Saturday, September 26, 2009

Statements That Matter

Krishna speaking to Arjuna “O King, as I repeatedly recall this wondrous and holy dialogue between Krishna and Arjuna, I take pleasure, being thrilled at every moment.” (Sanjaya speaking to Dhritarashtra, Bhagavad-gita, 18.76)

The world news media pays great attention to the statements made by world leaders and famous celebrities. Their quotes appear as newspaper headlines and also on newswires across the world. The media views the statements of celebrities as being as good as statements made from God Himself.

One need only check the internet during the day or watch a cable news channel to find the latest headlines, which almost always list stories relating to statements made by famous people. “The President said his latest bill will do so and so…Republicans respond to attacks from Democrats…Democrats say Republicans are to blame…so and so called so and so a liar…”, these are the types of headlines we regularly see when following the news. This phenomenon isn’t limited to world news and politics, for the sports and entertainment media display similar behavior. During this year’s Wimbledon, considered the most prestigious professional tennis tournament, former champion and former world number one, Lleytton Hewitt, was asked how fellow player Andy Roddick would fare for the rest of the tournament. Hewitt had just been defeated by Roddick, so the press was interested to know his opinion. Hewitt responded that Roddick had no chance of winning the tournament. This statement turned into front page headlines on all the tennis news websites. One player simply giving his honest opinion all of a sudden became the most important news item.

State of the Union address Every year the President of the United States gives a State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress sometime in February. This speech is widely anticipated by the press corps and fellow politicians since the President outlines his goals and agenda for the upcoming year. A copy of the speech is given to the press prior to the address, allowing television networks to prepare their camera angles and cutaways for relevant moments of the speech. For example, if the President mentions someone specifically by name and that person happens to be in the audience, television networks can make sure to show that person on camera at the precise time in the speech when their name is mentioned. In a State of the Union address, presidents typically speak in platitudes, promising to spend money on lofty projects which are aimed at improving the health of the economy. It is very common to see members of both political parties, Republicans and Democrats, stand up and applaud various portions of the speech. After the address, television news channels have roundtable discussions with their panel of “experts” who analyze the content, delivery, and reactions to the speech.

As the famous saying goes, “Actions speak louder than words”, the words of Presidents and world leaders shouldn’t be taken as seriously as their actions. Anyone can say anything they want to, but in the end, it shouldn’t matter. Everyone knows that politicians lie, for lying is required to win votes in popular elections. Promises are made but seldom kept once a politician actually enters office. In the same way, famous athletes and pop culture athletes say controversial things all the time, either out of ignorance or because of disagreements they have with others. They are human beings just like the rest of us after all. All of us get into disagreements with others every now and then. It doesn’t mean that we should take so much stock into what people say. They are just words after all.

The news media and the pop culture would be better served if they followed the quotes made by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedas, which include the Mahabharata, Ramayana, Upanishads, and eighteen Puranas, contain very detailed conversations and quotations made by the Lord during His times on this planet and others. There are innumerable universes and planets, and God is always appearing on them enacting His pastimes and providing protection to His devotees. The great sages of India have documented many of these pastimes and stories in the Vedas. Since these great books contain direct quotes from God Himself, it is in everyone’s best interest to read and study them. The Bhagavad-gita, probably the most famous Vedic text, contains the conversation between Lord Krishna and His cousin Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra that took place some five thousand years ago. The statements made by the Lord in that book far outweigh the statements made by any of the mundane philosophers and world leaders throughout the course of history. Krishna discusses the constitutional position of the soul, what happens to it after death, and why we living entities are put on this earth.

“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)

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Bg. 2.24)

“In all activities just depend upon Me and work always under My protection. In such devotional service, be fully conscious of Me.” (Bg. 18.57)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna In a similar manner, the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam detail other pastimes and statements of the Lord. The Vedic literatures are so comprehensive and vast, that one can spend a lifetime trying to read them all and still not be able to finish. The Lord’s glories are ananta, or unlimited. We can even read the same books over and over again and never get bored, since we will always find new meanings and lessons to be learned.

We are very fortunate that the great acharyas of the past, like Vyasadeva, Valmiki Muni, and Goswami Tulsidas dedicated their lives to documenting the activities of God. They took no interest in the day to day actions and words of mere mortals, for they were spellbound by the words and teachings of the Supreme Lord. Through their sacrifice and hard work, they provided future generations with the greatest gift of all, the gift of the divine statements and pastimes of Lord Shri Krishna. Let us honor these great sages by reading their books, understanding the teachings and quotations found within them, and then passing on that knowledge to others.

Friday, September 25, 2009


Hanuman worshiping Lord Rama “My dear Lord, if You like You can give me salvation from this material existence, or the privilege of merging into Your existence, but I do not wish any of these things. I do not want anything which diminishes my relationship with You as servant to master, even after liberation.” (Hanuman)

Whether one grows up in America or another country, they are generally taught the same thing by authority figures regarding what the aim of life should be. The importance of attending school is heavily stressed. A good education is a prerequisite for landing a good paying job. Once we get a nice job and earn a good livelihood, we can think of starting a family. A stable and secure family life seems to be the end goal that most people strive for.

In the Vedic system, the goals of material life are broken into four categories: artha, kama, dharma, and moksha. Artha means economic development or earning money. They say money is the mother’s milk of politics, but it is also the key component of almost anything related to the material world. “Money makes the world go around” is how the saying goes. We all want to earn a decent wage so that we can provide for our necessities and desires. Kama is sense gratification or enjoyment. Especially in today’s technologically advanced age, there is ample time for sense enjoyment. This is actually the reason that we spirit souls take birth in this material world since life here represents our opportunity to seek out sense gratification. Dharma is religiosity. These three rewards of life go hand in hand. People in general want just enough religion in their life so that they have enough money to satisfy their senses. After we are done practicing religion to earn money to satisfy our senses, we seek moksha, or liberation from the repeated cycle of birth and death. These four rewards are referred to quite often in Vedic texts.

Now earning a good living and having a nice family are certainly very noble goals. A person earning a steady income is self-reliant and not a burden on society. Society functions well when people are productive and able to provide for themselves. Countries which have high employment rates are generally more peaceful than those countries which have many people that don’t work. If too many people are not working and are living as dependents of those who do work, then a sense of resentment is sure to arise. These disagreements lead to various movements such as socialism and communism which seek to the level the disparities between those who have high incomes and those who don’t.

Pete Sampras The four material rewards of life may be nice, but the Vedas teach us to strive for something higher. Instead of working hard for material things, we should make God realization our main priority in life. Though many of us may not realize it, sense gratification is temporary. We may work very hard to achieve a goal, but that reward is not permanent. For example, the great tennis player Pete Sampras worked long and hard to win a record fourteen Grand Slam singles titles during his career. When he was playing, the record for Grand Slam titles was twelve, previously set by Roy Emerson. It took Sampras almost thirteen years to break that record. When he finally retired from tennis in 2002, there was no other active player even close to him in Grand Slam titles. Yet, just seven years later, his record would be broken by Roger Federer, who at the moment has fifteen Grand Slam singles titles. While Sampras’ effort was very noble, the record he achieved was completely temporary, just like everything else in the material world. Even if we have a good job and a nice family, those things will not last forever. At the time of death, we lose all connection to the material world.

“An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.22)

The fact remains that our material senses can never truly be satisfied. We see evidence of this from those who are very wealthy and successful. At some point, they reach a stage in their life when they want more than just money and fame. They then try to fill the void in their life by taking to acts of philanthropy, such as opening hospitals, schools, or charitable foundations. Many rock stars and actors go the other way and turn to drug and alcohol abuse.

Knowing this, the great sages of India, the rishs who passed down the original Vedic teachings to generations on down, taught us to rise above mundane material sense gratification. This human form of life is our opportunity to know and understand Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The primary activities of animals are eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. As human beings, we are supposed to be smarter than animals, thus we should rise above these four activities. We may have a nice car, a big house, and a beautiful wife, but if we simply spend our time trying to please our senses, then our life is no different than that of an animal. For this reason, Vyasadeva has made the aphorism, athatho brahma jijnasa the first instruction of the Vedanta-sutras. “Now is the time to inquire about God”. That should be the top priority for all mankind.

One may ask, “How do I know God?” Fortunately for us, the great acharyas have shown us the path. Acharya means a teacher or one who leads by examples. There are many great acharyas in the Vedic tradition, with the most recent one being His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. A spiritual master in a great line of gurus traced all the way back to Lord Brahma himself, Shrila Prabhupada preached that everyone should take up the sankirtana process, or the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. Chanting, whether done in public or private, connects us with God since there is no difference between the Lord and His names. Krishna is the original name of God, meaning “all-attractive”. This name can be recited by people of all faiths. There is nothing more sublime in this world than the Lord’s name, His fame, and His pastimes. This is the declaration of all the great devotees, including Shrila Prabhupada, Goswami Tulsidas, and Hanuman. Lord Chaitanya, the incarnation of Krishna who inaugurated the sankirtana movement in India some five hundred years ago, asked people around the world to unite under one religion and one mantra, the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Lord Chaitanya Chanting is one of the processes of devotional service, or bhakti yoga. Devotional service has nine different processes (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), allowing us ample opportunity to serve the Lord throughout the day. Even if we are involved in material activities such as working at our jobs or living at home with our wife and children, we can still stay connected with Krishna through these processes.

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

Most people in are not self starters. They require leadership. The great acharyas have set the example that we should all follow. Shrila Prabhupada dedicated his whole life to serving Krishna, so why can’t we do the same? It’s okay to be a full-time devotee and always think about God. There is not only nothing wrong with it, but it is our natural inclination to act this way. So why go against nature? Become a devotee, chant the holy names of God, and see the difference it makes in your life.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Taking On Our Sins

Dashratha grieving over Rama's departure "Oh son, oh beloved Raghava, difficult is the task you are going to perform, for compassing my good in the next world, you are ready to repair to the very woods." (Maharaja Dashratha speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 34)

Lord Rama had just been requested by His father, Maharaja Dashratha, to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile. Dashratha was the king of Ayodhya and Rama, an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, was his eldest son and next in line for succession to the throne. Rama was to be installed as the new king, but events took a dramatic turn in the opposite direction.

Dashratha had three wives, something not uncommon for kshatriya kings. In previous times, kings were very pious, and were thus allowed to have multiple wives. According to Vedic philosophy, one should only have sex with one wife’s during the time of the month when the wife is fertile. Sex is intended only for procuring progeny and any other type of sex is categorized as illicit. Since the sex drive is so strong in males, kshatriya kings were allowed to marry multiple times so that they could satisfy their sexual urges and not commit sin at the same time. Dashratha’s youngest wife was named Kaikeyi; she was the mother of Rama’s younger brother Bharata. Kaikeyi was initially very happy upon hearing the news that Rama would be installed as the new king. The Lord was very much loved and adored in Ayodhya, and all three of His mothers viewed Him as their own son. However, due to the influence of her servant Manthara, Kaikeyi fell prey to jealousy and resentment. She requested the king to instead install Bharata and at the same time send Rama to live in the forest as an exile for fourteen years. On a previous occasion, Kaikeyi had saved Dashratha during a battle he was contesting with the asuras, or demons. Being very pleased, Dashratha offered her any two boons of her choosing. Kaikeyi wisely took a rain check on those boons, waiting until the time was right to use them.

Manthara speaking to Kaikeyi King Dashratha didn’t want Rama to leave His kingdom since he was very attached to the Lord. Rama was his favorite son, and he couldn’t bear the thought of being separated from Him. Yet Dashratha had made the promise to Kaikeyi, so he couldn’t go back on his word. In the Vedic system, a kshatriya, one in the warrior/administrator class, must always stand by his word. Since he is the leader of the people, the king must be honest and stand by his word, for the citizens will follow his lead. If a leader is a habitual liar, it is only natural that the citizens will follow his lead. Untruthfulness also makes it more difficult to administer justice since people can always point to the king’s impious behavior as an excuse for their own actions.

In the above referenced statement, Dashratha refers to the fact that Rama’s going to the forest will compass his own good in the next life. The laws of karma are absolute and apply to everyone engaged in material activities. Karma means fruitive activity, or work performed which has a material effect attached to it, be it positive or negative. If one is pious, they are rewarded with elevation to the heavenly planets, and similarly one must suffer in the hellish planets if they are sinful. Either way, residence in heaven or hell is temporary, and once one’s merits or demerits expire, the soul is again given a material body in the material world. By Lord Rama acceding to the king’s requests, He was ensuring that His father’s word would remain intact.

Lord Rama Lord Rama very easily could have ignored or rejected His father’s order. It is very customary for children to be rebellious from time to time and go against the wishes of their parents. Parents ask us to take out the garbage or do our homework or clean our room, and we often scoff at them. No one likes being told what to do by their parents, but the instructions are usually for their own good. Lord Rama never went against His father’s wishes. In the Vedic system, the mother and father are the first objects of worship for a person, followed by the guru or spiritual master. Our parents are our first teachers, and they provide us complete protection in our childhood. They are worthy of our respect and adoration simply based on that fact. Honoring our parents also teaches us how to respect others and not be so selfish. The first tenet of spiritual realization is referred to in Sanskrit as aham brahmasmi, meaning “I am a spirit soul.” Everyone naturally associates their identity with their material bodies. A person is thinking “I am Indian, I am American, I am a man”, etc. In actuality, we are none of these things since this body is only temporary and gets discarded at the time of death. The soul is eternal and never dies, thus it represents our real identity. Human life is the opportunity to realize this fact, though it is not very easy to realize. Therefore the Vedas give us the guidelines on how to break free of the material mentality so we can reach the stage where we identify with the soul within. These guidelines are collectively known as dharma, and they include the worship of one’s parents and their instructions. Since honoring the mother and father is in line with dharma, there is no sin in following their instructions. Lord Rama is God Himself, so by definition everything He does is above sin.

Dashratha with sons Rama and Lakshmana The Lord appeared to be following the orders of His father, but in reality He was showing us His grace. If one is a surrendered soul, as was Dashratha, God immediately takes responsibility for that person’s fate. This was the last instruction given by Lord Krishna 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)

One who becomes a pure devotee of Krishna is at once freed from all the reactions of their sins. They are guaranteed to return home after this life, back to Godhead. Dashratha would not survive Rama’s exile, for he gave up his body shortly after the Lord’s departure for the forest. He quit his body while thinking about the Lord, which is the best way to die. One’s consciousness at the time of death determines their fate 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)

“Always think of Me and become My devotee. Worship Me and offer your homage unto Me. Thus you will come to Me without fail…” (Bg 18.65)

The lesson here is that we should all become devotees of God. That is the highest dharma. Dashratha was a very pious king, part of a long line of kshatriyas rulers known as the Ikshvakus. In the Kali Yuga, it may not be possible to become as pious as he was. However, if we follow the great king’s example and love God with all our heart, then the Lord will dedicate Himself to compassing our good, just as He did with Dashratha.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Do as I Say

Rama and Lakshmana serving sage Vishvamitra“If one is expert in hearing and hears from the right source, his knowledge is immediately perfect. This process is called shrauta-pantha, or the acquisition of knowledge by hearing from authorities. All Vedic knowledge is based on the principle that one must approach a bona fide spiritual master and hear from the authoritative statements of the Vedas.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 16.52 Purport)

Knowledge is acquired through various mediums, such as observing and reading. In the modern age of advanced technology, many new forms of media are gaining in popularity. In addition to the traditional methods of acquiring knowledge of events through the reading of books and newspapers, many people now get their information from alternative sources. Television has become a very popular medium for learning and observing. Nightly newscasts and twenty-four hour cable news networks are watched by millions on a daily basis. The rise in popularity of the internet has brought about the phenomenon of blogs and message boards.

Though all these forms of media may be very effective in disseminating information, the most effective method of acquiring knowledge is through hearing. The evolution of talk radio has made millions of people more informed and educated on a variety of material subjects, ranging from politics and government to sports and entertainment. A recent poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, showed that regular listeners to talk radio tended to be more educated than regular viewers of television news and cable networks. When watching someone speak in person or on television, one tends to be distracted by visual images, thus they may not pay attention to everything that’s being said. Acquiring knowledge through listening requires a person to keep pace with the speaker, similar to how one must focus when having a conversation with someone else. Words are taken in, processed, and then the mind thinks of a reaction. A person is much more likely to be provoked into deeper thought through the listening process than through other methods.

The Vedic system validates this premise. In the Vedic tradition, knowledge was originally passed down through auditory reception. In terms of the timetable relating to the start of creation, the written word didn’t exist until very recently, thus scholars and sages of the past were required to memorize all the knowledge they had acquired. The Vedas, the original knowledge emanating from Lord Krishna Himself, are also referred to as the shrutis. Shruti means “that which is heard”, and it was through this mechanism that Vedic wisdom was passed down from generation to generation. In previous times, the brains of men were so advanced that they could recite thousands and thousands of complex Sanskrit verses perfectly straight from memory. The classic Vedic texts, such as the Mahabharata, Puranas, Ramayana, and Upanishads, were all recited regularly in public by the brahmanas, the priestly class of society. A spiritual master, or guru, would initiate his disciples in this knowledge, and they would in turn pass it down to their disciples. This is known as the parampara system. As time would go on, man’s faculty for memorization dwindled, thus it became necessary for these great texts be written down.

Sita Rama When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appeared in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago, He played the part of a most pious prince in the town of Ayodhya. Being the eldest and most favored son of Maharaja Dashratha, Rama was scheduled to be installed as the new king. However, on the day of his installation, Dashratha was compelled to change his plans and he instead ordered Rama to be exiled to the forest for fourteen years. Rama was to live there in the garb of a hermit, subsisting only on fruits and roots, and would not be privy to any of the luxuries of the kingdom. In essence, He would be homeless. Lord Rama, being God Himself and the ultimate renunciate, gladly accepted the decree of His father.

“‘A woman, without her husband, cannot live’, this truth has been pointed out by you, O Rama, to me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

At the time, the Lord was married to Sita Devi, the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the husband of Lord Narayana, who is Krishna’s personal expansion that controls the universe. Sita was thus a perfect devotee of the Lord, and when she heard the news of the exile, she insisted on accompanying her husband to the forest. Lord Rama was very adamant in His belief that Sita should remain in the kingdom. Sita, for her part, put forth a serious of arguments designed to persuade the Lord to allow her to come. One of the arguments she was made was that Lord Rama had once told her that a woman cannot live without her husband. Sita and Rama had been married for about twelve years at the time of this incident, so they had spent much time together. By putting forth this argument, Sita proved that she was the greatest listener. Husbands and wives spend much time talking to each other, and it is generally the complaint of the wife that the husband never listens to her. This complaint has formed the basis of stereotypical male-female humor, and has served as fodder for comedy writers for years. By nature, women tend to be more talkative and emotional, while men tend to keep their emotions bottled up inside.

In Sita and Rama’s marriage, both parties tended to be very quiet. Being God Himself, Lord Rama never spoke nonsense and neither did His wife. When He did speak, Sita would listen, as we can see from her statement. A devotee of Krishna hangs on every one of His words, cherishing them and committing them to memory. Sita Devi, being the perfect devotee, remembered everything that Rama would tell her.

Marriage of Sita and Rama According to Vedic philosophy, a woman is to be given protection throughout her lifetime. As a youth, she is to be protected by the father, as an adult by her husband, and in old age by her eldest son. This is sometimes misconstrued by people to mean that the women are treated as slaves. In fact, it’s just the opposite. They are given preferential treatment and protected at all times. The Vedas teach men to view all women, except their own wife, as their own mother. The annual Mother’s Day holiday in America proves just how much people care for their mothers. The Vedas teach us to take this one step further and expand this treatment to all women. Also in the Vedic system, it is stated that a woman’s spiritual fate is tied to that of her husband’s. In the old system, it was considered beneficial if the wife died before the husband, for then she would not be left alone. If the husband did pass on first, usually the wife would voluntarily ascend her husband’s funeral pyre, in what was known as the sati rite. As with many other religious rituals, this practice degraded over time to the point where women were being forced to burn themselves against their will, thus the practice has been outlawed. Nevertheless, the rite originated from the principle that a woman should always live with her husband, which was reiterated by Sita.

One lesson to take away from her statement is that God is the original spiritual master. The parampara system, or disciplic succession, passes down knowledge of the Absolute from generation to generation, but God is the origin of such a system. He explained it this way to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita:

“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. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way…” (Lord Krishna, Bg 4.1-2)

Vivasvan - the sun god In this day and age, we tend to put great stock in the words of people we see on television, be they famous celebrities or world leaders. While these people may have good intentions, it is more beneficial for us to take the instructions of God Himself, or those of His bona fide representative, the spiritual master.

Sita Devi’s exchange with Lord Rama teaches us how we should all act in relation to God. From a material standpoint, Sita appears to be trapping her husband with such a statement. “You tell me to live alone in the kingdom and serve the elderly members of the royal family while you go to the forest, yet you yourself have told me many times that a woman cannot live without her husband. You seem to be contradicting yourself. Were you lying then or are you lying now?” In healthy marriages, a strong sense of love and attachment exists between the husband and wife. Because a wife invests all her emotions in her husband, she naturally feels very comfortable speaking her mind to him. She views the husband as being helpless without her, and thus feels obligated to point out all his faults. Men usually misinterpret this as unnecessary nagging, but it is actually sign of true love. No one can criticize a man better than his wife. A wife will not hold anything back when she feels her husband needs to be corrected. Sita Devi, being the perfect wife and devotee, was no different, except she criticized the Lord by using His own words against Him. Lord Rama was especially known for being completely committed to the laws of dharma, or religiosity. Sita knew this and was quick to point out a flaw in His execution of dharma. Being God Himself, Rama was naturally above any mundane rules of the material world, but playing the part of a pious prince, He strictly abided by such rules.

Sita Devi’s arguments were perfect, and the Lord would eventually relent and allow her to accompany Him to the forest. Lord Rama became beholden to His wife, not because of her beauty or fame, but because of her pure devotion. God is the original spiritual master, and if we attentively listen to Him and His instructions, we become smarter than the greatest of scholars. At the conclusion of the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states,

“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 By surrendering everything unto the Lord, Sita became the most knowledgeable person, and the Lord was forced to concede defeat in His debate with her. This current age is known as Kali; the dark age known for unnecessary quarrel and argument. People argue over mundane topics such as politics and sports which are all part of the temporary material world. We should all learn from Sita’s example and only take to arguing when it will advance our devotion to the Lord. God will be pleased with our devotion and He will give us the necessary knowledge and understanding in order that we may increase our love for Him. Doing so will make our lives perfect, and guarantee that we go back home after this life, back to godhead.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009


Radha Krishna “Whenever one develops faith in Me — in My form as the Deity or in other bona fide manifestations — one should worship Me in that form. I certainly exist both within all created beings and also separately in My original form, since I am the Supreme Soul of all.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.27.48)

The famous movie Cast Away is remembered for many distinct scenes, with one of them being the interaction between the character portrayed by Tom Hanks and his imaginary friend Wilson, who was a volleyball.

The movie’s plot focused on the plight of a worker for a parcel delivery service whose plane crashes, leaving him stranded alone on a deserted island for several years. With no one to talk to, Tom Hanks’ character makes an imaginary friend for himself out of a volleyball found in one of the plane’s packages. After drawing a face on one side of the ball, Hanks names it Wilson and starts talking to it regularly from then on out. Though an inanimate object, Wilson helps Hanks keep his sanity by allowing him to alleviate the pains felt from loneliness.

Wilson In the Vedic tradition, one of the processes of devotional service is archanam, or offering prayers and worshiping the deity. Devotional service is also known as bhakti yoga, but it bears no similarity to the modern day definition of yoga. Yoga actually means connecting one’s mind with the Supreme Lord. Breathing exercises and sitting postures were initially invented to help those who are too overly attached to the senses to break free from them. Since this system also had many beneficial side effects relating to health, it gradually morphed into a secular exercise. Bhakti yoga is the highest form of yoga, and it involves nine distinct processes as outlined by Prahlada Maharaja, a great devotee of Lord Krishna. Deity worship is a practice aimed at increasing one’s devotion to God. Krishna has many many different forms and expansions. God is unlimited and omnipresent, so it’s not surprising to know that He can take any form He wishes to.

The archa-vigraha form, or the deity, is usually made out of wood or stone. Still, one shouldn’t consider the deity to be material in any way. Because the raw material of wood or stone is used for serving the Lord and creating an authorized form of His body, the deity is completely spiritual in nature and non-different from the Lord. In the famous movie The Ten Commandments, there is a scene where the followers of Moses decide to worship a golden calf as God for no apparent reason. Moses is very angered by this, and strictly decries the practice of idol worship. One shouldn’t mistake this type of idol worship with archanam. The deity is an authorized form of Krishna and not something concocted by man. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the Lord Himself instructs His good friend Uddhava on the proper way to take care of a deity. It is the Lord’s mercy upon us since He is not always physically present before us in His original form.

Krishna and Uddhava There are a great many examples of historical incidences relating to deity worship documented in the Vedic literatures. One such incident involves Lord Rama, the incarnation of Lord Krishna who appeared as a kshatriya king during the Treta Yuga. Lord Rama was strictly devoted to dharma and treated all His citizens equally, and for this reason He enjoyed universal love and adoration from the people of Ayodhya. There was one brahmana, or priest, who was so devoted to Rama that he wouldn’t take his meals without first seeing the Lord. Darshana, or having a vision of the divine, is another spiritual practice. By seeing the Lord, our eyes and mind become purified. This particular brahmana wanted to remember Rama before eating, for God is the source of all our food and sustenance. A problem occurred however, in that part of His kingly duties required Lord Rama to travel to other kingdoms from time to time. The brahmana was so strict that he fasted on these occasions. He thought it to be a great offense to take food without first thinking of God. In this way, he taught future generations a great lesson. While it is nice to ask God to give us food and provide us our daily bread, it is an even higher form of worship to think of Him before we eat, and to offer all food that we prepare to Him first. Lord Rama heard about the fasting of the brahamana and became very disturbed. The Lord never wants His devotees to suffer unnecessarily. So to alleviate the situation, He had His younger brother Lakshmana install a statue of Himself in the brahmana’s home. In this way, the brahmana would never have to starve again. This deity actually existed in Rama’s family before His birth. It has been gradually passed down from generation to generation and according to the authority of great acharyas, this deity is still in existence in India in the town of Mantralayam, and it is worshiped daily.

"Sri Moola Rama the original deity of King Ikshvaku, was given to Maharaj Dasharatha before Rama's birth, then to Lakshmana who worshiped Them during Rama's lifetime, who gave Them to Hanuman, who in the forest gave Them then to Bhima, and was given to Narahari Tirtha who gave to Ananda Tirtha - Madhvacharya, now risiding in the Raghavendra Tirtha Swami mutt at Mantralayam" (

Moola Rama (Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana) Deity worship is so nice that we should all take advantage of this wonderful gift from the Lord. With modern technology, beautifully crafted statues of the Lord can be found easily on the internet and in temple gift shops around the world. Sincere devotees, who regularly chant the holy names of the Lord and who abide by the four regulative principles, should install these deities in their homes and regularly worship them.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Culture of Life

Lord Krishna “A devotee should see that Krishna is present in everyone's heart as Paramatma; therefore every body is the embodiment or the temple of the Supreme Lord, and as such, as one offers respect to the temple of the Lord, he should similarly properly respect each and every body in whom the Paramatma dwells.”  (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11 Purport)

Caviar is one of the staples of fine dining and high-class culture. Considered a delicacy, it is the appetizer of choice for the very affluent who regularly serve it with hors d’oeuvres at fancy dinner parties and other gatherings.

In a nutshell, caviar is fish eggs. It is usually procured by gutting a fish that is caught specifically for its caviar producing potential. Wikipedia describes the production of caviar in this way:

“Commercial caviar production normally involves stunning the fish (usually by clubbing its head) and extracting the ovaries; most of commercial fish farmers are using cesarean section to surgically remove ovaries from the fish and then sew it to keep sturgeon alive, allowing the females to continue producing more roe during their lives.”

Once the fish is cut open, there are literally hundreds upon hundreds of fish ovaries/eggs available. Since caviar is usually extracted from certain kinds of fish such as the sturgeon and salmon, it is generally very expensive to purchase.

The American television sitcom Frasier had an episode that involved certain people’s obsession with caviar. The main characters in the show, brothers Frasier and Niles Crane, are depicted as being very stuck up, upper class people living in Seattle. They enjoy fine wine, dining, the theatre, and throwing lavish dinner parties where caviar is served. In one particular episode, the brothers find a local shop which carries Beluga caviar, a kind they especially like. Addicted to the caviar, the brothers regularly visit the shop.  One day, they inadvertently anger the shop owner, who thereby bans them from the store. Since no other store carries this particular brand of caviar, they are forced to purchase it on the black market. One thing leads to another and they end up in the middle of a high stakes caviar smuggling ring, with the police eventually getting involved.

Frasier Obviously this was just an episode of a fictional television show, written to be comedic and it no doubt was funny. Yet the story still raises an interesting point. According to Vedic philosophy, this material world is governed by three gunas, or qualities. Sattva guna meaning goodness, rajo guna meaning passion, and tamo guna meaning ignorance, are the three qualities that govern material existence. By definition, something is material if it has any of these qualities attached to it. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is often described as nirguna in the Vedas, for He has no material qualities. Even when He appears on the earth from to time, it only appears that He has a material body, but in fact He is always spiritual. The Lord is above the three gunas of material life, though people sometimes mistakenly think He is a mortal just like them.

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

Of these three qualities, it is passion that is most prominent in human beings. The mode of passion is pretty self-explanatory; it deals with one’s desire for fruitive activity and sense gratification. We all have desires; to be is to want. This cannot be changed. Anything that we desire for our own benefit or for the benefit of our senses falls under the category of rajo guna. Rajo guna, which is better than tamo guna (ignorance), is a dangerous mode to be in because the material senses can never be satisfied. We see evidence of this in our own lives. The wealthiest among us are often times the ones who are most unhappy. For this reason, we will often see extremely wealthy and famous rock stars and celebrities take to drugs and alcohol. These addictions can even lead to suicide. The mode of passion can never be satisfied, but since most people are unaware of this, they constantly look for ways to be happy through their passions.

The mode of passion, when left unchecked, can become very dangerous and lead to anger and lust.

“While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 2.62)

God has given us an ample supply of food grains to survive on, so much so that farmers are in many instances paid by the government to limit food production. Along with the milk provided freely by cows, mankind can easily feed itself very sumptuously. However, the mode of passion is so strong that it has driven people to open slaughterhouses where innocent animals are killed simply to satisfy the taste buds. Of course that is not enough, so now fish have to also be killed. Not only are they killed, but then their offspring in the form of eggs, are taken as well. Even though caviar is expensive, people’s desires and lust override any cost concerns, allowing them to overcome any obstacle put in their path to sense gratification.

Krishna with cows Due to this unchecked rise in the mode of passion, there is an overall lack of respect for life in society. Man isn’t satisfied simply by killing animals to satisfy the desires of the tongue. Sex desires are even stronger, and that has now led to the widespread practice of abortion. According to Vedic doctrine, one should only engage in sex with one’s spouse and that only for the purpose of raising God conscious children. Instead of following this model, people today are freely engaging in sex, fearing no consequences. If they get into trouble, they can always resort to killing the baby in the womb. This is all done out of ignorance as well, for one may not be able to see the immediate consequences, but the laws of karma dictate that fairness must be maintained. If one makes a life of killing innocent living entities, it is only natural that those same people will have to suffer a similar fate in this life and in future lives. The extreme practice of abortion is not enough to satisfy people’s desires either. Nowadays, they are using the aborted fetuses for the process known as stem cell research. The karmis are hoping that by studying the tissues and cells of aborted life, they can one day find cures to common diseases such as diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, and cancer. People have become so addicted to their lifestyle of sense gratification that they will go to any extreme to prolong it.

All hope is not lost however. The Vedas and the Bhagavad-gita give us the solution to all our problems. One must rise above the mode of passion and act in the mode of goodness.

“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, grief develops; and from the mode of ignorance, foolishness, madness and illusion develop.” (Lord Krishna, Bg 14.17)

People in the mode of goodness are charitable, kind, pious, and adhere to religious principles. The Mahabharata tells us that addiction to wine, women, dice playing, and hunting lead to a man’s downfall. Abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life (intoxication, meat eating, gambling, and illicit sex) can go a long way in reducing one’s dependence on objects of sense gratification.

Above all other methods, one should take to the process of devotional service; a process which transcends all three material modes of nature. Lovingly serving the Supreme Lord is a completely spiritual activity. We should respect all forms of life, even the animals, for we are all God’s children. By making Krishna the center of our lives, we cleanse ourselves of the nasty desires for sense gratification.

Maharishi Valmiki The great Maharishi Valmiki composed probably the first book ever written, known as the Ramayana, which is the story of Lord Rama. In his youth however, Valmiki wasn’t such a great person. He was a dacoit who lived off robbing others. Fortunately for him, he came in contact with the venerable Narada Muni. Narada travels not only this world, but other planets as well, teaching about God and service to Him. He has reformed many a great soul in his time. When he met Valmiki, Narada instructed him to give up stealing and to instead meditate on the holy name of Rama. Following his advice, Valmiki transformed himself from the worst kind of a person to a Maharishi, or great sage.

This is the key. We need to have association with great saints, and then be wise enough to submit to them and follow their instructions. Let us leave the fish, cows, and unborn children alone. Instead, let us follow Narada Muni’s instructions and focus our time on chanting the names of God, reading stories about Him, offering Him our prayers, and eating Krishna prasadam.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Perfect Prayer

Sita Rama “If I live by you, O Raghava, Shakra, the lord of celestials, shall not be able with his mighty power to defeat me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

When reading the Vedic literatures, one will find many references to the “lord of celestials” and the “wielder of the thunderbolt”. These descriptions all deal with Lord Indra, who is known as the chief demigod. According to Vedic philosophy, the material world is managed by millions of demigods. These are high class souls that have been given material bodies possessing powers above those of regular living entities. They are still nonetheless, mortals. Lord Brahma, the first created living being born out of the lotus navel of Lord Vishnu, is one the highest demigods, living for millions of years. Yet he is still subject to the cycle of birth and death. The demigods are God’s chief ministers acting in accordance with His rules, similar to the way government officers act at the pleasure of the president or prime minister. These demigods are given great respect, but are never to be considered on the same level as God.

When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedas, incarnated as Lord Rama in the Treta Yuga, He married the beautiful princess Janaki, the daughter of King Janaka. Janaki, who was more commonly referred to by the name of Sita, was the incarnation of the Goddess Lakshmi. Lakshmi is the wife of Lord Narayana, Lord Krishna’s four-armed expansion who is the source of all other expansions. Lakshmi is completely devoted to Narayana, and thus when appearing in the material world, she naturally played the familiar role of God’s wife. Lord Rama was the eldest son of King Dashratha of Ayodhya. Dashratha was very partial to Rama and decided to install Him as the new king. However, on the day set for the installation, fate would play its part and plans would change. Lord Rama was instead ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years as a recluse, living off fruits and roots. He would have no claim to any part of the kingdom, its army, its wealth, or its protections. The Lord, possessing the opulence of renunciation to the fullest extent, gladly accepted this order from His father. Prior to leaving, He went to inform His wife of the bad news. Sita Devi didn’t take to this too well and she insisted on accompanying Rama to the forest. Lord Rama very strongly stressed the point that forest life would be very dangerous for anyone, let alone a beautiful princess such as Sita. The Lord tried His best to dissuade her, but Sita’s case for coming along was too strong for the Lord to deny.

Indra wielding his thunderbolt As part of her plea, Sita mentioned that not even Lord Indra would be able to defeat her as long as Rama was by her side. This point is very significant because it gives an indication of Rama’s power. Vedic history is full of instances of fighting between the demigods and the asuras. Indra served as the commander in chief of the demigod army in all of these wars. The demigods are the godly class of people, meaning they are devotees of the Lord. Asuras are atheists who deny the existence of God. Asuras and demigods have been fighting since time immemorial and this fighting continues to this very day. When studying Vedic history, one will find that Lord Indra is often called upon by the demigods to save the day when the asuras start to gain in strength. Being the lord of heaven, Indra uses the mighty thunderbolt as his weapon. The thunderbolt has amazing powers that even amaze the scientists of today. They say that if man could find a way to harness the electricity generated by the thunderbolts of only one storm, that it would provide enough energy to run the entire U.S. power system for twenty minutes. One lightning strike could provide enough energy to light one hundred and fifty million light bulbs. Thus we can see why Lord Indra is considered so powerful.

The fact that Lord Rama would be able to protect Sita from India’s thunderbolts is not surprising. God is the Almighty and He is all powerful. He can protect His devotees from all calamities. When Lord Krishna personally appeared in Vrindavana some five thousand years ago, His foster father, Nanda Maharaja, would regularly worship Lord Indra. One time, the Lord, who was a very young boy at the time, asked His father to worship the local Govardhana Hill instead of Lord Indra. Nanda Maharja was very reluctant to take this advice out of fear that it would anger Indra. Nanda was pure a devotee after all, so He had full faith in His son’s words. Heeding his son’s advice, Nanda and the residents of Vrindavana instead decided to worship Govardhana Hill. They brought many great preparations and performed a wonderful puja. Lord Indra was greatly angered by this. Though they are very exalted personalities, even the demigods fall prey to false pride and ego from time to time. This was one of those times and Indra showed his anger by pouring down an onslaught of rain on the residents of Vrindavana. To protect His devotees, Lord Krishna lifted up the gigantic Govardhana Hill with one finger and held it up as an umbrella to protect all the residents of the town. It rained incessantly for seven days, but the Lord held the hill up the entire time. Afterwards, Lord Indra felt greatly sorry and offered His obeissances to Krishna. Ever since that time, devotees of Krishna perform the same Govardhana Puja annually on the day after Diwali.

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill Sita Devi, being a pure devotee, knew that the Lord could protect her from anything, so that is why she made the comparison to Indra. Some may argue that Sita’s words wouldn’t hold true since she would eventually be kidnapped by the demon Ravana while staying in the forest with Rama. However, the kidnapping wasn’t due to any fault of Rama’s. The demigods wanted Sita to be kidnapped, for then Rama would have an excuse to march to Ravana’s island of Lanka and defeat him in battle. After all, that was the primary reason for the Lord’s advent on earth.

Sita’s statement also serves as a lesson on how one should offer prayers to God. In general, when we want to praise someone, we compare them to other great people. This is a sure fire way of understanding how someone feels about someone else. Great sports athletes are always compared to previous legends of the game. The golfer Tiger Woods is always compared with the all-time great Jack Nicklaus. In basketball, all up and coming stars are inevitably compared to the great Michael Jordan. This is very natural because through comparison, we can better gauge just how great someone is. So when we offer prayers to God, we should praise Him in a similar fashion. By declaring Lord Rama to be greater than the chief demigod, Indra, Sita offered the perfect prayer. God is so great and His glories are endless. May we always offer Him prayers in the same manner as His wonderful wife, Sita.