“The process of devotional service is the revival of Krishna consciousness, and if the devotee is fortunate enough to understand that the material energy is not separated from Krishna, then he can utilize the material energy and its products in the service of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 27)
Despite his best efforts, man in the conditioned state is forced to act according to his nature. The demands of the body determine the type of activities adopted; those obligations that must be met and the subsequent actions required to satisfy such demands. Under this paradigm, wherein one’s nature acts as the guiding force, the supreme enjoyer cannot be taken to be the individual worker, for he is simply abiding by the dictates of higher forces. Therefore religion, in the true sense, is the set of activities which aims to please the only entity who is capable of truly enjoying. How one can go about satisfying that person is the subject matter for the study of Vedanta philosophy, as instituted by the original enjoyer Himself, Lord Krishna.
“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
Vedanta is a Sanskrit word that means the end, or conclusion, of all knowledge. Every bit of information gathered during the journey through life ideally leads one closer to an end-goal. For example, learning how to crawl in our infancy is a stepping stone towards learning how to walk. Knowing how to walk is necessary in order to perform important functions pertaining to the body later on in life. Parents would love to coddle their children forever, but they refrain from doing so for one important reason. Since the parents are older than the children, they know that they will likely pass on from this world before their kids will. As such, the children will inevitably be left to fend for themselves, and they will also likely have to support their own dependents in the future. Therefore it is important to make sure children are trained up to be self-sufficient adults.
The examples of learning how to crawl, walk and talk are small in scope, but the same principles can be applied to any knowledge-gathering activity. In the field of politics, law, medicine or mathematics, one must learn basic concepts prior to taking on more advanced issues. Even after a degree is earned in a particular field of study, there is the follow-up phase of actually putting one’s knowledge to practice. Spirituality, or religion with a purpose, is similar in this regard. We can’t learn all there is to know in the beginning stages, so we must take in small bits of information, process them, and then build upon that foundation. Vedanta philosophy is intended for those who have reached the end of their knowledge gathering practices. Vedanta takes one to the ultimate conclusion, that truth which trumps all others.
The philosophy that describes the conclusion of all knowledge can be quite complex and intricate, for it deals with the differences between matter and spirit. But at the same time, Vedanta can be understood very quickly; it all depends on the angle of vision of the learner. Vedanta has a founder, an original person who instituted its teachings. Not surprisingly, this person is also the object of Vedanta philosophy, the entity that spirituality aims to please. Though it is generally accepted that religion is that pursuit which aims to keep one in touch with God, the definition of who or what constitutes the original Divine Entity is often left unexplored. God is taken to be the Supreme Being, but what exactly does this mean?
Vedanta philosophy, a system of instruction passed down through a tradition of activities and teachings put forth by great Vedic saints of the past, states that there are three distinct aspects to the Supreme Lord. The first is that He is the original proprietor of everything, a concept pretty easy to understand because it is the natural tendency to look to God as being the greatest order supplier. We may be able to secure hundreds of television channels by paying our monthly cable bill, and we may be able to secure loads of sumptuous foodstuff by paying the grocer, but God is the only entity that can fulfill any and every order. When we are in trouble, we don’t pray to any person except the Supreme Lord because we know He can deliver; He is the owner of everything after all.
But simply paying tribute to the Lord is not enough to be deemed religious behavior of the highest class. The truths of life don’t end with worship of God in hopes of a reward. Looking to the Lord to fulfill orders is something even an ignorant child will do, thus it cannot be an activity derived from the ultimate knowledge system of Vedanta. The wise seers versed in Vedic philosophy declare that the second aspect of God’s primary features is that He is the best friend of the living entities. Our friends are those who share common interests and experiences with us. Due to the camaraderie that exists, our friends look out for us and are happy when we are happy. In this regard, it shouldn’t surprise us that God is our dearmost friend. He is the greatest of well-wishers, but the activities He actually hopes we’ll take up remain unknown to us. Though He is our best friend, He doesn’t want us engaging in behavior that will ultimately lead us to a distressful condition. Yet just as our friends can’t stop us, no matter how hard they try, from hurting ourselves, the Supreme Lord does not stand in the way of our independence and free will.
The third aspect to the definition of God is probably the most important. More than just the original owner who can supply all necessities and more than just the best friend of every form of life, the Supreme Lord is the greatest of enjoyers. This fact is the most important because it speaks to our mission in life. In order for there to be enjoyment, there must be an exchange of emotion, love and service. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord enjoys with other spirit souls, individually autonomous spiritual sparks full of energy. The individual energy fragments are simply expansions of the Lord’s powers, therefore there is oneness between the complete whole known as God and His fragmental sparks. Just as God is the greatest enjoyer, He is also the only person capable of providing the greatest amount of pleasure to the individual souls.
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)
So the formula for success seems simple enough: connect with God and be happy in His association. But there are a few wrinkles to contend with. For starters, taking to Vedanta philosophy is not very easy, as the conditioned entity from the time of birth becomes distracted by the allures of the material nature around it. Upon exit from the womb, the newborn is fully ignorant. The soul certainly exists forever, but during the events of birth and death, the outer covering known as the body is replaced. Upon receiving a new set of outer garments, knowledge of past events is forgotten. The subtle elements of mind, intelligence and false ego do follow the living entity in its journey through reincarnation. Therefore if there was some progress made in the acquisition of spiritual knowledge in a previous life, that same knowledge will eventually come to bear again, allowing the individual to restart their spiritual pursuits from the position where they previously stopped.
As already mentioned, the primary view of God is that of a grand order supplier. This viewpoint supplants all others because the living entity initially takes to personal enjoyment by default, and thus it needs someone to supply the necessities for that enjoyment. But real religion, a system which works off the proper mentality, not only takes to paying tribute to God through the offering of service, but it also views the Lord as the only enjoyer of such kind efforts. Similar to how a loved one will offer us their care and guidance without any expectation of reciprocation, the purified spirit soul takes to worshiping God through regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in hopes of pleasing the spiritual senses of the master of all senses, Hrishikesha.
In order for the Lord to be viewed with love and affection, He must be addressed by a sound vibration, a name. Though He certainly can be nameless and formless, His original feature is that of an all-attractive entity; hence devotees refer to this original form as Krishna. Since Krishna provides transcendental pleasure, He is also addressed as Rama. Since the Lord enjoys the company of His eternally liberated associates in the spiritual world, His pleasure potency companions are also addressed in the perfect prayer that is the Hare Krishna mantra. Loving feelings flow much more easily and purely when there are names and forms involved. This isn’t to say that Krishna’s form only exists for the offering of love, but rather it is His natural position to be loved and adored by all through the via medium of the holy name. The soul’s inherent characteristic is that of a lover of God. All other forms of service are based off this love. In the material world, the loving propensity unfortunately gets redirected to other areas of interest and thus goes by different names such as romantic love, lust, nationalism, altruism and even hatred.
Understanding that Krishna is the sole enjoyer is certainly very difficult, but through simple logical deduction, a basic understanding of the proper conclusion can be reached. In the state of ignorance, the individual takes itself to be the only enjoyer. Yet through a quick study of the workings of nature, such a conclusion proves to be false. No matter how powerful a person is, they are forced to work under the dictates of nature. For example, the sun rises in the morning and then sets at night. Such movement affects not only the growth of plants, but also the activities that one can take up during the day. If the individual were the supreme enjoyer, they could surely take to any activity at any time of the day. Yet since they must adhere to the cycles of the sun and the various associated weather patterns, their activities are checked.
The same principle applies to the workings of the body. Who among us wouldn’t love to not have to ever visit the restroom again? What about sleeping; why are we forced to rest for so long every day? Such activities are mandated under the stringent laws of nature; a force which was created by Krishna to act as an illusory agent for those wanting to imitate the activities of the Lord. Individual souls can try to imitate God, but since they lack the three aforementioned characteristics exclusively possessed by the Supreme Spirit, they will always fail in their attempts. The most obvious indication of man’s fallibility is death. Since time immemorial, those averse to the practice of divine love have tried to get their arms around the concept of mortality and their own impending death. Though the dedicated worshipers of matter and sense gratification believe they have made great strides towards prolonging life, there is still no cure for death. Even living for one hundred years is seen as a great achievement, though the world itself has been in existence for billions of years.
“O learned one, in this iron age of Kali men have but short lives. They are quarrelsome, lazy, misguided, unlucky and, above all, always disturbed.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.10)
Since Krishna is not limited by the forces of nature, only He can be the true enjoyer. Our natural role is that of enjoyed, and the sooner we realize this position, the happier we will be. Vedanta philosophy stresses oneness with Krishna, but this is not the equality that most of us think of. Equality is generally taken to be sameness in terms of attributes, outcomes and levels of enjoyment. In the realm of spirituality, there is equality shared amongst the spiritual fragments emanating from Krishna, but the individual pieces can never be equal to or one with the original whole. The individuals can, however, enjoy the most intimate of relationships with the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. When the soul has purified its consciousness to the point that it only works for Krishna’s satisfaction, there is a oneness in the resulting relationship. Just as there cannot be an enjoyable rock concert without both the band on stage and the audience in the stadium, the Supreme Lord never desires to enjoy alone; there must be an enjoyed.
“I am the only enjoyer and the only object of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.24)
So how do we purify our consciousness? The Vedic tradition is built completely around achieving this goal. In Vedic rituals, there is certainly an element of prayer involved, wherein the performer asks for certain benedictions, but in all types of sacrifice, there is an enjoyer. Lord Vishnu, Krishna’s four-handed and ever-opulent form, is the enjoyer of all Vedic sacrifices; hence one of the Lord’s names is Yajneshvara, which means the Lord of all yajnas, or sacrifices. In a formal ritual, flowers, fruits and other nice preparations are offered up to the Lord for His enjoyment. These offered items are known as bhoga, which means enjoyment. Those doing the offering, while maintaining a hope that the Lord will enjoy the food fully, have no expectation of reciprocation. Of course Vishnu is in need of nothing, so He kindly returns the offerings after sanctifying them. The performers then take the remnants, known as prasadam, and distribute them to others for their spiritual benefit. The potency of prasadam can never be properly estimated, for simply the taste of Krishna is enough to reawaken the dormant loving feelings that are just waiting to break free.
The ritual is only one aspect of the collective set of activities that full under the category of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. It is not that bhakti-yoga is divided into different sections, but rather there are innumerable activities, when performed in the proper mood, that can constitute as bhakti. The ritual performed exclusively for Yajneshvara’s satisfaction is certainly an act of bhakti. In the current day and age, not everyone will have the time or the means to properly perform formal rituals on a regular basis. Therefore the sacrifice recommended for those living in the fast-paced world of today is the sankirtana yajna, wherein the Lord’s names are recited regularly in a loving way. Just as Krishna accepts the kind offerings put before Him in a formal ritual, He most certainly hears the transcendental sound vibrations that are used to praise Him.
Though man is limited in his functions due to the nature that surrounds him, the process of bhakti remains open to him at all stages of life. Since Krishna is the controller of nature, He can ensure that anyone who wants out of the cycle of birth and death will be granted release. Though our own enjoyment is limited, Krishna’s is not. Therefore we can take to chanting, hearing, remembering and worshiping on a daily basis and be forever benefitted.