Hare Krishna! Is there anybody present that is not familiar with Bhagavad Gita? Okay, since there are quite a few, I would like to first introduce Bhagavad Gita and then we can discuss one verse from Bhagavad Gita.
Take a look just inside the cover. You will see a picture of Krishna and Arjuna in the middle of a battlefield, seated on a chariot in the midst of an array of vast armies on both sides. The scene is this: Just before this battle was about to begin, one of the leading heroes amongst the great warriors, Arjuna, asked Krishna to draw his chariot in between the two armies so he can see who is assembled on both sides, to get a detailed sense of what is about to happen.
There were many events leading up to this conflict. Tension centered around who would become the successor king. There were three brothers, all sons in the line of the previous King Vicitravirya – the elder, middle, and younger brother. The elder brother was Dhritarastra. According to the Vedic system the elder brother naturally becomes the successor king, but because Dhritarastra was born blind, he was not eligible to become king. The second brother was named Pandu. Being the second brother, Pandu was then to become the successor king. And the third brother’s name was Vidura. There’s lot of intrigue and detail regarding how they became brothers. But they were brothers.
After Pandu became king, he had five sons who became known as the Pandavas, or the sons of Pandu. The eldest of those sons was Yudhisthira. By character Yudhisthira was the emblem of virtue. The eldest of Dhrtarastra’s son, on the other hand, was just the opposite. He was the emblem of conniving behavior, skull-duggery, get-what-you-want-by-any-means type of person. Both Duryodhana and his 99 brothers were very wicked, the personification of unwholesomeness.
As the narration of interactions amongst the royal family’s cousin brothers progresses within Mahabharata, we find the unfolding of a classic drama: the struggle of good versus evil! While the major portion of Mahabharata provides all kinds of discussions about virtue and morality and their opposites, about duty, the Vedic system with its social order, etc., in the middle portion of this intriguing epic describing the history of greater India 5000 years ago is an exquisite jewel: the teachings of transcendental knowledge, Bhagavad-gita!
Social divisions within the Vedic social order are likened the head, arms, torso and legs of the entire social body. Divisions of labor for each social order are clearly indicated within the Vedic society. For example, the head division–the Brahmanas—have six specified occupations. They teach, and they study. They worship, and they show others how to worship. They receive charity, and they give in charity. There’s a Sanskrit term for each of these duties; within these six occupations is a standard legitimate way to fulfill the personal needs for those who are brahmanas, or teachers. In other words, the Vedic culture teaches that brahmanas are to live on charity. Not “Get an education, get a job, and get a salary.” They didn’t live that way. Brahamanas were adequately maintained because people were pious and trained to give in charity to those in the brahminical order. If there was somebody who provided knowledge, pious souls offered them charity. They would give grains. They would give necessities of life. Sometimes they would give gold coins. Or cows. Or a house. All things that would maintain life were given in charity. That was the Vedic system.
Then the arms department—the Ksatriyas—those who would give protection to the rest of the social body, also had prescribed means for their livelihood. From those who received their protection, they would receive taxes. Not charity. Rather, they would extract taxes. They were the landholders, and agriculturists would take care of the land. The landholder would maintain peace, and the farmers would give some part of the production from the land to the landholder. The Ksatriya was duty-bound to give protection. The larger tracts land was ruled by a king. He had his military that gave protection to his citizens, who in return for this protection paid taxes.
Within this system compared to an overall ‘social body’, the Pandavas were the arms. They were Ksatriyas. They were to give protection. Unfortunately, in the course of the drama of Mahabharata, there were many attempts to murder the Pandavas. There were also attempts to steal their property. There were attempts to disgrace and defile their wife. All of these offenses according to Vedic codes are punishable. But the Pandavas didn’t want to fight with their aggressors, who were their cousins. Knowing this, Krishna volunteered “I’ll go on your behalf and seek peace. I’ll make a peace offer. ‘You keep the whole planet. Just give each of these Pandavas five states. You keep the whole rest of the planet to rule. And they will serve under you.’” “No!” “Then give them five cities to rule.” “No!” “At least give them five villages.” “No.”
As the first chapter of Bhagavada Gita opens, Arjuna requests Krishna to draw his chariot between the two armies so he can see who is arrayed on the battlefield. As he understands what is about to happen, he turns to Krishna and says “I don’t want to do this. Although by codes of scripture we are to maintain ourselves by giving protection and then receiving taxes from those that we give protection to, if it means fighting against our cousins to achieve this, and all these assembled soldiers are going to be destroyed, including our teacher and our grandfather, I cannot fight. All these people are so dear to us! To prevent this disaster I will simply stop being a Ksatriya! I’ll become a mendicant. I’ll go to the forest and live on roots and herbs and whatever leaves are there. I will renounce my duty of being a ksatriya.” Arjuna continues, giving many virtuous reasons why he doesn’t want to go through with the battle. He gives very moral, ethical, high-sounding reasons why he shall not fight. “I’m not going to fight. I don’t want to do this!” Not only did Arjuna declare “I shall not fight!” but his whole body was trembling. He felt completely bewildered!
In this condition Arjuna submitted himself to Krishna. “I don’t really know what’s best for me to do. Can you please instruct me?” So, the whole dynamic changed, within the whole rest of the Bhagavad Gita. Previously, Krishna and Arjuna interacted as the best of friends. Now, Krishna accepts the position of being a teacher, or guru. And Arjuna is in a position of being taught, or a disciple. So, out of the whole of the Mahabharata, this right-and-wrong good-and-evil, what’s duty, what’s-to-be-done-what’s-not-to-be-done dialogue comes to the point of direct most elevated spiritual instruction.
The first thing that Krishna says, paraphrasing His words, is “Before we talk about what’s your duty, let’s talk about who you are. Then we can talk about what your duty is.” So, the first part of Bhagavad Gita’s instruction is just describing the true self, the soul – how the soul is distinct from the body, what are the qualities of the soul are and the qualities of matter. Soul and matter are quite distinct. Most religions of the world that I am aware of have at least an idea of the existence of a soul. But ask different people from different religions what the soul; try it. You will get very different answers! I’ve done this experiment and have gotten very different answers, mostly quite vague and unclear. But in Bhagavad Gita, it is very clear what the soul is.
Then, after describing what the soul is, Krishna goes on to describe the next challenge: How to maintain the understanding or consciousness of “I am spirit soul” while you do your worldly activities? It is one thing to have a theoretical understanding of the soul’s distinction from matter. But how do you practically retain that understanding while engaging in everyday activity? Commonly one major problem when engaging in activity is the tendency to become attached to the fruit of that activity. We work because we want the fruit of our work. People go to their jobs because they get paid. Supposing workers didn’t get paid; how many would go to work? Not very many. Really, what would it be like to work without attachment to the fruits of your work? That is the topic discussed in Chapter 3 of Bhagavad Gita.
Slowly Arjuna is beginning to understand, but he is not yet perfectly clear.
Krishna then describes the Absolute Truth, or Transcendental Knowledge. Distinct from the individual soul is the Supreme Soul. This is summarized in Chapter 4, the nature of God. Here Krishna reveals many truths about the Supreme Soul, about God. He says that if one can understand the nature of the Supreme Soul, this is sufficient to deliver one from the cycle of birth and death. Otherwise, in the default position of ignorance of the Supreme, you work and you become attached to the fruits of your work. While receiving the fruits of your work, you are bound to the karma of your actions and reactions and thus you stay in this cycle of birth and death. Bondage indefinitely, unendingly! But if you can take shelter of understanding of the Supreme Soul, and act for the Supreme Soul with detachment from the fruits of your work but instead with attachment to the Supreme, then you become free from the cycle of birth and death. This summarizes Chapter 5, acting in consciousness of the Supreme.
Now, we are almost getting to where I want be, just to speak one verse from Chapter 6.
In the sixth chapter, Krishna speaks the process of Dhyana yoga, or meditation. All of the earlier chapters of Bhagavad-gita have their specific terminologies connected with a particular type of yoga. Working for the Supreme is Karma Yoga. Knowledge of the Supreme and trying to link to the Supreme through Knowledge is Jnana Yoga, the Yoga of Knowledge. Then comes the Yoga system of meditation, or Dhyana Yoga. At the very end of the chapter on meditation, Krishna says “Of all the different things that one can do in life, best of all is to fix your mind upon the Supreme. And of all methods of fixing your mind upon the Supreme, the best amongst all of them is the yoga of devotion.” That’s the last verse of Chapter Six, Bhagavad Gita. So what I have just done is taken you through the first six chapters of Bhagavad Gita very quickly, up to the end of Chapter 6.
All of this has been explained so that we can discuss the first verse of Chapter Seven. In Bhagavad Gita, there are eighteen chapters. Esteemed commentators of the Bhagavad Gita have said that the eighteen chapters can be considered according to three divisions- Six, six, and six. The first six are primarily speaking about working with detachment from the fruits of work, karma-phala-tyaga, renouncing the fruits of work.
The middle six chapters of Bhagavad Gita are primarily addressing Bhakti, or devotion to the Supreme. The final six chapters are primarily addressing Jnana, or knowledge. In this way we now have something like a sandwich; the two bread slices are Karma yoga and Jnana yoga, with bhakti in the middle. The initial 1/3rd of Bhagavad-gita is “Work with the spirit of detachment” while the final 1/3rd of Bhagavad-gita is “Knowledge that connects with the Supreme”. In between are chapters which describe the perfection or culmination of those two, which is “Connecting with the Supreme though Devotional Service”. Once you know what the Supreme is, and you detach yourself from the fruits of work, you are perfectly prepared to work for the Supreme. You work not just giving the results to the Supreme, which is taught in the 1/3rd of Bhagavad-gita, but with full devotion for the Supreme.
So, here Text 1 of Chapter 7 of Bhagavad-gita..
mayy asakta-manah partha
yogam yunjan mad-asrayah
asamsayam samagram mam
yatha jnasyasi tac chrnu
Translation: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said, “Now hear, O son of Prtha, how by practicing yoga in full consciousness of Me, with mind attached to Me, you can know Me in full, free from doubt.”
In this verse Krishna is proclaiming ‘coming attractions’. In the concluding verses of Chapter 6, Krishna’s imparted his instruction to Arjuna to become fixed in yoga. And of all forms of yoga, bhakti is best. sraddhavan bhajate yo mam sa me yuktatamo matah. Uttama means topmost. Ut indicates ‘upward’. Uttama is the topmost. And, of all the systems of yoga… yoginam api sarvesam. Of all the systems of yoga, that which is the topmost system of yoga is, in Krishna’s opinion… matah,.. is sraddhavan bhajate yo mam. Sraddha means faith. And van means ‘one who possesses’. So, sraddhavan means “one who posseeses faith”. bhajate yo mam. Bhaj is the root word of bhakti. And bhaj means engaging our senses in practical activity. In other words, bhakti is not just a sentiment, like some emotional state or a feeling. Some persons have that idea, that the bhakti process is mere sentiment. While there are in fact feelings within the bhakti process – feelings are natural – yet feelings in relation to the Supreme supply impetus for practical activity. Whatever is inside comes out. Strong feelings held within come out in the form of actions. And if those strong feelings are towards the Supreme, then those same devotional feelings come out in practical activity. In bhakti we work assiduously, bringing our senses in contact with the objects of the senses, for the satisfaction of the Supreme.
So, that’s the explanation of what bhajate is: it’s practical activity. In the language of Narada pancaratra, Hrisikena hrisikesa sevanam bhaktir ucyate: engaging the senses in the service of the master of the senses. That’s what bhakti is, practical activity. I am making this repeated emphasis because our acaryas make this very emphasis. In bhakti we do diverse things and there is also a mood with which we do those things. We do those things as a service unto the Supreme.
In another verse in this Chapter 7, Krishna says “Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever charity you may give, whatever austerity you perform – whatever you do, do that as an expression of worship of the Supreme.”
For one to be situated on the topmost rung of the Yoga Ladder, Krishna indicates there must be two essential components. First, your mind must become fixed upon Krishna. Your consciousness must be absorbed in Him. Second, motivated by strong faith, you must be constantly engaged in practical ways aimed at Krishna’s satisfaction. As if to confirm that this elevated position is both realistic and attainable, in the very beginning of this Chapter 7 Krishna is boldly declares “I am now going to explain to you how these two objectives can be achieved.”
I chose to speak about this verse tonight because of its overall importance amongst the entire 700 verses of Bhagavad-gita. Let me illustrate this with practical evidence. When the founder-acarya of the Hare Krishna movement spoke at public gatherings like this, or for that matter wherever the venue was, recordings were made of his classes. Over the years these recordings were transcribed so that we could read what he had said in addition to hearing the recorded lecture. Inventory of these transcribed lectures disclosed that, numerically, Srila Prabhupada spoke more times on this one verse than any other verse in the entire Gita! Now we know for certain: this is a very important verse!
Krishna previously explained why bhakti is important as well as what bhakti is. Krishna is now going to explain how to perform bhakti.
In Chapter 3 a very simple principle has been expressed: souls are by nature active. In fact, they are the animating factor of the body. When the soul leaves the body, the body is no longer active. Bodies disintegrate when the soul leaves, in fact. The elements go back to their elemental stage. And when the soul is present, the elements are integrated and they appear to be animated. It appears that the body is alive. In fact, however, the body is not “alive”, although it is animated. It is the soul that is alive and the soul that is active. In turn, since souls are active, the principle of karma enters into the picture. If you perform bodily activity, any action, there will be a karmic reaction. Karma is like a double-edged sword. One aspect of karma is action – what you do, your work. Karma also involves reaction. Based upon the laws of nature, something you do in the mode goodness, some act of kindness or compassion, seeking the well-being of others, that action in goodness comes back as good karma. Likewise, acts of cruelty which cause pain and suffering for others, in equal measure pain and suffering comes back unto the performer. Reality is that life has its mix. Even if we don’t intend to do something that causes pain and suffering to other living beings, by our mere physical existence other living beings are offering their existence to sustain our existence. By design this created realm has this unavoidable misfortune. As long as we have a body, others suffer at our expense. What to do? Karma is not eliminated just by ‘getting rid of the body’, like committing suicide, or something. That’s not a solution because you don’t have the right to take a life. There’s a very severe karmic reaction for that!
So, you act and there’s bondage. And you can’t not act. So, what’s a good person to do? What’s the solution? The solution provided by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita is to act where the fruits of your work are offered in sacrifice unto the Supreme. As you carry on the activities of life, cultivating the consciousness of offering the results of your activities unto the Supreme, a degree of detachment arises – detachment from the results of work as well as a more pervasive detachment from the entire worldly condition around you. This is not ‘detachment by negation’, or impersonal detachment. No. This detachment is the natural consequence or byproduct of attachment to Krishna! In such a state of detachment, tendency towards higher knowledge, or spiritual knowledge, or subtle spiritual contemplations increase. They arise naturally, even without extraneous endeavor. One’s inner contemplations shift – beyond the temporary into the realm of the permanent, or the eternal. Initial knowledge of the soul expands into knowledge of the Supreme. By bhakti, one gradually becomes fixed in that Supreme, naturally and devotionally concentrating one’s meditation upon the Supreme. Gently, gradually, step-by-step, many lifetimes perhaps – progression of restoring our original consciousness of Krishna evolves.
Elevation by the yoga process has been compared to two distinct approaches: a staircase method, and an elevator method. Our spiritual master used this metaphor when he began presenting the teachings of Bhagavad-gita in New York City to complete newcomers. He used the example of the Empire State Building. Suppose you want to go to the top floor of the Empire State Building. There are two options: a staircase, and an elevator. If you want to go to the top floor, you have the option of going up the staircase. You can hike up all those stairs, or you can ride the elevator. They actually have two banks of elevators in the Empire State Building. One of them goes to a certain elevation, then you must exit and go to another bank of elevators to reach the upper floors. In case of fire, they must have a staircase. In an emergency, you can go all the way down to the ground floor by way of the staircase. Not too many people use that method. Not too many. In fact nobody uses this method. But to move from one floor to another floor, they may.
Within this metaphor, the Bhakti process is compared to the elevator. It is a means by which very directly and maybe not even knowingly, like the process of chanting that we just did in the very beginning, by sound vibration, consciousness the soul is brought into direct contact with the Supreme. The whole of the Veda wisdom is based on sound. As Krishna says in the third chapter of Bhagavad Gita, “In the very beginning I sent forth generations of men and demigods. At the same time I presented this process of sacrifice, based on sound vibration.” The means of connecting again to the Supreme is through sound. Spiritual sounds emanate directly from the spiritual world. By the connecting process of hearing that spiritual sound, your consciousness is connected with the Supreme. And, when your consciousness is connected with the Supreme, what’s inside comes out! Your activities become in harmony with the Supreme.
This is spiritual science, with detailed knowledge how to act in relation to the Supreme. We must always remember , though: it’s not just behaviors, it’s consciousness. Behaviors come from consciousness. Both must be there, but of the two consciousness of Krishna is most important. The target is purification of consciousness, elevation of consciousness. All our practical activities are to be conducted in such a way that this purified consciousness is facilitated and nourished. Towards this end, the Vedas also prescribe appropriate theistic conduct. But the essence is consciousness, not behaviors.
Srila Prabhupada has given the example of a train that moves on two tracks. Both tracks are parallel. If one of the tracks is missing, you’ve got a problem. The train will capsize. It won’t go very far. And with spiritual life, similarly, two things are required. A means to purify consciousness is absolutely required. Simultaneously, parallel with a means of purification, a direction of practical activities in our life is needed. One without the other is a problem. Some means of purification without proper guidance or direction can become blind sentiment. Sentimentality can become fanaticism. And fanaticism, we all know, can be very dangerous. On the other side, if you just follow a ritual or prescribed activity without a purified state of consciousness, your experience remains theoretical without tangible realization. Such a method will not take you where you want to go. So, both are needed.
Within this Bhakti process, there is a very clear means to purify consciousness. The primary means is through this spiritual sound. And particularly for this age, the description is through the sound of the Holy name of God.
(CC Adi 17.21)
harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam
kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha
This is a very famous verse! By calling or vibrating the names of God, the names of Hari, one can achieve the goal…gatih… the spiritual goal of life. Conversely, this verse declares, any other means is not going to carry one to the spiritual goal of life. For absolute emphasis, it states this three times. Nasty eva. Nasty eva. Nasty eva! It is so emphatic! The Holy Name is the means of purification of consciousness. Very essential to the Bhakti process is the means of purifying consciousness, primarily through sacred sounds—the names of God. Side by side, we are given instructions how to live our life.
Just like the issue confronting Arjuna in Bhagavad Gita: Arjuna is asking, “What’s my duty? Before me is a dilemma I cannot fathom. I have a situation where if I do what looks like I am supposed to do, there are consequences I don’t want. But if I don’t do my duty, then there’ll also be implications in a bad result just for failing to do what I’m supposed to do.” We find these situations in life! In such a dilemma, we need some guidance as to what’s to be done. We also need the other side– the proper consciousness to do that which needs to be done. For Arjuna’s sake and for ours, Krishna is going to explain in all of Bhagavad Gita both the means of purification and elevation of consciousness by the devotional yoga process, and a practical instruction as to what the duties of life are.
Part of the reason for taking this verse is I just spent the whole Thanksgiving weekend in Seattle covering a section of Srimad Bhagavatam. This same section of SB is quoted in the purport of BG 7.1. The successive stages of Bhakti from seed to maturity, full of fruits and flowers, the full mature stage of Bhakti, is described. In each of those stages, the same active principle which transitions a seed to maturity is mentioned in this verse of BG. Krishna says “Tat srnu” in the last line of this Bhagavad Gita verse. Tat srnu. Srnu has to do with the hearing process. “Hear from me.” So, the whole process of Bhakti is similarly based upon hearing.
srnvatam sva-kathah krsnah
punya sravana kirtanah
It’s the first verse amongst a series of Bhagavatam verses quoted in the purport. By the process of hearing, the heart becomes cleansed of impurities or contamination of heart. Abhadras is the word in this Bhagavatam verse. Things that are inauspicious and unwanted within the heart are considered Abhadras. By the hearing process, slowly step-by-step the stages of Bhakti awaken and unfold. Just like taking a seed…. you have a Tulasi plant here? Yes, over at the corner. So, part of our process of worship is involving worshiping the Tulasi plant. And when the Tulasi plant is mature, there are little flowers at the top, manjaris. The manjaris eventually produce seeds. You can take the seed of the Tulasi plant, sow the seed, and by the watering process eventually get another Tulasi plant! Thus, within the seed is the potency of life. Similarly, the Vedas teach that seed or the potential or the dormant stage of the love of God is within the heart of every living being. And by the process of hearing, that seed germinates. Around any seed, there is a shell or some kind of protective covering, provided by mother nature. Inside, there’s life. And that life may remain dormant for a long long time. In extreme cases, if you can take the seed and put it into frying pan, the life will be driven out. But if you don’t do that, life can stay for a long long time. Shelf life will be a long time. Nice covering. There’s life inside. But to get the life inside to come out, there’s a sprouting process.
Similarly, love of God is within the heart of every living being. And this process of hearing awakens that dormant love of God. And it appears in its preliminary stages in the form of practices of devotion, Sadhana Bhakti. Gradually the seed matures in course of time. All the details are described in the purport here. Slowly, step-by-step, that creeper or the plant of the life of devotion, unfolds, maturing in predictable stages. Just like the little tulasi seed.
The teaching of devotion leading to love of God is a science. It is predictable, like anything else that’s in science. You have a hypothesis, or a premise. Then you conduct a suitable experiment. You make some observations, from which you draw some conclusions. In science, anybody can perform the experiment, and get the same result. Similarly, the process described in Bhagavad Gita is a science. What is that science? How to take that which is dormant inside, within the heart, and bring it to the stage of full maturity of love of God — Krsna prema, where the mind is fully fixed upon the Supreme. Consciousness absorbed in the Supreme. Krsna prema is dormant in the heart of every living being, and Krishna is saying “I am going to explain to you how that perfection can be manifested in this world.”
I have tried to summarize very simply. A lot of transcendental knowledge is in Bhagavad Gita. The process of awakening devotion in the heart is the beginning; and in the mature stage, the final instruction that Krishna gives in Bhagavad Gita is that all the other forms of religious duty…some of your know the verse….
mam ekam saranam vraja
aham tvam sarva-papebhyo
moksayisyami ma sucah
All the other forms… because the whole of Bhagavad Gita has been describing duty, virtue, dharma. Krishna is making this very strong conclusive statement that all other forms of dharma are subordinate to the primary duty or dharma. What is that primary dharma, or paradharma—the main essence? It is to bring oneself to the point of full surrender and submission to the Personality of Godhead. This happens when there is love. One will always think of someone if you love that someone. You don’t have to tell the young boy that has romantic attraction for a young girl, or vice versa, “Now think of him” or “Now think of her.” They’re always thinking of him, or thinking of her, because they are romantically in love. When they’re supposed to be eating, they don’t have an appetite. They’re thinking of him or her. And so on.
This is a reflection of the pure state of love of God. In the pure state of love of God, whatever stage it is in — there’s the practicing stage and there’s the mature stage — .and in the mature stage, whatever it is that one does is in relation to the Supreme, in relation to God–the object of my love is the beloved. Whatever we find in this world, a pure unadulterated counterpart exists in the spiritual realm. The mature stage of bhakti, as described in Bhagavad Gita, is something that awaits us all. When that position awakens, knowledge is naturally already there. Detachment from the illusory features of material existence is naturally there. In fact, all desirable things are naturally there. Whatever it is that one desires, we don’t need a separate shopping cart in the supermarket of things that we might want. We just do this one this. This is called faith.
(CC Madhya 22.62)
‘sraddha’-sabde — visvasa kahe sudrdha niscaya
By one thing, all other desirable things become accomplished. That’s faith. Just like a businessman has a fixation on getting money. His mentality is to get money. Why? When you get money, everything else that you want, you can have. Such a person is totally focused: money, money, money. “I have faith in somehow getting money.” Or, somebody else might have faith in becoming elected to some government post. So, everything is centered on that one thing. Or, the Olympic athlete is focused “Get the gold medal.” They are so disciplined! Everything is focused on one thing. That one thing represents happiness. Everything else becomes focused around that one thing. Similarly, in the message of Bhagavad Gita is by attaining this awakened state of consciousness — the dormant state of consciousness of the soul that is described here — the focusing of our mind and our full consciousness upon the Supreme, everything you may want in life will be fulfilled by that one thing. That’s spiritual faith.
And, the teaching or the science of how to accomplish that is what’s found in Bhagavad Gita.
I’ll stop there and see if there are any comments, or questions, or discussions. Yea?
Question by Devotee: Supposing someone tries to process of Krishna consciousness in the mudha stage, where consciousness is very dark. Is the only thing is I need to do is chant? Or what else?
Romapada Swami answers: Well, bhakti has two tracks, as mentioned. One is to regulate all the practical activities of life so that they best enhance the awakening of spiritual consciousness. The other is chanting, the activity which directly awakens spiritual consciousness. Both are needed. So, hearing Bhagavad Gita, and practically living your life accordingly is also needed, along with chanting. Frame your life in the quality of goodness, as far as possible. Then, within that frame of quality of goodness, the germination of the seed of love for Krishna will awaken. In this way the seed will grow nicely. That is the true benefit of the quality of goodness.
Question by Devotee: Are there characteristic habits of goodness which promote good hearing and chanting?
Romapada Swami answers: Yes. Habits of goodness include cleanliness, truthfulness, mercy, proper eating habits, regulation in all daily activities, and more. These are all described in multiple places within Bhagavad Gita. For instructive purposes, Bhagavad Gita also teaches us what the contrasting qualities of passion and ignorance are like. The mode of nature one is conducted by can be changed, by cultivation and by training. For example, consider your eating habits, your recreation habits, your cultivation of knowledge habits. According to the modes of nature, we are advised to frame these activities in life as far as we can in harmony with the quality of goodness. Cultivating these habits helps germinate the seed of bhakti. Then, when hearing Krishna’s instructions, because they are coming from Krishna directly, a direct awakening of the dormant consciousness of the soul is available. Let us take a practical example. You live in Corvallis, a University town. As with any system of education, there are teachers at the University. Similarly, if we are going to learn the knowledge of Bhagavad Gita, there’s a teacher of that knowledge. A subset of hearing Bhagavad Gita is how to have proper regard for the teacher of the knowledge of Bhagavad Gita. That’s also being explained within the fourth chapter of Bhagavad Gita—how to have proper relationships with those who extend transcendental knowledge. Relationships can be, as we all know, a source of lot of pain if they are not in proper order. Our minds will be distracted by painful circumstances within relationships if we don’t understand how to properly have relationships. So, the teacher/student relationship is guided by the mode of goodness, and where both teacher and student are qualified, learning is maximized. By conducting our activities in the quality of goodness, a natural result will be an increased capacity to receive transcendental knowledge from the right source.
Question by Devotee: Maharaj, I am on the platform of materialistic platform. So, what should be the goal of my life?
Romapada Swami answers: Well, what do you want the goal of your life to be? The premise of your question is that you are on a materialistic platform. Your question, however, is what should be the goal of your life. If you are on a materialistic platform, then, get money. That’s the goal of life. And then, you can get what you want for your materialistic purposes. Right?
Question by Devotee: Which is more important?
Romapada Swami answers: According to the Srimad Bhagavatam, what each individual needs for a healthy and happy life, that much endeavoring on the material side, one should do. Because if your needs are for self-preservation, they’re not bad. Without them you cannot remain peaceful. But, when one lives a spiritual life, self-preservation, or that which sustains my life, must also be there. But getting beyond that which I need to sustain myself is not the ultimate goal, nor will it bring happiness. The opposite will happen: misery comes! The ultimate goal is connecting with the Supreme. Then, meeting my material needs becomes a subset. Unfortunately, in Kali Yuga the general populace is not spiritually trained. We don’t know these basic principles of progressive spiritual life. Therefore, like most souls, you are considering yourself to be materialist. I may simply be a matter of training and education, to see the spiritual dimension of life, side by side with the support of our material necessities being met.
Just like a small child. The small child is being taken care of by their mother and father. A small child doesn’t have to say “It’s cold out. Can I have a jacket?” The mother and father are already prepared with jackets for their children when it’s cold out. Or, “I’m hungry. Can I have something to eat?” Parents are already prepared, without being prompted. “Let’s make sure that our child has something to eat.” The maintenance of a dependent is in the mind of those who are caregivers. Similarly, Krishna declares in Bhagavad Gita that He is the seed-giving father of all living entities. His mindfulness is similar to a parent’s contemplations. He is more than ready to maintain all His children, all His part and parcel living entities. Maintenance is not the main need in approaching the Lord, although some people think that’s the main issue of the Lord, His taking care of our necessities. Rather, a higher stage of consciousness is “God will take care of me. He is my Protector. He is my Maintainer. Let me work with my capacity to serve Him, and my necessities will be a subset of what comes from that service.”
The main distinction between material and spiritual life is where your consciousness goes. Becoming attached to Krishna should be the goal of life. “Let my consciousness evolve to the point where it’s fixed upon the Supreme. In the course of my life, let me live a good life, a virtuous life, with my consciousness fixed upon the Supreme. Whatever is supplied to take care of my necessities, I accept as God’s mercy, Krishna’s mercy.”
But, what I just described is not the consciousness of a materialistic person. That was the premise of your question. “I am a materialistic person.” I don’t think you are a materialistic person, by the way. You are like every one of us– you have a material body. Spirit souls have material bodies, which are conditioned by being within this world. Naturally, there are demands of the body. Attend to them in a mood of devotion to the Supreme.
Question by Devotee: Maharaj, is there any specific way of reading Bhagavad Gita? Should we start at a specific chapter? I mean, must I start at Chapter 1 and continue like that?
Romapada Swami answers: The best advice about how to read Bhagavad Gita is to read in the association of persons who are experienced in the Bhagavad Gita. If you have a Bhagavad Gita in your home, and you just pick up Bhagavad Gita and randomly open to any page, and read, that’s fine. But Bhagavad Gita is a conversation. So it is best to read systematically. Suppose you are having a conversation with a friend. And I come to the place where you and your friend are speaking. Suppose you are in the middle of the conversation. I don’t know what was said before. For me, the context of your communications with one another will not be very clear. There’s the whole context of each part of a conversation. Bhagavad Gita is similarly a conversation. It helps to understand the preliminary topics, but it also is good to know where the conversation is headed. If I am going to understand properly something stated in one part of Bhagavad Gita, it will be helpful to know what’s covered in the other parts. That’s why, if you study with someone who’s experienced, you will be more likely to grasp the fact that something which resonates over here, it may illuminate something in another part of the conversation. It is best to have the big picture of Bhagavad Gita’s message, therefore try to study Bhagavad Gita under the direction of an experienced teacher. It’s helpful. Even if no teacher is available, because the purports are presented with that bigger picture in mind, if you read the purports along with the verse, the broad message becomes clearer.
Question by Devotee: Maharaj, what is the significance of wearing tilaka?
Romapada Swami answers: The last time I was asked this question, I was traveling. While getting my boarding pass at the check-in counter at the airport, the airline agent asked this same question. Very nice lady! She said, “Do you mind if I as what is the significance of the mark on your forehead?” I said, “It’s a mark that means the body is a temple of God.” When she heard what I said, she froze, looked up at me and was thoughtful. So I spoke a little more. “Just like on top of the steeple of a church, there is a cross. By this marking, amongst all buildings, one knows this is a place of worship. This is a house of God. Or, a mosque, it has another marking on top of the building. A synagogue or a temple has another mark, a chakra or something. So, this is a mark that designates this body as a temple of God. Within every living entity’s body is a form God. Like the Bible teaches ‘The Kingdom of God is within you.’ So, this is the mark that says that ‘the Kingdom of God is within you’. And when you are conscious of the fact that the Kingdom of God is within you, what caution will you exercise with the body? Just like when you enter a church, you are very reverential. Correct? There’re certain things that you just wouldn’t do in a church because it’s a church. And then when you go outside, there are things you might do that you wouldn’t do inside the church. So, similarly this body is such that we should carefully consider what goes into the body and what comes out of the body. We should remain mindful of the fact that this body is God’s Temple. We respect the body — we respect others’ bodies in the same way — as a temple of God. We treat all bodies accordingly. We already know that God is within us, but we tend to forget it. So, this tilaka mark helps us remember. And, it may help others also remember, even if do not fully understand what it is. When you see a cross on top of a building, you know that it is a church, it’s a place of worship.