Saturday, December 12, 2009

For The Rest Of Your Life

Radha Krishna “A person in the divine consciousness, although engaged in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving about, sleeping, and breathing, always knows within himself that he actually does nothing at all. Because while speaking, evacuating, receiving, opening or closing his eyes, he always knows that only the material senses are engaged with their objects and that he is aloof from them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.8-9)

A good night’s sleep is quite enjoyable. After working hard all day, we like to come home and relax and take our minds away from our daily troubles. When it comes time for us to go to sleep, we look forward to our warm and inviting bed, which is sure to provide us comfort throughout the night.

We value the quality of our beds because we know that if we don’t get a good night’s sleep, we will surely suffer in a multitude of ways. Sleeping on a poor quality mattress can cause one to snore, toss and turn during the night, or wake up in the morning with muscle and joint stiffness. If we don’t sleep well, we will have trouble waking up on time in the morning, which will make us late for school or work. Not sleeping enough causes us to be tired and crabby during the day which, in turn, throws our entire rhythm off. Lack of sleep causes a general increase in stress levels. Over an extended period of time, increased stress can lead to more severe health problems such as high blood pressure.

So it is very important that we get a good night’s sleep on a high quality bed. Everyone has different preferences as to what type of mattress they like. Some prefer plush or soft mattresses, while others enjoy a harder, more firm mattress. Mattress stores stock all different kinds of beds suited for everyone. Modern technology has brought about major advancements in the manufacturing of mattresses. The Sleep Number Bed by Select Comfort is one of the more innovative models to come out in recent times. It has a “sleep number” setting which adjusts the firmness of the mattress electronically. For couples, the bed allows for different firmness settings for each side of the bed. All these advancement show just how seriously people take their sleep and how much they value the quality of their beds.

“When I shall lie down on the bed of green grass in the forest, it shall appear to me more pleasant than one covered with a colored blanket.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

Sita Rama Sita Devi, the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, in the above referenced quote states how sleeping on a bed of grass would be more pleasant to her than sleeping on a normal bed, provided that her husband, Lord Rama, was with her. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, expanded Himself in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago. Born as the eldest son of the pious king, Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya, Lord Rama played the role of the perfect prince who was completely dedicated to dharma, or religiosity. As part of His pastimes, the Lord willingly accepted an order by His father to live in the forest for fourteen years, renouncing all ties to the kingdom. Sita Devi was married to Lord Rama several years prior, and was insistent upon following her husband into the woods. Lord Rama begged her to remain in the kingdom, for He feared forest life would be very difficult for her. Sita was born and raised as a princess, accustomed to all the pomp and pageantry of royal life.

Though she always received the treatment of a princess, Sita was not spoiled by any means. Being God’s wife, she was the perfect yogi, for her mind was always concentrated on serving the lotus feet of the Lord. She vehemently argued with Rama on the occasion of the exile, stating that it was her duty to follow her husband no matter where He went. In order to allay His fears, Sita told Rama that the so-called difficulties of forest life would be most pleasurable to her since He would be by her side. We may try to make adjustments to our material condition by improving the quality of our beds or other such things, but everlasting comfort can only be achieved through service to the Lord. This process is known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti means love, and when you love somebody, your mind becomes completely focused in seeing to it that your loved one is happy at all times. Sita would wholeheartedly enjoy sleeping on the bare ground if it meant that her husband, God Himself, would be pleased by her service.

When we engage our minds in a higher cause and keep it focused, the mundane nuisances of the material world are easily flicked aside. Star athletes, who are able to perform at peak levels even in the most tense situations, describe this focused feeling as “being in the zone.” Completely concentrated on the execution of their task at hand, the pressures that come from winning and losing don’t affect them. In a similar manner, when we engage our minds in serving Krishna, the daily stresses, pressures, and discomforts of life can’t touch us.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Sita Devi suffered through many hardships in her life, but she endured them by always thinking of Rama. The Lord would eventually acquiesce and allow her to come to the forest with Him. While living there, Sita would one day be abducted by the evil Rakshasa demon Ravana, and be forced to remain a prisoner on his island for many months. Ravana repeatedly propositioned her, but she never thought of any man except Rama.  Even though Rama was not personally with her, since she was always thinking about Him, the Lord was with her in spirit. It was for this reason that Sita could survive such a dreadful condition.

We should all follow Sita Devi’s lead and take up the process of devotional service. Krishna has His arms wide open and is ready to embrace us; we just need to take the first step. In this age, Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s golden avatara, has advised us to practice chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” as the only means of salvation. There is no difference between God and His names. In ordinary life we may say the word “water” as many times as we like, but it does not mean that we will get water. However, if we call Krishna’s name, then He immediately comes to us. God is omnipresent, so He can incarnate in any form. His holy names of Krishna, Rama, Narasimha, etc., carry the same potency as the Lord Himself. By lovingly calling out His name, we develop our attachment for Him and, at the same time, become indifferent to our material affairs. So wherever we may sleep tonight and on whatever type of bed, let us remember the names of Sita and Rama, and we are sure to have a nice rest.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Pre Game

Hanuman worshiping Rama “A man engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad actions even in this life. Therefore strive for yoga, O Arjuna, which is the art of all work.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.50)

When watching sports on television, it is quite common to find pre and post game shows wrapped around the presentation of the event itself. A way to keep the fan always interested in the game, these shows feature interviews, in-depth analysis, and predictions from sportswriters and former players of the game. The idea behind such shows is that if the fan is always thinking of the game, they will be more likely to buy tickets and other merchandise related to the sport.

Many people like to spend their leisure time watching or playing sports. The day-to-day grind and pressures of work and school can become overbearing at times, so it’s nice to have an outlet. Playing a game can be fun, and it can be even more relaxing to sit back and watch other people play. The popularity of professional sports grew out of this need in society. Most of today’s major professional sports were invented in the past one hundred fifty years or so. In the beginning, the only way to watch a team play was to actually attend the event in person. Major league baseball quickly grew into America’s pastime since there were at least 140 games for each team every year. This presented a great opportunity for people to take an interest. As the popularity of the sport grew, radio quickly became the primary medium for following sports like baseball.

In the early days of sports on the radio, the announcers weren’t always present in the stadium. Many broadcasters would actually receive updates from the game via telegraph and then relay that information to the listening audience. Former U.S. President Ronald Reagan actually performed such a task in his youth for the Chicago Cubs baseball team. If the Cubs were on the road, he would receive scoring updates in the studio and then make up his own description of the events. As the popularity of radio increased, more and more games were broadcast directly from the stadiums. This in turn launched the careers of legendary broadcasters such as Mel Allen, Red Barber, and Ernie Harwell.

In the last forty years or so, television has become the primary broadcast medium for sports. Radio was a nice way to listen to the game if you couldn’t personally attend, but television brought on a whole new element. With multiple camera angles and instant replay, for many people, it’s actually more enjoyable to watch sports on television than in person. As television ratings increased, many networks decided to start airing pre and post game shows for major events. The idea behind these shows was pretty clear; keep the audience engaged. Even if there was no game going on, organizers wanted fans to have something to watch, something to think about. Adding cable and satellite television to the mix means we now have twenty four hour networks devoted specifically to covering one sport. Each of the four major sports (football, basketball, baseball, and hockey) each have their own dedicated network along with tennis and golf. A person can spend the entire day watching classic games, catching up on the latest news, and hearing the latest interviews from star players. An active, engaged fan base equates to more ticket and merchandise sales, which in turn, leads to more profit.

The task is similar for devotees of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is great, and the Vedas tell us just how great He is. The four Vedas, Upanishads, Vedanta-sutras, Puranas, Ramayana, etc. give us a wealth of knowledge and wisdom about God and all things relating to Him. Actually everything in this world is but a reflection of what exists in the spiritual world:

janmady asya yatah (The absolute truth must be the original source of everything)” (Vedanta-sutra)

Since this is true, one can go on discussing pretty much any topic and find a way to relate it to Krishna.

Lord Krishna speaking to ArjunaThe purpose of human life is to connect with God through one of the nine processes of devotional service.

“Unless one is engaged in the devotional service of the Lord, mere renunciation of activities cannot make one happy. The sages, purified by works of devotion, achieve the Supreme without delay.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.6)

Every person in the world is suffering, even if they don’t know it. Some people may be struggling materially for want of the bare necessities of life, while others are suffering for want of happiness and peace. The root of the problem is the lack of God consciousness. Krishna is the supreme pure, who is all knowing and eternally blissful. Anyone who connects with Him on a regular basis will always be happy. Not realizing this fact, society’s leaders turn to various “isms” such as socialism, communism, nationalism, and capitalism to cure society’s ills, but these efforts always fail.

It is the duty of those who are already devotees to make others God conscious:

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

Shri Nimai Nitai preaching Krishna consciousness There are various forms of charity and philanthropy, but simply saving the outward dress of a man actually does nothing for him. Our bodies are temporary since we are forced to give them up at the time of death. The soul is eternal, but through ignorance, we have been forced to constantly accept new material bodies subject to the laws of karma. If one is given the torch of knowledge lit by the fire of devotional service, they no longer have to suffer the effects of karma.

So how do devotees go about making others God conscious? Well, just as the pre-game shows raise an interest for the main event that is the actual game, so the devotees should constantly take steps to raise awareness for the supreme controller, Krishna. In this age especially, the easiest preaching methods are the congregational chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and the distribution of prasadam. Due to the effects of Kali Yuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy, most people around the world are accustomed to a life of meat eating and intoxication. This sinful activity is most dangerous because it firmly binds one to the cycle of repeated birth and death. The only pure food is Krishna prasadam; that food which has first been offered to the Lord. Unlike us, God can eat food simply by glancing over it, provided that the offering is made with love and devotion:

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

Krishna is so kind that He eats the food, but actually gives us back more than we offer to Him. What we initially offer is simply an arrangement of various food grains, milk, or fruit, but what the Lord leaves us is food that is completely spiritual in nature. On the material platform, every action has an equal reaction as it relates to the laws of karma. “No good deed goes unpunished” as the famous joke says. However, prasadam is free of karma since Krishna has tasted the food.

Lord KrishnaDevotees can simply involve themselves in these two activities, chanting and prasadam distribution, and they will be performing the highest welfare work for humanity. The idea is to utilize everything for Krishna’s service. The temple exists for this very purpose. Aside from a place of worship, the temple is where people can go to learn about Krishna. Newspapers, blogs, websites, etc. can all be used to broadcast the message of peace espoused by the great Vedic texts. Krishna is the main event. He is the most important person in our lives. His form, words, and pastimes are what should be showcased. The job of a devotee is to always keep the public interested in Krishna by having conversations and discussion about His greatness. If people are always reminded of Krishna, then it is more likely they will take to devotional service, which is the only means of salvation in this current age.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Dust to Dust

 Sita Rama “The dust that will cover me, thrown up by the gush of wind shall be, O ravisher of my heart, regarded by me as the finest sandal dust.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana', Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

Material nature throws dust in our faces in the form of the obstacles that hamper our desires for sense gratification. In hopes of securing future happiness, we make repeated adjustments to our lifestyle. Yet we find that whatever plan we come up with, material nature finds a way to obstruct our path.

When we are young children growing up, we may plan on or dream of going to college. If we study hard enough, and get good grades, we’ll be accepted to a high class university. Attending a high ranking college will allow us to hopefully have a high paying job in a career that we love. The plans don’t stop there however. Once we land our dream job, we start to want other things like a nice a car and a beautiful wife. In order to satisfy these desires, we make more plans, such as going on a diet, starting an exercise regimen, and cutting back on unnecessary expenditures. If we are lucky enough to get married, get a nice car, and have beautiful children, our desires still don’t stop. New plans are then made to buy a bigger and better television, or maybe new hobbies and activities are taken up.

If we step back for a second and analyze the situation, it’s not difficult to see the inherent problem with all these plans. The hope is that if successfully executed, each plan will result in happiness. What we actually find is that the happiness is very short lived, otherwise we wouldn’t have to keep devising new plans. Success in material ventures is not easy or guaranteed. As soon as we take up a task, the illusory forces of material nature rear their ugly head and put obstacles in our way. For example, we can go on a diet and successfully lose weight, but then we might also become more irritable as a result of being hungry all the time. We can marry the boy or girl of our dreams, but then the familiarity of the relationship can breed contempt, which can then result in divorce. We may have wonderful children that fill our hearts with pure joy, but then those same children cause us to worry constantly about their welfare. We may buy a new state of the art television, but in a few years, a newer, better model will come out that will make our current model look antiquated.

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna These are nature’s laws. This material world was created by God so that we living entities could take up the process of sense gratification. God created an illusory energy, known as maya, which clouds the intelligence of all living entities. It is due to maya’s influence that we keep making minor adjustments to our material life in the hope of finding peace of mind. Despite being kicked repeatedly by maya and having dust thrown in our faces, we forget our past experiences, and continue on our futile attempt to gratify our senses. In the Bhagavad-gita, the most sacred of Vedic texts, Lord Krishna, God Himself, tells His disciple and friend Arjuna that we have all had previous lives, the experiences of which we have forgotten. Only God can remember everything relating to past, present, and future.

“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!” (Bg. 4.5)

If we were to remember our experiences from previous lives, we would be more likely to realize that our senses can never be truly satisfied. Taking birth here means always lamenting for things we don’t have, and hankering after things that we want. Lord Krishna declares that the only way to stop this incessant hankering and lamenting is for one to elevate their consciousness to the brahma-bhutah platform.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Bg. 18.54)

Brahma-bhutah refers to the state of mind where one realizes Brahman, or the all pervading energy of the Lord. According to the Vedas, God is realized in three aspects: that of the impersonal Brahman, Paramatma, or the Supersoul, and Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One doesn’t have to renounce material activities in order to reach the brahma-bhutah stage. Instead, one has to dovetail their current activities with the service of the Lord in the process known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service.

Lord Rama When Lord Krishna appeared on earth many thousands of years ago in the form of Lord Rama, He played the role of a perfect prince. Born as the eldest son to the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, the Lord was loved and adored by all. When Rama had reached an appropriate age, the king decided to install Him as his successor. Dashratha consulted the local brahmanas, or priests, about whether or not this was a good idea. They all gave their blessings, so Dashratha went ahead and made plans to coronate his son. However, on the day set for the installation, his plans would be foiled by his youngest wife, Kaikeyi. The king had previously granted her any two boons of her choosing, and she chose this time to cash them in. She requested her son Bharata, Rama’s younger brother, to be installed as the new king instead of Rama. For her second boon, she asked that Rama be banished to the forest for fourteen years to live as a recluse. Shocked and dismayed by these requests, Dashratha tried his best to get Kaikeyi to change her mind, but it was to no avail. In those times, the kings were dedicated to their word of honor, so there was no question of Dashratha not granting these wishes. Upon hearing the order, Lord Rama willingly obliged, for He was dedicated to His father’s welfare. Before leaving for the forest, the Lord went to tell His wife, Sita Devi. Sita was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi who appeared on earth to serve as the Lord’s husband, a role with which she was quite familiar. Lakshmi is God’s pleasure potency expansion, also acting as God’s wife in the spiritual world. Being completed devoted to her husband, Sita wasn’t so much affected by the sudden change of events, for she intended on serving the exile period with Rama in the forest. The Lord, however, insisted that she remain in the kingdom for the fourteen years. Life in the wilderness is very rigid. People today like to go camping in the woods from time to time as a way to get in touch with nature. However, living there for fourteen years is a completely different story. Lord Rama wanted to protect His wife from all the dangers and discomforts associated with such an austere lifestyle. The bare ground would be filled with thorns that would surely prick Sita’s delicate feet. He didn’t want His wife to suffer any pain on His behalf.

Sita Devi, on the other hand, was quite determined. She didn’t foresee forest life as being austere at all since her life and soul, Rama, would be with her. In the above referenced quote, she declares that the dust from the ground of the wilderness would be most pleasing to her. Such a statement may seem puzzling, since dust from the ground is by nature, unclean. Ordinary dust is very annoying and discomforting to most. However, since Sita would be in the company of God, the dust in the forest would be viewed to be as beautiful and fragrant as the dust produced by the sandalwood tree.

Sita DeviThe lesson to be learned is that making plans to serve God is the only way to achieve real peace. Instead of trying to eliminate our desires by artificial means such as meditational yoga, we should dovetail our work with service to God. By following Lord Rama to the forest, Sita was serving her husband in the most difficult of times. Her plan to follow Him was not of the material variety, for she had no desire to accumulate religious merits. She thought to herself, “My Lord will be in the woods all by Himself. It is my duty to serve Him. It would not be right for me to live in the luxury of this royal kingdom, while He has been cast off. I cannot be happy unless He is happy. If my husband is punished then I must be also be punished. Nothing will stop me from loving my Lord.” This is the attitude that we should all adopt. This material world is a place full of miseries, dukhalayam. Our temporary pains and pleasures result from the repeated miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death. If we commit ourselves to the path of devotional service, maya can never affect us. In this age, the easiest way to practice bhakti yoga is to chant the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. If we faithfully practice bhakti yoga, we will surely be cleansed of the dust of this material world.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Tis The Season

Krishna related books "Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Shri Krishna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 7.128)

The Christmas season is known for gift giving. For retail stores, the time between Thanksgiving and Christmas represents their busiest sales period of the year. The day after Thanksgiving is known as Black Friday since that’s when retailers are expected to earn a bulk of their profits for the year. Over time, Christmas has morphed into almost a secular holiday, with people from all walks of life purchasing Christmas trees and exchanging gifts with their families. This situation presents a great opportunity for the spreading of God consciousness.

Christmas is the holiday celebrating the birth of Lord Jesus Christ, the founder of the modern day Christian religion. The occasion is the equivalent of Janmashtami, the birthday of Lord Shri Krishna, for Hindus. Christ is viewed as the savior, so celebrating his appearance day is only natural, for it marks the day he came to preach God consciousness to society at large. Jesus was extremely kind and forgiving. He struggled very hard to get others to turn to God, and he fought all the naysayers that came along the way. He was so committed to his mission that he even voluntarily accepted crucifixion in order to spread his message.

Christmas For these reasons, the Christmas holiday is widely celebrated. Due to the influence of Kali Yuga, the holiday has become more and more secular through the years. Nowadays, Christmas is associated with a winter holiday made up of carols, trees, lights, and most importantly, gift giving. The idea of exchanging gifts on a special occasion emanates from the Vedas themselves, the original scriptures for mankind. In the Vedic tradition, all great occasions are celebrated with the giving of gifts in charity to brahmanas.

“The learned brahmanas, who had no other source of income, were completely dependent on the vaishya and kshatriya communities for their maintenance, and they received gifts on such festive occasions as birthdays, marriages, etc.” (Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 5)

Brahmanas are those who know Brahman, the impersonal effulgence feature of the Lord. Brahmanas can be thought of as priests, though not of the modern variety. Many people associate Hinduism with the degraded caste-by-birthright system, but the original divisions implemented by Krishna were never meant to be based simply on one’s birth.

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

Lord Krishna The four social orders and four divisions of one’s life are determined by one’s qualities and the work they perform. This system is collectively known as varnashrama dharma. The brahmanas are considered the highest division because their qualities are in the mode of goodness. Any activity performed with intelligence is considered to be in the mode of goodness. A brahmana is kind, humble, and peaceful, and also possesses all other good qualities. As far as work is concerned, brahmanas engage in specific activities for the spiritual benefit of society at large. They study the Vedas, teach Vedic knowledge to others, perform great sacrifices, teach others how to perform sacrifices, they take charity, and they also give in charity. Their occupational duties don’t fall in the mode of passion, meaning they don’t work simply to satisfy the demands of the body. Everyone must eat, have clothing, and have a roof over their head. For these reasons, it is required that one work. Yet most of us tend to go beyond these necessities and instead spend our hard-earned money for sense gratification.

Brahmanas, on the other hand, work simply for the satisfaction of God. In the classic system, they typically didn’t earn a salary. Some brahmanas may have taken to subsistence farming, but in general, brahmanas lived off the charity of others. In today’s world, non-profit organizations have a negative stigma associated with them. A person that works for a non-profit is sometimes viewed as a leech, a person who lives off the hard work of others. Bona fide brahmanas shouldn’t be labeled as such. They don’t take to a life of poverty simply to get out of working. On the contrary, brahmanas actually work hard day and night trying to satisfy God and His devotees. Their main business is to serve God and to teach others how to serve Him. It is actually to the benefit of householders and other money-makers to give generously in charity to brahmanas.

"My dear brahmana, your appearance in a householder's place is only to enlighten. We are always engaged in household duties and are forgetting our real duty of self-realization. Your coming to our house is to give us some enlightenment about spiritual life. You have no other purpose to visit householders." (Nanda Maharaja speaking to Gargamuni, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 8)

Gargamuni performing name giving ceremony In today’s world, bona fide brahmanas are hard to find. Many people claim brahminical status simply off birthright without exuding the proper behavior. For one to be a serious student of the Vedas, one must be pure. Purity can be defined in many ways, but at a minimum, one must be free of addictions to meat eating and intoxication. Any person who engages in these activities and still claims to be a brahmana must be viewed as a dvija-bandhu, or a brahmana in name only. Even if we can find bona fide brahmanas today, we see that they are not well supported. People are much more likely to give in charity to secular organizations or to groups engaged in some material cause such as philanthropy or medical research. For these reasons, many brahmanas have taken to earning salaries, which is not ideal.

“A brahmana will never ask about a salary. A brahmana is eager to see that people are educated. ‘Take free education and be educated; be a human being’—this is a brahmana's concern:” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, Ch. 6.5)

In Vedic times, householders would regularly invite brahmanas to their home and entertain them. This wasn’t done for the benefit of the sage, but rather for the benefit of the householder. The priestly class wasn’t interested in filling their bellies. They would visit homes in order to preach the glories of the Lord. Today’s situation has made things a little more difficult. Instead of being sought out for advice, it is the brahmanas who must seek out others and beg them to become devotees of God.

The Christmas holiday presents a great opportunity for all of us to become preachers. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s incarnation as a brahmana some five hundred years ago, begged everyone to simply chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Becoming a devotee is certainly good, but it signals only the beginning of spiritual life. Lord Chaitanya asked that everyone become a guru by simply talking about Krishna with others and asking them to take up chanting.

The tradition of gift-giving during the Christmas season can be used to facilitate this request. In general, if we give someone a gift on a whim, that person becomes suspicious. “Why is this person giving me this nice gift? There must be a reason behind this. Even if they are just trying to be nice, what am I supposed to do now? I feel obligated to give them a gift in return.” For this reason, gifts are generally exchanged on special occasions like birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays. The Christmas holiday is especially known for gift giving, making it a time where it is socially acceptable to give anyone a gift. There is usually nothing expected in return. While the majority of the gifts given this year will be on the material platform, devotees can use the holiday season to give the gift of Krishna.

Shrila Prabhupada His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada wrote countless books during his lifetime, the foremost of which is the Bhagavad-gita, As It Is. Prabhupada was a true brahmana and sincere preacher. It was his wish that as many of his books be distributed as possible. By giving someone a Bhagavad-gita, or Science of Self-Realization, we can truly make a difference in their life. Aside from books, we can give Krishna related music CDs, chanting beads, Krishna related children’s books, and even DVDs. The possibilities are endless.

Devotees are happiest when they see other people rendering service to Lord Krishna. Christmas is as good a time as any to ask others to think of God and His blessings. If we dedicate ourselves to serving Krishna and His devotees, we can enjoy peace on earth.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Key to the Mint

Radha and Krishna with gopis “You should engage yourself in the service of the servants of Krishna and always chant the holy name of Krishna. If you do these two things, you will very soon attain shelter at Krishna's lotus feet."  (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya, 16.70)

Fraternities and sororities, also referred to as Greek life, are very popular groups found at universities across the world. There is nothing like having a brother or a sister, someone with whom you can have an everlasting bond. Fraternities try to provide that same feeling to incoming college students.

Most college freshmen are under the age of twenty. For those who don’t commute, attending college marks the first time spent living away from home. Being out on your own is a new experience with new surroundings, new living arrangements, and a new set of people to interact with. High schools teachers often warn students, “Life will be a lot tougher in college. You won’t be able to get away with the same bad habits you had in high school. Professors are a lot tougher and your parents won’t be around to save you.” To help ease the transition into independent life, many students look to join a fraternity or a sorority. Based on the system of honor and respect for fellow brothers and sisters, a fraternity is a close knit group of people that views each member as family. These various groups all have their own houses close to or on campus where fellow members can reside and hang out. The frat houses are famous for throwing wild parties and helping students get together to study.

Joining a fraternity means you’ll always have brothers you can depend on for anything, an immediate family at college. These benefits make the idea of joining a fraternity appealing, but there is one catch. Membership is not an open entry system. Prospective members, known as pledges, must go through initiation from current members before they are allowed to join. The reasoning behind this is very simple. A good brother is one who is always there for his fellow brothers, through thick and thin. There must be complete faith and trust in order for the defined relationship to be valid. Along these lines, existing members don’t want to accept new brothers who aren’t dedicated to them and to the fraternity. If the fraternity accepts members who aren’t dedicated to their fellow brothers, the entire system collapses.

All prospective candidates go through an initiation period, which can include hazing. The level of hazing can vary. Sometimes it can involve abuse and humiliation, and other times it can entail tests of loyalty and dedication. During the first few weeks of a new semester at college, it’s not surprising to see groups of men or women walking around campus wearing strange outfits, such as purple and yellow sweat suits. Sometimes these groups will also partake in acts of public humiliation such as chanting a song in front of large groups of strangers. This is all part of the initiation process. If one shows they are dedicated to the fraternity, they are allowed to become a member, which avails them all the perks. Fraternities exist across universities, thus creating a large networking circle. If a brother ever needs help finding a job, a place to live, or someone to study with, fellow brothers are always standing by to lend a helping hand, similar to how families operate. Once accepted into a fraternity, the brotherhood relationship continues well past the college years.

“The simplest thing for human beings is to follow their predecessors. Judgment according to mundane senses is not a very easy process. Whatever is awakened by attachment to one's predecessor is the way of devotional service as indicated by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 2.86 Purport)

Lord Rama and His brothers learning from their guruSimilar to the concept of joining a fraternity or sorority, for one to learn about Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, initiation into the spiritual discipline is required. Though Vedic literature is quite thorough and comprehensive, one can’t actually understand all the instructions on their own. The help of a guru, or spiritual master, is required. The spiritual master has learned the discipline from his guru, who learned it from his guru, and so on. Krishna Himself started this chain of disciplic succession known as the parampara system:

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku. This supreme science was thus received through the chain of disciplic succession, and the saintly kings understood it in that way…” (Bg. 4.1-2)

The Bhagavad-gita is probably the most famous book that describes the teachings of the Vedas. Spoken by Lord Krishna to His disciple and friend Arjuna, the Gita describes the essence of nature and the soul, why we are here, and what our purpose in life should be. We see that many big scholars, scientists, and politicians have all studied this great book and even written commentaries on it. Yet they have all missed the mark, as their understanding of the work is flawed or incomplete. The conclusion of the Gita is that Krishna is God, and that we should surrender unto Him if we want to fulfill the mission of human life. Yet these great personalities all studied the Gita on their own, without the help of a spiritual master. Thus they were not able to properly understand the text since they interpreted the verses according to their particular world views.

The Vedas can only be understood by the help of a spiritual master or devotee of Krishna. If we want to truly understand Krishna, we must approach one of these bona fide gurus. However, just as fraternity members are protective of their fellow brothers, the spiritual master is extremely protective of Krishna. He won’t just start teaching the essence of the Vedas to anyone. One must complete a thorough initiation process.

“This confidential knowledge may not be explained to those who are not austere, or devoted, or engaged in devotional service, nor to one who is envious of Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.67)

Lord Krishna The pure devotee’s time is dedicated to serving God. By teaching others about God, they are also serving Him. For this reason, devotees don’t want to waste precious time by teaching Krishna consciousness to those who aren’t sincerely interested in making advancement. So how does one get initiated? Typically, you can approach a spiritual master in person, and if he sees that you are sincere, he will show you the way.

“The holy name of Lord Krishna is an attractive feature for many saintly, liberal people. It is the annihilator of all sinful reactions and is so powerful that save for the dumb who cannot chant it, it is readily available to everyone, including the lowest type of man, the chandala. The holy name of Krishna is the controller of the opulence of liberation, and it is identical with Krishna. Simply by touching the holy name with one's tongue, immediate effects are produced. Chanting the holy name does not depend on initiation, pious activities or the purashcharya regulative principles generally observed before initiation. The holy name does not wait for all these activities. It is self-sufficient.” (Shrila Rupa Goswami, Padyavali, 29)

For this day and age, a spiritual master everyone can approach is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Though He is no longer physically present on this earth, we can still take informal initiation from him if we follow the regulative principles he set forth. Chanting at least sixteen rounds daily of the maha mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication, will put us on the right path. In conjunction, we should sincerely make an effort to read as many books about Krishna as we can.

Herein lies the beauty of the initiation process. Even if one doesn’t approach a spiritual master in person, if they continuously stay connected with the guru by reading his books and following his teachings, then that is just as good as initiation. Each and every verse in Vedic literature is so profound that one can read them over and over again and derive new meanings every time. Reading the Bhagavad-gita, translated and commented on by a devotee, can bring the reader closer to Krishna. As one advances in their devotional service, knowledge will slowly be revealed to the sincere soul.

Shrila Prabhupada By humbly approaching a spiritual master and pleasing him by following his instructions, we get initiated into the greatest fraternity, that of the long line of great devotees of Krishna. Since a guru takes instruction from his guru and so on, through initiation, we not only get access to our guru’s storehouse of knowledge, but also that of all the great acharyas preceding him. We get a key to the mint.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Hard Earth

Hanuman giving ring to Sita “Devotional service to the Lord is rendered by all limbs or parts of the body. It is the transcendental dynamic force of the spirit soul; therefore a devotee is engaged one hundred percent in the service of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.20 Purport)

Love has a tremendous impact on our actions. It makes us feel things we’ve never felt before and compels us to do things we normally wouldn’t do. The power of love is strong and far reaching.

Our affection for children makes us take part in, and enjoy activities, we otherwise wouldn’t think of. Children love to play with toys, to watch animated television shows and movies, and to play in parks. In general, the first five years of a child’s life is spent simply playing. Aside from sleeping and eating, children spend the whole day pursuing fun. Most adults love children very much, especially those they are related to. The children, having pure love in their hearts, enjoy sharing their activities with their parents and adult relatives. Since these activities make the children happy, adults are more than willing to take part in them. The same concept holds true with husbands and wives, and boyfriends and girlfriends. Men will go to great lengths to please their loved ones, from going to operas, to watching romantic movies. Shopping is one of the favorite activities of a woman, and the one most dreaded by a man. Yet when going to a shopping mall, one will find many couples shopping together, usually with the woman leading the man from store to store. Women also suffer through activities that men enjoy, such as watching sporting events and playing video games.

Mother Yashoda feeding Krishna Normally we wouldn’t engage in these activities on our own. We find them to be painstakingly boring, so we avoid them at all costs. Love is the reason that we voluntarily decide to take part and suffer through them. Loving someone means wanting more for the person you love than you want for yourself. Playing with our children and spending quality time with them gives them great pleasure, and that is reason enough for us. We feel happy knowing that they are happy. This satisfaction nullifies any negative feelings or boredom we may suffer as a result. On a more simple level, we just enjoy the company of our loved ones. Being with our husband or wife gives us a feeling of security, knowing that we have someone else who will love us no matter what. That special someone loves us just as much as we love them, so why wouldn’t we want to spend every waking moment with them? It is the natural yearning of the living entity to love and to be loved.

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appeared on earth in the form of Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India. The Lord loves His devotees very much, and it was to protect them that He personally came. At the time, the evil Rakshasa demon Ravana was gaining sway over all the world, defeating any forces that would come his way. Lord Rama was destined to kill him and to reinstitute the principles of dharma, or religiosity. Along with His appearance, His wife in the spiritual world, Goddess Lakshmi, also came to earth in the form of Sita Devi. The two were married and living happily in the kingdom of Ayodhya, which was ruled by Rama’s father, Maharaja Dashratha. Through an unfortunate series of events, one day Lord Rama was ordered to flee the kingdom and live in the forest as a recluse for fourteen years. Just prior to leaving, the Lord informed Sita of the news and begged her not to follow Him. Sita was the most beautiful, delicate, and fair princess, so the Lord was worried how she would adjust to the rigid conditions of forest life. This concern was very natural, for Rama loved Sita very much. Sita, for her part, was completely dedicated to her husband, and had no desire to live without Him. She insisted on accompanying the Lord and serving the exile period by His side. Living in the forest would mean having to walk barefoot on the grass and shrubs. Sita was born and raised as a princess, so she wouldn’t be accustomed to such a lifestyle. Nevertheless, she tried to mollify her husband’s concern by informing Him that the various thorns on the ground would actually be very pleasing to her.

“When with you, the various thorny grasses, shrubs, thistles, and brambles on the way (Kusha, Kasa, Sara, Ishika), shall be to me in touch like to linen and deerskin.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 29)

Sita and Rama in the forest Sita’s statement wasn’t one made out of mere sentiment, but one that was rooted in fact and logic. Lord Rama was God Himself, and being with God nullifies all pains. Performing activities out of love for Him, known as the process of bhakti yoga, is completely of the spiritual variety, transcending any material pain or pleasure.

People may find this difficult to comprehend. “Thorns are pointy and will naturally hurt anyone that is pricked by them. How can Sita factually say that these thorns wouldn’t cause her any pain? The only way to nullify the pain caused by the thorns on the ground is to avoid them altogether.” This line of thinking may seem logical, but it represents a limited spiritual understanding, part of the belief that negation of activities is the only means of achieving peace in this world. The Buddhists and Mayavadis generally prescribe to this theory. Buddhists believe in negating all material activities and desires until they can reach the point of nirvana, where everything becomes zero. Mayavadis, the impersonalist Vedic philosophers, believe in a similar concept, except the end goal being the merging of the soul into Brahman, or God’s impersonal effulgence.

The actual fact of the matter is that desires can never be removed. As long as a person is alive, he must desire something. The Vaishnavas, the followers of Lord Vishnu or Krishna, believe that we must learn to purify our desires instead of running away from them. We don’t have to give up our activities, but instead, we need to dovetail them with service to the Lord. By following this path, we can turn normal activities such as singing, dancing, reading, and eating, into spiritual activities. Singing and dancing to songs about Krishna, reading the Vedas, the Puranas, and the Mahabharata, and preparing and offering food to the Lord, are all completely spiritual activities. An observer may wonder how something so simple as cooking can be a form of yoga, but in actuality it is. A devotee acts simply for the benefit of the Lord, out of pure love.

Sita Rama and Lakshmana walking in the forest Sita Devi was put into a very distressful situation due to Dashratha’s order of exile and Rama’s request that she remain in the kingdom. One suffering such pain easily could have chosen the path of renunciation. She could have decided to detach herself from the marriage and shield herself from future pain. Instead, Sita remedied the situation by demanding that she come along to the woods to serve the Lord. Serving Krishna is the only way to turn distressful situations into pleasant ones. The prickly thorns of the forest were no match for Sita Devi, whose mind was completely focused on the lotus feet of Lord Rama. In a similar manner, this material world is full of thorns, constantly pricking us. The heavy metal music band Metallica has a song called Bleeding Me which contains the following verse:

“This thorn in my side…this thorn in my side is from the tree…this thorn in my side is from the tree I planted…it tears me and I bleed.”

Through fruitive activity, known as karma, we continually plant trees hoping they will sprout and secure us sense gratification in the future. In actuality, karmic activity only yields thorns in the form of the fourfold miseries of life (birth, old age, disease, and death). These thorns constantly prick us birth after birth. The only way to stop the bleeding is to take to the path of devotional service to God. By following Sita Devi’s lead, if we surrender everything to Krishna, we’ll be able to endure any painful situation. Having our minds completely fixed on the Supreme, we’ll ensure that this birth will be our last, for we will return back home after this life, back to Godhead.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Power of Service

 Lakshmana always by Rama's side“To Lakshmana, crowned with every virtue, waking up, holding the bow with the arrow fixed on it for the purpose of guarding well his brother, I said, ‘This easeful bed has been prepared for you, my child. O son of Raghu’s descendant, cheer up. Do you lie down at ease. All these people can bear hardship; but you are meant for comfort. For protecting him (Rama) religiously, we shall wake.’” (Guha speaking about Lakshmana’s love for Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 86)

There is no one more devoted to Lord Rama than Lakshmana. A perfect devotee, prince, and younger brother, Lakshmana is the epitome of virtue, strength, and character. An incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, Lakshmana served Rama without any personal motive, thus he is our role model in the execution of devotional service.

Almost everyone goes to God for some particular personal benefit. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, describes this very fact in the Bhagavad-gita:

“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)

Most of us approach God in times of distress. A friend or family member may be stricken with a particular illness, so we’ll go to God and ask for Him to protect their health. Weekly church meetings often include a time where people ask for specific prayers for someone or something. Former U.S. President George W. Bush was known for being very religious. People would often ask him what his faith meant to him and he would usually reply that he believed very much in the power of prayer.

“I am sustained by the prayers of the people in this country. I guess an appropriate way to say this, it's one of the beautiful things about America and Americans from all walks of life is that they're willing to pray for the President and his family. And that's powerful. It's hard for me to describe to you what that means. It's--let me just say this: It's a leap of faith to understand." (George W. Bush, Interview, 2009.12.13)

George W Bush praying The power of prayer is very strong. It is the primary function performed by those who practice religion around the world. In the Vedic tradition, many great personalities of the past have prayed for things. Dhruva Maharaja was one particular person. He initially performed great austerities, all the while praying for a material benefit. Through his perseverance, he had the great fortune of meeting Lord Vishnu face to face.

“…Dhruva Maharaja initially searched for God in order to attain his father's kingdom. Dhruva Maharaja's mother was rejected by his father, and his stepmother resented his sitting on his father's lap. Indeed, she forbade him to sit on his father's lap because Dhruva Maharaja was not born in her womb. Although only five years old, Dhruva Maharaja was a kshatriya, and he took this as a great insult. Going to his own mother, he said, ‘Mother, my stepmother has insulted me by forbidding me to sit on my father's lap.’ Dhruva Maharaja then started to cry, and his mother said, ‘My dear boy, what can I do? Your father loves your stepmother more than he loves me. I can do nothing.’ Dhruva Maharaja then said, ‘But I want my father's kingdom. Tell me how I can get it.’ ‘My dear boy,’ his mother said, ‘if Krishna, God, blesses you, you can get it.’ ‘Where is God?’ Dhruva Maharaja asked. ‘Oh, it is said that God is in the forest,’ his mother said. ‘Great sages go to the forest to search for God.’

Hearing this, Dhruva Maharaja went directly to the forest and began to perform severe penances. Finally he saw God, and when he saw Him, he no longer desired his father's kingdom. Instead, he said, ‘My dear Lord, I was searching for some pebbles, but instead I have found valuable jewels. I no longer care for my father's kingdom. Now I am fully satisfied.’” (Shrila Prabhupada, Path of Perfection)

Dhruva blessed by Vishnu  Not only do people go to God for acquiring things, but they also worship the demigods for similar purposes. In the Vedic tradition, there is only one God, although He has many different forms and expansions. The original form of God is Krishna, and all other forms such as Vishnu, Narayana, Rama, Narasimha, etc. all emanate from Him. God has subordinates who serve directly under Him. They are known as devatas, or demigods, and their role is to manage all the affairs of the universe, including the creation, maintenance, and dissolution of our planet. By Krishna’s order, they are required to bestow benedictions upon their devotees, irrespective of the quality or motive of the worshiper. This form of worship continues to this day in India. Though usually only pious people worship the demigods, many great demons of the past have gone to the devatas to procure material boons. The great demons Ravana and Hiranyakashipu worshiped Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva to gain extraordinary power intended for nefarious purposes. Their strength became so immense that Lord Krishna was required to personally come to earth and kill them.

During the Treta Yuga, the aforementioned Ravana had ascended to power in his kingdom of Lanka. He wasn’t happy just ruling his island though, for he sought world domination. He felt no one could beat him since Lord Brahma had given him the boon that no celestial could defeat him in battle. The celestials refer to the demigods, so Ravana foolishly thought that if no demigod could conquer him, he would live forever. Since Ravana forgot to ask for immunity from human beings, the demigods petitioned God to personally come to earth in the form of Lord Rama to specifically kill Ravana. Born as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Rama had three younger brothers, all equal in prowess and piety. Though all the brothers loved each other very much, Lakshmana in particular was the one closest to Rama.

As events would play out later in life, Rama would be forced into exile due to requests made by His father King Dashratha, and the king’s wife Kaikeyi. Lakshmana and Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, accompanied the Lord to the forest. During the initial days of travel, the group stopped at the area of the forest inhabited by the Nishadas, headed by Guha. Nishadas were a race of forest dwellers, not deemed civilized enough to live in the villages or towns. Guha however, was a great devotee of Rama, so the Lord honored him by accepting his hospitality. The above referenced statement is part of Guha’s description of how the group spent a night in the forest with him. Guha is narrating the details to Rama’s next youngest brother, Bharata. Kaikeyi was Bharata’s mom, so she had demanded his installation as king instead of Rama. When Bharata found out what happened, he immediately went to the forest looking for Rama. He was worried not only about his brother’s welfare, but also of the fact that it was his mom who had perpetrated such a horrible deed.

Guha washing Lord Rama's feet From Guha’s description, we get an insight into Lakshmana’s behavior towards Rama and Sita. Lakshmana was a pure devotee, so he worshiped God in an unselfish manner. He was a younger brother, so it would have been understandable if he was a little selfish or spoiled. Rama was, after all, a pious prince, the most skilled warrior, and loved and adored by all. Lakshmana easily could have asked anything of Rama and the Lord would have given it to him. Yet Lakshmana chose a different path. His mindset was always, “How can I help my brother? He is so kind and compassionate towards all, and for this reason, people are always taking advantage of Him. It is my duty to protect Him and His wife, who I view as my own mother.” During nights in the forest, Lakshmana would stay awake guarding the sleeping area of Rama and Sita. One can only imagine how great his devotion was. We have trouble performing simple austerities such as fasting or abstaining from prohibited foods and activities. Lakshmana voluntarily gave up all material pleasures so that he could focus on serving God at all times. Only Rama had been ordered to live in the forest, so the Lord was all set to go alone, but both Sita and Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Him.

Approaching God for a personal reason isn’t a bad thing. People that take this route at least have an understanding that there is a higher power greater than themselves. That in itself represents a step up from the thinking of the atheists. However, if we apply a little intelligence, we will conclude that such a form of worship is second class. For example, say that we pray to God to always keep our families healthy. If the Lord comes through for us, we will be happy for a little while, but then what? Does that mean our desires will stop? The living entity is always hankering and lamenting. That is the business of man. We will most certainly crave other material benedictions. On the reverse side, what if we don’t get what we prayed for? Does that mean that God doesn’t exist or that God is at fault? That wouldn’t make any sense. God is the Almighty. He is infallible; therefore one of His names is Achyuta.

Lakshmana The lesson is that we shouldn’t view God as our order supplier. Every person is allotted their own material fortunes and misfortunes based on their qualities and the work they have performed, or karma. Our business as human beings is to come to a proper understanding of God, and to use that understanding to serve Him in a loving way. Bhagavata-dharma is the highest form of worship and it is the path laid down by Lakshmana. If we are sincere in our practice of bhakti yoga, then as an added benefit, we will automatically acquire all the tools we need to be successful. This is God’s promise to us.