The word ātma-prajñaptaye indicates that the Lord descends for the benefit of the human race to give transcendental knowledge. Material necessities are quite sufficiently provided for in the knowledge given in the Vedic literatures, which offer a program for good living and gradual elevation to the platform of sattva-guṇa, the mode of goodness. Once one is situated in sattva-guṇa, one's knowledge expands. On the platform of passion there is no knowledge, for passion is an impetus to enjoy material benefits. On the platform of ignorance there is neither knowledge nor enjoyment but simply animalistic living.
The Vedas are intended to elevate one from the mode of ignorance to the platform of goodness. When one is situated in the mode of goodness, he is able to understand knowledge of the self, or transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge cannot be appreciated by any ordinary man; therefore a disciplic succession is required. This knowledge is expounded either by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself or by His bona fide devotee. Śaunaka Muni also states here that Kapila, the incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, took birth or appeared simply to disseminate transcendental knowledge. To understand that one is not matter but spirit soul (ahaṁ brahmāsmi: "I am by nature Brahman") is not sufficient for understanding the self and his activities. One must be situated in the activities of Brahman. Knowledge of those activities is explained by the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Such transcendental knowledge can be appreciated in human society but not in animal society, as clearly indicated here by the word nṛṇām, "for the human beings." Human beings are meant to lead a regulated life. By nature, there is regulation in animal life also, but that is not like the regulative life described in the scriptures or by the Vedic authorities. Only when one's life is regulated according to the Vedas can one understand transcendental knowledge.
For the propagation of this transcendental knowledge, Kapiladeva, the incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, gave instructions in Sāṅkhya philosophy to His mother, Devahūti. Later, another Kapiladeva appeared who expounded atheistic Sāṅkhya philosophy, which dealt with the twenty-four elements but gave no information about God. The original Kapila is called the Devahūti-putra Kapila, and the other is called the atheist Kapila. Concerning Kapiladeva, Śaunaka Ṛṣi says, kapilas tattva-saṅkhyātā. Kapila is the Supreme Person; therefore He can explain the Absolute Truth. Actually only Bhagavān can know the true position of the ultimate truth. No one else can know it. Bhagavān, Kṛṣṇa or His incarnation, occasionally visits the earth to give humanity information about the aim of life. Thus the Supreme Lord descended as Kapiladeva, tattva-saṅkhyātā. The word saṅkhyātā means "expounder," and tattva means "the Absolute Truth." The Absolute Truth is Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself. We cannot understand the Absolute Truth or the Supreme Person by mental speculation, especially when we are under the influence of the three modes of material nature (sattva-guṇa, rajo-guṇa and tamo-guṇa). Only those who are situated in sattva-guṇa (the mode of goodness) are fit to understand the Absolute Truth. According to Bhagavad-gītā (18.42), those possessing brahminical qualifications are situated in sattva-guṇa.
- śamo damas tapaḥ śaucaṁ
- kṣāntir ārjavam eva ca
- jñānaṁ vijñānam āstikyaṁ
- brahma-karma svabhāva jam
"Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge and righteousness - these are the qualities by which the brāhmaṇas work."
According to the Vedic conception, there must be men in society who are factually brāhmaṇas, capable of expounding the real truth. If everyone becomes a śūdra, the Absolute Truth cannot be understood. It is said that at the present moment in Kali-yuga everyone is a śūdra (kalau śūdra-sambhavāḥ), and it is very difficult in this age to find qualified brāhmaṇas, for they are very rare. There is practically not a single qualified brāhmaṇa in this age.
- prāyeṇālpāyuṣaḥ sabhya
- kalāv asmin yuge janāḥ
- mandāḥ sumanda-matayo
- manda-bhāgyā hy upadrutāḥ
"O learned one, in this iron age of Kali men have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky and, above all, always disturbed." (SB 1.1.10) The people in this age are very short-lived and slow in understanding spiritual life. Actually human life is meant for understanding spiritual values, but because everyone in this age is a śūdra, no one is interested. People have forgotten life's real purpose. The word manda means both slow and bad, and everyone in this age is either bad or slow or a combination of both. People are unfortunate and disturbed by so many things. According to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there will eventually be no rain and consequently a scarcity of food. The governments will also levy very heavy taxes. The characteristics of this age predicted by Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam are already being experienced to some degree. Since Kali-yuga is a very miserable age, Caitanya Mahāprabhu, who is Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself, advises everyone simply to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa (CC Adi 17.21):
- harer nāma harer nāma
- harer nāmaiva kevalam
- kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
- nasty eva gatir anyathā
"In this age of Kali there is no alternative, there is no alternative, there is no alternative for spiritual progress than the holy name, the holy name, the holy name of the Lord." (Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa) This process is not Caitanya Mahāprabhu's invention, but is advised by the śāstras, the purāṇas. The process for this Kali-yuga is very simple. One need only chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra. Since everyone in this age is an unintelligent, unfortunate and disturbed śūdra, how can anyone understand the Absolute Truth or the aim of life? As stated by the Lord Himself in Bhagavad-gītā (4.7):
- yadā yadā hi dharmasya
- glānir bhavati bhārata
- abhyutthānam adharmasya
- tadātmānaṁ sṛjāmy aham
"Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion - at that time I descend Myself."
Some hundreds and thousands of years ago Lord Kṛṣṇa appeared as Devahūti-putra Kapiladeva. His father's name was Kardama Muni. After Kapiladeva grew up, His father, according to the Vedic system, retired, took sannyāsa and left home to cultivate spiritual life. It is not that one should rot in this material world throughout one's whole life. Pañcāśordhvaṁ vanaṁ vrajet. According to the Vedic injunctions, there are four āśramas and four varṇas, and these used to be followed very strictly. After his son grew up, Kardama Muni, being a strict follower of the Vedas, left home and put his wife in the charge of his grown son, Kapiladeva.
It is said of Kapiladeva: kapilas tattva-saṅkhyātā bhagavān. Lord Kapila is Bhagavān. Nowadays Bhagavān is taken very cheaply because the word is misused, but actually Bhagavān is not an ordinary man. Avajānanti māṁ mūḍhāḥ: (BG 9.11) because Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa appeared as a human being, fools and rascals (mūḍhas) consider Kṛṣṇa an ordinary human. As Kṛṣṇa Himself states in Bhagavad-gītā (7.13):
- tribhir guṇamayair bhāvair
- ebhiḥ sarvam idaṁ jagat
- mohitaṁ nābhijānāti
- mām ebhyaḥ param avyayaṁ
"Deluded by the three modes (goodness, passion and ignorance), the whole world does not know Me, who am above the modes and inexhaustible."
Yet there are mahātmās, great souls, who can understand Kṛṣṇa. Arjuna could understand that although Kṛṣṇa was playing the part of his friend, He was nonetheless the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Arjuna was in perfect knowledge, yet Kṛṣṇa instructed him for our benefit. Arjuna requested Kṛṣṇa's instructions, which are set forth for all human society. After hearing Bhagavad-gītā, Arjuna addressed Kṛṣṇa as paraṁ brahma paraṁ dhāma (BG 10.12), "the Supreme Brahman and supreme abode."
Every person is actually Brahman, spirit soul. We are not actually the body. Awareness of ahaṁ brahmāsmi ("I am Brahman") is actual self-realization. According to Vedic culture, one must understand that he is Brahman, not the body. We should not remain in ignorance like cats and dogs, thinking, "I am this body, I am American, I am Indian, I am brāhmaṇa, I am kṣatriya, I am Hindu, I am Muslim," and so on. These are all bodily designations. When one comes to spiritual understanding, he understands ahaṁ brahmāsmi, "I am Brahman." This is called Brahman realization. It is not that we become Brahman by some practice. Gold is gold, even if it is covered with some dirt, which can certainly be removed. Similarly, we are all Brahman, spirit soul, but somehow or other we have come in contact with these material elements (bhūmir āpo 'nalo vāyuḥ (BG 7.4)), and we have acquired bodily coverings. Consequently we think, "I am this body." This is ignorance, and unless one is enlightened by spiritual knowledge, he remains animalistic.
Understanding one's spiritual identity is called dharma. The ultimate goal of dharma is enunciated by Śrī Kṛṣṇa Himself in Bhagavad-gītā (18.66). Sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: "Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me." On this earth we have created so many dharmas - Hindu dharma, Muslim dharma, Christian dharma. These are all manufactured dharmas, but real dharma is attained when we come to the conclusion that Śrī Kṛṣṇa is everything. Again, in the words of Śrī Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā (7.19):
- bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
- jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
- vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
- sa mahātmā sudurlabhaḥ
"After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare."
The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is meant for the propagation of this message. We are not preaching a particular sectarian religious system but a real religion, dharma. Dharmaṁ tu sākṣād bhagavat-praṇītam: (SB 6.3.19) no one actually knows what dharma is, and no one can manufacture dharma. Dharma is the order of the Supreme Being. No one can manufacture state laws; they are given by the government. The simplest definition of dharma is that dharma is the order of the Supreme Being. Since the Supreme Being, God, is one, His order must be one. How, then, can there be different dharmas? It is not possible. Different dharmas are created due to ignorance, which causes people to think in terms of Hindu dharma, Muslim dharma, Christian dharma, this dharma or that dharma. No. Gold is gold. If a Christian possesses some gold, does it become Christian gold? Gold is gold whether possessed by a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian. According to the order of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, dharma means surrendering unto that Supreme Being. This is bhāgavata-dharma, and everyone should be taught how to surrender unto God. God is one; there cannot be two Gods. When there is competition, there is no God. Presently there is a different God on every street, but Kṛṣṇa is not that kind of God. He is the Supreme God. As Kṛṣṇa Himself states in Bhagavad-gītā (7.7):
- mattaḥ parataraṁ nānyat
- kiñcid asti dhanañjaya
- mayi sarvam idaṁ protaṁ
- sūtre maṇi-gaṇā iva
"O conqueror of wealth (Arjuna), there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread."
The purpose of this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is to inform everyone that no one is superior to Kṛṣṇa, God. Because many young Americans and Europeans are fortunate and know nothing of any hodgepodge god, they have taken this bona fide Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement seriously. Kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam: (SB 1.3.28) Bhagavān, God, means Śrī Kṛṣṇa. We have simply presented this information, saying, "Here is God. Śrī Kṛṣṇa." Because they have taken this seriously, many young Americans and Europeans are advancing in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Consequently many people are surprised to see how Americans and Europeans have become such great devotees and are dancing in ecstasy. How is it they are so advanced? They have taken the information seriously: kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam (SB 1.3.28). Whether one touches fire blindly or knowingly, fire will burn. It is not that because the fire is touched by a child, fire will not burn. These young Westerners have touched fire, and consequently it is acting as fire.
Ācāryopāsanam: this information (kṛṣṇas tu bhagavān svayam) is not concocted, but is accepted by the ācāryas in the disciplic succession. Although an impersonalist, Śaṅkarācārya has accepted Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So have Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Viṣṇu Svāmī, Nimbārka and Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu and His followers. They all accept Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme, just as Arjuna himself did. This is the simplest method. There is no need to speculate, "What is God? Where is God?" Why foolishly go on searching? Here is God - Kṛṣṇa. We may think that Kṛṣṇa cannot be seen, but Kṛṣṇa can appear in the form of His energy. Of course, a stone is not God, but a stone is another one of God's energies. Heat and light are not fire, but without fire there cannot be heat or light. In that sense, heat and light are nondifferent from fire. This material world is like the heat and light of the supreme fire.
- jyotsnā vistāriṇī yathā
- parasya brahmaṇaḥ śaktis
- tathedam akhilaṁ jagat
"Just as a fire is situated in one place, but spreads illumination all around, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Para-brahman, spreads His energies throughout this universe." (Viṣṇu Purāṇa 1.22.53)
The sun is situated in one place, and its light and heat expand throughout the entire solar system. As soon as we perceive light and heat, we can understand that the sun is there. Since light and heat can be perceived by everyone, Kṛṣṇa says in Bhagavad-gītā (7.8), prabhāsmi śaśi-sūryayoḥ: "I am the light of the sun and the moon." people are saying, "Can you show me God?" while not realizing that they are seeing God daily at every moment. Because people are foolish in this age, they cannot understand that when we perceive the energy of the Lord, we can feel the presence of the Lord.
The young devotees in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement are presently worshiping Kṛṣṇa. What are the signs of a devotee? The actual sign of a devotee is that he is no longer interested in material enjoyment: bhaktiḥ pareśānubhavo viraktir anyatra ca (SB 11.2.42). The disciples of this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement do not go to cinemas, restaurants or clubs, and they do not smoke or drink. In European and American countries all these things are available and are very cheap, but these young people are not interested in them. They are simply interested in sitting on the floor and learning about Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Why is this? They have actually rejected the material world. When one comes to detest material enjoyment, one can understand that he has advanced spiritually. Spiritual life does not mean taking sannyāsa and then smoking or drinking tea. One must actually come to detest material life. One comes to lose interest in material activities and becomes interested only in the understanding of God, the Supreme Being, and His service. As enjoined in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.1):
- nāyaṁ deho deha-bhājāṁ nṛloke
- kaṣṭān kāmān arhate vid-bhujāṁ ye
"Of all the living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has been awarded this human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for the dogs and hogs that eat stool." The word vid-bhujām means "stooleaters." Hogs work hard day and night simply eating stool, and because stool contains chemicals, hypophosphates, the hog gets strength, becomes very fat and enjoys sex. In any case, human life is meant not for imitating the life of a hog but for tapasya, austerity:
- tapo divyaṁ putrakā yena sattvaṁ
- śuddhyed yasmād brahma-saukhyaṁ tv anantam
"Rather, my dear boys, one should engage in penance and austerity to attain the divine position of devotional service. By such activity, one's heart is purified, and when one attains this position, he attains eternal, blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever." (SB 5.5.1)
This is the meaning of Vedic civilization. The society of varṇāśrama-dharma - composed of brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, vaiśyas, śūdras, gṛhasthas, vānaprasthas, brahmacārīs and sannyāsīs - is meant to elevate people gradually to the perfect stage of understanding God. The whole aim of the different varṇas and āśramas is the worship of the Supreme Lord. One can attain this understanding through this social system, which admits of gradations. When one goes to school, he begins with the first grade, then progresses to the second, third and so forth. In this way one makes progress.
When human society accepts varṇāśrama-dharma, it can gradually come to the understanding of Brahman. By birth, everyone is a śūdra; therefore everyone has to be educated. The word dvija means "twiceborn." One is first born through the womb of a mother, and one's next birth is given by the spiritual master and Vedic knowledge. Vedic knowledge is the mother, and the spiritual master is the father. When one is twice-born (dvija), he receives a sacred thread from the spiritual master and begins to learn about spiritual life. He is then allowed to read the Vedic literatures. In this way one becomes a son of Vedic literature. Nigama-kalpa-taror galitaṁ phalam: (SB 1.1.3) Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is the essence of Vedic culture. It is a wish-fulfilling tree, and we can take whatever we want from it. Vedic knowledge is perfect, and if we want to come to know it, we must take shelter of a bona fide guru (tad-vijñānārthaṁ sa gurum evābhigacchet (MU 1.2.12)).
Unfortunately, in this age everything is mismanaged. People forget the aim of life, and at such a time the Supreme Lord Himself comes. The Supreme Lord descends out of compassion because He is more anxious to have us return home, back to Godhead, than we are to go. Because we are in ignorance, we do not know anything about the kingdom of God. We know nothing about how to get there or how to become happy. We have forgotten all this. Therefore Kṛṣṇa comes at intervals or sends His representative, the pure devotee. Sometimes He comes personally, and sometimes He sends His incarnation.
Kapiladeva is an incarnation of the Supreme Person, Kṛṣṇa. Therefore it is stated: kapilas tattva-saṅkhyātā bhagavān ātma-māyayā. The word māyā means not only "illusion," but also "affection" and "energy." When Kṛṣṇa comes, all His energies also come. It is not that He is forced to come. We have to accept a certain type of body because we are forced to do so, but this is not the case with Śrī Kṛṣṇa. Presently I may have a human form, but in the future I cannot demand a human form. We receive bodies in the next life according to karma, not will. One cannot demand to be a high-court judge unless one has been educated for the job. First of all, one must become qualified. If one qualifies himself, one may become a devatā, a demigod like Indra or Candra, or one can become a dog or a cat. That depends on one's karma, or activities (karmaṇā daiva-netreṇa (SB 3.31.1)). When Kṛṣṇa or His incarnation come, they do not depend on karma for their bodies. The Supreme Lord is above karma and is fully independent. It is therefore said, ātma-māyayā. The Supreme Lord comes by His own energy, not by the external energy or by force. When the governor visits the prison, he is not forced to do so. He is not to be considered a condemned person; rather, he goes by his own good will just to see how things are going on, However, it is understood that when an ordinary person is placed in jail, he is sent there by force because he has been proven a criminal. A criminal may think that he and the governor are one, just as rascals and fools think that Kṛṣṇa is one of them. Avajānanti māṁ mūḍhā mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam (BG 9.11). A knowledgeable person knows that when Kṛṣṇa or His incarnation descends upon the material world, the Supreme Lord maintains His transcendental position. He is not an ordinary man, nor is He forced into the material world due to karma. The Supreme Lord comes by His own good will. Paraṁ bhāvam ajānantaḥ. Rascals cannot understand what Kṛṣṇa is; therefore they think that Kṛṣṇa is a human being. As Kṛṣṇa Himself states in Bhagavad-gītā (7.3):
- manuṣyāṇāṁ sahasreṣu
- kaścid yatati siddhaye
- yatatām api siddhānāṁ
- kaścin māṁ vetti tattvataḥ
"Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth."
Understanding Kṛṣṇa is therefore not so easy. As stated by Kṛṣṇa, out of many thousands one person may become a siddha, a self-realized being. And out of many siddhas, one may be able to understand Kṛṣṇa. It is our great fortune that Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu, Kṛṣṇa Himself, has appeared and given us a very easy process by which we can understand Kṛṣṇa. What is that process? We need only hear about Kṛṣṇa. That's all. We have therefore opened all these centers of Kṛṣṇa consciousness throughout the world.
- śṛṇvatāṁ sva-kathāḥ kṛṣṇaḥ
- hṛdy antaḥ-stho hy abhadrāṇi
- vidhunoti suhṛt satām
"Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramātmā (Supersoul) in everyone's heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted." (SB 1.2.17)
If we hear about Kṛṣṇa, we become purified. Hearing about Kṛṣṇa means associating with Kṛṣṇa. In this way we may perfect our lives.