Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Tunnel Vision

Lord Krishna“He who meditates on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Partha [Arjuna], is sure to reach Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.8)

The purpose of maintaining a “tunnel vision” in terms of thought processes is to stay focused on the task at hand. From the practice’s effectiveness we see that one should limit their distractions if they are to complete their assigned duties properly. For instance, if our job is to drive an automobile to a certain destination, it is advisable to keep the eyes fixed on the road, the hands on the wheel, and the ears open to external sounds. If any of the necessary senses should be diverted elsewhere, the effectiveness in executing the primary tasks gets hampered. The more one can focus, the greater the chances of following the intended action. In the larger picture, meeting the ultimate aim of human life involves a sort of tunnel vision focused on one person, about whom when more is known, the best opportunity for feeling unmatched bliss can be found. In this endeavor, the more distractions that occur, the less likely it will be to find that eternal felicity.

Lord KrishnaWhat sorts of distractions can arise? Moreover, how do we know that focusing on this person brings us to the ultimate destination? How can any person say that with full certainty? “One person may claim that the human beings evolved from monkeys while another says that God created everything, but in the end there is no way to tell for sure who is correct.” While this viewpoint, which is rooted in skepticism, seems logical enough, there is still the issue of trust. We know that man has the propensity to cheat, to commit mistakes, to be easily illusioned, and to be affected by his imperfect senses. Any of these defects can crop up at any second.

Based on the deficiencies, should we just sit in a corner of an isolated room twenty four hours a day? Should we not eat anything because it might be contaminated? Should we not believe anything anyone tells us because they might be lying? Should we not trust the documented sense perceptions found in books, newspapers and journals? In reality, we already invest so much faith in others, trusting that what they tell us is true. If the information turns out to be invalid, then at least we think that the person espousing the beliefs has faith in them.

weather forecastAuthority in this sense is established by the results that follow from extending faith. For instance, if the weatherman on television says that it is going to rain tomorrow, we may or may not believe him. He will show us his computer model, his extended forecast, and data from previous weather events as support for his assertion. If we trust him and it does happen to rain on the following day, we can increase our faith in him the next time he gives a weather forecast. We actually do this instinctively with so many things, from the insignificant to the very important. The emergency room doctors and nurses provide powerful drugs to curb our pain, but there is no telling that what they give is going to help in the end. The trust is put into the hospital and its staff based on the accreditations they received from licensing boards.

For deciphering the ultimate aim in life, the same faith needs to be extended. The reason there is such difficulty in this area is that there are competing visions, isolated roadmaps leading to different destinations. Especially when the champions of each faith rely on dogmatic insistence and fear as their primary preaching tools, it becomes difficult to apply faith wholeheartedly. For instance, if someone tells us that we should worship a specific personality or be doomed to hell in the next life, how can we ever tell if their statements are correct? The afterlife is a foggy concept, of which nothing will be concretely known until life actually ends. And if said people turn out to be incorrect, then the valuable human birth goes to waste.

The proper way to confidently follow a path in life that fulfills the ultimate mission is to find that set of procedures which gives benefits both in the current life and the next. In this regard, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide the most detailed and useful information. Though Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the fountainhead of Vedic wisdom, the instructions provided by His Vedas are so widely applicable and comprehensive that one needn’t even explicitly worship the Lord to find benefits.

Lord KrishnaHow does this work exactly? For starters, from Vedic information the picture of the afterlife is cleared up a bit. The next life is similar to the current one. Indeed, the current life is the afterlife of a previous existence. So from applying a little intelligence, we see that there’s nothing really special about the future. Lest we think this is just a dogmatic belief exclusive to the Hindus, we can tell from our own experiences that the future ended up being the past at some point. For example, during our youth we may have looked forward to starting high school, the upper classes of the educational system. High school, at one time, represented the future. In old age, however, high school turns into the past, a time long ago when the individual was much younger.

The concept of the future turning into the past extends beyond the current life. This is how karma works. Every action taken which carries a commensurate reaction falls under the jurisdiction of karma, or fruitive activity. Do something today and see the reaction tomorrow. The reactions sometimes aren’t visible nor must they remain manifest for long. When we exhale, the result is the release of carbon dioxide into the air. This happens so often during the day that the releases aren’t even noticed. In colder weather, we may be able to see the vapor, but this doesn’t mean that the vapor isn’t there every other time we exhale.

Sometimes the results arrive long after we have forgotten about the original work. As a simple example, when a person votes by absentee ballot in an election, their ballot may not be received until after election day. The vote was actually cast prior to the election, but it is not noted until after everyone else has voted. Just as the prior act of voting has consequences that extend past the day of election, the actions undertaken during one lifetime carry consequences into the next life. A lifetime is thus just a relative measurement of time, with the essence of individuality remaining the same throughout.

If the principles of Vedic teachings are taken to heart, not only will there be benefits found in the next life, but even the current life becomes easier to handle. Revisiting the issue of taking on tasks, we know that if there are fewer distractions, there is a better chance of reaching the objective. With knowledge of both reincarnation and the immortality of the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity, comes an ideal position.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Krishna and ArjunaThat position is one of purity. The purest form of anything is the state when the object assumes its natural qualities to the fullest degree. For instance, the constitutional position of fire is when it burns and effuses light. If the fire is covered up, doused with water, or contained, its constitutional position remains hidden. The original position of the spirit soul is to be a lover, to be engaged in service. This propensity actually never leaves the soul, but when the individual gets covered up by material elements, the service gets misdirected. Think of holding a fire extinguisher and pointing it in every direction except to where the fire is. Obviously the extinguishing capabilities will still be used, but the necessary target will not be reached. Hence the fire extinguisher will not be properly used.

With life in the material world, the engagements adopted in the 8,400,000 unique body types all involve service that hovers around the ideal beneficiary. Some engagements are closer to the soul’s essential characteristic, or dharma, than others. The animal species has virtually no chance of reassuming their dharma, as they don’t have the ability to accept education and follow the principles necessary for reaching a better end. The human being, on the other hand, is blessed with potential, the chance to develop a higher intellect. When knowledge of self-realization and the concepts of dharma are well established within the mind of the sober individual, the potential for service which exists within the soul can be directed at the matching beneficiary.

Not surprisingly, that ideal beneficiary is God. Ironically enough, knowing that He is God, or just addressing Him through His feature of all-pervasiveness, doesn’t exactly release the soul into bhava, or the state of transcendental ecstasy. Knowing that God exists and recognizing His supremacy represent the initial stages of self-realization, wherein one gets awfully close to meeting the ideal target of work.

Lord KrishnaThe true potential for service is released when the Supreme Lord is recognized for His spiritual attributes, which include attractiveness. Since no one is more attractive than God, He is addressed by the name “Krishna” in the Vedic tradition. Since this beautiful form provides supreme transcendental delight to those who connect with Him in full intimacy, another name for God is Rama. These names form the cornerstone of the sacred formula used for addressing the Lord in a loving way, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

How do we know that Krishna is God? Isn’t this assertion just like the ones coming from every other preacher? Skepticism can be used to debunk any assertion and thus give the skeptical individual the cover they need to avoid extending faith. Nevertheless, there will be some faith applied somewhere. Might as well put that faith in Krishna then, for that trust will be validated with the results that follow. How can we say this with full certainty? Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure, the one person who can accept an unlimited amount of love offered to Him by an unlimited number of people. Since He is the greatest enjoyer, His happiness is shared with those who offer their service.

The benefits are not exclusive to the afterlife, though Krishna promises in the Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and complete treatise on spirituality ever to be revealed to the fallen souls of the material world, that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death never has to suffer through reincarnation again. The departing soul that is Krishna conscious is welcomed by the sweet vision of Shri Krishna in the spiritual world, Shyamasundara holding a flute in His hands and wearing a peacock feather in His hair.

“Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.25)

ShyamasundaraThe benefits of serving Krishna are also seen in the present life, as the source of all distresses is the forgetfulness of God and His personal feature. Look at everything that causes unhappiness and you will see that the pain is rooted in attachment to the senses which are tied to the temporary body. We know that the body is ever-changing and subject to destruction, so anyone who gets distracted by its accompanying temporary pains and pleasures remains forgetful of their constitutional position. If I get sad every time one of my shirts gets a hole in it or when my shoes start to wear out, the emotion is not warranted. We can always get a new shirt or pair of shoes, so what need is there to feel sad over a temporary loss? As soon as the shirt was accepted, there had to come a time when it would be rejected. A wise person is always cognizant of this, so they don’t overly lament misfortune or overly rejoice temporary happiness.

The attachment to the body serves as the strongest deterrent to enlightenment, the most effective distraction. The primary aim of life is established through Vedic teachings: think of God always and offer Him your undivided service. This doesn’t mean that you have to quit everything and take up the life of a mendicant. If this is what you are inclined to do then great, but service can be offered by any person at any stage in life simply through chanting and remembering. To remember, you need an image. To get an image, you need a person. To get the best image, you thus need the best person. The best person is he who never changes in spiritual qualities, whose attributes never exhaust. That person is Shri Krishna, whose body and spirit are not different from one another.

The mission in life is to stay God conscious, and success in that task is aided by limiting distractions. While eliminating inhibiting behaviors like meat-eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex proves helpful, the primary focus should be on remembering Krishna. His image can be created in the mind by regularly hearing the sacred words found in Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. The distracting images borne of sense attachment cause deviation from the purified consciousness, a focus on redressing issues relating to the temporary body. The more the negative images can be eliminated and the positive images kept safely within the consciousness, the greater the chances of finding peace and happiness within the current lifetime. If the soul is in Krishna’s company before the end of life through association with the Lord’s name and image, that link will continue well into the afterlife.

In Closing:

Be benefitted by thinking of Krishna always,

Follow what the Supreme Lord in Gita says.

Distractions hinder success, know it for a fact,

To keep a tunnel-vision on end-goal is proper tact.

Why should not this be the pathway towards ultimate success,

To find company of the best person and forgo all the rest?

Trust in others you already do invest,

The results that follow are the defining test.

Trust in Krishna and in this life benefits you will see,

Endeared to Shyamasundara and His devotees you will be.

In the afterlife waiting for you is Krishna’s embrace,

And vision of His most beautiful, sweet smiling face.