Saturday, August 1, 2009

A Perfect Sannyasi

Sita Rama Lakshmana in forest “I shall wend my way to the forest impassable, devoid of men, inhabited by various deer, tigers, and other voracious animals.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

The Vedic texts often make reference to forest life or one’s living in a forest. Similar to the modern day concept of homelessness, having to live in the forest means living without any material comforts. The forest is meant for wild animals, birds, and other beasts, and not for human beings. Even in the modern age, many people go camping in the woods to get a taste for the wilderness. It is considered “roughing it” to live without electricity, having to procure food and shelter for oneself. Even heat must be generated through one’s own efforts by starting fires and keeping them burning. These camping trips are usually short in duration; lasting no more than a few days, for living in the woods is no easy task. The amenities available to us in urban life such as toilet paper and hot water are hard to come by when one is out enjoying nature.

On the other hand, the forest is devoid of human beings, so it is considered a place of great solitude. According to Vedic philosophy, one isn’t supposed to remain in family life all the way until death. For men, life is divided into four stages, known as ashramas. The fours ashramas are bramhacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasya. Brahmacharya refers to celibate student life where one takes instruction from his guru and learns the art of serving Krishna, or God. Grihastha is the mode of life where one lives with a wife, produces offspring, and earns a living. Vanaprastha is the time of retired family life where one stops fruitive work and concentrates on serving God, and if often involves travelling to holy places with one’s wife. Sannyasa is the final stage of life and it involves complete renunciation from family life and fruitive work. God made this the last stage in one’s spiritual progression because this is the time when one prepares to die. According to the Bhagavad-gita, if one thinks of Krishna at the time of death, then they are guaranteed never to return to this material world.

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

Sannyasa is the time for one to seriously practice thinking of Krishna and become completely dependent on Him for everything. There are many rules and regulations associated with being a sannyasi, but the most important is that one must not have any intimate connection with women. Sex life is the biggest hindrance to spiritual understanding, so it is sanctioned for grihasthis, but not for people in any of the other three ashramas. Even a grihasthi is to abide by many rules and regulations when engaging in sex life, such as only having sex for procreation. This means that married couples should only have intimate relations during the wife’s fertile period of the month, and then only after adhering to the garbhadhana-samskara.

“When the mentality of the father and mother is completely Krishna consciousness, so that when there will be sexual intercourse, the mentality of the child will be Krishna conscious. This is the garbhadhana-samskara.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 731229SB.LA)

Samskaras are rites or reformatory processes which people should adhere to if possible, for it will help them to make spiritual progress.

In order to be free from family attachments, during Vedic times, sannyasis would leave home and live in the forest. Forest life isn’t fit for normal people, but for one who is completely renounced and has his mind fixed on Krishna.  For them, the forest is one of the most pleasing places to live.

When Lord Krishna appeared on this earth in His avatar of Lord Rama, He was exiled to live in the forest for fourteen years by His father, Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Now Lord Rama was God Himself, the ultimate renunciate, so He had no problem accepting this decree. One is known as God when He possesses all six opulences of life in full and simultaneously. Krishna is the most famous, the most beautiful, the richest, the wisest, the most powerful, and the greatest renunciate. Upon being given this order by His father, Lord Rama went to inform His wife Sita of the bad news. The Lord instructed her to remain at home for the exile period, where she would be protected. Sita Devi vehemently protested His request and put forth a series of counter arguments in hopes of persuading the Lord to allow her to come with Him. The forest is very dangerous for human beings, so Sita made sure to inform the Lord that she knew exactly what to expect. She had no reservations about going with the Lord.

Sita Devi Far from being a typical sannyasi, Sita was the most beautiful woman who grew up as a princess. Living in the royal court of King Janaka, and then as the daughter-in-law of King Dashratha, she was accustomed to having every material comfort at her disposal. It was for this reason that everyone was worried about how she would survive forest life. With this being the case, how and why was she so eager to follow her husband and live a life tailored for great renunciates? The answer is that Sita was completely devoted to Lord Rama, God Himself. When one is perfectly practicing devotional service, known as bhakti yoga, then he or she has no attachments to anything material. Such a person is actually a complete renunciate and thus a perfect sannyasi. So though there may be many rules and regulations as part of the varnashrama dharma system, we see that one can transcend all those rules instantly by becoming a devotee of the Lord. God is very nice to us in this age because He incarnates through His holy name. We should learn to accept His mercy by constantly chanting His holy name in a loving manner. Doing so will make us the perfect sannyasis, capable of enduring any and all hardships.

Friday, July 31, 2009


Hanuman meditating on Sita Rama “Different living entities appear in different forms of dress, but according to the instruction of the Bhagavad-gita, a learned person sees all living entities equally. Such treatment by the devotee is very much appreciated by the Supreme Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.11.13 Purport)

The recent election of Barrack Obama to the presidency of the United States was regarded worldwide as a landmark occasion. American has officially been a country for over two hundred years, but this was the first time in its history that a person of color, an Africa-American, was elected as president. Many thought that this day would never come, for they viewed America as a racist country. Yet, one is left to wonder whether Obama’s election was really that groundbreaking.

Black people have not been treated very well historically in America. During the country’s founding, most blacks weren’t even treated as human beings, but rather were slaves, owned and traded as property. The founding fathers struggled very hard with the issue of slavery while adopting the Constitution, eventually tabling the issue, allowing the process to continue. Slowly but surely however, slavery would meet its end, culminating with the Civil War during the early 1860s. However, even after the abolition of slavery, blacks were still discriminated against, especially in the Southern portion of the country, where they would periodically be lynched or harassed in other ways. This treatment continued for almost one hundred years, until the Civil Rights movement of the late 1960s. Due to this history of racism, many blacks felt that the country was forever doomed and incapable of electing a black person to any meaningful position of power. The election of Obama was redemption for them, offering a glimmer of hope that maybe people no longer made judgments about others based on their ethnicity or skin color.

Obama and family on election night On the surface it appears that progress has been made, but according to the Vedic teachings, it hasn’t. The central tenet of any religion, but especially the Vedas, is that we are not our bodies. One may then ask, “Well, if we are not our bodies, then what are we?” The answer in Sanskrit is aham brahmasmi, “I am a spirit soul”. Our souls are certainly enclosed inside of our bodies, but this body is constantly changing. The body we had as a child is completely different from the one we have as adults, yet we don’t mourn for the death of our childhood. In the same manner, a wise person doesn’t lament over the death of the current body, which is nothing more than clothing that is given up at the time of death and then replaced again in our next birth.

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)

Since most of us aren’t taught about the soul in school, we are falsely identifying with the body. Though it may be nice that a black person has been elected president, constitutionally such a person is no different than all the others who previously held the esteemed title of President of the United States. Sure their life experiences may have all been different, some enduring more discrimination growing up than others, but that is something we all deal with. The material world means a place full of miseries, dukhalayam. Every living entity is forced to suffer the fourfold miseries of life: birth, old age, disease, and death.

The Vedas declare that anyone who identifies with the gross material body is a mudha, or an ass. An animal has little to no intelligence, and is certainly not smart enough to understand the concept of the soul and changing bodies. The human being is unique in its ability to take in this information and use it for its benefit. However, if we continue to identify ourselves as black, white, man, woman, American, etc., then our intelligence is very limited. Real progress comes when we view everyone equally, as a spirit soul part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.

“The Blessed Lord said: He who does not hate illumination, attachment and delusion when they are present, nor longs for them when they disappear; who is seated like one unconcerned, being situated beyond these material reactions of the modes of nature, who remains firm, knowing that the modes alone are active; who regards alike pleasure and pain, and looks on a clod, a stone and a piece of gold with an equal eye; who is wise and holds praise and blame to be the same; who is unchanged in honor and dishonor, who treats friend and foe alike, who has abandoned all fruitive undertakings-such a man is said to have transcended the modes of nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.22)

Scene of Bhagavad-gitaSince most people live on the material platform, the Vedas give different directions on how material life should be governed. They state that society should be divided into four classes based off of one’s qualities. Also, the time span of one’s life should also be divided into four stages or ashramas, each progressively leading one to spiritual perfection. This system, known as varnashrama dharma, is the code for managing society with the aim of helping everyone progress spiritually. So in this system, there are material designations such as those between men and women, brahmanas, shudras, vaishyas, etc. These are all material, but one can rise above them immediately by becoming a devotee of Krishna. The bhaktas, or devotees, are above any material designation. Since they have a pure love for Krishna, they are mahajanas, or completely spiritual beings following the original principles of religion.

Many examples of this fact can be found in the Vedas. When God came to earth as the pious prince Lord Rama, He wandered through the forest for fourteen years as an exile with His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. During that time, the Treta Yuga, the varnashrama dharma system was adhered to, and those living in the forest were generally viewed as lower class living entities. Basically anyone not living in a normal house, except for the brahmanas, was considered uncivilized. Early on in His travels, the Lord and His family met the Nishada chief Guha. The Nishadas were a tribe living in the forests that were generally viewed as outcastes. However, Guha showed great hospitality to Rama and His family, and for this the Lord gave Him His blessings. Guha was a pure devotee and was rewarded with the opportunity to personally offer food and hospitality to God Himself. His caste was completely meaningless, for God viewed Him very favorably.

Later on, in another incident, the Lord teamed up with the Vanara king Sugriva. Vanaras were a race of monkeys with human-like characteristics. Rama helped Sugriva regain his lost kingdom by killing his brother Vali. Sugriva was very distraught after his brother’s death, and he blamed himself for what he viewed as a horrible deed. Bewailing thus, Sugriva begged forgiveness from Rama, stating that he was just a lowly monkey with very little intelligence. Now Sugriva was a great devotee, so he was by no means unintelligent, but he was referencing a generality that existed at the time. Since they were more monkey-like than human-like, the Vanaras were especially known for their animalistic tendencies, with one of them being their penchant for getting drunk off a certain type of honey. Yet again, God overlooked these stereotypes and looked at what was in Sugriva’s heart. As pure devotees, Sugriva and his Vanara army were given the opportunity to directly serve the Lord by helping Him battle Ravana and rescue Sita. The greatest of the Vanara warriors was Hanuman, Sugriva’s chief deputy. Considered Lord Rama’s greatest devotee, Hanuman is above is all material designations. He is completely spiritual, a great soul with immense strength, able to assume any shape at will. He uses his strength only to serve the Lord and for this reason he is still celebrated today.

To serve Lord Krishna properly, Lord Chaitanya recommended everyone to follow the mode of worship subscribed to by the gopis of Vrindavana. When the Lord personally came to earth around five thousand years ago, He spent His youth in Vrindavana as a cowherd boy, the son of His foster parents Nanda and Yashoda. The gopis, the cowherd girls of Vrindavana, were completely in love with Krishna, and they spent all their time thinking of Him. They weren’t high class yogis or Vedantists. They even openly declared themselves to be unintelligent, for women didn’t receive a formal education during those times. However, their pure devotion actually made them smarter than the greatest of scholars. Many of us go to God with some personal motive, either we want something or we want relief from some ailment. The gopis however just wanted to always be with Krishna, and to always love Him. This is the highest form of worship, and for this reason Krishna is eternally associated with His gopis, the greatest of them being Shrimati Radharani.

Shrimati Radharani with Krishna The lesson here is that if we want to make real progress as a society, then we should all become Krishna conscious. That will immediately afford us the opportunity to break free of all material designations. Though the performance of great Vedic sacrifices requires an expert brahmanas or priest, the process of devotional service is open to anyone.

“O son of Partha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth-women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32)

Knowing this fact, we should all take up bhakti yoga, for that is the only path taken by all the great souls.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

God is the Most Magnanimous

Rama Lakshmana deities "O Lakshmana, do you together with me rule this earth. You are my second self; and this good fortune has taken possession of you as well. Do you, O Sumitra's son, enjoy every desirable thing and the privileges pertaining to royalty. My life and this kingdom I covet for your sake alone." (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Sec 4)

Every now and then God personally comes to earth to deliver His devotees, giving them protection from the asuras. According to Vedic teachings, since the beginning of creation, there has been an ongoing war between the daivas and asuras. The daivas are those who believe in God and the asuras are God’s enemies, the atheists. The atheists are very attached to sense gratification, taking this gross material body to be the be-all end-all. They view the daivas as a threat to their sinful way of life, thus they are always harassing them. The attacks of the asuras take various forms, sometimes they declare that God is dead, other times they say that He is impersonal and that we are all God, so we have no need to worship a Supreme Being. When they really feel threatened, the asuras revert to using force against the devotees.

This was the case many thousands of years ago, when a demon named Ravana had risen to power. A Rakshasa by birth, Ravana performed the severest of penances to gain the favor of the demigods. The devatas, or demigods, are God’s deputies in charge of running the material world. One of their prime duties is to grant material benedictions to those who please them. These boons are granted to anyone who properly worships them. Lord Shiva known as Mahadeva, or the great demigod, has a reputation for being easily pleased. Regardless of the person’s character, Lord Shiva will grant boons to those who pray to him and perform austerities. Ravana pleased not only Lord Shiva, but many other demigods. He received various boons, such as having ten heads, and being invincible in battle against any demigod. In his haste for acquisition of power, Ravana neglected to ask for immunity from human beings, thinking there was none who existed that could defeat him. Taking advantage of this oversight, the demigods went to Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord Himself, and asked Him to relieve their distress by ridding the world of Ravana.

The Lord kindly obliged and took birth as a human being by the name of Rama, the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. Ravana was not only very powerful, but he used his strength to harass the great sages living in the forests. During that time, the saintly people, the rishis, mostly lived in the forest, for that environment was better suited for their spiritual activities. Ravana and his band of Rakshasa demons went after these saints, killing them and then feasting upon their flesh. The atheists are always merciless, having no compassion even on the kindest of people. Lord Rama was born in a very famous family, known as the Ikshvakus. Not only were they all great kings, but they were terrific fighters, the highest of the kshatriya race. God specifically chose to take birth in this dynasty due its reputation and high standing.

When He reached an appropriate age, Lord Rama was set to be installed on the throne as the new king of Ayodhya by His father. Rama was eldest son and the most beloved of all the people, so the king desired very much to pass down the kingdom to Him. The news was spread throughout the city and everyone become very excited. When Rama was told of the news, He went to His younger brother Lakshmana and spoke the above mentioned verse. When God comes to earth, His closest associates come with Him. In Shvetadvipa, a planet in the spiritual world, Lord Narayana takes rest on Ananta Shesha, the serpent who holds all the planets of the universe on his unlimited hoods. Narayana is served by Goddess Lakshmi, His eternal consort. When the Lord took birth as Rama, Shesha and Lakshmi also took birth in the forms of Lakshmana and Sita respectively. From their childhood, Lakshmana was inseparable from Rama, for he would always follow his elder brother like a shadow.

Lakshmi Narayana Shesha When we devote ourselves completely to God, He recognizes our love and reciprocates. Being installed as the new king was the highest of honors bestowed on Lord Rama, but He made sure to include His younger brother. He never wanted Lakshamana to feel slighted in any way. Obviously Lakshmana was also very happy on this occasion and needed no consolation, but the Lord, out of His generous nature, told Lakshmana that the two would rule the earth together. Sometimes when one ascends the ladder of fame and fortune, the “little” people are sometimes forgotten. The new fame and celebrity can cause relationships with friends and family to change. But God always loves His devotees, no matter what. Lord Rama wanted to assure His younger brother that he would also enjoy all the luxuries associated with being king.

Even though God separates Himself from His devotees from time to time, they are never without Him. Lord Krishna had to leave the gopis of Vrindavana and later on He had to leave His friends Arjuna and Uddhava. Lord Rama was forced to abandon His wife Sita, who had done no wrong. Sometimes His duties require Him to follow a certain path, but He never forgets His devotees. They are always thinking of Him and He is always with them in spirit.

“The yogi who knows that I and the Supersoul within all creatures are one, worships Me and remains always in Me in all circumstances.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.31)

God is always looking to glorify His devotees first, thus this behavior on the part of Rama towards Lakshmana wasn’t very surprising. Lord Krishna delivered the message of the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, so as to give him everlasting fame as a great devotee. Hanuman was deputed to find the whereabouts of Sita and to destroy Lanka at the behest of Lord Rama. For this reason, he is loved and adored to this very day. Bhishmadeva’s devotion to Krishna was rewarded at the time of his death, when Krishna granted him the opportunity to give spiritual instruction to Yudhishthira, the eldest of the Pandava brothers.

“Krishna wanted the Pandavas to hear from Bhishma, who alone was able to give such great instructions even at the time of his death. So, Krishna likes to glorify His devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada)

Though we may suffer through hard times or witness the calamities of others, we should never forget that God is nice. Any service rendered to Him never goes to waste.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Home Schooling

 Sita Devi with her parents and husband “I have been taught by my father and mother to follow my husband in all conditions of life, and I shall carry out now what I have been taught. I shall not abide by any other counsel.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

According to Vedic philosophy, women and shudras are considered the less intelligent class of people. They are given such a designation due to the fact that they traditionally didn’t receive a formal education. Shudras are the working class of people in the varnashrama dharma system, which is the division of society and life stages based on a person’s natural qualities. The four varnas are the brahmanas (priests), kshatriyas (warriors/administrators), vaishyas (merchants/farmers), and shudras (laborers). The four ashramas represent the progressive stages one goes through in life, namely the brahmacharya (celibate student life), grihastha (married life), vanaprastha (retired family life), and sannyasa (complete renunciation from family life).

In the ancient Vedic system, male children would be invested with the sacred thread which signaled the beginning of their second birth. Everyone’s first birth is from their biological mother and father, but the second birth is more important since that is when spiritual education begins. Upon receiving the sacred thread, boys would then live with their spiritual master in what was known as the gurukula. The gurukula was the school system, with boys living there at no charge. Everyone needs food to survive, so in order to meet this demand, the students, known as brahmacharis, would go begging for food door to door from the grihastha or householder community. The collected food would then be given to the guru, who would in turn distribute it amongst his family and his students. In this way, people living in family life would support the schools and their students. At the gurukula, students would be taught on all subjects of life, but mainly on spiritual matters. They would be taught how to worship Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and they would be imbibed with the highest understanding of the soul and its position relative to this material world.

Shudras and women would not attend gurukulas. Shudras are the laborer class of people so they don’t require an education. Their duty is to serve the three higher varnas. The brahmanas, kshatriyas, and vaishyas in turn must do their part to provide complete protection to the shudras. Women would be provided protection in their youth by their father, and would then be married off as soon they reached the age when puberty starts. At that point, they would be protected by their husbands. It is for these reasons that women and shudras are frequently referred to as unintelligent in the Vedic literatures.

Gurukula Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna, and thus was no different than God Himself. He advented on this earth many thousands of years ago in the town of Ayodhya and as part of His pastimes, He willingly accepted a punishment of exile into the forest from His father, Maharaja Dashrata, the king of Ayodhya. The Lord was married at the time to His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi. Rama informed her of the punishment and begged her to remain in the town for the duration of the exile period. He put forth all the pertinent arguments relating to the rules of propriety and also warned her of all the dangers of forest life. Sita Devi in turn completely rejected His arguments and put forth her own. She explained the proper duties of a wife and how she was taught to always serve her husband.

Now growing up as an “uneducated” woman, how did Sita have such a high understanding of these rules? Well, she explained to the Lord that these lessons were taught by her mother and father. Sita Devi was an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is always serving the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky, and so when God comes to this earth, she naturally follows Him. Sita didn’t have an ordinary birth, but was instead born from Mother Earth, who is known as Bhumi Devi. The highly exalted King Janaka found her when she was just a baby while he was plowing a field. He raised the girl as his own daughter and he treated her as his most precious jewel. Janaka had a world famous reputation for having the highest character and having his senses under control. Having such wonderful parents in Janaka and his wife Sunayana, Sita Devi received a world-class education at home, without needing to attend school.

In the modern world, gurukulas are almost nonexistent and most education takes place in public schools and universities. While these places may provide a nice education on material subjects, they don’t teach anything about the soul or devotion to Krishna. So in actuality, people attending such institutions aren’t receiving any worthwhile education. We are all growing up as shudras, not having taken our second birth. We learn from Sita Devi’s example just how important it is to teach Krishna consciousness at home. Parents can start teaching their children about God at any age. It has been evidenced that children naturally take to the singing of the Lord’s name, without any cajoling. A child can see a picture of Krishna and immediately understand that it is no ordinary picture, but that it is the Supreme Lord Himself. This is all due to past karma and life experiences. We are all originally devotees of Krishna, but somehow or other we have forgotten Him and are left to struggle in this material world. If parents allow their children to hear about Krishna, to chant His holy name, to eat His prasadam, and to offer prayers to Him, then they will grow up to be more intelligent than the greatest of PhD scholars.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ties That Bind

Radha Krishna “One who can control his senses by practicing the regulated principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord and thus become free from all attachment and aversion.“ (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.64)

Marriage really changes people, sometimes for the worst, but mostly for the better. The idea of independence and freedom vanishes, for one has to constantly meet the needs of their spouse. One’s whole way of life changes, and though many marriages end in divorce, the institution itself has a positive impact on one’s character.

For men, marriage is often dreaded. The modern concept of having a bachelor party prior to a wedding is a way for the groom-to-be to have one more night of fun prior to tying the knot. Many husbands often jokingly refer to their wife as the “ball and chain”. Women generally have a different view of marriage. To them, it provides an added sense of security to their lives. Marriage allows women to have a stronger attachment to their men. Every girl dreams of the perfect wedding when they are little. They spend time thinking of the perfect arrangements, where to have the wedding, and what kind of dress they will wear. It is a very exciting event for them.

Either way, a successful marriage requires great effort from both parties. Sometimes the wife isn’t happy with things that the husbands says or forgets to say. Other times, the husband isn’t happy due to what he perceives as nagging and pestering from the wife. These are all issues that people learn to deal with through practice. Instead of doing whatever we want, we now must take into account the feelings of our spouse. The spouse is someone who lives with us, meaning we see them all the time. That makes it all the more important to make sure we have a friendly relationship with them, taking great care not to cause any enmity. Normally if we have a disagreement with one of our friends or colleagues, we can take a timeout period from them and then resume the friendship later on. We are not afforded that luxury in a marriage. Marriage means having to serve someone besides ourselves. Later on when children come into the picture, the responsibilities increase even more. Children require constant attention, leaving us no time for selfishness. In the long run, this is good for us. It teaches us to be detached from our own personal desires. This service makes us act even nicer to our other friends and family.

Similar to the demands of a marriage, the process of devotional service requires one to always attend to the needs of God. God actually doesn’t have any needs, but through His mercy, He allows us to voluntarily take up His service for our benefit. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the reservoir of all pleasure. In this material world we are dedicated to serving our senses or the senses of others. This may give us temporary so called “happiness”, but real happiness comes from service to Krishna. This is our original constitutional position, so it is not unnatural at all. When we are dedicated to offering food to Krishna, hearing stories about Him, or talking about Him with others, we forget our own desires. As a result, we feel the highest form of bliss.

Federer focused Detachment brings about peace and happiness. If we are overly attached to material objects, we lose our composure and steadiness of mind. We see in professional sports that the most successful athletes are the ones that can stay focused even in the most pressure packed situations. People often joke that tennis great Roger Federer plays like a yogi, for he rarely loses his temper on court. While others throw rackets or verbally abuse umpires, Federer remains focused on the task at hand. For these athletes, the key to success lies in their detachment from the result of their activity. Winning and losing is important, but they don’t feel overly dejected from losing nor do they overly rejoice over victories. Not everyone can become a high class athlete or great mystic, but we can still practice detachment. The easiest way to break free from material attachments is to take up the process of devotional service.

“…it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by constant practice and by detachment.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.35)

In a marriage, when we serve our spouse, we are always checking to see if they are happy or whether they still love us. If we start to doubt their love, we get angry and disagreements arise. When we serve Krishna, His love for us is guaranteed and never needs to be doubted. We have trouble maintaining one wife or one husband, but Krishna can maintain millions of devotees at the same time. Knowing this, we can go on serving Him and always be assured that He’ll love us even more than we love Him. If we vow to always serve Lord Krishna with all our thoughts, words, and deeds, then we will become first class people.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Music To Our Ears

Radha Krishna playing Their flutes “When there is sound vibrated praising the transcendental pastimes of the Lord…one is forced to hear. That hearing process enters into the mind, and the practice of yoga is automatically performed.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.28.19 Purport)

We live in an age where technology is rapidly improving, with new products coming out all the time. Big screen televisions, cellular telephones, Bluetooth devices, and laptop computers are some of the products that have resulted. One of the more intriguing advancements brought on by this advancement in technology is the mp3 music file.

No less than thirty years ago, music was listened to primarily on record players. Artists released albums on large vinyl disks and consumers would then play them on large turntable style record players. Unlike the compact portable music players that exist today, these record players were quite bulky. There were no fast forward or rewind buttons; instead you would have to manually move the needle or the stylus to a different position on the record. Listening to music in the car was accomplished only by turning on the radio. There was no freedom in that, for one was forced to listen to whatever music was playing on the various radio stations. Progress occurred gradually through the years with the release of cassette tapes, which was then followed by compact discs. This smaller medium made it easier to listen to music while on the go. Compact discs even afforded us the luxury to fast forward and rewind between tracks on albums.

Fast forward to today and we now have the luxury of listening to music stored on computer files, called mp3s. Though a compressed form of music, these files are almost identical in sound quality to compact discs and they provide us much more flexibility and convenience. A large library of music is now available to us right at our fingertips wherever we go. Mp3 files can also be tagged with metadata, such as artist, track, and album names. You can even apply an album cover image to mp3 files, allowing you to browse through covers on your iPod or computer, similar to the way people used to browse through record album covers in music stores. Listening to music has never been easier, and we can even copy and share these files with our friends.

According to the Vedic teachings, technological advancement is not completely shunned, but it is generally not viewed favorably. The reason for this is that new technology binds us in the mode of passion. The material world is governed by three gunas or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Lord Krishna describes the mode of passion in this way:

“O chief of the Bharatas, when there is an increase in the mode of passion, the symptoms of great attachment, uncontrollable desire, hankering, and intense endeavor develop.” (Bhagavad-gita, 14.12)

One in the mode of passion is constantly hankering after things and is thus never satisfied. If one only focuses the mind on matters of sense gratification, then it will be very difficult to achieve spiritual advancement.

“In the mode of passion, people become greedy, and their hankering for sense enjoyment has no limit. One can see that even if one has enough money and adequate arrangement for sense gratification, there is neither happiness nor peace of mind.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 14.17 Purport)

iPhone When we get a new phone or mp3 player, immediately we are anxiously awaiting the next release, hoping that newer technology will correlate to greater happiness. With our new device, we are happy for a few days while we discover all the new features. That satisfaction doesn’t last for long however, as we eagerly await the release of the next model. Evidence of this can be seen with the iPhone produced by Apple. Considered a groundbreaking device, the iPhone is a cellular telephone, mp3 player, navigation system, and internet web browser all rolled into one device. Its popularity is immense, and its utility far reaching. However, upon its initial release, people still complained about features that it lacked, such as cut-and-paste, and MMS messaging capabilities. In answer to that, Apple recently released a newer iPhone model, which was once again met with great approval. We can be sure the euphoria will be short-lived, for people will be eagerly anticipating the next groundbreaking device. Since our material senses can never be satisfied, we end up trapped in a never ending cycle of hankering and lamenting.

Though technology can have this binding effect, if we use it for serving Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then it becomes most beneficial to us. When we dovetail material activities with devotional service to God, then our material activities become spiritualized. Mp3 technology allows us to listen to songs about Krishna much more easily now. Since we are working hard at school or at our jobs, it may be difficult to find time to chant. Mp3 players allow us to listen to Hari-Kirtana, congregational songs about Krishna, at any place and at any time. We love to listen to music while driving, so now we have the opportunity to listen to songs praising Krishna. We can even sing along if we want. Car stereos now even support mp3 CDs, which allow one to place hundreds of tracks onto one disc. The car stereo will read and display the song title, name, and album, and it even keeps track of where you left off in a track when you start your car again. Such great technology shouldn’t go to waste.

One can probably make the best use of mp3 technology by using it to listen to Krishnakatha, or discourses about Krishna. The recorded lectures of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada give us direct access to such discourses. Shrila Prabhupada was a great devotee of Lord Krishna and the founder of the modern day Hare Krishna movement. While starting the movement in the late 60s, he gave lectures daily on Krishna consciousness, and these were recorded by his disciples. All his recorded lectures, speeches, and spiritual conversations are now available on mp3 format. We should take advantage of this wonderful opportunity to have a real spiritual master give us instruction. The Vedas tell us that the hearing process is the most effective in receiving transcendental knowledge.

Prabhupada MP3 Library With the Prabhupada Mp3 Library, we can now take spiritual instruction wherever we may be. Prabhupada made the complex philosophy of Vedanta understandable to the common man. Just by hearing one lecture, our lives are greatly benefited. Listening a few minutes a day while driving, while at work, or while relaxing at home will make our lives so much better.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Rama’s Protection

Sita Rama “For a woman under all circumstances, the shade of her husband’s feet is preferable to residence at the top of a palace, or riding in aerial cars, or coursing through the heavens (by the power of yogic siddhis).” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

It is part of a wife’s nature to be subservient to her husband and to willingly put herself under his protection. Women naturally prefer to be taken care of and provided for by their loving husbands. On the reverse side, men naturally like to protect and care for women. Women instinctively known this and that’s why it is often seen that a woman will sometimes knowingly pretend to be ignorant on certain topics, in the hopes that they can cajole a man into helping them. The man is more than happy to show the woman the proper way, and garnering such attention, a woman feels more attracted to the man.

“Not should be. They are. You have become voluntarily subservient to your man. That is nature. They are seeking to become subservient by attracting a man: ‘Take me as subservient.’ That is natural.” (Shrila Prabhupada answering question from a reporter on why women should be subservient to men)

This is the natural course of things, but the rise of the women’s independence movement has brought a central paradigm shift. Over the past fifty years or so, women have been taught to be more independent and reject the help of men. They want to be seen as equals in all areas of society and want no such preferential treatment. This idea certainly is ideal since at our core, we are all equal. Though we falsely identify ourselves as men, women, black, white, American, or Indian, we are all spirit souls at our core, aham brahmasmi. Though spiritually we are all equal, due our different karmas, we have been put into different types of bodies. The material world is governed by three gunas or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Each one us possess these qualities to varying degrees, and thus we see the variations in body types and species. Men and women are equal spiritually, but the Vedas have given them separate and distinct roles to perform in order to attain spiritual perfection. Men are to be the protectors and women are to serve their husbands, a system which allows for peace and prosperity. Living happily this way, husband and wife can focus their time on becoming Krishna conscious, which is the ultimate aim of life.

Instead of making women happier, the independence movement has resulted in women being exploited.

“What have ‘equal rights’ and ‘high profiles’ brought women anyway? Exploitation, broken families, broken marriages, an animalistic chain of uncaring sexual partners, abortion, children bereft of parental love, and above all, no time for Krishna consciousness.” (Visnupriya Devi Dasi, Back to Godhead Magazine #25-02, 1991)

Instead of being obliged to provide protection, a man can now satisfy his sexual urges by seducing a woman, and then leaving her aside afterwards. Women are left begging the men for more stable relationships, but the men have lost their desire to protect. Many times pregnant women aren’t even protected and they are left asking for support from the government. Through the practice of casual sex, women who accidentally get pregnant are advised to kill the child in the womb, or to raise the child by themselves. Such activity definitely isn’t good for society, and moreover it goes against human nature.

God came to earth in the form of a handsome and pious prince by the name of Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India. Born in the royal family of the Ikshvakus, the Lord was the next in line to ascend the throne occupied at the time by His father Maharaja Dashratha. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Lord Rama was passed over for the throne and instead ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile from the kingdom. Being married to His wife Sita Devi at the time, the Lord advised her to remain in the kingdom for the duration of the fourteen years, for she would be better protected at home. The environments of a royal palace and that of the wilderness really have no similarities. The Lord was a valiant warrior, trained in the military arts by the great sage Vishvamitra. Also, since He was God Himself, living in the forest would be no problem for Him. He wanted very much for His wife to be protected, so He tried His best to dissuade her from following Him. Sita Devi however refused to abandon her husband in His time of need. She informed Him that she preferred the shade of the Lord’s feet in all circumstances. By this, she meant that she always wanted her husband’s protection, wherever it may be. For if the husband is there to protect the wife, then both parties are happy, and the wife feels completely at ease in any situation. The idea of independence didn’t appeal to Sita at all.

Rama - the giver of pleasure Lord Rama is Krishna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. From this verse we understand that the shade of the Lord’s feet is the greatest form of protection one can have. Sita Devi knew this and that’s why she refused to live without the Lord. Sita Devi was one of the greatest devotees of the Lord. An incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, her only dharma was to make Rama happy. It is ironic since the meaning of the name Rama is “one who gives pleasure”, yet Sita wasn’t just a taker of pleasure, she was a giver. God is capable of providing us the greatest pleasure, but the devotees’ first inclination is to please the Lord. Just as the wife prefers the shade of her husband’s feet, the devotee prefers the shade provided by chanting the Lord’s holy name. In this age, if we always think of the Lord, hear stories about Him, and keep His name on the tip of our tongue, then the scorching hot rays of Kali Yuga can never burn us.