“The expert electrician can utilize the electrical energy for both heating and cooling by adjustment only. Similarly, the external energy, which now bewilders the living being into continuation of birth and death, is turned into internal potency by the will of the Lord to lead the living being to eternal life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.3.34 Purport)
Energy is in full force throughout the environment. More than just the electrical socket capable of powering appliances and electronic gadgets, the powerful energy pervading every inch of space can be put to use to further many specific ends. The individual objects of this energy include the very bodily coverings of the jivas, the spirit souls wandering through a cycle of birth and death that perpetually spins. Those who know how to make proper use of the energy receive the full benefits that an existence has to offer. Through proper utilization, the same energy that was previously inhibiting becomes enlightening by the grace of the person from whom it came.
Birth and death really take place at every second? Think of your hair and nails growing and then getting cut off. Think of the dead skin cells that the body sheds every single day. Think of how your body is different now from the way it was just the day before. Through preoccupation with other tasks, these subtle changes go unnoticed, but to someone who doesn’t see you every day, the shifts are noticeable the next time they take a look at you. On a larger scale, the daytime gradually shifts into nighttime, but this change isn’t noticed as easily if we are staring at the sky the entire day. As the expression goes, “like watching paint dry”, the gross material elements take a while to morph and form new shapes, but through the effects of time and the operation of the superior energy, these shifts take place nonetheless.
“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)
Spirit is the superior energy. Matter is incapable of autonomous movement. Without a vital force within the body, the previously utilized hands, legs and feet start to rot and decay. Just any old collection of matter doesn’t grow into a viable living entity. There must first be a spiritual injection. Even the larger collections of matter, such as the mountains, rivers and clouds, are beholden to the wind and the nature that controls it. There is spirit inside each of these bodies instigating their movements; therefore the spiritual energy is considered superior.
Just how to make proper use of the external energy is what bewilders the innumerable sparks belonging to the superior energy. If an energetic force is superior then how can it be bewildered? The susceptibility to bewilderment explains the marginal position of the jiva with respect to the different energies coming from the Supreme Lord, who is known as Shri Krishna in the Vedic tradition. Not that Krishna is a mythological character or a folk hero of the Hindus; He is the very same Supreme Lord for all of humanity but with His features more clearly defined. The Vedas are so nice that they don’t just espouse a sectarian belief, with others compelled to convert to their way based on dogmatic insistence. The Vedas are the supreme science, as in the mundane scientific world there is politics and even consensus, as has been recently introduced with specific theories that others are reluctant to subscribe to.
Religion in the Vedas is presented as the science of self-realization, something that operates on every living entity, not just the human being. One person may identify themselves as Christian, another as Jewish, and another as Hindu, but one who actually studies self-realization identifies as spirit soul, aham brahmasmi. The spirit soul is superior to matter, and it is trapped in a cycle of reincarnation for a reason. There is a superior spirit soul, a singular entity from whom the different sparks emanated. Think of a giant fire that gives off sparks but at the same time doesn’t lose any of its intensity. The only thing we know that bears this property is the sun, which continuously beams off heat and light and yet doesn’t require an external fuel source. As part of the material creation, the sun had an inception date and thus will also have a date of destruction. Krishna is the supreme spiritual sun, so He is never bereft of His qualities. He transcends the bounds of time and space, a feature incomprehensible to the human being limited by their material brainpower.
If Krishna is beyond our thinking, why the need for self-realization? Why even discuss the different energies? Why not just live? The path of least resistance is taken by default, but the living entity still has something driving their behavior. In addition to the presence of instigation, there are multiple avenues taken; the activities aren’t always the same. As the search for ananda, or bliss, is the common catalyst, the discipline of self-realization is provided to allow for everyone to find that ananda. If we are more familiar with our properties and our position in the grand scheme of things, we will be better able to attain real bliss, without wasting time in fruitless ventures.
The pursuits of the spirit souls wandering through the material world without any guidance in spiritual matters can be compared to the animal rummaging the forest looking for food. One animal looks in one direction, while another takes their own route. Some eat more than others, while some decide to kill other animals for food. Irrespective of the avenue taken, the search for food will continue, as the enjoyment from eating is short-lived. The self-realized soul is one who finds their enjoyment both internally and externally, an art form they learned from following a bona fide discipline of spirituality, one which addresses the different energies, its source, and how to connect with it. The fountainhead of bliss and knowledge gives the proper information to those who wish to connect with Him in a mood of love.
What is at the core of this discipline? For starters, when the proper identification as spirit soul is there, the world can be viewed correctly instead of incorrectly. Immediately, sectarian, racial, national, gender, and even species boundaries are eliminated. The humble soul learning self-realization understands that there is no difference between a cat, dog, monkey, human being, ant, man, and woman. Every form of life is equal at the constitutional level, though we may show different outward treatment. Not everyone will be self-realized. A tiger doesn’t even know that it’s a tiger, so how can we expect it to treat us peacefully or under rational thought?
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.18)
The equal vision of the spiritualist is there initially for their own benefit. Knowing that we are spirit helps us understand that the matter around us is not meant for our association. Does this mean that we should give up all sensual pursuits, disengage from the senses? If I know that my car is not part of my identity, do I just abandon it? Do I sell the car immediately and never drive it again? This path of self-realization seems tempting, and it does have the benefit of bringing less entanglement in daily affairs, but there are some flaws.
The material energy is there for a reason. It is harmful when it is used for identification purposes, but it can prove beneficial for one who finds the proper engagement in life. Glorification of the Supreme Lord under the yoga discipline of bhakti is the constitutional occupation of the spirit soul, who is similar in quality to Krishna but vastly inferior in quantitative possession of divine attributes. Krishna is meant to be served and the spirit souls are meant to do the serving. Whether we like this fact or not is irrelevant; it is the natural order of things. The brilliance of the natural order is that anyone who follows it finds supreme pleasure, so much so that Krishna Himself is unable to stop their outpouring of emotion. In no other endeavor is this kind of love established, as the material world checks everyone’s service through the influence of time and space.
Devotional service in its highest form continues unmotivated and uninterrupted, life after life, in whatever body type the living entity may find. Reincarnation is already there with our present birth; we just have a little difficulty accepting the fact that it will continue into the afterlife. The transmigration of the soul shouldn’t be so difficult to understand, as there was spiritual action that caused our present birth. We also know that spiritual action continues after someone dies, so why should we deny that there is both a past and future life?
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)
Reincarnation flows in the direction of the consciousness of the living entity. The jiva is in the marginal position, so he can choose in favor of Krishna’s association or surrender to maya, the material energy. Association with maya brings temporary ups and downs that fluctuate like the stock market. At the time of death, one body type is renounced in favor of another, with the cycle of birth to death then repeated. This continues for as long as the material nature is used improperly. As soon as there is a proper identification of the different energies and its original source, bhakti-yoga can be adopted with the utmost sincerity.
Under bhakti, the same material energy that was previously inhibiting becomes the source of enlightenment, pleasure, anticipation, and unending opportunities for service. The example often cited by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the greatest champion and exponent of devotional service in modern times, was to the electricity that is available in a house. The same electricity can be used for both heating and cooling, which means that the electricity is not partial. In the same way, the material energy doesn’t have to be inhibiting. It doesn’t have to be the cause of perpetual bondage in a land divorced of God’s personal presence.
If someone were to hand us a laptop computer, the person identifying with matter and its objects may become ecstatic and use the machine for their own sense gratification. Surf the internet, listen to music, chat with their friends, basically do anything that is considered “fun”. The person who has renounced material interaction will be disappointed in receiving the same gift. To them the laptop is a brick that is heavy and causes an unnecessary burden to the person carrying it around. The owner also needs to learn how to use it, make sure that it is maintained, and pay for the electricity that goes into its operation.
The bhakta, however, neither identifies with the laptop nor despises it. Rather, every aspect of the material energy is used for connecting with Krishna. Even if something is renounced, that object becomes purified because at least it was used in an evaluation that eventually conjured up the image of Shyamasundara within the mind. Any time the consciousness can evoke Krishna’s image - where He is holding His flute, wearing a peacock feather in His hair, smiling so sweetly, enticing the spirit soul to come back to His spiritual home of Goloka Vrindavana - there is progress made towards finding lasting ananda.
If the devotee can, they will use the laptop to store pictures of Krishna and His many expansions. They will get the many books authored by the Vaishnava saints and place them on the device to read. They will use the keyboard and word processing programs to daily glorify their beloved Krishna and explain the flawless science of self-realization to others. In this way, both the materialist and dry renouncer missed out on a wonderful opportunity with the gift of the laptop.
The gross collection of material elements affords every single one of us the same opportunities. A sparse place lacking an influx of people and modern amenities can be enjoyed by those looking for peace and simultaneously despised by those looking for many activities involving material interaction. But if the same area has temples dedicated to the Lord, where His glories are constantly sung, such as through the sacred sound vibration of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, then saintly people will congregate there. With the presence of the saints the place turns into a pilgrimage site, an area where self-realization flourishes through both the existence of spiritual houses of worship and the association of devoted men.
The aim in this life is to use everything around us for kirtana, or glorification of the Supreme Lord, the person who provides happiness to anyone who connects with Him in a mood of love and devotion. The search for ananda will continue despite one’s awareness of the self, but only in the discipline of bhakti can the sweetest tasting fruit to our existence be found. The quality of the benefit is what determines the worthiness of the activity. As Krishna’s association is the unmatched jewel of a reward, the ancient art of bhakti, or divine love, becomes the only worthy engagement in life.
Electricity runs through the house,
Gives heat for both children and spouse.
Same force that is responsible for heating,
In summer operates machines for cooling.
Material nature also in neutrality,
Provides items to maintain being’s vitality.
Use nature the wrong way and you’ll be bound,
To cycle of birth and death, no bliss found.
But if you use matter to connect with Krishna,
You’ll taste sweet fruit of life, endless ananda.