Saṁsāra in California

As I write, California burns. Multiple wildfires continue to afflict the land.

California! For so long the migratory terminus of American dreams, her own Hollywood gave those dreams back to the world crafted in dazzling pageants of lights and shadows that seemed more real than reality itself. Yet California herself now suffers under multiply woes, most of them, like the Los Angeles fires, self-inflicted.

The state’s budgetary mess has become the stuff of legend, and the one-time paragon of material progress seems on the descent toward third-world status. Yet the main engine of decline is the state’s own electorate, captivated by the spell of an ancient error, described in Vedic literature as “the fallacy of half a hen,” ardha-kukkuṭī-nyāya.

A man cherishes the egg-producing end of his hen, but resents the expense of providing for the other end, the mouth which eats. He thinks he’ll do better if he cuts off the eating end. By various referendums the voters have radically circumscribed the states ability to tax, but still want the state to provide benefits. Even their Hollywood superhero governor cannot save them by conjuring something from nothing.

Ah, the material world.

Now California illustrates another ancient Vedic trope: This world as wildfire.


Should we find ourselves at some time surrounded by a monstrous wildfire, we are doomed; there is no way out for us. So the uncontrollable conflagration of a wildfire or forest fire becomes used as an apt emblem for our factual state in this world: Death surrounds and engulfs us, and there is no escape.

Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu uses the Sanskrit compound bhava-mahā-dāvāgni: Bhava, material existence, is a huge (mahā), forest fire (dāvāgni). He says that sakīrtana, the cultivation of the divine names in association of devotees, causes the extinction (nirvāpanam) of the fire.

Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhakura develops this imagery. Saṁsāra-dāvānala-līha-loka, he writes. Saṁsāra, the unending cycle of birth and death in which we are trapped, is like a forest fire, dāva-anala, that consumes (ha) the whole world (loka).

If we are trapped in a huge conflagration, no human agency may rescue us. Yet should the clouds open above and pour down rain, we are saved. Therefore, Viśvanātha Ṭhakura writes that the Vaiṣṇava guru is like a cloud heavy with rain (ghanāghanatvam) whose downpour of mercy (kāruṇya) obliterates the all-consuming fires of saṁsāra.

The image of this world as an all-devouring fire should be kept in mind. The Vedic sages advise us to see this world as it is. Kṛṣṇa notes that those who are great souls (mahātmas) understand this world as dukhālayam (full of suffering) and aśāśvatam (temporary).

To those dedicated to preserving their illusions, the sober realism of the wise looks like pessimism.

A California scene: In 1970, in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, a huge crowd of counter-youth gathers for Rathyatra. Prabhupāda—coming like the raincloud—praises them for their frustration and discontent:

In this country especially, in all other countries also, the younger generation are not very satisfied. In your country, they say that the frustrated community, the confused community, the hippies. But I have got all sympathy for these frustrated community, everywhere. They should be frustrated. In the Vedānta-sūtra it is said that athāto brahma jijñāsā. This human form of life should feel frustration. If he does not feel frustration, then it is animal life. The symptom of human life is that he should be very much pessimistic, not optimistic, of this material world. Then there is path of liberation. And if we think that we are very much happy here, that is called illusion, māyā. Nobody is actually happy here. But if anyone wrongly thinks that he is happy, that is called māyā, illusion.

So my request to you, those who are feeling frustration, confused, this is a good qualification. Good qualification in this sense: that those who are feeling frustration and confused, they are disgusted with this materialistic way of life. That is a good qualification for spiritual advancement. But if you are not properly guided, then that will be another frustration. That will be another frustration. To save you from that frustration, this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement has come to your country, Lord Caitanya’s movement.

We are being devoured by the all consuming flames of saṁsāra, yet we think we are safe.

Therefore, we may contemplate with profit the photograph below. Here is the very emblem and image of our true condition, captured in a contemporary California picture.



In a number of places, Śrīmad Bhāgavatam compares the conditioned human being to a mṛga, a deer.

In 4.29.53, Nārada Muni likens the oblivious human being to a deer grazing with his mate happily in the forest. The stag is absorbed in the taste of the sweet grass and enchanted by the humming of the bees. He does not know that in front of him a tiger is crouching, preparing to spring, and that behind him a hunter stalks with drawn bow.

The deer is noted for its tendency  to be easily fooled by a mirage. A Sanskrit word for mirage is mṛga-tṛṣṇā, that which induces thirst in the deer. In 7.13.29, a saintly brāhmaṇa tells Prahlāda Mahārāja: “Just as a deer, because of ignorance, cannot see the water within a well covered by grass, but runs after a mirage [mga-tṛṣṇām], the living entity covered by the material body does not see the happiness within himself, but runs after happiness in the material world.”

In 11.5.34, the yogīndra named Karabhājana predicts the appearance of the kali-yuga avatāra who will teach, and so deliver the bewildered souls. Here the conditioned soul is indicated by the word māyā-mga, a deluded deer. Commenting on this word in a lecture in New Delhi in 1973, Prabhupāda says:

We are entrapped by the false reality,māyā. Māyāmgaṁ dayitayepsitam anvadhāvat [SB 11.5.34]. Māyā-mgam: just like the deer, he runs toward the false water in the desert. But the water goes ahead more and more, and the poor animal, without finding water, dies. But a sane man does not go. A sane man knows that reflection of water is not water. But because there is no water in the desert, it does not mean that there is no water. The water is there, but not in the desert. That is knowledge.

We are advised by Kṛṣṇa to become sages who see with the eyes of knowledge (jñāna-cakṣuṣa). We may use these metaphors to educate our senses. See saṁsāra in wildfires, and the deluded living being in the deer.

Here, courtesy of California, is a photograph that put both together. Contemplate it with the eyes of knowledge and reflect, “Here I am”:



Filed under Addtional Writings

6 responses to “Saṁsāra in California

  1. Pancha Tattva dasa

    Lovely writing, Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu. Your blog and Krpamoya’s “The Vaishnava Voice,” are my favorites. I’m never disappointed when I visit, and I always come away a spiritually wealthier man. Each and every article would be a perfect installment for Back to Godhead magazine.

    Many, many thanks and many more obeisances.

    Your servant,

    Pancha Tattva dasa

  2. Yes, another well-crafted article, as we should be expecting, yet in actuality our expectations are not relevant, it is the lesson we grow from. As stated, your “Spiritual” wealth is inspirational.

    Your article in the current BTG is also very rewarding. Reality checks in the US of A are usually minimized and/or capitalized and it is important to re-display them as Srila Prabhupada so succinctly revealed.

    All glories to your service!

  3. Pusta Krishna das

    Ravindra Swarupa das Prabhu is a thoughtful disciple of Srila Prabhupad. We can see so much compromise that can take place when the acharya may have disappeared from our presence physically. Grace of Srila Prabhupad that his books contain his timeless instructions. You can see the mood of Srila Prabhupad in Ravindra Swarup’s comments: There is urgency to take to Krishna consciousness. Actually, this is from the negative side, ie that the world is illusory and wasting the valuable human time of the jiva souls. The positive side is that what we are looking for is all there in Krishna, Bhagavan, full with all beauty, love, pleasure. So, both from the negative side and the positive side, take to Krishna consciousness to fulfill your soul’s destiny. Ultimately, when in a healthier spiritual state, then the positive magnetic attraction of Krishna will overtake the negative impetus to devotional service. Just as Srila Prabhupad has often said, medicine may be bitter in the beginning, but so sweet in the end. Thank you for you nice writings, and the photos are awesome. I live in California, surrounded by forests, and fortunately there is also an abundance of Krishna consciousness in this state, both historically and at present. May Srila Prabhupad’s extended family of disciples and well-wishers in this area find inspiration to make steady progress on the path of devotion to Sri Krishna.
    Pusta Krishna das

  4. Dear Ravindra Svarupa Prabhu,

    You’re the best!!!
    Every article finely crafted and filled with the essence of everything Srila Prabhupada stressed and made even more understandable and practical with your approach, your distinctive writing style, your ability to contemporize (?) and the amazing photos that enhance the points!
    Thank you so much! I always look forward to reading this blog.

    Rasajna dd

  5. Gopalakrishnan

    Hare Krishna prabhuji!

    Nice article. Just to continue the analogy..

    Reading about the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Australia that claimed 173 lives and injured hundreds more in February 2009, there was a story about many survivors that escaped the raging fires by submerging themselves in village ponds.

    Prahlada Maharaja in his prayers to Lord Nrsimha Dev, explains how he is able to escape the fiery material existence by being submerged in the great ocean of nectarean spiritual bliss (maha-amrta magna cittah)

    SB 7.9.43:

    “O best of the great personalities, I am not at all afraid of material existence, for wherever I stay I am fully absorbed in thoughts of Your glories and activities. My concern is only for the fools and rascals who are making elaborate plans for material happiness and maintaining their families, societies and countries. I am simply concerned with love for them.”

    On a similar vein, the twelve Sri Vaishnavite saints of South India were collectively called as Azhvars (Alvars) meaning those who are immersed in the Lord.

    Therefore, Vaishnava philosophy gives a solution for happy existence in this unhappy material world by immersing oneself in the Lord’s service (Krishna Consciousness)

    Your aspiring servant,


  6. Daruka dasa

    We see- do we uderstand? The illusion of the material endeavor, the Hollywood illusion factories, the hope of Sankirana Yujna!
    Campaigning for the Truth the devotees help all souls! Every little bits all add up for the ultimate good of us all.
    All Glories to your devotional services!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s