By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness
Lecture given in New York City on January 3, 1967

Lord Krishna teaches that success in life begins by cultivating knowledge of matter and sprit.

buddhir jnanam asammohah
kshama satyam damah shamah
sukham duhkham bhavo ’bhavo

bhayam chabhayam eva cha

ahimsa samata tushtis
tapo danam yasho ’yashah
bhavanti bhava bhutanam
matta eva prithag-vidhah

“Intelligence, knowledge, freedom from doubt and delusion, forgiveness, truthfulness, control of the senses, control of the mind, happiness and distress, birth, death, fear, fearlessness, nonviolence, equanimity, satisfaction, austerity, charity, fame, and infamy – all these various qualities of living beings are created by Me alone.” – Bhagavad-gita 10.4–5

What is jnana, or knowledge? Knowledge means distinguishing spirit from matter. That is knowledge. We should understand what is spirit and what is matter. We are a combination of matter and spirit. Actually we are spirit, but we are now covered by matter. A complete analytical study of matter and spirit is called knowledge.

Regarding material knowledge, any subject matter you can learn is temporary. This body is temporary; similarly, any material knowledge you acquire – whether you become a chemist or a physicist or a medical man or an engineer – will finish as soon as this body is finished. You forget. Death means forgetfulness.

Because the spirit, being eternal, does not die, spiritual knowledge continues. Suppose you acquire a certain percentage of spiritual knowledge in this body. That will continue with you after death. Even after the destruction of this body, that spiritual knowledge will continue with you. If you finished ten percent, then you will begin from eleven percent. That knowledge will not be lost. That is the law of nature.

Cultivating spiritual knowledge even one percent or two percent can render you great service because it will continue. Once spiritual knowledge has begun, it will not be stopped.

The best thing is to finish it one hundred percent in this life because this human form of life is meant for cultivating spiritual knowledge. It is not meant for material enjoyment. Material enjoyment means eating, sleeping, defending, and mating. These four principles are called material enjoyment.

The other day I was seeing The New York Times Magazine. All the advertisements were based on mating. That’s all. Because mating is most attractive, shopkeepers advertise a dress by putting before us a very nice girl. Because our attraction is for mating, as soon as we see a nice girl our attention is diverted. That is the psychology. So these are all material enjoyments: eating, sleeping, defending, and mating.

And spiritual enjoyment is just the opposite; there is no sense enjoyment. There is self-realization, or purifying the senses. Spiritual enjoyment means purifying the senses. It is a purifying process. And as soon as you purify your senses, then you become in full Krishna consciousness and eligible for being transferred to the spiritual world.

This human form of life is especially meant for cultivation of spiritual knowledge. There are 8,400,000 species of life, and the most developed consciousness is the human form of life, especially civilized human beings. There are 400,000 species of human beings, with two hands and two legs. Not all of them are using their life efficiently, but Krishna consciousness is dormant within them. Even in the lowest aboriginal stage of life there is dormant Krishna consciousness. But those in civilized life are quite competent to cultivate this knowledge.

So jnana, knowledge, means distinguishing between spirit and matter. And this knowledge should be cultivated and taken full advantage of in this life. That is a successful life.

Freedom to Travel Anywhere

In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.5.18) it is stated, tasyaiva hetoh prayateta kovido na labhyate yad bhramatam upary adhah. Now, a living entity, a spiritual spark, is wandering, not only from one country to another country or from one body to another but from one planet to another. The living entity is called sarva-ga. Sarva means “all,” and ga means “one can go.” You can go anywhere. Now you have the facility to travel over the surface of the earth or in the space around the earth. But you cannot go beyond the earth’s atmosphere. This is called conditioned life.

In conditioned life we are limited in our traveling. But in spiritual life you can travel anywhere. The best example is Narada Muni. He can travel anywhere he likes. In this universe we have got a planet called Siddhaloka, a “planet of the perfect.” Those who live there are not completely perfect, but they are called siddha. Siddha means almost perfect. The inhabitants of that planet can travel without the aid of a spaceship or an airplane from one planet to another. We get this information from Srimad-Bhagavatam.

In spiritual life we have complete freedom to move, to act, to enjoy. Spiritual knowledge should be cultivated. That is the best use of this human form of life. If we do not use the human form of life for spiritual cultivation, then we are practically committing suicide.

If you want to cross the Atlantic Ocean from New York to England, you must have a very nice ship and a good captain and a favorable atmosphere. Then it is very easy to cross. That example is given in a Sanskrit verse, nri-deham adyam su-labham . . . Material existence is compared to an ocean. Bhava-sagara. Sagara means ocean. To cross this ocean you have a very nice ship. What is that ship? Nri-deham, this human form of life. And this ship is su-labham. Su-labham means that you cannot always get this kind of ship. It is a rare opportunity.

This is an opportunity because you do not know what is going to happen in your next life. There is no guarantee that in the next life you are going to take your birth in America or in the human form of life. There is no guarantee. Therefore, as long as you have this opportunity, you must fully utilize it.

Su-durlabham means it is very difficult to get this human body. Just imagine. By the gradual evolutionary process from aquatic life to plant life, then from plant life to worm life, then from worm life to bird life, then from bird life to beast life, from beast life to human life – this is the gradual process of evolution. Therefore this human form of life is very difficult to obtain. By some fortune you have it now. Therefore it is said, su-labham su-durlabham, very rare and difficult to get.

So you have this nice ship of the human body. Then, guru-karna-dharam: if you have a spiritual master who is a good captain, he can help you to ply your ship. And the favorable atmosphere is Krishna consciousness, created by the Supreme Lord by delivering you the message of Bhagavad-gita. So you have a very good atmosphere. Just compare in the same way: If in the Atlantic Ocean there is no wind, no hurricane, and you have a very good ship and a very good captain, now take this opportunity of crossing. If you don’t cross, then you are committing suicide.

Don’t Hesitate

These are the opportunities of developing your knowledge in Krishna consciousness and spiritual culture. And the advantage is that as soon as you become fully conscious of your constitutional position, then you are freed from this material entanglement. This is called jnanam, the second word in this verse.

The next word is asammohah. Don’t be hesitant. Asammohah means that if you want to acquire some knowledge, you may acquire it slowly, but acquire it very surely, step by step. Don’t be impatient. Asammohah. Don’t blindly accept something and think, “I have all knowledge. Finished.” No.

You have developed consciousness, you have intelligence, but that intelligence and that consciousness depend also on your mode of living, on your mode of behavior. Therefore one has to become a brahmanasattvika, in the modes of goodness. Then you will be patient, or shanta, peaceful. If you become hesitant, then you cannot be peaceful.

Kshama means tolerant. You should not be disturbed. Suppose you are in this Krishna conscious society. Now, you cannot expect that all the members of the society will be first-class men. How can we expect that? We are collecting members of the society from all classes of men. So there may be a man in goodness, a man in passion, and a man in ignorance. But if you think, “Oh, this man is not good. That man is not good.” No. You should be tolerant. You haven’t got any connection with this man or that man. You are connected with the philosophy, with the process of life. The same example: Suppose you are on the ship. You do not find all men to be of your choice. There may be different kinds of men. But what is that to you? You have to patiently cross the Atlantic Ocean. Just sit down tightly on the ship and take advantage of the opportunity. That is your business. This is called kshama, tolerance.

Suppose somebody has offended you. Excuse him. This is a kind of penance. Lord Chaitanya has taught us:

trinad api sunichena
taror api sahishnuna
amanina manadena
kirtaniyah sada harih

If you want to chant Hare Krishna, then you have to become tolerant. How? Just like a tree. How tolerant a tree is! Everybody is committing offenses to the tree. Somebody is snatching its twigs, somebody is snatching its flowers, somebody is snatching its leaves, somebody is cutting it, but it does not protest. Rather, on the contrary, it supplies you fruits and flowers and gives you shelter. The tree is the nicest example of tolerance. So Lord Chaitanya teaches us that we should become tolerant just like a tree. And trinad api sunicena, forbearance like grass. You trample grass, but it does not protest.

Amanina. And you should not be puffed up with your artificial honor. “Oh, I am this. I am that.” Such considerations have to do with the body, but you are apart from the body. Suppose you are a king in this body. You have no connection with the body. And suppose you are the poorest man. You have no connection with the body. So why do you identify yourself as “I am poor” or “I am a king”? You are neither a king nor a poor man. You are a spirit soul.

Therefore you should not hanker after the temporary honors of this material world. Honor and dishonor are the same thing because we do not belong to that kind of honor and dishonor.

Manadena. But if some foolish creature disturbs you, you should give him all honor. Give all honor to whoever identifies with the body. “Oh, sir, you are very beautiful. You are very learned.” So that he may not disturb you, give him all honor.

Kirtaniyah sada harih. If you act in these ways, you can go on chanting without being disturbed. As soon as you take to spiritual life, there will be so many disturbances, because it is a declaration of war against the illusory energy. So as soon as you become Krishna conscious, the illusory energy sees, “Oh, this man is going out of my hand, out of my control. Oh, give him all impediments.” Therefore you have to learn tolerance.

What Is Truth?

The next word here is satyam. Satyam means you should speak the actual truth. You should not flatter for sense gratification.

In the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.1.1) the definition of satyam, specifically the Absolute Truth, is given. What is that definition? Janmady asya yatah: “The Absolute Truth is that from which everything emanates, the original source of all.” You should understand what is satyam, the Absolute Truth. And you should speak truth also.

What is that truth? That truth is “God is great and we are subservient to Him. So our duty is to abide by the orders of God.” The simple truth. “God is great.” You can say, “Why should we abide by the orders of God?” Because you are subservient. “No, I am not subservient.” That is untrue. You are subservient. If you don’t accept your subordinate position before God, then you have to accept your subordinate position under these stringent material laws. You have to become subservient. There is no alternative. You cannot become absolute.

It is a false notion that you are independent. You are not independent. Nobody is independent. We may be puffed up: “We belong to an independent nation.” India was under British rule. Now we have independence. But this is all a false notion. What is that independence? Nature’s law is forcing starvation. What is this independence? Indians are now begging grains from other countries. In British time there was no begging at least. Now their independence means they are begging.

So these are all false notions. Nobody is independent. Everyone is dependent in some way or other under the laws of nature. Nature can at once enforce its stringent laws, and everyone becomes subservient. To be subservient is your nature. You cannot alter it. Instead of becoming subservient to something false, the best thing is to become subservient to the Absolute Truth. Satyam param dhimahi.

Therefore the Srimad-Bhagavatam instructs you to offer your respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Truth. That is your perfection of life.

The Importance of Sense Control

The next word, damah, means to control the senses. Now you are sitting here. It is very kind of you. But you could go to a cinema house or hear television or . . . It is simply a waste of time. You have to control your senses in such a way that every moment is being used for your spiritual cultivation of life. You should not allow the senses to enjoy anything against the cultivation of spiritual life. That is called damah, control.

You can eat. You can go to a restaurant and have very palatable dishes of meats and so many things. But you have to control the tongue: “No. I shall not eat all this nonsense. I shall eat only krishna-prasadam.” Eating is not prohibited, because without eating you cannot live. That’s all right. Even if you don’t accept krishna-prasadam, you can try to become vegetarian. In your country especially I see you have enough arrangement for vegetable dishes. I have been here for more than one year. I am getting nice vegetable dishes prepared by our nice student Kirtanananda. You are also tasting them. They are very nice.

You should not allow the senses to enjoy something against the advancement of your spiritual life. That is called damah. “Swami,” this title, means one who can control the senses. He is called swami, master of the senses. Generally we are all servants because our constitutional position is to be subservient. So we are servants of this material nature, which means we are servants of the senses. That’s all. We have this material body, and the senses are prominent. We are active in the material body, and that means we are acting in sense gratification. We are practically servants of the senses. To become master of the senses requires that the senses not act according to their whims. The senses should act according to your order.

Suppose there is a very nice performance of sense gratification and you want to go there. But if you can control your senses – “No, not to go there. Come here into this storefront. Hear Bhagavad-gita” – then you become master, swami.

The most important task for controlling the senses is to control the tongue. I have several times explained that the tongue is the beginning of all the senses. So if you can control the tongue, then you can control the other senses also. And if you cannot control the tongue, then you cannot control the other senses.

The tongue has two functions: to taste and to vibrate. Vibrate Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare and taste krishna-prasada. Then just see how you are making advancement. This is called damah.

As soon as you are able to control your senses, naturally you shall be able to control your mind. That is called shamah.

These are aspects of the process of Krishna consciousness. We have to practice this process and learn it from reliable sources and assimilate it into our life. That is the real utilization of this human form of life. We should learn this process. We should practice it and make our life successful.

Thank you very much.