“To know one’s constitutional position means to know also the sublime position of the Lord. One who wrongly thinks that the living entity’s position and the Lord’s position are on the same level is to be understood to be in darkness and therefore unable to engage himself in the devotional service of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.51 Purport)
To fully understand a component object, one needs to know the purpose that it is meant to fulfill. If tied to a larger object, familiarity with that larger object is also required. In the absence of knowledge of the whole, the understanding of the component will be incomplete. For the infinitesimally small spiritual spark cased inside of a larger, yet ever-changing, material covering, to know oneself is the ultimate pursuit. Along the way, so many identifications are shed. To find the ultimate knowledge of the self, one must know to whom that self is intimately tied. Knowing the benefactor and its divine features is thus concomitant with self-realization.
What does this all mean really? Are there people who only understand the identity of the spirit soul and ignore the presence of the superior soul? How is that even possible? Actually, depending on the path of spiritual life you accept, you can perpetually remain in the dark about the presence of a superior form of spirit. For instance, there is the route of mental speculation. This is fraught with peril, as the human brain is limited in its thinking capacity. Moreover, perception is the fuel for mental effort, and this perception is limited. Even if we have x-ray vision and the most expensive microscope to use for our observation, the surrounding environment plays an enormous role in the information gathering. When the sun goes down at night and there is full darkness, it is much more difficult to see our surroundings.
The range element of a machine to help us in perception is a limit with respect to space, and there is also the more powerful limiting force known as time. Because of time’s influence, we have no way to perceive something as important as our emergence from the womb. The whole of human history must be accepted on authorized information presented by others, including their written-down sense perceptions. To add further complexity to the mix, the brain must be able to retain all the visuals it consumes and then know how to process them. As we have difficulty remembering what we ate for breakfast a few days ago, the sole reliance on sense perception is flawed from the very beginning.
In the Vedic tradition, those interested in self-realization are taught the first instruction of aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” Right away the Vedas slap the silly mental speculator upside the head by saying: “Abandon this pursuit of high knowledge on your own. Don’t even try to speculate. You are pure spirit, Brahman. Brahman is the truth. It is above the dualities of heat and cold, happiness and sadness, up and down, and birth and death. Brahman is your real identity. Follow authorized methods of instruction and practice to understand your position as Brahman.”
With the self’s position identified in the beginning, the proper target is also set. Without a proper target, going through life is like running around as a chicken with its head cut off. A gun must be pointed at a proper target in order for its bullets to have the desired effect. The automobile must be given a destination for its ability to mean something. The student must know which assignments to complete and which tests to study for in order to reach the end of successful completion of the course.
With the individual’s position as pure spirit identified, the authorized Vedic instruction applies rules and regulations aimed at allowing for that position to be realized. Someone may stand up in front of the classroom and teach me about the concepts of mathematics, but unless I can apply those principles myself, my knowledge of that information will be incomplete. Someone can tell me that two plus two equals four, but if the situation arises where I need to use that equation myself, I need to know the truth behind it.
The practical application of Vedic principles comes through sacrifice, penance, austerity, and study of the Vedas, which delve into the difference between matter and spirit, the genesis of creation, and the constitutional position of the living entity. The material body is not the source of identity. This fact needs constant reiteration because in the absence of Vedic instruction, the living being automatically succumbs to the debilitating effect on consciousness brought on by material nature, which brings illusion at every second. I know that my ancestors have died, yet somehow I don’t think that the same fate awaits me. Even if I do acknowledge it, I try to forget about it, as why would I want to make myself depressed?
“One should perform sacrifice, penance and charity with the word tat. The purpose of such transcendental activities is to get free from the material entanglement.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.25)
The Vedas are the true light of knowledge, so remaining in constant contact with them through the information presented by its most highly qualified teachers keeps the proper identity of the self intact. By following Vedic guidelines for abstention from material association, detachment from the constant ups and downs of life, and recitation of the sacred syllable om, which represents the Absolute Truth, one can become Brahman realized, or brahma-bhutah.
Yet the living being’s identification with Brahman is only one part of the puzzle. The realization is not complete unless one learns where Brahman fits into the larger picture. As an example to see the distinction, let’s say that we’re studying an automobile. Through mental effort, we learn the ins and outs of the steering wheel. It is made of a certain compound, operates through the effort of the driver, and requires a certain type of fluid in order to rotate smoothly.
But what if all we knew was the steering wheel? What if we ignored its position relative to the automobile? Obviously the steering wheel on its own isn’t of much value. It’s a circular object that may look nice and do neat stuff. But only when placed inside of a functioning vehicle is the steering wheel really useful. So in this sense knowing about the car and its value is equally as important as knowing about a component piece.
The individual sparks of Brahman are by nature blissful, eternal and knowledgeable. These features are inherited from Parabrahman, which can be considered the Supreme Self. On a tree we may have many small bananas and one very large one, but there isn’t an inherent relationship between the larger object and the smaller pieces. Different degrees of size and stature are there in virtually every field, but with Brahman and Parabrahman there is an ideal relationship. Brahman emanates from Parabrahman, and that link can never be broken; only forgotten.
Parabrahman’s features are revealed to the spiritualist who follows the topmost Vedic discipline of bhagavata-dharma, which is also known as bhakti-yoga. Though Parabrahman is a separate entity, it resides within the individual body alongside the individual soul. Its presence is felt through following the instructions of the acharyas familiar with bhagavata-dharma. To be a qualified teacher in this discipline, one has to be practicing its principles. The primary activity of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
If we’re trying to learn about the features belonging to a superior collection of spirit, what is chanting a mantra over and over again going to do for us? Connection with Parabrahman doesn’t necessarily require sight perception. That may help, as seeing makes a believer out of a staunch doubter, but if that vision goes away the ability to connect does not. This reveals Parabrahman’s absolute position. Chanting the names of the Personality who Parabrahman represents is as good as seeing Him, because the name carries with it Parabrahman’s qualities, pastimes and forms.
“My dear Krishna, O infallible and most beautiful one, any human being who happens to hear about Your transcendental form and pastimes immediately absorbs through his ears Your name, fame and qualities; thus all his material pangs subside, and he fixes Your form in his heart. Through such transcendental love for You, he sees You always within himself; and by this process all his desires become fulfilled. Similarly, I have heard of Your transcendental qualities. I may be shameless in expressing myself so directly, but You have captivated me and taken my heart.” (Letter from Rukmini Devi to Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 51)
One famous divine figure during her time on earth had never met Parabrahman in His original position as Shri Krishna, but since she had heard about Him, she knew that He was the only person she wanted to marry. The sound vibrations she took in describing Krishna’s features painted the mental picture within her mind, which allowed this most beautiful princess, Rukmini Devi, to fully surrender herself to Him. Though she wasn’t a transcendentalist consciously looking to understand the self, simply by harboring attraction for Krishna, from hearing about His features, she was intimately familiar with her own constitutional position.
Krishna’s position is sublime. His name, which is assigned to Him by those who love Him, indicates that He is all-attractive. Brahman’s tremendous potency is meant for serving Parabrahman. That is the real purpose to self-realization. If I understand my constitutional position as pure spirit and know where I fit into the larger picture, I can follow activities that will bring the ultimate benefit. Therefore self-realization is meant to culminate in service to Krishna, which operates without motivation and without interruption when the sublime vision of the Lord is kept within the mind. Seeing Him for a second can bring bliss to the eyes, but once that vision dissipates, the eyes are left to look upon other things. In this way Krishna’s name is actually superior to Him, because it can be repeated over and over again, creating that same sublime vision within the mind at any time.
“But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, fixed, and immovable—the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth-by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.3-4)
What about those who never learn about Krishna but reach the state of brahma-bhutah? Shri Krishna addresses this issue in the Bhagavad-gita, His discourse on spirituality which has the essence of the Vedas in a format presentable to even those not fully immersed in self-realization. Understanding only the self while ignoring Parabrahman is akin to understanding the impersonal feature of the Supreme Lord. Through the impersonal understanding man can shun material nature and thus avoid the harmful attachments that develop over the course of a lifetime. This path is quite difficult to begin with, as without the bliss of Krishna’s association, adherence to dharma will be severely tested.
Nevertheless, if the motivation is genuine, if the desire for self-realization is true, eventually the impersonalist will find Krishna. The bhagavata-dharma route is direct, as it identifies the living entity’s position as Brahman and servant of God simultaneously. With bhakti, Krishna can stay within the mind, bringing the sweetness of association. Brahma-bhutah relies on knowledge and renunciation, but even the most unintelligent person can bask in Krishna’s association if they are sincere in purpose. Hence they can find their constitutional position without knowing Brahman first. The bhakti route is easier to implement but much more difficult to accept, as the spirit soul has grown averse to divine love through its travels through many species in the wheel of the samsara-chakra, the cycle of birth and death. Nevertheless, those who are fortunate enough to understand Krishna’s position will never have to take birth again, reaching His transcendental abode at the end of life, gaining the opportunity to live in their original home.
Self-realization, pursuit of identity to know,
But to higher being our existence we owe.
To know self one must know Him as well,
His beautiful form ignorance dispels.
From bhakti know God without Him in front of you,
Let mind worship image of sweet form of bluish hue.
Rukmini loved Krishna though Him never having seen,
Asked Him to rescue her, arrive at marriage scene.
In bhakti for progress won’t have to wait,
Through Lord’s help at end reach highest state.