Tuesday, March 29, 2011

In The End

Krishna and Arjuna “While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.62)

In the realm of sports, the rules of the game dictate that there will be winners and losers. In other words, by the very definition of the game, there are guaranteed to be both favorable and unfavorable outcomes. The allure for the players and even for the spectators is the potential for victory, the ultimate triumph over difficult circumstances and insurmountable odds. Under ideal circumstances, however, the rules of the game are implemented quite fairly, so there is every chance of all possible outcomes occurring. This means that the same level of excitement that exists for the potential for success should also be measured against the potential for the dejection that will arise from the most unfavorable of future circumstances. Therefore those who do overly lament over the temporary losses, which are by definition guaranteed to manifest for at least half the participants, indicate with their behavior that they have failed to reach the highest platform of intelligence. The most inclusive sport of all, the game of life, incorporates rules and regulations implemented by the higher authorities. Whether one is abiding by these rules, rebelling against them, or remaining completely defiant in even acknowledging the existence of higher powers, the possible outcomes themselves must manifest. Thus there is every possibility of both positive and negative results, with life itself culminating in the complete destruction of the uniform [the body] that one assumes prior to entering the playing field of activities. When these factors are taken into consideration, along with the fact that the objects of the senses don’t originally belong to the individual, the justification for the innate fear of death vanishes.

“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)

Lord RamaShri Rama, the beautiful, sweet, kind and knowledgeable incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, accurately notes that for the mature human being there is no other fear than its impending death. He compares this predicament with the disposition faced by the ripened fruit, which after it has reached full maturity, has nothing left to do but fall. A fruit starts off as a seed, a tiny autonomous entity that has no substantial visible covering. Through constant nourishment and care from external sources, the seed eventually develops an outer dress, culminating with the formation of a full grown fruit. But once maturation is reached, there is nothing left for the fruit to do except fall, which signals its death, i.e. the time when it is eligible to be eaten by others. Though we don’t generally equate a fruit with a living entity, bananas, apples, pears, etc. most certainly have the essence of life inside of them; otherwise they would not be able to grow. All forms of life, irrespective of their body type, large or small, are spirit souls, direct emanations from the Supreme Lord, who is known as the Supreme Energetic. The properties of the spiritual sparks expanding from the original fire of energy do not ever change, irrespective of perceptible growth and decay cycles.

“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)

The human being, though deemed the most intelligent of all species, goes through a cycle similar to that of the fruit. Though we have no memory of our initial experiences in life, we all started out as tiny pea-shaped bodies living within the womb of our mother. Only through careful nurturing and protection offered by our guardians did we mature into what we are today: human beings capable of acquiring the highest intelligence. Due to the workings of nature, the human being is not only forgetful of his true nature, but he also has trepidations about his future fortunes. The greatest anxiety relates to the impending event signaling complete loss, the ultimate destruction of the body. For the wise man, one whose angle of vision has been cleared through the corrective lenses of divine wisdom, the fear of death is unfounded. Surely the unknown brings trepidation to the mind and thoughts of uncertainty, but fear over losing something that doesn’t belong to the individual in the first place makes absolutely no sense.

NFLIn the sports world the rules of the various games are put into place to be implemented fairly and evenly. Nevertheless, the full breadth of possible outcomes often times goes ignored. To take a simple example, in the National Football League, the highest professional rank of American football, there is a regular season currently consisting of sixteen games. Each team plays their games in the season, and the teams with the best records then move on to the playoffs, a single-elimination tournament to decide the season’s champion. The NFL has two conferences consisting of sixteen teams each, which are divided into four separate divisions of four teams each. The teams with the best record in their respective divisions make it to the playoffs and get the highest seeds in the tournament bracket. Then the next two teams with the best records make it to the playoffs as the lowest seeds. Having a higher seed means that you get to host the respective playoff round matchup at your home stadium. In the 2010 season, the Seattle Seahawks franchise won their division despite having lost more games than they won. In the first round of the playoffs they played a team, the Saints, who had a better record, one almost good enough to qualify for the number one seed in the conference. But since another team ended up winning their division, the Saints, the defending champions of the NFL, had to settle for a wild card berth, where they played at the Seahawks in the first round.

The precedence rules relating to playoff seedings has been in place for many years in the NFL, but it wasn’t until the Seahawks won their division with such an abysmal record that talk started to surface about changing the rules. The reaction is ironic because the possibility of a losing team winning their division was present from the very beginning. Indeed, there is every possibility of a team with an unrespectable record winning their division and then going on to win the Super Bowl. If certain outcomes are not preferred, they should be eliminated from the very beginning of competition. Otherwise, what is the point to having rules if the outcomes are tightly controlled?

seahawksIn the more expansive game of life, the possibilities of every outcome, good or bad, are present. Death can happen at any moment, for even one who is supposedly safely residing within the womb of the mother can be killed through the abortion process. On the other side of the equation, one who regularly takes to smoking, drinking and eating fatty foods can live to a very old age. Unlike with ordinary games and sports leagues, the rules governing the workings of nature cannot be changed. Nor do they need to be. Simply operating within the established guidelines can provide unmatched happiness and bliss. The first step is to acquire knowledge, becoming familiar with that proper set of information that will allow the individual to see clearly.

In the Vedic tradition the first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” The Supreme Absolute Truth, an entity who is beyond duality, loss, gain, birth, death, disease and old age, is considered Brahman. Every individual spirit soul is constitutionally the same as the Supreme Truth; hence they are Brahman. Therefore aham brahmasmi can also mean “I am a spirit soul.” This instruction is very important to hear and understand because in the absence of such information, the varieties of identities adopted by the innumerable living entities will be plentiful and all faulty. One person takes their identity as being Indian, another thinks they are American, while another identifies solely with race. What we saw happen with the seed that turned into a fruit was that the outer covering eventually got discarded. Every one of us started off as a tiny seed in the form of a pure spirit soul assuming the smallest of bodies, so any features we acquire subsequent to birth must be considered temporary and thus not worthy of being used for identification purposes.

The fearing mentality is a product of animal life, which is driven exclusively by the tendencies to eat, sleep, mate and defend. Obviously these activities are required to some degree or another, but in the human form of body one can transcend them. The fearing aspect is a product of the other three activities. We take to eating sumptuous foods and enjoying the satisfaction they provide. Sleeping is a great way to relax and gain relief from the daily pressures brought on by work, school and family. Sex life is the height of material enjoyment, something seen as the most important activity for those seeking pleasure in the phenomenal world. But when these engagements are represented at an above satisfactory level in one’s daily life, there will naturally be fear of loss. “What if I lose my ability to put food on the table? What if I starve to death? What if I won’t be able to sleep tonight due to my mattress being uncomfortable? What will happen if my wife leaves me and I have to live the rest of my life alone? What will happen if I lose everything at the time of death?”

The sunThese fears are actually well founded to some extent and indicative of a progressive level of consciousness. Certainly it is better to fear the loss of important aspects of life than to be ignorant of their temporary nature. Those who understand that they are Brahman, or part of the Absolute Truth, can take the necessary steps to transcend these fears, taking the comings and goings of material life to be on the same level as the rising and setting of the sun. The sun is the most splendorous object, a direct manifestation of the Supreme Lord’s kind mercy. The sun is not only beautiful to behold, but it is the giver of life. The heat and light provided by the fiery star in the sky are unmatched in potency, thus it is a very good sign whenever we can directly perceive of the sun’s presence. But is the sun setting at night any cause of fear? Is there any reason to be worried that life will end at night or that we will be forever without sunlight? Obviously these fears are not present in those who have wisely ascertained that the sun will simply rise again the next morning.

In a similar manner, those whose eyes have been trained through transcendental knowledge and the practice of bona fide religious principles see the temporary manifestations and disintegrations of gross bodies as periodic as the rising and setting of the sun. Sometimes an individual is in a position of prominence, and other times he is in a distressful situation. Sometimes a living entity is taking birth from the womb of a mother, while at other times he is being buried or cremated to signal the end of life. Irrespective of the specific event, the properties of Brahman, or Truth, do not change. Brahman is eternal; it can never be cut up, dried, made wet or diminished in any capacity.

“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.3)

Lord KrishnaIf Brahman is Truth, why are there even temporary changes? Why is there birth, and why is there impending death? Brahman is one aspect of Truth, but there is an even more powerful spiritual entity: Parabrahman. Brahman can be thought of as the giant light of spiritual energy that emanates from the transcendental and inconceivably large body of Parabrahman. Similar to how the sun exudes sunshine, the Supreme Truth, whose glories are well established in the Vedas and the Puranas, radiates brilliance in spiritual energy which is known as Brahman. The individual spiritual entities roaming the phenomenal world are sparks of Brahman. Thus there is a similarity in quality between Brahman and Parabrahman, but at the same time there is always a difference.

Lord Chaitanya, an incarnation of Godhead and the most merciful authority figure to ever roam this earth, as a divine preacher and well-wisher of every single soul, visible or not, described the simultaneous oneness and difference between Brahman and Parabrahman as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva. That the living entity can be the same as Parabrahman and yet different from Him at the same time is inconceivable to the human mind, which means that no amount of empirical evidence or logical deduction can lead the conditioned entity, i.e. us poor souls transmigrating from one body to another in the material world, or even one on the Brahman platform, to truly understand the nature of the relationship between Parabrahman and Brahman. Since we can’t understand the relationship, should we just sit on our knowledge of Brahman? From Lord Chaitanya’s teachings and personal example, we learn that it is more important to take tangible actions off the achintya-bhedabheda-tattva concept than to actually try to understand it through mental exercise. We may not understand why fire burns, but we will still use it for proper purposes. We may not understand why we were stricken with a certain disease, but we will surely take the necessary steps to get cured. Similarly, we may not understand the nature of the relationship between the individual souls and the Supreme Absolute Truth, whose most beautiful and complete name is Krishna, but we should indeed take the necessary steps to ensure that the relationship remains vibrant.

Lord ChaitanyaOnly one who behaves according to the simultaneous oneness and difference philosophy will be able to properly understand the workings of nature. Only one who knows that Krishna, or God, is the Supreme Object of Pleasure can take the necessary steps to remain always connected with Him. Brahman has tremendous potency, but when the tendency is to act against the interests of Parabrahman, the natural properties of knowledge, bliss and eternality are covered up by material elements, which work to delude the knowledgeable entities into assuming a fearful mindset. Only when the individual acts against the interests of the Supreme Lord as stipulated by the eternal law codes known as dharma is there a fear of losing objects which have no relation to the soul. The potency of Brahman is intended for the pleasure of Krishna, who, as the best friend of every living entity, subsequently provides unmatched happiness to those offering Him kind service. God’s worthiness of being worshiped is not based simply off of His superiority in the area of providing benefits. Rather, His worshipable status is acquired through His unique ability to enjoy at the highest level, a trait which He eternally exudes. Irrespective of the workings of Brahman, the mercy of the Supreme Lord and His open offer of a blissful, eternal life always remain on the table.

Radha Krishna Lord Chaitanya stressed that for the people of this age the most important and effective way to remove the cloud of nescience brought on by material contact is to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This sacred formula, which is known as the maha-mantra, emanates from the spiritual world. Unlike the features of our gross body and all the objects we claim to possess, the holy name of the Lord is something we never lose. Since it is non-different from the entity it addresses, the name of God always stays with us, just as the Supersoul, the localized representation of Parabrahman, accompanies the individual spirit in all its journeys through various bodies. One who holds on to the holy name with firm attachment and takes the chanting of it to be their life and soul will never be fearful of losing objects which originally belong to nature. The soul is the essence of identity. A famous philosopher once said, “I think, therefore I am”, but the more accurate assertion is, “I am Brahman, a lover of Krishna; therefore I will never cease to be.” Those who adopt the proper mindset through regular chanting and adherence to the dictates of bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, will certainly be blissful all the way until the end, the time when the soul will be transported back into the direct company of the spiritual reservoir of pleasure and energy.