Shooting in the Dark

Lord Krishna“…when it is not possible to understand even the material things which we daily see with our eyes, what can we say of the spiritual world and Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead? He is the supreme spiritual form, and it is not possible to understand Him by our limited senses.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna Consciousness: The Topmost Yoga System, Ch 2)

It’s our turn to go. The outcome of the game hinges on this next toss. We’re confident, however, because our dart throwing skills are superexcellent. The favorite in any matchup always has the upper hand, because even when things don’t go his way, he doesn’t panic. He has won so many times in the past that he has full faith and confidence in his ability to deliver the goods. He knows that his game plan and skill level are enough to overcome even the toughest opposition on most days. Keeping this in mind, we pick up the dart and prepare to toss it. Just then the lights in the room go out. The rules say that we must continue, even in the absence of light. So what will the result of our throw be? We may come close to the target, but we have no way of knowing if we actually found the mark. Moreover, there is every possibility of missing the target by a wide margin, even striking a nearby onlooker with the sharp object flying from our hand.

the sunWhen it comes to completely understanding its surrounding nature, the human being is totally in the dark, even when the sun is shining bright in the sky. The very need to have an external lighting source is enough to prove that the human being is limited in his capabilities. Thus when mentally concocted theories about the Supreme Absolute Truth, the origin of life, are posited in spite of this great limitation on intelligence and observation, the results similarly miss the mark by a long shot. But through utilizing a different approach, the intelligence level that is our destiny can be reached very quickly. Not only can the necessary knowledge come to us without much strain, but we can also put it to good use.

Since we have a limited ability to understand the nature around us, when theories about mysteries like the origin of the universe are presented as solid and undeniable facts, the harmful effects that result are too many to count. The stray dart may poke a few onlookers or maybe cause the player to lose the game, but an incorrect theory about something as important as the origin of life can lead others down the wrong path, trapping them in a maze that is difficult to escape from. For starters, the conclusions about creation reached on simple perception generally focus on man’s paltry abilities. Nature is assigned the title of creating agent, which randomly collided a series of chemicals to create the wonderful life around us. “If even nature operates on randomness, i.e. a lack of intelligence, then surely the human being, through enough research, can figure out how to control everything.” With the theories rooted in sense perception man takes himself to be God.

“As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Lord KrishnaSeveral key factors are overlooked in this conclusion. For starters, the human being is completely helpless in its infancy. If there is even one second spent during one’s lifetime in a state of total dependence, how can any person claim to be God? How can the title of “Supreme Controller” ever be up for grabs if we know that death is guaranteed? Ah, but here is the issue. The silly scientist deluded by flawed sense perception believes that through enough advancement in medicine and technology, death itself will one day be a thing of the past. Even if this hope is accepted, there is still the issue of old age to contend with. We know that once a human being reaches an advanced age, the vital functions start to diminish in ability, and the body itself starts to breakdown. If man could live forever, why would he want to reside in an aged body? While the duration of life can be extended, nothing has even remotely been discovered that will maintain the body in a permanent and functioning state. The human being is incapable of stopping even the change from the childhood body, so what could ever be done to prevent the full onset of old age?

Based on mental speculation borne of basic observations, which are very limited in scope when we think of the incomprehensible length of time the world has existed, other theories also crop up, such as the effect man has on the weather. Again, based on the limitation in understanding the nature around us, making such a bold assertion and claiming it to be irrefutable science is quite silly. In fact, the followers of such theories don’t even say that they have proven their contention of man’s effect on the climate through any scientific experiment. Science involves both observation and experiment. The hypothesis that humankind has altered the basic climate of the earth is there, but there has yet to be a full experiment performed to test the theory. In reality, based on the limitations of age and death, it is impossible to run a full scale test, as the controls have to be tightly monitored and the length of the experiment must be on par with the age of the earth.

When these theories created from shooting in the dark face healthy skepticism from others, the proponents don’t shy away. Instead, they go on the attack, calling the opponents all sorts of names. The religious followers are viewed as fanatics following mythological traditions, and the scientists who genuinely oppose the propounded theories are considered bribed, bought and paid for by large companies who stand to lose the most should the other side prevail. The theories are just one aspect of the misdirection. Saying that chemicals randomly collided and created the universe is one thing, but when these ideas are presented as scientific facts and taught to young students, the intention is to alter behavior. Religion is prohibited from being taught in schools, but a person’s ultimate philosophy on life, their primary conclusion that guides their behavior, is their real religion. In this sense the theories about man-made global warming and the “big bang” causing the earth’s creation can be considered religions in their own right, theistic traditions that both fully depend on faith, even though their presentations hide the fact. These are actually the worst kinds of religions, because they are forced upon others. If the government were to mandate that a specific religious tradition be taught in the schools, there would be outrage from parents. But when another conclusion is presented as secular, there is not as much opposition, though the influence on behavior is there all the same.

“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.19)

Lord KrishnaIn the theories developed only off of sense perception, the common trait shared is the absence of an intelligent creator, a God. Without a God, the title of “Supreme Controller” goes up for grabs. Hence the aim of life becomes quite straightforward: enjoy as much as you want, try to accumulate as many possessions as possible, and do this before death arrives at your doorstep. Without an acknowledged Supreme Lord, man takes to worshiping other men who exhibit extraordinary qualities in various fruitive ventures. But with impending death these abilities will soon vanish, so the worshipable figures themselves are flawed.

The limitations on fully understanding the visible world don’t just bewilder people into following blanket atheism. In many spiritual traditions, the form and personality of God are denied. In the Vedic tradition, a prevalent theory that has emerged is that God is impersonal. Those who follow this line of thinking are referred to as Mayavadis, which is a Sanskrit word that describes those who subscribe to the final conclusion that everything is maya. Spirit, or that which transcends matter, is known as Brahman, and that which is not Brahman is known as maya. The Vedas accurately point out that Brahman is the origin of everything in this world, including the temporary manifestations of matter that we see. But the life forms, the individuals residing within the different body types, are above the temporary nature. Spirit exists prior to birth and after death. Therefore the ignorance that drives activity is due solely to a false identification. The individual spirit soul is Brahman, but without understanding these key concepts, every person by default identifies with matter, or maya.

Because these rules apply to every single life form, the tendency is to think that even if there is a God, He must accept a body composed of maya when He comes to earth. If God is also compelled to fall under maya’s sway, He cannot really be superior to the living entity. Hence the Mayavada theory takes the individual spiritual entity, who is part and parcel of Brahman, to ultimately be equal to God. If man is equal to God but doesn’t know it yet, there is less of a reason to worship the Supreme Lord. If anything, the aim becomes to one day eliminate all interaction with the outside world and thus remain insulated from the effects of material nature.

Shrila PrabhupadaYet this again misses the mark. Simple perception and logic are not able to bring us to the proper conclusion. Even still, hope is not lost. There is a way to learn about the Supreme Personality of Godhead, His blissful nature, His position transcendental to matter, and His fixed role as the best friend of everyone. The key is to admit one’s lack of knowledge and approach someone who does know God. For maya to exist, it must be created. And if it comes to be through the hand of a divine figure, then certainly that person must be immune to its effects. From humbly approaching a bona fide guru, a spiritual master who has learned about God through their own submission to a guru, we hear that the Supreme Lord has an ever blissful form, and that from Him emanate the various energies. We are Brahman, but God is Parabrahman. Maya can only affect the marginal potency of the Lord, meaning that the spiritual energy and its source can never be deluded by maya.

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.34)

Material nature is inhibiting only under a mindset driven by an improper identification. When the spirit souls realize that they are not matter and that they are eternally linked to God, whose original form is so attractive that it is addressed as Krishna, the negative influences of maya go away. Under this proper mentality, which is known as Krishna consciousness, every tool around us can be used to further our purpose of remaining forever linked to God in thoughts, words and deeds. The Vedic seers, the pure devotees who kindly teach those who are humble enough to not challenge every single word presented outright, show that loving God is man’s only business. As spirit continues in its existence long after the body composed of matter is renounced, so the devotional efforts of the pure soul continue in life after life, should the choice to do so remain.

“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.3)

Lord KrishnaThe issue may be raised about the harm in subscribing to blind faith. We know that our sense perceptions are limited, so shouldn’t this apply to everyone else? If a guru tells us something, how do we know that what they are saying is true? To understand God at a level sufficient to alter consciousness and subsequently behavior, we don’t need to renounce our healthy skepticism or our discrimination. These two tools can help us immensely in becoming more firmly convinced of the existence of God and His wonderful personal form. But supreme knowledge itself is incapable of being uncovered through experiment; it can only come from the person who is the target of all pious activity. The Supreme Lord, in His wonderful form, first imparted the imperishable science of real yoga, the linking in consciousness of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, at the beginning of creation to the first living entity entering the cosmos. That first person then subsequently passed down the same knowledge, unadulterated, to future generations. In this way a disciplic succession was created, where conclusions were simply passed down rather than being discovered.

If there is ever a break in the chain of knowledge transfer, the Supreme Lord either personally descends to earth to reinstitute the system or He sends an authorized figure to do the same. In this way approaching a spiritual master that follows a disciplic succession descending from Krishna is more like going to the right school and following authorized instruction than blindly following an unqualified leader. The prescriptions of the prominent Vaishnava teachers of today is that we regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstain from the activities that have the most harmful effect on consciousness: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex.

Lord KrishnaFrom a quick glance at these recommendations we see that there is no harm in at least trying them out. The Vaishnavas don’t ask anyone to give up their current livelihood or remain forever renounced from activity. There is no requirement that one take up strenuous study or work hard to acquire every possession possible. The only entry fee into the land of undying and supreme wisdom is humility, the acknowledgment that man is limited and that there is a God managing everything. When the submission is done in earnest and the bona fide procedures followed with a little faith and dedication, Shri Krishna will gradually reveal Himself to the devotee. This is the only way to understand God. Any other method is like shooting in the dark. Depending on what is being projected, the effects of the guesswork can be quite harmful. But when the holy names of the Lord are recited with full faith and undying love, the only result is a surcharge in spiritual consciousness, a level of energy that never runs out. The pure devotee ascends to the spiritual sky after death, where they retain a transcendental body perfectly fit for executing their service to the Personality of Godhead in a mood of love and devotion.

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