When the British were ruling India most of them failed to appreciate Krishna’s activities or teachings in their cursory study of Vedas, through the colored lens of their limited religious, colonial, racist eyes. Even many Christians decry the attempt of secular scholars (or those of other religions) to expound on the life and teachings of Christ, and recommend understanding the culture that existed during his life. I think it is safe to say that in studying any religion, those unfamiliar with the culture existing during its founding, or who are not sympathetic to the teachings will not really be able to understand the essence of the tradition. This is certainly true as well with the Vedic scriptures of India. Most of the British studied the Vedas with the idea of finding fault with it and debunking what they thought was religious superstition at best. Therefore, Krishna in their heart, showed them what they were looking for! Krishna reciprocates with our desire to either know or ignore him. [BG 4.11]
The first Canto of Shrimad Bhagavatam is one of my favorites. Why? Perhaps it is because it was the Canto which Prabhupada brought to America and the first book that was available for us to study. Or it could be the attractive, spiritually uplifting, historical stories used to teach the philosophy, or maybe because Prabhupada put everything he could into it, thinking he might not live to finish the whole scripture. Indeed he didn’t finish. Although he finished only a few chapters of the 10th Canto, he did give us the Krishna book in 1970 which is a summary of that Canto. Any of the various narrations contained throughout the Bhagavatam can help us be freed from bodily illusion and take up the spiritual path. It all depends on our receptivity coming from our inner spiritual necessity. Hearing Vidura's potent words while considering their meaning for you and contemplating the questions that arise will help you go deeper into transcendence.
I am greatly fortunate to work at the Kindred Spirits store where so many interesting and/or spiritually searching people come. Two days ago a Mother and her adult son came to the store. They are are practitioners of Islam who immigrated from Pakistan. They were both quite broadminded, educated and thinking people. They were a pleasure to speak with. If only everyone understood some basic spiritual philosophy rather then knee jerk reactionary religious sentiment, what a different world we would live in, but then again, this is the age of Kali or the time of quarrel and hypocrisy! The son is in graduate school working on his Ph.D in world religions. We had a fabulous conversation about the religions of the world and mystic spirituality.
Yesterday I met a very spiritually curious lady about my age--late 50's or so, who recently was baptized as a Catholic. Other churches wanted her to wait, but as she realized her days were numbered she wanted to be ceremoniously part of a Church. She is studying everything she can find about Catholicism and asks other Catholics about the meaning of various rituals and what they mean personally to them. She was surprised to learn that most of the people don't really know what they are doing, but are sort of going through the motions. Often this was the religion they were born into, and it is familiar but only superficially meaningful. Hearing this is clear demonstration of how religious people equate the form or rituals with the religion, rather then their purpose and meaning--the "why" and "what for" questions.
Of course I don't meet such quality people every day, though very often. In general I am able to share some thoughts that I think might be uplifting or that will in some way cause people to stretch beyond their ordinary thoughts to think more deeply about spirituality, the controlling force or power in the Universe, their "higher power", or simply God.
By the mercy of a pure devotee even persons who are not even very religious can go beyond material dharma to ask higher questions about the soul. This is expressed in Vedic statement in the Brahma-sutra often quoted by Prabhupada: "athato brahma jijnasa" or now is the time to inquire about Brahman or the Absolute Truth. This inquiry is generally the fruit of religious life. Without coming to this point religious life is practically a waste--it is better than ordinary life, but still keeps one the the cycle of birth and death. Thus the pure devotees realizing how short life is point to the essence of the Vedic teachings, that we are soul, part of Krishna, and have to revive our eternal service to him.
For some people it is easier to be religious when times are good, and often a test when they suffer (although from another angle it is natural for many to call on God in distress, though only officially acknowledging him in happiness). Sometimes even knowledgeable devotees may blame God for their problems in their intense grief and sorrowful emotions, yet in more thoughtful moments they can remember that souls are here in the material world to try to enjoy apart from Krishna. In addition they know that their suffering is being minimized by the mercy of Krishna, and due to the purifying effect of devotional service (or activities performed in love, or in pursuit of love).
A friend of mine who used to be a famous book distributor told me one of his stories about someone he met. He offered the person a book, and the person said,
"I don't need it".
"Because in my religion we know about the personal life of God!"
"O really? What is that?"
"God sent his son to earth to deliver the people of the earth, and he died for their sins."
"That is interesting, though I still think you would find this book useful and uplifting."
"Why is that?"
"In this book the private life of God is described--in his private world of devotion and love, we read about his confidential life with his parents, friends, and secret lovers--that is even secret in his world."
There is saying most of us have heard: "We are born with nothing, and leave with nothing". All degrees, titles, wealth, properties, homes, material facilities and relationships must be left behind at death. For the materialist, death is a manifestation of God, the controller of life and time. For a devotee, Krishna is the life of our life, the consciousness of our consciousness, the heart of our heart! He is all sided, everything. He light, and darkness, the beginning, middle and end! He is the biggest and the smallest, and although he pervades all things, he is in our heart and is present in his eternal abode as the indestructible, inconceivable, all-merciful source of all. In a more personal, endearing and higher sense, he is our dear-most friend, well-wisher, and the love of our life!
The illusion of freedom,
the greatest oppression
the masses enslaved by
the promise of capitalism.
I wrote Friday's blog about motivations and qualifications for approaching or worshiping Krishna to encourage those of us who are not pure devotees and may have material desires that we want to fulfill. That is most of us---it is a question of degree, experience, maturity, and especially realization. It is important to realistically access where we are on the map---so to speak---and act with this in mind. This often takes time of course and we need to know that introspection isn't quick and may come gradually as we mature in levels of understanding as we need it. It is great to want to have pure love for Krishna and be off the bodily platform, but another matter to actually be there.