Here we continue an exchange that took place in Paris, on June 15, 1974, between His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, two priests, and two Christian scholars.
Madame Siaude: As you say, since Lord Jesus is the son of God, his body is spiritual. But because Jesus wanted to take part in the life of the human beings on earth, we think he actually accepted a material body.
Srila Prabhupada: Why do you speculate that Jesus accepted a material body?
Madame Siaude: We have prayers that say Jesus underwent suffering and death.
Srila Prabhupada: But that is a so-called death. In your mind you think, you speculate, that he died. But he resurrected.
Madame Siaude: But the Gospel says that he died.
Srila Prabhupada: That’s all right.
Madame Siaude: Just as you accept totally the word as found in the Vedas, so we accept totally the word as found in the Bible.
Srila Prabhupada: But when the Bible speaks of Jesus, “died” simply means something resembling death. Janma karma ca me divyam: In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna explains that the birth, activities, and disappearance of Himself and His pure devotees are all transcendental. Just take, for example, Christ’s “birth” from the womb of Mary. It may appear like an ordinary material birth, but actually it is not. It is something resembling birth, but in reality it is transcendental.
Madame Siaude: No. It is very important that we understand the death of Christ to be a real death. The central point of our faith and our philosophy is that Lord Jesus actually died.
Srila Prabhupada: No. The Vedic literature explains that even an ordinary living being does not die. Na hanyate hanyamane sarire. Do you understand Sanskrit?
Madame Siaude: Not by hearing it. I have to read it.
Srila Prabhupada: Na hanyate: “The soul is never killed.” And hanyamane sarire: “Even when the body dies, the soul is never dead.”
Father Canivez: Your Divine Grace, in order for there to be dialogue, we have to respect one another’s positions not that we will try to convert the others. Just as we respect your absolute faith in the Vedic philosophy, so also there must be respect about our Christian interpretation of the life of Lord Jesus and his death.
Srila Prabhupada: Oh, I have more respect for Jesus Christ than you have. I say, “Jesus does not die.” You say, “Jesus dies.” As far as respect is concerned, I have more respect than you. You want to see Jesus Christ dead. I don’t want to see him dead.
Madame Siaude: Jesus dies, but after, there is his resurrection.
Srila Prabhupada: No death. Recently, there was an archaeological excavation that demonstrated that Jesus Christ did not die. After the crucifixion, he was taken to Kashmir.
Madame Siaude: Well, we are not so much inclined to discuss such historical matters.
Srila Prabhupada: I was very much pleased to hear this information, because I had been very sorry that Jesus Christ was crucified. So when I learned of this scientific discovery, I was very satisfied.
Father Canivez: Your Divine Grace, I was at your conference last night, and I heard you declare that human life is meant for knowing God. So, what is your process for coming to know God?
Srila Prabhupada: That is very simple. Just take, for example, your body. You, the soul, are the important, active principle. Similarly, this gigantic cosmic manifestation must have some active principle. That is God. So where is the difficulty in understanding God?
Father Canivez: For example, in your prayers, how do you …
Srila Prabhupada: Now, first of all let us understand what God is, then prayer. If we do not understand God, then what will we understand about prayer? If you understand that there is the active principle, then you can understand the prayer that we have already cited from the beginning of Srimad-Bhagavatam: janmady asya yato ‘nvayad itaratas carthesv abhijnah svarat “I pray to the Supreme Personality of Godhead Vasudeva, who is the origin of all creation.” This is the active principle.
So the process is that I offer all my respect to the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Truth, from whom the creation has taken place, in whom everything is resting and working nicely, and to whom, after annihilation, everything will return.
And when you study what are the nature and activities of that original source, the Vedic literature further informs you, abhijnah: He is all-cognizant; He knows everything. For instance, although I, the soul within this body, am cognizant of this body, still I do not know how the body is working. I am eating, but I do not know how my eatables transform into secretions and then go to the heart, and so forth. Of course, the so-called scientists have understood somewhat, but not fully. So I do not know what is going on within my body. I do not know how many hairs are there. But God knows everything, every nook and corner of the whole universe.
So we cannot compare ourselves to God. That is impossible. But still, since we are forced to get knowledge from others, we may naturally question, “From whom has God gotten His knowledge?” Therefore, the Vedic literature also declares, svarat:“God hasn’t got to take knowledge from anyone else He’s independently full of knowledge.”
In addition, God imparted knowledge to Brahma, the first created being in the universe. That knowledge is called Vedic knowledge. In other words, Vedic knowledge is coming directly from God. Then it is being distributed through Brahma. And God is so mysterious that even learned scholars become bewildered in their attempt to understand Him. And although this material world is a temporary phantasmagoria, it appears to be fact on account of its being the energy of God.
Madame Siaude: Your Divine Grace, as I recall from reading some of the Vedic literature, God is known as antaryami, “the witness within the heart.” Does this mean that we can have a direct experience of God, in addition to what we experience in the scriptures?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That direct experience of God is the practice of yoga.
Madame Siaude: I guess if you strive for prapati, or surrender, this is a way to God directly.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. That is the real process.
Madame Siaude: But is surrender different from yoga?
Srila Prabhupada: No. Surrender is bhakti-yoga. Bhakti, devotion to God.
Madame Siaude: But I was thinking surrender is something different from bhakti.
Srila Prabhupada: Surrender is bhakti-yoga.
Madame Siaude: You take surrender to be bhakti?
Srila Prabhupada: Bhakti, devotion, yes. Surrender means devotion. For instance, I can surrender unto you only when I have got full faith in you and devotion unto you. Otherwise, I cannot. Sobhakti-yogais wanted. If we simply devote ourselves to God, then everything is complete. Therefore, in Bhagavad-gita Lord Krsna describes prapati, or surrender. Bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate: “After many, many lifetimes of endeavoring to understand God through mental speculation, when one is actually wise he surrenders unto Me.” And in the next line Krsna says, vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma sudurlabhah: “When one understands that Vasudeva, or Krsna, is everything, then his knowledge is perfect. But such amahatma such a great soul is very rare to be seen.”