Saturday, December 5, 2009

The End of the Line

Krishna displaying His universal form “Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)

Death is a time of great sadness for those who are materially conditioned. People mourn and grieve over the losses of loved ones, friends, family, and others that they know. The news media have wall to wall coverage when celebrities pass away. On the surface, death seems like a sad moment, but the Vedas tell us that the changing of the body is nothing worth lamenting.

Succumbing to the influence of maya, the living entity falsely identifies with the gross material body. There is a difference between something material and something spiritual. Spiritual qualities are those possessed by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is not subject to the effects of material nature. We living entities, being part and parcel of God, are also spiritual in quality, but somehow or other, we have come in contact with material nature and become illusioned by her energy known as maya. This is the difference between the jivas, the living entities, and the adi-purusha, God. The Lord is not subject to the four defects possessed by human beings; they being the propensity to cheat, to be easily illusioned, to commit mistakes, and to have imperfect senses. The Mayavadis, impersonalist philosophers, mistakenly take Krishna and His various forms to be products of material nature, maya. The Lord refers to these people as mudhas, or fools.

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

Lord KrishnaIf we are not our bodies, then what are we? Aham brahmasmi, “I am a spiritual soul” or “I am Brahman.” Brahman is one of God’s features, the all-inclusive energy of creation. We are spirit souls, but we falsely identify with a body composed of gunas, or qualities. The five gross elements of earth, water, air, fire, and ether, along with the three subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego, make up the bodies of the living entities in the material world. Not only do we personally have material bodies, but all other living entities do as well. The specific type of body we are put into is determined by our karma, or fruitive desire and work. So in essence, this body is nothing but a dress, a temporary container for our soul. It undergoes the process of birth, old age, disease, and death, but the spirit soul is not subject to any of these processes. The soul is eternal, meaning we actually never die.

What we refer to as death, is nothing more than the changing of bodies. For example, we were all infants at one point in our life, though we have no memory of it. We take it on authority from our parents that we were indeed once small children who roamed around in tiny bodies, not having much intelligence. As we became adults, what changed? The body, that’s all. Our identity hasn’t changed. We didn’t have a different name when we were children. Our parents and family members were the same back then too. The body is always changing, but the spirit soul remains intact. In a similar manner, death represents the complete change of body, the transmigration of the soul.

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Bg. 2.22)

This changing of the bodies and the cycle of repeated birth and death is referred to as reincarnation in today’s vernacular. Our consciousness at the time of death determines what kind of body we receive in the next life. The majority of the world is ignorant of these facts, and for this reason, they overly indulge in lamentation upon witnessing the death of others. The news media and atheists especially subscribe to the notion that sense gratification is the ultimate aim of life. “Acquire as much money and fame as you can and then spend all your time enjoying.” This is the motto of life for the gross materialists. It is for this very reason that they become so sad when the occasion of death arises. Death is a tough pill to swallow, for it represents the end of the line for sense gratification. No more sex, gambling, intoxication, or meat eating. We witness this overindulge in grief and sorrow when a famous celebrity dies. Television news networks go wall to wall with coverage of a celebrity funeral, interviewing friends, family, and even fans all the while. It doesn’t matter how old the celebrity was when they died. They could be over eighty years old at the time of death, and still the people on television will talk about how sad they are.

“A man fallen in the ocean of nescience cannot be saved simply by rescuing his outward dress—the gross material body. One who does not know this and laments for the outward dress is called a shudra, or one who laments unnecessarily.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg 2.1 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada The Vedas tell us to avoid overly lamenting over death. In the varnashrama dharma system, the shudras are considered the fourth class citizen. Since they are untrained in any Vedic discipline, one of their trademark characteristics is that they overly lament. Intelligence tells us that we are going to die at some point. Experience tells us that good and bad fortune comes and goes all the time, even without one seeking it. Thus a smart person doesn’t overly rejoice during the good times, nor does he overly lament during the bad times. However, in this age especially, everyone is born a shudra.

There is virtually no spiritual education taught at all today. In the government run school systems, the atheistic doctrines of evolution and the Big Bang Theory are taught. Naturally what results is a society completely unaware of the eternal truths of life contained in the Vedas.

We all have to die, especially the elderly. Why should we be sad over something that we know will happen? Death is actually one of God’s greatest gifts to us. For the materialists, death represents a new beginning, a chance to start another life of sense gratification. When the body becomes old and decrepit and no longer useful, the Lord is kind enough to provide a fresh new body, specifically tailored to one’s karma.

The Pandavas taking instruction from a dying Bhisma For those with an eye towards religion, death is the much needed wake up call. If we see a friend or family member taken from us too soon, we may ask ourselves the question, “What happened to them? Where did they go? Why did they have to die? Why do we all have to die?” It is at this point that we take the first steps towards transcending death. The first aphorism of the famous Vedanta-sutras is athato-brahma-jijnasa, “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or God.” This inquiry must be there if one is to achieve the true mission in life, which is returning back home, back to Godhead. Although reincarnation is guaranteed for the living entities with accumulated karma, those who are conscious of Krishna, or God, at the time of death, they never have to take birth again.

Our aim should be to make this current life our last one. If we think of Krishna at the time of death, then we never become subject to the laws of karma again.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Bg. 4.9)

So we should take a great lesson from the occasion of death. It is our wake up call to get into shape spiritually. This human form of life is our opportunity to know and love God. Death can come at any time, but if we practice thinking of God in our day to day affairs, then we are sure to think of Him at the time of death. We each have our own prescribed duties, but if we carry out them in full Krishna consciousness, then we have nothing to fear. These were the exact instructions the Lord gave to His cousin, friend, and disciple, Arjuna, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

“Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krishna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.” (Bg. 8.7)

Shrimati Radharani always thinking of Krishna This is the definition of devotional service, also referred to as bhakti yoga. Let us have union of the soul with God. Let us always act in His interest. Following the path of devotional service, we will never have to fear death again.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Sound Advice

Radha Krishna “The human soul says: I take shelter of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who appears in His various eternal forms and walks on the surface of the world. I take shelter of Him only, because He can give me relief from all fear and from Him I have received this condition of life, which is just befitting my impious activities.” (Lord Kapila describing the prayers of a child in the womb, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.31.12)

It is very important to have good role models and leaders. We have a tendency to follow those that we look up to. Be they our parents, star athletes, or famous celebrities, we are influenced by the behavior of those we view as authority figures.

A new child is born into ignorance. An infant cannot even feed itself, for it is completely dependent on the care of its parents. From the Shrimad Bhagavatam, we get a glimpse into the mindset of the child while it is still in the womb of the mother. According to the Vedas, living entities are all eternally existing spirit souls who have fallen into this material world for some reason or another. Due to our karma, we are forced to repeat the cycle of birth and death. While in the womb of the mother, the child promises to God that this birth will be its last, for it develops consciousness in the womb.

“This prayer of the child in the womb may be questioned by some atheistic people. How can a child pray in such a nice way in the womb of his mother? Everything is possible by the grace of the Lord. The child is put into such a precarious condition externally, but internally he is the same, and the Lord is there. By the transcendental energy of the Lord, everything is possible.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.31.18 Purport)

However, as soon as the child is born, God’s illusory energy known as maya, takes over and envelops the mind in complete ignorance. Knowledge of previous births is instantly forgotten along with the promise made to God while in the womb. Maya is so strong that none of us can even remember our infancy, though we know we went through it based on the authoritative statements of our parents.

Baby Krishna giving joy to His parents From our very birth we are constantly gathering information and rebuilding our intelligence. Our elders are much more advanced in knowledge than we are, so naturally we look to them for guidance. We see that our mother and father act independently and are capable of doing things that we can’t. Most of the time, we listen to what they tell us because we trust them. In the same manner, star athletes and movie stars have proven to be successful in their careers, something young children dream of. By copying their behavior, we hope to one day to be as successful as they are.

It is very important to choose the right people to act as our role models. The famous basketball player Charles Barkley once boldly declared that he wasn’t and shouldn’t be viewed as a role model for children. It was a very noble gesture on his part since he knew that by being in the public eye, children would naturally look up to him. Many times athletes and other celebrities don’t necessarily lead exemplary lives. They may have addictions to drinking and drugs, or other shortcomings. People who follow their lead are then bound to go down the wrong path.

Ravana The Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas describes a famous example of a person being led astray due to choosing the wrong spiritual leader. The evil Rakshasa demon Ravana, for whom Krishna personally descended to earth to destroy, took birth many thousands of years ago, wreaking havoc throughout the world. A staunch materialist, Ravana was dedicated to accumulating wealth and satisfying his senses at any cost. The reasons for appearance on earth and ascension to power vary from creation to creation. In one particular instance, Ravana’s birth took place due to events of his previous life. In a previous birth, Ravana was known as Maharaja Pratapabhanu, a great king. One day while chasing a bear in the forest, he ended up getting lost. He ran into a person who was in the guise of an ascetic, but in actuality was a former king whom Pratapabhanu had defeated and caused to lose his kingdom. Not recognizing the king, Pratapabhanu took the imposter for a learned brahmana and informed him that he had gotten lost. The ascetic in disguise immediately recognized Pratapabhanu and seized on the opportunity to give him payback. He advised Pratapabhanu to perform a sacrifice and to feed the brahmanas of his kingdom afterwards. Pratapabhanu agreed and invited all the royal brahmanas. Meanwhile, the imposter ascetic had managed to contaminate the food with the flesh of a brahmana. Unaware that the food was contaminated, Pratapabhanu requested the brahmanas to partake of the feast. Just prior to taking the food, a voice from the sky warned the brahmanas that the food contained the flesh of a brahmana. Extremely angered, the brahmanas cursed Pratapabhanu to fall down from his high position and take birth in his next life as a lowly Rakshasa. By following the lead of an unworthy person, Pratapabhanu lost everything.

When Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, incarnated on earth to kill Ravana, He was born as the eldest son to the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. Known by the name of Rama, He enacted many glorious pastimes in His life, including voluntarily accepting banishment to the forest by His father for fourteen years. The punishment was requested by Dashratha’s youngest wife on the eve of Lord Rama’s would-be coronation as the new king. Being ordered to leave the kingdom, the Lord went to tell His wife, Sita, the news. Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, whose appearance on earth coincided with that of Lord Rama’s. God usually brings His family from the spiritual world with Him whenever He personally comes to the material world. The couple had already enjoyed several years of married life at the time of this incident. In telling Sita the bad news, the Lord begged her to remain in the kingdom for the duration of the exile period. She was a beautiful and delicate princess, not meant for suffering the hardships of the woods. She was accustomed to royal life from her childhood, so the Lord was worried how she would fare without those comforts. Sita’s feet were the most delicate, so Lord Rama was worried about the pain she would endure by having to walk on the bare ground.

“No toil shall I suffer on the way, as if lying on a bed of luxury, while following you in thy footsteps.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

Sita Rama Following God is the most blessed path of all. Sita Devi, being completely dedicated to her husband who was God Himself, did not entertain the thought of living without Him for even a second. She was dead-set on following Him, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. She put forth a series of arguments in favor of her going, a speech which included the above referenced quote. She essentially told Rama that there can be no pain inflicted on anyone who follows His lead. Sita was giving us a hint into the divinity of Rama by this statement. The only pathway to happiness in this world is to follow the path laid down by God Himself. Lord Rama’s lotus feet are the most blessed, and anyone strictly following the path laid down by those feet is sure to be rewarded with devotion to Him. There is no denying that our role models can be very helpful in making us successful in our material endeavors. Yet we know that material success can only take us so far. According to the Vedas, this life is meant for God realization.

“The first aphorism of Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma jijnasa, i.e., only when one has finished the business of mundane inquiries in the marketplace of sense gratification can one make relevant inquiries regarding Brahman, the Transcendence.” (Shrila Prabhupada, SB 3.5.12 Purport)

Krishna is the original spiritual master, so we should make Him our role model. In the Bhagavad-gita, the warrior Arjuna was dismayed prior to the commencement of a great war. Having lost the will to fight, he was ready to give up and repair to the woods to live as an ascetic. Lord Krishna took it upon Himself to act as his spiritual master, guiding Him on the proper path. After explaining to him the constitutional position of the soul and the proper duties associated with being a kshatriya, Arjuna changed His mind and decided to fight. Not surprisingly, he was victorious in battle, but more importantly, he was victorious in his devotion to Krishna. Lord Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Rama, followed the Lord’s instructions and helped rescue Sita Devi after she had been kidnapped by Ravana. For his great heroism and dedication to the Lord, Hanuman gained eternal glory. He is worshipped by millions to this very day.

Hanuman serving Rama's lotus feet The lesson to be learned from Sita Devi is that God is the reliever of all distresses. We merely have to come to Him and follow His lead, and we are sure to be successful. In this age, in His form as Lord Chaitanya, God has recommended that we take up the practice of chanting His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” as the only means of salvation. By following Lord Rama’s lead, even the harsh forest seemed wonderful to Sita. By following Lord Chaitanya, this material world, full of miseries, can become a blissful place for all of us.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Incarnating in the Devotee

Lord Krishna “As far as the other boy is concerned, this child has taken different bodily complexions in different yugas [millennia]. First of all He assumed the color white, then He assumed the color red, then the color yellow and now He has assumed the color black. Besides that, He was formerly the son of Vasudeva; therefore His name should be Vasudeva as well as Krishna. Some people will call Him Krishna, and some will call Him Vasudeva. But one thing you must know: This son has had many, many other names and activities due to His different pastimes.” (Garga Muni speaking to Nanda Maharaja, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8)

The Hindu religion today is generally equated with the idea of God having many different forms. All the various demigods and the innumerable incarnations show God’s immeasurable potency. Nevertheless, God is still one, and His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, with His direct expansion being Lord Vishnu, who then further expands into different incarnations. Since Krishna is God, His direct expansions, known as vishnu-tattva, are as good as God.  This is the statement of the authorized scriptures such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam. This opinion is also shared by the great saints such as Vyasadeva, Narada Muni, and Hanuman.

Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s incarnation as a brahmana some five hundred years ago, spoke in depth about the difference between Krishna and His various forms. This scientific knowledge is well documented in the book, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya. Krishna is the original, and then there are various types of avataras. There are manvantara-avataras, lila-avataras, guna-avataras, etc. Usually we associate the avataras with the various incarnations, ten of which are primary. Lord Rama was an example of an incarnation. The Lord came to earth in the form of a pious prince who was dedicated to dharma. He provided protection to His devotees by killing the unconquerable Rakshasa demon Ravana. Prior to that, Lord Narasimha Deva was another incarnation. Prahlada Maharaja, the five year old son of the demon Hiranyakashipu, was being greatly harassed by his father. The Lord came in the form of a half-man/half-lion in order to specifically kill Hiranyakashipu, while maintaining the sanctity of the boons given to him by the demigods. There are many other incarnations as well, and the historical accounts relating to their pastimes are found in all the major Vedic texts, which include the Puranas, Mahabharata, and Ramayana. God is so nice that He came to earth in these various forms so that future generations of devotees could have stories they could read and pastimes they could relish in.

Lord Krishna's universal form Aside from appearing in the forms of various living entities, God takes other expansions as well. One of them is referred to as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. Each individual living entity is made up of a spirit soul, which is concealed inside of a material body. The soul is so small that its size is compared with that of 1/10,00th the size of the tip of a single hair. We can realize the presence of the spirit soul based on the symptoms of the material body. In fact, the event we know to be death, is actually just the spirit soul leaving the body. There is also a second soul residing in each living entity, known as the Supersoul, which is an expansion of God. Qualitatively, we are the same as God, but quantitatively we are different. For example, we may be conscious of the events of our current life since our spirit soul is contained inside of our body. God, however, is conscious of the events of all living entities since He exists inside of everyone. He knows not only the present, but the past and future as well.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)

Fortunate people reach a point in their life where they ask the question, “Why are we here?” This question alone is one of the reasons why people turn to God.

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

This inquisitiveness can be very beneficial since it can lead us towards the true meaning of life. This material world is a place full of miseries. Bad things are always happening to us and to others around us. We need only turn on the news to hear about the latest murders and terrorist attacks. If this place is so bad, why would God let us come here? This is a justifiable question.

This human form of life represents our best chance to reconnect with God. Other species of life, such as animals and plants, also have the Paramatma inside of them, but they have no intelligence to realize it. Cats and dogs are simply occupied with activities of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Poor trees, they have it even worse. They have to remain standing for thousands of years, tolerating anything and everything thrown their way. They have an incredibly long life span, but sadly, they aren’t able to gain any benefit from all those days on earth.

Hanuman worshiping Krishna's form as Lord Rama Human beings are unique in that we have a high level of intelligence. We’re so smart that we can figure out that we are all eventually going to die. Life is indeed short, so we shouldn’t waste any of it on trivial activities. The human form of life is meant for connecting with the Paramatma, who is non-different from Krishna Himself. God can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Brahman is the impersonal effulgence of the Lord, sort of an energy that pervades everything. Mental speculators prefer to connect with this energy. Bhagavan is the original feature of God, referred to as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As previously mentioned, this original form of God isn’t always easy to know and love, so the Lord decides to expand Himself into different forms that others can have an attachment to.

In this current age of Kali, the Lord has kindly incarnated in the form of His holy name. By chantingHare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we come into direct contact with God. There is no difference between the Lord and His various names. One may constantly repeat the word water, but it doesn’t mean that water will appear on its own. God is not like that. Simply saying His name in a loving way will immediately give us association with Him. This is the true meaning of life.

Just as God incarnates in the form of His holy name, the Lord also expands Himself into devotees that preach. When someone who truly loves Krishna, speaks about Him to others, and explains the Supreme transcendental science, it is to be understood that God has incarnated Himself into that person. It is for this reason that the spiritual master, or guru, is given so much respect. He is Krishna’s bona fide representative, relaying information straight from Vaikuntha, God’s spiritual abode.

Lord Chaitanya - God's incarnation as a preacher Sex is considered the highest form of material sense gratification. Above that however, is the feeling of bliss that comes through association with God. This is the elusive high that we are actually searching after. It can be acquired quickly by those who humbly submit themselves before the Lord. The true meaning of life is to become a devotee. If we are sincere servants of the Lord, He will incarnate in us, we will have direct association with Him, and we will always be happy.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tagging Along

Sita Devi “It does not behoove you to repair to the forest without taking me along with you. Be it the austerity of an ascetic, the forest or heaven, with you will I be everywhere.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

Most of us don’t like doing things alone. Whether it’s going shopping, dining out at a restaurant, or even watching a movie, we tend to prefer the company of others. We like having other people around with whom we can share our experiences. As the saying goes, “The more the merrier”.

If we find ourselves in situations where we are by ourselves, we try to reach our friends through indirect means such as the telephone, text messaging, or internet chatting. As a last resort, we’ll turn on the radio or television to act as our companion. We don’t like to be alone because it is the constitutional nature of the soul to crave companionship. According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, living entities are spirit souls at their core, part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. Having accepted a material body, the living entity is put into illusion by the powers of maya. In its original form however, the soul enjoys pure bliss from its relationship with God. God and the spirit souls are one and the same and yet different at the same time. God is the master and the souls are His servants. This is the base relationship from which all our others derive. Originally being Krishna’s friend in the spiritual world, we seek out similar relationships in the material world.

Having friends around gives us a feeling of security. When we are out in public, everyone else is a stranger to us; a fact which can cause a sense of fear. Not knowing whether others are our well-wishers or our enemies, we may go into a protective mode. Bringing a friend along allows us the comfort of knowing that someone else is there who has our best interests at heart. Our friends suffer through our pains, and rejoice in our pleasures. At the heart of any good relationship is the equal and free exchange of feelings and ideas. With friends we can share our most intimate feelings and fears. We gain a sense of relief just by having people to talk to and confide in. This is actually at the heart of what makes counseling and therapy so effective. Therapists don’t necessarily solve anyone’s problems, but they provide a means for their patients to open up and express their feelings in a comfortable environment. Friends serve the same purpose, and this is one of the many reasons we like having them around. It’s always nice to have people to share your life experiences with.

Lord Rama Lord Rama, God’s incarnation as a royal prince dedicated to the rules of dharma, lived in the town of Ayodhya many years ago. As the eldest son of the king, Maharaja Dashratha, Rama was preparing to be crowed as the successor to the throne. However, on the day of his coronation, the king changed his mind and decided instead to install Rama’s younger brother Bharata as the new king. In addition, Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom immediately and spend fourteen years as an exile. The Lord’s wife, Sita Devi, did not like the idea of separation from Rama. She was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who is God’s wife in the spiritual world as well, so she was completely dedicated to her husband’s welfare. In her mind, the order of the king also applied to her since the husband and wife are considered one person in the Vedic tradition. A husband’s duty is to protect the wife, and the wife’s is to serve his every wish. These are the duties of those in the householder order of life known as grhastha.

Sita and Rama were married in the kingdom of Videha, ruled by Sita’s father Maharaja Janaka. Janaka was a great yogi and a very pious man. It was for this reason that he was blessed with the goddess of fortune as a daughter, and God Himself as a son-in-law. Vedic marriage ceremonies are different than the traditional Christian ceremonies that take place today. In addition to being longer, for Vedic marriages, the bride and groom take their vows in the presence of fire. During the couple’s marriage ceremony, Janaka requested Rama to always protect his daughter, and for Sita to always serve Rama and to follow Him like His shadow. Sita Devi, being the perfect woman, daughter, and wife, took her father’s words to heart. The incident of Rama’s exile was her chance to follow through on her father’s request. Lord Rama did not want Sita to come along to the forest. He requested her to remain in the kingdom where should we enjoy the protections afforded to the royal family. Sita vehemently objected to this request. The above referenced statement was made by her as part of a series of arguments directed to Rama in hopes that He would change His mind.

Sita did not want her husband to serve His exile period all by Himself. Rama loved Sita very much, and it was for this reason that He asked her to stay at home. However, just as much as ordinary people don’t like doing things by themselves, she refused to let her husband suffer alone. She told Him that she would be with Him through thick and thin, wherever He would be forced to go. Sita’s reference to the austerities of an ascetic is important in that women generally didn’t perform such austerities. Ascetics, or yogis, perform austerities as a way of controlling their senses, which paves the way for advancement in spiritual realization. Great sages would usually set up camp in the forest because that’s where they could be alone to concentrate their minds on Krishna. The rough conditions of the wilderness didn’t pose a problem to the sages since they were trained to live off very little. Some fruits and roots for food, and a small thatched cottage were enough to sustain their livelihoods. Lord Rama was born and raised as a kshatriya, part of the warrior class. While He was trained in performing austerities, they weren’t of the same variety as those of the brahmanas, the priestly class. By being ordered to live in the woods, Lord Rama would have to take up the same lifestyle as those great sages. Sita Devi was worried about how He would fare, so she wanted to be with Him and make sure that He was living happily. She had made up her mind that if her husband was going to suffer, then she would suffer with Him.

Radha Krishna murti Sita also mentions heaven and how she would be with Lord Rama there as well. In actuality, she is always with the Lord in the spiritual world. God’s original form is that of Vasudeva, or Krishna. He has many expansions also in the spiritual world, and with each form, His pleasure potency is there right by His side. The Lord is almost never worshiped by Himself. The various deities of the Lord, such as Radha-Krishna, Lakshmi-Narayana, Sita-Rama, always include His pleasure potency expansion. By saying she would be with her husband even in heaven, Sita was confirming that service to God is an eternal occupation and not just a passing fad. Religion is generally associated with the concept of faith. One’s faith can easily change, for one may be a Christian one day and then convert to a Jew the next. The Vedas have no such conception of this type of faith. The Vedic term for religion is sanatana dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning or end, and dharma means occupation or religiosity. So religion really means the eternal occupation of man. Whether in good times or bad, in heaven or hell, dharma should always be adhered to. Real dharma means being a devotee of Krishna.

While life in the forest is considered tough, life in heaven is considered blissful. Going to heaven means “hitting the jackpot” so to speak. People have a tendency to change when they encounter good fortune. People who suddenly come into wealth have trouble handling the situation. It is seen that people who win the lottery often file for bankruptcy soon after collecting their money. Money, wealth, and fame change people and their behavior towards others. Sita Devi wanted to make it clear to her husband and to everyone else, that her dedication to Rama would not change even if He were to come into great wealth and fame. Wherever the Lord would go and whatever predicament He would find Himself in, Sita would suffer or enjoy with Him.

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest The lesson to be learned from Sita Devi’s statement is that God wants us to be His companion. Lord Rama purposefully asked Sita to remain in the kingdom just so she could prove her devotion, not only to Rama but to future generations as well. While it is difficult for us to maintain and keep all of our friends happy, God has the capacity to keep an infinite amount of friends. In this age, the best method for cultivating one’s relationship with God is the continuous chanting of His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”. Krishna is omnipresent, so by chanting His name we can always be with Him. We should follow Sita Devi’s lead and make a promise to always be by God’s side. It is the naturally tendency for people to ask things from God, but Sita offered to give Him something, namely her service and devotion. This is the proper method of worship. May the mother of the universe, the all glorious Shrimati Sita Devi, bless us with eternal devotion to the lotus feet of the Lord.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Lord Rama “May that person that had approved the exile of the noble one (Rama) to the woods, reap the sin of his that having taken a sixth part of their incomes, does not protect his subjects!” (Bharata speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 75)

This statement is part of a conversation between Bharata and his step-mother Kausalya, over the banishment of Lord Rama, Kausalya’s son, from the kingdom. After being away on business, Bharata had just returned to the kingdom only to find that His father, King Dashratha, had died and that Rama had been banished to the forest for fourteen years.

Lord Rama was an incarnation of God who appeared many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, and Bharata was His younger half-brother. Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, had performed a great sacrifice in order to beget progeny, and he was subsequently rewarded with four beautiful sons. Rama was the eldest and his favorite. All the plans were in place for Rama to succeed Dashratha as king, but the plans changed at the last minute due to a request made by Kaikeyi, Dashratha’s youngest wife. She wanted her son, Bharata, to be installed as the new king. Dashratha had to agree to these requests since he had granted Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing on a previous occasion. Fearing that Rama might try to take over the kingdom by force, Kaikeyi used her second boon to ask for Rama’s banishment to the forest for fourteen years. After both requests were made, Kaikeyi anxiously awaited the arrival of Bharata so that she could reap the rewards of her handiwork.

Meanwhile, Rama left for the forest along with His younger brother Lakshmana and His wife Sita Devi. Dashratha couldn’t bear the separation pains, and he eventually quit his body. Bharata came home to find his father dead and his favorite brother banished from the kingdom. After being informed of all the prior events, Bharata stiffly rebuked his mother. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, not only came to earth in the form of Rama, but also in the form of His three brothers, Lakshmana, Bharata, and Shatrughna. All four brothers were expansions of God, with Rama being the primary incarnation. For this reason, all the brothers were close friends, and they were especially devoted to Rama. Bharata had no desire to the rule kingdom, especially if it meant going against the proper rules of conduct. The line of succession declared that Rama should be the next king. By having the kingdom bequeathed to him, Bharata felt extremely guilty. He never wanted to harm Rama in any way. After chastising Kaikeyi, Bharata went to talk to Rama’s mother, Queen Kausalya. She was initially very upset with Bharata, thinking that he might be happy with the current situation. She uttered some harsh words to him, and Bharata replied with a speech stating that he believed those who orchestrated the exile of Rama were all guilty of grievous sins. The above referenced statement was part of that speech.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana departing for the forest According to Vedic information, the universe is constantly being created and destroyed. In each creation, there is a first man, and he is known by the name of Manu. From him come the Laws of Manu, which serve as the guidelines for all areas of life, including how governments should run. In the Vedic system, there are four castes, or varnas. The second class, the kshatriya, are required to provide protection to the rest of society. They are the warriors, similar to today’s military men and police. All governments of the past were monarchies, ruled by pious kshatriyas who governed at the advice and consent of learned brahmanas, the priestly class of men. Dashratha and all his sons belonged to the kshatriya race. The Laws of Manu give guidelines on every aspect of ruling a kingdom. One thing required by all governments is the collection of taxes. The third class men, the vaishyas, are involved in agriculture and trade. They can be equated with today’s capitalists. Only the vaishyas are allowed to seek after wealth and prosperity through trade and business. The kshatriyas are to spend all their time providing protection to the citizens, so they have no other way of raising money other than through the collection of taxes. The Vedas declare that a king, in normal circumstances, should never take more than one sixth of a citizen’s income. Taxes are required for the government to properly function, but that money is supposed to be used in the proper way. Government only exists to provide protection to society at large. Just as each one of us has a natural right to defend ourselves and our property, the government represents the collective right of self defense of a large group of people.

As declared by Bharata, a king who takes one sixth of a person’s income and still fails to provide sufficient protection, is guilty of committing sin. This is very easy to understand. If a king fails to provide protection, then what is the point of even collecting taxes? A person has a right to keep what they earn. If a government takes too much of a person’s earnings for no reason, they are actually committing theft. A quick study of today’s governments shows that almost half of people’s incomes are going to taxes. In America, the federal marginal income tax rates vary based on a person’s annual income. The highest tax rate is around 36%, while lower income earners don’t pay any federal income tax at all. Yet there are many other taxes that people pay. The payroll tax that funds Social Security takes 6.2% of one’s income, while the employer pays an additional 6.2%. While it may seem that the employer pays half the tax, the employee actually takes the entire hit since it costs the employer that much more just to keep that person employed. Then there are taxes for Medicare, state income, state sales, cell phone, property, car, etc. The list is quite comprehensive. Nevertheless, we will invariably see politicians on television crying about how people need to pay their “fair” share in taxes.

When the income tax was first introduced in the early 20th century, politicians told everyone not to worry since the tax would only affect the rich. Well it seems today that everyone must be rich since they are all paying income taxes. The truth of the matter is that politicians aren’t concerned with taxing a specific group of people. They will tax anybody they can get away with taxing. The rich are an easy target since politicians can play the class warfare game. Smokers are another favorite target of today’s politicians. Aside from the people that smoke, no one really likes cigarettes or cigarette smoke. Thus, the voters put up very little opposition to increases in tobacco taxes.  Politicians are now looking for even more things to tax, such as energy consumption and health insurance plans.

All of these taxes would be justifiable if the governments of today were adequately protecting their citizens. The annual federal budget in the U.S. is mostly spent on entitlement programs, which are nothing more than the redistribution of wealth. Money is forcibly taken from one group of people for the express purpose of giving it to another. Even with such a massive federal budget, no one feels safe. Citizens are always worried about the nuclear threat posed by foreign enemies, and also the constant threat of terrorism.

Radha Krishna Based on these facts and the statements made by Bharata, we can conclude that today’s leaders will all have to suffer greatly for their sin of unjustifiable taxation. Aside from providing protection, the primary duty of any leader is to deliver their dependents from the repeated cycle of birth and death. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. Through the laws of karma, the soul is constantly transmigrating from one body to another, caught in an endless cycle. However, if one becomes Krishna, or God, conscious in this lifetime, they become immune to the effects of karma, and thereby become eligible for return back home after this life, back to Godhead. Above all else, it is thus the duty of all government leaders to imbibe this Krishna consciousness in every citizen. A society actively engaged in devotional service, chanting the holy names of the Lord, regularly visiting His temples, and offering obeissances to the deity, will be happy one.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Staying the Course

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama “He who meditates on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, his mind constantly engaged in remembering Me, undeviated from the path, he, O Partha [Arjuna], is sure to reach Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.8)

One must take to a particular path in spiritual life and be devoted to it. Jumping from one discipline to another will only leave the mind vulnerable to attack from maya.

Maya Devi is Lord Krishna’s humble servant, deputed to illusion the living entities during their time on earth. The material world actually isn’t our natural home. As spirit souls who are part and parcel of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, our real home is in Vaikuntha or Krishnaloka. This material world is full of miseries and anxieties. Vaikuntha is the spiritual world that is free of anxieties. Since God and His various forms reside there, there is no hint of misery. God is pure bliss and happiness. For this reason, His body is described as sach-chid-ananda, meaning it is full of bliss and knowledge.

When one acts in complete knowledge, there is no chance of falling down into despair or depression. Yet since we desire to remain in this material world where we accumulate karma, there must be a force that clouds our intelligence. This energy is known as maya, and she is constantly telling us that we’ll be happy if we try to satisfy our senses. For this reason, we keep jumping from one karmic activity to another. One day we may be passionate about gambling, while another day we long for intoxication or meat eating. Jumping from one sinful activity to another, we become further bound to this material world. Since material activity has karma associated with it, the living entity is forced to remain in this world after the current life is finished. God is only fair after all. If we want to stay here and falsely enjoy nature, He will happily oblige and give us the chance to take birth again.

Krishna book Religion, more appropriately known as sanatana dharma, is God’s gift to us, for it represents our chance to get out of this perpetual cycle of birth and death. The original scripture for mankind is known as the Veda, which means knowledge. This original knowledge was passed down by Krishna Himself at the beginning of creation. If one adheres strictly to the injunctions of the Vedas, they will be acting in complete knowledge, meaning they will be immune to the effects of maya. Since every person has a different level of intelligence and different desires, the Vedas prescribe various methods for self-realization. In the Bhagavad-gita, these methods are all referred to as yoga. Not to be confused with the secular exercise discipline, yoga actually means achieving union of the soul with God. There are different types of yoga, but today it is most often equated with the hatha-yoga system, which calls for various breathing exercises and sitting postures. These are all very nice since they enable one to become detached from their gross senses. If the effects of the senses are nullified, it becomes easier for one to connect with the Supersoul, known as the Paramatma. God can be realized in three distinct features. Paramatma is His expansion as the Supersoul, residing in the heart of each and every living entity. The individual spirit soul is full of knowledge, but its capabilities are limited. For example, we only know about our own life experiences, but God is more powerful than us because He has expanded Himself into every living entity.

Hatha-yoga is one system, with the other primary disciplines being jnana-yoga and bhakti-yoga. We see in society that there naturally exists an intelligentsia. There are always people who take an interest in philosophy and postulate their own theories on a variety of subjects. They love to acquire knowledge through deep study and analysis. Knowing this, God created the jnana-yoga system, whereby one can acquire knowledge of the Supreme by studying various books and understanding the difference between matter and spirit. Bhakti yoga, known as devotional service, is the system whereby one dovetails all their activities with service to Krishna in a loving way. This is not only considered the highest form of yoga, but it is actually the constitutional position of the soul. God is great, and we are His servants. This fact is very easy to understand, yet most of us spend our whole life ignoring it.

Perfect knowledge has to be learned from authority. Mankind’s knowledge is limited and flawed. We need only visit a bookstore to see evidence of this truth. When entering large chain bookstores, one will see all the latest releases and best-sellers on display right at the front of the store. These books are always about the same topics: politics, cooking, diet, self-help, etc. The self-help books are very popular. People are always looking for ways to be happy. One person has their prescription for success in life, while another person has a completely opposite view. These books rarely reference the Vedas, or any religion for that matter, as the basis for their theories. For this reason, people who read these books will always be left wanting more. It’s not a knock on the authors, for their efforts are certainly noble. Yet their knowledge is imperfect, whereas Vedic wisdom comes from Krishna, who is known as Achyuta, meaning “infallible”. If the prescriptions in these self-help books actually worked, there would be no need to keep coming out with new books. Yet we are guaranteed to find new titles released on a weekly basis, all on the same topics. This phenomenon can be described as “chewing the chewed.”

Narasimha Deva blesses Prahlada If we keep jumping from one book to another, our minds will get distracted. Too much information can be a bad thing, especially if we are only consuming the thoughts and ideas of mundane mental speculators. The key to success is to find a discipline that works, and then to become completely dedicated to that path. For spiritual realization, bhakti yoga is the only path that works every time it’s tried. There are thousands of historical examples to back up this assertion. Many millions of years ago, there was a great devotee by the name of Prahlada, born as the son of a demon king named Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada’s mother took spiritual instruction from the great sage Narada Muni while she was pregnant. Prahlada, hearing this instruction while in the womb, was thus born a devotee. His knowledge of bhakti yoga was so perfect, that he would regularly lecture his fellow classmates about Krishna during their recess periods. This all happened when he was just five years old. Hiranyakashipu didn’t like Prahlada’s devotion at all. He wanted his son to worship him instead of God. Prahlada wouldn’t budge however, so Hiranyakashipu attempted to kill his son in various ways. Each attempt was unsuccessful due to Prahlada’s unflinching devotion to Krishna. This is the Lord’s promise to us. Just think of Him always, and He will protect us from any and all calamities. Finally, the Lord had enough so He incarnated as a half-man half-lion, Narasimha Deva, and killed Hiranyakashipu.

Lord Hanuman is another example of a great devotee who perfected the practice of bhakti yoga. A great devotee of Lord Rama, who was Krishna’s incarnation during the Treta Yuga, Hanuman was a Vanara (monkey with human-like characteristics) by birth. Rama enlisted Hanuman as His chief warrior in His quest to rescue His kidnapped wife Sita Devi from the clutches of the demon Ravana. Hanuman met extraordinary challenges while searching out for Ravana, but He always stayed true to his mission. His only business was to serve and please Rama. In posters and photos, Hanuman is often seen chanting Rama’s name or reading from the Ramayana. Even though He succeeded in helping Rama, his devotion never waned. In this way, we see that bhakti yoga is an eternal occupation, something that one should never give up.

 HanumanDevotional service involves the nine distinct processes of hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carrying out the orders of the Lord, becoming friends with Him, and surrendering everything to Him. Prahlada and Hanuman both engaged in many of these processes, but perfecting only one of them is sufficient enough. In this age, the prescribed method is chanting and hearing, sravanam and kirtanam. The path is laid out for us; we simply have to commit ourselves to following it. Unlike with other types of yoga, taking the first step in bhakti yoga means taking the last first step in our search for eternal peace and happiness.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Sita Rama “Sitadevi, the dearmost wife of the Supreme Lord Ramachandra, certainly has a spiritual form full of bliss. No one can see her with material eyes, for no materialist has such power.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 9.191)

Many thousands of years ago, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, incarnated on earth in the form of a pious prince named Lord Rama. Sita was His wedded wife, and the two were happily enjoying their married life when one day, the Lord was ordered to flee the kingdom and live in the woods for fourteen years. The king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, was Lord Rama’s father. At the request of his youngest wife, Dashratha ordered Rama to renounce the kingdom, and the Lord willingly obliged. Not wanting to subject Sita to the rough conditions of forest life, Rama requested her to remain in the kingdom for the exile period.

Sita Devi defiantly objected this request by putting forth a series of arguments and rhetorical questions to her husband. With Lord Rama living in the forest, Sita would have no one to protect her in the kingdom. According to Vedic rules, a husband’s duty is to provide protection to his wife at all times. Rama’s younger Bharata was set to be installed as the new king, and his mother Kaikeyi was the one who requested Rama to be sent to the forest. Since the mother of the new king would be someone who didn’t look upon Rama favorably, it would be natural to assume that she would look upon Sita in a negative light as well.

In actuality, Bharata was a great devotee of Rama, and never had an ill thought directed at Him nor Sita. However, Sita was very beautiful and delicate, so it would be expected that others might covet her. Sita Devi was actually an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who is also known as Shri. “Shri” means beautiful, and Sita was certainly the most beautiful woman to have ever lived. Her shy and quiet demeanor and her dedication to Rama made her loved and adored by all. It was completely plausible that with her husband gone, others might try to proposition her. This was evidenced by later events when she would be kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Lord Rama would eventually acquiesce and allow Sita to accompany Him to the forest. During their time there, Ravana, who was wreaking havoc throughout the world, successfully kidnapped Sita by setting up a diversion that drew Lord Rama away from the couples’ cottage. Ravana was a staunch atheist committed to sense gratification at any cost. He had many wives whom he enjoyed thoroughly, yet he was enamored by Sita. She was so enchanting that he had to have her. Ironically, it was Sita’s kidnapping that was the catalyst for Ravana’s demise. Rescuing Sita was just the excuse Rama needed to kill the demon and demolish his kingdom.

“Do you, like to an ordinary actor, wish to hand me over to others, who am chaste, pure as a virgin, and long held in conjugal affection?” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

Sita Rama In the above referenced statement, Sita is more or less posing a rhetorical question to her husband. “I have acted perfectly towards you. What reason do you have for abandoning me?” She even mentions that she is as pure as a virgin. The couple had been married for many years at the time of this incident, so one may wonder how she could still be pure. The answer is that the loving affairs of God and His pleasure potencies are not of the material variety. The sex indulgence of the ordinary man and woman is completely on the material platform. More about lust than love, sex life is the ultimate form of material sense gratification, and it serves as the main cause of the living entity’s bondage to the repeated cycle of birth and death. However, in the spiritual world, that perverted form of lust becomes purified when directed towards the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna’s pleasure potency expansions, such as Shrimati Radharani, the gopis of Vrindavana, and the various Lakshmis, all serve to please the Lord. They are His energy and He is the energetic. The love that Sita and Rama shared was completely of the spiritual variety, and in that vein, she always remained a virgin.

In the material world, we generally equate a woman’s purity with her virginity. In the traditional Christian style wedding, the brides are only supposed to wear a white wedding gown if they have maintained their virginity; otherwise they are to wear a dress of a different color. Nowadays this tradition generally isn’t adhered to. In actuality, real purity can be measured in everyone based on their devotion to God. Sita Devi proved her purity through the various events of her life. She suffered through many hardships, from having to abandon the kingdom and live in the forest, to being kidnapped by Ravana, and being abandoned by Rama towards the end of her life. She was able to survive all these events by concentrating her mind on her husband, who was God Himself. After Rama killed Ravana and rescued Sita, He was initially hesitant to take her back. She had lived with another man for many months, so the rules of propriety stated that she was now impure and not worthy of being taken back. To prove her purity, Sita swore by fire that she had not touched Ravana in any way. In front of her husband and other onlookers, she placed herself on top of a blazing fire and amazingly was untouched by it, thus validating her statements. The Lord actually knew she was pure, but He wanted to demonstrate to others just how perfect she was.

Sita's trial by fire We have all accumulated dust in our hearts through contact with material nature since time immemorial. Repeatedly taking birth and indulging in sense gratification, we have lost our purity due to our forgetfulness of God. The Lord is our best friend and ever well-wisher, but we have forgotten this fact. He is eagerly waiting to embrace us, but the impetus is on us to make the first move. Just as we can’t force anyone to love us, God can’t will us to come back to Him by breaking our relationship with nature. In this age of Kali, Lord Chaitanya has recommended a single method for rekindling our relationship.

harer nama harer nama harer namaiva kevalam, kalau nasty eva nasty eva nasty eva gatir anyatha” (Brhan-naradiya Purana, 38.97)

“There is no other means of salvation in this dark age except the constant chanting of the holy names of God: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

Sita Rama “Hare” means God’s energy, and Krishna and Rama are two of His names. Sita is Rama’s energy, so by chanting the maha-mantra, we are glorifying them. No one is more worthy of praise than Sita and Rama, for theirs is the perfect love story. May we be so blessed so as to one day love God as purely as Sita does.