Radhanath Swami narrates from the Vedic Text, Srimad Bhagavatam
The Srimad Bhagavatam speaks of a great king named Yadu. Once when he was travelling through a forest he saw an Avdhut, a person who apparently was a social outcaste. He was laying in the forest like a python. From a material and from a social consideration, he was a failure. But Yadu, being a religious man, could see the person was bright faced and happy, more happy than anyone he had ever met. So he asked, “How is it that despite the poverty, you are so happy? Who is your guru? Where did you learn this from?” The answer spans over several chapters in the Srimad Bhagavatam.
He replied, “ My dear king , I am completely satisfied with whatever I have , with whatever I am , and with whatever is happening around me. Why? Wherever I look, I see God teaching me.” When we look at the things of this world in terms of our own selfish enjoyment, it’s only enjoyment that we can see. But if we have no selfish ego, we can always hear a message of God from everything in this world.
The Avadhut continued, “I have learned from 24 gurus who have instructed me.” There are different types of gurus . One guru is the guru who introduces us to the spiritual path, another type of guru is the diksha guru, who gives us initiation into mantra, and another guru is siksha guru , whose words and example is inspiring and enlightening our lives . So the Avadhut said that he had many siksha gurus.
The Avadhut said, “One of my gurus is the earth. I have learned from the earth the spirit of selfless service. Even though mother earth is harassed and plundered by so many people, she continues to serve. Greedy people are drilling oil from the earth, they are polluting the earth, they are soaking the earth with the blood of innocent animals, they are soaking the earth with the blood of military soldiers, and they are cutting the lush forests and making them into wastelands to make money from wood, to grow tobacco, or to grow grains for alcohol. Although subjected to untold abuse and harassment, our mother earth continues to provide all necessities for all living beings. I learned this spirit of selfless service from her.
He said that he learnt the same principle of selfless service from the mountain. The mountain carries a huge burden, but with everything on the mountain, it is simply providing for the happiness of others: the flora and the fauna on it. And he also learned that principle from the trees. How many times do you see the earth? How many times do you see trees? Do you ever learn something? But every time he sees a tree, he is enlightened, he is illuminated.
Let us examine the tolerance and the charity of a tree. The tree is standing in the burning sun to give us shade. And the same tree is standing in freezing ice cold to give us wood that we can burn to keep ourselves warm. The tree is giving flowers and fruits. And it never complains.
The Avadhut learnt the same spirit of selfless service from the sun. The sun evaporates water, and what does it do with the water? It creates rain and gives the water back to the earth. Sea water is useless for many of our purposes. The sun will evaporate that sea water and make it into pure rain water. Here in Mumbai, we live near the sea. But what happens if there is no good monsoon? There is unlimited quantity of water just two blocks away from here, at Chowpatty beach. But yet, everyday when the Bombay water department turns on water supply for a couple of hours, everybody is turning on their tanks and filling it up. Why? Because sea water is useless for all practical purposes. And if some year there is insufficient monsoons, there is very big cry of concern, “How will we survive? How will we wash? How will we drink? How will we cook?” So, can’t we appreciate the benediction of the Sun? The Sun is just taking that sea water, making it into something wonderful, and giving it back to society. Similarly a saintly person, whatever they learn they use it for the welfare of others. There is a saying, “One who has knowledge but does not enlighten others with that knowledge is like a lamp covered by a pot.”What is its use? Not just knowledge, but also skills, talents, and wealth; whatever we acquire, we want to give back for the welfare of others.
The Avadhut made several wonderful observations. This first was that the flame of the fire looks like steady, but in reality it’s constantly appearing and disappearing. A flame only lasts a second and then it’s gone. It keeps regenerating as long as there’s fuel. Yet, it looks constant. Similarly, our bodies and the world around us, everything looks as though they have some constancy. But factually, the powerful waves of the river of time are creating change at every moment, imperceptibly. You’re all getting old. You may not see it, but it’s happening. The whole world is temporary, nothing will last, but we see it as constant. Whatever looks like it has permanence is actually very transient. The only thing that is permanent is the eternality of the soul.
The Avadhut also learned a very valuable saintly quality from fire. Whatever things you put in fire is consumed. It doesn’t disturb the fire. Similar is the nature of humility of a saintly person. Because his/ her heart is within the fire of devotion, if you give him/her praise, it will not be disturbed. A saintly person understands that everything is the property of GOD, so whatever praise comes belongs to Him. And even if you give gifts to a saintly person, he/she will not become egoistic or attached. A saintly person will understand it’s the property of Lord and will use it for the purpose of the Lord, for the purpose of others. In this way, a saint never becomes implicated, complicated, or put in a condition of bondage because of the fire of humility within the heart.
When water is pure, it sounds very sweet when it flows. Similarly, a saintly person is a person who speaks and behaves in a way that is very pleasing to the hearts of others. And just as water purifies, the saintly person’s acts and words purify us.
In association with pure water that is transparent, our body becomes clean; in association with a saintly person, our heart becomes clean. Why? Because they transparently reveal the love of God that is within their hearts.
The Avadhut learned detachment from the wind and the sky. The wind sometimes blows over a field of roses and carries sweet fragrance. It sometimes flows over a water fall and carries very refreshing mist of cooling, soothing waters. It sometimes flows over a sewage pit and carries the disgusting stench of human excrements. But in all cases, the wind remains the same. It is unaffected, and is neutral. Similarly, a person whose mind is fixed in God, even after passing through so many auspicious and inauspicious situations in life, is always fixed in his/her purpose. Our Guru Maharaj , Srila A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, was living in holy Vrindavan. But for the sake of uplifting humanity, he left Vrindavan. He came to Bombay, a place of greed and egoistic competition. Then he went on Jaladuta, a cargo ship, to America. He had no money. So in New York City he lived in a ghetto in the bowery, in the neighborhood of prostitutes, drunkards, drug addicts, and criminals. Still, whether in Vrindavan, Bombay or New York, he was the same. He was a kind well wishing gentleman in all situations. He was simply trying to give God’s love to others. He was unaffected by the contamination around.
Later on, when his movement began to grow, people were offering him huge beautiful mansions. George Harrison of the Beatles bought a beautiful mansion in a suburb of London, and he named it Bhaktivedanta Manor. In Manhattan, on a skyscraper on 55th street, he was given an entire floor. But it didn’t matter for Srila Prabhupada whether he was living in a little hut in Vrndavan, whether he was on the cargo ship Jaladuta, whether he was living in the Bowery , or whether he was living in mansions. A saintly person is unaffected by the auspiciousness or inauspiciousness around. When one chants the names of the Lord, when one has faith in the names of the Lord, every situation becomes auspicious because of that consciousness.
As we pass through life, we come across unexpected experiences: crisis , disasters, failures, successes, honor, dishonor, pleasure, pain, happiness , distress, health , disease , birth , and death . This is a world of dualities, you cannot avoid dualities. But a great soul, like the wind, passes through all circumstances of life, his/her mind fixed on the remembrance of the Lord. There is a verse in the Padma Purana that says, “Whether purified or unpurified, or even having passed through every type of situation in life, one who just remembers the beautiful lotus-eyed Supreme Personality of Godhead is purified within and without.”
The Avadhut learned the same principle from the sky. Everything is within the sky, but the sky remains neutral. Sometimes it’s a nice sunny day, sometimes there are clouds in the sky, and sometimes there are cyclones blowing under the sky. Whatever is coming and going, the sky remains neutral. Similarly, we are eternal souls, and the more we realize our souls, the more we realize our eternal unchanging nature. The more we live by our nature of service to God and service to all others, the more we can remain stable, whatever passes through our life. Whether cyclones come or sunny days, knowing that they are all transient, we can take shelter of what is permanent.
The moon is always waxing and waning. From our perception, there is a big difference between Poornima(full moon) and Amavasya(no moon). One is illuminating the sky and the other is dark.
Now, the more you live in a natural situation, the more you are sensitive to all these things. I remember in the 1970’s. I was living on a mountain and every night at nine o’ clock I had to walk down this mountain. There was no road, the ground was muddy in the summer and icy in the winter. I had to walk 3 Kms down and then at 2:30 in the morning I had to walk 3 kms up. I never saw that road in the light of day, and it was a really secluded forest. When there was a full moon I could practically dance down that mountain, but when there was a no moon it was so dark. I never had a torch or flashlight. I remember once walking right into a tree. Another time I walked off the road and rolled down the mountain. It took me about 3 minutes of rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, rolling, and rolling, until I bounced off a few trees and landed in a creek of water. It was so dark, and I couldn’t find my way up.
So on the moonlit night everything was very, very illuminated , but no-moon nights were very dark. But that’s only our perception. The moon is completely detached, it is the same, and it doesn’t change. The moon affects the whole world, but the waxing and the waning of the moon do not affect the moon. So what do we learn from this?
There are six transformations of life: we are born, we grow, we sustain for sometime, we may produce some offspring, gradually the body dwindles, and ultimately the body dies. But the soul is eternal and real. You, the atma, is completely unaffected by all these transformations. Bhagavad Gita says what death for the soul is: it’s just changing clothes. But when the soul is forgetful of its eternal identity and identifies with this waxing and waning phenomenon of the body, there are so many anxieties.
During the rainy season large volumes of water flow into the ocean, and during the summer season all those rivers dry up, and nothing flows into the ocean. But is the ocean bigger in the rainy season and smaller in the summer season? Not at all. A saintly person is like the ocean; so many desires, so many sensual experiences flow into his/her mind through the senses, but he/she is unaffected.
Because of the ocean’s depth, because of the ocean’s volume, it is simply unaffected by all the rivers that flow into it. Similarly, when a person has deep knowledge and realizations, when a person is experiencing the joy of spiritual love, all the dualities—pleasures and pains, honors and dishonors, successes and failures—do not affect him/her. They understand them and they deal with them, but because of the depth of internal experience, they are unaffected. The soul is sat cit ananda, it is eternal, full of knowledge, and full of bliss. Then, why we’re not blissful? Because we are looking for bliss everywhere else except where it really is. Gita says that one who is illuminated within, one who rejoices within, that is a person of real intelligence. In the Bible, Lord Jesus Christ says the same thing, “Make your treasure, not in this world, but in the kingdom of God.” And that kingdom of God is within us.
So this is the quality of the ocean: so deep, so wide, nothing can affect it. That same oceanic experience of happiness and love is within us and to connect to it is the meaning of religion, the meaning of yoga.
The moth is mad to enjoy fire. If you have a candle inside a closed window pane in the darkness of the night, the moth will be phunk..phuk.. just flying with all of its strength, trying to break through the window to get to that fire. Its eyes, its sense of sight is so powerful! Ultimately, with great effort it reaches its destination, it enters fire, and it is burned to ashes. This is the nature of the senses. Any one of the senses, if they are not properly directed, can ruin a person’s life.
The moth is destroyed due to its addiction to the sense of sight and the bee is very much attached to smelling fragrant things. Sometimes a bee goes into a flower and smells and smells. It just doesn’t want to leave it. It smells, smells, smells, smells, and then the sun sets. The flower closes and the bee is imprisoned, trapped, and sometimes it dies. It’s victimized by the sense of smell.
In the olden days, before they had guns to put elephants to sleep, do you know the way they would catch elephants? Elephants are very attached to touching. So if you want to catch a female elephant, you use a male elephant. And if you want to catch a male elephant, you use a female elephant. You dig a big ditch and cover it with straw. A trained elephant rubs against the elephant of the opposite gender which is to be captured. When the other elephant starts following, it is pushed into the well by the trained elephant. So by the sense of touch, the elephant is captured.
The deer is very attracted to hear sweet sounds. That’s why they have such big, beautiful ears. They love to hear sweet music. When a hunter wants to catch the deer, he plays a flute and the deer hears the flute and comes to that place. Then it is trapped in the net.
What is the weakness of a fish? Very strong desire to taste. The fisherman, knowing that, puts the bait, some very nice food, on a hook. If a fisherman wants to catch a fish, he puts the best possible food that the fish likes on a hook and the fish doesn’t see the hook. It just sees the food and he starts swimming towards it. And there may be some other fish that says, “Don’t eat, don’t eat. There is a hook in it.” But the fish won’t listen. “What nonsense you’re speaking?! It tastes good.” He eats it. The fisherman knows that if he starts reeling it now, the bait will just pop out of his mouth. So the fisherman just lets it eat and eat and eat and chew it and chew it and chew it and swallow it and swallow it and swallow it, until the hook is deep down inside the fish’s stomach. Then he pulls it out, and there’s nothing the fish could do. It’s destroyed by its own attraction to the taste.
We understand that we have these five senses and all the five senses are looking for pleasure. But what the Avaduth learned was that we have to use our senses to elevate ourselves, and not degrade ourselves. The same mind and senses can either elevate us or degrade us; it just depends on the type of pleasure we are looking for. You could look at the beautiful form of the deity and remember God, or you can use your sense of sight to look at obscene things that simply contaminate you and pollute you. Similar is the case with the other senses. We can eat nice Prasad, sanctified food, and be elevated and purified. Or we can eat forbidden foods that have very serious karmic consequences, and be degraded by that. Similarly we could listen to songs that aggravate our material desires to enjoy. Or we can hear kirtan and enjoy, enjoyment that purifies and elevates us, and gives us a higher experience.
We can indulge in mundane gossip that wastes our time, or we can gossip about God! Gossip is very popular, and it’s very difficult to overcome unless you have something higher. People make grand arrangements to fly thousands of miles to some meeting where they just gossip; they just talk about this person did this, and this person involved in this scandal, and this person had done like that, and this person is crazy, and this person is a cheater etc. It just wastes our time, but people enjoy it. Why not gossip about God, i.e. hear and chant the glories of God? That will elevate people’s consciousness, and will give greater, deeper pleasure. The sense of smell can be used to smell the incense and flowers that are offered to the Lord.
So spirituality does not deny the senses and the mind. It purifies them by using them for the highest, sweetest, and most enlightening purposes.
The honey bee takes the nectar from every flower and it’s not concerned with everything else. Similarly, a saintly person is always eager to see the good qualities in other people, always looking for the spiritual potential in others. Now the fly. Suppose there is a beautiful garden, but one rat enters there and passes excrement. Then, a fly enters the garden. What will give joy to the fly? The fly will think nothing of all the thousands of fragrant flowers and will go right to the stool and enjoy sucking it. So a person who has very materialistic mentality is eager to find faults in others like a fly, and a person who has proper spiritual consciousness is always looking for good qualities like a honeybee. If we want to elevate our consciousness, we must follow the honey bee and not the fly.
There is something else we can learn from the honey bee. The honey bee always searches the essence of nectar, and a sincere saintly person is looking for the essence of the scriptures, for the essence of religion, for the essence of the spiritual path. What is that essence? The essence is the way to purify the heart, to love God, and to love all living beings. In both the Old Testament and the New Testament of the bible, the first and great commandment is to love God with all your heart, your entire mind and all your soul. Krishna tells in Gita, “Abandon all varieties of religion and surrender to me.” When we awaken our love for God that is dormant within us, we realize the oceanic love of God for us. And when one loves God, one becomes universally compassionate to every living being.
But there’s also another lesson we could learn. A honey bee just takes the pollen nectar from the flower; it doesn’t pick up the whole tree, it doesn’t pick up the whole forest. Unlike the honeybee there are people who, in the name of religion, are so much attached to dogma, to vain empty rituals. Sometimes they become very much attached to massive philosophical speculations and become proud of all the knowledge they have. Instead, they should become humble and gentle. The essence of every religion is supposed to make you humble, gentle, lover of God and all living beings. A person who loves God cannot hate anyone.