Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Changing The Subject Matter

Scenes from Mahabharata“No one can check the thinking activities of a living being, nor the feeling, willing or working processes. But if one wants actual happiness, one must change the subject matter only. Instead of talking of the politics of a dying man, one might discuss the politics administered by the Lord Himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.34 Purport)

This whole world is a product of God’s energy after all, so a blanket rejection of everything within it as being detrimental towards one’s spiritual aspirations is not a very wise policy. Though the human being has so many tendencies towards behavior that proves to be harmful in the end, the inclination to act needn’t be unnaturally checked. Rather, the same interests can be directed towards the inexhaustibly brilliant Vedic literature, which is full of enough variety to satisfy the inquisitive mind for many lifetimes. The hero in these documented accounts, the person who is the central focus of the pious behavior followed and the anger and rage of those who defy the established law codes, is none other than the Supreme Lord, whose spiritual form allows for an attachment that proves to be the most auspicious.

intoxicationCan attachment be detrimental? What is wrong with having affection for something? Is not the human spirit meant to love? If you have attachment to something that will cause you harm in the end, then obviously the emotional fixation is not warranted. For instance, having a few drinks at home after work may cause a slight relaxed sensation, but should the person indulge in even more adult beverages due to that feeling, in the process developing an attachment so strong that they can’t go a single day without intoxication, will they be benefitted by that behavior?

What about an attachment to a relationship, such as one involving romance or friendship? Fidelity to the relationship is certainly honorable, but basing attachment solely on bodily designations is flawed from the beginning, for the forms identified with must be renounced at some point in the future. Death is guaranteed for whoever takes birth, and whoever dies is guaranteed to take birth. The spirit soul, the essence of identity, is transcendental to these changes, but unless one knows how to identify with the self, the attachments they form will be based on temporary objects that must be parted with eventually. The stronger the attachment, the more painful the emotional fall at the time of separation.

In day-to-day affairs, there is a desire to hear about famous people. The news media profits from this desire. And the sentiments don’t necessarily have to be positive. Should there be a lascivious scandal on the campus of a university famous for its football program, the same figures previously adored and hailed as legends will be dragged down to the point that the newsmakers won’t settle until everyone hates the involved parties. Politics is arguably followed by the most number of people, for what a politician says and how they say it form the subject matter for the endless debates that take place both in print and television news media.

Should we not follow world events? If things are going on around us, why would we want to close our ears to them? The Vedas declare that the human form of body is the most auspicious, but not for its ability to form attachments to bodily relationships or famous figures described in the news. These tendencies indeed exist because of the properties of spirit, which from its constitution has a propensity to love. Love results in service, the kind which operates without motivation and interruption.

“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated [ahaituki] and uninterrupted [apratihata] to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)

Radha and KrishnaService to worldly entities always involves motivation, and interruption is guaranteed. The attraction to the dealings of worldly figures carries the motivation for some type of personal enjoyment, either the ability to praise and honor someone or the inverse of harboring hatred and resentment. A famous athlete is praised for being so good at what they do, but should they fall from grace through illicit relations with many women, they will be hated by the same fans.

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a famous acharya on the Vedic teachings of Lord Chaitanya, remarks that hatred is borne of the same loving spirit found within the soul. Indeed, every emotion is derived from the soul’s desire to love in a transcendental way. This cogent fact uncovers the secret to finding lasting happiness, felicity which continues beyond the current lifetime. As the human being is the only species capable of rationally reaching this conclusion through following instruction and thinking it over before fully accepting it within the mind, it is the most advanced species. A precious human birth thus should not go to waste.

How do we break the tendency for harboring attachment to the temporary, or asat? When reviewing the disciplines of spirituality to potentially take up, it is natural to look at the restrictions first. To follow a discipline means that one currently does not have discipline. This only makes sense after all. We attend school to get educated because we are initially uneducated. We get trained in a particular field if we lack the training. Similarly, we start to follow religious principles because we currently don’t follow them at all.

The more restrictions you impose, the less appealing your system will be to potential followers. In the ultimate system of religion known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the bona fide acharyas, when deciding to accept disciples, will impose a restriction on meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. It should be noted that these prohibitions are not necessary for practicing bhakti, as the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can be taken up by anyone at any stage in life. The famous brahmana Ajamila inadvertently recited the name of Narayana, which is another word for God, at the time of death and was rescued from punishment for his past sinful behavior. During the latter half of his life Ajamila did not follow the regulative principles, so he would not have been accepted as a disciple of a bona fide spiritual master. Nevertheless, through past accumulated spiritual merits, he was fortunate enough to say the holy name while quitting the body, which thus guaranteed his salvation.

Ajamila rescued at the time of deathThis incident reveals the end-goal of the human birth: to think of God at the time of death. The restrictions are put into place to make that happen. Obviously for someone who grew up eating meat it will be difficult to give up the practice at every meal. The same goes for abandoning intoxication for someone who enjoys it so much, but the focus on the positives in bhakti is more important. With enough immersion in transcendental service, the restrictions will take care of themselves, though they are still explicitly stressed and monitored to show what is required in a spiritual leader. If a preacher speaks on the superiority of being attached to God and no one else, if they have attachments to sinful behavior, how will their message resonate? Example is better than precept, so one who actually follows the principles they preach will be a more effective leader.

Lord Chaitanya, the famous preacher incarnation of Godhead, took to the renounced order of life at a very young age precisely for this purpose. Imagine a twenty-four year old coming up to you and speaking about detachment, the endless existence of the spirit soul, and how one should abandon attachment to anything not directly related to Krishna, or God. Will we take such a youngster seriously? What could they possibly know anyway? But if the same person lives in the renounced order of life, they immediately become superior to others in terms of authority. After all, the person being preached to likely isn’t a sannyasi, and even if they are, they probably didn’t take to the order at such a young age. Thus through following the regulative principles, one earns respect from others and gets their attention when speaking on the glories of bhakti.

If the restrictions are imposed and followed, the tendency towards hearing about famous figures will be there anyway. If we don’t watch the news, we’ll still want to hear about someone else. Luckily for us, the Supreme Lord, the object of sacrifice and penance, comes to earth every so often along with His closest associates. As a respectful guest of the land He owns, Lord Krishna takes part in activities which mimic those of the ordinary living entities. The difference is that Krishna’s tejas, or splendor, is impossible to fully cover up. His activities, which include His instructing others, are the most splendid, so marvelous that they are still talked about to this day.

Pick up a gossip paper that is more than a week old and it likely won’t be useful to you. The twitter feed from a month ago doesn’t have any relevant information because the news reported was meant to only pique the curiosity of someone looking for higher enjoyment, not to satisfy them. With Krishna’s activities, the enjoyment derived from hearing lasts for as long as the Supreme Lord’s stories continue to be told. If you’re interested in hearing about politics, how people lie to get ahead, and how the pious counteract the influence of the sinful, just immerse yourself in the Mahabharata, which describes Krishna’s involvement in the famous feud between the Kauravas and Pandavas. If you like hearing about love stories, men and women getting together, condition yourself to learn about Shri Krishna and His eternal consort Shrimati Radharani. Then hear about their dealings from a bona fide source. These pastimes, though very intimate and thus off limits to the neophyte, are documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam for a reason. They give tremendous joy to those who have an anxious desire to hear about God and His activities.

Radha and KrishnaIf you like hearing about weddings, focus your mind on the famous ceremony held in Janaka’s kingdom, where Krishna in His form of Lord Rama lifted an extremely heavy bow belonging to Lord Shiva to win Janaka’s daughter’s hand in marriage. If you want to hear about the struggle for existence, the successful triumph over both physical and mental obstacles, travel back in time to when Shri Hanuman, Rama’s most faithful servant, infiltrated the enemy territory of Lanka all by himself to find Rama’s missing wife, Sita Devi.

These mental trips will be so worth it that you’ll eventually abandon your attachment to the temporary. The natural yearning towards service and stimulation of the mind doesn’t have to be artificially renounced. Rather, just by changing the subject matter, one can go from living a material existence to enjoying a spiritual life which is full of knowledge, bliss and eternality. The human being’s birthright is to love God, and by following the methods laid down by Krishna Himself, that destiny can become a reality.

In Closing:

Stories of celebrities in papers you’ll find,

Piques the curiosity of your mind.

From hearing about scorn, love and deceit,

Some pleasure in your mind you receive.

These tendencies don’t outwardly reject,

Focus on Krishna instead, change the subject.

With proper training hear of highest love,

Radha and Krishna always think of.

For bravery Hanuman, and Mahabharata politics,

This way guarantee of salvation when body you quit.