Every day the number of people interested in practicing yoga and meditation increases by the thousands. Unfortunately, a person looking for a suitable teacher is likely to encounter a bewildering array of “gurus, “mystics, and self-made gods. In an interview with the London Times, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains how a sincere seeker can tell the difference between a cheater and a genuine teacher.
Reporter: Your Grace, it seems that more people than ever are seeking some kind of spiritual life. I wonder if you could tell me why this is so.
Srila Prabhupada: The desire for spiritual life is an absolutely natural hankering. Because we are spirit souls, we cannot be happy in the material atmosphere. If you take a fish out of the water, it cannot be happy on land. Similarly, if we are without spiritual consciousness, we can never be happy. Today, so many people are after scientific advancement and economic development, but they are not happy because these are not the actual goals of life. Many young people are realizing this, and they are rejecting materialistic life and are trying to search for spiritual life. Actually, this is the proper search. Krishna consciousness is the proper goal of life. Unless you take to Krishna consciousness, you cannot be happy. That is a fact. Therefore, we invite everyone to study and understand this great movement.
Reporter: What frankly worries me is that since the arrival in Britain some time ago of an Indian yogi, who was the first “guru” that most people ever heard of, a lot of “gurus” have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. Sometimes I get the feeling that all of them are not as genuine as they ought to be. Would it be right to warn people who are thinking of taking up spiritual life that they should make sure that they have a genuine guru to teach them?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Of course, to search out a guru is very nice, but if you want a cheap guru, or if you want to be cheated, then you will find many cheating gurus. But if you are sincere, you will find a sincere guru. Because people want everything very cheaply, they are cheated. We ask our students to refrain from illicit sex, meat eating, gambling, and intoxication. People think that this is all very difficult—a botheration. But if someone else says, “You may do whatever nonsense you like, simply take my mantra,” then people will like him. The point is that people want to be cheated, and therefore cheaters come. No one wants to undergo any austerity. Human life is meant for austerity, but no one is prepared to undergo austerity. Consequently, cheaters come and say, “No austerity. Whatever you like, you do. Simply pay me and I’ll give you some mantra and you’ll become God in six months.” All this is going on. If you want to be cheated like this, the cheaters will come.
Reporter: What about the person who seriously wants to find spiritual life, but who happens to finish up with the wrong guru?
Srila Prabhupada: If you simply want an ordinary education, you have to devote so much time, labor, and understanding to it. Similarly, if you are going to take to spiritual life, you must become serious. How is it that simply by some wonderful mantras, someone can become God in six months? Why do people want something like that? This means that they want to be cheated.
Reporter: How can a person tell he has a genuine guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Can any of my students answer this question?
A disciple: Once I remember John Lennon asked you, “How will I know who is the genuine guru?” And you answered, “Just find out the one who is most addicted to Krishna. He is genuine.”
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The genuine guru is God’s representative, and he speaks about God and nothing else. The genuine guru is he who has no interest in materialistic life. He is after God, and God only. That is one of the tests of a genuine guru: brahma-nistham. He is absorbed in the Absolute Truth. In the Mundaka Upanisad it is stated, srotriyam brahma-nistham. “The genuine guru is well versed in the scriptures and Vedic knowledge, and he is completely dependent on Brahman.” He should know what Brahman [spirit] is and how to become situated in Brahman. These signs are given in the Vedic literature. As I said before, the real guru is God’s representative. He represents the Supreme Lord, just as a viceroy represents a king. The real guru will not manufacture anything. Everything he says is in accordance with the scriptures and the previous acaryas. He will not give you a mantra and tell you that you will become God in six months. This is not a guru’s business. A guru’s business is to canvass everyone to become devotees of God. That is the sum and substance of a real guru’s business. Indeed, he has no other business. He tells whomever he sees, “Please become God conscious.” If he canvasses somehow or other on behalf of God and tries to get everyone to become a devotee of God, he is a genuine guru.
Reporter: What about a Christian priest?
Srila Prabhupada: Christian, Muhammadan, Hindu—it doesn’t matter. If he is simply speaking on behalf of God, he is a guru. Lord Jesus Christ, for instance. He canvassed people, saying, “Just try to love God.” Anyone—it doesn’t matter who—be he Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, is a guru if he convinces people to love God. That is the test. The guru never says, “I am God,” or “I will make you God.” The real guru says, “I am a servant of God, and I will make you a servant of God also.” It doesn’t matter how the guru is dressed. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “Whoever can impart knowledge about Krishna is a spiritual master.” A genuine spiritual master simply tries to get people to become devotees of Krishna, or God. He has no other business.
Reporter: But the bad gurus—
“If you want to be cheated, you will find cheating gurus. But if you are sincere, you will find a sincere guru.”
Srila Prabhupada: And what is a “bad” guru?
Reporter: A bad guru just wants some money or some fame.
Srila Prabhupada: Well, if he is bad, how can be become a guru? [Laughter.] How can iron become gold? Actually, a guru cannot be bad, for if someone is bad, he cannot be a guru. You cannot say “bad guru.” That is a contradiction. What you have to do is simply try to understand what a genuine guru is. The definition of a genuine guru is that he is simply talking about God—that’s all. If he’s talking about some other nonsense, then he is not a guru. A guru cannot be bad. There is no question of a bad guru, any more than a red guru or a white guru. Guru means “genuine guru.” All we have to know is that the genuine guru is simply talking about God and trying to get people to become God’s devotees. If he does this, he is genuine.
Reporter: If I wanted to be initiated into your society, what would I have to do?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, you’d have to give up illicit sex life.
Reporter: Does that include all sex life? What is illicit sex life?
Srila Prabhupada: Illicit sex is sex outside of marriage. Animals have sex with no restrictions, but in human society there are restrictions. In every country and in every religion, there is some system of restricting sex life. You would also have to give up all intoxicants, including tea, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana—anything that intoxicates.
Reporter: Anything else?
Srila Prabhupada: You’d also have to give up eating meat, eggs, and fish. And you’d have to give up gambling as well. Unless you give up these four sinful activities, you could not be initiated.
Reporter: How many followers do you have throughout the world?
Srila Prabhupada: For anything genuine, the followers may be very few. For something rubbish, the followers may be many. Still, we have about five thousand initiated disciples.
Reporter: Is the Krishna consciousness movement growing all the time?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is growing—but slowly. This is because we have so many restrictions. People do not like restrictions.
Reporter: Where is your following the greatest?
Srila Prabhupada: In the United States, Europe, South America,and Australia. And, of course, in India there are millions who practice Krishna consciousness.
Reporter: Could you tell me what the goal of your movement is?
Srila Prabhupada: The purpose of this Krishna consciousness movement is to awaken man’s original consciousness. At the present moment our consciousness is designated. Someone is thinking, “I am an Englishman,” and another is thinking, “I am an American.” Actually, we do not belong to any of these designations. We are all part and parcel of God; that is our real identification. If everyone simply comes to that consciousness, all the problems of the world will be solved. Then we shall come to know that we are one—the same quality of spirit soul. The same quality of spirit soul is within everyone, although it may be in a different dress. This is the explanation given in Bhagavad-gita.
Krishna consciousness is actually a purificatory process (sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam). Its purpose is to make people free from all designations (tat-paratvena nirmalam). When our consciousness becomes purified of all designations, the activities we carry out with our purified senses make us perfect. Eventually, we reach the ideal perfection of human life. Krishna consciousness is also a very simple process. It is not necessary to become a great philosopher, scientist, or whatever. We need only chant the holy name of the Lord, understanding that His personality, His name, and His qualities are all absolute.
Krishna consciousness is a great science. Unfortunately, in the universities there is no department for this science. Therefore we invite all serious men who are interested in the welfare of human society to understand this great movement and, if possible, take part in it and cooperate with us. The problems of the world will be solved. This is also the verdict of the Bhagavad-gita, the most important and authoritative book of spiritual knowledge. Many of you have heard of the Bhagavad-gita. Our movement is based on it. Our movement is approved by all great acaryas in India. Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Lord Caitanya, and so many others. You are all representatives of newspapers, so I ask you to try to understand this movement as far as possible for the good of all human society.
Reporter: Do you think your movement is the only way to know God?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Reporter: How are you assured of that?
Srila Prabhupada: From the authorities and from God, Krishna. Krishna says:
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” [Bhagavad-gita 18.66].
Reporter: Does “surrender” mean that someone would have to leave his family?
“The genuine guru is God’s representative, and he speaks about God and nothing else.”
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Reporter: But suppose I were to become an initiate. Wouldn’t I have to come and live in the temple?
Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily.
Reporter: I can stay at home?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes.
Reporter: What about work? Would I have to give up my job?
Srila Prabhupada: No, you’d simply have to give up your bad habits and chant the Hare Krishna mantra on these beads—that’s all.
Reporter: WouldI have to give anyfinancial support?
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is your voluntary wish. If you give, that’s all right. And if you don’t, we don’t mind. We do not depend on anyone’s financial contribution. We depend on Krishna.
Reporter: I wouldn’t have to give any money at all?
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Reporter: Is this one of the main things that distinguishes the genuine guru from the fake guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a genuine guru is not a businessman. He is a representative of God. Whatever God says, the guru repeats. He does not speak otherwise.
Reporter: But would you expect to find a real guru, say, traveling in a Rolls Royce and staying in a penthouse suite in a classy hotel?
Srila Prabhupada: Sometimes people provide us with a room in a first-class hotel, but we generally stay in our own temples. We have some one hundred temples around the world, so we don’t require to go to any hotels.
Reporter: I wasn’t trying to make any accusations. I was merely trying to illustrate that I think your warning is a valid one. There are so many people interested in finding a spiritual life, and at the same time there are a lot of people interested in cashing in on the “guru business.”
Srila Prabhupada: Are you under the impression that spiritual life means voluntarily accepting poverty?
Reporter: Well, I don’t know.
Srila Prabhupada: A poverty-stricken man may be materialistic, and a wealthy man may be very spiritual. Spiritual life does not depend on either poverty or wealth. Spiritual life is transcendental. Consider Arjuna, for instance. Arjuna was a member of a royal family, yet he was a pure devotee of God. And in the Bhagavad-gita Sri Krishna says, evam parampara-praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: “This supreme science was received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way” [Bg. 4.2]. In the past, all kings who were saintly understood spiritual science. Therefore, spiritual life does not depend on one’s material condition. Whatever a person’s material condition may be—he may be a king or a pauper—he can still understand spiritual life. Generally people do not know what spiritual life is, and therefore, they unnecessarily criticize us. If I asked you what spiritual life is, how would you answer?
Reporter: Well, I’m not sure.
“Whatever God says, the guru repeats. He does not speak otherwise.”
Srila Prabhupada: Although you do not know what spiritual life is, you still say,“It is this,” or “It is that.” But first you should know what spiritual life is. Spiritual life begins when you understand that you are not your body. This is the real beginning of spiritual life. By seeing the difference between your self and your body, you come to understand that you are a spirit soul (aham brahmasmi).
Reporter: Do you think this knowledge should be a part of everyone’s education?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. People should first be taught what they are. Are they their bodies, or something else? That is the beginning of education. Now everyone is educated to think he is his body. Because someone accidentally gets an American body, he thinks, “I am an American.” This is just like thinking, “I am a red shirt,” just because you are wearing a red shirt. You are not a red shirt; you are a human being. Similarly, this body is like a shirt or coat over the real person—the spirit soul. If we recognize ourselves simply by our bodily “shirt” or “coat,” then we have no spiritual education.
Reporter: Do you think that such education should be given in schools?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—in schools, colleges, and universities. There is an immense literature on this subject—an immense fund of knowledge. What is actually required is that the leaders of society come forward to understand this movement.
Reporter: Have you ever had people come to you who had previously been involved with a fake guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, there are many.
Reporter: Were their spiritual lives in any way spoiled by the fake gurus?
Srila Prabhupada: No, they were genuinely seeking something spiritual, and that was their qualification. God is within everyone’s heart, and as soon as someone genuinely seeks Him, He helps that person find a genuine guru.
Reporter: Have the real gurus like yourself ever tried to put a stop to the false gurus—that is, put pressure on them to put them out of business, so to speak.
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is not my purpose. I started my movement simply by chanting Hare Krishna. I chanted in New York in a place called Tompkins Square Park, and soon people began to come to me. In this way, the Krishna consciousness movement gradually developed. Many accepted, and many did not accept. Those who are fortunate have accepted.
Reporter: Don’t you feel that people are suspicious because of their experience with fake gurus? If you went to a quack dentist and he broke your tooth, you might be suspicious about going to another dentist.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Naturally, if you are cheated, you become suspicious. But this does not mean that if you are cheated once, you will always be cheated. You should find out someone genuine. But to come to Krishna consciousness, you must be either very fortunate or well aware of this science. From the Bhagavad-gita we understand that the genuine seekers are very few: manusyanam sahasresu kascid yatati siddhaye. Out of many millions of people, there may be only one who is interested in spiritual life. Generally, people are interested in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. So how can we expect to find many followers? It is not difficult to notice that people have lost their spiritual interest. And almost all those who are actually interested are being cheated by so-called spiritualists. You cannot judge a movement simply by the number of its followers. If one man is genuine, then the movement is successful. It is not a question of quantity, but quality.
Reporter: I wondered how many people you think might have been taken in by fake gurus.
Srila Prabhupada: Practically everyone. [Laughter.] There is no question of counting. Everyone.
Reporter: This would mean thousands of people, wouldn’t it?
Srila Prabhupada: Millions. Millions have been cheated, because they want to be cheated. God is omniscient. He can understand your desires. He is within your heart, and if you want to be cheated. God sends you a cheater.
Reporter: Is it possible for everyone to attain the perfectional stage you spoke of previously?
Srila Prabhupada: Within a second. Anyone can attain perfection within a second—providing he is willing. The difficulty is that no one is willing. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: “Simply surrender unto Me” [Bg. 18.66]. But who is going to surrender to God? Everyone says, “Oh, why should I surrender to God? I will be independent.” If you simply surrender, it is a second’s business. That’s all. But no one is willing, and that is the difficulty.
Reporter: When you say that lots of people want to be cheated, do you mean that lots of people want to carry on with their worldly pleasures and at the same time, by chanting a mantra or by holding a flower, achieve spiritual life as well? Is this what you mean by wanting to be cheated?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, this is like a patient thinking, “I shall continue with my disease, and at the same time I shall become healthy.” It is contradictory. The first requirement is that one become educated in spiritual life. Spiritual life is not something one can understand by a few minutes’ talk. There are many philosophy and theology books, but people are not interested in them. That is the difficulty. For instance, Srimad-Bhagavatam is a very long work, and if you try to read this book, it may take many days just to understand one line of it. The Bhagavatam describes God, the Absolute Truth, but people are not interested. And if, by chance, someone becomes a little interested in spiritual life, he wants something immediate and cheap. Therefore, he is cheated. Actually, human life is meant for austerity and penance. That is the way of Vedic civilization. In Vedic times they would train boys up as brahmacaris; no sex life was allowed at all up to the age of twenty-five. Where is that education now? A brahmacari is a student who lives a life of complete celibacy and obeys the commands of his guru at the guru-kula [school of the spiritual master] . Now schools and colleges are teaching sex from the very beginning, and twelve- or thirteen-year-old boys and girls are having sex. How can they have a spiritual life? Spiritual life means voluntarily accepting some austerities for the sake of God realization. That is why we insist on no illicit sex, meat eating, gambling, or intoxication for our initiated students. Without these restrictions, any “yoga meditation” or so-called spiritual discipline cannot be genuine. It is simply a business deal between the cheaters and the cheated.