“Lord Jesus Christ, Thakura Haridasa, Lord Nityananda Prabhu, and many such sages risked their life to propagate the message of Godhead. Self-realized saints and sages take such risks for the spiritual enlightenment of the people in general.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Light of the Bhagavata, 17)
It’s human nature to be a little envious of someone who is doing well. Without a firm dedication to practices that allow one to see things properly, wherein all life forces are known to belong to the singular energy known as Brahman, differences in social status, income, and occupation give rise to feelings of insecurity. On the flip side, there is happiness when something bad should happen to the parties that are envied, for by them getting knocked down a peg or two you don’t feel as far away from them. Despite the fact that this tendency is not rooted in intelligence, it can be used to fulfill a higher purpose, as the humble saints of the world evoke sympathy through their external conditions.
What do we mean by this? The transcendentalist of the highest state in the Vedic tradition is known as a sannyasi. They are in the last of the four stages of life. Maturity is not measured by earning a college education or getting married and having children. It is determined by the state of consciousness, how well it can see things. In the immature state, the external force known as maya has a crippling influence on the psyche. Maya is that which is not, and through its illusion man becomes afraid of things that he shouldn’t. He develops attachment to objects that are not real. For instance, attachment develops to the temporary manifestation of another living entity, and when that entity departs, there is sadness. Yet the form remains in sight, though the individual is considered no longer present. Thus the entire time there was never really a proper identification of the individual; they were not seen for who they were.
To reach the proper intelligence, consciousness should be developed in a systematic way. Man travels through four ashramas, or spiritual stages, in life. At the beginning, he is a student, then he is married, then he retires, and finally he renounces all ties to family and home. This last stage is quite difficult to live in, as there must be full confidence that the Supreme Lord will take care of all necessities, that living without the family will be okay. The tie that holds the four stages together is the end-goal of being God conscious at the time of death. Taken in this light the sannyasa order makes total sense. Just when you are about to die, when you have already lived more years than you will going forward, focus on God constantly, not just for a few hours a day.
Another benefit of sannyasa is the ability to teach Vedic wisdom to others. “You are not your body. Karma manages the outcomes to action. With every action you acquire a merit or demerit that will arrive in the future. With piety, you rise to the heavenly planets, with passion you remain in a neutral state, and with ignorance you fall to a lower condition. Instead of playing with these modes of nature, just be fully God conscious and attain liberation at the time of death. Put an end to reincarnation in this very birth, which is considered auspicious because you are a human being capable of acquiring the highest intelligence.”
These are the primary teachings of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, and they can be studied for an entire lifetime through regulative practice and consultation of sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. The practical implementation in the modern age goes through the channels of hearing and chanting. Chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and steer clear of the dangerous behaviors of meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. You get to hear God when you chant the holy names, and by avoiding sinful behavior you keep the consciousness clear.
These teachings are well and good, but if they come to us from someone who is wealthy or very well off in life, the jealousy aspect might get in the way of understanding and believing in the principles. “Sure, it’s easy for them to say to be detached from material nature, but what worries do they have? They’re living it up in their comfortable home with wife and children. That means that I should do the same thing and then take up devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.”
As the aim is to be God conscious, there is no specific condition that is a requirement for meeting the proper end. You can be married, unmarried, living at home, or living in a temple and still be either materially attached or fully aware of the Supreme Lord. The four ashramas exist to help speed up the process, to increase the chances for enlightenment. In every endeavor there are optimal conditions, states that are conducive to reaching the proper end. Spiritual life is no different in this regard, but at the same time devotion to God cannot be checked by any external condition.
When the preacher is in difficult circumstances their message carries more weight. That’s why some of the most famous saints in history have lived on practically nothing. Lord Chaitanya, an incarnation of God who preached the mission of bhakti-yoga in India some five hundred years ago, was a householder in His earlier years. His knowledge of shastra was impeccable and He could defeat anyone in an argument by showing that devotion to Krishna, or God, was the highest discipline anyone could practice. Nevertheless, He still took to the sannyasa order, as this prevented others from criticizing Him. He shaved off His long, beautiful hair, left His mother and wife at home, and travelled around the country on foot like a homeless man, not staying anywhere for too long. He gave up everything for the cause, and as a result His message was propagated more quickly.
Notable figures who have followed in His line have similarly given up everything to preach Krishna consciousness. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is famous today for having spread the Hare Krishna movement worldwide, but in the beginning he was in a very small apartment in New York City, with barely any students. Some people would visit every now and then and take part in chanting sessions. The swami didn’t have a large bank balance to rely on, nor was he working at a job all day. He simply tried in all sincerity to preach Krishna consciousness, and when others saw his genuineness and how he was truly renounced, they took note of his message and decided to help him.
Of course there is no reason to feel sorry for such saints, but the pity is nevertheless helpful. If you look at someone as being in a distressful condition, when they request something of you, you might agree out of pity alone. “Oh, look at this person. They’re asking me very nicely to chant the holy names. They don’t have much and they seem to be getting along just fine with this chanting, so maybe I will give it a shot.” And this is the true purpose to the renounced order: full surrender to the Divine. This is known as sharanagati, and it is beneficial in all regards.
We think that we can’t fully surrender because so many other obligations won’t be met, that people we’re attached to will suffer, but in reality the sole reliance upon God fulfills all obligations. The devoted soul benefits by staying in contact with the glorious features of Krishna, who as the Supreme Personality of Godhead holds the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation to the highest degree. In the state of yoga, which is connection to the divine consciousness, the mind stays happy and eager at the same time to continue in service.
That positive outlook is then infectious, as the devoted soul shows that loving God is not just a theory; it is something that can really happen. And that love can spread to others simply through an outward example. Thankfully for us the saints have shown the way by making devotional service their fulltime engagement. They are true heroes because for the good of others they absorb the scrutiny that comes with prominence in spiritual life. Any sympathy we feel for their condition leads to our benefit, quickly turning our ignorance into knowledge.
This holy man is living very poor,
Of basic needs he’s not assured.
But with confidence on God He does rely,
Thinks of Him who lives in spiritual sky.
Tells me that I can feel the same thing,
Can find happiness without giving up everything.
Maybe his message is then for real,
Pleasure in this life I can actually feel.
He seems to practice what he preaches,
So I will chant holy names as he beseeches.