The following conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in August 1975 on an early-morning walk in Paris.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, many people say that because we have quit college or a job to become Krishna conscious, we are irresponsible.
Srila Prabhupada: We are not irresponsible. But we are in such a position that we have passed all material responsibilities. This is stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam [11.5.41]: devarshi-bhutapta-nrinam pitrinam na kinkaro nayam rini cha rajan. “One who has fully surrendered to Krishna no longer has any responsibility to demigods, great sages, relatives, society—anyone.” As long as you are not Krishna conscious, you have a responsibility to all these persons. But one who has taken to Krishna consciousness without any reservation—he has no material duties, no material responsibility. This is the statement of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Our only responsibility is to serve Krishna.
Disciple: So, Srila Prabhupada, when you told the guest last night that she should give up her responsibilities…?
Srila Prabhupada: And take to Krishna consciousness. Not that you give up all responsibilities and do nothing. First take to Krishna consciousness. Give up something, take something. Then it is all right.
Disciple: Srila Prabhupada, when you speak of taking care of our responsibilities for Krishna, doesn’t that also have a material aspect to it? For instance, in our movement parents must also bring up their children, take care of them, train them to read and write, and so on.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. But why are we taking care of the children? Just to make them Krishna conscious. This is our responsibility in Krishna consciousness. We should think, “Here is my child. Let me make him Krishna conscious.” This is why we are taking so much care to train our children in the gurukulas [Krishna conscious schools]. We are not irresponsible.
Disciple: So when we say that we have finished all material responsibilities by surrendering to Krishna, that doesn’t mean we’ve abandoned execution of duty?
Srila Prabhupada: No. Who says that?
Disciple: Well, some people say that we’ve taken to Krishna consciousness and now we’ve given up all our social duties.
Srila Prabhupada: Spreading Krishna consciousness is the main social duty. This is the main duty of the human form of life. Krishna says, sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam sharanam vraja: “Give up all other duties and just surrender to Me.” So we have surrendered to Krishna, and we are taking responsibility for pushing forward the Krishna consciousness movement. I am an old man, yet I am traveling all over the world, thrice in a year. Who else would take such a responsibility? In Krishna consciousness we have greater responsibility. It is just like when you become a big officer in the government: you become overburdened with responsibility.
Fulfilling material responsibilities is useless. Simply a waste of time. Here in Krishna consciousness is real responsibility. I explained this to the guest last night. Even if you take responsibility, what can you do? You cannot do anything. Suppose your son is diseased. He is suffering, and you have taken responsibility for seeing that he is cured. You have brought a good physician, you have brought good medicine—everything. But in spite of all your efforts, your son dies. Then what is the value of your responsibility? Actually, you cannot do anything. So what is the use of saying, “I am responsible”?
Andha yathandhair upaniyamanah. One blind man says, “I take responsibility. All of you other blind men—follow me.” So what is the use of such responsibility? Both the leader and his followers will simply fall into a ditch. Similarly, the leaders of all the nations in the world are saying, “Follow me. I am responsible. I will bring peace.” But as soon as there is a war, thousands and thousands will be killed. Where is the leaders’ responsibility? As soon as one atom bomb is dropped, many thousands will be finished. Where is the leaders’ responsibility? They cannot bring peace. They can make a monument: “This soldier has died. This soldier has died.” But they cannot save the people from death.
Disciple: But these people say that we devotees also must die. Everyone must die.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but we die to live forever. Tyaktva deham punar janma naiti. This is our last death.
Disciple: Then they will say, “How do you know?”
Srila Prabhupada: Become my student; then you will also know. Therefore there is a Vedic injunction: tad vijnanartham sa gurum evabhigachchet. Because you are a fool, a rascal, you must approach a guru. That is the only way to know the Absolute Truth. Otherwise there is no possibility of knowing about eternal life; you will remain foolish forever and suffer.
Disciple: So, how do you define the word responsibility in Krishna consciousness?
Srila Prabhupada: You have this human form of life: realize God. This is responsibility. Otherwise, you are finished. Your only responsibility is to understand God. Vedic culture is meant for understanding God. In the past many, many kings left everything and went to the forest to realize God. Bharata Maharaja, after whom India is called Bharata-varsha, was the emperor of this planet thousands of years ago. At the age of twenty-four he left everything to realize God. This is Vedic culture. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had a very nice position as a grihastha [householder]. He had a beautiful wife, an affectionate mother, good friends. He belonged to a brahmana family. He was a learned scholar—everything first class. He was God Himself, yet He left everything just to teach us the process of realizing God. This is Vedic culture.
So, you asked me, “What is the definition of responsibility?” Do you understand what responsibility is?
Disciple: We have this human life; we must realize God.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes—nine words. We define the whole of responsibility in nine words. Let the rascals understand it.