With this issue, we mark with pleasure the beginning of the tenth year that BACK TO GODHEAD is being published in the West. BACK TO GODHEAD is a unique spiritual journal because it is fully devoted to Krishna-katha, or topics related to Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
To understand Krishna, however, first we must know ourselves. For many, the very question “Who am I?” seems absurd. “Why, of course I know who I am,” we say. All right, then. Who are you? I reply that I am Mr. Such and Such, I am a citizen of America, I’m married and have two kids. I tell how old I am, what my religion is, what corporation I work for and so on. In other words, I circle around the point. I know many things about myself. But who am I? That I cannot say.
BACK TO GODHEAD, therefore, begins at this point. Before we can know what is important to us or what will make us happy, first we must know who we are. BTG, therefore, is a philosophical magazine, for this is the beginning of philosophy. Indeed, it is the very beginning of human life because only human beings can inquire about their identity; animals cannot. Animals can only eat, sleep, mate and defend. In fact, many animals do these things better than we do. A pigeon, for example, cannot read Playboy, but it has sexual intercourse hundreds of times a day. A pig cannot read Gourmet, but although we would not agree with the pig’s choice of delicacies, it knows how to eat with gusto. To inquire about one’s real identity, however, and about the purpose of life, is the special prerogative of a human being. Human life truly begins, therefore, when one asks himself, “Who am I?” Because BTG deals with this essential question, it is therefore more important than magazines concerned only with the affairs of the material body.
The purpose of BACK TO GODHEAD is to train the mind so that one can understand the self. How? BTG is not a magazine of speculative theories, opinions and mental concoctions. It is intended to be a magazine of knowledge, and knowledge cannot be invented, but only discovered. What is the best way to discover who we are? BACK TO GODHEAD rests on the principle that the best way is to learn from a qualified authority.
Now, this may seem stuffy or dogmatic, but actually it is simple common sense. The quickest, surest way to get knowledge even about commonplace mundane affairs—to say nothing of self-realization—is to get it from someone who already knows. For example, if I want to know who my father is, the easiest way is to ask my mother. I could speculate or perform some research, but the quickest, most certain and most direct way—indeed, the only way to be sure—would be to ask my mother. Similarly, to know something about calculus or chemistry we may consult a professor, to know the price of goods we consult a salesman, or to know the time we ask someone with a watch. In this way, we very naturally rely upon authorities to get knowledge.
But where shall we find a genuine authority on spiritual life? We accept that the most reliable authority on spiritual truth is the ancient literature of India, the Vedic scriptures, especially Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. Since time immemorial, the world has looked toward India as a center of spiritual culture. Long before the birth of Christ, Socrates or even Moses, the great yogis and mystics of India were exploring the territory of inner consciousness. And even then, these explorers used the Vedas as their maps. The Vedic literatures were committed to writing only 5,000 years ago, when they were compiled by the great sage Vyasa, but actually they have no beginning, for they consist of eternal transcendental knowledge. BACK TO GODHEAD, therefore, contains no speculations or theories about spiritual life, but only ideas authorized by the Vedic scriptures.
One of the original issues of Back to Godhead published by Srila Prabhupada in India (Delhi, July 1960).
The first point of Vedic knowledge is that all living beings are different from their material bodies. The body is compared to a suit of clothing, and the spiritual spark of consciousness within the body is like the person wearing the clothing. Just as we change our clothing, we are also changing bodies. We see that a child grows up and becomes a boy and then an old man, and finally he dies. Actually, however, the spiritual spark of consciousness never changes. What we see changing is the body. The soul within is constant. Thus death, which to us appears final, is actually only another change. When the body becomes old and worn out, the soul changes to a new body, and thus the cycle of birth and death begins again. However, by understanding oneself to be different from the body, and by understanding the Supreme Self, or Krishna, one can become free from the repetition of birth and death and return to his natural home in the spiritual world. The need for such transcendental realization—and the science of how to achieve it—is explained in BACK TO GODHEAD.
The founder and original editor of BACK TO GODHEAD—and its eternal guide as well—is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the author of Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Krishna, Teachings of Lord Caitanya and many other English translations and summary studies of the ancient Vedic scriptures. Srila Prabhupada first started BACK TO GODHEAD in India in 1944, and later he continued it in the West.
Srila Prabhupada first came to the United States in September of 1965, and by October of 1966 he and his first American students had begun the International Society for Krishna Consciousness in a small storefront in New York City. Then, within only a few months, Srila Prabhupada spent almost the entire treasury of the new temple (and a tiny treasury it was) to buy two second-hand mimeograph machines. His spiritual master had always stressed the importance of Krishna conscious literature, and therefore within a short time the first American issue of BACK TO GODHEAD appeared. It was a crudely mimeographed affair, hand-stapled by the devotees, but it conveyed the transcendental message of Krishna consciousness. “Godhead is light,” it announced. “Nescience is darkness. Where there is Godhead there is no nescience”
A copy of the first issue of Back to Godhead published in the United States (New York City, October 1966).
From its very start, the only purpose of BACK TO GODHEAD was to present Krishna-katha, topics concerning Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. “Blessings of Krishna!” began an introduction from the editors in the first issue. “BACK TO GODHEAD is a bi-monthly publication [now it is monthly] issued by the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. This publication is principally concerned with promulgating through the medium of essays, poems and articles the truths expounded by Lord Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.” The article then went on to explain that Krishna is the same Supreme Lord who is worshiped by different people throughout the world by different names, for God is one and one only.
After the introduction came the text of a lecture by Srila Prabhupada. “Everything we have should be used for Krishna,” he said. “We should use our tongue to speak of Krishna and to eat food properly prepared and offered to Krishna. We should use our eyes to look at pictures of Krishna, and our ears to hear a master speak of Krishna. We should use our feet to walk to Krishna’s temple, and our hands to hold the broom that sweeps the temple floor. We can use our nose to smell flowers offered to Krishna. We can use our genitals to produce children whom we will raise in Krishna consciousness. Even if we cannot follow these suggestions. we can always chant, ‘Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.’ We must divert the mind from its material engagements and put it into Krishna consciousness. It is not recommended to meditate on formless void. The mind should be focused on Krishna:”
With Srila Prabhupada’s constant encouragement, the devotees managed to put together a new BTG more or less monthly. The humble little magazine gradually grew more refined. Soon it was being printed by offset, and when a young art student became one of Srila Prabhupada’s first disciples, simple illustrations began to grace its pages.
His Divine Grace has often called BTG “the backbone of the Krishna consciousness movement.” He described its importance in a letter to his disciples in June of 1968. “I have entrusted BACK TO GODHEAD into your hands,” he wrote, “because this paper is the beginning of my spiritual life. During the time of my guru maharaja’s [spiritual master’s] passing away, his last instruction to me was, ‘You try to preach whatever you have learned from me in English. That will do good to you and the people who hear you.’ This instruction was given to me in 1936, and I started this paper in 1944. So during my householder life I was printing this paper and distributing it almost free—some [subscribers] were paying, and some of them were not. But I was trying my best at my cost.”
The old Indian BTG appeared in newspaper form, twice a month It contained English translations and purports of verses from important books like Sri Caitanya-caritamrta,Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu, Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, and it also featured incisive articles dealing with current scientific, political and economic news in a Krishna conscious way. Now, in the West, BTG continues to present articles taken from Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, as well as news of the Krishna consciousness movement and spiritual perspectives on current affairs. BTG has gradually grown in popularity, and it is being recognized as a unique journal of spiritual enlightenment.
There is no room in BACK TO GODHEAD for mundane subjects. So many magazines deal with politics, economics, sports, electronics, fiction, sex, movies, cars and so on, but because they have no relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they simply create a polluted atmosphere. Although they may be expertly written in language decorated with similes and metaphors, Srimad-Bhagavatam condemns them as being no better than refuse, suitable only for men who are no better than crows.
na yad vacas citra-padam harer yaso
jagat-pavitram pragrnita karhicit
tad vayasam tirtham usanti manasa
na yatra hamsa niramanty usik-ksayah
“Those words which do not describe the glories of the Lord, who alone can sanctify the atmosphere of the whole universe, are considered by saintly persons to be like unto a place of pilgrimage for crows. Since the all-perfect persons are inhabitants of the transcendental abode, they do not derive any pleasure there:” (Srimad–Bhagavatam, 1.5.10)
BACK TO GODHEAD, therefore, deals only with topics of spiritual value. Anything unrelated to Krishna and the service of Krishna is rejected.
The purpose of BACK TO GODHEAD is to create a revolution—not a mundane political revolution, but a revolution in consciousness, a revolution based upon the spiritual pleasure of understanding our relationship with Lord Krishna and using everything in His service,
“That literature which is full of descriptions of the transcendental glories of the name, fame, forms and pastimes of the unlimited Supreme Lord is a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization. Such transcendental literatures, even though imperfectly composed, are heard, sung and accepted by purified men who are thoroughly honest.” (Bhag. 1.5.11)
Despite materialistic advancement, we have failed to create a world society of peace, amity and satisfaction only because we have neglected the primary importance of a spiritual atmosphere of Krishna consciousness. The living being is a spiritual soul, and therefore material advancement alone cannot make him happy. But in the pure atmosphere that can be created by Krishna-katha, topics related to Krishna, the good qualities of humanity will certainly flourish.
Whatever the leaders of society do, common people follow. Therefore, since America and the other highly developed Western nations are now leading the world in material advancement, we are hopeful that the honest and pure-hearted intelligentsia of these nations will recognize the need for the proper spiritual balance and will therefore attune their minds to spiritual realization by reading BACK TO GODHEAD regularly.