Monday, March 14, 2011

Spiritual Cognition

Lord Krishna “Of the four characteristic features [name, form, qualities, and activities], the Lord’s holy name is the original, because it awards cognition of the other three.” (Shrila Haridasa Thakura, Shri Harinama Chintamani)

The impediments preventing even the first steps to be taken towards spiritual awakening are too many to count. On the one side you have the desire to understand the nature of the temporary world and the various ups and downs that must be endured during a single stay in this perishable land, and on the other you have prejudices gathered over many experiences regarding the different spiritual practices. There is also the inherent fear of loss of possessions, wealth and familial relationships. After all, even the animal kingdom takes to defending, along with eating, sleeping and mating, so why wouldn’t the human being follow suit? Though the human body has the potential for acquiring the most sublime intelligence, unless and until inquiries about the Absolute Truth and service to His lotus feet are made, the behavioral characteristics and tendencies of the human being are no different than the animal. Yet despite all the impediments, which are both self-created and externally sourced, there is one simple method of spiritual practice which is so potent that it automatically cuts through all the ignorance in the material consciousness gathered over many lifetimes. Indeed, this singular exercise, which involves the recitation of a specific sound vibration, is both a means and an end, as it leads to an awakening of the mind, which in turn leads to more and more faith in the superiority of the engagement that led to the enlightenment.

Radha Vrindavan Chandra templeBy design, the impediments towards sincerely adopting a life devoted to spirituality are too many to count. The most inhibiting force is the lack of efficacy in the commonly adopted spiritual practices. For instance, simply pledging allegiance to a particular faith, going through one or two rituals during youth, and then attending a specific house of worship once a week are characteristic of a basic acknowledgment of spiritual life, but they are still hardly enough to alter an individual’s consciousness. If God is supposed to be the most worshipable person in all the worlds, shouldn’t dedication to Him involve some short of change in behavior? The daily habits and activities of the human being constitute its behavior, and these actions are driven by the predominant thought process, which is known as consciousness. Therefore, the dedication towards any type of worship, spiritual or otherwise, is indicated by the predominant consciousness of the individual. As such, only a simple acknowledgment of a particular faith, wherein the consciousness otherwise remains fixed on worldly objects such as home, work, family, intoxication, sumptuous eating, vacationing and a host of other engagements that have no relation to the original Divine Being, surely can’t be enough to qualify as spiritual life.

When religion is adopted at the immature level, the ultimate object of interest for the worshiping individuals remains matter and its association. By the very nature of the mind’s predominant desire, spirituality must take on a lower priority in this system. Moreover, any further persuasion offered by those who are sincerely engaged in the service of the Supreme Loveable Object is rejected as being fanaticism or unnecessary pestering. If the aim of life is to worship matter, one’s dog, one’s wife, or one’s nation, what need is there for further adherence to religious practice? Such an extreme shift in behavior is viewed to be a cause of potential degradation and the breaking of the tenuous aspects of material life. “Why do I want to go crazy about religion when I have a job to go to and a family to take care of? If I make spirituality too much of a priority, who will take care of my family?”

There is also the even more extreme mindset where one simply looks for economic development, artha, and nothing else. For the consciousness driven by the need for acquiring money, if religion is acknowledged at all, it is seen as the vehicle for carrying out the pursuit of the almighty dollar. Once success is achieved in an economic sense, the impetus for spirituality is completely removed. Under this model, the tendency towards atheism has a linear relationship with success in economic development. “Look at all those poor people. They couldn’t make it in life, so now they’re praying to God to help them out. Why don’t they get up off their lazy butts and try to work harder? What is their God going to do to help them?” When this mindset is taken to the extreme, the atheistic individual seeks high government posts to supplant the role of God in the lives of the downtrodden. “Why worship some invisible man in the sky when you can worship the government and have your food, clothing, and medical needs taken care of? The government will also absolve you of the debts you have rung up and go after the successful entities who have exploited you.”

Of course this viewpoint represents the height of ignorance, as the government itself is a powerless entity that doesn’t produce anything. Its revenue must be confiscated in the form of taxes, so there is really no claim to any property. The wealth generated by the proprietors and workers of the nation initially comes from God, so there is no person who can logically claim to be the original owner of everything. Since matter is part of the Supreme Lord’s external energy, no individual has ever created or destroyed anything.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)

Lord KrishnaMost of the impediments towards adopting spiritual life with any level of sincerity are self-imposed, and most of these restrictions are caused by the living entity’s deep rooted affinity for matter. The spirit soul, as a loving entity, must offer service to someone or something. Even when mired in the depths of ignorance, service is offered to the drug of choice, be it a narcotic or alcohol. When in the throws of drug dependence, the bewildered soul crawls daily towards their master, the intoxicant. As time is so precious, every minute spent in dedication to the master of hallucination and illusory sense gratification, the intoxicant, only serves to burn the life of the addict even faster. With the more sophisticated individual, who is wise enough to refrain from grossly ignorant behavior, the natural serving propensity is directed towards members of the opposite sex, the nation, the community, or family. Even the dog is offered worship regularly, as the owners must bow down to scoop up whatever waste deposits have been kindly left by the animal, who doesn’t know any better as far as what constitutes a restroom area and what doesn’t.

Because of the deep attachment to worldly objects, there is great difficulty in understanding revealed scriptures. In the Vedic tradition, the scriptural legacy instituted by the original inhabitants of the perishable land, the descriptions of the Supreme Lord and His associates bring not only high philosophy and deep concepts, but also wonderful accounts of extraordinary events. There are monkeys who can fly and talk, oceans of milk and butter, kings who live for hundreds of thousands of years, and worshipable objects who engage in lusty affairs with women. When viewed from the limited perspective of the conditioned eye, these descriptions surely give the hint of mythology. After all, who among us has seen a talking monkey? And isn’t cavorting with so many women at one time considered sinful?

Hanuman Contrary to what others may say, the descriptions found in the Vedic texts are not exaggerated in the least bit. There are some metaphorical sections, but they are properly acknowledged. Yet the exploits of Shri Hanuman, the divine figure and supporting hero of the Ramayana poem, are not made up events. He indeed roamed the earth in a monkey form, flew across the sky, and was able to assume massive and diminutive statures at will. Lord Krishna, the original form of Godhead, really did marry over 16,000 beautiful princesses. He had battled and defeated one particular demoniac king that had imprisoned most of these women. After rescuing them, the princesses asked to be married to Krishna. As the Supreme Lord who is capable of maintaining billions of living entities, was Krishna going to say “No”, especially to innocent souls whose desires were most genuine? Was He going to say, “Oh sorry, if I marry you, then people five thousand years into the future aren’t going to believe that I ever existed. Even if they do acknowledge My presence, they will criticize My behavior and consider Me too lusty to be God. Therefore you should go back to your parents and live out the rest of your years alone, as no one will marry you now that you have been in the custody of another man, this horrible excuse for a king that I just killed and defeated”?

“In the palace of Bhaumasura Lord Krishna saw 16,100 young princesses, who had been kidnapped and held captive there. When the princesses saw the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, enter the palace, they immediately became captivated by the beauty of the Lord and prayed for His causeless mercy. Within their minds, they decided to accept Lord Krishna as their husband without any hesitation.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 4)

Lord KrishnaThe Supreme Lord is the most merciful. If He wants to marry one million women, who is to stop Him? He is the creator of this and innumerable other universes, so how can there be any limit to His activities? Due to our blunt vision, which is extremely limited in scope, we have not the slightest idea of the length and breadth of the creation. We are proud of our ability to make advancements in space exploration and technological gadgets, but have we figured out how to become infinitesimally small? We know for a fact that we once survived inside the womb of our mother when we were no larger in size than a pea. If basing our observations only off the blunt senses, the descriptions of the child within the womb would surely seem like mythology. “How could you have survived in the form of a pea? You would have died immediately.” Yet we know that we surely didn’t die, and that just because we can’t remember the events of our time in the womb, it doesn’t mean that our development leading to eventual birth didn’t happen.

Similarly, just because we can’t fathom a single man leaping across an ocean, carrying a giant mountain in his hand, or marrying thousands of princesses, it doesn’t mean that these amazing displays of opulence and strength can’t occur. Can any of us create a gigantic land mass and have it float in the air for all of eternity? Can any of us create a fiery object that distributes heat and light continuously without requiring any external source of energy? Yet the sun exists for all time without any intervention by man, and the planets remain steady in their orbits. These visible objects certainly aren’t part of any mythology or conjured up systems of worship.

BhagavanDespite the real life miracles of the creation around us, the impediments towards spiritual enlightenment will always be there. Since we have no memory of association with anyone who is the richest, wisest, most beautiful, strongest, most famous and most renounced in the world, we can’t conceive of a Bhagavan, which is another name that describes the Supreme Absolute Truth. Because the personal meeting with Bhagavan is presently absent, the tendency for worshiping matter remains. One may ask why the Supreme Lord, in all His glory, would purposefully create such obstacles to spiritual life, especially when other paths are known to lead to misery. The answer is that the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is not to be taken lightly. It seems like an easy practice, wherein one simply worships the Supreme Lord in one of His non-different forms. Yet, just as one’s love cannot be easily bought off, bhakti is not a cheap endeavor by any means. The more deserving the object of affection, the more guarded they will be about giving out their love and allowing others to serve them. This isn’t a restrictive mindset or even a stingy one, but rather, one that aims to heighten the level of interaction and resulting emotion. If bhakti were a cheap activity, there wouldn’t be any benefit derived from it. Only those who are sincere in their service can appreciate the Supreme Lord for who He is: the original proprietor, the greatest enjoyer and the best friend of every living entity.

“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 16.19)

The descriptions of majestic events and the seemingly embarrassing practice of worshiping a carved statue delude the conditioned souls who are not interested in spiritual life in any way. In fact, their further descension into hellish life is encouraged. If their attitude is to simply challenge God’s authority and His position as the ultimate enjoyer, they are given full facility to continue to remain in ignorance. Why should one who is inimical to God be allowed to engage in the eternal pastimes of the Lord, where loving association with the Supreme Loveable Object and His closest confidantes is basked in by the surrendered soul? The beautiful traditions followed by the sincere followers of the Vedas serve as a protective shield, a way of keeping out the degraders, pretenders and miscreants. Even amongst so-called followers of Vedic philosophy who fail to reach the bhakti platform, the shield remains ever the barrier towards ultimate satisfaction.

Prahlada Maharaja with NarasimhadevaSurely there are admirers who are impressed by the high philosophy expounded in the Bhagavad-gita and the deep level of devotion shown by young children such as Prahlada Maharaja, but at the end of the day, the descriptions of the seemingly unbelievable activities are too much to take. As such, excuses are made as to how such information could have been included, with stories from other theistic traditions juxtaposed as a way to confuse the sincere students interested in a sublime form of spirituality. There is no tangible evidence to substantiate the claims that the Vedas are mythology, so rather than take the scriptural words at face value, the non-believers will try to flood the zone with as much unauthorized information from other traditions based in worldly life as possible. As long as doubt is present, there is a chance of cutting down the object in question’s authenticity. The mercy of the Supreme Lord can never properly be appreciated, as He ensures that the sacred pastimes of the spiritual world are safely protected from the influences of the illusioned.

“The dust of the feet of a devotee, the water that has washed the feet of a devotee, and the remnants of food left by a devotee are three very powerful substances.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 16.60)

With all of these impediments, how does anyone successfully make the uninhibited plunge into spiritual life? One must have the benediction of receiving the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee, a liberated soul who is already engaged in the eternal pastimes of the Lord, at least in spirit. Such a kind-hearted individual, who usually manifests in the form of the guru, or spiritual master, is the greatest welfare worker, a boatman who carries the conditioned soul across the ocean of nescience to the land of eternal, blissful life. But even when meeting a devotee, the inclinations towards doubt and suspicion may still remain. Therefore, the most effective religious practice for any person at any age is to constantly recite the holy names of the Lord. Of all the thousands of unique sound vibration representations of the Supreme Lord that describe His various activities, the names Krishna and Rama are considered the most complete. These two names are prominent in the most potent spiritual formula, the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra should be chanted regularly and with firm determination. No matter the state of consciousness, the Hare Krishna mantra can deliver the mind from all perilous conditions. Chanting is the most effective method of the eternal engagement known as bhakti-yoga. Kirtana, or devoted chanting, is both a means and an end, as one who becomes accustomed to reciting God’s names will never want to give it up. Instead of quitting and returning to material life, they will develop an even greater taste for Krishna, taking the holy name of the Lord to be their life and soul.

The Supreme Lord, as the most deserving object of worship, has four characteristics that best represent His nature: names, forms, qualities and pastimes. Due to the aforementioned impediments towards spiritual life, understanding the forms, qualities and pastimes is extremely difficult. But the name is so powerful that it automatically brings cognition of the other three characteristics. The same can’t be said of the pastimes, forms, or qualities. Any personal aspect of the Supreme Lord is certainly sublime, supreme and capable of providing unending bliss, but the name is the most beautiful aspect, considered the jewel of spirituality by noted figures like Goswami Tulsidas, the greatest of poets and eternal servant of Shri Hanuman and Lord Rama, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. Tulsidas accurately points out that outward worship of the Lord, done through His visually manifest forms of the deity and the incarnation, and inward worship, performed through deep meditation and contemplation on the Absolute Truth, are like the top and bottom of a jewelry box. The name is the actual jewel, as its recitation is the most valuable religious practice protected by all other processes of spirituality. His assertion is validated by the fact that the name automatically brings every other blissful feature imaginable to the conditioned eye. Even the liberated soul, one who has no attachment to any worldly objects and whose consciousness is completely purified, adores the name of the Lord so much that they never will give it up.

Lord Chaitanya Through the chanting process, the conditioned soul goes from being a stingy hoarder of matter and worldly objects, to becoming the most liberal and kind-hearted of souls. The bhakta, or devotee, knows that everyone and everything in this world is part and parcel of the most loveable object: the Supreme Lord. Only the name can bring acute cognition of everything in material and spiritual life. One who knows the comings and goings of the Supreme Lord, the eternal nature of His pastimes, and His unflinching and unwavering dedication to the pious will never have to take birth on the material planets again. Knowledge of such confidential matters is easily acquired by those who faithfully engage in the service of chanting the names of God. This is the very conclusion of Shrila Haridasa Thakura, who was bestowed the title of “Acharya of the Holy Name” by Lord Chaitanya Himself. The brilliance of Shri Gauranga and His followers can never be doubted, as their activities, natures and teachings firmly solidify their supreme standing in the fields of spirituality and preaching. Following the advice of Shrila Haridasa Thakura can very quickly bring us the blissful satisfaction that comes from Krishna’s association.