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Chapter Twenty-eight


DEVOTEE: Rabbi, when we ate lunch in the ashram, you asked about the twelve clay markings on the bodies of the devotees. Srila Prabhupada explains them in a letter to one of his new disciples: "The tilaka on the forehead and other parts of the body are symbolic representation of Rädhä Krsna temples. In other words, by marking tilaka on all parts of our body we become protected by the Lord from all sides. Besides, tilaka marking at once makes one known as a Vaiñëava."

RABBI: The same idea is expressed in the Old Testament when Moses spoke to his people, saying "[These words] shall [also] be a sign on you arm and an insignia in the center of you head." Tefillin here refers to a kind of fourfold leather amulet that Moses instructed the Israelites to wear on their heads and on their left arms. Typically, an amulet is worn to protect one from some kind of evil or injury, and often contained some holy objects within. The amulet referred to here was to contain four chapters from the Torah written on parchment. These four chapters are mentioned in Exodus 13.9, Exodus 13.16, Deuteronomy 6.8 and Deuteronomy 11.18. [Torah, Notes 13:9, 13:16] Those who were actually obedient followers of God would follow the instructions given by God's representative Moses so as to be protected by God.

DEVOTEE: When the devotees of Lord Krsna apply tilaka to their body, they chant different names of the Lord. I see that although Moses instructed the people to wear the tefillin (amulet) rather than to make clay markings like the devotees of Lord Krsna, the amulet was to contain the holy instructions of God and His representative. In Vedic philosophy, the Lord is said to be Absolute. That means that He is equally present in the form of His holy names, His instructions, and His pastimes, etc. Therefore, although externally the devotees of Lord Krsna and Jews follow different customs in this regard, the goal of both is to seek God's protection by keeping God with them either in the form of His holy names or His holy instructions. Naturally, Israelites were not only expected to wear the tefillin but to follow the instructions carried within. Similarly, the devotees should not only apply the tilaka marks to their bodies but also should always chant the holy names of the Lord, follow His instructions, and act in an exemplary way as real followers of Lord Krsna.

Chapter Twenty-nine


DEVOTEE: Rabbi, as a sign of respect and surrender to God and His devotees, Vaisnavas traditionally have always bowed down, lying flat on the ground. Although I remember reading about this in the Old Testament, I have never seen this practiced in Jewish synagogues.

RABBI: Yes, you are quite right. This was the Jewish custom, although with time the practice has been lost. Here are two verses from the Torah, which describe what you have mentioned:

"[Abraham] lifted his eyes and he saw three strangers a short distance from him. When he saw (them) from the entrance of his tent, he ran to greet them, bowing down to the ground." [Torah, Genesis, VaYera 18:2] A stranger, in this verse literally means anonymous men. They were actually angels in disguise. [Torah, Notes 18:2]

"The two angels came to Sodom in the evening, while Lot was sitting at the city gate. Lot saw them and got up to greet them, bowing with his face to the ground." [Torah, Genesis, VaYerah, 19:1]

DEVOTEE: It is also the Vedic custom to at least wash ones hands and feet, if not to bathe fully, before going into a temple to see the Lord. One place this is practiced is Jagannätha Puré, India. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that Narendra is a small lake still existing in Jagannätha Puré, where the Candana-yäträ festival takes place. Up to the present date, all Bengali devotees who visit the Jagannätha temple first take their bath in the lake. There they wash their hands and feet before entering the temple, as is the custom at all Vaisnava temples.

RABBI: In the Torah, God ordered Moses saying: "Make a copper washstand along with a copper base for it. Place it between the altar and the Communion Tent, and fill it with water for washing. Aaron and his sons must wash their hands and feet from [this washstand]. If they are not to die, they must wash with the water [of this wash stand] before entering the Communion Tent or approaching the altar to perform the divine service, presenting a fire offering to God. If they are not to deserve death, they must first wash their hands and feet. This shall be for Aaron and his descendants a law for all time, for all generations." [Torah, Exodus, Ki Thisa 30:19-21]

Chapter Thirty


DEVOTEE: Rabbi, can you tell what the Jewish scriptures say regarding activities that should be avoided by a good Jew and why those activities should be avoided?

RABBI: In the Torah, when the Israelites were travelling toward the Promised Land, they were ordered by God not to perform certain kinds of activities practiced by sinful and materialistic people. Some of those activities involved communicating with the dead through mediums, practicing witchcraft, casting of spells, etc. He indicated that they should not seek answers from the material science of astrology, for that was meant for materialistic people. He wanted his people to depend on Him for everything and not give up that dependence to take shelter of any materialistic methods, especially those revolting practices performed by the lower classes. Throughout their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land under the guidance of Moses, God time and time again showed that He would give them protection and would maintain them if they would follow His orders. God was insisting that they take shelter of Him and continue to do so even after they reached the Promised Land.

DEVOTEE: The same idea is in the Vedas. Although God is aware that most people are materialistic, He gives us the free will to engage in mundane activities, still He makes what He wants very clear. He says in the Bhagavad-gita, "Give up all varieties of religion and just surrender under me. I will protect you from all sinful reactions." [Bg. 18:66] That means that we must give up any activity other than devotion to the Lord. We must make the Lord the center of our lives as our only shelter from the material, as the means to achieve happiness and our protection. Lord Krsna further says in this connection, "Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me." [Bg. 9:34]

RABBI: Although I can see why God would discourage His followers from performing degraded activities like witchcraft or communicating with the dead, but what about the basic activities required to live? Are we really expected to just sit around and make no endeavor to acquire our basic necessities of life in the name of taking shelter of God rather than material facilities?

DEVOTEE: Certainly the Lord does not want us to become lazy or irresponsible in the name of surrendering to Him. Krsna consciousness or surrender to the Supreme Lord is supposed to be very practical for everyone. The understanding is based on the principle; everything belongs to the Supreme Lord and should be engaged in His service. For example, if we are to serve the Lord we must eat to have energy. We should not sit and wait for the Lord to hand us food. Rather, we should work, making honest endeavors. The principle is to accept whatever is favorable for engaging in devotional service and to reject whatever is not and use that which we have to educate others.

RABBI: What about astrology? In both the Jewish and Vedic traditions, astrology is an exact science that can be used to understand our future. There is indication in the Torah that God did not want the Israelites to take advantage of it.

He said, "Do not act on the basis of auspicious times." Is there anything in the Vedas that would explain why the Lord would discourage the use of such a useful science?

DEVOTEE: Astrology, although a very exact science, is often misused by materialistic people so they can understand something of the future and take advantage of it for material purposes. They try to avoid inauspicious reactions indicated by an astrological reading. A person who is fully surrendered to the Lord is not concerned about the future. We accept whatever happens in our life as the mercy of the Lord. We do not want to distract our attention from our service to the Lord worrying about changing or avoiding certain upcoming reactions. In the Torah, God ordered His followers to not allow anything to distract them from their surrender and service to Him, their Lord. The same principle, full surrender to the Lord, can be found in any religious faith.

Chapters 25 to 27 Chapters 31 to 33