Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Little Service

Radha Krishna “Devotional service in Krishna consciousness is so sublime that even a little service to Krishna, knowingly or unknowingly, gives one the greatest benefit.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 6)

There are many causes responsible for the results of action. Some of these causes are direct, while others are indirect. The wise are able to decipher the subtle causes and acknowledge their importance, while the unintelligent mistakenly believe that they are solely responsible for the results of their actions. There are so many little things that go on in day-to-day life that we are unaware of, but which actually play an important role in our good fortune. This especially holds true in spiritual life.

Let us examine something as simple as victory in sports. When a tennis player wins a big tournament like Wimbledon, it is natural to praise them for their efforts. The legend Pete Sampras won seven Wimbledon titles in eight years, while Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer both won five Wimbledons in a row. Sampras had an unbelievable serve which was tailor made for the quick grass surface of the Wimbledon courts. Federer has an all-around game which made him especially successful at Wimbledon. If we examine a single match, however, we can see that it takes more than just one’s own efforts to win.

Federer winning fifth Wimbledon title At the 2007 Wimbledon, Federer was going for a record-tying fifth straight title. In the final, he met his arch rival, Rafael Nadal. This was a rematch of the previous year’s final, which was won by Federer in four sets. This time Federer would be taken the distance to a fifth and final set to decide the match. Early on in the final set, on two separate occasions, Federer faced double break point against him. At the time, Nadal had not lost serve since the opening set of the match, thus an early break in the fifth would probably mean he would go on to win the match. Federer came up big on these break points, serving bombs to get him out of trouble. On one break point, however, Nadal was able to force a rally, during which time he had a shot lined up to win the point. Nadal tried to run around his backhand and hit his forehand up the line to Federer’s backhand side. The ball narrowly missed the sideline and ended up being wide, giving the point to Federer. That would be Nadal’s last chance to break, as Federer would come back to win the match.

Afterwards, Federer enjoyed tremendous praise from the sports media for having won his fifth straight Wimbledon title, yet the astute observer realizes that it if weren’t for the choices that Nadal made, Federer easily could have lost. Nadal’s choice of shots essentially represents action which has commensurate results; almost like a micro version of the system of karma. In order for the fruits of our actions to come about, many actions must be taken and many must also not be taken. Rafael Nadal chose to play a certain way, deciding on a certain strategy throughout the whole match. While this strategy indicates a choice of direct action, it also represents a type of inaction, for if we decide to play one way, we are also deciding to play against another way. Nadal’s style of play was completely out of Federer’s control, meaning that Federer alone couldn’t take credit for his victory.

Everything else in material life works the same way. There are millions of living entities, all performing their own actions. Everyone is making a choice to behave a certain way, to travel to certain places, to say certain things, etc. It is the combination of all these actions that determines the results that we see. Therefore, the wise among us realize that it takes great fortune and the help of many other “little” forces to enable us to achieve the results we are looking for.

Tom Hankds winning an Oscar Some people readily acknowledge the help given by the little people. The legendary basketball star Michael Jordan used to regularly give thanks to the contribution made by the “supporting cast” of players on his team, crediting them for his success. We see similar statements made by movie stars during their acceptance speeches when winning Academy Awards and Golden Globes. They’ll go through the list of all the people they have to thank, such as their co-stars, directors, producers, family members, etc. They realize that it takes the mutual cooperation of a host of people in order to make a movie successful. For an actor to look good, there has to be a good script, good camera work, quality cast members, etc. There is also the business end of things, for no one would know if an actor did a good job unless they actually saw the movie. Thus a distribution company is required, along with marketing, public relations, etc. We see that for just one movie to be successful, so many people have to work together for a common cause.

These principles also hold true in regards to spiritual life. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, emanating from the mouth of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God created everything in this world, including the law codes known as the shastras. The shastras expound on dharma, or the eternal occupational duty of mankind. Dharma is required in order for us to know how to act under all circumstances. Upon coming to this material world, we are enveloped in a cloud of ignorance, not knowing what our purpose is. The Vedas seek to explain the system of dharma to us so that we’ll know what our constitutional position is and how we can go about achieving perfection in life.

234 The Vedas don’t just consist of one book, but rather voluminous collections of stories, teachings, and descriptions of historical events. These books were written to benefit future generations of mankind. Since we are in a conditioned state, we don’t get to associate with God directly in His personal form. Luckily, we are not left to fend for ourselves; we can still connect with God through other methods such as chanting, hearing, remembering, etc. Reading about the Lord and hearing about His pastimes are great ways to reawaken our loving feelings for Him. This is precisely why the great texts such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Shrimad Bhagavatam were compiled.

Almost all of the major Vedic texts were written by Krishna’s literary incarnation, Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva is considered the great spiritual master, or guru, and his teachings have inspired many of the great saints of the past. Along with Vyasadeva, there are other famous authors such as Valmiki and Tulsidas. Around five hundred years ago, Lord Krishna appeared on earth in the form of a brahmana named Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Though Lord Chaitanya didn’t write much Himself, He directly empowered people like Shrila Rupa Gosvami and Shrila Sanatana Gosvami, who were brothers, to write books about devotion to Lord Vishnu, or Vaishnavism. The two brothers then inspired future generations of writers such as Shrila Jiva Gosvami, Narottama Dasa Thakura, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. The most recent acharya of this disciplic succession was His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who himself authored an outstanding number of books, commentaries, and translations, all for the benefit of the English speaking world.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Naturally, devotees have great love and respect for these saints. If it weren’t for their hard work and dedication to Krishna, we would be left with nothing but the daily newspapers and tabloid magazines to read. There would be no spiritual enlightenment and we would be reduced to a life of misery. For the devotees of Krishna, reading books describing devotional service and the Lord’s pastimes is the most enjoyable activity in life. Yet just as we see with other effects in life, the existence of these great books required not only the effort of the great saints, but the help of many other “little” people.

The giants of the Vedic literary world wrote wonderful books, but many other people helped them along the way. For example, Tulsidas wrote the beautiful poem, the Ramacharitamanasa, which describes the pastimes of Lord Rama, but in order for it to become famous throughout India, other people had to enjoy hearing it. These same people then made sure that future generations got the benefit of hearing this wonderful poem. So we see that it is the “little” people, who often go unnamed and unrecognized, that keep the religious traditions alive; they make sure that Krishna remains famous.

Shrila Prabhupada is another great example. He authored most of his books after he had reached the age of seventy. At the time, there were no laptop computers or word processors, so everything had to be handwritten or typed out on typewriters. Yet Shrila Prabhupada found a unique way to produce many books in a short amount of time. The swami would dictate his translations and commentaries into a tape recorder and then send the tapes off to his disciples. These disciples, who were essentially a team of devotees, would then transcribe, proofread, and layout the text into book form. The books would then be bound and shipped off to various centers around the world for distribution. If it wasn’t for the help of these wonderful servants of Prabhupada, these books certainly would not have been produced at the rapid pace that they were.

Prabhupada dictating Let us fast forward to today. How do current generations of devotees take advantage of the wonderful teachings found in Prabhupada’s books? There must be a continuous distribution effort for this to happen. Books don’t just find their way into our lives on their own. There must be an army of book distributors, people who try their hardest to sell and advertise as many of Prabhupada’s books as possible. When we go to a website or visit a temple to purchase a Krishna related book, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the people who helped make the book available. Most of us will never know these people’s names, for they humbly offered their service to Krishna without any desire for fame or notoriety.

The example of Prabhupada’s books only covers a short duration of time, but we see that texts such as the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam were compiled by Vyasadeva almost five thousand years ago. The events of the Ramayana took place perhaps millions of years ago, yet people today are still able to take advantage of these wonderful works of transcendental literature. For this to be possible, the help of generations upon generations of little people was required. These people kept the traditions of Vaishnava culture alive. Something as simple as a family tradition ensures that future generations can remain devoted to Krishna. The world landscape has changed drastically over the past five thousand years, and yet the Vaishnava culture remains alive and kicking. This wouldn’t be possible were it not for the sincere devotional efforts of so many people behind the scenes, people we will never know.

Radha Krishna The point to all of this is that we don’t need to become great acharyas to make a positive impact in life. Lord Krishna is satisfied as long as we serve Him to the best of our ability. We all can’t be as great as Vyasadeva, nor should we try to be. Our goal should be to make sure that the efforts put forth by all the devotees of the past don’t go to waste. We are keepers of the faith. We don’t need to be the greatest devotee ever, but we should at least do something. Even performing a little devotional service can go a long way.

To start, we should make sure to chant “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” as often as possible while avoiding the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. The key is to make sure that we are abiding by the righteous path; otherwise our teaching efforts won’t be effective. Simply executing devotional service alone can make a huge difference because we influence so many other people simply by the actions we take. This is something we may not realize, but it is undoubtedly true. If others see that we are committed to the path of devotional service, they will at least know who Krishna is and why people choose to serve Him. Moreover, there will come a time in a person’s life when they will contemplate matters of spirituality and religion. When this happens, these same people are likely to approach someone that they think knows who God is and what spiritual life is all about. If earlier on in life they had the opportunity to meet a devotee of Krishna, they are more likely to approach this same person or at least look into the same discipline practiced by said devotee.

We should try our best to keep the tradition of Vaishnava culture alive. This tradition starts at home. If Krishna is worshiped and adored at home, the rest of our family members will be benefited. If we regularly visit Krishna temples, then the community at large will benefit. Success on a large scale depends on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In this regard, there is no excuse for us to not take up devotional service, for even the smallest effort can make a huge difference.