“The Vedas prescribe two different types of occupation for the human being. One is called the pravritti-marga, or the path of sense enjoyment, and the other is called the nivritti-marga, or the path of renunciation. The path of enjoyment is inferior, and the path of sacrifice for the supreme cause is superior.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6 Purport)
“How do we know that this isn’t all just a hoax? How do we know that we’re not wasting our time with worship of God? At least with material attachment I get to directly experience the immediate result. I know when I’m satisfied after eating. I know when I’m intoxicated from drinking alcohol. I know the thrill of victory from gambling. Why should I turn my back to these things in favor of religious life when the promises only relate to the afterlife, to meeting a person no one I know has seen?”
Doubt is a byproduct of ignorance, wherein one isn’t sure of anything really. Despite this doubt, we move ahead with action, relying on authority, which is determined by past experiences which form mini scientific experiments. We have no clue whether or not others will obey the traffic laws, but we pass through the intersection when there’s a green light anyway. We don’t know if someone will attack us when we step outside of our home, but we do leave the home anyway because the odds say that we’ll likely be safe. We can conduct a similar test with spiritual life by comparing those who follow it faithfully with those who don’t. Whichever side is superior would have to be more trustworthy, no?
Well, let’s look at the side that doesn’t follow spiritual life. This side is generally known as the atheists. They say that to satisfy the senses is the ultimate aim. To that end they perform scientific research and concoct theories that will help man exploit the material nature that he calls his home for upwards of one hundred years. Mind you, none of this research gives a permanent fix to the aging problem or the disease problem. It also doesn’t tackle the issue of birth. For instance, if we’re going to research how to go into outer space, why can’t we research how to fit into the tiniest space? We already accomplished that feat when we were in the womb and yet now to do that would be impossible? Science is supposed to make the impossible possible, for if we are just a collection of elements, those elements should be able to be manipulated in any possible way.
“They believe that to gratify the senses unto the end of life is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus there is no end to their anxiety. Being bound by hundreds and thousands of desires, by lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense gratification.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.11-12)
The atheists have no recourse but to be materially attached. Nature is their God, and they succumb to its forces throughout their time on earth, offering the final obeisance at the time of death. One who is materially attached requires many things for sustenance. In the advanced technological age, where “progress” is hailed as a good thing, the attachments increase. One needs electricity. They need it to heat their homes, power their appliances, and give light during times of darkness. One also needs smartphones, tablet computers, and televisions. There must be programming and applications as well, and so if any of these things are gone there is a big headache. There are attachments in all areas, including sex life and eating.
The spiritualists who follow bhakti-yoga, on the other hand, know of both material attachment and detachment. Their God is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the origin of both matter and spirit. Under their understanding, the material universe is created to act as a sort of temporary playhouse. The knowledge of past, present and future is too large for any computer to hold, let alone the human brain. Therefore understanding all the complexities is impossible as well. Material scientific research is a kind of play that takes place in the material creation. Just as there are seasons every year for the major professional sports, so the research continues without end, as the Supreme Lord slowly reveals bits and pieces of insignificant information to keep the appetite of the scientist strong.
The spiritualists know that the spirit soul is the essence of identity and that this soul is transcendental to the changes effected by birth, old age, disease and death. The days come and go, and so do the bodies of the conditioned living entities. Breaking free from the cycle of birth and death is easy to understand theoretically, but practically it requires a permanent change in consciousness. This is brought about by a shift in behavior, which is guided by knowledge and renunciation. Both knowledge and renunciation help to foster bhakti, or divine love, which is the true occupation of the soul. The knowledge arrives from hearing from authority figures on the science of self-realization and how the universe operates. Renunciation requires limiting material attachment as much as possible, keeping the senses sharp in the pursuit of the higher aim: connecting with God.
If we are going to use skepticism, it should be applied equally. We should be just as skeptical of the materially attached atheist as we are of the spiritualist. This is only fair. Under this model, wherein we don’t accept any of the claims outright, we see that the spiritualist is in a superior position while living in the material world. A person who can live a renounced life can automatically live a materially attached life. By definition, the materially attached person cannot be renounced. This should be fairly obvious. If I can survive on just six hours of sleep, if I were to sleep eight hours one night, I would be fine. The person who requires eight hours would have a difficult time only sleeping six hours. Someone who needs very little to eat would be able to survive eating a little more on a given day, while the person who needs more to eat would be in tremendous pain if they didn’t get enough food one day.
Studying the matter further, we see that the spiritualists who are closely tied to the Supreme Lord have tremendous powers and yet are completely renounced at the same time. The scientists who hope to travel far into outer space can’t match the material potency of someone like Lord Shiva. He destroys the entire creation when the time is right. This makes him a worshipable figure in the Vedic tradition. Whether you believe in him or not is not so important for this discussion. The descriptions of him found in Vedic literature suffice for a sober comparison.
Though Lord Shiva is supremely powerful, in behavior he is completely renounced. He prefers to live in the mountains where he can always chant the names of his beloved Lord. Though he is married, he doesn’t desire sex life. God asked that he get married so that he could better manage the material creation. He was gifted with the most chaste wife, Parvati, who is also known as Durga. This material creation is managed by her, as it is also known as durga, or difficult to overcome. It is like a fort that can only be crossed by the devotion that Lord Shiva practices.
Similarly, Shri Hanuman is also very powerful but also completely renounced. Lakshmi Devi is the goddess of fortune. She is God’s eternal consort. She has the most wealth to distribute, but she is not attached to it at all. Rather, she spends her time in service to her husband. These people alone are sufficient to rely on as authority figures. They can live with or without, and they do whatever is suited for the occasion. The materially attached atheist cannot say the same; therefore they are automatically inferior. Indeed, the human being only interested in sense gratification is actually inferior to the animal, which is purportedly less evolved. The animal can satisfy its senses without concern for mortgage payments, the national debt, the rebuke of a paramour, and so on.
We can experience the benefits of bhakti-yoga in the present life. Knowledge and renunciation practiced under authorized guidelines coming from those who represent God in the same manner as Shiva and Lakshmi bring some semblance of peace in material association. And then through following the standard methods of bhakti-yoga, including the principal practice of chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” we can hear God immediately, and that association is better than anything we get in a materially attached existence.
Through skepticism hard to tell which is inferior,
Is attachment better or is renunciation superior?
Taking out spiritual element, sober analysis give,
See which side in more situations can live.
The renounced the material allures can go without,
Not the same for those suffering from attachment’s bout.
As the destroyer Lord Shiva has it all,
But in renunciation only Rama he calls.
Hanuman and Lakshmi very powerful too,
But they only worship God of bluish hue.
Use them as your viable authority,
To know for sure bhakti-yoga’s superiority.