Saturday, September 12, 2009

Honor Thy Mother and Father

Baby Rama with parents “How can we worship our deities, who are not manifest before us, if we neglect the worship of our parents, who stand right before our very eyes?” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 30)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedas, expanded Himself in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in the town of Ayodhya in India. Born into the very noble Ikshvaku family, the Lord was raised as a pious prince, strictly dedicated to the rules of dharma, or religiosity.

As the eldest son of the king, Lord Rama was next in line to succeed His father, Maharaja Dashratha. When Rama reached the appropriate age, all the plans were put in place for His coronation. As it so happened, events took a different twist, with Dashratha choosing Bharata as the new king instead. Bharata was Lord Rama’s younger brother and son of Kaikeyi, Dashratha’s youngest wife. Making matters worse, Rama was also ordered by His father to spend fourteen years living in the forest as an exile. These requests were actually made by Kaikeyi, but Dashratha was forced to agree to them due to promises he had previously made to her. The Lord, being magnanimous and ever devoted to His father’s interests, gladly accepted such a punishment. Prior to leaving for the forest, Rama had to tell His wife Sita Devi the bad news. In opposition to her husband’s desires, she insisted on coming along to the forest. After she had delivered a heartfelt plea, the Lord agreed to her coming along.

Lord Rama, in allowing Sita to accompany Him to the forest, wanted to make sure she knew that He hadn’t changed His mind about following Dashratha’s orders. Though she may have convinced Him to change His mind regarding her going to the forest, she had not changed His mind regarding His desire to follow His parents’ orders and to leave the kingdom. In the above referenced statement, the Lord is describing the importance of worshipping and respecting one’s parents, even more so than respecting the deity of the Lord.

In the Vedic tradition, one of the central components of religious life is the process of archanam, or deity worship. The deity is the physical representation of Krishna, God Himself. Though many mistake it for mundane idol worship, worshiping and respecting a deity is an authorized process. God isn’t always physically present before us. However, due to His causeless mercy, He is kind enough to appear in front of us in His deity form. Usually a statue or a picture, the deity is to be treated in the same way as one would treat God Himself. Lord Krishna in fact laid out the processes for archanam to His dear friend Uddhava just prior to returning to the spiritual world some five thousand years ago.

A deity is worshiped by caring for it, similar to how one would care for one’s child. It is bathed regularly, in what is known as an abhishek. It is also dressed daily. Most important of all, the deity gives us an opportunity to offer prayers and obeisances directly to God. We tend to think of God when we are in trouble or if we want something, but in actuality, we should think of Him out of pure love. The deity allows us to see God, thus we automatically can think of Him in a loving way.

Deity of Lord Rama The process of deity worship may seem very difficult to some, since the statue or picture is inanimate by itself. One not accustomed to such a process will find it very difficult to perform proper worship in the beginning stages. This is the exact point made by Lord Rama in the above referenced statement. It’s not so easy to develop an attachment to something simply by looking at it. Lord Rama advises us to worship our parents, who are physically present before us.

The Vedas, like most other religions, enjoin that one should worship and honor one’s parents. They are our first spiritual masters. A newborn child is completely helpless and cannot survive on its own. It needs the protection and guidance of its parents. For this reason alone, parents are worthy of our reverence. They serve as our first teachers, guiding us along the rocky road of life, teaching us right and wrong and steering us away from things that are bad for us. Respecting our parents shouldn’t be a strange concept since most of us instinctively love them.

The Vedas declare that after our parents give us our initial guidance, the spiritual master is the next person from whom we should take instruction. The spiritual master, or guru, is Lord Krishna’s direct representative on earth. He is to be treated as good as God, and his instructions are to be followed without question. Through this system of respect, one gradually becomes detached from sense gratification, making them fit for fulfilling the real mission in life, that of connecting with God.

Our parents and the elderly sometimes may go astray, but the laws of dharma tell us that we should still respect them. A great example in this regard can be found in the Mahabharata. The Bharata war involved two families, who were related as cousins, fighting over a kingdom. The Pandava brothers, the rightful heirs to the kingdom, were headed by Maharaja Yudhishthira, who was very pious. The other side, known as the Kauravas, was headed by Duryodhana, whose father was Dhritarashtra. Dhritarashtra knew very well that the Pandavas were the rightful heirs to the kingdom since they were the sons of his late brother Pandu. However, Dhritarashtra turned a blind eye to the unlawful usurpation of their kingdom by his sons, headed by Duryodhana. The Pandavas ended up winning the war, breaking the heart of Dhritarashtra. Yudhishthira, as the new king, still gave Dhritarashtra all the respect in the world. Yudhishthira respected him as if he were his own father, giving Dhritarashtra an exalted status in the new kingdom. Thus, he was setting the example for future generations to come.

Dhritarashtra If Yudhishthira could offer respect to someone as deplorable as Dhritarashtra, what does say about how we should treat our elderly family members? In today’s society, since people are too caught up in karmic activity, they send their parents off to nursing homes rather than taking responsibility themselves. As Lord Rama says, we should relish the opportunity to serve our parents, for it serves as a means of purifying our souls. By learning to respect those worthy of respect, we get practice in serving and respecting the Supreme Person, God. This is the ultimate aim of life, the reason for our being on earth. Sense gratification has limits, and it can never fulfill all our desires. Only through devotional service and surrender to the Lord can we be truly happy. Krishna is our Supreme Father, and if we learn to respect Him, then our lives will be perfect.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Showing Our Love

Pancha Tattva “For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.68)

When we love someone or something, we enjoy any opportunity we get to prove that love. Love is such a strong emotion involving deep passion that people are more than willing to share what they feel with others.

When one is in love with a man or woman, be it a girlfriend, wife or husband, they are never satisfied simply going about our daily lives. Those who are in love have a constant need to prove their feelings to their partner. They want the other person to know just how much they care about them. It becomes almost a contest where people try to prove that they love the other person more than that person loves them. Birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays like Valentine’s Day are eagerly anticipated for they present a chance for gift givers to shine. People commit themselves to giving their paramours a better gift than they gave them the last time. Writing love letters, singing romantic songs, and buying expense gifts all are ways people share their loving feelings.

Valentines Day is known for gift givingIf love is not of the romantic variety, but more of a fanaticism, people show their feelings in other ways. Sports fans show dedication to their teams by watching every game, buying merchandise, and following the team’s every move in the news. Fans of musicians and rock bands go one step further by getting tattoos, buying every album, and travelling far and wide to attend concerts. The famous rock band The Grateful Dead were famous for having fans known as Deadheads who would follow the band all around the world as they toured. The heavy metal band Metallica today has a similar following amongst its fan base. The fans are very passionate about their bands, so much so that they will vehemently argue with anyone who makes any disparaging remarks about their music or their fans. Fans go to such lengths because they relish any opportunity to prove their love and devotion.

In a similar manner, devotees of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, relish the opportunity to show their love for the Lord. The process of bhakti yoga, or devotional service, revolves around having a loving relationship with God, where all of one’s activities are dovetailed with service to the Lord. Devotees read books, sing songs, and offer prayers to God on a daily basis. In this age of Kali, there are ample opportunities for devotees to show their love.

Lord Krishna According to Vedic scriptures, the universe is constantly created and destroyed. Each creation is divided into four time periods, or Yugas. In the first Yuga, man is completely pure since dharma, or religiosity, exists at full strength. With each successive Yuga, dharma loses one fourth its power. We are currently living in the fourth age, known as Kali Yuga, where dharma exists at only one fourth its original strength. Because of this, man, in general, has no inclination towards religiosity. Instead, most of us are mired in the hopeless search for sense gratification. As soon as you mention God or religion to someone, they immediately turn their heads, not wanting to hear even a second of what you have to say. No one wants to be preached to, but they are more than happy to watch debauchery on television and watch the news, where the lives of celebrities are chronicled. Rather than praising God, who is the only one truly worthy of our respect and love, celebrities are the ones who receive the royal treatment. God represents pure goodness and He is our ever well-wishing friend. We simply need to turn to Him and all of our problems will be solved. This, however, is not the message taught by today’s leaders.

All hope is not lost. For those who are devotees, Kali Yuga represents a golden opportunity for proving our love for Krishna. It’s one thing for us to serve and worship the Supreme Lord on our own, but that is not enough. Krishna is so kind to us that He has allowed us to take birth in a time when most of the world’s population is unfamiliar with Him. It is now our opportunity to show our love for Krishna by teaching others about Him. In this age, since most are not accustomed to religious practices and the austerities that go along with them, the best method for worshipping the Lord is the constant chanting of His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. People may not be initially receptive to the high philosophy found in the Bhagavad-gita or other Vedic texts, but most everyone loves to listen to music, to sing, or to dance. This is the beauty of the movement Lord Chaitanya started almost five hundred years ago. By singing about God in a loving way, we reawaken everyone’s spiritual consciousness.

Lord Krishna In the system of varnashrama dharma, it is the brahmanas who are most dear to Krishna since they devote their lives to religion and to teaching the rest of the society about religious principles. Vaishnavas are higher than brahmanas since they are devotees of Vishnu, who is God Himself. It is the duty of Vaishnavas to teach others about real religion, no matter the cost. Krishna is so kind and merciful.  Devotees should at least try to teach others about Him, even if others scoff at us and don’t want to listen. There is no loss on our part. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord declares that such preachers are most dear to Him:

“There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Bg 18.69)

So let us all relish this great opportunity the Lord has given us. By speaking about the Lord to others, our love for Him increases, thus we end up winning on all counts. Not only will we be performing the highest service to Krishna, but we will be following the example set forth by the great saints such A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and Lord Chaitanya. They are the bona fide spiritual masters, and one can never go wrong following in their footsteps.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Holy Lake

Hanuman worshiping Sita Rama “All of these subjects in the Ramayana seem very pitiable, and they may appear very distressing to the reciter, but actually they are not. Otherwise, why would Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Ramachandra, read daily about the activities of Lord Ramachandra, as described in the Ramayana itself?” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 34)

We are very fortunate to be living in the times that we do. Life expectancy is on the rise, technology is improving at an astounding rate, and there is such an abundance of food that most people are obsessed with trying to lose weight. The internet allows us to communicate with one other in an instant without ever having to pick up a phone or write a letter. Airplanes and cars let us travel around the world, visiting new places and meeting new people. We indeed have a lot to be thankful for.

These material comforts are all very nice, but the thing we should be most grateful for is the existence of the Vedas, and especially the Ramayana. The Vedas tell us that each person is born with three primary debts. Many of us accumulate debts in our day to day lives such as mortgages, auto and school loans. In a similar manner, just by taking birth, one automatically owes a debt to their parents and their forefathers, referred to as the pitrs. If it weren’t for our forefathers, we wouldn’t have the opportunity to take birth in the family that we do. The second debt we owe is to the demigods. Also known as the devatas, the demigods are in charge of managing the material world. Goddess Durga, Lord Indra, Ganesha, Shiva, etc. all bestow various material boons to those who please them. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, sanctions all the gifts given by the demigods, so one should know that nothing in this world can come of its own volition. We all need to eat. The food that gives us energy can only grow as a result of the rain provided by the demigods. A smart person realizes that everything in this creation belongs to God.

“In charge of the various necessities of life, the demigods, being satisfied by the performance of yajna [sacrifice], supply all necessities to man. But he who enjoys these gifts, without offering them to the demigods in return, is certainly a thief.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.12)

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna The third debt we owe is to the great rishis, or sages of the past. Most people seek out the four rewards of material life: dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and moksha (liberation). The great sages, however, seek a higher form of knowledge. They dedicate themselves to serving Lord Krishna, writing books about Him, and teaching others the science of self-realization. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s incarnation who appeared on earth some five hundred years ago, ordered two of His main disciples, Rupa and Sanatana Goswami, to write books about devotional service. Those who followed in their line have also written many books about Krishna and how to love Him. This is the mercy of the saints. They have no selfish motives. Their only business is to serve Krishna. They abandon all hopes of finding happiness in the material world. They have the gift of transcendental knowledge, and they are so unselfish that they are willing to share that information with others.

Valmiki Muni meditated for fifty thousands of years, and then he wrote Ramayana. The Ramayana is not an ordinary book. You see? Therefore Ramayana is so much popular in India. Before the appearance of Rama, he wrote Ramayana, all the activities of Rama. So this Valmiki Muni... And what this Valmiki Muni was? This Valmiki Muni was a dacoit, a plunderer. He used to plunder, I mean to say, innocent men on the road, kill him and take everything. That was his business. But by chance, he was associated with Narada Muni, and he rectified him. This is the process. When a devotee meets even a dacoit like Valmiki Muni, he becomes... Narada Muni elevated so many fallen souls. This Valmiki Muni was also. So he was given this mantra, ‘Rama.’ He could not chant it. Then he was advised to just the opposite, mara. Mara means dead body. So mara mara mara. Three mara means one ‘Rama" is there. So in this way he was initiated and he became a great sage. For sixty thousands of years he meditated simply on ‘Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama.’ And when he was liberated, he wrote this Ramayana.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, New York, Dec 23, 1966)

Maharishi Valmiki wrote the original Ramayana, the historical account of the life and pastimes of God’s incarnation as Lord Rama. The story lives on to this very day. Set in the Treta Yuga, the Ramayana enlightens us on the true meaning of life; love and devotion to God. The Lord advented specifically to reinstitute religious principles and to give protection to His devotees.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself. In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Bg 4.7-8)

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha By reading the Ramayana, we can follow along with the Lord’s every move. The work may seem long to some, but to devotees, it couldn’t be long enough. Material facilities may seem to improve our lives on the surface, but they actually cause us to be bound to them, which can lead to pain and misery. The Ramayana, along with other Vedic texts, is our escape valve.

“If you read Valmiki Ramayana, that is also as good as reading Bhagavad-gita.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, Durban, Oct 9, 1975)

We are greatly indebted to Maharishi Valmiki for writing this work and allowing us to lose ourselves in the holy lake of Rama’s acts. Goswami Tulsidas also wrote another wonderful book about Lord Rama called the Ramacharitamanasa.  The Lord may not be physically present before us, but reading about Him allows us to be directly connected to Him. It’s the greatest gift that we can receive.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

The House of God

Nimai Nitai worshiping Radha Krishna “A temple means people should come, people should learn the science of God. That is a temple.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Lecture, Calcutta, Mar 8, 1972)

Most of us love to share our passions with our friends and family. Young children attending school are often requested to bring something they cherish or that is dear to them into the classroom to talk about and describe to others. This presentation is commonly referred to as “Show and Tell”.

Our cherished possessions tell others something about us. When something good happens in our life, we like to tell our friends and family about it. Sharing is part of the human spirit. Our life’s passions are what drive us and bring us happiness. In many cases, our passions define who we are as people, so naturally we would want to share these interests with others.

The television show MTV Cribs goes behind the scenes inside the homes of celebrities, giving a glimpse into the lives of the rich and famous. Celebrities are more than willing to show off their elaborately designed homes and possessions to others. Everything is on display to see: cars, pool tables, elaborate home theater setups, Jacuzzis, the works. Not only celebrities, but most of us like to show off our valued possessions to others. Most men really enjoy having a nice garden. The day to day care that is involved in maintaining a garden brings great satisfaction to the mind. It is a very nice feeling to watch a plant go from being a small seed to a full grown vegetable or flower. Men who have gardens derive great pleasure from showing MTV Cribs others the “fruits” of their labor. The same concept holds true when we buy a new house or even have a new baby. We invite our friends and family over to visit so that they can share in our joy.

“As for actions, that action in accordance with duty, which is performed without attachment, without love or hate, by one who has renounced fruitive results, is called action in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.23)

According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, this idea of having a passion is completely natural. Living entities in the material world possess material qualities known as gunas. There are three primary gunas: sattva, rajas, and tamas. Sattva guna, or the mode of goodness, is comprised of pious qualities and activities such as charity, kindness, and study of religious scriptures. Rajo guna is the mode of passion, the quality possessed by most human beings, represented by fruitive activity. Tamo guna is the mode of darkness or ignorance and is represented by laziness and inactivity. Since we are all primarily in the mode of passion, the Vedas don’t necessarily prescribe us to immediately give up our activities. In fact, one is encouraged to perform one’s occupational duties with detachment.

“The Blessed Lord said: O mighty-armed son of Kunti, it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by constant practice and by detachment.” (Bg, 6.35)

In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, urges His cousin and disciple Arjuna to perform his duty as a kshatriya and fight in the impending Bharata war. Arjuna was hesitant to fight since friends and family members were fighting for the opposition. Lord Krishna told Him to perform His duty with detachment and not worry about the results. The idea being that fighting on religious principles under Krishna’s direction is actually a spiritual activity not tainted by karma. Work done in the material modes of nature has karma associated with it, either positive or negative. Work performed in Krishna’s service is above karma.

The idea is to spiritualize activities that we already perform. If we like to garden, then we should plant an elaborate field of vegetables and flowers that can be offered to Krishna. Krishna says that if one offers Him these things with love and devotion, then He accepts them.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Bg 9.26)

Radha Krishna If we have a nice house that we are proud of, why not set aside a special room in it for the Lord, where people can gather to worship Him and sing songs about Him? If we like to build things with our hands, why not construct a home altar or temple for Krishna? The process of archanam, or deity worship, is so nice because it affords us the opportunity to serve the Lord in so many ways. He is not always present before us in His original form, but He is still kind enough to incarnate as His deity so that we may remember Him and always think of Him. Krishna’s deity or picture is as good as Krishna Himself. If we dress Him up nicely, offer Him nice flowers, and make a nice home for Him, then we will have something really worth showing off.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Turning Pains Into Pleasures

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana in the forest “The evils of living in the forest, thus enumerated by you, do you know, actually appear as so many good qualities since your affection for me comes before them.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago to reinstitute the principles of dharma and to kill the evil demon Ravana. As part of His pastimes, the Lord accepted exile into the forest for fourteen years at the demand of His father, King Dashratha of Ayodhya. Lord Rama was the eldest son of the king, so He was in line to be crowned as the successor. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Dashratha instead decided to install Rama’s younger brother Bharata, and at the same time send Rama to live as a recluse for fourteen years.

Lord Rama was married at the time, so He went to tell his wife Sita the bad news. The Lord requested her to remain in the kingdom, but Sita was very defiant. She put forth a series of arguments in favor of her going, but the Lord again pleaded with her. Lord Rama reminded Sita of how dangerous the forest was and how painful life would be there for her. Sita Devi, in response, informed the Lord that she viewed such dangerous conditions as being quite favorable. Sita was born and raised in the kingdom of Maharaja Janaka of Mithila, thus she knew no other life except that associated with royalty. So how was she so willing to accept the painful conditions of life in the forest, a place suited for wild animals, beasts, and the most advanced yogis?

In our material endeavors, we often find ourselves voluntarily accepting austerities in order to be successful. We see marathon runners on television, and marvel at the fact that they can run for over twenty-six miles in one stretch and still maintain a rapid pace. Most of us tire out after running a mile or less. These runners are able to perform such extraordinary feats through rigorous training and practice. This training requires the voluntary acceptance of austerities, such as running short distances on a regular schedule, and adhering to a very strict diet conducive to achieving peak performance. Many of us view running as a very painful and boring activity, yet these runners very eagerly took to training. What may seem very painstaking to the average person was actually very pleasing to runners since they were working towards a goal. When we work for a higher purpose, things that were previously unpleasant all of a sudden become very pleasing to us. This same concept can be applied to bodybuilders who regularly lift very heavy weights in order to bulk up their physique. Practically anyone who is successful in a material endeavor must initially voluntarily subject themselves to austerities, which eventually turn into pleasurable activities.

Marathon runners This same principle, when applied to the spiritual realm, yields the most wonderful of results. Sita Devi was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who is the husband of Lord Narayana, or God. Being God’s wife, she is completely devoted to Him in thought, word, and deed. When one is completely devoted to God, then all material pains become completely nullified. Sita was more than willing to subject herself to the austere forest life, for it meant that she would be in constant association with her husband. This is true love. We may find ourselves in precarious conditions from time to time, but if always keep Krishna on our minds and in our hearts then we will be able to survive anything. Krishna is the ocean of mercy and the best friend of the devotees.

The tongue and the stomach are the hardest sense organs to control. Eating too much and talking unnecessarily lead us away from spiritual life. When we eat too much, we are inclined to sleep more than we need to, and our desire for sex increases. We should control our eating habits by preparing and offering food to Krishna. We should eat the remnants of the offered food, known as prasadam, and thus our eating will be purified. Sita Devi was the perfect devotee in that everything she did in her life was an offering to her husband. Even while living the life of a princess, she had her senses completely under control and thus had no qualms about living in the woods, where food was scarce, and where the cuisine would consist mostly of fruits and roots.

Rama Darbar Keeping all this in mind, we should all voluntarily accept austerities which will help us advance in spiritual life and allows us to always think about God. According to Vedic philosophy, the four pillars of sinful life are meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication. If we refrain from these four activities and constantly chant the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” then our lives will be perfect.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Requited Love

Marriage of Sita and Rama “Do you accept this entreaty from one whose heart is entirely yours, knows none else, is ever attached to you, and who is resolved to die if forsaken by you. Repairing to the forest with you, I shall be in no way a burden to you.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Love is a natural feeling and sentiment that all of us feel and desire. It is not something that has to be taught to us, it is innate in all humans, and even in many animals. We often see two dogs sharing love, a bird caring for her eggs, and even lions protecting their cubs.

According to Vedic philosophy, everything in this material world is a reflection of the spiritual world.

janmady asya yatah (The Absolute Truth must be the original source of everything)” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.1)

Everything that exists in the material world also exists in the spiritual world, but in a pure form. For example, in Goloka Vrindavana, the spiritual abode of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, God is eternally involved in loving affairs with Shrimati Radharani. When Lord Krishna descended on this planet some five thousand years ago, He performed the pastime of regularly dancing with the cowherd girls (gopis) of Vrindavana. Under the moonlit night, this dance was performed and was known as the rasa lila. In fact, this rasa lila is occurring regularly in the spiritual world. Not to be mistaken with the mundane loving affairs of this material world, love in the spiritual world is completely pure. This love is defined as love for God, and love in the material world is a diluted version of this.

Rasa Lila Love in the material can be very difficult and painful. When we see a man or a woman that we really like, we go to great lengths to get them to love us. Many times our feelings for them are so strong that we feel compelled to express our love for them openly, in hopes that they’ll return the same sentiments to us. Sadly, it is often the case that love is only one way. The other party may not feel the same way about us, and this is the cause of great distress. Many movies and songs are dedicated to this feeling known as unrequited love. Loving somebody and having them not love you is one of the most painful feelings in this material world.

The pain caused by unrequited love can be very difficult to overcome. Yet once we are “over” a particular person, we eventually find ourselves falling in love again and repeating the same cycle of hope and despair. This inevitably occurs due to our innate desire to love and to be loved. According to Vedic philosophy, this desire is inside of all of us because we all love God at our core. Though we may falsely identify with our gross material bodies, we are actually spirit souls on the inside that have been forced into this material world. Our natural position is to love and serve God purely, but we have forgotten this through association with maya, God’s illusory energy. Maya makes us think that material sense enjoyment is the ultimate aim of life, and thus we seek love in all areas of life except God.

Lord Rama, Krishna’s avatar in the Treta Yuga, was ordered to spend fourteen years living in the forest by His father, King Dashratha of Ayodhya. The Lord was actually scheduled to be installed as the new king, but as fate would have it, He was instead forced into exile. Being married at the time to His wife Sita Devi, the Lord begged her not to follow Him to the forest. Sita flatly refused His suggestion, and told Rama that she would die without Him. She boldly declared her love for Him and asked Him to return that love by allowing her to come to the forest with Him.

It is easy for one to mistakenly equate this exchange between husband and wife with mundane material love. In actuality, it represented the pure form of love that exists in the spiritual world. Sita was completely devoted to Rama, who was God Himself appearing in human form. This is the ultimate aim of life for every person. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death never has to return to this material world:

“One who, at the time of death, fixes his life air between the eyebrows and in full devotion engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord, will certainly attain to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Bg 8.10)

In the material world, if we declare our love for someone, it isn’t guaranteed that the other person will love us back. However, if we direct our love to God, we can be rest assured know that He will return the sentiment. God is all the all-knowing Supreme and thus He knows what is in everyone’s hearts. If we truly love Him and only desire to serve Him, then He will recognize that and love us even more than we love Him.

Lord Krishna God shows His love to us by always appearing in our thoughts, words, and deeds. This is the test. If we always think of Krishna, speak about Krishna, and constantly sing His praises, then we can understand that He is always with us. When we love someone, we crave their companionship and never want them to leave us. In the same way, God’s devotees are very dear to Him, and thus He never leaves their side. Lord Rama was forced to take Sita with Him to the forest. As events would play out later on, Sita would eventually have to be separated from Rama on a few occasions, but never did she think of anyone else. Rama was her life and soul, whether directly in her presence or not. This is the reward of devotion. Devotional service means requited love.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Poverty of Knowledge

Lakshmi Devi - The Goddess of Wealth “No one knows where compassion should be applied. Compassion for the dress of a drowning man is senseless. A man fallen in the ocean of nescience cannot be saved simply by rescuing his outward dress—the gross material body.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.1 Purport)

Throughout the world, governments and cultural leaders have taken up the plight of those classified as poor and downtrodden. Programs are being proposed and billions of dollars are being spent in the hopes of ending world poverty and hunger.

Compassion for the poor is nothing new. It is very natural for a person to pity others they view as less fortunate. Mainly caused by feelings of guilt, those who are well-off feel bad for those who they view as less fortunate in a material sense. These feelings are especially common amongst wealthy people. The affluent drive around in fancy cars, fly in private jets, and live in very expensive homes, spending lavishly on everything from clothes to food. Being accustomed to such a lifestyle, the wealthy can’t fathom how others can survive without these things, thus they pity them.

The proposed solutions for ending poverty and world hunger are generally all the same. They typically involve spending large sums of money through the processes of charity and redistribution of wealth. Most charitable organizations exist to help those who are less fortunate. Andre Agassi, the legendary tennis player, has set up a foundation to give disadvantaged youths a chance to attend high quality schools in his hometown of Las Vegas. Other celebrities hold annual golf tournaments to raise money for similar causes. Poverty is very common in African countries, so there is much time and money devoted to helping people in that region. The famous Live Aid and Live Eight concerts raised millions of dollars for those struggling in Africa. Governments around the world also take a prominent role in combating poverty. By raising taxes on those deemed to be wealthy, money is redistributed from high income earners to low or no income earners in the name of “fairness.” The Great Society program initiated by President Johnson in the U.S. in the 1960s was an example of this.

Live 8 concerts for aid to Africa While the intentions are very good and noble, these programs don’t usually solve anything. Programs from the Great Society have been in place for over forty years and the poverty rates in America are virtually unchanged. Billions upon billions of dollars have been poured into struggling African countries, yet virtually no progress has been made in solving the hunger problem. More than anything else, these programs serve to alleviate the guilt felt by those who pity the poor. The main reason these program don’t work is because they simply aim to solve material problems. One’s material senses can never be satisfied, no matter how much wealth one may acquire. As Shrila Prabhupada mentions above, compassion for the gross material body is senseless. According to the Vedas, the first book of knowledge, one should have equal compassion towards all living entities, regardless of their financial disposition. Whether one is rich or poor is not important, but rather the plight of their soul is what really matters.

Having compassion for the wealthy may seem like a strange concept. One may have every material facility available to them, but it doesn’t mean that they are happy or satisfied. The demands of the senses can never be satisfied. One need only study the lives of a few famous celebrities to see this truth in action. Rock stars are famous for ruining their lives through drug and alcohol addiction, though they are extremely wealthy and famous. Even great entrepreneurs and businessmen, who are extremely wealthy and successful, take to philanthropy or politics in hopes of satisfying their senses. This proves that the acquisition of wealth doesn’t automatically equate to increased happiness. At the time of death, all of one’s wealth and possessions and family relationship become nullified. Then what happens? This question is what the focus should be on.

As far as concern for the poor, obviously those who are constantly in distress will have trouble making spiritual advancement. For this reason, the Vedas prescribe a simple lifestyle for all. Not eating too much or hankering after great wealth, one should be satisfied with his or her allotment in life. This leaves plenty of free time to engage in the real occupation of man, that of service to Krishna. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the original name of God that applies to everyone. The purpose of this human form of life is to develop an attachment and love for Him. Only then will we truly be happy. In the Vedic system of varnashrama dharma set out for society, the brahmanas, or priestly class of men, would voluntarily put themselves into poverty. They would limit their possessions so as to avoid attachment to all things material. Living a very meager lifestyle, they would depend simply on Krishna’s mercy and the charity of others. In the Vedic system, charity is only to be given to the brahmanas. Giving away money to others may be a selfless act, but if the recipients of charity utilize it simply for sense gratification, then this form of benevolence doesn’t really do anyone any good. Charity given to bona fide brahmanas benefits all of society since the brahmanas constantly serve the Supreme Lord Krishna. In order to maintain a plant, one must water the roots and not the leaves. In a similar manner, if we serve Krishna, the root cause of the entire creation, then the rest of our problems are automatically solved.

Lord Krishna Great leaders of the world would be better suited channeling their time and energy towards educating the population about the science of bhakti yoga, or devotional service to God. This science isn’t very complicated and anyone can understand it. In this age, one simply has to recite God’s name in a loving way as much as possible and eventually all problems will disappear. By encouraging everyone to engage in the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, world leaders can make a real difference in solving everyone’s real problem, that of filling the existing spiritual void. Real wealth can only be acquired when one has developed a pure love of God.