Steering Toward the Supreme
jñānī tv ātmaiva me matam
āsthitaḥ sa hi yuktātmā
mām evānuttamāṁ gatim
“All these devotees are undoubtedly magnanimous souls, but he who is situated in knowledge of Me I consider to be just like My own self. Being engaged in My transcendental service, he is sure to attain Me, the highest and most perfect goal.” (Gītā 7.18)
Here Kṛṣṇa is saying that all the men who come to Him – whether they be distressed, in need of money, curious, etc. – are welcomed, but out of them the person who is in knowledge is very dear to Him. The others are welcomed because it is understood that in course of time, if they continue on the path to God, they will become as good as the man of knowledge. Generally, however, it so happens that when one goes to church for profit, and the money doesn’t come, he concludes that approaching God is nonsense and he gives up all connection with church. That is the danger of approaching God with ulterior motives. For instance, during World War II it was reported that many wives of the German soldiers went to church to pray for their husbands’ safe return, but when they found their husbands had been killed in battle, they became atheistic. Thus we want God to become our order-supplier, and when He does not supply our order we say there is no God. That is the effect of praying for material things.
In this connection there is a story of a little boy, about five years old, named Dhruva, who belonged to a royal family. In the course of time his father, the king, tired of his mother and deposed her as his queen. He then took another woman as queen, and she became stepmother to the boy. She was very envious of Dhruva, and one day, as Dhruva was sitting on the father’s knee, she insulted him. “Oh, you cannot sit on the lap of your father,” she said, “because you are not born of me.” She dragged Dhruva from his father’s lap and the boy became very angry. He was the son of a kṣatriya, and kṣatriyas are notorious for their quick tempers. Dhruva took this to be a great insult, and he went to his mother who had been deposed.
“Dear Mother,” he said, “my stepmother has insulted me by dragging me from my father’s lap.”
“Dear son,” the mother replied, “what can I do? I am helpless, and your father no longer cares for me.”
“Well, how can I take revenge?” the boy asked.
“My dear boy, you are helpless. Only if God helps you can you take revenge.”
“Oh, where is God?” Dhruva asked enthusiastically.
“I understand so many sages go to the jungle and forest to see God,” the mother replied. “They undergo great penances and austerities in order to find God there.”
At once Dhruva went to the forest and began asking the tiger and the elephant, “Oh, are you God? Are you God?” In this way he was questioning all the animals. Seeing that Dhruva was very much inquisitive, Śrī Kṛṣṇa sent Nārada Muni to see about the situation. Nārada quickly went to the forest and found Dhruva.
“My dear boy,” Nārada said, “you belong to the royal family. You cannot suffer all this penance and austerity. Please return to your home. Your mother and father are very much anxious for you.”
“Please don’t try to divert me in that way,” the boy said. “If you know something about God, or if you know how I can see God, please tell me. Otherwise go away and don’t disturb me.”
When Nārada saw that Dhruva was so determined, he initiated him as a disciple and gave him the mantra, oṁ namo bhagavate vāsudevāya. Dhruva chanted this mantra and became perfect, and God came before him.
“My dear Dhruva, what do you want? You can take from Me whatever you want.”
“My dear Lord,” the boy replied, “I was undergoing such severe penances simply for my father’s kingdom and land, but now I have seen You. Even the great sages and saints cannot see You. What is my profit? I left my home to find merely some scraps of glass and rubbish, and instead I have found a very valuable diamond. Now I am satisfied. I have no need to ask anything of You.”
Thus even though one may be poverty-stricken or in distress, if he goes to God with the same determination as Dhruva, intent on seeing God and taking His benediction, and if he happens to see God, he will no longer want anything material. He comes to understand the foolishness of material possessions, and he puts the illusion aside for the real thing. When one becomes situated in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, like Dhruva Mahārāja, he becomes fully satisfied and doesn’t want anything.
The jñānī, the wise man, knows that material things are flickering. He also knows that there are three aspects that complicate all material gain – one wants profit from his work, one wants adoration from others because of his riches, and one wants fame because of his wealth. In any case, he knows that all of these apply but to the body and that when the body is finished, they also go. When the body dies, one is no longer a rich man but a spirit soul, and according to his work, he has to enter another body. The Gītā says that a wise man is not bewildered by this, for he knows what is what. Why then should he bother himself in attaining material wealth? His attitude is, “I have an eternal connection with Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord. Now let me establish that relationship firmly so that Kṛṣṇa will take me back to His kingdom.”
The cosmic situation is giving us all facility to reestablish this relationship with Kṛṣṇa and return to Godhead. This should be our mission in life. Everything we need is being supplied by God – land, grain, fruits, milk, shelter, and clothing. We only have to live peacefully and cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness. That should be our mission in life. We should therefore be satisfied with what God has supplied in the form of food, shelter, defense, and sex, and should not want more and more and more. The best type of civilization is one that ascribes to the maxim of “plain living and high thinking.” It is not possible to manufacture food or sex in a factory. These and whatever else we require are supplied by God. Our business is to take advantage of these things and become God conscious.
Although God has given us all facilities to live peacefully on this earth, cultivate Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and finally to come to Him, in this age we’re unfortunate. We are short-lived, and there are so many people without food, shelter, married life, or defense from the onslaughts of nature. This is due to the influence of this Age of Kali. Therefore Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, seeing the dreadful situation in this age, emphasized the absolute necessity for cultivating spiritual life. And how should we do it? Caitanya Mahāprabhu gives the formula:
harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
nāsty eva gatir anyathā
“Just always chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.” Never mind whether you are in a factory or in hell, in a shack or in a skyscraper – it doesn’t matter. Just go on chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. There is no expense, there is no impediment, there is no caste, there is no creed, there is no color – anyone can do it. Just chant and hear.
Somehow or other, if one comes into contact with Kṛṣṇa consciousness and executes the process under the guidance of a bona fide guide, he is sure to go back to God.
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Gītā 7.19)
Philosophical research into the science of God has to be prosecuted for many births. God realization is very easy, but at the same time it is very difficult. It is easy for those who accept Kṛṣṇa’s word as truth, but those who try to understand through research work, by dint of advancement of knowledge, have to create their faith after finishing so much research work, and this process takes many births. There are different types of transcendentalists, called tattvavit, who know the Absolute Truth. The transcendentalists call the Absolute Truth that in which there is no duality. In the Absolute Truth there is no duality – everything is on the same level. One who knows this in truth is called tattvavit.
Kṛṣṇa proclaims that the Absolute Truth is known in three aspects – Brahman, Paramātmā, and Bhagavān – the impersonal Brahman effulgence, the localized Supersoul, and the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus there are three angles from which one may envision the Absolute Truth. One may view a mountain from a great distance and thus perceive it from one angle of vision. As he comes closer, he may see the trees and foliage of the mountain, and if he begins to climb the mountain, he will find so much variegatedness in the trees, plants, and animals. The objective is the same, but due to different angles of vision sages have different conceptions of the Absolute Truth. Another example: there is the sunshine, the sun disc, and the sun god. One who is in the sunshine cannot claim that he is on the sun itself, and one who is situated in the sun is, from the point of view of vision, better situated. The sunshine may be compared to the all-pervasive brahmajyoti effulgence, the localized sun disc may be compared to the localized aspect of the Supersoul, and the sun god who resides in the sun may be compared to the Personality of Godhead. As on this earth planet we have a multivariety of living entities, we can understand from Vedic literatures that in the sun also there is a variety of living entities, but their bodies are made of fire, just as ours are made of earth.
In material nature there are five gross elements: earth, water, air, fire, and space. In different planets there are different atmospheres due to one of these five elements prevailing, and there are different bodies for the living entities composed of whatever element may be predominant in a particular planet. We should not think that all planets have the same quality of life, yet there is uniformity in the sense that these five elements are present in some form or other. Thus on some planets earth is prominent, fire is prominent, water is prominent, and air and space are prominent. We should not think, therefore, that just because a planet is not composed primarily of earth, or because the atmosphere does not duplicate ours, that there is no life on these planets. Vedic literatures give us information that there are countless planets filled with living entities with different types of bodies. As, by making some material adjustment, we may qualify to enter into different material planets, by qualification we can enter into the spiritual planet where the Supreme Lord resides.
pitṝn yānti pitṛ-vrataḥ
bhūtāni yānti bhūtejyā
yānti mad-yājino ’pi mām
“Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship the ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.” (Gītā 9.25)
Those who are trying to enter higher planets can go there, and those who are trying to qualify to enter into Goloka Vṛndāvana, the planet of Kṛṣṇa, can also enter there by the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Before going to India, we may acquire a description of what the country is like; hearing about a place is the first experience. Similarly, if we want to get information about the planet where God lives, we have to hear. We cannot immediately make an experiment and go there. That is not possible. But we have so many descriptions of the supreme planet in Vedic literature. For instance, the Brahma-saṁhitā (5.29) states:
lakṣāvṛteṣu surabhīr abhipālayantam
govindam ādi-puruṣaṁ tam ahaṁ bhajāmi
“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, the first progenitor, who is tending the cows, fulfilling all desires, in abodes built with spiritual gems, surrounded by millions of wish-fulfilling trees, always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds of thousands of lakṣmīs, or gopīs.”
There are also other detailed descriptions given, specifically in the Brahma-saṁhitā.
Those who are trying to realize the Absolute Truth are categorized according to the aspect of the Absolute Truth on which they concentrate. Those who concentrate on Brahman, the impersonalists, are called brahmavādīs. Generally, those who are trying to realize the Absolute Truth first of all realize the brahmajyoti. Those who concentrate on the Supersoul, the localized form of the Lord in the heart, called Paramātmā, are known as paramātmāvādīs. The Supreme Lord, by His plenary portion, is sitting in everyone’s heart, and by meditation and concentration one can perceive this form. Not only is He within everyone’s heart, but He is situated within every atom of the creation. This Paramātmā realization is the second stage. The third and last stage is the realization of Bhagavān, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Because there are three main stages of realization, the Supreme Absolute Truth is not attained in one birth. Bahūnāṁ janmanām ante. If one is fortunate, he can achieve the ultimate in one second. But generally it takes many, many years and many, many births to realize what God is.
mattaḥ sarvaṁ pravartate
iti matvā bhajante māṁ
“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Gītā 10.8)
The Vedānta-sūtra also confirms that the Absolute Truth is He from whom everything is born. If we truly believe that Kṛṣṇa is the origin of everything, and if we worship Him, our whole account is closed in one second. But if one doesn’t believe and says, “Oh, I want to see what God is,” he has to go by stages by realizing the impersonal Brahman effulgence and then Paramātmā, the localized feature, before finally coming to the last stage of realizing, “Oh, here is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” It should be understood, however, that this process takes more time. When one through many years of research comes to realize the Absolute Truth, he concludes vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti – “Vāsudeva is all that is.” Vāsudeva is a name for Kṛṣṇa, and it means “He who lives everywhere.” Realizing that Vāsudeva is the root of everything – māṁ prapadyate – he surrenders. The surrendering process is the ultimate goal; either one does it immediately or after many births of research work. In either case, surrender must be there by realizing that “God is great and I am His subordinate.”
Understanding this, the wise man will surrender immediately and not wait to take many, many births. He understands that this information is given by the Supreme Lord out of His infinite mercy on the conditioned souls. We are all conditioned souls, suffering the threefold miseries of this material world. Now the Supreme Lord is giving us the opportunity to escape these miseries by the surrendering process.
At this point one may ask that if the Supreme Personality is the ultimate goal and one has to surrender to Him, why are there so many different processes of worship in the world? This question is answered in the next verse.
taṁ taṁ niyamam āsthāya
prakṛtyā niyatāḥ svayā
“Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.” (Gītā 7.20)
There are many different types of men in the world, and they’re functioning under the different modes of material nature. Generally speaking, most men are not after liberation. If they take to spirituality, they wish to gain something by spiritual power. It is not uncommon in India for a person to go to a swami and say, “Swamijī, could you give me some medicine? I am suffering from this disease.” He thinks that because a doctor is too expensive, he can go to a swami who can work miracles. In India also there are swamis who go to people’s houses and preach, “If you give me one ounce of gold I can make it into one hundred ounces of gold.” The people think, “I have five ounces of gold. Let me give it to him, and I’ll get five hundred ounces.” In this way the swami collects all the gold in the village, and after collecting it, he vanishes. This is our disease: when we go to a swami, or a temple or church, our hearts are filled with material desires. Wanting some material profit out of spiritual life, we practice yoga just to keep our health fit. But in order to keep healthy, why take shelter of yoga? We can become healthy through regular exercises and regulated diet. Why resort to yoga? Because kāmais tais tair hṛta-jñānāḥ. We have the material desire to keep ourselves fit and to enjoy life by going to church and making God our order-supplier.
Having material desires, men worship various demigods. They have no idea how to get out of matter; they want to utilize the material world to its best capacity. For instance, in Vedic literature there are so many recommendations: if one wants to cure his disease, he worships the sun, or if a girl wants a good husband, she worships Lord Śiva, or if one wants to become beautiful, he worships such and such god, or if one wants to become educated, he worships goddess Sarasvatī. In this way Westerners often think that the Hindus are polytheistic, but actually this worship is not to God, but to demigods. We should not think that the demigods are God. God is one, but there are demigods who are also living entities just like us. The difference is that they have a considerable amount of power. On this earth there may be a king or a president or a dictator – these are men like us, but they have some extraordinary power, and in order to get favors from them, to take advantage of their power, we worship them in one way or another. But the Bhagavad-gītā condemns worship of the demigods. This verse clearly states that people worship the demigods due to kāma, material lust.
This material life is simply based on lust; we want to enjoy this world, and we love this material world because we want to gratify our senses. This lust is a perverted reflection of our love of God. In our original constitution we are made to love God, but because we have forgotten God, we love matter. Love is there. Either we love matter, or we love God. But in no case can we get out of this loving propensity; indeed, we often see that when one doesn’t have children, he loves a cat or a dog. Why? Because we want and need to love something. In the absence of reality we put our faith and love in cats and dogs. Love is always there, but it is distorted into the form of lust. When this lust is baffled, we become angry; when we become angry, we become illusioned; and when we are illusioned, we are doomed. This is the process that is going on, but we have to reverse this process and turn lust into love. If we love God, we love everything. But if we do not love God, it is not possible to love anything. We may think that it is love, but it is simply a glamorized form of lust. Those who have become the dogs of lust are said to have lost all good sense: kāmais tais tair hṛta-jñānāḥ.
There are many rules and regulations for the worship of demigods in the scriptures, and one may question why the Vedic literatures recommended their worship. There is necessity. Those who are motivated by lust want the opportunity to love something, and the demigods are acknowledged as the officers of the Supreme Lord. The idea is that as one worships these demigods, he will gradually develop Kṛṣṇa consciousness. But if one is completely atheistic and disobedient and rebellious against any authority, what hope is there? So one’s obedience to a higher personality can start with the demigods.
If, however, we take directly to the worship of the Supreme Lord, worship of the demigods is not necessary. Those who worship the Supreme Lord directly show all respect to the demigods, but they do not need to worship them because they know that the supreme authority behind the demigods is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they are engaged in worshiping Him. In any case, respect is still there. A devotee of the Lord shows respect even to an ant, what to speak of the demigods? The devotee is aware that all living entities are parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord and that they are playing different roles only.
In relation to the Supreme Lord, all beings are to be respected. Therefore a devotee refers to others as “prabhu,” meaning “My dear sir, my dear lord.” Submissiveness is a qualification for a devotee of the Lord. Devotees are kind and obedient, and they have all good qualifications. In conclusion, if one becomes a devotee of the Lord, all good qualifications will automatically develop. By nature, the living entity is perfect, but due to the contamination of lust, he becomes vicious. That which is part and parcel of gold is also gold, and whatever is part and parcel of the Complete Perfect is also perfect.
pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
“The Personality of Godhead is perfect and complete. Because He is completely perfect, all emanations from Him, such as this phenomenal world, are perfectly equipped as a complete whole. Whatever is produced of the complete whole is also complete in itself. Because He is the complete whole, even though so many complete units emanate from Him, He remains the complete balance.” (Śrī Īśopaniṣad, Invocation)
Due to the contamination of matter, the perfect living entity falls down, but this process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness will again make him perfect. Through it, he can become truly happy, and after leaving the material body, enter into the kingdom where there is eternal life, bliss, and full knowledge.