With World War II raging in Europe and the Far East, Srila Prabhupada launches BACK TO GODHEAD magazine and addresses the issues of the day from a Krsna conscious viewpoint.
by Srila Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
In November 1935 Srila Prabhupada had traveled from Bombay to Vrndavana, near Delhi, to see his spiritual master. As they had walked on the bank of the sacred pond Radha-kunda, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had suddenly turned to his disciple and given him an essential instruction: “I had a desire to print some books. If you ever get money, print books.” Now, nearly a decade later, Srila Prabhupada was still without substantial funds. But his Krsna conscious message was too urgent to wait. So he began BACK TO GODHEAD magazine.
Abhay felt more than ever the need to propagate Krsna consciousness. He had something to say to the war-weary citizens of the world, and he longed for a more effective forum—a publication of some kind, a way to present the world’s crises through the eyes of scripture in the same bold style as had his spiritual master. There was no shortage of ideas, and he had been saving moneyfrom his business for this very purpose.
From his front room at 6 Sita Kanta Banerjee, Abhay conceived, wrote, edited, and typed the manuscript for a magazine. He designed a logo, a long rectangle across the top of the page. In the upper left-hand corner was a figure of Lord Caitanya, effulgent with rays of light like rays from the sun. In the lower right were silhouettes of a crowd of people, in darkness but groping to receive light from Lord Caitanya. And between Lord Caitanya and the people, the title unfurled like a banner—BACK TO GODHEAD. In the lower right corner was a picture of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati seated at his writing, looking up thoughtfully as he composed. Above the logo ran the motto “Godhead is Light, Nescience is darkness. Where there is Godhead there is no Nescience.” Below the logo were the following lines:
EDITED & FOUNDED
(Under the direct order of His Divine Grace Sri Srimad Bhakti Siddhanta Saraswati Goswami Prabhupada)
By Mr. ABHAY CHARAN DE.
Abhay had already gained some printing experience in connection with his business, and after completing themanuscript he brought it to Saraswaty Press, the best printers in Bengal. He also hired an agent, Calcutta’s prestigious booksellers Thacker, Spink, and Company, who would take responsibility for distributing the journal to bookstores and libraries, including outlets in several foreign countries.
But when he went to buy paper, he met government restrictions. Because of the war and the subsequent paper shortage, the government wanted to assay what he had written in terms of the national needs; during this time of world crisis, an ordinary citizen’s religious newspaper was hardly top priority.
Abhay’s request for paper was perfunctorily denied, but he persisted. He appealed that using paper to print the teachings of the Personality of Godhead was not a waste and not untimely in the present troubled atmosphere. Finally he obtained permission to print his first edition.
Abhay Charan greeted his readers by defining his motto: “Godhead is Light, Nescience is darkness.” When man forgets that he is the son of Godhead and identifies himself with the body, then he’s in ignorance. He’s like a man who’s very concerned with the automobile’s mechanism yet has no knowledge of the driver.
The defect of the present day civilisation is just like that. This is actually the civilisation of Nescience or illusion and therefore civilisation has been turned into militarisation. Everyone is fully concerned with the comforts of the body and everything related with the body and no one is concerned with the Spirit that moves the body, although even a little boy can realize that the motor-car mechanism has little value if there is no driver of the car. “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 organiser of the Gaudiya Math—just to bring up a real relation of humanity with 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.
It was 1944, and Abhay specifically addressed the crisis of world war. The world’s political leaders were expressing their disgust at their people’s suffering and scarcity. After four years of fighting, costing millions of human lives, the Second World War within twenty years was still scourging the earth. Although the end was in sight, leaders expressed not so much happiness and hope as weariness and uncertainty. Even if this war ended, would there be yet another war? Had man not yet grasped the vital lesson of how to live in peace?
Abhay quoted the Archbishop of India: “India guided by God can lead the world back to sanity.” He quoted the President of the United States: “A programme, therefore, of moral re-armament for the world cannot fail to lessen the dangers of armed conflict.” He quoted the Archbishop of Canterbury:
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 nations, 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.
He also quoted Sir Francis Youngblood of Britain: “Now that religion is everywhere attacked brutally, we look to India, the very home of religion, for a sign. “ And finally he quoted Sir Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan:
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 labour 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 civilisations.
And in another quote from Dr. Radhakrishnan, Abhay offered a statement he also used as one of the mottoes of the magazine:
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 is of little use.
Abhay expressed his confidence that the spiritual resources of India could be used by everyone, not only to enhance the glory of India but to benefit the whole world.
Next he told how he had come to begin Back to Godhead magazine—how he had written a letter two weeks before the disappearance of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati, and how his spiritual master had instructed him to preach in English.
Abhay stated that his paper would contain only the transcendental messages of the great sages of India, especially Lord Caitanya, and that his duty would be simply to repeat them, just like a translator. He would not manufacture anything, and so his words would descend as transcendental sound for guiding people back to Godhead. He admitted that the subject matters of Back to Godhead, being from a totally different sphere of consciousness, might seem dry to his readers, but he held that anyone who actually gave attention to his message would benefit.
Abhay focused on presenting the timeless message of the Vedas, but in the context of current crises. In his essay “Godhead and His Potentialities,” he presented Vedic evidence and logical arguments to explain the transcendental nature of Godhead and the individual souls, both being deathless, blissful, and full of knowledge. Because men have forgotten and neglected their vital connection with God, they can never be satisfied in the material world, which is temporary and beset with unavoidable miseries. As spiritual souls, everyone is eternal by nature, and therefore everyone tries to avoid the onslaught of distresses and dangers, which come one after another. But the material body is meant for suffering and ultimately for destruction.
Abhay wrote that never by their own devices could men escape the conditions of destruction. So many world leaders were seeking relief from the war, but all were useless, because their attempts for peace were within the material conception of life. Their attempts were like attempts to alleviate darkness with darkness; but darkness can be removed only by light.
Abhay did not deal exclusively with the war.In “Theosophy Ends in Vaishnavism,” he criticized the shortcomings of the fashionable ideas of Theosophy, which the followers of Madame Blavatsky had popularized in India.
In “Congregational Chanting,” he upheld the scriptural prediction that the sankirtana movement of Lord Caitanya would spread to every town and village on the surface of the earth.
The central theme of Back to Godhead was clearly the order of Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati. In its cover with its picture of a thoughtful Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, in its “Dedication,” in its statement of the magazine’s purpose, in its handling of issues, its analysis of Theosophy, its prediction of the spread of sankirtana—in its every aspect, the theme of Back to Godhead was the order of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati.
In attempting to print the second issue of Back to Godhead, Abhay encountered the same difficulty as before. Twice he requested permission to purchase newsprint, and twice the government denied his request. Paper was restricted on account of the war. On July 10, 1944, Abhay wrote a third letter.
He remarked that the editorial board of Back to Godhead felt that there was not so much a scarcity of paper as a scarcity of education. Taking the opportunity to preach, Abhay explained that although the ultimate supplier was the Personality of Godhead, godless men consider themselves the proprietors of all things.
Catastrophe that is now in vogue in the present war of supremacy is guided by this false sense of proprietorship and therefore there is need of making propaganda amongst all human beings, in order to bring them back to the sense of the ultimate proprietorship of Godhead.
Abhay conceded that there might indeed be a paper shortage in India. But in ancient times, he wrote, enlightened Indians had regularly sacrificed tons of ghee (clarified butter) and grains in the fire during religious sacrifices, and in those times there had not been any scarcity. People, however, having abandoned all sacrifices to the Supreme Lord, were producing only scarcity.
Can we not therefore sacrifice a few reams of paper in the midst of many wastages, for the same purpose in order to derive greater benefit for the humankind? Let there be a page only if not more for the publication of “Back to Godhead.” My earnest request is that the Government should at least let there be a ventilation of the atmosphere for which my paper “Back to Godhead” [is] meant.
The letter was successful. Now, with veiled sarcasm, he headlined his second issue, “Thanks to the Government of India.” He informed his readers, many of whom had been disappointed to learn that the government had curtailed his printing, that he would be able to continue his magazine every month. Abhay printed his letter to the government paper officer and also the reply granting him permission.
His articles were shorter, this time displaying the flair of a news columnist, as with philosophical criticism, verve, and a touch of ironic humor he commented on world leaders and crises. “Gandhi-Jinnah Talks,” “Mr. Churchill’s Humane World,” “Mr. Bernard Shaw’s Wishful Desire,” and “Spontaneous Love of Godhead” comprised the issue.
“Gandhi-Jinnah Talks”: “We are sorry to learn that Gandhi-Jinnah talks about unity of the Indian people have failed for the present.” Abhay was not very optimistic about the results of such “occasional talks between several heads of communities.” Even if they made a successful solution, it would break up and take the shape of another problem. They were looking for unity between Muslims and Hindus, but in Europe the fighting parties were Christians, and in Asia they were mostly Buddhists—but still they were fighting. “So fighting will go on between Hindu and Mohammedan, between Hindus and Hindus or between Mohammedan and Mohammedan, between Christians and Christians and between Buddhist and Buddhist till the day of annihilation.” As long as there was the contaminated self-interest of sense gratification, there would be fighting between brother and brother, father and son, and nation and nation. Real unity would stand only on a plane of transcendental service to the Supreme.
“Mr. Churchill’s ‘Humane World’ “:
We are pleased to find that leaders of world politics such as Mr. Churchill have nowadays begun to think of a humane world and trying to get rid of the terrible national frenzy of hate. The frenzy of hatred is another side of the frenzy of love. The frenzy of love of Hitler’s own countrymen has produced the concomitant frenzy of hatred for others and the present war is the result of such dual side of a frenzy called love and hatred. So when we wish to get rid of the frenzy of hate, we must be prepared to get rid of the frenzy of so-called love. This position of equilibrium tree from love and hatred is attained only when men are sufficiently educated.
Until men were educated to see the soul within the body, the dual frenzy of love and hate would continue, and a humane world would not be possible. “This introspection,” Abhay concluded, “is . . . easily attained by the service of Godhead. So Mr. Churchill’s Humane World implies that we must go ‘Back to Godhead.’ “
“Mr. Bernard Shaw’s Wishful Desire”:
Mr. Bernard Shaw has congratulated Mahatma Gandhi on the occasion of the latter’s 76th birthday in the following words: “I can only wish this were Gandhi’s 35th birthday instead of his 76th.” We heartily join with Mr. Shaw in his attempt to subtract 41 years from the present age of Mahatma Gandhi.
But death does not respect our “wishful desire.” Neither Mr. Shaw nor Mahatma Gandhi, nor any other great personality, had ever been able to solve the problem of death.
The leaders of nations have . . . opened many factories for manufacturing weapons for the art of killing, but none has opened a factory to manufacture weapons for protecting man from the cruel hands of death, although our wishful desire is always nottodie.
Men were preoccupied with the problem of how to get bread, although this problem was actually solved by nature. Man should try to solve the problem of death.
Bhagavad-gita tells that the problem of death can be solved. Although death is everywhere in the material world, “One who attains to Me,” says Krsna, “never has to take his birth again in the material world.” There is a spiritual world, non-destructible, and one who goes there does not come back to the region of death. Why should the leaders of nations cling to the planet of their birth, where death is inevitable? Abhay concluded, “We wish that in their ripe old age Mr. Shaw and Mahatma Gandhi will make combined effort to educate men to learn how to go back home, back to Godhead.”
After two issues of Back to Godhead, Abhay had to stop. Printing was costly. But he kept writing regularly, working at his Bhagavad-gita manuscript, turning out new articles and philosophical purports on the scriptures—even in the same book in which he wrote his pharmaceutical formulas.
The biography of Srila Prabhupada continues next month with an account of how he began the League of Devotees in Jhansi, a town about 150 miles west of Allahabad.