Saturday, December 17, 2011

Language Learning

Lord Krishna“The holy name of Krishna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krishna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krishna’s name is complete, and it is the form of all transcendental mellows.” (Padma Purana)

You’re heading to a new country, but they speak a different language, so your excitement is a little tempered. There is so much you want to see and so many places you want to go, but in order to get around you need to make sure that you can ask for simple things. For instance, what if you want to take a taxi to a specific destination? What if you want to go to a restaurant? Better yet, what if you want to find out what that restaurant is serving, what their menu is like? Rather than carry a dictionary for translating or rely on your mobile phone’s app to do the quick conversion, a better option is to immerse yourself in the new language by listening to tapes. Coupled with the hearing is recitation, repeating the sentences and phrases you’ll need to utter when you go to the new country. Oddly enough, this simple formula can be used to find spiritual enlightenment as well.

Google Translate appHow does this work exactly? For starters, the recitation program for learning a new language is effective for a reason. You can try to memorize the words and phrases you’ll need to invoke, but that information is very easy to forget. The process is like placing something into your memory that never gets extracted. It is sometimes said that certain people have better memory than others, but that is actually not the case. Memory increases with remembrance; a revelation that shouldn’t be earthshattering. If you have a specific incident or day in your life that you revert back to constantly within your mind, you will have no problem remembering it on the spot, should the occasion come up in conversation. On the other hand, someone else who was with you on that memorable day may not have ever gone back in time in their mind and relived the experience. Therefore, for them, remembering the incident will be very difficult.

If the foreign language is studied only theoretically, there is not much chance for forced remembrance. For starters, when would the need to invoke the words put to memory ever arise? If your time is spent speaking a specific language by necessity, why would you take the mental effort to think of a different language? Necessity is the mother of invention, so without a pressing need for speaking the new language, the relevant words won’t be remembered. The method of learning through hearing and speaking allows for the tongue to become accustomed to the phrases and the pronunciation. It’s almost like singing a song. You may not know what you are singing sometimes, but since you have heard the song enough, the specific lines start to play in your head. The repetition is so frequent and natural that it sounds like the song is actually playing for real on the outside.

Through enough practice, even the driver learns to operate their vehicle without applying conscious thought. You can drive to work every day without paying attention to the turns, the time, or your location on the road. This doesn’t mean that you are asleep or that you’re not able to deal with unexpected situations on the road. Rather, your brain has just been programmed, through enough practice, to automatically account for red lights, changes in the speed of the traffic, and the proper exits to take and streets on which to turn.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)

Lord KrishnaLife’s most difficult task is to become reacquainted with God. This fact is confirmed through both outward perception and the authorized instruction passed on by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We accept Krishna as God because the Vedas tell us as much, and since the Vedas provide so much other valuable information, we trust the information they provide. One person may be skeptical of the existence of God and the statements pointing to the fact in scripture and another person may believe in the same statements completely, but authority is presented in either situation. One person says to be religious and another says don’t, and they are both making assertions that they hope others will follow. Authority is determined locally by the individual’s trust in a particular entity and their words. The relevant entity’s position of authority is established through a track record of delivering on what is promised, on proving that your words are true.

In this respect the followers of the Vedas take the sacred texts of India and the people who sincerely follow its teachings as authority sources because of the effectiveness of the recommendations passed on. The Vedic seers all agree that in the present age of Kali, the fourth and final period of each cycle of creation, the only means for salvation is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The skeptic will scoff at the suggestion to chant, considering it to be a mechanism targeted for the unintelligent who don’t know how to fill the void in their life. The skeptic might also take the recommendation to be dogmatic insistence aimed at converting the world to a specific religion.

Those who accept the Vedas, Krishna, and His treatise on spirituality known as the Bhagavad-gita as authority follow the chanting routine because it turns out to be extremely effective. The practice makes one an actual believer in God versus just a blind follower. Is one worse than the other? Shouldn’t believing in God be enough? Will not that safeguard from going to hell? Belief in the Almighty means that you acknowledge His existence, whereas chanting His names in a loving mood makes you aware of His capabilities, qualities, activities and divine nature. Familiarity with these features is far superior to basic acknowledgment because of the interaction of emotion it allows for. In every other area of endeavor, the experience is enhanced when emotions can be exchanged, when there can be vulnerability introduced and reliance on the target of service. Why should these properties be absent in spiritual life?

Finding and accepting real religion is so difficult precisely because the blissful exchange of emotion is missing in the lower rungs of worship. When learning the basics of the new language, putting to memory certain words will not automatically make them easier to remember. The mind drifts off to new areas of interest at every second, so to rein in the mind is very difficult. As a result, just accepting God’s existence and then never remembering Him doesn’t really do anything for consciousness, our state of being. On the other hand, chanting His names regularly at least makes the tongue familiar with the sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth.

Lord Krishna”Chant the holy names and you’ll gradually awaken sublime wisdom within the heart”, is the recommendation. The effectiveness of the chanting method can only be realized when the process is trusted and acted upon. This isn’t that difficult to do, as we extend faith to so many people already. We trust the airline pilot to take us safely to the intended destination, the pharmacist to not mess up when making our prescription drugs, the leader of the country to not destroy our economic system and make everyone destitute, and so on.

The person hesitant to accept the recommendations of the Vedas supports their viewpoint by relying instead on the past evidence of so many religious cheaters, who were either zealots looking to scare people or were simply after money. But upon second look we see that there is no cost imposed with the chanting recommendation. There is no loss on the worshiper’s part. Words are already spoken and songs already sung, so why not dedicate some time to reciting the most sacred formula? Chanting is a much better option than immersing oneself in literature that is difficult to understand or visiting a place of worship on a regular basis and not understanding what is going on. Active participation is what keeps the consciousness immersed in spiritual life, allowing for future remembrance to take place without difficulty.

To add further authority to the Vedic recommendation for chanting, there are countless historical personalities who followed the chanting routine and found complete happiness. From connecting with God in a mood of love, the spark of devotion lights up within the individual. This then leads to further anticipation in connecting with the beloved Krishna, who is the Supreme Lord in His form that displays His transcendental features fully. The sunlight, the wind, the amazing outer space and the incomprehensible material nature are but partial manifestations of Krishna’s energies, impersonal features that show that He exists. Just as the clouds part to reveal the splendor of the sun, when the ignorance borne of material contact dissipates, the individual soul sees the Supreme Lord in His blissful position, ready to connect with all His sons and daughters.

The holy name is the best way to awaken and maintain that connection, and the best way to hold on to the holy name is to hear it as often as possible. To hear it regularly, one can simply chant it. In this way even if the names of Krishna and Rama are foreign, as Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world, one gradually learns them and can invoke them without a problem. Chanting and hearing open the door to the world of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which is man’s real business, to be readily engaged in service to the one entity who is most deserving of it. Chanting, hearing, offering prayers, reading books, congregating with fellow devotees - these activities make up the bhakti discipline. Yoga provides a better future condition, one which takes care of both body and mind. Bhakti is the culmination of yoga practice, as it deals with the consciousness, which is the key ingredient to happiness.

“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.14)

Worshiping Radha and KrishnaWhether one is rich or poor, alone or with family, at work or relaxing, the consciousness can be trained to connect with Krishna through His names, thus resulting in a peaceful condition. Focusing on consciousness makes the difficult task of God realization a lot easier. All of these hidden secrets are revealed to those who take a sincere interest in Vedic teachings, the most important of which are presented by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita. In that work the Lord says that the devotees are always chanting His glories, dedicating their work to Him.

Hearing and repeating the phrases of the new language allows for quickly gaining a basic ability to survive in a foreign country. As God is the original proprietor, the person who has the rightful claim to all property, this entire world is His home. The language used to connect with Him is divine love, and the chanting of His names allow anyone to learn that language very quickly. The maha-mantra is the perfect prayer because it is free of personal desires, such as those relating to sensual enjoyments, the alleviation of distress through annihilation of material activity, knowledge of the absolute, and mystical perfection.

“The foreign language tapes just cover the basics, but in order to really learn I need to immerse myself in the new city and culture. How do I do that with Krishna?”

Chanting and hearing allow entry into bhakti-yoga, which can be practiced anywhere. Therefore there is no need to travel far to become immersed in the ancient art of divine love, which is the real business of the soul. The recommendation of the topmost Krishna devotees, the exalted spiritual masters, is that one chant the maha-mantra on a set of japa beads at least sixteen rounds a day coupled with abstention from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. The routine of bhakti-yoga allows for sufficient time to be spent in connecting with God, with the mind sober throughout the experience. The sober experience is easier to remember and more effective in changing consciousness. The spiritually surcharged consciousness then looks for more and more outlets to exercise devotion, thus paving the way for bhava, or full transcendental ecstasy. Since these changes can take place in any person at any time and at any place, the benevolence of bhakti and its beneficiary are revealed. The authority of bhakti’s greatest champions is also well-established. With all bases covered, why not at least try chanting Krishna’s names and become familiar with the language of divine love?

In Closing:

In foreign city’s culture one must immerse,

In order to get by, with others converse.

Rather than on dictionary and mobile apps’ suite,

Purchase language tapes and new phrases repeat.

From following this method faster you will learn,

So getting food and directions no concern.

In grander scheme of God we must know,

From bhakti knowledge and attachment’s seed grow.

The holy names recited with love bhakti’s language,

Accept this path for brightest future to salvage.