“The guru takes the torchlight of knowledge and presents it before the living entity enveloped in darkness. That knowledge relieves him from the sufferings of the darkness of ignorance.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self Realization, Ch 2a)
The ship ride is getting rocky. You’re not sure what’s going on, but this might be it. The ship might actually sink, in which case some key decisions have to be made in a very short timeframe. Do you make a run for the lifeboats? Do you check on your friends and family on board? What about the people who fell overboard when the ship first started to shake? What should be done about them? The easy option is to save yourself and leave the people stranded in the water, but the more selfless act, which is also the more difficult choice, is to reach over and try to rescue them. You might be risking your own life in this case, but you can’t bear to see other people struggling without anyone there to help them.
The saint chooses this latter route; they try to rescue as many people as possible. To choose this option may not be as easy as it looks. The saint may have friends and family members who want them to stay onboard. Why risk your life when you have others you are obligated to take care of? There is no doubt that there is renunciation involved with saving others. There is only so much time in each given day after all, so if you take up a difficult task, you will have less time to do other things.
For instance, the saint who decides to rescue others may not be able to plan for vacation getaways and nights out on the town. Every day for them is an adventure, as the material land is filled with passengers who have fallen overboard. Just because a few people are rescued doesn’t mean that the work is done. Moreover, time is of the essence, as the sooner people are told of the meaning of life, the quicker they can follow the necessary steps to save themselves. Once you are rescued, you still need to make sure that you don’t do things that will jeopardize your safety. After the difficult rescue, the last thing you would want is to fall back into the water.
In accepting the mission to save others, the saint doesn’t require that much as far as possessions. Just some basic housing, ordinary clothes, and a limited intake of food. That’s it. Nothing else is required, for the saint’s wealth is his knowledge of the mission of life, namely that of becoming God conscious by the time of death. That mission fulfills all other missions. Indeed, every other goal brings but just a small amount of the pleasure that the main objective in life brings. On the outside, the saint may appear to be very renounced, but know that his attitude is based on his love and compassion for others. Renunciation on the highest level is not forced, as when you follow life’s true aim, you automatically give up those things that you don’t need.
The other difficulty with choosing the route to save others is that they may not be receptive to your efforts. You reach out your hand but some of them may not want to grab it. In their drunken stupor they think that they’ll swim forever in this dangerous water. They’re managing just fine, so they don’t require any help. Sadly, that fall from the illusory high of material association will be very painful, and the rescuing hand may not be available later on to save them.
How does the saint rescue others? What is their method of implementation? In the Vedic tradition, the saint is known as a sadhu, who goes hand in hand with shastra and guru. Shastra is the law codes of God, handed down since the beginning of time. The guru understands the principles laid down in shastra because he practices them himself. The sadhu is the saintly man who travels to bring the message of shastra and the teachings of the guru to others. The travel can be with the body in the form of constantly moving around or it can be with the release of information, the mass distribution of literature containing the vital truths of life.
And what are those truths? The identification with the body since time immemorial is the cause for the drop into the dangerous water of the material ocean. Without even referencing any scriptural codes or religious texts, we know that such an identification is flawed. We know this because the body constantly changes. One day I am a child, and the next I am an adolescent. A few years later I’m an adult, and after that I’m an old man. At every point throughout these changes, identification is taken with the body, but the body is known to change. Hence the identification is based on illusion, and if you believe illusion you will be misled.
The real identification is with the spirit soul, the owner of the body. The soul is the constant factor throughout all the changes. It has amazing properties that stay unchanged while the outer covering constantly shifts. In each and every life form the same kind of soul exists, so in essence there is a singular energy that is beyond the duality of the material existence. These facts and more are learned and realized through practicing the principles of brahmacharya, wherein one follows austerity, penance and sacrifice to understand Brahman, or pure spirit.
The person who knows Brahman is a brahmana, which can be likened to a priest. The sadhu is a brahmana because of their knowledge of Brahman, but their saintly character extends beyond just esoteric knowledge of the difference between matter and spirit. They know that Brahman has a source, and it is a personality. The source is already known to most as the abstract figure referred to as God, but in the Vedic tradition much more detail is given about His features, His personality traits, and how one can reach Him. The rescue from the material ocean is one step, but staying in a mood of devotion to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the final piece that ensures that the material ocean will never be an accidental home again.
The sadhu is very dear to the Supreme Personality because of the risk they take. Since they look to save the drowning man, they can be considered the kindest worker. It is easy to love our family members and friends. The family members are attached to us in relation. We have known our parents since the time of birth, so loving them is not hard. Our friends are equals who give us pleasure through association. They give us something, so giving them attention in return also isn’t so difficult.
But the saint gives the same level of affection, taking all risk to offer their rescuing influence, without personally knowing the people they save. They would rather not leave anyone stranded, and to help the mission along they train others on how to administer the same emergency treatment. The best treatment of all is to hear about God, and the easiest way to hear Him is to chant His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Just chanting this mantra over and over again is enough, but since the material ocean has so many distractions, a routine is required along with an accompanying attention to piety and sin. Avoid pitfalls like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex and make a steady vow to chant the holy names a set number of times each day, and gradually a new level of enthusiasm will emerge. From that practice the glories of the rescuing saint increase all the more, and the appreciation becomes so profound that the rescued soul looks for ways to repay the kindness originally shown to them. Of course the best way to please the saint is to pass on the holy names, to rescue another soul by taking the risk, ignoring the opposition mounted by others who can’t understand the devotional mindset. The reward of bringing to someone the happiness of God’s association is worth the effort.
Man gone overboard, leave him there?
Forget him, only about myself to care?
From heaven the saintly man descends,
A rescuing hand to fallen souls he extends.
No matter what reception he receives,
In mission of life he firmly believes.
Aim is to think about God at the end,
That objective all wounds does mend.
Impossible for kindness of saint to repay,
So just chant holy names every single day.