These exchanges between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and organic chemist Thoudam D. Singh, Ph.D., took place in Los Angeles in 1973, during early-morning walks along the shore of the Pacific Ocean.
Dr. Singh: Many scientists hope that in the future they will be able to make babies in test tubes.
Srila Prabhupada: If they begin with living entities—the sperm cells—what is the purpose of the test tube? It is only a place for combination with the ovum. But so is the womb. Where is the credit for the scientists if this is already being done in nature's test tube? It is already being done by nature, but when some scientist does it, people will give him the Nobel Prize. The scientists are rascals. They are speaking nonsense, and because they are juggling words, others are being misled.
Dr. Singh: Nobel is the person who invented dynamite.
Srila Prabhupada: He has created great misfortune, and he has left his money for creating further misfortune. [Laughter.]
Chance and Necessity
Srila Prabhupada: [holding a rose in his hand]: Can any scientist create a flower like this in the laboratory?
Dr. Singh: That is not possible.
Srila Prabhupada: No, it is not. Just see how wonderfully Krsna's energy is working! No scientist can create a flower like this in his laboratory. They cannot create even a few grains of sand, yet they claim to possess the most advanced intellects in the universe. What foolishness!
Dr. Singh: They take matter, manipulate it, and then claim that they have created something wonderful.
Srila Prabhupada: How have they created anything? They take the sand and mix it with some chemicals and make glass. They have not created the sand or the chemicals, they have taken them from the earth. How have they created anything?
Dr. Singh: They say, "We have taken the materials from nature."
Srila Prabhupada: Then they are foolish. Where does nature come from? As soon as we speak of nature, the next question should be, " Whose nature?" Is it not so? For instance, I speak of my nature, and you speak of your nature. Therefore, as soon as we speak of nature, the next inquiry should be, " Whose nature?" Nature means energy. And as soon as we speak of energy, we must inquire into the source of that energy. For example, if you speak of electric energy, you must accept its source, the powerhouse. How can you deny it?
Dr. Singh: The French scientist Dr. J. Monod got the Nobel Prize in 1965. He says that everything started by chance—that by chance certain chemicals combined and formed the basic molecules.
Srila Prabhupada: But where did the chemicals come from?
Dr. Singh: According to him, they were created simply by chance, and when the necessity arose, molecules of the chemicals reorientated themselves.
Srila Prabhupada: If everything was happening by chance, how can there be necessity? How can he speak of chance and necessity in the same breath? It is nonsense.
Dr. Singh: It would certainly be stupid to say that a beautiful instrument like a violin was made by chance.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. It is most regrettable that such a rascal can get recognition. He is talking foolishness and getting recognition.
Darwin Kicked Out
Dr. Singh: What you have been saying also completely contradicts Darwin's theory of evolution.
Srila Prabhupada: Darwin is a rascal. What use is his theory? We kick out Darwin's philosophy. The more we kick out Darwin's philosophy, the more we advance in spiritual consciousness.
Dr. Singh: Many scientists doubt Darwin's theories. But Darwin's supporters say that life started from matter and evolved from unicellular organisms to multicellular organisms. They believe that higher species like animals and men did not exist at the beginning of creation.
Srila Prabhupada: Darwin and his followers are rascals. For example, at the present moment we see both the intellectual person and the foolish ass. Why do both these entities exist simultaneously? Why hasn't the ass form evolved upward and disappeared? Why do we never see a monkey giving birth to a human?
The Darwinists' theory that human life began in such and such an era is nonsense. Bhagavad-gita says that you—the eternal soul—can directly transmigrate to any species of life you like, according to your efforts. Sometimes I travel to America, sometimes to Australia, and sometimes to Africa. The countries already exist. I am simply traveling through them. It is not that because I have come to America, I have created or become America. And there are many countries I have not yet seen. Does that mean they don't exist? The scientists who support Darwin are nonsensical. Bhagavad-gita explains that all the species exist simultaneously, and that you can go to whichever species you like. You can even go up to the kingdom of God.
Evolution ... and Devolution
Dr. Singh: Srila Prabhupada, what is the difference between the transmigration of souls in animal bodies and the transmigration of human souls?
Srila Prabhupada: Animals transmigrate in only one direction—upward—but human beings can transmigrate to either a higher or a lower form of life. The body is awarded according to the living entity's desire. The lower animals have one kind of desire, but the human being has thousands and millions of desires—animal desires as well as human desires. By nature's law, the lower species are coming up from animal forms to the higher, human forms. But once you come to the human form, if you don't cultivate spiritual awareness you may return to the body of a cat or dog.
Dr. Singh: The scientists have no information that you can travel up to or down from the human platform.
Srila Prabhupada: Therefore I say they are rascals. They have no knowledge, yet they still claim to be scientists. Real science is in the Bhagavad-gita [9.25], where Krsna says, yanti deva-vrata devan pitrn yanti pitr-vratah. This means that whatever one focuses his consciousness on in this life will determine the type of body he gets in his next life. But if one focuses his consciousness on Krsna, he ends the process of transmigration entirely. Yam prapya na nivartante tad dhama: "When one goes to that supreme abode of Mine, he never returns to this material world of birth and death." [Bg. 8.21] Promotion to the spiritual world (samsiddhim paramam) is the ultimate perfection of human life. Read Bhagavad-gita; everything is there. But the scientists have no idea of this perfection; they do not even know anything about the existence of the living entity apart from the gross body.
Dr. Singh: Must the spirit soul necessarily have a body—either spiritual or material?
Srila Prabhupada: The soul already has a spiritual body, which the material body covers. My material body grows upon me—my spiritual body—but my material body is unnatural. The real body is spiritual. I am accepting various bodies that are unnatural to my constitution. My real, constitutional position is to be a servant of Krsna. As long as I do not come to that position, I remain a servant of matter and get many material bodies according to the laws of material energy. I get one body and then give it up. I desire something else and then get another body. This process is going on under the strict laws of material nature. People think they completely control their destinies, but they are always under nature's law of karma:
"The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by nature." [Bg. 3.27] The source of this bewilderment is that the living entity thinks, "I am this body."
In this verse the word yantra, or "machine," means that in any species of life, we are traveling in bodies that are like machines provided by material nature. Sometimes we are moving to higher species, sometimes to lower species. But if, by the mercy of the spiritual master and Krsna, one gets the seed of devotional service and cultivates it, he can become free from the cycle of birth and death. Then his life is successful. Otherwise, he has to travel up and down through the different species of life, becoming sometimes a blade of grass, sometimes a lion, and so forth.
Dr. Singh, can you tell me where that university is that teaches this knowledge?
Dr. Singh: There is none.
Srila Prabhupada: That is the scientists' position: no knowledge. They simply advertise their ignorance as knowledge.. They do not even know who they are!
Dr. Singh: But if the scientists knew that they were not their bodies, their whole outlook would change.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we want that.
Dr. Singh: But they don't want to admit their failure.
Srila Prabhupada: Then that is further foolishness. If you are a fool and you pose yourself as intelligent, that is further foolishness. Then you cannot make progress. And if you remain in ignorance and advertise yourself as a man of knowledge, you are a great cheater. You are cheating yourself, and you are cheating others. The scientists are so mad after materialistic progress that they have progressed to the level of cats and dogs.
". . . But I Am Not Changing"
Srila Prabhupada: The first lesson in self-realization is that we are not these bodies, but eternal spirit souls. Once you were a child. Now you are a grown man. Where is your childhood body? That body does not exist; but you still exist, because you are eternal. The circumstantial body has changed, but you have not changed. This is the proof of eternality.
You remember that you did certain things yesterday and certain things today, but you forget other things. Your body of yesterday is not today's body. Do you admit it or not? You cannot say that today is the thirteenth of May, 1973. You cannot say that today is yesterday. The thirteenth was yesterday. The day has changed. But you remember yesterday; and that remembrance is evidence of your eternality. The body has changed, but you remember it; therefore you are eternal, although the body is temporary. This proof is very simple. Even a child can understand it. Is it difficult to understand?
Dr. Singh: People want more proof.
Srila Prabhupada: What more is required? The eternality of the soul is a simple fact. I am an eternal soul. My body is changing, but I am not changing. For example, sometimes I think, "Oh, I used to jump and play, but now I cannot jumps because my body has changed." I want to jump, but I cannot do it. That jumping propensity is eternal, but because of my old body I cannot do it.
Dr. Singh: The scientists say that consciousness comes into being only when your material body comes into being—and that it lasts for only one body.
Srila Prabhupada: That is foolishness. In Bhagavad-gita [2.13] Krsna explains,
dehino 'smin yatha dehe
"As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from childhood to youth to old age, so the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change." Just as in this lifetime I am going from body to body (I can see this happening year by year), so at the time of death there is a similar change.
Dr. Singh: But according to the scientists, we cannot actually observe this last change. Scientists find it very hard to see the spirit soul. They say its existence is very doubtful.
Srila Prabhupada: Their eyes are so imperfect that they cannot observe many, many things. Their ignorance does not make the Bhagavad-gita unscientific. They must first admit the imperfection of their senses.
Dr. Singh: And because our senses are defective, the technological enlargements of our senses must also be defective, of course. The microscopes with which we detect things must also be defective.
Srila Prabhupada: Material existence means defective existence. If you construct something with defective knowledge and imperfect senses, whatever you construct must be defective.
Dr. Singh: Even if scientists devised a perfect microscope, they would still have to look through it with defective eyes.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is right. Therefore we conclude that whatever the scientists may say is defective.
Dr. Singh: Still, they want to sense the soul by some means.
Srila Prabhupada: How can they see it? It is too small to see. Who has that seeing power? If you inject someone with just one hundredth of a grain of very venomous poison, he dies immediately. No one can see the poison or how it acts, but it is acting nevertheless. So why don't the scientists see the soul by its action? In such cases we have to see by the effect. If I pinch myself I immediately feel it, because I am conscious throughout the whole of my skin. But as soon as the soul is out of my body, which is the case when my body dies, you could take the same skin and cut and chop it, and nobody would protest. Why is this simple thing so hard to understand? Is this not detecting spirit?
Dr. Singh: We may detect the soul in this way, but what about God?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, let us understand the soul. The soul is a sample of God. Once you understand the sample, then you can understand the whole.
"What Is This Nonsense?"
Dr. Singh: Scientists are in the process of trying to create life.
Srila Prabhupada: "Process of"! "Trying to"! That we kick out. That we don't accept. A beggar is saying, "I am trying to be a millionaire." We say, "When you become a millionaire, then talk. Now you are a poor beggar; that's all." The scientists say they are trying, but suppose I ask you, "What are you?" Will you say, "I am trying to be. . ."? What are you now? That is the question. "We are trying" is not a proper answer, what to speak of a scientific proposition.
Dr. Singh: Well, although they haven't been able to create life so far, they say they will create life in the future.
Srila Prabhupada: What future? When this crucial point is raised, they reply, "We shall do it in the future." Why in the future? That is nonsense. "Trust no future, however pleasant." If they are so advanced, they must demonstrate now how life can be created from chemicals. Otherwise what is the meaning of their advancement? I say to them, "If life originated from chemicals, and if your science is so advanced, then why can't you create life biochemically in your laboratories?" They are talking nonsense.
Dr. Singh: They say that they are right on the verge of creating life.
Srila Prabhupada: That's only a different way of saying the same thing: "In the future." The scientists must admit that they still do not know the origin of life. Their claim that they will soon prove a chemical origin of life is something like paying someone with a postdated check. Suppose I give you a postdated check for ten thousand dollars but I actually have no money. What is the value of that check? Scientists are claiming that their science is wonderful, but when a practical example is wanted, they say they will provide it in the future. Suppose I say that I possess millions of dollars, and when you ask me for some money I say, "Yes, I will now give you a big postdated check. Is that all right?" If you are intelligent, you will reply, "At present give me at least five dollars in cash so I can see something tangible." Similarly, the scientists cannot produce even a single blade of grass in their laboratories, yet they are claiming that life is produced from chemicals. What is this nonsense? Is no one questioning this?
Dr. Singh: But once they are successful they are going to make superbeings, superhuman beings.
Srila Prabhupada: They cannot create even an ant—and now they are going to make "superbeings." And we have to believe them. [Laughter.]
A Scientific Method For Drawing Money
Dr. Singh: Well, yes. The scientists say, "After all, we've already done so much in the past, and we'll accomplish more in the future."
Srila Prabhupada: In the past there was death, and people are dying now. So what have the scientists done?
Dr. Singh: Helped them.
Srila Prabhupada: Scientists have helped to minimize the duration of life! Formerly men lived one hundred years; now they seldom live more than sixty or seventy years. And the scientists have discovered atomic energy; now they can kill millions of people at once. They have simply cleared the way for death. And yet they dare to declare that they will make life!
Dr. Singh: But now we have airplanes and televisions and—
Srila Prabhupada: If they can make things, why don't they make an imitation sun to save electricity? These rascals say everything, but they cannot do anything. That is their position. Yet they speak big, big words, simply to take money from the taxpayers. They say they know the composition of the moon and the composition of the sun, so why can't they make them? Why can't they create an artificial sun so that the people of Iceland and Greenland can be saved from so much cold?
How long can science cheat people? One hundred years, two hundred years? You can cheat all of the people some of the time and some of the people all of the time. But you cannot cheat all of the people all of the time. [Laughter.]
Dr. Singh: This cheating has been going on since time immemorial, so perhaps they think they can continue forever.
Srila Prabhupada: Not since time immemorial! Science has been cheating people for only the past two or three hundred years, not before that.
Dr. Singh: Oh, really?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, for the last two hundred years they have been preaching that life comes from matter—not for thousands of years. And the cheating will be finished within fifty years.
Dr. Singh: Yes. Now people are rebelling against science.
Srila Prabhupada: And what is that science? It is not science! It is ignorance. Ignorance is passing for science. But this cheating cannot go on for long, because some people are becoming intelligent.
Dr. Singh: They say that in the future they want to go to the subsurface of Mars.
Srila Prabhupada: They are all becoming "big men" with their statements about the future.
Dr. Singh: They say that it will happen in about ten years.
Srila Prabhupada: So what if they say one year? They may say ten years or one year, but we do not accept such propositions. We want to see what they are doing now.
Dr. Singh: They are developing their technology by using small-scale models.
Srila Prabhupada: They are simply childish. In my childhood I used to watch the tramcars go along the rail. Once I thought, "I shall take a stick and touch it to the wire, and I shall also go along the rails." The scientists, with all their plans, are just as childish. They spend so much money, and politicians are financing them, but the result is zero.
Dr. Singh: That is how they discover things—by research.
Srila Prabhupada: And what is the cost of the research? It is a scientific method for drawing money from others, that's all. In other words, it is cheating.
Scientists juggle words like "plutonium," "photons," "hydrogen," and "oxygen," but what good will people get from this? When people hear this jugglery of words, what can they say? One scientist explains something to some extent, and then another rascal comes along and explains it again, but differently, with different words. And all the time the phenomenon has remained the same. What advancement has been made? They have simply produced volumes of books.
Dr. Singh: After spending all that money to go to the moon and bring back just a few rocks, the scientists on the space project decided that there was nothing more to do there. Now they want to go to other planets. That costs millions and billions of dollars.
Srila Prabhupada: People work very hard while the rascal government takes taxes and spends money unnecessarily. There should be no sympathy when so much hard-earned money comes from the public and is spent so foolishly.
Dr. Singh: Now the scientists have organized a whole department in science called gerontology, in which they study how to prolong life. That is what they do with heart transplants.
Srila Prabhupada: It is nonsense! Their real aim should be to stop the suffering. The scientists cannot stop death, they cannot stop birth, they cannot stop disease, and they cannot stop old age. So what have they done? Formerly people used to become old, and nowadays they are becoming old. Formerly people used to become diseased, and now they are becoming diseased. Now there is more medicine—and more disease. So what have they accomplished?
Suppose an old man is in great pain, suffering from many diseases, and suddenly the doctors increase his life span with a heart transplant. What is the profit? Let them stop death; that would be an achievement. They cannot do these things! Therefore, I say that all their research is simply a struggle for existence. Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita [15.7],
"The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind."
Dr. Singh: Now there is a big petrol problem, a shortage of oil.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The scientists have created it. They have built a civilization that is dependent on oil. This is against nature's law, and therefore there is now an oil shortage. When the petrol supply dwindles away, what will these rascal scientists do? They are powerless to do anything about it. By nature's law, winter is coming. Scientists cannot stop it and turn it into summer. They wrongly think they are in control of nature.
They do not realize that if they really want to conquer nature, they should try to conquer birth, death, old age, and disease. In Bhagavad-gita [7.14] Krsna says,
daivi hy esa guna-mayi
"This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is very hard to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it."
Dr. Singh: So, is it very hard to overcome nature's laws?
Srila Prabhupada: For the materialists, it is impossible. But if one surrenders to Krsna, it becomes easy.
Scientific Views / The Bhaktivedanta Institute
By Sadaputa Dasa
SADAPUTA DASA studied at the State University of New York and Syracuse University and later received a National Science Fellowship. He went on to complete his Ph.D. in mathematics at Cornell, specializing in probability theory and statistical mechanics.
In recent years the idea that life can be reduced to chemistry and physics has become very prominent in the life sciences. According to this idea, all living organisms, including human beings, are simply aggregates of molecules interacting in accordance with chemical and physical laws. This conception of life has found particular emphasis in the fields of biochemistry and molecular biology, where the study of DNA, RNA, and the processes of protein synthesis have lent credence to the picture of the living cell as a molecular machine.
What are the molecules that combine together to make this machine, and what is really known of the laws governing their interaction? For the answers to these questions we must turn to physics, and in particular to the quantum theory, which provides the basis for the present understanding of atoms and molecules. However, we find ironically that modern physics presents a description of molecules that seriously undermines the mechanical picture developed by the molecular biologists. While the biologists have attempted to reduce life to the interaction of inanimate entities, the physicists have developed a conception of inanimate entities that necessitates the presence of life—the life of a conscious observer. We will briefly describe this development and indicate some of its implications for our understanding of the nature of reality, and in particular the nature of life.
To begin, let us consider how modern physics uses quantum mechanics to describe atoms and molecules. In popular books these are often depicted as three-dimensional shapes; but this is misleading. In fact, quantum mechanics provides no natural description of three-dimensional objects in space. In quantum mechanics all natural phenomena are described by means of a mathematical construct called the wave function. The wave function can be represented as a three-dimensional arrangement only for a very simple system. For example, we can represent the hydrogen atom three-dimensionally if we regard the nucleus as a fixed point and only the electron as an active entity. However, the wave function for the helium atom (with two electrons) requires six dimensions, and that for the carbon atom (with six electrons) requires eighteen dimensions. In general, the wave function for an entity composed of n particles requires 3n dimensions. So, if we tried to quantum-mechanically represent the complex molecules found in living organisms, we would require wave functions involving many thousands of geometric dimensions.
Actually, it is a mistake to think of the wave function as a model of objective reality. Rather, we should understand it to be only a store of information about the results of observations that could be made by a particular observer. In quantum mechanics there is a system of computational procedures called "observables," which one can apply to the wave function to predict the expected results of corresponding observations. The wave functions and observables can be reformulated mathematically in many different ways, the only requirement being that for each observation all the reformulations yield the same predicted value. Thus modern physics deals only with observations, whereas nineteenth century physics dealt with arrangements of matter in space.
In this connection Werner Heisenberg pointed out, "The conception of the objective reality of the elementary particles has thus evaporated ... into the transparent clarity of a mathematics that represents no longer the behavior of the elementary particles but rather our knowledge of this behavior." ** (W. Heisenberg, "The Representation of Nature in Contemporary Physics." Daedalus, Vol. 87 (1958), No. 3, p. 100) (Italics added.) It has not been possible to regard this "knowledge" as a representation of actual entities, in which symbolic expressions correspond in a one-to-one relationship to what actually exists.
One feature of this "knowledge" is that it inevitably possesses some ambiguity. The famous Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that the degree of uncertainty in either the position or the momentum of an electron must be at least as great as a specific small quantity. Thus we cannot conceive of the electron as a definite object with a definite position and momentum; we are limited to speaking simply of observations of "position of an electron" or "momentum of an electron," and we cannot think of the electron separately from the observer and his measuring apparatus.
Ambiguities and Paradoxes
According to the quantum theory, natural processes can amplify atomic ambiguity without limit. To illustrate such amplification, Erwin Schrodinger conceived his famous "cat paradox," which we will describe here in a slightly modified form. Suppose someone attaches a bomb to a railroad track and then connects the bomb to a Geiger counter so that the decay of a radioactive atom will cause it to explode. We then have a scenario in which, say, the 5 P.M. express train will derail if the atom decays within a certain period, and it will not derail if it doesn't. Suppose we can describe the entire scene, including the train and its passengers, by quantum mechanics (this is a big assumption). The quantum theory would then predict that at 5:01 the wave function describes a train that is both derailed and not derailed! (See Fig. 1.) The quantum mechanical ambiguity in the state of the atom has become enormously amplified, and the "knowledge" represented by the wave function has become ambiguous on a large scale.
The situation of the 5 P.M. express is a source of difficulty if we try to interpret the quantum theory as a description of objective reality. The wave function at 5:01 describes the passengers on the train as simultaneously experiencing the derailment of the train and its normal functioning. Since no one ever actually has such an experience, there must be some deficiency in the theory.
In practice physicists try to remedy this deficiency by redefining the wave function whenever it develops a degree of ambiguity that entails impossible experiences for an observer. It has not been possible to justify this redefinition in terms of either physical forces or any other natural principle of causation. Rather, the wave function is said to be redefined by absolute chance. In our train example, we would have to choose a new wave function that either unambiguously represents a derailed train, or unambiguously represents a normal train. We would have to make this choice before any observer might perceive an impossible ambiguity, but we could attribute the choice to no natural cause other than pure chance.
Much controversy has arisen over this process of redefinition, and we will not attempt to do justice to this issue here. ** (M. Jammer, The Philosophy of Quantum Mechanics (New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1974)) We can conclude, however, that the only sensible way to interpret the quantum theory is as a system of knowledge about observations. It has not been possible to interpret the theory as a description of actual entities existing in space. Furthermore, we can conclude that the knowledge conveyed by the theory is inherently uncertain and sometimes in need of revisions that cannot be determined by any known principles.
Strictly speaking, then, we cannot describe the world on the basis of quantum theory without positing a region that contains the observer and that cannot be described by the theory. Some physicists have proposed that the boundary of this region should be drawn at the point where atomic ambiguities first become amplified to the macroscopic level. ** (L. Rosenfeld, "The Measuring Process in Quantum Mechanics." Suppl. Progr. Theor. Phys., extra number, (1965) pp. 222-231) Others, such as John von Neumann, have tried to reduce this region to zero, and thus they have been forced to posit a nonphysical observer whom von Neumann called the "abstract ego." ** (J. von Neumann, Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1955), p. 421) In either case, difficulties and paradoxes arise, and the theory does not give an adequate account of the observer.
In addition, we cannot expect the quantum theory to give an adequate description of the gross behavior of living beings, even if we disregard their role as possible observers of events. The problem of ambiguity in the quantum theory suggests that it may be seriously incomplete, even as a description of the behavior of inanimate matter. What, then, to speak of the quantum theory's description of the measurable behavior of living organisms? Even without undertaking the formidable calculations required to generate such a description, we can anticipate that it, too, will be inadequate.
Needed: a New Theory of Physics
From the above discussion, we can see the need for a new theory of physics—one resolving both the problem of ambiguity and that of the observer's role. One prominent physicist, Eugene Wigner, has suggested that such a theory should directly take life into account. He has proposed that many of the principles, entities, and laws involved with life are presently unknown because they do not play a highly significant role in the nonliving phenomena on which the present theory is based. ** (E. Wigner, "Remarks on the Mind-Body Question." The Scientist Speculates, ed. I. J. Good (New york: Basic Books, Inc., 1963))
In making this proposal, Wigner has also pointed out another deficiency of the quantum theory, one that must be shared by all purely mathematical descriptions of natural phenomena. This deficiency is the failure of the theory to give any account of consciousness. As Wigner points out, our knowledge of our consciousness is primary, and our knowledge of all other things is the content of our consciousness. ** (Ibid., p. 290.) Thus consciousness exists, even though the arrays of numbers appearing in mathematical theories say nothing about it. A theory that truly accounts for life must deal with consciousness, and this means that the theory cannot be exclusively quantitative in nature.
Let us briefly describe how the Bhagavad-gita gives an outline for such a theory. Although the conceptions presented in the Bhagavad-gita are not at all compatible with the mechanistic worldview presently favored in the life sciences, they take on new relevance when we consider the dilemmas faced by modern physics.
Insights into the Enigmas
The Bhagavad-gita (18.61) describes the living organism as follows:
This verse describes the organism as a machine (yantra) made of material energy, and to this degree the verse agrees with the mechanistic views of the biologists. However, it further says that the conscious self rides in this machine as a passenger, and that the machine is being directed by the Supreme Lord in His aspect as material controller (isvarah), also known as paramatma. Elsewhere the Bhagavad-gita describes the paramatma as all-pervading and as the source of all material senses and qualities (Bg. 13.14-15). The paramatma directs the material apparatus through laws (summarily described as the modes of material nature) that are ultimately psychological in character.
In a very general way, the paramatma corresponds to the natural laws of the physicists, which are regarded as invariant in time and space and as the ultimate causal principles underlying all material phenomena. However, the paramatma possesses all-pervading consciousness, as well as unlimited qualities, and is thus not susceptible to complete description in mathematical terms.
The psychological modes by which the paramatma directs nature may be susceptible to quantitative description to some extent. These modes of nature correspond to the higher laws and entities Wigner felt would be necessary in any adequate theory of life. In the limiting case involving only inanimate matter, these higher laws should approximate the natural laws physicists have deduced from their observations of matter. However, in cases involving living beings, we may expect to find many phenomena that obey higher psychological laws but that defy explanation within the existing theories of physics.
By adjusting the actions of the material energy in accordance with both the modes of nature and the desires of the individual conscious living entities, the paramatma acts as the intermediary between these beings and the observable phenomena of nature. Thus the Bhagavad-gita provides a framework for understanding the nature of the observer and the nature of the observer's interaction with matter. We can see that this is quite relevant to modern physics if we recall that the quantum theory is essentially a description of observations, and that the theory's account of the observer and the process of observation is beset with serious difficulties.
At present we may find it extremely difficult to bridge the gap between the Bhagavad-gita's description of the
paramatma and the known laws of physics. Yet it is important to realize that modern scientific knowledge by no means rules out the possibility that both nature and the living beings have attributes lying far beyond the scope of our present theories. By remaining open to conceptions of life much broader than the limited mechanistic view, scientists will lose nothing. Rather, they may gain a deeper insight into both the perplexing enigmas of modern physics and the profound view of life presented in the Bhagavad-gita.
The Biography of a Pure Devotee
by Satsvarupa dasa Goswami
Srila Prabhupada had come to America to speak about Krsna. From the beginning of his stay he had found opportunities—the living-room gatherings at the home of the Agarwals (his first hosts in America), the lecture appearances in churches, schools, and the Lion's Club of Butler, Pennsylvania. He had spent an hour at the University of Pennsylvania talking to Dr. Norman Brown's Hinduism class. In New York he had given lectures at the Tagore Society and at the Misra Yoga Society. But he did not attach great importance to giving speeches in places where people gathered to hear him only once and then went away. This was the main reason he wanted a New York building: so that people could regularly come, chant the Hare Krsna mantra, take prasada (sanctified food) in his company, and regularly, repeatedly hear him speak from Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam.
When Srila Prabhupada moved out of Dr. Misra's studio into a small office, he had what he was looking for—his own place—but not even euphemistically could his room be called a temple. His name was on the door, and anyone seeking him could find him there. But who would come to such a place? The idea of a temple was to attract people to Krsna by the temple's opulence, but Room 307 of 100 West Seventy-second Street was just the opposite—bare poverty. Even someone interested in spiritual topics would find it uncomfortable to sit on the rugless floor of a room shaped like a narrow railroad car.
But Srila Prabhupada's spiritual master had told him years before not to be despondent if few people attended the kirtana (chanting) or lecture. "Even if no one attends," Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati had told him, "you can go on chanting to the four empty walls." Thus it was Srila Prabhupada's personal duty to glorify Lord Krsna in whatever setting He had provided.
The first people who came to see Srila Prabhupada in his third-floor room were a few of Dr. Misra's students who had met him at Dr. Misra's yoga studio. One of them donated a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and Srila Prabhupada began recording his talks. He taped several hours of an essay called "Introduction to Gitopanisad," which he later used in his published translation of Bhagavad-gita. He also recorded his chanting and singing of bhajanas (devotional songs), singing along to his own accompaniment with karatalas (hand cymbals). In talks punctuated with sounds of car horns and occasional sirens from the street, Srila Prabhupada began his first regular lectures on Bhagavad-gita in America, starting from the Second Chapter.
Now Arjuna is perplexed. (Thus Prabhupada speaks on March 19, 1966.) He is perplexed about whether to fight or not to fight. After seeing in front of him his relatives with whom he was to fight, he was perplexed. And there was some argument with Krsna. Now here is a point: Krsna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
(Prabhupada's voice is earnest—sometimes it becomes high-pitched and breaks with urgency to communicate to his listeners. His voice is sincere and convincing. His cultured British diction bears a heavy Bengali accent.
Srila Prabhupada suddenly pauses in his lecture and addresses someone in the room.)
Prabhupada: What is that?
Man in the room: What?
Prabhupada: What is this book?
Man: Well, this is a translation of the Bhagavad-gita.
(Prabhupada is obviously displeased that while he is speaking someone is looking through a book. This is hardly like the respect offered to the learned speakers described in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.)
Prabhupada: Well, no, you can hear me.
Man: I AM hearing.
Prabhupada (taking the role of a teacher and correcting his student): Yes, don't turn your attention. Just hear me.
(Srila Prabhupada at this time is not an established spiritual master of many disciples [he has no disciples in America], and there is no compelling reason why any of his casual guests should feel obliged to obey or listen to him. He simply begs for their attention—and yet demands it ["Just hear me"]—as he attempts to convince people to become Krsna conscious devotees.)
You have heard that one must accept the spiritual master after careful examination (Prabhupada continues), just as one selects a bride or a bridegroom after careful examination. In India they are very careful. Because the marriage of boys and girls takes place under the guidance of the parents, so the parents very carefully see to it. Similarly, if one has to accept the spiritual master ... It is necessary. According to Vedic injunctions, everyone should have a spiritual master. Perhaps you have seen a sacred thread. We have got sacred thread. Mr. Cohen? You have seen? Sacred thread.
(Srila Prabhupada pauses. His audience may not have noted the thin white cords he wears across the upper part of his body—they can be seen around his neck. For thousands of years brahmanas in India have worn such threads, which are placed diagonally across the torso, looped over the left shoulder and down to the right waist. A brahmana holds his thread in his right hand while chanting the sacred Gayatri mantra three times a day. But this is all strange indeed to Americans. Prabhupada himself is exotic to them. His grey chada (shawl) around his shoulders, he sits cross-legged and erect on a thin pillow, and they sit facing him on the other side of his trunk, which now functions as a desk and lectern. They are close together in the narrowness of the room, under a dim light. He is frail and small and foreign to them, yet somehow he is completely assured, in a way that has nothing to do with being a foreigner in New York—and they can sense it. Two white lines of painted clay run neatly vertical on his forehead. His pale peach clothes are gathered in loose folds around his body. He pauses only a few seconds to inquire whether they have ever seen a white sacred thread.)
That sacred thread is a sign that a person has a spiritual master. Here, of course, there is no such distinction, but according to the Hindu system a married girl also has some sign so that people can understand that this girl is married. She wears a red mark so that others may know that she is married. And according to the division in the hair... What is this line called?
Prabhupada: What is the spelling?
Prabhupada: Part. This parting also has some meaning. (They know English, and he knows the Gita. But he knows a good deal of English, whereas they know practically nothing of the Gita, which he has to spoonfeed to them. But occasionally he asks in reciprocation, and they supply him English words.) When the part is in the middle, then the girl has her husband, and she is coming from a respectable family. And if the part is here (with a slight gesture he indicates a part on the side of he head), then she is a prostitute. And then again when a girl is well dressed it should be understood that she has her husband at home, and when she is not well dressed it is to be understood that her husband is away from home. You see? And a widow's dress ... There are so many symptoms. So, similarly, the sacred thread s a sign that a person has accepted a spiritual master, just as the red mark symbolizes that a girl has a husband.
(One could say Srila Prabhupada is approaching a very heavy topic at an early point in his meeting. What is the need of taking a spiritual master? Is this just for India? But he says, "Everyone should have a spiritual master." What is a spiritual master, anyway? Most of the audience probably doesn't take this matter seriously; it is not as if they are faced with a personal decision. They may look upon the idea of accepting a spiritual master as another cultural item from Hinduism, like the thread, or the part in the woman's hair, or the widow's dress. The audience can easily regard his discussion as a kind of cultural exposition, just as one comfortably watches a film about the living habits of people in a foreign land although one has no intention of adopting these habits as one's own. The svami, as a Hindu, is wearing a brahmana's thread, but one doesn't have to think that Americans should wear them. Actually, Srila Prabhupada has no motive but to present the Absolute Truth as he has heard it in disciplic succession. And if anyone in that railroad car-shaped room were actually to ask himself, "Should I surrender to a spiritual master?" he would be confronted by the existential presence of a genuine guru, Srila Prabhupada. One is free to regard his talk as one likes.)
In every step of one's life the spiritual master guides him (Prabhupada continues). Now, to give such guidance the spiritual master should also be a very perfect man. Otherwise how can he guide? Now, here Arjuna knows that Sri Krsna is the perfect person. So therefore he is accepting Him—sisyas te 'ham sadhi mam tvam prapannam. (Sanskrit! No one knows a word of it! But there is never any question for Srila Prabhupada—even if they don't understand, the sound of sastra, scripture, will purify them and make them pious. It is his authority, and he cannot omit it. Anyway, he will translate everything. And Prabhupada thinks they will feel the weight of the scholarly Sanskrit authority, the original though foreign words of the sages.)
"I am just surrendering unto You, and You accept me as Your disciple," Arjuna says. Friendly talks cannot make a solution to perplexity. Friendly talks may be going on for years together, but with no solution. So here Arjuna accepts Krsna as the spiritual master. This means that whatever Krsna will decide he has to accept. One cannot deny the order of' his spiritual master. Therefore one has to select a spiritual master by whose orders one will not commit a mistake. Suppose you accept the wrong person as spiritual master and he guides you wrongly. Then your whole life is spoiled. So one has to accept a spiritual master whose guidance will make one's life perfect. That is the relationship between spiritual master and disciple. It is not a formality; it is a great responsibility, both for the disciple and for the spiritual master. And... yes?
Student: But if the disciple is in ignorance before. . .
Prabhupada: Yes. (Srila Prabhupada acknowledges a serious question. Yes. It is for answering questions like this from "disciples in ignorance" that he has left retirement in India and come to America.)
Student: ... how does he know which master to choose?—he doesn't have the knowledge to make a wise decision.
Prabhupada: Yes. So the first thing is that one should be searching after a spiritual master, just as when you search after some school, you must have at least some preliminary knowledge of what a school is. So that knowledge is like this:
tad-vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigacchet
According to this verse, the spiritual master is required for a person who is inquisitive about transcendental knowledge. There is another verse in Srimad-Bhagavatam. Tasmad gurum prapadyeta jijnasuh sreya uttamam: one should search after a spiritual master if one is inquisitive about transcendental subject matters. Unless one is at least conversant with preliminary knowledge of transcendental matters, how can he inquire from his spiritual master? And he has to inquire.
After discussing the spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada went on to describe Krsna as Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As always, his lectures were grave and thorough in scholarship. In one talk he would cover a number of ideas. His talks were not prepared lectures on a single specialized subject. Nor did he pause to grope for something to say. It was only a question of how much his audience could take. Otherwise, Srila Prabhupada knew exactly what he wanted to say. Now the constraints of Butler, Pennsylvania, and the Ananda Ashram were behind him. He was free to speak about the Absolute Truth in full. Throughout his life he had prepared for this, yet he was still exploring his Western audience, testing their reactions and discovering the best ways to present Krsna.
But we should always remember that He is God. He is all-powerful.... In strength no one could conquer Him. In beauty ... as far as beauty is concerned, when He was on the battlefield—have any of you seen a picture of Krsna? Have you seen? Have any of you ever seen Krsna ? Oh . . . no?
No one had ever seen Krsna. Srila Prabhupada's voice faded, and he paused as he looked out at his audience. None of them had the slightest previous knowledge of Lord Krsna. In India hundreds of millions worshiped Lord Krsna as the eternal form of all beauty and truth and viewed His graceful form daily in temples, in sculpture, in painting, and in dance. His philosophical teachings in Bhagavad-gita were all-famous, and Prabhupada was His intimate emissary. Yet the ladies and gentlemen at Seventy-second Street looked at him blankly.
Sometimes during a talk an outsider would open the door and hesitantly glance inside. Srila Prabhupada would stop his lecture and invite the visitor further with words and gestures: "Yes, yes, come in. You can come here." Sometimes he would commiserate with his "fellow New Yorkers," chuckling about the discomforts they shared. "Suppose there is a heavy snowfall, the whole New York City is flooded with snow, and you are all put into inconvenience. This is a sort of suffering, but you have no control."
Sometimes he praised Dr. Misra's students for having learned so nicely from their teacher: "Now, what Dr. Misra is teaching is very nice. He is teaching that first of all you must know, 'Who am I?' That is very good, but that 'Who am I?' can be known from Bhagavad-gita also—'I am not this body.' "
Sometimes, while Srila Prabhupada was talking, a guest would suddenly speak out with an irrelevant question, and Srila Prabhupada would patiently try to consider it. At the same time, behind the tolerance Prabhupada's mood was always one of a personal urgency. Sometimes he spoke very fast, and one sensed his desire to establish Krsna consciousness in the West as soon as possible. He had no followers, a few books, no temples, and he openly stated that his was a race against time. "I am ah old man," he would say. "I could leave at any time." And so behind the formal delivery of the Krsna conscious philosophy was an anxiety, an almost desperate desire to convince at least one soul to take up Krsna consciousness immediately.
In a second lecture delivered on the same verse of Bhagavad-gita, Srila Prabhupada discussed the real meaning of going to a sacred place in India.
One should go to a sacred place in order to find some intelligent scholar living there in spiritual knowledge and make association with him. Just like I ... my residence is at Vrndavana. So at Vrndavana there are many big scholars and saintly persons living. So one should go to such holy places not simply to take bath in the water; one must be intelligent enough to find some spiritually advanced man living there and take instruction from him and be benefited by that. If a man has attachment to going to a place of pilgrimage to take a bath but has no attraction for hearing from learned people there, he is considered to be an ass. [He laughs.] Sa eva go-kharah. Go means "cow, " and khara means "ass. " So the whole civilization is moving like a civilization of cows and asses. Everyone is identifying with the body. Yes, you want to speak?
Woman with an English accent: In the places known as secret places—
Prabhupada: Sacred. Yes.
Woman: Is it "sacred" places?
Woman:—isn't it also a fact that there is more magnetism because of the meeting of saints and more advanced people?
Prabhupada: Oh, yes, certainly. Certainly. Therefore the place itself has got some magnetism.
Woman: Yes, and when—
Prabhupada: Just like at Vrndavana. That is practical. Now here I am sitting in New York, the world's greatest city, such a magnificent city, but my heart is always hankering after that Vrndavana.
Woman: Yes. [Laughs.]
Prabhupada: Yes. I am not happy here.
Woman: Yes, I know.
Prabhupada: I shall be very happy to return to my Vrndavana, that sacred place. But then, "Why are you here?" Now, because it is my duty; I have brought some message for you people. Because I have been ordered by my superior, my spiritual master, "Whatever you have learned you should go to the Western countries, and you must distribute this knowledge. " So in spite of all my difficulties, all my inconveniences, I am here, because I am obligated by duty. If I go and sit down in Vrndavana, that will be good for my personal convenience; I shall be very comfortable there, and I will have no anxiety, nothing of the sort. But I have taken all the risk in this old age because I am dutybound. I am dutybound, so I have to execute my duty, despite all my inconveniences.
"Despite inconveniences" meant that Srila Prabhupada was willing to undergo any difficulty for himself, if only he could fulfill his spiritual master's order. It was not that for himself he needed anything, but for preaching he needed a more impressive presentation of Krsna culture, complete with music, food distribution, a meeting hall, and money with which to print and distribute books vigorously. But simply the chance to speak was a source of life for him. Even when there were no disciples, Srila Prabhupada was very hopeful. At least he was speaking, and someone was listening.
Srila Prabhupada expressed his optimism in a letter to Sumati Morarjee, dated March 18, 1966: "I was very much encouraged when you wrote to say, 'I feel that you should stay there until you fully recover from your illness and return only after you have completed your mission.' I think these lines dictated by you are the words of Lord Bala Krsna expressed through your goodness.
"You will be pleased to know that I have improved my health to normal, and my missionary work is nicely progressing. I hope my project to start a temple of Sri Sri Radha-Krsna will also be realized by the grace of the Lord.
"Since I came to New York from Butler, Pennsylvania, I have rented the above room at seventy dollars per month, and I am delivering lectures on the Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, accompanied by sankirtana [chanting the names of Lord Krsna], and the American ladies and gentlemen come to hear me. You will be surprised to know that they do not understand the language of sankirtana yet they hear with attention. The movement which I have started here is completely new to them, because the Americans are generally acquainted with the Indian yoga gymnastics as performed by some Indian yogis here. They never heard of the bhakti [devotional yoga] cult or the science of Krsna before, and still they are hearing me. This is a great success for me."
Things were looking up, but still most of the people who came to the classes were not really interested in the full commitment Srila Prabhupada was looking for. One of Dr. Misra's followers describes the Misra people at that time as being "middle-class types merely into intellectual hair-splitting." Srila Prabhupada was not unaware of this, and apparently he was looking for people who could help him more directly.
The Night-and-day Dream
This conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a university student took place in Los Angeles, in January of 1974.
Student: In your books you say this world is like a dream.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. It is a dream.
Student: How is it a dream?
Srila Prabhupada: For example, last night you had some dream, but now it has no value. It is gone. And again, tonight when you sleep, you'll forget all these things and dream. You won't remember, when you are dreaming tonight, "I've got my house; I've got my wife." You'll forget it all. So all of this is a dream.
Student: Is it true, or is it not true?
Srila Prabhupada: How could it be true? At night you forget it. Do you remember when you sleep that you've got your wife and you're sleeping on a bed? When you have gone some three thousand miles away and seen something totally different in your dream, do you remember that you've got a place to reside in?
Srila Prabhupada: So this is a dream. Tonight, what you are seeing now will become only a dream, just as what you saw last night—now you know it was only a dream. So both are dreams. You are simply a visitor, that's all. You are seeing this dream and that dream. You, the spirit soul, are factual. But your material body and the material surroundings you are seeing—this is a dream.
Student: But I have the impression that this experience is true and my cream is not true. What is the difference—
Srila Prabhupada: No. This experience is all untrue! How could it be true? If it were true, how could you forget it at night? How could you forget it, if it were true? At night do you remember all this?
Student: No. I don't remember.
Srila Prabhupada: Then—how could it be true? Just as you don't remember the dream you saw last night and so you call it a "dream," similarly this experience—because you forget it at night—this is also a dream....
Student: But I have the impress—
Srila Prabhupada: This is a daydream; that is a night dream. That's all. When you dream at night, then you perceive that as being real. Yes. You think that is real. It is a dream, but you are crying, "There is a tiger! Tiger! Tiger!" Where is the tiger? But you are seeing it as fact—a tiger. "I'm being killed by a tiger." But where is the tiger? ... Or you dream you are embracing some beautiful girl. Where is that beautiful girl? But actually it is happening.
Student: It is happening?
Srila Prabhupada: In one sense it is happening, because there is discharge of semen. Nocturnal emission. But where is that girl? Is it not a dream? But similarly, this so-called real-life experience is also a dream. You are getting the impression of factuality, but it is a dream. Therefore it is called maya-sukhaya, illusory happiness. Your nighttime happiness and your daytime happiness are the same thing. At night you are dreaming you are embracing a nice beautiful girl, and there is no such thing. Similarly, in the daytime also, whatever "advancement" you are making—this is also like that. Maya-sukhaya: you are dreaming, "This process will make me happy" or "That process will make me happy," but the whole process is only a dream. You are taking this daydream as reality because the duration is long. At night when you dream, the duration is just half an hour. But this daydream lasts for twelve hours or more. That is the difference. This is a twelve-hour dream, and that is a half-hour dream—but actually both of them are dreams. Because one is a twelve-hour dream, you are accepting it as real. That is called illusion.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.... You are making a distinction between an animal and yourself, but you are forgetting that just as the animal will die, you will also die. So where is your advancement? Will you remain forever? You will also die. So where is your advancement over an animal? That is stated in the Vedic literatures. Ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam ca/ samanam etat pasubhir naranam: this business—eating, sleeping, sex life, and defending—this is also the animal's business, and you are doing the same. So how are you distinct from an animal? You will die; the animal will die. But if you say, "I will die after one hundred years, and this ant will die after one hour," that does not 'mean that you are in reality. It is a question of time. Or take this huge universe—it will all be destroyed. As your body will be destroyed, this universe will also be destroyed. Annihilation. Dissolution. Nature's way—the whole thing will be dissolved. Therefore, it is a dream. It is a long-duration dream, that's all. Nothing else. But the advantage of having this human body is that in this dream, you can realize the reality—God. That is the advantage. So if you don't take advantage of this dream, then you are missing everything.
Student: So I'm half-asleep?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. This is the situation. Therefore, the Vedic literatures say, uttistha: "Get up! Get up! Get up!" Jagrata: "Become awakened!" Prapya varan nibodhata: "Now you've got the opportunity, utilize it." Tamasi ma jyotir gama: "Don't stay in darkness, come to the light." These are Vedic injunctions. And we are teaching the same thing. "Reality is here—Krsna. Don't remain in this dark place. Come to this higher consciousness."
A look at the worldwide activities of the
Bhaktivedanta Books: 85.5 Million in Print
Los Angeles—Just-released Bhaktivedanta Book Trust figures (for the period October 1966 to March 1979) show that Srila Prabhupada's translations of India's Vedic literatures now appear in some thirty languages and have gone well over the eighty-five million mark.
Last year the printing total surpassed the previous year's total by thirty percent, and BBT books appeared for the first time in Danish, Greek, and Kannada (a South Indian dialect).
The demand for Srila Prabhupada's books seems to transcend all national and ideological boundaries. In the Middle East, people are eagerly purchasing a new Arabic translation of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, while Israelis are reading a Hebrew edition of Easy Journey to Other Planets. A pocket edition of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is (first printing: 250,000 copies) is proving a bestseller in South America and Mexico.
In India (the Vedic literatures' homeland) Srila Prabhupada's books are being translated into Hindi, Bengali, Gujarati, Telugu, Oriya, Marathi, Nepali, Tamil, and Kannada. On their travels throughout the subcontinent, BBT representatives often find themselves surrounded by crowds eager to make a purchase.
LanguageBooks in Print
Educator Proud of Srila Prabhupada's Books
Recently Shiv Sharma, Professor of Sanskrit at the College of Buddhist Philosophy in Ladakh, India, said this:
"I have read with great pleasure the books of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. At long last a noble heir to the tradition of India's eternally glorious message has rendered our Sanskrit literature in such a way that our English-speaking brothers in the West may easily understand it. This should be a matter of great pride to all of us.
"The manner in which His Divine Grace has presented Srimad-Bhagavatam, the encyclopedia of Vedic culture—with specially prepared illustrations, original Sanskrit script, Roman transliterations, word-for-word synonyms, verse index, and table of contents and extensive general index—is a literary wonder of the world. Also, his clear and precise commentary make these volumes masterpieces of study for lovers of Vedic wisdom.
"Srila Prabhupada's books teach the principles of brahminical culture, namely no intoxication, no illicit sex, no gambling, and no eating of meat, fish, or eggs. The value of his writings is seen in that he has molded for the better thousands of lost lives.
"As an educator, I highly recommend these books to all school, college, and university libraries."
Looking into the pale and reddish-brown faces of the passersby on Avenida Insurgentes, Mario Ortega Martell no longer sees only country people and businessmen, students and merchants, Mexicans and foreigners, men and women going about their business on a warm afternoon. Instead, looking deeper, Mario sees them as almas espirituales—spirit souls, all part and parcel of God, but all somehow unmindful of their relationship with Him.
That's why he's out there, downtown in Mexico City, stopping people and talking with them, reaching into a cloth bag on his shoulder to hand them books they've never seen before. Fifteen months ago, someone on the street had handed him the same book, and what he found when he read it changed his life. Now Mario Ortega wants everyone to have the chance to taste what he calls "the nectar of the mercy of Krsna."
The book was Bhagavad-gita Tal Como Es (Bhagavad-gita As It Is), a Spanish translation and commentary upon one of
India's most revered texts of spiritual enlightenment. The author was "Su Divina Gracia" A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder and spiritual preceptor of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.
Shortly after Mario had finished the book, the devotees of Lord Krsna gathered in Guadalajara to hold the annual Ratha-yatra, the festival of the chariots. Each year in this celebration from ancient India, the devotees dance through the streets in cities worldwide, playing musical instruments, chanting Krsna's names, and pulling huge multicolored floats that call to mind Krsna's transcendental pastimes.
Mario took part in the festival at Guadalajara, and that very day (the nineteenth of August, 1978—he whips off the date as readily as his birthday) he decided to join the temple in Mexico City and become a devotee of Krsna.
"From my own experience," Mario says, "I knew that the best thing you could do with your life would be to make it pure—and even better than that would be to show other people how to do the same.
"Before I came to Krsna consciousness, though, I felt that my own way of life was completely impure. I was confused and indecisive about spiritual life and couldn't even help myself. But after I read that book, I lost my taste for materialistic activities. And now I understand that I was being cheated by maya, illusion.
"I feel that I have become very fortunate, and because of that I want to give these books to others, so that they can also become fortunate. I want everyone to come in touch with Krsna."
It was in 1971 that Krsna devotees went to Mexico from the United States and began Mexico's first Krsna conscious temple. That same year the devotees published the first Krsna conscious books in Spanish, and since then they have put out a steady flow of new titles.
To distribute the books, the devotees travel from city to city and town to town. So although the only formally established Krsna temples are in Mexico City and Guadalajara, word gets around. and people from all corners are reading about Krsna and chanting His names.
The Mexico City temple, formerly the Ethiopian embassy, serves as the Krsna movement's Mexico headquarters. Here devotees live and work and hold regular classes for the public and for a growing congregation of people who live and work nearby and follow the principles of devotional life in Krsna consciousness.
"Krsna consciousness in Mexico is no different from Krsna consciousness anywhere else," says Pancadravida Svami, the movement's director for Mexico and other Latin American countries. "Krsna consciousness is not a limited form of consciousness like nationalism, family loyalty, or a religious belief you hold because you were born into it. Krsna consciousness is the original consciousness of the soul.
"People feel drawn to Krsna consciousness because it makes sense to them: 'I'm not my material body but the soul within. So "Mexican" or "American" or "Valdez" or "Smith" or any other label that might have come along with my body doesn't really apply to me. I'm really just a soul, part and parcel of God. So all I really have to do is devote myself to Him, and that will automatically be good for my nation, my family—everyone.'
"Krsna is universal. He is not the God of a particular country, time, or cultural group. God is one. So His name, qualities, pastimes, and philosophy will be attractive to anyone who thinks about things carefully. And bhakti-yoga—linking with God through devotional service—will be effective anywhere."
An important feature of the Krsna consciousness movement in Mexico, as in other countries, is its Gurukula, a boarding school where learning how to advance in spiritual life is as much a part of the curriculum as reading, writing, and arithmetic. A child is ultimately a spiritual being, say the Krsna conscious teachers, so what's the use of a school that ignores spiritual realization? A materially brilliant student with no understanding of who he is or how he is connected with God is no better than a fancy package with nothing inside. At Mexico's Gurukula (a modern three-story house with parquet floors, picture windows, and a large patio and garden courtyard) the children. learn first to understand themselves and Krsna. and then whatever else they need to know. The children get a strong general education (most Gurukula students are two or three years ahead of their public-school counterparts in reading and the other usual subjects), but more important, they learn how to discern the spiritual essence of life amid the complexities of an increasingly materialistic society.
As the children grow older, they will take further instruction under the guidance of a Krsna conscious spiritual master, as do other initiated members of the Krsna consciousness movement.
The movement's original spiritual master in the West was His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the author of the books that Mario Ortega and the other devotees distribute to the public. Many of the devotees in Mexico are Srila Prabhupada's disciples, but since his passing, in 1977, newer devotees have been learning his teachings from one of his eleven authorized successors, His Divine Grace Hrdayananda dasa Goswami.
Srila Hrdayananda Maharaja speaks fluent Spanish, Portuguese, and English and has spent the last six years teaching and traveling throughout the Latin American continent, opening centers, and overseeing new publications.
Less than two months ago, Mario Ortega became one of his disciples. "Because my spiritual master is eternally linked with Srila Prabhupada," says Mario (now known by the spiritual name Maharsi dasa), "I also feel eternally linked with Srila Prabhupada—and ultimately with Krsna Himself.
"The message of Krsna consciousness is eternal and unchanging. It comes down from master to disciple, from one generation to the next. Five thousand years ago, Krsna taught Bhagavad-gita to His friend and disciple Arjuna. Krsna's teachings dispelled all Arjuna's illusion, cleared up all his doubts, and revived his inner understanding—so that he knew who he really was and what he had to do. And even today, anyone who seriously tries to understand Krsna's teachings from a bona fide spiritual master can get free from anxiety and illusion and make his life spiritually perfect."
Overreacting and Underreacting in Harrisburg
by Mandalesvara dasa
Since the nuclear near-catastrophe that occurred recently at the Three Mile Island reactor site near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, I've read many accounts of what happened. But none of these accounts reported on what I saw firsthand. I was there in the state capitol building that morning, the thirtieth of March, when the nerve center of the Pennsylvania state government had its nervous breakdown.
I live about forty miles out of Harrisburg at Gita-nagari, ISKCON's Pennsylvania farm community. We were planning an outdoor summer festival in the city, so I was in town to see about getting the necessary permits and licenses. I had been to the police chief's office, and he had referred me to another office at the capitol building.
A receptionist in one of the offices on the second floor was trying to help me locate the right department. But as I told her what I needed, she just shook her head. "I think they might have sent you to the wrong place," she said.
An unusual amount of noise and commotion out in the hallway distracted me for a moment as I was puzzling over what I should do. "I think I'd better check my directions again," I said, when half a dozen workers from another office wandered in, talking excitedly among themselves. "Could I use your phone to check back with the chief of police?" I asked, raising my voice above the sudden stir. "He's the one that sent me up here."
"We can try, but all the lines are pretty tied up now, you know."
"No, I don't know," I said as she dialed. "What's going on?"
"You don't know? Well, you must be the only one. That nuclear reactor on Three Mile Island is acting up. It's been leaking radioactive steam since early Wednesday morning—the largest leak in history. And now they just found a gas bubble inside the thing, and they say if it doesn't cool off, the gas might blow up." She seemed pleased to initiate a newcomer into the fearful situation. "I'm not afraid," she went on, "but that's what everyone else is so worried about. And that's why I can't get this call through. All the lines are tied up."
From her description it was hard to tell exactly how critical the situation was. But I was there on Krsna's business, so I had to get things done, despite tied-up phones or whatever.
But now the scene around me was changing. The entire office—and maybe the entire building—was in chaos.
One nervous fellow came running up to the desk. Trembling almost out of control, he shrieked, "What are they going to do about this?!"
The receptionist told him not to worry, that Governor Thornburgh was going to be on the radio in a few minutes to tell people what to do in case of an evacuation.
"They caused this," the man said. "Now what are they going to do about it?"
"I'm not afraid of radiation," she interrupted. "I had radiation treatment six months ago. Anyway, my nephew told me all about it. He used to deal with the stuff. He says there's not a thing in the world for me to worry about."
But the man kept demanding to know what "the fools who got us into this mess in the first place" were going to do about it.
The room was becoming really congested now, as men and women from the other offices came in, talking excitedly about leaving their jobs, or trying to call their families on the office telephone.
Then a woman in her late thirties walked in, stiffly swinging her purse. With an air of authority, she went up to the receptionist and told her to notify the other offices that anyone who wanted could go home and wouldn't be docked any pay. She opened her purse and took out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. "What am I doing? I've got to get out of here. I've got to call somebody and have them pick up my kids. I've got to pack everything." Trying to soften her tone, "If anyone asks for me ... just tell them I left." And she swung her purse over her shoulder and ran out.
The man who had been shaking so much was still around. He was pacing near one of the other desks, smoking and trying to listen to the governor's report on the radio. But he couldn't stand in one spot long enough to listen. He kept walking away and talking to the others, spreading his confusion.
Actually, no one really stopped long enough to hear that announcement. They had already concluded that their lives were in danger and that they should save themselves. "I'm not going to stay around here waiting to die," someone was saying. "I'm taking my wife and kids and going back to Ohio."
Another man stuck his head through the doorway and announced, "Did you people know that fifty feet beneath the foundation of this building is a radiation-proof chamber for the governor and his friends?" Then they all began loudly discussing that. (The governor and 225 other big political leaders could live for 4 days in their underground offices.) At this point I excused myself.
As I walked down the hall, I saw more of the same confusion and overheard more talk about "saving yourself." Out in front of the capitol building, I saw a secretary running for her life, with a handkerchief over her nose and mouth.
Police sirens were screaming from all directions as I pulled out into the heavy flow of traffic and made my way slowly along. Service stations were all filled with cars fueling for the getaway. I pulled in beside a phone booth to call the farm.
There was a man ahead of me trying to get in touch with his wife. He was telling someone to give her a message. "We've got to get out of here as soon as possible," he explained. "The radio says that things aren't critical and the governor will tell us if it's necessary to leave. Of course, they say no one's supposed to breathe the air, either—whatever that means. Anyway, I'm not going to hang around to see what's going to happen." Then he hung up the receiver and started pacing back and forth and craning his neck to see if his wife had come—even though he'd just hung up less than ten seconds before.
I couldn't get my call through, but it seemed useless to stay in Harrisburg. The radio reports had advised people to stay indoors, and anyway, the government offices weren't functioning. So I headed back to the farm. Once I was out of the city, the congestion on the highway began to clear.
As I drove I was thinking about what I'd just witnessed. Although nothing is as sure as death, it always seems to come as a big surprise, and no one knows what to do. "Oh! We've got to get the kids at school, pack our bags, stop by the bank, gas up the car, and get out of here. . . ." (So in Ohio people don't have to die?)
The threat of nonexistence creates a fearful situation for all of us—because actually we're eternal. It's just that out of ignorance we've identified ourselves with our material bodies. Out of ignorance we've become attached to this temporary life as all in all. And out of ignorance we suffer life after life, in different species. Now, in the human form, we have the rare chance to get free from ignorance and understand our actual, spiritual selves and our relationship with the Supreme. Yet most people aren't interested (until it's too late).
But as the Vedic literatures point out, only by reawakening our relationship with the Supreme can we leave death (and the cycle of death and rebirth) behind. For years the devotees have been distributing transcendental literature and talking with the people of Harrisburg about solving life's ultimate problem, yet they never seemed terribly interested. Perhaps they took us to be some kind of religious sect out proselytizing. It seemed self-realization was low priority for people with so much important business. But today they would surely have agreed with the Vedic literatures that saving yourself from death is the most important business in life.
I rolled down the window for a breath of the fresh country air. You don't need nuclear power or even electricity to be happy, I was thinking. The people at Gita-nagari farm are satisfied without. all the gadgets and gimmicks of this short-lived technological age. The life-style is simple: plowing the fields with oxen and taking care of cows and making use of their abundant milk. At the same time the philosophy is sublime: trying to understand that everyone is an eternal spiritual being, a servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krsna.
When I got back, the other devotees and I discussed what had happened. A laugh or two, but mostly it was serious. Everyone saw the urgent need for making America Krsna conscious. And everyone went back to work with new vitality. It was going to be quite a job.
The Sexual Revolution: Coming Full Circle?
Here we are in the middle of the sexual revolution, and yet, amazingly, more and more people are touting chastity. Says game-show star Jaye P. Morgan, "Your perceptions deepen, and you reach a higher level of awareness. And the good effects are cumulative. I feel much better now. . . ." "Now that I'm celibate, I feel fresher," says a Chicago businessman. "My energy level is higher, and my mind isn't so clogged up."
What could be the real reason for this surprising trend? Are we losing our taste for sex? Not exactly. As psychoanalyst Mildred Newman points out, "For years there has been a trend in the direction of chastity. People have begun to feel terrible about indiscriminate sex with so many partners."
Adds psychiatrist Dr. H. Colton, "Many of my clients have been badly hurt by the pain of multiple separations from many different partners. That, to me, is the most negative aspect of the sexual revolution.... People go from one relationship to the next, and in the process they experience great pain."
Writer Janet Dailey says, "I don't think there's a woman born who doesn't wish that the first man she met would be the one she married." Dailey and her cowriters at Harlequin Enterprises, along with author Barbara Cartland, are heightening the popular mood with what Human Behavior magazine has called "the paperback virgin," the heroine of the book racks who says, in effect, "Save yourself, because some day your prince will come."
For people who would prefer that "some day" be sooner rather than later, India's traditional Krsna conscious culture offers a happy solution: the couple's parents seek expert spiritual guidance and arrange for an early marriage, based on complete psychospiritual compatibility. The record shows that this kind of spiritually-based marriage really works. For one thing, the woman doesn't have to wait ten or twenty years (or her whole life) for her prince to come, and she can give her heart and not worry about some day having to take it back.
This kind of relationship turns out happy and successful because it's based not just on "biological need" but on enlightenment. In fact, in Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna affirms, "Sex that accords with religious principles, married sex for producing spiritually enlightened children—that sex I am." The couple have sex with intelligence and discretion, not in a doglike way but in a godly way. And they produce enlightened children who easily become self-realized, liberated from the material world's cycle of death and rebirth. Naturally the children help their parents do the same.
Not only do the couple satisfy their desire for the temporary pleasures of family life, but also they follow the Bhagavad-gita's path to eternal, spiritual pleasures. Day by day they experience that the inner self can find full happiness only in the eternal loving relationship we all have with Krsna, the Supreme Self (Krsna's very name means "the all-beautiful, all-attractive one"). So both husband and wife save themselves for Him.
After the children are grown, the couple leave home and, travel together to holy places of pilgrimage. Eventually they make their amicable parting of the ways—she to live with her eldest children or at a holy place, he to travel as a monastic teacher, both of them to attain self-realization and realization of God. (Then, too, people who are spiritually precocious can bypass the married phase altogether, stay celibate, and start concentrating on self-realization earlier in life.)
Of course, our modern quasi-culture hardly makes chastity easy. "This new chastity is more challenging," notes Dr. Joyce Brothers, "because the pressure from the culture is very strong not to be chaste." The mass mind manipulators want to keep us ever conscious of our genitals, always ready to hark when a new book or bath soap promises to win us newer and more desirable sex partners. So even if we want to avoid "the pain of multiple separations," it's going to be extremely difficult...
... unless we can find a genuinely higher pleasure. "The embodied soul may be restricted from sense enjoyment," Krsna says, "but the taste for sense objects will remain. Yet he can stay fixed and peaceful in consciousness by experiencing a higher taste." (Bg. 2.59] As Srila Prabhupada explains, "Seekers of the Absolute Truth are never allured by unnecessary engagement in sense gratification, because the serious students seeking the Absolute Truth are always happily overwhelmed with the work of researching the Truth.... When one is actually Krsna conscious, he automatically loses his taste for pale things." The natural pleasure of our loving relationship with Krsna is so great that it alone gives complete satisfaction and happiness, and we can easily go beyond short-lived, insignificant material pleasures—for lasting, unlimited spiritual pleasures.
Once we become spiritually fulfilled, we'll be finished with sexual problems. In the latter part of our lives, if not much earlier, we'll abstain to concentrate on self-realization and the unlimited pleasure within. Yet during married life, sex for the express purpose of producing children is also chaste. In other words, once we're Krsna conscious, chastity will follow as a natural by-product. We won't be interested, per se, either in sex or no sex, but in doing all that we do in devotion to the Supreme.—SDG