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Avoiding Wrong Turns on the Path of Knowledge

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by His Holiness Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami, a devotee in the renounced order, is now on a speaking tour of colleges and universities in the midwestern United States. 1973.Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami, a devotee in the renounced order, is now on a speaking tour of colleges and universities in the midwestern United States.

[Editor’s note: This is an extract from questions and answers that followed a lecture by His Holiness Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami at the University of Florida.]

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: if we accept the arguments of so-called yogis that no matter what we do we will all merge into the same point, there is no question of free will because we would all be compelled to come together, although we are acting and desiring differently. And without free will, what is the use of liberation? Liberation is meaningless without free will. Therefore the Supreme Lord, Krishna, advises us to surrender freely to Him. But if we are stubborn like asses and want to worship someone other than Krishna, we will get an inferior result.

Question: But in Bhagavad-gita Krishna Himself says, “Everyone is on the Lord’s path in all respects.” Therefore it seems to me that although everyone may appear to be on a different path, actually we are all on the same one path.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Yes, but you have not given the complete quotation. The other part of that verse says, ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham: “I reward all men proportionately as they surrender to Me.” if things were all the same, as you say, there would be no proportionate exchange. Actually, we should examine this concept of a “path.” We should study this analogy. Let’s say there’s a pathway going all the way from Miami to New York City. That is a path also. But if you examine this path at any moment, you will find perhaps ten thousand cars on this highway. But are there any two cars in exactly the same position? Can you say that any two cars are exactly at the same point? Of course not! And the argument that they will all end up together is also false because some cars are going one way and some are going the opposite way. Similarly, any sane man can see that living beings are all in different situations in different species of life. And just as cars go in different directions, some people are elevating themselves, and others are becoming degraded. Nowhere in the world do we see that people are automatically becoming perfect. Actually, the world is becoming more and more nasty, but although everyone is worried and unhappy, blind and lazy so-called spiritualists go on assuring people, “There’s no need to worry. Just be happy. Everything will automatically be all right.”

Another practical observation is that on a highway there are many exits, and very few cars take a road to the farthest point. For example, on the highway leaving Miami many cars will stop at Atlanta; others will stop at Washington, others at Baltimore and others at Philadelphia, but very few will take the road to the end.

Similarly, almost everyone exits prematurely from the yoga system. In Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that hardly anyone finishes the path. Many people exit prematurely from the yoga path to chase the illusion of becoming God. Others exit to indulge in material sense gratification. And others consider mere contentment the perfection of life, although anyone can see that many dumb animals are also content.

But according to Krishna and all other authorities, that is not the perfection of yoga. Actual perfection lies in returning to our original eternal positions as servants of Krishna. If someone wants to argue that merely performing gross bodily exercises or silent meditation can be equal to directly surrendering unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead and directly serving Him twenty-four hours a day in bhakti-yoga, he may argue, but he is a first-class fool, with no knowledge of actual yoga and its purpose.

So we accept that there is only one path, but that does not mean that we can immediately jump to conclusions and flatter ourselves that we are perfect. There is only one path, but that path stretches a long, long way-all the way from Krishnaloka, the highest planet in the spiritual sky, down to the wretched Patalaloka, the lowest planet within this universe. That one path winds its way up from the pit of this nasty material world, up through the antimaterial Vaikuntha planets, and all the way up to Krishnaloka and the transcendental forest where Krishna dances with the gopis in the moonlight.

It is natural for modern fools to flatter themselves that they are automatically going to the highest point regardless of their qualifications, but our practical observations of ourselves and others cannot justify this lazy and self-aggrandizing attitude. We find many people in difficulty, and often their difficulty is increasing-unhappy people whose unhappiness increases daily. It is rare to find someone actually elevating himself. In this age of quarrel, Kali-yuga, we are naturally inclined to be lazy, and we are always eager to get something for nothing and cheat someone. But we should give up wishfully thinking we will automatically become perfect. We should try to deal with our situation honestly.

Our actual situation is that we are eternal parts and parcels of Krishna. But we are now conditioned by material nature. Being part of God, however, we do have minute independence, and we can exercise our independence by surrendering to Krishna and in that way releasing ourselves from this dilemma.

On the other hand, the attempt to avoid the ominous repercussions of our sinful life merely by wishfully thinking that we are God, or that our sinful activities may be offered to God, will only prolong our entanglement and the stupor of our material life. We should admit just what we want-and take it! If someone wants Krishna, the Supreme, let him say it directly, chant it directly and accept it directly. That is Krishna consciousness.

Therefore Krishna summarized the entire issue of spiritual life by saying that worshipers who pray to demigods such as Brahma and Siva for material benedictions are dispatched to the planets of the demigods, whereas worshipers of ghosts and spirits also become ghosts and spirits. And those who offer everything to the Supreme Lord, Krishna, live with Krishna. Krishna indicates that those who worship something other than God are going backwards on the path. The Lord says, pravrttim ca nivrttim ca jana na vidur asurah: “Those who are demons do not know what is to be done and what is not to be done.” So how can we argue that everything gets the same result? If we want to see Krishna, God, face to face, we should focus intensely on that object.

Question: But I don’t see any need to worship an external God like Krishna. To my way of thinking, since everyone has the same divine spark within, I can also be God.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Yes, we may say we are God because things are easier said than done. But by my say-so can I become God so whimsically? How does an ordinary man become God? If I can collect a band of naive followers, then I become an incarnation by their votes. That is the democratic spirit: incarnations of the people and by the people. But that is nonsense. In Bhagavad-gita Krishna teaches us that we can know the authentic incarnations by consulting Vedic literature, where the incarnations of Krishna are carefully catalogued. Krishna is called “Urukrama” because whenever He incarnates He performs wonderful activities impossible for an ordinary man. But pseudo-incarnations never do anything wonderful. Therefore any intelligent man who studies the authoritative literature will not be cheated. But if we audaciously ignore the revealed scriptures, we can be cheated very easily.

Question: I don’t see why we should accept any God beyond our own selves. Each person has to have his own realization, not just read about the realization of others. I have to be my own God.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Yes, you may want to be God. But what can you do? For example, if someone comes here to purchase a car from you and gives you a check for five thousand dollars, what do you immediately say to him? This is business. What’s the first thing you say to him?

Response: Credit references. . .

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Yes! Credit references. “Let me call your bank and check this out.” Because one has to be polite in business, we say, “Oh, it’s not that I don’t trust you, but it’s just our company policy. Let me call your bank and check your credit references.” Because we don’t want to be cheated. Similarly, if someone claims to be God, we don’t want to be cheated and waste our lives serving an imposter.

But if a man comes and gives us a check and argues with us, “No, you cannot call my bank, nor have I any credit references, but still you must take the check,” will you take it?

Response; You see, what I mean is. . .

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: No, no, answer the question. Will you take the check with no bank references?

Response: No.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: So if someone comes and claims, “I am God,” we say, “Yes, probably you are the Supreme Personality, but our policy is that we want to check your credit; we want to see what you can do.” The activities and qualifications of God are all mentioned in the revealed scriptures.

Response: The scriptures give some idea, but they’re limited because they’re words. You have to get knowledge for yourself. The scriptures are material.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: So first you have to concede my first point-that you can’t act like God. But why do you say the scriptures are material? What is the evidence that Vedic literature is material? Material means temporary. There’s no evidence that Vedic literature is temporary. It is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam that Krishna spoke this literature to Brahma billions of years ago (tene brahma hrda). Brahma was supposed to create the universe, but he was faltering until Krishna delivered the Vedic scriptures to him from within his heart. Then he could do it. And the Bhagavatam describes very clearly that long before the creation, personified Vedic knowledge existed. Great saintly persons accept these descriptions and the Vedic literature is still going strong all over the world. So where is the evidence that it has any cessation? Actually, there is no evidence of a beginning to it and no evidence of its end. “Material” refers to temporary things that have a beginning and end. But where is the evidence that Bhagavad-gita is temporary?

Response: Do’ you really think it’s eternal? After all, it’s just printed on temporary paper with temporary ink. In a few years it will just be dust.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: That is nonsense. Bhagavad-gita is not paper and ink. Bhagavad-gita is a sound vibration. For example, I am speaking, and you can write down on paper what I’m saying and distribute it. That’s another thing. But where is the evidence that Bhagavad-gita has a beginning or end?

Response: It is said that the sage Vyasadeva wrote it 5,000 years ago.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: No! I have already given the example that if I speak and you record what I say and type it out, that does not mean that the day you type it out is the day the words were first spoken. These are not very substantial objections.

Question: But how do you know that Krishna was anything more than an ordinary man?

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: If Krishna was ordinary, why then did He act extraordinarily? Why did all the contemporary authorities say that Krishna is extraordinary? People argue that these descriptions can be psychologically explained. But actually such faithless demons can be psychologically explained. These fools are simply envious of Krishna. All the saintly authorities declare that Krishna is extraordinary, but the demons convince themselves that He is a myth. Why do they do that? if they are not sure, they should investigate. But they cannot stand to investigate Krishna consciousness because Krishna Is actually the Supreme Personality ot Godhead.

Response: But that is just your interpretation.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: No! It is not our interpretation. It is Arjuna’s interpretation, Asita’s, Devala’s, Narada’s. It is the opinion of all the great transcendental authorities. They all insist that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So if the great say yes and the fools say no, whom shall we believe?

For example, if I want to invest some money and a highly successful businessman says to invest but a poor beggar says not to invest, why should I listen to the poor beggar? if I do, I will also become a beggar. Similarly, who are these people that deny Krishna? What is their caliber? It is well known that they cannot control their senses. They have no definite transcendental knowledge, nor any experience of real Vedic study. So what is their caliber?

Who are these petty critics compared to great souls like Narada and Vyasadeva? Vyasadeva could simply sit down alone, without a tinge of material desire, in a secluded place, and spontaneously sing hundreds of thousands of perfectly composed Sanskrit verses so beautiful that five thousand years later they are studied everywhere in the world. And his language is so sophisticated that scholars cannot surpass it. All the philosophies of the earth can be found within these verses, and at the end Vyasadeva defeated all other philosophies to establish Krishna above everything as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Vyasadeva could pinpoint in detail our modern condition of life. Which of these petty critics could dare presume exactly what life will be like five thousand years from now? Actually, despite their lofty notions on life, many modern philosophers and scientists have personal habits like dogs and cats. They are simply addicted to material sense gratification. But Vyasadeva was pure, uncontaminated. He was not a hypocrite; he was saintly. He was ecstatic twenty-four hours a day. So who are these so-called critics who dare to challenge the transcendental status of Vyasadeva? Krishna demonstrated that He is God, and all the greatest spiritual authorities confirmed it.

Response: Krishna may have been a very wonderful man, but…

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: If Krishna was wonderful, why should He have misunderstood His own position? Krishna said over and over, “I am the Supreme God.” But you say Krishna is a man. So if Krishna misunderstood Himself, how was He wonderful? Someone who does not know his own position cannot be wonderful. A man becomes wonderful by self-realization. So if Krishna is wonderful, we should accept Krishna’s statement that He is God.

Response: Krishna may have understood Himself, but today we don’t understand His real teachings.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: That is still nonsense. Krishna spoke very clearly. Krishna said, “I am God.” Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that Krishna spoke Bhagavad-gita for the least intelligent people. (“Iti bharatam akhyanam krpaya munina krtam.”) So if Krishna was speaking for the least intelligent people, which is what we are in this age, why should He speak in riddles? Riddles are for clever people. Riddles and esoteric language are not meant for slow learners. The Bhagavatam specifically states that because in this age we cannot understand the esoteric and sophisticated language of the Vedas, Vyasadeva included Bhagavad-gita in the Mahabharata. According to the simple and clear language of the Gita, Krishna is the Original Person, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Response: There are many editions of Bhagavad-gita.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: There are not many editions according to Krishna. One must understand Bhagavad-gita as it is, as Krishna spoke it, without adding or subtracting anything. One should therefore hear the message of Bhagavad-gita from a pure devotee of Krishna, its original speaker.

To understand God, one needs intelligent discrimination. But people do not understand this. For example, the schools say, “if we allow you to teach Krishna consciousness, then we must allow everyone to come and teach his idea.” But that is such foolishness! Why don’t they argue this way in hiring their faculty? If there are one hundred applications to join the faculty and one man is accepted, does everyone have to be accepted? If a university admits one student, must it then admit every student, without evaluation or limitation? Is that necessary? If the cafeteria serves one kind of food, does it have to serve every kind of food? The answer is no in every case. They will discriminate between different students, teachers and foods according to their quality. If I use one book in a course, do I have to use every book in the world? No! Then where do they get this foolish idea of not discriminating? Why do they artificially mention it in our case? Discrimination based on ignorance is useless, but discrimination based on quality is necessary. The professor says that if he allows us to teach, he has to allow everyone. But why does he marry one girl and not another? Why? What is your answer? Why doesn’t he marry all the girls? In every other field they discriminate. In the choice of books, faculty, administration, architecture, landscaping Even the cafeteria discriminates. Why then in our case do they suddenly say, “No discrimination, if you come, everyone must come”?

Response: Because you are a religion.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Yes, they say, “Because it is a religion, it cannot be proven.” But they teach poetry, don’t they? In the field of poetry, how can anything be proven? How can you prove that one poem is better than another?

Response: Simply by taste.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: But how can you prove it? How can you prove that Shakespeare is better than an ordinary man?

Response: You can’t actually prove it because it all depends on your personal taste.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: But still they make judgments.

Response; No, the schools are there to educate, not to make judgments.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Yes, they do make judgments because they offer courses in Shakespeare in every school, but there are no courses in your writings or mine. If they don’t judge, then why do they offer certain specific courses in the literature department? Do they offer courses in Shakespeare?

Response: Yes, but. . .

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Do they offer courses in your writings? [laughter] Why not? Do they teach a course in Beethoven?

Response: Yes.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: But will they offer a course in your singing? Why Beethoven and not others? Why Shakespeare and not others? What is your answer?

Response: It’s because of personal taste.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: No! It’s not personal taste. Shakespeare is actually better. Beethoven is actually better. There’s a difference in quality, and that quality can be ascertained. But to justify qualitative distinctions, we have to understand the absolute value. That is Krishna. If you do not know that there is a central, absolute value, you will think that everything is relative.

Response: Then why will they not accept your knowledge?

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Yes, that is what I’m asking you. Actually, they are cheating. By objective study, anyone can see that we are presenting the most elaborate and expansive philosophy of God.

Response: But religion cannot be proven empirically.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: What is this empirical nonsense? If you want to experience with your senses, you must remember that there are different qualities of senses. For example, a dog cannot see certain things a man can see. A dog will not appreciate Beethoven, but that does not mean that Beethoven is to be rejected. Then why should intelligent people reject Krishna to satisfy doggish men who don’t have purified senses with which to see Him?

Actually, there is a standard of quality within this universe. There are three modes of material nature. Some poetry is in the mode of ignorance, some is in the mode of passion, and some is in the mode of goodness. Everything-religion, philosophy, food, action-is within these three modes of nature. So you discriminate between ignorance, passion and goodness. But why not discriminate between goodness and transcendence? What is your answer?

Response: Well, these other things can be understood. . .

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Krishna can also be understood. But not with dull senses, not with a blunt mind. We have to purify our intelligence. Because Krishna is subtle, not gross, we have to elevate ourselves. Then we can understand Him. Then we can perceive Him directly. Krishna says: “This religion is the perfection because it gives direct perception of the self.” Therefore the universities should give the students the opportunity to develop this perception.

Response: But the university is supported by the State, and the State cannot support any religious movement.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Then what is the definition of religious? That God is involved? Why can the government support everything, but not God?

Response: Separation of Church and State. . .

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: You do not know what separation of Church and State is. The government cannot impose a particular religion by force, but it must encourage everything that is beneficial for the welfare of the citizens. The State cannot tell someone at gunpoint, “You must chant Hare Krishna,” and separation of Church and State was meant to insure that such coercion would never be used. But the modern idea is a perversion. The government must make propaganda for God and spiritual life, otherwise the country will become wretched and vicious, just as modern nations are now becoming. Otherwise why is propaganda on the currency-“In God We Trust”? The founding fathers never meant that the State was to separate itself by ignoring God. They never meant that. Why did they make propaganda for God on the currency?

Response: Because it does not indicate any particular religion.

Hrdayananda dasa Gosvami: Yes. But we are not a particular religion. We are not sectarian. We are presenting a philosophy and technique that brings one to the point of God consciousness, which nullifies all designations. Christian, Hindu and all such designations are dissolved by God consciousness, so how can God consciousness be a designation?

We are not imposing anything upon people who don’t want it. For example, if the government offers a course in geology, does that mean that it’s forcing everyone to become a geologist? No. And besides that, geology is accepted as standard knowledge. You may argue that God’s existence has not been proven, but neither has the existence of the atomic particle, except by its symptoms. And anyone can know God by His symptoms. The government recognizes the need for geological science, but the government leaders are utter fools if they do not recognize the need for a spiritual science, if we offer Krishna consciousness in schools, how is that any more of an imposition than offering geology? If I offer a course in anthropology, am I forcing everyone to become an anthropologist? No. So the government should give us the facility to offer courses everywhere in Krishna consciousness. It is not an imposition on anyone’s freedom, but it will give intelligent and serious students inquiring about the essential problems of life an opportunity to receive sublime and authoritative scientific answers.

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