Saturday, September 5, 2009

Strategy For Success

Krishna displaying His universal form “The devotees can constantly think of the object of worship, the Supreme Lord, in any of His features, Narayana, Krishna, Rama, etc., by chanting Hare Krishna. This practice will purify him, and at the end of his life, due to his constant chanting, he will be transferred to the kingdom of God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 8.8, Purport)

A good strategy is required in order to be successful in any venture. Whether we’re playing sports, video games, gambling, running for political office, or even starting a business, a proper game plan and strategy can make the difference between success and failure.

Most aspiring entrepreneurs create a business plan prior to starting their business. The existence of this document shows potential investors and venture capitalists that the business founder has thought seriously about what it will take to make the business successful. Success doesn’t just happen on its own, for it requires a roadmap that must be followed in the beginning stages before the company has its first customer. In the game of chess, the players that are the most successful are the ones that have a strategy from the outset, thinking one or two moves ahead of the current situation in the game. Politicians spend millions of dollars on campaign consultants and television advertising as part of their strategy to win more votes than their opponent at the ballot box. The candidate with the better public relations strategy will have a much greater chance of winning the election. The game of American football requires a strategy from both teams right from the outset. Before the ball is even snapped signaling the start of a play, both the offense and defense map out and designate a task for each player on the field. The team which can outthink their opponent will have a better chance of winning the game.

A good strategy is one that correctly identifies one’s own strengths and weaknesses, and those of their competition. A game plan must be forward thinking, anticipating any potential pitfalls and hurdles that may come up. Most importantly however, one must be able to change their strategy when necessary. An example of this was seen in the sport of professional tennis. In the 2004 Wimbledon men’s final, Andy Roddick was tied at one set all with defending champion Roger Federer, when he took a lead over Federer in the third set. Unfortunately, rain then halted play. In men’s tennis, players are not allowed to receive coaching during a match, but since there was a rain delay, both players were allowed to consult with their families and coaches while play was halted. Roddick had been playing a great match, being very aggressive. This play had taken Federer aback and he was having a hard time adjusting to it. During the rain delay, Federer’s good friend advised him to change his strategy and to start charging the net. Federer would heed this advice, and as soon as play resumed, Federer came back to win the third set and eventually the match. Federer was able to adjust his strategy to the situation, and Roddick was not.

Federer and Roddick - 2004 Wimbledon According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, a good strategy is also required for one to be successful in spiritual life. Living entities are spirit souls at their core, and due to their desires, or karma, they have been forced to accept bodies with material qualities. Since we all have different desires, we see varieties in species, 8,400,000 to be exact. The human form of life is considered the best because it represents the chance for the soul to understand and love God, and thereby break out of the repeated cycle of birth and death in the material world. In order to understand God, one must follow a proper game plan under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master. Not all strategies are the same when it comes to self-realization. The Vedas declare that each creation of the material world is divided into four Yugas, or time periods. The first time period is when man is completely pure.  This purity diminishes by one fourth through each successive period. We are currently in the fourth period, known as Kali Yuga, where dharma, or religiosity, exists only at one fourth its full strength.

For each age, the Vedas recommend a specific method of self-realization as being most effective. In the first age, known as Satya Yuga, tapasya was the recommended path for spiritual realization. Tapasya is the voluntary practice of austerities in hopes of advancing in spiritual realization. Great saints and sages used to meditate for thousands upon thousands of years in order to increase their devotion to God. Men could do this because society was completely pure and thus everyone could utilize the full capacity of their brains. In the second age, known as Treta Yuga, the practice of yajna, or elaborate sacrifice, was recommended. The great kings of the world would regularly perform yajnas such as the Vajpayee, Rajasuya, and Ashwamedha in hopes of receiving benedictions from God. In the Dvapara Yuga, the age that followed, the practice of archanam, or deity worship was recommended. The deity is the physical representation of the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna, usually in the form of a statue or a picture. Worshipping the Lord’s deity is as good as worshipping Him directly.

Deities of Radha Krishna In this age of Kali, the recommended practice is sankirtana, or the congregational chanting of the Holy names of the Lord. This process was inaugurated by the Lord Himself in His incarnation as Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who appeared on earth some five hundred years ago in India. We live in an age of great material advancement, unprecedented in human history. Unlike the people who lived in the Satya Yuga, most of us don’t perform any kind of tapasya, which in turn has left our senses unrestricted. Due to this fact, our capacity for spiritual understanding has diminished. Involved primarily in worrying about eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, our minds have no time to think about God or to ponder the question of why we are put on this earth. However, the Lord is so nice that knowing this, He has incarnated in the form of His holy name. The practice of sankirtana takes activities that we already perform, like singing and dancing, and spiritualizes them. There is no difference between God and His name, so when we chant His name or read about Him in books or talk about Him or sing songs glorifying Him, then He automatically comes to us. God is one even though he may be called by many different names in the various religions of the world. In the Vedas, God’s original name is Krishna, which means “all-attractive”. Simply by calling out Krishna’s name, we are performing direct worship of God.

To practice sankirtana, the great acharyas have prescribed the constant recitation of the Maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” for everyone. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada directed all his disciples to chant sixteen rounds of this mantra on their japa beads every day. One round of japa is performed by repeating a specific mantra 108 times, so completing sixteen rounds can take a few hours, but it is well worth the investment. There are no restrictions on chanting since God is for everyone. Any person, be they a man or woman, Hindu or Christian, black or white, can take up this chanting process. It may seem trivial, but it makes a huge difference in one’s quality of life. By chanting God’s name, we automatically think of Him and our love for Him grows. Following this strategy, we are sure to be successful in fulfilling the real mission of life, to know and love God.

Friday, September 4, 2009

Special Treatment

Sita Rama “I shall go there in that dense forest full of deer, monkeys, and elephants and live there as if under my paternal roof cleaving to Your feet and abiding in Your pleasure.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

In modern day American society, when a youth reaches adulthood, he or she is expected to live independently from their mother and father. Being able to survive independently is a sign that a person has successfully grown up in a material sense, and that the parents’ responsibilities to the child have ended.

For most people, moving out of their parents’ house is a cause for celebration. Parents are seen as a drag on one’s social life and seen as a hindrance to sense gratification. Modern day society is hinged around sex life and the free intermingling of men and women. If a man meets a woman while out on the town, bringing her back home to the parents’ house really isn’t an option. Living independently enables one to enjoy sex life freely and openly. Single men who live by themselves are often referred as living in a “bachelor pad”, a haven for sense gratification. Even when living with a spouse, not having the parents around means couples have freedom from the responsibility of having to care for others.

Sita Devi, who was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago in conjunction with the appearance of Lord Rama. Being the better half of God, she didn’t take birth from a mother or father, but was born out of the earth. The great king, Maharaja Janaka of Mithila, found her one day while ploughing a field.

“As he (Janaka) was ploughing a plain intended for a sacrifice, I rose from under the earth; and (in this sense) I am the daughter of that king. Tending me, with my body covered with dust, Janaka, engaged in throwing handfuls of dust (to level hollow spots), was struck with amazement. Being childless, he took me on his lap from affection and saying, ‘This is my daughter’, conceived affection for me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 118)

Janaka finding Sita Sita was given preferential treatment in Janaka’s kingdom and was provided all the pleasures and protections of the most exalted of princesses. According to Vedic culture, it is very important for a father to find the best possible husband for his daughter. Men and women were not allowed to freely intermingle during Vedic times, thus it was up to the parents to arrange for the marriages of their children. In the case of Sita, Janaka felt that only the strongest and most pious prince would be suitable for her. He had been given the bow of Lord Shiva on a previous occasion, so Janaka decided that whoever would be able to string this most precious of bows would be given Sita’s hand in marriage.

At Sita Devi’s svayamvara ceremony, many princes from around the world came to try to string the bow. The bow was so heavy that no one was even able to lift it. Janaka had his mind made up and if no one would string the bow, then Sita would not marry anyone. Lord Rama, the incarnation of Lord Krishna in the Treta Yuga, at that time was a youth travelling the forest with His brother Lakshmana and their preceptor Vishvamitra Muni. At the insistence of Vishvamitra, Rama attempted to the string the bow. Not only was He able to string it, but Lord Rama broke the bow in half. Sita Devi immediately came and garlanded Him as the victor, signaling the beginning of their relationship.

Sita declaring Rama the winner After being married for several years, Lord Rama was set to be installed as the new king of Ayodhya by His father Maharaja Dashratha. However, on the day of the installation the plans were changed and Rama was instead ordered to live in the forest for the next fourteen years. Sita, upon hearing the news, became gravely distressed. She insisted on accompanying the Lord to the forest and she put forth a series of arguments in hopes of persuading Him.

As part of her plea, she twice mentioned that living in the forest with Rama would make her just as happy as when she was living in her parents’ home. Now forest life is very rigid and not suitable for any queen. In fact, the woods are meant for animals and beasts. Among humans, only the most renounced sages would even dare attempt to live there. Yet Sita equated living in the forest with the most secure and comfortable of abodes. Herein lies the lesson for all of us. When living at home with our parents, we are afforded preferential treatment by being under their protection. Yet, living anywhere in the company of God means we are given the highest form of preferential treatment. It is the greatest honor for any person to be in God’s association, for it does not come easily. God is generally neutral towards most living entities as He states in the Bhagavad-gita:

“No one is envied by Me, neither am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all; yet whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me; and I am a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 9.29)

As we can see, God makes an exception for His devotees. If one lovingly chants the Lord’s name, thinks about Him, and offers Him prayers, then that person becomes very dear to the Lord. From that point on, Krishna never leaves that person, and that person never leaves Krishna. Even when Sita was forced to be separated from Rama later on life, she always kept her mind on Him and He always thought of her. Sita Devi was the perfect devotee of Lord Rama, so she was always guaranteed special treatment from Him.

Newsletter – September 2009

Krishna's Mercy

Celebrate Dussehra With Us

Celebrate Lord Rama’s victory over Ravana with us on Monday, September 28th. God personally comes to earth from time to time in order to deliver the pious and punish the miscreants. As Rama, the Lord incarnated as a pious prince, the son of the king of Ayodhya. Exiled to the forest at the order of His father, Rama suffered an even greater calamity with the kidnapping of his wife Sita by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Along with His army of Vanaras, headed by Hanuman, the Lord and His brother Lakshmana marched to Ravana’s city of Lanka to rescue Sita. After days of fighting, Ravana was finally defeated and killed by Rama’s arrows. This auspicious occasion, marking the triumph and victory of God, has been celebrated ever since. On Dussehra day, we will have a special article dedicated to the Lord. We invite everyone to come and visit our website and Facebook page on that day to offer prayers and well-wishes. For those of you who use Facebook, we have set up a special Facebook Event, which can be accessed on our Fan Page underneath the “Events” tab. We kindly request everyone to RSVP to this event and invite your friends. Jai Shri Ram!


Our Facebook Page continues to increase in Fans and participation. In the month of August, we added another 5,000 plus fans, putting our current total over 10,000. Words can’t express how grateful we are to have the association of such kind devotees. Krishna is so merciful and compassionate to everyone. We feel blessed to be able to share our love for Him with so many others. According to the statistics, we are averaging over 1,500 interactions per week on our page. These include user comments, likes, and wall posts. We thank everyone for participating and we hope you will continue to provide us your feedback.

Feedback From Our Prasadam and Book Distribution Program

Aside from publishing our daily articles on the website, we also donate Krishna related literature to troops serving overseas. While sending ordinary care packages can certainly boost morale, we feel there is no higher gift one can give in this life than that of Krishna prema.

Here is some recent feedback from people who received our Krishna Care Packages:

“I have just received your letter and the book. I can't thank you enough for your support and kind words. The book seems to be very interesting. I will definitely take it to work with me so I can read it on my downtime. Thank you again. It means a lot and feels very nice to be supported in such a way. ” (Cpl Candice)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Last Resort

Lord Krishna “Our dear Lord, You are the last word in good fortune and the last resort of all saintly persons; therefore we all consider that we have achieved the perfection of our life, education, austerity and acquisition of transcendental knowledge by meeting You.” (Assembled sages at Kurukshetra speaking to Lord Krishna, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Volume 2, Ch 2.29)

Attending a drug or alcohol rehabilitation center is the last resort taken by addicts to cure themselves of their problem. Due to the intensity of the treatment program, most addicts try to avoid rehab until all other options have been exhausted.

For an addict, it takes a long time to come to the realization that he or she has a problem. Drug and alcohol use typically start off on a casual level. One will have a drink with friends or coworkers once or twice a week. Very quickly the drinking becomes more frequent, reaching the point where one cannot go a single day without being intoxicated. For brief periods of time, intoxication provides a false sense of escape from the senses. The effects of the intoxicants inevitably ware off, forcing one to deal with their senses once again. In hopes of avoiding such situations, addicts try to remain intoxicated all the time. When one realizes that they may be drinking or using too much, they try various methods to kick their habit. They might try abstention for a day or two, or maybe try avoiding certain people or situations. Drug rehabilitation, involving a lengthy stay at a clinic or center, is seen as the most drastic method of therapy. Addicts know that if rehab won’t cure them, then nothing else will.

Rush LimbaughMany famous celebrities have cured their addictions by attending rehab centers. Two very famous examples are James Hetfield, the lead singer of the heavy metal band Metallica, and Rush Limbaugh, the most listened to radio talk show host in America. Hetfield developed an addiction to alcohol as his band arose from obscurity to world-wide fame over the course of twenty years. He knew he had a problem, but he tried every method except rehab to try to cure it. It was not until his wife had kicked him out of their house due to his drinking, that he decided to take the drastic step of attending rehab. Rush Limbaugh had developed an addiction to prescription pain killers after doctors initially prescribed them to deal with his back pain. Limbaugh is on the radio for three hours a day, five days a week, so staying at a rehab clinic for four weeks would have a great impact on his radio career. Like Hetfield, Limbaugh also tried various other methods for curing his addiction, but they all failed. Finally in November of 2003, the radio host gave in and spent over a month in a rehab clinic. Both Hetfield and Limbaugh have been clean ever since and say that finally going to rehab was the best decision they ever made. Trained therapists not only got them to kick their habits, but they also made them understand the reasons for why they became addicted in the first place.

In the same way that rehab is our last resort for curing our drug addictions, religion is our last resort for solving our material distresses. We all encounter some sort of distress in our day to day lives, for that is the nature of the material world. According to the Vedas, the miseries of the material world are of three kinds. Adhibhautic is the type of misery caused by other living entities. Sometimes someone will be rude to us or say something that will cause us distress. Other times they will directly inflict physical harm on us through aggression. The miseries that arise from such behavior are classified as adhibhautic. Adhidaivic miseries are those caused by material nature in the form of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes. The third kind of misery is adhyatmic, which is caused by our mind and body. Sometimes we hanker after something so bad that it causes us to lose our minds, or we may lament for something lost which causes us to fall into depression. These miseries are of the adhyatmic variety.

We all experience these miseries and our solution is usually the same. We make material adjustments to our lifestyle in hopes that these miseries will end. If someone causes us mental pain, such as a spouse or girlfriend or boyfriend, we renounce that person and seek companionship in someone else, thinking that a new partner will not cause us any pain. If we are feeling down on our luck, we may think of moving to a new geographic location, in hopes that new surroundings will bring us better fortune and greater happiness. Other common methods of dealing with distress include taking up new hobbies or changing jobs or careers altogether.

Do these solutions work? Not usually. Though they may give us temporary relief from our distress, new problems are guaranteed to come up. That is the nature of the material world. Even if we feel completely happy and content, we are still forced to die, an experience which can be very painful. The Vedas declare that a spirit soul that comes to this material world must repeatedly suffer birth, old age, disease, and death. So even if we come to the stage where we are materially happy and not feeling distressed, we are still forced to accept another body after death. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, declares in the Bhagavad-gita that one’s consciousness at the time death determines what type of body they will receive in the next life:

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Bg 8.6)

Lord Krishna Making adjustments to our material way of life simply means we find new ways to perform the same animalistic activities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Dharma, or religion, is our only permanent solution to removing the distresses of material life. Meaning more than just religion, dharma is the occupational duty of mankind. Instead of mere sentiment, it is the requirement of the living entity to know and understand God. Through service to Krishna, one becomes happy. The first stage of any religious discipline is the practice of tapasya, or austerity. Tapasya means regulating one’s activity by voluntarily undergoing penances with the aim of advancing in spiritual understanding. The requirement that one perform austerities is the main reason why religion is viewed as the last resort for those seeking solutions to material problems. As living entities, we enjoy our freedom. We love doing what we want to, whenever we want, without anyone getting in our way. We view austerities as being too restrictive, getting in the way of our fun time. What people don’t understand is that these penances are given to us by God as a way of helping us solve our problems.

Every religion prescribes some sort of austerities and the Vedas are no different. In the Vedic tradition, people are advised to abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex life. There are many varieties of sin, but these four are the primary ones since they are the most detrimental to spiritual advancement.

Those who follow the regulative principles of life, performing tapasya under the guidance of a bona-fide spiritual master, will surely have their spiritual consciousness reawakened. Tapasya brings about sobriety of the mind, allowing us to focus our attention on serving the Supreme Lord. By chanting His name, offering Him prayers, or reading books about Him, we gradually change our consciousness to the point where our material miseries no longer affect us. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna describes this state of mind as being the brahma-bhutah 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)

Hanuman performing devotional service Devotional service is rehab for the soul, for it cures us of our addiction to material sense gratification. We needn’t make it a last resort, for we can start the process today simply by chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

We Must Be Active

Hanuman performing devotional service “…the spirit soul has to be engaged in the good work of Krishna consciousness, otherwise it will be engaged in occupations dictated by illusory energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 3.5 Purport)

No one likes being bored. Each of us has a certain level of inactivity that we can tolerate before we lose our composure and become antsy. Long periods of inactivity, where our minds aren’t stimulated, can lead to a feeling of helplessness and weariness.

We search far and wide for activities to engage in, all in hopes of avoiding boredom. Many times we’ll see that people who are having trouble in their personal lives, or people who don’t keep many friends, will dedicate much of their life to work and school. Putting in long hours at the office or the library, the mind becomes deeply immersed in the mode of passion, always thinking of what to work on next or how to solve the current problems at hand. Known as “workaholics”, these people will be the first ones to arrive at the office in the morning and the last ones to leave at night. On weekends, if they aren’t driving in to work, they are always checking their email at home. Even when going on vacations, these people will bring their laptops along so they can always be connected to their job or studies.

Other people take to gambling or gaming as a means of avoiding boredom. Playing cards, sports, or video games are great ways of keeping one’s mind engaged. The sport of baseball is known as “America’s Pastime”, obviously meaning that Americans love to pass their time playing or watching it. In extreme circumstances, people will turn to intoxication as a way of avoiding boredom. Drugs can act as stimulants, which can cause sudden spikes in brain activity, offering a jolt to those feeling lethargic.

America's pastime Generally speaking, there is nothing wrong with most of these methods, for they do keep the mind engaged. The problem is that they are just temporary solutions. One who is attached to their occupation will always nevertheless feel unsatisfied. Work is never finished, for new challenges and issues are always popping up. Gambling and intoxication are even more harmful because they can lead to addiction, which leads to a greater unsteadiness of the mind than that initially caused by boredom.

So how do we find a permanent solution to our boredom? A person must be active, for that is the nature of the soul. We living entities, being spirit souls at our core, relish our individuality and freedom to act. Many people think that we can just give up our activities, thereby nullifying any bad results that come from them. “If the bad results are eliminated through inaction, then we will be happy.” This is the mindset of dry renunciates.

According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, simple renunciation of activities is not the solution to our problems. One can give up all activities and spend their time sitting in meditation, but if one still has material desires, they are forced to come back to this material world in the next life. This is the result of karma. Karma means fruitive activity, or works performed with a desire to achieve a material result. Even if we aren’t physically performing activities, our mind still desires things, like shanti (peacefulness), ascension to the heavenly planets, or liberation from the cycle of birth and death. These are all material desires, meaning our renunciation has proved fruitless if these wants still linger inside us. According to the Bhagavad-gita, our desires, measured at the time of death, determine the type of body we get in the next life:

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 8.6)

Lord Krishna Instead of artificially renouncing all activity or taking up various hobbies simply to pass our time, we should purify our consciousness by performing our regular activities in the right mindset. This is the only permanent solution to our boredom. The Vedas say that the meaning of life is to understand and love Krishna, or God. We generally equate religion with faith, where one person believes in their own doctrine and another person believes in a different one. Since it is equated with faith, one can change what they believe on a whim. The Vedas, however, define religion in a different way. It is known as sanatana dharma, meaning the eternal occupation of man. It is not simply faith, but rather the duty of all living entities to become God conscious and perform works in His service. The Vedic system declares that the human form of life to be most beneficial since only human beings have the intelligence to know and understand God. Other species, like birds, beasts, cats, and dogs live simply on the principles of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Animals by definition cannot commit sin since they do not know any better. The human form of life represents the opportunity for the spirit soul to engage in karma yoga or bhakti yoga, better known as devotional service. Unlike material activity, works performed in devotional service don’t have any karma associated with them and thus they are completely spiritual.

Lord Chaitanya and Nityananda Prabhu Acts performed in bhakti yoga on the surface don’t appear much different than the ordinary acts many of us already engage in. One can take almost any activity and spiritualize it by dovetailing it with service to Krishna. By definition, devotional service consists of nine different processes: hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, making friends with Him, and surrendering everything unto Him. Engagement in all of these processes isn’t required because simply performing one of them can make one’s life perfect. As we can see, these nine processes provide us a wide breadth of activities from which to choose from. If we like to cook and eat, then we can spiritualize the activity by offering food to Krishna first, and then eating the prasadam ourselves. If we like to listen to music, there are hundreds of songs praising Krishna that we can listen to. The same goes for singing and dancing, for the Hare Krishna mantra was made to be sung: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Many of us love to build things with our hands. In that case, we can use our talents to build nice altars for Krishna in our homes. If we are really ambitious, we could even construct temples for the Lord where large groups of people can congregate and offer their prayers to God together. As we can see, the possibilities are endless. If we all sincerely take up this process of bhakti yoga, then we are sure to never be bored again.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Proper Demigod Worship

Ganga Devi “Oh Ganga, protected by you, may (Rama) the son of the intelligent and mighty monarch Dashratha, execute the mandate of His father. Having spent complete fourteen years in the forest, He will return in company with His brother and myself. Then, Oh worshipful one, Oh you of auspicious fortune, having returned safely, I will, Oh Ganga, worship you, you that crown every desire. Oh you that wend in three ways, Oh revered one, you envelope the regions of Brahma. You appear in this world as the spouse of the Ocean king. I will, Oh respected one, bow down to you, Oh beauteous one, I will hymn you, when, with good fortune returned, the foremost of men has obtained the kingdom, I will, to please you, give away to brahmanas hundreds and thousands of cows, cloths, flavorful rice, and vessels of wine by thousands, and pillows. Oh worshipful one, I will worship you on Rama having returned to the city. And I will worship all the gods that dwell on your banks, as well as the holy spots and fanes, as soon as, Oh sinless one, that mighty-armed one without sin will, coming back from His abode in the forest, enter Ayodhya in company with His brother and myself.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ganga Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 52)

Demigod worship is generally frowned upon by Vaishnavas, those who are worshipers of Lord Vishnu or Krishna. According to Vedic teachings, the purpose of human life is to develop a love for God, so any other discipline or religious practice outside of loving God is seen as second class.

The demigods, referred to as devas, are the chief deputies of the Supreme Lord Krishna. Just as a president or prime minister has assistants and cabinet secretaries, Krishna also has assigned posts for elevated living entities to manage the affairs of the material world. Their duty is to see to it that things are running smoothly and also to grant benedictions to those who please them. There are thousands of devas, but some of the more notable ones are Lord Shiva, Ganesha, Goddess Lakshmi, and Durga. They each provide different material benedictions to those who worship them properly and vigilantly. Their janma, or birth, as well as their specific duties are described in most of the Puranas.

Generally speaking, those who are less intelligent worship the demigods. The reason they are considered less intelligent is because the demigods, by rule, are only allowed to bestow material benedictions. If one is seeking great wealth, success in material endeavors, or the acquisition of great powers, they approach one of the various devas. Lord Krishna Himself describes this in the Bhagavad-gita:

“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Bg 7.23)

One need only research the great Vedic texts to find examples of those who performed demigod worship. They were all generally asuras, enemies of God. The great Rakshasa demon Ravana worshiped many demigods including Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma in order to procure great material benedictions and powers. He didn’t use any of these powers for good, for he was committed to harassing the great sages performing sacrifices in the forest. His kingdom of Lanka was a sinner’s paradise, with people regularly overindulging in meat eating and intoxication. He had such a voracious appetite for sex that he regularly cavorted with his hundreds of wives in his palace. These women were always drunk, so much so that they would fall asleep on each other not knowing where they were. Other great demons such as Hiranyakashipu and Bhasmasura were also dedicated worshipers of the demigods.

Lord Rama worshiping Shiva Not all worshipers of demigods can be classified as unintelligent. In the Hindu tradition passed down for thousands of years, householders generally follow demigod worship very strictly. This is done more out of duty than anything else. The Vedas provide various forms of religion, a series of stepping-stones aimed at elevating one’s consciousness. Those in the grihastha ashrama, householder life, regularly perform worship of the devas so that their family life will be peaceful and prosperous. God Himself followed this tradition when He incarnated on earth as Lord Rama and Lord Krishna. Rama and His family were very pious. They all regularly offered prayers in the morning and evening. When traversing the forest, Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita would worship various demigods prior to building cottages as a way of purifying their living quarters. In a very famous scene, Lord Rama worshiped Lord Shiva just prior to marching to Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka. Lord Krishna followed similar traditions:

“Somewhere the Lord was seen engaged in performing different types of sacrifices to satisfy the demigods, who are only His qualitative expansions. Somewhere He was seen engaged in public welfare activities, establishing deep wells for water supply, rest houses and gardens for unknown guests, and great monasteries and temples for saintly persons. These are some of the duties enjoined in the Vedas for householders for fulfillment of their material desires.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Volume 2, Ch 2.14)

Ironically, just prior to delivering the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna wherein the Lord condemned demigod worship, Krishna ordered Arjuna to worship Goddess Durga to ensure victory in the upcoming battle of Kurukshetra.

"The holy one said,--'Cleansing thyself, O mighty-armed one, utter on the eve of the battle thy hymn to Durga for (compassing) the defeat of the foe." (Mahabharata)

Goddess Durga All of this can seem confusing. On the one hand, worship of the devas is condemned, and on the other hand we see Krishna Himself performing such acts. Which example is correct? For the answer, we need only look to Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. In the above referenced statements, Sita is praying to Ganga Devi, the river Ganges, to protect her husband and ensure His successful return to Ayodhya. When God took birth as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago, as part of His pastimes, He accepted a fourteen year exile sentence delivered by His father, Maharaja Dashratha. Sita, along with Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana, accompanied the Lord in His travels through the forest, for they couldn’t bear to be separated from Him. Sita’s worship of Ganga Devi took place early on in the exile period, just after Rama had sent Sumantra, the family charioteer, back home.

Ganga DeviSita Devi only worshiped Ganga Devi so that Rama, God Himself, would be satisfied. Due to this fact, her practice of demigod worship was completely spiritual and in line with bhagavata-dharma. In general, those who are somewhat pious seek the four primary rewards of material life: dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and moksha (liberation). Bhakti yoga, or devotional service, is above this religious system since it involves lovingly serving God without any personal motives. Sita prayed to Ganga only for the satisfaction of Rama, and not for any material benefit. This is the highest form of religion. She didn’t resent the demigods or look down on them. Rather, she had the highest respect for them. She recognized their incredible powers and decided to take advantage of them. Sita’s only mission in life was to love Rama to the fullest extent, so she used any tool at her disposal to execute her tasks. Her worship of Ganga Devi was done with conditions. “If you help my husband, then I’ll worship you.” In actuality, Sita was doing Ganga Devi a favor since she was allowing Ganga, a demigoddess, to directly serve the Supreme Lord. Generally the demigods don’t get to directly serve God since they are busy doling out material rewards to their devotees. For this reason, taking birth as a human being is considered a greater boon than taking birth as a demigod, for humans have the opportunity to be directly engaged in God’s service.

 Sita DeviSita Devi was the perfect devotee, someone so kind and compassionate that her glories can’t be put into words. From her example, we learn that demigod worship is justifiable if we can use it for the right purpose. We can worship the Lord’s great devotee Hanuman to give us devotion to Rama. We can worship Lord Shiva to give us the power of concentration so that we may always fix our mind on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. We can humbly ask Lord Ganesha to remove the obstacles that come in our way of performing devotional service. In this way, we can combine forces with the devas to help satisfy God.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Go Krishna

Lord Krishna “O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.19)

“Go Green” is the latest slogan of the global warming movement, encouraging others to be environmentally conscious so as to help keep the earth’s ecosystem in balance. Global warming is a theory that the earth as a planet is steadily becoming warmer due to the activities of humans, namely the burning of fossil fuels by automobiles and factories. The central belief is that carbon dioxide is a pollutant and that increased levels of it cause the general climate of the earth to be affected. The idea was first proposed by a few scientists through their studies and has since gained in popularity amongst the scientific community.

The global warming movement itself is a group of individuals who, subscribing to the theory of global warming, lobby the public and private sectors to change their policies in hopes of stopping climate change. They believe that by taking various measures to curb carbon emissions, the environment will be protected. The movement is gaining popularity around the world and has members from all divisions of society. Very popular amongst political leaders, the movement also has strong grassroots support amongst college-age adults. According to Vedic philosophy, this material world is made up of three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Everyone possesses these qualities to varying degrees. The mode of goodness is represented by our works of charity, kindness, and virtue. The global warming movement capitalizes on this quality in people to get them to become supporters of the cause.

Go Green campaignNot everyone believes in global warming, for there are many detractors, including many scientists who don’t see any evidence of man-made global warming. The crux of the global warming movement lies in the idea that the earth’s average temperature has gradually increased in the last seventy years. However, 2007 was one of the coldest years on record, and many scientists use this to buttress their argument that the earth has always gone through warming and cooling spurts. In fact, in the 1970s, the scientific community was worried about global cooling and an impending ice age.

"…The central fact is that after three quarters of a century of extraordinarily mild conditions, the earth’s climate seems to be cooling down. Meteorologists disagree about the cause and extent of the cooling trend, as well as over its specific impact on local weather conditions. But they are almost unanimous in the view that the trend will reduce agricultural productivity for the rest of the century. If the climatic change is as profound as some of the pessimists fear, the resulting famines could be catastrophic."  (The Cooling World, Newsweek Magazine, April 28, 1975)

These dire predictions turned out to be completely wrong.  The same predictions are being made again today, but in the reverse direction.

The global warming movement may seem very innocent and harmless, but it in fact represents a great danger to devotees of God around the world. The central belief of the movement is that human beings are responsible for the weather. In one sense they are, but not in the way that we think. Predicaments in the material world are managed by karma, which is something created by God and His deputies. Karma is fruitive work which has positive and negative material reactions associated with it. Though human beings are responsible for their karma, God is actually responsible for creating, maintaining, and dissolving this world. As soon as we turn that responsibility over to human beings, then we stop believing in God. This thinking is, in essence, its own form of religion.

Every religion has its core components, such as scriptures, doctrines, penances, and a worshipable deity. The global warming movement is no different. Its scriptures are the scientific journals and the various books by pseudo-scientists such as former U.S. Vice President Al Gore. Their doctrines are very well defined; the earth and its environment are the beginning and end of everything. Having a pristine wildlife with plenty of trees is the ultimate goal of life. Their penances involve driving hybrid cars, using fluorescent light bulbs, and recycling, all intended to stop carbon emissions. Their deity of worship is the government. The government is the only entity that can use force to stop the activities of the common man. Government is the only hope, since it can levy heavy taxes on so-called polluters and people with high carbon footprints.

Such a religion is actually very dangerous because it worships man instead of God. Man is subject to four defects from birth, namely the propensity to be illusioned, to commit mistakes, to have imperfect senses, and to cheat. Also, many of these leaders actually don’t subscribe to the beliefs of their movement. It was recently discovered that Al Gore, the movement’s chief spokesperson, consumes a large amount of electricity on a monthly basis. In response, Gore said he was renovating his house to include more solar panels and that he was doing all he could to limit his consumption. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger produces a huge carbon footprint by regularly travelling in his private airplane. In response to criticism, the governor says he is investing in “carbon offsets”. These carbon offsets are sold by companies that claim they will negate whatever carbon footprint you have by finding other areas where emissions can be reduced. The chief proponents of the global warming movement don’t even practice what they preach, and after being called out, they resort to buying their way out of hypocrisy.

Arnold Schwarzenegger - global warming proponent The chief manifesto of the global warming movement is the Kyoto Protocol. Formed in 1992, the treaty sets limits on carbon emissions for countries around the world. Notably exempt from the treaty are China and India, two of the biggest polluters according to the movement’s definition. Such inconsistencies should be enough to discredit the movement, but it still pushes on. Their latest mantra is that a consensus of scientists now believes in man-made global warming, thus we should all hop on board. Science has never been decided by votes, but the leaders of the movement understand that they are losing credibility on the issue.

“By burping, belching and excreting copious amounts of methane - a greenhouse gas that traps 20 times more heat than carbon dioxide - India's livestock of roughly 485 million (including sheep and goats) contribute more to global warming than the vehicles they obstruct.” (Cows with Gas: India’s Global-Warming Problem)

According to Vedic philosophy, cows are the most sacred of animals since they freely provide milk. They are to be held in the same regard as one’s own mother. The cow population is very large in India due to the protected status they receive. A cow is a representation of real wealth since one can live off the milk that it gives, which also provides a solution to the greatest economic problem, that of procuring food. God can provide for an unlimited population of cows; the more cows the better. Where the cow is protected, Lord Vishnu is worshiped, and all is well spiritually.

Govinda - protector of cows The global warming crisis isn’t actually a new phenomenon. At their core, the proponents of global warming legislation suffer from the material disease of identifying with one’s own body. The Vedas teach us that we are not this body, aham brahmasmi, “I am a spirit soul.” Once we start identifying with the body, we forget that everyone else is a spirit soul as well. Global warming activists think they are righteous and that everyone else is unrighteous due to their consumption habits. With this belief in mind, they elect leaders who are fit to decide who is worthy of using fossil fuels and who isn’t. These leaders also decide who will live and who will die, for they feel overpopulation is a burden on the environment as well. They gladly support the idea of abortion as a means of controlling the population and climate.

“Material advancement of civilization means advancement of the reactions of the threefold miseries due to celestial influence, earthly reactions and bodily or mental pains. By the celestial influence of the stars there are many calamities like excessive heat, cold, rains or no rains, and the aftereffects are famine, disease and epidemic. The aggregate result is agony of the body and the mind. Man-made material science cannot do anything to counteract these threefold miseries. They are all punishments from the superior energy of maya under the direction of the Supreme Lord. Therefore our constant touch with the Lord by devotional service can give us relief without our being disturbed in the discharge of our human duties. The asuras, however, who do not believe in the existence of God, make their own plans to counteract all these threefold miseries, and so they meet with failures every time.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.14.10 Purport)

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill The fact is that God takes care of everything with regards to the environment and the climate. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is capable of maintaining innumerable amounts of people and cows, and whatever else is on this planet. When the Lord personally appeared some five thousand years ago, as a child He held up a mighty hill named Govardhana by His one finger for a fortnight. The citizens of Vrindavana standing underneath the hill were provided protection from the torrential rains. This is one of many examples illustrating our need to connect with Krishna. That is our real problem. The problems of gas-guzzling SUVS, private airplanes, and oil drilling are more spiritual than they are environmental. Being bound up in fruitive activity, we constantly need more and more material sense gratification. Attachment to such activity causes us to accept a new body after this life is finished, and thus the whole cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death is repeated.

“Unnecessarily cutting trees without consideration is another example of human debauchery. The paper industry cuts many hundreds and thousands of trees for its mills, and with the paper so much rubbish literature is published for the whimsical satisfaction of human society. Unfortunately, although these industrialists are now happy in this life by dint of their industrial development, they do not know that they will incur the responsibility for killing these living entities who are in the forms of trees.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 9.46 Purport)

In the Vedic tradition, Mother Earth is referred to as Bhumi Devi. Being worthy of our love and respect, she shouldn’t be unnecessarily burdened. In this sense, one can see the validity in wanting to curb pollution and other unnecessary activity. Genuine environmental causes are certainly very noble, as are other causes such as stopping domestic violence, researching cures for cancer and other diseases, and feeding the poor. Yet these activities are still on the material platform, part of the mode of goodness. Human life is meant for elevation to pure goodness through service to God. By becoming a sincere devotee, all our problems can be solved. For example, the high polluting cars and airplanes didn’t exist one hundred years ago, but were people any better off back then? Just because we have a clean environment doesn’t mean that we’ve achieved the aim of human life. Whether one rides around in a large car or on a small bicycle, if they still view material sense gratification as the ultimate aim of life, they will always remain in a precarious condition.

The solution to these problems is to take to the process of devotional service. By being dedicated to Krishna and always thinking about Him, we gradually lose our desire for material advancements. We undergo a spiritual awakening. With this revival in consciousness, we automatically become better stewards of the environment. If gasoline and other fossil fuels are used to serve Krishna, then we incur no sin whatsoever. Driving to temples, travelling to places of pilgrimages, using machinery to produce books about Krishna, driving to work so we can provide for food to be offered to Krishna…these are all ways we can utilize fossil fuels for Krishna’s benefit. If we constantly remember God and serve Him lovingly, then we can survive in any environmental condition.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Real Heaven

Sita Rama “He to whom heaven and hell and liberation are all one – for he beholds but You everywhere armed with bow and arrows – and who is Your servant in thought and word and deed – in his heart, Oh Rama, make Your permanent abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa)

The existence of a heaven is a belief shared by almost all religions. As human beings, all we know is what we’ve witnessed in this life, and heaven represents the great unknown. Many of us eventually realize that this material world is full of miseries. Thus heaven represents our reprieve, a sort of resting place after we have finished our work in this life.

In general, most religions believe in heaven being a permanent residence for those who are good in this life. In Christianity, the belief is that all souls either go to heaven or to hell after this life depending on how they behaved. Hell is believed to be a very distressful place, ruled over by the devil with scorching hot temperatures due to a constant fire. Heaven is just the opposite, a place of complete happiness where there are no miseries. The time of death is referred to as judgment day, where it is decided whether the soul will enter heaven or be condemned to hell. Other religions envision heaven as a place where there is unlimited sense gratification, with beautiful women and an unending supply of sumptuous food.

Vedic philosophy also has its concept of heaven, but it differs slightly from other religions. The Vedas tell us there are indeed heavenly and hellish planets, but residence there is not permanent. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has created the material world with its millions of different planets. He has also deputed highly advanced souls known as demigods to manage the affairs of the material world. The god of death, known as Yamaraja, determines whether a soul will enter heaven or hell after it quits its current body. A person accumulates good and bad karma in their lifetime, and these merits or demerits determine which planet they will travel to after quitting their body. There are many different heavenly planets, each having their unique mode of enjoyment. In the same way, many hellish planets exist where different styles of punishment are handed out. However, these merits or demerits eventually expire and the soul is forced to accept a new body in the material world. Thus, the laws of karma repeat, causing spirit souls to constantly transmigrate from one body to another based on their fruitive work.

When Lord Krishna incarnated as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, He was forced into exile by His father, King Dashratha. Being married at the time, the Lord tried to convince His wife, Sita Devi, to remain in the kingdom during His exile period. Sita, however, refused to remain at home and rather insisted on coming along.

“…And greatly gratified, I shall, oh you having expansive eyes, amuse there with you in this manner even for hundreds or thousands of years. I shall never experience the reverse of fortune, inasmuch as I do not like to live in the abode of celestials (heaven), Oh Rahgava, if I am to dwell there without you. No, it is not pleasing to me, Oh best of men.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Sita Rama In trying to persuade her husband, Sita told Him that she would always remain with Him no matter how long He had to live in the forest. She said that she didn’t find living in heaven appealing if He wasn’t there with her. In so saying, Sita exhibited the qualities of the perfect devotee of God. The heavenly planets are very nice, but one cannot remain there forever. The enjoyment on those planets is still on the material platform and thus one is forced to accept a material body upon completing his or her stay in heaven. However, there is a spiritual realm known as Krishnaloka and Vaikuntha, that is above all the heavenly planets for it is where Krishna and His various expansions reside. One who goes there never returns to the material world. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death, never takes birth again.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Bg 8.5-6)

While it is natural for us to want unending happiness, a devotee of the Lord actually rises above this desire. A pure devotee only wants to make God happy, and only thinks in terms of God’s interests. Sita Devi taught us that we should strive to think the same way that she did. Material happiness may be nice, but real happiness is Ramananda, the bliss that comes through association with Rama, or God. Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure. Life without Him is no life at all. By being constantly engaged in devotional service, one can feel a pleasure that is completely spiritual and above all the effects of karma.

A devotee will gladly go anywhere, heaven or hell, as long as they can worship the Supreme Lord. If we practice lovingly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” then we too can rise above the material platform and book our ticket back home, back to Godhead. Eternal association with God represents true heavenly life.