The Journey of Self-Discovery
The Physics of the Self
In October 1973, Dr. Gregory Benford, an associate professor of physics at the University of California at Irvine, visits Śrīla Prabhupāda in the garden of the Los Angeles Kṛṣṇa center. In the course of their intriguing discussion about the possibility of scientific understanding of the soul, Śrīla Prabhupāda declares, “We don’t say that this scientific knowledge is useless. Mechanics, electronics – this is also knowledge … but the central point is ātma-jñāna – self-knowledge, knowledge of the soul.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: What is the current scientific knowledge about the spirit soul?
Dr. Benford: We have virtually no scientific knowledge about the soul.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Therefore you have actually made no advancement in scientific knowledge.
Dr. Benford: Well, scientific knowledge is a different class of knowledge.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Perhaps. There are so many departments of knowledge: the medical study of the body, the psychological study of the mind, and ultimately spiritual, transcendental knowledge. The body and mind are simply the coverings of the spirit soul, just as this shirt and coat are coverings for your body. If you simply take care of the shirt and coat and neglect the person who is covered by this shirt and coat, do you think that this is advancement of knowledge?
Dr. Benford: I think that there is no category of knowledge that is useless.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: We don’t say that this scientific knowledge is useless. Mechanics, electronics – this is also knowledge. But different departments of knowledge differ in their comparative importance. For example, if someone wants to cook nicely, this is also a science. There are many different departments of knowledge, but the central point is ātma-jñāna – self-knowledge, the knowledge of the soul.
Dr. Benford: The only form of knowledge that is verifiable – that is, verifiable in the sense of getting everybody to agree with it – is that which can be proved logically or experimentally.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The science of the self can be verified logically.
Dr. Benford: How so?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Just consider your body. You once had the body of a child, but now you don’t have that body anymore; you have a different body. Yet anyone can understand that you once had the body of a child. So your body has changed, but you are still remaining.
Dr. Benford: I am not so sure it is the same “I.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, you are the same “I.” Just as the parents of a child will say, after he has grown up, “Oh, just see how our son has grown!” He is the same person; his parents say so, his friends say so, his family says so – everyone says so. This is the evidence. You have to accept this point, because there is so much evidence. Your mother will deny that you are a different person, even though you have a different body.
Dr. Benford: But I may not be the same being that I was.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Correct. “Not the same” means, for example, that a young child may talk nonsense now, but when he gets an adult body he does not speak foolishly. Although he is the same person, along with his change in body he has developed different consciousness. But the spirit soul, the person, is the same. He acts according to his body, that’s all – according to his circumstances. A dog, for example, is also a spirit soul, but because he has a dog’s body he lives and acts like a dog. Similarly, when the spirit soul has a child’s body, he acts like a child. When he has a different body, the same soul acts like a man. According to circumstances his activities are changing, but he is the same. For example, now you are a scientist. In your childhood you were not a scientist, so your dealings at that time were not those of a scientist. One’s dealings may change according to circumstances, but the person is the same.
Therefore, the conclusion is tathā dehāntara-prāptir dhīras tatra na muhyati: “When this body is finished, the soul gives it up and accepts another body.” [Bhagavad-gītā 2.13] Tathā dehāntara. Dehāntara means “another body.” This is our Sanskrit knowledge from the Bhagavad-gītā. When the spirit soul is injected into the womb of a woman, it forms a little body. Gradually, through the emulsification of secretions, the body develops to the size of a pea because of the presence of the spirit soul. Gradually the body develops nine holes – eyes, ears, mouth, nostrils, genitals, and rectum. In this way the body is developed to completion in seven months. Then consciousness comes.
Dr. Benford: At seven months?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. The child wants to come out. He feels uncomfortable; therefore he prays to God to kindly release him from the bondage. He promises that when he gets out he will become a devotee of God. So after nine months he comes out of the womb. But unless his parents are devotees, due to circumstances he forgets God. Only if the father and mother are devotees does he continue his God consciousness. Therefore, it is a great fortune to take birth in a family of Vaiṣṇavas, those who are God conscious. This God consciousness is real scientific knowledge.
Dr. Benford: Is it true that the children of all such parents are somewhat spiritually superior to the children of other parents?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Generally, yes. They get the opportunity of being trained by the mother and father. Fortunately, my father was a great devotee, so I received this training from the very beginning. Somehow or other I had this spark of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and my father detected it. Then I accepted my spiritual master. In this way I have come to this stage of sannyāsa [the renounced monastic order]. I am very much indebted to my father, for he took care of me in such a way that I became perfectly Kṛṣṇa conscious. My father used to receive many saintly persons at our home, and to every one of them he used to say, “Kindly bless my son so that he may become a servant of Rādhārāṇī [Lord Kṛṣṇa’s eternal consort].” That was his only ambition. He taught me how to play the mṛdaṅga drum, although sometimes my mother was not very satisfied. She would say, “Why are you teaching him to play mṛdaṅga?” But my father would say, “No, no, he must learn a little mṛdaṅga.” My father was very affectionate to me. Therefore, if due to past pious activities one gets a good father and mother, that is a great chance for advancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Dr. Benford: What will happen to you and your students next?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: We are going back to Kṛṣṇa. We have got everything: Kṛṣṇa’s name, Kṛṣṇa’s address, Kṛṣṇa’s form, Kṛṣṇa’s activities. We know everything, and we are going there. Kṛṣṇa promises this in the Bhagavad-gītā [4.9]:
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ’rjuna
“One who knows Me in truth, scientifically,” Kṛṣṇa says, “is eligible to enter into the kingdom of God. Upon leaving the body, he does not take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode.”
Dr. Benford: How do you know that people return in some other form?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: We see that there are so many forms. Where do these different forms come from – the form of the dog, the form of the cat, the form of the tree, the form of the reptile, the forms of the insects, the forms of the fish? What is your explanation for all these different forms? That you do not know.
Dr. Benford: Evolution.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Not exactly. The different species are already existing. “Fish,” “tiger,” “man” – all of these are already existing. It is just like the different types of apartments here in Los Angeles. You may occupy one of them according to your ability to pay rent, but all types of apartments are nevertheless existing at the same time. Similarly, the living entity, according to his karma, is given facility to occupy one of these bodily forms. But there is evolution, also – spiritual evolution. From the fish, the soul evolves to plant life. From plant forms the living entity enters an insect body. From the insect body the next stage is bird, then beast, and finally the spirit soul may evolve to the human form of life. And from the human form, if one becomes qualified, he may evolve further. Otherwise, he must again enter the evolutionary cycle. Therefore, this human form of life is an important juncture in the evolutionary development of the living entity.
In the Bhagavad-gītā [9.25] Kṛṣṇa says,
pitṝn yānti pitṛ-vratāḥ
bhūtāni yānti bhūtejyā
yānti mad-yājino ’pi mām
In other words, whatever you like you can achieve. There are different lokas, or planetary systems, and you can go to the higher planetary systems where the demigods live and take a body there, or you can go where the Pitās, or ancestors, live. You can take a body here in Bhūloka, the earthly planetary system, or you can go to the planet of God, Kṛṣṇaloka. This method of transferring oneself at the time of death to whatever planet one chooses is called yoga. There is a physical process of yoga, a philosophical process of yoga, and a devotional process of yoga. The devotees can go directly to the planet where Kṛṣṇa is.
Dr. Benford: Undoubtedly you are aware that there are a few people, both in Eastern and Western society, who feel it a bit more intellectually justifiable to be completely agnostic about matters of theology. They feel, more or less, that if God had wanted us to know something more about Him, then He would have made it more easily apprehendable.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Then you don’t believe in God?
Dr. Benford: I don’t not believe in God; I’m just not forming an opinion until I have some evidence.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But do you think that there is a God or not?
Dr. Benford: I have a suspicion that there may be, but it is unverified.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But you think sometimes that there may be God, do you not?
Dr. Benford: Yes.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: So you are in doubt, suspicion – you are not certain – but your inclination is that you think there is a God, is it not? Your knowledge being imperfect, you are in doubt, that’s all. Otherwise you are inclined to think of God. But because you are a scientific man, unless you perceive it scientifically, you do not accept. That is your position. But from your side, you believe in God.
Dr. Benford: Sometimes.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. Sometimes or at all times – it doesn’t matter. That is the position of everyone. As long as one is in the human form of life, he has a dormant consciousness of God. It simply has to be developed by proper training. It is just like anything else in life. For example, you have become a scientist by proper training, proper education. Similarly, the dormant consciousness of God, or Kṛṣṇa, is there in everyone. It simply requires proper education to awaken it. However, this education is not given in the universities. That is the defect in modern education. Although the inclination to be Kṛṣṇa conscious is there, the authorities are unfortunately not giving any education about God. Therefore people are becoming godless, and they are feeling baffled in obtaining the true joy and satisfaction of life.
In San Diego, some priestly orders are going to hold a meeting to investigate the reasons why people are becoming averse to religion and not coming to church. But the cause is simple: Because your government does not know that life, especially human life, is meant for understanding God, they are supporting all the departments of knowledge very nicely – except the principal department, God consciousness.
Dr. Benford: So, of course, the reason is separation of Church and State.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Reasons there may be many, but the principal reason is that this age is the Kali-yuga [the age of quarrel and hypocrisy]. People are not very intelligent; therefore they are trying to avoid this department of knowledge, the most important department of knowledge. And they are simply busy in the departments of knowledge in which the animals are also busy. Your advancement of knowledge is comprised of four things – eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. For example, you are discovering so many lethal weapons, and the politicians are taking advantage of it for defending. You are discovering so many chemicals to check pregnancy, and people are using them to increase sex life.
Dr. Benford: What do you think about the moon mission?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is also sleeping. You have spent so much money to go there and sleep, that’s all. Otherwise, what can you do there?
Dr. Benford: You can go there and learn.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: You go there and sleep, that’s all. Sleeping. You are spending billions and getting nothing in return.
Dr. Benford: It’s worth more than that.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No, nothing more, because these four principles – eating, sleeping, mating, and defending – are the background. If you have no knowledge beyond this body, you cannot go beyond this bodily jurisdiction. You may have very gorgeous, polished bodily knowledge, but your whole range of activities is within these four principles of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. This knowledge is prevalent among the lower animals, also. They know how to eat, how to sleep, how to have sexual intercourse, and how to defend.
Dr. Benford: But they don’t know anything about nuclear physics!
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That does not mean that you are improved over the animals. It is the same thing – only polished. You are improving from the bullock cart to the car, that’s all – simply a transformation of material knowledge.
Dr. Benford: There is knowledge about the structure of the physical world.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But it is a waste of energy, because in your activities you cannot go beyond this bodily jurisdiction of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. The dog may sleep on the ground, and you may sleep in a very nice apartment, but when you sleep your enjoyment and the dog’s enjoyment are the same. You may have so many electrical appliances and other material conveniences, but when you sleep you forget everything. Therefore this gorgeous sleeping accommodation is simply a waste of time.
Dr. Benford: You seem to place emphasis on what knowledge does for you. What about the sheer joy of discovering how nature works? For example, now we think that we understand matter like this [pointing to the grass]. We think that we know from experiments, theory, and analysis that it is made up of particles that we cannot see, and we can analyze the properties of it through experiment. We know that it is made up of molecules. We understand some of the forces that hold it together, and this is the first time we knew this. We didn’t know it before.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But what is the benefit? Even if you knew every particle of this grass, what would be the benefit? The grass is growing. It will grow with or without your knowledge. You may know it or not know it, but it will not make any difference. Anything you like you may study from a material, analytical point of view. Any nonsense thing you take you can study and study and compile a voluminous book. But what will be the use of it?
Dr. Benford: I seem to view the world as the sum of its component parts.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Suppose I take this grass. I can write volumes of books – when it came into existence, when it died, what the fibers are, what the molecules are. In so many ways I can describe this insignificant foliage. But what is the use of it?
Dr. Benford: If it has no use, why did God put it there? Isn’t it worthwhile studying?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Our point is that you would rather study the insignificant grass than the God who has created everything. If you could understand Him, then automatically you would understand the grass. But you want to separate His grass from Him, to study it separately. In this way you can compile volumes and volumes on the subject; but why waste your intelligence in that way? The branch of a tree is beautiful as long as it is attached to the main trunk, but as soon as you cut it off it will dry up. Therefore, what is the use of studying the dried-up branch? It is a waste of intelligence.
Dr. Benford: But why is it a waste?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Certainly it is a waste, because the result is not useful.
Dr. Benford: Well, what is “useful”?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: It is useful to know yourself – what you are.
Dr. Benford: Why is knowledge of myself better than knowledge of a plant?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: If you understand what you are, then you understand other things. That is called ātma-tattva, ātma-jñāna, self-knowledge. That is important. I am a spirit soul, and I am passing through so many species of life. But what is my position? I don’t wish to die, because I am afraid to change bodies. Therefore, I am afraid of death. This question should be raised first: I don’t want unhappiness, but unhappiness comes. I don’t want death, but death comes. I don’t want disease, but disease comes. I don’t want to become an old man, but old age comes anyway. What is the reason that these things are coming by force? Who is enforcing these things? I do not know, but these are the real problems. I don’t want excessive heat, but there is excessive heat. Why? Who is enforcing these things? Why are they being enforced? I don’t want this heat; what have I done? These are real questions, not just studying foliage and writing volumes of books. That is a waste of energy. Study yourself.
Understanding the Living Force
In a statement delivered at a press conference in Los Angeles in December of 1968, Śrīla Prabhupāda challenges the world’s intellectual leaders to review their definition of what constitutes life. “In the background of this body you can find the soul, whose presence is perceivable by dint of consciousness. Similarly, in the universal body of the cosmic manifestation, one can perceive the presence of the Supreme Lord, or the Absolute Truth, by virtue of the presence of … Superconsciousness.”
The International Society for Krishna Consciousness is a movement aiming at the spiritual reorientation of mankind through the simple process of chanting the holy names of God. The human life is meant for ending the miseries of material existence. Our present-day society is trying to end these miseries by material progress. However, it is visible to all that in spite of extensive material progress, human society is not peaceful.
The reason is that the human being is essentially a spirit soul. It is the spirit soul which is the background of the development of the material body. However the materialistic scientists may deny the spiritual existence in the background of the living force, there is no better understanding than accepting this living force as ultimately the spirit soul within the body.
The body is changing – from one form to another – but the spirit soul is existing eternally, without changes. This fact we can experience even in our own life. Since the beginning of our material body in the womb of our mother, our body has been changing from one shape to another at every second and at every minute. This process is generally known as “growth,” but actually it is a change of body.
On this earth we see change of day and night and change of season. The more primitive mentality attributes this phenomenon to changes occurring in the sun. For example, in the winter primitive people think the sun is getting weaker, and at night they presume, sometimes, that the sun is dead. With more advanced knowledge we see that the sun is not changing at all in this way. Seasonal and diurnal changes are attributed to the change of the relative positions of the earth and the sun.
Similarly, we experience bodily changes: from embryo to child to youth to maturity to old age to death. The less intelligent mentality presumes that after death the spirit soul’s existence is forever finished, just as primitive tribes believe that the sun dies at sunset. Actually, however, the sun is rising in another part of the world. Similarly, the soul is accepting another type of body. When the body gets old like an old garment and is no longer usable, the soul accepts another body, just as we accept a new suit of clothes. Modern civilization is practically unaware of this truth.
People do not care about the constitutional position of the soul. There are different departments of knowledge in different universities and many technological institutions, all to study and understand the subtle laws of material nature, and there are medical research laboratories to study the physiological condition of the material body, but there is no institution to study the constitutional position of the soul. This is the greatest drawback of materialistic civilization, which is simply an external manifestation of the soul.
People are enamored of the glittering manifestation of the cosmic body or the individual body, but they do not try to understand the basic principle of this glittering situation. The body looks very beautiful, working with full energy and exhibiting great traits of talent and wonderful brainwork. But as soon as the soul is away from the body, this entire glittering situation of the body becomes useless. Even the great scientists who have offered many wonderful scientific contributions have been unable to trace out the personal self, which is the cause of such wonderful discoveries.
The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, therefore, is basically trying to teach this science of the soul, not in any dogmatic way, but through complete scientific and philosophical understanding. In the background of this body you can find the soul, whose presence is perceivable by dint of consciousness. Similarly, in the universal body of the cosmic manifestation, one can perceive the presence of the Supreme Lord, or the Absolute Truth, by virtue of the presence of the Supersoul and superconsciousness.
The Absolute Truth is systematically explained in the Vedānta-sūtra (generally known as the Vedānta philosophy), which in turn is elaborately explained by the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, a commentary by the same author. The Bhagavad-gītā is the preliminary study of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam for understanding the constitutional position of the Supreme Lord, or the Absolute Truth.
An individual soul is understood in three aspects: first as the consciousness pervading the entire body, then as the spirit soul within the heart, and ultimately as a person. Similarly, the Absolute Truth is first realized as impersonal Brahman, then as localized Supersoul (Paramātmā), and at the end as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is all-inclusive. Or in other words, Kṛṣṇa is simultaneously Brahman, Paramātmā, and the Personality of Godhead, just as every one of us is simultaneously consciousness, soul, and person.
The individual person and the Supreme Person are qualitatively one but quantitatively different. Just like the drop of seawater and the vast mass of seawater – both are qualitatively one. The chemical composition of the drop of seawater and that of the mass of seawater are one and the same. But the quantity of salt and other minerals in the whole sea is many, many times greater than the quantity of salt and other minerals contained in the drop of seawater.
The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement upholds the individuality of the soul and the Supreme Soul. From the Vedic Upaniṣads we can understand that both the Supreme Person, or God, and the individual person are eternal living entities. The difference is that the supreme living entity, or Supreme Person, maintains all the innumerable other living entities. In the Christian way of understanding, the same principle is admitted, because in the Bible it is taught that the contingent entities should pray to the Supreme Father so that He may supply means of maintenance and give pardon for their sinful activities.
So it is understood from every source of scriptural injunction that the Supreme Lord, or Kṛṣṇa, is the maintainer of the contingent living entity and that it is the duty of the contingent entity to feel obliged to the Supreme Lord. This is the whole background of religious principles. Without these acknowledgments there is chaos, as we find in our daily experience at the present moment.
Everyone is trying to become the Supreme Lord, either socially, politically, or individually. Therefore there is competition for this false lordship, and there is chaos all over the world – individually, nationally, socially, collectively. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is trying to establish the supremacy of the Absolute Personality of Godhead. One who has attained a human body and intelligence is meant for this understanding, because this consciousness makes his life successful.
This Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is not a new introduction by mental speculators. Actually, this movement was started by Kṛṣṇa Himself. On the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra, at least five thousand years ago, the movement was presented by Kṛṣṇa in the Bhagavad-gītā. From Bhagavad-gītā we can also understand that He had spoken this system of consciousness long, long before – at least forty million years ago – when He had imparted it to the sun-god, Vivasvān.
So this movement is not at all new. It is coming down in disciplic succession and from all the great leaders of India’s Vedic civilization, including Śaṅkarācārya, Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī, Nimbārka, and lately, about 480 years ago, Lord Caitanya. The disciplic system is still being followed today. This Bhagavad-gītā is also very widely used in all parts of the world by great scholars, philosophers, and religionists. But in most cases the principles are not followed as they are. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement presents the principles of the Bhagavad-gītā as they are – without any misinterpretation.
From the Bhagavad-gītā we can understand five main principles, namely God, the living entity, the material and spiritual nature, time, and activities. Out of these five items, God, the living entity, nature (material or spiritual), and time are eternal. But activities are not eternal.
Activities in the material nature are different from activities in the spiritual nature. Though the spirit soul is eternal (as we have explained), activities performed under the influence of the material nature are temporary. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement aims at placing the spirit soul in his eternal activities. We can practice eternal activities even when we are materially engaged. To act spiritually simply requires direction, but it is possible, under the prescribed rules and regulations.
The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement teaches these spiritual activities, and if one is trained in such spiritual activities, one is transferred to the spiritual world, of which we get ample evidence from the Vedic literatures, including the Bhagavad-gītā. The spiritually trained person can be transferred to the spiritual world easily – by change of consciousness.
Consciousness is always present, because it is the symptom of the living spirit soul, but at the present moment our consciousness is materially contaminated. For instance, water pouring down from a cloud is pure, but as soon as the water comes in touch with the earth it becomes muddy – immediately. Yet if we filter the same water, the original clearness can be regained. Similarly, Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the process of clearing our consciousness. And as soon as our consciousness is clear and pure, we are eligible to be transferred to the spiritual world for our eternal life of knowledge and bliss. This is what we are hankering for in this material world, but we are being frustrated at every step on account of material contamination. Therefore, this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement should be taken very seriously by the leaders of human society.
The Science of Spiritual Life
What happens to the conscious self at the time of death? On October 10, 1975, in Westville, South Africa, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains the science of reincarnation to Dr. S. P. Oliver, Rector of the University of Durban.
Dr. Oliver: We are left in this twentieth century, this last part of the century, with a new global search for the truth about the spiritual. We, of course, in the Western world, are not familiar with the Bhagavad-gītā. Our problem is basically, I think, the one that you raised in your lecture: How do we make the spiritual a scientific reality? And I think you were quite right. I think really few people get the point that you were trying to make – that this is a scientific matter.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is the beginning of the Bhagavad-gītā – scientifically presenting spiritual knowledge. Therefore I raised the question, What is transmigration of the soul? Nobody could reply properly. We are changing bodies. There are so many varieties of bodies, and we may enter into any one of them after death. This is the real problem of life. Prakṛteḥ kriyamāṇāni guṇaiḥ karmāṇi sarvaśaḥ: Nature is working, providing us with material bodies. This body is a machine. This machine, just like a car, has been offered to us by material nature, by the order of God, Kṛṣṇa. So the real purpose of life is to stop this perpetual transmigration from one body to another, one body to another, and revive our original, spiritual position, so that we can live an eternal, blissful life of knowledge. That is the aim of life.
Dr. Oliver: The conception of transmigration is not, of course, in the Christian religion.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: It’s not a question of religion. Religion is a kind of faith that develops according to time and circumstances. The reality is that we are spirit souls. By the laws of material nature, we are carried from one body to another. Sometimes we are happy, sometimes distressed; sometimes in the heavenly planets, sometimes in lower planets. And human life is meant for stopping this process of transmigration and reviving our original consciousness. We have to go back home, back to Godhead, and live eternally. This is the whole scheme of Vedic literature.
First of all we have to understand what we are. Am I this body or something else? This is the first question. I was trying to answer this, but some people in my audience thought it was a kind of Hindu culture. It is not Hindu culture. It is a scientific conception. You are a child for some time. Then you become a boy. Then you become a young man, and then you become an old man. In this way you are always changing bodies. This is a fact. It is not a Hindu conception of religion. It applies to everyone.
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
[To a devotee:] Find this verse.
Devotee: [reads] “As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” [Bhagavad-gītā 2.13]
Śrīla Prabhupāda: In the Bhagavad-gītā everything is explained very logically, very scientifically. It is not a sentimental explanation.
Dr. Oliver: The problem, as I see it, is how to get modern man to make an in-depth study of what is contained or outlined in this book, especially when he’s caught up in an educational system that denies a place for this very concept or even the philosophy of it. There is either complete neutrality or just a simple rejection of these truths.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: They do not accept the soul?
Dr. Oliver: They accept the soul. I think so. But they do not care to analyze what it means.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Without analyzing this, what is their situation? First of all, they should analyze the distinction between a dead body and a living body. The body is always dead, just like a motorcar without a driver. The car is always a lump of matter. Similarly, this body, with or without the soul, is a lump of matter.
Dr. Oliver: It isn’t worth very much. I think around fifty-six cents.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But if one cannot distinguish between the car and the driver of the car, then he is just like a child. A child thinks the car is running automatically. But that is his foolishness. There is a driver. The child may not know, but when he is a grown-up and has been educated and still he does not know, then what is the meaning of his education?
Dr. Oliver: In the Western world the whole range of education covers only primary, secondary, and tertiary education. There is no place for an in-depth study of the soul.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I talked with one professor in Moscow. Maybe you know him – Professor Kotovsky. He teaches at the Soviet Academy of Sciences. I had a talk with him for about an hour. He said, “After this body is annihilated, everything is finished.” I was surprised that he told me this. He is known to be a very good scholar, yet still he does not know about the soul.
Dr. Oliver: We have an Indology course here, given by a scholar from Vienna. But what he teaches, what kind of basic philosophy, I wouldn’t know. There are about forty students. In essence they ought to start by making a detailed study of the Bhagavad-gītā and use that as a basis for their whole philosophy.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: So why not appoint someone to teach Bhagavad-gītā As It Is? That is essential.
Dr. Oliver: Our university almost has an obligation to make a study of these points in depth.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: By thoroughly studying Bhagavad-gītā, one begins his spiritual education.
Dr. Oliver: Well, this is apparently what one needs. Our Hindu community here in South Africa seems to lack any fixed idea of what constitutes Hinduism. The young people especially are living in a complete vacuum. For various reasons, they do not want to accept religion, because this is what they see around them. They cannot identify with the Christian religion, the Islamic religion, or the Hindu religion. They are largely ignorant.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: They should be shown the right path. This is the original, authentic path.
Dr. Oliver: There were not very many great scholars in South Africa amongst our Indian community. The Indian people came, by and large, as workers on the sugar plantations – field workers. A few were jewelers and tailors and so on. Then for the last hundred years there was a political struggle, resisting transportation back to India. They were fighting to make a living and to find their own place in this country. As I see it, they must give meaning to the essence of their own beliefs and faith. I’ve been telling them that we are privileged to have them here in this country, with their background, and that they mustn’t cut themselves away from it and drift into a vacuum. But they don’t know to whom they should turn. So basically, they and myself and others want to know how we get this spirit into our own hearts, and how does this then issue out into everyday living?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That is all explained in the Bhagavad-gītā: how to live peacefully in this world and how to go back home, back to Godhead.
Dr. Oliver: But how does one get modern man to voluntarily make this experiment? The real tragedy is we have wandered so far away from the spirit that we do not know where to start. And we can’t get a few dozen honest believers to sit down and try to find out how much God wants to give of His mind to our minds.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: God is giving Himself. We just have to accept Him. That requires a little advancement. Otherwise, everything is there. God says that the soul is eternal and the body is changing. It is a very simple example. A boy becomes a young man, and a young man becomes an old man. There is no denying this fact. I can understand it, and you can understand it. It is very simple. I remember that as a boy I was jumping, and I cannot do that now because I have a different body. So I am conscious that I possessed a body like that. Now I do not possess it. The body is changing, but I am the same person eternally. It requires a little intelligence to see this, that’s all. I am the owner of the body, and I am an eternal soul. The body is changing.
Dr. Oliver: Now, having accepted that, a further problem then arises: What are the implications?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. If I understand that I am not this body, yet at the present moment I am engaged only to keep my body comfortable, without taking care of my self, that is wrong. For example, if I am cleansing this shirt and coat thrice daily, but I am hungry – that would be impractical. Similarly, this civilization is wrong in this basic way. If I take care of your shirt and coat, but I don’t give you anything to eat, then how long will you be satisfied? That is my point. That is the basic mistake. Material civilization means taking care of the body and bodily comforts. But the owner of the body, the spirit soul, gets no care. Therefore everyone is restless. They are changing the “ism” from capitalism to communism, but they do not know what the mistake is.
Dr. Oliver: There is very little difference. They are both material.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The communists think that if we take control of the government, everything will be adjusted. But the mistake is there – both the communists and the capitalists are taking care of the external body, not the eternal identity, the soul. The soul must be peaceful. Then everything will be peaceful.
jñātvā māṁ śāntim ṛcchati
[To a devotee:] Read that verse.
Devotee: “A person in full consciousness of Me, knowing Me to be the ultimate beneficiary of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attains peace from the pangs of material miseries.” [Bhagavad-gītā 5.29]
Śrīla Prabhupāda: This means that one must know what God is. Because you are part and parcel of God, you already have a very intimate relationship with Him. Our business is knowing God. So at the present moment, there is no information. People have no complete idea.
Dr. Oliver: Well, I believe that if a satellite in the sky can reveal what is happening from one pole to the other pole, then surely God can reveal His spirit and His mind to anyone who wants to obey Him, who wants to know Him, and who sincerely wants to follow Him.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, yes. So here in the Bhagavad-gītā God is explaining Himself. We have to take it by logic and reason. Then it will be a clear understanding of God.
Dr. Oliver: Yes, but how to get this across?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The teaching is there. We have to understand it by authoritative discussion.
Dr. Oliver: I think so. This is probably where one has to start. We have to sit down and discuss this, much the same as some professors would discuss any scientific experiment.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The process for understanding is described here:
upadekṣyanti te jñānaṁ
[To a devotee:] Find out that verse.
Devotee: “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized souls can impart knowledge unto you because they have seen the truth.” [Bhagavad-gītā 4.34]
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Read the purport.
Devotee: “The path of spiritual realization is undoubtedly difficult. The Lord therefore advises us to approach a bona fide spiritual master in the line of disciplic succession from the Lord Himself. No one can be a bona fide spiritual master without following this principle of disciplic succession. The Lord is the original spiritual master, and a person in the disciplic succession can convey the message of the Lord as it is to his disciple.
“No one can be spiritually realized by manufacturing his own process, as is the fashion of the foolish pretenders. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (6.3.19) says, dharmaṁ tu sākṣād bhagavat-praṇītam: the path of religion is directly enunciated by the Lord. Therefore, mental speculation or dry arguments cannot help lead one to the right path. Nor by independent study of books of knowledge can one progress in spiritual life.
“One has to approach a bona fide spiritual master to receive the knowledge. Such a spiritual master should be accepted in full surrender, and one should serve the spiritual master like a menial servant, without false prestige. Satisfaction of the self-realized spiritual master is the secret of advancement in spiritual life. Inquiries and submission constitute the proper combination for spiritual understanding. Unless there is submission and service, inquiries from the learned spiritual master will not be effective. One must be able to pass the test of the spiritual master, and when he sees the genuine desire of the disciple, he automatically blesses the disciple with genuine spiritual understanding.
“In this verse, both blind following and absurd inquiries are condemned. Not only should one hear submissively from the spiritual master, but one must also get a clear understanding from him, in submission and service and inquiries. A bona fide spiritual master is by nature very kind toward the disciple. Therefore when the student is submissive and is always ready to render service, the reciprocation of knowledge and inquiries becomes perfect.”
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The practical example is here. These European and American boys are coming from well-to-do families. Why are they serving me? I am Indian, coming from a poor country. I cannot pay them. When I came to the West, I had no money. I brought only forty rupees. That was only an hour’s expenditure in America. So their soul is to carry out my instruction. And therefore they are making progress. Praṇipātena paripraśnena – they are asking questions. I am trying to reply to them, and they have all got full faith. They are serving like menial servants. This is the process.
If the spiritual master is bona fide and the disciple is very sincere, then the knowledge will be there. This is the secret. Yasya deve parā bhaktir yathā deve tathā gurau – Vedic knowledge is revealed unto those who have faith in both the Lord and the spiritual master. Therefore in Vedic society, the students are automatically sent to the gurukula [the place of the spiritual master], regardless of whether one is a king’s son or from some other background. Even Kṛṣṇa had to go to gurukula.
There is a story that once Kṛṣṇa went with a classmate to the forest to collect dry wood for His spiritual master. Suddenly there was a heavy rainstorm, and they could not get out of the forest. The whole night they remained in the forest with great difficulty. The next morning, the guru, their teacher, along with other students, came to the forest and found them. So even Kṛṣṇa, whom we accept as the Supreme Lord, had to go to gurukula and serve the spiritual master as a menial servant.
So all of the students at the gurukula learn how to be very submissive and how to live only for the benefit of the guru. They are trained from the very beginning to be first-class submissive students. Then the guru, out of affection and with an open heart, teaches the boys all he knows. There is no question of money. It is all done on the basis of love and education.
Dr. Oliver: I might have difficulty accepting parts of what you’ve indicated here, simply because I don’t know. But basically I accept that God lives in us and that when we leave things to Him, He knows how to direct these things. The challenge is living life so that He will be satisfied. This is where the difficulty comes in: you need the inspiration to be disciplined. This will only become a reality in one’s life if one practices it, and practices it with others who share this commitment.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Therefore we have this International Society for Krishna Consciousness – showing how to live a life of dedication to God. That is required. Without practical life in God consciousness, it remains simply theoretical. That may help, but it takes longer. My students are being trained up in practical spiritual life, and they are established.
Dr. Oliver: I want to thank you very much, and I pray that God will bless your visit to our country and our people here.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Hare Kṛṣṇa.
Remembrances of past lives can be fascinating, but the real goal of understanding reincarnation is to become free from the painful cycle of birth and death. In a lecture delivered in London in August of 1973, Śrīla Prabhupāda warns, “This is not a very good business – to die and take birth again. We know that when we die we’ll have to enter again into the womb of a mother – and nowadays mothers are killing the children within the womb.”
kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā
dhīras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth, and then to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” [Bhagavad-gītā 2.13]
Generally, people cannot understand this simple verse. Therefore, Kṛṣṇa says, dhīras tatra na muhyati: “Only a sober man can understand.” But what is the difficulty? How plainly Kṛṣṇa has explained things! There are three stages of life. The first, kaumāram, lasts until one is fifteen years old. Then, from the sixteenth year, one begins youthful life, yauvanam. Then, after the fortieth or fiftieth year, one becomes an old man, jarā. So those who are dhīra – sober-headed, cool-headed – they can understand: “I have changed my body. I remember how I was playing and jumping when I was a boy. Then I became a young man, and I was enjoying my life with friends and family. Now I am an old man, and when this body dies I shall again enter a new body.”
In the previous verse Kṛṣṇa said to Arjuna, “All of us – you, Me, and all the soldiers and kings who are present here – we existed in the past, we are existing now, and we shall continue to exist in the future.” This is Kṛṣṇa’s statement. But rascals will say, “How was I existing in the past? I was born only in such-and-such a year. Before that I was not existing. At the present time I am existing. That’s all right. But as soon as I die, I’ll not exist.” But Kṛṣṇa says, “You, I, all of us – we were existing, we are still existing, and we shall continue to exist.” Is that wrong? No, it is a fact. Before our birth we were existing in a different body; and after our death we shall continue to exist in a different body. This is to be understood.
For example, seventy years ago I was a boy, then I became a young man, and now I have become an old man. My body has changed, but I, the proprietor of the body, am existing unchanged. So where is the difficulty in understanding? Dehino ’smin yathā dehe. Dehinaḥ means “the proprietor of the body,” and dehe means “in the body.” The body is changing, but the soul, the proprietor of the body, remains unchanged.
Anyone can understand that his body has changed. So in the next life the body will also change. But we may not remember; that is another thing. In my last life, what was my body? I do not remember. So forgetfulness is our nature, but our forgetting something does not mean that it did not take place. No. In my childhood I did so many things I do not remember, but my father and mother remember. So, forgetting does not mean that things did not take place.
Similarly, death simply means I have forgotten what I was in my past life. That is death. Otherwise I, as spirit soul, have no death. Suppose I change my clothes. In my boyhood I wore certain clothes, in my youth I wore different clothes. Now, in my old age, as a sannyāsī [a renunciant], I am wearing different clothes. The clothes may change, but that does not mean that the owner of the clothes is dead and gone. No.
This is a simple explanation of transmigration of the soul.
Also, all of us are individuals. There is no question of merging together. Every one of us is an individual. God is an individual, and we are also individuals. Nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām: “Of all the eternal, conscious, individual persons, one is supreme.” The difference is that God never changes His body, but we change our bodies in the material world. When we go to the spiritual world, there is no more change of body. Just as Kṛṣṇa has His sac-cid-ānanda-vigraha, an eternal form of bliss and knowledge, so when you go back home, back to Godhead, you will also get a similar body. The difference is that even when Kṛṣṇa comes to the material world, He does not change His body. Therefore one of His names is Acyuta, “He who never falls.”
Kṛṣṇa never changes. He never falls down, because He is the controller of māyā, the material energy. We are controlled by the material energy, and Kṛṣṇa is the controller of the material energy. That is the difference between Kṛṣṇa and us. And not only does He control the material energy, but He controls the spiritual energy also – all energies. Everything that we see, everything manifested – that is Kṛṣṇa’s energy. Just as heat and light are the energies of the sun, everything manifested is made up of the energies of Kṛṣṇa.
There are many energies, but they have been divided into three principal ones: the external energy, the internal energy, and the marginal energy. We living entities are the marginal energy. Marginal means that we may remain under the influence of the external energy or we may remain under the influence of the internal energy, as we like. The independence is there. After speaking Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says to Arjuna, yathecchasi tathā kuru: “Whatever you like, you can do.” Kṛṣṇa gives this independence to Arjuna. He does not force one to surrender. That is not good. Something forced will not stand. For example, we advise our students, “Rise early in the morning.” This is our advice. We do not force anyone. Of course, we may force someone once or twice, but if he does not practice it, force will be useless.
Similarly, Kṛṣṇa does not force anyone to leave this material world. All conditioned souls are under the influence of the external, or material, energy. Kṛṣṇa comes here to deliver us from the clutches of the material energy. Because we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa, we are all directly Kṛṣṇa’s sons. And if a son is in difficulty, the father suffers also, indirectly. Suppose the son has become a madman – or, nowadays, a hippy. The father is very sorry: “Oh, my son is living like a wretch.” So, the father is not happy. Similarly, the conditioned souls in this material world are suffering so much, living like wretches and rascals. So Kṛṣṇa is not happy. Therefore He comes personally to teach us how to return to Him. (Yadā yadā hi dharmasya glānir bhavati … tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham.)
When Kṛṣṇa comes, He comes in His original form. But unfortunately we understand Kṛṣṇa to be one of us. In one sense He is one of us, since He is the father and we are His sons. But He’s the chief: nityo nityānāṁ cetanaś cetanānām. He’s more powerful than us. He’s the most powerful, the supreme powerful. We have a little power, but Kṛṣṇa has infinite power. That is the difference between Kṛṣṇa and us. We cannot be equal to God. Nobody can be equal to Kṛṣṇa or greater than Him. Everyone is under Kṛṣṇa. Ekale īśvara kṛṣṇa, āra saba bhṛtya: Everyone is the servant of Kṛṣṇa; Kṛṣṇa is the only master. Bhoktāraṁ yajña-tapasāṁ sarva-loka-maheśvaram: “I am the only enjoyer; I am the proprietor,” Kṛṣṇa says. And that is a fact.
So, we are changing our body, but Kṛṣṇa does not change His. We should understand this. The proof is that Kṛṣṇa remembers past, present, and future. In the fourth chapter of Bhagavad-gītā you’ll find that Kṛṣṇa says He spoke the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā to the sun-god some 120,000,000 years ago. How does Kṛṣṇa remember? Because He does not change His body. We forget things because we are changing our body at every moment. That is a medical fact. The corpuscles of our blood are changing at every second. But the body is changing imperceptibly. That is why the father and mother of a growing child do not notice how his body is changing. A third person, if he comes after some time and sees that the child has grown, says, “Oh, the child has grown so big.” But the father and mother have not noticed that he has grown so big, because they are always seeing him and the changes are taking place imperceptibly, at every moment. So our body is always changing, but I, the soul, the proprietor of the body, am not changing. This is to be understood.
We are all individual souls, and we are eternal, but because our body is changing we are suffering birth, death, old age, and disease. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is meant to get us out of this changing condition. “Since I am eternal, how can I come to the permanent position?” That should be our question. Everyone wants to live eternally; nobody wants to die. If I come before you with a revolver and say, “I am going to kill you,” you will immediately cry out, because you do not want to die. This is not a very good business – to die and take birth again. It is very troublesome. This we all know subconsciously. We know that when we die we’ll have to enter again into the womb of a mother – and nowadays mothers are killing the children within the womb. Then again another mother … The process of accepting another body again and again is very long and very troublesome. In our subconscious we remember all this trouble, and therefore we do not want to die.
So our question should be this: “I am eternal, so why have I been put into this temporary life?” This is an intelligent question. And this is our real problem. But rascals set aside this real problem. They are thinking of how to eat, how to sleep, how to have sex, how to defend. Even if you eat nicely and sleep nicely, ultimately you have to die. The problem of death is there. But they don’t care about this real problem. They are very much alert to solve the temporary problems, which are not actually problems at all. The birds and beasts also eat, sleep, have sexual intercourse, and defend themselves. They know how to do all these things, even without the human beings’ education and so-called civilization. So these things are not our real problems. The real problem is that we do not want to die but death takes place. This is our real problem.
But the rascals do not know it. They are always busy with temporary problems. For example, suppose there is severe cold. This is a problem. We have to search out a nice coat or a fireplace, and if these are not available we are in distress. So severe cold is a problem. But it is a temporary problem. Severe cold, winter, has come, and it will go. It is not a permanent problem. My permanent problem is that because of ignorance I am taking birth, I am accepting disease, I am accepting old age, and I am accepting death. These are my real problems. Therefore Kṛṣṇa says, janma-mṛtyu-jarā-vyādhi-duḥkha-doṣānudarśanam: Those who are actually in knowledge see these four problems – birth, death, old age, and disease.
Now, Kṛṣṇa says, dhīras tatra na muhyati: “A sober man is not perplexed at the time of death.” If you prepare yourself for death, why should you be perplexed? For example, if in your childhood and boyhood you prepare yourself nicely, if you become educated, then you will get a nice job, a nice situation, and be happy. Similarly, if you prepare yourself in this life for going back home, back to Godhead, then where is your perplexity at the time of death? There is no perplexity. You’ll know, “I am going to Kṛṣṇa. I am going back home, back to Godhead. Now I’ll not have to change material bodies; I’ll have my spiritual body. Now I shall play with Kṛṣṇa and dance with Kṛṣṇa and eat with Kṛṣṇa.” This is Kṛṣṇa consciousness – to prepare yourself for the next life.
Sometimes a dying man cries out, because according to karma those who are very, very sinful see horrible scenes at the time of death. The sinful man knows he is going to accept some abominable type of body. But those who are pious, the devotees, die without any anxiety. Foolish people say, “You devotees are dying, and the nondevotees are also dying, so what is the difference?” There is a difference. A cat catches her kitten in its mouth, and it also catches the mouse in its mouth. Superficially we may see that the cat has caught both the mouse and the kitten in the same way. But there are differences of catching. The kitten is feeling pleasure: “Oh, my mother is carrying me.” And the mouse is feeling death: “Oh, now I’m going to die.” This is the difference. So, although both devotees and nondevotees die, there is a difference of feeling at the time of death – just like the kitten and the mouse. Don’t think that both of them are dying in the same way. The bodily process may be the same, but the mental situation is different.
In Bhagavad-gītā [4.11] Kṛṣṇa says,
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ’rjuna
If you simply try to understand Kṛṣṇa, you can go to Him at the time of death. Everything about Kṛṣṇa is divine, transcendental. Kṛṣṇa’s activities, Kṛṣṇa’s appearance, Kṛṣṇa’s worship, Kṛṣṇa’s temple, Kṛṣṇa’s glories – everything is transcendental. So if one understands these things, or even tries to understand, then one becomes liberated from the process of birth and death. This is what Kṛṣṇa says. So become very serious to understand Kṛṣṇa, and remain in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Then these problems – birth, death, old age, and disease – will be solved automatically, very easily.
A dhīra, a sober man, will think, “I want to live eternally. Why does death take place? I want to live a very healthy life. Why does disease come? I don’t want to become an old man. Why does old age come?” Janma-mṛtyu-jarā-vyādhi. These are real problems. One can solve these problems simply by taking to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, simply by understanding Kṛṣṇa. And for understanding Kṛṣṇa, the Bhagavad-gītā is there, very nicely explained. So make your life successful. Understand that you are not the body. You are embodied within the body, but you are not the body. For example, a bird may be within a cage, but the cage is not the bird. Foolish persons take care of the cage, not the bird, and the bird suffers starvation. So we are suffering spiritual starvation. Therefore nobody is happy in the material world. Spiritual starvation. That is why you see that in an opulent country like America – enough food, enough residences, enough material enjoyment – still they are becoming hippies. The young people are not satisfied, because of spiritual starvation. Materially you may be very opulent, but if you starve spiritually you cannot be happy.
A spiritual rejuvenation is required. You must realize, ahaṁ brahmāsmi: “I am not this body; I am brahman, spiritual soul.” Then you’ll be happy. Brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā na śocati na kāṅkṣati samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu. Then there will be equality, fraternity, brotherhood. Otherwise it is all bogus – simply high-sounding words. There cannot be equality, fraternity, and so on without Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Come to the spiritual platform; then you will see everyone equally. Otherwise you will think, “I am a human being with hands and legs, and the cow has no hands and legs. So let me kill the cow and eat it.” Why? What right do you have to kill an animal? You have no vision of equality, for want of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Therefore, in this material world, so-called education, culture, fraternity – all these are bogus. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the right subject matter to be studied. Then society will be happy. Otherwise not. Thank you very much.
The Self and Its Bodies
“You are suffering because in your past life you indulged in sense gratification and got a body according to karma,” Śrīla Prabhupāda tells listeners at a lecture delivered at the Hare Kṛṣṇa center in Detroit, Michigan, in June 1976. He then goes on to explain the secret of how to become free from karma and enjoy perfect happiness.
upāste vyaktam eva hi
na veda pūrvam aparaṁ
“As a sleeping person acts according to the body manifested in his dreams and accepts it to be himself, so one identifies with his present body, which he acquired because of his past religious or irreligious actions, and is unable to know his past or future lives.” [Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1.49]
Here is a very good example of the ignorance that covers the living entity in the material world. When we dream, we forget everything about ourselves – that we are Mr. Such-and-such, an inhabitant of such-and-such a place, with such-and-such bank balance. Everything is forgotten. And when we awaken, we forget about the dream. But whether we are in the wakened state or the dreaming state, we are seeing our own activities. In the dream we are the seer, and in the so-called awake condition we are also the seer. So we, the spirit soul, who is experiencing, remain the same, but the circumstances change, and we forget.
Similarly, we cannot remember what we were in our previous life. Nor do we know what we are going to become in our next life. But it is a fact that, as spirit souls, we are eternal. We existed in the past, we exist at the present time, and we shall continue to exist in the future. Kṛṣṇa explains this in the Bhagavad-gītā [2.12]: “O Arjuna, you, I, and all these persons who have assembled on this battlefield have existed before, and we shall continue to exist in the future.” This is the preliminary understanding in spiritual life – knowing “I am eternal.”
As spirit souls, we do not take birth, nor do we die (na jāyate mriyate vā kadācit). We are not finished with the destruction of the material body (na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre). The destruction of the body is going on already. Our childhood body is now destroyed; you cannot find that body. Our youthful body is also destroyed; we cannot find it anymore. And in the same way, our present body will also be destroyed, and we shall get another body (tathā dehāntara-prāptiḥ).
When the soul transmigrates, the gross body is lost. The gross body is made of matter, and anything material will eventually be finished. That is the nature of matter. But the spirit soul is never finished.
So we are changing bodies, one after another. Why are there different types of bodies? Because the living entity, the spirit soul, is contacting various modes of material nature. And according to what modes are influencing him, the living entity develops a gross body.
So we have acquired our present body because of our past activities. Karmaṇā daiva-netreṇa jantur dehopapattaye: One gets a particular type of body according to his past karma, or material activities. Nature acts automatically, according to our karma. Suppose you contract some disease. Nature will act: you will have to develop that disease and undergo some suffering. Similarly, when we come under the influence of the modes of material nature and perform karmic activities, we must transmigrate from body to body. Nature’s law works so perfectly.
Now, when we come to the civilized human life, we should ask, “Why am I suffering?” The problem is that because we are under the spell of māyā, illusion, we take suffering to be enjoyment. Māyā means “that which is not.” We are thinking we are enjoying, but actually we are suffering. In this material body we have to suffer. We suffer on account of the body. Pinching cold, scorching heat – we feel these things on account of the body. Under certain circumstances we feel pleasure. But in the Bhagavad-gītā [2.14] Kṛṣṇa advises,
tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
“Material happiness and distress are caused by the body. They come and go just like seasonal changes. So do not be disturbed; try to tolerate them.”
As long as we are in this material world, happiness and distress will come and go. So we should not be disturbed by them. Our real business is trying for self-realization. That must go on; it must not stop. Self-realization is the goal of human life. Suffering and so-called happiness will go on as long as we have a material body, but we must come to the knowledge that “I am not the body; I am a spirit soul. I have gotten this body because of my past activities.” That is knowledge.
Now, a sensible man should consider, “Since I am a spirit soul and my body is simply a covering, is it not possible to end this process of transmigration from body to body?” This is human life – inquiring how to stop the contamination of the material body.
Unfortunately, people in the modern so-called civilization do not ask this question. They are mad after gratifying the senses of the body, so they act irresponsibly. As explained in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [5.5.4],
yad indriya-prītaya āpṛṇoti
na sādhu manye yata ātmano ’yam
asann api kleśada āsa dehaḥ
“People who act only for sense gratification are certainly mad, and they perform all kinds of abominable activities. In this way they insure their transmigration from body to body perpetually and thus experience all kinds of miseries.”
We do not understand that the body is always kleśada – it always gives us pain. For the time being we may feel some pleasure, but actually the body is a reservoir of pain. Here is a good analogy in this connection: Formerly, when the government officers would want to punish a criminal, they would tie his hands, take him into the middle of a river, and push him down into the water. When he was almost drowned, they would draw him up from the water by his hair and give him a little rest. And then again they would push him down into the water. That was one system of punishment.
Similarly, whatever little pleasure we are experiencing in this material world is exactly like the pleasure the criminal would feel when he was drawn up from the water. Severe suffering with a few moments of relief – this is what life in the material world is like.
That is why Sanātana Gosvāmī, who had been a wealthy minister in the Muslim government in India, presented himself to Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and asked, ke āmi, kene āmāya jāre tāpa-traya: “Who am I? And why am I suffering the threefold miseries?” This is intelligence. We are constantly undergoing some sort of distress, whether caused by the body and mind, inflicted by other living entities, or brought about by natural disturbances. We don’t want all these miseries, but they are forced upon us. So when one accepts a spiritual master, the first question should be, “Why am I suffering?”
But we have become so dull, like the animals, that we never ask this question. The animals are suffering (everyone knows this), but they cannot ask why. When an animal is being taken to the slaughterhouse, he cannot ask, “Why am I being taken by force to the slaughterhouse?” But if you take a human being to be killed, he’ll make a great noise: “This man is taking me to be killed! Why am I being killed?” So one important distinction between human life and animal life is that only the human being can ask, “Why am I suffering?”
Whether you are President Nixon or a man in the street, you are suffering. That’s a fact. You are suffering on account of your body, and you are doing something that will cause you to accept another material body. You are suffering because in your past life you indulged in sense gratification and got a body according to karma, and if you engage in sense gratification in this life and do not try to elevate yourself, you’ll again get a body and suffer. By nature’s way you’ll get another body according to the mentality you have at the time of death. And as soon as you get another body, your suffering will begin again. Even in the womb of the mother you will suffer. To remain in that compact bag for so many months, hands and legs all tied up, unable to move – this is suffering. And nowadays there is also a risk of being killed in the womb. And when you come out, more suffering. So we should be intelligent enough to ask, “Why am I suffering? And how can I stop this suffering?” And until we ask “Why am I suffering?” our human life has not begun. We remain animals.
Asking about the ultimate cause of our suffering is called brahma-jijñāsā, inquiry into the Absolute Truth. As it is said in the beginning of the Vedānta-sūtra, athāto brahma-jijñāsā: “Having gotten the human form of life, one should inquire into Brahman, the Absolute Truth.” So we should take advantage of the human form of life. We should not live like animals, without any inquiry into the Absolute Truth, without trying to find out how to stop our miserable material life.
Of course, we are actually trying to stop our own miseries by working so hard in the struggle for existence. Why do we try to get money? Because we think, “If I get money, my distress will be mitigated.” So the struggle for existence is going on, and everyone is trying to become happy by getting sense gratification. But sense gratification is not real happiness. Real happiness is spiritual happiness, which comes from serving Kṛṣṇa. That is happiness. Material happiness is simply perverted happiness.
Material happiness is like the mirage of water in the desert. In the desert there is no water, but when a thirsty animal sees the mirage of water in the desert, he runs after it – and dies. We know that there is no water in the desert – that the “water” is just a reflection of the sunshine – but animals do not know this. Similarly, human life means to give up looking for happiness through sense gratification, which is just like a mirage in the desert, and to try for spiritual happiness.
We can awaken to this higher happiness simply by chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa is such a simple thing, yet it can relieve all our suffering in the material world.
Our suffering is caused by the many dirty things within our heart. We are just like a criminal who has dirty things within his heart. He thinks, “If I get such-and-such thing, I’ll be happy.” And at the risk of his life he commits a crime. A burglar, a thief, knows that if he is captured by the police he’ll be punished, but still he goes and steals. Why? Nūnaṁ pramattaḥ: He has become mad after sense gratification. That’s all.
So we have to purify our hearts of our dirty desires, which are forcing us to act for sense gratification and suffer. And in this age the purification is very, very easy: Just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. That’s all. This is Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s contribution. Ceto-darpaṇa-mārjanaṁ bhava-mahā-dāvāgni-nirvāpaṇam. If you chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, you will be relieved of the suffering caused by transmigrating perpetually from body to body. Chanting is such a simple thing. There is no question of caste, creed, nationality, color, social position. No. By the grace of God, everyone has a tongue and ears. So everyone can chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Just chant Hare Kṛṣṇa and be happy.
Thank you very much.