"People say, 'You have to suffer. That's what life's all about.'
And they're right. But you should ask, 'How can I get free from this suffering?' "
An interview with Srila Bhavananda Goswami Visnupada.
His Divine Grace Bhavananda Goswami Visnupada is one of the spiritual masters of the Krsna consciousness movement. On his way to his headquarters in Mayapur, India, from visiting disciples in Australia, he stopped off at the Hare Krsna center in New York City, where he met with devotees and guests.
Srila Visnupada: Everyone has a right to be happy. That's the constitutional position of the living entity, because isvarah paramah krsnah sac-cid-ananda Krsna is eternity, knowledge, and ananda, bliss. Every living entity is part and parcel of Krsna, so naturally as part of Krsna you have your constitutional right to be happy. And if you're not happy all the time, then you should demand to know why. Why am I suffering? Why am I not happy? In order to come to the human platform, you have to ask that question: Who am I, and why am I suffering? But you have to be intelligent enough to understand that you are suffering. That's the problem no one is willing to admit that they're suffering. Or they're willing to admit, "I'm suffering," but they think, "If I keep working hard, tomorrow I'll be happy."
Guest: I may be suffering, but that's part of my life.
Srila Visnupada: That is part of your life. That's part of your karma, yes. But it's not necessary. I have a close friend who is a big, big P .R. man. He had a heart attack. And his son was born with spinal meningitis. So this friend told me, "You know, it was a strain, but what can you do? That's life. Living is hard, dying is hard. But what can you do? That's life."
People say, "You have to suffer. That's what life's all about." And they're right! Life in this material world is suffering. But you should ask, "How can I get free from this suffering?"
There are two kinds of happy people in this world: the self-realized person and the fool. The self-realized soul is really happy. And the fool thinks he's happy, just like the ostrich who buries his head in the sand and thinks he's safe. And then in between there's you and me.
Guest: We understand that we're not happy, but we're trying to be.
Srila Visnupada: That's right. So the universe is populated 99.9 percent with fools foolishly thinking they have to suffer, foolishly thinking that suffering is part of the living experience, that it's necessary in order to grow intellectually, emotionally, and on every level….
Did you ever lift weights? In muscle building, if you want to get a strong muscle, you have to tear the muscle. When they lift all these weights, actually they're tearing the muscle. And then as the muscle heals, it becomes stronger. So in order to get that strong muscle, they have to suffer so much pain! They keep tearing the muscle, tearing the muscle, tearing the muscle, and it builds up bigger and bigger. Have you ever seen someone who's lifting weights? They're always in such suffering.
Guest: But it's a fact that they become strong in that way.
Srila Visnupada: They become physically strong, but ultimately the body is defeated. They're not so strong that they can be stronger than death. You may be a big, big sufferer, and then you may think, "I'm becoming more and more intellectually advanced." Just like so many great so-called great Western authors. They suffered so much. James Joyce and all. They suffered: They led lives of suffering. But still they were defeated. No matter how strong' I may- think I'm becoming, how intellectually aware or adroit I'm becoming, how much more of the living experience I'm able to understand due to my suffering, still I will be defeated. And generally they defeat themselves by suicide. Because that's the ultimate experience death.
Guest: But there are people who seem to be quite happy.
Srila Visnupada: Who? Who? Who are those people'? Name me names.
Guest: People who are performing meditation or …
Srila Visnupada: Who? Who? Who? Where? Where?
Guest: Suppose I'm happy.
Srila Visnupada: Suppose! I'm not supposing, I want facts! You don't know anyone who is happy. "There are some people" or "Suppose I am." I'm not talking of suppositions.
Guest: What if someone's wealthy and he's healthy …
Srila Visnupada: While I was in Dallas, the Wrigley heiress, the heiress to the Wrigley chewing gum fortune … She has so much money lives in Los Angeles. Millions and millions of dollars big, big house. She's upset over some family affair, she locks the bathroom door, and falls on a butcher knife and commits suicide.
The only one who is always happy is the pure devotee of Krsna. You can't name me anyone else. I challenge you. I challenge you to name me one person who's always happy in this material world.
Srila Visnupada: Because happiness in this material world is based upon gratification of the mind and the senses. There are two forms of pleasure in this material world having sex and passing stool. That's all. What kind of pleasure is that? Real happiness is not possible through material activities. Our activities have to be centered on that which is spiritual. You have to understand the definition of spiritual. Spiritual means knowledgeable, eternal, and blissful.
Guest: So if somebody understands that he's suffering and that he ought to be happy, then what should he do?
Srila Visnupada: He should inquire. If he's innocent and sincere, he will inquire. And as soon as he inquires, even in his mind: "O my God, what is going on? What is this all about? What is happening to me'?" Even in the middle of the night in his room if he submissively inquires like that, Krsna will help him.
I inquired like that in Mexico in 1968, December 1968. We were preparing the script of our next movie. I was completely bewildered, and one night in this little village where we were staying on the coast I just inquired and looked up at the sky and said, "O my God. If there is a God…"
I believed that there is a God. I had been having arguments with my friends. "It's not possible for me to be God," I would say. "If I am supposed to be God, then why am I so unhappy?" So I inquired one night in the middle of the night. I just looked up at the sky: "O my God, do something help me." And within three months I was in a temple. That is submissive inquiry. Even if there is no devotee around, you will be brought to a devotee, or a devotee will be brought to you. Somehow or other you will have contact. You just have to inquire like that: "O my dear God, please help me." Because it's not that we are alone. Ultimately Krsna is within everyone's heart. He understands about us.
Guest: So if a sincere person is inquiring, he will come in contact with devotees.
Srila Visnupada: Yes. And for the sincere, innocent person who is not inquiring, we go out preaching and distribute Krsna conscious literature to give them an opportunity to at least begin to inquire, an opportunity to come in contact with some knowledge about Krsna. If they just make some submissive inquiry, even within their mind, that will be the beginning of their spiritual life.
I was talking before with a boy from Fordham Law School. "I don't know very much about this," he said. "I don't understand very much. But from my experience I can see that you are right." That's enough your material life is finished. You know? Even if you just read one of Prabhupada's books and say, "Gee, that makes sense." Just think like that. "That makes sense." Then your spiritual life has begun, and your material life will ultimately be finished.
Some submissive appeal has to be there. And if you're not submissive if you're atheistic, averse to God we don't have to prove Krsna to you. Krsna will prove Himself to you when He slaps you down and kills you, dog.
Guest: So if a sincere person meets a devotee, then what should he do, what takes place?
Srila Visnupada: What should he do'? He should inquire. If he's sincere he will inquire; it's an automatic thing.
Devotee: Suppose he's inquiring and he inquires from different sources from the devotee, from the meditator, from the scholar …
Srila Visnupada: That's all right. Of course, it's best if you just inquire from the devotee. But in the beginning you may have doubts. So if you're sincere you inquire and you inquire and you inquire from this guru, that guru, and that guru and then compare them. Compare them by hearing what they're saying. You can do that. Of course, we prefer if you don't go to this guru and that guru but you can go to different gurus and hear them.
In Australia people were coming in the evening to see me a hundred, hundred and fifty people. Very lively discussions. And someone said. "Well, why is it that every time we come there's always this argumentative air?"
I said. "Because if you all came here and I told you that you're all God, no one would argue with me. If I tell you you're God, who's going to argue? But as soon as you come to a devotee he tells you, 'You're not God. I'm not God Krsna is God, and your business is to worship Him. Immediately argument. This, I said, "is indicative of your envious hearts:" No one argues with you if you tell them that they're God. If you're going to tell people they're God, you can fill up Carnegie Hall, because people will gather to be flattered. But if you're sincerely looking to find God, Krsna will put you in touch with a bona fide spiritual master.
Guest: But what does that have to do with movements, and societies, and temples, and all of that?
Srila Visnupada: This is all to offer facility for those who are sincere to begin the process for going back home, back to Godhead.
Guest: But if I'm sincere, what need do I have for all of these things?
Srila Visnupada: Because the association of devotees is necessary. The main purpose of this Society is to offer people an opportunity to associate with devotees.
Guest: What does that mean, "associate"?
Srila Visnupada: To associate? To speak to. And to be encouraged by. By associating with devotees you are encouraged to practice devotional principles. As you do that and chant and hear about Krsna, your misgivings about devotional life are diminished, and your faith is increased. As your faith increases, you become more eager you develop a taste for chanting and hearing about Krsna. As your taste increases, then you develop attachment for Krsna, and as the attachment intensifies, then you're brought to the point of love krsna prema, love for Krsna which is the perfection of life and the reservoir of all pleasure. That's the point. That is the purpose of our Society.
Associate with devotees. They're wonderful. Why are they wonderful? Because they are always serving Krsna, they're always talking about Krsna, and they're always listening, eager to hear about Krsna. And if there is some devotee who is not, then avoid him. Offer him respect, but seek after the association of those who are always talking about Krsna. There are so many of them. Then your misgivings will be diminished. Now you're filled with misgivings, doubts. But by associating with devotees and hearing about Krsna, your misgivings are diminished, and your faith is increased.
That's the main purpose of our Society: to give people an opportunity to associate with devotees. Even if they don't want to associate with devotees, we go out onto the streets and chant Hare Krsna, so that they're forced to hear Krsna's holy name. Sometimes force is necessary. Sometimes a stick is necessary to move a cow. So we don't go out with sticks, but we go out with cymbals and drums so that the conditioned souls are forced to hear. This chanting provides the greatest benefit but foolish people don't understand it.
Guest: Isn't that just a little well, to put it bluntly egotistic? I've heard people say that the pleasure you take in Krsna consciousness is not spiritual happiness but the happiness that comes from thinking you're better than everybody else.
Srila Visnupada: No. We don't think that we're better than anyone else. But we know that Krsna is better than anyone else. He is certainly better than you. He's the most beautiful, most strong, most intelligent, most renounced, most famous, most wonderful. We don't think we're better than you. But we know that Krsna's better than you. But you think you're better than Krsna. And that we'll never allow on that we will defeat you. Therefore you object.
Again if you all come to this room and I tell you that you're all God, no one will argue with me. Everyone will appreciate: "Oh, he is such a great saintly man. He is so wise." But as soon as you go to a meeting of Krsna conscious devotees. the devotee tells you, "No, you're not God. Krsna is God. God is God, and you must serve Him." And then when he begins to prove to you by logic and scriptural evidence that Krsna is God, you immediately become angry: "Oh, they're so proud. Oh, they think they are right:" Yes, we are right! But we don't think we're better than you. But we know that Krsna is better than you.
Guest: Still, isn't the devotee thinking that because he's in a better position than other people …
Srila Visnupada: He may be in a better position, but he doesn't think that the better position is due to himself. It's only due to the mercy of his spiritual master. That is the humility. He is in a better position, no doubt he's going back to Krsna. He's not going to take another birth in this material world. But he doesn't think it's his own doing. Instead he thinks. "It is simply due to the mercy of my spiritual master."