To develop higher consciousness, devotees of Krishna try to minimize the propensities common to animals and humans.
By Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi
We can rise above this deep trait we share with animals by using the faculties allotted to human beings alone.

India’s ancient scriptures describe four basic propensities in animals: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending (or fearing). While these are innate in human beings as well, devotees of Krishna try to minimize them for the sake of developing higher consciousness. Devotees know that the tendency to serve Krishna is even more fundamental, being intrinsic to the soul – our real self – and therefore they engage in practices that help them rise above the animal propensities and awaken their natural love for Krishna. Eating, sleeping, mating, and defending cannot be eliminated entirely, but regulating them creates a life of balance and peace so that a more refined person can emerge.

The first three animal propensities are activities of the senses. Defense, especially among humans, is a bit more subtle or complicated. For animals, defending usually means fighting, while for human beings it can be something as civil as installing a fence or buying an insurance policy. Defense is hidden at the core of our misidentification with the body. The other three are corollaries that depend on sound defense in order for one to engage in them.

While self-defense is natural, if we live only to eat, sleep, mate, and defend we’ll greatly increase our identification with the body, whose vitality naturally diminishes. Later in life, defending our health may go on for decades.

To watch a sparrow or a pigeon is to see a creature in a nearly continuous state of defensiveness. Throw her some crumbs, and she may peck at them, but every other moment the little head rotates this way and that. Who is coming? How much longer can I stay here? Where to fly to? Birds know no peace. Nature has not equipped them with hands or arms, only wings, and with those they are ever ready to escape.

There is no moment when the soul in an animal’s body becomes self-examining, questioning who it is or what it is doing. In the human form of life, however, we are offered better equipment, a finer brain, and the potential for greater sensitivity. Krishna designed the human form of life for the adventure of self-discovery. Concentration on defensive measures makes us no better than the animals.

Why Do We Defend?

Defense against enemies with missiles and bombs is a multi-billion-dollar pursuit. During the COVID-19 pandemic our fighting strategies were turned against an elusive, invisible virus. We drop chemicals on dangerous wildfires, build enormous levees to stop flooding, post signs indicating which direction to run from a tsunami, install protective airbags in cars, put danger-of-suffocation warnings on plastic bags. While the endeavor to stay safe or healthy is necessary and laudable, India’s ancient scriptures strongly encourage us to question why we defend the body so steadily and courageously.

Our stay in material existence is not at all ideal; it is fraught with birth, death, old age, and disease. Still, the eternal soul within the body, while identifying with the body, seeks to save itself from harm or destruction. Being an integrated part of Krishna, the soul – life – is precious and does not deserve to suffer or die. Yet until we come to the point of awakening to the needs of the soul and stop catering to the fallible body, we will continue to fail in the game of defense. For one who has understood the glories of the soul, the Lord, and their eternal relationship, there is no sound reason to ardently defend the indefensible body against every threat, real or imagined.

Srila Prabhupada several times told a story about a gentleman he observed who was lying in bed, begging his doctor, “Please, sir, can you give me four more years? I have not settled up my daughter’s marriage, I have not finished my business at work; I must do this before I leave. You must allow me four years!”

The true yogi, on the other hand, wants to quit the material body, not remain in it. The death of the body is victory day for the yogi who has lived his life realizing his power beyond the body. At the critical time of death, he may place the vital force of his life air (on which the soul is carried) between the eyebrows and decide where he wants to go. If he is reluctant to maintain any connection with the material world, he can, in less than a second, reach the transcendental Vaikuntha planets and live there in a spiritual body suitable for the spiritual atmosphere. This is easy for a person perfect in the practice of yoga. Rather than defend his existence in the body, he uses the bodily airs as a mere point of departure.

This sounds simple enough. But if for even a moment we still think of sense gratification (because we still regard the body as the self), then we are not truly suited for the path of ashtanga-yoga. It will not be successful. In this age, when people tend to be slow to realize the spiritual self, yogic perfection is possible by mantra meditation. Therefore chanting the Hare Krishna mantra, the repetition of the holy names of God, is recommended: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. It helps us drop our artificial defenses.

The Hare Krishna mantra is identical to the Supreme Lord Himself. It is an easy means of deliverance, especially suitable for our modern life in which passionate defense of one’s body, possessions, ethnicity, social status, political affiliation, nationality, etc., has created madness.

Defending Atheism

While weaponry defends the nation and medical precaution defends the body, still finer defending occurs in more subtle layers. For example, to illustrate the stubbornness of scientists in defending their atheistic theories, Srila Prabhupada once told the story of two men arguing over whether something had been done with scissors or a knife.

“Scissor!” “Knife!”

As he strolled around the perimeter of the roof [of ISKCON’s temple in Mayapur, West Bengal], Prabhupada switched to his favorite topic, science and the theory of chance. He said scientists cling to their various theories, even though they lack proofs and are constantly defeated by the superior power of God.
Yashodanandana Swami offered the French philosopher Voltaire as a prime example of stubbornness. He was an atheist. When a Catholic priest came to him and asked, “Why don’t you accept God?” he refused. But at the end of his life he became crazy, driven to consuming his own stool and urine.
Prabhupada laughingly depicted the intransigence of the scientists with a funny story about “scissor philosophy.” One man declared that a piece of paper had been cut with a knife. A second said no, it was done with scissors. An argument ensued, and the first man, being stronger, took the other to a river. There he told him, “Now, if you don’t agree that it was a knife I shall throw you into this water!”
The other continued to insist, “It was scissors!”
So he was tossed into the river and began to drown. Still he would not concede. As he disappeared, his hand emerged from beneath the surface with two fingers moving together like a pair of scissors. “No, it is scissor! It is scissor!”
To loud laughter, Prabhupada thrust his hand into the air and wiggled his fingers in imitation, both charming and entertaining us as he told us this was the definition of a rascal – even though he is losing his life, still he obstinately refuses to accept the superior force of God. This is the typical materialistic scientific mentality. (From A Transcendental Diary, Vol. 1, by Hari Sauri Dasa)

Creating all kinds of enmity, as well as advanced military equipment to defend it, engineers hold high the products of their trade. Meanwhile the population they serve is harassed by a host of human-induced disasters. Many scientists defend a worldview that excludes God. The devastating consequences of their inventions may require them to believe they have no one to answer to.

Srila Prabhupada writes in his purport to Bhagavad-gita 16.9:

The materialists, who have no concept of God, think that they are advancing. But according to Bhagavad-gita, they are unintelligent and devoid of all sense. They try to enjoy this material world to the utmost limit and therefore always engage in inventing something for sense gratification. Such materialistic inventions are considered to be advancement of human civilization, but the result is that people grow more and more violent and more and more cruel, cruel to animals and cruel to other human beings. They have no idea how to behave toward one another. Animal killing is very prominent amongst demoniac people. Such people are considered the enemies of the world because ultimately they will invent or create something which will bring destruction to all. Indirectly, this verse anticipates the invention of nuclear weapons, of which the whole world is today very proud. At any moment war may take place, and these atomic weapons may create havoc. Such things are created solely for the destruction of the world, and this is indicated here. Due to godlessness, such weapons are invented in human society; they are not meant for the peace and prosperity of the world.

Defending in the Service of Krishna

Practicing Krishna consciousness in the midst of a materialistic society, where living to enjoy and defend the body is epidemic, can sometimes make us feel like a tiny minority. But as our devotion to Krishna grows, defending ourselves against the influence of such association for the sake of service to Krishna becomes natural. This is when the defense tendency becomes fully satisfactory for the sake of Krishna.

There are many great examples of devotees who fought for the cause of Krishna. In fact, the entire war described in the Mahabharata was to defend dharma. A fascinating example of fighting for Krishna in contemporary times is that of Srila Prabhupada. He carefully defended the cause of Krishna among all of those expert persons who would challenge his Krishna consciousness movement. At an advanced age he advocated for Krishna on many fronts, skillfully debating with professors, scientists, and reporters, as well as corrupt businessmen trying to cheat his Society. Another inspiring example is that of the devotees who pioneered Krishna consciousness in communist Russia. They were jailed and mistreated but would not give in to their oppressors’ demand that they give up their Krishna conscious practice. They staunchly defended for the sake of the future of the Krishna consciousness movement in Russia, and for that they underwent terrible hardship – and undoubtedly gained great spiritual rewards.

The pure devotee Vasudeva is a brilliant example of defending in the service of the Lord. His actions are described in the Tenth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Though he had every reason to become furious, a unique example of defending for the cause of Krishna is seen in his strategy and action when the life of his new bride was under threat.

Vasudeva’s wife Devaki was to be the vehicle for the appearance of the Supreme Lord on earth. She would become the mother of Krishna, who would one day kill Devaki’s nefarious brother Kamsa. When Kamsa learned of this on her wedding day, he immediately wanted to eliminate her to save himself from the threat. When he drew his sword to kill Devaki, Vasudeva cautiously pleaded with him to stop. He told him it was unseemly to kill a helpless woman, his own sister at that.

Vasudeva acted as neither a panicked husband nor a pawn in a dysfunctional family. He was wily. Acting with pure intelligence, he knew that preserving the life of his wife was not only his duty, but more importantly would insure an opportunity for Krishna’s appearance and consequently the eradication of the infiltration of demons in the Yadu dynasty.

Vasudeva thought deeply. He decided that for the time being he would go ahead and promise to hand over his newborn sons to Kamsa to induce him to stop threatening Devaki.

Flattering the cruel king, Vasudeva said, “O best of the sober, you have nothing to fear from your sister Devaki because of what you have heard from the unseen omen. The cause of death will be her sons. Therefore I promise that when she gives birth to the sons from whom your fear has arisen, I shall deliver them all into your hands.” (Bhagavatam 10.1.54)

Vasudeva was anxious because his wife was in danger, but externally he smiled and reasoned with Kamsa. He knew of the impending death of his sons in the hands of the demon, but to save Devaki’s life and at the same time promote the cause of Krishna, he made a sound and quick decision.

While narrating this episode in Srimad-Bhagavatam, Shukadeva Goswami offers sage advice regarding the defense of one’s body: “As long as he has intelligence and bodily strength, an intelligent person must try to avoid death. This is the duty of every embodied person. But if death cannot be avoided in spite of one’s endeavors, a person facing death commits no offense.” (Bhagavatam 10.1.48)

Srila Prabhupada’s wise purport explains: “Because death is a punishment imposed in the condemned life of material existence, the Vedic culture is based on avoiding death. Everyone should try to avoid death and rebirth by cultivating spiritual life and should not submit to death without struggling to survive. One who is not trying to stop death is not an intelligent human being.”

Regulation Rather than Prohibition

Though only a rare soul can serve Krishna’s cause as soberly as Vasudeva did, we can still take heed of his example in our own practice. When the lower propensities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending become bullies, like little Kamsas, we may not be in a position to defeat them, but we can cleverly regulate them. We can promise our lusty tongue that we will prepare food as a sacrifice for Krishna and honor Krishna’s prasada. We can welcome the onslaught of sleepiness to maintain a healthy body fit for the service of Krishna. We can accept sexual intercourse to conceive a child to be nurtured in the association of devotees. Nothing is prohibited; it is simply regulated.

Yet perhaps the most challenging to regulate is the tendency to defend, which will linger as long as we live in a body. The degree to which we have dropped material defensiveness will indicate the degree to which we have humbly understood our position as spirit soul, an eternally blissful particle of the energy of Krishna. As spirit souls we never have any need to defend a temporary body. The whole Vedic culture is meant to focus our attention on awakening to our spiritual identity and thus ending the repeated cycle of birth and death.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu once declared that he had no love for Krishna, saying that the proof was that He continued to live in His body even though He had not gained Krishna’s company. This is a very high level of realization and can be appreciated only by following the rules and regulations of Krishna conscious living. With sincere chanting of the holy names and the association of devotees, identification with the body eventually loses importance, and our material entanglement ends. The greatest devotees come to the material world to show how the strong tendency to defend must be used solely for the cause and purpose of Krishna.

Karuna Dharini Devi Dasi, a disciple of His Grace Virabahu Dasa, serves the deities at ISKCON Los Angeles, where she joined ISKCON in 1979. She has also been distributing Srila Prabhupada’s books since her earliest days in Krishna consciousness. She lives with her husband and daughter.