An Indian gentleman: By what kind of actions does one earn good karma?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Good karma means what is prescribed in the Vedas. Specifically, it is prescribed that one should perform yajña. Yajña means actions for the satisfaction of Lord Viṣṇu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. So good karma means performance of the yajñas as they are prescribed in the Vedic literatures. And the purpose of this yajña is to satisfy the Supreme Lord. A good, law-abiding citizen is one whose actions satisfy the government. So, good karma is to satisfy Lord Viṣṇu, the Supreme Lord. Unfortunately, modern civilization does not know what the Supreme Personality of Godhead is, what to speak of satisfying Him. people do not know. They are simply busy with material activities. Therefore all of them are performing only bad karma and therefore suffering. They are blind men leading other blind men. And both are then suffering by bad karma. That is very easy to understand. If you do something criminal, you will suffer. If you do something benevolent for the state, for the people, then you are recognized; you are sometimes given a title. This is good and bad karma. So, good karma means you enjoy some material happiness; bad karma means you suffer from material distress. By good karma you get birth in a good family; you get riches, good money. Then you become a learned scholar; you become beautiful also.
[Some time passes.]
Bob: What about the person who—who is not very aware of God, but...
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Then he is an animal. The animal does not know what is good. A person who does not know what is God, or one who does not try to understand what is God—he is an animal. The animals are with four legs, and that animal is with two legs. And Darwin’s theory is they are monkeys. So anyone who does not know God, or does not try to understand God, is nothing but an animal.
Bob: What about the innocent people?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: The animal is very innocent. If you cut its throat, it won’t protest. So innocence is not a very good qualification. The animals are all innocent. Therefore you get the chance to cut their throats. So to become innocent is not a very good qualification. Our proposition is that one must be very, very intelligent, and then he can understand Kṛṣṇa. To become an innocent, ignorant simpleton is not a very good qualification. Simplicity is all right, but one should not be unintelligent.
Bob: Can you tell me again what intelligence is?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Intelligence means... One who knows what he is, what is this world, what is God, what are the interrelations—he is intelligent. The animal does not know what he is. He thinks that he is the body. Similarly, anyone who does not know what he is, he is not intelligent.
Bob: What about a person who does—tries to do—what is right and is very conscientious instead of being unconscious about the things he does? Like the servant who is very honest to his master but knows that if he were not honest he would not be caught. If he stays honest anyway... a person like that? Is that some kind of good karma?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, to become honest is also good karma. How to become a good man is described in the Bhagavad-gītā very elaborately.
daivī sampad vimokṣāya nibandhāyāsurī matā
So if you become qualified with the daivī sampad (transcendental qualities), then, vimokṣāya—you will be liberated. And, nibandhāyāsurī—if you are qualified with the demoniac qualifications, then you will be more and more entangled. Unfortunately the modern civilization does not know what is liberation and what is entanglement. They are so much ignorant; they do not know. Suppose if I ask you what you mean by liberation, can you answer? [No answer.] And if I ask you what you mean by entanglement, can you answer? [Again no answer.] These words are there in the Vedic literature—liberation and entanglement—but, at the present moment, people do not even know what is liberation and what is entanglement. They are so ignorant and foolish, and still they are proud of their advancement in knowledge. Can you answer what is liberation? You are a professor, teacher, but if I ask you, can you explain what is liberation?
Bob: Not adequately because if I could explain, then I would become liberated very fast.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: But if you do not know what is liberation, then how fast or slow liberation? [Everyone laughs.] There is no question of liberation. It is neither fast nor slow. You should first know what is liberation. If you do not know where the train is going, then what is the use of asking, understanding, whether it is going fast or slow? You do not know your destination. What is liberation?
Śrīla Prabhupāda: I am asking. You daily ask me. I am asking you.
Bob: [Laughs.] Ah—okay... I’ll think for a moment.
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Liberation is described in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The exact Sanskrit word for liberation is mukti. So that is defined in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam.
muktir hitvānyathā rūpaṁ svarūpena vyavasthitiḥ
One should stop doing all nonsense, and he must be situated in his original position. But this is also more embarrassing because nobody knows his original position and how to act properly. Because people are generally acting differently, because they do not know what is proper—the modern population is so much ignorant about their life—it is a very awkward position. They do not know.
From the book: Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers