Seeking Spiritual Solutions to Global Problems: Lessons from Vedic Philosophy

Faculty Lecture at Ambrose Ali University, Ekpoma, Nigeria, by Bhakti Vasudeva Swami. Delivered in June 2010

First, I thank the Vice Chancellor of this university for giving us the opportunity to be able to meet with all of you!  Second, I would like to thank the Dean of the Faculty of Arts for creating an avenue where we could have a rapport with all of you, and of course, I will have to thank all of you and members of staff of the Faculty of Arts for creating this congenial atmosphere for this philosophical and spiritual interaction.


As you are aware, I am a son of the soil, although I appear in these “abnormal” saffron robes.

As we start this spiritual discussion – I call it a discussion because I am not about to download some audio file or talk from my encephalon to my philosophical audience – there is going to be a lot of interaction, but listen and talk with your ears so that you will be able to hear me and benefit optimally from our discussion.

So, oriental philosophy is something very much in vogue in our modern education system, especially in the departments of philosophy and of course religion.  For this study, people know of oriental philosophy, but in most cases, they don’t know the details of oriental philosophy.  And in some cases, it is just a matter of mismatch or “Yatha matha tatha patha” – anything goes.  The term I just used is “yatha-matha tatha-patha” – it simply means any part you take or follow is okay.  Learning itself is structured, and teaching in our universities is highly structured.  Thus, in all fields, there is a step down system, there are preceptors involved, and there is development.  Since time immemorial, specialists in that area of oriental philosophy have been inundating the world with transcendental knowledge.

First, if you want to define something about your future, you have to define something about yourself.  If you don’t understand why you have come to this university, then you would be miscuing, and you would be misled by the socio-environmental factors; there is so much propensity, so much room to forget why you have come to this campus, because there are so many facilities for gratification of your sensory modalities, and the ordinary student would get ensnarled – would get carried away.  After your four years of study, your parents are not going to ask you how much enjoyment you participated in; they would ask you, “where is your certificate?”  “What is your class: first class, second class, third class?”  They wouldn’t ask you anything besides these.  So, the essence of our being, our existence, is the pivot of oriental philosophy.

First, I would like us to know about our pristine identity; oriental philosophy is about our true identity. Who are we?  Oriental philosophy asks the question of whether we are this physical body only; are we made up of earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego? This body is made up of two jackets: the first jacket is made up of earth, water, fire, air, and ether; and the second body is made up of mind, intelligence, and false ego.  These are the eight elements that make up the body, whether the body is male or female.  It is just a matter of different types of jacket; the male body is one type of jacket, and the female body is another type of jacket.  On this planet, you are either male or female.  The point is that we are not this body; this is the primary understanding in oriental philosophy, and we do have our testimony about this.  We have lots of senses, and a number of people worship the senses. The senses we have can actually mislead us.  Take for instance the mind: if we don’t understand the difference between our mind – our material mind – and our real self, we could be carried away by the impulse of the mind.  Take for instance, we are misled by celebrities. I myself was misled by a celebrity in the past, and his name is Jimmy Cliff.  Jimmy Cliff sang in a musical album years back, “if I follow my mind…”; he was actually talking about the philosophy that, “if I follow my mind, I will never go wrong.”  But oriental philosophy has brought some limelight to this thesis, because if I follow my mind, I will always go wrong.

If you see a beautiful girl and you follow your mind, you will get into trouble and the likelihood of going to jail is high.  Therefore, if you follow your mind, you will always go wrong.  As humans, we are the seeker of who we are by controlling the mind, and if we don’t do that, we would end up living an animalistic life.

We do have desires, but these desires may not be in consonance with our academic, cultural, and economic pursuits.  If we don’t act in consonance with the essence of our academic goals, we would actually be misled by the imports of the senses, and the mind.  Therefore, oriental philosophy’s basic theme is that we are not this body, made up of different elements; but we are spirit souls, and that spirit has basic characteristic features, and one is that the spirit is ever blissful, full of knowledge, the spirit is eternal; that means the spirit has to be engaged in activities that would enable its consciousness of these traits.  Therefore, we should ask the question, who am I?  Where am I coming from?  How did I get here?  The Vedanta, or the literature that encompasses oriental philosophy, teaches that we are all parts and parcels of the Supreme Being, and this same Supreme is present in this body; this is the rudiment before we bring to bear how to apply spiritual solutions to global problems.  This Supreme Being could be realized whether you call Him Jehovah, Allah, Olorun, Chineke, Abasi, whatever – basically He is the Supreme Being: this Supreme Being can be realized in three phases.  As Brahman – spirit, this means He is all-pervasive; that is why they say God is omnipresent, He is everywhere.  This is the concept of Brahman, or the light emanating from God.  Beyond this level of realization is Paramatma, as He is located in each and every living being – whether you are black, yellow, green, or you are a Caucasian, the point is He is there in your heart region.  The spirit actually is not different, but the bodies are different.  So we have it that the Supreme Being is present in each and every tabernacle, and that is technically referred to as the Supersoul or the Holy Ghost.  For instance, if you murder somebody, it means you are forcing the Lord out of the body; it is like if you illegally evict a tenant, you have to go to court. You have to get papers from the court to evict the tenant from the apartment, or you would be dragged to court.

Beyond the Supersoul, or the Holy Ghost, we have the Supreme Lord residing in His own personal abode; He is not compelled to be only He; He is He/She because if man and woman are both emanations from the Supreme Spirit, then He must be the embodiment of the male and female genders.  The women would agree that God cannot just be a man alone, which is correct. The Lord is in His eternal abode, which is beyond this cosmic manifestation, and this is where we can enjoy marvelous life, because there is no death, old age nor disease.  I was on the BBC some time ago; people were complaining that there was no peace on this planet, and they wanted to know if there is a place where there is no death, disease, old age, famine, HIV/AIDS, wars, etc.  Yes!  There is such a place, but you need to be certified to go there.  To go to another country, you need to get an invitation from someone, your visa, before you go into the airplane. You don’t just walk to the airport and say, “I am going to America,” without a visa; they will check you out.  This place is where we are coming from.  What will oriental philosophy do in proffering a solution to the problems of the world?

Now let us take one of the problems.  The world lacks nothing. The world is full of resources: natural and human resources. We don’t lack natural resources, but we lack people to manage these resources properly, for the benefit of the whole members of the community.  Take Nigeria, for instance: there is so much money in terms of oil, and if the money is distributed to everybody, every Nigerian will be a millionaire.  Therefore, you can’t say we are not blessed by God, if you believe that there is a God; and if you don’t believe that there is a God, we are blessed by natural resources.  The leaders don’t manage the resources properly, so our number one problem is leadership!  Leadership does not mean the President of Nigeria only; there are different categories of leaders.  A mother is a leader; a father is a leader; a teacher is a leader; a spiritual master is a leader; a worshipable demigod is a leader.  In a sense, either we are potential leaders or we are already leaders.  More than a few of you would be getting married after finishing your university programme.  This means that you would be raising children; it means, therefore, that you are a leader.  A leader means he who shows the way and goes the way.  It is different from being a manager.  Of course, it starts from the preparatory level.  It is like a thief: a thief sees the whole world as not to be trusted, because he cannot trust himself; if someone has an inclination, he likes to see things from that point of view.  Leadership has to do with every one of us, so we should think about it positively; sometimes, we say and perceive our Nigerian leaders as so corrupt, but who gave birth to them?  We!  We have a chance to transform our families, but how can we transform our families if we don’t transform ourselves?  Someone is asking, “what is that stick that he is carrying?”  This is my staff of office; it symbolizes a life dedicated to the service of humanity and God.  It means body, mind, and words are dedicated to the service of humanity and God.  It reminds me all the time.

I am just coming from South Africa, where I met with the Director of the African Leadership and Development Institute, at the Institute of Social and Industrial Research in Pretoria.  One of the issues he raised was that on the African continent, there are so much of resources, but there is so much misuse of the resources.  I agreed with that idea, but what are you people doing to change the situation?  People should see their problems and not complain about the President being a thief.  If we claim that there is a problem here, so what is the solution to that problem? It is very easy for you to complain about everything as the future leaders of this country, but if there is no proper tutoring, in time, you would become another failure if you are put in a position.  Let me explain what that implies: sometimes people get confused by what it means to be cynical; it is just like we have indicators: if you are sleeping in your house, how do you know that it is dawn?  There is sunlight!  For someone to be reckoned as a good person, there are symptoms: the person is highly spiritual – it does not mean that he has to walk on water or on air, or if you open his mouth, there is fire.  No!  Being spiritual means that you are conversant with the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the symptom is that you are always talking about Him.  You are able to elevate people’s consciousness.

Philosophy means the love of wisdom.  One of the Vedic philosophers says you know a spiritual person by how much control he has over himself: he doesn’t eat anything and everything, he doesn’t talk about everything, and he doesn’t give in to anger.  Beyond that, a spiritual person has control over his genitals.  In other words, touching him or her does not make him get carried away by impulses.  The question becomes, how does one cultivate that kind of trademark?  Another Vedic philosopher says that until philosophers become leaders, and leaders become philosophers, the world will not experience sustainable and dependable leadership.  Therefore, it is important that we know that reconnection with the Supreme Being is the only way we can relate to people with eloquence, and see them as our brothers and sisters.  It means we all have the same spiritual essence; hence, there would be no room for exploitation.  As a result, if someone lives like this, he will (when he becomes a leader) provide for all the members of his constituency before his personal needs; but a situation where a person does not imbibe these higher principles, higher philosophy, and higher sense of responsibility, he is bound to steal public funds – to become a corrupt leader. Thus, it behooves us to understand the practice of spirituality.

We should therefore strive for reunification with the Supreme Being, and the symptom of this reunification is a higher sense of value and the ability to relate with anybody peacefully.  If one sees the whole community as his family, can he go about exploiting the mother?  No!  Therefore, the society should come to the platform where we see one another as brother and sister.  Therefore, from the Vedic philosophy, we have this higher sense of understanding for values, and we understand these values, and we have a higher sense of value for ourselves.  The process of attaining these values in this present dispensation is what we call in our philosophy, “Sonic Therapeutic Intervention”, because it is the remedy of this therapy that brings about a revolution that creates a viable future, not only for us, but for the society as well.  This is why the Bible tells us that, from the rising of the sun to its setting of the sun, we should call on the names of God.  The Hadith of the Quran posits that the most beautiful names belong to Allah.  In the Vedic philosophy, in the Vaishnava tradition, we have a series of therapeutic intervention.  This is why you find the Hare Krishnas – you see them on the road when you go to London, Washington, New York – anywhere in the world you go.  They are always embarking on this sonic therapeutic Intervention by reciting the names of The Absolute Truth, and it goes like this: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.  It is not an Indian Language; it is Sanskrit.  “Hare” means the devotional energy of the Lord, and “Krishna” means God who is all attractive, and “Rama” means God who is the reservoir of all pleasure.  This can be practiced by anybody; the person standing before you has been a celibate monk for twenty-six years.  He can be seen with a woman, but for the past twenty-six years he has not known a woman in that sense. [Exclamation from audience.]  Not only that, I am a scholar of leadership and organizational change, and I teach Vaishnava Vedanta or oriental philosophy.  I travel all over the world, and I am based in Washington D.C., United States of America.  This very mantra is what transformed my life.  Can you ever imagine that a Bayelsan can be a celibate for twenty-six years?  The best bet for us is to devise a means to become spiritual, and we will not be lured into temptations, and if we do that, we would have a stable life rooted in God consciousness.  We would be able to see each and every one as a well-wisher, and we would be able to act in ways that are favorable for the upliftment of our community instead of exploiting our community.  We are all coming from one God, so let’s see ourselves as brothers and sisters. It is only spirituality that can take us to that level, and it can revive us from corruption and bad leadership.  You should know that the past governor of New York was kicked out of office over lack of control over the senses; are you aware of that?  He was a very prominent lawyer in the whole of the United States; he has a beautiful wife, and nice children; he made so many stringent laws that everyone was shaking.  He became a victim of his own laws, and he went after a prostitute; unlike our country here, in the United States, if you are a big man, you’re monitored and accountable. He had an affair with a prostitute and was caught; hence, he was kicked out of office.  Tomorrow, you might be in position of authority, you could be the change you so desperately desire in your country, but if you have no control over yourself, you would be unable to effect any change. You might blame someone today, but tomorrow could be your turn; you should learn these things and we would experience a better country.

Thank You.


Questions and Answers Section

Q: That was a beautiful lecture; thank you very much, sir.  In your discourse – your talk – you made mention of the body, the soul.  What is the essence of that body, and how does it have a check on our desires and what we do, and… If the essence is the work we can do and the input of our efforts, then what is the essence of this super-spirit that you talked about?

A: That was a very nice question.  The idea that The Supreme Being can be felt and localized in each and every body tabernacle or within our heart region is because He cares.   I remember a young couple; the man asked the wife if I can drop Vasudeva Swami at his apartment? The wife said, “no, no, no; let us go with him.” It has to do with friendship; if you have a friend on campus, you would be worried if you don’t see him in a day. The Lord loves us, so He wants to be with us.  Also, He wants to stimulate us to have a higher understanding of values, to be able to decipher between what is right and what is wrong.  In most cases, when He gives us advice, we don’t even hear Him; rather, we choose the impulse of the mind; the Supersoul, we don’t listen to, and that is the difficulty we have.  This is what has led to our being covered by different layers of illusory energy, and so it is difficult for us to get a connection properly.  The more we become involved with reality, the more we become purified, and the more we would be ready to hear the instructions directly from that essence (the essence of the Lord) within us, the Supreme Being. We would be able to listen to the instructions within.  Otherwise, it becomes a mismatch, because we have the senses pulling us this way, the mind pulling us that way, and we end up with a foggy weather: during a heavy rainfall, you can’t drive; put on your headlight, you can’t see. This is the nature of our condition; we are so conditioned that even though the Supersoul is within us, we can’t even hear. Therefore, we need to be involved in spirituality to cleanse us of all the foggy things in our environment, in our body.  In this way, we would be able to have a connection with the Supersoul, and take instructions from Him. The Lord loves us so much that even when we go to the toilet, He is with us.  If someone loves you, he would be with you, but the toilet! No one goes with you to the toilet.  Even your best friend will not follow you to the toilet; he would say, “alright go, I am waiting for you,” but the Lord is in our heart, he accompanies us anywhere, even though we go to prison.  Why? This is out of that unmotivated, selfless love.  The ideas is to create an awareness somehow or the other to listen to our ideas to connect back to the Supersoul within so that our life will become successful.  He doesn’t force us, because if someone loves you, he will only advise you, suggest to you.  If it is force, then it no longer becomes love; it becomes a military regime.  The Lord allows us to take decisions ourselves, and do the things we want to do.

Q: I loved your lecture so much, but there are two questions I would love to ask.  To me, there are two Supreme Beings; we have the higher one and the lesser one – that is, Jesus and the Satan.  You said something that Jesus is both male and female.  You said those that walk through fire or on air are not necessarily spiritual but those that have a connection with the Supreme Being are the ones that have power.  Are you now trying to say that those that walk on air are carriers of good spirit?  My second question is, how do you know that Jesus or the Supreme is both male and female?  [Applause from audience.]

A: Thank you very much.  I want to be snappy.  There are what we call mystic potencies or mystic powers, and exhibiting these mystical powers doesn’t make you devotional.  It simply makes you metaphysically powerful, and it does not make you a son of God.  Some people exhibit these powers and fall into anger, and are lured into some inclinations.  In Nigeria, it is very prominent. I know of some churches; the pastor touches somebody, and the person falls off, and everyone will say, ”Ah!  He is very powerful!”  As someone in the field of spirituality, I know that is secondary; they don’t necessarily make you spiritual.  The idea is that having metaphysical powers does not make you genuine or a good person; it depends on how you use them to create a better image for the society.  If the society in general understands, that God (whatever you call Him) is the Father of us all.

We don’t have to discriminate against one another because of our tribes.  We normally believe that our mother’s soup is the sweetest.  Philosophy is variant in various societies, like in India, Russia; if you come back from the university, you don’t go and ask a kindergarten pupil, “what is dy/dx?”  The child would not understand what you have asked, but he is a student.  He will gradually come to the stage when he would understand.  It is not our duty to condemn those with low awareness of higher principles.  Essentially, we should encourage people to come to this higher understanding.