Friday, October 20, 2017

What We Can Learn From The Parrot

[Shukadeva Gosvami]“In Sanskrit the parrot is also known as shuka. When a ripened fruit is cut by the red beaks of such birds, its sweet flavor is enhanced. The Vedic fruit which is mature and ripe in knowledge is spoken through the lips of Shrila Shukadeva Gosvami, who is compared to the parrot not for his ability to recite the Bhagavatam exactly as he heard it from his learned father, but for his ability to present the work in a manner that would appeal to all classes of men.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.3 Purport)

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Friend1: You ever meet people who have verses from the Bhagavad-gita memorized?

Friend2: Just a few or many?

Friend1: It doesn’t matter. Say they know four or five verses. They can recite them when called upon.

Friend2: Who is calling? Is it in the context of a larger discussion, say on the science of self-realization? Is it a way to show off some higher knowledge?

Friend1: As in, “See what Sanskrit I know.”

Friend2: Right.

Friend1: For this discussion let’s say that they can recite the verses when called upon. They don’t necessarily know the context. This is not a lecture, where they drop a verse here and there. They are good at completion, such as when a public speaker quotes a verse.

Friend2: They are in the audience, and they essentially mouth along.

Friend1: There you go.

Friend2: Okay, so what is wrong with that?

Friend1: I didn’t say there was.

Friend2: Then why are you bringing this up?

Friend1: I guess I’m asking if there is some good to just memorizing the verses. Say that you can repeat words from the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Is that considered bhakti?

Friend2: I’m glad you mentioned the source. The words of Bhagavan are non-different from Him. This is amazing potency not found anywhere else. In that respect the person repeating, like a parrot, is gaining some benefit, for sure. They have association with God the person.

Friend1: Okay, but doesn’t everyone have that association already? There is the expansion of Supersoul residing within the heart.

[Refrigerator]Friend2: Each person has God within, but it doesn’t mean they get any benefit from the close proximity. Think of it like being hungry and standing next to the refrigerator. Food is nearby, in as short a distance as you can imagine. But this doesn’t mean the hunger will automatically subside.

Friend1: You have to open the fridge and get food.

Friend2: Precisely. The sound representation of God, either through His holy name or the words He speaks in works like the Bhagavad-gita, brings the personal association. I know that you will say that sound has no perceivable form, but this is another amazing aspect to Bhagavan. Even something subtle like air can carry His presence.

Friend1: Should everyone memorize verses, then? What if the person is of bad character?

Friend2: As in, you have a person who knows many verses but the words haven’t really influenced their behavior in a positive way?

Friend1: Right. They eat meat. They get intoxicated. They lie. They are absorbed in material life. What is the benefit to learning the verses, then?

Friend2: Of course there should be practical application, vijnana, to accompany jnana, theoretical knowledge.

Friend1: In this case there might not even be jnana. They just memorize sounds.

Friend2: Okay, but I still say there is a benefit. Someone else may hear those words and become inspired to take up devotional service, bhakti-yoga. At least there is no deviation. The person in your example is not changing the verses around. They are not twisting the words.

Friend1: True.

Friend2: There is much to be learned from the parrot. Take the Shrimad Bhagavatam, for example. It is spoken by the parrot-like Shukadeva Gosvami, who is a mahajana, or realized soul. He presents the ripened fruit of Vedic literature as it is, as it was passed on to him by the father, Vyasadeva.

Friend1: There is question and answer, though. That part isn’t like a direct transcript.

[Shukadeva Gosvami]Friend2: Exactly. There is the parrot-like behavior of repeating, and there is also consideration taken for time and circumstance. As long as there is deference to the original spirit of the work, there is no harm. Countless people benefit. The speaker associates directly with God through sound. The same for the recipient. Then there is further appreciation, acknowledgment and expanded realization through explaining the concepts as you have learned them. That is the secret to the guru parampara. Hear from the tattva-darshi, the person who has seen the truth. Repeat what you have heard. In addition, share your own realizations, as they are appropriate. Then everyone involved in the process benefits.

Friend1: What about the opposite behavior? Say there is a flaw in the chain; someone in the succession deviates from precedent.

Friend2: Then everything can get spoiled. The person is a cheater themselves and they cheat others. Even though there is close proximity to God, the true benefit of His association is missed. It is something like licking the outside of the bottle containing honey. Taste the real nectar through following the trail blazed by the acharyas, those who lead by example.

In Closing:

From memory verses to recite,

Verbatim, with timing precise.


From Bhagavad-gita benefit is there,

Since emanating from Bhagavan where.


Better when understanding in addition,

Explaining while respecting tradition.


Like Shukadeva the parrot in bhakti repeat,

Otherwise both yourself and others cheat.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Govardhana Puja 2017

[Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill]"When the cowherd men of Vrindavana, under instruction of Krishna, stopped offering sacrifice to the heavenly King, Indra, the whole tract of land known as Vraja was threatened with being washed away by constant heavy rains for seven days. Lord Krishna, out of His causeless mercy upon the inhabitants of Vraja, held up the hill known as Govardhana with one hand only, although He was only seven years old. He did this to protect the animals from the onslaught of water." (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.32)

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As He is the origin of everything that lives, the shelter created through service to the Divine distributes its influence across a host of beings. After all, if two people, living in two different cities, pray to God for something, their calls get directed to the same place. There is not one God for one person and another God for a different person; though such a misunderstanding has been the cause of tension and argument since time immemorial.

The Supreme Shelter does not discriminate. It does not first check the skin color or the occupation by birth of the person seeking help. It does not even make distinctions between the different species. Anyone is eligible to accept the protection, provided they are earnest in seeking it. The occasion of Govardhana Puja is a reminder.

Cows

Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was residing in the farm community of Vrindavana, displaying His amazingly attractive childhood rupa. The people who lived there were simple; they were not known to be advanced scholars, celebrated warriors, or successful industrialists.

One tradition was to worship the demigod Indra, who is in charge of rain. To people of today the practice may seem silly, as the rain falls on its own at the appropriate times, but the traditions are there to help man break free from the “personal doer” mentality. It is the three modes of nature which must cooperate for any result to manifest, and the controller of an important aspect of nature is Indra.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)

Bhagavan at that time was known as Krishna, and He was the son of the leader of the community, Nanda Maharaja. The father was prepared for the annual Indra-yajna, but young Krishna convinced him to instead worship the nearby Govardhana Hill. This piece of land was dear to the cows, which were protected and loved in the town.

[Krishna with cows]It is difficult to decline the requests of such a sweet child, so Nanda and everyone else followed the direction. The same cows that loved to move on Govardhana Hill would soon be protected by it. Indra was so upset at being neglected that he sent a devastating rainstorm to the area. That rain threatened to wash the cows away, but Krishna lifted the just worshiped hill. He held it aloft for seven straight days.

Calves

The cows are one of the seven mothers designated in Vedic culture. The mother is to be protected. She is a nurturer and a protector. The amazing shelter that was the Govardhana umbrella extended to both mother and child. The calves were also protected, as they were dear to Krishna and His friends of the same age. The boys would go out to the fields daily. It was their responsibility, something like chores given to children today.

Gopis

There were the mothers and also the young girls. Both known as the gopis, they were so dear to Krishna, since they always thought of Him. They, too, were protected from the flooding caused by Indra. The gopis had a slightly different mentality, though. They were concerned that Krishna’s arm might get tired. They didn’t consider Him to be God. The love was so strong that they were ready to offer help at every moment.

Sakhas

These were Krishna’s male friends. They loved Krishna just as much, but in a different mood. They also worried about their friend, who had saved them from danger many times before. The Supreme Shelter was there, but nobody took it for granted; neither did they insist that someone else do everything for them.

Indra

Though he was responsible for the entire calamity, the Govardhana umbrella gave him shelter, too. This is because the incident helped to curb his pride. It taught the king of the demigods the lesson he should have known all along - that to follow God is true dharma. When Krishna is satisfied, the entire world is. It is something like watering the root of the tree instead of going to each branch individually.

[Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill]The fruit of the horribly sinful act was wiped away through prayers in contrition. Krishna did not hold a grudge. That same shelter is available to everyone, and the Govardhana Puja still celebrated to this day is a wonderful opportunity for every kind of living entity to get a taste of the bhakti-rasa, devotional service.

In Closing:

Resting on pinky finger not to budge,

Shri Krishna not to hold a grudge.


Mercy for Indra-deva the cause,

Who a conditioned soul with flaws.


By Govardhana into air projected,

Cows, friends and ladies protected.


That Supreme Shelter to everyone extending,

From just a little service in bhakti spending.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Diwali 2017

[Diwali]“The kingdom was decorated with golden lamps of crystal, looking beautiful as if the king of serpents had arrived to meet the Lord, with a jewel on each of the thousand hoods.” (Gitavali, 309.2)

phaṭika-bhīta-sikharana-para rājati kan̄cana-dīpa-anī |
janu ahinātha milana āyō mani-sōbhita sahasaphanī ||

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It is the impossible task. How to match someone who has unlimited potency? How to come close to pleasing the Supreme Lord in the same way that this person does? How to honor the saints of the Vedic tradition, who through parampara have passed on the secrets to living life to the fullest? How to live up to their standard of adequately giving praise to the person most deserving of it, Shri Rama? On the occasion of Diwali, the devotees make an attempt. A long time back in Ayodhya that attempt was so successful that it looked as if the greatest glorifier himself had arrived.

The literal meaning to Diwali is a row of lighted lamps. Not just some random collection. Not merely something cool for others to see. Each lamp has significance. They are placed together to increase the radiance, the light to welcome the person who is the sun of the solar dynasty.

[Shri Rama]Diwali is in honor of Shri Ramachandra. At least that is the origin of the tradition. He is the special son to King Dasharatha, the ruler in Ayodhya a long time ago, during the second age of creation. Rama is not an ordinary prince. He is the Supreme Lord Himself, kindly descending to this world to give an idea of what the spiritual attributes [saguna] mean for the one person who is always above the dualities of matter and spirit, birth and death, and every pair of conditions in between.

The gunas of God are endless. It is said that Ananta Shesha Naga, who has thousands of hoods, has been glorifying God the person since time immemorial. That is how time operates - it is infinite in both directions, backwards and forwards. Keep going back in time and know that something came before. Travel as far into the future as the mind can conceive and know that there is something beyond that as well.

Since Anantadeva has so many mouths, He can glorify in a great quantity. Aware of this a person might get discouraged, but the Supreme Lord is known to be extremely merciful. The fact that the name itself can bring His complete presence is evidence. The devotees can stay in constant contact through chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

The first Diwali took place in Ayodhya, when Shri Rama returned home after a long absence. He came back triumphantly, having rid the world of the evil man-eating ogre named Ravana. Rama then became king, which was what the father Dasharatha had wanted and what tradition called for.

As Goswami Tulsidas explains in his Gitavali, when Diwali was subsequently celebrated during Rama’s reign, the city was magnificently decorated. Many golden lamps made of crystal were laid about. It looked as if Ananta Shesha Naga had himself arrived to greet Shri Rama.

[Diwali]In this way the people glorified sufficiently, but in bhakti there is no limit. The simplest offering is satisfactory, provided there is genuineness in the sentiment. On the other side, the greatest offering can be outdone the next time around, bringing reason to be excited for the present and future Diwali celebrations to come.

In Closing:

Today so excited am I,

To glorify Rama to try.


Perhaps in Ayodhya like so,

When brilliant lamps in a row.


As if Anantadeva himself had come,

With shining jewel in each hood one.


By Diwali mercy of Supreme Lord shown,

Treating every devotee like family His own.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Five Durations Of Time Where Bhakti-Yoga Is Purifying

[Krishna with cow]“Krishna consciousness can be attained in one second, or it cannot be had even after a thousand births and deaths. If we choose, we can immediately become great souls by surrendering to Krishna, but because we have doubts whether or not Krishna is actually the Supreme we have to take time to dissipate these doubts through study of the scriptures.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-Vidya, Ch 7)

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Material life is one attachment after another. With attachment comes separation, which is unwanted. The inevitability of the separation is so well-known that there is fear even before the loss occurs. What goes up must come down, and so death is the certain outcome following birth.

Spiritual life is for breaking free of the attachments. Success is not easily achieved. Even if a person removes objects around them and the need to possess them, there is the chance of a rise in false ego. It is something like saying, “I am so proud of how humble I am.”

Genuine spiritual life is known as dharma in Sanskrit. Though there are slight variations to the definition based on context changes, dharma can only be one. That original and eternal dharma is also known as bhakti-yoga, and there is a purifying effect throughout various durations of time.

1. An entire lifetime

Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that a person finally understands Him after many births and deaths. The time spent doesn’t necessarily have to be in the human form. Each body type corresponds to what we call “species,” and there are varying levels of enjoyment, intelligence, and tendencies.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)

[Krishna with cow]Human life is meant for spiritual fulfillment, for meeting the needs of the individual at the core. In this regard an entire lifetime can be spent in bhakti-yoga, which is also known as devotional service. Serve in one or many ways, including chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

This duration of time is ideal for bringing the best end, that of the pure consciousness at the time of death. Practiced from beginning to end, there is an excellent chance at eliminating sinful activities, sinful desires, and attachment to temporary objects.

2. During adulthood

Children enjoy playing. They seek short-term enjoyment, known as preyas. Adults tend to put their focus on shreyas, or the long-term benefit. After spending many years playing with toys and video games, a light bulb goes off.

“What am I doing with my life? What is the meaning to everything? What is the purpose to living?”

Though it’s difficult to teach an old dog new tricks, so to speak, adulthood is the perfect time for starting bhakti-yoga. Even though so much time has already been lost, the purifying effect remains. The same chanting is just as effective. The effort made to avoid the four pillars of sinful life brings just as much benefit.

3. For one hour

Usually there is more work to do during adulthood compared to childhood. There are so many responsibilities to meet on a daily basis. There may not even be time to inquire into spiritual matters, which is the one question the human being should be asking. Athato brahma-jijnasa means that in the human form of body the time is ideal for making an inquiry into Brahman, which is the spiritual nature.

Perhaps through a chance meeting with a person on the street the opportunity arises to attend a sadhu-sanga, or meeting of saintly people. The meeting is for just one hour, and during that time there is sankirtana, which is congregational chanting, and Krishna-katha, or discourses about the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

[Sadhu-sanga]Afterwards the person returns to daily life, to struggling with the six senses, which include the mind. Still, that one hour is purifying. It brings sukriti, or meritorious credits, that will pay dividends at some point in the future.

4. Five minutes

Take the same situation of a sadhu-sanga meeting, but this time a person shows up late. They only catch the closing kirtana, where there is raucous participation in the singing of the holy names of the Lord. The experience is blissful. Though it ends too soon, there is a purifying effect.

5. One second

Just say the name of Krishna one time. That’s all it can take. The entire consciousness can change for the better and remain so going forward. Bearing this in mind there is no excuse not to take up bhakti-yoga. So many lifetimes have been spoiled already. Each life contains a significant amount of time. In spite of the many mistakes we have made, everything can be corrected today, right now, with attachment to the holy name.

In Closing:

Many lifetimes already spoiled,

In attachment and aversion toiled.


From this species to that,

Never bliss for soul to match.


Bhakti worthy for entire life when,

Or adulthood, hour, or second then.


Since with Krishna benefit coming,

Chance for purified becoming.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Three Characterizations Of The Bhagavad-gita

[Krishna with cow]"This Gitopanishad, Bhagavad-gita, the essence of all the Upanishads, is just like a cow, and Lord Krishna, who is famous as a cowherd boy, is milking this cow. Arjuna is just like a calf, and learned scholars and pure devotees are to drink the nectarean milk of Bhagavad-gita." (Gita-mahatmya, 6)

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The greatest Vaishnava has his own tribute of the great work. Many sections of Vedic literature pass along a conversation between Lord Shiva and his beautiful, fair-complexioned, and chaste wife Parvati, daughter of the mountain king.

Their discussions are ideal in so many ways. The role of the husband is to protect. The greatest danger subsequent to taking birth is death. Upon reaching the end of life, another birth is imminent. A guardian who can prevent this near-guaranteed fate for their dependents has met their responsibilities.

[Shiva-Parvati]As a most elevated being devoted to the personal God, Lord Shiva takes great pleasure in discussing Vishnu and His many avataras. Parvati takes delight in hearing these topics from her husband. One such discussion was about the Bhagavad-gita, a work dear to so many.

1. The Song of God

This is one literal translation. Gita means “song” and Bhagavad refers to Bhagavan, which is a more descriptive term for the Almighty than “God.” Bhagavan refers to the person who possesses all fortunes. They are present simultaneously and to the fullest degree.

The Bhagavad-gita is sung by Bhagavan to the dear friend named Arjuna. Bhagavan in this instance is in the transcendental form of Krishna. Not everyone properly recognized. Not everyone acknowledges even after being told.

“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)

The song doesn’t take long to sing, but the words are so powerful. A person who can remember a few shlokas, or verses, can hold on to them as a sort of lifeboat that takes them safely across the ocean of suffering.

2. Gitopanishad

The Bhagavad-gita is sung by Bhagavan, but it is not merely an exercise in vocal vibrations. Though Krishna is the most artistic person, there is real substance to the words found in the beautiful song. There are questions and answers, making the song like a conversation.

Vedic literature includes the Puranas, the original Veda, the Ramayana, and other such works. It includes the Upanishads as well, so the Gitopanishad name characterizes the Bhagavad-gita as containing the essence of all Vedic literature.

Though generally considered the introductory work when learning the science of self-realization, the Bhagavad-gita has complete knowledge. Nothing more is required. The topics of the supreme controller, the living entities, time, fruitive activity, and the material nature are covered. Because God is speaking directly there are no deficiencies.

3. A cow

The Gita-mahatmya compares Bhagavad-gita to a cow, and Krishna is the person milking it. Arjuna, the worthy disciple, drinks the resultant milk like a calf. This is because he is closely associated with Krishna.

[Krishna with cow]As with a normal cow, there is plenty of milk left over. Others can enjoy, too. In this case scholars and pure devotees enjoy the milk, which is nectar-like. This comparison is very nice since one of the properties of Bhagavan is that He is inexhaustible. The nectar never runs out. The Bhagavad-gita is this way because while a single reading does so much good, there is nothing lost the second or third time around. In fact, a person can spend an entire lifetime reading the work repeatedly and experience increasing pleasure. This is the meaning to transcendental; that which is beyond the limiting factors of a material existence.

In Closing:

As song of God is known,

Wisdom to disciple shown.


Gitopanishad since coming in line,

All relevant truths within to find.


Also like Krishna a cow milking,

Calf-like Arjuna then drinking.


Nectar still plenty to go around,

This way on Gita to expound.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Two People Whose Character Did Not Change Through Major Life Events

[Narasimha-Prahlada]"Atheists like Ravana and Hiranyakashipu had to undergo severe penances before they could flout the authority of the Lord, but ultimately they were so helpless that they could not save themselves when the Lord appeared before them as cruel death." (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings Of Lord Chaitanya, Ch 23)

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A new life. An addition to the family. Increased responsibility for the members. In the immediate term there is the need for providing food, clothing and shelter. The infant can barely do anything on its own. It requires attention even during times of sleep.

In the bigger picture there is maturity to keep an eye on. What will they do when they grow up? Will they be able to support themselves? Will they avoid pain and heartache? Can they steer clear of the most damaging activities in life?

It is understandable to wish for wealth and fortune acquired through honest means, but in the traditional Vedic culture there is more to be concerned over. Wealth can indeed be a great hindrance on achieving the more important goals, paramartha. These are the interests met in the future life. The future is a reality, since the present is merely the afterlife from a previous time.

Two people, of very different natures and circumstances, show that character can remain the same in spite of major life events. Just because someone is poor doesn’t mean they are of bad character, and just because someone has come into money doesn’t mean they have fully matured.

1. Ravana

He had a mixed lineage. His father was a brahmana, which is the highest class in the varnashrama system. His mother was a Rakshasa, which is a kind of man-eater. Ravana took on the qualities of the mother, so much so that he viewed the brahmana class as his enemy. They worshiped God, after all, and Ravana was trying to become God-like himself.

He had a bad character in the beginning, though he was engaged in austerities. It was something like a business transaction. This is religion in the mode of passion. You’re following to meet some benefit. Consider the case where a business gives a large donation to a charity, with the intent of winning the favor of other businesses. The donation is recognized through a plaque, which then hangs on the office wall, for visitors to see.

Ravana started off without much. A parent thinking solely of material wellbeing would likely want Ravana to have sufficient wealth in adulthood. What if he could become the king of a city filled with gold? Would that please the parents? Would that mean they did a good job?

[Rama fighting Ravana]That was indeed the future for Ravana. Yet he remained of bad character. He ordered his assistants to go and harass the innocent sages living in the forest. The idea was to disrupt any worship of God. Ravana was regularly intoxicated, kept many wives, and had little morals. He was a bad person on both sides, before and after wealth.

2. Prahlada Maharaja

This child was born in a Daitya family. Daityas are similar to Rakshasas; they generally go against God. In English they are referred to as demons. Prahlada appeared in that family, but was saintly in nature. He had the best character right from the start. The father wanted Prahlada to one day become ruler. Hiranyakashipu was feared throughout the world. He hoped the son would follow in his footsteps.

Prahlada would one day become king, but not after great persecution. The child stayed in the best character despite living with the worst enemy. The father tried to kill the boy for his devotion to Vishnu, who is one manifestation of God the person. Eventually, the Supreme descended to earth in the special form of Narasimha to do away with the king. Prahlada took over after, and he was the same in character. Newfound opulence did not change him.

[Narasimha-Prahlada]Human life is meant for purification. Through clearing the consciousness of desires rooted in forgetfulness of God, there is the chance for liberation, which is the end of the cycle of birth and death. Whoever can deliver such liberation for their dependents has done their job satisfactorily.

In Closing:

New child to the family coming,

What hopes for future becoming?


Rich with great power should be,

Or with equal vision in character to see?


Ravana the worst on sides both,

When child and when of wealth the most.


Prahlada as innocent prince the same,

As when rise through Narasimha came.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Four People Who Are Eligible For The Supreme Destination

[Prahlada Maharaja]"Among the Daitya demons I am the devoted Prahlada; among subduers I am time; among the beasts I am the lion, and among birds I am Garuda, the feathered carrier of Vishnu." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.30)

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It’s big news. The new leader of the spiritual institution has reversed course. The past policy was in place for centuries. No one dared challenge it. It was accepted, blindly. Isn’t that what faith is? If you can challenge, if you have doubts borne of logic and reasoning, then why not stay outside the religion? Faith is the dividing line between the believers and the atheists.

The change the leader has made relates to who is eligible for salvation. Previously, only those who acknowledged their faith in the institution could expect to see the best afterlife. Now it is supposedly open to everyone. How is this possible? Even those of other faiths, who put trust in other books and saviors, can reach the same place?

This makes sense to those who understand the science behind spirituality. That understanding goes beyond faith. The truths are believed with the same certainty that one has in the law of gravity and the predictability in the timing of the seasons.

[Prahlada Maharaja]The Sanskrit term svartha refers to interest in the present lifetime. Paramartha is for the afterlife. Prahlada Maharaja reveals that the actual self-interest of the individual is to go towards Vishnu, who is the personal God. Prahlada Maharaja was in the body of a five-year old boy at the time. He also belonged to a race of people known for atheism. Just as he was eligible for reaching the supreme destination, so are people from other groups not typically associated with elevated consciousness.

1. All four varnas

This is a group within a group. The Sanskrit word varna means “color.” It is a kind of distinction. When discussing varnashrama-dharma, which is the more complete definition to what passes today as Hinduism, varna refers to an occupation. The division in occupations is based on gunas, which are material qualities. Each person has a certain quality-set they inherit at the time of birth. That is what makes distinctions, or vishesha.

Qualities aren’t the lone factor. There is karma, too. This is fruitive activity. Based on gunas and karma a person is suited to be a priest, a brave leader, a businessman, or a laborer. There are varieties within each division, but these four groups have existed since the beginning of time. The four divisions have their origin in God.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Typically, the brahmanas get the most respect. They are the priestly class, and their qualities are commendable and desirable. The real brahmanas are clean, pure, detached, compassionate, and knowledgeable. The summit of their knowledge is Brahman, which is the undifferentiated spiritual energy. The brahmana knows about distinctions, but they also see the spiritual equality in all beings.

The brahmanas live in the mode of goodness, and with the other three groups the lower modes of nature enter the picture. When there is passion and ignorance, the paramartha is typically in the earthly realm. Nevertheless, all four groups are eligible to reach the supreme destination. Even a person who has little understanding of spirit can go to Vishnu.

2. Women

A material estimation is made on births, based on the potential for understanding Brahman. Women are considered to have a low chance of understanding the equality of spirit. The same goes for those in the two lower varnas, vaishyas and shudras.

“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth - women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers] - can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32)

[Kewat washing Rama's feet]From history we see that some of the greatest devotees have been women. A simple boatman earned the tremendous opportunity to wash the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord in His incarnation of Rama. Thus even those without a high potential for understanding spiritual topics have a chance for reaching the supreme destination, param gatim.

3. Dog-eaters

These are considered the worst of the worst. A person has sunk so low that they will eat an animal that usually offers so much service to the human society. Milk, fruits and grains are in abundance, so there is no reason to degrade the consciousness by eating food not fit for human consumption. Still, even the dog-eater has a link to God on the inside, which means they can reconnect in consciousness at any time.

4. Rakshasas

These are man-eaters. The behavior is intentional, making them most sinful. Rakshasas were prominent during the reign of Ravana, the king of Lanka. That leader instructed his associates to go and disturb the religious activities of the brahmanas living in the forests. The Rakshasas obliged, killing and eating on a repeat basis. We know that Ravana achieved liberation by dying directly at the hands of Rama.

The reason the different groups can reach the imperishable heavenly realm is that bhakti is superior to any kind of activity, material or religious. Every person has that devotion to God inside of them. The gunas accepted at the time of birth determine the probability for reconnecting, but the opportunity is always there. The chance meeting with the bona fide spiritual master can change everything. The person with the least potential can overcome great obstacles through the favor of His Divine Grace, who recommends staying with God now and in the future through the chanting of the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Bhakti recommended by Divine Grace,

So powerful even odds can erase.


Like when born in form considered lower,

Where difficult to become realized knower.


Since rope-like gunas binding,

Then work of kama finding.


Women, even untouchables who at not to glance,

All for God’s favor given the chance.