Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Personal Touch

Lord Rama “Those men who worship My personal form, are intent on doing good to others, firmly tread the path of righteousness, and are steadfast in their vow and devoted to the feet of the brahmanas, are dear to Me as life.” (Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Sundara-Kanda, 48)

Adding a personal touch to a sales pitch can go a long way towards securing a sale. If a potential buyer has faith and trust in the person they are buying from, they are more likely to become a loyal customer. For a salesperson, face-to-face interactions prove to be the best form of marketing. Impersonal interactions through advertisements, fliers, and postcards just don’t have the same appeal.

Human beings want to feel connected. It is the nature of the living entity to love. This is inherited from their original constitutional position in the spiritual world. The Vedas tell us that every individual is a spirit soul at the core, part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The material world is meant to be a mirror of the spiritual world, except that there is no presiding deity here. Every living entity is allowed to compete for the material post of God. This is essentially a false pursuit because no human being can ever compare to God. In the spiritual world, the spirit soul is an eternal servant of Krishna, interacting with Him through various transcendental mellows, or rasas. These same rasas exist in the material world, but in a perverted form. Pure love can only be of the spiritual variety. Nevertheless, the living entities still retain their loving propensity in the material world, though it gets directed towards other things.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna This desire to love causes us to form relationships with friends, family, and even lovers. All of these relationships involve human interaction and trust. Upon taking birth, it is the animal instinct of the living entity to defend. Wanting to protect its possessions and its life, the living entity engages in the mode of defense and views others with skepticism. This animalistic tendency is unnatural for the spirit soul, thus people like to break free of this distrust by forming friendships. A person is much happier when they are directing positive energy through love, than when they are exhibiting negative energy through hate. We would much rather have an attachment for something than have repulsion for something.

This characteristic of human beings proves to be very important for those in the sales and marketing fields. Sales is a cut-throat business. Everyone is looking to make a profit by finding as many customers as they can. One of the key components of marketing is “touching”. For a person selling a product or service, the goal is to have as many “touches” with potential clients as possible. A touch can be any interaction, either a phone call, a flier, a newspaper advertisement, a website, etc. The best kinds of touches, however, are the personal ones. Nothing beats personal interactions, such as face-to-face conversations, extended telephone calls, or personal emails. These personal touches are effective because they lead to the formation of friendships.

The only downside to personal touches is that they are more time consuming. A person can design, print, and mail out thousands of postcards in a few hours, while having a personal conversation with the same amount of people could take weeks, if not months. Personal touches aren’t guaranteed to bring sales either. Some people won’t be receptive to the message of the salesperson. Even with its drawbacks, the personal touch is still the preferred method for converting sales. Those who are receptive to personal interaction are much more likely to become life-long customers. Not only does the seller benefit from such a relationship, but the customer as well, since they are more likely to receive valued service and have their feedback listened to.

“The constitution of Brahman is immortality, imperishability, eternity, and happiness. Brahman is the beginning of transcendental realization. Paramatma, the Supersoul, is the middle, the second stage in transcendental realization, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the ultimate realization of the Absolute Truth. Therefore, both Paramatma and the impersonal Brahman are within the Supreme Person.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 14.27 Purport)

Lord Krishna The concept of the personal touch can be applied to religion as well. The Vedas tell us that God can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Bhagavan is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, God’s original form residing in the spiritual sky. There the Lord exists in His body which is eternal and full of bliss. Paramatma is an expansion of God. In every living entity, there exist two souls within the heart. The first soul, jivatma, represents our individual identity. The second soul, Paramatma, represents God’s expansion. In essence, God lives inside all of us as a neutral observer. Brahman is God’s third feature. Brahman is more of a classification than an expansion of God. Brahman refers to everything material and spiritual, all the way up to the brahmajyoti, which is the spiritual effulgence. Just as astronauts have to pass through various atmospheric layers when leaving the earth and going into space, there is similarly a spiritual effulgence that exists right before one enters the personal spiritual planets of Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka.

“…I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable and eternal.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.27)

Though Lord Krishna clearly states that He is the source of Brahman, there are many impersonalist philosophers who take Brahman to be the beginning and end of everything. They utter the phrase, brahma-satya jagat-mithya, meaning that Brahman is the truth and that everything else in the world is false. These philosophers view the Vedanta-sutras as the authoritative Vedic scripture. The Vedanta-sutras are a collection of aphorisms that appear to describe God in an impersonal way. Written by Krishna’s literary incarnation of Vyasadeva, the Vedanta-sutras actually describe devotional service to Krishna throughout, but people have misinterpreted the meanings of the aphorisms. For example, there are many statements declaring that God has no hands or legs, and that He is nirguna, meaning He has no form. These statements are certainly true in that God has no material hands or legs. But this doesn’t mean that He is formless in the sense that He doesn’t exist. Lord Krishna repeatedly uses words like “Me” and “Mine” when discussing transcendental topics in the Bhagavad-gita. This clearly indicates that Krishna is a person.

“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.24)

Though it is an inferior realization of God, Brahman still exists. It is certainly a representation of the Absolute Truth. Those who want to merge into Brahman are given every opportunity to do so. However, there is a much easier and more fulfilling type of worship, which is technically known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Depending on your angel of vision, this method of worship is either easy or difficult. It is easy in the sense that it merely requires one to surrender unto Krishna and engage in His service. That seems simple enough, but many people don’t want to surrender. They would rather negate all activity and hope to merge into Brahman.

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.5)

Lord Krishna Krishna Himself declares that attempting to merge into Brahman is the more difficult of the two paths. This is because it is the original nature of the spirit soul to crave identity. If the soul merges into Brahman, it loses its identity. Eventually wanting to engage in activities again, the soul is prone to separating from Brahman, again returning to the material world. Bhakti yoga is the more natural self-realization process because it involves pure love of God. Many impersonalists look down at bhaktas, taking them to be less intelligent. This is because they view bhakti yoga simply as a method of self-realization. “Oh look, these people are tricking themselves into believing in a personal God so that they can more easily become detached from material nature. They are only taking to this method because they don’t understand Vedanta.”

This type of thinking represents a gross misunderstanding of bhaktas. Bhakti yoga technically cannot be compared to any other type of yoga because it is actually much more than a method of self-realization. Having a pure loving relationship with God is the original nature of the soul. Through personal interaction with Krishna or one of His Vishnu expansions, the spirit soul gains eternal bliss and knowledge. To help us understand this fact, we can look to the examples set by the great devotees of the past. Lord Hanuman is the eternal servant of Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s primary expansions. Hanuman is a great yogi, possessing tremendous powers. Yet he is not attached to any of his powers of detachment or yoga, for he engages all his time in thinking of Rama. In fact, Hanuman is not even interested in self-realization. He has no desire to be a perfect devotee or a Vedantist. Rather, he simply loves Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana, and spends all his time thinking of them and serving Their lotus feet.

Hanuman worshiping Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana The greatest benefit of bhakti yoga is that it rewards us with the most sublime relationship, eternal association with God. God is meant to be viewed in only one way, pure love, for this is how He views us. We should take up the worship of the personal form of the Lord. Krishna is our eternal friend, and someone who will never let us down. He is so kind and sweet that if we simply want to be with Him, the Lord will make it happen. In this age, we can practice devotional service by regularly chanting God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Since God incarnates in the form of His holy name, chanting is our way of personally touching Him. By remaining steadfast in our devotion, slowly but surely, we will come to Him.