Is there a higher enjoyment beyond the relative pleasures and pains of material life? His Holiness Revatinandana Svami describes how to achieve the realm of transcendental consciousness, where pleasure is ever increasing
By His Holiness Revatinandana Svami
When we are asleep we dream—sometimes pleasant dreams, but sometimes nightmares also. Although we sometimes suffer nightmares and don’t know how our dreams will develop, we nevertheless become attached to sleeping, and if someone tries to wake us, we resist. It might be that when we awaken we’ll have many enjoyable things to do, but because we are bewildered by our dreams, we think, “Why is he disturbing me? Better let me sleep.” Similarly, embodied life is like a dream for the sleeping spiritual soul. Although we are eternal and naturally blissful, we think, “I am this body,” and because of past impious activities, life sometimes seems like a nightmare. There is no possibility of perfect, happy life as long as we mistake the body to be the self. But when offered knowledge of our eternal life as spiritual souls, we resist because we don’t want to accept the trouble of changing our actions from bodily motivated to spiritually motivated. It may be possible, though, to achieve eternally joyful life through spiritual advancement, and so even if ideas like reincarnation and self-realization are new to us, they are worth trying to understand.
We may have some knowledge of our own bodies and the world around us, but we can’t know whether we existed before our bodies were conceived or whether we will go on living after death. Scientists have their theories, but these are only possibilities and will never be more because no one can directly investigate the past, before the body, or the future, after death. Materialists may think that they are no more than lumps of chemicals, come to life of their own accord, and that when the chemicals break down and death occurs everything is finished. But this theory is only a “maybe.” Because the soul is not material and so does not register on their instruments, the scientists cannot locate it. But does this disprove its existence? When I can’t find my car keys, does that mean they don’t exist?
Life Comes From Life. In fact, we should not expect to get life from dead matter. From unconscious, inert chemicals we won’t get life and consciousness, no matter how we combine them, just as we won’t get milk from the fleshy bags on the neck of a goat, even though they look like nipples. There must be a conscious element that combines with the bodily chemicals and brings them to life. We might call that element the spirit soul, or self. The idea that life is due to the presence of a spirit soul and that death occurs when the soul departs from the body is not only reasonable, but is also the opinion of Bhagavad-gita, the most philosophical scripture in the world. Only by such a revelation of knowledge from the higher authority of the Supreme Spirit can we get real knowledge of what causes life and what happens after death.
In the Gita Lord Krishna says:
dehino ‘smin yatha dehe
kaumaram yauvanam jara
dhiras tatra na muhyati
“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Bg. 2.13)
Here Krishna offers an example to help us understand that we are eternal souls who live in bodies only temporarily and who are unaffected by bodily changes. I may think that the twenty-eight-year-old body I see in the mirror is me, but I can also remember that once I had a five-year-old body. I recall going to kindergarten, drawing with big, hexagonal crayons, eating graham crackers and milk, and so on. You’d hardly imagine that the body I have now has developed from that body, because there is almost no similarity between them. Since then, scientists agree, every cell has changed or been replaced, and my mind has changed as much as my body. Yet I was there then, and the same ‘I,’ or sense of self, is here now, The part that remains the same while the body and mind change is the spiritual soul, and so I can understand that I am not an aging, dying body, but an unchanging spiritual being. The Gita informs us that we will not change even at the moment of death, but will leave dead bodies behind and go on to future living conditions. If all our lives we have been attached to bodily pleasures and mental diversions, when we leave this body the laws of nature will force us to take birth in another body, in which we can go on with such activities. Thus the eternal soul changes bodies just as a person takes off an old, worn coat and puts on a new one.
The Gita informs us that we will not change, even at the moment of death, but will leave dead bodies behind and go on to future living conditions.
One might protest that it’s a bit far-fetched to believe that we live forever and migrate from body to body, and this might especially be so if one also hears that in his next body he is going to have to accept the good and bad reactions he deserves because of his deeds in this body. The materialist likes to believe that when he dies everything is finished and that he won’t have to endure any misery in an afterlife because of the misery he sometimes causes for others in this life. But this is not the case. Not only does Krishna offer us knowledge of this transmigration of the soul, but it’s not at all unreasonable. I can recall that I existed at fifteen years of age, at ten and at five, but I cannot remember what I was doing when I was two years, old. Does this mean that I did not exist at two? No, my good sense, as well as my parents, will confirm that I existed then also. Why, then, is it so difficult to learn from the Supreme Parent that I also existed one hundred years ago and one million years ago, but have simply forgotten, just as I have forgotten my recent babyhood?
We can’t recall what it was like to be locked in the womb of the mother, but from the kicking of the unborn baby in his struggle to be free we can understand that it is very miserable to be awake but cramped upside-down in darkness in the fluid of the natal sac. After the pain of being squeezed out into the world by muscular contractions, we go through the helplessness and real or imaginary fears of childhood. Then we move through a life of sometimes enjoying and sometimes suffering—accepting the reactions of our deeds in the previous body—and although we want to remain young, fit and ready to enjoy life forever, the laws of nature do not allow this. Instead, we must gradually become old and decrepit, suffer miserable diseases, and finally go through the total loss and fearful illusion of dying. To go through this once is bad enough, but to do it again and again is really intolerable for the spiritual soul. We should not think that this is the “theory” of reincarnation. From the scientists we get uncertain theories, but from the Supreme Scientist we can get the facts. Reincarnation is such a fact, but because we are limited, tiny souls, we forget what we have factually gone through.
The Web of Karma. Sometimes we see that a person is not even born fit to enjoy life—he is born poor and underprivileged, or very ugly, or even crippled or retarded. This is not simply the result of random chance or “cruel fate.” Krishna says, bhuta-bhavodbhava-karo visargah karma-samjnitah: “The action that develops these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activity.” (Bg. 8.3) Destiny, or fate, is not due to chance, but is the result of our own previous work in the world to get some results and enjoy them. We’re all caught in a web of karmic reactions from the past, and busy with more fruitive activities in the present, in this way steering ourselves toward repeated birth, old age, disease and death in the future. That is why Krishna offers us the knowledge of Bhagavad-gita—toteach us the nature of the soul so that we can deliver ourselves from this material bondage. Therefore He says, dhiras tatra na muhyati: “The self-realized soul is not bewildered by the process of changing from body to body.” If we can achieve complete self-realization—direct experience of our eternal, blissful nature—we put a permanent stop to the dreadful process of reincarnation. Leaving our bodies in divine consciousness, with no more attachment for karmic activities, we are then fit to enter the eternal, spiritual sky and enjoy perfect life in Krishna’s living place. Krishna says:
na tad bhasayate suryo
na sasanko na pavakah
yad gatva na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
“That abode of Mine [the spiritual world] is not illuminated by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Bg. 15.6) There everything is luminous, and because we there attain our original, spiritual forms, we stop changing bodies. Undisturbed by old age, sickness and death, we can then enjoy our unlimited, blissful life in the association of the Supreme.
Self-realization, therefore, is the real business of life, and the ability to progress in this direction is the distinguishing feature of the human species. There are innumerable species of living beings—plants, fishes, animals, humans and so on—and wherever we see life in a body, we may know that a spiritual soul is present to cause the consciousness. According to the Gita, a person who becomes very degraded can lose his human body at death and be forced to accept birth in the animal kingdom (Bg. 14.15). He then has to transmigrate from one lower species to another until he has expiated all the reactions of his human sins. Then he is reinstated in the human form. In animal life there is all facility for eating, sleeping, mating and defending—the bodily propensities—and human beings can also do these things, but the reason a human birth is periodically awarded to the spiritually forgetful soul is that in a human body the soul has the greater intelligence needed to discriminate between body and self and to engage in yoga, or activities for spiritual deliverance. Therefore a soul who gets a human birth but takes no interest in self-realization, and who goes on working only to maintain his body—as the cats and dogs do—has wasted a most valuable chance. He may not get another for literally millions of miserable births and deaths.
The Perfection of Yoga. The culture of self-realization is called yoga, and while there are several approaches to yoga described in Bhagavad-gita—through philosophical introspection, mystic meditation and active devotion—the final goal of all is the same. Krishna says:
jnatva mam santim rcchati
“The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” (Bg. 5.29) Despite what some people think, the goal of yoga is not to become a nonentity by merging into a void or spiritual light. The self is an eternal individual (Bg. 15.7) who never becomes void or merges into formlessness. The real goal of that individual soul’s struggle to end suffering and enjoy supreme happiness is explained here-he must know Krishna and revive his original relationship with Him.
Who is Krishna? He is the supreme spiritual personality, described in great detail in the Gita and other Vedic scriptures—especially Srimad-Bhagavatam. In this verse He is described as the supreme owner, the supreme enjoyer and the best friend of all living beings. Earlier the Gita explains that He has an eternal, spiritual body, which is full of knowledge, power and beauty and which never gets old or dies. In the Upanisads the Personality of Godhead is acclaimed as nityo nityanam cetanas cetananam, the supreme eternal amongst many eternals (like we ourselves) and the supreme living being among all living beings. When we hear this description of God as a person, we may become puzzled because we tend to equate the idea of “person” with the idea “having a material body.” Because we, although spiritual, are encaged in material bodies, we tend to assume that Krishna is in the same condition. But from Vedic references we can begin to understand that Krishna’s body is eternal and spiritual, rather than temporary and material. In the spiritual world there is no difference between body and self. And Krishna is the Supreme Lord of all spiritual personalities.
We can learn from the Vedas that we fell into the cycle of birth and death because we rebelled against our original position as loving servants of Krishna, and that the only way we can permanently solve all the problems that have resulted is by again surrendering to Him. Sometimes a rich man’s son becomes envious of his father, and although he has all facilities for a happy life under his father’s shelter, he rebels and leaves home, determined to enjoy life on his own. It is not surprising if he then fails, becomes bewildered and suffers, forgetting his father and birthright. In that fallen condition, foolish thoughts of becoming his father are useless. Until he humbly returns to his subordinate position, he can’t get relief from suffering or enjoy a fully happy life. So it is with self-realization: all approaches to yoga described in the Gita—through work, philosophy or meditation—culminate in the devotional service of the Lord, or pure bhakti-yoga.
Going Home. In this age the philosophical and meditational approaches have become impractical because our minds and the world outside are agitated and materialistic. Therefore the path of surrendering to Krishna and becoming His devotee has become not only the best way but the only way to attain spiritual perfection. We cannot artificially control our agitated minds by mental speculation or mystic yoga, but if we actively engage our minds in thinking of Krishna and His service, the mind automatically becomes controlled. Thus finding higher spiritual satisfaction from the very beginning, we can become steady in the service of the Lord. In this way the boat of this material body moves across the ocean of material existence, and the passenger, the spiritual soul, finds a harbor at the lotus feet of Krishna. In the beginning, when we occasionally do something for the service of Krishna and His devotees, we are performing what is called karma-yoga, and when we fully surrender to devotional service under the guidance of scripture and the spiritual master, we are performing bhakti–yoga. Krishna is the supreme purifier (Bg. 10.12), and when we link with Him through service we become purified of falsely thinking, “I am this body.” Thus we begin to relish spiritual bliss. In Bhagavad-gita Krishna says:
patram puspam phalam toyam
yo me bhaktya prayacchati
tad aham bhakty-upahrtam
“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Bg. 9.26) To make such an offering is practical for everyone, for even the poorest man can offer Krishna a flower or a little water. In bhakti-yoga, we follow this principle by learning how to perform all our daily activities—cooking, raising a family, working, singing, dancing, reading and so on—in such a way as to always satisfy Krishna and offer all the results of our work to Him. Instead of cooking for ourselves, we cook pleasing vegetarian dishes and offer them to Krishna with devotion before we ourselves eat. Whatever extra money we earn we use not to increase bodily comforts, but to help propagate Krishna consciousness. Instead of spending hours reading of sex, violence and other mundane topics, we read detailed scriptures describing Krishna and spiritual life, and we enjoy internal peace and happiness in the process. And at all times we sing or say the holy names of the Lord, so that there is no chance of forgetting Krishna, even for a second.
When one’s mind is always fixed on Krishna in such ways, one naturally feels His all-attractiveness more and more, and because one cannot be shaken from this devotional service, one is always in trance (samadhi), actively meditating on the Supreme. Krishna says (Bg. 11.54) that when He reveals Himself before a fully purified devotee, the devotee can then see both himself and God. When one becomes a pure devotee and thus turns to Krishna with spiritual vision, he attains the perfection of all yoga, and the highest happiness in life.
His Holiness Revatinandana Svami, a frequent contributor to BACK TO GODHEAD, has been actively preaching Krishna consciousness for the past 6 years in India, Great Britain and the United States. He is currently traveling and lecturing at ISKCON centers and at colleges on the West Coast.