This Thorn In My Side

Radha Krishna“Your business is to elevate yourself to perfect Krishna consciousness and nothing more. If you deviate from this law, if you don’t accept this principle, if you want to enjoy more, then you have to suffer more.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna Consciousness The Topmost Yoga System, Ch 9)

The big game is on tonight. You’re really excited to watch it. The team you can’t stand might lose, so this makes your anticipation increase even more. You can’t wait to get your work for the day done beforehand so you can sit down, relax and enjoy the thrill that comes from watching sporting events. Though the matchups are broken down on paper and the commentators give their analysis and predictions, the games never pan out the way they should. This brings an air of uncertainty to every game, the potential for a desired outcome to happen. When the time arrives, you watch the game, and though it seems like the team you hated would lose, they come back to win in the end. Now you are dejected. “I can’t believe they won. This stinks.” Yet with this trivial experience comes the potential for learning a great lesson. The distresses that we encounter on a daily basis are actually rooted in our desires not related to the interests of the soul. There is only one business for the human being, and anything done outside of this scope eventually results in misery. Those who notice the pattern can make progress in fulfilling the mission of life.

rose bushTo see the same concept in a larger scope, let’s say that we want to grow some crops in a field that we have. The crop can be anything, even something as simple as a rosebush. The first step is planting the seed, putting the potential crop into the ground. The wonders of nature are too great to count. Who would have ever thought you could get a fully blossoming tree just by placing a tiny object into the earth? Yet this is precisely what happens when the seed is planted and regularly maintained. With the maturation comes the desired object, the fruit of your labor. You now have the nice rosebush that you wanted. However, to traverse through the field that was previously barren and now filled with flowering objects, you must watch out for the thorns in the bushes that resulted from your hard work. To reap the fruits you have to suffer so much, you have to withstand every thorn that tears into your sides and causes you to bleed.

Fruitive activity, or karma, works this way every time, even if we don’t notice the pattern. The desire for sex life carries the result of a newborn child, who must be taken care of for at least the first eighteen years of its life. Can we imagine taking on a full-time job that doesn’t end until eighteen years later? This is a lot of pressure to assume, so in this respect parents deserve the highest praise and sympathy for their hard work and dedication. At the same time, the responsibility came about through a planted seed, which was rooted in a desire. The joy of watching your children grow up is tempered by the constant worry over their future health and safety. In the end, you’re left with an empty house and a lot more hair lost over the stress applied to the body and mind over the many years of care.

“The living entity, thus taking another gross body, obtains a certain type of ear, tongue, and nose and sense of touch, which are grouped about the mind. He thus enjoys a particular set of sense objects.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.9)

Lord KrishnaThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are unique in that they provide detailed guidelines on how to live during every stage of life. These recommendations are tied together to meet the ultimate mission in life, that of becoming God conscious by the time of death. As soon as there is birth, death is guaranteed. Since we don’t know the exact date of the soul’s future exit from the body, the event tends to get overlooked. Regardless of our acceptance of its inevitability, death will occur. Therefore the wise and the fortunate live their lives in just the right way to guarantee that their consciousness will be situated on the permanent while exiting the body. One must be both intelligent and lucky to have this happen, for mental scholarship will not be able to conjure up the need to remember God, as thinking power is limited by time and space. Since the Supreme Lord is sanatana, or eternal, there is no way for the mind to realize His properties on its own. One must be fortunate enough to accept the dust of the lotus feet of someone who was previously fortunate enough to approach a spiritual master, a teacher following a line of instruction descending from the original Person Himself.

Thinking of that which is permanent, or sat, is difficult when the entire time on earth is spent in the association of asat, or the nonpermanent. The spirit soul is fixed in its position, but when it seeks enjoyment through the senses and association with matter, consciousness drifts further and further away from God. It is not that enjoyment should be denied or that activities required for the maintenance of the body should be ignored. Everyone gets their allotment of fortune from material nature, which makes these measurements based off past karma, or activities performed for a desired result. The key is to not overstep your bounds; otherwise the thorns will increase in number and so will the bleeding caused by the puncturing of the sides.

The need for moderation in ambition shouldn’t be very difficult to understand. Greed is generally frowned upon in any civilized society. Greed is rooted in desires that are never fully satisfied. The animal kingdom, which is much less intelligent than the human community, doesn’t even have this defect in them. If there is a large collection of food somewhere, the animal will come and take what it needs. It will not think, “Let me grab as much as possible before the other animals come. Let me store this somewhere so that I never have to worry about food.” In the human community, hoarding is very common. From something as simple as downloading heaps of music and movies illegally to more involved practices like buying excess land to extend the reach of ownership, greed can take over the otherwise sober mind.

moneyGreed should be avoided because it does not lead to any benefit. If we have every single album of music ever produced, are we any better off? There are only a certain number of hours in a given day. Hence there is no way that the music hoarder will be able to listen to all of the songs they have collected. Similarly, the wealthy man can only enjoy so much. The rows of expensive cars he has in his garage will likely sit idly for the rest of his life, thereby serving as unused furniture more than anything else.

Greed can only arise when the proper destination for the soul is not known. When desires are successfully met, the resulting happiness is short-lived. Therefore new desires must crop up. The mind has a difficult time remembering the labor that went into the previous work and also the fact that the newly met desires will fail to provide happiness in the same way that the just met desires did. But if we are fortunate enough to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, peace and calm can be found very quickly. Yoga studios are popular today because they teach a method of exercise that bears no resemblance to anything else. Yoga means “plus”, or “addition”, so it is really a spiritual activity. When the influence of the senses is too strong, a person can sit in quiet meditation and contemplate on the expansion of the Supreme Lord residing within the heart. This expansion is known as the Supersoul, or Paramatma. Anyone who is able to successfully practice yoga through this method will diminish the influence of their senses, and thereby gain tremendous health benefits.

In today’s fast paced world, the interest in yoga focuses primarily on the ancillary results, with the main purpose of the discipline ignored. Nevertheless, yoga practice will still have some benefits; hence its popularity. But if you break down the practice even further, you see that peace, calm, and control over emotions and the senses are required. Even if a person does yoga for an hour a day, they at least get to have some escape from the seeds of desire that continually sprout up.

Lord KrishnaIf we take the same principles of yoga and apply them perfectly, the benefits are further enhanced. With bhakti-yoga, the same concentration and focus is there, but the target of thought is the Supreme Lord. Instead of sitting in different postures that can be difficult to perfect, one simply has to chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. It is best to chant this out loud with friends and family, but even reciting it to oneself on a set of japa beads is highly effective. If the same yoga studios were filled with instructors reciting the maha-mantra and getting their students to follow along, there is no question that peace would no longer be a scarce commodity.

This is a bold assertion, but its validity lies in the potency of the names recited. Krishna and Rama are Sanskrit words that describe the Supreme Absolute Truth’s features of all-attractiveness and having the ability to give transcendental pleasure to His devotees. The young girl in school who has a crush on a classmate will write the boy’s name many times on a piece of paper and draw hearts around it, and the boy will similarly derive pleasure from thinking of his beloved’s name. Since the spirit soul is naturally a lover of God, the more times a living entity can recite God’s name in a loving way, the more their consciousness will be purified.

If on a hot summer day we were to turn on the fan in the room, we would feel some relief from the scorching heat. But a fan has limitations because it can only cool the area that is directly in contact with its airflow. Moreover, once the fan turns off, the room returns to being as hot as it was previously. With an air conditioner, however, the entire room cools, even if the occupants aren’t in the direct line of the machine’s output of air. Even when the machine is turned off, the room stays cool for a considerable period of time. The benefits of bhakti-yoga, and especially chanting the holy names of the Lord, can be thought of in the same way. Prayer, meditation on void, and even study of the differences between matter and spirit can be beneficial for the time of the engagement, but only bhakti keeps the benefits rolling in. Bhakti’s aim is to change consciousness, which represents the predominant thought processes of the mind, so its practices have lasting effects.

“He who is satisfied with gain which comes of its own accord, who is free from duality and does not envy, who is steady both in success and failure, is never entangled, although performing actions.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.22)

Lord KrishnaFor misery coming from fruitive activity, the seeds of desire are actually the root cause of the distress. These take birth within the mind, which constantly works, irrespective of what the body may be doing. If somehow or other we can learn to control the mind, to keep it focused on something beautiful and bliss-evoking, then the unwanted seeds can be eliminated. This is precisely what occurs with devotional service. Therefore it is not surprising to hear Lord Chaitanya declare that the living entity’s original form, or svarupa, is that of devotee of Krishna. God is God; He is not sectarian or the exclusive property of anyone. Thus chanting His name is open to every single person. Yoga practice may be difficult to perfect, but chanting is not hard at all. Even a child can do it. Bhakti-yoga plants seeds of spiritual desires, hankerings to please Krishna, see His wonderful face, and hear His glories throughout the day. The plants that grow from these seeds are thus free of thorns. The fruits on the desire tree that is Shri Krishna’s holy name only carry positive consequences.

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