“My dear Krishna, O infallible and most beautiful one, any human being who happens to hear about Your transcendental form and pastimes immediately absorbs through his ears Your name, fame and qualities; thus all his material pangs subside, and he fixes Your form in his heart.” (Rukmini Devi, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 51)
“Yeah, yeah, Krishna spoke the Bhagavad-gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to a hesitant warrior named Arjuna some five thousand years ago. Arjuna was afraid to fight, but Krishna told him that good and bad results both come on their own regardless. We have a right to perform action but not to expect any type of result. We should work for the sake of working, not for the sake of earning.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know all about the Ramayana. I grew up in that tradition. Everyone in my family knows about Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman. Since I used to sleep for long periods of time when I was younger, one of my uncles used to call me Kumbhakarna, a reference to the heavyset and lazy brother of Ravana, the leading villain of the Ramayana. When we see brothers getting married on the same day, we automatically remember how Rama and His three younger brothers were all married on the same day in the kingdom of Janakpur. When we see two people who are meant to be with each other, who are a perfect match in every way, we automatically remember Sita and Rama.”
“I know all of these things from Vedic culture, so what is the point in chanting? The emphasis on repeating the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, should be for those who are not familiar with the culture. If they have grown up in a life of drinking, gambling, and meat eating [in other words the life of a mleccha] let them hear the transcendental nectar that is Hari-katha, or discourses on the Supreme Personality of Godhead. These rules and regulations don’t apply to me so much since I know these things already.”
If you are an expert in mathematics, perhaps the introductory course offered in college is of no use to you. You have surpassed that level of intelligence. You already have knowledge, so what is the point in hearing the same truths over and over again? As it relates to spiritual life, it is rare in the present age to hear about essential truths like reincarnation, the eternality of the soul, the four miseries of life, the difference between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul, and the ultimate goal of life. If you are fortunate enough to hear these things, they should make an impact. They should change the way you behave. Indeed, one who really absorbs such information only takes greater pleasure in continuously hearing about it.
The essence of Vedic wisdom is presented in a book called the Bhagavad-gita. It is part of a larger book known as the Mahabharata, and the wisdom is presented through the narration of a real-life story. A heroic warrior reaches a point of moral uncertainty. He’s not sure what the right course of action is. He’s a warrior, and his side is presumably innocent. There is a war about to take place, and his side is relying on him. At the same time, the warrior, named Arjuna, doesn’t want to fight the leading members of the opposing side, for they are friends and family. He would rather give up everything and live like a recluse than enjoy an opulent kingdom at the cost of their lives.
“I do not see how any good can come from killing my own kinsmen in this battle, nor can I, my dear Krishna, desire any subsequent victory, kingdom, or happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 1.31)
Shri Krishna, Arjuna’s well-wisher, at Arjuna’s insistence steps in to clear things up. In the process, He explains the meaning of life. He answers the most important questions one could have, addressing the most difficult to understand concept first: death. Death is explained to be merely the shedding of clothes, a temporary change for the spirit soul. That soul is never born nor does it ever die. It always exists. Since the soul cannot be killed, there is no reason to unnecessarily grieve over the death of someone else.
At the same time, the soul inside of the material body must act. That action should lead to purification. Hence there is prescribed action. Sometimes the prescription is to refrain from action. As both aim to bring purification, sometimes there is action in inaction and inaction in action. Arjuna mistakenly thought that the inaction of giving up the fight was the proper course. There was really action in that decision, and it was the wrong kind of action. Krishna told him to fight, which was visible action, but actually inaction when taken up in the proper mood.
The Gita presents the philosophical basis for following dharma, or religiosity, and other Vedic works explain the object of religious life. That object is none other than Krishna Himself. The sacred work known as the Shrimad Bhagavatam first gives a lengthy explanation of Krishna’s position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the God that we all either know or choose to ignore. He is all-attractive, the fountainhead of the other non-different expansions of Godhead. He creates the many universes, populates them with creatures, and appears among them every now and then in forms suited to the time and circumstance.
The latter portion of the Bhagavatam deals with Krishna’s pastimes in Vrindavana. The Ramayana, another sacred Vedic text, also deals with Krishna’s pastimes, but in His incarnation as Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dasharatha. Those who grow up in Vedic culture have the chance to become familiar with these pastimes without intentional effort. They know of Krishna without thinking in terms of religion. Therefore when there are actual discourses on topics relating to Him, they are quite familiar with what is discussed.
Just as Krishna gave Arjuna a philosophical explanation followed by a chartered course of action, the discussion on Krishna’s teachings and His pastimes have a follow up. The audience is recommended to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. It may not seem like it on the surface, but this is what Arjuna took up as well. Bhakti-yoga’s implementation can vary. It is not very rigid, nor is it the same for every person. Arjuna served God through fighting in a war. Hanuman served by heroically searching through an enemy city. Prahlada served through thinking, and many others have served in ways unique to their circumstance.
The recommended devotional activities of this age are chanting and hearing. Chant the holy names, such as Krishna and Rama, and hear discourses about Lord Hari, which is another name for God. The benefits are there for both the neophyte and expert alike. The person who is very familiar with such topics actually derives more pleasure hearing them again if they are practicing devotion.
When implementing devotional principles, you take more pleasure from hearing the same discourses. Previously you may not have had so much of an interest, but if you are always serving God, then naturally you will be eager to hear about Him. Since He is unlimited, you can hear about Him over and over again. The change in outlook represents a real escape, where the material existence no longer has a negative effect on the consciousness. With a cleared consciousness, one is free to feel love for God, which is at their core. They are free to express their loving emotions and they are eager to hear their beloved glorified more and more. Thus the devotional principles are always beneficial, regardless of the level of advancement in the recipient.
“About Krishna and Dasharatha’s sons four,
I have heard all of their stories before.
I grew up knowing pastimes of this tradition,
On stage and screen seen many a rendition.
From hearing again what more can I get?
To hear the drunkards and meat eaters let.”
Actually, divine teachings a change should make,
From Krishna valuable life lessons to take.
In devotion desire to hear more and more,
Glorious is He whom you most adore.