The Soul of Psychology and the Psychology of the Soul
A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
On October 3, 1972, psychologist Dr. Gerald Frazer visited His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada at ISKCON’s world headquarters, in Los Angeles. Their conversation follows.
Dr. Frazer: I am curious to know what you do when one of your students has a problem on the physical or emotional platform. Do you help that person over his problem by getting him to transcend it, by rising above it?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, we speak only on the transcendental platform, not on the bodily or mental or intellectual platform. We recognize four platforms: the bodily or sensual platform; then, above that, the mental platform; above that, the intellectual platform; and above that, the spiritual platform.
First of all, our direct perception is on the sensual platform, by sense perception (indriyani parany ahuh). For example, now I am directly seeing your tape recorder—this is the sensual platform. But if you describe your tape recorder to me, then I see it on the mental platform. These two visions—sensual and mental—are different. And when an electronics expert thinks of how to improve the tape recorder, he is seeing on the intellectual platform. That is another vision. So, even in the material realm, there are three visions, three platforms: sensual, mental, and intellectual. And above all these is the spiritual platform. On this platform is the soul, who experiences the world through the material senses, mind, and intelligence.
So, we speak on the spiritual platform. We know that if someone is spiritually sound, then he will be intellectually, mentally, and physically sound as well. That is our proposition. When you have one hundred dollars, then you also have fifty dollars, twenty-five dollars, and ten dollars. So, we train our students spiritually. For spiritual understanding, they have to rise early in the morning, they have to take a bath, they can eat only krishna-prasada [vegetarian foods offered to Lord Krishna], and they refrain from certain things. In this way, their physical and hygienic problems are automatically solved. We don’t spend very much in doctor’s bills. In the last seven years, I have not had one doctor’s bill. And most of our students are not troubled by physical disease.
Good health actually depends on the presence of the spirit soul within the body. Within your body is you, the spirit soul. And because the spirit soul is there, your body looks healthy. But as soon as the spirit soul is gone from your body, your body will immediately begin to decompose. This is the distinction between a living body and a dead body. When the spirit soul is within a body, it is called a living body, and as soon as the spirit soul is not there, it is called a dead body. Therefore, you should always keep yourself spiritually fit. Then you will keep mentally, intellectually, and physically fit.
Now, as far as the spirit soul is concerned, do you have any conception of it?
Dr. Frazer: Some conception.
Srila Prabhupada: And what is that?
Dr. Frazer: My words cannot describe it very well. It is the inexpressible, ineffable essence of both me and you.
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is not an explanation. That is a negation. Unless we actually perceive and know the spirit soul, there is no question of spiritual knowledge.
Dr. Frazer: When you talk about the spirit soul, you seem to refer to that part of me I feel most when I am not using my physical senses.
Srila Prabhupada: Your physical senses are working due to the presence of the spirit soul. You are moving your hand because the spirit soul is within you. And as soon as the spirit soul is gone from your body, your body becomes simply a lump of matter.
Dr. Frazer: So, matter is separate from the spirit soul?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The soul is the vital force, the moving force, that is in you, that is in me, that is in the ant, that is in the elephant, that is everywhere.
Dr. Frazer: Is it in our bodies after we are dead?
Srila Prabhupada: Death means you are gone from your body. But other spirit souls are there in your body in so many germs, parasites, and so on. There are innumerable individual spirit souls in your body.
Dr. Frazer: Individual spirit souls?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. You are an individual, I am an individual, everyone is an individual
Dr. Frazer: And what is there about all spirit souls that is the same?
Srila Prabhupada: The quality is the same. Just as (since you are a human being and I am a human being) you have two hands and I have two hands, you have two legs and I have two legs, and so on. But still, you and I are different. That is individuality. Understanding that is Krishna consciousness.
Dr. Frazer: What happens when someone comes to you, and he is caught up in a problem in, say, the physical or mental plane, and he can’t understand the spiritual plane. Do you tie him into the spiritual plane so that he can transcend his problem?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, that is the purpose of the Krishna consciousness movement. If someone comes to the Krishna conscious platform, then he has no more problems, either physical, mental, or intellectual.
Dr. Frazer: What I am especially curious about is how you bring someone to Krishna consciousness when he approaches you. Do you have a healing process?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Just as you heal by some psychiatric process, so we also heal by this Krishna consciousness.
Dr. Frazer: Could you say a bit about that process?
Srila Prabhupada: It is the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra. This chanting is just like the process for curing snakebite. Have you seen snake charmers in India? We have them there still. If someone is bitten by a snake and is lying unconscious, the snake charmer can gradually awaken him by chanting a certain mantra. This is a material process. Similarly, we are spirit souls, and everyone of us is either psychologically or physically diseased. So, by this chanting of Hare Krishna we awaken the consciousness that cures all our physical, mental, and intellectual diseases.
Dr. Frazer: It would seem that someone would have to have a certain kind of mentality for the chanting to be of assistance.
Srila Prabhupada: No. We create the healthy mentality simply by chanting. We chant, and we ask him to join us in chanting. Then he is cured intellectually, mentally, and physically.
Dr. Frazer: There are many people who would not do that. They seek healing from other individuals and not from themselves—not from what they can achieve through internal concentration or chanting. They are not used to looking within.
Srila Prabhupada: Nevertheless, we have so many students who have been cured of all mental, physical, and intellectual problems simply by chanting. There are so many students. You can talk to any of them.
Dr. Frazer: After they’ve gone through the process to get to Krishna consciousness, do your students stay in the temple, or do they go out into the community and work at regular jobs?
Srila Prabhupada: Some of them do that. This student [gestures toward a devotee} is a doctor of chemistry. He is doing his job, but he is in Krishna consciousness. And there are many professors and many workers in our movement. One doesn’t have to live in the temple. No. He can live outside, but he keeps his Krishna consciousness. However, within the temple it is easier to remain Krishna conscious because of the association of devotees. Their association is an important influence.
Dr. Frazer: Do you teach control of the body?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. No meat-eating, no intoxication, no illicit sex, no gambling. These are some of the no’s. And there are so many yeses. "Do’s" and "do nots"; that is control of the body. Our students do not go to the cinema or restaurants. They do not even smoke, drink tea or coffee—nothing. We have no such expenditures, and almost no doctor’s bills.
Dr. Frazer: You said no illicit sex. What is permissible sex?
Srila Prabhupada: Permissible sex means, first of all, sex only with one’s wife. One must be married, and with his wife he can have sex once in a month after the menstrual period. And when his wife is pregnant, no more sex life. This is permissible sex.
Dr. Frazer: Do you impose any punishment for illicit sex?
Srila Prabhupada: Punishment will be there automatically, by nature’s way. As soon as you violate nature’s law, you will be punished. Suppose you are eating. If you eat a little more than you need, you will be punished. That is nature’s law. If you have too much sex, then you become impotent. That is nature’s punishment for too much sex indulgence. And if you indulge in all these prohibited things—illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling—then you will never understand spiritual consciousness. That is the greatest punishment. If you do not understand spiritual life, you remain like an animal, in ignorance. So, in spite of getting the chance of a human body, if we remain like animals, is this not the greatest punishment?
Dr. Frazer: I suppose it is, but how can we end this ignorance?
Srila Prabhupada: As soon as you understand God, then your knowledge is perfect. If you do not understand God, then your knowledge is imperfect. The animals cannot be educated about God, but human beings can. Therefore, there are so many scriptures in the human society. But if you don’t take advantage of this human life to understand God, then you remain an animal.
Dr. Frazer: Have you seen people who have understood God, who have been Krishna conscious, but who have regressed back to the bodily, mental, or intellectual platforms?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Just as you may be cured of a disease but again become infected and have a relapse, so you may also become Krishna conscious but again fall down into material life. But if you always keep yourself spiritually fit, then there is no chance of downfall.
Dr. Frazer: Could you tell me what the essence of Krishna consciousness is?
Srila Prabhupada: To understand God.
Dr. Frazer: To understand God and to do what is most natural—to follow the natural laws?
Srila Prabhupada: The essence of Krishna consciousness is to know God and to love Him. That is our proposition. Human life is meant for understanding God and loving Him.
Dr. Frazer: I can easily follow what you are saying. Krishna consciousness seems to involve doing what’s most natural. Overeating, overindulging in sex, overdoing anything is not natural.
Srila Prabhupada: First of all, the basic principle of understanding is that you are a spirit soul—you are not your body. But because you have accepted a body, you have to suffer so many bodily troubles. All our troubles are due to this material body. Therefore, this material body itself is our problem.
Dr. Frazer: Since, as you mentioned before, the spirit soul and the body are always different, does the perfectly realized soul feel physical distress? In other words, can someone in Krishna consciousness get a physical disease?
Srila Prabhupada: The body is subject to physical disease. How can I avoid it? But if I do not identify with my body, then the disease will not bother me. For example, suppose two men are sitting in a very nice car. Somehow or other the car is damaged. The man who possesses the car is afflicted, but the other man is not, although they are both sitting in the same car. Why is this? Can you explain this psychologically? The owner is afflicted—he is concerned—but his friend is not concerned. What is the cause of the owner’s distress?
Dr. Frazer: His possession.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. The owner is absorbed in possession: “Oh, my car is ruined!” But because the friend has no sense of possession, he is not affected. In the same way, the body is different from the soul, and when you come to the consciousness of not possessing your body, then there is no trouble.
Dr. Frazer: So, someone in Krishna consciousness may come down with a bodily illness, but he won’t be afflicted by it spiritually?
Srila Prabhupada: No, he won’t be afflicted. He is just like the man who is perfectly detached from his car: “All right, the car is damaged. I will lose some money, but it doesn’t matter.” But another man, who is very much absorbed in possession, thinks, “Oh, my car is damaged!” In the same way, one who is absorbed in bodily identification is more afflicted, and one who is not absorbed, who knows that he is not his body, is not afflicted. It is a question of consciousness. A Krishna conscious person may become diseased, but he simply says, “Oh, it comes and goes. It doesn’t matter. Let me do my duty. Hare Krishna.” This is the difference. It is a question of development of consciousness.
Dr. Frazer: What do you do when someone preoccupied with bad thoughts comes to you?
Srila Prabhupada: When someone is absorbed in thoughts of Krishna, there is no scope for bad thoughts. You can think of only one subject matter at a time, so if you are absorbed twenty-four hours a day in thoughts of Krishna, then there is no question of bad thoughts.
Dr. Frazer: If I understand you correctly, Krishna conscious people are cured of bad thoughts just by getting away from them—not by expressing the thoughts and getting away from them, but by not expressing the thoughts and getting away from them.
Srila Prabhupada: The process is like this: a man comes to our society with bad thoughts, but by chanting, chanting, chanting, he becomes relieved of these bad thoughts.
Dr. Frazer: He doesn’t talk about the bad thoughts to anyone?
Srila Prabhupada: He may talk or not talk; it doesn’t matter. But the bad thoughts go away.
Dr. Frazer: One thing I don’t quite understand. You and the people around you often seek to proselytize strangers, to involve new people. Why is that?
Srila Prabhupada: You also proselytize. When a madman goes to you, you turn him into a sane man. Is that not proselytizing?
Dr. Frazer: Yes, but he comes to me. Your people go out to other people.
Srila Prabhupada: So we are better friends to those who are suffering. You charge fees, but we canvass without any personal gain. Therefore, we are better friends than you.
Dr. Frazer: What if someone says no to you?
Srila Prabhupada: Then it is no. Suppose a fruit vendor is canvassing, “Here is a nice mango.” That does not mean everyone will buy. The mango is good. Because someone does not buy it, that does not mean the mango is bad. It is his misfortune that he did not buy the nice mango.
Dr. Frazer: I was just thinking of what you said about charging a fee. How else could professional people make a living?
Srila Prabhupada: Of course. You are a professional, but we are not professionals. We distribute our knowledge without demanding a personal salary. We distribute such an exalted thing—Krishna consciousness—without any desire for our own profit.
Dr. Frazer: Yet it seems to me that when a person joins you he gives you his time, he gives you his energy—
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, he gives everything. Take these devotees, for instance. They have given everything. Why do they give everything? We don’t charge anything. Do you think they are all fools to give everything for Krishna? What is your idea?
Dr. Frazer: They may do whatever they wish. They want to give everything.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. And that is natural—to give everything to Krishna. That is the sane condition. To withhold anything from Krishna is an insane condition. It is something like stealing from this temple. Suppose someone takes this box without my knowledge. He will be in tribulation: “Oh, I have taken this without Swamiji’s knowledge! What will he think?” But he is cured of all this trouble when he returns the box. Similarly, everything belongs to Krishna. Everything belongs to God. Nothing belongs to me, not even this body. Therefore, to offer everything to Krishna is the sane condition of life. So, when someone comes to Krishna consciousness, he returns every thing that he has received from Krishna. This is sanity. Everyone else is a thief, enjoying another's property and claiming it to be his. For example, take your country, the United States of America. Do you think it is actually your country? Two hundred years ago it did not belong to you; it belonged to the red Indians. Now you are claiming it to be your country. Why? After another two hundred years it might belong to others. So, why is it your country now? Similarly, God has given us this life, God has given us this body. God has given us this mind, God has given us everything. Therefore, everything belongs to God, and to come to this understanding is called Krishna consciousness.
Dr. Frazer: What about other philosophical studies—
Srila Prabhupada: Actually, by philosophical study we have to understand that everything belongs to God. That is the original philosophy: ishavasyam idam sarvam: “Everything belongs to God.” You, I, and everyone else belong to God, and since we are all children of God, we have the right to use God’s property—but not more than what we require. Now, you are God’s son, I am God’s son, and everything is God’s property. So, you may enjoy your father’s property, and I may enjoy it, but when you encroach on my property so that I starve, that is illegal. If we accept that everything belongs to God, and that we are all sons of God—every one of us, even animals, insects, birds, bees, trees—then we all have the right to use God’s property—but no more than what is required. That is God consciousness.
Dr. Frazer: Well, I certainly agree with that, but again, my own conflict is whether Krishna consciousness is the only consciousness for everyone.
Srila Prabhupada: Other consciousness is partial. Krishna consciousness is full. For instance, American national consciousness—that is partial. But when you speak of Krishna consciousness, that is complete.
Dr. Frazer: How is it more complete than Hinduism?
Srila Prabhupada: We are talking of God, not Hinduism or Christianity. God is for everyone. God is neither Hindu nor Christian; He is for everyone. Simply love God. It doesn’t matter whether you are Hindu or Christian or Muslim or whatever.
Dr. Frazer: Thank you for seeing me and talking with me.
Srila Prabhupada: Thank you very much. Hare Krishna.