Saturday, July 4, 2009

When Violence is Necessary

Arjuna and Krishna preparing for battle “According to Vedic injunctions there are six kinds of aggressors: 1) a poison giver, 2) one who sets fire to the house, 3) one who attacks with deadly weapons, 4) one who plunders riches, 5) one who occupies another's land, and 6) one who kidnaps a wife. Such aggressors are at once to be killed, and no sin is incurred by killing such aggressors.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita As It Is 1.36 Purport)

Question: How can you worship Krishna, who instructed Arjuna to fight in a war that led to the death of millions?

Answer: The ideas of religion and violence never seem to go hand in hand. Religion means to see outside of one’s own body and to see the spirit soul in all of us. This naturally removes feelings of  lust, greed, and anger, which are the forbearers to violence. Because of this, many mistakenly think violence itself is completely unnecessary and never warranted.

According to the Vedic teachings, violence is not only allowed, but it is required in certain situations. The kshatriyas, or warrior class of people, are required to provide protection to the other members of society. From our experience, we see that not everyone is a good or nice person. Some people are always angry and looking for a fight. Material nature is divided into three qualitative modes, the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance. People in the mode of ignorance are naturally inclined to be violent towards others since they lack the knowledge required to settle disputes peacefully. The Vedas say that one has a right to defend and protect themselves if attacked by such people.

The circumstances related to the Bharata War provide a great example of when violence is necessary. Around five thousand years ago, two families, known as the Pandavas and the Kauravas, who were related as cousin-brothers, had a disagreement over who had the right to rule over a kingdom. The Pandavas were the sons of Pandu, and the Kauravas were the sons of Dhritarashtra, Pandu’s brother. Pandu was a great king who died prematurely due to a curse. His sons were the rightful heirs to the kingdom, but Dhritarashtra favored his sons instead and allowed them to unjustly usurp power over the kingdom. The Pandavas naturally objected to this and the struggle between the two families culminated in the Bharata War, which took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra in India. Arjuna, the leading warrior for the Pandavas, was getting ready to start fighting, but he suddenly felt faint of heart and didn’t want to fight. He started thinking along the lines of nonviolence, and he questioned his cousin about it, Lord Krishna. Their conversation is chronicled in the Bhagavad-gita.

Arjuna’s soft-heartedness was very characteristic of a devotee of God. Though they were cousins, Arjuna and Krishna were also great friends growing up, with Arjuna looking up to the Lord. When Krishna appears on earth, He usually doesn’t disclose His divinity to most people. If everyone knew He was God, then they might fear Him instead of becoming His friend. Krishna prefers devotional service performed in the mood of friendship and love rather than out of fear. As a devotee, Arjuna possessed all good qualities, with one of them being kindness and benevolence towards all. A devotee is by nature nonviolent, not wanting to hurt even an ant unnecessarily. In his youth, Arjuna and his brothers spent much time with their cousins, the sons of Dhritarashtra. They were all descendants of their great grandfather Bhishma, who was respected by all. They all received training in the military arts from their spiritual master Dronacharya. Now both Dronacharya and Bhishmadeva were on the battlefield, but fighting for the side of the Kauravas. Arjuna did want to engage in a fight against such respectable people. He did want to win a kingdom if it meant killing other family members. These feelings overwhelmed Arjuna, and he decided that he would not fight and instead become a renunciate.

Krishna instructing Arjuna Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who was serving as His cousin’s charioteer at the time, quickly admonished Arjuna, telling him that his behavior was not worthy of a kshatriya. Kshatriyas make up one of the four varnas in the Vedic varnashrama dharma system. Their duty is to provide protection to all the citizens, and especially to the brahmanas (priestly class). Krishna told Arjuna that it was his duty to fight. Here we get the definitive judgment on when violence is necessary from God Himself. Violence is necessary when it is done on religious principles. It was Arjuna’s religious duty to fight. Lord Krishna tells us that each person should faithfully perform his or her occupational duties in life, without attachment. In this way, there is no sin incurred from even acting violently.

“It is far better to discharge one's prescribed duties, even though they may be faulty, than another's duties. Destruction in the course of performing one's own duty is better than engaging in another's duties, for to follow another's path is dangerous.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.55)

Therefore He advised Arjuna to execute the duties of a kshatriya instead of those of a brahmana.

Force is necessary to have peace. Police exist for this very reason. We see in areas where there is not a strong kshatriya presence, that crime is very high and the citizens do not feel safe. Diplomacy has its use, but it usually never brings about lasting peace. In peaceful negotiations, people will say whatever they need to in order to further their position. Lord Krishna Himself tried diplomacy prior to the Bharata War, but He knew that it wouldn’t be successful due to the obstinacy of the Kauravas.

War can be very ugly. The Bharata War saw millions of soldiers die. Yet violence as a last resort, performed on religious principles is a necessary evil in life. Nonviolence is a very nice concept in theory, but not always practical. Even brahmanas, who are taught to be nonviolent, defend themselves when necessary. The great sage Vashishta procured various weapons to defend himself from the attacks of Vishwamitra Muni, who was trying to steal Vashishta’s cow.

In the end, the best way to achieve everlasting peace is for everyone to be constantly engaged in devotional service to the Lord. We can always be thinking of God by reading books about Him, serving His authorized representative, and by always chanting His name. This was the method prescribed by Lord Chaitanya and all the great Vaishnava acharyas. Following their instructions, we can all live peacefully and hopefully never have to fight with anyone.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Cause for Celebration

Krishna's pastimes Elegant dinners, lavish spending, and nights out on the town are all different ways of having a good time. We all like to treat ourselves every now and then. A night out at an expensive restaurant is a great way to celebrate a special occasion. We gather all our family and friends together, and spare no expense in the celebration. Fifty dollars steaks, hundred dollar bottles of wine, and savory souffl├ęs are the staples of fine dining in America.

Consuming food is necessary in order to properly maintain the body and satisfy hunger pains. Regular food items, such as vegetables, grains, and milk, are relatively inexpensive. Yet for special occasions, we don’t mind spend a little extra on something that normally doesn’t cost much. We like to have fun, and going out to expensive restaurants is exciting and it gives us something to look forward to at the same time.

Devotees of Lord Krishna similarly like to have lavish celebrations. It is a misconception that religious people don’t know how to have fun. In fact the Vedas advise us specifically to become servants of the Supreme Lord and that such service will be more fun than any ordinary material activity. Being religious doesn’t mean that we have to sit in quiet meditation and renounce all our activities. On the contrary, the highest form of religion is referred to as devotional service, which is full of action and excitement. Serving God means satisfying our spiritual senses and having more fun than a human being should be allowed to have. Since the Lord has appeared on earth many times in different incarnations, devotees use the calendar year to celebrate specific pastimes that the Lord performed during His time here. Couples very much in love often celebrate many different occasions and anniversaries aside from the standard Valentine’s Day and birthdays. Most married couples have a celebration each year on the calendar day of their wedding. However, newly formed couples might celebrate each month or each week on the day that they formally became a couple. They essentially look for any opportunity they can get to celebrate their love and affection for each others.

In a similar manner, devotees look for any opportunity they can get to celebrate a particular activity or appearance of Lord Krishna. The Lord specifically gave us these holidays so that we could have fun serving and remembering Him. Festivals likes Krishna’s birthday, Janmashtami, are celebrated with great pomp around the world. Devotees spend lavishly to decorate temples and their homes. Expensive flowers are purchased and offered to the Lord. Devotees gather around to sing songs and read stories about Krishna and His pastimes. Elaborate food preparations are made and offered to the Lord. Devotees fast and remain awake until midnight so that they can celebrate the exact time that the Lord appeared from the womb of Mother Devaki. The Lord’s appearance occurred around five thousand years ago in the town of Mathura, and it was under trying circumstances. Devaki and her husband Vasudeva were prisoners of King Kamsa, who was Devaki’s brother. On the day of their wedding, a voice from the sky informed Kamsa that his death would come at the hands of the eighth son of Devaki and Vasudeva. For this reason, he locked up both Devaki and her husband, and killed each of their first seven sons. Krishna’s appearance was a cause for celebration, not only because He was God, but because His appearance signaled the end of the couple’s suffering since He was to kill Kamsa.

Krishna's appears before Devaki and Vasudeva When Lord Krishna advented on this earth and was growing up in Vrindavana, He specifically instituted a great festival Himself, known as Govardhana Puja. Krishna’s foster father, Nanda Maharaja, regularly performed puja, or worship, to the demigod Indra. Lord Krishna convinced him to have a puja for Govardhana Hill instead. His specific instructions were,

“Prepare very nice foodstuffs of all descriptions from the grains and ghee collected for the yajna. Prepare rice, dahl, then halavah, pakora, puri and all kinds of milk preparations like sweet rice, sweetballs, sandesha, rasagulla and ladoo and invite the learned brahmanas who can chant the Vedic hymns and offer oblations to the fire. The brahmanas should be given all kinds of grains in charity. Then decorate all the cows and feed them well. After performing this, give money in charity to the brahmanas. As far as the lower animals are concerned, such as the dogs, and the lower grades of people, such as the candalas, or the fifth class of men who are considered untouchable, they also may be given sumptuous prasadam. After giving nice grasses to the cows, the sacrifice known as Govardhana Puja may immediately begin. This sacrifice will very much satisfy Me.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Ch 24)

Govardhana Puja was subsequently performed, and it has been a tradition ever since. It was due to Lord Krishna’s kindness that He gave us this and many other wonderful festivals to celebrate. So let us spare no expense is glorifying the Lord. The Christmas Holiday is very nice, but why not dedicate every day to God? Living by this principle will make us happy and joyful throughout the year. The Lord has innumerable pastimes that we can celebrate, so there is always something to look forward to. By celebrating in this way, we purify ourselves and have fun doing it. We get the same thrills and excitement as having an elegant night out on the town, with all the spiritual benefits included.

Newsletter – July 2009

Our first newsletter has just been released.  You can download it here.



Thursday, July 2, 2009

Flying High

Hanuman “A pure devotee is constantly engaged-sometimes he chants, sometimes he hears or reads books about Krishna, or sometimes he cooks prasadam or goes to the marketplace to purchase something for Krishna, or sometimes he washes the temple or the dishes-whatever he does, he does not let a single moment pass without devoting his activities to Krishna Such action is in full samadhi.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 12.2 Purport)

The purchase of a new motorcycle is one of the more obvious indications of someone in the midst of a midlife crisis. Reaching the halfway point of one’s life means that one has endured life’s ups and downs. After successfully starting and raising a family, along with maintaining a steady job, people reach a point where they want more out of life. Something is lacking; there is a spark that is missing.

Often times, people going through such a period will make an impulse purchase and buy a brand new motorcycle or high end sports car. Fast cars and motorcycles are the ultimate symbols of freedom and adventure. Since they can travel at such high speeds, they are much more dangerous than a regular automobile. To operate them properly, one must give their full attention at all times. There is a natural thrill built into operating one of these vehicles. Being on the the open road, you feel liberated, with nothing keeping you down…just you and the road ahead.

Corvette Similar to the exhilaration and euphoria felt from driving fast cars, religion also brings liberation and bliss, except on a much higher level. According to the Vedas, our souls have been bound up in the repeated cycle of birth and death in this material world. We can only be released from this cycle through devotional service to God. Though religion often has a negative and restrictive stigma attached to it, it is actually meant to be just the opposite. If we lovingly devote ourselves to God, then we will feel complete freedom from all material miseries. We are suffering in this life because we are falsely identifying with our material bodies. We think that sense gratification is the be-all end-all when in fact, we see from experience that our senses are never satisfied.

People generally buy a motorcycle or a fancy sports car because they feel a void in their life. That void is actually a spiritual one, and not a material one. No material possession will fill that void. The only way to make ourselves truly happy is to engage our senses in spiritual activities. Following religious principles actually leads one to the path of liberation. Driving a motorcycle may bring about feelings of liberation, but that experience is temporary. In fact, everything associated with the material world is temporary. There are many philosophers who take the creation and the people in it to be false, so they try to just block everything out through meditation. They sit in a secluded place concentrating on nothingness, in hopes of reaching the stage known as nirvana, where everything material is negated.

In the Vedic system, we are taught that this world is in fact real, but temporary. We cannot block out material impediments through artificial means such as impersonal meditation. Instead, we are told to concentrate our minds on the Supreme Lord Krishna, and dovetail all our activities in His service. Through this process, we can achieve samadhi or complete concentration of the mind on Krishna, even while performing acts which appear to be material.

The life and times of Lord Hanuman is a great example that illustrates this point. Lord Rama was the incarnation of Krishna who appeared many thousands of years ago in India. Born into a family of kshatriya kings, the Lord was the best of fighters. Through a series of unfortunate events, He was forced into exile by His father, who was the king of Ayodhya at the time. While serving His term in the forest, His wife Sita, who had accompanied Him, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Lord Rama couldn’t go back to Ayodhya and get His army since that would violate His father’s order. Instead, he enlisted the help of Vanaras, a race of monkeys with human-like characteristics.

Among the Vanaras, Hanuman is the greatest warrior, with tremendous strength and powers. He is the son of the wind God, Vayu, so he naturally inherits all the strength of the wind. According to Vedic philosophy, air or wind is the strongest element since it represents the vital sign of life. As long as one has air in the body, they are alive and able to function. It is the air inside the body that provides strength. For this reason, people striving for perfection in ashtanga-yoga are taught to control the vital life force through the practice of pranayama, which involves various breathing exercises. The real purpose of pranayama is to prevent the mind and senses from engaging in fruitive activity, or any acts not relating to Krishna’s service.

Lord Rama hugging Hanuman Hanuman has extraordinary strength, but he uses it only for good and not evil. He is Rama’s greatest devotee from birth, so he immediately surrendered unto Him when the Lord needed help in rescuing Sita and defeating Ravana. Hanuman is famously depicted travelling to the island of Lanka by flying through the air at the speed of the wind. Ravana’s kingdom was in Lanka, and it was also where Sita was held captive. Hanuman bravely went there to deliver to her a message from Rama. He met many obstacles along his way and also while in Lanka, but he never wavered from his duty. He was completely liberated throughout the entire process, though it appeared he was involved in material activities. This was all due to his devotion and pure love for Rama.  One who loves God and serves Him sincerely will always feel free and happy. They don’t require a fast car, motorcycle, or expertise in pranayama to feel happiness, for just the thought of Rama and His pleasing smile fills their hearts with joy.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Better Than a Superhero

 Lord Rama“O Sita, there is none who can defeat your husband. There is not the least doubt in this. Worshipful madam, the celestials, animals, birds, and others…there is none among them who can withstand Rama, who equals the lord of celestials, Indra, in warfare. In fact there is none who can do away with Rama in battle.” (Lakshmana speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, Sec 45)

The latest Batman movie to be released, The Dark Night, set records for box office attendance. Based on the fictional superhero character of the same name, previous Batman movies also enjoyed similar successes with movie goers. The Star Wars and Lord of the Rings movies were so popular that they spawned multiple sequels. The Spiderman movies are another popular series. It seems the best way to ensure a box office hit these days is to come out with a fantasy movie involving one or more superheroes.

The Star Wars movies hold their own unique place in our culture. The first movie, released in 1976, was so popular that people eagerly anticipated the five movies that followed over the next thirty plus years. Fans would camp out in movie theater parking lots just so they could be the first ones to see the new movies. Others would dress up as their favorite characters as a sign of loyalty and adoration. Fans would go back to the theaters to see the same movie two and three times. They just couldn’t get enough.

The popularity of these and other movies involving superheroes shows our natural affinity towards strength and courage. We like to see the good guys win. We understand that we are mere mortals and have limited abilities, so we are drawn to those who can rise above the limitations of ordinary human beings. Superheroes have extraordinary powers that enable them to defeat enemies of immense strength. Movies like Spiderman, Superman, and Batman show ordinary people doing extraordinary things through their special powers. The heroes struggle through adversity, but never give up, and always win in the end. We see evil all around us in our daily lives and we feel helpless in stopping it. Superheroes give us hope that maybe someone is out there who can protect us and give us peace of mind.

Spiderman BatmanStar Wars Though these stories are very nice and uplifting, they are nonetheless fictional. They were drawn up by the imagination of writers and comic book creators. Once the movie ends, we go back to our normal lives, where superheroes don’t exist. All hope is not lost however.

Many thousands of years ago, there was a great demon by the name of Ravana who was wreaking havoc throughout the world. He had performed many great austerities in order to please the demigods and they rewarded him with special powers. According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the demigods are elevated living entities who manage the affairs of the material world. They are not God, but they have been deputed by Him to handle different departments relating to karmic activity, similar to the way a President will have a variety of Cabinet secretaries handling specific areas of government. The demigods grant benedictions to pretty much anyone who pleases them to their satisfaction. In Ravana’s case, He was given ten heads and granted the boon that no demigod, celestial being, or animal could defeat him. Lost in the jubilation of his new found powers, Ravana forgot to ask to be immune from human beings. Ravana belonged to the Rakshasa race, people who lived off eating flesh and drinking wine. He was an enemy to devotees of God and he persecuted them every chance he could get. Ravana steadily rose to power as a result of the boons he received. The demigods were all afraid of him, as were the great sages, or brahmanas, living in the forests.

Lord Vishnu, God Himself, was informed of the situation by the demigods. To relieve their stressful situation and give protection to the sages, He decided to incarnate on earth as a human being in the form of Lord Rama. He appeared as an ordinary human being, who was the kindest, nicest, most courageous, and the most dedicated to dharma, or righteousness, of all people. He had no desire to please Himself in any way. He was completely dedicated to those who were dependent on Him. The name Rama actually means “one who gives pleasure”. At the request of His father, the king of Ayodhya, and step-mother, the Lord spent fourteen years as an exile from His kingdom. His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Him to the forest, for they didn’t want the Lord to suffer alone. God actually never suffers, but since He was playing the role of a human being, He agreed to put Himself into stressful situations for the benefit of others. One day while they were living in the forest, a demon by the name of Marica appeared in front of their cottage in the guise of a deer. Sita was very much enamored by the deer and requested Rama to catch it for her, with its life in tact if possible. The Lord chased the demon a long way, finally piercing it with an arrow. As Marica gave up his life, he revealed his original Rakshasa form, and cried out for help in the voice of Rama. Sita, hearing this and getting worried, told Lakshmana to see if Rama was alright. In response, Lakshmana, in the above referenced quote, reminded her that Rama was unconquerable in battle and that the sound must have been an illusion. Nevertheless, as events played out, Lakshmana would end up leaving Sita’s side to go check on His brother, which gave Ravana the opportunity to kidnap Sita and take her to his palace.

Already an exile ranging the forest, now the Lord had to deal with the abduction of His most beautiful and chaste wife. Rama persevered and with the help of the Vanaras, monkey-like people dwelling in the forest, He was able to defeat Ravana in battle and rescue Sita, proving Lakshmana’s words to be true.

Rama's army fighting Ravana We needn’t look to movies or comic books to find a superhero. Lord Rama is the ultimate protector, with powers greater than those of any fictional character. God comes to this earth from time to time specifically so we can have someone to look up to and worship. In times of trouble, we need only turn to Him, as He is the most powerful and most courageous. The lessons from Lord Rama’s story are timeless. The Star Wars movies depicted material advancement in the modes of warfare. Even with advanced weaponry, Darth Vader’s empire was defeated by the powers of good, represented by the Jedis. Similarly, Ravana’s great powers achieved through great boons were no match for Rama’s army, consisting of monkeys hurling rocks and trees. The monkeys, headed by Rama’s greatest devotee Hanuman, were fighting for the good guys, with God on their side, so their victory was guaranteed. Ravana’s demon army cast many illusory spells and used trickery as their weapons. Lord Rama and His brother Lakshmana used simple bows and arrows to defeat them. That is the power of God. He can turn a simple arrow into something more powerful than the strongest nuclear weapon.

God is eternal and so are His various forms. Lord Rama’s activities are still celebrated to this day in India and throughout the world. We are eternally indebted to Maharishi Valmiki and Goswami Tulsidas for giving us the story of the Lord in such great detail. We should all read the Valmiki Ramayana or Ramacharitamanasa at least once in our lives. The story is so wonderful and moving, that we’ll never get tired of reading it. Though the actual events occurred many thousands of years ago, through the power of His holy name, Lord Rama is still with us, helping us fight the Ravanas of today. Let us always remember the Lord, chant His name, and offer Him our prayers. By so doing, our lives will become perfect.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Ideal Leadership

Lord Rama blessing Hanuman “People in general always require a leader who can teach the public by practical behavior. A leader cannot teach the public to stop smoking if he himself smokes. Lord Chaitanya said that a teacher should behave properly even before he begins teaching. One who teaches in that way is called acharya, or the ideal teacher. Therefore, a teacher must follow the principles of shashtra (scripture) to reach the common man.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita 3.21 Purport)

U.S. President Barrack Obama recently signed legislation aimed at curbing the consumption of cigarettes. By allowing the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to have enhanced power in regulating tobacco companies, and the products they produce and sell, proponents of the legislation hope that less people will take to smoking as a result. Though he has been a smoker all his adult life, who may or may not have quit recently, President Obama said the new legislation was necessary due to his belief that tobacco companies were actively recruiting young adults to take up smoking:

“Kids today don't just start smoking for no reason. They're aggressively targeted as customers by the tobacco industry. They're exposed to a constant and insidious barrage of advertising where they live, where they learn, and where they play. Most insidiously, they are offered products with flavorings that mask the taste of tobacco and make it even more tempting.”

Anyone who has been around smokers for any length of time, knows that smoking is a very nasty habit. Second-hand smoke and the smell that cigarettes leave aren’t very pleasing to smokers and to those around them. Aside from having many health risks associated with it, the act of smoking is a form of intoxication which is one of the four pillars of sinful life (intoxication, gambling, illicit sex life, and meat eating).

Stop smoking Intoxication is considered sinful not only for the negative karma associated with it, but also because it causes one to become bound up in material life. If one is attached to material pleasures, then God kindly facilitates by allowing that person to repeatedly take birth in the material world, whereby they are given ample opportunity for sense gratification. Thus the cycle of karma perpetually repeats, since one’s senses can never become completely satisfied. It is not until after having lived many lives that one becomes aware of this situation.

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

For the past twenty years or so, there has been concerted attack mounted against the tobacco industry. Not wanting to take responsibility for their actions, disgruntled smokers have banded together with lawyers to blame tobacco companies for the harmful side effects of smoking. After winning billions of dollars in lawsuits and levying excessive taxes on tobacco, anti-smoking leaders have failed to get people to quit smoking. In the state of New York, a single pack of cigarettes can cost upwards of $9, yet people still are willing to buy them. The addiction to nicotine is so strong, that the President himself may still smoke, though he has tried to quit many times.

Any attempt made to limit the practice of intoxication is surely a noble one, but such attempts will never be successful unless the leaders themselves adhere to the same restrictions. According to Vedic principles, a leader should lead not only lead by word, but by example as well. Kings of the past would always take counsel from brahmanas, the priests of society. Even if they themselves weren’t well versed in the proper code of conduct, they would unhesitatingly abide by the counsel of the brahmanas. In modern society, such a system doesn’t exist. The shudras, those unfamiliar with any religious tenets, serve as leaders, while true brahmanas are almost impossible to find. A leader must be very pious, for the other citizens will naturally follow his lead. A president is on television all the time, with the press corps following and recording his every move. Whether they like it or not, the president and other world leaders serve as role models for the rest of society since they are constantly in the public eye.

Not just President Obama, but most leaders in society suffer from the same defects. This is the sign of Kali Yuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy where dharma exists at only one fourth its original strength. Leaders preach one thing to their subjects, while they act in totally the opposite way. Government leaders are constantly telling people that they need to sacrifice for the common good and that it’s only fair that they, the citizens, give upwards of fifty percent of their income to the government. In the meantime, Senators and other politicians in high offices are some of the wealthiest people in the country, not sacrificing anything for anyone. People are very in tune with this reality. Knowing that their leaders aren’t very pious, they feel free to act sinfully themselves.

It is most important to have leaders who adhere strictly to the laws of dharma as enjoined in the shashtras, or authoritative scriptures. Lord Rama was one such leader. An incarnation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Rama served as the king of Ayodhya, one in a long line of highly respected kings known collectively as the Ikshvaku Dynasty. Lord Rama was completely dedicated to dharma, and was the ultimate renunciate. He never asked His citizens to do something that He Himself wasn’t willing to do. He spent fourteen years as an exile in the forest, surviving on fruits and roots, simply to maintain the good name of His father. Towards the end of His life, He renounced His wife Sita, the purest and kindest woman who ever lived, simply to show favor to a citizen who had complained about the Lord’s behavior. The citizens were well aware of the Lord’s dedication to them and for this reason Lord Rama enjoyed universal love and adoration. The ideal society that existed during His reign was known as Rama Rajya, and many today hearken for a return to it.

Lord Rama battling Ravana In the Vedic system, the government is to be run by the warrior class of men, known as kshatriyas. The government’s job is to protect its citizens and administer justice fairly and equally, so brave and pious warriors are required. In today’s society, the system is quite different, where leaders are elected directly by the people. Since elections are essentially popularity contests, leaders are elected based on their speaking and arguing abilities verses their capacity to provide protection to their citizens. As a result, today’s governments consist mostly of lawyers instead of military men. All hope is not lost however. Instead of dharma trickling down from the top, it can be introduced at the grassroots level first. If enough of the voting population becomes Krishna, or God conscious, then inevitably some of them will run for political office and hopefully win. In this way, with pure devotees serving in government, we can hopefully return to the days of Rama Rajya. In such a situation, everyone will easily be able to break all their bad habits, including smoking.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Women of the Vedic Tradition

Sita Devi “May Indra protect you on the East, may Yama protect you on the South and Varuna on the West and Kuvera on the North.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 21)

Women born and raised in the Vedic tradition are perfect in all respects. They maintain the family’s traditions and dedication to dharma, or religion. They are the backbone of the family.

According to the Vedas, women and shudras (laborer class) are considered unintelligent. This is due to the fact that traditionally, women and shudras did not receive training from a guru or spiritual master. Though they never received a formal education, some of the greatest devotees of the Lord have been women. Women such as Sita Devi, Savitri, Draupadi, Queen Kunti, and Mother Yashoda were all perfect devotees, whose knowledge and wisdom were on par or exceeded that of great brahmanas and yogis.

In the modern age, the majority of society is considered unintelligent since almost no one receives formal training from a bona fide guru. Most of us attend secular schools where religion isn’t discussed due to the concept of “separation of church and state”. This presents a challenge to those who want to raise God conscious children. All hope is not lost however, as Vedic principles can still be taught in the home. Though women in the Vedic tradition didn’t start attending school until recently, they have always been trained at home by their parents to have a lifestyle based on tapasya, or religious austerities. Austerities performed for material benefit doesn’t qualify as tapasya. One can suffer all they want to, but if that suffering doesn’t bring them closer to God, then it is essentially useless. From their very childhood, just like the men, women in the Vedic tradition are taught to fast regularly, properly show respect to the various demigods, and to worship the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna, or one of His authorized forms. The result is that when girls reach a suitable age for marriage, they are ready to serve their husbands and keep them in check at the same time. Once married, a husband and wife both share the same fate, so it is in the best interests of the wife to make sure the husband is properly observing worship of Krishna. As we all know, sometimes a husband can get out of line and get distracted from the real mission of life, so it is the duty of the wife to not hesitate in pointing out her husband’s flaws.

Lord Rama with His wife Sita Lord Rama, the incarnation of God in the Treta Yuga, was set to be installed as the new king of Ayodhya by His father Maharaja Dashratha. A messenger had come to the Lord’s palace informing Him that He was urgently needed at the king’s palace. Taking permission from His wife Sita, the Lord was about leave. Prior to being sent off, she prayed that the various demigods would protect the Lord from all sides. The demigods are each in charge of a specific aspect of the material world, so Sita requested them to give protection to her husband. Lord Rama was God Himself, and He was in no need of any help from anyone, but Sita’s request was a sign of her being a good wife. for her mind was always focused on the welfare of her pati (husband or master).

In the Vedic tradition, this sort of concern is not only shown towards husbands but to children as well. When Lord Krishna appeared on earth some five thousand years ago, He accepted Yashoda as His foster mother during His childhood years in Vrindavana. The ruler of Mathura at the time, Kamsa, was very worried about suffering death at the hands of Krishna as had been prophesized, so he sent several demons to Vrindavana to kill the young child. As each one came, so they met death at the hands of baby Krishna. The people of Vrindavana were unaware of Krishna’s divinity, so they were astonished to see Him survive these attacks from the demons. Mother Yashoda was especially worried about her child. She would regularly recite prayers asking for protection for Krishna. After one incident where baby Krishna survived an attack from the demon Putana, Yashoda and the other gopis (cowherd girls) offered the following prayers:

Mother Yashoda feeding Krishna “’My dear Krishna, may the Lord who is known as Maniman protect Your thighs; may Lord Vishnu who is known as Yajna protect Your legs; may Lord Achyuta protect Your arms; may Lord Hayagriva protect Your abdomen; may Lord Keshava protect Your heart; may Lord Vishnu protect Your arms; may Lord Urukrama protect Your face; may Lord Ishvara protect Your head; may Lord Cakradhara protect Your front; may Lord Gadadhara protect Your back; may Lord Madhusudana who carries a bow in His hand protect Your eyesight; may Lord Vishnu with His conchshell protect Your left side; may the Personality of Godhead Upendra protect You from above, and may Lord Tarkshya protect You from below the earth; may Lord Haladhara protect You from all sides; may the Personality of Godhead known as Hrishikesha protect all Your senses; may Lord Narayana protect Your breath; and may the Lord of Shvetadvipa, Narayana, protect Your heart; may Lord Yogeshvara protect Your mind; may Lord Prishnigarbha protect Your intelligence, and may the Supreme Personality of Godhead protect Your soul. While You are playing, may Lord Govinda protect You from all sides, and when You are sleeping, may Lord Madhava protect You from all danger; when You are working may the Lord of Vaikuntha protect You from falling down; when You are sitting, may the Lord of Vaikuntha give You all protection; and while You are eating, may the Lord of all sacrifices give You all protection.’ Thus mother Yashoda began to chant different names of Vishnu to protect the child Krishna's different bodily parts.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 6)

As part of His childhood pastimes, Lord Krishna would go out and play with His cowherd friends. Mother Yashoda would call Krishna and Balarama, His elder brother, home to come eat. She would then feed Them sumptuously, as she was worried Her boys weren’t eating enough. “They need their strength.” she thought. After the meal, she would lay Them down to rest and give Them betel nuts to chew on as They fell asleep. In this way, she was the perfect mother.

Just like Sita Devi, Yashoda was a perfect woman borne of the Vedic tradition. We still see similar behavior from women in Hindu and Krishna conscious families. Mothers are always nagging their children to eat more. They offer prayers daily for their children’s welfare. Prior to leaving for a journey, women will supply the travelers a yogurt mixture as way of guaranteeing a safe journey. Based on historical evidence from the Vedas, we can understand that these traditions have existed for thousands of years. Adherence to these traditions and customs ensures that society will be filled with outstanding citizens. Sita Devi showed her devotion not only the day of Rama’s proposed installation, but throughout their marriage. She followed Rama to the forest to serve His exile period alongside Him. While travelling in the woods, she would regularly pray to the Ganges River to protect her husband and ensure that He would survive the fourteen years of exile.

Even today in most Hindu households, it is usually the wives who are more religious, making sure that arati of the Lord is performed morning and night, that prasadam is offered and distributed, and that the family members regularly visit temples. All glories to Vaishnava women! May we all learn from their example on how to properly care for our loved ones. Any family which focuses their lives around Krishna and the Vedic traditions will always be guaranteed protection from all sides by the Lord Himself.

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.