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© 2004 - Hansadutta das

The Hammer For Smashing Illusion

Shankaracharya's famous "Bhaja Govinda"

By Hansadutta das

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Just as the position of a drop of water on a lotus petal is very precarious, even so this life is extremely uncertain. Know that the entire world is consumed by disease and self-conceit, and smitten with sorrow.

"It's All Vanity, It's All Vanity, It's All Vanity"

Everyone is in illusion. We have accepted this material body as the self, and we are engaged in activities for satisfying this temporary bodily existence. This is called maya (illusion), because the body is actually only a dress covering the real self known as the eternal soul (jivatma ). In this mistaken concept of life, everyone is trying to become happy by material activities. Material activities are aimed at bodily comforts, pleasure and prestige. For attaining this end of bodily satisfaction, we have created all kinds of extraordinary, novel and unique things to satisfy our senses--technological advancement, scientific advancement, economics, politics, music, art, poetry and industry. All of these are products of this mistaken concept of life. The airplane, automobile, skyscraper and other modern creations of technology are, after all, only instruments which are created to either transport this body from one place to another, or to protect this body from the cold, heat, winds and rain. Everything we examine aims at this body--our clothing, our make-up, our position in life, our wife, our children and our bank balance. Everything is there somehow or other for maintaining this temporary material body.

The Body--Nice But Dead

However, we cannot be happy with simply maintaining the body--even though it may be done in a very sophisticated and extraordinary way, as we are doing in the modern age through science and technology--simply because we are not this body. We may take care of this body but that does not mean that we shall be happy because we have enough to eat, because we have a good place to sleep, because we have a very enjoyable sex life or because we are protected by a powerful nation. These are the four material activities: to eat, to sleep, to defend oneself and to beget children through sex. Of course, we are obliged to eat something and sleep somewhere, protect ourselves and beget children, but the point is that these four activities alone do not actually constitute the human platform of life. They do not help us to attain perfection in life. Because at the present moment there is no knowledge of the aim of human life, we take it for granted that to eat more, to sleep more, to have more sex, and to have more defense is perfection. But Vedic literatures say no; to eat, sleep, have sex and defend oneself is not unique to human beings.

Animals are eating, sleeping, defending themselves, having sex and producing children. Therefore, unless a human being has accepted a transcendental goal in life, he is not really any better than an animal. In fact, the human being is more degraded, because the animals, who have no sophisticated, highly developed intelligence and consciousness, no universities, no government, at least act within the laws of nature. They do not kill unnecessarily, as human beings do, with atomic weapons and other instruments of destruction. The animals do not abort their children in the womb, in the name of progress. They do not eat more than they require; and they do not waste their time unnecessarily constructing skyscrapers just for a place to sleep.

Entertaining Degradation

When the human being is in ignorance about the goal of life, he becomes very degraded and destructive, as we are now experiencing. All over the world there is destruction going on. Every day a new government is toppled, someone is assassinated, and hundreds and thousands of people are being killed. We watch it on television, read about it in the newspaper, and in between we have our advertisements for liquor, cigarettes, sex and cinemas. That we find this all very entertaining indicates our degradation. This is the sign of Kali-yuga--ignorance, darkness, no knowledge; people simply eat, sleep, defend and have sex, without any awareness about the real problems of life.

Shankaracharya compares this life to a drop of water on a lotus petal. If we go to a pond and see lilies or lotuses, we see a very pretty drop of water reflecting the sunlight on a fresh, green leaf. But with a slight ripple, the drop of water rolls off, falls into the water, and is finished. Shankaracharya compares this life to that position: a slight disturbance, and our whole life may be ended.

Every day it happens, not only to ordinary men such as you and I, but also to big men. There are so many examples. We may be killed at any moment. There are so many dangerous situations. When we drive on the road, we might be killed. When we walk on the street, we might be killed. There might be an earthquake, and the whole thing might be swallowed up--hundreds and thousands of human beings and skyscrapers swallowed up in a moment. This is our real position.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry Because Tomorrow We Die

We are situated in ignorance. We are very busy trying to improve our eating, sleeping, sex and defending. We are trying to improve our wealth, prestige and position. We want to be honored and loved by friends, relatives and countrymen. But the truth is that we are going to be destroyed, either today, or tomorrow, or after a hundred years. In Bhagavad-gita (2.27) it is said, "For one who is born it is certain he will die." Death is a most certain thing and yet there is no program anywhere in human society to prepare a person to die. On the contrary, all the programs of the schools and universities, all the businesses, politics, economics and so on, are all preparing us to enjoy, to live and be happy--although no one will live and no one will be happy. This is ignorance. It is the greatest ignorance to waste one's valuable time, energy and intelligence in pursuing something which has no future. When we take a hotel room for a night or two, we are not going to endeavor to improve the room by purchasing paint, decorating, and putting up new curtains, because we know that this is just temporary. Tomorrow or the day after, we will go. Similarly, we are in transit in this material world. We have come here, helpless and suffering, out of the womb of our mother. We have, somehow or other, helter-skelter, grown up through the trials and tribulations of babyhood, childhood, and youth. Now we are adults, but still we are bewildered. We have not been able to determine our position. We do not know where we have come from. We do not know what will happen tomorrow. Yet, we do not make any program to inquire, "What am I? Where have I come from? Where do I have to go? What is this material creation? Is there a God and if so, Who is He, where is He and how can I understand Him?"

The More You Scratch, the More It Itches!

This is our unfortunate situation. We are helplessly lost, stranded here in outer space and trying to be merry by eating and sleeping--"Eat, drink and be merry." But this actually won't bring us any happiness. Our material advancement has not solved the real problems. The real problem for everyone is birth (which is painful), old age (which is undesirable), disease (which is unwanted) and death (which is terrifying). We cannot solve the problems of birth and death simply by ignoring them and absorbing ourselves in these trivial pleasures of the senses.

The shastras (scriptures) compare sex to an itch. Our inclination is to relieve the itch. But just as when someone has poison ivy, if he scratches it, it becomes worse. He doesn't get any relief by scratching; it only spreads and becomes more aggravated. The cure is not to touch it. The same thing applies to sex. There is some itching, some urge, and we want to relieve it. We want to get some pleasure by scratching that urge. A young man and woman get together, but there is no relief; it becomes aggravated--the man and woman are dissatisfied. He gets another woman and another and another, and in this way people are jumping from one sex partner to another.

80% of All Diseases are Due to Overeating

As far as eating is concerned, of course because we have this body, we have to eat something, but only as much as necessary; otherwise that also becomes a source of misery. When we eat more than we require, then disease sets in. At least 80% of all disease in America is due to overeating. Americans eat four times a day--in the morning, in the afternoon, in the evening and a midnight snack. Not only do they eat too much, but they also eat all kinds of forbidden and abominable things. They eat animals--cows, chickens, the eggs of the chickens and fish. In some countries people eat snails, worms, snakes and cockroaches. These things are forbidden for human beings. The shastras (scriptures) give the human being a particular diet. Actually, every species of life has a prescribed diet. The diet for the human being is to eat six things: vegetables, fruits, nuts, grains, sugar and milk. We can combine them in hundreds of thousands of ways and create wonderful eatables. That science is described in the Vedas. We know that science from our spiritual master and are introducing it through vegetarian restaurants and prasadam (food offered to Krishna) in the temple.

The More You Eat, the More You Sleep

Eating too much and then oversleeping go hand-in-hand. People are frustrated in their attempts at having sex and eating, so then they think, "Let me sleep. I couldn't eat enough, I couldn't have enough sex, so let me sleep more." On Saturday and Sunday, when there is no work, people look forward to sleeping at least ten or twelve hours. But when we sleep more than we require, we also suffer: during sleep our breathing takes on a different and faster pattern, and because we are breathing more than necessary, we are reducing our life span. Each one of us has a life span measuring a certain number of breaths. When those breaths are used up, our time is up. Therefore the yoga, especially the method of pranayama described in the ashtanga-yoga system, teaches the yogi how to slow down his breathing, and in this way, he lives longer. That is the secret. Foolish Westerners think that by sleeping more they will be healthier and live longer. They think that by eating more they will be stronger and stouter and that by having more sex they will become healthy. All this is exactly contrary to the truth. They are jogging to improve their health, but in Calcutta the riksha wallas cycle their rikshas transporting passengers back and forth all day long, yet they only live to be thirty years old.

War or Peace--Still You have to Die

These are all concocted ideas. In ignorance, we are thinking to improve our happiness, but in fact we are only increasing our misery by eating, sleeping, having sex and defending. Every day we pick up the newspaper and see there is another increase in our defense budget for producing more weapons--tanks, jet fighters, atomic bombs, neutron bombs and intercontinental ballistic missiles. Everyone is increasing his defense measures and thinking thereby to insure his life, that by these measures he will not be able to be killed by the enemy. This is another form of ignorance, because even if there is no enemy, we must die. If there is no war and we have peace forever, still we shall have to die. This is the ignorance of the materialistic way of life which aims at bodily comfort, enjoyment and reservation.

The body cannot be made comfortable. We cannot get any pleasure out of this body; neither can it be preserved for longer than it is destined to exist. Then what shall we do? Simply sit and cry because material life is so futile? Should we do nothing? Should we become zero? No. We should try to become Krishna conscious. We should try to understand what we are. We should take up spiritual activities, rather than material activities. We should take up activities which will benefit the soul, and we should minimize activities which benefit the body. We should only accept as much activity as is necessary to maintain this body and soul together. We have to eat and sleep, but not more than necessarily--not that the whole day we are running to earn money and then at night shopping, taking intoxication, having sex and sleeping. This is the materialistic life: earning money, shopping for items to satisfy our senses and at night having sex and sleeping. That is all. We must remember that this life is like that drop of water on the lotus petal.

Desires--24 Hours On the Run

Shankaracharya further explains here that the entire world is consumed by disease and pride and smitten with lamentation. Everyone is full of lamentation and desire. That is a symptom of material life. We see that everyone is running hither and thither in the street. What motivates them? What moves hundreds and thousands and millions of human beings daily across the Bay Bridge, across the San Rafael Bridge, the Brooklyn Bridge, the George Washington Bridge, moving them back and forth, uptown and downtown? What is moving them? Desire. Everyone has got so many desires--to get money, to get women and to become famous. But if we become free from this unnecessary desire for material sense enjoyment, then we shall become peaceful.

We should sit down and become thoughtful. We should become introspective and think, "Why am I here? Where am I going? What is the use of all this hard labor, only to be lost in due course of time through disease, old age and death?" We should become intelligent.

bahunam janmanam ante
jñanavan mam prapadyate
vasudevah sarvam iti
sa mahatma sudurlabah

"After many, many births," Krishna says, "the wise man surrenders unto Me, Vasudeva [Krishna], because he knows Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare." (Bhagavad-gita 7.19) We have to become thoughtful, not thoughtless. We have to become careful, not careless. This is possible simply by hearing the words of Vedic literature from authorized devotees of the Lord.

Don't Just Grin and Bear It

The purpose of this movement for Krishna consciousness is to create facility so that the public can come and hear about the goal of human life. All other places--the cinema, the theater, the skyscraper, the restaurants--are created for sense gratification. The temple of Krishna is the only place created for enlightenment and liberation. You can come to the temple and hear the truth of Krishna consciousness. When one has assimilated this real knowledge, then he gets freedom.

When your knowledge has passed out of the dense forest of delusion, you will become indifferent to all that has been heard and all that is to be heard.
That knowledge lights up everything as the sun lights up everything in the daytime. (Bhagavad-gita 2.52, 5.16)

We are not explaining something mysterious, sectarian, dogmatic or cultish. This is common sense. This is scientific, logical and reasonable. Everyone knows that he will die, and yet no one makes any inquiry or any effort into solving this problem. We take it for granted that this is all there is, and we just have to "grin and bear it," or "be a man and take our hard knocks." That is the philosophy of an ass--not of a human being, scientist or philosopher. Is this the result of all our scientific progress and intellectual understanding--"just grin and bear it?" But there is an alternative, and that alternative is offered by Vedic literature.

Understand and Apply--That is Intelligence

It is not a new thing, but a very old, ancient wisdom. To practically understand all these things and apply them in our life, there is a process which we should accept. That is bhakti-yoga. It is the lifestyle for those who are preparing to go home, back to Godhead. Bhakti-yoga is not a whimsical process manufactured according to our likes and dislikes. It is the standard lifestyle which has been prescribed by the rishis (sages) and the yogis of ancient India. Such instructions are contained in the shastras, especially Bhagavad-gita, which is known as the yoga-shastra.

"Life's But a Walking Shadow"

This should be accepted by everyone. Every human being should be a yogi, a devotee of Vishnu, because that is our real identity. We have accepted a temporary, false identity in terms of this body, but that is not our real identity or real position. When actors take a part in a drama and play on the stage, that is not their real identity; that identity is only temporary, and when the play is over, they resume their real personality. Similarly, we are just acting on the stage of life, the stage of this world. As Shakespeare said, "All the world's a stage and the men and women merely players," who strut their hour upon the stage and then are seen no more. "Out, out, brief candle, life's but a walking shadow." If we have a black body, then we shall play the part of a Negro. If we have a white body, then we shall play the part of a white man. Sometimes we get the body or a Chinaman, or a Russian or an Indian. But we are not this body. We haven't got to waste our whole life pretending that we are black or white. We should now accept our real part, our real identity as eternal servants of Krishna. That is the purpose for which this movement is organized. That is the purpose of human life. So, we are asking everyone: please think about this important matter, try to understand it, and become Krishna conscious.

The Real Program for Intelligent Human Beings

We are optimists, not pessimists. Sometimes we are criticized--"Oh, you are so pessimistic. Why are you always talking of death, old age and disease?" We are not pessimists, because we do not accept birth, death, old age and disease as being all there is. We are optimistic that there is something more. Let us try for that eternal, divine life of Krishna Consciousness, free from birth, death, old age and disease. Why should we waste our time working under the cloud of death?

Even Napoleon, such a powerful personality… he moved the whole world, but death moved him nevertheless, with no more consideration for Napoleon than the sweeper in the street whose turn comes to die. Whether you are a Napoleon or a nothing, you cannot conquer death, old age and disease. No one can do that. No one has done it in the past, and no one will do it in the future. Therefore the rishis (sages) of India have recommended, "Don't waste time in temporary activities. Engage yourself in eternal activities." These eternal activities are called bhakti-yoga. Bhakti means devotion, and yoga means connecting or linking. Devote yourself to Krishna and in that way be connected with Him. This is the only real program for an intelligent human being.

No Matter How We Try, We Break Down and Cry

Another great devotee has prayed in this way:

Both in the day and in the night I remain sleepless, suffering the pains of the heat and the cold, the wind and the rain. For a fraction of flickering happiness I have uselessly served wicked and miserly men. What assurance of real happiness is there in all one's wealth, sons and family members? This life is tottering like a drop of water on a lotus petal. It is the desire and great longing of Govinda dasa to engage himself in bhakti-yoga, namely hearing, chanting, glorifying the Lord, constantly remembering Him and offering prayers to Him, serving the lotus feet of the Lord as a servant, worshipping Him with flowers and incense, and so forth. (Bhajahu Re Mana Sri Nanda-nandana)

This is the same idea. What is the use of all this material progress? You will still suffer old age, disease and death. Science cannot save you from death. No amount of wealth can stop old age. No amount of medicine can stop disease--some kind of disease we will always suffer. Stop one kind of disease, and you will get another disease. Nature has innumerable diseases, more diseases than we have medicine for. Medicine has been going on since time immemorial, but every year we get another new, unique disease. In this way, we are all kept busy in the material world. Hare Krishna.

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