An Interview With His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

An Interview in London with
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Excerpted from Back To Godhead Magazine Vol 55, 1973


Srila Prabhupada: The purpose of this Krsna consciousness movement is to awaken man’s original consciousness. At the present moment our consciousness is designated. I am thinking, “I am American,” and you are thinking, “I am Englishman,” or he is thinking, “I am American.” But actually we do not belong to any of these designations. We are all part and parcel of God—that is our real identification. If we simply come to that consciousness, all the problems of the world will be solved. Now due to our designated consciousness we are thinking ourselves to be different from one another, but if we come to Krsna consciousness we shall come to know that we are one-the same spirit soul. The same spirit soul is within everyone, although it may be in a different dress. This is the explanation given in Bhagavad-gita

This Krsna consciousness movement is actually a purificatory process. Sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam. Its purpose is to make people free from all designations. Tat-paratvena nirmalam. In Krsna consciousness we become purified, and when we are purified our activities carried out by our purified senses make us perfect. That is the ideal perfection of human life. This process is also very simple. It is not necessary for one to become a great philosopher, scientist or whatever. We need only chant the holy name of the Lord, understanding that His person, His name and His qualities are all absolute. This Krsna consciousness process is a great science; unfortunately in the universities there is no department for this science. Therefore we invite all serious men who are interested in the welfare of human society to understand this great movement, and, if possible, take part in it and cooperate with us. The problems of the world will be solved. This is also the verdict of Bhagavad-gita, the most authoritative book of knowledge. Many of you have heard of Bhagavad-gita. It is most important, for our movement is based on it. It is approved by all great acaryas in India—Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Lord Caitanya and so many others. You are all representatives of newspapers, so now I am asking you to try to understand this movement as far as possible for the good of all human society.

“I am asking you to understand this moment… for the good of all human society.”

Interviewer: Your Grace, it seems to many people that there are probably more people in the world seeking some kind of new spiritual life. At least there is evidence of this. I wonder if you agree with that, and, if so, if you could tell me why.

Prabhupada: That is an absolutely natural hankering. Because we are spirit souls, we cannot be happy in the material atmosphere. If you take a fish from water, it cannot be happy on land. Similarly, if we are without spiritual consciousness, we can never be happy. Today so many people are after scientific advancement and economic development, but they are not happy. So many of the young people are becoming hippies. They are acting in this way because they are rejecting materialistic life and are trying to search for spiritual life. Actually this is the proper search. Krsna consciousness is the proper goal of life.

Interviewer: Presumably you would encourage this movement and encourage more people to participate.

Prabhupada: Yes. Unless you take to this movement you cannot be happy. That is a fact. Therefore we invite everyone to study and understand this great movement.

Interviewer: What frankly worries me is that since the arrival in Britain some time ago of an Indian yogi who was the first guru that most people ever heard of, there have been a lot of people and a lot of gurus that have suddenly appeared out of nowhere. One gets the feeling sometimes that they are not all as genuine as they ought to be. I wondered whether you thought it would be right to warn the people who are thinking of entering into some kind of spiritual life that they should take care to make sure they have a genuine guru to teach them.

Prabhupada: Yes.

Interviewer: Do you feel there is such a danger?

Prabhupada: Of course to search out a guru is very nice, but if you want a cheap guru, or if you want to be cheated, then there will be many cheater gurus.But if you are sincere, you will have a sincere guru. Because people want everything very cheaply, they are cheated. We ask our students to refrain from illicit sex, meat eating, gambling and intoxication, and consequently people think that this is all very difficult and is a botheration. But if someone else says, “You may do whatever nonsense you like. Simply take my mantra,” then people will like it. The point is that people want to be cheated, and therefore cheaters come. No one wants to undergo any austerity. Human life is meant for austerity, but no one is prepared to undergo austerity. Consequently cheaters come and say, “No austerity. Whatever you like, you do. Simply pay me and I’ll give you some mantra and you’ll become God in six months.” All this is going on. If you want to be cheated like this, the cheaters will come.

Interviewer: But what happens if someone in all seriousness wants to find spiritual life and happens to finish up with the wrong guru?

“If you are sincere, you will have a sincere guru.”

Prabhupada: If one wants simply an ordinary education, he has to devote so much time, labor and understanding to it. Similarly, if one is going to take to spiritual life, he must become serious. How is it that simply by some wonderful mantras they can become God in six months? Why do they want something like that? This means that they want to be cheated.

Interviewer: And how does one tell that one has a genuine guru?

Prabhupada: That of course depends on the person who is really anxious for a guru.When you go to the market to purchase some things, you test whether they are genuine or not. Similarly, you have to test whether the guru is genuine.

Interviewer: How can you tell if you don’t know?

Prabhupada: That requires a little education, a little knowledge. Therefore we are opening so many centers to give people an opportunity to know what is genuine and what is not.

Interviewer: How many followers do you have now throughout the world?

Prabhupada: For anything genuine, the followers may be very little. For something rubbish, the followers may be many.

Interviewer: I meant initiated followers.

Prabhupada: We have about three thousand.

Interviewer: It is growing all the time?

Prabhupada: Yes, it is growing, but slowly. This is because we have so many restrictions. People do not like restrictions.

Interviewer: Where is your following the greatest? In America?

Prabhupada: In America, Europe, Canada, Japan and Australia. And of course in India there are millions belonging to this cult. Apart from India, however, in other countries there are but small quantities.

Interviewer: Do you think your movement is the only way to come to know God?

Prabhupada: Yes.

Interviewer: How do you have that assured?

Prabhupada: From the authorities, from God, Krsna. Krsna says:

sarva-dharman parityajya
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg. 18.66)

Interviewer: If one wants to become initiated in your Society, what does he have to do or not do?

Prabhupada: First of all you have to give up illicit sex life.

Interviewer: Does that include all sex life? What is illicit sex life?

Prabhupada: Illicit sex is sex without marriage. Animals have sex with no restrictions. In human society there are restrictions. In every country and in every religion there is some system, and that is the guide. Without marriage sex life is illicit. You must also give up all intoxicants. This includes tea, cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana-anything that intoxicates.

Interviewer: Anything else?

Prabhupada: One also has to give up animal food. This includes meat, eggs and fish. One also has to give up gambling.

Interviewer: I think everyone lives in the temple, don’t they?

Prabhupada: Yes. Unless one gives up all these sinful activities, he cannot be initiated.

Interviewer: So one should give up one’s family as well?

Prabhupada: We are not concerned with families but with individual persons. If one wants to be initiated in this Krsna consciousness movement, he has to give up all sinful activities.

Interviewer: And the family as well?

Prabhupada: No.

Interviewer: But suppose I were to become an initiate wouldn’t I have to come and live in the temple?

Prabhupada: Not necessarily.

Interviewer: I can stay at home?

Prabhupada: Oh yes.

Interviewer: What about work? Does one have to give up his job?

Prabhupada: You simply have to give up these bad habits and chant these beads. Chant the Hare Krsna mantra. That’s all.

Interviewer: Would I have to give any financial support?

Prabhupada: No, that is your voluntary wish. If you give, that’s all right. And if you don’t, we don’t mind. We do not want to depend on anyone’s financial contribution. We depend on God or Krsna.

Interviewer: I wouldn’t have to give any money at all?

Prabhupada: No.

Interviewer: Is this one of the main things that distinguishes the genuine guru from the fake guru?

Prabhupada: Yes, a genuine guru is not a businessman. Guru means a representative of God. Whatever God says, the guru repeats. He does not speak otherwise.

Interviewer: But would you expect to find a real guru, for instance, traveling in a Rolls Royce and staying in a penthouse suite or a top class hotel?

Prabhupada: Sometimes people provide us with a top class hotel, but we generally stay in our own temples. We have some sixty temples around the world, and we don’t require to go to any hotels.

Interviewer: I wasn’t trying to make any accusations. I was merely trying to illustrate the fact that you have given a warning which I think is a valid one. There are so many people interested in finding a spiritual life, and at the same time there are a lot of people who are interested in cashing in on it. The point is that we should be able to distinguish one from the other.

Prabhupada: Are you under the impression that spiritual life means voluntarily accepting poverty? Do you think like that?

Interviewer: Well, I don’t, but I only thought that—

Prabhupada: A poverty-stricken man may be most materialistic, and a wealthy man may be very spiritual. Spiritual life does not depend on one’s living in poverty or wealth. Spiritual life is different. Consider Arjuna, for instance. Arjuna was a member of the royal family, and in Bhagavad-gita Sri Krsna said: evam parampara praptam imam rajarsayo viduh: “This supreme science was received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way.” (Bg. 4.2) In the past all kings who were saintly understood this spiritual life. Therefore spiritual life does not depend on one’s material condition. A person may be a king or a pauper—whatever his material condition may be, he can still understand spiritual life. Generally people do not know what spiritual life is, and they unnecessarily criticize us because they have no knowledge of spiritual life. If I asked you whether you. know what spiritual life is, how would you answer?

Interviewer: Well, I—

Prabhupada: Because they do not know what spiritual life is, they unnecessarily say, “It is this,” or “It is that.” But first of all one should know what spiritual life is. Spiritual life begins when you understand that you are not this body. That is the real beginning of spiritual life. One thus comes to understand that, “I am spirit soul.” The exact Sanskrit term for this realization is aham brahmasmi. “Iam spirit soul.”

Interviewer: Yes, but how can one actually determine who is a cheater and who is not?

Prabhupada: For that we have to become a little expert. If a person is a mechanic, he can understand things mechanical, and he can understand who is a valid mechanic. If you have no knowledge of machines, then how can you detect whether this man is a mechanic or not? So some little knowledge is required. If you want to purchase gold and know nothing about gold, then how can you understand whether this is gold or some other ore?

Interviewer: So how can people understand about a guru?

Prabhupada: You have to be expert in spiritual knowledge. Then you can understand. Otherwise you will simply be cheated. People are being cheated because they have no spiritual understanding, education.

Interviewer: Do you think there are many phoney gurus?

Prabhupada: Well, there may be many, but there are also many genuine ones. It is not that because there is some counterfeit money there is no genuine money. Both of them are there. You simply have to select whether one is counterfeit or not. I may give you a hundred dollar note, but if you do not know what is genuine, you will be cheated. Therefore it is up to you to find out what is counterfeit and what is genuine.

Interviewer: But how can you find out?

Prabhupada: That means you have to be qualified also.

A Disciple: Once I remember John Lennon asked you, “How will I know who is the genuine guru?” And you answered, “Just find out the one who is most addicted to Krsna. He is genuine.”

Prabhupada: But if someone does not know Krsna, then how can he find out who is most addicted to Him? That is the test for one who is already aware of Krsna. But if one is not aware of Krsna, God, how can he find out? That depends on his fortune. If he is fortunate, he comes in contact with a genuine guru.

Interviewer: That is why I was asking about the Rolls Royce and the penthouse suites because that was a very simple way for a learner to be able to say, “Well, this man is in a Rolls Royce, so therefore—

Prabhupada: That is not the test. Suppose a genuine guru is riding in a Rolls Royce. Do you think that just because he is in that car he is not genuine?

Interviewer: No, but—

Prabhupada: Then why are you making this the test? First of all you have to accept that your position is that you do not know the test. Because you do not know, you conclude, “Oh, this man is going in a Rolls Royce. Therefore he is not genuine.” But that is the wrong conclusion. You should know what is genuine. The genuine guru may go in a Rolls Royce or on foot, but that doesn’t matter. What you have to test is whether or not he is genuine, and that will require your qualification. My point is that people are not given any spiritual education. Therefore they cannot understand what is genuine and what is not.

“it is up to you to find out what is counterfeit and what is genuine.”

Interviewer: How do you think people should be educated then?

Prabhupada: People should first be taught what they are. Are they the body or something else? That is the beginning of education. Now everybody is being educated to think that he is this body. Because one accidentally gets an American body, he thinks, “I am an American.” This is just like thinking, “I am red,” just because you are wearing a red shirt. You are neither red, nor black nor white. You are a human being. Similarly, this body is considered to be a dress or a shirt or coat. If we simply recognize ourselves by our shirt and coat, then we have no spiritual education.

Interviewer: Do you think that such education should be given in schools?

Prabhupada: Yes, in schools, colleges, universities. There is an immense literature on this subject, an immense fund of knowledge. But the people are not interested. We are publishing many books, and we can publish many thousands more like them, but people are interested in cheap novels and other books. They may read newspapers, but if we present some philosophical book they are not interested in reading it. They have lost all their taste.

Interviewer: Presumably if spiritual education were given in schools then we wouldn’t have to worry about this problem.

Prabhupada: Yes, that is so. What is required is that the leaders of society come forward to understand this movement.

Srila Prabhupada and disciples in New York: “It is not a question of quantity but of quality.”

Interviewer: Have you ever had people come to you who have been previously to a fake guru?

Prabhupada: Yes, there are many.

Interviewer: And what has happened? Have they had their spiritual lives in any way spoiled by the fake gurus?

Prabhupada: No, they are seeking something, and that is their qualification. As soon as one is genuinely seeking, God, who is within everyone’s heart, helps.

Radha-Krsna Deities preside as Srila Prabhupada teaches disciples in London: “The real guru is God’s representative, and he’ll talk about God and nothing else

Interviewer: I wonder if the real gurus like yourself have ever tried in any way to put a stop to the false gurus—that is, put pressure on them to put them out of business, so to speak.

Prabhupada: No, that was not my purpose. I started my movement simply by chanting Hare Krsna. I chanted in New York in a place called Tompkins Square Park, and gradually people began to come to me. So this Krsna consciousness movement gradually began to develop. Many accepted, and many did not accept. Those who are fortunate have accepted.

Interviewer: Don’t you feel that people are suspicious because of their experience with bad gurus? If you went to a bad dentist and he broke your tooth, you might be suspicious about going to another.

Prabhupada: Yes, naturally if one is cheated, he becomes suspicious. But this does. not mean that if one is cheated once, he will always be cheated. He should find out something genuine. Either one must be fortunate or well aware of this science. From Bhagavad-gita we understand that the genuine seekers are very few. Manusyanam sahasresu kascid yatati siddhaye. Out of many millions of people there may be only one who is interested in spiritual life. Generally people are interested in eating, sleeping, mating and defending. So how can we expect to find many followers? First of all it is not difficult to notice that people have lost their spiritual interest. Those who are actually interested are all being cheated by so-called spiritualists. You cannot judge a movement simply by the number of its followers. If one man is genuine, then the movement is successful. It is not a question of quantity but quality.

Interviewer: I just wondered whether you knew that there are hundreds or thousands of people who have turned up with the wrong guru. I wondered how many people you think might have been taken in

Prabhupada: Practically everyone. (laughter) There is no question of numbering. Everyone.

Interviewer: So this would be thousands of people, wouldn’t it?

Prabhupada: Millions. Millions have been cheated because they want to be cheated. God is omniscient. He can understand. He is within your heart, and if you want to be cheated, God sends you a cheater.

Interviewer: Do you think it is possible for everyone to attain the perfectional stage you spoke of previously? Is it possible for everyone?

Prabhupada: Within a second. Anyone can attain perfection within a second provided he is willing. The difficulty is that no one is willing. For instance, in Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja: “Simply surrender unto Me.” But who is going to surrender to God? Everyone says, “Oh, why should I surrender to God? I will be independent.” If you simply surrender, it is a second’s business. That’s all. But no one is willing, and that is the difficulty.

Interviewer: When you say that lots of people want to be heated, do you mean that lots of people want to carry on with their worldly pleasures and at the same time, by chanting a mantra or by holding a flower, think that they can achieve spiritual life as well? Is this what you mean by wanting to be cheated?

Prabhupada: Yes, this is like a patient thinking, “I shall continue with my disease, and at the same time I shall become healthy.” It is contradictory. The first requirement is that one become educated in spiritual life. Spiritual life is not something one can understand by a few minutes’ talk. There are many philosophy and theology books, but people are not interested in them. That is the difficulty. For instance, Srimad-Bhagavatam is a very long work, and if you try to read this book it may take many days just to understand one line of it. The Bhagavatam describes God, the Absolute Truth, but people are not interested. In the present age people are disturbed in so many ways. If, by chance, one becomes a little interested, he wants something immediate and cheap. Therefore he is cheated. Actually human life is meant for austerity and penance. That is the way of Vedic civilization. They first used to train boys up as brahmacaris, and no sex life was allowed at all, up to the age of twenty-five. Where is that education? A brahmacari isa student who lives a life of complete celibacy and obeys the commands of his guru at the gurukula. Now schools and colleges are teaching sex from the very beginning, and twelve or thirteen-year-old boys and girls are having sex, so how can they have a spiritual life?

Interviewer: I am told that in India you are the most sought after guru. I take it that this means you are a genuine guru and have all the knowledge

Prabhupada: How do you know that I am genuine? (laughter) What makes you think that I am genuine and another is not?

Interviewer: I don’t know that you are. I know only that you say you are and that what you say seems to make sense.

Prabhupada: First of all I will give you some preliminary idea. The genuine guru is God’s representative, and he’ll speak about God and nothing else. The genuine guru is he who has no interest in materialistic life. He is after God and God only. That is one of the tests of a genuine guru.

Brahma-nistham. He is absorbed in the Absolute Truth. In the Mundakopanisad it is stated, srotriyam brahma-nistham. “The genuine guru is well versed in the scriptures and Vedic knowledge, and he is completely dependent on Brahman.” One should know what is Brahman and how one is situated in Brahman. These signs are given in the Vedic literature. As stated before, the real guru is God’s representative. He represents the Supreme Lord just as a viceroy represents a king. The real guru will not manufacture anything. Everything he says is in accordance with the scriptures and the previous acaryas. He will not give you a flower and tell you that you will be God in six months. This is not a guru’s business. A guru’s business is to canvass everyone to become devotees of God. That is the sum and substance of a real guru’s business. Indeed, he has no other business. He tells whomever he sees, “Please become God conscious.” Somehow or other if he canvasses on behalf of God and tries to get everyone to become a devotee of God, he is a genuine guru. So have you noted the definition of guru?

Interviewer: What about a Christian priest?

Prabhupada: Christian, Mohammedan, it doesn’t matter. If he is simply speaking on behalf of God, he is a guru. Lord Jesus Christ, for instance, canvassed people, saying, “Just become a lover of God.” Anyone-it doesn’t matter who be he Hindu, Muslim or Christian, is a guru if he convinces people to become lovers of God. That is the test. The guru never says, “I am God,” or, “I will make you God.” The real guru says, “I am a servant of God, and I will make you too a servant of God.” It doesn’t matter how one is dressed. As Caitanya Mahaprabhu said, “Whoever can impart knowledge about Krsna is a spiritual master.” He does not say that the spiritual master is a person who always wants money and sells mantras. The genuine guru is not interested in collecting money but in getting people to become devotees of Krsna, or God. He has no other business.

Interviewer: But the bad gurus—

Prabhupada: If you understand what a genuine guru is, why are you trying to understand the opposite?

Interviewer: I was trying to understand how one can recognize a bad guru.

Prabhupada: And what is a bad guru?

Interviewer: A bad guru just wants some money or some fame.

Prabhupada: Well, if he is bad, how does he become the guru? (laughter) How can iron be gold or gold be iron? Actually a guru cannot be bad, for if he is bad he cannot be guru. You cannot say “bad guru.” That is a contradiction. You may say “false guru.” But that is not so important. What you have to do is simply try to understand what a genuine guru is. The definition of a genuine guru is that he is simply talking about God, that’s all. If he’s talking about some other nonsense, then he is not a guru. A guru cannot be bad. There is no question of a bad guru any more than there’s a red guru or a white guru. Guru is guru. All we have to know is that the genuine guru is simply talking about God and trying to get people to become God’s devotees. If he does this, he is genuine. Is that point clear?

Interviewer: Yes. Thank you very much.