When the transmigrating soul finally reaches human life,
he inherits great social and spiritual responsibilities.
A lecture in New York in April 1973
by His Divine Grace
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
In the cycle or birth and death, the eternal soul transmigrates from species to species, sometimes occupying the body of an animal, sometimes the body of a human being, sometimes the body of a demigod (a resident of the higher planets). Human life, which is attained after passing through eight million plant and animal species, affords the soul a chance to regain his eternal life beyond birth and death by following the Vedic social system known as varnasramadharma, which engages everyone in the service of the Lord.
catur-varnyam maya srstam
tasya kartaram api mam
viddhy akartaram avyayam
“According to the three modes of nature and the work associated With them, the four divisions of human society are created by Me. And although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the nondoer, being unchangeable.” (Bhagavad-gita 4.13)
This is a verse from the Bhagavad-gita. Most of you know this book—Bhagavad-gita. It is a very famous book of knowledge. And we are presenting the Bhagavad-gita as it is. That is the mission of the Krsna consciousness movement—to present Bhagavad-gita as it is, without any adulteration.
So, here Krsna says there are four classes of men in human society (catur-varnyam). Catuh means “four,” and varna means “division of society.” Varna can also mean “color.” Just as there are various divisions of color—red, blue, yellow, and so on—human society should be divided according to people’s quality.
There are three main qualities in this material world—goodness, passion, and ignorance—just as there are three primary colors—red, blue, and yellow. And as you can mix these three primary colors to make unlimited colors, when you mix the material qualities, three multiplied by three becomes nine, nine multiplied by nine becomes eighty-one, and so on. In this way there are 8,400,000 different species, or forms of living entities. Nature manufactures these different types of bodies according to how the living entities associate with the three qualities.
The living entities are part and parcel of God. God is like a big fire, and the living entities are just like sparks. The sparks are also fire. If a spark falls on you, your garment will bum, but the spark is not as powerful as the big fire. Similarly, God is all-powerful, and we are minutely powerful. We are part and parcel of God, and therefore our power is very, very small, infinitesimal. God has created so many universes, while we cannot account for even one universe. In this one universe there are millions and trillions of stars and planets floating in outer space. But when we float one sputnik in the sky, we take so much credit and think we have become very, very great scientists. We don’t care for God. This is foolishness.
One who is intelligent knows that God is floating millions and trillions of planets in the sky, and that we have done nothing in comparison to that. This is intelligence. But we have become very proud of our scientific knowledge, and therefore at the present moment we defy the existence of God. Sometimes we even say, “I have become God.” This is all foolishness. We are nothing in comparison to God.
Still, because we are part and parcel of God, we can study God simply by studying ourselves. It is like studying a drop of sea-water to understand the sea. If you analyze a drop of seawater chemically, you’ll find so many chemicals in it, and in this way you can understand the composition of the sea. The drop has the same composition as the sea, but in minute quantity. That is the difference between ourselves and God. We are small gods—tiny, sample gods.
Therefore we should not be proud; we should know that all our qualities are taken from God. That is why, in answer to the questions What is God? What is the Absolute Truth? the Vedanta-sutra says, janmady asya yatah: “The Absolute Truth is He from whom everything emanates.” So, everything is coming from God. He’s the original source of everything.
Now, what is our position? According to the Vedic information, there are innumerable living entities: nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam. Like us, God is a living entity, but He’s the chief living entity. He’s like a father with innumerable sons. Formerly, fathers used to have one hundred sons. Now the fathers have no such power. But five thousand years ago King Dhrtarastra begot one hundred sons. Now the scientists are saying we are overpopulated. But that’s not a fact. What is the question of overpopulation? How many of us are having one hundred children? So, there is no question of overpopulation.
And even if there were overpopulation, eko bahunam yo vidadhati kaman: “One living entity. God, can maintain innumerable other living entities.” If God can create. He can also maintain. This is a fact. I am traveling all over the world, and I have seen so much vacant land upon the surface of the globe; there is enough land for ten times the present population to be easily maintained. But we do not know how to use the land. In Africa, in Australia, in your America, enough land is lying vacant, but because we have encroached upon Krsna’s land, there are difficulties. China is overpopulated. India is overpopulated. But if we take to Krsna consciousness, these difficulties will be over.
Krsna consciousness means to understand that everything belongs to Krsna, God. Actually, that is a fact. Since God is the origin of everything, everything belongs to Him (isavasyam idam sarvam). But we do not accept this. Out of illusion, we claim God’s property as our own. For example, the Americans are claiming that this land is for Americans only. And other nations are doing the same. But actually, all the land belongs to God. The land, the sky, the water, the products of the land—everything belongs to God. And we are children of God, so we have a right to live at His expense, just as small children live at the expense of their father.
We can live by the arrangement of God, but we should not claim His property as ours. This is the idea of spiritual communism explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Present-day communists think only of the human beings; the animals are being sent to the slaughterhouse. But the human beings and the animals are born from the same land, so they are both nationals. A national is one who is born in a particular land. So why are the animals not considered nationals?
Because people have no Krsna consciousness, they cannot think so broadly. They think nationalism applies only to human beings, not to the animals or the trees. But when you become Krsna conscious, you understand that not only the human beings but also the trees, the plants, the reptiles, the aquatics, the beasts—each and every one of them is part and parcel of God. According to their karma they have received various bodies. This is described in the Bhagavad-gita [13.22]: karanam guna-sango ‘sya sad-asad-yoni-janmasu. And also in the Srimad-Bhagavatam [3.31.1]: karmana daiva-netrena jantur dehopapattaye. By our karma we create our next body.
So, this Krsna consciousness is a great science. People do not know how things are taking place—why there are so many species of life, why one person is happy and another is distressed, why one is rich and another is poor, why there are so many planets, why some living entities are demigods and others are human beings and others are animals. There is no cultivation of this knowledge in the modern educational institutions. Perhaps we who are trying to propagate this science of Krsna consciousness are the only group of men who are cultivating this knowledge.
Human life is meant for cultivating this transcendental knowledge. By the process of evolution we have passed through so many kinds of bodies and have now come to this human form. Now is our opportunity to get out of the cycle of birth and death. This is our real goal of life. But unfortunately no educational institution is teaching how the transmigration of the soul takes place. The professors may have big, big M.A.’s and Ph.D.’s, but they do not know the actual position of the living entity or what his real problems are.
The real problems are stated in the Bhagavad-gita [13.9]: janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi—birth, death, old age, and disease. These are our real problems. Nobody wants to meet death, but wherever there is birth, there must be death. Anything that is born must die. And old age. As long as you live, you have to change your position, and one position you must come to is old age. Now we have become old, and there are so many complaints, so many diseases. So, everyone must become old, everyone must become diseased, and everyone must die. These are the real problems of life.
We are trying to mitigate all the miserable conditions of our life. That is the struggle for existence. The scientists are trying to discover so many processes to counteract distress. But the real difficulties—birth, death, old age, and disease—these they are avoiding, because they cannot do anything about them. The so-called scientists cannot solve these problems, although sometimes they become falsely proud and declare, “Through science we shall become immortal.” This was tried long ago by atheists like Ravana and Hiranyakasipu, but they failed. It is not possible to stop birth, death, old age, and disease by any material means.
The only process for stopping birth, death, old age, and disease is Krsna consciousness. If you become Krsna conscious, you will get a spiritual body, which is not subject to these distresses. Actually, you already have your spiritual body. It is upon the spiritual body that the material body has developed. Just as your coat is cut according to your material body, your material body is cut according to your spiritual body.
The gross and subtle bodies are coverings for the spiritual body. The gross body is made of earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and the subtle body is made of mind, intelligence, and ego. This is the spiritual body’s “shirt and coat,” The spiritual body, or soul, is now encaged in the material body, and our business in the human form of life is to uncover the soul. In the animal form of life we cannot do this. But in the human form we can understand, “I am not this body. This body is an encagement for me, the soul, and because I have this body I am subjected to birth, death, old age, and disease. Now, in the human form of life, let me get out of this encagement.”
So, if we take up the process of Krsna consciousness and get out of this cycle of birth and death, our human life is successful. The Krsna consciousness movement is teaching people how to get out of the material body, revive the spiritual body, and in the spiritual body go back home, back to Godhead. That is the mission of this movement.
Unfortunately, people are so attached to the material body that they are prepared to become cats and dogs in the next life rather than go back home, back to Godhead. This is the problem. Why this problem? Because human society is in chaos. There must be a division of four classes in society.
One class must be brahmanas, the most intelligent men, a second class must be ksatriyas, the administrators, a third class should contain the vaisyas, the farmers and merchants, and the fourth class must be the sudras, the laborers. Human society requires intelligent men for teaching and consultation, and also good administrators, good producers, and good workers. That is the division of brahmanas, ksatriyas, vaisyas, and sudras.
To keep smooth facilities for progressive human life, there must be these four divisions in society. If you say, “We don’t require brahmanas,” then you’ll suffer. That is just like thinking, “My head is very expensive—always eating—so let me cut it off.” Then you’ll be dead. Similarly, you must have your arms, you must have your belly, and you must have your legs. You cannot say, “I do not need this part of the body.” No. Similarly, the four divisions of society must all be there. Otherwise, society will be chaotic, or dead.
At the present moment the difficulty is that there is no brahmana class and no ksatriya class. There are only vaisyas and sudras, the belly and the legs. That is why society is in a chaotic condition. All four classes must exist for society to function properly. Although comparatively the head is the most important part of the body, still you cannot neglect the legs. All the parts form a cooperative combination. All of them are required. But at the present moment there is only the mercantile, industrialist class and the workers. There is no brain. There is no intelligent class to explain how to conduct society, how to perfect human life, how to fulfill the mission of human life.
So, the Krsna consciousness movement is creating the brain of the human society—brahmanas. A brahmana is one who knows God. And keeping God in view, the brahmanas teach others to become God conscious. Without becoming God conscious, human society is simply animal society. Animals cannot become God conscious, however you preach among them. It is not possible, because they have no brain to understand God. And if in human society there are no brahmanas who can teach about God, who can elevate persons to God consciousness, then that so-called human society is also animal society. Simply eating, sleeping, sex, and defense. These are the businesses of the animals. In their own way the animals eat, sleep, enjoy sex, and defend themselves. So, if one engages only in these activities, he is an animal, not a human being. And the mission of his human life will not be fulfilled.
Therefore, society must be organized into these classes of men, as Krsna recommends—catur-varnyam maya srstam guna-karma-vibhagasah. Guna-karma-vibhagasah means “divided according to qualities and work.” In India, these four classes of men are present, but in name only. Actually, India is also in a chaotic condition, because nobody is following the prescription given in the Bhagavad-gita. A person’s qualities and activities may be lower than a sudra’s, but if he has been born in a brahmana family he’s accepted as a brahmana. Therefore, India’s condition is so chaotic.
Krsna consciousness is a scientific process. You Western people should try to understand that. Our boys and girls who have joined this movement understand this, and they are executing the principles very nicely. If you take up Krsna consciousness, you will become a brahmana by quality and work, and then the Western nations—especially America—will become first class. You have the intelligence, you have the resources, and you are also inquisitive—you take to good things. And if you take up Krsna consciousness seriously, you’ll become the foremost nation in the world. That is my request.
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