“According to Vedic civilization, a human being must be God conscious. He should understand what God is, what this material world is, who he is, and what their interrelationships are. This is called shreyas, or ultimately auspicious activity.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 9.42 Purport)
An ultimate goal, a supreme benefit which trumps all others, is a concept overlooked by philosophers who expound theories other than complete and full surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In order for a benediction to be considered superior, the duration of its existence must be longer than that of any other benefit and the reward itself must also provide greater bliss than any other type of enjoyment. Immediate satisfaction is referred to as preyas in Sanskrit, and the ultimate goal is referred to as shreyas. Only the philosophers following the line of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, touch on shreyas because bhakti is the only discipline which speaks to the eternal nature of the soul, an intrinsic property that the individual is never divorced from.
“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)
While it may be difficult to comprehend, we are all eternal beings. We existed in the past, we exist currently, and we will exist in the future. This information is kindly provided to us in the Bhagavad-gita, the scripture of scriptures, the concise and complete treatise on Vedic philosophy and the science of self-realization. Religion is indeed a science, or at least it is intended to be. Spirituality is assumed to be a matter of faith, and while there is certainly belief required in a bona fide system of self-realization, the differences between matter and spirit are wholly capable of being logically deduced and scientifically observed. At the time of birth, a spiritual spark is injected into the tiniest of bodies. This autonomous entity, the soul, which is bursting with potential for activity, then serves as the catalyst for growth and development, ultimately leading to the exit from the womb of the mother. The growth doesn’t stop there, as the newborn slowly turns into a child, then an adolescent, and then hopefully an adult. The outer covering of the spiritual spark constantly changes, but the impetus for action does not. The spirit soul within the body retains its properties at all times, even after death. At the end of life, the soul exits the body and immediately transfers to another one. The previous body is then left to rot and decay.
The skeptic will say, “What proof do you have that the soul doesn’t die with the body? Can you prove that the soul existed in a body previous to its current one?” Aside from the visual proof of the current body – a form which completely changes from the time of youth to the time of adulthood, with the identity of the individual remaining intact throughout – there is obvious evidence gathered from the nature of matter and its workings. No amount of chemicals can create a life on their own. The body parts, including the hair and nails, are dull and lifeless without the spirit soul within. Proof of this is seen when these appendages and external coverings are separated from the internal spark. They immediately decay and become useless. Therefore we can’t conclude that matter and chemicals are the be all and end all.
“That knowledge by which a different type of living entity is seen to be dwelling in different bodies is knowledge in the mode of passion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.21)
Understanding these facts is quite difficult, especially due to the cloud of nescience that surrounds the individual soul at the time of birth. Deluded by ignorance brought on by material contact, the individual has the tendency to concoct their own philosophies which take immediate gratification as the end goal of all activity. Such philosophies aren’t surprising to see because it is the nature of the soul to be blissful. Happiness, love, and independence are characteristics of spirit, traits which can never be removed from the individual. In the conditioned state, these tendencies are misdirected, or at least governed by a misguided notion. Yet even without any reference to spirituality, we can conclude that a philosophy which only seeks immediate satisfaction, or preyas, is an inferior one.
A simple example that supports this claim is the lifestyle of the child. As is well understood, small children usually have no desire to work, go to school, or act responsibly. They simply want to play all day. They want their toys and they want them now. This is the typical example of preyas, wherein immediate satisfaction is desired. If such satisfaction isn’t received, the child will cry. Now, will a good parent encourage such behavior for any extended period of time? Will they allow the pursuit of immediate satisfaction to continue uninterrupted? A good parent surely will not. Eventually the child will be enrolled in school and strict limits on behavior will be imposed. This isn’t done to thwart the blissful nature of the child, but rather, to ensure their future happiness. A parent knows that simply playing all day is not good for the child, for in adulthood they will have to be educated enough to hold down a steady job.
The concern for the future well-being is the first indication of shreyas, or an ultimate goal. In order to secure shreyas, some sort of penance is required, along with adherence to sacrifice, or regulated activity. Without such practices, the ultimate goal is very difficult to come by. One may argue that the philosophies posited by the gross materialists and pseudo-spiritualists do indeed deal with shreyas. For instance, those who practice gymnastics yoga aim to help the body achieve a future condition of good health and flexibility. The advocates of life in the mode of passion, wherein a person finds a particular material interest and dedicates themselves to it, also seem to be seeking a future goal, one of a heightened level of sense gratification.
The Vedic seers, those who have attained true shreyas, understand that such philosophies actually seek preyas, or short-term goals, with the reason being that the time allotted for the enjoyment of the perceived ultimate goal in these activities is still very small in the grand scheme of things. One’s historical perspective begins from the day they were born. We tend to think that the first time we saw a television, automobile, or computer was the first time those particular objects existed. In reality, material life has been going on long before we took birth. In the big picture, our time on earth is miniscule.
The ultimate objectives of a happy and peaceful family life and increased sense gratification through acquisition of material objects are seen as preyas because the body ultimately has to be discarded. We are all bound to die at some point, so true shreyas can only deal with the future plight of the soul. This is where bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, comes into play. Just as the soul is eternal, so is its ideal companion. Though the eternal well-wishing friend is addressed by different names by different people, He is indeed the most attractive, blissful, and pleasure-giving entity. This makes sense because if the soul is going to spend eternity with someone, the complementary entity must be one who can provide the greatest pleasure. In romantic affairs, the concept of a soul mate applies to a significant other who sparks an interest in the heart and provides bliss, excitement, and satisfaction. The Supreme Companion, that one person who gives the soul the greatest satisfaction, proves to be the most sublime lover.
In the Vedic tradition, this original personality is known as Krishna. He is also known as Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, Chaitanya, and thousands of other names which describe His limitless transcendental forms, each of which, including the original of Krishna, provides transcendental bliss to the conditioned soul seeking the ultimate goal in life. So how do we associate with Krishna? This is the million dollar question. Just as the goals of achieving a good education, landing a decent job, and maintaining a steady family life require some sacrifice and adherence to penance, shreyas in respect to association with Krishna requires a similar level of dedication.
“After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.15)
The key to associating with Krishna is having the right consciousness. A person’s activities drive their mindset, which then forms their consciousness. At the time of death, this consciousness is measured by the higher authorities, who in turn decide where the soul will end up next. When thoughts and desires are fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, immediate ascension to the spiritual realm is granted. Not only does the soul ascend to a planetary system that it never has to exit, but it also gets to remain in Krishna’s association forever.
Consciousness is the key to happiness, as it can provide bliss and pleasure to a person while they are still in their present body. Unlike other philosophies which promise a utopian ideal in the future, wherein there is no anger, resentment, hatred, frustration, etc., the discipline of devotional service, or Krishna consciousness, actually delivers all the promised benefits. With other systems, there is certainly a benefit achieved, but the results aren’t everlasting. For example, we can acquire all the wealth in the world and own hundreds of lavish homes, but the mind will still be at work. Frustration is the result of unmet desires. Defeat in the area of sense gratification then leads to anger, resentment, hatred, and the loss of rationality. Such a condition cannot be considered favorable by any fair estimation, therefore the philosophy which led to it must also be considered defective.
Krishna consciousness is superior because it has no relation to material objects or personal relationships. Rather, it deals entirely with the state of the mind and attaining a level of consciousness which leads to satisfaction. In order for the mind to be satisfied, desire must be controlled. Reining in the thoughts and wants of the flickering mind is only possible by taking to bhakti, the quintessential act of which is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting alone is enough to purify one’s consciousness.
Rival philosophers and spiritualists will argue that chanting by itself is not enough, for it does nothing to increase one’s knowledge or level of renunciation. Though such an argument seems like it has merit, one must understand what the purpose is of knowledge and renunciation. Just as the educated student eventually uses their acquired knowledge for their benefit, the knowledge and renunciation achieved in the spiritual field similarly must lead to something. That tangible result is the perfect state of mind: God consciousness. But if one simply chants Hare Krishna all the time and maintains a simple lifestyle, they are essentially achieving the perfect state of consciousness without any extraneous endeavor towards knowledge or renunciation. Knowledge must have a goal, for simply having an education is useless. One may have a law or medical degree, but if they are not steadily practicing, their high education really has no value. In a similar manner, knowledge of spiritual matters must lead to a shift in consciousness; otherwise the information acquired is not put to good use.
Any activity of bhakti-yoga, be it chanting, hearing, worshiping, or remembering, automatically has retraction built into it. If one is regularly hearing from the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita in all sincerity, they aren’t eating meat, drinking alcohol, or engaging in illicit sex. On the other side, if a person is refraining from sinful activities, but hearing about sense gratification or even simply sitting in an empty room, their consciousness remains an open target for attack by the forces of ignorance driven by the illusory energy known as maya.
Bhakti-yoga is the only discipline which brings about real shreyas. Consciousness is the key to happiness, and any discipline which serves to purify the mind by fixing it on the form and name of the Supreme Lord must be considered a bona fide religion. Such a system is so powerful that the benefits are seen very quickly, even before a person leaves their present body. Short-term goals are certainly nice, but if we’re seeking a more permanent pleasurable condition, we need look no further than to the lotus feet of the all-blissful Supreme Personality of Godhead.