Monday, January 31, 2011

The Infinite Job

Krishna and Balaram stealing butter “When the creation is completely terminated, when there is no existence of the Vedas, no existence of material time, no existence of the gross and subtle material elements, and when all the living entities are in the nonmanifested stage resting within Narayana, then all these manufactured processes become null and void and cannot act. Devotional service, however, is eternally going on in the eternal spiritual world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

In the realm of economics, companies aiming to earn a profit will invariably expand the reach of their operations to any market where they can increase productivity and simultaneously reduce operational costs. As such, call center activity is quite frequent these days with the opening up of foreign markets. American-based companies can now shift their highest costs, those relating to labor, to countries where productive workers can be found and hired at lower wages. Be it customer service, technical support, or collections, a call center proves to be effective because it has strong manpower capabilities in relation to phone service. For those companies initiating the phone calls, the autodialer, or automatic calling unit, plays an integral role. One can manually enter in phone numbers through touchtone phones or through computer “soft phones”, but the pace of dialing is far exceeded using a dialing machine that has predictive capabilities. The central component to the dialer functions is the job, a campaign which is fed phone numbers and accounts and then given a strategy for how to dial the calling list. When the job is started, agents log in and wait for phone calls to be passed to them. When the job finishes, the dialer must be fed a new list of numbers and then restarted. Indeed, if new accounts need to be dialed, the current job either needs to be explicitly stopped or one must wait until the job completes. The infinite job, however, can run perpetually, with agents logging in and out as they please. The infinite job, depending initially only on the first list of accounts fed and the number of agents currently logged in, continues without interruption, even if new accounts are added to the calling list. In a similar manner, there is only one engagement that goes on forever, regardless of the manifestation of the material world, or external surroundings. Irrespective of time or space, this sublime engagement, known as devotional service, can never be interrupted by any outside forces or checked by any polluted motivation. Due to these properties, devotional service supplants any other occupational duty, spiritual or otherwise, in terms of its effectiveness.

Bhagavad-gita What is devotional service? Does it have to do with religion? Generally, spirituality, or any bona fide method of worship, is instituted through sacred texts known as scriptures. There are different scriptures based on the religious traditions of specific time periods. Depending on language, ethnic makeup and socio-economic conditions, a specific set of religious values will take precedence amongst a particular group of people. Regardless of the exact makeup of the discipline, the guiding force, the set of standards adhered to, emanate from a particular text, be it a Bible, Koran, or Bhagavad-gita. In the Vedic tradition, the ancient spiritual disciplines emanating from India, the collective set of law codes are known as the Vedas. Unlike other traditions which may have one or two noteworthy scriptures, Vedic literature has innumerable texts, each of which expounds on the different truths espoused by the original Vedas.

Not surprisingly, the Vedas are purported to originate from God, who, in His four-handed form of Narayana, simply exhaled once and created this and innumerable other universes. With any population of creatures, there must be an accompanying guiding force, standards that inform the inhabitants of a particular land what activities should be done and which ones should be avoided. The original set of law codes, the guidebook for humanity, was imparted into the heart of the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. These codes, known as the singular Veda, are also known as the shrutis, meaning that which is heard. Since the written word wasn’t required in the early days of creation, the shrutis were sufficient for spiritual instruction. Passed through an aural tradition from generation to generation, the shrutis eventually made their way into written form. The original Veda, being divided into four branches, became known as the Vedas. Written accounts of historical incidents past, present and future describing the truths of the Vedas followed in what became known as the Puranas. In addition, descriptions of the life and pastimes of one of Narayana’s most celebrated incarnations, Lord Rama, were put together in poetry form in the Ramayana of Valmiki. Still not satisfied with the level of information available to mankind, Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedas in written form, composed the Mahabharata, a celebrated work commonly considered the fifth Veda.

Vyasadeva Due to its wide breadth and scope, Vedic literature has become the most comprehensive, complete, flawless and authorized set of scriptures in the world. Obviously anyone who follows the traditions of the Vedas would confirm this viewpoint, but what really stands Vedic literature apart from other theistic traditions is the multi-faceted approach provided towards achieving salvation. Religion is intended for those who are looking for a higher engagement in life, something which transcends the animalistic tendencies of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Those who are steeply engrossed in the hankering and lamenting that come with pursuits of enhancing beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and knowledge have no inkling towards religiosity, nor do they care for any of the written words found in the sacred texts of the world.

“Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.20)

Rather, religion, or spirituality, is meant for those who want to know the meaning of life, the purpose to their existence. To this end, different systems are prescribed, wherein the practitioners are presented specific paths to follow. The ultimate goal is always the same, though the uniformity of the objective may not be revealed to the participant in the beginning stages. For example, in the Vedic tradition, those who are strongly attached to material life are advised to take shelter of various demigods and specific functions aimed at pleasing them. We can think of demigods as being similar to saints, celestial figures with extraordinary powers. They are not God, nor can they ever be, but they have been deputed by Him to carry out specific functions. Demigod worship is similar to the practice of praying to God to grant wishes. “Please God, let me have this. I don’t ask You for much. If You come through for me, I’ll never bother You again.”

Lord Krishna The plea for God’s personal intervention is quite common amongst those with a limited understanding of the forms, names and features of the original Personality of Godhead. The demigod worshipers, though they may have a slightly higher understanding of the nature of the original Divine Being, will still ask for similar rewards of good fortune. For such staunch adherents to the workings of material nature, demigod worship is available as a way to allow for a gradual progression towards the highest consciousness. The rewards distributed by the demigods actually come from the original Personality of Godhead, and since these boons deal exclusively with material nature, they cannot be liberating in any way.

“The demigods cannot award benediction to the devotees without the permission of the Supreme Lord. The living entity may forget that everything is the property of the Supreme Lord, but the demigods do not forget.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.22 Purport)

If demigod worship, or praying to the Lord with a business-like mindset, is not considered first class, why do such processes even exist? To help us understand the variety in religious doctrines, the analogy to the rewards provided to children for performing unwanted tasks can be studied. A father of a sick son will desperately want his child to take a specific form of medicine, even if the elixir is not very palatable to the tongue. The son will refuse to take such medicine, so in order to heal the child the father will offer an incentive. “If you take this medicine, I will give you nice candy afterward.” The son will then take the medicine, all the while thinking of the candy. The intelligent person will see that the candy actually has no relation to the end-goal. In fact, the candy adds no nutritional value to the son’s diet, yet since it served as the impetus for the more important practice of taking medicine, the reward was deemed worthy of presentation.

King Dasharatha with his sons The Vedas are full of other disciplines which function in a manner similar to demigod worship, wherein results are promised that aren’t related to the ultimate objective in life in order to entice the conditioned soul to take up a spiritual mindset. Though the specifics of the different practices can be quite elaborate, the disciplines can be grouped into three general categories: fruitive work, mental speculation and meditational yoga. Each of these categories has their champions, those who take it to be the most sublime engagement. The fruitive workers will say that enjoyment is the name of the game in life, so by taking to regulated activity, wherein one tries to satisfy their senses while simultaneously adhering to a general set of religious principles, one can find the greatest happiness in life.

The mental speculators view fruitive activity to be the source of great pain. Every act of karma brings negative and positive results. For instance, we may plant a seed on some land in hopes of growing nice trees with flowers. Indeed, this analogy perfectly illustrates why karma is translated to mean “fruitive activity”. The flowers may certainly grow, but great effort is taken to see the end-result. Moreover, the trees also bring thorns with them. In the pursuit of these fruits, i.e. the harvest, one will surely be pricked by many of these thorns. Depending on the size of the thorn and the magnitude of the protrusion, the resulting pain can be quite severe. “This thorn in my side is from the tree I planted; it tears me and I bleed”, is what a famous rock band once sung. Wanting to avoid any pains and pleasures, the mental speculators look to stop all activity and achieve peace through inactivity. The exact nature of the final stage of so-called enlightenment can vary, with some hoping for complete nothingness, while others desire to merge into a state of Truth represented by a blissful light.

The mindset of the meditational yogi has hints of both the fruitive worker and the mental speculator. The yogi is looking for tremendous powers, capabilities not available in the conditioned state. By taking to various sitting postures and breathing exercises, one is able to marshal the forces within the body, subjugating the influences of the senses. The perfections that result are known as siddhis, and they can range from the ability to become very small, all the way up to the ability to travel through space outside of one’s body. The stereotypical “out of body experience” is similar to what the yogi is looking for.

While these different activities are all rooted in spiritual traditions, especially those found in the Vedas, their flaw is that they are limited by the nature of the texts describing them. Since the Vedas, or any other set of scriptures for that matter, were created at some point in time, they will also be eventually destroyed in the future. As a result, the prescriptions and complementary results of the disciplines described within these texts will also be subject to destruction. The world we live in constantly goes through cycles of creation and destruction, similar to how the soul transmigrates from one body to another. The idea of getting only one life is as silly as the idea that every person only gets one day to live. A day, month, week, or year is simply a division of time, a measure based on the angle of vision of the individual. When we wake up each morning, we think that another day in our life has passed, but what if we were awake the night before? Has a day not incremented then? Irrespective of the influence of time and our perceptions, our identity remains the same. A life, or lifetime, is simply a designation of time assigned by outside entities. When we see a body start to develop, remain for some time and then ultimately get destroyed, we delineate the time period as a life. Yet throughout this life, the force within the body, the soul, remains the same in quality.

“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, Bg. 2.20)

Lord Krishna Unlike the outer dresses of the individual species, the material bodies, and the entire universe itself, the soul is never created or destroyed; it exists forever. The property of eternality is inherited from the soul’s infallible source, the Supreme Lord. As part and parcel of the original personality of Godhead, the individual souls are always blissful and knowledgeable. More importantly, they are eternal. Therefore it would stand to reason that the soul would have an eternal engagement. Though the Vedas attempt to describe the nature of this engagement, the discipline is far superior to any spiritual tradition or set of scriptures. Just as the soul has always existed, so has its eternal occupation.

So what is the sublime engagement? Any specific religious practice not directly related to the eternal occupation in its pure form is intended to bring an end-result. The karmi is looking for a nice fruit, the mental speculator renunciation and an end to attachment, and the yogi a siddhi. The bhakta, or devotee, is not looking for anything except the continuation of his bhakti. Therefore the practices of the bhakta, which are collectively known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, are the only true form of religion. Bhakti remains alive long past the destruction of creation. Just as Narayana exhaled to create innumerable planets and their creatures, He inhales at the time of dissolution. Those souls who still have an aversion to the divine love that is bhakti then enter into the body of Narayana and get released when the subsequent creation manifests.

What about the bhaktas? What happens to those who regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”? At the time of their current body’s dissolution, such pure souls go directly to the imperishable spiritual realm, the land where time and space don’t have any influence. The ever-existing spiritual land is where the original Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, and His various incarnations reside. Not only does God in His eternal, spiritual and blissful forms reside in this imperishable realm, but so do His liberated associates, those without any desire for fruitive gain, mystic perfection, or alleviation of distress. Just as love is deemed the most enjoyable activity of the mundane world, transcendental love is the only engagement of the liberated soul, one who has purified their service propensity.

Those who do not understand bhakti-yoga will group the discipline in with other religious practices. Bhakti will be viewed simply as an avenue leading to the end-goal of mukti, or liberation. The concept of liberation, which is also known as salvation, is present in every spiritual tradition. It is the end-goal, the championship trophy of spiritual life if you will. Yet bhakti far exceeds the reward of salvation because devotion to God knows no diminution. One can reside in the material world or in the spiritual world and still continue to love God. The loving propensity towards the Lord is not dependent on creation or destruction or even the existence of religious law codes. Indeed, the bhaktas immediately transcend any and all rules and regulations. They take the medicine without needing the candy because they know that deference to dharma will please the Supreme Lord.

“O Rama, for as long as You shall stand before me, even if it be for one hundred years, I will always remain Your servant. Therefore You should be the one to choose a beautiful and appropriate place for the cottage. After You have selected a spot, please then command me to start building.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 15.7)

Rama and Lakshmana When viewed as a transcendentalist’s achievement, salvation brings an end to religious practice. Be it the merging into a state of bliss, the attainment of a state of void, the acquisition of every material opulence imaginable, or the achievement of the greatest mystic power, all forms of mundane salvation bring a stop to assertive spiritual service. But bhakti-yoga is the infinite job, something that never ends. Shri Lakshmana, the glorious and dedicated younger brother of Lord Rama, said it best when he told the Supreme Personality of Godhead that he would serve Him for one hundred years if possible. Regardless of the amount of time the two would be together, Lakshmana would always remain Rama’s loving servant. By joining the infinite job, we can stay on the path of transcendental love forever. By regularly chanting the Lord’s names, remembering His beautiful and sweet form, and aiding His exalted associates in their religious practices we can always remain on the straightened path. Long after this universe and its creatures have passed, we can continue to enjoy the sweet, loving exchanges that are exclusive to the spiritual world, the land that time can never touch.