“I pray to have the friendship of Lord Krishna and to engage in His service, and to surrender fully unto Him in love and affection, life after life. I do not want any opulence. I only desire not to forget His service. I simply wish to be associated with His pure devotees. May my mind and activities be always engaged in His service.” (Thoughts of Sudama Vipra, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 26)
As it is ingrained in the identifiable aspect of every life form, there is a perpetual desire fueled by the vision of an ultimate favorable condition to perform activity. As is well known to those employing an intelligent angle of vision, no activity can be undertaken without an initial desire for a future benefit. As such, those behavioral patterns that actually succeed in furthering the progressive march towards success in the intended mission must then be deemed as worthwhile and repeatable. Moreover, the pleasant situations that remain manifest for the longest duration of time must then be deemed as the supreme palatable circumstances, and whatever activities led to such a predicament should be adopted on a regular basis. To the Vedic seers, those who understand the Absolute Truth through deep meditational trance, or samadhi, practiced under the authorized guidance of their own predecessors, there is only one behavioral system capable of bringing favorable results in any circumstance. In fact, there is no other discipline that bears such a property. Any activity that doesn’t follow the line of the sublime engagement, that of divine love aimed at serving and meeting the interests of the Supreme Worshipable Object, will always culminate in an unfavorable condition, even if the unpleasant nature and environment initially go unnoticed. Indeed, only the ancient art of spiritual love, or bhakti, brings auspiciousness through poverty and wealth, sickness and happiness, and pain and distress alike. As such, loving the Supreme Lord becomes the only engagement worth adopting.
Isn’t saying that any activity besides bhakti leads to an unfavorable condition under any and all circumstances too broad a generalization? Aside from the scientific basis for Krishna consciousness, or bhakti-yoga, there are the basic issues relating to enjoyment and the need for it. When clouded by the nescience brought on by material contact, the individual spiritual fragment repeatedly gets thrown into perilous and uncomfortable situations. Because of the acute pain, the immediate desire, or what is known as preyas in Sanskrit, focuses on the alleviation of distress, i.e. removal from the unpleasant situation, which can be either physical or mental. But if we study a few examples, we’ll see that simply removing distress does not lead to any lasting happiness. Just as the waves of the ocean are sure to hit the banks of the shore at periodic intervals, the desires of the conditioned mind illusioned by sense contact are sure to creep up once the previously unendurable negative conditions are removed. Because of this steady pressure applied to the mind, the only path to permanent peace and freedom of thought comes from purifying one’s desires instead of artificially trying to squelch them.
To help us understand the nature of desire more clearly, let’s take the simple example of the neighbor’s car alarm that rings incessantly. Since an automobile is an expensive property, great care is taken to ensure its safety and well-being. To prevent unauthorized entry, theft and vandalism, modern day cars are equipped with security systems which trigger alarms at the sign of intrusion. The ringing patterns of these alert systems are quite uniform, as one can actually hum along to the beeping sounds that result. Yet some of these systems are so sensitive that simply the wind blowing violently or the steady falling rain can trigger them. Because of these defects, those in the surrounding areas are often forced to endure the annoying sounds resulting from the car alarm that goes off without justification. Since the owner of the vehicle may not be in the direct vicinity of the car, and since there is actually no emergency situation, the alarm may continue to ring for hours and hours. This makes life very difficult for those within audible range of the alert, especially if they are trying to sleep, concentrate, work, etc.
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires — that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still — can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.70)
When forced to endure such an unpleasant situation, the desires that subsequently flood the mind of the disturbed individual are easy to predict. “Why won’t this stupid car alarm just stop already? I swear, I’m this close to going out there and bashing that car to pieces. I can’t take this anymore.” When the alarm does finally stop, there is a peaceful condition. Happiness arises because there are no more annoying sounds disturbing concentration and bothering the mind. The initial favorable condition desired by the mind was met, and peace and happiness were achieved. But what about on other days when the car alarms aren’t ringing incessantly? In fact, let’s think about the day immediately following the episode with the blaring car security system. Will there be peace of mind? Will the individual think, “I’m so happy today now that the stupid alarm isn’t ringing”? Obviously not, as new thoughts will flood the mind. With new desires come new frustrations, as not all the needs and wants of the individual are met in a timely fashion. As such, the positive favorable condition desired from the previous day turned out to be one that provided flickering happiness. The car alarm stopped, but that was only one small piece of the giant puzzle. In the grander scheme of things, the absence of noise doesn’t do anything tangible for us, as it is the nature of the driving force to all activity, the spiritual spark residing within the body, to crave action and, more importantly, pleasure.
The example of the temporary relief experienced from the removal of a distressing sound can be expanded out to so many other areas of life. If we have a cold and are forced to stay home for a few days, we eagerly anticipate the time when our health will return and we will be able to function normally again. Indeed, the absence of the illness automatically equates to less discomfort in the body. Yet what about the majority of the days of the year when we are not sick? Do we burst with happiness every morning when we are not stricken with ailments? One who has survived a life-threatening illness like cancer may feel rejuvenated for a short period of time after beating their disease, but eventually the positive effects of the lack of the negative conditions brought on by illness will wear off. The mind will immediately jump to another situation and look for new desires to be met. Under such a model, there will be perpetual hankering and lamenting, a situation which can be accurately described as miserable.
There is no arena where the temporary workings of the mind and the constant desire for immediate redress of grievances are better on display than in the news business. Print, television and internet media are full of daily short stories, which are nothing more than quick hits aimed at triggering temporary alarms in the readers. The stories intend to appeal entirely to the emotional aspect of the mind, for if one actually applied a little intelligence, they would realize that paying attention to news items which lose their importance after a day or two is not a worthwhile activity in the least bit. For instance, if someone hands us a newspaper from a week ago, we will likely toss it aside or use it to line a birdcage. Yet when the newspaper first came out, it was eagerly anticipated and widely read. Since nothing has changed as far as content goes, as the quality of the paper and the words contained within haven’t been altered in any way, we can say that the newspaper itself never had any tangible value.
A successful news operation is one that can garner the most attention and concern over items that don’t deal with any type of future auspiciousness, or shreyas. Though this may be unpleasant to hear, there is no doubt that news outlets eagerly anticipate natural disasters, financial crises and heavy snowstorms. During these times of emergency, the helpless public will be drawn to the news providers and become dependent on them. The people providing the news aren’t very much interested in the details of any of these stories. Their behavior is akin to drive-by shooters, as they release a few shocking stories, create panic and alarm amongst the people affected, and then drive off to cover a new topic. One day the news coverage is concerned with high gasoline prices and the anger felt by motorists. But once the gas prices fall, does the angst stop? Surely it doesn’t, as a new issue is introduced, such as unemployment, the mounting national debt or the rising cost of medical care. One who is not trained in the school of bhakti and made aware of the ultimate aim in life will be lured into taking these items of secondary importance to be of topmost interest. But as we saw with the examples of car alarms and illnesses, the simple removal of a distressful situation doesn’t bring any lasting peace or happiness. When engaged in any acts that are not of the constitutional nature, every situation becomes unfavorable, even ones that are initially deemed to be desirable.
Bhakti, on the other hand, works in just the opposite way. When there is a link in terms of consciousness to the Supreme Object of Pleasure, every situation, irrespective of the perceived favorability or unpleasantness, becomes the most palatable. To see evidence of this, we can look to the life of a famous brahmana, Sudama Vipra. The Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead who is always with a transcendental body, descended to earth in His personal form of Lord Krishna around five thousand years ago. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, often make use of two terms when describing methods of worshiping the Supreme Lord: nirguna and saguna. Guna is a Sanskrit word that means “material qualities”, but when applied in this context it simply refers to attributes. Those who are spiritually inclined but unaware of the nature of God and the reasons for serving Him take part in nirguna worship. Saguna worship takes into account knowledge of the various non-different forms of the Supreme Lord and the blissful qualities they possess. Irrespective of the mode of worship, nirguna or saguna, Krishna’s position remains unchanged. Whether one knows what Krishna looks like or doesn’t, the Lord’s status as the supreme object of worship and pleasure does not change.
The majority of the spiritual disciplines of the world today strictly prohibit saguna worship, as it is seen as a form of idolatry. Yet if God is worthy of love and respect, how can He be without form? Indeed, the concept of formlessness, or impersonalism, can only exist if the object in question has a form. Darkness only comes from the absence of light. When there is full illumination, there is no question of being in the dark. One who remains stuck on worshiping an incorporeal God or the formless aspect of the Supreme can never enjoy the sweet, transcendental mellows that come from direct association with Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord who is fully featured with transcendental attributes. Nirguna worship, as performed by those who are ignorant of Krishna’s ever-existing form, is akin to trying to understand the nature of the sun by only looking at the sunshine. If we look around us and see sunlight in various places and then see darkness in others, we may gain an appreciation for the sunlight. We may or may not come to the conclusion that the sunlight has a source. Yet if we simply look to the sky, we’ll see that the sunrays are emanating from a giant solar body, one that is unchanging in its position and effectiveness at dissipating heat and light.
The Supreme Lord, in His original form, is like the proprietor of the sun itself. The saguna forms, which include both the deity manifestations and the direct incarnations that appear on earth, are the fully qualified expansions of the Lord. Indeed, one who steadily follows saguna worship can remember the Lord and properly worship Him in any and all situations. One who knows Bhagavan and His exclusive and simultaneous possession of the attributes of wealth, beauty, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree will be able to conjure up His true nature within the mind at all times. Therefore, for the topmost transcendentalist, nirguna worship becomes the same as saguna worship, as through bhakti the Personality of Godhead is always remembered as He is.
While Krishna was on earth playing the part of an ordinary human being perfectly, He had several close friends, of which Sudama Vipra was one. Krishna and Sudama attended the same gurukula, or school run by the spiritual master, during their youth. When they grew up, Krishna tended to family business, protecting the citizens of Mathura and moving them to the underwater city of Dvaraka, where the Lord served as the de facto ruler, Dvarakadisha. Sudama, as a brahmana by occupation, took on a very austere lifestyle, where he lived with his wife in near abject poverty. Even in this seemingly troublesome situation, he never forgot the lotus feet of his dear friend, Shri Krishna. The Lord can be worshiped in a variety of different mellows by those who understand and realize His transcendental form. Actually, even the impersonalist mode of worship followed by those who refuse to recognize God’s personal form is a kind of transcendental mellow, but one that does not provide any tangible benefit or pleasure. Those who don’t understand the presence of the sun can at most become a great admirer of the sunrays. Similarly, one who doesn’t understand Bhagavan’s true features can at best merge into the glaring effulgence known as Brahman, which emanates off of Krishna’s gigantic transcendental body.
Though Sudama was fine with his life of poverty, his wife was a little concerned for their well being. Therefore she asked him to visit Krishna in His palace and ask for benedictions. The wife knew that Krishna is brahmanya-devaya, or the worshipable object of the brahmanas, and thus He would surely be willing to help out His dear friend from their childhood days. Sudama was a little hesitant to go, as he had nothing to bring as a gift for Krishna. Begrudgingly agreeing to take some chipped rice with him, Sudama made his way to Krishna’s palace. Immediately upon seeing His old friend, Krishna got up from His seat and welcomed Sudama with all the respect that a brahmana should be afforded. Sudama Vipra was treated like royalty. Though the brahmana could never bring himself to ask for anything from the Lord, Krishna noticed the chipped rice he was hiding and immediately snatched it. Partaking of the chipped rice and asking others, including His wife Rukmini Devi, to enjoy the same, Krishna was very pleased.
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.26)
While the brahmana was walking back home, he couldn’t help but remember Krishna. All his thoughts were always focused on Bhagavan, so he was constantly in the mood of bhakti. Upon returning home, he saw that his house had been transformed into an elegant palace, and there were no longer any signs of poverty anywhere. He could understand that this was the doing of Krishna, the husband of Rukmini Devi, who is the goddess of fortune. It’s interesting to note that this newfound opulence did not affect Sudama’s behavior in the least bit. He and his wife had their distresses removed, but their dedication to Krishna never waned. In fact, the added financial security only redoubled their strength of conviction in the practice of bhakti, the undying art of transcendental love, the only worthy engagement for the individuals trapped in a mire of sense-driven activities, which bring only flickering happiness and leave tremendous pain.
The Supreme Lord’s potencies are actually all-pervading. One whose eyes have been anointed with the salve of transcendental love acquired through the practice of bhakti see Krishna not only in the deity form, but also in every other aspect of life. Even the taste of water immediately reminds one of Krishna’s greatness. As such, bhakti should be the only engagement for every person desiring a favorable condition. Only in pure Krishna consciousness, wherein one regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can any and all situations be endured. There may be outside noise or there may be great peace and quiet, but in either case, the sound vibration representation of Supreme Spirit should always be well-represented within the mind. The names of the Lord are more powerful than any of His other aspects, be they of the personal or impersonal variety. Bhagavan’s names, of which there are too many to count, are the true jewels in this world, and, as such, they should be treated as the most valuable possessions, objects which can bring about the greatest auspiciousness. These precious gems should be kept safely in the mind and within the heart, and by regularly associating with them, their value will only increase. Following this behavior, the mindset of the conditioned entity will gradually turn from one perpetually in misery to one always in happiness. At the end of life, the purely God conscious soul will immediately be transported back to the land that time never forgets, the anxiety-free spiritual sky where the Supreme Lord and His nitya-siddhas, or eternal associates, reside and enjoy.