Can meditation solve our everyday problems? Is there life after death? Can drugs help us achieve self-realization? During a visit to South Africa in 1976, Srila Prabhupada answered these and other questions for interviewer Bill Faill of the Durban Natal Mercury.
Srila Prabhupada: Krishna is a name for God that means “all-attractive.” Unless one is all-attractive he cannot be God. So Krishna consciousness means God consciousness. All of us are small particles of God, equal in quality with Him. Our position as living entities is like that of a small particle of gold in relation to a large quantity of gold.
Mr. Faill: Are we something like sparks in a fire?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Both the fire and the spark are fire, but one is big, and the other is very small. Unlike the relationship between the spark and the fire, however, our relationship with God is eternal, although at the present moment we have forgotten that relationship due to contact with the material energy. We are facing so many problems only because of this forgetfulness. If we can revive our original God consciousness, then we shall become happy. This is the sum and substance of Krishna consciousness. It is the best process by which to revive our original God consciousness. There are different processes of self-realization, but in the present age of Kali, people are very fallen, and they require the simple process of Krishna consciousness. Now they are thinking that so-called material advancement is the solution to their problems, but this is not a fact. The real solution is to get out of the material condition entirely by becoming Krishna conscious. Because God is eternal, we are also eternal, but in the material condition we are thinking, “I am this body,” and therefore we must repeatedly change from body to body. This is due to ignorance. Actually we are not our bodies but spiritual sparks, parts and parcels of God.
Mr. Faill: Then the body is just like a vehicle for the soul?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. It is just like a motorcar. Just as you go from one place to another in a car, so due to mental concoction in the material condition of life, we are going from one position to another, trying to become happy. But nothing will make us happy unless we come to our real position, which is that we are all parts and parcels of God and that our real business is to associate with God and help all living entities by cooperating with Him. Civilized human life is attained only after a long evolution through 8,400,00 species of life. So if we don’t take advantage of this civilized human life to understand who God is, who we are, and what our relationship is, but instead simply waste our life like cats and dogs, going here and there looking for sense gratification, then we will have missed a great opportunity. The Krishna consciousness movement is meant to teach people how to take full advantage of the human form of life by trying to understand God and our relationship with Him.
Mr. Faill: If we don’t make the most of this life, do we get a second chance, in another life?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. According to your desires at the time of death, you get another body. That body is not guaranteed to be a human body, however. As I’ve already explained, there are 8,400,000 different forms of life. You can enter any of them, according to your mental condition at death. What we think of at the time of death depends on how we act during our life. As long as we are in material consciousness, our actions are under the control of the material nature, which is being conducted in three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. These modes are like the three basic colors—yellow, red, and blue. Just as one can mix red, yellow, and blue to produce millions of colors, the modes of nature are being mixed to produce many varieties of life.
To stop the repetition of birth and death in different forms of life, we must transcend the covering of material nature and come to the platform of pure consciousness. But if we do not learn the transcendental science of Krishna consciousness, then at death we must transfer to another body, either better or worse than our present one. If we cultivate the mode of goodness, then we are promoted to the higher planetary system, where there is a better standard of life. If we cultivate the mode of passion, then we will remain at the present stage. But if out of ignorance we commit sinful activities and violate nature’s laws, then we will be degraded to animal or plant life. Then again we must evolve to the human form, a process that may take millions of years. Therefore a human being must be responsible. He must take advantage of the rare opportunity of human life by understanding his relationship with God and acting accordingly. Then he can get out of the cycle of birth and death in different forms of life and go back home, back to Godhead.
Mr. Faill: Do you think transcendental meditation is helping people?
Srila Prabhupada: They do not know what real meditation is. Their meditation is simply a farce—another cheating process by the so-called svamis and yogis. You’re asking me if meditation is helping people, but do you know what meditation is?
Mr. Faill: A stilling of the mind—trying to sit in the center without swinging either way.
Srila Prabhupada: And what is the center?
Mr. Faill: I don’t know.
Srila Prabhupada: So everyone is talking very much about meditation, but no one knows what meditation actually is. These bluffers use the word “meditation,” but they do not know the proper subject for meditation. They’re simply talking bogus propaganda.
Mr. Faill: Isn’t meditation valuable just to get people thinking right?
Srila Prabhupada: No. Real meditation means to achieve a state in which the mind is saturated with God consciousness. But if you do not know what God is, how can you meditate? Besides, in this age people’s minds are so agitated that they cannot concentrate. I have seen this so-called meditation; they are simply sleeping and snoring. Unfortunately, in the name of God consciousness or “self-realization,” many bluffers are presenting nonstandard methods of meditation without referring to the authorized books of Vedic knowledge. They are simply practicing another type of exploitation.
Mr. Faill: What about some of the other teachers, like Ouspensky and Gurdjieff? In the past they brought to the West a message similar to yours.
Srila Prabhupada: We would have to study the particulars of their teachings to know whether they meet the Vedic standard. God consciousness is a science, just like medical science or any other science. It cannot be different because it is spoken by different men. Two plus two equals four everywhere, never five, or three. That is science.
Mr. Faill: Do you feel that others may have possibly taught the genuine method of God consciousness?
Srila Prabhupada: Unless I study their teachings in detail, it would be very difficult to say. There are so many bluffers.
Mr. Faill: Just doing it for money.
Srila Prabhupada: That’s all. They have no standard method. Therefore we are presenting the Bhagavad-gita as it is, without any personal interpretation. This is standard.
Mr. Faill: Yes, if you begin dressing things up, you inevitably change them.
Srila Prabhupada: Krishna consciousness is not a new process. It is very, very old—and standard. It cannot be changed. As soon as you try to change it, then the potency is lost. This potency is just like electricity. If you want to generate electricity, you must follow the standard regulations, arranging all the negative and positive poles properly. You cannot construct the generator whimsically and still produce electricity. Similarly, there is a standard method of understanding Krishna conscious philosophy from proper authorities. If we follow their instructions, then the process will act. Unfortunately, one of the dangerous diseases of modern man is that everyone wants to do things according to his own whims. No one wants to follow the standard way. Therefore everyone is failing, both spiritually and materially.
Mr. Faill: Is the Krishna consciousness movement growing?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes, very much. You may be surprised to know that we are selling books in the tens of thousands. We have about fifty books, and many librarians and college professors are very appreciative of them, because until their publication there was no such literature in existence. It is a new contribution to the world.
Mr. Faill: Krishna consciousness seems to involve shaving the head and wearing saffron robes. How can an ordinary man caught up in family life practice Krishna consciousness?
Srila Prabhupada: The saffron robes and the shaven head are not essential, although they create a good mental situation, just as when a military man is dressed properly he gets energy—he feels like a military man. Does that mean that unless he is in uniform he cannot fight? No. In the same way, God consciousness cannot be checked—it can be revived in any circumstances—but certain conditions are helpful. Therefore we prescribe that you live in a certain way, dress in a certain way, eat in a certain way, and so on. These things are helpful for practicing Krishna consciousness, but they are not essential.
Mr. Faill: Then one can be a student of Krishna consciousness while going about normal daily life?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Mr. Faill: How about drugs? Can they help in the process of God realization?
Srila Prabhupada: If drugs could help God realization, then drugs would be more powerful than God. How can we accept that? Drugs are chemical substances, which are material. How can something material help one realize God, who is all-spiritual? It is impossible. What one experiences from taking drugs is simply a kind of intoxication or hallucination; it is not God realization.
Mr. Faill: Do you think the great mystics down through the ages have actually seen the spiritual spark you mentioned earlier?
Srila Prabhupada: What do you mean by “mystic”?
Mr. Faill: It’s just a name given to people who have had an experience of another level of reality.
Srila Prabhupada: We don’t use the word mystic. Our reality is God realization, which occurs when we come to the spiritual platform. As long as we have a bodily concept of life, our understanding is sense gratification, because the body is made of senses. When we progress from the bodily platform and we see the mind as the center of sense activity, we take the mind as the final stage of realization. That is the mental platform. From the mental platform we may come to the intellectual platform, and from the intellectual platform we can rise to the transcendental platform. Finally we can rise above even the transcendental platform and come to the mature, spiritual platform. These are the stages of God realization. However, in this age, because people are so fallen, the shastras [scriptures] give the special recommendation that people come directly to the spiritual platform by chanting the holy names of God: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. If we cultivate this practice on the spiritual platform, then immediately we can realize our spiritual identity. Then the process of God realization becomes successful very quickly.
Mr. Faill: Today a lot of people are saying that we must look inward for the truth rather than outward into the world of the senses.
Srila Prabhupada: Looking inward means knowing that you are a spirit soul. Unless you understand that you are not the body but a soul, there is no question of looking inward.
First we have to study, “Am I this body, or am I something within this body?” Unfortunately, this subject is not taught in any school, college, or university. Everyone is thinking, “I am this body.” For example, in this country people everywhere are thinking, “I am South African, they are Indian, they are Greek,” and so on. Actually, everyone in the whole world is in the bodily conception of life. Krishna consciousness starts when one is above this bodily conception.
Mr. Faill: So the recognition of the spiritual spark comes first?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Recognizing the existence of the spirit soul within the body is the first step. Unless one understands this simple fact, there is no question of spiritual advancement.
Mr. Faill: Is it a question of just understanding it intellectually?
Srila Prabhupada: In the beginning, yes. There are two departments of knowledge: theoretical and practical. First one must learn spiritual science theoretically; then, by working on that spiritual platform, one comes to the point of practical realization.
Unfortunately, today almost everyone is in the darkness of the bodily conception of life. Therefore this movement is very important, because it can lift civilized men out of that darkness. As long as they are in the bodily conception of life, they are no better than animals. “I am a dog,” “I am a cat,” “I am a cow.” Animals think like this. As soon as someone passes, a dog will bark, thinking, “I am a dog. I have been appointed here as watchdog.” Similarly, if I adopt the dog’s mentality and challenge foreigners—“Why have you come to this country? Why have you come to my jurisdiction?”—then what is the difference between the dog and me?
Mr. Faill: There is none. To change the subject a little, is it necessary to follow certain eating habits to practice spiritual life?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the whole process is meant to purify us, and eating is part of that purification. I think you have a saying, “You are what you eat,” and that’s a fact. Our bodily constitution and mental atmosphere are determined according to how and what we eat. Therefore the shastras recommend that to become Krishna conscious, you should eat remnants of food left by Krishna. If a tuberculosis patient eats something and you eat the remnants, you will be infected with tuberculosis. Similarly, if you eat krishna-prasadam, then you will be infected with Krishna consciousness. Thus our process is that we don’t eat anything immediately. First we offer the food to Krishna, then we eat it. This helps us advance in Krishna consciousness.
Mr. Faill: You are all vegetarians?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, because Krishna is a vegetarian. Krishna can eat anything because He is God, but in the Bhagavad-gita (9.26) He says, “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” He never says, “Give Me meat and wine.”
Mr. Faill: How about the tobacco question?
Srila Prabhupada: Tobacco is also an intoxicant. We are already intoxicated by being in the bodily conception of life, and if we increase the intoxication, then we are lost.
Mr. Faill: You mean things like meat, alcohol, and tobacco just reinforce bodily consciousness?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Suppose you have a disease and you want to be cured. You have to follow the instructions of a physician. if he says, “Don’t eat this; eat only this,” you have to follow his prescription. Similarly, we also have a prescription for being cured of the bodily conception of life: chanting Hare Krishna, hearing about Krishna’s activities, and eating krishna-prasadam. This treatment is the process of Krishna consciousness