A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
Spiritual Master of the Hare Krsna Movement
The Exchange Between Srila Prabhupada and Dr. Staal
January 23, 1970

Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta

Dear Swamiji:
Thank you very much for sending me a copy of your letter to the Los Angeles Times, now also published in the Daily Californian. I think you will agree with me that apart from publicity, little is gained by discussing religious or philosophic issues through interviews and letters in the press; but allow me to make two brief observations.
First, I know that devotion to Krsna is old (though definitely not as old as the Vedas) and has never been influenced by Christianity, Islam, or Judaism (I never referred to Buddhism in this connection). The differences between the personal and impersonal are relatively vague, but adopting this distinction for simplicity, I expressed surprise at seeing people who have grown up in a Western culture which stresses the personal take to an Indian cult which does the same. I am less surprised when people who are dissatisfied with Western monotheism take to an Indian philosophy which stresses an impersonal absolute.
Second, I never expressed nor felt disgust at the chanting of the name of Krsna. I am not only not irritated at it (like some people), but I rather like it. But it is an indisputable fact that the Bhagavad-gita (not to mention the Vedas) does not require such constant chanting. The Gita deals with quite different subjects, which I treat at some length in my courses on the philosophies of India.
Thanking you,
Yours sincerely,
J. F. Staal
Professor of Philosophy and of South Asian Languages
January 30, 1970

J. F. Staal
Professor of Philosophy and of South Asian Languages
University of California
Berkeley, California

My dear Professor Staal:
I thank you very much for your kind letter dated January 23, 1970. In the last paragraph of your letter you have mentioned that you are not irritated at the chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra (like some people), but rather like it. This has given me much satisfaction, and I am sending herewith a copy of our magazine, Back to Godhead, issue number 28, in which you will find how the students [at a program at Ohio State University] liked this chanting of the Hare Krsna mantra, although all of them were neophytes to this cult of chanting. Actually this chanting is very pleasing to the heart and is the best means of infusing spiritual consciousness, or Krsna consciousness, into the hearts of people in general.
This is the easiest process of spiritual realization and is recommended in the Vedas. In the Brhan-naradiya Purana it is clearly stated that it is only chanting of the holy name of Hari [Krsna] that can save people from the problems of materialistic existence, and there is no other alternative, no other alternative, no other alternative in this age of Kali.
Western culture is monotheistic, but Westerners are being misled by impersonal Indian speculation. The young people of the West are frustrated because they are not diligently taught about monotheism. They are not satisfied with this process of teaching and understanding. The Krsna consciousness movement is a boon to them, because they are being really trained to understand Western monotheism under the authoritative Vedic system. We do not simply theoretically discuss; rather, we learn by the prescribed method of Vedic regulations.
But I am surprised to see that in the last paragraph of your letter you say, “It is an indisputable fact that the Bhagavad-gita (not to mention the Vedas) does not require such constant chanting.” I think that you have missed the following verse in the Bhagavad-gita, apart from many other similar verses:
satatam kirtayanto mam
yatantas ca drdha-vratah
namasyantas ca mam bhaktya
nitya-yukta upasate
(Bg. 9.14)
The engagement of the great souls, freed from delusion and perfect in their realization of God, is described here: satatam kirtayanto mamthey are always (satatam) chanting (kirtayantah) My glories and—nitya-yukta upasatealways worshiping Me (Krsna).
So I do not know how you can say “indisputable.” And, if you want references from the Vedas, I can give you many. In the Vedas, the chief transcendental vibration omkara is also Krsna. Pranava omkara is the divine substance of the Vedas. Following the Vedas means chanting the Vedic mantras, and no Vedic mantra is complete without omkara. In the Mandukya Upanisad, omkara is stated to be the most auspicious sound representation of the Supreme Lord. This is also confirmed again in the Atharva Veda. Omkara is the sound representation of the Supreme Lord and is therefore the principal word in the Vedas. In this connection, the Supreme Lord, Krsna, says, pranavah sarva-vedesu: “I am the syllable om in all the Vedic mantras.” (Bg. 7.8)
Furthermore, in Bhagavad-gita, Chapter Fifteen, verse 15, Krsna says, “I am seated in everyone’s heart. By all the Vedas, I am to be known; I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I know Veda as it is.” The Supreme Lord, seated in everyone’s heart, is described in both the Mundaka and Svetasvatara Upanisads: dva suparna sayuja sakhaya... The Supreme Lord and the individual soul are sitting in the body like two friendly birds in a tree. One bird is eating the fruits of the tree, or reactions of material activities, and the other bird, the Supersoul, is witnessing.
The goal of Vedantic study, therefore, is to know the Supreme Lord, Krsna. This point is stressed in the Bhagavad-gita, Chapter Eight, verse 13, where it is stated that by the mystic yoga process, ultimately vibrating the sacred syllable om, one attains to His supreme spiritual planet. In the Vedanta-sutras, which you have certainly read, the Fourth Chapter, adhikarana 4, sutra 22, states positively, anavrttih sabdat: “By sound vibration one becomes liberated.” By devotional service, by understanding well the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one can go to His abode and never come back again to this material condition. How is it possible? The answer is, simply by chanting His name constantly.
This is accepted by the exemplary disciple, Arjuna, who has perfectly learned the conclusion of spiritual science from the yogesvara, the master of mystic knowledge, Krsna. Recognizing Krsna to be the Supreme Brahman, Arjuna addresses Him, sthane hrsikesa...: “The world becomes joyful hearing Your name, and thus do all become attached to You.” (Bg. 11.36) The process of chanting is herein authorized as the direct means of contacting the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. Simply by chanting the holy name Krsna, the soul is attracted by the Supreme Person, Krsna, to go home, back to Godhead.
In the Narada-pancaratra it is stated that all the Vedic rituals, mantras, and understanding are compressed into the eight words Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare. Similarly, in the Kali-santarana Upanisad it is stated that these sixteen words, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, are especially meant for counteracting the degrading and contaminating influence of this materialistic age of Kali.
All these points are elaborately presented in my book Teachings of Lord Caitanya.
The process of chanting is, therefore, not only the sublime method for practical perfection of life but the authorized Vedic principle inaugurated by the greatest Vedic scholar and devotee, Lord Caitanya (whom we consider an incarnation of Krsna). We are simply following in His authorized footsteps.
The scope of the Krsna consciousness movement is universal. The process for regaining one’s original spiritual status of eternal life, full with bliss and knowledge, is not abstract, dry theorizing. Spiritual life is not described in the Vedas as theoretical, dry, or impersonal. The Vedas aim at the inculcation of pure love of God only, and this harmonious conclusion is practically realized by the Krsna consciousness movement, or by chanting the Hare Krsna mantra.
As the goal of spiritual realization is only one, love of God, so the Vedas stand as a single comprehensive whole in the matter of transcendental understanding. Only the incomplete views of various parties apart from the bona fide Vedic lines of teaching give a rapturous appearance to the Bhagavad-gita. The reconciliative factor adjusting all apparently diverse propositions of the Vedas is the essence of the Veda, or Krsna consciousness (love of God).

Thanking you once again,
Yours sincerely,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
February 8, 1970

Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta

Dear Swamiji:
Thank you very much for your kindness in sending me your long and interesting letter of January 30, together with the last issue of Back to Godhead. So far I have had a few discussions with members of your society here, but they were not entirely satisfactory from my point of view. But now I have your much more authoritative letter, whereby the discussion moves to a higher level.
And yet, I am afraid, you have not convinced me that all the scriptures you quote prescribe only chanting of the name of Krsna. Let me refer only to the most important ones.
In the Bhagavad-gita (9.14), kirtayantah need not mean chanting of the name of Krsna. It may mean glorifying, chanting, reciting, talking, and refer to songs, hymns, descriptions, or conversations. The commentators take it that way. Sankara in his commentary merely repeats the word, but Anandagiri in his vyakhya classes kirtana as vedanta-sravanam pranava-japas ca, “listening to the Vedanta and muttering om” (that the Vedic om is Krsna is said in the Bhagavad-gita, where Krsna is also identified with many other things, and which is smrti, but not in the Vedas, which are sruti). Another commentator, Hanuman, in his Paisaca-bhasya, says that kirtayantah merely means bhasamanah—“talking [about].”
More important, I think, than the precise meaning of this word, is that the entire verse does not require that everyone always engage in kirtana, but merely states that some great souls do so. This is obvious from the next verse, which states that anye, “others,” engage in jnana: yajnena... yajanto mam, “worshiping me... with the worship of knowledge.” The Bhagavad-gita is broad-minded and tolerant of a variety of religious approaches, although it also stresses one aspect above all others (i.e., sarva-phala-tyaga).
Finally, in the last sutra of the Vedanta-sutra, anavrttih sabdat..., sabda refers to the scripture or to the revelation of the Vedas, as is clear from the context and from the commentators. Sankara quotes a number of texts (ending with ity adi-sabdebhyah, “according to these sabdas”) to support this, i.e., to support the statement that “according to the scripture there is no return.” He also refers to sabda in this sutra by saying mantrartha-vadadi...,mantras, descriptions, etc.” Vacaspati Misra in the Bhamati supports this and clarifies it further by adding that a contrary view is sruti-smrti-virodhah, “in conflict with the smrti and the sruti.
Thanking you once again for your kind attention.
Yours very sincerely,
J. F. Staal
February 15, 1970

J. F. Staal
Professor of Philosophy and of South Asian Languages

My dear Dr. Staal:
I am very glad to receive your letter dated Sunday, February 8, 1970. I am very much pleased also to note the contents.
Regarding convincing you that all scriptures prescribe chanting of the name of Krsna, I can simply present the authority of Lord Caitanya. Lord Caitanya recommended, kirtaniyah sada harih [“Hari, Krsna, is constantly to be praised” (Siksastaka 3) [Cc. adi 17.31]]. Similarly, Madhvacarya quotes, vede ramayane caiva harih sarvatra giyate [“Hari is sung about everywhere in the Vedas and Ramayana”]. Similarly, in the Bhagavad-gita (15.15) the Lord says, vedais ca sarvair aham eva vedyah [“By all the Vedas, I am to be known”].
In this way we find all the scriptures aiming at the Supreme Person. In the Rg Veda (1.22.20) the mantra is om tad visnoh paramam padam sada pasyanti surayah [“The demigods are always looking to that supreme abode of Visnu”]. The whole Vedic process, therefore, is to understand Lord Visnu, and any scripture is directly or indirectly chanting the glories of the Supreme Lord, Visnu.
Regarding the Bhagavad-gita, verse 9.14, kirtayantah certainly means glorifying, chanting, reciting, and talking, as you have said; but glorifying, chanting, or reciting about whom? It is certainly Krsna. The word used in this connection is mam [“Me”]. Therefore, we do not disagree when a person glorifies Krsna, as Sukadeva did in the Srimad-Bhagavatam. This is also kirtana. The highest among all Vedic literatures is the proper place for such glorification of the Supreme Lord, Krsna, and this is to be well understood from the verse:
“O expert and thoughtful men, relish Srimad-Bhagavatam, the mature fruit of the desire tree of Vedic literatures. It emanated from the lips of Sri Sukadeva Gosvami. Therefore this fruit has become even more tasteful, although its nectarean juice was already relishable for all, including liberated souls.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.3)
It is said that Maharaja Pariksit attained salvation simply by hearing, and similarly Sukadeva Gosvami attained salvation simply by chanting. In our devotional service there are nine different methods for achieving the same goal, love of Godhead, and the first process is hearing. This hearing process is called sruti. The next process is chanting. The chanting process is smrti. We accept both sruti and smrti simultaneously. We consider sruti the mother and smrti the sister, because a child hears from the mother and then again learns from the sister by description.
Sruti and smrti are two parallel lines. Srila Rupa Gosvami therefore says:
pancaratra-vidhim vina
aikantiki harer bhaktir
utpatayaiva kalpate
[BRS 1.2.101]
That is, without references to sruti, smrti, Puranas, and Pancaratras, unadulterated devotional service is never achieved. Therefore, anyone who shows a devotional ecstasy without reference to the sastras [Vedic scriptures] simply creates disturbances. On the other hand, if we simply stick to the srutis, then we become veda-vada-ratah,* who are not very much appreciated in the Bhagavad-gita.
Therefore Bhagavad-gita, although smrti, is the essence of all Vedic scripture, sarvopanisado gavah.* It is just like a cow which is delivering the milk, or the essence of all the Vedas and Upanisads, and all the acaryas, including Sankaracarya, accept the Bhagavad-gita as such. Therefore you cannot deny the authority of the Bhagavad-gita because it is smrti; that view is sruti-smrti-virodhah, “in conflict with the smrti and the sruti,” as you have correctly said.
Regarding Anandagiri’s quotation that kirtana means vedanta-sravanam pranava japas ca [“listening to the Vedanta and muttering om”], the knower of Vedanta is Krsna, and He is the compiler of Vedanta. He is veda-vit and vedanta-krt. So where is there a greater opportunity for vedanta-sravana than to hear it from Krsna?
Regarding the next verse, in which it is mentioned that jnana-yajnena... yajanto mam, the object of worship is Krsna, as indicated by mam [“Me”]. The process is described in the Isopanisad, mantra 11:
vidyam cavidyam ca yas
tad vedobhayam saha
avidyaya mrtyum tirtva
vidyayamrtam asnute
“Only one who can learn the process of nescience and that of transcendental knowledge side by side can transcend the influence of repeated birth and death and enjoy the full blessings of immortality.”
The culture of vidya, or transcendental knowledge, is essential for the human being, otherwise the culture of avidya, or nescience, binds him to conditional existence on the material platform. Materialistic existence means the pursuit or culture of sense gratification, and this kind of knowledge of sense gratification (avidya) means advancement of repeated birth and death. Those who are absorbed in such knowledge cannot learn any lesson from the laws of nature, and they do the same things over repeatedly, being enamored of the beauty of illusory things. Vidya, or factual knowledge, on the other hand, means to know thoroughly the process of nescient activities while at the same time culturing transcendental science and thereby undeviatingly following the path of liberation.
Liberation is the enjoyment of the full blessings of immortality. This immortality is enjoyed in the eternal kingdom of God (sambhuty-amrtam asnute), the region of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and is the result obtained by worshiping the Supreme Lord, the cause of all causes, sambhavat. So in this way real knowledge, vidya, means to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krsna; that is jnana-yajnena, the worship of knowledge.
This jnana-yajnena... yajanto mam is the perfection of knowledge, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita (7.19):
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me [Krsna], knowing Me to be the cause of all causes, and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.”
If one has not yet come to this conclusion of knowledge and simply indulges in dry speculation without Krsna, then his hard speculative labor is something like beating empty husks of grain. The unhulled rice and the empty husks of rice look very much the same. One who knows how to get the grain out of the unhulled rice is wise, but one who beats on the empty husk, thinking to get some result, is simply wasting his labor uselessly. Similarly, if one studies the Vedas without finding the goal of the Vedas, Krsna, he simply wastes his valuable time.
So to cultivate knowledge for worshiping Krsna culminates after many, many births and deaths when one actually becomes wise. When one becomes wise in this way, he surrenders to Krsna, recognizing Him at last to be the cause of all causes and all that is. That sort of great soul is very rare. So those who have surrendered to Krsna life and soul are rare sudurlabha mahatmas. They are not ordinary mahatmas.
By the grace of Lord Caitanya that highest perfectional status of life is being distributed very freely. The effect is also very encouraging; otherwise, how are boys and girls without any background of Vedic culture quickly occupying the posts of rare mahatmas simply by vibrating this transcendental sound, Hare Krsna? And simply on the basis of this chanting, the majority of them (those who are very sincere) are steady in devotional service and are not falling down to the four principles of material sinful life, namely (1) meat-eating, (2) illicit sexual connection, (3) taking of intoxicants, including coffee, tea, and tobacco, and (4) gambling. And that is the last sutra of the Vedanta-sutra, i.e., anavrttih sabdat [“By sound vibration one becomes liberated”].
One has to learn by the result (phalena pariciyate). Our students are ordered to act like this, and they are not falling down. That they are remaining on the platform of pure spiritual life without hankering to culture the above principles of avidya, or sense gratification, is the test of their proper understanding of the Vedas. They do not come back to the material platform, because they are relishing the nectarean fruit of love of God.
Sarva-phala-tyaga [“renunciation of all the fruits of one’s work”] is explained in the Bhagavad-gita by the Lord Himself in the words sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja [Bg. 18.66]: “Give up everything and simply surrender unto Me [Krsna].” The Hare Krsna mantra means “O Supreme Energy of Krsna and O Lord Krsna, please engage me in Your eternal service.” So we have given up everything and are simply engaged in the service of the Lord. What Krsna orders us to do is our only engagement. We have given up all resultant actions of karma, jnana, and yoga; and that is the stage of pure devotional service, bhaktir uttama.
Yours sincerely,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
February 25, 1970

Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta
International Society for Krishna Consciousness

Dear Swamiji:
Thank you very much for your very interesting letter of February 15, 1970, with enclosure.
I am afraid that whenever you quote a passage purporting to show that only the chanting of the name Krsna is required, I can quote another one which requires something else, adding, yadi sloko ’pi pramanam, ayam api slokah pramanam bhavitum arhati: “If mere verses are authoritative, this verse also ought to be regarded as authoritative.” And there may be no end to this in the foreseeable future, as Patanjali also says, mahan hi sabdasya prayoga-visayah: “For vast is the domain for the use of words.”
Yours very sincerely,
J. F. Staal
3764 Watseka Avenue
Los Angeles, California 90034

April 24, 1970

Dear Dr. Staal:
I beg to thank you very much for your kind letter dated February 25, 1970. I am sorry that I could not reply to your letter earlier because I was a little busy in the matter of purchasing a new church estate at the above address. We have secured a very nice place for a separate temple, lecture room, my quarters, and the devotees’ residential quarters, all together in a nice place with all the modern amenities.
I beg to request you to visit this place at your convenience, and if you kindly let me know a day before, my students will be very glad to receive you properly.
Regarding our correspondence, actually this quotation and counter-quotation cannot solve the problem. In a court both the learned lawyers quote from law books, but that is not the solution to the case. The determination of the case is the judgment of the presiding judge. So argument cannot bring us to a conclusion.
The scriptural quotations are sometimes contradictory, and every philosopher has a different opinion, because without putting forward a different thesis, no one can become a famous philosopher. It is therefore difficult to arrive at the right conclusion. The conclusion is, as above mentioned, to accept the judgment of authority. We follow the authority of Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is nondifferent from Krsna, and His version according to Vedic scripture is that in this age this chanting is the only solution for all problems of life. And that is actually being shown by practical experience.
Recently there was a big procession of our students in Berkeley on the Advent Day of Lord Caitanya, and the public has remarked as follows: “This crowd of men is not like others, who assemble to break windows and create havoc.” This is also confirmed by the police in the following words: “Members of the Krsna consciousness movement cooperated fully with the police, and their efforts to maintain peaceful order throughout the parade were so successful that only minimal police involvement was required.”
Similarly, in Detroit there was a big peace march, and our men were appreciated as “angels” in the crowd. So this Krsna consciousness movement is actually needed at the present moment as the panacea for all kinds of problems in human society.
Other quotations will not act very appreciably at this time. In a drugstore there may be many medicines, and all may be genuine, but what is required is that an experienced physician prescribe medicine for a particular patient. We cannot say in this case, “This is also medicine, and this is also medicine.” No. The medicine which is effective for a particular person is the medicine for him—phalena pariciyate.

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