“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.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.1 Purport)
“Okay, so I’ve heard from many prominent teachers of bhakti-yoga, the science of self-realization that is devotional service, that every living entity, including myself, was originally with God. At some point or another, I desired to compete with Him, to become God on my own. At that time I fell down to the material world, which is temporary and full of miseries. But why did this happen? Why would God allow me to suffer in this way? If He really cared about me, He would have protected me from something that wasn’t good for me. Also, when did this fall actually take place? If I can figure that out, then I’ll never repeat the same mistake again.”
These concerns are certainly valid. It seems too simple to say that we left God at one point and now we have to return to Him. But actually, simplicity should work just fine for us. We accept a rudimentary understanding with so many other things. We don’t question how the smartphone works. Maybe some of us might, but the majority of the owners of the device simply utilize its features without being overly concerned with the nuts and bolts. In fact, one of the appeals of the smartphone and other popular electronic devices is the ease of use, which is more commonly known as user-friendliness.
Bhakti-yoga is very user-friendly because in the constitutional position the spirit soul is not overly concerned with how things happen. It’s strange to hear this, because the original push towards spiritual life may have been sparked by inquisitiveness to know more about the world. “Why do I live? Why do I ‘do’? Why do I grow old? Why do I contract diseases?” These are insightful questions, and the Vedas, the mouthpiece for the Supreme Lord in terms of instruction and knowledge dissemination, answer them to the best of the human being’s ability to understand.
Notice that the animals and other lower species can’t understand these concepts at all. Therefore the human birth is the most auspicious. From basic instruction borne of a little inquisitiveness one can get a rudimentary understanding of the spirit soul, the material nature, the changing bodies, and how to gain release from the cycle of birth and death. Although knowledge is available to help us go in the right direction, complete knowledge is impossible. In fact, the endeavor for complete knowledge, which would include information of when the initial fall from the spiritual world took place, is indicative of the desire to compete with God.
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada gives a nice analogy to understand how the initial fall took place. He says a young child often likes to have the moon. They want it so bad that they start crying. The affectionate mother then gives the child a mirror so that they can think they have captured the moon. The moon in the mirror is just a reflection; it is not the real thing. The child is temporarily satisfied, though, so they think they have won. In the same way the material world is temporary; it is a land where one thinks they have become God. No one can ever become God, so the mindset is based on illusion. To expend much effort in trying to figure out when the mirror was given by the Supreme Lord represents a further challenge to His supremacy.
So what does this mean? We should just surrender to God without trying to tax our brain too much? We should take bhakti-yoga on its merits as they are explained by the acharyas and spiritual teachers following in a line of disciplic succession that originates with the Supreme Lord? There are other spiritual paths promoted by other prominent spiritual leaders. They don’t provide nearly as much information about life and death. Why shouldn’t we believe them? Sentiment is rather easy to adopt, so how do I know which sentiment is correct?
The claims of the Vaishnavas, devotees of the personal aspect of God, relating to the initial fall from grace for the jiva soul really make sense if you think about it; you don’t need to trace out the history to get validation. Let’s say that it’s a Sunday afternoon. You decide that you will travel to a local Krishna temple to chant the holy names, worship the deity, and eat food first offered to Krishna, who is God. How many will join you? Afterwards, how many will be interested in hearing about where you went? How many will immediately try to change the subject when you tell them? If you do any other activity, especially if it relates to personal sense gratification, that will garner more interest from others.
Bhakti-yoga is the way out of the illusion. No more pretending to be God. The real position of the soul, that of servant of God, is sought out using body, mind and speech. And based on the pleasure that results, which automatically brings detachment, which is itself an opulence, we gain more confidence in our understanding that the temporary material land is not our home. Our initial fall from the spiritual world took place at some time in the past that is unknown, but through chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, our destination in the immediately succeeding life is known with certainty.
Away from God, I fell from grace,
But when did that descent take place?
As a jiva my history let me trace,
To see what caused residence in material space.
From His Divine Grace know,
That futile for deep into past to go.
Aversion to spirituality the truth of fall speaks,
So better for supreme destination to directly seek.
Your future right now you can make,
If holy names as your life and soul you take.