In India all scriptures and great spiritual teachers, including Śaṅkarācārya, an impersonalist, accept Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Lord. In the beginning of his commentary on the Bhagavad-gītā, Śaṅkarācārya says that Nārāyaṇa is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested creation, and in the same commentary he says that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Nārāyaṇa, is Kṛṣṇa appearing as the son of Devakī and Vasudeva. Thus in this respect there is little difference of opinion about Kṛṣṇa. Those who are authorities, be they personalists or impersonalists, are in agreement that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord.
When Kṛṣṇa was present on this planet, He proved by His activities and opulence that He is the Supreme Lord. If we are actually anxious to understand who and what the Supreme Lord is, all of the information is given in Vedic literatures. If we utilize whatever we have in our possession to understand God, Kṛṣṇa will prove that He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we but accept this one fact, then all of our education is complete. It is fashionable to research to try to find out who is God, but this is not necessary. God is present, and He Himself says (BG 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."
This information is not only given in Bhagavad-gītā but in other scriptures as well, and it has been accepted from the very beginning by great ācāryas (teachers) like Śaṅkarācārya, Rāmānujācārya, Madhvācārya, Lord Caitanya and many other stalwart authorities. Even at the present moment those who do not accept Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Lord are accepting the knowledge given by Kṛṣṇa to Arjuna. So in this way they are accepting Kṛṣṇa indirectly. If one accepts Bhagavad-gītā as a great book of knowledge, he is also accepting Kṛṣṇa. There is no doubt that the Supreme Absolute Truth is Kṛṣṇa and that we have our eternal relationship with Him.
Our eternal relationship with God is sabhājana: God is great, and we are subordinate. He is the predominator, and we are the predominated. The duty of the subordinate is to please the predominator. Similarly, if we want to be happy, we must learn how to make Kṛṣṇa happy. This is the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
But how is it to be understood that the Supreme Lord is satisfied by our service and labor? It is actually possible to perfect our service or occupational duty. Everyone has some service to perform according to his designations. He may be an Indian or American, Hindu, Muslim or Christian, man, woman, brāhmaṇa, kṣatriya, vaiśya, śūdra or whatever - in any case he is meant to do some sort of work, and that work is his occupational duty. Perfection of duty can be tested by seeing whether the Supreme Lord is satisfied by its execution. The Supreme Lord's satisfaction can be tested by the Lord's representative, the spiritual master. Therefore it is important to seek out a real representative of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and work under him. If he is satisfied, then we should know that the Supreme Lord is also satisfied. That is explained by Viśvanātha Cakravartī Ṭhākura (Śrī Gurvaṣṭakam, Verse 8):
- yasya prasādād bhagavat-prasādo
- yasyāprasādān na gatiḥ kuto 'pi
- dhyāyaṁ stuvaṁs tasya yaśas tri-sandhyaṁ
- vande guroḥ śrī-caraṇāravindam
"By the mercy of the spiritual master one is benedicted by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa. Without the grace of the spiritual master no one can make any advancement. Therefore I should always remember the spiritual master. At least three times a day I should offer my respectful obeisances unto the lotus feet of my spiritual master."
The spiritual master is the representative of the Supreme Lord. How does he become the representative? If one says that such and such an object is a pair of spectacles, and if he teaches his disciple in that way, there is no mistake as to the identity of the object. The spiritual master is he who has captured the words of a particular disciplic succession. In the case given, the key word is "spectacles" - that's all. The spiritual master does not have to say anything beyond that. This is the qualification. Kṛṣṇa says, "I am the Supreme," and the spiritual master says, "Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme." It is not that to be a representative of Kṛṣṇa or to be a spiritual master one has to have any extraordinary qualification. He simply has to carry the message from the authority as it is without any personal interpretation. As soon as there is some personal interpretation, the message is lost and the instructions become offensive. A person who interprets the scriptures according to his own whims should be immediately rejected.
Once Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu said, "You must at least have enough sense to test to find out who is a spiritual master and who is not." For instance, if we want to purchase something, we must at least have some idea of what that thing is, otherwise we will be cheated. If we want to purchase a mango from the market, we must at least know what type of food a mango is and what it looks like. Similarly, we must have some preliminary knowledge of the qualifications for a bona fide spiritual master. Bhagavad-gītā itself gives some information about the succession of spiritual masters. Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa says (BG 4.1-3):
- imaṁ vivasvate yogaṁ
- proktavān aham avyayam
- vivasvān manave prāha
- manur ikṣvākave 'bravīt
- evaṁ paramparā-prāptam
- imaṁ rājarṣayo viduḥ
- sa kāleneha mahatā
- yogo naṣṭaḥ parantapa
- sa evāyaṁ mayā te 'dya
- yogaḥ proktaḥ purātanaḥ
- bhakto 'si me sakhā ceti
- rahasyaṁ hy etad uttamam
"I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god Vivasvān, and Vivasvān instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikṣvāku. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way. But in course of time the succession was broken, and therefore the science as it is appears to be lost. That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore, you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science."
That original spiritual disciplic succession was broken, but now we can receive the same message by studying Bhagavad-gītā. In Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa speaks to Arjuna just as in a far distant time He spoke to the sun-god. If we accept the words of Arjuna and Kṛṣṇa, it may be possible for us to understand Bhagavad-gītā, but if we want to interpret it in our own way, the results will be nonsensical. The best way to understand Bhagavad-gītā is to accept a bona fide spiritual master. This is not very difficult.
Arjuna says that he accepts all that Kṛṣṇa has said to him because Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead (BG 18.73):
- naṣṭo mohaḥ smṛtir labdhā
- tvat prasādān mayācyuta
- sthito 'smi gata-sandehaḥ
- kariṣye vacanaṁ tava
"Arjuna said, My dear Kṛṣṇa, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy, and now I am fixed without any doubt, prepared to act according to Your instructions."
As Arjuna, we should accept Kṛṣṇa as the Supreme Personality of Godhead and do as He says (BG 9.27):
- yat karoṣi yad aśnāsi
- yaj juhoṣi dadāsi yat
- yat tapasyasi kaunteya
- tat kuruṣva mad-arpaṇam
"O son of Kuntī, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me."
By accepting Kṛṣṇa in this spirit, we can attain complete knowledge. If, however, we do not accept Kṛṣṇa and interpret Bhagavad-gītā in our own way, then everything will be spoiled.
If we are sincere, we will get a sincere spiritual master by the grace of Kṛṣṇa. If, however, we want to be cheated, Kṛṣṇa will send us a cheater, and we will be cheated throughout our lives. That is actually going on. For those who do not want to understand Kṛṣṇa as He is but want to understand by dint of their own imperfect vision, Kṛṣṇa, God, remains unknown.
The whole process is to accept Kṛṣṇa and His instructions and therefore to render devotional service unto Him. It is Śrīmatī Rādhārāṇī who is the very embodiment of perfect devotional service. In the Brahma-saṁhitā Rādhārāṇī is described as Kṛṣṇa's expansion of His spiritual potency. In this way, She is nondifferent from Kṛṣṇa. The gopīs, who tend Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, are not ordinary women or girls; they are expansions of Kṛṣṇa's pleasure potency. Rādhārāṇī and the gopīs should never be accepted as ordinary women; indeed, to understand their position we need the guidance of a spiritual master. If we living entities want to actually associate with Rādhārāṇī, that may be possible, although She is not an ordinary woman. We can become associates of Rādhārāṇī by qualifying ourselves in advanced devotional service.
In devotional service there is no frustration; even if we perform only a small amount, it will grow. Devotional service is never lost. As far as material things are concerned, whatever we gain in the world will be lost when the body is finished. But since we are eternal spiritual sparks, our spiritual assets go with us, gradually fructifying. In this way those who have previously cultivated transcendental consciousness come in contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness through this movement. Interest in Kṛṣṇa consciousness is not commonplace. In Bhagavad-gītā it is said that out of many millions and billions of persons, only one is interested in achieving perfection. If we can advertise that simply by reading this book and meditating for fifteen minutes anyone can immediately get power, become successful in business and pass his examination, many people would be attracted to the book. People are not attracted to Kṛṣṇa consciousness because they prefer to be cheated by māyā. They think that the perfection of life is in eating a great supply of food, or in sleeping twenty hours, or in having a new mate every night or every day. People are interested in these things, but not in the perfection of life.
Every intelligent man should at least experiment with Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He should say, "All right. I have been enjoying this eating and sleeping for so many lives. These things were available for me to enjoy in my bird and animal bodies. Now in this life let me restrict the four principles of animalistic life - eating, sleeping, defending and mating - and let me devote my time to developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In this way my life will be successful."
- man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
- mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
- mām evaiṣyasi satyaṁ te
- pratijāne priyo 'si me
- man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
- mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
- mām evaiṣyasi yuktvaivam
- ātmānaṁ mat-parāyaṇaḥ
"Always think of Me. Become My devotee. Worship Me, and offer your homage unto Me. The result is that you will come to Me without fail. I promise you this, because you are My very dear friend. 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."
The phrase man-manā bhava mad-bhakto means "just be always conscious of Me." This then is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. In Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa is repeatedly saying that we should worship Him, offer obeisances unto Him and then come to Him. Bhagavad-gītā clearly points to the absolute necessity of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and Bhagavad-gītā is accepted as the essence of the Upaniṣads. Even from the historical point of view, it has no comparison. It has been calculated on the basis of archeological evidence that Kṛṣṇa spoke Bhagavad-gītā on the Battlefield of Kurukṣetra more than five thousand years ago. So this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement, even from the historical point of view, is five thousand years old. Its philosophy is the oldest in the history of the world. If we wish to trace it even further back, we find that Śrī Kṛṣṇa spoke it earlier to the sun-god. Kṛṣṇa is eternal, and consciousness of Kṛṣṇa is also eternal. In this way Kṛṣṇa consciousness should be approached. It should not simply be considered a theory.
When Kṛṣṇa consciousness is covered by any other consciousness, we experience our contaminated conditional life. When the sky is clear, we can see the sun's brilliant effulgence, but when it is covered by clouds, we cannot see it. We may be able to perceive the sunlight, but we cannot see the sun disc itself. When the sky is clear, it is in its natural condition. Similarly, our consciousness is eternally Kṛṣṇa consciousness because we are part and parcel of Kṛṣṇa eternally. This is asserted in the Fifteenth Chapter of Bhagavad-gītā (15.7):
- mamaivāṁśo jīva-loke
- jīva-bhūtaḥ sanātanaḥ
- prakṛti-sthāni karṣati
"The living entities in this conditional world are My fragmental parts, and they are eternal. But due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind."
Somehow or other we have come in contact with material nature, and because of the mind and the six senses, we are struggling hard to exist. That is Darwin's theory - the struggle for existence, survival of the fittest. However, the actual fact is that our constitutional position is not one of struggle. Struggle is the position of animal life. Human life should be blissful and should have as its goal spiritual advancement. At one time that was India's principle of life, and there was a class of people, the brāhmaṇas, who engaged themselves exclusively in spiritual culture. Although brahminical cultural life is enunciated in the scriptures of India, it is not for Indians alone, but for all human beings. The Vedas were written for all mankind, but it so happened that when the Vedas were written, what is now known as the Indian culture was the only one extant. At that time, the whole planet was called Bhāratavarṣa, after Emperor Bharata Mahārāja, the son of Ṛṣabhadeva. Bharata Mahārāja ruled the whole planet, but gradually the planet was divided up. So the dharma of Vedic culture should not simply be considered Indian or Hindu in a sectarian sense.
Often the word dharma is translated to mean religion, but to conceive of dharma as a religion is to misconceive the word. In general usage, the word religion refers to a particular type of faith. The word dharma does not. Dharma indicates the natural occupation of the living entity. For example, wherever there is fire, there is heat and light, so it may be said that heat and light are the dharma of fire. Fire cannot change its dharma. In the same way, liquidity is an intrinsic quality of water, and this quality cannot be changed. If it is, it can no longer be considered water. The dharma of the individual soul can never be changed, and that dharma is the occupational duty of rendering service unto the Supreme Lord. Faiths and religions can be changed. Today I may be a Hindu, but tomorrow I may become a Christian or Moslem. In this way faiths can be changed, but dharma is a natural sequence, a natural occupation or connection.
Kṛṣṇa says that as soon as there is a discrepancy in the discharge of the dharmas of the living entities, when there is an upsurge of unnatural activities, He descends. One of the principal purposes of His descent is to reestablish religious principles. The best system of religion is that which best trains us to surrender unto the Supreme Lord. This is the basic principle underlying Bhagavad-gītā. We can select our own religion and be Hindu, Moslem, Buddhist, Christian or whatever, as long as we know the real purpose of religion. Indeed, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam does not recommend that we give up our present religion, but it does hint at the purpose of religion. That purpose is love of Godhead, and that religion which teaches us best how to love the Supreme Lord is the best religion.
In this age especially there is a general decay in the consciousness of the masses of people. A few people remember that there is a God, but for the most part people are forgetting Him. Therefore they cannot be happy. People are thinking that God is dead, or that we have no obligation to God, or that there is no God. This sort of thinking will never make for happiness. When civilization is godless or atheistic, as it is today, God or His representative comes to remind people of their relationship with the supreme consciousness.
When Sanātana Gosvāmī inquired from Lord Caitanya, "What am I? Why am I always in a miserable condition? What is the position of all living entities?" Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu immediately answered that the real identity is that of servant of God. We should not understand the word "servant" in the sense of materialistic servant. To become a servant of God is a great position. People are always trying to get some government post or some position in a reputed business firm because the service rendered in such positions earns great profits. Although we are very anxious to get good positions in the government service, we do not stop to think of getting a position in God's service. God is the government of all governments.
God's service is dharma. This dharma may be described differently in different countries according to different cultural and climatic conditions or situations, but in every religious scripture obedience to God is instructed. No scripture says that there is no God or that we as living entities are independent - not the Bible, the Koran, the Vedas or even the Buddhist literatures. Generally, according to Buddhist philosophy, there is no individual soul and no supreme soul, but actually since Lord Buddha is accepted by Vedic literatures as an incarnation of God, by obeying Lord Buddha one is actually following God. In the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there is a list of incarnations, and Lord Buddha is accepted as one of them. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam was compiled by Vyāsadeva five thousand years ago, and Lord Buddha appeared about 2,600 years ago, so Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam actually foretold the event of his incarnation. Lord Buddha preached that there is no God and no soul, that this body is a combination of matter, and that when we dissolve this material combination, sensations of misery and happiness will no longer exist. Then Śaṅkarācārya appeared to preach that the external feature of Brahman, the body, is merely an illusion. In all religions, temple worship and acceptance of authority are present. We may accept Kṛṣṇa, or Lord Jesus Christ, or Jehovah, or Lord Buddha, or Śaṅkarācārya, or Guru Nanak, but in any case acceptance of authority is required.
In Bhagavad-gītā Lord Śrī Kṛṣṇa is accepted as the supreme authority. Sometimes Kṛṣṇa descends personally, and sometimes He descends by His incarnations. Sometimes He descends as sound vibration, and sometimes He descends as a devotee. There are many different categories of avatāras. In this present age Kṛṣṇa has descended in His holy name, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu also confirmed that in this age of Kali, Kṛṣṇa has descended in the form of sound vibration. Sound is one of the forms which the Lord takes. Therefore it is stated that there is no difference between Kṛṣṇa and His name.
Today people have forgotten their relationship with God, but this incarnation of Kṛṣṇa in the form of His holy names, this chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, will deliver all the people of the world from their forgetfulness. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu says that if we chant or associate with the chanting of the holy names of Kṛṣṇa, we will reach the highest perfectional stage of life. According to Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there are different processes for different ages, but the principle of each process remains valid in all ages. It is not that the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa is effective in this age and not in Satya-yuga. Nor is it that people were not chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa in Satya-yuga. In Satya-yuga meditation was the main process, and great munis meditated for periods extending upwards of 60,000 years. In this age, however, perfection by that means of meditation is not possible because we are so short-lived. Consequently in this age it is especially recommended that we all sit down together and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. It is very easy, and everyone can take part in it. There is no necessity of education, nor are any previous qualifications required. In this age people are also very slow and unfortunate, and they are contaminated with bad association. Caitanya Mahāprabhu introduced the chanting of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare as a great means of propaganda for spreading love of God. It is not that it is recommended only for Kali-yuga. Actually, it is recommended for every age. There have always been many devotees who have chanted and reached perfection in all ages. That is the beauty of this Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. It is not simply for one age, or for one country, or for one class of people. Hare Kṛṣṇa can be chanted by any man in any social position, in any country and in any age, for Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Lord of all people in all social positions, in all countries, in all ages.