“What to speak of demigods, Purushas, Rishabhas, and even great beings [planets] - every living entity who accepts a material body becomes subject to the influence of destiny.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.12)
The forces of the divine affect every single living entity. There is not a mortal being among us who is immune from destiny’s influence. It is not that some people are exempt from nature’s laws due to their size, stature, or physical strength. Destiny comes from God, thus its influence is divine. Destiny’s most powerful instrument for change is time. As the saying goes, “time heals all wounds”, time also takes away all of our acquired material possessions and relationships. Time causes everyone to dwindle, diminish, and suffer loss. The wise, however, are not bewildered by the influence of time, for they understand the true mission of life.
To understand the influence of time, we need a frame of reference; something that will show us how changes occur. For the purposes of this discussion, we can study the human body. As we all know, the human body is quite frail. However strong a person may be, disease can attack them at any moment. The Vedas summarize all miseries into three categories, with one of them being the miseries brought on by our own mind and body. The disease of cancer is a great example of this. Leukemia, lymphoma, breast cancer, etc. are all diseases of the body that develop within. Once cancer cells gather steam, they start to attack the body and, over time, this eventually leads to death. No one knows for sure how or why people get cancer, but we do know its effects. Though much research has been done to fight it, cancer remains one of the greatest killers of man.
These kinds of diseases show us the frail nature of the body. Starting from when we are born, we develop a great attachment to our body. This is quite natural, for we have to live with ourselves at all moments. We are born into ignorance, so we don’t know anything else beyond what we experience in the current life. Through acquired intelligence, however, we can see that the body is constantly changing. In the early years, our growth is quite rapid. Some parents like to measure their children’s height periodically just to see how fast they are growing. Eventually the growth stops and we reach the stage of adulthood. This doesn’t mean the body stops changing though. Our face starts to change, wrinkles develop, we have less energy, etc. Eventually we become so old and crippled that we can’t even walk on our own. These changes are all due to the influence of time, which is constantly attacking the frail material body.
Knowing these facts, the wise realize that it is not good to develop an attachment to the body. If something is capable of killing us from within, why would we want to develop an attachment to it? Looking at the body as a giant cancer cell, we can see that we are forced to live in a death trap as soon as we take birth. If we shouldn’t overly concern ourselves with the demands of the body, what should we shift our focus to? What should be the prime objective of our work? The Vedas tell us that beyond this perishable material world is a place free of anxieties and doubts. Currently we all live with doubts because we know the temporary nature of things. Even if we have a comfortable life right now, we know that the situation can change in an instant. Besides acquiring diseases like cancer, other types of miseries can afflict us in the form of external events such as earthquakes, natural disasters, and also the actions of other living entities.
The spiritual world is the only place that is free of anxieties. Therefore it is known as Vaikuntha. On the Vaikuntha planets, and the planets of Krishnaloka above them, reside God and His innumerable internal expansions. In this realm, time does not exist; therefore there is no loss or diminution of any kind. Everyone who resides in the spiritual world possesses a spiritual body which is immune from the effects of material nature. We can think of it as a giant insulated bubble. Spirit can never be contaminated by matter; therefore anything spiritual is absolute, eternal, and always full of knowledge.
Penetrating the bubble of the spiritual world is not easy though. We can’t get there by amassing wealth, developing a rocket ship, or even through taking to dry renunciation. The only way to get to the personal spiritual realm is to associate with its leader: God. Lord Krishna, or God, is the only person who is always imperishable and unchanging. He is described as aja, unborn, and anadi, having no beginning. If we associate with our body, which is composed of the fallible material elements, we are destined to suffer heartache, pain, and loss. On the other hand, if we associate with the person who is above the influence of time, we are guaranteed to have an eternal, blissful life after our current one expires.
Those who aren’t religiously inclined may not like the idea of having to associate with God. “Why should I focus my time on worshiping some imaginary person? How do I even know that God exists?” In reality, people are already worshipping a “God”. Since we know how fallible mankind is, and how frail the human body is, we have a tendency to adore and idolize elevated living beings. Celebrities, athletes, politicians, scientists, and scholars are all lauded and praised by the general public. They acquire this fame due to their extraordinary abilities in various material endeavors. Movie stars get to play roles where they are depicted as brave heroes who attract the most beautiful women. Star athletes can hit a baseball thrown at them at 100 miles per hour, run a marathon, or hit a golf ball farther and more consistently than anyone else. Politicians can mesmerize throngs of supporters and implement policies that credit them with saving nations. Scientists use their brain power to develop new life-prolonging medicines. They also come up with wonderful theories that describe the laws of nature. Great scholars postulate on the meaning of life and develop philosophies on how one should go about their daily lives.
Due to their extraordinary abilities, these people are undoubtedly worthy of the praise and accolades they receive, but we see that their achievements all have one thing in common: they all relate to enhancing the human experience as it pertains to the body. As mentioned before, the body is frail and lives completely under the influence of time. No amount of material wealth, comforts, or physical achievements can make the body immune from the effects of time. Not a single one of the great personalities of the past was able to stop the death process. No matter their size or stature, none of them could live forever. By giving so much attention to these elevated living entities, we are essentially viewing them as God. This is a faulty viewpoint because God Himself can never die, nor can He suffer any diminution.
Just as the Vaikuntha planets are free from anxieties and doubts, the only discipline in life which is free from doubts is that path which leads us to the Vaikuntha planets. That discipline is known as dharma, or religiosity. Dharma means that which always exists with something, a defining quality. For the living entities, that which defines us is our relation to God. Though our bodies are subject to destruction, our souls are not. The soul is what identifies us; it is the only thing that remains at the time of death.
“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)
Though the soul is imperishable, it is nevertheless subject to the influences of material nature. Nature, through the influence of time, affects the body by causing it to diminish. Nature affects the soul by causing it to repeatedly take birth in a material body. Thus the cycle of birth and death repeats, while the soul itself remains uncontaminated. There is a superior soul, however, which is not subject to the influence of nature. This soul belongs to God, who is also known as maha-purusha, or the most exalted person.
The existence of our soul, the jivatma, is defined by its relationship with the supreme soul, Paramatma. This relationship is quite beautiful, for it involves reciprocal love. In a nutshell, we are meant to be lovers of God. This shouldn’t be mistaken as love of the mundane variety. Spiritual love is known as Krishna-prema, and it is completely uncontaminated. Dharma means to abide by a set of regulative principles which keeps our soul always in contact with God.
Dharma can take many forms due to the fact that living entities possess different qualities and have tendencies to perform different work. Therefore there is a specific term, bhagavata-dharma, which describes the highest religious system. Bhagavata refers to Bhagavan, or God. Bhagavan means one who possesses all opulences, and this is most certainly an appropriate way to describe God. If we dovetail all our activities with service to Bhagavan, we are adhering to bhagavata-dharma. There are many different processes that make up this dharma, but the most effective one for this age is the constant chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Practicing bhagavata-dharma is a little tricky since we actually don’t give up our material bodies right away. This means that we must simultaneously remain in contact with nature while taking up the sublime mission of devotional service. Though bhagavata-dharma eventually leads to ascension to the spiritual world, we shouldn’t think that our material miseries will come to an end right away. Time still has the same effect on our body, regardless of how we act. The difference with bhagavata-dharma is that our activities will eventually lead us to direct association with God when our life is over. If we neglect this service, we will be forced to come under time’s influence again upon our next birth.
The key to being successful in spiritual life is to not be bewildered by the influence of time and destiny. Good and bad things will surely happen to all of us, but we shouldn’t let these temporary gains or setbacks take us off the righteous path. This was the lesson taught by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Person, maha-purusha, appeared on earth in a spiritual body which resembled that of an ordinary human being. This person was named Rama, and He played the role of a pious prince who was dedicated to dharma. God knows it will be difficult for us to turn to spiritual life on our own. To help us achieve the ultimate mission of life, the Lord kindly appears on earth from time to time to guide us on the right path.
Lord Rama performed many glorious activities, the most noteworthy of which are chronicled in the wonderful poem written by Maharishi Valmiki known as the Ramayana. Lord Rama appeared as a human being after all, so He had to endure many of the same hardships that we mortal beings suffer through. On one occasion, Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped while the couple was residing in the forest. Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, was also there with Him. After realizing that Sita was missing, Rama and Lakshmana began a feverish search for her whereabouts. Rama eventually lost His composure and gave way to lamentation. He contemplated destroying the whole world as a punishment to those who allowed His wife to be kidnapped.
At this time, Lakshmana stepped in to counsel his brother. Lakshmana was Rama’s faithful servant who was so dedicated to his elder brother that he would not allow Him to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya and roam the forests alone. Lakshmana always remained by Rama’s side and viewed himself as his brother’s keeper. Seeing Rama distraught, Lakshmana offered some sound words of advice. The above referenced statement was part of his counsel. We see that Lakshmana makes reference to the fact that even great celestial beings such as the demigods have to suffer loss. In addition to the demigods, Lakshmana also mentions other celestial beings who reside on different planets and even those living entities who are themselves in charge of various heavenly bodies. The demigods are elevated living entities who manage the affairs of the material world. Since they are god-like, they are referred to as devas or devatas.
“The inhabitants of Kraunchadvipa are divided into four castes, called the Purushas, Rishabhas, Dravinas and Devakas. Using the waters of those sanctified rivers, they worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead by offering a palmful of water at the lotus feet of Varuna, the demigod who has a form of water.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.20.22)
In the Vedic tradition, the demigods are given great respect. These celestial beings are certainly worthy of all the adulation they receive, for no ordinary human being could do what they do. Nevertheless, they are not as powerful as God, thus they too are forced to come under the influence of destiny. Lakshmana is reminding Rama of this. He is asking Rama to endure this hardship of Sita’s kidnap and not allow it to divert Him from the righteous path. Lord Rama greatly appreciated this advice and would soon regain His senses. The Lord would continue His search and eventually find Sita. Rama would kill Sita’s kidnapper, the Rakshasa demon Ravana, in a great battle on the island kingdom of Lanka.
We are all in a race against time. Eventually we will die and our body will be destroyed. This same body that is worshiped and praised by others, will one day be buried in the ground or burned to ashes. Therefore we should make the most of the time we have right now by taking up devotional service to God. We should not get hung up on the wins and losses, for they will all come on their own. By remaining on the righteous path, we are sure to meet with success in the end. This body will eventually lay down to a permanent rest. Until that time comes, we should cling to the holy name of God and take it as our life and soul. At the time of death, this name will take us straight to the spiritual world.