“For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.6-7)
The material condition of life is not everlasting. It is anything but permanent since our time on this earth is destined to come to an end. Therefore, we should search out permanent solutions to the problems of misery and distress instead of settling for the temporary sense pleasures that we currently take shelter of.
We are all going to die. This is an assured fact based on recorded history. Every person comes to this realization at some point in their life, either in their youth or in old age. It is an amazing fact to discover. One day we will be no more; our soul will depart this body. This is a fact since we know that our ancestors have all lived and died. We see people dying every day, and we know that the body is forced to grow old and suffer diseases. A sane person who truly understands these facts will eventually start to question why we even take birth in the first place, and once we do, why are we forced to die.
Many people choose to ignore this reality. It is much easier to take the route of ignorance than it is to face the hard cold fact of imminent death. The motto of life is to eat, drink and be merry. Taking birth in the material world means we seek out some heightened form of sense gratification. “I want a new car; I want a big house; I want a nice job.” These certainly aren’t bad things to have, but they are still temporary. Even our familial relationships aren’t permanent. We may have a nice wife and beautiful children, but we will be forced to sever that relationship at the time of death.
“The misguided man accepts the material condition as everlasting. One must give up his faith in material things and give up attachment for them. Then one will be sober and peaceful.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.15.26 Purport)
Simply ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. We all witness the death of parents, relatives, or friends. Death doesn’t just happen to the elderly, for anyone can die at any moment and at any age. Television news and newspapers are filled with tragic stories of children dying from cancer or others dying from car or plane accidents. Knowing this fact, shouldn’t we all immediately try to get to the bottom of the meaning of life and why we are put on this earth?
“Lord Rishabhadeva told His sons: My dear boys, of all the living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has been awarded this human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for dogs and hogs that eat stool. One should engage in penance and austerity to attain the divine position of devotional service. By such activity, one’s heart is purified, and when one attains this position, he attains eternal, blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever.” (Sb, 5.5.1)
Athato brahma-jijnasa; this aphorism is the first statement in the famous Vedanta-sutras. “Veda” means knowledge and “anta” means ending or the end, so Vedanta means the end of knowledge. The first statement in the Vedanta philosophy states that “now is the time for understanding Brahman.” According to the Vedas, Brahman is one of God’s features, representing His impersonal energy that pervades the creation. Lord Krishna, or God, has three primary features which one can realize through steady progression. Brahman is His first feature, along with Paramatama, the Supersoul residing inside all of us, and Bhagavan, the ultimate representation of God as Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is Bhagavan, someone with an eternal body full of bliss and knowledge, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. Vyasadeva, the great literary incarnation of Krishna, wrote the Vedanta-sutras, and in it he declared that the human form of life is meant for inquiring about God.
Spirit souls aren’t just found inside the body of human beings. Animals, plants, insects, aquatics, etc. are all living entities with spirit souls found inside of them. The material world has several distinctions from the spiritual world, the primary of which is the fact that material things possess qualities, referred to as gunas in Sanskrit. There are three gunas: goodness, passion, and ignorance. When a spirit soul enters the material world, it acquires these three gunas in varying degrees, and thus there are different types of bodies. The human being has the highest intelligence level, so taking birth as a human represents the best opportunity for the spirit soul to return back home, back to Godhead.
We are all spirit souls, part and parcel of God, but for some reason or another we have found our way to this material world. Unlike the spiritual world, this place is full of miseries, dukhalayam. At every turn there is trouble, even if we don’t realize it. We plant seeds in the form of plan-making and the acquisition of material possessions, hoping that these seeds will bear fruit in the form of peace and prosperity. More times than not, the seeds turn into trees with prickly thorns that tear us and cause us to bleed, which makes us even more miserable. For example, one may work very hard and save up money to buy a fancy or expensive car. While this is all well and good, as soon as we take possession of the car, the mode of defense kicks in. “Oh I must maintain this car very nicely since it is so expensive. I need a nice insurance policy for it. I better get a state-of-the-art alarm system to protect it from theft and vandalism. Let me make sure to park this as far away from other cars as possible so as to avoid any errant dings and scratches.” In the end, something that was intended to give us pleasure only ends up causing grief and worry.
An animal spends its time in four primary activities: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. If we think of these activities in depth, most conditioned human beings also focus their time on these activities. An animal may sleep in the forest on a tree branch or under a rock, while a human being may sleep on a quality mattress in a luxury apartment, but the feeling is more or less the same. Knowing this fact, it is the duty of every person to rise above simple animal life and take to a higher discipline. This is where the Vedas come in. They are the original religious scriptures, passed down from God Himself for the benefit of mankind.
“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Lord Krishna, Bg, 4.1)
The Vedas are so vast that there are various routes available for aspiring transcendentalists. The Puranas, Upanishads, Mahabharata, Ramayana and other texts are all there for us to take advantage of. The great rishis of India in days past contemplated the meaning of life, performing rigid austerities. As a reward for their service, they were imparted with perfect knowledge of the soul, its constitutional position, and how one can permanently get out of this material world.
Many people are of the belief that when you die, you either go to heaven or hell. Now that is most certainly true, for the Vedas state this as well, yet residence in heaven or hell isn’t permanent. The heavenly and hellish planets are still part of the material world and one stays there for an amount of time commensurate with the merits or demerits accumulated through their deeds performed while on earth. At the expiry of these merits or demerits, one is forced to take birth again in this material world. There is however, an exception to this rule. One who is devoted to Krishna, completely and purely, and who craves association with Him, such a person goes immediately to Krishna’s spiritual planets after death. Residence in God’s spiritual world is permanent, for having gone there once, one never returns.
“According to the Vedas, there are two ways of passing from this world-one in light and one in darkness. When one passes in light, he does not come back; but when one passes in darkness, he returns. The devotees who know these two paths, O Arjuna, are never bewildered. Therefore be always fixed in devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.26-27)
Once we realize the fact that this life is destined to end and that our relationship with God is what is important, what steps do we take next? Should we just abandon all of our material activities, renouncing family ties and spending the rest of our life in meditation in a secluded place? Lord Krishna advises against this in the Bhagavad-gita. The process is actually quite simple. We aren’t required to give up our occupation, but we do have to change our desires. If we act in accordance with our prescribed duties, abandoning attachment to the fruits of our activities, then we will be headed on the right track.
“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.47)
Krishna is the source of all pleasure, and if we devote ourselves to Him, we will always be happy. Yoga means having union of the soul with the Supreme Lord, and while there are many different types of yoga, the highest form is called bhakti yoga. Some mistakenly take bhakti yoga to simply mean worship of the deity of the Lord and the chanting of His names. While these certainly are the core components of bhakti yoga, in actuality, any activity done out of pure love and devotion to the Lord is called bhakti. It is more of a consciousness and state of mind than an actual discipline involving activity. Instead of always thinking of material sense gratification, making one plan after another, we simply have to shift our consciousness so that we are always thinking about Krishna. That is pure bhakti yoga.
In this current age, the easiest way to permanently change our consciousness is to constantly chant the Holy names of the Lord by reciting the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting out loud means hearing and reciting the Lord’s name simultaneously. This along with eating Krishna prasadam, sanctified food first offered to the Lord, will ultimately purify our consciousness. Such a simple process can be taken up by anyone of any religious persuasion at any age. Krishna is for everyone, for that is the true meaning of God. There cannot be one God for Hindus and another God for Christians. The Lord doesn’t operate that way. There is one God for all of us. Krishna is one of His authorized names, meaning “all-attractive.” By increasing our attachment for Krishna, we will ultimately find pure peace and happiness.