A conversation with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place on an early-morning walk in April 1974 in Hyderabad, India.
Srila Prabhupada: How do you instruct the people in general?
Devotee: I try to follow what Lord Caitanya taught, and what is taught in all Vedic literature: that people should understand their relationship with God, learn how to act in that relationship, and know that the goal of life is to come to the stage of pure love of God. So we acquaint people with the principles of devotional service and tell them how they can practice it.
Srila Prabhupada: But people will say, “We have not forgotten God. We go to church regularly. So how have we forgotten God?”
Devotee: Well, we don’t encourage them to change their religion—
Srila Prabhupada: No. Your charge is that they have forgotten God. They will answer, “We have not forgotten God. We are going to church. How have we forgotten God?”
Devotee: Because they’re not actively serving Him. We see that some people say they are theists but they don’t do any practical service for God.
Srila Prabhupada: But what is the meaning of service?
Devotee: Service means acting in a relationship of love. But people are simply serving their stomachs—
Srila Prabhupada: “But if I haven’t got love for God, why am I coming to church?”
Devotee: We are educating them about who God is. They go to church, but they don’t know who God actually is.
Srila Prabhupada: “Whatever He may be, when I offer my prayers I remember God. I don’t have a clear idea, but I have my own conception of God.” So, what is the answer?
Devotee: But there are symptoms of service to God. We don’t discourage Christians from worshiping God in church, but if they’re actually serving God they should show symptoms of developing love of God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is already answered: “If I haven’t got love for God, why am I coming to church? I could use the time I spend in church to earn some money.”
Devotee: But love is not based on sentimentality. Love is practical. We can judge how much a man is developing love for God by what his activities are.
Srila Prabhupada: “So what have you found in me that lets you conclude I have no love for God? What have you seen in me?”
Devotee: You go to church for only one hour all week.
Srila Prabhupada: “That may be—
Devotee: The rest of the time is not spent serving God.
Srila Prabhupada: “But that does not mean I do not love God.”
Devotee: We are spreading love of God all over the world to people who have not developed that love, so if you have love for God you should willingly support this work.
Srila Prabhupada: But the Christians are also preaching. The Christian “missionaries will say, “We are going all over the world. We have made so many Christians. So why do you say that you are better than us? We are doing the same thing as you.”
Devotee: If a person has love of God, though, his love is not simply confined to his own work. God is one, so why not help us?
Srila Prabhupada: “No, no. We are already preaching Christianity all over the world. The number of Christians is greater than the number of Krishna devotees. Our preaching is better than yours.”
Devotee: We are only requesting you to chant Hare Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada: “That is only a process. You are requesting people to chant Hare Krishna; we are requesting them to pray: ‘Give us our daily bread.’ Your process is chanting; ours is prayer. So, there is no difference.”
Devotee: But when we chant Hare Krishna, we are praying to God, “Please let me serve You.”
Srila Prabhupada: “That is already settled. We are also serving: we are preaching Christianity.”
Devotee: But we are serving twenty-four hours a day.
Srila Prabhupada: “That may be. You may be engaged in serving God twenty-four hours a day, and I may be engaged eight hours a day. But that does not mean I have no love for God.”
Devotee: It has already been predicted in the shastra, the Vedic scriptures, that this method of chanting the holy name of God will be accepted by everyone.
Srila Prabhupada: “That may be in your shastra, but we follow our Bible. We go to church and sing hymns.”
Devotee: The fact is that you do not know who God is; you do not know how God works.
Srila Prabhupada: “No. I know in my own way.”
Devotee: They may give all these arguments, but we see that most Christians do not even follow the teachings in their own Bible.
Srila Prabhupada: Here you have come to the real point. If you love God, then why do you disobey Him? Your disobedience means that you do not love God. Jesus Christ says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Then why are you killing so many millions of cows in the slaughterhouses? This is the charge I give to the Christians.
Devotee: But they say, “We are allowed to kill animals. Besides, I accept Christ as my saviour; therefore I’m saved. I’m following Christianity closely.”
Srila Prabhupada: No, no. If you love God, then why are you disobeying His order? There is an open declaration by Jesus Christ: “Thou shalt not kill.” But you are deliberately disobeying him. So where is your love for God?
from Back To Godhead Magazine #20-04, 1985
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
People outside spiritual life sometimes criticize Lord Krishna’s devotees and other spiritual aspirants for having renounced the material world. Spiritualists, the critics say, have abandoned loving relationships and therefore suffer emotional disturbances. For example, Bertrand Russell wrote of “gloomy saints who abstained from all pleasure of sense … denying themselves meat and wine and the society of women … [and in whom] dark terror and misfortunes in the life to come reached their full development.” And as the parent of a devotee of Krishna once expressed, “[The devotees] act as if parents don’t exist. It’s as if the love and care we showed our son mean nothing to him.”
From the Krishna conscious viewpoint, these attitudes are misguided. The religious and philosophical practice of Krishna consciousness not only allows for love but is constituted of nothing but love. In fact, by practicing Krishna consciousness, one gradually comes to realize that supreme love which permeates all beings and objects throughout the universe.
In Sanskrit, Krishna consciousness is called bhakti- yoga, “the yoga of love.” Through bhakti-yoga, one comes to realize that love of Krishna, or God, includes within it love for all created beings. Srila Prabhupada explains this point in his Preface to The Nectar of Devotion, a summary study of Srila Rupa Gosvami’s sixteenth-century devotional classic Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu:
"In the primary stage a child loves his parents, then his brothers and sisters, and as he daily grows up he begins to love his family, society, community, country, nation, or even the whole human society. But the loving propensity is not satisfied even by loving all human society; that loving propensity remains imperfectly fulfilled until we know who is the supreme beloved. Our love can be fully satisfied only when it is reposed in Krishna …"
The Nectar of Devotion teaches us the science of loving every one of the living entities perfectly by the easy and sublime method of loving Krishna.
Since love of God includes love for all living entities, how have some people come to feel that spiritual life does not accommodate love? The confusion has arisen because they have mistaken lust for love. All major world religions distinguish between lust and love, and in the Sri Caitanya- caritamrita (another sixteenth-century devotional classic), Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja describes the distinction as follows: “Lust and love have different characteristics, just as iron and gold have different natures. The desire to gratify one’s own senses is kama [lust], but the desire to please the senses of Lord Krishna is prema [love].”
What we usually consider love, then, is actually an affair of personal sense enjoyment pursued by someone who takes his material body to be himself. Unaware that he is not his body but rather the spirit soul inside the body, he tries to discover love in either the body itself or in a vague, theoretical combination of body and soul. In this way he cheats himself and others by losing sight of the real object of love—Krishna—and his relationships become those of lust alone.
Such is the case not only for illicit sexual encounters but for legally or religiously sanctioned sexual relationships as well. Regardless of where or how sense gratification takes place—whether in the name of personal comfort or public welfare, altruism or nationalism, religion or morality, or even in the name of liberation from material bondage—the root of all sense gratification is lust alone.
But we hold our bodies dear only because the living principle, the soul is within them. And the soul is dear to us only because of its intrinsic relationship with God, the Supreme Soul. Real love, therefore, is the act of giving ecstatic pleasure to the supremely worthy object of love, Krishna. Whatever else passes for love in this world—whether for one’s master, friend, child, or partner—is but a pale reflection of the original love for God lying dormant in all of us and covered by our ignorance. Even the most selfless kind of love in this material world—that of a mother for her children—disappears in time as the children grow up and the mother grows old and dies. But spiritual love is eternally fresh and blissful. When we love God as our friend, lover, or master, we are never cheated.
Real love begins within spiritual life, and spiritual life contains the highest standard of love in all relationships, including those of the family. In fact, true family life begins only when the husband and wife share mutual God consciousness. By performing their family duties in the spirit of service to Krishna, devotees renounce the lustful materialistic side of their relationships while allowing that part which is sanctified and true to blossom fully. Thus the loving relationships between mother and child or husband and wife become perfect when based on love of Krishna. And if a family lacks Krishna consciousness, then alienation between family members, child abuse, divorce, and other problems are inevitable.
Krishna is the supreme father, and He extends His love to all living creatures, regardless of their karma or bodily situation. The devotee, through practical, realized knowledge of his eternal identity as the servant of Krishna, sees the spiritual equality of all Krishna’s creatures and loves them as His sons and daughters. Thus the devotee becomes situated in the consciousness of the universal yet personal family of all living beings. Out of this higher, spiritual love, the devotee thus spares the lives of the birds and the beasts who, like him, are children of God’s creation.
Yet we often meet those who acknowledge the existence of God and even profess love for Him while at the same time claiming to “love” the taste of animal flesh. They will sometimes even invent theologies in which God supposedly forgives their lust provided they express “love” for Him. In truth, however, it is simply a demoniac perversion to call by the name “love” that by which God’s creatures suffer extreme pain and violent death so someone can gratify his tongue. And the fact is that after our present material bodies die, we must transmigrate into another body according to what we actually love. This is the law of karma, which is God’s law, and which is based on His love for us. As St. Bernard of Clairvaus wrote in his Love of God, “[Love] is the very substance of the Godhead; and my assertion is neither novel nor extraordinary, since St. John says, ‘God is love’ (John 4:8)…. Love is the eternal law whereby the universe was created and is ruled … and nothing is left outside the realm of [that] law.”
So, if we don’t love God, we must love something less. Therefore everyone should take at least the first steps toward developing his love for God. The ultimate goal of life should not be left in the hands of a few rare saints.
from Back To Godhead Magazine #18-08, 1983
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
On a television program in Gainesville, Florida, in 1971, the interviewer asked Srila Prabhupada a controversial question:
“In what way, sir, do you think that the teaching of love of God that you are preaching is different and perhaps better than the teachings of love of God that were being conducted in this country and have been conducted in the rest of the world for centuries?”
Srila Prabhupada replied that he was not opposed to any religion and that anyone in the world could chant the name of God.
But the interviewer was looking for debate:
“There must have been an element of dissatisfaction on your part with the way Godhead was being professed in this part of the world before you came. Otherwise, there would have been no sense in your coming.”
“Not just in this part of the world,” Srila Prabhupada admitted, “but practically everywhere there is very little interest in God. They have more interest in dog.”
But we may well ask, “Why such criticism? Aren’t today’s religions teaching people to love God?”
Not necessarily. People often cultivate a materialistic approach to God. They pray for material possessions and worldly happiness, regarding God more as their order supplier than as their object of love. Some television evangelists, for instance, hint at the instant material benefits God can give to those who simply phone in and pledge a donation. On one show, a young husband admitted that at first he had given to the TV church only because his wife had nagged him. But when he discovered that his financial condition was improving, he too became a believer.
Giving to God for profit is common to religions and denominations the world over; but it constitutes the poorest, lowest class of religion. It affords some spiritual benefit, of course, since the practitioner at least recognizes God’s control, but it is more business than devotion.
A more advanced (though still deficient) approach to God is salvationism. When one realizes that this world is temporary and full of suffering, he doesn’t try to enjoy it anymore; he seeks release. He sees God as the savior—the mitigator of suffering and sorrow, the deliverer from the cycle of birth and death. Thus the Salvationist, like the materialist, also approaches God only for what God will do for him.
The Vedic scriptures teach us that the path of salvation is not only selfish but also unsuccessful. By meditating on the eternal and by subduing material desires, a Salvationist may enter the eternal realm, but he must return to the material world because of his failure in developing a personal, loving relationship with the Supreme Lord.
So why is love of God—love free of ulterior motives—so rarely understood? One reason is that most scriptures give but little information of God as a person. We hear “God is great, “but we don’t hear much detail about His greatness. Therefore, people find little impetus to love God and serve Him. There’s an old atheistic joke that going to hell is better than going to heaven because in hell you’ll be with all your friends. Such ignorance of God as the greatest personality and the most lovable, attractive friend is lamentable.
The Vedic scriptures abound with information of how God is great. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna explains how He works in the spiritual world and in the material world. Conditioned souls caught in the material world are described in terms of karma and reincarnation, and the entire material world is described as God’s energy. The spiritual world is also described, as are God’s activities. His name, His form, and His relationships with His eternal loving associates. Anyone who hears these descriptions in a spirit of submissive inquiry will come to know the Supreme Lord within his heart.
Many worshipers, both materialistic and salvationistic, consider God to be ultimately impersonal. Although they may speak of God as “the Father,” if pressed for a description of the Father they say that He is without form, without face, a nonperson, an energy, an all-pervading light. According to the Vedic scriptures, however, these impersonal aspects are subordinate to the eternal, personal form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yes, God has His impersonal aspects, but ultimately He is the Supreme Person.
When, through the practice of genuine spiritual life, we come to know God, we become no longer interested in religions that do not propound the highest truth. God then attracts us by His own being, and we simply want to serve Him. Lord Caitanya prays, “I do not want any wealth, women, or followers. I want only Your causeless devotional service, birth afterbirth.”
The special contribution of the Krishna consciousness movement is that it gives us the method for practicing pure love of God, even while we’re engaged in our daily activities in the material world. The chanting of the holy name of God, for example, is not a method for gaining material benefits or for merging with the all-pervading consciousness. But by chanting God’s holy name. God reveals Himself to us—as the all-attractive friend, the eternal well- wisher, the most beloved.
Formerly, such realization of our loving relationship with God was obtained only by great saints and mystics, but through the mercy of Lord Caitanya it is available to anyone. It’s not difficult. All of us can chant the names of God, and if we do so under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, we can attain the highest stage of spiritual realization: pure love of God.
Religious denominations abound, but one seriously looking for the essence of spiritual life can easily become disappointed. We invite those who are looking for their pure relationship with God to consider the path of Krishna consciousness as it is presented through the Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad-gita As It Is and the Srimad- Bhagavatam, and through the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.