Thursday, April 21, 2011

Do You See What I See?

Lord Krishna “The Lord moves everywhere—within and without—and we simply have to make our vision clear so that we may see Him. By devotional service, we can purify our senses so that we may perceive the presence of God. Those who are less intelligent simply try to find God within, but those who are advanced in intelligence can see the Lord both within and without.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 11)

It’s Super Bowl Sunday. Everyone is gathered around the television to watch the game. There is a large group of friends and family over the house, with plenty of food and a big screen television with full high-definition and surround-sound capabilities to enhance the viewing experience. When the game starts, a big play happens right away. The underdog team, the one most of the people in the room are cheering for, runs back the opening kickoff for a touchdown. It’s pandemonium in the stadium and at home; seemingly everyone is excited. But there are a few people at the party to whom such a moment brings no joy whatsoever. Not only are they not interested in the fortunes of either team, but they can’t possibly understand why anyone would be excited over someone else carrying a football in their hands and running with it for over one hundred yards. “What are they seeing? Who cares that someone thousands of miles away just scored a touchdown?”

cometSimilarly diametrically opposing levels of emotion are witnessed when viewing visible phenomena such as the passing of a comet. Imagine a similar scenario where a group of friends is gathered together on the roof of an apartment building with their telescopes ready. When the particular comet, one that only passes through the night sky every several hundred years or so, finally comes, the onlookers will be elated, feeling fortunate to have witnessed a modern marvel, a miracle of science. Yet to the skeptic and the disinterested observer, the movement of a tiny blip in the sky doesn’t really mean anything. “So a comet passed through the night. Big deal. What does it matter anyway? If we saw it or didn’t see it, I don’t see how our lives are affected at all?”

What could be at the root of the divergence in opinion? The act of visible perception certainly is the same in both individuals. Both sets of onlookers are viewing the exact same thing, but the reactions are still totally different. If we study a little more closely, we see that the level of consciousness is what differs between the two groups. One set has spent much time and effort contemplating, pondering over, and worrying about the big football game. When the underdog team scores on the opening kickoff, it means that their chances to win have just increased. In football, the season culminates with the Super Bowl championship, one of the most difficult trophies to win in all of sports. The opportunity to even play in a Super Bowl is rare enough. So many great players have gone their whole careers without ever winning a championship. Therefore if the team you are supporting further increases their chances of winning the big prize, you will be excited. The visible perception of the event that increased the odds of success thereby brings satisfaction to the mind.  While one observer is simply seeing a man running on a field with an oblong shaped ball, the other is seeing the chances of victory increase.

footballThe viewing of the comet follows a similar pattern. One side, which consists of scientists and inquisitive minds, is seeing the tiny blip in the sky as a sign of the incredibly complex and wonderful nature of the universe. The sun rises and sets every day, but certain comets only come around every few hundred years. Hence those who can witness the passing of a comet are certainly highly fortunate. Yet to the skeptic and disinterested observer, there is no thought or appreciation given to the comet, as their consciousnesses are focused on other things. Therefore the same visible perceptions go unappreciated.

When it comes to spirituality, the justifications provided by the skeptics for not believing in God or not wanting to accept the authorized statements found in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, cover the full spectrum of opinion. The one side, the secular scientists, wants tangible proof, evidence of God’s existence seen through experimental analysis. On the opposite side, the meditational yogi only perceives of the Supreme Being in an invisible form, for he looks around and doesn’t see any truth or anything that is permanent. In reality, both angles of vision are flawed, as evidence of the Lord’s presence is all around us. When one’s eyes are properly conditioned through the practice of transcendental love, the presence of the Divine Personality is witnessed, appreciated and adored at every single corner of the earth.

“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThe skeptical scientist can be compared to the disinterested observers at the football game and comet watching gatherings. Without knowing that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, created this and millions of other universes, the divine workings of nature go unappreciated. A devotee, one who practices bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, as a way of life, can simply taste water and understand that the enjoyment derived is a direct manifestation of Krishna. The sun, which is the sustainer of life, is another direct representation of the Supreme Spirit’s energy. Without the sun, which is self-illuminating and perpetually burning, life could not exist in any tangible way. If the sun were to burn out, life on earth would be destroyed soon after.

The skeptical scientist will say that there is no evidence that Krishna is God. Rather, the statements found in texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata are merely myths, exaggerations put into poetic form. Through skepticism one can certainly debunk any assertion or opinion. Even the scientist claiming that a particular object is composed of millions of tiny molecules can be proven wrong. After all, the scientist had to learn his techniques from another teacher. What if the teacher was wrong in their assertions? It is a well established fact that man is prone to error, as are scientists. What if the microscope being used to observe a particular object is flawed? How would the scientist even know that the microscope was properly manufactured, as there are too many instances to count of mechanical production failing?

In this way the importance of the seemingly irrefutable sense observations of the most respected scientist can be minimized. The key to accepting any type of observation, personal or otherwise, is authority. If the source of information is deemed an authority figure, one who is trustworthy, the information will be accepted and acted upon. Moreover, we put faith and trust into our own observations and tendencies over the course of time. When we step out the door of our home, we don’t know for sure if someone else is lurking around the corner to attack us. But from evidence gathered from previous experiences, we have deduced that the likelihood of such an attack is minimal. Therefore there is always trust behind the actions we take and the information we choose to accept.

Lord KrishnaSimilarly, the statements of the Vedas and their supporters pertaining to Krishna’s supremacy and His divine nature can be accepted through faith in the beginning stages. Unlike the scientists who may or may not lead us astray based on the validity of their conclusions, the Vedic principles are meant to be implemented precisely to produce tangible and lasting results in every instance, with the primary benefit being the altering of consciousness. Proof of God’s existence is seen in the results that come from practicing devotion to Him.  The quintessential act of devotion is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The skeptic will argue that repeating a sound vibration can’t possibly bring one closer to God, as people go on singing songs all the time and never advance in terms of consciousness or intelligence. While this line of thinking seems plausible enough, the authorized acharyas, those who lead by example, kindly inform us that the name of God is different from any mundane sound vibration. The holy name automatically brings an awakening of the forms, attributes and pastimes of the original Divine Being, who is personal and fully formed. This brings us to the other skeptical viewpoint pertaining to God’s existence. The meditational yogi and those who want to only conceive of the invisible aspect of the Supreme Lord don’t follow the line of the atheists and scientists, but they will reject all outward sense perceptions as being false. After all, everything in this world is temporary, including our lives. Just as the human being is created at the time of conception and destroyed at the time of death, the entire cosmos must have been created at some point. Therefore it must also be dissolved at a future point in time. In fact, the latter portion of this opinion is confirmed by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita, wherein He states that the universe constantly goes through cycles of creation and destruction under His direction.

“The whole cosmic order is under Me. By My will it is manifested again and again, and by My will it is annihilated at the end.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.8)

Irrespective of how the conclusion is reached, simply knowing that the outer world is temporary is not enough to understand the true nature of the Supreme Lord. One can try to meditate within on the invisible aspect of the all-pervading Supreme Spirit, antaryami, but without knowledge of the reason behind the temporary manifestations of matter and the position of the individual souls within the complex nature, the invisible aspect of the Lord will always remain just that: invisible. Goswami Tulsidas very nicely touches on these truths in his Dohavali, wherein he mocks those who simply are after the invisible aspect of the Lord, alakh. Tulsidas says that one must first understand the visible world, which is also known as maya, the unmanifested, which is known as Parabrahman, and the marginal position of the jiva, who is in between Parabrahman and maya. If we’re simply searching after the unmanifested aspect of the Absolute Truth, we will never understand what His transcendental form looks like and what our relationship to Him is.

As the marginal potency of the Supreme Spirit, the individual souls have a choice as to whether to associate with maya or Truth. Wanting to see God is a noble desire, but unless one understands who they are and why they are put on earth, they will never understand God sufficiently. The jivas, as the marginal potency, chose to separate from God at some point in time and were thus allowed to play in maya’s playground, the material world. The association with illusion, or the temporary nature, continues for as long as the desire to enjoy the fruits growing on the playing field and take part in the material pursuits that further bind one to the temporary happiness and suffering of the phenomenal world remains.

Lord RamaThe material scientist is baffled in his attempts at understanding nature because he can’t see God’s presence anywhere, and the yogi set on meditating on the invisible aspect of the Lord misses the opportunity to truly understand God’s sublime nature as the all-attractive, best friend of every single form of life. Tulsidas says that even better than trying to separately understand maya, Brahman, and the jiva’s position in between the two, which itself is very difficult to perfect in one lifetime, is chanting the holy name of Lord Rama. Krishna and Rama are Sanskrit words which describe the Supreme Absolute Truth, who is always full of form. The name is the key because it brings about sublime understanding, information that is already stored deep within the recesses of the heart. The foremost property of the jiva soul, who is part and parcel of Krishna, is that of eternal lover of God. Therefore those who become one with their natural property and love God to the fullest are never bereft of knowledge or bliss.

When in the material world, by becoming deluded by the workings of maya the jiva’s property as the marginal potency swings the pendulum over to the side of illusion; thus causing the natural knowledgebase to be clouded. Chanting the names of God, which is the most efficacious process of bhakti, brings about a reawakening of the divine consciousness. Only one who is firmly fixed in the practice of bhakti can perceive of God’s presence at every corner of life. Through the proper consciousness not only is the Absolute Truth’s invisible aspect appreciated, but His original forms residing in the spiritual world are also worshiped and honored at all times. When statues and pictures depicting the vigrahas, or spiritual bodies, are crafted and worshiped in the material world in temples and in homes, the devotee feels even more elation. The wise-guy may think he has found a contradiction with the introduction of deity worship. “If God is everywhere, why do you need to go to a temple? If through the practice of chanting and devotion in general you are able to appreciate Krishna’s presence in every sphere of life, what is the point to seeking more bliss by seeing the deity?”

Lord KrishnaThe skeptic of deity worship may seem to have a point in this situation, but a series of even more valid counter questions may be raised. “If you see God everywhere, why would you fail to appreciate His deity form? If you know of Krishna’s nature and all-pervading presence, surely you would know that the deity is His special mercy upon the conditioned souls who have a difficult time perceiving of His presence? Surely you wouldn’t scoff at those who are trying to elevate themselves to the highest platform of Krishna consciousness through the worship of the deity? You required purification yourself due to the natural conditioned state you assumed at the time of birth, so why should others be criticized for appreciating the Supreme Lord and His wonderful mercy that is the deity?”

The deity or any other aspect of the physical world can only be truly appreciated when the eyes have been properly conditioned through bhakti. The statements of any philosopher or teacher can be accepted or rejected, but true authority is established by seeing tangible results from following the recommendations given to submissive students. Chanting the names of God is the best way to see the Lord’s universal presence, including His invisible aspect. This conclusion is supported by all the Vaishnavas, whose authority is firmly established through the purification of vision achieved by the exalted devotees. If we can get excited by watching a football game and by observing the movement of a comet, why shouldn’t our experiences be enhanced when we realize that everything in this world has God as its source? Through a regulative chanting process, which evokes the most blissful of thoughts, consciousness can be cleared, and our vision, both within and without, can be spot on when observing anything.