I offer my most respectful obeisances unto His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, my spiritual master and the spiritual master of the universe, from whose lotus lips has sprung the eternal message of the Vedas in the purest line of disciplic succession from Sri Krsna, the Absolute Truth, through Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami Maharaja. He is spreading the teachings of Krsna consciousness around the planet for the benefit of all living entities, and just by his kindness so many of his faithful disciples are being delivered from the clutches of impending death. Please allow me to address myself to this subject. The death of the body is an inevitable fact for each one of us, so let us find out what the Vedic literature says about this.
The final purport of the Vedas is stated by the Supreme Lord Krsna in Bhagavad-gita: “Just surrender unto Me.” (Bg. 18.66) But surrender is made difficult by our attachment to the gross and subtle bodily coverings of the soul. We must control the various senses and gradually extract ourselves from the predicament of material life. In Bhagavad-gita the Lord states: “O mighty-armed son of Kunti, it is undoubtedly difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by constant practice and detachment.” (Bg. 6.35) For the yogi this practice is most severely tested at the time of death. The Supreme Personality of Godhead says, “Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Bg. 8.5)
For example, the Vedic literature cites the case of Ajamila. Ajamila, who had been born into a good brahmana family, fell into bad association after having seen a man and a woman embracing on a public road. His lust drew him into worse and worse circumstances, and finally, sick and wretched, he found himself dying and went to the house of the prostitute he was currently favoring. She threw him out mercilessly, seeing his abject state. He had no one present to help him, and so his thoughts turned to his son, and as he fell down to die, he called out his son’s name, Narayana. Now, it so happens that Narayana is a name of God, indicating Krsna’s four-armed form. So just by the potency of the sound vibration of the name of God, uttered even in this indirect manner by the dying Ajamila, he was not taken away by the constables of the lord of death, Yamaraja, who were waiting for him, but instead was transported to the realm of Vaikuntha, the abode of Lord Narayana. On the other hand, Bharata Maharaja, although advanced in spiritual understanding, thought of a stag at the time of his sudden death, and he became a stag in his next birth (although an extraordinary stag who could remember his previous life’s activities).
Everyone, from the smallest germ, known as indra-gopa, up to Lord Indra, the King of heaven, is subject to the stringent laws of material nature. We are attempting to win over these laws, but in fact we are simply becoming more and more entangled in illusion’s complexities. Even Lord Indra himself was once subject to the influence of the deluding potency. Indra once became captivated by the superior facilities for sense gratification available on his heavenly planet, and therefore when his spiritual master, Brhaspati, the guru of the demigods, scolded him, Indra acted offensively toward him. Brhaspati then decided to teach his student a lesson. He cursed him to take birth on a lower planet as a pig. Sloshing around in mud and stool, Lord Indra as a pig felt that he was enjoying life very much. He thought to himself, “I am very fortunate. Here I have my nice sow for sex life, so many nice piglets, and the farmer serves me daily with a nice big bucket of stools to eat. How lucky I am!” Meanwhile the upper planets fell into confusion in Lord Indra’s absence, and Lord Brahma flew down to Indra’s farmyard on his swan to bring the King of heaven back to his post. But Indra would not leave: “I am very happy here, thank you.” So, with controlled intelligence, Lord Brahma took his sword end killed the sow and piglets. “No! No! What are you doing?” cried Indra. “My beautiful wife and children! You have mercilessly killed them!” Brahma then reminded Lord Indra that his death was going to come next anyway; at that very moment the farmer was sharpening his knife for the kill. The king of heaven was shocked into awareness, and he gladly returned to his duty as administrative head of the demigods.
The death of the body is approaching for all of us. But Lord Krsna begins Bhagavad-gita by teaching that we are not the material body, but pure spirit soul. After confirming the eternal character of the individual soul (Bg. 2.12), the Lord says: “As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth and then to old age, similarly the soul also passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Bg. 2.13)
Later in the Gita, the Supreme Personality of Godhead elaborates on this: ”From the highest planet in the material world, down to the lowest, all are places of misery where repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Bg. 8.16)
Why should we go to Krsna’s abode? We should go there because that is our natural home. As confirmed in Bhagavad-gita, this material world is a foreign place for us, for the soul is made of the same spiritual energy as Krsna is, and he belongs in the spiritual sky. Therefore, in order to enter into the abode of Sri Krsna, we must be delivered from the womb of material nature. We have been impregnated into this womb by Krsna because we desire to lord it over dead matter. This is confirmed inBhagavad-gita: “The total material substance, called Brahma, is the source of birth, and in that Brahma do I create pregnancy. Thus come the possibilities for the births of all living beings. It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” (Bg. 14.3-4) After the living entities, or jivas, are injected into maya, they lie dormant for some time. Since the living entities come into material existence due to envy of Krsna, it can be said that they are in a state of spiritual death. Spiritual death means to forget that one is spirit. The conditioned living entities come into the material world due to a desire to identify with the deluding energy. Therefore they lie dormant in this state of spiritual death. Then, after some time, “those jivas who had lain dormant during the cataclysm are awakened.” (Brahma-samhita 5.20)
But it must be admitted that this awakening is itself illusory, since we are still within the womb; we have not actually been born yet. Nor are we awake. Sukadeva Gosvami says in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, “The conditioned souls hover in a dream of heavenly illusory pleasures, but actually they do not relish any tangible happiness in this way.” (Bhag. 2.2.2)
What is needed is known as dvija, or second birth. This second birth occurs when we are initiated by a bona fide spiritual master. He can deliver us from illusion just by his causeless mercy. After this kind of birth, there is no death any more just eternal, blissful life in Krsna consciousness.
The great saints and spiritual masters can give us advice on the proper method of passing out of this present body. One illustrative account is found in Srimad-Bhagavatam First Canto, Thirteenth Chapter. The gist of the narrative is as follows.
In the course of losing the Battle of Kuruksetra, King Dhrtarastra’s one hundred sons, led by Duryodhana, had all been killed and so the aged father was living in the palace of the victor, king Yudhisthira. Yudhisthira was very kind to his former enemy, and, according to the Vedic custom, he allowed him all the privileges of a member of his family, regularly paying his respects to the elderly king every morning. Dhrtarastra, who had been blind throughout his life, was thus living in Yudhisthira’s palace in peace and friendliness, along with his wife Gandhari.
This placid domestic scene was not to continue for long, however. Dhrtarastra’s brother Vidura, who had left Duryodhana’s palace just before the great battle, now at last returned from a long pilgrimage to holy cities and temples. He had sat at the feet of his spiritual master, Maitreya Muni, and thereby received the gracious gift of absolute knowledge. Vidura was not an ordinary human being. Actually he was a demigod, Yamaraja, the lord of death, who had taken birth on this planet as the result of being cursed by the sage Mandavya Muni. So Vidura was particularly qualified to ascertain the flaws in his aged brother’s present way of life.
Vidura’s arrival at the court of Yudhistthira was filled with gaiety. For the members of the royal family, it was like regaining consciousness after a long period. They had been distressed by Vidura’s absence, and now they all offered their most respectful obeisances to the great saint and embraced him heartily, crying affectionately due to their long separation. King Yudhisthira arranged for a nice place for Vidura to sit, and a festive reception was offered, with sumptuous foodstuffs for the brother of Dhrtarastra. After taking sufficient rest, Vidura was given a comfortable seat, and, after paying his respects, King Yudhisthira asked him about Lord Krsna and the Lord’s immediate relatives, the Yadus.
Now, it so happened that the Supreme Lord Sri Krsna had brought His earthly pastimes to a close, and He and His relatives had departed for the spiritual sky. But Vidura did not disclose this unbearable news to the assembled devotees. They were to find out soon enough just by the laws of nature, and Vidura did not want to hasten their inevitable distress. Instead he turned to Dhrtarastra and addressed his remarks to him directly:
“My dear King, please get out of here immediately. Do not delay. Just see how fear has overtaken you. This frightful situation cannot be remedied by any person in this material world. My lord, it is the Supreme Personality of Godhead as eternal time that has approached us all. Whoever is under the influence of supreme eternal time must surrender his most dear life, and what to speak of other things, such as wealth, honor, children, land, home, etc.
“Your father, brother, well-wishers and sons are all dead and passed away. You yourself have expended the major portion of your life. Your body is now overtaken by invalidity, and you are living in the home of another. You have been blind from your very birth, and recently you have become hard of hearing. Your memory is shortened, and your intelligence is disturbed. Your teeth are loose, your liver is defective, and you are coughing up mucus.
“Alas, how powerful are the hopes of a living being to continue his life. Verily, you are living just like a household dog and are eating the remnants of food given by Bhima. There is no need to live a degraded life and subsist on the charity of those whom you tried to kill by arson and poisoning. You also insulted one of their wives and usurped their kingdom and wealth. Despite your unwillingness to die and your desire to live even at the cost of honor and prestige, your miserly body will certainly dwindle and deteriorate like an old garment.
“He is called undisturbed who goes to an unknown, remote place, and freed from all obligations, quits his material body when it has become useless. He is certainly a first-class man who awakens and understands, either by himself or from others, the falsity and misery of this material world and thus leaves home and depends fully on the Supreme Personality of Godhead residing within his heart.
“Please, therefore, leave for the North immediately, without letting your relatives know, for soon that time will approach which will diminish the good qualities of men.” (Bhag. 1.13.18-28)
Because Vidura spoke the truth from the platform of direct realization, Dhrtarastra followed his brother’s advice, and he and his wife both left at once for the Himalayas and took up yoga practice under Vidura’s guidance in order to purify their consciousness so that they could be liberated from the attachments of material life. After perfecting their austerities, they voluntarily accepted death in the fire of mystic yoga. The yoga which they performed, however, was not sufficient for attaining the highest knowledge. Mere liberation is not sought after by pure devotees of Krsna. It is not such a great achievement. Even the most demonic of all living entities, Hiranyakasipu, was also liberated at his death, simply because he was killed by the Personality of Godhead in His form as Nrsimhadeva. Such is the grace of Krsna that He awards salvation even to the lowest of the low, if, through their atheistic activities, they are so corrupt as to necessitate their being annihilated by God Himself.
Mere impersonal salvation is not considered worthwhile because it is temporary. Thus it is on the same level as religion, economic development and sense gratification. Only pure devotional service of God can render the living entity completely free from birth, death, disease and old age. Sukadeva Gosvami says in Srimad-Bhagavatam, “For those who are wandering in the material universe, there is no more auspicious means of deliverance than what is aimed at in the direct devotional service of Lord Krsna.” (Bhag. 2.2.33) His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes in his purport to this verse, “Srila Sridhara Svami and all other acaryas, like Jiva Gosvami, etc., agree that bhakti-yoga is not only easy, simple, natural and free from trouble, but that it is the only source of happiness for the human being.”
Commenting on the kind of yoga practiced by Dhrtarastra, His Divine Grace writes: “In olden days such practice was very common for the transcendentalist for the mode of life and character in those days were favorable. But in modern days, when the influence of the age of Kali is so disturbing, practically everyone is untrained in this art of bodily exercise. Concentration of the mind is more easily attained in these days by the chanting of the holy name of the Lord. The results are more effective than those derived from the inner exercise of the life air.” (Bhag. 2.2.19, purport)
So here is a hint for all of us not to be dissuaded from attempting for spiritual emancipation. The human form of life is given to us as a chance to surpass the hurdle of birth and death. How, then, can we transcend the material nature at the time of death? Let us take the example of King Pariksit.
King Pariksit had offended a sage, Samika Muni, and the son of that holy man had subsequently cursed the King to be killed in seven days by the bite of a snake-bird. Having been informed of this by the Muni, the King was in the unique position of knowing exactly when he would die, and therefore he immediately prepared for death. He accepted the news of his death as “well and good for its being the cause of his indifference toward worldly attachments.” (Bhag. 1.19.4) He left his palace and sat down tightly on the bank of the most holy Yamuna River, observed fasting, and simply depended on Lord Krsna. As he sat there, the most auspicious saints and mystics arrived on the scene; they could foretell what was going to happen. The demigods, seeing the great assemblage, scattered flowers over the earth. Then at last, Sukadeva Gosvami arrived, and he took the most exalted seat as the chief guest of Pariksit. He is described in Srimad-Bhagavatam as “surrounded by saintly sages, demigods, and kings, just as the moon is surrounded by stars, heavenly bodies, and planets in the sky. He was gorgeously represented in that manner, and factually he was also respected by all of them.” (Bhag. 1.19.31)
The King then put a question to Sukadeva Gosvami: “You are the spiritual master of great saints and devotees. I therefore beg to inquire from you the way of perfection for all persons, and especially for one who is just about to die.” (Bhag. 1.19.37)
Sukadeva answered: “The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life.” (Bhag. 2.1.6) “Those who drink through aural reception, fully filled with the nectarean message of Lord Krsna, the beloved of the devotees, purify the polluted aim of life known as material enjoyment and thus go back to Godhead, to the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead.” (Bhag. 2.2.37) In the remainder of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Sukadeva Gosvami tells the King about Sri Krsna, His energies, His opulences and His activities; and just by hearing this transcendental sound vibration, the King was transferred to the spiritual sky at his death.
Here is the conclusion of the Vedas. The first principle of spiritual life is hearing, and Sukadeva Gosvami assures that this is the most important factor at death. The hearing must be submissive. One should not hear in a challenging spirit. In Bhagavad-gita,Lord Krsna tells Arjuna: “Because you are never envious of Me, O Arjuna, I shall give you this most secret wisdom, knowing which you will be relieved from the miseries of material existence.” (Bg. 9.1) Elsewhere the Lord says, “That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore, you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” (Bg. 4.3)
Our attitude towards Krsna and the spiritual master must not be envious, but favorable and devotional. Lord Caitanya prays, “In such a humble state of mind one can chant the holy name of the Lord constantly.” (Siksastakam 3) In the Gita the Lord tells us how to act in relationship with the spiritual master: “inquire from him submissively and render service unto him.” (Bg. 4.34)
So, with this in mind, let US hear something of that supreme destination, the goal of the bhakti-yogis, described nicely by Srila Prabhupada in Bhagavad-gita:
“The supreme abode of the Personality of Godhead, Krsna, is described in the Brahma-samhita as the cintamani dhama. That abode of Lord Krsna, known as Goloka Vrndavana, is full of palaces made of touchstone. There the trees are called desire trees, and the cows are called surabhi, and the Lord is served by hundreds and thousands of goddesses of fortune. He is Govinda, the primal Lord and the cause of all causes. There the Lord plays His flute; His eyes are like lotus petals, and the color of llis body is like a beautiful cloud. On His head is a peacock feather. So attractive is He that He excels thousands of Cupids.” (Bg. 8.21, purport)
The real meaning of eternal deathlessness is to perform devotional service for the eternal Supreme Lord, and therefore pure devotees do not even desire to attain to the Lord’s eternal abode, Krsnaloka, as just described. Lord Caitanya prays, “O almighty Lord, I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor have I any desire to enjoy beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. What I want only is that I may have Your causeless devotional service in my life birth after birth.” (Siksastakam 4) Similarly the great acarya of modern times Srila Bhaktivinode Thakur, offering a poem on the death of a great devotee, says:
He reasons ill who says that Vaisnavas die
When thou art living still in sound.
The Vaisnavas die to live and living try
To spread the holy life around.
Devotional service to Krsna is eternal and cannot die. So the devotees pray, “Whether I attain to Vaikuntha, the spiritual sky, or whether You wish to send me to hell, whatever You desire is all right. I simply pray to always remember You.” Therefore when the Lord grants devotional service, it means that deathlessness is assured. When a devotee takes up Krsna consciousness seriously he becomes very dear to Krsna, and although the devotee may not desire it, his going back to Krsnaloka is assured.
We urge our readers to consider these topics seriously and with all reason and cool logic. Srila Prabhupada has said that actually our desire to live eternally is indirect evidence that we are actually eternal by nature. These propositions on how one can go beyond death by performance of devotional service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead are not mere word jugglery. Death is not the most wonderful thing; it is life that is most wonderful, and Krsna consciousness is real life. Death can be conquered. Krsna promises that this freedom from death can most assuredly be attained by His devotees. By becoming purified through hearing of the Lord from the spiritual master and by chanting the holy name of God, the devotees learn to take everything as the mercy of God, and thus they become eager to serve Him. That change from material consciousness to God consciousness makes one eligible to enter the kingdom of God for eternal blissful life.
Krsna does not derive any happiness from the material energy. He enjoys only his inner, eternal spiritual energy. However, the material energy can be connected to Krsna. By engaging the material energy in the service of Krsna it becomes transcendental because the ‘fruit’ becomes transcendental.
Of course, the material world is temporary and anything in the material world is temporary. The material energy is real but all variety of form is temporary. There is no lasting relationship, no relationship with the material world is real and thus everything we get will eventually disappear! There are six transformations of the material energy – things grow, flourish, give by-products, dwindle, seize to exist…
Maya works on living being by making us see things separate from Krsna. If we do not see a connection to Krsna in anything, this is maya. Hari-sambandha-vastunaḥ, connection to Krsna with all things is our business, to engage whatever and whomever we meet in Krsna consciousness, otherwise we remain unfulfilled.
Devotees look at the material energy and look for opportunities to serve Krsna. There are lots of opportunities! There is no more time to be captured by maya. If we think different places, other than Krsna, will give us happiness then we are in illusion. Sannyasa is the best position because there is minimum entanglement with material energy and maximum use of the material energy for Krsna!
One can never take Krsna for granted. One should never think, “I’ve done so much service… so much! You know in my days, we used to go out on sankirtan and we used to distribute so many books, so many books that one man could not lift them! In the past, we did so much service, and that’s why in the present we don’t have to do anything!”
If we do think like this then immediately, maya is here!
Kṛṣṇa-bahirmukha hañā bhoga vāñchā kare, nikaṭa-stha māyā tāre jāpaṭiyā dhare, Jagadananda Pandita in the Prema Vivarta says, “Maya is waiting nearby and as soon as we show a little interest, by just looking with interest in the material energy, maya is not waiting for us to fall down… she will slap us DOWN!”
So, we must take shelter of Krsna, again and again, and we always have to conquer Krsna, again and again, through devotional service.
By Kadamba Kanana Swami
Most of the times, we are running after money ( dhan ). Money is what makes the world go round, or so it appears. Many a times, this appears to be true. Money enables us to buy goods and services, food, clothing and other basic necessities of life, possessions, home, car, luxuries, etc; Since Laxmi is the goddess of wealth, we worship her to bless us with her favour and benediction. As we are mostly obsessed with money and its acquisition, we do not realize that Laxmi also benedicts us with beauty (soundarya ) , strength ( bal ), fame ( kirti ), knowledge ( gyan ), and renunciation ( bairagya ). Renunciation is also a sign of Laxmi’s opulence, but since many of us are so much blinded by gross materialism, we do not credit any importance to the spirit of renunciation and detachment, which is one of the opulences bestowed by goddess Laxmi.
The image of goddess Laxmi in the Indian psyche is one of serenity, beauty, chastity, godliness, dignity, and of course all the material blessings we can think of. Laxmi is the image of the quintessentially ideal Indian woman, venerated by one and all. Every traditional Indian householder lady desires her daughter or daughter – in – law to be like a Laxmi, having all the qualities of a Laxmi. This is based on the belief that when the daughter or daughter – in – law has all the qualities of a Laxmi, the home is filled with all blessings, peace and opulence.
LAXMI IS THE ETERNAL CONSORT OF NARAYAN
The goddess Laxmi is the eternal consort of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Narayan. Sri Narayan is one of the innumerable integrated expansions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna ( one of His Vishnu tattva expansions ). In His spiritual planet Vaikuntha, the Supreme Lord Narayan resides with His eternal consort Laxmi, in His satchitananda vigraha ( eternally full of knowledge and bliss ) form. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayan, desires nothing from Laxmi, since He is complete by Himself. In the Srimad Bhagavad Gita ( 3.22 ) , the Lord declares : “O son of Prtha, there is no work prescribed for Me within all the three planetary systems. Nor am I in want of anything, nor have I need to obtain anything–and yet I am engaged in work.” When the Lord desired to create Brahma, the first living being, Brahma was born from the lotus stem growing out of the navel of the Lord in His garbhodakasayi Vishnu expansion, while He was lying down in the vast causal ocean, on the bed created from the body of Seshnag ( or Sankarsana, the multiheaded serpent, the Lord’s first expansion ).
The Lord could very well have begotten Brahma or other living beings from the womb of Laxmi, who is serving Him eternally and most lovingly, but He created Brahma independent of her, proving His total omnipotence and independence. Hence the Lord is fully self sufficient and does not need any benediction or boon from the goddess Laxmi. The goddess Laxmi on the other hand, cannot for a moment be separated from the Lord, her dearest husband. Just as an afterthought, the concept of Narayan being daridra ( poor ), is absolutely rubbish or nonsensical. Narayan may have at times, playing a role, appeared to be a poor person enacting His many pastimes, as when he appeared before Bali Maharaj as a mendicant brahman, and requested for three steps of land. But any person who knows the opulence of Laxmi cannot for a moment be under the illusion that the Supreme Lord Narayan, whom she is serving eternally, could be poor or in want of anything. The Lord is eternally full with the six primal opulences.
When the Lord descended to earth as Krishna, the cowherd boy, Laxmi also appeared on the earth as Rukmini, and subsequently lived as His first queen in Dwarka, during the Lord’s final pastimes on earth. When the Lord descended to earth as Ramachandra in eons gone by, Laxmi descended as Sita and became his wife during the Lord’s pastimes as an ideal man ( purushuttama ) and an ideal king.
It is therefore surprising that most persons, while worshipping or aspiring for Laxmi, either forget or ignore her most well beloved husband, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayan Himself, whom she cannot be separated from, for even an instant. If you were to revere and invite a self respecting lady to come to your home, and at the same time, ignore her dearly loved husband, do you think that this lady will be pleased with you and be favorably disposed towards you, or for that matter, visit you at all ? Besides, even if a devotee of Laxmi directly asks her for some boon, and Laxmi grants that boon, that material opulence is short lived, as Laxmi is by nature capricious ( cancala ).
Srila Prabhupada therefore states ( Srimad Bhagavatam 4.4.25 purport ) : “When the goddess of fortune, Laxmi, desired to make the bosom of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayan, her residence, the Supreme Lord conceded to her request and made His bosom her permanent residence, so that the goddess Laxmi could bless His devotees with all opulences. The karmis ( materialists ) also worship Laxmi, but their opulence is flickering and temporary, whereas the opulence of the devotees of Narayan is as permanent as the opulence of Narayan Himself.”
During His pastimes on earth, the supreme Lord Krishna showed how a poor and penniless brahman like Sudama, by pleasing the Lord immensely by offering just a few grains of chipped rice, which was actually unfit even for human consumption, contrived to make the goddess Laxmi so much obligated to Sudama, that she would have to benedict Sudama life after life with opulence unimaginable even by Indra, the king of the devtas ( demigods ). This is the power of the Lord’s pleasure. When one offers Narayan some simple food or some service, and the Lord is pleased and accepts the service as a benediction to the devotee, the goddess Laxmi becomes immediately obligated to the devotee and has to perforce travel to the devotee’s home personally. When Laxmi enters one’s home, there can be no doubt in anyone’s mind that one’s home becomes opulent.
WE SHOULD PLEASE NARAYAN
In order to ensure that Laxmi never leaves our home, we must ensure that Narayan Himself resides in our home. Hence the message of the scriptures is clear. Instead of running after Laxmi, the goddess of fortune, who comes and goes as per her whims and fancies, and can desert a person anytime, we must ensure that the Supreme Lord Narayan never leaves our home. And we can imprison Narayan in our home with our pure love and devotional service ( bhakti ). Though the Lord is unconquerable, He nevertheless acquiesces in imprisonment by His pure devotee. He does not desire very expensive gifts from us. As an expression of our love, if we offer him a tulsi leaf, a flower, or a glass of water every day, the Lord will not only gladly accept the offerings but will also “eat” them with great pleasure. ( It should be known that as the Lord’s potencies and transcendental senses are unlimited, He can eat through his eyes or nose and do whatever else He desires – A supreme Lord Who is limited in His abilities ceases by definition to be the Supreme Lord ). He will reside permanently in our homes, thought this fact might not be apparent to our gross imperfect senses. “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” ( Srimad Bhagavad Gita 9.26 ).
It goes without saying that when the Supreme Lord Narayan resides in our home, encaptured by our love and devotional service, Laxmi cannot be far away. In fact, a team of cart horses or 500 HP tractors couldn’t drag Laxmi away from our home. In whichever form The Supreme Lord Narayan appears to our senses and intelligence, such as Lord Krishna or Lord Ram or Lord Narasimha, Laxmi is not very far away. In fact, unknown to our gross imperfect senses, Laxmi is always standing next to the Lord, awaiting an opportunity to benedict the devotee who is pleasing her beloved husband.
THE CHANGE IN PERCEPTION
At the end of this material life, we shall lose all our possessions, and all material connections. Yet we contrive every moment to collect ‘some more’. Our eternal connection is with the Lord only and He is our only true friend and well wisher. All other worldly relationships are temporary, like ships passing in the night. “The Blessed Lord said : Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” ( Srimad Bhagavad Gita 4.5 ). Hence an intelligent devotee does not ask for anything from the Lord except for the opportunity for His loving devotional service. This ensures that the Lord stays with the devotee permanently. The presence or absence of Laxmi becomes a matter of indifference to the devotee, who begins to see Laxmi not as a donor or bestower of material opulence, but as an exalted devotee of the Lord to be admired and respected not for what she can give to us but for the exalted qualities she has amassed just by serving the Lord with unsurpassed love and devotion.
The hero of India’s epic Bhagavad Gita, Arjuna, is at a crossroad. He is intelligent, well-intending, and overwhelmed by a dilemma we all might recognize: the apparent incompatibility of worldly responsibilities and other-worldly aspirations. Arjuna is a warrior who feels the call to a more peaceful, non-invasive life. On the verge of a mammoth war he refuses to fight, even though the enemy is an aggressor who must be brought down. Like Arjuna, once we acknowledge the call to a more enlightened life we may also find mundane duties distasteful. Is it possible to attend to such obligations without compromising our higher self? Is it possible to live in the material world without becoming overwhelmed by it? The Gita responds by analyzing our dilemma through the eyes of a soldier preparing to do battle.
Chapter Four begins with Arjuna doubting Krishna’s claim that he taught yoga to the Sun God millions of years before. It is a common ploy: when we don’t want to do something we rationalize it away. One of Arjuna’s many excuses for not fighting is to doubt Krishna’s authority. (Doubts, samsayam, as referred to in this verse are not healthy skepticism, which is commendable, but the toxic variety that impede worthy action.) If Krishna is inventing a personal history, then his instructions are suspect and Arjuna can feel justified withdrawing from battle. Patiently, Krishna explains that “Many births you and I have taken, I remember them all but you do not.” He does not dwell on Arjuna’s challenge but brings the discussion back to the real issue, namely Arjuna’s unwillingness to confront the difficult task ahead.
A simple summary of Krishna’s advice would be: Do good without coveting the results of what you do, and you will avoid the noxious effects of selfish behavior. That is, if you fight because it is your duty and not for egoistic ends, then your actions take place under a mantle of karmic immunity. The drawback to such simplistic summaries is that they gloss over the psychic complexities of Arjuna’s dilemma. Look beneath the Gita’s surface narrative, and we discover much deeper insights into the human condition. Implicit in this verse, for instance, is a reminder that pain and painful duties are inevitable. A discerning yogi does not allow pain or discomfort to interfere with executing righteous work. As described by the Yoga Sutras (2.1): “Accepting pain as help for purification constitutes yoga in practice.”
Yoga philosophy interprets all occurrences as purposeful and supportive of spiritual development. Just how an event can serve our personal progress may not be obvious, particularly when it seems random and tragic. Still, Krishna’s core teaching is to not become bitter or run from the vehicle of our progress. Like Arjuna, we will achieve liberation from fear by confronting fear, by “embracing the shadow” as mythologist Ursula Le Guin describes it—by acknowledging divinity even in the most tragic of circumstances.
But how are we supposed to do that? How do we embrace pain? How do we overcome what we fear most? The word hrt-stham (in the heart) in this verse offers a clue. When a situation seems too difficult to face, we move it from our heart to our head. We run from fear by intellectualizing it, objectifying it. Put simply, when we don’t want to do something we invent lies about it. “I won’t do that because it would be disruptive” or “I won’t do that because it’s an inferior plan of action,” or “I won’t do that because it would hurt others.” In the first chapter, Arjuna gives Krishna a dozen such excuses for not acting. Krishna refutes them all and calls his obfuscations a “petty weakness of heart” (hrdaya-daurbalyam, Gita 2.3). Krishna’s chastisement compels Arjuna to get out of his “head-space” and return to his heart.
The heart, both as metaphor and as dwelling place of consciousness, comes up throughout the Gita. Recently, I asked yoga-practicing cardiologist Mehmet Oz about the role of the heart in his work. His answer is relevant to our discussion about this concluding verse from Chapter Four.
“The heart is our most poetic organ,” he said. “There are hard hearts, cold hearts, bleeding hearts—it is a window into our soul. The heart gives us the unique ability to see inside ourselves and others…and if the heart doesn’t have a reason to keep beating, it won’t. It has been embarrassing for me to sit in front of a patient whose life I’ve saved and discover that he isn’t appreciative because he has no life to go back to. So the realization for me has been that to climb back from the brink of death, you need more than a new physical heart. You need a holistic approach to life that is sorely lacking in Western medicine. That really opened my eyes. That’s what yoga showed me.”
That is the real purpose of yoga: to find the reason for our heart to keep beating, the reason to persevere when things get tough instead of giving in to the toxicity of fear and doubt. Krishna calls such toxic stress ajnana-sambhutam, literally “produced from lack of knowledge.” The knowledge he refers to is awareness of ourselves as eternal souls, as divine beings (jnanasinatmanah). When Arjuna lost sight of his eternal self, the self which is never affected by fears or insecurities, the notion of living a life diminished through shameful acts rendered him catatonic. Krishna tells him to move the pain out of his head, where he has rationalized it into an excuse for inaction, and see it for what it is: a blockage in his heart. Instead of ignoring the blockage, he says, cut it away with the sword of self-knowledge.
“Cut with a sword” is a strong image, one which points to another profound dimension of this verse. While yoga does induce a peaceful state, it was never intended to impede effective action. Too often “peace” is mistaken for passivity. In its deeper sense, yoga is a preparation for facing problems, for engaging with them and resolving them as reflected in Krishna’s final words here: “Armed with yoga, rise up and fight.” It is significant that later in the Gita (once Arjuna has calmed down and can listen to a more challenging level of instruction), Krishna alerts him to not judge his progress by external indicators. His victory will not come from winning a war but from acknowledging that it had to be fought and doing so.
In other words, the indicators of success for a spiritualist are not the same as those for a materialist. It is significant, for instance, that Arjuna’s victory did not reestablish dharma as had been the war’s intent. True, the Kauravas were defeated and the Pandavas reinstalled on the throne at Hastinapur (present day New Delhi); but the stasis was short-lived. Arjuna and his brothers never overcame the trauma of having caused massive deaths, and within a few years the royal family destroyed itself in a fratricidal battle. And despite the Gita’s fame as a story of good conquering evil, the Pandava victory failed to shake evil’s dominance: No sooner had the Battle of Kurukshetra ended than the Kali-Yuga began.
Yoga does not guarantee material happiness or assure victory in battle. Do material benefits emerge from yoga practice? Sure they do. If you are peaceful, you work better. But we get into trouble when we level such expectations on our practice: “If I do this, then this is what I can expect in return.” What if our yoga does not lead to victory? Should we quit yoga? What if we are obliged to take part in an aggressive war, a war which many find morally repugnant? What would a sincere yogi do then?
“These are bad times,” a friend wrote to me recently from Baghdad. “One of my buddies died in my arms. We had been practicing yoga together for some time, and he was chanting when he expired. That gave him and me both some solace.”
This email comes from a thirty-year-old yogi from Brooklyn who did not enter the military out of patriotic conviction. “I couldn’t care less about U.S. politics,” he writes. “I just make the best of the situation by teaching yoga to the men and women on my team.”
War has been as difficult for him as it has for everyone else in his unit. “We’ve been hit with a lot of IEDs [improvised explosive devices],” he writes. “I took a round and lost some hearing, and I’m only five months in. There was a massive casualty event recently—this was after several suicide attacks in the North—and I credit the Gita with giving me enough strength to lead my team through that. In this town, we had to treat more than sixty men, women and children. Really gruesome material world stuff. There’s nothing more sobering then having to put some little child’s brain back in her head while still speaking soothing words before she dies. I carry sacred objects with me, little deities from India and so on, and I showed them to her and told her stories. She smiled before she left her body. It’s such a powerful thing, this process of yoga. How special this life is, however hard it gets. And there’s always something you can do, even here. Even here.”
That realization—“there is always something you can do—”lies at the heart of this concluding verse from Chapter Four. The first word, “tasmat” (therefore) suggests that even at this early point in the Gita Krishna has provided enough philosophy for Arjuna to change his behavior. Tasmat: “Therefore, now that I’ve spelled all this out for you, get tough. You are superior to the doubts that inhibit you from acting. They do not control you. You may not control the outcome, but you can do something. Get up and do what you can.”
Not everyone faces trials as extreme as Arjuna’s or those confronting a soldier in Iraq. Still, each of us confronts choices at every moment: how to behave, what actions to take. Usually we are capable of doing more than we imagine. At a time when the world sorely lacks wise leadership, this verse from the Gita gives us much to ponder.
By Yogesvara Das