“My dear Lord, if You like You can give me salvation from this material existence, or the privilege of merging into Your existence, but I do not wish any of these things. I do not want anything which diminishes my relationship with You as servant to master, even after liberation.” (Hanuman)
Whether one grows up in America or another country, they are generally taught the same thing by authority figures regarding what the aim of life should be. The importance of attending school is heavily stressed. A good education is a prerequisite for landing a good paying job. Once we get a nice job and earn a good livelihood, we can think of starting a family. A stable and secure family life seems to be the end goal that most people strive for.
In the Vedic system, the goals of material life are broken into four categories: artha, kama, dharma, and moksha. Artha means economic development or earning money. They say money is the mother’s milk of politics, but it is also the key component of almost anything related to the material world. “Money makes the world go around” is how the saying goes. We all want to earn a decent wage so that we can provide for our necessities and desires. Kama is sense gratification or enjoyment. Especially in today’s technologically advanced age, there is ample time for sense enjoyment. This is actually the reason that we spirit souls take birth in this material world since life here represents our opportunity to seek out sense gratification. Dharma is religiosity. These three rewards of life go hand in hand. People in general want just enough religion in their life so that they have enough money to satisfy their senses. After we are done practicing religion to earn money to satisfy our senses, we seek moksha, or liberation from the repeated cycle of birth and death. These four rewards are referred to quite often in Vedic texts.
Now earning a good living and having a nice family are certainly very noble goals. A person earning a steady income is self-reliant and not a burden on society. Society functions well when people are productive and able to provide for themselves. Countries which have high employment rates are generally more peaceful than those countries which have many people that don’t work. If too many people are not working and are living as dependents of those who do work, then a sense of resentment is sure to arise. These disagreements lead to various movements such as socialism and communism which seek to the level the disparities between those who have high incomes and those who don’t.
The four material rewards of life may be nice, but the Vedas teach us to strive for something higher. Instead of working hard for material things, we should make God realization our main priority in life. Though many of us may not realize it, sense gratification is temporary. We may work very hard to achieve a goal, but that reward is not permanent. For example, the great tennis player Pete Sampras worked long and hard to win a record fourteen Grand Slam singles titles during his career. When he was playing, the record for Grand Slam titles was twelve, previously set by Roy Emerson. It took Sampras almost thirteen years to break that record. When he finally retired from tennis in 2002, there was no other active player even close to him in Grand Slam titles. Yet, just seven years later, his record would be broken by Roger Federer, who at the moment has fifteen Grand Slam singles titles. While Sampras’ effort was very noble, the record he achieved was completely temporary, just like everything else in the material world. Even if we have a good job and a nice family, those things will not last forever. At the time of death, we lose all connection to the material world.
“An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.22)
The fact remains that our material senses can never truly be satisfied. We see evidence of this from those who are very wealthy and successful. At some point, they reach a stage in their life when they want more than just money and fame. They then try to fill the void in their life by taking to acts of philanthropy, such as opening hospitals, schools, or charitable foundations. Many rock stars and actors go the other way and turn to drug and alcohol abuse.
Knowing this, the great sages of India, the rishs who passed down the original Vedic teachings to generations on down, taught us to rise above mundane material sense gratification. This human form of life is our opportunity to know and understand Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The primary activities of animals are eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. As human beings, we are supposed to be smarter than animals, thus we should rise above these four activities. We may have a nice car, a big house, and a beautiful wife, but if we simply spend our time trying to please our senses, then our life is no different than that of an animal. For this reason, Vyasadeva has made the aphorism, athatho brahma jijnasa the first instruction of the Vedanta-sutras. “Now is the time to inquire about God”. That should be the top priority for all mankind.
One may ask, “How do I know God?” Fortunately for us, the great acharyas have shown us the path. Acharya means a teacher or one who leads by examples. There are many great acharyas in the Vedic tradition, with the most recent one being His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. A spiritual master in a great line of gurus traced all the way back to Lord Brahma himself, Shrila Prabhupada preached that everyone should take up the sankirtana process, or the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. Chanting, whether done in public or private, connects us with God since there is no difference between the Lord and His names. Krishna is the original name of God, meaning “all-attractive”. This name can be recited by people of all faiths. There is nothing more sublime in this world than the Lord’s name, His fame, and His pastimes. This is the declaration of all the great devotees, including Shrila Prabhupada, Goswami Tulsidas, and Hanuman. Lord Chaitanya, the incarnation of Krishna who inaugurated the sankirtana movement in India some five hundred years ago, asked people around the world to unite under one religion and one mantra, the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
Chanting is one of the processes of devotional service, or bhakti yoga. Devotional service has nine different processes (hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, becoming friends with Him, and surrendering everything to Him), allowing us ample opportunity to serve the Lord throughout the day. Even if we are involved in material activities such as working at our jobs or living at home with our wife and children, we can still stay connected with Krishna through these processes.
“In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 18.57)
Most people in are not self starters. They require leadership. The great acharyas have set the example that we should all follow. Shrila Prabhupada dedicated his whole life to serving Krishna, so why can’t we do the same? It’s okay to be a full-time devotee and always think about God. There is not only nothing wrong with it, but it is our natural inclination to act this way. So why go against nature? Become a devotee, chant the holy names of God, and see the difference it makes in your life.