Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Light Sets Me Free

Lord Krishna “Everyone should understand that Lord Krishna is the well-wisher of everyone and should take shelter unto Krishna. In this way one can become completely confident and satisfied knowing that he has someone who is able to give him all protection.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

The difference between just learning about a high concept or truth and actually understanding it can be seen through the behavior that results. If we have really understood a particularly groundbreaking piece of information, something which noticeably goes against our current thought processes, the result should be an alteration in behavior, a change in mindset which is visible in the activities that follow. Behavior is based on habit, so when habits aren’t broken, regardless of whatever assertions are made pertaining to purity of activity, behavior cannot be altered,. In the realm of spirituality the same principle applies most appropriately to the concept of God, or the original Divine Being, offering unflinching protection to those who surrender unto Him. The blanket offer for safety from the fears of the temporary world is present in most disciplines of spirituality, but it is rarely understood, acted upon, or taken advantage of.

To see the difference between learning facts and truly understanding them, we can take the simple example of a gambler. Gambling is typically viewed as an unhealthy activity; a vice, something to be avoided. In the Vedic tradition, the set of values and teachings emanating from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, gambling is considered one of the four pillars of sinful life. Sin is not something to be avoided simply because a holier than thou preacher has demanded it. Rather, sin, in all fields of endeavor, is any activity that leads to an unfavorable condition in the future. Mankind’s original sin is the desire to separate from the company of the one entity truly deserving of our undivided and unflinching attention. Every other sin, or unauthorized activity, descends from the initial desire to separate from Supreme Spirit. Higher authorities, those who are knowledgeable of the truths of spirituality and the reasons for their rules and regulations, don’t recommend sinful activities because of the overall negative conditions that result, the most intense of which is the continued separation in terms of consciousness from the Divine Entity, the one person who is wholly aware of all the thoughts, desires and activities of every living entity existing past, present and future.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)

Lord Krishna Gambling, which as a sinful activity is a descendant of the initial sin of wanting to part from the company of Supreme Spirit, leads to further separation in consciousness from God. But gambling also has many negative side effects in areas not considered to be related to spirituality. The gambling addict typically follows this pattern of behavior: In the beginning the gambler is aware that excessive wagering is bad for them. Perhaps in the past they have been lectured on the issue or they may have seen a film or television series episode dedicated to exposing the pitfalls and harmful effects of taking to gambling without thought. As with any other sinful activity, the fuel that keeps the desire for gambling well and alive is the loss of rationale. According to Vedic shastra, all activity in the material world, the realm that exists separately and apart from the imperishable and sublime spiritual sky, falls into one of three modes: goodness, passion, or ignorance.

Gambling, which is nothing more than a compact form of fruitive activity, falls squarely into the mode of passion. Rajo-guna, or the mode of passion, is very easy to understand because most human beings associate with it by default. The mode of passion involves fruitive activity, or those actions taken to with a desired end result pertaining to sense enjoyment. The object of pleasure for activities in this mode is the individual self, or some other associated entity which possesses a material body. Only the Original Being, the Supreme Divine Entity in the spiritual sky, never assumes a material body. Hence any activity that is not performed for His benefit and which is taken up for some reward pertaining to the gross material body can be considered part of the mode of passion.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.7)

Lord KrishnaWithout knowing life’s ultimate aim, the mode of passion doesn’t appear to have any flaws. After all, even something as simple as working for a living falls under the umbrella of karma. If we didn’t go to work every day, how would we feed ourselves? How would we put food on the table and pay the bills necessary to maintain our lives and our family’s well-being? Yet fruitive activity falls under the mode of passion because the end-result is simply a neutral state, one no different from where the individual started. For example, as a child, an individual starts off with a material body and a life revolved around playing. Toys, video games and sports aim to please the gross senses of the body. As adults, there may be a requirement to work, but the same objects of affection are there, i.e. the senses. Whether one is a child or a grown-up adult with a high paying job, if sense gratification is taken to be the height of enjoyment, the end-result of activity is still the same.

Fruitive activity, or karma, also brings many hardships and distresses, as is evident with gambling. Wagering involves taking a risk, putting money on the line in the hopes of a large payout. As is the case with any game of chance, the payout will not always materialize. Moreover, the potential for high returns clouds the rationality of the gambler. The famous “gambler’s fallacy” follows the mindset of “Oh, I am due to win any time now. Just a few more hands and I’ll surely come out on top.” In a game of chance, there is no such thing as the outcomes evening out; hence the fallacy. The odds of a particular outcome for the tossing of a coin or the spinning of a wheel can be calculated as a probability, which is a mathematical exercise. The gambler, keeping the mind focused on the potential for what might come their way, ignores the logical truths of mathematics, a discipline which doesn’t take into account emotion, desire, or potential gain.

“By acting in the mode of goodness, one becomes purified. Works done in the mode of passion result in distress, and actions performed in the mode of ignorance result in foolishness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.16)

Lord Krishna During periods of sobriety of thought, gamblers understand the struggles they must tolerate in order to see any paltry gain. Yet they continue to take to gambling anyway. Moreover, if there are any winnings, the satisfaction derived is fleeting. We know this is true because a gambler will often want to parlay their winnings into an even bigger payout. If so much effort was taken to secure something that didn’t even provide any satisfaction, how can the original activity, gambling, be considered worthwhile? Based on the visible results and the continuous cycle of desire and dissatisfaction, the teachings of the Vedas, which state that the mode of passion ultimately leads to distress, are substantiated.

When gambling continues without regulation, the results can be disastrous, as more and more items are put up for wager. People can go into great debt and even lose all of their possessions through gambling. Yet prior to entering a casino or placing a small wager, most gamblers will wholly acknowledge the potential pitfalls associated with their future activity. “Yes, yes, I understand that gambling is bad. I won’t let it get the best of me.” Though knowledge of the dangers of the activity is present, the subsequent behavior is still not altered. The same pattern of behavior is evident in other sinful activities such as illicit sex, intoxication and meat eating. Sinful activity is readily acknowledged to be harmful by the majority of those addicted to it, yet behavior often goes unchanged.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

Krishna and ArjunaThe essence of spiritual practice is summed up in Lord Krishna’s final order in the Bhagavad-gita, wherein He advises Arjuna, His cousin and disciple, to abandon all other forms of dharma, or religion, and simply surrender unto Him. Giving up in terms of fighting with material nature will not cause Arjuna any harm, as Krishna assures him of protection from all sinful reaction. Considering the underlying properties of the soul and its marginal position, Krishna’s statement is completely accurate. As the Supreme Lord, Krishna is the only person capable of removing sinful reactions. As mentioned before, the initial sin is the desire to separate from Krishna’s company, so naturally anyone who would surrender unto the same person that was originally separated from would be free of the root cause of all their heartache and misery.

Skeptics, atheists, and followers of other spiritual disciplines will argue that Krishna is simply a sectarian figure, a Hindu god, and thus the statements of the Gita don’t apply to them. Indeed, similar prescriptions pertaining to surrender are provided in almost every discipline of spirituality. Yet the difference with Krishna’s statement in the Bhagavad-gita is that it is complete in every way. The Lord addresses different dharmas, or systems of religion. Though the term “religion” is commonly associated with spirituality and God, it actually just refers to whatever a person’s ultimate conclusion in life is, what they view as the most important activity and favorable condition. For example, to the gambler, their religion is wagering, weighing the odds in favor versus the odds against them. The ultimate favorable condition is one of victory, wherein the fruits of wagering are received. Any other discipline can follow the same model. Phrases like “This book is my Bible” and “The Constitution is my Bible” reference the extreme devotion felt towards a particular book or philosophy that is not related to spirituality.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna, as the original Divine Being and supreme object of pleasure for all of mankind, understands that as conditioned entities deluded by the reactions resulting from the original sin of separation from the spiritual world, man will have a tendency to concoct his own dharmas and desired favorable conditions throughout his many lifetimes on earth. Bearing this in mind, Krishna advises Arjuna, and everyone else for that matter, to abandon all other occupational duties, or systems of activity which are given highest priority, in favor of surrender to Krishna. The greatest fear in abandoning our current dharma is that we will end up unhappy, or worse, dead. If one’s perceived dharma is fruitive activity performed for the maintenance of the body, how will surrendering to Krishna be of any benefit? Religious guidelines typically recommend strict austerity, regulation in eating and sleeping, and dedication to some particular sacrificial performance, yet the day-to-day issues of bodily maintenance and mental well-being through association with our fellow man are rarely covered.

But Krishna’s statement is not an empty promise. Rather, one who firmly believes and understands the Lord’s indemnity will never have to fear any reactions in the future, sinful or otherwise. The key is to actually understand what Krishna, or God, says versus pretending to acknowledge the supreme scholarship of divine statements while at the same time remaining firmly committed to activities that fail to provide any lasting pleasure. Surrender is much more than an outward acknowledgment; it involves a change in behavior. Habits, those activities we perform involuntarily due to our being accustomed to them, must be altered in order for behavior to change. Certainly many religious rites and performances across all spectrums of tradition offer the promise of eradication from sin. Even in the Vedic tradition, it is said that if one bathes in a holy place such as the Ganges River all of their sins will be removed. When a student is initiated by a guru, or spiritual master, it is said that the guru takes on all the sins of the disciple. Similarly, in some faiths if a small child takes part in a particular function involving a priest, it is deemed that all their sins for the rest of their life get removed. Even Lord Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, is said to have assumed all the sins for all of mankind through his crucifixion.

ConfessionYet as mentioned before, sin is an unauthorized activity that leads to an unfavorable condition in the future. Just because our sinful reactions may have been removed at one time or another, it doesn’t mean that they can’t come back. If there is no desire to associate with Supreme Spirit, the one entity worthy of our eternal love, respect and association, then there will surely be sin attached to every activity that we perform. This assertion seems overly broad and harsh at the same time, but it reflects the actual situation. If a child places their hand into a fire after being repeatedly warned not to by the parents, there will be a negative reaction in the form of a burn. After the parent has treated the wound and the child has been healed, if the child subsequently places their hand again into the fire, will it not burn?

“The steadily devoted soul attains unadulterated peace because he offers the result of all activities to Me; whereas a person who is not in union with the Divine, who is greedy for the fruits of his labor, becomes entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.12)

Worship of Krishna When the protection from sinful reaction offered through surrender to Krishna is truly understood, behavior will be altered. The activities adopted after surrender don’t have to drastically differ from those performed in the conditioned state; just the intended beneficiary has to change. Rather than work for our own interests, the surrendered souls are advised to do everything for Krishna’s pleasure. As the best friend of the living entities, when Krishna is pleased, so is anyone else intimately associated with Him. Therefore service to the Lord, though considered surrender, bears no similarity to indentured servitude or slavery. Rather, the link between the individual soul and the Supreme Lord that is established through yoga can be considered to be the greatest loving relationship, the only bond where both the lover and the object of affection share the same level of intensity of emotion. When the transcendental link remains firmly established, not only is there a lack of fear of sinful reaction on the individual’s part, but there is no fear of anything. One who surrenders to God loses their will to fight with His external energy known as maya, an illusory force which pervades the material world and deludes conditionally situated entities into taking to fruitive activity as their supreme dharma.

So what sorts of activities do surrendered souls take up? The nature of the actions can vary, but the common component is the object of worship. The Vedas refer to the collection of activities that make up the discipline of the surrendered souls as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Though one may start off chanting the maha-mantra out of obligation, regulation, or fear of potential pitfalls, the ultimate enjoyer is still always Krishna. Chanting is so sublime that it automatically has retraction built into it. One who chants this mantra regularly refrains from sinful activities without any extra endeavor. Though any action that doesn’t have Krishna as the primary beneficiary should certainly be avoided, by always remaining in the state of Krishna consciousness, the sinful activities that were previously habitual gradually lose their taste.

Krishna's lotus feetAnother benefit to surrender at the lotus feet of the dear Lord is that the required activities in life, those that must be performed for the continued maintenance of the body, can be taken up without any fear. Since one of the animal instincts is fear, it is natural for the human being to worry about its future condition. But as the origin of all life and the most powerful entity in all the universes, Krishna never worries about anything. As such, anyone directly associated with Him will benefit not only from the Lord’s attitude but also His ability to provide unflinching protection from the greatest calamities. Knowing that Krishna will protect brings the greatest satisfaction and security, feelings that can be steadily maintained through dedication to bhakti. Since bhakti-yoga represents true love, one that is untainted by any desires for association with worldly objects, it is the only dharma that can bring complete confidence and steadiness of mind.