“He who meditates on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Partha [Arjuna], is sure to reach Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.8)
One must take to a particular path in spiritual life and be devoted to it. Jumping from one discipline to another will only leave the mind vulnerable to attack from maya.
Maya Devi is Lord Krishna’s humble servant, deputed to illusion the living entities during their time on earth. The material world actually isn’t our natural home. As spirit souls who are part and parcel of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, our real home is in Vaikuntha or Krishnaloka. This material world is full of miseries and anxieties. Vaikuntha is the spiritual world that is free of anxieties. Since God and His various forms reside there, there is no hint of misery. God is pure bliss and happiness. For this reason, His body is described as sach-chid-ananda, meaning it is full of bliss and knowledge.
When one acts in complete knowledge, there is no chance of falling down into despair or depression. Yet since we desire to remain in this material world where we accumulate karma, there must be a force that clouds our intelligence. This energy is known as maya, and she is constantly telling us that we’ll be happy if we try to satisfy our senses. For this reason, we keep jumping from one karmic activity to another. One day we may be passionate about gambling, while another day we long for intoxication or meat eating. Jumping from one sinful activity to another, we become further bound to this material world. Since material activity has karma associated with it, the living entity is forced to remain in this world after the current life is finished. God is only fair after all. If we want to stay here and falsely enjoy nature, He will happily oblige and give us the chance to take birth again.
Religion, more appropriately known as sanatana dharma, is God’s gift to us, for it represents our chance to get out of this perpetual cycle of birth and death. The original scripture for mankind is known as the Veda, which means knowledge. This original knowledge was passed down by Krishna Himself at the beginning of creation. If one adheres strictly to the injunctions of the Vedas, they will be acting in complete knowledge, meaning they will be immune to the effects of maya. Since every person has a different level of intelligence and different desires, the Vedas prescribe various methods for self-realization. In the Bhagavad-gita, these methods are all referred to as yoga. Not to be confused with the secular exercise discipline, yoga actually means achieving union of the soul with God. There are different types of yoga, but today it is most often equated with the hatha-yoga system, which calls for various breathing exercises and sitting postures. These are all very nice since they enable one to become detached from their gross senses. If the effects of the senses are nullified, it becomes easier for one to connect with the Supersoul, known as the Paramatma. God can be realized in three distinct features. Paramatma is His expansion as the Supersoul, residing in the heart of each and every living entity. The individual spirit soul is full of knowledge, but its capabilities are limited. For example, we only know about our own life experiences, but God is more powerful than us because He has expanded Himself into every living entity.
Hatha-yoga is one system, with the other primary disciplines being jnana-yoga and bhakti-yoga. We see in society that there naturally exists an intelligentsia. There are always people who take an interest in philosophy and postulate their own theories on a variety of subjects. They love to acquire knowledge through deep study and analysis. Knowing this, God created the jnana-yoga system, whereby one can acquire knowledge of the Supreme by studying various books and understanding the difference between matter and spirit. Bhakti yoga, known as devotional service, is the system whereby one dovetails all their activities with service to Krishna in a loving way. This is not only considered the highest form of yoga, but it is actually the constitutional position of the soul. God is great, and we are His servants. This fact is very easy to understand, yet most of us spend our whole life ignoring it.
Perfect knowledge has to be learned from authority. Mankind’s knowledge is limited and flawed. We need only visit a bookstore to see evidence of this truth. When entering large chain bookstores, one will see all the latest releases and best-sellers on display right at the front of the store. These books are always about the same topics: politics, cooking, diet, self-help, etc. The self-help books are very popular. People are always looking for ways to be happy. One person has their prescription for success in life, while another person has a completely opposite view. These books rarely reference the Vedas, or any religion for that matter, as the basis for their theories. For this reason, people who read these books will always be left wanting more. It’s not a knock on the authors, for their efforts are certainly noble. Yet their knowledge is imperfect, whereas Vedic wisdom comes from Krishna, who is known as Achyuta, meaning “infallible”. If the prescriptions in these self-help books actually worked, there would be no need to keep coming out with new books. Yet we are guaranteed to find new titles released on a weekly basis, all on the same topics. This phenomenon can be described as “chewing the chewed.”
If we keep jumping from one book to another, our minds will get distracted. Too much information can be a bad thing, especially if we are only consuming the thoughts and ideas of mundane mental speculators. The key to success is to find a discipline that works, and then to become completely dedicated to that path. For spiritual realization, bhakti yoga is the only path that works every time it’s tried. There are thousands of historical examples to back up this assertion. Many millions of years ago, there was a great devotee by the name of Prahlada, born as the son of a demon king named Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada’s mother took spiritual instruction from the great sage Narada Muni while she was pregnant. Prahlada, hearing this instruction while in the womb, was thus born a devotee. His knowledge of bhakti yoga was so perfect, that he would regularly lecture his fellow classmates about Krishna during their recess periods. This all happened when he was just five years old. Hiranyakashipu didn’t like Prahlada’s devotion at all. He wanted his son to worship him instead of God. Prahlada wouldn’t budge however, so Hiranyakashipu attempted to kill his son in various ways. Each attempt was unsuccessful due to Prahlada’s unflinching devotion to Krishna. This is the Lord’s promise to us. Just think of Him always, and He will protect us from any and all calamities. Finally, the Lord had enough so He incarnated as a half-man half-lion, Narasimha Deva, and killed Hiranyakashipu.
Lord Hanuman is another example of a great devotee who perfected the practice of bhakti yoga. A great devotee of Lord Rama, who was Krishna’s incarnation during the Treta Yuga, Hanuman was a Vanara (monkey with human-like characteristics) by birth. Rama enlisted Hanuman as His chief warrior in His quest to rescue His kidnapped wife Sita Devi from the clutches of the demon Ravana. Hanuman met extraordinary challenges while searching out for Ravana, but He always stayed true to his mission. His only business was to serve and please Rama. In posters and photos, Hanuman is often seen chanting Rama’s name or reading from the Ramayana. Even though He succeeded in helping Rama, his devotion never waned. In this way, we see that bhakti yoga is an eternal occupation, something that one should never give up.
Devotional service involves the nine distinct processes of 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. Prahlada and Hanuman both engaged in many of these processes, but perfecting only one of them is sufficient enough. In this age, the prescribed method is chanting and hearing, sravanam and kirtanam. The path is laid out for us; we simply have to commit ourselves to following it. Unlike with other types of yoga, taking the first step in bhakti yoga means taking the last first step in our search for eternal peace and happiness.
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