|Saints and Swindlers|
Every day the number of people interested in practicing yoga and meditation increases by the thousands. Unfortunately, a person looking for a suitable guide is likely to encounter a bewildering array of magicians, self-styled gurus, and self-proclaimed gods. In an interview with the London Times, Srila Prabhupada explains how a sincere seeker can tell the difference between a counterfeit and genuine spiritual guide.
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." (Bhagavad-gita 18.66)
Reporter: Does "surrender" mean that someone would have to leave his family?
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Reporter: But suppose I were to become an initiate. Wouldn't I have to come and live in the temple?
Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily.
Reporter: I can stay at home?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes.
Reporter: What about work? Would I have to give up my job?
Srila Prabhupada: No, you'd simply have to give up your bad habits and chant the Hare Krsna mantra on these beads--that's all.
Reporter: Would I have to give any financial support?
Srila 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 depend on anyone's financial contribution. We depend on Krsna.
Reporter: I wouldn't have to give any money at all?
Srila Prabhupada: No.
Reporter: Is this one of the main things that distinguishes the genuine guru from the fake guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, a genuine guru is not a businessman. He is a representative of God. Whatever God says, the guru repeats. He does not speak otherwise.
Reporter: But would you expect to find a real guru, say, traveling in a Rolls Royce and staying in a penthouse suite in a classy hotel?
Srila Prabhupada: Sometimes people provide us with a room in a first-class hotel, but we generally stay in our own temples. We have some one hundred temples around the world, so we don't require to go to any hotels.
Reporter: I wasn't trying to make any accusations. I was merely trying to illustrate that I think your warning 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 interested in cashing in on the "guru business."
Srila Prabhupada: Are you under the impression that spiritual life means voluntarily accepting poverty?
Reporter: Well, I don't know.
Srila Prabhupada: A poverty-stricken man may be materialistic, and a wealthy man may be very spiritual. Spiritual life does not depend on either poverty or wealth. Spiritual life is transcendental. Consider Arjuna, for instance. Arjuna was a member of a royal family, yet he was a pure devotee of God. And in the Bhagavad-gita (4.2) Sri Krsna says, 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." In the past, all kings who were saintly understood spiritual science. Therefore, spiritual life does not depend on one's material condition. Whatever a person's material condition may be--he may be a king or a pauper--he can still understand spiritual life. Generally people do not know what spiritual life is, and therefore, they unnecessarily criticize us. If I asked you what spiritual life is, how would you answer?
Reporter: Well, I'm not sure.
Srila Prabhupada: Although you do not know what spiritual life is, you still say, "It is this," or "It is that." But first you should know what spiritual life is. Spiritual life begins when you understand that you are not your body. This is the real beginning of spiritual life. By seeing the difference between your self and your body, you come to understand that you are a spirit soul (aham brahmasmi).
Reporter: Do you think this knowledge should be a part of everyone's education?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. People should first be taught what they are. Are they their bodies, or something else? That is the beginning of education. Now everyone is educated to think he is his body. Because someone accidentally gets an American body, he thinks, "I am an American." This is just like thinking, "I am a red shirt," just because you are wearing a red shirt. You are not a red shirt; you are a human being. Similarly, this body is like a shirt or coat over the real person--the spirit soul. If we recognize ourselves simply by our bodily "shirt" or "coat," then we have no spiritual education.
Reporter: Do you think that such education should be given in schools?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes--in schools, colleges, and universities. There is an immense literature on this subject--an immense fund of knowledge. What is actually required is that the leaders of society come forward to understand this movement.
Reporter: Have you ever had people come to you who had previously been involved with a fake guru?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, there are many.
Reporter: Were their spiritual lives in any way spoiled by the fake gurus?
Srila Prabhupada: No, they were genuinely seeking something spiritual, and that was their qualification. God is within everyone's heart, and as soon as someone genuinely seeks Him, He helps that person find a genuine guru.
Reporter: Have the real gurus like yourself ever tried to put a stop to the false gurus--that is, put pressure on them to put them out of business, so to speak?
Srila Prabhupada: No, that is 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 soon people began to come to me. In this way, the Krsna consciousness movement gradually developed. Many accepted, and many did not accept. Those who are fortunate have accepted.
Reporter: Don't you feel that people are suspicious because of their experience with fake gurus? If you went to a quack dentist and he broke your tooth, you might be suspicious about going to another dentist.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Naturally, if you are cheated, you become suspicious. But this does not mean that if you are cheated once, you will always be cheated. You should find someone genuine. But to come to Krsna consciousness, you must be either very fortunate or well aware of this science. From the 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? It is not difficult to notice that people have lost their spiritual interest. And almost all those who are actually interested are 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.
Reporter: I wondered how many people you think might have been taken in by fake gurus.
Srila Prabhupada: Practically everyone. [Laughter.] There is no question of counting. Everyone.
Reporter: This would mean thousands of people, wouldn't it?
Srila Prabhupada: Millions. Millions have been cheated, because they want to be cheated. God is omniscient. He can understand your desires. He is within your heart, and if you want to be cheated, God sends you a cheater.
Reporter: ls it possible for everyone to attain the perfectional stage you spoke of previously?
Srila Prabhupada: Within a second. Anyone can attain perfection within a second--providing he is willing. The difficulty is that no one is willing. In the Bhagavad-gita (18.66) 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.
Reporter: When you say that lots of people want to be cheated, 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, achieve spiritual life as well? Is this what you mean by wanting to be cheated?
Srila 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, the 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. And if, by chance, someone becomes a little interested in spiritual life, 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. In Vedic times they would train boys as brahmacaris; no sex life was allowed at all up to the age of twenty-five. Where is that education now? A brahmacari is a student who lives a life of complete celibacy and obeys the commands of his guru at the gurukula [school of the spiritual master]. Now schools and colleges are teaching sex from the very beginning, and twelve- or thirteen-year-old boys and girls are having sex. How can they have a spiritual life? Spiritual life means voluntarily accepting some austerities for the sake of God realization. That is why we insist on no illicit sex, meat-eating, gambling, or intoxication for our initiated students. Without these restrictions, any "yoga meditation" or so-called spiritual discipline cannot be genuine. It is simply a business deal between the cheaters and the cheated.
Reporter: Thank you very much.
Srila Prabhupada: Hare Krsna.