Overcoming the Greatest Obstacle
(Click to enlarge painting of children playing as death hovers in the background)

Prabhupāda: Now, if the body is dead, you cannot talk anymore. Finished. So what is that force within you that is causing you to talk? Do you know anything about that?

Richard: Have I thought about it? Me, personally?

Prabhupāda: No. Have you ever thought about it?

Richard: Yes.

Prabhupāda: So what is that?

Richard: What did I think about that?

Devotee: Yes.

Richard: Um, that I... I've always viewed myself as my self.

Prabhupāda: "My self," that's what... you are not this body. You are not... body is not yourself. Did you ever think of it?

Richard: Well, when I say "myself," I should perhaps define it. "Myself" being all that I can recall being before, as well as my present, ah...

Prabhupāda: How do you distinguish between a dead man or living man?

Richard: Um, well...

Prabhupāda: The living man is important, but the dead man is not important.

Richard: Not his physical body, no.

Prabhupāda: Yes. Then within the physical body, there is something which is making him living man. Is it not?

Richard: Um...

Prabhupāda: What is the dead man? Something is missing; therefore it is dead. Otherwise the body is there.

Richard: Right. Okay. His ability to, to...

Prabhupāda: Yes. Body is... the same hands, legs, mouth, eyes, ears, hair—everything is there, but now they're crying, "Oh, Mr. Such-and-such gone, oh, finished." What is that finished?

Richard: Well, his ability to share...

Prabhupāda: What is that ability? That is my question. Why this important man is now useless, although the same hands, legs, mouth, everything is there, but it is useless?

Richard: Well, he's no longer...

Prabhupāda: So what was the important thing?

Richard: The important thing was his ability to share physically and intellectually.

Prabhupāda: Yes, that means that important thing was within the body; now it is missing. That is distinction between dead man and living man.

Richard: As far as I'm concerned, that's it.

Prabhupāda: That is very important thing. This nice body can work on account of presence of that important thing. Otherwise, useless.

Richard: Right.

Prabhupāda: So we are preaching about that important thing.

Richard: Isn't that the object of all philosophies, both personal and...

Prabhupāda: Yes. That is the real philosophy. You must take care of the living force within the body.

Richard: Right, and aren't there many ways that you can do that? Aren't there many approaches...?

Prabhupāda: First of all, let us understand the importance of that living force. Then we shall find out means how to keep it fit. But people are not aware of this living force. They accept this dead body as important. That is material civilization. They are taking care of the body but not the living force which is making this body important.

Richard: And you think that is a problem with...?

Prabhupāda: That is wanted. Education means to understand that, what is the important thing within this body. Otherwise, cats and dogs, they are also working with the bodily concept of life. The dog is jumping, barking. He's thinking, "I'm dog. I'm this body."

Richard: Okay, as far as nurturing the body through knowledge, is the goal of what you teach to eliminate obstacles in...?

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Richard: That is the goal?

Prabhupāda: Everything is aimed at to eliminate obstacles. Now, so far the body is concerned, there are so many obstacles. Everyone is struggling hard, that is for struggle for existence, to get out of the obstacles. Whole struggle for existence is to save ourselves from the obstacles.

Richard: Right. How do you determine what's an obstacle?

Prabhupāda: Obstacles... the ultimate obstacle is that you don't like to die, but you can die any moment. This is greatest obstacle. Why don't you think of it? You are sitting here, you are young man. So you may die immediately.

Richard: Uh-huh.

Prabhupāda: That is the greatest obstacle. You have got so many plans to do in your life, but you can die any moment. Is it not obstacle?

Richard: The presence of death or the possibility of death?

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Richard: Um, to me, I don't think really it is, for me.

Prabhupāda: Why? Why not? You don't like to die.

Richard: I don't think... that doesn't bother me.

Prabhupāda: It bothers. Suppose you have got some plan you have to do—everyone has got some plan, ideas, some improvement—but where is the guarantee that you'll be able to execute that plan? Because you can die at any moment.

Richard: Right, there is none.

Prabhupāda: So it is not obstacle?

Richard: No.

Prabhupāda: How is that, is not obstacle? You are planning something that, "I shall do this." You may not be very important man, but there are many important men. The leaders of the society, they are planning that, "I shall make my nation like this way, my family like this way." Everyone is planning. But where is the guarantee that he'll be able to fulfill the plan? Death may take place any moment. So is it not obstacle?

Richard: Hmm. I really don't view it as an obstacle, the fact that my plans may be altered.

Prabhupāda: You may not. You may not, but we have got personal experience that people do not want to die until he fulfills some... his brainwork plan. You see? I have seen. One, my friend, he was dying, he was at that time fifty-four years old only, and he was begging the doctor, "My dear doctor, medical man, can you not give me four years' time only, I can fulfill my plan?" He was very big businessman, so he was planning something to do, but doctor said that, "You cannot survive." So he was begging the mercy of the doctor, "Doctor, can you not give me at least four years' time?" As if the doctor can give him life. He was feeling this is obstacle, "I'm going to die without fulfilling my plan." I think that psychology is everywhere.

Richard: But... but generally, how can...?

Prabhupāda: You may not be afraid of, but generally.

Richard: Generally, how can you determine an obstacle...

Prabhupāda: I've seen it, I've seen it, that he was begging the doctor, "Please give me four years' life. Give me some medicine so that I'll live at least for four years, I'll finish my plan." I've seen it. You are the first man that you are not afraid of death, (devotees laugh) but I see everyone is afraid of death.

Richard: I...

Prabhupāda: You see. As soon as there is immediately siren, I've seen it, also...

Richard: Are you afraid of death?

Prabhupāda: No. My position is different, because I know I'm not going to die. My position is different. Because we are confident, na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre (BG 2.20). We are not going to die. Death is no question for us.

Richard: Um-hm. Okay.

Prabhupāda: Therefore we are not afraid of death. That is another thing. But generally, people, they are actually... are you not afraid of disease?

Richard: I would not wish to be in great pain or agony, no.

Prabhupāda: But there is pain. As soon as you are in disease, there is great pain.

Richard: Uh, yes, but there are quick deaths and there are slow deaths.

Prabhupāda: No, everyone is afraid of this. Are you not afraid of old age and invalidity?

Richard: Not particularly. I mean, it's a part of life.

Prabhupāda: You are liberated. (devotees laugh)

Devotee: Prabhupāda said you are liberated.

Richard: I'm what?

Devotee: Liberated.

Richard: Oh. (laughs)

Prabhupāda: Naturally, everyone, that is the problem of life. Otherwise, why there are so many medical colleges, drug shops and medicines, just to avoid disease? Otherwise, there was no need of arrangement. Everyone is afraid of disease, not to suffer from disease. That's a fact. If you say that you are not afraid of disease, that is something new. But unless we are afraid of disease, why there is this Memorial Hospital, this drug shop, this pharmacy? Why these things are required? We don't want it.

Richard: Do you...? You have a doctor, though, you said, right?

Prabhupāda: No, I am not a doctor.

Richard: You have no doctor.

Prabhupāda: My point is that these are the problems—birth, death, old age and disease. This is our point.

Richard: That these are the basic problems of most men?

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Richard: Death, fears of death and disease.

Prabhupāda: Yes, everyone.

Richard: You too?

Prabhupāda: Everyone. I am everyone also. I am also, I have taken up my translation work, Bhāgavatam. So I am trying to live at least up to the time I finish my translation. That is also... I do not wish to die before I finish. That is also... everyone is like that.

Richard: But what happens if you do die before you finish?

Prabhupāda: Well, you are talking something extraordinary. Everyone has got some ambition, and he wants to do it, and death, disease, old age, these are impediments. That is the point. No one wants to die premature death.

Richard: What is a premature death?

Prabhupāda: Family man, a family man wants to see that his sons are properly educated or they are well-placed, so on, so on, so many things. And if all of a sudden death comes, he becomes sorry that, "I could not finish my business." Therefore death is impediment.

Richard: You were widely respected in India before you came to the United States?

Prabhupāda: Why bring that question? First of all, let us finish this question.

Richard: Well, no, no, no. I'm getting to it. Ah, if you had died before you had come to the United States, would that have been a tragedy?

Devotee: Yes, that would have been a big tragedy for all of us. That is premature. That's the example Prabhupāda is giving. If a man wants to educate his sons, but he dies before they can be educated, then, to him, that is a premature death. So therefore he does not want that. In fact he's afraid, "Please, I don't want to die before I see my sons educated." So that is a fear of death.

Prabhupāda: Therefore death is an obstacle. That is the point.

Devotee: An obstacle to the goals of his life.

Prabhupāda: One who has no responsibility, that is another thing. But a responsible man wants to finish the responsibility, and if death comes before that, that's an obstacle.

Richard: Um-hm. Okay. Ah, how about smaller obstacles in life, though, than death? I mean this...

Prabhupāda: This is the major obstacles, and subordinate to these obstacles there are hundreds and millions of obstacles.

Richard: There are millions of obstacles.

Prabhupāda: Yes, this is the main obstacle.

Richard: Right, right, okay. But I mean, okay, you say most people are... almost everyone, except me perhaps, is concerned about death. Ah, but how about the smaller obstacles which nevertheless can make people very depressed today, neurotic? How do you recognize and live with them or eliminate them?

Prabhupāda: Our point is there are hundreds and millions obstacles. If they are, I mean to say, summarized, they become birth, death, old age and disease. This is my point. There are hundred and thousands of obstacles, but if you take all of them and make a summary, then it comes four—birth, death, old age and disease.

Devotee: He wants to know, Śrīla Prabhupāda, if these are the obstacles, how do we Kṛṣṇa conscious people deal with these obstacles or eliminate these obstacles?

Prabhupāda: Yes, that we are doing by Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.

Richard: How?

Prabhupāda: Because if we try to understand Kṛṣṇa, simply by understanding Him, I am going to get a life which will be free of all obstacles.

Richard: And how do you do that?

Prabhupāda: That you see what we are doing.

Richard: By living this type of life?

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Richard: Well, what about the people who don't live here at the āśrama, people who live, if you want to call it, the outside world, ah...

Prabhupāda: They are not getting the opportunity. We are giving the opportunity. You come here and live here.

Richard: This is the only way?

Prabhupāda: Yes.

Richard: Living in an āśrama.

Prabhupāda: Not living... to take the philosophy. Follow the policy or process; then your life is successful.

Devotee (2):Just like our householders, they have their apartments, but they're always associated with Kṛṣṇa's service.

Richard: Right.

Prabhupāda: Just like we are writing so many books to give them enlightenment. This is the process. It is an educational movement, how to overcome these obstacles. That is the sum and substance.

Richard: Do you think there are any other ways which are equally effective?

Prabhupāda: No.

Richard: Isn't the spiritual benefit that people in the āśrama here get...

Prabhupāda: First of all, he must know what is spirit. They do not know even what is spirit.

Richard: Well, okay, there are many contented people in the world, there are many people who are at peace with themselves...

Prabhupāda: Contented... ass is contented. He has no problem. The best-contented living being is an ass. He has no complaint. So that is not civilization.

Richard: That is not what?

Prabhupāda: That is not civilization, or life.

Richard: Okay, but being able to live with your limitations and be therefore content, ah, within those limitations...

Prabhupāda: That I already said, that animal lives very contented within his limitation. He doesn't like to improve. But that is not human life.

Richard: Well, okay, ah, but I know many people who are relatively contented and still growing.

Prabhupāda: What is the contentment? If you have got the problems unsolved, that is ass's contentment. Ass does not know how to check death. He does not think of it. But a human being's intelligence says whether the disease can be checked, whether the death can be checked. That is human being. The ass cannot think. If we remain contented like an ass, so that is animal life.

Richard: Right, but still people carry on, people...

Prabhupāda: Let them carry on. Ass is also carrying on. That is another thing. But distinction between ass's life and human life, the ass cannot estimate the impediments or the obstacles of life. A human being can see, and it is his duty how to overcome it.

Richard: Pardon me while I get that down. Um, yeah, okay. I guess what I'm saying then is that I know many people who do not live in āśramas, who will...

Prabhupāda: I am not advising that you live in āśrama, but... just like here is an... you see, McGill University. So they are giving permanent order of our books. So the university authorities, they are not coming to our āśrama, but they'll get the benefit by reading our books.

Richard: Right. Okay. But I know people who have not had the benefit of reading your books, and yet, as far as I know, and I've gotten to know them very well, they seem to be living lives which, for them, work. The obstacles they can cope with, and I guess what I'm saying is, or advancing, is that perhaps the...

Prabhupāda: There are many men who do not go to the university and live peacefully. But that does not mean university is useless. Similarly, many men may not come to us, that does not mean this institution is useless. It has its importance for the serious men, not for the asses.

Richard: Right, but do you think...

Prabhupāda: Just like this university, they are serious for education, they are ordering our books. Others may not order; they are not reading. That means they are not serious.

Richard: Only the people who are...

Prabhupāda: Yes. Knowledge is for the intelligent class of men.

Richard: But there are many types of knowledge, and there are many ranges, depths of knowledge.

Prabhupāda: So, if many types, this is also one type of knowledge.

Richard: Right, it is not the only type, that's what I'm...

Prabhupāda: No, there are different aims also. If you are interested to become an expert medical man, then the knowledge is different. If you want to become an engineer, the knowledge is different. Similarly, if he wants to overcome all the obstacles, then this is the education.

Richard: Um-hmm.

Prabhupāda: This is the final.

(Srila Prabhupada Interview with Richard from Coronet Magazine, June 10, 1976, Los Angeles)

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