“This new rope also was short by a measurement of two fingers, and when another rope was joined to it, it was still two fingers too short. As many ropes as she joined, all of them failed; their shortness could not be overcome.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.16)
Because of how we currently view the nature of action, it is assumed that the path towards success in spiritual life involves piling various achievements on top of one another. “Start small and then build your way towards the final goal. Cram enough activity to accumulate numerous spiritual merits and you’ll eventually reach the topmost realm of the spiritual sky, where birth and death no longer take place.” Such a miserable cycle is not desired by one who is aware of it. The ignorant, though taking their paltry enjoyment to be blissful, are automatically harmed by being unaware of the ultimate goal and the supreme happiness it brings. Yet despite the best effort, no quantitative accumulation of merits can bring the Supreme Lord into one’s company, or more importantly, under one’s control. Rather, when sincerity is there, when the motivation is completely pure, the controller of this and every other land agrees to allow the surrendered soul to think that He is under their sway. Thus the emotional reservoirs can spill over from both sides and flood the situation with transcendental sweetness.
What do we mean by building upon activities to reach a final goal? You can take running a marathon as an example to see the principles. The marathon runner has a goal to fulfill. They want to complete the race of 26.2 miles while keeping at least a running pace throughout. The serious runner will keep an eye on time, but for most of the participants just saying that you finished a marathon is good enough. After all, the person not accustomed to running will have a difficult time completing a single mile. Even the runners in the race don’t practice the entire 26.2 miles. They likely train to do half that distance on a semi-regular basis, knowing that on the day of the race the adrenaline will help push them across the finish line.
To run in a marathon requires training and a commitment to both physical and mental well-being. The runner needs to be in shape, ready to run long distances. They have to know how to prepare their bodies for a long-distance race. This means understanding how much to eat and when prior to the race. Also, they must know how to pace themselves and not exhaust their reservoir of energy before reaching the finish line.
Each one of these regulations can be considered a building block. Then, on the day of the race, the runner further builds smaller blocks by dissecting the race. “Finish one mile at a time and don’t think about the entire length. If you follow this procedure, eventually you can reach the finish line.” The same pattern applies to basically every fruitive venture. In school, complete each year starting from the first grade and eventually make your way to graduation after twelve years.
This is how goals are achieved. The larger the goal, the larger the number of smaller building blocks required for completion. In the big picture, the spirit soul, which is the essence of identity, has an ultimate purpose to fulfill. Only in the human form is there the ability to uncover that purpose. Therefore the Vedas consider the human birth to be the most auspicious. The intelligence of the human being is not best used to create a devastating bomb that can destroy the world or build an aircraft capable of flying into outer space. Inventing a gadget to receive and place telephone calls to people around the world also isn’t the best use of the brainpower of the human being.
The reason the human being has a higher purpose to fulfill is that the enjoyment derived from mechanical advancement is more or less the same as what is available to the animals. A human being may drive in their fancy sports car to an expensive restaurant that serves the finest steaks, but the animals lacking intelligence have the same ability to eat. Tigers eat the flesh of other animals without spending a dime. The human being has intelligence to go beyond the basic needs of eating, sleeping, mating and defending.
Religion ideally fulfills this purpose. Not the religion just inherited as a formality from the parents or a faith accepted one day and then rejected the next, a bona fide discipline of spirituality is presented and understood as a science, where specific laws that can’t be violated are taught. The laws are already in effect, but cognizance of them allows the worker to operate within their guidelines, avoiding the painful reactions that come from going against the stringent influence of nature.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
A young child may not know how gravity works, but if you let go of something from your hand, it will fall to the ground. If you are on a perch somewhere, if you jump off, you will drop to the ground. Therefore knowledge of gravity can be very helpful, for it will enable you to avoid dangerous behavior. In a similar manner, knowledge of the transmigration of the soul, how it travels through different body types from life to life, enables the human being to take the necessary steps to avoid that cycle, to put a permanent end to it. The samsara-chakra, or spinning wheel of material existence, is like an amusement park ride that one doesn’t have to patronize. Rather, as soon as the desire to reject that ride is broadcast, the spirit soul gets a better destination.
The real purpose of religion is to break free of the cycle of birth and death and find a more ideal destination. The natural instinct would be to follow the same pattern of using building blocks to reach the final goal. “Whatever steps are required, I will do and then hopefully reach the final point.” But things aren’t quite so simple. You can’t just put in a certain amount of time and then be guaranteed of success. Granted, the building blocks are there, but the purpose is to shift consciousness, to purify it. That stark change can take place within an instant, or it can be so elusive that many lifetimes spent in spiritual practice won’t turn the mind.
If the pathways to success are so varied, why even put forth the effort? Under the bona fide principles presented by an instructor who knows the ins and outs of the students, the progress can happen very quickly. More specifically, if there is sincerity in purpose, the object of that service will ensure success. An example of this was seen with mother Yashoda, who one day tried to tie her son to a mortar as punishment for His bad behavior. What Yashoda didn’t know was that her son was the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna, appearing on earth in the spiritual guise of a tiny, adorable child. The jewel of Vrindavana enchanted everyone in the town, and He especially evoked the parental loving affection of Yashoda and Nanda Maharaja.
On one occasion, the naughty Krishna broke a pot of yogurt that was in the process of being churned into butter. He did so in protest to His mother having gotten up for a second to tend to affairs in the kitchen. Knowing that He did something bad, Krishna ran from the scene, taking His butter with Him, but leaving a trail on the floor to give away His location. The good mother chased after her son playfully with a whipping stick in her hand. Finally catching hold of Him, seeing that He had tears in His eyes, she decided she would tie Him to a mortar. This would serve two purposes. It would act as a mild punishment and it would ensure that He wouldn’t run off to a neighboring home out of fear.
There was one slight problem. The rope that mother Yashoda used to tie Krishna came up two finger widths short. No problem, right? Just add an adjoining rope to increase the length? Yet with every rope she added, the end result was always the same. Just a bit short. Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, cannot be bound unless He agrees to it. He cannot be captured by the mind no matter how much meditation has taken place, how many pious credits have been accumulated, or how long the person has studied Vedanta, which is the ultimate system of knowledge.
Krishna did eventually get tied to the mortar. This is because the mother’s efforts were sincere. She was not interested in yoga, though through thinking of her son in a mood of love she had achieved an end sought by every yogi. She did not want to study Vedanta, though through her behavior she showed that she knew who the Absolute Truth was and how to establish a relationship with Him. She did not want to purposefully give up the fruits of her labor for a higher cause, though she worked day and night to please the Supreme Lord, who had appeared in Vrindavana as her son.
Shri Krishna makes the sincere efforts of the devotee fruitful. The laws of material science don’t apply to Him. Putting two ropes together always increases the length of the new rope, but in Krishna’s case, the new rope can be the same length as the previous one. The contradictions to the laws of time and space exist only with the Supreme Lord and His spiritual realm, which is the destination for the pious souls who are committed to bhakti and granted success by the beneficiary of their activity, that sweetheart butter-thief who innocently played with mother Yashoda.
One upon another do you build,
At end have accumulation’s hill.
Success in life this pattern follows,
Methodically reach desired end allows.
Do your training and take right pace,
So that you’ll complete marathon race.
In bhakti the pattern is not the same,
Devotional spirit only way for Krishna to gain.
Yashoda tried to tie naughty son to mortar,
But never worked until Krishna gave the order.