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On Service, the Soul, and the Supreme


The following exchange between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a Jesuit priest took place in May 1975 at the Hare Krishna center in Melbourne.

Priest: Do you have what I might call a training in contemplation?

Srila Prabhupada: We worship God in nine ways. One is smaranam, remembering God’s activities. That is contemplation.

Priest: You know, in Christian mysticism we have a process of contemplation that St. Theresa of Avila described in her book Interior Mansion. Anybody is able to make an ordinary prayer, but the real mystic prayer is not given to everyone.

Srila Prabhupada: Our mystic prayer is to think of God’s activities. Anyone can do it.

Priest: Ours is not so much thinking of God’s activities as just being open to receive love, getting to that real stillness and quiet in which—

Srila Prabhupada: No. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is not stillness. Stillness is the neutral stage of love of God, when you stop your material activities.

Priest: Could you further describe this neutrality?

Srila Prabhupada: It is simply the stage of realizing that God is great. That is neutrality. But real devotional service begins when one understands, “Because God is so great, I should serve Him. Why am I uselessly rendering service to this world? Why not render service to God?” That stage is called dasyam, or servitude. That is the beginning of bhakti-yoga.

Material activity simply entangles us in the repetition of birth and death. This is called pravritti-marga, “activity for sense enjoyment.” Everyone is busy working for sense enjoyment. The tiger is busy. The hog is busy. The dog is busy. And if a man also becomes busy for sense enjoyment like the tigers and hogs and dogs, then in his next life he may become one of those species of life.

Priest: When one reaches a higher stage of activity, when he really loves all mankind—

Srila Prabhupada: That is a concoction—mental speculation. Why should you love only mankind? Why not love the tigers, the dogs, and all other species of life?

Priest: Because human beings are my brothers and sisters.

Srila Prabhupada: But the tigers and dogs are also your brothers and sisters, because you all have a common father—God. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad- gita [5.18],

vidya-vinaya-sampanne
brahmane gavi hastini
shuni caiva shva-pake ca
panditah sama-darshinah

Priest: What does that mean?

Srila Prabhupada: That a truly learned man sees every living being with equal vision. In other words, he doesn’t make any spiritual distinction between you and a dog. You have a soul that is covered by a human body, and a dog has a soul covered by a dog’s body. But both of you are souls—part and parcel of God.

Priest: Would you say that souls are of different values?

Srila Prabhupada: No, all souls are of the same value.

Priest: That I find hard to accept, because, as I understand it, the soul of man is immortal but the soul of an animal is not. An animal’s “soul” is not really a soul at all but a principle of life, something Aristotle called a psyche. Therefore, man has higher value than the animals.

Srila Prabhupada: No, spiritually they are of equal value, although materially their bodies may be of different gradations. It is just like the different gradations of motorcars. A man sitting in a Rolls Royce thinks he is very important, and a man sitting in a Ford or Chevrolet thinks he is poor. But as men both of them are equal. Similarly, the body of a human being and the body of a dog are just different machines, but the souls are of the same quality—part and parcel of the Supreme Soul, Krishna.

Priest: That is hard to understand—that my soul and your soul are part of the Supreme Soul—because the Supreme Soul is infinite and we are finite. Therefore we cannot, added up together, make God.

Srila Prabhupada: No, I don’t say that. We are finite, and God is infinite. If all souls were combined together, they would still be finite, not infinite. Ninety billion zeroes cannot make one. So, I don’t say that combined together we shall be equal to God. But the quality of God is there in all souls. God is like the vast ocean, and we are like drops of ocean water. The drops contain the same chemicals as the vast ocean, but in minute degree.

Priest: So we have God’s qualities in imitation.

Srila Prabhupada: Not imitation. Actually, all souls do have God’s qualities, just as a particle of gold has the same qualities as the gold in the mine. A small fragment of gold is certainly gold, but it is not equal to all the gold in the gold mine. So our philosophy is acintya-bhedabheda-tattva, “the inconceivable simultaneous oneness and difference of God and His energies.” In other words, we are one with God in quality but different from Him in quantity.

God has creative power, and we also have creative power. But God has created millions of planets that float in space, and we have created the 747 that floats in the air. Yet we want to take more credit.

Priest: That is the sin of pride.

Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is false pride. Modern scientists are taking false pride in their accomplishments and saying there is no need of God—“There is no God. We can do everything.” This is their foolishness.