“A human being should be inquisitive to know who he is, what the universe is, what God is, and what the relationship is between himself, God and the material world. Such questions cannot be asked by cats and dogs, but they must arise in the heart of a real human being.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.146 Purport)
The Vedas say it. It’s the first instruction, really. The beginning point, the entryway, the point from which to proceed further. If there is any hope of success, however it is defined at the individual level, this must come first.
The Sanskrit aphorism is athato brahma-jijnasa. This means, “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman.” Brahman is the Absolute Truth. The study of Brahman, both theoretically and through practical application involving austerity, work, and adherence to principles, is known as spiritual life.
The “now” refers to the human birth. The time wasn’t right before. There was a before, and there will be an after. This is true based on the properties of the individual, who is spirit soul. That soul is part of Brahman, which is the aggregate of all spiritual fragments.
For some reason, however, even when made aware of this call to action there is procrastination. There are different excuses made at the different stops along the journey of life.
1. Too young
What is the child doing studying the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana? Those are works reserved for advanced scholars. Children are meant to play. It typically takes twelve years to finish primary education, and that is just for preparing to go out into the real world, acting like an adult. There is no reason to spoil the time for enjoyment by imposing restrictions to reach a destination that the person won’t even understand the need for.
2. Too much in love
In adulthood they have found the person of their dreams. Yeah, yeah, they know that it won’t last forever. Isn’t that justification enough for enjoying at the present? Just because everyone dies does it mean that no one should love? Why should spiritual life get in the way?
3. Too busy
They tell me that they feel like they’re trying to outrun an oncoming train. That’s how much pressure they are under. There is so much to do at the office. The pay is good, but the hours are not. The work has to get done.
Then at home there is pressure for finding a good place to live, upgrading the car, having more kids, taking care of ill family members, and meeting other responsibilities. Let things calm down a little first. Then spiritual life can start.
4. Too old
They put it off too long. Now old age has set in. The memory isn’t what it used to be. It’s more difficult to study. The concentration required simply isn’t there. Plus, the entire life has been spent working, meeting this responsibility and that. It’s time for relaxation. Doctors advise against austerity in eating. It’s difficult to get out of the house and make the trek to the place of worship on a regular basis, to associate with like-minded people, sadhu-sanga.
5. Too late
Indeed, eventually the dwindling window of opportunity finally closes. Procrastinate long enough and the deadline passes. Thus the valuable human birth goes to waste, with no guarantee of where the next birth will be. It might not even be in the human species, as the consciousness was shaped over the entire lifetime.
While the quest to realize Brahman may require maturity in thought and work, for knowing the Supreme Brahman there are no restrictions. Even a child can become enlightened. The glowing example is Prahlada Maharaja, who heard the science of self-realization while within the womb.
“Narada Muni delivered his instructions both to me, who was within the womb, and to my mother, who was engaged in rendering him service. Because he is naturally extremely kind to the fallen souls, being in a transcendental position, he gave instructions on religion and transcendental knowledge. These instructions were free from all material contamination.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.7.15)
Upon emerging from the womb Prahlada was able to recall those valuable instructions received from the guru Narada. Despite every force working against him, including the powerful father, who also happened to be the king, Prahlada did not waste a single moment. He urged his classmates to follow the same path, for material existence is like chewing the chewed. As Goswami Tulsidas says in the Dohavali, all the mistakes from the past can be corrected right now, today, in a second, just by having attachment to the holy name of the Lord and renouncing bad association.
To start reading scripture too young,
That phase for enjoyment and fun.
By amorous feelings later consumed,
To try again afterwards presumed.
But then too busy with work’s heavy load,
Diminishing capability in age approaching old.
Opportunity for understanding God not to waste,
Child like Prahlada even bhakti to taste.
Categories: the five