“He [King Muchukunda] could see also that the dense darkness within the mountain cave had already been dissipated due to the Lord’s presence; therefore He could not be other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He knew very well that wherever the Lord is personally present by His transcendental name, quality, form, etc., there cannot be any darkness of ignorance. He is like a lamp placed in the darkness; He immediately illuminates a dark place.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 50)
In the Vedic tradition, the first instruction given to aspiring transcendentalists is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman”. This conception is absent from those spiritual traditions where the primary focus of attention is on the dedication towards and worship of a particular divine figure. While the sentimentalist mentality can certainly be a bona fide method of spiritual awakening, the knowledge base associated with such a practice is limited. Under the sentimentalist and sectarian models, there is nothing taught about the difference between matter and spirit, the origin of both, and the constitutional position of ordinary spirit in relation to Supreme Spirit. The Vedas are considered the complete, or purna, spiritual discipline since they contain information suited for every type of person, at every level of understanding.
Brahman is usually equated with sublime spirit; that energy which is full of knowledge and bliss. Vedic information states that the living entities are Brahman at the core, but due to their association with matter, they are currently in a conditioned state. The concept of a soul is not exclusive to the Vedic discipline, but the information presented in relation to the difference between body and spirit and the reason for the assumption of a material body certainly is. Spirit is known as purusha, which means male or the enjoyer. Matter is known as prakriti, which is female or the enjoyed. When combined, purusha is superior since it is the driving force behind the actions of prakriti. The interaction between enjoyer and enjoyed is seen in isolated situations at different magnitudes. For example, the human body, or the body of any life form for that matter, displays this interaction. Spirit resides within a dress composed of material elements, thus resulting in the interaction between purusha and prakriti.
The interaction between purusha and prakriti, when studied on the largest scale, provides insight into the nature of the Supreme Divine Entity. Just as the individual spirit soul is the driver of the car known as the body, the Supreme Soul is the instigator of the activities of nature, in this universe and in millions of other ones as well. Brahman can be thought of as the sum and substance of all spirit. If we added up all the souls that exist in this world, we would get Brahman. In this way, we see that every form of life is equal at the constitutional level. The outer coverings of the souls may vary, but the positions of the individual souls do not. It is important for students to know that they are Brahman so they can tailor their activities towards the highest self-interest. In the conditioned state, the living entity falsely identifies with the gross elements of their body, a form which is constantly going through changes. Deluded by false identification, the living entity falls prey to a vicious and never-ending cycle of hankering and lamenting. Each day that we wake up can be considered an instantiation of this repetition on a small scale. The body is changing at every second, so each new day can be thought of as a new birth, with the previous day’s body having changed overnight. When the entire dress is removed and replaced, the events are known as birth and death.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
For the soul, there is never any change. Our soul was the same in quality yesterday as it is today, and it will continue to remain so for eternity. Since the body constantly changes but the soul does not, the aspiring transcendentalist, the wise man, gives priority to the future plight of the soul in lieu of the body. This is where things get a little tricky. If the soul doesn’t change in quality, why should we worry about its plight?
The Supreme Soul belongs to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedas provide thousands of names for this Entity, but the original name is Krishna, one who is all-attractive. No one is better able to capture the hearts and minds of the individual souls than Krishna. He brings so much pleasure that even those who are considered above desire, the meditational yogis, become attracted upon having His darshana. For the Supreme Soul, there are no defects, no unwanted causes and effects. Since the individual soul is part and parcel of the Supreme Soul, it inherits the same qualitative features. Therefore every distinct spark of Brahman is knowledgeable, blissful, and eternal. Yet there is still a difference between a spark of Brahman and the originator of Brahman, Krishna. The individual sparks are always subordinate in quantitative strength to the Supreme Soul, who is also known as Parabrahman. Therefore the individuals have a tendency to fall down into the material world, where their knowledge and bliss get covered up by prakriti. For Parabrahman, such a situation can never occur.
The gross material elements consist of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. And there are also the subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego. Students of sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation of man as stipulated by the Vedas, are taught to give attention to the purusha inside the body and to worry about returning this entity to the spiritual world, where repeated births and deaths don’t take place. There is no such thing as maya, or the illusory energy of nature, in the spiritual world. For Krishna and His eternally liberated associates, there is no difference between matter and spirit. Not surprisingly, everything in the spiritual world, including each body part of the transcendentally situated individual souls, is spiritual. Based on this information, the aim of life can be logically deduced, that of reassuming an eternal spiritual body by negating the influence of prakriti.
While the easiest and most effective way to reach this goal is to take to the system of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, not every student is inclined to take up this discipline in the beginning stages. Moreover, even those who take to bhakti may not be able to practice it properly until they receive further training. Therefore students are advised to take shelter of two important tools of the trade: jnana and vairagya. Renunciation from sense pleasure is what constitutes vairagya. Adherence to austerity, which includes fasting, abstention from prohibited foods, and celibacy, makes up the core of renunciation. This austerity, also known as tapasya, is done for the benefit of the soul, to help it achieve union with the Supreme Soul. When the effects of the senses aren’t mitigated, the ultimate objective is gradually forgotten and the false identification of body consciousness resumes.
Jnana involves the acquisition of knowledge. Now we’ve reached a point where there appears to be a contradiction. The Vedas tell us that the soul is already knowledgeable and that the mind is considered a subtle material element. So why would we want to use the mind to acquire knowledge when the soul is already knowledgeable? To resolve the issue, we have to keep in mind that the aim of spiritual life is not necessarily to acquire knowledge. Transcendental knowledge already exists inside of the soul; it is characteristic of the individual living entity. Yet upon assuming a gross material body, this knowledge gets covered up. We can think of it in terms of a self-illuminating lamp. Normally a lamp or a flashlight requires some sort of energy source. The soul can be thought of as a torch that doesn’t need any power; it is always beaming the light of knowledge. The material elements, or prakriti, cover up this light. It is akin to the putting of a dark cloth over the flashlight. The weapons of jnana and vairagya, knowledge and renunciation, help the individual remove this covering, thus allowing the natural light to come to the forefront.
Activities in material nature are grouped into three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The mode of ignorance, or tamo-guna, is also known as the mode of darkness. When one takes to activities of this mode, the covering of the self-illuminating lamp known as the soul becomes thicker and thicker. The mode of passion leads to a neutral position, while the mode of goodness leads to the gradual removal of the covering. Therefore, we are advised to take to activities in goodness, which include jnana and vairagya, in accordance with the revealed scriptures.
Though activities in the mode of goodness help us to release the natural light of knowledge inside of us, the only way to permanently return to a position where knowledge reigns supreme is through devotional service. This discipline, also known as the religion of love, is superior to any activity of the material world since it aims to link the soul with its counterpart, its life-partner if you will. As previously mentioned, the soul is similar in quality to the Supreme Soul, which means that Shri Krishna is also a torchlight of knowledge. Not only does Krishna’s lamp never burn out, but it never gets covered up either. Regardless of the consciousness of the individual soul – be it purified or contaminated – the light emanating from the Supreme Lord is always shining. King Muchukunda can personally attest to this truth.
Around five thousand years ago, the Supreme Lord personally descended to earth in His Krishna form. On one particular occasion, He was engaged in a battle with a king named Kalayavana. This king had attacked the city of Mathura, which was protected by Krishna at the time. Instead of engaging in battle directly with the king, Krishna led him into a cave. Kalayavana thought that Krishna had run away from him, but the Lord had other plans. In that particular cave, King Muchukunda had been lying asleep for many many years. He was granted a boon by the demigods that if anyone should wake him up prematurely, they would be burned to ashes upon one glance by the king. Sure enough, Kalayavana, thinking that the sleeping man in the cave was Krishna, approached the king and kicked him. King Muchukunda awoke, looked at Kalayavana, and immediately burned him to ashes.
After this, the king looked around and noticed a great light in the cave. This light was beaming off the body of a beautiful figure who had assumed the form of Lord Narayana, God’s four-handed form residing in the spiritual world. King Muchukunda realized that no person, save the Supreme Lord Himself, could light the cave in this way. King Muchukunda’s firsthand observations, which are carefully noted in the crown jewel of Vedic literature, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, prove that Krishna is the greatest source of light. We can just imagine how much power and energy are required to provide steady light in a dark cave. Yet Lord Krishna was able to dissipate the dense darkness simply by His presence.
Bhakti-yoga is considered to be in the mode of shudda-sattva, or pure goodness. Only through acts of devotion, where one’s consciousness is always fixed on Krishna, can a person directly come in contact with the original torchlight of knowledge. When the Supreme Energetic is matched with the energy, the resulting reaction is one of tremendous potency. The individual spirit souls are the energy, and in their purified state, they are always in Krishna consciousness. In such a condition, the individuals always remain in full knowledge. This light of information subsequently goes everywhere, allowing the purified soul to decipher right and wrong, good and bad, in any and all situations. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and reading books like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, we can gradually let our internal light shine through and give hope to the world enveloped by darkness.