This article is edited from a lecture given by Jagad Guru on the necessity of finding transcendental rest and refuge and the way to do so.
In the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Person states:
The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods, and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material existence.
Material pangs hound us essentially from the moment we are thrust out into this world. There is one assault after another. As soon as we enter, there is misery and trouble. From the time a person wakes up in the morning to the time he goes to bed at night, a person experiences different sorts of physical and mental pain in the form of discomforts or nightmares. His heart is pained; he is fearful, anxious, and confused. Essentially there is no rest. It’s just one trouble after another, an endless parade of difficulties from which there is no relief. Sometimes people say, “Stop the world, I want to get off!”
Looking For Relief
It’s not surprising that people try to find some relief through illegal or legal chemical substances such as alcohol, tranquilizers, and so on. Or they may attempt suicide, which is an extreme form of desperation: “I want to get out. I can’t handle all these things hitting me one after another. I can’t handle the pressure anymore. I give up.” And that’s it—the person snaps.
It’s also not surprising that some people seek refuge in the philosophy that “It’s okay. One day it will all be over because when I die, everything will be finished. Everything will become nothing and I will cease to exist. So it’s just a matter of just holding on until death, when I will have a sleep in which there is complete relief.” This is called annihilationist philosophy. Death is equated with the cessation of existence. People have this fantasy that “One day I will have rest, though not now. But later I will no longer exist and so the pain will stop.”
But actually, the pain does not stop. It just continues. The reality is that we are not the material body or the material mind. We are the eternal life force or spirit soul encaged in the temporary gross and subtle bodies. Therefore, death is only the departure of the soul from the present material body. Depending on his state of consciousness and his desires, the soul is put in whatever condition he deserves. The enlightened and loving servant of the Supreme is allowed to attain the spiritual realm, while the materialistically attached being is awarded another material body according to his desires and karma.
For the materialist, after death there is simply more pain, difficulties, and complications. And it just goes on and on. You may think that you have a little bit of respite, a moment of unconsciousness. But before you know it, you’re becoming conscious again and blown back into a new body, and the material pangs continue.
The Supreme Person says, “The sages know Me as the well-wisher of all living entities.” So here I am. I’m experiencing material pangs, but the Supreme is my well-wisher. He doesn’t want me to suffer in this way. So what am I to do? I approach the Supreme Person for shelter. When I know that there is a solution to my problem, then I need to take action. And what is that action? Surrender.
What does surrender mean? It means giving my love. But in the beginning, love is experienced not so much as love but simply as the need for refuge and comfort. Let’s take the example of a baby. While the baby is in the mother’s arms, sucking on the mother’s breast and being comforted, the baby is experiencing complete relaxation: “I am now safe and peaceful. There is no trouble. I don’t need to defend myself. Now I have my shelter.” The baby is simply having refuge and comfort without knowing anything else such as father, friend, enemy, etc. He is just experiencing rest.
Everyone in this world is looking for a place to rest. And it’s a matter of placing ourselves in this position of surrender, just like the baby is surrendering to the mother. What does it mean when I surrender to the Supreme Person? It means I am seeking a place of refuge; it means I am being attacked and I need shelter.
All day and all night long, you try to protect yourself from people who are attacking or threatening you physically, mentally, etc. It may be your neighbors, relatives, co-workers, enemies, and so on. They want to take something and you become afraid. You are always trying to be in control, trying to protect yourself and your extended selves—your family, loved ones, and relatives. In this way, you are always worried.
From the time you come out of the womb, you start trying to survive—just trying to live, trying not to be killed, trying not to die from starvation or attack. You don’t think of it, but that’s really what it is. When you think about your life all day long—crossing the street, eating, not wanting to choke, working, etc.—it’s all about survival. If you take people out of their economically secure situation and place them in a position where there is no food or water, they all start turning on each other and fighting over the little scraps around—fighting for physical survival.
From another viewpoint, there’s the battle of the false ego—the person’s image of himself and how he wants to be respected. “I want to be liked. I want to be loved.” So we are always fighting to keep up our image. We must always defend not only our bodies but also our name, good image, and reputation. And if someone puts something negative in the newspaper about us, saying, “He’s a bad man!” then we feel upset. We experience, “Oh, how painful this is! My neighbor now thinks I’m a bad person. I have to defend my image!”
Our whole life is set up around defending ourselves. There is no rest. We’re like the people in medieval England. They had their castles with moats surrounding them and guards all around, and everybody was always trying to attack. Sometimes, even the people inside our castles are attacking: “Oh, my wife is attacking me. My children are fighting with me. Everyone is making my life miserable! I live in a world of piranhas. Of course, I am not a piranha, but everyone else is.”
Due to identifying the body as the self, we are always fearful of death. We see an article in the news about cancer and we think, “I wonder if I have it!” We see something in the news about heart attacks and we say, “Gee, I hope I don’t get one!” And if we hear from someone how people in old age homes are being abused, we feel, “I hope I will not be in that condition.”
There’s always stress. There is no relaxation. Why? Because we must fight. We are constantly thinking, “If I turn my back for a moment and put down my guard, something may happen. Who will protect me if I don’t protect myself?” Even in our dreams, we’re trying to protect ourselves—running away from tigers, ghosts, enemies, etc. Who will protect us from the attackers in our dreams? And we cannot protect those we love. So we’re always in fear for them. We’re not all-powerful, and we cannot even protect ourselves.
There Is Relief
Everybody in the world needs relief, and the Supreme Person is saying that He is this relief. A sage is one who goes within and relates to the Supreme Lord as his shelter. Take shelter in prayer. Prayer means surrender. Surrender and prayer are the same thing. It essentially means, “I place myself in Your hands. My life is Yours. Please protect me.” And I simply rest. I prostrate myself before the Lord and rest at His feet.
When you know how to surrender, then and only then will you be able to know what real rest and real relaxation are. There is no defending of yourself.
The Supreme Person is there in the heart of each and every one of us. He is also in His names. Thus, if we simply chant His names and go within in prayerful chanting of His names with a surrendered attitude, then we can have rest and experience actual freedom from material pangs. From this condition of actual peacefulness and only from this platform of surrender can the natural sentiments of a desire to serve and be pleasing to the Supreme Lord manifest. Other relationships with the Supreme Person—friendship, conjugal love, etc.—are possible only when a person is actually on the transcendental platform of having taken complete rest in and complete shelter of the Lord, just like the baby in the mother’s arms.
So when a person surrenders, he hands over complete control to the Supreme Being: “I hand over the reins of my life. Previously I was directing the horses. Now I take the reins and hand them over to You. My life is Yours. I cannot protect myself. I now place myself completely in Your hands.”
Finding Time To Rest
Nowadays, people say, “I need to find time for myself.” But actually, it’s not time alone or for yourself that’s needed. You need to find time where you are free from the social obligations that prevent you from being in a completely surrendered or completely relaxed consciousness. In other words, you deal with other people and material obligations. So you need to be by yourself not so that you can be “by yourself,” but so that you can have time when you are not trying to protect everyone else and be the controller of everything. You need to take a break from your role of “dad,” “mom,” “boss,” or whatever roles you’re playing in this world. You deal with people and say to them, “Do this, don’t do that.” You need to take a break from this role of the person who knows, who is in control of the family or of your own life. You need to remember who you really are. You need to place yourself in the position of not being the one who is protecting yourself, not being the one who’s taking care of other people, not being the one controlling them or anything else.
Just go and find a spot. Be by yourself in the sense that you can be in the position of the baby—the protected, the one who can completely relax. Relax your heart. Relax your mind. Relax in the Supreme. Such relief is based upon your faith that the Supreme Person is there to protect you, that He is there as your well-wisher. He is welcoming you to surrender to Him.
You don’t need to make believe that you’re a great devotee, a wise person, or anything else. The Supreme Lord loves you unconditionally. Like the baby in the mother’s arms is completely at rest, you don’t need to put on any airs before the Supreme. After exposing and being your real self (namely, feeling lower than the straw in the street and devoid of all sense of false prestige), you can completely surrender to the Supreme Lord, who knows everything about you. In this condition, you experience life. You get strength and motivation. And then you come back out and face the material world with its pangs, difficulties, responsibilities, etc. But now you know, “I am the Lord’s. I belong to the Supreme Lord. I take shelter in the Supreme.”
And of course, it will make life more pleasant for everyone else as well. You now know your own imperfections quite well and simultaneously taste the Supreme Lord’s unconditional love. You rest in this love. And it will certainly shine out and be reflected in your attitude and your relationship with others. Obviously, having been in a condition of relishing the Lord’s unconditional love for you despite all your imperfections and faults, it would be difficult to come out of that consciousness and start finding fault in others and not love them unconditionally as well. If you experience the Lord’s love for you even though you’re a jackass, you then love others even if they are a jackass to you.
Take A Vacation Every Day
People sometimes say, “I’m going to do something just for myself, not for my family. I’m going to have ‘me’ time.” But then what do they do? They think, “Well, something for me. Okay, I’m going to get a facial. I’ll get my nails done. I’ll get my hair done.” What is this? It’s not going to give you any actual satisfaction or any rest to be placing yourself in the hands of those who work on hands! That’s not going to do it.
You want rest. You want peace. If you just go into a room, close the door, and chant the names of the Lord and rest in Him, then you will find peace. Don’t go get a manicure, but instead take a vacation. We should take a vacation every single day and many times during the day. People will start asking, “Where is this guy?” “Oh, he said he was taking a vacation. He’ll be back in fifteen minutes.” It’s a cheap vacation. And you don’t have the hassles of security with people pulling you over because you have the wrong color or ethnic background. Furthermore, the plane doesn’t crash. You’re already on the ground and you’re not going to fall out of the sky.
The reality is, when people board planes to go on a vacation, the first thing they do is pray, “Please, God, don’t let this plane fall out of the sky! I’m going to go on a vacation to relax. Give me another beer.” It’s the perfect symbolic beginning of a vacation in the materialistic sense. There is no real rest.
But it is really easy to relax. Simply chant the Holy names. You will not be frustrated. Just relax in the Supreme and you will find the rest that your heart is longing for. Thank you very much.
~ Jagad Guru Siddhaswarupananda Paramahamsa Chris Butler