Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cultural Boiling Pot

Lord Krishna and Arjuna “There are three gates leading to this hell-lust, anger, and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.21)

Due to the effects of Kali Yuga, the world seems to be a cultural boiling pot of hot water right now. There is anger and rage inside of some people at never before seen levels. One need only look to recent news stories to see evidence of this.

The famous pop music singer, Michael Jackson, died recently of a heart attack. While many mourned his passing, there were equally as many who took the opportunity of his death to ridicule him even more. Jackson had many shortcomings as a person, including alleged bouts with pedophilia and other strange behavior. He was by no means an outstanding citizen. Yet death is usually a sad occasion where others show respect for the deceased. With Jackson’s passing however, many people took to cracking jokes about him and making fun of the circumstances relating to his death. In another story, the President of Brazil blamed the recent world economic crisis on “white people with blue eyes”. In essence, he was calling bankers and other entrepreneurs Nazis. In a third story, a person wanted for the abduction and rape of a minor was chased by police in Oakland, California. The alleged criminal was a parolee who had been in jail many times before. During the chase, a shootout occurred where four police officers were shot and killed by the suspect. Since the murderer was African American, many people held a celebration rally for his “accomplishment” of killing cops. The people at the rally viewed the police force as “an occupying army in the African community”, who terrorize black people.

Many people will be shocked to hear of such behavior, but situations like these are very common in today’s age. There is a general lack of God consciousness in the world which results in the rise of ignorance. Whether one is black, white, has blue eyes or brown eyes, every person is an individual spirit soul at the core. Judging someone based solely on their physical attributes is quite a silly thing to do. The Vedas refer to people who think this way as mudhas, or asses. It is a skin disease of the worst kind. Yet we shouldn’t be surprised by seeing this sort of ignorance. In the Vedas, the first spiritual instruction given is that “I am not this body”. Aham brahmasmi, meaning “I am a spirit soul” is the first realization that everyone must come to. However, this tenet is not taught anywhere, not even by the major religions of the world. Those who lacks this fundamental knowledge will always be in ignorance and be victim to the skin disease.

We can’t solve this problem simply by talking about it or by protesting. According to the Bhagavad-gita, the soul is eternal and we all have lived many many times before in different bodies. We have evolved to our present state through the laws of karma.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Lord Krishna, Bg 4.5)

Throughout these numerous lives, we have accumulated dust on our hearts and minds that needs to be cleared. In this age of Kali, Lord Chaitanya has recommended that one constantly chant the Holy names of God as the only means of salvation:

harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam

kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha

"In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy the only means of deliverance is chanting the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way. There is no other way. There is no other way."

God is for everyone and He views everyone equally. If we take to His service, then as we make spiritual progress, we will slowly come to the realization that all of us are His children. We will view everyone equally and be compassionate to all human beings.

In this regard, there is a famous story relating to the venerable Narada Muni and a hunter. The hunter was living in the forest shooting different animals. He would only half kill the animals by breaking their legs, watching them suffer as they struggled for their lives. Narada Muni asked the hunter why he was only half-killing the animals and not putting them out of their misery by fully killing them. The hunter replied that he was deriving great pleasure from watching the animals suffer. Narada Muni informed the hunter that he was incurring great sin by such action. Killing the animals for food was one thing, but intentionally causing them to suffer was worse because the laws of karma would dictate that these same animals would kill the hunter in his next life and several lives after that. The hunter became scared and surrendered himself unto Narada. The rishi then convinced the hunter to give up animal killing and become a devotee of the Lord.

Narada, Parvata, and the hunter Therefore the lesson is that one can only become a first class person by surrendering unto a devotee of the Lord. The devotees have purified themselves through service, thus becoming the most exalted members of society. If we follow their lead and take up the process of devotional service, we can reform ourselves in the same way the hunter did. Viewing everyone equally, having compassion for all living entities, we can live in a society of love and mutual respect, instead of one of hated and anger.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Road Trip

 Incidents from the Ramayana “A man who reads this Ramayana story, which leads to long life, will, after death, rejoice in heaven together with his sons, grandsons, and kinfolk.” (Narada Muni speaking to Maharishi Valmiki, Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kand, Sec 1)

Few things in life can be as exciting and liberating as the “Road Trip”. When we get group of friends together and take a long distance journey in a car, the possibilities are endless. New adventures are on the horizon and no one quite knows how events will play out. Therein lies the appeal of the road trip.

Life in the material world can get to be boring very quickly. In any stage of life, but especially in our adolescent and young adult years, our days can become very regimented and stressful. As students, we are required to get up early to attend school and as soon as we come home, we are forced to complete our homework or study for exams. There are vacations every now and then, but the majority of the year is spent in school. As adults, the typical job requires us to go to the office from 9 am to 5 pm. When we come home, we are too tired to do anything fun. We usually just relax and wait for the next work day to arrive.

Friends Gandalf episodeFrom time to time, we want something different in our lives, something to get us excited. Weekends offer some hope, but even those days can become boring. Two days out of each week just isn’t enough time to do anything really fun and worthwhile. The road trip is our chance to be spontaneous and add a little unpredictability to our lives. On a road trip, anything can happen since there aren’t any set plans. We may have a certain destination that we are traveling to, but there is no set itinerary. We can stop off anywhere we want for lunch and dinner, or we may take various detours along the journey to see interesting sights. The beauty of the road trip is that you’ll never know where you might end up or what you might be doing. In the television sitcom Friends, there was an episode where two of the male characters, Chandler and Ross, were excited because their friend Gandalf was coming to town. In this particular episode, they both happily uttered the phrase, “Dude…We are so gonna party!” in anticipation of their meeting with Gandalf. Gandalf was known as the Party Wizard to his friends because they could never predict where he was going to take them, thus both Chandler and Ross were very eagerly anticipating the prospect of another wild night of partying with him.

Going on road trips and partying may bring us short term excitement, but there was one road trip in particular that still brings pure bliss to millions of people around the world.  This was the journey taken by Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in India. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descends to earth from time to time to reinstitute the laws of dharma as He states in the Bhagavad-gita:

“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.” (Bg 4.7)

Rama DarbarAs Lord Rama, God took the form of a kshatriya prince dedicated to dharma and to serving and protecting His devotees. Rama was the rightful heir to the kingdom of Ayodhya, ruled by His father Maharaja Dashratha, but due to unforeseen events, the kingdom was bequeathed to His younger brother Bharata. Along with this decision, the Lord was also ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile. Now He hadn’t done anything wrong, but Dashratha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi, who was also Bharata’s mother, was afraid that Rama would try to usurp the kingdom from her son. Thus she ordered the exile and the Lord happily obliged. God is always full in six opulences, with renunciation being one of them. Prepared to set out for the forest by Himself, His wife Sita Devi and younger Lakshmana both refused to let Him go alone.

The trio finally set out for the forest, but they had trouble shaking the town residents. Everyone loved Rama, for He was a flawless human being who was kind and compassionate towards all. The citizens of Ayodhya loved Him so much that they were willing to abandon their homes and spend the exile period in the forest with Him. As pious souls, they were firmly attached to God and they felt there was no pleasure in a life without Him. They all wanted to be part of the road trip, but Rama knew that forest life would be very difficult for them. Akin to living a life of homelessness, the woods were reserved for people who had their senses under complete control, such as the yogis and renounced brahmanas. Lord Rama did not want to cause His fellow citizens any pain, so He devised a way to escape from their company. Early on in their journey, Rama and His party awoke early in the morning while the citizens who had followed them were still sleeping. The Lord advised the royal charioteer, Sumantra, to make two sets of tracks with his chariot so that the citizens would not be able to tell which way the group had gone. This plan worked, as the townspeople were unable to find Lord Rama when they awoke, thus they retreated back home.

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha The citizens of Ayodhya didn’t have the benefit of following the Lord, for they had to wait fourteen years for His triumphant return. However, due to the mercy of the great sage Maharishi Valmiki, all of us can come along on Lord Rama’s road trip. The Valmiki Ramayana has all the details of the Lord’s journey, with His glorious pastimes described in great detail. In their fourteen years in the forest, Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana engaged in many insightful and delightful conversations. They visited various hermitages, receiving the blessings and benedictions of the great sages. Lord Rama and Lakshmana killed many a Rakshasa, including Ravana, who was the most powerful of all. It was in the forest that they made friends with the Vanaras, including Rama’s greatest devotee, Hanuman. The stories are timeless and they wrap the soul in a blanket of pure bliss. There is no greater feeling in life than to have association with God, and thanks to Valmiki, we can all enjoy His association. The Ramayana is the spiritual trip of a lifetime.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Follow The Leader

Sita and Rama “I shall follow you, taking the permission of the respected ones; without you, O, Rama, I will renounce my life.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Sita Devi was Goddess Lakshmi herself incarnated in human form many thousands of years ago in Mithila. Lakshmi is known as the goddess of fortune in the Vedic tradition, and she is the husband of Lord Narayana, God’s four-handed form who manages the entire creation. Being God’s pleasure potency, Sita was naturally a perfect devotee and completely pure. As part of her pastimes, she was married to Lord Krishna’s incarnation of Lord Rama. The two were living very happily in the kingdom of Ayodhya under the protection of Rama’s father, Maharaja Dashratha. Rama was to be installed as the new king but as fate would have it, He was instead ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years as an exile. The order applied to Him only, so the Lord requested Sita to remain in the kingdom for the duration of the exile. Sita Devi vehemently protested His decision and insisted on accompanying Him. She boldly declared that she would follow Him after having taken permission from the exalted members of the kingdom.

Lakshmi Narayana Being a perfect devotee, Sita required no such permission, but she sought it to teach a lesson on the proper rules of etiquette. According to Vedic principles, the brahmanas and the elderly members of the family should be given the utmost respect. Parents that strictly adhere to Vedic principles should always be respected and their instructions should be followed. Lord Rama was God Himself and the greatest of kshatriya warriors. Yet at the command of His father, He immediately renounced His kingdom and accepted banishment to the forest. The human form of life is meant for God realization and not for sense gratification. By giving respect to those who are worthy of it, one becomes detached from the bodily comforts of life and rises above the desire to satisfy the senses. Following religious principles, known as dharma, allows one to steadily progress on the path of God realization. Sita and Rama were celestials in the guise of humans, thus they weren’t striving for any sort of realization, but they strictly adhered to the laws of dharma in order to teach future generations.

The brahmanas are the priestly class of men in society, and they are very dear to Lord Krishna. True brahmanas have no attachment to material activities, and they devote one hundred percent of their time to serving the lotus feed of the Lord. For this reason, they are to be given the highest respect in society. In the Vedic times, kings would take counsel on all matters from brahmanas that were part of the royal court. Similar to the modern day concept of political advisors, brahmanas would guide kings on the proper role of government and how to administer justice. The orders of the brahmanas were accepted immediately and never questioned. When Lord Rama was a youth, the great sage, Vishvamitra Muni, came to King Dashratha and requested to have Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, accompany him to the forest. Dashratha was a great devotee and was naturally very attached to his eldest son Rama. He couldn’t live without Him, thus he was quite pained upon hearing the brahmana’s request. However, Dashratha knew the rules of propriety so he acceded to Vishvamitra’s request.

Vishvamitra Aside from teaching us to respect authority, Sita Devi taught us an even greater lesson. By insisting on following Lord Rama to the forest, she was requesting the Lord to allow her to serve Him. Loving service to God is known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Sita was already the perfect devotee, performing all nine processes of devotional service (hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, becoming friends with Him, and surrendering everything to Him) without any flaws. However, to teach an example to everyone, prior to commencing her devotional act of going to the forest, she requested the permission of the authorized members of the kingdom. We all think of God at some point in our lives even though we might not have a clear conception of Him. Maybe when we are falling asleep at night we pray to Him, or maybe in times of distress we’ll ask Him for something. In the neophyte stage, we think of God as an order supplier and nothing else. This form of worship is very nice, but we are actually incapable of understanding God simply through our mental speculation. In order to properly understand Him, we are required to take up the process of devotional service under the guidance of a spiritual master. A bona fide spiritual master is anyone who is completely devoted to Lord Krishna or one of His authorized forms. The devotees are expert in serving Krishna because they themselves have learned the art from their spiritual master. This disciplic succession is known as the parampara system and was instituted by Krishna Himself at the beginning of creation. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna explains that knowledge of Him was first given to the sun god.

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bg 4.1)

The Bhagavad-gita deals with a conversation between a spiritual master, Lord Krishna, and a disciple, Arjuna. Being quite bewildered on the eve of a great war, Krishna initiated Arjuna into the discipline of bhakti yoga.

Krishna speaking to Arjuna If we proceed with our material endeavors without following the authoritative instructions of God’s representatives, then we will inevitably fail. While Sita and Rama were staying in the forest, the demon Ravana would kidnap her and hold her hostage on his island kingdom of Lanka. Ravana was advised by many in his kingdom, including his brother Vibhishana and also his spiritual advisors, to return Sita to Rama, but he didn’t listen to any of them. As a result, Lord Rama came and destroyed Ravana’s entire kingdom, killing Ravana and others in his family. Ravana had amassed great wealth, and lived a life full of unrestricted sense gratification. Yet, due to his reluctance to follow sound advice, his wealth and fame were lost in an instant.

We should all follow Sita Devi’s lead and eagerly take up the process of devotional service through the guidance of the best of the brahmanas, the Vaishnavas. In this age, Lord Rama incarnates through the sound vibration of His holy name. If we constantly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and follow the instructions handed down to us by the great saints such as A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Lord Chaitanya, and Goswami Tulsidas, then our lives will be perfect.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Why We Are Here

Lord Krishna's universal form"The Lord is like a great blazing fire, and the living entities are like small sparks of that fire.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi, 7.116)

Question: “What I do not understand is how, with God being one, perfect and whole, that He would manifest himself in a variety of forms that were condemned to being lost in finitude and frustration? Why do we exist separately from Brahman right now in our present form? Why would God see fit to manifest Himself into weakness and suffering?”

Answer:  This is a question that comes up quite often from those who are inquisitive about the origin of the spirit soul. The Bhagavad-gita and other religious scriptures provide various prescriptions for how we are to act going forward in hopes of achieving spiritual happiness, but there is no concrete information given on the origin of the soul.

Young children often like to play the Why Game. The game is very easy to play; you keep questioning someone about a particular subject by constantly asking them “But why?” For example, Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita, that we spirit souls are eternal and that there never was a time when we did not exist:

“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna, Bg 2.12)

One can then ask the question: “if we have always existed, then why and how did we end up this material world?”

The general Vedic teaching is that we spirit souls are here because we want to be. We wanted to lord over material nature and pretend to be God ourselves, so the Lord begrudgingly gave us the opportunity to fulfill this desire by creating this material world. It is in essence our playground. We’re allowed to go hog wild, taking any and all opportunity to further our sense pleasures. Since all of our desires are colliding with one another, naturally there will be both good and bad results. Any activity done for a material result is called karma. Karma is what makes the world go around, and it is the single force behind our remaining in the material world. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord also states that our consciousness at the time of death determines what kind of body we 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)

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Bg 2.22)

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

From this verse, we can understand that the soul is eternal and that it never takes birth. Eternal means having no beginning and no end. In fact, that is how religion is defined in the Vedic sense. It is referred to as sanatana dharma, meaning the “eternal occupation of man”. It is more than just blind faith, for it is the inherent duty of living entities to be God conscious and to engage their time in spiritual activities.

The Vedic tradition states that we spirit souls have a minute amount of independence. God is great and the Supreme Controller, yet He has allowed us to take birth in this material world, giving us the reigns to determine our own fate. It is similar to the concept of a father and son. Playing the Why Game, one can ask “why would God allow us to come here if He knew it was bad for us?” The answer again goes back to the issue of karma. It is our desire. It is our choice.

Vishnuduttas saving Ajamila The accepted belief amongst followers of Christianity is that this material world was meant to be a place of complete purity, where people would be completely God conscious and without sin. However, Adam and Eve, the first two living beings, tainted everything by engaging in the original sin by taking the Forbidden Fruit, an act which has since plagued all of their descendents. A similar concept exists in the Vedas in relation to the purity that existed at the beginning of creation. The Vedas tell us that the universe is constantly going through cycles of creation and destruction. Each creation is divided into four time periods known as Yugas. In the first Yuga, known as Satya or Krita, man is completely pure. Dharma exists at full strength. With each successive time period, dharma dwindles by one quarter in strength. The real sin of Adam and Eve was not necessarily the specific act they engaged in. Sinful activity really means anything done which has an associated karma, or material reaction. Any activity done along religious principles, work performed for the benefit of Krishna, is considered spiritual. Any other activity is technically considered sinful since it binds us to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Yamaraja, the god of death, explains this very well in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Similar to the idea of the Grim Reaper, Yamaraja takes charge of the spirit souls right after the time of death, determining what type of body they will receive in their next life. A long long time ago, there was a brahmana by the name of Ajamila, who had been a devotee earlier in his life, but then later took to sinful life. At the time of his death, he inadvertently called out for his son Narayana, which also happens to be the name of Krishna’s four-handed form also known as Vishnu. Yamaraja’s agents came to take his soul, but they were intercepted by the Vishnuduttas, the agents of Lord Vishnu. Yamaraja later had to explain to his agents that he only accepts those souls which aren’t God conscious. He instructed them not to bring him those souls which were devoted to God, for the devotees go directly to Krishna’s spiritual abode after they die.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada gives further insight into the reason behind the existence of spirit souls:

“Although sparks and a big fire are both fire and both have the power to burn, the burning power of the fire and that of the spark are not the same. Why should one artificially try to become like a big fire although by constitution he is like a small spark? It is due to ignorance. One should therefore understand that neither the Supreme Personality of Godhead nor the small sparklike living entities have anything to do with matter, but when the spiritual spark comes in contact with the material world his fiery quality is extinguished. That is the position of the conditioned souls. Because they are in touch with the material world, their spiritual quality is almost dead, but because these spiritual sparks are all Krishna's parts and parcels, as the Lord states in the Bhagavad-gita (mamaivamshaa), they can revive their original position by getting free from material contact. This is pure philosophical understanding. In the Bhagavad-gita the spiritual sparks are declared to be sanatana (eternal); therefore the material energy, maya, cannot affect their constitutional position.

Someone may argue, ‘Why is there a need to create the spiritual sparks?’ The answer can be given in this way: Since the Absolute Personality of Godhead is omnipotent, He has both unlimited and limited potencies. This is the meaning of omnipotent. To be omnipotent, He must have not only unlimited potencies but limited potencies also. Thus to exhibit His omnipotency He displays both. The living entities are endowed with limited potency although they are part of the Lord. The Lord displays the spiritual world by His unlimited potencies, whereas by His limited potencies the material world is displayed. In the Bhagavad-gita (7.5) the Lord says:

‘Besides these inferior energies, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is another, superior energy of Mine, which comprises all living entities who are exploiting the resources of this material, inferior nature.’ The jiva-bhuta, the living entities, control this material world with their limited potencies. Generally, people are bewildered by the activities of scientists and technologists. Due to maya they think that there is no need of God and that they can do everything and anything, but actually they cannot. Since this cosmic manifestation is limited, their existence is also limited. Everything in this material world is limited, and for this reason there is creation, sustenance and dissolution. However, in the world of unlimited energy, the spiritual world, there is neither creation nor destruction.

If the Personality of Godhead did not possess both limited and unlimited energies, He could not be called omnipotent…’The Lord is greater than the greatest and smaller than the smallest.’ He is smaller than the smallest in the form of the living entities and greater than the greatest in His form of Krishna. If there were no one to control, there would be no meaning to the conception of the supreme controller (ishvara), just as there is no meaning to a king without his subjects. If all the subjects became king, there would be no distinction between the king and an ordinary citizen. Thus for the Lord to be the supreme controller there must be a creation to control. The basic principle for the existence of the living entities is called chid-vilasa, or spiritual pleasure. The omnipotent Lord displays His pleasure potency as the living entities. The Lord is described in the Vedanta-sutra (1.1.12) as ananda-mayo 'bhyasat. He is by nature the reservoir of all pleasures, and because He wants to enjoy pleasure, there must be energies to give Him pleasure or supply Him the impetus for pleasure. This is the perfect philosophical understanding of the Absolute Truth.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi, 7.116 Purport)

Lord KrishnaGod is supreme and we are subordinate. In order for that definition to be valid, there has to exist a relationship between the two, otherwise there is no meaning behind the fact of God being great.

One can play the Why Game again and ask “why would God need to feel superior?” In actuality, He doesn’t. The Lord is referred to as atmarama, meaning He is self-satisfied. He is need of nothing. Both God and the spirit souls are eternal, but the main difference is that the human mind cannot grasp the concept of infinity. The ideas of time and space represent the limits to our knowledge base. After all, the subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and ego are all products of this material world. They are not spiritual. We cannot even begin to fathom the concept of no beginning and no end.

The real meaning of life is love. Not the ordinary love between man and woman, or friends and family, but rather the highest form of love, Krishna prema. In most instances, the reason people decide to have children is because they want to have other people in their life that they can love unconditionally. God is the same way in that sense, except that He has expanded Himself for our benefit. He loves us no matter what, but just as with parents and their children, there is no way for God to force us to love Him back. The choice is ours in that respect. If we do decide to become devotees and give our love to the Lord, then the relationship that ensues is completely of a spiritual nature. It is the highest rasa, or transcendental mellow.

All this philosophy may seem confusing and contradictory, but one key point should be remembered: we can only understand the meaning of life and why we are here once we realize the futility in trying to figure it out. One can go on asking why until they reach a stumbling block, but Krishna has given us the way out of this world and that is all that should concern us:

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Bg 8.5)

Hanuman God is God and we should love Him unconditionally. That is all we need to know. It is a very natural thing. Many great devotees of the past have followed this path, including the gopis of Vrindavana, Prahlada Maharaja, and Hanuman just to name a few. They are perfect in every respect and by following their example, we can do no wrong.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Population Bomb

Krishna Lila “By performance of yajna we can have enough food, enough milk, etc.-even if there is a so-called increase of population.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.31 Purport)

Many leaders throughout the world are concerned with the issue of overpopulation. As birth rates rise, governments worry that an increase in population will lead to a scarcity of food and other necessary resources. For this reason, politicians are proposing plans aimed at controlling the population sizes of their countries.

“Jonathon Porritt, one of Gordon Brown’s leading green advisers, is to warn that Britain must drastically reduce its population if it is to build a sustainable society…Porritt said: “Population growth, plus economic growth, is putting the world under terrible pressure. ‘Each person in Britain has far more impact on the environment than those in developing countries so cutting our population is one way to reduce that impact.’” (UK Population must fall to 30m, says Porritt, Times Online)

The concern over population increases is not a new one. In the late 1960s, scientist Paul Ehrlich published a book called The Population Bomb, where he predicted mass starvation and worldwide chaos over the next twenty years due to overpopulation. Ironically, the worldwide food supply is higher today than it has ever been, with farmers in the United States paid by the government to limit food production in order that they may remain profitable.

Based on empirical evidence and the injunctions of the Vedas, one can see that fears relating to the effects of overpopulation are unfounded. The ancient scriptures of India declare that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, created this and millions of other universes through His various energies and expansions.

“O son of Kunti, at the end of the millennium every material manifestation enters into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency I again create.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 9.7)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna The entire cosmic manifestation, with millions of planets floating in the air independently, is maintained by Him alone. Thus it is naturally concluded that the same Krishna can easily maintain an innumerable amount of human beings, plants, animals, and aquatics on earth. Easily overlooked is the fact that nothing in this world is created by our actions. We may think ourselves the doers and the cause behind the fruits of our labor, but in fact God is the source of everything. Though a computer or high tech machine may be capable of exceeding the productivity of humans, still it is the human being that causes the computer or machine to perform its tasks. In the same way, our food and water may come from the earth, but it is God who created material nature in the first place. Since God can create on an infinite scale, He can also maintain that same creation.

When Lord Krishna personally appeared on earth over five thousand years ago, He was simultaneously married to 16,108 different wives. Many people will read such a fact and not believe it. “It must be part of the Hindu mythology” they’ll say. In fact, even the great sage Narada Muni was puzzled by this. Krishna was born in the kshatriya race, which meant His occupation was that of an administrative king. Narada Muni personally came to visit the Lord in one of His palaces. There he saw Krishna engaged in activities with His primary wife, Rukmini Devi. Then Narada visited another palace and saw Krishna there as well with another one of His wives. In this way, Narada visited all the different palaces and saw Krishna in every one of them. He was quite astonished.

“Thus Narada saw one single Krishna living in sixteen thousand palaces by His plenary expansions. Due to His inconceivable energy, He was visible in each and every individual queen's palace. Lord Krishna has unlimited power, and Narada's astonishment was boundless upon observing again and again the demonstration of Lord Krishna's internal energy.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol. 2, Ch. 14)

Narada Muni Knowing that God can sustain all of us, why do these politicians fear overpopulation so much? The answer is that they have forgotten about Krishna, or God, and their relationship with Him. It is a dog eat dog world today, where everyone is generally out for themselves, especially politicians. Everyone is hankering after sense gratification, concerning themselves primarily with the four activities of animal life: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. One who is obsessed with acquiring wealth, once having attained it, naturally fears losing. Thus these people become very defensive, turning into misers. When people become miserly, they become concerned primarily with their own welfare. They regard their own comfort as being more important than the comfort of others. These people genuinely fear that the quality of life they have grown accustomed to will be jeopardized by overpopulation. Thus they propose solutions geared at limiting the activities and resources of the common man, all the while exempting themselves from such regulations. It is pure greed couched as compassion for the environment.

The idea of politicians controlling the overpopulation of a society is quite alarming. Once a government is granted that power, it can then decide who lives and who dies. A good government is one that views all its citizens equally, in the mold of Lord Rama, Krishna’s incarnation who set the standard for how governments should be run. Instead, modern day governments are choosing favorites, deciding who will live, who will be wealthy, and who will have access to necessary resources. These solutions will not solve anything since they don’t tackle the root of the problem.

The greatest burden to the earth comes not from any increases in population, but from man’s overindulgence in sense gratification. Whether one is driving a car or riding a bicycle, living a life simply based on sense gratification will never make one happy. The material senses are never satisfied, as hard as one may try. Man wasn’t happy with the horse and buggy, so he created the car. That wasn’t good enough, so then the airplane was invented. Still not enough, man created spaceships to fly to the moon. The strain on resources is only a result of man’s unsatisfied desires.

Lord Krishna The real solution to all our problems is for us to become God conscious. This is the aim of life. We can indulge in fruitive activity, known as karma, but that will not provide us liberation. Acting in this way, we will be forced to continually accept new bodies after death in the process known as reincarnation. The only way to stop this cycle is for us to reconnect with Krishna, who is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. One who is devoted to Krishna automatically acquires all good qualities, with humility and respect for all life being two of them. When there is respect for God and for all life, there will be no scarcity of food or resources. Man can live peacefully, working together in service to the Lord. Let us not be so concerned with the loss or gain of our material properties, for they are all temporary. One need only look to God to solve all our problems. By becoming devoted to Him, we spirit souls can return to His kingdom after this life, solving the population problem once and for all.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Be Always Charitable

Sita Devi being charitable “Do you give away jewels to the brahmanas and edibles to the beggars longing for them, and make haste without delay. Confer upon the brahmanas valuable ornaments, excellent clothes, pleasant toys, beds, conveyances and other fine things in your possession and then what remains do you distribute amongst the servants.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 30)

God is most kind to His devotees. They are the one group of people that He never forgets and whom He holds very dear. A great example of this was displayed by Lord Rama many thousands of years ago.

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, personally descends to earth from time to time in order to give pleasure and protection to His devotees. Thousands of years ago, a great Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana was ascending to power, killing everyone in his wake. Known for feasting off flesh, Ravana and his band of Rakshasas were harassing the great sages of the world and interrupting their regular worship of God. For this reason, Krishna appeared as Lord Rama, a pious prince and expert warrior destined to kill Ravana and restore the laws of dharma to the world.

As part of His pastimes, the Lord willingly accepted an order from His father to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile. Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, was forced to give such an order to Rama, His eldest son, due to a promise he had made to his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Lord Rama had no problem with such a request since He was God Himself and possessed the quality of renunciation to the fullest extent. Lord Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was able to convince Him to allow her to come along to the forest after a lengthy argument. Right before leaving, Rama instructed Sita to give away all of the couple’s valuable possessions to the brahmanas.

Such an incident is very striking due to its timing. The Lord and His wife were in the midst of the most trying time in their lives up to that point. Yet the first thing they thought of was how to please the priestly class of men in society, the brahmanas. For most of us, in times of distress, charity is the last thing that we think about. It’s quite natural for one to focus on one’s own problems and give way to excessive lamentation during such occasions. But Sita and Rama were no ordinary people. They were the same Radha and Krishna, Lakshmi and Narayana, but in the dress of human beings. They saw it as their duty to set a good example for generations to come.

Brahmanas performing marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama Bona fide brahmanas, who are classified as such based on qualities and work, are held in such high esteem because they have abandoned everything and surrendered their life unto Krishna. It is important to note the distinction between qualified brahmanas and those who claim to be brahmanas by birth.

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

One cannot belong to a caste simply by birthright, for the varnashrama dharma system is based on the qualities a person possesses and not who their mother or father is. True brahmanas are those who have realized the meaning of life, which is to surrender unto God and to love Him. This is the last instruction given by Lord Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita:

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Bg 18.66)

Lord Krishna delivering Bhagavad-gita The lesson here is that we should not be overly attached to our possessions. Material wealth and opulence is only temporary and should be treated as such. We have a tendency to hoard our possessions and constantly hanker after bigger and better things. Special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and Christmas bring out these feelings, especially in children. However, the Vedas teach us the right way to celebrate all occasions, good and bad. Sacrifice and charity are the means of purification in this world. One cannot make advancements in spiritual understanding without performing tapasya, the voluntary acceptance of austerities. To live an austere lifestyle, one has to detach themselves from worldly possessions or at the very least limit their possessions to things of necessity. We can take steps towards achieving this goal by acting charitably.

Charity is often associated with acts of benevolence towards those we view as less fortunate. Philanthropists open hospitals and schools in underprivileged neighborhoods, and they give away millions of dollars to the needy. While this is all very nice, the Vedas instruct us to only give charity to worthy individuals. All wealth originally belongs to God, emanating from Goddess Lakshmi, who is Sita Devi herself. She gives wealth and fortune to God through her service, and she kindly provides us some of that wealth in order that we may use it in the same manner, in service to God. The brahmanas are God’s dependents, so all charity should be directed towards them. When wealth is sacrificed in this way, it benefits both the giver and the receiver, whereas charity on the material platform often benefits no one. Lord Rama and Sita Devi are the kindest of all. May we repay that kindness by sacrificing our time, energy, and money in service to them and their devotees.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

God is Standing Guard

Lord Rama fighting a Rakshasi“Deer, lions, elephants, tigers, sarabhas, and other animals which have not seen you before, seeing you, O Raghava, will stand off, for they all fear you.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

In the Treta Yuga, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended to earth in human form as Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya who was the most valiant of kshatriya warriors. According to the Vedic system, society is divided up into four classes of people based on their gunas, or qualities. The kshatriya division is entrusted with the duty of providing protection to the other three classes. A kshatriya is trained in the military arts and is expert at administering justice fairly and equally.

Lord Rama, having grown up in the kingdom of Maharaja Dashratha, was trained from His childhood in the military arts. Carrying around His bow and arrows, the Lord would regularly practice hunting with His three brothers: Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Lakshmana especially was close to Rama and followed Him wherever He went. Lakshmana wouldn’t partake of any meals or even take rest unless Rama was by his side. After reaching a mature age, the great sage Vishvamitra Muni came to Dashratha’s kingdom and asked to take Rama and Lakshmana with Him to the forest. The very powerful Rakshasa demon Ravana was wreaking havoc across the world and disrupting the sacrifices of the venerable rishis residing in the forests. This is the nature of demons; they are gluttons for material sense gratification, namely in the form of meat eating and intoxication. Rakshasas were known for feeding off the flesh of other living entities, and they were so against religious principles that they viewed pious men as their greatest threat. It is for this reason that they would disturb the sacrificial performances of the munis, for the Rakshasas knew that their downfall would only come through the activities of the brahmanas, or saintly class of men.

Rama and Lakshmana attending to Vishvamitra Dashratha hesitatingly agreed to let his two sons accompany Vishvamitra. While in the forest, the sage initiated both Rama and Lakshmana, teaching them the most expert of archery techniques. They were invested with very powerful mantras. In the modern age, warfare takes place with advanced nuclear weaponry involving missiles and bombs. During Vedic times, men were so pure that they could harness the same energy into their bows and arrows simply through the chanting of mantras. Mantras are sound vibrations that have tremendous powers when uttered perfectly and with conviction. Lord Rama and Lakshmana became well acquainted with these mantras, making them the greatest of archers. They could create nuclear blasts simply by shooting their arrows. Countries are investing millions of dollars in missile defense systems, but Rama and Lakshmana could provide defense against the most sophisticated weaponry by the use of their arrows.

As time passed, King Dashratha decided he would install Rama as the new king. However, on the day of the to-be coronation, the plans suddenly changed, and the Lord was instead ordered to be exiled into the forest for fourteen years. His younger brother Bharata would be installed as the new king, and Rama had no problem with this. Being married at the time, the Lord went to inform His wife, Sita Devi, of the bad news. Sita insisted on accompanying the Lord into the forest. The Lord tries His best to make Sita desist in her request, but she countered with her own arguments. In the Vedic times, women weren’t given a formal education in their youth, so they were considered less intelligent, along with the shudras. Still, Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the husband of Lord Narayana. She was the most intelligent person based on her single qualification of being completely devoted to Lord Rama, who was God Himself. Having such a high level of intelligence, she was naturally expert in the art of debate and argumentation. As part of her plea, she scoffed at the Lord’s suggestion that forest life would be dangerous. She reminded Him that He was the greatest kshatriya in the world, and that everyone would fear Him in battle. This being the case, how could the lowly animals in the woods pose any danger to them? This was her line of argument, and it was flawless in every respect. Lord Rama was God Himself, so naturally no one could harm Him. Sita, being under the protection of such a great warrior, would thereby have nothing to fear.

Goddess Lakshmi The more important point raised by Sita Devi is that God gives full protection to His devotees. That is God’s true nature. He is by default neutral towards all living entities, as He says 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)

We see that He makes an exception for His devotees. The bhaktas are the most dear friends of the Lord, and He takes special care of them by protecting them from all calamities. There are many examples of this in history. In the Dvapara Yuga, the Lord descended in His original form as Lord Krishna. The Lord’s paternal aunt, Kunti Devi, along with Her family known as the Pandavas, were under constant assault by Dhritarashtra, the head of the Kaurava family. The Pandavas were put into all sorts of precarious conditions, having had their house burnt down, being exiled to the forest, and having their kingdom taken away from them. Yet they survived all of these calamities since they were purely devoted to Krishna. Kunti Devi even prayed to the Lord that “May I always suffer through difficulty, for in those times, I’m always reminded of you (Krishna).” This was a very nice prayer and exemplified her pure devotion.

Narasimhadeva coming to kill HiranyakashipuIn a previous age, there was a very powerful atheist demon by the name of Hiranyakashipu, who ruled over the world. He had acquired great wealth and all the demigods were afraid of Him. However, his son Prahlada was a great devotee of Krishna from his very birth. While in the womb of his mother, Prahlada Maharaja heard instructions on devotion to Krishna from the great sage Narada Muni. Imbibed with devotion from a young age, Prahlada would regularly speak on the principles of bhakti yoga to his classmates. At only five years of age, Prahlada had knowledge that surpassed that of his own teacher. Hiranyakashipu was very angered by this devotion from his son, for he wanted Prahlada to worship him instead of Krishna. This is the nature of atheists; they want mere mortals to be glorified and they scoff at the slightest utterance of praise for God. Hiranyakashipu was so fed up with Prahlada’s unabashed love for Krishna that he tried to kill his son in so many ways. Throwing him in a pit of fire, pushing him off a cliff…these were the various attempts of Hiranyakashipu to kill Prahlada, but the boy miraculously survived all of these attempts. They seem like miracles to us, but they actually weren’t. Prahlada prayed to God prior to each attempt, and more than simple prayer, he focused his mind completely on Lord Krishna. Through pure devotion, he actually didn’t fear his father at all. The Lord eventually had enough and personally appeared as Lord Narasimhadeva to kill Hiranyakashipu.

Sita and Rama in the forestSita Devi, being the perfect devotee, knew all of these facts and thus had no fear of forest life with Lord Rama. The Lord eventually was forced to relent and allow His wife to come. Now while in the woods, Sita Devi would eventually be kidnapped by the demon Ravana while Rama was diverted by another Rakshasa in the guise of a deer.  This was predestined, for Rama needed an excuse to slay Ravana. Sita never wavered in her devotion to the Lord and was thus able to survive through the most difficult of times. The lesson is that we should all be devoted to Krishna and at the same time be confident in our devotion. We should always be rest assured that God will never let us down, and know that He will always allow us to love Him.