You Gotta Believe

Lord Rama "O best of the Ikshvakus, considering Your powerful divine and human capabilities, please strive for the destruction of Your enemies." (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.20)

We appreciate the people who believe in us. Life is a constant tug of war between happiness and distress, so there are bound to be ups and downs that we have to go through. The downs can really leave us doubting our abilities and our chances for success. To get through these tough times, we require outside intervention and the support of our friends and family members. Of all our well-wishers, those who believe in our abilities stand out the most. These are the people we are greatly indebted and most obliged to. Though it may not always appear this way, bona fide spiritual leaders actually believe in all of us; they know that each one of us is capable of achieving spiritual perfection. Our business is to trust these leaders to guide us to the promise land, for their belief in us is a prerequisite for success.

Top Gun To understand this point better, let us look at some of the more popular inspirational movies of recent times. These are the movies that give us goose bumps at the end, the ones that leave us feeling inspired after having watched them. During the 1980s, several of these movies became very popular. Top Gun, The Karate Kid, and Hoosiers were especially inspirational. The storylines were generally the same: an underdog taking on a challenge that seemed too big for him to handle. After struggling and failing several times, the movie dramatically concludes with the underdog emerging victorious. We can relate to these movies because we have been in many situations where we were the underdog. Who among us hasn’t struggled? Who hasn’t felt like giving up when the chips were down? But we know that we can’t give up, because quitters never win.

The characters in these movies go through similar struggles. For example, in The Karate Kid, the main character learns karate in an unconventional manner through interacting with an elderly friend. Eventually the student enters a karate competition, where all his competitors have been trained in top-notch karate schools. There is even a moment when it looks like the character will be unable to continue in the tournament due to an injury. But it is through inspiration and belief that the character finally overcomes all obstacles.

The Karate Kid This type of story inspires us because we know that winning isn’t easy. When we are shooting for a lofty goal, many people will come up to us and tell us that we can’t do it. “Oh you’re too small; you’re not smart enough; you don’t have enough talent”, etc. The naysayers seem to outweigh the well-wishers, and as soon as we encounter a little duress and failure, we start to believe what our critics tell us. In order to be successful, we need people in our corner who have faith in us; people who genuinely believe that we have what it takes to be successful. Bereft of such association, success will be hard to come by. Most of us are not born leaders or self-starters. We require motivation, inspiration, and guidance in the initial phases of an endeavor.

When an actor wins a prestigious award, such as an Oscar, they usually thank all the people that helped them in their career. They also will usually thank a specific teacher for believing in them. The same holds true with successful athletes. When a player wins a prestigious title, it is not uncommon to see them cry. This is because, at that moment, they realize how difficult it was to get to the pinnacle of their field. They also realize that if it weren’t for the people who believed in them, they wouldn’t have achieved success.

Though there are varieties of material endeavors, aspiring to become a perfect transcendentalist may be the most difficult task of all. We are currently in an environment which is not conducive to spiritual life. The Vedas tell us that this world is governed by an illusory force known as maya. Maya means “that which is not”; hence the illusion. The world we live in is full of things that appear to be beneficial to us, while in fact they are more harmful than anything else. There are so many examples of maya’s influence, but we can study something as basic as sex life to see the pattern. The desire to have sex is a natural urge for the human being as well as the animal species. Having the urge and acting on it are two different things. When we act on an impulse, it doesn’t mean that there will always be a positive result. For example, if we are stricken with the chicken pox, the urge is to scratch the infected areas on the body. But we also know that if we do scratch, our relief will only be temporary, while we will increase the likelihood of developing scars in the future. Scratching can also increase the risk of acquiring secondary infections to the swollen areas.

Sex life is similar in this regard. If we act on every sexual impulse, we are likely to encounter unintended side effects. The most obvious unintended consequence of sex life is pregnancy. If a young girl gets pregnant, she must completely turn her life around. Raising a child is a full-time responsibility, something which parents have to worry about for at least the first eighteen years of a child’s life. So we see that a simple act of having sex can lead to a much greater, unintended responsibility. This is how maya works. She fools us into taking something to be what it is not.

Lord Krishna Though the material world is full of illusion, the spiritual world is not. Everything there is exactly how it seems. This is why God is referred to as the Supreme Absolute Truth, meaning there is no duplicity in His dealings, attributes, or residences. Since we are constitutionally spirit, we are meant to associate with this Truth; our destiny is to free ourselves from illusion. Knowing that we should be with God is one thing, but actually achieving that objective is another. We are currently in a conditioned state and under the spell of maya. This spell is difficult to break out of, so we require some help.

Who can help us? If we want to be successful in theater, sports, or broadcasting, it would make sense to approach someone who is already successful in the field. There are so many naysayers out there, but how many of them are actually successful? The nightly television newscasts are full of “experts” who give their opinions on a wide range of subjects, but how many of them actually know what they are talking about? Many of these experts have advanced degrees and thus acquire the title of “doctor”. There is certainly nothing wrong with receiving a formal education, but if we want to be successful in acting, should we approach someone who only has a PhD in theater, or should we talk to someone who is actually in the business? If we want to be a successful politician, should we take counsel from a person with a political science degree or someone who has actually ran for office and won?

Shrila Prabhupada The answers to these questions are fairly obvious, but the reason we ask them is to highlight a larger point. In order to be successful in spiritual life, we must approach someone who is not under the spell of maya. Our goal is to defeat maya and associate exclusively with the spiritual energy, thus it would make sense to consult with someone who has been successful in their fight against illusion. The Vedas tell us that the realized soul is known as the guru, or spiritual master. The term “guru” is used in many different contexts, but one of its meanings is “one who is heavy”. How is a guru heavy? What is the source of their weight? The bona fide guru carries the message of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since God is absolute, there is no difference between Himself and His message. Thus the message of God represents the heaviest truth, or knowledge system, in existence. A person who carries this message also becomes heavy; they possess gravitas, or authority.

Since the spiritual master is a pure devotee of Krishna, they naturally will try to teach others how to become devotees. Since we are currently in a conditioned state, what the spiritual master initially tells us won’t be very pleasing to hear. They will tell us to give up the four primary activities of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. At first glance, this seems like a harsh restriction. “No drinking? No illicit sex? What am I going to do with my time?” Next, the guru advises the aspiring transcendentalist to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. There are many dharmas, or religious systems, but the religion of love reigns supreme. Devotional service is the sublime engagement which automatically provides the rewards of all the other religious systems. This should make sense to us. After all, in the conditioned state, romantic love is held as the most pleasurable activity in life. Though this type of love may seem nice, it is still associated with maya, so there is illusion associated with it. When this love becomes purified, i.e. directed towards Krishna, it goes by the name of bhakti, or Krishna-prema.

Shrila Prabhupada Since the guru is heavy, he won’t sugarcoat his language. When reading the books of the great Vaishnava saints, we’ll often see that they refer to gross materialists, impersonalists, and enemies of God as mudhas, or rascals. “Anyone who is not a devotee of Krishna is a fool; Anyone who takes material nature to be the beginning and end of everything is certainly a rascal; Anyone who thinks that God is formless is a great miscreant.” Now these statements may seem off-putting to us at first, but they serve a distinct purpose. The first point that must be stressed is that these statements are all undoubtedly true. It may not be pleasing to hear, for many of these criticisms may apply to us or someone we know, but these statements are all rooted in fact.

“Don’t we need people to believe in us in order to achieve success? So how will any of us make progress if the spiritual master thinks that we are mudhas?” Actually, the bona fide spiritual master has more belief in us than anyone else we know. This may seem strange, but we have to understand the underlying reasoning behind the way the spiritual master teaches. The guru knows how hard it is to break free of the clutches of maya, so they will tell us the truth from the outset. Since the bona fide guru is a paramahamsa, they don’t view all individuals as mudhas and miscreants. They actually view every person as a pure devotee at heart. We are all meant to be God’s eternal servants, but currently we are forgetful of this fact. Thus the spiritual master takes it upon himself to remind us of the truth. They tell us that if we remain non-devotees in thoughts, words, and deeds, we are most certainly not very advanced. But we can quickly go from being a non-devotee to a devotee. In order to achieve this transformation, we have to have faith in the words of the spiritual master; our ever well-wisher.

Lakshmana The spiritual master believes in us, for they know what our true potential is. They know that each of us can achieve perfection in life by taking up devotional service. Cognizant of this fact, they remind us of the great qualities that we have. They don’t just criticize; they also highlight our good traits and tell us to use them to achieve spiritual perfection. This was the practice followed by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, many thousands of years ago.

Liberated transcendentalists tell us Krishna is the Absolute Truth and that He possesses all good qualities. This is nice to hear and we can certainly try to theoretically understand these facts, but it is much easier to learn by example. To facilitate this teaching method, the Lord personally appears on earth from time to time to show how real Truth manifests. One such appearance took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, where Krishna incarnated as the pious prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. As part of His pastimes, Rama roamed through the forests for fourteen years alongside His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. On one unfortunate occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Realizing that Sita was missing, Rama frantically searched for her in the forest, but was unable to find her. Fearing the worse, Rama gave way to lamentation and anger.

Lord Rama looking for Sita At this time, Lakshmana stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. God is the original spiritual master, and He chooses select individuals to impart spiritual instruction to. Lakshmana was one such individual, for as the younger brother, Lakshmana would often be instructed by Rama on all matters of life. But God likes to glorify His devotees from time to time, so He presents opportunities for them to shine. This was one such opportunity, where Lakshmana was afforded the chance to act as spiritual master to Rama. In essence, Lakshmana got to show off all that he had previously learned from Rama.

“One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equiposed in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy, who is always free from contamination, always silent and satisfied with anything, who doesn’t care for any residence, who is fixed in knowledge and engaged in devotional service, is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.18-19)

What were Lakshmana’s instructions? Initially, he mildly chastised Rama for giving way to lamentation. The first instruction given to aspiring transcendentalists of the Vedic tradition is that we are not our bodies. The soul is eternal and unchangeable, while the body is not. This means that a person is guaranteed to encounter ups and downs, gains and losses, as it relates to the body. The wise person does not let these events affect them. Lakshmana correctly pointed out that even if Sita were killed, it would be no reason to be taken off the righteous path. We should all perform our prescribed duties in life, not being attached to the results of our actions.

In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is concluding his remarks. We see that even though he chastised Rama in the beginning, Lakshmana is reminding Rama of the great powers He possesses. Lakshmana is essentially telling Rama that he believed in Him. The Lord very much appreciated His younger brother’s words of advice. The Lord would go on to find Sita, defeat Ravana in battle, and triumphantly rescue her. Everything would end well.

Rama and LakshmanaAll can also end well for us if we follow the advice of the Vaishnava spiritual masters. Our powers certainly aren’t as great as Rama’s, but we do have the ability to achieve spiritual perfection. The path won’t be easy, but we must be confident of the spiritual master’s belief in us. The great devotees of Krishna make no distinction between cast, gender, color, or creed. They know that all living entities are capable of reviving their dormant Krishna consciousness. The guru believes in us, but the question remains: do we believe in him?

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