“O conqueror of wealth, Arjuna, have you heard this attentively with your mind? And are your illusions and ignorance now dispelled?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.72)
kaccid etac chrutaṁ pārtha
praṇaṣṭas te dhanañjaya
You want to take up bhakti-yoga. You’ve been interested ever since you first heard of it. It was a chance encounter, a book lying on a table in a bookstore. You got it just before one of the workers placed it back on the shelf. Prior to that you didn’t consider yourself to be very religious. You believed in God, but your thoughts never went beyond that.
You read this book and heard the repeated call for engaging in loving devotion to God the person through regularly chanting of His holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The verses about the deathlessness of the individual, how the spirit soul is perpetual in its existence, really caught your attention. You’d never heard anyone describe such things. You don’t see any statements about required faith, about joining a specific institution. The focus is on changing consciousness, which makes more sense to you.
The problem is that bhakti-yoga isn’t the most popular way of living. In fact, you don’t know a single person who engages in it. If this information resonates so much with you, why not with others? Maybe everyone else has it right. Just live your life; don’t think too much. Get a job, earn a paycheck, support yourself and your family, and enjoy. When death comes, embrace it. Don’t think so much about the afterlife.
Following what others are doing is the path of least resistance. Arjuna tried it as well on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Why go through a ghastly war when peace could be achieved in one second? All Arjuna had to do was give up. He was the leading fighter for his side, so without him they barely stood a chance of winning. He could roam the forests instead, free from responsibility. He would enjoy life more that way, or so he thought.
This thinking was due to succumbing to an illusion. The thought of a better life through quitting was merely an apparition. It was a ghastly image that the opposing side was glad to see. They would stand to benefit as a result of Arjuna’s reluctance. Fortunately for the great bow warrior, he had Shri Krishna by his side. Krishna gave Arjuna the gift of knowledge, which was like a weapon to slash away the doubts.
The same Krishna many years prior dispelled other apparitions. They appeared as an intentional distraction, a way to demoralize troops in an army. On that occasion the good guys were monkey-like creatures coming from Kishkindha. The bad guy was Ravana, who had many capable men fighting for him. After they failed to defend Lanka, Ravana himself took to the battlefield.
He was a Rakshasa by quality and behavior, and so he had the ability to employ black magic in his fighting. When needed, he would display images showing the monkey side losing. The good guys were led by Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. Ravana would make apparitions depicting Rama and Lakshmana defeated, the monkeys losing badly, and other such negative scenes.
The false images worked, for a time. They attacked the will of the monkeys to fight. Seeing this, Rama decided to put an end to the charade. Shooting an arrow from His illustrious bow, the image suddenly disappeared. Then the monkey-army could again see clearly. They were emboldened by the Supreme Lord Himself.
The same thing happened with Arjuna, as Krishna, who is the same Rama, dispelled the doubts that had arisen in the warrior’s mind. Today, the person who takes bhakti-yoga sees many such images. They hear about the negative things that prominent spiritual leaders have done. They see others on television enjoying the senses, amassing great wealth and spending it. They see so many things, but they don’t realize the illusory nature of the images. They don’t realize that in every society there are bad people, that material life cannot guarantee against bad association. They don’t remember the many past celebrities who were ruined by fame and wealth. They don’t recall their own experiences with alcohol abuse and laziness.
The same Rama is ready to shoot His arrows to dispel these illusions. He does so through the medium of sound. The name Rama brings the association of the person Rama. By saying Krishna we get Krishna. The more one associates with the Supreme Lord, the more benefit they get. Then gradually the illusion starts to dissipate. Seeing clearly, the fortunate continue in devotional service, which is the eternal occupation of the spirit soul.
So many illusions to see,
By Lord only can be free.
Like Arjuna on battlefield with doubt,
Wanting renunciation, responsibility without.
In Lanka’s conflict Ravana with apparition,
Showing monkeys’ and Rama’s destruction.
Ended with a single arrow released,
In strength of holy name have belief.