“When one's intelligence, mind, faith and refuge are all fixed in the Supreme, then one becomes fully cleansed of misgivings through complete knowledge and thus proceeds straight on the path of liberation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.17)
Religious life is hard. Following principles requires discipline, which immediately attacks at the tendency towards accepting the path of least resistance. The pitcher on a professional baseball team must always be mindful of his mechanics, for otherwise he will develop bad habits in his pitching motion, which in turn will lead to poor performance. As in every type of endeavor the natural tendency is towards a lack of discipline, in order to meet a desired end, one needs to accept regulations and follow them. In the realm of spirituality, the highest state of enlightenment is not one where activity ceases. Rather, processes like meditation, which are built upon renunciation, are meant to establish a proper consciousness, which then automatically creates the conditions necessary for finding happiness in life.
And isn’t that what it’s all about, finding happiness? To reach this end, one must follow guiding principles. Say, for example, that our goal is to find an absence of activity. I have worked so hard at the office that when I get home I don’t want to do anything. My goal is to ease my mind by sitting in relaxation, perhaps watching some television, i.e. doing any activity that doesn’t put stress on the brain. Attaining this objective requires some discipline. Seems strange in a sense because the identified goal is to loosen restriction, to feel pleasure from the lack of pressure. Nevertheless, to realize the stated objective one must instill some regulation, which automatically introduces pressure.
Take falling asleep each night. Sleep is the essence of laziness; it is the lack of activity. Of course the vibrant spirit soul never ceases to be; so during times of rest the brain continues to operate. Sleep is supposed to be effortless though; no pressure at all. Ah, but when there is a stated objective to be reached, there must be discipline. If I have to wake up early the next morning to get ready for work, I must lay down in bed at a specific time the night before. In addition, real sleep requires falling into a state of slumber, preferably where there is rapid eye movement, which is the deeper sleep that provides the necessary rest. Simply sitting in bed wide awake will not do the same magic that falling asleep will.
So you’re lying in bed, just waiting to fall asleep. You have to reach the state of slumber at a certain time in order to get enough hours of proper rest. Proper rest allows you to be fully functional the next day. The longer you lay there in bed awake, the less time you will have for deep sleep, as the time for arising the next day is not up for negotiation. It is a fixed moment that must be respected, regardless of whether or not you actually fell asleep the night before. Being cognizant of this, you feel the pressure to fall asleep. You have to follow regulation; you must be disciplined in order to rest properly.
This also helps to explain why the casual nap is so much appreciated. In a nap, there is usually no set time for waking up or falling asleep. Should you lay down for a few minutes, that’s just fine. If you’re feeling really tired, you can rest for a few hours. No worries at all; no pressure. The same doesn’t hold true with the longer slumber that occurs each night as part of a routine.
The Vedas present several varieties of spiritual practice to be implemented by the living entity according to their maturation. For instance, if I don’t know anything about God and why I should worship Him, perhaps my initial regulation is to attend a house of worship on a regular basis. Become familiar with the process, see what practices others follow, and then hopefully spark an interest. If right from the very beginning someone were to tell you about Brahman, reincarnation, the properties of the spirit soul, the inclination towards service within every life form, and how material nature creates illusion for those who want it, the information could be too much to handle.
On the more advanced levels of spiritual practice, one follows meditation, which has a requirement of renunciation that is strengthened through knowledge. If I tell you to sit quietly on the floor for hours at a time and focus on a specific sound vibration, you may not be so willing to accept the instruction. “Why do I have to do this? I want to have fun? What is sitting like this and forcing myself to be quiet going to do for me in the long run? My time will be better served enjoying.”
Knowledge, or jnana, helps in accepting the need for renounced meditation. With jnana, one learns that the temporary enjoyments in a life filled with fruitive pursuits do not represent the pinnacle of existence. If I take part in an activity that I know will provide misery in the end with a little excitement sprinkled into the beginning, why should I waste my time? Every activity that is not related to the essence of identity, to meeting the needs of the spirit soul, will reach a similar destination.
If there is skepticism on this point, look at every successful person, spanning all the different modes of activity. The sports star who was ranked number one for so many consecutive weeks eventually falls off the radar, with every future introduction beginning with, “former world number one” or “this many time past champion”. The business mogul also must relinquish their title as wealthiest person in the world, as the stock market regularly fluctuates and no large venture is guaranteed interminable profits. Should one be fortunate enough to make it to the end of life without encountering too many failures, they still have to renounce everything upon quitting the body.
Through study of Vedanta, one learns that they are spirit and not matter. The individual has no business with something temporary, just as the adult knows they have no use for the toy blocks they used when they were a child. To feed the needs of the self, one can sit in quiet meditation and recite and hear the sacred syllable om, which represents the Supreme Absolute Truth. With jnana, the dedication to renunciation is solidified, making the meditation easier to follow.
“After being situated in this yoga practice and vibrating the sacred syllable om, the supreme combination of letters, if one thinks of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and quits his body, he will certainly reach the spiritual planets.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.13)
Is meditation the end? Should everyone renounce activity and not do anything? The meditation has a purpose. Though the Brahman realized soul at the end of life no longer has to accept rebirth, they don’t retain a spiritual identity. As spirit craves activity, eventually the same liberated soul will want to take action. Meditation in renunciation is actually not the end, but rather a means.
A means leads to an end, so what is meditation supposed to bring about? Just as jnana and vairagya, or renunciation, go well together, Brahman realization and dedication to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, go hand in hand. If you realize Brahman through study of Vedanta and meditation coupled with renunciation, understanding the validity of devotion to the Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, will be less difficult.
“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.3)
In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that it is rare for someone to endeavor for self-realization and even more rare for the people in that small set to actually attain full success. The reason for the difficulty is rather obvious. The tendency towards lethargy, contentedness, complacency, and overall lack of effort is stronger than the tendency towards accepting discipline. The meditational yogi and the jnani show discipline in their dedication to concentrating on Brahman and Paramatma, the Supersoul residing within the heart. Through study of Vedanta one can learn Brahman, and through breathing exercises and sitting postures, one can realize the Supersoul, but only in devotion can one get the eyes to see Bhagavan, the complete representation of God.
Why the need for connecting with Bhagavan? Take every desire you have and aggregate them. Take every beneficial condition you’ve wanted to reach and know that they are rooted in the desire to connect with Bhagavan. Hard to notice that when you’re covered by illusion, but through following the authority of a spiritual master dedicated to Bhagavan, you can not only understand who Bhagavan is, but you can serve Him as well.
That service goes against what we’ve previously been taught. From the time of birth the general instruction is to seek out personal sense satisfaction or give service to our fellow man, but both are rooted in illusion. The personal senses belong only to the temporary body and the service offered to man is based on a distinction in external features. A poor man is materially impoverished while a wealthy man is well off, but this doesn’t mean that only the poor man should be served. Both groups are spirit souls, so service to bodily forms is based on a mistake.
The real aim of life, the purpose to having an existence, is to taste the sweet fruit of loving devotion to God. Love must manifest through activity; otherwise it only exists in a potential or unreal state. The activity doesn’t have to be carried out right away, but the sincerity of purpose must be there. If a helpless individual imagines themselves offering up service to the deity manifestation, the offering is as good as made. On the other hand, someone who says they love God but never thinks of Him, never worships Him, and never desires to please Him, is considered a pretender only.
King Janaka was an expert mystic who qualified himself for service to God. He did not desire the cessation of action. On the contrary, he continued with his occupational duties, carrying them out with detachment. He knew that he was Brahman, so there was no need for attraction or aversion. Through his practice in yoga, he became eligible to have the vision of the Supreme Lord in His form as Shri Ramachandra, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. Janaka’s eyes feasted on the sight of Rama as the Lord entered the kingdom of Videha to take part in the bow-lifting contest to determine the husband for Janaka’s daughter Sita. Janaka made the best offering to God by giving away his precious daughter to Him. When Sita reached an age appropriate for marriage, the king felt like he was losing all of his wealth, but he still made the sacrifice. Through it he got to think of Rama constantly and continue his devotion in that way.
For the distressed, the end to the burden of action seems appealing, but there is no fun in losing your spiritual identity. What we’re really searching for is the purification of action, an enlivening occupation that keeps us connected with the reservoir of pleasure. As the conditions today are not conducive for practicing meditational yoga in the fully renounced spirit, the recommendation is to start with bhakti right away, even if one is in a contaminated state. The holy name is the pure representation of the personal form of Bhagavan, so whoever keeps company with it eventually sees the need for bhakti and basks in its open-ended nature. Regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and accept that dedicated engagement of bhakti-yoga, which was once thought to be unacceptable due to its perceived difficulty.
At start path of devotion difficult to accept,
From ignorance, divine path we right away reject.
Meditation is a way to give us a good chance,
To reach a better end, enjoyment to enhance.
Regulation must be followed in any pursuit,
To reach desired end must take discipline’s route.
Know that knowledge and renunciation should lead,
To God’s feet, spiritual senses to feed.
Previously unacceptable thus to become,
The only path, towards Shri Krishna run.