Bhagavad Gita is the essential text. It is the Absolute Truth “for dummies” in the sense that it gives all the basic points very eloquently, but there are other texts like the Srimad Bhagavatam which elaborates on the essential teachings.
Srila Prabhupada didn’t change anything about the essential teachings for the sake of popularity. He insisted that the foundation is very strong. Once it is solid you can ornament it.
This foundation is to give the basic message of the Gita that we are all eternal souls, we are in this material world because we tried to exploit matter and we should see that our real self interest is to love God and by loving God we are loving ourselves and all creatures. Our real self-interest is not by exploiting matter but loving God and all living creatures as part of Him.
Explanation of Ego:
The ancient way of understanding the universe involved a chain of elements which go from
gross to subtle. Earth is the most solid element, then comes water, fire is more subtle and radiant, air is so subtle that it is invisible and finally comes space, which is also an element because it can be measured.
In the Gita and many other cultures this description is phenomenological because it is based on teleology. A phenomenon is something that can be perceived. Phenomenological in this sense means that we are concerned with the world as we see it. We have personal intentions and purposes, but teleology goes beyond that. Apart from the purpose we create for ourselves there are objective purposes in the universe, whether we accept it or not.
If two people look at a painting – one is a qualified artist who knows what it depicts and the other one a chemist who produces oil paint. The chemist knows all about the pigments but has not interest in art, only in the chemical part. Now we raise the question, who has a deeper understanding? The modern world to some extent says it is the chemist. (e.g. the common explanation why the sky is blue only explains how it is blue).
Plato in the “Phaedo” brought this point out in a story about Socrates who was sentenced to death. In Athens when someone was condoned to death he had to leave the town and never come back. Socrates friends had arranged a boat for him, but he decided to drink the hemlock. Until his end he was very philosophical. So the had a conversation with his friends: If someone should ask why he is sitting here and someone else replied he is sitting here because his body is made in such a way and he describes his sitting posture – that is the wrong answer. The right answer would be, that the reason why he is sitting here is that he wants to honor his social contract with the city Athens (to die and not leave). So how and why are very different.
The attempt to merge ”how” and “why” is an attack on Teleology, on the notion that there are objective purposes in the universe. The scientists have explained how the sky is blue, but not why. How doesn’t explain why. So ultimately the sky is blue because the Supreme artist wanted it that way.
The reason why we get these descriptions in spiritual literature is that the authors wanted us to advance in consciousness and self-realisation. They described the elements so that one can see these things as ultimately spiritual, as emanation from a Supreme Being.
Space doesn’t interact with the elements is contains like air. Air interacts with solids. Earth and water interact. Fire also interacts, but space is so subtle that there is no interaction. If we say the sky is cloudy we impose a dense, more gross condition on a more subtle element, because space itself is never cloudy. Similarly, we are all conscious subjects and see other people as objects of our own consciousness. If you are hungry every place you see does or does not offer food. In same way we see others as objects for sense gratification, we don’t see them as subjects. As a general rule, the stronger my selfish desires are, the less I can see other people objectively. If I am self-satisfied I have the luxury to see you objectively, as who you are. The Srimad Bhagavatam says that just as we impose the condition of cloudiness on space we impose upon one another a condition of being a gross object of satisfaction. The German philosopher Kant talked a lot about this: The categorical imperative means treating everyone as an end of themselves, not a means. You have your own intrinsic value. Trickled down Kant is: Don’t use people.
Is that core essential to KC?
Yes, to all who are interested in reality. The basic assumption is that the truth is much more attractive than a lie. According to our understanding God is infinitely beautiful and we, as parts of God, have unfathomable beauty, bliss and wisdom, but now we are covered. We have forgotten ourselves. Who we really are is infinitely greater than who we think we are. Every living being is equally part of God. The body (e.g. of an infant) is in a state of development, but not the soul. Bodies are different. The body of animals has a different density in terms of how much it covers the soul. Self-realisation ultimately means to become transparent by spiritualizing the body. All the original consciousness comes streaming out. As we begin to purify the body and consciousness we find that we are in this fantastic world.
How can we get there now?
The basic principle of yoga (to link, to connect) is to purify the consciousness or soul by directly linking it to pure consciousness – God, Krsna. In Bhakti Yoga and other traditions when we chant the name of God, the idea is that the Name is Holy. So if you chant the Holy Name in any language or tradition you are directly in touch with Him and get purified. We should also eat pure food and offer it to God. Then it is transformed to spiritual food. We offer our eyes by seeing the Deity of the Lord. We can engage our whole body, our mind and senses. We become absorbed into Yoga by dedicating our entire life as a service to God (which is karma yoga).
What about the world in relation to consciousness?
We learn from ancient texts that every soul is a person and that there is a personal God. The essence of being of person is not to have a perishable physical body, but being the individual center of willing, feeling, etc and having the privilege of bringing virtue into the world. We eternally have freedom, the power to love and create beauty and goodness. That is not something we want to extinguish by annihilating our individuality. We are persons and our relationships are real. Even though we now relate to the body and not the soul, we also penetrate beyond the body into the soul. To some extent we can see someone else’s consciousness and mind. Just by seeing you I know you are a conscious person, as I am. Therefore the world that we know can easily be spiritualized because it is a reflection of the spiritual world. It only needs to be tuned up a little bit.
Theistic systems which recognize the presence of a personal God (as opposed to systems that propose the world is not real) don’t reject the idea that there is a Supreme Truth, an infinite Person with infinite sensitivity, love. These are not negatives. They can’t be wiped out through a forced march of mediation. Therefore the personal world out there can be fully embraced. Everyone is equally part of God, not only people belonging to a particular race, sex or species. We cannot blend out other people because of speciecism. The differences do not really matter. Krsna declares that love is equal for everyone. To think that the Supreme Father loves someone more because he is in a particular body is preposterous. Also, if we see the earth as divine creation of a loving parent you don’t trash it.
We should be careful not to merely treat the symptoms (in justice, kindness and all these forms) but the root cause of a problem. There have been attempts to conceptualize and establish utopian societies which failed. The communistic regime brought about untold suffering. It is popular to say that religions brought so many troubles, but if all religions were religions of Asia it would probably not be common to say that.
Power corrupts. There are certain ambitious, power-hungry people, in whichever society they live and wherever the power is, they go there and manipulate the system of a society to get power. The combination of power and little purity of consciousness is a bad combination. When churches were replaced with secular regimes it made things worse. Stalin e.g. secularized power. The real problem is human impurity. Plato used this language of purity and impurity. It is good because it is not ideological and doctrinal (as opposed to the idea of a particular belief being a thought crime for which you can get tortured.) We don’t find doctrinal ideas in the historical teachings of Jesus and Krsna.
There is another great dialog where Socrates raises the question whether certain actions are good because the gods love them or the gods love them because they are good. That means, is the God whom I admire reasonable and does He set fair, objective standards? Purity and impurity are objective facts which can be measured. The goal is to achieve a certain level of objective states of consciousness, not to adhere to a certain belief.
Krsna says that those who stand in goodness (who act beneficial to people) will rise. So in a worldly sense you can be happy without Krsna with no doctrinal requirement. The same philosophy we find in the New Testament. It is stated that Jesus, the son of man will divide people in two groups. The sheep people will go to heaven, the goat people will go down. When they ask, “why?” the answer is, “you fed, me you comforted me”. “But we never met you”. “What you did to the least of my people you did for me.” The opposite is said to the goat people. What is significant here is that the requirement for salvation is not dogmatic but ethical, you just need to be a good person. In my opinion, Jesus greatest genius is that he synthesized and epitomized all the legal apparatus of the Jewish covenant. It all boils down to “love your neighbour as yourself” and “Love God with all your heart”. There are no doctrinal requirements. It is all about being a good person.