“I can remember being a young man, a boy, a baby. What was I before that—what will I be next?” Mike Robinson of London Broadcasting Company interviews His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Mike Robinson: Can you tell me what you believe—what the philosophy of the Hare Krishna movement is?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Krishna consciousness is not a question of belief; it is a science. The first step is to know the difference between a living body and a dead body. What is the difference? The difference is that when someone dies, the spirit soul, or the living force, leaves the body. And therefore the body is called “dead.” So, there are two things: one, this body; and the other, the living force within the body. We speak of the living force within the body. That is the difference between the science of Krishna consciousness, which is spiritual, and ordinary material science. As such, in the beginning it is very, very difficult for an ordinary man to appreciate our movement. One must first understand that he is a soul, or something other than his body.
Mike Robinson: And when will we understand that?
Srila Prabhupada: You can understand at any moment, but it requires a little intelligence. For example, as a child grows, he becomes a boy, the boy becomes a young man, the young man becomes an adult, and the adult becomes an old man. Throughout all this time, although his body is changing from a child to an old man, he still feels himself to be the same person, with the same identity. Just see: the body is changing, but the occupier of the body, the soul, is remaining the same. So we should logically conclude that when our present body dies, we get another body. This is called transmigration of the soul.
Mike Robinson: So when people die it is just the physical body that dies?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is explained very elaborately in the Bhagavad-gita [9.20]: na jayate mriyate va kadacin. . . na hanyate hanyamane sarire.
Mike Robinson: Do you often quote references?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we quote many references. Krishna consciousness is a serious education, not an ordinary religion. [To a devotee:] Find that verse in the Bhagavad-gita.
na jayate mriyate va kadacin
nayam bhutva bhavita va na bhuyah
ajo nityah sasvato ‘yam purano
na hanyate hanyamane sarire
“For the soul, there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.”
Mike Robinson: Thank you very much for reading that. So can you explain to me just a bit more? If the soul is undying, does everybody’s soul go to be with God when they die?
Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily. If one is qualified—if he qualifies himself in this life to go back home, back to Godhead—then he can go. If he does not qualify himself, then he gets another material body. And there are 8,400,000 different bodily forms. According to his desires and karma, the laws of nature give him a suitable body. It is just like when a man contracts some disease and then develops that disease. Is that difficult to understand?
Mike Robinson: It’s very difficult to understand all of it.
Srila Prabhupada: Suppose somebody has contracted smallpox. So, after seven days he develops the symptoms. What is that period called?
Mike Robinson: Incubation?
Srila Prabhupada: Incubation. So you cannot avoid it. If you have contracted some disease it will develop, by nature’s law. Similarly, during this life you associate with various modes of material nature, and that association will decide what kind of body you are going to get in the next life. That is strictly under the laws of nature. Everyone is controlled by the laws of nature—they’re completely dependent—but out of ignorance people think that they are free. They’re not free; they’re imagining that they’re free, but they are completely under the laws of nature. So, your next birth will be decided according to your activities-sinful or pious, as the case may be.
Mike Robinson: Your Grace, could you go back over that just for a minute? You said that nobody is free. Are you saying that if we live a good life, we in some way determine a good future for ourselves?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Mike Robinson: So we are free to choose what we believe to be important? Religion is important, because if we believe in God and lead a good life—
Srila Prabhupada: It is not a question of belief. Do not bring in this question of belief. It is law. For instance, there is a government. You may believe or not believe, but if you break the law, you’ll be punished by the government. Similarly, whether you believe or don’t believe, there is a God. If you don’t believe in God, and independently do whatever you like, then you’ll be punished by the laws of nature.
Mike Robinson: I see. Does it matter what religion you believe? Would it matter if one was a devotee of Krishna?
Srila Prabhupada: It is not a question of religion. It is a question of science. You are a spiritual being, but because you are materially conditioned, you are under the laws of material nature. So you may believe in the Christian religion, and I may believe in the Hindu religion, but that does not mean that you are going to become an old man and I am not. We’re talking of the science of growing old. This is natural law. It is not that because you are Christian you are becoming old, or because I am Hindu I am not becoming old. Everyone is becoming old. So, similarly, all the laws of nature are applicable to everyone. Whether you believe this religion or that religion, it doesn’t matter.
Mike Robinson: So, you’re saying that there’s only one God controlling all of us?
Srila Prabhupada: There’s one God, and one nature’s law, and we are all under that nature’s law. We are controlled by the Supreme. So if we think that we are free or that we can do anything, that is our foolishness.
Mike Robinson: I see. Can you explain to me what difference it makes, being a member of the Hare Krishna movement?
Srila Prabhupada: The Hare Krishna movement is meant for those who are serious about understanding this science. There’s no question of our being some sectarian group. No. Anyone can join. Students in college can be admitted. You may be a Christian, you may be a Hindu, you may be a Muhammadan—it doesn’t matter. The Krishna consciousness movement admits anyone who wants to understand the science of God.
Mike Robinson: And what difference would it make to someone—being taught how to be a Hare Krishna person?
Srila Prabhupada: His real education would begin. The first thing is to understand that you are a spirit soul. And because you are a spirit soul, you are changing your body. This is the ABC of spiritual understanding. So, when your body is finished, annihilated, you are not finished. You get another body, just as you may change your coat and shirt. If you come to see me tomorrow wearing a different shirt and a different coat, does that mean you are a different person? No. Similarly, each time you die you change bodies, but you, the spirit soul within the body, remain the same. This point has to be understood; then one can make further progress in the science of Krishna consciousness.
Mike Robinson: I am beginning to understand, but what I’m finding difficult is how this ties in with the large numbers of your people we see handing out Hare Krishna literature on Oxford Street.
Srila Prabhupada: This literature is meant to convince people about the need for spiritual life.
Mike Robinson: And you’re really not concerned whether or not they join the Hare Krishna movement?
Srila Prabhupada: It doesn’t matter. Our mission is to educate them. People are in ignorance; they are living in a fool’s paradise, thinking that when their body is finished, everything is finished. That is foolishness.
Mike Robinson: And you are basically just concerned to tell them that there is a spiritual dimension to life?
Srila Prabhupada: Our first concern is to tell you that you are not this body, that the body is your covering (your shirt and coat) and that within the body you are living.
Mike Robinson: Yes, I think I’ve got that now. If we could go on from there—you said that how you lived made a difference in your life after death, that there are natural laws that determine your next life. How does the process of transmigration work?
Srila Prabhupada: The process is very subtle. The spirit soul is invisible to our material eyes. It is atomic in size. After the destruction of the gross body, which is made up of the senses, blood, bone, fat, and so forth, the subtle body of mind, intelligence, and ego goes on working. So at the time of death this subtle body carries the small spirit soul to another gross body. The process is just like air carrying a fragrance. Nobody can see where this rose fragrance is coming from, but we know that it is being carried by the air. You cannot see how, but it is being done. Similarly, the process of transmigration of the soul is very subtle. According to the condition of the mind at the time of death, the minute spirit soul enters into the womb of a particular mother through the semen of a father, and then the soul develops a particular type of body given by the mother. It may be a human being, it may be a cat, a dog, or anything.
Mike Robinson: Are you saying that we were something else before this life?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Mike Robinson: And we keep coming back as something else the next time?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because you are eternal. According to your work, you are simply changing bodies. Therefore, you should want to know how to stop this business, how you can remain in your original spiritual body. That is Krishna consciousness.
Mike Robinson: I see. So if I become Krishna conscious, I wouldn’t risk coming back as a dog?
Srila Prabhupada: No. [To a devotee] Find this verse: janma karma ca me divyam. . .
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” [Bg. 4.9].
Srila Prabhupada: God is saying, “Anyone who understands Me is free from birth and death.” But one cannot understand God by materialistic speculation. That is not possible. One must first come to the spiritual platform. Then he gets the intelligence required to understand God. And when he understands God, he does not get any more material bodies. He goes back home, back to Godhead. He lives eternally; no more change of body.
Mike Robinson: I see. Now, you’ve read twice from your scriptures. Where do these scriptures come from? Can you briefly explain that?
Srila Prabhupada: Our scriptures are coming from Vedic literature, which has existed from the beginning of creation. Whenever there is some new material creation—like this microphone, for instance—there is also some literature explaining how to deal with it. Isn’t that so?
Mike Robinson: Yes, that’s right, there is.
Srila Prabhupada: And that literature comes along with the creation of the microphone.
Mike Robinson: That’s right, yes.
Srila Prabhupada: So, similarly, the Vedic literature comes along with the cosmic creation, to explain how to deal with it.
Mike Robinson: I see. So, these scriptures have been in existence since the beginning of creation. Now, if we could move on to something I believe you feel very strongly about. What is the main difference between Krishna consciousness and the other Eastern disciplines being taught in the West?
Srila Prabhupada: The difference is that we are following the original literature, and they are manufacturing their own literature. That is the difference. When there is some question on spiritual matters, you must consult the original literature, not some literature issued by a bogus man.
Mike Robinson: What about the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna—
Srila Prabhupada: Chanting Hare Krishna is the easiest process to become purified, especially in this age, when people are so dull that they cannot very easily understand spiritual knowledge. If one chants Hare Krishna, then his brain becomes purified, and he can understand spiritual things.
Mike Robinson: Can you tell me how you are guided in what you do?
Srila Prabhupada: We take guidance from the Vedic literature.
Mike Robinson: From the scriptures you quoted?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it’s all in the literatures. We’re explaining them in English. But we’re not manufacturing anything. If we were to manufacture knowledge, then everything would be spoiled. The Vedic literature is something like the literature that explains how to set up this microphone. It says, “Do it like this: some of the screws should be on this side, around the metal.” You cannot make any change; then everything would be spoiled. Similarly, because we are not manufacturing anything, one simply has to read one of our books, and he receives real spiritual knowledge.
Mike Robinson: How can the philosophy of Krishna consciousness affect the way people live?
Srila Prabhupada: It can relieve people’s suffering. People are suffering because they are misunderstanding themselves to be the body. If you think that you are your coat and shirt, and you very carefully wash the coat and shirt but you forget to eat, will you be happy?
Mike Robinson: No, I wouldn’t.
Srila Prabhupada: Similarly, everyone is simply washing the “coat and shirt” of the body, but forgetting about the soul within the body. They have no information about what is within the “coat and shirt” of the body. Ask anybody what he is, and he will say, “Yes, I am an Englishman,” or, “I am an Indian.” And if we say, “I can see you have an English or an Indian body, but what are you?”—that he cannot say.
Mike Robinson: I see.
Srila Prabhupada: The whole modern civilization is operating on the misunderstanding that the body is the self (dehatma-buddhi). This is the mentality of the cats and dogs. Suppose I try to enter England, and you stop me at the border: “I am an Englishman,” you say, “but you are Indian. Why have you come here?” and the dog barks, “Rau rau, why are you coming?” So what is the difference in mentality? The dog is thinking he’s a dog and I’m a stranger, and you are thinking you are an Englishman and I am an Indian. There’s no difference in mentality. So if you keep people in the darkness of a dog’s mentality and declare that you are advancing in civilization, you are most misguided.
Mike Robinson: Now, moving on to another point, I gather the Hare Krishna movement has some concern for areas of the world where there is suffering.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we have the only concern. Others are simply avoiding the main problems: birth, old age, disease, and death. Others have no solutions to these problems; they are simply talking all kinds of nonsense. People are being misguided. They are being kept in darkness. Let us start to give them some light.
Mike Robinson: Yes, but apart from giving spiritual enlightenment, are you also concerned for people’s physical well-being?
Srila Prabhupada: Physical well-being automatically follows spiritual well-being.
Mike Robinson: And how does that work?
Srila Prabhupada: Suppose you have a car. So, naturally, you take care of the car as well as yourself. But you don’t identify yourself as the car. You don’t say, “I am this car.” That is nonsense. But this is what people are doing. They are taking too much care of the bodily “car,” thinking that the “car” is the self. They forget that they are different from the “car,” that they are a spirit soul and have a different business. Just as no one can drink petrol and be satisfied, so no one can be satisfied with bodily activities. He must find out the proper food for the soul. If a man thinks, “I am a car, and I must drink this petrol,” he is considered insane. Similarly, one who thinks that he is this body, and who tries to become happy with bodily pleasures, is also insane.
Mike Robinson: There’s a quote here that I’d like you to comment on. I was given this literature by your people before I came, and one of the things you say here is that “Religion without a rational basis is just sentiment.” Can you explain that?
Srila Prabhupada: Most religious people say, “We believe… ” But what is the value of this belief? You may believe something which is not actually correct. For instance, some of the Christian people say, “We believe that animals have no soul.” That is not correct. They believe animals have no soul because they want to eat the animals, but actually animals do have a soul.
Mike Robinson: How do you know that the animal has a soul?
Srila Prabhupada: You can know, also. Here is the scientific proof: the animal eats, you eat; the animal sleeps, you sleep; the animal has sex, you have sex; the animal also defends, you also defend. Then what is the difference between you and the animal? How can you say that you have a soul but the animal doesn’t?
Mike Robinson: I can see that completely. But the Christian scriptures say—
Srila Prabhupada: Don’t bring in any scriptures; this is a commonsense topic. Try to understand. The animal is eating, you are eating; the animal is sleeping, you are sleeping; the animal is defending, you are defending; the animal is having sex, you are having sex; the animals have children, you have children; they have a living place, you have a living place. If the animal’s body is cut, there is blood; if your body is cut, there is blood. So, all these similarities are there. Now, why do you deny this one similarity, the presence of the soul? This is not logical. You have studied logic? In logic there is something called analogy. Analogy means drawing a conclusion by finding many points of similarity. If there are so many points of similarity between human beings and animals, why deny one similarity? That is not logic. That is not science.
Mike Robinson: But if you take that argument and use it the other way—
Srila Prabhupada: There is no other way. If you are not arguing on the basis of logic, then you are not rational.
Mike Robinson: Yes, OK, but let’s start from another hypothesis. Suppose we assume that a human being has no soul—
Srila Prabhupada: Then you must explain the difference between a living body and a dead body. I have already explained this at the beginning. As soon as the living force, the soul, is gone from the body, even the most beautiful body has no value. No one cares for it; it’s thrown away. But now, if I touch your hair, there will be a fight. That is the distinction between a living body and a dead body. In a living body the soul is there, and in a dead body the soul is not there. As soon as the soul leaves the body, the body has no value. It is useless. This is very simple to understand, but even the biggest so-called scientists and philosophers are too dull-headed to understand it. Modern society is in a very abominable condition. There is no man with a real brain.
Mike Robinson: Are you referring to all the scientists who fail to understand the spiritual dimension in life?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Real science means full knowledge of everything material and spiritual.
Mike Robinson: But you were a chemist in secular life, were you not?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, I was a chemist in my previous life. But it doesn’t require any great intelligence to become a chemist. Any commonsense man can do it.
Mike Robinson: But presumably you think that material science is also important, even if today’s scientists are dull-headed.
Srila Prabhupada: Material science is important just so far. It is not all-important.
Mike Robinson: I see. Can I come back to a question that I had from before? When we were differing a few minutes ago you were saying, “Don’t bring the scriptures in; just use common sense.” But what part do the scriptures play in your religion? How important are they?
Srila Prabhupada: Our religion is a science. When we say that a child grows into a boy, it is science. It is not religion. Every child grows into a boy. What is the question of religion? Every man dies. What is the question of religion? And when a man dies, the body becomes useless. What is the question of religion? It is science. Whether you’re Christian or Hindu or Muslim, when you die your body becomes useless. This is science. When your relative dies, you cannot say, “We are Christian; we believe he has not died.” No, he has died. Whether you are Christian or Hindu or Muslim, he has died. So when we speak, we speak on this basis: that the body is important only as long as the soul is in the body. When the soul is not there, it is useless. This science is applicable to everyone, and we are trying to educate people on this basis.
Mike Robinson: But if I understand you correctly, you seem to be educating people on a purely scientific basis. Where does religion come into it at all?
Srila Prabhupada: Religion also means science. People have wrongly taken religion to mean faith—”I believe.” [To a devotee:] Look up the word religion in the dictionary.
Disciple: Under religion the dictionary says, “recognition of superhuman control or power, and especially of a personal God entitled to obedience, and effecting such recognition with the proper mental attitude.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Religion means learning how to obey the supreme controller. So, you may be Christian and I may be Hindu; it doesn’t matter. We must both accept that there is a supreme controller. Everyone has to accept that; that is real religion. Not this “We believe animals have no soul.” That is not religion. That is most unscientific. Religion means scientific understanding of the supreme controller: to understand the supreme controller and obey Him—that’s all. In the state, the good citizen is he who understands the government and obeys the laws of the government. He is a good citizen. And the bad citizen is the one who doesn’t care for the government. That is the bad citizen. So, if you become a bad citizen by ignoring God’s government, then you are irreligious. And if you are a good citizen, then you are religious.
Mike Robinson: I see. Can you tell me what you believe to be the meaning of life? Why do we exist in the first place?
Srila Prabhupada: The meaning of life is to enjoy. But now you are on a false platform of life, and therefore you are suffering instead of enjoying. Everywhere we see the struggle for existence. Everyone is struggling, but what is their enjoyment in the end? They are simply suffering and dying. Therefore, although life means enjoyment, at the present moment your life is not enjoyment. But if you come to the real spiritual platform of life, then you’ll enjoy.
Mike Robinson: Can you explain to me, finally, some of the stages you go through in spiritual life? What are the spiritual stages a new devotee of Krishna goes through?
Srila Prabhupada: The first stage is that you are inquisitive. “So,” you say, “what is this Krishna consciousness movement? Let me study it.” This is called sraddha, or faith. This is the beginning. Then, if you are serious, you mix with those who are cultivating this knowledge. You try to understand how they are feeling. Then you’ll feel, “Why not become one of them?” And when you become one of them, then all your misgivings soon go away. You become more faithful, and then you get a real taste for Krishna consciousness. Why aren’t these boys going to see the cinema? Why don’t they eat meat or go to the nightclub? Because their taste has changed. They hate all these things now. In this way, you make progress. First faith, then association with devotees, then removal of all misgivings, then firm faith, then taste, then God realization, and then love of God, the perfection. That is first-class religion. Not some ritualistic ceremony of “I believe, you believe.” That is not religion. That is cheating. Real religion means to develop your love for God. That is the perfection of religion.
Mike Robinson: Thank you very much for talking with me. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.
Srila Prabhupada: Hare Krishna.