“The intelligence of the individual soul is exhibited like fire in wood. Although fire is always fire, it is exhibited in a size proportionate to the size of the wood. Similarly, although the individual soul is qualitatively one with the Supreme Lord, he exhibits himself according to the limitations of his present body.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)
Freedom is preferred to tyranny. Who would choose to be told what to do, what to think and what to say over being able to determine these things for yourself? The constitutional makeup of the individual is such that the free will propensity is certainly present, but it has one small, but potentially insurmountable, limitation: the playing field of activity. The individual souls roaming the visible land in various bodies share a common trait in that they are sparked by an internal fire, one that can never be completely doused, quelled, or reduced in intensity. But the capability of this fire to burn depends on the association, its fuel if you will. Therefore, for freedom to gain its true potency, for the massive fire of spiritual energy to continue raging forever and ever, an outer covering that allows for the uninhibited movement and freedom of spiritual action must be assumed.
“O chief of the Bharatas, whatever you see in existence, both moving and unmoving, is only the combination of the field of activities and the knower of the field.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.27)
The soul within the body is considered the knower of activities, and the elements of the phenomenal world, which take on different temporary forms, are known as the field of activities. These concepts are important to understand because they provide a high-level overview of the different potential activities that can be undertaken. Since we are only conscious of our own actions performed while encapsulated in an outer covering known as the gross body, our viewpoint tends to be narrow-minded, where we think the world revolves around us. In reality, every other living entity is in a similar predicament, forced to endure similar struggles, highs and lows, ups and downs, etc. One who can understand the basic workings of activity can take the necessary steps to remove themselves from nescience and thereby bring the torchlight of knowledge found within the soul to the forefront.
Activities in knowledge are those that lead to the ultimate favorable condition in the future, a disposition that doesn’t flicker in steadiness and doesn’t cease to provide happiness at any future time. In order for such a situation to be found, the natural desires of the soul, the identifying element within any form of life, must be met. There is a difference between body and spirit for conditioned entities, those roaming in a temporary land, life after life through the cycle of reincarnation. Because the soul is the actor, the impetus for all activity, there must be a playing field available that can provide happiness to the spiritual spark within rather than to its outer covering. Activities in sense gratification are driven by illusion because they only speak to the needs of the blunt senses, which are completely tied to the body and thus temporary in their constitution. A diseased man with rashes and spots all over his skin will have a fervent desire to scratch wherever it itches. But this practice isn’t recommended because the scratching will only bring temporary relief coupled with long-term negative side effects like scars.
On a higher level, the urges of the senses can be thought of as constant itches which, when acted upon, lead to only short term relief, while bringing harmful effects in the long run. As an example, meat eating brings the temporary satisfaction of the tongue, but the future fortunes of the soul are hurt from the negative karma accumulated. Since nature is only fair, unnecessary violence must bring punishment in the future for both the perpetrator and the accomplice alike. Intoxication allows for a temporary escape from the senses, but the longer term side effects are loss of rationality and an overall detriment to one’s health. One who is regularly intoxicated has no internal cleanliness and thus no chance of purifying the elements with which the soul is forced to associate. Gambling brings temporary stimulation to the mind, but the resulting rewards provide little to no happiness. If they did, there would be no need to gamble further. If a player wins at a particular sporting match, the resulting pleasure would be deemed supreme if it meant that there would no longer be a need to compete. But every professional sport has annual tournaments and trophies, which indicate that even victory gained through such hard work has very short-lasting benefits, for the struggles are constantly repeated by the same players, year after year. Similarly, illicit sex is seen as the highest material pleasure, but it is secured at the cost of great turmoil and heartache. Maintaining a romantic relationship is quite difficult, and when things don’t go your way, the pain that results is unmatched.
The soul’s penchant is for freedom, so there must always be activity. Even when restraint is practiced, there still must eventually come some positive engagement that serves as an outlet for the potential for the free exercise of energy that is bottled up within the body. Activities on the playing field known as the material world fail to keep the supreme energy of the soul ignited at all times. The pains and misery caused by mundane sense gratification keep the fire in the belly of the individual lit to a very small degree. Thus the potential for benefitting from spiritual freedom remains untapped.
“The individual soul in the body of a baby cannot show the full power and potency of a grown man, but the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna, even when lying on the lap of His mother as a baby, could exhibit His full potency and power by killing Putana and other demons who tried to attack Him.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)
With one entity, however, the internal potency for action can never be limited. The Supreme Lord, the entity from whom all of our identities emanate and thus who we remain eternally linked to, never has His freedom checked. In any form, even one that is considered unmanifest from the angle of vision of the conditioned being, the Supreme Entity remains fully ablaze with spiritual potency. Evidence of this is seen in the Personality of Godhead’s sportive exploits performed during His innumerable descents to the material world. For an individual trapped in the body of a small child, there is essentially no burning capability to the fire-like spirit soul. As such, there are limited abilities in walking, talking and moving. But the Supreme Lord as a small child killed a dastardly female witch who tried to feed Him poison through her breast. He killed many other such nefarious characters, demons who were feared by all the residents of the neighboring towns.
Living beings of the earthly realm have varying capabilities that depend on the specific makeup of their personal playing field known as the body, but entities in the upper planetary systems have even greater capabilities. They can live for hundreds of thousands of years and control the massive collection of material elements like the rain, sunshine and geographical phenomenon like mountains and oceans. But even these entities, who are known as devatas, or demigods, in the Vedic tradition, are checked in their exercise of freedom. Evidence of this limitation was visible during the torrential downpour instigated by Indra, the king of the heavenly realm, upon the residents of Vrajabhumi during Krishna’s time. Lord Indra has so many names due to his immense potencies and his courageous fighting abilities displayed in the numerous battles against the powerful elements of the world opposed to the saintly class, the asuras. Even with all their strengths, since the devatas are not completely liberated in consciousness, the fire represented by their spiritual potency remains limited in its burning abilities. As such, even when a heavy downpour is brought upon the innocent residents of a farm community, the Supreme Lord, in the form of a small child, can lift up a gigantic hill with His finger and hold it up as an umbrella for days on end to save the townspeople from ruin. No ordinary child, even a heavenly one, could accomplish such a task.
“All the demigods and their exalted qualities, such as religion, knowledge and renunciation, become manifest in the body of one who has developed unalloyed devotion for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva…” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.18.12)
Those who take to the proper engagements, which are of the constitutional nature, actually acquire all the abilities of the celestial figures without any extra endeavor. Since the sincere souls are engaged in the most sublime activity, that of devotional service to the supreme loveable object who is ever worthy of our love and affection, the burning propensity of their internal fire remains unchecked and capable of performing amazing feats. Engagements that have no relation to Supreme Spirit treat maya, or “that which is not personally God”, as the beneficiary. The opposite of maya is Truth, or any activity under the rubric of bhakti-yoga, which is also known as devotional service. The soul indeed has a penchant for freedom, but only when the free will propensity is paired with a bona fide matching interest can the freedom ignite a fire that never burns out and never fades away. It would make sense then that the entity from whom all of the individuals gather their abilities would be the ideal beneficiary of all service. The perfection of activity is to use our desire for freedom to act in the interest of the person who has granted us the ability to act: Shri Krishna.
Isn’t Krishna a sectarian figure, a Hindu God? The Supreme Lord, who is fully potent in the areas of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom, is not limited by geographic scope or blind sentiment. His mercy is universally distributed, and His position is always unchanged, irrespective of how anyone chooses to view Him. If even one hundred percent of the world’s population didn’t believe in God or took an ordinary living entity to be supreme, the position of the true Deity wouldn’t change. Generally, there are three different angles of vision adopted by those who are spiritually inclined. We can think of these viewpoints as gradually ascending scales in clarity of vision. Those who understand that there is a God, but don’t really know what He looks like, where He lives, and what His nature is, are understood to be on the platform of Brahman realization. Brahman can be thought of as a giant light of truth, knowledge, wisdom and bliss. Brahman realization is also referred to as the impersonal viewpoint, one where a higher authority power is acknowledged, but the actual relationship of the individual to the higher entity is not readily identified.
The direct presence of the Absolute Truth is within the heart of every living entity, and thus He is responsible for all outcomes to activity. Since the Supreme Truth resides within everyone, surely a discipline which seeks to connect with this authority figure would be deemed a valid religion. But without proper education following an unbroken chain of disciplic succession starting from the original person Himself, the true nature of the spiritual entity responsible for the results of action and the workings of the material elements will not be known. As such, the natural loving spirit of the soul, which goes hand-in-hand with the free will propensity, remains checked. For the service mentality to bear tangible fruits, activity must be tied to an object. In order for something to be considered an object, it must have names, qualities, forms and activities.
This brings us to the highest realization, the viewpoint which is perfect in every respect. The understanding of Brahman can be compared to seeing a giant hill from far away and taking it to be only a small cloud. Just the outskirts of the hill are seen, thus there is no complete information as to the nature of the giant body or the creatures inhabiting the area. Paramatma realization, the viewpoint where the Supreme Soul is seen to be residing within everyone’s heart, represents a clearer picture of the hill, where the distance to the land mass has decreased. The most complete realization, that of seeing the Absolute Truth as Bhagavan, is reserved for those who are actually on the hill and regularly traversing it, deriving tremendous enjoyment from such association. Even Bhagavan realization is limited in a sense, for one can never completely understand the Supreme Lord. But understanding that God is Bhagavan is enough to grant the soul eternal freedom in the sphere of activity that never fails to provide pleasure, while at the same time completely eliminating any negative reactions.
Since Bhagavan is indescribably brilliant, He must have many names, with one of them being Krishna. Since the word Krishna means “all-attractive”, it is a most appropriate name for the Supreme Lord. Bhagavan also has forms, pastimes and qualities which are exhibited during the Lord’s kind descents to the phenomenal world. Bhagavan always retains His supreme standing, irrespective of one’s angle of vision. Whether an individual refers to Bhagavan as Krishna, Brahman, Paramatma, God, death, or even some appellation which was conjured up at a certain time due to a specific circumstance, the Supreme Lord’s position remains unchanged. Whether He is worshiped through His unmanifested, invisible form, which is often referred to as nirguna, or in His non-different expansions and personal forms full of identifiable attributes, which are referred to as saguna, His immeasurable potency does not ever suffer diminution.
Krishna, as the source of all energy, is the most potent spiritual fire. Irrespective of the fuel He takes on in the form of visible elements, His energy and potency never fade out or get limited in any way. For the individual sparks emanating from the supreme fire, there are always limitations, especially when the field of activity has no direct relationship to the Supreme Lord. Only in those engagements where association with Bhagavan is the intended objective do the fire burning propensities of the individual spirit take on a large magnitude. Regardless of the specific activity, the aim of spirituality is to remain always connected with Bhagavan, seeing to His pleasure and maintaining a firm link in consciousness. The easiest and most potent practice of this discipline is the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The name is the most powerful aspect of the Supreme Lord because it automatically reawakens consciousness of His forms, pastimes and qualities. The other aspects of the Supreme Lord don’t automatically complete the picture in the same way.
When one takes devotional service as their life and soul, the limitations imposed by the field of activity are virtually eliminated. When freedom is allowed to ring perpetually through the most pleasurable activities of divine love, there are no exceptions to the capabilities of the soul. Proof of this concept has been witnessed on many occasions, where great devotees performed miraculous feats in favor of pleasing the only object truly worthy of our love and adoration. Not only is Krishna superhuman, but so are those who take up the sublime mission of seeing to His pleasure. The glories of the devotees know no end, so by regularly hearing of their activities and learning from their teachings, we too can break the bonds imposed on us by material nature. The celebrated acharyas, the spiritual masters following in the line of instruction emanating from the Supreme Lord Himself, always have the fire of devotion burning inside them. They represent the true freedom fighters, for they not only maintain their own freedom in terms of consciousness but they also seek to help others find eternal happiness by teaching them the practices of divine love.
By following the instructions laid down by the authority figures, who tell us to make devotional service our life’s primary engagement, a spiritual body can be assumed. In the liberated state, the distinction between the knower of activities and the field itself vanishes. The field becomes the instrument that allows the freedom capability to be utilized properly. Anyone who regularly hears about Krishna, chants His name, serves His devotees, offers obeisances to the deity and to the humble servants preaching His message, takes on a humble attitude, and remains committed to the cause of devotional service will surely reassume their original, spiritual body and thus be granted eternal association with the Supreme Lord.