Coming Up For Air

Lord Krishna“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)

It’s a typical summer travel day in America. You’re ready to head home after a weekend of fun with family and friends, where you got to share experiences and valuable time with each other. As you get older, these experiences occur less frequently, as the rigors of everyday life and the pressures of family and work commitments keep you grounded. But today you are ready to head back into the air, as two flights will take you home. The weather seems fine where you are, so you start to make plans as to what you will do when you get home, provided that you get home on time. Little do you know that this day will be like no other. It will be filled with moments of frustration, utter panic, total calm and relief, followed by a renewed enthusiasm to reach the final destination. In the end it amounts to just another day in your journey through life, but many valuable lessons on the purpose of existence can be taken away.

airportThe rollercoaster ride starts when your connecting flight home gets delayed. This is quite normal, as in the summertime there are intense thunderstorms that quickly travel through different areas. These storms are short in duration but very intense, so trying to take off or land an airplane through them is very difficult. The airline tells you that your flight home is delayed because the airplane that is supposed to take you is currently stranded somewhere else, where there is bad weather. Ah, but if only the frustration stopped there. A few minutes later, you notice that the monitors displaying the time and gate of your flight say “cancelled” underneath your flight’s new scheduled departure time. No announcement has been made, but you decide to get up and visit the ticket counter just in case. After you get on line, they make the official announcement that your flight is cancelled. Now a throng of people is lined up, all essentially competing with one another to get on the next flight, which leaves in an hour.

It seems like it’s your lucky day, as you are able to grab a spot on the earliest departing flight. All is well again, so you sit back, relax, and wait to go home. Thus far there have been a few inconveniences, but it’s no sweat off your back; that is until a new announcement comes over the loudspeaker. The storm that you had just seen pass through your airport has now made its way towards your home, or at least it seems that way. Your new flight is now delayed by an hour. Wouldn’t you know it, an hour later, they say that it’s delayed again. This time they don’t tell you a new flight time. The airline officials just say that they’ll have another announcement in a half hour. This same announcement continues every half hour for about 3 hours. Finally, they make the announcement that the plane is boarding. Seems well, no? The bad weather must have moved off by now.

After boarding, as you’re ready to take off the captain says that there might be some bumps during the flight, as there is bad weather to maneuver around. No big deal, as you have now figured out that turbulence often comes from flying through clouds. If there are rainclouds, the turbulence gets more intense. Because you think you know what is causing the turbulence, perhaps you won’t get as nervous. It’s now nighttime, however, so you can’t even see anything outside the window. If the airplane starts shaking you really have no idea what is going on.

airplaneAs the short flight home progresses, you start thinking that maybe the captain was just bracing you for the worst. Thus far there has been little to no turbulence, and the plane is ready to make its descent into the destination airport. This is where things get really interesting. As you start the descent, the turbulence picks up. “Okay, no sweat, right? Obviously we’re going through rainclouds, so that’s why the plane is shaking so much.” As you get further down, however, the shaking and the sudden jolts within the aircraft intensify. As the turbulence seems to reach its apex, you notice something strange. It appears that the plane is heading back upwards. Not only that, but the intensity of the upward motion is quite severe, so the airplane’s interior is not as quiet as it normally is. No one has said anything, so you’re not sure what is going on. Then the turbulence really intensifies. No more is there quiet around you; just utter panic. You start wondering if this is it. The only thing you can compare the experience to is a fighter jet trying to get away from enemy fire. “It’s obvious that we’re now going somewhere else, but why hasn’t anyone said anything?”

After the most violent shocks to the aircraft, things finally calm down. No more loud noises; just calm coasting. The pilot gets on the PA system and says that he tried to land the plane but it was just raining too hard for him to see the field. Therefore he decided to head back up and wait out the storm. He says the rain was moving pretty fast, so he’ll definitely get the plane landed the next time. Ironically enough, the comfort felt while hovering above the rainclouds cannot be described in words. It is so soothing to know that you’re not going to have to experience that turbulent descent again, at least not right away. But if only you could remain up in the safe air forever. You know that eventually they’ll have to try the landing again. The plane can’t hide from its responsibility forever. Eventually, you’ll have to suck it up and go to your intended destination. On the second try, the plane descends just fine, with almost no turbulence, and everything goes well. The passengers on the plane applaud the pilot as he lands on the runway.

A safe landing is the intended destination for every single soul, but the comfort of material life keeps the individual from taking the difficult steps necessary for fulfilling that destiny. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that God is not sectarian nor is He the exclusive property of any one person. He is not a myth either. He is the one person to whom we are all intimately tied. As a person, God is spirit. He is the fountainhead of all spirit and matter; therefore there is no difference between His body and His form. He is both with form and without it. He is both loud and silent. Every possible combination of mutually contradictory attributes exists within Him. Duality is but a product of the mind accepted by His tiny spiritual expansions, which are struggling very hard with material existence.

Lord KrishnaWhat is material existence exactly? Think of being far away from home and not wanting to return because of the difficulty of the journey. The airplane passengers felt comfort when hovering above the rainclouds, but unless the difficult landing was again attempted, they would remain shut out from their real business. Similarly, the individual spirit souls travel through the cycle of birth and death, or reincarnation, until they are ready to become fully God conscious. Just mention the word “God” in public and you will turn people off. And why shouldn’t they be turned off? What does God have to do with eating, sleeping, mating, or defending? What does the Lord have to do with gambling, intoxication, meat eating and illicit sex life?

When wrongly presented or not properly understood , religion is taken to be a sectarian system of faith, one promising punishment for the sinners. Under this system, if a simple profession of faith is made, then one is safe from being punished in hell in the afterlife. The real situation, however, isn’t so black and white. Punishment is already built into fruitive activity. The example of the hectic travel day alone carried so many hellish conditions. Is it a positive experience to almost have a heart attack over worrying about the airplane not landing? Is it not hellish to have to sit in an airport and wait indefinitely for your flight home?

Actions have consequences. Sometimes they are favorable and other times they are not. Moreover, the natures of the reactions don’t apply universally. For instance, the stranded passengers suffered through a hellish condition because of the rainstorms, while the grass and plants in the affected fields enjoyed the nourishment tremendously. This is what material existence entails. Duality means that things aren’t always taken the same way. Depending on the type of activity and the intended desire, things that are neutrally situated are viewed either positively or negatively. Hence we get temporary hellish and heavenly conditions all the time. There is no need to wait for an afterlife to suffer or enjoy these experiences.

Lord KrishnaWith the Supreme Lord, however, there is only bliss. This is part of His constitution. Since we come from God, our properties are similar to His, except we don’t possess them in the same proportion. The most auspicious destination, or sugati, for the spirit soul is the company of the Supreme Lord. God is actually situated everywhere, but the material existence is considered separated from Him because His presence is forgotten. God is within every single atom, but unless we realize His presence and take advantage of it, we suffer in ignorance. Therefore the aim of life becomes quite simple. Follow a bona fide system of spirituality and gradually elevate yourself to the position where you’re always thinking about God.

God consciousness helps us both in the present and future. By knowing and understanding the Supreme Person, we learn a lot about ourselves too. Reincarnation not only tells us about action and reaction, but it also shows us that we are not our bodies. The different appendages attached to our form, and even the subtle elements like mind, intelligence and ego, do not represent our identity. The soul is the identifiable aspect, and its future destination is what matters most.

Why the difficulty in adopting spirituality as a way of life? Material existence gives us short bursts of satisfaction, a false sense of security, similar to what the hovering aircraft awaiting a good time to land provided. The plunge into spirituality is difficult in the beginning because connecting with God is seen as a chore, something to be segregated from other activities. In the higher stages, however, one can be doing pretty much anything and stay connected with the Lord through consciousness. This connection is known as yoga, and one who is always thinking of God is the best of yogis, or those striving for transcendental satisfaction through meditation. This is declared by Lord Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita.

“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47)

Lord KrishnaWho is Krishna? The Vedas say that the original Personality of Godhead has a bluish hue and a transcendentally sweet form. He carries a flute in His hands and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Since this form is all-attractive, it can be described by the Sanskrit word Krishna. This same supreme person can then expand into many other personal forms, such as Lord Vishnu and His different incarnations. Each manifestation is there to be taken advantage of by the spirit soul looking for a permanent link to the spiritual world.

What are the initial steps required for practicing yoga? Should we be seated in difficult positions and follow breathing exercises? The exercise version of yoga may help to alleviate the tension felt from the senses, but it doesn’t take care of consciousness. The best way to find real yoga is to follow bhakti, or divine love. The best way to jump into bhakti and remain in the loving mindset is to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The holy name is non-different from the Lord. The soul trapped in a material existence will have a difficult time understanding this, but if they somehow force themselves to chant, avoid sinful behavior, and remain dedicated to connecting with God in yoga, the wisdom necessary for achieving liberation will arrive in the palm of the hand.

A reward for the God conscious soul is an end to reincarnation. The final destination, the pleasant runway that is the spiritual world, is reached. In that place there is peace of mind and comfort, and there is no need for temporary alleviation from the raging storm caused by the constant changes of the material world. Shri Krishna’s personal presence provides the heat and light and the nourishment for the soul hungry for transcendental association. With this reward available, why should we wait another second? Regardless of how comfortable we may be, nothing can beat the satisfaction that comes from always thinking about our beloved Lord.

In Closing:

Up above the clouds do you feel safe,

From the turbulent rainstorm you did escape.

But the plan for landing must again be deployed,

The trip to the bottom you can’t forever avoid.

In safe waters material life gives comfort,

Avoid tough situations and you won’t get hurt.

But human form meant for a higher purpose,

The chance for salvation one should not miss.

Initial plunge into spiritual life may hurt,

Reward of God’s company worth the effort.

Yogi who thinks of Krishna is the best,

At end of life suffering put to rest.

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Categories: devotional service

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