“It’s one thing to know it theoretically,
but it’s a vastly different thing to feel it and to experience it.”
The countryside near Frankfurt, West Germany. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada talks with Professor Karl Friederich Graf Eckfrecht Von Durckheim. Professor Durckheim holds a Ph.D. in analytical psychology and is famed for starting a therapeutic school (in the Black Forest) that incorporates both Western and Eastern approaches to the psychology of consciousness. He is the author of fifteen books.
Prof. Durckheim: May I ask a question, sir, about the meaning of time? I think there are two ways to look at time and to look at eternity.
Srila Prabhupada: Time is eternal—but we calculate time in terms of “past” and “present” and “future,” according to our temporary material existence. I am a human being. I live for a hundred years. So my past and present are different from the past and present of the ant, who lives for, say, a few hours. And similarly, living beings on higher planets—their past and present are different, too, because one of their days equals millions and billions of our years. So time is eternal—but according to our condition in time and space, we calculate time in terms of past and present and future.
Prof. Durckheim: Well, now, I question you … you see … talking about eternity—there are two meanings or concepts at the same time. It seems one concept is that finite life, as we see it in this finite world, is going on infinitely, infinitely, millions of years—that’s one way to think about eternity.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Prof. Durckheim: But there’s another way.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Strictly speaking, eternity means both no end and no beginning.
Prof. Durckheim: So isn’t this other concept the one where, for instance, Christ says, “Before anything else in this world existed, I am”? This “I am”. . . isn’t this the kind of eternity that is totally beyond past and future?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Past and future have to do with this body.
Prof. Durckheim: Oh yes, exactly. Past and future have to do with this body and with this ego, which has a before and an after, an up and a down, and … if you take away this ego, what’s left?
Srila Prabhupada: What is left is the pure ego. For instance, now I have got this seventy-eight-year-old Indian body—I have got this false ego that “I am Indian,” “I am this body.” This is a misconception. Some day this temporary body will vanish, and I’ll get another temporary body. Then again will begin my past and present. So therefore, this is called illusion. Time is eternal—it has no beginning and no end—but we transmigrate from one body to another. And so we are miscalculating “past,” “present,” “future.”
Prof. Durckheim: But without this body you couldn’t become conscious of what is beyond the body. The pure consciousness has to have a material body—it has to have a background which is not pure consciousness …
Srila Prabhupada: No. The pure consciousness, the soul, does not need to have a material body. For instance, when you are dreaming, you forget your present body, but still you remain conscious. The soul, the consciousness, is like water: water is pure, but as soon as it comes down from the sky and touches the ground, it becomes muddy.
Prof. Durckheim: Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: Similarly, we are spirit souls—we are pure. But as soon as we leave the spiritual world and come in contact with these material bodies, our consciousness becomes covered. The consciousness remains pure, but now it is covered by mud—this body. And this is why people are fighting. They are wrongly identifying with the body and thinking, “I am German;” “I am English, “‘I am black;” A am white;’ “I am this;” “I am that”—so many bodily designations. These bodily designations are impurities. And so we see that sometimes artists make statues that are naked. In France, for example, they regard nakedness as pure art. Similarly, when you come to the “nakedness” of the spirit soul—without these bodily designations—that is purity.
Prof. Durckheim: But to come to our pure consciousness, we have to experience the background of impurity, the suffering of impurity. We cannot become conscious of the pure without having experienced the suffering of the impure …
Srila Prabhupada: Why’? Right now your health may be covered by a disease, but do you need that covering of disease to experience your natural, healthy state? Similarly, I do not need to think, “I am American,” “I am German,” “I am this,” “I am that”—all these impure, diseased ideas—to experience my pure consciousness: “I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of God.”
Prof. Durckheim: But in order to get there, to feel that one is neither “this” nor “that,” one must first have suffered by having thought that one is this or that.
Srila Prabhupada: No, suffering is not necessary. To experience your pure spiritual consciousness you do not have to go through suffering. Suffering is just like a bad dream. Let us say you dream that you are being attacked by a tiger—but there is no tiger. So actually there is no suffering, but on account of ignorance you are thinking, “The tiger is eating me.” This dreaming experience is simply material—it is not a spiritually enlightening experience. It is an unwanted thing. You do not need it. But this material, dreaming experience will go on continually. As long as we are attached to temporary, material sense pleasures, we will get new material bodies, one after another. Even in this single lifetime—in your childhood you experienced a body that was much different from the body you are experiencing at this time. So as we are getting new material bodies we are getting different experiences, and all of those experiences are photographed within the mind. Sometimes they come out at night and intermix, and we see more dreams, and we experience so many contradictory things. All of this—daytime and nighttime—is simply hovering on the mental plane. This is not the spiritual plane. As Krsna explains in the Bhagavad-gita [3.42],
indriyani parany ahur
indriyebhyah param manah
manasas tu para buddhir
yo buddheh paratas tu sah
“The bodily senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and the soul is even higher than the intelligence.” So we have to transcend all our material designations. Then we come to real consciousness—”I am eternal, God is eternal, I am part and parcel of God, my duty is to serve God.” Of course, here in the material world I am also serving. I am not free from service. But I am serving under material designations. For example, perhaps during the last war you went to fight, because you might have designated yourself, “I am German.” “I must fight, give service to my country” Everybody is thinking, “Let me give service to my community” or “to my family,” or if there is nobody else, at least “to my dog.” This is going on. So we have to get rid of all these designations and become pure and serve God. In other words,
tat paratvena nirmalam
sevanam bhaktir ucyate
“If anyone actually wants to get free from all material designations and purify his senses, then he should simply engage all his senses in serving Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses.” [Narada-pancaratra] Take Arjuna, for example. Arjuna was in so much anxiety on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra. Have you read our Bhagavad-gita As It Is?
Prof. Durckheim: Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: Arjuna was in anxiety because he was thinking in terms of bodily designations. “I belong to this family—on the other side are my cousin-brothers, who belong to the same family—so why shall I fight them? Let them enjoy.” Now, from the material point of view, Arjuna seemed to be a very good man, but Krsna condemned him: asocyan anvasocas tvam prajna-vadams ca bhasase—”Youare talking very high words, but you are Fool Number One.” Arjuna was talking on the platform of this bodily conception of life, but after hearing the Bhagavad-gita, he understood, “I am not this body—I am an eternal servant of Krsna, and my duty is to obey the orders of Krsna ” Superficially he remained the same soldier, but in the beginning he had been a soldier under a bodily designation, and now he became a soldier ready to carry out the order of the Supreme. That is the difference. So when you act not to gratify this material body but to carry out the orders of the Supreme, that is self-realization.
Prof. Durckheim: There’s only one way to world peace—the leaders must attain self-realization.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gita Everyone should understand, “I am not the enjoyer; nobody but Lord Krsna is the enjoyer.” Today most people are trying to be the enjoyers of this world, and that is false. The real enjoyer is the Supreme Lord. We are trying to occupy this land, that land. “This is Germany.” “This is France.” “This is India.” “This is my land, and my land is worshipable.” But we should know that no land belongs to us. Everything belongs to God. The land was not created by us; the ocean was not created by us. Why should we claim, “This is the Scandinavian ocean” or “This is the English ocean”? This is all false, imagination. So we have to come to this understanding—that nothing belongs to us. The United Nations—they’ve been quarreling for the last thirty years, but they are fighting on false ground, because everyone is thinking, “This land is mine; I must protect it:’ Because they have no self-realization, there is no peace.
Prof. Durckheim: As soon as two men who are self-realized meet, there can be no war. There’s a very wonderful story about when the Emperor of Japan wanted to take over the leadership again after he had been the high priest for many years. The Emperor’s spiritual master approached the opposing general, and the general, being a self-realized man himself, said, “Well, all right.” In twenty minutes things were all in order. They resolved the matter gently, and without a single shot peace was established, because these two men had a high level of self-realization.
Srila Prabhupada: So that is our point—that every one of us must realize, “I am a servant of God, a child of God, and everything belongs to the father.” We can use our father’s property as much as we require for our maintenance, but not more than that. If you think like this, this is Krsna consciousness, and there will be no more war. Everything will be peaceful.
Prof. Durckheim: In my work I always feel great difficulty, again and again, in understanding that we are all sons of God. It’s one thing to know it theoretically, but it’s a vastly different thing to feel it and to experience it.
Srila Prabhupada: It is a very simple thing. Suppose you have not seen your father; you are a posthumous child. But you must believe that there is a father. Without your father there is no possibility of your existence. This is something that the Christian people have experienced. They go to church—”O Father, give us our daily bread.” So there is a supreme father. That is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita. Krsna—God—says, “I am the seed-giving father of all living entities in all the various forms of life.” So as soon as you speak of a father, that means he must have a son or sons; and as soon as there is a son, he must have a father. So this is a matter of science, not sentiment.
Prof. Durckheim: It’s one of the great phrases of the Gospel of Saint John which the church forgot, that Christ always says, “I am the son of God and you are my brothers. You are sons of God, just as I am.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Everyone is the son of the Lord. But they do not agree now. Now, as soon as you say, “Everyone is a son,” the so-called Christians say, “No, Christ is the only son.” But Christ said, “I am a son, and you are also sons.” This is the actual fact. Krsna says,
“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature and that I am the seed-giving father.” [Bg. 14.4]
Prof. Durckheim: Wonderful.
Srila Prabhupada: Material nature is the mother. Material nature gives the body, but the soul is part and parcel of God. God impregnates material nature with the soul, and the soul appears in so many species of life. So self-realization is very easily explained as samah sarvesubhutesu: giving equal treatment to all living entities, because all of them are spirit souls, part and parcel of God. But because most people have no spiritual knowledge, they think that humanitarian work means to give all facility to the human being and none to the animals. Or they talk of “nationalism:’ A “national” is anyone who has taken birth in their land, and yet they are slaughtering the poor animals who have taken birth there. This is their “nationalism.” So everything is going wrong on account of this wrong conception of life: “I am this body.” But when we understand, “I am not this body—I am the active principle within this body,” then our misconceptions will vanish. That is the beginning of spiritual realization, or self-realization.
Prof. Durckheim: And this understanding has to be an experience.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, you can experience it. On account of foolishness, people are thinking differently, but everyone really knows, “I am not this body.” This is very easy to experience. I am existing. I understand that I have existed in a baby body, I have existed in a child body, and also in a boy body. So I have now existed in so many bodies. Or, for example, you have now dressed yourself in a black coat. The next moment you can dress yourself in a white coat. But you are not that black or white coat; you have simply changed coats. If I call you “Mr. Black Coat,” that is my foolishness. Similarly, I have changed bodies, but I am not any of these bodies. This is self-realization.
Prof. Durckheim: And yet isn’t there a difficulty, in that you may already have understood very well that you are not the body—but as long as you, for instance, still have the fear of death, you didn’t understand by experience? As soon as you’ve understood by experience, you have no fear of death, because you know that you can’t die.
Srila Prabhupada: So experience is received from a higher authority, from someone who has higher knowledge. Instead of my trying to experience for years and years that I am not this body, I can take the knowledge from Krsna, the perfect, and then my experience is received.
Prof. Durckheim: Yes, I understand.
Srila Prabhupada: … Therefore the Vedic instruction is tad-vijnanartham sa gurumevabhigacchet. “In order to get first-class experience of the perfection of life, you must approach a guru. “And who is a guru? Whom should I approach’? I should approach someone who is guru-srotriyam—one who has heard from his guru perfectly—that guru. This is called guru-parampara, disciplic succession. I hear from a perfect person, and I distribute the knowledge the same way, without any change. Lord Krsna gives us knowledge in the Bhagavad-gita—andwe are distributing the same knowledge. I am always inexperienced, because my power of understanding is very little; therefore I must get knowledge from a person who has perfect knowledge. Then my knowledge is perfect. For instance, a child may not know what this microphone is. So he asks his father, “What is this, father?” And his father says, “My dear child, it is a microphone:” Now the child knows, “This is a microphone:” Although the child’s capacity may be imperfect, still his knowledge is perfect. So this is our process. We are getting knowledge from Krsna, the most perfect. Or you can get knowledge from Jesus Christ; that is also perfect, because the source is perfect. But we have to receive knowledge from the perfect source, not by the ascending process—experiencing, failure, experiencing, failure, experiencing, failure. Not like that. That will take a very long time. But if you actually want to become perfect, just approach the perfect, take knowledge from him, and you will experience perfection.