Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Krishna Diet

Satyanarayana Puja “There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)

The diet industry is huge in America. Television channels are filled with infomercials on the weekends and early morning hours that are dedicated to weight loss and exercise. These companies collectively make millions of dollars catering to those who want to lose weight.

Most of us wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds, irrespective of whether we are actually overweight or not. In America, there is no shortage of food. The technological revolution has brought about a huge paradigm shift in the general workforce. As recently as one hundred years ago, around forty percent of the workforce was involved in farming, whereas today it’s less than ten percent. At the same time, food production has rapidly increased due to the use of advanced machinery. Productivity has increased since the cost to produce food has decreased while the output from such production has increased. The U.S. government even goes so far as to pay farmers to not grow food in hopes of stabilizing prices. They want farmers to be profitable, which will allow the majority of food to be produced domestically rather than being imported.

With this overabundance of food has come the rise in fast food restaurants and supermarkets. The question nowadays isn’t how will one eat, but what kind of food does one feel like eating. Since so many of us eat out at restaurants, the food we eat is usually high in fat. A restaurant is a business, so their goal is to attract as many customers as possible. For this reason, their food is generally high in fat since fat that tends to make food taste better. Since fast food, food that is very high in fat, is so easily accessible, naturally there is an obesity problem in the country. Not just obesity, but most people in general feel like they could stand to lose a few pounds. For this reason all the various diets and exercise regimens have sprung up.

Prasadam A few of the more popular diets are the South Beach, Low Carb, and Low Fat diets. Whichever diet a person chooses, they are all almost guaranteed to work. The reason for this is that any diet requires regulating one’s food intake. If we regulate our eating habits, it makes senses that we will lose weight, for the initial cause of our being overweight was our irregular eating. Some of these diet programs just provide guidelines as to what a person should eat and at what times. Other programs, such as the Nutrisystem Diet, go so far as to actually send food to customers. This way dieting won’t be an involved process; a person can just eat whatever is provided to them. Though all these diet programs work, people generally don’t stay on them for any extended period of time. “Oh I need to lose weight before the summer season so I will look good when I go to the beach… I need to lose at least ten pounds before this wedding so I can fit into my dress…I’m going on vacation in a few weeks and I know I will gain weight while on it, so I need to go on a diet now as a way of preparing.” These are some of the thoughts of people wanting to diet.

The root of the problem with dieting lies in the fact that it is temporary. As we can see from the example of successful dieters, weight control involves controlling habits. This is also the injunction of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. God has laid down a system whereby one is advised to not eat too much or too little. Actually the entire Vedic system revolves around routine and habit. One is advised to rise early in the morning, just around the time of sun-up, and to take a bath. Afterwards, they should worship the Lord’s deity and chant His name, either in the form of the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, or the gayatri-mantra for those who have been initiated by a spiritual master. For food, one is advised to eat prasadam, sanctified food that has first been offered to the Lord.

Prasadam is actually the key ingredient in weight control and in maintaining a healthy diet. We all require food to maintain our bodies, but most of us go outside the boundaries of necessity and actually use food as a form of sense gratification. This is the root cause of our irregular eating habits. If one can control the desires to satisfy the tongue and the stomach, then he or she will be successful in regulating their weight and health. Vedic injunctions prescribe that one should prepare and offer food for Lord Krishna, or God, instead of just for themselves. Preparing food for ourselves is generally better than eating out at restaurants because we at least get to control the ingredients. Not only that, but if we make the food ourselves, then we are less likely to overindulge in it. It’s a lot easier to over-eat when someone else has worked hard to make the food than it is to eat something that we put our own time and effort into preparing. More than just offering the food to the Lord’s deity and then eating it ourselves, prasadam should be distributed to others. Those in the grihastha ashrama, married family life, are required to be charitable. Before taking a meal, one should first offer it to any guests, children, or elderly family members. The householder is then allowed to eat whatever remains. This is another way of maintaining one’s weight. If we prepare food for Krishna and for other devotees, then it will be harder for us to overindulge.

Lord Krishna Becoming overweight is actually very easy to prevent. One just needs to follow the regulative principles of devotional service to Krishna, and all other problems are taken care of. Most diets recommend that one eat at least four small meals a day, spread out in regular intervals. This way, the body doesn’t go into what is called “fat storage mode” but rather stays in “fat burning mode”. The Vedic concept is similar, except that it enjoins that one not only eat regularly, but rather one should do every necessary activity regularly. Chant, read, hear, offer prayers, etc., all these things should be done on regular intervals. Following these guidelines, one will always be happy and thus be able to control all urges for material sense gratification. The first step is to become a devotee of the Lord by chanting the maha-mantra daily at least sixteen rounds on a japa-mala, while strictly adhering to the four regulative principles of abstinence from meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Then one can take the next step and begin preparing and offering all their food to Lord Krishna, which is the highest form of sacrifice.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Getting God’s Attention

Radha Krishna “If My beloved consort reproaches Me in a sulky mood, that steals My mind from the reverent hymns of the Vedas." (Lord Krishna, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 4.26)

During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation which occurred many thousands of years ago, God incarnated on earth in the form of Lord Rama, a handsome and pious prince dedicated to the principles of dharma. As part of His pastimes, the Lord voluntarily accepted banishment to the forest by his father, the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha.

“For what reason then did you not wish to take your wife with you, who is of good character and devoted to her husband?” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

Being married to His wife Sita at the time, the Lord went to inform her of His predicament and at the same time He requested that she remain in the kingdom for the exile period, which would last fourteen years. Sita found such a request to be not in line with dharma, and she made her feelings known to Rama. She lectured the Lord on the proper duties of a husband and wife, and the above statement was made towards the end of her remarks.

Lakshmi Narayana Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who is God’s pleasure potency according to the Vedas. In the spiritual world, Krishna, or God, is constantly being served by His pleasure potencies, known as the goddesses of fortune. In His expansion as Lord Narayana, His is married to Lakshmi, who is completely devoted to Him and serves Him constantly. Naturally, when the Lord descends to earth, He brings along with Him His primary associates. For this reason, Lakshmi descended as Sita Devi, and played the role of Rama’s wife. Her trademark characteristic was that of being completely devoted to her husband, who was God Himself. She had no other interest in her life. It was for this reason that she so vehemently objected to the Lord’s request that she live without Him.

Judging Sita’s statement on the surface, it appears that she is acting in a rude manner. Her statement is in essence a chastisement of Rama. “What on earth was going through your mind when you asked me to stay here? Have you gone mad?” Addressing God in such a tone may seem improper, but it actually represents the highest form of devotion. A husband and wife share a very intimate relationship. It is very common to see a wife yelling at her husband in order to correct any flaws she perceives in him. The term “a nagging wife” is an outgrowth of this scenario. A good husband will excuse such outbursts from his wife because he knows that she is doing it out of love. In a similar manner, when we were young, our mothers would always hound us about wearing our jackets when going out in the cold, or about eating dinner on time, or making sure we did our homework. We hated being pestered in this way when we were young, but as we matured, we realized that it was all done out of love. The mother loves the child so much that she is even willing to punish him for his benefit.

Sita Rama Sita’s chastising of Rama was done purely out of affection, and in actuality, Rama purposefully created such a situation where she would have the opportunity to correct Him. God prefers the form of worship exemplified by Sita over any other kind of worship.

The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, originating from God Himself, first passed down through oral tradition, and more recently through written books. Veda means “knowledge” and the term “Vedas” refers to the four Vedas, Ramayana, Upanishads, Vedanta-sutra, Puranas, or any other work that is in line with the principles of the original Veda. The Vedas started out as one doctrine known as the Veda, but Lord Krishna’s literary incarnation, Vyasadeva, divided them into four based on specific classifications. The Vedas are composed of various hymns which are sung by devotees and expert brahmanas for specific purposes. Since the songs address God directly, His attention is always captured when they are sung.

From Lord Krishna’s statement, we can understand that lovingly chastising the Lord is a higher form of worship than chanting songs about Him. The reason for this is that most of us worship God in a reverential fashion. God is great, so we tend to view Him as our father, with the living entities being His children. While such a perspective is very nice, it is only the beginning stage of understanding the Lord. If we can raise our consciousness through practicing regulative principles and singing songs about the Lord, then we get closer to the stage of pure love of Godhead, which was exemplified by Sita Devi and the damsels of Vrajabhumi.

Krishna playing with the gopis When Lord Krishna personally came to earth some five thousand years ago, He engaged in loving affairs with the cowherd girls of Vrindavana, known as the gopis. Krishna and the gopis took part in the most pure form of love, something not known to the material world. This form of worship is the highest because it allows one to have the most intimate and personal relationship with God.

Sita Devi was the perfect devotee and we should all learn from her example. She viewed her husband with reverence, but also as her dearmost, intimate friend. Many of us fear God initially because we don’t know Him that well. We visit temples and see large deities of the Lord which can be very intimidating. According to Vedic culture, a wife is supposed to view her husband as her primary deity, and thus should worship and serve him to her fullest capacity. The husband is the “man” of the house and is required to provide full and complete protection to the wife. So when Lord Rama ordered His wife to stay at home and not follow Him to the forest, she easily could have listened to Him and not been faulted for it. However, Sita was on the highest platform of devotional service, so she transcended all mundane rules and regulations. She revered Rama, but did not fear Him.

Sita Rama Lord Krishna is the most merciful, for He allows Himself to be purchased by the love of His devotees. Knowing such a fact, who wouldn’t want to make devotional service to Him the only business of their life? May the glorious Sita Devi always be in our hearts and minds, and may she always accompany her Lord wherever He may go.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Two Souls

Hanuman "Both the Supersoul [Paramatma] and the atomic soul [jivatma] are situated on the same tree of the body within the same heart of the living being, and only one who has become free from all material desires as well as lamentations can, by the grace of the Supreme, understand the glories of the soul." (Katha Upanishad, 1.2.20)

There are two distinct souls within every living entity. The regular soul represents our identity and the Supersoul, known as the Paramatma, represents Krishna, or God. We are a part and parcel of God, thus we are qualitatively the same as Him. However, quantitatively, God is much more powerful.

God is all-knowing, all-caring, all-feeling, and all-powerful. He knows the past, present, and future of every living entity. On the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago, Lord Krishna declared this very fact to His disciple, cousin, and dear friend Arjuna. On the eve a great war, in hopes of easing his bewildered mind, Arjuna took spiritual instruction from Krishna. The Lord explained the meaning of life to him in a song famously known as the Bhagavad-gita. One of the key points stressed by Krishna was that the soul never takes birth and never dies. Both He and Arjuna had lived before and would live again after their current lives. Arjuna was quite baffled by this fact, for he couldn’t remember any of his previous lives. Not only that, but Lord Krishna also informed him that at the beginning of time, He had educated the sun god, Vivasvan, on the same tenets of religion. Arjuna couldn’t understand how Krishna could remember such an incident which took place millions of years in the past. Krishna explained that as God, He could remember all previous births of not only Himself, but of every living entity. This is the definition of God. God is not only great, but He is the greatest. Nothing can be put past him. A living entity has limits to its power. “To ere is human” is the famous phrase. Krishna has no errors.

Lord Krishna teaching Arjuna Consciousness represents the existence of the regular soul, the jivatma. This soul is present in every living entity, even in the animals, a fact which has been rejected or overlooked by most of the major religions of the world today. They believe that because animals either have no soul or have different types of souls, it is okay to unnecessarily kill them for food. However, we see that an animal eats, sleeps, mates, and defends just like a human being does. It takes birth, grows old, contracts diseases, and then eventually dies. Animals feel pain, happiness, and sadness. They also have consciousness, so it is incorrect to say that they don’t have souls. This consciousness proves the existence of the soul, for as soon as the soul departs, the body of the living entity becomes useless. It starts to smell and rot, and people are forced to either burn the body or bury it in a cemetery. Therefore we can conclude that it was the spirit soul inside that was important, providing the life force to the gross material body.

The consciousness of the living entity is different from the Supreme consciousness, manifest as the Supersoul. As mentioned before, the living entity has a tendency to forget. We have trouble remembering what we ate for lunch or dinner the previous day, but the Supersoul remembers everything, acting as a witness to all our activities. Every living entity is subject to four general defects, with the tendency to commit mistakes being one of them.

Lord Shiva meditatingSince the Paramatma, or Supersoul, is an expansion of God Himself, the goal of human life is to connect our consciousness with that of the Supreme. This isn’t very easy to accomplish since maya, the illusory power that pervades the material world, is constantly leading us to become attached to the material world. The key is to foster renunciation and detachment from mundane sense gratification. In the past, this was achieved through the mystic yoga process. Lord Krishna briefly describes the proper way to perform meditational yoga in the Bhagavad-gita. There are many stringent rules required for one to successfully meditate. One has to be in a secluded place, sitting upright on a deerskin rug, so as to keep insects away. The most important rule is that one has to become completely celibate. Sex pleasure is the ultimate type of sense gratification, and therefore the greatest hindrance to those seeking spiritual advancement. In fact, the entire Vedic regulatory system, from marriage on down, is designed to regulate this sex desire. We see today that yoga is a very popular fad, known more for being an exercise routine than a spiritual activity. “Please meditate for 15-20 minutes, then spend the rest of the day involved in sensual activities such as meat eating, intoxication, and sex pleasure.” In this way, the yoga performed is essentially a waste of time.

Lord Krishna is always full of bliss and knowledge The meditational yoga system is very hard to perfect in the present age. For this reason, there are other, more effective ways to connect with the Supersoul. The best method is the process known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. God’s ultimate feature is that of Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is the Lord’s original form, known as sac-cid-ananda-vigraha, His eternal body full of bliss and knowledge. In our conditional state, we can acquire knowledge of various subjects and can also be blissful from time to time, but more or less, we are in ignorance due to contact with this material world. God is full of knowledge and bliss all the time. When we see pictures of the Lord or His deity in a temple, He is always blissful. Krishna is happy playing His flute or dancing with the gopis. Lord Rama is smiling while holding his bow and arrow, ready to give protection to His devotees. Even Lord Narasimha Deva, who is known for His violent act of killing the demon Hiranyakashipu, is happy protecting His devotee Prahlada. These forms of God, with the original being Krishna, are all non-different from the Lord Himself. By lovingly serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we can automatically come into contact with the Supreme Consciousness since Bhagavan and Paramatma represent the same person.

Hanuman performing devotional service Great personalities of the past have achieved perfection by following the principles of bhakti yoga. Hanuman, Prahlada, and the gopis of Vrindavana all worshiped the Lord as Bhagavan. If we follow their example, we are sure to become aware of our real nature, that of a spirit soul eternally existing as part and parcel of God.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Crying For Krishna

Mother Yashoda and baby Krishna “Let me take shelter of the elderly parental devotees of Lord Krishna. They are always anxious to serve Krishna and to maintain Him, and they are always so kind to Him. Let us offer our respectful obeisances unto them for being so kind to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the parent of the whole universe!” (Prayer of a devotee, The Nectar of Devotion)

Mothers have a secret weapon that they use to stop their young children from crying in public places. When out of its familiar surroundings, a child can cry nonstop, leaving the parents feeling helpless. Yet crafty mothers have figured a neat trick to pacify their children; toys. Always keeping a small toy with them (a car, ball, or other favorite children’s toy), mothers can immediately get their children to stop crying once they whip out these toys.

It is the natural inclination of all young children to play. They want to just have fun all day, living a carefree lifestyle, enjoying the protections afforded to them by their parents. When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, advented on this earth, He too spent His childhood days having good fun with His friends. The cowherd boys of Vrindavana would regularly go out to the fields, have lunch, run around, and maybe even wrestle with each other. Mother Yashoda would call Krishna and His elder brother Balarama home to eat. After taking lunch, the boys would take a nap. This sums up the typical day of a young child. They wake up in the morning, play, eat something, take a nap, and then play some more. Even Lord Rama acted similarly in His youth. He and His three brothers, Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna would delight the elders of Ayodhya with their childhood activities. Lord Rama even once swallowed a crow, Kakabhushundi, just for fun, releasing him after showing the entire creation to him.

Mother Kausalya and Lord Rama When children feel uncomfortable, they cry. It’s as simple as that. Since they are completely dependent on their parents for everything, they don’t know any other way of solving their problems. They can cry out of boredom, out of hunger, or due to some pain inflicted on them while playing. One of the tougher problems parents deal with today is having to take their young children out in public places. Restaurants, supermarkets, and even post offices are places adults regularly visit. Bringing children outside the home presents a challenge in that babies tend to cry quite often and that crying can be a nuisance to the other patrons. Being out in the public brings children out of their comfort zone, so they are naturally prone to crying. Parents use all sorts of methods to stop the crying, ranging from yelling at their children to carrying them in their arms. One of the most effective methods is the one known to mothers around the world. Since children love to play, mothers carry around their child’s favorite toys with them, just in case they run into sticky situations. It works like magic too. The child almost always stops crying immediately when presented with their favorite toy. In this way, they go from being bored and uncomfortable, to being occupied and content.

Krishna and Balarama stealing butterSimilar to the concept of children crying out of boredom, we living entities are constantly crying out for God, though we are unaware of it. As we mature, we no longer require toys to keep us from crying in public places, but that doesn’t mean that we still don’t enjoy playing. Adults do play with toys, but the toys themselves have changed. Instead of spending time with miniature cars and airplanes, adults take to gambling, intoxication, video games, and watching television as a way of staying occupied.

The mind always needs to be occupied with something. By moving from one activity to another, the living entity is searching for everlasting peace. Yet nothing actually works, for material activities can only occupy our minds for so long. After a while, we get bored of them and we take to new activities to keep from “crying”. The only way to be forever happy is to become a servant of Krishna, God Himself. Many a great personality has achieved liberation by following this prescribed method. Lord Rama’s great devotee, Hanuman, spends all his time thinking about the Lord. If he’s not singing His praises, then he is off doing the Lord’s work somewhere. He goes to those places where Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana are respected. Though classified as a Vanara (monkey), Hanuman exhibits perfect behavior and is the most civilized of all people. It is through His love for God that He achieved perfection in life.

Hanuman worshiping Rama Devotional service means always keeping the mind engaged in Krishna related activities. It’s not necessary for one to simply sit in meditation all day, nullifying the effects of the senses. Instead, we can do so many things throughout the day and still keep our mind on God. Chanting is the most effective method in this current age. By regularly repeating the Maha Mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, immediately our tongue and ears are engaged in serving the Lord. We all have to eat. If we prepare and offer nice vegetarian food for the Lord, He will be greatly pleased, and our sins will be eradicated at the same time. Sometimes we’ll see a scary movie late at night and have bad dreams while we sleep. If we engage our time in taking darshana of the Lord’s deity and hearing stories about Him, then it stands to reason that we will have pleasant dreams about Him as well.

Prahlada Maharaja praying to Lord Narasimha Deva Whenever and wherever we are, we can always think about Krishna. He can deliver us from the most troublesome situations. The great devotee Prahlada Maharaja kept his mind fixed on Krishna every time his father tried to kill him, and in this way, he was always protected. By following in the path of the great devotees, we can put an end to our crying and make ourselves forever happy.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Why God Gave Us Marriage

Marriage of Sita and Rama “She, who has been given away as wife by her father to one, with due rites of gift peculiar to each class, touching holy water, shall be his, even in her afterlife.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

According to the original definition, a marriage is a bond between a man and a woman which lasts forever, regardless of circumstances. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, state that it is the duty of a father to give away his daughter to a suitable husband when she reaches an appropriate age. The marriage ceremony involves many rites and rituals respectful to each particular class: the brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas and shudras. The Vedic system of varnashrama dharma divides society into four classes based on the inherent qualities of an individual. Accordingly, there are separate rules assigned to each group. The husband and wife are married by a member of the priestly class, a brahmana, witnessed by a fire sacrifice. The two parties tie the “knot” of marriage, which takes effect for the duration of their current life and their afterlife. Even if the husband leaves the wife and takes to the renounced order known as sannyasa, the couple is still viewed as being married.

The modern day definition of marriage stands in stark contrast to the Vedic system. Today it has evolved into nothing more than a piece of paper issued by governing authorities. Men and women freely intermingle and associate as boyfriend and girlfriend, and when they feel the time is right, they decide to get married. If they become unhappy in their married life, they have no qualms about dissolving the relationship through the divorce process. For Western style wedding ceremonies, the customary vows consist of phrases such as “til death do us part, in sickness and in health, for richer and poorer”, yet these become null and void at the time of divorce. The vows end up being meaningless phrases, with the marriage amounting to nothing more than a legal classification between two people involved in amorous love.

Sita and Rama wedding ceremony From studying Vedic literature, we can understand the true purpose behind marriage, as it was originally intended by God. This material world was created by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as a way for the spirit souls to have a sense of enjoyment and proprietorship. In essence, we spirit souls wanted to pretend to be God, so He more than willingly obliged our request. In the material world, we involve ourselves in fruitive activity, known as karma, and we are forced to live by its rules. Karma states that every action has a reaction, good or bad, and that at the time of death, our desires are noted, and we are duly given a body suitable to fulfill those desires in our next life. Naturally if we are engaged in sinful activity, we suffer for those sins in the afterlife, and then upon exhaustion of our demerits, we are given new bodies commensurate with our previous karma. On the flip side, pious behavior leads to ascension to the heavenly planets after death, and upon exhaustion of those merits, we fall back down to the material world into a higher form of life respective to our past karma. In either case, we see that the cycle of birth, death, old age, and disease is continuously repeated.

Lord Krishna and devotees God has given us a way out though. If we learn to love Him and realize that He is the only source of pleasure, then we won’t have to come back to this world after death. Krishna declares this in the Bhagavad-gita:

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

So how can we make sure to think of God at the time of death? The answer lies in religion. Religion, better known as sanatana-dharma, the eternal occupation of man, is the system put into place by God to allow us to gradually immunize ourselves from sense gratification and instead turn our attention towards pleasing the Supreme. The cornerstone of religion lies in the principle of tapasya. Tapasya means austerities which are voluntarily taken up with the aim of making spiritual advancement. Sometimes we look at various restrictions given to us by religious leaders and we think they are a waste of time. To those unacquainted with scriptural injunctions, recommendations such as abstention from meat eating, going to church on a regular basis, and fasting are seen as nuisances with no real purpose. However, these are all forms of tapasya that are meant to purify one’s consciousness.

Hanuman is always thinking about GodThe greatest material attachment that we spirit souls have is to sex life. Sex desire is the cornerstone of material life. It is due to our desire to satisfy the genitals that we take to seeking out a boyfriend or girlfriend. This chase involves dressing ourselves up very nicely and spending lavishly on activities involving meat eating, gambling, and intoxication. In fact, the entire family structure of working hard day and night to maintain husbands, wives, and children, is all rooted in sex life. According to the Vedas, sex desire is the most difficult to control and represents the greatest impediment to spiritual life. As long as one is attached to the four principles of animal life, namely eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, then he or she is forced to repeatedly take birth in the material world. The key to making spiritual advancement lies in controlling sex desire.

It is for this very reason that God invented the institution of marriage. In Vedic times, young boys would attend school at the home of their gurus. The students were required to live a strictly celibate life. For this reason, this stage of life is known as the brahmacharya ashrama. More than anything else, brahmacharya means celibacy. At the completion of their studies, after being taught on all matters relating to God and the soul, those wanting to enter the grihastha ashrama would be married off by the parents. The idea behind such a system is that as soon as there is an inkling for sex desire, one should be married off so that sex life can be regulated. According to Vedic injunctions, one should only have sex with one’s wife, and then only for the purposes of creating Krishna conscious children. Having unlimited amounts of sex with one’s wife doesn’t help one make progress on the spiritual path. Unregulated sex life leads to unwanted children, who in turn end up not being properly educated on spiritual matters, which then leads to the degradation of society. This human form of life is the greatest opportunity for the soul to free itself from the cycle of birth and death. One should not become a father, mother, or a spiritual master, unless they can deliver their dependents from this cycle.

Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman listening to TulsidasThe modern day practice of a man sowing his oats prior to getting married is not found in the Vedas. A boy marries a girl, and then it becomes their duty is to serve God together. This is the lesson taught by Sita Devi’s statement. She was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna had descended in human form as Lord Rama. Playing the role of a pious prince of the kshatriya order, Lord Rama was married to Sita, who was the daughter of Maharaja Janaka of Mithila. The two were enjoying peaceful married life in the kingdom of Maharja Dashratha, Rama’s father, when suddenly circumstances drastically changed. Dashratha had initially intended on investing Rama with the crown as his successor, yet as fate would have it, he instead ordered the Lord to be exiled in the forest for fourteen years. Lord Rama went to tell Sita the news, and she insisted on accompanying Him in the forest. Lord Rama tried his best to dissuade her, out of concern for her welfare. Sita, however, put forth a series of impeccable arguments in her favor, and the above referenced statement was part of her speech.

According to the Vedic marriage system, a wife shares the fate of her husband. Men and women don’t have equality in marriage duties per se, since the man is required to provide protection to the wife, and the wife in turn serves the husband and worships him as her deity. There is equality however in terms of their fates in the afterlife. If the husband is pious and devoted to Krishna, then the wife shares in all his merits after death. In the same way, if the husband goes to hell, the wife goes with Him.

Sita and Rama Sita Devi’s point was that she was given away by her father to Rama. She was basically saying, “Our marriage was conducted in the most proper manner, by the greatest of sages. Accordingly, I now belong to You, not only in this life, but in the afterlife. Since I belong to You, it is my duty to stand by Your side and serve You, no matter where You go, and no matter what it means for me. Whether You live the luxurious life of a great king, or the meager life of a recluse, my duty is to always be at Your side and serve You.”

Sita’s arguments were infallible and Rama was eventually forced to back down and allow her to accompany Him. In this age of Kali, the Vedic system of marriage will be very hard to reinstitute. Regardless of our position, we should all follow Sita’s lead and give ourselves to Lord Rama, who is God Himself. If we surrender everything unto Him, and lovingly chant His glorious names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” we will surely be His in this life and the next.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Caste System

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

When taught about Indian culture, students in America and around the world are invariably informed of the infamous caste system. “Indians believe that people belong to specific castes based on birthright. People in the lower classes are deemed unworthy and untouchable, while the higher castes are afforded the greatest respect.” This practice may indeed be in place today but it is a degraded form of the original system created by God.

The Vedas, created by Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, represent true infallible knowledge. Scientific research and psychological studies involve various hypotheses and theories, with people saying that it “may be like this” or “perhaps it is like that”, but Vedic knowledge is absolute and flawless. The purpose of the Vedas is to teach everyone how to know and love God. In order to achieve that end, they give recommendations for all areas of life. For the proper functioning of society, the recommended system is varnashrama dharma. Varna refers to the four divisions of society based on quality and work: brahmanas, kshatriyas, vaishyas, and shudras. The brahmanas are the priestly class of men, engaged in studying the Vedas, performing sacrifices, and teaching spiritual knowledge to the rest of society. The kshatriyas are the warrior/administrator class. Their duty is to provide unflinching protection to the rest of society, acting in accord with the injunctions of the shastras as explained to them by the brahmanas. Kshatriyas therefore must be brave, courageous, and steady of mind. The vaishyas are the mercantile class, the businessmen. Society needs food in order to survive, so the vaishyas’ main business is to produce food grains and to sell this food on the open market. The shudras are the fourth division, and their dharma, or occupational duty, is to provide service to the other three classes. All four divisions are required in order for society to function properly.

Four Varnas The analogy of the body is given in this regard. The brahmanas represent the brain. They are the guiding force, determining how the body will operate. The kshatriyas are the arms. The arms are used to give in charity, worship the deity, and provide protection. The vaishyas are the stomach. If the stomach is empty, then the rest of the body will not function. There will be no energy and thus the life force will gradually diminish. The shudras are the legs. The legs humbly serve the body by taking it place to place. Without legs, we would be invalids or cripples, meaning the utilization of our body would be severely hampered. For this reason, God instituted this system of four varnas. It is not that one class is to look down on another, but rather everyone should perform their occupational duty with detachment.

“Be steadfast in yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.” (Bg. 2.48)

“It is better to engage in one's own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another's occupation and perform it perfectly. Prescribed duties, according to one's nature, are never affected by sinful reactions.” (Bg. 18.47)

Lord Rama at gurukula An important point that must be stressed here is that these classes are determined by one’s qualities and the work they perform, guna and karma. Simple birthright is not enough to be classified as a brahmana, kshatriya, or vaishya. The original system was never implemented solely on birthright. In Vedic times, children would take instruction from a guru, or spiritual master. A brahmana living a meager lifestyle, the guru would host children at his home in what was known as the gurukula. This was the school system. The guru wouldn’t charge a fee, but in order to maintain his livelihood, the students would regularly go out and beg alms from the grihasthis, the householders. The alms were then given to the guru, who would in turn distribute them to his students. In this way, the students learned austerity, penance and respect, all of which are necessary for one striving for spiritual advancement. A bona fide brahmana, acting as the brain for society, actually knew the ins and outs of all the varnas, not just that of the brahmanas. For this reason, he was capable of training students to become brahmanas, kshatriyas, and vaishyas. Vishvamitra Muni is a great example in this regard. In Krishna’s avatara as Lord Rama, the Lord and His brother Lakshmana took birth in a great kshatriya family. They both received instruction in their youth from their spiritual master Vashishta. Still, later on in life, they took even further instruction from the sage Vishvamitra, who imparted on them various mantras to be used when shooting arrows from their bows. Vashishta and Vishvamitra were both brahmanas by trade, but they still had perfect knowledge of the military arts.

"If the characteristics of a brahmana are found in a shudra and not in a brahmana, that shudra should not be known as a shudra, and that brahmana should not be known as a brahmana.” (Mahabharata, Vana Parva)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna The degraded caste system of today came about in this way: Since the gurus could train a student in any discipline, they would usually train sons of brahmanas to be brahmanas, sons of kshatriyas to be kshatriyas, and so on. Still, this training was provided only after measuring the qualities of the student. This is where guna comes in. For something to be defined as material, it must possess gunas, or material qualities. These qualities are goodness, passion, and ignorance. Goodness is knowledge, passion is fruitive activity, and ignorance is the lack of both knowledge and fruitive activity. The brahmanas are considered to be in the mode of goodness, kshatriyas in the mode of passion, vaishyas in a mixture of passion and ignorance, and shudras in ignorance. So the guru would take stock of the student’s qualities and then decide how to train them. In most cases, students were taught in the same discipline as that of their father.

Gradually over time, this system degraded to the point where people started claiming brahmincal status simply off birthright. They didn’t receive the proper training from a guru, but they nevertheless openly declared themselves as being in the mode of goodness. It’s not surprising that such a situation would occur. Cheaters are always looking for an edge. If someone is prone to cheat and steal, they will look for any way to advance their agenda. Being born as a brahmana is a great way to do this. The Vedas actually have a word to describe these people, dvija-bandhu, meaning a person born of a brahmana who doesn’t exude the qualities of one.

Herein lies the other key point relating to brahmanas. For one to be considered in the higher castes, they must take a second birth and be given the sacred thread. For this reason, the brahmanas are often referred to as dvija, meaning twice-born.

“Vasudeva had his son initiated by sacred thread as the token of second birth, which is essential for the higher castes of human society. Vasudeva called for his family priest and learned brahmanas, and the sacred thread ceremony of Krishna and Balarama was duly performed… Both were initiated by Their family priest Gargacharya, usually known as Gargamuni, the acharya of the Yadu dynasty. According to Vedic culture, every respectable person has an acharya, or spiritual master. One is not considered to be a perfectly cultured man without being initiated and trained by an acharya. It is said, therefore, that one who has approached an acharya is actually in perfect knowledge. Lord Krishna and Balarama were the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all education and knowledge. There was no need for Them to accept a spiritual master or acharya, yet for the instruction of ordinary men, They also accepted a spiritual master for advancement in spiritual knowledge.” (Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 44)

Krishna taking instruction from Upamanyu Our first birth is insignificant if we don’t eventually become trained in the Vedas. Upon taking birth, we are actually no different from the animals. Unless and until we understand God, we cannot claim to be smarter than any other species. For this reason, the Vedas declare that one must take a second birth, that of initiation from a spiritual master, in order to have claim to the higher statuses. Initiation involves investiture of a sacred thread, with the student promising to abide by the orders and regulations of the spiritual master.

Yet even this system has degraded. It is a common practice today to simply call for a brahmana, give him a few dollars, and voila, the child is given a sacred thread with no further responsibilities. The investiture of the sacred thread actually marks the beginning of spiritual life, where the student humbly and seriously commits himself to take instruction from the guru.

“The duty of the spiritual master is to initiate a disciple with the sacred thread ceremony, and after this samskara, or purificatory process, the spiritual master actually begins to teach the disciple about the Vedas. A person born a shudra is not barred from such spiritual initiation, provided he is approved by the spiritual master, who is duly authorized to award a disciple the right to be a brahmana if he finds him perfectly qualified.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 1.46 Purport)

The degraded caste system has led to a pretty miserable condition. The caste brahmanas wield great influence and they use their power to shut others out of temples and other religious functions. This sort of action took place even five hundred years when Krishna came to earth as Lord Chaitanya. Born in a brahmana family, Lord Chaitanya spread love for Krishna throughout India to anyone who was willing to receive it. He had many close associates, one of whom was Haridasa Thakura. Since he was born in a Muslim family, Haridasa Thakura was not allowed entrance into the temple of Lord Jagannatha. Not wanting to raise a commotion, Haridasa would quietly sit outside the temple each day and wait for Lord Chaitanya to send prasada of Lord Jagannatha. Through this wonderful action of Lord Chaitanya, Haridasa actually received a greater benediction than any caste brahmana could ever dream of; the delivery of prasadam from God Himself.

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Bg. 18.42)

Lord Chaitanya In India, caste brahmanas are usually given great respect. The reason for this is that they have a family lineage that traces back to a great saint. One’s lineage is referred to as their gotra, and there are gotras for sages like Vashishta, Upamanyu, Katyayana, and Bharadvaja. Taking birth in one of these lines certainly presents a great opportunity, and we should certainly show respect to every person in society. Nevertheless, simply having a family lineage to Bharadvaja doesn’t make one a brahmana. One must be able to demonstrate the proper qualities and work. The example of a doctor and son is appropriate in this regard. A doctor is very well respected since he can heal the sick. A doctor’s son is certainly given great respect based on the status of his father, but still, one would never mistake the son to be a doctor simply off birthright. Unless one goes through the proper training, they can never be considered a bona fide doctor. The same principle holds true with brahmanas.

“kalau shudra-sambhava (In this age of Kali, everyone is born a shudra)”  (Vedas)

In this age of Kali, the Vedas declare that everyone is born a shudra. In the past, people would adhere strictly to the various samskaras, or reformatory processes. A child could be respected as a brahmana if the garbhadhana-samskara was performed by brahmana parents prior to conception. In the absence of this, one cannot be born a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, etc. Since this seed-giving ceremony is rarely performed today, everyone is considered a shudra by birth, and it is left to the spiritual master to judge whether a child can be qualified as a brahmana or not.

Aside from being involved in labor, the real definition of a shudra is one who is untrained in any Vedic discipline. For this reason, the characteristic trademark of a shudra is that he easily laments, especially over things pertaining to the gross material body. Adult movies have ratings attached to them which prohibit young children from viewing them. This restriction is applied because children don’t have the necessary training and knowledge to understand violence and sex. The concept of a shudra is the same in this regard. If one has no knowledge of Krishna, or God, then they are considered a shudra, regardless of their family lineage.

Since everyone is born a shudra in this age, does that mean anyone can perform Vedic functions and rituals? Bona fide brahmanas are still required for this. We don’t let just anyone drive an automobile. They must first pass an exam and then be able to demonstrate proficiency behind the wheel. The concept holds true for Vedic sacrifices as well. If one does not receive proper training from a guru, then their performance of austerities and other yajnas (sacrifices) can be very dangerous.

So what are we to do then? Luckily for us, God has given the people of this age a yajna that can be performed by anyone, the sankirtana yajna, congregational chanting. Chanting the holy name of God is open to anyone and everyone. This beginning stage of self-realization can even be taken up by children.

“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth-women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.” (Bg. 9.32)

Radha Krishna The point of human life is to know and love God. Love knows no barriers. The varnashrama system is there as a guide, but one is still required to rise above mundane class distinctions if they are really serious about making spiritual advancement. God judges us by what’s in our hearts, not what our societal designation is. Guha, the Nishada chief, is a great example of this. When Lord Rama, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana set out for their journey in the forest, the first stop they made was at Guha’s camp. In those days the Nishadas were a race of forest dwellers, not considered civilized enough to live in the towns. In essence, they were viewed as less than shudras. Nevertheless, Guha was a great devotee, someone who had pure love for Rama. Because of this, Rama and His group stayed with Guha and took service from Him. Rama made it a specific point to tell Guha that He had been well received. There are many other such examples of God’s mercy in the Vedic literatures.

“If one shows the symptoms of being a brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya or shudra, as described above, even if he has appeared in a different class, he should be accepted according to those symptoms of classification.” (Narada Muni, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.11.35)

Mirabai worshiping Krishna God is so nice. He knows that not everyone will take to devotional service right away, so He created various religious systems and institutions so as to allow people to make gradual progress. Anyone, regardless of their birth, can take to chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and to following the four regulative principles: abstention from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. Following these guidelines, one become a bona fide brahmana, and even more importantly, become a true Vaishnava.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A World Devoid of God

Rama Darbar "Who will take pleasure in residing in a dwelling where the heart dies within itself, which is devoid of delight, where the people are always agitated with anxiety and which is exceedingly disagreeable." (Women of Ayodhya describing life without Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 48)

We human beings tend to live in great anxiety. Described in Sanskrit as dukhalayam, this material world is a place full of miseries.

One need only watch the nightly newscasts to see evidence of this widespread anxiety. As recently as two years ago, the news media and most of the population of the U.S. were obsessed with the rise in price of gasoline. Having risen to almost 4 dollars per gallon, consumers were irate, alleging price fixing and collusion on the part of oil companies. “How will we survive?” they thought. The per barrel price of oil became the headline story each day in the news. Then all of a sudden, the gasoline price plummeted. Dropping to almost $1.50 per gallon, were people now satisfied? Definitely not, for the drop in oil price coincided with the collapse of the economy. Everyone merely shifted their anxiety from one area to another. When the economy will rebound, people will move on to worrying about national healthcare. If that problem gets solved, there will be worry about the rising power of foreign enemies. In this way, there are always problems, with people are always fearing the worst.

These problems are not new by any stretch of the imagination. Most people’s historical perspective begins from the day they were born. However, one can go back and read newspapers from the past and see that the same problems existed. There was always constant distress and turmoil relating to world wars, economic collapses, and the rise of brutal dictatorships. Yet did anything noteworthy ever result from these calamities? People were born, they became old, they contracted diseases, and they died. There is nothing new in that, for those things are guaranteed. Just as people say death and taxes are guaranteed, so are the fourfold miseries of life. Constantly worrying about the inevitable is essentially a waste of time.

Mankind’s real problem is its forgetfulness of God. Trying to find happiness in this material world, we are always making plans, adjusting our material conditions. These adjustments usually lead to more problems. The heavy metal band Metallica has an appropriate lyric line in this regard:

“This thorn in my side is from the tree I planted. It tears me and I bleed.” (Bleeding Me)

Lord Krishna We constantly plant new seeds, hoping they will bear material fruits. Yet with every new plant comes thorns in the form of attachment and worry. Real happiness comes from God. According to the Vedas, Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There are many different names for God all based on His different activities and achievements. He also comes to earth in many different forms, preaching different messages based on time, circumstance, and the population’s ability to understand spiritual knowledge. Though there are so many forms, there is still only one God whose original form is Krishna. The name Krishna means “all-attractive”, and we this beauty depicted in pictures of Him. Back when the Lord personally came to earth some five thousand years ago, He gave pleasure to all His closest associates. The people of Vrindavana had different relationships with Krishna, so they received transcendental pleasure in different ways. Krishna’s childhood friends loved spending time with Him, going out into the fields and playing games with the Lord. The cowherd girls loved taking care of Krishna and worrying about His welfare. Krishna’s parents took great pleasure in feeding their boy and watching Him grow up. When the time came for the Lord to leave Vrindavana for Mathura, all the townspeople were greatly saddened.

Krishna and His pastimes A similar situation occurred during the life of a previous incarnation of the Lord. In the Treta Yuga, Krishna came to earth in the form of Lord Rama, the greatest of warriors born in the most famous of royal dynasties, the Ikshvakus. As part of His pastimes, the Lord voluntarily accepted a punishment of exile given by His father, Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. As the Lord was about to leave, the citizens of Ayodhya, especially the women, were greatly saddened. Rama was their life and soul, the reservoir of all pleasure. They viewed life without Him as a life not worth living. The above referenced statement was made by the married women of Ayodhya, who were bewailing their misfortune to their husbands.

It should be noted that they weren’t lamenting over the loss of wealth or any other material possession. They weren’t sad about the falling price of a commodity. Those things didn’t concern them. They were lamenting due to the impending loss of their association with Rama, who was God Himself. This is the way mahajanas think, great spiritual personalities. They never want to be separated from the Lord. Now in actuality, the situation for these women wouldn’t end up so dire since all the citizens of Ayodhya would keep their minds fixed on the Lord during His absence. Fourteen years would pass this way, and then the Lord would triumphantly return, upon which time He would be crowned as the new king. The statement of the women of Ayodhya actually very accurately describes the situation in the Kali Yuga, the age we are currently living in.

Lord RamaWe can very easily fix our current predicament. We merely need to follow the path set by the great devotees, including the women of Ayodhya. If we keep our mind fixed on the lotus feet of the Lord by constantly chanting His name, and worshiping His deity, then we can fill the void that is in our hearts. One can easily make a routine out of such service, for we can worship the Lord day or night, inviting our friends and family to join us. We can visit temples where we can take advantage of the association of fellow devotees. We can read books about the Lord and discuss His glories and pastimes with others around the world. There are so many opportunities available to us that we can keep ourselves connected with God all the time. Then we will be happy.