“The need of the spirit soul is that he wants to get out of the limited sphere of material bondage and fulfill his desire for complete freedom. He wants to get out of the covered walls of the greater universe. He wants to see the free light and the spirit. That complete freedom is achieved when he meets the complete spirit, the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.8 Purport)
Like a lion chasing after an elephant, the cows are quickly running after their caretaker, their very life breath, the soul of their fortunes, the keeper of their heart, the beloved child of Mother Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja. Whereas the lion looks to pounce, these cows simply crave association, another glance at the beauty of Shyamasundara, the enchanting youth with a blackish complexion who holds a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. The cows, deer, butterflies, and every other living resident cannot get enough of this vision. Every time the young child looks at them, their attachment increases even more. What then to speak of when He plays His flute? The sound is so intoxicating that the barriers imposed by the body become too inhibiting, for how could any form ever contain the loving feelings waiting to burst out from the liberated spirit soul? The only proper release for this love is through continuous running on the wonderful field, soaking up the beautiful vision and sweet sounds that belong to Shri Krishna, the most intimate friend of the spirit soul.
More than just dogmatic insistence or reliance on rules and regulations of scriptures, the point to spirituality, a discipline that instills a regimen of dedicated activity, is to meet the needs of the soul. Only when one is in ignorance of these needs will they consider the postulates and truths presented by the oldest tradition of spiritual values, the Vedas, to be dogmatic, sectarian, sentimentalist, or mythological. Everything is pieced together perfectly in the Vedic texts to allow the soul to ultimately run free with transcendental love, to let its brightness of knowledge, eternality, and blissfulness shine everywhere. Those who are fortunate enough to follow the prescriptions presented by the authorized followers of the Vedas, those who are liberated from the inhibiting effects of matter, will be able to taste the fruit of their existence.
While in the premature assessment the Vedas are taken to be a set of written words, they are actually not different from the person they describe and glorify. The Vedas sing the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The songs fulfill the same purpose as the many aphorisms, stories of historical events, and poems and descriptions found in the vast literature that follows the original Vedas, a set of information passed down by the Supreme Person Himself. The glorification of God serves to give pleasure both to the hearer and to the worshiping person. This glorification lines up with the qualities of the spirit soul, the essence of identity.
Though it’s a difficult concept to grasp, we will continue to live after death. We can take this as fact because our own body has undergone constant change since as far back as we can remember. Do you know that you once survived in the tiniest of spaces within the womb of your mother? You don’t remember this experience, but you understand from the statements of your parents and the direct perception of external events that this definitely happened. How in the world did you survive? You lived in the womb for nine months, and prior to that you had to be somewhere else. From the experience in the womb you also know that just because you don’t remember something doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
What happened to that form that survived in the womb? Can we ever get it back? The Vedas shed light on these issues, with the most concise and complete explanation provided by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita, one of the widest read religious texts in history. The soul is so small that it can survive within even the form of an ant. Basically anything that we consider to be a life form has spirit inside of it. Indeed the absence of spirit, its departure from a particular form, is what causes death.
If you leave a particular room, does that mean your existence is finished? To the occupants of the room you may no longer exist, but you know that you’re only travelling somewhere else, with your identity remaining intact. Birth and death are similar travels, where the spirit soul either enters a new dwelling or gives one up in favor of a new one. The truths about the soul are presented in the beginning to the aspiring transcendentalist of the Vedic tradition because they form the knowledgebase from which one can launch into higher topics.
What higher topics could there be? Apprised of the travels of the soul, the obvious next question is why there must be birth and death in the first place. Moreover, why are there different forms? The constitutional position of the soul is what matters. The individual spirit gets placed into different bodies based on desire and work, which operate collectively under karma. The duties prescribed to a particular human being make up their karma, and the reactions that follow are referred to as karma-phala, or the fruits of action. Not all fruits taste the same, nor do they manifest at the same rate. A tomato plant may not grow as quickly as another plant, but this doesn’t mean that the reactions to the work applied during the planting stage don’t arrive.
“Krishna had actually entered the cave to deliver King Muchukunda from his austerity, but He did not first appear before him. He arranged that first Kalayavana should come before him. That is the way of the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; He does one thing in such a way that many other purposes are served. He wanted to deliver King Muchukunda, who was sleeping in the cave, and at the same time He wanted to kill Kalayavana, who had attacked Mathura City. By this action He served all purposes.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 50)
The Supreme Lord sequences everything together perfectly so that rewards arrive just when they are supposed to. The spirit soul, however, is transcendental to every reaction, for it doesn’t even remain tied to its body forever. If we live in a room for only a short time, we can’t say that anything within it forms the basis of our identity. Since God manages the laws of spirit and matter, every spiritual being is inherently tied to Him.
The link to God is a loving one. This loving propensity is the very dharma of the soul, its essential characteristic. The soul’s dharma can never be removed, but it can be masked. The various bodies assumed mask the loving propensity of the soul to one degree or another. It is seen in life that some people are violent haters while others are always peaceful and kind to the people they meet. The loving propensity is responsible for both behaviors. If not for strong attachment, there would be no chance for intense feelings of anger, betrayal, or neglect to result from the interaction with other living beings. Love is the root cause of every emotion.
In the various material bodies assumed, the loving propensity cannot be housed properly, due especially to the inhibiting nature of material elements. If we don’t know who we are supposed to love, how will we ever properly project our energy? It’s like having a fire extinguisher that points in every direction except towards the actual fire. The fire extinguisher will still work, i.e. it will still dissipate the ingredients necessary to put out a fire, but if the flow of energy is not directed in the proper area, the output goes to waste.
With the living being, the output of energy continues in a perpetual cycle until eventually the proper target is identified. This can take many lifetimes, for even a person who realizes the need for self-realization, which includes understanding the properties of spirit and the need for following a spiritual discipline, is considered fortunate. This should make sense, for how many people do we know who actually make loving God their primary business in life? They may believe in God and follow religious principles, but the primary thought processes within their mind, i.e. their consciousness, will be monopolized by pursuits for material sense gratification.
“The individual soul in the body of a baby cannot show the full power and potency of a grown man, but the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna, even when lying on the lap of His mother as a baby, could exhibit His full potency and power by killing Putana and other demons who tried to attack Him. Therefore the spiritual potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is said to be eka-rasa, or without change.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)
The body can be likened to a holding cell, a container that limits the exercise of ability of the spirit soul. Based on the variety in species, we know that the soul is capable of doing so many things. A soul can fly through the air, live within the water, do complex mathematics, sing beautifully, write wonderful poetry, live within the ground, and even stand erect for thousands of years. Yet none of these abilities extract even a smidgen of the full potential for action that exists within spirit.
How do we break free then? Think of being pumped up, extremely enthusiastic for action. Imagine never requiring sleep or being alert even while resting. This is how the liberated souls feel, for they have found the proper target for the loving emotions from within that never exhaust. The ideal beneficiary is Krishna, or God. For the loving emotions to continually flow, it would make sense that Krishna would have to be extremely attractive. If something does not elicit heartfelt emotional responses upon contact, how could service continue?
We know how liberated souls behave based on the documented historical evidence presented by Vedic literature. The qualities and activities of countless great souls, or mahajanas, are described in these wonderful works. Though Krishna is the fountainhead of all spiritual manifestations and loving Him is the constitutional position of the soul, this doesn’t mean that all liberated souls behave the same way. Rather, there are multifarious outlets for the loving propensity found within spirit. Some worship God by chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Others follow their prescribed duties and keep the Lord’s vision within their minds. Some take up direct service to Him, acting like menial servants who are entirely invested in the outcome of events so that their beloved Lord will be pleased. Some act as Krishna’s friend, while others love Him very intimately. Some derive pleasure through contact with His soft skin, while others delight in just hearing about Him.
This last method is the best way to unlock the dormant love for God that everyone has resting inside of them. The hearing process dissipates the nescience surrounding the pure soul and leads to further interaction with the Supreme Lord. Even those who have personally offered service to God delight in hearing about Him. If the Vedic literature available to them is not cutting it, if it doesn’t have enough information to satisfy them, these souls will write their own poems and songs, filling the mind with thoughts about Krishna; thereby fostering Krishna consciousness, which is the very definition of liberation.
Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is like playing on an open field, where there are no walls to stop the soul wanting to run to Krishna’s side. This analogy works both figuratively and literally. During Krishna’s time on earth some five thousand years ago, His closest friends would play with Him on the fields of Vrindavana. In this pristine environment, the cows and other animals were well protected. The cowherd boys had fun daily, for they were in Krishna’s company. Even the women and caretakers derived pleasure from doing their routine work, for they had Krishna by their side.
Many thousands of years prior to that, a group of extra hyper monkeys got to run free in the forests and travel to distant lands to offer service to God in His avatara as a warrior prince named Rama. These Vanaras got to scour the earth to look for Rama’s wife Sita. They built a bridge made of stones to Lanka where Sita was being held captive. They had the chance to use uprooted trees and rocks as weapons in a violent war against the Rakshasas of Lanka, who were headed by Ravana, the evil king who had tried to take Sita away for himself. The Vanaras were in the bodies of lowly monkeys, but their service was offered nonetheless. It was performed without motivation and without interruption. This means that even after Ravana was defeated, the Vanara devotees, of whom Hanuman was chief, continued to love God. Though the Lord eventually went back to the spiritual world of Vaikuntha, the same devotees continued to derive great pleasure just by hearing about Rama and His glories. The chance to hear about God is the very purpose of the Ramayana, the poem authored by Maharishi Valmiki which describes Rama’s life and pastimes.
Every living entity has a choice. Either continue the process of elimination, whereby one engagement after another is indulged in until the right target for the soul’s loving propensity is hopefully found, or take to bhakti-yoga right away. The flaw with the former option is that forgetfulness creeps in. This means that some engagement that we previously renounced due to boredom will be repeated later on once the past experiences are forgotten. It’s like chewing a stick of gum, spitting it out once the taste is gone, doing something else for a while, and then going back and picking up the same chewed gum.
With bhakti-yoga, the effects are not the same. Rather, the more one chants Krishna’s names and hears about His pastimes, the more attached they become to the process; the enjoyment they derive from thinking about God increases. The levels of transcendental ecstasy rise to the point that the liberated soul will settle for nothing less than serving their beloved throughout the day, not worrying about the limits imposed by material nature. The meeting with the Supreme Lord is destined to take place once this state of full Krishna consciousness is attained, for in the spiritual world there are no barriers. Matter, time and space do exist in Krishna’s realm, but their negative influence is absent; hence they are practically unrecognizable. The liberated spirit soul runs to where Krishna is, and once they find Him, they never let Him go. Should He run away again, they continue to follow, thus allowing their inexhaustible reservoir of love to continually pour out, keeping the soul in perpetual ecstasy.
The bonds of material nature constrict,
The loving nature of spirit they restrict.
Take one engagement after another,
To find a state of bliss like no other.
That can only be found in Krishna’s company,
Connect with Him through ways that are many.
Chant His names or glories do you sing,
Or offerings of prasadam to Him bring.
Whatever the method follow it with faith,
Let your soul free and arrive at heaven’s gate.