Taking Aim at the Supreme Target
By Mohini Radha Devi Dasi
Pure devotion to Krishna is the ultimate goal of spiritual life, and also the means to achieve it.
“What do you see?” the sage Drona asked his young students one after another.
The Mahabharata describes an episode when Dronacharya tested his students, who included the hundred sons of Gandhari and the five Pandavas. To assess their mastery of fighting skills, Dronacharya tied a wooden bird to the top of a tree and asked each prince to prepare to shoot it down. As they took aim, Dronacharya asked them to describe what they saw.
Most of the princes broadly depicted what they saw, and included the garden, the tree, flowers, the sky, the branch from which the bird was suspended, and the bird itself. Guru Dronacharya then asked them to step aside and asked Arjuna to come forward. Arjuna said that he could see only the bird's eye.
“A warrior should see only his target,” Drona told his students.
Without waiting for Arjuna to shoot, Dronacharya was satisfied not only that Arjuna was his favorite student, but also that would grow to become worthy of being called the best archer in the world. Arjuna demonstrated his greatness simply by having the proper focus.
Dronacharya’s lesson emphasized the correct approach, a topic that has larger implications. Arjuna’s singular focus enabled him to achieve mastery of archery, as described throughout the Mahabharata. If read metaphorically, however, this unswerving focus can apply to Krishna consciousness, in which Krishna is the ultimate goal. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, focuses the body, mind, and senses exclusively on Krishna. Instead of aiming arrows at a clay or wooden target, our daily practice trains us to cultivate loving devotion for Krishna and to direct our activities for His pleasure.
In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna explains the science of bhakti-yoga, and even the context of the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna aligns with the theme of unswerving focus. Arjuna is forced to confront all his doubts, both spiritual (in the conversation with Krishna) and practical (in terms of the larger narrative of the Mahabharata) and focus on his goal and how to achieve it. His questions to Krishna become more and more focused on achieving a higher understanding and realization. The conversation takes place in the center of the battlefield, which can represent physical and emotional challenges from many directions. Arjuna is called to rise above his emotional attachment for his teacher, grandfather, and relatives, who face him across the battlefield. As Arjuna gains spiritual knowledge from Krishna, he rises above these attachments, sees Krishna consciousness as the true goal, and promises to act in bhakti-yoga.
Arjuna's position symbolically reflects the state of the conditioned soul—constantly embroiled in a struggle with material nature and tempted on all sides by alluring enticements. Krishna tells him to simply perform his duty for His sake, without being attached to the results of his actions.
Krishna is calling us to do the same. The essence of devotional life is to focus on the Lord, dedicating everything to His pleasure. The living entity's natural tendency is to love and be loved, but generally this propensity is misdirected toward objects of temporary sense enjoyment. Since the living entities are part of the Supreme Lord, Krishna, knowledge means recognizing that eternal relationship and acting in consciousness of it. When Krishna becomes the center of our existence, pure love develops and culminates in exclusive surrender unto Him.
Krishna wants our surrender, and reciprocates with us according to our degree of submission. One way He does so is by giving the understanding by which to return to Him to "those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love." (Bhagavad-gita 10.10)
The Means and the Goal
We can thus understand that Krishna consciousness is not only the goal but also the means to achieve it: Constant remembrance of Krishna and dedicated service to Him and His devotees purify the conditioned soul. The soul loses attraction to the temporary material world, which binds by its illusion. By always remembering Krishna, one can transcend the clutches of karmic reaction and the endless cycle of birth, death, old age, and disease. On attaining Krishna’s abode, Goloka Vrindavana, one never has to return to the material realm.
Devotional service is also the way to achieve steadfastness in devotional service. Practicing devotional service requires attention and care in avoiding offenses, just as a gardener protects growing plants by removing weeds. By regular and attentive practice, devotional service gives rise to more devotional service. Srila Prabhupada has taught that chanting of Krishna’s names in the Hare Krishna maha-mantra means to beg the Lord to be engaged in devotional service. In spiritual life, the highest profession is to be the humble servant of the servant of the Lord.
The dictionary defines goal as the object to which our efforts or ambitions are directed. Goal also refers to the destination of a journey, and an obscure definition links it to archery as the “mark aimed at.” These definitions capture the essence of Krishna consciousness: Krishna (including His name, form, pastimes, paraphernalia, and associates) is the goal of all activities. Krishna is, in fact, the ultimate goal, which means that He is the goal of goals. If we stay focused on Him, He is sure to help us move closer to Him and achieve our natural position: a pure, loving relationship with Him in the ever-blissful spiritual realm.
Srila Prabhupada stressed the importance of keeping Krishna at the forefront of the mind, which he said can be "easily trained” if fixed on Krishna. He compares the Krishna conscious mind to a fortress protected by a skillful general. If we focus on Krishna, He will protect our mind from the enemies of lust, greed, and anger, and we will eventually rise to the platform of pure devotional service. With a singular and fixed goal, the path is clear and direct. This is confirmed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.2.14), which recommends that we constantly hear and glorify the Lord “with one-pointed attention.”
One-pointed attention means that body, mind, and words must be directed to the same goal, just as musical notes must be played in the same key to produce a harmonious sound. Srila Prabhupada explains, “Devotees must live thoroughly honest lives in all respects by their body, mind, and words. These are the simple methods of culturing spiritual realization to its zenith.” (From In Search of the Ultimate Goal of Life)
In Bhagavad-gita (9.18) Krishna confirms that He is the ultimate goal: “I am the goal, the sustainer, the master, the witness, the abode, the refuge, and the most dear friend.” Attaining perfection in spiritual life requires that we recognize the ultimate goal and focus on achieving it with the precision with which Arjuna aimed his arrows. As Srila Prabhupada describes in his purport to this verse, however, we must first recognize the proper goal. “Gati means the destination where we want to go. But the ultimate goal is Krishna, although people do not know it. One who does not know Krishna is misled, and his so-called progressive march is either partial or hallucinatory.”
Without proper direction, people engage in so many meaningless and sinful activities, but scriptures and spiritual leaders have recommended that our real svartha-gati, or goal of self-interest, is Krishna. Just as young Arjuna correctly identified the bird's eye as his target and ignored everything else, we must know our ultimate goal and how to achieve it.
The Goal of Meditation, Action, and Knowledge
Bhagavad-gita confirms that Krishna is the goal of all spiritual processes, although they may be incomplete or indirect. His localized aspect of Paramatma (Supersoul) is the aim of dhyana-yoga (meditation); knowledge of His supremacy is the ultimate realization of jnana-yoga (knowledge); and offering the fruits of one’s labors is the ultimate purpose of karma-yoga (action in Krishna consciousness). Yet, despite these different paths toward Him, true knowledge of Krishna is extremely rare: “Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth." (Bg. 7.3)
The yogas of meditation, knowledge, and action reach their perfection in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Regarding spiritual knowledge, for example, Krishna says, “One can understand Me as I am, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of Me by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” (Bg. 18.54) Devotional service provides the only direct path to Krishna, like an elevator that goes directly to the top floor of a building, bypassing all intermediate stops. Bhakti is the key to successful attainment of the ultimate goal. Krishna calls it the “imperishable path” and those who follow it “very, very dear” to Him. (Bg. 12.20)
The Path for this Age
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna in the form of His devotee, recommends chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra as the only path of deliverance in Kali-yuga, the present fallen age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Krishna’s names are equal to Him. Therefore attentive chanting, with care to avoid nama-aparadha (offenses of the holy names), is the key to removing material desires and, simultaneously, to cultivating spiritual ones. Regardless of external circumstances, anyone can chant, and chanting provides a sure path to achieving spiritual progress on the path toward the ultimate goal.
The devotional songs of the sixteenth-century devotee Srila Narottama Dasa Thakura emphasize exclusive devotion to Krishna. He sings, “Chanting ‘O Krishna! O Krishna!’ I shall wander in ecstasy, thinking of nothing other than You. Radha-Krishna are my goal in life and death and the masters of my breath.” In another song, he suggests that one’s life is wasted by not taking advantage of the spiritual process Krishna gives to return to Him. “O Lord Hari, Lord Hari, I have spent my life uselessly. Although I have obtained a human birth, I have refused to worship Radha and Krishna, and in this way I have knowingly drunk poison.”
Narottama cautions against wasting the precious human form of life by failing to pursue the ultimate goal. Out of 8,400,000 species of life, the human form alone provides the opportunity to make spiritual progress. As Srimad-Bhagavatam states, jivasya tattva-jijnasa: the aim of life is to inquire about the Absolute Truth, Krishna. The result of inquiring about the Absolute Truth is to engage oneself in devotional service to the Lord. Regardless of how one temporarily earns his or her livelihood, the only true and eternal profession of a Krishna conscious person is devotional service. This is, in fact, the constitutional position of all living entities.
In the same way that striking a match brings out its latent quality of fire, devotional service develops devotional qualities, which are necessary for pure love of God. Chaitanya-charitamrita lists twenty-six qualities of a devotee, and one of these is sthira, or being fixed in devotional service. This is another way to describe “one-pointed attention.” Even in the face of extreme difficulty, a devotee fixed in devotional service cannot be shaken.
Like the Ganges Flowing to the Sea
The prayers of Queen Kunti, the mother of the five Pandavas, provide an excellent example of unalloyed devotion. She remembered how her family overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles again and again. With clarity she prays to Krishna, and even asks to experience the calamites again so that she can constantly remember Him. Krishna is the only refuge for His devotees. Queen Kunti ultimately asks that her mind be fixed exclusively on Him, just as the water of the Ganges flows toward the ocean without impediments.
True steadiness means that despite the external situation, the devotee does not waver in executing devotional service. Bhagavad-gita presents the image of a candle in a windless place to illustrate the tranquility of an undisturbed, Krishna conscious mind, and Krishna considers one whose mind is fixed on His personal form to be “most perfect.” (Bg. 12.2)
Krishna is known as Adhokshaja, “the Supreme Transcendence,” and so He cannot be reached, or even understood, by mundane senses. Krishna cannot be seen by even the most advanced technological attempt. But when one is qualified, He will reveal Himself. The practices of Krishna consciousness—such as hearing, chanting, and remembering—help spiritualize the senses and train the mind to stay fixed on Krishna. Devotees who fix their mind solely on Krishna attract His attention and “live in Me always, without a doubt.” (Bg. 12.8)
The Role of the Guru
One can achieve this perfect focus only by the mercy of the spiritual master, who gives spiritual instructions to help the disciple progress on the path toward pure devotion. Firm faith in the spiritual master is essential to achieving the ultimate goal of Krishna. By pleasing the spiritual master, the representative of Krishna, one pleases Krishna. As Vishvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has taught in the Gurvashtakam, “By the mercy of the spiritual master one receives the benediction of Krishna. Without the grace of the spiritual master, one cannot make any advancement.”
Pleasing the spiritual master is, therefore, essential to reach the ultimate goal. One who offends the spiritual master will lose his fixed course and become like a boat without a captain. The spiritual master is compared to the captain of the ship in which the disciple crosses the ocean of material suffering. Without a captain to navigate the ship on the proper path, one lacks direction and cannot stay fixed in devotional service and or reach the ultimate goal. By helping the disciple stay fixed on the path of devotional service, the spiritual master leads the disciple back home, back to Godhead.
Krishna has given us free will, and He gives us the chance to return to our original constitutional position, free from illusion and misery. He resides in our heart and is waiting for us to turn to Him. Under the shelter of the Hare Krishna movement, let us remember the precision of Arjuna’s arrows and take advantage of the opportunity to aim our devotional efforts at the ultimate goal.