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

February 8, 1970

Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta

Dear Swamiji:

Thank you very much for your kindness in sending me your long and interesting letter of January 30, together with the last issue of Back to Godhead. So far I have had a few discussions with members of your society here, but they were not entirely satisfactory from my point of view. But now I have your much more authoritative letter, whereby the discussion moves to a higher level.

And yet, I am afraid, you have not convinced me that all the scriptures you quote prescribe only chanting of the name of Krishna. Let me refer only to the most important ones.

In the Bhagavad-gītā (9.14), kīrtayantah need not mean chanting of the name of Krishna. It may mean glorifying, chanting, reciting, talking, and refer to songs, hymns, descriptions, or conversations. The commentators take it that way. Śankara in his commentary merely repeats the word, but Anandagiri in his vyākhyā classes kīrtana as vedānta-śravanam pranava-japaś ca, “listening to the Vedānta and muttering om” (that the Vedic om is Krishna is said in the Bhagavad-gītā, where Krishna is also identified with many other things, and which is smrti, but not in the Vedas, which are śruti). Another commentator, Hanumān, in his Paiśāca-bhāsya, says that kīrtayantah merely means bhāsamānah—”talking [about].”

More important, I think, than the precise meaning of this word, is that the entire verse does not require that everyone always engage in kīrtana, but merely states that some great souls do so. This is obvious from the next verse, which states that anye, “others,” engage in jnāna: yajnena… yajanto mām, “worshiping me… with the worship of knowledge.” The Bhagavad-gītā is broad-minded and tolerant of a variety of religious approaches, although it also stresses one aspect above all others (i.e., sarva-phala-tyāga).

Finally, in the last sūtra of the Vedānta-sūtra, anāvrttih śabdāt…, śabda refers to the scripture or to the revelation of the Vedas, as is clear from the context and from the commentators. Śankara quotes a number of texts (ending with ity ādi-śabdebhyah, “according to these śabdas“) to support this, i.e., to support the statement that “according to the scripture there is no return.” He also refers to śabda in this sūtra by saying mantrārtha-vādādi…, “mantras, descriptions, etc.” Vācaspati Miśra in the Bhāmati supports this and clarifies it further by adding that a contrary view is śruti-smrti-virodhah, “in conflict with the smrti and the śruti.”

Thanking you once again for your kind attention.

Yours very sincerely,
J. F. Staal

Srila Prabhupada’s Reply

February 15, 1970

J. F. Staal
Professor of Philosophy and of South Asian Languages

My dear Dr. Staal:

I am very glad to receive your letter dated Sunday, February 8, 1970. I am very much pleased also to note the contents.

Regarding convincing you that all scriptures prescribe chanting of the name of Krishna, I can simply present the authority of Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya recommended, kīrtanīyah sadā harih [“Hari, Krishna, is constantly to be praised” (Śiksāstaka 3) [Cc. Ādi 17.31]]. Similarly, Madhvācārya quotes, vede rāmāyane caiva harih sarvatra gīyate [“Hari is sung about everywhere in the Vedas and Rāmāyana”]. Similarly, in the Bhagavad-gītā (15.15) the Lord says, vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyah [“By all the Vedas, I am to be known”].

In this way we find all the scriptures aiming at the Supreme Person. In the Rg Veda (1.22.20) the mantra is om tad visnoh paramam padam sadā paśyanti sūrayah [“The demigods are always looking to that supreme abode of Visnu”]. The whole Vedic process, therefore, is to understand Lord Visnu, and any scripture is directly or indirectly chanting the glories of the Supreme Lord, Visnu.

Regarding the Bhagavad-gītā, verse 9.14, kīrtayantah certainly means glorifying, chanting, reciting, and talking, as you have said; but glorifying, chanting, or reciting about whom? It is certainly Krishna. The word used in this connection is mām [“Me”]. Therefore, we do not disagree when a person glorifies Krishna, as Śukadeva did in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. This is also kīrtana. The highest among all Vedic literatures is the proper place for such glorification of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, and this is to be well understood from the verse:

nigama-kalpa-taror galitam phalam
śuka-mukhād amrta-drava-samyutam
pibata bhāgavatam rasam ālayam
muhur aho rasikā bhuvi bhāvukāh
 [SB 1.1.3]
“O expert and thoughtful men, relish Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literatures. It emanated from the lips of Śrī Śukadeva Gosvāmī. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its nectarean juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.1.3)

It is said that Mahārāja Parīksit attained salvation simply by hearing, and similarly Śukadeva Gosvāmī attained salvation simply by chanting. In our devotional service there are nine different methods for achieving the same goal, love of Godhead, and the first process is hearing. This hearing process is called śruti. The next process is chanting. The chanting process is smrti. We accept both śruti and smrti simultaneously. We consider śruti the mother and smrti the sister, because a child hears from the mother and then again learns from the sister by description.

Śruti and smrti are two parallel lines. Srila Rūpa Gosvāmī therefore says:

pancarātra-vidhim vinā
aikāntikī harer bhaktir
utpātāyaiva kalpate
 [Brs. 1.2.101]

That is, without references to śruti, smrti, Purānas, and Pancarātras, unadulterated devotional service is never achieved. Therefore, anyone who shows a devotional ecstasy without reference to the śāstras [Vedic scriptures] simply creates disturbances. On the other hand, if we simply stick to the śrutīs, then we become veda-vāda-ratāh, who are not very much appreciated in the Bhagavad-gītā.

Therefore Bhagavad-gītā, although smrti, is the essence of all Vedic scripture, sarvopanisado gāvah. It is just like a cow which is delivering the milk, or the essence of all the Vedas and Upanisads, and all the ācāryas, including Śankarācārya, accept the Bhagavad-gītā as such. Therefore you cannot deny the authority of the Bhagavad-gītā because it is smrti; that view is śruti-smrti-virodhah, “in conflict with the smrti and the śruti,” as you have correctly said.

Regarding Ānandagiri’s quotation that kīrtana means vedānta-śravanam pranava japaś ca [“listening to the Vedānta and muttering om”], the knower of Vedānta is Krishna, and He is the compiler of Vedānta. He is veda-vit and vedānta-krt. So where is there a greater opportunity for vedānta-śravana than to hear it from Krishna?

Regarding the next verse, in which it is mentioned that jnāna-yajnena… yajanto mām, the object of worship is Krishna, as indicated by mām [“Me”]. The process is described in the Īśopanisad, mantra 11:

vidyām cāvidyām ca yas
tad vedobhayam saha
avidyayā mrtyum tīrtvā
vidyayāmrtam aśnute

“Only one who can learn the process of nescience and that of transcendental knowledge side by side can transcend the influence of repeated birth and death and enjoy the full blessings of immortality.”

The culture of vidyā, or transcendental knowledge, is essential for the human being, otherwise the culture of avidyā, or nescience, binds him to conditional existence on the material platform. Materialistic existence means the pursuit or culture of sense gratification, and this kind of knowledge of sense gratification (avidyā) means advancement of repeated birth and death. Those who are absorbed in such knowledge cannot learn any lesson from the laws of nature, and they do the same things over repeatedly, being enamored of the beauty of illusory things. Vidyā, or factual knowledge, on the other hand, means to know thoroughly the process of nescient activities while at the same time culturing transcendental science and thereby undeviatingly following the path of liberation.

Liberation is the enjoyment of the full blessings of immortality. This immortality is enjoyed in the eternal kingdom of God (sambhūty-amrtam aśnute), the region of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and is the result obtained by worshiping the Supreme Lord, the cause of all causes, sambhavāt. So in this way real knowledge, vidyā, means to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna; that is jnāna-yajnena, the worship of knowledge.

This jnāna-yajnena… yajanto mām is the perfection of knowledge, as stated in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.19):

bahūnām janmanām ante
jnānavān mām prapadyate
vāsudevah sarvam iti
sa mahātmā sudurlabhah

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me [Krishna], knowing Me to be the cause of all causes, and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.”

If one has not yet come to this conclusion of knowledge and simply indulges in dry speculation without Krishna, then his hard speculative labor is something like beating empty husks of grain. The unhulled rice and the empty husks of rice look very much the same. One who knows how to get the grain out of the unhulled rice is wise, but one who beats on the empty husk, thinking to get some result, is simply wasting his labor uselessly. Similarly, if one studies the Vedas without finding the goal of the Vedas, Krishna, he simply wastes his valuable time.

So to cultivate knowledge for worshiping Krishna culminates after many, many births and deaths when one actually becomes wise. When one becomes wise in this way, he surrenders to Krishna, recognizing Him at last to be the cause of all causes and all that is. That sort of great soul is very rare. So those who have surrendered to Krishna life and soul are rare sudurlabha mahātmās. They are not ordinary mahātmās.

By the grace of Lord Caitanya that highest perfectional status of life is being distributed very freely. The effect is also very encouraging; otherwise, how are boys and girls without any background of Vedic culture quickly occupying the posts of rare mahātmās simply by vibrating this transcendental sound, Hare Krishna? And simply on the basis of this chanting, the majority of them (those who are very sincere) are steady in devotional service and are not falling down to the four principles of material sinful life, namely (1) meat-eating, (2) illicit sexual connection, (3) taking of intoxicants, including coffee, tea, and tobacco, and (4) gambling. And that is the last sūtra of the Vedānta-sūtra, i.e., anāvrttih śabdāt [“By sound vibration one becomes liberated”].

One has to learn by the result (phalena paricīyate). Our students are ordered to act like this, and they are not falling down. That they are remaining on the platform of pure spiritual life without hankering to culture the above principles of avidyā, or sense gratification, is the test of their proper understanding of the Vedas. They do not come back to the material platform, because they are relishing the nectarean fruit of love of God.

Sarva-phala-tyāga [“renunciation of all the fruits of one’s work”] is explained in the Bhagavad-gītā by the Lord Himself in the words sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekam śaranam vraja [Bg. 18.66]: “Give up everything and simply surrender unto Me [Krishna].” The Hare Krishna mantra means “O Supreme Energy of Krishna and O Lord Krishna, please engage me in Your eternal service.” So we have given up everything and are simply engaged in the service of the Lord. What Krishna orders us to do is our only engagement. We have given up all resultant actions of karma, jnāna, and yoga; and that is the stage of pure devotional service, bhaktir uttamā.

Yours sincerely,
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami

 Read Further… 

The Exchange between

Srila Prabhupada and Dr. Staal – Part III


Los Angeles Times Article – “Krishna Chant”
The Exchange Between Srila Prabhupāda and Dr. Staal (Part I)

More Transcendental Letters…




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