Joseph Gallagher, a liberal clergyman serving in Baltimore, is the author of Diary of a City Priest. In his chronicle for 1979 he noted, “One morning I preached on some of the secrets life had taught me about itself.” But after his sermon a young girl approached him and said she would have preferred quotes from the Bible to the quotes he used in his talk. “Did Shakespeare know the Lord?” she inquired.
Father Gallagher writes:
I suddenly realized that I was facing a person whose narrow kind of religion I loathe. I told her that Catholic tradition regards God as the author of the second book, too—creation and the gifted human beings who see life in their own special way and talk about it with a special beauty and power. I cited St. Ambrose’s belief that whatever truth is spoken it is spoken by the Holy Spirit. I doubt that I converted her.
I can sympathize both with Father Gallagher and the girl. Father Gallagher’s broad vision is somewhat reminiscent of the vision of enlightened devotees of the Lord. As Lord Krsna says, “For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost to him nor is he ever lost to Me.” The pure devotee, who sees God everywhere, certainly sees Him within empowered human beings. Empowered beings derive their special potency (sakti) from God. In the Tenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, empowered beings are referred to as vibhuti incarnations of God. Such a literary genius as Shakespeare could be regarded as a vibhuti incarnation, in that he manifests a tiny fragment of Krsna’s poetic and dramatic prowess.
Religion that restricts God to the church or temple or to one particular scripture is religion of a lower order. An advanced devotee of God will see the object of his devotion not only in the temple or church but also in the hearts of all God’s creatures. Some sectarian Christians think that Krsna conscious devotees are devil worshipers, because Vedic scriptures describe ethics of spiritual life apparently different from the teachings of Christ. Such persons are narrow-minded and misinformed, and I welcome Father Gallagher’s ecumenical spirit and his attempt to appreciate God wherever He appears.
God’s creation, in all its aspects, glorifies the creator. Its as if all existence were within the pages of the holy scriptures. When my spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, was asked if St. Joan of Arc was in the Srimad-Bhagavatam he replied that she wasn’t within the traditional twelve cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam. He explained, however, that authentic writings describing her activities were Vedic, since all knowledge derives from the Vedas. Certainly there is no loathsome narrow-mindedness in such a view.
Of course the question still remains, “Did Shakespeare know the Lord’?” And the answer would have to be, “No.” At least, he didn’t glorify God directly, despite thousands of eloquent words. Therefore, although Shakespeare’s capabilities seem almost Godlike, he nevertheless failed in the most important mission of a writer: to specifically glorify the Personality of Godhead. Srila Prabhupada writes in his commentary on the First Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam:
Not only ordinary literatures devoid of the transcendental qualifications of the Lord are condemned, but also Vedic literatures and speculations on the subject of impersonal Brahman when they are devoid of devotional service. When speculation on the impersonal Brahman is condemned on the above grounds, then what to speak of ordinary fruitive work which is not meant to fulfill the aim of devotional service?
… There are thousands and thousands of literary men all over the world. They have created many, many thousands of literary works for the information of the people in general for thousands and thousands of years. Unfortunately none of them have brought peace and tranquillity on the earth. This is due to a spiritual vacuum in these literatures. Therefore the Vedic literatures, especially the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam, are specifically recommended to the suffering humanity to bring about the desired effect of liberation of the material civilization, which is eating the vital part of human energy.
Sensitive persons—many empowered writers, artists, and so on—sense that human life is a tragedy. Most people try to hide the unpleasant facts of our death-bound existence; therefore. the deeper realizations expressed by poets and writers may serve to awaken people to a reality deeper than surface attempts for sense gratification. This attempt to pierce through the superficiality of materialistic life is, at least indirectly, service to truth; therefore it is a preliminary form of God consciousness. But we must progress beyond this preliminary stage to the stage of understanding our spiritual nature and our relationship with God.
Those who follow the path of Krsna consciousness recognize the special potency of the world’s great scriptures (the Bible, Koran, Gita, Torah, and so on) to raise human consciousness to the platform of eternal liberation. Among the many sacred scriptures of the world, however, the Bhagavad-gita and the Srimad-Bhagavatam hold a special place, since they give the fullest presentation of the science of God, including confidential revelations about how to develop pure love of God. And certainly authorized preachers have the responsibility to quote scriptures and to speak about the. Personality of Godhead, not just “the secrets life had taught me about itself.—SDG