This is the beginning of a new series of Lectures entitled “The Bhagavata Dharma Discourses” which were held at New Vrindavan Farm Community in 1972. It was the third annual Janmastami Celebration held at New Vrindavan, and devotees poured in from everywhere, and even a New York Times Reporter appeared. “On the crown of a lovely green hill in the West Virginia contryside,” his article read, “under the aluminum roof of an open pavilion, the faithful gathered to chant the name of Lord Krsna and kneel at the feet of their spiritual master…A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.”
An interview held during the Bhāgavata Dharma Discourses at New Vrindaban, September 2, 1972. Śrīla Prabhupāda is interviewed by John Nordheimer of the New York Times.
Interview with the New York Times Reporter Jon Nordheimer and His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
September 2, 1972, New Vrindaban
Prabhupada: When we speak of Kṛṣṇa, we mean God. Everyone has some vague idea of God, but no clear idea. Therefore God descends to show what He is. If we speculate on God, someone will think one thing and another person will think another. This is the result of speculation. But if God Himself comes and shows Himself as He is and speaks about Himself, that is perfect knowledge. This Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is spreading that message. God Himself is speaking about Himself: “I am like this; I am like this; My form is like this; My activities are like this; My address is this and that—if you like you can come back to Me. This is the situation. Everyone can come to Me.” All this information is there in Bhagavad-gītā As It Is. In Bhagavad-gītā God speaks about Himself and presents Himself as He is. We have simply to take that information; then we can understand God. As soon as we understand God, we can go home immediately. It is a very simple thing. God says:
janma karma ca me divyam
evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
naiti mām eti so ‘rjuna
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” So God is there; that’s a fact. Anyone can go back to Him and live an eternal life full of bliss and knowledge simply by knowing about it. When God Himself comes, all great ācāryas, stalwart men accept Him: “Yes, He is God.” If we simply understand God, we make a solution to all our problems. What is the problem? Because we are part and parcel of God, we are qualitatively equal with Him. God is eternal, and we are eternal. God is blissful, and we are blissful. God is full of knowledge; we are also full of knowledge. Unfortunately we are hampered by this material body. Therefore our problem is how to get out of this material body and come to our spiritual body. The spiritual body is there, just as our real body is present underneath our shirt and coat. I, you, and every one of us is a spiritual spark, part and parcel of God, and we are placed within a gross and subtle body. When this particular body is finished, we are carried by a subtle body into another gross body. That is called transmigration of the soul. And when we finally get free from the subtle body also, we go back home, back to Godhead. It is that easy. Human beings therefore should endeavor to get out of this gross and subtle body, attain the spiritual body and go back home. That should be the aim of human endeavor. Not that we should simply live like animals. Animals cannot get out of the gross and subtle body because to extricate oneself one must know in fact what God is. An animal cannot know what God is, but a human being can. That is the opportunity afforded by this body; nature gives us this human body just to understand God, and if we simply use it for animal propensities, we again go to the animal kingdom. That is a form of punishment.
John Nordheimer: Prabhupāda, it’s been thirty-five years since you were given this mission by your spiritual master to bring the word of Kṛṣṇa to the West. A lot has happened in the world over that period of time. The world has…
Prabhupāda: That is nothing. That period of time is relative. As human beings, we live for some time-say for a hundred years—but there are demigods who can live for millions of years. And an ant will live for only a few hours. So this is relative. But time is eternal, and what is happening in so-called human history has no consideration from the viewpoint of eternal time. That is all relative. If there is some catastrophe in ant society, the ants may be very much concerned, but human society does not take any notice of it. Similarly, if a catastrophe occurs in human society, the demigods, who are higher than us, do not consider it. Some birds or cats or dogs may be fighting, and for them it may be a catastrophe, but for us it is nothing. This is the relative world, and we should know that what has happened in this world is not worthy of consideration in terms of universal affairs. Things are coming and going like seasonal changes. Arjuna put this question to Kṛṣṇa: “This is a catastrophe! I have to kill my own men.” Although Arjuna believed this to be a catastrophe, Kṛṣṇa likened it to seasonal changes. Mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya śītoṣṇa-sukha-duḥkha-dāḥ [Bg. 2.14]. “O son of Kuntī, the non-permanent appearance of happiness and distress and their disappearance in due course are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons.” In the winter season water is not very pleasant, but in the summer it is very pleasing. What then, is the condition of water? Is it pleasing or not? The water is the same, but in touch with our skin it becomes pleasing or not according to the climatic circumstances. Just because the summer is hot, should I give up cooking? Work must be done. Similarly, just because water is cold in the winter, should I give up my bath? No. These things may come and go, but we have to do our duty. Our duty is Kṛṣṇa consciousness; that is our philosophy, and that is an actual fact. These seasonal changes may come and go in life; sometimes they may please us, and sometimes they may pinch us, but our duty in human life is to understand God. We shouldn’t care for all these catastrophes that come and go. We should have no concern, for their nature is like that—sometimes pleasing and sometimes not pleasing. Despite all this, we have to do our duty, understand God.
John Nordheimer: What about the future? Is it possible to bring more people into Kṛṣṇa consciousness? To expand?
Prabhupāda: Of course there are good men and bad men, and good men are taking to this movement because it is a good movement. “Good” means not having illicit sex, not eating meat, not indulging in intoxication, and not indulging in gambling. If anyone observes these four principles, he is considered a good man, and if he does not observe them, he is a bad man. So good men will take to this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, and bad men will not. We give distinct rules on how to become good, for if one does not become good, how can he understand God, who is all good? First we must become good men; then we can understand God. God is all good, and if we don’t become good we cannot understand Him. That’s all. It’s up to us to make the choice. The past, present and future are open for everyone. There is no restriction; no one says, “This class of men shall be good, and this class of men shall be bad.” Anyone can become good. If we educate a child nicely, he becomes good, but if we train him foolishly, he becomes a rascal. It is the duty of the government, of the father and of the teachers to make everyone good. If the government is bad, if the father is bad, and the society is bad—how can the child be good? Everywhere the government, father and society are bad; and therefore we are producing bad men, and therefore there is no peace and prosperity.
John Nordheimer: What about the men who surround you?
Prabhupāda: They’re all good men.
John Nordheimer: They are good men who were raised in a bad society.
Prabhupāda: No, they were raised in a bad society, but they have chosen to become good.
John Nordheimer: Is that preordained, or is it by free choice?
Prabhupāda: Free choice. What is preordained? You are here of your free choice. If you like, you can sit down and talk with me, and if you don’t like, then you can go. That is your free choice. Free choice makes destiny; if I act in goodness, then my future is good. And if I act badly, my future is bad. That is destiny. Man is the architect of his own destiny. If you are educated, your future is nice, and if you remain foolish, then your future is bad. Future destiny depends on present action. This life is an opportunity to make the next life, and if we behave like human beings, then in our next life we will go back home, back to Godhead. But if we behave like animals, then in the next life we will take animal bodies. That’s all. All this is very nicely described in Bhagavad-gītā. The conclusion is that human beings are meant for understanding God, but if we waste our time understanding dog, and if we become attached to dog, then we will become dogs in our next life. And if we are attached to God, we become like God, in our next life. The choice is ours.
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante
tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ
“All of them—as they surrender unto Me—I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pṛthā.” God is everything, and we can associate with Him according to our choice. The ability to choose, or our conscience, is given to us in the human form so we can utilize it. All the ingredients are there. The spiritual master is there, the scripture is there, and God is there, within you and within me. The atmosphere is calm and quiet, we have a good boat and a good navigator, and the wind is blowing favorably. We should take our chance and cross the ocean. This human body is a very nice boat, and we have a very good navigator, the spiritual master. We also have a very favorable wind—the instructions of God. If we don’t take this opportunity and solve the problems of life, we are cutting our own throat. If you cut your own throat, who can save you? We can say, “Now here is an opportunity. Take it and be saved from birth, old age, disease and death,” but if you don’t take advantage, what can we do?
John Nordheimer: Why does all this exist? Why the challenge in the first place? Why māyā?
Prabhupāda: Māyā means that you are unfortunate. Here it is light, and there it is darkness. If I tell you to come from the darkness into the light and if you don’t come, that is your misfortune. māyā is there, and God is there. If you want to remain in māyā, then how can you be saved? I can help you by saying, “Don’t remain in darkness. Please come out into the light.” But if you say, “No, I shall remain here,” then how can I save you? You have your choice. God is there, and māyā is there. If you take to māyā you remain in māyā. What can I do, and what can God do? That is your choice.
John Nordheimer: Who created māyā, man or God?
Prabhupāda: The government may create a prisonhouse, but why do you go there? Does the government invite you there? No, you become a criminal and go there. The prisonhouse is there and the university is there. Why do some people go to prison rather than the university? The government is not partial to people; it does not say, “You live in this university and be educated, and you go to the prison and live there.” It is in the individual’s choice. Similarly, God has created so many things, but it is our duty to follow God’s instructions. God says, sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: [Bg. 18.66] “Just give up all nonsense and surrender unto Me. I shall give you all protection.” That is God’s declaration. Why don’t you take to that? God is all powerful, and He may create so many things for some purpose, but why don’t you follow God’s instructions? God says, “Surrender unto Me,” so why not surrender? Why surrender to māyā? That is the individual’s choice. Another example: the government does not want the youth to become hippies, but they are abandoning a wealthy life just to lie down in the street. In London I’ve seen many boys lying on the street. Why? We Indians may lie on the street because we are poor, but they are not poor, nor the Americans. Why has some of the younger generation accepted this way of life? You have enough food, enough house, enough money, facilities, machines—everything. Why are they accepting this kind of life?
John Nordheimer: They reject what they see.
Prabhupāda: Yes, but they are coming from respectable fathers, from a respectable nation. Why are they rejecting this mode of civilization?
John Nordheimer: They don’t really find it respectable.
Prabhupāda: Therefore everyone has his choice. That you have to accept. Why do you forget it? God has given us everything, and now it is up to us to make our choice. So God is good, and if we follow His instructions, we become good.
John Nordheimer: What problems do you have in making His word, His instructions reach the ears of everyone in the world?
Prabhupāda: We are not preaching our own words; we are preaching God’s words. Now it is up to you to make your choice. God says to give up all engagements and just surrender unto Him. God says:
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi yuktvaivam
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” I am a member of the political party and am always thinking of Mr. Such and such, my leader. I become a staunch follower of that leader, worship him and offer obeisances to him. So many people are sacrificing their lives simply by following a political leader, and for party superiority they are doing so many things, always thinking of party’s activities, always offering obeisances and worshiping the party’s principles. If all these things are transferred to God, they become good. God says, “Think of Me, become My devotee, worship Me and offer obeisances unto Me.” If we transfer these activities to God, we can become Kṛṣṇa conscious. That is what we are teaching. We advise that what you are doing for some nonsense, do it for God. That is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. It is not difficult. But if I want to love a dog and become a dog in my next life, instead of loving God and becoming like God in the next life, that is my choice. The prison and university are open to everyone, and by making our choice, we can make our future destiny. These boys and girls are worshiping God, and people criticize them, but when a man worships a dog, he is not criticized. In this way society has progressed. When one worships God, he is criticized, and when he worships dog, he is considered a gentleman. So it is folly to be wise where ignorance is bliss.
John Nordheimer: What is the role of women in Kṛṣṇa consciousness?
Prabhupāda: There is no distinction between men and women.
John Nordheimer: I keep hearing about certain propensities women have that would separate them from propensities men have.
Prabhupāda: Well, it is still man’s duty to become the husband and woman’s duty to become the wife; so these propensities are there. But all this can be adjusted. I have many students and am getting them married, and they are living peacefully and advancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Not that everyone is brahmacārī. We have many gṛhasthas and children. In this way the propensities of the women and those of the man are adjusted. A man wants a woman, and a woman wants a man, so we say, “All right, take it. Live peacefully, but don’t change partners.” We don’t allow divorce; once they’re married there is no separation. Nor do we allow boys and girls to live together as friends. If a man wants a woman and a woman wants a man, they should become united by marriage, live peacefully and advance in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That is our proposal. In this way all facilities are there in this movement. Our program is to make people become godly, and everyone should help us. Every sane man should help this movement for the good of society.
John Nordheimer: What about the United States government?
Prabhupāda: Yes, it should come forward. My students here are all United States citizens. I have not imported them from India. They are Americans, and they are in difficulty. So why shouldn’t the government come forward? Their character is being formed, and they are becoming God conscious by participating in this movement. The government is spending millions of dollars to stop LSD and other drug intoxication, but my students are giving up everything simply by following my word. So why isn’t the government coming forward to help me?
John Nordheimer: They don’t care about the people, Prabhupāda.
Prabhupāda: But don’t they want good for their own men? I am stopping American boys and girls from taking LSD and other drugs, and the government is spending millions of dollars to do this. It is only practical that they come forward to support this movement.
John Nordheimer: Understanding is needed, for I know some of the misconceptions that exist about your movement.
Prabhupāda: Are the misconceptions cleared?
John Nordheimer: I hope so.
Prabhupāda: Yes, we invite everyone to come here to listen to our philosophy, take prasādam and sing and dance with us. This program is very nice. We do not make distinctions in human society. We do not say that we shall serve the Indians and not the Americans or the Americans and not the Africans. We are going everywhere with this movement. We take all human beings to be part and parcel of God. Not only human beings, but every living entity—animals also.
John Nordheimer: How many followers do you have?
Prabhupāda: Well, this is a very difficult job, naturally. We don’t have a large number of followers. As soon as you try to sell a diamond, you cannot expect many customers. Nonetheless, a diamond is a diamond, even if there are no customers. The number of customers is not the test. The customer must pay the value of the item. In this society we propose that you give up illicit sex, meat-eating, intoxication and gambling. When people hear this, they go away saying, “Oh, Swamiji is very conservative.” But I cannot become liberal and tell everybody, “Go ahead and do all nonsense and you can become God conscious.” I cannot possibly recommend that. Therefore my first condition is that if someone wants to become my student he has to follow these four regulative principles. Consequently I do not have many followers, but I do have a select few. Because they are select, they will bring about a revolution in the world. One moon is sufficient to dissipate darkness. If there is one moon, there is no need for millions of stars. It is useless to expect a large number of followers. We want only one good follower. If I can get one man to become Kṛṣṇa conscious, I will consider my mission fulfilled. If you talk to whatever small number of followers I have, you will find that they talk better than any great philosopher, better than any scientist or politician. That is the quality of my students. What’s the point in talking nonsense? One’s words may be simple, but they should be valuable. Every day your employer is printing so many newspapers. On Sunday, especially, the paper is so big that one can hardly carry it. But after reading it an hour, people throw it away. Here is this book, Bhagavad-gītā, and people keep it and read it for a lifetime, and in this way it has been read for the past 5,000 years. Give such literature that will be taken and kept forever.
John Nordheimer: (laughing) It’s already been suggested that we (the New York Times) are not divinely inspired. At any rate, this book-
Prabhupāda: If one gets a diamond, he possesses something valuable. But in this civilization you are simply making plastic plates and plastic cups. Indeed, in Japan I have seen pasteboard homes. And everyone is thinking that he is advanced. Formerly people used to have golden and silver utensils, but now they have plastic ones, and still they are very proud to be so materially advanced. What is your position? You have a bunch of paper and think, “I am a millionaire.” What is the value of that paper? Is that not cheating? However, if we possess gold or diamonds worth a million dollars, that is actual wealth. But we are educated in such a way that we think we are millionaires by paper only. As soon as there is some catastrophe, millions of such dollars could not buy bread. This actually happened in Germany; millions of marks could not purchase one piece of bread. All this is going on in the name of advancement of civilization, and the real purpose of life, God consciousness, is missing. So every thoughtful man should come forward to understand this movement and take it seriously. Why are the people being misled? We just have to try to understand this philosophy, the basic principles of God consciousness.
John Nordheimer: Can you really expect to change the whole society?
Prabhupāda: That I have already explained. The change is up to you; it is your choice. If everyone becomes God conscious, the world becomes the kingdom of God.
John Nordheimer: Many people have tried to change the world, but we see that they have failed. Many people have tried to see God, but they do not succeed.
Prabhupāda: That is because their purpose is not strong. That is due to māyā, forgetfulness. Just like darkness and light; if your light is strong, there is no darkness. But if you have no light, or if your light is not very strong, there is darkness. This is the principle: If you want to drive away darkness, you must bring light. That is the only medicine. You don’t have to make a separate endeavor to drive away darkness. As soon as you bring light, darkness will go. The motto of our magazine Back To Godhead is: “Godhead is light, nescience is darkness. Where there is Godhead there is no nescience.” This is also the Vedic injunction: Don’t remain in darkness; come to the light. How is this possible? When I flew to London from Los Angeles, there was no darkness, for we did not allow the sun to set, you remain always in light. This means that if you don’t forget Kṛṣṇa, your life will be successful. If you aim your plane westward and don’t stop, you will remain in sunlight all the time. Similarly, if you remain in Kṛṣṇa consciousness by the simple method of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare, Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, you will never see the darkness. This is because Kṛṣṇa and Kṛṣṇa’s name are absolute; Kṛṣṇa is not different from His name. Kṛṣṇa is light, and if we associate with the name of Kṛṣṇa, we remain in light. Remaining in light is a very simple method; therefore you see all these boys with their beads chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare. In this way māyā cannot touch them. No intoxication, no illicit sex, no meat-eating, no gambling. How can these boys, who have been trained to practice these four items from the beginning of their lives, give them all up? Everything is possible, provided we make the choice. Therefore according to Vedic civilization in the beginning of life you become a brahmacārī. Then you are allowed to marry and become a householder, and after a number of years you remain a husband but abandon sexuality, and that is called vānaprastha.
Finally you take sannyāsa and leave your family to practice and preach Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This is Vedic civilization. Everything is provided to enlighten the people in general. All the knowledge is there, and the method is there; we simply have to take advantage of it. If we do not, how can we expect a peaceful and happy world? If society creates animals, then how can it expect peace and prosperity? In spite of so many big universities and all educational facilities, this society is producing hippies and frustration amongst the youth because we are spirit soul and cannot become happy simply by amassing material comforts. We must have spiritual life. If a fish is taken out of water, it cannot be made happy with all the comforts of land. To be happy, a fish must have all the freedom of water. Similarly, we are all spiritual sparks, and we cannot become happy in matter. We require spiritual food, spiritual atmosphere.
Disciple: Prabhupāda, its time for Bhāgavata Dharma.
Prabhupāda: Bhāgavata Dharma is already finished here. (laughter) You go and speak. (turning to interviewer) At least write in your paper that we are not sentimentalists. We have a large philosophic background. Thank you.
John Nordheimer: Thank you.