Protecting Oneself from Illusion
In 1973 Srila Prabhupada received an unusual letter from a woman in California who had encountered two of his young disciples. She complained that they had "a very negative outlook toward the people they meet." Moved by her genuine concern, Srila Prabhupada took time out from his busy schedule to write her this thoughtful letter.
Your Grace:
   Please accept this letter with Love... K-Mart; San Fernando. We have talked with two of your boys at different times. Both had a very negative outlook toward the people they meet.
   Do not believe this is in any way as it should be.
   These boys happen to represent God. This comes from within. Their outlook must have mercy. We realize this; therefore handpick these little peaces of heaven to place in the middle of these people. Or else it will defeat your purpose.
   Love Is. Let it be as it is; with Love or not at all.
   My prayers be with you... and I beg yours with me.
                                         Yours in God, Blessed Be,
                                                      Lynne Ludwig
My dear Lynne Ludwig,
   Please accept my blessings. I beg to acknowledge receipt of your letter from California, and I have noted the contents carefully, although due to extensively traveling and preaching in a tour in India I have not had the opportunity to reply to you at length until now. Your complaint is that you have met two of my young disciples in California and they appeared to you to have "a very negative outlook toward the people they meet." Of course, I do not know the case and what the circumstances are, but kindly forgive my beloved disciples for any unkindness or indiscretion on their part. After all, to give up one's life completely for serving the Lord is not an easy thing, and maya, or the illusory, material energy, tries especially hard to again entrap those who have left her service to become devotees. Therefore, in order to withstand the attack of maya and remain strong under all conditions of temptation, young or inexperienced devotees in the neophyte stage of devotional service will sometimes adopt an attitude against those things or persons which may possibly be harmful or threatening to their tender devotional creepers. They may even overindulge in such feelings just to protect themselves, and thus they will appear to some nondevotees, who are perhaps themselves still very much enamored by the material energy of maya, to be negative or pessimistic.
   But the actual fact is that this material world is a miserable, negative place, full of danger at every step; it is duhkhalayam asasvatam, a temporary abode of death, birth, disease, and old age, a home of suffering and pain only. To come to the platform of understanding these things as they are is not very common, and therefore persons who attain to it are described as "great souls."
                      mam upetya punar janma
                      duhkhalayam asasvatam
                      napnuvanti mahatmanah
                     samsiddhim paramam gatah
   This means that those who have understood that the material worlds are places of misery and temporality (duhkhalayam asasvatam) never return here again, and because they are mahatmanah, the great souls, Krsna keeps them with Him because they have qualified themselves to escape this nasty place by becoming His pure devotees. This verse is spoken by Krsna, or God Himself, in the Bhagavad-gita (8.15). Who can be a more final authority? The point is that to make advancement in spiritual life, one must view everything material with a pessimistic eye unless it is utilized to serve and please Krsna. We are not very much hopeful for any lasting pleasure or satisfaction for our deepest cravings within this realm of gross matter.
   You refer to the word "love" several times in your letter, but the actual fact is that there is no love in this material world. That is false propaganda. What they call love here is lust only, or desire for personal sense gratification:
                       kama esa krodha esa
                       mahasano maha-papma
                     viddhy enam iha vairinam
   Krsna tells Arjuna, His disciple, that "It is lust only... which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world." (Bg. 3.37) In the Vedic language there is no word for materialistic "love," as we call it in the present day. The word kama describes lust or material desire, not love, but the word that we find in the Vedas for actual love is prema, meaning one's love of God only. Outside of loving God there is no possibility of loving. Rather, there is lusty desire only. Within this atmosphere of matter, the entire range of human activities--and not only every activity of human beings but all living entities--is based upon, given impetus and thus polluted by sex desire, the attraction between male and female. For that sex life, the whole universe is spinning around--and suffering! That is the harsh truth. So-called love here means that "you gratify my senses, I'll gratify your senses," and as soon as that gratification stops, immediately there is divorce, separation, quarrel, and hatred. So many things are going on under this false conception of love. Actual love means love of God, Krsna.
   Everyone wants to repose his loving tendency in some object which is in his opinion worthy. But the question is one of ignorance only, because people have a poor fund of knowledge about where to find that supreme lovable object who is actually worthy to accept and reciprocate their love. People simply do not know. There is no proper information. As soon as you have some attachment for anything material, it will kick you upon the face, deteriorate, and disappoint you. It's bound to dissatisfy and frustrate you. That's a fact. But these young boys in your country, and all over the world, are accepting, "Yes, that is a fact," and they are getting the right information from Krsna:
                      bahunam janmanam ante
                     jnanavan mam prapadyate
                       vasudevah sarvam iti
                      sa mahatma sudurlabhah
   "After many births and deaths, he who is actually wise surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare." (Bg. 7.19) Again Krsna uses that word mahatma, great soul. Therefore our devotees that you have met are not ordinary boys and girls. No. They are to be considered actually wise, great souls because they have experienced in many births the miserable disease of material life and have become disgusted. Therefore they are seeking higher knowledge--they are seeking something better--and when they find Krsna and surrender unto Him, they become mahatmas, who are actually situated in knowledge. This material world is just like a prison house; it is a punishing place meant to bring us to that point of becoming disgusted, surrendering at last to Krsna, and going back to our original nature of eternal life in bliss and complete knowledge. Therefore it is to the credit of these devotees that they have done what is sudurlabhah, very rare among all men in human society.
   By surrendering to Krsna one will find the final object in which to invest his love: God. Love of God is present in everyone, just like fire in an unlit match, but it is covered over. But if one somehow or other develops his dormant love of God, and Krsna becomes his supreme adorable object, supreme friend, supreme master, or supreme lover, than he shall never again become disappointed or unhappy. Rather, because his loving propensity is rightfully placed:
                     mac-citta mad-gata-prana
                      bodhayantah parasparam
                    kathayantas ca mam nityam
                      tusyanti ca ramanti ca
                                                       (Bg. 10.9)
   The devotee whose life is surrendered to Krsna is always enjoying "great satisfaction and bliss," and he is constantly enlightened, always positive, not negative, as you say. The advanced devotee is the friend of everyone. The yoga-yukto visuddhatma, purified soul engaged in loving devotional service to Krsna, is sarva-bhutatma-bhutatma, dear to everyone, and everyone is dear to him. In another place Krsna claims that yo mad-bhaktah sa me priyah, His devotee, who is very dear to Him, advesta sarva-bhutanam maitrah karuna eva ca, is not envious but is a kind friend to all living entities. The devotee is supposed to be, furthermore, equal to everyone (panditah sama-darsinah). He never discriminates, saying, "This one is good, this one is bad." No.
   These are descriptions of the more advanced stages of Krsna consciousness that devotees get by development of mature knowledge. At present many of our students are young boys. They are learning gradually, and the process is so effective, certain, and authorized that if they stick to it they will come to the right point, as you say, of loving. But that love is not material, so it should not be judged on the false, sentimental platform of ordinary, mundane dealings. That is our point. Therefore to say they are not loving may be true from the materialists' point of view. They have given up affection for family, friends, wife, country, race, and so on, which is all based upon the bodily concept of life, or flickering sense gratification. They have become a little detached from maya's love, or lust, and they want Krsna's love, or endless, fully rewarding love, but they have not yet developed to that point, that's all. We cannot expect that all of a sudden your countrymen, who are addicted to so many bad habits, will give up eating flesh, taking intoxicants, having illicit sex life, and so many other nasty things, and overnight become great, self-realized souls. That is not possible. That is utopian. But just being initiated as Krsna's devotee puts one in the topmost category of human society. Sa buddhiman manusyesu sa yuktah krtsna-karma-krt: "He is intelligent in human society. He is in the transcendental position, although engaged in all sorts of activities." And although such a devotee may not yet have advanced to the highest level of spiritual understanding, still he is to be considered the most exalted personality, regardless of any temporary frailties.
                       api cet su-duracaro
                     bhajate mam ananya-bhak
                     sadhur eva sa mantavyah
                     samyag vyavasito hi sah
   "Even if a devotee commits the most abominable actions, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated." (Bg. 9.30) As you will say, "To err is human." Therefore in the neophyte stage we may always expect some discrepancies. Kindly see the thing in this light and forgive their small mistakes. The big thing is that they have given everything, even their lives, to Krsna--and that is never a mistake.
                                            Your ever well-wisher,
                                         A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami