BTG: Changing and Staying the Same
When a magazine is just getting started, it’s usual for the editors to write a column to announce its purpose, to let readers know what the magazine is all about.
BACK TO GODHEAD has been on the scene now for almost forty years, and in America since 1966. But we too think it’s time to write a column to explain ourselves, Here’s why.
At BTG, we’re in the midst of a great change. For many years, most of our readers have picked up their BTG intermittently, one copy at a time. They’d meet a devotee somewhere in public—at an airport, a shopping mall, a street corner—and get a copy then. And that’s how sixty to a hundred thousand people in America got a copy of BACK TO GODHEAD every month.
We were pretty happy about that—getting through to all those readers. But it had its drawbacks.
The main one was that we never knew who our readers were—and they hardly knew us. In every issue, we had to keep in mind that most of our readers were newcomers—in effect, total strangers. Every month we were talking to a whole new crowd.
And why publish a monthly unless we had readers who would be with us from month to month?
So we had to look at our magazine and ask ourselves. “What are we supposed to be doing? What are we all about? Are we a magazine, a brochure, a newsletter, or just what? Are we writing for ourselves, for our friends, for every man, woman, and child on earth—or is there some distinct group of people we could affectionately call ‘our readers’?”
The results of our deliberations:
We’ve reaffirmed, first of all, that we are, in fact, a magazine. We’re a monthly magazine of Krsna consciousness -“The Magazine of the Hare Krishna Movement,” as we’ve been saying all along.
But the big change is that no longer will we be a magazine you see now and then or pick up when you meet a devotee on the street. At least in America, BACK TO GODHEAD is now mainly a subscription magazine. You won’t see BTG on the streets anymore. From now on, the way for you to get BACK TO GODHEAD is to join us as a subscriber.
And, to our delight, we find we have a natural audience of readers.
Of course, the devotees and close friends of the Hare Krsna movement are regular members of the team. And we have ever-growing numbers of Asian Indian readers, who recognize in Krsna consciousness the spiritual culture they grew up with. But, even more broadly, we know that thousands of Americans are serious about spiritual understanding—serious about understanding who they are and what life is ultimately for. For them BACK TO GODHEAD has a message of vital interest. And to go still broader, there are lots of people who are just plain curious about spiritual life, and what the Hare Krsna people have to say about it.
And for whatever reason you’re with us, welcome.
As a subscriber magazine, we look forward to getting to know you. We’ll no longer feel like a stranger in a crowd or go about introducing ourselves every month to an ocean of unfamiliar faces. We’ll count you as a friend from the very start. And we hope you’ll think of us the same way.
But our friendship will be different from the friendships of the material world. This is a friendship that will transcend the boundaries of nationality, race, religion, age, sex, and mundane party spirit. It will go beyond the limitations of bodies and even minds. This friendship will come naturally from what all living beings have in common—that we are all eternal spiritual souls and all tiny parts of the supreme spiritual whole, Lord Krsna.
You’re not a devotee of Lord Krsna? Don’t feel left out. When we speak of Krsna, we’re not speaking of a “Hindu God,” the God of a particular country or sect. We’re speaking—by definition—of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the ultimate source of everything.
Through BACK TO GODHEAD, we come in touch with the Supreme, the Absolute Truth, in its three features—as the impersonal, all-pervading oneness, as the indwelling Supersoul (the form of God in everyone’s heart), and ultimately as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Through BACK TO GODHEAD magazine, we come closer to Krsna. (When I say “we,” I mean both you, the reader, and those of us who put the magazine together. We want to reawaken our relationship with Krsna, learn to live in that relationship, and attain the perfection of that relationship—pure love for Krsna.
In BACK TO GODHEAD, you won’t find the writing of professional journalists. So you may not find it as slick and polished as other magazines. But because this is the writing of persons actually dedicating themselves to spiritual enlightenment, it has a transcendental value ordinary journalism can’t offer.
In other words, we’re sincere—sincere not just about salaries or careers but instead about trying to understand the ultimate purpose of life, trying to get closer to that purpose, and helping others get closer also.
But sincerity isn’t enough. BTG wasn’t started merely by sincere, good-hearted people looking for spiritual truth. It was started by a spiritual master who understood the truth. who devoted his life to serving the truth and bringing the truth to others.
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of BACK TO GODHEAD, was a pure devotee of Krsna. It was Srila Prabhupada’s own spiritual master who inspired him to start BTG, and it is Srila Prabhupada himself who inspires us to keep it going and keep it always new and fresh.
When Srila Prabhupada came to America in 1965, he carried with him a message placed in his trust through a chain of spiritual masters, a chain stretching back through history, linking him with a succession of self-realized scholars and devotees—and ultimately with Lord Krsna Himself.
This is the Vedic tradition of knowledge and enlightenment. It’s not just something you piece together on your own. It’s an experience that comes alive for you when you come in touch with a self-realized soul. And it’s a tradition resting not only on spiritual experiences but on the philosophy preserved since time immemorial in Vedic scriptures such as Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
And it’s practical. This isn’t just a philosophy for some few exalted souls who’ve renounced the world and gone off to somewhere in the Himalayas. We’re talking about a way of enlightenment you can take part in all the time, and follow all the way to perfection.
And that’s what BTG is all about. When you read BTG, you come right to the heart of Krsna consciousness, to the heart of the Vedic experience—by philosophy, by science, by art and culture, and by your own realization.
Each month BTG helps you stay in touch with Krsna consciousness, and with the whole worldwide community of Krsna conscious devotees.
With BTG, you reaffirm your identity as a spiritual living being and break away from the bondage of birth and death.
You gain philosophical understanding directly from Srila Prabhupada—from his lectures and conversations and from his powerful translation and commentary for Srimad-Bhagavatam, which we’re presenting in installments. Srila Prabhupada brings you the essence of Vedic spiritual truth. And articles by his disciples—and their disciples—help bring this truth even more sharply into focus.
Like other magazines, we bring you commentary on what’s going on in the world—but it’s commentary from the Vedic point of view, examining the world’s events under the light of spiritual realization.
And although we’re a spiritual magazine, that doesn’t mean vague, sentimental, or namby-pamby. When something out there stinks, we say so—in no uncertain terms. A self-realized person may be hopeful, but he’s not naive.
But although we may be critical, we’re by no means cynical or sour. For a Krsna conscious person, life is always bright and joyful. So BACK TO GODHEAD is that way too.
We’re colorful and bright, with artwork that brings you the sweetness of Krsna’s transcendental forms and pastimes. Our artists in California, New York, West Virginia, and Italy meditate deeply on Krsna and use their skill to portray His pastimes in paintings that are “windows on the spiritual world.” With BTG, those are windows you can look through month after month.
And getting back to this world, every month we keep you in touch with what’s going on in the Hare Krsna movement. With words and full-color photos, you visit Krsna’s temples—new ones and ancient. You attend festivals and celebrations. And you meet devotees and learn what Krsna conscious life is like for them.
You learn new ways to transform your home into a place of ever-increasing spiritual consciousness. You find out practical details of how to chant, how to cook and offer food to Krsna, and how to remember and serve Krsna throughout the day.
With our Yoga Dictionary, you learn more about the philosophical terms and concepts of yoga.
And ultimately you learn to live in such a way that you can become perfect in Krsna consciousness and go back home, back to Godhead.
And we want to learn from you, too.
Every month we receive letters from our readers, offering suggestions and criticisms, letting us know how we’re doing. A few of them we publish, and all of them we read and think about.
As we mentioned before, one of the big reasons we’ve changed to a subscription magazine is that we want to get to know you better, and let you get to know us. So it’s important for us to hear from you. Tell us how well—or how badly—you think we’re doing. Where do you find we’re being helpful, and where should we be doing more?
And there’s one more favor we’d like to ask. If you find BTG worthwhile reading, please share it with your friends. Invite them to subscribe—or send them a gift subscription on your own. Spread the word. Since as a subscriber magazine we’re just beginning, it will take us a while to make ourselves known. Many sincere people in America are searching for “something”—even if they’re not sure what it is. So if you can put them in touch with Krsna, that will be pleasing both to Krsna and to them.
And we’ll look forward to the pleasure of being with you every month through BACK TO GODHEAD.
Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
—Jayadvaita Swami. Senior Editor