Gadadhara Pandit Dasa – First Hindu Chaplain for Columbia University

December 02, 2013

This week’s Point of Inquiry features Gadadhara Pandit Dasa, first ever Hindu Chaplain for Columbia University and New York University, the interfaith chaplain at Union Theological Seminary, and author of Urban Monk: Exploring Karma, Consciousness, and the Divine. Pandit, who teaches courses on Hindu scriptures, has spoken at a recent TEDx Conference and was featured in the NPR piece “Long Days and Short Nights of a Hindu Monk.” He appeared in a PBS documentary on the Bhagavad Gita, and is also a regular contributor for the Huffington Post.

Host Josh Zepps frames this episode’s interview as a conversation between an atheist and a believer. Pandit discusses his views on science and faith, inter-religious conflict, and the perspectives of a believer on atheism.

This is point of inquiry for Monday, December 2nd, 2013. 

I’m Josh Zepps, host of Huff Post Live, and this is the podcast. The Center for Inquiry, a nonprofit that promotes science, secularism and reason. So often atheists are accused of being too combative of attacking religion and not respecting faith, not listening to believers. Today, a conversation between an atheist and a believer. But not just any believer. He’s the chaplain for the New York University and Columbia University. The twist is he’s their first ever Hindu chaplain. He’s a monk. Gandara Pendent Dassa is here. Thanks for being here. 

Thank you. Happy to be here. 

It is so easy for nonbelievers, especially in the United States, to perceive religion as intrinsically divisive, intrinsically dogmatic. 

When you see the religious right, the culture wars, the Catholic Church scandals, religious terrorism, why why bother being religious if it if it incites so many divisions? 

Well, my opinion is that it’s not religions that divide. 

It’s the nature of human beings in general to create distinctions between each other. 

Racism. I don’t think had anything do with religion. Sexism. I don’t think had anything to do with religion. 

It’s the ego within inside of a human being that makes one human being want to seem to feel better than another. Somehow I’m privilege over the other. Somehow I’m better looking at more intelligent. I am more athletic. I’m more gifted. We like to create these divisions because we want to feel superior to others. 

But if you’re if you’re if you believe that your beliefs are also shared by the creator of the universe, doesn’t that give you an extra incentive to believe them more deeply and fight for them more passionately? 

I think it’s okay to fight for your beliefs as long as you’re not imposing on other people’s beliefs. 

You know, I think that’s where we have to draw the line is, you know, you definitely can believe what you want to believe. Just don’t talk down to someone else’s belief system, whether they’re believers, whether nonbelievers. I don’t think the believers have a right to judge somebody who doesn’t believe in God. You know, I think it should just be like you do your thing. I do mine. I’m happy doing mine. And you can be happy doing yours. I can share my thoughts with you without being too attached that you have to accept them. 

Well, as a Hindu, there are obviously doctrines that you believe are truer than other doctrines. 

You believe there are certain tenets of enthusiasm that are true. For example, them the tenets of Islam or Judaism or Christianity. 

How do you reconcile that faith with not wanting to privilege your tenets above the tenets that you think are less truthful? 

Well, you know, I’m pretty comfortable with my faith tradition. Like, for example, we’ll take one tenets of reincarnation, believing that we’ve lived many lives before and we’re going to continue to live many lives until we fear fear free our hearts of things like anger and greed and envy. And then we can be with God. I know the Western traditions don’t believe in that, but it doesn’t bother me that they don’t believe in that. It’s OK that they don’t believe in that. I’m really not bothered and I’m not going to try to convince them to believe in it. Up. I’ll do presentations on it and I do lots of presentations on it because I know people are fascinated by the idea. People are fascinated by the idea of death and the afterlife. Almost every human being, whether a theist or an atheist, kind of wants to know what’s gonna happen next. So they think there’s nothing there’s no harm in presenting it as long as you don’t. I don’t conclude my presentation by saying that whoever doesn’t believe this is going to Hallor is is wrong, you know? So you’re welcome to present and do presentations all the time. But whatever however, the audience decides to receive it. That’s up to them. I’m happy that I the audience gave me an opportunity to share what I learn. 

And when you say that you believe in reincarnation, what’s your route to knowing that? What’s the pathway? 

Well, you know, I grew up as a Hindu, so I kind of believed in it. Just growing up, you know, you grew up around other people who believe in it. It just seems to make sense that you have more than one life to correct your mistakes. Because we all know we made tons of mistakes with each other, with our selves, with society. And we just need time. You know, we need a second, third, fourth opportunity to correct ourselves. So that logic made sense to me. 

Do you think there’s a conflict between science and faith? 

Well. I think society creates a conflict between science and faith. I think we do a great job. 

Like I said before, we do a great job of creating conflict between anything, this conflict between nations. This conflict still between genders, between race, between religion, you know, between nationalities. 

So I don’t want to just say science or religion. I think human beings, we have a nature conflict with each other. And the moment we can find a difference to conflict, we will fight about it. So I kind of want to take a look at the broader picture of human nature and how we do conflict. You know, from the Hindu perspective, I don’t think there’s a conflict between science and religion in the West. I know there is. 

You know, let me just tell you that if if reincarnation is true, then there will presumably be scientific ways of gradually gleaning information about that. 

We haven’t found it yet, but we can we could probably do studies into the nature of consciousness to see whether or not it can be transmitted from one generation, from one organism to another. 

So they’re viewed the cosmos is if either structured a certain way or it’s not. I mean, these are truth claims about the nature of the universe. Right. So a Christian who believes that the universe is only a few thousand years old is making a as a factual claim that science can test. 

So in that respect, isn’t there a conflict in that you’ve got two competing claims of fact, one derived from faith and the other one derived from from science? 

Well, from the Western perspective, there is a conflict. But from the Eastern or the Hindu perspective in terms of the universe. We believe that the universe is about 16 billion years old. 

You guys are closer. Yeah. Guys are a lot closer. 

Christian and science has thirteen point six billion. 

So you would concede that the Christians are wrong about two billion of more? 

Well, according to us. Yeah. I mean, they have a different paradigm by whether it which they’re calculating it right or wrong. If they’re happy with that, it doesn’t change anything for me. If that makes them happy. If they’re convinced about that. If you want to say if you’d like to say right and wrong. I mean, I don’t really like to say right or wrong. I think. I think we have we’re happy with 13 billion, whether it’s a billion, 13 billion. It doesn’t really affect me that much because Hinduism says we want to really develop the love of God. We want to clean our heart. We want to really be able to see everybody with equality. So whether it’s we’re definitely not going to fight over a few billion years, a few hundred billion here. You know, the ideas, whatever happened, happened. Let’s just work on ourselves and, you know, let’s treat each other better. Let’s treat the planet with a little bit more respect and let’s treat the animals with a little bit more respect than we do. Let’s just do that. You know, who cares how old the thing is? Right. Knowing that doesn’t make me a better person. 

It’s interesting that you raise the issue of animals, because the way that we treat animals in the industrialized farm system, these huge concentrated animal feeding operations, keeping them all in these in these pens are essentially torturing them for their lives just so that we can have a burger that tastes slightly different than a vegetarian burger does. How does that enter into your faith? And what do you make of faiths that talk about man’s dominion over the animals? 

Yeah. Well, Hinduism, obviously is very much a vegetarianism religion. You know, it says that we should not hurt any creature unless it’s attacking us. If you take a calf away from a cow, it will feel the same emotions as a human mother would if her baby was taken away. You can look at a cow. What happens to her when they take the calf away to imprison the calf? You know, she’s trying to kick down the doors to get to her baby. You know, just the way if we watch a lot of violence or sexually explicit content on television, they say we become desensitized to it. So by eating food, that’s such a product of violence. We have to know that that violence is affecting us in some way. I mean, every day we’re saying it’s OK. It’s OK. It’s OK. That think this thing can be caged up for five, 10 years and they have its skin peeled. Just that, you know, that’s not OK because it’s actually making us desensitized to even human suffering. 

Well, it blinds us to a moral reality that we’re just trying to keep out of sight. Out of mind. Right. 

And a lot of secular philosophers as well, like Peter Singer, who create who wrote Animal Liberation, very secular philosopher who talks about speciesism, about, you know, our tendency to to think to divide species in the same way that we divide races in racism or sexism and sexism into privilege. Certain species over another. 

Why don’t we dog in the West, but we find it okay to eat pig, which is the least as intellectually sophisticated an animal and is capable of love and fear. 

So that’s one area which I think religion and science is a sort of increasingly on the same page. The more we learn about the neurology of of animals, you. You’ve written that all religions worship the same God. 

What do you mean by that? 

I mean. Is that when a Hindus praying to the Supreme. When a Muslim is praying to the Supreme, when a Christian is praying for the Supreme, when a Jew is praying to the Supreme? I feel that the same individual up there is hearing those prayers from all in all these different methods and all of these different languages. I think God can understand all the languages. So that’s essentially what I mean. And again, see, again, because we as a human being, we have a tendency to Ft. Want to feel superior. We’ll create a divide. No, my prayers are going to the real God. My prayers are going to the real God. It’s almost a childish mentality. You know, my toys are better than yours. 

You know, there are certain tenets, certain historical tenets that you would have to believe if you could call yourself a Christian. I mean, if you don’t believe if you believe that Jesus was just a dude who had and who wasn’t divine and didn’t rise from the grave, then you’re really a Christian. I mean, if you’re a Muslim, you claim to be a Muslim, but you don’t think that Mohammed was divine and you don’t think that he flew to heaven on a winged horse. You may not be much of a Muslim, but another. So there there are fact claims. You have these people that each of these religions think. Yeah. 

And, you know, later. And we actually believe that Jesus was divine. 

We know from our point we have no problem believing that he rose from the dead. Hey, no big deal. That’s reincarnation. 

Hey, we all good all the time. 

So we actually have zero problem with that whole thing right there, you know? We also have zero problem accepting that he’s a son of God. 

Like, you know, we actually, you know, some of our monks are like we’re you know, we’re Christians were raised Christians and then they became Hindus. 

I mean, and they still go to church when they go to visit their family, have no problem walking into different faith houses and being totally comfortable. We also don’t have a problem. Understand that Muhammed was a prophet, you know. 

But the only thing that we like to keep things broad. OK, well, of course, it makes us God’s going to send one of his prophets to have enough for the Jews and one for the Muslims. And there’s a hope. We have a whole bunch of them. God’s not limited can spend unlimited profits because he kind of needs to do that because we keep forgetting what really. Know how what really it means. What is the goal of life? And so we feel like there’s not just one and there’s not just the last one. It’s gonna keep sending messengers as long as it’s needed. So, again, it’s just a broader approach, I think. Yeah, those are we’ve totally feel it. They’re valid prophets like we believe. No problems. He’s the son of God. But this God, that many sons and daughters and he keeps sending them. 

Why do you think that perception that you are just articulating there is so rare among Christians and Muslims and so much more common among Hindus and Buddhists? 

Well, I think Hinduism’s always been very open and accepting. You know, one of my teacher said if you were to put Jesus, Mohammed and Buddha in a room, they’d be best friends. 

That’s one of my teachers is adopted aside. 

Yeah. They’re you know, they were just. Yeah. They would be really close friends because they would see eye to eye. They would all see themselves as children of God here to do the work of God. How do you do that? The way I do that and the way that many people do is I have actually a daily two hour meditation practice that I do in the mornings. 

I think so many people listening to this will be thinking, I wish I could. I wish I had the time to do that. I wish I knew how to do that. 

Well, you know, time is there that I can write it in stone. I can write in stone that we have the time, we find the time to do things that we feel are important in life. You know, the amount of time we spend on social media and Facebook and texting, I’m sure there’s enough time for and or just kind of lazing out, not doing anything right. Staring at a blank wall, staring at the at the one eyed guru, which we call the television. 

Nobody stared at a blank wall anymore. Everyone staring at their iPhone during a national TV show. 

Time is there, in my opinion, time is there. Of course, when I say I do two hours, I’m not saying that that’s what’s needed right now. I have a more intensified practice. But I do think that some meditation practice that can connect you with God and help you understand who you are is absolutely must. We’re so externally focused. All we do is look outside here, outside. We never take time. And I don’t want to sound like a cliche. Look inward. But really, who am I? What’s going on inside of me? Are we paying attention to our mind like a zillion crazy thoughts that are going through my mind? Am I even aware of that? You know, am I trying to realize that I’m different from this body, that I’m not the body and that I’m not the mind boggling detail? Right. 

The spiritual text of India explains that we’re eternal spirit souls, spiritual beings that are inhabiting the body. So it’s the proper term is we have a body. Not that we have a soul in order. Rescue progressed spiritually, we need the help of our mind, and I think most of us can agree, no matter what religion or no religion, we can all agree that our minds are kind of crazy. 

I don’t. And if anybody disagrees with that, I dare you to share that. Every thought you had the last twenty four hours with their stranger guaranteed to be put in jail. You tell them everything you thought about, right. 

So we need the help of the mind. 

And if we don’t, if the mind is not our friend, it will not cooperate with us because we can’t do anything for more than 30 seconds without the mind thinking about 10 different things while we eat our sandwich. We start planning our next meal or what happened three days ago. 

So we really need sort of meditation practices to help calm the mind down and help much focus the mind. 

It’s like that the quote, We’re not human beings having a spiritual experience. We’re spiritual beings having a human experience. And I think this is one area where secular people, agnostics, atheists, where there is a bridge to spiritual people, because basically everything that you’ve just said makes complete secular scientific sense. 

With the exception of the word God, I mean, if you just remove the word God, then it’s undeniably true. There’s so much research now from guys like John Kevin’s in, who’s a pioneer of mindfulness meditation, that the constant monkey mind that chattering a stream of thoughts that we think is us is not us. And there are ways. That doesn’t necessarily mean anything spiritual. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true that there is some eternal soul. 

But it does mean that there is some eye that is doing the perceiving of my own existence. And that will always be some kind of a mystery. 

And that even if you’re even if you’re an atheist, getting in tune with that, being able to pull yourself back sufficiently that you’re able to be aware of your own, the workings of your of the machine machinery that is your own mind and body. You can be very fruitful. 

Yeah. And it can be very revealing. And I really encourage that, you know. Because, you know, because a lot of now you see also a lot of atheists are very angry, you know. And I’m like, oh, wow. I thought it was the religious people that were kind of like this. Now I’m like, that’s going on the other side. 

I really I think, you know, I think it’s important for all of us to just reflect what is it? What where is the battery located that’s making this incredible human machine function. I mean, you think about just how the AI functions. It’s on the other. He could describe it. But can you make one is what I want to know. You know what I mean? Like, can you make like, you know what impact you mentioned before? 

You know, people. We just sit down and they look at us. They stare at a blank wall. And I said that actually they probably don’t. Because they’re always on their iPhones and iPads. 

Do you think we’ve lost something in the ability to just be still because of social media? Because of technology? 

I feel like maybe in the past it was more people were more able to just sit down and just gaze at nature or sit down and read a novel. And we’ve got so many distractions. Now, that aside, I mean, these are great things. 

I mean, I think on the whole, if it’s positive that we’re all into interlinked in that a person can tweet from Tahrir Square in Egypt and suddenly we can understand what they’re all doing. But why do you think that that pace of information overload is doing to our sense of ourselves? 

I think it’s making us much more impersonal. 

And the reason I say that, I don’t know how many times we’ve all seen and I’m guilty of it myself, even though I’m a monk, you’re walking. You see, I’ve seen people walking down the street to people, friends or, you know, or a couple, whatever, and they’re both on their cell phones or they’re both texting someone else. 

I’m figuring if you’re a. in a park with somebody else, whoever it is, even if it’s your dog that, you know, you could just like be there with your dog, with there, be there with your partner, be with each other. And I think it’s making us more impersonal. I think we’re spending less time with each other. And I think there’s a danger. And even though technology is providing us all with lots of facilities and comforts, like I said, and I use as everything as much as anyone else, I think we’re definitely losing a bit of ourselves, which I think is scary. I don’t know what that we’re going to turn to 50 years from now where we just have to tweet everything or text everybody, you know. It’s amazing that if you call somebody on the phone, people almost like surprise are taken aback. Why are you calling me? Like, it’s like it’s too much to talk to somebody. And this is a human being, you know? And I think that I think there’s definitely something wrong with that, that we can’t call people on the phone just to see how they’re doing. You know, you have to schedule an appointment and this and that. You can just drop by your friend’s house and knock on the door and just drop by. There’s something so beautiful and human in that, you know, I remember I can’t I was with about eight, nine years ago or maybe ten years ago when there was a blackout in New York. And you know what? I saw something that still with me. I saw people hanging out on their front stoop and just sitting and talking. People from different buildings were out in the streets just talking because they. Do anything. And I was thinking. And that’s beautiful that people actually talking, strangers are talking with each other. Now, a days we don’t have time for our family. We don’t have time for our friends. We don’t have time for ourselves. You know, I just spent a lot of time at Columbia as a spiritual teacher and spiritual guide, as a chaplain. And one student, she told me. Yeah. You know, I haven’t seen my best friend in three months. I’m like, oh, where does she live? Oh, she’s on campus. I’m like, I for like like or ten seconds. I was, like, speechless. 

I’m thinking maybe she’s like in California or, you know. Oh, you know. How long’s it been since you’ve seen your second best friend? Yeah, my third best friend. I’ve had 14 years, but she’s a really close friend. 

So that’s what I mean. It’s just. Yes. We can find out the news from around the world, but I think we’re missing out on the news that’s going on right next to us, like our neighbor, our friend, our mind ourself. So I think I’m not sure if the payoff is good or not. I don’t know if this is actually helping us or not. 

And there’s no necessary correlation, I think, between being religious and being at one with the cosmos in the kind of way that you’re talking about and being close to the people around you and the way you’re talking about it. 

There are as many harried religious people who who spout who who’s about the right religious lines and go to church on the appropriate occasions and consider themselves better than atheists because they’re tuned in to the creator of the universe. 

But I know plenty of atheists and agnostics who spend time on mindfulness meditation, who spend time thinking for them, for themselves, about what the meaning of life is, to spend the time being awed by the size and scale of the cosmos in the Arab Spring ordinary. This universe is by being awed by biology, by staying close with people around them. As a chaplain, what’s your first piece of advice to people to skew them a little bit more in that direction? If you can see that they’ve lost touch with that sense of wonder. 

Well, you know, I lead weekly meditation sessions on campus and I see students come to that. And most of these students are from a Hindu or Indian background. That’s very powerful for them. And they even start doing five to 10 minutes on their own. And it really is, because at the moment you sit still to start to meditate, whether you’re reciting mantras or just focusing on your breath or focusing on your mind. You start to feel connected. You realize that you’re missing out on something so amazing. And you realize that all the happiness and answers you’re looking for actually in your own self. You get that. So I think just a little bit of quiet time. And I think also that’s very important as spending valuable and quality time with family and friends. I think those two things are really important, whoever it is. We’ve got to take time out for ourselves. And, you know, like I said for me, I would recommend some meditation practice. 

A quick theological question. 

Roughly 20 to 25000 children die every day from malnutrition. Most children under the age of five preventable deaths, most of them parents, are presumably praying because most people are religious and God fails to answer those prayers. 

Could God save those children? And if so, what is it? 

Mm hmm. You know, I think the answer is not as simple as why doesn’t he? We have to remember that death is going to take place at some time in our lives no matter what. Right. So then we could say, well, my grandfather’s ninety eight years old. Why doesn’t God to stop him from dying? So, OK, there’s a child, but there’s also my grandfather. You know, he’s a valuable to me as that child is to there, you know, to the parent. So are we really on a bigger scale saying why does God to stop death? Because if we’re saying that, then he can. It’s just not in this realm. It’s somewhere else that that exists. Like, if you want 80 degree weather all the time, you’re living in the wrong place. 

That’s L.A.. It’s called San Diego. Yeah. Yeah, that’s right. 

So what we want we kind of want the kingdom of God here on Earth. So in one sense, it’s not really here because it’s up there. And also see, again, in the West, we see death as something grim and it’s the end of everything. We don’t see it that way. We’re seeing that the journey is continuing. That person got tape and there was meant to go on that journey. Who are Midas? In say, God, stop this person. They were probably meant to go on that journey. And it looks painful. It looks miserable. We don’t know what’s good, how they’re going to take birth next and what they’re meant to do. And, you know, another thing is death and sorrow and pain and suffering. Do something that most of situations won’t do for a human being. And that is to make them go deeper into their own selves and ask the question, why are things happening when things are great in life? We never really ask that. We’re just enjoying life to its max with nothing wrong with that. But we miss out on a real deep component of our life. Why do things happen? Why are these things happening to me? How do I go above and beyond? 

How do I solve the problem of death? We won’t ask that if things are going well. So, you know, if we really want to live a deathless life, then we have to go beyond the bodily platform because a soul actually, according to the puggle with Geetha and Hinduism, the soul is eternal. Time cannot deteriorate the soul and no element of this world can deteriorate it or destroy the soul. And that’s who we are. And if we can understand that, that we are eternal beings on a journey and we’re going to die at some point, maybe it’s young when maybe it’s middle and maybe toward the end of our life. Death has to come. But it’s just the beginning. We’re not seeing it as the end. It’s the beginning of a new. 

Can you comprehend atheists? 

In what sense do I come from? Can you understand that worldview? Or is it is it baffling? Because I know a lot of religious people who say I might disagree with Islam, but at least I can understand that they hate that they have a fundamental understanding of the cosmos that resonates with my own. 

Because there’s a there’s a holiness that is a spirituality. And, you know, I personally I’m agnostic towards most of the things that you believe. I don’t know whether we get reincarnated, not another. The cosmos is organized in some vast, purposeful way. 

I’m completely open to that possibility. But I’m certainly an atheist when it comes to the claims of particular religions. I’m quite confident that Christianity and Islam and all of those claims, truth claims are incorrect. 

Can you comprehend people who don’t believe in God? 

You know, in the past it was more difficult for me. And I think that I’ve been. I think I’ve been fortunate that just my time with students at Columbia, because a lot of students have been coming to me, are agnostic. From a scientific background, it’s forced me to open up a little bit more. I’m like, OK, I can see that these are wonderful people. They just don’t have proof or or they had some really terrible experience in their religious institution that just could totally turn them off, you know? And so that seems to be the two things, like either a lot of them seem to just have some have had some negative experience growing up, like they’re made to feel guilty or they were just not given the right answers or maybe there wasn’t proper dialog and it just like got turned off by the whole thing because it seems like although the authorities don’t have an answer, then who is going to you know, or maybe some are just very scientific, intellectual, just like it doesn’t make any sense. 

Well, I think they get turned off by doctrinal claims. They get turned off by certainty. I mean, I get turned off by by claims of certainty about things that we can’t possibly be certain about. The reality is we don’t know what happens after death. 

That’s a reality is we don’t know what the purpose of the cosmos is. It’s the if that dogmatic certainty from from particularly the monotheistic religions, the big three, that the bugs a lot of young people. 

Yeah. You know, we’re also monotheistic. It’s just we’re not the big three. 

You know what I mean. Yeah, I totally get it. 

Yeah. And I think, you know, and I can understand. I mean, you know, I’m walking down the street and, you know, I’ve had Christians come up to and tell me Jesus loves you. And I’ve learned to say thank you. I’m sure he loves you, too. You know, those kinds of things. I can see how that can be a turnoff. 

So that’s where you and I differ. I normally punch those people in the face, but I really have to stop doing that. It gets me arrested every Friday. So. But, yeah, I mean, I can see that. 

And, you know, a lot of now maybe this is a you know, I think a lot of spiritual truths that I like to call them don’t reveal themselves until one engages in a practice, you know? So, for example, I can’t really show you God like I can’t say, hey, Krishna, come on down, you know. I know Josh wants to take a look. You know, I no fear. I really blew you really play a flute. I can’t you know, I can’t show you God. I don’t have the power to make God manifest. But I do have I’ve had enough experiences internally, which I can’t put on a table for you to look at that, tell me that he hears my prayers or he’s there, that I’m being guided by a divine being. And that revelation only takes place if I make attempts to connect with him. For example, you know, if you know, if a person wants to connect with another person, there has to be some exchange, positive exchanges, act exchanges of service. You know, if you see somebody sacrificing their time to help you, then you’ll become more open to that person. You’ll share more of your life with that person feels more comfortable like this person cares for. He takes her time out. So that’s how. Because we also feel like that God is a person, you know, infallible person, got a personality. And for that person to reveal himself to us, we also have to be willing to be to learn about that person and to have an exchange of love with that individual. Otherwise, that if I tell you if I say, Josh, I want you to come over and tell me everything about your life, even though we don’t know each other you like, you know, you’re gonna give me the finger, you know? But if we’re friends, you know, we’re hanging out a repeater, you should tell me everything about yourself anyways. So there is that reciprocation that active, engaged with that’s required if we want that revelation. And that means, yes, you’ve got to try it out. And, you know, the proof of the pudding is in the tasting. I’d like to think and without meditation or some prayer, like open, honest, like really trying, you know, prayer under some guidance, hopefully. I’m pretty sure that there’ll be some experiences people have that will be eye opening. But unless one does, it’s like you can think about yoga, but you won’t become more flexible until you do yoga. You know, somebody ever. Because it’s so grand. I feel so relaxing. You know this and that. You know, you can just say, yeah, right. But until you do it, you’ll be like, oh, yeah, I felt a little something. Okay. Do it more. You feel something more. So I think a lot of I think spirituality is spiritual. It is very much like that that, you know, until I actually start my montre meditation practice and I started to become Vegeta. And you start to do more things. And this was even before I became a monk, I started having experiences. I couldn’t explain why I wanted to meditate more. I had members to this day, but why do I want to do more? I don’t get it. But I just wanted to do more. And I realized, OK, something’s going on. I’m feeling a connection with something that makes me want. I felt some happiness and I just wanted to do it more. I still can’t tell you why. It’s just the heart set. Do more like OK, less TV, more fine. 

You know, I’m sure neuroscientists would claim to have a secular reason for why meditation is is compelling and why and why you want to do it more. 

Are you an optimist about the fate of the world? I mean, obviously, in a spiritual sense, you are likely to be an optimist. But when you look at the environmental degradation, when you look at the amount of conflict between the world’s religions and cultures, you look at overpopulation and pollution. It doesn’t look like a heart warming trajectory. 

No, it doesn’t. You know, it’s really sad to see what’s going on. You know, I mean, you hear about these islands of plastic in the ocean and these islands of it like miles and miles. And then what was the last oil company that was gushing out stuff? A camera, BP? Yeah. And you know, all this I still can’t forget the news on CNN that they were they had a timer like gallons per second coming out. And it was going for days. 

Jeff, you know, and I think it was weeks. It was maybe it was three weeks and they had this camera down there. So this crap just it just it was great. 

It was like it was like, OK, five seconds, six one. Gallet two, three. You know, I was like, oh, my God. Like, you might just kind of goes crazy. 

So it’s, you know, not only have we polluted the oceans, the land, the air, we’ve got space junk. It’s flying around the earth. You know, it’s like wherever we go, we pollute and contaminate. It’s unbelievable what’s going on. It’s really, really sad. Incredibly sad. 

And, you know. 

I just don’t know what to say. You know, I think the only way that any of this can really change is if our leadership completely changes values. We’ve got to win. We need to look after people and the planet and not after just filling our pockets. I think unless that changes and I don’t see that changing because it’s hard to get rid of greed. You know, we’re not putting people and our basic resources as our priorities. We’re just looking to see how we can benefit and make money and just really exploit the earth to the man. 

As so many of our leaders who are who have the worst environmental records and who deny climate change are actually the most religious of the Christian right. 

Senators and congressmen are often the ones who would deny, who deny, deny climate change, but they believe that the world’s only a few thousand years old, that I believe that that man is capable of changing something as majestic as God’s creation. So that I think that the that they deny the science. And on we go. 

Yeah. And that’s obviously a huge disconnect. And just like there’s a disconnect between animal suffering in our food. You know, there’s a disconnect for those people who can’t see what we’re doing. And it’s and it’s unfortunate, you know, and I just can’t see how, you know, God could be pleased that we’re really just draining the earth of all its resources and hurting its inhabitants in ways that wouldn’t even make it into the worst horror movie. 

A lot of them sending messages on Twitter telling me that I’m anti freedom and anti Christian because I oppose the Keystone oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, because that embodies freedom and Jesus is about freedom. 

I mean, the intellectual contortions that belong, a mind boggling. 

What’s your what’s what’s your number one most important thing to achieve for them for the rest of your life? Last question. 

The most important thing for me is I think two fold and I’d like to do this simultaneously is continue working on myself. And I, as I have mentioned, like, you know, trying to remove these things from my heart, the anger, the greed, the pride and all of that, like really working on myself. 

Yeah, you seem really angry and prideful. 

Yeah. Thank you. I’ve been working on it myself. You know, I imagine if you’ve met me before and simultaneously, what I’m very passionate about is talking about these two college students to all audiences. And I want to help. I want to inspire people to do the same things because, you know, if we have internal change that will reflect into our external lifestyle, the internal will affect the internal. So if you become clean inside, our immediate environment, outside will also become clean. So that’s what I’m hoping for, is to work on my own internal climate. And also inspiring, encourage others like me that are talking about spiritual. I talk about vegetarianism, inspiring them and helping them see that it’s important for us to make a change not just with the outside, but also within. So that’s really, for me, the goal of my life and through this really develop love of God, love of Krishna, you know? 

Well, if we could all have conversations between nonbelievers and believers that were as conciliatory as this. I think the world would be a much, much better place. Thanks so much for being here. 

Thank you so much. I appreciate it. 

Josh Zepps

Josh Zepps

An Australian media personality, political satirist, actor, and TV show host. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. He was a founding host for HuffPost Live.