One Religion, Like One Sun

Derivatives of the original Vedic culture

Part II of a 2-day Seminar on Vedic Knowledge and Krishna Consciousness
City of Ten Thousand Buddhas Academy
June 9, 2005, Ukiah, California

Lord Chaitanya with His associates
Lord Chaitanya and associates, painting by Hansadutta das, 1969

Hare Krishna mantra recommended for this age

HANSADUTTA: This is a picture of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared about 500 years ago in India. He introduced this process of chanting Hare Krishna. What he did, in essence, was to introduce a shortcut method of spiritual realization for the people in general in this age, which is known as Kali Yuga. Do you have similar terms for ages in your Buddha teachings?

DHARMASTER HENG SHUN: We don’t have yugas, but we have the Age of the Proper Dharma, which is a thousand years for the time of the Buddha, the first thousand years, then a thousand years of the Image Age, then about ten thousand years that we’re in now, and it’s called the Dharma Ending Age, or the End of the Dharma Age, or the Age of the Dharma’s Decline.

HANSADUTTA: All right, so you also have ages. The Vedic cosmology has a very precise time frame, and we are now in the last age in a cycle of four, which is called Kali Yuga. This age is characterized by irreligion, quarrel, hypocrisy and dissension.

DHARMASTER SHUN: In Buddhism it’s called the Age of Fighting.

HANSADUTTA: Yes, over small trifling matters people will fight and kill one another, and we actually see that happening. Plus in this age the duration of life is reduced, memory is reduced, piety is reduced, people are very sinful and so on.

Anyway, because this age is so degraded, and because people will simply not be able to practice the different yogas and austerities that attend spiritual life, this simple process of chanting the Holy Name of Krishna has been introduced. Lord Chaitanya predicted that in every town and village of the world, this chanting will be known—”My Name will be known,” He said. This is Lord Chaitanya here, and these are His associates. I painted this picture back in 1969, when we opened the Berkeley temple.

Krishna nondifferent from His name

DHARMASTER SHUN: I have a question about this, because I’ve been to Krishna temples, like the one in Boston, which is a big temple, like the Ritz Hotel. Very nice building. Isn’t dancing very important? Because usually in the temple when they’re chanting, they’re also dancing. So is it like Sufi dancing?

HANSADUTTA: No, the idea is that the chanting is actually a direct means of associating with Krishna. In other words, chanting Hare Krishna is identical with Krishna. The sound vibration Krishna is Krishna. It is something like when you receive a call from your friend on your cell phone. It’s as good as if he were there. Of course, that’s a material technology, but spiritually this principle is even more applicable. Just by sound, you can have direct contact. The sound and the person are identical. That’s the meaning of absolute. There is no difference between the sound and the person, or the sound and the item. In the material world, for example, relative means if Dharmaster Shun is not in the room, and I say “Dharmaster Shun”, it is useless. Or if I want water and I say “water”, it is not identical with the substance. So absolute platform or the spiritual platform means there is no difference between the name, or the sound in this case, and the person Himself. That is the understanding, and that’s why the chanting is so important. It puts you in touch with Krishna. And by being in touch with Krishna, your heart, mind and senses are purified, just as when we stand in the sunlight, we are in touch with the sun. Although the sun is 93 million miles away, we are actually in touch with the sun in a way that will not harm us. If we come too close to the sun, we will be burnt to ashes. So our present material condition, it is considered to be unnatural, or a diseased condition of life. As we said yesterday, it is because we are subjected to these four miseries: birth, old age, disease and death. So, the process is to come in touch with Krishna and be purified.

DHARMASTER SHUN: That idea that the name of Krishna is identical with Krishna, was that first introduced in the world by Chaitanya?

HANSADUTTA: No, it is not unique to Him. It is there in the shastras. But it has been stressed for this age. Everything is there in the shastras, but for certain ages, certain things are—how do you say? There is a focus. The word shastra means instruction. It comes from the word astra; astra means weapons.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Because in Buddhism, our scriptures are divided up into sutras. The word comes from Buddha. The precepts are the rules followed by the monks, and then shastras are commentaries by later people, not the Buddha. The divine word is shastra.

HANSADUTTA: Yes, anything to do with the divine realm is “shastric”. Shastra means instructions. They are injunctions meant for human beings, and astras are weapons, so the word is a derivative. Animals cannot take instructions; therefore we need a stick to control them. Like a ring in the nose for a bull, and a bit in the mouth for a horse, etc. But a human being is advanced in intelligence so he can be guided by good instructions. Therefore, the shastras say if a human being does not follow “shastric” injunctions, then he is an animal.

Religion as the science of life

Okay, I just wanted to make a short summary of what we discussed yesterday. We talked about the Bhagavad-gita and the five subject matters: the material energy, the spiritual energy, the controller of both, time and activities, or karma. Then we discussed that there are two kinds of dharma. There is the dharma, or duties and responsibilities that pertain to a person’s material body and his relationships with his family, friends and society. That is called apara-dharma, or inferior—it is not permanent, it is temporary. Now you are in this body—you were born in a Chinese family, I was born in a German family, he was born in an American family, and so we have duties in regards to these temporary relationships. But above that there is para-dharma, which are the duties or the responsibilities of the soul proper. They are eternal, they are permanent, and they apply to everyone.

We are in a class here where we are comparing religious communities and religious studies; it is a comparative religion class. But the more correct understanding is that there is only one religion. Just as there is only one education, but it has different levels, starting with the most elemental, basic kindergarten, then grammar school, then junior high, high school, college, university, post-graduate, and even after graduating, a person will continue his education in different ways. So similarly, spiritual studies or spiritual understanding is not a static thing where you simply wave a flag and say, “I’m a Christian, I’m a Jew, I’m a Muslim, I’m a Buddhist, I’m a Hindu”, and that’s it, finished. A common man understands religion in that way, but it is actually a progressive teaching, or a science of the living force.

Now, there are people who say, “I don’t believe there is a soul, and I don’t believe there is a God”, but still you can’t get around the fact that there is a difference between a dead body and a living body. There is a difference. Spiritual life, or spiritual studies, religion really concerns itself with that difference. What is that difference? A doctor will say, “The heart stopped”. Well, why? Make it go! Someone will say, “There is some chemical change.” So introduce the right chemical and bring the body back to life. We know, for example, that this body maintains a constant temperature of 98.6° F. We know that—who can deny it? When death takes place, the body temperature falls, the body becomes cold and stiff. It stops growing and in fact, starts to disintegrate. Religion has come to be seen in a very suspicious way, because it has been misused in so many ways and in so many places, and therefore there are communist countries where they just dismiss it out of hand—”Religion is the opiate of the masses.” But actually, real spiritual education is scientific, just as to become a medical doctor, and deal with this body and its ailments is a great science. Above that, to deal with the actual living force that activates this body is the subject of study, because the doctor’s medicines and injections are useless if the body is dead. Why? Because the moving, active principle has gone. Now, how it comes, how it goes—this is the science of spiritual life or yoga. It doesn’t matter by which name you call it; the concern is What am I? How did I come here? What is my responsibility? What am I to do here? And when this body is worn out and I have to leave it, then what happens?

As I said before, some people will say, “I don’t believe in the soul, I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in anything! I just want to enjoy.” That’s okay, but that does not mean that you will not become old, you will not get diseased, and that inevitably, you will not die. You will. Everyone will. And so the intelligent person will inquire into these things. The example I gave yesterday was Lord Buddha. He became so concerned and obsessed that he was to become old, diseased and ultimately face death, that he could not continue to carry out his normal material duties as a prince, as the son of a royal family, as a husband and as a father to his child. He became so overwhelmed by these four problems that he decided to abandon everything and sit down until he was enlightened, until it was clear what the meaning of this was, and what should be done. We find similar examples in the lives of St. Francis of Assisi, or Lord Jesus, and it goes on and on.

But the real point is that there is a science of life. At the present moment, especially in the Western countries, it is completely disregarded and ignored, and the result is that people are unhappy, because they are acting in terms of this body. They are thinking, “I am Chinese, I’m a Palestinian, I’m a Jew, I’m an Iraqi, I’m an American”, and they’re killing one another. Why? Because they are obsessed with this bodily identification, or this false designation. But as soon as we understand that “I’m not this body”, we have to ask “Why should I go out and subject myself to a conflict that is simply concerned with my outer appearance, with something I’m not: my body, which is not going to be here when I leave it?”

That is when human life actually begins. That is the whole subject matter of the Bhagavad-gita, and that was the entire Vedic culture and civilization. The society was organized in such a way that every person in the society, whether highly intelligent or just a lowly working class person, and even the animals could live and act in such a way that gradually they were making spiritual progress, which meant ultimately to get out of the cycle of birth, old age, disease and death. That is the meaning of Vedic civilization, as opposed to Western civilization, in which America has reached the apex. They simply say, “We’re here just one time, so let’s have a good time and make money, and when death finally comes, what can we do? We’ll just have to grin and bear it.”

Rubberstamping is not religion

So I’ve tried to present this in a nutshell, instead of in detail why we wear a sikha, why we wear a robe, or why do we do this and that. I’ve tried to present in a general way the importance of religion, and the fact that the many religions are actually one thing. It is simply that people have been very lazy and casual about understanding what spiritual life or religion actually is. It is enough for them to go to church once a week, or simply say, “Yeah, my dad is a Christian, my mom is a Christian, and so I’m a Christian too.” But they have no idea what it is. The fact is that spiritual understanding is even more important than being materially capable, like becoming a computer engineer or a doctor or a lawyer. That’s all very nice, but if I don’t know the most elementary and basic thing—what I am—if I can’t get out of the bodily concept of life, then I can’t be happy, even if I do become economically very successful. We see this all of the time, especially in America, in the lives of big movie stars, sports players and politicians. Their lives are a mess, because they have no point of reference beyond this body. They’re simply concerned with this body.

So, now we will have questions.

DHARMASTER SHUN: I have a question. Yesterday… I want to make sure that my understanding is correct. You said that there are the five subjects. There is para-prakriti. It is the superior nature, and that refers to the jiva atma, the spiritual self. And then the apara-prakriti, which is the inferior nature—that is, those eight elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intellect and ego. And those are inert, they have no life, so they are what we call insentient. Okay, then… so the superior nature is what activates. It is sentient, a sentient being. Okay, and Krishna controls both of those. Does he just control? Or create them? Or what’s the relationship?

HANSADUTTA: He is the source of both energies, and being the source, He is also the controller, but being the controller doesn’t mean that He is personally controlling. Just as in this school there is a dean, someone who controls the school, but I don’t see him. He oversees through his agents. Even if we refer to the original founder, he is the remote controller. So yes, Krishna is both the origin and the controller of both energies.

STUDENT: What you talked to us about just now was mainly why religion is important, but it wasn’t, from what I heard, Hindu or Vedic specific.

HANSADUTTA: No, not specifically. Some people are drawn to the teachings of Lord Buddha, some are drawn to the teachings of Lord Jesus, and the reason is because they actually represent a certain stage of evolution in the spiritual life of that person. Therefore they have a natural affinity to be drawn to that. Life is ongoing. It is not a one-time thing where this is the first time we have been here. We see that people bring certain inclinations with them. One person is artistic, another person is musical, others are inclined to sports, some are very scholarly and studious. They exhibit this from birth. And why? Because it is from their previous lives. They have practiced, and therefore when they come, they have a natural affinity for certain things. So similarly in spiritual life, we have also had some connection, or practice, or association with spiritual teachers, either in the Christian community or the Buddha community or the Muslim community or the Vedic community. A person finds himself naturally drawn to one or more of these. Therefore, it doesn’t really matter which community one is drawn to. What does matter is that people actually follow the teachings of that person, and not simply become blind followers.

Importance of the spiritual master

STUDENT: Why were you drawn to the Vedic Religion?

HANSADUTTA: Yes, that’s a good question. I was born in Germany in 1941, at the height of the war. It was a common practice that all the children went to church early in the morning before school. So that was embedded in me to imbibe in the Christian teachings. Then I came to America, to New York City, and the kids here didn’t go to church. Some didn’t even go to school! They were all juvenile delinquents. After coming to this country, and being subjected to the New York juvenile delinquent lifestyle, I became more and more degraded, smoking cigarettes, drinking, and so on. My whole life was coming unraveled, without any direction. Then I fell into the LSD thing, and at some point I was just totally bewildered and confused, without any direction, and I didn’t know what to do. Then a friend came to my house with a small book by Srila Prabhupada. At first, I didn’t even read it. I just threw it into my car. Then my life became so depressed that one day I had this impulse that “I have got to read that little book”. To make a long story short, I read that small book—it was called Easy Journey to Other Planets.

DHARMASTER SHUN: What year was that?

HANSADUTTA: That was 1967.

DHARMASTER SHUN: So Prabhupada had just come from India in 1966?

HANSADUTTA: Yes. So as I read page after page, it just struck me and overwhelmed me that “Yes! This is what I have been looking for all along.” So I finished reading the book, went straight to the temple and said, “Hey, I want to be a devotee. What do I have to do?” That’s basically how I joined this movement. When I came, there were maybe only 15 boys altogether. This picture here, in black and white: that’s Prabhupada on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in Tompkins Square Park, preaching.

STUDENT: What was your first impression of Prabhupada when you first met him?

HANSADUTTA: Well, I first met the devotees, his disciples, and I could see that they were just completely absorbed and self-satisfied. They weren’t concerned with me, or putting on a show, and it really struck me. When I first met Prabhupada, I came into the room and he said—as if I were an old friend—”Oh, you have come.” I made obeisances, paid my respects to him, and sat down. I was [seated at a distance from Srila Prabhupada] maybe from here to where you are, in a small apartment in New York. And then it seemed to me that Prabhupada was glowing, that there was light streaming from him, and I thought, “It’s because I’m nervous.” So I started twitching my eyes and moving my head, but no, I actually saw that he was effulgent—which subsequently, later on, I would see also whenever he would speak, or whenever I was in his presence and I concentrated very carefully. Yes, I would see the same thing. Prabhupada had this effect on people, especially the first time they met him, that they would just burst out and start weeping. Completely. When I first walked into the room, all of my muscles just gave way. It was like I lost control of my cheeks and my legs, like I melted.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Do you think this is from past lives?

HANSADUTTA: Yes, I think so. Now in hindsight, when I look back, I feel that those disciples who came very early on and had such an immediate and complete dedication had to have been in his orbit before, and now they were meeting him again. And I’m convinced that when we leave this body, wherever Prabhupada is, we will go and join him, because that is the principle. “Wherever and whatever the mind is fixed upon when quitting this body, that nature one attains without fail.” (Bhagavad-gita)

DHARMASTER SHUN: So would you say that rather than your being born in a realm beyond birth and death with Krishna, actually you’re more focused on being with Prabhupada in the future?

HANSADUTTA: Yes. Actually, the Vaishnava teachings, in their higher realms… the devotees don’t really care if they’re liberated. They’re not striving to be liberated. They only want to be engaged in Krishna’s service, and more directly, they want to be engaged as the servant of the servant of the servant of the servant of Krishna, a hundred times removed. And I’m sure that the Buddhist teachings are very similar.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Yes. There are different schools, but yes, in one of the main texts that we study, there is a focus on the importance of the teacher. But do you know what it is in Sanskrit? In Chinese they can’t translate it. It doesn’t even sound anything like the Sanskrit, but in Sanskrit it is kalyana mitra, which means good friend. It means a teacher, a guru.

HANSADUTTA: Did I answer your question? Good.

STUDENT: Where do you think you would have ended up if you hadn’t met Prabhupada?

HANSADUTTA: I probably would have ended up in jail or just dead. I’m not unusual, in that practically all of the devotees, and especially the early students grew up in the sixties, right? Which is probably now a subject matter for study in the schools. They study the 60’s, with the Beatles and Allen Ginsberg. At that time, a lot of the social norms were being challenged and broken.

DHARMASTER SHUN: You have to admit that a lot of events in the sixties… one of them was the Kennedy assassination… that kind of set the stage for a lot of the sixties. Didn’t that shake the foundation of your sense of security?

HANSADUTTA: No. We were kids. I was only 22 years old, so “Who cares about Kennedy?” [laughter] For adults, I’m sure it really shook them up, but we were New York kids, street kids. We didn’t care. What really shook us up was when Elvis first came on the scene! I remember the first time he was on TV. A friend of mine called me up and said, “You gotta turn on Ed Sullivan. There’s this guy on there”, and so I flipped the channel and there was Elvis doing his thing. We had never seen anything like it before—it was unbelievable. And the whole rock and roll thing… it was like aliens had landed. It was so completely contrary to anything that had ever been done musically. And it was illegal. The people who would play it on the air would get arrested, and then they would have shows, and the police would shut them down. Nowadays, when you go into K-mart, Little Richard and Bob Dylan are playing. So what happened was… I call it a milestone in the degradation of this age. People come who are actually gurus in a way, but they are introducing a step down in the degradation of the human society. Like Alan Ginsberg, for example. He introduced being gay as cool, and they became popular. But this is degradation. Then Timothy Leary introduced LSD, and was telling people that you can see God, and that you are God, so people were taking LSD and going mad. These persons are also leaders, but they are misleaders. They are taking the society one step down.

DHARMASTER SHUN: It’s interesting, though, how the spiritual movement of the sixties came at the same time.

HANSADUTTA: Yes, to counteract it. Because that is the nature of the world. We say opposites attract. But it’s not that opposites attract; they counterbalance, so that things don’t go too far off the edge.

DHARMASTER SHUN: So… like our master came in 1962, but he didn’t start lecturing to Americans until ’68, almost the same time as Prabhupada.

HANSADUTTA: Yes, so they come to counteract this degrading influence of the age.

Hare Krishna movement then and now

[To a student] You were going to ask another question?

STUDENT: How active is the Hare Krishna Movement today compared to before?

HANSADUTTA: In some parts of the world it is very active. In places like Russia and China they are very active, but it’s also very dangerous.

DHARMASTER SHUN: It’s illegal in Russia isn’t it?

HANSADUTTA: No, now it has become legal. But after Prabhupada, I was the first devotee to go to Russia and preach. But that’s another whole story in itself.

DHARMASTER SHUN: It was illegal for a while. Buddhism is one of the four legal religions in Russia, even through the Communist times. For some reason, there was a Buddhist influence going way way back several hundred years ago, so they recognized it. But Krishna must have been perceived as a threat.

HANSADUTTA: They probably figured that the Buddhists are very peaceful, so they couldn’t do any harm.

Tompkins Square, New York
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Tompkins Square, New York City, 1967

JIM: You were saying that it’s very active in some parts of the world, but in other parts—

HANSADUTTA: Yes. For example, Prabhupada came to America in 1965, and by ’66-67 it became a phenomenon. You would see the devotees everywhere—in the airports, in the streets.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Well, it was interesting. I was just listening to the tape of Prabhupada, and he was saying that he wanted to convert Americans, people in the West. Part of the purpose of that was to inspire people back in India, because he felt that they had become so degraded, that in the West he could show an example of Westerners that could influence people back in India.

HANSADUTTA: Yes. Prabhupada was actually thinking very strategically. His idea was that whatever Americans do, the whole world will imitate. So, New York was the center of the whole world. It used to be London, but the British lost their empire after World War II. So he thought that if he went to America and got them to take up Krishna Consciousness, then everyone would take to it, and that’s what he did. He spent a few years in New York, and on the west coast, and when he had a handful of disciples in 1970, he decided to take them to India. When we came to India, it was just like the Beatles coming to America. It was such a sensation for Indians to see white people with shaved heads and wearing Indian dhotis, and following vegetarian diets.

DHARMASTER SHUN: What year was that?

HANSADUTTA: The first time we went to India was 1970, and I was in that party. That was very exciting. It was really exciting. It was awesome, and it worked. Yes, so Indians also, they thought, “Whoa, what is this? Americans are taking this up? This is our thing, and you are taking it up?” But, now in America, things have slowed down to a great degree.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Also, it’s been absorbed. The culture has become so… it has taken aspects of the spirituality of the 60’s, and it’s become a common part of the culture. And you could say it’s kind of made it grassroots, more meaningful, with its original meaning being applied more practically in daily life.

HANSADUTTA: I think what we will see is instead of a movement that is headed by one person—which was extremely energetic, dynamic and aggressive in terms of recruiting people—it will now spread more one to one, grassroots. I think that is the future. Just like Jim. Jim is a high school teacher from Cloverdale, and maybe ten years ago or so—

JIM: ’98.

HANSADUTTA: ’98, yes. I was home schooling my kids Radharani and Govinda. The home schooling program required that I take them to see the teacher once a week for an hour.

JIM: Independent Study.

HANSADUTTA: So that turned out to be Jim. So when he saw my children and heard their names, he became really curious—”What is this?” [laughter] I remember Lakshmi kept saying, “The teacher wants to see you. He’s a football coach, and he’s really interested”, and I said, “Yeah, right. A football coach.” Finally he came over, and I cooked some prasadam, and that’s how our relationship started. Since then, Jim has completely absorbed himself in Prabhupada’s teachings, and in fact more or less gave up teaching, because it became such a headache, because it seemed like such a futile endeavor to teach in the public schools. There is no way you can control the kids. You can’t discipline them, and so forth and so on. And you definitely can’t talk about Krishna. So, what he does now is substitute teaching, which really suits him better. And then his mom… she took it up. At first, she was terrified— “What happened to my boy? He’s chanting Hare Krishna.” Then she became more and more absorbed, and now she’s chanting and reading the books and telling her friends. Jim has many other friends, and in this way it’s spreading, like a disease. [laughter] We call it the “K Virus”.

And the beautiful thing about Krishna consciousness is it’s not necessary to shave your head and leave your family and do all of that. If one has that enthusiasm, that’s nice. But people actually need to understand Krishna Consciousness in terms of the environment in which they work, why the problems exist that we have. Like why do we have such a big drug problem in America? The reason is that people are in the bodily concept of life, and they are trying to be happy by putting something in this body… or squeezing another body. Everything is bodily oriented.

DHARMASTER SHUN: And the culture totally supports it. Remember just five years ago you couldn’t even have advertisements for drugs on TV. It wasn’t a law, but it was just a tradition. You never had that. Now everything… it’s terrible.

HANSADUTTA: They have no idea of anything beyond this body, and of course we can’t get any pleasure out of this body. It’s just a lump of matter. It’s like trying to get pleasure out of my car; my car is just a machine. In fact, in Sanskrit, the body in known as a yantra. Yantra means machine. The body is a machine, and like any machine, if some part breaks—if you have liver failure, kidney failure, even heart failure—you can replace it. But you cannot replace the soul. Once the life is gone, that’s it, finished. The life is not part of this body, just as the driver is not part of the car; the driver pushes the button, and then the car moves.

STUDENT: Have you ever had any spiritual or supernatural experiences?

HANSADUTTA: Yes, I have. Well, astral traveling. In fact, probably all of you astral travel. Some know it, and some don’t know it. What happens is: your subtle body, which is made up of mind, intellect and ego… when you sleep, the subtle body disengages from the gross body, and that’s why you get rejuvenated. So even if you take a little ten or twenty minute nap in the afternoon—which is what I do—then when the subtle body disengages from the gross body, you feel refreshed and rejuvenated. And sometimes, I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but you will wake up with a jolt. Have you ever had that?

STUDENT: Yes, when the teacher smacks the desk with a ruler! [laughter] No. But what were some hardships that the devotees went through following Srila Prabhupada?

HANSADUTTA: I’ve preached in all parts of the world. I’ve preached in Russia, India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia. And one of the most trying times I’ve ever experienced… we used to preach in the Rappaban (the Rappaban is the German red light district, where people go drinking and carousing). We were chanting in front of a furniture store that had big plate glass windows, and there were maybe six or eight of us chanting, when these two really drunken guys came, and started harassing us. I was afraid that they were going to push us through the windows. So I thought, “What do we do now? I have to just depend on Krishna.” So I just decided that we had to chant Hare Krishna more. And all of a sudden— and I don’t know why—the crowd around us just grabbed these guys and started fighting with them. When I saw that, I thought “That’s our cue! We’ve got to get out of here”, and we ran off. We used to go also to Russia and East Germany secretly, because in those days it was still closed. They still had the wall.

DHARMASTER SHUN: How did you get across to East Germany?

HANSADUTTA: You could drive, because Berlin was cut in half. You could drive through the eastern part to get to Berlin, but you weren’t supposed to stop or anything like that, so we used to smuggle books in like that. I had a very funny experience. We used to go to East Germany and have secret programs, and young people would come, and we would be preaching about giving up meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and gambling—which are our four major precepts. After our class one evening, a person raised his hand and said, “You’re talking about giving these things up, and we haven’t even had them yet!”

DHARMASTER SHUN: [laughing] Because they were so poor and impoverished!

HANSADUTTA: Yes. And one person became a very serious devotee, so we were trying to figure out how to get him out of East Germany, and we hit on this plan where we would get him an American soldier’s uniform, because American soldiers could come and go. So it was working just fine, until we got to the very last guard, who caught on that something wasn’t right. They got him and put him in jail for about 8 months, then they threw him out of the country.

DHARMASTER SHUN: So your early New York experiences came in handy!

HANSADUTTA: We did a lot of funny things. In 1995, a business friend from Singapore took me to China. I was there for 10 days in Beijing and Shanghai, and I could see that if we were to chant there on the street, it would really take off.

STUDENT: Are there a lot of devotees in China?

HANSADUTTA: Yes, there are, but it is all undercover. They do come to India. Apparently the Chinese Government does let them out to go to places like India.

DHARMASTER SHUN: I was just reading in this month’s Hinduism Today that yoga has become very popular in China.

HANSADUTTA: When I went there in ’95… The Chinese businessman from Singapore had some property in Shanghai, and he was doing some business selling shoes—his name was Mr. Chew, so he had an email address of “chewshoe”—it was very funny. Anyway, he introduced me to one of the top financial advisors to Jiang Zemin. His wife was the top folksinger in the country. They were a young couple, very nice. They didn’t speak English, but they were very interested in Krishna, and asked many questions. They came every day for three days. So, actually everywhere, people want to know about Krishna, because it’s natural. It’s not unusual.

Nirvana according to the Vedic view

In fact, I was going to say to you, Dharmaster Shun, on the way over I thought that everything is a vestige or a remnant from the original Vedic culture. Buddha’s teachings are nothing but Vedic teachings. Without him being rooted in that culture, there would be no Buddhist teachings; it would be something else. So everything is a morphing or a derivative of the original Vedic culture, whether it’s Christianity or the Mohammedan teachings, or the Parsi teachings, the fire worshipers, or Egyptian worshipers, etc.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Well, Parsi is Zoroastrianism.

HANSADUTTA: Yes, but it’s also rooted in the Vedic culture—it’s fire worship.

STUDENT: Do you disagree with Buddha’s teachings?

HANSADUTTA: No, we don’t disagree, because as I said, Buddha’s teachings are a derivative of the original Vedic culture. He was a Vedic Prince.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Well, one thing you would say is that Buddha’s goal and conception of nirvana tends to coincide more with the impersonalists. So it doesn’t alter from your point of view?

HANSADUTTA: Yes, but it’s not a disagreement. We agree that there is a state [of nirvana], but that there is more to it.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Why don’t you explain that? Because that was one thing that I was mentioning to them. I said you are going to have to explain these states, because, I said, reading the Upanishads, you’ve got the atman being identical with the Brahman, and I gave the example of a drop of water falling into the ocean, and it totally loses all of its identity, but now you’ve got those four rasas, and I said maybe you could explain it, because I don’t understand.

HANSADUTTA: Yes, so I’m going to give a little illustration. [Draws diagram of a lens on the chalk board, and labels one side “the material world”, and the other “the spiritual world”, and the point at which matter and spirit meet being the point of inversion for a beam of light passing through the lens.] Okay. I’m going to try to explain a little bit about what the difference is, or how Krishna consciousness and the teachings of Lord Buddha are related. Now, take this as a lens. You’re all familiar with a lens? Like a camera lens? This is a camera lens, and on this side is the material world, and on that side is the spiritual world. Now, we know that when an image on this side of the lens… say we have a man here… we know that image comes into the lens like this, and at this point it inverts. It turns upside down. There is a point where the image inverts, and it is again projected out, generally onto film, but we’re just using this as an example of the material and spiritual worlds.

Whatever is in this world [pointing to the material world] is temporary, but we are entangled with this temporary world in terms of this body, and friends and family and so many things.

So the example at this point… those who are practicing various types of meditation are trying to come to the spiritual world. They’re trying to get free from the material world, and come to the spiritual world. In the process of meditation, as you go forward you come to a point where you are not in either world; you are at the junction where matter and spirit meet, and that is called nirvana.

When you go a little further, when you project further into the spiritual world, it is called Brahman, Brahma-nirvana. In fact, that word is used in the Bhagavad-gita. It is an impersonal state of existence. There is no form, and there is no activity. It is like the sunshine that is all-pervading in the universe.

So when you go further still from this Brahma-nirvana, you come to what is called Paramatma. Atma—remember? Meaning self. But param means superior, so Paramatma means the supreme self. That is Krishna.

And when you go still further, you come to Bhagavan. Bhagavan means one who possesses all six opulences in full: bhaga means opulences like beauty, wealth, strength, intelligence, fame and renunciation. This means the Personality of Godhead. Ultimately, the supreme truth is the supreme person, or the greatest person. And everything in this spiritual sky is eternal; it is never created and never destroyed.

But everything in this world [pointing to the material world] is created and destroyed. Everything in the material world goes through six phases: it is born, it grows, it produces offspring, it remains for a while, it dwindles, and then it vanishes. Or the other way to say it is: birth, old age, disease and death. There is no exception to this law.

Another description given in the Vedic literature is that this material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. That everything we see here exists in its original, spiritual archetype. When you go to the shopping mall, you see mannequins in the store window wearing clothing. It attracts us, but we know that the mannequin is plaster. Why does it attract us? Because the mannequin is an imitation of a real body. When you see a photograph, you see everything in the photo in detail, but the person is not there; it is only a reflection. Or if you go to a movie, what you see in the movie is only flickering lights, but because it’s a reflection of reality somewhere else, it attracts and mesmerizes us. So similarly, this material world is a perverted reflection of the spiritual world. And until we actually come to the point of understanding the reality, we will forever be helplessly drawn to the imitation, just as moths are drawn to the fire. They are just helplessly drawn to it, and the nearer they come, they are burned up in the flames of the fire.

So to sum it up, there are two worlds, or atmospheres: one material, one spiritual. On the journey, you come to the point of inversion, and that is actually nirvana.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Your conception of nirvana. Buddhism would say there is only nirvana, this is the only true reality, but because of ignorance, which has no cause, is unconditioned, and there is no reason for it, this nirvana is distorted, and it becomes samsara, the cycle of birth and death. We believe that samsara (what you would call the material world) is a distortion created in nirvana due to avidya, due to ignorance.

HANSADUTTA: Yes, we also explain it that way, because it can be explained in a number of ways. We are always speaking of analogies, because we can’t conceive of these things in our present state of material consciousness.

DHARMASTER SHUN: When you have nirvana, there isn’t any material world, there isn’t any spiritual world.

HANSADUTTA: Well, we also say that. As I mentioned, there are many ways to explain the two things. But because we are in this distorted consciousness, therefore we are forever using analogies, and the analogies can only give a hint or a glimpse.

DHARMASTER SHUN: That is true, but I think analogies indicate the differences in the way the world is perceived. But in terms of the agreement that the material world is something we shouldn’t be attached to, that we want to… liberation is something different from the material world, something beyond birth and death.

HANSADUTTA: The Vedic view also explains that when a man is sleeping, a man who is awake knows that he’s sleeping, but the sleeping man doesn’t know that he’s sleeping and that what he is experiencing—like a tiger is eating him [in his dream] is not real, but I know that there is no tiger. He is in a state of ignorance. So that’s another way they explain it. If someone who is awake calls him, and he comes to his senses, he then realizes that he was asleep. There are different ways to approach this phenomenon of being bewildered, or being in illusion, or being in a state of forgetfulness of one’s true nature.

DHARMASTER SHUN: I would say that based on the analogies which can represent the actual experience, there seems to be a different way that the realm beyond birth and death, what we call nirvana and which you were saying is Brahman… I would say that there is a difference in the way it is conceived, from what I can see, because nirvana is explained in the Buddhist sutras as being without any qualities at all, definitely an impersonalist kind of conception where you can’t say it’s this world or the world beyond. There is no sun, no moon—it’s usually just spoken of—

HANSADUTTA: Yes, the Bhagavatam also says that there are three distinct states of awakening as you emerge into the transcendence. The first one is impersonal, and mostly people are attached to that, because they have suffered and been frustrated so much in this life of varieties, that they feel that this is the end-all and be-all, but Bhagavatam says no, there is more, that when you go further you see that there is a Supreme Being, and He is with you, and He is noble, and if you go further, it is just like I am seeing you, you are seeing me. But it is very, very difficult for the conditioned souls to come to that point, because they feel that “No, the opposite of what this is must be the truth.” That’s how they come to that.

DHARMASTER SHUN: The reason Buddhism will not accept that there is anything beyond is for one real big, main reason, which is that the realization of nirvana is perceived as only realizable when one has no attachment whatsoever. So the idea that one can be attached to nirvana is not a possibility, because the only way nirvana can be realized from the Buddhist perspective is—

JIM: Non-attachment to everything, complete.

DHARMASTER SHUN: Not even complete. That means you can’t even have the attachment of your being in nirvana, because that’s an attachment.

HANSADUTTA: It’s your intrinsic nature. Anyway, how about some halavah? I think the troops here are getting restless. Anyone interested?

[And the day concludes with the students enthusiastically taking prasadam in the form of delicious, freshly prepared, hot halavah!]

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