What is the best Religion? By A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
(Quoted from Prabhupada Room Conversation San Francisco, April
What is the best religion? This question was once put to Sri
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and He said: that religion is the best which teaches his
followers to develop pure love of God.
Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu said: prema pum-artho mahan: "Love of
Godhead is the ultimate benediction for all human beings."
The Test Of Religion: How Much You Have Developed Love of
That is the best form of religion which performing one becomes elevated to devotional service of the Lord. Not religious formalities. One has to test by the result. Phalena pariciyate.
You are Christian, I am Hindu, or he is Mohammedan. That’s all right. You are very good, I am very good, he is very good. But what is the result of your following religion? Have you attained love of God? Simply I go the church, I go to temple, and I do all kinds of nonsense, I have no love for God, I have love for my maya and I go simply..., that is useless. Religious principle means... It doesn’t matter whether you are Hindu or Christian or Muslim or anything. It doesn’t matter.
Just see Bhagavata. Sa vai pumsam paro dharmo. That sort of religion is nice, best, by which you can develop love of Godhead. It doesn’t mention that “This religion is best, that religion is best.” That religion is best which helps someone, the religionist, to develop love of God, Godhead. If you put to test all kinds of religion in this formula of Srimad-Bhagavatam, you’ll understand which religion is best. You haven’t got to ask anybody. Simply by testing how much one has developed love of Godhead. How much one has learned to love Krsna or God.
If, following any type of religion, if you get this result, then you have performed your religious principle very nicely. This is the answer. And what kind of love? Ahaituki, without any cause. “Oh, I love God because I want something from Him.” Generally, as they love God, distress, they want something. “My dear Lord, I am very unhappy. Please help me.” That is also good. That is not bad. That is accepted in Bhagavad-gita. But that is not pure love. Pure love means there is no reason. “Why I am loving Krsna? Oh, there is no reason. I love Krsna. I want Krsna.” This is love. Just like Caitanya Mahaprabhu says... “Whatever you do You are my Lord. I don’t mind whether You put me into distress or You put me into happiness. Or if You don’t help me in realizing You. It doesn’t matter. Still, I love You. Whether I am going to hell or heaven, it doesn’t matter. But I love You.” Just like Cowper said, “England, with all thy fault, I love you.” This is love. This is material, crude. Ahaituki apratihata. Apratihata means that business, “I love Krsna,” cannot be stopped. “I could not love Krsna because I was busy in doing this thing or that thing, or because...” So many reason we can put forward. No. Love of Krsna cannot be stopped by any material reason. That is love. Nobody can say that “For this reason I could not love Krsna.” There is no reason. There is no impediment for anyone. Any circumstances.
So any religious principle which helps a person to love Krsna and God, in that way, without any reason, without any impediment... Just like flow of the river. There is no impediment in this world which can stop the flow of the river. Or the waves of the Pacific Ocean. There is no power in the material world which can stop the waves going on, going on, going on. You see? Similarly, that is the best type of religion. Now just see how Bhagavata is liberal in the description of religion. Religion... You are religious, you are very pious man—how it will be tested? How much you have developed love of God. That’s all. Without any reason, without any impediment. This is test of best religion. (Prabhupada Room Conv. San Francisco, April 1, 1969)
Srila Prabhupada: "Actual Religion means to understand God and to develop your Love for God". (Lecture by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada New York, April 5, 1973)
Srila Prabhupada: So the subject matter of God consciousness, Krishna consciousness is very serious. We are distributing the subject matter in so many books. Bhagavad-gita is spoken by the Supreme Personality of Godhead for the benefit of the whole human society. Do not take Bhagavad-gita or Krishna as something sectarian—“Hindu God,” “Hindu scripture.” No. It is meant for everyone. These names, “Hindu,” “Muslim,” “Christians,” or “Buddhist,” these are the designation of the body. Actual religion is different. Actual religion means to understand God and to develop your love for God. That is actual religion. It doesn’t matter through which religion you develop your love for God, but the test is, you are first-class religionist if you have developed your dormant love of God. So this movement is meant for awakening the dormant love of God. (Prabhupada Lecture New York, April 5, 1973)
"And because we are Following the footsteps of Lord Caitanya, the method is so sublime that even foreigners who never knew Krishna, they're following it. The method is so potent. So that was my purpose. We don't say that "This religion is belter that this religion, or 'My process is better’. We want to see by the result. In the Sanskrit there is a word, phalena pariciyate: "a thing is judged by the result" (7l0729iv.gai)
Take for example, in every religion there is acceptance of God and religion
means to abide by the order of God. So how there can be two religions? There cannot
be two religions. To say : "I believe like that, we believe like that",
these are man-made. But actual religion is that God is one and religion means
the orders, the law given by God. That's all. Religion means to follow the orders
of God. Simple definition.... Those, one who is abiding by the laws of God, he
is perfect religionist. It doesn't matter whether he's a Hindu, he's a Muslim
or a Christian. Whether he has got proper sense what is meant by God and what
is the order of God. Then he is religionist, perfect religionist." (73083lrc.lon)
"Religion without science or philosophy is sentiment. And philosophy without religion is mental speculation."
Nobody can be God. God is one. And religion is also one. If God is one, then how
religion can be different? Just like state laws. If the state is one, the law
is also, everyone. Now the ordinary law, just like "Keep to the right," if somebody
says, "No, this is Christian law. Hindu law, 'Keep to the left,' " will it be
accepted? If I say, "I am Hindu, I am coming from India. My law is 'Keep to the
left.' " In India, the same thing, "Keep to the left." And many other countries
also. So here, because all these laws are made by rascals, in some country you
keep to the left, some country you keep to the right. And which is correct, that
is unknown. That is unknown. Therefore for the foolish person, "This is Hindu
religion,' " "This is Christian religion," and "This is Muhammadan religion."
Religion is one. How it can be Hindu religion, Christian religion? No. Religion
is one. God is one. Therefore religion is one. Because religion means the law
or the order given by God. That is religion. Simple definition.
You claim to be religious, or you claim to be Hindu or Christian or Buddhist.
That's all right. But do you know what is God? Oh, everyone silent. Everyone,
all nonsense rascals, silent. He does not know what is God. And what is his religion?
If you do not know what is God, a vague idea, that is not religion. You must know
what is God. Just like to become American citizen, it requires to know something
of the history of America. So if American citizen, if you ask him, "What you are?"
"Now I am American." "Who is your president?" "I do not know." What is this nonsense,
American? Would you like to hear from him that "I do not know who is president"?
Similarly, a human being professing some certain type of religion, but you ask
him, "What is God?" Religion must be in relationship with God, any religion. But
ask him, "What is God?" No answer. But religion means:
sa vai pumsam paro dharmo / yato bhaktir adhoksaje
ahaituky apratihata / yayatma suprasidati
This is religion, first-class religion. What is that first-class religion? Yato bhaktir adhoksaje, by practicing which one becomes a devotee of the
Lord. That is religion. That is religion. So instead of becoming devotee of the
Lord, we are (becoming) devotee of dog. This is our position.
The Principles of Religion:
austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness
Principles of religion are laid down in the Vedas, and any discrepancy in the matter of properly executing the rules of the Vedas makes one irreligious. In the Bhāgavatam it is stated that such principles are the laws of the Lord. Only the Lord can manufacture a system of religion. The Vedas are also accepted as originally spoken by the Lord Himself to Brahmā, from within his heart. Therefore, the principles of dharma, or religion, are the direct orders of the Supreme Personality of Godhead (dharmaṁ tu sākṣāt-bhagavat-praṇītam). These principles are clearly indicated throughout the Bhagavad-gītā. The purpose of the Vedas is to establish such principles under the order of the Supreme Lord, and the Lord directly orders, at the end of the Gītā, that the highest principle of religion is to surrender unto Him only, and nothing more. (Bg. 4.7 purport)
The principles of religion, namely austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness, as we have already discussed, may be followed by the follower of any
faith. There is no need to turn from Hindu to Mohammedan to Christian or
some other faith and thus become a renegade and not follow the
principles of religion. The Bhāgavatam religion urges following the principles of religion. The principles of religion are not the dogmas or regulative principles of a certain faith. Such
regulative principles may be different in terms of the time and place
concerned. One has to see whether the aims of religion have been achieved. Sticking to the dogmas and formulas without
attaining the real principles is not good. A secular state may be
impartial to any particular type of faith, but the state cannot be
indifferent to the principles of religion as above-mentioned. But in the age of Kali, the executive heads of
state will be indifferent to such religious principles, and therefore
under their patronage the opponents of religious principles, such as
greed, falsehood, cheating and pilfery, will naturally follow, and so
there will be no meaning to propaganda crying to stop corruption in the
state. (SB 1.17.32 purport)
"That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives
always in the wrong direction, O Pārtha, is in the mode of ignorance." (Bg. 18.32)
It is said that one cannot ascertain the ways of religion simply by imperfect experimental knowledge. Actually, the principles of religion can only be laid down by the Lord Himself. Dharmaṁ hi sākṣāt-bhagavat-praṇītam. No
one can manufacture a religious principle by imperfect speculation. One
must follow in the footsteps of great authorities like Brahmā, Śiva,
Nārada, Manu, Kumāra, Kapila, Prahlāda, Bhīṣma, Śukadeva Gosvāmī,
Yamarāja, Janaka, etc. By mental speculation one cannot ascertain what
is religion or self-realization.
Therefore, out of causeless mercy to His devotees, the Lord explains
directly to Arjuna what action is and what inaction is. Only action
performed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness can deliver a person from the
entanglement of material existence. (Bg. 4.16 purport)
Religion includes four primary subjects,
namely pious activities, economic development, satisfaction of the
senses, and finally liberation from material bondage. Irreligious life
is a barbarous condition. Indeed, human life begins when religion begins. Eating, sleeping, fearing, and mating are the four principles
of animal life. These are common both to animals and to human beings.
But religion is the extra function of the human being. Without religion, human life is no better than animal life. Therefore, in human societies there is some form of religion which aims at self-realization and which makes reference to man's eternal relationship with God. (SB 1.1.2 purport)
The ultimate aim of religious performances is to release oneself from
material bondage and regain the life of freedom in the transcendental
world, where the Personality of Godhead is the Supreme Person. Laws of religion, therefore, are directly enacted by the Personality of Godhead, and except for the mahājanas, or the authorized agents of the Lord, no one knows the purpose of religion. There are twelve particular agents of the Lord who know the purpose of religion, and all of them render transcendental service unto Him. Persons who desire their own good may follow these mahājanas and thus attain the supreme benefit. (SB 1.2.25 purport)
Real religion means to know God, our
relation with Him and our duties in relation with Him and to know
ultimately our destination after leaving this material body. The
conditioned souls, who are entrapped by the material energy, hardly know
all these principles of life. Most of them are like animals engaged in
eating, sleeping, fearing and mating. They are mostly engaged in sense
enjoyment under the pretension of religiosity, knowledge or salvation.
They are still more blind in the present age of quarrel, or Kali-yuga. (SB 1.3.43 purport)
The next symptom of the age of Kali is that principles of religion, which are all spotlessly white, like the white lotus flower, will be attacked by the uncultured śūdra population of the age. They may be descendants of brāhmaṇa or kṣatriya forefathers, but in the age of Kali, for want of sufficient education and culture of Vedic wisdom, such a śūdra-like population will defy the principles of religion,
and persons who are religiously endowed will be terrified by such men.
They will declare themselves as adherents of no religious principles,
and many "isms" and cults will spring up in Kali-yuga only to kill the
spotless bull of religion. The state will be declared to be secular, or without any particular principle of religion, and as a result there will be total indifference to the principles of religion. The citizens will be free to act as they like, without respect for sādhu, śāstra and guru. The bull standing on one leg indicates that the principles of religion are gradually diminishing. Even the fragmental existence of religious
principles will be embarrassed by so many obstacles as if in the
trembling condition of falling down at any time. (SB 1.17.2 purport)
In the Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā the Lord asserts that He appears in every millennium just to reestablish the way of religion. The way of religion is made by the Supreme Lord. No one can manufacture a new path of religion, as is the fashion for certain ambitious persons. The factual way of religion is to accept the Lord as the supreme authority and thus render service unto Him in spontaneous love.
In Bhagavad-gītā also we find that the Lord condemns all forms of religion other than that which entails the process of surrendering unto the
Supreme. Any system which leads one to the devotional service of the
Lord, and nothing else, is actually religion or philosophy.
“The principles of religion are initiated
by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and no one else, including the
sages and demigods, can manufacture any such principles. Since even
great sages and demigods are unauthorized to inaugurate such principles
what to speak of others—the so-called mystics, demons, human beings,
Vidyādharas and Cāraṇas living in the lower planets? Only Twelve
personalities, who are agents of the Lord (the twelve Mahajanas)
are authorized to speak and propagate the principles of religion. (SB 6.3.19 purport)
Religion or the law of God can not be manufactured.
Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad Gita: "Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O
descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time
I descend Myself. In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium." (Bg.4.7-8)
Religion and Sanātana-Dharma
The English word "Religion" is a little different from sanātana-dharma. Religion conveys the idea of faith, and faith may change. One may have faith in a
particular process, and he may change this faith and adopt another, but sanātana-dharma refers to that activity
which cannot be changed. For instance, liquidity cannot be taken from
water, nor can heat be taken from fire. Similarly, the eternal function
of the eternal living entity cannot be taken from the living entity. Sanātana-dharma means the eternal loving relationship of the living entities with the supreme lord. Therefore, sanātana-dharma does not refer to any sectarian process of religion. It is the eternal function of the eternal living entities in relationship with the eternal Supreme Lord. Sanātana-dharma refers, as stated previously, to the eternal occupation of the living entity. Rāmānujācārya has explained the word sanātana as "that which has neither beginning nor end," so when we speak of sanātana-dharma, we must take it for granted on the authority of Śrī Rāmānujācārya that it has neither beginning nor end. (Bg. introduction)
Non-sanātana religious faith may have some beginning in the annals of human history, but there is no beginning to the history of sanātana-dharma because it remains eternally with the living entities. Insofar as the living entities are concerned, the authoritative śāstras state that the living entity has neither birth nor death. In the Gītā it is stated that the living entity is never born, and he never dies.
He is eternal and indestructible, and he continues to live after the
destruction of his temporary material body. In reference to the concept
of sanātana-dharma, we must try to understand the concept of religion from the Sanskrit root meaning of the word. Dharma refers
to that which is constantly existing with the particular object. We
conclude that there is heat and light along with the fire; without heat
and light, there is no meaning to the word fire. Similarly, we must
discover the essential part of the living being, that part which is his
constant companion. That constant companion is his eternal quality, and
that eternal quality is his eternal religion.
When Sanātana Gosvāmī asked Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu about the svarūpa of every living being, the Lord replied that the svarūpa or
constitutional position of the living being is the rendering of service
to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we analyze this statement of
Lord Caitanya, we can easily see that every living being is constantly
engaged in rendering service to another living being. A living being
serves other living beings in two capacities. By doing so, the living
entity enjoys life. The lower animals serve human beings as servants
serve their master. A serves B master, B serves C master and C serves D
master and so on. Under these circumstances, we can see that one friend
serves another friend, the mother serves the son, the wife serves the
husband, the husband serves the wife and so on. If we go on searching in
this spirit, it will be seen that there is no exception in the society
of living beings to the activity of service. The politician presents his
manifesto for the public to convince them of his capacity for service.
The voters therefore give the politician their valuable votes, thinking
that he will render valuable service to society. The shopkeeper serves
the customer, and the artisan serves the capitalist. The capitalist
serves the family, and the family serves the state in the terms of the
eternal capacity of the eternal living being. In this way we can see
that no living being is exempt from rendering service to other living
beings, and therefore we can safely conclude that service is the
constant companion of the living being and that the rendering of service
is the eternal religion of the living being.
So, Sanatan-Dharma (or real Religion) means the loving service attitude of the soul to the Supreme Lord.
man professes to belong to a particular type of faith with reference to
particular time and circumstance and thus claims to be a Hindu, Muslim,
Christian, Buddhist or any other sect. Such designations are non-sanātana-dharma. A
Hindu may change his faith to become a Muslim, or a Muslim may change
his faith to become a Hindu, or a Christian may change his faith and so
on. But in all circumstances the change of religious faith does not
effect the eternal occupation of rendering service to others. The Hindu,
Muslim or Christian in all circumstances is servant of someone. Thus,
to profess a particular type of sect is not to profess one's sanātana-dharma.
The rendering of service is sanātana-dharma, which is the eternal occupation of the soul.
In this present day, man is very eager to have one scripture, one God, one religion, and one occupation. So let there be one common scripture for the whole world-Bhagavad-gītā. And let there be one God only for the whole world-Śrī Kṛṣṇa. And one mantra only-Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare
Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. And let there be one work only-the service
of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. (Bg. Introduction)
People are very anxious to be famous for their religion, and consequently sometimes it is found that without understanding the principles of religion,
one enters into some group, which is not actually following religious
principles, and then wants to advertise himself as a religious mentor.
As for actual advancement in spiritual science, one should have a test
to see how far he is progressing. (BG. 13.8-12 purport)
ultimate goal in life: How Much You Have Developed your Love for
Srila Prabhupada: The test of any scripture is
how one is developing love of God. If you find that by following
some religious principles you are developing your love of God,
then it is perfect. It doesn't matter whether it is the Bible
or the Qur'an or the Bhagavad-gita; it doesn't matter. We have
to see what is the fruit. If the fruit is that people are developing
love of Godhead, then it is perfect. Don't try to understand
whether "this is good, this is good, and this is bad."
No. Try to understand by the result. If you see the fruit, then
it is first class. So, it doesn't matter whether it is the Bible
or the Gita, if you can develop love of Godhead by reading the
Bibie, it is first class. And if you can develop love of Godhead
by (reading) the Bhagavad-gita, it is first class. And if you
do not, then neither the Bible, the Qur'an or the Bhagavad-gita
will have an effect on you. (Lecture, 18/10/68)
Srila Prabhupada: Then God is the greatest, and
we are finite, limited. We are not the greatest. And our business
is to serve Him. What is that? Yoga student: Our business is
to serve Him. Precisely as was said last night, our business
is to satisfy Him. Srila Prabhupada: That's it.
Yoga student: There is a tradition, and there's a body of forty
traditions, which are called the sacred traditions, one of which
says that these are the words of God as enunciated through Muhammad.
One of them says, "The more you strive towards Me, the
more you love Me, the closer I come to you." Srila Prabhupada:
Oh, that's it. Then the ultimate goal is how to love God. Yoga
Srila Prabhupada: That is very good. That is our
philosophy. This is the highest goal of life, how one has developed
his love for God. And Bhagavatam says, "That is first-class
religion which trains the followers how to love God and serve
Him." That is first-class religion. (Room conversation.
Once the Holy Prophet Muhammad said: "O Lord,
grant to me the love of You; grant me that I love those that
love You; grant me that I may do the deeds that win Your love;
make Your love dearer to me than my soul, family and wealth."
(Abdullah Al-Mamun Al-Suhrawardy, The Sayings of Muhammad. London,
1905, p. 128)
Where Is Your Religion?
This conversation between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and a journalist took place in Los Angeles on December 30, 1968.
Journalist: Why do you feel that the younger people today are turning more and more toward Eastern-oriented religions?
Srila Prabhupada: Because you have failed to give them satisfaction. Your materialistic way of life will not satisfy them anymore. When one is poverty-stricken he may think, "Money, a woman, a good apartment, a good car can give me satisfaction." They are after this. But after such enjoyment, they see, "Oh, there is no satisfaction." Because matter cannot satisfy you.
In America especially, you have got enough for enjoyment. You have got enough food, you have got enough women, you have got enough wine, you have got enough houses -- enough of everything. This shows that material advancement cannot give one satisfaction.
There is more confusion and dissatisfaction in your country than in India, which is said to be poverty-stricken. You'll find in India still, although they are poverty-stricken, because they are continuing their old culture they are not disturbed. Why? Because they have got a little tinge of the spiritual platform. So it is necessary now that people should take to spiritual life. That will make them happy.
Journalist: Would you say that the message of Western-oriented religions is not relevant, or is it that they have failed to present their message properly?
Srila Prabhupada: In the case of Christianity, the gospels were spoken long, long ago to primitive men living in the desert. Of course, in the Bible, or in the Old Testament, the idea of God is there. That is all nice. For example, there is the Biblical statement "God created this world." That is a fact. But now, at the present moment, people are advanced scientifically. They want to know how the creation has taken place. But that explanation is not there in the Bible and neither can the church give the explanation. Therefore people are not satisfied. Simply officially going to the church and offering prayers does not appeal to them.
Besides that, practically they do not follow the religious principles. For example, there is the commandment "Thou shalt not kill." But killing is very prominent in the Christian world. They are regularly maintaining slaughterhouses, and they have manufactured a theory that animals have no soul. They say the animal has no feelings, so they can kill it -- give a dog a bad name and hang it. Why do they say the animals cannot feel? Why are people committing these sinful activities?
The priestly class, they will not say anything. They will not discuss the matter. Everyone is silent. That means they are deliberately disobeying the Ten Commandments. So where are the religious principles? If you don't obey the commandments of your scripture, how can it be said that you are following your religion nicely? How can you kill that which you cannot create? And it is plainly stated there, "Thou shalt not kill." What is the answer? Why are they killing?
Journalist: Are you asking me?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes.
Journalist: Well, yes, obviously, "Thou shalt not kill" is an ethic, and it's timeless and it's valid, but man is not really interested in…
Srila Prabhupada: They are not interested in religion. It is simply a make-show, show bottle. Then how can they be happy? If you do not follow the regulative principles, then where is your religion?
Journalist: I'm not arguing with you. I couldn't agree with you more. I'm in total agreement. It doesn't make any sense. "Thou shalt not kill," "Thou shalt worship no other gods before Me," "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife," "Thou shalt honor thy father and thy mother." Those are beautiful ethics, but they are not obeyed.
Srila Prabhupada: "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's wife." So who is following this?
Journalist: No one, very few.
Srila Prabhupada: You see? So how can you expect that they'll be religious? And without religion, human society is animal society.
Journalist: How does your ethic differ from the basic Jewish-Christian ethic of the Ten Commandments?
Srila Prabhupada: There is no difference.
Journalist: Then what do you have to offer that is different from the Christian ethos or the Jewish ethos?
Srila Prabhupada: As I told you, none of them are strictly following God's commandments. I simply say, "You follow God's commandments." That is my message.
Journalist: In other words, "You obey those principles."
Srila Prabhupada: I don't say, "You Christians become Hindus." I simply say, "You obey these commandments." I'll make you a better Christian. That is my mission. I don't say, "God is not there, God is here." But I simply say, "You obey God." I don't say that you have to come to this stage and accept Krishna as God and no other. I say, "Please obey God. Please try to love God." And I give the way how to love God very easily. I can teach you, provided you agree.