This exchange between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and reporters took place at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 5, 1975.
Reporter: Swamiji, what special message would you have for people who don’t know anything about your movement and would like to know something about it?
Srila Prabhupada: It is a little difficult to understand this movement, because it is a spiritual movement. Unfortunately, people have practically no information about what spirit is and what a spiritual movement is. They can simply understand that the body is there—but the body is a machine, and the driver of the machine is the spirit soul. So we are beginning our movement from this platform. People are very much engrossed with the machine only, but they have no information about who is driving the machine. That is what we are teaching.
Reporter: Swamiji, your movement has received much attention because many of your followers dress in what, for the West, is an odd fashion. Why have you asked your followers to dress in this fashion and play drums on the streets?
Srila Prabhupada: This is our preaching method—somehow or other to draw people’s attention, so that they may have the opportunity to revive their eternal relationship with God.
Reporter: I’m sure that you’re aware that to many people in the West, your disciples seem strange because of the way they act on the streets. What about that?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, they must seem strange, because they are acting spiritually. To materialistic persons we are surely acting strangely.
Reporter: Is this manifestation the only way to be spiritual?
Srila Prabhupada: No, there is much more. For instance, we don’t have any illicit sex; we don’t have meat-eating; we have no intoxication; we have no gambling.
Reporter: But I mean, Swamiji, is this manifestation—dressing in this fashion, playing drums, and dancing in the streets—the only way to be spiritual?
Srila Prabhupada: No. We have published about seventy books. If you want to learn about this movement through science and philosophy, you have got our books. Have you not seen our books?
Reporter: Yes, I have, but—can’t people be spiritual without dressing in this fashion and dancing in the streets?
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, yes. Oh, yes. You can become spiritualized in the clothing you are wearing now. You simply have to learn about spiritual life from the books. Dress is not a very important thing. Still, in the material world one person is dressed in one way; another, another way.
Reporter: The way we ordinary people dress lets us move in all circles. But the way your disciples dress …
Srila Prabhupada: The thing is, to signify that one is performing a particular job, he may dress differently. For example, a policeman is differently dressed, so that others can understand that he is a policeman. Similarly, we are also differently dressed, so that everyone may understand that we are Hare Krishna people.
Second Reporter: Swami, I saw a television program about your movement once, and they said that the men give the directions and the women follow. Is that true?
Srila Prabhupada: Not necessarily. We follow the Bhagavad-gita, the directions of Lord Krishna. That is applicable to both men and women.
Second Reporter: Are men regarded as superior to women, though?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, naturally. Naturally a woman requires protection by a man—in childhood she is protected by her father, later she is protected by her husband, and in old age she is protected by her eldest sons. That is natural.
Second Reporter: That goes against the thinking of a lot of people in America now. Do you know that?
Srila Prabhupada: In America, maybe. But this is the natural situation. Women require protection.
Third Reporter: Swamiji, is there a chance that all your followers can realize the highest truth?
Srila Prabhupada: They already have.
Third Reporter: They already have?
Srila Prabhupada: Certainly, and I can deliver it to you, also, if you want. The highest truth is that God is a person, like you and me. Now, what is the difference between this one person and all the rest of us? It is this: He maintains all of us, and we are maintained by Him. But He is also a person, like you and me. Do you follow?
Third Reporter: Yes, I do.
Srila Prabhupada: So my disciples have already realized the highest truth. Otherwise, why would they be following a teacher like me? I am a poor Indian man. Why are they following me? They are American—they are rich. So how could I have bribed them? These young people are educated, qualified. Why are they following me, unless they have already realized some higher knowledge?
Fourth Reporter: Swamiji, I have one more question for you, please. It seems to me, and I think to other sympathetic observers, that you have asked your spiritual children to go deep within the heart of the Krishna consciousness movement to accomplish what you’ve set as their goal. But as far as I know, they do not work in, for instance, hospitals or perform service to the “outer world” other than offering free meals at the temple and preaching the word of Lord Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada: Many of my disciples work at ordinary professions, of course. But do you know what real service is?
Fourth Reporter: The answer should come from you and not from me.
Srila Prabhupada: Suppose you open a hospital. You can cure some disease for the time being, but can you give a patient any assurance that he will not die? Can you protect him from death? In spite of all your big hospitals, can you protect humanity from death, from birth, from old age, from disease? Can you?
Fourth Reporter: Physically, of course not. Only spiritually.
Srila Prabhupada: So we are providing that—the process whereby one can return to the kingdom of God, where there is no more death, no more birth, no more old age, and no more disease.