Waking Up

Lakshmana “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)

Sleep is definitely something we need, but at the same time, we don’t want to be asleep when fun things are happening. In these situations, we prefer to be wide awake so we can enjoy the experience. In a similar manner, spiritual life is meant to provide unending bliss to the soul. In our conditioned state, we are forgetful of this fact, so in order to rekindle the internal spiritual spark inside, we need someone to wake us up from the long slumber that we have been in.

“O son of Bharata, the mode of ignorance causes the delusion of all living entities. The result of this mode is madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.8)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna Sleep equates to inactivity, so in Vedic terminology it is considered to be part of the mode of ignorance or darkness. Darkness and ignorance are essentially the same thing when discussing the issue of knowledge, for one who can’t see due to the absence of light will always be in ignorance. The daylight hours are much more fruitful since we can see everything clearly and go about our business without any impediments. The mode of ignorance consists of any activity which negatively affects us, or in the more strict definition, any activity which is lacking in intelligence or passion. It is obvious to see why too much sleep would be considered an activity devoid of intelligence and passion. We certainly aren’t acting with any knowledge when we sleep. Since the mind works in mysterious ways, we don’t even have control over what we will dream about. We don’t really acquire any knowledge while sleeping because we aren’t even able to think clearly. Acquiring knowledge requires thoughts and ideas to be taken into the brain, processed, and then formed into conclusions. When we sleep, we are unable to take in any new information, thus we have nothing new to process cognitively.

Sleep is also lacking in passion because we’re not actively working for a desired result. Sleep is the antithesis of activity, so there is essentially no progress made towards a positive outcome. This isn’t to say that resting isn’t required. Lord Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita that the true yogi doesn’t sleep too much or too little. Everything is done in moderation. So what are the effects of oversleeping? For starters, we’ll miss out on activities of interest. If we oversleep during a weekday, we will be late for work or school. This means that we will miss out on earning money at work or taking in new information at school. Ironically enough, oversleeping actually keeps us tired throughout the day, for the body becomes accustomed to inactivity.

Though sometimes we may think that sleeping all day would be fun, none of us would really prefer this lifestyle. Though sleep provides temporary relief from life’s pressures, there is no enjoyment in inactivity. So how do we conquer this desire to sleep? We must be active. We must have something that keeps us awake at night and gets us out of bed early in the morning. We have certainly experienced these situations in our lifetime. For example, young children love to stay up late on weekends. They’ll do whatever they can – watch television or play video games – in order to stay awake for as long as possible. On the other side of the equation, if we have something to do in the morning hours, we will make sure to get up on time. Nothing will get us up in the morning faster than if we have a plane to catch or a big meeting to attend. In these instances, sleep is of secondary concern.

Thus we see that the antidote for sleep is activity, or passion. It is more important to sleep to live, rather than live to sleep. Though passionate activity can break us away from our desire to sleep, it won’t help us in the spiritual sense. One may ask what is the difference. The answer is that every activity can be classified as material or spiritual. In the simplest definition, material activity can be thought of as anything that pertains to the development of the body.

“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Bg. 8.3)

Lord Krishna Material activity is what constitutes karma. Most of us are familiar with this term already. If we see something bad happen to someone else, we’ll say, “Oh, they must have had bad karma.”, or, “Oh, they had this coming to them for a long time. From all the bad things they did previously, they accumulated so much bad karma.” So we associate karma with positive and negative fruitive results. This is certainly one valid definition for karma, but on a higher level, the term really pertains to any activity that leads to the further development of the body. When we speak of good and bad results, we are referring to conditions that affect the body, which is a covering consisting of both gross and subtle elements.

The subtle material elements are mind, intelligence, and false ego. Thus any fruitive result which leads to our happiness can be thought of as something that positively affects the subtle element of the mind. In a similar manner, good fortune such as wealth, fame, and beauty is beneficial to the gross elements, i.e. the outer body consisting of visible elements. The laws of karma are so intricate that the results of fruitive activity aren’t only seen in the current lifetime. Rather, karma also affects what type of body we receive in the next life. “The next life you say?” Yes, our soul is eternal but our bodies are not. Our current life is by no means the first one we’ve had. The soul never takes birth nor dies.

“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, Bg. 2.20)

Lord KrishnaBased on these facts, we see that birth actually refers to the time when our soul accepted its current material covering. Even our current material covering changes, for we don’t have the same body that we used to have during our childhood. Birth and death refer to the body that we currently identify with. Thus karma affects the fortunes of the current and future outer coverings. Moreover, the activities we performed in previous lives determined the circumstances of our current birth and the body we received.

There is another type of activity, however, which is not related to karma. Since karma relates to the development of the material body, it has no bearing on the soul. The soul, or atma, forms the basis of our identity, and it is unchanging. The soul never changes in quality, but it does have one defect: it cannot determine where it will remain on its own. Free-will is certainly an essential characteristic of the soul, but the results of freedom are not in the hands of the soul. Since the soul’s movement is limited, it must associate with the senses it acquires while contained within a material body. In this sense, the soul appears to be trapped, for the gross senses will cause the soul to perpetually remain inside of a material dress through the laws of karma.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)

Lord Krishna Luckily for us there is another soul that resides side by side with our individual soul. This soul is known as the Supersoul, or Paramatma, and is a direct expansion of God. The Supreme Lord is so nice that He kindly expands Himself as the Supersoul and resides within the heart of every living entity. The Supersoul is a neutral observer, someone who is unaffected by karma. Since it is a direct representation of God, the Paramatma cannot be subject to the material forces.

So if the Paramatma is a neutral observer, why is it even inside our body? Couldn’t God just remain in the spiritual world and let everything happen on its own? He most certainly could do this, but He’d rather try to help awaken our dormant love for Him. Material activities are dictated by the demands of the senses, i.e. the body. Spiritual activities, however, are dictated by the Supersoul, the Supreme Spirit. Karma relates to the development of the material body, whereas spiritual activity relates to the future condition of the soul. It is not that the soul changes or acquires new attributes, but rather it evolves. This evolution occurs through a changing of bodies. If one engages exclusively in spiritual activities, the future development of the material body ceases. This development stops because one is guaranteed to receive a spiritual body in the next life. When one receives a spiritual body, they ascend to the spiritual planets, where God Himself personally resides. Anyone who goes there never has to leave.

“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.15)

Hanuman So the formula seems straightforward enough. Take direction from the Supersoul and awaken from our sleeping state. But one question remains. How do we talk to the Supersoul? How do we take direction from it? The answer is that we must approach a pure devotee of the Lord, someone who has seen the truth. The Supersoul dictates from within, but one has to know how to see the Supersoul. This is where the spiritual master, or guru, comes in. The spiritual master guides us in the performance of spiritual activities, an engagement which will allow us to take direction from the Supersoul.

One of the greatest spiritual masters is Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. The Vedas tell us that there is only one God, and that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, who is thus known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. To kindly lend His assistance to the devotees on earth, Krishna periodically appears in the guise of a human being. One such appearance occurred many thousands of years ago when the Lord incarnated as the prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. Rama had three younger brothers, of whom Lakshmana was the one closest to Him in affection. Lakshmana followed Rama wherever He went, even when the Lord was exiled to the forest for fourteen years.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana Both Rama and Lakshmana were married at the time of the exile punishment. Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita Devi, insisted on coming along, so the three travelled through the woods together for many years. On one unfortunate occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the demon Ravana. This all happened while Rama and Lakshmana were not with her. Upon returning to the campsite and seeing that Sita was missing, Rama immediately gave way to lamentation. He couldn’t live without His most precious Sita, who was devoted to Him in thought, word, and deed.

At this time, Lakshmana stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. He told Rama not to lament and to remain firm on the path of dharma, or occupational duty. He instructed Rama that even if Sita were dead, it was still His duty to fight on and not lament, for every person must suffer through gain and loss in life. In essence, Lakshmana was serving as Rama’s spiritual master, awakening Him from His sleeping state. How could Lakshmana instruct God? In the above referenced statement, we see that even Lakshmana knew that no one could teach Rama anything. Lakshmana had actually learned all these pertinent facts relating to loss and gain from Rama on many previous occasions, and was thus only repeating Rama’s own instructions back to Him. Moreover, Lakshmana reiterated that he was simply trying to arouse knowledge that already existed inside of Rama. The Lord very much appreciated His younger brother’s counsel. This is the way the Supreme Pleasure Giver operates with His devotees. He has so much love and affection for them that He creates circumstances where they can shine. The Lord understands that people will chastise and criticize Him from time to time, which He is fine with, but He never wants to see His devotees criticized. Therefore He takes every opportunity to glorify them.

Shri Rama Darbar The lesson here is that we don’t know what the future holds. Even if we take to passionate activity and avoid sleep, we don’t know what karma will have in store for us. It is better to take shelter of the divine energy, represented by spiritual activity. The great devotees of the Lord advise everyone in this age to take to the simplest spiritual practice of them all, the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting, along with hearing, are the two most effective processes of devotional service. People engaged in such spiritual activity will slowly learn how to take direction from the Supersoul and thus reawaken their loving propensity towards the Supreme Lord.

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