The prayers of this exceptional queen are saturated with both profound philosophy and deep spiritual love.
By Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi
A devoted queen’s astounding prayers inspired Prabhupada’s penetrating analysis of modern life.
Srila Prabhupada was very fond of the prayers of Queen Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas and a great devotee of Lord Krishna. They appear in the First Canto, chapter eight, of Srimad-Bhagavatam, which he translated and published in India in 1962 with his commentary. Ten years later, having ventured to America, he offered a series of lectures on the prayers. These were compiled and published by his disciples in a book titled Teachings of Queen Kunti. It is a candid, soul-searching book because it lays bare the anomalies of the social and industrial matrix that Srila Prabhupada observed in America, while at the same time it gives us a bird’s-eye view into the determined spiritual success of a virtuous queen.
Lotuses, Shoes, Water, and Drunkards
Queen Kunti was situated in the middle of a bitter and violent struggle between her beloved sons, her nephews, and their many seniors and allies. Her plight gave rise to her beautiful prayers, among the most philosophical and powerful expressions of love of God that can be found in all of the world’s literatures.
At the time of the prayers, Krishna has assisted Kunti and her sons through many perils, but now He is about to leave them to return to His earthly home in Dwaraka. Lord Krishna incarnated as a prince in the dynasty Yadu dynasty, and He happens to be Kunti’s nephew. When He respectfully offers His farewell to her, touching her feet out of respect, Kunti, knowing His confidential identity as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, offers her personal glorification of Him.
“My respectful obeisances are unto You, O Lord, whose abdomen is marked with a depression like a lotus flower, who are always decorated with garlands of lotus flowers, whose glance is as cool as the lotus, and whose feet are engraved with lotuses.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.22)
The lotus symbolizes transcendence because in all of its unique beauty, fragrance, and splendor, it blossoms in muddy ponds. In Hindu temples, the deity stands on a carved lotus, indicating that although the Lord is in this world, He is always situated above it. Whenever we see a lotus, we can easily remember Krishna, just as Kunti’s prayer describes Him. Prabhupada’s commentary on this verse offers practical instruction for service to the Lord:
“The Pankajanabhi [lotus-naveled] Lord accepts the arca-vigraha (His transcendental form) in different elements, namely a form within the mind, a form made of wood, a form made of earth, a form made of metal, a form made of jewels, a form made of paint, a form drawn on sand, etc. All such forms of the Lord are always decorated with garlands of lotus flowers, and there should be a soothing atmosphere in the temple of worship to attract the burning attention of the nondevotees always engaged in material wranglings.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.22, Purport)
In his lecture on this verse that appears in Teachings of Queen Kunti, Srila Prabhupada turns from the lotus to the example of a shoe. If one’s child is absent from the house, off at school or play, one will naturally remember the child by glancing at the child’s shoe. “Oh, this is my child’s shoe.”
Prabhupada continues with another example: Even by experiencing the pure, clean taste of water on one’s tongue, something of Krishna may be appreciated. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (7.8), raso ’ham apsu: “I am the taste of water.” One may come to know God just by thinking of Him while drinking water.
Then Prabhupada suggests how America’s intoxicated population can also someday come to remember the Lord: “In America there are many drunkards. There is no scarcity of them. But I may request even the drunkards, ‘When drinking wine, kindly remember that the taste of this drink is Krishna. Just begin in this way, and one day you will become a saintly, Krishna conscious person.’” (Teachings of Queen Kunti, 1.8.22, Purport)
The High Price of Material Progress
Queen Kunti continues: “My Lord, Your Lordship can easily be approached, but only by those who are materially exhausted. One who is on the path of [material] progress, trying to improve himself with respectable parentage, great opulence, high education, and bodily beauty, cannot approach You with sincere feeling.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.26)
Since the time Teachings of Queen Kunti was first published in America, the demands of material progress have only increased; moreover, they have spread all over the planet. Developing industry by advancing technology to transform the raw materials of the earth into fashionable commodities for the world market is the order of the day. At no time in history have human beings tapped into such an unusual variety of food, clothing, technical devices, home furnishings, vehicles, etc., imported from every corner of the world. The consumers often know nothing about the people who produced these things or how they were derived from natural resources.
Srila Prabhupada aptly breaks this situation down with the simple example of the poor people of Russia during the Communist regime. They were originally farmers, and their customs included going to church to pray to God to help them produce food. Gradually industry and commerce brought them to the cities, and the government took control of the distribution of foodstuffs. Under the influence of the new regime, their traditional prayer, “O God, give us our daily bread,” turned into, “O Communist friends, please give us our daily bread.” So the Russia’s leaders provided the citizens’ needs, but the conditions became more and more industrialized and atheistic. The churches became overgrown with weeds and covered with graffiti.
Putting all emphasis on material progress kills the very spirit of the human being. The human being is actually an embodied soul meant for self-realization.
“My obeisances unto You, who are the property of the materially impoverished. You have nothing to do with the actions and reactions of the material modes of nature. You are self-satisfied, and therefore You are the most gentle, and are the master of the monists.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.27)
It seems evident that Prabhupada took this prayer of the queen very much to heart. In his commentary to this verse, he gives himself as an example of personal material failure that resulted in perfect Krishna conscious success.
As a householder, Srila Prabhupada had very good opportunities to become a rich man; he executed the duties of his pharmaceutical business very well, and it prospered. After being the manager of a big chemical factory, he started his own factory, and the business was very successful. But eventually everything collapsed, and he was forced into carrying out the order of his guru to spread Krishna consciousness to the English-speaking world. Prabhupada later explained that when all his material assets were taken away, he approached Krishna, saying, “You are the only shelter.”
Krishna is akincana-vitta, the property of the materially impoverished.
Prabhupada never felt that he had lost anything, however, but that he had gained many sincere and helpful disciples after he ventured to America and enlisted them in his International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Americans who have joined this Krishna consciousness movement were materially intoxicated before they became devotees, but now their intoxication is over, their material assets have become spiritual assets that may be helpful in furthering the service of Krishna. For example, when these American devotees go to India, the Indian people are surprised to see that Americans have become so mad after God. Many Indians strive to imitate the materialistic life of the west, but when they see Americans dancing in Krishna consciousness, then they realize that this is what is actually worthy of being followed. (Teachings of Queen Kunti, 1.8.26, Purport)
Lipstick, Plastic Jewelry, and Auto Bodies
“All these cities and villages are flourishing in all respects because the herbs and grains are in abundance, the trees are full of fruits, the rivers are flowing, the hills are full of minerals, and the oceans full of wealth. And this is all due to Your glancing over them.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.39–40)
Srila Prabhupada’s commentary reveals the compassion he feels upon observing the direction that human civilization has taken:
Human prosperity flourishes by natural gifts and not by gigantic industrial enterprises. The gigantic industrial enterprises are products of a godless civilization, and they cause the destruction of the noble aims of human life. The more we go on increasing such troublesome industries to squeeze out the vital energy of the human being, the more there will be unrest and dissatisfaction of the people in general, although a few only can live lavishly by exploitation. The natural gifts such as grains and vegetables, fruits, rivers, the hills full of jewels and minerals, and the seas full of pearls are supplied by the order of the Supreme, and as He desires, material nature produces them in abundance or restricts them at times. The natural law is that the human being may take advantage of these godly gifts of nature and satisfactorily flourish on them without being captivated by the exploitative motive of lording it over material nature. The more we attempt to exploit material nature according to our whims of enjoyment, the more we shall become entrapped by the reaction of such exploitative attempts. . . . If the human civilization has sufficient grains, minerals, jewels, water, milk, etc., then why should it hanker after terrible industrial enterprises at the cost of the labor of some unfortunate men? (Bhagavatam 1.8.40, Purport)
In his purport to 1.8.27, Prabhupada singles out lipstick at the price of fifty cents a tube, and in his lecture on 1.8.40, he mentions beautiful women wearing plastic bangles. Such is the opulence of a civilization that highly prizes technology. For wealth, we may farm or collect natural materials and live simply; instead we refine oil to produce plastic and open huge factories that produce auto bodies or packaged carcasses of poor animals.
In this regard I wish to mention the experience of a young woman, Bhaktin Melanie, who recently met the devotees of Krishna. When I asked her how she became interested in Krishna consciousness, she told me that she had a powerful spiritual awakening, and it was largely due to living in the city of Detroit.
“How is that?” I asked.
Melanie spent four years at a university in Detroit, attending dental school, and having come from sunny car-congested California, she was in culture shock. Detroit seemed to be packed with enormous old factories that were shut down. Cars rarely bothered to stop for the red lights at intersections because the big boulevards were empty. Less than half of the former population has remained. In winter the old city looks especially forbidding, a mere urban skeleton, since many houses are burnt down. The high crime rate and unusually high incidence of arson have taken six thousand structures.
Melanie was overwhelmed by feelings of anxiety, and to survive the long winters she began to look for spiritual answers. She found a plethora of spiritual information, but when she started reading Srila Prabhupada’s books online, she finally felt satisfied to find some solid answers to her questions about life. Now Melanie practices Krishna consciousness at home and at the Los Angeles temple, having returned from Detroit. She graduated from dental school and practices dentistry.
Srila Prabhupada’s farsighted commentary predicts the demise of Detroit and its mass production, leading to its present-day scarcity:
One may not be very advanced, but one should try at least to do something to understand God. A child is sent to school, and although he may simply learn ABCD, if he is interested he may one day become a very good scholar. Similarly, one day a pious man may become a pure devotee. Why should one give up religion altogether, become completely secular, and simply open a factory in which to manufacture nuts and bolts and work very hard and drink, and eat meat? What kind of civilization is this? It is because of this so-called civilization that people are suffering. . . . [T]here is no need to become rich by starting some huge factory to produce auto bodies. By such industrial enterprises we have simply created troubles. Otherwise, we need only depend on Krishna and Krishna’s mercy, because by Krishna’s glance (tava vikshitaih), everything is set right. So if we simply plead for Krishna’s glance, there will be no question of scarcity or need. Everything will be complete. The idea of the Krishna consciousness movement, therefore, is to depend on nature’s gifts and the grace of Krishna. (Teachings of Queen Kunti,1.8.40, Purport)
“O Gadadhara [Krishna], our kingdom is now being marked by the impressions of Your feet, and therefore it appears beautiful. But when You leave, it will no longer be so.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.39)
The remedy for the modern contentions over the use or misuse of our living environment can be found in the sincerity and love of God in this prayer. By love for Krishna, we can gather the strength and integrity to prefer devotional service to Him over selfish, exploitative struggles with no good result. As in Detroit, the affluent societies of yore that developed by exploiting human labor and raw materials have always decayed and lost their beauty. The oil industry and the combustion-engine-centered auto industry that Detroit is historically famous for are now in dishonor due to very serious environmental consequences; the steely splendor of many modern cities grows dim.
Prabhupada predicts the fall of places like Detroit in his many purports throughout his books, but along with his farsighted observations, he consistently offers the solution: in essence, if we string together a list of zeros, no matter how many zeros of superior craftsmanship – no matter how many glistening auto bodies are carried down the assembly line – it is still a collection of zeros. However, by placing the one of Krishna at the beginning of those zeros, we’ll have billions and trillions in real value, and everything will become attractive and worthwhile due to Krishna’s presence. Every endeavor meant for His pleasure in devotional service remains our eternal success.
In this regard, Srila Prabhupada mentions the success of his devoted disciples:
Those who have joined the Krishna consciousness movement were beautiful before they joined, but now that they have become Krishna conscious they look especially beautiful. Therefore the newspapers often describe them as “bright-faced”. Their countrymen remark, ‘How joyful and beautiful these boys and girls have become.” At the present time in America, many of the younger generation are confused and hopeless, and therefore they appear morose and black-faced. Why? Because they are missing the point; they have no aim in life. But the devotees, the Krishnaites, look very beautiful because of the presence of Krishna. . . . With Krishna in the center everything becomes beautiful, and Krishna can become the center at any time. (Teachings of Queen Kunti, 1.8.39, Purport)
Reading a classic Bhaktivedanta purport like this one, I cannot help but smile; oddly, even reading about suffering becomes beautiful. There are so many sad or disturbing examples in human society of great suffering, but seeing it as revealed through Prabhupada’s farsighted commentaries in Teachings of Queen Kunti gives us understanding of the essential cause and how to cure it or endure it, even as Kunti was able to do.
Queen Kunti’s teachings offer powerful insight into the mind of a pure devotee of Krishna. She concludes her prayers by asking Krishna, “As the Ganges forever flows to the sea without hindrance, let my attraction be constantly drawn unto You, without being diverted to anyone else.” (Bhagavatam 1.8.42)
Queen Kunti’s prayers, the utterances of a devotee completely sold out to the will of the Lord, inspire our love for Him, while Srila Prabhupada’s protective instructions caution us about the anomalies of our modern life, and how to remain a devotee in the face of things to come.