His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness,
speaks with Jon Nordheimer of
The New York Times in a conversation
recorded in September 1972 at New Vrindaban,
the Society’s farm community near Wheeling, West Virginia.
Srila Prabhupada: When we speak of Krsna, we mean God. Everyone has some vague idea of God, hut no clear idea. Therefore God descends to show what He is. If we speculate on God, someone will think one thing and another person will think another. This is the result of speculation. But if God Himself comes and shows Himself as He is and speaks about Himself, that is perfect knowledge. This Krsna consciousness movement is spreading that message.
In Bhagavad-gita, God Himself is speaking about Himself: I am like this; My form is like this; My activities are like this; My address is this and that. If you like, you can come back to Me. There is no restriction-everyone can come to Me.” All this information is there in Bhagavad-gita, where God speaks about Himself and presents Himself as He is. We have simply to take that information; then we can understand Him. And when we understand God. Krsna, we can go back to Him. It is a very simple thing. Krsna says.
janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so ‘rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My .appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body. take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode. O Arjuna.” [Bhagavad-gita 4.9]
So God is there; that’s a fact. Anyone can go back to Him and live an eternal life full of bliss and knowledge simply by knowing about it. When God Himself comes, all great acaryas, stalwart men, accept Him: “Yes, He is God.” If we simply understand God, we make a solution to all our problems.
Because we are part and parcel of God, we are qualitatively equal with Him. God is eternal, and we are eternal. God is blissful, and we are blissful. God is full of knowledge; we are also full of knowledge. Unfortunately, we are hampered by this material body. Therefore our problem is how to get out of this material body and come to our spiritual body. The spiritual body is there, just as our real body is present underneath our shirt and coat. I, you. and every one of us is a spiritual spark, part and parcel of God, and we are placed within gross body and a subtle body. When this particular gross body is finished. we are carried by the subtle body into another gross body. That is called transmigration of the soul. And when we finally set free from the subtle body also, we go back home, back to Godhead, It is that easy.
A human being should therefore endeavor to get out of the gross and subtle bodies, attain a spiritual body, and go back home. That should be the aim of human endeavor. Not that we should simply live like animals. Animals cannot get out of the gross and subtle bodies, because to extricate oneself one must know in fact what God is. An animal cannot know what God is, but a human being can That is the opportunity afforded by this body. Nature gives us this human body Just to understand Krsna, but if we simply use it for animal propensities. we will again go down to the animal kingdom. That is a form of punishment.
Mr. Nordheimer: What problems do you have in making your words, your instructions, reach the ears of everyone in the world?
Srila Prabhupada: We are not preaching our own words; we are preaching Krsna’s words. Now it is up to you to make your choice. Krsna says to give up all other engagements and just surrender unto Him.
How? He says in Bhagavad-gita [9.34],
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaisyasi satyam te
pratijane priyo ‘si me
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me and become My devotee. Offer your obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”
Suppose I am a member of a political party and am always thinking of Mr. Such-and-Such, my leader. I become a staunch follower of that leader. People are sacrificing their lives simply to follow a political leader, and for party superiority they are doing so many things—always thinking of the party’s activities. always glorifying the party’s principles. If all these activities are transferred to Krsna, they become good. Krsna says, “Think of Me, become my devotee, worship Me, and offer obeisances unto Me” If we perform these activities for Krsna, we become Krsna conscious. That is what we are teaching.
We advise that you keep doing what you are doing-but do it for Krsna. That is Krsna consciousness. It is not difficult. But if you want to love a dog and become a dog in your next life instead of loving God and becoming like God in the next life, that is your choice. The prison and the university are open to everyone, and by making your choice you make your future destiny. My disciples are worshiping God, and people criticize them, but when a man worships a dog he is not criticized. In this way society has progressed. So it is folly to be wise where ignorance is bliss.
Mr. Nordheimer: What about the future? Is it possible to bring more people into Krsna consciousness? To expand?
Srila Prabhupada: Of course, there are good men and bad men, and good men are taking to this movement, because it is a good movement. “Good” means not having illicit sex, not eating meat, not indulging in intoxication, and not indulging in gambling. If anyone observes these four principles, he is considered a good man, and if he does not observe them, he is a bad man. So good men will take to this Krsna consciousness movement, and bad men will not.
We give distinct rules on how to become good, for if one does not become good, how can he understand God, who is all good? First we must become good men; then we can understand God. It’s up to us to make the choice.
The future is open for everyone. There is no restriction; no one says, “This class of men shall be good, and this class of men shall be bad.” Anyone can become good. If we educate a child nicely, he becomes good. but if we train him foolishly, he becomes a rascal. It is the duty of the government, the father, and the teachers to make everyone good. If the government is bad, the father is bad, and the teachers are bad, how can the child be good? Everywhere the government, the father, and the teachers are bad; therefore we are producing bad men, and there is no peace and prosperity.
Mr. Nordheimer: What about the men who surround you?
Srila Prabhupada: They’re all good men.
Mr. Nordheimer: They are good men who were raised in a bad society.
Srila Prabhupada: They were raised in a bad society, but they have chosen to become good.
Mr. Nordheimer: Is that preordained, or is it by free choice?
Srila Prabhupada: Free choice. What is “preordained”? You are here of your free choice. If you like, you can sit down and talk with me, and if you don’t like, you can go. That is your free choice. Free choice makes destiny: if I act in goodness, then my future is good, and if I act badly, my future is bad. That is destiny.
Man is the architect of his own destiny. In other words, our future destiny depends on our present action. This life is an opportunity to improve our next life, and if we behave like human beings, then in our next life we will go back home, back to Godhead. But if we behave like animals, then in our next life we will take animal bodies. That’s all. All this is very nicely described in Bhagavad-gita.
The conclusion is that human beings are meant for understanding God, but if you waste your time understanding dog, that is your choice. If you try to understand dog instead of God, and if you become too attached to dog, then you will become a dog in your next life. But if you are attached to God, you become like God in your next life. The choice is yours.
Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita [4.11],
ye yatha mam prapadyante
tams tathaiva bhajamy aham
manusyah partha sarvasah
“As living beings surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O Arjuna.”
God is available. and we can associate with Him according to our choice. The ability to choose, or our conscience, is given to us in the human form so we can utilize it. All the ingredients are there for us to cross the ocean of birth and death. This human body is a very nice boat, and we have a very good navigator, the spiritual master. We also have a very favorable wind—the instructions of God. So we should take our chance and cross the ocean of birth and death. But if we don’t take this opportunity and solve the problems of life, we are cutting our own throat. If you cut your own throat, who can save you? We can say, “Now here is an opportunity. Take it and be saved from birth, old age, disease, and death.” but if you don’t take advantage, what can we do?
Mr. Nordheimer: Why does all this exist? Why the challenge in the first place? Why maya?
Srila Prabhupada: Maya means illusion, darkness. If I tell you to come from the darkness into the light and if you don’t come, that is your misfortune. Maya is there, and God is there. If you want to remain in maya, then how can you be saved? I can help you by saying, “Don’t remain in darkness. Please come out into the light.” But if you say, “No, I shall remain here,” then how can I save you? You have your choice. God is there, and maya is there. If you take to maya, you remain in darkness. What can I do, and what can God do? That is your choice.