„Wait a minute, do you want to say that everyone, who is not a Hare Krishna, is doomed?“ was a question that a female student, in a disturbed state of mind, challenged me with. I immediately remembered a sloka that perfectly reflects the Bhagavatam’s answer to this and replied enthusiastically: sva-vida-varahostra-kharaih - people not interested in Krishna are compared to dogs, hogs, camels and asses…! Our holy scriptures declare that whoever does not accept God is not a human, but a two-legged animal. 1 No, I am just joking! That was of course NOT the way I answered her question! Why not? Let’s first set the scene: How did I end up being confronted with such a question in the first place?
I was in the temple room with about thirty students from the nearby university, after giving a tour of the temple. Someone asked why we are preaching because the monk at the Buddhist Centre said that they don`t do any missionary work since people will come on their own once they are ready. To answer this question I told the tale of `The Sadhu and the Scorpion`. 2 That story very nicely illustrates the heart of a sadhu and the principle of compassion. But it brought up another challenging question: „Are you saying that I am suffering and that I am in need of your help? Are you saying that I have to become a Hare Krishna and that without believing in God my life is wasted?“
How should we answer such a question? As devotees, we are convinced that without Krishna, life is really meaningless. The Bhagavatam declares that if one’s work or even one’s religiosity and renunciation do not lead one to devotional service to God, one is considered dead although breathing. And Shaunaka Rishi compares people without interest in God to animals. Persons who never sing or glorify the Lord are considered to possess earholes like the holes of snakes and a tongue like the tongue of a frog. The eyes which do not look at the symbolic representations of the Personality of Godhead Vishnu are like those printed on the plumes of the peacock, and the legs which do not move to the holy places are considered to be like tree trunks. 3
Srila Prabhupada, a living Bhavgata, followed the same mood and spoke very straightforward and without compromise. For example, when he was giving a public lecture at Glasgow in 1972, a young man stood up and declared „I am God!“ Srila Prabhupada loudly roared back: „You are not God! You are dog!“ 4 In Montreal, a Bengali gentleman inquired, "Swamiji, you are using very strong words 'fools and rascals.' Can it be explained otherwise?“ Srila Prabhupada replied, "No. These are the only words, that you are all rascals and fools." 5
So considering this, should I also preach strongly? I believe so! We should boldly present Krishna Consciousness philosophy. At the same time, we have to consider time, place and circumstance. So you might wonder how I finally answered the student’s question. I said something like this: „We ourselves are convinced, that developing a relationship with God is the best investment of our lives and that in this world we ultimately cannot find true satisfaction. That’s the message of all true spiritual traditions. God is very kind and has given everyone a free will. God respects the choices everyone makes, and as devotees, we also respect the choices of others. At the same time, we are responsible for the decisions we make and should try to understand where true happiness can be found. Spiritual teachers suggest that happiness is to be found within, in a relationship with the eternal, since the temporary pleasures will fade away. We are not condemning anyone. We are just trying to share ancient wisdom that is meant to improve our lives.“
She became thoughtful, and I believe she felt that there is some truth in what I was saying. The tension was gone and we discussed further while Prasadam was served to all the students.
I believe the `Hog, Dog, Camels and Asses comparison` is more for us to become convinced about the importance of Krishna Consciousness and not so much meant to use for condemning people that are not into spiritual life. As preachers, we should be both straightforward and respectful at the same time. We need to find ways to present the truth in an attractive way while remaining loyal to the siddhanta, the conclusion of the scriptures.
1 - SB 2.3.19
2 - A Sadhu was trying to save a scorpion from drowning in the water, but each time the scorpion stung him. When asked why he continues to help, the sadhu replied that the scorpion’s nature is to sting, and my nature is to help those who are suffering, even though they do not appreciate it
3 - SB 2.3.20-23
4 - SP Lilamrita Ch.40 `Around the World but absorbed in Bombay`
5 - SP Conversation, 18 Oct 1975