One way to categorize philosophies, especially theistic ones, is by listing their view of humanity: Is it positive or negative? Or, put another way, does the philosophy in question regard human beings as fundamentally good or fundamentally bad?

As often happens when trying to apply a question like this to the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, giving a conclusive answer is difficult. We have to start by clarifying the question.

First of all, we’d have to define “good” and “bad.” But let’s put that aside and say that most people have a basic agreement about what the words mean.

Consider another problem: The question assumes that “human beings” are a basic category, but we know from the Bhagavad-gita that the human body is a covering of the actual person, the immortal soul. So the question about our view of humanity doesn’t go deep enough. It should ask whether the philosophy of Krishna consciousness considers the actual self—the soul—to be fundamentally good or bad.

The answer to that is easy: Because the soul is an eternal part of God, the supreme good, the soul too is good by nature. We souls exist to partake in God’s infinite goodness and love. In our pure state, we fully cooperate with God. And, to touch on the question of what good means, the philosophy of Krishna consciousness defines good (in the highest sense) as full cooperation with God, or Krishna.

When we consider human beings, the picture gets fuzzier. We might describe human beings as souls not in their right mind. We have human bodies because we’ve rebelled against Krishna. Rebellion against God is bad, so we can justifiably say that the philosophy of Krishna consciousness has a negative view of humanity. As Prabhupada and our scriptures teach us, the material world is a kind of prison. We wouldn’t be here if we were good.

As with most things, though, there are degrees of good and bad. Lord Krishna’s teachings on the three modes of material nature suggest that at least some human beings can be considered good, although we might disagree with the popular notion that most people are basically good. In terms of the Gita’s teachings, persons heavily influenced by the lower modes, namely passion and ignorance, are not considered good. And according to our scriptures, the modes of passion and ignorance predominate in our times.

This raises another nuance to the original question: In what era are we to consider whether human beings are basically good or bad? Our scriptures tell of previous ages when goodness was the status quo. Our judgment of the people of those times would be quite positive. We’d be happy to say, “Yes, people are basically good.”

Those times are gone, but even today, human beings don’t have to follow the dictates of the lower modes. As the Srimad-Bhagavatam tells us, the practices of bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness, can elevate us to goodness, no matter where we begin. In fact, the Bhagavatam aims “to bring about a revolution in the impious lives of this world’s misdirected civilization” (Bhag. 1.5.11).

Srila Prabhupada left India in his old age because of his conviction that the message of the Gita and the Bhagavatam can change the character of the world. The more the purifying power of Krishna consciousness spreads throughout humanity, the more we’ll be justified in saying, “Yes, people are basically good.”

—Nagaraja Dasa