From the teachings of
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
The symptoms of a sadhu [saintly person] are that he is tolerant, merciful, and friendly to all living entities. He has no enemies, he is peaceful, he abides by the scriptures, and all his characteristics are sublime. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.21)
Whatever our particular religious faith, there are principles of religion that are universal. How these principles appear in the lives and characters of religious leaders and their followers is the true test of an authentically spiritual life. Srila Prabhupada often pointed to the character of Lord Jesus Christ to illustrate such authenticity. "TheSrimad-Bhagavatam states that any bona fide preacher of God consciousness must have the qualities of titiksa (tolerance) andkaruna (compassion). In the character of Lord Jesus Christ we find both these qualities. He was so tolerant that even while he was being crucified he didn't condemn anyone. And he was so compassionate that he prayed to God to forgive the very persons who were trying to kill him." ** (The Science of Self-Realization (SSR), p. 134)Devotees of God must be tolerant, because it is their duty to remind us that lasting happiness lies not in the material world but in devotional service to the Supreme. "The religious principle means that this material life is not happy. … You take Lord Jesus Christ or Buddha or Lord Caitanya or Krsna. … Nobody says, 'You make an adjustment here and live peacefully. … This is not the place to live happily." ** (Conversations with Srila Prabhupada, Vol. 1, p. 237)
"The sadhu has the thankless task of impressing upon [us] the importance of devotional service. Sometimes devotees are personally attacked with violence. Lord Jesus Christ was crucified, Haridasa Thakura was caned in twenty-two marketplaces, and Lord Caitanya's principal assistant, Nityananda, was violently attacked by Jagai and Madhai. But still they were very tolerant because their mission was to deliver the fallen souls." ** (Srimad-Bhagavatam 3.25.21, purport)
Although it is ignorant and superficial to think such exalted devotees can be killed, Lord Jesus Christ and others were willing to sacrifice their lives to liberate the ignorant.
Of Christ's crucifixion Prabhupada said, "Of course, they could not actually kill him. But they were thinking that he could be killed, so they were committing a great offense. As Christ was being crucified he prayed, 'Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.' " ** (SSR, p. 134)
* * *
A saintly person is merciful not only to human beings, however. He is suhrdam sarva-dehinam, merciful to all embodied beings to animals as well as men.
"Lord Jesus Christ exemplified this by teaching 'Thou shalt not kill.' But the Christians like to misinterpret this instruction. They think the animals have no soul, and therefore they think they can freely kill billions of innocent animals in the slaughterhouses. So although there are many persons who profess to be Christians, it would be very difficult to find one who strictly follows the instructions of Lord Jesus Christ." ** (SSR, p. 134)
Most Christians object to this direct understanding of Christ's commandment, preferring instead to interpret "kill" to mean "murder." We should refrain, they say, from killing humans.
"If you want to interpret these words, that is something else," Srila Prabhupada replies. "We understand the direct meaning. 'Thou shalt not kill' means 'The Christians should not kill.' You may put forth interpretations in order to continue the present way of action [animal slaughter], but we understand very clearly that there is no need for interpretation. Interpretation is necessary if things are not clear. But here the meaning is clear. 'Thou shalt not kill' is a clear instruction. Why should we interpret it?" ** (SSR, p. 130)
Of course, one might ask, can't Krsna give permission to eat animals? Father Emmanuel Jungclaussen of Niederalteich Monastery in West Germany once placed this question before Srila Prabhupada.
"Yes," Prabhupada replied, " in the animal kingdom. But the civilized human being, the religious human being, is not meant to kill and eat animals.
"If you stop killing animals and chant the holy name Christ," Srila Prabhupada continued, "everything will be perfect. I have not come to teach you but only to request you to please chant the name of God. The Bible also demands this of you. So let's kindly cooperate and chant, and if you have a prejudice against chanting the name Krsna, then chant Christos there is no difference. Sri Caitanya said, 'God has millions and millions of names, and because there is no difference between God's names and Himself, each one of these names has the same potency as God.'
"Even if you accept designations like 'Hindu,' 'Christian,' or 'Mohammedan,' if you simply chant the name of God found in your own scriptures, you will attain the spiritual platform. … Whether you discharge this duty as a Hindu, Christian, or a Mohammedan, it doesn't matter but discharge it!" ** (SSR, p. 131)
"I think the Christian priests should cooperate with the Krsna consciousness movement. They should chant the name Christ or Christos and should stop condoning the slaughter of animals. This program follows the teachings of the Bible; it is not my philosophy."** (SSR, p. 133)
* * *
Because the quality of mercy to all living beings is so central to the character of every saintly person, while conversing with Christians Srila Prabhupada consistently spoke of the evil of animal slaughter.
"The Bible does not simply say 'Do not kill the human being,' " Prabhupada told Cardinal Jean Danielou in Paris. "It says broadly, 'Thou shalt not kill'. … Human beings are meant to eat vegetarian food. The tiger does not come to eat your fruits. His prescribed food is animal flesh. But man's food is vegetables, fruits, grains, and milk products. … When there is no other food, someone may eat meat in order to keep from starving. But it is most sinful to regularly maintain slaughterhouses just to satisfy your tongue. Actually, you will not even have a human society until this cruel practice of maintaining slaughterhouses is stopped. …" ** (SSR, p. 137-139)
But God is kind, a Christian may object. If we want to eat animals, why would He stop us?
He won't. In fact, He will give us suitable bodies for eating meat, bodies more suitable than our present human ones.
"God is very kind. If you want to eat animals, then He'll give you full facility. God will give you the body of a tiger in your next life so that you can eat flesh freely. 'Why are you maintaining slaughterhouses? I'll give you fangs and claws. Now eat.' So the meat-eaters are awaiting such punishment. The animal-eaters become tigers, wolves, cats, and dogs in their next life to get more facility."
According to Christian doctrine, Christians are free from the reactions to their sins because they have surrendered to Lord Jesus Christ and he has washed their sins away. In the Gita too, Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, says that those who surrender to Him will be freed from sins.
But what is surrender? If the spiritual master, Lord Jesus Christ, has suffered to free us from our sins, is it surrender to continue freely sinning? Transgressions due to weakness may be understandable, but our weakness, Srila Prabhupada taught, should not become our vocation.
"Jesus Christ taught, 'Thou shalt not kill,' but his followers have now decided, 'Let us kill anyway,' and they open big, modern, scientific slaughterhouses. 'If there is any sin, Christ will suffer for us.' This is a most abominable conclusion." ** (SSR, p. 135)
"A Vaisnava is unhappy to see the suffering of others. Therefore, Lord Jesus Christ agreed to be crucified to free others from their suffering. But his followers are so unfaithful that they have decided, 'Let Christ suffer for us and we'll go on committing sin.' They love Christ so much that they think, 'My dear Christ, we are very weak. We cannot give up our sinful activities. So you please suffer for us.' "** (SSR, p. 135)
When the spiritual master frees us from previous karma, or sin, he doesn't give us a blank check to do anything we want in his name. If Lord Jesus Christ agreed to be crucified for our sins, what genuine follower would desire to prolong the crucifixion?
"Christ can take the sufferings for the previous sins of his devotees. But first they have to be sane: 'Why should I put Jesus Christ into suffering for my sins? Let me stop my sinful activities.' " ** (SSR, p. 135)
And the spiritual master is not held accountable for so-called followers with insane motives.
"Suppose a man the favorite son of his father commits a murder. And suppose he thinks, 'If there is any punishment coming, my father can suffer for me.' Will the law allow it? When the murderer is arrested and says, 'No, no. You can release me and arrest my father; I am his pet son,' will the police officials comply with that fool's request?
"He committed the murder, but he thinks his father should suffer the punishment! Is that a sane proposal? 'No, you have committed the murder; you must be hanged.' Similarly, when you commit sinful activities, you must suffer not Jesus Christ. That is God's law." ** (SSR, p. 135)
Srila Prabhupada had little patience for using Christ's mercy as an excuse for going on with sin. Yet Srila Prabhupada had true appreciation for Christ as the son of God. "Jesus Christ was such a great personality the son of God, the representative of God. He had no fault. Still, he was crucified. He wanted to deliver God consciousness, but in return they crucified him they were so thankless. They could not appreciate his preaching. But we appreciate him and give him all honor as the representative of God.
"Certainly he is the representative of God. Therefore we adore Lord Jesus Christ and offer our obeisances to him." ** (SSR, p. 135)
Not only do we adore him, but he is our guru, our spiritual master.
"Once, in Melbourne, a group of Christian ministers came to visit me. They asked, 'What is your idea of Jesus Christ?' I told them 'He is our guru. He is preaching God consciousness, so he is our spiritual master.' The ministers very much appreciated that.
"Actually, anyone who is preaching God's glories must be accepted as guru. Jesus Christ is one such great personality. We should not think of him as an ordinary human being. The scriptures say that anyone who considers the spiritual master to be an ordinary man has a hellish mentality. If Jesus Christ were an ordinary man, then he could not have delivered God consciousness." ** (SSR, p. 135-136)