“For any person who is chanting the holy name either softly or loudly, the paths to liberation and even heavenly happiness are at once open.” (Padma Purana)
The Vedas and their followers claim that the world we currently occupy is a sort of shadow-copy of a more purified realm. The exact terminology used is “perverted reflection” or “inverted reflection.” The image in a mirror can come pretty close to matching the actual appearance of the object in question, but there is still a flaw in the orientation of the picture. For instance, if our hair is parted in a certain direction, when we look at ourselves in a mirror, we will never get the same image that is presented to others. If we were to collectively gather every single activity, enjoyment and engagement and compare them to their clones in the spiritual world, we’d find that not only are the behaviors in our present realm reflected in an inverse direction, but so are the results. What appears to be beneficial in the short term actually ends up harming us greatly in the end, whereas that which is very distasteful and seemingly a waste of time in the beginning can turn out to be the most worthwhile. In Sanskrit the ultimate objective is known as shreyas and short-term satisfaction as preyas. Only in the human form of life can the two be distinguished, thus allowing for the ultimate goal to be identified and sought after in earnest.
“That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.37)
The way the inverted reflection works is best seen in the pursuits to please the most powerful sense organs. While the satisfaction of the genitals is seen as the most potent form of sense gratification, there are many harmful side effects to having a consciousness driven by uncontrolled desires for sex life. For starters, much effort has to be undertaken to find a satisfactory level of enjoyment. Even if there is a steady partner available for relations, the satisfaction and stimulation can die down very quickly; hence the preponderance of infidelity and divorce. Uncontrolled eating is also another instance of short term benefits coupling with long term detriments. When the taste buds take over the good intellect belonging to the mind, the resultant desires are to eat meat and drink alcohol. The allure of intoxication is that it will somehow bring alleviation from ordinary distresses. There is the short term stimulation in the form of being drunk or high, but immediately following that is a painful fall. The experience is similar to that of being thrust high into the sky. If we are bounding above the waters and the massive land around us, there will surely be a feeling of exhilaration. There is a reason for the saying, “I feel like I’m on top of the world.” Nevertheless, the thrill of reaching such heights is short-lived, as the laws of gravity always ultimately prevail. And since we are so high in the air, the impact of our fall will be even greater than if we had remained steady on the ground the whole time.
“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.7)
The mode of passion in the material world drives a person to activities that are of no benefit to them in the long run. Eating meat is considered sinful because there must be a complementary reaction to the act of unnecessarily killing an innocent life form. This shouldn’t be very difficult to understand. In any civilized society there are certain animals which are considered protected. This identification goes above and beyond the implied protection offered to human beings. There was a famous American football player who in recent years was found to be organizing fights between dogs, with the losing dogs being killed afterwards. He was subsequently sent to jail and vilified by the public for his inhumane behavior. So if killing a dog is worthy of severe punishment and ridicule, why should taking the life of an innocent cow, who is the mother to her children and the world for that matter, be not equally as harmful to one’s karma?
The arguments used to counter this sound logical reasoning are all rather empty. One viewpoint says that the cow’s flesh gets eaten while the dog’s does not. So does this mean that as long as we eat what we kill, the original act of taking another life is not sinful? If fighters eat their opponents after killing them, then there is no harm? Another argument made is that the dog is much more intelligent than the cow, as pets can form friendships with their owners. But in the infant stage, the human being is actually less intelligent than many animals. Does this mean that all infants should be killed? What about those human beings who, for some reason or another, fail to develop their intelligence during the course of their lifetime? Should they be sent to slaughterhouses?
The effects of the senses are so strong that they cause a tunnel-vision-like drive towards immediate satisfaction. In the process, logic, reason and basic standards of decency are thrown to the wayside. Not only is there much resulting pain and misery delivered through the laws of nature, which must provide commensurate reactions to any work performed, but the opportunity for understanding the point of human life is missed. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, don’t present the differences between the material and spiritual worlds without a purpose. The purified realm, the original image from which our current land is reflected, has every amenity and enjoyment available without any hint of sin or negative consequence to action. The proprietor of this land ensures the sanctity of the activities undertaken by the inhabitants, who are always blissful. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord, God Himself, is the controller we speak of, and the land in which He resides forever in a personal way is known as Vaikuntha, or that realm free of anxieties, and the highest planet in Vaikuntha is Goloka Vrindavana.
With material activities, there is a price to pay for misdeeds and also for actions neglected. If we wholeheartedly take up a certain engagement, we are naturally going to ignore another. Therefore there is every chance of meeting future distress with any activity that is not tied to the Supreme Lord’s interests. One who takes to pleasing Krishna, who is the original and most attractive form of Godhead, engages in the real business of the soul. Just as the material world is an inverted reflection of the spiritual land, all the activities adopted off of that skewered vision are inverted in their effectiveness. With transcendental activities, just the opposite is true. When bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is made the primary occupation in life, any resultant engagement, even those activities which don’t necessarily seem to be proper or performed in the correct order, can lead to worthy results.
The inner workings of songwriting give a nice illustration of how the dichotomy between the realms manifests. Popular songs are those that are catchy, have lots of hooks, and exhibit talent in terms of singing and playing of instruments. In rock music especially, the songs focus on the guitar playing abilities of the musicians and the uniqueness of the singer’s voice. What’s interesting to note, however, is that many rock songs see the lyrics written at the end of the composition process. For famous bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and a host of others, the basic process for writing a song starts off with the riff tape. One of the guitarists or vocalists in the band plays on their instrument for fun during their leisure time. If they come up with a riff or a guitar part they like, they record it onto a tape. When it comes time to write material for an album or a single song, the appointed members of the band sift through all the tapes and decide which parts are good enough to serve as foundations for songs.
At the beginning stages of the composition, there is obviously only instrumental music. Vocal melodies are added on top of the guitar parts. Even if the vocal melody is the genesis for the song, the end result of the first stage of the process is still the same: a song without any words. If we listen to demo versions of some very popular rock songs, we’ll hear the vocalist humming along with strange noises and words as the song plays. This is because the words for the song had yet to be written in the process. Among members of the famous heavy metal band Iron Maiden, there is even a minor squabble over this very issue. The band’s bassist and de facto leader, Steve Harris, believes that the actual lyrics of songs are not that important. If the melodies are written first, it doesn’t really matter what kinds of words are inserted later on. His reasoning follows that most listeners remember the melodies and the arrangements of the songs and not necessarily the lyrics. The lead singer of the band, however, would rather see the focus put on the lyrics first, as the words give meaning to the song.
But if we study the behavior of the average listener and the components of what makes a popular rock song, we’ll see that Harris is indeed correct. How many of us have heard our favorite song over and over again and not even memorized all of the words? Indeed, many times there are lyric lines that we can’t even understand, so we’ll just make up our own words to sing along to. As rock music is a product of the material world, the actual items of importance, the meaning of the song and the message the singer is trying to convey, are given lower priority in favor of the sound vibrations of the instruments and vocal melodies.
However, in spiritual life - the original image from which our current life is reflected - just the opposite is true. You can take the sacred formula, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and put it to pretty much any melody and get a wonderful song. This has proven successful in practice, as the maha-mantra, the most effective means of salvation for the people of the current age of Kali, has been recorded in countless rhythms ever since it was made popular the world over by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his followers and their admirers. Not only is the maha-mantra regularly sung today, but so are other famous bhajans, or devotional songs. As these musical compositions contain the holy name of the Lord and are presented in a mood of love and devotion, the sound vibrations that are produced are completely spiritual. Through connection with God, the inverted reflection turns into the real thing, a tangible representation of the Supreme Lord within the material world.
All the famous texts of the Vedas, including the Mahabharata, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana, can be sung congregationally or put into musical compositions. Maharishi Valmiki, the poet who composed the Ramayana [which describes the glorious activities of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Godhead], actually taught Rama’s two sons, Lava and Kusha, how to properly sing the entire poem in a public setting accompanied by music. With spiritual songs, the words are given priority over the melody; therefore there is tremendous benefit received by both the performer and the audience. Even if just the melody of a particular spiritual composition is remembered, a benefit is still there, as the sounds of pure spirit continue to play within the mind.
The aim of human life is to attain yoga, or complete connection with the Divine consciousness. As songs have the ability to be easily retained within one’s mind, there is no better way to remain in yoga than to regularly hear bhajans and glorification of the Supreme Lord, that one entity who many governments around the world claim to trust. If we trust in God, we might as well think about Him. If we are to think about Him, we might as well understand what He looks like, what His attributes are, what pastimes He engages in, and most importantly, how to address Him. God is too generic a term to bring any bliss to the distant observer trapped in a perverted reflection of a land.
As Lord Krishna, God is always full of bliss, or ananda, so that same pure feeling of happiness can be instilled in the devotees when they invoke wonderful names such as Rama, Govinda, Shyamasundara, Keshava, and of course, Krishna to address their supreme object of worship. Through the wonders of music containing the beautiful words describing Krishna, His names and His activities, the mind can be transported directly to the spiritual land, a place where what you see is what you get. God is the Supreme Absolute Truth, so anyone who sees Him regularly will never be a victim to a deceiving image. As the holy name is the link to the spiritual world, the more we can remember it, honor it, and produce it within our minds, the more opportunities we will get to see the Truth. The lyrics of any song containing Krishna’s names presented in a devotional attitude will sweep us back to the spiritual sky, a place wherefrom we never have to return.