(Reprinted from Back to Godhead magazine, January 1976)
Criminals struck every three seconds in the United States as crime rose a dramatic eighteen percent in 1974. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada discusses the problem with Chicago Police Department media relations expert Lt. David Mozee.
Lieutenant Mozee: I understand you have some ideas that could help us in our efforts to prevent crime. I’d be very interested to hear them.
Srila Prabhupada: The difference between a pious man and a criminal is that one is pure in heart and the other is dirty. This dirt is like a disease in the form of uncontrollable lust and greed in the heart of the criminal. Today people in general are in this diseased condition, and thus crime is very widespread. When the people become purified of these dirty things, crime will disappear. The simplest process of purification is to assemble in congregation and chant the holy names of God. This is called sankirtana and is the basis of our Krishna consciousness movement. So, if you want to stop crime, then you must gather as many people as possible for mass sankirtana. This congregational chanting of the holy name of God will dissipate all the dirty things in everyone’s heart. Then there will be no more crime.
Lieutenant Mozee: Do you have any feelings about crime here in the United States as opposed to the crime in your own country of India?
Srila Prabhupada: What is your definition of crime?
Lieutenant Mozee: Any trampling on the rights of one person by another person.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Our definition is the same. In the Upanisads it is said, isavasyam idam sarvam: "Everything belongs to God." So, everyone has the right to utilize whatever is allotted to him by God, but he may not encroach upon others' property. If he does so, he becomes a criminal. Actually the first crime is that you Americans are thinking this land of America is yours. Although two hundred years ago it was not yours, you have come from other parts of the world and claimed it as your land. Actually it is God’s land, and therefore it belongs to everyone, since everyone is a child of God. But the vast majority of people have no conception of God. Practically speaking, everyone is godless. Therefore they should be educated to love God. In America, your government has a slogan: "In God we trust." Is that correct?
Lieutenant Mozee: Yes.
Srila Prabhupada: But where is the education about God? To trust is very good, but simple trust will not endure unless it is backed up with scientific knowledge of God. One may know that he has a father, but unless he knows who his father is, his knowledge is imperfect. And that education in the science of God is lacking.
Lieutenant Mozee: Do you feel that it’s lacking only here in the United States?
Srila Prabhupada: No. Everywhere. The age we live in is called Kali-yuga, the age of forgetting God. It is an age of misunderstanding and quarrel, and the people’s hearts are filled with dirty things. But God is so powerful that if we chant His holy name we become purified, just as my disciples have become purified of their bad habits. Our movement is based on this principle of chanting the holy name of God. We give everyone the opportunity, without any distinction. They can come to our temple, chant the Hare Krishna mantra, take a little prasada as refreshment, and gradually become purified. So if the governmental authorities give us some facilities, then we can hold mass sankirtana. Then, without a doubt, the whole society will change.
Lieutenant Mozee: If I understand you correctly, sir, you are saying that we should emphasize a return to religious principles.
Srila Prabhupada: Certainly. Without religious principles what is the difference between a dog and a man? Man can understand religion, but a dog cannot. That is the difference. So if human society remains on the level of dogs and cats, how can you expect a peaceful society? If you bring a dozen dogs and put them together in a room, will it be possible to keep them peaceful? Similarly, if human society is filled with men whose mentality is on the level of dogs, how can you expect peace?
Lieutenant Mozee: If some of my questions sound disrespectful, it is only because I do not completely understand your religious beliefs. I mean no disrespect whatsoever.
Srila Prabhupada: No, it is not a question of my religious beliefs. I am simply pointing out the distinction between human life and animal life. Animals cannot possibly learn anything about God, but human beings can. However, if human beings are not given the facility to learn about God, then they remain on the level of cats and dogs. You cannot have peace in a society of cats and dogs. Therefore, it is the duty of the governmental authorities to see that people are taught how to become God conscious. Otherwise, there will be trouble, because without God consciousness there is no difference between a dog and a man: the dog eats, we eat; the dog sleeps, we sleep; a dog has sex, we have sex; a dog tries to defend itself, and we also try to defend ourselves. These are the common factors. The only difference is that a dog cannot be instructed about his relationship with God, but a man can.
Lieutenant Mozee: Wouldn’t peace be a precursor to a return to religion? Must we not first have peace?
Srila Prabhupada: No, no, that is the difficulty. At the present moment, no one actually knows the meaning of religion. Religion means to abide by the laws of God, just as good citizenship means to abide by the laws of the government. Because no one has any understanding of God, no one knows the laws of God, or the meaning of religion. This is the present status of people in today’s society. They are forgetting religion, taking it to be a kind of faith. Faith may be blind faith. Faith is not the real description of religion. Religion means the laws given by God, and anyone who follows those laws is religious, whether a Christian, a Hindu, or a Muslim.
Lieutenant Mozee: With all due respect, isn’t it true that in India, where religious customs have been followed for centuries upon centuries, we are seeing not a return but a drawing away from spiritual life?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, but it is due only to bad leadership. Otherwise, the vast majority of the Indian people are fully conscious of God, and they try to follow the laws of God. Here in the West, even big college professors do not believe in God, or life after death. But in India, even the poorest man believes in God, and in a next life. He knows that if he commits sins he will suffer and if he acts piously he will enjoy. To this day, if there is a disagreement between two villagers, they will go to the temple to settle it, because everyone knows that the opposite parties will hesitate to speak lies before the Deities. So in most respects, India is still eighty percent religious. That is the special privilege of taking birth in India, and the special responsibility also. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu has said,
bharata-bhumite haila manusya-janma yara
janma sarthaka kari’ kara para-upakara
(Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi 9.41)
Anyone who has taken birth in India should make his life perfect by becoming Krishna conscious. Then he should distribute Krishna consciousness all over the world.
Lieutenant Mozee: Sir, there is a Christian parable that says it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to come before the throne of God. Do you think the wealth of the United States and other Western countries is a block to spiritual faith?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. Too much wealth is a block. Krishna states in Bhagavad-gita (2.44):
samadhau na vidhiyate
If one is materially very opulent, he forgets God. Therefore too much material wealth is a disqualification for understanding God. Although there is no absolute law that only the poor man can understand God, generally if one is extraordinarily rich, his only ambition is to acquire money, and it is difficult for him to understand spiritual teachings.
Lieutenant Mozee: In America, those who belong to the Christian faith also believe these things. I don’t see any vast differences between the spiritual beliefs of one religious group and another.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes, the essence of all religion is the same. Our proposal is that whatever religious system one follows, he should try to understand God and love Him. If you are a Christian, we do not say, "That is no good; you must become like us." Our proposition is that whether you are a Christian, Muslim, or Hindu, simply try to understand God and love Him.
Lieutenant Mozee: If I could return to my original purpose for coming, might I ask what advice you could give to assist us in reducing crime? I recognize that the first and foremost way would be a return to God, as you say—there’s no doubt about that—but is there something that we could immediately do to diminish this spreading criminal mentality?
Srila Prabhupada: Yes. As I’ve already outlined in the beginning of our talk, you should give us the facility to chant the holy name of God and distribute prasada. Then there will be a tremendous change in the population. I came alone from India, and now I have many followers. What did I do? I asked them to sit down and chant the Hare Krishna mantra, and afterwards I distributed a little prasada. If this is done on a mass scale, the entire society will become very pleasing. This is a fact.
Lieutenant Mozee: Would you want to start the program in an area of affluence or an area of poverty?
Srila Prabhupada: We do not draw such distinctions. Any place easily available to all kinds of men would be very suitable to hold sankirtana. There is no restriction that only the poor men need the benefit, but the rich do not. Everyone needs to be purified. Do you think criminality exists only in the poorer section of society?
Lieutenant Mozee: No. But I meant to ask whether there would be more of a beneficial influence—more of a strengthening of the community—if the program were held in a poorer area rather than an affluent area.
Srila Prabhupada: Our treatment is for the spiritually diseased person. When a person is afflicted with a disease, there are no distinctions between a poor man and a rich man. They are both admitted to the same hospital. Just as the hospital should be in a place where both the poor man and the rich man can easily come, similarly the location of the sankirtana facility should be easily accessible to all. Since everyone is materially infected, everyone should be able to take advantage.
The difficulty is that the rich man thinks he’s perfectly healthy, although he's the most diseased of all. But as a policeman, you well know that there’s criminality among rich men and poor men alike. So our chanting process is for everyone because it cleanses the heart, regardless of the man’s opulence or poverty. The only way to permanently change the criminal habit is to change the heart of the criminal. As you well know, many thieves are arrested numerous times and put into jail. Although they know that if they commit theft they will go to jail, still they are forced to steal because of their unclean hearts. Therefore without cleansing the heart of the criminal, you cannot stop crime simply by more stringent law enforcement. The thief and the murderer already know the law, yet they still commit violent crimes due to their unclean hearts. So our process is to cleanse the heart. Then all the troubles of this material world will be solved.
Lieutenant Mozee: That’s a very difficult task, sir.
Srila Prabhupada: It is not difficult. Simply invite everyone: "Come, chant Hare Krishna, dance and take sumptuous prasada!" What is the difficulty? We are doing this at our centers, and people are coming. But because we have very little money, we can hold sankirtana only on a small scale. We invite everyone, and gradually people are coming to our centers and becoming devotees. If the government would give us a large facility, however, we could expand unlimitedly. And the problem is big; otherwise why are there national news articles asking what to do? No civil state wants this criminality. That’s a fact. But the leaders do not know how to stop it. If they listen to us, however, we can give them the answer: Why crime? Because people are godless. And what to do? Chant Hare Krishna and take prasada. If you like, you can adopt this process of sankirtana. Otherwise, we will continue conducting it on a small scale. We are just like a poor medical man with a small private practice who could open a big hospital if he’s given the facility. The government is the executor. If they take our advice and adopt the process of sankirtana, then the problem of crime will be solved.
Lieutenant Mozee: There are many Christian organizations in the United States that give the holy communion. Why doesn’t this work? Why is this not cleansing the heart?
Srila Prabhupada: To speak frankly, I find it difficult to find one real Christian. The so-called Christians do not abide by the Bible’s order. One of the ten commandments in the Bible is, "Thou shalt not kill." But where is that Christian who does not kill by eating the flesh of the cow? The process of chanting the Lord’s holy name and distributing prasada will be effective if carried out by persons who are actually practicing religion. My disciples are trained to strictly follow religious principles, and therefore their chanting of the holy name of God is different from others'. Theirs is not simply a rubber-stamped position. They have realized the purifying power of the holy name through practice.
Lieutenant Mozee: Sir, isn’t the difficulty that although a small circle of priests and devotees may follow the religious principles, those on the fringe deviate and cause trouble? For example, assume that the Hare Krishna movement grows to gigantic proportions, as Christianity has. Wouldn’t you then have a problem with people on the fringe of the movement who professed to be followers, but were actually not?
Srila Prabhupada: That possibility is always there, but all I am saying is that if you are not a true Christian, then your preaching will not be effective. And because we are strictly following religious principles, our preaching will be effective in spreading God consciousness and alleviating the problem of crime.
Lieutenant Mozee: Sir, let me thank you for your time. I will deliver this tape recording to my superiors. Hopefully, it will be effective, as you are effective.
Srila Prabhupada: Thank you very much.