Live Q&A from Germany
Shree Peetha Nilaya Ashram, 11 April 2020
Today's Satsang features answers from Paramahamsa Vishwananda about vegetarian vs. vegan for devotees, transcending one's limitations about God, animal sacrifice in the Bible, and a way to start forgiving.
Jai Gurudev, everybody! Welcome back!
So…today…what happened? Nothing much really happened, so there’s nothing really to share.
Let’s go directly to the questions
There is some confusion about your teaching about nutrition. Some say your devotees should be vegans, while others say it's enough to be vegetarian and you allow the consumption of milk and cheese from "happy cows". Can you clarify this?
Yes, actually, being a Vaishnava, we are normally vegetarian, but I specifically asked the devotees if they are vegetarians to get their milk products, or anything which is cheese and other things, butter and so on, from a place where the cow is not treated in a bad way. To get it from the farms that treat the animals in a very nice way and also so that the animals afterwards will not be sent to be killed. Like that there are many farms from ISKCON especially and there are also some of the devotees who have farms. Like I know in Switzerland there are devotees who look after the animal in a very nice way, and also us here in The Ashram.
So, in that way you can use the milk and you can use different products, being vegetarian, knowing that you are not supporting a certain system which is really aggressive towards milking the cow, and so on, and after that when they are finished using them, they send them for killing. This is very bad, and I am completely against that.
And if you can’t do that, then it’s better to be vegan; this is best. There are so many things that you can use in place of milk: there is almond milk, there is coconut milk, there are so many things. Nowadays being vegan is much easier. If you talk about being vegan some years back, it was difficult, but nowadays it’s much easier. You get substitutes of so many things, you know? So, in that context, if in your place you can’t get 'happy cow' dairy, then it’s better to be vegan. If you are not so sure where the milk or milk products is coming from, whether it is from a 'happy cow', or not, then it’s better to be vegan. But only if you know about it and you are sure about it. Just because you have heard somebody saying it, no…you have to be sure about it that the product that you are using must come from a place where the animal is treated in a respectful way, and also that they are not being sent to be killed afterwards. This is very important.
You know, I have heard some people say, ‘Yes, we do get the milk from a happy cow place, where the cows are free and they are roaming around’, but yet, they don’t know when once farmer has finished using them for their milk, what do they do with this cow? They will send them to be killed. So, be sure about that, if you are taking things like that, that the cow is not being sent, because you have a certain responsibility with that cow also.
You see, if you are taking their milk, they are also like a mother who has given their milk to you. Would you send your mother to the slaughterhouse? I don’t think so. That respect you must have. You must consider that. If you are vegetarian, you must consider that what you are taking from her, this milk, is also for her child, for her calf.
Being part of that chain, you must also honour that, that you have to protect them. You have to look after them. You have to look really what you are eating in general, because food has a deep impact upon one’s mind, one’s brain. So, being vegetarian, be sure about these facts. Being vegan is much easier and more healthy.
How do I get rid of the limitations and projections of my mind on God? Because I don’t know anything other than my limitations and my faith is less because I don’t know how and what to think about God except through my limitations.
Well, look, what we know about God is what we have heard. God reveals Himself. I will not say that you can know God through your mind. Because what your mind understands is always through the limitation of things. How can we understand the unlimited, infinite reality? Can something that is limited understand that? I don’t think so. So, that’s why our mind is limiting. We understand only things that are dear to us, actually, and we have a certain concept of God. We like that concept. But really to understand Him, we have to transcend that limitation. You know, like Krishna said in the Gita, ‘I am everything.’ So when Krishna said that, ‘I am everything’, can our mind understand that? No, we like this little Krishna whom we worship, we like the Krishna which tells us nice things, so let us dance together, let us have a good moment together. But when Krishna becomes strict, do we still like Him? No, very often people like only what they like. That’s why God has been portrayed in many other religions in many ways, but in a certain way, ‘God must be like this and like that, and like this’, you have certain rules and regulations of how God is. Here Krishna said, ‘No, I am everything.’
When in Chapter 15, verse 12 He said, ‘I am the radiance of the Sun which illuminates this whole solar system. I am the brightness of the Moon. I am that shine of the fire.’ Like that, He explains by saying that, ‘Behind everything there is a divine potency, and that divine potency is Me, there is nobody else.’ But when we look, at it we see only the outside reality. No? When we look at the Sun, do we see that it is Krishna shining? When we look at the Moon, do we see that the brightness of the Moon is Krishna? No, you don’t see. What you see, you see the Moon. When you see a fire, you see the brightness of the fire. But you don’t see the potency, the opulence of who is behind that fire.
It’s like when we look at the light in a lightbulb. We see the bright light, no? When we look at the fan, we see the fan turning. When we have an oven that is heating with electricity, we have a different kind of heat. So, you see the brightness, you see the fan is turning, you feel the wind is coming, you feel the heat, see the fire that is burning, but do you see behind these things? Do you see the electricity which is giving the power to all these things? No, you don’t perceive it because you only see the gross things which are outside. So, our limited mind perceives only things which are limited. Because that’s what you have been always taught, to see the limitation. Here Bhagavan is telling you, ‘No, I am everything.’
How to transcend that limited mind? You have to feed that mind with the right things. You see, that mind is so focused on the limitation, it will always stay limited. That’s why Bhagavan said, ‘Focus your mind upon Me.’ Why do you think He said that? Because He knows that however you perceive things, you will perceive them always in a limited way. Even being God, when you say ‘God’ – who knows Him if you don’t have a relationship to Him? You don’t know Him! You know of a concept of God, you know a certain reality of Him, you have heard about Him, and it’s so beautiful. But when you start to build a relationship with Him, you'll start feeling. Here it’s not about thinking, it’s about feeling. Thinking is one thing, but when you start feeling, it’s another dimension in itself. So, when you start feeling, that mind starts to transform. What happens to the mind? The mind starts to transform into having the same quality as the Divine.
That’s why when you chant the Divine Name, your mind is transforming from being limited. Because you have been attached to the world when the mind is always running towards the outside, you have also a certain perspective in a limited way. Your mind is fully attached to the limited through the senses and through everything else. Because this is what your mind runs around. So, when that mind starts to run inward, in place of outward, and starts to dive within, another reality starts to reveal itself. That same mind starts to transform and starts to reflect a certain potency which is hidden deep within. That potency, that opulence which Bhagavan Krishna said, is also hidden within yourself. So, the Self starts to shine. Just like the Sun which is illuminating the whole solar system. It is the light of the Sun from how many billions of metres away, but yet the light is illuminating. Like that, that inner light inside of you starts to shine.
What it first shines upon is the mind itself. The mind becomes like the Moon that is reflecting the light of the Sun and it starts to shine differently; it starts transforming itself. So, the divine quality which is imbibed inside of you starts to shine through the mind. When the mind has been shining that divine quality, it starts to shine upon your senses. The way you see things change, the way you hear things change, the way you talk change, the way you act changes, and the way you smell even changes, because your odour also becomes more sensitive.
You become more joyful and happy for no reason. That transformation happens. Then God appears to be more close to you because you start to feel Him. You are not the same person who was miserable, like, ‘Okay, yes, I need something to be happy and when I get this I am happy for some time, but yet, after I have been using that thing, the happiness has disappeared again.’ No, that transformation makes you different completely. Then you start to shine. For no reason, there is this happiness inside, and that reason is through the transformation of the mind from a limited way to unlimited way.
That’s why Krishna said that the mind is your best friend when it is controlled, but when it is uncontrolled, it is your worst enemy. Because that same mind drags you into the world of matter and makes you fall into Maya completely. And the same mind, when it is turned towards the supreme reality, becomes an instrument of enlightenment. So, where you focus that mind is very important. Knowing that the same Supreme Lord that is inside of you is everywhere.
Your view of the limitation of God: how you see it, of course, it is. As long as you are not knowledgeable about the divine potency which, firstly, resides inside of you and in everything. Constantly Krishna said to Arjuna, ‘The yogis perceive Me everywhere.’ What are they looking at? Are they looking at the gross outside or are they looking at the potency which resides within everything? How you perceive things also matters. And that transformation and that change inside of you happens when your mind turns towards Him.
So, how to change that mind? Like it’s said, chant the Divine Names, chant His Name. You accustom yourself more to the Divine when you are doing your japam, especially. Very often people just do japam, ‘Oh, Swamiji has said, “Do 16 rounds.” I just do 16 rounds and finish with it.’ No! You see, you do your 16 rounds, you sit and meditate and really perceive the Divine inside of you. Then you will really know that God is omnipresent, and He is at all times in all His creation. Then you start to feel Him.
There is a beautiful story that just came to me:
In the life of Namdev Maharaj, one day something happened: his house caught fire. So, as his house was burning, some places of the house were not burned. It was the place where there were some sweets, jaggery, flour and other things. Now, Namdev perceived Vitthala in everything. So when he saw that his house is burning instead of getting sad, he started to rejoice and be happy, and started jumping with excitement. Out of his excitement, what did he do? He went to that area that was not burned, and took all the jaggery and everything and threw it in the fire. Because for Namdev, he perceived Vitthala in the fire itself; he perceived Vitthala in the water, he perceived Vitthala in the tree. So, everything was Vitthala for him. So, he got so excited, that he started taking everything that was not burned and started throwing it into the fire, ‘Here’, he said, ‘Bhagavan, this is for You.’ Seeing that, Panduranga was so delighted, and with that simple devotion, with that act, He said to Rukmini, ‘Look, he is seeing Me in the fire, I must go there.’
So Panduranga appeared next to him and said to him, ‘What are you doing? Why are you putting everything into the fire?’
And he said, ‘Look, Bhagavan, You are that fire, You are the water, You are everything. For me, I don’t see any difference. You have come in the form of fire, I’m feeding You.’ And Bhagavan was so happy with Him that the fire ended and the house was returned to normal.
It is such faith that the saints, the sadhus, and the rishis have. A devotee must have such faith towards the Lord that everything is Him. Even when you don’t perceive it, because in life you come to a time that you will not perceive. At the beginning, like I said, you feel it, because you are engaging yourself into that. But as time passes… because very often humans are like this, they start something and as the time goes they find, ‘Oh, it is very heavy and a burden to carry on the same way’. They change their attitude; they change the way they see things. But knowing that the same Lord keeps residing in everything and is always with you, at every moment He is with you, you should never be discouraged.
Even if you don’t feel Him, keep engaging your mind in His remembrance, meditating upon His glory and let your mind transform itself. Like I said to you, the more that mind turns towards the light, the more it will start to reflect the light. That’s what Lord Krishna said: ‘I am that light, I am that brightness of the Moon, and I am the shininess of that fire.’ Because He is the essence of everything. So, find that essence within yourself and you will find God, or He will find you.
In the Old Testament it is written to sacrifice a lamb on Passover. What is the deeper meaning of such sacrifice and why was killing an animal necessary at that time?
Let's talk about the old ways. Nowadays they are all talking about the new world, but in ancient times, when the people used to talk about sacrifice, whether it is in the West or in the East, even till today, there is this misconception of what '"sacrifice" is.
Like it’s said, you have to sacrifice a lamb on Passover; it's not true. You see, Passover if we analyse it deeply, is a sacrifice of transformation. It’s a sacrifice of your animal qualities. You have passed over, you have gone over, your old ways and have adapted to the new you. As long as you hold onto your old self, you don’t want to awaken. You stay sleeping, and of course, in the state of being asleep, there is nothing that happens. You know, you carry on with life mundanely, one life after another life, then nothing happens. Together with that sleep there is a certain quality which is inside of you, and all this laziness, all this drowsiness pulling yourself down: these are qualities of an animal.
When observe the animals in the savanna, for example, what does an animal do? The animal doesn’t work like a human. What do they do? They wake up, and because they feel hungry, they go hunting. After they hunt, they eat, and what happens? They sleep. Most of the times an animal life is, in the wild, about sleeping. Like that, this laziness, this negative quality which is inside of you, is like an animal. When we talk about sacrifice, we talk about sacrificing these animal qualities, because as long as you hold onto these qualities, you will never advance, whether it is in life or in your spiritual path.
Sacrificing means to let go of it, because, if we want to move forward, we have to empty our baggage. If you want to carry a whole big bag on yourself, can you walk? You will walk, but your pace will be very slow. But if you really want to advance and move forward, you have to remove lots of baggage which you have been carrying. So, that’s why you have to start sacrificing these animal qualities inside of you. To be able to sacrifice these animal qualities inside of you, you have to start to observe it, to get to know that it is there and to start transforming it, offering it to the Feet of the Lord. That means that by yourself you can’t do it because you have been so attached to this quality. That’s why when you surrender it to the Lord, He sends help. He sends the teacher, He sends the Master, to help you to get rid of that load from you.
That’s what the real sacrifice is. It’s not about a lamb, because God doesn’t accept that. You see, like I’ve said earlier, He is in everything. He is also in that animal, so does He accept His own children as sacrifice? No, He doesn’t! So, what He accepts is that sincerity, that love that you have inside of you. And that’s what you offer on His altar.
You see, this whole concept is a business concept also. In olden times, even now, many religions think like that. Also in Hinduism there are some parts where some people still do animal sacrifice. They do it as a business with God, because they think that, ‘If I sacrifice a life to God, God will be happy with me.’ No, it is not true. Look at your life: you have been sacrificing, have you changed? No, you are still the same miserable self. You are still unhappy. Nothing has changed because you have not sacrificed that animal quality. You have sacrificed the animal on the outside, but yet, you have not sacrificed the animal quality inside your mind and inside of you. Sacrifice these negative qualities from inside of you and you will be the most happy.
So, let these poor animals live their lives. You don’t have the right to take their life. Like it is said in the Bible itself, you can take life only when you can give life. If you can’t give life back to that animal, who gives you the right to take the life of this animal? He said, ‘I have given you seeds and plants who bear fruits’, shall it be for the animals? If He Himself has said that, why would He accept a sacrifice of an animal? When He has said to sacrifice an animal, it is your animal quality that has to be sacrificed. What you have to give to the Lord is that sincerity of your love. That’s what He wants.
You have told us it is important to forgive ourselves and others. Yet this is difficult because of pain and mistrust. Is there a technique or method for how to start the forgiveness process?
Yes, first, if you want to ask for forgiveness to the others, go to the person and ask the person directly for forgiveness. That is the easiest way, because this makes you humble, firstly, and it gives you an inner strength really to face it. Because very often, you don’t go and ask somebody for forgiveness because you feel ashamed or you feel angry. Sometimes you have to put these things aside and face the reality, face the person. Like I’ve said, no one is perfect here. Face the person. If that person is angry with you still, you do your part and go and ask for forgiveness from that person.
When it comes to yourself, you have to learn to accept that whatever you have done, if it was not good, that’s why you feel the guilt. Learn to know that the past is gone, and if you sincerely regret it, know that God has forgiven you.
But it doesn’t mean that, yes, you go back to your old ways and everything is the same. You see, it’s like when a glass has broken and you mend it together with glue. It will look the same, but that line will always be there as a reminder. Don’t hang on that; know that this has taught you a great lesson and through that lesson you must move forward. This lesson has come into your life because of samskaras from past lives. Why do you think some things happen in your life? Because there is always a balance that you have to deal with. So, once this balance is done, you move forward. You see, you are this witness, you are witnessing life inside of you, and being a witness, it should not bother you. You observe, but you don’t create.
You know, Ramana Maharishi died of cancer. So, people always ask: he was such a great soul, he was liberated, why he didn’t do anything to get rid of this. One day, one doctor observed him. Normally somebody who has that kind of cancer would be in terrible pain, so he asked Ramana Maharishi, ‘Sir, are you in pain?’
Ramana Maharishi answered, ‘I can perceive the pain in this body, but it doesn’t touch me.’
So, he observed the pain within his body, but being the witness of things, he knew that it is the body that was suffering. That’s how great he was; he was always sitting in that consciousness of the Self which is ever-free. The Self is there observing. Like that, you are here observing life itself, and of course, in life you will have good moments and not good moments. Learn to be seated in that consciousness, that awareness, that you as the atma are free from what is happening on the outside. This drama of forgiving and getting forgiven is only on the outside, just to please you, but you as atma you are free from that also. You will just go through the law of karma and through the law of samsara from the life you had these things; that’s why it is coming to you. Let it come, let it go. Don’t hold onto it. When you hold onto it, then you are creating more karma. But when you can learn to let come and let go, it becomes very easy.
Like that also, people would come and bow down to him [Ramana Maharishi] and bring things to him. He would never say no, because this is what they had to give to him. As an observer he observed everything; they come, they go.
Like this also in your life, if you feel that you have to go ask somebody for forgiveness, just go and ask the person for forgiveness. Whether the person forgives you or not it doesn’t matter. You see, with the act of you going and asking for forgiveness, you have already received the forgiveness. But please, don’t just go in front of the door, knock at the door and run away, saying, ‘Okay, I have done the act to go to the door and I have gone there, whether the person forgives me or not’, then you go away! No, face the person. Whether the person is angry with you or not, it doesn’t matter, just face the person, but let that be there. You have gone there, let it be there.
When it comes to you, know that, you are sitting in that consciousness of being the witness and the Lord Himself is dwelling within you. Also, the past is past; now you are moving forward with your life, so move forward with your life and be free from that. Let go of the past. Be present now and enjoy this present moment which the Divine has given you, and that opportunity itself, because that opportunity doesn’t always come. So, take that opportunity and move forward with your life.