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The Religion Beyond All Religions


In June 1976 at New Vrindaban, the Hare Krishna movements farm community in West Virginia, Srila Prabhupada fields questions sent to him from the editors of Bhavan’s Journal, one of Bombay’s leading cultural and religious periodicals.

Devotee: Here is the first question:

“It is said that the greatest strength of Hinduism is its catholicity, or breadth of outlook, but that this is also its greatest weakness in that there are very few religious observances that are obligatory for all, as in other religions. Is it necessary and possible to outline certain basic minimum observances for all Hindus?”

Srila Prabhupada: As far as Vedic religion is concerned, it is not for the Hindus; it is for all living entities. That is the first thing to be understood. Vedic religion is called sanatana-dharma, “the eternal occupation of the living entity.” The living entity is sanatana [eternal]. God is sanatana, and there is sanatana-dharma. sanatana-dharma is meant for all living entities, not just the so- called Hindus. Hinduism, this ‘ism’, that ‘ism’—these are all misconceptions. Historically, sanatana-dharma was followed regularly in India, and Indians were called ‘Hindus’ by the Muslims. The Muslims saw that the Indians lived on the other side of the River Sind, and the Muslims pronounces Sind as Hind. Therefore they called India ‘Hindustan’ and the people who lived there ‘Hindus’. But the word Hindu has no reference in the Vedic literature, nor does so-called Hindu dharma. Now that sanatana-dharma or Vedic dharma, is being distorted, not being obeyed, not being carried our properly, it has come to be known as Hinduism. But that is a freak understanding. We have to study sanatana-dharma; then we’ll understand what Vedic religion is. [To a devotee] Read from the Eleventh Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, eighteenth verse.

Devotee: [Reads.]

tvam aksharam paramam veditavyam
tvam asya vishvasya param nidhanam
tvam avyayah shashvata-dharma-gopta
sanatanas tvam purusho mato me

“O Lord Krishna, You are the supreme primal objective; You are inexhaustible, and You are the oldest; You are the maintainer of religion, the eternal Personality of Godhead.”

Srila Prabhupada: This understanding is wanted. Krishna is eternal, we are eternal, and the place where we can live and exchange our feelings with Krishna—that is eternal. And the system that teaches this eternal process of reciprocation—that is sanatana-dharma, which is meant for everyone.

Devotee: So what would be the daily prescribed religious observances followed by one who is aspiring for this sanatana-dharma? What would he do? The complaint is that within Hinduism—or, let’s say, sanatana-dharma—there is such a breadth, there is so much variegatedness in different types—

Srila Prabhupada: Why do you go to variegatedness? Why don’t you take the real purpose of religion from Krishna? Krishna says [Bg. 18.66], sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: “Give up all other so-called dharmas and just surrender to Me.” Why don’t you take that? Why are you taking up variegated practices under the name of so-called Hinduism? Why don’t you take the advice of the sanatana, Krishna? You refuse to accept sanatana- dharma—what the sanatana, God, says—but you say, “How can we avoid so many varieties and come to the right point?” Why accept varieties? Take to this one consciousness: sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja. Why don’t you do that?

Devotee: How can people do this practically, on a daily basis?

Srila Prabhupada: How are we doing it? Is what we are doing not practical? People will manufacture their own impractical way of religion, but they won’t take our practical system. What is that? Man- mana bhava mad-bhakto mad-yaji mam namaskuru: simply think of Krishna, become His devotee, worship Him, and offer obeisances to Him. Where is the difficulty? Where is the impracticality? Krishna says, “This is your duty. If you do this you will come to Me without any doubt.” Why don’t you do that? Why remain Hindu? Why remain Muslim? Why remain Christian? Give up all this nonsense. Just surrender to Krishna and understand, “I am a devotee of Krishna, a servant of Krishna.” Then everything will immediately be resolved.

Devotee: But the Hindus would say, “There are so many other aspects to Hindu dharma.”

Srila Prabhupada: Real dharma is defined in Srimad-Bhagavatam: dharmam tu sakshad bhagavat- pranitam. “What God says—that is dharma.” Now, God says, “Give up all other dharmas and just surrender unto Me.” So take that dharma. Why do you want to remain a Hindu? And besides, what Hindu does not accept the authority of Krishna? Even today, if any Hindu says, “I don’t care for Krishna and Bhagavad-gita” he will immediately be rejected as a madman. Why don’t you take Krishna’s instruction? Why go elsewhere? Your trouble is that you do not know what religion is and you do not know what sanatana-dharma is. In our Krishna consciousness society there are many who were formerly so-called Hindus, so- called Muslims, and so-called Christians, but now they don’t care for “Hindu” or “Muslim” or “Christian.” They care only for Krishna. That’s all. If you follow a false religious system, you suffer; but if you follow a real religious system, you’ll be happy.

Unfortunately, the Indian people gave up the real religious system—sanatana-dharma, or varnashrama- dharma—and accepted a hodgepodge thing called “Hinduism.” Therefore there is trouble. Vedic religion means varnashrama-dharma, the division of society into four social classes and four spiritual orders of life. The four social classes are the brahmanas [priests and intellectuals], the kshatriyas [political leaders and military men], the vaishyas [merchants and farmers], and the shudras [manual laborers]. The four spiritual orders are the brahmacaris [celibate students], the grihasthas [householders], the vanaprasthas [retired persons], and the sannyasis [renunciants]. When all these classes and orders work harmoniously to satisfy, the Lord, that is real religion, or dharma.

Devotee: The next question is this: “In the Kali-yuga, the present Age of Quarrel, bhakti [devotional service to God] has been described as the most suitable path for God realization. Yet how is it that Vedantic teachings, with their accent on jnana [knowledge, or intellectual speculation], are emphasized by noted savants?”

Srila Prabhupada: The so-called Vedantists are cheaters; they do not know what vedanta is. But people want to be cheated, and the cheaters are taking advantage of them. The word veda means “knowledge,” and anta means “end.” So the meaning of vedanta is “the ultimate knowledge,” and the vedanta- sutra teaches this. (A sutra is an aphorism: in a few words, a big philosophy is given.) The first aphorism in the vedanta-sutra is athato brahma- jijnasa:

“Now, in the human form of life, one should inquire about Brahman, the Absolute Truth.” So the study of the vedanta-sutra begins when one is inquisitive about the Absolute Truth. And what is that Absolute Truth? That is answered in a nutshell in the second aphorism. Janmady asya yatah: “Brahman is the origin of everything.” So Brahman is God, the origin of everything. And all veda, or knowledge, culminates in Him. This is confirmed by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita [15.15]. Vedaish ca sarvair aham eva vedyah: “The purpose of all the Vedas, all books of knowledge, is to search out God.”

So the whole vedanta-sutra is a description of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. But because in this Kali-yuga people will not be able to study vedanta-sutra nicely on account of a lack of education, Srila Vyasadeva personally wrote a commentary on the vedanta-sutra. That commentary is Srimad-Bhagavatam {bhashyam brahma-sutranam). Srimad-Bhagavatam is the real commentary on the vedanta-sutra, written by the same author, Vyasadeva, under the instruction of Narada, his spiritual master. Srimad-Bhagavatam begins with the same aphorism as the vedanta-sutra, janmady asya yatah, and then continues, anvayad itaratash cartheshv abhijnah svarat.

So, actually, in the Srimad-Bhagavatam the vedanta-sutra is explained by the author of the vedanta-sutra. But some rascals, without understanding the vedanta-sutra, without reading the natural commentary on the vedanta-sutra, are posing themselves as Vedantists and misguiding people. And because people are not educated, they’re accepting these rascals as Vedantists. Actually, the so-called Vedantists are bluffers; they are not Vedantists. They do not know anything of the vedanta. The vedanta-sutra is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam, and if we take Srimad-Bhagavatam as the real explanation of the vedanta-sutra we can understand what vedanta is. But if we take shelter of the bluffers, then we will not learn vedanta. People do not know anything, so they can be bluffed and cheated by anyone. But now they should learn from the Krishna consciousness movement what vedanta is and what the explanation of vedanta is. Then they will be benefited.

Devotee: Generally, those who follow the impersonalist commentary on the vedanta-sutra are concerned with liberation from the miseries of the material world. Does Srimad-Bhagavatam also describe liberation?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Since Srimad- Bhagavatam is the real commentary on the vedanta- sutra, we find this verse describing liberation in this age:

kaler dosha-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krishnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet

In this Kali-yuga, which is an ocean full of faults, there is one benediction. What is that? One can become liberated simply by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. This is real vedanta, and actually it is happening.

Devotee: Are you saying that the conclusion of the vedanta-sutra and the conclusion of the Srimad-Bhagavatam are one and the same—bhakti?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes.

Devotee: But how does bhakti tie in to the conclusion of Vedantic knowledge or wisdom? Here it says that bhakti is the most suitable and easiest path of God realization, but it also says that the Vedantic teachings stress jnana, or knowledge. Is that a fact?

Srila Prabhupada: What is jnana? That is explained by Lord Krishna in Bhagavad-gita [7.19]: bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate. “After many, many births, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me.” So unless one surrenders to Krishna, there is no jnana. This impersonalist “jnana” is all nonsense. The impersonalists are passing themselves off as jnanis, but they have no knowledge at all. vedanta means “the ultimate knowledge.” So the subject matter of ultimate knowledge is Krishna, God. If one does not know who God is, who Krishna is, then where is one’s knowledge? But if a rascal claims, “I am a man of knowledge,” then what can be done?

In the same verse we just mentioned, Krishna concludes, vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah: “When one understands that Vasudeva, Krishna, is everything, one is in knowledge.” Before that, there is no knowledge. It is simply misunderstanding. Brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti shabdyate. One may begin by searching out impersonal Brahman by the speculative method, and then one may progress to realization of Paramatma, the localized aspect of the Supreme. That is the secondary stage of realization. But the final stage is understanding the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. So if you do not understand Krishna, where is your knowledge? Halfway knowledge is no knowledge. We want complete knowledge, and that complete knowledge is possible by the grace of Krishna, through Bhagavad-gita.

Devotee: Can I ask the next question, Srila Prabhupada? “Is a guru essential for one to enter the spiritual path and attain the goal? And how does one recognize one’s guru?

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a guru is necessary. That is explained in the Bhagavad-gita. When Krishna and Arjuna were talking as friends, there was no conclusion. Therefore Arjuna decided to accept Krishna as his guru. [To a devotee} Find out this verse: karpanya-doshopahata-svabhavah …

Devotee: [Reads]

karpanya-doshopahata-svabhavah
pricchami tvam dharma-sammudha- cetah
yac chreyah syan nishcitam bruhi tan me
shishyas te ‘ham shadhi mam tvam prapannam

“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” [Bg. 2.7]

Srila Prabhupada: Not only Arjuna but everyone is perplexed about his duty. Nobody can decide for himself. When a physician is seriously sick, he does not prescribe his own treatment. He knows his brain is not in order, so he calls for another physician. Similarly, when we are perplexed, bewildered, when we cannot reach any solution—at that time the right person to search out is the guru. It is essential; you cannot avoid it.

So, in our present state of existence we are all perplexed. And under the circumstances, a guru is required to give us real direction. Arjuna represents the perplexed materialistic person who surrenders to a guru. And to set the example Arjuna decided on Krishna as his guru. He did not go to anyone else. So the real guru is Krishna. Krishna Krishna is guru not only for Arjuna but for everyone. If we take instruction from Krishna and abide by that instruction, our life is successful. The mission of the Krishna consciousness movement is to get everyone to accept Krishna as guru. That is our mission. We don’t say, “I am Krishna.” We never say that. We simply ask people, “Please abide by the orders of Krishna.”

Devotee: Some of these so-called gurus will say some things that Krishna says, but they’ll give other instructions also. What is the position of such persons?

Srila Prabhupada: They are most dangerous. Most dangerous. They are opportunists. According to the customer, they give some teachings so he will be pleased. Such a person is not a guru; he’s a servant. He wants to serve his so-called disciples so that they may be satisfied and pay him something. A real guru is not a servant of his disciples; he is their master. If one becomes a servant, if he wants to please the disciples by flattering them to get their money, then he is not a guru. A guru should also be a servant, yes—but a servant of the Supreme. The literal meaning of the word guru is “heavy”—heavy with knowledge and authority, because his knowledge and authority come from Krishna. You cannot utilize the guru for satisfying your whims.

Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: “Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me.” And we say the same thing:

“Surrender to Krishna. Give up all other ideas of so- called dharma, or religiosity.” We don’t say, “I am the authority.” No, we say, “Krishna is the authority, and you should try to understand Krishna.” This is the Krishna consciousness movement.