“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
One of the central tenets of Vedic philosophy that is so nicely pointed out by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God which contains truths of life not found in any other poem or scriptural text, is that both good and bad, the temporary gains and setbacks encountered in life, are on an equal level. The plight of the spirit soul is what counts, for the spiritual spark is the basis of identity within every form of life. Favorable and unfavorable circumstances are not always the same, thereby introducing duality. The soul is meant for a state beyond subjective judgment, one where there is only Truth. No amount of scientific research, sense pleasure, or renunciation alone can extract the highest truth, only pure love and devotion dedicated to the entity that is never bewildered by duality.
So what exactly do we mean by both good and bad being equal? After all, isn’t everyone seeking a better condition, one free of pain and misery? Indeed, the highest spiritual realm is known as Vaikuntha because it is free of anxieties. The proprietor of Vaikuntha is the Supreme Lord in His various Vishnu forms, as He is all-pervading, ever-opulent and full of spiritual attributes. God is a universal figure who is not limited in scope and whose mercy is not restricted to any particular region or spiritual tradition. While the stubborn sentimentalists and sectarians will claim that anyone who doesn’t believe in their “God” is destined to suffer eternal damnation, the link between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul can never be broken, only forgotten in terms of consciousness. This is the predicament currently facing the living entities roaming the earth, the jiva souls tossed around in the clothes dryer of material existence that is set to the “reincarnation” cycle.
While the jivas endure cycles of birth and death, the Supreme Lord does not. Hence He has an unchanging spiritual form and also a home which bears the same properties of eternality, bliss and knowledge found in His body. Under the vague conception of God, the Lord may be seen as an angry person, an old man, or someone who severely punishes those who don’t surrender unto Him fully. In reality, just forgetting God leads to all other troubles encountered. Remembrance of the Lord, on the other hand, brings about favorable circumstances in any condition. So just based on this definition we see how the dualities present themselves. Good and bad in the absence of God consciousness cannot be considered permanent or anything worthwhile.
To take a simple example that illustrates these points, let’s review the workings of the rain in the spring season. As a person ages, winter becomes more unpleasant. Children prefer the winter season because of the snowstorms and the time off from school. In addition, the Christmas holiday also occurs in the wintertime, so this means new gifts coming in and loads of fun for the children. But the cold chill of the winter and the havoc caused by snow are not pleasant in the least bit for adults. For the elderly, the cold weather can become too much to bear; hence the mass migration to warmer climates by those who are retired from working.
The spring season is a welcome time for obvious reasons; it signals the end of the winter, the long awaited departure of the cold and the unpleasant weather. But with the spring comes the rain, which is not universally adored. Surely the plants, grass, trees and farmers enjoy the rain and the nourishment it provides, but rain disrupts outdoor events and travel. People travelling to baseball games, or even those playing outdoor sports, have to deal with inclement weather and the possibility of cancellations. Motorists must maneuver through increased traffic due to the rain and also the hazardous road conditions created by puddles and decreased visibility.
In this way we see that one person may loathe the rain while another may delight in it. Additionally, the falling rain means that the sun will likely not be out in the sky, leading to a darker mood and dreariness of mind. But has the rain purposefully done anything, good or bad? Are not the clouds equally disposed towards all they shower their rain upon? The rain itself does not change in properties, just the circumstances of the affected individuals. Depending on what one’s occupation is and what goal they are trying to achieve, they will view the rain, which is wholly neutral, favorably or unfavorably. Thus we see that good and bad are completely relative, dependent on the position of the affected individual. Moreover, we can’t really make a moral judgment as to which viewpoint is correct. Can we blame the motorist stuck in traffic because of the rainstorm for getting angry? Can we honestly say that the farmer elated by the rainfall is in the wrong?
The same principles apply in the area of scientific advancement. Due to the increased potential for intelligence, the human being can study the nature around it, understand their own mortality, and also take the necessary steps to stop death. This is correct; only in the human form of body can death be stopped permanently. The pathway towards achieving this wonderful feat is known to the Vedas and their followers, and among them only a select few will take the necessary steps to make the dream a reality. Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita that anyone who knows Him, how He never takes birth or dies, and how He has a fully transcendental form never has to go through the cycle of birth and death upon quitting the body. Krishna also states that out of many thousands of men, only a few will endeavor to understand Him and the eternal nature of the soul. And then out of these few, an even smaller number will actually achieve perfection in their pursuit of transcendental knowledge.
“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.3)
Though the chances for achieving liberation are slim, the opportunity is nevertheless there. Man must be humble enough to accept the proper information as it descends from authority. Everyone comes up with their own theories crafted through personal experience and scientific research, but the truths of the Vedas have accounted for the activities of many thousands of men spread across many thousands of years. Moreover, the truths and postulates presented are not mentally concocted, but rather instituted by the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna, who is undying and existing since time immemorial. As such, the Vedic prescriptions, which ultimately call for full surrender to God, have passed all quality control tests. They do not require any more field research or logical proofs to be accepted. One who follows the system of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master is sure to reap all the rewards that are promised by Shri Krishna.
On the other hand, the discoveries unearthed by scientists and their research, while surely laudable and amazing in their own right, can only bring about conditions that fall under the scope of duality. The automobile, airplane, television and a host of other technological advancements are seen as modern marvels, but since they fail to further a purification of consciousness, they are fraught with negative reactions. The automobile brings an increased risk of death. The airplane allows for travelling far distances in short periods of time, but then there are all sorts of other issues to deal with, such as airport security delays, costly fares and inconveniences caused by other travellers. The television and other gadgets have led to increased lethargy and laziness. Today there is a widely accepted “obesity epidemic”, wherein the population is viewed as not exercising enough. Also, because of the ability to travel lengthy distances in short amounts of time, families are often spread far apart and workers travel hundreds of miles in a week to earn a living. With the increased responsibility required to maintain the advanced lifestyle, there is little to no time for contemplating the highest truths of life. Religion is seen as a rubber stamp business, where a few perfunctory rituals are considered good enough to provide insulation from a hellish future condition.
A fact that gets lost in the enjoyment of the new “advancements” is that a hellish condition is already simultaneously created. So in this sense the scientific research brings both good and bad, with the overall effect being negative when juxtaposed with the mission in life, that of becoming God conscious by the time of death. Another factor to consider is that the scientist engaging in research must eventually die, leaving behind all of their work. Yet someone who doesn’t take to scientific research, who simply engages the senses all day in eating, sleeping, mating and defending, also dies. So what is the difference between the two individuals? The scientist has used their intelligence towards furthering the cause of sense gratification, while the non-scientist has made no use of their intelligence, but rather fully engaged their senses in satisfying the demands of the body, a shell which must eventually be discarded.
Considering these facts, it would be safe to assume that a process that aims to stop death would have to be superior to both mental speculation through scientific research and gross material association through activities like gambling, meat eating, illicit sex and intoxication. The process for stopping death is nicely provided by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, and it is explained more thoroughly through accounts of historical incidents found in the Puranas, the most important of which is the Bhagavata Purana, or Shrimad Bhagavatam. This wonderful work is considered the crown jewel of Vedic literature, as it not only contains further instructions from Krishna and His followers but also has descriptions of the blissful pastimes performed by the Lord in the holy land of Vrindavana some five thousand years ago. Anyone who truly knows Krishna will not have to take birth again, which means that they won’t have to die again either.
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.9)
As part and parcel of Krishna, the soul is also eternal in its constitutional makeup. We never really die, but the terms “birth” and “death” are used to refer to the outer covering of the soul. With Krishna, there is no difference between any of His energies. The spiritual and material energies are the same for Him. There is no difference between Krishna’s body and Krishna’s soul. For us living entities, however, there is a distinction between the body and the soul, as the jiva is the marginal potency of the Supreme Spirit. The marginal designation comes from the jiva’s ability to exercise a choice in association. When the desire is to enjoy the senses, a material body is accepted and a corresponding residence is found, a place where dualities exist.
Once the jiva chooses the spiritual energy for association, however, release from the material realm is granted. In order to make this choice be known, one must be sober and have a fully developed consciousness. Consciousness exists to keep the jiva attached to Krishna in every thought, word and deed. Only in the human form of life can consciousness fully develop. We can go up to a dog and speak to them about the truths found in the Bhagavad-gita and the need for worshiping God, but they will not understand what we are saying. The limitations borne of their body don’t allow for an advanced consciousness. The human body is the only material form that has this potential; hence it becomes vitally important not to waste the opportunity of a human birth. Good parents don’t let their children play throughout childhood, for this will not make the most of their potential for acquiring knowledge. The saying, “it is a shame that youth is wasted on the young”, references the fact that young children have lots of energy. They can wake up early in the morning, play throughout the day, and still have a full tank of energy at night. It is for this reason that young children are sent to school for long hours during their youth; so that they can make the most of their enthusiasm.
Viewing the human birth in the same light, we see that it is critically important to ensure that the proper education is received in one’s lifetime. This education involves learning about the soul, the differences between matter and spirit, the relationship everyone has to God, and the need for serving Him. A fully developed consciousness is achieved when there is pure love and devotion to Krishna. Any other type of consciousness – even when formed after much scientific research, mental exercise, performance of austerity, donation in charity, or meditational yoga- will not bring about full liberation. The soul’s position is to be a lover of God, through and through. Pure love means having no other desires, no opportunities for being lost in the ocean of duality, where each wave carries a different, temporary condition.
So how do we love Krishna? Can we force it? How do we know that we won’t be wasting our time? The scientist and the gross materialist both die, but doesn’t the devotee also perish at the end of life? Obviously there must be an element of faith in the beginning stages of any endeavor. Even the words of the scientist are accepted on faith, as are the prescriptions put forth by the self-help gurus on television peddling their latest book. The prescriptions of the Vedas can be accepted on faith in the beginning, but through regular chanting of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the proof to the claims made by the acharyas, those spiritual leaders who lead by example, is found. Krishna consciousness can be developed within one’s lifetime, thus giving the soul a glimpse into what is in store in the bright future of the afterlife. The scientists and gross materialists give us both good and bad in terms of results, but only the purification of consciousness through bhakti brings about the most favorable condition, Krishna’s association.