He began by clarifying our philosophical concept of God;
then he showed us how to spiritualize our lives.
The following is a talk given at the ISKCON-sponsored conference on religious freedom held in San Diego, November 3-4, 1988. The conference was called "Cultures in Conflict: The Hare Krsna Movement in America."
I'm going to concentrate on a little bit of straight philosophy. I've tried to isolate a few fundamental philosophical points or issues areas in which I think Srila Prabhupada made a major contribution in helping people understand very important things in life. So I'll go through these, and then I'll relate all that to the issues at hand.
Prabhupada makes a very important philosophical distinction in the introduction to his Srimad-Bhagavatam. He says that the concept of God is not the same as the concept of the Absolute Truth, although, he says, the concept of God is contained within the concept of the Absolute Truth. By discussing that distinction Prabhupada makes, we can see some very important aspects of the philosophy he presented. He says that the Absolute Truth is distinguished as being the source of all emanation, the source of all that be, that by whom or by which everything is maintained, and that in whom or in which everything comes to rest at the end, whereas we may say "God" and simply mean, as the dictionary says. "the Supreme Being."
The concept of supremacy does not necessarily imply the concept of an absolute being. It can simply mean "the greatest being." And if we use it in that sense, then we may enter into a dualistic world view in which there is a Supreme Being, but there are other beings who compete with Him. So by insisting on the concept of Absolute Truth, Prabhupada at once conceptually transcends mere dualism in his philosophy, or in his presentation of the Bhagavatam philosophy. We arrive, therefore, in the words of Caitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, at the very fundamental concept of acintya-bhedabheda-tattva. This. in a phrase, is the doctrine of Caitanya Mahaprabhu.
Acintya, in Sanskrit, means "inconceivable," although not "unknowable." In theBhagavad-gita, there's an interesting verse in the Second Chapter where Krsna says that the soul is acintya, inconceivable. But tasmad evam viditvainam once you know that soul, you will understand that inconceivability is one of its properties.
In other words, the soul is inconceivable by our own mental efforts, our own intellectual agility, but it's not unknowable. Thus the whole realm of knowledge that comes down to us from superior beings opens to us knowledge of those things we cannot attain by our own unaided efforts.
So this inconceivable but knowable truth (acintya-bhedabheda-tattva) is that the Absolute Truth, or God, stands in a relationship with everything else in a state of simultaneous difference and nondifference. The popular metaphor is that of the sun. Plato also uses this metaphor in The Republic. The idea is that we may think of the sun and its rays as one thing it's the sun shining or we may think of them separately, that here is the sun in a particular point in the sky, and there are the rays in sunny California. So we may talk about the sun and the rays, or the sun shining, as one thing. This is an example of oneness and difference. The sun represents Krsna, or God, and the rays are His energy.
Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita that the energy of God is beginningless. There is no creation from nothing. Both matter in its original form and we, the living beings, have always existed. What's accomplished by that philosophically is that one achieves the absolute harmony and unity of monism, and at the same time, one does not sacrifice our individual existence, our relationship with the Supreme, our devotion and love for God. All these very powerful ideas and experiences are not sacrificed in order to achieve an ontological unity. So the way Prabhupada explained the oneness and difference of God and His creation, in terms of the concept of Absolute Truth over and above a mere concept of a Supreme Being, was a very significant statement.
Now, we have the very well known Vedic statement: sarvam khalv idam brahma, that everything is brahma, more or less in the sense I just explained. And the Bhagavatam states: idam hi visvam bhagavan ivetaro that God is the universe and God is not the universe, because it's His energy and He's nondifferent from His energy. The practical implication of this philosophically in terms of our daily life, or what it means to practice spiritual life, is what Rupa Gosvami called yukta-vairagya, or renunciation of this material world by offering the world unto God by using it in the proper way.
To illustrate this very simply, Prabhupada gave an example of three different reactions to money left lying in the street. The first man comes along and no questions asked he picks it up and takes it home. So that's an ordinary person without too many moral dilemmas in his mind.
The second person comes along, and he wants to renounce this world. He thinks money is illusion; it's maya. So he simply walks away and leaves it there and feels he's achieved a type of moral victory.
The third person picks up the money and takes it back to the owner. Prabhupada said this is the position of the Vaisnava: because this world belongs to God, he doesn't try to exploit it for his own sense gratification, nor does he try to renounce it Logically, we can't renounce that which we don't possess. If I say, "From this day on. I renounce the Bank of America." people may say, "Well, how can you give it up? It was never yours."
So the idea is to use everything in this world for God because everything is God's energy. And Rupa Gosvami puts this little note in: yatharham, which means, "appropriately." I remember back in the "old days," people would smoke drugs and say, "Well, I'm doing this for God." So yatharham means that one should use things appropriately according to ethical and spiritual principles.
What follows from Rupa Gosvami's principle of yukta-vairagya is that spiritual life does not become a dry renunciation of this world or a hypocritical life in which I try to enjoy this world but at the same time claim to be religious, saying that God doesn't expect us to actually follow anything. What we actually have is an opportunity to engage all of our senses in spiritual life.
And this is the sense of the word yoga, which comes from the Sanskrit root yuj:"to connect to link up." Yoga means connecting all our cognitive faculties our senses, our mind, our intelligence, our working energy with the Absolute Truth, and by that connection, all our faculties become spiritualized. Prabhupada's popular example in this connection was that of putting an iron bar into fire the iron begins to act like fire. So spiritual life with Prabhupada or under Prabhupada becomes a very joyous affair, in which one can eat prasadam, one can sing, one can dance, one can see the pictures of Krsna, one can work to his heart's content one can be an intellectual, a pot washer, a truck driver, a doctor, a lawyer for Krsna, because everything is Krsna's. and everything can be used for Krsna. This concept of yukta-vairagya, or not simply giving everything up but giving everything up to Krsna, is also a logical consequence of the doctrine of the Absolute Truth's being the source of all energies.
Then the result of this is that because God is anandamaya, or "full of bliss," by connecting all of one's cognitive faculties with God, one experiences pleasure and joy through the senses, the mind, and the intelligence, and life itself becomes blissful. That bliss, or that spiritual ecstasy, is the basis of giving up our propensity to exploit the material world. Krsna states in the Bhagavad-gita: param drstva nivartate, by experiencing the higher taste, or experiencing something better, one can give up something inferior.
We all have the experience of giving up our toys; something we thought perhaps, we'd never be able to do. But at a particular point we all gave up our toys. In the same way, by experiencing Krsna, one can give up the lower taste of what Krsna calls samsparsa-ja-bhoga, the pleasure derived by bringing the senses into contact with matter in different ways. At that point the devotee, or the Vaisnava, no longer sees the Absolute Truth simply as an object of his pleasure, but becoming purified by contact with Krsna just like the iron that became fire by that purification, one understands oneself to be the eternal servant of God.
There's a very important statement in the Caitanya-caritamrta that Prabhupada would often quote: Krsna-bhakta niskama, ata eva 'santa'/ bhukti-mukti-siddhi-kami, sakali 'asanta.' That means that all these people are not peaceful: those who still desire bhukti, ordinary material happiness beautiful women, a nice house, money, and all these things; those who desire mukti, the salvationists, who see religion as a means to achieve one's own salvation; or those who desire siddhi, who want to derive mystic powers. Krsnadasa Kaviraja said approximately five centuries ago that sakali all these people are asanta: they're still not peaceful. They're disturbed by some desire to get something for themselves, even if it's such a noble desire as the desire for salvation. Whereas he said, Krsna-bhakta krsna-bhakta niskama ataeva 'santa': those who simply want to please the Lord without any personal desire they're santa. They've come to the liberated platform, because they're self-satisfied. They only want to please Krsna without anything in return.
This leads me to another point a very, very important statement that Srila Prabhupada would frequently quote. It's the second of the eighteen thousand verses from the Srimad-Bhagavatam. Vyasadeva says. dharmah projjhita-kaitavo 'tra:This scripture rejects all kaitava-dharma, cheating religion, religion in which we approach God not out of love, not to serve Him, but to get something from Him."
This is very much like the Socratic, or Platonic, dialogue The Euthyphro, where Socrates asks Euthyphro what religion means, and Euthyphro says it means to worship the gods and then enjoy their rewards. Socrates correctly says, "This is more business than religion or piety."
So exactly in this sense, real religion, in Prabhupada's statement whether it's Christianity, Hinduism, Judaism any bona fide tradition has as its ultimate goal love of God, and at that point the love is selfless. One is not worshiping God to get anything in return. One has full confidence and full satisfaction in the act of serving God. In fact there's a statement jivera 'svarupa' haya krsnera 'nitya dasa' that the constitutional position of the living being is to serve God.
So what happens to someone who actually believes all this and practices it and realizes it? After we lecture, people often ask us, "What if everyone were to become like you?" To answer the question of what is the effect on a person who's successfully "brainwashed" in the Krsna consciousness movement I wanted to introduce what I consider a significant analytic scheme that would be a very fruitful starting point for sociological, ethical, and psychological analysis. And that is the constant theme in the Bhagavad-gita of the three modes of material nature.
Krsna takes a lot of time talking about this. It's not overtly theological. Very briefly, Krsna says that there are three primary qualities of life, which mix in innumerable permutations, just like the primary colors. These three fundamental qualities of life are the qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance.
The good person is a more-or-less enlightened person. He or she is gentle, humble, kind to all creatures; works with a sense of duty, without ambition or lust or greed; works simply for the benefit of others; is very peaceful, self-satisfied, and so on the good person.
Beneath this is the passionate person, who's very ambitious and greedy, who seeks name and fame, prestige, power, money, and all these things, but seeks them in the context of a social life, or by following the rules. But he's seeking personal aggrandizement, which, of course, is most of what's going on nowadays in this country.
Then beneath this there's the ignorant person. Krsna gives his symptoms as being lazy, unproductive, and so on. Society has programs for such people drug addicts, people who have a very serious psychological problem, who are suicidal, who can't really even maintain themselves. This is the mode of ignorance.
In the context of the brainwashing discussion, what I wanted to introduce is that one of the main problems in this whole discussion is that the American people, or people in general, don't really have any objective way to discuss qualities of life. Our civilization has produced many ways of quantifying life. but when we come to quality of life, we're a little gun-shy because we think that no one should impose his values on anyone else. But I would suggest that Krsna has presented here a nontheological you may say it's metaphysical. but not strongly theological framework in which we can evaluate the quality of life. I'd like to read in that context a description from Krsna of the person in the mode of goodness, because it's stated that to become spiritually advanced. one at least has to come to the material quality of goodness.
These are some statements from Krsna. He says, vidya-vinaya-sampanne brahmane gavi hastini/ suni caiva sva-pake ca panditah sama-darsinah [Bhagavad-gita 5.18]. This is the definition of a learned person, a pandita. Krsna says, "The humble sages, by virtue of true know ledge, see with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant a dog, and a dog-eater [outcaste]." In other words, a learned person is one who sees everyone equally.
Here's Prabhupada's purport to this verse: "A Krsna conscious person does not make any distinction between species or castes. The brahmana and the outcaste may be different from the social point of view, or a dog, a cow, and an elephant may be different from the point of view of species, but these differences of body are meaningless from the viewpoint of a learned transcendentalist. This is due to their relationship to the Supreme, for the Supreme Lord. by His plenary portion as Paramatma, is present in everyone's heart. Such an understanding of the Supreme is real knowledge."
Then we find another statement by Krsna: atmaupamyena sarvatra samam pasyati yo 'rjuna/ sukham va yadi va duhkham sa yogi paramo matah [Bhagavad-gita 6.32]. Translation: "He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress. O Arjuna!"
And finally there's Krsna's direct statement upon knowledge in the mode of goodness, the world view of a person in the quality of goodness. Krsna says, sarva-bhutesu yenaikam bhavam avyayam iksate/ avibhaktam vibhaktesu taj jnanam viddhi sattvikam "That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all living entities, though they are divided into innumerable forms, you should understand to be in the mode of goodness" [Bhagavad-gita 18.20].
And Prabhupada says, "A person who sees one spirit soul in every living being, whether a demigod, human being, animal, bird, beast aquatic, or plant possesses knowledge in the mode of goodness. . . . To see that one superior nature, the living force, in every body is to see in the mode of goodness. That living energy is imperishable. . . ."
What I would like to suggest here is that it is actually the quality of goodness, as Krsna calls it, that is the real basis of the ethical life and of egalitarianism, which is certainly a metaphysical concept empirically totally nonverifiable the equality of human beings, and what to speak of all life. The quality of goodness leads to that state, whereas a person in passion the ambitious, greedy, or proud person sees people as different. There are friends, enemies, good guys, and bad guys. There's "us and them." This is the symptom of passion.
So if we want to come to an enlightened society beyond simply making appeals to be good there must actually be scientific or practical programs by which people can be brought to goodness. The programs Srila Prabhupada instituted for the Krsna consciousness movement are meant for doing just that.