“Therefore, any comfort of life or any material happiness which does not warrant an eternal life is but an illusion for the eternal living being. One who factually understands this is learned, and such a learned person can sacrifice any amount of material happiness to achieve the desired goal known as brahma-sukham, or absolute happiness. Real transcendentalists are hungry for this happiness, and as a hungry man cannot be made happy by all comforts of life minus foodstuff, so the man hungry for eternal absolute happiness cannot be satisfied by any amount of material happiness.”
– Srila Prabhupada (Purport to Shrimad Bhagavatam 1.13.17)
At the lowest rung of the ladder of consciousness, there is Maya- an illusion, or attachment to an unreal existence. We have named it Electronic reality.
The second level – the middle rung of the ladder – is the ephemeral or temporary reality which refers to all our daily activities. We go to the office, spend time with our loved ones, exercise or eat food to take care of our bodies. But our jobs, relationships and health- the body itself will be wiped to non-existence by time. Everything is temporary in this world, but most people have their energy, emotions and time deeply invested in the fleeting issues of this temporary world. We love, fight, fret and fume, desire, hate and worry endlessly on issues that are like a water bubble on a lotus leaf – it’s gone and over.
Traditionally our attachment to this fleeting world was called Maya. But Maya’s more sinister form in recent times is the electronic or virtual world. So together, both rungs are an illusion, but still, we can use existence at both layers for connecting to God and contributing to society. We could use our smartphones to serve and listen to devotional songs or watch spiritual discourses. Likewise, our life at the middle rung, with family and work, can be used for a noble cause – of loving service and helping others to connect to God.
Moving from illusion to Eternity
The third level – the topmost rung of the ladder of consciousness – is eternal reality. Eternal is something that remains – it doesn’t fade away with time. It is an endless space – the topmost rung of the ladder of consciousness.
When you spend time on an ocean side, a mountain, or an ancient temple, you feel a certain peace in your heart. Although even a mountain or an ocean is a temporary phenomenon on this planet, still relatively speaking, in relation to our brief lives, they seem to have been there forever. And there is something within us that is also eternal – it doesn’t die when the body perishes. That ‘soul’ or ‘force’ finds shelter when you sit under a huge banyan tree or when you stare up at the full moon in a star-lit sky. Something has been around for a really long time in this world, and when we connect to that, we find peace. That serenity emerges from the space of ‘brahman’ – the eternal reality of our lives.
Compare the experience of watching the rain on an electronic screen to a beautiful rain shower outside your window. Or contrast the smell of a high-end, popular brand perfume, with the natural fragrance of a rose flower or the smell of earth mixed with rainwater. If you are mindful, you’d notice a dog on the street entertains you more than a movie’s most thrilling special effects. But many today are trapped by their smartphones and the visuals it offers. As someone wisely said, “I finally realized it… People are prisoners of their phones. That’s why they are called ‘Cell’ phones.”
The more we move up the ladder – from the electronic world to the eternal sphere of existence, we’d find the transition from a stimulating life to a satisfying life.
Spending some time daily in the eternal sphere – like chanting mantras or worshipping the Lord or hearing classes, helps us connect to our eternal existence. The strength we derive from a life at the top rung helps us navigate our lives more effectively at the lower rung.
On days when I have spent quality time in prayer and meditation, I have seen that I am able to use my smartphone more judiciously. And at the middle rung, I am able to empathise and serve my family and friends more responsibly.
Therefore the key to an effective life is to make our inner life strong and to make our internal life solid, we need to spend time daily in prayer and meditation.
“Human life is specifically meant for self-realization. It is the junction from which we can depart from the path of illusion and enter onto the freeway of truth.” – Radhanath Swami