“The Bhagavad-gita is just like a cow, and Lord Krishna, who is a cowherd boy, is milking this cow. The milk is the essence of the Vedas, and Arjuna is just like a calf. The wise men, the great sages and pure devotees, are to drink the nectarean milk of Bhagavad-gita.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
The Bible, though most often used in the singular term, can refer to one or more texts belonging to the Christian or Jewish faiths. The Bible is very sacred and considered the reference tool for finding answers to life’s most difficult questions. But due to the high standing and position of importance of the original works, the term “Bible” is now used in a vernacular sense as well, as a way to stress the importance of a document, system guide, philosophy on life, or work containing information fundamental to a particular task. The claim can be made that the multipurpose use of the term is rooted in either a deficiency in the Bible itself or a lack of understanding by the person making the invocation. Upon careful analysis, however, we see that the use of phrases like “My Bible”, when not referring to the book describing a system of spirituality, actually sheds light on the larger, more important issue relating to religion. More than just an allegiance to a particular tradition or swearing on the words found within a particular book, spirituality is about changing consciousness, which is a force that constantly remains with the spirit soul, though in varying stages of development. When perfect consciousness is established, the works that don’t describe the highest truths of life are never mistaken for those that do.
What are some examples of the “My Bible” invocation? The reverence for the Constitution of the United States of America is one of the more common examples. Crafted as a response to the system of government imposed by the British on the colonies in the New World, the Constitution was intended to provide safety and security from government tyranny more than anything else. It’s similar to if something very bad were to happen to us and we would go back, study the problem, and then devise a plan to avoid ever having the same issue repeat. The problem the colonists saw was that of an oppressive government, where decisions were being made far away from the areas affected by the passed legislation. Government was seen as too invasive, and taxes were too high.
The concepts of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness needed to be preserved, but at the same time, there had to be a centralized government. The colonists first tried the Articles of Confederation after gaining independence from Great Britain, but this new system failed to provide any substantial benefit, as the governing aspect was almost nonexistent. The colonies were acting as their own sovereign nations in a sense, so the power of a unified force was absent. The Constitution followed to allow for a stronger federal government, but one with very limited and clearly defined roles. The government could carry out basic functions like providing national defense and managing a treasury, but other than that, everything else was left up to the individual states. Both an upper and lower house of legislature were created, along with an executive branch. The judiciary would ensure that neither of the other two branches would usurp too much power.
The Constitution was crafted after careful deliberation, argument and compromise. For example, the lower house of congress was apportioned based on the population within each state, which seemed like a fair system. But the smaller states felt that this would make them a perennial minority in deciding affairs. Therefore the upper house, the Senate, was also introduced, which had equal representation from each state. The Presidency also was not allowed to be determined by popular vote. Rather, each state was given a certain number of electors, and whoever would earn a majority of votes in what was known as the Electoral College would win the office of President for a four year term.
There were other compromises, such as the one relating to the counting of the slave population, but all in all, after much back and forth at the famous Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, a final document was outlined. Even then, the first set of addenda was added known as the Bill of Rights. George Mason, one of the delegates to the convention, refused to sign the Constitution without this critical piece added on. The Bill of Rights is often misunderstood today, due especially to its name. It would seem that the ten points outlined tell the citizens what their rights are, but in fact, they are strict limitations on the reach of government. Each amendment places a restriction on the behavior of Congress, thus making the amendments akin to negative liberties, wherein rights are created based on the negation of a government imposition. This clearly shows the mindset of the framers and their utter distaste for an oppressive government.
Today, those who are supporters of the Constitution and highly in favor of the current government returning to the document’s ideals always point to the different amendments and the speeches and essays written by the founders, especially those of the recognized father of the Constitution, James Madison. When trying to accurately convey their level of dedication to the Constitution, such supporters will say things like, “The Constitution is my Bible”. There are similar statements made in other areas of endeavor, such as when one begins a new job and must learn the ins and outs of the business by reading a specific manual. It is not uncommon for the trainer of employees to tell the new workers, “Think of this book as your Bible”, meaning the content of the guide must be studied and the book must be held onto for future reference.
While these statements seem innocent enough, a legitimate question may be raised. For those revering the Constitution, why isn’t the Bible your Bible? This seems like a silly question, but if the Bible were so important to you, why would you not use it to guide your way of life? A common retort may be, “Well, the Bible is about religion and the Constitution is about government.” Similarly, the worker may say, “How will the Bible guide me in advancing in my career? How will it help me earn a living, figure out who to vote for, or deal with my everyday problems?”
These issues indicate that many of the supporters of the Bible wholly acknowledge, at least personally, that the work is deficient in many ways. “So, what are you saying? The Bible is not legitimate?” The issue boils down to consciousness. The sacred texts describing spirituality are meant to further a goal, that of changing one’s thoughts and desires towards the spiritual realm instead of having them remain fixed on the material platform. Material refers to matter, which is the outer covering of the soul and the predominant substance within the phenomenal world. The living entities, the jivas, are superior to dull matter, but without a proper consciousness, without sufficient training in spiritual matters, material substance is taken to be superior, or at least on the same level as spirit.
“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)
Aham brahmasmi, the first instruction taught to aspiring students of the Vedic tradition, starts the ball rolling in the right direction, as it immediately addresses the issue of matter. The spirit soul is Brahman, or truth, and that which is seen surrounding the soul in the travels through different bodies is an illusory energy called maya, or material nature. The aim of spirituality, or religious practice, is to first break free of the designations formed off the bodily concept. “I am an American; I am a Hindu; I am white; I am black; etc.” are all based on a mindset which sees the body as the source of identity, where the differences between matter and spirit are not acknowledged in the least bit. Those who claim other books to be their Bible obviously have no idea what a work on spirituality is meant to incorporate.
If following a spiritual education can teach about the differences between spirit and matter, it can most certainly address why the different manifestations of matter exist and what their influences are. For instance, the need for a government is a byproduct of the perilous condition faced by those wholly ignorant of the workings of spirit. The spirit soul, the essence of individuality, is tied at the hip to the Supreme Soul, who, according to the exact tradition followed, goes by many names, with the most common one being God. In the Vedic tradition the Supreme Person is referred to as Krishna, which means “all-attractive”. The soul’s constitutional position is to be a servant of Krishna through a mood of pure love and devotion. Not resembling slavery in the least bit, devotional service to God brings the soul the most happiness, as the discipline corresponds directly with the inherent characteristics of spirit, namely bliss, knowledge and eternality.
Human life is sort of both a punishment and a boon. The punishing aspect is the separation from Krishna in terms of consciousness. Only without knowing the Supreme Person and His attractive form and pastimes can the soul become bewildered into identifying with a body that is changing at every second. Just as the movie we see on a screen is actually a constantly moving set of smaller slides, the visible bodies belonging to our personal self and those of every other person are never constant in their manifestations. Only the soul within, which is accompanied by the Supersoul, or God’s expansion, remains forever permanent and unchanging in makeup. The bodies are always changing, but we just don’t notice the subtle changes unless we juxtapose images taken between significant periods of elapsed time.
“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.2)
The boon of the human birth is that only in this form can the individual consciousness develop to the point that God is understood. To reach this end, one or more sacred texts are required, along with a person who can explain what they mean. That’s why Lord Krishna Himself states in the Bhagavad-gita that one has to approach a bona fide spiritual master and learn the truth from him. More important than the guru’s presence is his instruction, which can be taken as the life and soul of the devotees. On the surface, it would appear that we are recommending submission to an ordinary man, similar to the process of accepting a king and paying tribute to him. The Constitution and modern independence movements rail against such practices. Even in the spiritual traditions around the world, prostrating before a deity or spiritual figure is strictly prohibited.
But if we study things a little more closely, bowing down, at least in the mental sense, is already taking place. The owner regularly bows down to clean up after their pets, the man gets down on one knee to propose to the woman, and even the Constitutional scholar unabashedly proclaims his allegiance to a piece of paper crafted after compromise and deliberation. Therefore surrender takes place in virtually every sphere of life, for the submissive attitude exhibited through humble service is part and parcel of the spirit soul. Only when the object of worship is bona fide, however, can any real progress be made in terms of evolution towards full enlightenment. The dog who is only thinking about eating, sleeping, mating and defending and the human being only concerned with what’s in the Constitution are actually not different from one another. This seems like a silly comparison, but at the end of the day, the thought processes of both entities are not tied to spirituality in any way, so how can we say that the man is more advanced than the dog?
The guru practices devotion to God, and he also has prostrated before his own guru. A bona fide spiritual master never claims to be God, but rather accepts all the worship offered to him as being intended for Shri Krishna. The truths of life the guru teaches are found in many Vedic texts, including the Puranas, Mahabharata and Vedanta-sutras. If there were an equivalent to the Bible in the Vedic tradition, it would likely be the Bhagavad-gita. This is the most concise and complete treatise describing the truths of life and the meaning to our existence. It is sung directly by Lord Krishna, so just by reading this book and holding on to it as our life and soul, we get the benefit of association with Krishna, His form, and the instructions of Vedic wisdom.
There can be no mistaking the Bhagavad-gita for any other work on spirituality or system of maintenance. We can never take an ordinary book resulting from mental speculation and dry philosophy and consider it to be our “Bhagavad-gita”, for unless the process of reincarnation, the eternal nature of the soul, the workings of matter, and the position of the living entity as being intimately tied to God are described, no work can ever compare to the Gita. The final instruction provided by Krishna in this wonderful song turned book is what really matters. He tells Arjuna, His dear disciple and cousin, to simply surrender unto Him and be delivered from all sinful reaction.
“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)
This declaration seems similar to prescriptions provided by other religious traditions, but the difference is that Krishna sets in place an institutional system aimed at attaining full surrender. Giving oneself up to God is not about swearing allegiance to a particular book or going through the motions of religious practice. These aspects may help in attaining the final goal, but whatever processes are adopted must lead to a shift in consciousness, one where all thoughts and desires are aimed at satisfying the Supreme Lord. In this day and age, the quickest way to effect change in consciousness and remain always connected with Krishna, who resides within our heart, is to chant His names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
The human being in the modern age is very sophisticated. He needs more detailed information as to why he should take to religion, for technology is advancing rapidly and it seems like there are endless outlets for satisfying the senses. “Don’t do this or you’ll go to hell” is not enough of a selling point, for hellish and pleasurable conditions are encountered daily. The eternal truths of the Vedas passed on through wonderful works like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam provide as much information as one could possibly understand, for no one can be all-knowing except Krishna. The more information we get about God and the reason for our existence, the more we will be inclined towards taking to devotional service, the only engagement that can purify our consciousness and thus lead to a permanent, pleasurable condition.