Saturday, June 27, 2009

Krishna’s Mrdanga

Lord Chaitanya started the original sankirtana movement in India some five hundred years ago. Sankirtana is the process of congregationally chanting the holy names of the Lord and it is the process most recommended for people in this age. In Kali Yuga, people generally don’t want to hear about God. If they meet a religious person they may think, “Whoah this person is crazy. They’re one of those God freaks that’s going to tell me what’s wrong with my life and that I’m going to hell.” This may in fact be the behavior of many preachers, but in the Vedic system this is not so. Brahmanas, the priestly class of society, are required to teach others on dharma and devotion to Lord Krishna in a compassionate manner, with equal regard for all living entities.

Now in the past, the brahmanas were automatically afforded the highest respect by the rest of society. Kings would maintain at least a few brahmanas in the royal court and they would take direction from them. The famous king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, had the venerable sage Vashishta as his royal priest. Aside from listening to him, the king also gave respect to other brahmanas. One time, the sage Vishvamitra visited his kingdom and requested to have two of the king’s sons, Rama and Lakshmana, accompany him for a short period in the forest. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna and also the eldest son of Dashratha. He was very attached to Rama and felt that he wouldn’t be able to handle separation from Him. He tried to get Vishvamitra to change his mind, but the sage insisted on having Rama since he required protection from the rakshasas that were ranging the forest. In the end, Dashratha acquiesced, for he was very pious and knew that the requests of the great sages should never be denied. Similarly, Vedic literature is full of many historical incidences relating to the venerable Narada Muni where people reformed their lives by following his instructions.

mrdangaIn today’s age, the situation is reversed, where the truly saintly people are generally ignored. For this reason, Lord Chaitanya popularized the sankirtana movement, whereby God’s name would be sung loudly throughout society. If people didn’t want to hear discussions on the Bhagavad-gita or Ramayana, then they could still make spiritual progress by hearing the Lord’s names melodiously sung. A key component of a sankirtana party is a mrdanga,  which Wikipedia defines as “an Indian percussion instrument meaning ‘beat and go’”. The mrdanga player provides the beat, and along with a few kartal (cymbals) players and a lead singer, you have a sankirtana party. This movement has been very popular in India since its introduction by Lord Chaitanya, and now has become popular worldwide through the mercy of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Prabhupada often referred to the printing press as the brhad-mrdanga, or big mrdanga. He was a very big fan of it since it could quickly produce large quantities of Krishna conscious reading material that could be disseminated to the general public. He was the spiritual master of Shrila Prabhupada and he wanted very much for all his disciples to preach the cult of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu throughout the world, especially in the Western countries. This was his direct request to Shril Prabhupada, and the swami took it to heart.

In the modern age, blogging has become a very popular means of promoting ideas and thoughts. In previous times, a person required the help of a newspaper or magazine in order to spread information about something. Without the help of mass distribution, people’s exposure to opinions and commentary remained limited to what was seen on television and in local newspapers. The internet has brought about a change in the way information is gathered and disseminated. The weblog, or blog, has become an invaluable tool in allowing people to promote their ideas and businesses. A newspaper can host a blog to bring stories to readers even before the next issue of their paper hits newsstands. Most blogs allow for comments from readers and responses from other bloggers. This provides a much more in depth presentation of issues.

Though blogs already exists for just about every issue, the best use of a blog is to promote and educate others about God. In India, information about God, contained in the Vedas, was passed down from generation to generation through aural reception. The Vedas are also referred to as shrutis, meaning “that which is heard.” With the new internet age, these same Vedic teachings can be distributed to the masses in written form in a very short amount of time. God has been very kind to allow us to take birth in an age where the internet is prominent. We should make the best use of such an opportunity by using the internet to spread His glories. This would have been the wish of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta, so let’s make him proud by using the internet as Krishna’s mrdanga!

Friday, June 26, 2009

Right By Your Side

Sita Rama “Regarded by her husband, Sita of dark eyes, and intent upon her husband’s welfare, followed Him to the entrance and said, ‘I shall be ministering to you, seeing you initiated, engaged in ceremonies, wearing excellent deer skin for cloth and carrying horns in my hands.’” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 21)

Lord Rama, the incarnation of God in the Treta Yuga, was all set to be installed as the new king of Ayodhya by His father, Maharaja Dashratha. On the day set for the Lord’s installation, a messenger came to the palace where He and His wife lived and informed Him that the king wanted to see Him. Unaware that the plans had changed and that Bharata, Rama’s younger brother, was instead going to be installed as the new king, the Lord set off for His father’s palace. Just prior to leaving, He informed His wife, Sita Devi, that He would be right back and to not worry. In response, Sita Devi addressed her husband as noted above.

Sita’s statement to her husband represents the one thing every person wants from their spouse, support. As long as the wife is supportive, the husband is happy and vice versa. Sadly, the level of support shown by Sita is not always present in marriages. Many times, it is seen that a husband or wife can become jealous when their spouse suddenly comes upon good fortune. This is quite natural as we all have a little bit of envy inside of us. According to the Vedas, mankind suffers from four distinct defects, those being the propensity to cheat, the tendency to be easily illusioned, possessing imperfect senses, and being prone to committing mistakes. Greed, wrath, envy, and hypocrisy also naturally exist in everyone in varying degrees.

In any close relationship such as a marriage, when one person’s fortunes suddenly take a turn for the better, the other person often feels slighted and left out. We all want to be important and make a difference. Each of us is special and knowing this, we want to matter in life. When we are involved in a close relationship with a loved one, we want to think of ourselves as the only source of pleasure for our significant other. Being in love or loving someone means surrendering everything unto them, be they a husband, wife, or significant other. Thus the lover voluntarily puts themselves in a subordinate position, requiring the reciprocation of love in order to feel happiness. Put into this dependent position, we hope that our loved one feels the same way that we do and is as equally dependent on us for their happiness. If our spouse or significant other suddenly becomes rich or famous, it is natural for us to worry that maybe they will derive more happiness from their newfound fame than they will from their relationship with us.

With Sita Devi, none of these feelings existed. Her husband was on the precipice of something really great. Lord Rama was born into one of the most famous dynasties in history, the Ikshvakus. They were all very pious rulers, and to take birth in that line was considered a great boon. Rama was the eldest and most cherished son of King Dashratha, so ascension to the throne was inevitable and eagerly anticipated by the citizens of Ayodhya. On the day set for her husband’s installation, Sita reassured Him that she would be there right by His side, supporting Him throughout the ceremony. She wanted to let Him know that she would always be there for Him and that they would share this momentous occasion together.

According to the Vedic system, once married, a husband and wife equally share the same fate in this life and the next. They are considered to be one person. Even God, in His various forms, is always worshiped alongside His pleasure potency, who acts as His wife or eternal consort. Lord Krishna is worshiped with Shrimati Radharani, Lord Rama is worshipped with Sita Devi, Narayana (Vishnu) is worshiped with Lakshmi, and so on. Since they both share the same fate, it is in the best interest of the wife to make sure that the husband is always happy and performing his religious duties. For the husband, it is imperative that the wife always remain protected and feel safe, so that they can together perform their prescribed duties as householders. Those in the grihastha ashrama, householder life, are required to perform many Vedic sacrficies, or yajnas, as part of their samskaras (sacraments or religious training). Since they are in the only stage of life where fruitive activity is sanctioned, they are required to perform sacrifices and to be charitable to the rest of society. Sita Devi was well acquainted with this system, so she was ready for all the specific aspects of the installation ceremony. Since she was God’s wife, she was pious right from her very birth and all her actions in life were exemplary.

Aside from acting as an ideal wife, Sita showed us the example of how to serve all of God’s needs. The Vedas refer to the Supreme as atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. He is in need of nothing, but through His mercy, He voluntarily places Himself in situations where His devotees can serve Him. This was the case with Sita Devi. He wanted everyone to see just how great a devotee she was. In order to glorify her and give her everlasting fame, He created situations where her dedication could be put on display.

When we see Lord Krishna’s forms, especially that of Lord Vishnu, He always appears very opulent and beautifully dressed. His body is adorned with the Kaustubha gem, earrings, a flower garland, and other such paraphernalia. He is God after all so naturally He will be very beautiful, but actually the Lord appears this way due to the desire of His devotees. Just as car owners take very good care of their cars, washing them regularly and making them look very nice, the Lord’s devotees love Him so much that they put His happiness and pleasure above their own.  They want Him to have all the fame and glory and for Him to always be adorned with beautiful paraphernalia. In the spiritual world, Sita Devi is known as Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. Sometimes the Lord is addressed as Madhava or Shripati, meaning the husband of the goddess of fortune. Lakshmi Narayana She is always by Lord Vishnu’s side, massaging His feet and attending to His every need. Appearing on earth in the form of Sita, she assumed the same role. We would all be well served to follow her wonderful example and pledge our support to the Lord and His devotees. Though God is not always physically present before us, He deputes His pure devotees to serve as His bona fide representatives. By always keeping our minds on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord and by offering our services to the great devotees like Hanumanji, Tulsidas, Shrila Prabhupada and others, we perform the highest service for the Lord.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Renunciation Made Easy

Hanuman worshiping Lord Rama "We don't simply prohibit that ‘You don't do this,’ but we supply something which is engaged by the senses and the mind, the intelligence, so that you do not require to be engaged otherwise.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture 690101BG.LA)

Religion is sometimes misunderstood as being something very restrictive, full of rigid rules and regulations that must strictly be adhered to. While there are many rules that exist, they serve only a beginning step, a way to guide a person to a much higher end goal.

Understanding God and learning to love Him is the real purpose and meaning behind religion. In the Vedas, this is referred to as sanatana dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end, and dharma means duty or prescribed occupation. So the idea of religion really refers to the eternal occupation of man and not simply to blind faith.

Due to rapid advancements in technology, today’s society has more free time to indulge in leisurely activities and sybaritic pursuits than generations past. We spend our free time watching movies, playing different sports, or surfing the internet. Many people focus all their free time on activities of intoxication, gambling, and chasing after sex life.  If one becomes overly attached to these activities, they trap themselves in an endless cycle of mundane sense gratification that always leaves them wanting more.

These activities may be bad for us, but what else are we supposed to do with our free time? This is where bhakti yoga, or devotional service, comes in. Not to be confused with the modern day definition of yoga involving various breathing exercises and sitting postures, bhakti yoga is a way of life where all of one’s activities are dovetailed with service to the Supreme. Instead of retreating to a mountain top and chanting the syllable Om over and over again, devotional service is a call to action. In the Vedas, if one is serious about making spiritual progress, it is recommended that they abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. Abruptly renouncing something, quitting it “cold turkey”, isn’t very easy for most of us to do. We have built up an attachment to sinful activity over many many births and it is very difficult to break free of them. To help us in our renunciation, the Vedas recommend that we constantly engage ourselves in God’s service. By taking this approach, we will be so busy that we won’t have any time for sinful activity. If we prepare all our food to be offered to Lord Krishna first, we will automatically stop eating meat, for the Lord does not accept food consisting of animal flesh.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

If we engage ourselves in chanting His names and reading books about Him, we’ll experience a feeling of bliss that surpasses any highs that we get from intoxication. By using our hard earned money to purchase nice flowers for the Lord’s deity, or to construct nice temples for Him, or to support His devotees, we’ll lose any desire we may have to gamble. The husband and wife serving the Lord together, performing various sacrifices and rituals in their home, will become even more committed to each other, losing any desire they may have for illicit sex life.

Renunciation is commonly viewed as an end-goal, something that we have to strive for.  In actually, renunciation is automatically acquired by those actively engaged in a higher cause. If we gradually devote ourselves to God’s service, our love for Him will increase, and our desire for sinful activity will diminish without us ever having to think about renouncing anything.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Happy Home

Radha and Krishna together “The best process for making the home pleasant is Krishna consciousness. If one is in full Krishna consciousness, he can make his home very happy because this process of Krishna consciousness is very easy. One need only chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, accept the remnants of foodstuffs offered to Krishna, have some discussion on books like Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam, and engage oneself in Deity worship. These four will make one happy. One should train the members of his family in this way. The family members can sit down morning and evening and chant together” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg 13.8-12 Purport)

In today’s society, especially in Western countries, divorce is a very common practice resorted to by couples having problems in their marriage. Due to the high divorce rate, many churches will not allow people to get married in their church unless they undergo a series of counseling sessions. This course, known as “Pre-Cana”, is given as a way of helping ensure the solvency of the marriage. Couples are taught about the institution of marriage, what to expect, and how to get along with each other. The concepts of shared love, responsibility, and conflict resolution are discussed along with other topics. Many local governments also provide similar instructions to couples when they apply for marriage licenses. Many people even go so far as to sign prenuptial agreements, hoping that this will prevent their spouse from potentially coming after their assets through the divorce system.

While these attempts are very nice and well intentioned, we see that many couples still end up divorcing even after going through such extraordinary preventative measures. In actuality, the concept of divorce is a modern man made creation. According to the Vedas, a marriage is a bond between a man and a woman that exists for life. Even if the husband takes to the renounced order of life, sannyasa, he is still considered married to his wife.

In the Vedic tradition, boys are married as soon as they have any inkling for sex life. The same holds true for girls. In this way, sex life is allowed, but only in a regulated manner inside of a marriage. There is no concept of boyfriend/girlfriend or the free association between men and women. Marriage occurs through the arrangement of the parents. A girl’s parents will compare the qualities of their daughter with that of the potential son-in-law. Both families compare each other’s lineage to make sure that the family traditions and values match up. Married life is known as the grihastha ashrama. In the Vedic system of varnashrama dharma, a person’s life is to be divided into four successive stages, each of which is conducive to achieving God realization. Grihastha is the second stage of life where ones lives as a householder with one’s spouse and children. It immediately follows the stage of celibate student life, known as brahmacharya. Household life requires the wife to serve all the needs of the husband, and for the husband to provide full protection for his wife. This allows for a peaceful life where both parties can make spiritual advancement simultaneously.

Disagreements naturally occur, but no thought is given to divorce. Both parties understand from the beginning what their role is. In the modern system of love marriages, the wife is always asking herself if the husband still loves her. The husband is always asking himself if his wife is devoted to her. Much effort is taken to maintain the “romantic spark”. For couples in the Vedic system, these questions don’t arise since there is a sense of duty that exists from the very beginning. Both the husband and wife are working towards a cause higher than themselves.

Whether it is a love marriage or a Vedic style marriage, the best way to ensure a successful household life is for both husband and wife to constantly chant the holy names of God together.  Married couples should rise early, perform deity worship, chant together, and then eat prasadam. The same process can be repeated in the evening. Even the children can get involved. Young children are the essence of innocence, as they haven’t developed many of the inhibitions that adults have.  Thus, they will take very nicely to serving the Lord by accompanying the parents in their chanting and offering of prayers and prasadam. Such activities will prove more valuable to children than watching television or playing video games.

Bhagiratha praying for the Ganga to descend to earthAccording to the Shrimad-Bhagavatam, one should not be a king, a teacher, or a parent unless they can deliver their dependents from the repeated cycle of birth and death. People may have children for other reasons, many of which are very noble, but the highest service a parent can perform for a child is to make them Krishna, or God conscious. This will ensure that their child’s birth will be their last one. Even the parents are benefitted from such a situation, since a truly devoted person can deliver many previous generations of family members. The great sage Bhagiratha brought Mother Ganga, the Ganges River, down from heaven to earth, thus delivering five previous generations of family members, including the sixty thousand sons of King Sagara.

If we water the roots of a tree, then automatically the branches and leaves are also fed. In the same way, if we provide nice service to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then the needs of our friends and family are satisfied at the same time. If a husband and wife work together for the highest cause, then they will always be happy and secure in their marriage.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

How To Become A Devotee

Krishna dancing with the gopis Question: I’m interested in becoming a devotee of Krishna but I don’t know where to start. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: The purpose of human life is to know and love God. Any practice or method that can help us achieve that goal is the perfect religion. In the current age, the recommended method for achieving love of God is the chanting of His holy names.

The Vedas consist of various hymns and mantras glorifying God. There are literally thousands of different mantras, each having their own purpose and prescribed time for recitation. Lord Krishna Himself used to regularly recite the gayatri mantra as part of His daily routine when He appeared on earth some five thousand years ago. Prior to that, in His incarnation as the warrior prince Lord Rama, mantras also played an integral role in His life. During His battles with the evil rakshasa demons, Lord Rama used to call upon the mantras given to Him by the great sages. These mantras would enable His weapons to gain further strength, giving the arrows shot from His bow strength similar to that of a nuclear weapon. Of all the Vedic mantras, the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”, is considered the most efficacious since it directly addresses God and His energies in a loving way.

God takes many forms and His holy name is one of them. Constantly repeating His name is the easiest way to stay connected with Him. In the current age of Kali, mankind spends most of its time trying to satisfy the senses. People in general aren’t as religious as they used to be with many people not thinking of God even once in a day. Chanting the maha-mantra is recommended as the initial step for neophyte devotees because it is easy for anyone to pick up and there are no hard and fast rules associated with it. Anyone can chant this mantra wherever they are at any time of the day.

Japa Mala  To begin, one needs a set of chanting beads, also known as a japa mala. Each japa mala contains 108 small beads connected together on a string with one large bead at the center. Holding the mala in your right hand, place one of the small beads adjacent to the large bead in between your thumb and middle finger. Repeat the mantra once out loud and then roll to the next smallest bead and say the mantra again. Repeat this process until you reach the large bead. In this way, by repeating the mantra 108 times, you will have completed one round of japa meditation. Once you reach the large bead, turn the mala around and start the chanting process again in the reverse direction starting with the small bead adjacent to the large bead. The large bead represents the “Krishna” bead and is not to be chanted on.

To truly understand God and the science of devotional service, one needs to approach a spiritual master, or guru. Lord Krishna Himself states this in the Bhagavad-gita:

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna, Bg. 4.34)

The guru acts as the via-medium, showing us the proper way to return back to Krishna’s spiritual realm. A spiritual master that everyone can approach in this age is A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Though he is no longer physically present in this world, he lives forever through the teachings found in his books and recorded lectures. Shrila Prabhupada’s primary recommendation was for everyone to chant at least 16 rounds of the maha-mantra daily on a japa mala. Sixteen rounds means reciting the mantra 16 x 108 times every day.  The concept of repeating the same phrase over and over may seem silly at first, but it is actually very effective. By investing so much time in thinking and hearing about God, one is sure to develop an attachment for Him and at the same time become detached from activities of sense gratification.  Along with chanting, Prabhupada also requested everyone to abide by the four regulative principles of devotional life:  abstention from meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. Though it may be helpful, one isn’t required to live in a temple or even attend one. Anyone can implement these devotional practices into their daily life wherever they may live.

For those unaccustomed to the Vedic lifestyle, these regulations may seem very difficult to live by. Chanting sixteen rounds can take a few hours, and many of us are strongly attached to meat eating and intoxication. Just as with anything else, success in spiritual life requires perseverance and persistence. One should start off slow, building a routine, and then gradually build off of that. One can commit to chanting at least one round a day to start off. Then gradually as the routine becomes easier, extra rounds can be added. The key is to stick with it. Unlike in our material endeavors, there is never any wasted effort in devotional service. Even if we aren’t successful in achieving God consciousness in this life, in our next life we are allowed to resume from where we left off as stated by the Lord in the Bhagavad-gita:

“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. Or he takes his birth in a family of transcendentalists who are surely great in wisdom. Verily, such a birth is rare in this world. On taking such a birth, he again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna, Bg. 6.41-43)

Attending temples is a nice way to gain association with fellow devotees who can offer helpful tips and insights. The reality is that attending temples isn’t an option for many of us since there may not be any close to where we live. Luckily for us the great saints of India have left behind voluminous books and other writings about Krishna and the science of devotion to Him. Reading is another way we can have direct association with Krishna and his bona fide representatives, the spiritual masters.

Whichever avenue we choose, the end goal is the same, to develop a love for Krishna. Bhakti yoga, or devotional service, consists of nine different processes which allow us ample opportunity to serve the Lord. By engaging in chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, becoming friends with Him, or by surrendering everything to Him we can make our lives perfect. The key is to always remain connected with the Lord. Just as we value spending quality time with our friends and family, spending quality time with Krishna is even more important. Christian leaders ask people to attend church once a week, which is very beneficial. But wouldn’t it be better to think about God every day?

Chanting and following the regulative principles is just the beginning stage. As we gradually get a routine together and start progressing in spiritual life, Krishna Himself starts to guide us from within. Devotees are always excited about finding new ways to serve the Lord, for the different processes of devotional service provide us endless opportunities each and every single day.

We urge everyone to take up the chanting process and to read the books written by the great Vaishnava saints. Any of Shrila Prabhupada’s books are a great place to start, with the Bhagavad-gita and the Science of Self-Realization tailored specifically for beginners. We wish everyone good luck in their service to Krishna. Please feel free to contact us at any time if you have questions or if you simply want to update us on your progress. We would love to hear from you.

Quick Tips for Beginners:

1. Try chanting at least one round a day of the maha-mantra on a japa mala.

2. Read at least one verse and purport from the Bhagavad-gita every day.

3. Purchase the Prabhupada MP3 library and try listening to a lecture or speech every day while in the car or when exercising.

4. Purchase a Krishna kirtana (congregational chanting) CD, such as Hari-Nam-Anada, which has songs you can sing along to while in the car or at home with friends and family.

5. Buy a framed picture or small deity of Krishna which you can offer prayers to each day.

6. Red about the Lord's pastimes and teachings from sacred texts like the Ramacharitamanasa and Krishna Book.

Ramacharitamanasa Krishna Book Bhagavad-gita As It Is

7. Talk about Krishna and bhakti yoga with others.

8. Read new articles about Krishna posted daily on our website.


Monday, June 22, 2009

Cow Protection

Krishna with cows American life is all about freedom. The Pilgrims settled on this land hundreds of years ago to enjoy freedom and to escape an oppressive government in Europe. Living in America means we can do what we want, whenever we want to without worrying about others interfering with us. As long as we don’t infringe on the rights of others, we are free to act as we wish.

One way Americans and others around the world enjoy freedom is by eating meat, especially beef. Cows and other animals are raised on farms with the express purpose of being sent to slaughterhouses. Eating beef, steak in particular, is a classic American tradition, with the quintessential family meal consisting of “meat and potatoes”. The beef industry even runs television advertisements where the tag line is “Beef. It’s what’s for dinner.” There are various grades of beef, based on the type of cow, how it is raised, and how it is fed. Simply eating meat is not enough, for people are more than willing to shell out extra money to feast themselves on high quality beef such as Kobe and Wagyu.

In principle, having the independence to act as we wish is not a bad thing. It is the natural yearning of the human spirit to be free. However, with freedom comes responsibility. If we maintain our bodies through unnecessary violence, then the laws of karma dictate that we will be forced to suffer in the future. God has given us an abundance of food grains for our sustenance. Cows play their part as well by freely providing us milk. In the Vedic tradition, cows are to be respected. Many people mistakenly believe that Hindus worship cows as gods, but that is not the case. Cows are respected and treated on the same level as one’s own mother since they provide us milk. Our mothers nourish us as infants with milk from their breasts, and in the same way one’s body can be nourished simply from the milk of a cow. According to the Vedas, there are seven mothers: the birth mother, the guru’s wife, the wife of a brahmana (priest), the wife of a king, a nurse, the earth, and a cow. Now we wouldn’t ever think of killing our own mother, so why should we kill cows?

Cows are killed so that people can satisfy the desires of the tongue. As the famous proverb says “As you sow so shall you reap”, one committing unnecessary violence simply to satisfy the taste buds will naturally by forced to suffer the same fate in the future. This is only fair. The need to respect and protect cows shouldn’t be a difficult concept for us to grasp.  Many of us keep pets in the home, such as cats and dogs. We view them as the essence of innocence, since they kindly serve as our companions and ask little in return. “Dog is man’s best friend” so the saying goes. People love their pets so much that they often treat them better than they do their friends and family. It is not uncommon for pet owners to take many pictures of their cat or dog and show them off to their friends, as if the pets were their own children. Owners will go to great lengths to keep their pets happy, gladly inconveniencing themselves by regularly taking the dogs for walks or by feeding gourmet meals to their cats. Cows should be given the same level of respect.

Just because the meat of a cow tastes good, doesn’t mean that they are any less innocent than a cat or a dog. Unlike a cat or a dog, cows actually provide us things of tangible value. Cows don’t bother anyone and the milk they freely provide can be used to prepare hundreds of varieties of palatable foodstuffs. In the Vedic system, a person’s wealth is determined by how many cows they have. One simply requires a small plot of land and a few cows and their economic problems are solved. This is a much more secure lifestyle than possessing large quantities of paper currency, which can devalue at any time. The recent worldwide economic crisis proves this fact. In the Vedic system, the brahmanas, or priestly class of men, are to live very meagerly, focusing all their time on serving God. Knowing this, kshatriya kings would regularly give away kine to the brahmanas so that they wouldn’t have to worry about food. Any occasion, good or bad, would always be marked by the giving away of cows to brahmanas, as that is considered the highest form of charity.

Cows are also considered valuable because they provide butter which is used in Vedic sacrifices. The material world is governed by the demigods, who serve as Lord Krishna’s chief ministers. By propitiating them, man is provided with rain which serves as the catalyst for food production. The demigods are worshiped in elaborate fire sacrifices called yajnas, where clarified butter, or ghee, is poured on the fire as an oblation. These sacrifices would not be possible were it not for the ghee. In this way, cows can be considered the sustainers of life.

Once we stop respecting our mothers, we eventually lose respect for other forms of life. This is evidenced by the increase in the practice of abortion. In order to satisfy the demands of the tongue, innocent cows are sent to slaughterhouses. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that people would resort to killing innocent children in the womb in order to satisfy the desires of the genitals. Cows are very dear to Lord Krishna, who is also known as Govinda, which means “one who gives pleasure to the cows”. When the Lord personally came to earth around five thousand years ago, he grew up in a cowherd family, and he would regularly take the family cows out to the pasturing grounds as a child. Krishna and Balarama tending to cows One will often see the Lord depicted in pictures standing next to cows. Thus by respecting cows, we are following God’s example. There is no higher form of religion than to follow the instructions and traditions set forth by Lord Krishna.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Expert Counseling

Shrila Prabhupada In today’s day and age, it is very common for people to seek counseling and therapy from psychologists and other trained professionals. The idea behind such a practice is that a counselor can act as a neutral party and thus provide guidance and reassurance during troubled times. Since counselors are not people that we know very well, we feel more open towards the idea of sharing our problems with them.

In general, seeking this sort of help is a last resort for people who don’t have any close friends that they can turn to. The Vedas tells us that Lord Krishna, God, is our Supreme Friend and is always there to help us. God can be realized in three distinct features. In His first feature, Krishna acts as the impersonal Brahman, which is a sort of energy that pervades all of creation.  The impersonalist philosophers and yogis worship this feature of God, for they wish to merge into Brahman.  In the second feature, the Lord expands Himself as the Paramatma, or Supersoul, residing in the hearts of all living entities.

Every living entity has two souls within them:  the individual soul which represents one’s identity, and the Supersoul which is God’s expansion. The Paramatma acts as a witness to all our activities and getting in touch with this feature enables us to finally realize God’s third feature as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We all have consciousness that pervades our body, for that is the very essence of being alive. The Paramatma is the Supreme Consciousness. If we dovetail our consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness, then all our problems will be solved. We will no longer require any help from uninterested counselors or therapists. So this begs the question, “How do we get in touch with the Supersoul?”

For the benefit of the devotees, Krishna expands Himself into innumerable forms such as His various avatars, deities, and Paramatma. Even a picture of the Lord is a representation of one of His forms. In this current age, the Lord is so merciful that he incarnates in the form of His holy name. So just by saying the word Krishna, or even reading it, we come into direct contact with Him. There is no difference between God and His names. The Shrimad-Bhagavatam contains the famous story of Ajamila, a devotee who went astray but was saved from going to hell due to uttering the name Narayana at the time of his death. Narayana is one of Krishna’s names, and Ajamila had the good fortune of naming his son after Him. Ajamila was a great Ajamila Being Saved devotee in his early life, but he fell down from his exalted position due to association with a prostitute. In his old age, as his life breath was leaving him, Ajamila called out for his son, and since it was the also the name of God, he was saved from going to hell by Lord Vishnu’s agents, the Vishnuduttas. Instead of suffering for his sinful actions, Ajamila eventually ascended to Krishna’s spiritual planet.

By reciting God’s names in a loving manner, we gradually come closer to His Paramatma feature that resides inside us. If we are sincere in our chanting, God’s Paramatma feature will lead us to one of His authorized representatives, a spiritual master, who will guide us in such a way that all our problems will be eliminated. The spiritual master is the most expert counselor. He is a pure devotee of Krishna, making him kind, compassionate, and intelligent enough to give us the proper prescription for our ailments. Unlike counseling which can go on for years and years without ever coming close to solving anything, the spiritual master’s instructions from the very beginning aim to tackle the root of our problems, which is our forgotten relationship with God. As soon as we take the necessary steps to reconnect with Him, the healing process will commence.