The Exchange Between Srila Prabhupāda and Dr. Staal (Part I)

January 23, 1970
Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta

Dear Swamiji:

Thank you very much for sending me a copy of your letter to the Los Angeles Times, now also published in the Daily Californian. I think you will agree with me that apart from publicity, little is gained by discussing religious or philosophic issues through interviews and letters in the press; but allow me to make two brief observations.

First, I know that devotion to Krishna is old (though definitely not as old as the Vedas) and has never been influenced by Christianity, Islam, or Judaism (I never referred to Buddhism in this connection). The differences between the personal and impersonal are relatively vague, but adopting this distinction for simplicity, I expressed surprise at seeing people who have grown up in a Western culture which stresses the personal take to an Indian cult which does the same. I am less surprised when people who are dissatisfied with Western monotheism take to an Indian philosophy which stresses an impersonal absolute.

Second, I never expressed nor felt disgust at the chanting of the name of Krishna. I am not only not irritated at it (like some people), but I rather like it. But it is an indisputable fact that the Bhagavad-gītā (not to mention the Vedas) does not require such constant chanting. The Gītā deals with quite different subjects, which I treat at some length in my courses on the philosophies of India.

 Thanking you,
 Yours sincerely,
 J. F. Staal
Professor of Philosophy and of South Asian Languages
January 30, 1970
J. F. Staal
Professor of Philosophy and of South Asian Languages
University of California
Berkeley, California

My dear Professor Staal:

I thank you very much for your kind letter dated January 23, 1970. In the last paragraph of your letter you have mentioned that you are not irritated at the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra (like some people), but rather like it. This has given me much satisfaction, and I am sending herewith a copy of our magazine, Back to Godhead, issue number 28, in which you will find how the students [at a program at Ohio State University] liked this chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra, although all of them were neophytes to this cult of chanting. Actually this chanting is very pleasing to the heart and is the best means of infusing spiritual consciousness, or Krishna consciousness, into the hearts of people in general.

This is the easiest process of spiritual realization and is recommended in the Vedas. In the Brhan-nāradīya Purāna it is clearly stated that it is only chanting of the holy name of Hari [Krishna] that can save people from the problems of materialistic existence, and there is no other alternative, no other alternative, no other alternative in this age of Kali.

Western culture is monotheistic, but Westerners are being misled by impersonal Indian speculation. The young people of the West are frustrated because they are not diligently taught about monotheism. They are not satisfied with this process of teaching and understanding. The Krishna consciousness movement is a boon to them, because they are being really trained to understand Western monotheism under the authoritative Vedic system. We do not simply theoretically discuss; rather, we learn by the prescribed method of Vedic regulations.

But I am surprised to see that in the last paragraph of your letter you say, “It is an indisputable fact that the Bhagavad-gītā (not to mention the Vedas) does not require such constant chanting.” I think that you have missed the following verse in the Bhagavad-gītā, apart from many other similar verses:

satatam kīrtayanto mām
yatantaś ca drdha-vratāh
namasyantaś ca mām bhaktyā
nitya-yuktā upāsate
(Bg. 9.14)

The engagement of the great souls, freed from delusion and perfect in their realization of God, is described here: satatam kīrtayanto mām—they are always (satatam) chanting (kīrtayantah) My glories and—nitya-yuktā upāsate-always worshiping Me (Krishna).

So I do not know how you can say “indisputable.” And, if you want references from the Vedas, I can give you many. In the Vedas, the chief transcendental vibration omkāra is also Krishna. Pranava omkāra is the divine substance of the Vedas. Following the Vedas means chanting the Vedic mantras, and no Vedic mantra is complete without omkāra. In the Māndūkya Upanisad, omkāra is stated to be the most auspicious sound representation of the Supreme Lord. This is also confirmed again in the Atharva Veda. Omkara is the sound representation of the Supreme Lord and is therefore the principal word in the Vedas. In this connection, the Supreme Lord, Krishna, says, pranavah sarva-vedesu: “I am the syllable om in all the Vedic mantras.” (Bg. 7.8)

Furthermore, in Bhagavad-gītā, Chapter Fifteen, verse 15, Krishna says, “I am seated in everyone’s heart. By all the Vedas, I am to be known; I am the compiler of Vedānta, and I know Veda as it is.” The Supreme Lord, seated in everyone’s heart, is described in both the Mundaka and Śvetāśvatara Upanisads: dvā suparnā sayujā sakhāyā… The Supreme Lord and the individual soul are sitting in the body like two friendly birds in a tree. One bird is eating the fruits of the tree, or reactions of material activities, and the other bird, the Supersoul, is witnessing.

The goal of Vedantic study, therefore, is to know the Supreme Lord, Krishna. This point is stressed in the Bhagavad-gītā, Chapter Eight, verse 13, where it is stated that by the mystic yoga process, ultimately vibrating the sacred syllable om, one attains to His supreme spiritual planet. In the Vedānta-sūtras, which you have certainly read, the Fourth Chapter, adhikarana 4, sūtra 22, states positively, anāvrttih śabdāt: “By sound vibration one becomes liberated.” By devotional service, by understanding well the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one can go to His abode and never come back again to this material condition. How is it possible? The answer is, simply by chanting His name constantly.

This is accepted by the exemplary disciple, Arjuna, who has perfectly learned the conclusion of spiritual science from the yogeśvara, the master of mystic knowledge, Krishna. Recognizing Krishna to be the Supreme Brahman, Arjuna addresses Him, sthāne hrsīkeśa…: “The world becomes joyful hearing Your name, and thus do all become attached to You.” (Bg. 11.36) The process of chanting is herein authorized as the direct means of contacting the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. Simply by chanting the holy name Krishna, the soul is attracted by the Supreme Person, Krishna, to go home, back to Godhead.

In the Nārada-pancarātra it is stated that all the Vedic rituals, mantras, and understanding are compressed into the eight words Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare. Similarly, in the Kali-santarana Upanisad it is stated that these sixteen words, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare, are especially meant for counteracting the degrading and contaminating influence of this materialistic age of Kali.

All these points are elaborately presented in my book Teachings of Lord Caitanya.

The process of chanting is, therefore, not only the sublime method for practical perfection of life but the authorized Vedic principle inaugurated by the greatest Vedic scholar and devotee, Lord Caitanya (whom we consider an incarnation of Krishna). We are simply following in His authorized footsteps.

The scope of the Krishna consciousness movement is universal. The process for regaining one’s original spiritual status of eternal life, full with bliss and knowledge, is not abstract, dry theorizing. Spiritual life is not described in the Vedas as theoretical, dry, or impersonal. The Vedas aim at the inculcation of pure love of God only, and this harmonious conclusion is practically realized by the Krishna consciousness movement, or by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra.

As the goal of spiritual realization is only one, love of God, so the Vedas stand as a single comprehensive whole in the matter of transcendental understanding. Only the incomplete views of various parties apart from the bona fide Vedic lines of teaching give a rapturous appearance to the Bhagavad-gītā. The reconciliative factor adjusting all apparently diverse propositions of the Vedas is the essence of the Veda, or Krishna consciousness (love of God).

Thanking you once again,
Yours sincerely,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

The Exchange Between Srila Prabhupāda and Dr. Staal (Part II)

ALSO READ:
Los Angeles Times Article – “Krishna Chant”
SRILA PRABHUPĀDA’S LETTER TO THE LOS ANGELES TIMES
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