Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sunshine of My Life

Lord Krishna “As long as the sunshine is there, our eyes are useful to a certain extent. But in the absence of sunshine, the eyes are useless. Lord Shri Krishna, being the primeval Lord, the Supreme Truth, is compared to the sun. Without Him all our knowledge is either false or partial.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.11.9 Purport)

In the material world, every device or machine has a key component that defines its existence and makes it operate. Without these key components, these devices fail to operate and become utterly useless.

The automobile was one of the great inventions of the twentieth century. Able to transport people from place to place in a very short amount of time, it grew in popularity very quickly. Nowadays it is the preferred method of transportation for people living in industrialized nations. A car, just like the horse and buggy before it, requires wheels in order for it to work. Without wheels, a car cannot go anywhere. If we get a flat tire, we immediately need to replace it, for just having one malfunctioning wheel can stop a car dead in its tracks. The tires and wheels are so important that race car drivers regularly change them during races so that they can maintain the optimal performance of their car. Without wheels, an automobile is nothing but a hunk of shiny metal that just sits still, not being used by anyone.

Narada Muni A vina is a stringed instrument that is plucked, and it is very popular in India. It is the instrument of choice for the great Narada Muni. Narada is a rishi, or great sage, who is completely dedicated to serving the Supreme Lord Krishna. On one occasion, he was cursed by Daksha, one of the progenitors of man, to never be able to live in one place for more than three days at a time. Because of this, Narada Muni is always travelling the three worlds, providing spiritual instruction to those who need it. He was the spiritual master of the compiler of the Vedas, Vyasadeva. He was also the spiritual master of Maharishi Valmiki. In fact, he transformed Valmiki from a rogue thief into a true saint and expert poet. Narada always carries his vina with him, for he is always singing the glories of Lord Krishna. The strings are the key component of a vina, for the instrument requires the strings to be plucked in order for it to produce music. Without the strings, it is nothing more than a finely shaped piece of wood.

When Lord Krishna incarnated as Lord Rama during the Treta Yuga, He voluntarily accepted the punishment of exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya. The Lord was ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest, living as a recluse, by His father Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. The Lord happily agreed to the request and His wife Sita Devi also insisted on accompanying Him. Sita was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who serves as God’s wife in the spiritual world. As the wife is considered the better half of man, so Sita was considered the better half of Rama. She took personally any order given to her husband. If He was to live as a homeless person for fourteen years, then as His wife, she felt it was her duty to suffer the same fate as her husband.

“The Vina without strings does not sound, and the car without wheels does not move, so although having a hundred sons, a woman without her husband cannot attain happiness.” (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)

Sita Devi Just prior to leaving for the forest, Rama’s mother Kausalya gave some words of advice to her daughter-in-law. She requested Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to always serve and honor Him while living in the forest. Sita obviously knew all of this since she was a perfect devotee of God. Devotees, through their sincere service to the Lord, acquire all knowledge relevant to the codes of dharma, or religiosity. After listening to her mother-in-law, Sita humbly replied that she was well acquainted with the proper duties of a wife. Just as a car cannot function without wheels, and a vina cannot product music without strings, so a wife cannot have happiness without her husband. This is the Vedic tenet relating to marriage. Once married, a husband and wife become one person. There is no concept of independence. If the husband is forced to go to hell, the wife must follow. They equally share the merits and demerits of their action. Knowing this, it is in the best interest of the wife to faithfully serve the husband, so that he may be very pious and devoted to the highest dharma, devotional service to Krishna. If a husband becomes a top-notch devotee, the wife is guaranteed to ascend to Krishnaloka or Vaikunthaloka, along with her husband in the afterlife.

Though Sita was referring to happiness in relation to husbands and wives, what she was really saying is that we living entities cannot achieve true happiness without having God in our life. We may have all the material facilities available to us such as a nice car, a large bank balance, a high-definition television, or the latest music player, but these things can never bring about true happiness. The same goes for our family life. We may have a very beautiful wife and wonderful children, but in the end these things are temporary. Our relationship with God is absolute and permanent. The bond we share with Him remains alive even after death.

Material life means constantly hankering and lamenting. These two things are going on constantly and they are the cause of all our pain and suffering. Elevation in spiritual life means putting an end to hankering and lamenting.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)

Sita and Rama Sita Devi could feel no happiness without her husband, who was God Himself. While in the forest, she was kidnapped by the evil demon Ravana, who held her captive in his kingdom for many months. She was able to persevere through such a horrific condition by always keeping her mind fixed on Lord Rama. We may not always have the benefit of personal association with the Lord, but thinking of Him, remembering His pastimes, and chanting His names are equal substitutes. God and His names, forms, attributes, and pastimes are all non-different from Him. Simply by remembering, we can have association with God.

Sita Rama Sita Devi gave us the path to true, eternal happiness. Our relationship with Krishna is what defines us, for without Him, we cannot have any happiness. In the Vedic system, the brahmanas, or priestly class of men, are referred to as dvija, or “twice-born”. Our first birth is when we come out of the womb of our mother. The second and more important birth is when we take initiation into spiritual life from a guru, or spiritual master. Real initiation means sincerely devoting oneself to serving Krishna. Pledging our unending devotion to God, we can all take our second birth and begin our real life. Krishna is our dearmost friend and inner life partner. He is always with us, we just need to recognize and love Him. We spirit souls are meant to be eternally blissful and full of knowledge.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Supreme Controller

Lord Rama “No creature is endowed with the power of exercising any control over the course of events. Man has no independent status in nature.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 105)

This is one of the central tenets of Vedic philosophy; man has no independence. He surely has the choice to act as he wishes, but the results are not determined by him. Nature is the ultimate controller, and nature is managed by God and His energies.

Man’s identifying with the gross material body and his thinking that he has independence represent the two largest stumbling blocks towards spiritual advancement. These thoughts occur naturally in every human being, for all we know is our own body. We act in a certain way and we see the consequences, so we naturally think that we are responsible for creating results. If we’re hungry, we eat something, and then we’re not hungry anymore. If we want to succeed in school, we study hard, and then pass our exams. Again, we think ourselves the doer.

The idea of independence works the same way. Some countries are very proud of their independence, celebrating each year on the specific day that freedom was achieved. People can’t be blamed for celebrating nationalism in this way. Many societies have faced oppression throughout history at the hands of dictatorships and tyrannical regimes, so breaking free of these forces is certainly a momentous occasion. But are we actually ever independent?

Revolutionary War The United States has had its independence from Great Britain for over two hundred years, but we see that there is still panic and turmoil every day. Just because one group of people no longer runs the government, it doesn’t mean that problems automatically go away. For the citizens of a particular country, there is never true independence because government is always there to manage things. Some people are happy with the job government is doing, while others are not. Thus a battle for control of the government ensues, which manifests either as elections or, in extreme cases, revolutions. This struggle for power has been going on since time immemorial.

This struggle for control also exists inside of each living entity. At our core, we are spirit souls, part and parcel of God. In order to take birth in this material world, we must accept a body consisting of the five gross elements (earth, air, water, fire, and ether) and three subtle elements (mind, intelligence, and false ego). As living entities, we have a choice in how our senses interact with the elements of nature. In this way, we have a small amount of independence. Yet material nature still reigns supreme. God is one but He is referred to by many different names; each of which describe His various activities and potencies. One of His names is Parameshvara, meaning the supreme controller. We may able to control our bodily functions to some degree, but God can control everything and everyone. The weather system itself is a miracle which scientists have yet to fully comprehend. They may be able to predict the weather a few days in advance, but they have no way of stopping it from raining or making it warm during the winter. They come up with various concocted theories such as Global Warming or Climate Change, but these bogus ideas all crumble over time since they don’t recognize the influence of the sun and God’s control over nature.

“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.19)”

Lord Krishna holding up Govardhana Hill We may act in a certain way, but we actually have no control over how events will play out. The threefold miseries of life will always get in our way. There are miseries brought about by other living entities, by our mind, and by nature. The interference of nature is easy to comprehend. We may work very hard during the day to maintain a nice house and a healthy family, yet one natural disaster can take all of that away in a second. Every year, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes devastate the lives of so many people around the world. Other living entities also get in the way of our plans. The 9/11 terrorist attack was an example of this. People were just minding their own business going to the office one day, when all of a sudden, a plane crashes into their building, killing thousands and destroying the lives of many more.

So why do these miseries occur? With every action that we take, there is a corresponding reaction that must occur through the forces of karma. For example, if we kill another living entity unnecessarily and without just cause, then even if we aren’t punished by the laws of the state, we will be forced to suffer through karma, which is God’s system of fairness. The Lord, residing in the hearts of every living entity as the Supersoul or Paramatma, witnesses all of our actions. If we behave piously, we are rewarded as such, and the opposite holds true when we act sinfully. The laws of karma are absolute and must go into effect. Lord Krishna has deputed Dharmaraja, the god of justice, to handle all issues of fairness. The Vedas actually recommend capital punishment administered by the state for the most heinous criminals so that the sinner won’t have to suffer in a future life through karma. Every Vedic policy is carried out in full knowledge of karma, which serves to check our false idea of independence.

Aside from doling out simple punishments and rewards, karma also determines the circumstances of our birth. For example, taking a look at people born today, we see that those born in wealthy countries have a tremendous advantage over those born in starving countries run by dictatorships. Taking birth in a wealthy family is due to pious activity performed in a previous life.

“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.41)

Lord Krishna No one has a choice in their birth. Yet we see that so many people are falsely claiming to be part of a specific race, ethnicity, or even caste. They feel they are better than someone else simply based on their birth, or they feel that other people are inherently flawed due to their skin color or ethnicity. This thinking is the root cause of racial problems around the world. What these people fail to understand is that they could very well take birth in another race in a future life. The material body is just a covering; we are all constitutionally the same since we are all spirit souls.

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.47)

Knowing that we are not truly independent, does that mean we should just sit idly by and do nothing? Or better yet, should we just act however we want since karma will take care of everything? The answer is that we should act in concert with God’s instructions. The point of human life is to reconnect with Krishna, which will allow us to return to His spiritual realm after death. Though karma is absolute and requires us to repeatedly take birth in this material world, bhagavata-dharma makes one immune to the effects of karma. Bhagavan is a name for God meaning one who possesses all fortunes. Bhagavata is the name for one who is in association with Bhagavan, a devotee, and dharma means occupational duty. So we simply have to make our occupational duty that of constantly serving and being in association with Bhagavan, or God.

The major religions around the world each have one or two primary texts such as the Bible, Koran, etc., but the Vedas have many many major texts. There are too many to really count. This is because the Vedas offer many sub-religious systems for people who don’t want to follow bhagavata-dharma. Luckily for us, the great saints of the pasts, Bhagavatas, have synthesized the Vedic teachings for people of this age. The easiest way to engage in devotional service is to always chant the holy names of God:, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The lesson taught by Lord Rama is that we should follow dharma at all times. The above referenced statement was part of a conversation between Rama and His younger brother Bharata. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Lord Krishna who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago as a prince in Ayodhya. Rama was the rightful heir to the throne, but Bharata was instead given the crown by their father Maharaja Dashratha. Bharata very much wanted Rama to take over, so he told Him how everyone would be miserable if He wasn’t their ruler. Lord Rama then responded with a few statements about how no one has independence, and that dharma should be followed in all circumstances. Rama was following dharma by remaining in the forest, since that was the order given to Him by His father. In those times, kshatriyas (warrior class) served as the kings and their word was more important to them than their life. Rama wanted to maintain the good name and reputation of His father, who had since passed away.

Rama with Hanuman Each of us has our prescribed duties based on our qualities and our age, so it is important that we follow them. The highest duty for every person is to become God conscious. If we practice devotional service to God, we’ll make Lord Rama happy, which is reward enough.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hare Krishna

Radha Krishna “After searching through all the Vedic literature one cannot find a method of religion more sublime for this age than the chanting of Hare Krishna." (Kali-santarana Upanishad)

Question: “May I know the meaning of Hare Krishna and Hare Rama please?”

Answer: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” is known as the maha-mantra. Maha means great, and mantra means a series of words which are repeated to achieve a certain goal. The term mantra today is generally associated with a slogan or a saying that is intended to help keep a person’s mind focused on a particular task. However, mantras have their origin in the Vedas, the original religious scriptures for all of mankind.

Lord Krishna The Vedas were passed down by Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, at the beginning of creation. He imparted Vedic wisdom into the heart of Lord Brahma, the first created living entity. Lord Brahma is often referred to as being self-born since He did not take birth from the womb of a mother or father. But actually He appeared out of the lotus navel of Lord Krishna in His form as Lord Vishnu, thus God is technically his father. The Vedas are also known as the shrutis, meaning “that which is heard”. The Vedas were originally passed down through an oral tradition since the hearing process is very effective for the transmission of spiritual knowledge. The ultimate teaching of the Vedas is that this human form of life is meant for understanding God. Animals don’t have the capability of understanding concepts besides eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. The human brain was modeled in such a way as to allow it to take in religious information, and to then use that knowledge to engage in devotional service to the Lord. Human life is meant for dedicating every thought and deed to the Supreme Lord. The mind is always working, for one cannot stop thinking for even a second. At the same time, one must always work. The Vedas tell us to purify both of these activities by devoting them to the Supreme Lord Krishna.

Along with thoughts and deeds come words. The speech power of the human being should be utilized for offering nice prayers to God. This actually benefits the living entity more than it does God. This is because we human beings are happiest when we are connecting with God in a loving way. This is where mantras come in. The Vedas consist entirely of hymns and mantras. Each mantra has its own meaning and purpose. For example, one can recite certain mantras to achieve good health, a peaceful family life, and other material benefits. So in this sense, all mantras are not the same. The maha-mantra is considered one of the greatest mantras because it addresses God in a loving way. It is completely pure and free of any material contamination. One who chants this mantra without offenses, meaning without any material motives, will quickly achieve pure love for God.

The famous writer William Shakespeare declared that brevity is the soul of wit. The least amount of words we can use to convey a thought or idea, the better. The less time it takes to make a point, the more effective the message will be. The material senses are so strong that they constantly compete for attention with the mind. Because of this, our minds are always racing, jumping from one thought to another. To really make an impression on the mind, a petitioner needs to make their point in a quick and concise manner. The field of advertising is built around this model. Quick slogans and jingles are very effective because people are more likely to remember them. In a similar manner, it is better to offer prayers to God in a concise way. As mentioned before, offering prayers to the Lord actually benefits us more than it benefits Him. The Vedas describe God as atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. He is in need of nothing, yet He is still kind enough to give attention to His devotees. Since His glories are limitless, one can spend their entire lifetime offering prayers to the Lord and still not come close to fully describing His glories.

“The Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, is always unlimited, and His glories cannot be completely enumerated by anyone, even by a personality like Lord Brahma. It is said that Ananta, a direct incarnation of the Lord, has unlimited mouths, and with each mouth He has been trying to describe the glories of the Lord for an unlimited span of time, yet the glories of the Lord remain unlimited, and He therefore never finishes. It is not possible for any ordinary living entity to understand or to glorify the unlimited Personality of Godhead, but one can offer prayers or service to the Lord according to one's particular capacity.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.7.24, Purport)

Lord Rama The perfect prayer is one that addresses God’s important attributes in a quick, concise, and loving way. Our main purpose in praying to God is to tell Him that we love Him. The least amount of words we can use to make our point, the better. Talk radio shows illustrate this principle of brevity. Radio hosts are constantly looking at the broadcast clock, for they have a limited number of minutes that they are on the air in each hour due to commercials and other network commitments. Therefore, these hosts must make the best use of their time. A talk show wouldn’t be complete without callers calling in and giving their opinions. The majority of these callers happen to be fans of the show, so they spend the first few minutes of their call praising the host. “Oh I love your show. I’ve been listening for years. You’ve changed my life, etc.” Now if only one caller per show said such things, it probably wouldn’t pose a problem. But most callers feel the need to praise the host in this way before actually getting to the reason for their call. So in order to save precious airtime, the hosts have developed certain catch phrases that the callers can use to get the same point across. Phrases such as “Boo-ya!…You’re a great American…Mega dittos” are all used by callers to address their beloved hosts. Though the phrases may be different, they all essentially mean the same thing. “I love the show. I hope it stays on the air. You’re great.”

The maha-mantra works the same way. By saying “Hare Krishna”, we’re really saying, “God, I love You. Thanks for letting me serve You and always think about You. I hope I never forget about You at any time in my life.” This is the simplest definition of the maha-mantra. The effectiveness of the mantra lies in the fact that it addresses both God and His energy. The word “Hare” refers to Hara, who is God’s energy. Lord Krishna is always seen with His pleasure potency expansion, Shrimati Radharani. Lord Rama is always seen with His wife Sita Devi, and Lord Narayana with Lakshmi Devi. God is the energetic and His devotees are His energy. Hara represents the perfection of the Lord’s energy, technically known as hladini-shakti; God’s pleasure potency.

When praying to God, it is important to address His devotees because that we are striving to become devotees ourselves. Devotees like Radhrani, Sita, Hanuman, Prahlada, etc. are our role models because they represent perfection in life. We can never be the energetic; that title is reserved for God. In fact, one of the reasons for our being in this material world is our desire to try to be God. We falsely believe that if we meditate enough, or accumulate enough riches, that we can one day become the strongest, wisest, most beautiful, or most famous. This actually can never be achieved because these perfections are reserved for God, whose is also known as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. The great devotees are the trail blazers who have shown us how to achieve perfection in life. By uttering “Hare”, we pray to God’s energy to help us become pure devotees as well.

“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is inaccessible to the Vedas, but obtainable by pure unalloyed devotion of the soul, who is without a second, who is not subject to decay, is without a beginning, whose form is endless, who is the beginning, and the eternal purusha; yet He is a person possessing the beauty of blooming youth.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.33)

Radha Krishna Krishna and Rama are two of God’s primary names. According to authoritative scriptures such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Brahma-samhita, God has many forms, but Krishna is the original. Krishna means one who is all-attractive. He is also known as Madana-Mohan because He is capable of even attracting Cupid himself. Rama means one who gives pleasure. Rama can refer to Lord Ramachandra, Krishna’s incarnation during the Treta Yuga, or Lord Balarama, Krishna’s expansion who simultaneously appeared with Him during the Dvapara Yuga. Since Lord Balarama is considered non-different from God Himself, both definitions for Rama are valid, for they each refer to God.

“The holy name of Krishna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krishna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krishna's name is complete, and it is the form of all transcendental mellows. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krishna Himself. Since Krishna's name is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with maya. Krishna's name is always liberated and spiritual; it is never conditioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the name of Krishna and Krishna Himself are identical.” (Padma Purana)

The Vedas tell us that there is no difference between God and His name. This may seem strange to understand at first, but through constant recitation of the maha-mantra, we can begin to realize that this is indeed true. Simply calling out God’s names in a loving way means we are directly connecting with Him. The material world is a temporary place full of miseries. God, along with His names, forms, and pastimes, is completely the opposite. He is eternally blissful and full of knowledge. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation, inaugurated the sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the names of God, some five hundred years ago. The maha-mantra was His mantra of choice due to its efficacy. He advised everyone to chant it regularly and to induce others to chant.

Lord Chaitanya and associates chanting Hare Krishna Chanting God’s name is the only way to achieve perfection in the current age. We see evidence of this all around us. The beauty of “Hare Krishna” is that it can be recited by anyone, of any age, and any religious persuasion. Just as God is all-attractive, so are His names. The maha-mantra can be recited on a set of chanting beads (japa mala) to oneself, or it can be sung out loud with others. Either way, if we constantly keep Hare Krishna and Hare Rama on the tip of our tongue, we are sure to always be happy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Defining Attribute

Sita and Rama dwelling in Hanuman's heart “(Those) who have established their reputation in the world for their knowledge of the rules of propriety – their soul is your excellent abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamansa)

Brightness is the defining attribute of the moon. Being intimately associated with the earth, the moon acts as the reflector of sunlight, having a glow and effulgence that pervades the nighttime sky. One cannot separate the brightness from the moon.

Lakshmi Narayana Deities In the same way, Sita Devi’s defining attribute was her devotion to dharma. Dharma means occupational duty, or religiosity. We usually associate religion with faith and ritualistic practices, when in actuality, dharma is the occupation of the living entity, something inherited from birth. It stems from the Vedas, the original scripture for all of mankind. Dharma also has many rules and laws associated with it, but its aim is to bring one closer to God. Sita Devi was an incarnation of Shri Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. Lakshmi is the eternal consort of Lord Narayana, one of God’s forms in the spiritual sky. As Sita Devi, she performed the same functions by acting as Lord Rama’s wife. Lord Rama was God Himself who came to earth in human form to reinstitute the principles of dharma. Sita was very much dedicated to dharma from her very youth, being well acquainted with all the rules of propriety. Though well acquainted with dharma, she actually transcended all rules and regulations by acting as a perfect wife to her husband. Serving God in a loving way is the real definition of dharma. Since she is God’s wife and eternal servitor, all of Sita Devi’s actions are automatically virtuous.

“The worshipful one ought not to place me on the same footing with unrighteous persons. As brightness does not depart from the moon, so I cannot swerve from virtue.” (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)

In the above referenced quote, Sita Devi is responding to words of advice given to her by Lord Rama’s mother, Kausalya. At the time, the couple were about to embark on a fourteen year tour of the forest, where they would live as exiles from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama was the eldest son of the king, Maharaja Dashratha, but due to extenuating circumstances, He was ordered to leave the kingdom and not come back for fourteen years. Sita, acting as the perfect wife, refused to allow her husband to roam the forest alone. As they were about to leave, Kausalya reminded Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to always serve Him, for that is the dharma of a wife. In the Vedic system, a husband and wife are not to lead separate lives. The marriage is a fifty-fifty relationship, but not in the modern day sense. The wife and husband each have their own duties relating to the marriage. If they both execute those duties properly, they both share the religious merit that is earned. The duty of the wife is to view her husband as her deity. She should worship and honor him, and serve him to the best of her ability. If the husband is happy, the couple will have a peaceful family life, whereby they can follow religious observances together. That is the real benefit to having a spouse. A spouse is our life partner that helps us in performing our religious activities. Vedic life revolves around the practice of tapasya, or austerities, which are very difficult to perform alone. A spouse can act as a coach or advisor that ensures we are performing our austerities properly. Tapasya, properly executed, leads us closer to God since it reduces our attachment to material sense gratification. By spending time thinking about God and offering Him prayers, we fulfill the real mission of our life.

Sita Rama Sita Devi, after hearing Kausalya’s words, begged her mother-in-law not to include her amongst the irreligious. Unrighteous persons are those who live on the principles of adharma. Dharma is the code of conduct prescribed by the Vedas, and any act or belief that is contrary to this code is considered adharma. Sita was a perfect devotee, which means she was without pride. However, she was cent percent committed to her husband and to dharma, so she never wanted to be thought of as being irreligious even for a second. In the Ramacharitamanasa, there is a great description of the qualities of a devotee given by Maharishi Valmiki when he was visited by Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana, while they were roaming the forest.

Valmiki instructed Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana to live in the hearts of those who are known for their adherence to dharma. People are known for their different outstanding qualities. Someone may be known to be a great speaker, or a great athlete, or an excellent writer. These are all very nice, but a devotee wants only to be known as a devotee and nothing else. This is their defining quality. They don’t seek fame and fortune for themselves. They only want to be known as devotees of the Lord; servant of the servant of God. They want to be known for their adherence to dharma and for their devotion to Krishna.

Goswami Tulsidas is a great example in this respect. An incarnation of Valmiki who appeared in India some four hundred years ago, Tulsidas wrote wonderful poetry praising Lord Rama and others during his lifetime, with his most famous works being the Ramacharitamanasa and Hanuman Chalisa. However, to this day, very little is known about his life. This can be attributed to several factors, but the real reason is because Tulsidas himself did not covet any fame. He was a very humble man, who used poetry as a means of expressing his love for Lord Rama. Since he was a pure devotee, his writing came out very nice and became very popular at the same time. To this day, the Hanuman Chalisa is recited daily by millions in India. His Ramacharitamansa is a staple in the home of every Hindu. He only wished to be known as a devotee of Lord Rama, and God obliged.

Goswami Tulsidas In the same way, Sita only wanted to be known for her devotion to the Lord. As Lord Rama’s wife, she had no desire for earthly riches or jewel studded crowns. As the wife of the eldest son of the king, she was in line to enjoy the pleasures of royal life to the fullest. Yet she renounced all of that at the drop of a hat. The forest is not considered a suitable place for a person to live, let alone for a beautiful and delicate woman such as Sita. Yet she had no qualms about going, for she insisted on following Rama. She only thought of Rama and His happiness wherever she went. For this reason she is loved and adored by millions today. No one can ever put her on the same footing as an unrighteous person. On the contrary, she is the very definition of righteousness.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

World Peace

Lord Krishna “Disturbance is due to want of an ultimate goal, and when one is certain that Krishna is the enjoyer, proprietor and friend of everyone and everything, then one can, with a steady mind, bring about peace.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.66 Purport)

Contestants at beauty pageants get judged not only on their looks, but also on their intellect. Their intelligence is judged by the answers they give to several insightful questions posed by panelists or judges. One of the questions that is always asked is “What is the one thing the contestant would wish for in life?” The stock answer is “World Peace. I wish for everyone in the world to be happy and living peacefully.” This is something desired by not only Miss America but almost everyone in the world. So how can we actually go about achieving real, everlasting peace?

United Nations Let’s first take a look at some of the more conventional methods. The most popular solution seems to be diplomacy. Panels consisting of world leaders are put together, which then meet on a regular basis discussing the issues at hand. This method is appealing because it doesn’t involve violence and it incorporates communication and dialogue, both of which are usually lacking in relationships between world leaders. In order for diplomacy to work, there must be compromise. This represents the biggest hurdle to peace. Every human being has desires, which they then act upon. This is known as karma.

Karma includes any activity performed which has a material reaction associated with it, either good or bad. Something as simple as getting up in the morning to go to school or work is considered karmic activity since there is a desired end-goal. Students are working towards finishing their studies, and workers go to the office to earn money to support their livelihood. Both are noble activities, but they are still done for a fruitive result. In a similar manner, world leaders each have their own agenda and personal desires that they work very hard for. When these desires conflict, as they almost surely will, disagreements result, and wars ensue.

In Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech in support of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, he said that if someone wants peace, they can have it in a second. “It’s called surrender. Give up everything you believe in and stand for, and you will automatically have peace, with the opposing side gaining victory.” This perfectly points out the fatal flaw in diplomacy. Weaker parties obviously don’t want to surrender, so instead they make false promises in hopes of lulling the opposition into a false sense of security. Talks take place, agreements are made, both parties claim victory, and peace is achieved. Yet this peace doesn’t last long at all. The Middle East is a great example of this. After the end of World War II, the United Nations decided to partition the Palestine state into a Jewish state, and that one act has led to conflict ever since. Every new president in the U.S. is faced with the “Middle East Crisis”, having to deal with the constant fight over who has the right to rule over the land. There have been countless resolutions and agreements made, but there has been anything but peace.

Everything emanates from Krishna Real peace can only come about when people connect with Krishna, or God. A country may fight over who has control over a certain area of land, but God is the actual proprietor of everything. This entire universe was created by Him in a single glance. At a certain time in the future, everything in this world will be destroyed by Him as well. This is the cycle of creation and destruction that has been going on since time immemorial.

“O son of Kunti, at the end of the millennium every material manifestation enters into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency I again create.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.7)

Though diplomacy usually fails in bringing about peace, the aggressive use of force actually tends to be more successful. If a country gains a decisive military victory, the peace that results tends to last a little longer. The United States was formed after the Revolutionary War which saw the British rulers defeated and driven out of the country. Yet from studying human history, we can understand that states and empires come and go all the time. Some last longer than others, but inevitably, they crumble. This is because fruitive desires can never be satisfied.

“The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” (Bg. 3.37)

Mother Yashoda and Krishna One can only be peaceful when he no longer has material desires. A person can’t simply give up wanting things. It is the nature of the living entity to be independent and act on their desires. The key is that one simply has to change their desires from the material platform to the spiritual. Shifting desires is already something we’re accustomed to. For example, teenagers and young adults are known for being care-free and engaging in unadulterated fun. Yet there inevitably comes a time when these same people grow up and realize that such activity doesn’t bring them happiness. They then take to family life and shift all their desires towards pleasing their spouse and children. Any good parent will tell you that their children are their life-blood. They do everything as a sacrifice for their children.

This change comes about because we are always happier when we are serving someone besides ourselves. This is due to our original nature, that of servant to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. The spirit soul is completely pure and a lover of God, but due to contact with material nature, it has become trapped in an embodied form, forced to act on the desires of the mind. Just as the parent gains happiness through serving their children, we human beings can achieve the highest form of happiness by serving God. All our other problems will be taken care of as a result.

Aside from issues relating to world peace, there are many other similar minor issues that people try to tackle, such as anger management, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, etc. What we don’t realize is that these problems are merely symptoms of our biggest problem, the forgetfulness of our relationship with Krishna. Bhagavata-dharma is the occupational duty which connects with Krishna, so one who engages in it will naturally be happy all the time. This equates to a happy family life, which leads to a feeling of security, which leads to a peaceful society, and so forth. Krishna consciousness has a trickle-down effect. The analogy of watering a tree is appropriate in this regard. Serving Krishna means watering the root of the tree, which simultaneously feeds the branches and leaves.

Radha Krishna We can serve Krishna by engaging in devotional service. Chanting His name, reading books written by the great saints, and regularly viewing His deity are activities that take little time but yield big results. We simply have to take the first step towards Him, and He will show us the way. If we employ everything for His benefit and petition others to join us, we can have peace on earth.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Detachment Through Attachment

Lord Rama with brothers, Sita, and Hanuman “One who executes his duties according to My injunctions and who follows this teaching faithfully, without envy, becomes free from the bondage of fruitive actions.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.31)

Lord Rama, God Himself, does everything for His brothers, who are His purest devotees. Wanting fame and fortune is a natural desire inherited by those who take birth in this material world, but the truly pious never covet such things. In His incarnation as Lord Rama, God set the highest standard of piety and etiquette. Being the supreme pure, the Lord never wants to be worshiped in a way that causes harm to others, nor does He want us to act in any way that unnecessarily causes pain and suffering to the innocent.

Modern day world leaders work very hard to acquire power, fortune, and fame. People elected to a high post can easily get caught up in the glamour and attention, and thus falsely think themselves to be more important than they actually are. We see this phenomenon with celebrities who take to philanthropy. Wealthy people often start their own charitable foundations which raise money through banquets, celebrity golf tournaments, and other such public events. Invariably the media will report on such activity by saying that “Such and such person raised such and such amounts of money for a particular cause.” The famous person is thereby lauded for performing charitable work. There is no doubt that philanthropy is a very noble activity, but what gets lost is the fact that the majority of charitable giving is done by the average citizen. One may host a fundraising dinner, but that host is not the one donating the majority of the funds, but rather all the people attending are the ones contributing. The organizer deserves praise, but the donors themselves are what make these events a success.

This concept also applies to political leaders. The President of the United States occupies arguably the most important position in the world, thus it is easy for him to start thinking he is responsible for everything that goes on. Presidents implement various policies and then declare that they have created such and such number of jobs. Taking this line of thinking even further, they declare that they will provide health care, food, jobs, etc. to all the people of the country. This kind of thinking may be well intentioned, but it overlooks many important factors. Businesses create jobs. Entrepreneurs, seeking an improved way of life, take a risk by starting a business. They then hire workers to help boost their productivity, which then leads to higher profits. A president or any other elected official has very little to do with this, yet they are the first ones to claim that they have created jobs. This flawed logic comes about from being too puffed up with power.

God is the source of everything God is actually the proprietor of everything. He is the original person, adi purusham. Everything in this world emanates from the spiritual world, janmady asya yatah. If anyone deserves credit for creating or destroying anything, it’s God and His energies.

“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)

Still, just by taking birth here, we automatically become subject to illusion and other defects. In order to counteract the effects of maya, God gave us the Vedas, the original scriptures for man. The Vedas advise us to live by dharma, or religious principles. By acting in a detached way, adhering to the duties prescribed to us, we can make spiritual advancement and immunize ourselves from the effects of false ego and pride. Lord Rama was a living example of how to adhere to the principles of dharma. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, incarnates on earth from time to time to reinstitute the principles of religion.

As Lord Rama, God appeared as a pious prince, born as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. In order to set a good example, the Lord arranged things in such a way that He was able to let everyone see how a pious person, especially a leader, should conduct themselves. Rama’s trademark quality was that He did everything for His friends, families, and well-wishers. He never did anything for Himself. This fact shouldn’t surprise us. The Vedas describe God as atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. He is in need of nothing. He is Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. Being satisfied in Himself, He has no need to be falsely puffed up, pounding His chest and showing off to people. Rather, He likes to glorify His devotees and make them happy. That is His main business when He appears on earth. The true definition of dharma means acting in accordance with God’s injunctions. Everything the Lord does is in line with dharma, even though certain actions may seem good or bad to us in the material sense.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest Lord Rama’s life is chronicled in many Vedic texts, with the primary account found in the Valmiki Ramayana. One of the major events in His life was His banishment to the forest by His father. Dashratha had promised one of his wives any two boons of her choosing, and she used these boons to send Rama to the forest and install Bharata, Rama’s younger brother, as the new king. The Lord had no desire for the throne, but He did have a desire to maintain His father’s good name. For this reason, He gladly agreed to go to the forest, taking His wife Sita Devi, and His younger brother Lakshmana with Him.

“I swear to you, O Lakshmana, that I wish for religiosity (dharma), sense gratification (kama), economic development (artha), and the earth itself in your interests alone. O Lakshmana, I swear by my weapon that it is for the maintenance and happiness of my brothers that I wish for the kingdom. O mild one, this earth herself is not difficult of being attained by me, but O Lakshmana, I do not through unrighteousness wish to possess myself of Shakra’s state. May fire reduce to ashes any happiness of mine that, O giver of honor, happens to be dissevered from Bharata, yourself, or Shatrughna.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 97)

Bharata was out of town when the events related to the exile unfolded. Upon hearing of what had happened, Bharata immediately set out for the forest to get Rama to come back and take over the throne. The rest of the citizens of Ayodhya used this opportunity to see Rama by following Bharata. Lakshmana, who was Rama’s great protector, upon seeing Bharata and his army coming from a distance, immediately became skeptical. He thought that maybe Bharata was coming to kill Rama so that the Lord wouldn’t threaten his claim to the throne. In the above referenced statement, Rama is trying pacify Lakshmana by telling him that Bharata would never act in such a way. Even if Bharata had come with hostile intentions, the Lord would still never want to harm his brother in any way. He would rather die than have any harm come to any of His brothers, be it Lakshmana, Bharata, or Shatrughna.

Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman fighting Ravana God and His powers are inconceivable, achintya. Yet from this behavior of Rama, we get a slight glimpse into His true nature. Love is the most powerful emotion in this material world, but an emotion even higher than that is the ecstasy that comes from love for God. This emotion is known as bhava, and it is unchecked. The material form of love is often checked by desire for reciprocation and validation. Love for God is completely pure, not tinged by any personal desire. In order for a relationship to be defined as loving, the love must go both ways. Bhava, pure love for God, works in the same way. God loves His devotees just as much as they love Him, maybe even more. The four sons of Dashratha were very close with one another. All the brothers viewed Rama as their deity. Rama knew this, so He openly declared that all His actions were performed as a sacrifice to them.

This is a key point. If God performs activities as a sacrifice for His devotees, shouldn’t we do the same for Him? This is the secret to life. By acting in our personal interest, or even for altruistic purposes such as charity and philanthropy, we still run into a wall eventually. Due to the repetitive nature of karmic activity, one can easily become bewildered by performing the same actions over and over again. The meaning of life is to become God conscious. One who thinks of God at the time of death, never takes birth again in the material world.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

In order to be elevated to this consciousness, sacrifice is required. Every action we perform should be dedicated to God. That is the path of dharma. Lord Krishna Himself declares that one should act with detachment, not craving any fruitive results.

“Be steadfast in yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.48)

This is a nice concept in theory, but unless we apply it to our own lives, it is meaningless. Renunciation and acting with detachment aren’t easy things to implement. How can we become detached from sense gratification if we enjoy it so much? The easiest way to acquire detachment is by having attachment to God and His service. Lord Rama practiced detachment by only acting in His devotees’ interests. We can similarly show detachment by acting in God’s interest and the interests of His devotees.

Hanuman's attachment to Lord Rama This attachment for God actually already exists inside all of us. Due to our conditioned state, however, we have forgotten this love. It simply needs to be reawakened. This revival can occur only through the practice of bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Consisting of nine distinct process, one need only engage in one of them to achieve perfection. Chanting is the recommended method for this age. The maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, fosters attachment to God and His name, so one who chants this regularly will be performing the highest service for himself and his fellow man. By engaging in devotional service, we will automatically be detached from whatever material rewards we acquire, be it wealth or a high position of power. Since our only desire will be to serve God, covetousness will go away.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Hanuman - a humble servant of God “One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor yet is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord." (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.26)

People in general don’t like to be told what to do or how to act. It is the nature of the living entity to want to be free and to act as it sees fit. Submitting ourselves to the instructions and counsel of others goes against our nature.

According to the Vedas, the material world is composed of five gross elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and false ego. The third subtle element is referred to as false ego rather than just a normal ego since it is the tendency of living entities to falsely think themselves proprietors of nature and the fruits of their labor. Everyone naturally has an ego, in that they think themselves to be the doers of their activities. In reality, we may cause our bodies to act, but results of such action are not determined by us. When someone gives us instruction or tries to teach us something, it directly attacks our false ego.

Mother Yashoda chastising baby Krishna We generally think we are smart and know how to do everything. This sentiment exists in all stages of life, for we can all remember times in our youth when we thought our parents were unintelligent or even crazy. They would impose strict rules on us that never made any sense. We thought they were punishing us simply for their own amusement. They would yell at us for watching too much television or for staying out too late. Yet as we grew older, we realized that our parents were correct in their actions, for our behavior as children warranted such disciplinary measures. Even after realizing this however, we still have somewhat of a “know-it-all” attitude that manifests itself as self-esteem or self-confidence. We believe we can handle our own affairs and that we know the proper course of action in life. Because of this, we are stubborn in seeking help from others. The common stereotype for men is that they will not ask for directions when they get lost. Men will drive around for hours before they will finally admit to themselves that they don’t know the way.

“The spirit soul, bewildered by false ego (ahankara-vimudha), 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)

Ram blessing Hanuman The Vedas recommend that we break out of this sense of false ego and turn it into a real ego. Our real ego is developed when we understand that Lord Krishna, or God, is responsible for all the workings of this creation. Along with His various energies, it is God who directs the events of the material world. We have no control over them. We shouldn’t falsely think ourselves to the proprietors of this world. Self-esteem isn’t a bad thing, but it should come from real knowledge and not that produced by the false ego. Understanding that Krishna is in charge of everything and not us, results in the highest form of self-esteem. In the Bhagavad-gita, this state of enlightenment is known as the brahma-bhutah platform. As the Lord says, one who reaches this stage gives up all his worries.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Bg. 18.54)

When Lord Krishna advented on earth as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, He was ordered to spend fourteen years as an exile in the forest. Though He was the eldest son of the king, Rama was denied the royal throne due to the request of His step-mother, Kaikeyi. Instead of being installed as the new king, Lord Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom. His wife Sita, and younger brother Lakshmana, insisted on accompanying Him. As they were about to embark on their journey, Rama’s mother, Kausalya, reminded Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to serve Him at all times. Kausalya was a very good mother; good enough to have God take birth as her son. So naturally she was worried about how He would fare in such austere conditions. She was also acting as a good mother-in-law by making sure that Sita was always adhering to her duties. In the Vedic system, once a girl is married, she then belongs to the family of her husband. Sita was much adored by Kausalya, for she treated her as her own daughter. There was never any friction between the two, unlike the stereotypical relationship between a wife and her mother-in-law.

“Hearing her mother-in-law’s words fraught with virtue and interest, Sita facing that lady, said with joined palms: ‘I will do all that the noble one says. I know how I should act by my husband. I have heard all about that (from my parents)’. (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for exile In response to Kausalya’s instructions, Sita made the above referenced statement. It may appear on the surface that Sita was being contentious in her response, thus making her a victim of the false ego, but that was actually not the case. Sita was the perfect devotee of God, so she already knew the proper code of conduct. In fact, Lord Rama tried very hard to get her to remain in the kingdom and not follow Him. Sita, however, made a passionate plea on her own behalf, citing scripture and other authority to buttress her position. Her statements were so perfect that Lord Rama was forced to allow her to come along. Sita required no instruction from anyone regarding the proper duties of a wife.

Sita Rama Though she kindly agreed to oblige Kausalya’s words, Sita also made it a point to remind everyone that she had already been taught all of this information by her parents when she was growing up. Sita was the daughter of Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila. Janaka was a great transcendentalist, very pious and known for being an expert yogi. Due to his great piety, he was rewarded with having the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi, appear as his daughter. Sita was his most prized possession, and he went to great lengths to make sure she had a proper upbringing. Like all great kings of that time, Janaka would regularly entertain great ascetics and brahmanas, or priests. Brahmanas are considered the highest class, so it is the duty of the rest of society to show them respect and take instruction from them. The brahmanas who would visit Janaka would always make sure to meet his daughter Sita and study her astrological attributes. It is customary in Vedic culture for parents to invite priests to their homes and ask them to give predictions on the future of their children. Along with fortunetelling, the brahmanas provided spiritual guidance to Sita’s parents, and the parents in turn passed those traditions and teachings down to Sita. In this way, she received a spiritual education equal to or greater than the education received by students attending gurukulas, or schools hosted at the house of a trained spiritual master or guru.

Sita Devi, a perfect devotee, showed respect to those who were worthy of it, namely Rama’s mother. She easily could have thought to herself, “Who is this person trying to lecture me? Doesn’t she know who I am and how great my devotion is?” Instead, she humbly joined her palms together and offered words of reassurance to her mother-in-law. This is proper conduct. However advanced we may become in our devotional service, we should always remember to show humility and respect to other devotees, our parents, and other elderly members of society. Sita loved Rama with all her heart and soul, and for this reason alone, she is worthy of our respect and adoration. It is in our best interests to follow the example she has set for us.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Worship in Goodness

 Rama and Lakshmana“That thing which falls to my lot on the destruction of friends and adherents, I never accept, even like food mixed with poison.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 97)

Lord Rama, God Himself, here definitively declares that He rejects any offering made to Him that comes at the expense of His devotees. God must be worshiped in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. Worshiping God in any other way is not sanctioned by the shastras.

According to Vedic philosophy, the material world is governed by three qualities, known as gunas. These qualities manifest as the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Every conditioned living entity possesses a combination of these qualities. Just as an expert chemist can concoct various combinations of chemicals to create a multitude of compounds, material nature gives the jiva soul up to 8,400,000 varieties of species to take birth in depending on the precise combination possessed of the three mode of nature. By saying that someone possesses a particular quality of nature, it means that they perform activities in that particular mode. For example, people who possess the mode of goodness perform acts that are in knowledge, i.e. in line with the injunctions of the scriptures. Activities performed for the purpose of cultivating spiritual knowledge constitute the mode of goodness.

“The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Bhagavad-gita, 16.1-3)

Hanuman is always in pure goodness The mode of passion includes any fruitive activity, meaning anything we do for our own personal benefit. This makes up the majority of the work that most of us perform. Going to school, working hard at the office, eating food that we like, and playing sports are all part of the mode of passion. The mode of ignorance, or darkness, is any activity performed that is lacking in goodness or passion. Sleeping unnecessarily, eating too much, being intoxicated all the time; these are all in the mode of ignorance.

Just as all our activities can be classified into one of these three modes, so can every religious function we perform. Being religious can have many different meanings depending on who you talk to, but in the Vedic definition, the quintessential religious act is the sacrifice, or yajna. The reason religious activities are classified as sacrifices is that, by nature, we are all accustomed to act for our own self interest. This is the definition of karma. We perform an action which then has a commensurate reaction, either good or bad. If we perform pious activities, good things will happen to us, and if we are sinful, then the reverse is true. The Vedas refer to religion as sanatana dharma, meaning the eternal occupation of man. Our business is to know God, and then to use that knowledge to serve Him. So in essence, religion is the antithesis of fruitive activity or karma. Religiosity is meant to serve as a sacrifice of material activity. Each step we take closer to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we take one step away from the clutches of maya. This is why the highest perfectional stage in life is the sannyasa ashrama, the renounced order of life. This is the last of the four ashramas, where one lives a completely renounced life, depending on Krishna for everything.

“Of sacrifices, that sacrifice performed according to duty and to scriptural rules, and with no expectation of reward, is of the nature of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.11)

Yajna, or sacrifice, is very important, but not all yajnas are the same. They also can be classified into the different modes of nature. The main point to understand is that Lord Krishna can only be worshiped in the mode of goodness. There is only one God even though He has many different expansions, forms, and names. Krishna is the original form, with Lord Vishnu being His primary expansion. For governance of the material world, the Lord expands Himself into the three guna-avataras: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Lord Brahma is the avatara for people in the mode of passion, Lord Shiva for those in the mode of ignorance, and Lord Vishnu for those in the mode of goodness. Lord Vishnu is considered superior since He is a direct expansion of Krishna and thus in the mode of goodness.

“According to the philosophy of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, Lord Shiva is not different from Lord Vishnu, but still Lord Shiva is not Lord Vishnu, just as yogurt is nothing but milk and yet is not milk nevertheless. One cannot get the benefit of milk by drinking yogurt. Similarly, one cannot get salvation by worshiping Lord Shiva. If one wants salvation, one must worship Lord Vishnu.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.100)

Lord Shiva Aside from Lord Shiva and Brahma, there are many other chief deputies, known as the demigods. They are sort of the Cabinet or government officers who have been invested with various responsibilities by Krishna.

“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.23)

Generally speaking, those who are less intelligent worship the demigods. For example, the great demons Ravana and Hiranyakashipu both performed great austerities in order to please the demigods. They performed these austerities not out of any love or concern for the demigods, but only to receive material boons. That is why demigod worshipers are generally considered unintelligent. Religion is meant to be performed out of pure love for God, and not for any material benefit. Realizing this can take time, so one is given a chance to gradually progress in spiritual life by performing sacrifices for various demigods and by performing other fruitive religious activities. Nevertheless, the great demons of the past never worshiped Lord Krishna or Lord Vishnu because their prayers for material boons would have gone unanswered.

There was a famous incident with the great Narada Muni that illustrates how worship of Lord Vishnu works. A pure devotee of the Lord, Narada travels the three worlds providing spiritual guidance to one and all. He lives the life of a perfect sannyasi, which requires having no connection with women. On one occasion, however, he felt victim to amorous love and desperately wanted to get married to a certain princess. She had a svayamvara ceremony, where she got to choose who she would marry. Narada Muni prayed to Lord Vishnu to ensure that the girl would pick him. The Lord used some word jugglery to trick Narada into thinking that his prayers would be answered, when in reality, the Lord agreed to do what was best for Narada. When the time came to choose, the girl looked at Narada Muni and saw the face of a bear. She immediately eliminated him from the candidacy.

Narada Muni This is the Lord’s mercy to His devotees. If a devotee prays for a material reward, and the Lord decides that it is in the best interest of the devotee, He will happily oblige. He is never required to answer prayers made for a personal benefit. Demigods on the other hand, must reward their devotees, regardless of the motives. Ravana and Hiranyakashipu both had ill motives, for they were great enemies to the sages of the world. Regardless, the demigods had to provide them what they wanted.

In the above referenced statement, Lord Rama is declaring that He never accepts anything offered to Him if it comes at the expense of His devotees. In today’s world, we see many deplorable acts committed in the name of religion. Terrorism, cow slaughter, and even abortion are either sanctioned or not protested by many of the world’s religious leaders. Based on Lord Rama’s statement, we can understand that these religions, as they are espoused today, cannot be considered bona fide.

Religion means to know and love God. Any religious system which aims to achieve this end can be considered bona fide, and any other system must be considered bogus. The proper way to follow religious principles is through the execution of devotional service, also known as bhakti yoga. Bhakti means love and yoga means linking one’s soul with God. We living entities are spirit souls who are part and parcel of God, but God is the Supreme Soul who is so great that He can easily expand Himself as the Supersoul residing in the hearts of every living entity. Devotional service means dedicating all our actions to God. The Vedas describe the Lord atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. That being the case, how can we make someone who is in need of nothing, happy?

Lord Rama God is generally neutral towards all living entities, but He makes an exception for His devotees. His love for His devotees cannot be put into words. Just by judging the actions He performed during His various incarnations, we get a slight glimpse into just how great that love is. Lord Rama’s activities were all performed for the benefit of His friends, family, and dependents. In fact, the above referenced statement was made to pacify Lakshmana, who had become angry upon seeing Bharata approaching their camp. Lord Rama was Krishna Himself in the guise of a kshatriya prince. He, His wife Sita Devi, and younger brother Lakshmana, were serving out an exile term in the forest when Rama and Lakshmana’s brother, Bharata, came to see them. Bharata wanted Rama to come back to the kingdom of Ayodhya and ascend the throne, but Lakshmana was unaware of this, so he was initially suspicious. In order to quell Lakshmana’s anger, Rama informed him that there was no need to be violent against Bharata. The Lord never wants to gain something, in this case the kingdom, at the expense of His devotees. Bharata was just as devoted to Rama as Lakshmana was.

Since God isn’t always physically present before us, the best way to perform devotional service is to serve His devotees. The bona fide spiritual master, the guru, is the true representative of Krishna. Surrendering everything unto the Lord, the spiritual master humbly asks others to become Krishna conscious, for he knows that this will make Krishna happy. Pure devotees return to one of Krishna’s spiritual planets at the time of death, so the spiritual master tries to turn as many people into devotees as possible because it will mean that Krishna will be able to reclaim so many lost souls.

To act in concert with God’s interests, we simply have to pass on the teachings of the great acharyas. Vyasadeva, Goswami Tulsidas, Shrila Rupa Goswami, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and other great Vaishnava saints have all passed on volumes and volumes of written instruction on the science of devotional service. To serve them, we simply have to induce others to follow their teachings. Love Krishna, chant His holy names, and be happy.

Radha, Krishna, and gopis Krishna has declared many times that pleasing His servant means pleasing Him. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation, taught us to think of ourselves as the servant of the servant of God. This is the proper method of worship. We actually cannot approach God directly in the beginning stages. The spiritual master is the via-medium. If we please the devotees, God will be happy with us and accept our offerings.