Philosophical Articles

Supreme Person

by Krishna dharma das In its most recent survey on the subject of God, the National Centre for Social Research found that some ninety percent...

“What is our duty as human beings?”

What is Our Duty as Human Beings? by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda

Question 1: What is our duty as human beings?

Answer: There are two considerations x96 preyaḥ-para, the inclination toward temporary, mundane pleasure, and śreyaḥ-para, the inclination toward eternal welfare. Only the search for śreya, our eternal welfare, is essential to us. Preyaḥ, or mundane gratification, is easily accessible, but śreyaḥ is difficult to achieve. Śreya includes that which is truly gratifying (preyaḥ) for the soul, but the kind of gratification sought after by the materially inclined mind does not include anything that amounts to śreyaḥ, true welfare for the soul.

It is said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that the soul achieves a human birth only after a great many lifetimes; it is extremely rare. This human life is temporary, but it provides the opportunity to achieve spiritual welfare. If we take shelter of a true guide by relinquishing our independence and engage in genuine bhajana (internal devotional service), we can attain the Supreme Lord in this very lifetime. Therefore a person who is dhīra (wise and sober) will, without a momentx92s delay, strive to achieve his topmost welfare until the day he dies. Food and other material necessities are available for all other forms of life, only paramārtha (absolute welfare) is unachievable for all but humans.

In whatever form of life one takes birth, sensory pleasures are always available. It is not just available for humans. In human life, one should seek out and strive for śreyaḥ alone. Even animals strive for preyaḥ, temporary, mundane pleasure, but as human beings we can listen to and deliberate on what we hear. Animals do not have the capacity to discuss the subjects they have heard. As human beings, we can try for and achieve śreyaḥ.

If we do not deliberate on subjects that lead to our true welfare, we will simply be contemplating ordinary, low class matters. But we have wisdom. Even if we were to be born as a demigod, we would be immersed in sense gratification. Consequently we would suppress thoughts of truth and untruth (sad-asad vicāra) because, although we meet with both happiness and distress in this dimension, as a demigod we would mostly meet with material happiness. The word x91materialx92 (prakṛta) means that such happiness is not eternal x96 kṣīṇe puṇye martyalokaṁ viśanti.

In this rare human life we have become busily engaged in so many activities. I consider myself to be the master (prabhu) and I falsely identify myself as the active agent behind all my actions. I deprive myself of service to Śrī Bhagavān and accept service from others instead. Driven by my longing for various attainments, I engage in serving different demigods and demigoddesses. I worship Sūrya for religiosity (dharma), Ganeśa for wealth (artha), Śakti (Goddess Durga) for sense gratification (kāma), and Śiva for liberation (mokṣa). But in reality this is not worship at all. Rather it is as if we are demoting those whom we worship to the position of our own servants and demanding that they supply us the objects we desire.

It is important to know what service, or sevā, is. To provide pleasure to the object of our service is the sole meaning of the word sevā. Śrī Hari is the fountainhead and origin of all beings. We are all factually servants of Śrī Hari, and serving Him is our sole dharma, our constitutional function, activity and duty. By serving Him, everyone else is served. This is confirmed by the verse x93yathā taror mūla-niṣecanena x96 by watering the root of a tree, all the branches and leaves are nourished.x94

Because we do not know what is truly, absolutely substantive, we have created a lot of problems for ourselves. Our need is to rid ourselves of these difficulties, and that is feasible in human life. If we listen with patience to narrations about Śrī Bhagavān from the lips of sādhus (saints), we will not, like a fish caught by a fishing hook, be attracted by the mundane beauty, taste, smell, sound and touch of this material world. Then we shall remain attracted to the eternally and absolutely attractive Supreme Lord.


For those who are busily engaged in varieties of mundane activity within this material world, service to the Supreme Lord, who is beyond the grasp of the material senses, cannot be understood. But our sole necessity is to deliberate upon topics about Him. How can one do that? It is possible by the influence of sādhu-saṅga.

It is essential that we associate with sādhus. Association with conditioned souls leads us to all of our many difficulties. If we will truly associate with a sādhu we will definitely realize the power of the Supreme Lord. In the absence of sādhu-saṅga, we will be thrashed by the material potency (māyā-śakti). If we surrender to Śrī Hari, we can be freed from our false pride, which arises from the conception that we are the active agent (ahaṅkāra vimudhātma); there is no other way. Śrī Bhagavān alone is the complete substance, the topmost and absolute object of worship x96 that is, the sole shelter for the living being. In order to achieve service to Him, we must seek shelter at the lotus feet of śrī gurudeva, who is the manifestation (prakāśa vigraha) of the Supreme Lord.

It is only from śrī gurudeva that we can receive transcendent sound x96 that is, the holy name from the kingdom of God (vaikuṇṭha-nāma). And even by the semblance of that holy name we are delivered from this material world. By chanting the holy names of the Lord, we shall never have to return to the womb of a mortal mother. Anāvṛttiḥ śabdād anāvṛttiḥ śabdāt x96 the Vedānta-sūtra says to repeatedly chant the transcendental sound vibration. If we are unable to understand all these subject matters the first time we hear them, then we must hear them again and again. Those who do not accept the shelter of sabda brahma-śruti (the transcendental words of the Vedas) must return again to this material world.

We should only hear hari-kathā from those who can reveal Bhagavān to us, those who are engaged in serving Him twenty-four hours a day. That place where the sole activities are serving the Supreme Lord and learning about Him is called the temple.

The devotees of the Supreme Lord see Śrī Śyāmasundara Kṛṣṇa within their hearts through the eyes of devotion. By the mercy of the sādhus, we, too, shall be able to see the Supreme Lord within our heart. The Supreme Lord can be seen through the eyes of devotion. When we try to see Him through our material eyes, we can only see the objects of this material world. If we become engrossed in the activities of this world, we will be incapable of knowing the Supreme Lord.

We will not waste any more time! Now we shall completely engage, in every respect, in thinking about the Supreme Lord, who is the basis of all happiness, and we shall engage in serving Him. As a result, all the obstacles in the path of achieving darśana of Him shall be removed. We can attain supreme welfare only by worshipping Śrī Krsna. The moment I realize that the Supreme Entity is my true master, only then shall I be comfortable. There is no other object worth worshipping in this world.

One achieves true welfare only by engaging in hearing and speaking subjects related to the Supreme Lord. All the activities one engages in, forgetting the Supreme Lord and considering oneself as the doer, only lead to onex92s harm.

Presently, our situation is that we have fallen from our original position and have come into relationship with this material world. Now, by establishing our relationship with the Supreme Lord, we will have to manifest our eternal nature. We will not be able to stay on this earth for eternity. Those who desire to serve Śrī Bhagavān wish for nothing from this world. They are akixf1cana. For the welfare of this world, for our own future welfare, our only duty is to engage in worshipping the Supreme Lord, without desiring anything from this plane.

Translated by the Rays of The Harmonist team from Śrīla Prabhupādera Upadeśāmṛta Questions re-numbered for this on-line presentation


Śrīla Prabhupādera Upadeśāmṛta is a compilation of Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupādax92s instructions, in question-and-answer form.

“Pure Bhakti is True Emancipation”

Pure Bhakti is True Emancipation by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda

The common decision of men, whether discriminative or otherwise, is not identical with Truth. The common sense of people to follow blindly, like foolish cattle being driven by a herdsman, is always defective, wrought with error borne of the faculty of mind. In it, there may be some appearance of truth, but that is only relative or temporary; it is not real truth. Because human intellect is driven by the modes of passion (rajas) and ignorance (tamas), it cannot penetrate deliberations of the mode of unalloyed goodness (sattva). So, when someone advises us to supplement pure bhakti, which is free from the three modes of material nature, with worldly disciplines like jxf1āna, yoga or karma, which are borne of the modes of material nature, in order to make it complete, it is to our benefit to not accept their advice. Such a mixture is detrimental to our true well-being. It is like mixing mortar into a deliciously sweet desert.

Karma, jxf1āna, yoga and so on, which are functions of the body and mind, are the activities of fettered souls. On the other hand, bhakti, which is the function of the soul, is the activity of liberated beings. Consequently bhakti cannot be mixed with activities performed by the body or mind like karma or jxf1āna, which belong to the world of māyā and which are foreign to the soul. However, when these activities yield to the supremacy of bhakti, then such bhakti, although mixed with karma and jxf1āna, may help lead us along the path toward pure bhakti. When pure bhakti is finally attained, its mixed form no longer remains. This has been stated in the Paxf1carātra: x93The particular activities for serving Śrī Hari prescribed by śāstra constitute the authorized form of bhakti, through the performance of which truebhakti may be achievedx94 (Quoted in Bhaktirasāmṛta-sindhu 1.2.28).

The keen devotees of God must make it clear to the absolute monists that the monistsx92 idea of naiṣkarmya x96 cessation of all activity for the sake of attaining freedom from craving the fruits of action x96 is actually a misnomer. In fact, there is ample desire for reward in such pursuits. Their attempts to attain peace in emancipation are no better than seeking the gratification of their own senses, devoid of any attachment to God.

The principle of their doctrine of illusion, or māyāvāda, is this: x93In as much as we have to remain afflicted by the three kinds of misery within the material world, it is necessary to be rid of the evils of the world, which have their origin in the three modes, or guṇas x96 namely the primordial, constituent elements of matter: sattva, rajas and tamas. If we can do away with the trinity of the knower, the knowable and knowledge itself, we shall no longer have any separate existence and we will finally realize the disintegration of self.x94 This is similar to the doctrine of Buddhism in which the annihilation of sentience is emancipation. Contrary to these doctrines, the full manifestation of sentience eternally exists in the Real Entity. Followers of these doctrines cannot understand how they entered the conditioned state or what the liberated state would be like. In other words, their conception of emancipation is totally wrong.

If someone argues that there is no need of devotion, a thing that compels us to take shelter at the feet of God, and that we can cross the ocean of material nature by the power of impersonal knowledge alone, he is referred to the words of Śrī Brahmā in his eulogy of Śrī Kṛṣṇa:

x93O lotus-eyed Lord, those who conceitedly cherish having attained emancipation without ever taking shelter of Your lotus feet, have unclean minds, empty of the treasure of love for You. In spite of acquiring a high position near to emancipation, they fall from it on account of having disdainfully slighted Your Feet. O Lord Mādhava, Your devotees, bound to You with ties of loving friendship, do not deviate from the right path like these pretenders. Protected by You, they fearlessly walk over the heads of the severest of interruptions and obstaclesx94 (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 10.2.32x9633).