Mountains as Powerful Teachers of Krishna's Greatness, Our Insignificance
The mountains are so prominent in the La Quinta area, and I am thinking of all the reasons they are so captivating to me. It is also typical that many people are oblivious to them, as much as they don’t take lessons from the sun-- that each new sunrise brings them closer to death. Regardless, I feel even the smaller ones close to the house are massive, ancient, and expressive of great wisdom. They appear like a huge pile of boulders and rocks that fell from the sky at the beginning of time, or like the mountains on the moon, or I say jokingly, like “dry cow dung”. Standing like eternal sentinels they witness the rise and fall of civilizations, laughing at the current attempt to turn the desert into “paradise”.
Now the desert floor is teaming with activity in all directions by the sprawl of houses, golf courses, shopping strips and malls, only to someday be reclaimed by the elements—the sea again, or just the sun and wind with the absence of water. Even if nothing catastrophic happened, the mountains will see the death of everyone. They are a constant presence amidst all the changes among human beings, and thus they represent the eternity and power of God—although from another perspective even this whole planet and all the stars will someday become dust or ash at the fire of universal devastation spoken about in the Vedas. Regardless of changing material conditions, the Lord remains in all circumstances and the be-all and end-all of life, the ultimate Source, Regulating Principle, and Supreme Destination.
These mountains have a commanding presence for me. I feel them strongly; they attract my heart and thoughts. And the combination of the high rocky mountains and the scorching desert is also a great metaphor for life and death. Since I came here to be with my mom in her last days and death, it has all the more meaning for me. In this area all the ordinary basics of life, so instructive yet so often missed, are in full display—the life giving power of water in the transformation of the desert, and also the temporary nature of material phenomena with the dualities of sand, heat, snow covered mountains, and diverse changing clouds. The mountains rise above the life of the desert, teaching us that we must rise above our ordinary, normal view to gain a deeper perspective.
""I offer my respectful obeisances to wonderful, playful, mischievous Krishna who, if He desires, can make an ocean dry land, dry land an ocean, a blade of grass a thunderbolt, a thunderbolt an insignificant blade of grass, fire cool, or snow a blazing fire." [Rupa Gosvami's Padyavali]
Anything eventually changes into its opposite, which the history of geology, meteorology, or many of the sciences teach us. The newness of the buildings here can make the deterioration of things less obvious, yet it’s possible by spiritual reflection brought about by scriptural study in saintly association. The sunrise and sunset, phases of the moon and changing seasons, with the mountains and clouds are the background for for my reflections. I find that everything and everyone can be my teacher. This can be the blessed result of someone close to us dying, part of the fruit of years of spiritual practice.
And then there is tiny me, who appears to some others like a large tree, who unexpectedly has been felled by a small typical storm. Death is a normal part of life in the material world amply spoken about in the scriptures, yet a “live” or personal experience of death has exposed vulnerabilities in me which were hidden. I certainly know in principle that there is no death and that we are all eternal. However, a number of things about my mother's life and death have given me such sadness and sober reflections: Seeing the possessions that my mom accumulated over a lifetime as garbage to discard; the chronicle of her life viewed in her childhood/adult pictures seen though the lens of her life’s dashed hopes with the death of her husband; and her obviously unhappy life or at least very mixed happiness and distress (which also included our strained relationship). Of course in spite of these truths, she did have a blessed death as I have described before.
Actually my sadness is an example of the unhappiness and false promise for everyone who experiences life in this world. We all have to suffer to the extent that we place our prospect for enjoyment and joy in the world, formed into possessions and relationships. After so many years of spiritual practice I could certainly be admonished for not knowing better, but we have to know that theory and realization of the theory are different. It would seem to me that Krishna is giving me an opportunity to really and practically realize the misery and impermanence of matter by pushing my most vulnerable emotional buttons. And I would guess he hasn't finished yet, because my spiritual life has far to go.
Undoubtedly the world is beautiful since behind it is the Supreme beauty of the Lord, and in addition, young beautiful, desirable people may still attract us. Yet at least for now, and I pray forever, whenever I see an attractive young women I see my mom’s rough, varicose veined, spotted, decrepit old body, gasping for air, screaming in intense pain, “Help me. Help me”. Now I have what for me is a meaningful way to practice the Vedic recommendation to see all women except one's wife as mother (women are encouraged to see men as their son). In her last days I had to completely be in the mood of serving my mom, and there was not even a trace of desire for exploitation. Imagine if we saw every person as someone to serve, and every material thing, not as something to exploit or use for our purpose, but as meant for the service of Krishna and his representatives. This would transform our life and the world into the spiritual world. This is the goal of Krishna consciousness.
The reality for all of us in the material world is birth, disease, old age, death and birth again and again. We all have our allotted number for become old, diseased and leaving this body all together. My mom’s passing is an intense image, a way of dramatically illustrating Prabhupada’s analogy of “sand in the sweet rice” (like rice pudding) to portray material enjoyment as being terribly mixed. The little happiness in the material world has a huge cost in terms of our often distressful, stressful life—like the “fly in the soup”.
I am illustrating how Krishna has his ways of getting our attention and bringing us to the next level of spiritual life. So although part of me feels like a felled tree, or is very raw with open soars, there are also signs of new life—the shoots coming up from my spiritual roots (like the fertile forest floor), and transcendental knowledge is like soothing ointment for my wounds. The image of the phoenix rising out of the ashes of my illusion, misconception and despair I hope will be an apt analogy for my journey with my mom’s deterioration and physical death.
As you know people like to build monuments for their great heroes or political statesmen, and so I see these mountains like great cathedrals or commemorative statues both representing a life lived without spiritual knowledge and the lasting power, greatness and aesthetics of God. This is true even when I reflect that these or even greater mountains or the whole planet and universe are like crumbs from God’s table. The tall, humanly impressive skyscrapers or anything we consider wonderful or great are dwarfed by the super-excellent, extraordinary grandeur of the Supreme power, we know as Shri Krishna. In the Bhagavad Gita’s 10th chapter, after describing the greatest material phenomenon, Krishna gives his analysis. He asserts that the greatest of the great, or most powerfully remarkable in our estimation, are only a spark of his splendor. So many things become evident with a different perspective or angle of vision. The Vedic knowledge is meant to provide this, as well as the means for self and God realization.
The false ego and enjoying mentality cover over these bare facts of life with its built-in reminders of our own insignificance, and the lasting supremacy of God and his bewildering material energy. When we say “nature” it means to devotees of Krishna, “His” nature, and this display of his energy which is visible to all, spiritual or not, can represent God to spiritually blind persons like myself. Indeed these great mountains whose presence and power I couldn’t avoid have been potent teachers and reminders of the truth of birth and death and the duality of matter and spirit.
I only have to look out my front window to see them, and if I go for a drive they are even more perceptible since I find them surrounding me on all sides. The mountains announce Krishna’s supremacy, beauty and power, even in his crumbs. I am “wowed” by my experiences here in the desert. Much more than the passing of loved one it has been a refresher course on the science of life, death and devotion to Krishna as the real solution to the problems of life.
"May Lord Keshava who, sweetly playing the flute, a peacock feather in His hair, blackened with dust, decorated with a wilted forest-flower garland, tired, handsome, and a festival of happiness for the gopis' eyes, returns with the surabhi cows at the day's end, grant auspiciousness to you all." Rupa Gosvami's Padyavali