“One can obtain the results of renunciation simply by self-control and by becoming unattached to material things and disregarding material enjoyments. That is the highest perfectional stage of renunciation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.49)
The day has finally arrived. The moment you were anxiously awaiting has come. The new laptop that you wanted – the one with all the new features, including the latest operating system, a huge bank of random access memory, a bright, new state of the art screen, and the fastest hard drive known to man – is lying in its box right in front of you, just waiting to be opened. You rummage through the packaging, grab the new device and marvel at its look and feel. You flip open the cover, fire the bad boy up and check out the new features. Now comes the time to plug the power source in, to make sure that the battery doesn’t get drained. This is just a formality, as the power supply is not paid any importance. You dig deeper through the packaging and find, to your surprise, a large, dark brick connected to a chord that has prongs at the end. But this isn’t just any ordinary brick; it’s the very power supply for your laptop that you need. Now you start to worry. “Is this going to fit in my laptop bag? I’m going to have to lug this giant thing around everywhere?”
The senses weren’t expecting this sudden turn of events. If other aspects of the notebook computer have been streamlined and made more efficient, wouldn’t the power supply follow the same pattern? The specifications say that the battery life on this new laptop is much longer than on the previous one you owned, so why this monstrosity of a power supply? Regardless, the laptop must be used, so any minor inconveniences are necessarily tolerated. Yet an interesting thing happens after a few weeks: you get so used to lugging around the new power supply and plugging it in on a regular basis that you start to overlook its girth. Indeed, you still have your old laptop and its battery pack, and if you happen to look at its power supply, you’ll start to think, “Wow, I can’t believe how thin and small this battery charger is. Who would have thought you could make a power supply this size?”
The senses of the living entity are very powerful, but this doesn’t preclude them from being trained. They can grow accustomed to anything; a fact which gives an indication of the true potency of the human form of body. When the senses are shaped in the proper direction, when they are taught to remain detached from those things we don’t need and attached to those things we do need, success in life’s mission can be found.
How do we determine what we need and what we don’t? Isn’t this an entirely subjective assessment? How can this ever be applied universally? Goswami Tulsidas, a famous Indian poet of the 16th century, shares his most profound revelation in the Dohavali, a collection of short and succinct, yet brilliant, poetic couplets describing the Supreme Absolute Truth in His form of Lord Rama. God is a singular entity, but since there is variety in spiritual enjoyment and differences in the way the tiny fragmental sparks emanating from the giant spiritual fire interact with Him, God can manifest in a variety of ways which are each equally as worshipable as the original, who is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness. Tulsidas was especially devoted to Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, a warrior incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago.
Tulsidas knows that Shri Rama is God because everything that we actually need in life is readily available and rather inexpensive, while those things we don’t need are rare and costly. Grains, water and milk fluctuate in price depending on government intervention and the habits of speculators, but these commodities still remain in great abundance throughout the world. A cow freely provides milk without requiring much maintenance. Water is found everywhere, and grains are the easiest crops to grow. Shelter can be found in a cave or by erecting a thatched hut in an area that doesn’t suffer through harsh winters. Even if there is no opportunity for growing food from the ground, man can consume the different fruits and berries that fall off of trees that grow through nature’s independent actions. Indeed, the sages of ancient times would take on the ascetic’s lifestyle by subsisting solely on fruits and roots while living in the forest.
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)
God supplies us everything we need, and He makes sure that the necessities are less expensive than jewelry and fine clothing, which are things we can live without. Since the human being has the ability to train the senses, he should take full advantage by using proper discretion. The animal species does not have the ability to think rationally in this area. A fish will eat whatever food is presented to it, even if the amount is more than it needs. The animal lives primarily off of its instincts, so if it wants to eat, it will eat. The human being has the ability to think rationally and train the senses through starvation.
This ability is there for a reason. After all, what is the difference between a man who survives off of eating three meals a day versus one who eats only twice? One person may be larger in stature while the other is thinner, but in the grand scheme of things their thought processes are pretty much the same, as advancement to the spiritual plane hasn’t been made. The true benefit of a human form of body is the ability to think of God and take the necessary steps towards serving and pleasing Him. In this regard, the objects of the material senses play no role, as eating, sleeping, mating and defending are only necessities aimed at keeping the body intact. Besides maintaining their existence within a particular body, the real business of spirit is to serve God. Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead, states that the real form of the living entity is that of servant of God. This form is also eternal, so once it is accepted it doesn’t have to be renounced.
“The real identity of the living entity is that he is eternally servant of Krishna.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.108)
Our real svarupa stands in stark contrast to the forms we accept when our consciousness is driven by the senses. If we fail to properly train our senses, the primary demands of the body will dictate our actions. Since material nature has no direct relation to the Supreme Lord, any activities undertaken to interact with matter will have a beginning and an end. At the end of life, when the body starts to decay and no longer serves a purpose, a new form is granted, which signals the beginning of the next life. The cycle continues perpetually until the living entity is wise enough to start directing its senses in the right direction.
We know from the laptop example mentioned above that the human being can pretty much get used to anything. If we grow accustomed to a certain lifestyle, what initially may have seemed to be unpleasant suddenly gets accepted as the norm, that to which we are familiar. Sensory training is required for success in virtually every endeavor. A marathon runner completes a race that is over twenty six miles in length, but do we think that they could run that far on their first attempt in the sport? For someone not accustomed to running or jogging, just finishing one mile without strain is very difficult. Yet pretty soon, through rigorous training, the body grows accustomed to the previously difficult task.
In any notable field of endeavor, if we see someone doing extraordinary things, we should understand that it likely took them extensive training to reach their level of excellence. To understand God properly requires the same dedication, which should ideally start as soon as possible, even as early as childhood. If the human being starts to receive its spiritual education at the onset of adulthood, it would defeat the purpose. The young child can be molded, shaped and, most importantly, given orders that it will follow. The mature human being, on the other hand, thinks itself fully independent, so it’s difficult to get them to do anything against their will. More importantly, the mature adult has spent many years living in their body, so they have grown accustomed to a certain way of life. If this lifestyle isn’t streamlined and dedicated to austerity, the task of understanding God becomes even more difficult.
What are some of the austerity measures that can be adopted? Also, how will they enable the human being to better understand God? In ages past, the level of austerity adopted was quite severe. The sages in ancient times would spend years and years in meditation, living practically on nothing. Their dedication was so strong that they could survive for long periods of time without eating or sleeping. Because of their elevated inner strength, their minds could remain focused on the Absolute Truth, especially His unmanifest feature, which is known as Brahman. Beyond the dualities of life and death and the constant changes that take place around us is an all-pervading spiritual energy, a force which is immune to any defects that come from material contact. This force, when not fully understood, is taken to be a spiritual energy lacking any intelligence.
But through enough austerity and meditation, the fortunate souls are able to see that Brahman is simply the light effused off of the original transcendental body of the Supreme Lord. God is a person with spiritual attributes. His realm is full of matter that is not inhibiting towards the development of consciousness. Without full sobriety of mind, however, the fixed position of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, cannot be comprehended. Therefore after these sages dedicated to austerity remained on the brahma-bhutah platform for quite some time, they would then take to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.54)
Fast forward to today and you have dramatically different external conditions. Finding a quiet place to meditate for years and years and actually knowing how to properly undergo the process are very difficult. But as Tulsidas revealed that those things we actually need in life are readily available to us, the most potent form of religious practice, that one tool that will bring us full satisfaction of mind and complete liberation from the effects of the senses, is available to everyone, regardless of their inability to accept severe austerity measures. The holy name of the Lord, which is a sound vibration representation of God, is the least expensive way to connect with God, as it doesn’t require anything except the devotee’s sincerity. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the same level of devotion attained by those on the brahma-bhutah platform can be achieved very quickly.
Though the holy name is inexpensive and abundantly available, tapasya, or austerity, is still relevant. The sages of the past did the hard work for us. They spent so much time in meditation and contemplation on the Absolute Truth that they passed down a tradition of spiritual practice that doesn’t require the same level of dedication. The Vaishnava saints, the pure devotees of Krishna, understood that future generations of mankind would find it very difficult to take to the same level of austerity; therefore they passed down literature that glorified the holy name of the Lord and His pastimes. Chanting the name of God is the best way to evoke Krishna consciousness, or purification of thought.
To increase the chances of accepting the chanting process as our life and soul and also to enhance the pleasure felt during execution of bhakti-yoga, there are four primary restrictions recommended for the transcendentalists of this age. If the human being can train their senses to refrain from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, the chances of becoming fully Krishna conscious through dedication to chanting and hearing about Krishna will increase all the more. These restrictions seem quite drastic upon first glance, for who do we know that actually avoids any of these engagements, let alone all of them? But if we tackle these issues head on, especially at an early age, prior to when we develop the habits that will remain attached to us for the rest of our lives, then the negative outlook on the restrictions will be soon removed.
The new laptop charger which was initially thought to be gigantic after a while is taken to be the normal size. The inconvenience slowly turned into something not even noticed; such is the power of the senses. Material nature is full of dull matter after all, so any attachment to it can be easily cut off through proper training and regulation. With the Supreme Lord, the effect is just the opposite. Since He is the very essence of spirit – which is immutable, unchanging and fully vibrant – attachment to Krishna only increases the more we remain in His presence. We can look at the same picture of the Lord day after day and still marvel at His beauty.
“My dear sir, Krishna’s form was most wonderful when He appeared on this planet and exhibited the potency of His internal energy. His wonderfully attractive form was present during His pastimes on this planet, and by His internal potency He exhibited His opulences, which are striking to everyone. His personal beauty was so great that there was no necessity for His wearing ornaments on His body. In fact, instead of the ornaments’ beautifying Krishna, Krishna’s beauty enhanced the ornaments.” (Uddhava speaking to Vidura, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.12)
It is said that Krishna is so beautiful that He actually enhances the appearance of the ornaments that are placed on His body. Typically, the reverse is true, as we put on cosmetics, jewelry and fine clothes to make ourselves more presentable. With Krishna, the peacock feather in His hair, the flower garland around His neck, the Kaustubha gem adorning His chest, and the flute held in His soft hands become truly beautiful because of their association with His transcendental body. The name is the same as Krishna, and so is the picture and the deity. When the senses are trained to limit interaction with those things it doesn’t need and regularly swim in the ocean of transcendental nectar that is the holy name and the divine vision of the Supreme Personality, the Krishna conscious mind will settle for nothing less than Krishna’s association at all times.