“Those who are beloved of all and work for the good of all, to whom joy and sorrow, praise and abuse are alike…it is in their mind, O Rama, that You should dwell.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 129.2)
Since time immemorial governments have had to tackle the crime problem. Certain areas of a city, state, or country always seem to have a higher crime rate than others. Simply increasing the police presence in these areas is the easiest and most often implemented solution, yet we see that this often doesn’t solve the problem, for people go right back to committing crimes once the police are gone. It is the widely accepted belief that the root cause of much of this crime is the fact that the people in such areas have no permanent occupation. Left to roam the streets, they have no better way to spend their time than to commit crimes against their fellow man.
To this end, governments in recent times have tried various solutions to try to eradicate this problem. In the United States, President Bill Clinton’s famous crime bill in 1994 featured an allotment of funds dedicated towards Midnight Basketball programs. At the time, many of the high crime areas in the country were heavily populated by minorities, especially African Americans. The proponents of Midnight Basketball believed that because of the demographic makeup, people in these areas would welcome a program that would allow them to play basketball instead of remaining on the streets. The belief was that if people remained in a gymnasium during the wee hours of the morning, the time that most violent crimes occurred, they would be less likely to take to drugs, guns, and murder.
There have been many other programs implemented similar to Midnight Basketball. Andre Agassi, the famous tennis player, started a charter school in his hometown of Las Vegas. Most of the attending students are African American and come from high-crime neighborhoods. Many of the students openly admit that if it weren’t for Agassi’s school, they would probably be on the streets selling drugs or getting into other nefarious activities. Federal and state governments have also instituted many after-school programs targeting the same crime ridden areas. The idea is that the more time young children spend in a peaceful environment where they are actively engaged in positive activities, the less likely they are to take to crime.
These programs are certainly well intentioned, and they also provide valuable insight into how one can achieve perfection in life. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the human form of life is especially conducive to spiritual understanding. Animals, plants, aquatics, etc. are all life forms, meaning there is a spirit soul that resides inside them. Many religious leaders proclaim that animals don’t have souls, but such thinking is not rooted in any fact. Animals eat, sleep, mate, and defend just as we humans do. When death occurs, the animal’s body becomes useless and begins to rot in the same way that a human body does. So what is the distinguishing characteristic of a human being? Intelligence. A human being is capable of reaching the conclusion that man is mortal.
Knowing that we are going to die is one thing, but understanding why is another. The Vedas tell us that the material world was created to act as a sort of playing field for the jiva soul. God and His personal expansions are referred to as vishnu-tattva, and the living entities are jiva-tattva. Vishnu-tattva is completely pure and never comes into contact with maya, or nature. Jivas are also completely pure constitutionally, but they are prone to come into contact with nature due to their desire to imitate God. Since we voluntarily choose to come to this world, we have to live by the rules which are governed by karma. All the work we perform has positive and negative consequences attached, and thus we are forced to repeatedly accept new bodies after death. Sometimes we may appear in the body of a human being, and sometimes in the body of an animal; it all depends on karma.
Human life is considered a blessing from nature because the human being can take the necessary actions to break free of the laws of karma. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states that anyone who wishes to come back to His spiritual abode can easily do so, provided that they think of Him at the time of death. When we die, our consciousness is measured by God and His various agents. Then, based on this consciousness and the work we performed during our lifetime, our next body is created. If our mind is fixed on Lord Krishna’s lotus feet at the the time of death, the Lord sends His agents, the Vishnuduttas, to personally escort us back to the spiritual world. The spiritual planets of Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka are free of miseries and one who goes there never returns to the miserable place known as the material world. In the spiritual sky, karma doesn’t exist.
So perfection in life is achieved when we can think of God at the time of death. How do we guarantee that this happens? The key is to practice thinking of God all the time during one’s current lifetime. This discipline is known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Engaging all of our time in God’s service provides the ultimate shield from the dangers of the material world. This is where the after-school and Midnight Basketball programs fall short. Shifting one’s focus from crime to playing games or studying is certainly a noble activity, but it still falls under the jurisdiction of karma. While committing crimes has negative karma associated with it and staying in school may have positive karma associated with it, in the end, both activities keep a person tied to the cycle of birth and death.
One should engage in activities that will free them from the bondage of this material world. Bhakti yoga can actually refer to any activity as long as it is associated with God, but the most effective process of devotional service for this age is chanting. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada advised everyone to chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, at least sixteen rounds a day on set of japa beads. Sixteen rounds means reciting this mantra 1,728 per day. Naturally one may ask the question, “I have to repeat this mantra over 1,000 times a day? That will take forever.”
This is precisely the point. In the beginning stages, chanting sixteen rounds can take upwards of three to four hours. As one’s tongue becomes accustomed to the pronunciations, and as offenses are slowly removed, this chanting can take less time, but the idea behind it is still the same; think of God as much as you can. By repeating His name out loud, one purifies the tongue and the ears. All knowledge, especially that pertaining to God, is best received through the ears. The hearing process is the most effective when it comes to learning. By chanting out loud, we get to hear God’s name over and over again. The scriptures tell us that there is no difference between the Lord and His name. One who chants regularly will quickly realize this fact.
“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.42)
One may ask the question, “Sure, chanting seems nice. But how does this solve the crime problem?” Devotional service actually solves all of our problems in life. By regularly chanting, one becomes a pure devotee of the Lord, and devotees automatically inherit all good qualities. In the Vedic system, the brahmanas are considered the highest class since they engage all their time in religious activities. Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu or Krishna, are the purest form of brahmanas since they engage all their time in loving service to the Lord. God is the supreme pure, and anyone who associates with Him also becomes pure. This means that devotees are naturally non-violent, kind, peaceful, and law-abiding citizens.
We all need a full-time engagement, something to occupy our time. The great Vaishnava saints all recommend that we make devotional service our full-time engagement. One can be working, studying, or even sleeping and still be thinking about God. Chanting the holy name costs nothing and it is very easy to distribute to others. More than anything, chanting brings lasting benefits, the greatest of which is liberation from this temporary world full of miseries.
Categories: devotional service