“The material relations are based on reciprocation of material enjoyment, which depends mainly on material resources. Therefore, when material resources are withdrawn by the Lord, the devotee is cent percent attracted toward the transcendental loving service of the Lord. Thus the Lord snatches the fallen soul from the mire of material existence.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.9.19 Purport)
Material nature is described as maya in Sanskrit, a word which at its root means “that which is not.” Maya casts a spell of illusion, causing the living being to accept something as part of their identity which really has no relation to their true qualities. The illusion extends to relationships as well, for otherwise man would never feel sadness over the loss of an inanimate object like an expensive shirt or car. For those who turn their back on maya, following the right steps along the spiritual path, a good portion of that illusion is removed personally by the master of maya. Bereft of material enjoyment with which to reciprocate, the material relation disintegrates, leaving the individual helpless in their desire to accept illusion. In that condition, they are better suited towards worship of the Supreme Lord, which is man’s primary occupation to begin with.
Reciprocation of material enjoyment is the essential ingredient in the relationship with illusion. Without that reciprocation, the return on the investment of action, the relationship wouldn’t last very long. For instance, if I work for an employer and provide him a good or service of value, I expect to be paid fairly. “Fair” in this regard refers to just compensation for the work provided. Fair has nothing to do with what other people in the company are making or what my financial situation is. For all the employer knows, I could be coming home every night and throwing my earned money into the river.
What keeps the relationship going is the return of material enjoyment. When the employer stops paying a wage or fair salary altogether, the work offered by the employee will eventually stop as well. In this sense, the loss of a material enjoyment leads to a type of renunciation. With working, however, such a stoppage of payment doesn’t mean that the worker will give up employment altogether. Rather, they will just look for another job, where ideally the level of reciprocation is higher than it was previously.
The same principles apply to every type of interaction with material nature. Every material relation is based on this reciprocal enjoyment, and once that enjoyment is cut off, the relationship dissipates. For the spiritualist sincerely interested in transcending the effects of maya, the direct method of achieving success is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Within bhakti there is no question of maya. At the same time, however, there is vibrancy in activity. The yogi following love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead will use whatever is at their disposal to please their beloved Bhagavan, a word which describes the Supreme Lord’s superior position as possessing opulences in the greatest abundance.
In the grand scheme, the living being is practically helpless in determining their living conditions. I may be very intelligent and capable of doing complex mathematics, but I can’t control the weather. I can’t control what happens to other people as well. Their behavior is determined by their desires, so there is no way for me to enter into their minds and tell them to desire something different. With respect to bhakti-yoga, the foremost activity is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Recitation of these holy names keeps the mind thinking about God. More importantly, hearing takes place at the same time. The gateway to the soul is the ear, and if the proper message is transmitted through that channel, it can penetrate through the wall of nescience and cause a resurgence in the active principle of divine love, which is currently dormant.
While the sincere spiritualist is chanting the holy names regularly, if they are still bound by the spell of illusion, their progression will be slowed. Think of it like driving to work and then hitting traffic that temporarily halts your progress. The traffic for the devotee is the bevy of material relations. As mentioned before, these are kept alive through material enjoyment that goes back and forth. Therefore, to help the humble soul looking to connect with Him, the Supreme Lord personally intervenes, breaking away from His position of neutrality, and takes away one’s material enjoyment.
“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Bhagavan in His original form of Lord Krishna states that He is not partial to anyone. At the same time, if one is devoted to Him, He takes a special interest. We can think of it like utilizing the sun’s power for a higher purpose. The sun’s rays shine down on everyone; thus the sun is not partial. At the same time, someone who knows how to use the rays properly can take the highest benefit. In a similar manner, one who knows how to use Krishna’s energy can find enlightenment and a steady determination in following the path that leads to the highest destination.
The added bonus with Krishna is that He will directly offer assistance to those who are desirous of it. The surrendered soul is protected like a helpless child that doesn’t know what is best. The independent, self-sufficient child may leave home in adulthood and go on to follow their passions in life, but the pet child is protected throughout by the parents. The devotees are Krishna’s favorite children, so He never lets go of them, even if they should try to get away.
The Supreme Lord shows favoritism to His devotees by sometimes taking away material enjoyment. What room is there for illusion in the life of one who is in constant contact with the real thing, the Supreme Lord? Spirit is immutable, unchangeable and primeval, and since Krishna is the Supreme Lord, even His body has the same properties as spirit. Regular matter, on the other hand, is temporary, changing and not vibrant. Attachment to matter can only take place when one is not fixed in devotional consciousness.
Sometimes Krishna’s personal intervention in this area is not immediately appreciated, though it always proves to be helpful. A famous example of this intervention took place with the venerable Narada Muni. Think of the greatest reformer you know and their resume would still pale in comparison to Narada’s. The former son of a maidservant is a special space-travelling saint who has the ability to impart supreme wisdom to those who are deserving of it. His disciples fill up the who’s who of famous acharyas of the Vedic tradition.
Despite his status as an intimate friend and servant of Lord Vishnu, another form of Krishna, or God, Narada once fell victim to maya’s influence. It should be noted that for the devotees the temporary bouts of illusion come from yogamaya, which is directly controlled by God. Mahamaya, on the other hand, is not directly supervised by the Lord. Under yogamaya the illusion actually ends up benefitting the devotee, strengthening their resolve in devotional life.
Narada’s humbling occurred when he saw a beautiful princess that he wanted to marry. The material relation would be created through a reciprocation of material enjoyment. That enjoyment could only occur if Narada would marry the princess. Her father was holding a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, to determine her marriage. The princess would get to pick her husband from a lineup of princes. Narada, who had previously boasted about having conquered the influence of the senses, prayed to Vishnu to be able to get the princess as a wife. “Please let her pick me”, was his prayer.
If the material enjoyment had been granted to Narada, the illusion would have continued longer. On the other hand, if the enjoyment was ripped away in a tragic manner, the relation would dissipate immediately. Vishnu cleverly answered Narada’s request by saying that He would do what was best for the sage. Lo and behold, when the time for the svayamvara came, the princess looked at the princes assembled, and when she looked at Narada’s face, she saw a monkey. Detested by the image, she did not pick him for a husband.
Narada was quite angry over what had happened. He was so mad that Vishnu betrayed him. Nevertheless, the personal intervention ended up saving the muni. He was not destined to be married, especially if his relation with his wife were based on material enjoyment. In bhakti, it doesn’t matter whether one is young or old, single or married, working or renounced. The only requirement is a sincerity of purpose in connecting with God.
In other types of yoga or spiritual life the direct intervention of Bhagavan is absent. This means that one must fend off the advances of maya on their own. As even an exalted personality like Narada can temporarily be drawn in by the allures of material beauty, the paths not involving bhakti are very difficult, and may take many lifetimes to complete. Shri Krishna is the Supreme Controller, so when He helps someone, there is no question of failure. His beloved Narada still sings His glories to this day, and though he was angered by the Lord’s actions that one time, in the end the supervision proved to be the best thing for him.
There are countless other historical examples of where Krishna rescued a sincere soul from the clutches of material existence. The rescuer is atmarama, or self-satisfied, so He doesn’t need anything for Himself. He does not remove the source of the material relations to punish or to teach lessons. Rather, He knows what is best for everyone, and those who are prone to accepting the right path in life come under His protection, whether they like it or not. Bhakti-yoga is non-different from Krishna, and one who adopts it as a way of life through making chanting and hearing the holy names their primary engagement gets rescued by the one person capable of remedying any situation.
From the clutches of maya set me free,
Please will someone come and rescue me.
For attachment enjoyment must reciprocate,
Only then will one link appreciate.
This fact Supreme Lord certainly knows,
Therefore towards struggling devotee He goes.
Away from objects of illusion He does tear,
Whether they like the intervention He does not care.
In end receive benefit from Krishna’s personal touch,
Tough love because the devotees He cares for so much.