“As we cannot see anything in the absence of the sun, so also we cannot see anything including our own self, without the factual presence of the Lord. Without Him all our knowledge is covered by illusion.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.11.9 Purport)
Due to the thick covering of nescience surrounding the identifying agent within the body, we’re not even sure what it is that we’re looking for. We may think that we want something, but then later on that cherished desire turns out to be not worth it. These pursuits are all rooted in illusion, and because of the improper vision we don’t know how to identify either ourselves or the ideal object to be viewed. By tapping into the right source of information, however, we can learn to properly identify ourselves and know what gives our identity its true meaning.
Pretend that you’re looking for a new job. You’ve been at your current place for quite a while, so long that when you go to interview at new places they’re amazed that a candidate could stay with one company for so many years. You have to explain to them the reasons for your departure, that finally the proprietor of the business has pushed you far enough in the wrong way that you’re willing to leave your comfortable surroundings.
The problem you face is that you’ve never seriously looked for another job before. You got into a routine at your present place, and you got comfortable with the business environment and knowing how everything worked. Your job responsibilities spread across several different areas, so when you’re checking out the job listings for potential work, you have to choose which area of expertise you best fit into.
Looking at the new job listing is very exciting, for it offers so much potential with the words posted. But as soon as the abstract starts to get defined a little bit, as soon as more details pour in, the excitement slowly dwindles. The required life change really hits you when you are sitting in the job interview and meeting with the people you would be working with. They describe the new environment to you and what sorts of challenges you should expect to face.
Despite how kind they may be and how wonderful the job sounds, you can’t help but be overcome by fear inside. “I don’t want to quit my job. I want to stay where I am. I know that sounds stupid and it would be a mistake in terms of advancement in my career to pass up this new job, but I can’t help but feel uncomfortable about it.”
In this way what you initially thought was something worth going after turned out to not be what it was. The living entity follows similar paths throughout life, birth after birth, until they are fortunate enough to be graced with the presence of a bona fide spiritual master. The guru gets his strength from the person he serves, who as the all-pervading witness is ultimately responsible for the good fortune of meeting the guru in the first place.
What can the guru teach us that others can’t? What can we gain from hearing from one person that we can’t otherwise learn through experience? The first instruction taught to the aspiring transcendentalist of the Vedic tradition is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” This identification is impossible to uncover on your own, even if you are totally disgusted with the temporary ups and downs that life has to offer. Through your speculation at best you can perhaps perceive that there is a singular energy that acts as the catalyst to action, but you have no idea where this energy comes from or how long it will remain manifest.
The identification as Brahman is one thing, but actually acting off of that knowledge is another. Thus the bona fide guru does not stop his instruction with the introduction of Brahman. Rather, that forms the basis for the rest of the recommended spiritual practices. If advancement is not made along the proper path of bhakti-yoga, or divine love, misidentification and illusion with respect to goals can still arise.
What are some examples of spiritualists making mistakes due to illusion? Once we learn that we are Brahman, there is the curiosity to know where Brahman comes from. We are told that there is a God, a Supreme Brahman. Okay, that’s great, but how do we see Him? Can we see God? For the neophyte, this curiosity is understandable, but it is actually one based off of illusion. If one can’t even see themselves as spirit through regular practice, how do they expect to see God?
To use another comparison, if we can’t see objects around us without the sun’s help, how can we expect to perceive the subtle aspect of Supreme Spirit without outside intervention? Without the will of the Supreme Person, no one is able to see God. And that divine aid is only available if one pleases their spiritual master, whose desire it is to instill devotion to God within his disciples. Devotion is a practice where the devotee tries to act in such a way that God sees them, instead of the other way around.
“[O mystic] First know your visible form, then realize your position as Brahman, and then see the material nature standing in between. O wretch, without seeing these how can you understand what the unmanifested [invisible] feature of the Absolute Truth [alakh] actually is? Chant Shri Rama’s holy name instead, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 19)
In his Dohavali, Goswami Tulsidas addresses the same issue by rhetorically asking why the spiritualist should bother about the manifested and unmanifested forms of the Supreme Lord. If we have a limited understanding of our own identity as Brahman, how are we going to understand the different features of God and what it takes to notice them? In reality, Bhagavan is full of spiritual form, but since we don’t know what a spiritual body is, we contemplate His nature in terms of manifested and unmanifested. The dichotomy is also discussed in terms of visible versus invisible and personal versus impersonal.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is Bhagavan, who is complete in His qualities. Only because of our lack of proper vision do we say that God can be seen or not seen. In a particular couplet, Tulsidas says that if you are so anxious about seeing God or overly concerned with the unmanifested feature, considering the Lord to be formless, first try to see yourself. If you can’t even see your identity as Brahman, how do you expect to see God, who is the Supreme Brahman?
The recommendation is that instead of trying so hard to see God, why not just chant His holy names? Tulsidas prefers the name of Rama, which addresses Bhagavan’s spiritual form as the son of King Dasharatha holding a bow and arrow in His hands ready to protect the innocent. Krishna is also another name for the same Bhagavan. It addresses the Lord’s original form as the two-handed Shyamasundara who delights the residents of Vrindavana. Not surprisingly, these two names are prominent in the famous maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
What does chanting this mantra do for the person wishing to see God? Chanting is an act of love; it is part of bhakti. The same understanding of Brahman that comes through difficult study, austerity and penance arrives in the palm of the hand of the devotee. What’s better is that Bhagavan appears before the eyes without much effort, eliminating the need for understanding the self altogether. Consciousness is a byproduct of an existence, which comes from the spirit soul. The existence of all individual existences is due to the Supreme Lord. In this way it is more important to know Bhagavan than it is to know Brahman.
Krishna is the master of illusion. He creates material nature, or maya, to cloud the vision of the individual living entities. This is what they desire when they leave the graces of the spiritual land. Since the wish for illusion is granted by Krishna, it stands to reason that the desire for release from that illusion would also be fulfilled by the Lord. Anyone who is sincerely interested in seeing God and then knowing what to do with that sight will be given the help they need. If they are interested in seeing God for a second or two and then declaring that life’s mission is complete, they will have a tough time, for the desire itself is rooted in illusion.
Seeing God is great, but then what to do after that? Shri Hanuman and Prahlada Maharaja both saw Bhagavan personally, but they didn’t end their devotion afterwards. Hanuman subsequently took up difficult service to keep a smile on Shri Rama’s beautiful face. To this day Hanuman continues his service by chanting Rama’s name. He derives pleasure by hearing about the Lord’s activities. With Prahlada, the initial service culminated in the personal meeting with Narasimhadeva, Krishna’s half-man/half-lion incarnation. Once protected from the attacks of his father, Prahlada did not stop his devotion. Rather, he stayed concentrated on the lotus feet of Bhagavan while carrying out his duties.
Illusion is the bedrock of the many miseries we encounter. That cloud of nescience can be slashed away by the sword of knowledge, which is so kindly presented in the Bhagavad-gita. The Gita is Krishna’s direct instructions, and the spiritual master who follows that guidance in the proper way can lead the sincere listener out of the forest of illusion and into the field of devotion, where each new day brings endless opportunities for pleasure through service to God.
Without torchlight can’t see in the dark,
Then how to see God residing in the heart?
Spiritual form of Supreme Lord hard to understand,
Especially when living in maya’s land.
Illusion causes in understanding a grave mistake,
From our bodily features identity we take.
If your position as Brahman you can’t perceive,
How then sight of God expect to receive?
Consult Vaishnava guru to find path that is true,
Then learn of your position and Bhagavan’s too.