Can I take any spiritual path and arrive at the same goal? Is God a person or just energy? Can I become God? … When it comes to the science of God-realization, most people are pretty much in the dark. In this conversation with Professor Alphonso Verdu of the University of Kansas, Dhrstadyumna Swami uses ancient India’s Vedic literature—”the torchlight of knowledge”—to clear things up.
This conversation took place on the program “Public Access,” aired over Sunflower Cablevision of Lawrence, Kansas.
Professor Verdu: Maybe we could talk about the basis of your programs, ideals, religion, and philosophy. Earlier you were saying that your main goal is to attain Krishna consciousness. What do you understand by Krishna?
Dhrstadyumna Swami:Krishna isa transcendental name of God which means “all-attractive.” We understand that God may have many names, but ultimately He is one.
Professor Verdu: Now, the Bhagavad-gita isone of the main works translated by your spiritual master. The Bhagavad-gita talks about Krishna as being an incarnation of Visnu.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: No. Actually, according to the Vedic literature, Visnu is an expansion of Krishna. The Brahma-samhita [5.48]states, “I adore the primeval Lord, Govinda, of whose subjective personality Maha-Visnu is the portion of a portion.” Also, Srila Vyasadeva himself, the author of the Vedic literatures, declares in the Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.3.28]: ete camsa-kalah pumsah Krishnas tu bhagavan svayam. After listing the different incarnations of God, Srila Vyasadeva says that Krishna is the original source.
Professor Verdu: Oh.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: When many candles are lit by one original candle, the quality of each candle’s light is the same, although they burn separately. Similarly, Krishna is the original personality from whom all other incarnations come.
Professor Verdu: So how do you understand the text of the Bhagavad-gita, where it says that Krishna is the eighth incarnation of Visnu, and that Krishna is just a human, corporeal manifestation of Visnu?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: This is not a statement of the Bhagavad-gita. In the eleventh chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna reveals His cosmic form to Arjuna, within which are contained all the universes. Then Arjuna sees the four-armed form of Visnu, and finally the original, two-armed form of Krishna. Krishna’s body is never to be considered material. As stated in the Brahma-samhita [5.1], isvarah paramah Krishnah: “Krishna, who is known as Govinda, is the supreme controller. He has an eternal, blissful body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin, and He is the prime cause of all causes.” Also, from an analytical examination of the personalities of Visnu and Krishna we can understand that, whereas Visnu is worshiped with awe and reverence up to the relationship of servitude, only in Krishna can you worship or adore God as your dearmost friend, or even as your child, or ultimately engage with God in a reciprocal relationship of lover and beloved. These are found only in Krishna.
Professor Verdu: Right. Yes.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Therefore, because these are not displayed in Visnu, Krishna’s form and personality are considered, in a sense, superior.
Professor Verdu: Yes. The Bhagavad-gita talks about three different ways towards emancipation, or towards ultimate salvation-that is, karma-yoga, jnana-yoga, and bhakti-yoga. First, what do you understand by karma-yoga? And what of karma itself?
Dhrstadyumna Swami:Karma means “action pertaining to the development of the material body.” Just as we study in physics or chemistry that for every action there is a reaction, so the original pure consciousness of the soul is now covered by a material body in terms of his karma, or work. Good actions produce good results—such as physical beauty, good parentage, and less suffering—and bad actions produce bad results. “As a man sows, so shall he reap.”
Professor Verdu: Now, this material body—do you include the mind as part of the material body, as the subtle body?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Yes. In the Bhagavad-gita [7.4],Krishna says:
bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh
kham mano buddhir eva ca
ahankara itiyam me
bhinna prakrtir astadha
This means that God has eight material energies: five gross (earth, water, fire, air, and space) and three subtle (mind, intelligence, and false ego). The material body is a combination of these elements. The specific form and qualities of each body are determined by the desire and activities of the individual soul (jiva), whose essential nature is superior to matter, being sentient and eternally unchanging.
Professor Verdu: The Bhagavad-gita often talks about three qualities of matter—goodness (sattva), passion (rajas), and ignorance (tamas). What role do they play in your conception?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: The mode of passion is characterized by hankering and by great endeavor for the results of one’s activities, and by sense enjoyment. Ultimately it is characterized by sex life. Just like this nation—it is very passionate.
Professor Verdu: You would say, then, that Americans are predominantly overpowered by the passionate mode of nature?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Yes. And we see that the third mode, ignorance, is also present. Those in this mode are characterized by intoxication, too much sleep, uncleanliness, sloth, and lethargy.
Professor Verdu: Right, right.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Just like I have seen that many of my young brothers and sisters who are taking drugs have become very dirty and lazy. That means they are becoming …
Professor Verdu: Overpowered by tamas, ignorance—right! Even if they claim they are accumulating sattva—the element of light, the element of understanding and knowledge?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Yes. What they are perceiving is hallucination or illusion. We can understand a tree by its fruits. They may claim great enlightenment from taking some intoxicants, but then we see that they are performing the most degraded activities. That is not the mode of goodness.
Professor Verdu: Yes. Several of my own students have taken drugs for the sake of “experience” and so on, but they gradually realized that it was not the right way.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Great saints and mystics have spent their whole lives in penance and austerity, performing sacrifices to realize God. To think that by simply taking some pill one can automatically understand God—this is a cheap understanding.
Professor Verdu: Yes, quite right. Now we’ve been talking about karma. What about karma-yoga?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Whether one is in goodness, passion, or ignorance, one is bound by the results of his activities. So if one gives up the results of his activities (although not necessarily the activities themselves) for the higher purpose of serving God, that is called karma-yoga.
Professor Verdu: What about jnana-yoga, which means the yoga of pure intellectual knowledge?
Dhrstadyumna Swami:Yes—jnana means philosophical speculation to ascend to the impersonal understanding of God.
Professor Verdu: Yes. Now, wasn’t Sankaracarya an advocate of this state of mind, which is totally impersonal? Didn’t he say that the ultimate state to be attained by the soul is the dissolution of personality, and ultimately the disintegration of individuality?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: No, that is not the ultimate state.
Professor Verdu: But Sankara proposed that as the ultimate state.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: But we have to understand the class of men he was teaching. At the time, Buddhism was the predominant mode of thinking in India. Buddha drove the Vedas out of India. Sankara meant to reestablish the Vedic authority, but he couldn’t present the personal understanding, because the people were too impersonalistic. They were into the voidistic thought of Buddhism—nirvana, nothing. So he thought to elevate them to accept the Vedic authority by presenting the Vedas in an impersonal way. But at the time of his leaving this material world, he himself told his disciples:
bhaja govindam bhaja govindam
bhaja govindam mudha-mate
samprapte sannihite kale
na hi na hi raksati dukrn-karane
“You fools and rascals, all your grammatical word jugglery and philosophical speculation will not save you at the time of death. Just worship Govinda, worship Govinda, worship Govinda.” (Govinda is another name for Krishna.) And Sankara himself has written many poems glorifying Krishna as the Supreme, transcendental to this cosmic manifestation: narayanah paro ‘vyaktat. And he has admitted in his commentary on the Bhagavad-gita that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who appeared as the son of Vasudeva and Devaki.
Professor Verdu: Yes. But generally the system of Sankaracarya is understood as a whole, taking into account all the commentaries he wrote on the Upanisads and on the Vedanta-sutra of Badarayana. He does propose a personal aspect of the divinity of Brahman, an aspect which appears as Isvara, but he claims that that aspect is conditioned by the quality of sattva, and only in that sense does Brahman personalize itself. He says that the devotee’s union with Isvara, the personal manifestation, is a transitory state. This state, bhakti, is a state of loving union, but it contains a duality, because it implies a distinction between the worshiper and the Supreme Person of God. Sankara said that in the ultimate state you have to transcend this distinction and enter into the total oneness of unity with Brahman. And that’s why he called his own system kevaladvaita, which means unqualified, nondualistic, pure monism.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Yes. But this was Sankaracarya’s word jugglery.
Professor Verdu: Oh?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: He was simply cheating the atheists, who want to deny God His individuality. Later, Ramanujacarya and Madhvacarya, and ultimately Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, gave the complete understanding. Lord Caitanya explains that the Absolute Truth and the living entities are acintya-bhedabheda-tattva—inconceivably one and different simultaneously. In other words, the living entity (the atomic soul), and God (the Supreme Soul), are one in quality, but they are different in quantity. We may possess a minute degree of knowledge, beauty, strength, wealth, fame, or renunciation, but God has all these opulences simultaneously, to an infinite degree. Thus we can never be equal to Him in all respects.
Professor Verdu: Are you saying, then, that the distinction between Brahman and the jiva soul is not qualitative, but quantitative?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Yes, and we are also saying that the impersonal Brahman is coming from, or is an emanation from, the personal Parabrahman, Krishna.
Professor Verdu: This is Caitanya’s conception.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: It is the authentic Vedic version, as confirmed in the fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita: brahmano hi pratisthaham: “Iam the basis of the impersonal Brahman” [Bg. 14.27]. And it is also confirmed in the Brahma-samhita [5.40],where Lord Brahma states: “I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, whose effulgence is the source of the nondifferentiated Brahman mentioned in the Upanisads, etc.”
Professor Verdu: Now, the third way of self-realization, and the highest according to the Bhagavad-gita, is bhakti-yoga, the way of love.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Yes. God has three features: first, the impersonal, second, the localized Supersoul within the heart of every living entity; and ultimately, the Supreme Person. So by jnana-yoga (or philosophical discrimination) and austerities, one may understand the impersonal feature. And by the practice of the Pantanjali system of eightfold mysticism, astanga-yoga, one may realize the localized Supersoul within the heart. But it is only by devotion and love and service that one can realize the personal, supreme feature of God. In the Gita, Lord Krishna says:
bhaktya mam abhijanati
yavan yas casmi tattvatah
tato mam tattvato jnatva
“One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God” [Bg. 18.55].
Professor Verdu: The Bhagavad-gita tells us that dhyana-yoga, or jnana-yoga, which is the impersonal way, is cumbersome and difficult, whereas bhakti-yoga is the easy way. In what sense is it the easy way?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Because in bhakti-yoga the means, service to God, is the same as the ultimate end. And it is completely natural to every living thing; it’s natural to be personal and individual and to want to serve God. As Lord Caitanya said, jivera ‘svarupa’ haya—krsnera ‘nitya-dasa’: “It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna.” There are even examples of animals attaining love of God through bhakti-yoga.
Professor Verdu: What kinds of methods do you rely on in your practice of yoga ? For instance, in dhyana-yoga there has always been, since Upanishadic times, the stress upon repetition of certain sacred syllables—like om, which is supposed to be the supreme synthesis of all conscious things, and which therefore can be compared to white light, the synthesis of all the different colors. Now, you would not rely on the repetition of the syllable om, would you?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Krishna says, pranavah sarva-vedesu: “Of all syllables, I am the syllable om in the Vedic mantras.” This syllable om is the alphabetic representation of God and is used to address the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It’s like “O My Lord.”
Professor Verdu: What kind of mantras do you use?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: We chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, which is the same as om, but which is also a more personal way of address: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. This means “O My Lord, O energy of the Lord, please engage me in Your service.”
Professor Verdu: Do you chant together or alone?
A disciple of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada since 1970, Dhrstadyumna Swami received sannyasa (the renounced, scholarly order of life, signified by the title “swami”) in 1976.
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Both. We have our japa beads for private meditation …
Professor Verdu: Like a Catholic rosary…
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Yes, for helping the concentration. We also chant together in a group, because in this age of quarrel and dissension the recommended process of God-realization—it doesn’t matter what religion you have, or what name of God you use, provided it is authorized—the recommended process is to glorify the holy name of God in the association of saintly persons.
Professor Verdu: For the effectiveness of this mantra in bringing about Krishna consciousness, do you conceive of a need for relying on the grace of Krishna to help you?
Dhrstadyumna Swami: Yes. Because we are finite, we cannot understand the infinite by our own tiny endeavor. But the infinite has the power to descend to our plane of cognition and reveal Himself to us. Indeed, that is the only way of understanding the ultimate truth. The Hare Krishna mantra is a prayer to the Supreme Lord and His energy to engage the tiny soul in His eternal service. Our spiritual master, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, has told us not to be anxious to see God, but to act in such a way that God will want to come and see us. By chanting God’s name, the heart becomes cleansed. In the first of his eight verses on the holy name, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said, “Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krishna, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence. This chanting is the waxing moon that spreads the white lotus of good fortune for all living entities. It is the life and soul of all education. The chanting of the holy name of Krishna expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life. It gives a cooling effect to everyone and enables one to taste full nectar at every step.”
Professor Verdu: It seems we’re out of time. I think this has been a most interesting conversation, and I thank you very much for meeting together with me. I hope to meet you again.