“Such [material] distinctions are visible in the lives of everyone, even the animals, but those who are pure devotees are freed from these false distinctions. Since these distinctions are absent in Your devotees, they cannot possibly be present in You.” (King Yudhishthira praising Krishna, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 19)
“Because you were so nice to me, I’m going to put in a prayer to your God.” Statements in jest like these indicate the prevalence of the mindset which thinks in terms of “my God” and “my religion”, which is especially common amongst those who are unaware of the intrinsic properties of spirit and the undying nature of the divine energy, the sole impetus for all seen and unseen action. But those whose eyes have been trained by steady practice in the one discipline that seeks universal truths and worships a leader who is equally disposed towards all forms of life transcend all labels and false identifications. Therefore they become the ideal welfare workers, the most benevolent teachers who can bring anyone out of the doldrums of chaos, despair, tumult, heartache and the like. The beautiful properties of these knowers of the truth are actually inherited from their master, an entity who is Himself free of ties to any specific organization, geographic location, or language tradition. Indeed, due to His magnanimous nature, this Supreme Person is worthy of worship from every single entity.
“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)
Not surprisingly, the person we speak of is God. In the Vedic tradition, He is known as Krishna, or one who is all-attractive. He kindly descends to earth whenever there are disturbances in the discharge of law codes, or dharma. The skeptic will argue that Krishna is simply a specific region’s theistic leader, an object of worship established off of sentiment and a tradition rooted in mythology. But if we get past all the prejudices rooted in ignorance, we’ll see that the truths espoused by the bluish divine figure found in the Bhagavad-gita surpass those contained in any other book, spiritual or otherwise. Moreover, Krishna’s universal candidacy for friendship and worship is substantiated by the tangible results achieved by those who follow His instructions, the most important of which calls for one to simply surrender unto God and be delivered from all sinful reaction.
Surrender doesn’t only involve a formal ritual or an allegiance of faith. Nor does it require that one don a specific dress and be addressed by a particular name. Perfunctory rules and regulations can help in the surrendering process, but the real benefit of turning one’s life and emotions over to Krishna is the altering of consciousness. True allegiance and dedication to God can be observed through outward symptoms, which indicate a drastic shift in the thought processes. When one remains below the full surrender platform, the loving emotions deeply ingrained within the soul get directed to other areas and objects. The nature of the surrender is the same except there is a drastic divergence in the quality of the objects of worship and the results that follow.
Since contaminated love focuses attention on entities which are not worthy of the full loving potential of the soul, the results derived are checked, or at least limited in some way, thereby keeping the consciousness in a clouded state, which then leads to concepts such as “my religion” and “my God”. A truly surrendered soul, one who is armed with the highest knowledge, understands that since spirituality describes the properties of the soul and its relationship to the Supreme Lord, it cannot be sectarian in any way. The laws of gravity don’t apply differently based on the belief system of the falling person or object. Similarly, the laws of nature, which are governed by the higher authorities installed by Shri Krishna Himself, do not act differently based on a person’s geographic location or scriptural tradition.
The assigned designations that are based on all sorts of attributes only come from those who have failed to reach the platform of complete surrender. Race, ethnicity, gender and age are some of the more common points of interest around which discrimination is formed. Today, much effort is taken to eradicate the practices of labeling individuals based on their outward features and behavior, but none of the methods employed fully succeed because the true identity of the individual is never revealed. For instance, a white person may be taught to avoid discriminating against a black person, but if neither group is educated on their true identity, that of a spirit soul, they will always label themselves according to the color of their skin, which is an attribute of the body that is not constant from person to person. The spirit soul can never be destroyed, cut up, burned, dried, or altered in any way. At the time of death, the current outer covering of the soul is discarded in favor of a new one. One who is Indian in this life can very well become American or Chinese in the next life. After all, the only differences in these designations are countries of origin and attributes specific to the outer covering.
“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.17)
While the tendency may be to artificially shun labels, real success is found when the only label that applies universally is adopted. Instead of the “my God” and “my religion” mindsets, one who takes their identity from the properties of their identifiable aspect, the spirit soul, will be able to maintain peace and calm knowing that they are not attached to or affected with temporary changes. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the pathway that leads to accepting in earnest the only label that actually fits. Just as our identity comes from the spirit soul within, our natural engagement is to behave in accordance with the intrinsic properties of our identifiable aspect. Spirit is not only eternal, knowledgeable and blissful, but it is also naturally inclined towards service, or divine love. In the constitutional state, the loving object is properly identified as God, whose most potent incarnation pervading the material world in the current age is His name. Therefore the simplest and most effective method of bhakti, one that allows the potential for service bottled up inside the conditioned soul to be released with full vim and vigor, is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.18)
The humble sages, those who have accepted the proper label of eternal servant of God, see all forms of life equally. They see a dog, a dog eater, a brahmana, a cow, and an elephant as being the same. The exact nature of the interaction may not be the same with each case, but the underlying vision is applied equally. The devoted soul understands that the outer covering of a living entity is simply a manifestation of Krishna’s external energy, so it is of the same nature in any form of life, as spirit souls are expansions of Krishna’s internal energy that have a marginal position, one that allows for a choice between association with Krishna or delusion under the dictates of material nature. The humble sages see with a purified vision, so they are the most respected members of society, teachers that others can learn from in their struggles through life.
The behavior and vision of the sages who have adopted the proper label reveal the terrific properties of their object of worship. If a human being can ascend to the platform where they view everyone equally, then the Supreme Lord must bear the same properties. This was the point raised by King Yudhishthira during a meeting he once had with Lord Krishna. The Supreme Lord descended to earth in His personal form during the Dvapara Yuga and took part in many diplomatic affairs involving the Pandavas, who were five sons to Krishna’s aunt, Kunti Devi. Yudhishthira was the eldest of the brothers and he was well-known for his dedication to piety and virtue. Whenever he would see Krishna, he would properly praise and worship Him. Through his behavior, Yudhishthira provided great insight about Krishna’s nature to the people of the time and to future generations as well.
Yudhishthira once properly noted that Lord Krishna is just like the sun in His equanimity. The sun touches all sorts of objects, both pure and impure, during each day when it spreads its light across the massive universe. Despite what it touches, the sun remains the same in quality, unaffected by the interaction with external objects. Lord Krishna is the same way, in that as the Supreme Lord, He has no favorites. His mercy is always open for anyone. The option to surrender and be delivered of all sinful reaction is not a promise applicable exclusively to Indians, brahmanas, the Pandavas, and men. Just as the sun’s rays are available to everyone to utilize, Krishna’s promise for protection and the sublime pleasure He provides His associates engaged in bhakti-yoga apply to all forms of life.
Both the skeptic and the honest critic at this point may raise an issue about surrender to other theistic figures. “Why just surrender to Krishna? Don’t all religions prescribe the same method of full and complete relinquishing of ego and interest?” Actually, every area of endeavor, spiritual or otherwise, inherently asks their supporters to surrender. The politician running for office asks for the surrender of time and money from the constituents, the author selling his book the same from his customers, and the paramour the sacrifice of emotion from the lover. Yet none of these worshiped entities is capable of providing full protection because they are themselves limited in their abilities. The only entities save the Supreme Lord capable of bringing about anything tangible to their dependents are the devotees and spiritual masters who dedicate their lives to teaching others about Krishna either through precept or example. But even under this scenario, the guru doesn’t take the tribute offered to him for his personal benefit. Instead, he acts as a via-medium, accepting the worship offered to him as being intended for Shri Krishna.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)
When Krishna promises deliverance from all sinful reaction for the surrendered soul, His position of neutrality does not break in any way. As the all-pervading spiritual sun, God is always shining His mercy down on everyone. The difference with the surrendered soul is that they know how to accept the mercy and make good use of it. The distinction between a soul surrendered unto God and one wholly dedicated to a worldly object or entity is in the nature of consciousness. A sinful reaction is a negative consequence to a particular activity. We can think of these consequences as pollution, necessary punishment for activities which were otherwise intended to bring about positive results. Student loan debt is a great example of this principle. Borrowing money to pay for school brings about the favorable result of attending college and earning a degree that will hopefully further advance one’s career. The sinful reaction, or negative consequence, is the debt that is incurred, a bill that must eventually be paid off. Student loan forgiveness equates to eliminating the negative reaction to the original activity. One is delivered from their sinful reaction resulting from borrowing money to pay for college when the balance due on their loan is eliminated prior to repayment.
In the larger picture, all activities of the mundane variety, those that seek temporary sense pleasures, automatically have built-in sinful reactions, negative consequences that may go unnoticed but still bring about very unpalatable results. In any fruitive engagement, one where surrender to some object or entity of the temporary world is required, the most harmful sinful reaction is that of further separation from Krishna, the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, in consciousness. This is considered the most severe negative consequence because separation from Krishna equates to being removed from the soul’s life partner, its complementary loveable object. There can be no worse reaction to an activity than to have further separation from the only object we are meant to associate with eternally.
Krishna promises deliverance from sinful reaction, and the actual rescue doesn’t even have to be carried out by the Lord directly. Surrender is coupled with devotional service, or the engagement that does not carry any negative reaction due to the constant association one maintains with Krishna. If consciousness is always tied to the Supreme Lord, there can never be any separation from Him, i.e. the root cause of all sinful reaction gets removed. It is for this reason that King Yudhishthira, knowing all the specific codes of conduct enjoined in the shastras, takes shelter of Krishna and no one else. He understands that Krishna is equally favorable to all and that linking one’s consciousness to Him brings about only palatable results in life.
The labels adopted based on our political beliefs, our favorite activities, our countries of origin, and our religious traditions are all relinquished at the time of death. If we think of the labels in terms of adhesives attached to the body, at the time of death, the labels themselves peel off, as the body is either burned or buried. But the designation of “I am a spirit soul, an eternal servant of Krishna” does not ever go away. Indeed, this property is always present in the soul, and one who is conscious of it never has to fall victim to any flawed identification.