“O mighty-armed Krishna, does not such a man, being deviated from the path of Transcendence, perish like a riven cloud, with no position in any sphere?” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.38)
The material world bears similarities to the spiritual world. Something like the saying, “Man is made in the image of God,” so the manifest space consisting of higher, middle and lower planetary systems resembles the imperishable and forever unmanifest planetary system in many ways.
“That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.21)
How to properly explain unmanifest versus manifest? How to understand the difference between the negation of perceivable attributes and the existence of unlimited attributes, which are inconceivable in nature?
The teachers of the Vedic science take advantage of the similarities. They make heavy use of analogies to present complex topics in a more digestible format. This practice descends from the top; the Supreme Lord Himself teaches in this manner, as there are many analogies found in His famous conversation with the bow-warrior named Arjuna.
1. Changing clothes
Have we lived before? If so, then where? In what form? Why can’t we remember? Reincarnation certainly has a mystical aspect to it. In some ways it is comforting to know that this life is not the only one. At the same time, if we have lived before and can’t remember all the details, it stands to reason that in the future we will have another life and have forgotten everything from this one.
Shri Krishna introduces the topic of reincarnation fairly quickly in the discussion. In the beginning He mentions to Arjuna that the body is always changing. The juxtaposition is the great fear: death. As Shri Rama says in the Ramayana, for a person who has achieved maturity in life, there is no greater fear than death.
“As a ripe fruit has no other fear than to fall, so a man who is born has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)
Arjuna should not fear death precisely because the spirit soul inside is never killed. Only the body changes. No need to consider the future as of yet to understand the concept. See how reincarnation happens already. Since the time of birth the body has continued to change. In the same way, the final change will be at death. The transformation is like putting on clothes and then taking them off.
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
2. The seasons
Birth and death are covered, but what about in between? How to handle the ups and downs of daily life? How to proceed forward when feeling depressed? How to find true happiness, that isn’t dependent on outside factors?
“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)
Shri Krishna says that happiness and sadness are due to sense perception only. The meaning is that the soul is not affected. Moreover, the contradictory pair arrive seemingly without effort, on a kind of schedule. The analogy is to winter and summer. No one seeks out the bitter cold in the winter months. No one prefers the intense heat and humidity of summer. A wise person tolerates both, however. The same should be done with happiness and sadness.
3. The inverted tree
We know that the material world is a reflection of the spiritual world based on the mention of the inverted tree. Krishna says that this tree’s roots are upwards. The branches flow downward and then in different directions. The leaves represent various aspects of nature, with so many corresponding departments of knowledge.
The obvious place to find an inverted tree is the water. Sitting by a pond on a clear day, looking at the water shows the tree in an upside down way. Thus the analogy is to a reflection, where the tree exists in the proper orientation, in the same way that the spiritual world is the actual root of existence. The various leaves of this tree are merely different ways to stay occupied in a temporary existence, forgetting the eternal service of bhakti-yoga.
4. The riven cloud
Arjuna is a disciple with considerable intelligence. Though a military man, he was qualified to receive the teachings from Krishna, who is the adi-guru, or original teacher. Arjuna makes use of analogies in his questions.
At one stage he asks about the progress of a spiritual seeker. If someone were to genuinely search for the root of the inverted tree, to climb their way back to the spiritual world, so to speak, what happens if they fail to succeed in this lifetime? What happens to their progress?
The worry is that everything will disintegrate, like the riven cloud. Once that object breaks up, the wind carries the component pieces away. How to even find everything to put back together? Similarly, if the spirit soul travels to a new body in the next life, does everything they learned previously get erased?
Krishna addresses the concerns. While material acquisition does not follow from life to life, any genuine effort in yoga never goes to waste. The progress gets maintained through an auspicious birth in the next life. The unsuccessful yogi appears in a family of clean and pure-minded people. Or they are in a family blessed by shri [opulence], so that there are no distractions with respect to maintaining life.
The body disintegrates, but any time spent in bhakti-yoga accumulates a steady balance of spiritual credits, sukriti, that pay dividends in the future. For this reason alone bhakti-yoga makes more sense than any other path in life, either material or spiritual. Just one utterance of the holy name, just one attempt made to understand life through the lens of analogies provided by Krishna and His representatives, goes a long way.
Since material the spiritual resembling,
Vedic teachers analogies assembling.
From Shri Krishna practice descending,
To benefit souls with nature contending.
Like in pond seeing tree inverted,
That reflection of original perverted.
Like riven cloud yogi’s progress to abate?
But Lord in same position to reinstate.
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