“O best of men, today, by worshiping You - Rama who is the greatest of all the gods - my religious practices have become fruitful and my ascension to the heavenly realm will surely take place.” (Shabari speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 74.12)
Herein we get one of the most concise descriptions about spiritual life and what is needed for success. There are many religious systems, or dharmas, that people adopt over the course of their many lifetimes on earth, but there is one method of worship, and also one object of worship, that stands head and shoulders above all others. Those who worship Lord Krishna, or one of His Vishnu expansions such as Lord Narayana or Rama, achieve all the opulences and benedictions available to those who practice other religious systems. Not only is Narayana the chief among the gods, but the rewards bestowed to His devotees are also foremost.
Why would we want rewards from God? Activity is sparked by personal interest. Unless there is something in it for us, why would we take to a particular activity? Even acts of charity and general altruism have personal motives built into them. “I will give in charity so that one day they can find a cure to cancer or other deadly disease. I will help the downtrodden so that their suffering will end. In this way, I will feel better and so will the recipients of my charity.” Even this perceived unselfishness has a hidden agenda behind it. By the same token, spiritualists also look for personal benefits. The driving force to all activity is the potential for enjoyment.
Enjoyment has two aspects to it. The first part involves the removal of distresses. The Vedas tell us that all miseries in life come from one of three sources. Adhibhautika miseries come from other living entities. Bhautika refers to bhuta, which means a living entity. These miseries are easy to identify. We run into someone during the day that is mean to us, or maybe we see another person that wants to steal our possessions. In extreme cases there is war, government tyranny, or oppression. These are all adhibhautika miseries. The second kind of misery is that which comes from our own body and mind; hence it is referred to as adhyatmika. Adhyamta refers to the soul, the spirit inside of us which causes all of our activities. Every action we perform has a commensurate reaction; hence we feel either happy or sad depending on the nature of the result. Our own body can cause us great grief, either through diseases or through mental agony. If the love of our life suddenly leaves us or if we don’t do well on a test, the resulting sadness is very difficult to overcome. The third kind of misery is that which comes about from Mother Nature. Earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, etc. are all part of nature’s workings. The Vedas refer to these miseries as Adhidaivika. This nature has some intelligence behind it though.
The word “adhidaivika” means that which comes from daiva, or the divine. Daiva is derived from the word deva, which means a god or a celestial being. The common misconception associated with Hinduism is that it involves many gods. This is indeed true, but at the same time, it is misleading. There are many devas, but there is only one chief God, or Supreme Personality of Godhead. If there is one God, why are there so many devas? This brings us back to the issue of enjoyment. We experience varieties of enjoyment and happiness in this world, but actually there is a place where the level of enjoyment is much higher. Enjoyment involves the removal of distress and also an object from which one derives pleasure. Normally these objects are of the material variety: clothes, jewels, money, sex life, etc. We see these objects in our everyday life, but they all actually originate elsewhere. We can think of life on earth as a reflection of something that exists in the real form somewhere else. That somewhere is heaven, the planetary system above ours.
The devas reside in heaven. They live a much more opulent lifestyle than we do. Devas also live for much longer than we do. The original deva, the first created living entity, is Lord Brahma. He lives for billions and billions of years. He is the oldest person in the world and his associates are also very old. Since they are elevated living entities, the devas, who are also known as demigods, reside on heavenly planets where there is an abundance of gold, women, jewels, and other opulences. Heaven exists for those who are interested in advanced material enjoyment. Ascension to heaven isn’t easy, for it requires the performance of many great sacrifices, or yajnas, and adherence to piety.
“Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice, seeking the heavenly planets, worship Me indirectly. They take birth on the planet of Indra, where they enjoy godly delights.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.20)
The desire to ascend to heaven is quite natural. The threefold miseries of life can get to be too much for us after a while. We want a way out, a place to go where we won’t have to feel miserable anymore. In addition, we’d like to have a place where life can be enjoyed to the fullest. In this respect, there are many sacrifices and other activities prescribed for those with heavenly aspirations. Most of these recommendations can be found in the karma-kanda section of the Vedas. Karma refers to fruitive activity and kanda means a section or branch. Other religious systems have similar rituals and practices aimed at delivering one to the heavenly planets.
As mentioned before, there is a chief deva, or celestial figure. This is the person most of us refer to as God. Unlike the demigods, however, God has His own planetary system where He resides. Why is this? God has nothing to do with material life. He is above the so-called enjoyment that comes through association with matter. Just as the enjoyment on earth is a reflection of the enjoyment that exists in heaven, the opulences in heaven are simply a reflection of the imperishable riches that exist in the spiritual world where God resides. This reflection isn’t complete, but rather it is inverted, or even perverted. The distinction is made because real enjoyment can only come through association with God, who is also known as Lord Krishna. The word Krishna means all-attractive, thus anyone who associates with the all-attractive will surely feel the greatest enjoyment. If we are attracted to something, we will naturally derive some enjoyment out of it. The more attractive something is, the happier it will make us once we associate with it. Since God is the most attractive, it stands to reason that association with Him will give us a feeling of bliss that we’ve never felt before.
Based on this information, we can conclude that the highest religious practice is that which takes us towards achieving association with the original God. While we can compare the levels of enjoyment on the different planetary systems, there really is no way to quantify the enjoyment felt on the spiritual platform. There is real enjoyment, that which comes through association with Krishna, and false, or illusory, enjoyment. Currently we only know about the illusory enjoyment. We are so illusioned by objects of matter that we think that going to the heavenly planets of the devas will make us happier than we are now. In the eyes of a conditioned entity the demigods certainly do enjoy on a higher level, but even their time there is limited. Eventually everything in this material creation will be destroyed. The same can’t be said of God’s spiritual world.
So how do we associate with God? We know how to perform sacrifices and offer prayers in hopes of a better condition in life, but how do we take the necessary steps to achieve Krishna’s personal association? Thankfully for us, the Lord is kind enough to appear on earth from time to time to show us the way. Not only does He perform transcendental activities for the benefit of others, but His devotees also show us how to properly worship the Lord and please Him to the best of one’s ability. One such interaction between God and His devotee took place many thousands of years ago in the forests of India. Lord Krishna, who is also known by His four-handed form of Lord Narayana or Vishnu, came to earth in the form of a handsome and pious prince named Rama. Since Lord Rama is an avatara of Lord Vishnu, He is not different from God. Worship of Rama is worship of God. We living entities, bhutas, are separated expansions of God, so we can’t be considered to be on the same level.
Lord Rama performed many wonderful activities during His time on earth. On one occasion, He and His younger brother Lakshmana visited the female sage Shabari. At the time, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, had just been kidnapped, so the Lord was trying to find her whereabouts. Rama was told to visit the sage Shabari, who was residing in the forest and performing great austerities. Shabari’s teachers had told her that she would one day achieve salvation by meeting Rama and Lakshmana face to face. In the above referenced quote, Shabari is offering a nice prayer to the Lord after having kindly welcomed the two princes to her hermitage.
This one prayer by Shabari sufficiently describes the meaning of life and how to attain perfection. She kindly addressed Rama as deva vare, which means the chief of the devas. Moreover, she said that she could now easily get to heaven or anywhere else since she had worshiped Rama. Shabari here clearly spells out the difference between Narayana and any other deva, or demigod. Since Nara means man, Narayana is He who is the source of all naras. Since God is the source of all bhutas, or living entities, He is also the source of all enjoyment. By worshiping Rama, one can achieve all the opulences and enjoyment available to those who take up other religious practices.
Since worship of Krishna automatically brings about heavenly opulences and other enjoyments, why would we take to any other type of worship? Not only is Rama the best of the devas, but those who worship Him are the best of the dharmacaris, or those dedicated to religious principles. So how do we perform this worship? It is quite simple actually. We have to show the same level of respect and hospitality towards Lord Rama [God] that Shabari did. Immediately questions may arise as to how we can meet Lord Rama. Sure, Shabari got to welcome Him to her home, but how do we bring Rama into our house? Why would He even agree to come visit us?
The key is to have a desire to associate with God. This desire must be pure and without personal motive. The Lord will already give us what we want, so there is no reason to ask Him for enjoyment or any other kind of pleasure. Shabari simply had a desire to see God, to welcome Him, and to reciprocate the feelings of love that He already had shown her. Shabari hadn’t met Rama before, but she knew that God loved her. That love came in the form of her spiritual guides, or gurus. The bona fide spiritual master is a godsend, a person sent from the spiritual world to help us rekindle our forgotten relationship with the Supreme Lord.
“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form-to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.22)
So how do we find our guru? How do we receive Krishna’s mercy in the form of the gurudeva? If we are sincere in our desires, Krishna will certainly bring us the guru we need. Luckily for us, there are many bona fide spiritual masters that we can easily approach today without having to leave our homes. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the foremost teacher of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, for the people of this age. Though He is no longer present on this planet, His written instructions and recorded words live on. In this way, Shrila Prabhupada never dies.
How do we associate with this great swami? We simply have to follow his instructions, the primary of which calls for 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”, and abstention from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication. After we steadily follow these regulations for an extended period of time, we can then take up the process of deity worship. Personal association with God is reserved for the great devotees like Shabari, but it doesn’t mean that we are left out in the cold. The deity is the worshipable form of the Lord, hence it is known as the archa vigraha. If we treat the archa-murti with the same love and respect that Shabari showed to Rama, we will most certainly be granted the same benediction of salvation.