“Real love of God is ahaituky apratihata: it cannot be checked by any material cause. It is unconditional. If one actually wants to love God, there is no impediment. One can love Him whether one is poor or rich, young or old, black or white.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 1b)
Those who are somewhat familiar with Vedic traditions know about the term “dharma”. Dharma is the supreme occupation, that discipline which keeps one duty-bound to religious service. At the same time, however, there can be different dharmas depending on the field of activity. One person is taking their dharma to be transcendental yoga, while another is sitting around and chanting all the time. Another person believes it is their dharma to hold elaborate religious sacrifices on a regular basis in order to please various elevated living entities known as devatas. While there are certainly different dharmas, only one can reign supreme, and that is the dharma of love. Love is the highest emotion that we feel in our interactions with our fellow human beings, so it stands to reason that it would be the cornerstone of the highest religious practice.
The religion of love is also known by technical names such as bhakti-yoga and bhagavata-dharma. When translated into English, this sublime engagement goes by the name of devotional service. The two words in the name tell us what this religion is all about: loving devotion to the Supreme Lord in a service attitude. There are different ways to offer service. Today, in industrialized nations, many of the high paying jobs are in the service sector. One business is offering service by running a restaurant, while another is offering IT services: building websites, developing human resource management systems, and doing graphic design. Similarly, in the religion of love, there are different ways one can act out their desire to serve the Supreme Lord. While devotional service can entail many different activities, the key to success in all of these ventures lies in two components: ahaituki and apratihata. Ahaituki means without selfish motive and apratihata means without interruption. In order to be successful in devotional life, one must perform their service without motivation and without interruption.
“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated [ahaituki] and uninterrupted [apratihata] to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)
In theory this seems easy enough, but the practical application is a little more difficult. Let us examine the first aspect: unselfishness. This component is particularly difficult to adopt since it is almost impossible to perform any action without a selfish motive. This isn’t to say that man is evil, but it’s just a reality that people perform actions that are in line with their self-interest. Even people who are given to altruism only take up charity in order to make themselves feel better. To sustain their livelihoods, most everyone is either working at a job or studying in school. For those studying in school, the selfish motivation is quite obvious: to graduate. Most people don’t like going to school. They are forced to sit in classrooms, get up at certain times, complete assignments, write term papers, and study for tests. Obviously someone will only subject themselves to this if there is a reward. For young children, the reward is an education, i.e. learning how to read, write, and do arithmetic. These skills come in handy later on in life, for an educated person is more attractive to potential employers.
For American high school students, one of the most important exams is the SAT, which is the unofficial college entrance exam. A high score on this test can land a person in a prestigious university, sometimes even rewarding them with a scholarship. This exam is so important that many parents pay thousands of dollars to send their children to preparation training courses. These courses often last several weeks and they take place outside the hours of the normal school day. Obviously there is no unselfishness in this pay-for-learning system, for the parents want their children to have the best education, and the students want to get into a good college.
Let us fast forward to adult life. In order to maintain one’s livelihood, a person needs a job that will pay them enough money to meet the basic demands of the body: food, clothing, and shelter. Add a spouse and children to the mix, and the demands are multiplied. Therefore people try to find the best paying jobs that will allow them to somewhat enjoy their workday, while meeting the basic demands of the family at the same time. Even among those who love what they do for a living, there is still a need for compensation. No one wants to work for free. This applies even to people who have millions of dollars and are viewed by the general public as not needing any money. In the year 2000, the heavy metal band Metallica was immersed in a controversy relating to internet file sharing of their songs. A newly launched online music sharing service called Napster was hosting the entire catalog of Metallica music in the format of mp3 computer files. These files, though of lesser quality than the original CD versions of the songs, still sounded almost identical to the highest quality versions. Essentially people were “sharing” Metallica’s music all over the world without the band’s permission. As a result, Metallica sued Napster, demanding that their original songs be removed from the service. Even though they had millions in the bank already, Metallica correctly stated that no one goes to work without expecting to be compensated. The band subsequently suffered great backlash for their stance, with their drummer, Lars Ulrich, becoming the poster child for the anti-file-sharing movement.
The other aspect of devotional life, apratihata, which means without interruption, might be just as difficult to adhere to. In one sense, selfishness and interruption are complementary in the arena of performing work. For example, if we’re studying hard in school to get a degree and a high paying job later on in life, there is an expectation that the work will end at some point. There is an underlying expectation of interruption. An easier way to understand this concept is to study the average work day. In America, the typical forty-hour work week consists of going to work from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Could any of us imagine staying at work all day and night? Quitting time is eagerly anticipated every day, as is lunch time. Most workers perform their work with both of these interruptions at the forefront of their minds. These breaks serve as a form of motivation. “Let me work hard right now so that I’ll be able to relax later.”
For a person to be motivated to do work, they need to know that the work will end at some point. That is the essence of fruitive activity, i.e. work performed for a desired fruit. We plant trees in hopes that one day they will sprout new fruits which can be eaten. Farmers till the land and pay attention to the crops in hopes that they will one day reap a nice harvest. Construction workers expend energy in hopes of completing their projects. Completion of a project means an end to the work.
Now that we see that it is nearly impossible to perform work without motivation and without interruption, how do we go about practicing the religion of love? Is all hope lost? Are we destined to fail in our spiritual pursuits? Luckily for us, there is one emotion that trumps all standard conventions and transcends all rules. That emotion is love. When we throw love into the equation, selfish motivation and interruption can be tossed right out the window. The most obvious example of this phenomenon can be seen with parents, especially mothers. A good mother loves her child without any desire for self-aggrandizement or emotional happiness. The loving service offered by a good mother also never ends, even when the child has reached adult age. A mother never thinks, “I am done offering my service. I have done all that I need to do for my child, so I will stop now.” There are also others who exhibit similar behavior in their loving dealings. Wives, husbands, children, friends, etc. often devote themselves to their object of affection and work tirelessly for their interests.
When this loving attitude is directed towards the supreme object of pleasure, God, then it is perfect. This is the key ingredient to devotional service, which is the highest dharma. While God is the name that most of us know for the Supreme Entity, the Vedas give us many more names which are more descriptive. In His original form, God is known as Krishna, which means one who is all-attractive. Since every single person in this world is meant to offer Him their love, only God could be the most attractive. Since Krishna is loved by everyone, it would make sense that He is the most attractive.
So how do we serve Krishna? How do we offer Him our service in an uninterrupted and unmotivated manner? Luckily for us, there are many many great devotees who have offered such service in the past. We need only look to their example to see the proper path. Around five thousand years ago, Lord Krishna personally came to earth and enacted wonderful pastimes. One of His most memorable acts took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where He served as the charioteer for His cousin, disciple, and dear friend Arjuna. Kurukshetra was the scene of a great war, with Arjuna being the lead warrior for the Pandavas. On the eve of the war, Arjuna was hesitant to fight, not wanting to kill his friends and family members who were fighting for the opposing side. Lord Krishna took this opportunity to impart spiritual wisdom on His dear friend, informing Him of the meaning of life and the proper way to perform one’s prescribed duties. Arjuna gladly heeded this advice and went on to fight heroically in Krishna’s honor. Arjuna’s service was unmotivated because he really didn’t want to fight in the war. If anything, he was ready to lay down his arms and let the other side win. Arjuna’s service was also uninterrupted, because after the war ended, he didn’t stop his devotion to Krishna. Wherever he went in life, Arjuna always thought about Krishna and how to make Him happy.
Another famous devotee of Krishna is Hanuman. Many many thousands of years ago, Krishna came to earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. Lord Rama is famous even to this day. Since He is non-different from Krishna, millions of people around the world worship Him as God. This was also the case with Hanuman, a Vanara and eternal servant of the Lord. During Rama’s time on earth, His wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Hanuman kindly offered his service to Rama by leaping his way to the island kingdom of Lanka where Sita was. Bringing back news of her whereabouts to Rama, Hanuman then helped in the fight against Ravana’s army, which eventually saw the death of Ravana and the rescue of Sita. Afterwards, Hanuman asked to remain alive on earth for as long as Rama’s story was still being told. In this way, he performed his service without any personal desire and without any interruption. To this day, Hanuman spends all his time engaged in thinking about Rama.
As we can see from the examples of these two wonderful devotees, the key to success in spiritual life is love. It is not that we must be completely unmotivated per se, but rather our motivation should be to please the Supreme Lord. Since this attitude isn’t of the selfish variety, it can be accurately termed as unmotivated. Devotional service is so sublime that there is no need for interruption. Unlike meditational yoga, fruitive activity, and speculative knowledge, there is no end-goal with devotional service. One really isn’t working towards an achievement, say as in climbing a mountain or finishing a marathon. Love doesn’t work that way. When directed at Lord Krishna, love gains its true potency, lighting a fire in the devotee that never extinguishes.
The key to successfully changing our consciousness is to spend every minute of every day involved in spiritual life. The easiest way to do this is to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chant, read, look at pictures, visit temples, sing songs, etc. There are so many options available to us. Even if that love isn’t there in the beginning, by sincerely taking to these activities, one’s dormant transcendental attachment will eventually come out.
Categories: devotional service