22 April 2005
I. On Religion
I understand that you are studying world religion; is that correct?
So let’s take a look at this word ‘religion.’ The word ‘religion’ comes from the Latin word religio, which means “to reconnect”, or “to re-link”. Sometimes people wonder, what is the purpose of religion? The actual purpose of religion is to re-connect. We were discussing this last night at the library, lecturing there on what’s called the Eternal Wisdom. We were saying that the real essence of religion is to know who you are and to be who you are. That’s the actual meaning of religion. Normally we think of religion as one set of rituals, another set of rituals – that’s how we normally think of religion in the modern-day context. We compare sets of rituals – the Hindu set of rituals, the Christian set of rituals, the Muslim set of rituals, etc. But this is actually external - these things are external to religion. The actual essence of religion is called Krishna consciousness. The essence of religion is to know who you are and to be who you are - to re-link with your actual nature, your actual identity.
Our normal conception of the self is based on the body. Now the body that each one of us has is a combination of various chemicals. Each and every one of us has a certain set of chemicals sitting in our bodies right now. Tomorrow there will be a different set of chemicals, because you’ll eat something, you’ll go to the toilet – in this way the chemicals are always changing. The chemicals we had in our bodies when we were little tiny children and the set of chemicals we have in our bodies now are entirely different. So what is it that remains the same? We understand that there is something that remains the same because we remember things we did when we were little children, even though the body was entirely different – the chemicals that made up the body were entirely different. So there exists some constant factor, something that remains the same, throughout so many changes of body. And that’s what religion is actually meant to reveal. Religion is meant to connect you with that ‘self’ (in Sanskrit it’s called the atman); religion is actually meant to connect you with that eternal self which does not change.
So religion connects you with that eternal self. Now consider this: within your individual body, you are conscious of the pains and pleasures of your body. If I hit my foot on something, I will feel that pain - you will not feel that pain, but I will feel that pain. Or you may hit your elbow on something . . . you will feel the pain, but I will not feel the pain. So, each one of us is conscious of the pains and pleasures of our individual body. But actually, there is also a Supreme Consciousness which is conscious of all the pains and pleasures throughout the entire universe. This is called the Universal Consciousness. So each one of us has an individual consciousness, plus there is a Universal Consciousness. Religion, then, deals with the relationship between the individual consciousness, the atman, and the other consciousness, which is called Paramatman, or the Supreme Atman. In religious terms, that Universal Consciousness is generally referred to as God, or the Supreme Consciousness. Even in scientific circles people are trying to find that original consciousness. The scientists are looking: What is the origin of the universe? They say, well, there was the Big Bang - then what caused the Big Bang? In this way the scientists are also trying to discover that Supreme Consciousness, that Universal Consciousness.
Well, this has been known by great religious teachers throughout the ages, in every tradition. Within Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism - this Universal Consciousness has been known to great religious teachers throughout history. You may say, what’s the relevance of all of this – will it help me make more money? Is it worth something to me to hear about all of this? Why are you wasting my time, talking about the Universal Consciousness (the Paramatman) and the individual consciousness (the atman)? I have better things to hear about – maybe sports, or movie stars, or something else – why are you wasting my time today talking about the Universal Consciousness?
Actually, it’s not a waste of time. Because according to Vedanta-sutra, one of the ancient Sanskrit writings, anando maya pasyasat: the nature of the living entity is to enjoy. I think every one of you here today would agree that what you like more than anything else is to enjoy yourself. Does anybody find that enjoyment is not their nature? Does anybody find that they prefer misery over enjoyment? . . . No. Everyone has this nature. Everyone wants to enjoy. That is our nature. And the actual meaning of religion, or awakening the relationship between the atman and the Paramatman, is to enter into that state of consciousness which is completely free from all misery.
Some people say, oh, I know how to do that. All I have to do is win the lottery - then I’ll achieve that state beyond all miseries! But actually it doesn’t work that way. In the U.S. some man won the lottery and he became completely miserable. He actually got arrested for driving while intoxicated; his life completely fell apart after winning the lottery. The fact is that even if you have all material success - you’re famous, you’re rich, you’re powerful - even if you have all material success, still you have to go through what are called the fourfold miseries: birth, death, old age and disease. Even the wealthiest man in the world, Bill Gates, still has to get sick, still has to get old, and still has to die. With all his billions of dollars, he can buy any doctor in the world that he wants; but when his time comes to get sick and old and die, there’s nothing he can do about it. So this is the actual wealth that religion offers to us, whatever religion we may follow. One who is actually realized in religious knowledge - in transcendental knowledge, knowledge beyond this material world - enters into a state of consciousness which is known as ananda, or bliss. This is actually what religion is there for: to awaken the dormant, transcendental consciousness within the heart, that consciousness which is beyond all sufferings of material existence.
So what we could do now is see if there are any questions. If what I have spoken so far has inspired any questions, I would be happy to answer those. If not we can go on, and go a bit more deeply into the subject matter. Any questions thus far, from any one of you bright-faced, intelligent young students? Do you have any questions so far?
Okay, then we’ll go a little more deeply into this subject matter.
II. On Transcendental Knowledge
What is that transcendental knowledge that actually liberates one from this false conception, “I am this body?” Let’s look at that.
What causes us to suffer countless anxieties throughout our lives is the false conception that we are these bodies. We are actually atman, spirit – that is our actual identity. But we think, “I am this body”. We think, “I’m male”, “I’m female”, “I’m American”, “I’m Finnish” – these are false designations, actually, because as we discussed earlier, this body is changing at every second. The chemicals within the body are changing at every second. Yet there is something which is a constant factor. Consider how you can remember when you were a little child; do you remember running around in the front yard? Yes. But now that body is long gone. Now you have a young man’s body. But that tiny kid on his tricycle – you can remember that kid, even though those chemicals are gone. So what we have to do to actually become spiritually enlightened beings is to elevate our consciousness beyond the false identification with the body.
The first thing is to have some philosophical understanding, just like we are doing right now. We can realize just by intelligent analysis that the self and the body are two different things. Now, in everyday dealings we get up in the morning, we go to the mirror, and we say to ourselves, “How do I look today?” We comb our hair, brush our teeth, shave, whatever – “How do I look today?” But that object in the mirror is actually not us! We’re thinking it’s us, but in reality it’s just a garment. Just like today, you’re wearing this red sweatshirt, you see? Tomorrow you may wear a gray sweatshirt. Did you change because your garment changed? Isn’t it still the same ‘you’ – whether you wear a red sweatshirt or a gray sweatshirt? It’s the same person within. Likewise, even though the body changes, the self within remains the same. And just as throughout this life we’re changing body, from boyhood, to youth, to old age – going through constant changes of bodies - the ancient wisdom if India, Bhagavad-gita, tells us that at the time of death we continue to change bodies. In other words, at death it isn’t finished. The atman is not touched by death. The atman is eternal. So, just as you have changed bodies throughout your entire lifetime, at the time of death you also change body. And your future body is determined by your present state of consciousness.
Let’s say somebody likes to sleep all the time. I remember when I went to the University many years ago in Texas, there was one boy in our dormitory who was very famous; they used to call him “The Bear” because on the weekend, all he would do is sleep. On Friday night he would just go to sleep for the weekend – it was the talk of the dormitory: “Do you know how many hours he slept this weekend?” Now we may laugh, calling him “The Bear,” but you know what? In his next lifetime, in all likelihood he’ll become a bear also. He’ll actually become a bear, so he can sleep for many, many months. So whatever your consciousness is in this lifetime is what determines what your next body will be. So you can choose to neglect this knowledge, and take whatever you get by nature’s way, or you can take this information and you can focus your life in such a way that you get the best possible situation in your next lifetime.
It’s just like now: you are attending college, and you understand that if you make good grades here, if you can please your teacher - your nice teacher here - and make good grades, then you will have a good chance of going to the university, making good grades, and getting a good job. So an intelligent person plans for the future. If you just think, well, I’ll skip my classes, I won’t do my homework, I won’t study for the tests – I’m just going to enjoy myself – well, you might enjoy yourself right now, but you’re going to suffer like anything in the future, when you can’t get into the university, and you spend your whole life just cleaning toilets, you see? So an intelligent person will make plans for the future: let me perform some austerities now - study, do my homework, be a dutiful student – let me perform some austerities now so that in the future I can be in a very comfortable situation. So the intelligent person in the same way thinks: Now that I have a human body – I could have been a tree out there in the Finnish winters, but now I have a human body, and I get to go inside in the winter - now that I have a human body, let me utilize it to perfect my relationship as atman with the Supreme Atman, or God.
That is the purpose of religion. Religion is meant for progressive development, just like education is meant for progressive development. It’s meant for progressive development of your consciousness. By properly focusing your consciousness throughout this lifetime, in your next lifetime you’ll be in a very elevated position. So whether you call that Krishna consciousness, Christ consciousness, Buddha consciousness, or Allah consciousness doesn’t matter. We don’t fuss over the names, because actually God is one.
Consider this: How many suns are there in the sky? You have a name for the sun in the Finnish language; in English we call it “the sun”; in Hindi they call it “surya”; in Spanish it’s call “el sol” – so can you imagine how silly it would be if we started fighting over the name of the sun? What if we declared a war between two nations over what the name of the sun is? For instance, in Mexico it’s “el sol”, and in Texas it’s “the sun” – can you imagine how silly it would be if Mexico and Texas decided to go to war with each other over the name of that fiery ball in the sky? Because the sun is one; even though it has hundreds of names, according to hundreds of different languages, the sun is one. Similarly, God is one, whether we say God, Krishna, Christ, and so forth. God is actually one. In Sanskrit, that is called Paramatman, the Supreme Soul.
So the real purpose of our human life is to perfect our relationship between the atman and the Paramatman. To become a lover of God, to live in harmony with God – that is our purpose as human beings. And if you do that, then in your next life you will actually go to the kingdom where the Lord is living eternally. You’ll become as associate of the Lord and you’ll live a life which is eternal, full of bliss, and full of knowledge.
In the Krishna consciousness movement we are focusing on the scientific aspect of religion. Although we do have our rituals, like every religious practice, we focus on what the essence of what religion actually is: to reawaken our dormant relationship with God. We don’t take the rituals just for the sake of performing rituals. Sometimes that happens; people get so caught up in the ritual that they forget what the purpose of the rituals is. But we focus on the actual purpose of these activities like bowing down, singing the names of God, studying scriptures, etc. Meditating on the names of God - Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare – we focus on what the scientific reason is behind all of these things, and we carefully live our lives in such a way that we do in fact become fixed in remembrance of God. This remembrance is called smaranam in Sanskrit. So we can train our minds to think of God always, 24 hours a day. That is the perfection of consciousness.
Are there any questions thus far?
Or maybe everyone already knows all the answers. Everyone already knows everything I’m talking about, so there’s no need to inquire?
[Note: all of the following exchanges – questions/comments and responses – are between the lecturer and the class instructor]
III. Questions and Answers
Q1 – . . . They don’t know what religion is – where it has come from, etc.
A1 – All right - this is very good. No one knows where religion comes from. The answer to that is stated in the Vedic wisdom: dharmam tu saksad bhagavat-pranitam – religion comes from God [Srimad Bhagavatam 6.3.19]. It’s very simple. Religion is not invented by man; religion comes from God . . .
So the next question is, where do we come from? When I was speaking at a school in Helsinki, I asked the class, “Why do you exist?” One little boy answered, “Because my mother and father wanted to have a baby.” But that answer only talks about the body. The atman exists beyond the body, and according the law of karma, the atman takes on a particular body according to the consciousness of the atman. Religion exists because God, or the supreme, original Person, wants to have us back in his abode. We actually are the children of God - each and every one of us is a beloved child of God. The Lord wants us in His abode because we are His children. It’s just like your parents’ wanting you to come home at night - they don’t want you just to go wandering off into Lapland, or something like that. They would like their beloved children to come home, and live at home. They’re attached to their children; they love their children. That feeling is there is God also. He is the original father and the original mother of all living beings. So God - whether you call Him Krishna or whatever you call Him – Krishna wants His beloved children to be back with Him. So religion is a system whereby you can go back to Him - you can go back to home, back to Godhead. That is religion.
So religion is a means of going back to the Lord, and the Lord has given us that system because he loves us. He misses us; he wants our association. And if we don’t go back to Him, we are simply denying Him what He wants. He wants our love; he wants our association.
If you think about it, well, maybe we do owe Him something after all. After all, He’s giving us the air we breathe; He’s giving us the water we drink; He’s giving us the food, He’s giving us shelter – everything we have ultimately is the gift of God. Isn’t it? Are they actually manufacturing food in the factories? Can you eat nuts and bolts? How many of you had nuts and bolts for your lunch today? We cannot subsist on things manufactured by men. Our sustenance comes from those things that are given by God: air, food, water, sunshine. The things that God is giving: that is our sustenance. So don’t you think we might owe Him something in return - to say, “Thank you for all of the sustenance you’re giving us”? So being religious is simply a matter of showing your gratitude. Do you think it’s a very nice thing to not be grateful to one who is giving you everything? It’s not a very loving thing to do, is it? One should be grateful to that Person who is providing everything. So a religious person means a person who is grateful for all the gifts of God and wants to reciprocate that wonderful, loving mercy the Lord has given by giving some love in return.
Q2 –What is the Hare Krishna movement? What about other Hindu movements?
A2 – The Hare Krishna movement is actually a presentation of the original Vedic scriptures of India. The original Vedic scriptures teach that there is one Supreme God and that He is providing everything for us, and thus we should reciprocate His love by loving Him in return, surrendering to Him. Krishna consciousness is the original religious teaching in this universe, going back to the beginning of the universe. Hare Krishna is the original religious teaching going back thousands and thousands and thousands of years in India. There’s no religious teaching that precedes this Hare Krishna teaching. This is the original religious teaching.
So you hear the term ‘Hindu’. ‘Hindu’ refers to any variety of followers of the scriptures of India. In the scriptures of India, devotion to Lord Krishna is described as the topmost worship. But some people are not ready to take up the topmost worship. Worshiping Krishna is for the purpose of developing pure love and returning to the kingdom of God. But some think, let me just try to enjoy this material world – I’m not interested in going back to my eternal position in the kingdom of God; I’d rather just get some quick pleasure right now. So within Hinduism there are other types of worship for people who want some quick, instant pleasure in this world. Worshiping Shiva is good for that. If you don’t care about eternity, and just want some instant gratification, then you’re advised to worship Lord Shiva. So there’s that group within India that just wants some quick, instant pleasure right now; they worship Lord Shiva. But those who have some foresight about the eternal nature of the atman – they prefer to worship Lord Krishna.
Q4 – What about Srila Prabhupada?
A4 – Srila Prabhupada, who is my spiritual master, and who brought Krishna consciousness outside of India, is one of the greatest spiritual masters in the history of the world: His Divine Grace Srila Prabhupada. Why do we say he is the greatest spiritual master in history? Because although this worship of Lord Krishna has gone on for tens and thousands of years back into Indian history, no guru has ever been able to explain it to somebody outside of India in such a way that that person could even begin to understand what is was all about. No one outside of India could ever understand the meaning of devotion to Lord Krishna; it was incomprehensible to the Western mind, totally incomprehensible. But Srila Prabhupada, the founder of the Hare Krishna movement, had such deep, advanced realization of the science of Krishna consciousness that he was able to translate it into English and make it comprehensible to people outside of India. This is why Prabhupada will be remembered as one of the greatest spiritual masters in history: because he was able to make Krishna consciousness comprehensible to the Western mind, whereas no one before could.
Q5 – Why is he not as popular as Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Mother Amma, or other gurus [ostensibly preaching from the Vedic tradition]?
A5 – Prabhupada doesn’t have the mass popularity of some of these other, you could say, more slick presenters of Vedic culture, because it is very easy to attract someone if you say, all right, you can have spiritual life and at the same time, you can have better material life. If someone just teaches pure devotion, that is a rare thing. For example, how many people go to the diamond shop to buy pure diamonds? A smaller number than those who go to the department store to buy costume jewelry. You can ask, why are diamonds not as popular as costume jewelry? Well, the answer is, because they’re more expensive. Aren’t they? Diamonds are more expensive than costume jewelry. Costume jewelry looks very good; it’s cheap; and it’s very popular - because it looks good and it’s cheap. But that which is most valuable – the rare gem, the diamond – is much more expensive. Thus there will be far fewer customers for diamonds. Similarly, what Prabhupada has given is more expensive.
So you can say that Mother Amma is cheaper that Prabhupada.
What you have to do to be a follower of Amma is not nearly as austere as what Prabhupada requested of his followers. For example, we practice strict celibacy. With Mother Amma, you can do whatever you want - all you have to do is give her a big hug, and you’re okay! All you need is a big hug and you can do anything you want.
I don’t think . . . in the Hindu tradition . . .
What I’m saying is that actually, being hugged is not a practice within the standard system of spiritual progress given in the Vedic scriptures. This is something that is very popular now in the West: just line up at the hotel for your hug with Amma. But it is not the system of spiritual enlightenment given anywhere in the Vedic scriptures, nor is sitting down twenty minutes a day and going “aing, aing, aing, aing”. . . these are not standard systems given in the Vedas. Yet they are very popular with the Westerners.
What about Maharishi Mahesh Yogi? The ex-Beatles were [his] followers.
Yes, yes. For one thing, he is charging for the mantra. That is against the Vedic principles. The spiritual master does not charge money for the mantra. If something can actually solve all the problems of the world, then why would someone charge money for it? Why not give it freely?
There was once a great devotee in the ancient times. His guru gave him a mantra, and told him that this mantra must remain secret, that he must not tell anyone –
But Prabhupada was a very rich man.
Personally he was not. He took no personal wealth whatsoever.
Prabhupada did not take any personal wealth. He lived a very renounced life. The fact is that his movement became very wealthy – that’s a fact.
Q6 – What do you think about equality of sexes?
A6 – The atman, the soul, is neither male nor female. So on the spiritual platform there is complete, total equality.
So these [persons in this room] are not women, or not men.
Everyone here is atman. There are no ‘men’ or ‘women’ here – everyone is atman. The men and women are just coverings, just the garment. See, I’m wearing the vest; I can take this vest off – am I this vest, or am I not this vest? This male body, female body – it’s simply a vest. You can put it on, you can take it off.
So there are no sexes in the spiritual world.
On the spiritual platform, we are beyond these bodily designations of ‘male’ or ‘female’. So that’s where true equality exists. On the material level there is no equality between male and female. You’ll never have equality; it’s impossible. You may artificially try to create equality, but true equality means [for instance] that the girl can make the boy pregnant if she wants to. That would be equality on the material platform. The boy can make the girl pregnant, and now equality means that the girl can make the boy pregnant, and he can carry the child in his belly for nine months –
But are the women and the men equal in the monasteries, or in social life?
Yes. Prabhupada explains that the boys and girls in our society are equally potent preachers of Krishna bhakti. On the level of Krishna bhakti, there is no difference between man and woman - whether it is the boys preaching or the girls preaching, it is all the same thing. Whether I am preaching or one of these lady devotees is preaching, it is the same thing. I am realized in Krishna consciousness; they are also realized in Krishna consciousness. This is Bhaktin Laura, and this is my wife, Vishnupriya devi – whether I speak or they speak, it is the same thing . . . You may find with my wife’s speech how potent a woman preacher is. She can be very heavy . . . you’d be surprised sometimes at how powerful these lady preachers can be.
Q7 – If I said that Christ is my lord, and I will worship him only, as God – why do you prefer that Krishna would be better? Is there something else in Krishna –
A7 – Like father, like son. Whether you worship the Father or the Son, it is the same thing. Christ says he is the son of God. Krishna says He is God the Father. So actually there is no difference. Whether you worship Christ or Krishna – it’s the same thing. You see, they are in complete agreement: Jesus says “I am the son of God” and Krishna says “I am God the Father” - in Bhagavad-gita Krishna says that He is God the Father.
In Bhagavad-gita, yes; but what about in other Vedic books? What about Mahabharata? There is Shiva, there is Brahma, there is . . .
Yes, yes. Shiva was asked by Parvati (his wife), “What is the best type of worship?” And Shiva answers that worship of Vishnu is the topmost worship. Vishnu and Krishna are the same thing, actually. Krishna in His four-armed form is called Vishnu – same thing. So Shiva is worshiping Vishnu as the Supreme; his meditation is on Vishnu.
So that is why I can say that . . . [in this movement] you worship only one God, but you can accept that there are other gods too; and that’s why I can accept that the Hare Krishna movement is only one Hindu movement among others, and not very special in Hinduism; it’s only Western –
So the question is, is there one god or many gods? That’s the real issue, you see -
Bhagavad-gita says there is only one god. In other books, there are millions of gods.
Actually, Bhagavad-gita does not say there is only one god. [laughter from audience] No, no – that’s not true! Krishna says there are many gods, but those who worship those gods have lost their brains - that’s what Krishna says. He says:
Krishna says there are many gods, but those who worship those many gods as the Supreme have lost their brains! . . . Why? Why is that? Because even though there are these many gods – there are millions of them! – all the blessings they are giving you are ultimately coming from Krishna. It is confirmed in the Katha Upanishad – why only Bhagavad-gita? - Katha Upanishad [2.2.13] states:
“There is one Supreme Conscious Eternal Who is providing all the necessities of the plural conscious eternals”. So it is stated not only Bhagavad-gita. Even Lord Brahma states [in the Brahma-samhita], isvarah paramah krisnah: Krishna is the Supreme.
I think the Puranists don’t agree with that . . .
Oh come on! Adi Purana? You do not know Adi Purana [laughter from audience]. In Adi Purana Krishna is saying that the devotee of my devotee is my actual devotee – that is stated in Adi Purana.
It is nonsense to [go back and forth about] these things because we are on a different level; that’s why –
Let’s look at it intelligently. In our Western culture we are taught to think rationally, aren’t we?
Of course . . .
So let’s look at it rationally. Are there many gods or is there one god? What’s a more rational conclusion? ‘God’ means the Supreme Being. How many Supreme Courts do you have in Finland?
Only one. Why only one Supreme Court?
. . . Oh, so there is more than one Supreme Court? So if you go all the way to the Supreme Court and lose the case you can appeal to another Supreme Court?
No. The Supreme Court is one, isn’t it? There’s only one Supreme Court. ‘Supreme’ means there is no second . . .
Yes, but actually you can say that God something – God is like this, God is like that – but I don’t think that God really is like that – everything is words . . .
Yes, I understand you think that – that there is no Supreme God. But if we say that there is no Supreme God, then actually we are saying there is no God.
Okay. We have to stop here, because . . . [rustling as students get ready to exit] But thank you very much for this interesting view of this religion – something new about this Hare Krishna movement . . .
It was a pleasure to talk with you today – this is a tough audience here!
Transcribed by Her Grace Labangalatika devi dasi