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Chapter Seven


RABBI: The Jewish scriptures state, "Drink no wine nor strong drink, thou nor thy sons, etc." R. Judah said: 'The fact that this injunction was given to the priests shows that Nadab and Abihu were under the influence of wine.' R. Hiya adduced here the verse: "Wine rejoiceth the heart of man" (Ps. CIV, 15). 'If, he said, the priest is supposed to be joyful more than other men, why is he forbidden wine, which creates joy and smiles? The truth is that wine rejoices at first and saddens afterwards, and the priest must be glad throughout." [Zohar IV, 39a] What do the Vedas say regarding the use of intoxication?

DEVOTEE: The use of intoxication was greatly discouraged in Vedic culture and was completely forbidden for the saintly priestly class. According to His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, "The Vaisnavas [devotees of Krsna] are trained to become freed from the four kinds of sinful activities--illicit sex, indulgence in intoxicants, gambling and eating animal foodstuffs. No one can be on the brahminical platform without having these preliminary qualifications, and without becoming a qualified Brahman, one cannot become a pure devotee." [Bhag 10.86.59, Purport] Intoxication puts one in the mode of ignorance, and in the mode of ignorance one cannot see things as they are. How then can one act properly if he cannot properly perceive reality, and how can a saintly person give proper guidance if he is unable to understand reality?

RABBI: What do the Vedas say about sexual enjoyment?

DEVOTEE: The whole purpose of Vedic culture is to help everyone in the society to gradually give up all kinds of material enjoyment and to become lovers of God, Krsna. Although sex life is considered one of the highest forms of enjoyment in this world, the Vedas teach gradual detachment from such indulgence to help people to direct their attention toward the higher goal of self-realization. In the four orders of social life, brahmacari, grahastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa, the only one that allowed any intimate relationship between man and woman is the grahastha ashram. Even within the grahastha ashram, sex is allowed between a man and his wife only once a month and then only to conceive children who are to be raised to be God conscious. Any indulgence beyond that constitutes illicit sex and is most detrimental to one's ability to advance on the spiritual path. Definitely, there is no provision permitting either homosexuality or relationships with animals.

RABBI: In the Torah, Moses, repeating the commandments of God, said, "Do not lie with a male as you would with a woman, since this is a disgusting perversion. Do not perform any sexual act with an animal, since it will defile you. A woman shall [likewise] not give herself to an animal and allow it to mate with her. This utterly detestable perversion.... Thus, whenever anyone does any of these disgusting perversions, [all] the people involved shall be cut off [spiritually] from the midst of their people." [Torah, Leviticus, Acharey Moth, 18:22, 23, 29]

DEVOTEE: In the Srimad-Bhagavatam there is a description of the beginning of our present age, Kali-yuga, or the Age of Kali. It is described that the personality of Kali, who is in charge of this degraded age, is the accelerating agent for irreligious principles. He was allowed to reside in those places where there was intoxication, gambling, illicit connection with women, animal slaughter. Wherever these activities are present, the basic principles of religiosity, namely cleanliness, austerity, truthfulness and mercy, are gradually lost. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes in this regards, "By pride, either artificial or real, the resultant action of austerity is spoiled; by too much affection for female association, cleanliness is spoiled; by too much addiction to intoxication, mercy is spoiled; and by too much lying propaganda, truthfulness is spoiled."

Chapter Eight


DEVOTEE: Rabbi, we both agree that the souls in this world should be using their lives to glorify God. Yet everyone, good or bad, must eventually face death. Since God is all-powerful, it seems that by acting according to His desires we should be able to become free from fear, even the fear of death. Do the Jewish teachings describe different results at the time of death based on our individual life's activities, and can one truly become free from the fear of death?

RABBI: As you have suggested, God takes direct control of the lives of His servants, and thus their death is distinct from and superior to the death of ordinary persons who have not truly dedicated their lives to Him. It is stated, "It is the Destroying Angel who brings death to all people except those who die in the Holy Land, to whom death comes by the Angel of Mercy who holds sway there." But it is not that one really has to die within the holy land to be saved, for it is stated by R. Isaac: "This being the case, wherein lay the superiority of Moses, Aaron and Miriam, concerning whom it is written that they died "by the mouth of the Lord", meaning that their death was not brought about by the Destroying Angel? R Judah replied: "Truly, the greatness of these three and their superiority over all others is demonstrated by this, that although they met their death outside the Holy Land, they, unlike their contemporaries, were not brought to it by the Destroying Angel, but by the Holy One Himself." [The Zohar IV, 151a-151b].

DEVOTEE: There is also a holy place in India known as Vrindavan. This is the place where Lord Krsna appeared approximately 5,000 years ago. One of the characteristics of Vrindavan is that anyone who dies there is liberated and goes back to the eternal spiritual abode of Lord Krsna. But it is not that a person must die in Vrindavan in order to be liberated from the suffering of this world and go back to Godhead. Anyone, in any part of the creation, who always remembers the Lord and engages in His service, becomes eligible to go back to Godhead at the end of this life. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna also states, "He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes." [Bg. 9.31] A devotee, as mentioned in this verse, is one whose only interest is the service of the Lord. Also, in the Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna states, "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: That is fascinating. Do the Vedic scriptures make reference to any personality corresponding to the Jewish "Angel of Death" who punishes the sinful after death? Is there any instance in Vedic history when a person was saved from eternal suffering by becoming a devotee of God as indicated in the Bhagavad-gita verses you quoted?

DEVOTEE: Yes! There is a great devotee of the Lord, a demigod (angel), known as Yamaraja. "Yamaraja" literally means "the Lord of Death." As we discussed earlier, the Vedic understanding of demigods is very similar to the Jewish concept of angels. The service that Yamaraja does for Lord Krsna is to judge the sinful persons and punish them in a way exactly proportionate to the sins they have committed during their life. This punishment is generally very severe, but is never eternal suffering. They are punished so that they will eventually be able to correct themselves of their sinful mentality and develop love of God.

There is a long history in the Sixth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam about Ajamila. Very briefly, the history goes like this. Ajamila had been a very good religious person in his youth, but somehow or other he became attracted to a prostitute. Thus he spent many years living with her, procreating many children and committing all kinds of sinful acts to maintain his household. Finally, when he was about to die he saw the Yamadutas, or the assistants of Yamaraja who are deputed to take all sinful souls to Yamaraja for judgment. Out of great fear upon seeing the Yamadutas, Ajamila cried out to his youngest son who he had named Narayana (a name of God). Immediately, the Vishnudutas (representatives of God) came and opposed the Yamadutas and would not allow them to take Ajamila away for punishment. They said that because Ajamila cried out the holy name of Narayana he had become free from the results of his sins and could not be touched by the Yamadutas. Even at the moment of death if one fully takes shelter of God he will be saved, but we should not risk waiting until that final moment to prepare ourselves.

The tendency is to become bewildered at the moment of death and for the mind to become filled with that which was most dear to us during our life. We must try to make God the most cherished to us during this life and that will make us fearless both within this life and at the moment of death. Even in the case of Ajamila, he was not thinking of God when he called out to Narayana. He was thinking of his dear little son who he had named Narayana. Ajamila was very fortunate that the Yamadutas could not take him to Yamaraja for punishment, but he also could not go back to Godhead at that moment. He was given a longer duration of life, and remembering his life's sinful activities and his encounter with the Yamadutas, he most seriously took to the path of devotion and perfected his life. We should not expect such good fortune if we do not seriously take to the path of spiritual life.

Chapter Nine


DEVOTEE: Rabbi, many people say that God is in the heart. Do Jews believe in a personal form of God who remains with us within our heart?

RABBI: When the soul is about to descend to this world, it first goes down to the terrestrial Garden of Eden and sees there the glory of the souls of the righteous, and then goes down to Gehinnom and sees the wicked who cry "Woe, woe", and find no compassion. That holy form (God) stands by him until he emerges into the world, after which it keeps him company and grows up with him." [The Zohar 43b] [KI TAZRIA (LEVITICUS)]

DEVOTEE: The Lord says in the Bhagavad-gita "Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul." [Bg. 13.23] In his explanation of this verse, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada said, "Because the Paramatma is the Supreme Lord, He is present within to sanction the individual soul's desire for material enjoyment. Without the sanction of the Supreme Soul, the individual soul cannot do anything. The individual is bhukta, or the sustained, and the Lord is bhokta, or the maintainer. There are innumerable living entities and He is staying in them as a friend." The Supersoul remains with the living entity, always trying to convince him from within the heart that there is no real happiness in the material world and that real happiness is available only by engaging in devotional service to the Lord. As the individual soul gradually accepts the Lord's advice from within the heart, and from without, from the scriptures and the bona fide guru, he begins to advance toward a blissful, eternal life of knowledge.

Chapters 4 to 6 Chapters 10 to 12