“The sunshine is available, but if we close our doors and want to keep ourselves in darkness, that is our decision. Similarly, Krishna is everywhere, Krishna is for everyone, and Krishna is ready to accept us as soon as we surrender.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 11)
What if someone were to come up to us and say, “If you follow my prescription, I can give you eternal life, one that is blissful in every way. No longer will you have to hanker or lament over trivial things, issues which resolve themselves automatically, similar to how the ripples of the ocean wash off whatever has been collected on the shore. This sublime engagement, when followed under the guidelines passed down by authority figures dating back thousands of years, can awaken the true knowledge resting inside of you and make you love at a level you didn’t think possible.”? Would we take stock in what they were telling us? Obviously there will be skepticism when reviewing such statements, but aside from the lack of faith, the promised goals are certainly well worth seeking after. Indeed, every engagement and its various proponents promise similar things. The promise of being taken up to heaven and never coming back down is wonderful to hear, but actually believing in the prescriptions recommended for achieving those ends can turn out to be a waste of time with almost every engagement except one, a system which has existed since the beginning of time and which, when understood in the proper context, presents an offer that can’t be refused.
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.34)
Both the desperate salesman and the leader of the television infomercial put forth very appealing sales pitches, but we know that deep down their only concern is how to separate us from our money. The desire for profit serves as their motivation more than anything else, so it’s a little difficult to believe what they are telling us. In addition, we may have purchased a few of these products in the past in what are known as “impulse buys”, only to have been burned later on when the product didn’t live up to its billing. In the realm of spirituality, the promises of salvation are even more appealing, but the preponderance of religious systems and their numerous champions immediately have a diluting effect, removing the potency from the messages put forward.
Yet one system in particular is very logically sound. If even followed for a short period of time, it can bring tremendous results, a taste of the true bliss that is to come should we wholeheartedly put our faith into the process. While the salesman wants to get our money, the elevated transcendentalist wants to remove us from our body, permanently. Surely death signals the end of the current life, but as long as material desires remain, a new dress will be occupied in what is known as the next life. For the continuation of reincarnation to completely cease, a properly situated consciousness is required. This shouldn’t be a difficult concept to understand. If we don’t adopt the proper mindset while taking an academic course, we will be forced to repeat the class in a subsequent year. Regardless of how badly we may or may not want to remain in the class, if the proper level of intelligence isn’t acquired by the time of the course’s completion, promotion cannot be granted.
“One who has taken his birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.27)
In a similar manner, we may hate or love the current life we have adopted and its accompanying surroundings, but as long as desires are not purified completely, rebirth is guaranteed. At this point the skeptic may intervene with, “Well, that’s what the Hindu system says. How do I know that reincarnation is real? Why won’t I just go to heaven after the current life is over?” As we have no memory of our previous lives, it is difficult to accept the statements of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, pertaining to reincarnation as gospel. However, from our experiences in the current life, we can understand the concept of changing bodies. We know from the statements of our parents that prior to our entry into the world we survived as a tiny organism within the womb of our mother. Even though we have no memory of this experience, it most certainly occurred. Similarly, our entire body has shifted in appearance throughout the course of our lifetime, so there is no reason to think that in the future we won’t exist.
As far as going to heaven automatically, why would the Supreme Person, the entity who is in charge of the topmost realm, want to take us away from our happy place, the land that we have grown accustomed to? What about people who don’t make it to adulthood? Do they go to heaven automatically as well? If so, then one would have to assume that living long is actually a detriment, for if one can be killed while as a young child, prior to all of life’s struggles taking place, then heaven can be attained much more easily. Applying a little logic and common sense, we see that the Vedic assertion of the soul’s getting what it wants in the future makes more sense than the idea of an automatic ticket to heaven or hell reserved for those who take to fruitive activity in the current life.
The key to attaining the transcendental realm is having the right consciousness, which is driven by desire. Based on past and present activities, the predominant mindset is shaped. If we spend all of our time drinking alcohol, gambling, having illicit sex and voraciously eating animal flesh, naturally our consciousness will not be purified. On the other hand, taking to knowledge acquiring activities, getting involved in charity and sacrifice of the religious variety, and performing austerities can purify the mind, which in turn leads to a better condition.
“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)
The offer presented by the devotees, those following the ancient art of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is that if you simply focus your attention on God at all times in a loving attitude, every beneficial goal and condition can be had. The scientists explore outer space and the moon in order to find something that is lacking in their current lives, to fill a void. But from the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung by Lord Krishna Himself, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we learn that all the planets of the material world are places where birth, old age, disease and death take place. Therefore there is really no difference between material life in one realm and another. The fish live in the water while the human beings live on land. If the human beings wanted a change in lifestyle by taking up residence in the water, would they become free of death and disease? By the same token, man may fly off millions of miles into outer space and see new surroundings, but the workings of the mind and the environment will still be there.
The imperishable land, the one inhabited and personally ruled over by God, is the only place where the four miserable events tied to material existence do not exist. Time and space are present in the spiritual land, but they have no effect. Time is only noted in our present life because of the effect it has on us. As time goes on, our bodies start to decay and we lose whatever previous conditions we had, both favorable and unfavorable. Similarly, space limits the breadth of our activities and the interactions we have with nature. In the spiritual land, even the bodies assumed by the inhabitants are considered spiritual, thus there are no inhibiting effects like birth and old age. Everyone is constantly engaged in glorifying and interacting with the Supreme Person, Shri Krishna.
How can a spiritual land with such wonderful attributes exist? How do we know that Krishna is God and not just some Hindu figure worshiped out of ignorance? In this respect there must be some trust in the beginning stages of devotional life; otherwise our skepticism will ruin any chances for progression. To properly attain the bhakti mindset there is no requirement of changing faiths or converting to the Hindu tradition. Indeed, God can only be a singular entity; otherwise He would lose His supreme standing. Krishna is a Sanskrit word that means “all-attractive”, thus it very aptly applies to the person most of us refer to as God. Even in the Vedic tradition the same Krishna is worshiped in many other forms such as Lord Rama and Lord Vishnu, but the result of the worship is the same. Therefore God is universally the most worshipable person, the entity who is most deserving of our love and respect. This position remains the same regardless of a person’s religious affiliation or country of origin.
As far as Krishna’s land being so wonderful, accepting this also requires some sobriety of thought and careful consideration. If the Lord can make large land masses known as planets float in space for all of time, why can’t His realm be full of the most wonderful delights? In fact, in the absence of the understanding of the Supreme Person’s wondrous nature and capabilities, professions of religiousness have little meaning. The bhaktas follow devotional service because it allows them to remain forever focused on the Supreme Lord and His wonderful pastimes that continually occur in the many planets dispersed throughout the innumerable universes.
How is bhakti practiced? The simplest method of its implementation is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Chanting is both a means and an end, as in the beginning it causes a shift in consciousness and at the end the devoted soul remains so committed to connecting with Krishna that they can never let go of any of His personal aspects, including His name. A necessary ingredient in a panacea of existence is peace of mind, which comes about through a purified consciousness. While salesmen peddling products focus on narrow targets such as weight loss, dealing with stress, basic health, and who is running the government, the followers of the bhakti school aim to tackle the aggregate workings of the mind directly. This approach allows for evenness of thought in any and all situations.
Bhakti is so beautiful that the sincere devotee doesn’t even have to wait until the afterlife to reap benefits. The chanting of the holy names, through elevating the thought processes of the mind, mentally takes the individual up to heaven and never brings them down. After all, who could ever remain miserable while contemplating the wonderful spiritual form of the Supreme Lord, who is always holding a flute in His hands and wearing a peacock feather in His hair? Whose pride wouldn’t run away in fear upon seeing the beautiful face of Shyamasundara, who is elegantly decked out in flower garlands and the most precious jewels in the world? If we are unhappy over a certain unfavorable outcome in our present life, we can remember Krishna running around the spiritual land of Vrindavana and giving delight to His friends. Solace can be found by tapping into the transcendental sound waves coming from Krishna’s flute that permeate the cosmos.
The skeptic may argue that this technique of bhakti is simply a way to control the mind and that the same result can be had by focusing the mind on anything. In fact, this is the viewpoint of the impersonalist philosophers, whose ultimate aim is to stop all activity, including reincarnation, through deep meditation and a renounced order of life. They view bhakti as a tool for the less intelligent, sort of like training wheels for the transcendentalist who hasn’t yet figured out how to ride the bike to spiritual salvation. In reality, the roles are reversed. Those who have failed to understand the blissful nature of the Personality of Godhead seek to remain dedicated to specific methods of self-realization aimed at eliminating sense interaction with nature. The pure devotees, on the other hand, eventually lose all hankering for self-realization and alleviation of distress. Their wealth is the love they have for Krishna, and since this boon remains with them in abundance, they are never out of funds when it comes to purchasing time on the magical ride that is vishnu-bhakti.
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)
We can try to focus our mind on things besides Krishna, like a piece of wood or even the exploits of a worldly figure, but the level of devotion will always be checked. The limitation arises from the deficiencies present in the objects of worship, which are not personally related to God. Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, and if we are wise enough to accept the kind words of the humble souls who try to spread vishnu-bhakti around the world, we can get a taste of what that wonderful life is like. The offer made by Krishna is that if we fully surrender unto Him, He will deliver us from all sinful reaction and that we should not have any fear about this. In spite of our constant refusal of His offer, it always remains on the table just waiting to be accepted, such is the mercy of Shri Krishna.