Friday, October 16, 2009

Diwali 2009

The triumphant return “After giving Vibhishana the power to rule the Rakshasa population of Lanka for the duration of one kalpa, Lord Ramachandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, placed Sita Devi on an airplane decorated with flowers and then got on the plane Himself. The period for His living in the forest having ended, the Lord returned to Ayodhya, accompanied by Hanuman, Sugriva and His brother Lakshmana.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.10.32)

Diwali, also known as the Festival of Lights, is one of the most popular and well known Hindu holidays. It is completely spiritual in nature, but due to the effects of Kali Yuga, it is often celebrated in a secular manner today. Diwali marks the celebration of a few different religious occasions, with the primary one being the return of Lord Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita Devi to the kingdom of Ayodhya.

God comes to earth from time to time to enact pastimes and give protection to His devotees. Aside from simply providing them protection, He gives them a chance to personally serve Him through various rasas, or transcendental mellows. Most people look to God as the Supreme Master, a controller who has full command over the entire creation and all its beings. This is certainly the case, but God doesn’t necessarily prefer this type of worship, for it is not on the level of pure love. The love a parent shows to their child is on a pure level, because the parent doesn’t expect anything from the child, nor do they fear them. Parents serve their children without any personal motives. Since God is the Supreme Father, He also prefers to be loved in this manner. For the pure devotees, He comes to earth so that they can serve Him as His parent, friend, well-wisher, and so on.

Lord Rama with parents In the Vedic tradition, there is only one God and His name is Krishna. God has many forms and expansions, with Lord Vishnu being one of the primary ones. Lord Vishnu has ten primary incarnations that appear on earth, and Lord Rama was one such incarnation appearing during the Treta Yuga. There are four divisions of society based on a person’s quality and work. God usually appears in the second division, known as the kshatriyas. Society requires a certain class of people who are capable of providing protection by fighting miscreants and other nefarious characters. This duty falls on the kshatriyas. Aside from serving as the military, they double as administrators by serving as kings and heads of government. Lord Rama appeared in a dynasty of very pious kings known as the Iksvakus. Having a calm and peaceful nature, Rama was loved and adored by all. His distinguishing quality was that He never did anything for Himself. The Vedas describe God as being atmarama. Atma refers to the mind or soul. The soul is often referred to as the “self” since that is what identifies us. Our gross material body is given up at the time of death, but the soul never dies nor does it take birth. Atamrama means one who is self-satisfied. God is in need of nothing.

“To describe a man as an incarnation of God, or Narayana, and at the same time present him as poverty-stricken is contradictory, and it is the greatest offense. The Mayavadi philosophers, engaged in the missionary work of spoiling the Vedic culture by preaching that everyone is God, describe a poverty-stricken man as daridra-Narayana, or ‘poor Narayana.’ Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu never accepted such foolish and unauthorized ideas.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 12.35)

Lord Narayana with associates Narayana is another name for Lord Vishnu. The daridra-Narayana conception is actually humorous in a sense. God is the original creator and everything in this world is moving according to His direction. How can He be poor? Lord Narayana is served by Lakshmiji, the goddess of fortune. God is the energetic and His pleasure potencies in the form of the various Lakshmis represent His energy. Worship of Goddess Lakshmi is very common amongst Hindus seeking wealth and good fortune, but Lakshmi’s only business is to serve Narayana, so based on this fact, God is the most fortunate and wealthy. Even though He is in need of nothing, the Lord kindly comes to earth from time to time to please His devotees.  At the same time of Lord Rama’s advent, Lakshmiji also kindly appeared on earth in the form of Sita Devi. Sita and Rama were married in a very elaborate ceremony in the kingdom of Maharaja Janaka of Mithila.

Both Sita and Rama were very much loved and adored in Ayodhya, as were Rama’s other three brothers. Sadly, both Rama and Sita would have to undergo many hardships throughout their life. Rama was exiled to the forest for fourteen years by His father and both Sita and Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, insisted on coming along. While in the forest, Sita would be kidnapped by the evil Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana would then enlist the help of a monkey king named Sugriva. Hanuman was Sugriva’s chief warrior, and he performed many great feats including helping Rama and the Vanara army march to Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka. After many days of fighting, Rama finally killed Ravana and rescued Sita.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Diwali marks the anniversary of when the group triumphantly returned to Ayodhya. Not only did Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita return, but they also brought along the chief Vanaras, including Hanuman. One of the regulative principles of devotional service is archanam, or deity worship. The deity is the physical representation of God, so it is considered as good as God Himself. Devotees worship the deity daily by presenting various items as offerings. One of the items is a lamp fueled by ghee. Around the world, people celebrate the Christmas holiday by decorating their house with many lights. It puts everyone is a festive mood. The mindset is the same regarding deity worship. The lamp represents the key component of an arati ceremony. It is a way to greet the deity, thanking the Lord for appearing in His archa form.

Diwali The citizens of Ayodhya had the good fortune of being able to personally offer such lamps to Rama, Lakshmana, Sita and the others returning with them. They loved Rama very much and they were greatly saddened to see Him exiled from the kingdom. His return marked the happiest day of their lives. For this reason, they went to great lengths to celebrate. On Diwali, we remember this great occasion, the homecoming of God.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Breaking the Rules

Radha Krishna “All purposes that are served by the small pond can at once be served by the great reservoirs of water. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.46)

Children love to imitate their parents. When a person is young, it is very common for them to view their parents as heroes. Unlike the child, the mother and father are all grown up and completely independent, which means they are in charge. People have a need for self-esteem and a feeling of self-worth, and this holds true even for young children. We see our parents doing something and we want to be able to do the same thing, whether it involves driving a car, cooking in the kitchen, or playing sports. We see our parents going somewhere, and we naturally want to tag along.

Mother Yashoda with baby Krishna Our parents usually don’t allow us to partake in many of these activities. It is up to the parents to provide complete protection to their children and this means shielding them from activities they are not ready for. However, from time to time, we’ll see parents acquiescing and letting their children do things they aren’t necessarily supposed to do. This rule-breaking is allowed due to the love a parent has for their child. Children are the essence of innocence and the love a child shows for his or her parent is completely pure and free of any selfish desire. Parents understand this, so they excuse bad behavior and allow the rules to be bent from time to time. The idea is that “My son or daughter loves me so much, so naturally I am endeared to them as well.”

“I had requested you, O my lord, many times before in this house to take me to the forest with you for enjoyment, and you were pleased to agree.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

When Lord Rama, God’s incarnation in the Treta Yuga, appeared on this earth in the guise of a prince, He was ordered into exile by His father, the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. Rama was extremely pious and devoted to dharma, or religiosity. He was to be installed as the new king, but as events played out, Dashratha was instead forced to offer the throne to one of his other sons, and at the same time, he ordered Rama to live in the forest for fourteen years as a recluse. The Lord was married to His wife Sita Devi at the time, and He had to break the bad news to her. Sita desperately wanted to accompany the Lord for the term of His exile, but Rama recommended that she stay in the kingdom. Sita put forth a series of arguments in her favor, with one of them being that Rama previously had allowed her to accompany Him to the forest without any resistance. Her basic point was, “You took me to the forest before many times, so why are you so hesitant to take me now?”

Sita Rama Sita Devi was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who is God’s wife and pleasure potency in the spiritual world. Lakshmi is always serving the lotus feet of Lord Narayana, so when she came to earth in human form, she performed the same task. As any good wife would do, she requested to always be in the company of her husband, and to spend as much time with him as possible. Lord Rama was born and raised a kshatriya, or warrior. According to the Vedas, society should be divided into four classifications based on one’s qualities. These divisions are the brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. The kshatriyas represent the warrior or administrator class, similar to military servicemen in today’s world. As a kshatriya, Rama was trained to be an expert archer, and for this He required going to the forest often to practice. In Vedic times, the killing of deer by kshatriyas was sanctioned for the purpose of improving one’s fighting skills, which were needed by the kings to provide protection for their citizens. Sita, being the royal princess and wife of the heir to the throne, lived a life of great pomp and luxury. Naturally, she also wanted to get a taste of the forest life that her husband was so accustomed to.

According to Vedic injunctions, forest life is reserved for the beasts, wild animals, and for those who have their senses completely under control. Amongst human beings, only the greatest of yogis, or those in the renounced order of life, sannyasis, would even think of living in the forest. The wilderness is a place of peace and tranquility with few material distractions, so it was a popular place for the ascetics to go and contemplate on the Supreme. They had no attachment to eating fine foods or being entertained by others. They were self-satisfied, thus they lived off meager fruits and roots while in the forest. Rama knew very well the difficulties of such a life, so He wanted to shield His wife from them. However, from Sita’s statement, we can understand that Rama would often oblige her requests to spend time in the forest. He bent the rules and allowed her to come for the same reasons that parents let their children break the rules from time to time. Sita Devi was completely devoted to Rama, who was God Himself. Sita’s love for Rama was completely pure. Her only reason for wanting to go to the forest was to spend more time with her husband in an intimate setting. The Lord knew this, so He wanted to see her happy, even at the expense of dharma.

Yashoda with Krishna and Balarama In a good marriage, a husband requires only one thing from his wife, devotion. Whether the wife nags him all the time, or is constantly criticizing him or correcting him, the husband ultimately will not be bothered as long as he is sure of the wife’s devotion to him. In fact, if the wife is supportive, the husband will do anything for the wife. God is exactly the same way with us, His children. If we love Him purely and without any motive, He will excuse all our shortcomings and go to any length to ensure our happiness. We simply have to love Him, and in return, He’ll break any and all rules that He’s made.

There are many examples of this in the Vedic literatures. Sita was eventually allowed to accompany Rama to the forest, and while serving the exile term, she happened to be kidnapped by the evil demon Ravana. In searching for Sita, Rama enlisted the help of the Vanaras, a human-like race of monkeys that lived in the forest at the time. The head of the Vanaras was Sugriva, and he requested a favor from Rama prior to providing any help. Sugriva had been forced out of his kingdom by his brother, Vali, due to a disagreement that the two had. Sugriva wanted to reclaim his kingdom and wife but knew that he wasn’t strong enough to defeat Vali. He asked Rama to help him, and the Lord obliged by shooting Vali while he was engaged in fighting Sugriva. Now according to the code of conduct for kshatriyas, such an act by Rama was considered abominable. When two warriors are fighting, it is the etiquette that no outside party should interfere. Lord Rama broke this rule because Sugriva was devoted to Him.

Rasa Lila The rasa lila of Lord Krishna is another example of the rules being broken. The Lord descended personally in His original form in Vrindavana around five thousand years ago. As part of His pastimes as a youth, He would spend many nights dancing with the cowherd girls of the town, known as the gopis. The gopis were all married and Krishna wasn’t, so such an intimate act was strictly prohibited. Mundane scholars and those not devoted to Krishna, mistakenly take the rasa lila to be a sinful lusty activity. It was in fact just the opposite. The gopis represented the highest form of devotion to God since they renounced everything simply to serve Him. The Lord lectured them on the impropriety of their proposed acts, but He nonetheless acquiesced and performed the dance with them. The gopis only wish in life was to have conjugal love with Krishna, and the Lord granted them this wish.

One may ask “What is the importance of all the rules of dharma if God Himself is willing to break them?” Herein lies the key point. Dharma, or religiosity, only exists as a means of aiding one to come to the platform of loving God. The rules are certainly important and should be followed by neophytes, but simply going through the motions of Vedic rituals and chanting mantras is a waste of time unless it leads to devotion to Krishna.

“The rituals and sacrifices mentioned in the karma-kanda division of the Vedic literature are to encourage gradual development of self-realization. And the purpose of self-realization is clearly stated in the Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita (15.15): the purpose of studying the Vedas is to know Lord Krishna, the primeval cause of everything.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 2.46 Purport)

God is the ultimate Supreme Controller and by definition, He is not capable of practicing adharma, or committing acts in violation of religiosity. He is the very definition of religion, so how can something material touch Him?

Sita Devi with Lava and Kusha Sita Devi was the perfect devotee of God, and for this reason, the Lord bent over backwards to make her happy. He allowed her to accompany during His exile, though He knew it was a bad idea. When she was kidnapped, He went to great lengths to rescue her. We should all follow Sita’s lead and raise ourselves to the highest spiritual platform by taking up the process of devotional service. If we commit ourselves to lovingly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, then we can rest assured that the Lord will excuse all of our shortcomings and love us no matter what.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

A Thankless Task

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

Being a preacher is definitely a thankless task. While others are praised for their works of charity, philanthropy, and other feats of altruism, the spiritual preacher doesn’t enjoy adoration and love on a universal level. The devotees of the Lord are faced with a constant and steady barrage of attacks from opponents. Dealing with this opposition is not an easy thing, for the strength of maya has caused ignorance to envelope the material world.

People in general have a very strong attachment to their bodies and in turn to their way of life. There are many varieties of sins and each religion has specific definitions for what is a sin and what isn’t, but in its most basic form, sinful activity is anything that keeps us bound in the material world. According to the Vedas, this material world is the playground for the spirit souls, a place where they can come and pretend to be God. Claiming false proprietorship over all things material, the living entity is bewildered by the temporary nature of things. Being completely attached to fruitive activities, the spirit soul is forced to constantly migrate from one type of body to another, thereby repeating the cycle of birth and death. The four pillars of sinful life are meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex. These four activities are considered the most dangerous since they keep one tightly bound to mundane sense gratification, the biggest obstacle towards spiritual realization.

Shrila Prabhupada The bhaktas are the devotees of the Lord who realize that this human form of life is meant for serving Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This service is the only means of achieving everlasting peace and happiness, for activities aimed at pleasing the Supreme Lord are completely spiritual in nature and thus transcend any sin. Those who serve God perfectly don’t return to this material world after death. They instead go straight to Krishna’s spiritual realm, a place where from they never return.

Since devotional service is such a pleasing activity, the devotees want to share knowledge of it with others. It is one thing to serve God and to enjoy all the benefits that come with it, but it is even nicer if that information is shared with others. Sadly, the recipients of these preaching efforts often don’t take very kindly to them. The example of Narada Muni and Prajapati Daksha illustrates this very well. Both sons of the first created being, Lord Brahma, Narada and Daksha got into a disagreement over the muni’s preaching efforts. Being a prajapati, Daksha was in charge of expanding the creation. To this end, he ordered his sons to procreate, but this was stopped by Narada Muni. He explained to Daksha’s sons that material life was a waste of time, and that their time would be better served if they dedicated their life to serving God instead. Daksha got angry at this, so he then ordered another set of sons to procreate, an effort which was again thwarted by Narada Muni. Daksha was so enraged that he decided to curse Narada Muni:

“You have made me lose my sons once, and now you have again done the same inauspicious thing. Therefore you are a rascal who does not know how to behave toward others. You may travel all over the universe, but I curse you to have no residence anywhere.” (Daksha speaking to Narada, Shrimad Bhagavatam 6.5.43)

Narada Muni giving instruction Now Daksha was a karmi, and though not an atheist, his understanding was still not at an advanced level. Generally those who believe in God aim for the three rewards in life: dharma, artha, and kama. Dharma is religiosity. People may follow the basic rules and regulations of religion in order that God may supply them with artha, or successful economic development. After being successful economically, the same people want to use their wealth for kama, or sense gratification. Thus the three parts go hand in hand. While this level of understanding is certainly higher than those of the atheists, it still on the material level. The senses can actually never be satisfied, so there is no point in praying to God for wealth and money if we only plan to use it for sense gratification.

Daksha was a subscriber to this materialistic theory of life. For this reason, he viewed Narda Muni as being unintelligent. Materialists have a hard time understanding the celibate devotees. They view the brahmachari and sannyasi lifestyles as unnecessary burdens. Since they are karmis themselves, they could never fathom life as a renunciate.

These events took place at the beginning of the creation, and the same struggle has continued ever since. Regardless, devotees of the Lord must continue their efforts.

“Nevertheless, Narada Muni never gives up his mission. To deliver as many fallen souls as possible, he continues playing his musical instrument and vibrating the transcendental sound Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Sb. 6.5.23 Purport)

Shri Shri Nimai Nitai If it wasn’t for the tireless efforts of the saints of the past, we would not have the wealth of knowledge available to us today. Narada Muni is the greatest reformer in the history of the world. He used the curses laid upon him to his advantage by preaching God’s message to everyone he encountered. He turned Valmiki into a Maharishi. He served as the spiritual master to the great Vyasadeva and many others. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna’s incarnation in the Kali Yuga, met great oppositions from the Mayavadis of Benares, but He was not deterred. He chanted the Hare Krishna mantra from door to door all across India. His wonderful example inspired future saints Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati and A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It is easy to look back now and see how successful they were, but these great saints struggled very hard to get their message out. It was through firm faith and devotion to Krishna that their efforts were successful.

Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati The Vedas are very intricate and comprehensive, with many different teachings. For example, though family life is generally reserved for the karmis, one can still live with a wife and children and achieve spiritual perfection. Devotional service is available to everyone in all stage of life. Love knows no boundaries. It takes a faithful student to understand the Vedas and then be able explain it to others. It may be a difficult task, but preaching is definitely worthwhile. There is nothing like serving the Supreme Lord, so if we can get even one person to become a devotee, our efforts will have been successful.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Pre Qualification

Sita Devi “I heard that when I was a girl, an ascetic woman of well-disciplined character, came to my mother and apprised her of my future abode in the forest.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Pre-qualification is required prior to performing many tasks in this world. Governments, schools, and other entities of authority will not sanction the undertaking of important activities unless someone meets the necessary qualifications.

In America, high school students wanting to attend college must take the Scholastic Aptitude Test, known as the SAT. The scores from this exam are reviewed by the admissions boards of universities as a means of gauging how well the student will perform in higher level courses. An above average score on this test is a pre-qualification for one wishing to attend college.

People who already attend college are required to choose their courses before each semester. Students are given a wide variety of classes to choose from, ranging from subjects relevant to their major field of study to courses completely unrelated to their major. However, not everyone is eligible to enroll in every course. Many classes require students to have previously completed pre-requisite courses. This makes sense, as courses in a similar field of study will naturally reference topics covered in a previous class.

In order to be allowed to operate a motor vehicle, one must obtain a drivers license. The requirements for getting a license vary by state, but they almost all include completion of some sort of driving course, and a minimum number of practice hours. This also makes sense because one needs to be familiar with driving prior to getting a license otherwise they will be more prone to causing an accident when behind the wheel. Another field with strict pre-qualification requirements is medicine. Becoming a doctor involves around eight years of schooling, four more years of training, and then passing medical examinations. Since doctors deal with life and death situations, one isn’t allowed to become a physician on a whim.

Pre-qualification serves as a person’s bona fides. Employers take a risk by hiring someone who is unknown to them. They want to know that the person they are hiring will know what they are doing once they start the job. Pre-qualifications acts as a proof of capability. The same concept holds true with consumers. They buy products and services without any guarantee on value or performance. Pre-judging the capability of the manufacturer or service provider gives customers a feeling of security, knowing that they most likely will not be disappointed spending their money.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedas, personally descends to this material world from time to time. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord explains His appearances.

“Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.” (Bg. 4.6)

Many thousands of years ago, the good people of the world were being harassed by an evil demon named Ravana. Ravana had performed great penances in order to please the demigods, and he was awarded with great material benedictions and was feared by all. He was given so much power that he thought himself invincible. This is the mentality of the atheistic class of men. They acquire massive amounts of wealth through nefarious means, thinking that it will last forever and that they will live forever. They forget that it is through God’s energies that one attains prosperity, and that these same energies will require one to give up all his possessions at the time of death.

Krishna incarnated in human form as Lord Rama, specifically to kill Ravana and reinstitute the rules of dharma. As part of His pastimes, the Lord played the role of a perfect prince, the eldest son to Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya. Dashratha one day decided to install Rama as the new king, but things took a dramatic turn for the worse when the king’s youngest wife, Kaikeyi, demanded that Rama’s younger brother, Bharata, be installed instead, and that Rama be sent to live in the forest for fourteen years. Dashratha had granted Kaikeyi two boons of her choosing many years before, and she chose this occasion to cash in on them. The king, being committed to truthfulness, was forced to oblige her requests, so Rama was thus ordered to renounce the kingdom and live as an ascetic in the wilderness.

Lord Rama Lord Rama had no problem with these requests, for He was dedicated to preserving His father’s good name. Rama was married to His wonderful wife Sita Devi at the time, so He went to break the bad news to her. In telling her, Rama insisted that she remain in the kingdom for the duration of the exile. Man is meant to live in a civilized society, with the forest being reserved for the animal kingdom. In Vedic times, the only humans that might be found living in the forest were the brahmanas, the priestly class of society. Of the brahmanas, only those who had their senses completely under control, living the renounced order of life, would go to the forest. Sita had lived the life of a princess since her childhood, so Rama was concerned about how she would fare living such an austere life. It was for this reason that He forbade her from following Him.

Sita, however, argued vehemently in favor of accompanying the Lord. Just as any good trial lawyer would do, she presented her case with great alacrity and reason. She made it a point to tell the Lord that she was eminently qualified to live in the forest. For proof, she relied on statements made by brahmanas and an ascetic women while she was a young girl. Sita grew up in the royal kingdom of Maharaja Janaka of Mithila. As was customary during those times, people involved in family life, known as grihasthis, would regularly entertain brahmanas, who are considered the highest class in society. Vedic culture calls for dividing society in four classifications based on qualities, not simply by birth. Brahmanas are the highest social division since their lives are completely dedicated to serving Krishna. Brahmanas weren’t involved in karmic activities, so they relied on the other members of society for support. They would regularly visit homes of grhasthis, where they would be fed sumptuously and be shown the greatest hospitality. In exchange, the brahmanas would provide counsel to the householders. One area they would give advice about would be in matters pertaining to the children of the householders. Good parents are always worried about the welfare of their children, so householders would ask the brahmanas to provide insight into the future of their sons and daughters. Based on Sita’s statement, we can infer that Janaka’s family was no different in this respect.

Goddess Lakshmi Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who for all intents and purposes, is God’s wife. Krishna being the Supreme God, has many different expansions and incarnations, just as a single lit candle can go on to light many other candles of equal strength. According to Vedic philosophy, God’s immediate expansion is His pleasure potency, known as hladini-shakti. God is the energetic and His pleasure potency is His energy. So Sita Devi was the manifestation of this energy. Lord Rama didn’t come to earth all by Himself; He also brought with Him His principal associates from the spiritual world, including His wife. Sita didn’t take birth in the typical fashion from the womb of a mother. She was born out of the goddess of Earth, known as Bhumi Devi. Janaka actually found her one day while ploughing a field. He was so enamored with her, that he immediately accepted her as his daughter and most prized possession.

Janaka finding Sita The ascetic woman that predicted Sita’s future during her childhood surely must have had a hint into Sita’s birth. Having known that Sita was born of the earth, she could observe that Sita had a natural affinity for nature. Living in the forest would be no problem. Qualified brahmanas are also expert in describing events of the past, present, and future, so it was nothing out of the ordinary for the ascetic woman to be able to foretell Sita’s fate. The great sage Vyasadeva wrote all of the Puranas, which describe historical events relating to God that occurred millions of years ago and also events that will occur in the future.

Sita Devi Just as undertakings in the material world require various pre-qualifications depending on the discipline, service to the Supreme Lord has only one requirement…love. From Sita Devi’s example, we can see that she was completely in love with Rama, God Himself. She was an expert debater, so she made references to various pre-qualifications that she had for going to the forest, but it was her devotion that mattered most. It was through her love only that she was finally able to convince Lord Rama to allow her to accompany Him. We should all follow her lead and take up the process of devotional service to Krishna. In this age, the simplest way to rekindle our love for God is to constantly chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By practicing devotional service, we will be pre-qualified for returning home after this life, back to Godhead.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Places of Pilgrimage

Rama Darbar "Do you consider Rama as Dasharatha, and Janaka's own-begotten as myself, do you regard Ayodhya as a wilderness, go my son, at your sweet pleasure. Having thus spoken to that dear descendant of Raghu, who had made up his mind (to journey to the forest), Sumitra again and again said to him, ‘Go! Go!’” (Sumitra speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, Sec 40)

These words were spoken to Lakshmana by his mother Sumitra just prior to his embarking for the forest. Lakshmana’s older brother Rama had been exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya, and Lakshmana had decided that he would follow Him. Sumitra is giving words of advice to her son so that he may act properly while living away from home.

God periodically comes to earth when there is a special need:

“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.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Ravana In Ayodhya and around the world many thousands of years ago, there was a great disturbance caused by the ten-headed demon Ravana. He had risen to power using the boons procured from various demigods, and he used his strength to subdue the saintly people living in the forests. At the behest of the demigods, God came to earth in the form of Lord Rama to personally put an end to the suffering of His devotees. God brought His associates from the spiritual world with Him. Ananta Shesha, the support of Lord Narayana, came to earth in the form of Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Goddess Lakshmi, God’s wife in the spiritual world, came to earth in the form of Sita Devi, who not surprisingly played the part of Rama’s wife. As part of His pastimes, the Lord voluntarily accepted the punishment of exile handed to Him by His father Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Prepared to leave the kingdom for fourteen years, both Sita and Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Him. The above referenced statement by Sumitra was made just prior to the group leaving the kingdom.

Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother and therefore had nothing to do with the punishment handed down by Dashratha. From his very birth, Lakshmana was ever attached to Rama, spending all his time with Him, not even eating without Rama. Lakshmana viewed himself as his brother’s eternal servant and care-taker, thus he took the unjust punishment of Rama very personally. He was actually prepared to install Rama as the new king anyway, and battle with anyone who dare objected to such an idea. Rama was extremely pious and dedicated to virtue, thus He had to talk Lakshmana out of such ideas. Rama had no problem abiding by His father’s orders, for the word of a king is very important. Born in the Ikshvaku dynasty, Rama took very seriously the role of prince and servant of the elderly class.

Dashratha with wives and childrenKing Dashratha had three wives, which was not out of the ordinary for the kshatriya kings of that time. Since sex desire is very strong in men and the kshatriyas generally live in the mode of passion, polygamy was allowed during that time, provided that the kings gave complete protection to all of their wives. Lord Rama was born from the womb of Kausalya, the eldest queen, and Lakshmana from Sumitra, so they were half-brothers. Sumitra was very pious herself, so she wanted to make sure that her son behaved properly while ranging the forest. She instructed Lakshmana to view Sita and Rama as mother and father, and to forget about the kingdom of Ayodhya. In essence, she was saying that we should treat God, in His various forms, and His eternal consorts, as our father and mother. Wherever God is, that is our real home.

Dashratha with Rama and Lakshmana It may seem odd to hear that Lakshmana was instructed to treat his elder brother as a father. Though that idea may seem strange in modern society, it is the proper code of conduct according to the Vedas. The eldest brother has the responsibility to set a good example for the other siblings, so he should in return be afforded the greatest respect. King Yudhishthira, the eldest of the five Pandava brothers, was given a similar level of respect. Even Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, treated Yudhishthira as a superior since they were related as cousin-brothers, with Krishna being younger. The entire Vedic system revolves around respect for the wise and the elderly. This makes sense because by respecting others, we come out of the selfish mindset that most of us inherently live by. “How can I be happy? What do I want to do? Where do I want to go?” These are the questions most of us ponder on a daily basis. By thinking of others, we rise out of the gross bodily platform. This also serves as good practice for our service to God, which is the ultimate aim of life. If we can rise to the platform where we identify ourselves as spirit souls, part and parcel of God, then we have made our life successful.

Lakshmana speaking to Sumitra Sumitra also advised Lakshmana to view Ayodhya as a wilderness. The lesson here is that we should only concern ourselves with those places where God resides. Many of us like to travel to various exotic destinations where we can see world famous attractions, buildings, and parks. While these places are very nice, the enjoyment we derive from these visits is temporary. We may go to the top of the Eiffel Tower and marvel at the view, but once we come back down, that thrill is gone. We give ourselves a short feeling of amazement, but we aren’t really any better off. When we visit tirthas, however, we achieve a spiritual awakening which can change our lives.

Krishna enacted many wonderful pastimes with His friends in VrindavanaTirthas are places of spiritual pilgrimage. They are areas where God personally came and enacted pastimes. In India, such places as Vrindavana, Mathura, Rishikesh, and Chitrakut are some of the more well-known tirthas. When we visit these places, we immediately remember God and His glorious nature. This is most beneficial to us, for the aim of life is to always keep our minds fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.

Lakshmana Whether we get the chance to visit a tirtha or not, if God is always in our hearts, we will always feel at home wherever we may be. This was the position taken by Sumitra, which Lakshmana followed as well. No one spent more time with Rama during His life than Lakshmana did. He was always by His brother’s side, and in this way He always felt at home. Jai Shri Lakshmana.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Krishna Awareness

Yashoda binding Krishna “I bow down to Damodara, the form of full joy, eternity and wisdom, within Vrindavana. Whose shining earrings swung as he so swiftly ran from mother Yashoda who caught that naughty boy.” (Sri Damodarastakam)

October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month in America. All throughout society, people are wearing pink ribbons and other clothing items of a pink color to show their support for the cause. Organizers hope that such awareness will one day bring a cure to the disease.

There are many different kinds of cancer affecting every type of person, from young to old, black to white, etc. Breast cancer is especially noteworthy since it affects women. In the Vedic tradition, one is taught to view every woman as their mother, except for the wife. The Vedas define seven types of mothers: the guru’s wife, the earth, the birth mother, the wife of a brahmana, the wife of a king, a nurse, and a cow. The importance of a mother is that she provides nurturing and protection to dependents. The cow is considered a mother since it freely provides milk. An infant child can survive simply off the breast milk of the birth mother and the milk of a cow. We would never think of killing our own mother, but society today unhesitatingly sends millions of cows each year to slaughterhouses.

Breast Cancer Ribbon Women, and mothers especially, play an important role in society. They are the pillars of family life. The mode of passion is very strong in men, which leads them out of the house to pursue career interests or involve themselves in sports, gambling, drinking etc. Often times, the responsibility of maintaining a family falls on the wife. Raising children is a full-time job since youngsters require constant attention. In the Vedic tradition, the parents are considered the first object of worship for a person.

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

We are all born into ignorance. Though we have God’s expansion as Paramatma residing inside of us, we are still clueless about our previous lives when we first take birth. Our parents guide us through the early years, teaching us how to speak, eat, and walk. As stated before, the mother plays an important role in this education. The “soccer mom” phenomenon is not a myth. Mothers usually play an active role in a child’s development, driving them to and from school, making sure they keep up with their studies, and also seeing to it that they are properly fed. Women of the Vedic tradition especially take in interest in the feeding department. When visiting a Hindu household, mothers usually will force feed their guests until they are completely stuffed. They take the same tack with their children.

Breast Cancer awareness in the NFL For all these reasons, we owe a great debt to women and mothers. In this day and age, their duties have been made more difficult by the fact that many of them work outside the home, as a second income is almost required for a household to stay afloat. Raising awareness for breast cancer certainly is a noble idea. There are many different types of cancer, but breast cancer is especially common among older women, i.e. our mothers. According to the statistics, one out of every eight women in the United States is diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lifetime. Throughout the month of October, pink ribbons and pink signs are seen everywhere. In the National Football League, players have come up with all sorts of clever ways to show their support by wearing pink arm bands, socks, sneakers, etc. Raising awareness usually equates to more funding, which can lead to advancements in therapy and treatment.

Among devotees of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, October is also a special month since it celebrates the life and activities of one special woman in particular, Mother Yashoda. Aside from having the holidays of Diwali and Govardhana Puja, the month of October, also known as Karitka in the Vedic calendar which is based off the lunar cycle, is considered very auspicious. In this month, devotees celebrate the famous pastime of Mother Yashoda binding baby Krishna to a mortar with a rope. This form of the Lord is referred to as Damodara. As the Lord states in the Bhagavad-gita, from time to time He personally comes to earth to provide protection to His devotees:

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Bg 4.7)

Mother Yashoda and Krishna Around five thousand years ago, the Lord personally came in His original form to kill the evil demon Kamsa. Though born of the womb of Mother Devaki, Krishna was transferred to Vrindavana immediately after His birth so that He could be hidden from Kamsa. A prophecy had warned King Kamsa that Devaki’s eighth son would kill him, so he was anxiously awaiting Krishna’s birth, so that he could kill the child. Krishna’s birth father, Vasudeva, fearing Kamsa, brought baby Krishna from Mathura to Vrindavana, where He would be raised in His early years by Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda.

Krishna’s foster parents must certainly have been very pious in their previous lives. Most people worship God in a subordinate relationship, viewing Him as the Supreme Father. The Lord, however, prefers to be served as a dependent by His devotees. For this reason, He gives the most exalted devotees the chance to serve Him as a parent or guardian. Mother Yashoda was one such devotee. In Krishna’s childhood, He was quite naughty, performing many childish pranks. Parents derive so much pleasure from the youthful activities of their children, so Krishna wanted Yashoda to be delighted by His transcendental pastimes. On one occasion, the Lord was being breast fed by Yashoda, when she noticed that the yogurt she had on the stove was about to overflow. She put Krishna aside and went to tend to the pot. Krishna pretended to be angered by this distraction, so He broke a pot of yogurt and then ran away. Yashoda came back to find the broken pot and figured that Krishna had broken it. She went looking for her young child and eventually found Him distributing butter to monkeys.

Krishna feeding butter to monkeys This incident is actually very significant, as are all of the Lord’s activities. In His previous incarnation as Lord Rama, monkeys helped God by serving as His army in His battle against the Rakshasa demon Ravana, who had kidnapped Rama’s wife Sita. God never forgets service performed for Him, so it wasn’t surprising to find Him personally distributing prasadam to monkeys in His next incarnation. So after seeing that Krishna broke a pot of yogurt and then broke into a stash of butter, she decided to teach her son a lesson by binding Him with a rope. God actually can never be bound to anything, but Krishna is so kind that He allowed Yashoda to perform her motherly duties. This display of Krishna’s mercy is so heartwarming that devotees celebrate it every year in the month of Kartika.

Lord Damodara While raising awareness for breast cancer can certainly be helpful to the cause, what would be even more beneficial to society is for there to be Krishna awareness. Krishna is God, and if we are always thinking of Him, then we are making the most of our valuable human form of life. Disease is guaranteed in material life, as are birth, old age, and death. Even if we find a cure for cancer, that doesn’t mean all our problems are solved. The aim of human life is to find a permanent end to the repeated cycle of birth and death. This can only be accomplished by becoming Krishna conscious. So may we always honor and respect all the great Vaishnava mothers, including Mother Yashoda. May Lord Damodara continue to bestow His mercy on us all.