Jul 1, 1994
Our revered institutions of higher learning are reinforcing our ignorance.
“Modern psychologists can study the activities of the mind thinking, feeling and willing but they are unable to go deep into the matter. This is due to their lack of knowledge and to their not being associated with the liberated acarya [spiritual master]. Guided by so-called psychologists and philosophers, people in the modern age do not know the activities of the subtle body and thus cannot understand what is meant by the transmigration of the soul. In these matters we have to take the authorized statements of the Bhagavad-gita. Unless all human society understands Bhagavad-gita, civilization will advance in ignorance, not in knowledge.”
(Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.29.75, purport)
Here Srila Prabhupada explains simultaneously the process of knowledge and the process of ignorance. Lord Krsna explains the same subject in the thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. He lists twenty items that constitute the process of knowledge, of which one is central, mayi canyena-yogena bhaktir avyabhicarini: unalloyed and unbroken devotional service.
This is the actual process of knowledge, and all the others items of knowledge have value only in relation to the basic principle of pure devotional service. In conclusion Lord Krsna states that anything apart from the process of knowledge is ignorance.
By the definition of knowledge given in the Gita and here by Srila Prabhupada, most of what passes as knowledge in the material world is not actually knowledge. It is ignorance. People think they are culturingvidya, jnana knowledge but actually they are culturing avidya, ajnana ignorance. Why? Because they have not understood the first instruction of Bhagavad-gita: I am not the body.
Most people in this world think, “I am the body,” and the schools reinforce the same idea: “You are the body.” One devotee friend told me that in school he was taught repeatedly, “You are not American, you are Canadian. You are not American, you are Canadian.” This is not knowledge. This is ignorance to identify with the body. And schools all over the world reinforce the same bodily concept of life, and thus entangle the students (who in turn become teachers) in material existence. Neither students nor teachers know the basic fact: “I am not the body.”
Sometimes we are impressed by how much the materialists have increased their information, but Srila Prabhupada explains that they’re just going further and further from the truth. He has given the example that if one is performing a mathematical calculation and makes a mistake in the first step, even if he performs all the other steps perfectly for hundreds and thousands of steps, he’ll go further and further from the actual solution.
The first step is to know who we are. If we mistakenly think “I am the body,” and then do everything perfectly for the body, we get further and further away from the goal, which is self-realization or God-realization and which brings real happiness. We want to be happy, but when we try to be happy on the bodily platform, we suffer. Only if we understand, “I am not the body, I am a spiritual soul, an eternal servant of Krsna,” and act accordingly, can we achieve actual happiness.
So we should not become bewildered or impressed by the materialists’ so-called display of knowledge. Because they have missed the basic point, they are just going further and further away from the goal.
Here Srila Prabhupada cites the philosophers and psychologists. I’ve had some experience with them in the university, first in the department of philosophy, where they were more interested in linguistics and word jugglery than in the goal of life. Philosophy should discuss the goal of life. But here they were mainly discussing words. Then I transferred to the department of psychology, where I studied under one of the most famous psychologists in America, Abraham Maslow. In one class he described how one morning he woke up and was shivering and experiencing so many symptoms he didn’t know what was happening to him. Finally he consulted one psychologist friend, and the friend said, “You’re having an anxiety attack.” Professor Maslow commented that he had written chapters on anxiety attacks but when he actually had one he couldn’t recognize it. So I could see there’s a big difference between theoretical knowledge and realized knowledge, even on the material platform. He had no realization.
Then within the department there were two groups: the behaviorists, or rat psychologists, who study stimulus and response and don’t even consider consciousness, and the humanistic psychologists, who want to see to the welfare of the whole human being. But the two groups used to fight like cats and dogs over the budget (who would get the greater share) and over appointments (whether a behaviorist or a humanist would be appointed). They would really fight like cats and dogs and get so upset. So I saw that although they may have good theories, they have no realization. Later, when I met the devotees, I realized that even the theories weren’t good. But at the time I thought, “Even if they have good theories, what is the use if there is no practical result. They are as petty and quarrelsome as anyone else.” So I lost faith in philosophers and psychologists both.
And the psychologists had so many speculative methods. They had “T-groups,” training groups, where people used to sit together in a room and say everything that was inside of them. For example, if you hated someone in the room, you weren’t supposed to keep it inside. You were supposed to say, “I hate you.” They had so many speculative theories, which had very little effect on me.
Still, I am indebted to them for one reason: One of the psychology professors invited Srila Prabhupada to speak in the auditorium there. And that was the first chance I had to see Srila Prabhupada.
Although the psychologists’ techniques made very little impression on me, when I came into the auditorium I was impressed. Satsvarupa Maharaja, who was temple president then, was leading kirtana on the stage, and Prabhupada was sitting in the middle of the stage on a raised seat, the devotees dancing in a circle around him. The modern auditorium had bare brick walls inside, and the sound of the kirtana was reverberating off the walls. Students from the audience were jumping up from their seats, climbing on the stage and joining the kirtana, dancing in the circle around Srila Prabhupada. That made an impression. And when I spoke to the devotees after the program, I knew they knew the truth.
After the program there was an announcement that if anyone in the audience was driving to Harvard Square he should take some devotees. I happened to be driving there, so I volunteered to give them a lift.
Having lost faith in psychology, I had started turning towards spirituality, reading books and looking for a guru. I had questions about Zen, about Yogananda so many questions. In the car I began to question one of the devotees, Jahnava Dasi. As soon as she heard the questions she responded with completely authoritative answers. I was shocked and impressed.
I had just met one Zen master who was approved as enlightened by another Zen master in Japan. The master in America had given a demonstration at M.I.T., and at the end someone had asked him about Vedanta. He had replied, “Why are you asking me about Vedanta? I have enough problems keeping up with Zen.” And he was the author of a popular book on Zen. I had thought, “This is not knowledge.” So I asked Jahnava about Zen. At once she gave a better explanation of Zen than any Zen book or Zen master I had come across.
She said that this world is illusory, like images on a movie screen. But if you withdraw your consciousness from the images on the screen, you will see that there is a beam of light. And if you follow the beam of light further back it comes to a point. I’d heard about the point or void before, but never expressed so clearly.
Then she went further. “But behind the light is the light bulb, which is in a machine, a projector, and behind the projector is a person.”
I thought, “This is knowledge. It includes everything I wanted to know and more.” And the same with all the questions I asked. And as I met the devotees, and of course Prabhupada, I felt that every question I had was perfectly answered.
How could this young girl give such authoritative answers, such perfect knowledge, when even big Zen masters and yogis could not do so? Later I understood the reason: she had received knowledge throughparampara, the succession of Krsna conscious masters and disciples. Whatever she said, she had heard from Srila Prabhupada. And because Prabhupada had perfect knowledge, when she repeated the same things she had heard from him her statements were perfect and authoritative. No sentiment. Just bang!
I was impressed. And I thought, “If these are the disciples, then what must be the guru? I can’t even imagine!”
After having met the devotees, I had to write my term paper for Educational Psychology. I could think of only one subject: “Krsna consciousness is the best education.” Although I had only recently met the devotees, I felt I had learned more in fifteen days with them than in fifteen years in mundane educational institutions. And I could write only of my convictions. The professor, who was also a famous author and psychologist, loved the paper. He found it original and real. He gave me an A for the paper, and for the course.