Civilization and Transcendence
Civilization and Transcendence
In June of 1976, Bhavan's Journal, a Bombay cultural and religious magazine, sent various religious and spiritual leaders a questionnaire, seeking enlightened answers to some of the perplexing questions of the day, such as the place of religion in modern society.
One recipient of their questionnaire was Srila Prabhupada, who took the opportunity to make a thorough presentation of the ideal Vedic civilization, show the faults of modern society from the viewpoint of transcendence, and offer practical solutions based on Krishna conscious teachings.
His answers to Bhavan's Journal were later compiled and published as Civilization and Transcendence, a compact and lively book of questions and answers like this:
Srila Prabhupada: We are sometimes labeled "escapists." What is the charge?
Disciple: They say we are escaping from reality.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, escaping your fruitless endeavor.
Chapter 1. Religion With No Conception of God
Chapter 2. Progressing Beyond “Progress”
Chapter 3. Concocted Religion
Chapter 4. Caste System Cast Out
Chapter 5. Eternal Truths vs. Everyday Realities
Chapter 6. The Ultimate Knowledge
Chapter 7. Getting Spiritual Guidance
Chapter 8. Civilization Means Regulation
Chapter 9. Cleansing the Heart
Chapter 10. The Process of Purification
Chapter 11. “Feel the Oneness”…with a Difference
Chapter 12. How to Love God
Chapter 13. The Way to Peace
Chapter 14. Return to Real Life
Pushta Krishna: “The traditional charge against Hinduism is that it is fatalistic, that it inhibits progress by making people slaves to the belief in the inevitability of what is to happen. How far is this charge true?”
Srila Prabhupada: The charge is false. Those who have made that charge do not know what “Hinduism” is. First of all, the Vedic scriptures make no mention of such a thing as “Hinduism.” but they do mention sanatana-dharma, the eternal and universal religion, and also varnashrama-dharma, the natural organization of human society. That we can find in the Vedic scriptures.
So it is a false charge that the Vedic system inhibits the progress of mankind. What is that “progress”? A dog’s jumping is progress? [Laughter.] A dog is running here and there on four legs, and you are running on four wheels. Is that progress?
The Vedic system is this: The human being has a certain amount of energy—better energy than the animals’, better consciousness—and that energy should be utilized for spiritual advancement. So the whole Vedic system is meant for spiritual advancement. Human energy is employed in a more exalted direction than to compete with the dog.
Consequently, sometimes those who have no idea of religion notice that the Indian saintly persons are not working hard like dogs. Spiritually uncultured people think the dog race is life. But actual life is spiritual progress. Therefore the Srimad-Bhagavatam[1.5.18] says,
tasyaiva hetoh prayateta kovido
na labhyate yad bhramatam upary adhah
tal labhyate duhkhavad anyatah sukham
kalena sarvatra gabhira-ramhasa
The human being should exert his energy for that thing which he did not get in many, many lives. Through many, many lives the soul has been in the forms of dogs or demigods or cats or birds or insects. There are 8,400,000 material forms. So this transmigration is going on, but in every one of these millions of forms, the business is sense gratification. The dog is busy for sense gratification: “Where is food? Where is shelter? Where is a mate? How to defend?” And the man is also doing the same business, in different ways.
So this struggle for existence is going on, life after life. Even a small insect is engaging in the same struggle— ahara-nidra-bhaya-maithunam—eating, sleeping, defending, and mating. Bird, beast, insect, fish—everywhere the same struggle: “Where is food? Where is sex? Where is shelter? How to defend?” So the shastra [scripture] says we have done these things in many, many past lives, and if we don’t get out of this struggle for existence, we’ll have to do them again in many, many future lives. So these things should be stopped.
Therefore Prahlada Maharaja advises his friends [Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.6.3],
sukham aindriyakam daitya
sarvatra labhyate daivad
yatha duhkham ayatnatah
“My dear friends, material pleasure—which is due simply to this material body—is essentially the same in any body. And just as misery comes without our trying for it, so the happiness we deserve will also come, by higher arrangement.” A dog has a material body, and I have a material body. So my sex pleasure and the dog’s sex pleasure is the same. Of course, a dog is not afraid of having sex on the street, in front of everyone. We hide it in a nice apartment. That’s all. But the activity is the same. There is no difference.
Still, people are taking this sex pleasure between a man and woman in a nice decorated apartment as very advanced. But this is not advanced. And yet they are making a dog’s race for this “advancement.” Prahlada Maharaja says we are imagining that there are different types of pleasure on account of different types of body, but the pleasure is fundamentally the same.
Naturally, according to the different types of body, there are some external differences in the pleasure, but the basic amount and quality of this pleasure has very well defined limitations. That is called destiny. A pig has a certain type of body, and his eatable is stool. This is destined. You cannot change it—“Let the pig eat halava.” That is not possible. Because the soul has a particular type of body, he must eat a particular type of food. Can anyone, any scientist, improve the standard of living of a pig? Is it possible? [Laughter.]
Therefore Prahlada Maharaja says that everything about material pleasure is already fixed. The uncivilized men in the jungle are having the same sex pleasure as the so-called civilized men who boast, “Instead of living in that hut made of leaves, we are living in a skyscraper building. This is advancement.”
But Vedic civilization says, “No, this is not advancement. Real advancement is self-realization—how much you have realized your relationship with God.”
Sometimes people misunderstand, thinking that sages who try for self-realization are lazy. In a high-court a judge is sitting soberly, apparently doing nothing, and he is getting the highest salary. And another man in the same court—he’s working hard all day long, rubber-stamping, and he is getting not even one-tenth of the judge’s salary. He’s thinking, “I am so busy and working so hard, yet I am not getting a good salary. And this man is just sitting on the bench, and he’s getting such a fat salary.” The criticism of Hinduism as “inhibiting progress” is like that: it comes out of ignorance. The Vedic civilization is for self-realization. It is meant for the intelligent person, the person who will not just work like an ass but who will try for that thing which he did not achieve in so many other lives—namely, self-realization.
For example, we are sometimes labeled “escapists.” What is the charge?
Disciple: They say we are escaping from reality.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we are escaping their reality. But their reality is a dog’s race, and our reality is to advance in self-realization, Krishna consciousness. That is the difference. Therefore the mundane, materialistic workers have been described as mudhas, asses. Why? Because the ass works very hard for no tangible gain. He carries on his back tons of cloth for the washerman, and the washerman in return gives him a little morsel of grass. Then the ass stands at the washerman’s door, eating the grass, while the washerman loads him up again. The ass has no sense to think, “If I get out of the clutches of this washerman, I can get grass anywhere. Why am I carrying so much?”
The mundane workers are like that. They’re busy at the office, very busy. If you want to see the fellow, “I am very busy now.” [Laughter.] So what is the result of your being so busy? “Well, I take two pieces of toast and one cup of tea. That’s all.” [Laughter.] And for this purpose you are so busy?
Or, he is busy all day simply so that in the evening he can look at his account books and say, “Oh, the balance had been one thousand dollars—now it has become two thousand.” That is his satisfaction. But still he will have the same two pieces of bread and one cup of tea, even though he has increased his balance from one thousand to two thousand. And still he’ll work hard. This is why karmis are called mudhas. They work like asses, without any real aim of life.
But Vedic civilization is different. The accusation implied in the question is not correct. In the Vedic system, people are not lazy. They are very busy working for a higher purpose. And that busy-ness is so important that Prahlada Maharaja says, kaumara acharet prajno: [Bhag. 7.6.1] “Beginning from childhood, one should work for self-realization.” One should not lose a second’s time. So that is Vedic civilization.
Of course, the materialistic workers—they see, “These men are not working like us, like dogs and asses. So they are escaping.”
Yes, escaping your fruitless endeavor.
The Vedic civilization of self-realization begins from the varnashrama system of social organization. Varnashramacaravata purushena parah puman vishnur aradhyate: [Cc. Madhya 8.58] “Everyone should offer up the fruits of his occupational duty to the lotus feet of the Lord Vishnu , or Krishna.” That is why the Vedic system is called varnashrama—literally, “social organization with a spiritual perspective.”
The varnashrama system has four social and four spiritual divisions. The social divisions are the brahmanas [teachers and priests], kshatriyas [administrators and military men], vaishyas [farmers and merchants], and shudras [laborers and craftsmen], while the spiritual divisions are the brahmacaris [students], grihasthas [householders], vanaprasthas [retirees], and sannyasis [renunciants]. But the ultimate goal is vishnur aradhyate—the worship of the Supreme Lord, Vishnu , by all. That is the idea.
But the members of the modern so-called civilization do not know of varnashrama. Therefore they have created a society that is simply a dog’s race. The dog is running on four legs, and they are running on four wheels. That’s all. And they think the four-wheel race is advancement of civilization.
Vedic civilization is different. As Narada Muni says, tasyaiva hetoh prayateta kovido na labhyate yad bhramatam upary adhah: [Bhag. 1.5.18] the learned, astute person will use this life to gain what he has missed in countless prior lives—namely, realization of self and realization of God. Someone may ask, “Then shall we do nothing?” Yes do nothing simply to improve your material position. Whatever material happiness is allotted for you by destiny, you’ll get it wherever you are. Take to Krishna consciousness. You’ll get these other things besides.
“How shall I get them?”
How? Kalena sarvatra gabhira-ramhasa: by the arrangement of eternal time, everything will come about in due course. The example is given that even though you do not want distress, still distress comes upon you. Similarly, even if you do not work hard for the happiness that is destined to be yours, still it will come.
Similarly, Prahlada Maharaja says, na tat-prayasah kartavyam: you should not waste your energy for material happiness, because you cannot get more than what you are destined to have. That is not possible. “How can I believe it—that by working harder I will not get more material happiness than I would otherwise have had?”
Because you are undergoing so many distressing conditions even though you do not want them. Who wants distress? For example, in our country, Mahatma Gandhi was killed by his own countrymen. He was a great man, he was protected by so many followers, he was beloved by all—and still he was killed. Destiny. Who can protect you from all these distressing conditions?
“So,” you should conclude, “if these distressing conditions come upon me by force, the other kind of condition, the opposite number, will also come. Therefore why shall I waste my time trying to avoid distress and gain so-called happiness? Let me utilize my energy for Krishna consciousness.” That is intelligence. You cannot check your destiny. The magazine’s question touches on this point.
Pushta Krishna: Yes, the usual charge is that this Vedic system of civilization is fatalistic, and that as a result people are not making as much material progress as they otherwise would.
Srila Prabhupada: No, no, the Vedic system is not fatalistic. It is fatalistic only in the sense that one’s material destiny cannot be changed. But your spiritual life is in your hands. our point is this: The whole Vedic civilization is based on the understanding that destiny allows only a certain amount of material happiness in this world, and that our efforts should therefore be directed toward self-realization. Nobody is enjoying uninterrupted material happiness. That is not possible. A certain amount of material happiness and a certain amount of material distress—these both must be present always. So just as you cannot check your distressing condition of life, similarly you cannot check your happy condition of life. It will come automatically. Therefore, don’t waste your time with these things. better you utilize your energy for advancing in Krishna consciousness.
People do not know what real progress is. The Vedic civilization is not interested in the false progress of economic development. For instance, something people boast, “We have gone from the hut to the skyscraper.” They think this is progress. But in the Vedic system of civilization, one thinks about how much he is advanced in self-realization. He may live in a hut and become very advanced in self-realization. But if he wastes his time turning his hut into a skyscraper, then his whole life is wasted. Modern so-called civilization is simply a dog’s race. The dog is running on four legs, and modern people are running on four wheels. The learned, astute person will use this life to gain what he has missed in countless prior lives—namely, realization of self and realization of God.