Saturday, August 22, 2009

Spreading The Message

Lakshmi Narayana in Vaikuntha “Just as a radio broadcasts mundane news, the bona fide guru broadcasts the news from Vaikuntha.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.3.21, Purport)

Recently on CNN, a television cable news network, a story was done providing people tips on how to purchase a health insurance plan. Shown during the afternoon, the idea appeared to have great potential, but the story didn’t live up to it.

CNN, known as the Cable News Network, was the pioneer in the cable television news genre. Prior to its founding in 1980, the only source for national news on television was what was shown on the big three television networks: ABC, NBC, and CBS. Walter Cronkite became a household name as the anchor of the CBS evening news in the 1960s and early 1970s. Usually shown between the hours of 6 and 7 pm, the nightly television newscasts always garnered huge ratings. CNN tapped into this market by dedicating an entire cable channel to strictly showing news. Thus, the 24 hour news cycle began. In the last 15 years or so, cable news has really taken off with new networks such as FOX and MSNBC joining the ranks. All these channels display news tickers at the bottom of the screen throughout the day, scrolling through the latest headlines. Much of the content on these channels has become formulaic. The typical news hour consists of an anchor reading the latest news headlines, followed by panels of experts and guests discussing the topics. Many times the guests are on opposing sides of an issue, so debates naturally ensue. Other segments, such as do-it-yourself guides and helpful hints for consumers, are also quite common on cable news networks. CNN had one such segment recently dedicated to the issue of health insurance and how people can go about buying it.

Having health insurance is very important for people living in America. With the increase in government mandates and regulation over employers, hospitals and doctors, it is almost a necessity to have some sort of health insurance versus paying for medical expenses out-of-pocket. A health insurance plan can be very complicated, with all sorts of benefits, limits on out-of-pocket expenses, and deductibles. For example, one insurance plan may cover hospital visits completely, while others require the patient to pay a certain amount per day of hospital confinement, up to a certain maximum amount. A typical health insurance plan divides its benefits summary into categories such as preventive care, outpatient care, allergy care, hospital care, emergency car, maternity care, home health care, etc. An insurance company is in business for one reason, to make money. The customer, on the other hand, wants to spend as little money as possible and still get good coverage. With these forces colliding, along with issues of competition, malpractice insurance, in-network versus out-of-network, it is quite understandable to think that some people could use some guidance on which plans are the best ones for them.

CNNThe story on CNN however, didn’t provide any useful information at all. A health insurance “expert“ appeared as a guest and suggested that people shop around for the best health insurance plan. People were also urged to look for plans with a low deductible. These tips were well-intentioned but most people already know all of this. People don’t need to be told how to shop around or how to look for low prices. When acting in their own self-interest, people will automatically buy things that are suited to their needs. Some value price over quality and others vice versa. In a free society, these things take care of themselves. No one is taught how to purchase a cell phone plan, a flat screen television, or even shop for groceries. People buy what they want and at the price they are willing to pay.

The CNN story is indicative of a larger problem with the news media. They tend to look down at their audience and give them useless information. They also devote much airtime to praising celebrities, detailing their every move. While this might be entertaining to some, the knowledge received is very little and has no lasting value.

“There are so many departments in a university: technological, medical, engineering, etc. But where is the department to know and understand what this life is, what God is, and what our relationship is?” (Shrila Prabhupada)

The twenty-four cable networks have a real opportunity to teach people about meaningful topics, such as the soul and its relationship with God. Spiritual education is seriously lacking in this age. We spend twelve years in school and then four plus years in college studying various material subjects. We learn about the ins and outs of various sciences and how to read and write, but the science of the soul is never taught.

Bhagavad-gita The news media reaches millions of people daily, so if they spent even five minutes out of every hour discussing a verse from the Bhagavad-gita or other Vedic scriptures, then society would be greatly benefitted. Instead of live debates with Republican and Democrat strategists, they could show clips of Shrila Prabhupada speeches and have discussions on them. The Vedic literature is so vast that it never gets tiring to listen to. In India during the 1980s, television serials devoted to the Mahabharata and the Ramayana were shown and the people tuned in by the millions. In America, Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ movie set records at the box office. This proves that the desire for spiritual education is there. It is in the financial interest of these news organizations to fulfill that desire. If you show it, they will come.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Giving To The Lord

Lord Rama “(Those) who rejoice to see another’s prosperity and are sore distressed at their misfortune; to whom, O Rama, You are dear as their own lives, in their hearts be Your blessed abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa)

According to Vedic philosophy there are three kinds of miseries in this material world. Adhidaivic miseries are those brought on by nature, such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc. Adhyatmic refers to miseries brought about by physical and mental ailments. Taking birth in the material world means that we are eventually bound to catch some disease or another. Many times our mind can cause us ailments as well, through excessive hankering and lamenting. The third kind of misery, known as adhibhautic, is that brought about by other living entities. These miseries can come from animals such as insects who bite us, or other human beings who may torment us.

Though one may sometimes derive pleasure from mocking and annoying others, such behavior isn’t considered proper. In the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas, Maharishi Valmiki beautifully elaborates on the qualities of a devotee. One thing that he mentions is that devotees of God always feel bad when others are in distress and feel good when others are happy. Envy is a quality that we all possess to some degree, so it is not surprising if we sometimes feel happy at the miseries of others. We think to ourselves, “Oh good, I’m not the only one who isn’t happy all the time. It’s good that they found out just how hard life can be.” This sort of behavior is very immature because another’s fortunes or misfortunes actually have no effect on us. A truly saintly person is one who sees everyone on an equal footing. According to Lord Krishna, a devotee even has compassion for a dog and a dog-eater:

“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 [outcaste] .” (Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

When Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, was pleading with her husband to allow her to accompany Him to the forest for fourteen years, she made it a point to tell Him that she would not cause Him any afflictions while in the forest.

“Undoubtedly I shall always live upon roots and fruits, living with you always I shall not bring about your affliction.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Lord Rama, God Himself, was ordered to live in the forest by His father Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Being married at the time, the Lord wanted His wife to remain at home where she would be protected. Maintaining a wife is not an easy task for a husband, even in the most perfect of conditions. During that time, the Treta Yuga, forest life was meant only for people in the renounced order of life, sannyasis. It would have been very difficult to protect Sita while living in such austere conditions. The Vedic injunction is that a wife must be protected at all times by the husband, and she is to be looked after with the same attention as one would give to a child. It is for this reason that the Lord wanted Sita to remain in the kingdom for the duration of the exile period.

Sita Devi, however, was the incarnation of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the wife of Lord Narayana, who is God Himself residing in the spiritual world. If one comes across paintings or photos of Lakshmi-Narayana, one will often see Lakshmi massaging the feet of a resting Lord Narayana. It is not that the wife is treated as a servant. That would be missing the meaning behind such a scene. The constitutional position of all living entities is to serve God, but this fact is only realized after one makes steady progress in the execution of devotional service. Sita Devi, being a pure a devotee of God, always wanted to serve her pati or Lord, and it is for this reason that Rama allowed her to do so by eventually acquiescing to her request. God is very nice in that he voluntarily enters into loving relationships with His devotees based on their desires. Sometimes God will assume the form of a son, a husband, or even a lover simply to satisfy His devotees.

Lakshmi Narayana From Sita Devi’s example, we can learn the proper method of devotional service. Obviously God is purely spiritual, so He is not capable of suffering any afflictions. Still, our attitude should be that we shouldn’t needlessly bother the Lord for material things.

"One should render transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord Krishna favorably and without desire for material profit or gain through fruitive activities or philosophical speculation. That is called pure devotional service." (Shrila Rupa Goswami, Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu)

Instead of repeatedly asking from the Lord, we should give to Him. By constantly chanting His name, reading His books, serving the lotus of feet of His devotees, and offering Him prayers, we can offer all our thoughts, words, and deeds as a sacrifice to the Lord. In return, He rewards us with eternal devotion to Him, which is the greatest boon in life.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Food For The Soul

Draupadi feeding Krishna “The whole material world is full of hungry living beings. The hunger is not for good food, shelter or sense gratification. The hunger is for the spiritual atmosphere.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.12.6 Purport)

A staple of the dining out experience in America is the buffet restaurant. America is the “land of the free and the home of the brave”, and thus there is increased freedom in all aspects of life, especially in eating. Dining out at a buffet restaurant provides a one-of-a-kind eating experience, with no menus to look at and no time spent waiting for food to be brought to your table.

At a normal restaurant, we have to look over the menu and figure what we want to eat. It’s usually a tough decision because there’s probably more than one thing on the menu that would satisfy our taste buds. We have to be really careful because if we choose the wrong dish, we’re stuck with it unless we want to fork over more money for something else. A buffet lets us hedge our bet. All the food is already out there for us to choose from. With the “all you can eat” pricing model, it is in our interest to stuff ourselves until we can’t eat any more so that we can get the biggest bang for our buck.

A buffet meal is best enjoyed on an empty stomach. If we have advance notice prior to going to a buffet restaurant, we strategize ahead by altering our eating schedule accordingly. It is also for this reason that many restaurants serve buffets only on weekends as part of brunch, a meal considered as either a late breakfast or an early lunch. Most people wake up later on the weekends, so brunch represents their first meal of the day, a time when they are usually quite hungry.

Cicis Pizza Buffet The goal is to make sure we are as hungry as we can possibly be when we arrive at the restaurant. Even while eating, we may try different techniques so as to trick ourselves into still being hungry. One of the more common strategies is to stay away from soda and other beverages, so as to leave more room in the stomach.  In the South, some people even go as far as jumping off toilets in the restrooms as a means of “making room” in the stomach. The hungrier we are, the more food we will be able to intake and the more we will enjoy it, or so we think. This theory applies to all areas of sense enjoyment. The less we have of something, the more we appreciate it. “Don’t know what you’ve got til it’s gone” as the saying goes.

According to the Vedas, this current age is known as Kali Yuga, meaning the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. In Kali Yuga, religion is almost non-existent, with dharma existing at only one quarter its full strength. Even the religions that do exist today are mostly cheating ones, advising people to do everything except love God. Because of this deficiency, God has made the path of self-realization much easier in this age. Lord Krishna Himself came to this earth some five hundred years ago in the form of Lord Chaitanya to initiate the sankirtana movement. Sankirtana is the process of congregationally chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare.” Lord Chaitanya taught us that in this age, there is no other way of realizing God besides constantly chanting His name:

“In this age of quarrel and disagreement, the Kali Yuga, there is no other way of spiritual realization but this chanting of the names. There is no other way, there is no other way, there is no other way.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.21)

This method of self realization may seem very simple, but it is effective due to our lack of religious awareness. Fortunately for us, we are all hungry for spiritual knowledge and this lack of education has actually made us hungrier for serving Krishna, even if we may not realize it. Our current activities involving meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex life which are all attempts at pleasing the senses and achieving everlasting peace and happiness. However, since these are all on the material platform, they never succeed in fulfilling our desires and thus we remain searching after that one thing that can make us truly happy.

“…as a hungry man cannot be made happy by all comforts of life minus foodstuff, so the hungry man for eternal Absolute Happiness cannot be detracted by any amount of material happiness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.13.17 Purport)

Those who take to chanting the holy names of the Lord immediately appreciate it since it is a religious activity that actually delivers real benefits. Chanting becomes the most attractive religious activity because we immediately get connected with Krishna. Through chanting our interest in God is spurred on, and we gradually take to the other processes of devotional service.

Krishna eating lunch with friends Eating at a buffet is a fun experience, but the aftermath can be quite painful. Heartburn, indigestion, or extreme fatigue usually follows such a heavy meal. Unlike eating at a buffet, chanting God’s name has no negative side effects.

“You'll find happiness. If you chant Hare Krishna twenty-four hours, you'll never get tired, and that is the... You'll never get tired. In any other material thing, if you chant or you repeat three times, you'll get tired. It is practical test. But if you go on chanting Hare Krishna twenty-four hours, you'll never get tired. So if you engage yourself in the activity of Krishna consciousness, you'll never get tired because you are acting on the spiritual platform. Spiritual platform is absolute. The material platform is different. If you work very hard, then you get tired.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, New York, Sep 2, 1966)

The more we do it, the more we become attracted to it. So let us all take advantage of this great gift given to us by Lord Chaitanya, and we’ll be satisfying our real hunger.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Falling On Hard Times

Krishna protecting His devotees "One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.” (Rishabhadeva, Shrimad Bhagavatam 5.5.18)

The U.S. economy has fallen on hard times lately. The gross domestic product, GDP, has been shrinking instead of growing. The unemployment rate is very high and the stock market has completely tanked since last fall. This has caused the government to feverishly adopt new plans as a means of stimulating the economy.

The Obama administration came up with a plan along with the help of the Congress. A massive spending bill consisting of thousand of earmarks, the proponents said this would give the economy the jumpstart that it needed. Another similar bill was also passed last year by the Bush administration. Both bills have proved to do little to nothing to stimulate the economy.

“’This recession might linger for years,’ President Barack Obama wrote in a Feb. 8 Washington Post op-ed. ‘Our economy will lose 5 million more jobs. Unemployment will approach double digits. Every day, our economy gets sicker.’ This was the justification for haste in passing Obama’s stimulus package. Now, six months later, with just 10 percent of the $787 billion package spent, ordinary Americans don’t think it’s working.

Fifty-seven percent told the Gallup organization that the package has had no effect or has made the economy worse. Eighty-one percent believe that it has not benefitted them personally in the short run and 70 percent believe it will not benefit them in the long run. This opinion is not without factual basis. Unemployment reached 9.5 percent in June, with nearly 3 million jobs lost since Obama’s op-ed. In July, it dipped to 9.4 percent, not because more jobs had been created, but because only 242,000 jobs were lost and some 400,000 individuals stopped looking for work and ceased to count as ‘unemployed.’” (Editorial, San Francisco Examiner, Aug 18, 2009)

Obama signing stimulus package Taking a close look at how economics works, one can understand the flaw in such proposals. Our economic system is considered to be a free market one. Goods and services are exchanged peaceably and voluntarily between people along with a respect for property rights and the rule of law. Government’s role in this system is to ensure that the exchanges are in fact voluntary, and that contracts and agreements are honored. If the market is left on its own, with government playing its minimal role, growth will occur naturally through the forces of competition. This has proved to be the case time and time again throughout the country’s history. From 1980 to 2001, the government did little to stimulate economic activity in the form of subsidies or other hand outs, and the result was that the U.S. economy grew at an unprecedented rate. Prior to that, recessions were very common, with GDP rates fluctuating up and down in the 1970s.

“Just as one who cuts off the udders of a cow with the hope of getting milk never acquires it, so also a state in which taxes are levied inappropriately, thus harassing the subjects, does not prosper.” (Mahabharata, 12.71.16)

According to the Vedas, the material world is made up of three gunas or modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The free market system is the embodiment of the mode of passion. People, through their buying and selling habits, are striving for fruitive results. The stock market is a great example of this; traders frantically buying and selling, all in hopes of turning a profit. When people are left to compete with one another, the mode of passion kicks in and economic circumstances improve as a result.

This isn’t a new idea. According the Mahabharata, a book written about five thousand years ago, a king should make sure that taxes are low for vaishyas, the mercantile class of people. The reason for this is that if taxes are high, the producers will have no incentive to produce. That will mean less money coming in to the treasury. Not only should taxes be low, but the treasury should spend money wisely and for legitimate purposes.

“The treasury of a king is meant for the protection of the army, his subjects and of righteousness (Dharma). If it is used for these purposes, it will prove beneficial. On the other hand, if the treasury is misused, it will prove disastrous. Should the king use the royal treasury for his wife and children and to fulfill his own sensual pursuits, it will bring him unhappiness and he will attain hell.” (Shukraniti 4.2.3-5, taken from Purpose and Function of Government According to Mahabharata)

Contrast this with today’s leaders and their policies. The recent stimulus packages are nothing more than the taking of money from one group of people, the producers, and transferring it to another group, the non-producers. Such a plan is destined to fail.

So why the sudden downturn in the economy? As with any system based on the mode of passion, the health of an economy will always go through ups and downs. The same way that some business fail and others succeed, the economy is not guaranteed to grow every quarter of every year. Though things look bleak now, objectively speaking, the standard of life in America has never been better. Even with a bad economy, every material comfort is at our fingertips. Keeping this mind, the government should shift its focus to more important areas. According to the Vedas, a person should not be a king or a leader unless he can deliver his dependents from the cycle of birth and death. Whether the economy is good or bad, the soul is eternal. If we do not train ourselves to always be thinking about God, then we will be forced to accept another body after this life. A government’s primary duty should be to elevate people to the mode of goodness by providing them spiritual guidance. The opportunity today is great since such knowledge is almost completely absent in society.

The best spiritual education in this age comes from chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This is the beginning of spiritual life and it costs nothing. Chanting pays dividends higher than any stock or government stimulus plan. If our consciousness is always linked with the Supreme Lord, then nothing, including a recession, can hurt us.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Simple Life

Sita Rama “Undoubtedly I shall always live upon roots and fruits, living with you always I shall not bring about your affliction.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Not too long ago, the majority of the labor force in America belonged to the agriculture sector. Farming for subsistence and profit was the primary occupation of most. Long hours were spent each day planting and harvesting crops, feeding and cleaning up after the farm animals, and then cooking and eating the three meals of the day. Sometimes conditions would be very tough and bountiful harvests weren’t always guaranteed. Some years families would struggle and they would prosper in others. All in all, life was still very simple.

Fast forward to today, and almost no one is involved in the agriculture business. Technological advancements have increased farm productivity greatly, requiring far fewer farmers. America’s crop production is so bountiful that the government actually pays farmers to not grow food as a means of controlling prices. As a result of this advancement, food is very readily available to all and a majority of the population is concerned with dieting and losing weight. Fine dining at expensive restaurants, fast food joints, and giant sized supermarkets mean that we have our pick as to what we want to eat and how much we will intake. Most of us now overindulge in eating and as a result, our government has declared an obesity epidemic. One need only watch television for a few minutes a day to find all the latest exercise gadgets and diet fads geared at reducing weight. Though we may be successful at times at losing weight through these methods, we generally gain it all back since we have difficulty sticking to exercise regimens and fanatic diets.

According to Vedic philosophy, the tongue and genitals are the hardest organs to control. One who is able to conquer the urge to overeat and indulge in illicit sex life is rewarded with peace of mind, allowing one to make progress in spiritual understanding. When Lord Rama, Krishna’s incarnation in the Treta Yuga, was banished to the forest for fourteen years by His father Maharaja Dashratha, His wife Sita Devi wanted to accompany Him. According to the Vedic system, schooling occurs at the home of a spiritual master, known as the gurukula. Under the direction of the guru, boys living a celibate lifestyle, are taught about spiritual matters, including how to control one’s eating. Students at the gurukula, known as brahmacharis, would beg from door to door to collect alms which would be given to the guru. The guru would then disperse this food amongst his students. If a student didn’t receive any food, it was understood that he would have to fast until the next day or whenever the guru would provide him food. This system of austerity taught the students how to regulate their eating habits.

When Sita Devi was making her case to Lord Rama as to why she should be allowed to come to the forest with Him, she made it a point to say that she would gladly live upon “roots and fruits” during the exile period. Sita Devi was raised in the kingdom of Maharaja Janaka of Mithila from her childhood and was thus accustomed to eating the most sumptuous foods. Women would not attend school during that time, so she had no formal training in regulating her eating habits. Yet she was more than willing to give up all rich and good tasting food for the rest of her life in order to please her husband. This is the symptom of a person infused with pure love for God. Lord Rama was God Himself, and Sita Devi was completely devoted to Him. Devotees will undergo any amount of penance and austerity to make the Lord happy. In fact, this life is meant for tapasya, the voluntary acceptance of austerities aimed at delivering spiritual advancement. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita,

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Bg. 6.16)

Only one who has their senses regulated can raise themselves to the platform of love of God. If we have our senses in control, then we can realize Krishna is within us as the Supersoul, and thus we can always enjoy the bliss that comes with His association.

Lord Shiva“My dear Lord, only by Your mercy and grace can the living entity get the human form of life, which is a chance to get out of the miserable condition of material existence. However, a person who possesses a human body but who cannot bring the senses under control is carried away by the waves of sensual enjoyment. As such, he cannot take shelter of Your lotus feet and thus engage in Your devotional service. The life of such a person is very unfortunate, and anyone living such a life of darkness is certainly cheating himself and thus cheating others also.” (Lord Shiva, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 8)

Sita Devi, though belonging to the woman class, whom the Vedas consider as having a lower birth along with vaishyas and shudras, had her senses completely under control, and was thus allowed to accompany Lord Rama to the forest. This proves that pure devotees can transcend any and all material designations. One may be a man, woman, brahmana, or shudra, but these classifications are only for people who haven’t attained a pure love for Krishna. The Vedas allow such people to make gradual spiritual advancement by following the prescribed dharma for their specific class. However, bhagavata-dharma, pure devotional service to Krishna, is the highest form of worship and is available to everyone, even the animals. Thus Sita Devi was more than just the perfect woman, she was the perfect devotee.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Ishvara Parama Krishna

Lord Krishna “Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)

The internet revolution has brought about great advancements in the dissemination of information. We can quickly search for information on virtually any topic. This is generally a good thing, but it has its drawbacks as well.

According to Vedic teachings, knowledge of God should be heard through the process of disciplic succession, from someone who knows Lord Krishna. That person is the spiritual master, or the pure devotee of the Lord. The pure devotee spends all his time in devotional service to Krishna, thus the Lord reveals Himself to such a person. The devotee has no other interest than to please Krishna, so thus he is the proper person to go to. There are many other mundane scholars who study the Bhagavad-gita and come up with their own concocted theories about Krishna. Some say that He is just an ordinary human being, while others say that the Gita’s teachings are merely symbolic and not to be taken literally. Such people can be classified as atheists.

The internet provides freedom of access, allowing anyone and everyone to publish their thoughts and ideas. One of the drawbacks to this is that one can find conflicting and contradictory information on the internet on matters relating to religion and Krishna. Shankaracharya instituted the Mayavada, or impersonalist, philosophical interpretation of the Vedas in the late eighth century, and that philosophy has gained widespread popularity ever since. Thus the internet is filled information and opinions along this line, i.e. that God is impersonal and that the point of human life is to study Vedanta and hopefully one day merge into the impersonal effulgence known as the brahmajyoti.

“Everyone serves the purpose of the Supreme Godhead, and what to speak of such small and insignificant living entities as ourselves? We are surely eternal servants of the Lord. The Mayavada philosophy maintains that the demigods, the living entities and the Supreme Personality of Godhead are all equal. It is therefore a most foolish misrepresentation of Vedic knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.157 Purport)

Mayavadis tend to think that each of us are personal Gods, and that the Supreme Absolute Truth is an impersonal energy, called Brahman. They take Lord Krishna and His various incarnations to be human beings or regular living entities, products subject to the spell of maya. The Lord describes the foolishness of such people in the Bhagavad-gita, yet if one does internet searches on Lord Krishna or Lord Rama, one will encounter many such teachings of the Mayavadis. Some people even go so far as to criticize the activities of Krishna, focusing especially on His dancing with the gopis in the rasa-lila. The pastimes of Krishna are detailed in the tenth canto of the Shrimad Bhagavatam.  Many people ignore what is contained in the rest of the book, namely that Krishna is God, and instead cherry-pick certain things which they can use to criticize the Lord.

Lord Chaitanya warned us to stay away from such philosophy and try not to even hear it at all. He believed that one who was instructed in the ways of the Mayavada philosophy would have a very difficult time coming to the platform of love for Krishna.

Vyasadeva composed the Vedanta-sutra to deliver the conditioned souls from this material world, but Shankaracharya, by presenting the Vedanta-sutra in his own way, has clearly done a great disservice to human society, for one who follows his Mayavada philosophy is doomed. In the Vedanta-sutra, devotional service is clearly indicated, but the Mayavadi philosophers refuse to accept the spiritual body of the Supreme Absolute Person and refuse to accept that the living entity has an individual existence separate from that of the Supreme Lord. Thus they have created atheistic havoc all over the world, for such a conclusion is against the very nature of the transcendental process of pure devotional service. The Mayavadi philosophers' unrealizable ambition to become one with the Supreme through denying the existence of the Personality of Godhead results in a most calamitous misrepresentation of spiritual knowledge, and one who follows this philosophy is doomed to remain perpetually in this material world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.114 Purport)

Krishna People are naturally inclined to think of God as being personal; someone we should worship and be devoted to. By reading about or hearing the Mayavada philosophy, one is taken away from their natural inclination to know and love God. Even for those who are already devoted, reading such philosophy can be very depressing. We all love our parents and we never like it when others criticize them. In the same way, Krishna is our original father, and seeing Him treated as an ordinary human being is very offensive. The mind should be purified by thinking good thoughts.

The internet represents one of the most advanced forms of communication, so we should take advantage of this medium to disseminate the truth about Krishna. God is very nice to us, so we should be equally kind to Him by using everything at our disposal to distribute His Mercy to everyone. If we hear the truth about Krishna and lovingly serve Him, then no contradictory philosophy can ever touch us.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

God is One

Krishna and His avatars“Since everyone has a different body and mind, different types of religions are needed. But when one is situated on the spiritual platform, there are no bodily and mental differences. Consequently on the absolute platform there is oneness in religion.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 17.184 Purport)

Jesus, Allah, Buddha, Krishna…God has many different names according to different religions. People may ask one another, “Who is your God? Who do you worship?” Though God may have many different names, He is still one. There isn’t a separate God for Hindus and a separate God for Christians or those following other faiths.

Seeing all the different religions that have existed since the beginning of time, one may think that God is just a man-made creation. This is a common sentiment amongst atheists and pseudo-intellectuals. Though it might seem plausible, the actual fact is that God appears in different forms based on time and circumstance. According to Vedic philosophy, God appears personally on earth when there is a general decline in dharma, or religiosity, amongst the people.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has incarnated throughout history in different forms such as Lord Narasimha, Lord Rama, and even personally as Himself. His specific purpose was different each time. Lord Narasimha came to kill the evil demon Hiranyakashipu, who was tormenting his devotee son, Prahlada. Lord Rama came to kill the demon Ravana, who had disturbed the sacrifices of the brahmanas and was harassing the demigods. Lord Krishna came to deliver the husband and wife pair of Vasudeva and Devaki, who had been imprisoned by Devaki’s evil brother Kamsa. The character of each incarnation was different as well. Lord Narasimha was very ferocious and mercilessly killed Hiranyakashipu. Lord Rama was a great king who was completely devoted to dharma and righteousness. Lord Krishna was much more lenient as far as rules and regulations went, and was most merciful to His purest devotees, the gopis of Vrindavana.

Lord KrishnaGod guides us based on our capacity to learn. The material world is made up of three distinct modes called gunas: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Vedic literature accounts for all these modes by having eighteen different Puranas, which are scriptures relating to ancient Vedic stories. There are six Puranas for each mode. In this way, even if a person is in the mode ignorance, someone who has no desire to learn about God, even that person has a chance to advance spiritually. For example, meat eating is prohibited for the people in the mode of goodness. However, meat eating is very difficult to give up for people living in the mode of ignorance. Thus the Puranas recommend the process of animal sacrifice for such people in the hopes that they will think of God while eating meat. The hope is that as one constantly thinks about God, His spiritual understanding will increase and that he’ll eventually give up the practice of animal sacrifice.

“Primarily, religion means to know God and to love Him. That is religion…if I profess to follow some religion but I do not know who God is or how to love Him, I am practicing a cheating religion.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 1b)

Just because we see different forms of God with different accompanying scriptures, doesn’t mean He is a figment of our imaginations. God is very real, and we should take advantage of this human form of life to get to know and love Him. It is a common practice for people to attend church and ask God to “give us our daily bread”. While this sentiment is nice, God is already providing food to millions of animals who don’t have the capacity to worship Him. God supplies us with all of our necessities. We should strive to reach a higher platform of worship. Instead of asking from God, we should give to Him. That is true love. If we offer our daily bread, or other food that He’s been so kind to give us, then we gradually elevate ourselves to the platform of loving God. That is real religion.

"The supreme occupation, or dharma, for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted in order to completely satisfy the self." (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)

We may see many different rituals, and different processes for spiritual advancement, but the best religion is that which teaches us to love God. In this age, Lord Chaitanya inaugurated the sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” If we commit ourselves to chanting daily and following the process of devotional service, then we will surely see that God is one and that He is in everything and everyone.