Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not To Be Denied

Sita Rama “Surely shall I go today to the forest with you; there is no doubt about it and you shall not be able, Oh great hero, to dissuade me from so doing.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Sometimes when we take up a new task, we have difficulty in finishing it. We may decide to take up the process of learning to play guitar only to have the guitar sitting underneath our bed after attempting to play it only a few times. We may decide to start keeping a journal that we intend write in nightly, only to find that that the journal is left by itself in a drawer after only a few entries.

We seem to come up with new projects that we are never able to finish. What gets in the way? According to Vedic philosophy, this material world has an all-pervading illusory energy called maya that is the root cause of most of our problems. It is due to maya’s influence that we falsely identify with our gross material body and thus constantly seek pleasure in mundane sense gratification. Completing new tasks becomes difficult because maya is always pulling our attention elsewhere telling us that we will be more happy doing something else.

Taking up the process of devotional service is just as difficult as taking up new hobbies. Most people that we know are immersed in material life and have no interest whatsoever in spiritual matters. Lord Krishna Himself declares in the Bhagavad-gita that it is only after millions of births that one finally comes to a proper understanding of their constitutional position as spirit soul part and parcel of God:

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

Taking up spiritual life means one has to declare war on maya. Maya doesn’t give up so easily, so she puts even more impediments in our way.

“When we accept any self-realization process, it is practically declaring war against the illusory energy, maya. So when there's a question of maya or a question of fight or war there will be so many difficulties imposed by maya; that is certain. Therefore there is a chance of failure, but one has to become very steady.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, Los Angeles, Feb 20, 1969)

Our friends and family start to question what we are doing. “Why are you chanting? Who is this Krishna that you always talk about? You must be so lost to have gotten into all this mysticism.” These are the phrases commonly uttered by those who aren’t familiar with the processes of devotional service.

Now these people can’t really be blamed for their ignorance. We can get so bound up in material life that something so natural as chanting God’s name can seem foreign to us. Just as with playing guitar or training for marathons, for one to be successful in in devotional life they have to have steadiness of mind and perseverance.

“…one must take up a particular path and stick to it, obeying all the rules and regulations necessary for success in spiritual life.” (Shril Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita Introduction)

Lord Rama Lord Rama, who was God Himself playing the role of a human being on earth, was ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest by His father King Dashratha of Ayodhya. Rama’s wife Sita desperately wanted to accompany the Lord during the exile period, so she put forth a series of arguments in hopes of persuading the Lord. After reiterating the proper duties of a wife, Sita finally declared that there was no way for the Lord to stop her from coming along. Such determination illustrates just how pure a devotee Sita was.

Having grown up in the royal court of King Janaka of Mithila, Sita was accustomed to having all the material comforts of life. Even nowadays, common folk are so enamored by royal life that they follow all the goings on of the queen of England and her children. Members of the press dream of a life of advanced material sense gratification, so they try to live vicariously through those who already enjoy the high life. Even faced with every material distraction, Sita Devi was so steady of mind that she was completely devoted to God, who happened to be her husband. Lord Rama knew just how devoted she was, so He was forced to acquiesce and allow her to accompany Him. Devotional life begins by following the rules and regulations given to us by our spiritual master, namely voluntarily performing austerities with the goal of gaining spiritual understanding. From Sita Devi’s example, we see that by sticking to these regulations, we can confidently declare victory over maya. God rewards our victory by allowing us to always be in His company.

Material life means we are a slave to our senses. By constantly chanting the Lord’s holy name, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the tables get turned, and the slave becomes the master. The title of Goswami actually means “master of the senses”. One who is directly engaged in God’s service, giving up all hopes and dreams of sense gratification, surrendering everything unto to Him, that person is a Goswami. Though a tender and delicate woman, Sita was actually the greatest of transcendentalists, firm and steady in her vow of devotion. Therefore she is worthy of our highest love and respect.

Friday, August 14, 2009


Lord Shri Satyanarayana “Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.9)

Lent is the holy period in the Catholic calendar where someone gives up something, a form of sense gratification which is usually meat eating, voluntarily. The Lent period lasts for forty days, so those accustomed to regularly eating meat scramble to find ways to adhere to the fast.

Lent is generally viewed unfavorably by the younger generation. “Why is God punishing us? Why can’t we just eat what we want?” These are some of the questions posed by followers of the faith. In actuality, most people don’t even adhere to the regulations of Lent. Those who are aware of it, often look for loopholes and excuses to continue their meat eating. “Oh fish doesn’t count. I can eat that. I can most certainly eat eggs. What about chicken? That’s not really meat right?” The Catholic Church had a long-standing rule stating that people couldn’t eat meat on Fridays. That rule has since been abolished due to the fact that no one was following it.

The concept of fasting is present in all major religions. The Muslims have the Ramadan Holiday where one is prohibited from taking food during daylight hours. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, probably have the most comprehensive list of fasting regulations. Those of us who grew up in Hindu families are very familiar with many of them. Our parents and elder relatives were always abiding by some type of fast. “Oh today is Tuesday. I don’t eat on Tuesday…I can’t eat anything with salt in it today…I can only eat fruits and drink water today.” These were some of the statements we commonly heard as children growing up. It seemed very puzzling to us, since we generally just ate whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. What was the point of starving yourself? Many Hindu women even fast for Teej, which is an annual holiday dedicated to ensuring a long life for husbands.

Fasting is rooted in the concept of tapasya. Tapasya means austerities or the voluntary acceptance of penance. This isn’t any ordinary type of penance either. Tapasya is meant specifically to be for spiritual advancement, a completely religious activity. Tapasya works because it involves serving the Lord. As living entities, our natural instinct is to serve ourselves. Not necessarily selfishness, but acting in our own self-interest. The entire free-market capitalist system is built around this notion. People acting in their own self-interest, which leads to an overall favorable condition economically. The Vedas, however, tell us that this life is meant for serving Krishna, or God, and not our senses. It is for this reason that tapasya was introduced. Breaking free of the bodily concept of life is very difficult. Everyone is identifying with their gross material body, something which they are forced to give up at the time of death. I may be an Indian in this life, but in my next life, I can very well be born as an American or a Muslim. Knowing that fact, our nationality, skin color, or ethnicity isn’t important. At our core, we are spirit souls, aham brahmasmi. As spirit souls part and parcel of God, our business as human beings is to reconnect with Him. That is the ultimate aim of life. In order to truly realize this fact, we have to break free from our attachment to sense gratification. Austerities help us do that.

There is a common expression that says “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Though not true in all circumstances, with respect to tapasya, it is generally the case. By periodically abstaining from certain kinds of food, or all food in general, we actually become stronger because our minds become clearer. Many of us spend some time during the day thinking about what to eat for lunch or dinner. “Oh where should I go for lunch? I just went to such and such a place yesterday. I feel like something different today.” Even if we are eating food that we like, we tend to get sick of eating the same thing over and over again. We’re always looking for ways to satisfy our taste buds. Thinking about food may seem harmless, but that time could be better spent thinking about God. This is where tapasya comes. If we spent the day fasting, we most certainly would think about our hunger during the day. Now ordinarily, this wouldn’t be a good thing, since we would be unnecessarily causing ourselves stress. However, if we fast for God, then anytime we think of our hunger during the day, we immediately will think of Him. That is always a good thing. Sometimes men will get into fights or brawls and receive bruises and other wounds as a result. Most men love to show off these wounds to others, because it is a symbol of their toughness and what they went through. In a similar fashion, the hunger pains as a result of fasting for Krishna is a sort of war wound, something we receive as a result of our dedication to the Lord. It is something we can be proud of.

The major occasions for fasting coincide with the appearance day anniversaries of the Lord and His associates. Krishna Janmashtami is generally considered the most important day of the year for followers of the Vedic tradition since it marks the appearance day anniversary of Lord Krishna. Since Mother Devaki gave birth to Krishna at midnight, devotees usually observe a complete fast on Janmashtami leading up until midnight. People fast for the occasions of Rama Navami and Radhashtami in a similar manner. There are so many specific fasts prescribed in the Vedas for different purposes, but the two most widely observed regular fasts are Ekadashi and Purnima. The entire Vedic calendar revolves around the lunar cycle, so Ekadashi and Purnima are specific days in that cycle. Purnima represents the full moon day, and followers of the Satyanarayana Vrata fast specifically on these days. Devotees perform Katha of Lord Shri Satyanarayana, and then eat the prasadam that is offered to Him. Ekadashi is another specific day in the lunar cycle, an occasion observed specifically by Vaishnavas, or devotees of Vishnu. In a strict sense, devotees are supposed to observe a completely fast on this day, but the regulation has been loosened a bit. Generally, devotees simply abstain from eating grains (rice, bread, etc.) and beans on this day.

Mother Parvati - Performer of great penancesVedic literature is full of people performing tapasya and receiving a benefit as a result. Mother Parvati performed severe austerities in the forest for many years and was rewarded by getting Lord Shiva for a husband. Lord Rama and Sita observed a fast the night before the initial date set for the Lord’s installation as successor to His father, the king of Ayodhya. In this way, God and other great personalities set a good example for the rest of us to follow. If one can fast without inflicting too much pain on oneself, then it is definitely worth trying. Tapasya is one of the most important tools in a transcendentalist’s arsenal. It can help us break free of the repeated cycle of birth and death, and bring us back home after this life, back to Godhead.

Vyasa Puja 2009

Shrila Prabhupada “The Supreme Personality of Godhead is pleased to guide a devotee from within and without. From within He guides him as the Supersoul, and from without He guides him as the spiritual master.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.79 Purport)

Vyasa Puja is the celebration of the appearance day of the spiritual master. Vyasadeva, also known as Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, is the literary incarnation of Lord Krishna. He is the author of almost every significant Vedic text, which includes the four Vedas, the Puranas, the Upanishads, and the Vedanta-sutra. One will be hard-pressed to find anyone who has authored more literature in their lifetime than Vyasadeva has. The bona fide guru, or spiritual master, is one who represents Vyasadeva and his teachings.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada was the founder of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), which is more commonly known as the Hare Krishna Movement. A bona fide spiritual master in the line descending from Vyasadeva, and notably Lord Chaitanya, he spread Krishna prema, love for God, throughout the world in a very short period of time starting in the late 1960s.

There has been a long held belief amongst many in India that the Vedas and their teachings are the sole property of Hindus, or more specifically, those born into the varnashrama dharma system. The Vedas prescribe society to be divided into four varnas, or classes, and one’s duration of life to be divided into four ashramas, or modes of life. The four varnas are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. According to the strict Vedic definition, everyone is born a shudra, meaning one who is untrained in any religious principles. This naturally makes sense since we are all born ignorant. One may be the son of a brahmana, kshatriya, or vaishya, but that doesn’t automatically mean they belong to the same caste or varna as their father. Rather, one has to be trained by a guru and given the sacred thread, which signifies the second and more important birth. However, over time the system in India degraded to a point where people started claiming to belong to a certain caste simply by birth. Investiture of the sacred thread was done more as a formality, for no one was taking any training from a guru. This practice is still going on, with many claiming to be brahmanas (priestly class) simply by birthright, though they engage in all sorts of sinful activity such as meat eating, gambling, and intoxication.

Those claiming brahminical status simply from birthright do so because they have some lineage to a famous rishi of the past, such as Kashyapa, Vashishta, Katyanana, Upamanyu, etc. These were all great brahmanas of the past, and one will find stories about them in the Purnanas, Ramayana, and other Vedic texts. While it is certainly very nice to have a family lineage that goes back that far, simply being born in a high family isn’t enough. One has to exhibit the qualities and work, guna and karma, to be classified as part of a certain caste.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna declares that one’s caste should be determined by qualities (guna) that are inherent in them and by the work (karma) that they perform. In this manner, varnashrama dharma is actually open to anyone, provided they are trained by a bona fide spiritual master. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna Himself, was the first person to really spread Krishna prema to those born outside of the Hindu religion. This is the character of a true saint, for he believes that Krishna’s mercy should be made available to anyone and everyone, regardless of what family they were born into. By teaching others about Krishna, and urging them to become His devotees, one performs the highest service to his fellow man.

In 1965, A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada brought Lord Chaitanya’s movement to America. His own spiritual master, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Goswami Prabhupada, urged Shrila Prabhupada to translate the great Vedic texts into English and spread the message to the Western world. Shrila Prabhupada took this directive very seriously and his sincere efforts spawned a worldwide movement which continues to this very day. Krishna is now a household name known throughout the world.

Those born into Hindu families are very fortunate in that they know about Krishna from their very childhood. Almost every Hindu family has some sort of altar in their home, whereby they regularly perform arati at least twice a day. Though they might not offer everything they eat to the Lord, they make sure to offer Him some type of sweet at least twice a day, distributing the prasadam to their friends and family. Being a part of such family traditions, one naturally grows up to have a deep love and respect for Lord Krishna, Lord Rama, Sita, Ganesha, and especially Hanuman. The stories of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are known to almost all Hindus, for in India there are many books and movies about them.

But what about those who aren’t born into such a family? Where does that leave them? Thanks to Shrila Prabhupada, millions of people around the world became acquainted with Vedic culture. He turned thousands of whites, blacks, men, women, Americans, Europeans, and others, whether they were Indian or not, into perfect brahmanas by requiring them to strictly adhere to the four regulative principles (no meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex) and to regularly chant the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Considering how engrained meat eating and intoxication are in the Western culture, such a feat was nothing short of a miracle.

Though no longer physically present in this world, Prabhupada continues to teach to this day through His many books and recorded lectures. On this occasion of Vyasa Puja, let us humbly offer our obeissances to a true jagad-guru.  Shrila Prabhupada ki jai!.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Krishna Janmashtami 2009

Mother Yashoda and Krishna“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 4.8)

Janmashtami is the appearance day celebration of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedas, the ultimate authority on all matters of religion and life. The Lord came to this earth around five thousand years ago, towards the end of the Dvapara Yuga, in Mathura, India. Born as the eighth son of Mother Devaki, the Lord specially came to deliver His devotees. Technically, the Lord doesn’t take birth since He is eternal. Therefore, the birthday of Krishna is referred to as His appearance day.

"My dear Lord, it is not a very wonderful thing that You appear within the womb of Devaki because the creation was also made in that way. You were lying in the Causal Ocean as Maha-Vishnu, and by Your breathing process, innumerable universes came into existence.” (Vasudeva speaking to Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Volume 1, Ch 1.3)

The Lord’s appearance day is celebrated by the devotees since they love to always think of the Lord and remember His pastimes. Similar to the way we celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, and other holidays, devotees celebrate the anniversary dates of occasions related to God. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna declares that He comes to earth from time to time to reinstitute the principles of dharma and to give protection to His dependents.

During the time of Krishna’s advent, there was a king named Kamsa who had amassed a great empire. Everyone lived in fear of Him due to His strength. A person of a demoniac nature, Kamsa had imprisoned his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudeva due to a prophecy that stated that Kamsa would killed by the eighth son of Devaki. As Devaki gave birth to her children, one by one Kamsa would mercilessly kill them by throwing them against a stone wall. In this way, he anxiously awaited the birth of Devaki’s eighth son. Krishna, seeing this predicament, decided to appear in the womb of Devaki to fulfill the prophecy and to free Devaki and Vasudeva. After being offered prayers from the demigods, Devaki gave birth to Krishna, who then appeared in His four-handed form of Narayana, or Vishnu.

Lord Krishna and His pastimes“Thus eulogized by the gods, Devaki bore in her womb the lotus-eyed Lord Krishna, the protector of the world. On the day of His birth, the quarters of the horizon were filled with joy, as if moonlight was diffused over the whole earth. The pious experienced new delight, the strong winds were hushed, and the rivers glided tranquilly when Krishna was about to be born. The seas with their own melodious murmurings provided the music, while the Kinnaras and Gandharvas danced and sang and the demigods showered down flowers upon the earth. At midnight, when the supporter of all was about to be born, the clouds emitted low pleasing sounds and poured down a rain of flowers.

As soon as Vasudeva beheld the child of the complexion of lotus leaves, having four arms, and the shrivatsa mark on His chest, he addressed Him with love and reverence saying, ‘I understand that You have appeared to kill the uncivilized Kamsa and his followers. But knowing that You were to appear to kill him and his followers, he has already killed so many of Your predecessors, elder brothers. Now he is simply awaiting the news of Your birth. As soon as he hears about it, he will immediately appear with all kinds of weapons to kill You.’ Devaki also exclaimed, ‘My only cause of fear from my brother Kamsa is due to Your appearance. My Lord Madhusudana (Krishna), Kamsa may know that You are already born. Therefore I request You to conceal this four-armed form of Your Lordship which holds the four symbols of Vishnu. My dear Lord, at the end of the annihilation of the cosmic manifestation, You put the whole universe within Your abdomen; still by Your unalloyed mercy You have appeared in my womb. I am surprised that You imitate the activities of ordinary human beings just to please Your devotee.’

To these pleas Krishna answered and said, ‘Dear mother, in former times I was prayed to by you and adored in the hope of progeny: your prayers have been granted, for I am born as your son. I know you are very concerned about Me and afraid of Kamsa. Therefore I order you to take Me immediately to Gokula and replace Me with the daughter who has just been born to Yashoda.’ So saying, Vasudeva, taking the baby, went out that same night; for the guards were all charmed by Yogamaya, as were the warders at the gates of Mathura, and thus they didn’t obstruct Vasudeva’s path. To protect the infant from the heavy rain that fell from the clouds of night, Ananta Sesha Naga, the supporter of the universe, the serpent with unlimited hoods, followed Vasudeva and spread his hoods above their heads; and when Vasudeva, with the baby Krishna in his arms, crossed the Yamuna river, deep as it was, and dangerous with numerous whirlpools, the waters became stilled and cleared a path for Vasudeva. On the bank he saw Nanda and the rest who had come there to bring taxes due to Kamsa. At the same time Yashoda was also under the influence of Yogamaya, whom she had brought forth as her daughter, and whom the prudent Vasudeva took up, placing Krishna in her place by the side of Yashoda. He then quickly returned home. When Yashoda awaoke, she found that she had delivered a boy, as black as the dark leaves of the lotus, and she greatly rejoiced.” (Story of Krishna’s birth found in the Vishnu and Bhagavata Puranas)

Janmashtami Videos:

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Maintainer of the Universe

Krishna and the gopis “Oh great hero, capable are you to maintain many thousand others in the forest, what to speak of me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, maintains all the universes with their millions of planets all through His various expansions. We all know that God is great, but the Vedas describe just how great He is.

In this material world we see that men have great difficulty in maintaining even one wife. Many times they are unable to hold on to their relationship and they give way to separation and divorce. As evidenced in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Lord Krishna was able to simultaneously maintain and please 16,108 wives during His time on earth some five thousand years ago. Narada Muni, the venerable saint of the three worlds, once came to visit Krishna in one of His palaces to see how He was faring with His primary wife Rukmini. Upon seeing the Lord happily engaged in day to day activities, Narada then went on to visit other palaces of the Lord. He was astonished to find Krishna in each and every one of them simultaneously engaged in various activities.

“In one palace Lord Krishna was found engaged in feeding brahmanas after performing ritualistic yajnas. In another palace, Narada found Krishna engaged in silently chanting the Gayatri mantra, and in a third he found Him practicing fighting with a sword and shield. In some palaces Lord Krishna was found riding on horses or elephants or chariots and wandering hither and thither. Elsewhere He was found lying down on His bedstead taking rest, and somewhere else He was found sitting in His chair, being praised by the prayers of His different devotees. In some of the palaces He was found consulting with ministers like Uddhava and others on important matters of business. In one palace He was found surrounded by many young society girls, enjoying in a swimming pool. In another palace He was found engaged in giving well-decorated cows in charity to the brahmanas, and in another palace He was found hearing the narrations of the Puranas or histories, such as the Mahabharata, which are supplementary literatures for disseminating Vedic knowledge to common people by narrating important instances in the history of the universe. Somewhere Lord Krishna was found enjoying the company of a particular wife by exchanging joking words with her. Somewhere else He was found engaged along with His wife in religious ritualistic functions. Since it is necessary for householders to increase their financial assets for various expenditures, Krishna was found somewhere engaged in matters of economic development. Somewhere else He was found enjoying family life according to the regulative principles of the shastras…Thus Narada saw one single Krishna living in sixteen thousand palaces by His plenary expansions. Due to His inconceivable energy, He was visible in each and every individual queen's palace. Lord Krishna has unlimited power, and Narada's astonishment was boundless upon observing again and again the demonstration of Lord Krishna's internal energy. Lord Krishna behaved by His personal example as if He were very much attached to the four principles of civilized life, namely religiousness, economic development, sense gratification and salvation. These four principles of material existence are necessary for the spiritual advancement of human society, and although Lord Krishna had no need to do so, He exhibited His household activities so that people might follow in His footsteps for their own interest. Lord Krishna satisfied the sage Narada in every way. Narada was very much pleased by seeing the Lord's activities in Dvaraka, and thus he departed.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Volume 2, Ch 2.14)

Narada viewing Krishna in His palace These facts seem outrageous to most non-devotees. The internet is full of discussions on the topic of Krishna and His wives. “How could Krishna have so many wives? That doesn’t make sense. It must be part of the mythology.” These are some of the common sentiments. However, the Vedas and the Puranas are historical records of actual events that have taken place on this planet and on other planets throughout the universe. Sometimes they even describe events that have yet to occur. Through our material senses, we may think that maintaining that many wives is impossible, but to devotees of the Lord, such a feat doesn’t nearly begin to describe God’s power. Krishna effortlessly created a monstrous astral body that provides heat and light to millions of species throughout the universe. This body is known as the sun and scientists have yet to begin understanding its nature. Unable to explain the phenomenon, scientists theorize that a random collision of atomic particles created the sun and the rest of creation. If such an event did occur, why are these same scientists unable to reproduce this miracle? If they harnessed all the electric power in the world and used it to turn on millions upon millions of lights, it still wouldn’t come close to the power generated by the sun. We know from the Vedas that Krishna created the sun, and if God is able to create something so amazing, then maintaining many wives, or lifting a giant hill are merely child’s play for Him.

When Krishna incarnated as the most pious prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama, He willingly accepted banishment to the forest for fourteen years by His father, King Dashrata. The Lord was married to His wife Sita at the time, so He tried His best to dissuade her from following Him. Sita Devi was the Goddess of Fortune, Lakshmi, so she was completely devoted to Rama. She put forth her own set of arguments in favor of her accompanying the Lord to the forest.

Sita Rama According to Vedic culture, a woman is to be provided protection at all stages of her life, and not ever to be given outright independence. As a child, a girl is given protection by her father, as an adult by her husband, and in old age by the eldest son. This was the traditional system and both Lord Rama and Sita Devi were abiding by it. The Lord wanted His wife to remain in the kingdom where she would be protected from the dangers of forest life. God is always kind to His devotees and never wants to see them in any sort of pain. Forest life is meant for the animals and for those in the renounced order of life, sannyasis. However, Sita Devi made it a point to remind Lord Rama that He indeed can provide protection to a limitless amount of people. She was basically saying, “You are God Himself. This entire universe is maintained by You. Millions upon millions of planets are floating in the air through Your energies. Taking care of me in the forest should be no problem for You.” Due to these and other arguments put forth by Sita, the Lord was unable to stop her from coming with Him. This illustrates the power of devotional service. God loves His devotees more than His devotees love Him. For those truly surrendered souls, the Lord willingly subordinates Himself to their wishes.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Animal Sacrifice

Lord Krishna “The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

One of the four regulative principles of devotional service requires one to refrain from eating meat, fish, or eggs. Meat eating involves unnecessary violence towards animals, so anyone who stays away from such food will avoid the negative karma associated with it. Living a simple, non-violent lifestyle allows us to concentrate our time and energy on God realization.

One will find, however, that the concept of animal sacrifice is very prominent in the scriptures of all major religions. The Christian Bible has a detailed list of which animals can be sacrificed and how they are to be offered. Similarly, the Vedic literature lists many such animal sacrifices which reward the performer with material benedictions. During Lord Krishna’s time on earth, the great king Yudhishthira performed the sacred Ashwamedha sacrifice, which involves sacrificing a horse. Prior to that, during the Treta Yuga, the famous Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya also performed the sacrifice. It was performed by many kings with the idea of bestowing good karma on the king and his kingdom. Dashratha’s sacrifice bore fruit in the form of Lord Rama, God Himself, being born as his first son.

The performance of such sacrifices seems to contradict the principle of no meat eating. However, this type of animal sacrifice bears no resemblance to the violence committed against animals in modern day slaughterhouses. The Vedas are somewhat complex, with different dharmas (religious duty) assigned to different classes of people. Since the material world is a place governed by gunas, or qualities (goodness, passion, and ignorance), every living entity has a different level of intelligence and thereby varying capacities for understanding scriptural injunctions. Though bhagavata-dharma, loving service to God, is the highest form of religion, God is so kind that He provides other forms of religion so as to allow everyone to make spiritual advancement. Below the system of bhagavata-dharma is the religious system involving the four rewards of life. Those who are religiously inclined generally seek the rewards of dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and moksha (liberation). To achieve these benedictions, there is a section of the Vedas known as karma-kanda. It is in this portion of the Vedas where one will find the various animal sacrifices performed by kings of the past. The idea wasn’t to allow meat eating for simple sense gratification, but rather to sanction violence in a regulated manner, which would be both beneficial to the performer and to the animal sacrificed. In a sacrifice properly performed by qualified brahmanas wherein mantras were perfectly recited, the living entity inside the animal would immediately be rewarded a higher birth in the next life. The performer would also immediately receive the material rewards they were seeking after. Naturally, such a religious system is subordinate to bhagavata-dharma, but it was nonetheless performed as a way of allowing kings to make gradual elevation in spiritual consciousness. The kshatriyas, or warrior class of men, generally live in the mode of passion, rajo-guna. Due to this fact, they are allowed to gamble and even hunt deer as a way of practicing their defensive skills. Unnecessary violence towards animals was never condoned, and there are many historical incidents mentioned in the Vedic texts of kings being punished for acts of unnecessary violence towards deer or other living entities in the forest. The same Maharaja Dashratha once accidentally shot and killed a young boy with his arrow while ranging the forest. Since the boy’s parents would eventually die from the grief resulting from the untimely separation from their son, they cursed Dashratha to suffer the same fate in the future. For this reason, Dashratha died after the exile of His eldest and most beloved son Rama.

“In the Vedic literature there are numerous prescription of sacrifice. And in some of the sacrifices animal sacrifice is also recommended. So that animal sacrifice does not mean to kill the animal. Animal sacrifice means to prove the strength of Vedic hymns so that one old animal is put into the fire and he's given again a new life, renewed life, just to show the potency of the hymns, Vedic hymns. But in this age, Kali-yuga, those sacrifices are forbidden." (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, 700416LE.LA)

These sacrifices were a means of testing the brahmanas who would preside over them, and was also a way of benefitting the animal being sacrificed. The entire purpose was aimed at providing purification. These sacrifices were performed during previous Yugas, where dharma had a stronger presence in society. According to the Vedas, dharma gradually declines amongst the population as time goes on. The current age we are in, Kali Yuga, is best known for dharma having only a twenty-five percent level of strength, whereas it was at one hundred percent at the beginning of creation. Gradually with this decline in religiosity, came the tainting of these sacrifices. Brahmanas were no longer performing them for purification, but merely as an excuse to eat animal flesh.

“When there was too much animal sacrifice in India, Lord Buddha appeared. And in the Vedas there is recommendation for animal sacrifice in some sacrificial ceremony, not ordinarily. And that sacrifice is meant for testing the power of chanting mantra. An animal would be put into the fire, and it would come again with renewed life. In this way, there is recommendation in the Vedas that some animals... But people misunderstood it. People began to slaughter." (Shrila Prabhupada, Room Conversation, Tokyo, 720422)

Lord Buddha Krishna advented as Lord Buddha specifically to stop the degraded process of animal slaughter. In order to justify his message of nonviolence, he preached against the injunctions of the Vedas. In this way, the modern day injunction against meat eating was instituted and the animal sacrifice process was gradually stopped.

Meat eating involves killing another animal, which shouldn’t be done. But God is so nice that He understands that many people won’t be able to give up such a practice easily. Bestowing His mercy upon them, He provided for the rituals of animal sacrifice to allow them to gradually rise up the chain of God consciousness. If one sacrifices an animal before the Goddess Kali, he is at least thinking about God prior to committing such a heinous act. One will find that dishes containing goat meat are very prevalent in Indian restaurants and it stems from the tradition of sacrifice to Goddess Kali. Even a sanctioned sacrifice like that has many stringent rules attached to it. The animal must be a goat and the sacrifice can only be performed once a month. In this way, God is helping people by making meat eating such an arduous task.

"Even though one may be religiously inclined, animal sacrifice is recommended in the shashtras, not only in the Vedas but even in the modern scriptures of other sects…When such people kill animals, they can at least do so in the name of religion. However, when the religious system is transcendental, like the Vaishnava religion, there is no place for animal sacrifice." (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.26.1-3 Purport)

The word “Vaishnava” refers to devotees of Lord Vishnu, who is the same as Lord Krishna. By following the principles of devotional service, we have no need for mundane material sacrifices. We should all try and rise to such a platform. Giving up meat eating may seem very difficult, but if we dedicate ourselves to constantly chanting the names of God in a loving way, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, then we will surely succeed.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Sanatana Dharma

Rama Darbar “I shall sport with you, Oh great hero, in that forest impregnated with the fragrance of flowers, tending you constantly, having my senses subdued, and being engaged in austere performances.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

In loving relationships, we often subordinate ourselves to the wishes of our paramour. Those who are in love will often utter the phrase “I will dedicate my life to making you happy” to their significant other. Such sentiment is very nice because it represents the essence of true love. Wanting more for the other person than you want for yourself is the quintessential ingredient of love.

A husband or wife will often put themselves into very stressful situations in order that they may please their spouse. Sometimes a husband will go to great lengths to buy his wife some nice jewelry or some flowers to mark a special occasion such as an anniversary or birthday. A loving wife will similarly go through the pains of cooking elaborate meals, or attending sporting events, or travelling to exotic destinations simply to give pleasure to her husband. Many times we don’t like performing these tasks but if it makes our spouse happy then we are more than willing to do it. For we know if our husband or wife is happy and satisfied, then we are happy.

Lord Rama, who was God Himself living in Ayodhya many thousands of years ago, was given the order by His father, King Dashratha, to live in the forest as a recluse for fourteen years. Being married at the time to His wife Sita, the Lord knew that she would insist on coming along. Rama gave her many sound reasons why she should remain in the kingdom under the protection of other family members, but Sita soundly rejected them. Being truly in love with Lord Rama, Sita would not be happy unless her Lord was happy. Lord Rama was very worried about how Sita would fare in the forest, since the conditions would be very rough and not suitable for a woman accustomed to a life of royalty. To alleviate Rama’s worries, Sita assured Him that she would constantly tend to Him and that she would be engaged in austerities.

Aside from exhibiting her love for Rama, Sita Devi in this instance is teaching all of us the proper way to serve God. We all want to serve something in this material world, whether it is our senses, our bosses, our parents, our children, or even our lovers. While all those types of service may be very nice, our original occupation is to serve Krishna, or God. According to Vedic philosophy, this is called sanatana dharma. Sanatana means that which has no begging or end and dharma means occupation. Sometimes dharma is mistakenly interpreted to mean religion, but religion has a different connotation. One’s religious belief system may change from Hindu to Muslim or Christian to Jew, but one’s occupational duty never changes. That is the true definition of dharma.

“Religion conveys the idea of faith. Faith may change. One may have faith in a particular process, and he may change the faith afterwards and adopt another faith. But sanatana-dharma means which cannot be changed. Just like water and liquidity. Liquidity cannot be changed from water. Heat and fire. Heat cannot be changed from fire. Similarly, the eternal function of the eternal living entity, which is known as sanatana-dharma, cannot be changed. It is not possible to change. We have to find out what is that eternal function of the eternal living entity. When we speak of sanatana-dharma therefore, we must take it for granted on the authority of Shripada Ramanujacharya that it has no beginning nor any end.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture)

Ramanujacharya Sanatana dharma means our eternal occupation. It is our duty to serve the Lord since that is what we are naturally inclined to do. In order to serve the Lord, we must voluntarily submit ourselves to austerity or pennance, which is known as tapasya.

Sita Devi informed Lord Rama that she was more than willing to perform tapasya for Him in the forest. “I will always serve you with all my heart and soul. I will undergo and any all hardships simply to make you happy. You are my Lord for life, and what may be viewed as hardships to others, will be undertaken by me with glee and enthusiasm. Fear not for my welfare in the forest. If I am serving you, then I will always be happy, and thus you will be too.” These were the thoughts she was conveying to Lord Rama. This is the attitude of a pure devotee who is most highly advanced. By following the principles of devotional service through chanting the Lord’s names, offering Him prayers, rendering service to His deity, and by voluntarily abstaining from the primary sinful activities of life, namely meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex, then God will be most pleased with us, and we in turn can enjoy an eternal blissful relationship with Him.