Saturday, August 8, 2009

Back to Basics

Krishna and Arjuna “One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.55)

The Bhagavad-gita is one of the most famous religious books in the world. Great scholars, religionists, and devotees have studied the Gita in great detail for thousands of years. Though only a very small chapter of a much larger book, the Mahabharata, it captures the essence of Vedic philosophy.

The eternity of the soul, what happens to us when we die, what causes are happiness and distress; all these topics are covered in the Gita, which contains great quotes such as:

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 2.22)

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 2.24)

To most people, such knowledge is a revelation. In American schools, religion isn’t taught. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution declares that the Congress cannot declare an official religion for all the people of the country. This has since been misinterpreted to mean that there is a “separation of church and state” which outlaws all mention of God in the public arena. Lawyers today are on a mission to eradicate religion as much as possible from the public realm, though that wasn’t the actual intention of the framers of the Constitution. Though their logic was flawed in many areas, the founding fathers were very religious people. One need only read George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789 to see just how much God was on the minds of the people.

We don’t hear about religion in the news unless it’s a story about some priest or religious leader involved in a scandal. Due to this lack of spiritual education, most people spend their entire lives unaware of the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita.

Since it is spoken by Lord Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Bhagavad-gita garners the highest respect from the devotees of Krishna. Though it contains information of the highest import, such information is actually only the beginning of spiritual understanding. The Gita’s most important message is that if we think of Krishna at the time of our death, then our soul will not return to this material world and it will stay with Krishna in the spiritual world forever.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail… That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg, 8.5-6, 15.6)

Such information is important to know, but how do we actually achieve this goal? The Gita presents theoretical knowledge, which forms the starting point of our spiritual understanding. Theoretical knowledge is referred to as jnana in Sankskrit. It forms the foundation, but to actually understand what we have learned, we need practical knowledge, known as vijnana. For example, one may read about how to fly an airplane, taking various tests and so forth, but one doesn’t truly understand what piloting involves until they actually get into the cockpit and practice flying the plane themselves. It is only then they get a real understanding of what it means to be a pilot. This same principle holds true in others areas of life. We never truly understand the difficulties our parents faced in raising us until we actually become parents ourselves.

Worship of Lord NarayanaTo understand God and to know Him, we have to take to the process of devotional service. Technically known as bhakti yoga, devotional service is the process where we dovetail all our activities with Krishna, or God. If we train ourselves to always think of God during the day, learning to love Him, then surely we will think of Him at the time of death.

Hearing is one of the most important processes of devotional service. If we hear stories about Lord Krishna, then we can gradually understand who He is. We should all naturally love God simply for who He is, but the Lord is still kind enough to come to this material world from time to time and enact pastimes simply for our benefit. By reading stories about Him, we gradually develop an attachment. One can read about Lord Krishna’s pastimes over and over again and never get bored.

We can find these stories in the Puranas, written by Vyasadeva. One would be hard-pressed to find any historical personality who authored more literature than Vyasadeva. He didn’t write simply for entertainment’s sake either, for his works are all of the highest quality since they expound the meaning of the Vedas. There are eighteen major Purnanas, and each one is quite lengthy. The Bhagavata Purana, or Shrimad-Bhagavatam, is considered the highest Purana since it covers Lord Krishna’s birth and childhood pastimes in great detail.

“The Bhagavad-gita is the preliminary study of Shrimad Bhagavatam. Just like before learning any literature, one has to read the first book, ABCD. The Bhagavad-gita is the ABCD. It is just beginning of understanding of what is God. ABC. When one has passed the entrance examination, then he gets the opportunity of studying Shrimad Bhagavatam.” (Shrila Prabhupada, 730227rc.jkt)

After reading Bhagavad-gita, we should all make an effort to read the Bhagavatam and take the next step in rekindling our love for Krishna. Due to our imperfect senses, we can never truly understand God, but by reading stories about Him, as told by His great devotees, we will gradually understand Him better. By knowing and loving God, we automatically book our return flight home, back to Godhead.