“O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.77)
Imagine someone giving you a handful of pearls as a gift. In this case the more appropriate description would be a “box full of pearls”. Why is that? Well, the number of pearls given is more than one, so in order to accommodate their inclination for rolling around, a box is required. The pearls are not stuck together; rather, they are little objects that tend to move on their own when placed on a flat surface. Since they are so small, just the slight tilt of the container or the blowing of the wind can cause them to shift in position. Therefore a box holds the separated, rolling pearls together. Now, will we be happy about this? Will we be glad that the individual pearls have been given to us, even if they are extremely valuable? Obviously the true value would come once the pearls are strung together. When they are on a string, the pearls can form a necklace and thus act as an object of beauty. In the absence of the string that ties everything together, the collection of pearls has a much lower value. This principle applies to the largest scale as well, for without the hand of the Supreme Spirit, nothing in this world would move. Therefore since everything is resting upon Him, He is the tie that binds everything. Without knowledge of His blissful form, pastimes, attributes, and most importantly, His names, no amount of accumulation of tiny pearls in the form of material opulence, sumptuous food, pleasurable experiences and romantic encounters can bring the soul the happiness it totally deserves.
How do we know how much happiness is due the soul? After all, don’t some people follow sinful behavior and thereby squander their opportunity for happiness? For instance, if one worker should show up to the job on time every single day, following a routine schedule aimed at carrying out their responsibilities, and another worker should be perpetually late, shouldn’t the tardy person be punished? In this sense, how can we say that happiness is always owed the soul, for it seems that the actions undertaken in life lead to the benefits or detriments received?
Such truths are certainly present for those operating under karma, or the system of fairness managed by the higher authorities. Karma is translated to mean “fruitive activity” in English because of how the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India which first introduced the term “karma” to the world, refer to the results of action. Karma-phala, or the fruits of material activity, can be bitter or sweet in taste. Not every reaction is pleasant or even intended. For instance, the young child places the hand into the fire not knowing what will happen. The intention obviously isn’t for severe pain or the scorching heat of the fire to surround the skin. But regardless of the intention, the result will be the same.
Yet the soul doesn’t have to live under karma’s dictates perpetually. Rather, such action and reaction is only present in a land divorced of the personal influence of the Supreme Lord. God is everything. If He is the fountainhead of the material, marginal and spiritual energies, how can He ever be absent from any sphere? For those who want to neglect His supreme status, His stature as the most renounced, wealthy, strong, famous, knowledgeable and beautiful person, they are allowed to take birth in a land where finding God is very difficult. Indeed, the pursuit of self-realization is so tough that a living entity is considered fortunate if they are even able to realize the need for taking it up.
Obligations in other areas are much easier to accept. The child thinks their occupational duty is to play all day or do well in school. The husband thinks his duty is to protect his family and earn a good living. The mother thinks her duty is to take care of her children. Though these obligations are certainly worth accepting, we see that they serve as further stumbling blocks, distractions if you will, towards making full advancement in knowledge. With every obligation comes another obstruction in the path towards seeing the Supreme Lord. The obligations can provide so much daily pressure that the need to even worship or know God gets tabled indefinitely.
This reveals how karma influences behavior, how it ensures the living entity’s desire to forget God is granted. In its constitutional position, however, the soul is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. These attributes are inherited from the Supreme Person, who possesses the same features but to a much larger degree. The soul is part and parcel of Krishna, or God, meant to remain in His association constantly. Based on its constitutional makeup the soul is due supreme bliss through divine association. In the absence of the association of the person who strings everything together, the little pieces of information and enjoyment found in a life governed by karma cannot take on their true value.
We see that in the absence of real religion, so many dharmas, or systems of maintenance, are put forth. This proves that mankind must have a guiding force to activity, for the ability to think rationally separates the human beings from the animals. Under rational thought, systems of maintenance are followed to allow for a more beneficial future to be experienced. When the ultimate system of maintenance is not bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the resultant conditions will be checked in some way. They will result in the enjoyment of a tiny pearl versus having the entire necklace.
On television, sometimes public service announcements are aired, commercials not aimed at earning a profit. They are meant to teach lessons, instill values in the audience. The need for such an information transfer is quite obvious. Television is not meant to teach; it is meant to entertain. Indeed, the hearing process is the most effective at knowledge transfer, a secret well established in the Vedas, who were originally known as the shrutis because they were passed on through an oral tradition.
There was even once a humorous incident with Lord Rama, the warrior prince incarnation of the Supreme Lord who roamed the earth during the Treta Yuga, relating to the Vedas and how they are passed on through the hearing process. While residing in the forest of Dandaka with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, a female Rakshasa by the name of Shurpanakha came by and wanted to enjoy conjugal relations with Lord Rama. That a woman would be attracted to the most attractive person in the world is not surprising, but the lengths to which this person went to secure that enjoyment is what was noteworthy.
Rama kindly rejected the woman, informing her that He was there with His wife, the princess of Videha. Though God can accept an unlimited number of devotees, wives, eternal consorts, and children, as Lord Rama He only accepts one wife. That’s how much He loves Sita Devi. When Sita hears the story of Tulasi Devi and how she is intimately related to Lord Vishnu, who is the same Rama residing in the spiritual sky, she looks at her husband and He blushes. He is so dedicated to His wife that He never wants her to think that He could ever be with another woman.
After being rebuked, Shurpanakha wouldn’t go away, so she decided she would get rid of her competition. Seeing the woman about to attack Sita Devi, Lord Rama looked at Lakshmana and counted the four Vedas on His fingers. The original scriptural tradition imparted by the Lord at the beginning of creation on Lord Brahma consisted of a singular set of pearls of wisdom known as the Veda. Subsequently it was divided into four branches to make it easier to understand. By counting off the four Vedas, or shrutis, Lord Rama was secretly referring to the ear. Then the Lord made a cutting gesture with His hands pointing to the sky. In this way the Lord instructed Lakshmana to cut off the witch’s ear. Lakshmana would listen to his brother and lop off the woman’s nose and ears as she tried to attack Sita. She then went running back to where she came from.
Television appeals to the emotional aspect of the human being, not the intellectual. Therefore service announcements through the medium of television are required to be able to cut through and affect one’s behavioral system, to alter thought processes. These commercials focus on different values such as being honest, staying away from illegal drugs, drinking responsibly, and so on. Each of these different values can be likened to the pearls rolling around in a box. They are wonderful in their own right, but without the thread to hold them together, there can be no tangible benefit realized. If one human being is honest and constantly worrying about obligations and another person is dishonest and has the same worries, what is the difference?
Under karma, the dishonest person would suffer in the afterlife, but the best the honest person could hope for is ascension to a more pleasant material circumstance in the next life. With knowledge of the string, the entity holding all the pearls together, comes the true benefit of human life. In His original form, God is described as being the most attractive person, a youth with a beautiful body blackish in complexion. He is the pleasure giver to the cows and the senses, and He is the all-knowing Supreme Personality. Though He is without a name, the people that know and love Him call Him Krishna because of His transcendental attributes.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that no truth is superior to Him, and that everything rests upon Him, like pearls on a string. Besides being a brilliant way to describe how everything in this world is related to the Lord, this information also corresponds nicely with one of the central practices of bhakti, the discipline aimed at connecting with Krishna. Since there are so many distractions in life, obstructions blocking even the recognition of the need to understand God, the best way to connect with the Lord is to chant His names. For the chanting to really become effective, it must be done regularly and in the proper mood. What better way to transform randomness and chaos into order and discipline than by using a string?
If we take the same set of pearls rolling around in a box that someone gave us as a gift and use it to chant Krishna’s names, the chore would be a little difficult. For starters, just picking up each pearl would be tedious. I pick one up, chant the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and then put it down to look for the next one. What‘s to say that I’ll be able to pick one up quickly? How will I maintain a rhythm if I can’t even find a pearl to pick up? What’s more, how am I going to keep track of how many times I’ve recited the mantra?
An appropriate concern may be raised at this point. “If the aim of human life is to love God, what need is there to keep track of how many times a mantra has been recited? Shouldn’t the process be spontaneous and from the heart? Wouldn’t Krishna appreciate this more?” Actually, this is entirely correct. The highest stage of consciousness is where spontaneous loving attraction for Krishna is exhibited. The gopis of Vrindavana, especially Shrimati Radharani, are the experts in this field. Their love for Krishna is so spontaneous that they don’t even know that they are practicing bhakti, that they are superior to mystic yogis, mental speculators and fruitive workers. We can go around in circles, delving into an infinitely recursive loop of observation, and still never reach the end of the glories of the gopis.
Since our inertia in spiritual life has built up over such a long period of time, regulation and goals are required in the beginning stages of bhakti. If there is no attention paid to how many mantras are recited, how will the conditioned soul be able to tell if they are progressing on the path towards liberation, the end of the cycle of birth and death signaled by constant association with Krishna through His non-different forms like His names, pastimes and attributes? Therefore to make chanting easier and more effective, tiny beads are put together on a string to form what is known as a japa mala. Japa refers to silent recitation of a mantra, where the transcendentalist repeats the specific sequence of words either within the mind or silently to oneself. The mala is the rosary, or collection of beads.
So how many beads go into a mala? How does the chanting take place? Not surprisingly, there is a head bead, indicated by its larger size and also the colored strands of thread on top of it. For Vishnu-bhakti, devotional chanting aimed at realizing God in His original, personal form, the head bead is taken to be the Lord Himself. Therefore the mantra is not chanted on this bead. There are 108 other beads that make up the rest of the mala. On each bead the specific mantra is chanted and then the reciter moves on to the next bead. The 108 beads can represent different things, but for devotees of Krishna they symbolize the 108 principle gopis, or the topmost devotees of the Lord.
Whatever we think goes into religion and however complicated we think achieving success in it actually is, just chanting the maha-mantra repeatedly on a japa mala while sitting in front of a tulasi plant is enough to bring full enlightenment. How this actually works is known only to Krishna and the people who follow the chanting routine. Ordinarily, if we tell someone to sit in front of a tree and repeat a sound vibration over and over again, they’d tell us to get lost. After all, young children are given punishments that are similar to this, so how could the behavior be beneficial to adults that don’t misbehave?
As sound is the most powerful agent for change, by regularly reciting Krishna’s names, the sounds of the Absolute Truth enter the ear and get to work on dissipating the cloud of nescience surrounding the soul previously desirous of subjugation under karma. For the devotee in trance, or samadhi, karma no longer has an influence. The divine nature, which works directly under Krishna’s direction, takes over. Therefore, by knowing the string on which all the pearls are resting, the fountainhead of all knowledge, the most wonderful person in the world, everything we could ever want comes in the palm of our hand. And it all starts with the sacred set of beads held together on Krishna’s string.
Beads numbering one hundred eight on a thread,
With one bead representing Shri Krishna as the head.
Chant the holy names so that God you’ll understand,
Full enlightenment will come in palm of your hand.
Without God, information is in pieces disjointed,
Material enjoyments leave everyone disappointed.
Life is meant for pleasure, happiness the soul deserves,
Without bhakti, into temporary engagements one swerves.
But by source of everything finding,
Full happiness will we be enjoying.
Above Krishna there is no truth, everything He does bring,
Like the individual pearls resting comfortably on a string.
With each separate bead maintain routine we can’t,
But with japa mala, easier for holy name to chant.