“Those who are not faithful on the path of devotional service cannot attain Me, O conqueror of foes, but return to birth and death in this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.3)
Allergy season getting you down? The pollen, the trees, the freshly cut grass just lying everywhere can become unbearable after a while. First the eyes well up with tears, and this is followed by constant sneezing. It gets even worse when coughing starts, as that is usually reserved for when we have a cold or some more severe disease during the winter months. To alleviate the sufferings from seasonal allergies, we head to the drug store and find the strongest medication there is. Many of these drugs are now available over the counter, but there are still some controls in place, as in America one must show their driver’s license at the time of purchase. Then there are still the prescription drugs, those medicines requiring the consent of a physician and which need to be carefully formulated in the store by the pharmacist on hand. These drugs of course have unpleasant side effects, but the nuisances are tolerated because of the overall benefit.
Just from the behavior exhibited by sufferers of allergy season, we see that there is so much trust and faith put into the drug manufacturer and the pharmacist at the store. When the drug works properly, when it has been composed according to standards, some side effects, such as drowsiness, dryness of the mouth, and an overall strange feeling in the mind, will surely come. Now just imagine if some person along the chain of action should make a mistake. To ere is human after all, so the chances of committing an error are always there, especially in a field as sensitive as pharmacy. If the drug is composed incorrectly, the side effects can be greatly intensified, thus causing major problems. Yet we put our trust and faith in the pharmacist anyway, as their many years of schooling serve as proof of capability. In the grand scheme of things, we put so much faith in our fellow man for everything, from trivial items to important matters of life and death.
If this trust is already present, why not apply it to spiritual life as well? The prescriptions of the Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in existence, are not meant to be dogmatic principles applicable to only a select few. Spirituality is a science, a discipline that can be understood through establishing select principles, layering them on top of one another, and then applying them to our daily lives. The via-medium for the information transfer is the spiritual master, or guru. He is the true representative of God, and by extending our faithful attitude to his words and instructions, we can be cured of the wickedest disease: affinity for material existence.
We are diseased already? We know from past experience that life is not permanent. The soul, the living force responsible for instigating action, the entity which takes the responsibility for making choices, does live forever, but when it appears in a particular life form, that manifestation is not permanent. This is not that difficult to understand, as even the specific form generally accepted as a life goes through constant changes with the passing of time. If matter were permanent, or if the dwelling encasing the soul never changed, all of us would remain infants forever. But we know that as soon as we take birth from the womb of our mother, growth inevitably starts. Indeed, the aim of the parents is to ensure that their child grows up to be a fully capable, healthy, sturdy, independent, and logically thinking adult. The difference between an adult and a child is mostly evidenced in the difference in thought processes, or consciousness. Yet with that maturation comes a brand new body, one that is vastly different from the tiny form that survived for nine months within the womb.
Eventually, after enough time passes and the adult body ceases to be useful, the entire dwelling is discarded. This shedding is the event most of us know as death; something which is rarely welcome. After all, after death is the great unknown, something no one seems to be sure about. “What happens after I die? Will I live again? Will I see my friends and family again? Where will I go?” Since these questions inevitably arise, as death is guaranteed for whoever takes birth, we can understand that every single living entity is diseased. A disease is something which causes discomfort, pain, and, in the worst cases, death. Since the end of life is already guaranteed, we can understand that concomitant with birth is a deadly disease, which comes to bear through the forces of time.
With ordinary diseases, we seek treatment and cures, so why should this pursuit be absent with the illness that is accepted at the time of birth? This is the true purpose for spirituality; to stop death. From the Vedas, we understand that the soul lives forever, but it gets different bodies based on the individual’s desires and work. Just as if we drop an object out of our hand it will fall to the ground, every action we take accumulated over the course of our days in a particular form has an effect that must come to bear in the future. Either these results are witnessed in the present lifetime, or they are seen in the next form of body accepted by the soul. This explains why people are born into different circumstances. Some people are born into abusive families, homes where the father beats the mother, or where there is constant angst and pressure put on the young children. Others are born into the arms of loving parents who are wholly dedicated to each other and their children. These circumstances are determined by one’s karma, which is the system managing fruitive activity.
Through following proper prescriptions, we can actually break free of the undesired cycle, which is known as samsara-chakra, or the wheel of material existence. The wheel continues to roll, with the living entity caught underneath, as the revolutions repeat. When in between the wheel and the ground, the pressure causes great pain and distress, and when the same part of the wheel rolls back above ground, there is a temporary period of happiness and relief. Nevertheless, the spinning continues, so the wise try their best to completely escape from the suffering condition and find permanent and everlasting peace. As the soul is eternal and blissful, its constitutional position also has the same properties. This is where God’s presence is really required. He is described as having a transcendental body that is fully blissful, eternal and knowledgeable, sach-chid-ananda vigraha. Through connecting with Him on a regular basis, we can get the cure to the most acute disease known to every living entity.
“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, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
Getting the cure is not that difficult. Simply surrender unto a spiritual master, one who has seen the light, and follow his instructions. How hard can this be? We put so much trust and faith in others every day, so why the difficulty in understanding the Supreme Truth? The largest stumbling block is the mind, which has rightfully grown skeptical of religion and its champions. As desire forms the bedrock of fruitive activity, so the tainted wishes of the conditioned living entities have degraded religion to the point that God is seen as an order supplier. “Pray for what you want, and keep on praying no matter what.” In this respect, there appears to be a contradiction raised. If one person prays for something, and another person prays for the exact opposite reward, how will the Supreme Lord reconcile the two requests? How can God ever take sides? Aren’t we all His children?
Because of these contradictions and the fact that everyone seems to be painting God in their own way, there is a general distaste for religion, as nothing tangible seems to come from its practice. If one person prays all the time and gets what they want some of the time, and another person is equally as fortunate without praying, what need is there for religion? This skepticism is healthy, as it shows a level of sophistication and intelligence found only in the human species.
With the Vedic seers, however, the prescriptions aren’t so narrow in purpose. The sum and substance of Vedic philosophy can be found in the Bhagavad-gita, which is a collection of verses sung on a battlefield around five thousand years ago. The teacher in this case, Lord Krishna, is considered the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the origin of knowledge. He is indeed the object of all religious sacrifice, as pleasing Him brings more pleasure to the worshiper than any other activity. But Krishna’s worthiness of worship is not a sectarian principle, one just followed by those growing up in India. Rather, the themes and concepts revealed in the Bhagavad-gita are universally applicable. Karma, renunciation, material nature, disease, death, old age, reincarnation, and, most important of all, the constitutional position of the living entity, are discussed with full clarity, but also succinctly.
At one point in the Gita, Krishna advises His dear friend and cousin Arjuna to approach a spiritual master and learn the truth from him. This is ironic because the Gita itself represents a talk between a guru and his student. Krishna is the teacher in this case and Arjuna, a warrior feeling hesitant prior to the commencement of a grand war, the student. A bona fide spiritual master is one who follows the teachings presented by Krishna in the Gita, which don’t contradict any other religion’s central teachings. Based on time and circumstance, the exact implementation of the principles may vary, but the ultimate conclusion, the final destination, can never be altered. The living entities are part and parcel of God, and due to this relationship they are best fit for serving the Supreme Lord as their primary object of importance. From this focus every beneficial attribute and condition is met. When there is pure God consciousness, the soul is no longer subject to the spinning wheel of material existence. Just as there is eternality and full bliss in God, so there is never a chance for fall down for one who is fully Krishna conscious.
Every prescription offered, every ritual and function of spiritual life that is bona fide, is meant to further this God consciousness. Even the prayer requests and the seeking of material rewards represent a sort of advancement, as the animals don’t have the ability to pray to God. The material body is temporary, so any reward sought out for its comfort misses the target that is pure God consciousness. Nevertheless, just approaching the Supreme Lord one time in a sincere mood helps further the thought processes of the mind, keeping it aligned with the proper path in life.
The Vedic seers, those who carry the torchlight of knowledge kindly revealed by Krishna Himself on many occasions in the past, advise everyone in this age to simply chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This specific sequence of words is known as the maha-mantra, and it is a sacred formula that can be repeated in a variety of ways. It is best to chant this mantra out loud, congregationally with other devotees of God. Through this method spiritual knowledge can be passed on to others without them even knowing it. It is seen that when devotees join together in what is known as a sankirtana party and take to the streets chanting this mantra, many people come out and enjoy the sounds. They may not even have ever heard of Krishna or the Vedas, but simply from hearing the holy names enthusiastically belted out by the chanters, they feel satisfaction and happiness.
These properties stand in stark contrast to what is seen with the dry worship of an abstract vision of God and the allegiance and support shown to worldly entities, those who are not God. Therefore just from the immediate effects we can understand that there is something special in the chanting prescription, that sankirtana and its foundational mantra have some real efficacy. Along with the chanting recommendation, the spiritual masters advise that we refrain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. In many spiritual traditions there are recommendations for various animal sacrifices. There are also found restrictions on eating certain kinds of food and prohibitions on consuming specific beverages. Avoiding the four pillars of sinful life doesn’t clash with any spiritual tradition. One faith may have recommendations for animal sacrifice, but some logic should be applied to understand the reasoning behind the recommendation. The animal community often kills and eats other animals, and even the human being has the wherewithal to go hunting and open slaughterhouses. If knowledge of how to slay animals is there already, what would the purpose be for recommending animal sacrifice in scripture?
The rational person will understand that animal sacrifice is meant to serve as a way of curbing the sinful practice of unnecessary violence. If the ultimate purpose is to reach a state of pure God consciousness, where the sweet, smiling face of the Supreme Lord is etched into the mind, every recommendation offered should be juxtaposed with this final destination, the end position. In this way we see that whatever targeted recommendations for action exist are there simply to further a higher purpose. Since there is less time and opportunity for full adherence to every ritual from the time of birth for the average human being today, the spiritual master of the Vedic tradition has streamlined the recommendations, allowing for universal principles to be adopted. Not eating meat, never gambling, avoiding illicit sex, and never becoming intoxicated do not violate any religious principle in any way. Rather, by following these restrictions one becomes the most superior and respected member of society.
Krishna is our best friend. This is His most important role, as He can fulfill anyone’s request for opulence or the alleviation of distress, but these gifts don’t eliminate the root of our problems: separation from God. As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, He resides within everyone’s heart. Once our consciousness becomes purified, we can realize this fact and relish the opportunity for divine service so kindly afforded to the human being. We already put so much faith in our fellow man to heal us and ensure our safety, so adding the spiritual master to that list of people is not really much of a gamble. Surrendering to Krishna and those who are forever devoted to Him is the only wager that wins every time. The reward awaiting the person wise enough to put faith in the proper channels is the reunion with their best friend, whose company cures all ailments and brings all pleasures.