This exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in Fiji on May 1, 1976.
Srila Prabhupada: The Lord says, mamaivamso jiva-loke jiva-bhutah sanatanah. Find this verse.
Disciple: All right, Srila Prabhupada. That's in Bhagavad-gita. Fifteenth Chapter, text seven. "The living entities in this conditional world," Krsna says, "are My eternal, fragmental parts." And then He adds, manah-sasthanindriyani prakrti-sthani karsati: "Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind."
Srila Prabhupada: So the soul uses his mind and intelligence his subtle senses, his subtle instruments to manipulate his gross machine, his material body. In this way, he is just like an airplane pilot who uses his subtle electronic instruments to manipulate his gross machine, causing it to fly this way or that. Where is the difficulty in understanding this? This material body in which we are now living is simply a machine.
And bhramayan sarva-bhutani: "All living beings in this material world are simply wandering." Bhramayan "wandering." Just as the pilot uses his airplane to wander here or there, so the soul uses his material body to wander here or there. This is going on. Urdhvam gacchanti sattva-stha … adho gacchanti tamasah: Sometimes the soul goes up; sometimes, down. Just as the pilot uses his airplane's wings and other features for going up or down, so the soul uses his body's arms and other features for going up or down. Find this verse.
Disciple: That's in the fourteenth chapter of the Gita, Srila Prabhupada. Text eighteen.
urdhvam gacchanti sattva-stha
madhye tisthanti rajasah
adho gacchanti tamasah
"Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the abominable mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds."
Srila Prabhupada: So whether we look at the soul in the body or the pilot in the plane, we see the same thing. If the pilot is not expert, then at an untimely moment he goes down to the lowest place. Finished. Adho gacchanti tamasah. If the pilot is third class, then instead of flying high, he plummets from the sky, and everything is spoiled.
Therefore, everything depends on the pilot. The machine is not so important. The machine can go up if the pilot knows how to do it. And the machine can go down. Actually, this is happening. If the pilot cannot handle his machine very nicely, immediately it will be smashed. That is due to the mismanagement of the pilot. At times I have seen that as soon as the flight is over, the other passengers and the crew applaud. [Laughter as Srila Prabhupada claps.] "The danger is over."
Anyway, urdhvam and adhah: Depending on how you use this bodily machine, you can go up, and likewise, you can go down. And madhye tisthanti rajasah: If you become passionately attached to these middle planets, then for still another lifetime you can stay here.
So in this way, we must present this subject matter of self-realization. The living entity, the soul, is the important thing within this body. And just see how he's struggling. Due to ignorance of his real identity apart from the body, he's struggling. Manah sashanindriyani prakrti-sthani karsati: "On account of being entangled in this material world, the soul is struggling very hard with the six senses of the material body, which include the mind." This is his position.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, often you say that transmission of this knowledge of self-realization requires both the proper speaker Lord Krsna or His pure devotee and also the proper hearer.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Only if somebody is interested in knowing the truly important thing in life can he understand this knowledge, this science of self-realization. But if he's an animal simply eating, sleeping, and mating what will he understand? An animal is not interested in knowing how the world is working. He gets his food and sex; that's all. These are the animal's propensities.
But when the soul receives a human body, he must come to the human platform inquisitive. Like Sanatana Gosvami, he must ask, 'ke ami,' 'kene amaya jare tapa-traya': "Who am I? Why must I endure all these miseries, culminating in death?" Of course, the modern animalistic human is not interested in these essential questions. Instead he inquires, "How shall I develop my economic position?" But Sanatana Gosvami already had a very high-grade economic position and left it behind. He was not interested in such temporary affairs. He was interested in knowing, 'ke ami,' 'kene amaya jare tapa-traya': "Who, actually, am I? And what is my position? Why I am suffering in this material atmosphere?" That is human life.
Disciple: Returning to Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada, isn't it also true that Arjuna asks these questions?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Karpanya-dosopahata. Karpanya-dosa. "Due to miserly weakness, my dear Krsna, I have neglected my real duty, which is to understand my actual, spiritual self and then serve You. Rather, I have been thinking about the bodily welfare of my nonsensical relatives and teachers, even though they are waging a war to usurp my kingdom. What is this foolishness? I know that.
"After all, no matter how tender my sentiments, what benefit will these rascals get? It may be that they are going to die in this war. But sooner or later, this way or that, they are going to die. What can I do? So therefore, why am I perplexed about their bodily fate? I know that this is my defect. I cannot cause these living entities' deaths or births, nor can I prolong their lives. All this is beyond my tiny jurisdiction. Still, I am anxious: If I kill them, then what will happen? What will happen?"
"You may kill them or not kill them, Arjuna," says Krsna. "But rest assured, they'll be killed, today or tomorrow. Gatasun agatasums ca nanusocanti panditah: A learned man knows that this material body will be finished, today or tomorrow so why be concerned about this body?"
Concern should be for the person within the body whether he's going to heaven or hell, up or down, urdhvam gacchanti or tamo gacchanti. This is the issue of real concern. The material body will be finished, today or tomorrow or after a hundred years. Who can protect it? But one should be concerned about the body's owner: where he is going what will be his next position. And in Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna clearly delineates this issue. Urdhvam gacchanti sattva-stha, madhye tisthanti rajasah, … adho gacchanti tamasah: According to the modes of nature in which you are living your present life, you are deciding whether, in your next life, you will go up or down or remain in the same status. Three outcomes are possible: up, down, or the same status.
Disciple: Today, though, Srila Prabhupada, people may say, "I have a soul," but they live pretty degradedly, as if "Really, I am this material body that's all there is." They live as if they'll have no next life. Or they think in the next life they're automatically going upward, because, they say, they've accepted God or Jesus or Muhammad into their heart. Meanwhile, they go on breaking God's laws all over the place and just generally catering to their bodily whims. Just living a low-grade life.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore, they're rascals. And for the rascals, Bhagavad-gita's teaching is there. Learn. People are giving far too much emphasis on the material body: "When this current body is finished, everything is finished." They do not know anything beyond the body. But real knowledge begins when we learn, "No you are beyond this body." This is real knowledge. This is the beginning of knowledge. Any other knowledge except this that is ignorance. People are accepting ignorance as knowledge.