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By Bhaktarupa Das
Sambhavi Mataji’s well-written "Observations of Reality" on the ISKCON Calendar brings up some important points that deserve a response.
First of all, although many years ago it was necessary to contact some pandits in Sweden in order to obtain a calendar for a particular location, thanks to the internet age this is no longer necessary. The calendar program, called "VCal," is available for download from a few different ISKCON websites, including PAMHO and www.shyamasundaradasa.com. Armed with that program, and if one knows one’s longitude, latitude, and time zone, one can calculate a calendar oneself. There are also plans to set up a website at which one can calculate a customized Vaishnava calendar online.
As far as special situations are concerned, such as while taking international flights, the rule of thumb is to observe according to the calendar calculated for where you are at sunrise. If this is not possible, or if for any reason there is any confusion over which day to observe a fast, then it is best to observe the fast on the later of the two days. This statement is based on the simple fact, confirmed by sastra as well as instructions from Srila Prabhupada, that a fast observed early is improper whereas if a fast day is missed then it can be made up on the next day.
Secondly, Mataji has correctly pointed out the benefits of calculating according to a proportional muhurta. The ISKCON calendar has been using proportional muhurtas for more than ten years now, according to the GBC resolution stating that we should.
Mataji goes on to state as follows:
"We are a global movement. We have devotees living in cities that are far from the temple they attend. Do we care for them, or label them ‘sinful’ since they cannot follow even Ekadasi properly? Is it a prerequisite of a devotee to be an astronomer as well? Or can we — could we — make the system a bit more user friendly? The lunar calendar and determining celebrations by tithis is a very ancient and wonderful method. It has a certain magic and power in itself. But are we taking too much on our plates? Shouldn’t we at least go continent by continent? Let’s think about this issue from the point of view of unity."
I hope that no one is being labeled "sinful" for not observing Ekadasi properly. The calendar is not meant to be used like that. Where appropriate, we should preach about the importance of following and try to help those in need of information.
As far as making the calendar more user-friendly, there are many things that could be done on a local basis. For example, in Mayapur the ISKCON temple observes the appearance and disappearance days of Srila Bhaktisiddhanta according to how the other maths are observing, in the interest of unity. Similarly, groups of temples around the world could get together and simplify things a bit, especially with regard to public observances of major festivals, provided there was a strong enough preaching reason to do so. In this respect the calendar can be considered as a guide rather than as a hard and fast rule. However, I would be reluctant to try to mandate for others an adjustment of the observance days of Ekadasis and other fast days simply to avoid some personal inconvenience. Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur describes such days as "the mother of devotion." The fact that we are all taking the same trouble to observe the same vows according to the same system of rules, in spite of our geographic separation, is also a form of unity.
I hope this is satisfactory.
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[See "The ISKCON Calendar: Observations of Reality" Chakra May 29, 2002]
© CHAKRA 13 June 2002
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