Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From Nothing to Something

Hanuman worshiping Rama“Shri Rama’s holy name is like a numeral, and all religious practices are like zero. When the numeral is not there, zero means nothing. But when it is present, the resultant value increases tenfold.” (Dohavali, 10)

nāma rāma ko aṃka hai saba sādhana haiṃ sūna |

aṃka ga_em̐ kachu hātha nahiṃ aṃka raheṃ dasa gūna ||

This is a famous tenet of Vedic philosophy that Tulsidas has very nicely converted into poetry form in the Hindi language. Indeed, the brilliance of his point cannot be measured, just as the wonder, glory, kindness and dedication of its author cannot be fully appreciated even after hours and hours of study and meditation. This verse especially refers to the numerous regulations and practices of spirituality that have been in existence for many years and also those that will surely arise in the future. Dharma is the essential characteristic of the soul, the natural love it has for God. In order to maintain this characteristic, to ensure that it doesn’t develop or morph into some other unrelated engagement, guidelines and activities are required. Yet there is one common factor to all the recommended practices that links back to the original consciousness of the individual: the holy name. Lord Rama, the Personality of Godhead in the form of a warrior prince who kindly roamed this earth many thousands of years ago, has such a potent name that hearing it automatically energizes every religious practice and method of worship. When the name is absent, however, all methods are akin to zeroes, which are worthless no matter what you try to do with them.

Lord RamaIf you have a zero and try to add another zero, you still get zero. Try to multiply two zeroes, and you’re still left with nothing. Division is even worse, as there is an automatic error when zero is used as a divisor. But if you add a one, or any nonzero numeral for that matter, in front of the zero, you get a tangible value. In fact, all it takes is a single numeral, one instance of the number one, to give the zero real potency. If we have just a single number one, the more zeroes we place next to it the greater the resulting value. Though we may be tempted to think that the value lies in the zero, the essential ingredient is the one. In the absence of the numeral, the resulting number will always be nothing. We could have a giant roomful of zeroes and still have absolutely nothing if not for the one.

This concept shouldn’t be very difficult to understand, as every seemingly independent object has a primary source of energy, something that keeps it ticking. In the human being, the life-giving force is generally acknowledged to be the heart, which is also commonly referred to as the ticker. This one small organ kindly distributes blood evenly to the rest of the body. Moreover, it functions without any extra effort, as there is no switch that turns on the heart or tells it to shut down. In the absence of the heart, none of our body parts would be meaningful at all. If our arm or leg should fall asleep because of a temporary lack of circulation, it becomes lifeless. Yet when these body parts are functioning properly, their vitality is due to the benevolence of the heart, which carefully gives just the right amount of liquid substance to oil the various parts of the machine known as the body.

heartThe Vedas, however, kindly reveal that the essence of life is actually not the heart itself, but rather the entities which reside inside of it. The heart is similar to another other form of matter; it is simply a collection of chemicals made to work under the dictates of the master of the dwelling, the soul. Individual spirit, which emanates from the giant spiritual powerhouse in the eternal sky, is the essence of life. In the absence of the soul, the heart will not function, and thus the rest of the body parts will become useless. We can live in the fanciest apartment or mansion, have hundreds of the most expensive cars in the world and have the most beautiful family, but if the soul exits the body, all our possessions and relationships become nothing.

The soul, as the essence of life, has intrinsic properties, which include eternality, bliss and knowledge. From these properties comes a strong inclination towards service, to offer love to another entity or object. When the beneficiary is bona fide, the outpouring of love reaches its full potential and thus results in life taking on its true meaning. Indeed, religion, or spirituality, is meant for this very purpose, to find for the soul its natural engagement. Having a theoretical understanding of why different processes are adopted is surely beneficial, but more important is vijnana, or practical knowledge, which is acquired through explicit action. In the absence of a change in behavior, even high knowledge goes to waste, as the soul’s natural penchant for service remains untapped.

In the conditioned state, wherein the individual spiritual entity appears in a world full of zeroes which seemingly have different outward appearances, the targeted beneficiaries for service get misidentified. The wholehearted dedication to passing legislation, achieving rights for the downtrodden, and protecting and saving the environment results from the misuse of the serving propensity. These practices may indeed lead to short term benefits for society at large, but since the benefitted objects are zeroes that have no relation to the numeral that is sat, or eternal truth, the resulting conditions are short-lived. What’s worse is that the reservoir for action gets used up unnecessarily, similar to leaving the refrigerator door open all night. In the absence of a real beneficiary, something or someone that gives meaning to the zeroes, the individual becomes an open target for other forces which are not Truth to come in and compete for attention.

“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)

Hanuman with Sita and Rama in his heartEven in the realm of spirituality, where the true beneficiary, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is understood and acknowledged, the practices adopted can also fall short. The term “yoga” means linking the individual soul with the Supersoul, the expansion of Supreme Truth residing within the heart adjacent to the jiva, or individual soul. The jiva is the catalyst for action, but none of the results can be realized without the intervention of the Supersoul, which acts as a sort of impartial witness. We are fortunate to have God living within us, but He is also kind enough to take the same expansion and rest within the hearts of every other living entity. As such, when external results relating to the manipulation of the innumerable zeroes appear, there are bound to be collisions. No condition that is divorced of its relationship to the personal form of sat can be considered beneficial. In spite of this, the Supersoul is so kind that He doesn’t block any of the desired results. He rests within the heart, waiting for the individual soul to turn its head towards Him.

Even though God is acknowledged as being supreme by those who are religious, the practices adopted often have little to no relation to Him. There are many different yogas, but unless the final piece of the puzzle is accounted for, the need to serve God through a loving bond of affection formed within the consciousness, every regulative practice is deemed nothing, or useless. Though there are a variety of spiritual traditions, worshipable objects and rituals performed throughout the world, any behavior not tied to directly loving God can be classified into one of three categories: fruitive activity, the acquisition of knowledge and mystic yoga practice. Fruitive activity in spiritual life takes on the form of karma-yoga, wherein one works for sense gratification but then at least tries to renounce the results for the purpose of purifying their consciousness. When karma-yoga is not practiced perfectly, there are hints of personal sense gratification that creep in. In these instances, God is viewed as an order supplier, one who grants wishes to those who are failing in life and who have been distressed due to unfavorable turns of events. Going to a house of worship every week and praying for benefits is a type of karmic activity that has hints of spirituality. Since the ultimate beneficiary is not the Supreme Lord, the benefits received remain zero, in spite of the deference given to all other regulations and rituals.

Then there is the acquisition of knowledge known as jnana-yoga, wherein one tries to learn the differences between matter and spirit and the inhibiting nature of the numerous zeroes of the manifested world. But in the absence of an identifiable beneficiary, the ultimate goal remains that of ending activity. If time is spent studying and chanting names which don’t represent the Supreme Lord’s original feature as a personality, the highest gain that can be achieved is a merging into a beam of light, one that doesn’t allow for individuality to continue. Service is a byproduct of individuality, so once the ability to serve is gone, the individual’s essence becomes dormant. Jnana-yoga can be thought of as the polar opposite of karma-yoga, wherein fruitive activity is seen as a bitter pill that should never be swallowed.

Mystic yoga is a combination of karma and jnana in that there is some austerity involved and also a dedicated practice with the body. The ultimate aim of mystic yoga is to achieve a siddhi, or perfection, which then results in some personal exercise of strength which has no relation to God. A yogi can live for a long time, hold their breath for days on end, travel in space with their soul, perform magic feats, and even read minds. Despite their uniqueness, all of these abilities still relate to a world that is ultimately destined for destruction. Moreover, since service is absent, the soul is left in a position not much further advanced from where it started.

Lord RamaIn spite of living in a world full of nothing, all hope is not lost for the sincere soul. The numerous religious practices can be purified and lead to the highest gain when the proper beneficiary is identified and service is offered to Him. This is the point made by Tulsidas. Lord Rama, as the Personality of Godhead, is so kind and sweet that His very name is a non-different expansion of Him. Therefore the highest service for mankind is to simply recite His name over and over again in a loving mood. Unlike every other type of sadhana, or regulative practice aimed at achieving a goal set out by the jiva, chanting the holy name brings direct contact with the Supreme Truth. Just as the individual can be considered the essence of life, the name of the Lord is understood to be the life of every religious practice. When the name is absent, all sadhana is simply nothing; yet when the name is present, honored and worshiped, the religious practices can continually be added on, one after another, to produce very high values.

The potency of the holy name also anoints one confidential engagement as being superior to all others, the one discipline that can unleash the true service potential found within the individual. If we simply go on performing our regular activities and keep the name of the Lord with us, our actions will bear tremendous fruit. For instance, we already like to chant, dance and sing. Indeed, if we hear a catchy song on the radio, the song will remain stuck in our minds for the rest of the day. In essence, the mind is chanting the song over and over again. Dance clubs and parties feature the latest music so that others can let loose and just enjoy the pleasant sound vibrations. Similarly, if we regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, wherever we go, we can be tuned into the radio station belting out the infectious grooves and beats emanating from the spiritual world. As such, any time, day or night, becomes party time within the mind because of the direct connection with Bhagavan, which is the name given to the personality of Godhead describing His exclusive and simultaneous possession of the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation to the fullest degree.

Lord RamaIf we have a palatial building considered the greatest architectural wonder, we can derive some pleasure by walking around it and performing various activities within it. But if we dedicate even one room inside to a temple, wherein a deity representation of the Lord is erected and worshiped regularly with the chanting of His names, then the entire building becomes worshipable. The “Hindu” faith is famous around the world for its caste system, but the concept of class distinctions is present in every situation and scenario of importance. When we board an airplane, we don’t allow just any of the passengers to go to the front and fly the plane. Every one of us is surely equal, as the individual soul remains the essence of life within every bodily form. Yet the pilot has completed hours of training and received certification for what he does, so he is in a class separate from those flying as passengers.

The Vedas, as the original scriptures for mankind, don’t overlook the differences in qualitative makeup between various body types. A tiger and a human being are equal in their spiritual constitution, but we would never go up to a tiger, shake its hand and start a conversation with it. There is a need for divisions amongst members of society so that each individual can take to the activities they are best suited for. The name of Rama, however, is so powerful that anyone who chants it, even if they are part of a lower caste, can be considered worshipable. When a respectable gentlemen visits an office building, he usually goes to visit the head of the company or one of their deputies. The cleaning staff doesn’t get many outside visitors or even respect from others. When the same person who performs menial tasks, while earning their honest living, takes to chanting the names of the Lord, they surpass the stature of the boss because they become worshipable. The CEO of the company can be equated to many zeroes, while the lower members of the company are just single zeroes. But if a single zero has just one numeral next to it in the form of Rama’s name, it automatically has a greater value than anything with many zeroes and no numeral.

Worshiping Sita and RamaThe key to success in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is to take the many zeroes we have around us and attach the Supreme Lord and His name to them. Tulsidas especially prefers the name of Rama, as the Lord’s heartwarming activities are so kindly described in the famous Ramayana poem of Valmiki and in many other Vedic texts. Tulsidas spent his whole life glorifying the holy name of Rama, which is non-different from Krishna, Vishnu, or any other name describing the original Personality situated in the eternal sky. And we might add, just as Rama’s name represents a numeral, so do the names and pastimes of His countless devotees and associates, Tulsidas included. Having the good fortune of reciting the illustrious poet’s name and reading even a single line from his works brings so much pleasure to the heart, for all of his outpourings of affection are intended only to glorify the Supreme Lord and His name.