Monday, August 16, 2010

Where There’s A Will

Lord Krishna “My dear Lord, You are always full with transcendental bliss, excelling all other spiritual positions. And so, simply by seeing You from a distant place, I have come to the conclusion that there is no need of my being situated in the transcendental bliss of impersonal Brahman.” (A mystic approaching Lord Krishna, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 35)

It’s interesting to see the frenzy that’s associated with rock concerts and the effort it takes to go about attending one of them. In order to increase sales of their latest albums, and also to whet the appetite of their adoring fans, rock bands will often embark on worldwide tours where they play to packed houses full of adoring fans. Depending on the nature of the tour, a band may only stop in a particular city for one night, thus making it more difficult for fans to get tickets to the show. Even with such obstacles, dedicated fans can’t pass up an opportunity to see their favorite bands face-to-face, so they’ll go to great lengths to make sure they get tickets. Fans derive great pleasure from seeing their bands perform live, so in order to seek out that pleasure, no expense or pain is spared. By the same principle, the highest transcendental pleasure can be achieved by personally seeking out God and viewing Him face-to-face.

Rock concert venuePopular recording artists and groups really don’t need to tour. Just putting out a high-selling CD is enough to allow a band to earn a decent living. They can give interviews to the media and put out promotional videos which appear online and on music television stations. But invariably, popular musicians will want to go on tour to spread the word about their music. The fans too will want to see their favorite bands in action, playing their songs in a live arena. This frenzy associated with a rock concert makes for an interesting study. After all, from the fan’s perspective, shouldn’t it be enough just to listen to the music? Music is just sound after all, so what could be gained from seeing the producers of said music in person?

The reality is that there is great demand for tickets to rock concerts. In most cities, the tickets go on sale to the general public many months prior to the actual date of the show. Made aware of the on-sale time, fans will form lines at the ticket counters, trying to ensure that they get tickets before the show sells out. Many times, people start forming lines outside the ticket office the night before the tickets actually go on sale. They essentially sleep outside, setting up a mini-camp. In order to reduce the crowd sizes, many venues distribute armbands to fans who show up early enough. These armbands are essentially passes which allow fans first crack at buying tickets. Online ticket sales have similar issues to contend with, with queues setup and CAPTCHA tests put in place to ensure that people have a fair chance at purchasing tickets.

Metallica concert The hoopla doesn’t stop once the tickets are purchased. The concert is where the fun really begins; where the true enjoyment is derived. Many rock concerts are held in small venues which don’t have any seats. The entire show is general admission, so concert goers stand the entire time and compete with each other for space. This has the added advantage of allowing dedicated fans to get as close to the stage as they want to. Even with arena rock shows which have designated seating, the experience for the fans is still exhilarating. The source of the joy comes from the fact that a fan can see their favorite band members face-to-face. During the performance, there is a connection between the producers of the music and the audience. Many times the crowd will be so enthused that they will sing along to all the words, with the volume of their singing surpassing that of the vocalist on stage. Another added benefit to a live concert is that a fan can see how the music affects the band members. If the band is really into the performance, a fan will see that the music makes the band members feel just as good as it makes the audience members feel. This symbiotic relationship serves as a great source of pleasure, making all the trials and tribulations associated with attending the concert worth it.

Bhagavad-gita A similar, more purified experience can be found in spiritual life. The ancient scriptures of India tell us that there is only one God. While there is one supreme controller, He can be realized through a variety of different features depending on a person’s aptitude for spiritual knowledge. For example, some people can only conceive of a “God” and nothing else. They don’t know what He looks like or if He is even a He. While they may not know of His form, they still have a firm faith in the existence of a God and the importance of adhering to religious codes. There are others who think of God in terms of positive and negative, taking the Lord to be the Supreme Absolute Truth. They realize that this world is full of dualities, meaning that there are no absolute truths, just relative ones. For example, one person may consider the acquisition of material wealth as the ultimate objective in life, while another may see material possessions as the greatest cause of distress. We can’t say with full certainty which side is correct, therefore the truths are considered relative. The Absolute Truth, however, must be one which transcends all the dualities of material nature. People who think in these terms try to seek out this Absolute Truth, their vision of God, through various methods such as analytical study and meditation.

Bhagavan Shri Krishna Anyone who is searching after God is certainly looking for pleasure; otherwise there would be no point to spiritual activity. While God certainly can take many different forms, including one that is formless [ponder that idea], He still has an original form, name, and personality. That Supreme Personality is known as Lord Shri Krishna, or Bhagavan. Bhagavan is the original form from which all others emanate. Since Krishna is the original, it stands to reason that He will also be the greatest source of pleasure. Other features of God, such as impersonal Brahman and localized Paramatma, can certainly provide pleasure to the faithful transcendentalist, but this pleasure pales in comparison to the bliss enjoyed by those who associate directly with Bhagavan. Therefore the highest discipline in life is that set of processes that helps one achieve eternal association with Bhagavan Shri Krishna.

“All different varieties of atmaramas [those who take pleasure in atma, or spirit self], especially those established on the path of self-realization, though freed from all kinds of material bondage, desire to render unalloyed devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead. This means that the Lord possesses transcendental qualities and therefore can attract everyone, including liberated souls.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.7.10)

How do we know that Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure? Luckily for us, we have many historical examples that we can reference. The terms “liberation” and “salvation” are thrown around quite often when discussing theology. Not surprisingly, the Vedas give us a more concrete definition of liberation. The path to salvation is referred to as apavarga, which means the end to defeat, exhaustion, bondage, fearfulness, and death. God is so kind to us that we don’t necessarily have to realize Him in His original feature to have these five distressful conditions removed. A person can become liberated if they learn to get rid of these miserable conditions. In the past, there have been several notable personalities who achieved liberation while in their present bodies. This means that they didn’t have to die to become free from the repeated cycle of birth and death. This cycle is known as reincarnation in today’s parlance, but it is essentially just the transmigration of the soul. In more simple terms, the soul can be thought of as the driver of the car known as the body. Without a driver, a car is useless, and similarly, without a soul, a material body is useless and considered dead. According to Vedic information, the soul represents our identity, so we are all drivers in a sense. However, we are constantly changing cars depending on the work we perform and the desires we have at the time of death.

Four Kumaras with Lord Vishnu Liberation means not having to find a new car. The easiest way to achieve liberation is to eliminate all desires. If we don’t want a new car, the laws of nature won’t give us one. But as we know, becoming free from the dictates of the senses is not an easy thing. In times past, people would achieve liberation after performing great austerities and dedicating themselves to meditation. This was the case with Shukadeva Gosvami, the son of the famous Vyasadeva, the author of almost all Vedic literature. The four Kumaras, sons of Lord Brahma, also became liberated by becoming free of material desires.

No one can actually become free of desires, so when we speak of liberated personalities, we are referring to the fact that they are free of material desires. As mentioned before, the body can be thought of as a car. A car is nothing more than a hunk of scrap metal molded together into a finer machine. The human body, or any material body for that matter, can be thought of in the same light. The body is just a mixture of chemicals: bile, mucus, air, pus, blood, stool, etc., put together into something which is capable of performing activity. As long as a person has a desire to associate with this car, they are considered to have material desires. A liberated personality, however, shifts their desires from the car to the owner of the car. The owner of the car is the spirit soul, thus a liberated soul takes pleasure in the self, or atma. For this reason, they are often referred to as atmarama, or self-satisfied.

Lord Krishna While Shukadeva Gosvami and the four Kumaras realized the pleasure of the self after much effort, they still weren’t deriving the highest form of pleasure. Though they were already considered atmaramas, they nevertheless eventually became attracted to Bhagavan Shri Krishna. This one fact alone demonstrates that Krishna is the most attractive person in the universe. He is so attractive that He even catches the attention of those who are above desire. If someone is considered self-satisfied, it means that they are in need of nothing. We can think of this principle in terms of eating. If we are really hungry and someone puts a fresh pizza pie in front of us, naturally we will become attracted by the food. We will eat at least one slice, maybe two, or maybe even three. Pizza is a very nice dish after all. Bread, cheese, tomato sauce…all piping hot; what’s not to like? Now let’s fast forward to when our meal is finished. After having eaten to our satisfaction, if someone puts another fresh pie in front of us, what will be our reaction? Naturally, we won’t have any attraction for the food, for we are already satisfied. By the same token, atmaramas are considered full in the spiritual sense, so nothing really attracts them. Yet Lord Krishna is so attractive that He even stimulates the spiritual senses of those who are considered beyond stimulation.

In the above referenced quote, a mystic is praising Krishna by stating that just by seeing the Lord from a distance, he has immediately forgotten about Brahman. The all-encompassing impersonal energy is known as Brahman. While it is difficult to explain Brahman by words, the best way to picture it would be to think of the sunshine. If we think of Lord Krishna as the all-pervading sun, Brahman would be the beams of light emanating off of this sun. Brahman is uncontaminated, and since it comes from Krishna, it is non-different from Him. Therefore those who achieve perfection in methods other than direct worship of Krishna, or one of His vishnu-tattva expansions, bask in the pleasure of Brahman. Yet as mentioned before, Krishna is the original form of God, therefore those who see Him immediately forget about the rays that emanate from Him. The rays become paltry in the face of the source of the energy, Krishna.

Now that we know Krishna is the supreme object of pleasure, how do we go about seeing Him? This isn’t such an easy thing, for the Brahman effulgence is very strong. As a result, many people become blinded by it. To help us understand how to go about seeing Krishna, we can look to the example of the rock concert. A dedicated fan will do whatever it takes to see their favorite band in person. This means that even if the concert tour doesn’t stop in their particular city, a fan will travel far and wide to any other venue which is hosting a concert. If tickets are sold out, the dedicated fan will find other ways to get them; scalping, online ticket auctions, etc. The key ingredient is love and devotion; as the famous saying goes, “where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

Radha Krishna deitiesThe same mindset can be adopted by those wanting to see God. If a person is sincere enough in their desire to see the Lord, Krishna will make sure they are successful. A well-meaning devotee goes straight for the highest source of transcendental pleasure, bypassing mystic yoga, fruitive activity, and impersonal philosophy. In order to see Krishna, one must always keep Him on the mind. This is known as Krishna consciousness. How does one go about remembering God at all times? In this age, the recommended practice is the constant chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. There are also other aspects to devotional service such as hearing, reading books, viewing the deity in the temple, and eating Krishna prasadam. The secret is to do the necessary things that will catch Krishna’s attention. If the Lord sees our devotion, He will surely make a visit to a town near us.