We journey on a course set out for us by our infinitely complex karma, by the acts we have done over millions of lifetimes. And so our fate lies beyond our ability to know because it proceeds from an infinitely complicated past. However wise we may be, or we may think we are, we are largely in the dark about the past, the future, and even about the present. The Gita says that all can be known only by the person we do not know – that is, to the Divine, to Krishna. As Krishna says: I know all that has happened in the past, all that is happening at present, and all things yet to come. I also know all living beings, but hardly anyone knows me.
The Gita says that the very passions that move us in our present life force us at death force us at death to take on another body, in which love, hatred and envy again move us – and again move us along. We go through an endless succession of meaningless lives, in an endlessly repeated cycle of birth and death, in which we die and are born again and again, and not only into human bodies but into a chain of millions of different species. In each life we have our loves, our hatreds, our envy as well, all urgently important, all of no ultimate consequence. In this endless cycle of birth and death, the human life affords the opportunity for self-realisation. The Srimad Bhagavatam says that if a human being neglects this opportunity, his life is a failure. If one fails to inquire about the truth of the self, the Bhagavatam says, ignorance brings about one’s defeat, for one’s mind remains absorbed in the life of the body and one has forgotten one’s actual self. In such forgetfulness, one tries to be happy in what seems to offer enjoyment, but one is forced again and again to lose whatever one thinks one has gained. The Gita therefore says that one who lives to satisfy his senses lives in vain. But, in the pursuit of spiritual realisation there is never any loss, because even though one may not attain perfection in one lifetime, one’s spiritual credit carries over onto the next, so that one will automatically be attracted to spiritual inquiry and begin from where one left off. But if one lives only to satisfy the senses of the body one lives for nothing because the satisfaction is paltry and at death the very senses one hoped to satisfy disintegrate into nothingness.
The Vedic literature recommends both the path of enjoyment and the path of renunciation. The path of enjoyment is the path of karma where we enjoy within the limits of the shastra or scripture. This is the slower path, because although we keep the law of the scripture in the background, material enjoyment predominates. The faster path is the path of renunciation and detachment. Renunciation, in the Vedic literature, does not mean giving up; but understanding that nothing is ours to begin with and ultimately we leave with nothing in our hands. Everything is Krishna’s in that sense and if we can live our life in that attitude that everything is Krishna’s and serve Him in all aspects of our life, then life becomes joyful.
The Vedic literature divides the life of man into 4 parts, each lasting 25 years. Education, Family Life, Detachment and Spiritual Living and Renunciation and Living Wholly for Divine.
Success in any undertaking depends on five factors according to Krishna, in the Bhagavad Gita:
- The place
- The doer
- One’s various senses
- The different kinds of endeavour
- Grace of the Divine.
Just as the joining of a potent man with a fertile woman brings about conception, the meeting of a wise speaker and a humble, attentive listener will give rise to understanding. That is is the reason why one should humbly listen from a guru to gain knowledge that is beyond the realms of the human mind.
The society naturally divides itself into four classes: intellectuals, military and political leaders, farming and business and the general workers. Each has to work its part, understanding that they are part of the Supreme and then society will flourish. The classes depend on one’s qualities and not one’s birth.
The Bhagavatam says:
samāśritā ye pada-pallava-plavaṁ
mahat-padaṁ puṇya-yaśo murāreḥ
bhavāmbudhir vatsa-padaṁ paraṁ padaṁ
padaṁ padaṁ yad vipadāṁ na teṣām
“For one who has accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Mukunda, or the giver of mukti, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf’s footprint. paraṁ padam, or the place where there are no material miseries, or Vaikuṇṭha, is his goal, not the place where there is danger in every step of life.”
The Srimad Bhagavatam says that the ultimate realisation cannot be had by speculating about what is what. One needs to adopt the path of devotional service to the Divine by hearing about Him from self-realised souls as we cannot reach Him through the powers of the mind.
If we take care of the cage, but ignore the bird inside the cage, the bird will ultimately die. In the same way, taking care of our external needs without taking care of the self within will not satisfy our true self. So whatever we do, we need to keep the true self and the Divine, Krishna in the center and then the whole of life will have meaning.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaks of himself as the supreme source of all power, all beauty and all splendour and says that to realise his presence everywhere one may meditate on him, the Personality of Godhead, as being present as the most outstanding example of whatever category there might be.
The Bhagavad Gita says that charity purifies one’s heart. Charity can be in the mode of goodness, passion or ignorance. Charity giving to suitable people without any expectation of return is charity in goodness. Charity given with expectation of return is charity in passion and charity given to the wrong person, at the wrong place and time for the wrong purpose is charity in ignorance. The best charity is what we do as an offering to God and what can help people get out from material existence, from the endless cycle of birth and death and revive one’s eternal relationship with the Supreme.
The Gita says: In the spiritual endeavour, there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on the path can save one from the most fearful type of danger. If we put side material prospects for the sake of the Supreme, there is nothing lost, as all things material are ultimately lost. If we put aside the Supreme for material prospects, then everything is lost, as material prospects will be ultimately lost. And so, the Vedanta Sutra says: One should inquire about the Supreme.
The notion that the great cosmic machinery ultimately has no personal direction is ignorant. Those who subscribe to this view are small in intelligence and spiritually lost. Life does not arise from matter, life arises from life, ultimately from the Supreme Divine, Krishna.
One has to work. One cannot even maintain one’s own body without work. The purpose of work is not to enjoy work’s fruits but to give enjoyment to the Supreme, to Krishna. By working for oneself, one becomes entangled; by working for Krishna, one becomes liberated. The issue is not the success or the failure of the work. The issue is to be engaged in Krishna’s service. When one does that, one is successful irrespective of the result because one has truly surrendered to Krishna. The enjoyment or happiness does not depend on material circumstances, upon prosperity or want, success or failure; that happiness comes from within. As Krishna says: One whose happiness is within, who is active and rejoices within, and whose aim is inward is actually the perfect mystic. Such a person, liberated in the Supreme, ultimately attains the Supreme.