Here's a powerful method of yoga – or connecting with God –
that anyone can do anywhere, anytime, in any condition.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, the devotee Prahlada Maharaja, a great spiritual authority, says, "Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia, and pastimes of Lord Visnu [Krsna], remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship…, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind, and words) these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service. One who has dedicated his life to the service of Krsna through these nine methods should be understood to be the most learned person, for he has acquired complete knowledge." Here we continue our series on the nine processes of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to the Lord.
There's nothing special about the girl to show that she might be religious. No veil, no long skirt, no crucifix dangling from a chain. In a mall she would blend in easily, with droopy jeans and clumpy shoes. And yet as she lifts her hand to push back a strand of bleached hair, I see the bracelet around her wrist: a simple cord with beads spelling WWJD, followed by a question mark. "What Would Jesus Do?" In that movement, her religious faith is revealed.
What would Jesus do? How many times a day does she glance at her wrist and pause in her activities? How often does the bracelet remind her to be compassionate, tolerant, strong in her beliefs? By continually refocusing herself in this way, the girl is practicing one of the items of devotional service: remembrance. Called smaranam in Sanskrit, it is the third of the nine items of devotional service.
On the most basic level, remembrance may be the easiest way to worship the Lord. No need for elaborate rituals and paraphernalia, no need for a congregation or even a companion. Remembrance can be a simple, unadorned journey of the heart, back to the most beloved friend we all have. Or it might be a flash of warning, an awareness that our actions will pain our Lord in some way. Or it can be the bittersweet realization that all in this world is temporary, and that that is the mercy of God. In countless ways we can remember.
Implicit in the concept of remembrance is forgetfulness. If remembering means coming back to our personal experience of God, then there must have been some departure. This departure, this forgetting, is the main attribute of living beings in this world and the cause of our pain. Forgetfulness may begin as neglect of spiritual practices, a wandering mind, a careless attitude. Then other things seem to rise in importance: wealth, prestige, family, education. We compromise spiritual principles as our heart hardens and turns away from the comfort of our natural servitude.
We might reach a point where remembering God brings pain. A child may dress in the robes of a king and play at ruling others. But when the real king shows up, the fun is over. We may play at manipulating our world, at squeezing out pleasure for ourselves, and do our best to avoid contact with the real ruler. We come to believe that if we acknowledge the supremacy of the Lord, He will ruin our fun.
Yet at times we may notice a stirring, a sense of some truth forgotten. We may despair that life seems hurried and empty. Forgetting God is so truly unnatural for the soul that it creates varying degrees of agony. And the more we have banished the Lord from our consciousness, the less able we are to find a remedy for the pain. A new car doesn't help. A new romance doesn't help. Exotic vacations don't help.
The classic example is that of a bird living in a golden cage. The cage can be polished, shined, and admired, but if the bird within is not fed, it will die. The soul is encaged within the body and embellished with all the desires relating to the body. Polishing the body and its desires brings no nourishment to the soul. And while the soul itself does not die, it suffers terribly in separation from the Lord.
We can help prevent such a situation by structuring our lives to provide us with constant reminders. Ritual and congregation play an important role. If our days begin with sacred rituals chanting mantras and prayers, reading and discussing scripture each day gives us the opportunity to remember. If we set up a ritual of offering all we eat to the Lord, and offering prayers of gratitude before we eat, we are again reminded of Him. If we surround ourselves with like-minded people who share our passion for serving Krsna, their energy and devotion replenish and inspire us.
In the same way that athletes grow strong through training, our ability to remember God can strengthen through daily training. Eventually, remembrance becomes our normal condition. The state of constant remem-brance is described in many religious traditions, and in Sanskrit it is called samadhi. Samadhi need not be passive, a physical withdrawal from the world as one becomes immersed in thoughts of God. Rather, samadhi is the awakened realization that all in this world is but a reflection of Him. Everything belongs to Him and can be used to serve and praise Him.
Srila Prabhupada compared remembrance of Krsna to a mother's feelings of love when she sees her small child's shoe. A self-realized soul sees all things intimately connected with the Lord. The mother doesn't try to wear the shoe, and the self-realized soul doesn't try to exploit the world for temporal gain. The love and joy come only from the connection with the beloved.
The Example of Prahlada
Srila Prabhupada points to Prahlada Maharaja as one who reached perfection by remembering the Lord. As a child, Prahlada showed pure trust amid extreme danger. His father, Hiranyakasipu, was an exceedingly horrible parent. His terrifying austerities altered the balance of the universe. Frightened devas (demigods) begged him to stop, which he did only when Lord Brahma offered him protections that would render him virtually immortal.
With such power and determination, Hiranyakasipu became a tyrant who ruled the world. Everyone lived in fear of him. He reserved special wrath for Lord Visnu, who had killed his brother. Enter son Prahlada. Prahlada had developed devotion to Lord Visnu while still in his mother's womb. Despite the efforts of his teachers to crush his devotion and interest him in his father's vulgar politics, Prahlada continually sang praises of the Lord. It was Prahlada who at the age of five described the nine processes of devotional service. Eventually Prahlada's devotion infected his schoolmates, and landed him in big trouble with his father.
Now, an ordinary Dad might withhold supper or send his son to his room. But Hiranyakasipu was given to extreme behavior. He tried to kill Prahlada. He had his servants pierce Prahlada's body with tridents, poison his food, boil him in oil, and hurl him under the feet of an elephant. Prahlada just sat silently and remembered the Lord a powerful form of resistance. All attempts on his life failed.
A true lover of God, Prahlada did not beseech the Lord to save him from his dangers. He simply remembered and appreciated the Lord's greatness and thus found complete peace. His love for Krsna was unconditional.
Remembering at Death
To remember the Lord at death is a great fortune. In Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krsna says, "Whoever at the end of his life quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt." The opportunity to meditate on the Lord at the end of life does not come to everyone. In commenting on this verse, Prabhupada cautions, "Remembrance of Krsna is not possible for the impure soul who has not practiced Krsna consciousness in devotional service." We can't predict what the last moments of our lives will be like. Death can be an extremely painful and difficult moment, and the likelihood of remembering Krsna at such a time depends on His grace and our practice.
Dvarakadisa Devi Dasi is a frequent contributor to Back to Godhead. She lives with her husband and daughter in Alachua, Florida.