“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.28)
Who is God? Is He just an abstract concept conceived in the bewildered mind looking for some real meaning to life? Fruitive activity seems to be the obvious solution to redress mental ailments. “Just go wherever the sense impulses take you and you will be alright. If you feel like eating something now, go for it. Want to indulge in intoxication, why not give it a try?” When the pattern of repeated acceptance and rejection, happiness and dissatisfaction, is recognized, the search continues for a higher truth. Perhaps there is something beyond this temporary realm. Maybe there is a supreme controller who is not bewildered by duality, and perhaps there is a purpose to our existence that can be revealed from connecting with that person.
Along with providing answers to the many questions we’ve asked throughout our lifetime, this pursuit for higher knowledge also has the potential to purify so many past mistakes. How does this work exactly? According to the Vedas, the scriptural tradition of India brought forth at the beginning of time, long before any person could imagine, man is born with three defects. He has the propensity to commit mistakes and cheat, and he has imperfect senses. The mistakes are easy to see. Anything where we did something the wrong way, something we later on acknowledge as a bad decision, gets identified as a mistake. We know that man commits mistakes because otherwise there would be no purpose to guardianship, education, or the study of history.
Man also has a tendency to cheat. Rules and regulations are imposed to address this tendency. If man didn’t have a propensity to take what didn’t belong to him, to use unlawful advantages, there would be no reason for governing bodies to exist. Government’s primary function is to protect innocent life and property. The protection is of primary concern, and if it is absent nothing the government does can satisfy the general public, the people being governed.
Man also has imperfect senses. This may not be immediately obvious, but if we take something as simple as the need for light, the many limitations of the human being can be easily noticed. The only difference between a dark room and a lit one is the presence of light. Through illumination we can decipher the objects within the room and describe them to others. Yet once the light disappears, do the objects suddenly vanish? From the observer’s perspective those objects are no longer present, but the intelligent person knows that the external viewpoint has no bearing on the viewed object. Since we require light to see things, our senses are not perfect. Moreover, even with bright lighting, we sometimes misidentify things, such as considering a rope to be a snake and vice versa.
Because of the three defects, man makes so many incorrect decisions and goes down so many erroneous paths in life. The incorrect decisions are the root cause for the present condition, the circumstances of the most recent birth. The soul is eternal, but the dwellings it occupies are not. We may purchase a home and live in it for upwards of fifty years, but we know that eventually we will have to move out of the house. Either we will find another dwelling to reside in or we will die and exit the entire world. The body of the living being is likened to a dwelling because the soul inside it is the occupant. The soul retains the properties of eternality, bliss and knowledge always, but just as the shade can cover up the effusive lamp’s splendor, the body types assumed can mask the brilliant properties of the soul to varying degrees.
Birth indicates that the previous life was a failure in terms of the ultimate mission. The living being, though a pure spirit soul, can reside either in God’s company or away from Him. The separated land is known as the material world and the specific residence in it is determined by desires from the past. If at the time of quitting our previous body we desired some type of material attachment, we received birth in the temporary realm governed by duality as our handsome reward. Not only does the human being face this predicament, but so does every other type of living entity. The countless living creatures residing in the earth, sky and water represent spirit souls who chose in favor of material association in the past.
“There are an infinite number of living beings, both moving and nonmoving, who have many different abodes, with some residing in the earth, some in the sky, and some in the water. But O helpless Tulsi, for you Shri Rama’s holy name is your only home.” (Dohavali, 37)
The devotee, the person who knows God and His spiritual attributes, feels regret over having squandered so many past lives. A life is just a measurement of time relating to the duration of existence of a particular living form. We mark the days on the calendar and the hours within the day for reference purposes, but nothing changes about our identity with the passing of time. Whether we choose to analyze changes over a day, week, or month, we as individual beings don’t change. The same unchanging property remains perpetually, from life to life, or from body type to body type.
The fact that we took birth from our mother’s womb indicates that at least the most recent life didn’t reach full maturity in terms of God consciousness. One who thinks of the Supreme Lord and His all-attractiveness at the time of death never has to return to the ocean of material existence, which is filled with defects borne of duality, relative good and bad determined by the temporary circumstance of the time. Ignited by the failure to become fully God conscious during the previous life, within each birth there is a cycle of mistake after mistake, which can be identified through the ascendency in knowledge. As children, we may not have known better, but when we get older and mature, we realize that the past errors made were due to immaturity, lack of knowledge of many important aspects of life.
What’s so nice about turning to God and taking up His service through the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is that even the past mistakes turn out to be blessings. If we did something really horrible a long time ago, something we wish we could take back, pondering over that incident will not really do us any good. We know we screwed up, so what is the use in belaboring the point? Better to just forget about the incident entirely, no?
Normally moving on is the right option, but when one tries to learn about the Supreme Absolute Truth through following the authorized teachings of the Vedas, the past mistakes turn into valuable field research, experiences which can help to strengthen one’s devotion, convincing them even more of the supremacy of God and devotion to Him. How does this work exactly? You could take any example of material activity to learn that it didn’t deliver on its intended target, but something as obvious as intoxication can suffice. Perhaps in the past you spent significant time getting drunk with friends and family to have a good time. You didn’t know any better, so you had a few drinks here and there and enjoyed the temporary escape from the senses that intoxication provided.
But there are many negative consequences to intoxication. For starters, one loses their inhibitions, which include restraints to force compliance with standards of decency in behavior. The drunken escapades are full of acts that shouldn’t be repeated, things one did that they’d just as soon forget. The stupid behavior was caused by the lack of internal cleanliness, not having respect for the standard rules of conduct because of the temporary loss of sobriety.
Typically, the drunken binges should just be forgotten, for what can be taken away from studying such trivial incidents from the past? But if we’re learning about the science of self-realization and how the soul is the essence of identity, we can revisit those past mistakes related to drinking and realize that the initial desire for intoxication was rooted in a distaste for material life. If everything around us is going so well, what need do we have for escapes, temporary or otherwise? If we have friends and family with us, why bother with drinking? Obviously something must be missing in life, a void that has to be filled, for someone to seek intoxication.
The errant behavior caused by a lack of sobriety also helps us to understand just how important it is to stay sober. With sobriety comes an increased chance of realizing the differences between matter and spirit, of seeing the Supreme Lord’s presence wherever we turn. In the Bhagavad-gita, the most glorious of spiritual treatises, Lord Krishna opens by declaring that the soul is the essence of identity and that bodies constantly change, from boyhood to youth and from youth to old age. Krishna says that the sober person, he who is dhira, can understand these facts.
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)
Though the past intoxication should normally be forgotten, for the spiritualist, the past incidents provide further evidence for the need to remain sober and give a reminder on how beneficial that sobriety is. If we just tell someone don’t do this or don’t do that and fail to provide a tangible reason, what effect will that instruction have? Unless there is a positive activity as a replacement, an end-goal to achieve, basic restraint will be difficult to follow. The spiritualist not only goes back on past mistakes and learns from them, but they use those experiences to become more dedicated to the sublime path that is devotional service.
And how do we know that devotional service is the correct path? The cornerstone practice of bhakti-yoga is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Think of Krishna, say His name, always remember Him, and do everything for Him. Following this guiding principle you will gradually come to Krishna. This is the Lord’s promise made directly by Him in the Bhagavad-gita. Lest we think Krishna is not worthy of our service, He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. The devotee steadily practicing devotion through chanting and hearing finds happiness in all corners of life. The worst incidents from the past are looked back upon fondly. “Ah, I’m glad I made those mistakes now, for at least I learned what is maya, or not God. Krishna is certainly everything, but His personal presence is absent from material nature. Enjoyment through maya means turning one’s back on God. As soon as that error is made, negative consequences are sure to follow. Though I made so many mistakes in the past, today those events are all blessed, for they remind me of just how amazing Krishna’s energy of maya is, and how its illusory powers are beyond comprehension.”
Krishna orders maya to fulfill the desires of the jivas, or living beings. His illusory potency is so powerful that it can fool even someone who is married to an exalted figure like Lord Shiva. Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Lord Shiva is His greatest devotee, a heavenly figure who delights in hearing about the Supreme Lord, especially in His form of Lord Rama. One time Lord Shiva’s wife Sati saw him ecstatic after watching the pastimes of the Supreme Lord Rama. Sati was a little perplexed as to why her husband was worshiping someone who looked like an ordinary man. Lord Shiva told her that Rama was indeed God and that He was playing the role of a human being for the delight of others. Yet Mahadeva knew that she wasn’t fully convinced by his words, so he told her to visit Rama in the forest and devise a test by which she could find out if He was God or not.
Sati decided to appear in front of Rama in the guise of Sita Devi, Rama’s wife who had just gone missing from the forest. Expecting Rama to become ecstatic upon seeing His wife, Sati was surprised when Rama instead asked her about the whereabouts of Lord Shiva and why she was separated from him. Sati then decided to walk away and return to her husband. But as she was walking, she saw Sita, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana in front of her. When she turned around, she saw the same trio behind her. In this way, Rama proved to be the master of illusion, capable of creating any vision at any time and place.
The devotee who takes to directly understanding Krishna can appreciate maya and her influence. The past allegiance to the illusory energy was regrettable, but at the same time it provided so many invaluable lessons, gems which were discovered only after having connected with God. As if we needed any further convincing, from the purification of past mistakes, the redress of erstwhile transgressions, Krishna’s position as the Supreme Lord and reservoir of pleasure is further substantiated.
In the past had many needless transgressions,
Brought negative effects, repeated depression.
Best course of action is to just move ahead,
Forget about past, concern for future instead.
From devotional service high knowledge earn,
The past mistakes become sources for lessons to learn.
At the end of life consciousness reveals our choice,
To live with God or go to material land opinion voice.
From present birth we know that in last life we did fail,
But with devotion to Krishna in end we will prevail.