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The Soul Killing Civilization


Too much stress on working for the body
and too little on acquiring spiritual knowledge
destroy the vitality of human society.

A lecture in New York in January 1967
by His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness


buddhir jnanam asammohah
ksama satyam damah samah
sukham duhkham bhavo ‘bhavo
bhayam cabhayam eva ca

ahimsa samata tustis
tapo danam yaso ‘yasah
bhavanti bhava bhutanam
matta eva prthag-vidhah

“Intelligence, knowledge, freedom from doubt and delusion, forgiveness, truthfulness, control of the senses, control of the mind, happiness and distress, birth, death, fear, fearlessness, nonviolence, equanimity, satisfaction, austerity, charity, fame and infamy—all these various qualities of living beings are created by Me alone.” (Bhagavad-gita 10.4-5)

Lord Krsna is the original cause of everything. Therefore He must be the cause of all good qualities, and also all bad qualities. When we see the things in this material world, we consider, “This is bad, and that is good.” We have divided everything according to our calculation. But actually, all the things in this world are a varied manifestation of Krsna’s qualities.

Because the qualities mentioned in these verses are in Krsna, they are also in the living entities. We have all these qualities to some degree. Take, for example, buddhi, or intelligence. What is real intelligence? Real intelligence is to understand, “Krsna is the Supreme, and I am part and parcel of Him.”

Suppose one is very intelligent in the matter of driving a car. That is material intelligence. Real intelligence is to understand the finer activities of material nature and its relationship to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Even on the material platform, a person is considered intelligent when he tries to understand how things are working. By his intelligence he wants to discover the active principles behind things. A child, however, will see a motorcar running in the street and think it is moving out of its own accord. That is foolishness.

For example, here we have a tape recorder and a microphone. Somebody may say, “Oh! How fine a discovery these are. They are working so nicely.” But an intelligent person will understand that this tape recorder and microphone cannot work for a single moment unless a spirit soul touches them. We should not simply be struck with wonder by seeing a machine; we should try to find out who is working the machine. That is intelligence.

One who sees grossly will say, “This scientist is living and working and writing books. How wonderful!” But when the soul leaves the scientist’s body—no more scientist. Can any scientist discover some substance and place it before his student and say, “When I die, inject this into my body, and I’ll live again”? Has any scientist discovered such a substance? No. If any scientist had discovered such a substance, there would be no scarcity of scientists. Sir Isaac Newton, Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, Thomas Edison, Einstein, and so many other scientists all over the world would still be alive. We challenge, “You scientists have discovered so many wonderful things. Then, Mr. Scientist, why don’t you discover something that we can inject into your body when you die so you can live again and keep on working?”

Actually, the scientist and the philosopher are working not of their own accord but under the spell of material nature. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [3.27], prakrteh kriyamanani gunaih karmani sarvasah: “Everything is going on by nature’s law.” If, as the scientists say, everything is accidental, why are there so many differences between species? Here is a scientist, and there is a fool. Why this distinction? The distinction is made by prakrti, by nature. And what is this prakrti Krsna says, mayadhyaksena prakrtih suyate sa-caracaram: “Under My direction, nature is working.”

So nature is the agent, and Krsna is the real worker. We are simply instruments; that is our position. If you are intelligent, you will understand that you are simply Krsna’s instrument. We are like a hand in relationship to the owner of the hand. What is my hand? It is an instrument with which I can pick things up and work. So, I am working, not the hand.

But people do not understand that they are simply Krsna’s agents. Why? Ahankara-vimudhatma: They are bewildered by false ego. Therefore they think, “I am a scientist,” “I am a philosopher,” “I am a Rockefeller,” “I am a businessman,” or “I am a swami.” No. You are simply an instrument in the hands of Krsna. So you should work as Krsna desires. If you work in Krsna consciousness, that is real intelligence, but if you work against Krsna, that is foolishness.

The word jnana means “knowledge.” Now, as far as material knowledge is concerned, just consider this key packet. If you want to conduct research into who has made this packet, what materials it is made of, in what country it was first introduced, and so on, you can write volumes of books. You can speculate on anything and write volumes of books. But that does not mean you are a man of knowledge.

I’ll give you a very nice example. This is practical. In my youth I was the manager of a big chemical firm. Once there was a defect in a sulfuric acid chamber. In that chamber we would place sulfur and then fuse it, and then acid would come out. But the chamber was not working. So, many scientists were sitting, consulting books, trying to determine why it was not working. Then the managing director, Dr. Bose (he was a very intelligent man), went to another chemical firm. He knew an ordinary worker there who was very experienced. Dr. Bose called him at once and said, “Come to our firm and show us the defect in our sulfuric acid chamber.” The man came and manipulated some valves, and at once the sulfuric acid began coming out again. All the theoretical scientists were amazed.

So, this kind of knowledge you’ll find even in an ordinary man. Even in birds and animals you’ll find it. They all have some sort of special knowledge by which they can perform wonderful activities that we cannot perform. But that is not real knowledge. Real knowledge means to understand spirit and matter.

Matter is working due to the touch of spirit; matter is dependent on spirit. This is knowledge—not to make matter prominent and neglect spirit. In the present educational system nearly all persons are devoid of actual knowledge because they have neglected the spiritual side of life. They understand only the material side. Therefore, according to the Bhagavad-gita, the present civilization is a civilization of fools. They are putting too much stress on the motorcar and not enough on the driver. The driver is being neglected—man is being neglected.

When I studied at Scottish Churches’ College, I read a magazine from your country. I think it is still current—Scientific American. Skyscrapers were just beginning at that time, and in the magazine I saw a picture of a man working very hard at building a skyscraper. So, for manufacturing something out of matter, he was killing the soul. You see? That is material civilization. People are putting too much stress on the material side and neglecting the spirit. That is not civilization. One should put more stress on the spiritual side because that is the active principle of life. So, a man is said to be in knowledge when he gives more importance to the spiritual side of life. He is called a jnani. Otherwise, he is a fool.

Real knowledge means to understand what matter is and what spirit is. And in an actually advanced civilization, people have this knowledge. This is the Aryan civilization. The Sanskrit word aryan means “advanced.” And a person who is an Aryan is one who is advanced in real knowledge, one who is civilized. In the Bhagavad-gita, when Arjuna declines to fight, Krsna criticizes him, “Oh, you are talking just like a non-Aryan.”

So, we all belong to the Aryan family, but most of us have become non-Aryans by not giving importance to the spiritual side of life. An Aryan gives importance to the spiritual side of life and sees how important human life is. Human life is important because in this form the spirit soul, although conditioned by his material encagement, has developed consciousness, which he has achieved by gradual evolution. The theory of evolution is explained in the Padma Purana. The spirit soul evolves from the lower statuses of life, beginning from the aquatics and then moving up to plant life, then to germ life, then to bird life, then to human life, and finally to civilized human life.

Fortunately, we now have a civilized form of human life, but unfortunately most of us are using it in the matter of maintaining our bodies. Ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca: We are wasting the valuable human form of life by using it simply for eating, sleeping, defending, and sex. Now the spirit soul has the chance to liberate himself. By nature’s way, the evolutionary process has given the spirit soul the chance to get out of the material entanglement. But people are not giving importance to the spiritual side of life. Therefore, we find that there is overpopulation.

Why is there overpopulation? Suppose that in some school, students are being promoted from lower classes to higher classes. If they do not pass when they come to the final class, then that class becomes overcrowded. Similarly, in the present civilization there is sometimes overpopulation because people are not being promoted to higher life. They are being blocked. And nature’s way is that there must be some pestilence or war to decrease the population.

So, people are very proud, but they have no real intelligence, no real knowledge. God gives real knowledge. As explained here, buddhir jnanam asammoha: intelligence, knowledge, freedom from bewilderment—all these are gifts of God. So we must utilize them properly. This human form is developed for using the gifts of God. God has given us nice foodstuffs, God has given us good intelligence. God has given us books of knowledge. He is personally speaking the Bhagavad-gita. Why don’t you utilize all these things? If you utilize them properly, you may call yourselves Aryans, or civilized human beings. But if you don’t, you will simply follow your animal propensities; you will be like dogs going after female dogs or hogs going after female hogs.

This is not civilization. We must be sober. We must be distinct from the animals and properly utilize our human form of life. As stated in the Srimad-Bhagavatam [11.9.29]: labdhva su-durlabham idam bahu-sambhavante: This human body is achieved after many, many, many, many births—after millions and trillions of years. Don’t think that all of a sudden, by accident, we have gotten this body. There are other bodies—cats, dogs, and so many others—and only after a long evolutionary process have we achieved this human form (manusya). (From this Sanskrit word manusya comes the English word man.) What is the value of this human form of life? Arthadam. You can attain the highest perfection; you can realize the actual substance of life. Artha means “money” or “substance.” So, now we are utilizing our life for making money, but we are missing the real substance.

Next this body is described as anityam, temporary. Although it can deliver the substance, it is not permanent. So the Bhagavatam advises that you be dhira—sober and intelligent. Then how should you utilize your human life? Turnam yateta na pated anu-mrtyu yavan nihsreyasaya. You should try to use your human form of life to achieve the highest substance very soon. Why very soon? Because you do not know when death will come. Don’t think, “I am a young man. Let me eat, drink, be merry, and enjoy.” No. You should not delay. While still in the womb, Prahlada Maharaja was instructed by Narada Muni and became a very great devotee. And when Prahlada was only five years old he instructed his classmates to take to Krsna consciousness immediately.

So, there is no value in becoming a five-hundred-year-old tree or a five-million-year-old stone, but if you live to be only five years old and you understand transcendental knowledge, your life is perfect. This idea is very nicely discussed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. “Oh, you are very proud of your long duration of life? You see that the cats and dogs die within ten or twenty years but that you live seventy or eighty years, and therefore you are very proud?” The Srimad-Bhagavatam [2.3.18] answers, taravah kim na jivanti: “Don’t you see the tree? It lives five hundred or a thousand years.”

“But a tree cannot breathe.”

Bhastrah kim na svasanti: “Don’t you see the bellows? It is simply a bag of skin, but it is breathing: ‘Bhaass, bhaass, bhaass.’ So why do you think your breathing is so wonderful?”

“Well, the bellows breathes, but it cannot eat and enjoy sex.”

Na khadanti na mehanti kim grame pasavo ‘pare: “But do not the dogs and hogs enjoy sex? Do they not eat?” In this way the Bhagavatam analyzes the foolish pride of the materialists. You should give up this false pride and take to Krsna consciousness. That is the perfection of life. Otherwise, you are cats and dogs. Don’t take it that I am criticizing you; I am simply presenting the facts.

So, this human form of life should be utilized properly to achieve buddhi, jnana, and asammoha—good intelligence, real knowledge, and freedom from bewilderment. If you study the Bhagavad-gita nicely, analytically, with your intelligence and reason, you will become perfect. This is Krsna consciousness. Take advantage of it; don’t spoil your life. That is our request. The purpose of this Krsna consciousness society is to give you this chance. We are not bluffing. No, here is something substantial. Try to understand it.

Thank you very much. Hare Krsna.

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