What is Krsna Consciousness?
The following interview with freelance reporter Sandy Nixon took place in July 1975, in Śrīla Prabhupāda’s quarters at the Kṛṣṇa centre in Philadelphia. This discussion serves as a superb introduction to Kṛṣṇa consciousness and covers such basic topics as the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, the relationship between the spiritual master and God, the difference between genuine and fake gurus, the role of women in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the Indian caste system, and the relationship between Christ consciousness and Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Ms. Nixon: My first question is very basic. What is Kṛṣṇa consciousness?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Kṛṣṇa means God. We are all intimately connected with Him because He is our original father. But we have forgotten this connection. When we become interested in knowing, “What is my connection with God? What is the aim of life?” then we are called Kṛṣṇa conscious.
Ms. Nixon: How does Kṛṣṇa consciousness develop in the practitioner?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Kṛṣṇa consciousness is already there in the core of everyone’s heart. But because of our materially conditioned life, we have forgotten it. The process of chanting the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra—Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare—revives the Kṛṣṇa consciousness we already have. For example, a few months ago these American and European boys and girls did not know about Kṛṣṇa, but just yesterday we saw how they were chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa and dancing in ecstasy throughout the whole Ratha-yātrā procession [an annual festival sponsored by the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement in cities around the world]. Do you think that was artificial? No. Artificially, nobody can chant and dance for hours together. They have actually awakened their Kṛṣṇa consciousness by following a bona fide process. This is explained in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 22. 107)
nitya-siddha kṛṣṇa-prema ‘sādhya’ kabhu naya
śravaṇādi-śuddha-citte karaye udaya
Kṛṣṇa consciousness is dormant in everyone’s heart, and when one comes in contact with devotees, it is awakened. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not artificial. Just as a young boy awakens his natural attraction for a young girl in her association, similarly, if one hears about Kṛṣṇa in the association of devotees, he awakens his dormant Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Ms. Nixon: What is the difference between Kṛṣṇa consciousness and Christ consciousness?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Christ consciousness is also Kṛṣṇa consciousness, but because at present people do not follow the rules and regulations of Christianity—the commandments of Jesus Christ—they do not come to the standard of God consciousness.
Ms. Nixon: What is unique about Kṛṣṇa consciousness among all religions?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Primarily, religion means to know God and to love Him. That is religion. Nowadays, because of a lack of training, nobody knows God, what to speak of loving Him. People are satisfied simply going to church and praying, “O God, give us our daily bread.” In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam this is called a cheating religion, because the aim is not to know and love God but to gain some personal profit. In other words, if I profess to follow some religion but I do not know who God is or how to love Him, I am practicing a cheating religion. As far as the Christian religion is concerned, ample opportunity is given to understand God, but no one is taking it. For example, the Bible contains the commandment “Thou shall not kill,” but Christians have built the world’s best slaughterhouses. How can they become God conscious if they disobey the commandments of Lord Jesus Christ? And this is going on not just in the Christian religion, but in every religion. The title “Hindu,” “Muslim,” or “Christian” is simply a rubber stamp. None of them knows who God is and how to love Him.
Ms. Nixon: How can one tell a bona fide spiritual master from a fake?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Whoever teaches how to know God and how to love Him—he is a spiritual master. Sometimes bogus rascals mislead people. “1 am God,” they claim, and people who do not know what God is believe them. You must be a serious student to understand who God is and how to love Him. Otherwise, you will simply waste your time. So the difference between others and us is that we are the only movement that can actually teach one how to know God and how to love Him. We are presenting the science of how one can know Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, by practicing the teachings of the Bhagavad-gītā and the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. They teach us that our only business is to love God. Our business is not to ask God for our necessities. God gives necessities to everyone—even to one who has no religion. For example, cats and dogs have no religion, yetKṛṣṇa supplies them with the necessities of life. So why should we bother Kṛṣṇa for our daily bread? He is already supplying it. Real religion means to learn how to love Him. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.2.6) says,
sa vai puṁsāṁ paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhokṣaje
First-class religion teaches one how to love God without any motive. If I serve God for some profit, that is business—not love. Real love of God isahaituky apratihatā: it cannot be checked by any material cause. It is unconditional. If one actually wants to love God, there is no impediment. One can love Him whether one is poor or rich, young or old, black or white.
Ms. Nixon: Do all paths lead to the same end?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. There are four classes of men—the karmīs, the jñānīs, the yogīs, and the bhaktas—and each achieves a different goal. Thekarmīs work for some material profit. For example, in the city, many people work hard day and night, and their purpose is to get some money. Thus, they are fruitive workers, or karmīs. A jñānī is a person who thinks, “Why am I working so hard? The birds, bees, elephants, and other creatures have no profession, yet they are also eating. So why should I unnecessarily work so hard? Rather, let me try to solve the problems of life—birth, death, old age, and disease.” Jñānīs try to become immortal. They think that if they merge into God’s existence, then they will become immune to birth, death, old age, and disease. And yogīs try to acquire some mystic power to exhibit a wonderful show. For instance, a yogī can become very small: if you put him into a locked room, he can come out through any little space. By showing this kind of magic, the yogī is immediately accepted as a very wonderful man. Of course, modern yogīs simply show some gymnastics—they have no real power. But a real yogī has some power, which is not spiritual but material. So the yogī wants mystic power, the jñānī wants salvation from the miseries of life, and the karmī wants material profit. But the bhakta—the devotee—doesn’t want anything for himself. He simply wants to serve God out of love, just as a mother serves her child. There is no question of profit in a mother’s service to her child. Out of pure affection and love, she cares for him.
When you come to this stage of loving God, that is perfection. Neither the karmī, the jñānī, nor the yogī can know God—only the bhakta. As Kṛṣṇasays in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.55), bhaktyā mām abhijānāti: “Only through the process of bhakti can one understand God.” Kṛṣṇa never says one can understand Him by other processes. No. Only through bhakti. If you are interested in knowing God and loving Him, then you must accept the devotional process. No other process will help you.
Ms. Nixon: What transformation does one undergo on the path…
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No transformation—your original consciousness is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Now your consciousness is covered with so much rubbish. You have to cleanse it, and then—Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Our consciousness is like water. Water is by nature clear and transparent, but sometimes it becomes muddy. If you filter all the mud out of the water, it again comes to its original clear, transparent state.
Ms. Nixon: Can one function better in society by becoming Kṛṣṇa conscious?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, you can see that my disciples are not drunkards or meat-eaters, and from a physiological point of view they are very clean—they’ll never be attacked by serious diseases. Actually, giving up meat-eating is not a question of Kṛṣṇa consciousness but of civilized human life. God has given human society so many things to eat—nice fruits, vegetables, grain, and first-class milk. From milk one can prepare hundreds of nutritious foods, but no one knows the art. Instead, people maintain big slaughterhouses and eat meat. They are not even civilized. When man is uncivilized, he kills poor animals and eats them.
Civilized men know the art of preparing nutritious foods from milk. For instance, on our New Vṛndāvana farm in West Virginia, we make hundreds of first-class preparations from milk. Whenever visitors come, they are astonished that from milk such nice foods can be prepared. The blood of the cow is very nutritious, but civilized men utilize it in the form of milk. Milk is nothing but cow’s blood transformed. You can make milk into so many things—yogurt, curd, ghee (clarified butter), and so on—and by combining these milk products with grains, fruits, and vegetables, you can make hundreds of preparations. This is civilized life—not directly killing an animal and eating its flesh. The innocent cow is simply eating grass given by God and supplying milk, which you can live on. Do you think cutting the cow’s throat and eating its flesh is civilized?
Ms. Nixon: No, I agree with you one hundred percent…. One thing I’m very curious about: can the Vedas be taken symbolically as well as literally?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: No. They must be taken as they are, not symbolically. That is why we are presenting the Bhagavad-gītā As It Is.
Ms. Nixon: Are you attempting to revive the ancient Indian caste system in the West? The Gītā mentions the caste system…
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Where does the Bhagavad-gītā mention the caste system? Kṛṣṇa says, cātur-varṇyaṁ mayā sṛṣṭaṁ guṇa-karma-vibhāgaśaḥ:“I created four divisions of men according to their quality and work.” (Bg. 4.13) For instance, you can understand that there are engineers as well as medical practitioners in society. Do you say they belong to different castes—that one is in the engineer caste and the other is in the medical caste? No. If a man has qualified himself in medical school, you accept him as a doctor; and if another man has a degree in engineering, you accept him as an engineer. Similarly, the Bhagavad-gītā defines four classes of men in society: a class of highly intelligent men, a class of administrators, a class of productive men, and ordinary workers. These divisions are natural. For example, one class of men is very intelligent. But to actually meet the qualifications of first-class men as described in the Bhagavad-gītā, they need to be trained, just as an intelligent boy requires training in a college to become a qualified doctor. So in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement we are training the intelligent men how to control their minds, how to control their senses, how to become truthful, how to become clean internally and externally, how to become wise, how to apply their knowledge in practical life, and how to become God conscious. All these boys [gestures toward seated disciples] have first-class intelligence, and now we are training them to use it properly.
We are not introducing the caste system, in which any rascal born in a brāhmaṇa family is automatically a brāhmaṇa. He may have the habits of a fifth-class man, but he is accepted as first class because of his birth in a brāhmaṇa family. We don’t accept that. We recognize a man as first class who is trained as a brāhmaṇa. It doesn’t matter whether he is Indian, European, or American; lowborn or highborn—it doesn’t matter. Any intelligent man can be trained to adopt first-class habits. We want to stop the nonsensical idea that we are imposing the Indian caste system on our disciples. We are simply picking out men with first-class intelligence and training them how to become first class in every respect.
Ms. Nixon: How do you feel about women’s liberation?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: So-called equal rights for women means that the men cheat the women. Suppose a woman and a man meet, they become lovers, they have sex, the woman becomes pregnant, and the man goes away. The woman has to take charge of the child and beg alms from the government, or else she kills the child by having an abortion. This is the woman’s independence. In India, although a woman may be poverty-stricken, she stays under the care of her husband, and he takes responsibility for her. When she becomes pregnant, she is not forced to kill the child or maintain him by begging. So, which is real independence—to remain under the care of the husband or to be enjoyed by everyone?
Ms. Nixon: How about in spiritual life—can women also succeed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: We make no distinction on the basis of sex. We give Kṛṣṇa consciousness to both men and women equally. We welcome women, men, the poor, the rich—everyone. Kṛṣṇa says in the Bhagavad-gītā (5.18):
brāhmaṇe ga vi hastini
śuni caiva śvapāke ca
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brāhmaṇa, a cow, an elephant, a dog, and a dog-eater.”
Ms. Nixon: Could you explain the meaning of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: It is very simple. Hare means, “O energy of the Lord,” and Kṛṣṇa means, “O Lord Kṛṣṇa.” Just as there are males and females in the material world, similarly, God is the original male (puruṣa), and His energy (prakṛti) is the original female. So, when we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa, we are saying, “O Lord Kṛṣṇa, O energy of Kṛṣṇa, kindly engage me in Your service.”
Ms. Nixon: Could you please tell me a little bit about your life and how you knew that you were the spiritual master of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: My life is simple. I was a householder with a wife and children—now I have grandsons—when my spiritual master ordered me to go to the Western countries and preach the cult of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. So I left everything on the order of my spiritual master, and now I am trying to execute his order and the orders of Kṛṣṇa.
Ms. Nixon: How old were you when he told you to go to the West?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: At our first meeting, he ordered me to preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness in the West. I was then twenty-five years old, a married man with two children. I tried my best to carry out his orders and started managing Back to Godhead magazine in 1944, when I was still in household life. I started writing books in 1959 after retiring from family life, and in 1965 I came to the United States.
Ms. Nixon: You have said that you are not God, and yet it appears to me, as an outsider, that your devotees treat you as if you were God.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, that is their duty. Because the spiritual master is executing God’s order, he should be respected as much as God, just as a government officer should be respected as much as the government because he executes the government’s order. Even if an ordinary policeman comes, you have to respect him because he is a government man. But that does not mean he is the government. Sākṣād-dharitvena samasta-śāstrair/ uktas tathā bhāvyata eva sadbhiḥ: ** “The spiritual master is to be honored as much as the Supreme Lord because he is the most confidential servitor of the Lord. This is acknowledged in all revealed scriptures and followed by all authorities.”
Ms. Nixon: I also wonder about the many beautiful material things that the devotees bring you. For instance, you left the airport in a beautiful, fancy car. I wonder about this because…
Śrīla Prabhupāda: That teaches the disciples how to regard the spiritual master as good as God. If you respect the government representative as much as you respect the government, then you must treat him opulently. If you respect the spiritual master as much as God, then you must offer him the same facilities you would offer to God. God travels in a golden car. If the disciples offer the spiritual master an ordinary motorcar, it would not be sufficient, because the spiritual master has to be treated like God. If God comes to your home, will you bring him an ordinary motorcar—or will you arrange for a golden car?
Ms. Nixon: One of the most difficult aspects of Kṛṣṇa consciousness for an outsider to accept is the Deity in the temple—how it represents Kṛṣṇa. Could you talk a little bit about that?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes. At the present moment, because you have not been trained to see Kṛṣṇa, He kindly appears before you so you can see Him. You can see wood and stone, but you cannot see what is spiritual. Suppose your father is in the hospital, and he dies. You are crying by his bedside, “Now my father is gone!” But why do you say he is gone? What is that thing which is gone?
Ms. Nixon: Well, his spirit is gone.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: And have you seen that spirit?
Ms. Nixon: No.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: So you cannot see spirit, and God is the Supreme Spirit. Actually, He is everything—spirit and matter—but you cannot see Him in His spiritual identity. Therefore, to show kindness toward you, He appears out of His unbounded mercy in the form of a wooden or stone Deity so that you can see Him.
Ms. Nixon: Thank you very much.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Hare Kṛṣṇa!
from the: Science of Self Realization
By His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Chapter 1 Learing the Science of the Self