The following conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a guest took place in September 1968 at the Seattle Krishna center.
Guest: Can you explain subordination?
Srila Prabhupada: Subordination? Yes, it is simple. Everyone must be subordinate to somebody else. Are you not subordinate to somebody?
Guest: Yes, in a material sense. But in the spiritual sense, I don’t feel subordinate to anyone.
Srila Prabhupada: When you understand what spiritual life is, you will see that in the spiritual sense also you are subordinate, because your nature is to be subordinate. What do you mean by spiritual and material?
Guest: Well, for example, at my job I’m subordinate to my boss, but in my real being, my spiritual being, I don’t feel I am subordinate to my boss or anyone else. In other words, I don’t feel that I have to bow down to anybody, and I don’t feel that anybody has to bow down to me.
Srila Prabhupada: Why do you not want to bow down?
Guest: Because I don’t feel that I owe anyone anything, or that anyone owes me anything.
Srila Prabhupada: So, this is the material disease. We are forced to bow down, yet we think that we do not have to bow down. This is the disease.
Guest: No one can force me to bow down.
Srila Prabhupada: Just try to understand. You say that you do not want to bow down—is that right?
Guest: That’s basically true, yes.
Srila Prabhupada: Why?
Guest: Because I don’t feel that I’m inferior to anyone.
Srila Prabhupada: This is the disease of material existence. You have diagnosed your own disease. Everyone is thinking, “I want to be the master. I don’t wish to bow down.” Everyone is thinking like this. This is not only your disease; everyone has this diseased mentality: “Why shall I bow down? Why shall I become subordinate?” But nature is forcing me to become subordinate. Now, why are people dying? Can you answer this question?
Guest: Why are people dying?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, nobody wants to die, yet everyone is dying. Why?
Guest: Well, death is biologically determined.
Srila Prabhupada: That means biological force! You are subordinate to biology. Then why do you say that you are independent?
Guest: Well, I feel that I’m.
Srila Prabhupada: You are feeling wrongly. That is my point. You are subordinate, and you must bow down to biological force. When death comes, you can’t say, “Oh, I don’t obey you.” Therefore, you are subordinate.
Guest: I am subordinate to God, yes.
Srila Prabhupada: No, forget God for now. God is far away. Now we are speaking of the material nature. Just try to understand that although you do not want to die, you are forced to die because you are subordinate.
Guest: Oh, yes, that makes sense.
Srila Prabhupada: Then you understand your position—that you are subordinate. You cannot declare, “I am free; I am not subordinate.” If you are thinking that you don’t wish to be subordinate, that you don’t have to bow down, then you are diseased.
Guest: O.K. But who or what should I bow down to?
Srila Prabhupada: First of all try to fully understand your disease. Then we shall prescribe your medicine. You are bowing down to death, you are bowing down to disease, you are bowing down to old age—you are bowing down to so many things. You are forced to bow down, yet still you are thinking, “I cannot bow down; I don’t like to bow down.” But you have to bow down. Why do you forget your position? That forgetfulness is your disease.
The next step is to understand that since you are being forced to bow down, now you have to find where you shall be happy even by bowing down. And that is Krishna. Your bowing down will not be stopped, because you are meant for that, but if you bow down to Krishna and Krishna’s representative, you become happy. That’s the difference. If you don’t bow down to Krishna and His representative, you’ll be forced to bow down to something else—maya [Krishna’s material nature]. That is your position. You cannot be free at any moment.
But if you bow down to Krishna and His representative, you’ll be happy. For example, a child is always bowing down to his parents, and he is happy. His mother says, “My dear child, please come and sit down here.” “Yes,” says the child, and he is happy. This is the nature of the child’s relationship with his mother. Similarly, Krishna and His representative are like loving parents, and we are like helpless children in the clutches of maya. But if we bow down to them we shall be safe and happy.
So you cannot stop your bowing down—that is not possible. But you simply have to seek out the proper persons to bow down to. That’s all. If you artificially think, “I am not going to bow down to anyone; I am independent,” then you suffer. You simply have to bow down to the right person—and that is Krishna, or Krishna’s representative.