“The word vana means ‘forest.’ Vrindavana is the name given to the forest where Shrimati Vrinda Devi (Tulasi Devi) grows profusely.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 17.193 Purport)
Though golf has the attached stigma of being the sport for lazy, out of shape, old men, the game has many appealing aspects to it, including great competition, attention to detail, and the ability to steadily improve as time goes on. Arguably the nicest part of playing golf is the setting. Golf courses are essentially large parks where players are allowed to walk through and enjoy the scenery while playing a game. In this way, a person is able to both enjoy nature and engage their minds at the same time. In a similar manner, the ideal playing field for devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead also has a beautiful background. This pristine environment is conducive to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge and also acts as a place where loving exchanges between the pure devotees and their beloved take place.
Since golf is a popular recreational activity, it has many stereotypes associated with it. One of the more common jokes made about golf is that it serves as a way for husbands to get away from their wives. Marriage is the backbone of a strong society, and while married life is certainly ideal for the raising of a family, there are bound to be tensions between the husband and wife. The wife will nag the husband about being lazy and not spending any quality time with her and the kids, while the husband will complain about all the nagging. Golf represents a sort of male paradise, a place free of the influences of the wives, a place where men can be men. The quintessential golf outing consists of four players, usually all friends, playing a full round of eighteen holes. While playing the game is certainly fun, the environment really adds to the experience.
A typical golf outing can take upwards of four hours to complete. Though most players ride around in golf carts, thus allowing easier access to their shots, the game still requires a lot of walking. Not all balls land in areas adjacent to cart paths, so walking is a requirement. Yet even driving the golf carts can be a fun activity, a way to play around on what are essentially toy vehicles. As children, we play in sandboxes or run around on fields. As we get older, we are expected to act in a more civilized manner. Golf certainly has many rules of etiquette, including a dress code which requires collared shirts, certain kinds of pants or shorts, and the fixing of divots in the grass. Even with all these regulations, playing a full round with friends can be a lot of fun. You take a shot and then either marvel at how well you hit the ball or get made fun of by your friends for how lousy a golfer you are. When men get together in a friendly environment, they tend to make fun of each other, with each person trying to top the other’s jokes.
For the golfer, the objective on each hole is to be able to get your ball to drop in the cup in as few shots as possible. The cup, which represents the endpoint of the hole, is located on a putting green which is a few hundred yards away from the tee off point, so the last few shots require putting instead of big swings. The putting green is arguably the nicest looking area of each hole, with the grass cut very thin and water and trees in the surroundings. In this way, the golfer is rewarded with beautiful scenery that only improves in appearance as one gets closer to the hole. While golf is certainly a competitive sport requiring great skill and attention to detail, for the average player, simply getting to walk through the park-like environment is enjoyable enough. If we walk through a regular park, there isn’t much there to stimulate the mind. In many ways, that is the whole point to walking through a park; getting peace and quiet. Yet golf adds a new dimension by allowing a person to enjoy the scenery of a park, while playing a game at the same time.
Spiritual life has a similar pristine playing field. Depending on the time and circumstance, a person is bound to become inquisitive about God and spirituality in general. In the neophyte stages, one may look at this Supreme Being with awe and reverence. The human being is mortal, while this divine entity known as God is not. The human being is limited in its capabilities pertaining to wealth, strength, beauty, renunciation, and fame. God, on the other hand, has no limitations in these areas. This difference then leads the neophyte to the mood of devotion known as neutrality, or shanta-rasa. In this relationship, the living entity doesn’t necessarily serve the supreme entity known as God, but they still have profound respect for Him. This respect may then lead to the adoption of certain spiritually related disciplines and exercises. People often attend church and temple services due to the respect they have for the Lord.
According to Vedic information, there are higher levels of devotion, each of which provides more spiritual enjoyment to both the worshiper and the worshiped. Ascension to the higher levels of devotion occurs when one’s association with God in a pure and loving way increases. This association means that there are exchanges: one party takes to certain action and the other party reciprocates. How can these exchanges take place with the Supreme Lord? This is certainly a good question, for most of us are accustomed to worshiping a God who resides in a church or a temple. In many spiritual disciplines, worship of a form of God is forbidden, for it is viewed as idol worship. In the Vedic tradition, the conditioned living entities directly associate with the Supreme Lord in a variety of ways. This association can even take place without ever leaving the home.
Though God is all-pervading and all-powerful, He has an original form. This isn’t to say that He limits Himself to only one form, but there is still nevertheless an original God from which all non-different expansions emanate. While many refuse to acknowledge that the original Godhead has a form, the true followers of the Vedic tradition do not. The justification comes from the authorized words of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, found in scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. In these books, Krishna uses words like “I” and “My” and also goes into descriptions about which things please Him and which things don’t. Lord Krishna tells us that He is God, as do the Vedas, so this alone is used as justification for His worship. Since He refers to Himself in the first person, we can also conclude that Krishna is a person, someone who has a form. If Krishna has a form, He most certainly takes part in activities. These activities aren’t performed exclusively on earth by His various incarnations and expansions. Lord Krishna personally descended to earth some five thousand years ago, and many of His famous incarnations like Lord Rama, Chaitanya, and Narasimha, have also appeared on earth in the past. Since these forms are non-different from Krishna, one can also worship them and be directing their love at the original form of God.
Even though Krishna and His avataras enact pastimes on earth, there is a spiritual world where the Lord always resides and takes part in activity. The spiritual world can be thought of as Krishna’s playing field. After all, if God has a form and enacts pastimes, then He most certainly must have a field on which to play. As we know from our personal experience, playing with other friends is much more enjoyable than playing on a field alone. Since Krishna is the supreme enjoyer, He must have others with whom He enjoys. From Vedic information, we understand that Krishna has associates in the spiritual world. They are liberated souls who interact with the Lord in different loving moods.
If Krishna enjoys in the spiritual world, how can we interact with Him while we are stuck in the material world? Since Krishna has a transcendental form which is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge, devoted souls on earth can offer Him their worship. Instead of meditating on a void or a formless God, devotees can take material elements like earth and stone and create worshipable forms of the Lord based on the descriptions found in the scriptures. These forms may look like idols, but they are not. Since matter is something created by Krishna, when it is used in His service, it becomes purified. This concept is not so easily understood by the neophytes, but if we apply a little intelligence, we see that it is undoubtedly valid. For example, earth and wood can cause us great harm if we don’t utilize them properly. If we smear clay all over ourselves, we will be considered dirty. If we get a splinter caught in our finger, we have to remove it; otherwise there will be pain later on. But if we use the same clay and wood to construct a house for ourselves, we are greatly benefited. Along the same lines, when we use material elements, things created by Krishna, for His service, then we are purifying the elements.
Since the deity is crafted according to the appearance of the Supreme Lord, it can be considered non-different from Him. In this way, the deity becomes a worshipable object, the archa-vigraha. We may not have the eyes to see the Supreme Lord in His original form, but through the deity, the Lord kindly incarnates in a form that can be worshiped. In this age, a more potent form of the Lord is His name. The names of God found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are non-different from the Lord. Therefore the primary recommendation for the aspiring transcendentalists of today is to chant this mantra as often as possible. Krishna and Rama may seem like ordinary words, but they are the sound representations of the Divine. Letters and words are simply sound representations of things which are spoken, and different symbols such as the heart, butterfly, and smiley face can also serve as the visual representation for different objects, words, and emotions. Krishna is the sound representation of God, so anyone who hears this sound is in direct contact with Him. Man has the great benediction of being able to produce this sound whenever they want to, simply by using their tongue.
Chanting the maha-mantra regularly enables one to shift their consciousness from the material platform to the spiritual platform. From the Bhagavad-gita, we know that anyone who is Krishna conscious at the time of death immediately ascends to Krishna’s realm wherefrom they never have to return. This event represents the end of the cycle of reincarnation and hence is known as liberation. But what happens after liberation? What does the spirit soul do in the spiritual world? As mentioned before, Krishna enacts pastimes in His spiritual land. For the enactment of these pastimes, there is a field. Just as the golf course is pleasurable because of its surroundings, the pleasure one feels while on Krishna’s playing field is augmented by the surroundings. Krishna has several fields in the spiritual world, but His favorite one is known as Vrindavana.
Vrindavana is a Sanskrit word which means a forest where Vrinda Devi’s presence is strong. Vrinda Devi is a devotee of Krishna and she arranges for all the wonderful pastimes between Krishna and His most important associates. One of her forms is that of Tulasi Devi, who manifests as the tulasi plant. Plants are also forms of life, for they have spirit souls residing within. The tulasi plant is sacred for followers of the Vedic tradition because it represents Tulasi Devi, the beloved maidservant of Lord Vishnu. Those who worship Tulasi Devi are very quickly granted devotion to Krishna. This devotion then leads to Krishna consciousness, which then leads to liberation. Since only those devotees who possess pure love for Krishna get to associate with Him on His playing field, it shouldn’t surprise us to see that Tulasi Devi is the predominating plant of this forest. Vrindavana is a place full of devotion, and due to the presence of Tulasi Devi and other great devotees, its surroundings are pristine. It is the most beautiful park in the world. It is not a park where one simply sits idly by and falls asleep. Instead, it is a park where one is actively engaged in serving the Supreme Lord. Residents of Vrindavana bask in the sweet transcendental sounds emanating from Krishna’s flute, the beautiful aroma of the flowers, the divine vision of the butterflies flying about, the sight of cows grazing on the pasturing ground, and the frolicking about of the deer and other animals.
Lord Krishna is so kind that He created a replica of Vrindavana in this material world. It was in this Vrindavana, which is located in India, that the Lord enacted His most wonderful pastimes when He appeared on earth. Anyone who sets foot on this holy land is surely benefitted spiritually. Based on the descriptions of life in Vrindavana, we can understand that God is the ultimate object of pleasure. The highest achievement in life is to have Krishna’s association and play with Him in His beautiful park. By regularly chanting Hare Krishna, we can make that dream a reality.