Sunday, December 25, 2011

Credibility on Both Sides

Vedic literature“The spiritually powerful message of Godhead can be properly discussed only in a society of devotees, and it is greatly pleasing to hear in that association. If one hears from devotees, the way of transcendental experience quickly opens to him, and gradually he attains a taste in knowledge that in due course develops into attraction and devotion.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.25.25)

The superiority of the Vedas is established through many features, with one of them being the inclusion of every type of religious system, both pious and impious. Every angle of vision is covered by the sacred texts of India, so one who is intimately familiar with these works, studying them under the guidance of a spiritual master, will inherit the same wisdom. More than just having academic knowledge to be used in argument, familiarity with every type of system of maintenance allows for a decision to be made with confidence regarding life’s path. More confidence equates to more faith in the process, and the more sincere desire one applies to an endeavor, the greater their chances of success will be.

Shrimad BhagavatamThe sincere spiritualist of the Vedic tradition practicing the highest system of religion can argue every angle of vision, which means that the opponents of that superior engagement, bhakti-yoga, are immediately put at a disadvantage. If in an argument you have one party who can argue only their own position, and on the opposing side you have one who knows not only their own position but also their opponent’s stance better than they do, obviously the latter party is superior. In addition, whatever decision is reached by the superior party should be the one that is followed.

Under a theoretical analysis this fact may not be easy to decipher, but if we take a few simple examples, we’ll see that the person in authority, the more knowledgeable party, has the upper hand. The most obvious instance of this distinction is seen with parents and their children. If a parent says that it is time to go to bed for their young child, and the child puts up an argument, which side is more knowledgeable? The parent knows the child’s desire for staying awake, the argument they are presenting. The child, on the other hand, doesn’t know what the parent’s stance is, why they are enforcing a strict bedtime. Even if the parent were to try to explain, what could the child really understand? They lack the familiarity with the many days of experience in real life that the parents have. The parents are automatically the superior party based on their knowledge of both sides.

The same principle applies in the classroom. A teacher proficient in the subject matter can answer the questions of the students because they know what angle of vision the students are coming from. The teacher was once a student who had to learn the same information that is now being taught. The student doesn’t have this advantage; therefore they can never stand a chance in an argument with the teacher. The person with more knowledge always has the upper hand because they know the basis of the arguments of the opponents.

In spiritual life, one who doesn’t practice divine love can never properly describe it. This seems like a bold assertion to make, but it is true. Love involves the dedication of activity and thought, which results in a shift in consciousness. The feelings that result can only be described by one who has felt them. For one who hasn’t specifically felt these feelings, if they have learned about them from someone who has the experience, then at the very least they can pass on the proper information to others.

Spirituality is distinct from material life. In this sense there are really only two paths in life. We can either follow the dictates of the senses that are attached to the body or we can work to meet the needs of the soul. The spiritualist stands on firmer ground when explaining the benefits of their path because they have already tasted material life. The default tendency of the human being is to follow the dictates of the senses, an option which represents an unintelligent way of life. If this were not the case, there would be no need for educating children. A child is like an animal in the sense that it doesn’t have the intelligence to regulate activity to reach a better future position. The child is in a human form, so it has the potential to gather the right intelligence, to mature into a sober, rational, and educated human being.

In spiritual life, which is the rejection of material life, there is variety. There are different paths one can choose once they have decided that only following the dictates of the senses is not the way to go. The Vedas cover each of the different angles of vision with respect to spiritual life. The Vedas were purportedly compiled at the beginning of time, descending from the original person Himself. What’s astounding about this is that any new system of maintenance that should crop up either tomorrow, in one week, or in one hundred years is already covered by the Vedas. The sacred texts of India never lose their relevance, unlike newspaper stories and the latest nonfiction books, which have information targeted to the events of a specific time period.

The spiritualist can take the path of mental study, meditation and mysticism, or divine love. Of these, only divine love is all-inclusive. It can even include activity that, to the outsider, looks like material life. For instance, the materialist has a tendency to eat nice food and do work to produce fruits. The devotee in bhakti also eats and works, but they do it for the satisfaction of the fountainhead of all energies, the person from whom this entire creation has emanated. The path of divine love is also the least restrictive in terms of the behavior it allows. The energies are already there for everyone to utilize; it is just that without the proper consciousness, without the right intelligence gathered through both acceptance of information and practical application of those principles, the energy will not be used for the right purpose. When something is used improperly, the results are not palatable.

The materialist not open to hearing about the glories of bhakti-yoga will argue that all paths are the same, and that no one should punish themselves for a reward in the afterlife, about which little is known. “How can we be certain of the afterlife if we don’t even know how long we’re going to live? Therefore why put such stress on death and God and anything spiritual?“ Of course, the constant pain and angst the materialist finds are not accounted for in this argument. Neither is the variety in species, the need for law codes, the differences between the changing body and the individual residing inside, or the guaranteed nature of death.

japa beadsThe materialist has never tried bhakti, so how can they know what it is about? They have never spent time chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in full earnest and for many rounds daily on a japa mala. They have never read the Vedas under the guidance of a spiritual master, nor have their eyes tasted the sweet fruit that is the divine vision. Even someone new to bhakti does not taste these things. Through steady devotion, despite hesitancy in the beginning one can eventually experience these things. And the results are always superior. If they weren’t, how could anyone ever remain on the bhakti path, and how could they accept the difficult responsibility of preaching its glories to others?

The devotee has already tasted material life; they are intimately familiar with the arguments presented by those who have never tried bhakti. We saw in the case of the teacher and the student that the teacher was superior because of their knowledge of both sides. Along the same lines, the sincere spiritualist following divine love is not only knowledgeable of the arguments presented by the materialists, but they also know the points of view of those following the mental and mystic paths of spirituality.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)

Lord Krishna's lotus feetThe mental plane studies external life and tries to make distinctions between this activity and that. When followed under the direction of the Vedas, the individual along this path can practically abstract every type of energy and perceive the oneness shared between all life forms. This singular energy is known as Brahman, or pure spirit. At the same time, knowledge about Brahman represents the limit to understanding through mental effort alone. That there can be variety in spiritual life remains a hidden fact, one which would actually bring the mentalist the happiness they crave.

The mystic given to meditation also doesn’t know much about the pleasure that comes from the path of divine love. They don’t know that who they are meditating on has a spiritual form that is both all-pervading and localized within the heart. Moreover, the mystic abilities acquired don’t do much unless there is a proper beneficiary targeted. If I have the ability to lift up a car with my finger, what good is that going to do for me? You can say that I can use that ability to get paid to move things. That is surely nice, but then I could also get a job doing something else. In either case there is work being performed for personal satisfaction. A yogi who can travel out of their body, become very large or small, or get others to listen to them is not much different from the materialist expert in their specific craft.

In divine love the proper beneficiary of activity is targeted immediately. He is the real source of the pleasure that the devotees receive. Since He is the reservoir of pleasure, the happiness He can give is both unlimited and immeasurable. In every other type of endeavor, either the material or the spiritual, the beneficiary is limited in its ability to provide pleasure. There is service offered in every kind of activity, even if the worker doesn’t know it. With service there must be an object being served. In material life it is the personal senses and the senses of others. In the mental path of spiritual life it is the mind, and in mystic yoga it is the soul coupled with the body.

Krishna holding His fluteOnly in bhakti is God in His personal form the beneficiary. Only the transcendentalist following the principles of bhakti-yoga can taste the highest pleasure. The knowledge of every other type of system of maintenance is but an insignificant byproduct of the practice of devotion. On the outside the devotee may seem like a sentimentalist, but then why should there not be sentiment when looking at the beautiful, smiling face of Shyamasundara, the Supreme Lord in His all-attractive, blissful form? With the most sincere sentiment comes the knowledge necessary to continue the devotional practices. The Vedas are non-different from Krishna because their primary message is that one should follow devotion and nothing else. From that devotion comes full knowledge of every system, thereby making the devotee more knowledgeable and more experienced than any champion of any other system of maintenance.

The human being is endowed with freedom. Without freedom there cannot be crime or pious behavior. As we have a choice as to which direction to take, we should follow one which is championed by those in the know. As only the bhaktas are intimately familiar with the benefits of every system and the reasons why people would follow them, choosing the bhakti path is never a failing option. Even if we are hesitant to try devotional service because of some fear that we have, we know already that so much time is wasted in material life. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be the time taken to assess whether or not a certain type of system of spirituality is important. Taking the plunge into the inviting waters of devotional service is a worthwhile option that should be taken as soon as possible.

In Closing:

Superior is party within argument,

Who either side’s point can defend.

Students protest teachers with excuse after excuse,

But wise is teacher who knows student’s opinion too.

As far as books go the Vedas stand most tall,

Spiritual or material path, scriptures know them all.

Yogi in bhakti has already tread material path,

Finding superior engagement, abandoned lust and wrath.

Accept bhakti-yoga from devotee’s full experience,

On Krishna and His Vedas have full reliance.