Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Price is Right

Hanuman chanting the glories of Sita Rama “Whatever was possible to perform in the Satya Yuga by meditation and the Treta Yuga by offering of costly sacrifices, and in the Dvapara Yuga by offering prayers or archana in the temple, that can be made possible easily by hari-kirtana, by chanting the holy name of God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 1966.05.25 NY)

Due to the recent downturn in the economy, many retail stores are going out of business. It is very common to see liquidation and going out of business sales around various shopping areas. Though not good for the retailers, these liquidation sales present a tremendous opportunity for bargain shoppers. Retail items are drastically discounted in price and shoppers often race to the stores to take advantage. Checkout lines are typically very long at these stores, with shoppers trying to grab as much cheap merchandise as they can.

In a similar fashion, the price of self-realization has been drastically reduced in this age of Kali. According to Vedic philosophy, each creation of the earth is divided into four time periods. During the first time period, known as the Satya Yuga, the level of dharma is at one hundred percent in society. People are completely pious, thus it is known as the Golden Age. With each successive age, dharma is reduced by one quarter its original strength. In the Kali Yuga, the age we are currently in, dharma is only at twenty five percent. For this reason, God has made the path to self-realization easier.

In previous ages, serving God required rigorous meditation, strict deity worship, or the performance of elaborate sacrifices. The practice of meditation is still very popular in the modern age, but this is not anything like the meditation practiced in the Satya Yuga. For one to practice meditation properly, one must strictly adhere to the rules enjoined in the shashtras, or scriptures. The first requirement is that one must be completely celibate. Meditation means concentration on the Supreme Lord, and having control over one’s sexual desires is necessary in order for one to fully concentrate. Another requirement is that one must practice their meditation in a secluded place. This was told to Arjuna by Lord Krishna Himself.

“A transcendentalist should always try to concentrate his mind on the Supreme Self; he should live alone in a secluded place and should always carefully control his mind. He should be free from desires and feelings of possessiveness. To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kusha grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should neither be too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogi should then sit on it very firmly and should practice yoga by controlling the mind and the senses, purifying the heart and fixing the mind on one point.” (Bhagavad-gita, 6.10-11)

Lord Shiva meditating As we can see, it is almost impossible for most people to follow these regulations today. In a similar manner, the elaborate sacrifices that were performed in the past are not so easy to put together today. The kings were very pious in previous times, so they would regular perform grand sacrifices such as the ashvamedha and rajasuya. Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, performed the ashvamedha sacrifice in order to obtain a son and he was thereby blessed by having Lord Rama, God Himself, take birth as his eldest son. The process recommended for the Dvapara Yuga was archanam, or deity worship. While this practice still exists today, it is not as widespread as it was in the Dvapara Yuga. Temple worship involves installing an archa-vigraha, or deity, of the Lord and then worshiping it in regular intervals throughout the day. A pujari, or priest, is in charge of maintaining and tending to the deity, and visitors to the temple come to see the Lord and offer their prayers to Him. Prasadam is also distributed. This process is still going on today but it really flourished during the Dvapara Yuga.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada described the differences of the particular Yugas in this way:

“…in the Satya Yuga people used to realize self or used to elevate themselves to the highest perfection of life by meditation. You have heard the name of Valmiki Muni. Valmiki Muni, he meditated for sixty thousands of years. His whole body was covered by worms. …gradually our life is being reduced…In the Satya Yuga, it is stated, that people used to live for one hundred thousands of years…And in the Treta-Yuga, ten thousand years. In the Dvapara Yuga one thousand years. And now it has come down to one hundred years in this Kali Yuga. That also, one hundred years is not completed. Now we are dying within sixty or seventy and gradually it will be reduced to twenty to thirty years. That is also mentioned. So what was possible in the Satya Yuga by meditation, that is not possible in this age. That is not possible. Therefore the methods have been made easier.” (Lecture, 1966.05.25 NY)

In this age, Lord Chaitanya, who is Krishna Himself, introduced the process of sankirtana as the means for salvation. Sankirtana is the congregational chanting of the holy name of God. Lord Chaitanya instructed us to chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” as much as possible.

Unlike the methods of previous ages, sankirtana doesn’t have any strict rules associated with it. One can chant at any time and at any place. One doesn’t have to be in the renounced order of life or even be an adult. Young children can practice chanting. In fact, this is recommended, for if a child develops a good chanting routine, then they will surely keep it up for the rest of their life. Chanting the maha-mantra isn’t just for Indians either. The name Krishna is God’s name, meaning “all-attractive”. There is only one God and He is for everyone. Therefore anyone can engage in the process of repeating His name in a loving manner. That is the key. One has to develop a love for God and His name. In fact, this love already exists inside of us, so it is not really a question of developing the love, but more of trying to reawaken it. The love we have for our parents and family members exists naturally, for no one has taught us how to love them. In the same way, our love for Krishna already exists, but it is currently in a dormant state for most of us. Our attachment to fruitive activity has caused us to forget the loving relationship we have with the Lord. Chanting helps us to revitalize it.

All glories to Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, for giving us the best liquidation sale of all, the free chanting of the Holy name. Let us all take advantage of this great bargain.