Final Exam

Lord Rama“You refer to everything as ‘mine, mine’, but can you tell me who you are or what your real name is? Silently perform religious practices and hear transcendental subject matters to understand everything properly, says Tulsi, or simply chant Shri Rama’s holy name.” (Dohavali, 18)

mora mora saba kaham̐ kahisa tū ko kahu nija nāma |

kai cupa sādhahi suni samujhi kai tulasī japu rāma ||

In many higher education courses, the final grade, the assessment of the student’s overall ability to assimilate the knowledge they have been imparted into their thoughts and ideals, is partly determined by attendance in the course itself. Showing up is half the battle, as even in the work environment just being on time and leaving a little late can do wonders in keeping the position and looking good in the eyes of the boss. The employer wants to see that work is being done; just taking the employee’s word for it is not enough. After all, the laws of inertia state that a body at rest will tend to remain at rest. Therefore an inactive worker will have a difficult time taking on new tasks and completing assignments required for achieving the objectives of the business owner. On the other hand, the person who is always active, ready to face new challenges, keeping the mind always occupied in affairs, will have a much easier time taking on new work. The concept is similar to having one athlete who has warmed up versus another who has been sitting on the sidelines all day.

examDespite showing up to class regularly, there is still the requirement that the student pass an examination or at least a series of assignments. Simply hearing information is a good start, but it’s not enough for successful completion of the course, for there has to be proof that the transmitted sound was actually processed within the mind of the listener and fully understood. The classroom is a place where the mind can zone out very easily, for if the subject matter does not interest the student, they will have the tendency to take shelter of laziness and daydreaming. Therefore the exams almost become a requirement, as they are meant to reinforce the principles presented and also keep the student actively engaged.

Passing examinations is such a powerful indicator of proficiency that it can even trump the need to show up to class regularly. For instance, if one student arrives on time to the classroom every single day but then doesn’t understand anything they are hearing, what is the use of their attendance? What do they gain by the teacher’s association? On the other hand, one who learns everything that needs to be understood but doesn’t show up to class has no need to show their attendance record or their allegiance to hearing. They already understand everything, so what is the purpose to following perfunctory rules and regulations?

In the game of life, the largest stumbling block towards achieving transcendental enlightenment is the proper understanding of identity. To this end, the mentalities of “I” and “Mine” reinforce the cloud of ignorance assumed at the time of birth. We are taught to share in our youth, because otherwise we would tend to hoard our possessions and consider everything as being the same in quality as us. When we receive a new toy, we obviously didn’t have any claim to the material that went into the toy’s construction prior to our ownership of it. Therefore it is understood that possession itself is temporary. We can part with something just as easily as it was acquired. Those who understand this have a higher level of intelligence.

“I” and “mine” are rooted in ignorance of the identity of the individual and his relation to the Supreme Lord. Matter is a temporary manifestation that covers up the intelligence of the otherwise fully knowledgeable soul. Matter does come from somewhere, though. Once the source is understood, it becomes much easier to realize the identity of everything, including the personal self. To this end religion was instituted, providing a systematic way for the false identification adopted at the time of birth to be gradually renounced.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Lord KrishnaThe soul is the essence of individuality and the source of identity within every life form. This information can be taken from the authority of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His teachings found in the sacred Bhagavad-gita, one of the most revered scriptures in history. Though Krishna presents these basic truths of spirituality to His dear friend and cousin Arjuna, the presence of the soul can actually be understood through simple perception. We know that life continues on earth after someone dies and that life existed prior to our birth. Therefore we know that life continues on and on, even though the temporary coverings the soul assumes change all the time. Our body is changing at every second; we just can’t perceive the subtle differences unless we juxtapose two images of ourselves taken between significant periods of time.

When the soul is present within a body, there is autonomous movement. Sometimes the movements are even involuntary, such as with the heart, lungs and eyes. As soon as the soul exits, the same body becomes dull and lifeless. Therefore we can see that the spirit soul is the essence of individuality and even the body can’t be considered “Mine”. If even our hands and legs are temporary objects of matter that can come and go in a second, how can we claim full ownership of our land, possessions, and family relationships? Moreover, how can we take our identity to be related to our skin color, religious affiliation, or country of origin?

Breaking free of the “I” and “Mine” mentalities is very difficult. Fortunately for us, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide many different pathways towards achieving enlightenment. It is not that the Vedas are the only scriptural tradition of the world. They are, however, the one set of religious works that has the most information available about the Supreme Person and His creation. Religion is what distinguishes the human beings from the animals. Since the human being has the potential to understand their true identity, real religion must incorporate knowledge of spirit and matter and also how the Supreme Lord is related to both.

Lord ChaitanyaAll such information is found in the Vedas. Simply by hearing regularly, performing ritualistic practices and contemplating on the subject matters heard, one can slowly but surely realize who they are. And what are we exactly? Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead who made the sankirtana-yajna, or the sacrifice of chanting the holy names of the Lord, famous throughout India around five hundred years ago, states that the living entity’s original form is that of servant of God. Aham brahmasmi, the proclamation of “I am Brahman” revealed in the Vedas, is actually only a partial understanding. Learning that I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of the sum total of spiritual energy known as Brahman helps to shed the possessive mindset taken on at the time of birth. But to understand the nature of spirit and how the individual is tied to the Supreme Lord requires a further dive into spiritual subject matters.

Dedication to hearing and following sadhana, or regulative practice, are enough to gain the proper understanding of our identity. This is the point raised by Goswami Tulsidas in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali which is directed at the gross materialist ignorant of their identity as spirit. Unlike with the classrooms holding discussions on material subject matters, there is no exam required for those hearing regularly about God and devotion to Him. If one simply hears from the right source about the different energies and how God created them, they can slowly but surely attain their true position. Following regulative principles at the same time affords the bewildered spirit soul a chance to remain occupied. Regulative practices include rising early in the morning, attending timely ceremonies at a formal place of worship, abstaining from sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, and eating food that has first been offered for sacrifice.

“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.13)

Lord Krishna - the enjoyer of sacrificeHearing about God is so powerful because it is in line with the soul’s natural position. God is superior and the spirit souls, His fragmental parts, are inferior. When knowledge of the superior is regularly imparted to the inferior, the natural order of things is maintained. The key, however, is to hear from the right persons. While the possessive mentality is flawed, so is the inverse mentality that sees everything as being false. On the one side you have those who associate completely with their temporary bodies, and on the other you have those who think that everything, including objects of matter related to spiritual life, is false. Under the latter mentality, the Supreme Absolute Truth is taken to be formless or invisible. Thinking everything is false, or maya, is dangerous because it keeps the soul in the dark about its true identity. The individual spirit souls are part and parcel of God, simultaneously one with and different. We are one with God because the Lord can never be separated from His energies, similar to how the attached arms and legs are one with the body. At the same time, we are not God; therefore it is silly to think that we are completely one with Him. Under the “God is invisible” mentality, nothing in the phenomenal world is taken to be beneficial, including activities in bhakti, or devotion.

Though hearing about God regularly from the proper sources and adhering to sadhana can eventually bring about the proper understanding of identity, a superior method is the chanting of the holy name. This is the point of emphasis raised by Tulsidas. Hearing regularly is sufficient for attaining a proper understanding, but there is a risk in that the soul may become lazy. Moreover, if the mind is daydreaming or not paying attention, the effectiveness of the hearing process will suffer. We can sit through boring lectures in college because we know that eventually there will come an exam and a time when the class will be completed. With sadhana, however, the practices are meant to continue all the way up until the time of death. Therefore if we are bored in our hearing or if we aren’t paying attention, how much longer will we keep our regulative practices up?

Hanuman chanting Rama's nameWith chanting, however, the soul remains completely active. Chanting is also superior because it automatically includes the hearing process. By regularly reciting sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the mind understands that the Supreme Lord is a person separate from the individual, yet always with them. Chanting the holy name of Rama, which addresses God’s form as the two-armed prince of Ayodhya, maintains the image, pastimes and transcendental qualities of the Supreme Lord within the mind. The practice is akin to remembering a loved one or friend by always looking at their picture. The difference is that God is Absolute; therefore He is not different from His name.

Chanting is more beneficial than dry regulative practice and passive hearing because it is the most unselfish activity one can take up. Reciting the holy name of Rama is done for God’s pleasure. The acts we normally consider as being unselfish or under the rubric of altruism are actually rooted in self-interest or the interests of the perishable body. My body does not belong to me, and neither do the forms assumed by other living entities belong to them. Therefore helping the material senses of others through charity and benevolence doesn’t lead to a full shift in consciousness.

Lord RamaLord Rama, on the other hand, brings with Him supreme wisdom and pure bliss. A person who is intimately associated with Rama through His name regularly recited by the tongue gains the most beneficial association. Rama is also known as Hrishikesha, or the master of all senses. Pleasing the Lord leads to pleasure for the living entities intimately connected with Him. Therefore the recommendation given by Tulsidas proves to be most effective at breaking apart the selfish attitude driving the activities of the individual ignorant of their true identity. Chanting God’s names is an outward acknowledgement of the soul’s constitutional position as servant of God. Therefore it automatically becomes the most worthwhile activity to take up.

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