The Hammer - 16 & 17
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© 2004 - Hansadutta das

The Hammer For Smashing Illusion

Shankaracharya's famous "Bhaja Govinda"

By Hansadutta das
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Texts 16 and 17

The mendicant sits with a blazing fire in front of him and the scorching sun on his back; at night he sits with his knees held to his chin; he goes about begging alms with the palms of his hands and sleeps under a different tree every night, yet still he has not gotten free form the fetters of desire. One may go on pilgrimage to the mouth of the Ganges, observe vows and give in charity, however, if one is devoid of knowledge, then, according to all schools of thought, he will not obtain liberation, even in a hundred lives.

No One can Save Himself

In these two verses Shripad Shankaracharya points out that although one may perform penance and austerity and practice renunciation, unless one has received transcendental knowledge from a bona fide source, he will not be able to get free from the cycle of birth and death. Real freedom depends on real knowledge, just as it is said, "The truth shall make you free." Even though a person may be recognized as a scholar, philosopher, scientist or a big political leader, unless he comes in touch with a bona fide representative of the Lord, there is no possibility of understanding the Absolute Truth. Real knowledge can only be attained through the process known as the guru-parampara (disciplic succession of spiritual masters, or acharyas). In Bhagavad-gita (4.1-3) Krishna says:

I originally explained this knowledge to the sun-god Vivasvan, Vivasvan then explained it to Manu, and Manu explained it to Iksvaku. In this way, the knowledge has been handed or transmitted from one spiritual master to another. But, in due course of time, this knowledge was lost, as the disciplic succession was broken. Therefore I am again instructing that same knowledge to you because you are My devotee and My friend.
Again, Krishna says to Arjuna:
One should try to approach a bona fide spiritual master, inquire from him submissively, render him all kinds of service. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you, because he has seen the truth. (Bhagavad-gita 4.34)

Why Bother with Temporary Solutions?

We cannot get free from material sufferings simply by performing rituals, penances, austerities or by renouncing everything. In fact, the only guaranteed method is absolute submission at the lotus feet of a bona fide spiritual master. This is explained in Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.1.13-14), where it is said:

To concentrate the mind, one must observe a life of celibacy and not fall down. One must undergo the austerity of voluntarily giving up sense enjoyment. One must then control the mind and the senses, give charity, be truthful, be clean, and be non-violent, follow the regulative principles, and regularly chant the hold name of the Lord. Thus, a sober and faithful person, who knows the religious principles, is temporarily purified of all sins performed with his body, mind and words. These sins are like dried leaves of a creeper beneath a bamboo tree which may be burned by fire, although their roots remain to grow at the first opportunity.
The point of these verses is that sinful reactions are the root of our suffering. Sinful desires, sinful acts and sinful reactions result in various types of material misery. We can counteract such sinful deeds and reactions by doing pious activity of various kinds, such as giving in charity, performing penance, performing austerity, being renounced, being truthful and being clean. Although such pious acts counteract impious acts, they do not actually uproot the cause of sin, which is ignorance--ignorance of our eternal relationship with Krishna. Therefore such sins are compared to dried leaves which have fallen from a creeper. The leaves may be burned, but the roots of a creeper continue to exist, and they will go on producing more leaves, which will result in more sinful reactions.

Atonement--the Elephant's Bath

In this way, the process of atonement, which is recommended in most religious communities for counteracting sinful deeds, is compared to the bathing of an elephant who goes to the river and bathes very nicely, spraying water all over his body, then comes out of the water and picks up a trunk full of dust, spraying it all over his body. We find in some religious communities that the sinful person is encouraged to go to a priest to confess his sins, and then perform some penance by giving something in charity and reciting some prayers; but because the root of his sin remains, such confession and atonement are ultimately useless. Therefore in Srimad-Bhagavatam there is no such encouragement for performing pious deeds to counteract impious deeds. Srimad-Bhagavatam is for the liberated soul. Srimad-Bhagavatam recommends only one thing: to give up all kinds of activities, both pious and impious, and accept devotional activities, which are known as bhakti-yoga (Krishna consciousness).

He Who Sows the Seed of Devotion

We cannot begin devotional activities independently. Devotional activities can only be performed under the guidance of a pure devotee. We find it recommended again and again that one has to find a maha bhagavata (pure devotee). One has to find a pure devotee of the Lord and satisfy him by any means, and that alone can lead to success. In Chaitanya-charitamrita (Madhya 7.19.151) it is said:

brahmanda bhramite kona bhagyavan jiva
guru-krishna-prasade paya bhakti-lata bija
After having wandered in the cycle of birth and death throughout the universe in all the 8,400,00 species of life, if a person is fortunate, he comes to meet a pure devotee of the Lord who sows the seed of devotion, the seed of bhakti within his heart.
Without getting the seed of devotional service, there is no possibility of liberation, even though one may rise up to the platform of impersonal Brahman realization or Paramatma realization. Unless one actually receives the seed of devotional service, his liberation will be incomplete, and he will again be attracted to material activities in due course of time. Because the living entity is eternally connected with Krishna as a subordinate or servant, unless he gets service he shall feel disappointed and frustrated. For want of positive devotional activities, he shall again accept material activities in the name of humanitarianism, altruism or some other kind of "ism," trying to improve the standard of material life.

Dispel the Fog of Ignorance

It is further explained in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.1.1):

Only a rare person who has adopted complete, unalloyed devotional service to Krishna can uproot the weeds of sinful actions with no possibility that they will grow up again. He can do this simply by discharging devotional service, just as the sun immediately dissipates fog by its rays.
Sometimes we have experienced that fog is hanging over an area in the early morning hours, but as soon as the sun's rays come in touch with the fog, it then vanishes. Similarly, the ignorance and bewilderment of material life is immediately dissipated as soon as a person is engaged in the devotional service of Krishna. No other process can actually give us this result. Other processes may temporarily give us relief by atonement, but not permanent relief.

A Pot Containing Liquor Cannot be Purified

It is further stated:

My dear King, if a sinful person engages in the service of a bona fide devotee of the Lord, and thus learns how to dedicate his life unto the lotus feet of Krishna, he can be completely purified. One cannot be purified merely by undergoing austerity, penance, brahmacharya, and other methods of atonement, which I have previously described. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.16 )

My dear King, as a pot containing liquor cannot be purified even if it is washed in the waters of many rivers, non-devotees cannot be purified by the process of atonement even if they perform them very well. ( Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.18)

Generally, everyone accepts religion for attaining some material benefit. Recently, people have become interested in yoga practice, but we rarely find a person who accepts religion or yoga principles for the purpose of altogether giving up material life. We find that everyone is trying to use religion and yoga principles for improving their material life--for getting wealth, wife, and children, or for improving their health. These are not actually the aims of religion or yoga. The real aim is simply to satisfy Vishnu, because that is our constitutional position. The living entity is eternally subordinate to Vishnu, and the cause of his suffering in material life is his attitude of defiance towards the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

That is the sum and substance of material existence--to defy the authority of the Supreme. Whereas the sum and substance of spiritual life is to submit to the authority of the Supreme. The conditioned soul has a disease which is known as envy, and envy produces lust, anger, and greed. That envy is originally directed against Krishna.

Krishna is a person, just as you are a person and I am a person. Everywhere throughout the creation we will find persons or personalities. We can see that even animals have personality. In their case it is very much covered, but there definitely is the personal quality.

What is Sin?

As long as the living entity avoids surrender to the Supreme Person, he is subjected to the reactions of his sinful activity. What constitutes sinful activity? Anything which does not culminate in service to Krishna. If a businessman doesn't ultimately satisfy the government by paying taxes out of his profit, then he is considered to be a criminal. Just as the government has its laws and orders, under which the citizens have to conduct themselves, similarly the state of the universe, or the state of the kingdom of God, has laws, and we have to abide by them; to disregard God and His laws is sin.

Sinful activity results in material misery or suffering. Everyone is subjected to four miseries: birth, death, old age, and disease. Then there are various other miseries, but these four are basic for everyone and are unavoidable. Therefore, simply performing pious activity, or good deeds, is not enough to give us relief from material sufferings.

Devotional service--not simply penance, austerity, nor even knowledge--is the actual platform of spiritual life. Even knowledge, when it is not backed up by devotional service, cannot really give us relief from material existence. There are many learned men who are not actually situated in devotional service. They can quote shastras, and they can speak philosophy very well, but they have no attitude of service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Ultimately, they acquire knowledge and perform penance and austerity to benefit their own desires. They want to be recognized as great yogis, philosophers or religionists. Devotional service is beyond all these things; therefore, it is sublime, because no material qualification is necessary to perform devotional service. Even a child, who has no knowledge and no capacity to perform penance or austerity, can be completely engaged in devotional service. It is absorption in Krishna's service which frees us from the influence of material nature.

What Good can Repression Accomplish?

Our attention must always be absorbed in something. We cannot stop thinking, feeling or willing. We are always engaged or active. Krishna says, "No one can stop acting even for a moment. What good can repression accomplish?" Actions are not to be stopped. We cannot stop and become zero or impersonal; but all our thinking, feeling, willing--our entire being--should be absorbed in devotional service, rather than material activity. That is the secret of Krishna consciousness.

In this verse, we find that although a person may be very austere and live under a different tree every night, bear bitter cold in winter, wearing just a loincloth, and scorching heat in summer, unless there is devotional service he won't be liberated even if he goes on like that for hundreds of lifetimes. "No one can become a yogi, " Krishna says, "unless he gives up the desire for sense enjoyment." ( Bhagavad-gita 6.16 ) Unless we can develop the higher desire to satisfy Krishna, we shall remain bound by our material desires. Desire cannot be stopped, but it can be changed; the quality of our desire can change. Action cannot be stopped, but the quality of our action can be changed. Whatever our tendency to work may be, it is not to be stopped; but only purified by acting on behalf of Krishna.

Nothing Changes Except the Angle of Vision

Such activity begins when we get the mercy of a devotee of the Lord. He can show us. He can guide us in our practical affairs, and in this way the work or activity which is now the source of our disappointment and entanglement can become the source of our liberation and satisfaction. Nothing changes except the angle of vision. Just as a criminal may be a mechanic or a good locksmith, picking locks and entering into rooms and stealing, but the same activity and talent can also be used in an honest way. This is the idea behind devotional service.

People, being very often frustrated in material life, think of giving up everything and going into seclusion, silence and inactivity. They think that is what constitutes spiritual life. Actually, that is just another side of material life. A man is not satisfied after endeavoring for wealth, prestige and comfort, so now he thinks, "I shall be satisfied by avoiding all kinds of activity, association and personal identity. I shall become impersonal, void, and merge and vanish into oblivion. In this way I shall get relief from my frustration." These are the two sides of material existence--enjoyment and renunciation. We try to enjoy, then we fail. We try to renounce, then again we get bored. We try to enjoy again, again we get frustrated, again we renounce, again become bored. In this way, everyone is going back and forth, back and forth, like a pendulum swinging from one end to the other. This side of the pendulum or that side. . .it is still the same pendulum.

Swinging Back and Forth

That is the present situation in America. They have reached the pinnacle of material success, but finding it all vacant and disappointing, they are now swinging the other way by becoming hippies, lying in the gutter, or living out some pseudo-religious idea. When they become frustrated or bored with that, they will again swing the other way. We have seen it in the '60's. The beatniks, flower children and hippies gave up everything and wandered in the streets of Haight-Ashbury, Greenwich Village and other places. They stayed there for a few years, but now they have swung the other way. They have become businessmen of various types. They have become family men. They have nice jobs. In the future they will swing again the other way. We have to give up this swinging back and forth and accept devotional life, a life of Krishna consciousness.

Are You Willing to Take Guidance?

We get devotional life when we come in touch with a pure devotee of the Lord. He gives us the seed of devotional service, and that opens up the door to liberation, or freedom from the cycle of birth and death. What is that seed? That seed is this maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. When you get a valuable seed, you have to create a favorable condition by planting it and regularly pouring water on it. Then the seed will fructify and begin to grow. The watering process for the seed of devotional service is also this chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. In this way, following the rules and regulations of bhakti-yoga, the devotee regularly waters the seed of devotion, and it grows up and out of this material universe into the spiritual sky, and comes up to Krishnaloka, the planet of Krishna. There the devotional creeper takes shelter under the feet of Krishna and produces the fruit of love of God, which is the most desirable achievement of this human form of life.

Anyone can practice Krishna consciousness, anywhere, at any time. It does not require a particular place or type of education, or any other requirement. It simply requires this willingness to put oneself under the guidance of a pure devotee of the Lord and follow his instructions very faithfully. Then everything will come in due course of time. Hare Krishna.

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Hansadutta das
Rittvik Representative of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

The Hammer - 16 & 17/ WORLD SANKIRTAN PARTY
©2004 - Hansadutta das
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