Catching the Reflection

Mother Kausalya with Lord Rama“The child cries to have the moon from the mother, and the mother gives the child a mirror to satisfy the crying and disturbing child with the reflection of the moon. Similarly, the crying child of the Lord is given over to the reflection, the material world, to lord it over as karmi and to give this up in frustration to become one with the Lord. Both these stages are dreaming illusions only. There is no necessity of tracing out the history of when the living entity desired this. But the fact is that as soon as he desired it, he was put under the control of atma-maya by the direction of the Lord. Therefore the living entity in his material condition is dreaming falsely that this is ‘mine’ and this is ‘I.’” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.1 Purport)

In the Ramayana, in one section a heroic warrior’s aerial path is obstructed because of what someone does to his shadow. The obstructing character had a mystic ability that allowed them to catch hold of someone through their shadow, and on this occasion they decided to use it to their advantage. The warrior was working for the Supreme Lord, so he was able to swat aside the obstruction. Thus even if the demon were able to catch hold of him for real, not relying on just the shadow, they couldn’t stop him. In the bigger picture, the living entity tries to catch hold of the reflection that is the material nature, and since the reflection isn’t the real thing, any triumph that results is only temporary, as it is based on illusion. The real thing can be found, however, but only through a different mentality.

What are we referring to here? The analogy to the reflection explains the jiva’s fall from grace. The jiva is the individual spirit soul. We can see an example of a jiva just by looking around. The tree is a jiva. So is the ant. The human being obviously is too. Though there are different outer coverings, each of the beings that we consider to be a life force is a jiva. In more technical terms, they are jivatmas, spirit souls that are individuals.

Jivatma is distinguished from Paramatma, which is the Supreme Soul. The jivatma’s consciousness is limited to the local area. I only know what is going on inside my head. I can guess what others are thinking, but this doesn’t mean that I experience what they experience. The Paramatma, on the other hand, is all-pervading. It lives inside of me and also you. Both presences represent the same person; hence this soul is not a jiva, or individual. This soul is in fact the source of the jivas; it is the spiritual storehouse.

Bhagavad-gita, 2.12“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaWhy the distinction? Why the separation between sparks of spirit? Actually, the separation exists eternally; though the relationships aren’t always the same. In the Bhagavad-gita, arguably the most important Vedic text, it is explained that both the individual soul and the Supreme Soul exist eternally. This profound truth is presented during a conversation between Lord Krishna, who is the personal manifestation, the original feature of the Supreme Lord, and Arjuna, a jivatma who temporarily descended from the highest plane of consciousness to teach invaluable lessons to the world.

We understand concepts using other concepts that we know. Just as we define words using other words, we grasp difficult truths based on other truths that we see. One way to understand the relationship between jivatma and Paramatma is to look at the parent-child relationship. The child comes from the parent, and ideally the parent is the guardian for life. The parent is always a well-wisher, no matter what happens to the child.

The child can reject the parent; but this isn’t usually a wise choice. Especially in the younger years, the child is dependent on the parent, who institutes a system of guidance aimed at allowing the child to live a peaceful and fulfilling life. Rejection of the parent’s love goes against the constitutional position of the child; as the child will need to be loved and protected by someone eventually.

For the Paramatma, the jivatmas are forever children. They aren’t raised to be independent. This doesn’t mean that they are meant to sit idly by and do nothing. Spirit is vibrant; it is always active. Prolonged bodily inactivity thus goes against the constitutional position of the soul; it is part of the mode of ignorance. The spirit soul can use its independence to serve the Supreme Soul and thus be happy.

This brings us to the fall to the material world. Whenever the jiva wants to break away from the natural relationship and branch out on its own, in an attempt to equal or surpass the Paramatma in stature, it is granted residence in a temporary realm. In that realm, the very mention of God, a higher being, invites consternation. This is especially true as more time passes from the beginning of the creation. Such is the situation today, as real religion has been replaced with so many other causes based in attachment to the material nature.

That nature is like the reflection of the moon in a mirror. The young child wants to catch the moon, and so the mother gives the child the mirror so that they can think they have gotten hold of the moon. In the same way, the jiva thinks they have become God by rising to a temporary position of prominence in the material world; but in fact they are not anywhere near God in stature. They may have everything available for material comfort, but in an instant a natural disaster like a hurricane can wipe everything away. And nothing can be done to stop the hurricane; one can only try to avoid its path. The jiva is not even dominant over the material nature; what then to speak of that nature’s creator.

It is natural to ponder when the initial fall from the spiritual realm occurred, but it is wiser to focus on getting away from the reflection. This is the purpose to religion after all, and in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic texts real religion is provided. Since it is the system that applies to the spirit soul’s essential characteristic, that of servant of God, real religion is known as sanatana-dharma. This system is always applicable. In any time period, rekindling the original dharma of the soul is the best option.

So is the pathway towards liberation surrender? Seems too easy, no? And plus, so many other religious traditions tell me to surrender, so how do I know which one to follow?

The surrender in this case refers to relinquishing the scheme to compete with God for supremacy. The Supreme Lord is all-attractive, so He is known as Krishna. The most attractive Krishna is also the supreme enjoyer, Rama. He also has an energy that serves at His direction. So the best way to surrender is to chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, thinking oneself to be humbler than the grass and more tolerant than the trees.

Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.26“To chant the holy name always, one should be humbler than the grass in the street and devoid of all desire for personal honor, but one should offer others all respectful obeisances.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.26)

Chanting and hearing are two processes of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, easily available in the beginning stages. A step forward in bhakti-yoga is a step away from material attachment. And the more one is materially detached, the more they stay away from the spiritual world’s reflection. Krishna is the real thing, and His divine stature is validated through steady practice in bhakti-yoga under authorized guidance, namely that offered by those who practice bhakti-yoga themselves. Ironically enough, the pure devotees reach a status higher than Krishna, because He makes sure of it. The liberated souls don’t think they are practicing devotion; they only know love for God. They act on that love at all times, and so they are able to catch hold of the real treasure, the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.

In Closing:

Young child wants to catch hold of the moon,

In giving mirror, mother hopes pacification to come soon.


But this isn’t the thing real,

Only fake control to feel.


Material world a reflection in the same way,

We feel like kings though temporary is our stay.


In service to the Supreme Lord our ideal seat,

Highest gain to have devotion to His lotus feet.

Categories: reincarnation

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