In the afternoon Yogesvara announced the arrival of Professor Francois Chenique, a scholar whose favorable review of Prabhupada's books is being reprinted on the jacket of the new French edition of Bhagavad-gita Telle Quelle Est. He has written: "Srila Prabhupada's edition thus fills a sensitive gap in France, where many hope to become familiar with traditional Indian thought, beyond the commercial East-West hodgepodge that has arisen since the time Europeans first penetrated India. Whether the reader be an adept of Indian spiritualism or not, a reading of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is will be extremely profitable. For many this will be the first contact with the true India, the ancient India, the eternal India." Needless to say, his comments have been much appreciated by Prabhupada, especially his perception that Srila Prabhupada is presenting "the true India." Prabhupada has often referred to this in conversation.
Professor Chenique is teaching the Gita in his course on Religious Sciences at the Institute of Political Studies in Paris. He also translates the works of Sankaracarya into French, and teaches at the Federation of Yoga. Yogesvara said he regards himself as a "Christian Advaitist."
Before the professor came in, Yogesvara posed a question about our French publications. "On the front of Back to Godhead magazine, in the English edition and other language editions, they have kept the phrase: 'Godhead is light, darkness is nescience. Where there is Godhead there is no nescience.' Now in French it is difficult to translate that; there is no word Godhead. And if you say, 'God is light' in French it sounds very impersonalist. In French, Dieux est lumiere, 'God is light'?many groups say like that. We use the word Godhead, and that distinguishes us from the other groups. Now is the phrase very important? And do you want us to keep it on the front of the magazine?"
Prabhupada nodded. "There is a little difference between God and Godhead. Isvarah paramah krishnah. Isvara, more or less everyone, but isvarah paramah, that is Godhead. The Mayavadis, they do not distinguish between one isvara to another isvara. That may be on the ordinary level, but there is parama isvara."
Yogesvara suggested an alternative. "One possibility would be to say God the Supreme Person is light; that we can translate."
"God means Supreme Person," Prabhupada agreed. "But these Advaita-vadi, Mayavadis, they have made God everyone. God means Supreme Person, that is the dictionary word. Supreme Being. God does not mean ordinary, but they have made ordinary, anyone God. 'I am God, you are God, he is God.' Then what is meaning of God?"
"Therefore we say Godhead," Yogesvara said.
"Yes. Head man. There are many men, he is the head man." Prabhupada added that the word Godhead is found in the dictionary. "You find out."
Yogesvara read out the vague definition. "'Godhead: being God or a God; divine nature, Deity, the Godhead, God.'"
"They do not know what is God, what is Godhead," Prabhupada said. "They think all these are fictitious. Throughout the whole world they do not know what is God. Simply they know the word, that's all; what it means they do not know. That we are giving?here is God. Godhead. Nobody knows, nobody cares to know. That is nescience. They think it is an idea, that's all. Actually there is God, there is kingdom of God, one can go and speak with Him, dance with Him. They cannot believe there are... It is beyond their poor fund of knowledge; therefore they do not accept Krishna as God. God is the Supreme Person, Supreme Being. Actually there is place where God lives; they do not know. This is first time, the Krishna consciousness movement, we are giving these ideas; otherwise, who knows it? Nobody knows it. And religion means to accept God as the Supreme Person. They do not know God, then what is meaning of religion? Religion means to accept a Supreme Person as the supreme controller, that is religion. How the Supreme Person is working in manufacturing this flower, let the scientists explain. There is no brain? Just nicely painted, symmetrically, each flower of the same class, another class, another class, another class."
At this point Professor Chenique entered the room along with his daughter, a girl in her early teens. With them came Bhugarbha prabhu, Janadradhi dasa, one of our French translators, and Hayesvara dasa, who translated the recently published Danish Bhagavad-gita. We were pleasantly surprised to see the slimly-built middle-aged professor dressed in a dhoti, with japa beads around his neck. Sitting cross-legged on the carpet in front of Prabhupada's desk, Professor Chenique seemed a mild-mannered, humble man with a great deal of respect for Srila Prabhupada. Although he could understand English, he couldn't speak it very well, so he let Bhugarbha and Yogesvara translate for him.
Preliminary introductions done, Professor Chenique said he was keen to see Prabhupada's Srimad-Bhagavatam come into use. There is only one other French translation of it, done in the 1800s, and that has no commentary. Yet at the university level he said the French are meticulous about maintaining the grammatical standards of their language. He was politely concerned that our translations "should not smell of English," as he put it. He felt that since our books are translated from English, the French literary expression is not always exactly correct. Describing French as a more compact language than English, he wondered whether it might not be better to translate directly from the Sanskrit into French.
Prabhupada was not very concerned. Whilst acknowledging that if possible improvements could be made to future editions, he explained that as yet, no French devotee had become a Sanskritist. But besides that, it is not a question of scholarship; the translator must be a realized soul. He said that although there are many Sanskrit scholars in India, they cannot understand the Srimad-Bhagavatam. "He must be French, expert in language?at the same time a devotee. Then he can explain, otherwise no. Caitanya Mahaprabhu's secretary, Svarupa Damodara, he asked that bhagavata pada giya bhagavata-sthane: 'Go and study Bhagavata from bhagavata.' I have discussed this in the beginning of translation of Bhagavata. So Bhagavata, that is the limit of education. Vidya bhagavatavadhih: One has to study and take education up to Bhagavatam; that is, if one understands Bhagavatam, he's finished his education."
The professor assured Prabhupada that he wasn't in any way criticizing, but he was concerned that Prabhupada got the widest possible audience. He felt that an improvement in the way the French editions were written would ensure that.
Srila Prabhupada appreciated his concern but continued to stress his point. "That is from scholarship point of view, but our point is this Bhagavata must be presented by bhagavata. And there is no much scholarship required. Just like Bhagavata begins with the words janmady asya yatah. This Sanskrit word means the Absolute Truth is that from where everything emanates. Now that Absolute Truth further explained, anvayad itaratas ca abhijnah svarat, that Absolute Truth is aware of everything, directly and indirectly, of all this creation. In this way, if you step-by-step study, it is not very difficult so far the word meanings are concerned, but it is a question of realization. Unless one is realized, he cannot explain properly. That is the secret. Therefore we have given the life of Caitanya Mahaprabhu in our Bhagavatam because He's living Bhagavatam."
Janadradhi said the professor felt that in Prabhupada's purports there was too much repetition of a point. Stylistically speaking, this is difficult to reproduce in French since their language is compact and something is usually expressed only once. However, Janadradhi said he and our other translators felt that keeping that repetition is important, because Srila Prabhupada had written it that way so the reader will properly understand.
Prabhupada confirmed that it is the Vedic system to repeat things for emphasis and better understanding. He gave the example of how Krishna describes the immortality of the soul in verse after verse of the second chapter of the Bhagavad-gita. He had a couple of these verses read out.
The professor said he had no objection to that kind of repetition, his concern was of grammatical style.
Bhugarbha gave him a book, asking him to describe how he would change one of the purports. However, to everyone's amusement, including his own, the professor said that the particular purport he chose was fine.
Nevertheless, Srila Prabhupada accepted the suggestion that the professor could read our publications and make recommendations how they might be improved. "I have no objection. It is welcome." Then he explained his rationale in pushing ahead despite such apparent deficiencies. "The idea is, suppose I am in France; I do not know French language, but there is fire in my room, and I have to call my neighbors; so somehow or other I call and take their help."
Professor Chenique laughed. He complimented Srila Prabhupada on achieving the highest record in distribution for this sort of book. He added that he felt a very small, pocketbook size Bhagavad-gita would sell very well.
Prabhupada smiled. "That is Caitanya Mahaprabhu's mission: prithivite ache yata nagaradi grama/ sarvatra pracara haibe mora nama. He has to preach in every village and every town on the surface of the globe about this Krishna consciousness. So our business is?.?.?. Just this example I have given, that there is fire; I do not know the language, still I have to call and take help. So I am doing like that. There is a story. In Calcutta when the Britishers were establishing themselves, so one clerk was working in the office and some monkey came and scattered the office files and everything. So his boss came, he asked him, 'What is this? Why you?' So he cannot explain. So he began to jump like monkey, that on account of the monkey coming within the room ... So when the language is unknown we have to jump and show that the monkey came."
Professor Chenique appreciated both the opportunity to personally meet His Divine Grace and also the Vaishnava point of view. He said he felt that the work of the Movement was very important, given the decline of religion in the West. He added that he did not think he could personally live up to standard of a bhakta however, it would be a difficult life for him.
Prabhupada praised his humility and remarked that his admission, "I cannot follow," was a good qualification and would help him.
Having been trained more according to Sankarite and Buddhist lines, the professor said that he felt himself more of a jnani, but he very much appreciated bhakti. He said he was happy to meet the devotees whereas meeting "all these intellectuals who know so many things but cannot understand anything" was depressing.
Prabhupada continued to encourage him by saying that without jnana one cannot become a bhakta; one who becomes a devotee without knowledge is a sentimentalist. He then had Bhugarbha read out the brahma-bhutah prasannatma verse and purport from the Bhagavad-gita. At the end he added, "So without becoming fully in knowledge, nobody can become devotee."
Professor Chenique asked, "What about the opposite: people becoming devotees without knowing anything?"
"Devotee cannot be without knowing anything," Prabhupada replied. "A devotee means he knows everything. Yasmin vijnate sarvam idam vijnatam bhavati. This is Vedic injunction: one who knows the Absolute, knows everything."
Yogesvara asked, "Srila Prabhupada? That verse, does that mean that one who is neophyte ..."
Prabhupada cut him off. "Neophyte is neophyte. Why do you bring him to become a devotee? A devotee is different. A 'one plus one equal to two,' he's not mathematician, he's learning. There is hope one day he'll be a big mathematician. There are three stages: kanishtha-adhikari, madhyama-adhikari, uttama-adhikari. So when you speak of devotee, that is this uttama-adhikari, so he knows everything. Rather, the so-called jnani, he does not know. Because he does not know Krishna, he does not know what is Personality of Godhead. He's impersonalist. Therefore he is still unaware of the Absolute Truth, therefore he's not jnani; his jnana, his knowledge, is lacking. Therefore in the Bhagavad-gita it is said, bahunam janmanam ante jnanavan mam prapadyate/ vasudevah sarvam iti sa mahatma su-durlabhah. If one jnani is impersonalist he's not jnani, he is still unaware of the Absolute Truth; therefore he's not jnani, he's claiming to be jnani. Such jnani will take many hundreds of births to come to the position of real jnani. When he understands Krishna and surrenders to Him, then he's jnani. Sa mahatma su-durlabhah. That kind of jnani is very, very rare. The impersonalist means ajnani, yes, because he does not know Krishna, the person."
He quoted another verse from the Srimad-Bhagavatam stating that those who strive for monism, oneness with God, fall down to material life due to not having any shelter. Then he said, "Just like so many sannyasis in India they are very learned, they have come to the platform of Brahman realization, but after some time they come to the material field for political work, for social work. They give up this world, brahma satyam jagan mithya. If jagat is mithya, is false, why does he come for social work? Just like these people going to the moon planet, but because they do not get any shelter, they take some sand and come back again. So what is the use of going there and spending so much money and come back with little sand? And satisfied, 'Now we have studied'; because they have no shelter. So the jnanis, they have no shelter. Yes. They may go very high in the sky, but because they have no shelter they come back again. Punar mushiko bhava, again become a mouse. So that is not jnani, that is ajnani. Jnani is described here, mad-bhaktim labhate param. Brahma-bhuta is jnani, aham brahmasmi. Brahma-bhutah prasannatma, 'I have nothing to do with material world.' Na socati na kankshati, there is no lamentation, there is no hankering. When he has attained that brahma-bhuta stage, reality, then he is entrance in the bhakti, otherwise a neophyte."
The professor, despite his affinity to the path of jnana, obviously valued Srila Prabhupada's words. He responded that the knowledge of any person on the path of knowledge who rejects the Personality of Godhead is finished.
"That is sublime knowledge," Prabhupada affirmed. "When you talk with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, dance with, that is sublime perfection. Otherwise, you will have to dance with the dog."
Professor Chenique explained that he had been reading the Gita since he was very young. He had been trying to combine the paths of jnana and bhakti whilst following the teachings of all the great religions. He wondered if he should continue on that same path.
Prabhupada told him it was not necessary. "If you want to know the Absolute Truth, ultimately, then bhakti is required, that is stated in the Bhagavad-gita: bhaktya mam abhijanati yavan yas casmi tattvatah. If you want to know the Absolute Truth, the Supreme Being, then you have to go through bhakti. Bhakti includes everything; but jnana does not include bhakti, it is imperfect. In jnana there is little touch of bhakti, but in bhakti there is full jnana. Those who are on the stage of Brahman and Paramatma, they're not in the Absolute Truth, part of it. But when one understands Bhagavan, then he understands Paramatma and Brahman?that is full knowledge. There are three things: sat, cit, ananda. So Brahman realization is sat; Paramatma realization is cit; but ananda is not there. But if he does not get ananda, then falls down. Ananda-mayo 'bhyasat. This is the Vedanta. We are, as spirit soul, being part and parcel of the Supreme, ananda is our goal, blissfulness. But that blissfulness you cannot get simply by understanding sat-cit, you must come to the platform of ananda. That is Krishna. So because these so-called jnanis they do not have the entrance into the ananda platform, they come to this material ananda, this material pleasure. Therefore they take to this hospitality, or opening a school, or philanthropic work, another type of this material pleasure. Therefore Sankaracarya recommended: bhaja govindam bhaja govindam bhaja govindam mudha-mate/ samprapte sannihite kale na hi na hi rakshati dukrinkarane. Your simply this grammatical jugglery of words will not help you?bhaja govindam. Therefore we, govindam adi-purusham tam aham bhajami. Our principle is to worship Govinda the adi-purusha. So without coming to that stage, perfection is not complete."
A brief discussion of Christianity ensued, finally bringing the eighty minute darsana to a close. Prabhupada gave the young girl a garland and the professor genuinely thanked Srila Prabhupada for being afforded the opportunity to meet with him. He apologized that he could not attend the installation ceremony tomorrow because they were on their way to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the south. Prabhupada was pleased to find the professor so favorable to our Movement and philosophy. He wished them well as they took their leave.