“The human body is the boat, the instructions of Lord Krishna are the favorable winds, and the spiritual master is the navigator. The spiritual master knows well how to adjust the sails to catch the winds favorably and steer the boat to its destination.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.23.28 Purport)
Attachment, desire, longing, work, success, and then back to the same position. This is the typical cycle of life in the mode of passion. You think that something is worth pursuing, but afterwards the same desire remains. It might even be stronger, something similar to when the appetite increases from eating something rather than decreasing.
The cycle can go on, starting from the time of birth up until the time of death. Vedic teachings reveal that the restart button then gets pressed. The spirit soul lives on, while it discards one body in favor of another one.
“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)
While knowledge of the cycle is eye-opening, and perhaps comforting due to the revelation that death is not the end, the fact that everything continues to repeat, with seemingly no end in sight, is not welcome. For this reason the Vedas compare a material existence to being stuck in a vast ocean. It is one of suffering, wherein the individual swimming continues to spin as if on a wheel; hence the term samsara-chakra.
Fortunately, there is a way out. Three components are necessary. Each is tremendously auspicious, and combined together what was seemingly impossible before, not completed for many lifetimes even, becomes much easier.
1. The human body
This is compared to a boat. If you’re stranded on a deserted island, the only way to rescue is through outside transportation. Barring air travel, the sole way to move on the water is through a boat, whether large or small. Without the boat, you are just stuck.
It is not a given that this boat will be there. The spirit soul is so small that it can’t be seen by instruments. The size is compared to cutting the tip of a piece of hair into ten thousand parts. One of those parts is representative of the physical size of the soul, and yet that same soul can power both the large elephant and the tiny ant.
The boat arrives with the human birth. This is really what separates man from other species, both moving and nonmoving. To enjoy the senses is possible in the animal body. In the tree body the living being can stand in one place for thousands of years; achieving longevity that science and medicine only promise in the distant future for the human being.
There is the Sanskrit aphorism, athato brahma-jijnasa. “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, the spiritual nature.” This applies to the human being, the only species that can make the inquiry. It is through these questions that the boat begins to move.
2. The instructions of Lord Krishna
The truths about Brahman, maya, the material nature, karma, the living entities and so forth come from the Supreme Lord. The boat starts to move through His mercy, which comes in the form of instructions. They are recorded secondhand from close associates. Others learned from Him and later wrote down what they heard.
Then there are direct instructions found in works like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. These are the favorable winds that help to get the boat moving. Otherwise, life in the mode of passion is like staying in the same place. There is the illusion of progress, but actually nothing changes.
“Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.18)
While the mode of goodness leads to elevation to the heavenly realm, in that place the boat is lost. The body of a deva [demigod] is not considered most favorable for crossing over the ocean of birth and death. When the time commensurate with pious credits runs out, there is the chance of falling back to earth. Those regressing through life in the mode of ignorance only get further away from even receiving the boat. They have to spend many years in suffering before the opportunity comes again.
3. The spiritual master
He is the expert navigator. You have the boat. You have the favorable winds. But how to catch that force? In which direction to go? How to adjust based on the changing winds? How to keep focus and attention on the proper destination? How to know when to take a rest, when to start up again, when to stay patient and when to act with urgency?
The spiritual master is required for these things. He is the same Supreme Lord, but in the representative form. He follows the same instructions passed on in the Bhagavad-gita, but he makes the necessary adjustments for time and circumstance. Not everyone is familiar with Vedic culture or the Sanskrit language. Not everyone has been following the standard stages of purification since the time of birth.
The combination of the three is so strong that at any time there is the possibility to cross over the ocean. The sinner Ajamila was rescued right at the time of death. He was favored through the sound of the holy name Narayana, which represents God. He had good counsel earlier in life, and in that human body he was able to attain liberation.
The spiritual master says that the best way to catch the winds in this inauspicious time period known as Kali is to always chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Always stay conscious of Bhagavan. Help yourself by avoiding meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. With so much in your favor, the vast ocean turns into the size of a puddle left by the hoofprint of a calf. This is through the favor of Mukunda, the giver of liberation, who desires every struggling living entity to make the safe journey across.
On that vast ocean to float,
Through human body like boat.
Gita’s words to Arjuna showing,
Like most favorable winds blowing.
Guru for navigating safely across,
Steady on aim, not gain or loss.
Components requiring three,
Then surely liberation to see.
Categories: the three