Text 11 Oct ISKCON & Western Cultural Identity


Jan Olof Bengtsson’s article The Hare Kṛṣṇa Movement and Western Cultural Identity: Education, Preaching, Conversion is in the new issue of the ISKCON Studies Journal, published by the ISKCON Studies Institute, which is coordinated by some people at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

Text 7 Sep The better part of valour is discretion


It’s old fat John Falstaff, a limitless wit, who says the Shakespearean line − “The better part of valour is discretion” – to explain why he faked his death in a battle against the Scots in Henry IV, Part One.

Falstaff begins, “…’twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant* Scot had paid me scot and lot** too.”

*A Termagant was an imaginary deity of violent character (from the Italian Trivigante, taken to be from Latin tri- “three” + vagant- “wandering,” and to refer to the moon wandering between heaven, earth, and hell).

**scot (archaic): a payment like a tax. Jonathan Bate’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre edition of The Complete Works of Shakespeare notes that “scot and lot” means “in full.”

FALSTAFF …’twas time to counterfeit, or that hot termagant Scot had paid me scot and lot too. Counterfeit? I am no counterfeit: to die, is to be a counterfeit, for he is but the counterfeit of a man who hath not the life of a man. But to counterfeit dying, when a man thereby liveth, is to be no counterfeit, but the true and perfect image of life indeed. The better part of valour is discretion; in the which better part I have saved my life.

The critic Harold Bloom writes, “Shakespeare shows Falstaff rising from the dead” and praising “the blessing of life itself… . Sir John, a battered old soldier,” had wandered about the battlefield “with a bottle of sack [wine] in his holster, intending neither to kill nor be killed.”

Who kills or is killed? On another battlefield the sober warrior Arjuna heard these questions from his guru. In the Bhagavad Gita we learn of the divinity of Arjuna’s guru and friend, Krishna. 

Krishna asks Arjuna, “How can one who knows the self to be indestructible, eternal, unborn, and everpresent kill anyone? One who considers the self a slayer, and one who thinks it is slain, both of these fail to understand – it does not slay nor is it slain.”

Bodies will be killed, but the souls are going to accept new bodies with renewed opportunities for happiness, Krishna says.

“This work of Indian spirituality not only raises the question of the appropriate action for Arjuna to adopt, it also defines the existential challenge facing every human being. As struggling souls we ultimately attempt to transform our precarious painful world into a meaningful one,” writes the translator Graham M. Schweig, who did graduate work in sacred Sanskrit literature at the University of Chicago and Harvard.

Falstaff found meaning only in a slightly prolonged life, not in fighting for honour.

 Why, thou owest God a death.

FALSTAFF  ’Tis not due yet; I would be loath to pay him before
 his day….What is honour? A word. What is that word ‘honor’? Air. Honour is a mere scutcheon [reputation]. 

Krishna advises the respectable Arjuna, opposed to slaying his relatives, that the dishonour of not fighting will be worse than death, for people would always speak of Arjuna’s infamy and of misusing Krishna’s friendship.

Thus Falstaff is remembered for discreetly saving his skin; Arjuna & Krishna for “opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality” (Bg. 18.78). 

The dramatist Francis Beaumont (1584–1616) wrote, “Discretion and hardy valour are the twins of honour, and nursed together, make a conqueror; divided, but a talker.” 


Text 18 Aug Krishna is a transcendental cowherd

There are many pictures showing how Krishna pets the cows. This passive relationship with Krishna is called shanta. Their happiness is achieved when Krsna comes and simply touches them. The cows in his abode are liberated souls. Krishna’s abode is called Goloka, “a pasturing land for cows.” The Supreme Lord is very fond of herding and raising cows (Brahma-samhita 5.29). By the will of Krishna, Goloka is also manifested with him in this universe (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 20.396). And as men are made in the image of God, so cows are made after the form and features of the cows in the spiritual world. (Painting: Sat-cid-ananda Dasa)


Text 10 Aug Pavilion Mollien, the Louvre, 1859

Standing opposite a newly built pavilion of the Louvre, Gustave Le Gray took this photograph when the sun’s position allowed him to best capture the details of the heavily ornamented façade. Paving stones lead the eye directly to the pavilion’s corner, where the sunlit façade is further highlighted by a shadowed area. 

Although the extensive art collections of the Louvre Palace, the former royal residence, opened to the public in 1793 by decree of the government during the French Revolution, it was not until 1848 that the museum became the property of the state. Le Gray’s image shows the exuberance of the architecture undertaken shortly thereafter, when large sections of the building housed government offices.

SOURCE: http://www.getty.edu/art/gettyguide/artObjectDetails?artobj=70191 

Text 5 Aug Balaram & Krishna: transcendental brothers


Lord Balaram with a horn & Lord Krishna with a flute. Their childhood pastimes as
boys are told in Srimad Bhagavatam. Balaram’s appearance is celebrated
by a feast, preceded by a fast till noon on a full-moon day in August.

(Paintings by Bengali artists, late 1800s)

Text 3 Aug A Living Theology of Krishna Bhakti


A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna Movement, traced his lineage to the fifteenth-century avatar Sri Caitanya. He authored more than fifty volumes (English translations of and commentaries on Sanskrit and Bengali texts), serving as a medium between these distant authorities and his modern Western readership and using his writings as blueprints for spiritual change and a revolution in consciousness. He had to speak the language of a people vastly disparate from the original recipients of his tradition’s scriptures, without compromising fidelity to the tradition.

Tamal Krishna Goswami’s academic training at the University of Cambridge, his thirty years’ experience as a practitioner and teacher, and his extensive interactions with Prabhupada as both personal secretary and managerial representative, afforded him a unique opportunity to understand and illuminate the theological contribution of Prabhupada.

Published by Oxford University Press USA in 2012

Also by this author:


Text 3 Aug Truth & wisdom in light verse

ODE on the death of a FAVOURITE CAT,
Drowned in a Tub of Gold Fishes.

a mock elegy by Thomas Gray (1747)

“’Twas on a lofty vase’s side,” 

        … [a] “pensive” [cat] “reclin’d” [&]
“Gazed on the lake below.”

(line 21 to the end:)

  With many an ardent wish,

She stretch’d in vain to reach the prize.

What female heart can gold despise?

  What Cat’s averse to fish?


Presumptuous Maid! with looks intent

Again she stretch’d, again she bent,

  Nor knew the gulf between.

(Malignant Fate sat by, and smil’d)

The slippry verge her feet beguil’d,

  She tumbled headlong in.

Eight times emerging from the flood

She mew’d to ev’ry watry God,

  Some speedy aid to send.

No Dolphin came, no Nereid stirr’d:

Nor cruel Tom, nor Susan heard.

  A Fav’rite has no friend!


From hence, ye Beauties, undeceiv’d,

Know, one false step is ne’er retriev’d,

  And be with caution bold.

Not all that tempts your wand’ring eyes

And heedless hearts, is lawful prize;

  Nor all, that glisters, gold.

Text 2 Aug the crocodile

Unknown author (12th century)
The Cambridge Beastiary

The crocodile is the image of the hypocrite, inwardly infected with pride, tainted by lust, and corrupted by avarice, who nonetheless affects before the eyes of people an austere gait and the mien of an honest, law-abiding person. The crocodile’s hiding itself on the land and beneath the surface of the water is like the behavior of the hypocrite, who, although he may live in complete dissipation, nevertheless delights in simulating a sainted and honest life. Aware of his own wickedness, the hypocrite beats his breast in the “mea culpa,” even though habit has by then led him to continually indulge in evil. 


What’s more, the peculiarity of the crocodile, whereby it can move the upper part of its snout while standing motionless on its paws is reminiscent of the pomposity of hypocrites, when in the presence of others they spout an abundance of holy writ despite the fact that in them there is not the slightest trace of what they say.


Video 2 Aug

Bhakta Jure was appointed Temple Commander of the Ljubljana Hare Krishna Center in early 2014, after five years of association with the devotees there and in Kranj. Kranj is twenty kilometers northwest of Ljubljana, near his hometown, Skofja-loka. He lived with his retired father and made a living as a baseball coach in schools before moving into the Hare Krishna center in Slovenia. He is thirty. His sign is Aquarius, the Water Bearer. Maybe that’s why he is smiling beside the fountain.

Text 18 Jul On Westwell Downs (first verse)
When Westwell Downes I gan to treade
 Where cleanly windes the Greene doe sweepe,
Me thought a Landskipp there was spread
 Here a bush and there a sheepe
The pleated wrinkles on the face
Of wave-swoln Earth did lend such grace
As shaddowings in Imagrie
Which both deceave and please the Eye.

— William Strode,
On Westwell Downes — one of the first poems written about a specific landscape in English (via Oxford Scholarly Editions Online). The English poet Strode (1602-1644) was a Doctor of Divinity and Public Orator of Oxford University. Westwell is on the border of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. Strode’s use of ‘Landskipp’ in line 3 should be noted as a very early example of the phenomenon of reading a natural landscape through the medium of painting. ’Imagrie’ in line 7 means ‘painting.’
Text 29 Apr Inscribing Western values in the Chaitanya-Vaishnava tradition



The architecture of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium (TOVP) can be justified ex post facto, says Jan Olof Bengtsson (DPhil Oxford), who teaches the history of ideas at Lund University in Sweden.

In 2008, he was consulted on three published discussions about the TOVP: (1) Nine Reasons to Change the Design of the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium – http://www.dandavats.com/?p=6281 (2) Changing the Design of the TVP: reply to Ambarisa – http://www.dandavats.com/?p=6376 (3) Changing the Design of the TVP: reply to Hari Sauri – http://www.dandavats.com/?p=6563

Here is Jan Olof’s current intellectual analysis:

Since the TOVP discussion has resurfaced I feel I should briefly recapitulate some of my own positions and add some remarks with reference to the new situation we are now in.

Academic, scholarly, rational discussion of aesthetics and taste (the issues involved are simply philosophical) is badly needed, not least among scholars in ISKCON (the International Society for Krishna Consciousness).

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