Saturday, August 29, 2009

A Divine Vision

Lord Rama “Being installed this day, do you following in the footsteps of your fathers and grandfathers cherish and protect us. With you taking the reins of government, we shall live more happily than we did under your ancestors. We seek not earthly comforts or the highest things in this life, for our only wish is to see Rama installed in the kingdom. There is nothing more pleasing to us than the installation of the highly energetic Rama on the throne.” (Citizens of Ayodhya offering benedictions to Rama prior to His installation as king, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand Sec 17)

The king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, had announced that his eldest son, Rama, God Himself in human form, would be installed as the new king. On the day of the installation, Lord Rama travelled from His residence to the king’s, and the town citizens praised Him as He went by.

One of the first kings ever was Maharaja Ikshvaku. He was highly pious, considered the lord of earth. From him descended a long line of pious kings, of which Dashratha was one. Not having any sons, the king performed a great sacrifice which awarded him four sons, of which Rama was one. Dashratha’s favorite son from the outset, Rama was loved and adored by all. The king couldn’t wait until the day would come when Rama would succeed him on the throne. One day, after properly consulting the learned brahmanas of the kingdom, Dashratha decided the time was right to crown Rama as his successor.

We can understand from the above referenced verse that the citizens of Ayodhya were highly advanced devotees for they were given the opportunity to directly witness Lord Rama’s pastimes. In the modern day governments of the world, leaders of democratic nations are elected to their posts directly by the citizens. A simple majority vote is usually required to win office, meaning that even the most popular of leaders doesn’t enjoy universal favorability. In America, polling firms take daily tracking polls of a president’s favorability rating. As long as a president is approved of by at least fifty percent of those polled, he is considered to be popular. That still means almost half the population isn’t happy with the job the president is doing.

This was not the case during Lord Rama’s time. The people knew that the Lord loved them all equally and that He didn’t favor any one group over another as leaders do today. They all approved of Him. As a prince following the duties of the kshatriya order, Rama would have to punish people from time to time. Yet even those people couldn’t find any faults in Him.

“I do not find any such man in this world, even amongst great enemies, who, forsaken for heinous sins, can cite, even in His absence, any fault of Him.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya about Lord Rama, Vm, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 21)

As stated previously, Lord Rama was born into a very auspicious family, which had a great heritage dating back many generations to King Ikshvaku. They were all extremely pious men who were dedicated to dharma, or religiosity. The citizens were well aware of the family history, but still they were the most pleased when Rama was to be installed.

The attitude of the people also represents the highest form of devotion to God. People who turn to God can be classified into one of four categories:

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me-the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 7.16)

Lord RamaMost of us fall into either the first or second category. We ask God for things: “Please take away my pain. God, give us our daily bread. God, why am I in such distress?” Undoubtedly, it is always beneficial to us anytime we can think of God.. However, true love means wanting more for the person you love than you want for yourself. The citizens of Ayodhya didn’t want anything from Lord Rama. Instead they only wished to see Him happy, in the same way that a parent wants more for their children than they want for themselves. The citizens had completely renounced all worldly comforts. Their happiness was tied to God’s. Achieving this state of mind means one has perfected their life.

As it turned out, Providence would play its role, and Rama would be denied the kingdom on that day. Banished to the forest by his father, the citizens would have to suffer the pains of separation from the Lord for fourteen years. Fear not, for Rama would triumphantly return and fulfill the wish of his devotees. The lesson we take away from this is that God always hears us. If we truly love Him and always think of Him, then He’ll deliver us from any calamity.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Perfect Yoga

Hanuman practicing bhakti yoga “The hatha-yoga system is meant for controlling the five kinds of air encircling the pure soul by different kinds of sitting postures-not for any material profit, but for liberation of the minute soul from the entanglement of the material atmosphere.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhavagad-gita, 2.17 Purport)

Yoga has become a very popular phenomenon in the modern age. One can find classes, books, and videos on yoga everywhere. It has become such a profitable business that people are even inventing their own forms of yoga and marketing it to the masses. Though there are many different forms of yoga, today the term is generally associated with the system of hatha-yoga, which involves various sitting postures and breathing exercises.

People generally take to yoga so that they can improve their overall health. Athletes take to it as a means of increasing their stamina and flexibility. That in turn relates to longer careers and greater earnings. Yoga’s effectiveness lies in its requirement that one be steady of mind. We see examples of this in our daily lives. If we are concentrated on our particular job or hobby, then we are more likely to be successful at it. Superstar golfer Tiger Woods is known for his impeccable concentration. When on the green, he says that he pictures the ball going into the cup prior to putting. This technique allows him to visualize his putts prior to striking the ball. Being lost in the moment or being in the “zone” as athletes call it, is a wonderful feeling. The mind is always hankering or lamenting, but when concentrated on something, it is at peace.

Tiger Woods These activities represent a form of yoga, as it defined today, since the mind is steadily brought under control. However, real yoga actually means linking our consciousness with God. It was a system invented by God and passed down through generations by the great sages of India. It shouldn’t be surprising to find out that a system that was intended to bring spiritual benefits will also have accompanying material benefits. The various breathing exercises and sitting postures are all aimed at eliminating the effect of the senses and towards controlling the mind on Vishnu, or God. Gradually over time, the system has degraded into nothing more than a set of gymnastics exercises.

People saw the potential material benefits afforded to yogis, so they jumped on the bandwagon, eliminating God from the picture completely. Many students in the modern day yoga classes are even accustomed to reciting the syllable of om, though they have no idea what it really means. Some even go so far as to say that om is just a peaceful sound that helps one in their practice of yoga. From the Bhagavad-gita, we get the true definition:

“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bg, 7.8)

Om, which stands for omkara, is the original transcendental sound. It is non-different from Krishna. Therefore all important Vedic rituals begin with this sound.

“…the omkara transcendental sound used in the beginning of every Vedic hymn to address the Supreme Lord also emanates from Him. Because the impersonalists are very much afraid of addressing the Supreme Lord Krishna by His innumerable names, they prefer to vibrate the transcendental sound omkara. But they do not realize that omkara is the sound representation of Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg 7.8 Purport)

In this day and age, the hatha-yoga system is very difficult to perform successfully. Lord Krishna describes the strict rules required for success at such a system in the Bhagavad-gita. One is required to live in a secluded place, and completely abstain from sex life.

“Persons learned in the Vedas, who utter omkara and who are great sages in the renounced order, enter into Brahman. Desiring such perfection, one practices celibacy…” (Lord Krishna, Bg 8.11)

Lord Shiva in meditation With the hustle and bustle in today’s society, practicing yoga in such conditions is very impractical. Therefore, Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s incarnation in the Kali Yuga, advised us to simply chant the holy names of God: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”. This process, executed with love and devotion, is known as bhakti-yoga. It is the best form of yoga because it involves the two direct processes of sravanam and kirtanam, hearing and chanting. By lovingly repeating the Lord’s name, we control our speech. At the same time, we purify our hearing as mundane noise is drowned out by the sound of God’s names.

By steadily chanting, we raise ourselves to the platform of loving God, which means always thinking of Him. If we’re always thinking of Him, then we’ll be performing the highest form of yoga. Playing sports, listening to music, or exercising may give some temporary comfort for the mind, but real happiness comes when we focus our mind on God. If we make loving God our number one occupation, then we reap the rewards of the all yoga systems combined.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Remover of Fears

Rama Darbar “Being fearless in your company, Oh my intelligent husband and great hero, I shall behold on all sides ponds filled with wild geese and ducks and beautified with a collection of full-blown lotuses, and shall bathe there every day, pursuing the same vow with you…” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

At its core, animal life consists of eating, sleeping, mating and fearing. These four activities are evidenced in all animal species, from the aquatics all the way to human beings. Lions protecting their cubs from attackers, penguins protecting their eggs from the harsh cold, and human beings protecting their children are all examples of the mode of defense in action.

Human beings have a greater sense of intelligence than other animals, and a result, we tend to fear and defend more things than simply our immediate family. We develop attachment to our various material possessions, and we are constantly trying to protect them. In the modern age, the concept of insurance has arisen as a means of alleviating our fears. We have insurance to protect our cars, our homes, our health, and even our life. The advanced technological age has brought about an increase in material wealth and with that, an increase in the need to defend. Human beings fear things that they don’t know or understand, and they also fear failing at their endeavors. The greatest fear of all is the fear of leaving this material world at the time of death.

So how does one alleviate these worries? According to Vedic philosophy, knowledge is the ultimate weapon in our battle against fear.

“A faithful man who is absorbed in transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.39)

Knowledge means strength, and strength means victory over our enemies. We have first-hand experience of this from our own life experiences. We may have been initially afraid to learn how to drive a car, but through practice we gained enough knowledge to the point where we can now drive without even being consciously aware of it. Eventually our fear was removed. When starting a new job, we might be afraid that we won’t be able to successfully perform our duties. Yet through time and experience, we gain a better understanding of our work requirements, and our fears are removed. Often times our acquired knowledge is so vast, that we gain the confidence to teach others and remove their fears in the process.

Knowledge and experience are the only way to remove our regular mundane worries, but we see that new fears keep popping up. As single adults, we’re afraid that we’ll never get married and be forced to die alone. After getting married, then we worry about whether the marriage will last or not. After we have children, we spend the rest of our lives worrying about their livelihood. So while knowledge and experience related to material matters may be beneficial, we see that our fears aren’t permanently removed.

According to Vedic philosophy, one must gain an understanding of the soul and its relationship with God in order to be completely worry-free. The Sanskrit term aham brahmasmi, meaning “I am a spirit soul”, is the first step in spiritual understanding. We are all under the misconception that our material bodies represent our identity. Actually, once we die, our material body is destroyed, but our soul is not. The soul represents our real identity, and it is eternal. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita,

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Bg 2.20)

Having an understanding of these facts represents a good base from which to start. Such knowledge is categorized as jnana, or theoretical. Philosophical understanding is nice, but we have to know to use it before we can really grasp its importance. One may have graduated from a respectable university with a law degree, but one truly doesn’t understand the law until they practice it for many years. In the same way, we have to practically apply the transcendental lessons given to us by the Vedic literatures.

Lord Krishna, declared the Supreme Personality of Godhead by the Vedas, incarnated in the Treta Yuga in India as the handsome and pious prince Lord Rama. Rama’s father was King Dashratha of Ayodhya, and he had planned to install the Lord as the new king. However, due to a misjudgment on the king’s part, the Lord’s installation would have to wait, and instead Rama was ordered to live in the forest as a recluse for fourteen years. Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife, was horrified at the prospect of living without her Lord for such a long period. Rama tried His best to dissuade her from following Him, but He was unsuccessful. As part of Sita’s plea to her husband, she let Him know that she would be fearless while in His company.

Women, being the fairer sex, are generally more prone to fearing than men are. This is the way of nature, for men naturally assume the role as protectors of women. Even according to Vedic rules, men are required to provide protection to women at all stages in their life. So how was Sita Devi boldly declaring that she would be fearless? Sita was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who is the wife of Lord Narayana. Narayana is the presiding deity of the universe, and He is no different than Krishna Himself as declared in the Vedas:

"In the beginning of the creation there was only the Supreme Personality Narayana. There was no Brahma, no Shiva, no fire, no moon, no stars in the sky, no sun. There was only Krishna, who creates all and enjoys all."

Lakshmi Narayana Being God’s wife, Sita was one hundred percent devoted to Him. Being raised in kingdom of the pious King Janaka of Mithila, Sita had the philosophical understanding of the soul imparted on her during her childhood. Through her marriage to Rama, she gained the practical understanding of this knowledge by serving God personally. Practical understanding is known as vijnana, and it comes only through the process of devotional service, or bhakti yoga. Bhakti means love and yoga means union of the soul with God. So if we love God, then we always stay with Him and He always stays with us.

Practicing bhakti yoga raises us to the brahma-bhuta platform of understanding. According to Lord Krishna, our fears are completely removed once we reach this platform:

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Bg, 18.54)

The system of bhakti yoga is executed through nine different processes: hearing, chanting, remembering, serving the Lord’s lotus feet, worshipping His deity, offering prayers, following His orders, serving as a friend, and completely surrendering everything to Him. Sita Devi, being the perfect devotee and wife of the Lord, actually practiced and perfected all nine of these processes. Such a great soul is very rare. For us mere mortals, perfecting even one of these processes will make our lives successful. In this age, Lord Chaitanya has stated that chanting is the easiest and most effective method for transcendental realization. Chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the best weapon in our war against fear.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Radhashtami 2009

Radha Krishna “O Radha, you are dearer to me than my life even and I am like the same to you. There has been no point of separation or difference between us. Both of us have one and the same form.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Radha just prior to their advent on earth, Brahmavaivarta Purana, Krishna-Janma Khand)

Radhashtami is the appearance day celebration of Shrimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Lord Krishna. Just as we take our spouse to be our partner for life, God has a life partner in His eternal consorts. Though He has different forms and incarnations such as Rama, Narasimha, Varaha, etc., according to the Brahmavaivarta, Vishnu, and Bhagavata Puranas, Krishna is the original form of God. Krishna’s immediate expansion and pleasure potency is Radharani, often referred to just as Radha.

Radha is known as Krishna’s pleasure potency, hladini-shakti. Krishna is the energetic and Radha is His energy, similar to the way wives are referred to as the better-half of their husbands. She is completely engrossed in thoughts of Krishna, loving Him purely and perfectly. Actually, it is not possible for one to love Krishna more than Radha does, for out of all the gopis, she is Krishna’s favorite. Just as there are various forms of Krishna, so there exist many expansions of Radha. All the great demigoddesses and the various Lakshmis are all considered to emanate from her. Radhashtami is celebrated because it marks the anniversary of when she took birth on this earth some five thousand years ago.

Just like Krishna, Radha is eternal, so she technically doesn’t take birth in the material world. For this reason, the occasion of her birth is referred to as her appearance day. According to the different Puranas, there are several versions of the story relating to the circumstances of her appearance. The reason for this is that God reenacts His pastimes on earth over and over again in the different kalpas, or creations. The general story is that Radha, Krishna, and their associates were enjoying their pastimes on the spiritual planet of Krishnaloka, when a misunderstanding arose between Radha and Krishna’s friend Shridama over Krishna’s playing with one of the gopis. As a result, Shridama cursed Radha to appear on earth and be separated from Krishna for one hundred years. This coincided with Krishna’s appearance on earth, the purpose of which was to kill the demon Kamsa and to deliver His dependents. Naturally whenever God comes to earth, He brings His closest associates with him.

Radharani appeared fifteen days after Krishna did, as the daughter of Vrishabhanu and Kirtida.

“The birth of Radharani was not from the womb of any human being. She was found by her father in the field. While father was plowing, he saw one little nice child is lying there, and he had no children, so he caught it and presented to the queen, ‘Oh, here we have got a very nice child.’ ‘How you got?’ ‘Oh, in the field.’ Just see. Radharani's janma is like that.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, Montreal, Aug. 30, 1968)

As the tradition goes, Radha actually didn’t open her eyes for the first few days, a fact which worried her parents. They were concerned that she might be blind, so they invited the venerable Narada Muni to come and assess the situation. He was immediately taken aback after seeing Radha, for he knew she was no ordinary child. He advised Vrishabhanu not to worry and to hold an elaborate feast and invite Nanda and Yashoda, the foster-parents of Krishna. When baby Krishna came over, He crawled to Radha’s crib to look at her.  When she finally opened her eyes, Krishna was the first person she saw.

Radha Krishna In their youth, the two enjoyed many wonderful pastimes in Vrindavana, but sadly the Lord would have to leave and finish His pastimes in Mathura and Dvaraka. Radha and the other gopis were left in Vrindavana always pining for the Lord. Such a separation may seem like a bad thing, but it actually brings about a pleasurable feeling. Worshiping the Lord in the mood of separation was the process recommended by Lord Chaitanya, for it is very blissful and arouses feelings of Krishna prema. Radhrani’s separation anxiety was very great and she even declared that no one except Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife, knew what she was experiencing.

“This type of grief was known either to Sita or to me. Compared to me, there is no one else in the three worlds whose mind is so painful. Can any woman believe in my pain after looking at me? Oh son Uddhava, what other women have faced such a type of grief? Among women, there is no one who is so badly suffering like Radha, who is suffering from separation from her Lord and is devoid of fortune and is completely grief-stricken. There is no one else among the damsels feeling more painful at heart than Radhika. In this universe the husband who happens to be the kalpavriksha (wish-fulfilling tree) was achieved by me, but I have been deprived of the same because of cruel destiny. With one look at His lotus-like feet as well as His moon-like face and His costumes, my birth and my life have become successful. With the hearing of whose name all the life airs become activated and sprout like flowers and the soul is filled with affection, the one who touched me at the time of conjugal pleasure and with that I enjoyed the glory of the three worlds. How can I forget such a lord by getting any amount of riches?” (Radharani speaking to Krishna’s friend and envoy Uddhava, Brahmavaivarta Purana, Krishna-Janma Khand)

There is no difference between God and His name.  Merely thinking of Him and reciting His name means we are in direct association with Him. In this way, there is actually never any separation between the Lord and His devotees. Devotees typically fast until noon on Radhashtami and then have discussions about Radha and Krishna. The best way to celebrate the grand pair is to always call chant their holy names found in the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Krishna is the original name of God and Hare refers to the Lord’s energy in the form of Radha. Jai Shri Radhe!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Joys of Childhood

Krishna and Balarama eating butter “In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.57)

Most of us look back very fondly on our childhood. It was a time of care-free innocence where we didn’t worry about much. When we weren’t in school, we would spend all our time playing or having some sort of fun. We never really worried about anything.

When we become adults, we notice this same attitude reflected in the children that we meet. When out in a public setting, we always see children running around, talking to strangers, and breaking all the rules of social etiquette. For the most part, this behavior is excused by the adults because they understand the innocence of the child. Kids don’t know any better, and they mean well. They aren’t very self conscious and they view everyone as their friend.

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu says that the actual identity of every living creature is that he is the eternal servant of God. If one thinks like that—‘I am no one else's servant; my business is to serve God’—then he is liberated. His heart is immediately cleansed, and he is liberated. And after one has reached that, then all one's cares and anxieties in this world are over because one knows, ‘I am a servant of God. God will give me protection. Why should I worry about anything?’ It is just like a child. A child knows that his mother and father will take care of him. He is free. If he should go to touch fire, his mother will take care of him: ‘Oh, my dear child, don't touch.’ The mother is always looking after him. So why don't you put your trust in God? Actually, you are under the protection of God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 8a)

The bliss that children feel is a result of knowing that their parents will always be there to protect them. A child doesn’t worry about how he or she will eat dinner that night or whether they will have enough money to pay the bills. Their mother and father take care of everything, so they are free to enjoy life without any worries.

Lava and Kusha with Mother Sita Devi Though they are just children and don’t have any understanding of the real world, adults can learn a lesson by observing their behavior. Now that we are older, we are more susceptible to be illusioned, one of the four defects of man. Man is subject to four primary defects: being easily illusioned, being prone to commit mistakes, having a propensity to cheat, and having imperfect senses. After finishing school and holding a steady job, we think ourselves the doers of everything. We gather worldly possessions and then start to worry about how we will maintain them. Living with our spouse and children can be one the more stressful stages of our life. Having children means constantly worrying about their safety and well-being. “Are my kids safe? Will I have enough money to support my family? Am I saving enough for them to be able to go to college?” On top of these worries, one has to manage the household affairs, keeping track of bills and expenditures, and making sure that the children are properly attending school and finishing their homework. It’s a life full of worry. While we should definitely be concerned with the welfare of our family, we needn’t be too worried about material affairs since God actually takes care of everything. Our constant hankering and lamenting is actually due to our forgetfulness of the relationship we have with God.

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is our original father. He provides protection to all His devotees. It’s just a matter of us realizing that He’s there. If we recognize the fact that He’s always looking after us, it will be much easier for us to approach Him. Through the process of devotional service, we can learn to become attached to Krishna, which will result in all our fears being vanquished. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord Himself says that we should practice devotion and make our minds transcendentally situated.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)

No more hankering and no more lamenting. Being fully conscious of God, our fears vanish. We return to the mindset that we had during our childhood and enjoy a blissful spiritual life. In this day and age, the best way to elevate our spiritual consciousness is to constantly chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” It’s so simple, even a child can do it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Rules of Etiquette

Mother Yashoda feeding Krishna “The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.13)

Depending on the customs and norms of a specific society, there are certain rules of etiquette that are generally followed. Attending formal wedding receptions, tipping a waiter at a restaurant, and even in playing sports, rules of etiquette dictate our behavior in a wide range of social environments.

In America for example, it customary to bring cash gifts to a wedding. The attendees try to estimate the cost incurred to the host for their food and beverage at the wedding. The amount of the cash gift should be equal to or greater than this cost. When dining out at a restaurant, one is expected to leave a gratuity to the waiter of an amount between fifteen to twenty percent of the total bill. When playing the sport of tennis, players raise their hand up and apologize for points won through good luck, such as a miss-hit or the ball hitting the net cord.

These are just some of the examples of standard etiquette and there are many more associated with all sorts of activities. The one thing all these rules have in common is that they are all voluntarily implemented. No one is required to leave a tip in a restaurant or hold a door open for someone else. Yet the majority of society follows these rules. The reason they are followed is that human beings naturally have a tendency to serve. Etiquette represents a way for us to serve our fellow man and to show respect to others. By voluntarily abiding by them, we are thinking outside of our own desires, and giving attention to the feelings of others. Such activity naturally purifies us, since we are happiest when we are acting unselfishly.

The Vedas, the ancient books of knowledge originating in India, have many rules and regulations relating to etiquette. People living in the householder stage of life, known as grihastha, are obligated to serve the members of the other orders of society. Householders are involved in fruitive activity to procure wealth, religiosity, and sense gratification. While there is nothing wrong with earning a living, the Vedas teach a householder to use that wealth for spiritual advancement. For example, when eating, a householder is advised to first offer food to God, and then to distribute that food to the guests of the house. Only after the guests have finished eating is the householder allowed to eat whatever remains. It is also the standard etiquette that the wife and other women in the family don’t eat until after the male members have finished. Those growing up in Hindu families are very familiar with this custom. When attending family gatherings, one will often see all the women huddled together in the kitchen and the men together in a separate room. When it comes time to eat, the children and elderly are served first, followed by the men, with the women eating after everyone has finished. It takes much cajoling from the men to get the women to eat with them, for the women are very hesitant to break with tradition.

Such a system isn’t chauvinistic, but it is a means for creating a happy family life. According to the Vedas, the wife serves the husband, and the husband protects the wife. This leads to a peaceful life, leaving time for spiritual advancement. The wife shares whatever spiritual merits her husband accumulates, thus it is in her interest to see the husband succeed in his endeavors.

Sita RamaSita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, who was God Himself, was very well acquainted with these rules of etiquette pertaining to husband-wife relations. Aside from being an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Narayana, Sita was raised in the kingdom of one of the most pious kings in history, Maharaja Janaka of Mithila. Though receiving no formal education in the Vedas, she was taught properly at home by her parents, which along with her inherent qualities, made her the perfect women. Her husband, Lord Rama, was ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years by His father King Dashratha. Instead of remaining home as Lord Rama had asked her to do, Sita insisted on following the Lord to the forest. As part of her plea, she informed Him that she would always walk before Him and take her meals only after He had eaten.

“Always I shall precede you when walking, and shall take my repast after you have taken it, willing am I to view mountains, rivulets, lakes, and ponds.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Aside from being proper etiquette for a wife, this also represents the rule that should be followed by devotees of God. Similar to the concept of saying grace, the Vedas teach us to offer our food to Krishna prior to eating. God is kind enough to provide us plenty of milk, fruits, and food grains for our survival. We should offer these foodstuffs to His deity prior to eating as a way of thanking Him. The Lord is so kind that He spiritually eats the food, but then leaves everything for us. The remaining food is known as prasadam, meaning the Lord’s mercy.

Sita Devi’s example is a very nice one to follow for devotees of the Lord. God is completely self-satisfied and requires nothing from us, but He gladly accepts anything offered to Him with love and devotion. Loving Krishna means following the highest standard of etiquette.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Power of Love

Hanuman carrying a mountain “Devotional service alone is competent to award a devotee all material power. A pure devotee, however, is never attached to material power, although he gets it very easily without personal endeavor." (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.16.28 Purport)

Every person wants to attain some type of power. The material world consists of three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and false ego. It is this ego that causes one to crave attention in the form of fame and fortune which come as a result of the acquisition of some sort of power or perfection in a certain field.

Since the material world means a place where material qualities exist, known as gunas, each person has different desires. In fact, that is the definition of karma, i.e. work performed with desire for fruitive results. Karma is the cause of our being in this material world and it is also the determining factor of the type of body we will have in the next life. Some people seek power in the form of yogic siddhis. We are all familiar with the term yoga, which we generally associate with the hatha yoga system involving various breathing exercises and sitting postures. Yoga actually means to have union of the soul with Krishna, or God. The hatha-yoga system was created as a way to allow those who are overly attached to their senses to be able to break free of them. This system naturally has very nice side effects, among which are the yogic siddhis. Siddhi means a perfection or an extraordinary power, and by practicing this type of yoga very strictly and sincerely one can gain such powers as being able to become infinitesimally small (anima), being able to travel to various planets at the speed of the mind, and being able to determine the time of one’s death. The full list is delineated in the Vedic scriptures.

One doesn’t have to a yogi to crave material power. Bodybuilders train very hard to be able to have a physique which they can show off in magazines and on videos. They strive to be able to lift very heavy weights, wanting to bench-press more than anyone else in their field. Politicians are some of the more well-known seekers of power. In today’s political scene, it is more and more common to find that the people who run for office are already millionaires in their private life. Having amassed large amounts of money, they still aren’t satisfied and thus they look to politics as a means of acquiring even more power. Once they get into office, they have a very difficult time giving up the post. In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently got the legislature to change an existing law that would have limited his term in office. He is now free to run for mayor again. These term-limit laws were enacted by the public as a way of preventing one person from amassing too much power by remaining in office indefinitely. The first president of the United States, George Washington, voluntarily stepped down after serving two terms, a tradition which was honored for almost one hundred fifty years after that. However, during the early 1930s, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt was elected to office for an unprecedented four terms. So unwilling to give up his position, he eventually died in office. Congress subsequently passed the twenty-second amendment to the Constitution which now limits presidents to serving only two terms.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt On the surface, acquiring powers or other perfections in material endeavors may not seem like a bad thing. We all have to do something with our time after all, for the mind must always be active. We all must be engaged in some activity or another, and striving to achieve our goals is a good way to stay occupied. The problem is that these material perfections are all temporary. One may acquire a massive amount of wealth, but that money doesn’t come with us after we die. We may be a great big politician loved and adored by all, but that can all be taken away in a second, as we saw with Mahatma Gandhi. Not only are these acquisitions of power only temporary, but they also require great effort to secure. Bodybuilders spend hours and hours in the gym torturing themselves by lifting heavy weights. In fact, the proper technique for increasing the mass of the body muscles is to actually hurt them by lifting heavier and heavier weights. The muscles eventually grow as a result of being pushed to the limit. Yogic siddhis are similarly difficult to acquire. One must go to a secluded place, concentrating the mind very seriously on the Supreme Lord for long periods of time. The rules and regulations are very strict.

And what does one gain from these perfections? According to the Vedas, this human form of life is meant for God realization. Any activity which helps us achieve this goal is worthwhile, and anything that takes us further away from God is considered a waste of time. In actuality, one doesn’t have to work very hard to achieve all these material perfections, for they come naturally to those who engage themselves in devotional service. Technically known as bhakti yoga, devotional service is the discipline of dovetailing all of one’s activities with the desires of the Supreme Lord Krishna. One may wonder what these activities entail. They can be anything actually. One can be singing and thinking of God. One can even be eating nice food and thinking of God. There are nine distinct processes of bhakti yoga, as outlined by Prahlada Maharaja: hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, becoming friends with Him, and surrendering everything to Him. One can attain perfection of life by only engaging in one of these processes.

Hanuman and his pastimes Lord Hanuman is a great example of someone who acquired tremendous power simply as a result of serving the Lord. Born as a Vanara, a monkey with human-like characteristics, Hanuman had tremendous power that he was completely unaware of. Having had his jaw broken in his youth by the demigod Indra, Hanuman was completely pious and devoted to God but he had no recollection of his immense strength. However, when the time came to serve Lord Rama, God Himself, Hanuman became reacquainted with his strength. He had the power to make himself larger than a mountain and to fly through the air with the speed of the wind, for he was the son of the wind god, Vayu. Hanuman could also assume any shape at will, which was similar to a power possessed by Rakshasa demons. However, Hanuman used all these powers for one purpose, to rescue Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife, from the clutches of Ravana. A Rakshasa demon of a terrible nature, Ravana had kidnapped Sita from the forest while Rama and His brother Lakshmana were not around. His kingdom was on the island of Lanka and Hanuman was the one deputed to find Sita and bring back the details of her whereabouts to Lord Rama. Aside from finding Sita, Hanuman playfully set fire to the city of Lanka and also served as the chief warrior in Lord Rama’s fight against Ravana and his band of Rakshasas. Rama proved victorious and he awarded Hanuman with eternal devotion to Him. To this day, Hanuman is synonymous with love and devotion to Lord Rama, and also strength and courage in one’s religious endeavors.

Hanuman worshiping the lotus feet of Rama Attaining perfections and acquiring power is not prohibited according to the Vedas, but it just needs to be used for the right purpose. Hanuman was never puffed up with his power, for he viewed himself as a humble servant of the Lord. This is the example to follow. The only thing required from us is that we be sincere in our devotional service. Seeing that, God will automatically provide us all the necessary tools to serve Him properly.