Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Happiest Ending

Lord Krishna “There is a proverb in Sanskrit which says, ‘Disappointment gives rise to the greatest satisfaction.’ In other words, when one's sentiment or ambition becomes too great and is not fulfilled until after seemingly hopeless tribulation, that is taken as the greatest satisfaction.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 31)

Religious scriptures do their best to inform us of the ultimate objective in life, i.e. finding God and developing a relationship with Him. While this assertive approach certainly helps us move forward in spiritual life, there are still some questions that are left unanswered. For example, if material life is so horrible, and a life devoid of God is not worth living, why was this world created in the first place? According to Vedic philosophy, the answer is that the spirit souls cajoled God into creating this phantasmagoria known as material life. Essentially, God knew this place was horrible, but not wanting to interfere with our independence, He let us come here anyway.

While this sheds some light on the issue of creation, it doesn’t answer a larger question. Why would God allow us to suffer in this way? He knows more than we do after all, so He easily could have stopped us from coming here. While mankind has searched for the answer to this question since the beginning of time, a good way to try to understand God’s intentions is to study the nature of love and the enjoyment derived from it. In this regard, the storyline from a typical movie or television show can give us hints into the life cycle of the soul and how the soul trapped in this cycle can ultimately see a happy end to its time on earth.

Cinema Cinema has been popular ever since its inception. An outgrowth of written drama and theater, cinema provides an outlet for the fatigued living entity. Through watching stories unfold on screen, the mentally and physically spent living entities can escape from their daily troubles and pressures. What’s interesting to note, however, is that most stories follow the same plot line. In fact, most people already know the subject matter of a movie before they actually go to see it in the theaters or buy it on DVD. Movie trailers give away the basic story of the movie, stating the problem and the initial steps that are taken towards resolution. Most of us can figure out how these movies will end, especially the action movies. Yet even knowing this, we still attend these movies and derive great enjoyment.

Let us review the story line of a typical movie. This framework also applies to television sitcoms and dramas. The beginning of a movie starts with the introduction to the characters. The audience member is made aware of the setting of the movie, its main characters, and the basic scope of the actions that will take place. Following this introduction, the basic problem of the movie is established. Without a central problem that needs solving, a movie or television show will be boring to watch. If there wasn’t a problem to be solved, the viewer would have no interest in the story. The movie experience would be akin to watching paint dry.

You've Got Mail - classic chick flick After the problem is introduced, the rest of the story focuses on resolution. Most of the time, we already know what the resolution is going to be. For example, in action movies, the bad guys will eventually be caught. The climax of the movie is usually when the forces of good and evil clash against one another in a grand fight. Just when all hope is lost and it looks like the bad guys are about to win, the good guys come back and emerge victorious. This same sequence is followed even in romantic films. The typical “chick flick” details the story of a romantic love affair which for some reason or another doesn’t work out. The man is already involved with another woman, the woman is about to get married to another man, or the parents don’t approve of the relationship. Towards the conclusion of the movie, it looks like true love will never be found, the man and woman will never get together.  But finally something happens which turns things in favor of the movie’s protagonists. Eventually everything ends well, and the moviegoers are left feeling happy. Most of us know that the movies we watch will end in this manner, and yet we still like watching them. Why is this?

The secret lies in the fact that we have to watch the entire movie in order to derive the full benefit. For example, say we were to attend an action movie and arrive late. By some mischance or other, we take our seats during the last half hour of the movie. We would only see the ending, i.e. the climax. We’d see the major struggle and the ultimate victory of the good guys. Yet there wouldn’t be much enjoyment derived out of this experience. We only enjoy a movie if we get to follow along with the struggles of the main characters. Without knowledge of the initial problem, and the several failed attempts at solving that problem, the ultimate resolution doesn’t give us as much joy. We need the struggle in order to savor the victory. This one concept can teach us a lot about why we are put on this earth and how we can go about achieving the happiest of endings.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Lord Krishna The famous Bhagavad-gita informs us that our current life is by no means the first one we’ve had. The soul transmigrates from body to body through the process commonly known as reincarnation. Reincarnation has a mystical aspect to it, but it’s really not that difficult to understand. Our current body itself goes through so many changes. We once had the body of a tiny pea living inside the womb of our mother, and yet that same pea turned into an adult body. Throughout this process, the body completely changed, but our identity didn’t. Along the same lines, the soul exits the current body at the time of death and assumes a new one based on karma.

Karma is any activity which leads to the development of a material body. Usually karma is equated with good and bad results, but in reality, it deals exclusively with the development of an outer covering for the soul. Good and bad karma is anything that brings about good and bad results in relation to the material body. Therefore karma really has nothing to do with the soul. The soul may be placed in a higher species or a lower one, but it still remains subject to the laws of nature and reincarnation. The Vedas tell us that the point to human life is to rise above the effects of karma; to secure salvation for the soul. The aim of human life is to end reincarnation and bring the soul back to its original home, the spiritual sky where God resides.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)

Based on these facts, we see that the original problem for the living entity, the cause of all other problems, is its residence in the material world. As long as one has material desires at the time of death, they are forced to take birth in this temporary and miserable world. In order to reside in this material world, one must assume a material body. The secret to success is finding a way out of this misery and pain. This is where our story begins. Our problem has been defined, but not the solution.

house of cards What are some of the solutions we try? The first thing we try to do is find happiness while in the material world. Based on the knowledge of the properties of the soul and the laws of karma, a sober person can understand that true happiness can never be found in this world. Even if one finds great wealth and wonderful material enjoyment, that enjoyment eventually comes to an end at the time of death. In the next life, the person starts the process all over again from scratch. It’s as if we’re working hard to build a giant house of cards, only to have someone come in at the end to knock it down.

We don’t have to wait until the time of death to experience this frustration. Material life means constantly going through cycles of happiness and despair, gain and loss, ups and downs. Our problems stem from the false mindset of “I” and “Mine”. Thinking in these terms, we’re always accepting and rejecting things. One day we’re accepting a gym membership, while the next day we are swearing off of exercise. One day we’re accepting a significant other through marriage, while the next day we are rejecting the same person through divorce. These interests toggle back and forth like a light switch.

Eventually a person grows tired of material enjoyment. Their frustration will lead them to spiritual life. They’ll want to know why they are put through so much trouble and how they can get out of it. Yet not all spiritual paths are the same. In this world, one will find different religious systems, each of which is based on the different qualities that people inherently possess. Therefore a person may take to a sub-standard or inferior spiritual discipline in the beginning stages. For example, the opposite extreme of material enjoyment is renunciation. Material enjoyment is known as bhoga, while dry renunciation is known as tyaga. Unable to find happiness through the pursuit of bhoga, a person will try their hand at tyaga. Tyaga can involve many different exercises: from mental speculation about the differences between matter and spirit, to severe penances and difficult yoga postures.

Just like with bhoga, tyaga can provide some temporary form of happiness. Yet this enjoyment doesn’t last long, for we see that many yogis take to drinking and smoking after their yoga sessions. Great transcendentalists also come back down to material life and take to philanthropy and charity. So material enjoyment doesn’t do the trick and neither does dry renunciation. It sure seems like all hope is lost, doesn’t it? If this is where our movie [the story of our life] ended, it certainly wouldn’t be a movie worth watching. Luckily for us, there is another way towards salvation, the right way.

“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss enlightening one another and conversing about Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 10.9)

Shrimati Radharani - always thinking of Krishna The aim of spiritual life is to realize three things: that God is our best friend, the original proprietor of everything, and the supreme object of pleasure. This third point is the most important. According to Vedic information, God has an eternal form which is full of bliss and knowledge. While He can certainly take to any form He chooses, He still has an original body which pure souls can interact with. This original form is known as Krishna, which means one who is all-attractive. Naturally, if one is the most attractive, whoever interacts with such a person will also derive the greatest pleasure. Therefore Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, the panacea of hope and light that the living entities have been searching after for so many lifetimes.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.19)

Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya How do we find Krishna? First, it must be acknowledged that simply making a sincere effort to find Krishna is enough to secure success in spiritual life. Why is this? A person only takes to devotional service after many many lifetimes of trying to find the ultimate happiness. Therefore those who sincerely search after the ultimate reservoir of pleasure must be considered very unique. In the current age, the easiest way to connect with Krishna is by chanting His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. God is absolute, so there is no difference between His original form and His name. Chanting has a wonderful effect; it changes our consciousness. By regularly engaging in chanting or any other process of bhakti-yoga [devotional service], one’s consciousness gradually shifts from material life to spiritual life. One who thinks of Krishna at the time of death immediately transcends karma and returns straight to Krishna’s spiritual abode, where they get to enjoy direct association with the Lord for eternity.

For those who find Krishna, the extreme joy that results can be directly related to the repeated suffering, in the form of defeat after defeat, which was endured in the past. These defeats represented a form of hopelessness. When there is despair, one gives up their hope of victory. If you think you have a chance at winning and you end up succeeding, it certainly brings about joy. But if you achieve victory after thinking that all hope was lost, the enjoyment derived is unmatched. This is the phenomenon that great writers have tapped into since the beginning of time. Lord Krishna, being the original person and poet, invented this concept. By allowing the jiva souls to come to earth and search after Him, the Lord gave these souls the opportunity to eventually experience the highest form of bliss.

Lord Krishna So does this mean we’ll all eventually find Krishna? Surely it does, but when we’ll actually find Him is up to us. Moreover, knowing that we can find Him should be reason enough to take to devotional service immediately. The happy ending is awaiting us right now. We have already suffered enough, so there is no reason to put ourselves through any more pain. We shouldn’t make the story any longer than it needs to be. As the famous playwright Williams Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit. Through Krishna consciousness, let’s wrap this story up and take our souls back to the Lord’s eternal abode.