Saturday, November 21, 2009

Purifying Consciousness

Radha Krishna “Depending on one's consciousness, the individual is either polluted or clear. If one's mind is fixed on Krishna (His name, quality, form, pastimes, entourage and paraphernalia), all one's activities-both subtle and gross-become favorable. The Bhagavad-gita's process of purifying consciousness is the process of fixing one's mind on Krishna by talking of His transcendental activities, cleansing His temple, going to His temple, seeing the beautiful transcendental form of the Lord nicely decorated, hearing His transcendental glories, tasting food offered to Him, associating with His devotees, smelling the flowers and Tulasi leaves offered Him, engaging in activities for the Lord's interest, etc.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Preface)

The purpose of human life is to elevate one’s consciousness to the point where all thoughts are directed towards Krishna, or God. At this stage, one’s consciousness is completely pure and the spirit soul thus becomes eligible to return back home, back to Godhead after the current life ends. The purification of our thoughts can only be achieved by directing every thought towards the supreme object of worship, Lord Shri Krishna. Directing our consciousness anywhere else can lead to trouble.

Unchecked desires lead to lust and anger.

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

“I want this. I want that…From now on, I’m going to act in this certain way, or I will avoid this certain thing. This will make me happy.” The mind is always making plans for sense gratification. This is due to the fact that the material senses can never be satisfied. Even if we have momentary feelings of bliss and peacefulness, tumult, chaos, and despair are sure to return. Then the cycle repeats itself. Desire can be very dangerous because it can cause us to act without knowledge. The world of sports gives us many examples of this. In the sport of tennis, the annual Grand Slam tournament Wimbledon is considered the most prestigious. Having a long history and tradition, Wimbledon is the only major tournament that still plays on a grass court. Every aspiring tennis player hopes to one day win this tournament. In the mid 1980s, Ivan Lendl was the number one male tennis player, completely dominating the sport. The one thing missing on his resume was a Wimbledon title. He had trouble playing on grass early in his career, but he steadily improved on the fast surface. In 1986 and 1987, Lendl made the Wimbledon final, only to lose both times. As the years went by, Lendl became more and more desirous of winning Wimbledon. Tennis Magazine even ran a story about this desire, calling it The Magnificent Obsession. Sadly, Lendl would never win this most coveted of titles.

Ivan Lendl Fast forward to today and we can see that this “obsession” turned out to be a waste of time. Lendl never won Wimbledon, but it hardly matters. He’s a retired family man, focused on raising his daughters. People still remember him as one of the greatest tennis players of all time. What may have consumed his mind twenty years ago, now barely can even be remembered. We all go through similar events in our lives. In our youth, there maybe was a particular boy or girl that broke our heart. “Oh, I will never live through this. I can’t live without her. How will I go on?” But somehow we managed. As time goes on, our desires shift towards other areas.

Sex desire is probably the most difficult to control. Sex is the ultimate material enjoyment, and for this reason, it serves as the greatest impediment towards advancing in spiritual life. God is very smart, much smarter than us. Knowing full well the dangers of unrestricted sex life, He put into place the four ashramas of life, with grihastha being the second. Marriage is the cornerstone of grihastha life; a man and woman living together through the bond of holy matrimony. Householder life isn’t meant simply to enjoy material pleasures, but rather it is a way to restrict sexual activity. As we can see in today’s society, chasing after a boyfriend or girlfriend can be quite time consuming and distressful. One has to find someone they like, chase after them, and then hope that the other person feels the same way. If a relationship starts, then the troubles increase even more. Couples have to worry about how their relationship is progressing, and whether or not each person is happy. They have to decide when or if they should get married, where they should live, etc.

God doesn’t want us to worry about all these things. For this reason, the Vedas advise parents to arrange their children’s marriages at a very young age, when the child first has inkling for sex desire. In this way, a husband and wife can live peacefully, leaving more time for service to God. That is the true purpose of each of the four ashramas, including grihastha. They are all stepping stones aimed at purifying one’s consciousness.

Marriage of Sita and Rama The other three pillars of sinful life, gambling, intoxication, and meat eating, are other side effects of unfettered desires. Each one of these activities is unnecessary, yet we see modern society completely devoted to such acts. The reason these activities are so dangerous is because they have no relation to Krishna. That is the true definition of sinful life. Any activity done on the level of karma, where material reactions are associated, such activity will cause one to be bound to the cycle of birth and death. Only bhagavata-dharma, Krishna consciousness, will enable one to fulfill the real mission of life.

A question that is bound to be asked is, “Ok, so we’re supposed to avoid all karmic activity? Fine. What about all the hours in the day? What are we supposed to do with our time?” The Vedas have an answer for this. Naturally, the living entity must be active. That is the nature of the soul. One cannot artificially renounce all activity and just sit in meditation all day. That is not possible in this day and age. Even if it were, if one were to stop all activity on the surface, the mind would still lead them to desire things. As long as this desire exists, the effect is the same as if one was actually engaging in sinful activity:

“One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Bg. 3.6)

Lord Krishna The Vedic prescription is that we should all be active in Krishna’s service. In its initial stage, this discipline is known as karma yoga, and in the advanced stage it turns into bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Not merely a yoga system or a disciplinary process, bhakti yoga is the natural disposition of the spirit soul. We are all devotees of God at our core, but we have somehow or other forgotten our relationship with Him throughout our many births in this material world. This love for Krishna doesn’t have to be created, but rather has to be aroused or reawakened. The regulative principles of bhakti yoga help us to rekindle that love.

There are nine distinct processes that constitute devotional service: hearing, chanting, remembering, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, worshiping Him, offering prayers, carrying out His orders, becoming friends with Him, and surrendering everything unto Him. It’s not possible for most of us to engage in all of these processes. That is reserved for the highly advanced devotees like Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife. Nevertheless, we need only engage in one of these activities perfectly in order to achieve success in purifying our consciousness.

Hanuman serving the lotus of Lord Rama Lord Chaitanya prescribed a very simple method: simply talk about Krishna wherever you go and with whomever you meet. Sravanam and kirtanam; hearing and chanting are two very simple processes that can fill up all our time. Reading books about Krishna is the same as chanting or hearing. The key is to always be thinking about God. Even if we reach an advanced stage where we are always Krishna conscious, there is still room for further growth because we can take to teaching others about devotional service. As we can see, the opportunity for engagement is there for all of us to take.

Friday, November 20, 2009


Bharata taking shelter of Rama “Do you now without delay convey the news of my arrival to that one of immortal exploits, Rama, who is at once my father, brother and friend, and whose beloved servant I am. The eldest brother of one that is noble and cognizant of morality becomes his father. I shall take hold of his feet. He is now my refuge.” (Bharata speaking to Kaikeyi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 72)

This is a scene from the Ramayana where Rama’s younger brother Bharata, has just returned from the kingdom of Kaikeya at the insistence of the brahmanas of Ayodhya. Maharaja Dashratha has just passed away due to the pain of separation from Rama. Bharata has just been informed of of the king’s death and he wants to seek out Rama.

This incident is very striking in that it gives us insights into the character of Bharata. Lord Krishna came to earth in human form many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya as Lord Rama. The eldest of four brothers, Rama was the beloved prince, the prized possession of King Dashratha. He was to succeed His father on the throne, but events took a dramatic twist just prior to the coronation. Dashratha had three wives, something not uncommon for kshatriya kings during that time. His youngest wife was Kaikeyi, Bharata’s mother. Upon hearing of Rama’s impending coronation, she became very jealous and demanded that Bharata become the new king instead. Dashratha on a previous occasion had granted Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing, thus he could not deny this request. For her second boon, Kaikeyi asked for Rama’s banishment to the forest for fourteen years. Rama happily obliged and took His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana with Him. The events that followed are described in famous epic, the Ramayana. The trio is still worshiped today along with Rama’s greatest devotee, Lord Hanuman.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman Bharata is a person often overlooked. Soon after Rama left for the forest, Dashratha left his body, as was destined to happen due to a curse that was pronounced on him on a previous occasion. Since the the kingdom was without a leader, the head priests summoned Bharata and Shatrughna, Rama’s two other brothers who were away visiting Kaikeyi’s father. When Bharata returned to the kingdom, Kaikeyi was anxiously awaiting his coronation. She was very happy to see him, for she had put all these moves into place simply for his benefit. To her surprise and dismay, Bharata wasn’t at all pleased with what had happened. Upon hearing of the king’s death, Bharata immediately went searching for Rama. He boldly declared his love and devotion to his elder brother.

This is the nature of the devotee. Every one of us has certain talents or personality traits that we are proud of. We tend to base our identity off these traits. “I’m really good with computers. I’m a great tennis player. I love to watch movies. I’m a good family man.” Pure devotees however, relinquish all of their bodily traits and characteristics. They only identify themselves as servants of God. This is the proper relationship type between gurus and their disciples. The guru, or spiritual mater, is the bona fide representative of Krishna, or God. By humbly offering our service to the spiritual master and trying to please him to the best of our abilities, we in turn make God happy. The Lord is very pleased when we offer service to His servants. In fact, He behaved in a similar manner during His various incarnations.

When Krishna personally appeared on this planet and was living as a king in Dvaraka, He was visited by the venerable Narada Muni. Known as the triloka sanchari due to his constant travelling through the three worlds, Narada Muni is one of the greatest spiritual masters in history. He advised the great Vyasadeva as well as Maharishi Valmiki. When Krishna received Narada at His palace, He addressed the saint as bhagavan. Normally the word bhagavan is associated with God since it accurately describes His opulences. God’s original form and most complete feature is referred to as Bhagavan, which means the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

“Lord Krishna in Dvaraka enjoyed the pastimes of a perfect human being. When, therefore, He washed the feet of the sage Narada and took the water on His head, Narada did not object, knowing well that the Lord did so to teach everyone how to respect saintly persons. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, who is the original Narayana and eternal friend of all living entities, thus worshiped the sage Narada according to Vedic regulative principles. Welcoming him with sweet nectarean words, He addressed Narada as bhagavan, or one who is self-sufficient, possessing all kinds of knowledge, renunciation, strength, fame, beauty, and similar other opulences.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 14)

Krishna in Dvaraka The Lord addressed Narada in such a way because the muni was very learned and a pure devotee. In this way, He taught us the proper etiquette to observe towards spiritual masters. We are to view the guru to be as good as God Himself since he is a bona fide representative. The spiritual master is often referred to as gurudeva, meaning he is god-like.

Bharata was even more advanced than an ordinary devotee since he had Rama as his elder brother. Upon returning to the kingdom, his only concern was the welfare of his family, and especially that of Rama and Dashratha. As soon as Rama wasn’t there, he immediately scanned the scene to find His whereabouts. He unhesitatingly decided to take refuge of Rama’s lotus feet.

This is the example for all of us to follow. We have many people in our lives that are worthy of our respect such as our parents, elderly family members, and teachers. Yet those relationships are meaningless if we don’t develop a love for God. Bharata was a perfect devotee, thus he possessed all good qualities. In this age, we can follow his lead and also take refuge of God’s lotus feet by chanting His holy names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Story of Savitri

Sita Rama “Know me to be perfectly under your influence like to Savitri following her husband Satyavana, the son of Dyumatsena.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

In Vedic lore, Savitri is considered one of the most pious women to have ever lived. Born as a king’s daughter, she single-handedly rescued the life and fame of all her closest relatives. Her dedication to her husband Satyavana is the model by which women raised in the Vedic tradition live by.

The story of Savitri’s life is given in detail in the Mahabharata, the epic composition of Vyasadeva. Literally meaning “Great India”, the Mahabharata is considered the fifth Veda since it covers all aspects of religion and gives a detailed history of events that took place in ancient times. Though the book branches off into different stories and teachings, its main story revolves around the plight of five brothers known as the Pandavas. They were sons to a king named Pandu who had died prematurely. The Pandavas being the rightful heirs to the throne, the kingdom was instead taken over by the sons of Dhritarashtra, known as the Kauravas. Dhritarashtra was Pandu’s younger brother, and he made no objection to the unlawful usurpation of the kingdom by his sons. Due to the actions of the Kauravas, the Pandava brothers were forced to roam the country as nomads for several years. During one part of the story, Yudhishthira, the eldest Pandava brother, is feeling dejected due to some event, so he takes instruction from the sage Markandeya. As part of his teachings to Yudhishthira, the great sage relates the story of Savitri and Satyavana, a summary of which follows.

There once was a very pious king named Ashvapati who had everything in life except for a son. For a kshatriya king, not having an heir to the throne is considered a very bad thing. To remedy the situation, the king performed great austerities and a grand sacrifice to the Goddess Savitri. Being very pleased with him, she granted him the boon of getting a pious and noble daughter. Since the Goddess had granted him the boon, when the child was born, Ashvapati decided to name her Savitri. She was a very beautiful girl and was completely devoted to the rules and regulations of dharma, or religiosity. Everyone who knew her was enamored by her beauty and pious nature.

When she reached an appropriate age, the king contemplated her marriage. The Vedas declare that a girl should be given away in marriage to a suitable husband as soon as she reaches the age of puberty. The intent of this rule is to regulate sense gratification in such a way that both the husband and wife can enjoy a peaceful life without dealing with all the troubles associated with unrestricted sex life. The modern day concept of boys and girls freely intermingling doesn’t exist in the Vedas. Women are to always be given protection, and men are the ones who are to provide it. Ashvapati had a problem in that there were no eligible suitors for Savitri at the time. Since getting her married was a top priority, he gave her the option of seeking out her own husband, something very seldom done. Of course the king would deliberate on her decision, but the impetus was on her to find a boy. Since she was so pious and had an excellent character, Ashvapati had no worries as to the type of husband she would select.

Narada Muni Savitri searched throughout the forest for a suitable mate. In today’s world, we see that women have a tendency to seek out men who are expert in the art of seduction and who willingly violate the rules of priority. These men are commonly referred to as “bad boys”. Savitri, however, searched far and wide for exactly the opposite type of person. She decided on an ascetic man named Satyavana, the son Dyumatsena. Dyumatsena had previously been a great king who, due to his blindness, had his kingdom stolen from him. Forced to live an austere life in the forest with his wife, the king’s son Satyavana was raised an ascetic and had a spotless character. Savitri came back to her father and informed him of her decision. At the time, the great Narada Muni was visiting the kingdom and giving counsel to Ashvapati. Upon hearing Savitri’s choice, Narada lamented saying that she had made a grievous error. Narada explained that Satyavana was in fact a perfect match for Savitri in all respects, except for the fact that Satyavana had only one year to live.

Upon hearing this, Savitri still insisted on marrying him. She said that she had already accepted him as her husband in her mind and that going back on that would be a great sin. In the modern age where love marriages are common, couples often get divorced at the slightest occurrence of disagreement. In the Vedic tradition, a marriage is meant to be a life partnership where both parties equally share in spiritual merits and demerits. A boy and a girl agree to love each other from the very beginning, before they even know each other. There is no question of divorce since marriage is seen as a religious duty and not a vehicle for sense gratification.

Seeing his daughter’s unwavering desire to marry Satyavana, Ashvapati visited the hermitage of Dyumatsena to request him to accept the marriage proposal. The couple was then duly married, with Savitri giving up the royal life she was accustomed to, and instead accepting the garb of a hermit. The couple lived very happily with Satyavana’s parents for a year, but Savitri couldn’t forget what Narada Muni had told her. She was dreading the day of her husband’s impending death. Calculating the precise date of death in her mind, Savitri fasted completely from food for the immediately preceding days in hopes that Providence would change the course of events. When the dreaded day finally arrived, she made sure not to leave her husband’s side. Satyavana decided he would go into the woods to procure supplies for a sacrifice, and Savitri insisted on going with him. While in the woods, Satyavana got an intense headache and was forced to lay on the ground with his head in his wife’s lap. At that time, Yamaraja, the god of death, arrived to take Satyavana’s soul away. According to information found in the Vedas, when a person gives up their body at the time of death, Yamaraja’s associates come and either take the person to heaven or hell depending on their deeds. Residence is not permanent at either destination since a person’s merits or demerits eventually expire, at which point they are given a new body in the material world. In this way, the soul perpetually goes through the cycle of birth and death. The one exception to this rule is for devotees of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Devotees who think of Krishna at the time of death are sent directly to Lord Krishna’s planet, the highest type of heaven. Residence there is permanent and the soul gets to have eternal association with God.

Savitri praying to YamarajaSavitri insisted on following Yamaraja, pleading with Him to restore her husband’s life. She repeatedly put forth beautifully crafted statements on dharma, detailing the duties of man and how they should have association with saintly people. With each statement, Yamaraja granted her any boon she wished, except for the restoration of Satyavana’s life. After receiving three boons, Savitri was still persistent and informed Yamaraja that she would follow her husband wherever he was going. Being pleased, Yamaraja finally relented and asked her to request a fourth boon, this time with no restrictions. Savitri naturally requested for her husband’s life to be restored, which the god of death gladly agreed to. With the three other boons, Savitri’s father was able to procure a multitude of sons, and Dyumatsena’s eyesight and kingdom were restored. In this way, she rescued her entire family through her devotion to dharma.

When Lord Krishna expanded Himself in human form as Lord Rama, He was married to Sita Devi, the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Born in the kshatriya order, Lord Rama was to be installed as the new king of Ayodhya by His father Maharaja Dashratha. Rama’s younger brother Bharata was instead chosen to be the new king at the last minute. Accompanying that decision from Dashratha was his order that Rama be banished to live in the woods for fourteen years, having no claim on the kingdom. Lord Rama, being the most pious prince, had no problem with these decisions but He knew His wife wouldn’t take well to them. Informing her of His father’s wishes, the Lord ordered her to remain in the kingdom and not to follow Him. In the spiritual world, Lakshmi serves God’s four-handed form of Lord Narayana. She is ever devoted to His welfare, so naturally she had the same level of devotion to Rama during their pastimes in the material world. Though quiet and shy in nature, Sita vehemently objected to her husband’s request. She insisted on coming with Him, referencing Vedic tenets to support her position.

In the above mentioned passage, Sita makes the comparison to Savitri, who was willing to follow her husband all the way to hell. We can see from Sita’s statement that the story of Savitri and Satyavana was well known even during Lord Rama’s time. The events of the Ramayana took place in the Treta Yuga, the second of the four time periods of creation according to the Vedas. Dharma, or religiosity, was at three- quarters strength during the Treta Yuga, so the general population was still very pious and well versed in the famous historical incidences documented in the Puranas.

Sita Rama Sita had the same devotion to her husband as Savitri did, except it was on an even higher level. Though she was referencing Savitri, in actuality Lakshmi is the standard bearer for devotion. All great women in history follow after her tradition of chastity and dedication. Sita Devi was the goddess of fortune in disguise, so she naturally couldn’t make references to herself. In going to the forest, she would be giving up the same royal life that Savitri was accustomed too. In the story put forth in the Mahabharata, Savitri’s beauty is compared to that of Shri, which is another name for Lakshmi. Thus the similarities between the two are obvious.

Though Lord Rama was set to lose His kingdom and Satyavana set to lose his life, the wives would actually be hardest hit. Rama, being God Himself, was the ultimate renunciate and thus could handle any difficult situation without a problem. Satyavana too was very pious and was surely destined to reach the heavenly planets after death, so meeting death at such a young age wasn’t so horrible for him either. The real hardship belonged to the spouses. Savitri would have to suffer the horrible pain of being a young widow. Sita Devi was born and raised in the kingdom of Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila. In her married life, she enjoyed the luxuries that came with her status as the wife of the eldest son of the king. Forest life would mean she would have to renounce all of that. Her husband would be stripped of all his material opulences and would be forced to live a life akin to a homeless person. Loving someone means wanting more for the other person than you want for yourself. Thus it pained Sita more to see bad things happen to Rama than if the situations were reversed.

The lesson we learn from Sita Devi is that we should show the same level of dedication to God as that shown by Savitri towards her husband. We should learn to love Krishna, or God, no matter the circumstance or predicament. This material world is full of miseries. Living entities are constantly hankering after things they want and lamenting over things they don’t have. In our daily affairs, we are guaranteed to suffer loss and hardship. Yet we must learn to persevere and remain on the path of devotional service to Krishna. Freeing ourselves from our attachments to material nature is not an easy thing to do. We are sure to fall down from time to time, breaking the rules and regulations prescribed to us. More importantly, we should never give up the path of devotional service, for there is no loss for our efforts. In material endeavors, if we start a task and don’t see it to its completion, we have wasted our efforts. In spiritual activities, there is no loss on our part because even if we are unsuccessful in purifying our consciousness in this life, in our next life we get to resume our devotional activities from where we left off.

“By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he (the unsuccessful yogi) automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles-even without seeking them. Such an inquisitive transcendentalist, striving for yoga, stands always above the ritualistic principles of the scriptures.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.44)

Sita Devi So let us all commit ourselves to loving God just as much as Sita Devi did. Through thick and thin, let us all follow the path of devotional service wherever it may take us. Even if we go to hell, we pray to You Lord that we may always think of Your lotus feet and chant Your holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


 Mirabai worshiping Krishna “The Blessed Lord said: He whose mind is fixed on My personal form, always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be most perfect.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.2)

The four rewards of life are dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and moksha (liberation). Of these four, moksha is considered the highest reward, for the hope is that the other three rewards will eventually lead to liberation. Though these are the material benedictions enumerated by the Vedas, the list is all encompassing, meaning it applies to everyone no matter what religion they subscribe to.

The material world is governed by karma. Most people associate karma with the idea of good and bad things happening to people based on their actions. This is pretty much true, though the actual definition is more concrete. Karma is any fruitive activity, or more specifically, any activity that has an associated material reaction, good or bad. Karma is what makes the world go round; it is responsible for all the horrific tragedies that we witness as well as the great moments in our life such as the birth of our children and grandchildren. We are all spirit souls at our core, but somehow or other we have ended up in this material world where we have become embodied living beings subject to the control of nature. Our desires guide us, telling us how to act. Each action has an equal reaction or consequence. At the time of death, our desires are measured as well as our activities from this life. After taking stock, God and His representatives decide what type of body we will receive in the next life. Thus reincarnation is governed completely by karma.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord Krishna There are various heavenly and hellish planets but residence there is only temporary. At the expiry of our deeds, we are forced to return to this material world. The example of King Yayati is often cited to illustrate this point.

“'I was a great king on Earth, owning the whole world for my dominion. Leaving it, I acquired by dint of religious merit many high regions ...I was then fallen from Nandana, my religious merits gone! I heard in the skies, O king, the voices of the celestials exclaiming in grief,--Alas! What a misfortune! Yayati, with his religious merits destroyed, though virtuous and of sacred deeds, is falling!“ (King Yayati describing his falling down from heaven, Mahabharata)

Moksha, or liberation, is our ticket out of this repetitive cycle of birth and death. Though it sometimes may be difficult to notice, our life and everything related to it is temporary. Events and occurrences also constantly repeat themselves. For example, we may be very hungry today and can’t wait to eat our next meal. After eating, that hunger is gone but that same feeling is guaranteed to return. When the time comes, we will again eagerly anticipate the next meal which will remove the hunger pains. When we are hungry, we don’t necessarily think back to the last time we felt the same way or the experiences we went through. This is the work of maya. She is God’s illusory energy governing the material world who makes us forget our past experiences. In a similar manner, we may wake up in the morning feeling very tired and desiring more sleep. Yet once we get out of bed and get in the swing of things, that longing for sleep disappears. Nevertheless, come the next morning, we are sure to crave extra sleep again, not remembering how we felt the previous day after having gotten up. These are just a few examples of many that illustrate the repetitive nature of things.

Pancha Tattva It takes some intelligence to notice these patterns. Those who eventually do notice them often ask the question, “What is the point to all this? Why am I here? How do I get out of this repetitive cycle?” This is where liberation comes in. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death will no longer have to take birth in the material world. They immediately go to His spiritual planet where they enjoy eternal association with Him. This is the highest form of liberation. There are four other types of liberation as mentioned in the Vedas:

“In the spiritual world there are five kinds of liberation. Sayujya-mukti is a form of liberation in which one merges into the impersonal existence of the Supreme Lord, called Brahman. Another form of liberation is sarupya-mukti, by which one receives features exactly like God's. Another is salokya-mukti, by which one can live in the same planet with God. By sarsti-mukti one can have opulences similar to the Supreme Lord's. Another type enables one to remain always with God as one of His associates, just like Arjuna, who is always with Krishna as His friend. One can have any of these five forms of liberation, but of the five the sayujya-mukti, merging with the impersonal aspect, is not accepted by Vaishnava devotees. A Vaishnava wishes to worship God as He is and retain his separate individuality to serve Him, whereas the Mayavadi impersonal philosopher wishes to lose his individuality and merge into the existence of the Supreme. This merging is recommended neither by Shri Krishna in Bhagavad-gita nor by the disciplic succession of Vaishnava philosophers.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Beyond Birth and Death, Ch 5)

The Mayavadi philosophers prefer to merge into Krishna’s impersonal energy. Vaishnavas, or devotees of the Lord, do not accept this type of liberation. They immediately reject it, for this type of liberation takes away from God’s greatness. If we only think of the Lord as being Brahman, an impersonal energy or effulgence, then where is His greatness? The fact is that Brahman is only one of the Lord’s features, a subordinate one no less. Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the actual identity of God. Devotees only see God as Bhagavan and nothing else. These other features or energies are just displays of His unlimited potencies.

Lord Chaitanya The difference between the devotees and those seeking impersonal liberation is the presence of love. Devotees love God. When we love someone, we voluntarily put ourselves in a subordinate position. We become completely vulnerable, something which results in incredible feelings of bliss. Loving someone means you want more for them than you want for yourself. Devotees never think of themselves as being equal to God. They spit at the thought of ever being compared to God in that way. Lord Chaitanya gave a great statement illuminating the mindset of a pure devotee:

"O almighty Lord! I have no desire to accumulate wealth, nor have I any desire to enjoy beautiful women, nor do I want any number of followers. What I want only is that I may have Your causeless devotional service in my life, birth after birth." (Sikshashtaka)

Arjuna, the great disciple and friend of Lord Krishna, directly questioned the Lord as to which method of worship was better:

“Arjuna inquired: Which is considered to be more perfect: those who are properly engaged in Your devotional service, or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested?” (Bg. 12.1)

Lord Krishna then definitively declared that devotion to His personal form is superior. He also declared that the impersonalist path is a difficult one:

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Bg. 12.5)

Merging into Brahman is very difficult. In truth, the impersonalist meditators described in the Gita bear no resemblance to the Mayavadis of today. As clearly mentioned in the Vedas, for meditation to be done properly, one has to concentrate the mind on Lord Vishnu, God’s four-handed form. Yoga performed in this manner is authorized, but not recommended. In no way was it declared that God Himself was impersonal or that one can simply meditate on any form they chose. Yet that is precisely the doctrine of the modern day Mayavadis. The impersonalist sannyasis of today actually refer to each other as Narayana, thinking themselves to be equal to God. It is difficult to see what faith they have in Vishnu, if they have any faith at all. We can see that their attempts at this type of yoga meet with failure since they often fall down from their exalted position of renunciation and resort to material activities such as philanthropy and charity. The spirit soul craves individuality and activity, a fact which makes impersonalist meditation very troublesome.

Hanuman worshiping RamaThe failure of the Mayavadis lies in the fact that they have no faith in Krishna, or any of His direct expansions. Taking everyone to be God or part of Brahman, they directly insult the Lord. Devotees take their direction from Krishna, who clearly states that devotion to Him is the highest form of worship. This naturally makes sense since bhakti yoga involves the exchange of love. Love trumps all other emotions. When directed towards the Supreme Lord, it becomes the most potent energy and thus represents the highest form of liberation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Puranic Recitation

Events of Ramayana “The Puranas (such as the Brahma-vaivarta Purana, Naradiya Purana, Vishnu Purana and Bhagavata Purana) are especially meant for Vaishnavas and are also Vedic literature. As such, whatever is stated within the Puranas, Mahabharata and Ramayana is self-evident.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 6.137 Purport)

Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, died of the pain he felt due to separation from His eldest and most beloved son Rama, who was an incarnation of Krishna, or God. After the king had quit his body, many great sages assembled in the kingdom. They advised the royal priest Vashishta to decide on a successor to the throne. In the following statement, the sages stressed the importance of having a king or qualified ruler.

“In a kingless country, disputants cannot decide their point; nor are persons given to hearing Puranic recitations pleased by those delighting in the practice.” (Assembled brahmanas speaking to Vashishta, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 67)

Dashratha had four sons: Rama, Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Rama was in line to be the successor but due to unfortunate circumstances, He was banished to the forest for fourteen years. Lakshmana accompanied Him. Prior to his death Dashratha chose Bharata as the successor, but both Bharata and Shatrugha were out of town visiting Bharata’s maternal grandfather. For this reason the sages took it upon themselves to stress the urgency of the need to have a leader on the throne. They gave various descriptions of the problems that would result from a country being kingless. The first part of their statement illustrates a fact that is quite obvious. The primary duty of any government leader is to provide protection to their citizens and to administer justice fairly and equally. In the United States, the executive branch, headed by the President, is given this task. They are in charge of the military, thus the President is often referred to as the Commander In Chief of the armed forces. There is a separate judiciary branch, headed by the Supreme Court, but it is still the duty of the executive branch to administer justice. There is a Justice Department in the Executive Branch, headed by the Attorney General. They decide which criminals to chase after and who to prosecute on a federal level. If there was no leader of the country, then obviously there would be no law and order. Thus people could do whatever they wanted, acting lawlessly without any consequences. Anarchy would ensue. For this reason it was important for Vashishta to choose a successor very quickly.

Dashratha's sons being trained by their guru The second part of the sages’ statement is even more intriguing. Puranic reciters are those who recite the Puranas, which are the ancient stories of the Vedas. The original scripture for all of mankind is the Veda, passed down from God Himself. After the world was created, as time went on, people’s mental capacity for spiritual understanding diminished. Thus it was required that the original Veda be divided into four so as to make spiritual knowledge easier to understand. The great sage and literary incarnation of Krishna, Vyasadeva, took care of this task. He also wrote about the same Vedic teachings in story form, and these stories make up the Puranas. There are eighteen major Puranas, six for each of the three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. These stories are actual historical events that took place in the past. In addition, the Puranas describe events that will take place in the future and even events that take place on other planets in the universe.

Vyasadeva put the Puranas into book form, but prior to that most in society were well acquainted with the stories they contained. Instead of watching television, the nighttime entertainment consisted of Puranic recitations. People would gather round and hear stories about God and His various incarnations. Even Lord Rama was a great reciter Himself. While travelling in the forest with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, the Lord would discuss the Puranas in the nighttime while the group was taking rest. Since the Puranas also detail the lives of great ascetics and devotees of the Lord, Rama was more than happy to share these stories with His family members. Once while walking in the forest, Rama very nicely described stories relating to Agastya Muni and his great powers. This is God’s nature. He is very happy to glorify His devotees.

Bhagavad-gita Spiritual knowledge can be explained in two ways. The Bhagavad-gita and Vedanta-sutras contain many great aphorisms and philosophical points that can be discussed and studied by great scholars. In fact, one can spend an entire lifetime simply studying the verses of the Bhagavad-gita and still not fully grasp their meaning. However, there are those who either don’t have the time or don’t have the desire to study such great philosophy. For them, the stories of the Puranas, Mahabharata, and Ramayana are more pleasing. The same Vedic teachings are presented in those books, but in story form. Most people prefer entertainment to studying, so storytelling is a great way to make learning fun. We see even today that people love to go to the movies, rent DVDs, or watch television shows. The recitation of the Puranas was as good as watching television, but even more effective since it involved the hearing process. Even as recently as one hundred years ago in India, the villagers would gather nightly to hear recitations of these great Vedic texts. They would spend time discussing the verses and then think about all the characters and personalities as they went to sleep. Even the most uneducated villager in the most remote part of India could very quickly describe the events and characters of the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

Sadly, in today’s society, almost no one is interested in hearing about these great texts. They would rather watch sports, play video games, or go out to night clubs where they can drink and gamble. People work hard during the daytime so they want to relax at night and on the weekends. That is quite natural since the body and mind need some relaxation time. It is unfortunate that so many have taken to watching debauchery on television and the internet. Video websites are very popular these days, with people performing mindless acts on camera so that they can put their videos online and receive millions of views.

People have fallen victim to such forms of entertainment because of the lack of leadership in their government. Most world leaders today are concerned primarily with bodily comforts, thinking of ways to take money from select groups of people for the purpose of redistribution of wealth. The leaders themselves are unaware of the real purpose of human life which is to become God conscious.

Rama Darbar Based on the statements of the great sages, it is accurate to conclude that today’s society is a kingless one. Though we may have presidents and prime ministers, since these leaders aren’t acquainted with the teachings of the Vedas, the resulting symptoms tell us that there is essentially a non-existent government. Nevertheless, the problem can be solved fairly easily. We need only elect leaders who are Krishna conscious. If pious men set a good example, the rest of society will follow and be happy. This was how the great leaders of the past such as Lord Rama, Yudhishthira, Parikshit, etc. used to govern. Luckily for us, the Puranas, Mahabharata, and Ramayana are still available to us. Anyone can take advantage of this great literature and be forever benefitted. If we commit ourselves to becoming first class devotees by regularly chanting God’s name, offering Him prayers, and thinking of Him constantly, then gradually others will also be more receptive to hearing about God and His message.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Rising Above

Arjuna and Krishna“The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.45)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, expanded Himself into human form many thousands of years ago in the form of Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. Born into a very pious line of kings known as the Ikshvakus, the Lord was trained from His birth to be an expert kshatriya warrior. When the time came for His installation as the new king, the entire city rejoiced. Yet due to unforeseen circumstances, Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya and father of Lord Rama, decided instead to install Rama’s younger brother Bharata as king. In addition, he ordered Rama to leave the kingdom and spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile.

Lord Rama went to tell his wife Sita Devi the news. Sita was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi whose appearance on earth coincided with that of Lord Rama’s. In the spiritual world, Lakshmi is the eternal consort of Lord Narayana, Krishna’s four-handed form. She is God’s better half and provides Him energy. As Sita Devi, Lakshmi performed the same functions by playing the role of Lord Rama’s wife. The two had enjoyed several years of marital bliss prior to the incidences surrounding Rama’s exile. Upon being given the order from His father, Lord Rama told Sita to remain in the kingdom for the exile period. While telling her this, the Lord appeared very dejected and His wife could see that. He didn’t want to leave her all alone, but He knew the laws of dharma dictated otherwise.

Lakshmi Narayana Dharma, or religiosity, dictates the proper conduct for man in all circumstances and has its origin in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. When God personally appears on earth, He plays different roles depending on time and circumstance. Sometimes He is peaceful, sometimes He is ruthless, and sometimes He appears just to teach. As Lord Rama, God’s mission was to reinstitute the Vedic principles of dharma, and to kill the evil Rakshasa demon named Ravana. At the time, Ravana, playing the role of a staunch atheist, was on a mission to rule the world. He had propitiated many demigods and received various boons from them. He used these powers to defeat all his enemies and to disturb the sacrifices of the brahmanas, the saintly class of men. According to Vedic philosophy, there can only be peace in society when there is an ample supply of brahmanas regularly performing yajnas, or sacrifices, for Lord Krishna. These sacrifices take different forms depending on the time period. During Ravana’s time, the sacrifices were conducted by brahmanas residing in the forest since saintly people prefer to live in peaceful surroundings. Through satisfying God, the demigods are also satisfied, which results in material benedictions for society at large. Ravana was a sworn enemy of the demigods and the brahmanas, so this naturally led to a fearful situation for those living on earth.

Lord Rama’s purpose was to kill Ravana and restore law and order. As a person committed to dharma, He knew that it would not be proper to take His wife with Him to the forest. In the Vedic tradition, a marriage is the union of a man and woman for life, where each person has particular responsibilities assigned to them. The wife’s role is to always serve and please the husband. The husband’s role is to provide complete protection to the wife under all circumstances. The concept of equality exists but on the spiritual level, not the material. By each person following their prescribed duties, the husband and wife share in the accumulated spiritual merits, meaning they both either ascend to heaven or fall down into hell after their current lives. Since Rama was invested with the duty of protecting His wife, He knew that Sita’s remaining in the kingdom would be more proper. Forest life is considered suitable for wild animals, beats, and men who have their senses completely under control. Akin to being homeless, a person can only survive in the forest if they can subsist on very little food and suffer through the most miserable of conditions. It was for this reason that only brahmanas, or great sages, would live in the forest. True brahmanas are completely dedicated to Krishna, so they automatically have their senses under control due to their service.

Lord Rama knew that it would be very difficult to provide His wife the protection she deserved if she were to roam the forest with Him. A husband or a wife is very difficult to maintain, as can be evidenced by the high divorce rate in the Western countries. The marriage relationship requires much time and effort even for the most committed of couples. A spouse requires constant attention, just as children do. Rama knew that Sita would be better protected in the kingdom where she would benefit from the services provided by the royal court. In the forest, Rama would be her sole source of protection, so He was afraid that she would be more vulnerable in such a situation.

“Why are you so dejected and whence is your fear that you are willing to leave behind your wife who has none else but you?” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 27)

Sita Rama On the other hand, Sita Devi had her own point of view. She flat out rejected her husband’s request, and instead put forth her own series of arguments in favor of her coming along. Her statements were flawless and worthy of the highest praise, yet the Lord still rejected her request. Finally, Sita was forced to resort to clever insults and name-calling. In the above mentioned statement, she is chastising the Lord for being dejected and fearful. From her point of view, Rama had nothing to fear at all. She was completely devoted to Him in thought, word, and deed. Her only desire was to make Him happy and to serve Him. She couldn’t understand why He would think that she would be a burden on Him. Sita, having a divine nature, wasn’t born from a mother and father in the traditional sense. She took birth from the earth, known as Bhumi Devi. When she was a baby, Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila, found her one day while ploughing a field. He loved her instantly as his own daughter and raised her as such. For these reasons, Sita was very accustomed to life in the wilderness and wasn’t afraid to spend fourteen years there with her husband. In her eyes, Rama had nothing to worry about.

During a marriage ceremony, the wife is instructed to always follow the orders of her husband and to serve him faithfully. It appears that Sita was in defiance of this edict by her refusal to obey her husband’s advice that she remain in the kingdom. There are many different religious systems, each having their own rules and regulations. The purpose of these rules is to allow one to reach the platform of love of Godhead. Simply going through the motions of performing various sacrifices and singing hymns won’t take one to the highest stage of perfection.

“Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.42-43)

Sita Devi, being the perfect devotee of God, was already on the platform of love of God. She transcended any and all laws of dharma. Lovingly serving Krishna is the topmost form of dharma. In this instance she put up a staunch fight, for her only mission in life was to act in Krishna consciousness, and to always be at Rama’s side.

Sita Devi Lord Rama, being dedicated to the laws of dharma, was eventually forced to acquiesce and allow Sita to come with Him. She won Him over with her devotion. This proves without a doubt that God can only be won over through one method, love. By nature, God is neutral towards all living entities. This material world was created to fulfill the desire of the spirit souls to have a false sense of enjoyment and to lord over nature. Krishna willingly obliged but He put in place the mechanisms to allow one to come back to the spiritual world.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Bg. 9.29)

Radha Krishna If we take to the process of devotional service, we can be in God’s favor. If we learn to love God, then we too will always be associated with Him. In this age, the recommended method for increasing love of God is the constant chanting of His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. All the rules and regulations of the Vedas can be satisfied by one who has developed a loving attachment for Krishna. The Lord is worshipped in various forms and He is always seen with His devotees. Radha-Krishna, Sita-Rama, Lakshmi-Narayana…the Lord is always worshipped alongside His energy. Sita is the Lord’s energy due to her full and complete devotion to Him.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Loaned Talent

Krishna speaking to Arjuna “The embodied spirit, master of the city of his body, does not create activities, nor does he induce people to act, nor does he create the fruits of action. All this is enacted by the modes of material nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.14)

Certain people are born with God given abilities that surpass those of others. Great speakers, athletes, politicians, and scientists are given great acclaim, receiving respect and adulation from millions because of their unique skill level. The key point to remember however, is that all talent is God given, or more accurately, on loan from God.

Everything in the material world is temporary, including anything to do with our bodies. There are five gross elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether and three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and false ego. One may possess great powers or skills, but those attributes are nevertheless material and are subject to destruction along with our bodies. “What goes up must come down” is how the saying goes and it actually holds true. The world of sports provides many such examples.

Superstar golfer Tiger Woods is considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, player to ever have played the game. As soon as he turned professional, he went on a rampage, winning tournaments and dominating the money earnings rankings. In each golf season, there are many tournaments but four are considered the most important. These tournaments, referred to as the Majors, consist of the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship. Currently former player Jack Nicklaus holds the career record for most major titles with 18. Tiger Woods is right on his heels with 14. People marvel at Tiger’s playing ability, his focus, and his steadiness under pressure. Yet even someone as great as Tiger Woods falters sometimes. He is not infallible.

Yang winning against Woods Going into this year’s PGA championship, a noteworthy fact about Tiger Woods was that he never lost a major championship when leading or tied for the lead after 54 holes, or three rounds. Major championships consist of four 18 hole rounds played over four consecutive days. The leader starting the final day of the tournament has an advantage in that he plays in the last group, so he’s given the chance to see how the rest of the field is faring. Tiger’s undefeated record in such circumstances was threatened at the 2008 U.S. Open, where he led going into the final round. He made a difficult birdie putt on the 18th hole on the final day just to force a playoff round. Then the next day in the playoff round, he repeated his feat from the previous day, making a difficult putt on the 18th and final hole to force a sudden death playoff. Tiger ended up winning the playoff and the tournament. Tiger’s undefeated record would end this year however at the PGA Championship. Leading by two strokes going into the final round, Tiger was outplayed by a relatively unknown player, Y.E. Yang. In a shocker, Tiger lost for the first time when carrying a lead into the final round of a Major.

A similar thing happened in the sport of tennis. Currently Roger Federer is dominating the sport, breaking all sorts of records. Many have labeled him as the greatest player of all time since he holds the record for most Major titles. Yet even Federer loses sometimes, and on some of the biggest occasions. At last year’s Wimbledon, Federer was going for a record sixth straight title. Wimbledon, which is played on a grass surface, is tailor-made for his game. He had never lost a Wimbledon Final, but in 2008, Rafael Nadal, five year’s Federer’s junior, defeated the defending champion in an epic five setter. Federer’s Wimbledon domination was over. Then at this year U.S. Open, Federer again went for an unprecedented sixth straight title. A heavy favorite over 20 year old Juan Martin Del Potro in the final, Federer would end up losing, even after being up in the match. Federer had never lost a U.S. Open final before. Yet just like Tiger Woods, he wasn’t perfect.

Nadal, Federer - Wimbledon 2008 Only God is infallible. As great as we think someone may be at something, their talents will eventually give way to time. Time guarantees that everything will be dissolved eventually. When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, personally descended to earth some five thousand years ago, He was very close with His cousin Arjuna. One of the five Pandava brothers, Arjuna was an excellent kshatriya, possessing world class archery skills. All fighting was done with bow and arrow during those times, and Arjuna was known for being unconquerable in this sort of fighting. Yet even his powers eventually faded. After completing His lila, or pastimes, Lord Krishna returned to the spiritual world. Arjuna, who had displayed his great fighting prowess during the Bharata War, was given charge of protecting Krishna’s wives. Yet upon being attacked by rogues, Arjuna was unable to protect the wives. His powers were gone and he knew it was because Krishna had gone back to the spiritual world.

“O Emperor, now I am separated from my friend and dearmost well-wisher, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore my heart appears to be void of everything. In His absence I have been defeated by a number of infidel cowherd men while I was guarding the bodies of all the wives of Krishna." (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.15.20)

Arjuna realized that he was helpless without Krishna. This is the mood of a pure devotee. They realize that God is the source of all of their material benedictions, thus they have no attachment to them. They don’t unnecessarily shun good or bad things. Everything is viewed in terms of service to Krishna. If Krishna wants them to fight, then they will fight. If Krishna wants them to possess large amounts of wealth, then they will gladly do so, yet keeping in mind that the original proprietor of everything is Krishna. Due to the temporary nature of this material world, we should all perform our duties without attachment to the fruits of our activities. Good and bad fortune come and go, as do heat and cold, happiness and distress, victory and defeat, and so on. God’s energies in the form of karma take care of everything. We needn’t overly lament over bad fortune nor should we be overly jubilant when good things happen. The aim of this life is to become God conscious so that we can return to Krishna’s abode after our time here is finished.

Arjuna and Krishna All good things must come to an end. Even during the times of Krishna’s various appearances on earth, the Lord eventually had to leave. We are all born with an expiration date, and each day in our life we move closer and closer to the time of our death. Knowing this fact, we should make the most of our time by engaging ourselves in devotional service to the Lord. We can use our loaned talent to offer the Lord prayers, write books about Him, prepare nice foodstuff for Him, and even sacrifice our wealth and possessions to make Him and His devotees happy. By keeping in mind the great devotees like Arjuna, Hanuman, and Prahlada, we will never meet with defeat in our service to the Lord.