A philosophical essay, New York, 1966 written By Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Posted by Devarsirat Das
The whole world is divided into factions, and each accuses the others of being crazy. But if there are no criteria by which to judge sanity, then who can decide?
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaishyasi yuktvaivam
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, engage your body in My service and surrender unto Me. Completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”—Bhagavad-Gita 9.34
Here Krishna says that one should always think of Him, be His devotee and worship Him. This is the process of devotional service; it is not very difficult, and anyone can execute it by thinking of God, offering obeisance’s and rendering some service unto Him. Generally people identify with some party, either socially, politically, economically or religiously. In America there are the Republican and Democratic parties, and on the international scale there are the capitalists and the communists. Religiously, people identify with a party as Christian, Moslem, Hindu and so on. In India there are social parties also, like the brahmanas and kshatriyas. In short, to avoid belonging to some party or other is not possible. Spiritualism, however, means that we should identify ourselves with God’s party.
On this platform also there is “party-ism” in that the spiritualists call the materialists crazy, and the materialists call the spiritualists crazy. We have formed a Society for Krishna Consciousness, and those who do not like it say that we are “crazy.” Who, then, is actually crazy? Who decides? How are the parties involved capable of deciding? Indeed, the whole world is divided into parties, each accusing the others of being crazy, but if there are no criteria by which to judge sanity, then who can decide? If we ask any man, any common man on the street, what he is, he will reply, “I am this body.” He may give some further explanation by saying that he is Christian, or Hindu, or Jewish, or that he is Mr. So-and-So, or whatever, but all these are simply designations he attaches to the body. In other words, they all arise from the body. When a person says that he is an American, he is referring to the body because by some accident or reason he is born into the land of America and so takes the title of an American. But that is also artificial because the land is neither American nor French, nor Chinese, nor Russian, nor anything—land is land. We have simply artificially created some boundaries and said, “This is America, this is Canada, this is Mexico, Europe, Asia, India.” These are our concoctions, for we do not find that these lands were originally divided in this way. Three or four hundred years ago this land was not even known as America, nor was it even inhabited by white men from Europe. Even a thousand years ago Europe was inhabited by different peoples and called different names. These are all designations that are constantly changing. From the Vedic literatures we can understand that this whole planet was known as Ilavarta-varsha, and one king, Maharaja Bharata, who ruled the entire planet, changed the name of the planet to Bharata-varsha. Gradually, however, the planet became divided again, and different continents and sectors became known by different names. Even recently India has been divided into a number of countries, whereas earlier in the century India had included Burma, Ceylon and East and West Pakistan. In actuality the land is neither Bharata-varsha, India, Europe, Asia or whatever—we simply give it these designations in accordance with time and influence.
Just as we give the land designations, we also give our bodies designations, but no one can say what his designations were before birth. Who can say that he was American, Chinese, European or whatever? We are thinking that after leaving this body we will continue as American or Indian or Russian. But although we may live in America during this life, we may be in China in the next, for we are constantly changing our bodies. Who can say that he is not changing bodies? When we are born from the womb of our mother, our body is very small. Now, where is that body? Where is the body we had as a boy? We may have photographs that remind us what the body was like in past years, but we cannot say where that body has gone. The body may change, yet we have the feeling that we do not change. “I am the same man,” we think, “and in my childhood I looked like this or like that.” Where have those years gone? They have vanished along with the body and everything that came in contact with it. But although everything is changing at every moment, we are still sticking to our bodily identification so that when we are asked what we are, we give an answer that is somehow or other related to this body. Is this not crazy? If a person identifies with something he is not, he is considered crazy. The conclusion is that one who identifies with the body cannot really be considered sane. This, then, is a challenge to the world: Whoever claims God’s property or earth as belonging to his body, which is constantly changing, can only be considered a crazy man. Who can actually establish that this is his property or that this is his body? By the chances of nature a person is placed in a body and is dictated to by the laws of material nature. Yet in illusion we think we are controlling that nature.
Therefore Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita:
gunaih karmani sarvashah
kartaham iti manyate
“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by nature.”—Bhagavad-gita 3.27)
Prakriteh kriyamanani: Material nature is pulling everyone by the ear, just as a stern teacher pulls a student. Every individual is under the dictations of material nature and is being put sometimes in this body and sometimes in that. We are now fortunate to have acquired a human body, but we can easily see that there are many other types of bodies (8,400,000 according to Padma Purana) and by the laws of nature we can be put into any type of body according to our work. Thus we are completely in the grip of material nature. Although this lifetime we may be fortunate in acquiring a human body, there is no guarantee that the next time we will not have the body of a dog or some other animal. All this depends on our work. No one can say, “After my death, I will take my birth again in America.” Material nature will force us into this body or that. Since we are not authorities, Bhagavad-gita informs us that everything is being conducted by the supreme laws of nature, and it is the foolish man who thinks, “I am something. I am independent.” Ahankara-vimudhatma: this is false reason. Although the living entity is different from the body, he thinks, “I am this body.” Therefore Shankaracharya basically preached the same message over and over: aham brahmasmi, “I am not this body; I am Brahman, spirit soul.”
Nonetheless, even when we have resolved to take to the path of self-realization, maya or illusion persists. By self-realization a person may come to realize that he is not the body but a spiritual soul. What then is his position? Void? Impersonal? People think that after the demise of this body there is nothing but nirvana or void. The impersonalists similarly say that as soon as the body is finished, one’s personal identity is finished also. In actuality, however, the body can never be identified with the living entity any more than a car can be identified with its driver. A person may direct a car wherever he wishes, but when he gets out of the car he does not think that his personality is gone. In Bhagavad-gita Krishna speaks of the living entity in this way
hrid-deshe ’rjuna tishthati
“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.”—Bhagavad-gita 18.61)
These various bodies are like cars, and they are all moving. One person may have an expensive kind of car, and another person may have an inexpensive one; one person may have a new car, and another person may have an old one. Should we then think that when we are out of the car of the body the personality no longer exists? This is another kind of craziness. The void philosophy, which maintains that after death we become nothing, is also a craziness that has been contradicted. We are not void but spirit. When one attains spiritual realization, knowing himself as spirit outside the body, he can advance further by inquiring about his duty as spirit. “What is my spiritual work?” he should ask. Realizing one’s spiritual identity and asking about one’s spiritual duty is actual sanity. So much individuality and discrimination are displayed by the living entity even in the body. Should we think that at death one’s intelligence, discrimination and individuality no longer exist? Although we may make such great plans and work so hard within the body, are we to assume that when we leave the body we become void? There is no basis for this nonsense, and it is directly refuted by Krishna at the very beginning of Bhagavad-gita:
na tv evaham jatu nasam
na tvam neme janadhipah
na chaiva na bhavishyamah
sarve vayam atah param
dehino ’smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanam jara
dhiras tatra na muhyati
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.”—Bhagavad-gita 2.12–13)
Thus the spiritual identity of the individual soul continues after death, for Lord Krishna assures Arjuna of the eternality of all the individual souls assembled on the battlefield. The spiritual spark or self is within the body from the moment the body begins to form within the womb of the mother, and it continues existing in the body as the body undergoes all of its changes through infancy, childhood, youth and old age. This means that the person who is within the body is present from the moment of conception. The measurement of this individual soul is so small that the Vedic scriptures approximate it to be no larger than one ten-thousandth part of the tip of a hair—in other words, as far as human vision is concerned, it is invisible. One cannot see the soul with material eyes, but the soul is there nonetheless, and the fact that the body grows from the shape of a pea to full-grown manhood is proof of its presence. There are six symptoms of the soul’s presence, and growth is one of them. If there is growth, or change, one should know that the soul is present within the body. When the body becomes useless, the soul leaves it, and the body simply decays. One cannot directly perceive the soul’s leaving the body, but one can perceive it symptomatically when the body loses consciousness and dies. In the Second Chapter of Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna gives the following simile to illustrate this process:
vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya
navani grihnati naro ’parani
tatha sharirni vihaya jirnany
anyani samyati navani dehi
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”—Bhagavad-gita 2.22)
Although the soul takes on new bodies, the soul does not select the bodies himself, the selection is made by the law of nature. However, the mentality of the soul does affect the selection, as indicated by Krishna in the following verse:
yam yam vapi smaran bhavam
tyajaty ante kalevaram
tam tam evaiti kaunteya
“In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail.”—Bhagavad-gita 8.6)
As one’s thoughts develop, his future body also develops. The sane man understands that he is not the body, and he also understands what his duty is: to fix his mind on Krishna so that at death he can attain Krishna’s nature. This is the advice of Krishna in the last verse of the Ninth Chapter:
man-mana bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yaji mam namaskuru
mam evaishyasi yuktvaiva
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, engage your body in My service and surrender unto Me. Completely absorbed in Me, surely will you come to Me.”—Bhagavad-gita 9.34)
Every embodied soul is in the constant act of thinking. To refrain from thinking something is not possible for a moment. The duty of the individual, therefore, is to think of Krishna. There should be no difficulty in this, nor any harm; Krishna has pastimes and activities, He comes to earth and leaves His message in the form of Bhagavad-gita, and there are so many literatures about Krishna that thinking of Him is neither a difficult nor costly task. There are enough literatures on Krishna to last one a lifetime, so there is no shortage of material. Thinking of Krishna, however, should be favorable. If a man is employed, he may always be thinking of his employer: “I must get there on time. If he sees me late, he may deduct from my paycheck.” This kind of thinking will not do. It is necessary to think of Krishna with love (bhava mad-bhaktah). In the material world when the servant thinks of the master, there is no love; he is thinking only of pounds, shillings and pence. Because that kind of thinking will not save us, Krishna requests that one just be His devotee.
Thinking of Krishna with love, or devotion to Krishna, actually means service. The spiritual master prescribes various duties to enable the neophyte devotee to think of Krishna. In the Society for Krishna Consciousness, for instance, there are so many duties assigned: printing, writing, typing, dispatching, cooking, and so on. In so many ways the students are thinking of Krishna because they are engaged in the service of Krishna.
What is the duty indicated by Krishna? Mad-yaji mam namaskuru. Even if we are not inclined to obedience, we must obey and offer respects (namaskuru). Bhakti, or devotion, minus respect is not bhakti. One should engage in Krishna consciousness with love and respect and should thus fulfill his designated duties. Then life will be successful. One can never be happy by identifying himself with the material body and engaging in all kinds of nonsensical activities. For happiness, there must be consciousness of Krishna; that is the difference between spiritualism and materialism. The same typewriter, dictation machine, tape recorder, mimeograph machine, paper, ink, the same hand—on the surface, everything is the same, but everything becomes spiritualized when it is used in the service of Krishna. This, then, is spiritual. We should not think that something has to be uncommon to be spiritual. The entire material world can be transformed into spirit if we simply become Krishna conscious. By ardently following the instructions of Krishna in Bhagavad-gita and following in the footsteps of the great acharyas, teachers of Bhagavad-gita in the line of disciplic succession, we can spiritualize the earth and restore its inhabitants to sanity.
Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada