Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gateway to Freedom

Lord Krishna “At the present moment the human society teaches one to love his country or family or his personal self, but there is no information where to repose the loving propensity so that everyone can become happy. That missing point is Krishna, and the process of devotional service teaches us how to stimulate our original love for Krishna and how to be situated in that position where we can enjoy our blissful life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure)

To be successfully convinced of a new way of thinking, a new philosophy on life, one’s current philosophy needs to be challenged. A successful challenge is mounted when the information presented sinks in with the target audience. Of all the methods of information transport, none is more potent and better at delivering results than hearing. More powerful than seeing or witnessing in person, hearing, when tied to the proper source and subject matter, directly attacks the thought processes of the listener. Through active listening, thought and argument are immediately provoked, forcing the recipient to take stock of their current worldview and philosophy on life. Once argument is provoked, the challenger either mounts a response or shows an eagerness to hear more of the counterargument. When faced with the most difficult task in life, that of finding our way out of the endless cycle of birth and death brought on by material contact, the solution is to take to the hearing process, lending our ears and thoughts to topics relating to that one person who can give us the pleasure we are so desperately looking for: Lord Krishna.

Freedom is described as a natural yearning, but why do we need it? Are we not already free in the world that we currently live in? In the arenas of politics and human affairs, the restrictions imposed on movement and choice are always at issue. By applying a little intelligence, one can realize that initially all forms of life were free. Even the animals were allowed to roam freely on the earth, choosing what to eat, where to live, and how to enjoy. If the animals are afforded this uninhibited motion, then surely the human beings must as well. The difference between a human being and an animal is that a person has a much larger capacity for intelligence. Potential is meaningless unless tapped into, so if the human being doesn’t make the most of their advanced form of body, they remain at the same level as the animal. The infant human being is actually less intelligent than many adult animal species, yet due to its potential for acquiring knowledge, the human can eventually take to activities guided by the highest knowledge.

Ironically, though the human being has the highest potential for intelligence, it has the most problems. The dog or cat never has to worry about the mortgage payment, in-laws, family squabbles, job security, or an overarching government. Rather, your average animal simply takes to eating, sleeping, mating and defending without any worries. An animal isn’t even wise enough to know that it will eventually die. The human being, though armed with this knowledge, misuses their freedom by taking exclusively to sense gratification, a propensity which mimics the animal species. Though we all start off with independence and total freedom, it is the free exercise of our power that eventually results in tyranny and discomfort.

Lord Krishna True freedom is a state of mind, not an exercise of outward features. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately point out that the identity of the individual, regardless of its particular body type, comes from the spirit soul residing within. Even the animals are identified with their soul and not their outer dress. The purpose of the creation is to allow for the wayward souls, autonomous spiritual entities with limited powers, to imitate the workings and functions of the Supreme Object of Pleasure. God is not a manmade concoction, nor is He an order-supplier working at the will of His children. He is much more than any fictional character or gift-giver; He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Though God is the original enjoyer of everything, He doesn’t exercise this ability alone. Instead, He joyously engages in sportive activities with those who choose to associate with Him. When the desire for the Divine’s association dwindles, the living entities are allowed to pretend to play God on a temporary playing field. Not surprisingly, the result of the game driven by ignorance will always be pain and suffering, due simply to the fact that the greatest enjoyer, and thus the greatest source of pleasure, has nothing to do with the playing field.

From the unhappiness that results from the misuse of free will, we see that there can never be true freedom when God is absent from the thought processes of the living entity. No amount of adjustments or exercises of freedom can bring about a permanent favorable condition in a world devoid of Supreme Spirit. Even in family life, which is seen as the ultimate goal for those who are looking for worldly enjoyments, there is great struggle and pain. Though we may see a nice family that appears to be happy, there is much conflict that is masked. The husband-wife dynamic is a very difficult one to get control over, with each party having their own interests. Just as a football team cannot succeed with two quarterbacks, and an army with more than one head leader, a marriage cannot succeed when both parties take the helm. One person must agree to lead and the other must abide by the instructions of that leader.

Even when the marriage is following these standards, there are other issues to contend with, such as in-laws and children. With divergent viewpoints, there will always be struggle. And based on the fact that every individual in this world has a desire for freedom and the exercise of that free-will there will certainly be clashes. Not everyone will want to exercise their freedom in the same way. Some will want to adhere to the standards of civilized life enjoined by the shastras, or scriptures. Others will want to enjoy all the time, seeking preyas, or short-term gain, and not caring for societal dictates and mores. Therefore it is not surprising to see husbands beating wives, wives cursing out the parents of their husbands, children being mistreated, and divorce. Such issues are the result of desires for freedom meeting at a head and colliding. When two automobiles travelling at high speeds collide, surely the result will be chaos. When the desires associated with independence devoid of God’s association collide with one another, the results are similarly not pretty.

“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.34)

Krishna and Arjuna Though Krishna allowed the wayward souls to descend to the temporary playing field, He is not so unkind as to leave them there permanently unattended. Rather, the doors to the imperishable heavenly realm are always open, provided that one wants to return. In this way, real freedom can be found in a second. The process to secure liberation involves surrender, which results from the purification of desire. For a conditioned soul who has developed an aversion to divine love over many lifetimes to turn around and surrender unto Krishna, they have to be convinced of the validity of the process and the rewards it will provide. To be firmly convinced of an opposing viewpoint, one’s current thought processes have to be challenged. The conditioned mind must be instigated into seriously taking stock of the causes and effects that are visible in the present life and how such a cycle will forever repeat in the absence of spiritual purification.

Approaching someone and pointing out the flaws in their way of life and thought processes is a simple way of stimulating argument and discussion. Personal contact is how most arguments are battled currently, so this practice isn’t necessarily anything new. The effectiveness of such an approach can be debated, but we know for certain that there are some cons to this form of information transfer. For starters, the person being instructed will likely feel threatened in a way and thus immediately be put on guard. As soon as someone else starts telling us that we’re doing something wrong, the initial reaction is, “Who does this person think they are? As if they are so perfect; I’ve seen this person’s flaws, so who are they to talk to me? What do they know anyway?”

The emotional counter-challenge presented really has no relation to the statements previously provided by the challenger. Rather, the defense is one based on instinct, a viewpoint that immediately looks for flaws in the other person’s character and presentation. This isn’t to say that all personal contact follows this line, but certainly there is a great possibility of it. The Vedas, the scriptures passed down from Krishna at the beginning of creation, inform us that there is a superior method of information transfer, one that is most effective at tackling the conditioned entity’s flawed thought processes. This method is the hearing process, and its effectiveness is evidenced by the fact that the Vedas themselves were first passed down through an aural tradition. For many thousands of years, there was no written word or televised addresses given by great leaders. Rather, all important information, that pertaining to the thoughts, words and deeds of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was passed down through the hearing process, with one instructor kindly discoursing on topics relating to Krishna in the company of others. Though there was some personal contact involved, the hearing process was at the forefront, as the audience took in the words, processed them, and passed them on to their dependents.

Though the Vedas and their followers are great advocates of the hearing process, evidence of the effectiveness of acquiring knowledge through hearing can be seen in discussions pertaining to worldly matters as well. For example, say that we presented a political speech to two different people. One person saw the speech given on television by the politician, while the other listened to a radio broadcast of it. The person who heard the speech would likely have much more to say about it later on. In the hearing process, there are no distractions pertaining to visuals. There is no attention paid to the speaker’s appearance and his body signals. In the audible medium, the content speaks for itself, and since the information is directly taken in by the ear, the mind immediately begins to process what it learns. Surely the more controversial elements will not be accepted blindly, but that is a good thing. The listener will have to process the information, decide whether or not they agree with it, and then produce a response.

Worshiping Krishna When the hearing practice is applied to spiritual discourses, the results are outstanding. If we hear lectures about the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Ramayana delivered by lovers of God, the information is directly imparted into our mind. As soon as something unfamiliar is encountered, the brain starts to work. Since the conditioned entity has grown accustomed to separation from Krishna over many births, the natural instinct is to challenge the deliverer of the divine message. The challenging spirit may appear to be detrimental, but it is actually beneficial. When spiritual information is presented by an authority figure, one who is completely surrendered unto Krishna, it is flawless. When the recipient challenges such information, they will have to come up with an argument that is somewhat presentable. When said argument gets subsequently defeated by the speaker, as it surely will, the recipient will have to either regroup or reassess their original thought process. The more times the challenging conditioned entity is defeated in their arguments, the more likely they are to ultimately surrender unto the speaker, who will in turn teach them how to go back home, back to Godhead.

Thus we see that hearing about Krishna represents the gateway to real freedom, a permanent return to the spiritual sky, where every day brings loving association with the only person truly capable of providing happiness. When freedom is misused, the results are troublesome, but when free will is directed at the person who has granted us that independence, the results are unmatched in their brilliance. Understanding how to properly use our freedom is very difficult, so commitment to the hearing process is required. Only through challenging our current thought processes can we be convinced of the supremacy of the sublime engagement known as devotional service. Only when the conditioned entity has firmly established the transcendental practice of chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in their daily lives can the doors to the heavenly kingdom be opened for them.

With the visual transfer of information, such as video and televised programs, the challenge to the thought processes aren’t there. Visual media are intended to appeal to emotion rather than intellect. Emotions are based solely off the attachments to various objects of the senses. The senses themselves are temporary, so simple emotional stimulation is not very conducive to the acquisition of knowledge. If anything, it diverts the attention of the conscientious individual away from the real mission of life, that of returning to the spiritual sky. Hearing, being free of these defects, forces the listener to apply intelligence and reason. It is for this reason that even emotional appeals pertaining to material affairs have a very slim chance of succeeding in mediums such as talk radio. An audience member can find lack of substance anywhere, for ignorance is simply the absence of intelligence. When unintelligence is presented regularly in an audible form, the listener will quickly be able to identify it for what it is: useless information. Ignorance is best transported through visual media; hence the popularity of the debauchery so commonly portrayed in television, news and film.

Lord Krishna Fortunately for us, the exalted Vaishnava saints of the past have documented much of their verbal instruction. Krishna’s liberated associates have no need to perform any activity in this world, but due to their causeless mercy on the fallen souls, the Vaishnavas take to kindly instructing others. By consulting their written instructions found in books like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and commentaries on the same, we can have our thoughts stimulated into natural emotions of pure love for God, or bhava. Reading is another type of hearing, for it is an isolated form of aural reception wherein the inner voice serves as the via-medium for the information transfer. Hearing through reading is greatly effective, as even the outside distractions of the world are removed, allowing the reader to focus specifically on the teachings presented. When the instruction comes from the proper source, i.e. a lover of Krishna, the results will always be favorable.