“Everyone is seeing God in His different aspects; the only difference is that the theist sees God as the Supreme Personality, the most beloved, Krishna, and the atheist sees the Absolute Truth as ultimate death.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)
“Have you seen God? Can you show Him to me?” These are some of the challenging questions often directed at those who are religiously inclined and those who are actively preaching the message of love and respect for the Lord found in India’s most famous religious text, the succinct and complete treatise on Vedic philosophy known as the Bhagavad-gita. Any time a preacher takes to kindly passing on information pertaining to spirituality, there will surely be skeptics, uninterested observers, and those who are not willing to listen. When engaged in ordinary conversation, wherein points and counterpoints are exchanged, generally no conclusion is reached in the end. Therefore in order to learn properly, one must take instruction from someone who has weight, a guru, or spiritual master, one who knows the truth as explained to them by previous authority figures. Yet even when hearing from a guru there is a natural urge to see proof, tangible evidence that God indeed exists. The devotees, those whose eyes have been anointed with transcendental love, see the influence of the Lord everywhere. Yet even the atheists, those who are staunchly against religious principles, are forced to see the influence of the same loveable Divine Entity at every turn, especially at the time that matters most: death.
“The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.10)
Just as the time of birth represents the beginning of our pursuits for excellence and enjoyment in the current life, the time of death is similarly as important. At this most critical of junctures, the events of one’s life flash before their very eyes, and the desires and reactions to work are aggregated. Upon review by higher authorities, those in charge of the workings of nature, a new body is given, one commensurate with the desires and work of the eternal and minutely autonomous spiritual entity. Therefore the time of death can be considered the most important time in one’s life, a judgment day if you will. For one who is in knowledge – one who understands the workings of nature, the influences of karma, and the eternality of the soul – there is no fear of quitting the body. Rather, the source of all fear is removed by the knowledge that someone is in charge of distributing the results of action. Surely individuals have free will in their choice of engagement, but the results of action cannot be received without the hand of someone more powerful, someone capable of equally and fairly distributing fruits and doling out punishments.
Is there a difference in outcomes for the person who, as a result of the highest knowledge acquired, does not live in fear even at the time of death, compared to one who remains in complete ignorance up until the end of life? To find the answer, let’s see what happens with the same two individuals during the course of their lifetimes prior to death. In any scope of activity, in any endeavor, there are certain rules and regulations, a right way to do something. Adhering to the restrictions and performing prescribed activities ensures a successful outcome, an ideal future condition, one that is deemed favorable by the worker inspired to take action. Neglecting prescribed duties equates to acting in ignorance, a strict defiance of the established codes of conduct. Not surprisingly, taking this route usually leads to an unfavorable condition, one where the ultimate goal is not met. The specific nature of the activity doesn’t really matter, for the dichotomy of outcomes is seen in virtually any engagement. Something as simple as driving illustrates these principles quite clearly. Operating an automobile requires great attention and alertness. Therefore the need for the sobriety of the driver is a given, a necessary requirement to operate a vehicle properly. One who takes to driving while inebriated surely is going against established codes of conduct. A drunk driver is not only a hazard to themselves, but to other innocent civilians and drivers on the road as well.
An interesting point to note is that the motive behind the deviation from established codes of conduct does not cause a difference in outcomes. For instance, one may not know that driving drunk is a bad thing. Maybe they are used to being intoxicated all the time so they were never properly educated on what should be done and what shouldn’t. Will this lack of information make any difference? Is there a difference between a drunk driver who knows that what they are doing is bad versus one who doesn’t? Do the laws of gravity behave differently for one who accidentally falls from a high perch as opposed to one who purposely jumps?
The answers to these questions are quite obvious. The laws of gravity are absolute; they apply to everyone equally. Similarly, ignorance and deviation from righteousness have the same effect on activity for every person, irrespective of the motive for action. The Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God spoken by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, provides a brief rundown of the workings of nature, the purpose of human life, and the ultimate aim for the individual. When we speak of individuals, the reference is to anything that has a spirit soul inside of it, anything that is considered life. Though we generally associate religion with human society, the workings of nature and the potency of spirit apply to all forms of life. The human species is unique because only in this form can the spirit soul take the necessary steps to turn away from the darkness of ignorance and progress towards the light of knowledge. As we have seen from the examples already mentioned, ignorance does not lead to any favorable condition in any endeavor of importance. In a similar manner, the ultimate objective of the spirit soul – that of finding true pleasure and happiness, the type that never dries out – can only be realized, understood, and acted upon by one who is in knowledge.
“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.8)
Shri Krishna informs us in the Gita that He is the taste of water. Indeed, His influence is everywhere, for He is responsible for the creation, maintenance, and destruction of nature. The spirit soul is aloof from all visible and invisible elements of nature, but due to its association with a temporary and destructible body, the conditioned soul takes on a false identification. Ignorance thus starts at the time of birth; it is the default condition. If one is not educated on the workings of nature, the transmigration of the soul, and the only source of real pleasure, they will remain in ignorance throughout their lifetime. Those who are fortunate enough to take to sincerely learning about Krishna, who is no different than any other person’s God, will surely be able to see the influence of the Lord everywhere. Though there is a tendency to speak in terms of “My God” and “My religion”, there can be no such things. A religion may be concocted by a particular group of individuals, but the workings of spirit and nature are completely scientific. The only difference between spiritual science and material science is that the spiritual discipline emanating from the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, acknowledges the origin of all matter and spirit. Material science acknowledges many different workings of nature, but ultimately the original cause is taken to be chemicals; random elements that just happened to combine on a whim to create life.
Since the information presented to them lacks any authority, those who take shelter of the mentally concocted theories of material science will remain forever in the dark as to the presence of the Lord. Though nature is quite complicated and considered incomprehensible without years and years of scientific study, the origin of all matter and spirit is not very difficult to perceive of or see. The origin of all life is the Supreme Lord, the only God for all of mankind. One who gradually comes to the light of knowledge will be able to see the Divine Entity’s influence everywhere. One who is in knowledge of God and who uses the acquired information to change their way of life is known as a bhakta, or devotee. Knowledge alone does not lead to a proper vision. For instance, one may have a law degree from a prestigious college, but they will not be considered a lawyer unless and until they take to practicing. In the same way, one may know that the spirit soul within the body is the source of identity and that the Supersoul, the expansion of the Supreme Lord residing within the heart, is the most powerful entity, but if they don’t make any tangible use of this information, their knowledge goes to waste.
What is the behavior of a devotee? How do they see God? The ability of man and the taste of water alone provide enough evidence of God’s existence. Just as a famous philosopher once said, “I think therefore I am”, the ability to think and to know one’s existence are evidence enough of God’s supreme nature. “I am” is taken to be proof of one’s existence, but it’s more important to actually know who we are. In the ignorant state, a person isn’t even aware that they are a human being. A fish doesn’t know that it’s wet, nor does it know when to stop eating. Without sufficient education, the human being is no different than the animal. The higher potential for intelligence available to the human being is meant for inquiring about the Absolute Truth, athato-brahma-jijnasa. When the human being reaches the mature stage, it takes to asking about the Absolute Truth, that one entity who is beyond duality, success and failure, and pain and pleasure. There is only one person that meets this criteria: Lord Krishna.
By taking to bhakti-yoga, a discipline which can involve reading, hearing, worshiping, surrendering, and many other activities, one gradually sees the presence of the Lord everywhere. God certainly does have a form; otherwise He would not be able to speak, give instruction and provide salvation. Void and nothingness are incapable of action; only with a form can an entity produce any tangible results. The Supreme Lord’s form is described in great detail in the classic Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita and Puranas. If we simply take stock of the statements found within these sacred texts, we will be able to get a good idea of what Krishna and His various non-different forms look like. By knowing Krishna’s appearance, we can always remember Him within our hearts and minds.
Goswami Tulsidas, the exalted Vaishnava poet and devotee of Lord Rama, Krishna’s incarnation as a pious prince, through his behavior exemplified the differences between a devotee and a non-devotee very nicely. At the height of his devotional ecstasy, Tulsidas likened himself to a Chatak bird which couldn’t keep its eye off of a raincloud. Lord Rama’s body is of a blue color, similar to that of a dark raincloud. The same hue is present in Lord Vishnu’s and Krishna’s bodies. The Chatak bird is known for only drinking rainwater; hence it is always staring at the cloud that is about to pour rain. Tulsidas uses this analogy to show that a pure devotee doesn’t want anything from anyone else. It only wants to see God at all times. Even if the original form is not there, just the similarity in hue is good enough to constantly remind one of God. The Chatak bird doesn’t need rain to be satisfied, for simply being allowed to practice devotional service is enough to provide pleasure. In fact, the cloud can completely scorn its lover, but as a devoted soul, the Chatak will never stop loving its beloved cloud. Even though the Chatak only eats when there is rain, it nevertheless gazes at its beloved at all times. The devotee, who mimics the Chatak’s behavior, always worships the Lord and sees His influence everywhere, even if there is no perceived return on that investment.
The aim of life is to reach the same level of devotion as the Chatak, wherein one worships the Lord with all their heart in an unmotivated and uninterrupted manner. Lest anyone think this level of affection is impossible to acquire, the spirit soul is already inclined towards such service. The spirit soul, by constitution, is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal. The source of bliss is its natural loving propensity, its inherent desire to associate with the Supreme Spirit, Shri Krishna. In the conditioned state, when one is mired in varying degrees of ignorance, the loving propensity is redirected towards other objects and entities. Even hatred is a product of the misdirection; it is simply the inverse of natural love. Only through devotional service can the loving propensity reach its full potential, a state where love is never interrupted or diminished. The Chatak, which represents the behavior of devotees like Tulsidas and the gopis of Vrindavana, exemplifies the highest level of devotional practice perfectly. In the most purified state, not even the object of affection, the loveable Supreme Lord, is capable of deterring the devotee in its practice of bhakti. Only in the pure loving relationship can the beloved lose its influence over the affectionate behavior of the lover.
“I am the only enjoyer and the only object of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.24)
Obviously the atheists and non-devotees will remain far away from even understanding the heightened level of affection shown by divine lovers. Through skepticism and strong attachment to matter and sense gratification, the atheist will stubbornly deny the existence of God. Even amongst religionists, there are those who take themselves to be equal to God. Such a notion obviously seems silly, but if one believes that their personal aims and objectives are of paramount importance, the resulting mindset is no different than taking oneself to be equal to the Lord. God’s position is not determined simply on the ability to provide at the highest level. The Supreme Lord is certainly the original proprietor of everything, but this ownership has a deeper meaning. Since Krishna owns everything in this world, the intended use of these objects is for His satisfaction. From this we see that Krishna is also the ultimate enjoyer, the singular beneficiary of sacrifice and religious practice.
Krishna’s fixed position as the friend of every living entity forms the third aspect of the Supreme Spirit, one that ties the other two pieces together. Krishna’s universal and unending candidacy for friendship informs the sincere soul that God’s endless property, which is visible throughout this world, is meant to be used for His satisfaction through a loving relationship, one that provides pleasure to not only the Ultimate Enjoyer, but also to those He enjoys with: the devotees. Rather than wait for the time of death to see God, by taking to bhakti right now we can see God’s presence everywhere. The divine vision brings supreme bliss and pleasure and allows an individual to remain firmly fixed in their mood of devotion. Those whose eyes have been smeared with the ointment of transcendental love, premanjana, see the influence of their paramour at every step and every corner. By taking to devotional service through regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we’ll be able to see Krishna at every step we take and with every move we make.