A talk between John Lennon, Yoko Ono, George Harrison, and His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Founder-Acarya of the International Society
for Krishna Consciousness.
Summer, 1969: The setting is Tittenhurst Park, John Lennon’s sixty-acre estate in Ascot, a London suburb. John had invited the dozen or so devotees then living in London to stay at the estate, and they had decorated a small recital hall there as a temple. A few weeks previously, the devotees had recorded the Hare Krsna mantra on Apple Records. Now, on September 8, Srila Prabhupada was arriving, and John offered to have him picked up in his Rolls Royce at Heathrow Airport and brought to stay with the devotees at Tittenhurst. It was during Srila Prabhupada’s stay there that this conversation took place.
Srila Prabhupada [to John Lennon]: You are anxious to bring about peace in the world. I’ve read some of your statements, and they show me that you’re anxious to do something Actually, every saintly person should be anxious to bring peace to the world. But we must know the process. In Bhagavad-gita [5.29], Lord Krsna explains how to achieve peace:
jnatva mam santim rcchati
People can become peaceful by knowing three things. If people perfectly understand only three things, then they’ll become peaceful. What are they? First of all, Lord Krsna says that He is the real enjoyer of all the sacrifices, austerities, and penances that people undertake to perfect their lives. For instance, your own musical activities are also a form of austerity. Your songs have become popular because you have undergone some austerities. You have come to perfection, but that required some penances and austerities. Scientific discoveries also require austerities. In fact, anything valuable requires austerity. If one works very devoutly and painstakingly, one becomes successful.
That is called yajna, or sacrifice. It is also called tapasya, or penance. So Krsna says that He is the enjoyer of the results of your tapasya. He claims, “The result of your tapasya should come to Me. Then you’ll be satisfied.”
The second thing people should remember is that Krsna is the supreme proprietor. People are claiming, “This is my England,” “This is my India,” “This is my Germany,” “This is my China.” No! Everything belongs to God, Krsna. Not only this planet belongs to Krsna, but all other planets in the universe.
Still, we have divided even this planet into so many nations. Originally, this planet was not divided. From the historical accounts in the Mahabharata, we understand that the whole planet was once ruled by a single emperor who resided in India, in the place called Hastinapura, the site of modern Delhi. Even up to five thousand years ago there was only one king, Maharaja Pariksit. The whole planet was under one flag and was called Bharata-varsa. But gradually Bharata-varsa has become smaller and smaller and smaller. For instance, very recently, just twenty years ago, the remaining portion of Bharata-varsa, now called India, was divided into Pakistan and Hindustan. Actually, India was one, but now it has been reduced by the partition. This dividing is going on.
But actually this whole planet is God’s place. It is nobody else’s place. How can we claim possession? For example, you have given me this place to stay in. If I stay for one week and then claim, “Oh, this is my room,” is that a very nice thing? There will immediately be some disagreement, some trouble. Rather, I should recognize the actual fact, namely, that you have kindly spared this room. By your permission I am living here comfortably. And when it is necessary for me to leave, I shall go.
Similarly, we all came here into the kingdom of God empty-handed, and we go empty-handed. So how can we claim that this is my property, this is my country, this is my world, this is my planet? Why do we make such claims? Is it not insanity? So Lord Krsna says, sarva-loka-mahesvaram: “I am the Supreme Lord of every place.”
Thirdly, we should always remember that Krsna is the real friend of every living entity and that He is sitting as a friend within everyone’s heart. He’s such a nice friend. In this material world, we make friendships, but they break up. Or my friend lives somewhere, and I live somewhere else. But Krsna is such a nice friend that He is living within-within me and within my heart. He is the best friend of all living beings. He’s not just the friend of a select few, but He is dwelling even within the heart of the most insignificant creature as Paramatma, or Supersoul.
So if these three things are understood clearly, then one becomes peaceful. This is the real peace formula . . . .
In Bhagavad-gita the Lord also says, “Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” [Bhagavad-gita 3.21] The idea is that if something is accepted by the leading persons, the ordinary persons follow. If the leading persons say it is all right, then others also accept it. So by the grace of God, Krsna, you are leaders. Thousands of young people follow you. They like you. And if you give them something actually spiritual, the face of the world will change.
The Krsna consciousness movement is not newly manufactured. From the historical point of view, it is at least five thousand years old. The Bhagavad-gita, which is the basis of Krsna consciousness, was spoken by Lord Krsna five thousand years ago. Of course, Bhagavad-gita is generally regarded as an Indian religious book. But it isn’t—it’s not simply Indian or Hindu. The Bhagavad-gita is meant for all people of the world, and not even just for human beings but for all other living creatures as well. In Chapter Fourteen the Lord 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]
This indicates that the eternal living entity appears in varieties of temporary, material forms, just like we here now have the forms of ladies, gentlemen, and young men. We all have different forms. This whole world is full of varieties of life, but Krsna says, aham bija-pradah pita: “I am the father of all of them.” Pita mans “father.” So the Lord claims all living entities as His sons.
Some people may say that Krsna is Indian, Krsna is Hindu, or Krsna is something else. But no—Krsna is actually the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the seed-giving father of all living things on this planet. This Krsna consciousness movement was started by Krsna Himself. Therefore, it isn’t sectarian; it’s meant for everyone.
And in Bhagavad-gita [9.34] Krsna describes the universal process for worshiping Him:
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru . . . .
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me and become My devotee. Offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”
Krsna says, You should always think of Me: let your mind always be engaged in Me, Krsna. Just become My devotee. If you want to worship, just worship Me. If you want to offer respects, offer them to Me. And if you do this, then without a doubt you’ll come to Me.
This is a very simple method. Always think of Krsna. There is no loss, and the gain is very great.
So if one chants Hare Krsna, one undergoes no material loss, but gains spiritually. So why not try it? There is no expenditure. Everything has some price, but the Hare Krsna mantra is different. Lord Krsna and His followers in disciplic succession do not sell it—rather, they distribute it freely. We simply say to everyone, “Chant Hare Krsna. Dance in ecstasy.” It is a very nice thing.
So, I have come to your country, England, and especially here to your home to explain this Krsna consciousness movement. It is very beneficial. You are intelligent boys. So my request to you is that you try to understand this Krsna consciousness philosophy with all your powers of reason and argument. Krsnadasa Kaviraja, the author of Caitanya-caritamrta, says, sri-krsna-caitanya-daya karaha vicara, vicara karile citte pabe camatkara: “If you are indeed interested in logic and argument, kindly apply it to the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu.* If you do so, you will find it strikingly wonderful.” [Cc. Adi 8.15] So just apply your powers of judgment to the mercy of Lord Caitanya. If you scrutinize His mercy, you’ll find it sublime.
We are not forcing people to accept the Krsna consciousness movement. Rather, we are putting it before them for their judgment. Let them judge it. We are not a sectarian religious movement—Krsna consciousness is a science. So we ask you to judge it scrutinizingly with all your intellect. And we are sure you will find it sublime. And if you find it sublime, then why not help put it before the world?
Have you read our book Bhagavad-gita As It Is?
John Lennon: I’ve read bits of Bhagavad-gita. I don’t know which version it was. There are so many different translations.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, there are different translations, in which the authors have given their own interpretations of the text. Therefore I have prepared our Bhagavad-gita As It Is. Even Indian authors sometimes misrepresent Bhagavad-gita. For instance, one prominent Indian politician tried to give his own interpretation of the Bhagavad-gita. Say you have a box for a fountain pen. Everyone knows it is a fountain pen box. But someone might say, “No, it is something else. That is my Interpretation.” Is that very good?
Interpretation is required only when things are not understood clearly. If everybody can understand that this box is a fountain pen box, where is the necessity for interpretation? Bhagavad-gita is clear; it is just like sunlight, and sunlight does not require the aid of a lamp.
Dhrtarastra uvaca means that King Dhrtarastra, the father of Duryodhana, is asking his secretary, Sanjaya, about his sons, who are facing the Pandavas on the Battlefield of Kuruksetra. Mamakah means “my sons.” Pandavah refers to the sons of King Pandu, the younger brother of Dhrtarastra. Yuyutsavah means “with fighting spirit.” So Dhrtarastra is saying, “My sons and the sons of my younger brother Pandu are assembled on the battlefield, ready to fight each other.” The place where the battle will be fought is called kuruksetra, which is also dharmaksetra, a place of pilgrimage. Kim akurvata. “Now that they have assembled at Kuruksetra,” asks Dhrtarastra, “what will they do?” This place, Kuruksetra, still exists in India. Have you been to India?
John Lennon: Yes. But not to that place. We went to Hrsikesa.
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, Hrsikesa. Hrsikesa is also a famous place of pilgrimage. Similarly, Kuruksetra is a place of pilgrimage, near Delhi. It has been known as a place of pilgrimage since the Vedic times. In the Vedas it is stated, kuruksetre dharmam yajayet: “If you want to perform a religious ceremony, you should go to Kuruksetra.” Therefore Kuruksetra is called dharmaksetra, a place of pilgrimage.
Let me give you an example. The first verse of Bhagavad-gita is …
In other words, Kuruksetra is an actual historical location. And the Pandavas and the sons of Dhrtarastra are actual historical personalities. Their history is recorded in the Mahabharata. But in spite of these facts, some people interpret kuruksetra as “the body,” and the Pandavas as “the senses.” These things are going on, but we object. Why should anyone interpret Bhagavad-gita like that when the facts are there, presented so clearly?
Bhagavad-gita is a very authoritative and popular book, so unscrupulous authors try to put forward their own half-baked philosophies in the guise of commentaries on Bhagavad-gita. Therefore, there are so many false and misleading interpretations of Bhagavad-gita—six hundred and sixty-four or so. Everyone thinks he can interpret the Bhagavad-gita in his own way. But why? Why should this be allowed? We say, No, you cannot interpret Bhagavad-gita. Otherwise, what is the authority of Bhagavad-gita? The author of Bhagavad-gita did not leave it to be interpreted by third-class men. The author is Krsna, the Supreme Lord. He said everything clearly. Why should an ordinary man interpret His words? That is our objection.
Therefore, we are presenting Bhagavad-gita As It Is. In Bhagavad-gita you’ll find very elevated philosophy and theology as well as sociology, politics, and science. Everything is there, and everything is clearly explained by Krsna. So this Krsna consciousness movement means to present Bhagavad-gita as it is. That’s all. We have not manufactured anything.
[Srila Prabhupada pauses a moment and sips some water.]
Be happy and make all others happy. This is Krsna consciousness. Sarve sukhena bhavantu. That is the Vedic idea: everyone be happy. Caitanya Mahaprabhu said the same thing. He wanted this Krsna consciousness movement to be preached in every village and in every town of the world. It will make people happy. He foretold this. The purpose of any great mission, or of any high ideals, should be to make people happy, because in this material existence there is no happiness. That is a fact. There cannot be any happiness here.
This place is not meant for happiness. In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna Himself says that this world is duhkhalayam asasvatam. Duhkhalayam means it is a place of miseries, and asasvatam means it is temporary. Everything here is temporary. So you might accept that this material world is a miserable place and say, “All right, it’s miserable, but I accept it.” But that attitude has no value, because the material nature will not even allow you to stay here and accept the misery. This world is asasvatam, temporary. You have to leave.
But Krsna says there is a way to end this miserable existence: “After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” [Bg. 8.15] If somebody comes to Me, says Krsna, then he doesn’t have to return to the miserable conditions of life in the material world.
So, we should understand what Krsna is saying here. Nature is so cruel. In America, President Kennedy thought he was the most fortunate man, the happiest man. He was young, he was elected President. He had a nice wife and children and was respected all over the world. But within a second [Srila Prabhupada snaps his fingers] it was all finished. His position was temporary. Now what is his condition? Where is he? If life is eternal, if the living entity is eternal, then where has he gone? What is he doing? Is he happy, or is he distressed? Has he been reborn in America, in China? No one can say.
But it is a fact that as a living entity he’s eternal, he’s existing. That is the beginning of Bhagavad-gita’s philosophy. na hanyate hanyamane sarire. After the destruction of this body, the living entity is not destroyed: he is still there. Just like in your childhood you had a small body. That body is no more, but you are still existing. So it is natural that when this body ceases to exist, you will continue to exist in another body. It’s not very difficult to understand. The soul is eternal, and the body is temporary. That’s a fact.
Therefore, this present life is meant for manufacturing the next body. That is Vedic knowledge. In this life we are creating our next body. For instance, a boy may be studying very nicely in school. In this way he is creating his adult body. As a young man he will enjoy the results of his boyhood education. By education he can get a nice job, a nice house. So in this sense we can say that the young boy at school is creating his next body.
Similarly, we are all creating our next bodies according to our karma. By karma, most people will take another material body. But Krsna says it is possible to create a spiritual body so that you can come to Him. He says that those who worship Him go to His spiritual planet after death.
The whole Vedic philosophy teaches that if you want to go to a particular planet you must have a suitable body. You cannot go with this body. For instance, people are now trying to go to the moon planet. They are attempting to go with their material bodies, but they cannot stay there., But Krsna gives the process for going to other planets, and the highest planet is Krsna’s planet. You can go there “Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.” [Bg. 9.25]
One who worships Krsna does not come back again to this miserable material condition. Why? He has attained the highest perfection, to go back to Krsna. So this is the greatest benediction for human society, to train people to go back to Krsna’s spiritual planet, where they can dance with Krsna in rasa-lila. Have you seen pictures of Krsna’s rasa-lila dancing?
John Lennon: Which picture?
Disciple: The painting of Krsna dancing with Radha and the cowherd girls, the gopis.
John Lennon: Oh, you mean the one on the wall of the temple room?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. So, we can go to the spiritual world and join with Krsna and dance happily, with no anxiety. Living beings can have so many different connections with Krsna—as friend, as servant, as parent, as lover, whatever you like. Krsna says, ye yatha mam prapadyante tams tathaiva bhajamy aham: “All of them—as they surrender unto Me—I reward accordingly.” [Bg. 4.11] Just cultivate the consciousness of the particular relationship you desire with Krsna. He is prepared to accept you in that capacity. And that makes a solution to all problems.
In this world, nothing is permanent, nothing is blissful, nothing is full of knowledge. So we are training Western boys and girls in the science of Krsna consciousness. Anyone can take advantage of it. It is very beneficial. You should also try to understand it, and if you find it valuable, then please take it up. You are looking for something very nice. Is my proposal unreasonable? You are intelligent boys. Try to understand it.
And you also have very good musical abilities. The Vedic mantras were all transmitted through music. The Sama-veda, in particular, is full of music:
“I offer my humble obeisances to the Supreme Lord, whom great demigods like Brahma, Varuna, Indra, Siva, and the Maruts praise with transcendental prayers. Those who know the Sama-veda sing about Him with different Vedic hymns.” [Srimad-Bhagavatam 12.13.1] Sama-veda means the followers of the Sama-veda. Gayanti means that they are always engaged in music. Through musical vibrations they are approaching the Supreme. Gayanti means singing. So, Vedic mantras are meant to be sung. Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam can be sung very nicely. This is the proper way of chanting Vedic mantras. Simply by hearing the vibration, people will receive benefit, even if they do not understand the meaning. [Srila Prabhupada then chants some mantras from Srimad-Bhagavatam.]
Simply by transcendental sound vibration everything can be achieved. What kind of philosophy are you following? May I ask?
John Lennon: Following?
Yoko Ono: We don’t follow anything. We are just living.
George Harrison: We’ve done meditation. Or I do my meditation—mantra meditation.
Srila Prabhupada: Hare Krsna is also mantra.
John Lennon: Ours is not a song, though.
George Harrison: No, no. It’s chanting.
John Lennon: We heard it from Maharishi. A mantra each.
Srila Prabhupada: His mantras are not public.
George Harrison: Not out loud . . . no.
John Lennon: No—it’s a secret.
Srila Prabhupada: There’s a story about Ramanujacarya, a great Krsna conscious spiritual master. His spiritual master gave him a mantra and said, “My dear boy, you chant this mantra silently. Nobody else can hear it. It is very secret.” Ramanujacarya asked his guru, “‘What is the effect of this mantra?” The guru said, “By chanting this mantra in meditation, you’ll get liberation.”
So Ramanujacarya immediately went out to a big public meeting and said, “Everyone chant this mantra. You’ll all be liberated.” [Laughter.] Then he came back to his spiritual master, who was very angry, and said, “I told you that you should chant silently!” Ramanujacarya said, “Yes, I have committed an offense. So whatever punishment you like you can give me. But because you told me that this mantra will give liberation, I have given it to the public. Let everyone be liberated, and let me go to hell—I am prepared. But if by chanting this mantra everyone can be liberated, let it be publicly distributed.”
His spiritual master then embraced him, saying, “You are greater than me.”
You see? If a mantra has so much power, why should it be secret? It should be distributed. People are suffering. So Caitanya Mahaprabhu said to chant this Hare Krsna mantra loudly. Anyone who hears it, even the birds and beasts, will become liberated.
Yoko Ono: If Hare Krsna is such a strong, powerful mantra, is there any reason to chant anything else? For instance, you talked about songs and different mantras. Is there any point in the chanting of another song or mantra?
Srila Prabhupada: There are other mantras, but the Hare Krsna mantra is especially recommended for this age. But other Vedic mantras are also chanted. As I told you, the sages would sit with musical instruments, like the tamboura, and chant them. For instance, Narada Muni is always chanting mantras and playing his stringed instrument, the vina. So chanting out loud, with musical instruments, is not a new thing. It has been done since time immemorial But the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra is especially recommended for this age This is stated in many Vedic literatures, such as the Brahmanda Purana, the Kalisantarana Upanisad, the Agni Purana, and so forth.
And apart from the statements of the Vedic literature, Lord Krsna Himself, in the form of Lord Caitanya, preached that everyone should chant the Hare Krsna mantra. And many people followed Him. When a scientist discovers something, it becomes public property; people may take advantage of it. Similarly. if a mantra has potency, all people should be able to take advantage of it. Why should it remain secret? Why should it be for only a particular person?
John Lennon: If all mantras are just the name of God, then whether it’s a secret mantra or an open mantra it’s all the name of God. So it doesn’t really make much difference, does it, which one you sing?
Srila Prabhupada: It does make a difference. For instance, in a drug shop they sell all types of medicines for curing different diseases. But still you have to get a doctor’s prescription in order to get a particular type of medicine. Otherwise, the druggist won’t supply you. You might go to the drug shop and say, “I’m diseased. Please give me any medicine you have.” But the druggist will ask you, “Where is your prescription?”
Similarly, in this age of Kali [the Age of Quarrel and Hypocrisy] the Hare Krsna mantra is prescribed in the sastras, or scriptures. And the great teacher Caitanya Mahaprabhu, whom we consider to be an incarnation of God, also prescribed it. Therefore, our principle is that everyone should follow the prescription of the great authorities. Mahajano yena gatah sa panthah. We should follow in the footsteps of the great authorities. That is our business. The Mahabharata [Vana-parva, 313.117] states,
tarko ‘pratisthah srutayo vibhinnah
nasav rsir yasya matam na bhinnam
dharmasya tattvam nihitam guhayam
mahajano yena gatah sa panthah
This Vedic mantra says that if you simply try to argue and approach the Absolute Truth, it is very difficult. By argument and reason it is very difficult, because our arguments and reason are limited. And our senses are imperfect. There are many confusing varieties of scriptures, and every philosopher has a different opinion, and unless a philosopher defeats other philosophers. he cannot become recognized as a big philosopher. One theory replaces another, and therefore philosophical speculation will not help us arrive at the Absolute Truth. The Absolute Truth is very secret. So how can one achieve such a secret thing? You simply follow the great personalities who have already achieved success.
So our Krsna consciousness philosophical method is to follow the great personalities, such as Lord Krsna, Lord Caitanya, and the great spiritual masters in disciplic succession. Take shelter of bona fide authorities and follow them-that is recommended in the Vedas. That will take you to the ultimate goal.
In Bhagavad-gita [4.1], Lord Krsna also recommends this process. The Lord says, “I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Iksvaku.” Krsna is saying, My dear Arjuna, don’t think that this science of Krsna consciousness is something new. No. It is eternal, and I first spoke it to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan spoke it to his son Manu, and Manu also transferred this knowledge to his son, King Iksvaku.
“This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time, the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost.” [Bg. 4.2]
Evam parampara-praptam: In this way, by disciplic succession, the knowledge is coming down. Sa kaleneha mahata yogo nastah parantapa: But in the course of time the succession was broken. Therefore Krsna says, “I am speaking it to you again.”
So a mantra should be received from the disciplic succession. The Vedic injunction is sampradaya-vihina ye mantras te nisphala matah. If your mantra does not come through the disciplic succession, it will not be effective. Mantras te nisphala. Nisphalah means that it will not produce the desired result. So the mantra must be received through the proper channel. or it will not act. A mantra cannot be manufactured. It must come from the original Supreme Absolute, coming down through the channel of disciplic succession. It has to be received in that way, and only then will it act.
According to our Krsna consciousness philosophy, the mantra is coming down through four channels of disciplic succession: one through Lord Siva, one through the goddess Laksmi, one through Lord Brahma, and one through the four Kumaras. The same thing comes down through different channels. These are called the four sampradayas, or disciplic successions.
So, one has to take his mantra from one of these four sampradayas; then only is that mantra active. If we receive the mantra in that way, it will be effective. And if one does not receive his mantra through one of these sampradaya channels, then it will not act; it will not give fruit.
Yoko Ono: If the mantra itself has such power, does it matter where you receive it, where you take it?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it does matter. For instance, milk is nutritious. That’s a fact; everyone. knows. But if milk is touched by the lips of a serpent, it is no longer nutritious. It becomes poisonous.
Yoko Ono: Well. milk is material.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, it is material. But since you are trying to understand spiritual topics through your material senses, we have to give material examples.
Yoko Ono: Well, no, I don’t think you have to give me the material sense. I mean, the mantra is not material. It should be something spiritual; therefore, I don’t think anybody should be able to spoil it. I wonder if anybody can actually spoil something that isn’t material.
Srila Prabhupada: But if you don’t receive the mantra through the proper channel, it may not really be spiritual.
John Lennon: How would you know, anyway? How are you able to tell? I mean, for any of your disciples or us or anybody else who goes to any spiritual master—how are we to tell if he’s for real or not?
Srila Prabhupada: You shouldn’t go to just any spiritual master.
John Lennon: Yes, we should go to a true master. But how are we to tell one from the other?
Srila Prabhupada: It is not that you can go to just any spiritual master. He must be a member of a recognized sampradaya, a particular line of disciplic succession.
John Lennon: But what if one of these masters who’s not in the line says exactly the same thing as one who is? What if he says his mantra is coming from the Vedas, and he seems to speak with as much authority as you? He could probably be right. It’s confusing—like having too many fruits on a plate.
Srila Prabhupada: If the mantra is actually coming through a bona fide disciplic succession, then it will have potency.
John Lennon: But the Hare Krsna mantra is the best one?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Yoko Ono: Well, if Hare Krsna is the best one, why should we bother to say anything else other than Hare Krsna?
Srila Prabhupada: It’s true, you don’t have to bother with anything else. We say that the Hare Krsna mantra is sufficient for one’s perfection, for liberation.
George Harrison: Isn’t it like flowers? Somebody may prefer roses, and somebody may like carnations better. Isn’t it really a matter for the individual devotee to decide? One person may find that Hare Krsna is more beneficial to his spiritual progress. and yet another person may find that some other mantra may be more beneficial for himself. Isn’t it just a matter of taste, like choosing a flower? They’re all flowers, but some people may like one better than another.
Srila Prabhupada: But still there is a distinction. A fragrant rose is considered better than a flower without any scent.
Yoko Ono: In that case, I can’t—
Srila Prabhupada: Let’s try to understand this flower example.
Yoko Ono: O.K.
Srila Prabhupada: You may be attracted by one flower, and I may be attracted by another flower. But among the flowers a distinction can be made. There are many flowers that have no fragrance and many that have fragrance.
Yoko Ono: Is that flower that has fragrance better?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Therefore your attraction for a particular flower is not the solution to the question of which is actually better. In the same way, personal attraction is not the solution to choosing the best spiritual process. In Bhagavad-gita [4.11]. Lord Krsna says. “As one surrenders unto Me, I reward him accordingly. Krsna is the Supreme Absolute. If someone wants to enjoy a particular relationship with Him, Krsna presents Himself in that way. It’s just like the flower example. You may want a yellow flower, and that flower may not have any fragrance. That flower is there; it’s for you, that’s all. But if someone wants a rose, Krsna gives him a rose. You both get the flower of your choice, but when you make a comparative study of which is better, the rose will be considered better.
So Krsna reveals Himself in different ways to different types of seekers. Realization of Krsna, the Absolute Truth, is of three varieties: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan are simply three different features of the Absolute Truth. The jnanis, or empiric philosophers, reach the impersonal Brahman. The yogis focus on the Supersoul, Paramatma. And the devotees aim at Bhagavan, or Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But Krsna and the Supersoul and the impersonal Brahman are not different. They are all like the light, which is opposed to darkness. But even in light there are varieties.
In the Vedas, the three features of the Absolute Truth are explained by the example of sunlight, sun globe, and sun-god. In the sunshine there is light, and in the sun globe there is also light. Within the sun globe dwells the predominating deity of the sun planet, and he must also be full of light. Otherwise, where does all the sun’s light come from? Brahman God’s impersonal aspect, is compared to the sun’s rays, the Supersoul is like the sun globe, and Krsna is like the personality of the sun-god. But taken together they are all the sun.
Nevertheless, distinctions remain. For instance, just because the sunshine comes through the window into your room, you cannot say that the sun itself has come. That would be a mistake. The sun is many millions of miles away. In a sense, the sun is present in your room, but it is a question of degree. So the degrees of spiritual realization in Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan realization are different.
Yoko Ono: But you said that if the milk is touched by the lips of a serpent it will become poisonous. A lot of churches probably had good teachings in the beginning, but over time their messages have deteriorated. Now how can a person decide if the message of Brahman that you’re talking about will always remain in its pure state? How can you be sure it won’t be poisoned by serpents?
Srila Prabhupada: That’s an individual matter. You have to become a serious student.
Yoko Ono: Well, what do you mean by “serious student”? I mean, we’re born serious or born—you know—unserious.
Srila Prabhupada: Being a serious student means that you try to understand the distinction between Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan.
Yoko Ono: But does it depend on knowledge? I mean, the final judgment you make?
Srila Prabhupada: Everything depends on knowledge. Without knowledge, how can we make progress? To be a serious student means to acquire knowledge.
Yoko Ono: But its not always the knowledgeable ones who—
Srila Prabhupada: Yes; no one can know the Absolute Truth completely. That is because our knowledge is very imperfect. But still, as far as our knowledge allows, we should try to understand the Absolute Truth. The Vedas say, avan manasa gocara. The Absolute is so great and unlimited that it is not possible for us to know Him completely; our senses do not allow it. But we should try as far as possible. And it is possible, because, after all, we are part and parcel of the Absolute. Therefore, all of the qualities of the Absolute are there in us, but in minute quantity. But that minute quantity of the Absolute within us is very great when compared to material knowledge.
Material knowledge is practically no knowledge whatsoever. It is covered knowledge. But when one is liberated, and attains liberated knowledge, his knowledge is very much greater than the greatest material knowledge. So, as far as possible, we should try to understand Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. The Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.2.11] states. “Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma, or Bhagavan.” Now again, what is the distinction among these three degrees of knowledge? Actually, knowledge of Brahman, knowledge of Paramatma, and knowledge of Bhagavan are knowledge of the same thing.
There is another example in this connection. Imagine you are looking at a hill from a distant place. First of all you see a hazy form on the horizon like a cloud. Then if you proceed closer you’ll see it as something green. And if you actually walk on the hill, you’ll see so many varieties of life—animals, men, trees, and so forth. But from the distance you just see it vaguely like a cloud.
So although the Absolute Truth is always the same, it appears different from different angles of vision. From the Brahman point of view, it appears like a hill seen as a cloud. When viewed as Paramatma, the Absolute can be compared to the vision of the hill as something green. And when the Absolute is realized as the Supreme Person, Bhagavan, it is just like seeing the hill from up close. You see everything in complete detail.
Therefore, although the person who sees Brahman, the person who sees Paramatma, and the person who sees Krsna are all focusing on the same thing, their realization is different according to their respective positions.
These things are very nicely explained in Bhagavad-gita [10.8] wherein Lord Krsna says, “I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” Krsna says, I am the source of everything—Brahman, Paramatma, everything. Elsewhere in Bhagavad-gita [14.27] it is clearly stated that Krsna is the source of Brahman: brahmano hi pratisthaham.
So knowledge of Brahman and Paramatma are included within knowledge of Krsna. If one has knowledge of Krsna, he automatically has knowledge of Paramatma and Brahman. Such a person automatically achieves the result of the yogic principle of meditation, namely. realization of the Supersoul. Paramatma. And he also achieves the result of empirical philosophical speculation, namely, realization of Brahman. Beyond that, he is situated personally in the service of the Supreme Lord, Krsna.
So if you make a comparative study, you’ll find that knowledge of Krsna includes all other knowledge. The Vedas confirm this: yasmin vijnate sarvam evam vijnatam bhavati: “If you understand the Supreme. then all knowledge becomes automatically revealed.” And in Bhagavad-gita it is stated, “Knowing this we have nothing more to know.” So, first of all we have to seriously study the Vedic knowledge. Therefore, I am asking you to become serious students. By understanding Krsna, you will understand everything.