Life, A Personal Affair


What is the nature of Absolute Truth?

It’s a question great thinkers have philosophised on throughout the ages. Contemplating the Absolute Truth, we may ask:

1. Is there a conscious agent controlling the world?
2. If so, is the Absolute impersonal or personal?

To answer question one, common sense takes us a long way.

If we place a loaf of bread, a block of butter and some cheese on a kitchen table, will they ever spontaneously assemble into a gourmet sandwich?

If we manufacture the thousands of parts required to produce an automobile and leave them in a garage, will we find a sparkling new car on returning the next day?

If we ask a model to pose in the art studio and set up a canvass, paint, and brushes, will a beautiful painting suddenly manifest?

Obviously not.

Regardless of its source, simply providing an object’s essential parts is insufficient for creation. Practically, the hand of a conscious controller must initiate, blend, and mould ingredients into complete products.

So why do we struggle to apply this basic principle to the creation of the universe?

If it takes a chef to make a cheese sandwich, how can we conclude that this gigantic universe assembles itself by chance?

IT’S ALL ONE?

Theoretically accepting the existence of a supreme, creative, conscious entity, we may now ask, is the Absolute personal or impersonal?

Some spiritual seekers say that a spiritual reality guides the universe’s inferior material energy. However, claiming that the supreme is essentially impersonal, these spiritualists’ highest conception of life is the “white light,” spiritual energy that pervades and supports everything. Consequently, the individual soul’s life goal is to merge into this uniform, undifferentiated spiritual oneness.

The drawback to this understanding of the absolute? If the Absolute is simply an impersonal, conscious energy, what exactly is a person supposed to do after merging into this void?

Let me put it another way.

Can you remember a time when you felt stressed, frustrated, and infuriated with life? Despite all your best endeavours and plans, things just weren’t working out?

Naturally, you might have considered various short-term ways to escape the suffering. The usual options include getting intoxicated, embarking on a spending spree, absorbing yourself in sensuality, or heading away for the weekend. We all sometimes feel the need to escape from the stresses and strains of everyday life. After all, let’s face it, life in this material world is never a totally comfortable or smooth experience.

Now suppose I offered you the ultimate “time out” facility. Imagine I created a completely soundproof, lightproof chamber, devoid of any sensory experience. Choking on the toxic fumes of the high pressure, materialistic lifestyle the West specialises in, you might well jump at the chance to turn your back on the world, at least for some time. But the question is, how long would you last in such a situation?

Sooner or later, after cooling off, de- stressing, and contemplating life, the desire to experience variety, relationships, and happiness would drive you out of the chamber, back into the whirlwind of material life.

Similarly, even if you are able to achieve “impersonal nirvana” and merge into the all-pervading, impersonal spiritual energy, there is every chance of falling back down to the material reality for want of variety, and ending up back at square one.

On the other hand, those who advocate a personal conception of the Absolute accept that an omniscient, omnipotent person controls, creates, maintains, and destroys. We see such beauty and artistry in nature, so why shouldn’t we consider the possibility that a supreme artist is sculpting reality according to his perfect taste, desire, and pleasure?

GETTING OVER OURSELVES

Well, many people feel uncomfortable accepting the existence of the Supreme Person, Krishna.

Here’s why:

In the central chapters of Bhagavad Gita, one of the most highly prized texts of spiritual understanding, Krishna powerfully confirms his position as the Supreme Person and Absolute Truth:

“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.” (10.8)

Hearing this bold claim, you may feel a burning wave of envy rising in your heart. If Krishna is rightly accepted as the omniscient agent behind everything, then that means we’re not God, and we’re not the centre of the universe. Even more alarming, if we entertain the possibility that the Supreme is an omniscient, all-pervading person, we suddenly become accountable for all our thoughts, words, and actions . . . What could be worse than that!

On deeper reflection, we can also perceive that the desire to “merge” one- self with Krishna is still an attempt to place ourselves in the centre. In the name of “becoming equal with the Supreme,” impersonalists continue to compete with Krishna, though in a more subtle way.

Without understanding Krishna, life is all about gratifying our selfish desires, whether we dress in the garb of a sophisticated impersonal spiritualist or a common and crude materialist.

Our appreciation for, and realisation of the supreme as a person, can only truly develop once we become completely free from envy.

The Bhagavad Gita gives us a precious opportunity to directly hear Krishna explain about himself. Amazingly, when we consider Krishna’s message with an open mind, we start to free ourselves from the shackles of envy. So why should we resent Krishna’s fascinating “instruction manual for life”? Afterall, when we buy any complex item, we expect it to come with an instruction manual, so we can get the most out of our purchase. Similarly, as the designer and creator of the material world, Krishna has supplied the most comprehensive guidebook, Bhagavad Gita, to re-orientate our conceptions of reality.

THE SHADOW REALITY

At the start of the Bhagavad Gita’s fifteenth chapter, “The Yoga of the Supreme Person,” we hear Krishna’s majestic description of the material world:

“It is said that there is an imperishable banyan tree that has its roots upwards and its branches down . . . The real form of this tree cannot be perceived in this world. No one can understand where it ends, where it begins, or where its foundation is. But with determination one must cut down this strongly rooted tree with the weapon of detachment. Thereafter, one must seek that place from which having gone, one never returns and there devote oneself to that Supreme Person from whom everything began and from whom everything has extended since time immemorial.”

To further aid our understanding, Srila Prabhupada, founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), expertly explains this analogy in his commentary:

“The entanglement of this material world is compared here to a banyan tree. For those who are engaged in material activities, there is no end to the banyan tree. They wander from one branch to another, to another, to another. For those who are attached to this tree, there is no possibility of liberation.

“Now, there is no ready experience in this world of a tree situated with its branches down and its roots upward, but there is such a thing. That tree can be found beside a reservoir of water. We can see that the trees on the bank reflect upon the water with their branches down and roots up. In other words, the tree of this material world is only a reflection of the real tree of the spiritual world.”

So we can understand that everything we see here under material conditions is also present in the spiritual world, but in a pure and perfect way, free from mundane limitations.

So the next question you might ask is:

How do we understand the spiritual reality?

3 WAYS OF KNOWING

Now before our envy flares up again, let’s consider that nowhere in the Gita does Krishna ask us to “believe in him” or maintain fanatical, blind faith.

However, as the proprietor of both the material and spiritual worlds, he kindly provides a comprehensive overview of the various possible levels of understanding the supreme, and the respective paths that lead to them. In this way, by studying Bhagavad Gita, we can enjoy a “bird’s eye view” of the entire spiritual playing field.

The first level of spiritual realisation Krishna describes is the impersonal understanding, as previously described. This is achieved by those following the process of philosophical study known as jnana yoga. Whilst not the ultimate, this level of spiritual awareness is nonetheless a starting point.

Interestingly, this impersonal “white light” or spiritual energy that pervades everything, emerges from Krishna himself. As Krishna explains:

“I am the basis of the impersonal energy, which is immortal, imperishable and eternal.” (B.G. 14.27)

Ironically, the impersonalists also approach Krishna, though unknowingly. But on this basic level of knowledge, the philosopher only experiences the eternal aspect of Krishna.

In mystic yoga, the yogi strictly following the process of astanga yoga develops realisation of the second level of spiritual understanding, technically termed Paramatma realisation (see “Enough! Magazine,” issue 5). The Paramatma is a personal expansion of Krishna who accompanies each soul on its sojourn through material existence. Uncovering the existence of the Supersoul is an important stepping-stone on the way to complete realisation of Krishna.

At this point, the yogi experiences Krishna’s aspects of eternity and knowledge.

Sadly, the kind of yoga practised in many studios today, is often a severely watered down version of the original yoga system. Especially in the West, yoga has been reduced to little more than a commercially exploited technique of bodily agility and pseudomeditation, although it was once a comprehensive form of spiritual realisation practised by millions. Many people now practice simply to improve flexibility, lose weight, or increase their libido, ignorant of the potential deeper benefit.

The third and final level of spiritual realisation, however, is the perfection of life. Those who practise bhakti-yoga, the art and science of directly serving the Supreme Person, Krishna, in love and devotion, achieve this highest level of spiritual awareness.

Only at this point of bhakti can we experience Krishna’s eternity, knowledge, and bliss simultaneously. Unlike the impersonal philosopher, marooned at the lowest stage of spiritual understanding, Krishna’s devotees are fully satisfied by their blissful, loving relationships with Krishna, and their position is secure.

“This perfection is characterized by one’s ability to see the Self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the Self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he or she thinks there is no greater gain.” (B.G. 6.23)

Understanding these three levels of spiritual achievement in relation to Krishna, readers of Bhagavad Gita gain complete knowledge of all spiritual paths. When we apply Krishna’s recommendations, we will then gain access to the highest spiritual realisations. In this way, we can easily appreciate that Krishna consciousness is not a sectarian religion, but the most broadminded, scientific understanding of reality on all levels.

So why not give Krishna a fair chance and consider his presentation?

It might just be the life changing inspiration you’re looking for.

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