“We have experience that there is little or no enjoyment in sitting alone in a room talking to oneself. However, if there are five people present, our enjoyment is enhanced, and if we can discuss Krishna before many, many people, the enjoyment is all the greater. Enjoyment means variety.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Beyond Birth and Death, Ch 1)
Our friends and family are our life blood. They are our support system, lifting us up when we fall down and bringing us back down to earth if we get too high. Much of our enjoyment in life comes through association with our loved ones.
From time to time we do enjoy being alone. The rigors of everyday life can get to be too much and sometimes we need an escape. For example, one who works in an office may spend upwards of forty hours per week surrounded by co-workers. Even if one has their own separate office at the work place, colleagues are bound to keep coming in and out, wanting to interact. Many times other coworkers have specific requests or questions, and other times they just want to take a break from their job and have someone else to talk with. Having an office job also means having a desk phone, a cell phone, and a computer. The email program must remain open throughout the day since new messages are constantly coming in. In this technologically advanced age, these issues are standard with any office job. It is quite natural for one to want to get away from this situation from time to time. However, often times the environment at home is not much different. If we are married, then our spouse is always there demanding our time, and quite justifiably. “Oh honey, did you remember to do that? Can you make sure to do this before you come home?” Children can be even more demanding of our time. “Dad, I need money to buy this or that. Mom, can you drive me to such and such practice?” Parents’ lives revolve completely around their kids.
Sometimes, we just want to get away. Being alone can bring a peaceful feeling. Sitting down, relaxing on the couch or the bed, watching television or reading a book…this is what many people long for. While this may provide us some short term happiness, we can get bored with such situations very quickly. One can only sit around by themselves doing nothing for so long without becoming antsy. It is the natural yearning of the human spirit to be free and active. The mind is always working, for we can’t stop thinking even for a second. The mind races even while we are asleep. For these reasons, it is important to have friends. We need to have other people around with whom we can share our experiences. If something good happens to us, like getting a promotion or graduating from school, we like to tell all our friends and family. We may know of many stories relating to our own lives or the lives of the others, but these stories are meaningless unless we can share them with someone else. One of the reasons the cellular telephone is so popular is that it lets people avoid loneliness in almost any situation. It is very common to find people talking on their cell phones while driving, even though it can distract them. This has caused such a problem that many governments have passed laws prohibiting holding and talking on a cell phone while driving. As soon we get into our cars, many of us reach for the cell phone and start dialing our favorite friend so that we’ll have someone we can talk to while driving to wherever we have to go. Dialing isn’t even required since cell phones save phone numbers by contact name. If the first friend doesn’t pick up, then we can go right down the list, clicking on the next available friend. Marriages and boyfriend/girlfriend relationships are other ways to ensure having a companion with us at all times. It is a very nice feeling, for it offers us comfort and security.
When it comes to religious life, there is a common misconception that one has to negate all activity and remain secluded. This is the philosophy of Buddhism, which prescribes transcendental meditation, whereby all outside distractions are blocked out in hopes of achieving a state known as nirvana. The impersonalist Vedanta philosophers have a similar view, for their goal is to merge into the Brahman effulgence. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, broached these subjects in a discussion with His cousin and dear friend Arjuna some five thousand years ago. That conversation was chronicled in a small chapter in a much larger book, the Mahabharata. This small chapter has since turned into its own famous book known as the Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna was a military man whose duty it was to fight against an army led by his cousin brothers over the right to rule a kingdom. On the eve of battle, Arjuna became hesitant to fight, basically turning into a conscientious objector. Lord Krishna used this opportunity to impart spiritual wisdom upon Arjuna, who thus became His disciple. The Lord discussed the meditational yoga system, going through its various intricacies and specific requirements. After being instructed on this discipline, Arjuna declared that it was too difficult for him to follow. Now if meditational yoga was difficult to perfect five thousand years ago, one can only imagine how much harder it has become in the present day and age. For starters, one has to go to a secluded place to properly practice yoga. One must be completely free of sex life, for that is the biggest hindrance to spiritual advancement. One must sit a certain way, concentrating the mind very sincerely on Lord Vishnu.
Not only is this method nearly impossible to execute in today’s age, but there are actually much easier and more effective ways to achieve spiritual perfection. Bhakti yoga, or devotional service, is declared by Lord Krishna to be the topmost form of yoga. Linking the soul with the Supersoul, or God, is the real meaning of yoga, though most associate the term with breathing exercises and sitting postures. Bhakti means love, so if one tries to connect with God in a loving way, then that system will be the most effective. Devotional service is comprised of nine distinct processes. Perfection of any one of these processes can award liberation, though in this age, chanting is the process recommended by all the great saints. Silently chanting the Lord’s name in a loving way to oneself is very nice. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the modern day Hare Krishna movement, advised all his disciples to chant at least sixteen rounds of the maha-mantra daily on japa beads. One round of japa consists of repeating a mantra 108 times, so if you multiply that by sixteen you get 1,728 recitations. Chanting silently to oneself on a japa mala is essential, but chanting out loud with others is even better. This congregational chanting is known as sankirtana, and it was the process inaugurated by Lord Chaitanya some five hundred years ago in India.
Lord Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took sannyasa, the renounced order of life, at a very young age so that He could travel all round India chanting this mantra, inducing others to join Him. He was extremely successful, as He brought so many pure souls to His movement. It is easy to just sit alone in a room and think about Krishna and enjoy blissful association with the Lord. Yet it’s even better to talk about Krishna with others. This is what devotional service is all about. At first, people may not want to hear about Krishna or God. “Oh why are you getting all religious on me? I don’t want to be preached to.” This is a natural tendency, for people are apprehensive about things unfamiliar to them. A devotee is quite kind however since he speaks about the glories of the Lord and humbly offers his respect to everyone. Praising the Lord and talking about His pastimes in the presence of fellow devotees not only helps others, but actually increases our love for Krishna as well. Having association with saintly people is considered one of the highest rewards in life.