Are we all on the same path?
Are we going in the same direction?
Will we all reach the same destination?
This is an extract from questions and answers that followed a lecture by His Holiness Hridayananda dasa Goswami at the University of Florida.
Hridayananda dasa Goswami: If we accept the arguments of the so-called yogis that no matter what we do we merge into the same point, then 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, Krsna, advises us to surrender freely to Him. But if we are stubborn and want to worship someone other than the Supreme Lord, we will get an inferior result.
Question: But in Bhagavad-gita Krsna 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 on the same one path.
HDG: 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 all paths are the same, as you say, there would be no proportionate exchange.
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. And if you examine this path, you will find many thousands of cars on the highway. But are 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 all cars end up in the same place is also false, because some cars are going one way and some are going the opposite way. Similarly, anyone 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 becoming elevated 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 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 the Bhagavad-gita Krsna 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 animals are also content.
But according to Krsna and all other authorities, that is not the perfection of yoga. Perfection lies in returning to our original, eternal positions as servants of Krsna. One may argue that merely performing gross bodily exercises or silent meditation is equal to direct surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, directly serving Him twenty-four hours a day in bhakti-yoga. But such an argument shows 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 Krsnaloka, 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 Krsnaloka and the transcendental forest where Krsna 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 are in difficulty, and often their difficulty is increasing—unhappy people whose unhappiness increases daily. It is rare to find someone 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 situation is that we are eternally part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, Krsna, but we are now conditioned by material nature. Being part of God, however, we do have minute independence. When we exercise our independence by surrendering to Krsna, we release ourselves from this dilemma.
On the other hand, the attempt to avoid the ominous repercussions of our sinful life by merely 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 Krsna, the Supreme, let him say it directly, chant it directly, and accept it directly. That is Krsna consciousness.
Therefore Krsna summarized the entire issue of spiritual life by saying that worshipers who pray to demigods, such as Durga and Siva, for material benedictions are dispatched to the planets of the demigods; worshipers of ghosts and spirits become ghosts and spirits; and those who offer everything to the Supreme Lord, Krsna, go to live eternally with Krsna. Krsna indicates that those who worship something other than God are going backward 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 Krsna, God, face to face, we should focus intensely on that objective.
Question: But I don’t see any need to worship an external God like Krsna. To my way of thinking, since everyone has the same divine spark within, I can also be God.
HDG: Yes, we may say we are God, because things are easier said than done. But by my mere say-so can I become God? 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 Krsna teaches us that we can know the authentic incarnations by consulting Vedic literature, where the incarnations of Krsna are carefully catalogued.
Krsna is called Urukrama because whenever He incarnates He performs wonderful activities impossible for an ordinary man. But pseudo incarnations never do anything wonderful like Krsna. Therefore any intelligent man who studies the authoritative literature will not 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.
HDG: 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—
HDG: 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.” That’s 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—
HDG: No, no, answer the question. Will you take the check with no references?
HDG: So if someone comes and claims, “I am God,” we may politely say, “Yes, probably you are God, but our policy is 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.
HDG: 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 Krsna spoke this literature to Brahma billions of years ago (tene brahma hrda). Brahma was supposed to create the universe, but he was faltering until Krsna 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. “Material” refers to temporary things that have a beginning and an end. But where is the evidence that the Bhagavad-gita is temporary?
Response: Do you really think it’s eternal? After all, its just printed on temporary paper with temporary ink. In a few years it will just be dust.
HDG: That is nonsense. Bhagavad-gita is not paper and ink. Bhagavad-gita is 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 five thousand years ago.
HDG: 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 Krsna was anything more than an ordinary man?
HDG: If Krsna was ordinary, how then was He able to act extraordinarily? Why did all the contemporary authorities say that Krsna is extraordinary? People argue that the descriptions can be psychologically explained. But actually such faithless demons can be psychologically explained. These fools are simply envious of Krsna. All the saintly authorities declare that Krsna 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 deeply investigate Krsna consciousness, because Krsna is actually the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Response: But that’s your interpretation.
HDG: 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 Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So if the great say yes and the fools says no, whom shall we believe?
Say I want to invest some money. 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 who deny Krsna? They have no definite transcendental knowledge, nor any experience of real Vedic study. So what is their caliber?
Who are these critics compared to great souls like Narada and Vyasadeva? Vyasadeva simply sat down alone in a secluded place, without a tinge of material desire, and spontaneously sang 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 last Vyasadeva defeated all other philosophies to establish Krsna above everything as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Vyasadeva was able to 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 twentyfour hours a day. So who are these critics who dare to challenge the transcendental status of Vyasadeva? Krsna demonstrated that He is God, and all the greatest spiritual authorities confirm it.
Response: Krsna may have been a very wonderful man, but—
HDG: Yes, Krsna was wonderful. So why should you think He misunderstood His own position? Krsna said over and over, “I am the Supreme God.” But you say Krsna is a man. So if Krsna 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 Krsna is wonderful, we should accept Krsna’s statement that He is God.
Response: Krsna may have understood Himself, but today we don’t understand His real teaching.
HDG: That is still nonsense. Krsna spoke very clearly. Krsna said, “I am God.” Srimad-Bhagavatam explains that Krsna spoke Bhagavad-gita for the least intelligent people. (Stri-sudra-dvija-bandhunam … iti bharatam akhyanam krpaya munina krtam.) So if Krsna 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, Krsna is the original person, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Response: There are many editions of Bhagavad-gita.
HDG: There are not many editions according to Krsna. One must understand Bhagavad-gita as it is, as Krsna spoke it, without adding or subtracting anything. One should therefore hear the message of Bhagavad-gita from a pure devotee of Krsna, the original speaker of Bhagavad-gita.
To understand God, one needs intelligent discrimination. But people do not understand this. For example, the schools say, “If we allow everyone to come and teach his idea…” 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? 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?
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? 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.
HDG: 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.
HDG: But how can you prove it? How can you prove Shakespeare is better than an ordinary man?
Response: You can’t actually prove it because it all depends on your personal taste.
HDG: But still they make judgments.
Response: No, the schools are there to educate, not to make judgments.
HDG: Yes, they do make judgments because they offer courses in Shakespeare in every school, but there are no courses in your writings or mine. They offer courses in Beethoven. 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.
HDG: 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.
Response: Then why will they not accept your knowledge?
HDG: Yes, that is what I’m asking you. But we are not trying to impose 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 sectarian designations. So the government should give us the facility to offer courses everywhere in Krsna 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 answers.