“O scion of Bharata [Arjuna], O conqueror of the foe, all living entities are born into delusion, overcome by the dualities of desire and hate.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.27)
When someone accepts something to be that which it is not, they are under the influence of maya. Maya is a Sanskrit word that means an energy, but in the most commonly used context it refers to illusion. This specifically references the external potency, maha-maya. Though illusion is a bad thing for the living entities subjected to it, maya is actually a wonderful display of the supreme potency that belongs only to God. In the heightened state of awareness, instead of bemoaning the situation caused by maya, the devoted soul finds ways to use it in praise of their beloved, who always accepts such kind offerings.
Brahman is the opposite of maya; it is reality. Therefore we get a simple way to understand the plight of the living entity. They are Brahman but don’t know it. They are spirit at the core, but under illusion they think otherwise. The goal of the human being, which has the highest potential for sharpening intelligence, is to realize Brahman and its source, which is Parabrahman.
In this way we have a scientific basis for spirituality. You don’t need blind faith. You don’t have to accept a rubberstamp system run by an established institution. Spirituality comes down to consciousness, and namely awareness of the individual identity and its relation to the Supreme Identity, the force behind all forces, the cause of all causes. In the Brahma-samhita, that cause of all causes is described as Govinda, which is a name for God.
“Krishna who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.1)
One day Vishal was having a conversation with his friend about this topic. His friend posed an interesting question. “Where does art fit into all of this,” he asked. “Artists do a lot of good for the world; they shine light on important issues. But it seems they are only after satisfying their senses; that they too are selfish and not really advancing.” Vishal then tried to explain the role of art in the science of self-realization by relaying a story from his past.
My good friend and I were really into this band. We absolutely loved their music. We didn’t care so much about the lyrics; the songs themselves were so great. We loved the way the guitars sounded and how the songs had dynamic points interspersed. There were stops and starts, changes in tempo, and high and low points in energy.
Our appreciation for the band really increased when we saw them live. It was a totally different experience. At the arena I spontaneously started singing as loud as I could to the songs. I didn’t care who was around me. I essentially lost myself in the music. After that first concert, my friend and I both decided that we would take every opportunity there was to see that band play live.
Of course the ways of material desire are such that satisfying one only creates so many more. So after we started seeing the band so many times, we wanted to meet the members. No longer was attending the concerts enough. Fortunately, one time we won backstage passes. They call these things “meet and greets.” You basically lineup and have with you the items that you want autographed. The band members then make their way through the line, talking very briefly with each person.
So I was pretty nervous when the lead singer made his way towards me. I was prepared, however. I was going to ask him about the meaning to a particular song, because I knew that he wrote all the lyrics. So when he came to me, I asked him my question. “Hey, so I’ve always wondered, what is the meaning to that song?” He responded, “It’s about a piece of wood. Isn’t that obvious from the title?” I smiled for a second, not knowing whether he was serious. Then he responded, “Seriously, though, it is always open for interpretation. I intentionally write lyrics that are vague. They mean different things to me depending on the time. I can’t tell you exactly what that song is about. Whatever it means to you, that is what you should go with.”
I was a little surprised with this response, but over the years I realized that it was in line with what other artists do. They are expressing their emotions, if you really boil it down. They have frustration, bewilderment, or elation, and they decide to express it in a unique way. Sometimes they are baffled by the way things work. They don’t know why people die. They don’t understand how someone could take a gun and purposefully try to kill other people in the name of war. They don’t know why some people are rich and others poor. And so they take to art to give voice to their emotions.
Vishal explained to his friend that such artistic expression indirectly praised God. “The material nature is very baffling. The living entities in this world are born into delusion, and they stay bewildered by the dualities of desire and hate. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Himself says this in the Bhagavad-gita.”
Vishal told his friend that the same artistic expression could be used in direct praise of God. With this practice, there would be definitive meaning to the output. Through wonderful art, the perplexities of life are magnified. In devotion, the same art magnifies the glorious qualities of the Supreme Lord, to whom everyone is intimately tied since time immemorial. Indeed, the Vedic tradition is rich with culture, art, music, drama, and philosophy. Nothing is missing in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, since the supreme artist serves as the inspiration. Therefore art, like any other aspect of the material world, gets purified when it is dovetailed with service to the Divine.
Like portraits depicting many a face,
Art in devotional life, where its place?
Emotions of artists through work expressed,
How by life, death and love always perplexed.
From this manner offering praise indirect,
In devotion take art in approach direct.
Love for God your work done for,
Heartfelt emotions into expression pour.