“From all points of view, if we make an analytical study of the Vedic literatures, we will find that the ultimate summit of knowledge is to surrender unto Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 7)
The jigsaw puzzle starts off as a conglomeration of disjointed pieces, a seemingly difficult to understand mess that is supposed to finally fit together to reveal an image, a resting place for the eyes that is the result of the mental effort expended. The numerous conclusions reached by the human brain are similarly meant to further a purpose. When the individual points of fact are stacked on top of one another, further progress is made towards the ultimate conclusion. Unless and until that final stage is attained, the pieces of the puzzle will be viewed as just that, individual pieces that don’t have any relation to one another. On the other hand, when the final conclusion is revealed and properly understood, all the individual aspects of life - including the difficulties, trials, tribulations, heartache, tumult, despair, chaos and even the good times - will be seen in the proper context and appreciated for what they are: steppingstones in the path towards final salvation.
To see how smaller conclusions can further a larger purpose, let’s review the typical lifespan of a human being. The spirit soul placed inside of a human form starts off as an infant, not knowing how to do anything except maybe cry. Through trial-and-error and accompanying instruction provided by authority figures, or gurus, the infant learns how to crawl, walk, talk and follow sound advice. The crawling and walking lead to much bigger and better things later on in life. With further maturation comes schooling, which can take upwards of twelve years to complete. The school system is the most obvious example of how different conclusions are specifically sequenced to further a higher purpose. In each grade level, different pieces of information are taught, foundational building blocks towards acquiring the target knowledge system, the possession of which indicates the student’s worthiness to graduate. Graduating high school requires proficiency in certain subjects. In this regard, schooling is not actually required, as all that is needed is information and the ability to demonstrate knowledge of it. But the twelve years of schooling is there to reinforce concepts and allow for a slow accumulation of intelligence, as cramming the information necessary for graduation into the mind in one fell swoop is difficult. It is better to gradually acquire, remember and exercise information instead.
School is just one example, but once the individual takes to the work force, they have to similarly train themselves in whatever discipline they follow. A medical man has to go through years of training before he is certified to practice healing patients. The lawyer similarly must learn the ropes and work their way up the ladder towards success. So in virtually every field of activity, wherever some type of conclusion is made, there is a higher purpose to be fulfilled. One logical deduction leads to another, with hopefully the final conclusion bringing a most palatable situation.
“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Bhagavad-gita, 8.3)
When it comes to understanding the truths of spiritual life, the same pattern can be followed. The first instruction taught to students of the Vedic tradition is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” What is Brahman? The light of truth, the spiritual energy that is beyond duality, illusion and temporary changes is Brahman. Every individual life form, irrespective of their outward dress, is Brahman. This information is important to understand at the beginning of instruction because once we know who we are, we can both decipher and follow the proper path in life. If we hit a fork in the road and don’t know where to go, we’ll consider many factors before deciding which path is the correct one. For the human being, which is a species that represents the most advanced in terms of potential for intelligence, there are more than just two paths; there are many such forks in the road of life. If we don’t know who we are, we will never know the right path to take.
If someone doesn’t know that they are Brahman, how will they identify themselves? Is there such a thing as a wrong identification? Well, let’s think about a similar situation involving individuals on a team. In an office environment, a worker serves at the pleasure of the boss, who guides the employees along the proper path. The aim of the establishment is to turn a profit selling their good or service. Every person, even the most insignificant worker, is a vital piece of the puzzle, meaning they have a hand in the success of the company. If one of the workers should misidentify themselves, taking their personal whims and desires to be more important than the company’s, the attainment of the end-goal will suffer. In a more egregious deviation, if the worker identifies with another company instead of their own, obviously this faulty identification will lead to an unpalatable condition in the future. The company will suffer, because the worker will take to the wrong activities, engagements which won’t further the end-goal of turning a profit.
If the human being doesn’t understand that they are Brahman, they will follow all the wrong activities in life, especially once they reach an age of maturity. A small child can be guided in their behavior by elders and spiritual authority figures, but once the same child becomes old enough to make their own decisions, it becomes much more difficult to persuade them to remain on the proper path. Moreover, if the guides don’t know how to correctly identify themselves, they will lead others astray.
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.34)
Without understanding that we are Brahman, our behavior will mimic the animals. An animal is a life form just like us, but it doesn’t understand anything significant about spirit, birth, death, old age, disease, or the temporary workings of nature. Rather, the animal is driven strictly by sense demands, as it associates completely with its temporary body. The human being, without proper education of Brahman, will adopt a similar mentality. Indeed, the preponderance of meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex can be attributed entirely to the lack of knowledge of the proper identification. If we think we are our bodies, which are lumps of matter that are ever-changing and ultimately discarded at the time of death, when it comes time to make choices in life that can have a significant impact, we will make the wrong ones.
The conclusion that reveals that we are spirit souls thus allows us to make further progress towards the ultimate goal. It should be noted that aham brahmasmi is not the last instruction, nor is it the final conclusion. It is the first piece of the puzzle, though it is one that almost no one has, especially in today’s day and age. From the understanding of Brahman, one can shape their activities to actually realize their position as spirit. Knowing how a computer works doesn’t necessarily mean we can fix a broken one. Rather, practice and real life experience with fixing malfunctioning computers will help us make use of the theoretical information acquired. In a similar manner, knowledge of Brahman is only one aspect of self-realization. There must also be vijnana, or the practical application of theoretical concepts.
Activities in Brahman differ from animal activities because they maintain the knowledge of spirit and the essence of the individual. From knowledge of Brahman, other conclusions can be reached that will help the further progression towards full enlightenment. For instance, after learning that we are Brahman, we can make inquiries into the nature of spirit. From further study, we learn that the soul is immutable, unchangeable, and primeval. The soul is not slain when the body is slain. Moreover, the soul is sanatana, or without a beginning and without an end. No one can destroy the soul, change its properties, make it wet, burn it, or create it. The soul is always there.
“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.23)
Unearthing these conclusions then leads to other inquiries. “If the soul is eternal, what happens to the human being after he dies? Moreover, where was the soul before my present birth?” From further study in Vedanta, or the ultimate knowledge system passed down since the beginning of time by the celebrated rishis living in what is today known as India, we learn that just as spirit has certain properties, so does matter. The outer covering of the soul consists of an inferior energy known as prakriti, or matter. The soul, or purusha, is superior to matter, but due to delusion it thinks otherwise. The false identification accepted at the time of birth is rooted solely in ignorance of the properties of matter and its ability to foment delusion.
In the deluded condition, the spirit soul, unaware of its nature as Brahman, puts itself under the jurisdiction of guna and karma. Gunas are material qualities, or different gradations of matter. There are three primary gunas [goodness, passion and ignorance], which can be mixed up in so many different proportions; thus resulting in the seemingly unlimited number of unique species. The Vedas top the count off at 8,400,000 different distinct species, or bodies consisting of combinations of the three modes of nature. Karma manages cause-and-effect for life forms that are tied to matter. The spirit soul is aloof from the temporary manifestations of matter, but when placed inside of a material body, the soul becomes subject to the cause-and-effect system of karma, which is supremely fair in its workings. Just as we know that an object will fall to the ground if we should let go of it from our hand, the spirit soul must take on another body after it exits its current one. The type of body assumed in the next life is determined by the work that was performed in the previous life. Work is driven by desire, which is shaped by the qualitative makeup of the body assumed. Thus so many factors go into what type of body is received and what type of lifestyle is enjoyed or suffered.
These factors make it all the more important to understand Brahman and take to activities that please the soul and not the body. Therefore whatever engagements we can take up that will keep the mindset of aham brahmasmi alive will be beneficial in the long run. Conversely, anything we do that keeps us attached to our body and under the jurisdiction of karma will be to our detriment, even if there are temporary gains and fleeting periods of happiness along the way. A sober person does not overly rejoice over good fortune or lament too much over bad times, because they understand the temporary nature of life in a material body. The soul is eternal, so what use has it to invest so much emotion in fleeting happiness and experiences?
Once we know about Brahman, matter and karma, the next question that may be asked is: ”how did we get trapped in this cycle of reincarnation, wherein bodies are always changing through the workings of karma? Is it possible to break free from this cycle? Is there an entity more powerful than Brahman? Where did Brahman come from?“ Now we’re getting closer to the final conclusion. Indeed, anyone who even asks these questions just once in their lifetime and sincerely looks for answers will be guaranteed of finding them. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, declare that there are two distinct powerful entities, Brahman and Parabrahman. Both are the same in quality, but one is vastly superior in quantitative powers. Parabrahman is the fountainhead of all energies, both spiritual and material. Brahman’s qualities are due entirely to Parabrahman, as the supreme source of energy simply expands into tiny fragments that are similar in quality to His nature. In this sense, we are all God, but small “Gods”. There is a much larger God, who is a singular entity and never subject to the influence of any of His energies. He can expand as many times as He wants and still remain completely whole in His form and potency.
To understand and realize Brahman, the Vedas recommend various practices. Those who know that they are not matter but spirit and wish to be cognizant of this at all times take to reading the Vedas, teaching Vedic wisdom to others, performing sacrifices and rituals enjoined in the scriptures, teaching others how to perform the same rituals, accepting in charity and giving in charity. Such activities belong to the mode of goodness, and if one is able to transcend even this mode and remain situated in Brahman up until the time of death, they no longer suffer through birth and death or association with matter. The brahma-bhutah stage, the platform of enlightenment where one learns and truly realizes that they are Brahman, is above the material consciousness. As such, when the time of death comes, the choice made by the individual is for spiritual life; a decision which is fully respected.
But what happens when birth and death stop and the Brahman platform is maintained? After reaching Brahman, one has almost made it to the end, the ultimate conclusion. The last step that remains is researching Parabrahman and understanding His nature. For this the Vedas have provided much information, as Parabrahman has too many names to count. His original and most complete name is Krishna, which means “all-attractive”. Based on this description, we understand that Krishna has a form and is thus a personality. Unlike the deluding matter of the temporary world, prakriti in the spiritual land is divine. Those who stay stuck on the Brahman platform have a difficult time understanding this; therefore they remain far away from the association of Parabrahman in His original blissful form.
To aid the sincere souls in their understanding and in reaching the final destination, the Supreme Lord personally descends to earth and enacts pastimes periodically. Some of His most important and remembered pastimes relate to His providing of instruction, especially that given on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago to the Pandava warrior Arjuna. In this series of teachings, which are collectively known as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God, Krishna delves into the topics previously covered, such as the nature of spirit and the workings of matter. But since the message comes from Krishna, who is the fountainhead of everything matter and spirit, the final conclusion is ultimately reached. The Lord declares that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death immediately attains His nature, which means they are granted residence in His eternal kingdom of Goloka Vrindavana, which is situated above the Brahman effulgence, the destination for those who are only Brahman realized.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)
Not only does Krishna reveal this secret information about liberation, but He also provides the simplest path towards achieving that highest goal. His final instruction to Arjuna is that he should just surrender unto God and be delivered of all sinful reaction. This call for surrender is the most important instruction, the final conclusion if you will. Indeed, one who understands this and then acts upon it immediately surpasses the need for all other instruction. One who surrenders to Krishna wholeheartedly through a shift in consciousness automatically gains a higher level of intelligence and knowledge than the person studying Brahman and the workings of karma. The smaller conclusions are meant to eventually reach Krishna, so obviously one who goes directly to the Lord without any ill motive and in a mood of pure love will have no need for understanding smaller conclusions, which by themselves don’t bring Krishna’s blissful association.
So how does surrender take place? The simplest way is to remain focused on God through consciousness, which can best be achieved by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. What’s even more astounding is that once perfect Krishna consciousness is attained, the other important pieces of information presented by the Vedas become much more appreciated. Just as the final jigsaw puzzle reveals the utility and importance of the individual pieces, knowledge of Krishna, His pastimes, His forms and His bliss-evoking names reveals the true importance of understanding Brahman, the temporary nature of life, the need to refrain from attachment, and the eternality of the soul. The highest purpose in life is to understand Krishna. This is the conclusion of all Vedic scriptures, and anyone who knows this will never be denied admittance on the boat travelling across the ocean of nescience and reaching the supreme destination.