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By © Shri Purnaprajna Dasa
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When I was small, I used to wonder, "Why do I exist? Why does anything exist? Why isn't there nothing? Is there God? What will happen when I die?" I wondered and wondered but no answer came from within. I asked my mother, father and sisters, but they could not tell me anything. The thing that amazed me most was: "I am conscious! I am alive!"
I wondered, "How can something come alive and become aware of itself and its surroundings?"
I used to imagine a world without life. Because I was born in a family of scientists, life was explained to me as a freak occurrence of nature. I marveled at how, if by chance, there were no life, the entire universe would seem meaningless. Even a world without humans seemed practically pointless.I have always felt that my life is very meaningful and not trivial. This is what I very strongly feel deep within myself. I think this is an example of what is called intuition. Another intuition is that I exist. No one has to convince me of this, and no one can prove to me otherwise. Such intuitions do not seem to depend upon what we perceive with our senses. Nor do they appear to be conclusions drawn from our intellect. I find intuitions to be something fundamental.
Throughout my life, I have simultaneously pursued two goals. One is to understand the truth about life, and the other is to enjoy as much as possible. No doubt, the pursuit of wisdom is also enjoyable, and the search for pleasure is sometimes instructive. When I was younger, I considered the pursuit of pleasure to be top priority. Now, I'm a bit older, and the search for genuine understanding is my primary passion.My mother forced me to go to Sunday school at the church she attended. There, I heard that after death, everyone either goes to heaven or to hell. I wondered, "The body is buried and disintegrates. What is it that goes to heaven or hell?"
Nothing was explained to me in a convincing manner and yet, I was expected to believe everything. I hated Sunday school. The only part I liked was the Hawaiian punch and cookies.Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Robert William Carol. I grew up in Silver Spring, Maryland. After waking up from the slumber of infancy, I took a look at myself and the world around me. Everything seemed OK, except for the fact that I would eventually grow old and die.As a child, I thought about life a lot. To me, the worst thing was death. How terrible it seemed! After a lifetime of play, love, friendship and family- the struggle to come to a mature understanding of life, the accumulation of possessions, and the life-long endeavor to position oneself in society- everything would abruptly end! It didn't seem fair. It didn't seem right. In an intuitive way, death didn't seem compatible with life.Isn't it a fact that death spoils the whole thing? Isn't it true- death is so repugnant that we push the thought of it out of our minds and pretend as if we will live forever?
I could ask, "What is the second-worst thing about life?
The answer might be, "Growing old."
But then, a good contender for second place would surely be: "The horrible things that people do to one another."
My earliest daytime childhood memory is of something that happened when I was three. I was playing alone in the front yard. My mother had told me to never cross the street. That day, I saw another boy about my age sitting in front of the house across the street. He motioned for me to come on over. I responded by trying to convince him to come and play with me. But, he was adamant- he kept insisting that I come to him. It took some time but I got up the courage, looked carefully in both directions and then hurriedly crossed the street. As I shyly approached my prospective friend, his older brother came upon the scene and encouraged him to fight with me.I had no idea of fighting and so- in the beginning- the boy easily got the better of me. Being pinned down, I found myself in a very uncomfortable position. When I understood what was happening, I began to exert myself. Because I was tailer and stronger, I soon reversed positions.
The boy's older brother had a friend who came to see the fun. They helped the boy by turning us over so that once again, I was on the bottom. Still, I managed to prevail. Again and again, the big boys teased me and meddled in the fight. Even when the smaller boy wanted to stop, they prodded him to continue fighting. I couldn't understand- why were they tormenting me?
Finally, when they let me go home, I tearfully told everything to my mother. She later informed my father when he came home from work. I expected my mother and father to come to my defense and chastise the older boys, but they didn't do anything. This was very disappointing for me and I believe I lost a big chunk of faith in my parents at that time.That boy, Gregory Kaye, became my best friend, though, and I certainly learned something in the "school of hard knocks".On the positive side, I feel that there is an important lesson to be learned from this small incident: The simple truth is that, if we want to live peacefully, INJUSTICES SHOULD BE FIRMLY DEALT WITH. Isn't that what governments are for?
Everything can be understood in terms of cause and effect. I was taught that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. If I had said or done something against the big boys or even against Gregory, I could have understood their malice. But, I had approached them innocently, without any antagonism. My father, Jonas Carol, was a chemist for the Food and Drug Administration in Washington D. C. He was truly an atheist. As far as I could see, he didn't have the slightest'thought of God, and he religiously avoided entering a church. As best I can remember, when I was two, I had a little faith in God. I sometimes wondered, "Why did God give me a body that will die?"
I think that by my father's influence, I lost that little bit of faith. I became a staunch atheist at an early age. My father was a scientist who could not observe God, or feel the necessity for God's existence in any way. He was a very practical man. He was a rationalist and not a sentimentalist. I possessed a similar nature and so I naturally accepted his conclusions. At that time, I didn't hear any strong arguments in support of God's existence.As I grew up, I became acquainted with the theories of contemporary science- how the universe began with a big bang, and how living beings had somehow evolved by the interaction of molecules. I learned that life forms were carbon-based, and that coal and diamonds were also made of carbon. Again and again, I tried to imagine how life could have evolved from the elements. Especially while lying in bed or sitting with nothing to do, I tried to picture how life could emerge from a non-living world, it seemed miraculous indeed! But I also felt bitter and saddened. According to what I had learned at school and at home, life would one day become extinct with the demise of the sun. It didn't seem right that such a wonderful thing as life should exist if it would one day have to be obliterated.Please do not consider my feelings odd! There was worldwide outrage at the destruction of Buddhist monuments in Afghanistan by the Taliban. We go to any expense and effort to restore and preserve great works of human endeavor like the leaning tower of Pisa, the Pantheon, and paintings displayed in museums. If we would feel so bad about the loss of any of these- what feeling should we have about the destruction of life itself?
Even when I was a baby, I had my own room. My mother and father had their bedroom, my two older sisters had theirs, and I had mine. It was terrifying for me to sleep alone! My mother had to come and comfort me when I cried. Finally, she put a night light in my room.As I lay in bed, I could see creepy hands crawling across the ceiling. I could feel the presence of hostile elements all around. When I fell asleep, I had terrible dreams. On many occasions, a ghostly creature chased me around the house so that, at last, I tried to hide in the bathroom. Sleeping was, for me, a fearful experience. There was a subtle world that became manifest at night in the dark.
When I closed my eyes while lying in bed, I looked at the pattern of lights inside my head. Close your eyes. What do you see? Isn't it something like watching TV if the cable or antenna is disconnected? How can you see something when your eyes are closed? Sometimes, a bright multi-colored design would appear and float across the screen of my mind. I believed it to be a sign of good fortune- a kind of reassuring omen. When I was frightened, I would close my eyes and wait to see that design. Sometimes it took a long time to appear. But, after seeing it, I was confident that I could sleep without being disturbed.I felt like a small creature in the midst of a great and mysterious world. I felt helpless and dependent. Now I am 56 and I still feel quite insignificant.
My two sisters- Jean and Mary Lou- were 10 and 8 years older than me. In school, Jean was learning to play the French horn. When I was six, I picked up her horn and tried to make some sounds. Jean helped me and soon, I could play a scale, much to everyone's surprise.I think that, in childhood, everyone hopes to achieve something wonderful in life. I dreamt of being a baseball player, and a hero who saved the girl in distress. As I grew up, I experimented with whatever I could try. But gradually, I came to realize that I would never be a great anything. I was just an ordinary guy.
I began to practice the French horn seriously, believing it to be the one thing I could do exceptionally well. At the age of eight, I started taking lessons from a professional who played with the Washington National Symphony. In the 4tn grade, I performed the slow movement of a Mozart horn concerto before an audience of parents at school in the evening.In retrospect, I feel fortunate to have been introduced to serious music at an early age. There is something very special about music. It is quite different from baseball or astronomy.
A neighbor gave me a small telescope when I was about ten, and this led to an interest in astronomy, which my father shared. Actually, my father picked up my hobbies and continued them with greater enthusiasm. He later became an award-winning amateur telescope maker. As a child, I collected postage stamps. When I gave it up, my father continued until he amassed a huge collection.When I was small and began flying kites, my father went with me to a nearby field. Soon, he was making kites for me in all shapes and sizes.When he was young, my father had made propeller-driven model airplanes out of balsa wood. He had won prizes for photography. But, in my childhood, I saw that his old hobbies were abandoned.
On the whole, I find that children are happier than adults. And, small children are happier than teenagers. In India, where I now live, there are many poor children who wear torn clothes, live by the side of the road, and eat very meagerly. And yet, they invariably appear jovial, unless they are being harassed. Romantic love is advertised as the supreme pleasure in life and yet without it, small children seem quite happy. Being always on the lookout for love, teenagers and adults generally appear anxious. This is truly one of iife's ironies, and I believe that there is something profound to be learned from it.Small children constantly dream about growing up. They can hardly wait. They think that growing up will give them greater freedom. But, it seems that children lose some of their freedom as they grow older. A small child can be honest, and can act as he or she likes, without much fear of punishment or rejection. Adults have very strict roles to play.
Small children are ignorant, but if they hear the simple truth, they can easily accept it. I asked my 7-year-old daughter, Vrinda, "What is the worst thing about life?"
"Death", she replied, without hesitation.
I sometimes wondered, "How was the universe created? Was it made by God, as religions claim? Perhaps science can prove once and for all whether God exists or not. By looking into the past, maybe astronomers will one day see the hand of God initiating creation. Or, perhaps they will find out that the universe came into being some other way." When I was 13, I made up my mind to read all the books on astronomy in the Silver Spring Public Library, to see if I could find an answer to this question. At this age, I was firmly atheistic and convinced that scientific investigation is the only possible means for acquiring knowledge. Every day, I went to the library and read as many books as I could, looking for anything about the creation. When it was time to go, I checked out some books so that I could continue my research at home. I had great hope that I would learn something to help me understand why this world and I are here.By analyzing the light of distant stars, astronomers conclude that the universe is expanding. Because light travels at a finite speed, images received of far off galaxies allow us to peer into the distant past. Still, I came to the conclusion after reading everything I could get my hands on that it is far beyond anyone's capacity to understand what really happened in the very beginning. I became convinced that astronomers would never be able to approach even a glimpse of what it was like at the time of creation. It seemed to me that they were trying to do the impossible. This made me feel disappointed at heart.
Biologically, the heart is an organ that pumps blood throughout the body. And yet, there is another heart, for sure. "I'm heartbroken," the man said, after his girlfriend ieft him. "Give it your wholehearted effort," the coach said to his team. We all feel a certain way in our hearts. I have heara people say, "I know that something is wrong", although they cannot say why. This is an intuition, and I am sure that they feel it in their hearts. I desperately wanted to know if life has a purpose. When I saw that we are hopelessly inadequate to find this out by scientific investigation, I felt demoralized. Even as a child, my intuitive feeling was that life has a very sublime purpose.
My sister, Jean, still remembers how, when I was eight-years-old, I had solemnly declared that I would never work when I grew up. Why? I saw life as a chance for many wonderful experiences and working seemed like selling myself into slavery. Of course, like everyone else, I considered money to be sweeter than honey, but my freedom and hopes for a meaningful life were sweeter still. No doubt, these feelings were nurtured by my family's prosperity, and our relative freedom from the very hard struggle for existence that is experienced by many who are less fortunate.
When I was young, adults seemed so strange Kids were open-minded, inquisitive, and always ready to have a good time- whereas grown-ups acted like cement that had hardened. They seemed rigid, narrow-minded, and set in their ways. I felt that life was a rare chance to learn and experience. I wanted to keep myself prepared for every opportunity, so that life didn't pass me by. Most adults appeared to have given up this challenge by opting for a predictable life of mediocrity- a job, settling down, raising a family and conforming. When you are a kid, it is "us" (the kids) against "them" (the adults). I couldn't understand what made kids change sides when they get a little older. I just knew that I wouldn't let it happen to me. Of course, my body would age, but i was determined to never allow my inner self to grow old.
While in elementary school, I learned about the role I was expected to play. Most of the kids in school were trying hard to play their roles. To play the role, you had to dress in a certain way and you had to talk in a certain way. You had to act cool all the time, as if you had everything under control. Your collar had to be like this, you had to button your shirt like this, and your clothes must be the current fashion. The main thing was you had to possess a certain ego. You had to have a surplus of self-confidence and the ability to do everything well. In a subtle way, there was an ever-ongoing competition for status. I would always be able to tell you who was the number one boy in class and who was the number one girl- who was number two, number three, etc. For a boy, one's status depended largely upon athletic ability and appearance, as well as attitude and confidence-and to a much lesser degree, upon grades. Cleverness also counted for much, especially if one wasn't very athletic or handsome.
At home, also, there was a role to play. Don't put your elbows on the table- the fork goes here, the spoon goes there, the knife goes there, and the napkin goes on your lap. When guests came, you had to talk very politely and smile. When someone asked, "How are you?" you must answer, "Fine, thank you."
All of these things didn't appeal to me very much.
I have never been a "happy-go-lucky" kind of person. Even as a child, I was a bit introverted and withdrawn. I didn't socialize well. In fact, I somewhat dreaded talking to people, especially girls and grown-ups. In a sense, my life has been a struggle to overcome this handicap, and I have at least partially succeeded. I have met many gregarious and ever-smiling people. I have known numerous aggressive persons, bursting with confidence. I used to envy such people. I wished that I could be like them. But, one's acquired nature is very hard to change.Even as a child, I hated the thought of pain and cruelty. There were some kids who took pleasure in torturing weaker kids, or even animals and insects-but for me, such behavior was repulsive. There was a walnut tree in the yard next door. One day, I saw a bird standing on the ground about forty feet away. I picked up a walnut and threw it. Really, I didn't imagine that I would hit the bird. It was an impulsive act, performed in a sporting mood. But, it so happened that the walnut found its mark.
As the bird lay flapping on the ground, I was horrified. I went close to get a good look and I could see that it was hurt badly and would surely die. I went home and all throughout the evening and night, the thought of the dying bird haunted me. I deeply felt that I had done a terrible thing.The next morning, i hurriedly went to see if the bird had died or not. It was gone and so, at first, I felt relieved, thinking that it might have recovered and flown away. But then, I realized that much more likely, a cat had dragged it away.For some days, I felt greatly pained at heart, thinking how I had done a terrible wrong by killing an innocent creature. At the same time, I went on eating meat three times a day- breakfast, lunch and dinner- never giving a thought to the suffering that had been inflicted upon the animals that went into my stomach.
I sent a rough draft of this manuscript to a friend, Thomas Chavez. He told me about his similar experience: "I remember how I was living on Vashon Island in Puget Sound, about midway between Seattle and Tacoma. I was 10 or 11. I saw a little bird, a sparrow I think, on the lawn about 20 or 30 feet away. I was on the driveway. I picked up a stone and without thinking, threw it. It was smack on target and the little bird plopped right over. I was stunned. I went up to the bird and picked it up. It was warm and its neck was slack. Perhaps I hit it in the neck. I greatly lamented for what I had done. I buried the sparrow in an orchard nearby and put a makeshift cross on the grave. Like you, I never related this incident to my meat eating."
! think that there must be many children like us who would never want to harm even an animal. Yet, when we were infants, meat was thrust upon us, so that eating it became a habit. Thomas is a vegetarian now, and so am I. I guess that, in infancy, if we had been asked whether we wanted to eat animal flesh or not, we would have refused. Imagine an average two or three year old child who had never eaten meat. If his or her mother asked, "Would you like to eat the meat of a cow?" the child might respond, "What is meat?"
The mother could then explain, "A man kills a cow, cuts off its skin and chops the flesh into pieces. The bloody red part is the meat. Do you want me to cook some for you?"
I think that many children would be aghast and say, "No!" Or, to make my point more vividly, let us suppose like this. Imagine a two or three-year-old who had never eaten meat. One day, his or her mother brought in a cow, slit its throat, bashed it on the head, skinned it, cut off a chunk of flesh and asked, "Shall I cook this for you?"
I don't think that many children would reply, "Sure. Make mine medium-rare!"
Generally, children's attitudes and behavior are strongly molded by their family environment. I feel that because of this, going to school is extremely valuable. Not only do children learn how to read and write, how to obey authority, and how to discipline themselves. They also learn how to get along with a wide variety of children. This certainly broadens the child's outlook and helps develop the understanding that one's family's way of doing things is not universal. In the classroom, children should be exposed to a spectrum of ideas so that ultimately, they can choose for themselves what is best. I strongly feel it is very unfortunate that, not only at home, but at school as well, children are not given the freedom to choose in many important ways. When I was young, I was not given the freedom to choose whether to eat meat or not- not at home, nor at school. No one even suggested that it might be bad to kill animals.Since the age of 27, I have lived in India. One day, recently, I asked my daughter, Vrinda, "What would you like for lunch- peas and potatoes with chapattis (made from wheat flour), soup and toast, or chicken?
Vrinda made a sour face and laughed. "Peas, please" she replied.
I told her, "If I give you one hundred rupees (the Indian currency) and buy you a new dress, will you eat some chicken?"
Vrinda emphatically replied, "No!" and so I asked, "Why?"
She explained, "I would never eat a chicken, I would never eat a pig, I would never eat a cow, and I would never eat you!"
Vrinda was raised a vegetarian and she has never eaten meat. Now, she is eight and by talking to her, I can very well understand that vegetarianism is not an artificial imposition upon her. Being accustomed to a vegetarian diet, the very thought of eating the bodies of dead animals is repulsive for her.
Another day, I was talking to Vrinda. We were in Goa, India's smallest state. It is a good place for vacations because of the moderate climate- the lush, tropical scenery- and the numerous beaches on the Arabian Sea. Every year, many thousands of Europeans come for an extended stay so that during the height of the tourist season, only half of the people you see by the beaches are Indian. In the 90's, Goa became famous for its techno-trance parties, and Goa trance became a genre of music. By the beaches, it's quite simple and rural. There are lots of pigs, cows, goats and buffalo.
A chicken ran by. I said, "Vrinda, does that chicken look tasty?"
"No!" she replied and giggled.
When I was in eighth grade, there was a girl in my class who everyone considered very strange. That was 1959. She came to school wearing jeans, which was against the rules, and her appearance was sloppy. She didn't care for authority and many days she didn't come at all. There was no name for her at the time, but I think she was the first hippy I ever saw. I considered her to be too weird but at the same time, I had a secret admiration for her. It's a fact that many kids had no respect for the rules and authority- the system as it came to be called. But, at that time, she was the only one in schooi who dared to rebel outright.
There always seems to be three paths to follow. One is the path of conformity. It is wide, very prominent and full of people. When I was young, I often wondered how everything had become so clearly defined. As a member of a family, my role was clearly defined. As a student, my role was clearly defined. As a citizen of America, my duties and responsibilities were also clearly laid out. The entire course of my life seemed to be set out before me. To follow the path, I just had to do as I was told.
The advocates of the path of conformity very tenaciously stand over one with a stick in hand, declaring, "This is the only right path. Follow it and you wiil be respected as a good person. You will be happy. If you deviate from this path, you will become a failure. Don't spoil your life." There is a second path, which is surely the road to ruin. The prime advocate of this path may be the devil himself: "Why go to so much trouble? Who cares for family, who cares for school, who cares for society? Take the easy way out! Why work so hard to earn money? Beg, borrow or steal-just get what you need by any means. Live today, for tomorrow we all die! Why follow the rules? Bend them a bit and get things the easy way! There's a sucker born every minute- there's a thousand scams to take his money! People are so gullible." There's a third path as well. It is not easy to find like the other two. It is no doubt the road less traveled. For those who might be interested, I hope that this book can provide some direction.
I remember sitting in the back yard one day. I was in the eleventh grade. My mother came up to me and said, "We have to start applying to colleges."I was startled. College? Me? Ever since seventh grade, I had lost all interest in school. The only thing I cared about was the other kids. I knew how to read and write. I knew enough math to get by. History was so boring. What did I care about people long dead and times past? Why should I learn French, Spanish or Latin? All of my friends spoke perfectly good English. I didn't care to learn about other countries- my neighborhood and school- that was my world. Shakespeare and Blake were too much for me. What were they talking about, anyway?
I found school to be practically useless. It was a discipline that was forced upon me by my parents and society. I daydreamed in class and struggled just to get Cs.
Truthfully, I didn't think about the future. I never thought about what I would do after high school. I told my mother, "I don't want to go to college."
She said, "What will you do- work in a gas station (here, in India, it's called a petrol pump)?"
I hated the thought of attending classes, studying, writing papers and taking tests, but the thought of working completely turned me off. "OK" I said, "I'll go to college."
My mother asked me where I would like to apply but really, I had no idea. I left it up to her and so she sent in a half dozen applications. She applied to Harvard and she applied to one of the easiest colleges to get into, just to be safe. I had a C+ average but my SAT score in math was very good. I thought that applying to Harvard was crazy but my mother was an optimist.I was called to an interview by a local Harvard graduate. I remember sitting in his house and he asked, "Do you feel that there is a threat of communism in South America?"I knew something about South America and I knew that Russians were communists, but I had never heard about communism in South America. I told my interviewer, "No, I don't think there is any threat of communism in South America."
He responded, "Don't you read the newspaper? Aren't you interested in current affairs?"
I don't remember my reply. I did read the comics and the sports section, but I never really looked at the front page.
I was not accepted by Harvard but miraculously, I got into Northwestern University. Well, everyone makes mistakes (I mean, the people in charge of admissions).
My parents drove me to Evanston and helped me settle into my dorm, Elder Hall. I was glad to be away from home and the control of my parents, but I felt disoriented. I was not interested in starting college, but I had to. I knew that I would have to major in something. I remembered my past interest in astronomy and so I took an introductory course my freshman year.We were told to write a paper about current research- nothing more than two years old. I recalled how I had once read all I could about the origin of the universe. "Let me see what the astronomers are up to these days", I thought.
It was the same old question. Was it, as religions claimed- that God created the universe? Or, did the universe come into being on its own? Is it possible for science to disprove the existence of God? I looked in all the astronomical journals and read everything on the subject. Once again, I concluded that it is thoroughly impossible for men to peer into the past and discover the truth about the world's origin. I wrote my paper with conviction and received an A+. This is significant because otherwise, I was a poor student.
I was a staunch atheist. In the room next to me in the dorm lived an evangelistic Baptist. He was a bit fat and jovial and we became good friends for a time. We enjoyed talking, but for him, conversation invariably led to an attempt to convert me to his brand of religion. He tried so hard and my resistance was so firm that daily we ended up wrestling as the culmination of our arguments. It was something like a mild version of the crusades. Forcible conversion of the heathens.In my sophomore year, I was in a different dorm, Sergeant Hall. Down the hall, there lived a guy who was really into listening to classical music. He had a record player in his room (this was 1964, long before the invention of the CD). As we became friends, he revealed his mystical appreciation of some of the great works of Bach, Beethoven, Brahms, and Mahler.I considered this boy, Mel T. Simon, to be more intelligent and experienced than me. He seemed to possess an understanding of a higher truth that I lacked, and so I wanted to learn from him.
I was much more interested in spending time with Mel Simon, listening to music, than attending class or studying. I gradually came to appreciate classical music as a subtle language that certain composers used to commune with God in a mystical way. Music became for me a path leading to higher consciousness. Great composers, by absorbing themselves in music, seemed to transcend mundane reality and ascend to a heavenly plane. While listening to music, I experienced wonderful ecstasies, and sublime thoughts often flooded my mind. I felt as if a higher truth was filtering down to this mundane plane through the medium of music. At this time, I began to virtually worship great composers, conductors and musicians as teachers of a higher reality.
It is during this period that I began to, for the first time in my life, develop faith in the existence of God. I was convinced that the sublime experience of listening to great music did not originate in this world. It had to be coming from a superior realm.During the next six years, I became mad after music. I collected thirteen hundred records. I went to the major music festivals in Europe. I attended as many concerts as I could. I incessantly talked with my three close friends- Mel Simon, John Swan, and Thomas Tyrell- about this composer, that conductor, this symphony, that mystical passage, etc.Music seemed to lead my consciousness toward a higher realm, but the path was shrouded in mystery. It held out much promise but ultimately, it seemed to lead only so far and not more.
While in college, I learned about many things that I had overlooked in my innocent childhood. The war in Vietnam was going on, and I heard tales of atrocities committed by U. S. forces. It was said that when the soldiers entered an enemy village they would stick their bayonets into babies, as if it were great fun. In high school and college, I read books describing the great suffering that people inflicted upon one another throughout history. History seemed to be little more than a chronicle of wars, conquests andrevolutions. Kings fought one another for supremacy. As armies invaded, innocent people were trampled underfoot. Every race, every religion, every nation, and every ethnic group seemed to burn with hatred for others.Even in times of peace, there is terrible exploitation of one class by another. I leaned how, during the industrial revolution in America, immigrant factory workers were forced to live in subhuman conditions and were exploited unimaginably. I read about how black people were captured in Africa, stuffed into the holds of ships, and later sold into slavery in America. History is littered with such tales- they are as numerous as the stars in the sky.
I was truly perplexed: "Why do people kill one another? Life is already difficult- why do people make it worse?"
All this began to create in me a terrible disgust. Of course, there were no doubt great men of exemplary character, but they were few and far between.What is the lesson that should be learned from studying the turmoil that is called "history"? I would say this- injustice inevitably causes violence. Throughout my life, I have always expected that I would be treated fairly- by my parents, by my sisters, by my teachers, by my friends, by my government, and by people in general. As soon as I felt that I was treated unfairly, I became angry and uncooperative. I think that this must be true for all people.
There was a kind of revolution happening all around. Boys were growing long hair and many kids were dressing strangely. People were talking about the "establishment" and the need to drop out of it. It was a "cop-out" to study hard, graduate, get a good job, get married, buy a house, have children, and thus glide into middle age."The system" was meant to imprison one. Rules were made to keep the masses enslaved and so, while traversing the path to freedom, one had to throw them all out.Peace, love and self-realization were the goals. To achieve them, exploitative society had to be shunned.
A new age was dawning and an evolution to higher consciousness was at hand. Drugs were thought by many to be the means.The summer after my junior year, I traveled alone to Europe. On the flight back to America, I sat next to a girl my own age. After being served dinner, she offered me her chicken.
I said, "What's wrong, are you sick? Aren't you hungry?"
The girl told me that she was a vegetarian and for some time, she explained to me why. I listened carefully and found that whatever she said was reasonable. Still, I happily accepted her chicken and ate it. She said something like this: "Why should we eat animals? They are conscious living beings much like us. They have feelings and experience the same kind of pain and terror when they are killed, is it nice to purposely give so much pain to others? If we can live a healthy life without meat, why needlessly kill millions of animals? Do you think that killing an animal is a nice thing to do?"
I didn't argue because I felt that she was right. Still, eating meat was my life-long habit. For me, a meal without meat seemed hopelessly dull. At that time in America, the art of vegetarian cooking was in a primitive state. The wisdom of her talk certainly went to the core of my heart, but I continued eating meat for three more years. A seed had been planted, but it took time for it to sprout and mature.In my senior year at college, I shared an apartment with two of my three good friends. We were into listening to music and discussing about life. The Vietnam War was going on and many people were becoming hippies. There was a lot of talk about having mystical experiences that gave one a glimpse of what lay beyond perceivable reality.
My friend, Mel Simon, started talking about his experiments with smoking pot. He claimed that while stoned on grass, when he listened to a great work of music, he went deeper into it, giving him a new and incredible experience.I was intrigued by his claims that smoking marijuana enabled him to have mystical experiences, but at the same time, I was skeptical. I felt that he was making big claims so that he could place himself on a higher platform than us inexperienced folk. He was very proud of his intellect and personality. I hesitated to smoke pot because I thought that by doing so, I would step over a line, which once having crossed, one could not return. I felt that there would be a loss of objectivity or "normalness". I also felt that if I smoked pot, I might become guilty and stigmatized in the eyes of society. These were troubling times for me. I was very lonely, and I was doing poorly in school.So much of life is spent trying to find a person of the opposite sex. Always on the lookout for a suitable mate and suffering a great deal of loneliness- I found this to be a kind of torment. At last, I concluded that it would be best to marry so that the constant anxiety would end.
We were being packed into a van to go to a peace march in downtown Chicago. I sat down and surveyed my companions. Sitting across from me was nice-looking girl who smiled when I looked at her. On the trip, we exchanged some words and then, in the march, we held hands. After knowing her for only eleven days, she asked me to marry her and I agreed. Her name was Christine Polak.Chris was not a typical college girl. She was in music school and practiced the cello eight hours a day. Besides music, she had a strong interest in everything occult and spiritual. Astral travel, levitation, yoga, and meditation- she fervently wanted to find something to take her beyond perceivable reality.After marriage and my graduation from Northwestern, we moved to Boston with the intention of living a life of music, friends and a quest for self-realization.
Chris was a good skier. During Christmas vacation, we went skiing in Michigan with her family. This was my first time. On the second day, I was out on the slope. At first, I went cautiously and fell many times. Toward the end of the day, the slope became icy as the melted snow froze. I shouldn't have gone that last time- but I did.The icy slope was really fast! Somehow, I was able to make it about half way down without falling. Then, I hit a bump-1 went head over heels- my skis hit the ground and there I was lying in the snow with a broken ankle.Back in Boston, I was holed up in my apartment with a cast up to my hip. I listened to a lot of music and spent much time thinking about my life.
One day, as I was sitting quietly, i felt hungry. I asked Chris, "Could you heat up the left over meatballs in the fridge and bring it to me?"
After a few minutes, Chris brought me the plate of meatballs, swimming in tomato sauce. As I gazed at the plate on my lap, my vision suddenly altered. To me it looked like raw flesh in a pool of blood! It was as if, for the first time in my life, the truth of meat eating was fully revealed.Of course, throughout my life, I knew that I was eating slaughtered animals, but the cooked meat always looked nice and smelled appetizing. It was a conflict. Slaughtering animals was not appealing to me, but the cooked meat was. Like most people, I gladly sacrificed some integrity for the sake of pleasure. I was helped by the fact that everyone I knew ate meat. If everyone does something, even the great leaders of society, then it must be OK. And, it was my life-long habit. Habit is second nature, they say.But now, the sight of the cooked meat was not pleasing- it was disgusting! I was aghast to see the flesh mired in blood. I told Chris to take the meatballs away, and from that day onward, I stopped eating meat.
There was a hip weekly paper called Boston After Dark and in it was an ad for the Hare Krishna Sunday Love Feast. Chris nagged me to go but I didn't want to. I had seen the Hare Krishnas chanting on the sidewalks and in the Boston Common. They looked really strange and they always wanted money (I had very little). In fact, when I happened to see the Hare Krishna people coming down the sidewalk, chanting, I would quickly cross over to the other side, to avoid them.After being confined all winter, I was happy when spring arrived. My cast was cut down to my knee so that I could go out on crutches to the park nearby. One sunny Sunday, Chris and I were sitting
on the grass when some guys walked by and asked, "Hey, why don't you come with us? We are going to the Hare Krishna Love Feast."
Somehow, that day, I liked the idea. We were going to hitchhike and the road, Commonwealth Avenue, was a mile away. Normally, I could walk with my crutches for only a few minutes before becoming exhausted, but that day, I went the whole mile as if being carried by some unseen mystic power.
After a few minutes, we got a ride and piled into the car. The man was going right by the Hare Krishna Temple, so we were lucky. Then, it so happened that just as we came to the temple, his car broke down. In fact, it ground to a halt right in front of the temple. We got out, thanked the man and went inside, leaving him to solve his own problems.By listening to the Hare Krishna people and chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, I got a little understanding of what it is all about. I thought, "This Hare Krishna is a good thing. By devoting myself to God in this way, surely I would get spiritual enlightenment. When I am old, after having enjoyed life to the best of my ability, perhaps I will take it seriously."
Chris had always been very religious and she went back to the temple again and again- but not me. Then, one day, I was downtown and wanted to go home. The train cost 25 cents and I looked in my pockets. That's all I had- one lone quarter. I decided to save my money and walk home. It was a nice day and it would take only half an hour.
I was walking along when suddenly, as if from out of nowhere, came a strangely dressed girl. She put a pamphlet in my hand and said, "Hare Krishna". She was very intent and insistent. I knew that she would try and force me to buy the book. I didn't want it and as I looked at the cover, I noticed the price, 50 cents. I felt that this gave me the perfect excuse. I took out my carefully hoarded quarter and showed her, saying, "See! This is all I have. I can't buy your book today."
The girl snatched the quarter from my hand and said, "That's OK. Take the book and pay me the rest later."She ran off and I was left holding Reservoir of Pleasure, containing three essays by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Later in the day, as I waited in line to get a ticket for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, I began to look at the pamphlet. There was an amazing photo of the author. He looked like an African to me. His head was tilted up and to the side and he had the most incredible smile. I was mesmerized. I kept staring at the photo, trying to imagine what was in his head. I could not even begin to understand.This man, who his students affectionately called Shrila Prabhupada, appeared to be living in another world. He seemed to be experiencing an incredible ecstasy. It was a very striking photo.As I began to read the book, I found that Shrila Prabhupada was trying to make me understand God and my relationship with Him. His statements were not vague like those in so many other books on mysticism I had previously read. I had found other books to be full of descriptions of magical powers and mystical experiences. But, none had given me a concrete understanding, nor had I been directed toward a meaningful goal.
Throughout my life, I had always felt that something is amiss and this feeling became accentuated as I grew older. I always looked for someone to clarify this, and there were an abundance of people in positions of authority. Still, I became more and more disillusioned as I listened to them. In fact, I became rather cynical in my attitude towards teachers, religions, governments and adults in general.Shrila Prabhupada talked about every aspect of life in a very logical and convincing manner. His statements were bold and challenging. I found his explanations to be not only very interesting, grave and meaningful- but devoid of any attempt to project self-importance. He seemed to be a truly humble person.
Shrila Prabhupada's teachings were revolutionary. He began by pointing out our primary defect. We do not properly understand our own self! Chris had been spending most of her time at the Hare Krishna temple. She was well on her way to dedicating her life. I was struggling in my mind, trying to decide whether Shrila Prabhupada's teachings were true or not. More than anything, I wanted to achieve a sublime state of consciousness. I found my existence to be unsatisfying. I felt that elevated consciousness would enable me to experience life more fully.I was sure that there was a higher self to be discovered. Shrila Prabhupada recommended chanting the Hare Krishna mantra as meditation, saying that this would purify consciousness of material conditioning, thus uncovering the eternal self.
I would sit at home, or in the Boston Common, close my eyes and concentrate on the sound of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. I found that the chanting calmed my distressed mind and awakened within me a determination to live a godly life. But, I had a hard time understanding what the Hare Krishna devotees meant when they tried to explain to me that, "you are not your body".
One day, Chris and I went with some friends to Cape Cod. We hitchhiked from Boston and spent the night on the beach (it was summer). That night, as the others slept, I remained awake, standing on the beach, facing the ocean. I kept repeating to myself what Chris had been trying to make me understand: "I am the conscious observer within, the spiritual soul, and I am unchanging. My body and all else that I see are continually changing, and they are different from me, the observer."
For hours, I looked at everything around me. There was a full moon so that I could clearly see the ocean and the clouds. Heat lightning flashed and the waves endlessly crashed as the water came toward me and receded. As the light of dawn appeared, I got a sudden realization! What I had theoretically accepted but could not really grasp was now clear! I could positively feel myself to be the conscious observer within my body. I could see that I, the witness, am different from all the things I observe, including my body and mind.I knew that if I could stand on the beach for years without moving, I would remain the same observer (the same person), while everything perceivable continually changed. My body would eventually grow old. Day and night would appear as an endless cycle. The weather would constantly change and people would come and go.I could now fully accept what I had been told: Because my senses are made of matter, I can only perceive a person's outer coverings and not the inner conscious self, the living soul.
This event marked a turning point in my life. I became convinced that 1 should make it my prime priority to understand my eternal self. I would have to leave my body some day and so it behooved me to find out more about the real me. Back in Boston, I began to read Shrila Prabhupada's commentary on Bhagavad-gita (the most widely-studied philosophical and religious text in the Sanskrit language). The second chapter deals extensively with the nature of the soul.Many years later, I found myself sitting in the shade of coconut trees with a very nice Australian girl, Michelle Biles. The tropical setting was beautiful- an isolated beach,Colomb, in the south of Goa. I touched Michelle lightly on her arm and asked, "Is this body you?"
She thought a bit and began to speak. While listening to Michelle, I could understand that she had never seriously considered the question. Her face wore a puzzled expression and her speech seemed to vacillate between "yes" and "no". At last, with a little prodding, Michelle concluded, "I think that my body is a part of me. My mind is a part of me and my soul is a part of me." I requested Michelle to remember something from her childhood. She quickly went through her mental files and said, "There was a boy with long fingernails who always scratched and pinched me so I fought with him."
I responded, "Here you are sitting with me at Colomb Beach. What I want you to consider very carefully is this: Were you, the very same person, in Australia many years ago, punching the boy with long fingernails?"
Michelle confidently answered, "Yes, I was there."
"Good" I said, "Now, isn't it a fact that the body is always changing? From what I understand of biology, I can safely say that since childhood, your body has replaced practically all of its materials. Cells live for a few days, a few weeks, a few months or a few years. Do you agree that the body is constantly changing?"
Michelle replied, "Yes, that seems to be true."
"In other words" I said, "The body you possess today is not the same one you had as a child. The body you had in your childhood is not here."
"Yes, I guess so", Michelle tentatively agreed.
I said, "You were fighting the boy with long fingernails, but you must have been using a different pair of fists. You were there but this body was not."
Michelle had a look of wonder and amusement on her face but she didn't say anything. "It seems obvious to me that we are something different from our bodies." I said.
Shrila Prabhupada explained our change of bodies like this: "The body has changed but the soul is the same. You and I can remember that 'I was a small boy. I was a child.' I can remember when I was six months old-1 was lying down on the lap of my eldest sister, and she was knitting. I still remember. But where is that body? That body's gone."
"My body is changing but I am not changing. For example, I am now an old man. Sometimes I think, 'Oh, I used to jump and play but now I cannot do so because my body has changed.' I want to jump but I cannot. The jumping propensity is always there but because of my old body, I cannot do it."It is an undeniable fact that our bodies are constantly changing. Still, we always think of ourselves as the same person. Why? It must be because, essentially, we are not changing- only our bodies are changing.
What is it that does not change? Bhagavad-gita tells us: "That which pervades the entire body should be understood as indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul."
What pervades the entire body? Consciousness (awareness) pervades the body. If I pinch you anywhere, you will feel it because your consciousness is spread all over your body.You were present in your childhood body, feeling its pains and pleasures, and now you are here. You have a sense of ego, a feeling of "I", because you are a conscious being. The conscious "you" is always there, undergoing a continuous change of body.Descartes said, "I think, therefore I am." I find this inferior to, "I am a conscious being- therefore, I know that I am."
We say, "My body, my hand, my stomach, my eyes..." We always refer to the body as a possession. Who are we that possess our bodies?
One day, Vrinda asked me what I am writing about. I told her, "Sit quietly and hold out your finger in front of you. Meditate upon your finger and ask yourself, 'Am I this finger?'"
Vrinda sat down and held out her finger. After a moment, I again asked, "Is that finger you?"
"I don't know", she said.
I continued, "What if I cut off your finger and it fell to the floor. Suppose this wasn't very painful and you continued your meditation. Again, if I asked. Is that finger you?' what would you say?"
Vrinda replied, "No, the finger on the floor could not be me!"
I concluded, "You are the same, before and after, and the finger is essentially the same. But, when the finger is separated from the rest of your body, the truth becomes clear. You are the one who is watching the finger. The finger is not you- it is yours. At least you feel that it is your finger as long as it is attached to your body."
Vrinda said, "I believe that you are right. I must not be my body. But still, at other times, when you are not talking to me, I feel that my body is me."
I replied, "Yes, Vrinda, it is very difficult to free oneself from the understanding, 'I am the body.' There are some people who go to the Himalayas or forests to practice yoga in isolation for many years. They give up almost all activity and sit silently for hours on end. They try to silence their minds as they meditate upon the conscious self within. Still, I have never met anyone who succeeded in fully realizing his eternal self by that process. It must be extremely difficult."
"I think that for a child like you, just to become convinced that you are different from the body is enough. Here's one more thing for you to think about. What if you fell down and got a bad scrape on your knee. It bled some and formed a scab. Is that scab you?"
Vrinda said, "No, the scab will fall ofkhow can it be me?"
I said, "You think that your body is you. Inside your body is so much blood. The blood is part of your body. A scab is made from blood. How could the scab be you one day, and not you the next?"
Vrinda said, "I guess the blood is not me and the scab is not me. What am I?"
I concluded, "You are the conscious person within the body. You are the soul that makes this bag of chemicals appear to come alive. You are animating the bodily machine."
Our body is a complex organism or machine. Anyone who studies the human body is certainly amazed at how intricate the various systems are. I find the workings of the body to be truly astonishing.Although we are accustomed to think of our body as our self, we have almost no idea of how it works. Of course, someone who has studied biology knows something of how the body functions. But without such study, we know almost nothing. Ask someone who never studied anatomy-"How do your eyes enable you to see? How do your ears help you to hear? How is your food digested?" The answer would certainly be, "I don't know." If we actually were our bodies, wouldn't we
directly understand how they work?
An athlete may win an Olympic gold medal but if you ask, "How is it that when you tell your legs to move, they respond by running so fast?" An answer to this question would be quite lengthy.I consider my body to be a vehicle. One can certainly drive his or her car very nicely even without knowledge of mechanics. In the language of Bhagavad-gita, the body is considered a machine- not a person. The person is the soul within, who utilizes the body: "The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy."
It is a fact that the body works mechanically. Here is an example. Suppose I ask, "When you touch something hot, like a frying pan on the stove, why does your arm jerk automatically?"
Here is the answer: A reflex action is an automatic response to a stimulus like heat or pain. Your body automatically pulls away from such dangers without you having to think about it. Suppose your hand accidentally touches a hot frying pan on the stove. This stimulates a pain receptor in the skin. Nerve impulses are sent along the sensory neuron to the spinal cord where they are processed and sent back along the motor neuron. These nerve impulses enter the bicep in the arm, causing the muscle to contract and pull the hand away from the frying pan. The body is designed and made so wonderfully- it's not surprising that we mistake it for our self! Nature is working so cleverly that no one can perfectly figure it out. That nature can take us-living, conscious souls- place us within matter- and make us accept an imitation self as real- that's awesome!
The body is made from the elements- carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and small amounts of others. Think about it calmly. Do you really feel as if you are made from these elements? If I were to ask you, "What kind of person are you anyway?" would you reply, "I'm mostly water and I also contain a lot of carbon"?
There was once an exhibit at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History, displaying a number of flasks and beakers. Each contained one of the chemicals found in the human body. The exhibit explained that, although these chemicals represented all the contents of a human body in correct weight and proportion, they could not be considered life, nor could any amount of scientific manipulation bring them to life. I stayed in Goa for 13 years, from 1986 until 1999. I was living very simply in a village atmosphere. The thought of using a computer never crossed my mind. Long before, in the early 80's, I had written simple English versions of great religious classics widely read in India, including Ramayana and Mahabharata. I had no idea of publishing my manuscripts- studying these great classics was my hobby. I had done most of my work on typewriters.
Somehow, in 2000, I decided to publish four manuscripts and this led to buying my first PC. A friend of mine had a cyber cafe and he sold me one of his old computers. Then, he and I went to a shop to buy a mouse. The shop owner, Michael, was a very friendly and polite young man. He asked me what I did. I told him that I am a writer and am working on Bhagavad-gita. He was surprised. Being a Christian, he assumed that, as an American, I would be like him. When he spoke of my work in a deprecating manner, I thought I had better dismantle his pride.I began: "In the Bible, it is said, 'What is the value of gaining the whole world if you lose your immortal soul.' Do you believe in the existence of the soul?"
"Yes", Michael affirmed. I continued, "You are an enlightened Christian. Kindly describe the soul to me so that I can understand it."
Michael remained silent, shaking his head in the negative. I said, "i have read the Bible. There is mention of the soul but I did not find any description that would help me to understand it. Still, the soul is real, isn't it?"
Michael nodded, "Yes".
I explained, "If we have knowledge "of something, we will be able to describe its characteristics. For example, your business is computers and so you are able to tell me about the specifications and uses of whatever you sell."
Michael again nodded, "Yes".
I continued, "It seems to me that, in spite of your being very proud of your religion, you are ignorant about the nature of the soul. In Bhagavad-gita it is explained that the soul is the conscious entity within the body. The soul is referred to as the knower of the body. The body is called the field of activities for the soul."
"In science, we learn that the body is composed of carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, and traces of other elements such as iron. Are these conscious?"
"No", Michael said.
I said, "Science, being largely atheistic, theorizes that even though these elements are not conscious, they combine to form conscious living organisms. But, Bhagavad-gita explains that consciousness is the symptom of the soul's presence within the body."
"At the time of death, the soul leaves the body. Isn't that what you believe?"
Michael said, "Yes."
I said, "What is the real difference between a living body and a dead body? It is not that one is living simply because the heart is beating. An artificial heart may beat and pump blood but, in and of itself, it is not living. It is not that I am living simply because my brain is functioning. A computer works like a brain but it is not living. It seems to me that the fundamental difference between a living body and a dead body is the presence of consciousness. When you are living, if I pinch you, you will feel pain. But, a moment after you die, even if I cut off your arm, you will not object. Why? Because you, the consciousness, are absent."
"Michael, are my words reasonable?"
"Yes", he admitted.
I concluded, "I don't expect you to make up your mind right now. But, isn't it reasonable to theorize that consciousness is the property of the soul, and not the body? When consciousness is present, I know that someone is living. When there is no conscious response, I can understand that a person is dead."
Michael seemed a little thoughtful and so I left it at that.The modern scientific theory that is taught in schools all over the world can be put in a nutshell like this: At some time in the remote past, all matter was concentrated at a point. There was a big bang, causing the expansion of the universe. At first, due to the temperature, there was only hydrogen. Gradually, as the hydrogen cooled, other gases formed and these condensed to become galaxies, composed of stars and their planets.
The earth was swirling gas but when it cooled, it eventually became covered with water. Within the water were various molecules and this is sometimes referred to as the primordial soup. Amino acids and proteins were formed and eventually, the first cell. Cells combined so that, over a vast period of time, complex living beings evolved within the water. As the oceans receded and the continents appeared, some of these living beings came onto the land. The same process of evolution continued, and now here you are reading this book. It is not that all scientists accept the Big Bang theory. Dr. Edwin Godwin, a Princeton University biologist, has compared the chances of a planet such as ours arising from a big bang to the likelihood of an unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing shop.
He must have given this example some time ago, when presses used typesetting techniques involving the placing of individual letters to form a page. Suppose that at a printing press, many of these letters were stacked neatly and there was an abundance of paper, glue and ink. But, due to a leaky gas connection, there was a terrible explosion. Hours later, the salvage crew was amazed to see, while looking through the rubble, a neatly bound unabridged dictionary.The owner was called over and shown the dictionary. He responded, "There was no such book on my premises. I can assure you of that."
There was a cosmologist present. He explained, "This dictionary was not in the press. It came together by chance as a result of the explosion. Somehow the paper contacted the letters and ink. Afterwards, the pages were cut to the same size, by chance. Then, they were bound with the help of glue, thread and some hard board." Hard to believe, isn't it? Even if the explosion were to be repeated billions upon billions of times, it would remain an unbelievable theory.Dr. Godwin is saying that if we look at this wonderful Earth, full of living organisms, it seems just as unlikely that it resulted simply from a Big Bang as the unabridged dictionary could have been made by an explosion. Shrila Prabhupada often spoke about this theory: "I say to the scientists, 'If life originated from chemicals, and if your science is so advanced, why can't you create life biochemically in your laboratories?' When this crucial point is raised, they reply, 'We shall do it in the future.' The fact is- the scientists cannot produce even a blade of grass."
"Scientists claim that in the future they will create life from chemicals. Of course, anyone can ciaim whatever he likes, but we can prove right now that life arises from life. When a father begets a child- the father is living and the child is living. Where is the proof that a child can come from a pot of chemicals?"
"Almost everyone in the world is under the false impression that life is born from matter. We cannot allow this nonsensical theory to go unchallenged."
Dr. Singh (a chemist): "They say that in the ultimate analysis, living matter came from nonliving matter."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Then where is living matter coming from now? Do the scientists say that life came from matter in the past but does not at present? Where is an ant coming from now- the dirt?"
According to Bhagavad-gita, life exists eternally. The theory that the scientific community favors is that life evolved from chemicals. I find this to be no more reasonable than believing a pile of rice can produce scorpions. Shrila Prabhupada once told his disciples: "Sometimes, in the villages of India, people see that a scorpion has come out from a big pile of rice. The ignorant villagers think that the rice is giving birth to scorpions. But, rice cannot produce scorpions. The fact is that a scorpion sometimes lays its eggs in the rice and after awhile, baby scorpions come out." Dr. Singh: "One of the questions that arises when we start studying biology is, 'What is the difference between a living organism and that which is not living?' The textbooks say that the chief difference is- a living being can move and reproduce whereas dead matter can do neither. But the books never talk about the nature of the soul or about the consciousness of the living entity."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Consciousness is the primary indication that life is present. Only because of consciousness can a living being move and reproduce. Because of consciousness, he thinks of marrying and begetting children." Suppose I had an original Rembrandt self-portrait and a cheap painting I bought on the sidewalk and put them before my dog. I don't think he could understand which of the two is a great work of art. Even a child might prefer the street painting if it portrayed a sports car. But, a lover of art wouid wince at the suggestion that the two paintings were of equal value.Similarly, human beings without properly developed consciousness might be satisfied to think that life evolved from matter. But, those who are a little advanced in spiritual understanding feel saddened to see how scientists are trying to drag life down to such a low level.
On his morning walks, Shrila Prabhupada liked to discuss philosophy with his disciples. Dr. Singh: "Do life and matter exist simultaneously?"
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, but spirit (life) is independent, and matter is dependent. For example, I can live without my hands or legs. If they were amputated, I could survive. Therefore I am not dependent upon my hands and legs- my hands and legs are dependent on me, the soul within my body."
Dr. Singh: "So, matter is caused by life?"
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, "and matter grows upon life- my body grows upon me, the spirit soul."
Shrila Prabhupada repeatedly described how, in this world, there are two different energies at work- the living energy, and the nonliving energy or matter: "Scientists do not know that there are two types of energy- matter (the inferior energy) and life (the superior energy)- although they are working with these two every day."
One evening, I was taking a walk with Vrinda. She said, "I cannot really understand whether my body is me or not. It's very hard for me to think about."
I told her, "Your body was formed within your mother's womb. At first, it was so small that no one could understand it was there. Gradually, the body develops. How? The embryo assimilates part of what the mother eats. It is said, 'You are what you eat.' At birth, it could be said, 'You are what your mother ate.' There is an umbilical cord connecting the baby with the mother and it has to be cut. What is the umbilical cord? It is the passage that allows the mother's food to nourish the baby's body within the womb."
"Vrinda, you forget how you were a little baby but still, you were there. Your body was made from your mother's food. She ate rice, vegetables, cheese and bread. Are these you?"
Vrinda said, "Of course not!"
I continued, "Even now, what you eat becomes your body- little by little. When you eat a pizza, do you think that it will become a part of you? When you sit down at the table and see your dinner before you, you can easily understand that you are one thing and your dinner is another. After it goes into your body, some of it will be assimilated to help form new cells, but still, I don't think that it will become you. What do you think?"
Vrinda said, "Now I can understand a little better how my body is not me."
My friend, Dr. Shanbag, once told this little story. There was a woman whose husband had just died. The family members were gathered around and preparations for the funeral were in progress. Someone requested the wife, "Stay here with your husband until it is time to take the body for cremation." The wife adamantly refused, saying that she could not bear to stay with the dead body. At this time, someone remarked, "For so many years you slept next to this body. You held it, you kissed it, and you loved it with all your heart. How is it that you are now repulsed by the same body?"
I was watching Baywatch. A man had been attacked by an electric eel. He was brought unconscious onto the beach and CPR was administered. The lifeguard passionately pleaded, "George, hang on! I know you're still in there!"
Vrinda's mother, Sharda, had a gallstone and so she went into the hospital for an operation to remove her gall bladder. After the operation, the nurse showed me two bottles- one with the stone and the other with the gallbladder. I didn't even want to look at the two bottles- I have never found internal organs very attractive. Sharda was in the recovery room and so I went in to see her. She seemed very much the same person, even without a gall bladder. And, when I had looked at the gall bladder, I in no way felt that I was in Sharda's presence.The conclusion is that it is not actually the body we love- it is the person who resides within the body. The fact is that, in and of itself, the body is disgusting. Without the presence of the soul, we dispose of it as soon as possible.
The simple truth is: I FEEL THAT I AM THE SAME PERSON EVEN AS MY BODY UNDERGOES CONSTANT CHANGES. The simple conclusion is: I AM DIFFERENT FROM MY BODYAt this point, you might be saying to yourself, "OK, I am not my body- I am the mind within my body."
People think much about themselves in terms of their bodies: "I am tall. I am well built. I am too short. I'm getting old. I'm quite handsome! I'm really beautiful! I'm too fat! I'm so ugly!" Some people identify more with their minds: "I am very intelligent. I am a chemist. I am a musician. I am an actor. I am a very loving person." These are not characteristics of the eternal self- they are descriptions of the souls ever-changing gross and subtle material coverings.
Shrila Prabhupada has said, "Due to the influence of the material nature, everyone thinks that 'I am the body.' Or, when one is a little advanced, he thinks, 'I am not the body. I am the mind.'"
"There are two bodies. One is the gross body made of the physical elements. The other is the subtle body- consisting of mind, intelligence and false ego (the mistaken identification with our body and mind)." "It is something like a shirt and coat. You are wearing a coat. Within the coat is your shirt, and within the shirt is you. Similarly, the living soul is covered by two bodies, one gross and one subtle. This is a crude example." "At the time of death, when the gross body is finished, the subtle body carries one to another body. That is called transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation.""Ghosts exist- it is a fact, not fiction. Ghost means someone who is living in a subtle body, without a gross body.""Dreams are enacted on the mental, subtle plane. Your gross body is not working as you sleep, but you are performing activities in your subtle
mind." "In this present life, because of our bodies are changing, whatever we do later on appears something like a dream. While awake, we utilize our gross body, and at night, we work in our subtle body to dream."It is a fact that when I think back to my childhood, or when i look at childhood photographs, it seems something like a dream. Where is that childhood now? Where is that childhood body?
I was on the train, going from Bombay to Mathura. Vrinda was sitting by my side. It's a long ride and so, to pass the time, I said, "Vrinda, sit quietly and tell me. Where do you feel that you are within your body? Do you feel that you are in your foot? In your hand?"
Vrinda pointed to her head and said, "I feel like I am in here." I replied, "Yes. I think that most people feel this way. When I was younger, I also felt that I was inside my head but now, I feel that I am in my heart."Shrila Prabhupada explained this: "The soul is situated in the heart of every living being and thus all energies of bodily movement are emanating from this region. Medical science admits that the heart is the seat of all energies of the body. The corpuscles that carry oxygen from the lungs gather energy from the soul. When the soul passes away from this position, the activity of the blood, generating fusion, ceases. Medical science accepts the importance of red corpuscles but it cannot ascertain that the source of energy is the soul."
I feel myself to be conscious of a body that continually changes. Inside my body is something like a computer- my mind. On the monitor of my mind so many messages and images appear, one after another. While using the Internet, have you ever experienced how web pages come without invitation and appear on the screen in rapid sequence- sometimes faster than you can eliminate them?
My mind works something like this. Thoughts and images appear in rapid succession, without my consciously downloading them. If I apply my mind with concentration, it stays riveted to my work for some time. But, as soon as I relax my determination, things pop into my mind in a very distracting way. Because of this, my mind is like a Jinni out of its bottle. As long as I keep my mind engaged, it behaves itself. But, if I leave it unattended, it bothers me. As they rightly say, "An idle mind is the devil's workshop."
The mind is very strong and unpredictable. Bhagavad-gita says, "To conquer the mind seems more difficult than controlling the raging wind! The mind is a person's friend and his greatest enemy as well."The mind is like a mirror because it reflects the world around it. According to the environment, the mind fills up with thoughts and feelings. Like a camera, the mind records impressions moment by moment and stores them in the unconscious.I have concluded that I am not my mind. I am the person who chooses to listen to my mind or ignore it. It is relatively easy to understand one's self to be different from the body by use of intelligence and a little meditation. But, it is much more difficult to distinguish oneself from the mind. Actually, the body is quite remote in some ways. Although I reside within it, I know very little of what is going on. But, I am tightly bound up in my mind, for sure. I can always feel the state of my mind- my mood, my thoughts and my feelings. My very ego or personality is contained within my mind, although it is largely shaped by the condition of my body. I know a fat lady who often complains, "Why do people only judge me by my body? Why can't they appreciate the nice person inside?"
Bhagavad-gita describes a hierarchy of the soul's coverings: "The senses are superior to dull matter- mind is higher than the senses- intelligence is still higher than the mind- and the soul is even higher than the intelligence."Shriia Prabhupada described this: "What can we perceive with our material senses? We can see the earth, water, and fire. But we cannot see air, although we can perceive it by touch. We can understand that there is space by sound- and we can understand that we have a mind because of our thinking, feeling, and willing. Similarly, we can understand that there is intelligence guiding the mind. If we go still further, we can understand that we are conscious and that the source of consciousness is the soul."Ancient Sanskrit religious texts called the Upanishads give this nice explanation. The body is compared to a chariot. The five senses are like five horses, mind is compared to the reins and intelligence is said to be the driver. We are the passengers in the chariot of the body.By taking help of good intelligence, one should ascertain a suitable course of action. If the driver (the intelligence) can control the reins (the mind), we will reach our destination without difficulty. But, if the horses (the senses) are too strong and undisciplined, they may run out of control, putting us in great danger.
The senses constantly demand satisfaction and so we must control them with a strong mind, guided by intelligence. Otherwise, sensual desires may lead us to disaster.
According to the situation of the body, we feel pain or pleasure- we feel comfortable or uncomfortable. This is distinct from the happiness and distress we feel in our mind. For example, you may have been playing football and your body is a bundle of aches and pains. But, because your team won, you feel happy. Happiness and distress are experienced within the mind.
The activities of the mind are thinking, feeling and willing. After the will or determination has been made within the mind, the body executes it. Here is an example. While watching TV, commercials cause thoughts to stream across my mind. Perhaps one of these thoughts will stimulate my feelings. At least, that is the hope of the advertisers! Suppose I feel, "Oh! If I upgrade my computer, I will really enjoy cyber-ecstasy!" Very soon, I may make the decision, "I will take my computer right now and install a Pentium 4!"
At this point, however, my intelligence may intervene, saying, "You have very little money and you need it to pay the rent. Forget about the computer for now. Wait until you have more money."But, if my intelligence were to comply, my body would go and pack up the computer, carry it to the car, and we would set out. Intelligence is said to be subtler than the mind. It is the power of discrimination. Good intelligence can always ascertain what is for the best. Here is another example. I climbed to the top of a tall building and went onto the roof. As i came near the edge, I could see the street far below. My mind urged, "Jump, jump." But, my intelligence intervened, saying, "Don't be crazy! If you listen to your mind and jump, you'll die!"
Ego refers to one's sense of identity. Our present ego is called false because we consider ourselves in terms of our body and mind. A person can feel separate from his or her body and mind. But, one cannot feel different from consciousness. This is because WE ARE CONSCIOUS BEINGS. The self may not be visible but everyone can feel consciousness. It is something like the light of dawn in the morning.Before the sun rises, the light of dawn appears. By seeing that it has become light, we know that the sun will soon rise. Similarly, the appearance of consciousness indicates the presence of the self (the soul).The conscious self is a living entity and by its presence, even dull matter can appear to come to life. The body is made from the elements of nature that are found all around us. By nature's arrangement, when a living being is placed within a mother's womb, the elements begin to form a suitable body. People generally believe that consciousness has been produced by chemical reactions. I think that this is a foolish theory. And, make no mistake about it- it is just a theory and nothing more. No one has ever demonstrated that consciousness can be produced by chemical combination."Then, why is this theory so widely accepted?" you might ask. I would reply, "Because most scientists have already made up their minds that there is nothing beyond what they can see. They are assuming that they can one day come up with an explanation for everything, in spite of their limitations."
It is unwarranted pride to expect everything to be within our power of perception. I strongly feel that this is the fundamental mistake made by many scientists. Science and technology are very nice, but everyone should recognize their limitations. Our powers of perception are very limited. Without light, our eyes are useless. If a thin piece of paper is placed in front of our eyes, our vision is blocked. We cannot see the closest thing to our eyes- our eyelids. And, we cannot see something if it is too far away.
Suppose that one night I lost my keys after parking the car. In the house, I realized my mistake and so I went out to look for them. The car was parked in a very dark place but nearby was a streetlight. I thought, "Let me look by the light. There, I will have a good chance of finding my keys."The keys could be anywhere between the car and my front door, but I foolishly decide, "I will look in the light because in the dark I will never find it."Similarly, the truth is somewhere to be found, but many scientists have the attitude that it must be within the limited domain of their sensual perception.
Someone may question, "You're talking about the soul but I don't see it. Show me the soul and then I will believe it exists." My answer would be: "Can you see the air? You cannot see the air but you know that it exists because you feel the wind blow against your skin. Can you see my mind? It is said that the face is the index of the mind. By looking at my face you can easily tell whether I'm angry, bored or amused. The soul is too subtle to see but its existence is understood by the presence of consciousness. Consciousness is the energy of the soul.Bhagavad-gita describes the soul in this way: "As the sun alone illuminates the solar system, so does the living soul, within the body, illuminate the entire body with consciousness."
Shrila Prabhupada gives this example: "If you inject someone with just one hundredth of a grain of very venomous poison, he immediately dies. No one can see the poison or how it acts, but it kills nevertheless. So why don't the scientists see the soul by its action (consciousness)? In such cases where we cannot see something directly, we have to see by the effect."
Goa is a place of natural beauty and mild climate. It is a coastal state with many beaches, and it has become a tourist haven. A few months are a little too hot and the four months of the rainy season (monsoon) are really wet. The remaining months are very comfortable. During the day, the sun feels warm on the skin while simultaneously, the breeze is cooling. This combination is very pleasing, and occurs from December through March.One day, I was walking along the beach and happened upon a lady selling fruit, haggling with a Western couple. I figured that the Westerners were new and so I thought I should help them by sorting out the dispute. The fruit-selling lady was an acquaintance because I ate watermelon every day on the beach.The problem was easily solved and then I asked the couple where they came from. They said they were from America- the Midwest- and then they asked about me. I explained how I live in Goa but had grown up in Maryland, near D.C. With a look of surprise, the man told me that he also grew up in Maryland and asked, "Which place?" I told him, "Silver Spring" and so he asked, "What high school did you go to?" I replied that I went to Blair and after a slight hesitation, he questioned, "Bob Carol?"
"Yes!" I exclaimed. "How do you know me?"
He said, "I'm Paul Axelrod. We used to sit in the cafeteria and eat lunch together and talk."
"O yea." I said, "I remember your name although I can't picture you yet."
We spent some time remembering our high school friends, and he told me what had happened to some of them. Paul was doing graduate study about Goa at a Midwestern university. He was staying in the capital, Panjim, and he invited me for lunch.After eating, I turned the conversation to something I cannot resist. Placing my hand lightly on his knee, I asked," Paul, tell me what you really think- is this body you?"
Paul replied, "Yes, this is me. What else could Ibe?"
I said, "Think back to our high school days. Paul, whatever you are, you are sitting here with me now. What do you really feel? The "you" that is here now- was it there in the Blair cafeteria?
Paul replied with conviction, "Yes."
I said, "You have studied much. Isn't it a scientific fact that the body is changing all the time, cell-by-cell, molecule-by-molecule? Isn't it true that since high school your body has almost completely changed? Perhaps there is hardly a single atom of your teenage body sitting here with me now." Paul admitted, "Yes, that is certainly more or less true." I concluded, "You said that you were present in the Blair cafeteria. But, your body was not there, so who are you? By simple logic it can be understood that your body is not you."
Upon hearing this, Paul seemed a little upset. After gathering his thoughts, he began to put forward some feeble arguments, hoping to defend his life-long assumption that his body is himself. He said, "I don't know if I was there in the Blair cafeteria. Maybe I wasn't. I am now a different person but high school memories have remained with me, stored in my brain." I said, "Paul, take some time and think about it. I am sure that if you consider the matter carefully, you will feel that you were there at Blair- not that you are now a different person who can access the memories stored in your brain. Don't be angry because you were shown to be ignorant of your true identity. This is the condition of everyone in this world."
If someone is not convinced that he or she is the same person as in childhood, I turn around and go the other direction. Aren't you going to be the same person after many, many years, even though your body will change?
I was talking to my friend, Sridhar Swami. We were sitting in Govinda's restaurant in Mumbai. I had asked him to remember his childhood and he told me that he couldn't remember anything. Being undaunted, I said, "Still, you were once a child, weren't you?"
Shridhar Swami replied, "Yes, I guess so."
I asked, "You, who are sitting here with me-were you there in your childhood?"
He thought for a moment and said, "I am not sure. I have some vague memory, but I cannot say whether that was the same me or not."
I knew that my friend was playing the devil's advocate, but I persisted. "OK", I said, "let me ask you this. You, who are sitting here- will you have to die. some time in the future?"
Shridhar Swami smilingly replied, "Yes. You got me."
Please consider this honestly and carefully. You may not die for many, many years, but still, you positively feel that you, the person who is now reading this, will die- not someone or something else. No one wants to die. Simply by juggling words and ideas, you cannot avoid death by saying that you are always changing. You may say that you are not the same person as you were when you were a child, but can you honestly say that you will not die? Can you claim that you are changing and so it will be someone else who dies?
At this point you may be thinking: "What he's saying is all very logical but I don't feel myself to be a soul. I feel like I am my body. If this is the simple truth, why don't I feel it? After reading this book, why do I still feel like I am my body?"
I would reply, "We have been accustomed to thinking of ourselves as our bodies for a very long time. That bodily conception is deeply implanted in our minds. It is our life-long habit, we are very attached to it, and so it is very difficult to dispel." Truthfully, most people are so attached to their bodies that they don't like to listen to reason if it involves giving up identification with it. It is something like the idea, "Right or wrong- my country is always right!"
This reminds me of a conversation I once had in a restaurant. I have lived in India for many years. While my mother was still living, I visited her in Rockville, Maryland every alternate year- for a couple months. One day, we were invited to eat at a restaurant by one of the old family friends. I am not sure I remember his name but I think it is Mr.
Levine.During the course of our conversation, I asked Mr. Levine, "Your body is continually changing and yet you feel very much the same identity. You feel that you were present as a child long ago but the body you have now is a different one." "No, it is the same body", insisted Mr. Levine. "But science has confirmed that practically every atom in the body is replaced within a seven year period. Isn't this a fact?" I
countered. (!n his book, The Human Brain, John Pfeiffer says, "Your body does not contain a single one of the molecules that it contained seven years ago.")
Mr. Levine admitted, "Yes." but went on to say, "Still, it is the same body, not a different one."
I became momentarily bewildered, thinking: "If all of the atoms have changed, how can he consider it to be the same body?"
I continued: "Suppose I built a house of bricks many years ago. Then, each day I somehow replaced a few bricks so that after seven years, none of the original bricks remained. Could you say that it is the same house I built? Or, would you have to consider it a different house." Mr. Levine confidently answered, "It's the same
house." We continued arguing for some time but neither of us changed our mind. in the following days, I carefully mulled over the conversation and came to this conclusion: "We are both right, in different ways. In one sense, the house is a concept. It was designed on the drawing board according to the desires in the owner's mind. In that sense, the house didn't change. The design remained the same. But, in another sense, the house is a concrete entity, having chemical composition, weight, etc. In that sense, the house changed. So, which concept is relevant when applied to the understanding of self?"
Before I attempt to answer, I will give two similar examples. If you go to the shore of a river today and tomorrow- is it the same river both days? You would immediately say, "yes". But, isn't a river an entity of water? When you sit by the side of a river, the water present before you is different at every moment. As the river flows, new water constantly passes by you.Of course, year after year, the name of the river remains the same and appears identically on all maps. Still, suppose there was a drought and the river dried up. It would still appear on the map but would it really be a river if no water flowed?
Another example is a motorbike. My motorbike, purchased in India, has a serial number on the engine and on the frame. These numbers appear on my vehicle registration. The proof that the bike I possess is the same one I purchased is in the numbers.Now, suppose I gradually replaced all of my bike's parts, one by one. I even changed the frame and the engine. My bike would still look exactly the same as the one I bought- the same design, the same color, the same specifications. But, every atom would be different from the original motorbike. So, is it the same bike or not? Yes and no. Yes, because in my mind I would feel that I had the same old bike and hope to get a new one someday. No, because everything that made up my original bike would be gone- even the serial numbers. Actually, it is only a mental conception that has remained the same- the thought that, "This is the bike I bought a few years ago."
Similarly, the body is always changing but because I am one person, unchanging, and because I identify with it- I consider my body to be the same in old age as in childhood. But, if after death I were able to continue seeing my body, I would no longer be able to sustain my illusion. Who would say that a decomposing body is the same as the one possessed in childhood?
It's a fact- in our present condition it is very difficult to imagine ourselves as anything other than our body. The body is like a second self. It is something like a disguise. Somehow, we have become dressed in our bodies and we will retain these identities for some time. Suppose ! were a master of disguises. One day, I appeared like an intellectual, the next day as a dockworker. I could go on changing my appearance day after day but the fact would remain- I am all the while the same person.
Similarly, we assume various appearances in our lifetime- as a child, a youth, a grown-up and an elderly person- and yet we remain the same person.Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita: "As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones."
Shrila Prabhupada explains: "Matter in the form of the body changes in six phases- birth, growth, maintenance, production of by-products, dwindling and death. But the life within matter, the spiritual soul, is eternal- it goes through no such changes." "Life appears to be developing and decaying, but actually it is simply passing through each of these six phases until the material body can no longer be maintained. Then the old body dies and the soul enters a new body. When our clothing is old and worn, we change it. Similarly, one day our bodies become old and useless, and we pass on to a new body."
A glove looks like a hand- but it's not. It's just a piece of material, cut and sewn to fit over a person's hand. Similarly, the body is made of materials supplied by nature as a temporary covering for the self, the soul.A glove doesn't really have fingers. A store mannequin seems to have eyes, ears, a nose and a mouth- but it doesn't really. Our bodies are made of similar elements- carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen and some others. Do these elements have eyes or ears? The body really seems like a dress for the soul. Because the soul has senses and form, the covering body exhibits form with senses-temporarily.Please don't think of the soul as something vague. The soul is you! The soul is everything you imagine yourself to be, but in its pure and original form. This is my conviction.
How wonderful the soul must be! In some ways, we consider the body beautiful and in other ways, we consider it disgusting. Even the most beautiful girl or handsome man's bodily beauty is only skin deep. If you peel away the exterior covering, what you find inside is hardly pleasing.After the soul leaves the body, it decomposes. Soon the stench becomes unbearable! Take away the soul and see what the body is, in and of itself! On the positive side, we should consider: If the soul gives so much beauty to a bag of chemicals-just imagine how breathtaking it must be! Unfortunately, we don't have the vision to see it at present.
We are accustomed to thinking of the body as a person, without any understanding of the soul. Because of this, when we try to think of the soul, we may imagine it to be formless and without senses or personality. This cannot be! It is actually the body that is without senses, personality, or nice form. Only when the soul is present are these exhibited. As soon as the soul is out of the body-the personality disappears, and the form and senses quickly decompose. The conclusion is that the soul has eternai form, personality and senses- the body is just a covering.You might be thinking, "I am not a scientist and so ! cannot give a proper reply to your claims about the changing body. But, I am sure that a scientist would have a good answer. I have heard that the brain cells don't die and that genes are inherited from our parents."
I don't claim that the body is changing 100%. Only 98%. Think about yourself carefully. What do you intuitively feel? Are you some brain cells or genes, or are you a person? What is a person? An active, conscious living being who has feelings and a continuous stream of hopes and desires. Don't you strongly feel that you are a person- not just an organism, a bunch of molecules, or whatever?
If I ask you, "Do you feel like a conscious being within the body?" I believe that your reply will be "yes".
In Sanskrit religious literature, we are referred to as conditioned souls because we are under the control of matter, which is considered the inferior nature. I will now briefly describe this ancient understanding, which is distinct from our modern conceptions. The soul is considered to be superior energy, but it sometimes becomes conditioned by the inferior energy because of its infinitesimal size. In this world, we are conditioned by nature in the form of our body and mind. As a result, we consider ourselves to be American, Indian, African or whatever. We think of ourselves as male or female, old or young, beautiful or ugly, black or white. These are bodily designations and have nothing to do with the soul. The soul in the body of a dog considers itself to be a dog and the soul in the body of an elephant considers itself to be an elephant. But, Bhagavad-gita emphasizes that the soul is completely distinct from its embodiment. Suppose you are now a woman. In your next life, you receive a man's body. Due to sinful life, the life after that is spent in a dog's body. This process goes on and on. So, what are you- a woman, a man, or a dog? The answer is, "None of these. I am an eternal soul, distinct from the bodies I occupy, one after another." You may ask, "If I am not a man, a woman or an animal- what am I? What is the soul?"
I would answer, "In a dream, you may create so many identities. Your actually identity will be forgotten for as long as you sleep. But, as soon as you wake up, you remember, 'I am so-and-so and I have many things to do.' Similarly, when we awaken from conditional life at the time of self-realization, we will understand our true identity."
Herein lies the solution to so many of the world's problems! The simple truth is- MOST OF THE SUFFERING IN THE WORLD IS CAUSED BY PEOPLE HARMING ONE ANOTHER.
Because of this, everyone wonders, "How can we get people to co-operate?"
Anyone harboring this noble hope should ask, "How can we see the true equality of all people?"
I consider war- discrimination in terms of race, religion, nationality, sex or ethnic background-exploitation and hate to be like diseases within the body of humanity. Ask any good doctor and he or she will surely confirm this: The cure for a disease is to root out the cause- not simply treat the symptoms.How can people be taught to treat one another fairly and with respect? In the preamble to the American Declaration of Independence it is said-We hold these truths to be self-evident- that all men are created equally... This is a very noble sentiment but, if we consider the body to be the self, then no two people are equal! In mathematics, identical things are considered equal, such as 2=2. Are men and women identical? Hardly! Look around you- are all people the same? In terms of their bodies and minds, can you find any two people who are equal?
We aspire for equal treatment but as long as we think of the body as the self, this will remain a dream- never a reality. We are living in a relative world of duality. Someone is black and someone else is white. Some people are very handsome or beautiful, while others are not. Some people are intelligent but others are dull-headed. If we consider the body and mind as the self, we will only see differences- not equality.Equality is on the spiritual platform. Bhagavad-gita teaches that those who are enlightened with understanding of the soul see with equal vision a man, a woman, a child and an animal. Such persons of wisdom know that the real person, the soul, is not tall or short, fat or thin, dark or fair, strong or weak, because these are bodily conceptions.It is a fact that when a person comes to appreciate the eternal soul, distinct from the body and mind, the result is that bodily and mental considerations become much less significant.We can have well-founded optimism that spiritual education would go far in alleviating the world's problems. Genuine education always relieves the student of misconceptions and broadens his or her outlook.In this regard, Shrila Prabhupada said, "In Calcutta during the 1947 Hindu-Muslim riots, there was so much suffering because everyone was thinking, 'I am a Hindu' or 'I am a Muslim.' If one is advanced in self-realization, he will not fight according to such conceptions. An enlightened person knows that he is neither Hindu nor Muslim but the eternal servant of God. Because people are being educated to become more body conscious, their suffering is increasing. If we rise above the bodily conception, suffering will be reduced."
Isn't it a fact that, for the most part, people are Hindus, Muslims, Jews, Catholics or Protestants because they were born in a Hindu, Muslim, Jewish, Catholic or Protestant family?
By nature's laws, we are placed in a particular body and forced to identify with it. On the stage, a hypnotist may make a member of the audience believe that he is a dog and bark like one. Similarly, nature causes one soul to bark as a dog, another to squawk as a crow, and yet others to believe, "I am black. I am white. I am Indian. I am American. I am a woman. I am a man. I am old. I am young. I am thin. I am fat."All of these are bodily conceptions. We think of ourselves in this way because we identify the body as our self. In the lower forms of life, the soul has no chance of transcending the bodily conception. But, human life is the opportunity to dispel this illusion, and it is for this purpose we have been given developed consciousness.I think of self-realization as being a big step forward along the path of evolution. I don't believe that the various species have evolved by themselves, by chance, or by mutation, as Darwin supposed. I am convinced that we, the living souls, transmigrate from one body to another, according to our development of consciousness. According to our state of consciousness, nature supplies us with suitable bodies.In this regard, Shrila Prabhupada explained: "Evolution means developing our consciousness. According to the development of consciousness, one gets a particular type of body. This is nature's law. Evolution means evolution of consciousness. If you get the body of a pig, your consciousness is different from the consciousness of a man. A pig will very easily eat stool, but a human being will not, because of his developed consciousness."
I believe that if you contemplate a further evolution of human society, you would not imagine a change in the human body. If you try to guess what life might be like in a distant future, I don't think that you would picture human beings with wings. If you are optimistic, my guess is that you would imagine a human society where war had gone out of style. Your hope would be that human beings had developed their consciousness to such a degree that society exhibited a minimum of envy, hostility, violence, corruption and exploitation. In other words, our instinctual understanding of evolution is that it is principally one of development of consciousness- not mutation of genes.According to a materialistic conception, human society gradually evolves over a period of thousands of years. Future generations will enjoy the fruit of evolution, but we as individuals won't be around. According to Bhagavad-gita, we are personally evolving (or devolving). Because life is eternal, we will always be there to witness the results of our present struggles. In the materialistic conception, whatever we achieve in this lifetime may be enjoyed by our descendents, but we end up with a big zero. In the spiritual conception, whatever we achieve in terms of developed consciousness will be carried over to our next life so that we can continue evolving.
Lord Krishna gives a preliminary understanding of the transmigration of the soul in this verse of Bhagavad-gita: "As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to old age- the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change."
Shrila Prabhupada describes transmigration of the soul in this way: "In the morning we awaken, and at the end of the day we become tired and go to sleep. When we get up the next morning we understand that our wakefulness or 'life' has not come into existence from the sleeping condition. I was alive even while I slept and on awakening I am still alive. This should be clearly understood."
"A person thinks that his life has begun from the day he came out of the womb. But that is not a fact. Actually, he is eternal. His body was constructed within his mother's womb while he was unconscious. As soon as his bodily features were sufficiently developed, he came out of the womb and regained consciousness." The fact that our bodies are constantly changing causes a lot of anxiety, especially when youth begins to fade. Generally, people come to accept the inevitable ageing of the body, but the final change at death is undoubtedly frightening. In Bhagavad-gita, the Lord assures us that if we advance in our understanding of the self, we can face death without bewilderment.We have understood that, in spite of the change of bodies from childhood to youth and then to old age, the conscious self remains unchanged. It is therefore quite reasonable to accept that we existed before the formation of the body and will continue to exist after the body's demise. In this conception, birth and death refer to the body and not to the conscious soul within.
The simple logic is this: If the soul continues to exist as the body continually changes from childhood to old age- it is reasonable to believe that when the body is left behind at death, the soul remains unaffected. Isn't death commonly referred to as "passing away"? Yes- the person (soul) passes away from the useless body and enters a woman's womb to accept a new one. According to Bhagavad-gita, the soul is eternal- without beginning or end.Lord Krishna is drawing upon our experience and then asking us to extend it a little further. If we do so, we can understand how we are accepting bodies, one after another. It is our experience that, in this lifetime, as we remain the same person, our bodies continually change. This is the simple truth. Why then is it difficult to imagine that the same person would continue to exist even after the destruction of the body?
You might say, "It is a matter of faith. You cannot prove this."
I would reply, "Yes, it is a matter of faith. I have placed my faith in what I feel to be the most reasonable understanding. Why should I place my faith in something that seems unreasonable? No one can prove that the soul transmigrates from one body to another, and no one can prove that it doesn't. Proof depends upon our senses of perception and they are not capable of observing such subtle phenomena. Everyone is basing his or her life upon this faith or that. Our choice is not whether we want to choose faith or science. Our choice is limited to how we wish to place our faith."I recently had a nice conversation with a Muslim woman on a train ride from Goa to Mumbai,I said, "All religions seem to teach that one can go to live eternally with God after death.""Yes" she said, and so I continued, "Some religions teach that our present life is our only one-that our existence began in our mother's womb. Bhagavad-gita teaches that life is always existing and that the soul receives one body after another, according to the law of karma, until it becomes liberated from material entanglement." The Muslim lady commented, "That is what I believe. I think that I had a life before this one." I said, "To me, eternal means 'without beginning or end'. Something may be either eternal or temporary. To say that life starts at some point and then continues eternally seems contradictory. Eternal to me means, "beyond the influence of time". That which is influenced by time has a beginning, duration, and an end. But, that which is eternal and beyond the influence of time must be ever existing- without beginning or end."
The Muslim lady agreed. I said, "What can account for the fact that one baby is born of a homeless person on the street, while another is born in the lap of luxury? Does God favor someone and discriminate against someone else? I don't think so. Even an ordinary good man will provide equally for all his children. Of course, a good man will sometimes punish one son and reward another. That is not favoritism- it is the father's natural reciprocation, according to his children's behavior." "To think that this is our only life and that God has given one person so much and another so little seems irreconcilable with our conviction that God must be the emblem of goodness. I have only heard one reasonable explanation of how God could start people off in such different ways. It makes sense that we had previous lives, and that our present condition is awarded according to the merit (or lack of it) that we earned in the past."The Muslim lady replied, "Yes, I believe in karma and reincarnation, although my religion doesn't teach this."Nature is working precisely. Why shouldn't we suppose that nature has a precise method of placing us in our mother's womb?
A human society without a sense of justice is unthinkable. Whenever we are faced with an injustice in life or in the news, we feel anger at the impropriety. If we have such a strong sense of justice, is it possible that God does not?
The variety of human births can most reasonably be understood as the just results of previous actions. In this life, we know that our actions will determine our future. That is why we make our children study hard and behave themselves. We don't want to see our children fall into a miserable condition of life, due to negligence or misguidance. Generally, we understand that the happiness or distress we experience at present is the result of our past activities. If we extend this a bit, we can theorize that the circumstances of our births are the results of activities performed in previous lives. This, in essence, is the law of karma (action). It is a law of nature- every action awards one an appropriate reaction, to be suffered or enjoyed some time in the future.You can shop according to your income. If you have a lot of money, you will probably buy some really nice clothes. But, if you are poor, you will have to make do with something ordinary. Similarly, if your past activities (karma) were very good, you received a body just according to your desire. But, if your past activities were harmful, you had to accept the consequences- a body that is not exactly what you had hoped for.
Still, whether just to our liking or not, our human body affords us a great opportunity. Shrila Prabhupada said: "Civilized human life is attained only after a long evolution through numerous species. If we don't take advantage of this civilized human life to understand who God is, who we are, and what our relationship is, but instead simply waste our life like cats and dogs, going here and there looking for sense gratification, we will have missed a great opportunity."
Someone might question, "If I had past lives, why don't I remember them?"
I would reply, "Can you remember anything you did the first year of your life? Surely, you cannot, but does that mean you were not a baby? Of course you were, but you have forgotten everything. !f we cannot remember our infancy, how could we expect to remember past lives?"
There are many who claim to remember his or her past life, and some of these cases have been well documented. I do not wish to give any such example to try and convince you of reincarnation, however. I am simply relying upon intuition, reason and logic- the simple truth.There was one more thing I asked Michael, the computer shop owner: "I have heard that many Christians believe animals don't have souls. What do you think?"
Michael replied, "Yes. God has endowed only humans with the gift of soul."
I said, "I have pointed out that consciousness does not seem to be a characteristic of any material element. Can you refute my conviction that consciousness is the property of the soul?"
"No", Michael said, "I think it is quite reasonable."
I retorted, "Are you saying that animals don't have consciousness?"
Michael said, "Animals don't have the same consciousness as humans. Everyone knows- man is the rational animal."
I replied, "Certainly human beings have more developed consciousness. But still, animals are keenly aware of themselves and their surroundings. I have a dog. He knows very well when i bring home something to eat. He understands when I'm angry and so he hides under the bed.""If consciousness is the symptom of the soul's presence, it can only be concluded that animals have souls. Atheistic science theorizes that dull matter came to life on its own. Do you believe this?"
"No", Michael replied.
I said, "Neither do I. The reason dull matter appears like a living being and moves here and there is because the soul is within. This is true of human beings and it is also true of the plants and animals." Michael didn't have more to say and so I left with my mouse.
Why are there so many species of life? Ali of them are souls within varieties of material bodies. Why does one soul get the body of a worm, another the body of a dog, and another a human body? Among the human beings- why are some born in rich families and some in the families of beggars? Why are some born as male and some as female? Why are some born crippled?
In this world, we see that nature's laws work accurately, consistently and universally. The reason for this is that the superintendent of nature, God, is inconceivably capable and efficient. Because of this, we can perform our daily activities with confidence. In human society also, we try to govern with a mountain of laws so that behavior will be consistent and dependable. We want to go about our business confidently, without fear. Considering this, it makes sense that there are laws governing the movements of the living beings in this world and their appearance in different types of bodies. Nothing is left to chance- the various bodies are awarded to the living beings according to the laws of universal justice.In human society, a person is supposed to be rewarded or punished according to the nature of his behavior. A good and serious student can expect a lucrative job, whereas a dropout cannot hope for the same result.
It is most reasonable to understand that our birth in this world is the result of our previous activities. As you sow. so shall you reap! If the soul is eternal, its appearance in the present body must be just one chapter in a long story. To understand the reason for a person's present condition, one would need to look at his or her last life's behavior. This makes sense. In other words, if someone is born in a very poor family or is crippled from birth, it must be because of that person's sinful behavior in a previous life. Similarly, if one is born in a rich family, or is blessed with an artistic ability, great intelli- gence, or personal beauty- it must be because of that person's piety in a previous life. You might be thinking, "All this talk of justice is very nice, but there is so much injustice all around. Why should I believe that nature is treating us justly?"
I would reply, "This is the 'Why do bad things happen to good people?' theme. When an apparently innocent person suffers, it must be concluded that he or she did something very harmful to others in the past. When a person inflicts pain upon others, it must be expected that the same amount of pain will come back later on. 'For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction', I had learned."
"There is another reason why bad things can happen to seemingly good people. God is just, no doubt, but we have been given freedom to act as we like. In a large family, the father may be just, but the children can still fight amongst themselves, if they so desire. If one child hurts another, the father cannot be blamed, and he will certainly punish the errant child. Similarly, God cannot be blamed for the wrongs we commit. He has given us ample instruction and if we do not follow it, we can expect punishment."
Shrila Prabhupada has written: "The reactions to our work (karma) are the cause for our bondage. By good work we may get a good birth in an aristocratic or wealthy family, and by bad work we may be born even in the animal kingdom or in a degraded human family, but in any case birth means bondage. Whether we enjoy the reactions of good work or suffer the reactions of bad, we have to accept a material body and thereby undergo material miseries."
"I do not know what my next life will be, but the next life will come. Before us there are many species of life- I can be born in any one of them. I can become a human being again, I can become a cat, I can become a dog, I can become a resident of heaven—there are so many forms of life. In the next life I shall have to accept one of these forms, even if I do not want to.""Suppose someone asks, 'In your next life would you like to receive the form of a dog or a hog?' I would not like it. But the law of nature says that after giving up this body, I will have to accept another body according to my karma. That is in the hands of nature. It is arranged by superior supervision. You cannot order, 'Give me a beautiful human body in a rich family.' That is not in your hands or in my hands. That will be judged by the superior authority of God, and you will be given a body. Therefore, it is in our best interest to prepare a body that will be suitable for association with God in His eternal kingdom."
The rule of law is everywhere. Why should we not expect our actions to be judged and an appropriate body awarded to us in our next life? Besides the law of karma, what other reasonable explanation is there for the varieties of conditions that one may be born into?
You can say that this happens by chance, but this is not a good answer for anything. How did you get your job? How did you do so well in school? How did you become such a good tennis player? How did you learn to play the guitar? How did you meet ycur husband or wife? I believe that almost nothing happens by chance (or, maybe nothing at all happens by chance). To say, "It happened by chance" is just another way of saying, "I don't know". We have fallen into this realm of birth and death. Still, we are so fortunate to have received the human form of life! Just consider- how many species there are and how many souls are in the other forms! How many ants there are- how many germs! How many mosquitoes! Here where I live, there are millions of them! How fortunate the soul must be to attain the human form of life! Only in the human body can one inquire, "Who am I? Why am I suffering?"
According to Bhagavad-gita, the body we have was not obtained by chance. It was awarded to us according to our development of consciousness: Whatever state of consciousness one is absorbed in while quitting his body, that state he will attain in his next life, without fail." Shrila Prabhupada explained this: "At the time of death, our state of consciousness determines our next birth. Death destroys the gross body but the subtle body- consisting of mind, intelligence and false ego- remains. As the air carries the scent of the place it blows over, so the soul carries a person's subtle body, along with his state of consciousness, or, to his next birth, and his body is determined accordingly."
"When a breeze blows over a garden, it carries the fragrance of flowers but when it blows over a rubbish heap, it is filled with the stench. Similarly, the activities one performs during his lifetime continuously influences his mentality. At the time of death, the cumulative effect of these activities determines his state of consciousness. Thus the subtle body formed during one's lifetime is carried to the next mother's womb and manifests as the next gross body. For this reason, the gross body reflects one's state of consciousness." Simply put, at the time of death, the mind
carries one (the soul) to the womb of his next mother. According to one's mentality (one's desire)-taking into consideration his activities (that is, to the extent he deserves), a suitable body is awarded. Shriia Prabhupada expressed this idea nicely: "Materially, everyone wants full satisfaction, and he wants God to be the order supplier for such satisfaction. The Lord will satisfy the living beings as much as they deserve, but not to the extent that they may covet.""If one likes, he can change his body to a higher grade, and if he likes he can move to a lower class. Minute independence is there. The change of body depends upon him. At the time of death, the consciousness he has created will carry him to the next body. If he has made his consciousness like that of a cat or dog, he is sure to change to a cat or dog's body. And if he has fixed his consciousness on godly qualities, he may go to associate with God." "The individual soul is transmigrating from one body to another. His present body and activities are the background of his next body. One is awarded a body according to karma, the record of which is stored in the subtle body. The subtle body carries this conception so that another body can be developed in the next life."
In our present life, we act in such a way that our future will be as rewarding and prosperous as possible. Since it is quite reasonable to expect that our next birth will be determined by our activities in this life, shouldn't we act in a way that will award us as good a next birth as possible?
While traversing the long road of evolution, perhaps we have some vestiges of primitive life that need to be shed. Shriia Prabhupada pointed out one such example: "Milk, butter, cheese and similar products give animal fat in a form which rules out any need for the killing of innocent creatures. It is only through brute mentality that this killing goes on. The civilized method of obtaining needed fat is by milk. Slaughter is the way of subhumans. Protein is amply available through split peas, dhal, whole wheat, etc."
"Animals are never meant to be killed. Killing of animals is a symptom of barbarian society. For a human being- agricultural produce, fruit and milk are sufficient and compatible foods. Human society should give more attention to animal protection." I was walking with my adopted daughter, Sushila, to her music class. On the way, she met one of the other students, a girl named Devika. Sushila (her nickname is Puti and so I will call her that) told Devika that she was going to cook dinner that evening.
Devika said, "I could give you some nice recipes." Puti said, "We are vegetarian."
Devika replied, "Uh, I could give you vegetarian recipes."
From her tone of voice I could understand that Devika was not a vegetarian. I said, "I think you eat meat. Do you?"
"Yes", Devika said.
I asked, "Is it nice to kill animals?"
She replied, "If we didn't kill them, animals would overrun the Earth!""I don't think so!" I said. "If you go to the jungles where practically no one lives, you will not find animals swarming all over the place. There is a balance kept by nature." Devika argued, "We kill animals. That is part of nature's balance." I said, "It is the tigers' nature to kill animals, but we are different. Because we have developed consciousness we can understand that killing is abominable."It was time to give the clinching argument: "What if I brought a goat here and handed you a knife. Could you slit its throat? You like to eat meat but could you kill the animals you eat?"
Devika became upset and backed away. She said, "No. I could never do that!" She ran into the music class. Another day, Puti came to me and said^ "I was
talking with one of my friends. I vegetarian and we got into an argument. She said Vegetables also have life. What is the difference between eating meat and eating vegetables? Eter way we'are killing.' Daddy, I didn't know Wh1Sr, "Puti, it is true that one cannot live in this world without killing every day. Not only by eating Just by walking in the street, we have to un tentionally kill so many ants and other sma creatures. Every time we light a fire, many small living beings are burnt. The point is this. Violence is unavoidable bu a good person will surely try to minimize it. Actual^ a vegetarian diet involves very little killing. Rckmg fruit doesn't kill the tree. Picking tomatoes doesnt kill the plant. Milking cows doesn't kill them.
Besides, there is a great difference between killing an animal and killing a plant. No one fee s bad about uprooting a plant, but most people wou d never be able to cut the throat of an animal. The p ant no doubt feels pain but it is so slight that we cannot readily perceive it. The pain feftJ* an animal is just like the pain that we feel. Anyone can
866'The'conclusion is that vegetarians cause much less pain to others than people who eat meat. No sane person can say that giving pain to others is good. It is no doubt unavoidable, but certainly it should be minimized. Do you think that this is correct?"
Puti heartily replied, "Yes!"
Baga is a beach in Goa, but unlike Colomb, it is very touristy. I have a friend who has a jewelry shop in Baga, catering to tourists from Europe. He calls himself Rockman. I went to see Rockman one evening and when the conversation became philosophical, he went and brought an elderly man whom he considered to be very wise.
I said, "All over the world there are billions of people. Their appearances and cultures are various, and so are their activities and attitudes. My question is- do you feel that there are good people and bad people, or do you consider all to be basically the same?"
Rockman and the elderly man both agreed: "Some people are good and some people are bad, but the line of distinction is not always clear." "OK" I said, "Now I request you to tell me, in a simple phrase or sentence, what most essentially distinguishes a good person from a bad one." The two thought for a whiie and then Rockman said, "One who never tries to harm others is certainly a very good man."
I said, "I would agree with this. But, tell me- who are the 'others' that a good man will not harm? His family members, his countrymen, fellow believers of his religion..."
Rockman interjected, "All. A good man will not harm anyone."
So, I said, "What about animals?"
He replied, "I knew that you were going to say that."
I laughed, "You are very clever. But tell me, what about animals? Should we be compassionate toward them or not."
"Yes", Rockman admitted.
"Then, we shouldn't eat meat." I said. "Eating meat involves giving a lot of pain to the animals we consume."
"It's true", Rockman agreed, and his face bore an expression of thoughtfulness.
The elderly man objected, though, saying, "If we don't eat sheep, they will multiply and crowd the earth."
My daughter, Vrinda, who had been sitting quietly, interjected, "Then why don't you eat people. According to your logic, the problem of overpopulation could be solved by killing people and eating them." God is the origin of all life forms, not just mankind. For this reason, all species of life should be respected. The simple truth is- A GENUINELY GOD-CONSCIOUS PERSON WILL NEVER UNNECESSARILY HARM EVEN AN ANT, AND SO WHAT TO SPEAK OF AN ANIMAL OR A HUMAN BEING.
I am reminded of the story of Mrigari, the hunter, which is told in the ancient Sanskrit text, Skanda Purana. Once, long ago, a saintly person named Narada was walking through the forest, on his way to a holy place of pilgrimage. When Narada came upon a wild boar, writhing in pain, with an arrow sticking in its body, he felt very aggrieved.
Looking around, Narada spotted a hunter hidden behind a tree and taking aim with his bow and arrow. Understanding the situation, Narada approached the hunter, who became disturbed because this made the deer he was aiming at to run away. Although he wanted to chastise Narada, the saintly person's spiritual influence made him hesitate. Narada asked, "Why do you unnecessarily give pain to animals by leaving them wounded. Why don't you kill them outright?"
The hunter replied, "My name is Mrigari (which in Sanskrit means, 'the enemy of animals'). I leave animals writhing in pain because I was taught this by my father. I enjoy seeing the animals suffer." Narada said, "To kill animals is sinful but by unnecessarily giving them more pain, you wili have to suffer greatly in future lives."
Narada enabled Mrigari to have a vision of how in the future he would have to suffer the same amount of pain that he inflicted upon others. When Mrigari thus understood the truth of the matter, he greatly repented his vicious lifestyle and begged Narada to instruct him how to get free from the reactions to his sinful acts. In response, Narada taught Mrigari how to live a godly life and assured him that the merciful Lord would absolve him of his sins. Narada then continued his journey and Mrigari began a devotional life with great penance.Some time, later on, Narada took his friend Parvata Muni to see his disciple, Mrigari. When the former hunter saw his spiritual master approach, he wanted to go quickly to offer his respects. But, on the path there were numerous ants and so Mrigari took off his shirt and brushed them aside before continuing on.
Seeing this, Narada exclaimed, "Mrigari, it is not astonishing that you have developed the good quality of nonviolence. Those who are engaged in the Lord's devotional service are never inclined to give pain to others because of envy."
It is a fact that in this world, there is a terrible amount of violence, cruelty, hatred and envy. It is also a fact that great saintly God-conscious people are kind and loving toward all, and devoid of the propensity to harm others. Forget about the past-just consider examples like Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa. There can be no doubt that their exalted character is related to the fact that they were genuinely devoted to God.
I had a friend in college named John Swan. Once, I went with him to visit one of his friends. The family was an evangelistic Christian one that tried very hard to convert anyone who came within reach. So, going to their house meant standing around the piano as they sang hymns. At this time, I was an atheist, and so I must have felt a bit intimidated. In the course of the afternoon, John's friend took out his air rifle and invited us to go to the woods in back of his house. He wanted to show us how he kills rabbits. I was horrified! I couldn't stand the thought of him killing a poor rabbit, and I would not allow it to happen in my presence. So, when he spotted a rabbit and began to take aim-1 ran ahead and chased it. I made a lot of noise to scare the rabbit, and I was relieved when it ran away.I was bewildered to think, about how a supposed man of God, who preaches love and kindness, was enjoying the hope of torturing and killing innocent creatures. In fact, I became convinced that this family was not genuinely religious, but were either fooling themselves or trying to fool others.
Compassion seems to be a distinctly human quality. When I walk my dog in the street, we sometimes come upon another dog lying by the side of the road. That dog may have a gaping wound or an injured leg. As a human being, I feel somewhat sorry to see the poor animal, but my dog doesn't seem to care in the least. He merrily goes on his way, without a tinge of compassion, I am sure. (Where I live in India there are many street dogs.)My mother had compassion. I remember walking with her near our house. We saw a squirrel that had been run over by a car. "Poor squirrel" she said. Later on, while driving, when my mother saw a squirrel about to dart in front of the car, she exclaimed, "Watch out!"But, the next moment, we pulled into a supermarket parking lot so that she could buy her steak, bacon and chicken. Where was her compassion for the poor animals that had to suffer the pangs of death so that she could stuff their meat into her stomach?
I'm not saying that my mother was a malicious person. I believe that she was good-hearted but her sense of compassion had not been properly nurtured. She had been given meat to eat as a child and then eaten it all her life. My dear reader, chances are you also eat meat, and probably since childhood. I was also raised on meat and as a child I never met a vegetaiian. In my childhood, no one even suggested that eating meat is not a good or compassionate thing.Why should we eat meat? It is a horrible thing to do. Do you have a small child (or did you have one)? Suppose a relative wanted to take your four-year-old child to see fruit being picked in an orchard- would you object? Of course not! Or, to a farm to see wheat or corn being harvested? No objection! Any problem with visiting a dairy and seeing the cows being milked, or watching the milk being made into butter or cheese? No.But, if your relative wanted to take your child to a slaughterhouse to see how animals are butchered and cut up, I think you might say, "No way!"
If there is nothing wrong with eating meat, why is it so horrible to look at what it takes to put it on your table?
Suppose you go to a restaurant and order a steak. The waiter leads in a cow, hands you a knife and asks you to kill it. Would you be able to do this without any qualms? I know that many, many people would be absolutely horrified to even consider killing the animal that they had intended to eat. If a person finds the killing of animals unpalatable, I consider that to be a manifestation of true compassion.Here is an excerpt from "The First Step" by Leo Tolstoy:
A few days ago I visited a slaughterhouse in our town of Toula. It is operated with a view of causing the animals as little suffering as possible. Long before this, when reading that excellent book, The Ethics of Diet, I had wished to visit a slaughterhouse, to see with my own eyes the reality of the question raised when vegetarianism is discussed. But, I felt ashamed to do so, as one is always ashamed of going to look at suffering which one knows is about to take place, but which one cannot avert- and so i kept putting off my visit. Some days back, I met a butcher on the road, on his way to work. He was new on the job and his duty was to stab with a knife. I asked him whether he did not feel sorry for the animals that he killed. He gave the usual answer: "Why should I feel sorry? It is necessary." Then, when I told him that eating flesh is not necessary, he agreed and admitted that he did feel sorry for the animals. "What can I do? I must earn my living", he said. "At first I was afraid to kill. My father never even killed a chicken in all his life." Most Russians cannot kill, they feel pity, and express the feeling by the word "fear". This man had also been "afraid", but no longer.
Not long ago, I had a talk with a retired soldier that now works as a butcher. He was also surprised at my assertion that it is a pity to kill, and gave the usual arguments about how it is ordained. But, afterwards, he agreed with me and said, "Especially when they are quiet, tame cattle. The poor things come, trusting. It is very pitiful."
This is dreadful! Not the suffering of the animals, but that man unnecessarily suppresses within himself his finest feelings- sympathy and pity towards other creatures like himself. By violating his own feelings, a man becomes cruel. How deeply seated within the heart of man is the injunction not to kill! I decided to visit the slaughterhouse at Toula on Friday. Meeting a meek, kind acquaintance of mine, I invited him to accompany me."Yes, I have heard that the arrangements are quite good. I have been meaning to go see the place, but if they are slaughtering animals, I will not go in.
"Why not? That's what I want to see. If we eat flesh, it must be killed." "No, no. I cannot!"
It is worth mentioning that this man is a sportsman and kills animals and birds. So, we went to the slaughterhouse. Even at the entrance we noticed a heavy, disgusting, fetid smell. The nearer we approached, the stronger the smell became. As we entered the gate, we saw a huge enclosed area to the right, where twice a week cattle are brought and sold. To the left were the chambers, as they were called. They were rooms with arched entrances and contrivances for moving and hanging up the carcasses. Seated on a bench outside were half a dozen butchers, in aprons covered with blood, their rolled up sleeves disclosing muscular arms smeared with blood. They had finished their work a half-hour before and so the chambers were empty. Still, there was an oppressive smell of warm blood.One of the butchers described the process of slaughtering and showed us where it was done. My imagination created in me a ghastly image of how the animals were slaughtered. I fancied that, as is often the case, the reality would likely produce upon me a weaker impression than my imagination. But I was mistaken.
The next time I visited the slaughterhouse, I went early. It was a warm day in June. The smell of blood was even stronger and more penetrating than on my first visit. Work was in progress. The yard was full of cattle and animals had been driven into all the enclosures beside the chambers. The dealers were walking about, marking the cattle and bargaining with their owners, or else guiding bulls and oxen from the great yard into enclosures that lead into the chambers. These men were evidently preoccupied with money matters and calculations, and any thought as to whether it was right or wrong to kill these animals was far from their minds.
I was about to enter one of the chambers, but was stopped short at the door because the room was so crowded with carcasses being moved about, and blood was flowing everywhere. The butchers were smeared with blood and I would have certainly become covered with it as well I had wanted to give you Tolstoy's gruesome descriptions of how the animals were slaughtered, but truthfully, I could not even read what he wrote. It is too gruesome and horrible. My mind does not even allow my eyes to remain focused on the page. How the animals are stabbed- how they writhe in pain- how the blood spurts out of their tortured bodies- how they are skinned and chopped into pieces- all this is too disgusting for me.You may accuse me of being faint-hearted, unmanly, squeamish or cowardly. But, in return, if you can comfortably read these descriptions, and so what to speak actually butcher the animals, I accuse you of being callous and cruel.
Looking at the world's history we find that many great philosophers, scientists, artists, writers and religious leaders were vegetarian. There is no doubt that the abstention from meat eating helped to enlighten their minds with the noble qualities of tolerance, compassion, love and non-violence. Buddha, Zoroaster, Pythagoras, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle, Issac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Wagner, Kellogg, Albert Einstein, George Bernard Shaw, Tolstoy, Milton and Pope are just a few prominent personalities who were vegetarians. Leonardo-da-Vinci used to buy caged birds and set them free. He said, "If man wants freedom, why should he keep birds and animals in cages? Truly man is the king of beasts because his brutality exceeds all others. We live by the death of others. We are the burial places of countless animals! Since my early childhood, I have avoided eating meat."
Pythagoras: "The earth affords a lavish supply of riches, and offers you banquets that involve no bloodshed or slaughter. Only beasts satisfy their hunger with flesh, and not even all of those, because horses, cattle, and sheep live on grass. As long as men massacre animals, they will also kill each other. Indeed, he who sows the seeds of murder and pain cannot reap joy and love." Benjamin Franklin: "Flesh eating is unprovoked murder."
Henry David Thoreau: "I have no doubt that it is a part of the destiny of the human race, in its gradual improvement, to leave off meat eating." George Bernard Shaw: "We pray on Sundays that we may have light/ To guide our footsteps on the path we tread/ We are sick of war, we don't want to fight/ And yet we gorge ourselves upon the dead."
Plutarch, in his essay, On Eating Flesh: "Can you really ask what reason Pythagoras had for abstinence from flesh? For my part, I rather wonder both by what accident and in what state of mind the first man touched his mouth to gore and brought his lips to the flesh of a dead creature- set forth tables of dead, stale bodies- and ventured to call food and nourishment the parts that had a little before bellowed and cried, moved and lived. How could his eyes endure the slaughter when throats were slit, hides were flayed and limbs torn from limb? How could his nose endure the stench? How was it that the pollution did not turn away his taste, which made contact with sores of others and sucked juices and serums from mortal wounds? It is certainly not lions or wolves that we eat out of self-defense. On the contrary, we ignore these and slaughter harmless, tame creatures without stings or teeth to harm us. For the sake of a little flesh we deprive them of sun, of light, of the duration of life to which they are entitled by birth and being." Plutarch: "If you declare that you are naturally designed for such a diet, then first kill for yourself what you want to eat. Do it, however, only through your own resources, unaided by cleaver or cudgel or any kind of ax."
Here is an excerpt of Shrila Prabhupada conversing with a guest:
Guest: "If man wasn't meant to eat meat, why in nature do the other animals kill to eat?"
Shrila Prabhupada: "Are you an animal?"
Guest: "Well, we're all animals. I don't feel that I'm better than the animals."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Some animals, they eat meat because they follow nature's law. A tiger eats meat, but it does not come to eat grains and fruit. 'Oh, you have got so much grain. Give me.' But, he'll pounce upon a deer. That is his natural instinct."
"A tiger may eat meat, but I am not a tiger. I am a human being. If I have sufficient grains, fruit, vegetables, and other things that God has given, why should I kill a poor animal?"
"This is humanity. What is the purpose of eating? To live. If you can live very peacefully, very nicely, with good health, by eating the innumerable varieties of food given by Krishna (God), why should you kill animals? This is humanity. If you have no discretion, no higher consciousness, then what is the difference between you and an animal?" "Besides that, scientifically, your teeth are meant for eating vegetables. The tiger has teeth for eating meat. Nature has made it like that. The tiger has to kill another animal and so it has got nails, sharp teeth, and great strength. But you do not have such strength. You cannot kill a cow by pouncing like a tiger. You make a slaughterhouse to kill cows while you sit at home. Somebody is paid to slaughter the animals so that you can eat very nicely. What is this? Do like the tiger. Pounce on a cow and eat. (laughter) But, you will not do that."
Honestly, does it seem like a nice thing to eat the dead bodies of animals? No doubt, when one is accustomed to eating meat, and is absorbed in thinking about how nice it tastes- thought about the killing part is minimal.When I was a child, I never harmed animals, but at the same time, I loved the taste of meat. Now, after having given up meat for more than thirty years, the taste no longer appeals to me- it's disgusting. The very thought of putting a piece of meat into my mouth makes me almost vomit. I would not swallow a piece of meat for $1000. Shrila Prabhupada told his disciples in Bombay: "I once saw in Calcutta, while passing through the streets, a restaurant man cutting the throat of a chicken. After being cut, the chicken was jumping like anything, and the man was laughing. He was taking pleasure. For me it was so horrible, but he was taking pleasure: 'This half-cut chicken is jumping!' His son was crying and so the man asked, 'Why are you crying?' It is a question of different qualities. One person is attracted and another finds it disgusting."
Once, when I was living in Calcutta, I noticed big billboards put up by the Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The board illustrated cruelty to cats and dogs and pleaded that it be stopped. Then, one day, I spotted the office of the Society as I was walking down the street.
Out of curiosity, I stepped in and saw a man behind the counter. I asked, "Sir, are you in charge here?"
He answered in the affirmative and so I asked him, point blank, "Do you eat meat?"
He replied, "Yes."
I said, "How can you engage in propaganda against cruelty to animals and at the same time eat animals that are mercilessly slaughtered?"
The man became agitated and angrily replied, "Without eating meat, one will become weak and malnourished. One would die without eating meat!"
Seeing no more use for discussion, I said "good bye" and walked out.
I know that many of you, my readers, have pets. I have a dog now, and I had a dog when I was a child. Bill Clinton went to great expense to bring his dog to India when he visited as President of the United States. Just a few weeks ago, his dog was run over by a car. I'm sure that he mourned the loss of a friend.My dog is also my friend. He wags his tail and happily jumps on me when I come home. He understands something of my conversation and if I talk about giving him a bath, he runs and hides under the bed. Dogs and other animals have more developed consciousness than plants, and their bodies are quite similar to ours- two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, a mouth, genital and rectum. Of course, there are people who have no qualms about killing the animals they eat. After all, there are people working in the slaughterhouses. There are people who go into the forest and kill animals for sport and pleasure. There are people who take pleasure in killing other people.
But, for me, the simple truth is: KILLING INNOCENT ANIMALS IS BEHAVIOR UNBEFITTING A CIVILIZED HUMAN BEING. IT IS BAD KARMA. It should be concluded that human life is meant for cultivating godly qualities so that the next.life will be one of good fortune. At the time of death, the subtle body- consisting of the mind, intelligence and ego- will carry one to the womb of his or her next mother. This nicely explains why even small children have different personalities. We carry our mind and personality from one body to another.
Psychology is a very interesting study. Peoples' minds and personalities develop in a great variety of fascinating ways. Generally, it is assumed that every baby starts off with a "clean slate". That is to say, according to contemporary psychology, every baby begins life with no particular mentality or personality. These are then formed by the baby's contact with family, society and environment. This theory is accepted because it is assumed that life begins within the mother's womb. But, there is another, more reasonable theory- that life is eternal. With this understanding, our present life is seen as just one stage of a long journey. I have placed my faith in this explanation, for very good reasons, and for many years I have viewed life from this perspective. For me, this is a most satisfactory explanation of why children manifest their personalities from the very beginning of their lives. It appears to me that even small children have vastly different personalities. I have known many children who have since grown up. Their bodies transformed dramatically, but their personalities seemed to develop or blossom- not change. I compare the development of personality to the blooming of a flower. When a flower is a bud, its mature form is not manifest but still, it is subtly there- it just takes time to become visible.
Similarly, I think that one's personality exists in a seed-like form at birth. It is the same personality that left a previous body at the time of death. At this point, you may say, "Personality is present at birth due to the child's genetic make-up." My answer would be, "There is no doubt that genetic make-up influences how we appear and how we act. But, it cannot be concluded that genes are the original cause of our body and personality. I find genetic programming to be quite similar to computer programming. The way the computer is programmed will determine how it functions but the program is not the original cause of the computer's working. It is the programmer.Who has programmed the genes and why? Obviously, nature has programmed the genes, under the direction of the Supreme Controller. Genes are an interface between the living soul and its temporarily manifested personality. It stands to reason that the genes are programmed so as to allow a person to express his or her personality.We can just imagine that for an eternal soul to become embodied by matter, it requires an incredibly sophisticated arrangement.
Again and again, Shrila Prabhupada talked about the special mission of human life: "As soon as you come to the point of being firmly convinced that you are different from the body- that is real knowledge. Advancement of knowledge for eating, sleeping and mating is animal knowledge. A dog also knows how to eat, how to sleep, how to mate and how to defend. If our education extends only to these points, that is not true advancement." "A dog is eating according to his nature, and we are also eating, but in a nice place, with nicely cooked food on a nice table. The principle is still eating."
"Similarly, you may sleep in a very nice apartment in a six-story building or in a 122-story building, and the dog may lie in the street, but when he sleeps and when you sleep, there is no difference. You cannot know whether you are sleeping in a skyscraper or on the ground because you are dreaming something that has taken your mind far from your bed. You have forgotten that your body is lying on the bed and you are dreaming that you are flying in the air. To improve the sleeping method is not advancement of civilization." "Similarly, the dog has no social custom for mating. Whenever there is a she-dog, he mates in the street. You may mate in a secret place but the same principle is there. The same thing applies to defending. A dog has teeth and nails with which he can defend himself, and you have atom bombs. But the purpose is defending, that's all."
"Human life is not meant only for these four principles- bodily demands. There is something more- a human being should be inquisitive to learn the truth about his existence and his relationship with God. Human life is meant for self-realization." I know that after hearing this, many people would argue something like this: It is not that a human being has to inquire about God to distinguish himself from the animals. It's true, that in primitive times, the cave man was little better than an animal. But, gradually, as man evolved, he developed his mental capabilities. Man learned to communicate with sophisticated languages and he cultivated the arts. Works of music, poetry, literature, painting, sculpture, drama, singing, dance and architecture are the achievements that truly distinguish man from the animals. Shakespeare, Bach, and Rembrandt- as well as the great scientists- these were men who towered above the rest and truly represented the cutting edge of human evolution. In college and for two years afterwards, I was deeply absorbed in listening to classical music. My friend, Mel Simon, had a friend named Jim Rich. He was majoring in music history and had a large record collection. The peculiar thing about Jim Rich was that he only listened to music composed prior to the Romantic period. In fact, he even avoided music of the late classical period. Mostly, he listened to Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music. Being a lover of Romantic music, I found this very strange at first. He considered earlier music to be pure, and later music to be adulterated by personal ego.
I never gave up my love for Romantic music, but eventually I began to appreciate his point of view and feel that it contains a profound truth. Earlier music did in fact seem to be purer, and it was mostly used as a means for the composer to express his devotion for God. In contrast, romantic composers appeared to use music as a medium for giving vent to their personal feelings. Shrila Prabhupada said that the quest for understanding God is what distinguishes a human being from an animal. An objection was raised, saying that human life is distinct from animal life because of man's mental capabilities- exhibited in art, literature, music and science.I admit that arts and sciences are the domain of humans- not animals. But, if the arts are used to express romantic or nationalistic sentiments- or if science and technology are used to facilitate bodily pleasure and comfort- they remain on the platform of animal existence.
Here is a curious fact. There are symphony orchestras in all the major cities of the Western world. If you attend a concert given by any one of them, you will find that the program invariably consists of music composed long ago. Very rarely will you hear a contemporary piece or even a composition composed within the last one hundred years. Although we generally consider today's world to be advanced in all respects, it may be that our technological revolution has been achieved at the sacrifice of something sublime.
Dear readers, I have tried to convince you that you are something other than your body. I have tried to introduce the conception of the eternal conscious soul or self. After the destruction of the temporary material body, you will continue to exist-that is my conviction, and I consider this to be a very positive understanding.What will happen to our bodies? Shrila Prabhupada explains: "The ultimate end of the body is three- either it becomes stool, ashes, or worms, if, after death, the body is burned, it will become ashes. If the body is buried, many worms will be born from it. If the body is left in the street or in a river, animals or fish will eat it and later on pass it out as stool. So, the ultimate end of the body is ashes, stool or worms. We take so much trouble to maintain this stool, ash and worms without caring for the real living force that is moving the body. The body is very attractive and important only so long as the spiritual spark is there. People do not consider this."
"This beautiful body may be recognized as a king or prime minister while in a living condition. After death, the body of even a king is eaten by an animal and therefore turned into stool or is cremated in a crematorium and turned into ashes or is put into an earthly grave where various worms and insects are produced of it."It is a fact- bodily conditions are very ephemeral. During youth, one boy may be very strong and handsome while another is weak and scrawny. But, after death, when the bodies are simply two piles of ashes, no one could ascertain which had been the hero and which had been the butt of jokes. If I think that my body is my self, my future does not seem very bright. But, if I consider myself to be an eternal soul and not my body, my future may well hold great promise- if I fulfill the purpose of human life by understanding my relationship with God.
DOES GOD REALLY EXIST? I have read that the vast majority of people in all parts of the world believe in God. But, while talking with acquaintances, I have found that most who believe in God are not really convinced- they have serious doubts. I know many people who claim to be firm believers in God. And yet, sometimes, in a sober moment, I look at one of them intently and say, "Life is confusing. It's very hard to understand all the terrible things that are going on in the world. Tell me truthfully- don't just give me your stock answer. What do you really feel? Is there God or not?"The reply often is: "Truthfully- I'm not sure. Sometimes I feel that there must be no God. I don't know if God really exists." When I was young, I was a confirmed atheist. My attitude was basically this- "People have looked all over the world and astronomers have searched all over the universe. No one has seen God. Everything is working in its own way. I don't believe that there is God."
I was walking with my 7-year-old daughter, Vrinda. She said, "Daddy, we learned something interesting about candles in school today."
I said, "OK, tell me."
Vrinda explained, "If you light a candle and put a glass over it...."
"The candle will go out!" I interrupted. "If you put a glass over a candle, the flame will burn the oxygen. When there is no more, the flame dies out." "How did you know?" she asked.
"I also went to school, a hundred years ago" I joked.
Then, I said, "Now, I will ask you a question. Who made your body? Did they teach you this in school?"
"No, they didn't" she said. "I don't know."
"That's true, you don't know", I replied, "but somebody must have made it."
"I don't know", she said again.
So, I explained, "Suppose I show you a pencil drawing of a young girl and say, 'I found this lying on the ground. I don't know who drew it. Is it possible that no one drew it? Could you believe this?"
Vrinda replied, 'Of course, someone must have drawn it."
"Well then", I said, "if you are sure that someone drew the girl's picture, why aren't you sure that someone made the girl's body? It's hard to draw a nice picture. But, a human body is much harder to make than a picture. Not everyone can draw nicely, but there are many people who can. Nobody can make a human body, though. In fact, no one can even begin to try. Considering this, how can you think that no one made your body?"
Vrinda became a little convinced and said, "Somebody must have made my body, but I don't know who."
So, I replied, "That's OK. The first thing is to understand that someone made your body and then you can try to find out who did it."
Vrinda asked, "Who made my body?"
"Do you think that your parents make your body?" I countered.
"No, of course not" Vrinda said.
I continued, "It is a fact that no human being is capable of making a single cell in the human body. In fact, scientists have been trying to do this for years. It is a monumental task. Your body developed within your mother's womb but she had no idea how this was happening. Sometimes, a woman is pregnant for many months without even knowing it."
I continued to tell Vrinda about how all the parts of the body work together as a very complex organism. I concluded, "Vrinda, do you think it is possible that no one made your body?"
She replied, "If you didn't explain these things to me, I would think that my body grew automatically. But, when I hear about how all the parts of the
body work so wonderfully, I must agree that it was made by God."
"Very good" I responded.
There is a famous story about Isaac Newton. He had built a model of the solar system and one day, a friend, an atheist, came to visit. The friend asked Sir Isaac, "Who made this nice model?"
Isaac Newton replied, "No one."
The friend exclaimed, "I cannot believe'that! Of course, someone made it. Tell me who."
Isaac Newton said, "My dear friend, you cannot accept that this simple model was not made by someone. How then can you believe that the actual solar system came into being by itself?"
If I talk to someone who says, "I don't believe in God", I respond with, "Just tell me one thing- who made your body?"
I can't remember any atheist giving a satisfactory reply. Someone might have said, "My mother made my body in her womb."
I would have replied, "I think of your mother as being more like a factory, and not the designer or craftsman of your body. One who designs or assembles something has good knowledge of that thing. Your mother probably had no idea of how your body was being constructed. Her body just happens to be the place where the work was being
done." Many people would then say, "OK. Our bodies are made by nature."
It is certainly a fact that our bodies are products of nature. Nature's elements provide the ingredients that make up the body, but the question still remains- who made it?
The human body is an astonishingly wonderful and complex organism. In school, I was taught that a single cell of the body is more intricate than New York City, with all of its streets and buildings.I cannot give a competent description of the human body's design, but I shall make a lame attempt. Light enters the lens of an eye and focuses on the retina, where light-sensitive cells create an upside-down image. Impulses are then transported to the brain by the optic nerve.Sound waves are tunneled to the eardrum, causing it to vibrate. The vibrations are then transmitted to three small bones in the middle ear. Thereafter, the vibrations reach the cochlea in the inner ear, where they become nerve impulses, which are sent by the acoustic nerve to the brain. Such a sophisticated apparatus that enables us to hear! Definitely high tech!
Food goes into the stomach and somehow, by chemical reactions, the energy is distributed to all parts of the body through the bloodstream, pumped by the heart.
Air is inhaled into the lungs. The oxygen is extracted and goes into the blood, to be sent all over the body. There is a skeleton to keep everything in place, and muscles to provide movement, under the control of the brain and nervous system. Amazingly, these bodies don't need to be assembled in a factory- there is a reproductive system built in. Just imagine- if one had to assemble a humanlike robot, it would take a great deal of planning, time, effort and money. And yet the factory of the mother's womb appears to be fully automated, so that very little effort is required to assemble the completed product. Who has made such a wonderful arrangement?
Even our most intelligent scientists can only partially understand the human body's construction and operation. How then can we say that it came to be by chance? How can we think that it was constructed by random interaction of molecules? This is ridiculous in the extreme! Someone with a certain level of technical understanding can easily comprehend the workings of someone else having less knowledge. On the other hand, that same person could not fully comprehend the workings of a person with greater technical ability. This is common sense. That our greatest minds can only partially comprehend the human bodies' construction and workings clearly indicates that it was designed and made by someone of far superior capability. Who is the supremely intelligent designer of our bodies? He must be the supremely intelligent person- God.
The simple truth is: A COMPLEX ORGANISM, SUCH AS THE HUMAN BODY, COULD NOT HAVE BEEN ASSEMBLED BY CHANCE INTERACTION OF MOLECULES! THE BODY MUST HAVE BEEN DESIGNED AND ASSEMBLED BY SOMEONE OF UNIMAGINABLE INTELLIGENCE AND ABILITY!
In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna (God) says, "This material nature is working under My direction, producing all moving and nonmoving beings." Shrila Prabhupada explains why God is referred to as Krishna: "We call God Krishna. Don't consider this to be a sectarian name. Krishna means all-attractive and so it is the perfect name of God. Unless God is the fountainhead of attractive qualities, what is the meaning of God? God cannot be the Hindu's God, Christian's God, Jews' God, or Mohammedan's God. God is for everyone and He is attractive for everyone. He is perfect in knowledge, perfect in beauty, and perfect in strength. In this way, he is supremely attractive."
Modern scientific theory supposes that life evolved from matter, but our experience is just the opposite. Shrila Prabhupada explains: "It is very important that we expose the nonsense theories of the scientists who assert that life comes from matter. They say that life comes from chemicals, but they cannot say from where these chemicals have come. Actually, if we examine things carefully, we see that chemicals are coming from life- not that life is coming from chemicals.""Just like the lemon tree. It is producing so many lemons. In each lemon there is citric acid. So, due to the presence of life, chemicals are being produced." "Also, I had experienced that one of my toenails came off due to infection. My body replaced that nail with another one of the exact size and shape as the one I had lost." "If I have such potency to create chemicals, then what to speak of the Supreme Living Being, Lord Krishna? This is called inconceivable potency. I do not know how my nail is coming. The Supreme Living Entity, or God has unlimited potency to create. I do not think that any reasonable and intelligent man or scientist can deny this."
"We see innumerable examples of life creating matter. It is our daily experience. Our hair is growing. When we cut it, again it grows. Why? Because there is life. Hair never grows from a dead body. Is it not so?"
God is working in a way that is beyond our perception. Someone may challenge, "Show me God!" but my response is, "Do you have the eyes to see God?"
I am convinced that the domain of science is quite limited. It can never extend to an understanding of that which lies beyond the range of the senses. I strongly believe that God and the self are beyond sensual perception. But, here is an important truth. THAT WHICH CANNOT BE DIRECTLY SEEN CAN STILL BE UNDERSTOOD BY ITS EFFECTS UPON THE THINGS AROUND US.
Suppose someone had lived in a small village in India all his life and had never attended school, watched television or read a newspaper. Somehow, he won a contest and his prize was a trip to America. Let us pretend that he had never even heard of America but the travel agent told him that it was another country, just like India.
Just image him walking down the streets of New York City. He might think, "The roads are so smooth and wide. Everyone has a car. Practically no one is riding a bicycle."
"Where do they put all of the garbage? Back home, it is littered all over the place! Here, everything is so neat and clean! Everywhere there are traffic lights and people keep to their lanes!"
"There are sidewalks beside every street and they are so well-built and uncluttered. Back home, the sidewalks are filled with hawkers selling everything imaginable so that there's hardly room left to walk. In my village, people walk in the streets, side by side with cows and buffalo." "The person in charge of this city sure is smart and efficient. He must not be so corrupt like the politicians back home. I would like to meet him."This villager didn't see the Mayor of New York and yet he was 100% convinced that he exists. By seeing how everything was being managed so nicely, he could understand that someone was doing a good job. You could never convince him that no one was in charge and that things were working nicely on their own.No one should expect to see God directly, but anyone can appreciate the wonderful way in which nature is working. After seeing the wonders of nature, any sane person would conclude, "There is a supremely intelligent and creative genius behind all this!"
Shrila Prabhupada said: "The fact is that ultimately, the Absolute Truth is the Supreme Person. But because He acts through His potencies, which are impossible for the gross materialists to see, they doubt His existence." "For example, one can observe an artist painting a flower. By doing so, one will appreciate the artist's skill with the brush and his use of colors and forms. The artist is highly trained and yet his work demands minute attention to all details. An artist's mastery is clearly exhibited in a painting of blooming flowers. But the gross materialist, without seeing the hand of God in such artistic manifestations as actual flowers blooming in nature, concludes that the Supreme Person does not exist."
"The Supreme Person does not require to pick up a brush and colors to paint flowers. His potencies act so wonderfully that it appears as if flowers have come into being without the work of an artist." Suppose you and I were to take a trip to darkest Africa. Our guide leads us into the dense jungle and announces, "No human being has ever been here before." We are suitably impressed. Then, while hacking our way through the jungle, I spy a shiny object at my feet. I stoop down and pick it up. "It's an alarm clock!" I exclaim.
I challenge, "Guide, you said that no human being had come to these parts before. Now, just see this. It proves that you have deceived us! Someone was here before and he discarded this broken clock." Surprisingly, the guide coolly replies, "A hasty conclusion. This clock was not left by anyone. It is just like the other things you see here- a product of chance chemical interaction." No one would believe this. Man has made countless things out of nature's raw materials-clocks, cars, computers, bicycles, beds and bowling balls. Even though these things are very, very simple compared to our bodies, no one has ever found one of them that came together by chance. The very thought of such a thing happening appears ridiculous. Why then are our great scientists proposing that everything we see in nature evolved without the help of a Supreme Designer and Controller?
When I was very small, I believed in God, but I lost that faith as I grew up. It would be interesting to survey a large group of young children whose parents have strong faith in God. I suspect that practically all would accept the existence of God without question, at least until they grew up a bit and encountered nonbelievers, saw the ignorance of believers, and came under the influence of atheistic science. I think that to have faith in the existence of God is the natural condition of human consciousness. It is an intuition that becomes clouded as one grows up in a materialistic society.
I often ask this question: "What is the worst thing about life?
My 7-year-old daughter, Vrinda, answered without hesitation, "Death!"
After a few moments, Vrinda said, "Why don't you ask, 'What is the best thing about life?' What is the answer?"
After thinking a bit, I replied, "For me, the best thing about my life is that I am a human being."
Shrila Prabhupada said, "Animals are conscious only of their bodily necessities- eating, sleeping, mating and defending. But, by the grace of God, consciousness is developed in the human form, so that one can evaluate his exceptional position and come to realize the self and the Supreme Lord. This is nature's special gift."
"Whether human being or animal, everyone is born in the same manner. There is sexual intercourse of the male and female and later on, the child is born. There is also no essential difference in living conditions: An animal eats- we also eat. An animal sleeps- we also sleep. The animals have facility for sex and we also have this facility. An animal defends according to his capability and we defend with nuclear weapons.This may be more advanced, but the principle is the same- defending. These four things are common to animals and human beings."
"The special feature of the human form of body is that it has developed consciousness, enabling one to understand God. This, the animal doesn't have."
I now live in India. We have a dog, named Scrab-do. I like my dog but because he has undeveloped consciousness, I have given up trying to educate him beyond a certain point.
Pigeons fly onto our balcony, hoping to set up their nests. My dog rushes to the balcony as soon as he hears a pigeon, hoping to catch it. I tried to tell him, "Mr. Dog, don't hurt the pigeons. We give you plenty to eat. They are also living beings like you. You wouldn't want a bigger animal to attack you. Why should you try to kill a pigeon?"
In spite of such noble instruction, my dog still chases pigeons.
Here I am, sitting on my second floor balcony, at a beach resort in Goa. I am working on this manuscript and in front of me is a coconut tree, less than twenty feet away. About 60-70 coconuts are clustered together on a really exotic and beautiful tree! The design is something fantastic! Just where the coconuts are clustered, the leaves project outward in ail directions, as if from a point, giving the top of the tree a spherical appearance. The trunk is thin, smooth and goes straight up- there are no branches. In Goa, many men know how to climb coconut trees because coconut is an important ingredient in every Goan's diet. I consider my meditation upon the coconut tree to be time well spent, because it reinforces my conviction that someone must have designed it. Someone must be manipulating nature so that it produces such wonderful things. If my dog were here, his only appreciation of the coconut tree would be that it's a suitable place for going pee-pee. That's why I say- the best thing in life is to have the developed consciousness of a human being.
Everything in nature is working so wonderfully. Animals take it for granted but intelligent human beings are fascinated. There is no facet of nature that is not carefully studied by inquisitive people, and there is no aspect of nature fully understood by anyone. Nature is like an ultimate puzzle. No one can figure it out. Whoever made the puzzle is far too clever to be discovered. We may be very smart, but there is someone much smarter- of this I have no doubt. I was standing on the porch of my wife's house in Vrindavan, India, watching the peacocks picking at grains in the front yard. She puts out food for them every morning and they come at around 6:00 a.m. I looked at a peacock and thought, "What an amazing bird!"
The male peacock's feathers are in themselves absolutely astonishing masterpieces. The birds' colors are fantastic and its structure is ungainly. Its neck is shiny, metallic blue, and long like a snake. Peacocks fly with great effort and cannot go very far or high. Just watching a peacock is an enthralling experience. Peacocks are awkward yet exquisite.I don't know if it's true but I've heard that Darwin found the sight of a peacock feather revolting. Darwin was perhaps the first person to propose that life evolved from random chemical interaction. The incredible design of a peacock's feather seems to mock Darwin's theory.
If my dog were in Vrindavan, as soon as he saw a peacock, he would frantically chase it. That's the difference between me and my dog. Of course, he has four legs and I have two. He can't laugh and I can. But the important difference is in the development of consciousness (or lack of it). As human beings, we have developed awareness that allows us to appreciate the wonders of nature. From this appreciation, the question should arise, "Who has designed and made all these things?"
In school, I had learned that each snowflake is unique in design. We were shown pictures of magnified snowflakes and their designs were beautiful and intricate. When I watch National Geographic channel, I see mind-boggling life forms- on the land, in the water and in the air. The forms that life takes are so interesting that many people study them throughout their lives. As a child, I caught and collected butterflies. I was fascinated by the designs displayed on the innumerable variety of butterfly wings.
All of the above designs pertain to life. Nonliving entities- mountains, rivers, stars, clouds, rocks and forest-fires are much simpler in design. Still, they are made and arranged in a very aesthetic manner. Isn't it a fact that the world's great artists spend their lives imitating the work of the Supreme Artist?
Poets forever glorify the grandeur of a sunset and the beauty of a young girl's face. That we can appreciate the artistry of what we see around us is the fruit of developed consciousness. Please consider this very carefully- doesn't artistry imply an artist?The forms of the living entities constitute the supreme artistry- they are not the work of the living beings themselves. It is only because of ignorance that we think that there is no Supreme Creator and Supreme Artist. Because we don't see Him at work, we deny His existence. Modern scientific theories regarding the creation of the universe and the evolution of life from chemicals are atheistic. There were amino acids, proteins, etc. and somehow, by blind interaction, out came Madonna? Or, did someone create the materials and set the laws of nature in motion? Science has not proved that behind everything there is no God. It is just a theory, or perhaps a wish. Isn't the theory that behind the laws of nature there is a Supreme Lawmaker more acceptable to our good sense and intelligence?
Albert Einstein once said, "Everyone who is seriously involved in the pursuit of science becomes convinced that a spirit is manifest in the laws of the universe- a spirit vastly superior to that of man, and one in the face of which we, with our modest powers, must feel humbled."Early every morning, Shrila Prabhupada walked with his disciples. On many such occasions, he took great pleasure in debating with Svarupa Damodar, a PhD in organic chemistry from Manipur, India. Shrila Prabhupada's feelings about how society should be guided were very strong. This is evident from the following discussion:
Shrila Prabhupada: "Scientists say that life begins from chemicals. But the real question is, 'Where have the chemicals come from?' Chemicals come from life and this means that life has mystic powers (powers far beyond anyone's understanding). For example, an orange tree contains many oranges and each orange contains chemicals, such as citric acid. Where have these chemicals come from? Obviously they have come from the life within the tree. The scientists have started their investigation from chemicals but they cannot identify the origin of chemicals. Chemicals come from the supreme life- God. Just as the living body of a man produces many chemicals, the supreme life is producing all the chemicals found in nature. That is what we call mystic power. Unless the mystic power of the Lord is accepted, there is no solution to the problem of the origin of life." "A cow eats grass and produces milk. Everyone knows this, but can you take some grass and produce milk? Therefore there is mystic power within the cow. Men and women are basically the same, but as a man you cannot eat food and produce milk, although a woman can. These are mystic powers."
Dr. Singh: "Scientists would say that there are different enzymes or chemicals inside different types of bodies and that these account for the cow's producing milk."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, but who produced those enzymes and that arrangement? That was done by mystic power. You cannot make these enzymes or that arrangement. You cannot produce milk from grass in the laboratory. Within your body, by mystic power, you can transform food into blood and tissue, but in your laboratory, without mystic power, you cannot even transform grass into milk. Therefore you must accept the existence of mystic power."
Dr. Singh: "You are saying that science has started from an intermediate point- not from the original point?"
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, that is it exactly. Scientists are ignorant of the origin. They start from one point- but where does that point come from? That they do not know, in spite of vast research. One has to accept that the original source is God." "God cannot be known by the inductive process. Therefore, in Sanskrit, He is called adhokshaja, which means, 'unknowable by direct perception.' Scientists say that there is no God because they are trying to understand Him by direct perception."
Svarupa Damodara: "Life started from life. It cannot begin from matter."
Shrila Prabhupada: "That's right. If you can establish this theory, you will get a Nobel Prize. Try for it. In this way, all these rascals will be defeated. The whole world is running on a false theory that life is born out of matter. But that is not a fact. How to defeat this theory? How it is possible?"
Svarupa Damodara: "By logic."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, by logic, by science. Anyway, we have to make a program, because the entire human society is affected by this misleading theory. It is a fact- that life comes from life. Of course, life does not come- it already exists. Matter is generated. Life exists eternally- it has no change. The change is in the outward, material body. In all respects we have to prove that life does not come from matter. Matter is generated from life, stays for some time, and then is finished." "How long can science cheat people? One hundred years, two hundred years? They cannot cheat them for all time."
Dr. Singh: "Cheating has been going on since time immemorial, so perhaps they think they can continue forever."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Not since time immemorial! Science has been cheating people for only the past two or three hundred years, not before that. For the last two hundred years they have been preaching that life comes from matter-not for thousands of years. And the cheating will be finished in another fifty years because people are becoming intelligent."
I feel that children are being cheated when they go to school. They are only being taught one theory of creation. The most absurd and unreasonable one! Why should children be forced into atheism? Is this for their benefit? Education is supposed to broaden the mind, not breed prejudice, it is very biased to teach only an atheistic theory of life's origin.In this regard, Shrila Prabhupada said, "Why not accept that life begins from life? What is the objection? That life somehow evolves from matter is a theory, not a fact. Why not also accept the theory that life comes from life? This is also a theory. Then, let us compare- which is more reasonable? That life comes from life or that life comes from matter."
Scientists portray things in a very sophisticated way. They employ vague concepts such as "survival of the fittest" and "natural selection", and emphasize that the time span of evolution is immense- millions and billions of years. While listening to them, the masses of people become convinced. But, if you give scientists all the ingredients that were contained in the primordial soup, and provide them with an unlimited budget- they would not be able to manufacture even a single cell, and so what to speak of a conscious living being like a man.Religions are often described as dogmatic because they demand that their followers accept a set of beliefs and allow no scope for questioning them. The followers of such religions are insulated from other views so that their adherence will remain strong. No doubt, such restrictions are deemed necessary because without them, followers would find out that their beliefs are not all correct.
SCIENCE IS THE MOST DOGMATIC RELIGION. A principal definition of religion is "belief". Science propagates a system of beliefs and so can be rightfully called the dominant religion of this age. You might object, saying, "Science is not a religion, it is a presentation of facts!" "Not true!" I would exclaim. "Much of what is taught in the name of science is theory, not fact."
Shrila Prabhupada gave this example: "Darwin's theory. He says that the body is evolving. That is nonsense. If the body is evolving, why isn't the monkey evolving into a human being at the present moment? Where is the evidence? Do you think that Darwin's theory is reasonable? Perhaps Darwin's ancestors were monkeys, but I don't believe that mine were."
You are a human being. How could you have been born a human being unless your father and mother were human beings? You might say that you are whatever was programmed into your genes. If that were so, then your human quality would have been present in all of your ancestors' genes. Not that you could have evolved from something less than a human being. You might then argue that evolution takes place when genes are not replicated precisely- causing a mutation. I would respond, "How can we believe that mistakes are the cause of improvements?" Had a monkey's genes been replicated incorrectly, is it reasonable to expect that the result would be a human being? Or, would it more likely result in a kind of freak? Besides this, I would also ask, "Who programmed the genes? Do you mean to say that a mixture of chemicals, a non-living (dead) thing, could perform such a delicate and difficult task, which even you could not do?"
You might say that you are a little different from you mother and father. Yes, this cannot be denied. And, your mother and father were a little different from their parents, etc. In this way, we can gradually go back to Neanderthal man, the missing link and then the ape, you might reason. Go further back and you come to a single cell in the ocean, and before that, a cloud of gas. Why doesn't the process go in reverse? Maybe your descendents will be monkeys. And, their descendents will be single cells. Their descendents might be a cloud of gas. Is there any chance of this? I think that you are saying, "No". There must be something more than chance at work.Suppose that in the beginning there was a Big Bang and as a result, we had a universe filled with gasses. Now, let's put our viewer on fast fast-forward so that after a moment, here you are! Please tell me honestly- do you really believe that your entire existence came from gas?
Granted, gasses may somehow have transformed into the various elements we know today, forming the building blocks of whatever exists. But, is it possible that these blocks would assemble, by themselves, to become the human body?
My daughter, Vrinda, had some wooden blocks when she was small, and they were always spread over the floor. Sometimes, when the blocks were combined to make something, I knew that Vrinda had been playing. Never was there a time when the blocks just happened to fall out of their bag to become a fancy construction. So, even if the building blocks of nature were present, is it reasonable to suppose that they assembled by themselves?
Of course, we cannot see anyone putting nature's building blocks together but isn't it possible that a far superior being would not have to work with his hands and tools?
Robotics is a big field today. People are attempting to make robots that imitate the human body or other bodies. If so many intelligent people are struggling to approximate the forms created by nature, is it reasonable to assume that the various species came into existence without a designer and maker?
When someone invents something, it takes only a little while before others have copied it and put it on the market. In comparison, the universe is inscrutable. Countless scientists study it throughout their lives and this quest for knowledge will never end. Can you imagine a day when someone announces, "At last, we have understood everything about nature and so research institutions are closing down their operations"?
For sure, this day will never come. What to speak of the universe, even a single atom cannot be fully understood. The fact is- the more you learn about the world- the more you come to realize how 'ittle you actually know. The Bhagavad-gita describes God as the origin of everything and the original cause of all causes. Lord Krishna says, "I am the source of all spiritual and material existence. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts."
In the Bible it says that in the beginning, God created heaven and earth. It might be thought that God created the universe with materials different from Himself, just as we might build something from wood or stone. But, Lord Krishna clarifies in Bhagavad-gita that He created everything from His own energy. In essence, there is nothing outside of God. There is no second existence. Everything is God and God's energy. Just as fire manifests two energies- heat and light- God exhibits His superior and inferior natures.
Shrila Prabhupada explains: "Nature means energy. As soon as we speak of energy, we must inquire into the source of that energy. For example, if you speak of electricity, you must accept its source - the power plant or generator. How can you deny it? Electricity does not come to us automatically. Similarly, nature is not working automatically- it is under the control of God." I think that anyone who believes in God would agree that He is the original cause of everything, and that He has no cause. Atheists sometimes challenge, "You say that God created everything,but who created God?" I find this qute childish, for if God were created, He would not be God. Whoever or whatever created God would be God. Actually, creation only refers to that which is temporary. What to speak of God, even the living beings (the souls) are not created, for they are eternal.
Because we live in the inferior nature, which is infinitely mutable, it is our practical experience that everything has a cause. While struggling to manipulate matter, we describe our activities in terms of cause and effect. If I overeat (the cause), I might feel sleepy later on (the elect). If I feel sleepy (the caise), I might not go back to work after lunch (the effect). If I don't go back to my job (the cause), my boss might fire me (the effect). If my boss fires me (the cause), I might not be able to pay the rent (the effect). If I don't pa/ the rent (the cause), I mighl get evicted (the elect). If I am evicted (the cause), I might have to ssend the night in the park (the effect). If I spend the night in the park (the cause), I might get robbed (the effect). After that, someone might ask, "How were you robbed?" I coulc answer, "I ate too mjch for lunch."
All of these causes and effects are continuing because of my Dresence within the body. As soon as I leave the body at the time of death, all such causes and effects cease. Isn't it a fact that matter does not move unless acted upon? I am working with a small organism, my body, but my effect upon the universe is very miniscule. We should therefore understand that cause and effect on a cosmic scale is going on due to the presence of the Supreme Soul.
I consider the Big Bang theory to be man's best attempt at understanding, by use of his limited and imperfect senses, the cause of the universe. Being a tiny creation within the greater creation, how can one expect to understand what existed before creation?
In a Sanskrit religious text, Shrimad-Bhagavatam, it is described that the universe emanated from God in a seed-like form and then gradually developed. This would accommodate our observation that the universe is expanding. A seed grows to become a great tree, and an explosion causes debris to be spread over a large area. Look around you. Does the cosmic manifestation appear to be the result of a big explosion or the fructification of a well-planned project?
One might wonder, "If God is the cause or source of this universe, why can't we see Him? We see the universe. Why don't we see the cause?"
Bhagavad-gita explains that the soul, being subtler than even the mind, cannot be perceived by our material senses. Lord Krishna explains, "The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind." Being a fragmental part, the soul is qualitatively identical with the Lord. But, quantitatively, the Lord is infinite and we, the souls, are infinitesimal. Just as the form of the soul is subtler than matter and thus cannot be seen by our material eyes- the Lord similarly possesses a transcendental form.
In Bhagavad-gita, the material nature is called the Lord's inferior energy and it is compared to a tree's reflection on the surface of a pond. If an apple tree grows by the side of a pond and you look from the other side, the tree's reflection appears upside-down on the water's surface.During the day, the reflection is seen but at night, it is not. Although it looks like a tree, the reflection has no real substance. The apples seen in the reflection cannot be picked and eaten. Still, whatever is seen in the reflection can be understood as existing in the tree. The tree is the cause and the reflection is the effect. Whatever we see in God's creation must exist in God Himself, unlimitedly and to perfection. We appreciate the scenic beauty of mountains, 'akes and forests. We are fascinated by the beauty of young men and women. None of these are Permanent, however. They are temporary manifes- tations, appearing like reflections in matter.
Every weekday I go to pick up my daughter, Vrinda, from school. While waiting at the gate, I often look at the mothers, most of who are in their late twenties or early thirties. I think to myself, "They were all teenage girls, not many years ago. Many must have been very pretty and alluring, as are the girls I see walking to college. Now, none would be able to captivate a man's mind as before. Where did that beauty go? It is as if that feminine attractiveness was brightly reflected in them for a few years and now has become dim."
I had learned in school that energy is never created or destroyed. Although the energy known as matter is ever-existing, it appears in forms that are always changing.
My computer is made out of steel, plastic, glass and what else ! don't really know. Everyone says that it is a computer, but in some sense- it isn't. In and of itself, it is just an arrangement of various materials. After a thousand years, these materials will still exist, but in some other form, and no one will be able to find the computer. It will have degraded to the point of non-recognition. The atoms that make up the computer will be elsewhere- in the ground, in the air or wherever.The form of my computer was in the mind of a designer employed by the company that made it.By strenuous effort, machines and workers fashioned the necessary materials into that form. It will remain as a computer for some time- but not forever.
Just imagine! Where will your body be one hundred years from now? The elements will be dispersed, here and there. Because I don't have my computer with me I am writing this with a pen. Where will my pen be a hundred years from now?
There is, in a sense, no such thing as a computer, pen, house, car, ball, or whatever. All of these forms are imposed upon matter from outside.Suppose I have a lump of clay. In the clay itself there is no particular form, except that of a lump. But, if I am skilled, I can make a vase out of it. The form of the vase is in my mind, and I impose it on the clay. The clay will take that form by my will and endeavor, but after some time, it will resume its formless condition as a lump.Even the sun and the earth will one day cease to exist in these forms, although the energy will be conserved. The forms in this world are sometimes visible and sometimes not. Some of the forms are conceived within the minds of men, but other forms must have been conceived in the mind of God.It can thus be said that the forms we see in this world are not inherent in nature's elements. They are temporarily reflected in matter. In the language of Bhagavad-gita, this world is called non-existent or illusory. It is not that it doesn't exist. It exists, but only temporarily. The material energy is eternal but the forms that it takes- the universe and everything within it- are temporary. Real existence is permanent. Again I refer to the analogy of a tree reflected on the surface of a pond. The reflection exists, but it is not really a tree. The real tree is somewhere else.
In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says: "There is another nature, which is eternal and transcendental to this world of matter. When all in this world is annihilated, the superior nature remains as it is. That supreme destination is My eternal abode."There is such beauty in this temporary world, reflected in matter. We can hardly imagine the beauty of the superior nature, eternally manifested as the abode of the Supreme Lord. There are descriptions in the Sanskrit religious texts of the transcendental abode of the Lord. There, it is said, all speech is song, and walking is graceful like dancing. There are trees that deliver any kind of fruit desired. That abode is described as self-effulgent and there is no influence of time- no conception of past and future. Life in the spiritual world is described as an eternal present. Everyone in that supreme abode is ever youthful- there is no ageing, disease or death. Everything- even the land, the trees and the rivers- are fully conscious! This reminds me of the cartoons we used to watch when I was a kid, many years ago. The trees had faces and could talk, and so could all of the animals. Tom and Jerry would enjoy life by fighting constantly, but they would never die! Perhaps, within us all, there is a dim memory of a sublime reality, far different from the struggle for existence we experience here.
In the transcendental abode, the Lord is the center of all attraction and everyone else is serving Him for His satisfaction. He is the Supreme Beloved and the innumerable inhabitants love Him in five relationships. In passive admiration- the land, the animals and the forests provide the Lord with a most pleasing atmosphere. There are servants who give every sort of comfort to the Lord. The Lord reciprocates with others as friends, or equals. Of course, no one is equal to God, but He acts in this way to reciprocate friendly dealings. There are those who feel a paternal affection for the Lord and He reciprocates by appearing to be dependent upon them. And, there are those who engage with the lord in a conjugal relationship, devoid of any kind of mundane lust.
All of these relationships are facilitated by the Lord's superior energy, just as, in this world, the mferior energy causes us to think, "This is my son, this is my husband, this is my master, etc." In this shadow representation of the eternal nature, these five relationships are reflected. In our hearts one of these relationships is eternally present, but in forgetfulness of God, we establish these relationships temporarily in terms of the material body. In this reflected world, a beautiful girl or handsome man may be practically worshiped. Just try to imagine the beauty of God! Being the origin of everything, God is the reservoir of all beauty. His beauty must be inconceivable! And, just imagine the beauty of His consort. We are so enamored by feminine beauty in this world and yet, it is only a reflection of Her beauty.
Do you doubt that God has a consort (or many consorts)? In this world, almost everyone has a mate, whether animal or human. I would guess that most children dream of being the most handsome boy or most beautiful girl, and reciprocating love with the most attractive member of the opposite sex. Isn't this a reflection of the reality in the abode of God? If God is the source of everything, He must be the origin of the most attractive thing in this world- that which is dominating our lives in so many ways- in movies, songs, advertising and the minds of most people. The attraction between male and female.The conjugal feelings that we experience in this world must be reflections of the original reality-They must be present in God to an unlimited degree and with complete purity.It is generally taken that the highest pleasure in this world is the reciprocation of love between man and woman. Is it reasonable to suppose that God is sitting idly while we are trying to enjoy ourselves in so many ways? Is it correct to think that God is something like an old man sitting on His throne doing nothing but rewarding His worshipers? Certainly, God is enjoying to an unlimited degree. I think that our activities are an imitation of God's pure pastimes. He is enjoying to perfection, while our imitation gives us a sense of happiness that is mixed with a lot of suffering. God must be the supremely attractive person- the most powerful, the most intelligent, and the most creative. He must be the Supreme Enjoyer.
I was sitting in the dining room of a religious institution in Tirupati, India. I glanced at the wall, and there hung a picture that captivated me. Radha and Krishna were sitting on a swing decorated with flowers, and They were absorbed in a mood of conjugal happiness. The name Radha is taken from the Sanskrit word, aradhana, which means worship. Thus, Radha is understood to be the supreme worshiper of God. She is Krishna's Principal consort. I thought, "Yes, this is God! God is surely the Supreme Enjoyer and this is the supreme enjoyment. Who else has such a conception of God?"
Have you ever wondered what God is doing? Someone might argue that God doesn't need to do anything because He is self-sufficient and everything is working under His control. That is true, but still I would not expect Him to be inactive. In this world, a fabulously wealthy man doesn't have to do anything- he has hundreds of servants or employees. Still, he is always doing something for his pleasure- to remain inactive is not a symptom of life. I was riding on the train from Goa to Mumbai and in my compartment were three ladies and two other men. One lady had a question about her ticket and after answering it- I started to talk about the simple truth. I asked her, "Do you believe in God"
"Yes, positively" she said and so I asked, "Do you think that God is the origin of everything- the cause of all causes?"
"Yes" she said, "He must be."
I said, "Whatever is in the effect, such as us, must certainly exist in the original cause, in an unlimited and perfect way."
"Yes, this must be true" she said.
"Therefore, we can assume that God must be the supremely beautiful person. He has created so many beautiful women and handsome men- how could he be less?"
"Yes" she assented, but the woman next to her, a Catholic, said, "No. God cannot have a form."
I was a little shocked. I said, "Certainly God doesn't have a form like ours that grows old and dies. But He must have an eternal form that is the source of all the forms that we see in this world."
Still, the Catholic woman repeated, "No. God cannot have a form. That would make Him limited, iike us."
I responded, "To say that God is formless seems to be far more limiting! God must include everything, for He is the source of everything."
I didn't want to argue any further and so I asked the first woman, "What can you imagine that God might be doing?"
She said, "I am a Muslim, and I have a very good friend, who is also a Muslim. He told me that what Lord Krishna teaches in Bhagavad-gita is very profound. He recommended that I read Krishna's instructions. As for what God is doing, I have no idea."
The Catholic woman interrupted, "God has already done everything. He created the world in six days and on the seventh day, He rested. God nas already done whatever is required. There is nothing more for Him to do."
She would have continued talking but I interrupted, "It is said in the Bible that we are made in the image of God. Isn't this so?"
The Catholic lady replied, "Yes."
I continued, "It is our immediate experience that we are made in the image of our father and mother. Therefore, our form resembles theirs. Since God is the original father, there is no doubt that He has the original form."
"We are always active. An inactive person is condemned as being lazy. After creating the world, God is sitting doing nothing? This seems like a very self-centered conception of God. I am sure that God has much more to do than just provide for us! Even if the entire world were destroyed, could it be considered a great loss for God? Take a look at the universe we see! We are very insignificant. I believe that God is the Supreme Person and the Supreme Enjoyer. He must be engaged in wonderful activities along with those fortunate souls who are His associates."
In Sanskrit, a common word for God is ishvara, which means, "controller". Everyone is a controller to some extent. Politicians certainly try as hard as possible to control as many people as possible. Technology is the attempt to control nature to our best advantage. It takes great control to become good at a sport or an accomplished musician. When someone controls nature in a very clever way, everyone applauds him. But when someone controls other people too much, those under his clutches often condemn him, although perhaps not openly. We all try to control our lives as best we can. But, at the same time, we feel controlled. Forget about how we are controlled by other human beings. Aren't we completely under the control of nature?
No one wants to grow old, but we are being forced by nature. No one wants to die, but we have no choice. No one wants disease, but it comes as an uninvited guest.
We are dependent upon nature's control. When there is sufficient rain, we prosper- if there's drought, we suffer.
I didn't choose to be born in America. I didn't choose my family. I am under stringent control. We try to control nature, but we can only do so to a very limited degree.
"Get a grip" people say. This means that you had better get control of yourself and your life. We like to think of ourselves as controllers.
It was not by our control that we came into this world. It is our good fortune if we were born without any defect. Our powers of seeing, walking, grabbing and talking are given to us, in a way that is beyond our capacity to understand.
As a small baby, we have very little control. We cannot scratch ourselves if a mosquito bites, and we cannot feed ourselves when we are hungry.
As we grow up a bit we gain some control over our limbs as we begin to walk and try to talk. Little by little, we learn about ourselves and the world around us. Gradually, we try our hands at controlling ourselves, others, and the environment.It's a struggle, though, for sure. To play (to control) a musical instrument takes hours of practice daily for years. To excel at some sport one has to undergo rigorous training. It takes a lot of hard work to control our environment also- to grow crops, build houses and govern nations.
We try our best to control our bodies. We may eat nicely, exercise and put on a happy face, but the fact is, it is under superior control. It is growing old, and really, there is nothing we can do about it.Collectively, we have changed the face of the earth to some degree, and perhaps spoiled it a bit. But, the earth is going around the sun, the moon is going around the earth, and the laws of nature are exerting their control with or without us.
I think that any sane person would admit that he or she is a very smail controller, and that all of us are under the control of nature. There were many great and powerful men in the past, but they are all dead and gone because they were under the control of higher authority. They may have exerted control more than you and I, but they could not overcome old age and death- they were firmly in the grips of nature.I am convinced that nature is not working by chance- it is acting under the supervision of God. God is certainly the Supreme Controller. The truth is- even when we are exerting control, we are not doing so independently. We cannot perform a single act or perception without the help of nature.
Bhagavad-gita says that in reality, we do nothing. The feeling that, "I am walking, I am talking, etc. is false. We are not walking and we are not talking. These actions are carried out by nature. Let us try and understand this.I, the conscious soul, am seated within the machine of the body. My body with its various limbs and senses was supplied to me by nature and it is made of nature's ingredients.Suppose I want to do a simple thing like pick up an orange and eat it. I tell my arm to move and it does, but how it operates is far beyond my understanding. Some people are crippled and so cannot pick up an orange. I must conclude that the use of my arm is not actually being controlled by me.
We may be very proud of our athletic ability, our sexual prowess, our attractive appearance, or our cleverness of speech. But we must keep in mind that these exist only for as long as nature allows.I remember how, in my youth, I saw Cassius Clay (later to become Mohammed AN) on TV. He was the world's champion heavyweight boxer. He seemed very proud, taunting his opponents again and again by saying, "I am the greatest!"It is sobering to see him now on TV. Things have changed because, after all, he is also completely under the control of nature, which is working under the supervision of God. By God's grace, nature had given Cassius Clay the chance to boast for some time, but now the same nature has withdrawn that power and so his boasting has stopped. It would have been more accurate if Cassius Clay had declared, "God is the greatest!"
The truth is- we are helpless. We are completely dependent upon nature's arrangements. Fortunately, there is an almost unlimited supply of fresh air and clean water. There is so much land, abundant rain, and a wonderful variety of plants and trees that can be grown for food. The intensity of sunlight is just right so that life can flourish. In fact, the environment is adjusted perfectly so that life can go on without much difficulty. Generally, scientists would like us to believe that these conditions were randomly created by nature. By seeing how everything is being provided for our maintenance, shouldn't we feel gratitude for the benevolence of our Supreme Father?
The simple truth is- WE FEEL THAT THERE IS A HIGHER AUTHORITY WATCHING OVER US. HE IS THE SUPREME CONTROLLER AND SO WE PRAY TO HIM IN TIMES OF NEED.
I believe that, intuitively, everyone feels the presence of God. This perception is very easily covered by our frantic materialistic life, though. Still, I have heard many examples of how when people are put into great danger, they very fervently pray to God, even if they do not do so under normal conditions. We must examine our own lives to see the truth of this. For myself, I know that I don't generally tend to think of God very intensely. But, in times of danger, great stress or loneliness, I often turn to God whole-heartedly. What about you?
I feel that there is someone near to me, within. This person doesn't have a body like mine that I can see. But, He is always there, I am convinced, and I regularly consult Him, pray to Him and even sometimes complain to Him when things are going badly. I have heard that many children talk to an invisible friend. That friend must be God. His presence is very subtle, not loud and blaring, and so we can easily take Him for granted. Truthfully, we are always consulting someone within. When we face a tough decision, such as, "should I get married?" we ask our good intelligence, our conscience, to help us make up our minds.
In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says, "I am situated in the heart, directing the wanderings of all living entities. From Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness."
We are always being directed from within. Shrila Prabhupada explains: "God is sitting in everyone's heart and He gives instruction. Therefore, in Sanskrit, one of God's names is Chaitya-guru, which means 'He who gives conscience and intelligence from within, just like a father giving advice to his son'."
Inspiration plays an essential part in acquiring knowledge in science and mathematics, as well as in the arts, such as music. The classic example is Archimedes' discovery of the principle of specific gravity. The Greek mathematician was faced with the task of determining whether the king's crown was solid gold or not, and he couldn't drill a hole. After a long period of fruitless endeavor, Archimedes received the answer to this problem by sudden inspiration while taking a bath. Mozart described his inspiration: "As I go for a drive or walk, thoughts crowd my mind as easily as you could wish. From where do they come from? Ido not know and I have nothing to do with it. Once I have a theme, I keep expanding it until the entire composition is finished in my head. It does not come to me gradually- it is in its entirety that my imagination lets me hear it."
Those who have studied inspiration have concluded that its source lies beyond the subject's conscious perception. And, it provides one with information unobtainable by conscious effort. Atheists naturally assume that inspiration comes from somewhere in the brain, which is termed the "unconscious self" or "subconscious" in psychology. I believe that inspiration comes from the Lord in the heart. Regarding conscience, Shrila Prabhupada said, "Everyone has got experience. When we want to do something wrong, conscience advises, 'Don't do it.' Still, we may argue, 'No, no, let me do it.' This is a struggle between the soul and the Supreme Lord residing within us. Finally, when we insist, 'I must do it', conscience sanctions, 'All right, you can do it at your own risk.'"
"For example, a butcher has no conscience that killing is bad. Because he is practiced to do that, his conscience does not object to his killing. When a thief goes to steal, he thinks, 'I must, because I have to maintain my family. I do not know any other business.' This is his so-called conscience. The true conscience that, 'No, I cannot steal. It is sin' is silent."
To illustrate how conscience can help a sincere person, Shrila Prabhupada once related this incident: "In this regard, there is the story of a thief who went on pilgrimage to a holy place. On the way, he and the other pilgrims stopped overnight at an inn. Being addicted to stealing, the thief began making plans to take the other pilgrims' baggage. While doing so, however, he thought, Tm going on pilgrimage and so it doesn't seem appropriate that I should steal people's things. No, I shall not do it.' Nonetheless, due to his habit, he could not keep his hands off the baggage. So, he picked up one person's bag and moved it to another place, and then another person's bag he put elsewhere. He spent all night moving people's bags to different places, but his conscience bothered him so that he could not steal anything."
"In the morning, when the pilgrims awoke, they looked for their bags and couldn't find them. There was a great disturbance but eventually, one by one, they found their bags in various places. After all the bags were found, the thief explained: 'Gentlemen, I am a thief by occupation. Because I am habituated to stealing at night, I wanted to take something from your bags. At the same time, I thought that since I am going to visit holy places, it would be very wrong to steal. So I have simply rearranged your baggage- please excuse me.'' Regarding intelligence, Shrila Prabhupada said, "The truth is- we cannot see, move, eat or do anything without the help of intelligence. This higher authority present within every living being is the Supreme Lord. It is the Supreme Lord who gives the bees intelligence so that they can construct a hive, collect honey from flowers, store it and enjoy it. The Lord is aloof from such activities, but He knows everyone's intentions and gives facilities by which they can suffer or enjoy the results of their actions."
"Human society is just like a beehive because everyone is collecting honey from various flowers or collecting money from various sources, and making numerous arrangements for enjoyment. Although human beings create their beehives so that they can enjoy the sweetness of their senses, they are at the same time suffering from the bites of other persons or other nations. In this world, no one can enjoy happiness without a mixture of distress. The conclusion is that both the Supreme Lord and the living beings have entered this material world, but the Lord is to be worshiped because He has arranged for the fulfillment of everyone's desires."The bees' building of their hive is an example of what is commonly called instinct. Animals are not highly rational and yet they often exhibit very complex and curious behavior. This is due to what is called instinct- everyone is getting understanding from within. According to Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Lord is situated within every creature's heart and is guiding it in a particular way.
I have read that bees construct their hives very ingeniously- each compartment is hexagonal, giving it structural strength. The bees didn't sit down at a drawing board and design their hives-the understanding came naturally from within. And, amazingly, the designing of their hives would have been too difficult to execute for even a human being who didn't have an engineering education.How do bees learn to make their hives? How do birds learn how to fly in formation? How do we learn how to walk? Please consider what a complex mechanism the body is. How can we learn to operate it without the help of a manual? The answer must be that we are getting intelligence from within- from God.
Shrila Prabhupada explained intuition in this way: "Understanding given by the Lord in the heart is explained by modern science as intuition. But, the scientists do not know from where intuition is coming. It is coming from God. A baby puppy has not yet opened its eyes, but still, immediately after birth, it is seeking the mother's nipples. From where has this knowledge come? From God within.This is the explanation of intuition."Isn't it a fact that ultimately, when we want to understand the truth of a matter, we consult our conscience? As you read this book, I doubt that you find anything that you could say is absolutely false. Still, it will not be easy to accept all that I am saying as absolute truth. Everything may seem very logical. This book points out that life has a sublime meaning and it argues that human life affords the opportunity of transcending all miseries. Still, how can we make up our minds whether to accept this or not?Ultimately, we have to look within our heart- our conscience. Is what is described in this book harmonious with our deepest heart-felt feelings- or is there dissonance?
In the Upanishads (Sanskrit religious texts), this explanation is given. The soul and the Supreme Lord are situated within the heart of the body, and are compared to two friendly birds sitting on the same tree. One of the birds (the individual soul) is eating the fruit of the tree, and the other bird (the Lord) is simply watching His friend Although they are friends, one is still the master and the other is the servant. Forgetfulness of this relationship is the cause of the soul's changing his position from one tree to another, or from one body to another. The soul is struggling very hard on the tree of the material body, but as soon as he agrees to accept the other bird as the supreme master, he immediately becomes freed from all lamentation.
An interviewer once said: "You seem to place more emphasis on the relationship with God rather than the relationship of one individual to another. Am I right?"
Shrila Prabhupada replied: "No. We first have to establish our forgotten relationship with God. Then we can understand what is the relationship of one individual to another."
"If the central point is missing- there is no real relationship. Just like you are American and another person is also American. Both of you feel related because the center is America. Similarly, unless you understand God, you cannot understand what your relationship with me is. First, we have to establish our relationship with God-then we can talk about universal brotherhood. Otherwise, there will be discrimination."
"It is our experience that the father impregnates and then the mother gives the body. Similarly, God impregnates material nature with living entities. The body is then given by material nature. God is one and He is the father of everyone." "If I accept God as the center point- the original father- I can understand that you are my brother. I
am a son of God and you are also a son of God. But, if I don't accept the father, I will not be able to understand our relationship."
After gaining firm faith in the existence of God, the Supreme Person, we should next try to understand our relationship with Him.In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says, "I am the father of all living beings."
The Bible also tells us that we are children of God.
You may wonder- "Why did God create us?"
Why does even the greatest man get married and beget children? So that he can increase his happiness by enjoying with his family. You might question, "There are so many living beings. Why would God create so many children?"
We should never try to measure God in terms of our limited experience. Simply said- God is great! God is more than great- He is unlimited. Why should He produce a limited number of children?
I consider it most reasonable to think of God in this way- He is the Supreme Living Being and He is always engaged in pleasure pastimes, along with His associates.
Some people think that it is impossible to see God because He is too great. Why would God create us if we could not relate to Him? It is easy to think that we are too insignificant to see God, but certainly God can make Himself available to whomever He chooses.It is our practical experience that we are being maintained by nature, which is working under the direction of God. There is a Sanskrit verse that says, "God is the one Supreme Person who maintains all the other innumerable persons."
Generally, a man feels that he is the maintainer of his family. I have heard industrialists say that they are maintaining their workers' families. But the fact is- no one is able to provide anything for anyone's maintenance. Food, building materials, cloth and medicines are supplied by nature. Therefore, it must be concluded that the Lord is the actual maintainer. If there were no rain, who would be able to provide food for his family?
It is very commonly said, "Mother Nature". If nature is the mother- who is the father? The answer must be God.Shrila Prabhupada said in this regard: "The singular Supreme One is maintaining an unlimited others. Our position is that we are being maintained, just like children being provided for by their father. It is natural for a father to maintain his children, and the duty of the children is to obey the father. That way, the family will be all right. Family means father, mother and children.""In modern civilization, the children are seeing the mother but saying that there is no father. A sane man's conclusion is that if there are children, there must be a mother and father. Without a father, how can a mother beget children? Is there any experience of this? The modern conception is that mother is material nature and we are all her sons. We are born from the womb of material nature. So, who is the father? That inquiry is lacking, but there is undoubtedly a father."
"In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells us, 'It should be understood that all species of life are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.'" After hearing this, a Professor O'Connell asked Shrila Prabhupada, "Could you speak a bit about the proper attitude of the child towards the father? Is it one of fear, respect, or love?"
Shrila Prabhupada: "Love. The basic relationship is one of love. A father loves his child, naturally. The child also naturally loves his father. This is the natural relationship. A father works the whole day for maintaining his family. If, out of love, a child gives one of his chocolates: 'Father, it is very nice, have one', the father will be very pleased. 'Oh, yes, I'll take it.' The father does not require the chocolate but if, out of love, the smai, child offers it, the father will be very glad: 'Oh, this child loves me.'"
"So Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, If anyone, out of love, offers Me even a leaf, a flower, some fruit or water, I will accept it.' This is our relationship with God. Even the poorest man, he can offer to Krishna a flower, a piece of fruit, and Krishna says, 'Yes, if it is offered with love, I will accept it.' What need has God for some flowers and a little fruit? But He accepts the offering, because it is made with love and devotion. If the Supreme Father accepts something from you, your life is successful."
Prof. O'Connell: "The human children often play with their fathers. Is playfulness the proper attitude for...?"
Shrila Prabhupada: "Actually, it is not simply play, it is real love. There is a story about Prime Minister Gladstone. Being the prime minister, so many people came to meet him. One day, a man came and the doorman told him, 'He is busy now. Please wait.' So, the man waited for an hour. Becoming impatient, he wanted to see what the prime minister was doing and so he opened the door and peeked in. That man was surprised to see how the prime minister was down on his knees-acting like a horse and his grandchild was riding him. Why was the prime minister doing this? Out of love, he was enjoying in this way. The visitors were waiting, thinking that the prime minister must be in a very important meeting. But, out of love, he had put aside his exalted position and was acting like a horse!" "To revive our natural feeling of love for God is the rare opportunity obtained in the human form of life. Now, we are giving our love to so many material things. Therefore Krishna comes and tells us in Bhagavad-gita: 'Withdraw your love from all other objects and try to love Me. Then your life will become successful. Why are you rotting in this material world of birth and death: manufacturing so many ways of life? Give up tnis futile attempt and just surrender to Me. Then, you will be happy.' This is first-class religion- that which teaches the followers how to love God."
The conclusion is that we are subordinate to God. We are completely dependent upon Him just like servants or children. Whichever conception pleases us, the implication is the same. He is the Lord and we are meant to obey Him.
Shrila Prabhupada explained: "The living entity, being a fragmental part of the Supreme Lord, is meant to cooperate with the Lord. For example- a part of a machine cooperates with the whole machine. Similarly, a part of the body cooperates with the whole body. The hands, legs, eyes and so on are all parts of the body but they cannot enjoy food separately. The stomach must be satisfied because in this way the entire body becomes nourished. For this reason, all food is given to the stomach. If the fingers think that they should take the food themselves instead of giving it to the stomach, they will become weak and die.""In the same way, one nourishes a tree by watering the roots. Similarly, the Supreme Lord is the enjoyer and we, the subordinate living beings, are meant to satisfy Him. This cooperation will help us. The central person is the Supreme Lord and all of us are cooperators. By cooperation, we enjoy."
Bhagavad-gita informs us that our constitutional position is that of a servant. In other words, we have to serve in some way or other- we cannot avoid it. Our minute independence consists of choosing whether we would like to serve God, or instead serve a lesser master in this world.Our intrinsic nature is such that it is not possible for us to be our own masters. If we become obedient to God, religious scriptures assure us that we can go to live in His abode. If we remain disobedient- if we don't want to serve God-we will continue in the cycle of repeated birth and death. We will be forced to obey the dictates of the inferior material nature in the form of our mind and senses.
The conditioned soul is a servant of his or her senses. Desiring to forgo the service of God, the soul is placed under the jurisdiction of material nature and forced to engage as a servant of the senses. Being a servant of his senses, a crow squawks. Being a servant of his senses, a fish continually swims. Being a servant of his senses, a man works hard to earn money so that he can keep his body, and the bodies of his family members, comfortable and gratified in every way possible.
The bodily senses keep us constantly engaged. Our tongue wants to taste something nice and our genitals demand satisfaction. We go on serving our senses throughout our lives but they are never satisfied. They never stop demanding more and more. And, the material body is such an ungrateful master that at the end it kicks us out without so much as a "thank you."Our present experience is that no one wants to be a servant. Everyone wants to be the master. In this world, being a servant is usually a miserable condition of life. We may presume that service to God is similarly unpalatable, but great religious teachers assure us that to engage in the service of the Lord is the most rewarding experience. One just has to try it to find out.Shrila Prabhupada said, "In this world, everyone is a servant- even the president. That is our nature- to be a servant. If one hasn't got anyone to serve- no family, no children, no wife-then he keeps a dog so that he can serve it. Because our nature is to serve. No one can change that."
"Have you not seen how a man is controlled by a dog? In the street the dog stops, passes stool and his master stands and waits. He has become the servant of his dog but he is thinking, 'I am the master'. A family man is controlled by his wife, his children, his servants, by everyone- but he is thinking, 'I am the master'. President Nixon was thinking that he was the master of his country, but he was forced to resign by his countrymen. Anyone wanting to become president has to convince the people,'! will give you very good service.' Only if he can do so will people vote for him. This means that he is a servant but still, he is thinking, 'I am the master'. When a servant thinks that he is the master- that is illusion."
"God is the actual master. He is not anyone's servant. He is the only master and all others are His servants. If we render service to God, we will experience actual satisfaction and the Lord will also become pleased with us. In this world, nobody is satisfied with one's service, however. In India, Mahatma Gandhi rendered so much service to his country but in the end he was killed by his own countrymen. In America also, President Kennedy was a nice president but he was killed. In this world, you will never become satisfied- neither will the person whom you serve."Everyone is trying to obtain the impossible- to be a master. Even most so-called religious people treat God as if He were their servant. They pray, 'Give me good health, give me wealth, give me victory, give me success- give me a beautiful wife.' No one thinks, 'God, what can I do to serve You?' People think, 'God, what can You do for me?'
It's amazing for me to think: "One man is serving God and another man is serving a dog! What a difference! One man may be laboring hard ali day and earning two dollars. Another man sits behind his desk and earns thousands of dollars for his day's work. One man may be appreciating a great work of art while another is picking through the garbage."Even the same man may exhibit a similar contrast in a matter of seconds. I'll always remember how a friend of mine used to make the point this way: "Suppose two philosophy professors are walking down the street, discussing metaphysics. They pass a shop and a young girl is looking in the window. One professor comments, 'Nice ass!' Only a moment before, he was contemplating the nature of the soul. From such heights his mind descended to the hole where stool come out."
If God, the father, does indeed exist then it must be admitted that everything belongs to Him. For example, the land that is now America has existed for a very long time. Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492- that's true. At that time, the land was occupied by tribes of what were later called Indians. Apparently, Columbus thought that he had sailed to India.Gradually, Europeans came, drove off the Indians and claimed the land as their own. But, what is the simple truth of the matter? The earth has existed for millions of years and will continue to exist for millions more. We come, from where we do not know. We stay for a few years and claim that, "This land is my land, this land is your land..." Then, we are forced to vacate our so-called property against our will.
It is commonly said, "Possession is nine-tenths of the law." I would say, "Possession of something can be claimed by the person who actually controls it."They say, "You can't take it with you!" It's a fact. With great endeavor, we acquire possessions and accumulate money. I grew up in Silver Spring and when I was at college, my parents purchased a new house in Rockville, Maryland. First my father passed away, and then my mother. After her death,the house was sold. Who is living there now, I don't know. It could be that the house will have many owners over the years. Who is the real owner?
In this regard, Shrila Prabhupada's conversation with some guests in Australia is very interesting.Shrila Prabhupada: "Everything belongs to God. That is a fact. In ignorance, we are thinking, This is my property.' Just like this chair. From where has the wood come? Has anybody produced this wood? It is God's property. We have stolen God's property and are claiming, 'It is mine'. Australia is another example. The Englishmen came here, but was Australia their property? It was already there. America also- it was there. And when everything that man creates is one day finished, the land will still be there. In the middle we come and claim, 'It is my property,' and fight. Isn't it so?"
Guest 1: "It is certainly true that we only possess things for a limited time."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Originally, everything belongs to God. So why are we claiming, 'It is my property'? Now, you have come here. Suppose you sit for an hour and then claim, 'This is my chair,' is that very good judgment? Similarly, we come here. We are born either in America or in Australia or in India and remain for fifty, sixty or a hundred years.
Why shall I claim, 'It is my property'?"
Guest 2: "This is correct. You cannot claim it, I suppose."
In the words of Bhagavad-gita- "One who tries to enjoy the property of God without using it for His satisfaction is a thief." God is the Supreme Person and He is the Supreme Proprietor.Suppose you provide a carpenter with some wood, nails and glue- and ask him to make a cabinet. After working hard, the carpenter presents you with the finished product. Who is the proprietor of the cabinet? You are, because you supplied the materials. The carpenter is entitled to his wages for the labor but the cabinet is yours.
Similarly, God supplies us with nature's abundance. We take nature's resources and build so many things. Is it right for us to claim proprietorship?
I feel that I am a guest in this land and so it is wrong for me to claim that anything is mine. Suppose you invited me to stay at your house for a few days. If, after awhile, I start using everything as if it were my own, you would certainly be unhappy. In the same way, it would not be surprising if our claims of proprietorship were displeasing to God.
Shrila Prabhupada: "The activities of people who consider themselves to be the material body are limited to personal and extended selfishness." "Personal selfishness centers around one's body—this is generally seen amongst the animals. Extended selfishness is manifested in human society and centers around the family, community, nation and world with a view to bodily comfort."
"Nationality means expanded selfishness. People are very fond of nationality, but nationality is also selfishness—by combined effort."
"In the beginning, I want to enjoy only for myself. If I extend my enjoyment- family-wise, community-wise or nation-wise- that does not change the quality of selfishness. Being inspired by political leaders, people identify themselves in terms of nationality. But, from our point of view-neither as nation, community or individual- you are not the proprietor of anything. Krishna (God) is the proprietor of everything. If you expand your selfishness in the name of nationality—'We possess this land'—we do not approve. We say that everything belongs to God."
Selfish people are not much appreciated. I would say that selfishness is a tendency within all of us, but we moderate it so that we can get along with others. When I was a kid, before my sisters went away to college, we had candy dens. By spending our allowance, we amassed a lot of candy and then hid it. My candy den was for me alone to enjoy. If my sisters found it and took some candy, I considered them to be pirates and complained to my mother.When I first lived in Goa, I rented a small room in a family's house, the Gadekars- they were mother, father and five children- all less then twelve. When I gave one of the kids a candy bar, I was surprised and amused to see how all of the other brothers and sisters insisted on getting a share. The recipient of the gift would always oblige, as if it were a hard and fast rule. So different from my childhood! Perhaps it could be concluded that Americans are more selfish than village Indians.
God has given us the earth and just see how we are dividing it up. It seems like each of us is trying to grab as much as we can. When I would give one of the Gadekar children a candy bar, the mother would insist that I get the first piece. Similarly, shouldn't God be recognized as the actual proprietor of the earth? Shouldn't the land be distributed fairly to all of His children, according to their need (instead of greed)?Selfishness and greed seem to be practically synonymous. Greed causes a person to covet the property of others and thus attempt to acquire it by legal or illegal means.All of us must be considered selfish because we claim God's property to be our own. Ultimately, it can be concluded that our very existence in this world, as well as all the troubles associated with it, are the results of turning our backs on God.In the Sanskrit text, Shrimad-Bhagavatam, the false ego of the conditioned soul is described as "I am my body and everything in relation to the body is mine."
"I am the soul, a fragmental part of God. Everything in existence belongs to the Lord." This is real ego. Just as it is false to consider the body as the self, it is incorrect for me to consider that my body belongs to me. I may feel that I have the power to do with my body as I like but this is not really true. The simple truth is that I am not the primary controller of my body. It was under someone else's control that I received my body. It is under that same person's control that my body passes through the stages of growth, maturity, and old age. Although I may staunchly claim proprietorship over my body, it will be forcibly taken away from me at the time of death.The false ego that "I am the body and everything in relation to the body is mine" is manifested in an absence of God consciousness, and is the breeding ground for selfishness and greed.
Shrila Prabhupada traveled around the world-he spoke to audiences daily- he published many modern English translations with commentaries of ancient Sanskrit revealed texts. His hope was that society could gradually undergo a transformation, something like this: PEOPLE SHOULD RECOGNIZE GOD AS THE PROPRIETOR OF EVERYTHING. WHILE LIVING A SIMPLE LIFE, TAKING ONLY WHAT IS NECESSARY FOR HIS OR HER MAINTENANCE, A PERSON SHOULD NOT ENCROACH UPON THAT WHICH IS ALOTTED TO OTHERS. THIS IS THE FORMULA FOR PEACE.
FROM THE VERY BEGINNING- AT HOME, AND IN SCHOOLS- CHILDREN SHOULD BE GIVEN THE CHANCE TO UNDERSTAND THEIR ETERNAL RELATIONSHIP WITH GOD. POLITICAL LEADERS SHOULD GUIDE SOCIETY WITH THE UNDERSTANDING THAT EVERY LIVING BEING IS A FRAGMENTAL PART OF GOD. IN THIS WAY, UNIVERSAL BROTHERHOOD CAN BE GENUINELY ESTABLISHED. IF GOD IS GIVEN HIS RIGHTFUL PLACE AS THE CENTER OF OUR LIVES, WE WILL SURELY BECOME ENLIGHTENED ABOUT THIS SIMPLE TRUTH- IT IS OUR DUTY TO OFFER RESPECT TO ALL OTHERS- IRRESPECTIVE OF NATIONALITY, RELIGION, RACE, OR SPECIES.
One of Shrila Prabhupada's mottos was: PLAIN LIVING AND HIGH THINKING.
He said: "The miscalculation of the present civilization is due to forgetfulness of the aim of human life- spiritual realization. Time should be saved and used for self-realization but we have encumbered ourselves so that spiritual life has been forgotten. Because we have neglected spiritual life there is no peace."
"If you want a peaceful life then material necessities must be simplified so that enough time is left for spiritual cultivation. Plain living and high thinking. Modern life is based on high living and plain thinking. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending. This is plain thinking. This thinking is also there in the animals."
"One should live in open space, produce enough food and save time for chanting Hare Krishna. Artificial necessities of life may increase so-called comforts but this causes one to forget his real business."
When I was a child, living in Silver Spring, Maryland (a suburb of Washington D. C), life was quite carefree. My neighborhood was not crowded. There were only houses. The nearest apartments were half-a-mile away. In those days, the front door of our house was never locked during the day, as !ong as someone was at home. During the summer, the front door remained open throughout the day.Nearby was Sligo Creek Park, which stretched on for miles. We used to ride our bikes to the park and play by the creek for hours. There were kids roaming all over the place. Times have changed, though. A few years ago, I went back to my old neighborhood. Every door was shut and locked. I didn't see any children playing outside. I went through Sligo Creek Park and there also, I saw no kids, except a few with their parents.In spite of our technological advances and some improvement in race relations, I feel that society has taken a few steps backwards.I used to think about how different life must have been before TVs, automobiles, airplanes, refrigerators, gas stoves, electricity, telephones, and computers. For me, such a primitive life was unthinkable.
Then, in 1986, I went to live at Anjuna Beach, in Goa. Life in Anjuna was very simple. There was electricity and the main roads were paved, but practically no one had a car. Some had motorbikes and a few had TVs. At the house where I stayed there was no TV, and food was cooked over a wood fire. The toilet was a vacant lot nearby and bathing was done in the open at the well in back.The family in whose house I stayed, the Gadekars, grew rice in a nearby communal field. Every family in the locality had an allotted portion.They would plant the rice at the beginning of the monsoon season. About four and a half months later, after the rains had stopped and the- rice had become brown, it was harvested. Plowing was done with the help of two bulls kept in the family's back yard. After harvesting the rice, the hay would be stacked up to provide food for the bulls throughout the year.
The climate was tropical and so there was no question of insulation for the houses. It was never terribly hot and never cold, even during winter. The amazing thing for me about the climate was that virtually all rain came within a four-month period, called the monsoon. Skies were continually cloudy for weeks on end and sometimes it would rain without stopping for many days. But, during the remaining eight months, one was practically guaranteed a clear, sunny sky. No one every worried, "Maybe tomorrow's picnic will be rained out."I became very close to the family I lived with. I really felt as if they were my "second family". I knew that if somehow I lost everything, I could stay with them for free and they would provide me with food.I had grown up in a suburb of Washington D. C. and had attended Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. In both places, there was lots of space, plenty of trees and nice parks. And yet, I found the simple life in Goa to be more congenial. I felt as if I were really living in harmony with nature for the first time in my life. Near the Gadekar house is a huge rice-field, and the beach is just a five-minute walk away. There are big, rocky hills separating Anjuna Beach from the beaches to the north and south. I found the people in general to be quite open, friendly and simple. I went to the beach every day and swam, and would walk for miles in a peaceful, beautiful surrounding.
In Anjuna, no one locked their front door while people were home, right up until everyone went to sleep. You could enter a house and call out- "hello", and the people would not be upset, angry or even surprised. During the rainy season, I was sometimes walking outside when it began to pour and so I would head for the nearest porch. The people invariably welcomed me, gave me a seat and offered something to eat. The family members would often come sit with me and engage in friendly conversation. Unfortunately, tourism in Goa has developed tremendously. As a result, the younger generation that grew up with tourism has become very bad mannered and greedy. Crime has mushroomed-peace and quiet have disappeared. There are still some undeveloped places along the coast in Goa. Truthfully, I prefer living in such an environment tothe technologically advanced, sophisticated West. Of course, I want electricity, my computer and a cyber cafe nearby. The best of both worlds!
It was about a year after I began living with the Gadekar family that they decided to get a black-and-white television. I was unhappy because I knew what the result would be. Without a TV, the whole family came together and had fun with one another. It was so personal.
When the Gadekars got a TV, neighbors started coming in the evening. The living room lights were turned out and everyone sat in silence, staring in trance at the boob tube. For hours, everyone was oblivious of the others, transfixed upon the image on the screen. No more fun, no more playing, and no more relationships with one another.When I think about it, I remember my childhood as being quite pleasant, healthy and stable. It was a more natural life than what I had after growing up and so I compare it to my time in Goa.At the Gadekar house, every evening I played with the children. Our favorite game was "questions and answers". I kept score and asked the questions. Whoever raised his or her hand first would answer. One point was given for a correct answer, one point was deducted for a wrong answer, and the first one to get ten points would win a prize- 10 rupees (about US 50 cents at that time). I would ask, "Who is the prime-minister of India?" "Who is the president of the United States?" "What is the capital of France?" "What is the front-most part of a dog?" (I would have to ask some easy and humorous questions.)
It seems to me that in previous times, before the scientific age, people's understanding of life and the world was shaped primarily by religious teachings. But, religions are often dogmatic. Who knows how the teachings of genuine Messiahs become distorted over a long period of time? Somehow, when it became apparent that religions could not reasonably explain things, the quest for empirical knowledge dawned.When science proceeded to explain the world around us in a better way, religion was rejected by many with disgust. In this way, scientific inquiry became the accepted quest for ultimate truth. Most people are solely concerned with material comforts and pleasures and so, with its technological advances, science won the hearts of men. Taking advantage of this, scientists mounted upon the thrones reserved for knowers of the truth and posed themselves as gurus of the masses.
I am not criticizing the development of scientific inquiry. Here I am sittiny at my computer, merrily typing away. If I make a mistake- no problem. If I want to insert a paragraph into the text- just copyand paste it. Many years ago, I wrote simple English versions of four of India's great religious texts. First, I wrote by hand. Then, I bought a portable manual typewriter. A few years later, I got an electric typewriter. Finally, in Singapore, I purchased a Brother portable electronic typewriter. Believe me-1 thank from the bottom of my heart the people who made my use of the computer possible!Here is another example of my gratitude for the accomplishments of scientists. I, was living in Calcutta, India in 1972. I became terribly sick, with high fevers every alternate night. I visited a renowned Ayurvedic doctor. (Ayurveda is an ancient system of medicine that utilizes herbs.) He checked my pulse and gave me some medicine.
My fevers continued and became higher. Finally, I could hardly get out of bed. Again, I went to the Ayurvedic doctor and he gave me some other medicine. But, again I got a very high fever and returned to the Ayurvedic doctor the next day. After some deliberation, he told me to go to a modern hospital in my area. There, I had my blood tested and was found to have malaria. The doctor gave me cloroquine and within a day or two my fevers vanished. Soon, I was able to return to my normal activities.
When I was young, there was a lot of talk about "changing the world". I guess every new generation looks at the flaws in society's fabric and hopes to make things better. While in college, I talked with my friends about the injustices in society, the war in Vietnam, race relations, etc.I am sure that all good people would like to live in a world where everyone was devoid of the propensity to harm others.While growing up, I heard the Golden Rule many times: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Another aphorism was, "Love thy neighbor as thy self." I used to think, "If everyone followed these guidelines, life would be a lot better. There would certainly be no fights!"
At the same time, I thought, "Fat chance! I don't see a single person who acts like this. If someone did, he would become a laughingstock!"The Golden Rule seemed very nice, but the world appeared to be playing by a different set of rules. How about, "Every man for himself." And then, there is the conventional wisdom: "Nice guys finish last". It's a tough world and so one has to be very guarded. If a person is too trusting, he will lose everything.
Shrila Prabhupada also had hopes of changing the world: "We are claiming, 'America is ours', 'Australia is ours', 'India is ours'. Nothing is ours. Everything is God's. The proper conclusion is, 'It is God's property. God has given us this land for us to live. Let us feel obliged to Him and glorify Him.' That is our vision. You also belong to God. Your body, yourself, everything belongs to God." '"This sea belongs to God. It is a vast body of water- you have not created it, nor did your forefathers create it. The body is also made of water, as well as other elements. So your body is also God's. And I, the soul- I am a fragmental part of God. So everything belongs to God."
A disciple: "Shrila Prabhupada, this concept that everything belongs to God- it can't work unless everybody believes that everything belongs to God."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Everybody may be mad, but that does not change the fact. If a madman comes in this room and claims, 'I am the proprietor. You, get out.' That is not the fact."
A guest: "You were talking about the sea and so on. But, it's for people to use."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, you can use nature. What is given to you, you can use. Suppose a gentleman has five sons. He gives each son some property. The sons can utilize the property but they should acknowledge: 'This is my father's property. He has given it to us.' Similarly, the religious text Ishopanishad says, 'Everything belongs to God. Whatever He has given to you, you can use. But, don't encroach upon others' rightful share.'"
"The same example. The son must know, The property is actually my father's. Whatever he has given me, I will use. But, I should not encroach upon my other brothers' property and usurp what they had gotten from our father.' This is good sense."
A guest: "Well, if everything belongs to God... but we have to run society...."
Shrila Prabhupada: "That's all right, but don't forget that everything belongs to God. Because you have to run society, it does not mean that you forget the real thing."
A guest: "I don't object to that idea at all. But the thing is that people have got different concepts."
Shrila Prabhupada: "It should be rectified. You have got the United Nations. If they are sane men, they should pass a resolution: 'The whole world belongs to God, and we are all God's sons. Let us make a United States of the World.' That can easily be done. If they can make a United States of America, why not a United States of the whole world?"
A guest: "I think that would probably solve a lot of problems because..."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, all problems. Now, suppose in India there is a scarcity of food. In America and Australia, there is enough grain. Produce food and distribute. Then immediately all nations will become united. Use everything, God's
gifts very nicely. We are all sons of God. Now, the difficulty is that we consider, 'No, this is my property. Only we shall use it- our nation.' In a truly God conscious conception there is no such thing as nationality."
A guest: "You're thinking more of an international world than a national world."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes."
Another guest: "I don't think anybody would disagree with that. I certainly don't."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, that is what we want-one God and one state. That is our ultimate goal. In our Krishna consciousness movement, we are from different countries but we don't think that 'I am American, he is Indian, etc' We all think that, 'We are servants of God.' And, we are working in that spirit. It is possible. If this idea is accepted in the United Nations, it can be done. But, they will not accept. They claim to be united but everyone is thinking, 'First of all my interest.' Every time I pass by the headquarters in New York, I see that another flag has been added. The United Nations is a failure and it will remain a failure because there is no God consciousness."
At this point, you may object: "You talk about religion and peace, but religions are doing more than their share of the fighting. In India, Hindus and Muslims often riot. At such times, they burn, torture and murder one another. What about the Catholics and Protestants in Ireland, and the Israelis and Arabs? In the past, there were the Crusades. The list goes on and on. How can you say that religion is the precondition for peace?"
Let me be very clear. Shrila Prabhupada and all the great teachers of God-consciousness fully accept Jesus Christ, Mohammed and Buddha as genuine representatives of God. Having said this with all sincerity, there are two important considerations.First, although all representatives of God must certainly teach the same subject- genuine religion-they do so according to the receptivity of their audience. In school, small children are taught 1, 2,3, 4 and not calculus. 1, 2, 3, 4 are not
false, but they are only a bare beginning in the study of mathematics.Kindly consider the kind of people Jesus and Mohammed were preaching to. Truthfully, by and large, they were uncivilized. How could they have been taught the higher principles of religion, beginning with self-realization? I know that in the Bible, Jesus says, "There is more for me to teach, but you cannot bear it." Simply put, because some religions were taught to barbaric people, their content is very limited.
The second consideration is this. A representative of God will certainly teach real religion, but are all that claim to be his representatives genuine? Do those who claim to be Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist actually represent their messiah? I think that very few do. Why do Christians fight Christians and Muslims fight Muslims?
I am reminded of a quotation that appeared awhile back in the Times of India. It went something like this: "Religion- people talk about it, write about it, preach it, fight for it, die for it- but never practice it."
Shrila Prabhupada's talks were always truthful. He did not speak what people want to hear, or what would make him popular. Sometimes the truth is painful. Still, a sensible person would rather suffer the limited pain caused by the truth, than the unlimited pain of living a lie.
Here is an excerpt from a conversation. Shrila Prabhupada: "From our point of view, there cannot be many religions. We define religion as the law given by God. What is the meaning of religion without any concept of God? You can ask any so-called religious man, 'What is your conception of God?' and he will not give a clear answer."
"Strictly speaking, we do not accept any system of religion as satisfactory because they do not know what is God. And, we find so much that passes as religion that is not religion, religions simply have some dogma and moral principles- but they do not even follow those. The Christians say, 'Thou shalt not kill', but everyone is killing."
Ian Polsen: "Religion to me means more now that I have come in contact with Krishna consciousness than it did before. It means self-realization. It means understanding my relationship with the Supreme."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes. First you have to realize what you are- then you can understand your relationship with God. And, according to that relationship with God, when you act, that is religion. To know ourselves means self-realization: 'I am not this body. I am a spiritual soul.' Then, what is this soul? Naturally, it is part and parcel of God. Therefore, as soul, my duty is to serve God."
One day, I was walking with Vrinda and said, "The reason I am talking about death and old age is because I believe that there is something we can do about it. Mostly, people consider death to be an inevitable part of life. Because it is so disturbing, they avoid thinking about it." "Of course, the body must die, but I can understand that I am not my body. I am convinced that when my body dies, I will not die. I feel that I am a conscious living being within my body. I continue to exist despite changes of body. I think that I can communicate this conviction to others, and that is why I am writing this book."
"Vrinda, who gave you this body that will die?"
Vrinda replied, "God."
I said, "Do you think that God could give you a body that does not die?"
Vrinda responded, "Yes" and so I asked, "Then, why did God give you a body that will die? How can you get, in your next life, a body that will not die?"
Vrinda said, "I don't know. How?"
I said, "If it is a fact that God gives us our bodies, we should ask Him what we can do to get a body that will not die. In Bhagavad-gita, God says that we should surrender unto Him, so that we can go to live with Him eternally, and never again come back to this world, where repeated birth and death takes place."
Vrinda asked, "Why did God put us into this world, with a body that dies?"
I said, "If, to get out of this mortal world, one must surrender to God- then we must have been put here because we are unsurrendered (rebellious). Surrender to God means to admit that He is the master and we are His subordinates, and to act for His satisfaction- not independently."
As the train continued its journey, I said to the Muslim woman, "If we are children of God, why are we in this world, separate from Him. Why are we not enjoying life in the Kingdom of God?"
She replied, "We must have done something very bad."
"Yes" I confirmed, "that is my conviction as well. I don't think it is reasonable to blame God for our misfortune. We must be the cause of our own suffering. I think that all religions teach that God wants us to come back to Him. It is we who do not want to live with God."
"Yes" she agreed.
Shrila Prabhupada likened our condition to that of a rich man's son who left home and wound up living in the street, destitute. The father does not want his dependent children to leave home, but it may so happen that a child rebels and goes away, thinking that he would rather live independently.God is the supreme controller and He is supremely independent. We should not think that, being under the control of God, it is therefore God who made us come into this world of birth and death. God has complete independence- He is not dependent upon anyone. Being a fragmental part of God, we have minute independence. The misuse of our minute independence is the cause of our being placed in this material world.Someone might question, "If God loves us so much, as religions claim, why did He allow us to
come to this world of suffering?"
My response is: "What is the meaning of love? Love cannot be forced. Love must be voluntary. I cannot force someone to love me. Our relationship with God is based on love- not force. If God forced us to live with Him, there would be no question of love. Out of love, God has given us the freedom to choose- to serve Him or not. If there were no opportunity for living separately from God, there would be no chance of our lovingly accepting Him." "The government of America may love all of its citizens and give all of them equal opportunity. Still, if a citizen creates a disturbance, ha or she will be put in jail so that society can continue to run smoothly. The school administration may love all of the students. But, if a student doesn't cooperate and creates trouble, he or she may be expelled." "That we are placed away from God seems to indicate that somehow we became a disturbance and had to be isolated. Still, religions teach that God is loving and forgiving. As soon as we are ready to rectify our behavior, He will place us back in His association."
Shrila Prabhupada explained it like this: "If the Supreme Lord were to interfere with our minute independence, there would be no question of our engaging in the loving service of the Lord, since love implies a spontaneous free choice by the lover."
"Anyone who disagrees to become the servant of God is envious. 'Why shall I become God's servant? I am my own master.' Those who are jealous and envious- they are within this material world. Those who are not jealous are in the spiritual world."
"You can test yourself whether you are becoming spiritually advanced or not. Just like eating- you will understand whether your hunger is satisfied or not. You don't have to take a certificate from others. If you are jealous of your associates, friends and others- you are in material consciousness. If you are not jealous- if you are not envious- you are advanced in spiritual life."
"You can serve God very nicely if you are not jealous. Our enviousness has begun from our being jealous of God. This is the beginning of material life- enviousness of God: 'Why shall God enjoy as the master? I want to enjoy for myself.' When we want to become an imitation God, we are placed in the prison of the material world."
I have talked with many people who think something like this: "God has put us here to learn how to be good people." Or, "God has placed us in this world so that we can learn to love Him."
I believe these to be partial truths. The question is: "Why aren't we with God now?" If we were, I am sure that we would be good people that loved Him very much. The simple truth is: LIVING IN THIS WORLD IS A KIND OF PUNISHMENT.We must have a criminal mentality. After accepting this, it can be said, "God has put us here so that our attitude can be rectified. Because we are envious of Him, God has put us in this world hoping that we will eventually realize that life without Him is miserable.
The Sanskrit religious texts often refer to this material universe as a prison. In this regard, Shrila Prabhupada said, "The material energy of the Lord is the superintendent of the universal prison. She takes charge of the rebellious souls and thus they undergo a conditioned life under the laws of material nature. When one becomes conscious of this fact, he tries to go back to God. In this way, one's spiritual urge begins."Prison life cannot be a very happy existence. Bhagavad-gita is perhaps the most widely studied book of spiritual understanding in India and it is read by people all over the world. In Bhagavad-gita, this world is referred to as "duhkhalayam". This Sanskrit word literally means, "a place of miseries". Lord Krishna says, "After attaining Me, perfected souls never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest destination." Here, the proper goal of our lives is indicated. We should attempt to get out of material bondage and return to the abode of the Lord.
Bhagavad-gita has categorized three classes of miseries in this world: miseries caused by the body and mind- miseries caused by nature's harshness- and miseries caused by other living beings. The body is always subject to injury and disease. The mind is afflicted by anxieties, and lamentation in loss. Nature causes us suffering due to excessive heat and cold, rain and snow, hurricanes, earthquakes, forest fires, floods, etc. Other living entities give us trouble in many ways. Mosquitoes bite and dogs bark. In this competitive world, everyone is trying to get our money or exploit us in other ways. In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says, "The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind. This divine energy of Mine, the material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it."
Whenever I meet someone and ask, "How are you?" they invariably answer, "Fine." When someone asks me, "How are you?" I never answer, "Fine". Usually, I say, "OK" Truthfully, when I think about my condition, the Titanic comes to mind. When the Titanic was going down, people had only one thought, "How can I save myself!"
Perhaps, in the beginning, there were some who were engrossed in dancing, eating, a game of cards, or polite conversation and didn't want to be bothered when the alarm was first sounded. They might have thought, "Why be troubled? Everything will be all right."But, when the seriousness of the situation became evident, surely no one remained unconcerned.
We are sailing through life on our "Titanic" (the body). It is sinking- of that there is no doubt. Death is certain. Perhaps in youth, it is natural for one to try and forget this and concentrate on enjoying life as much as possible. Still, to be aroused from the slumber of ignorance and informed of the grave situation is not unbefitting. When the Titanic was sinking, you could not accuse those who raised the alarm of having a negative attitude. Sometimes, you have to see the fault of a situation and try your best to rectify it.
On the Titanic, there were varieties of entertainment and the passengers were expected to enjoy these. But, when it was understood that the ship was sinking, entertainment became a very low priority. Similarly, as long as we don't understand the disadvantage of undergoing repeated births and deaths, the entertainments available to us may seem very alluring. But, when we realize that human life is the greatly fortunate opportunity to escape this miserable condition, nothing should distract us.
I leave it to you to be the judge. Personally, I feel that there is no real happiness in this world-there is only the promise of happiness. Our life in this world is something like that of a donkey being led around by a carrot dangling from a stick. We go on and on, hoping that happiness is just around the corner. There may be a few glorious moments or hours, no doubt, but ultimately the end is disappointment- that's for sure. I would guess that many of you feel that I am a pessimist. Yes, I am pessimistic about materialistic life but I am optimistic about spiritual life. It is a fact that as long as one is satisfied with the bodily concept of life (believing the body to be the self), a true quest for self-realization will stay far from one's mind.
Shrila Prabhupada said, "Unless we have a pessimistic view of this material life- considering the distresses of birth, death, old age and disease-there is no impetus for making advancement in spiritual life."
"An essential teaching of all religions is that material life is not a happy existence. Everyone is searching for happiness, but real happiness is not in this world. You take any messiah- Lord Jesus Christ or Buddha or Lord Chaitanya or Krishna or anyone. Nobody says, 'Make some adjustment here and live peacefully.' We are trying to live happily by adjusting things nicely, but this will never be possible."
"It's a hard life" I used to tell my son, Govinda, almost every day, when he was small. There are always difficulties and disappointments and I didn't want him to be too upset by these. I didn't want him to mistakenly think of the world as a happy place. "It's a hard life", I would say, and I said it with conviction born of ample experience.
I was sitting off to the side at a trance party in Anjuna, Goa, next to a guy reading The Road Less Traveled. He asked me to watch his bag when he went to the bathroom and so I picked up the book and glanced through it. Everything seemed rather vague, as do most books on spirituality, but I really liked the opening sentence. The author began his book by saying that life is very difficult. I felt this to be absolutely true! I watch CNN and BBC World news every day. Mostly the news is about the latest terrorist bombing, the numerous wars and whatever diplomacy accompanies them. Other news is about summit meetings that supposedly address the world's problems. Then, there is news of natural disasters, plane crashes and elections. Why is there so little good news?
There is a lot of anger going around. Anger is born of frustration and dissatisfaction. The truth is-we are always dissatisfied, although we may not iike to admit it.
Try this experiment: Monitor your mind for one day, noting down all your feelings and thoughts, one after another. Of course, you cannot do this, but I can safely say that during the entire day, you will not find even a moment when you are fully satisfied. Our minds are always hankering for something more. Shrila Prabhupada pointed out the reason why this is so: "The spiritual quality of the soul is understood by our dissatisfaction with the limited state of materially conditioned existence."Our continual hankering for more and more indicates that material existence can never satisfy the spiritual soul.Mahatma Gandhi once said: "There is enough in the world to fulfill everyone's needs, but not enough for even one man's greed."
Our present condition of forgetfulness of God causes us to be self-centered. A world full of selfish and self-centered people, being urged on by unlimited desires that can never be fulfilled, must be a kind of hell! When there is anarchy and lawlessness- how can there be happiness and peace? (I'm referring to the laws of God.)
I am reminded of the John Lennon song, "Imagine". Basically, we are told to imagine a society full of peace, love, and respect for one another. But, this is foolish imagination unless we are ready to align ourselves with God. It is something like hoping for honor among thieves.In this regard, here is a conversation that took place in Australia:
A disciple: "In New Zealand, they had a huge surplus of milk powder and couldn't sell it and so they fed it to the pigs. They could have sent it to hungry people all over the world..."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes, everything is provided by God sufficiently but still, some are starving. This is due to a lack of Krishna consciousness."
A disciple: "People try to blame everything on God, though, saying, 'Why is God letting people starve?' I have heard many people talk like this."
Shrila Prabhupada: "God is giving everything but people are mismanaging. Still, they claim that God is bad- this is enviousness. God created the earth. Did he say that it was for the Australians or for the Americans? The English came and took the land by force."
A disciple: "They call this colonization."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Whatever they call it- they are thieves. That's all."
A disciple: "It's exploitation. They're dividing up the booty and fighting over it."
Shrila Prabhupada: "Yes. A gang of thieves has stolen something. Afterwards they say, 'Let us divide it honestly, religiously.' The things were stolen- this is dishonest- where is the question of honesty?"
A disciple: "There is a saying, 'Honor among thieves.'"
Shrila Prabhupada: "In this world, at present, human society is based upon duplicity and hypocrisy- therefore we reject the claim that it is advanced. God's energy is so powerful that those who break His laws will have to suffer."
Shrila Prabhupada repeatedly explained to us what he called the peace formula: "Everyone wants peace in the world. The peace marchers want peace but they do not know how to obtain it. I read a speech of the Archbishop of Canterbury in which he said, 'You want the kingdom of God without God.' This is our defect. If we want peace at all, we must accept that peace means to understand God." "This is the formula for peace. When' people know that the Supreme Lord is the supreme enjoyer, the supreme proprietor and the most intimate well-wishing friend of all living entities, peace and prosperity will ensue. Everything belongs to God and since we are sons of God, we have the right to use our father's property. But we should not take more than we need. If we do so, there will be punishment."
Even though nature has kindly supplied us the human body- along with abundant fruit, grains and vegetables- as well as nice places to reside- we foolishly claim everything to be ours. We grab what we can and fight with one another in the process.It behooves us to recognize the Supreme Proprietor. He is the author of nature's laws and so we should try to understand His intentions if we at all hope to live peacefully in His creation.Self-centered existence causes competition and exploitation. In contrast to this, people in a genuinely God-centered society co-operate with one another and live in harmony. Here is a simple analogy. If I pick up a stone and throw it into a calm body of water, the ripples form concentric circles around the point of contact. These concentric circles will not interfere with one another. On the other hand, if I pick up a handful of small pebbles and throw them into the water, they create innumerable circles that clash. If God is truly in the center, the innumerable persons surrounding Him will not disturb each other. But, if everyone tries to be the center, each person's activities will clash with the others.Two basic attitudes or outlooks have been described. One is a God-centered point of view. God is recognized as the Supreme Father and all of his children are supposed to live peacefully within His kingdom. The other outlook is atheistic and self-centered, like that of animals.
Some years ago, I saw a National Geographic documentary about Etasha Pond in Africa. It is a lake where the animals in the surrounding area come to drink. During the dry season, the pond shrinks dramatically and water cannot be found elsewhere. Being forced to come to Etasha Pond, the animals become easy prey for predators.The documentary very vividly portrays how animal life is full of fear and danger. It was an intense experience for me to watch the unrelenting drama of bare survival. Animals are continuously on the lookout for predators and when they are inattentive, they are eaten alive. To find enough food and water and survive another day is the limit of an animal's concern. Danger lurks at every step! Suddenly, an attack by a stronger, fiercer creature! Torn to pieces and devoured! While taking a cautious drink, eyes dart around in all directions and the heart pounds with fear. Giving birth and then watching the young devoured one after another. Just to grow to maturity is a great accomplishment! My gut feeling after watching this documentary was a loathing for life in the animal kingdom. And yet, it gave me a greater appreciation for the value of human life. I also considered how human life without developed consciousness resembles animal life and is similarly repugnant.
Shrila Prabhupada repeatedly urged human society to rise above the animalistic platform: "Human life should be elevated. One should not simply be interested in the animalistic functions of eating, sleeping, defending and mating. A man may have an abundant supply of food, many nice buildings for sleeping, a good arrangement for sex, and an adequate system of defense. But, if he does not go beyond these interests, he must be considered animalistic."
"A human being truly distinguishes himself from the animals when he becomes inquisitive and asks, 'Why have I been put into this miserable condition? Is there any remedy for it? Is there eternal life? I do not want to die, nor do I want to suffer. I want to live very happily and peacefully. Is there a chance for this? What is the method or science by which this can be achieved?' When these questions are asked, and steps are taken to answer them- this is genuine human civilization. Animals and an animalistic civilization are simply interested in continuing the process of eating, sleeping, mating and defending."
Certainly, man is expected to be better than an animal. Yet, we often see that he acts in a way far more harmful. Here's a simple example. In India, rice is packed in burlap bags and often transported by bullock cart. Suppose a bag of rice fell off a cart onto the street and broke, spilling some of the contents. Chickens, crows and other birds would come, eat a few grains and then go away when they were satisfied. In this way, hundreds of birds might come and go. But, if he could get away with it, a man would pick up the whole bag and take it home, even though he would not be able to eat it all in a month.Both men and animals are, in general, self-centered. An animal, left on its own, can do little harm and little good. With his developed consciousness and intelligence, a human being can do great good and great harm as well. Sometimes, I see on the news that a "rogue" elephant or tiger has gone on a rampage and killed some villagers before being shot. But, in contrast, a "rogue" leader of men can create a conflict that claims the lives of many, many thousands.
The big city is sometimes described as an asphalt jungle. But, I have seen that when there is war, people sometimes flee their homes and go to live in the jungle because it is much safer.Nature has provided enough for everyone. If you go to the jungle, you will see that the ant is getting its small grain of food and the elephant is getting its fifty kilos- no one is starving. I have never seen a war- the tigers against the lions. Of course, killing is going on- but just to fulfill the necessity to eat. Only human beings stoop to conquer.In the jungle, I have not seen that the king, such as a lion, has enslaved hundreds of jackals and forced them to labor, day and night, for a few morsels of food. In contrast, humans exploit one another in numerous imaginative ways!
I was walking with Puti and she said, "I feel that life is very strange."
I said, "Yes, life seems very strange to me also. We are human beings and we feel that human life is very special. Some people say that humans descended from apes. But, I feel that human life is completely distinct from animal life. I can feel it. There is something so meaningful about human life and yet, most people live narrow, self-centered existences, little better than that of animals. Isn't this what is so strange about life?"
Puti replied, "Yes. Most people, but not you."
"Well, I'm trying", I said.
i was talking to a Kashmiri gentleman in Goa recently. He owns a jewelry shop at Calangute and we had a very friendly discussion. Although our backgrounds are quite different, and even though I didn't spend any money in his shop, we found our views quite sympathetic. He told me: "It is the manner in which a person speaks and behaves with others that distinguishes him as being either a gentleman or a low-class uncultured person. Just because someone is rich or has a PhD does not mean that he is admirable. There is a man in my neighborhood who has a big house and five expensive cars- but he is a cheater and a rascal! How a person talks and behaves immediately indicates whether he or she is civilized or a barbarian."
I replied, "I agree with you wholeheartedly. Generally, people try to become respected simply by working hard and earning a lot of money. They say, 'clothes make the man' but I don't think so. By dressing fashionably, carrying credit cards and driving an expensive car, one might gain the respect of morons by not mine. I respect a person who is very gentle and well behaved and who speaks in a way that is meaningful and helpful- like you."
The spiritual master of Shrila Prabhupada's spiritual master, Gaura Kishora das Babaji was illiterate. He could not read or write. He couldn't even sign his name. And yet, many aristocratic gentlemen used to come and submissively beg him for some understanding of life's mysteries. He was widely reputed as a very wise man who could advise even presidents and kings. There was no one who did not feel humbled upon coming into his presence. Saintly people exhibit a sublime quality of behavior. At the other extreme, there is animal life. In between, you find a great many types of human behavior.
Bhagavad-gita describes the two extremes of human character in this way: "Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity, simplicity, nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger, renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion for all living entities, freedom from covetousness, gentleness, modesty, steady determination, vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, and the freedom from envy and from the passion for honor- these qualities belong to godly men endowed with divine nature."
Society's top priority should be to create a population endowed with divine qualities, not with demoniac qualities. These are also described in Bhagavad-gita: "Pride, arrogance, conceit, anger, harshness and ignorance- these qualities belong to those of demoniac nature."
The description continues: "Those who are demoniac do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done. Neither cleanliness nor proper behavior nor truth is found in them. They say that this world has no foundation- no God in control. Following this conclusion, the demoniac, who are lost to themselves and have no intelligence, engage in unbeneficial, horrible works meant to destroy the world. The demoniac person thinks, 'So much wealth do I have today and I will gain more by my schemes. He was my enemy and I have killed him, and my other enemies will also be killed. I am the lord of everything. I am the enjoyer. I am perfect, powerful and happy. I am the richest man, surrounded by aristocratic relatives. There is none so powerful and happy as I am.' In this way, such persons are deluded by ignorance."
Society contains a great assortment of people. Some are godly, some are demoniac and most are a mixture of the two. I consider myself to be a mixture, but I am trying to purify my existence by cultivating godly qualities. I feel that this is the best course for improving my life and I wish that society would endeavor in a similar way.
I have a friend, Tom Norton, who posed a very difficult question to a leader of a highly recognized religious institution. Tom said, "I have had dealings with numerous members of your organization. Often, I found their behavior toward me to be uncaring, deceitful and even nasty. All of your associates are certainly considered very religious and on the surface, their daily activities seem to be in relation to God. But, truthfully, I don't find any to be nearly as good a gentleman as my father, who is an agnostic."
"My father is a very kind person who always treats others fairly and with respect. I have never seen him lie or cheat anyone or make false promises just to get what he wanted. Although a highly-placed administrator, my father is never proud of his position nor does he misuse it to lord it over his subordinates."The religious leader didn't have much of an answer but here is mine. First, I will quote Shrila Prabhupada: "The outlook of doing good to others is a partial manifestation of the original consciousness of a pure living being who feels happiness by giving satisfaction to the Supreme Lord. Actually, everyone is a servant of God. Some recognize this fact while other do not- that's a In other words, the display of good qualities by an agnostic is a partial manifestation of his or her original God consciousness. And, any duplicity, pride or disrespect displayed by a religious adherent is a manifestation of his or her lack of genuine God consciousness. After all, it is easier to make an external show of religion than to genuinely give up false pride, greed and the lust for power and influence.
God comes to us externally in the form of revealed scriptures and saintly persons- and He is always there as our well-wishing guide within the heart. Some may find difficulty in accepting revealed scriptures or religious institutions, for some reason or other. But, such a person may listen carefully to the voice within. This person may be an atheist or agnostic simply because he does not recognize that the voice guiding him is God.Another person may pose as a godly person and yet shut out his conscience so that he can fulfill his own agenda. Someone who follows his conscience faithfully, like Tom's father, is actually a religious person who has temporarily forgotten his relationship with God.
One more thing must be said. Going back to the sinking Titanic- suppose there was a very good man on board. Instead of trying to escape and help others to do so, what if he instead kept himself busy by giving aspirin to someone with a headache and doing some plumbing work in a leaky bathroom. On a sinking ship, such attempts at helping others are certainly misplaced. Real help would be to enable others to reach the safety of land.
There are many people who endeavor to help others with their bodily problems. But, the fact is, the body will meet with destruction sooner or later. Real assistance is to help the conditioned souls get out of this ocean of birth and death. For this reason, a genuinely religious person is always to be considered a better friend to humanity, in spite of any personal defects, than a materialistic good man who simply endeavors to help others' bodily condition.I saw a cartoon in today's Times of India. A man was reading about the riots between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat. His friend said, "Society should be divided into two categories, the behaves and the behave-nots."
I wish to address the present world situation on the basis of Simple Truth. I am talking to all of you who agree that everyone should be given equal opportunity and respect- regardless of ethnic background, nationality, race or religion. There is a great mission to be accomplished in the human form of life and if society becomes too degraded, that sublime purpose will be frustrated. You who hanker after peace while simultaneously favoring one kind of people over another- I can only say that your mentality is diseased and needs to be rectified.President George W. Bush has spoken of a struggle between good and evil. I believe that there is always such a conflict. One problem is- those who claim to be on the side of good may not actually be very good.
I wish to draw a clear line in the sand so that we can easily see who is on which side. The simple truth is- A GOOD MAN OR WOMAN IS ONE WHO NEVER HARMS ANOTHER LIVING BEING UNNECESSARILY. A BAD MAN OR WOMAN IS ONE WHO HARMS AND EXPLOITS OTHERS FOR PERSONAL GAIN. A GOOD MAN OR WOMAN IS ONE WHO CONSIDERS ALL OTHERS TO BE AS WORTHY OF LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HUMAN DIGNITY AS HIS OR HER OWN SELF. A BAD MAN OR WOMAN IS ONE WHO CONSIDERS SOME TO BE UNWORTHY OF LIFE, LIBERTY AND THE PURSUIT OF HUMAN DIGNITY SIMPLY BECAUSE OF ETHNIC BACKGROUND, NATIONALITY, RACE, OR RELIGION.
There-1 have drawn my line in the sand. I have given a very generous definition of a good person because if I didn't there would be too few on the side of good. Actually, a good person is one who helps others and not merely refrains from harming others. My definition of a good person is actually a description of the borderline between good and bad.Anyway, let us who are good or who are aspiring to be good, prevail. The people of the world have been drawn together by technological advances in transportation and communication. For this reason, no part of the world can be neglected any longer.Through education, the people of the world must be made to understand the Simple Truth- at least to the extent that they can recognize the sanctity of all life.
The United Nations must come of age. It must ensure that all member states advocate the cause of goodness, as outlined above. Any state that takes the side of evil or bad must be firmly dealt with so that nations advocating good may live in peace.
I declare- ANY RELIGION THAT DOES NOT TEACH RESPECT FOR ALL OF GOD'S CHILDREN IS NOT RELIGION AT ALL- IT IS EVIL IN THE GARB OF RELIGION.
ANY GOVERNMENT IN THE WORLD THAT FAVORS ONE RACE OVER ANOTHER- ONE ETHNIC GROUP OVER ANOTHER- OR ONE RELIGIOUS GROUP OVER ANOTHER, SHOULD BE MADE PERSONNA NON GRATA. YES- THE WORLD SHOULD BE DIVIDED INTO THE BEHAVES AND THE BEHAVE-NOTS!
Make no mistake about it- the forces of evil are vicious and determined. We, the good, must take a strong stand against them or else face the consequences. In the past, Attila the Hun had to go on horseback and kill with a spear. Today, modern Attilas are more dangerous because of our technological advances.
New York City has learned that if crime is dealt with very firmly it can be controlled. Similarly, we must take firm action against the bigger criminals of this world, the dictators who propagate regimes of racism, ethnic discrimination and religious intolerance. I want to say a few words about nuclear proliferation. The excuse of countries that arm themselves with nuclear weapons is- "America has the most nuclear weapons! How can they object to our having some?"
The simple truth is that the atom bomb was invented by Americans to end World War II. The Americans didn't arm themselves with nuclear weapons simply to create fear in the minds of others. After that, Russia built nuclear weapons. Why? Can anyone seriously say that Russia was under threat from attack from America? Although not threatened by America, Russia created an arms race • that produced thousands of nuclear weapons on both sides.
What about North Korea? Do they need nuclear weapons? Are they under threat of attack? What about India and Pakistan? Yes, they hate each other but truthfully, neither is threatened with being conquered by the other.The United Nations should insure that no nation be subject to threat of its sovereignty by another nation. With that in place, there should be nuclear disarmament, although no doubt, Russia and America will have to keep a few so that they can maintain their positions of superiority. But, just a few and not thousands, please.I have lived in India for the last 29 years. Truthfully, I prefer living in India to the West. For one thing, I like the tropical climate. But, more importantly, I find that life in India is generally more natural and easy-going. Basically, the people in India are more approachable than in the West. In the West, people are so compartmentalized-always in their car, their home or their office- behind locked doors. In India, life is everywhere. The streets are vibrant with life.
India is the place where the simple truth was understood long ago. Indian culture is imbued with all the principles of Simple Truth. Even today, one is constantly reminded of God while living in India. But, unfortunately, India's culture is being constantly battered by the onslaught of materialism. Generally, Indian people are simple. Like children, they have easily been misled by the attractions of money, entertainment and the throwing out of all restrictions imposed by a God-centered society, such as those dealing with relations between the sexes.This having been said, I now want to illustrate how people's selfish (atheistic) behavior spoils the quality of life.
Honestly, I find India to be a very strange place. It is quite different from America, where I grew up.The first thing that shocked me after arriving in India was the driving. After much experience, I have concluded that there are only two rules that people in India observe while driving: More or less, keep to the left and,
2) Don't hit anyone.
Sometimes the government paints lines on the roads to mark lanes, but drivers don't let that cramp their style.
I have a friend who jokes, "Indians could manage to drive without a steering wheel, but not without a horn."
If you drive in a town in India for two minutes, you will hear about 150 honks. I knew an Indian woman who married an American man. She said, "It is impossible for an American to understand an Indian's mentality."
I asked, "What about your husband? Doesn't he understand you?"
She simply frowned and shook her head in the negative.
As I drive my motorbike down the street here in Bombay, at every moment I wonder, "Why did that person honk his horn?" It is a fact- I will never understand.
When I was in college, I majored in sociology, because I knew that it was the easiest. I remember reading about how different cultures have different conceptions of an individual's personal space. The book said that in America, we give everyone abundant room. For example, if two people are conversing on the sidewalk, I feel that I cannot stand very close to them. If I did so, I would be invading their privacy.
In India, one's personal space is only that which is occupied by his or her body- and that is diminishing, day-by-day. As you walk in the street, cars will miss you by an inch- their drivers not displaying a tinge of guilt. When you talk to an acquaintance, someone will stand next to you and gawk. On the railway platform, people push you aside so they can continue unimpeded, without any kind of "excuse me".While waiting in line for a ticket or to pay a bill, you had better stay stuck to the person in front of you. If you leave even the slightest space, someone will squeeze in for sure.I had gone to the small shopping center near my apartment in Mumbai. I was standing in front of a milk counter, waiting to get yogurt for my dog. There were two people ahead of me and so I patiently waited my turn. A girl got her yogurt, gave some money, got the change and left. The lady in front of me told the man what she wanted. From afar I could see a woman approaching. She looked at me and I could somehow tell that she was coming to the milk stall.
Skirting around me, she went to the other side and immediately ordered, "200 grams of cheese." The shopkeeper had the good sense to ignore her. After giving the lady in front of me her milk, he turned to me and asked what I wanted.Don't get me wrong- there are many things I like about India. But, the truth is that most people have almost no sense of politeness, etiquette or manners. I would have been ecstatic if someone had gone up to that lady, given her a hard slap in the face and shouted, "What are you doing? What gives you the right to try and butt in ahead of this man who is patiently waiting?"
There is a saying that, "nice guys finish last". This must have been said by an Indian. If you would like to have a first-hand look at the injustices of the past, just go to India. I had read how, during the industrial revolution in America, immigrant factory workers were paid so little that they could not even properly feed themselves.
Now, of course, factory workers get a respectable wage in Western countries, but in India, many iaborers don't earn enough to send their children to school or buy sufficient fruit and vegetables.
One thing I have learned from living in India-the importance of good governance! It is not that the government of India has taught me this- no, it is the lack of good government that has made me appreciate its value. Long ago, in the mid-seventies, Indira Gandhi was the prime minister of India. She had signs posted all over the place, declaring, "DISCIPLINE MAKES A NATION GREAT!" Whatever her faults may have been, to this day I remember these words and wish that they could have been implemented.
There is a propensity within all of us to cheat-to treat others unfairly so that we can get more than our rightful share. This may take the form of a simple lie, a little stealing, or some kind of deception. It may be executed without the victim's knowledge, or it may be done brazenly in the open.
Through education and good association, our cheating propensity may become reduced. Through enforcement of discipline, our cheating propensity may be curbed. Isn't this the duty of government? The primary duty of government is to give protection to the citizens. Not only from foreign aggressors, but from anyone who would harm or cheat from within. The government must educate its citizens to act in such a way as to treat all people fairly. And, it must enforce the laws that guarantee such fair treatment.
Of the two approaches to fairness, I believe enforcement to be more effective than education. For example, when I took a drivers' education course in high school, the rules of safety were taught, again and again. But I saw that such education had little effect on the students. It was the police cruising around in their cars that ensured that drivers would behave themselves.
Where I live in India, there are traffic police all over the place. But, they almost never stop anyone for a traffic violation. Instead, they are on the lookout for anyone who doesn't have a license so that they can extract a nice bribe from him in exchange for being let go. As a result, driving is truly chaotic. There is a Driving Safety Week every year and the principles of good driving are expounded but truthfully, no one cares. Because no one is punished for driving improperly, the people drive with a shocking lack of concern for safety. That is why I say- education is fine, but enforcement is essential. Sometimes my adopted daughter, Puti, talks to laborers in a friendly way, and the middle-class people look at her as if she were crazy. In India, middle-class people generally feel that it is far beneath their dignity to fraternize with a lower class person.
In India, the vast majority of people are extremely cast-conscious. An Indian never forgets about another person's state, religion and ethnic background- be he or she a friend, classmate, neighbor- or even husband or wife. When I went to college in America, I would naturally inquire where people were from, and about their religion, but these were not considered very important.
Ironically, in the books on spirituality that most Indians revere, such consciousness is ridiculed. Male, female, nationality, caste, religion, age and ethnic background are bodily designations. They refer to the body but not at all to the eternal soul who inhabits the body. According to Shrimad-Bhagavatam, a book worshiped by a majority of Indians, when a person identifies the body as the self and practically worships the place of his birth-he is to be considered no better than a cow or an ass.I will now tell you about a most astonishing theory. I never heard of such an idea in the 25 years I lived in America. But, the fact is that in India, this theory predominates.
What is it? There is a popular idea in India that all of us are God. Basically, it goes like this: We are now in illusion, thinking that we are the material body. Within the body is the soul, and by the same illusion, we consider it to be individual- we feel that there are many individual souls. Actually, the theory goes- at the time when one is freed from the illusory material condition, the soul merges into the existence of God to become one with Him. Preachers of this philosophy say, "There is no need to worship God. You are God- you just don't realize it."
The example often given is that of a drop of water merging into the ocean. If you put a drop of water into the ocean, it loses its individual existence and becomes one with the ocean. In the same way, it is reasoned, when you get freed from material bondage, you merge into God and become one with Him. Philosophically, they say that the Absolute Truth (God) cannot be fragmented and so our perception of there being innumerable living beings is illusion.But, this analogy is flawed. If you put a drop of water into the ocean, it doesn't become the entire ocean. The molecules of H2O that made up the drop of water remain unchanged within the ocean.
Many Indians may object to my claim that this theory is prevalent in their beloved country. This is because the advocates of this philosophy know that they cannot boldly put forward the idea that everyone is God. If they did so, common people would be shocked. In India, the masses of people are very religious, and they worship God in a bewildering variety of ways. For this reason, preachers of this philosophy talk about devotion to God while subtly persuading the listener that he can ultimately become one with Him. Thus they say that worship of God is for the neophytes, and that such worship is given up in the advanced stage. In response to this idea, Shrila Prabhupada once said, "Who is not controlled? Can anyone say, 'I am not controlled'? Nobody can say this. If you are controlled, then how can you declare that you are God'? Is God controlled? If somebody claims to be God, then first of all question 'Are you controlled or are you not controlled?' This is common sense."
"I have seen a rascal, he had a society and was preaching that 'I am God.' But one day I saw that he had a toothache and was moaning, 'ohhh.' So I asked him, 'You claim that you are God, but now you are under the control of a toothache. What kind of God you are?' God has become so cheap that everyone is God. But, as soon as someone says, 'I am God,' you must know that he is a rascal number one."I am completely convinced that I am not God. If I were God, why would I have to struggle so hard? I'm sure that if I were God, I could easily beat up anyone who gave me trouble.
I have lived in India for many years. One day, I met my friend, Dr. B. C. Shah, at the local hospital and we had the following conversation:
Me: "I want to ask you a question. First, let me give you an example. Two days ago I was waiting to take the elevator (in India they call it a lift). When the door opened, some people quickly exited while those who were waiting simultaneously went in. Inside, I saw a laborer picking up a bound bundle of old newspapers. As he was coming out of the elevator, another person came. I had been waiting for the man with the newspapers to come out before entering the elevator. The newcomer briskly walked into the elevator while ignoring the exiting newspaper carrier. In fact, he bumped the man, forcing him to move aside."
"I could give you a million similar examples. Here's one more. I was riding my bicycle early in the morning. The streets were practically deserted and I kept to the left (In India, traffic keeps to the left, like England). On my left was a lane coming into the major street that I was riding on. A milkman riding a bicycle approached in the opposite direction. He wanted to turn right (my left) onto the smaller lane and it so happened that our paths intersected. Because I had the right of way, I assumed that he would slow down to let me pass or else maneuver around me. But, he didn't alter his course or slow down and so I found that he was aiming straight for me. I quickly stopped and he turned onto the side street, missing me by about six inches. His face was expressionless."
"Dr. Shah, I find that 90% of people in Mumbai engage in such behavior. These are not thugs, or juvenile delinquents. They're ordinary people acting, from their point of view, quite normally."
"Dr. Shah, my question is- Why do people do this? I grew up in America and nobody acts like this, except those who are purposely trying to behave in an anti-social manner. Why is such behavior so prevalent here?"
Dr Shah replied, "I don't know. I will have to think about this and talk to you later."
I said, "These are very trivial examples but I think they point out a fundamental flaw in our society's fabric. After all, most of the world's problems exist because people do not know how to co-exist with one another very well." I was driving my motorbike with Puti. From our left, someone turned onto the road we were driving on, cutting in front of us, forcing us to slow down.
I said, "Indians hate to wait."
Puti said, "Everyone wants to be first. They only care about themselves."
I explained, "People are too selfish. What is the difference between a suicide bomber and this man who cut in front of us? Neither have any care for others- the difference is only a matter of degree."
Puti replied, "Now, parents don't control their children. They let them do whatever they want. From that small beginning in childhood, selfishness expands. You can see how the college kids are-they're arrogant and self-centered."
I said, "I must talk about this in Simple Truth. Living in a society where respect for others is not cultivated is obnoxious, and very dangerous. Remember I told you about the interview with Lata Mangeshkar? She said, The state of the nation worries me. It's like we're sitting on an erupting volcano all the time.' A volcano may seem peaceful for many hundreds of years. But, turbulence is lying dormant within and may suddenly erupt. I feel that the thousands of people all around me are something like dormant volcanoes."
By reading Shrila Prabhupada's books and by speaking to his students, I became convinced that my life should be dedicated to the service of God. I had tried my best to enjoy materialistic life, and I found the experience unsatisfying.
My life had always been torn between two objectives- to enjoy myself to the max, and to understand the truth. I could see that the quest for pleasure was limited and full of troubles. At the same time, I felt that my search for truth had finally led me to a tangible source of genuine understanding.Honestly, I found materialistic life mostly boring, frustrating, troublesome and without promise. I was convinced that a glorious life could only become a reality if I surrendered to God and engaged myself as His servant. I became convinced that my original pure condition of life was eternal, fully cognizant and blissful. If I simply acted in my constitutional position, as a soul surrendered to God, I believed that my original consciousness would be revived, and I would escape the vicious cycle of repeated birth and death.
It seemed to me that a life devoid of Krishna consciousness is a valuable life wasted. I am an eternal living being, embodied in matter. How much of my time, energy and money went into serving my body and how much went into serving my real self? I think the answer for most of us would be- 100% for the body- nothing for me, the soul.
Shrila Prabhupada gave the example of putting money in another man's account. It goes something like this. A man worked hard and he wanted to save some money so that he could buy a house. Every week he went to the bank to make a deposit. The only problem was- he mistakenly put someone else's account number on his deposit slips.
Finally, after many years, the man went to the bank to withdraw his savings. To his shock, he was told, "You have no money in your account."When things were properly understood, the man lamented, "I passed my entire life working hard, and depositing all my money into someone else's account!"I spend my life putting food into my stomach. I search for someone to satisfy my sexual demands. I spend so much money to put fashionable clothes on my body. Who knows how much I spend on medical expenses when there is something wrong-an injury or a disease?
And yet, in spite of serving my body so faithfully, at the end it kicks me out! What happens to me? That I do not know, because throughout my entire life I did nothing for my real self, being ignorant of how to do so. We know very well the needs of the body- food, clothing, shelter, medicine, etc. But, what are the needs of the soul- of myself? We should understand that the need of the soul is to get out of the cycle of repeated birth and death. Being a fragmental part of God, the soul must be reconnected to God through the medium of devotional service.
I was in a very awkward position. My wife, Chris, had become involved with the Hare Krishna devotees and was spending a lot of time at the temple. In the morning, while I was sleeping, she sat next to me and loudly chanted the Hare Krishna mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. I would wake up, hearing her chanting, and it annoyed me. "Why don't you go and chant on the roof?" I complained. "Why do you have to sit here and bother me?"
I was studying the understanding of life presented by Shrila Prabhupada. Whenever I had an argument, I would go to the Hare Krishna temple and talk with a devotee. Gradually, I found myself becoming convinced that Shrila Prabhupada was speaking the truth. But, at the same time, I was hesitant because a Krishna conscious life involved a lot of austerity.I was already a vegetarian, so that was no problem. The main difficulty was the discipline of temple life. The devotees got up at 4:00 a.m. every
day and passed the entire morning worshiping Lord Krishna, chanting Hare Krishna, and attending classes. The day's main activity was going into the city and chanting Hare Krishna together while selling their literatures. There was no scope for an easy-going life or ordinary entertainment.
At first, I tried to be Krishna conscious on my own. I chanted on my beads and read the books. When I met my friends, I talked about my new perception of life, but this invariably led to heated arguments.I was becoming disgusted with my friends, hippies in general, and materialistic life. No one was thoroughly honest. Chris was becoming drawn to the Hare Krishna Movement and one day, she asked, "Can I go live in the temple?"
i really believed that it was a good thing for her and so I said, "Alright. Give it a try." It was summer in Boston and I had made some new friends. I thought that if Chris moved into the temple, it would give me more freedom to enjoy life.But, it so happened that I became disgusted with my friends and I began to miss my wife very much. I was also convinced that dedication to the service of God, as taught by Shrila Prabhupada, was the genuine path to spiritual realization.
Shrila Prabhupada was a singularly extraordinary person. I saw him many times, mostly in
Calcutta. As he sat on his elevated seat to lecture, I would watch him intently, and this vision was always something mystical. Although in front of me, Shrila Prabhupada seemed to be internally situated far beyond Calcutta. It was as if he was projected from a transcendental realm onto the screen of ordinary perception.
None of his disciples accepted Shrila Prabhupada as similar to anyone within his or her previous experience. Shrila Prabhupada gave himself to others. He had no personal life. He accepted all who came to him in a warm and loving way. He always encouraged others to take to the spiritual path and assured them that God would take care of them. He never tired of those around him. He accepted them, as one would his own children, and he never tired of helping them become spiritually mature.
Shrila Prabhupada taught that one is not the body, but is an eternal soul- part and parcel of God. As such, it is the soul's eternal duty to serve the Supreme Lord and not the material body, which is composed of senses. Daily, Shrila Prabhupada implored his disciples to serve Lord Krishna and not the bodily senses, which always demand satisfaction and yet are never satisfied.
Shrila Prabhupada perfectly practiced what he preached, or shall we say- he exhibited the truth of his philosophy. He was continuously surrounded by his disciples for twelve years and thus he had no personal life. Miraculously, he had no second interest besides serving Lord Krishna and had absolutely no vice or mundane habit. He never deviated from his service to the Lord to watch a movie or TV, read a mundane magazine, or play some game. Even while talking to the most young and beautiful women, Shrila Prabhupada never appeared to derive even the slightest sensual pleasure in their association. He was obviously only concerned about guiding them on the path back to God.
There are numerous photos of Shrila Prabhupada that bear testimony to his sublime ecstasy. You can look at his smile and never begin to understand what kind of happiness he was experiencing. Disciples would describe Shrila Prabhupada's smile as lighting up the room, and this was not an exaggeration. He was not a showman. No one ever suggested that Shrila Prabhupada was playing his part expertly, fooling people into believing that he was experiencing transcendental ecstasy. There was no doubt that he was simple and genuine- without a tinge of duplicity.Although he started his society, ISKCON, at the age of 71, and continued until his passing away at the age of 84, Shrila Prabhupada worked with an energy, both mental and physical, that was beyond the understanding of his disciples. He would sleep only a very few hours and write his books throughout the late night and early morning. He would travel from center to center, and go from engagement to engagement, as if he had boundless enthusiasm and energy. While on his morning walks, his young disciples would find it hard to keep up with him.Thus, all who knew him concluded that Shrila Prabhupada was not an ordinary person of this world. As he indicated, he was truly a representative of the Supreme Lord, and thus he displayed these extraordinary qualities.
With the vision of hindsight, I marvel at the transformation that was expected of us. Shrila Prabhupada had come to America at the age of 70, desiring to establish a worldwide movement that would attempt to rectify a misguided human society. Shrila Prabhupada was convinced that human life is meant for self-realization. Human life is rarely achieved, and if it is misused for simply fulfilling the animal propensities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending- it is certainly a great loss.
Shrila Prabhupada said, "It Is required that the social system should be organized in such a way that automatically people become interested in the ultimate goal of life. That is real human civilization. This is not civilization, simply animal propensities- eat voraciously, sleep twelve hours, engage in sex without any restriction and have atom bombs for defense."Somehow, in America, beginning on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Shrila Prabhupada attracted a band of young seekers of the truth and engaged them in developing his International Society for Krishna Consciousness. Although the people in India seem to be much better qualified candidates for Krishna onsciousness, they had been unwilling to sacrifice their attachment to family, business and society when Shrila Prabhupada had tried to recruit them. The young Americans who flocked to Shrila Prabhupada were already detached from their family and society. By becoming hippies, they had already sacrificed their comfortable positions to join what they felt to be a cultural revolution.
The mood of the young people was captured in an early Hare Krishna flyer, entitled, "Stay High Forever". The Indians wanted to move up the social ladder while the American hippies were trying to attain a super state of consciousness. I request everyone to try chanting Hare Krishna. There are many dirty things within our hearts. Being forgetful of our relationship with God, we are always anxious and perplexed. Shrila Prabhupada assured us that these names of God are not different from the Lord. By attentively chanting, our hearts become cleansed, and our dormant consciousness of God is gradually awakened. Chanting can be done individually or in a group. One can sit anywhere and chant: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By hearing attentively, the chanter forces his or her mind to become absorbed in the transcendental sound vibration. The result is purification of consciousness, which is directly experienced by the chanter.
The best time to chant is after waking up in the morning. I always feel that my mind is very clouded upon awakening. By chanting Hare Krishna, I invariably feel that my heart become clear and pacified. This puts me in a better state of mind with which to face the forthcoming day. Most of Shrila Prabhupada's early followers had been hippies, but they changed their lifestyles radically. Sometimes, a reporter would ask, "Are your followers hippies?" Shrila Prabhupada replied, "They are not hippies- they're happies!"
There were about sixty devotees living in the Hare Krishna temple in Boston. The temple was an old three-story house. All of the devotees were younger than me- and I was only twenty-five. Only a few were college graduates, and almost all had been hippies. My wife was already living in the temple, I didn't have any children, I didn't have a job- I was unencumbered. My life seemed to be going nowhere. Life was boring and so were my friends. But, I was no saint! I didn't like communal living. I hated doing things that I didn't like to do. I was not inclined toward austerity, sacrifice, discipline, penance or whatever.
There was great promise, though. It was said that when a person devotes himself purely to the service of God, the great forest fire of material existence becomes extinguished. In other words, one rises above all the tribulations of this world, to a transcendental position beyond ignorance and suffering.it was said that a devotee of the Lord gains the results of all other spiritual paths, such as the yogi's mystic powers and vision of eternity. It was assured that the devotee would achieve all good fortune. After all, wouldn't the Lord be pleased with anyone who took to the path of devotion, sacrificing all personal considerations? If one were to please the Supreme Lord- what would remain unachieved? Being pleased, what would the Lord not bestow upon His unalloyed worshiper?
Think about it. We have so many desires. We hope for so many things. But I ask you, "What is the best thing that one could achieve?" The answer would have to be, "The best thing that one could do is make the Supreme Lord satisfied." If one were to satisfy the Supreme Lord, what would remain unaccomplished?
Shrila Prabhupada's spiritual master, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Maharaja used to say, "Don't try to see God. Act in such a way that God will be pleased to see you."
it was a fact- the devotees looked ecstatic, especially while chanting together. They were extremely enthusiastic and full of life. They considered Shrila Prabhupada to be an extraordinary personality, and to assist him in his mission was their sole aspiration. Again and again, the devotees invited me to join them. "This is the true path to freedom", they said. "Krishna is God and you are His tiny fragmental part. Without acting in your proper position as His eternal servant, you can never expect to become happy or wise."
In this regard, Shrila Prabhupada wrote in his commentary on Bhagavad-gita: The most confidential part of knowledge is that one should become a pure devotee of Krishna and always think of Him and act for Him. Life should be so molded that one will always have the chance to think of Krishna. One should arrange his life in such a way that throughout the twenty-four hours he cannot but think of Krishna. And the Lord's promise is that anyone who is in such pure Krishna consciousness will certainly return to His abode, to have His association, face to face.
It so happened that just after my twenty-fifth birthday, on September 25th- 1970, I went to live in the Hare Krishna temple.