'Kali' was first published in Sajjana Toṣaṇī, Vol. 15, issue 1 in 1903. In this article Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura gives a detailed explanation of the four major vices of Kali-yuga and why they are impediments to pure bhakti.
(translated by Sanātana Dāsa & Parameśvarī Devī Dāsī)
kalau na rājan jagatāṁ paraṁ guruṁ
prāyeṇa martyā bhagavantam acyutaṁ
(“O King! In the age of Kali, mortals whose minds have been distracted by atheism, will hardly ever worship the infallible Supreme Lord, the Supreme Guru of the universe, whose lotus feet are worshipped by those who govern the three worlds.” – Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.3.43)
Reading this deep, meaningful statement of the Śrīmad Bhāgavata, we understand the reason for all our sorrows. Even after obtaining dīkṣā in a sampradāya, and after entering the path of arcana (Deity worship), we do not attain prema. Even after studying and teaching different śāstras, pure dedication to Kṛṣṇa does not appear in us. Even after following many vratas we do not get pure bhakti. Even after taking birth in a gosvāmī family, we fail to obtain simple bhakti to Gaura. Even after accepting bhek (the dress of a renunciant) from renounced Vaiṣṇavas, we simply continue to worship our material family. Kali is the only reason for all of our disturbances, and in this way he deceives us.
Śrī Kṛṣṇa is worshippable by all the venerable Devatās, and is the supreme guru of this world. Despite worship of Kṛṣṇa being the duty of all jīvas at all times, in the age of Kali, the jīvas are driven by atheistic beliefs and tendencies, and generally remain in forgetfulness of Him, and do not cultivate genuine bhakti-dharma. The meaning of the above śloka is expressed in another way in a different śloka:
yan-nāmadheyaṁ mriyamāṇa āturaḥ
patan skhalan vā vivaśo gṛṇan pumān
vimukta-karmārgala uttamāṁ gatiṁ
prāpnoti yakṣyanti na taṁ kalau janāḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 12.3.44)
A jīva engaged in saṁsāra (material life) is always depressed and afflicted with sorrow. If the Name of the Supreme Person, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, is uttered in a fallen or unconscious state, then that dying jīva is liberated from all the bondage of karma and attains an exalted destination. Alas! In the age of Kali they do not perform any form of nāma-bhajana of that Personality which is the only sacrifice in this age.
The main point is that karma is the only reason for the jīva’s bondage. The only way to become free from that bondage is nāma-saṅkīrtana. Jñana alone is not the final destination of the jīva, but bhakti is the jīva’s only supreme destination. Kali is the friend of adharma and the enemy of the jīva, and during his specific age, he does not allow the jīva to be focused upon pure dharma in the form of saṅkīrtana. Saṅkīrtana has been said to be the only medicine for the age of Kali.
kaler doṣa-nidhe rājann asti hy eko mahān guṇaḥ
kīrtanād eva kṛṣṇasya mukta-saṅgaḥ paraṁ vrajet
Despite Kali being an ocean of all types of faults, the age of Kali has one great quality. In other words, by performing kṛṣṇa-kīrtana, the jīva immediately becomes free from all bondage and attains the highest bhakti.
Now see brother! The śāstra is saying that, rejecting all other methods, the jīva should only perform kīrtana during the age of Kali. Again it said that in the age of Kali, the jīva generally does not engage in worship by performing kṛṣṇa-nāma kīrtana. What is the reason for this?
After due consideration of a subject, the human mind, which engages in saṅkalpa-vikalpa (accepting and rejecting) ascertains its duty or non-duty. But the mental tendency remains undefeated and it runs towards those things that give temporary pleasure; it does not allow ones discrimination to become stable. After studying and hearing the advice of others, many come to know that drinking and eating meat is bad, but due to greed they cannot stop themselves from all such activities. The paṇḍitas that study the śāstra all know that, except for hari–nāma, there is no other way of deliverance for the jīva, yet being under the spell of negligible Karma-mīmāṁsā, they satisfy their mental inclinations. Mental inclinations appear due to previous and present desires.
Without various types of pure association (sat-saṅga) and constant discussion, the strength of these mental tendencies will not become weaker. Mere logical discrimination cannot do anything. Therefore those who have examined bhakti have written thus:
svalpāpi rucir eva syād bhakti-tattvāvabodhikā
yuktis tu kevalā naiva yad asyā apratiṣṭhatā
The jīva who has obtained a little taste, in other words, who has a mental inclination towards hari–nāma, that jīva develops bhakti. Simply by logical reasoning one can never obtain bhakti. The Vedas have only glorified that which cannot be established by logic.
The jīvas who are afflicted by Kali do not develop a taste for hari–nāma easily. Through discrimination they have heard:
harer nāma harer nāma harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva nāsty eva gatir anyathā
(“There is only the Name of Hari, only the Name of Hari, only the Name of Hari – there is no other way, no other way, no other way in the age of Kali” – Bṛhan Nāradīya Purāṇa 33.126)
When the mental tendency is dragged away by endeavours for brothels, wine or gold, then the Kali-inflicted jīva becomes bewildered about his duty, and while trying to save himself from the flaws of his own character, he takes shelter of different paths. Through logic he tries to show that if one does not take some amount of alcohol or meat, human strength cannot be maintained. He says in many ways that going to prostitutes etc. is an unavoidable human sin. He collects money by displaying deceitful bhakti. Presenting hari-nāma-kīrtana as a good deed, he creates a group to perform hari-saṅkīrtana with an aim to nullify plagues, epidemics and other sins. In this way, to achieve selfish ends, he goes on performing kīrtana in the cities (nāgara-kīrtana) etc. The karmīs engage in activities for gaining money by taking a cunning approach and saying, kṛṣṇārpanam’astu (‘May this be an offering to Kṛṣṇa’). The atheists establish an imaginary Brahman within void, or within something which is almost void, and wish to show themselves in this way as religious. Such deceitful activities are happening every day in the world. Again, their saying is, “Even imitating good things is also good.” By presenting such advice as this, they are increasing the number of deceitful ‘Vaiṣṇavas’ and in so doing, they are serving Kali.
Kali is at the root of all disturbances. Only those who can reject Kali’s domination and continue can become pure Vaiṣṇavas. For our individual benefit, we will consider what is Kali’s domination.
Such a description is there in Śrīmad Bhāgavata – at the time when Mahārāja Parīkṣit persecuted Kali on the strength of dharma, Kali made one request to him. Parīkṣit said, “O friend of adharma! You will not get any place in my kingdom. Four irreligious places will be given to you.”
abhyarthitas tadā tasmai sthānāni kalaye dadau
dyūtaṁ pānaṁ striyaḥ sūnā yatrādharmaś catur-vidhaḥ
(Śrimad Bhāgavatam 1.17.38)
Based on the request of Kali, the king gave four places to him. Gambling, drinking, illicit connection with women and killing animals – where these four activities go on, these places were given to Kali.
punaś ca yācamānāya jāta-rūpam adāt prabhuḥ
tato ’nṛtaṁ madaṁ kāmaṁ rajo vairaṁ ca pañcamam
(Śrimad Bhāgavatam 1.17,39)
When he requested one place where all these things, then the king also gave him gold. Dishonest conduct, intoxication, lust, passion and enmity – he also gave him these.
Please try to consider these statements. If one has a desire to engage in hari-bhajana by avoiding Kali, then it is necessary to stay away from places of gambling, drinking, illicit association with women and animal slaughter. Those places that always require gold or wealth will, by their very inherent nature, have dishonest behaviour, intoxication, lust, passion and enmity existing there. If the above-mentioned four places are discussed separately, the subject matter will be in more detail.
First, let us consider places of gambling. A place where sports happen with non-living objects are places of gambling. Cards, dice, chess, daśa-pañciśa, bāghbandī (board games), whatever type of games are there, those places where they are played can be considered as places of gambling. The modern lottery house can also be considered as a place of gambling. If we discuss the history of kings like Nalarājā, Yudhiṣṭhira, Duryodhana, Śakuni etc. we will see that at a place of gambling, the ways of cheating, deviousness etc. are adopted for gaining wealth, which leads to serious quarrels and ends in destruction. Even now, at all the places where gaming exists, the catur-varga (four goals of human life), namely dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa, are destroyed for many people. Those who are involved in all these games attain a disconcerting laziness and a habit of quarreling. No activities of dharma can be executed by them. Is there any doubt that Kali resides in places of gambling? While walking along the road, we see many shops where several men assemble and play cards, chess and pāśā (a board game). The game-loving owner of the shop is not able to attend to the customers. Slowly the number of buyers decreases and within a short time, the shop is ruined. Sometimes thieves, seeing the shop owner’s attachment to the game, steal the shop’s items. Those who come to play with the shop owner also take away items from the shop when they get an opportunity, and in this way they ruin the shop owner. Just see, brother! Gambling is so horrible! Many gentleman, becoming afflicted due to bad association, enter gambling dens and become dishonest. That is why when Dāsa Gosvāmī’s uncle, Kālīdāsa Mahāśaya, sat to play games on the request of dishonest people, he used to save his character by incessantly chanting hari-nāma. One who wants to be good, religious or a devotee should certainly reject gambling.
Now let us consider drinking as a place of Kali. Any addiction is equivalent to drinking. In some cases, drinking is in form of liquid, at some place it is in form of smoke. In the Tantra it is said:
parṇapugau tāmrakūṭastaritā madirā surā
vrata-vidhaṁśino hyete valinaś cottarottaraḥ
nāgavallyā pravarddhante vilāsepsāḥ sudirjjayāḥ
guvākena sadā cittācāñcakyāṁ parilakṣyate
tāmrakūṭāt matibhraṁṣo jāḍyaṁ vaimukhyam eva hi
taritā sevanād-buddhi-nāśaḥ kila bhaviṣyati
ahiphenaṁ dhumrapānaṁ madrikā chāṣṭasaṁkhyakā
svalpa-kāle prakurvanti dvipadāṁś ca catuṣpadān
ete copādhayaḥ śaśvat bahir-mukheṣu kalpitāḥ
durvṛta-kalinā sākṣāt śuddha-bhakti-nivṛtaye
Betel leaves (tāmbūla), betel nuts, gāñjā, sura (cheap alcohol) and wine – all these are addictive and the destroyers of vows. They become consecutively stronger. Eating betel leaves leads to an increase in the desire for enjoyment, which is difficult to conquer. From betel nuts, mental agitation arises. From tobacco, illusion, laziness and an aversion to Bhagavān take place. Taking gāñjā leads to the destruction of intelligence. Opium, smoking, and the eight kinds of wine make two legged persons into four legged ones in a very short time. All these things have been created by the miscreant Kali to destroy the bhakti of those jīvas who are averse.
In another Tantra it is given:
saṁvidā kālakūṭañca tāmrakūṭañca dhusturaṁ
ahiphenaṁ kharjjurasaṁ tārikā taritā tathā
ityaṣṭau-siddhi-dravyāṇi bhakti-hrāsakarāṇi vai
sva-karya-siddhaye sākṣāt kalinā kalpitāni hi
Bhāṅg, Kālakuṭa (a strong poison), tobacco, dhatura, opium, palm tree sap, tāḍi (fermented palm tree sap) and gāñjā – these eight are the objects of intoxication. To achieve his objective, Kali has personally created them.
In another Tantra it is mentioned about wine thus-
mādhvikam-aikṣavaṁ drakṣyaṁ tālakharjjura-pānasaṁ
mairayaṁ mākṣikaṁ tāṅkaṁ mādhukaṁ nārikelajaṁ
mukhyaman navikarotha madyaṁ dvādaśadhā smṛtam
Mādhvika (from the madhūka flower), aikṣara (from sugarcane), drākṣā (from grapes), tāla (from palm sap), kharjjura (from date sap), pānasa-jāta (from jackfruit), maireya (from a flower), mākṣika (from honey), tāṅka (from wood apple), mādhuka (from flowers of the honey tree), nāri-keli-jāta (from coconut) and anna-jāta (from rice) – these are the twelve kinds of intoxicating beverages.
In the main śloka, the meaning of pāna (drink) has been written by the author as pānaṁ madyādiḥ. By the word madyādi (‘wine etc.’) one should understand all these to be addictive substances. Starting from tāmbūla all the way to the rice-based alcohol, all are substances that destroy vows. One who desires dharma must stay away from all these addictive substances. “Addictive substances benefits vairāgya and bhajana” – such words are merely statements of self-defence made by people who are subjugated by these addictive substances.
Now let us consider the word strī (woman). In fact, by the word strī, both a religious wife and an irreligious wife are to be understood. Here, we are not speaking about a religious wife, because as per the opinion of śāstra:
na gṛhaṁ gṛham ity āhur gṛhiṇī gṛham ucyate
tayā hi sahitaṁ sarvān puruṣārthān samaśnute
Staying with a religious wife serving dharma, artha, kāma, mokṣa, and the fifth goal of human life, bhakti, is the only daily duty of a male householder. If one takes help from his married wife and maintains his life, then no fault of Kali will touch him. That place where a man becomes effeminate and is subjugated by his wife, resulting in him becoming confused about his proper duty – there only Kali resides in a married wife. Kali’s strength lies in the association of women who are devoid of dharma. The Vaiṣṇava sages, kings such as Ambarīṣa etc, and the householder associates of Śrī Kṛṣṇa Caitanya like Śrīvāsa, are examples of such devotees. Due to this reason, Śrī Mahāprabhu has taught the sannyāsīs to offer daṇḍavats to the householder Vaiṣṇavas. As written in Śrī Caitanya-bhāgavata Antya-khaṇḍa, Chapter eight:
vaiṣṇava, tulasī, gaṅgā, prasādera bhakti
tiṅho se jānena, anye na dhare se śakti
vaiṣṇavera bhakti ei dekhāna sākṣāt
mahāśrami vaiṣṇavere kare daṇḍapat
sannyāsa grahana kaile hena dharma tāṅra
pitā āsi’putrere karena namaskāra
ataeva sannyāśrama sabara vandita
sannyāsī namaskāra se vihita
tathāpi āśrama-dharma chāḍi’ vaiṣṇavere
śikṣā-guru śrī-kṛṣṇa āpane namaskāre
(“The Vaiṣṇavas, tulasī, the Gaṅgā, and devotion to mahā-prasāda—no one else [except Mahāprabhu] has the ability to know their potency. He personally exhibited Vaiṣṇava bhakti. Although situated in the highest āśrama [sannyāsa], he offered daṇḍavats to other Vaiṣṇavas. After a son accepts sannyāsa, dharma prescribes that a father should offer respects unto him. Therefore the sannyāsa āśrama is respected by all. They should offer respects to a sannyāsī. Still, the Lord, who is the instructing guru, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, rejected āśrama-dharma to offer respects to the Vaiṣṇavas.” – Caitanya-bhāgavata, Antya-khaṇḍa 8.149-153)
śikṣā-guru nārāyaṇa ye karāyena śikṣā
tāhā ye mānaye, se-i jana pāya rakṣā
(“One who accepts the teachings of the instructing guru Nārāyaṇa – such a person receives His protection.”– Caitanya-bhāgavata, Antya-khaṇḍa 8.162)
A religious wife has been praised in all śāstras. Criticism of an irreligious wife has been sung by all, yet still the sahajiyās and Bāulas take other’s wives and pretend to perform worship. In this way they constantly fall into the clutches of Kali and finally fall into Mahā-raurava (a type of hell). It is unnecessary to mention here all the disturbances created in a brothel. Therefore, there can be no illusion that such association of women is the work of Kali. Taking the help of a religious wife to lead a life suitable for bhakti-sādhana, and becoming attached to an irreligious wife or a co-wife – one should know that these are two different things altogether. Women that take shelter of adharma are always under the control of Kali, thus one should stay far away from them.
Sūnā means killing animals. The place where animals are willingly killed is Kali’s exclusive arena. Therefore Nārada had said:
na hy anyo juṣato joṣyān buddhi-bhraṁśo rajo-guṇaḥ
śrī-madād ābhijātyādir yatra strī dyūtam āsavaḥ
hanyante paśavo yatra nirdayair ajitātmabhiḥ
manyamānair imaṁ deham ajarāmṛtyu naśvaram
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 10.84.8-9)
Where there is some mundane indulgence that is dear to us, there is no necessity for anything other than the mode of passion to destroy our intelligence. From opulence, intoxication and beauty – the mode of passion manifests the false pride of taking birth in a good family, illicit connection with women, gambling, taking intoxication, in other words, drinking wine, smoking etc, fighting among men for each other’s property, sacrificing animals for the greed of one’s tongue etc. In all ways, wherever there is the killing of jīvas, Kali resides there.
From the mode of passion, greed for money manifests. Therefore, money should be used properly, in other words, for bhagavat-sevā (service to the book Bhāgavatā) and bhāgavat-sevā (service to the devotee). One should lead a pure life, without any attraction for gold, for that is the eternal residence of Kali. By speaking lies and deceitful behaviour, human nature becomes very polluted. That also is a place where Kali resides. Intoxication is a place which is very dear to Kali. The Bhāgavata says:
śriyā vibhūtyābhijanena vidyayā
tyāgena rūpeṇa balena karmaṇā
sato ’vamanyanti hari-priyān khalāḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam 11.5.9)
Material opulence, beauty, power, pride in taking birth in a good family, mundane knowledge, sannyāsa, beauty and strength – from these six types of intoxication, terrible Vaiṣnava aparādha occurs. All these are the residence of Kali. So how can there be doubt that animosity is the dwelling place of Kali?
Therefore Kṛṣṇa says:
ativādāṁs titikṣeta nāvamanyeta kañcana
na cemaṁ deham āśritya vairaṁ kurvīta kenacit
If someone speaks in a strong way to you, tolerate it. Do not insult anybody. Do not identify with this body, and do not cultivate enmity towards anybody. Kāma (desire) is the place of Kali – there is no doubt about this. The kāma for kṛṣṇa-sevā is aprākṛta (transcendental), and its name is prema. The kāma of satisfying the senses is mundane, that is the very place of Kali. One must certainly reject that.
One can never perform hari-bhajana if one does not reject the rule of Kali. Readers, please read this article very attentively.