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Suhotra Dasa Tapovanachari
About This Book
My previous book, *Substance and Shadow*, focused a number of basic
problems of philosophy and dealt with them from the standpoint of Vedic
knowledge as I've learned it from my spiritual master, His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. This book, *Transcendental
Personalism--Vedic Answers for the Human Situation*, focuses on just one
question that Western philosophy beginning with Socrates terms "a beautiful
risk".* The question is: "What does it mean to be a person?"
Now, why is it a risk to seek an answer to this question? For one
thing, for someone to ask why he or she is a person is to admit that one
finds no meaning in life. Dr. Charles Tart, a distinguised professor of
psychology at the Davis Campus of the University of California, reports
that in the 1950s, psychotherapists began to see a new type of client: the
"successful malcontent." This type of person is normally successful by
contemporary social standards, has a reasonable job, income, family life,
and enjoys acceptance and respect in the community. All these rewards are
supposed to bring happiness in our society, and the successful malcontent
knows that by these standards, one ought to have no problems. But
nevertheless he or she finds life to empty. The successful malcontent goes
to a psychologist and asks, "Isn't there more to life than money, career,
consumer goods, social life? Where is the *meaning?*" Conventional therapy,
based on conventional theories about the nature of humans and personality, is
of little value to these people. The central question of the deeper
meaning of life is largely untouched in psychology.
*Transcendental Personalism* offers an unconventional answer to that
question, derived from such Vedic texts as this, *Visnu Purana* 1.12.69:
*hladini sandhini samvit
tvayy eka sarva-samsraye
tvayi no guna-varjite*
O Supreme Person Visnu, You are the reservoir of all
transcendental qualities such as bliss, eternality and
knowledge. These qualities are one as your internal
potency. You are the soul of all souls. The souls within
the material world sometimes enjoy pleasure, sometimes
suffer pain and sometimes experience a mixture of pain
and pleasure. This is due to their being touched by matter.
However, because You are above the material qualities, such
relativities are not found in You.
To be a person means to be a soul. Each soul numbers as one of unlimited
spiritual persons sheltered in Visnu or Krsna, who is the Supreme Person
because He is the reservoir of unlimited varieties of eternal, all-knowing
bliss. Because we are tiny aspects of Krsna, we naturally seek a full
variety of personal experience. Unfortunately, for we who have fallen into
the cycle of birth and death, the attempt to realize the full potential of
personality is blocked by our contact with matter. Thus instead of bliss,
we experience pleasure and pain. Instead of eternality, we experience old
age and death. Instead of knowledge, we experience bafflement. Even if we
win enviable material success, we remain discontented. The Vaisnava
philosophy therefore directs us to stop trying to serve our own pleasure
and serve the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. As we learn to satisfy Him,
the Lord lovingly lifts us up to our rightful transcendental position.
Even at this stage of personalism, beyond the touch of matter, a risk
still remains. To paraphrase a letter Srila Prabhupada wrote in 1972, it
is the nature of personhood to exhibit faults. In the spiritual world,
faults are evident even in the divine affairs of love between Lord Krsna
and the *gopis* (cowherd maidens) of Vrndavana headed by Srimati Radharani.
Sometimes the *gopis* quarrel over Krsna's favor. Sometimes in their hasty
preparations to meet Krsna, they smear *kumkum* and mascara in the wrong
places, and they put on their clothing in childlike disarray. Srila
Prabhupada concluded that because devotees are persons, they will always
seem to lack something. The difference is that *their lack is
transcendental* because their only program of self-fulfillment is service
to Krsna. Krsna alone is the answer to their lack. Yet as Krsna satisfies
their lack, they need Him even more. And so they serve Him with greater
and greater loving intensity. Krsna returns that love with greater and
greater mercy. This exchange, known as *rasa*, grows sweeter and sweeter
"But isn't this Krsna just a foolish village boy?" So thought
powerful Indra, the king of the demigods in heaven and the controller of
rainfall. He judged the residents of Vrndavana at fault for their
exclusive devotion to Krsna. Once they even stopped a sacrificial offering
to Indra at Krsna's request. And so, considering them offenders, Indra
tried to drown them all in a flood of torrential rain. But Lord Krsna
lifted the Govardhana Mountain the way a village boy plucks a mushroom, and
held it aloft for seven days on the end of the little finger of His left
hand. The mountain served as a gigantic umbrella for all of Krsna's
devotees. Defeated by Krsna's little finger, Indra surrendered to the
Lord's lotus feet.
Yes, the exclusive dedication to Krsna's service is certainly risky.
It may even attract the wrath of the demigods. But that risk is beautiful
because it is for the all-beautiful Sri Krsna. And that is the whole
point--to do whatever it takes to satisfy that charming youth of dark hue
whose intoxicating glance and tender smile melt the heart. The *gopis*
risk their reputations as wives and mothers when, heeding the call of His
flute, they abandon their homes to join Him in the moonlit *kadamba* groves
of Vrndavana forest. Arjuna risked his life for Him on the Kuruksetra
battlefield. At the age of seventy, Srila Prabhupada risked his life for
Krsna by sailing to New York on the steamship *Jaladuta.* From Srila
Prabhupada, the members of the International Society for Krsna
Consciousness inherited the risky enterprise of expanding the message of
Krsna in a world sold out to materialism.
Men who are ignorant cannot appreciate activities in Krsna
consciousness, and therefore Lord Krsna advises us not to
disturb them and simply waste valuable time. But the devotees
of the Lord are more kind than the Lord because they understand
the purpose of the Lord. Consequently they undertake all kinds
of risks, even to the point of approaching ignorant men to try
to engage them in the acts of Krsna consciousness, which are
absolutely necessary for the human being.
This book is about *why* such risk-taking for the purpose of the
Supreme Person is not to be dismissed as foolishness or fanaticism.
*Transcendental Personalism* argues that our personal nature inveighs upon
us to rise up in love beyond our individual limits toward the limitless
Supreme Person and His parts and parcels, the souls that animate all living
entities great and small. It is only love that can push one beyond his
personal limits without loss to his personhood. All other attempts to
surpass personal limits end in impersonalism.
I continue a theme that brought my previous book, *Substance and
Shadow*, to its close: that to the degree one attempts to serve one's own
self separately, he is in ignorance; and to the degree one serves Krsna,
the Soul of all souls, he is in knowledge. Some readers complained
*Substance and Shadow* was "too philosophical." I'm afraid they'll again
be disappointed with me for spending so much time with logic and
philosophy. I apologize for not resonating rich emotions in a book about
personalism. But emotion and devotion are so often greeted with cynicism:
yet another risk of personalism! Thus I feel it necessary to approach the
subject with some care, dealing soberly with issues that make personalism a
difficult ground to hold in the modern world.
*Substance and Shadow* had pages of notes at the end of each
chapter. *Transcendental Personalism* is not annotated at all. Nor have
I always supplied full referencing for the quotations of Srila Prabhupada
I give herein. Many of my readers are members of the International Society
for Krsna Consciousness who have at their disposal the BBT Vedabase
computer program. With this wonderful aid, all words I attribute to Srila
Prabhupada can be quickly verified. For readers who are not members of
ISKCON and/or who don't have Vedabase, scrupulous attention on my part to
the details of reference would probably make for tedious reading. Still,
it's my habit to cite chapter and verse from Prabhupada's sastric
translations. But I've paid less attention to nailing down quotations from
purports, lectures, interviews, morning walks, conversations, and letters.
*Jean Wahl, *The Philosopher's Way*, 1948, p. 231: "We may recall at
this point the words of Socrates when, having presented his proofs for
the immortality of the soul, he concludes by saying that they are like
some divine enchantments, that a question still remains, and that there
is a `beautiful risk' to run. We thus have to ask ourselves whether we
shall remain wholly within ourselves or run the risk of transcending
ourselves and reaching toward other persons."
Introduction: What is the Human Situation?
It is said that history is philosophy learned from examples. Among the
sacred Vedic scriptures of India, the Puranas are those that teach philosophy
by way of historical narratives. Among the Puranas, the most
renowned is *Srimad-Bhagavatam*,
a work of 18,000 Sanskrit verses in twelve cantos. The eleventh canto
contains a discussion about the human situation that took place many thousands
of years ago between a saintly king named Maharaja Nimi and nine perfected
mystics known as the Navayogendras. Drumila, one of the nine sages,
gives a perspective on the human situation that I shall pursue in this book.
Drumila describes the universe as a gigantic body made of earth, water,
fire, air and ethereal space. This is the body of Narayana, the Supreme
Person, in whom all living beings are sheltered. Lord Narayana generated the
great cosmos from His original spiritual form. Because He enters the cosmos
and accepts it as His own physical body, the Lord is called Purusa. Within
that universal body, He elaborately arranged the stars and planets in
divisions of *bhur*, *bhuvah* and *svar* (gross, subtle and celestial). The
Lord's transcendental senses pervade all regions. They are the source of the
cognitive and motor senses of creatures everywhere. His limitless awareness
is the basis of their limited knowledge. From His breath comes their bodily
strength, sensory power and life activities. He moves the world by activating
the three modes in which material nature operates--goodness, passion and
ignorance. In Him the whole universe is created, maintained and destroyed.
Elsewhere in the same canto of the *Bhagavatam*, Lord Krsna tells Uddhava
that while it is natural for human beings to try to understand this vast
cosmic manifestation, it bewilders them. In their bewilderment, they invent
many different programs for happiness. Some say happiness is to be found in
religious piety. Others seek it in wealth, fame, sense gratification,
morality or other esteemed ideals. Krsna says that though they may bring about
temporary fruits, because all these efforts are based upon ignorance, future
unhappiness is their ultimate reward. Even as human beings enjoy the fruits of
such endeavors, they lament at the same time.
Throughout the ages, thoughtful people have come to admit that despite
our best efforts, there is something very wrong with life in the material
...for the world which seems
To lie before us, like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
(from "Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold, 1822-1888)
Situated as we are on this darkling plain of our brief moment of humanity,
what confuses and alarms us? Inescapable death; differing religions;
contradictory theories of knowledge; questions of sin and virtue; human freedom
versus human nature; the needs of the individual versus the needs of society;
man's relationship to the planet; the population explosion; the world's future;
war and nationalism; the limitations of language; the influence of irrational
urges upon behavior; the unknown.
And what's the point of all this? Philosophers have long tried to answer
that question with theories of their own invention. In the East, nondualists
argued the real point we need to understand is that there is only one self in
the universe--one all-inclusive "I." Other thinkers said our problems are
imposed upon us by supernatural powers. Yet another viewpoint is that the
chain of actions (*karma*) we performed in previous lifetimes placed us
in the predicament we all find ourselves today. There were also Eastern
philosophers who advocated materialism, arguing that the cause of our world is
matter alone. But they were refuted by others who argued the cause cannot be
demonstrated by argument, imagination and words.
All of these positions (mentioned in *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 1.17.19 and 20)
have had at different times their advocates in the Western world. In ancient
Greece, the Eleatic philosophers (Xenophanes, Parmenides, and Zeno) were
impersonal monists who held the One Being to be true, and personality, motion
and change to be illusions. In his *Iliad* and *Odyssey*, Homer portrayed
mankind as being subject to two kinds of supernatural intervention--*menos*: a
positive power, strength, insight or ability that descends on a man to lead
him to success; and *ate*: a negative infatuation or moral blindness that
descends on a man to lead him to disaster. The basic elements of the *karma*
doctrine are evident in the writings of the two famous German philosophers
of the will, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. Schopenhauer believed that what
other philosophers call spirit is "the will" by which beings manipulate
matter. The will is the source of all life and the eternal principle of
organization and activity in the universe. It also makes life miserable.
Nietzche thought will makes the world "a circular movement that has already
repeated itself infinitely often." "This life as you now live it and have
lived it," he wrote in *The Joyful Wisdom*, "you will have to live once more
and innumerable times more." During a period of some four decades up to about
1900, Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, Ernst Haeckel and Wilhelm Ostwald laid
down the modern ideology of scientific materialism, which includes
evolutionary biology; the notion that matter organizes itself spontaneously;
the *a priori* denial of the possibility of knowledge outside sensory
experience; the *a priori* denial of the personality of God, the immortality
of the soul and the freedom of the will; the definition of "good" as
pleasurable activity; and the reduction of reality to impersonal physical
energy. But many scientists admit that David Hume was correct in pointing out
that science can never prove why anything happens. All science can do is
observe that certain events follow other events; however, the precise
connection of "cause" to "effect" remains ever beyond human imagination,
arguments and words.
Now, the Vedic position is that these and all speculative attempts to
analyze and explain the problem of the human situation must fail to solve that
problem. *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 11.23.49 states that human intelligence is just
not up to the task. It is blind (*andha-dhiyo manusyah*). That blindness
takes the form of false objectivity: *eso 'ham anyo 'yam iti bhramena duranta-
pare tamasi bhramanti*--"because of their illusion of `this is I, but that is
someone else,' they wander in endless darkness."
To analyze something, we must objectify it. By "objectify", I mean to
identify a problem as *existing outside of my mind* as a *separate object of
study*--"this is I, that is something else." But I cannot objectify the human
situation because *I am part of the problem of humanity.* Moreover, the
intellect--the very instrument with which I propose to study the human
situation--is itself humanity's problem, because human intellect is laden with
material desires. Materialistic intelligence forces us to relate to
everything and everyone around us as objects. In *The Fear of Freedom*,
psychologist Erich Fromm writes:
the individual appears fully equipped with biologically given
drives, which need to be satisfied. In order to satisfy them,
the individual enters into relationships with other "objects".
Other individuals thus are always a mean's to one's end, the
satisfaction of strivings which in themselves originate in
the individual before he enters into contact with others.
Now, material objects cannot satisfy the spirit soul. When the
materialistic intellect selects as an object of satisfaction something
that does not satisfy, the intellect just creates an "objective problem." *Thus
the problem of the human situation is just an illusory creation of the
intellect,* which is trying without success to satisfy desires--but due to
false ego, can't admit that the whole attempt to enjoy matter is useless. And
so the intellect cheats us: "Your problem is *out there*. But don't
worry, I'll help you solve it." There is a story of a village in Bengal
that was harrassed by an mysterious midnight burglar. Security measures
were taken; not before too many nights a guard spied the thief sneaking
into the window of a house. The alarm was raised and the whole village
assembled outside the house to catch the rascal. "Catch the thief!
Catch the thief!" they cried. But the clever thief rushed out of the
house frantically pointing to something behind the crowd. "There he
goes!" he shouted. "Catch him! He's running away!" The villagers let
the real thief lead them on a chase after an imagined thief. While they
wandered in darkness shouting "Catch the thief!", the thief gave them the
slip. Mankind's obedience to "objective" intellectualism is the same as
the village's obedience to the thief. In both cases, the "object" identified
as the culprit is an imaginary artifice constructed by the real culprit:
"this is I, the problem is something else."
According to the Vedas, there can be no clear consciousness of our
situation without acknowledging the co-consciousness of the Supreme Soul and
the unlimited individual souls who expand from Him. My intellect presupposes
"I" am the original subject, and everything around me is the object of my
satisfaction--matter. But this is a selfish, unreal perspective. The
absolute perspective is that I am a spiritual object of God's love. And
like all other souls, I am meant to satisfy His desires. Mantras 6 and 7 of
*Sri Isopanisad* state:
He who sees everything in relation to the Supreme Lord, who
sees all entities as His parts and parcels and who sees the
Supreme Lord within everything, never hates anything nor any
One who always sees all living entities as spiritual sparks,
in quality one with the Lord, becomes a true knower of things.
What, then, can be illusion or anxiety for him?
Thus the Vedas reveal that our anxiety about our situation in this world
is grounded upon illusion. The real basis of the existence of the world is
the inseparable, eternal tie of all beings to the Supreme Being. To ignore
this fundamental fact is to suffer the pangs of material existence. Brahma,
speaking in *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 3.9.6 and 9, makes this very clear.
Oh my Lord, the people of the world are embarrassed by all
material anxieties--they are always afraid. They always
try to protect wealth, body and friends, they are filled
with lamentation and unlawful desires and paraphernalia,
and they avariciously base their undertakings on the
perishable conceptions of "my" and "mine." As long as they
do not take shelter of Your safe lotus feet, they are
full of such anxieties.
Oh my Lord, the material miseries are without factual
existence for the soul. Yet as long as the conditioned
soul sees the body meant for sense enjoyment, he cannot
get out of the entanglement of material miseries, being
influenced by Your external energy.
In this spirit, *Transcendental Personalism--Vedic Answers to the Human
Situation*, examines the problem of human existence. The solution is to
participate with the Lord and all living beings in transcendental personalism,
which is the real state of everyone's existence. Yes, you and I are meant to
satisfy desires--*the personal desires of Krsna.* Then only can you and I be
satisfied. As long as we fail to satisfy desires by the transcendental method,
our uncontrolled senses and minds will entrap us in a cocoon of individual
The foolish embodied living entity, inept at controlling his
senses and mind, is forced to act according to the influence
of the modes of material nature, against his desires. He is
like a silkworm that uses its own saliva to create a cocoon
and then becomes trapped in it, with no possibility of getting
out. The living entity traps himself in a network of his own
fruitive activities and then can find no way to release himself.
Thus he is always bewildered, and repeatedly he dies.
With this wonderful example of the cocoon, the *Bhagavatam* gives a most
picturesque clarification of the modern philosophical concept known as the
"matrix of experience", explained at length in the first chapter of this book.
Trapped in a cocoon of subjective cognizance, the living entity experiences
"fatness, thinness, physical and mental distress, thirst, hunger, fear,
quarrel, desire, old age, sleep, attachment, anger, lamentation, illusion and
bodily identity," none of which, according to *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 5.10.10, have
anything to with the real person, the soul. Lord Krsna therefore tells
Uddhava, *samsrtir na tu vastavi*, "material existence has no substance."
How, in my little cocoon of illusion, shall I determine what is
objectively true? We are usually advised to practice "intellectual honesty",
which means we ought to take the trouble to separate facts from fiction, then
analyze these facts with great care from all points of view, and finally
synthesize them into knowledge. But as a philosopher of recent times,
Theodor Adorno, observed:
...the demand for intellectual honesty is itself dishonest...
knowledge comes to us through a network of prejudices, opinions,
innovations, self-corrections, presumptions and exaggerations...
Another modern philosopher, Emmanuel Levinas, remarked:
Philosophy is inseparable from scepticism, which follows it
like a shadow that it chases away by refuting it, only to
find it once again under its feet.
Within the cocoon of mundane experience, there are no final proofs
nor disproofs. Anything we hold to be "true" is always open to
doubt--and we have only three ways to respond. None of these responses
clear our proposition of doubt (this, by the way, is a formulation of logic
called Agrippa's Trilemma).
Let us suppose you and I are having a debate. You propose as a truth
that "Individuals should be free to express their opinions." I reply, "That's
just your opinion." You can 1) refuse to respond; 2) stand by what you said:
"No, it's *true*,"; or 3) come up with a new proposition to defend your
position. If you take the first course, your silence means you agree with me.
If you take the second course, my natural response--"How do you know?"--will
force you to resort to 1) or 3). If you take the third course, you embark on
an infinite regress: you have to back up your first proposition ("freedom to
express opinions") with a second one, for example "the sanctity of the
individual." But again I can reply: "That's just your opinion." Once more you
have three options of response. If you press your point (option 2 and then
3), you must put forward yet another proposition, now "the equality of
individuals." There is no end to this--we are moving round a logical loop.
After all, by your own philosophy I have the right to put forward my opinion
that each proposition you put forward is just your opinion--because *that is my
thought as an individual, and you should allow me to express it.*
You can attempt to break out of the loop by citing supportive evidence:
"experience shows us it is true," "it is reasonable," "Erich Fromm said `human
existence and freedom are inseparable'", or even "Srila Prabhupada says `If we
respect Krsna, we respect everyone, even an ant.'" To each of these replies
I can reply that it is just your opinion that this evidence makes true the
claim "Individuals should be free to express their thoughts." Again you are
faced with three options.
From the Vedic point of view, experience (*pratyaksa*), reason
(*anumana*) and the testimony of a mundane authority like Erich Fromm, are not
self-evident proof (*svatah-pramana*). So there is no way to establish
certain truth from these. Now, suppose we agree that Srila Prabhupada's
words are unquestionable. Still I may raise a doubt about what is termed the
*evidential connection*: "I accept Srila Prabhupada's statement, `If we
respect Krsna, we respect everyone, even an ant,' but I question how you are
trying to connect it, as evidence, to your proposition, `Individuals should be
free to express their thoughts.'" Again you are faced with three options.
As long as the discussion is about what you or I propose to understand
within the darkness of our material cocoons, there is no end to argument, even
if we cite unimpeachable authorities. That is because the statements of
unimpeachable authorities are not about mundane understanding.
There is a well-known story of five blind men who were told by a
man with sight, "Before you stands an elephant--tell me what kind of
creature it is." The five touched different parts of the elephant's body
and soon broke into a hot argument as to what an elephant actually is--"a
tree" (so said the blind man who felt a leg), "a big snake" (so said the
blind man who felt the trunk), and so on. On the authority of the man with
sight, the five accepted the mysterious entity to be "an elephant"; but due
to their persistent blindness, they still could not understand the elephant
Srila Prabhupada is offering spiritual vision to eyes darkened by
materialism. But if we quote his words blindly, just to support opinions
we've formed within our cocoons of mundane experience, we are like blind
men who argue "an elephant is a tree" or "an elephant is a snake." The
unimpeachable authority of Vedic teachings is not meant to perpetuate the
blindness of our human situation, but to situate us in transcendence. The
challenge is to rectify the human intelligence, which persistently
objectifies our blindness, fooling us into believing that the darkness of
our shadow-existence is reality. That is why we think we have no other
method of knowledge apart from wandering in the darkness, experimenting,
speculating, and debating about what is real and what is not.
A human being is not really intelligent until he comes out of the
darkness of material experience into the light of transcendental
personalism: co-consciousness with the omniscient Supreme Personality of
Godhead. In this, there is a beautiful risk. We are faced with a choice
between two identities--that whom we think we are, and that whom Krsna
knows each of us to be. As long as we choose to be who we think we are, we
perpetuate the blindness of the human situation. How can we become
convinced to choose the identity Lord Krsna sees for each of us? Read on.
Chapter One: On Being a Person in Time
In this chapter, three premises are developed.
1) Being (identity, or self) is irreducibly personal: *in
substance, I am a person.*
2) Decision-making (choosing beween truth and error) is essential
to my person.
3) That feature of myself designated "human being," a creature in
time, is *the shadow of personality, made of material energy.*
We decide things by entertaining, in consciousness, one
opportunity or possibility as "correct," "better," "hopeful," and
another as not. Sentient beings thus plot their movement through life.
Now, material elements move, as clouds do through the sky. But clouds do
not *decide* a particular direction to be "correct," "better," or "hopeful"
and another not. What can it mean for a cloud to make a wrong move? Even
if in the previous sentence we replace the word "cloud" with "computer", the
question remains unanswered at least from the computer's point of view,
since the computer has no point of view.
To restate the argument, a person is aware of a menu of possible
movements, and has the willful independence to choose from that menu a
move he intuits to be best under the circumstances. Though it moves, a
cloud lacks awareness, independence and intuition. True, a computer does a
better job than a cloud of *appearing* to be aware--as seen in May 1997 in
New York, where IBM's Deep Blue 2 computer defeated grandmaster Gary
Kasparov in a chess competition. (Actually it was only a technical defeat,
as Kasparov won the first game and quit the match in the second.) As
*New Scientist* (p. 28) noted a month later, Deep Blue
cannot tell chess sense from nonsense, and it is blind
to what a chess position or chess game is all about. ...
Forget artificial intelligence. Deep Blue is a product
of human intelligence to modern computing technologies.
Thus a computer has no point of view on questions of right and wrong.
Whatever choices it seems capable of making are actually pre-deliberated by
a conscious programmer. With superhuman speed a computer blindly follows
the schemata of those deliberations when so commanded by a conscious user.
The user inputs choices that the computer mechanically processes to logical
conclusions. But only the user sees those conclusions to be "correct",
"better", "hopeful" or "wrong"; the machine, seeing nothing, makes no
The programmer-computer-user triad provides an analogy useful to our
understanding of the Supersoul-body-soul triad presented in the Vedic
scriptures. Computer hardware and software work according to a complex
architecture of rules designed by programmers who intend the computer to
perform certain tasks. One is the task of self-regulation. Thus BIOS,
clock, screen saver and power consumption programs are designed. Another
task is the processing of commands and data inputted by the user. Thus
processor hardware and algorithmic software are designed. Another task is
the outputting of processed data. Thus a visual display and a line-printer
are designed. Similarly, the Supersoul designs systems of bodily self-
regulation like breathing, blood circulation, immunity, digestion,
autonomic nervous activity and so on. And the body, like a computer, is
programmed to respond to many different commands inputted by its operator,
the soul. For example, it is estimated that in an eighty-year lifespan,
the human brain processes some 10 terabytes of data, enough to fill
7,000,000,000,000,000 floppies. The rule here is the same as with
computers: "garbage in, garbage out"--if the operator makes a bad choice of
commands, he'll get a bad result back. In *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 5.1.13-17,
we learn that the Supersoul programs physical bodies for birth and death,
activity, lamentation, illusion, fear of the future, happiness and
distress, while like computer operators, the individual souls are permitted
to use these bodies as per Vedic injunctions (much like a computer user is
guided by manuals authorized by the hardware and software programmers). If
an operator does not control his body according to those injunctions, he
violates the laws of nature and is subject to pain.
Because modern culture is ignorance of the Vedic injunctions, humanity
finds itself under punishment of fear of the future. The business of
making life choices today is fraught with worry--shall I stay in school or
quit to take a job? Shall I meekly obey my boss or stand up for my rights?
Shall I make up or break up with Peggy Sue? Most of us hope for the day we
can leave behind the stress of decision-making and reach an inner state of
peaceful repose. To that end, some thinkers suggest there must be an
"essential self" beyond the personal self. In the essential self there are
no choices. By realizing we are not persons, we free ourselves from the
stress of decision-making. As an author of a book of modern notions of
...in essence there is no sense of a personal self. There is
nobody doing, or having, or being guided. Attention is
stationed in an at-one connection with the environment and
with other people; and in that state of mind, we act
naturally and accurately without being aware of personal
thoughts or feelings.
This is one form of a widespread philosophy known as impersonalism or
neutral monism. It depicts the highest consciousness as neutrality, with no
choice to be made even in the midst of activity. At the peak state of mind,
all functions are automatic, like a computer. But the impersonalist is not
neutral about his doctrine. For him, impersonalism is right, and other
points of view are wrong. That he chooses a particular philosophy shows he
is a person, not an impersonal neutrality. Now, what of the state of mind
described above, in which a person functions "at-one" with everything around
The impersonalist says this is attained by silencing the mind's mundane chatter
until only a hollow of empty awareness remains at the center of perception
and action. The personalist replies that this hollow will sooner or later
be filled again with chatter unless we choose to serve the
personal will of the divine, and thus be chosen to receive loving direction.
This mutual, personal choice shared between an individual and God, in which
there is no room for mental static because the mind is fully
focused upon nectarean exchanges of love with the Lord, is called *lila*
The self and the waves of time
A person's moment of decision is always *now*. The decision I
make in the present is influenced by my previous experience of life.
And that decision is aimed at what I hope will be a better future. But
my core person, the *decisive* self, exists in a continual present,
bobbed ceaselessly by the *kala-strotra*, the waves of time that ripple
through the mind. My memories of the past, and my hopes and fears for
the world to come, flicker upon these waves like sparkles of light upon
the surface of a lake.
The timeless, immediate presence of my own person is not
verifiable by sense perception, as I might verify the existence of a
material object. Nor is it implied by my logical speculation.
Whatever I perceive and think comes and goes. My presence simply *is.*
My experience of perceptions and thoughts is a time-defined context
into which I, the elusive person, am "poured." Only in that context do
I see and think myself strengthened, reduced, transformed, distorted
and disciplined by time. This context we call our "humanity."
Limited free will
While the human context is not the person, it is his *mode of
self-representation.* A person represents himself to himself and to
others by his perceptions, attractions, repulsions, emotions, thoughts,
memories, beliefs, talks, actions and relationships. But his mode of
self-representation is *not* himself. Again, it is a shadow of the
person, formed out of the stuff of biology, psychology and society. Thus
a person does not always prefer to take part in his own mode of self-
representation. Often he is dissatisfied, shamed or even angered by
what he represents. Still, for better or for worse, that is his self-
image. This reveals a most important truth about our person and our
power of choice: we are limited. We do not have the free will to be
all that we might want to be.
It may be asked if we have any freedom at all. Are actions that seem
to be the product of our own wills already fated to happen? If
so, then where is our power of choice? Many people find life to be
totally out of their control. But that in itself speaks for free will.
How could a man feel as an obstacle the destiny that hangs over him if
he did not also feel in himself free will? That bit of free will that
appears as his dissatisfaction indicates that as much as he might pour
himself into his time-defined self-image, he is never emptied by that
pouring. He never wholly *becomes* what his actions represent, as good
or as bad as they might be. This fact is apparent in the statement, "I
was not myself when I did that." Detachment begins with this
Willpower is essential to a person, but like other powers, we may
strengthen or weaken it within limits. By culturing detachment, a
person strengthens his will and gains more control over his life. By
culturing attachment, a person weakens his will and loses control. But
under no circumstances can free will be either extinguished or all-
The matrix, or field of activities
Some recent philosophers describe the human being as a *matrix.* The
dictionary defines a matrix as a mold or a shell in which something, in
this case the "poured" person, is cast or shaped. Modern psychology
defines a matrix as a lifelong pattern of physical, emotional and
symbolic (i.e. mental) experiences. *Bhagavad-gita* calls that pattern
the *ksetra*, a person's "field" of physical, emotional and mental
We might compare the *ksetra* to a *field of force*, a notion
found in the physical sciences. For example, surrounding any flow of
electric current is a field of magnetic force. That field, a pattern
of attraction and repulsion, interacts with the same current pouring
through it to alter its trajectory. When that interaction is
intelligently controlled--by trapping the current and making it
repeatedly change its direction of motion--this gives rise to agents
called broadcast signals that inform us and change our lives.
Similarly, the matrix that surrounds the current of consciousness and
interacts with it is a field of powerful *agents of experience.* An
agent is a force that informs us and causes change. Experience is the
first-person proof of consciousness that manifests as an awareness of what
is happening in the inner and outer world. An agent of experience bends
and shapes that awareness by attraction and repulsion, informing us of
our physical, emotional and mental conditions and functions.
There is another interesting parallel between the *ksetra* and the
model of a force field. Science tells us that electricity and
magnetism are two aspects of one electromagnetic reality. Similarly,
consciousness and the agents of its experience are two aspects of one
divine reality, Brahman. Consciousness is spirit. The agents are
matter in two categories of elements--*sthula* (the gross elements of
earth, water, fire, air and ether) and *suksma* (the subtle elements of
mind, intelligence and false ego). Above the Brahman of matter and
spirit is the Parabrahman (Supersoul or Supreme Person), the "electrician"
who controls both.
The agents of experience
First among the agents of experience is the false ego, the force
that holds the soul fast within the material field. Then there is the mind,
which "screens" experience. This screening may be understood in two
ways. One is like that of a cinema screen, upon which unreal
but enthralling imagery appears. Another is like that of a
filtering screen. The mind gives its attention to some images,
considering them to be desirable or dangerous, but screens out other
images as unimportant. This filtering function is also known as the
intelligence, for it is by intelligence that we distinguish between the
important and unimportant. For example, the sense data that registers
the form of an attractive woman upon the screen of a man's mind will
inevitably contain incongruent imagery: an unsightly wart here, an
unpleasant smell there, and so on. But when the intelligence dedicates
itself to enjoy this female form, it filters that incongruent
imagery out. Behind this "editing function" is the choice of the
The *Bhagavad-gita* lists additional agents of experience:
the life symptoms, the perceptive and active senses, sense
objects, convictions, desire, hatred, happiness and distress.
Because each agent has power to attract and repel consciousness, each
induces a person to make choices. The power of the agents to affect
us, to force us to choose, is derived from time.
The agents configure our human experience according to laws of
nature. Indeed, the matrix of experience is configured and
reconfigured lifetime after lifetime, not only as human experience, but
as the experience of 8,400,000 species. This constant reconfiguration
is known as the change of bodies, or reincarnation. The process is
summed up by the phrase *prakrteh kriyamanani* (from *Bhagavad-gita*
3.27). As translated by Srila Prabhupada in one of his commentaries,
*prakrteh kriyamanani* means "according to the laws of material nature
one is controlled by the demigods."
The wheel of fortune
The demigods, like us, are persons. But they wield vast power and
influence within the universe. Though the demigods stand largely
outside our matrix, they are functionally represented within it by the
material agents of our experience. Precisely how the demigods interact
with us through these agents is determined by a schedule of natural
law. This schedule men call destiny or fortune. Since ancient times,
civilized peoples have tried to discern the schedule of their destiny in
the astrological signs rotated through the heavens by the *kala-cakra*,
the wheel of time.
By what natural law do the demigods schedule our fortune? By the
law of the three modes (*tri-guna*) of work (*karma*). Every day of
our life, the stimuli to work prevails upon us to choose what to
do next. Stimuli of all kinds--sensations, ideas, emotional moods,
spatial locations and the kind of work we do--are produced from three
modes of nature: goodness (*sattva-guna*), passion (*rajo-guna*) and
ignorance (*tamo-guna*). For example, work that is regulated by
religious scripture and performed with a tranquil mind, without
attachment, and not motivated by material results, is in the mode of
goodness. Work that is performed with great effort by one seeking to
gratify desires under the influence of the false ego is in the mode of
passion. Work that is performed in illusion, that disregards
scriptural injunction, that is unheedful of sinful reactions, that is
violent and distressful, is in the mode of ignorance.
Work in the superior mode (*sattva-guna*) gives rise to good
fortune, work in the middle mode (*rajo-guna*) to mixed fortune, and
work in the lower mode (*tamo-guna*) to misfortune. The destiny that
befalls us now is nothing but the result of our deeds committed in a
prior state of existence. There is no such thing as chance. What seems
accidental to us is actually justice, meted out by the demigods in
accordance with the law of *karma.*
The modes of *karma* fluctuate in time and space. A deed that
is good at one time, place and circumstance may be bad at another.
A very simple analogy is that of the rules of the road in
different countries: in England, it is "good" to drive on the left
side of the road, but just across the channel, it is "bad."
Whether what we do at any moment is good or bad is determined by the
modes, not by our private notions of right and wrong. It is impossible
for a human being to accurately judge from moment to moment how these
modes are changing. But the demigods know, and they implacably reward
or punish us accordingly. Thus *karma* inevitably yields good, mixed
and bad fortune, no matter how sincerely by our own estimation we may
try to do only good.
To summarize, a person is an eternal being with limited freedom of
choice. His awareness of what choices lie before him is shaped by
time-bound material phenomena, which include experiences that are
physical, emotional and mental. The phenomena a person now experiences
are in reaction to his past actions. These reactions are plotted by
the demigods in accordance with three modes of work. Due to his past
work within these modes, a person presently has good, mediocre and bad
physical, emotional and mental experiences. All such experiences are
In the midst of the matrix of my experience, what do I, a person,
ultimately seek? The answer is freedom. "What light is to
the eyes," said a wise man, "what air is to the lungs, what love is to
the heart, liberty is to the soul of man." Everybody wants liberation,
Srila Prabhupada explains, because that is the constitution position of
the soul. Constitutionally, we are eternal, complete in knowledge, and
full of happiness. But the experience of matter suppresses the
experience of our original nature. Now we find ourselves subject to time,
ignorance and misery. Innately, we all yearn for freedom from that
Three false conceptions of freedom
A liberated person is free to make real choices. Real choice is
possible where there are options of real satisfaction. Unfortunately,
the matrix of our experience does not permit us free choice. Why? The
answer is quite simple: we are eternal, yet the options available to us
in this world aren't. We want the experience of unadulterated bliss,
yet the options available to us in this world are mixed up with
distress. Choice as we know it now, within the matrix of our present
experience, is insubstantial. We select shadows--of love, social life,
recreation and so on--that appear and disappear in time. Yet within
the confines of our experience, it seems very difficult for us to
understand that we have no *real* freedom of choice. The matrix even
supplies us with three notions of freedom--in goodness, in passion and
in ignorance. Unfortunately, they are not real.
Though it too is ultimately false, the *sattvic* (good) conception
of freedom is superior to the others. Here, a person aspires for
freedom by knowledge and morality--virtues that greatly boost the power
of detachment. But as Srila Prabhupada warns, knowledge and morality
do not grant us authority over our senses, namely the eyes, the tongue,
the nose, the ear and touch. Even in goodness, consciousness remains
*subject* on all sides to physical, emotional and mental phenomena
arising uncontrollably out of good, bad and mixed fortune. A learned,
moral person experiences those phenomena in an analytical, self-
composed manner. Being detached from his experience, he may think
himself liberated. But he is not really liberated if in the name of
goodness he remains habituated to a life of imprisonment within mundane
sensation. In *Raja Vidya*, Chapter Seven, Srila Prabhupada explains:
Goodness is also a kind of contamination. In goodness one
becomes aware of his position and transcendental subjects,
etc., but his defect is in thinking, "Now I have understood
everything. Now I am all right." He wants to stay here. In
other words, the man in the mode of goodness becomes a first
class prisoner and, becoming happy in the prison house,
wants to stay there.
Our two natures
Our first nature, the substance of our person, is eternal spirit.
Our second nature, as Srila Prabhupada often pointed out, is habit.
For example, we have the habit to rejoice or lament our change of
fortune. In the language of *Bhagavad-gita*, this habit is *dvandva-
moha*, the bewilderment of duality, which captivates all creatures born
into the material world. In a lecture, Srila Prabhupada gave the
illustration of a man crying over the death of a son. Who in the world
will not cry if his son dies? Even a man of learning and morality will
cry at such a loss. "It is habitual," Srila Prabhupada said. But a
man in the mode of goodness tries to be philosophical about it.
In the ancient world, philosophy meant primarily the intellectual
method of distinguishing the spirit self from the habits of body and
mind. Philosophers of the classical Mediterranean culture, which sired
European civilization, knew that our first nature can be made well or
unwell. The first nature is made well by the cultivation of virtue.
Conversely, as one loses his virtue, his first nature sickens.
In the Latin language, like Sanskrit, the root *vir* means
"strong;" hence virtue is the quality of a strong, healthy spirit. In
European culture there are four classical virtues, foremost of which is
*sophia*, true knowledge of the self beyond time. The others are
fortitude, justice and temperance. In Vedic culture too there are four
similar virtues: truthfulness, austerity, mercy and cleanliness. These
are fostered when we refrain from gambling (including mental
speculation), intoxication, meat-eating and illicit sex.
Attachment to truth is essential to detachment from matter. Above
all, truth means the timeless truth beyond my temporal self-image. The
image of myself as a father of a son is "true" in a biological,
psychological and social sense--*but in fact it is not true in the
highest sense* because my role as a father is only temporary. It takes
real virtue to admit this.
As he laments the death of a son, the grief of a virtuous father
is tempered by a sober insight into the deeper meaning of his change of
fortune. He knows that what is given and taken away by the demigods is
not his own, for the eternal soul can possess nothing that is
temporary. Hence, misfortune for a good man is not really bad. It
often serves a lesson healthier than good fortune can, since in so-
called good times we tend to forget that nothing in this world can
last. As Philosophia, goddess of Greek and Roman thought, declares in
*The Consolation of Philosophy* by Boethius: "But if you could see the
plan of providence, you would not think there was evil anywhere."
The world is so planned that misfortune follows good fortune.
The childless King Citraketu felt himself greatly blessed by providence
when at last his wife bore him a son. Shortly, in a palace intrigue,
the baby was poisoned. The king was emotionally crushed. But the sage
Narada showed Citraketu that this loss was the very same gain he'd
celebrated days before. Thus the son was "good" and "evil", "friend" and
"enemy", the object of both the king's happiness and distress. When he
understood this, Citraketu really gained something--detachment.
For one detached from material gain and loss, "being" is far more
important than "becoming" (a father, for instance). No matter what
good or ill fortune comes with time, the virtuous person chooses
timeless being--his spiritual substance--over any material situation.
On the other hand, a man of weak virtue is attached to the ebb and flow
of his destiny. He sees the appearance and disappearance of pleasant
and unpleasant experiences within time as good or evil. Because he is
blind to his own *karma* under the wheel of fate, he supposes fate to
be blind chance. Or he supposes there is no fate at all, that success
is tenacity of purpose, and failure the reward for laziness. In any
case, his habit is to identify his self with the matrix into which his
person is poured, and to identify his self-interest with the
experiences he finds in that matrix. Thus he, who is pure spirit,
becomes dependent upon the shifting arrangements of matter (*prakrti*).
Such is his bad habit.
When a man becomes increasingly dependent upon and controlled by a
bad habit, he is said to be addicted. That addiction is sin. Sin is
persistent ignorance of our first nature. Sin develops from meat-
eating, illicit sex, gambling (or mental speculation) and intoxication,
four kinds of behavior that corrode virtue.
"Freedom" in the mode of passion
In lectures, Srila Prabhupada sometimes translated the word
*prakrti* as "instrument," or, more specifically, "instrument of
enjoyment." An instrument is a machine. The material body that
encapsulates each one of us is an infinitely complex machine formed of
gross and subtle matter. Like the modern automobile, it holds forth
the promise of freedom and carefree enjoyment.
The instrumentation of the body includes cognitive senses
(*jnanindriya*: the ear, the skin, the eye, the nose, the tongue) and
the motor senses (*karmindriya*: the mouth, the hand, the leg, the
genitalia and the rectum). All are features of the mode of passion.
They invite us to get comfortable as they serve our every desire.
However, these sensory instruments are not our servants. They are our
captors. Their so-called service of our desire is dangerously habit-
Over many lifetimes in lower species, our habit has been to slake
our desire for enjoyment by giving free play to the senses. As the
senses roam, desire increases, and as desire increases, so does our
dependence upon the senses. Even for a human being seemingly liberated
by goodness, the latent habits of excessive eating, sleeping and sex
may be aroused at any time. Srila Prabhupada writes:
A liberated soul is a person who has sufficient knowledge
of this material world and is therefore unattached to the
bodily conception of life. But because of association with
the modes of material nature for a very long time, even
liberated souls sometimes become captivated by the illusory
energy due to inattentiveness in the transcendental position.
Thus knowledge and morality are not enough to completely break the
habit of sense gratification. As said in the second chapter of
*Bhagavad-gita*, the senses are so strong and impetuous that they can
forcibly carry away the mind of an intelligent man who is endeavoring
to control them. The mind is of the nature of goodness. Though the
senses are passionate, they are very near the mind, for they are its
organs of information gathering (hearing, feeling, seeing, tasting and
smelling) and work (eating, vocalization, grasping, locomotion, sex and
elimination of bodily waste). The senses can at any time be
agitated by material objects and drag the mind of a good man away from
remembrance of the timeless self. The mind itself then becomes an
agent of time--and the worst enemy of the soul.
In the world of time, the mind hunts for sensual delights that are
in turn hunted by old age, disease, death and rebirth. Yet it is our
habit to cherish the restless mind and senses as the agents of our
hope. From this habit a passionate philosophy of freedom develops, one
that some thinkers call "instrumentalism."
An instrumentalist is a person for whom the "instrument panel" of
the mind and senses is the only valid source of knowledge. He believes
the human being can find with the help of these instruments the answer
to the complex problems of material existence. Man is distinguished
from other creatures not by his virtues but by the complexity of his
problems. Human questions of right and wrong, true and false, can be
solved only on the basis of useful facts, for usefulness is the measure
of truth. Theories of the soul and its virtues are useless in practical
affairs. Therefore they are untrue. Theories are to be judged not by
their "goodness" but by their consequences: what results they give us.
The passionate instrumentalist uses his mind and senses like
tools, to locate and dig up treasures buried deep within material
nature--riches, rare pleasures, sources of energy, cosmic secrets--that
he hopes will serve the needs of the human race. His outlook is
*prospective*, since his faith is invested in the future. Thus
"becoming" is far more important than "being."
But what will he become? He will certainly not become free. His
future holds countless births and deaths, for the philosophy of
instrumentalism is simply the philosophy of embodied existence. For
example, aerospace technology has made it possible for mankind to fly
high in the sky. If in the human body I convince myself that the most
important problems of life are those that flight can solve, I deserve
no better than to become a bird in my next life.
"Freedom" in the mode of ignorance
The person in the mode of goodness seeks freedom in being rather
than becoming. The person in the mode of passion seeks freedom in
becoming rather than being. The person in the mode of ignorance seeks
freedom in non-being, or nihilism. He is *retrospective* in his
outlook, in that in his heart he nurses unending dismay, anger and
frustration about his past experience. Thus he sees hope neither in the
present nor future. He chooses to cancel out further involvement in this
world by negating his personal self. There are demanding, highly
disciplined philosophical systems dedicated to losing one's self; but in
today's Western world, many people try it the easy way, through alcohol,
drugs and suicide. Now, there are other angry, frustrated individuals who
are not content to passively extinguish themselves. They want to drag the
world down with them. Through aggressive, violent behavior and the
oppressive domination of others, they seek freedom from the trouble of
having to think rationally about the purpose of life. Striking out at the
world in blind hatred and trampling it underfoot is just a motif of self-
annihilation, as is clear from the examples of history's famous tyrants like
Caligula and Adolf Hitler. Thus, whether he takes the passive or aggressive
path, the nihilist's goal is to eradicate all differences in his life, which
means to eradicate life itself.
A creed of voidism is, *ex nihilo omne ens qua ens fit*--"Every being
in so far as it is being is made out of nothing." If my being is nothing,
then neither my self who chooses nor the world of choices has real
importance. For a man in goodness, it *is* important to always choose
internal well-being over entanglement in external variety. For a man in
passion, it *is* important to entangle oneself in external variety; yes,
more important even than internal well-being. But for a man in ignorance,
all this is not worth the trouble.
Good people struggle to be free from the loss of the self to
material attraction. Passionate people have no problem with losing
themselves in that way. But they struggle to get free from the
problems that result from their attraction to matter. The ignorant
person claims freedom by disclaiming the importance of the struggles of
goodness and passion. He thinks eternal life and worldly happiness are
impossible, and the effort to attain them is a waste, an absurdity, a
nothingness. In *Caligula*, the French philosopher Albert Camus
Really this world of ours, this scheme of things as they
call it, is quite intolerable. That's why I want the moon,
or happiness, or eternal life--something, in fact, that may
sound crazy, but which isn't this world...This world has no
importance; once a man realizes that, he wins his freedom...
And yet I know...all I need is for the impossible to be.
On one side, Camus advocated the *tamasic* freedom gained by
rejecting life in this world. But that freedom is negative.
It is like getting rid of a persistent headache by chopping off the
head. On the other side, he admitted this is not what we *positively*
want and need. We want and need positive freedom *to do the
impossible.* And what is this impossible "which isn't this world",
which isn't the matrix of our present experience? As explained before,
it is the freedom to choose among options of real satisfaction, options
formed out of the nature of eternal existence, complete knowledge and
pure bliss. But to one in ignorance, because it is impossible, it is crazy.
The supreme power
Inasmuch as one is captivated by the three modes of material nature,
real freedom *is* impossible. Thus after many lifetimes of attempts at
finding freedom in the modes, one may become inclined to transcend matter
altogether. But to transcend matter, one must transcend the interest to
wield power over the material world--to wit, the power of aloofness from
the world (goodness), the power to control it (passion), and the power to
negate it (ignorance). These powers belong to God. The material bondage
of the soul is caused by imitating the power of God, who alone is
Gunesvara, the all-powerful master of the *tri-guna.* It is impossible
to become God. The attempt to imitate Him brings the soul under the
influence of the three modes.
However, the philosophers of the impossible are tenacious. Some
will agree that naively trying to become God is futile. But "naive",
they say, means to *try to become God in a personal sense.* God is
better understood as the oneness of all beings devoid of *gunas*
(distinguishing characteristics). Divinity is the total absence of name,
form, quality, activity and relationship.
Mystical trance invokes the power of divinity. This power
gradually dissolves the difference between "you" and "me" and "this"
and "that." At the highest stage, the self is known to be the universe,
the universe is known to be God, and God is known to be every living
being. The All-One Self is thus freed from the modes. But what then of
the freedom of real choice?
With a single stroke we are freed from bondage;
nothing clings to us and we hold to nothing.
All is empty, clear, self-illuminating,
with no exertion of the mind's power.
Here thought, feeling, knowledge and imagination
are of no value.
This, a Buddhist poem, returns us to the problem of impersonalism.
Where all is empty, where thought, feeling, knowledge and imagination
have no value, there can be no substantial power of choice, and thus no
real personal freedom. That notwithstanding, this poem is an
expression of choice. Seng-st'an, the poet, had a conscious aim in
life--to cling to nothing and have nothing cling to him, as opposed to
clinging to something and having something cling to him. He could not
escape the essence of his personhood--*choice*--even in impersonalism.
The effort to neutralize the self, to render it inactive by spiritual
power, is contradictory. *Spirit is active, not inactive.*
yad-amsa-viddhah pracaranti karmasu
naivanyada lauham ivaprataptam
sthanesu tad drastrapadesam eti*
As iron has the power to burn when made red-hot in the
association of fire, so the body, senses, living force,
mind and intelligence, although merely lumps of matter,
can function in their activities when infused with a
particle of consciousness by the Supreme Personality of
Godhead. As iron cannot burn unless heated by fire, the
bodily senses cannot act unless favored by the Supreme
Brahman. (*Srimad-Bhagavatam * 6.16.24)
The particle of consciousness (*amsa*) mentioned here is the soul.
It emanates from the Supreme Person. The next chapter will explain the
Supreme Person in detail; here we need note only that this Supreme
Person and His emanation, the soul, are dynamic spirit. Spirit is
compared to fire, and the matrix (body, senses, vital air or *prana*,
mind and intelligence) is compared to iron. When fire energizes iron,
iron acquires the power to burn. Similarly, a moving spiritual charge
activates the matrix of mundane experience, just as a magnetic field is
activated by a moving electric charge. The medium by which spirit
activates matter is time. Time is the Supreme Person's power over the
universe, as He Himself declares in the eleventh chapter of *Bhagavad-
gita.* The phases of universal time manifest as the modes of nature:
creation (passion), maintenance (goodness) and destruction (ignorance).
*Srimad-Bhagavatam* 3.25.15 explains how a person can be bound by
and liberated from the three modes of nature:
*cetah khalv asya bandhaya
muktaye catmano matam
gunesu saktam bandhaya
ratam va pumsi muktaye*
The stage in which the consciousness of the living entity is
attracted by the three modes of material nature is called
conditional life. But when that same consciousness is
attached to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one is
situated in the consciousness of liberation.
Choice, the essential function of an individual's consciousness,
is defined here. We have two options: to choose to associate with the
three modes of nature, or to choose to associate with the Supreme
If we choose the modes of nature, we are entrapped by them (the
word *guna* means "rope"; each of the modes is a strand of a rope that
binds the soul within the matrix of temporal experience). Once so
trapped, the soul's dynamic essence, his power of choice, alternates
rapidly back and forth between material dualities: mind and matter,
intelligence and foolishness, good and evil, light and darkness, male
and female, young and old, sickness and health, heat and cold, pleasure
and pain, happiness and distress, wealth and poverty, beauty and
ugliness, excitement and boredom, sobriety and whimsy, sanity and
insanity, honor and dishonor, fame and infamy, birth and death, up and
As long as the soul continues to chooses between duality, the
*ksetra*--his field of material activities--is perpetuated life after
life. Choosing to associate with the Supreme Person unties the knot of
bondage to material duality. As we shall see, liberation in
association with the Supreme Person affords the soul unlimited
opportunities of substantial choice.
Chapter Two: The Supreme Person
It is possible, with a clarity that is breathtaking, for a human
being to take a peek beyond the matrix of time-bound experience. I do
not refer to an otherworldly vision that stuns life to a standstill. I
mean an insight into something as simple as a sentence spoken by a
friend. Such insight is readily at hand for those willing to perform
the small miracle of perceiving how we perceive things. Philosophers
call this *apperception*.
The mind's logical mechanism (*anumana*) puts events into an order
of *before* and *after.* We cannot logically assign *now* to an event
that occured a moment before, or to one that will occur a moment from
now. To know *beyond time* events passing *in time* is beyond logic.
*Yet the meaning we perceive in events is beyond the time of their
duration.* This fact is so obvious we usually miss it.
When we "catch" in consciousness a melody or a spoken sentence, we
do not separate the notes or words we hear at this moment from those we
heard a moment before and those we shall hear a moment later. *Vinayai
tu grahanena vinavadasya va sabdo grhitah*, it is said in the
Upanisads: "the notes played on a vina are caught all together."
The melody--a vibrant, graceful form that emerges from somewhere within
us--reveals itself as beauty *beyond* the momentary tones struck by the
player. Another Upanisadic verse speaks of "that which is not revealed
by speech, but that which reveals speech" (*yad vacan abhyuditam yena
vag abhyudyate*). When a person speaks a sentence to us, he has "a
point" he wants us to understand. But catching his point is not an
effort of catching the meaning of each word as he fires it from his
mouth--like having to catch a rapid volley of tennis balls, each with
one word inscribed on it--and mentally tying these meanings together.
We catch the point of his sentence all at once, not in the logic of
time (horology). His point is revealed by knowledge that emerges from
within. But why knowledge emerges to make sense out of his muddled
speech (often even before he finishes speaking) cannot be known from
what he is saying.
There are modern philosophers who consider *the knowing of
the beauty and meaning of experience*--exemplified here by our
"catching" a melody or an idea from events streaming by--to be "the
real world in which consciousness itself is proper being," or "the
absolute separate from everything." They say we unfortunately throw "a
network of time" over that real world, this network being the
mechanistic logic that blinds us to the way melodies and meanings are
revealed to us *out of time.*
The light of absolute knowledge
The Mahajanas are Vedic authorities fully conversant with the
absolute knowledge that stands separate from the fleeting impressions
of matter. There are twelve Mahajanas; Brahma is the Mahajana who
assists the Supreme Person in His pastime of creating the universe. In
*Srimad-Bhagavatam* he says the Lord is the *avikriyam satyam*, the
unchanging truth, as opposed to the shifting "facts" of material
existence. The unchanging truth is hidden within everyone's heart
beyond mundane words and arguments, and cannot be defined by the mind.
The Supreme Person is *arthendriyabhasam*, the inner light that
illuminates the objects of perception that appear and disappear in
Mahajana Rudra, who destroys the universe, explains that to
understand anything, we require *param jyoti*, "the supreme light."
This timeless light emanates from *eka adyah purusa*, "one original
person" (Purusa) who, like the sun, stands behind a cloud of His own
making. This is the cloud of *maya*, the ever-changing material
energy, which covers the clear sky of our consciousness. The effulgent
Purusa illuminates that cloud, making sense of the sensations we
experience under the influence of *maya*--sounds, feelings, forms,
tastes and smells. Without His timeless light, there could be no
experience of the swirling, temporal cloud of material energy. But
that Purusa remains hidden to all except those whose hearts are
*amala*, spotless. He is *kevala*, completely pure. Rudra informs us
that this one original person is named Krsna.
Another Mahajana, Kapiladeva, says that Lord Krsna is Bhagavan,
the unlimited source of six opulences: knowledge, beauty, power, fame,
richness and renunciation. As the Purusa, Bhagavan Sri Krsna resides
within our hearts. Simultaneously He is external to us in His form of
time (*kala-rupena yo bahih*).
Thus Krsna is our inner power to know; and He is Time, which
drives the functions of the mind, emotions, senses and sense objects.
As the power to know illuminates these time-driven agents, we recognize
opulences like *jnana* (knowledge) and *sri* (beauty) as they dawn on
us in passing words and musical tones. These opulences give shape,
depth, direction, meaning, potency, and attraction to our experience.
Without them, all would be void.
Consider now the opulence of *bala* (power). Looking at a
mountain, I see data--an enormous mass of rock--registered by the eyes.
This is *bahya-pratyaksa*, external perception. I am made aware of
this data by the light of knowledge shining from the hidden core of the
heart. That light likewise reveals an emotional mood--awe--that the
mind associates with the physical form of the mountain. This is
*antara-pratyaksa*, the inner perception of a psychological state.
These sensory, mental and emotional functions accompany--*but do not
explain*--the recognition of majestic power as I look at the mountain.
Yes, the eyes register a mass of rock, and the mind responds to that
data with awe and wonder--but between these two functions is a mystery.
From whence does the recognition of power emerge?
The answer is that it emerges from *consciousness itself*, just as
beauty emerges from consciousness when we hear music, and knowledge
emerges from consciousness when we hear a sentence. In his purport to
*Srimad-Bhagavatam* 1.19.23, Srila Prabhupada explains that the
individual soul shares to a lesser degree the six transcendental
opulences of Bhagavan. But they are dimmed by a covering of the
material energy, just as the sun is dimmed by a cover of cloud. As
light is the medium that links our vision to the sun, so consciousness
is the medium that links the soul and God. This is true whether the
soul faces up to God or not. All that we know in life is the
interface of individual consciousness with supreme consciousness. The
time-bound matrix--the mechanism of mental, emotional, sensory and
physical experience--is also a product of that interface, just as a
cloud in the sky is a product of the sunlight interfacing with our
vision. But it is an unwanted product, like static that disturbs our
reception of a radio program. Catching a glimpse of the timeless
opulence of knowledge and beauty through fleeting words and musical
notes is like catching a glimpse of the sun through a passing cloud.
The cloudy covering is an effect of our *ignorance of the presence
of God before us*. As the sun is so much vaster in size than a cloud,
so much greater is God than what is suggested of Him through our mind
and senses. Our ignorance of His presence before us is the result of
our insignificant perspective. Similarly, because we are so tiny, a
small cloud covers our vision of the gigantic sun.
There is no consciousness without co-consciousness, that which the
individual soul shares with the Lord in the Heart. When in ignorance
of co-consciousness, we get carried away by time-driven mental
functions, what we "know" looks as if it comes from the mind. When in
ignorance we get carried away by time-driven sensory functions, what we
"know" looks as if it comes from the senses. But knowledge does not
come from the mind and senses, no more than light comes from the cloud
covering the sun. To a person in pure consciousness--whose knowledge
is not obstructed by the cloud of *maya*--what he knows comes from God:
His timeless knowledge, beauty, power, fame, richness and renunciation.
All is personal
Therefore the *Purusa-sukta* hymn of the *Rg Veda* states, *purusa
evedam sarvam*, "the Supreme Person is everything." But at present we
do not see Him *as a person*. The reason again is that our present
perspective is insignificant. Consider the point of view of a tiny
insect. I am certainly a person, but when an insect crawls across my
hand, it perceives me as a mass of impersonal "stuff." In a similar
way, human beings perceive the creation (the external form of the
Supreme Person) to be impersonal. However, there is an important
difference between an insect and a human being. A human being can ask
what is really behind the world he perceives. The same Vedic hymn
replies, *etavanasya mahimato jyayams ca purusah*: "all this (the
creation) proclaims His greatness, but greater than this is the
Person." Thus the great creation is brought forth *by the greatest
person* just to draw human reason, our instrument of inquiry, *to that
But atheistic intellectuals cannot accept this. In their view,
our instrument of inquiry is prone to an unfortunate weakness for the
supernatural. The hard facts of sense perception are the best medicine
against this weakness. Our senses don't show us anything superior to
nature. Thus nature is the only valid object of human inquiry. It is
the duty of the serious seeker of truth to firmly join reason
to sense perception. Only then will the mind not float into the error
of speculation about things beyond nature--the supernatural.
Atheists notwithstanding, nature *naturally* inspires reason to
consider supernature. Space scientists marvel at astrophysical
structures of mind-boggling proportions: countless gigantic stars that
are estimated to move at speeds of hundreds of kilometers per second in
ever-greater formations called galaxies, clusters and supercluster
complexes. At the other end of the scale, a single living cell viewed
at the microscopic level presents biologists with a huge, complicated
vista of planetary dimensions, crowded with more detail and activity
than their minds can absorb.
Most scientists think it reasonable that behind the movement and
transformation by time of the many things great and small in nature,
there must be unchanging, timeless laws. Without such laws, no
discernable pattern could emerge out of the flux of matter. In the
opinion of a modern physicist, matter itself is ultimately just "a
radically ambiguous and ceaselessly flowing quantum soup." But our
ability to predict movement and transformation within this soup
indicates that there is a fixed reality somewhere. The question is,
*where* is that somewhere? Science has no answer.
The *Purusa-sukta* states, *pado 'sya visvabhutani*, "the entire
material creation is only one-fourth of the potency of the Supreme
Person." Beyond that, *tripadasya mritam divi*, "three-fourths of His
potency is transcendental." The word *divi* refers to *daivi-prakrti*,
the divine, superior nature beyond time. There, the opulences of
beauty, knowledge, strength, fame, richness and renunciation are
manifest in unlimited fullness as the Lord's personal qualities. The
ever-changing material creation, the external object of our present
experience, covers the superior nature like a cloud. From behind that
cloud, Krsna's attractive opulences peek out at us, endowing the
material nature will all its attractive features. In our ignorance,
hardly do we recognize them as His personal attributes.
The Supreme Person is the all-attractive focus of His two natures,
the material and the spiritual. He is their original organizing
principle, the cause of their causation, the quality of their
qualities, the truth of their truths. *Without effort* He is all this.
"He has nothing to do," the Vedas declare. His natures--who are
actually personal, being features of His own self--serve Him by their
own free will. Why? *Taittiriya Upanisad* replies, *raso vai sah,
rasa eva hi ayam labhva anandi bhavati*: "He is Rasa; whosoever attains
Him knows true happiness."
Rasa means that the Supreme Person (*Purusa*) is the original
substance of taste, fully ripened and sweet. Another meaning of
the word *purusa* is "enjoyer." Hence in the spiritual and material
realms the Purusa enjoys His own taste as Rasa. It is incorrect to
assume that He chooses between "true enjoyment" in the transcendental
realm and "false enjoyment" in the material realm. In both realms He
enjoys only Himself. Thus there is no difference between His enjoyment
here or there.
Yet we should not minimize the difference between the two realms.
The spiritual realm eternally celebrates Krsna's eternal enjoyment of
Himself. Thus it is not different from His enjoyment, as much as
tasteful clothing worn by an attractive woman in celebration of her own
beauty is not different from her enjoyment of that beauty. The
material world, on the other hand, hides His enjoyment. It is like a
long, loose-fitting veiled drape that covers a lady from head to toe.
The drape suggests, but does not celebrate, her beauty. Still, even
while wearing such tasteless attire, the same woman may inwardly
continue to enjoy the hidden fact that she is very beautiful.
True happiness for the soul
We individual souls are samples of the original Purusa. We are
persons. We want happiness. That is why some verses of the *Bhagavad-
gita* refer to the soul as *purusa.* However, compared to Krsna, who
is called Purusottama (the greatest person), we are insignificant.
Krsna encompasses and surpasses the material and spiritual natures, but
we souls are poised delicately on the *tatastha* (margin) between the
two. Krsna's *sakti* or power over the two natures is unlimited. Our
*sakti* is limited to a choice of which of the two natures we will
serve. Thus, among other names of the soul (*purusa*, *jiva*, *atma*),
the term *tatastha-sakti* defines him as an entity that always faces
the choice between truth and error. We may choose to surrender to the
substance of bliss--the spiritual nature, our true nature. Or we may
choose to pursue the shadow that plays upon the waves of time--the
material nature, our false nature.
But that shadow is also a form of the Supreme Person. Then why
is it wrong for the soul to choose to enjoy matter? It is wrong
because the material world is not free, just as a prison is not free.
Freedom is the very thing that makes real happiness possible. Krsna is
absolutely free to enjoy Himself eternally. The spiritual world
celebrates that freedom, but the material world does not. A liberated
soul is he who eternally chooses to celebrate Krsna's happiness. That
celebration is his key to the spiritual world. But the soul who once
chooses to enjoy matter throws liberation away. He is bound by the
three modes of nature within the matrix of mundane experience.
No doubt some happiness is available in a prison, but it is far
outweighed by the distress of confinement--repeated birth, death,
disease and old age. Material happiness is nothing else than the
Lord's own beauty, knowledge, power, fame, richness and renunciation as
glimpsed by persons entrapped in the matrix.
A famous devotee poet compared material happiness to a drop of
water in a desert. While water is certainly the means of quenching his
thirst, how will one drop satisfy a man lost in a desert? But in the
absence of anything more, the taste of this one drop enthuses the
thirsty soul in his *karma*, the compulsive struggle within the *gunas*
(ropes) that bind him tighter the more he tries to get free.
Intensity of being
In the previous chapter, a two-sided problem was raised about
eternality, action and time. On the one side, if my desire to act
originates in the timeless soul, how can I fulfill this desire without
forfeiting my eternality by acting in time? On the other side, if I
wish to return to my original spiritual state of timeless being, what
shall I do about the desire to act, which is essential to that being?
The problem can be expressed as one simple question: must "being" be
ever opposed to "doing"?
Krsna's being is concentrated in mellows of sweeter and sweeter
intensity, called *rasas.* The *rasas* are His moods of loving
interplay (*lila*) with His liberated devotees. That interplay is
transcendental activity, beyond material space and time.
*Rasa* is an experience far beyond the matrix of mundane
experience. In *rasa*, the soul recognizes that all opulences
originate in Bhagavan. "The Supreme Lord is full in six opulences,"
writes Srila Prabhupada in his purport to *Bhagavad-gita* 14.27, "and
when a devotee approaches Him there is an exchange of these six
opulences." To approach the Lord means to leave behind the
insignificant perspective of impersonalism. It is due to this
perspective that now we may at most glimpse a dim glow of spiritual
opulence behind a roiling psychosensory cloud. The free exchange, in
pure consciousness, of spiritual opulence--the soul's own with that of
the Lord--is possible only from the perspective of *rasa*, or
*Rasa* is immediate to the soul--which means it is experienced in
the deepest core of the heart as the intensification of the soul's very
being. There, in the heart, Lord Krsna personally floods the soul with
nectarean relish for the Supreme Being. This relish wells forth from
the unfathomable spring of the individual person's beginningless tie to
Within the sweetness of that relish, Krsna's transcendental name,
form, qualities, activities and His relationships with His pure
devotees in the spiritual world are revealed at the meeting point of
the subjectivity of the individual person and the objectivity of the
Supreme Person. This is the peak of quintessential virtue (spiritual
strength), where a soul's relish of Being--Krsna's being plus his own
being devoted to Krsna--surpasses all possible mundane attractions.
Reaching this peak takes the soul beyond the reach of the three modes
*Rasa* is where the soul meets God face to face. It is the
perfection of a person's desire for activity, because activity in
*rasa* is perfect. It is the perfection of his power to choose,
because all choice in *rasa* is perfect. *Rasa* is spiritual
perfection in love of God.
Experts in *rasa* use the term *ghana* (concentrated) to indicate
the level of intensity at which His person of divine nature--*sat*
(eternality), *cit (absolute knowledge), *ananda* (ever-increasing
bliss), and *vigraha* (all-attractive spiritual form)--is known in
truth (*tattva*). In *Bhagavad-gita 9.13 and 14, Lord Krsna describes
the visible symptoms of the great souls (*mahatmas*) who know Him in
truth. He says they are protected by the divine nature by virtue of
their determination to always chant Krsna's glories, to bow down before
Him and to worship Him in pure devotion.
The beginning of impersonalism
*Bhagavad-gita* 9.15 speaks of a path different from that of the
*mahatmas.* It is taken by those who want to know Krsna indirectly,
rather than in His full concentration. This, Srila Prabhupada said, is
the difficult path called *jnana-yoga*. In his purport to *Srimad-
Bhagavatam* 3.32.33, he says further:
By the process of *jnana-yoga* the same Personality of
Godhead appears to be impersonal. As the same object
appears to be different when perceived by different
senses, the same Supreme Lord appears to be impersonal
by mental speculation. A hill appears cloudy from a
distance, and one who does not know may speculate that
the hill is a cloud.
*Jnana-yoga*, then, shifts a soul's perspective of the Supreme
Being from personal to impersonal. The shift of perspective begins as
a doubt in the absolute nature of the personal God. The problem can be
appreciated by considering the meaning of the word "absolute." As
Sorbonne philosopher Jean Wahl explained in *The Philosopher's Way*:
the term "absolute" has two meanings, and the interest which
it invokes is due in part to this ambiguity, this play of
meanings, this shimmering of its two facets of separateness
Wahl (p. 308) rendered the two meanings as "separate from
everything" and "a reality comprehending all other realities." These
correspond to the Sanskrit words *svarat* (independant) and *abhijna*
(all-knowing). Srila Prabhupada writes in *Teachings of Lord
The Sanskrit words *abhijna* and *svarat*, appearing in the
first verse of *Srimad-Bhagavatam*, are significant. These
two words distinguish the Lord from all other living entities.
No living entity other than the supreme being, the Absolute
Personality of Godhead is either *abhijna* or *svarat*--that
is, none of them are either fully cognizant or fully independent.
Everyone has to learn from his superior about knowledge; even
Brahma, who is the first living being within this material
world, has to meditate upon the Supreme Lord and take help
from Him in order to create. If Brahma or the sun cannot
create anything without acquiring knowledge from a superior,
then what is the situation with the material scientists who
are fully dependent on so many things?
But the *jnani* has doubts. How can a personal being at one and
the same time be separate from everything and yet include everything?
It is more logical, thinks the *jnani*, to understand the absolute from
an impersonal perspective. *Bhagavad-gita* 19.15 mentions that the
*jnanis* are attracted to three indirect God concepts: "one without a
second" (*ekatvena prthaktvena*), "diverse in many" (*bahudha*) and
"the universal form" (*visvato-mukham*). Each is a philosophical
approach to the problem of the absolute. Philosophers of all times and
cultures seek a logic of unity, plurality, form, relation and
universality by which they hope to explain the absolute. The Vedic
literatures give such philosphers these three God concepts as the
subject matter of mental speculation. The highest of the three is
*visvato-mukham*, the idea of the universe as the supreme organism.
The *Bhagavad-gita* confirms that the *visva* or cosmos is a form of
Krsna. The Lord accepts this form to suggest to those inclined to
impersonalism that the universe rests upon a personal foundation.
The word *cosmos* comes to English from the Greek language. It
originally meant "the form or structure of a thing." Common people in
ancient Greece used it to signify the harmonious ornamentation--
necklaces and earrings, for example--worn by women to beautify
themselves. This is why the modern word "cosmetic" owes its origin to
The idea of "cosmos" as something worn by a person is comparable
to the "matrix" idea of the previous chapter. In one sense the two
amount to the same thing: the structure of gross and subtle matter that
a living entity experiences while in material existence. The
difference is that the cosmos is *freely worn as ornamentation* by the
Supreme Person, whereas the matrix *confines and shapes* the
consciousness of the individual person, the soul. In *Bhagavad-gita*
7.7, Krsna Himself compares the cosmos supported by Him to a necklace
of pearls, while in *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 6.1.52, Mahajana Narada Muni
compares the *karmic* experience of the soul to a cocoon that
entraps a silkworm.
It may be observed that the Vedic scriptures present three
"alloforms" (alternative shapes) of the cosmos. The first is the
macrocosm ("great cosmos," in Sanskrit *virat*), which the Supreme
Person displays within the vast space of our universe, which is
enclosed by a shell of elemental layers.
The gigantic universal form of the Personality of Godhead,
within the universal shell made of sevenfold material
elements, is conceived of as the *virat*. [*Bhag.* 2.1.25]
The *virat* is the total structure of material elements. The
Supreme Person accepts the *virat* as His dress and so activates
creation within the universal shell.
As the Lord, in His plenary portion, entered into the
elements of the universal creation, they transformed into
the gigantic form in which all the planetary systems and all
movable and immovable creations rest. [*Bhag.* 3.6.5]
Because the transcendental Person who wears these elements is
Yogesvara, the master of all mysticism, the material elements
effortlessly assemble into the form of the total cosmos. *Srimad-
Bhagavatam* 2.5.42 states He wears the celestial region (*svar-loka*)
of the universe on His chest and head. He wears the middle region
(*bhuvar-loka*) on His navel, and the nether region (*bhur-loka*) on
His legs. This description helps us arrive at a picture of the *virat*
in our minds. But with the word *kalpita* the verse advises us that
this picture is imaginary. The *virat* is hyperdimensional and thus
What is meant here by the word hyperdimensional? In the next few
paragraphs, I'll offer an explanation of this term gleaned from a space
exploration conference held at the United Nations in New York City on
February 27, 1992.
The human matrix of experience is configured in "three-space," or
three spatial dimensions (length, width and height) resting upon a
foundation of time. But over and above three-space, mathematicians and
topologists have worked out theoretical configurations for twenty or
more dimensions of "higher level state space." These theoretical
models predict the existence of a hyperdimensional substance that
surpasses our experience of length, width and height. This substance
is reflected back into our matrix of experience as three-space shadow
... the shadow we take to be reality.
It needs to be mentioned again that such models are only
hypothetical. Still, they echo the nature of the Vedic macrocosm. It
seems some scientists seriously propose that heavenly bodies (the sun,
planets and stars) are gateways leading away from our present
experience, the gross "reality of the everyday," to subtler dimensions
from where the reality of the everyday is controlled. These scientists
arrived at this hypothesis after concluding that conventional three-
space theories do not account for the amount of energy that radiates
from the sun, stars and some planets.
Now, if "our" cosmos is the three-space reflection of a
hyperdimensional macrocosm, then all we have to go by in our efforts
to understand the sun, stars and planets is but a low-level experience
of a high-level process. We are like children who, watching the sun
rise above the horizon of the sea, perceive the sea to be the
birthplace of the sun's great power. The high-level process of cosmic
energy, unknown to scientists today, is *yajna* (sacrifice).
The demigods reside in the hyperdimensional sun, moon, planets and
stars. They constantly offer sacrifice to Yajna, a name of the Cosmic
Person. In return He empowers them with authority over nature. The
Vedas ordain humanity to offer sacrifice to the demigods, who bestow in
return sunshine, rain, bountiful crops and good projeny. The *Purusa-
sukta* describes these demigods as nought other than aspects of the
cosmic Lord Himself. Candra (the moon-deity) is His mind, Surya (the
sun-deity) His eye, Agni (the fire-deity) His mouth and Vayu (the wind-
deity) His breath. Thus the Vedic conclusion is that only the Supreme
Person is to be worshiped.
Waves of *prana*
Yajna regulates the flow of the vital force (*prana*) throughout
all the dimensions of the universe. *Prana* is the vibrant power of
life over material elements. Without *prana*, our power to choose
would have no effect at all on our material bodies and the world
beyond. *Prana* expands from the Supreme Person and encompasses all
souls in the cosmos to facilitate their material desires. Whatever a
soul may experience of the universe, and whatever ability he may have
to manipulate gross matter, are appearances within the undulating waves
*Srimad-Bhagavatam* 2.10.28 declares that *prana* vibrates forth
from the navel of the Supreme Person. Brahma, who is the direct son of
the Lord, the incarnation of Vedic sound and the first Vedic sage,
appeared at the dawn of cosmic history from that navel. Brahma's
duty is to situate the souls--who are sleeping sparks of the Supreme's
spiritual potency--in *prana* so that the activities they dream of will
manifest within its waves. According to *Satapaha Brahmana* 188.8.131.52.,
the all-pervading cosmic *prana* is Brahma's own body (*yatsarvaminn
asrayanta tasmad u sariram. sa eva purusah prajapatir bhavat*). His
fundamental *pranic* wave carries 8,400,000 sets of lesser waves.
Each set defines a grade of consciousness--that is, a species of
*ksetra* (field of activities, matrix of experience). Brahma imparts
the Vedic scriptures so that the souls floating in *prana* can learn
how to satisfy their desires properly, and how to awaken from their
dreams to real spiritual life.
In *Life Comes From Life*, Srila Prabhupada indicates that a
species is defined by three characteristics--body, intelligence and
duration of life. Each species experiences up to one hundred years of
life. But the hundred-year span of one matrix is not the same as the
hundred-year span of others.
Both we and the ant live for one hundred years, but the
length of our hundred-year life-span is relative to our
bodies. Even Brahma, the longest-living entity in this
universe, lives for one hundred years. To us the ant's
life-span may seem only a few days.
To Brahma, a human life spans only a moment of time; from the
human point of view, Brahma lives for hundreds of trillions of solar
years. But within his matrix Brahma experiences the passage of his own
life at the same rate we do. The hyperdimensions of perception,
activity, intelligence and duration of life that are enjoyed by the
different species of life--demigods, humans, animals, plants and
aquatics--are marked out by different grades of *pranic* waves which in
turn are regulated by the Supreme Person, who is the original stimulus
of *pranic* vibration.
Fundamentals of matter
For 2500 years, Western scientists have labored to discover
what matter really is. Ancient Greek physicists like Democritus
believed it to be the motion of indestructible atoms in the void.
Modern physics changes that picture drastically. The void has given
way to an infinite wavefunction. The wave is not exactly physical like
a wave of water; it is a function of time that marks out in space the
probable location of a unit of matter like an electron. There is a
certain similarity here to the Vedic account of the appearance of the
fundamental material elements within the waves of *prana*. But in the
Western conception, if anything governs the wavefunction, it is just
chance--though science knows no "law" of chance to explain why the wave
functions. The wave just functions from an unknown beginning to an
unknown end. According to Vedic science, the force that ripples
through *prana* is the spiritual sound of the Vedas breathed by the
Modern scientists invest great sums of money in their
investigations of the fundamental waveform, but they have yet to
discover that it transmits information of ultimate value. We are
offered the experience of the cosmos as a chance to receive that
information in the form of the Vedic literature, of which Brahma is the
first *guru* or teacher. Lower forms of life are equipped only to
experience the cosmos as gross matter. Vedic knowledge is hidden from
them, as their consciousness is fully absorbed in the rudimentary
affairs of eating, sleeping, mating and defending.
The macrocosmic display is temporary. Just as at the dawn of
creation the vital force of the universe emanated from the navel of the
Supreme Person, making possible all life in the material sphere, so in
the future *prana* will be withdrawn. This is the *maha-pralaya*, the
universal cataclysm. The period between cosmic creation and cosmic
destruction is calculated to be 325 trillion solar years. Creation and
destruction are cyclical; as an individual soul is born again after
casting off his body, so too is the universe reborn anew after its
The second alloform of the universe is the microcosm. The form of
each creature in the universe is a microcosm worn by (and covering) the
Supersoul. In the core of the heart, the Supersoul is the Lord who
personally stands beside each soul in whatever body that soul may find
himself. From His transcendental position, the Supersoul witnesses
the soul's restless desires in that body. According to how a soul
chooses to satisfy his desires, that individual's matrix of experience
is configured by the Supersoul to yield what he deserves. This
configuration of experience is called *dehantara-prapti*, the change of
We do not simply change bodies from one life to the next. Even
within one lifetime, the passage from childhood to youth to old age is
also *dehantara-prapti.* Just as a series of photos, when flashed
before the eye, create the experience of "motion pictures," so the
series of each experience in one human life is a series of momentary
configurations of the matrix.
Of all the forms of life, the human form is most crucial in the
total plan of the universe. The choices a person makes in one human
lifetime can schedule enough reconfigurations of the matrix to carry
him onward into many future lifetimes. And so the soul transmigrates
through 8,400,000 kinds of bodies (species) within the macrocosm, just
to receive the reactions due it from choices made in the human form of
life. As much as a person is preoccupied with exploring the realm of
experience, that much he is preoccupied with his microcosm.
The Supersoul supplies the soul with knowledge appropriate to the
species into which he is now born, surrounding him in an individual
dimension of conscious experience. To be a human being, a dog, a worm
or a demigod means to dwell within a miniature universe made up of
whatever the Lord permits us to know.
In this condition, two levels of knowledge are available to us:
gross and subtle. First, we are informed by our senses about the
manifest qualities of matter--sound, touch, form, taste and smell.
These sensations (*pratyaksa*) make up our gross knowledge. The subtle
level of knowledge (*anumana*) begins at the point the mind (*manas*)
contemplates sense perceptions. The world thus becomes a very
contradictory place. The mind finds a sensation like heat sometimes
very inviting, at other times very threatening. The intelligence
(*buddhi*) tries to put our thoughts about sensations into logical
order. In seeking an explanation for our perceptions and thoughts, the
intelligence gives them symbolic meaning (for example, as words and
numbers), and files this data away in its memory bank.
But what does this sensory, mental and intellectual information
add up to? "The universe," we may answer. But actually it is
impossible for us to say what the universe is *in truth* on the basis
of our gross and subtle knowledge. That knowledge is limited. There
is a point where sensations, thoughts and memories fail, where symbols
mislead, where order and meaning fade into blooming, buzzing confusion.
This is edge of "our" microcosm, a murky curtain of ignorance that
rustles and stirs with mysterious energy, sometimes parting just a
crack to allow brief glimpses into what philosophers term the *occult
qualities* of the hyperdimensional universe.
The occult background of worldly knowledge
Many reports are on record of occult experiences, gotten by
extrasensory perception, mystical visions, precognitive dreams and so
on. These are data carried by higher-dimensional waves of cosmic
*prana* that under extraordinary circumstances are picked up on the
human-level *pranic* wavelength. Apparently even animals are tuned to
occult experiences, as indicated by their panicked flight from an area
hours before an earthquake strikes. Millions of people find all this
to be very fascinating today. They look to the occult as a new
frontier of knowledge. For millions of other people, occultism is
fantasy. Real knowledge is the "hard data" of the senses, mind and
But the distinction people make between worldly and occult
knowledge is misleading in a number of ways. As we learned earlier in
this chapter, the Mahajanas say that knowledge is a light that shines
*from a source outside our experience* upon the things within our
experience. Hence, even worldly knowledge has occult origins. For
example, our speech is full of phrases like, "A wonderful idea came
into my head," "An inspiration struck me," "It occured to me,"
"Suddenly it was clear to me." Since childhood we've grown accustomed
to the popping of ideas, inspirations and intuitive hunches into our
everyday field of experience. Thus we take it for granted. But the
plain fact is that they pop up out of an unknown dimension. And with
ideas that spring from an occult source, we try to understand and
explain the "everyday" world around us!
The previous chapter introduced as "an instrumentalist" the person
who equates truth with practicality. While admitting that there is a
mystery to inspired ideas, he argues that we only need to know whether
they have the power to advance solutions to the problems of human life.
When they do, that's real knowledge. When they don't, that's
some sort of dreaming--the covering of the external world with internal
imagery. "It is interesting, entertaining and even healthy to let off
excess psychic energy in the form of imagery, fantasies and occult
wishful thinking. But that can't improve our lot in life. Whatever it
may be, it isn't knowledge." This argument doesn't go far. Everyone
will admit that old age, disease and death are the greatest problems
facing human beings. The instrumentalists struggle valiantly against
them, but in spite of advancement in "practical knowledge"--medical
technology, for example--the solution to the real problems of life
remains as elusive as ever. In the ultimate issue, practical knowledge
is also a kind of dreaming.
The instrumentalist argues further that anything deserving the
title knowledge must explain what we experience without distorting
reality. Occult knowledge always threatens to distort reality because
only a few people are privy to it. The rest of us are asked to accept
occult claims blindly. That leaves us open to reality-distortion by
so-called prophets, *gurus*, mystics and other manipulators. Fine, but
*what is reality?*
Reality, according to worldly philosophy, means two kinds of
clarity: perceptual clarity and logical clarity. Thus factual
knowledge should 1) correspond to what most people *see as clear*, and
2) cohere to what most people *think as clear*. The first theory is
called empiricism, the second rationalism.
The first argues that a line can be called "really straight" when
we perceive clearly that it is straight. The second argues that in
nature there are no really straight lines; "straightness" is purely a
human mental conception, an ideal. Finding a straight line cut in the
side of a tree, it is instantly obvious to me that it was created by a
man who imposed his will upon nature. Even then, an extremely detailed
measurement would show this line to be imperfectly straight. We can
clearly agree a line is "really straight" only if we share the same
opinion of mind. By these definitions, *the more people agree* they
see or think a line is straight, the clearer it becomes that it *really
But because people are defective--we have imperfect senses and
minds, we are subject to illusion, we make mistakes and we are prone to
cheat one another--the reality of "straightness" *in itself* always
remains open to question. Simply stated, *reality is occult.* If it
were not occult, then it would be easy for one individual to come to
terms with another about what is real. But it is not easy, because
each of us lives in a microcosm. People dispute whether the evening TV
news is real. They dispute who really killed John F. Kennedy. They
dispute what really causes AIDS. They dispute what really happened
yesterday, what is really happening right now, and what will really
But I can't dispute that a world that *appears to me* to be real
is now present within one unitary field of consciousness--my own. In
the face of uncertainty, disagreement and distrust, I can reduce
"knowledge" down to what I choose to hold real in my own microcosm.
And this surely *is* what people do. As stated in a popular book about
man's relation to the universe: "I look as a forest or a flower or a
bird now, and say, `That is me, part of me.'" The world each person
maintains as real within himself is a world of the occult. Each is a
world hidden from all others, centered around a different person.
Now we've come face to face with the logic of *ekatvena
prtaktvena* (the one without a second): I am reality. He who follows
this logic thinks his ignorance about what is beyond the edge of his
microcosm is simply ignorance of his very own self. But if I admit
that right now I am ignorant of my complete self, how can I at the same
time insist that the reality of the universe as a whole is ultimately
decided by my own self that as of yet is not completely known to me?
Real knowledge is knowing the source of knowledge
What I need to know within and beyond myself is the Supersoul. He
is the only creator of the microcosm and the macrocosm. From Him alone
comes my knowledge (perceptual, mental, intellectual and occult), and
my ignorance of where my knowledge *really* comes from. Explaining
this in *Science of Self Realization*, Srila Prabhupada states,
Krsna supplies forgetfulness and remembrance according to
the living entity's desire. If we want to forget Krsna and
enjoy the material world, He will give us the necessary
intelligence so that we can forget Him for good.
Thus the unknown within me and beyond me is simply my ignorance of
the Lord. Whether it is perceptual, mental, intellectual or occult,
knowledge that is ignorant of the source of knowledge is not real
knowledge. It is illusion. For example, a friend once told me of a
time he and a few others got lost at night on a lonely hillside
footpath. After hours of groping through the darkness they came round
a bend and were elated to see the lights of a village ahead. But
shortly they were disappointed by the realization that these lights
were really just a swarm of fireflies. The lights were indeed
perceptual knowledge, but because my friend was ignorant of the source
of that knowledge, he and the others fell into illusion.
Now, if all knowledge comes from God and God is all-good, why
would He cheat me by supplying knowledge that is actually illusion?
But the fact is, I cheat myself by desiring knowledge that helps me to
forget God. My responsibility as a person is to choose between truth
and error. The truth is knowledge that reveals God, and error is
knowledge that hides God. If I choose error as truth, whose fault is
For example, many sorcerers of old and scientists of late have
tried to uncover and master the fundamental principles that caused the
universe. This desire to wield cosmic power places them in serious
error. *Vedanta-sutra* makes clear that the power to create a universe
is never within the grasp of an individual soul (*jagad-vyapara-
varjam*). At most the living entity can be a subordinate creator
within the plan of the Lord's creation.
In his purport to *Bhagavat-gita* 9.15, Srila Prabhupada
identifies one who thinks himself to be the Supreme Lord, the origin of
the universe, to be the lowest of the three kinds of impersonalist
philosophers. By considering himself the cause of the microcosm, such
a philosopher may differentiate himself, the soul, from his supposed
creation. Thus some idea of transcendence is made available by this
The third alloform of the universe is the mesocosm. The prefix
*meso-* means "between;" thus mid-way between the total universe and
the individual human being is the mesocosm, the social body. Four
orders in human society appear from four organs of the gigantic
*virat*: the mouth, arms, belly and legs.
The mouth is the organ of speech. In all civilized societies
there is a class of men who broadcast scientific and philosophical
knowledge; the Vedas say this order is situated on the mouth of the
Cosmic Person and is called *brahmanas.*
The arms are organs of power and protection. In all civilized
societies there are rulers, soldiers and government officers who
preserve peace in society by protecting and managing the populace; this
order is situated on the arms of the Cosmic Person and is called the
The belly is the organ that makes food available for the whole
body. In all civilized societies there are farmers, merchants and
shopkeepers who provide the rest of the populace with food and other
items necessary for life; this order is situated on the belly of the
Cosmic Person and is called the *vaisyas.*
In all civilized societies there is a class of working men who
assist the other three classes. This order is situated on the feet of
the Cosmic Person and is called the *sudras.*
Together the four orders are called the *varnas.* A person is
classified in a particular *varna* according to his *dharma*,
translated by Srila Prabhupada as "constitutional and functional duty."
Srila Prabhupada always used the word "constitutional" in reference to
the soul's eternal relationship to Krsna, which is that of a servant to
his master. The word "functional" has to do with a human being's
occupational competence. A person's implicit *dharma* as a servant of
God is explicit in his *varna* or occupational function. Whether he is
a *brahmana*, *ksatriya*, *vaisya* or *sudra*, he must serve a
multitude of social responsibilities in the form of family, career,
economy, community, religion, behavioral norms, tradition, government,
law, superiors, peers, and subordinants.
Krsna is Dharma-varman
But instead of struggling in our external social functions at the
neglect of our constitutional duty, we human beings are supposed to
simply do one thing: serve Dharma-varman, "He who embodies all
principles of *dharma*." Dharma-varman is Lord Krsna, who wears as a
dress all *dharmas* or social functions. Social duties performed in
consciousness of Him are called *yajna.* The *Chandogya Upanisad*
calls upon every human being to execute his life's duties in sacrifice
to the Supreme (*puruso vava yajnah*...).
Nobody can avoid involvement in social duties. From birth to
death, each of us is integrated into a social context that has a life,
an *entity* (existence), of its own. Our emotional states, our values,
our beliefs, our behavior, our education, our science, even our
aggravations and regrets--all these are just ties to a greater social
entity, who through such ties moves each of us as easily as a puppeteer
moves marionettes by pulling their strings. The plain fact is that we
are already the surrendered servants of this mesocosmic entity. The
question is whether we recognize that entity to be Krsna.
*Srimad-Bhagavatam* 11.5.12 says that the real fruit of social duties
is a virtuous and religious life, the basis of *jnanam sa-vijnanam*,
philosophical knowledge that matures into direct perception of the Absolute
Truth. Thus *dharma* is meant to be a stepping-stone to personal
association with Dharma-varman. When the members of the four *varnas*
perform their duties to that end, their sacrifice culminates in the
chanting of the holy names of Krsna, the *yajna* that is directly Krsna
Himself (cf. *Bg* 10.25). This is the way of the *mahatmas*. But when
people execute *dharma* for materialistic aims, their religious progress
is thrown off the path that leads to the Supreme Person.
The Cosmic Egg
From world history, we learn that the ancient Egyptians and other
people religiously divided society according to *varna*,
and performed sacrifice. Yet they did not approach the Supreme
Person Dharma-varman. Instead of worshiping God, they worshiped
cosmic diversity (*bahudha*) in the form of the celestial demigod
society (or *pantheon*, as the Greeks called it), which was supposed to
be responsible for the many natural phenomena. And where did the
demigods come from? An ancient Egyptian text says they hatched from a
cosmic egg that appeared in a primordial ocean. Pre-Christian creation
accounts from Greece, Finland, Phoenecia, Iran, Indonesia, Polynesia,
and South and Central America similarly depict an egg to be the source
of the sun, sky, moon, storms, the elements, animals and vegetation,
each of which is ruled by a deity. These diverse deities were
worshiped in diverse forms by diverse civilizations. Priests and kings
offered sacrifice to their local pantheons to ensure protection and
prosperity for their societies.
The Vedic scriptures present the most detailed account of this
system. The universe appears as a seed from the breath of Maha-Visnu,
a form of Sri Krsna who lies eternally upon the *karana-jala*, the
causal ocean. Upon these waters, the universe develops like a
tremendous egg (*anda*) of golden effulgence. A plenary portion of
Visnu enters into that egg and lies down, generating a cosmic ocean
within. From His navel a lotus grows and opens, revealing four-headed
Brahma, the creator. After receiving the Vedic knowledge from Lord
Visnu, Brahma brings forth the first society, that of the demigods.
The celestial hierarchy of the demigods (with Brhaspati as priest,
Indra as king, Kuvera as treasurer, Visvakarma as architect, etc.)
became the model for human social organization. Satisfying these demigods
with *karma-kanda* rituals ensured *sattvic* human social prosperity;
moreover, the ritualists could take their next birth in celestial society.
Up to 5000 years ago, the Vedic mesocosmic religion, called
*varnasrama-dharma*, flourished all over the world. *Varnasrama-dharma* is
the scientific means to spiritually elevate the general mass of people,
whose hearts are very strongly bound to *samsara*. The word *samsara*
means both "cycle of birth and death" and "family circle". The idea is
that a soul is bound to birth and death by family attachment. To be
attached to the family is to be attached to shapes of dead matter that
resemble persons. In this way, the attraction a soul should have for the
Supreme Person is entangled in what the Vedas call the *prajatantu* [note:
the second "a" is long], or the chain of generation: our departed
ancestors, our living relatives and our future descendents. Still, for a
person with Vedic knowledge, this *prajatantu* can serve as a link between
humanity, the demigods and the Supreme Person. The souls who appear in the
generations of men and demigods were brought forth by Brahma from the
navel-lotus of Lord Visnu, the seed-giving father of all species of life.
The ritualism prescribed in the Vedas sets the materially attached soul on
the path of returning to Visnu by way of the *prajatantu.* In other words,
Vedic ritualism exploits family attachment for a higher purpose than just
the animalistic breeding of offspring.
There are two sides to this purpose. Narada Muni, speaking to King
Yudhisthira in *Srimad-Bhagavatam* Canto Seven Chapter Fifteen
("Instructions for Civilized Human Beings"), says one side of the Vedic
purpose is *pravrtti* or *pitr-yana*, which yields material prosperity.
Persons who satisfy the demigods by *pitr-yana* fire sacrifices ascend at
death to the celestial dimensions of Dhuma, Ratri, Krsnapaksa, Daksinam and
Soma. Here they join their ancestors for a life of heavenly sense pleasure
that extends for many thousands of earthly years. At the same time, the
demigods bless families on earth with the births of pious souls whose
celestial *karma* is exhausted. These souls take human bodies to
accumulate *sukrta* (pious deeds) that will return them to heaven in the
next lifetime. This “commerce” between earth and heaven along the
*prajatantu* graces human society with all variety of desirable material
things. But because a human being is innately a spiritual person, he
cannot be satisfied by prosperity alone. He comes to want esoteric
knowledge of the higher meaning of sacrifice, which Narada calls *nivrtti*
One who aspires to follow the *deva-yana* path embarks on the quest of
tracing the *prajatantu* to its ultimate origin. His sacrifice takes the
form of mystic yoga, not *karma-kanda* ritualism, for he is no longer
interested in winning material benefits for himself and human society, but
in liberation from birth and death. By the accumulation of mystic power,
the soul ascends the *deva-yana* path beyond the dimension of Soma. After
passing the regions of the patriarchs (Maharloka) and the great sages
(Janaloka and Tapaloka), he finally enters Brahmaloka, where the generation
of men and demigods began. He dwells there for millions of millions of
years until the end of the cosmic manifestation draws nigh. Giving up his
connection to the gross universe, he withdraws into the subtle self-
conception of being distinct from matter. From there he withdraws further
into the causal self-conception of having creative power over the material
manifestation. Finally he attains the pure state of knowing the Purusa,
Maha-Visnu, to be the source of his identity. This, the Paramatma
(Supersoul) stage of realization, is higher than oneness in impersonal
Brahman. However, because the process of realization is mystical and not
devotional, Supersoul realization is not committed to a loving exchange
with the Supreme Person.
Thus, even after having traversed the *deva-yana*, unless the soul
surrenders in love to Krsna, he does not attain ultimate liberation. By
His inward breath, Maha-Visnu brings one cosmic cycle to a close, and by
His outward breath, initiates the next. He sets forth countless new golden
eggs upon the surface of the causal ocean. Those same souls who, by the
nondevotional mystic method, traced their origin to Visnu, the Supreme
Father, now become captivated by His display of *bahudha* (diversity).
They re-enter the creative process as Brahmas, great sages, patriarchs and
From varnasrama to pandemonium
The worship of diverse demigods in "classical civilizations" (Egypt,
Greece, Rome and elsewhere) marked the decline of worldwide *varnasrama-
dharma.* In those days, civilized people understood human progress to mean
the cultivation of the mode of goodness. Good *karma* yields good fortune;
hence the great cities of the ancient world were famously wealthy. But
*varnasrama-dharma* society is supposed to offer up that wealth for the
satisfaction of Dharma-varman in an ongoing cycle of sacrifice. The more
that is received by the mercy of the Lord, the more ought be offered to Him,
that even more mercy may be received. The mercy of Dharma-varman is twofold.
In the first place, He bestows upon the sacrificer His *daivi-sampat* or
perfectional virtue. Thus the good qualities of the demigods manifest
in the body of the worshiper; he becomes one in goodness with the Lord.
In the second place, through the agency of the demigods, the Lord bestows
Thus the demigods are satisfied when the Supreme Person is satisfied.
The satisfaction of the Supreme Person depends upon the purity of the
offering. An offering is pure when the offerer is virtuous: he must be
situated in the truth of his spiritual identity as a servant of Krsna,
austere in his sacrifical duties, his heart clean of lust for the material
rewards of *yajna.* As we learn from the lives of saintly Vedic kings
like Prthu, Antardhana and Nabhi, such immaculate virtue and purity is easily
sustained by the sacrificer who has *sraddha* (faith) and *bhakti*
(devotion). Faith and devotion attract the supremely virtuous and pure
Lord Krsna, who enters into the body of the performer of sacrifice to
ensure that all he thinks and does will be free of contamination. Thus
faith and devotion ensure virtue, virtue insures purity, purity ensures
the satisfaction of the Supreme Person, and the satisfaction of the
Supreme Person ensures the increase of both social prosperity and the
*daivi-sampat* by which one becomes worthy to associate constantly with
the Absolute Truth.
Sacrifices performed without faith and devotion, with only with a view to
the material development of society, are impure (cf. *Bhag.* 7.7.40). Though
the demigods bestow prosperity even upon the impure performer of sacrifice,
for want of *daivi-sampat*, the demigod worshiper remains tightly
cocooned within the material mind and senses. And so the heavenly
benedictions of vast riches, alluring women, luxurious comforts and imperial
grandeur simply agitate his mind and senses. As Lord Krsna explains in the
second chapter of *Bhagavad-gita*, the mind of one agitated by sense objects
becomes many-branched (*bahu-sakhah*). He loses the determination to
cultivate virtues that benefit his soul. Instead he succumbs to the fallen
habits of sense gratification. This degredation spelled the end of the
classical period of human civilization.
In His instructions to Uddhava (*Srimad-Bhagavatam* Eleventh Canto
chapter 10), Krsna says that those who worship demigods describe the
Supreme Person as *bahudha*, i.e. diversely manifest as *kala* (time),
*atma* (the individual soul), *agama* (scriptural knowledge), *loka* (the
universe), *svabhava* (one's own natural inclinations) and *dharma*
(religious ceremonies). But due to their strong inclinations to sense
pleasure, they forget Him as the only enjoyer of sacrifice. Yet their own
attempts to enjoy the results of sacrifice become fraught with many
obstacles. Whatever they achieve is plundered by time. Abandoning virtue,
demigod worshipers descend into irreligion in the name of religion. Their
rituals become polluted by animal slaughter and ghost-worship, symptoms of
the mode of ignorance.
When the mode of ignorance becomes predominant, the demigods distance
themselves from human affairs. The *prajatantu* linking earth and heaven
is closed off. Instead of pious souls descending to take birth on earth
for elevation again, demons are born to plunder the accumulated riches of
society. As the world fills up with demons, all semblance of Vedic culture
comes to an end. Such is the situation of mankind today. Srila Prabhupada
called this state of affairs a *pandemonium*, a general uproar of demons.
Our word "demon" comes from the old Greek *daimon*, which meant an unknown
supernatural being (as distinct from known gods like Zeus and Athena).
Thus Srila Prabhupada's choice of words is most apt, since the events of
today's society are prompted by ungoverned, irrational forces.
In Greek philosophy, the irrational state of mind provoked by an unknown
*daimon* was considered to be madness. According to the Vedic literatures,
the present age, called Kali-yuga, is a time when demonic entities led by Kali
(quarrel personified) completely overtake human society, driving it mad.
The four classes--intellectuals, administrators, farmers, merchants and
workers--are addicted to the four sinful habits. Of the four virtues, only
truthfulness still struggles against the tide. For example, at the end of the
twentieth century we are witness to a great upswing of doubt in the
"scientific" dogma that a person does not survive the body at the time of
death. Millions of people today seek the truth about the self beyond the
body--by meditation, by transpersonal psychology, by channeling. Yet all the
while, their physical and moral cleanliness is lost to whimsical sexuality;
their austerity and mercy are lost to meat-eating, intoxication and pride.
Thus even though modern man seeks truth about himself, his untamed nature
makes the consequences of this truth--"I am not this body, but pure spirit
soul"--a hard burden to bear. "There is a wolf in me," wrote a famous poet of
the twentieth century. "I keep this wolf because the wilderness gave it to me
and this wilderness will not let it go." Modern man, the cerebral wolf, ever
on the hunt in the dark wilderness of ignorance about his origins, his destiny
and his very self, may at times poke his nose into transcendence...but then,
hearing the call of the wild, he is just as likely to lope off in pursuit of
fresh meat or nervous, anonymous sex.
He can't help himself, because his social philosophy is *economic
determinism.* After the collapse of *varnasrama-dharma*, what determines
the direction of civilization? Economic forces, which are nothing more than
the urges of a society's collective stomach and genitalia: hunger and sex.
Economic determinism wills man to work, to fight, to kill--for food, for
sexual partners and for a safe place to enjoy coitus. This is Economic Man, a
marauder occupying the mesocosmic station of the *vaisya*, who slaughters cows
instead of protects them, who generates economy by any means possible
regardless of the spiritual and moral cost. By that economy he controls the
social body as a whole. Economic Man hires Power Man to work the arms and
Mechanical Man to work both the head and the legs. Power Man conquers the
world to make way for more economic development, and protects the global
marketplace. Possessed of a mind that computes with clockwork precision,
skillful both in artistry and automation, Mechanical Man develops science,
philosophy, industry and entertainment to suit Economic Man's program of
raising the standard of sense enjoyment higher and higher.
Like a wolfpack skeletonizing a carcass, Economic Man, Power Man and
Mechanical Man plunder the assets of both nature and the social traditions of
their forefathers with resentful and nihilistic savagery. In place of
sacrifice, this is today's program for social prosperity. Vedic sacrifice
sanctified and ritualized both nature and elder traditions as representing the
hierarchy of diverse causes personified by the demigods. Economic Man and his
cohorts reject all that as "mythic fantasy." But to justify their program of
stripping the resources of man and nature, they go on to preach diverse causes
hatched from their imaginations: the cause of freedom, the spirit of the
nation, the power of the people, the wave of the future. Everywhere
scientists, political activists, business magnates and entertainers are hailed
as personifications of newer and newer causes that supposedly advance society
by freeing us from nature and the traditions of our elders. But like wolves,
Economic Man, Power Man and Mechanical Man (the "demigods" of Kali-yuga
ideology) end up snapping viciously at one another over the bones of nature
and civilization. Thus the arenas of modern culture are simply battlegrounds
of conflicting ideologies. From beginning to end, the life of people born
into pandemonium is full of hellish anxiety.
Pandemonium and *upadharma*
The reader may wonder where the religions of Judaeo-Christianity, Islam
and Buddhism fit into this contrast of Vedic culture and pandemonium. From
the Vedic viewpoint, these are *upadharmas* ("near-*dharmas*") that, by the
grace of the Supreme Person, arose at different places and times during the
same historical period that the worldwide *varnasrama* system faded into
pandemonium. An *upadharma* leads people away from demoniac society toward a
virtuous life of faith, submission before the holy, compassion for one's
fellow beings, chastity, honesty, and so on.
Judaeo-Christianity, Islam and Buddhism began among minorities persecuted
by a demoniac majority society. Moses and the Israelites were persecuted in
Pharaonic Egypt. Jesus and his disciples were persecuted in the Roman Empire.
Muhammed and his disciples were persecuted in Mecca. Buddha and his disciples
were persecuted in Indian kingdoms where ritualistic animal slaughter was
rampant. Thus each of these religions defines evil as the particular pattern
of social suffering, injustice and degradation that its founder was moved to
preached against. The faithful of each religion believe liberation to be
deliverance from that pattern of evil.
However, rooted as each religion is in time, place and circumstance,
their concepts of liberation gradually become irrelevant as the conditions
of the mesocosm change. In India for example, Buddhism came to prominence
as a reaction against anomalies in brahminical culture. The Buddha rejected
the brahminism of his time because of its cruel animal sacrifice, caste
prejudices and spiritual blindness. But when brahminical culture was
reformed under the direction of the Vedantist Sankara, Buddhism lost its
appeal (though it continued to spread outside India's borders to other
Asian countries). As society in the Judaeo-Christian West developed
economically and bread became abundant, many people gave up praying for
their daily bread. Nowadays there are wealthy Christian countries in
which 90 percent of the population see no need to attend church with any
Thus whenever people think the benefit of religious virtue is liberation
from a certain historical pattern of social ills, time's inevitable change of
those social conditions spells the decline of that religion. Furthermore,
when people take liberation to be nothing more than progress in social
comforts, they abandon virtue altogether in the name of that so-called
progress. In *The Anatomy of the Soul*, Anthony Kenny writes.
It is characteristic of our age to endeavor to replace virtues
by technology. That is to say, wherever possible we strive to
use methods of physical or social engineering to achieve goals
which our ancestors thought attainable only by the training of
character. Thus, we try so far as possible to make contraception
take the place of chastity, and anaesthetics to take the place
of fortitude ...
In *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 7.6.14, a Mahajana of the name Prahlada says
that those who make social progress the goal of their life are subject to
three kinds of suffering: *adhidaivika*, *adhyatmika* and *adhibhautika.*
Each corresponds to one of the cosmic
conceptions detailed above. The first suffering is due to the soul's
coming under the jurisdiction of the demigods, who are features of the
*virat*, the macrocosmic form of God. The demigods impose upon us
excessive heat, cold, drought, famine, earthquakes and other
disturbances of nature. The second suffering is due to the soul's
residence within a material body and mind--his microcosm. Even when
there is no external cause of distress, the body and mind disturb us
with their urges, discomforts, mistakes, anxieties, delusions and other
frailties. The third suffering is due to the soul's interaction with
diverse living beings. Inevitably, the people around me, even those I
love, are a regular source of botheration. And apart from the human
species, other creatures offer me any number of harrassments, from
mosquito bites to shark attacks.
All material existence is a composite of these three sufferings,
each of which is associated with a feature of the cosmos. Due to our
fascination with the macro-, meso- and microcosm, a fascination that
has divided our consciousness from Krsna, we suffer. The reality is
that the Supreme wears the three features of the cosmos upon His
person. The universe only seems attractive to us because He, the all-
attractive Sri Krsna, illuminates matter with the effulgent beauty of
His spiritual form. Thus even our attraction to matter is really only
attraction to Him. Our mistake is in thinking that the energies of the
cosmos generate names, forms, varieties and activities *separately* and
*independently* from Krsna. This mistake leads us into a Godless
obsession with, and entanglement in, the "mysteries" of the universe,
our selves, and society. This is *maya.*
There is no end to the mystery until we simply give it up. The
third canto of *Srimad-Bhagavatam*, chapter six, states that when the
Supreme Person entered the prime matter of the cosmic egg, his presence
brought shape and order to the universe. The three states of
*adhidaivika*, *adhyatmika* and *adhibhautika* develop from three
potencies of the Supreme Person. The first is the divine potency of
His own heart, the one heart in which all souls in the cosmos dwell.
(It is also said that the Lord dwells in the heart of all living
beings; but in the first case the whole universe is the heart of
Supreme Soul, Visnu, as we see in *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 3.5.6). At the
center of the universal heart lies the Supreme Person, who is the
generating force of all cosmic phenomena. The second potency of the
Supreme Person is His *kriya-sakti*, which is the *prana* of ten kinds
that makes all movement in the universe possible. The third potency is
His *atma-sakti*, the power of consciousness, which divides into the
bodies, minds and senses of the higher demigods, the middle human
beings and the lower creatures, along with the abilities and duties of
the four *varnas.* This whole display of cosmic energy is
inconceivable. Therefore we simply have to offer our respectful
obeisances unto the Supreme Person as a matter of duty. The only thing
that stands in our way is the tendency to speculate.
Chapter Three: Beyond the Myth of Difficulty
One of the most effective means by which
intellectuals have always used in order to advance
their role as agents of mystification has been the
promulgation of what might be called "the myth of
difficulty." ... We still tend to believe that
the "laws" of human nature are secret, mysterious,
cryptic and inaccessible, and that they can be
formulated only by means of abstruse theories, or
through the construction of abstract models of
This, a quotation from a recent book called *Why Freud Was Wrong*,
points to the failure of twentieth-century thinkers to solve the
predicament of mankind's threefold situation in individual life,
collective life, and in the natural universe. Sigmund Freud, in
*Civilization and Its Discontents*, traced the whole of mankind's
problems to these three situations. He and many other famous
intellectuals believed that liberation from this threefold suffering is
possible only when mankind discovers the truth about himself. But, as
explained in the previous chapter, for thinkers ignorant of the Supreme
Person, *truth is occult.* When faced with a mystery, the
investigative mind is wont to speculate. And so, over thousands of
years, mankind developed a rich spectrum of theories to attack the
riddle of the human situation. But as this quotation suggests, the
invention of theories just makes the human situation more difficult.
Still, every new generation continues the speculative search for
freedom from man's threefold suffering. As Srila Prabhupada remarked,
"The entire human civilization is trying to get freedom from
Human life and animal life
Like the lower forms of life, we human beings are very preoccupied
with eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The difference is that
lower forms of life are much less sensitive to inconveniences than are
human beings. A tree stands in one spot for hundreds of years without
complaining. During the mating season, male animals regularly duel
with other males, risking severe injury or death without ever
questioning why. Creatures of the wild are satisfied to live in trees,
in the tall grass and in holes in the ground. To civilized human
beings, such conditions are terribly inconvenient. Indeed, we organize
ourselves into civilization as a means of freeing ourselves from such
Yet ridding ourselves of discontent is not merely a matter of
improved living conditions. We of the modern world are blessed with
many extravagant conveniences. But though we eat, sleep, mate and
defend with great sophistication, still anxiety, doubt and self-
contempt gnaw at our hearts. Why? *Because we are not free.* We are
trapped within the four walls of birth, old age, disease and death.
Animals have not even an inkling of how to investigate a solution
to old age, disease and death, whereas that solution is eagerly sought
by legions of human intellectuals. Undeniably, human beings have a
deeper mission of life to fulfill than do animals.
In Krsna's plan for human society, the intellectuals--the
*brahmanas*--are meant to teach the other classes the way to freedom
from all difficulty. Actual freedom is *vimukti*, or spiritual
liberation from from the *klesa-traya*, the threefold miseries of the
human situation. But the *Srimad-Bhagavatam* stipulates that only
service to a *brahmana* who is a *mahatma* (a pure devotee of the
Supreme Person) can open the door to *vimukti*: *mahat-sevam dvaram
The method of liberation taught by the *mahatmas* is constant
chanting of Krsna's glories (*satatam kirtayanto mam*). The Hare Krsna
*mahamantra*--Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama
Rama Rama Hare Hare--is the most simple yet complete vibration of His
The material condition of the soul is a condition similar to
sleep. The personhood of the soul is asleep to his real nature. A
person is defined as a conscious entity with a power to choose among
possible experiences. A sleeping person has only dream-experiences to
choose from; similarly, a sleeping spirit soul has only material
experiences to choose from. The pure sound of the *mahamantra* awakens
the soul to the spiritual experience of love of God.
But unless the soul casts off completely his bad habit of dreaming
in the lap of matter, there is every chance of his falling back to
sleep after having once being roused by the transcendental sound. The
safe position is *mantra-yoga*, in which consciousness vibrates
constantly, day and night, with the syllables of God's name. To that
end we should take to the regular discipline of chanting Hare Krsna
under the guidance of a spiritual master, Krsna's pure representative.
This is the eternal Vedic method of liberation through sound, made easy
for the fallen modern age. In earlier ages, many *mantras* were
prescribed; in this age, only one--the easiest yet most powerful: Hare
Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare/Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare
Hare. "What is the difficulty?" Srila Prabhupada asked. "But they'll
not do it. Therefore unfortunate. But it is possible if one is
Srila Prabhupada is saying that by *spiritual* good fortune, a
soul takes to the practice of chanting Hare Krsna. Spiritual fortune
does not depend on the three kinds of *material* fortune (good, bad and
mixed) explained in the first chapter of this book. The demigods make
material fortune available in accordance with a person's *karma.* But
it is beyond the competence of the demigods to schedule a soul's
spiritual fortune. Spiritual fortune is offered to a soul by the
spiritual master. If he takes that offer, the soul becomes truly
By material good fortune, a person achieves a high station in the
universe--for example, a birth among the demigods or in an aristocratic
family on earth. Socially, he enjoys great prominence. Individually,
his life is ornamented by wealth, education and bodily beauty. Mixed
fortune yields a mediocre cosmic, social and individual standing. Bad
fortune yields a corresponding low standing. But in any case, if a
person has no attraction to hear and chant about Krsna, he is
unfortunate, because all positions in the material world are temporary.
Good material fortune inevitably changes to misfortune. Actually, our
constant misfortune is that we are not free. Merely changing our
material status from bad to good is not *vimukti*.
When a person becomes spiritually fortunate, he sees all material
positions as the same. He neither desires nor fears any of them:
na kutascana bibhyati
A person who is devoted to the Supreme Person is not afraid
of anything. Elevation to the heavenly kingdom, condemnation
to hell and liberation from material bondage all appear the
same to a devotee. (*Srimad-Bhagavatam* 6.17.28)
How is it that the devotee experiences any material situation, whether
heavenly or hellish, *as the same even as liberation?* It is because
of his *personal* perspective on reality. He sees the macro-, meso-
and microcosmos as nothing other than the outer dress of the Supreme
Person. Whether one is in heaven, hell or inbetween, *his situation
rests upon Krsna, the supreme liberated person.* Just as when a man
puts his feet on stone, brick or wood, he really puts his feet on earth
since all three are essentially earth, so wherever a person might be in
the cosmos, he is really always with Krsna. Krsna assures Arjuna that
one who sees the Lord everywhere and all things within Him is never
lost. By the strength of his attachment to Krsna, the devotee is
detached from all that obsesses a soul entrapped by matter--including
the obsession for liberation from matter.
In the *Srimad-Bhagavatam*, Mahajana Brahma speaks a famous verse
that contains the phrase *sthane sthitah sruti-gatam tanu-van-
manobhir.* Explaining this, Srila Prabhupada said:
You, whatever you are, have no need of change.
It is very difficult to change position. Better
remain in your position, but hear about Krsna.
Persons entrapped by difficulty naturally want freedom. It is the
mission of every human being to liberate himself. But if in his
obsession for freedom, a man exchanges one material situation for
another, he'll find new difficulty. Shifting a heavy weight from one
shoulder to another may bring temporary relief, but it does not free
him from the burden.
It is not a "matter" of whether our material fortune is good or
bad, nor whether our position is high or low. We must become free of
the burden of matter. In the pure sound of Krsna's names and
narrations, we experience the intensification of *our very being as
liberated persons* in the association of the Supreme Liberated Person
and his liberated associates.
Krsna effortlessly supports countless material worlds while
enjoying His own divine bliss. He is so eager to share His own bliss
with souls who approach Him in loving devotion that He assumes
responsiblity for their material welfare, preserving what they have and
carrying what they lack. There are many pure devotees who serve within the
matrix of a material body and mind. But they know no difficulty in this
position--indeed, they wear their bodies as lightly as the Lord wears the
universe. Kapiladeva compares them to drunken men who do not know whether
they are wearing clothes or not. Internally they drink the nectar of *bhakti-
rasa*, and externally they are maintained by the supreme controller of matter,
time and the demigods.
Narada, in chapter six of the first canto of *Srimad-Bhagavatam*,
explains that as a pure devotee meditates upon the Lord in ecstatic love, His
spiritual form emerges from the core of consciousness deep within the
heart. Each of the devotee's senses is electrified by the Lord's presence,
and with lives of their own, hearing, touch, vision, taste and smell rush to
render Him service. Thus a devotee surpasses even the mode of goodness. His
senses, intoxicated by direct contact with the personal form of Krsna, are
never agitated in the proximity of material sense objects. His mind,
completely satisfied in devotional service, has no interest in speculations
about the spinning wheel of material fortune. As Narada points out, the Lord
takes charge of the devotee's *karmic* destiny.
The bad habit of mental speculation
Srila Prabhupada explains another phrase from Brahma's famous
Brahma is the topmost living creature within this
universe. He said, "A person must give up this
nonsense habit of speculation": *jnane prayasam
udapasya.* One must become submissive. One should
not pose that he knows something, that he can speculate,
that he can invent. The so-called scientists are simply
speculating and wasting labor. Nothing can be done
by you. Everything is already arranged. You cannot
change the law. You can simply see how it is working.
The agitated mind urges us to change our situation--in the universe, in
society or at least within ourselves. Scripture compares the mind to the
restless wind or to an impetuous, uncontrolled horse. Though the mind calls
for change, change doesn't satisfy the mind. Change is taking place anyway--
life after life we change our cosmic, social and mental situations, sometimes
getting the form of a Brahma, sometimes that of an ant. But throughout it
all, the mind remains unsatisfied. Srila Prabhupada called this utopianism--a
never-ending search for noplace, or Utopia (from Greek *ou*, "not" and
*topos*, "a place"). Dissatisfaction of mind simply drives us onward in the
cycle of birth and death.
It is the human habit to resort to speculation to relieve ourselves of
utopian anxiety. Speculation generates "new discoveries," and new discoveries
inflate pride in human progress. But pride stands behind the mind's utopian
anxiety: "this situation I'm in now isn't good enough for me." Thus new
discoveries breed new anxieties. For example, Rontgen's [note to Rajavidya--
umlaut about "o" in Rontgen] discovery of X-rays in 1895 sparked a revolution
in medical and dental diagnostics. Now we are told that every year an
alarming number of people contract cancer from medical and dental X-rays.
Speculative knowledge is called *jnana.* This is a different *jnana*
from that Lord Krsna taught to his disciples Arjuna and Uddhava. The Lord's
system of *jnana-yoga* is not aimed at changing one's position. It teaches
how the mind and senses are to be purified under the direction of the
spiritual master. But as the Personified Vedas say (*Bhag.* 10.87.33), for
one who abandons the lotus feet of his spiritual master, the attempt to pacify
the mind is full of distress. He encounters many obstacles and is never
successful. The attempt to pacify the mind by means other than the mercy of
*guru* and Krsna is precisely the kind of *jnana* that Brahma orders us to
stop. From the above words of Srila Prabhupada, this kind of *jnana* can be
identified by five symptoms: 1) unsubmissiveness due to thinking one already
has knowledge; 2) the habit to speculate; 3) the habit to invent something
new; 4) the habit to change the law (*dharma*); 5) laborious wasting of time.
Dry knowledge and Vedic knowledge
The logic behind speculative *jnana* is very different from the real
purpose of the Vedas taught by Brahma, who was entrusted by Lord Krsna to be
the *guru* of all genuine Vedic *gurus*. The Vedic purpose is *ratir atman
yato bhavet*, the cultivation of attraction to the Supreme Soul. Lord Krsna
says that if someone masters Vedic knowledge but has no attraction to the
Lord, he is like a man who keeps a cow that gives no milk. Thus speculative
*jnana* is called *suska-jnana*, or dry knowledge.
The logic of *suska-jnana* reduces the Vedic teachings to impersonal
axioms. Axioms are basic rules of thought that are not supposed to be
questioned--they are simply "given," though the impersonalist admits no need
for a personal Giver. The goal of this dry analysis is never *rasa*, which
is irreducibly personal. Thus because from the start they favor an impersonal
interpretation, *suska-jnanis* are unsubmissive to the goal advised by the
greatest Vedic authorities, Lord Krsna and His son Brahma. As Srila
Prabhupada points out, the *jnanis* think they know better.
There are two phases of *suksa-jnana*: *purva* (the lower) and *uttara*
(the higher). At the *purva* stage, *trai vidya* (three-fold knowledge) is
studied. *Trai vidya* is variously explained as the three Vedas (*Rig*,
*Yajur* and *Sama*); as *manas* (mind), *prana* (vital force) and *vak* (Vedic
sound vibration); as *adhidaivika*, *adhibautika* and *adhyatmika* (the three
cosmic levels at which every material thing exists simultaneously); and as the
*tri-varga* (the three material objectives of *dharma* or piety, *artha* or
wealth, and *kama* or sensual pleasure). In any case, *trai vidya* pertains
to the enjoyment of the three modes of nature: *trai-gunya-visaya veda*, as
Krsna tells Arjuna in *Bhagavad-gita* 2.45. The goal is to change position by
moving upward into higher cosmic dimensions of sense enjoyment.
At the *uttara* stage, *trai vidya* is reduced to impersonal Brahman, the
ultimate axiom of *susksa-jnana.* By Brahman, the *jnanis* mean the all-
pervading spiritual effulgence called *brahmajyoti.* Like the rays of light
streaming from the sun, the *brahmajyoti* emanates from Krsna's transcendental
form (though *jnanis* do not know that Krsna is its source). If he is able to
supress the influence of the material mind and senses by *yoga*, the
impersonalist experiences the Lord's opulence of knowledge as a flood of
glaring light into which his individual identity merges. The goal here is to
change position by becoming God.
Srila Prabhupada says a *jnani* is prone to speculate. At the
*purva* stage, *jnanis* speculate about material elevation through
Vedic sacrificial rituals. At the *uttara* stage, the speculations of
the *purva* stage are negated, and the *jnani* speculates that he has
become one with God, the impersonal absolute. Srila Prabhupada says the
*jnanis* want to invent. They invent an impersonal conception of reality.
Srila Prabhupada says the *jnanis* want to change the law. The supreme law or
*dharma* according to Lord Krsna is for the soul to surrender to Him in pure
devotion. The *jnanis* try to change that to mean the merging of the soul
into the impersonal absolute. Finally, Srila Prabhupada says the *jnanis*
waste time laboriously. *Avyakta hi gatir duhkham dehavadbhir avapyate*:
"progress toward the impersonal goal is difficult for embodied souls."
(*Bg.* 12.5) Even if a *suksa-jnani* manages to attain the *brahmajyoti*, his
persistent ignorance of the Supreme Person beyond the light leaves him
spiritually unsatisfied. For want of *rasa*, his personal desires pull him
back down into the world of time: *aruhya krcchrena param padam tatah patanty
adho 'nadrta-yusmad-anghrayah*. (*Bhag.* 10.2.32)
Therefore Krsna says that it takes many, many births for a *jnani* to
become *jnanavan*, truly wise--by knowing at last the Supreme Person to be
everything, both at the *purva* and *uttara* stages. This change of heart
comes when the *jnani* is blessed by association with a *mahatma* who corrects
his impersonal perspective. The *jnani* learns from the *mahatama* that "I am
Krsna's", and stops speculating "I am God." Thus he becomes a *mahatma*
The method of modern *susksa-jnanis*
The *jnanis* of Western civilization do not adhere to Vedic knowledge.
But they do aim to change the position of man in the world through the
cultivation of scientific and philosophical knowledge, and they consider
mental speculation to be the *sine qua non* of that cultivation. Indeed, they
believe the core essence of human consciousness is mental speculation.
"Abstract, theoretical or scientific thinking, which we call reason,
constitutes the main content, the nucleus of man's consciousness," said Dr.
Assen Kojarov in his address to the 1973 World Congress of Philosophy.
Now, human speculation is not perfect. How is truth to be distinguished
from error? "Sometimes there may be errors," writes Oxford mathematician
Roger Penrose, "but the errors are correctable. What is important is the fact
that there *is* an impersonal (ideal) standard against which the errors can be
measured." Penrose is saying our speculations must reduce to an impersonal
truth. This is an axiom, a "given" given by nobody, a rule that should not be
Thus modern systems of knowledge are founded upon an ideology of
impersonalism. An ideology is a set of axioms that we are barely conscious
of. It silently directs our efforts to give shape and coherence to the world.
Dry philosophers both East and West are directed by the same ideology.
Another common feature is their false humility. The Eastern *jnani* seems to
humble himself before the Vedic teachings, but his intent is to exploit Vedic
knowledge for changing his position from man to God. The Western *jnani*
seems to humble himself before the natural cosmos. But his intent is likewise
to become God.
Francis Bacon was one of the first "modern" thinkers; though he lived
four centuries ago (1561-1626), his writings on knowledge and how to get it
are still celebrated today. In a book entitled *The Phaenomena of the
Universe*, he argued that humility demands mankind to submissively peruse the
"volume of the creation" with a mind well-purged of opinions, idols and false
notions. Similarly, the learned T.H. Huxley (1825-1895) advised men to
sit down before the fact of the natural world and humbly follow "wherever and
to whatever abysses nature leads, or you shall learn nothing." This another
axiom of the modern method of knowledge: a person can know the truth only if
he opens his mind. What is meant by opening the mind? Emptying it of
personal values like good and evil, holy and unholy--thus reducing
consciousness to a space that is to be occupied by material knowledge.
The conceit of the "open mind"
The mind must be opened because it has a big job to do. Like the mouth
of a tremendous python, it has to swallow, bit by bit, the whole universe.
The more it engorges the universe, the more the mind puffs up with
"knowledge." A statement by astronomer and mathematician Pierre-Simon de
Laplace (1749-1827) makes clear that this is indeed the agenda of the Western
A mind that in a given instance knew all the forces
by which nature is animated and the position of all
the bodies of which it is composed, if it were vast
enough to include all these data within his analysis,
could embrace in one single formula the movements of
the largest bodies of the universe and of the smallest
atoms; nothing would be uncertain for him; the future
and the past would be equally before his eyes.
Clear enough: the mind should be "vast" so as to engulf "the movements of
the largest bodies of the universe and of the smallest atoms." Thus sciences
hopes to attain God-like knowledge and mastery over nature. But the data my
mind swallows comes from *my* matrix of experience. The data your mind
swallows comes from *your* matrix. Undoubtedly one person's experience of the
universe is similar in many ways to another's. But significant differences
always remain. No matter how humble we try to become before the creation, my
data and yours can never be identical. No matter how much I try to purge my
mind of opinions, idols and false notions, what I think about the cosmos and
what you think about it will never be the same. As I write these words, I
have before me the May 1997 edition of *Scientific American.* On page 14 is an
article entitled "Vanishing World," about a debate between astronomers as to
whether a planet discovered in 1989 orbiting the star 51 Pegasus is real or a
mirage. Whose macrocosmic data is true and whose is false?
Is truth a judgement of society?
"Truth ultimately resides in the collective judgement of people
who are committed to consensus and consistency," answers physics
professor Alan Cromer in *Uncommon Sense*, a book about the scientific
method. The axiom here is that man can never judge what is true at the
macrocosmic level. Macrocosmic data must be reduced to the mesocosmic level.
In other words, if we want knowledge of the universe, we have to humble
ourselves before society. As Cromer argues, "Science, like democratic
politics, is a social activity." He calls science "an extension of rhetoric."
Only by the democratic exchange of viewpoints through the medium of language
can we arrive at a unified understanding of our diverse experiences. Society
crowns as the winner the best argument emerging from that exchange. But
though the winning argument is crowned "truth," social judgement hardly
insures that truth is crowned the winning argument. History repeatedly shows
the scientific community handing the crown to an untrue argument. Up until
the year 1800, it was the collective judgement of scientists that rocks do not
fall from the sky. In 1768, a good number of French villagers witnessed a
meteor crash to earth in their locale. Where it landed, there, for all to
see, was a rock from sky. But member of the French Academy of Sciences
Antoine Lavosier, having arrived four years later to investigate, argued that
the stone was always on the ground, and that the villagers had only witnessed
a thunderbolt strike it. The scientific community crowned his argument the
Scientists want to lord it over material nature (to "swallow the
universe"). What most commands the attention of a society seeking lordship?
Power, not truth. An argument may have winning power simply because it
confirms the prejudice of the majority ("rocks can't fall from the sky"). It
may have winning power because the opposing arguments are even weaker. It may
have winning power due to the ignorance of society, or because of vote-rigging
and influence peddling.
Truth dispels ignorance. The scientific community is uncomfortably short
of explanations that dispel ignorance. The British science journal *Focus*
(August and September '96) published "one hundred greatest mysteries
unanswerable in the world of science." Among them: Does God exist? What
gives human beings their consciousness? What links humans to the cosmos?
What is time? What is the universe made of? Where do the galaxies come from?
Where do the oceans come from? How did life on earth begin? Why are heavy
things hard to push? Exactly how do anaesthetics work? What is the ideal
diet? Why does sex exist? Why do humans sleep? What exactly is complexity?
Social truth and social trust
In spite of such lapses in their own knowledge, the scientific community
presumes to decide for the rest of the world what is and isn't valid
knowledge: evolution is, creationism isn't; reductionism is, vitalism isn't;
naturalism is, supernaturalism isn't. And why? Evolution, reductionism
and naturalism are faithful servants of
economic determinism. Like blinders that a farmer puts on the head of a
workhorse so that the animal will pull its load straight ahead without
distraction, these "truths" help fix the public mind on economic development
as the only goal of life. What is good for the economy is good for science.
Yet the public isn't buying into scientific "truths" like it used to. For example, while scientists overwhelmingly agree that once a year the earth revolves around the sun, less
than fifty percent of the adult population of the United States acknowledges
that to be true. Recent books like Carl Sagan's *The Demon-Haunted World:
Science as a Candle in the Dark* (1996) evince the dismay of leading
scientists at the common man's diminishing respect for so-called scientific
It gets worse: this diminishing respect can be linked to a widespread
suspicion that top scientists are involved in some kind of worldwide plot to
deceive the public. Hollywood panders to this paranoia with hugely successful
films and TV series (*The X-Files*, *Conspiracy Theory*, *Men in Black*). Is
it all just showbiz and mass delusion? Well, even scientists testify there's
something to worry about. In 1996, a nuclear physicist published a book
documenting the existence of MJ-12, a secret council on UFOs formed in 1947 by
top US scientists, government experts and military brass. Though the official
dogma is that there is no such thing as flying saucers piloted by alien
humanoids, MJ-12 may have accumulated physical evidence (even bodies) from UFO
crashes. Also in 1996, a microbiologist published a book documenting how the
official dogma about AIDS is a lie. There is no proof that the HIV virus
causes AIDS; the author argues the HIV virus is blamed because other virus
epidemics like polio were stopped by global vaccination--and the development
of a vaccine against the virus a frightened global public *thinks* causes AIDS
is sure to earn huge profits. His book also accuses doctors who treat AIDS
with the standard drugs--azidothymidine (ATZ), dideoxycytidine (ddC), and
dideoxyinosine (ddI)--of poisoning their patients.
It is beside the point how factual such accusations really are. The
point is that such accusations are the subject of movies, documentaries, news
programs, network specials, newpaper stories, magazine covers, talk shows,
seminars, Internet chatter and tabloid fantasies. This proves that society is
far from convinced that science--at least the high-level government-funded
kind of science--is open, democratic and thus "socially" truthful.
Even if the grand conspiracy theories are questionable, that does not
make "normal" science trustworthy. In 1995, the British Library Science
Reference and Information Service published a documented review of the social
origins of fraud in science. Polls of the scientific community taken by *New
Scientist* magazine (1976 and 1987), the *British Medical Journal* (1988),
the Society of University Surgeons (1989), the American Association
for the Advancment of Science (1992), *American Scientist* magazine
(1993), and the journal *Science, Technology and Human Values*
(1994) report that cheating (falsification and manipulation of data) and
plagarism are alarmingly common among professionals. Five main causes
of fraud were identified: personality factors, the pressure to publish,
the academic rat race, commercialism, and pressure from sponsors.
Without these five, there surely could be *no* social activity in science.
Yet when asked, scientists admit each breeds ruthlessness, dishonesty and
Not only is human knowledge full of controversy, it is a never-ending
torrent of information that grows more and more diverse every day. It is
beyond the mental capacity of an individual scientist to swallow it all. Even
the entire scientific community can't make sense of it. This a problem called
"the fragmentation of knowledge." No wonder some modern *jnanis* escape from
scientific social activity into a mystical realm beyond debate, beyond
language altogether. In a lecture delivered at the University of California
in Santa Barbara, T.H. Huxley's famous grandson Aldous (1894-1963) said:
the enlightened individual goes beyond grammar. He has what
may be called a `grammar-transcending experience' which
permits him to live in the divine continuum of the world
and to see the one continually manifest in the many. The
enlightened person is, so to speak, *after* the rise of
language; he lives in language and then goes beyond it.
In Huxley's view, knowledge exchanged through the medium of language is
unavoidably misleading. To get beyond error a person must leave behind
language, which addresses only "the many" outside ourselves. We must reduce
our search for knowledge to the unspoken "one" within the microcosm. Whatever
is manifest as the many outside is only the one within. The mystic humbles
himself before that one--his own self--knowing it to be the truth.
We've touched on three axioms of modern knowledge--1) the open individual
mind can gradually swallow the universe; or 2) the open (i.e. democratic)
collective mind of society can gradually swallow the universe; or 3) the
enlightened mind can know itself as one with the universe.
There's little to see in the way of real humility in any one
of these methods. Each is a statement of exaggerated faith in the power of
the human mind. Each method turns out to be a mental concoction rooted in the
false ego, which is a diseased spirit of "I" and "mine." The first method
tries to make the world "mine" by knowledge, and the second "ours" (which is
just a collection of "mines"). The third tries to erase by knowledge the
difference between "I" and "the world." "As long as one is a servant of
mental concoctions," Srila Prabhupada explains, "one cannot be completely free
from the disease of `I' and `mine.'" The disease of I and mine is a disease of
rebelliousness against Truth--the Supreme Person. It appears in
consciousness as a spirit of false lordship over matter, and is the root cause
of our material existence.
"Our world" is a world of mental speculation
The material creation is meant for rebellious souls
who are not prepared to accept subordination under the
Supreme Lord. This spirit of false lordship is called
false ego. It is manifested in three modes of material
nature, and it exists in mental speculation only.
We live in a world of mental speculation, says Srila Prabhupada in
this segment of his purport to *Srimad-Bhagavatam* 3.5.29. To be sure,
he does *not* say the creation itself is nothing more than a state of
my own mind. Energies like fire and water do exist in objective
reality. But they do not exist in the way we think they do--as objects
of our selfish happiness and distress. In the cold of winter, for
example, the mind associates a fiery wood stove with happiness and the
water of a river with distress. In the heat of summer the mind gives
fire and water exactly opposite connotations. Such conceptions of fire
and water *exist in mental speculation only*. Thus, as Srila
Prabhupada explains in *Message of Godhead*, the world as we know it
"is simply subjective--that is, subject to our sense perceptions as
they relate to our processes of thinking, feeling, and willing."
The three modes of nature ripple through our "I" and "mine" conceptions
as the waves of thinking, feeling and willing. The world of mental
speculation--which Srila Prabhupada terms "unreal reality"--manifests within
those waves. For example, waves of thought flood the conception "this world
is mine" with curiosity about the many possible ways to experience this world.
Waves of feeling sort "my" sense impressions of the world into categories such
as positive, negative, and ambiguous. The intelligence (*buddhi*) invents
ways to help the senses come in contact with positive objects, avoid negative
ones, and investigate ambiguous ones. Waves of will push "my" senses to do
something about these feelings and plans. When we will something to happen,
our sense of lordship over creation becomes frankly apparent.
Thinking, feeling and willing condition the soul to believe himself the
controller of the laws that govern "his" world. For instance, as I write this
sentence, I think that the room I'm in is hot and stuffy. I know that
physical law dictates that a closed room under a bright summer sun will heat
up. I feel I should change this situation by getting up and opening the
window. And sure enough, willing this to be done, my body gets up, opens the
window, and fresh air pours into the room. But this willpower over the laws
of the cosmos is illusory, because I do not really know *what the law is* that
I am trying to change.
The law is *karma,* and what I don't know is what sufferings and
enjoyments I am destined to obtain by the work I now perform. I do know I am
in this hot room and that I have an option of choice--I can just sit here and
tolerate the heat, or I can do something. When I choose to do something, the
matrix responds to my desire. I experience getting up, walking over a few
steps, reaching out and turning a handle, and pulling the window frame open.
But while this is going on, I cannot predict with certainty where material
nature is leading me. I do not know whether *my goal*--to be relieved by
fresh air--is really what is in store for me. The breeze may carry a foul
stench, forcing me to shut the window immediately. Mosquitos may fly in
and distract me even more than the heat did. The effort of opening the
window may trigger a heart attack. And finally, whatever option I
choose within the matrix does not substantially change my situation.
Whether I open the window or not, I do not change the law of *karma.* If I am
destined to suffer in this room, I will suffer in this room, one way or
another. As Srila Prabhupada said, "Everything is already arranged. You
cannot change the law. You can simply see how it is working."
Intellectual rebellion against the Supreme Person
Modern civilization suffers from an unfortunate propensity to
idolize the human mind. People tend to believe that famous scientists have
some extraordinary power to sculpt a perfect model of the world from a block
crystalline logic, this logical world being the pure form of reality. But
because intellectuals are in difficulty, their so-called logical worlds are
likewise full of difficulties. With a bit more sophistication, intellectuals
just do what even lower creatures do: they mentally impose their own
subjective values upon what their senses perceive. These values end in the
physical affairs of eating, sleeping, mating and defending, which in turn end
No, we do not "really" live within the logical worlds of dead or dying
scientist and philosophers. We really live within the Supreme Person.
*Purusa evedam sarvam*--"all this is He." The true intellectual class, the
*brahmanas*, are meant to instruct us in an exacting understanding of God as
the origin and controller of the universe. Knowing Him in truth, we shall
know Him as our only means to get free from the grip of death. But when
intellectuals are infected with the disease of "I" and "mine", they act as
agents of mystification. They concoct models of mind to take the place of the
Supreme Person. Then, acting as priests, they conduct the rest of society in
worshiping these models as idols.
Take for example the modern idol of space science. Merchants and workers
of leading nations make offerings to this idol in the form of taxes collected
by the administrators. This wealth is taken by clever rocket scientists
who ceremoniously shoot it into the sky. The scientists sometimes defend this
wasteful enterprise as being motivated by humility before the vast cosmos.
But this humility is deceptive. The actual intent behind the worship of the
idol of space science is the conquest of the universe. To conquer the
universe, mankind has to somehow find a way to free himself from the authority
of the Supreme Person, represented by the laws of material nature. This
is impossible. But when an intellectual acts as an agent of mystification,
he persuades society to believe the impossible: "Others dream dreams and ask
why, I dream dreams and ask why not."
Vedic histories record the account of one Trisankhu, a *sudra* who
attempted to enter the celestial realm of *svarga* in his earthly
physical body with the help of the *brahmana* Visvamrta, a master of
mystic power. But Trisankhu was not successful; the laws of nature did not
permit it. The law is that one can attain heaven in the next life by choosing
to live a life of goodness on earth. *Urdhvam gacchanti sattva stha*,
declares the *Bhagavad-gita*: after giving up the earthly body, a person in
goodness goes upward to receive a superhuman body in the celestial world.
The future of bad science
Today's rocket scientists hope to do with machinery what Visvamrita could
not do by mystic power. Allen Cromer has this sobering observation:
The idea that spaceships may someday trek from star to star
makes great science fiction but bad science. The laws of
physics and the properties of matter limit the speed of
spaceships, making it impossible to travel between stars
in any reasonable time. (*Uncommon Sense*, 1993, p. 184)
But bad science gets big money. Just as some scientists spend incredible
sums of money on machines to conquer space, others spend money on the
mechanical conquest of the microcosm, as popularized by films like *Robocop*,
*Terminator* and *Johnny Memnonic*. The hope is the development of a human
body and mind improved by computerized prostheses: limbs endowed with
increased strength and speed; artificial eyes that see far beyond the visible
spectrum; neural implants that enable direct mind-linkage with computer
networks and instant downloading of data into the brain.
The scientific future of the mesocosm (human society) is
*technopoly*, defined by communications theorist Neil Postman as "the
submission of all forms of cultural life to the sovereignty of
technique and technology." Postman explains:
Technopoly is a state of culture. It is also a state of mind.
It consists in the deification of technology, which means
that the culture seeks its authorization in technology, finds
its satisfaction in technology, and takes its orders from
technology. This requires the development of a new kind of
social order, and of necessity leads to the rapid dissolution
of much that is associated with traditional beliefs.
Scenarios of "a new kind of social order" have for many decades been a
staple of science fiction. Probably the most celebrated works of this type
are *Brave New World*, *1984*, and, written more recently, *This Perfect Day*
(which depicts the world of tomorrow governed by a giant computer). Each book
foresees a highly automated society wherein everybody has a job, crime is
abolished, social roles are completely stereotyped--and human life has no
meaning. As a character in *This Perfect Day* muses, "Machines are at home in
the universe; people are aliens."
Yes, we are spiritual aliens in a material universe. That is why, after
all is said and done, we want out of here. Machines are at home here because
the world functions under *karma*, the impersonal law of action and reaction.
People naturally seek freedom from *karma*. As we learned in the first
chapter, they try either to detach themselves from it, change it, or negate
it. Western science is a program to change it. It hopes to rebuild the
world--first with mental models, then with physical machinery. But that is an
act of rebellion against Krsna's plan. It is impossible for humanity to free
itself from the laws of material nature by rebellion. This rebellious spirit
that is the disease of the soul, and its symptom is mental speculation.
A human being wants freedom from the laws of material nature because
in essence he is not material. He is spirit soul. But there are
two categories of soul--supreme and subordinate. We are in the
subordinate category. For freedom from the laws of nature, we are
ever-dependent upon Krsna, the Supreme Soul. As long we do not choose
to take His shelter, our habit is to depend upon His external energy,
matter. But dependence upon matter brings us under its control. Srila
Prabhupada writes, "This material energy is also called Durga, which
indicates that it is a force which is very difficult to surpass. No
one can surpass the laws of Durga by any amount of childish plans." In
*Bhagavad-gita*, Lord Krsna declares that only when the subordinate
person takes complete shelter of the Supreme can he cross beyond the
difficulties of material existence.
The quotation that opens this chapter suggests that to suppose higher
knowledge to be "secret, mysterious, cryptic and inaccessible" is wrong.
Higher knowledge needs not at all to be mysterious. But our problem is that
we confuse knowledge with speculation. For example, it is sheer speculation
that mankind is destined to conquer the laws of nature; yet this is a guiding
tenet of scientific progress. Old age, disease and death remain as
problematic now as they were 2500 years ago when the Greeks began laying the
foundations of Western science. So it is certainly secret, mysterious,
cryptic and inaccessible how these problems will be one day solved by Western
science. Mental models of a world perfected by scientific and technological
progress Srila Prabhupada called "humbug with no clear explanation."
The notion that the human mind can figure out a way to overcome
the laws of nature is founded upon a notion that the mind is independent of
the laws of nature. This is the so-called Cartesian assumption (named after
Rene Descartes, "the father of modern philosophy," who believed the mind to be
spirit, not matter; he argued that rational thought, when perfected, can make
man master and possessor of material nature). This assumption is at the
bottom of modern scientific and technical thought.
The problem of the human situation
Scientific and technical thinking "objectifies" problems. This simply
means that all problems and their solutions are considered to be objects
external to the mind. This is quite reasonable for problems in the
commonplace (*laukika*) sphere of human life. For example, if one evening all
the lights in my house go out, it is rational to assume that the problem and
its solution are objectively electrical. It wouldn't be considered very
rational to assume that the problem and solution are subjective--that is,
within my mind: "The lights went off just after I had a nasty thought. I
shall now think good thoughts to bring the lights back on."
But when we think of solving the problem of the human situation,
objectification won't work. I and my mind are part of the problem of the
human situation, and so are you and your mind. Therefore the solution--
freedom--is not an object the mind will find "out there" in the external
world. Nor can the mind model a theoretical solution that has any hope of
success, since the mind itself is the problem. Our inner mental functions
(thinking, feeling and willing), by which we try to solve objective problems,
are the very cause of the bondage we human beings struggle to free ourselves
Underlying the workings of the mind is the Supeme Person. He dwells
within the heart of every living being, observing their intention towards His
material energy. Almost all living entities in this world desire to be
independent lords over matter. The real Lord permits His material energy of
three modes to delude the materialistic souls with the waves of thinking,
feeling and willing. Willing creates *karma*, sensory actions that are
recorded by the demigods who facilitate the souls' experience of sensory
actions. The *karmic* record of the human lifetime is most significant. It
is evidence judged by the Supreme Person at the time of a person's death. He
weighs that soul's good, bad and mixed actions, determining from this the
appropriate next birth. The demigods reconfigure that soul's matrix of
The living entity, thus taking another gross body, obtains a
certain type of ear, eye, tongue, nose and sense of touch,
which are grouped about the mind. He thus enjoys a particular
set of sense objects. (*Bhagavad-gita* 15.9)
Human "knowledge" that does not heed the Supreme Person and His law of
*karma* leads the soul deeper and deeper into the ocean of birth and death.
It is a myth that modern science leads to progress. It is really a form of
ignorance that makes human life ever more difficult.
Lord Krsna gives a summary of the items of real knowledge
in the thirteenth chapter of *Bhagavad-gita*, verses 8-12. There are
twenty items. Of these, one--constant and unalloyed devotion to Krsna--
is "the most important point," in Srila Prabhupada's words. Devotion
to Krsna, as explained before, begins with hearing and chanting His
name and glories. When devotion is constant (*nityam*) and unalloyed
(*avyabhicarini*), the functions of the senses and mind break all
dependence upon matter and connect directly with transcendence.
For example, instead of being preoccupied with a "model of mind"
manufactured by mental speculation, a pure devotee meditates on the
transcendental form of the Lord. The form of Lord Krsna is never material.
But as explained in the previous chapter, in order to maintain the living
entities within material creation, He accepts the dress of the threefold
cosmos. Similarly, so that we who live within creation may meditate upon Him,
Krsna assumes a form *for us to maintain* through personal services like
cooking, cleaning and decoration. This form is called the Deity (*arca-
vigraha*). The devotees fashion the Deity from stone, metal, wood or paint
according to specifications given in the Vedic scriptures. Thus, though our
senses are dim to transcendence, we see can see Him, touch Him and
render Him service.
"Matter" is transcendental
Someone might ask, "But how can something--this `Deity'--be
transcendental when all it is made from is stone, metal, wood or paint? These
are just material ingredients existing well within our mundane experience."
Yet in the last analysis, whatever we call "material" transcends our
experience. We do not experience from where matter originates, nor how the
material world came to be structured as the matrix of our experience. If we
think that we know all about the Deity from what we know about matter, we are
being pretty silly. What do we know about matter anyway? As long as we
depend upon the blunt instruments of the mind and senses for knowledge, we can
know only our ignorance of matter. Several years ago two scientists published
a book entitled *The Matter Myth.* The purport is the more science studies
matter, the more matter vanishes. If that is all we can say about what matter
*really* is, then certainly human knowledge about matter amounts to ignorance.
The Vedic sound transmits to our ears knowledge coming from beyond the
limits of our mind and senses. This sound reveals that matter 1) is the
energy of the Supreme Person; 2) can be experienced by us only because it is
given shape by His divine form; 3) is meant to be engaged in His
service. The transcendent source of matter becomes self-evident as
soon as we stop thinking about matter in our ordinary, habitual,
ignorant way and engage it in the service of Lord Krsna's personal
How we ordinarily think about matter is evident in our eating
habits. From the instrumentalist point of view, any lump of matter
that can be ingested and digested is classified as food. But this is
animalistic. The Vedas warn of many types of "food" not fit for human
consumption--meat, fish and eggs, for example. For human beings, God
provides six food groups--vegetables, grains, legumes, nuts, milk and
sugar. These are meant to be offered in sacrifice to the Deity. A
human being should eat only the remnants of such offerings, called
*prasadam* (the Lord's mercy). If he does not, then all that he eats,
even if he is a vegetarian, submerges his consciousness within the
waves of materialistic thinking, feeling and willing. He remains
entrapped by the matrix of mundane experience life after life, unable
to realize his original identity as a liberated associate of the
*Prasadam*, chanting the holy name and Deity worship nourish a
purified state of being, termed *vasudeva-sattva*, that surpasses the
material mode of goodness. Material goodness is uncertain. People equate
goodness with morality, but as the modern moral philosopher Francis Scheffler
noted, morality "is an aspect of human psychology and social relations, and
not a system of propositions"--which just means that people in material
consciousness cannot fix morality to a permanent standard. People define
moral behavior according to their state of mind and the state of their
society--and these states, of course, change with time. Beyond time-defined
ethics is the eternal code of *yajna* or sacrifice, as found for example in
the Chandogya Upanisad: *puruso vava yajnah*, "the entire life of a person is
meant to be conducted as a sacrifice for the Supreme." Lord Krsna warns
those who do not follow the Vedic system of sacrifice that their human
life is in vain. And those who do, achieve the supreme eternal
atmosphere of pure goodness.
A soul situated in *vasudeva-sattva* is free of the disease of "I"
and "mine." Consequently he is not mystified by speculation about the
macro-, meso- and microcosm. He knows all planets in the universe to
be the property of Krsna. He knows that the sacrifices of human
society are meant to be enjoyed by Krsna alone. He knows Krsna to be
the indwelling friend within the heart of every individual. As Krsna
confirms in *Bhagavad-gita* 5.29, this knowledge delivers the soul from
the threefold pangs of material life. As soon as he is freed from the
pushings of the three modes, waves of transcendental attraction push
the devoted soul towards Krsna.
Clearing consciousness of mental idolatry
Krsna consciousness is consciousness clear of the idolatry of the
mind that has interrupted our individual connection to the Supreme Person. In
clear consciousness, it is self-evident that the sound of the holy name, the
sight of the Deity and the taste of His *prasadam* are in no way different
from the pure spiritual form of God Himself. The proof is that these
experiences initiate the flow of *rasa* within the heart. The ecstasy of
*rasa* intensifies the soul's spiritual personhood, revealing the limitless
depth of his intimate loving relationship with the Lord of his heart, Sri
Krsna. This is why *bhakti*, personal devotional service to the Supreme Lord
expressed as hearing and chanting His glories, serving His Deity form and
accepting *prasadam*, is the most important item of transcendental knowledge.
But it must be admitted that a neophyte devotee lacks the spirit of
selfless devotion seen in the *mahatmas.* He may operate less under *bhakti*