Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Divinity of Rama

Sita Rama “I have heard this pious report from brahmanas of great fame that even in the afterlife, your company is greatly beneficial to me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Herein Sita Devi is secretly revealing the true identity of Lord Rama. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedas, incarnated in the form of a human being many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya. In the form of Lord Rama, God played the role of a perfect king, son, and husband. Still, at the time most didn’t know the true nature of His identity.

The great rakshasa demon known by the name of Ravana was causing death and destruction around the world at the time. Ravana had undergone severe penances in order to propitiate the demigods, and they duly rewarded with him with several benedictions. He was given ten heads, and invincibility from all demigods and other various creatures. Due to his raging desire for world domination, Ravana forgot to mention humans in his list of beings that he would be immune from. For this reason, the demigods approached Lord Vishnu, Krishna’s guna avatar maintaining the material world, for protection. Vishnu agreed to appear in human form in order to kill Ravana and restore the principles of dharma to society at large.

Lakshmi and Vishnu When God comes to this world, He brings along His closest associates to aid Him in His pastimes. In this instance, Lord Vishnu brought along various demigods who would serve as His immediate family members and faithful servants. Goddess Lakshmi was one of those demigods who joined the Lord. In the spiritual world, she is known as the goddess of wealth or fortune, and for this reason, Krishna is also known by such names as Madhava and Shripati, meaning the husband of the goddess of fortune. Lakshmi is always serving the Lord in the spiritual world and when she descended to earth, she performed the same task. Born out of the earth, she was found in the field by Maharaja Janaka of Mithila. He named her Sita and raised her as his own daughter. When she reached a suitable age, Janaka arranged for her svayamvara. At this ceremony, whichever prince would raise and string the bow of Lord Shiva, he would be given Sita’s hand in marriage. Many a valiant prince from around the world came to the ceremony to give their best effort, but only Lord Rama was successful. He lifted, strung and broke the bow, such was the strength of the Lord.

Sita and Rama enjoyed several years of married life in the kingdom of Maharaja Dashratha, Rama’s father. There came a point when Rama was to be installed as the new king, however events suddenly took a dramatic turn, and Rama was instead ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years as an exile. Sita was heart-broken at the news, and even more disturbed that the Lord wished for her to remain in the kingdom. Sita, being the perfect devotee, was completely attached to her husband, who was God Himself. The idea of separation from Him seemed unthinkable to her. She gave Rama a lecture on the proper duties of a husband and wife, and the above referenced quote was one of the arguments made by her.

Marriage of Sita and Rama Rama was loved and adored by all, but people had no direct knowledge that He was God Himself appearing in human form. Here Sita makes reference to statements made by pious brahmanas, who hinted at the Lord’s true nature. No matter one’s specific faith or lack thereof, the concept of religion is known to all. We live out our current lives in the hopes that we will have a better place to live in the next life, namely a permanent abode in heaven. Herein the brahmanas, or priestly class of men, make reference to the fact that it would be greatly beneficial for Sita to have company with Rama, even in the afterlife. In actuality, that fact holds true for everyone. There can be no greater achievement than for one to have eternal association with God in heaven after this life has completed. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states how one can achieve this goal.

“One who, at the time of death, fixes his life air between the eyebrows and in full devotion engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord, will certainly attain to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. …After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” (Bg. 8.10, 8.15)

If we think of God during our current life, we will likely think of Him at the time of death, which guarantees association with Him in the afterlife.

Lord Krishna speaking Bhagavad-gita Lord Rama had explained to Sita that it would be in her best interests to remain in the kingdom. Forest life is meant for the wild beasts and animals, and those people who have their senses completely under control. Among humans, only the great yogis and ascetics can survive in the forest. Sita was a princess, born and raised in royal surroundings, with every material pleasure at her fingertips. Forest life would be difficult for anyone, let alone such a delicate and beautiful woman as herself. Sita’s retort was that association with Rama is more beneficial than any other association. One may live in a nice kingdom with the greatest protection, but such a life doesn’t compare to direct association with God. When we are in constant association with God, thinking of Him, and lovingly serving Him, then such a life proves to be most beneficial. She was basically telling Him, “You are worried about my welfare and what is good for me? Well there is nothing more beneficial to me, or anyone else, than to be with You at all times. This isn’t something that I’ve made up myself, for I heard this from the most respected brahmanas. In fact, they said that association with You is beneficial not only in this life, but in the spiritual world as well.”

Herein lies the second lesson to be learned from Sita’s statements. Lord Rama was very insistent on the idea of her remaining in the kingdom for the duration of the exile period. In order to persuade Him to change His mind, Sita had to come up with impeccable and irrefutable arguments in her favor. As part of her plea, she repeatedly made reference to statements she had heard previously from brahmanas. The most astounding thing about this was that she had never even received any formal training from brahmanas. According to the Vedic system, there are four ashramas of life that one must go through, namely brahmacharya (celibate student life), grihastha (family life), vanaprastha (retired family life), and sannyasa (renounced order of life, no family connections). Brahmachari life is similar to today’s concept of student life, from kindergarten through high school. In the classic system, students went to school at a guru’s house, known as the gurukula. The guru, a brahmana, would train and house the students for free. In return for the instructions given to them, the students would go out daily and beg for alms from the householders. The collected food would then be brought to the guru, which he would then divide amongst the students. In this way, the rest of society provided for the brahmanas, and the students in turn were taught respect and how to control their senses. Upon completion of their studies, brahmacharis would either get married or continue their spiritual learning and serve as the higher class for the rest of society.

Sita Devi This system was very nice and beneficial to all. However, this system did not apply to women. Young girls did not go to school; instead they remained at home protected by their parents. When they reached the age of puberty, they would be married off to a suitable husband, whose responsibility it became to provide protection to the woman. A woman’s duty was to serve and honor her husband, for the husband and wife share in spiritual merits. If the husband was pious and devoted to Krishna, then the wife would also benefit. Amazingly, Sita, who had no formal training in any of the scriptures, had perfect knowledge on all the rules of dharma, as exhibited through her statements to Lord Rama. How was she able to gather such knowledge?

Maharishi Valmiki From her statements, we understand that her spiritual acumen came from hearing. Growing up in the kingdom of Janaka, brahmanas were regularly around her family, for the pious kings would rely on their royal priests for counsel on all matters. Sita intently listened to everything the brahmanas would say, and due to her eagerness to learn, she was able to retain the information completely and fully. This lesson can be applied to everyone. The system of varnashrama dharma (four divisions of social status and stages of life) is virtually nonexistent today. Most everyone is given a secular education, and not provided training on spiritual life and understanding of Krishna. However, if we are eager to learn, all we have to do is listen attentively to the teachings passed down from the great acharyas. This will give all of us, regardless of our gender, class or social status, a perfect understanding of Krishna and devotion to Him.

A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Goswami Tulsidas, Vyasadeva, Maharishi Valmiki, and many other great Vaishnava saints have written extensively on the principles of bhakti yoga, or devotional service to Krishna. We simply need to dedicate a little time to sit and understand their teachings found in their books.  By eagerly and attentively hearing Vedic wisdom, we too can be as smart as the great yogis of the past. May we all follow in the path of the glorious Sita Devi and love Krishna with all our hearts.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Religion and Politics

Radha Krishna “Communism is a movement of shudras, and capitalism is meant for vaishyas. In the fighting between these two factions, the shudras and vaishyas, gradually, due to the abominable condition of society, the communists will emerge triumphant, and as soon as this takes place, whatever is left of society will be ruined. The only possible remedy that can counteract the tendency toward communism is the Krishna consciousness movement, which can give even communists the real idea of communist society. According to the doctrine of communism, the state should be the proprietor of everything. But the Krishna consciousness movement, expanding this same idea, accepts God as the proprietor of everything.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.20 Purport)

Politics is a subject people try to stay away from discussing in public since arguments can very quickly ensue. Many people have very strongly held political beliefs and they are passionate about sharing those feelings, trying to persuade others to agree with them. In the modern day society where democracies are very common, there is always fighting between the various political factions. Republicans hate Democrats, Democrats despise Republicans, conservatives versus liberals, socialists versus libertarians, etc. Journalists and commentators wring their hands and complain how the dialogue has been sullied and that the level of vitriol has never been worse. In actuality, this fighting has been going on since the beginning of time. So which style of government is the correct one?

Krishna speaking to Arjuna According to the Vedas, the original scripture for mankind passed down by God Himself, society should be divided by people’s qualities and the work they perform, guna and karma.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me…” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

The second class person, the kshatriya, is to be in charge of government. This is because kshatriyas are brave and courageous by nature, thus they can provide protection to the rest of society. The purpose of government is to act as God’s representative in concert with His injunctions found in the Vedas. Since God is the ultimate protector, His protection on earth manifests itself in the form of the kshatriya. The style of government prescribed is a religious monarchy and this was the style in place for millions of years, from the beginning of creation up until around five thousand years ago. In one of His primary incarnations, God even took birth as a kshatriya, part of a line of great kings known as the Ikshvakus.

Lord Rama - God as a kshatriya The shudra is considered the fourth class person. The other two classes are the brahmanas (priestly class of men), and the vaishyas (merchants/businessmen). This system can be thought of symbolically in terms of the body. The brahmanas function as the brain, the kshatriyas as the arms, the vaishyas as the stomach, and the shudras as the feet. Each of these components is required in order for the body to function properly. The shudras are the laborer class; they are untrained in any Vedic discipline. Since they are unaware of any religious tenets, they are not fit to run the government.

In today’s age however, shudras occupy the top posts in most governments. Aside from lacking religious knowledge, the most noteworthy characteristic of a shudra is that they easily lament over things, especially death. The first Vedic instruction is that we are not our body, but rather we are spirit souls, aham brahmasmi. This was the first point stressed by Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Arjuna was worried about having to kill fellow friends and family fighting for the opposing army. Lord Krishna chastised Arjuna’s behavior as not being worthy of a kshatriya. Only shudras lament for the gross material body, for even the kshatriyas know that the soul is eternal and that death represents merely a changing of bodies:

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones…It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body… For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Bg. 2.22, 2.25, 2.27)

Reincarnation Since shudras don’t know or don’t believe in the Vedic tenet of aham brahmasmi, when they are put in government leadership positions, they focus their policies on helping the gross material bodies of those they view as less fortunate. Their general thinking goes along these lines: “There is an uneven distribution of wealth. There are so many poor people out there suffering, while others are extremely wealthy. These rich people can surely afford to sacrifice some of their money to those who are less fortunate. We in government will make this happen by raising taxes. We must have a system where everyone is paying their fair share. This eliminate poverty, and thus everyone will be happy.”

This is the system of socialism/communism or collectivism, and it is widely practiced throughout the world. It has very noble intentions. There are many out there who are less fortunate, and they definitely need to be helped. But this prescribed system has major flaws. First off, it is not the duty of any politician to decide how much a person can afford. This represents a gross misunderstanding of how karma works. Everything is God’s property originally. Those people who earn money are actually accumulating the wealth that God initially created. Their allotment comes as a result of their karma. Governments don’t need to artificially impose a system of fairness, since karma takes care of all of that. Fruitive activity performed for a desired material result is the definition of karma. It is what makes the world go around. It is the driving force behind reincarnation.

Another flaw with the socialist system is that saving the gross material body of a person is a hopeless cause:

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

Shrila Prabhupada The purpose of human life is not to live comfortably in a nice house with an abundance of food. Animals already enjoy such a lifestyle, and they have no need for any systems involving redistribution of wealth. The human form of life is meant for cultivating spiritual knowledge so that one can think of Krishna, or God, at the time of death.

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

As mentioned before, government exists to provide protection. The highest form of protection one human being can provide for another is to protect them from the repeated cycle of birth and death.

“One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.” (Rishabhadeva, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.5.18)

Lord Krishna The collectivist system uses force and coercion to implement charity. While it may be noble to reach into one’s own pocket to give to another person, reaching into someone else’s pocket is defined as theft. Government is allowed to forcibly take money from citizens in the form of taxes, provided that it adequately gives protection from enemies. Taxes are not intended to be used as a fairness scheme. The Vedas are also quite clear on the issue of charity. Donations should only be made to brahmanas, those of the priestly class who voluntarily take up a life of poverty. The reasoning behind this is quite logical. If charity is given to someone who in turn uses that money for nefarious purposes, then both the donor and the receiver incur negative karma as a result. On a grander scale, if a government forcibly takes money from one citizen specially for the purpose of giving it another, and the recipients use that money to buy alcohol, cigarettes, or intoxicants, then the sin incurred by the government leaders is even greater. Charity should only be given to brahmanas because they will use it for the right purposes. Brahmanas are the brains of society, Krishna’s representatives in the form of gurus, or spiritual masters. They provide instruction to the rest of society. Great kshatriya kings of the past wouldn’t take any action without first consulting the brahmanas.

The question may be asked, “What about poor people then? Should we just let them suffer and starve to death?” This is where grihasthis come in to play. Along with the four divisions of society, the Vedas also prescribe one’s life to be divided into four stages known as ashramas. The second stage of life is the grihastha ashrama, where one lives with a spouse and children. The primary duties of a householder are to worship Krishna and to serve and host guests. Householders engage in fruitive activity, earning a living and maintaining a family. Since they are allowed to accumulate wealth, they are also required to give in charity. Householders feed God and guests. They should prepare food regularly to be offered to Lord’s deity, with the prasadam then being distributed to any hungry person on the street, then to any guests in the house. The householder can then eat whatever is left.  This way, all of society is benefitted since prasadam, the holiest of food, is distributed to one and all.

Guru giving instruction Capitalism is the system of the vaishyas, the mercantile class of men. Vaishyas are one step above shudras since they are given a spiritual education, but they still involve themselves in fruitive activity. Capitalism is a fancy name for a system which is simply a part of human nature. Any society will naturally have a group of people more prone to conducting business than others. Capitalism is the peaceable, voluntary exchange of goods and services with a respect for property rights and the rule of law. One person creates a good or service and then sells it on the open market to anyone who is interested. Some people will take interest, while others will not, thus the system is peaceable and voluntary. Government’s role is to ensure that the system lives by its rules. For example, people are not allowed to steal another’s property and then try to sell it. Contracts also should be enforced by the government. If a merchant takes money but never delivers a product, then the transaction is fraudulent and government intervention is required to remedy the situation.

So this system requires very little oversight. Judging by the results of its implementation, capitalism is undoubtedly the best system for producing material wealth. The United States, a country where capitalism is more or less in play, has the world’s largest gross domestic product. In fact, the largest collection of wealth in the world resides in the U.S. Treasury which currently has an annual budget of around three trillion dollars. This should make sense to us. If taxes are low and people are allowed to create wealth, there will naturally be more tax revenue taken in by the government. A worldwide recession has slowed things down a bit recently, but the standard of living in the U.S. is still quite astounding. Even the poor in America are very well off in comparison with the rest of the world:

“Forty-six percent of all poor households actually own their own homes. The average home owned by persons classified as poor by the Census Bureau is a three-bedroom house with one-and-a-half baths, a garage, and a porch or patio…As a group, America's poor are far from being chronically undernourished. The average consumption of protein, vitamins, and minerals is virtually the same for poor and middle-class children and, in most cases, is well above recommended norms.” (Rector, Understanding Poverty in America)

So it seems like capitalism is the way to go then? Not really. Vaishyas are certainly required, but they shouldn’t be running the government.  The modern day implementation of capitalism has two major flaws. The first problem is that those who are successful in the capitalist system, i.e. the capitalists, don’t necessarily believe in the system. Though they become wealthy through the system of voluntary exchange, these capitalists are the first ones to lobby government to enact laws that will favor their particular business. When these laws become enacted, the system starts to crumble. We see examples of this already in place. In the annual budget for the Federal government, there are thousands of subsidies and earmarks directed towards specific pet projects and favored industries. God views everyone equally, and so should the government. One group should never be favored over another. When capitalists get into government, this type of favoritism takes over and the system becomes contaminated.

The second flaw with capitalism is that it is purely in the mode of passion. The material world is governed by three gunas or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance.

“The material nature is working in three modes—goodness, passion, and ignorance. Ignorance is hopeless life. Passion is materialistic. One who is influenced by the modes of passion wants this false enjoyment of material existence. Because he does not know the truth, he wants to squeeze out the energy of the body just to enjoy this matter. That is called the mode of passion. As for those in the mode of ignorance, they have neither passion nor goodness. They are in the deepest darkness of life. Situated in the mode of goodness, we can understand, at least theoretically, what I am, what this world is, what God is, and what our interrelationship is. This is the mode of goodness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure)

The government’s role is to gradually elevate people to the mode of goodness, so that they can hopefully reach the suddha-sattva platform, whereby they dovetail all their activities in Krishna’s service.

Govinda - protector of cows Capitalism is in the mode of passion, which is unending since the material senses can never be satisfied. We see evidence of this in the United States. For the last thirty years or so, there was a tremendous economic boom, with advancements in technology and medicine never seen before. Yet people are still unhappy. They are constantly worried about the latest crisis, be it health related or economic. Money doesn’t buy happiness. Not only are people unhappy, but they have taken to sinful life by opening slaughterhouses where millions of cows are sent each year. Aside from conducting business, the duty of a vaishya is to provide protection to the cows, go-raksha. In a strict sense, today’s capitalists cannot be considered vaishyas due to this omission.

The purpose of human life is to become God conscious. With this in mind, capitalism, socialism, or any other “ism” is destined to fail if service to God is not at its core. Whether we live in America, Europe, or a third world country, our business should be to chant the holy name of God: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and to teach others about Krishna.  Following this system, we can survive through any type of government.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Energy of Man

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest “Where Rama is, there is not fear, nor failure. That mighty-armed son of Dashratha is heroic. Let us, while he is yet ahead within a short distance of us, follow Raghava. Even the shadow of the feet of our master, so high-souled, would bring us happiness. He is the lord of all these, he is the refuge, he is the accomplishment of our religious duties. We and you, will serve Sita and Raghava." (Women of Ayodhya speaking to their husbands, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand Sec 48)

The Sanskrit word for husband is pati, which means lord or master. The husband is the master and the wife serves him. The husband in turn is required to provide complete protection to the wife, ensuring her happiness and security. This is the collective dharma of husband and wife and it is conducive to a happy marriage, and an equally happier destination in the afterlife.

People might take offense to these guidelines. “Women are just supposed to be slaves to the husbands? How is that fair? What if the husband is a reprobate?” On the contrary, the wife is to be anything but a slave to the husband. We generally equate the idea of serving someone with butlers and maids; people who work for us by cooking, cleaning, and attending to our every need. This is not the type of relationship suggested for a husband and wife.

Radha Krishna The wife is considered the better half. In the spiritual world, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the energetic, while His eternal consorts, Radha, Lakshmi, etc. are considered His energy, hladini-shakti. This relationship is reflected in the material world in the form of the husband and wife. The husband is the energetic, and the wife’s duty is to sustain his energy by keeping him in check. This is a role that women naturally assume, for wives usually don’t hesitate to correct their husbands when they see them behaving improperly. To properly serve a husband actually means to make sure he is adhering to religious principles. Human life is not meant to be wasted on mundane sense gratification like cats and dogs do. We have a higher level of intelligence, so we should use it to cultivate God consciousness. Married life is referred to as the grihastha ashrama, so it is recognized as a religious institution. It was put in place by God so as to allow men and women to cohabitate peacefully, leaving time for tapasya and yajna. The best type of yajna is the chanting of the holy name of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Constantly reciting this mantra, along with performing other aspects of devotional service, allows couples to make tremendous spiritual progress.

We sometimes see that men can fall down from the righteous path. They may take to intoxication or gambling, or maybe the pressures of work and family life can get the better of them. In these cases, it is the duty of the wife to serve her husband by getting him back on track. In fact, the highest service a person can provide to anyone else, be they a man or a woman, is to get them to become Krishna conscious. That is the point of human life, for one who thinks of God at the time of death is assured residence in God’s spiritual planetary system, where once going, one never returns. One who can arouse feelings of spiritual bliss in others is a true saint. Wives who keep their husbands dedicated to serving Krishna are truly serving their husbands.

Sita Rama This was the type of behavior exhibited by the women living in Ayodhya many thousands of years ago during the time of Lord Rama. Krishna comes to earth from time to time when there is a decline in adherence to dharma. As Lord Rama, He played the role of a pious prince, completely dedicated to the welfare of His dependents. Voluntarily accepting banishment from His kingdom, Lord Rama set off to live in the forest for fourteen years accompanied by His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana. The citizens of Ayodhya were greatly saddened by this event, for they loved Rama and were looking forward to Him being the new king. They were so frightened at the thought of being separated from Him that they decided to follow Him to the forest. In the above referenced statement, the women of Ayodhya are openly declaring their love for Rama. They want to follow Rama to the forest, and they are trying to encourage their husbands to come with them. In essence they are saying, “We perform all these religious rituals in hopes of attaining great spiritual rewards. Well, Lord Rama is that reward, and He is right in front of us. He is the object of our worship. It is our duty, as husband and wife, to follow Him and to constantly serve Him and His wife Sita.”

The Vedas are the original religion passed down from God Himself. Since every living person has different levels of intelligence and understanding, not everyone takes to the highest form of religion, bhakti yoga, at the beginning. For this reason, there are different divisions of the Vedas, with many sub-religions. The idea is that every person, whether they be situated in the mode of goodness, passion, or ignorance, should have a dharma which they can adhere to, which will allow them to make spiritual progress. On a strict material level, there are many samskaras and rituals prescribed for married couples to go through. These are just steps that allow one to hopefully one day come to the platform of pure love of Godhead. These women of Ayodhya had already reached that platform. With intelligence greater than that of any meditational or philosophical yogi, these women urged their husbands to follow the path of the highest dharma, bhagavata-dharma.

Lord Rama Lord Rama is one who gives pleasure to all. The name Krishna means “all-attractive”. We need only look to God for our happiness. A husband and wife who dedicate their life to His service will always be happy. In the end, the citizens of Ayodhya were unable to follow Rama and they had to wait fourteen years for His return. Nevertheless, these women of Ayodhya performed the highest service to their husbands by instructing them on the real meaning of religion. Thus, their adherence to dharma was perfect.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Inner Strength

Hanuman worshiping Rama “The stage of perfection is called trance, or samadhi, when one's mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This is characterized by one's ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.20-23)

In the modern world, the concept of a strong and independent woman is usually attached to those women who have become successful in the workplace. Many women now serve as doctors, lawyers, and CEOs of very large corporations. They are breaking out on their own, climbing the corporate ladder and fulfilling their ambitions.

Up until recent times, women traditionally played the role of the devoted housewife. They maintained the house, cooked all the meals, and raised the children while the husbands were out pursuing their careers and supporting the family. Women were completely dependent on their husbands for their livelihoods. The modern day career woman is considered strong because she has broken out on her own, and isn’t dependent on anyone. Breaking into the workplace is not an easy thing to do for a woman, and it requires great strength to be successful in such an arena predominated by men. Due to the economic climate, many women today manage a career and support a family at the same time.

This change in gender roles occurred gradually over time and really took hold during the feminist movement of the 1960s. Feminism taught women that they were equal to men in all respects and that they didn’t have to abide by the traditional roles imposed by society. Women were encouraged to pursue careers instead of raising families. They were taught to be independent of men.

“O you, pure-hearted one, surely shall I become sinless if I follow my husband, out of affection, for my husband is my Divinity.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Sita Rama According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, real independence only comes when one surrenders unto God and realizes that He is always protecting them. The Vedic definition of women’s liberation is the freedom provided to a woman while she is under the protection of her husband. Not just any husband either, but a man who is a pure servant of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Only a truly God conscious husband can properly provide for and protect his wife. Just as a child feels completely at ease because of the protection provided by the parents, a woman can feel the greatest sense of independence when she knows her husband is with her. The Vedas prescribe that a woman should never be allowed to live alone at any time in her life. In her youth, she is to be protected by her father, as an adult the husband provides protection, and in old age the eldest son takes care of the mother. This definition may seem old fashioned or outdated, but it is actually the proper way to maintain a happy family life. One may look at such rules as being an imposition on the woman. “Why does the woman need protection? Why should she be in a position of weakness all her life?” These questions can be answered by studying the life of Sita Devi.

Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi that appeared in Mithila many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna had decided to appear on earth in the form of Lord Rama to kill the evil demon Ravana. Upon descending to earth, He brought with Him His entourage consisting of various demigods, including Lord Shesha Naga, who appeared as His younger brother Lakshmana, and Goddess Lakshmi, who appeared as Sita. Lakshmi is always serving God in the spiritual world, so she naturally performed the same role while in the material world. Sita was married to Rama, and the two were enjoying blissful married life in the kingdom of Ayodhya, which was ruled by Rama’s father, Maharaja Dashratha.

Sita Devi As Rama’s wife, Sita proved to be the strongest woman that ever lived. Her outward demeanor masked her inner strength.  She was a shy person, and she had very delicate bodily features. While growing up, she enjoyed the royal treatment of the most exalted princess of Mithila, and in married life, she enjoyed the same treatment as the wife of the eldest son of the king.

One may ask how she could be such a strong woman while being treated like a princess. According to the Vedas, when a husband and wife are married, the wife is instructed to view her husband as her God, pati (meaning “Lord” or “Master”). She is to perform worship for him daily, and serve him throughout her life. By being steadfastly devoted to her husband, family life is peaceful, which leaves more time for God realization. The scriptural injunctions say that a husband and wife share in the merits of their actions in this life and the next life. If the husband is very pious and devoted to Krishna, then the wife will follow Him to the spiritual world after death. By the same token, if the husband is sent to hell, the wife must follow him there as well. So it is in the best interests of the wife to ensure that her husband is happy and sticking to the path of devotion.

Sita Rama Sita Devi had no problem viewing her husband as her god, since He actually was God in human form. Her strength came not from being superficially independent or having a career, but rather through her complete surrender to Lord Rama. There are different types of strength, but the most important kind, inner strength, results from fearlessness. By eliminating fear, one is able to be successful in all their endeavors. Achieving success gives one a feeling of great strength.

“Being fearless in your company, Oh my intelligent husband and great hero, I shall behold on all sides ponds filled with wild geese and ducks and beautified with a collection of full-blown lotuses, and shall bathe there every day, pursuing the same vow with you…” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Vm, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Sita’s fearlessness came from being completely devoted to Lord Rama. As part of His pastimes, the Lord voluntarily accepted the punishment of exile to the forest by His father King Dashratha. Dashratha had initially planned on installing Rama as the new king, but due to a prior misjudgment, the king was instead forced to send Rama to live as a recluse in the wilderness for fourteen years without any access to the kingdom. The Lord, being completely devoted to His father, gladly accepted the decree. When He went to tell Sita the bad news, she insisted on accompanying Him, going against her husband’s wishes.

This one event represents the glory and strength of Sita Devi. It would have been very easy for her to remain in the kingdom. After all, her husband had requested it. Living a life of luxury, she easily could have waited out the fourteen years without suffering any material discomfort. Instead, she demanded the Lord take her to the forest, where she would live amongst the wild animals, walking on the bare ground with thorns pricking the soles of her delicate feet. In the modern age, we become panic-stricken when there is a loss of electricity for any extended period. We can’t even imagine spending life in the wilderness. From time to time we may go camping as a means of “roughing it”, but these trips only last a few days, and we know that we will return to the luxuries of our home very soon. Sita knew that this exile period would last for fourteen years, yet she had no qualms about going. The Lord tried His best to dissuade her, but she put forth such cogent and persuasive arguments, that He was forced to acquiesce.

Sita Devi Sita’s fearlessness and resultant strength came from taking Rama to be the beginning and end of everything in her life. One who is completely devoted to God gains the greatest inner-strength. This is the true definition of independence. Most of us have a false sense of independence, where we believe we are the cause of the fruits produced by our labor. Such thinking leads us to believe that we are God and that we are controllers. In reality, God and His energies are responsible for the results of our action. We merely have a minute amount of independence in that we can decide how our senses will interact with material nature.

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.47)

The aim of our life should be to make ourselves detached from material nature, and at the same time, become attached to God. True independence can only be achieved when we surrender everything unto Krishna and rely on Him for everything. This liberates us from the clutches of maya, God’s illusory energy in charge of tricking us into believing that we are God.

Sita Rama On the surface there is nothing wrong with the idea of pursuing a career. Anyone, regardless of their disposition, can become strong by becoming a devotee of Lord Krishna. This is the true purport to the statement made by Sita Devi. She in essence was saying, “There is no sin in following my husband out of love, since my husband is God Himself. There is no sin in following God.” Following these two tenets, we can become the strongest and most independent person. Let us all engage in chanting the glorious names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and commit ourselves to following the path of devotional service. By so doing, wherever we go, we will be following the Lord.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

A Matter of Taste

Lord Krishna “The perfection of human civilization depends on Krishna consciousness, which recommends Deity worship. Preparations made from vegetables, grains, milk, ghee and yogurt are offered to the Deity and then distributed.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 4.93 Purport)

One of the central practices of the Hare Krishnas is the offering of food to Lord Krishna, which in turn, becomes prasadam. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the movement, instructed his disciples to not eating anything unless it was first offered to the deity of the Lord.

Prasadam is a Sanskrit word meaning “the Lord’s mercy”, and it applies to anything first offered to Lord Krishna, or God. Flowers, incense, lights, and a fan can be offered to the Lord, but the term prasadam is generally associated with food. Hare Krishna devotees are dispersed throughout the world, and as a result, all different kinds of food are offered to Krishna. Everything from breakfast food, appetizers, to dinner entrees, and even desserts are all offered to Lord Krishna prior to eating. Such a practice purifies one’s consciousness and one’s eating habits.

Satyanarayana Puja In households in India, the practice of offering food to the Lord is a little different. Food offered to the deity primarily consists of sweets, such as laddus, barfi, and pedas. Hindus families typically don’t offer everything that they eat to the Lord, but they make sure to make at least two offerings a day of sweets. When Lord Krishna was on this earth some five thousand years ago, just prior to His return to the spiritual world, He instructed His good friend Uddhava on the process of archanam, or deity worship. He delineated all the different kinds of food that should be offered to the deity, and sweets made up the majority of the list. Another name for Krishna is Govinda, meaning one who gives pleasure to the cows. For this reason, the Lord especially enjoys any type of milk preparation, especially milk sweets. From the time of Lord Krishna’s advent and even prior to that, the tradition of bhoga offering has been going on. Many of the temples in India each have their own history associated with it, thus sometimes other specific foods are offered to specific deities.

“Within his means, the devotee should arrange to offer Me sugar candy, sweet rice, ghee, shashkuli [rice-flour cakes], apupa [various sweet cakes], modaka [steamed rice-flour dumplings filled with sweet coconut and sugar], samyava [wheat cakes made with ghee and milk and covered with sugar and spices], yogurt, vegetable soups and other palatable foods.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.27.34)

Radha Krishna When hearing of the practices of Hare Krishna devotees, some may be puzzled by their choices in offerings. Krishna devotees in America sometimes offer things such as cupcakes, pizza, bread, and even cookies. These items aren’t as common in India so they aren’t offered to the Lord in Indian temples and homes. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna advises His devotee Arjuna as follows:

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

From this we understand that vegetables, grains, fruits, milk, and water are the acceptable foods that can be offered to the Lord. God specifies that one must offer with “love and devotion”, and only then will He accept it.

Krishna welcoming Sudama Vipra When Lord Krishna was a king living in Dvaraka, a brahmana devotee by the name of Sudama Vipra came to visit Him. Sudama was a very poor brahmana, and was induced by his wife to go visit the Lord to see if He could provide them some sort of material benediction. Sudama was too poor to bring anything to offer to Krishna except a small bag of chipped rice. When in the presence of Krishna, Sudama was too ashamed to even show the rice, so he hid it behind Him. Krishna, being the Supreme Personality of Godhead, knew what was in Sudama’s mind and heart, so He immediately snatched the bag of chipped rice from him. Krishna was very pleased simply by eating a morsel of the rice, and His wife Rukmini was equally pleased.

“This indicates that when food is offered to Lord Krishna with love and devotion and He is pleased and accepts it from the devotee, Rukminidevi, the goddess of fortune, becomes so greatly obliged to the devotee that she has to personally go to the devotee's home to turn it into the most opulent home in the world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, 1970-2-26)

Radha Krishna An offering of something as simple as chipped rice was completely authorized more than five thousand years ago since it was offered directly to the Lord in person. When Lord Chaitanya, the golden avatar of Krishna in the Kali Yuga, first started the Hare Krishna movement, He would regularly take prasadam in the homes of devotees. This prasadam consisted of entire meals, not just sweets, so this tradition should be followed by all. Krishna is everyone’s God, whether they live in India or not. The Lord resides in each and every one of us and is never foreign to anyone. If we lovingly offer any food in the mode of goodness which is approved by the great acharyas, Krishna will gladly accept it. He is so kind as to leave the remnants for us to distribute and partake of ourselves. That truly is the Lord’s mercy and we are very grateful for it.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The Truth

Lord Rama “Great munis continue their yoga birth after birth, but at the time of death, they fail to utter the name of Rama. But now He, on the strength of whose name Lord Shiva grants liberation to all alike, has appeared before my very eyes.” (Vali speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa)

“Ram naam satya hai!” is a phrase uttered during funeral processions in India and amongst followers of the Vedas around the world. It means that the name of Rama is the truth. Lord Rama was the incarnation of Krishna who appeared during the Treta Yuga, so He is as good as God Himself. Friends and relatives hope that the departed soul will go straight to the Lord’s spiritual abode upon the repeated recitation of this phrase.

Virtue is defined as being a moral righteousness or goodness. We usually associate virtue with good and noble deeds, acts performed for the benefit of others. Altruism, philanthropy, and charity are some of the deeds performed by the virtuous. There are many different definitions of what is and what isn’t virtuous, but in general, the definitions come from religious codes, or shāstras. Shāstra is a Sanskrit word used to identify the scriptures, but its actual meaning is “that which governs”. Just as in the material world we have law books and constitutions that govern the affairs of society, the shāstras serve as a guidepost for governing all of mankind in hopes that they can make spiritual advancement. Along with shāstra, there is shastra (pronounced “shustra”). Shāstras are the guiding principle, and shastra is the force used to punish those who don’t abide by the shāstras. The Vedic law codes come from the original Vedas themselves, along with the Puranas, Upanishads, Ramayana, and any other literature which follows the principles of the original Veda.

Truthfulness, honesty, kindness, tolerance, and patience are a few qualities that are considered virtuous. They are so labeled because these qualities are not easily acquired. It is the natural tendency of man to be selfish by wanting to lord over material nature. We have to be taught how to be civilized by our parents during our childhood. It is often the case that those children who are spoiled in their childhood, they end up being not so good people in their adult life, always whining and complaining and thinking they are entitled to the property of others. Those who are taught austerity and virtue in their childhood usually end up being upstanding citizens later on in life.

Andre Agassi at his academy Good people are lauded by society, whereas bad people are vilified. One need only watch the nightly television newscasts or read the daily newspapers to see evidence of this. To ere is human, but any celebrity who mistakenly makes an offensive statement ends up being tarnished throughout the media, whereas those who are charitable end up being praised to the hilltops. Tennis legend Andre Agassi was known for being somewhat selfish in the early part of his career. He was known for his wild outfits and long hair, and he was featured in television ads uttering the phrase “Image is everything.” As his career continued, Agassi matured and turned to philanthropy. He started his own school for disadvantaged youths in his hometown of Las Vegas. He raises millions of dollars annually for his academy, and he enjoys universal praise and adoration from tennis fans and media around the world. There are other examples as well. The first president of the United States, George Washington, was famously known for never having told a lie during his childhood. Civil War President Abraham Lincoln, one of the most popular leaders in history, is often referred to as “Honest Abe”.

“When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets. When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when he dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.15)

The Vedas declare that virtue lies on the platform of goodness. By definition, the material world means a place where gunas and karma exist. Gunas are qualities and karma is work. The three qualities of material nature are goodness, passion, and ignorance, and every living entity has a combination of these qualities in them. These qualities, along with karma, determine the type of body one receives at birth. Those who possess a high level of goodness take birth as devotees or demigods. Those in ignorance take birth in the animal kingdom. Human beings generally have a combination of goodness and passion. Even though the mode of goodness is considered the highest, it is still classified as material. Above regular goodness is pure goodness, known as suddha-sattva. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is in pure goodness and anything connected with service to Him is also considered pure. He is the only virtue.

People can behave any way they like, but if work is performed on the material platform, it is essentially all the same. For example, the Vedas declare that virtuous behavior leads to ascension to the heavenly planets after death. If we are kind, pure-hearted, honest, and don’t cheat others, we go to heaven after our time on earth is finished. This is the established belief of all major religions. The Vedas go one step further, however, in letting us know just how long we stay in heaven and what kind of heaven we actually go to. Virtuous people certainly ascend to the heavenly planets, but residence there isn’t permanent. All our deeds and misdeeds have expiration dates on them, and at the expiry of our good deeds, we get sent back to this material world.

“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Bg. 6.41)

Along the same lines, the sinful go to the hellish planets after death, but they also eventually make their way back to the material world.

Another type of piety followed by many people is the performance of yajnas, or sacrifices enjoined in the karma-kanda section of the Vedas. These sacrifices are aimed at procuring material wealth and prosperity. Performance of these sacrifices certainly isn’t a bad thing since it at least involves thinking about God and realizing that He is responsible for providing everything to us. However, once the wished-for material wealth is acquired, what is one supposed to do? No amount of wealth or fame can secure everlasting happiness. In these cases, the virtuous activities are performed in vain.

Lord Rama So what are we supposed to do? Should we just forget about virtue since it proves to be meaningless? The answer lies in God’s name, “Ram naam satya hai!”. We should take note of what is chanted at a funeral. In the Vedic tradition, people don’t ask for material benedictions at a funeral. They don’t pray for the soul to have temporary residence on one of the heavenly planets. Instead, they wish for the eternal salvation of the soul. Rama’s name is the truth, for God is the only virtue in life. It is said that Lord Shiva, known as Mahadeva or the great demigod, whispers the name of Rama in the ear of those who give up their body in the holy city of Kashi. Lord Shiva In this way, Lord Shiva is an agent for moksha, or liberation. Notice that he doesn’t whisper “Go to heaven” or “Rest in peace”, but he simply utters the name of God, for God’s name is the most powerful force in the entire universe. All virtue emanates from God. Those who lovingly chant His name, offer Him prayers, prepare food for Him, and hear stories about His life and pastimes engage in truly virtuous behavior. All other good qualities pertaining to the mode of goodness are automatically acquired by the Lord’s devotees.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

For Your Welfare

Sita Rama “For your welfare, O Raghava, having received your permission to follow you, I like to serve you, O great hero, while living in the forest.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

This statement of Sita Devi is so pure and wonderful that it warms the heart. One can read this one line over and over again and still enjoy the bliss brought on by the purest sentiment ever uttered. The two key phrases of this statement are “for your welfare” and “I like to serve you.”

Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, known as the goddess of fortune. According to the Vedas, there is one God and He appoints various demigods, deputies in a sense, to manage the affairs of the material world. Lakshmi is a manifestation of God’s pleasure potency, known as hladini-shakti. Woman is the energy of man, or the better-half. Lakshmi is God’s energy, providing good fortune to devotees so that they may in turn use that fortune to serve God. As God’s pleasure potency, Lakshmi is completely devoted to Him and serves Him constantly. Many thousands of years ago, she came to earth in the form of the beautiful princess named Sita. Since she serves as God’s wife in the spiritual world, she naturally assumed the same role in the material world. Sita was married to Lord Rama, an incarnation of Lord Krishna. Lord Rama was born in the dynasty of kings known as the Ikshvakus, who were all very pious. Lord Rama’s father was Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya.

Goddess Lakshmi After enjoying a brief period of married life, Lord Rama was unexpectedly ousted from the kingdom by His father and ordered to spend fourteen years in exile in the forest. Only the Lord was ordered to go, but Sita wanted to accompany Him. Lord Rama was hesitant to bring her along since forest life would be very difficult compared to the luxurious life they were used to living in the kingdom. Sita Devi vehemently argued in favor of her going and one of her statements was that she should like to go with Rama for His welfare, in order that she may serve Him.

In general, most of us think of our welfare first. We live with ourselves every day, so naturally we are looking to please our personal interests first. We eat what we want, sleep when we want, and go where we want. This is the benefit of independence as we see it. According to the Vedic philosophy, we are spirit souls at our core, but due to our desire to be like God and enjoy, we were placed in this material world. While here, are souls are placed in various types of bodies based on our desires and qualities. Currently in the human form, we seek after sense gratification, thinking ourselves to be the proprietor of our possessions.

On the surface, seeking sense gratification doesn’t seem to be harmful. After all, acting in our self-interest should make us happy. Yet we find that this happiness is hard to come by. Evidence of this can be seen by studying the actions of those who are extremely successful materially, the wealthy. Whether it’s Bill Gates or Warren Buffet, we see that amassing tremendous amounts of wealth doesn’t bring satisfaction in the arena of sense gratification. Once people become free from the desire to earn more money, they take to the practice of philanthropy. They engage in charitable acts of opening hospitals, schools, and various other non-profit entities.

Charity is a wonderful activity because it purifies us. Instead of concentrating on our own welfare, we become concerned with the disposition of others. Acquiring fame and fortune are very nice, and we feel fortunate and blessed to be in such a position. Conversely, it pains us to see those who aren’t as fortunate, so through charity, we try to alleviate that pain. Charity is also an act of love. Wanting more for someone else than you want for yourself is the definition of love. Love is the most liberating feeling because it brings us back to our natural constitutional position as spirit souls. Originally, we all had a pure loving relationship with God, and that was forgotten once we entered this material world.

Sita Rama The other important phrase in Sita’s statement was “I like to serve you.” This is an anathema to many people. As previously mentioned, we have a tendency to give priority to serving our interests over serving others. This phrase is also in stark contrast with the teachings of the modern day feminist movement. Wanting liberation from the perceived bondage of the past, the feminist movement that took hold in the late 1960s aimed at giving independence to women. This movement taught women to break free of their reliance on men and not to cow-tow to them. Wanting to be on par with men, women began refusing to have doors held open for them, to have men compliment them, and to let men pay for lunches and dinners. The idea was that women could do anything that men could do.

Now there is nothing wrong with independence per se. Self-reliance is a very good thing because it affords one a chance at peace, which leaves more time for God realization. However, it is a mistake for anyone, man or woman, to get caught up in the idea of independence. We spirit souls have a minute amount of independence in that we have a choice in how our senses will react with nature in the form of work. Still, we actually have no control over the results or fruits of our work. This is all determined by the laws of material nature, put into place by God. These laws, collectively known as the system of karma, represent the ultimate system of fairness, providing good and bad results for all fruitive action. Simply put, good or bad things can happen to us based on what we do. We may work very hard at something, but that doesn’t guarantee success. Winning and losing, success and failure, victory and defeat, these are all determined by our karma and the karma of others. Thinking that we are the doers is the first mistake made by the living entities. We actually have no independence.

By her one statement, Sita Devi summed up the meaning of life. People search far and wide, speculating and proposing various theories and racking their brains for the answers to life’s questions, but that is all unnecessary. The perfection of life can be achieved when one surrenders everything unto God and willingly becomes His servant. Just as loving others by performing charitable works brings us temporary joy, performing charity for God and loving Him will bring us eternal happiness. The aim of life should be to one day reach the same platform of loving devotion that Sita Devi had. We should all hope to share the same sentiments towards God that Sita did. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna describes the four types of people that come to Him:

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Bg. 7.16)

Lord Krishna Most of us fall into the category of wanting something from God, artha-arthi. This is very natural, for we know that God is the greatest and that He can supply us with everything. However, this is a second class form of worship. Instead of asking something from God, we should offer services to Him. God isn’t in need of anything, but we should still want to serve Him for His benefit. This is the highest form of love as exemplified by God’s wife, Sita Devi. We too can exhibit this form of love through the practice of bhakti yoga, or devotional service. God ultimately wants to see everyone happy, and He knows that serving Him allows us to achieve the ultimate pleasure. It is for this reason that the Lord gladly accepts our service.

The best way to serve the Lord is to constantly chant His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”. By chanting and following the regulative principles of bhakti yoga, we will be following the great example set forth by Sita Devi. Her love was so pure and spontaneous that Lord Rama was forced to take her with Him to the forest. Through her love, she was able to purchase the Lord. May Sita be always in Rama’s company, and may we always remember and honor her pure devotion.

Govardhana Puja 2009

Krishna lifting Govardhana Hill “My dear Lord, You are the Supreme Personality of Godhead. I offer my respectful obeisances unto You because You are the Supreme Person and the Supreme Soul. You are the son of Vasudeva, and You are the Supreme Lord, Krishna, the master of all pure devotees.” (Indra praying to Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 27)

Govardhana Puja celebrates the anniversary of the lifting of Govardhana Hill by Lord Shri Krishna. How a young child could hold up an entire hill by just one finger for seven consecutive days is a fact only understood by the true devotees of the Lord.

Millions of planets are floating in the air all without any intervention by man. Scientists have come up with the Big Bang Theory to explain the creation of the universe, but they have no way of explaining how such a bang could take place and what existed before then. The Vedas represent perfect knowledge since they were passed down from God Himself:

“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)

Vivasvan The answer to every question can be found in the voluminous works authored by Vyasadeva and other great authors of the Vedic tradition. The historical account of the lifting of Govardhana Hill can be found in the Bhagavata and Vishnu Puranas, as well in several other books. The significance of the event is quite apparent: if God wants to protect someone, there is nothing that anyone can do, even if they are a powerful demigod.

Lord Indra In the Vedic tradition, many demigods are regularly worshiped since they bestow material benedictions. The King of Vraja, Nanda Maharaja, used to regularly perform a puja, or religious worship ceremony, for Lord Indra, the god of heaven. Indra is one of the chief demigods whose name gets brought up quite often, especially when making comparisons. His strength is great since he uses the thunderbolt as his weapon. For this reason, people often make comparisons to him when describing someone having extraordinary strength. Lord Krishna, who was playing the part of the foster-son of Nanda, asked His father to worship Govardhana Hill instead of Indra. Nanda was hesitant to do so out of fear of offending Indra, but nevertheless, he followed through on Krishna’s request.

This is an example of a perfect guru-disciple relationship. If a person wants to make spiritual advancement, he should follow the instructions of the guru without question. Since the spiritual master is the bona fide representative of Krishna, he is to be afforded the same respect as God. The spiritual master is also referred to as guru-deva, meaning he is god-like. Lord Krishna is the original guru, so He gave Nanda the chance to serve Him even though the outward relationship appeared to be that of a father and son. Following Krishna’s advice, the residents of Vrindavana prepared a huge feast to be offered to the hill:

"Prepare very nice foodstuffs of all descriptions from the grains and ghee collected for the yajna. Prepare rice, dahl, then halavah, pakora, puri and all kinds of milk preparations like sweet rice, sweetballs, sandesha, rasagulla and laddu and invite the learned brahmanas who can chant the Vedic hymns and offer oblations to the fire. The brahmanas should be given all kinds of grains in charity. Then decorate all the cows and feed them well. After performing this, give money in charity to the brahmanas. As far as the lower animals are concerned, such as the dogs, and the lower grades of people, such as the chandalas, or the fifth class of men who are considered untouchable, they also may be given sumptuous prasadam. After giving nice grasses to the cows, the sacrifice known as Govardhana Puja may immediately begin. This sacrifice will very much satisfy Me." (Lord Krishna, KB, Vol 1, Ch 24)

Krishna speaking to NandaLord Krishna wanted Govardhana Hill to be worshiped since it provided so many benefits to the citizens. This represents one of the primary principles of the Vedic system; respect. A cow freely gives us milk, not putting up any opposition. For this reason, she is to be respected as a mother, not mercilessly killed in a slaughterhouse. Our parents serve as our initial spiritual masters, guiding and protecting us in our youth. For this reason, they are to be shown the highest respect. The same principle holds true for land. Due to the nature of the material world, we are required to take certain actions to maintain our mind and body. Using land for farming and housing is a necessity, but we should be careful not to unnecessarily burden the earth. We should show respect to the land that we do use, since we would not be able to maintain our livelihoods without it.

Lord Chaitanya has recommended that since Krishna is worshipable, so His land, Vrindavana and Govardhana Hill, are also worshipable. To confirm this statement, Lord Krishna said that Govardhana Puja is as good as worship of Him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, KB, Vol 1, Ch 24)

Lord Krishna Govardhana Hill was shown the highest respect since it proved so beneficial to the citizens. Indra became angry since his worship was skipped, so he decided to take out his wrath on the citizens by pouring down an onslaught of rain. The demigods are god-like, but they are not equal to God. They are still vulnerable to the defects of man. Indra is especially notorious for transgressing the rules of propriety from time to time, and this was one of those occasions. Lord Krishna came to the rescue of the citizens by holding up Govardhana Hill and using it as an umbrella:

"My dear brothers, My dear father, My dear inhabitants of Vrindavana, you can now safely enter under the umbrella of Govardhana Hill, which I have just lifted. Do not be afraid of the hill and think that it will fall from My hand. You have been too much afflicted from the heavy rain and strong wind; therefore I have lifted this hill, which will protect you exactly like a huge umbrella. I think this is a proper arrangement to relieve you from your immediate distress. Be happy along with your animals underneath this great umbrella." (Lord Krishna, KB, Vol 1, Ch 25)

Lifting of Govardhana Hill Ever since that time, Govardhana Hill has been worshiped annually to mark the occasion of the Lord’s bestowal of mercy upon His devotees.