As Good As Gold

Lord Rama “O You of great intellect, not even the demigods can fathom the level of Your intelligence. Due to bereavement Your wisdom is currently in a dormant state, and I am here to rouse it.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.19)

Gold is a commodity that has value and importance throughout the world. Formerly, gold was the system of currency in many countries like America, where each paper note was backed by an equal value of gold in the national treasury. Gold is so valuable that people flock to areas where it is in abundance, or where there is even a perceived reservoir, as was seen with the gold rush in the West Coast of the United States during the year of 1849. Yet if one were to discover gold, they likely wouldn’t find it to be very appealing. Gold in an unpolished state appears just like a glob of matter, something that can even be bitten into. Actually that is one way to determine the authenticity of gold; you see if it can be bitten into. It is not until one expertly crafts, shapes, and refines the gold that it starts to shine and take on a life of its own. In a similar manner, we living entities are just like gold in that we are pure and extremely valuable at the core, yet presently we are in an unpolished state, unaware of our true value. It is not until we associate with a pure devotee of Lord Krishna, or God, that we can understand our true nature.

Gold Gold is valuable. How do we know this? Others like to own gold and use it for various purposes. Something is considered valuable if it can be used by others to advance a cause or item of self-interest. If something isn’t valuable, we have no interest in it; we don’t think twice about it. Valuable commodities have just the opposite effect; we want to possess them and watch their value grow. One of the most valuable commodities in the modern age is oil, which is regularly traded on the futures market. This buying and selling is so volatile that simply by betting the future price of oil up or down, the current price of gasoline can drastically change. Gold is considered a real commodity because it will always have value, irrespective of the current economic situation. Currently in America, wealth is determined by how much paper currency a person possesses, but as is seen, the value of these paper notes can change on a whim depending on how the Federal Reserve Bank of America deals with monetary policy. In days past, all currency in America was backed by an equal amount of gold in the national treasury, thus giving the paper notes a tangible value. Though that is not the case today, mankind’s interest in gold has not diminished.

Lord Krishna We living entities are similar to gold in that our value doesn’t lessen with time. Time is the greatest diminishing force since it can reduce anyone and anything. A person may be very strong and stout today, but through the influence of all-devouring time, their strength will gradually diminish to the point where they will die. In a similar manner, great buildings and empires also collapse in due course. We living entities, however, being eternally valuable, are immune to the effects of time. This may seem like a contradiction at first glance. How can we be immune to the effects of time if we are destined to die? Our identity comes from the atma, or soul, residing within us. This soul is eternal, unbreakable, and immutable. It never suffers through birth or death, nor does its value ever increase or decrease.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Lord Rama - Purushottama To understand the soul’s true value, we must first realize where it comes from. If the soul never takes birth, how can it have a source? The soul is technically an expansion of the supreme soul, the Supreme Divine Entity. When this Person who transcends ignorance, Purushottama, expands Himself into separate jiva souls, the separated souls don’t necessarily take birth. Purushottama is existing eternally, and thus so are His expansions. Since we come from God, our nature is exactly like His. The Supreme Lord, whose original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is eternally blissful and full of knowledge. This should make sense to us. If Krishna were miserable and unintelligent, then He couldn’t be God. The idea of a supreme controller implies that He is above any and all defects known to man. We spirit souls are godlike, so we are also eternally blissful, full of knowledge, and not subject to illusion, distress, chaos, tumult, etc.

If we are eternally blissful, why do we suffer through misery? Why are we forced to die? Every day is full of so many miseries. We create so many attachments throughout the course of our lifetime, yet all these bonds are severed at some point. If we watch the news on any given day, we will see tragedy everywhere. Somewhere a building is being blown up, a person’s home is being ruined by a devouring flood, or a government is confiscating wealth and property and turning citizens into wards of the state. If we are godlike, why do we live through so much tumult?

These unwanted events are the result of our current state, a condition where we are bewildered by the forces of material nature, which are governed by maya. Maya means that which is not. By taking birth here, we become subject to her forces. Maya essentially makes us believe that we can achieve unending bliss and peace through associating with everything and everyone except Purushottama. Since God is the only person who can give us real pleasure, the further and further we drift from Him the more we suffer through disappointment and heartache. Thus our original blissful nature becomes covered up by the temporary pains and pleasures we experience in this world. This underscores the difference between God and His separated expansions, i.e. the living entities. Krishna can never become subject to the forces of maya, but we living entities can. In this way, God is always superior.

Shrila Prabhupada The living entities are just like gold, in that our value does not change even when we associate with maya. Yet gold in its raw form doesn’t have much use. It must be shaped and crafted in such a way that all the dust is removed so that it can truly shine. In a similar manner, we living entities are extremely valuable in that we are part and parcel of God. But in order to realize our potential, we must be shaped and molded in the proper way. Where do we go to get fixed up? Who or what can polish us and make us shine? For the solution, we must approach a pure devotee of Krishna, someone who is already shining, someone who already exudes the valuable qualities of truthfulness, eternality, and bliss. That person is the spiritual master, or guru.

The pure devotee of Krishna is the emblem of the true value of the living entity. Being part and parcel of God is certainly valuable in and of itself, for Krishna is the wealthiest person in the world. But the devotees are valuable for another reason. They can teach other living entities how to assume their true nature and become valuable themselves. For this reason, the association of a saintly person is considered the greatest fortune in the world. Great devotees of the past all were polished and shaped into their pure form by other devotees of Krishna. We can take Narada Muni for example. He is likely the greatest reformer in history. He was the spiritual master of so many great saints of the past, including Maharishi Valmiki and Vyasadeva. These two saints have authored the bulk of Vedic literature, so this fact alone speaks to Narada’s greatness. In a similar manner, Goswami Tulsidas was personally instructed on devotion to Lord Rama by Shri Hanuman.

Tulsidas worshiping Hanuman How can we tell who is a pure devotee? How do we know whether a person has transcended the illusory forces of maya? Maya is that which is not, and the opposite of this is the Supreme Absolute Truth. There are varying degrees of truth, for the material world is full of dualities and contradictions. For this reason, God is referred to as the Supreme Absolute Truth, meaning His supreme dominion can never be denied. Since God is absolute, there is no wiggle room as far as His strength and purity go. Moreover, any person who directly associates with the Supreme Absolute Truth also inherits the Lord’s qualities. The pure devotees of Krishna meet this requirement. Instead of associating with illusion, they attach themselves to the Supreme Truth. They have no other business than to serve Krishna in a loving way. Devotees may look different, come from different parts of the world, and even have different skin colors and ethnicities, but one thing they have in common is that they are devoted to Krishna. Their only business in life is to serve Him, think of Him, and always praise Him while in the company of others.

The spiritual master, or guru, takes things one step further. Not only does he devote himself to God, but also teaches others how to reawaken their dormant love for the Supreme. This is the special mercy of the guru. A guru can be any person who gives instruction about devotional service to Krishna. Any person who takes away our accumulated material dust and makes us truly shine is a guru. A great example of such an instructor was Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama.

Rama and Lakshmana searching for Sita During the second time period of creation, the Treta Yuga, Lord Krishna expanded Himself into human form and appeared on earth as the valiant and chivalrous prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. Rama had three younger brothers, with Lakshmana being the one most attached to Him. As part of His pastimes, Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. During this time, His beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Lakshmana was with Rama in the forest, and when the two discovered that Sita was missing, there was instant grief and lamentation. Rama especially took it hard. He frantically searched about the neighboring forests and asked the trees and flowers if they had seen His beloved wife. This behavior was strikingly similar to how Shrimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Lord Krishna, acted when the Lord had left Vrindavana for Mathura. This shows that the Supreme Entity loves His devotees just as much as they love Him.

Seeing his brother in bad shape, Lakshmana stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. The above referenced quote was part of his concluding statements. Lakshmana advised Rama to avoid lamentation, for even if Sita were dead, protocol called for Rama to continue His adherence to dharma, or prescribed duties. Good and bad things happen all the time, but it doesn’t mean that we should give up the activities that we are obligated to perform. Only through proper execution of spiritual activities can one achieve success in life. Thus we see that Lakshmana behaved as the perfect spiritual master.

Lakshmana Rama and Lakshmana were part of the kshatriya, or warrior, class, so how could Lakshmana be a spiritual master? Moreover, Rama was God Himself, so how can He ever take instruction from anyone? These are very important questions, and if we properly understand the answers to them, we will be taking giant steps forward in our spiritual progress. At the end of his statements, Lakshmana made sure to remind Rama that no one could instruct Him, for even the demigods learned everything from Him. This one statement secretly gives away Rama’s true identity as the ultimate divine personality. But Lakshmana also made sure to remind Rama that the instruction he was providing had actually been delivered by the Lord to Lakshmana on many previous occasions. Thus we see that Lakshmana didn’t concoct any of the things he was saying, for he had learned these truths from the highest authority, Rama. Moreover, since God is the original teacher of mankind, He takes pleasure in seeing that His students understand what He teaches them. Rama felt great joy in hearing Lakshmana’s instructions, for it meant that His faithful younger brother had listened attentively, like a perfect student.

Rama and Lakshmana The lesson to be learned from this incident is that we should all adopt Lakshmana’s mindset and listen attentively to the teachings of the Supreme Lord. Where do we go to find these teachings? Luckily for us, when God teaches His devotees, they don’t just keep the information to themselves. They train their own disciples, who then pass it down to their students, and so on. So we simply need to consult a person belonging to the chain of disciplic succession which originates from Lord Krishna. If we approach these devotees, we are assured of success in spiritual life. This association doesn’t have to be of the personal variety either. The great saints have written voluminous literature establishing the supremacy of devotional service to Krishna over all other spiritual disciplines. These books have true value, for they have been read for centuries. Unlike the newspapers and magazines of today, these books don’t get tossed aside after reading once or twice. Their value only increases as time goes on. We simply need to consult these books, read them regularly, and pass on the information contained within to others. In this way, we can assume our true nature as pure servants of the Supreme Lord. Devotees of God are as good as gold in all respects.

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