The spiritual leader of the Hare Krsna movement in Great Britain
speaks of Krsna’s teachings in one of England’s most venerable churches.
One of the highlights of last summer’s Festival of India in Britain was an ecumenical dialogue at Westminster Abbey, where British clergymen gathered to learn more about the Hare Krsna movement and its role in English society. Leading members of the movement and The Very Reverend Dr. Edward Carpenter, Dean of the Abbey, sponsored the dialogue. Representing the Hare Krsna movement was Srila Bhagavan Goswami, one of the movement’s present spiritual masters. Here is his address.
I would like to thank all of you for coming today and giving us an opportunity to explain a little of the history and purpose of the Krsna consciousness movement.
The founder and spiritual master of our movement, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, traveled from India to America in 1965. So, many people may not be aware that Krsna consciousness is actually a very great historical movement. Five hundred years ago, according to our scriptures, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna, appeared in His form as Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Mayapur, India, in the area that is now called West Bengal. In the Bhagavad-gita [4.7], which many of you may be familiar with, the Lord describes His appearance within this world:
“From time to time, when the principles of religion diminish, I descend in order to rectify the situation.”
We understand from the Vedic scriptures that the incarnations of the Lord in various forms are as numerous as the waves in the ocean. But the specific purpose of the Lord’s appearance as Caitanya Mahaprabhu was to teach us how a devotee of the Lord can develop his love of God by chanting God’s holy name.
All great scriptures of the world glorify the name of God. God’s name is not an ordinary sound vibration; it is actually as glorious as God Himself. In Sanskrit we say, nama cintamanih krsnas caitanya-rasa-vigrahah: “The name of God is made of spiritual energy. So in all aspects it is absolute and thus nondifferent from the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.”
Caitanya Mahaprabhu came five hundred years ago to teach how the whole world could be united in the church of the chanting of the holy name of God. Since that time, the disciplic succession, or chain of spiritual masters, has produced an immense philosophy explaining the perfection that a living entity can achieve by chanting the holy name, purifying his existence, and deepening his faith in God.
Faith in God is actually the driving force that sustains human society. When faith in God is not at the center of society, there can be no real progress. Externally there may seem to be a type of progress, but this progress is like the progress of a decaying body.
Without becoming God conscious, there is no way for one to develop good qualities. Actually, human beings are meant to become saintly persons. Like no other species, human beings can receive a very important type of education: education concerning the soul and its relationship to God and the world. Yet we see that although there are many universities for cultivating knowledge and providing education, and although in one sense we are very advanced in technology and science, there is a great lack in our educational institutions. Where is that education and that technology and that science that can make someone into a saintly person? Our universities may graduate so many Ph.D.’s, but if these scholars simply remain attached to material life, if they do not know what happens at the time of death, if they do not know that they have an eternal relationship with God, then their education is like the decorations on a dead body. We may decorate a dead body with flowers and precious cloth and jewels, but these won’t bring the body back to life. Similarly, unless human society turns out persons of good quality who are fixed in morality, nonviolence, austerity, cleanliness, truthfulness, and mercy—and who know the science of God—then human society has a great shortcoming.
So there is a great need in the world to increase people’s faith in God, and that faith must be based on a scientific understanding of Him. Understanding God is not a matter of sentiment. As Krsna says in -the Bhagavad-gita [10.32], adhyatma-vidya vidyanam: “Of all sciences, I am the spiritual science of the Self.” This is the science the Krsna consciousness movement is propagating all over the world.
From the external point of view our devotees seem to be simply singing on the street and playing some drums and cymbals. But there is a great philosophy behind the Krsna consciousness movement. Up till the most recent years the Sanskrit Vedic teachings have been hidden from the West by the language barrier. So our spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada, considered his translations of these teachings his most important contribution. The scientific presentation of who God is and who we are, what our spiritual nature is, what our relationship with one another on the eternal platform is, how to act in that relationship, and how, ultimately, to experience the perfection of human feeling and emotion in the form of pure, unadulterated love of God—all of this is explained in Srila Prabhupada’s books, which are a great gift to the whole of mankind. Since Srila Prabhupada began our movement in 1965, we have distributed close to one hundred million pieces of literature throughout the world. We now have translations in thirty languages and centers in more than one hundred cities on six continents.
Of course, you have no doubt heard many things about “the Hare Krsnas”—that we are brainwashing people or this and that. But the actual fact is that many brains need to be washed [Laughter], because in general people—not all people, of course—but in general there is a weakening of faith and people have turned to materialistic alternatives in life. However, according to Krsna’s teachings in the Bhagavad-gita [2.13], dehino ‘smin yatha dehe: we are not the external body; rather, we are the consciousness within the body. Therefore a society that is simply concerned with satisfying the needs and desires of the body is somewhat like a man who simply polishes a birdcage but never feeds the bird inside.
Because we are by nature spiritual living entities, we require spiritual knowledge, spiritual association, spiritual food, spiritual friendship. These are what will satisfy our heart. No matter what you give a hungry man, he will remain unsatisfied until you give him some food. Similarly, we may create a United Nations or SALT talks or this or that, but we will really begin to solve world problems only when we start to give people genuine spiritual knowledge and spiritual experience, which are not only our birthright but our necessity from time immemorial.
Although there are many threats of impending war (Britain has also recently gotten disturbed in the South Atlantic), there is another type of war that we are waging all the time. This is the war against the material energy, which comes when we forget our relationship with God. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [15.7], manah sasthanindriyani prakrti-sthani karsati:
“The living entity in the material world is constantly struggling with his mind and senses.” The result is that he must take birth again and again in this material world in various species of life. Actually, we are all waging a war against time, because whether we are atheistic, theistic, black, white, old, or young, ultimately we all have to face the time of death, which the Vedic teachings describe as the most momentous time of life.
As Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita [8.6], sada tad-bhava-bhavitah: “What your mind is attached to at the time of death determines your next state of existence.” So although the West has made tremendous progress in technology (our spiritual master has said India is at least one hundred years behind), the West has lagged far behind India in spiritual knowledge. People in the West are largely ignorant of the Vedic science of how one can leave his material body at the time of death and go back home, back to Godhead, never to take another birth in this material world. This Vedic science has been known and practiced to perfection by Indian saints, sadhus, and yogis for countless millennia.
The Krsna consciousness movement is presenting the essential truths of the Vedic science of self-realization. We had our humble beginnings, just as the early Christians had their humble beginnings. Srila Prabhupada established our movement sixteen years ago in a tiny storefront in New York City’s Lower East Side, which at the time was the seat of the youth revolution. Somehow Krsna led him to a small storefront that had previously been called “Matchless Gifts,” and from this storefront our whole movement has expanded. Of course, Srila Prabhupada didn’t see the storefront as a tiny shack in New York; he saw it as the base for spreading a movement he once said will go down in history as having saved the world in its darkest hour.
We live in an age of instant communication. The news can come out from any part of the world very quickly. Technology in this aspect is practically mystical. But the end result, in the form of the newspaper or magazine story or the television broadcast, does not generally bring too much ecstasy to anyone. No one is becoming joyful or getting new hope.
So despite our great advances in technology, something is essentially wrong in society, and this is that God is not in the center. When we speak of God, or Krsna, we must understand that God cannot be two or three or four or five. God must be one. Unfortunately, not only between different religions but within the same religion—whether Hinduism or Judaism or Christianity or Mohammedanism—there is so much conflict. So there is a great need for scientific understanding of God. Once we begin to understand God—His supreme personality. His form, His teachings—there will certainly be great hope for the world.
In my travels throughout Europe and the world I have found that many people want genuine spiritual experience very much. But they don’t know where to look for it, or what it really is. In the Bhagavad-gita [14.26] Krsna says, sa gunan sama-tityaitan brahma-bhuyaya kalpate: the spiritual platform is above the material modes of nature. The modes of nature are ignorance, passion, and goodness, and generally people in this age are very much influenced by the modes of ignorance and passion. Genuine spiritual experience takes us above the lower modes of nature, which are characterized by lust and greed. Objectively and frankly speaking, we can see that lust and greed are increasing all over the world, whatever political party is in power. What does this mean? It means that there is an urgent need for a spiritual change within society.
Now, when it comes to bringing about a spiritual change in society, who could possibly know how to do this better than the source of all spirit, God? No one can know this better than He. So in all scriptures—in our Bhagavad-gita and in other literatures also—God or His representatives say the same thing: “Serve God and try to love God.”
But this requires that people undergo a change of heart. In the present age, only the congregational chanting of the holy name of God can change people’s hearts. You cannot tell someone to be a saintly person by enacting a political formula or raising another flag in the United Nations or passing this doctrine or that doctrine. The Bhagavad-gita explains that you must have the genuine spiritual experience of associating directly with God, and this comes by chanting His name, which is nondifferent from Him.
So we in the Krsna consciousness movement are dedicating our life and soul to encouraging everyone to chant the name of God, to understand God scientifically through the Vedic literature (especially Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam), and to make life perfect by becoming a devotee of the Lord. It is not that someone becomes a saintly person because of chemical evolution. There is no “saint-producing gene.” No. As Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita [15.7],
“All living entities are eternally part and parcel of Me. But because they have come in contact with the material energy, their original divine nature has become covered.”
Now, the process of Krsna consciousness removes this covering. It is a process of purification. So when we say “Krsna consciousness,” we mean our original consciousness. Rainwater or distilled water has its original nature, but when it comes in contact with soil it takes on the qualities of soil and becomes mud. To get pure water again, you have to use some kind of purificatory process—filtering or distillation.
Similarly, in our pure, original state we are all loving servants of the Lord, and the whole point of education and work is to bring out that nature. Otherwise, our scriptures declare, everything that one does is simply a useless waste of time (srama eva hi kevalam). One may be a big this or a big that, but if one does not come to the point of loving God and ultimately thinking of God at the time of death, all one’s work, education, civilization, society, are all for nothing.
God has created everything, including the perfect way to organize human society. The goal of society must be to teach from the very beginning of life that this material world is not our real home, that our business here is not to work hard and try to claim everything as our own, and that we are nonmaterial beings whose real home is with God in the spiritual world. Our Krsna consciousness movement is propagating this philosophy. Of course, I cannot explain all the teachings within a half hour, but we hope that you will feel free to ask anything you like. You don’t have to feel any inhibition. If you would like to know some of our brainwashing techniques . . . [Laughter]
But seriously, there is an urgent need for the propagation of spiritual science. The leaders of each country have a solemn responsibility to their citizens not only to engage them in material advancement but also to make sure every citizen is making genuine spiritual advancement.
Would someone like to ask a question at this point?
Lady: At the beginning of your talk you said that it was essential for the individual to call out the name of God—”Hare Krsna”—and as you were saying that, I thought of the beginning of the Gospel of Saint John: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” I have been told that the word God can be translated as “creative love,” and I wonder if you would agree that perhaps we do all believe the same thing, perhaps we are all reaching the same goal in our individual services, and that it’s just a matter of using different words to describe the same thing. Would you agree?
Srila Bhagavan Maharaja: In one sense, in a romantic sense, it’s very nice that we are hopeful we are all on the same path. But in the practical sense we must evaluate in another way.
The destination we are aiming for is nothing short of our association, our direct association, with God. Now, in our practical experience we know by certain signs whether or not we are approaching a given destination. It’s not that everyone can go in ten different directions and arrive at London. Similarly, although the goal of human existence is love of God, some of us are getting closer to that goal and others are moving farther away from it.
One of our scriptures, the Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.2.8], says,
dharmah svanusthitah pumsam
notpadayed yadi ratim
srama eva hi kevalam
In Sanskrit, the word dharma is more or less equivalent to our word religion. So, roughly, this verse says, “If the religion you are following doesn’t bring you attachment to God, and by that attachment allow you to give up the attachment to the illusory material world, then that path is not proper. It is a useless waste of time.”
So we must understand, as Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita, that all of us are born into ignorance and that we require spiritual training. And when we follow some path, we have to see how we are passing out of the state of ignorance and passion and reviving our divine nature, just as we might pass out of a heavy fever and revive our health.
Today the whole world is in a very heavy feverish condition: “This is mine,” “This is mine,” “This is mine.” The world may go to war now on account of two little stones in the ocean, and all because of this feverish condition of “This is mine,” “This is mine.” So we need some good medicine to bring the fever down. It doesn’t matter which bottle it comes in. If it can bring down that fever and bring one at least to the point of peacefulness, it is good medicine. Up until now, nothing has provided that medicine. Although the United Nations is based on the principle of peace, we may humbly submit that increasing the number of flags does not necessarily mean increasing peace. Actually, peace will come when there is one nation under God.
So although the goal of all religions may be the same—serving and loving God—we should not sentimentally say that everyone is making equal progress toward that goal. Religion must give us that experience which actually diminishes our attachment to this material world, makes us attached to our loving relationship with God, and thereby allows us to see the equality of all living beings. This is the business of religion—to train us to see that equality. That is its job.
And when our religion allows us to see that not just all human beings but all living beings are equal, being part and parcel of God, we can know that we are heading toward the proper destination. If you are going to India, you should expect that the weather will get warmer. If you start seeing icebergs going by, you should understand you’re going in the wrong direction.
So we must be humble enough to change our spiritual direction if we are not going toward the goal of love of God. This humility is the first qualification for acquiring genuine spiritual knowledge. Therefore, while in principle all religions are the same in essence, I leave it up to you to see by practical experience how you are approaching the destination of love of God and equal vision toward all living beings.