“Prahlada Maharaja replied: Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose external energy has created the distinctions of ‘my friend’ and ‘my enemy’ by deluding the intelligence of men. Indeed, I am now actually experiencing this, although I have previously heard of it from authoritative sources.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.11)
śrī-prahrāda uvācaparaḥ svaś cety asad-grāhaḥpuṁsāṁ yan-māyayā kṛtaḥvimohita-dhiyāṁ dṛṣṭastasmai bhagavate namaḥ
Question: “Just as God is not impersonal, we are not impersonal, either. We have identity. We are individuals. Therefore, when I hear the teaching that we should not be so attached to our relationships, it makes me wonder. By saying that, aren’t we making the people we know impersonal? Isn’t there a difference between my relationship with my parents and your relationship with your parents? How can you put all relationships into the same category?”
One of the central teachings of bhakti-yoga philosophy, which fully describes Vedanta, is that God is not impersonal. He is a person, though of a kind we’re not accustomed to seeing. By saying He’s a person, it’s being acknowledged that He is an individual. I can never be you and you can never be me. In the same way, none of us can ever be God. Anyone who says as much doesn’t know what they are talking about. There is the concept of merging into God, which brings an end to the cycle of birth and death, but that does not mean that a person can suddenly become the origin of everything. Moreover, the person in bhakti does not want to merge at all; they’d rather maintain their individuality.
The cycle of birth and death shows that we cannot be the person we think we are right now. We have a name. We have parents. We have siblings and friends. We have pets, even. Due to death, which is one of the markings of time, all of these things change. After death, we get a brand new body. In that form, we get another name. There are new parents, new siblings. Worse still, we completely forget about our past life, though our consciousness comes with us.
śarīraṁ yad avāpnotiyac cāpy utkrāmatīśvaraḥgṛhītvaitāni saṁyātivāyur gandhān ivāśayāt
“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)
Memory gets wiped clean, but consciousness comes with us. Consciousness can be shaped, however, so even that past conception of the mind can shift towards a new direction in the new body. The soul is what stays constant throughout. The soul is who we really are. When we say “I am”, the “I” refers to the soul.
The “am” is also a question mark. Without knowing the “I”, the “am” is impossible to decipher. From knowing that we are soul, we at least have a chance to learn the proper role for spirit. Is it to roam in different bodies, lifetime after lifetime, like the greatest world traveler? Is it to constantly experience things that are destined to be forgotten? Is it to form strong attachments to people whom we are guaranteed to never talk to again at some point?
God is a person and I am a person. As the greatest person, God is the greatest soul. He does not go through birth and death. He remembers everything. When He forms an attachment, it stays. This means that for Him attachment has a different meaning. The same applies to His eyes, ears, legs, hands, and other body parts. In this way there is no difference between spirit and matter for Him. He is one with all of the things connected to Him.
We know that this is not the case for us, which means that we are a smaller person compared to God. The smaller is meant to serve the bigger. This service should be voluntary, and it should continue without a break. It shouldn’t be difficult to picture this service since we offer service already to so many. That is likely how our relationships exist. The parents serve us at first, and in their old age we serve them. Our friends are based on their meeting some interest of ours.
“When plant life is green, there is grazing. When it becomes old, it turns into fuel for fire. When it grows and bears fruits, people grab at it with an open hand. Tulsi says that all are friends only when a personal interest is met, but Shri Rama meets the supreme interest.” (Dohavali, 52)
With God, the pure relationship is when we offer service and don’t expect anything back in return. In one sense it is impossible for God to not reciprocate. As He is a person, He has an original form. It is beautiful, sweet, soft, and enchanting. Since it is all-attractive, it is addressed as Krishna. It has other names too, like Rama and Vishnu. Just by serving Krishna there is the automatic benefit of bliss. Yet He is not required to give us anything material, nor does He promise to. This means that if we go in wanting things other than Krishna’s association, we may not get them.
Yet the relationship still continues; this is the magic of God. He is the only friend that stays forever. Therefore the wise person recommends making a strong attachment with Krishna first. All others will go eventually. This is the sad reality of life. Other people are not impersonal. The interactions with them are real. The lessons taught to us by dear people are important as well. In the end, however, if they cannot bring us closer to Krishna, closer to fulfilling life’s mission, what have we really gained?
While attachment to Krishna is not harmful, maintaining strong attachment to others can be. What if our friends are not interested in self-realization? What if they have yet to figure out that life and death is an endless cycle? What if they are not bewildered by the days and months repeating, with no tangible progress being made?
We all have identity. This means that others around me are spirit soul as well. They are meant to experience the same bliss from surrender in devotion, sharanagati. They are meant to fulfill life’s mission of regaining the original consciousness, Krishna consciousness. All are invited to practice chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. In the end, if the attachment to Krishna is not made, then rebirth will happen again, and the difficult struggle to find purpose in life will reemerge. Therefore the wise look to Krishna first, knowing Him to be the savior of the fallen souls.
Relationships to others real I know,
But with death eventually all to go.
Consciousness with them coming,
So new temporary identities becoming.
As spirit soul for Krishna I am meant,
So no longer time in rebirth spent.
By this knowledge to others giving,
Friends and family relationships fulfilling.