“No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, quality and pastimes of Shri Krishna through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, quality and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.” (Padma Purana)
For those surrendered souls fortunate enough to have the association of a bona fide spiritual master and the good sense to take instruction from him, one of the restrictions imposed in the beginning stages – the point in time where the new student takes to studying the differences between spirit and matter and regularly practicing the devotional principles instilled – relates to mental speculation. The Vedas identify the four most sinful activities, the places where the dark age of Kali can safely reside, to be meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and gambling, as these behaviors bring about the sharpest divergence in consciousness, and subsequently the strongest deviation of the service mentality, to those souls wandering aimlessly in search of a proper object of worship, one who accepts the entreaties, pleas and services of the loving entity without any reservation, one who is incapable of feeling smothered by too much affection. Mental speculation is mentioned by the guru in the list of activities to avoid, as it is usually coupled with gambling. At first glance, this seems like a strange restriction because how can one stop the speculating tendencies of the mind without turning into a robot? But in reality, mental speculation is a very simple concept to understand, and its harmful effects are quite evident to those who know the ultimate conclusion in life.
Can there be a final conclusion, one that trumps all others? This is actually the determining factor in assessing whether a particular spiritual tradition following the original Vedas is bona fide or not. All the celebrated acharyas, the teachers of Vedic wisdom in ages past and present, subscribe to an ultimate conclusion, one that describes the relationship between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit. Religion can involve blind sentiment towards a particular object of worship, but when the mood of service is authorized and practiced properly, there is an inherent relationship that can be concretely defined which drives all activity. When this link is identified properly, the behavioral practices of the individual can then continue in full confidence, without any trepidation over wasted effort or fruitlessness of action.
Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the divine preacher and most notable incarnation of Godhead to appear in recent times, very nicely preached the ultimate conclusion, the highest truth in life, through 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”. More than just a mantra for the Hindus, this kindest of prayers, the only callout to God that is devoid of any personal motive and any desire for temporary results, is open to everyone to chant, as Krishna and Rama are names that describe the attributes of all-attractiveness and ability to provide transcendental pleasure found exclusively within the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If the existence of God is to be accepted, then the eternality, blissfulness and full knowledge of His form must also be acknowledged. Without form, pastimes, qualities and names, a worshipable entity cannot be considered an object. Indeed, anything that lacks any or all of these features and subsequently turns into an object of worship will fail to provide a worthwhile benefit to the worshiper, sincere or otherwise.
Lord Chaitanya’s ultimate conclusion, which has always existed but not always been widely understood, is known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which means “simultaneously and inconceivably one with and different”. The individual souls, the spiritual sparks assuming temporary bodies in the phenomenal world and eternal spiritual bodies in the imperishable sky, are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, who is full of form. At the same time, there is a difference in quantitative powers, as the infinitesimally small sparks can never match the Supreme Lord’s abilities and attributes in the areas of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation. Indeed, only Krishna, the Supreme Lord, is fully conscious of every event occurring past, present and future of every living entity. We may be conscious of our current life’s affairs, but the memories are erased at the time of death. For God, there are never any limitations; hence He always remains Supreme.
“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)
From knowledge of the ultimate conclusion comes an ideal relationship, one which establishes the inferior entities in their constitutional position. Since we are the same as God in quality, we are meant to always be linked with Him. At the same time, since we are subordinate, we are also meant to be the pleasing entity, the one that offers service. This mood of service is best practiced when it is not cajoled, forced or instigated out of fear. Just as the mother offers her child pure love without any external motive, the individual souls are naturally inclined towards loving their Supreme Lord, who always remains with them even if the individual loses its purified consciousness and its corresponding storehouse of knowledge.
In the conditioned state, where knowledge of the ultimate conclusion remains far, far away, the individual needs a set of regulative activities, engagements which will help reestablish the broken link with the Supreme Spirit. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s method of chanting Hare Krishna not only serves as the best way to teach the achintya-bhedabheda-tattva conclusion, but it is also the quintessential activity of the discipline that keeps one in perfect yoga with God. Yoga, which is the addition of two entities in consciousness, can be practiced in different ways, such as through the acquisition of knowledge, fruitive activity with detachment, and deep meditation and gymnastics exercises. But all of these forms of yoga are meant to culminate in bhakti, or pure love. Hence the discipline of bhakti-yoga remains the foremost occupation for man, the activity that keeps the relationship derived from the ultimate conclusion always in an active state.
Any other conclusion reached and any other behavior adopted can be deemed invalid, subordinate, and one based off mental speculation. It is for this reason that the guru, or spiritual master, who is a Vaishnava at heart, sternly warns his disciple of the dangers of mental speculation. If one is not in knowledge of their inherent link to the Supreme Spirit, they will take to worshiping other entities and objects, including their own senses. To justify their unauthorized behavior, they will then concoct their own theories and ideas as to what the ultimate conclusion is. Indeed, in the absence of spirituality, there is not even the acknowledgement of a more powerful entity and the need to form a relationship with Him. While in many spiritual disciplines the acknowledgement of a superior spiritual entity is present, the identification of an eternal relationship, one that properly describes the eternal nature of the soul and its position of being transcendental to temporary material dresses and material nature itself, remains absent. Hence the activities adopted and results that follow are often no different from what is seen with those who are wholly attached to the interests of the temporary body in full defiance and ignorance of the natural laws of spiritual science as so kindly passed down by the Vedas.
One way to understand the dangers of mental speculation is to picture a dark room full of observers. For some reason or another, there is no light in this room, so everyone must fend for themselves and slowly and carefully make their way around and try to figure out what to do. One individual may put his hand on a particular object and guess as to what it is. “Oh, this must be a lamp. It has a slim neck and a large oval at the top, so it is probably of the halogen variety. I bet you this is one of those black lamps that effuses tremendous light.” Another person may come up to the same object and guess that it is a standing electric fan. “You can feel that the neck isn’t even that long and that the top cylinder has quite a large radius. This must be one of those standing fans that oscillates.” Both individuals posit their opinions, and due to the lack of light, there is no concrete evidence to base the assertions on, nor can a final conclusion be reached.
Another analogy which accurately conveys the paltriness of the knowledge acquired through simple sense perception comes to us courtesy of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Let’s say we have a frog stuck in a well being visited by another frog. If the visitor frog were to approach the frog living in the well his whole life, he would have a very difficult time accurately describing the size of the Pacific Ocean, a massive body of water that he has personally seen. The frog in the well would ask, “Is the ocean two times the size of this well? Twenty times the size? How big is it compared to this well?” Obviously the frog in the well has a very limited scope of vision, as he can only understand concepts by comparing them to things he has seen. The human being in infancy goes through a discovery process that ideally continues all the way up until death. Yet we know that the earth is massive in size and that human beings have inhabited the land for millions of years. As such, it is impossible for anyone to personally observe all there is to see in just one lifetime.
Through mental speculation devoid of authorized information, conclusions are reached which have no basis in proper knowledge. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, describe events that are seemingly of the paranormal, with young children lifting up gigantic hills, flying monkeys battling demons that can take on different shapes at will, and seemingly ordinary individuals killing off thousands of soldiers with just one bow-and-arrow set. To those who only take shelter of their perceived observations gathered in the current life, there is no way to properly understand the statements of the Vedas pertaining to the activities of Lord Krishna, His incarnations and His devotees. Indeed, the mental speculators will posit theories that Krishna is simply a mythological character and that His instructions represent symbolism more than anything else. “There was never really a battlefield of Kurukshetra. The field described in the Bhagavad-gita represents one aspect, Krishna another, and Arjuna yet another symbolic representation.” They will say that the roaming through the forests by Lord Rama, a celebrated warrior prince incarnation of Krishna, His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana was also symbolic, a representation of the three energies associated with the Absolute Truth. The speculators would rather come up with convoluted theories than actually accept the authority of the sages who took so much time compiling these wonderful works.
There is certainly symbolism to be found in the sportive exploits of the original Divine Being, but this doesn’t invalidate the authenticity of the actions. Life always imitates art, so it is not surprising that Krishna would exhibit behaviors that seemingly fall into patterns and can thus provide endless lessons. As the creator of everything in this world, including art, psychology and the like, Krishna is keenly aware of the importance of His activities and how the descriptions of His amazing exhibitions of strength and knowledge can be applied to effect positive change in all different facets of life. Nevertheless, the celebrated and highly exalted Vedic authors, like Maharishi Valmiki and Vyasadeva, had no time to waste on conjuring up images and concocting mythology. The bona fides of these sages were proved through their behavior and their impeccable and unmatched ability to describe the teachings and pastimes of the Lord in the most beautiful poetry form written in the most complex of languages, Sanskrit.
So how do we avoid mental speculation? Do we have to turn into robots who never think for themselves? Revisiting the dark room example, we can think of bhakti-yoga as being the process that allows an individual to have an ever-burning torchlight of knowledge, one that shines light on every aspect of the visible world. Only the sincere devotee can shed light on everything within one room and every sphere of material space. Instead of turning into robots who cease to think critically, the devotee is able to make full use of the massive potential for cognitive thought found within the brain. Evidence of this high scholarship and supreme ability to describe is found in the collected works and documented activities of the greatest Vaishnavas, those who follow in the line of the gopis of Vrindavana, the dear lovers of Shri Krishna.
The gopis, though ordinary cowherd women who were seemingly uneducated, always thought about Krishna during their time on earth, irrespective of where He was and what He was doing. As such, they understood full well the properties of the sun, clouds, grass, trees, cows, milk, food, etc. Every aspect of life was seen through the magnifying glass of pure bhakti. The gopis thus had a perfect understanding of every aspect of creation.
Lord Chaitanya, being a combined incarnation of Lord Krishna and Shrimati Radharani, the best of the gopis, similarly could explain everything in terms of Krishna. As the most learned scholar of His time, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu could present a perfect argument in favor of one position and then in the next minute provide a counterargument that completely debunked the previous viewpoint. Indeed, He could provide limitless arguments relating to the same subject matter because He knew that everything emanated from Krishna. Knowing the proper conclusion, His primary business in life was to explain everything in terms of its relationship to God. Therefore His explanations, teachings and recommended practices were always perfect in every way. Rather than guessing at what a certain aspect of life represented, Lord Chaitanya could go on and on explaining its beautiful nature and true utility in terms of its relationship to bhakti.
Lord Chaitanya’s followers took the bhakti-yoga ball and ran with it. The volumes of literature produced by the bhaktas, or devotees of God, is unmatched in their brilliance, cogency and timelessness. The nightly newscasts can be forgotten the subsequent day, as the information presented loses its relevance rather quickly. While newspapers turn into birdcage liner a few days after they are printed, the works of Vaishnavas like Shrila Rupa Goswami, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Shrila Prabhupada never lose their relevancy. Could we ever imagine writing a book or poem that is studied, worshiped and honored on a regular basis by people living several hundred years into the future? Yet the devotees beaming with the torchlight of transcendental knowledge do precisely that, as they don’t waste any time putting forth temporary, mundane and unauthorized speculations pertaining to the world and the nature of spirit. They have no reason to indulge in mental speculation because they have full faith and confidence in the transcendental words emanating from the lotus mouth of Lord Krishna.
When the proper conclusion is understood and truly realized, the resulting behavior can never deviate from the flawless conclusion that is sharanagati, or ultimate surrender unto God in devotion. Just as the working aspects of life become purified through the proper identification of the only beneficiary who is universally a candidate for love and respect, the thoughts of the pure devotee also attain a state beyond delusion, thus leaving the door open for endless explanation and expounding on the Absolute Truth and His limitless scope. Lord Chaitanya blazed the trail to be followed by those interested in realizing the full potential of the brainpower kindly offered us by Krishna. By honoring that path and its creator, the mind can always be fully engrossed in the sublime pleasure that is Krishna consciousness.