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Zen, Christian Teachings and Krishna Consciousness

Conversation with Professor Dürckheim, German Spiritual Writer, June 19, 1974, Schloss Rettershof, Germany

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

Founder-Acharya of the world-wide Hare Krishna Movement, Brahma Sampradaya Acharya

Srila Prabhupada with Prof Durckheim

In June 1974, Professor Karlfried Graf Dürckheim met with Srila Prabhupada at Schloss Rettershof. Professor Dürckheim was a well-known author with a following in the Schwarzwald (Black Forest), Germany. Later in their discussion, they were joined by three professors of theology and philosophy from Frankfurt University, one of them the late Professor Pater Felix Porsch, and Dr. P.J. Saher, head of the Society for Yoga and Integral Philosophical Studies in Germany. 



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Prabhupada: I've heard you are teaching yoga system?

Professor Dürckheim: No, not yoga. Rather, I am professor of philosophy and psychology.

I spent the war in Japan. My mentor is Master Eckhart, the great Germany mystic of the 1300's.

In Japan I encountered Zen, and rediscovered the same Truth; once again I saw there is only one Truth. Returning from Japan, I rejected all offers to a renewed professorship, and began in a small valley in the mountains of the Black Forest (Schwarzwald) to work and to write books, and people came, and today we have there what you would call a little ashrama, mostly about fifty, sixty persons living there, coming, going, no patients, just people who try to discover their real self, nothing else.

Prabhupada: Yes.

Professor Dürckheim: That's our work we are trying to do.

Prabhupada: So Absolute Truth is realized in three aspect. Brahmeti paramatmeti bhagavan iti shabdyate [Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.2.11]. Some realize the Absolute Truth as impersonal Brahman, others realize the Absolute Truth as localized Paramatma, situated in everyone's heart, and the final realization is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So we are cultivating the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna. Krishnas tu bhagavan svayam [Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.28]. So which aspect you are cultivating, the Paramatma or the impersonal Brahman or the Personality of Godhead?

Professor Dürckheim: You can't help cultivate all three in the long run.

Prabhupada: No, all three are one. But it is the angle of vision only. Just like a mountain—somebody from distant place looking, hazy clouds, something. The mountain is the same, but from long distance one realizes as hazy cloud. Little more nearer, they realize something green. And if somebody goes in the mountain, he realizes the mountain and the animals and the residential place, everything. The objective is the same, but the angle of vision different. So in India or everywhere, some realizing the Absolute Truth as impersonal, without any variegatedness.

Professor Dürckheim: As Buddhists do.

Prabhupada: Buddhists, they, I think, they... Yes, you are right, impersonal. But their philosophy is to stop all kinds of realization, nirvana. Realization they do not want. They want to stop realization, to become zero. Is it not that?

Professor Dürckheim: To become? I didn't understand.

Prabhupada: Zero.

Professor Dürckheim: Zero, yes. Well, zero from the point of view of the alter ego, but this zero is everything from the outside. From the point of view of the natural ego it's zero, but once you touch it, it's the plenitude, everything. But it's beyond something and everything, as far as I understand it.

Prabhupada: Yes, it is beyond. That beyond is realized, as I explained to you, in different angle of vision. Some, impersonal, without any variety, and some, localized Paramatma, and some, the Supreme Being. As you are sitting, I am sitting, we are talking, so the Absolute Truth is a person, Supreme Person, Supreme Being, and we approach Him, talk with Him, sit with Him, play with Him. That is Krishna realization. First of all, negation of the material varieties, then impersonal realization, then localized realization, then personal realization. Just like a diseased man. First of all cure, then healthy activities. A diseased man has got activities. He also eats, he also sleeps, he also evacuates, but all troublesome. Therefore, being disgusted, he wanted to make everything zero. But if he hears that again sleeping, again eating, again evacuating is healthy life, he thinks it is something like his diseased condition. But healthy life is different from diseased life. So some philosophers, they are trying to negate this diseased condition only, without any realization of healthy life. So I think Buddha philosophy is called nirvana, negation of this diseased condition of life, pains and pleasure. Am I right or wrong?

Professor Dürckheim: You are certainly right. We see the... It is a big... In our work, as I see it, to realize that what from one point of view seems too bad, bad, for instance, illness or dying, what the natural ego does not like, if you goes through, it's also the threshold to quite a different reality.

Prabhupada: Yes, different it is. The same example, as I gave you: In diseased condition the reality is something, and healthy condition, the reality is something else. But if we compare the reality of healthy life with the realities of diseased life, that will be a misconception.

Professor Dürckheim: The dead, person who is dead.

Prabhupada: We take this body—dead always. This body is actually dead. Just like this microphone is made of iron. It is iron. When it is working, responding, at that time also it is iron. And when it is out of order, does not work, it is also iron. Similarly, this body is working on account of the living force within. When the living force is out, it is called dead. But actually it is dead always. The living force is the important thing. That is making him alive. Actually alive or dead, it is dead matter. But the living force is the active principle. That is distinguishing this body as dead or alive. But factually it is dead always. That is the beginning of instruction, Bhagavad-gita: "Arjuna, you are lamenting for this body, but the body is dead." Ashochyan anvashochas tvam prajna-vadamsh cha bhashase [Bhagavad-gita 2.11]. So unless we know that... The dead body is not the subject matter of study either it is in working order or it is in dead order. The subject matter of study is the active principle which makes the dead body moving. That is the beginning of Bhagavad-gita. [to Satsvarupa:] Read that portion.

Satsvarupa:

sri bhagavan uvacha
ashocyan anvashochas tvam
prajna-vadamsh cha bhashase
gatasun agatasumsh cha
nanushochanti panditah
[Bhagavad-gita 2.11]

"Translation: The Blessed Lord said, While speaking learned words you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead."

Prabhupada: What is your opinion about this?

Professor Dürckheim: May I ask a question? How do you teach your disciples to become aware of this force which is not matter, that makes matter alive?

Prabhupada: That active principle, life, or living soul.

Professor Dürckheim: Yes, how do you teach them to become aware of it? You see, now I listen, and that is, if you like, first a philosophy which contains the truth. I don't doubt it. But how to make feel?

Prabhupada: It is very simple thing. Just like a body is moving, and body is not moving. So there is an active principle which makes the body moving, and when it is absent, it is not moving. Now, the question will be: "What is that active principle?" Athato brahma jijnasa. First of all let him distinguish what is the difference between this dead body and living body. If a student is unaware of it, he can see that on account of the active principle, the body is changing, the body is moving, and in the absence of the active principle, neither the body changes, neither moves. Just like in our childhood we used to think that the gramophone box, there is a man, and he is speaking from the box. This is a childish suggestion only, but similarly, anyone can think that within this body there is something which is making the body moving. It is not very big philosophy.

Professor Dürckheim: No, that's quite clear.

Prabhupada: Anyone can understand. So our students are taught on the principle of Bhagavad-gita that the body is always dead. The body is simply just like a machine, a big machine. This machine, it is dead, but as soon as I push the button it works. Similarly, the body is dead, but within the body, the life or the active principle, so long it is there, it is responding. Just like we are talking. I am asking my student, "Come here." He comes. But as soon as the active principle is out, I will ask him for thousands of years, "Come here"—he will not come. It is very simple to distinguish. Now, what is that active principle, that is a separate subject matter to understand. And that is the beginning of spiritual knowledge. This is our learning.

Professor Dürckheim: May I ask a question? It is quite clear for our rational mind, I can understand there is a dead body, and there must be something in him, enough to make it alive. Now, the conclusion, I say there are two things, that my question was how he becomes aware in himself as an experience, not as conclusion, because I realize that on the inner way it becomes important more and more to feel deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper realities. That's why in my little work I make a distinction between the body you have and the body you are. The English language says, talks about "somebody" and "something." "Somebody" means a person. So the body you are. It's the whole of the gestures wherein you express and you present and you miss or you realize your real self. So the body you are. Usually if you go to a doctor he sees only the body you have. He tackles it like a machine. If somebody with shoulders like this, he says, "Well, you must make exercises." If somebody comes to me with shoulders like this, I say, "The body you are, you have no confidence in life. So get an attitude of confidence." So he gets to know the body he is, not only the body he has, which doesn't at all touch at your wisdom.

Prabhupada: No, as I say, the active principle, I am also the active principle. As I say, the dead body and the living body, difference is, when the active principle is not there, it is dead body. Similarly, I am also the active principle. So 'ham, so 'ham: "I am the same active principle." Aham brahmasmi: "I am Brahman. I am not this material body." That is self-realization. Brahma-bhutah prasannatma na shochati na kankshati: [Bhagavad-gita 18.54] "When one is self-realized, then he is jolly." Prasannatma. He is never morose. He is jolly. Na shochati na kankshati: "He has no lamentation, no hankering." Samah sarveshu bhuteshu: "He is equal to everyone, man, animal and everything." And mad-bhaktim labhate param: [Bhagavad-gita 18.54] "Then devotional life begins." So without self-realization, there is no question of devotional life. Or those who are engaged in devotional service, they are all... Just like these boys, my students, they are trained up how to be always in devotional service. So one who is engaged in devotional service, he is supposed to be already self-realized. Because he has understood "what I am," yes. And then he sticks to devotional service. Otherwise, he cannot. If one thinks, "I am this body," then he cannot be engaged in devotional service, or he cannot stick. He knows that "I am part and parcel of God. So my duty is to serve God." This is self-realization. And then he engages himself in devotional service.

Professor Dürckheim: I say, master, that when you say he knows, you don't speak about this knowledge.

Prabhupada: Which knowledge?

Professor Dürckheim: You came already... You say "believe and by this know that I am participating in the great divine person." And yet I didn't experience it.

Prabhupada: Why not experience? He knows that "I am that active principle." Everyone knows that "I am not this body." When I say, "This is my finger," I don't say, "I finger." So "I," what "I"? That realization, self-realization, that "I am part and parcel of God." So that he knows, that "I am part and parcel of God. So therefore my duty is to serve God." So they are engaged in serving God. So this serving God, or devotional service, is stated in the Bhagavad-gita... [to Satsvarupa:] Find out that verse, that:

mam cha yo 'vyabhicharena
bhakti-yogena sevate
sa gunan samatityaitan
brahma-bhuyaya kalpate
[Bhagavad-gita 14.26]

So unless one is self-realized, he cannot be engaged in the service of the supreme self. Ordinarily, a master and a servant, a servant knows that "I am engaged by the master. He is giving me food. He is giving me shelter. He is giving me everything for his service." So he is careful in his service. This is a material example. Similarly, self-realization is ultimately, as I taught you, that, first impersonal Brahman, then localized Paramatma, and then the yogis, they realize the localized Paramatma. Dhyanavasthita-tad-gatena manasa pashyanti yam yoginah [Srimad-Bhagavatam 12.13.1]. The yogis, they observe the Supersoul within himself, and they meditate upon Him. [to Satsvarupa:] What is that verse?

Satsvarupa:

mam cha yo 'vyabhicharena
bhakti-yogena sevate
sa gunan samatityaitan
brahma-bhuyaya kalpate
[Bhagavad-gita 14.26]

"Translation: 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."

Prabhupada: This is our process.

Professor Dürckheim: A long way to get there.

Prabhupada: And the process is going on. The chanting the holy name of Krishna, by this process they fully realize that, the master, the Supreme Being, and engages himself always. These European, American boys, they are all educated. Not... In your country, of course, the young men...

Professor Dürckheim: They are educated too.

Prabhupada: Yes. So they are always engaged in devotional service. So unless there is some realization, how they can engage their time in this way? They are not fools who waste their time. Already as young men, they do not have any material attachments. They follow strictly four fundamental principles: None of my students maintains illicit sexual relations; none eats meat, fish or eggs, but only Krishna prasadam; none take intoxicants like tea, coffee, alcohol, cigarettes or drugs; and none gamble. They live this life, although they are born in another country—not India, and although they grew up under completely different circumstances. How could they give up all these things if they had not found a higher taste? How could they be otherwise satisfied? Bhakti means that one has no more interest in unnecessary material things. Not that they do not eat, but they do not eat the generally usual, so-called delicious things for the satisfaction of the tongue. In order to eat, they do not commit cruel actions to kill as for instance animals; they are content with what God gives them. Tyena tyaktena bhunjitah. It is said in the Vedas: "Eat that which is your designated portion." God says, "You are human being. You can eat. I have given you fruits. I have given you vegetables. I have given you food grains. I have given you milk, very nutritious, palatable, containing all vitamin ABCD. And why should you kill animals? Why should you give trouble to the others?" This is self-realization, that "Here is another self. The same active principle is working there. The body is different. Why shall I kill him?" So they have realized it. Samah sarveshu bhuteshu. Equal vision to all living entities, that the self, that active principle, is working in the fish, in the insect, within the tree, within the plant, within the animals, within the birds and within me. This is self-realization. That active principle is soul, and the soul is migrating from one body to another as you are migrating from childhood to babyhood, babyhood to boyhood, boyhood to youthhood. So the soul is the same. The body is different. The body is material and the soul is spiritual. When one comes to this understanding, that is self-realization.

Professor Dürckheim: May I put a question, master? On the way there should be progress, inner progress. How to realize that there is a progress? I would say one thing is very important. There are three sufferings in the world of mankind: fear of annihilation, despair if you are taken by something which is absurd, and loneliness, if you are alone. These three sufferings in the world for the natural being. I realize that you make a decisive step on your inner way when you feel life in the very moment when you have to die, when you feel the great meaning in the very moment when you are just having despair, and when you feel the great love of the person God exactly while you are a lonely in the world. And I have realized that we are now in a very decisive moment in the western world because for the first time in the history of mankind, the western people, in Europe and the States, start to take seriously certain experiences, inner experiences, where this truth is revealed. In all times, as far as I see, the great condition of the east, they knew about those experiences where death loses its terrifying character and becomes the threshold to some bigger life. And I always see with also my disciples, as soon as they learn to go through some kind of death, they awake on a new level. So I will say if people are in my place and after a week, they still sleep very well, then I have made a mistake. About that sleep, just to realize something in overcoming their usual needs, their usual fears, their usual habits, in order to touch inwardly another level, and then suddenly they realize there is some quite different principle at work as they see usually in their natural mind.

Prabhupada: So that different principle, for a devotee is already realized. Because a devotee never thinks of this body, that "I am this body." He thinks "I am..." aham brahmasmi: "I am spirit soul." So without that realization, there is no question of devotional life. So that is first understood. That instruction is being given by Krishna to Arjuna, that "You are considering very seriously on this body, but a learned man does not take this body very seriously, either dead or alive." That is the first realization. So everyone in this world, they are concerned with this body, dead or alive. When alive, they take care of the body in so many ways, and when dead they erect big statue upon it. So that realization is this body. When it is alive, very nicely dressed, nicely groomed, nicely everything on account of this body, and when dead, then again the statue, the tomb, that's all, but missing the active principle. He is taking care of this body even after death by erecting very nice memorial, but he has no knowledge where the active principle has lost. That is ignorance.

Professor Dürckheim: When I was a young man, I was four years in the World War. Forty-eight months almost in the foremost front. And I was one of the two officers...

Prabhupada: In First World War? First World War?

Professor Dürckheim: World War I, 1914 to 1918.

Prabhupada: Yes. Yes.

Professor Dürckheim: And I was one of the two officers who were not wounded in my regiment. And there I met death again and again. And I saw people just killed next to me. Suddenly it was out. It was just only as you say, the body without soul. But I realized also in myself, that when death was near and you had accepted death, accepted to die, then you realized something which has nothing to do whatsoever with death.

Prabhupada: Yes. That is self-realization.

Professor Dürckheim: So this marked me very much. It's the very beginning of my inner way, these four years of World War.                        Next Page

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