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By Danavir Goswami
From its early years to the present, ISKCON has witnessed droves of devotees leave their bodies while traveling in automobiles. Although devotees don’t drink and drive, many male devotee drivers that I know are virtual terrors behind the wheel. With a desire to reduce Vaisnava auto tragedies and hoping to improve our service to Lord Krishna, to Srila Prabhupada, and to our spiritual authorities, we suggest some guidelines for devotee drivers to follow.
Let us begin by understanding that driving an automobile in the service of the Lord (dasyam) is equal to performing any other service in bhakti-yoga such as sravanam, kirtanam, distributing books, offering arati to the Deities, managing a temple, etc. Sri Daruka, Sri Hanuman, Sri Garuda, and other devotees are famous for rendering the service of transporting the Lord from one place to another.
Srila Prabhupada wanted devotees to drive carefully, and he censured careless driving on several occasions.
"Just like when we are driving car, the law is red light, we have to stop. That is law. Because if you unrestrictedly drive your car, there will be accident. Either you will die or somebody will die." (Srila Prabhupada’s Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.9 — Los Angeles, September 15, 1972)
If we ignore his request and the laws governing safe driving, we are spiritually and materially at fault. Due to inattention in performing devotional service, a careless devotee driver may not achieve the highest destination should he be called upon to leave his body. The Katha Upanisad (1.3.14) warns ksurasya dhara nisita duratyaya durgam pathas tat kavayo vadanti. "The path of spiritual realization is very difficult; it is sharp like a razor’s edge. That is the opinion of learned transcendental scholars."
"One may drive well, or else one may drive whimsically, in which case it is quite possible that he may have an accident and fall into a ditch. In other words, if one takes directions from the experienced spiritual master one can go back home, back to Godhead; otherwise, one may return to the cycle of birth and death." (SB 7.15.41 Purport)
Careless Driving Is Not Authorized
Radha-vallabha: In New Jersey one time we were driving very fast to try and meet you at the airport, and a police officer pulled us over, and he was very angry. We were driving very fast. And he said...
Prabhupada: No, you should not drive fast. (devotees laugh) No, no, this is not good.
Radha-vallabha: We had to pick you up at the airport, Prabhupada, and we were late.
Prabhupada: That’s all right, but fast, drive very fast, is risky.
Radha-vallabha: So this police officer he pulled us over. He was very angry. He said, "Let us see your license and registration." We gave it to him, and it said International Society for Krsna Consciousness on the registration. He said, "Oh, Krsna." And he asked us some questions about the philosophy, and he listened very carefully, and then he said, "I cannot give people like you a ticket." [break]
Prabhupada: ...they are pleased, but don’t take undue advantage. Yes. (Morning Walk — June 26, 1975, Los Angeles)
"Human decision that there is signboard, ‘Speed Limit 35.’ If he doesn’t care, he is not a human being, he is animal. A human being, he will take care, ‘Why shall I drive 100?’" (Srila Prabhupada discussing Jean-Paul Sartre)
"Actually, we are seeing, especially in the Western countries, this motorcar civilization, when we run on the motorcar, especially with high speed, it is always we think that any moment danger can take place. (aside:) You remember, you were driving your father’s car, eighty miles. So I asked you, ‘Don’t go so fast.’" (Class given by Srila Prabhupada in Vrndavana, November 10, 1972)
Here Srila Prabhupada is speaking to his disciple Syamasundara dasa about the time five months before when Syamasundara drove Srila Prabhupada in Oregon. I was also onboard that late-model Chevrolet loaned by Syamasundara’s father. Certainly Srila Prabhupada knew that Krishna was in control and that Krishna protects His devotees. Still he did not approve of fast driving.
For momentary exhilaration, devotee-drivers behave like rebels without a cause putting aside even common sense. Reckless driving is practically suicidal but suicide is not approved for devotees.
Tailgating is the practice of following another vehicle too closely. This practice is common among passionate materialist drivers and unfortunately is found among large percentages of male devotee drivers. Such behavior cannot be considered Krishna-conscious since it has no valuable purpose and is most foolish.
"It will be a good idea in the future if our devotees take lesson from this unfortunate incident and take precaution not to drive late at night for any reason— no gain can come from such driving at night which will ever compensate for much great losses. Please advise your GBC zonal secretary that in future great precaution must be taken." (Letter from Srila Prabhupada to: Patita Uddharana — Delhi 15 November, 1971)
It is nice to chant while driving but it is not safe to keep the hand in the bead bag and try to drive. At any moment the driver may have to swerve quickly and the beadbag can get entangled in the steering wheel. When driving, better to chant on one’s fingers.
Eyes on the road:
Sometimes devotee drivers carry on conversations with others in their vehicle while they drive, and while doing so they like to look at the person they are speaking with. I have experienced devotee drivers turning around to look at someone in the back seat while speaking with the person.
Devotees don’t sleep very much, but driving to distant places requires plenty of rest. A devotee should generally expect to sleep at least eight hours if he/she plans to drive more than an hour at a time. Also devotee drivers must have a policy that as soon as it becomes difficult to keep the eyes open, he must immediately stop and take some rest.
It is nice to memorize slokas, but taping slokas on the speedometer is going too far.
Driving for Krishna: Rules
Rule #1: Never go faster than the posted speed limit.
Rule #2: Never follow closely behind the vehicle in front.
Leave a minimum of one car length for each 10 miles per hour or 16 kilometers per hour of speed you are traveling. In other words, if you are traveling at 60 miles per hour or 96 kilometers per hour then you should remain at least six car lengths behind the vehicle in front of you.
Rule #3: Drive gently and politely.
"Nobody is careful. So that is the position. Unless one is careful to his sense that ‘Why should I drive so fiercely or without any care that others may be injured, my car will be injured? Why shall I created this trouble? Let me drive the car very conscientiously...’ So that is required." (Srila Prabhupada’s Lecture on Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.51— Los Angeles, May 13, 1973)
Rule #4: Stop driving as soon as the eyelids become difficult to keep open.
Rule #5: On single-lane highways, do not dangerously pass slower vehicles.
"In the Western countries, especially in America, it is very nice to possess a good car, but as soon as one is on the road, there is danger because at any moment an accident may take place and one will be killed. The record actually shows that so many people die in such accidents." (SB 8.2.32 Purport)
Rule #6: Drivers should be capable and confident drivers with valid driving licenses.
"If you do not know how to drive, then the car will play disaster. Your life will be risky. If you simply sit down in a good car without knowing the art of driving, then it will play disaster. You give at once motion, and it will collide with something, and you will be fractured, and whole thing will be dismantled." (Srila Prabhupada’s Lecture on Bhagavad-gita: 2.44-45, 2.58 — New York, March 25, 1966)
"Expert does not mean that I do not know how to drive motor car and I will have to imitate somebody, ‘Oh, I shall become driver.’ Why? If you do not know driving, why should you attempt driving? Whatever you know, you just try it, that business, and try to satisfy Krsna. If you know driving, that’s all right." (Srila Prabhupada speaking: Room Conversation — July 16, 1968, Montreal)
Rule #7: Vehicles must be safe; i.e. brakes, tires, rear-view mirrors, horn, etc.
Rule #8: Drivers must follow all traffic signs explicitly.
"Suppose you will drive a motor car. That is a sort of work in the street. There is injunction that ‘You should drive on the right. You should stop your car when there is red light. You should not proceed an inch.’ So, so many regulations, even for your driving car, anything... Anything of your life— you want to do— there are directions, proper directions from the authorities." (Srila Prabhupada’s Lecture on Bhagavad-gita 3.13-16 — New York, May 23, 1966)
Rule #9: Drivers should not chant on beads while driving (they may chant on their fingers as did Lord Caitanya)
"Caitanya Mahaprabhu used to count on His fingers." (Caitanya-caritamrita; Madhya 7.37 Purport)
Rule #10: Drivers must wear glasses if needed.
26 Qualities of a Devotee Driver
With the readers’ permission, we have taken some liberties in applying these terms to driving. Here is the actual translation: "Devotees are always merciful, humble, truthful, equal to all, faultless, magnanimous, mild and clean. They are without material possessions, and they perform welfare work for everyone. They are peaceful, surrendered to Krsna and desireless. They are indifferent to material acquisitions and are fixed in devotional service. They completely control the six bad qualities — lust, anger, greed and so forth. They eat only as much as required, and they are not inebriated. They are respectful, grave, compassionate and without false prestige. They are friendly, poetic, expert and silent."
While driving, I humbly suggest that a devotee or aspiring devotee should put into practice Vaisnava devotional principles such as described by Lord Krishna in the eleventh canto, verses 29-32 of the Srimad Bhagavatam and again mentioned by Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Caitanya Caritamrita, Madhya-lila 22.78-80 as follows:
(1) krpalu— merciful
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver doesn’t want to endanger the passengers in his vehicle or those in other vehicles by driving recklessly.
(2) akrta-droha — humble;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver obeys all the traffic laws.
(3) satya-sara —truthful;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver practices not driving even slightly over the speed limit, even if there are no police officers nearby, knowing how this will lead to further excesses.
(4) sama — equal;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver knows that all vehicles have the same type of spirit souls (jivatma) inside and each living being is subject to illusion, to make mistakes, to cheat, and to possess imperfect senses. Consequently, he expects them to do something dangerous and thus he drives defensively.
(5) nidosa — faultless;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver is never the cause of an accident due to his self-indulgent driving.
(6) vadanya — magnanimous;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver allows a very broad distance between his vehicle and the one in front of his vehicle.
(7) mrdu — mild;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver tolerates stopping at red lights.
(8) suci — clean;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver keeps the windshields, mirrors, and windows free from dirt.
(9) akincana — without material possessions;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver does not use a cell phone while driving.
(10) sarva-upakaraka — working for the welfare of everyone;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver recognizes that by driving safely his chances of performing more sankirtana are increased.
(11) santa — peaceful;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver is not in a frantic hurry to arrive some place quickly.
(12) krsna-eka-sarana — exclusively surrendered to Krsna;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver understands that his body belongs to Krishna, and therefore he does not gamble it away in impulsive driving.
(13) akama — desireless;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver does not have the inclination to be "ahead" of other vehicles.
(14) aniha — indifferent to material acquisitions;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver does not drive faster than the speed limit even though his speedometer indicates that the vehicle is capable of traveling at higher speeds.
(15) sthira — fixed;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver always wears his seat belt and makes sure that other passengers do so as well.
(16) vijita-sat-guna — completely controlling the six bad qualities (lust, anger, greed, etc.);
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver does not curse at others, make menacing gestures toward others, or in other words, lose his temper while driving.
(17) mita-bhuk — eating only as much as required;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver does not eat while driving.
(18) apramatta — without inebriation;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver does not try to get some stimulation from fast driving.
(19) mana-da — respectful;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver allows other vehicles to enter his lane before his vehicle as required.
(20) amani — without false prestige;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver agrees to move into the right lane (slower lane) allowing faster vehicles to surpass him using the left lane (faster lane).
(21) gambhira — grave; .
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver never forgets how dangerous it is to drive a motor vehicle. This material world is a place where danger lurks at every step. Padam padam yad vipadam na tesam.
(22) karuna — compassionate;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver sets a good example for others to follow both in his driving and his consciousness.
(23) maitra — friendly;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver is the best friend to all other drivers and pedestrians because he is so careful.
(24) kavi — poetic;
Just drive for Krishna
(25) daksa — expert;
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver considers driving a vehicle his precious service to the Lord, and thus he performs this duty like Daruka.
(26) mauni — silent.
Example: A Krishna-conscious driver does not talk so much that it distracts his driving.
We hope that by safe driving, the numbers of devotee-drivers and their passengers who are forced to leave their bodies will be diminished. Nevertheless, if it is our time to depart, we want to be sure that we are performing our duty properly, namely driving carefully for Krishna.
© CHAKRA 9 May 2002
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