Monday, February 27, 2012

Tear Down This Wall

Prahlada Maharaja“Prahlada Maharaja said: One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life — in other words, from the tender age of childhood — to practice the activities of devotional service, giving up all other engagements. The human body is most rarely achieved, and although temporary like other bodies, it is meaningful because in human life one can perform devotional service. Even a slight amount of sincere devotional service can give one complete perfection.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.6.1)

Among the many issues discussed during a campaign for the office of President of the United States is foreign policy. How will such and such candidate deal with other nations, including those who may be hostile to the country? On the campaign trail it is easy to talk your way through difficult issues. You can say anything, as your words don’t directly affect legislation. The goal of the candidate is to get elected, not necessarily to immediately impact policy. Once you get into office and bring in your handlers, aides, advisers and administrators, you can make more rational decisions.

The general recommendation is for presidents to remain neutral in foreign affairs. Don’t ruffle any feathers. Why would you want to raise hostilities that might get your country into more trouble? The other nations understand that you might talk tough during the campaign season, but once you get into office they expect you to use keen diplomacy to get what you want. Even in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, punishment, or danda, is not the only means for achieving an end. There are other options such as pacification, giving gifts, and using divide and conquer strategies for rulers to achieve their stated objective.

“After some time, the teachers Shanda and Amarka thought that Prahlada Maharaja was sufficiently educated in the diplomatic affairs of pacifying public leaders, appeasing them by giving them lucrative posts, dividing and ruling over them and punishing them in cases of disobedience. Then, one day, after Prahlada's mother had personally washed the boy and dressed him nicely with sufficient ornaments, they presented him before his father.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.19)

Prahlada MaharajaDivide and conquer is one of the more intriguing options because it has a psychological component to it. Danda is straightforward. The aggressor sets the rules in any conflict, so if you have more military might then it is easy to just impose your will on another party. The United States has had the predominant military in the world for the past hundred years or so, but the option for armed conflict is not the one first taken. Rather than anger others, there are paths of lesser resistance like pacification and the giving of gifts. Typically, though, pacification is the resort for the weaker parties.

Division is your way to attack the enemy from within. You inspire rebel forces inside of the enemy camp to fight their way to achieve their interest, which is ideally your interest as well. Division is rarely practiced in the open, as the strong rhetoric required is not considered diplomatic. Why try “cowboy diplomacy” when you can speak softly on the outside and work your way around the edges without the enemy knowing?

One particular world leader in recent times was advised not to openly criticize a regime that had erected a wall in one of its satellite countries. Walls are only built when you want to keep people from coming in or leaving. The influx of people is only a problem when the nation you govern is attractive to outsiders. In the case of this small territory, the problem was the opposite. The people were dying to get out. If you live in an area with tight government controls and limited freedom, you will likely want to flee. The move may be difficult, but in the end you have to do what is right for yourself and your family. The egress is similar to leaving a job that you might be comfortable in. If the boss makes many changes and cuts your salary enough you will have no other choice but to leave and find another job.

The giant wall at the city’s boundary caused a problem for the people wanting to leave. The citizens that wanted to move out couldn’t. They’d have to try to climb the giant wall, which would place them out in the open for the governing bodies to see. The government put up the wall for a reason; they did not want people to leave. If someone did try to escape and then ended up getting caught, they surely wouldn’t be treated well by the authorities. Watching from the outside, many nations thought the government’s behavior was reprehensible. If people want to leave a country, why not allow them to? Why erect a wall?

the Berlin WallThough they were thinking this way, it was difficult for them to openly share their feelings, as a lack of confidence in the proper path often prevents the open sharing of criticism. “For starters, who is anyone to criticize anyone else? If one nation has a wall on its boundary, who am I, an outsider, to criticize? I don’t know their circumstances. I don’t know why they may have put up that wall. What gives me the right to say it should be done differently? Instead, I should kindly ask them to consider shifting gears, being collegial on the outside and then a little stricter when talking to them personally.”

On one visit to this famous wall, the world leader in question went the bold route. To the people gathered at the wall, he assertively advised the leader of that area to “tear down this wall.” The recommendation was straightforward, honest and could not be misconstrued. The message wasn’t, “Please consider getting rid of this wall”, or, “Please try reforming your nation so that people can live happily within these confines.” A few years later, the inspired people of that city would tear down that wall themselves, not waiting for help from the government.

The preacher who knows the true position of the spirit soul and its ideal home also is very bold in presenting their message. The spirit soul is the essence of identity, the spark within every living being. The temporary coverings are like shirts and coats that get put on before a trip and then taken off once the destination is reached. Through the transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation, these dresses are constantly put on and taken off.

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)

The soul remains the same throughout, but since the land inhabited is filled with inhibiting matter, there is no happiness. Through mental speculation and fruitive activity, the living being tries their best to make use of their environment. They are not allowed to escape the impenetrable walls of maya, or illusion, because they are unaware of their proper identity. Thus so many other systems of regulation arise. As the soul’s natural desire is to serve, that propensity follows so many outlets within the confines of maya’s walls. Philanthropy, charity, sense gratification, concern for the material wellbeing of others, protection of the environment, the feverish pursuit of profit, the desire to control people through accepting the reins of government, and so many other ventures are attempted to fill the void for lasting happiness.

Lord KrishnaThe Vaishnava preacher knows both the position of the soul and its link to the Supersoul, who has a personal form in His original feature. The spirit souls come from God and only in His association is there real happiness. The walls of maya are sort of like the perimeter of a large prison house. Through the proper behavior one can escape from confinement by figuratively tearing down maya’s walls. As this is what is best for every spirit soul, the Vaishnava boldly declares that the walls of maya must be brought down, not accommodated.

What is the difference between tearing down maya’s walls and remaining within them? What sort of behavior helps one break free of the prison-like environment? Mental speculation will be of no help in this regard. The human mind has the ability to discriminate, so when accepting the most righteous path of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, there certainly must be more than just blind sentiment. Nevertheless, the right path cannot initially be revealed through mental effort alone. One must tap into the storehouse of knowledge that is the Vedic literature, with its most important works being the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

The Vedas are non-different from God, so it is difficult to say that some works are more important than others. The Bhagavatam is generally considered the best because it deals exclusively with devotion to the Lord, without hints of procedures for material acquisition, dry renunciation, or mystic perfection. These other pursuits can help elevate one to the platform of God consciousness, but they can also serve as distractions. If the boss that previously treated you horribly one day comes in with a new enticing offer, you may be tempted to stay at the job. The employer’s intent is to make you forget about his past transgressions. But accepting the entreaty is a mistake because within a short period of time the same erratic behavior from the boss will resurface.

In a similar manner, taking shelter of any type of fruitive activity, mental speculation, or mystic perfection may make the living being temporarily comfortable again within maya’s prison, but only in bhakti are the walls eviscerated, with the invigorated spirit soul more anxious than ever to take the right action. The spark of life brings the potential for excelling in spiritual practice. The Vaishnava preacher presents all of this information, giving both the end-goal and the tools necessary for achieving it. The end is really the beginning of an endless pursuit that keeps the soul in ananda, or bliss.

The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, is the object of sacrifice. The most potent sacrifice is the sankirtana-yajna, chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The recommendation is to take the chanting option right away. At the same time learn about Krishna and His teachings from the Bhagavad-gita. Become fully convinced of the position of the spirit soul, how it transcends birth and death, and how it remains always in Krishna’s association once full God consciousness is reached.

After acceptance of the devotional path read more about Krishna’s personal qualities and pastimes found in the Bhagavatam, which has accounts from great devotees and teachers like Prahlada Maharaja, who as a five year old boy instructed his classmates on the supremacy of vishnu-bhakti. In this way spend the rest of your life immersed in God consciousness, which automatically ensures that maya’s walls will have no influence. Tear down the walls of illusion instead of trying to work within them. Follow the path of bhakti, invite Krishna into your consciousness and soon you will taste the real fruit of your existence, freedom in pure bliss.

Question: What if I fail? What if I try to scale the walls and don’t make it over? Won’t maya punish me again?

In the past many yogis, real transcendentalists trying to perfect consciousness, were unsuccessful in fully scaling maya’s giant walls within their lifetime. If you try to escape from the government and get caught, they will punish you. With maya, she will provide many enticements to get you to stay within her web of illusion - which makes you take objects of matter to be yours and your material body to be your identity - but if the effort is directed at Krishna immediately, there is no need to fear.

Krishna saving DraupadiSeveral sincere devotees of the past were pure of heart and only dependent on Krishna for everything. They were attacked by others opposed to God or were stricken temporarily by the influence of passion, but they were nevertheless saved. Queen Draupadi was helpless in an assembly where other kings tried to strip her naked. At the last moment she finally prayed to Krishna, and the Lord came and took the form of her dress. No matter how much the miscreants pulled, they couldn’t seem to get Draupadi’s sari off of her. Prahlada Maharaja was a five year old practicing devotion, so he had no way of protecting himself. His father tried to kill him so many times, but Krishna was there to save the boy and maintain his devotional standard.

The body must be renounced at some point, so even if we don’t succeed in escaping the material prison house or purifying its influence within this lifetime, if the effort in devotion is sincere, in the next life the process resumes from the same position. It’s like hitting pause while watching a movie, taking care of some work, and then returning to the same spot. This feature is not available outside the realm of devotional service. If you build a house halfway and leave it, there’s no guarantee that the structure will remain there for you to complete. If the house should crumble, all of your past effort goes to waste.

If just one sincere utterance of Krishna’s name is made, there is no chance of ever meeting doom. Even if an accidental fall from grace should take place in the future, the divine consciousness will eventually revive. The spirit soul is capable of amazing things. If you look around and see the complex arrangements created by man, you should know that the people who created them have the same internal qualities that you do. Therefore the potential for action is tremendous, and with bhakti-yoga the potential meets its ideal match, resulting in a synergistic force that is capable of scaling the highest walls.

In Closing:

This wonderful land, don’t you dare leave,

To the almighty government’s will do you cleave.

 

If fail in your desire for freedom to gain,

Authorities to inflict punishing pain.

 

This material land home that you do call,

Has similar boundaries, unscalable walls.

 

But Vaishnava has answer, gives it to you bold,

To be devoted to Krishna and name you’re told.

 

Maya’s walls tear down, break them with force,

Or remove their influence, follow bhakti’s course.