Saturday, July 11, 2009

News We Can Use

young Lord Chaitanya “…In our childhood, we saw every village, every town, the transcendental knowledge. Any common man could speak about Ramayana, Mahabharata, Lord Krishna. And system was—still there are, but practically closed now—that in the evening, in the village, everyone should assemble in a place to hear messages from Mahabharata, Ramayana…” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 720531SB.LA)

“The latest on Michael Jackson…What were the celebs wearing for the big red carpet premiere…Are Brad and Angelina still together?” These stories are all part of the news cycle these days. We are all well acquainted with what is shown to us on the nightly television newscasts and twenty-four hour cable networks. It seems that the stories repeat themselves over and over again. The news media becomes obsessed with celebrity figures and their private lives, and we in turn are kept in the loop. We like to watch the news since it makes us feel like we’re keeping up with the times.

The latest news is what’s talked about at the water cooler at work. “Did you hear about so and so? Oh boy, I can’t believe so and so said that?” These are the typical conversations that take place related to the latest happenings. In the long run, the day to day goings on of celebrities is pretty much useless information. They don’t impact our lives in any significant way. If we rewind to one, five, or even ten years ago, we’ll see that the news stories were very similar. Some celebrity was getting divorced, another couple started dating, or an athlete was arrested for some nefarious activity. What was labeled as “breaking news” in the past, turned out not to be very important to us. We easily could have survived without hearing about it.

During the ancient Vedic times in India, the source of news and entertainment was the recitation of the Puranas. Purana is a Sanskrit word that means “of ancient times”, and the Puranas are so named because they are ancient stories relating to God and His associates. The stories deal with the biological ancestry of man, great wars, backbiting, heroism, good, evil, birth, death, etc. Since the stories detail extraordinary events and feats of strength not seen in today’s world, many mistakenly believe the Puranas to be mythology, but they are actual historical incidents that took place on this planet and other planets in the universe during this creation and previous ones as well. The Puranas even deal with events that have yet to take place.

Vyasadeva is considered the author of the Puranas in their written form, but prior to that, they were passed down through an oral tradition. Instead of watching television or reading newspapers, the nighttime entertainment consisted of listening to brahmanas, or priests, give recitations of stories relating to Lord Krishna and His various incarnations. People used to gather round and listen very attentively, similar to way people today enjoy hearing campfire stories. These stories were heard so often, that most in society were well versed in their details.

When reading these Puranas today, one will find that references are made to previous incidents, such as wars between the demigods and the demons. Comparisons are often made to great heroes and warriors of the past. “I will defeat you just as the wielder of the thunderbolt defeated Vritrasura.” This statement is a reference to the incident where Lord Indra, the chief of the demigods, took on and defeated the demon Vritrasura. This battle is documented in detail in the Bhagavata Purana, but references to it are found in many other books, such as the Valmiki Ramayana. Another comparison that is often made is to that of the fire that takes place when the world ends. The Vedas tell us that this world is constantly going through cycles of creation and destruction. Destruction results from a great fire, caused by Lord Shiva, that envelops the entire earth. When reading the Puranas one will find many references to this with statements such as “When he released his weapon, the impact was so strong that it appeared as if the fire of dissolution had come upon them.” These references aren’t usually explained in detail because it is inferred that the reader knows all the details. That shows just how well versed the citizens were in the tenets of the Vedas. The citizens were so well educated on matters of religion, that those reciting the stories didn’t want to waste time rehashing things that the audience already knew.

Unlike the news, the Puranas contain real information that has everlasting relevance. The Vishnu, Brahmavaivarta, and Bhagavata Puranas, along with the Mahabharata and Ramayana, contain details of the life and pastimes of Lord Krishna and His primary incarnations. There is no higher, more important literature in the world than that which describes God and devotion to Him. These books describe the constitutional position of the soul, why it is put into the material world, and how it can get out and return to the spiritual world.

Baby Krishna Of all the Puranas, the Bhagavata Purana, or Shrimad Bhagavatam, is considered the highest. Just as the material world is governed by three qualities or modes, so the eighteen major Puranas are divided by these same qualities. There are six Puranas for each the three gunas: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The Shrimad Bhagavatam is one of the sattvic Puranas, being in the mode of goodness. Other Puranas delve into many material subjects, such as sacrifices and penances prescribed for material advancement. For this reason, the Mahabharata is generally considered suitable for women and shudras, or those who are less intelligent. The Shrimad Bhagavatam doesn’t spend much time discussing the four rewards of material life: dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and moksha (liberation). Bhakti yoga, or devotional service to Krishna is completely spiritual and above any material activity and is the main focus of the Bhagavatam.

The Bhagavatam deals primarily with Lord Krishna and devotion to Him. It describes in detail the Lord’s birth in Mathura and childhood pastimes in Vrindavana. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has translated this voluminous work into English and provided commentary as well. We should take advantage of this wonderful opportunity by reading this book and acquainting ourselves with true Vedic wisdom. We watch the news to increase our knowledge, but one who becomes familiar with the teachings of the Puranas actually becomes the most learned scholar of all.

Friday, July 10, 2009

A Time For Charity

Rama and Lakshmana with father Dashratha “O king, please now proceed to give away cows on behalf of the marriages of Rama and Lakshmana, and performing their ancestral rites, complete the marriage ceremony…On the third day, when the Pahlguna will be on the north, please perform the marriage ceremony my dear king. In the meantime, please proceed in distributing gifts for invoking blessings upon Rama and Lakshmana.”

(Janaka speaking to Dashrata prior to the marriage of Lord Rama to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana Bala-Kanda, Sec 71)

When God incarnated as Lord Rama, His marriage was arranged to Sita Devi, the daughter of Maharaja Janaka. A very pious man known for being an expert transcendentalist, Janaka hosted the wedding ceremony and invited Lord Rama’s father, Maharaja Dashrata, and members of his kingdom. Janaka was so happy to get Lord Rama as a son in law that he also arranged for Rama’s three younger brothers (Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna) to be married to other members of his royal family. Thus the marriages of all four brothers took place simultaneously.

In the above referenced statement, we see that Janaka is requesting Dashrata to give away cows in charity in order to mark the joyous occasion. All important occasions in Vedic culture are celebrated by giving away cows in charity. When we were children growing up, we always looked forward to our birthdays for we were assured of getting lots of presents. In America, even the Christmas holiday is celebrated this way. People go out and feverishly shop for the perfect gift to give to their loved ones. Children especially love these occasions since they can never have enough toys. In the Vedic tradition, instead of receiving gifts, special occasions are times when we give generously to those in need. This is not just ordinary charity either, for gifts should be given to those who are worthy of them. We may meet a homeless person on the street in need of money, but if they spend the money we give them on drugs and alcohol, then we really haven’t done anything for that person. We maybe make ourselves feel better with this type of kindness, but the Vedas tell us that charity should serve a higher purpose than this. According to the Vedas, charity should only be given to brahmanas, or those dedicated to serving Lord Krishna.

When celebrating festive occasions, generally one gives away cows to the brahmanas. Cows are considered to be equal to one’s own mother since they freely provide milk to us. Brahmanas generally don’t earn a living, so they live off the charity of others. As the priestly class of men, brahmanas dedicate their lives to studying the Vedas and performing sacrifices. Their days are spent preaching the glories of the Lord and counseling the other three varnas or divisions of society (kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras). A cow is considered a great sign of wealth since it can supply ample amounts of food simply from the milk it provides. The economic problem can be solved simply by maintaining a few cows on one’s land.

cash gifts Weddings in modern society have turned into very stressful affairs. Planning a wedding means deciding on a guest list and making sure it is not too large or too small. Weddings are held in expensive banquet halls so the price per guest is usually very expensive. Halls typically charge the host per head or per person attending, with a minimum number of guests required by the hall. Inviting too many guests means the cost will go up, while too few guests means the hall won’t agree to take the wedding. As far as wedding gifts go, the bride and groom-to-be usually register at various retail stores so that guests can pick out items to give as gifts. This ensures that the married couple won’t receive the same gifts from multiple people. It is now customary for most guests to give cash gifts at a wedding. According to the standard etiquette as it has evolved, the amount of the gift should be equal to or greater than the cost incurred by the host to allow that guest to come to the wedding. If an invitee can’t attend the wedding, then they are obliged to give a gift anyway. Feeling a sense of apprehension, many guests go so far as to bring a blank check with them to the wedding, which they later fill in with an amount they feel is commensurate with the type of service they are provided. This way they feel safe knowing that they won’t spend too much on a wedding gift. Due to the influence of Kali Yuga, this type of behavior is all too common and it has shifted the entire focus of a wedding from a mood of celebration, to a mood of miserliness. A wedding should be a joyous occasion, a time to share feelings of love and happiness with friends and family. Instead, people have become preoccupied with taking head counts, filling up seats, and tallying the gifts that come in.

From the example of Kings Janaka and Dashratha, we can learn the proper way to celebrate a wedding. A marriage is a joyous occasion, and it should be celebrated as such. In modern society, when a new child is a born, the father typically hands out cigars to friends and family as a way to celebrate. The Vedic example is very similar, except it is done on a larger scale and for every celebratory occasion. The marriage of Sita and Rama involved giving on a grand scale. Brahmanas were given charity and fed sumptuously. Entire villages were invited to the wedding by Janaka with nothing expected in return. Sita was Janaka’s pride and joy, so he wanted everyone to share in this most wonderful of occasions. He was getting God Himself as a son-in-law, so of course he would go to great lengths to celebrate their nuptials.

The Vedas represent perfect knowledge, originally passed down from God Himself. They give us the proper guidance we need to manage our daily affairs. Being a good host means following the proper standards of religion set forth in the Vedas. By liberally distributing gifts to the brahmanas, Dashratha secured their blessings upon his sons. We should follow his example by aiming to please the devotees of Krishna. Devotees are very dear to the Lord, so by pleasing them, we can make our lives perfect.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

The Good Wife

Sita Rama “It is that you speak to me thus, thinking me, no doubt, mean minded. I cannot but laugh at your words.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand Sec 27)

A good wife, who loves her husband very much, is typically found to be very critical of him. A loving wife tends to look at her husband as helpless and not knowing the rules of propriety and proper conduct, similar to the way parents view their children. Because of this love, a wife is never afraid to correct her husband or even to make fun of him if she thinks he is behaving improperly.

Men typically get very annoyed at such behavior from their wives. The idea of the “nagging” wife is very common and it forms the basis of most stereotypical male-female humor. Any opposition from their wives is viewed as nagging. Men love to get together with their friends and tell stories about their wives and how they are constantly haggled by them to clean up their act. Men don’t like to be criticized in their choice of clothing, or being told how late they can stay out when hanging out with their friends, or even questioned on the purchases they make. Husbands like to feel in control and like to be supported in their decisions.

Yet in the best of marriages, especially those that have lasted a long time, we see just the opposite situation, where husbands and wives freely and openly argue with each other. In reality, a wife who nags is a wife who loves. When we love someone, we want more for them than we want for ourselves. At the same time, in a loving relationship, there is a strong feeling of attachment and closeness between couples. The more we love someone and the more comfortable we are around them, the more likely we are to be open to criticizing them. If we see a stranger doing something wrong and behaving improperly, we aren’t likely to say anything. We think, “Oh I don’t know this person. Let them be, I will just mind my own business.” Yet if our loved ones act improperly, be it our children, parents, or significant others, we won’t hesitate for a moment to correct them. Often misidentified as unnecessary criticism, such interjection is representative of the highest form of love.

Lord Rama, the incarnation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who appeared on this earth during the Treta Yuga, was all set to be installed as the new king of Ayodhya by His father, Maharaja Dashratha. On the morning of His installation, He was called to His father’s royal palace. Leaving His wife Sita Devi at home, Rama speedily repaired to the king’s quarters. Upon arriving, He was given the news that the plans had changed, and that Rama’s younger brother Bharata was to be installed as the new king instead. This was all due to Dashratha’s youngest wife, Kaikeyi, who had called in favors that were due her from the king. Also by her request, Rama was to be exiled from the kingdom and forced to live in the forest for fourteen years. Lord Rama, being God Himself, was the ultimate renunciate, so He had no problem whatsoever with the new plans.

Lakshmi Narayana Returning to His palace, Rama informed Sita of the news. While explaining the situation, He also told her not to come with Him to the forest. He warned her about the dangers lurking in the woods and told her that dharma, or religiosity, decreed that she should stay in Ayodhya and serve the elders and the new king. Sita responded by laughing at her husband. Sita Devi was the incarnation of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is always serving Narayana, who is Krishna Himself residing in the spiritual world. So when Lakshmi appeared on this earth as Sita, she was married to Lord Rama and completely dedicated to Him. Being a loving wife, she knew no other truth than Rama. The idea of being separated from her husband seemed outright preposterous. She immediately dismissed this idea just at the mere mention of it. When we feel very strongly about something or someone, we project our feelings onto other people, meaning we find it difficult to imagine that someone else doesn’t feel the same way that we do. This applies to foods that we like, our favorite movies, or even to songs that we enjoy. Since our feelings are so strong, we naturally assume people think the same way that we do. Sita loved Rama so much that the idea of being separated from Him made no sense at all. Naturally she assumed that her Lord felt the same way. So when she heard Rama suggesting separation for fourteen years, she naturally laughed at Him. “Why are you being ridiculous? My life is you and only you. You know that! Why are you pretending that you don’t know that? Have you lost your mind? There’s no way I’m going to live in this kingdom or anywhere else without you.” These were the thoughts that went through her mind. A good wife is always the first one to point out her husband’s momentary lapses of insanity, so Sita was perfect in this regard. The wife is the better half, and Sita proved it by her devotion to Rama.

Now Lord Rama is flawless so there wasn’t actually anything wrong with His suggestion that Sita remain in the kingdom. His love for Sita was equal to her love for Him, and He was just trying to protect her. She was the most beautiful woman in the three worlds, born and raised as a princess. Forest life would be very difficult for anybody, let alone one as lovely as herself. Rama was acting out of pure love by dissuading her from going to the forest. This is the relationship between God and His devotees. The devotees are always thinking of God’s interests and God reciprocates. These are the loving exchanges that take place in the spiritual world. We are eternally grateful to Lord Rama and Sita Devi for bringing that same love to this material world, allowing us to take pleasure in their pastimes and learn from their example.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Never Too Late

Radha Krishna “…from any stage of life, or from the time of understanding its urgency, one can begin regulating the senses in Krishna consciousness, devotional service of the Lord, and turn the lust into love of Godhead—the highest perfectional stage of human life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 3.41 Purport)

Drug addiction is a major problem not only in America, but throughout the world. Intoxication is a means of escaping the senses and feeling a false sense of bliss. This feeling is short-lived as the thrill wares off pretty quickly. People are then led to trying other forms of intoxication, each being more and more dangerous.

Drugs like crack, cocaine, marijuana, and even nicotine are all very addictive and have very dangerous side effects. Users become accustomed to the temporary sense pleasure derived by taking such drugs, and thus they become addicts. Drug addiction is a byproduct of the mode of ignorance. The material world is governed by three gunas or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Acts of charity and piety fall under the goodness category, fruitive activity is considered in the mode of passion, and abominable acts that are not conducive to one’s spiritual health are considered to be in the mode of ignorance.

“…Such a man appears to be always dejected, and is addicted to intoxicants and sleeping. These are the symptoms of a person conditioned by the mode of ignorance.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 14.8 Purport)

First-time drug users may start out in the mode of passion, but their habit gradually leads them to the mode of ignorance. Most people in the world are living in the mode of passion. Almost everyone is concerned with earning money and seeking sense gratification. We have a craving for something and then we take actions to try to satisfy that craving. However, if those cravings and desires are not controlled, they can lead to feelings of lust. Drug addicts are lusty for their drugs and that lust leads to anger and eventually to bewilderment.

“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 2.62)

People will do anything to get their drugs, even if it includes lying or stealing. Through our own experiences, we know that some of the most skilled liars we have met in life are people who are addicted to drugs. They appear to be very nice and complimentary, but it is all a fa├žade. Accustomed to lying, cheating, and stealing to get their drugs, dishonesty and deceit become their way of life. Their lust is at such a height that they become experts in performing all unrighteous activities.

Shrila Prabhupada Devotees of Lord Krishna, on the other hand, are addicted to chanting His glories. Through constantly being associated with God and His bona fide representative, the spiritual master, they naturally become free of all bad habits. The work of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada proved this fact. The founder of the modern day Hare Krishna Movement, Prabhupada came to America in 1965 to teach the true message of the Vedas to the Western world. Though Americans were slow to catch on at first, eventually his movement would steadily gain in popularity, especially amongst the youth. Many of these young boys and girls were former hippies, addicted to dropping acid and smoking marijuana. Prabhupada not only got them to kick their drug habits, but he turned them into bona fide brahmanas or priests. Instead of sleeping through the day, his disciples were trained to wake up very early in the morning, to take a bath and to perform managala arati and chanting of the Holy name. They not only gave up their drug habits, but all other forms of intoxication as well. The four pillars of sinful life are meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex. Prabhupada’s disciples gave up all these habits, and along with their regulated chanting routine, they became first class citizens.

Herein lies the power of the pure devotee of Krishna. Through their example and their dedication to the Lord, they are able to reform anyone. They view every living entity equally, not believing that only certain people are worthy of receiving God’s message. The great Narada Muni has also reformed many a great individual. Maharishi Valmiki in his youth was a dacoit by trade, but he gave up that life at the instruction of Narada. He not only gave up his sinful ways, but he turned to glorifying the Lord by composing a poem about Him known as the Ramayana, which become famous throughout the world. This is the grace of the spiritual master. They don’t simply ask their disciple to refrain from harmful activities. They instruct them on how to make their lives perfect by taking up the process of devotional service. We may ask someone to stop smoking or drinking, but if after quitting they are still bound in the mode of passion, then we really haven’t done anything worthwhile for them. Simply giving people do’s and don’ts may be a good thing, but it is not the answer to the real problems of life, namely birth, old age, disease, and death. Charity and benevolence are very nice, but the highest form of charity is to freely distribute love of Godhead. People must be given a higher cause to serve. According to the great acharyas, that cause is the taking up of devotional service to Lord Krishna.

Lord Rama Devotees become expert in telling the truth, in having compassion, and in praising others. These are all righteous qualities that are acquired automatically and without any effort. Simply by connecting with God, one becomes a first class person. Instead of the lust that arises from drug addiction, attachment to God causes spontaneous love to appear in one’s heart. Instead of turning to drugs or other intoxicants to satisfy our senses, let us all become addicted to viewing the divine form of the Lord. His name, form, and pastimes are so beautiful that we will continue to be enchanted by them day after day.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

God is Nice

Lord Nrishmadeva blesses Prahlada Maharaja “No one is envied by Me, neither am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all; yet whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me; and I am a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 9.29)

We often see God depicted as being very vengeful and someone we should fear. Many of us have passed by the people on the street who sternly warn us to surrender to God or suffer eternal damnation in hell. Natural disasters are viewed by many as God’s way of getting revenge on us for our sins. Because of this, many modern organized religions survive by instilling fear in their members. They say that we should fear God and surrender unto Him if we want to be absolved of our sins.

In actuality, God is our dearmost well-wishing friend. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedic tradition, tells us in the Bhagavad-gita that He is actually neutral to everyone in this material world. This material world was created out of the desire of the spiritual souls to lord over nature. We wanted to pretend to be God, so He granted our wish by allowing us to come to this universe. Due to the influence of maya, Krishna’s illusory energy, we are all identifying with our bodies and thinking that we are the doer of our activities. We think that the results that we achieve are all due to our own efforts. Deluding ourselves in this way, we spend our lives going further and further away from God.

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

According to the laws of material nature, the living entity is constantly going through the cycle of birth, death, old age, and disease. Due to our work and desires, we accept new bodies after we are finished with our current one. This is the law of karma. We enjoy happiness or suffer through misery due to the karma accumulated in this life and in previous ones. Each individual has their own desires and wants, and the material world is the playing field where the desires of all living entities collide head on with each other. The world stock markets are a good example of this principle in action on a very small scale. On any given day, millions of traders compete with each other to make money through the buying and selling of stocks. Traders all have different temperaments, personalities, and levels of intelligence. Each person has their own goals that they set out to achieve. The trading floor is the arena where all these goals and desires collide and because of this, we see that some people are very successful, while others lose millions and become bankrupt.

These collisions exist in the material world on a much greater level through the three qualities of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Every living entity possesses these qualities in some varying combination. Since not everyone possesses these qualities at the same levels, we see variegations in the species, to the point of 1,400,000 different varieties. Everyone is competing with each other to satisfy their desires, so naturally there will be collisions of varying magnitudes. As a result, from time to time we see horrific tragedies, such as mass murders, terrorist attacks, school shootings, etc. Lord Krishna is not to blame for this, for He is not directly involved with the day to day affairs of the material world.

“As there are constitutional laws in the material world stating that the king can do no wrong, or that the king is not subject to the state laws, similarly the Lord, although He is the creator of this material world, is not affected by the activities of the material world. He creates and remains aloof from the creation, whereas the living entities are entangled in the fruitive results of material activities because of their propensity for lording it over material resources.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg 4.14 Purport)

Through His energies, this material world was created and through His deputies, the demigods, material affairs are managed. The demigods handle all issues of fairness with regards to karma. God personally has no stake in our material fortunes.

Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu Lord Krishna makes an exception however when it comes to His devotees. Krishna is very partial towards His devotees and He will do anything to protect them and make them happy. Examples of this affection can be found throughout the historical incidents documented in the great Vedic literatures. In the Treta Yuga, Krishna incarnated as Lord Rama specifically to save His devotees who were being harassed by the demon Ravana. In a previous time, there was a young a boy by the name of Prahlada who was a great devotee of the Lord. Though he was born into the family of the Daityas, who are atheistic by nature, Prahlada was a completely surrendered soul from his very birth. His atheistic father, Hiranyakashipu, very much disliked his son’s devotion to God. He tried to kill Prahlada through various means, but Prahlada miraculously survived each and every attack. It was actually no miracle, for the boy simply thought of Lord Krishna during each attack, which is the best way to guarantee one’s safety. The Lord always protects His devotees no matter what. Even if they are put into difficult or painful situations, He guarantees that they will return to His abode after quitting their present bodies.

“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 8.5)

Finally, the Lord had enough of Hiranyakashipu’s deplorable behavior, so He personally incarnated as Narasimha Deva to kill him. This also represents the reverse side of the Lord’s favoritism. As kind as He is to His devotees, He is equally unkind to the enemies of His devotees. He will dole out the most severe punishment to the miscreants who dare harm His bhaktas.

This material world is a cause of constant fear. We have so many possessions and relationships that are all destined to end. We try very hard to defend and hold on to these ties, knowing that one day we won’t have them. In the spiritual world, such fear doesn’t exist. Our relationship with Krishna is eternal, and realizing that relationship means never having to be afraid again. God is not someone that we need to fear. If we learn to love Him, then He will reciprocate times ten. The best way to love God is through the process of bhakti yoga, or devotional service. If we constantly engage ourselves in hearing stories about the Lord, offering Him prayers, and chanting His name, then He will surely notice us. God resides in all of us through His Paramatma, or Supersoul, expansion. By practicing devotional service, we slowly move our consciousness from the material to the spiritual platform, where we can dovetail it with the Supreme Consciousness. Let us all become devotees of Krishna, not out of fear, but out of love for Him and His causeless mercy. He will always love us and never let us down, so we have nothing to fear.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Perfect Marriage

Marriage of Sita and Rama “Then bringing the beautifully ornamented Sita near the fire and placing her before Lord Rama, Maharaja Janaka spoke to Rama and said, ‘Take this, my daughter Sita, as your partner in the observance of all duties, and do take her hand and place it by yours. May she always be pious and devoted to you, and always follow you like your own shadow.’ (Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kanda, Sec 73)

When Lord Krishna incarnated on earth as Lord Rama, He accepted the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi as His wife. Sita was the daughter of the extremely pious King Janaka of Mithila. On a previous occasion, Janaka had been given a sacred bow of Lord Shiva. Since he held both the bow and his daughter in high regard, Janaka decided that whoever would be able to lift and string the bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. At the occasion of Sita’s svayamvara (ceremony where a groom is chosen from a list of eligible suitors), Lord Rama not only lifted the bow, but He broke it as well. In this way, He won Sita’s hand in marriage.

Like most Vedic sacrifices, a marriage ceremony takes place in the presence of a fire. In the above referenced verse, King Janaka is asking Rama to accept Sita as His wife, and wishing for his daughter to be forever devoted to her husband. In doing so, Janaka here is describing the dharma, or religious duties, of a wife in marriage. The Vedas tell us that the prime duty of a wife is for her to faithfully serve her husband. The husband in turn is to provide complete protection for his wife. This way, the couple can live happily and peacefully, each equally adhering to their prescribed duties. Modern day society likes to preach the equality of men and women, and how marriages should be fifty-fifty partnerships built on compromise and give and take. Technically, they are correct in one sense since the husband and wife are both equal on a spiritual level. The most important Vedic tenet is that we are not our bodies.  We are spirit souls at our core. All living entities are equal in their constitutional position. As far as a marriage goes, the husband and wife both share the same spiritual fate, so they are equal in that sense. A marriage is a partnership in that the husband and wife should both equally perform the specific duties prescribed for them. In this way, they will be happy in marriage and have time to focus on the real aim of life, serving God.

Many people misconstrue the meaning behind the Vedic tenet that a wife should serve her husband. They view this as a sort of slavery system, but it is not so. Vedic life is centered around the idea of God realization. The human form of life is very auspicious since only human beings have the capacity to understand who is God, and to use that knowledge to break out of the perpetual cycle of birth and death. Thus Vedic prescriptions are all geared to help one achieve this goal.  Since the material world is always pulling our senses in every which direction, serving Krishna is a very difficult thing to do. God gave us the institution of marriage so that we would have a partner in our service to Him. There are many specific samskaras (rites) and ritualistic performances enjoined in the shastras. Married couples should perform these specific purificatory rites together. From our own experiences, we find that our duties are easier to perform when we have our friends and family helping and supporting us. A good spouse is someone we can count on for support at all times. The Vedas tell us that a devoted wife earns all the religious merits accumulated by her husband, so she elevates herself simply through serving her pati or husband.

The Mahabharata tells us that the main occupation of those in the grihastha ashrama, householder life, is to feed Krishna by preparing and offering food to Him, and then to take the prasadam and distribute it to guests. Through hospitably serving guests and brahmanas, a married couple becomes purified and elevated in their spiritual consciousness.  Householders should always have guests at their home, for they receive tremendous spiritual merit by serving their guests and attending to their every need. In this day and age, especially in the Western countries, most people are accustomed to eating animal flesh and other dirty things. These types of food all have negative karma attached to them. Married couples that are devotees of Krishna have a tremendous opportunity to distribute the mercy of the Lord in the form of His prasadam to people who desperately need it. Prasadam is food that is completely karma free, for Lord Krishna has given His spiritual glance over it and left the remnants for us. Any guest received by a householder should be served this wonderful prasadam, for it is the easiest way to infuse people with spiritual consciousness, giving them the chance to reconnect with the Supreme Lord. There is no higher form of charity than this.

Sita Rama In modern day society where men and women freely interact, the system of marriage has deviated quite a bit from the original system God created.  It has become an institution where both the man and women try to love each other, while at the same maintaining their independence. While this may seem like a nice idea, the result is that either the marriage or the independence suffers, both of which lead to unhappiness. The Vedas tell us that there is no concept of independence in a marriage. A woman is to dutifully serve her husband no matter what, and the man is obligated to provide complete protection for his wife. These principles were practiced by the divine couple, Sita Devi and Lord Rama. Sita was completely devoted to Rama in all her thoughts, words, and deeds. She supported Him through thick and thin, even following Him to the forest. Janaka prayed that she would follow Rama like a shadow, and she obliged.  Lord Rama, for His part, was equally devoted to her.  He was always dedicated to her welfare, even going to great lengths to rescue her when she was kidnapped by the demon Ravana.

From the example set by Sita Devi and Lord Rama, we can learn the proper means to having a happy marriage and a successful life. True love means wanting more for the person you love than you want for yourself. Sita Devi always wished for her Lord to be happy and to always be devoted to Him. Even her father Janaka wished the same for her. This is the true aim of life, to have pure love for God.  May we always have the blessings of Sita-Rama in all our endeavors and we may our minds always be concentrated on their lotus feet.  The husband and wife who devote themselves to being servants of Sita-Rama, they will enjoy everlasting felicity in this life and the next.  They will have the perfect marriage.

Mega Memory

Vyasadeva narrates Mahabharata to Ganesha “Formerly, before Vyasadeva, say, five thousand years ago, before that time there was no need of written literature. People were so sharp in their memory that whatever they would hear from the spiritual master they would remember for life. The memory was so sharp. But in this age—it is called Kali Yuga—we are reducing our bodily strength, our memory…” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 790902.VP.NV)

According to the shastras, or Vedic scriptures, the earth doesn’t come into being just once, but rather is created and destroyed in repeating cycles. Each creation exists for a fixed time period, which is divided into four ages known as Yugas. The four Yugas are Satya, Treta, Dvapara, and Kali.

Satya Yuga is the first time period beginning at creation. Satya means “truth” so the people living in this age are known for being strictly dedicated to dharma. Dharma means occupational duty or religion, and people abide by it at almost a one hundred percent level in the Satya Yuga. Which each successive Yuga, dharma diminishes in strength by one quarter, thus causing a rise in irreligion. We are currently living in the last Yuga, known as Kali. Kali Yuga is famous for the widespread presence of adharma, or activity which is against the scriptural injunctions. Dharma exists only at one fourth its original strength in the Kali Yuga.

In the classic Vedic system, society is to be managed according to varnashrama dharma. There are four varnas, or societal divisions based on a people’s qualities. The brahmanas are the religious class of people, who are viewed as the highest class members of society. Kshatriyas serve as the warriors and administrators, providing protection to the other three classes of society. Vaishyas are the merchants and businessmen who are entrusted with cow protection, farming, and general economic development. The shudras are the last group, and since they receive no formal training from a spiritual master, their duty is to serve the other three varnas. Shudras are traditionally those of the laborer class. Just as there are four varnas, there are also four ashramas, or stages in one’s life. The first ashrama is known as brahmacharya and it is the time period when one is living a life of complete celibacy and taking instruction from a spiritual master. After completing one’s training under a guru, one then enters the grihastha ashrama, which is married householder life. Then after twenty five years, one retires from family life and enters the vanaprastha ashrama. Finally, the last stage of life is known as sannyasa, where one completely renounces all family attachments and material possessions and lives completely at the mercy of God.

In the Kali Yuga, this system is virtually nonexistent. Shudras are praised and held in high regard, while brahmanas are vilified. The most sinful among us serve as our exalted leaders, preaching irreligion as a way of life. We see evidence of this everywhere today, especially with the widespread practices of animal slaughter and abortion. One of the most harmful side effects of Kali Yuga is the overall loss of intelligence and brain power in people. Though we may think that the overall life expectancy is rising, in actuality in previous Yugas the average duration of life was much greater than it is today. This is all a result of overindulgence in sense gratification. When one is constantly hankering after satisfying the needs of the stomach and the genitals, intelligence will be clouded. One is left no time to contemplate the real problems of life, which are birth, old age, disease, and death. When people’s lives revolve around eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, then naturally their intelligence will suffer.

One need only look to the advent of the teleprompter to see a glaring example of how the brainpower of man has rapidly declined. Used by everyone from politicians to television reporters, the teleprompter is a device that provides an electronic visual of the text of a speech given by a speaker. With a teleprompter, one isn’t required to commit a speech to memory. One need only focus their attention on the device while making a speech, for the prompter will scroll through the text at the speaker’s pace, guaranteeing that the speaker will never forget what to say next. Teleprompters are positioned in such a way that the audience usually can’t tell that the speaker is using it. For speeches that are delivered to television audiences, the prompter is usually aligned with the television camera, so the speaker can read the text of the speech while pretending to look directly at the audience watching on their televisions at home.

There is nothing necessarily wrong with teleprompters, since they allow for the smooth delivery of speeches. However, what has happened is that speakers have become lazy as a result of using them. One doesn’t even have to be familiar with the subjects they are talking about since they can just read whatever is put in front of them. As recently as twenty years ago, speakers at least had to memorize the speeches they gave, thus allowing the subject matter to be retained in their minds where it could be processed and pondered over. Today, many speakers, including the President of the United States, have committed embarrassing blunders such as reading the wrong speech or talking out of order due to malfunctions with the teleprompters. There are many world leaders who are great at delivering speeches, but when asked questions on policy in interviews, they stutter and stammer due to lack of knowledge on the subjects they are being questioned on.

Valmiki instructs Lava and Kusha In previous Yugas, people’s brains were so sharp that they could memorize millions of Sanskrit verses after only hearing them once. The great Maharishi Valmiki committed the entire Ramayana to memory and would recite it perfectly to others. He even taught it to Lord Rama’s two sons, Lava and Kusha, who would regularly recite it in front of gathered assemblies in their father’s kingdom. Vyasadeva, Lord Krishna’s literary incarnation, authored eighteen Puranas, the Vedanta-sutras, and the Mahabharata all from memory. The Mahabharata itself is probably the longest book ever written so it is amazing to think that one man could commit that entire work to memory. But it wasn’t only Vyasadeva, for he had many disciples who also became expert orators. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, also known as the Bhagavata Purana, was recited by Shukadeva Goswami, Vyasadeva’s son. These people were all exalted brahmanas, who had dedicated their lives to serving Krishna, or God. Their intelligence was top notch as a result. These sages didn’t limit themselves to just memorization, for they had a deep understanding of the topics and stories they would recite.

There is no denying that Kali Yuga is in full force, with its effects seen everywhere. Obviously it is not possible for people to commit such great works to memory anymore. Luckily for us, all hope is not lost. In this age, all the wisdom of the Vedas has been summarized into one short phrase, the maha-mantra:

“Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”

Krishna and Rama are names of God, and Hare is His energy. There is no knowledge or truth higher than God. Committing this mantra to memory and regularly reciting it in the presence of others will make us the greatest of orators.