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Above the clouds 04 - SB 5.1.35

The Holy Name Immediately Destroys Bondage!

Welcome to this instalment of „Above the Clouds“! Here in this podcast we’re extracting lessons from the Bhagavatam that we can apply immediately into our lives.

Today we will be reading from the 5th canto, chapter 1, text 35. Here Sukadeva Goswami says to Maharaja Pariksit, “My dear king, a devotee who has taken shelter of the dust from the lotus feet of the Lord can transcend the influence of the six material whips - namely hunger, thirst, lamentation, illusion, old age and death - and he can conquer the mind and five senses. However, this is not very wonderful for a pure devotee of the Lord because even a person beyond the jurisdiction of the four casts - in other words, an untouchable- is immediately relieved of bondage to material existence if he utters the Holy Name of the Lord even once.”

Everyone who comes into this material word will have to face these six whips or waves, that come up in the ocean of material existence. There will be hunger and thirst for the body, lamentation and illusion for the mind, and old age and death for his physical existence. It’s unavoidable. When you fall into the ocean, it is sure that you will get wet by the waves of the ocean.

So here in this verse it is said, that by taking shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord, one can transcend the influence of these powerful forces. The process of taking shelter culminates in giving up one’s false identification with the material body and then giving oneself entirely in the hands of the Lord. As long as we do not give up our identification with the body, it will be very, very hard to overcome the influence that comes from the material nature.

What happens when we identify with the material body and develop a narrative around our false identification? Well, the moment you identify with the material body, you will be overwhelmed by birth and decay and you will be overcome, as Madhava Acharya says, by constant drowsiness and unquenchable sexual desires. When you identify with your life force (prana), you will be overcome by hunger and thirst. When you identify with the mind, there will be anxieties, and when you identify with your intelligence, you will hanker for what cannot be obtained - that is perfection in this world. As a result you will develop existential bitterness and frustration. Therefore, taking shelter of the Lord is so important, because with it you don’t any longer stay in the concept of “I” and “mine”, but you say, “I’m yours, my dear Krishna. I belong to you.” In this way you end the false story and break the habit of being the main figure in this mayic tale.

Still, as long as we are in the material energy it is good to be in a position, where we can get strength. We are reminded of the crises of the elephant Gajendra. He had gone to a lake, where he was attacked by a powerful crocodile. They were fighting for a long, long time and finally, because the elephant was not in his element, he was diminished in bodily and mental strength and therefore lost all hope. Srila Prabhupada comments, “The crocodile however, being an animal of the water, had no difficulties. He was getting food and was therefore getting mental strength and sensual encouragement. Thus, while the elephant became reduced in strength, the crocodile became more and more powerful.” The point is, the elephant was not in his element, while the crocodile was.

From this we can draw a conclusion. I’m quoting Srila Prabhupada, “Now from this we may take the lesson, that in our fight with maya, we should not be in a position, in which our strength, enthusiasm and senses will be unable to fight vigorously.” And then he goes on to say, that everyone needs to find a “normal” or natural condition for them, that differs from person to person.

So, the first point I would like to bring to your attention for practical application: Try to find a natural life situation! In this material world there will be miseries coming our way. And as long as we’re not yet fully surrendered and free from false ego and false identification, miseries will influence us. Therefore, let’s try to take up a position in life, that is natural for us, like an appropriate ashram, a suitable environment, and activities by which we get strength. We should not be in a position where we lose strength. Now from that position it will be easier to do what is ultimately of greatest benefit – to chant the Holy Name. No one should look for a situation in life, where they will be defeated by the forces of material nature.

However, this verse was also explaining, “Even someone who is untouchable, (that means very low), one is immediately relieved of the bondage to material existence if he utters the Holy Name of the Lord even once.” This is really the point of bhakti: You’re taking shelter of the Lord by calling out to Him. When someone sincerely cries out for this mercy, then he will be saved from bondage. Not by his own strength, but because of the strength of the supreme personality of godhead, which is given to him due to the mercy of the Lord.

As we heard chanting is of course best done on our level, when we are situated in a life situation that allows us to be “in our element”. But even if we don’t manage to find such a life situation so quickly - if we call out to the Lord and say, “My Lord, on my own I’m really not capable to take care of this problem. Please accept me.” Then the Lord comes.

I very much like one purport from Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. It is coming in the 11th Canto, chapter 2, verse 51. There he says, "When a devotee understands that the process of Bhakti yoga is complete in itself, and becomes absorbed in hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord, the supremely merciful personality of godhead affectionately lifts such a devotee onto His own lap and says, ‘Come on, come on, come to me, I will take care of you.’”

This is the promise of bhakti. Yes, we will do what we can do to situate ourselves properly, but ultimately we will surrender to the Lord, by calling out in helplessness His Holy Name.

Srila Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura makes a very interesting comment on how the Lord guides those who are spiritually blind. He says, “Those who can see, may take the blind on both cool and hot paths. Sometimes seeing that the cooler path is full of thorns, they may choose to lead their blind charges on the hotter path. Will the blind cast blame? No, they trust the sighted persons as well-wishers and praise them. They need to have faith, that their masters are faultless.” We are spiritually blind. Krishna may sometimes take us on a difficult hot path, or on a pleasant, cool path. But in either case He will always choose the best path for us.

When we call out to Krishna sincerely, Krishna listens to us, comes and takes charge of us, and then we need to only trust Him. “Ok, wherever you lead me, on what path of life you will bring me my Lord, I trust that you know best. And that you take care of me without any possibility of making a mistake.“ This faith needs to be there when one chants the names of the supreme personality of godhead and entrusts one’s life to His shelter.

Practical application

How then to take shelter? There are six traditional ways of taking shelter, that are described very nice in song-form by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. As a practical application of this verse (SB 5.1.35) I request you to get a copy of his Saranagati prayers - either in book-form or online - and then daily read one of his songs. See, there’s a famous verse, it says,“Anyone who even once sincerely surrenders onto me, declaring ‘I’m yours’ and prays for fearlessness, it is my vow that I will always grant shelter to them.” So by singing these songs, or reading them you will get an understanding what taking shelter means and you will also feel motivated to actually progress in your surrender – and become free from bondage. And finally, I request you to actually call out to Krishna by singing His Holy Names while begging for His shelter.

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