute of other weaker nations. This perhaps was what Sir Harcourt Butler meant when he said that the principles of Hinduism contained the essential elements for the saving of world civilizations.”
In another meeting, the same philosopher pointed out, “We have to defeat tyranny in the realm of thought and create a will for world peace. Instruments for training the mind and educating human nature should be used to develop a proper social outlook, without which institutional machinery was of little use.”
These psychological movements of the leaders of all countries, combined with the orders of my Divine Master Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada, have led me to venture to start a paper under the above name and style Back to Godhead, which implies all the words that we may intend to say in this connection.
India has been politically subjugated so to say for the last one thousand years, but very few have been able to exploit her spiritual resources up till now, which are measured unlimited by the spiritual masters. Politically India may ask all so-called foreigners to quit the shores of India, but spiritually she did never ask anybody to do so, nor will she do so even now. She will rather invite all the so-called foreigners to come and exploit the spiritual resources of India’s advancement, and this transcendental exploitation will not only enhance the glory of India but will also enrich the glory of the whole world for unity, faith, and humanity.
It may not be out of place to mention herein that His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada, just before his departure from this mortal world, wrote me a letter from Puri dated the 3rd December 1936 directing me towards my duty in fulfilling his mission in the world for propagating the religion of Divine Love as propounded by Lord Chaitanya. In the course of writing that letter, he wrote the following lines amongst other things.
“I am fully confident that you can explain in English our thoughts and arguments to the people who are not conversant with the languages of other members.”
“This will do much good to yourself as well as your audience.”
“I have every hope that you can turn yourself into a very good English preacher if you serve the mission to inculcate the novel impression to the people in general and philosophers of the modern age and religiosity.”
And when I was consulting my well-wishers and friends who are able to help me in this great adventure, all of them encouraged me in this connection. His Grace Sripad Bhakti Saranga Goswami Maharaj, the Preacher-in-charge for the Western countries appointed by His Divine Grace, who has recently returned from London preaching work to his headquarters, very kindly sent his blessing from Sri Nityananda Gaudiya Math in his letter dated 15-3-43 in the following words amongst other things:
“I know that His Divine Grace used to admire your intelligence, and it was his earnest desire that the world outside be benefitted through your writings in English.”
Under the circumstances, since 1936 up to now I was simply speculating whether I shall venture this difficult task, and that without any means and capacity; but as none has discouraged me, including the late Prof. Nishikanto Sanyal and Spd. Vasudev Prabhu (now Puri Maharaj), I have now taken courage to take up the work. The late Prof. Sanyal used to encourage me always by publishing my articles in his Harmonist, and sometime back he wanted to give me the charge of the paper, which I could not accept due to personal considerations.
But at the present moment my conscience is dictating me to take up the work although the difficulties are not over for the present situation arising out of war conditions.
I wish that everyone who is enlightened and educated, of any nationality, may take active interest in this periodical publication for wide circulation, as this paper will contain only the transcendental messages of the great savants of India and especially of Lord Chaitanya, the Godhead incarnate who descended for the deliverance of all fallen souls in the present age. My duty will be simply to repeat in the Back to Godhead just like an interpreter what I have heard from and what I have been ordered to deliver by my great spiritual master H.D.G. Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada. Nothing will be manufactured by me by my mental concoction. Such words will descend as sound transcendental, and when they are given proper serving reception by the aural channel, surely they will act like medicine to carry all back to home and “BACK TO GODHEAD.”
It is proposed that at least part-by-part issues of this literature shall be published every year and the subscription is fixed up at Rs. 6/- per annum in India or fifteen shillings per annum abroad. The writers of this paper will be mostly those who have dedicated their lives, resources, intelligence, and speeches for the service of the Absolute Personality of Godhead and for the welfare of all entities. The readers will therefore derive the highest amount of benefit by their association if they will simply sacrifice a little time for the service of Godhead as will be directed in this paper from time to time. Surely they will go back to Godhead, and the present rotten world will be transformed into the kingdom of God, as they will learn to acknowledge the sovereign authority of God in home and outside.
The subject matters delineated in the pages of Back to Godhead may seem to be very dry in the beginning, as the messages are from a different sphere altogether, but still we have to give attention to the messages if we really mean to cure the disease of nescience and go “BACK TO GODHEAD.” Sugar-candy is never sweet to those who are suffering from the disease of the bile. But still sugar-candy is the medicine for bilious patients. The taste of sugar-candy will gradually be revived if the bilious patient goes on taking sugar-candy regularly for the cure of the disease. We recommend the same process to the readers of Back to Godhead.
Godhead is one without a second, and all living entities are His eternal subordinate transcendental servitors. Realization of this transcendental relation will be the attempt of this paper, and therefore there is no bar for anyone in the world, irrespective of color, creed, and nationality, to go back to Godhead.
Abhay Charan De
Editor and Founder
*Prabhupada refers to “nescience” several times in this article, obviously referring to the motto that appeared (and still appears) on the cover of the magazine.