I mean, when you can just so easily lose yourself instead, on Facebook, Instagram, You Tube, or whatever else.
Message non-stop on your phone, eat your favourite food, drink your favourite coffee, use your favourite drugs, be with your currently favourite people, entertain all your senses as much as possible.
Life can just pass away.
Further down the track, you could get a better career to do it all again in a nicer apartment, a flash car, maybe even a beach home, to show you’ve made it.
Travel to exotic places. Get the latest clothes, gadgets, furniture. Slip in a few things to help others and the planet.
So, what’s the problem with a life like that?
Fair call. I mean, as millennials say: YOLO! You Only Live Once. Why not? What’s a good reason not to?
Well, I had lived pretty much like that up until I was twenty-one, dissatisfied and empty. What’s more, living that lifestyle didn’t do much for anyone else, or the world. It didn’t make me happy. Otherwise, I would have persevered.
Instead, I saw empty, frustrated relationships, anger, arguments, desires never satisfied—always wanting more from someone than what you can get, however much you plunder each other’s bodies and minds.
I wondered, like Lana Del Rey, “Will you still love me when I’m no longer young and beautiful?”
I saw vomiting and physical and mental distress from alcohol and drug use.
I saw mental problems and eating disorders. At their root was insecurity about how our bodies looked, what our personalities were like, and a need to fit in and be accepted.
I saw selfish exploitation of others, everyone locked up in their own little universe trying to get for themselves—I was no exception.
I saw hurts and defeats lurking behind everyone’s eyes and hearts. I felt their pain but had no idea how to help them, except to try and get them to talk about it and acknowledge it with me, instead of pretending it wasn’t there.
Thinking: The great mistake
I couldn’t turn a blind eye to all the problems. I couldn’t stop wondering whether this was all life was meant to be. I was positive I was accessing only the budget brand of happiness.
That was my great mistake. The young woman who thought too much. I couldn’t switch off my intelligence and pretend enjoying my senses was the be-all and end-all of life.
I couldn’t pretend I was happy, when I wasn’t. I had to be for real. And often my friends didn’t like that. Don’t rain on our parade, they criticised, in dim nightclubs and party corners.
I crawled the walls, waiting for something illuminating to arrive, hoping against hope.
Human beings are not the best species for just being in the moment, pulling some pleasure out of their senses, and not questioning what the hell is going on.
But we are meant for more.
Then I read Bhagavad Gita As It Is, and a section in the introduction struck me:
“Out of so many human beings who are suffering, there are a few who are actually inquiring about their position, as to what they are, why they are put into this awkward position and so on. Unless one is awakened to this position of questioning his suffering, unless he realizes that he or she doesn’t want suffering but rather wants to make a solution to all suffering, then one is not to be considered a perfect human being. Humanity begins when this sort of inquiry is awakened in one’s mind.”
Phew, I’m not crazy; I’m on the right track. This is where my life really begins.
The game changer
This book, the Bhagavad Gita, and its follow-up encyclopedia, Shrimad Bhagavatam, are the life work of His Divine Grace A.C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Vedic scholar and monk, Prabhupada brought the knowledge of Krishna consciousness from India to the West. Promoting a wisdom culture that can clear the problems both inside and around us, these books are powerful game changers. Knowledge precedes transformation. As social philosophies became well known through literature, similarly, this knowledge, working for the spiritual benefit of all humanity, is far beyond temporary man-made social theories. It is meant to change the face of the world.
We think before we act, hopefully, so transformation needs to come from deep thinking. So much we read is boring, confusing, ineffectual, and hard to apply. We might try out what it says and then find life just grows back as it was, like an old weed we can’t get rid of. Humpf! What’s the use?
We need something with practical power that can snap our mindset into shape. Something that gets at the root of the problems, answers the deepest questions, like who are we really? What are we doing here? How can we act for the best interest of everyone else and the planet at every moment?
We can find this knowledge in the Bhagavad Gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Such literature is described loud and clear as
“a different creation, full of transcendental words directed toward bringing about a revolution in the lives of this world’s misdirected civilization.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.5.11)
Change is an understatement. The bhakti philosophy inspires lifestyle U-turns, quantum shifts in thinking, purpose, and action. Here’s how:
Aaron was twenty-one when he read the Gita. He was studying business management in Toronto and partying hard.
“The Gita was like nothing I had ever heard before,” he says. “It totally shattered all perspectives of life and society. The book revealed a depth and meaning to life I always thought must exist.”
Finally coming down from the partying, two years later, Aaron started practising what the Gita presented—the bhakti-yoga process for understanding the real self. “It immediately brought a calm to my life and gave me joy.”
A few other things changed too, like how he gets his thrills. “Before, I was studying, chasing skirts, and getting wasted. Now I’m a holy man,” he laughs. Aaron relishes kirtan mantra meditation, cooking delicious vegetarian food, and enjoying the company of like-minded souls.
Anna, a twenty-nine-year-old executive assistant from Sydney, was exploring spiritual traditions when she encountered the Gita. Stressed and anxious, she began to add kirtan to her busy life. When asked what her life is like now, she says, “Although externally there are so many similarities—I have a partner, I work, eat, sleep, and work out, my consciousness is so different—like day and night. I’m finally where I want to be.”
In bhakti-yoga you can do a lot of the same things as in “normal life” but for a spiritual purpose, rather than for getting temporary, small pleasure for ourselves in the usual ways. Bhakti influences our deepest motivations. Once our motivations change, so does our consciousness. “Bhakti is an investment in lasting pleasure,” says Anna, “not a wasted pursuit for short-lived satisfaction.”
The premium brand of happiness
Absorbing the wisdom in Bhagavad Gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam boosts you into another zone of happiness, leaving the old stuff for dust. Understanding and experiencing we are not the body and mind, but the nonmaterial self inside it, adjusts the way you try to get happiness and alters its quality.
Jessica wasn’t noticeably discontent before discovering bhakti-yoga. A twenty-two-year-old from Chicago, she had just finished her BA degrees in economic development and international relations when she began exploring Krishna consciousness. “Bhagavad Gita completely challenged my view of the world, of happiness and the purpose of life. At first, I didn’t accept everything it said, but the simple logic Prabhupada used to explain complex ideas amazed me.
“To experience the kind of happiness that the yoga texts talk about, I got some perspective on the way I was living previously. I wasn’t living a healthy lifestyle— emotionally or physically. But we require a different happiness, apart from the temporary highs we normally encounter, to gain that realisation,” says Jessica. “So now I can see that the way I am living, as a bhakti-yogi, is not only healthier, but gives a sense of calm and happiness. Although not yet fully developed, this holistic devotional yoga is far sweeter and more constant than anything I could’ve experienced from material happiness.”
Taking it and giving back
Fantastic, but what does all that inner work do for anyone else?
So you’ve worked it out, the secret to happiness. Naturally you want to tell everyone you know, assuming they’ll be on the same page—we all want happiness right?
Bhakti-yogis don’t just live for themselves. They want everyone to have access to the same happiness they get. It’s no fun being happy when others aren’t.
A humanitarian at heart, Jessica always wanted to help others. “I used to think improving people’s material situation was the best way to change the world. I wanted to do development work in Third World countries.” Now, material necessities still remain important for her, but she knows that meeting the deepest need of a human being is the top priority.
“Prabhupada’s books helped me realise merely pursuing material comfort is not the real desire of life. It’s the desire for happiness, and the highest grade of happiness is found in bhakti, in relation to Krishna, the supreme source of happiness. So helping people to find that happiness is actually the greatest form of welfare work, more meaningful than economic indicators of development,” says Jessica.
Gaining the treasure of bhakti knowledge, we learn how to truly satisfy ourselves by understanding who we are, beyond this temporary vehicle of body and mind. We learn what we are part of: Krishna the Supreme Soul, and we learn how to help others on the deepest level by connecting them with Krishna as well. Voila. Life is then transformed significantly.
On a global scale, how does bhakti-yoga help? Well, peaceful people make a peaceful world. Outer peace starts with inner peace. Since the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) was established in 1966, 518 million books have been distributed worldwide.
Srila Prabhupada describes the effect of a few wise people in the world, reaching a critical mass:
“There must be a portion of the population well versed in spiritual wisdom and its application. Just like in a garden if there is one nice flower plant, rose, with a good scent, the whole garden becomes flavored. Scented. Similarly, we do not expect that the whole population of human society will take to this culture; but even if 1 percent of the whole population accepts Krishna consciousness, then the whole world will be peaceful. Not even 1 percent, less than 1 percent. The bhakti process is so nice.”