Contamination from sinful activity requires proportionate atonement. That is the prescription of the scriptures. Śukadeva Gosvāmī says that if one accepts atonement before death, in his next life he will not fall down. If he does not atone, he will carry with him the resultant reactions of his sinful activities and will have to suffer. According to law, if a man kills someone he must himself be killed. The idea of a life for a life is not a very new concept but can be found in the Manu-saṁhitā, the Vedic lawbook for mankind, where it is stated that when a king hangs the murderer, the murderer is actually benefited, for if he is not killed, he will carry the reaction for his murder and will have to suffer in so many ways.
The laws of nature are very subtle and are very diligently administered, although people do not know it. In the Manu-saṁhitā the concept of a life for a life is sanctioned, and it is actually observed throughout the world. Similarly, there are other laws which state that one cannot even kill an ant without being responsible. Since we cannot create, we have no right to kill any living entity, and therefore man-made laws that distinguish between killing a man and killing an animal are imperfect. Although there are imperfections in man-made laws, there cannot be defects in the laws of God. According to the laws of God, killing an animal is as punishable as killing a man. Those who draw distinctions between the two are concocting their own laws. Even in the Ten Commandments it is prescribed, "Thou shall not kill." This is a perfect law, but by discriminating and speculating men distort it. "I shall not kill man, but I shall kill animals." In this way people cheat themselves and inflict suffering on themselves and others. In any case, however, God's laws will not excuse such behavior.
Everyone is God's creature, although in different bodies or dresses. God is considered the one supreme father. A father may have many children, and some may be intelligent and others not very intelligent, but if an intelligent son tells his father, "My brother is not very intelligent; let me kill him," will the father agree? Simply because one son is not very intelligent and the other desires to kill him to avoid the burden, the father will never agree. Similarly, if God is the supreme father, why should He sanction the killing of animals who are also His sons? In Bhagavad-gītā God declares to Arjuna that all I am their seed giving father," the Lord says. Just as in ordinary material procreation the father gives the seed and the mother develops the body by supplying the necessary blood to the embryo, similarly, the living entities, parts and parcels of the supreme father, are impregnated by the Lord in material nature.
The dimension of the spirit soul is very minute and is given in the scriptures as keśāgra - one ten thousandth the portion of the tip of a hair. We can hardly imagine a very small point divided into thousands of parts. In other words, it is so minute that it cannot be perceived even by the most powerful microscope. Thus the dimension of the spiritual spark is so minute that it is invisible to mundane vision. All of this information is given in the scriptures, but because we do not have the proper vision, we cannot see. Although our material eyes cannot perceive the dimension of the soul, the soul is nonetheless within the body, and as soon as it departs, it takes another body according to its work.
One should always consider that behind all these activities is superior superintendence. The living entity works in the material world just as the office worker works at his job, and a service record is kept of his performance. The living entity does not know what the opinion of his superior is, but his service record is kept in the office nonetheless, and according to his activities he is awarded promotion or increment of pay, or sometimes he may be demoted or even fired. Similarly, for all our activities there are witnesses; therefore it is said in the scriptures that the living entities are under superior supervision and that they are rewarded and punished according to their work. Now we have human bodies, but in the next life we may not have them; we may have something else, better or lower. The type of body is decided by the living entity's superiors. Generally the living entity does not know the science of how the spirit soul transmigrates from one body to another.
The spirit soul transmigrates even in the duration of one life as the body changes. When the body is first manifest in the womb of the mother, it is very small, just like a pea, and it gradually develops nine holes - two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, one mouth, one genital, and one rectum. In this way the body develops, and as long as it needs to develop within the mother's womb, it remains there. When it is sufficiently developed to go outside, it comes out and grows. Growth entails changing of the body. This change cannot be understood because it is imperceivable to the living entity. In childhood we had small bodies which now no longer exist; therefore it can be said that we have changed our bodies. Similarly, because of the nature of material things, we have to change this body when it ceases to work. Every material thing deteriorates, and like a broken machine or an old piece of cloth the body becomes useless after a certain length of time.
Although this process of growth is always taking place, the educational system in modern universities, though considered advanced, unfortunately does not deal with this. Actually there is no education without spiritual knowledge. One can learn to earn bread, eat, sleep and mate without a formal education. Animals are not educated - they are not technicians, and they have no university degrees - but they are also eating, sleeping, mating and defending. If the educational system simply teaches these processes, it does not deserve the name of education. Real education enables us to understand what we are. As long as man does not develop his consciousness by understanding the truth of the self, all of his actions will be performed in the mode of ignorance. A human life is meant for victory over the laws of material nature. Actually, we are all trying to attain that victory in order to counteract the onslaught of material nature. The ultimate victory is to conquer birth, death, disease and old age, but we have neglected this important point.
If the educational system dealt with the proper utilization of what God is supplying, it would improve. All the fruits and grains we eat are given by God, who supplies food to all living entities. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is stated, jīvo jīvasya jīvanam: "One living entity is food for another." (SB 1.13.47) Animals without hands are food for animals with hands, such as ourselves. Animals with no legs are food for animals with four legs. Grass is a living entity, but it has no legs with which to move, and thus it is eaten by cows and other animals. Such nonmoving entities are food for moving animals, and in this way the world is in a constant struggle between exploiters and exploited. The weaker is exploited by the stronger; this is nature's law. Traditionally, Vaiṣṇavas, or devotees of Kṛṣṇa, do not eat meat. This is not just for the sake of vegetarianism, but for the furtherance of God consciousness. In order to become God conscious, one must follow some rules and regulations. Of course one has to eat, but the proposal is that one should eat remnants of foodstuffs that are offered to Kṛṣṇa. This is also the philosophy of Bhagavad-gītā, wherein Kṛṣṇa says:
- patraṁ puṣpaṁ phalaṁ toyaṁ
- yo me bhaktyā prayacchati
- tad ahaṁ bhakty-upahṛtam
- aśnāmi prayatātmanaḥ
"If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it." (BG 9.26)
It is not that Kṛṣṇa is hungry and is begging food from us. The purpose of this offering is to create a loving transaction. Kṛṣṇa wants this transaction: "You love Me, and I'll love you." As God, Kṛṣṇa's energy creates and sustains everything, so why should he beg a leaf, a fruit and a little water from us? He will be very pleased, however, if we offer him a piece of fruit, a leaf and water with love, saying, "Kṛṣṇa, I am so poor that I cannot secure anything. I have secured this fruit and a leaf. Kindly accept them." Such an offering would make Kṛṣṇa very glad. If He eats what we offer, our life will be successful, for we will actually make friends with Kṛṣṇa. Fruit, flowers and water can be secured practically in any part of the world by any man, poor or rich, and can be offered. We should remember then that it is not vegetarianism which is important, nor is it that God is in need of anything. The important point is that we simply have to try to learn how to love Kṛṣṇa.
Love begins with this give and take. We give something to our lover, he gives something to us, and in this way love develops. When we create any loving transaction with any boy or girl, man or woman, we give and take. Thus Kṛṣṇa is teaching us how to give and take. Kṛṣṇa is begging us: "Try to love Me. Learn how to love Me. Offer something to Me."
"Sir," we may say, "I have nothing to give You."
"Oh, you cannot collect a piece of fruit, a flower, a leaf or a little water?"
"Oh yes, why not? Anyone can collect this."
This then is the method of Kṛṣṇa consciousness which allows one to make friends with Kṛṣṇa. We can enter into any number of relationships with Kṛṣṇa. We can become a direct servant of Kṛṣṇa, or in the highest stages we can become Kṛṣṇa's father, mother or lover. Kṛṣṇa is prepared to establish a loving relationship with all living entities. In actuality this relationship is already there because He is the supreme father and we are His parts and parcels. Because the son is part of the body of the father, the relationship between them cannot be broken; it may be forgotten for some time, but as soon as one recognizes his father or son, immediately affection develops. Similarly, we are eternally related to Kṛṣṇa, but at the present moment this relationship is simply forgotten or suppressed. Consequently we think that we have no relationship with Kṛṣṇa, but this is not a fact. Because we are integral with Him, because we are part and parcel of Him, our relationship with Him is eternal. That relationship simply has to be revived, and that revival is this process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
At present we are under the sway of a different consciousness. One person is thinking that he is Indian, another is thinking that he is American, and someone else is thinking, "I am this," or "I am that." In this way we create so many artificial identities, but our actual identity should be, "I am Kṛṣṇa's." When we think in this way, we are thinking in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Only in this way can universal love among all living entities be established. Kṛṣṇa is related to everyone as eternal father, and consequently when we establish a Kṛṣṇa conscious relationship, we become related to everyone. When one marries, he automatically establishes a relationship with the spouse's family. Similarly, if we reestablish our original relationship with Kṛṣṇa, we will establish our true relationship with everyone else. That is the ground for real universal love. Universal love is artificial and cannot endure unless we establish our relationship with the center. One is American if he is born in America, and thus other Americans become members of his family, but if he is born elsewhere, he has no relationship with Americans. On the mundane platform all relationships are relative. Our relationship with Kṛṣṇa, however, is eternal and not subject to time and circumstance. When we reestablish our relationship with Kṛṣṇa, the questions of universal brotherhood, justice, peace and prosperity will be answered. There is no possibility of realizing these higher ideals without Kṛṣṇa. If the central point is missing, how can there be brotherhood and peace?
In Bhagavad-gītā the peace formula is clearly given. We have to understand that Kṛṣṇa is the only enjoyer. The consciousness of this is developed in a Kṛṣṇa conscious temple where the central point of all activities is Kṛṣṇa. All cooking is carried on for Kṛṣṇa, not for one's own purposes. Ultimately we shall eat the prasādam (offered food), but when we cook we should think that we are cooking for Kṛṣṇa and not for ourselves. When the members of a temple go into the streets, they do not do so for their own sake but to distribute Kṛṣṇa conscious literatures in order to make people aware of Kṛṣṇa's presence. All monies acquired are spent for Kṛṣṇa, in spreading His message in so many ways. Such a style of life, in which everything is done for Kṛṣṇa, promotes the development of Kṛṣṇa consciousness within the living entity. Our activities may remain the same; we simply have to understand that we are acting for Kṛṣṇa and not for our personal satisfaction. In this way we can come to our original consciousness and be happy. Unless one is established in his original consciousness, which is Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he is certain to be crazy to some degree. Everyone who is not Kṛṣṇa conscious is to be considered crazy because he exists on a platform which is temporary and transient. Since we as living entities are eternal, temporary activities are not our concern. Our engagements should be eternal because we are eternal, and that eternal engagement is the rendering of service to Kṛṣṇa in love.
Kṛṣṇa is the supreme eternal, and we are subordinate eternals. Kṛṣṇa is the supreme living entity, and we are subordinate living entities. The finger is part and parcel of the total body, and its eternal function is to serve the body. Indeed, that is the very purpose for the finger, and if it cannot serve the whole body, it is diseased or useless. Similarly, as part and parcel we have to serve Kṛṣṇa and be subordinate to Him because as the supreme father He supplies all our necessities. Such a life of subordination to Kṛṣṇa is a normal life and is a life of actual liberation. Those who try to deny Kṛṣṇa and live outside of any relationship to Him are actually leading a sinful life.
Śukadeva Gosvāmī and Mahārāja Parīkṣit discussed this subject, and Parīkṣit Mahārāja was anxious to know how the conditioned souls could be saved from their hellish lives. It is the natural desire of a Vaiṣṇava to save suffering humanity. Generally others do not care whether people suffer or not, but a Vaiṣṇava, a devotee of the Lord, is always thinking of how to alleviate the fallen condition of the people. Christians believe that through His crucifixion Lord Jesus Christ assimilated all the sinful activities of the world's people. A devotee of the Lord is always thinking of how to assimilate the sufferings of others. A similar devotee was Vāsudeva Datta, who was Lord Caitanya's associate. He told the Lord: "Now that You have come, kindly deliver all people on this earth and take them to Vaikuṇṭha, the spiritual world. And if You think that they are so sinful that they cannot be delivered, please transfer all their sins unto me. I shall suffer for them." This is a Vaiṣṇava's mercy. However, it is not that Jesus Christ or Vāsudeva Datta should make a contract for our sins and that we should go on committing them, for this is a most heinous proposal. A Vaiṣṇava or devotee may suffer for all humanity, but the human race or a particular devotee's disciples should not take advantage of this facility and continue to commit sins. One should, rather, realize that since Lord Jesus Christ or Vāsudeva Datta suffered for him, he should stop committing sins.
Factually everyone is responsible for his own sinful activities. Therefore Śukadeva Gosvāmī recommends, tasmāt puraivāśv iha pāpa-niṣkṛtau: (SB 6.1.8) In order to free oneself from all the reactions of sinful activities, as long as one is embodied, he should atone. Yateta mṛtyor avipadyatātmanā doṣasya dṛṣṭvā guru-lāghavaṁ yathā bhiṣak cikitseta rujāṁ nidāna-vit. According to one's sinful activities, he should accept a program of atonement. As mentioned before, there are different atonements for different sinful activities. In any case, before death one should perform atonement so that he does not carry sinful activities into his next life and have to suffer then. If some atonement for our sinful activities is not performed, nature will not excuse us. We will have to suffer the effects of our sins in the next life. Such bondage to one's material activities is called karma-bandhanaḥ.
- yajñārthāt karmaṇo 'nyatra
- loko 'yaṁ karma-bandhanaḥ
- tad-arthaṁ karma kaunteya
- mukta-saṅgaḥ samācara
"Work done as a sacrifice for Viṣṇu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kuntī, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage." (BG 3.9)
One may kill an animal to enjoy eating it, but he will be bound by such an action. Thus in one's next life he will become a cow or a goat, and the cow or goat will become a man and eat him. This is the Vedic statement, and as with all Vedic statements, one may believe it or not. Unfortunately, at present people are educated in such a way that they do not believe in the next life. Indeed, it seems that the more "educated" one becomes, the less he believes in God, in God's law, in the next life and in sinful and pious activities. Thus modern education is simply preparing men to become animals. If there is no education to teach a human being what he is and whether or not he is this body, he remains no better than an ass. An ass also thinks, "I am this body," as do other animals. Thus if a man thinks in the same way, how is he different from any other animal? Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam states:
- yasyātma-buddhiḥ kuṇape tri-dhātuke
- sva-dhīḥ kalatrādiṣu bhauma ijya-dhīḥ
- yat tīrtha-buddhiḥ salile na karhicij
- janeṣv abhijñeṣu sa eva go-kharaḥ
"For one who accepts the body - which is made of three elements - as his self, who has an affinity for intimate bodily relationships with his wife and children, who considers his land worshipable and who accepts the waters of holy places of pilgrimage but does not take advantage of the knowledge of the saintly persons there, is to be considered to be in illusion and no better than an ass or a cow." (SB 10.84.13) According to Āyur Veda, the material body is composed of three elements, kapha-pitta-vātaiḥ-mucus, bile and air. Within the body there is complex machinery which transforms food into liquid. There are so many complicated bodily processes going on, but what do we know of them? We say, "This is my body," but what do we know about this body? Some people even claim, "I am God," but they do not even know what is going on within their own bodies.
The body is a bag of stool, urine, blood and bones If one believes that intelligence comes out of stool, urine, blood and bones, he is a fool. Can we create intelligence by mixing stool, urine, bones and blood? Nonetheless people still think, "I am this body." Therefore the scriptures say that whoever accepts this body as the self and accepts the bodily relations of wife, children and family as his own, is illusioned. The word kalatra means wife, and ādi means beginning. Because a man feels alone, he accepts a wife, and immediately there are children and then grandchildren. In this way there is expansion. Strī means "that which expands," so kalatrādiṣu means"expansions of the self," beginning from the wife. The word bhauma refers to the land of one's birth, which the ignorant consider worshipable (ijya-dhīḥ). People are willing to give up their lives for the land where they were born, but they do not know that land, body, wife, children, country and society really have nothing to do with them. We are spirit soul (ahaṁ brahmāsmi). This is realization of knowledge, and when we come to this point of knowledge, we become happy.
- brahma-bhūtaḥ prasannātmā
- na śocati na kāṅkṣati
- samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
- mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
"He who is transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires anything. He is equally disposed to all the living entities, and in that state he achieves pure devotional service unto Me." (BG 18.54) One immediately becomes jolly (prasannātmā) when he comes to understand "I am spirit soul. I am Brahman. I am not this matter." The sign of this joy is that one no longer feels hankering and lamentation. Within this world everyone is subject to lamentation for that which is lost and hankering for that which must be gained, but real gain is to understand oneself and to know one's own identity.
As long as we maintain the bodily conception of life, we have to abide by the laws of material nature as well as the laws of the state and all other laws. Thus this body is called conditional, because it is subject to different conditions. There are varieties of conditions, and regardless of the condition to which we are subjected, we are responsible. If we do not atone for sinful activities committed while in this body, we will have to suffer in the next body because we will get another body according to karma (yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ tyajaty ante kalevaram (BG 8.6)). That is nature's law. Śukadeva Gosvāmī therefore recommends that one undergo atonement according to the gravity of his sinful activities. One must follow the methods of atonement prescribed in the śāstras, otherwise there is no rescue.
Parīkṣit Mahārāja, who was very intelligent, said, "By atonement one can become free from sinful activity, but suppose a man has committed murder and then is killed - the sinful reaction of his murder is thus neutralized, but it is not guaranteed that in his next life he'll not kill another man." Thus Parīkṣit Mahārāja noted that after atoning, people commit the same sins again. If a man is diseased, the physician may give him medicine and cure him, but it does not guarantee that he will not be attacked again by the same disease. Venereal diseases are often contacted again and again, despite cures, and a thief may steal again and again, despite being repeatedly being thrown into jail. Why is this? Therefore Parīkṣit Mahārāja noted that although atonement may be good for counteracting sinful activities already committed, it does not prevent those sins from being committed again. Everyone can see that a man who commits murder is punished, but seeing this is not enough to deter one from killing. In every scripture and in every lawbook man is warned not to kill, yet no one is concerned with these laws. What is the remedy for this? Dṛṣṭa-śrutābhyāṁ yat pāpaṁ (SB 6.1.9). By practical experience and by hearing from authorities, everyone knows what sinful activity is, and no one can say, "I do not know what sin is." What is the value of atonement if one commits the same sin again and again after atoning? Kvacin nivartate 'bhadrāt kvacic carati tat punaḥ prāyaścittam ato 'pārthaṁ manye kuñjara-śaucavat (SB 6.1.10). When one is being punished, he thinks, "What a mistake I have made! I shall not commit this sin anymore." But as soon as he is out of danger, he again commits the same sin.
Habit is second nature; it is very difficult to break. Śvā yadi kriyate rājā/ tat kiṁ nāśnāty upānaham (Hitopadeśa): One may seat a dog on a royal throne, but as soon as he sees a shoe, he will immediately jump down and run after it simply because he is a dog. The canine qualities are there, and they cannot be changed simply by putting the dog on a throne. Similarly, we have acquired material qualities by associating with the three modes of material nature - sattva guṇa, rajo guṇa and tamo guṇa - and our habits are formed by association with these three qualities, which are the qualities of goodness, passion and ignorance. If, however, we disassociate ourselves from the three modes of material nature, our real spiritual nature is invoked. That is the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. If one is Kṛṣṇa conscious, there is no chance of his associating with the three modes of material nature, and when one is conscious of Kṛṣṇa, one's spiritual nature is automatically invoked. That is the secret. Those who seriously follow the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, though previously habituated to many undesirable things, are able to stay on a platform where there is no material contamination simply by virtue of practicing Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Thus Kṛṣṇa consciousness is an excellent medicine. Unless one comes to awareness of Kṛṣṇa, the habits he forms in association with the three modes of material nature will continue, and he will not be able to change them. If one actually wants freedom from the repetition of birth and death, he must come to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In Bhagavad-gītā Lord Kṛṣṇa says:
- māṁ ca yo vyabhicāreṇa
- bhakti-yogena sevate
- sa guṇān samatītyaitān
- brahma-bhūyāya kalpate
"One who engages in full devotional service, who does not fall down in any circumstance, at once transcends the modes of material nature and thus comes to the level of Brahman." (BG 14.26)
The Kṛṣṇa consciousness process does not recommend this atonement or that atonement. One can go on experimenting by atoning, but the diseases of the soul will remain unless one comes to the platform of rendering devotional service in love and purifying his life.