From Back to Godhead
By Sridhara Swami
Through bhakti-yoga we can finally reunite with the person we’ve wanted all along.
A lecture given on December 12, 2000, at 26 Second Avenue in New York City, ISKCON’s first temple.
WE’LL READ TONIGHT from the Sixth Chapter of Bhagavad-gita, which discusses dhyana-yoga, or meditative yoga. Texts 13-14 say: “One should hold one’s body, neck, and head erect in a straight line and stare steadily at the tip of the nose. Thus, with an unagitated, subdued mind, devoid of fear, completely free from sex life, one should meditate upon Me within the heart and make Me the ultimate goal of life.”
Srila Prabhupada’s purport to these verses begins, “The goal of life is to know Krsna, who is situated within the heart of every living being as Paramatma, the four-handed Visnu form.”
The same form of Visnu or Narayana is existing within the heart of every living being as the soul of all souls, and He is directing the wanderings of all living being throughout the cosmic creation. There are two souls: the individual soul, the person looking out from the eyes; and the Supersoul, the Supreme Lord who resides within the heart of each of us.
Self-help advocates say, “I have to get in touch with my real self.” They’re thinking on the physical plane. “My real self is not a doctor but a lawyer, and as soon as I discover I’m a lawyer I’ll be happy.”
But it’s much, much deeper than that. The real self is aja, “unborn,” and nitya, “eternal.” The real self does not die when the body dies. The real self is hankering after a relationship with the Supreme Person, but we’re looking in the wrong place. All of us are looking for friendship, love, guidance, and knowledge, but we’re looking for these within the phenomenal world, and this is a mistake because our very best friend is within our own heart.
It is difficult to see the nose, which is right in front of you. Similarly, it is difficult for us to see is Supersoul, who is there within us. He is isvara, the supreme controller, and not a blade of grass moves without His sanction. He’s controlling all the universes, gravity, time, but He makes Himself available. Have you ever worked for someone who doesn’t have time for you? Krsna is the controller of everything, but He has all the time in the universe for you. And not only for you but for me too. That’s the beauty of Krsna. He is with all of us individually.
The goal of yoga is to help us get in touch with the person who resides within our hearts. Yoga is the matchmaker, you could say.
Not more than a few hundred yards from this place a yoga class is going on. Most people think yoga is either a means to lose weight so that they can have good sex or to merge with Brahman and lose all individuality, which amounts to spiritual suicide. But they’re wrong about the goal, and they’re wrong about the practice. One has to practice sitting postures to breathe properly, but that is not the goal. Real yoga is astanga-yoga, the eight-fold process. It starts with yama and niyama, rules and regulations that require one to be a strict vegetarian and practice celibacy.
Sex is the highest material pleasure, and love of God is the highest spiritual pleasure. For some people it’s disheartening to learn that they have to make a choice. The real thing to understand is that the pleasure of sex life has a heavy downside. There’s an old saying that if you pick up one end of the stick you pick up the other end of the stick too. If you want sense pleasure, then you have to take sense pain sukha and duhkha, happiness and distress.
Some of us have been to the school of hard knocks and have gotten a little realization. I’m not perfect in my understanding of it, but in my heart of hearts I know that when I’m free from lust, anger, greed, envy, that kind of purity will bring me happiness beyond compare. I want that. And I’m prepared to be patient, determined, and enthusiastic to achieve it, because I’ve seen that in this world, practically speaking, there is only suffering. You can say something brings less suffering and therefore it’s enjoyable. But I want a pleasure that is ever increasing. That plea-sure exists, but it requires effort to attain. By the process of sankirtana by chanting and taking spiritual food and living a simple life and associating with other devotees and practicing sincerely you can attain the perfection of pleasure.
Krsna says, “Of all yogis, he who in faith worships Me is the highest of all.” Krsna is the Supreme Person, the Supreme Lord. He is the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, and He is telling us that of all yogas jnana-yoga, dhyana-yoga, astanga-yoga, kriya-yoga, this yoga, that yoga the highest yoga, the way to reach Him, is bhakti-yoga. After jnana,or knowledge, comes love. After many, many lifetimes of analyzing the material world, one will realize vasadevah sarvam iti: there’s nothing more than Krsna. He’s the goal. To love Krsna, to be loved by Krsna, to finally come back to Him after such a long time, to finally reunite with the person we’ve wanted all along, and to never be parted from Him ever again that is beautiful. And that can be achieved through bhakti-yoga.
Bhakti-yoga is the process by which we come to love Krsna. In verse seventeen of this chapter Krsna says, “He who is regulated in his habits of eating, sleeping, recreation, and work can mitigate all material pains by prac-ticing the yoga system.” Srila Prabhupada writes, “Extravagance in the matter of eating, sleeping, defending, and mating which are demands of the body can block advancement in the practice of yoga. As far as eating is concerned, it can be regulated only when one is practiced to take and accept prasadam, sanctified food.” We eat vegetarian food, but we are not vegetarians. We’re “Krsnatarians.” Rabbits are vegetarian, elephants are vegetarian. So what? Krsna says, “If all you can offer is a leaf, flower, or fruit, offer it with love. And take the remnants, the prasadam. What I want is your devotion.”
Not only is vegetarian Indian cuisine delectable, but there’s just something about Krsna prasadam that is indescribably delicious. I may get distracted by thoughts of illicit sex, intoxication (hardly but maybe), gambling (we speculate sometimes). But meat-eating forget it. I never even think of it. Because we have literally developed a higher taste for Krsna-prasadam. We regulate our activities by taking Krsna prasadam.
As for sleeping, any unnecessary time spent sleeping is considered a great loss. A devotee uses every moment of the day to pursue his goal. None of us here has any contract that guarantees we have a hundred years to live. We could be gone very quickly. We don’t know. So it’s important to be serious in spiritual life. A Krsna conscious person cannot bear to pass a minute of life without being engaged in service to the Lord. Therefore, sleeping is kept to a minimum. The Gosvamis of Vrndavana ate, slept, bathed everything within half an hour or an hour. They were that engrossed in spiritual life. We may never reach that stage, but we can find a level of service that fulfills us every day of the year. During our sleep we’ll have nice dreams of Krsna and His devotees, and we’ll rise and begin our service and our hearts will be bright.
Because the Krsna conscious person is regulated in his work, speech, sleep, wakefulness, and other bodily activities, he or she experiences no misery. This is practical. If someone undergoes some sort of stress, a friend might say, “Just take your mind off it; get engrossed in your work.” People do that as a kind of therapy. Here the Gitarecommends we go on permanent therapy. Work for Krsna. You’ll get so absorbed that you won’t fear even death. Steadiness comes from being constantly engaged in serving guru and Krsna. In the spiritual world the gopis compete to serve Krsna. There is so much work to do for Krsna that you can be totally carried away. Love is both a verb and a noun. To feel perfect satisfaction, you have to practice loving Krsna. You have to serve Him.