"On the ascetic (Bharadvaja) turning away, Rama spoke to Lakshmana, ‘We had surely acquired religious merit, since the ascetic has shown compassion to us.’" (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 55)
Everyone is trying to please something or someone else, whether they know it or not. Even the most selfish of people dedicate their time to pleasing their senses. The wants of a person pull them in every which direction, never truly giving them satisfaction.
The close intimate relationships we form with others make up the core of material life. Upon taking birth, we immediately form a bond with our parents, our first teachers. They guide us on the proper path during the early years since little children are completely unfamiliar with proper etiquette and the rules of propriety. Our parents protect us from danger, warning us not to cross the street without looking both ways, not to put our fingers into electrical sockets, and not too eat too much junk food. They force us to go to school even against our will since they know it will be beneficial for us in the long run.
In return for their guidance and stewardship, children show unconditional love for their parents. Later on in life, the roles get reversed and it is the children who take care of the parents. This is naturally part of any loving relationship. Loving someone means you want more for them than you want for yourself. Husbands try to please their wives, and wives in turn try to keep their husbands happy. The material world is full of relationships such as these.
The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that a high class person actually takes two births. The first janma, or birth, is from the womb of the mother. As stated before, a child is born into complete ignorance. That is the effect of maya, God’s illusory energy that pervades the material world. According to Vedic philosophy, the soul is eternal and when it falls into the trap of samsara, it takes many many births in the form of a living entity. Death is the not the end, for a person is guaranteed a new birth upon leaving the current body, similar to the way we discard one set of clothes for another day after day.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
From the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we get a glimpse into what life is like for a child in the womb of the mother. The child remembers its forgotten relationship with God and swears to make their next birth the last one. If one develops a love for God in their lifetime, then they are assured of thinking of God at the time of death. As the spirit soul is leaving one’s current body, the consciousness at that time determines the type of body one will receive in the next life. If a person is thinking about God at that time, they never take birth again; instead they spend eternity in Krishna’s spiritual realm. Krishna is the name of God, meaning “all-attractive”. Krishna is for everyone because there is only one God, though sometimes He’s called by different names based on the time and circumstance. So the child in the womb promises to be a good person, completely God conscious, but that doesn’t always pan out. As soon as a child takes birth, maya casts her spell and all the experiences from the womb are completely forgotten. Not only are the experiences of the past nine months forgotten, but memories of all the events from all the millions of previous births are also erased. This is explained by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita:
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bg. 4.5)
That is the difference between God and man. God is great, and man is His subordinate. Since a child is born into ignorance, it requires the protection and guidance provided by the parents. This is the first birth. However, the aim of human life is not to just live like an animal and eat, sleep, mate, and defend. Human life is meant for cultivating spiritual knowledge, a deep loving attachment to the lotus feet of Krishna. To achieve this end, one needs to take instruction from a guru, or bona fide spiritual master.
The spiritual master is the via medium to Krishna, or God. Though they appear in the dress of an ordinary human being, they are completely spiritual. God incarnates in the words and teachings of a spiritual master, thus they are considered to be elevated souls. When one agrees to take instruction from a guru and to seriously abide by their instructions, that pact is called initiation. Initiation is the beginning of spiritual life, thus it represents the second and more important birth. In the Vedic system, when one takes initiation, they are invested with a sacred thread, which is a symbolic representation of their commitment to their guru. For this reason, the brahmanas are referred to dvija, or twice-born. The brahmanas are the highest class of men in varnashrama dharma, the system of societal and class divisions based on qualities and work.
When Krishna incarnated as the pious prince named Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, He travelled the forest for fourteen years as an exile with His younger brother Lakshmana and His wife Sita Devi. Early on in the group’s journey, they met up with the venerable sage Bharadvaja. In those times, the great rishis would set up camp in the forest since it was more conducive to spiritual life. Generally speaking, the countryside is considered to be in the mode of goodness and city life is considered to be in the mode of passion. A brahmana lives completely in the mode of goodness, for they have no desire to earn money or live in a fancy home. Bharadvaja was elated to have Lord Rama and His family as his guests, for he knew of Rama’s divinity. The group stayed at his cottage for one night, taking instruction from him on which places they should travel to next. Upon leaving the hermitage, Lord Rama uttered the above referenced statement to Lakshmana.
Rama was God Himself, but here He is teaching us about the importance of a spiritual master. If a guru shows compassion on us, it means that we are the most fortunate. A spiritual master doesn’t just sit around instructing anybody. They judge the qualities of the student, making sure they are serious about learning about Krishna. God is great and very compassionate. The spiritual master knows this but doesn’t take it for granted. Gurus are God’s representatives, so they try to protect the Lord from the miscreants. They know that those of a demoniac nature will never be able to understand God. For this reason, they carefully screen their prospective students, making sure they are humble and have the proper attitude towards God.
Lord Rama’s attitude was quite exemplary. God loves brahmanas very much, especially His pure devotees. In reality, it was Rama who was being compassionate towards Bharadvaja. It was the sage’s great religious merit that enabled him to personally interact with Rama. But God is so nice that He likes to glorify His devotees over Himself. What we can learn from this is that a spiritual master is not someone we should take for granted. If we are lucky enough to find a bona fide guru who is willing to instruct us, it means that surely we have performed many pious deeds in our past lives. In this current age, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the jagad-guru, the spiritual master of the world. Though no longer physically present in this world, he continues to teach through his many books and recorded lectures. We should all consider ourselves extremely fortunate to have his wonderful teachings at our disposal. We should make the most of it this opportunity by committing ourselves to following his recommendations of daily chanting the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. If we please the spiritual master, God will be pleased with us.
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