“All different varieties of atmaramas [those who take pleasure in atma, or spirit self], especially those established on the path of self-realization, though freed from all kinds of material bondage, desire to render unalloyed devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead. This means that the Lord possesses transcendental qualities and therefore can attract everyone, including liberated souls.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.7.10)
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When we are satisfied after eating a meal, it means that we no longer crave food. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to eat ever again; it’s just that at that very moment in time, we are in need of nothing as it relates to food or drink. In a similar manner, there are many ways to satisfy the self, or the soul, through different yoga methods. The resultant contentment is described by the term atmarama, meaning self-satisfied. Yet Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is so wonderful that even the atmaramas are attracted to Him. Since Krishna ultimately attracts every kind of person, service to Him must be considered the most sublime engagement.
Those who are familiar with Vedic terms surely have heard the word yoga before. Normally yoga is taken to be a sort of gymnastics exercise, a discipline where you put your legs behind your head or you sit quietly in a lotus position and chant the syllable om. While this activity is certainly part of yoga, the term actually has a spiritual significance. Most people in society fall into one of two categories: the religious and the irreligious. Those who are religious have an understanding that God exists and that He has dominion over all that be. Yet for many people, this is as far as they go in relation to understanding God. Even great religious leaders around the world don’t take us beyond the concept of an all-powerful God. “The Lord is the savior. Believe in the power of prayer. He will heal you; He will solve all your problems if you believe in Him.”
The Vedas delve a little deeper into the matter. Veda is a Sanskrit word which means knowledge. When used in the spiritual sense, the Vedas represent the highest form of knowledge, the oldest scriptures in existence. The Vedas are so old that no one can accurately date their origin. This should make sense because the Vedas themselves tell us that the origin of all information is God. Since God is the adi-purusham and puranam-purusham, the original and oldest person, scriptures which emanate from Him must be eternal and lacking an inception date. This original system of knowledge is so old that it was originally passed down through an oral tradition. Lord Brahma, the first created living entity, took Vedic wisdom in through the heart. Contemplating on the matter for a long time, he finally decided to take up service to the Supreme Lord, or God.
The term God itself is a little abstract. What does it actually mean? Is God a person? If so, who is this person? Where does He live? What does He look like? The Vedas shed some light on these issues. They tell us that God is indeed a person, for the word purusha denotes a personality. But again, purusha actually has more meaning. When we refer to someone as a person, we are saying that they have a life force which sustains them. It is not their body which defines their existence, but rather something inside of them which is the cause of all their actions. This source of action is known as the soul, and every living entity has one of these souls inside them. The soul can be found not only in human beings, but in any form of life, including plants, aquatics, and animals.
As the soul is the cause of all activity within a specific form of life, God is the cause of all activity for this entire universe. In this sense, He is also a purusha, or a soul, but His powers are much greater. Those who think of God in terms of His all-pervading power governing the affairs of matter and spirit are directing their worship towards a feature known as Brahman. Brahman is truth; it is infallible, unchangeable, and full of knowledge. In the Bhagavad-gita, one of the most famous scriptures of the Vedic tradition, Lord Krishna tells us that He impregnates this Brahman in order to create all forms of life and matter.
Who is this Krishna? Well, aside from His feature as Brahman, God has two other aspects: Paramatma and Bhagavan. It is not that Brahman is different from Paramatma or that Paramatma is different from Bhagavan. The difference lies in one’s angle of vision. First let us try to understand Paramatma. Just as each one of us has an individual soul residing within our body which is the impetus for all our activities, there is also a second soul which lives right next to our soul. This soul, however, is not ours; it is an expansion of God. Moreover, this soul also lives inside of every other living entity. When we speak of our individual soul and the soul of another individual, there is no relationship between the two. For example, we have no information in relation to the experiences of another person. They may tell us what happened over the course of a given day, but we can’t actually experience those events with them.
The Supersoul is different. All Supersouls are the same in quality and quantity, and they belong to the same person: God. The Supersoul, known as the Paramatma, is an expansion of God. The Lord is so merciful to the living entities that He kindly agrees to live inside each one of them. The Supersoul is a copy of God, an expansion. We shouldn’t think that God has divided Himself among all living entities and that one day He will merge back into the complete whole. God’s powers are so strong that He can make direct copies of Himself and still remain completely unaffected. Though our souls, or atmas, are responsible for the actions that we take, the results of our activities are actually carried out by the Supersoul. This should make sense, as God is the cause of all causes.
“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone’s heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)
So far we have reviewed the features of Brahman and Paramatma. As mentioned before, both are representations of God. So who is God? The Vedas tell us that God’s original feature is that of Bhagavan, one who possesses all opulences. We may see one person who is very rich and another who is very strong, but there is only one person who is both the strongest and the wealthiest. This person is God, and He possesses every opulence imaginable to the fullest degree and simultaneously. Being the original personality, He has a transcendental form which is eternally full of bliss and knowledge.
Now that we have a better understanding of who God is and how we can think of Him, what are we to do with this information? What does it mean to be religious? Again, we need only look to the Vedas for the answer. Since the atma and Paramatma are similar in quality, they have an inherent link. The Vedas tell us that the point of human life is to link our soul with God’s. This linking is known as yoga. That’s right, all those gymnastics poses and breathing exercises are meant to help us achieve union of the soul with God. Gymnastics isn’t the only variety of yoga; there are other forms as well. We can link up with God through physical activity, or work. We can also link up with the Lord through intense study of the scriptures, learning the difference between matter and spirit.
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman [brahma-bhutah]. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.52)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna covers all the different types of yoga. There is one chapter in particular where He describes how to perfectly practice the form of yoga that most of us are familiar with. In this chapter , Krishna describes to His cousin and disciple Arjuna how one can go about achieving transcendental pleasure through intense meditation. The Lord says that one should find a secluded place and sit upright while focusing the eyes on the tip of the nose. One must be completely celibate in order to achieve perfection in this type of yoga. Remaining steady in this position, one is to control the mind by keeping it away from objects of sense gratification, keeping it focused on the Supersoul within.
“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.47)
After hearing these instructions, Arjuna deemed this type of yoga impossible to perform. The Bhagavad-gita was spoken some five thousand years ago, so times were much different then. Arjuna thought controlling the mind was as hard as controlling the wind. Lord Krishna then told him that the unsuccessful yogi gets to continue wherefrom they left off in the next life. Then the Lord also specifically addressed the issue of who is the best yogi. Aside from simply sitting in meditation and focusing the mind on the self, the best yogi is one who always thinks of Krishna. In this sense, we see what the goal should be for all those who practice yoga.
Just because Arjuna wasn’t able to practice this meditational style of yoga doesn’t mean that others haven’t perfected it in the past. Any bona fide form of yoga, such as karma, dhyana, jnana, etc., certainly brings about great transcendental pleasure to those who can practice it correctly. However, the authorized scriptures inform us that all these yogas are simply stepping stones to the highest form of yoga: bhakti. Bhakti means love and devotion, and when coupled with the concept of linking the soul with God, we see that it is the discipline where we devote all our activities to God. The beautiful part of bhakti yoga is that it can consist of any type of activity: sitting in meditation, working hard at our jobs, reading the scriptures, etc. The object of our activities is what changes when we take up bhakti. The scriptures also tell us that since bhakti is directed at Bhagavan, it attracts even those who have already achieved self-realization through a different type of yoga. There are several historical examples that we can look to for evidence of this.
Probably one of the most famous kings in history is Maharaja Janaka, the King of Mithila. Many thousands of years ago, there were actually many great kings of Mithila known by the name of Janaka who belonged to the same dynasty, but in this instance we are referring to the great devotee of God and father of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. Krishna is God’s original form, but He expands Himself into various other forms to perform activities on earth and in the spiritual world. Lord Rama was one such expansion. Since Krishna’s expansions are all direct copies of Himself, they are referred to as vishnu-tattva. We living entities are also expansions of God, but we are separated expansions, jiva-tattva. When we refer to worship of God or Bhagavan, it is worship directed either at Lord Krishna or a vishnu-tattva expansion.
Maharaja Janaka is so famous and well-respected that information relating to him is found in many of the great Vedic texts. Not surprisingly, he plays a significant role in the Ramayana, which is an account of the life story of Lord Rama composed by the great Maharishi Valmiki. In the Ramayana, we see that Janaka was blessed to have the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi, come into his family as his daughter. This eventually led to Sita’s marriage with Rama, thus bringing Lord Rama into Janaka’s family. Raising Sita and receiving Rama as a son-in-law gave Janaka tremendous transcendental bliss and joy. This shouldn’t be surprising to us, for Sita and Rama give their devotees more pleasure than they could ever ask for.
Many of us would be surprised to know that Janaka was a great transcendentalist even before Sita appeared in His family. We get hints of this information from the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas. The Ramayana is the original story of Rama’s life written by Valmiki. To make the Lord’s story more accessible to the people of this age, Valmiki came back to earth in the form of Goswami Tulsidas some four hundred years ago. Tulsidas wrote his own version of the Ramayana known as the Ramacharitamanasa, which references the original Ramayana and also descriptions of Rama’s life found in the various Puranas. Since Rama comes to earth millennium after millennium, the exact sequence of events vary each time. Thus the Ramacharitamanasa has some differences from the original Ramayana, but we shouldn’t take this to mean that the descriptions aren’t accurate.
“Tell me, my lord: are these two pretty boys the ornament of a sage’s family or the bulwarks of some royal dynasty? Or, is it that Brahman which the Vedas describe as neti neti [not this] that has appeared in a dual form? My mind, which is dispassion itself in its natural form, is enraptured at their sight even as the Chakora bird is transported with joy at the sight of the moon. Therefore, sir, I earnestly inquire of you: tell me the truth, my lord; hide nothing from me. Deeply attached to them at their very sight, my mind has been forced to renounce the joy of absorption into Brahman.” (Maharaja Janaka speaking to Vishvamitra upon first seeing Rama and Lakshmana, Ramacharitamanasa, Bala-Kanda, 215.1-2)
In the Ramacharitamanasa, there are many references to how Janaka fell down from his platform of equanimity and transcendental peacefulness in order to show love to Sita and Rama. This point references the fact that Janaka was a self-satisfied soul, or atmarama, in his earlier life. In the epic Mahabharata, we see that Janaka was a great yogi and even taught others how to perform meditational yoga. In this sense, he was completely self-satisfied and in need of nothing. The term satisfaction implies that a person isn’t attracted by anything besides their own soul. For example, when we are hungry, our stomach is in a state of dissatisfaction. In this unhappy state, we become attracted to various kinds of food and drink. When the stomach is satisfied, however, it becomes harder and harder to be attracted to food, even if it is our favorite dish such as pizza, lasagna, dosa, laddoo, etc.
This same principle holds true for transcendentalists. By achieving the atmarama platform, a person becomes immune to attraction and repulsion. They’re supposed to take everything in stride, not getting too high or too low. Yet we see that Janaka immediately came off of this platform when he found Sita one day while plowing a field. He also gave way to tearful sentiments whenever he saw Lord Rama, knowing Him to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Ramacharitamanasa makes several mentions of the fact that Janaka knew that he wasn’t supposed to become attracted to anything, but that he couldn’t help it when in the company of Rama, Sita, or Lakshmana. This one fact alone should settle any disputes as to which method of yoga is superior.
Today, Janaka is considered such a great devotee of God that he is included in the list of twelve primary authorities on devotional service. Since bhakti even attracts the self-satisfied, we can conclude that it is the topmost engagement for the soul. It is for this reason that devotees try to induce others to take up the process of devotional service, in lieu of other types of yoga. It is not that devotees decry the practice of jnana, dhyana, hatha, etc., but rather they know that such spiritual practices are only meant to be stepping stones towards achieving pure love for God. We see from the past examples of King Janaka, and also Shukadeva Goswami and the four Kumaras, that impersonal God realization surely brings about self-satisfaction, but that there is an even higher level that a person can reach. In this age, almost no one is able to perfectly practice the meditation that Janaka did. For this reason, we are advised to take to bhakti directly. All the benefits of yoga, such as equanimity, perseverance through good and bad times, and the viewing of all living entities as being part of God, automatically come to us as a result of practicing bhakti.
Just as Krishna is the cause of all causes, His beauty attracts even those who are deemed to be beyond attraction. Just as Krishna is attractive, so are His names. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can quickly become the best of the atmaramas.