Saturday, August 8, 2009

Back to Basics

Krishna and Arjuna “One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.55)

The Bhagavad-gita is one of the most famous religious books in the world. Great scholars, religionists, and devotees have studied the Gita in great detail for thousands of years. Though only a very small chapter of a much larger book, the Mahabharata, it captures the essence of Vedic philosophy.

The eternity of the soul, what happens to us when we die, what causes are happiness and distress; all these topics are covered in the Gita, which contains great quotes such as:

“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, Bg 2.22)

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 2.24)

To most people, such knowledge is a revelation. In American schools, religion isn’t taught. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment of the Constitution declares that the Congress cannot declare an official religion for all the people of the country. This has since been misinterpreted to mean that there is a “separation of church and state” which outlaws all mention of God in the public arena. Lawyers today are on a mission to eradicate religion as much as possible from the public realm, though that wasn’t the actual intention of the framers of the Constitution. Though their logic was flawed in many areas, the founding fathers were very religious people. One need only read George Washington’s first Thanksgiving Proclamation in 1789 to see just how much God was on the minds of the people.

We don’t hear about religion in the news unless it’s a story about some priest or religious leader involved in a scandal. Due to this lack of spiritual education, most people spend their entire lives unaware of the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita.

Since it is spoken by Lord Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Bhagavad-gita garners the highest respect from the devotees of Krishna. Though it contains information of the highest import, such information is actually only the beginning of spiritual understanding. The Gita’s most important message is that if we think of Krishna at the time of our death, then our soul will not return to this material world and it will stay with Krishna in the spiritual world forever.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail… That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg, 8.5-6, 15.6)

Such information is important to know, but how do we actually achieve this goal? The Gita presents theoretical knowledge, which forms the starting point of our spiritual understanding. Theoretical knowledge is referred to as jnana in Sankskrit. It forms the foundation, but to actually understand what we have learned, we need practical knowledge, known as vijnana. For example, one may read about how to fly an airplane, taking various tests and so forth, but one doesn’t truly understand what piloting involves until they actually get into the cockpit and practice flying the plane themselves. It is only then they get a real understanding of what it means to be a pilot. This same principle holds true in others areas of life. We never truly understand the difficulties our parents faced in raising us until we actually become parents ourselves.

Worship of Lord NarayanaTo understand God and to know Him, we have to take to the process of devotional service. Technically known as bhakti yoga, devotional service is the process where we dovetail all our activities with Krishna, or God. If we train ourselves to always think of God during the day, learning to love Him, then surely we will think of Him at the time of death.

Hearing is one of the most important processes of devotional service. If we hear stories about Lord Krishna, then we can gradually understand who He is. We should all naturally love God simply for who He is, but the Lord is still kind enough to come to this material world from time to time and enact pastimes simply for our benefit. By reading stories about Him, we gradually develop an attachment. One can read about Lord Krishna’s pastimes over and over again and never get bored.

We can find these stories in the Puranas, written by Vyasadeva. One would be hard-pressed to find any historical personality who authored more literature than Vyasadeva. He didn’t write simply for entertainment’s sake either, for his works are all of the highest quality since they expound the meaning of the Vedas. There are eighteen major Purnanas, and each one is quite lengthy. The Bhagavata Purana, or Shrimad-Bhagavatam, is considered the highest Purana since it covers Lord Krishna’s birth and childhood pastimes in great detail.

“The Bhagavad-gita is the preliminary study of Shrimad Bhagavatam. Just like before learning any literature, one has to read the first book, ABCD. The Bhagavad-gita is the ABCD. It is just beginning of understanding of what is God. ABC. When one has passed the entrance examination, then he gets the opportunity of studying Shrimad Bhagavatam.” (Shrila Prabhupada, 730227rc.jkt)

After reading Bhagavad-gita, we should all make an effort to read the Bhagavatam and take the next step in rekindling our love for Krishna. Due to our imperfect senses, we can never truly understand God, but by reading stories about Him, as told by His great devotees, we will gradually understand Him better. By knowing and loving God, we automatically book our return flight home, back to Godhead.

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Lord of Earth

Krishna as Dwarakadish - the king of Dwaraka “It is accepted that the state is the representative of God. Therefore the state's first business is to make citizens God-conscious. That is the state's first business. Any state who is neglecting this duty, he immediately becomes unqualified to hold the state office, either he may be president or the king.” (Shrila Prabhupada)

A hot topic in the news a few months back was the collapse of the housing market. Five or six years ago, the government encouraged people to buy homes instead of just renting apartments. Even if people couldn’t afford to buy a new house, the government offered incentives to allow them to “live the American dream.” Congress forced regulated mortgage companies like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to lend money to people who weren’t qualified to receive the loans. The motive behind the move was to increase fairness and provide affordable housing. While their intentions may have been noble, the result was a complete collapse of the banking industry due to the nonpayment of these loans.

Beginning with the last president and continuing with the new one, the government’s policy is now to bail out these ailing banks by providing them money for their sustainability. As part of the process, the government is subsidizing the failed mortgages for the people who couldn’t afford to pay them. A well known stock trader, Rick Santelli, lashed out at the president on cable television.

Rick Santelli “The government is promoting bad behavior!  How this, president and new administration, why didn't you put up a website to have people vote on the Internet as a referendum to see if we really want to subsidize the losers' mortgages or would we like to at least buy cars and buy houses in foreclosure and give 'em to people that might have a chance to actually prosper down the road and reward people that could carry the water instead of drink the water.  This is America!  How many of you people want to pay for your neighbor's mortgage that has an extra bathroom and can't pay their bills?  Raise their hand.  (boos) President Obama, are you listening?”

News quickly spread about Santelli’s rant, and word finally reached the Obama Administration. The president’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs, told reporters that the president and others were laughing at Santelli’s anger and rage. Gibbs went on to say, “I think we left a few months ago the adage that if it was good for a derivatives trader, that it was good for Main Street.  I think the verdict is in on that."

Herein lies the flaw with today’s government and society in general. Rick Santelli and other derivatives traders are citizens just like everybody else. They have an equal right to the protections afforded by government. Most of today’s leaders, including President Obama, look at society in groups. They pit classes of people against each other by favoring one group at the expense of another. The law-abiding tax payers of the country did nothing wrong, and they have a legitimate gripe when they see their tax dollars transferred to people who made bad decisions.

According to Vedic philosophy, one should not be a king, a spiritual master, or a father, unless they can release their dependents from the cycle of birth and death. A leader’s job is to provide protection to all the people, and to impart spiritual knowledge on them. Protection should be provided to all the citizens equally, without favoring anyone. During Vedic times, the brahmanas were the only group that enjoyed preferential treatment. The priestly class of men were involved in pious activity, studying the Vedas, and performing sacrifices for the benefit of society as a whole. Voluntarily accepting an austere lifestyle, the kings would regularly give in charity to them, for a society requires an intelligentsia which can provide spiritual guidance. Aside from the brahmanas, a leader’s role is to administer justice fairly and equally.

"Obliged we have been, since good Rama capable of reading character, will be the lord of earth, and our protector. He is of a heart devoid of arrogance, and is learned, and righteous-souled, and affectionate to his brothers. Raghava loves us even as he does his own brothers." (citizens of Ayodhya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Sec 6)

Lord Rama Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Krishna during the Treta Yuga, was set to be installed as the new king of Ayodhya by His father Maharaja Dashratha. The citizens of the town heard about this news and were greatly excited. They all loved Rama very much and they knew that He cared for everyone equally. A good leader provides protection for everyone and doesn’t play favorites. Since He was God Himself, He had perfect qualifications for becoming a monarch. Lord Rama specifically incarnated to show us the proper path of dharma, and to bestow His mercy upon all the people of the world.

Not only Rama, but all the kings descending from Maharaja Ikshvaku exhibited similar behavior. A leader’s duty is to create an atmosphere conducive to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. Leaders today are themselves karmis, so they view artha, or economic development, as the primary mission in life. According to Vedic injunctions, the king, or leader of a country, is God’s representative in matters of administering justice and providing protection. Whether someone owns their own home, rents, or lives with family members, they are all equally entitled to the mercy of the Lord delivered through His representatives.

Lord Rama would regularly hold town hall meetings where people could question Him directly. No one was laughed at, and all the people were treated fairly. They knew He loved all of them, and they were loyal to Him in return. Today’s leaders would be well advised to learn from God’s example.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Feeling Right At Home

Sita Devi“Happy shall I live there as if in my paternal house, giving no thought upon the prosperity of the three worlds, thinking only of the services that are to be rendered to my husband.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Most of us tend to have fond memories of our childhood home. As youths, we were under the protection of our mother and father, so feelings of nostalgia arise when remembering such a time. Material life means always hankering after things we want and lamenting over things that we don’t have. In Sanskrit they are referred to as shochati and kankshati:

“… The material civilization means, shochati kankshati, two businesses. Kankshati means desiring. While the body is moving we are desiring, making plans: ‘I want this. I want this. My son requires this. My nation requires this. My community requires this.’ This is kankshati; desiring to possess this, possess... And when the body is lost, then shochati: ‘Oh, my father is lost. My brother is lost. My son is lost.’ Two businesses. So as long there is no spiritual knowledge, we have got on the material conception of the body two businesses— shochati, kankshati: desiring for things which we do not possess and lamenting for things which we have lost.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 751017BG.JOH)

Remembering our childhood lets us escape these feelings. Eating dinner with our parents, watching television, playing in our yard; these were the primary activities of our youth that we now miss. Home is where we felt most comfortable and secure.

When we grow up to be adults, we get married and raise our families in a new home different from the one we grew up in. We hanker after independence and thus we want to start new traditions and create new memories with our spouse and children. Even so, the home of our parents, the home where we grew up and felt most comfortable, that is the home that we usually prefer.

According to Vedic philosophy, we are all individual spirit souls existing eternally as part and parcel of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We have fallen into this material world due to our desire to lord it over and to imitate God. We mistakenly identify ourselves as the doer of activities, taking credit for the fruits of our material actions, when in fact God and His energies are responsible for everything. Trapped in the mindset of thinking in terms of “I” and “mine”, we develop karma and are forced to live by its effects. We are forced to constantly transmigrate between bodies, sometimes as animals, and sometimes as human beings. Any feelings we have of so-called happiness are only temporary.

Rama DarbarReal happiness comes from association with Krishna. When one is in the company of God, lovingly serving Him, then one becomes infused with pure bliss resulting from spiritual happiness. When Lord Rama, the incarnation of Lord Krishna in the Treta Yuga, appeared on this earth, He played the part of a young prince, the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. Due to bad judgment on the king’s part, Lord Rama was ordered to spend fourteen years living as a recluse in the forest. Married to His wife Sita Devi at the time, the Lord went to inform her of the bad news and to try to convince her to not accompany Him. Sita rejected His appeal and put forth her own plea to the Lord to allow her to follow Him. Sita told Rama that living in the forest with Him would be just like living in her parents’ house.

Sita Devi grew up in the royal kingdom of Maharaja Janaka and his wife Sunayana. Janaka was the highly respected king of Mithila, coming from a long line of pious kings who were also known as Janaka. Sita was his most precious jewel, someone he loved more than life itself. Being naturally pious from her birth, Sita was afforded all the regal comforts while growing up. Yet at the same time, she was not spoiled in any way, for she was trained in austerity and virtue by her parents. In Vedic culture, when a girl is married off, she in essence relinquishes all ties to her original family and adopts her husband’s family as her own. Such a transition is not very easy, but Sita managed it without a problem due to her devotion to dharma and to Rama.

Sita Devi’s above referenced statement describes how devotees feel when they are in God’s company. The Vedas tell us that there are three worlds or planetary systems belonging to the material creation: bhur, bhuva, and svah.

“Heaven (svah) was established as the residence of the demigods, Bhuvarloka (bhuva) as that of the ghostly spirits, and the earth system (bhur) as the place of human beings and other mortal creatures. Those mystics who strive for liberation are promoted beyond these three divisions.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.24.12)

Equivalent to the concept of heaven, svah loka is the planetary system intended for those who are pious and situated in the mode of goodness. Such people ascend to svah loka where they can enjoy heavenly comforts for a period of time commensurate with the weight of their good deeds. Beyond these heavenly planets are even more planets such as Satyaloka, Maharloka and Janaloka, which are reserved for those yogis seeking liberation.

“Lord Brahma created the region below the earth for the demons and the Naga snakes. In this way the destinations of the three worlds were arranged as the corresponding reactions for different kinds of work performed within the three modes of nature. By mystic yoga, great austerities and the renounced order of life, the pure destinations of Maharloka, Janaloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka are attained. But by devotional yoga, one achieves My transcendental abode.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.24.13-14)

Pure devotees don’t find material comforts to be very appealing, for they prefer the direct association of Krishna. Only through devotional service can one enter the highest planets, God’s personal abode, after giving up their present body.

Sita Rama Lakshmana in forest Devotees like Sita prefer to always be with God or to always think about Him, wherever they may be. When one is in complete Krishna consciousness, then all material desires become immediately eradicated. Sita Devi was Goddess Lakshmi herself, the eternal consort of Lord Narayana, a form of Krishna. Sita is always in complete Krishna consciousness, and thus has no desire for any material rewards or enjoyments offered by the three worlds. Lord Rama was very worried that His wife would be unhappy living an austere life in the forest, a place which was meant for wild animals, beasts, and certainly not for human beings. Sita made sure to tell Him that such tough conditions wouldn’t affect her because the Lord would be with her. So we should all take her lesson to heart and try to give up our hopes and dreams for material enjoyment. True bliss comes from serving God. If we always chant His name, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and follow the processes of devotional service, then we will feel at home wherever we are.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Illicit Sex

Markandeya Rishi “(Men in the Kali Yuga) behave contrary to the modes of life to which they betake themselves. They are addicted to consuming intoxicating drinks and their unfettered sexual desires make them capable of even coveting the wife of their guru. Their desires are all on the material platform.” (Markandeya Rishi speaking to King Yudhishthira, Mahabharata, Vana Parva)

This statement is part of a conversation between the venerable Markandeya Rishi and the five Pandava brothers along with their cousin Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The epic Mahabharata describes the plight of the brothers to regain their kingdom, detailing the many trials and tribulations they endured while travelling across India around five thousand years ago. Along the way, they took instruction from many great sages, with Markandeya being one of them. In this instance, the sage is acting as spiritual master to the five brothers, headed by King Yudhishthira, describing to them the defects of Kali Yuga.

According to the Vedas, each creation is divided into four time periods or Yugas. Dharma, or religiosity, declines amongst the population by one quarter with each successive Yuga. Kali Yuga, the age we are are currently in, is the fourth and final time period where dharma is notable by its absence. Existing at only one quarter its full strength, most of society today is dedicated to adharma, sinful life. It is an evolution of sorts, but not of the Darwinian variety. Instead of the species evolving, it is man’s penchant for sinful activity that has gradually evolved and gained in strength. When man first inhabited the earth, he was almost completely pure. The first age is known as Satya or Krita Yuga, meaning the age of truth. Most people were truthful and honest during that time. Gradually however, due to contamination caused by contact with this material world, mankind increased its propensity for sinful activity, to the point now where most are encouraged to act in ways that are completely against the injunctions of the scriptures.

Of all the various types of sins, illicit sex life is considered the greatest. People have many definitions of what exactly constitutes a sin, but the Vedas tell us that sinful activity is anything which causes us to be bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Our souls are eternal, but our material bodies are not. At the time of death, we give up our current bodies and get a new one according to our karma. Our current life is not the first one that we’ve had. This is confirmed by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you (Arjuna) and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaIf we are pious, then we take birth in a high family in our next life, and if we are overly sinful, we take birth in a lower family or species. This cycle can be stopped however, by those who really want out of this material world. God actually is very kind to us and gives us exactly what we want. If we want to constantly enjoy unending sex life, He obliges by giving us the body of a dog or a monkey. If we want to be very pious and intelligent, he gives us the body of a great scholar or yogi. By the same token, if we want eternal association with God as His servant, then He obliges by permanently removing us from this material world. If one thinks of Krishna at the time of death, then he or she no longer takes birth in 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. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail… That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5-6, 15.6)

Illicit sex is the cornerstone of sinful life because it is the one thing that keeps us bound to this material world more than anything else. Sex is considered the highest form of material enjoyment. If we are attached to this kind of enjoyment, why would God want to remove us from it? One may ask the question, “Well, what is wrong with sex? I enjoy it. I don’t see any harm in it.” It is not that the Vedas prescribe one to completely give up the practice, but rather it should be regulated. One can see the negative effects of unregulated sex life in society today. Teenage pregnancy, “deadbeat dads”, single parenthood, poverty, and sexually transmitted diseases are some of the more widespread problems caused by unchecked sexual activity. Instead of trying to get people to abstain from such activity, our leaders today encourage illicit sex by pushing the use of contraceptives such as condoms and birth control. No form of birth control is foolproof, so many of the unwanted pregnancies that result are then terminated through abortion, a practice which is condoned by the government. Illicit sex life is sinful as it is, but killing an innocent child in the womb is a most abominable act.

Poverty is a problem that most of today’s world leaders are focused on solving. Their solutions typically focus around massive redistribution of wealth programs, but the cure for poverty actually lies elsewhere. According to statistics, in America if one graduates high school, gets married, stays married, and only has children while they are married, then they have a very low probability for living in poverty.

“…Let's examine some numbers from the Census Bureau's 2004 Current Population Survey. There's one segment of the black population that suffers only a 9.9 percent poverty rate, and only 13.7 percent of their under-5-year-olds are poor. There's another segment of the black population that suffers a 39.5 percent poverty rate, and 58.1 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Among whites, one population segment suffers a 6 percent poverty rate, and only 9.9 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. Another segment of the white population suffers a 26.4 percent poverty rate, and 52 percent of its under-5-year-olds are poor. What do you think distinguishes the high and low poverty populations? The only statistical distinction between both the black and white populations is marriage. There is far less poverty in married-couple families…” (Walter E Williams, Are the Poor Getting Poorer?)

The Vedas advise one to get married as soon as there is any inkling of sex desire. In males especially, sex desire is very strong. We see evidence of this all around us, for people are always looking for new ways to enhance their sexual experiences. Internet pornography is a huge business, and today’s television shows and movies keep getting more and more raunchy. In the traditional varnashrama dharma system, boys wanting to enter into family life would get married to a suitable girl as soon as they finished school, all arranged by the parents of both parties. In this way, sex life is allowed, but in a regulated manner. The husband and wife can live together peacefully, leaving time to focus on the real aim of life, service to Krishna. This type of mentality is in stark contrast to the modern day notion of men “sowing their wild oats”. It is quite typical for college age men and those in their twenties to have multiple female partners, jumping from one girlfriend to the next until they find someone that suits their needs. Men and women both have more freedom today than they used to, but it has come at a cost. In the Vedic system, the husband is required to provide complete protection to the wife in all circumstances. Even those men that take to the renounced order of life, sannyasa, they make sure that the wife is taken care of by the eldest son or other family members in their absence. In today’s world, men are free to exploit women, getting what they can out of them without taking any responsibility for their well-being. Such a system will always always lead to chaos.

Radha Krishna deities As with all our problems, we need only look to Krishna for the solution. Bhakti yoga, or devotional service, is the highest dharma for every person in any age. The Mahabharata declares that one should avoid attachment to the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex life. One who avoids these activities while regularly chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, will be free from all sinful reactions. We aren’t required to just give up sinful activity and sit in meditation all day. Rather we should engage in devotional service by reading about Krishna, offering Him prayers, preparing and distributing prasadam, and regularly viewing the archa-vigraha or deity of the Lord. The husband and wife who engage in this activity together will live very peacefully and happily. Illicit sex desire will then go away on its own.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Brotherly Love

Rama Lakshmana “Even from early youth, that enhancer of auspiciousness, Lakshmana, was ever attached to his eldest brother Rama, that delight of all. Like to another life of Rama, Lakshmana furnished with auspiciousness was in everything attentive to Rama’s wishes, even at the neglect of his own person. That foremost of persons did not even attain sleep without Rama’s company, nor did he partake of any sweetmeat that was offered, unless Rama partook of it with him.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kand)

There is nothing like having a brother, someone with whom an immediate bond can be formed. A brother is someone that we can automatically love without having to think about it. Lakshmana, an incarnation of Lord Baladeva (Lord Krishna’s immediate expansion), was the younger brother of Lord Rama and His dearmost friend.

According to the Vedas, God is one even though He has many names and forms. The original form of God is Krishna, who is also known as Vasudeva. Vasudeva’s immediate expansion is Sankarshana or Baladeva. Baladeva has other expansions as well, the most notable one being Ananta Shesha Naga, whom all the planets in the universe rest upon. Krishna’s four-handed form of Narayana resides on the island of Shvetadvipa, where He lays down upon Shesha Naga while being served and worshiped by Goddess Lakshmi. When the Lord incarnates on earth, Baladeva and Lakshmi usually come with Him.

“Baladeva, Lakshmana, Advaita Acharya, Lord Nityananda, Lord Shesha and Lord Sankarshana taste the nectarean mellows of the transcendental bliss of Lord Krishna by recognizing Themselves as being His devotees and servants. They are all mad with that happiness, and they know nothing else.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 6.105-106)

Krishna and Balarama stealing butter When Krishna appeared on earth around five thousand years ago, Baladeva also took birth as His elder brother Balarama. Around five hundred years ago, the same Baladeva appeared in the form of Nityananda Prabhu, Lord Chaitanya’s most beloved God brother. When Vasudeva incarnated as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, Baladeva took birth as His half-brother Lakshmana. Rama had two other brothers, but Lakshmana was the one with whom He spent the most time. In fact, it can be assumed that throughout His entire time on earth, no one spent more time with Rama than Lakshmana did.

We sometimes see that brothers can get into arguments and fights over issues of jealously and attention from their parents. Known as sibling rivalries, an older brother can sometimes get jealous at the preferential treatment that the younger brother receives. The younger brother can become resentful of the authority that the older brother wields. Sometimes the older brother can get annoyed at having the younger brother tag along with him wherever he goes. The eldest brother or sister is the leader, the one who sets the example for the other siblings. Parents invest greater responsibility in the eldest, so that naturally can get in the way of the friendships formed with younger siblings.

There was no such fighting between Rama and Lakshmana. Lakshmana was attached to Rama from birth and would always follow his elder brother around. He worshiped Him like a father and would never leave His side. Usually younger siblings require more attention from their parents. The young ones are often referred to as the babies of the family, and they require the protection and assistance of their elder siblings. In Lakshmana’s case, he always looked to protect Rama first. He would think to himself, “Rama is too nice. He doesn’t see that others are taking advantage of His kindness. It is my duty to always protect Him and look out for His best interests.”

When Lord Rama was banished to the forest for fourteen years by His step-mother Kaikeyi and His father Dashratha, Lakshmana insisted on going with Him. Lakshmana’s mother, Sumitra, tried to dissuade her son by telling him that it was his duty to stay and protect his father in the absence of Rama. Lakshmana replied, “Devotion to Rama is the highest dharma for any man. To always serve my elder brother is the only duty that I know of.” Early on in their exile, Sita, Rama and Lakshmana were visited in the forest by Bharata and Shatrughna, Rama and Lakshmana’s two other brothers, who tried to convince Rama to return to the kingdom. Upon first seeing them, Lakshmana thought maybe the two brothers had come to attack Rama, so he immediately went on guard to protect his brother. Now this wasn’t necessary since Bharata and Shatrughna were pure devotees of Rama as well, but it illustrated Lakshmana’s devotion to Rama.

While dwelling in the forest, Lakshmana would keep vigil at night while Rama and His wife Sita were sleeping. When traversing the wilderness, Rama would walk in the front and Lakshmana in the back, with Sita in the middle. This way, Lakshmana made sure to protect Rama’s wife, whom he treated as his own mother.

Sita Rama Lakshmana in the forest Lakshmana was often quick tempered and would go outside the bounds of propriety in defending His brother. Lord Rama excused this from him because He knew that it was done out of love. Sometimes our devotion may not be perfect but God is so merciful. In whatever we do, He always takes into account our love for Him.

Lord Rama was God Himself, so He required no protection whatsoever. Nevertheless, Lakshmana showed us the proper way to serve the Lord. We generally like to ask God for things. “Please let me have this. Please let me have that. Please take away my pain.” While that is an acceptable form of worship, since it involves focusing the mind on God, it is still second class. The first class form of worship is the one shown by Lakshmana. “God, how may I serve you? You are too nice to me and to everyone else. Yet still people do not become Your devotees. I will serve You with all my thoughts, words, and deeds. I will protect Your good name.”

The highest form of worship is to become God’s devotee and to always try to protect Him. In this age of Kali, people are constantly trying to rewrite history and give their own atheistic interpretations of the great Vedic scriptures. They are saying that God is dead, or that God is impersonal and that we are all God. It is up to the bhaktas, the devotees, to protect God’s good name from these attacks by teaching others the real meaning of the Vedas. God doesn’t require this service from us, but He loves us for our sincerity and our concern, the same way He loves Lakshmana.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Life Is Meant For Austerity

Sita Rama "Then raising the vessel of ghee (clarified butter) to His head, He in accordance with the ordinance began to offer oblations to the flaming fire on behalf of the mighty deity. Then, having partaken of the remaining quanity of the ghee, Rama prayed for His own welfare, and meditated on Narayana. The son of the best of men with a collected mind, and restraining His speech lay down on a kusha (grass) bed together with Vaidehi (Sita) within the graceful dwelling of Vishnu." (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Sec 6)

We live in an era of great comfort and luxury. Though people may think otherwise, the standard of living in America, and throughout the world for that matter, has greatly improved over the past hundred years. The economic problem is almost non-existent, with farmers persuaded by the government to not grow food. Our leaders are more focused on tackling problems such as childhood obesity and the perceived overconsumption of goods and services by the population in general.

When travelling on commercial airplanes, one of the magazines commonly found in the seatback pocket is Sky Mall. This magazine is a shopping catalog full of gadgets and gizmos, a showcase of the latest advancements in technology. All the products in that magazine are geared towards gratifying our senses. One place where we often look for improved sense gratification is in the area of sleep. Ironically, the Vedas prescribe that one shouldn’t sleep more than six hours if possible. This is in stark contrast to the eight hours prescribed by most health experts.

“One should not sleep more than six hours daily. One who sleeps more than six hours out of twenty-four is certainly influenced by the mode of ignorance. A person in the mode of ignorance is lazy and prone to sleep a great deal. Such a person cannot perform yoga.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16 Purport)

Since we spend so much time sleeping, naturally we are looking for ways to increase the quality of it. Products such as the Sleep Number Bed from Select Comfort allow couples to set different firmness levels on their mattress so that each person can spend the night in the utmost comfort. In addition, regular blankets apparently aren’t good enough for us, so we shop for luxury items such as down comforters. Water beds are another popular phenomenon in the mattress industry.

These products are no doubt very innovative and could certainly prove to be useful. However, they don’t provide us real happiness in the end. If they did, then there would be no need for new products to come out. The fact of the matter is that our real problems have nothing to do with our material comforts. According to wisdom of the Vedas, man’s material sense urges can never be satisfied. Making little adjustments here and there to our material condition only further binds us in the mode of passion.

Krishna speaking to Uddhava “My dear Uddhava, a person bereft of intelligence first falsely identifies himself with the material body and mind, and when such false knowledge arises within one's consciousness, material passion, the cause of great suffering, pervades the mind, which by nature is situated in goodness. Then the mind, contaminated by passion, becomes absorbed in making and changing many plans for material advancement. Thus, by constantly thinking of the modes of material nature, a foolish person is afflicted with unbearable material desires.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.13.9-10)

We get a new bed, but then we immediately want a better blanket. We get a new blanket, but then we immediately want new pajamas, and so on. The cycle never ends.

The Vedas tell us that this life is meant for understanding God. To understand God, one must perform austerities, known as tapasya. Tapasya is not any ordinary type of austerity, but it is geared towards releasing one from their bondage to material comforts, and thereby increasing their attachment to the spiritual world.

“Lord Rishabhadeva told His sons: My dear boys, of all the living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has been awarded this human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for dogs and hogs that eat stool. One should engage in penance and austerity to attain the divine position of devotional service. By such activity, one's heart is purified, and when one attains this position, he attains eternal, blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.5.1)

When Lord Rama was living in the kingdom of Ayodhya, His father, Maharaja Dashratha one day decided to install Him as the new king. Lord Rama was informed of this news one day before the date set for His installation. He was instructed by the brahmanas, the priestly class of men, to fast the night before the ceremony and to sleep on the floor on a bed of kusha grass. Rama was God Himself, but He willingly followed the advice of the brahmanas to set a good example for all of us. Religious rituals may seem to strange to us at first, but they all have a purpose.

Rama was the king’s eldest and most cherished son, so He was living in complete luxury. What need did he have to sleep on the floor? Yet He and His wife Sita both did so as a means of respecting God. When we receive good benedictions, it is incumbent upon us to remember that we are not the doers. All our fortunes are tied to God and to our karma. Narayana is God’s four-handed form existing in the spiritual world. Lord Rama was an incarnation of God, so He went along and worshiped Narayana, though in essence He was offering obeisances to Himself. By worshiping Narayana, the sleeping area was sanctified.

Lord Narayana Now things wouldn’t go as planned the next day and Rama’s installation would have to be postponed by fourteen years, but that didn’t make a difference. The Lord was always committed to dharma, not for His sake, but because it serves as a guide for enabling one to make spiritual progress. Tapasya properly performed under the direction of a spiritual master never goes to waste. Through good times and bad, we must always remember the Creator. God showed us the proper means of penance and it is important for us to follow His example. The most basic form of penance we can perform is to abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication. By so doing, we will always remember God and be freed from our material attachments.

Newsletter – August 2009


Festival Month

August is a month full of important festivals this year with the appearance day of Lord Balarama falling on Wednesday August 5th, the appearance day of Shrila Prabhupada on Friday August 14th, and the appearance day of Shrimati Radharani occurring on Thursday August 27th. The biggest festival of them all is Krishna Janmashtami, the birthday celebration of Lord Krishna, which occurs on Thursday August 13th. This is the equivalent of Christmas Holiday for Vaishnavas, except it is celebrated on an even grander scale. Temples and devotees around the world celebrate this occasion, for it marks the anniversary of when the Lord personally advented on earth to give protection to His devotees. On Janmashtami Day, we will commemorate the occasion by having a special article devoted to Krishna’s birth. We encourage everyone to visit our website and our Facebook page where they can leave prayers and other well-wishes for the Lord. If you are having your own celebration at home or at your local temple, please send us some pictures if you like, and we will share them with our website visitors and Facebook fans. Jaya Shri Krishna!


The Krishna’s Mercy Facebook Page has grown immensely in popularity. 5,680 people become fans during the month of August. It is so nice to be able to share our love for Krishna with so many devotees across the world. We appreciate all the support and we look forward to connecting with even more devotees in the future.

Our Blog on Kindle

Our daily articles are now available at the Amazon Kindle Store. The Kindle wireless device reader lets you read and store thousands of ebooks, newspaper articles and blogs all on one small portable device. Visit for more information.

Feedback From Our Prasadam and Book Distribution Program

Here is some recent feedback from troops serving overseas who received our Krishna Care Packages:

“I would like to thank you for your support of myself and my fellow soldiers. I take great pride in doing what I do and I love the respect that I get when I wear my uniform. When we have people like yourself and your family back home in the states writing us letters and sending us packages, it really helps keep up our morale and let time pass by!” (SGT Adam)

“Thank you for your thoughts and prayers. It’s wonderful to know that we are not forgotten back in the states. We appreciate everything that you do for us. God works in many different ways. I felt blessed to receive your gift. I will enjoy reading your book.” (M. Park)

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Gopi Jana Vallabha

12 “Gopi-jana vallabha, Giri-vara-dhari” (Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura)

This is a line from the poem called Jaya Radha Madhava, composed by Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great saint in the line of spiritual masters descending from Lord Chaitanya. Glorifying Lord Krishna and His principle devotees, this poem, turned into a song, was made famous throughout the world by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and today is sung daily in hundreds of temple throughout the world.

Lord Krishna is the sustainer of the gopis. Around five thousand years ago, the Lord personally advented on this planet and spent His childhood in Vrindavana, a town in India. There are three primary forms of God which are interchangeable: Krishna, Narayana, and Vishnu. They are the same one and only God, above any other demigod, but according to the Shrimad Bhagavatam and other major Vedic texts, Krishna is the original. It is similar to the concept of a single candle lighting many others. All other candles are the same in their potency, but the original candle still stands out. Krishna’s expansions are known as vishnu-tattva. His incarnations as Rama, Narasimha, Vamana, etc. are all as good as God Himself. In essence when discussing and comparing His various names and forms and their various potencies, it’s really a matter of a distinction without a difference. When Krishna came to earth, it was in His original form, and He came to give protection to His devotees, to kill the demons, and to enact pastimes for future generations to relish in.

The gopis were the cowherd girls of Vrindavana. Krishna spent His childhood living in a vaishya family. Vaishyas are the third division or caste of society and their duty is to run businesses and engage in cow protection. Nanda Maharaja, Krishna’s foster father, was a cowherd man as were the rest of the inhabitants of Vrindavana. The gopis were mostly married girls who worked all day as milkmaids and who managed household affairs. Most of them were married but they still spent all their time thinking about Krishna and His welfare. He was their life and soul. This is the mood of a pure devotee. We may have family ties and friendships during our lifetime, but our eternal relationship with God trumps all others. He is the only reservoir of pleasure, and those who realize this fact have made their lives perfect. As a child, Krishna and His friends would go out and play or they would take the cows out to the pastures, and the gopis would worry all day about Him. “How is Krishna doing? Is He alright? Is He having fun? When He comes home, we will serve Him nice food and make Him happy.” In this way, their minds were completely fixed on the Supreme Lord in perfect meditation like perfect yogis. They obviously weren’t yogis, for they were uneducated girls, but through their service, their activities were better than that of any yogi. There are 108 primary gopis, and for this reason the japa mala, or set of chanting beads, has 108 beads on them with an additional primary bead representing Krishna. If one thinks of the gopis while chanting on these beads, then he or she will gradually be elevated to the state of pure Krishna consciousness.

Krishna Balarama and friends The gopis in Vrindavana actually descended from the spiritual world. The kingdom of God has many spiritual planets, with the primary one being Krishnaloka. Vrindavana actually exists there in its original form, and the same pastimes are occurring their eternally. The gopis that took birth in Vrindavana did so to as to allow the same pastimes to occur on earth for others to see and hear about. Many of the gopis were also great sages in their previous lives, during the advent of Lord Rama.

"The gopis who were gathered there were mostly all followers of the Vedas. In their previous births, during Lord Ramachandra's advent, they were Vedic scholars who desired the association of Lord Ramachandra in conjugal love. Ramachandra gave them the benediction that they would be present for the advent of Lord Krishna, and He would fulfill their desires. During Krishna's advent, the Vedic scholars took birth in the shape of the gopis in Vrndavana; as young gopis, they got the association of Krishna in fulfillment of their previous births' desire. The ultimate goal of their perfect desire was attained, and they were so joyous that they had nothing further to desire." (Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, 1970-1-31)

Lord Rama lived by the principle of eka-patni, having only one wife in Sita Devi. Being God Himself, He was highly sought after by many others, but He didn’t want to break His vow, so He accommodated those people by allowing them to take birth in the future where they could have association with Him.

The gopis didn’t look for pleasure from material things. We all tend to seek after the material comforts of a nice home, money, a nice husband or wife, and good children. These certainly aren’t bad things, for they provide security and happiness. However, that is not ultimate aim of life. Family relations and money are nonetheless temporary, for one has to give them up at the time of death. If one wants permanent happiness, they need only look to God. The gopis didn’t pray for anything material, for they only wanted Krishna to be happy. They were the greatest renunciates without even knowing it. Most of us initially approach God for some personal benefit. One of our friends or family members may be suffering from an illness, so we pray to God to cure their ailment. Other times we may fall victim to some bad luck, and we pray to God to lift us out of our difficult situations. This type of worship certainly isn’t bad, for at least we realize that there is a God, a higher power who has greater control over things than we do. At the same time, God is not our order supplier. Everything that happens in this material world is a result of the laws of nature and karma. If we ask God for something and He doesn’t give it to us, that doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist. The dualities of happiness and distress, good and bad fortune all come and go of their own volition without us seeking them. Our real business is to love God for who He is and not for what He can supply us.

Jaya Radha Madhava is a very nice song to sing, for it puts us in a good place. We can immediately think of the beauty of Vrindavana and the wonderful pastimes that occur there. Following in the path of the gopis, we can do no wrong.