Aspects of Vaisnava Theory & Practice
Rasing Our Spiritual Standards
Chapter 13
Our Mission
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Part 3

How do We Decide Who is an Intellectual?

And how do we decide who is an intellectual? Although being a slob definitely won’t make it, the paramount consideration for most devotees is a college degree. In ISKCON a college degree generally will go further than any other criteria—including knowledge of Prabhupada’ s books, and the individual’s inclination—for being recognized as an intellectual.

In this connection, Srila Bhaktivinoda Öhakura wrote a song on the futility of material education, how it makes an ass out of the conditioned soul. Time and again Srila Prabhupada has roundly criticized the Kali-yuga system of mass education, with particular emphasis on what goes on in the colleges and universities. Here is a small sampling:

Conversation July 3, 1976:


“Irresponsible life.”

Svarupa Damodara:

“Yes, meaninglessness. No meaning. So, it has no purpose because of this very concept. So at least there’s a strong influence, especially in the colleges and the university circles, the students…”


“Educational circles. Yes. In the education circles they are made fools. Education means he’s a more fool, that’s all. That is education. Mudha. Mayayapahrta-jnana. These fools and rascals, their actual knowledge is taken away, and they are coming out as educated. That we are protesting.”


“You once called them slaughterhouses. Slaughterhouses of education.”


“(laughs) Yes, I have said, yes. Means whatever little education he has, that is also finished.”

Of course, there may be some genuine intellectuals in the universities. That is where many of the potential intellectuals are likely to be found, therefore Srila Prabhupada wanted college preaching as one of our priorities. Still, it is important for us to remember that one who has played the university game, and walked away with a degree, is not necessarily an intellectual. Learning does not an intellectual make, although an intellectual should be learned. What is learning? Brahma janatiti brahmana. A brahmana (an intellectual) is one who knows Brahman.

Universities today are more accomplished at teaching students’ skills for making money in their chosen field, as opposed to wisdom. A university degree does not certify anyone as an intellectual by Krishna conscious standards, any more than doing a stint in the military makes one a ksatriya,(warrior). Even the educators admit that a university education does not create top notch men. Ten years ago, the head of Johns Hopkins University, Steven Muller, said in an interview.

“Universities today are turning out skilled barbarians.”

Popular author, Peter Benchley, put the university game in perspective when he wrote,

“I spend four years in college, two years getting my master’s, five years getting my doctorate. I’m somebody! My PhD is my armor. 

I could be a jerk, a turkey, a fool, but I’ve got a Ph.D. It is the official label of my exalted status.”

An intellectual, from the Krishna conscious standpoint, is not simply one who holds a degree. An intellectual is according to guna and karma, which should be determined on the basis of this verse (Bhagavad-gita18.42):

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, wisdom and religiousness—these are the natural qualities by which the brahmanas work.”

And by these additional symptoms given in the Eleventh Canto (Srimad-Bhagavatam11.25.2):

“Mind and sense control, tolerance, discrimination, sticking to one’s prescribed duty, truthfulness, mercy, careful study of the past and future, satisfaction in any condition, generosity, renunciation of sense gratification, faith in the spiritual master, being embarrassed at improper action, charity, simplicity, humility, and satisfaction within oneself are qualities of the mode of goodness.”

Srila Prabhupada put it tersely on one occasion:

Lecture Bhagavad-gita 1974 Bombay:

“First of all, it is the business of brahmana to understand. So, if you cannot understand, then you do the business of ksatriya. If you cannot do that, then do the business of a vaisya. And if you cannot do that, then remain as a worker. Assist others. Assist the brahmana, the ksatriya. So, everyone will be engaged.”  

As for occupations: lecturers, writers, editors, worshiping the Deity, instructors, and advisors. Using this criterion, we should be spotting in ISKCON those with the above listed guna and karma of the intellectual, or potential intellectual, and cultivating them, but we do not. Inasmuch as we have not practiced to discriminate on the basis of the modes of nature, we cannot spot these people. Instead, we rely on the college or university degree and some other arbitrary criteria. (Managers, for example, put less stress on character and instead want to know if a person is “lined up”? Do I like his personality? What can he do to push me up?) As a result, nondevotees have a hand in deciding for us who are our intellectuals, an interesting state of affairs, to put it mildly. We are supposed to be screwing on the head of the social body, yet the members of that headless social body are telling us who to screw on. This thought can be quite depressing.

The reason the mode of goodness is so conducive to intellectual pursuit is that one can keep a train of thought all the way to the final conclusion. In passion or ignorance one sooner or later finds that his mental train jumps the tracks and he thinks of something mundane and pedestrian. The mode of passion is especially risky, because, as was shown in Chapter Eight, under the influence of rajas one “rationalizes when he believes he is expressing the truth”. Reason or discrimination does not really function in raja guna, but it appears to do so. Thus, while one can fake being an intellectual to gratify one’s ego, it is not really possible unless one comes to the level of sattva guna. Without the sattvic qualifications our intellectual pursuits are a sham; they are pseudo-intellectual. Such a person may quote scripture or Prabhupada, but often the whole object is to justify and rationalize one’s secret passion, which is not so secret for those who understand the modes of nature.


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