2. Progressing Beyond “Progress”
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: Question number two?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes.
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: “The traditional charge against Hinduism is that it is fatalistic, that it inhibits progress by making people slaves to the belief in the inevitability of what is to happen. How far is this charge true?”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The charge is false. Those who have made that charge do not know what “Hinduism” is. First of all, the Vedic scriptures make no mention of such a thing as “Hinduism.” but they do mention sanātana-dharma, the eternal and universal religion, and also varṇāśrama-dharma, the natural organization of human society. That we can find in the Vedic scriptures.
So it is a false charge that the Vedic system inhibits the progress of mankind. What is that “progress”? A dog’s jumping is progress? [Laughter.] A dog is running here and there on four legs, and you are running on four wheels. Is that progress?
The Vedic system is this: The human being has a certain amount of energy – better energy than the animals’, better consciousness – and that energy should be utilized for spiritual advancement. So the whole Vedic system is meant for spiritual advancement. Human energy is employed in a more exalted direction than to compete with the dog.
Consequently, sometimes those who have no idea of religion notice that the Indian saintly persons are not working hard like dogs. Spiritually uncultured people think the dog race is life. But actual life is spiritual progress. Therefore the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [1.5.18] says,
na labhyate yad bhramatām upary adhaḥ
tal labhyate duḥkhavad anyataḥ sukhaṁ
kālena sarvatra gabhīra-raṁhasā
The human being should exert his energy for that thing which he did not get in many, many lives. Through many, many lives the soul has been in the forms of dogs or demigods or cats or birds or insects. There are 8,400,000 material forms. So this transmigration is going on, but in every one of these millions of forms, the business is sense gratification. The dog is busy for sense gratification: “Where is food? Where is shelter? Where is a mate? How to defend?” And the man is also doing the same business, in different ways.
So this struggle for existence is going on, life after life. Even a small insect is engaging in the same struggle – āhāra-nidrā-bhaya-maithunam – eating, sleeping, defending, and mating. Bird, beast, insect, fish – everywhere the same struggle: “Where is food? Where is sex? Where is shelter? How to defend?” So the śāstra [scripture] says we have done these things in many, many past lives, and if we don’t get out of this struggle for existence, we’ll have to do them again in many, many future lives. So these things should be stopped.
Therefore Prahlāda Mahārāja advises his friends [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.6.3],
sarvatra labhyate daivād
yathā duḥkham ayatnataḥ
“My dear friends, material pleasure – which is due simply to this material body – is essentially the same in any body. And just as misery comes without our trying for it, so the happiness we deserve will also come, by higher arrangement.” A dog has a material body and I have a material body. So my sex pleasure and the dog’s sex pleasure is the same. Of course, a dog is not afraid of having sex on the street, in front of everyone. We hide it in a nice apartment. That’s all. But the activity is the same. There is no difference.
Still, people are taking this sex pleasure between a man and woman in a nice decorated apartment as very advanced. But this is not advanced. And yet they are making a dog’s race for this “advancement.” Prahlāda Mahārāja says we are imagining that there are different types of pleasure on account of different types of body, but the pleasure is fundamentally the same.
Naturally, according to the different types of body, there are some external differences in the pleasure, but the basic amount and quality of this pleasure has very well defined limitations. That is called destiny. A pig has a certain type of body, and his eatable is stool. This is destined. You cannot change it – “Let the pig eat halavā.” That is not possible. Because the soul has a particular type of body he must eat a particular type of food. Can anyone, any scientist, improve the standard of living of a pig? Is it possible? [Laughter.]
Therefore Prahlāda Mahārāja says that everything about material pleasure is already fixed. The uncivilized men in the jungle are having the same sex pleasure as the so-called civilized men who boast, “Instead of living in that hut made of leaves, we are living in a skyscraper building. This is advancement.”
But Vedic civilization says, “No, this is not advancement. Real advancement is self-realization – how much you have realized your relationship with God.”
Sometimes people misunderstand, thinking that sages who try for self-realization are lazy. In a high court a judge is sitting soberly, apparently doing nothing, and he is getting the highest salary. And another man in the same court – he’s working hard all day long, rubber-stamping, and he is getting not even one-tenth of the judge’s salary. He’s thinking, “I am so busy and working so hard, yet I am not getting a good salary. And this man is just sitting on the bench, and he’s getting such a fat salary.” The criticism of Hinduism as “inhibiting progress” is like that: it comes out of ignorance. The Vedic civilization is for self-realization. It is meant for the intelligent person, the person who will not just work like an ass but who will try for that thing which he did not achieve in so many other lives – namely, self-realization.
For example, we are sometimes labeled “escapists.” What is the charge?
Disciple: They say we are escaping from reality.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, we are escaping their reality. But their reality is a dog’s race, and our reality is to advance in self-realization, Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That is the difference. Therefore the mundane, materialistic workers have been described as mūḍhas, asses. Why? Because the ass works very hard for no tangible gain. He carries on his back tons of cloth for the washerman, and the washerman in return gives him a little morsel of grass. Then the ass stands at the washerman’s door, eating the grass, while the washerman loads him up again. The ass has no sense to think, “If I get out of the clutches of this washerman, I can get grass anywhere. Why am I carrying so much?”
The mundane workers are like that. They’re busy at the office, very busy. If you want to see the fellow, “I am very busy now.” [Laughter.] So what is the result of your being so busy? “Well, I take two pieces of toast and one cup of tea. That’s all.” [Laughter.] And for this purpose you are so busy?
Or, he is busy all day simply so that in the evening he can look at his account books and say, “Oh, the balance had been one thousand dollars – now it has become two thousand.” That is his satisfaction. But still he will have the same two pieces of bread and one cup of tea, even though he has increased his balance from one thousand to two thousand. And still he’ll work hard. This is why karmīs are called mūḍhas. They work like asses, without any real aim of life.
But Vedic civilization is different. The accusation implied in the question is not correct. In the Vedic system, people are not lazy. They are very busy working for a higher purpose. And that busy-ness is so important that Prahlāda Mahārāja says, kaumāra ācaret prājño: “Beginning from childhood, one should work for self-realization.” One should not lose a second’s time. So that is Vedic civilization.
Of course, the materialistic workers – they see, “These men are not working like us, like dogs and asses. So they are escaping.”
Yes, escaping your fruitless endeavor.
The Vedic civilization of self-realization begins from the varṇāśrama system of social organization. Varnāśramācāravatā puruṣeṇa paraḥ pumān viṣṇur ārādhyate: “Everyone should offer up the fruits of his occupational duty to the lotus feet of the Lord Viṣṇu, or Kṛṣṇa.” That is why the Vedic system is called varṇāśrama – literally, “social organization with a spiritual perspective.”
The varṇāśrama system has four social and four spiritual divisions. the social divisions are the brāhmaṇas [teachers and priests], kṣatriyas [administrators and military men], vaiśyas [farmers and merchants], and śūdras [laborers and craftsmen], while the spiritual divisions are the brahmacārīs [students], gṛhasthas [householders], vānaprasthas [retirees], and sannyāsīs [renunciants]. But the ultimate goal is viṣṇur ārādhyate – the worship of the Supreme Lord, Viṣṇu, by all. That is the idea.
But the members of the modern so-called civilization do not know of varṇāśrama. Therefore they have created a society that is simply a dog’s race. The dog is running on four legs and they are running on four wheels. That’s all. And they think the four-wheel race is advancement of civilization.
Vedic civilization is different. As Nārada Muni says, tasyaiva hetoḥ prayateta kovido na labhyate yad bhramatām upary adhaḥ: the learned, astute person will use this life to gain what he has missed in countless prior lives – namely, realization of self and realization of God. Someone may ask, “Then shall we do nothing?” Yes do nothing simply to improve your material position. Whatever material happiness is allotted for you by destiny, you’ll get it wherever you are. Take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. You’ll get these other things besides.
“How shall I get them?”
How? Kālena sarvatra gabhīra-raṁhasā: by the arrangement of eternal time, everything will come about in due course. The example is given that even though you do not want distress, still distress comes upon you. Similarly, even if you do not work hard for the happiness that is destined to be yours, still it will come.
Similarly, Prahlāda Mahārāja says, na tat-prayāsaḥ kartavyam: you should not waste your energy for material happiness, because you cannot get more than what you are destined to have. That is not possible. “How can I believe it – that by working harder I will not get more material happiness than I would otherwise have had?”
Because you are undergoing so many distressing conditions even though you do not want them. Who wants distress? For example, in our country, Mahatma Gandhi was killed by his own countrymen. He was a great man, he was protected by so many followers, he was beloved by all – and still he was killed. Destiny. Who can protect you from all these distressing conditions?
“So,” you should conclude, “if these distressing conditions come upon me by force, the other kind of condition, the opposite number, will also come. Therefore why shall I waste my time trying to avoid distress and gain so-called happiness? Let me utilize my energy for Kṛṣṇa consciousness.” That is intelligence. You cannot check your destiny. The magazine’s question touches on this point.
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: Yes, the usual charge is that this Vedic system of civilization is fatalistic, and that as a result people are not making as much material progress as they otherwise would.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No, no, the Vedic system is not fatalistic. It is fatalistic only in the sense that one’s material destiny cannot be changed. But your spiritual life is in your hands. Our point is this: The whole Vedic civilization is based on the understanding that destiny allows only a certain amount of material happiness in this world, and that our efforts should therefore be directed toward self-realization. Nobody is enjoying uninterrupted material happiness. That is not possible. A certain amount of material happiness and a certain amount of material distress – these both must be present always. So just as you cannot check your distressing condition of life, similarly you cannot check your happy condition of life. It will come automatically. Therefore, don’t waste your time with these things. Better you utilize your energy for advancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: So then, Śrīla Prabhupāda, would it be accurate, after all, to say that people who have this Vedic conception would not try for progress?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No, no. “Progress” – first you must understand what actual progress is. The thing is that if you try to progress vainly, what is the use of trying? If it is a fact you cannot change your material destiny, why should you try for that? Rather, whatever energy you have, utilize it for understanding Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That is real progress. Make your spiritual understanding – your understanding of God and self – perfectly clear.
For instance, in our International Society for Krishna Consciousness, our main business is how to make advancement in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. We are not enthusiastic about opening big, big factories with big, big money-earning machines. No. We are satisfied with whatever material happiness and distress we are destined. But we are very eager to utilize our energy for progressing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This is the point.
So the Vedic system of civilization is meant for realizing God: viṣṇur ārādhyate. In the Vedic system, people try for that. Actually, the followers of varṇāśrama-dharma – they never tried for economic development. You’ll find in India, still, millions of people taking bath in the Ganges during Kumbha-melā. Have you been to the Kumbha-melā festival?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: At the Kumbha-melā, millions of people come to take bath in the Ganges because they are interested in how to become spiritually liberated from this material world. They’re not lazy. They travel thousands of miles to take bath in the Ganges at the holy place of Prayag. So although they are not busy in the dog’s race, these people are not lazy. Yā niśā sarva-bhūtānāṁ tasyāṁ jāgarti saṁyamī: “What is night for ordinary beings is the time of wakefulness for the self-controlled.” The self-controlled man wakes up very early – practically in the middle of the night – and works for spiritual realization while others are sleeping. Similarly, during the daytime the dogs and asses think, “We are working, but these spiritualists, they are not working.”
So there are two different platforms, the material and the spiritual. Followers of the Vedic civilization, which is practiced in India – although nowadays it is distorted – actually, these people are not lazy. They are very, very busy. Not only very, very busy, but also kaumāra ācaret prājño dharmān bhāgavatān iha: they are trying to become self-realized from the very beginning of life. They are so busy that they want to begin the busy-ness from their very childhood. Therefore it is wrong to think they are lazy.
People who accuse followers of Vedic civilization of laziness or of “inhibiting progress” do not know what real progress is. The Vedic civilization is not interested in the false progress of economic development. For instance, sometimes people boast, “We have gone from the hut to the skyscraper.” They think this is progress. But in the Vedic system of civilization, one thinks about how much he is advanced in self-realization. He may live in a hut and become very advanced in self-realzation. But if he wastes his time turning his hut into a skyscraper, then his whole life is wasted, finished. And in his next life he is going to be a dog, although he does not know it. That’s all.
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: Śrīla Prabhupāda, then this question may be raised: If destiny cannot be checked, then why not, when a child is born, simply let him run around like an animal? And whatever happens to him . . .
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. That is the advantage of this human form of life. You can train the child spiritually. That is possible. Therefore it is said, tasyaiva hetoḥ prayeteta kovido: use this priceless human form to attain what you could not attain in so many millions of lower forms. For that spiritual purpose you should engage your energy. That advantage is open to you now, in the human form. Ahaituky apratihatā: pure devotional service to the Lord, Kṛṣṇa consciousness, is open to you now, and it cannot be checked. Just as your advancement of so-called material happiness is already destined and cannot be checked, similarly, your advancement in spiritual life cannot be checked – if you endeavor for it. No one can check your spiritual advancement. Try to understand this.
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: So, then, we can’t say that the Vedic system, or sanātana-dharma, is fatalistic. There actually is endeavor for progress.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Certainly – spiritual progress. As for the question of “fatalistic,” I have often given this example: Let us say a man is condemned by a court of law to be hanged. Nobody can check it. Even the same judge who gave the verdict cannot check it. But if the man begs for the mercy of the king, the king can check the execution. He can go totally above the law. Therefore the Brahma-saṁhitā [5.54] says, karmāṇi nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhājām: destiny can be changed by Kṛṣṇa for His devotees; otherwise it is not possible.
Therefore our only business should be to surrender to Kṛṣṇa. And if you artificially want to be more happy by economic development, that is not possible.
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: Question number three?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Hm? No. First of all make sure that everything is clear. Why are you so eager to progress? [Laughter.]
Try to understand what is what. The first thing is that your destiny cannot be changed. That’s a fact. But in spite of your destiny, if you try for Kṛṣṇa consciousness, you can achieve spiritual success. Otherwise, why did Prahlāda Mahārāja urge his friends, kaumāra ācāret: “Take Kṛṣṇa consciousness up from your very childhood”? If destiny cannot be changed, then why was Prahlāda Mahārāja urging this? Generally, “destiny” means your material future. That you cannot change. But even that can be changed when you are in spiritual life.
Puṣṭa Kṛṣṇa: What is the meaning of apratihatā? You said that spiritual development cannot be checked.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Apratihatā means this: Suppose you are destined to suffer. So apratihatā means that in spite of your so-called destiny to suffer, if you take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness your suffering will be reduced, or there will be no suffering – and in spite of any suffering, you can make progress in spiritual life. Just like Prahlāda Mahārāja himself. His father put him into so many suffering conditions, but he was not impeded – he made spiritual progress. He didn’t care about his father’s attempts to make him suffer. That state of existence is called apratihatā: if you want to execute Kṛṣṇa consciousness, your material condition of life cannot check it. That is the real platform of progress.
Of course, insofar as your material condition is concerned, generally that cannot be checked. You have to suffer. But in the case of a devotee, that suffering also can be stopped or minimized. Otherwise, Kṛṣṇa’s statement would be false: ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi – “I will deliver you from all the reactions to your sinful activities.” Suffering must befall me on account of my sinful activities, but Kṛṣṇa says, “I will deliver you from all the reactions to your sinful activities.” This should be clear. Ordinarily, destiny cannot be checked. Therefore, instead of wasting your time trying to change your economic condition or material destiny apart from Kṛṣṇa consciousness, you should employ your priceless human energy for attaining Kṛṣṇa consciousness, which cannot be checked.
We see so many men working so hard. Does this mean that every one of them will become a Ford, a Rockefeller? Why not? Everyone is trying his best. But Mr. Ford was destined to become a rich man. His destiny was there, and so he became a rich man. Another man may work just as hard as Ford, but this does not mean he will become as rich as Ford. This is practical. You cannot change your destiny simply by working hard like asses and dogs. No. But you can utilize your special human energy for improving your Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That’s a fact.
Disciple: Śrīla Prabhupāda, if destiny cannot be changed, what does Kṛṣṇa mean when He says, “Be thou happy by this sacrifice”?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Do you know what is meant by “sacrifice”?
Disciple: Sacrifice to Viṣṇu, to Kṛṣṇa.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. That means pleasing Kṛṣṇa. If Kṛṣṇa is pleased, He can change destiny. Karmāṇi nirdahati kintu ca bhakti-bhājām: for those who serve Him with love and devotion, Kṛṣṇa can change destiny. So sacrifice, yajña, means pleasing Kṛṣṇa. Our whole Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement means pleasing Kṛṣṇa. That is the whole program. In all other business, there is no question of pleasing Kṛṣṇa. When one nation declares war upon another, there is no question of pleasing Kṛṣṇa or serving Kṛṣṇa. They’re pleasing their own senses, serving their own whims. When the First and Second World Wars began, it was not for pleasing Kṛṣṇa. The Germans wanted that their sense gratification not be hampered by the Britishers. That means it was a war of sense gratification. “The Britishers are achieving their sense gratification; we cannot. All right, fight.” So there was no question of pleasing Kṛṣṇa. Hm. Next question?