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Prague, Czech Republic
19 June 2004

The Secret That Rules All Things
Part 2

Behind a veil of fear

Srimad-Bhagavatam 11. 2. 37 states:

bhayam dvitiyabhinivesatah syad
isad apetasya viparyayo'smrtih
tan-mayayato budha abhajet tam
bhaktyaikayesam guru-devatatma

When the living entity is attracted by material nature, he is overpowered by fear. The material energy separates his consciousness from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Thus his conception of life is reversed. Instead of being the eternal servant of Krsna, he becomes Krsna's competitor. This is called viparyayo' smrtih (perverted intelligence). To nullify this mistake, one who is actually learned and advanced worships the Supreme Personality of Godhead as his spiritual master, worshipful Deity and source of life. He thus worships the Lord by the process of unalloyed devotional service.

Here we have a profound analysis of the psychology of material intelligence, or dissemblance. There is a dark secret at the core of everyone's heart: I am not that which I pretend to be. I am not Krsna, the original hero. One grand myth overarches all my activities-- the myth that the individual soul can compete with God. But this is illusion. I am not and never will become an enjoyer nor controller of matter. I alone cannot do anything to benefit myself nor other living beings. I merely dissemble from behind a curtain of primal fear--the fear of that which finally exposes the whole show--death.

In the material world, pretense is what passes for intelligence. The cleverer I am at pretending to be God, the more intelligent I seem to be. But real intelligence is that which pulls aside the curtain of fear that hides my little show from my own self. As much as they fear death, dissembling souls fear knowledge that reveals the self. In Bhagavad-gita, Krsna declares that He is both knowledge of the self and all-devouring death. Thus it is Krsna that pretenders really fear.

The tragedy of Oedipus the King

The fearsomeness of knowledge of the self is a theme of Oedipus Tyrannus (Oedipus the King), written 2500 years ago by the Greek playwright Sophocles. Sigmund Freud believed that this play speaks to us in the inchoate but enduring language of the psyche (soul), the "voice within us which is prepared to acknowledge the compelling power" of the story as a symbol of our own predicament.

The lead character, Oedipus, was found as an infant by a shepherd on the slopes of Mount Cithairon. His ankles were bound together with a chain; thus he was named Oedipus, which means "swollen-foot. " He was adopted by King Polybus and Queen Merope of Corinth, and grew to be a noble prince. As Polybus told him nothing of his real origins, he believed himself to be the king's son and heir.

One day Oedipus heard a rumor that he was not the real son of the Corinthian ruler. The young man was so stubbornly devoted to the truth that even after his father's assurances that he was indeed his son, Oedipus went to the Oracle at Delphi to settle his doubts. However, instead of shedding light on his past, the oracle predicted a terrible future for Oedipus: he would kill his father and take his mother as his wife.

To avert the possibility of his committing such crimes, Oedipus did not return to Corinth. During his travels he met a party of men at a crossroads. One of them, a dignitary in a carriage, hit him as he passed by. A fight resulted. Oedipus, taking the party to be a band of robbers, slew the man in the carriage and all of his followers save one. He continued wandering until he came to Thebes (the modern Thebai, not far from Athens).

Oedipus solving the riddle of the Sphinx. (Interior of a red-figured cylix 470-460 B. C. , Rome, Vatican Museum)

Thebes was beset by the Sphinx, a monster with the head and breast of a woman, the body of a lion and the wings of a bird. Crouched on a rock outside the city, she demanded that travellers approaching the city answer her riddle, "What has four feet in the morning, two at noon and three at night?" All those who could not answer she killed. When Oedipus replied, "The answer is man, who crawls on four limbs as a baby, walks upright on two as an adult, and walks with the aid of a stick in old age," the Sphinx killed herself. Since the ruler of the city, Laius, had been murdered during a recent journey, the grateful Thebans made Prince Oedipus their king. Oedipus took Jocasta, the wife of the dead king, as his own wife. Jocasta bore him two sons and a daughter, Antigone.

Thereafter a plague struck Thebes, blighting all the edible plants and sickening the cows and the women. To uncover the cause of the plague, Oedipus sent his brother-in-law Creon to Delphi to consult the oracle. Creon returned with the disturbing news that the plague struck Thebes because the city was giving shelter to the murderer of the previous king, Laius. Oedipus immediately launched an investigation, threatening anyone who had aided the killer or might be concealing the truth with severe punishment. He cursed whomever the murderer might be to suffer a miserable life.

At first he suspected that Creon killed King Laius, because Creon would have inherited the Theban throne had not Oedipus arrived to defeat the Sphinx. But as he compiled the testimony of various witnesses, Oedipus soon learned that King Laius was killed at a crossroads by someone unknown. Then he learned that Queen Jocasta had given a son to Laius years before. But because of a prophecy that this child would kill his own father, the king abandoned the baby on the slopes of Mount Cithairon. A messenger arrived from Corinth to inform Oedipus that King Polybus had died. The messenger also revealed that Oedipus was not the real son of Polybus, but was found on the slopes of Mount Cithairon.

Hearing this, Jocasta begged Oedipus to stop his investigation. When he refused she took her own life, though the reason for her suicide was not yet clear to Oedipus. Finally, the single survivor of Laius' travel party testified that it was Oedipus himself who had killed Laius, and that the son of Laius abandoned on Mount Cithairon had been adopted by King Polybus. The disastrous truth was at last revealed: Oedipus was the murderer of his father and the incestuous husband of his mother. Utterly disgusted with himself, Oedipus put out his eyes and went into exile.

A Vedic analysis

In the early twentieth century, the name Oedipus became a household word due to Freud's theory of the "Oedipus Complex. " Freud found that as a youngster he was sexually attracted to his mother and jealous of his father; from this he assumed that Sophocles' play is a symbol of "a universal event in early childhood. " But other leading psychiatrists, including several of Freud's more famous students, rightly disagreed with the Oedipus Complex theory. Why should Freud's personal problems with his father and mother be proclaimed a universal event in everyone's life? Yet the story of Oedipus does suggest a universal event, one more fundamental and far-reaching than a certain Viennese doctor's childhood obsession.

Freud wrote that the fate of Oedipus "moves us only because it might have been our own, because the oracle laid upon us before our birth the very curse which rested upon him. " The newborn Oedipus was cast away because before his birth an oracle warned his father that this son would be a usurper. What grim curse rests upon us from even before our birth into this life?

We are souls nursing a secret inclination to usurp the Supreme Father. That inclination is apparent in our attraction to possess and enjoy His prakrti (feminine material nature). Since we receive our bodies from that nature, she is actually our mother. By atheistic ideologies, we try to "kill" God. The tragedy of Oedipus draws its psychological power from a hidden truth about every one of us: that in a spiritual sense, we are guilty of (attempted) patricide and incest with our mother.

Freud, writing of a curse laid upon us before our birth, meant lust, which he believed infects every son with sexual desire for his mother. Lust, as Sri Krsna explains in Bhagavad-gita 3. 39, is the eternal enemy of the soul. It covers spiritual knowledge and sets the senses on fire. Thus it compells us to perform the most depraved acts even without our realizing it. Such lustful indulgences of previous lifetimes fate us to be born in a society ignorant of Vedic principles, one that encourages the free mingling of men and women. According to Vedic injunction, matrvat para-daresu: every woman other than a man's lawful wife is his mother, and every man other than a woman's lawful husband is her son. So there is something to Freud's Oedipus theory after all. Countless Oedipuses today are in fact cursed from before their birth to sexually embrace their mothers. Severe karmic reactions follow them, just as the plague followed Oedipus to the city of Thebes.

Now, what if by good karma one is born into a culture of morality and knowledge? He who is well-trained to keep sexual relations within lawful bounds is indeed fortunate. But the fact remains that our costume--the biological male or female body--is not our real self. The Oedipus hints darkly at the body's sojourn from birth to death in but one day of cosmic time. Dressing up in a human body for a day does not make the eternal soul an enjoyer of matter under any circumstances, whether "moral" or "immoral. " To think I am "the enjoyer" while in a body that grows old and dies is in itself the curse of lust upon the soul.

Whenever a soul begins to understand this, maya (illusion) attempts to drag him back into ignorance by appealing, "where ignorance is bliss, 'tis folly to be wise. " This is nothing else than fear of spiritual knowledge, represented as Jocasta's begging Oedipus to close his investigation before the awful truth came out. Her suicide represents the end that spiritual knowledge spells for material happiness. For one attached to material happiness, knowing that he is not really the enjoyer of prakrti ruins everything.

What makes the dawn of self-knowledge in the Oedipus so awful is that it proved Oedipus guilty. As penance, he renounced his eyesight for a life of perpetual darkness. This brings to mind the warning of the Isopanisad 9: tato bhuya iva te tamo ya u vidyayam ratah--"those engaged in the culture of so-called knowledge enter into worse darkness" [than those engaged in ignorance]. Srila Prabhupada explains:

Sri Isopanisad instructs us not to make one-sided attempts to win the struggle for existence. . . . we must develop the culture of spiritual knowledge so that we may become completely free from the cruel hands of death. This does not mean that all activities for the maintenance of the body should be stopped. There is no question of stopping activities, just as there is no question of wiping out one's temperature altogether when trying to recover from a disease.

Vedic knowledge does not lead to guilt and self-mortification. It is not enough to discover, as Oedipus did, that my present identity as husband of my mother (material nature) is false. Vedic knowledge rectifies this false identity. It cannot be rectified by crippling the sensory faculties as is the practice of severely austere yogis. The full health of the real identity must be restored. Vedic knowledge engages the senses positively as per that real identity. Positive engagement restores spiritual health, cleanses the identity of every trace of sin and guilt, and brings forth spiritual satisfaction from deep within the soul. That engagement is called mukunda-seva: "devotional service to Mukunda [Krsna, who rewards liberation to His devotees]. "

yamadibhir yoga-pathaih
kama-lobha-hato muhuh
mukunda-sevaya yadvat
tathatmaddha na samyati

It is true that by practicing restraint of the senses by the yoga system one can get relief from the disturbances of desire and lust, but this is not sufficient to give satisfaction to the soul, for this [satisfaction] is derived from devotional service to the Personality of Godhead. (Bhag. 1. 6. 35)

From lust to satisfaction

The soul clings to the bodily dress of "the hero," "the enjoyer" in hope of satisfaction. Now, our hopes for satisfaction are really hopes for liberation from matter, for it is only by complete satisfaction that the soul gets free of all material distress. Devotional service is the method of spiritual satisfaction. It is thus the method of liberation of the soul from lust.

Sri Caitanya-caritamrta equates lust (kama) with asanta, dissatisfaction. The dissatisfied soul lusts after bhukti (sensual pleasures), mukti (deliverance from sensation altogether) and siddhi (perfection through yoga). But rather than restore the original, blissful identity of the soul, these methods prolong the soul's false role as the husband of the material energy: promoting in the first case attachment to matter, in the second negation of matter, and at last mystic power over matter. The practitioners of these methods go through much trouble just to adjust their false positions as enjoyers of matter. But they attain no real satisfaction. Even a yogi as famous as Visvamrita, after restraining his senses for thousands of years, fell victim to the allurement of the beautiful Menaka. Such attraction to bodily pleasures proves the absence of spiritual satisfaction. In the following verses of Srimad-Bhagavatam 9. 4. 66-67, the Supreme Person reveals the secret of eternal satisfaction:

As chaste women bring their gentle husbands under control by service, the pure devotees, who are equal to everyone and completely attached to me in the core of the heart, bring Me under their full control. My devotees, who are always satisfied to be engaged in My loving service, are not interested even in the four principles of liberation (salokya, sarupya, samipya and sarsti), although these are automatically achieved by their service. What then is to be said of such perishable happiness as elevation to the higher planetary systems?

The Lord compares Himself to a gentle husband (sat-patim) and His pure devotees to chaste women (sat-striyah) married to Him in devotional service. While a great yogi cannot even bring his own senses under control, the pure devotees bring the Supreme Person under control. The key to the Lord's submission is His devotees' complete satisfaction in their service to Krsna, which is compared to the satisfaction a chaste woman feels in the service of her husband. A proof of that satisfaction mentioned in the above quotation is sama-darsanah, or equality to everyone. A pure devotee sees every living creature as an eternal spark of God's spiritual energy. He does not make friends with one embodied soul and become the enemy of another on the basis of calculation for material advantages ("this one pleases my senses, that one not"). Instead the pure devotee magnanimously helps souls awaken to their true identity as servants of Krsna. His efforts to bring souls to Krsna's shelter flow naturally from his attachment to Krsna in the core of the heart. As Srila Prabhupada says:

The devotee in love with Krsna wants to see that His names become widespread. He wants His Lord's names to be known everywhere. This is love. If I love someone, I want to see that he is glorified all over the world.

There are many missions afoot in this world to unite people. Unfortunately they call for unity on the platform of the material body. Because it is subject to death, the bodily concept isolates me from all other beings. Under the law of mortality, personal connections are just sentiment--"til death do us part. " The spreading of Krsna's eternal glories to all living entities lowers the barriers of death that isolate each one from another and unites us as spiritual persons in love of God.

The pure devotee's greatest satisfaction is his celebration of Lord Krsna's name, form, qualities and pastimes. This surpasses even the interest for liberation. There are four kinds of ultimate liberation: salokya, to live in the Krsna's own supreme abode; sarupya, to attain an eternal spiritual form like Krsna's own; samipya, to enter into the Lord's personal association; and sarsti, to share with the Lord His transcendental opulences of boundless richness, fame, beauty, strength, knowledge and renunciation. In these four is the unlimited and unending variety of free choice sought by every soul. But these opportunities for freedom are unsatisfying to a pure devotee in the absence of the opportunity to glorify Krsna.

The conviction that "Krsna, not my own liberation, is the final destination" is the true test of love. It means the devotee has really regained the original spiritual nature of a chaste female servant of the Supreme Person's enjoyment, without a trace of the conception of "I am the husband of opulence and happiness. " In Srimad-Bhagavatam 9. 4. 64, the Lord declares, "Without devotees for whom I am the only destination, I do not desire to enjoy My transcendental bliss and My supreme opulences. " Just as for a pure devotee liberation is unsatisfying without loving service to Krsna, so also for Krsna liberation is unsatisfying without His beloved devotees. Krsna's plan--the intelligence behind both the material and spiritual realms--is to exchange love with His pure devotees. By learning this secret, one attains a level of satisfaction that transcends bondage and liberation altogether.

natyantikam viganayanty api te prasadam
kimvanyad arpita-bhayam bhruva unnayais te
ye 'nga tvad-anghri-sarana bhavatah kathayah
kirtanya-tirtha-yasasah kusala rasa jnah

Persons who have taken shelter at Your lotus feet (tvad-anghri-sarana), who as the most expert knowers of rasa (kusala rasa jnah) are fixed upon the praiseworthy narratives of Your pure glories, do not care even for liberation, which is considered to be Your greatest mercy. How then can they place any value on material blessings like lordship in heaven, where there is fear of just the raising of Your eyebrows? (Bhag. 3. 15. 48)

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