Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friend to All

Lord Krishna with cow “One who is not envious but who is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor, who is free from false ego and equal both in happiness and distress, who is always satisfied and engaged in devotional service with determination and whose mind and intelligence are in agreement with Me-he is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.13-14)

One should not be eager to cause misery or pain to others. As living entities, we are all in the same boat, regardless of material wealth or poverty. Each one of us is hankering after things that we want and lamenting over the things we don’t have. Even though one may be very successful in material endeavors, it doesn’t mean that desires become eliminated. In many instances, our desires only increase with the more wealth we possess. In the same manner, if we live a meager lifestyle, we should be satisfied with what we have.

Since every living entity is the same at the core, people should have the utmost respect for one another. Imposing ourselves on others and causing them pain are generally viewed as unkind behavior, but we still see that many people behave in this manner. They have no problem whatsoever with annoying others, and sometimes they derive great pleasure from such activity. The German word “Schadenfreude” describes the feeling of bliss derived from the pain of others. We all have met people like this at some point in our lives. They love to see others in misery, for it boosts their self-esteem knowing that others are equally as miserable as they are. If they see someone else who is overly successful or prosperous in their eyes, their innate jealousy takes over and they become obsessed with hatred.

In reality, such feelings represent a lack of intelligence. Someone else’s success or failure has no bearing on our lives, so why waste our time thinking about them? This is very easy to understand yet we see that feelings of schadenfreude are very common. The only way to break free of this jealousy is through the acquisition of knowledge, which then leads to intelligence. Empathy is a virtue and a quality possessed by the wise. A high class person has empathy for all living entities, regardless of their disposition.

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste].” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.18)

Valmiki writing the Ramayana Maharishi Valmiki, the great poet and devotee of God, once gave a description of the qualities of a devotee of God, and he made sure to include this idea of viewing every living entity equally. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended to earth in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago. A pious prince and an excellent warrior, Lord Rama was loved and adored by all the citizens of Ayodhya, the town where He lived as the eldest son of the king, Maharaja Dashratha. As part of the Lord’s pastimes, He spent fourteen years as an exile from the kingdom, roaming the forest with His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. Early on in their journey, the trio stopped at the hermitage of Valmiki. Lord Rama asked the sage if he knew of a good place where they could set up camp. Valmiki, the author of the original Ramayana (historical account of Lord Rama’s life), cleverly answered the Lord by describing the qualities of a devotee, and thereby telling the group to remain in the hearts of such devotees, for that would be their very home. This conversation is detailed in the Ramayana of Tulsidas, known as the Ramacharitamanasa.

“(Those) who rejoice to see another’s prosperity and are sore distressed at their misfortune; to whom, O Rama, You are dear as their own lives, in their hearts be Your blessed abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa)

From this description we see that a devotee automatically possesses the quality of empathy that is sorely needed in today’s society.

How does one become a devotee? In the depths of our hearts, we are all devotees of Krishna, but we have forgotten Him due to our contact with material nature. As soon as we take birth from the womb of our mother, the illusory energy known as maya clouds our judgment and causes us to forget the experiences of our previous lives. As spirit souls, we all originally had a loving relationship with the Supreme Lord Krishna, but due to our desire for fruitive activity, we have fallen into this material world. Here we are clouded by the concepts of “I” and “mine”, leading us to think that we are the doers responsible for the fruits of our labor. Thinking ourselves to be God, we have forgotten about Krishna, which has caused us to develop bad traits. Instead of engaging in pious activities, we have become attached to the sinful ways of intoxication and gambling. Eating, sleeping, mating, and defending are the activities of animals, and we humans have started to imitate them by our overindulgence in eating and our excessive drinking. This type of sinful activity is just an artificial way of escaping our senses. It is a sign that we are not happy in our present condition, otherwise we would have no need to take up things that we know aren’t good for us. Instead of trying to escape our senses, we need to purify them.

Sita Devi Bhakti yoga, or devotional service, is the process by which one can rekindle one’s relationship with God. In previous ages, other processes of self-realization were recommended such as sacrifice, deity worship, and the performance of rigid austerities. However, in this age, the recommended method is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. God has many different names depending on His activities, as well as time and circumstance, but Krishna is the original name. Anyone can chant it at anytime, to themselves, or with others, for there are no hard and fast rules to chanting. There is no difference between God and His name, so when we are chanting, we are remembering and loving God at the same time. By fixing our minds on Him, we gradually lose our taste for sinful activity. We slowly develop the qualities of a devotee, which means we automatically become first class citizens.

“You shall not witness anything disagreeable there. For me, you shall not experience any sorrow, nor shall I be a burden to you. Do take me with you.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 30)

When Lord Rama was given the order to leave the kingdom and live in the forest as an exile, He first informed Sita of the news. He requested her to remain in the kingdom, for He didn’t want her to be subjected to the dangers and hardships associated with forest life. Sita, however, had her mind set on going. She argued vigorously with her husband to allow her to come along. The above referenced quote was part of her plea. A wife is to be given protection at all times by the husband, so declare the Vedas. Lord Rama thought she would be better protected if she stayed at home where she would be amongst family and friends. Sita knew her husband felt this way, so she made it a point to let Him know that she would not be a burden to Him. In some marriages, wives can be very demanding of their husbands, always asking them for things and complaining about how they are treated. Sita was just the opposite. Being the pure devotee of God, she was always looking after His welfare. She never for a second wanted to be an imposition on Rama. She wanted to accompany Him in order that she may serve the Lord and make His exile more pleasant.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest The lesson to be learned here is that we too shouldn’t be a burden on God. Krishna can accommodate any and all requests, but it is more beneficial to us to avoid bothering Him with unnecessary things. Instead of asking for things, we should give to Him by offering our food, prayers, and love. Sita Devi was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. Lord Narayana, Krishna’s four-handed form, is often pictured lying down on the Causal Ocean where He is being served by Goddess Lakshmi. It is often noted that devotees of Lord Narayana, or Vishnu, usually live a meager lifestyle and are poor, whereas the Lord Himself is depicted as being very opulent. This is the case due to the wish of the devotees. Instead of taking credit themselves, devotees prefer God to have all the glory, fame, and opulence. Devotees only ask for one thing…that they may always think of the Lord. This was also stated by Valmiki in the Ramacharitamanasa.

“He who never asks for anything but is devoted to you with a simple, spontaneous devotion – in his heart abide forever, for that is your very home.” (Maharishi Valmiki, Ramacharitamanasa)

One of Krishna’s names is Madhava, meaning the “husband of the goddess of fortune.” Rama is Sita’s husband in the material and spiritual worlds. As Goddess Lakshmi, Sita is known for providing wealth to those with whom she is pleased. If we are fortunate enough to be blessed with wealth and good fortune, we should follow Sita’s lead and use it for the right purpose…service to Krishna. Money is not a bad thing if we use it to construct temples for the Lord, for buying nice flowers that can be offered to Him, or other similar things. The possibilities are endless. “Worshipping and serving My devotee is as good as worshipping Me” is the declaration made by Krishna. By using our wealth in this way, we will please Sita Devi, which means that God will simultaneously be pleased.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana in the forest As events would play out, the group would fall on hard times. While ranging the forest, Sita would be kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. This caused Rama great grief, but we shouldn’t mistakenly blame Sita for this. These events were all preordained, for the Lord needed an excuse to kill Ravana and return the world to a peaceful condition. God never views the needs of devotees as an imposition. He takes it upon Himself to rescue them from any and all precarious conditions, as He did with Sita when she was taken captive by Ravana. Knowing that God is so nice, instead of falling prey to the base feelings of envy, let us elevate ourselves to the platform of love of Godhead.

Friday, December 18, 2009

We Get What We Want

Radha Krishna “When freed from all material affection, the soul, giving up the gross and subtle material bodies, can attain the spiritual sky in his original spiritual body and engage in transcendental loving service to the Lord in Vaikunthaloka or Krishnaloka.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 2.91-92 Purport)

This is the definition of mukti, or liberation. We living entities are currently in a conditioned state, forced to suffer the miseries of material life, but this is actually not our original nature. Our home is in the spiritual sky with God.

Conditional life means being trapped in a material body. Our identity doesn’t come from the attributes of our body, for our features are constantly changing. When we first took birth, we were tiny infants, helpless and completely dependent on our parents. As we grew older, our bodies went through various transformations. Throughout this time, our identity remained the same. This is because identity comes from the atma, or spirit soul. The body is just a covering that gets created and then ultimately destroyed. The soul never dies.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Transmigration of the soul The material world is governed by guna and karma. Gunas are qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Originally the spirit soul, being part and parcel of God, resided in the spiritual sky, but upon entering the material world, it accepted a material body possessing gunas. Each living entity possess the three qualities of material nature in varying degrees, thus we see so many different species, up to 8,400,000 varieties. Along with guna, the material world is also governed by karma, or fruitive work. The living entity is constantly working, even if it doesn’t know it. We may be studying in school or going to the office every day, or even simply sitting at home and doing nothing. This is all fruitive activity (karma), meaning we desire some material benefit out of performing such work. In science, there is a law that states that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. This is essentially how karma works. As soon as we do anything for some personal benefit, there is a resultant consequence, either good or bad. Everyone possesses gunas, and everyone is accumulating karma. Some person may be a wealthy businessman, while another person may be a simple laborer, but they are both performing fruitive activity. Karma repeats itself in a cycle. Each day, the same actions are being performed, though through the power of maya, we fail to recognize this repetitious pattern.

At the time of death, our karma determines what type of body we receive in the next life:

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

Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield Though we may lament over the event of death, it is actually nothing more than the changing of bodies. Just as our current body has changed throughout our lifetime, at the time of death, when our current body ceases to be useful to us, we discard it and get a new one. This is actually the mercy of God. Since we want to enjoy material nature, He gives us every facility to do so. If our bodies become old and decrepit, He gives us a new body to allow for a fresh start in our pursuit of happiness.

The soul never dies. It is completely spiritual in nature, so it is not subject to creation and destruction like the gross material body.

“It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.25)

At the time of death, our desires and the work we’ve previously performed determine what type of body we get in the next life. For example, it is the widely accepted belief of people of faith around the world that if one is pious in their current life, they will ascend to heaven after death. In a similar manner, sinful people will go to hell. The Vedic definition is in line with this, except the Vedas give even more details of just how long one resides in heaven or hell. Heaven and hell certainly do exist, but they are just planets in the material world. Residence there is not permanent. For every pious action we perform, we accumulate merits, and similarly, for every impious action we perform (acts contrary to the injunctions of the scriptures), we accumulate demerits. To ere is human, so everyone accumulates both merits and demerits. Depending on which one is greater, one goes to heaven or hell after death.

“He who enjoys first the fruits of his good deeds must afterwards suffer in hell. He, on the other hand, who first endures hell, must afterwards enjoy the celestial region. He whose sinful deeds are many enjoys the celestial region first. It is for this, O king, that desirous of doing you good, I caused you to be sent for having a view of hell.” (Lord Indra speaking to Yudhishthira, Mahabharata, Svargarohanika Parva)

Yudhishthira In the Mahabharata, there is a famous scene at the end where King Yudhishthira ascends to heaven after death, and he is surprised to see his cousin Duryodhana there. Yudhishthira lived a very pious life, for he was the son of Dharmaraja, the god of justice. On the other hand, Duryodhana was quite sinful. Yudhishthira couldn’t believe that Duryodhana was in heaven with him. It was then explained to Yudhishthira that if a person is more sinful than they are pious, they will first reside in heaven after death, since their residence there will not last for very long. Duryodhana had died while fighting nobly on the battlefield, which meant ascension to heaven was guaranteed for him. Yudhishthira and his family went to hell for a very short period of time, eventually ascending to the spiritual planets. They were great devotees of Lord Krishna, so they were actually above karma. Still, this example illustrates the effects of pious and sinful deeds. Each person’s merits and demerits eventually expire, and they will then have to come back to the material world and go through the cycle of birth and death all over again.

Our present bodies are the result of our past karma. We see that certain people are born with special powers or gifts that are out of the ordinary. Tennis star Roger Federer took up the game when he was very young. For this reason, he has grown up to be one of the greatest tennis players to ever play the game. Therefore, It must be concluded that his previous karma allowed him to receive his present body. In the same fashion, we see that many living entities don’t even make it out of the womb, for they are killed through the abortion process. It must be understood that they were quite sinful in their previous lives, thus they have to suffer again and again.

While this cycle of birth and death repeats itself for those engaged in karma, there is a way out, which is known as mukti, or liberation.

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

Mukti means reaching the end of the line because it is the state where one becomes immune to the effects of guna and karma. How does accomplish this? By becoming Krishna, or God, conscious. There are many different kinds of religions, but the ultimate purpose is for one to elevate themselves to the stage where they know and love God. According to the Vedas, the concept of religion is referred to as sanatana dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning or end, and dharma is one’s occupational duty. Real religion actually means the eternal occupation of man, not just a blind faith. That eternal occupation is the loving service to Lord Krishna. The true nature of the soul is to be a servant of God. While fruitive activity is on the material platform, bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, is completely immune to the effects of karma. If ones works in Krishna’s interests, or if one humbly offers service to one of His faithful servants (the devotees or a spiritual master), then karma can’t touch them. And why should it? Karma only exists to facilitate personal material desires. It has nothing to do with Krishna. When the Lord personally appears on earth, some mistakenly believe that He becomes subject to guna and karma, but this is not the case.

“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, Bg. 9.11)

Lord Krishna Krishna is the Supreme Controller, ishvara, so He is not subject to any laws of the material world. In a similar manner, if we performed service for Him, connecting with Him at all times, then we too become immune to karma. At the time of death, we are immediately transported to the spiritual sky where we can associate directly with Krishna.

The spiritual world is a place of pure happiness. God is described as having a body full of knowledge and bliss, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. There are millions upon millions of planets in the universe, and in order to reside on any one of them, one requires a suitable body. For example, human beings can’t survive in the water, and fish can’t survive on land. This is due to differences between the two body types. When we go to the spiritual world, we are given a body just like Krishna’s. Residence in the spiritual realm means a place full of bliss and knowledge. There is no hankering or lamenting when residing in Krishnaloka or Vaikunthaloka.

As far as the difference between the two spiritual realms, Krishnaloka is where Krishna Himself resides. The analogy of a lit candle is given to illustrate this point. Krishna is the original candle, yet He personally expands Himself as avataras which are lit from the original candle. While each candle is the same in power, there is still an original candle, which is Krishna. Vaikunthaloka is the realm where all of Krishna’s expansions such as Lord Narayana, Rama, Narasimha, etc., come from. God is so kind that He lets us associate with Him in the manner that we choose. These transcendental mellows, or rasas, allow each person to love God in a way that gives them the most pleasure.

Dancing with Krishna One simply has to want to go to Krishna’s world, and that, in itself, will be enough to get them there. Sincerity and devotion are what is required. God gives us what we want. If we desire the repetitious cycle of hankering, lamenting, birth, and death, He will gladly allow us to continue. He doesn’t force anyone to love Him. The love must come from us. If we practice to love Him in this life, we will surely return back to home, back to Godhead.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Attachment to Family

Lord Krishna “The Supreme Personality of Godhead is situated in pure goodness. He illuminates the entire universe and bestows all benedictions upon His devotees…” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.7.14)

Homesickness is the feeling of distress that comes from being away from one’s home for any extended period of time. We all have some sort of attachment to the place where we live and spend most of our time. Being away from such a place can bring about feelings of separation anxiety. Our home is where we feel safest and most comfortable since we are used to its surroundings. It is the center of our family life.

Our mother and father are two people we have great affection for. They are our caretakers and friends from the very beginning of our lives. One doesn’t have to learn how to love their parents, for it is a feeling that comes naturally. Our parents love us more than anybody else since they dedicate their lives to securing our well-being. Parents set aside their own interests for their children’s. For any person, it is very important to feel loved and cared for. According to Vedic philosophy, this material world is a place where miseries are guaranteed for everyone. The four primary miseries are birth, death, old age, and disease. At one point or another, we all suffer through times of chaos, murkiness, despair, tumult, humiliation, etc., so it is nice to have our family around to act as a support system.

Krishna and Balarama with Mother Yashoda Unfortunately, attachment to family and home can be detrimental if such an attachment hinders our spiritual growth. In the Shrimad Bhagavatam, it is said that one shouldn’t be a father, spiritual master, or leader unless they can deliver their dependents from the repeated cycle of birth and death. The living entities are all spirit souls in their original constitutional position, but they are forced to accept material bodies due to their desires, or karma. If one still has material desires at the time of death, then nature willingly obliges and gives another body in the form of a new life. In this way, birth and death are always repeating. The parents’ duty is to raise children that will hopefully be liberated from this cycle. This liberation can be secured by training the children in the traditions of Vedic culture with the aim of making devotees out of them. If one is taught to become attached to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, then they will surely think of Him at the time of death. By achieving such a consciousness, the soul is guaranteed to never take birth in the material world again.

“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.7)

So if we are fortunate enough to have parents that imbibe us with this spiritual knowledge, having attachment to our family is most beneficial. However, if our family is completely engrossed in material sense gratification, then too much attachment to them can be very detrimental. The Shrimad Bhagavatam gives us an example of such a case. A long time ago there was a great king by the name of Bharata Maharaja who was very pious. After performing his kingly duties, he took to a life of asceticism. Performing austerities, he focused all his time and energy on thinking of God. However, one day he came across a deer and became very attached to it. The deer became the focus of his life, so much so that at the time of his death, Bharata Maharaja could only think of the deer’s welfare. Due to this consciousness, he was forced to take birth as a deer in his next life. Eventually he would be successful in elevating himself to the platform of God consciousness, but the lesson to be learned is that we should not be overly attached to our loved ones.

In the case of Sita Devi, her attachment to her husband proved to be most beneficial, for she was married to God Himself in the form of Lord Rama. Lord Krishna expands Himself into human form from time to time when there is an increase in the practice of adharma, or irreligion.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)

Marriage of Sita and Rama Many thousands of years ago, there was an evil Rakshasa demon named Ravana who was rising to power. All the brahmanas, or priestly class of men, were afraid of him since Ravana was dedicated to terrorizing them by disturbing their sacrifices and feasting off their flesh after killing them. For this reason, Lord Krishna personally appeared on earth in human form as Lord Rama. The Lord was an expert archer born in the kshatriya, or warrior, race. For His marriage, Rama won the hand of the beautiful princess of Videha. Janaki, better known as Sita Devi, was the daughter of Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila. She was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, God’s consort in the spiritual world. The couple was married and living happily in the kingdom of Ayodhya, which was ruled by Maharaja Dashratha, Rama’s father. The couple’s marriage was tested on one specific occasion. Due to unforeseen events, Dashratha was one day forced to order his favorite and eldest son, Rama, to exit the kingdom and spend fourteen years as a recluse in the forest. Lord Rama had no problem with such a request since He was the ultimate renunciate. We all possess the quality of renunciation in varying degrees, but God exhibits this quality to the fullest extent. He is atmarama, meaning He is self-satisfied. He has no need for anything because He is complete in Himself. Ready to pack up and head for the forest, the Lord had one matter to take care of beforehand; telling His wife Sita of what had transpired. In telling her, the Lord requested Sita to remain in the kingdom and faithfully serve the royal family. He wanted to protect her from the dangers of the forest, for it was no place for a woman. The forest had none of the scented roads that existed in Ayodhya. One would have to tread on a hard ground filled with thorns and prickly grass along the way. For eating, one would have to survive on simple fruits and roots.

“I shall never think of my father, mother, or my home; I shall enjoy fruits and flowers growing in various seasons.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 30)

The conditions of the forest stood in stark contrast to those that existed in Ayodhya. Sita, however, had no problem giving up the regal life. She was determined to go with her husband, even if it meant going against His wishes. She protested the Lord’s request very firmly, and eventually her arguments won Him over. The above referenced quote unequivocally states that her prime attachment was to Lord Rama and not to her parents or home. Sita’s parents were highly pious individuals who taught her the rules of dharma from her childhood. Having an attachment to them wouldn’t be a bad thing at all. However, Sita was the greatest devotee of God, so her attachments were to Him. For devotees, their home is always with God. Be it temple, a house, or even the work place, if God is worshipped, talked about, and respected, then the devotee will feel at home. Bhaktas, or devotees, always keep Krishna in their hearts, thus they never feel homesick.

Sita and Rama Through her thoughts, words, and deeds, Sita Devi proved to be an exemplary devotee. She is the mother of the universe, so we should all accept her as our original mother. Just as we love and respect our own parents, we should give the greatest deference to Sita’s teachings. We should always keep God with us and have an attachment to Him. This is the knowledge she wished to impart on future generations. By engaging in any of the nine processes of devotional service (hearing, chanting, remember, worshiping, serving the louts feet of the Lord, offering prayers, carry out the Lord’s orders, becoming friends with God, and surrendering everything to the Lord), we can gradually develop our attachment for Krishna. Our relationship with God transcends any relationship we may have in this material world. In fact, loving Krishna will actually make us love our friends and family even more. Let us all take up the process of devotional service by chanting the holy names of the Lord. By so doing, we can go back to our real home after this life, back to Godhead.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


Battlefield of Kurukshetra “The perfection of human life is based on knowledge and renunciation, but it is very difficult to attempt to reach the stage of knowledge and renunciation while in family life. Krishna conscious persons therefore take shelter of the association of devotees or sanctified places of pilgrimage.” (Prayers of the personified Vedas, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

As a vacation idea, travelling to an exotic destination is very popular. Aside from seeing great landmarks and various wonders of the world, people especially enjoy visiting the homes of famous personalities. Seeing the ground that famous people walked on, and touring the homes where people lived, immediately reminds us of that famous person and takes us back into the past. These trips can bring about pleasurable feelings since we can be reminded of the things and people that we love.

The day-to-day grind can get to anyone. Whether we are in the workplace or studying, daily life can quickly become monotonous. Not only do the days repeat themselves, but months and years go by where we end up doing the exact same things all the time. It’s nice to break out of the routine every once in a while and do something different. Travelling is a way to accomplish this. The summer season is a popular time to take family vacations. The kids are off from school for a few months, so families like to go on road trips together, visiting famous sites around the country and the world. Disneyland, Disneyworld, the Grand Canyon, and Niagara Falls are some of the popular tourist destinations in North America.

Graceland is another popular tourist site. The home of the King, Elvis Presley, fans flock there in droves to see everything related to him. The homes of America’s Founding Fathers are another popular destination for tourists and those taking school field trips. People visit Monticello and Mount Vernon to see the homes of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, two of America’s early presidents. Visitors can see how these great men, and the other people of their time, lived over two hundred years ago. These places are nice to visit because it puts one in a nostalgic mindset, reminding them of the accomplishments of their heroes.

Lord Krishna Devotees of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, also enjoy touring, but of a slightly different nature. Instead of visiting famous landmarks and world wonders, devotees flock by the millions each year to tirthas, or holy places of pilgrimage. Lord Krishna is so kind to His devotees that He comes to earth from time to time to enact pastimes for their benefit. Though His actual lila may have occurred thousands or even millions of years ago, the Lord’s activities are all well documented in the voluminous works of Vyasadeva and other great Vedic authors. Not only do we know where Krishna enacted many such glorious pastimes, but we often know the exact day, month, and year in which they took place. The Vedic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, so Vedic authors made it a point to describe the position of the moon on specific days of interest.

Though God has many many incarnations, too many to count actually, major texts such as the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam provide us the list of incarnations which are deemed noteworthy. Lord Rama was one such incarnation, famous throughout the world even to this day. Born as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya, Rama enacted many wonderful pastimes during the Treta Yuga. His life story is the subject of what is probably the oldest book in the world, the Valmiki Ramayana.

One major event in Rama’s life was His banishment to the forest for fourteen years by Dashratha. This order greatly saddened all of the citizens of Ayodhya, and even Dashratha, but Rama firmly adhered to His father’s wishes. Taking His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana with Him, Rama embarked for the forest. Rama had two other younger brothers, Bharata and Shatrughna, who were both away when the exile order was given. Upon returning to the kingdom, Bharata was informed of the news that Rama had left the kingdom and that Dashratha had died due to separation from Rama. Bharata immediately set out for the forest to look for Rama and to persuade Him to return to rule the kingdom.

“This is the bed of my brother; on this hard spot did he turn his lovely limbs, and this grass was pressed by them. I think that the graceful Sita adorned with ornaments slept in this bed, for here and there are scattered particles of gold. It is clear that Sita had spread her sheet at this spot, hence it is that fibers of silk are discoverable here.” (Bharata speaking to his mothers, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 88)

In the above referenced statement, Bharata is describing the sleeping grounds of Rama and His wife, found in the woods inhabited by the Nishadas, headed by their chief, Guha. Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita had stayed with Guha early on in their trip, so Bharata questioned Guha as to their whereabouts. Though a forest dweller considered low-born and uncivilized, Guha was a great devotee who had the honor of personally hosting Lord Rama and His group. Bharata wanted to hear all about the group’s stay, so Guha promptly filled him in on what had transpired. He showed Bharata the area where Rama and Sita had slept during the night. One may wonder as to where Lakshmana slept. The answer is that he didn’t really. Such a kind and loving younger brother, Lakshmana kept vigil during the nighttime while Sita and Rama would sleep. The exile order applied only to Rama, but both Sita and Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Him, so great was their love for Him.

Lord Rama meeting Bharata in the forest Bharata, along with Shatrughna, also loved Rama greatly, so he took great pleasure and pain in seeing where Rama and Sita slept. The pain arose from the fact that his brother had to sleep in such a place. As the eldest son of the king, both Sita and Rama were accustomed to the royal life.

“…Rama used to be awakened with vocal and instrumental music, the tinkling of elegant ornaments, and the peals of goodly mrdangas…” (Bharata speaking to his mothers, Vm, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 88)

At the same time, Bharata enjoyed visiting this site because he was immediately reminded of Rama. This is the purpose of a tirtha. Many great scholars ponder the meaning of life, wondering why we are here and what our purpose is. Such exercising of the brain isn’t necessary since the Vedas already fill us in on the meaning of life. The material world was created as a place for spirit souls to enjoy sense gratification. This enjoyment is of a temporary nature since one has to eventually give up their body at the time of death. This temporary enjoyment is meant for the animal species, and not for the human beings. The human form of life represents the opportunity to know and understand God. That knowledge allows us to put a permanent end to the repeated cycle of birth and death:

“After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection. From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.15-16)

So the point of life is to think about Krishna, or God, at the time of death. How do we make sure this happens? The easiest way is to start thinking about Him today. The ways of karma remain a mystery to us, thus we never know when death may come. If one practices devotional service today, they are more than likely to think of God at the time of death.

“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.” (Bg. 8.8)

There are many ways to practice thinking of God. Sravanam and kirtanam, hearing and chanting, are the easiest and most effective ways. Remembering is another process of devotional service. This remembering of God is what occurs when we visit pilgrimage sites. Lord Rama Himself visited many places in India which are now considered to be holy such as Chitrakut, Ayodhya, and the forests of Kishkindha and Dandaka. Mathura, Vrindavana, and Dvaraka are some of the holy cities related to Lord Krishna. Even the battlefield of Kurukshetra, the site of the famous Bharata War, is considered a holy pilgrimage site. There are these and many other famous cities and pilgrimage sites in India relating to all the activities of Krishna and His various incarnations.

Lord Krishna in Vrindavana Visiting a tirtha is a great way to spend a vacation. Many of us like to travel as it is, so why not get a spiritual benefit out of doing something that we already like? That is the secret behind devotional service. One doesn’t have to artificially renounce their current way of life and go live in a secluded place, practicing various breathing exercises and sitting postures. We simply have to take activities that we already perform and find a way to dovetail them with service to Krishna. Many great historical personalities extensively toured India, visiting the major holy sites. Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana bathed in holy rivers and visited famous saints during their fourteen year exile. In the Mahabharata, we see that Vidura and Lord Balarama also took similar trips. This type of devotional service is very authorized. Anything we can do that reminds us of God, His beautiful form, and His kindness to His devotees, will always benefit us in the end.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Serving the Devotee

Sita and Rama in the forest “Fruits, roots, and leaves which you will bring yourself and give me, be they great or small in quantity, shall be to me like nectar.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 30)

Who doesn’t love getting gifts? Whether it’s the latest video game, or that big screen television we had our eye on, the joy from getting a nice gift from a friend or loved one is one of the best feelings in life. A gift received unexpectedly can brighten our day. It shows that someone else cares about us.

In general, gifts are given on special occasions. Weddings, anniversaries, birthdays, baby showers, and holidays like Christmas and Hanukah, are the usual times that gifts are exchanged. Not everyone views gift giving as a pleasurable experience however. To many, holidays and special occasions bring about feelings of anxiety due to the expectation of receiving presents. For anniversaries, husbands and wives toil over the right gift to get their spouse. For the Valentine’s Day holiday, many men become obstinate and refuse to get something for their wife or girlfriend because of the obligation involved.

In one sense, these feelings are justifiable. Gifts given out of obligation or pressure from a loved one are of the lower class variety. It is a much more beneficial and pleasurable experience to buy something for someone out of feelings of love. Loving someone means wanting more for that person than you want for yourself. We love our friends and family so much that we think to ourselves, “Oh, so and so will surely like this. If I buy this for them, it is sure to make them happy. They love me so much, why wouldn’t I want to make them happy?” This type of gift giving is the highest class because it is done simply to bring joy to the other person. It is done without expectation of anything in return.

There are some people to whom the quality of the gift received is very important. These people are generally very attached to their material possessions, and never being satisfied in life, they crave more and more things. When they are given gifts, they evaluate them and take stock against what their current wants are. If the gift isn’t up to par, they won’t hesitate to let the giver know just how rotten the gift is. Most people, however, don’t really care what kind of gifts they receive. The concept of “it’s the thought that counts” holds true in these situations. If something is given out of love, we gladly receive it, even if it is something we have no use for. It is very common for young children to make drawings in school and then give it to their parents as a gift. Since they are young and inexperienced, children often produce drawings that are of very low artistic quality. However, parents cherish these types of gifts because their children give it to them out of pure love. A child’s love is innocent and untainted, which makes the gift even more special.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead according to the Vedas, appeared many thousands of years ago on earth in the form of Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. A handsome, well-built, and pious man, Lord Rama brought joy and happiness to all He met. His father was the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, and Rama was the king’s most precious possession. Thinking himself to be most blessed, the king one day decided it was time to hand over the kingdom to Rama. On the day set for His coronation, Dashratha was forced to change plans due to requests made by his youngest wife, Kaikeyi. Instead of ascending the throne, Lord Rama was ordered to live in the forest as an exile for fourteen years, subsisting on nothing but fruits and roots, and having no claim to the kingdom. Dashratha had made a promise to Kaikeyi many years prior, so he was compelled to follow through on them. Lord Rama knew this, so He gladly accepted the order. God is always dedicated to His devotees, and in Dashratha, the Lord saw great devotion and love, so He committed Himself to maintaining His father’s reputation and good standing in the world.

At the time, Lord Rama was married to Sita Devi, the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. According to information found in the Vedas, there is only one God, but He expands Himself into different forms to manage affairs on different spiritual planets. Lakshmi is one of the Lord’s pleasure potency expansions, for she is always serving the lotus feet of Lord Narayana. Narayana is one of Krishna’s forms, having four hands and living on the causal ocean. When God Himself comes to earth, His closest associates come with Him, and it was for this reason that Sita appeared on earth. She played the role of God’s wife, being completely dedicated to Him. At the time of the proposed exile, Sita and Rama had been enjoying married life for several years. Being the chaste and devoted wife that she was, Sita was devastated not from hearing the news of her husband’s exile, but on hearing her husband’s reaction to it. Lord Rama loved His wife very much and the Vedic injunctions prescribe that man’s duty is to always provide protection to women. In her youth, a girl is to be protected by her father, in adulthood by her husband, and in old age by her eldest son. This system protects women from being exploited by other men. The modern day system of the free intermingling between men and women isn’t approved of by the scriptures.

Rama Darbar So Lord Rama, wanting to protect His wife, requested her to remain in the kingdom for the duration of the exile period. The forest was a very dangerous place, where only the wild animals and beasts would live. Amongst humans, only those who had their senses completely under control, the yogis, would ever think of residing in the woods. Many of them were already living there at the time in hermitages they had set up. They were brahmanas, the priestly class of men, so they lived a very meager lifestyle. They concentrated all their efforts on God realization. At the time, there were a great many disturbances in the forest due to the presence of Rakshasas. The Rakshasas were evil demons committed to dastardly activities and who fed off human flesh. Since Rakshasas were committed to atheism, the brahmanas were seen as their biggest threat. Demons are always threatened by godly people, for the saintly class advises people to avoid unrestricted sense gratification. Brahmanas are always worshiping the Supreme Lord, which has a trickle-down effect on the rest of society. If Brahmanas are regularly performing their duties and offering fire sacrifices to the Lord, then the demigods are happy, which in turns makes the rest of society happy. The Rakshasas were committed to chaos and to ruling the world by themselves. They were the greatest enemies of the demigods. By disrupting the sacrifices of the great sages, they were attacking the core of their opposition. This was the main reason for the Lord’s advent. The most powerful Rakshasa at the time, the ten-headed Ravana, was steadily gaining strength and power. All the demigods feared him, for Ravana had secured several power-augmenting boons from Lords Brahma and Shiva. Only the Supreme Lord Vishnu, in the form of a human, could kill him.

Thus God came to earth as Lord Rama. At the time of the exile order, the Lord wanted to keep Sita away from all the dangers lurking in the forest. She, however, insisted on going. Life without God was not a life worth living in her eyes. She put forth a series of arguments in favor of her going, which were all cogent and well grounded in the scriptures. Lord Rama still refused to allow her to come, so Sita then tried to allay any worries her husband might have had about her living in the forest. The above mentioned quote references her feelings regarding the type of food she would expect to eat in the forest. Though remaining in the kingdom would mean she would have access to the regal life, to Sita, living with Rama in the forest would be more pleasing. It didn’t matter what kind of food she would eat because it would be offered to her with love from her husband, who was God Himself. Fruits and roots that are found in the forest aren’t very appealing to most, but for Sita, it would be regarded as the highest quality gourmet meal. This food would be the most precious since it was blessed by the Lord.

Krishna eating food offered by Draupadi Food given to us from God is known as prasadam. Meaning the Lord’s mercy, prasadam has God’s blessing since He has given it to us out of His kindness. In general, prasadam usually refers to food, flowers, and other things first offered to the Lord’s deity. God isn’t always with us in His personal form, but He is kind enough to appear in the form of a deity. Through the process of archanam, or deity worship, one can have a vision of God and offer prayers to Him, for His deity is considered as good as the Lord Himself. When food is prepared out of love and offered to the deity first, the remnants of what remains is known as prasadam. Unlike us, God doesn’t need to eat with his mouth. He can eat with His eyes directly from His statue form. He is so nice that after eating, He leaves everything for us to partake in. It is recommended that prasadam be distributed to others due to its spiritual qualities.

God is the kindest person, and He will gladly accept anything given to Him out of love and devotion. In India, most Hindu families usually offer various types of sweets made of milk to the Lord. However, as stated in the Bhagavad-gita, He accepts any fruit, flower, or water offered to Him 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, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

Radha Krishna God is so pleased to be served by His devotees, but He actually derives more pleasure by turning the tables and serving the devotees Himself. This was the case with Sita Devi. Her devotion was on such a high level, that it was Lord Rama who was offering her food to eat. It is no wonder that she refused to live without Him, for being blessed by the Lord is the greatest benediction anyone could ask for. Lord Rama knew how pure Sita’s love was, and it was for this reason that He would offer service to her. In the end, Sita’s affection won the Lord over. May we always remember Sita Devi’s pure love and devotion, and may we honor her by taking up devotional service to God. If we give Krishna the gift of our unalloyed love and adoration, He is sure to bless us with His mercy.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Tidings Of Comfort And Joy

Radha Krishna “Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.14)

Christmas is generally viewed as a festive occasion around the world. It is a time for gift-giving, tree decorating, parties, and all around good fun. For many people, it is their favorite time of the year.

Christmas is a religious holiday celebrating the birth of Lord Jesus Christ, and for this reason it is viewed as a time for goodness, peace, and joy. Jesus wanted everyone to become God conscious and to realize the kingdom of God. Having a God conscious society would hopefully lead to peace on earth. Christmas reminds people of that hope, especially since Jesus is viewed as the savior to millions. The time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day is generally accepted as the Holiday Season since both Christmas and Hanukkah occur during that time. Christmas decorations are seen everywhere, with many people lining their houses with festive lights. Driving around suburban neighborhoods, one will see many houses well lit up in hopes of spreading the Christmas cheer to one and all.

Christmas The Holiday Seasons is also known for its movies. Since Christmas movies are so popular, film studios always come out with new films around this time of year. There are so many Christmas movies that many cable channels play then non-stop during the month of December. The movies generally all have the same theme: There is some problem within a family that poses a threat to the Christmas celebration. In the end, everything usually works out with the family being together on Christmas and everyone getting what they want from Santa Claus or from their other family members.

These movies are well-received because they are positive in nature. They stand in stark contrast to the realities of day-to-day life. What we know as normal life, going to school or work five days a week, the Vedas describe as karmic. Karma can have several definitions, but it primarily means work performed for a desired result. Not only is the work performed with an intended result, but the laws of nature dictate that such activity must have a consequence, either good or bad.

“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Bhagavad-gita, 8.3)

“By the law of karma a common man is perpetually entangled in repeated birth and death…If a karmi performs auspicious acts, he is elevated to the heavenly planets, and if he acts impiously, he is put into a hellish condition of life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)

Karmic activity also means competition. Everyone has different needs and wants, and these desires are bound to overlap. Collisions occur, which then result in fierce competition over the accumulation of wealth and possessions. The vaishyas, the mercantile class of men (businessmen), generally engage in this type of competition. On the surface, living on the platform of karma isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We all have to meet our bodily necessities after all. One is required to work in order to have money to pay for food, clothing, and housing. Yet since karma often falls in the mode of passion, when left unchecked, it can lead to lust and anger.

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

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna This lust can lead people away from honesty, turning them into misers. “I work so hard to accumulate my possessions, why should I be so generous to others? Let them work hard on their own. Also, if I give away my hard earned money, then all my work went to waste.” This sort of thinking is quite common, but it represents a lack of intelligence with respect to how nature works. All of our allotted possessions and fortunes come and go as a result of our actions performed in this life and in previous ones. The karma of others also plays a role.  In essence, we are not the doer.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Bg. 3.27)

We may work very hard to achieve something, but it doesn’t mean that we’ll get it. Other pieces of the puzzle must fall into place for things to work out. Keeping this mind, intelligent people refrain from hoarding their possessions. Knowing that God is the original proprietor of everything, one should not become too attached to their possessions.

Christmas is the one time of the year where even the biggest misers become charitable. That is the lesson of the famous short story, A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens. The main character in the story, Ebenezer Scrooge, starts off as a cheapskate, but slowly changes his ways during Christmas time after he is visited by three ghosts.

Santa Claus In the real world, the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future aren’t needed. Christmas is well received by most.  People spread good cheer during Christmas through many ways, with one of them being music. Christmas carols are very popular. These songs are upbeat and positive in nature. They glorify Jesus Christ and all other good things relating to Christmas time. Many radio stations play Christmas music non-stop during the Holiday Season. Famous recording artists also make albums dedicated to Christmas.

“Devotees of the Supreme Lord are twenty-four hours daily engaged in glorifying the pastimes of the Supreme Lord. Their hearts and souls are constantly submerged in Krishna, and they take pleasure in discussing Him with other devotees.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 10.9 Purport)

Pancha Tattva Christmas time is certainly nice, but why not spread good cheer throughout the year? This is the primary teaching of the Vedas, and more specifically, that of Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. The Vedas tell us that the original form of God is Lord Krishna. He is referred to as Bhagavan, meaning He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is a person just like us, except He is much greater. God is so great that He expands Himself into the hearts of every living entity as the Supersoul, or Paramatma. He further expands Himself into the all pervading impersonal energy known as Brahman. The source of Brahman and Paramatma is Krishna and that is what makes Him God.

“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.3)

The Lord personally appears on earth from time to time. On the surface, it seems that the Lord comes simply to annihilate the miscreants, but that is not the real reason. The good and the bad both rise and fall on their own as a result of the forces of nature. God also can send His authorized representatives to deal with the demons. The real reason purpose for His incarnating is to give protection to His devotees. If they are harassed and their devotional service interrupted, God personally comes to save them. In His incarnation as Lord Rama, Krishna gave protection to the great sages living in the forest at the time. The sages were being harassed by Rakshasa demons that would come and disrupt their sacrifices and eat their flesh after killing them. In the Dvapara Yuga, Lord Krishna personally appeared to deliver Devaki and Vasudeva from the clutches of the demon Kamsa.

Lord Chaitanya Around five hundred years ago, the Lord appeared in disguise in Navadivipa, India. Taking birth as Lord Chaitanya, God played the role of a perfect brahmana and preacher. Lord Chaitanya provided the same level of protection as Krishna and Rama, except His weapon was different. Lord Chaitanya roamed the streets in the dress of a mendicant, having a shaven head and saffron clothing. His weapon of choice was the holy name of God. He inspired all of India to take up chanting the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

There is no difference between God and His name. By loving repeating His name found in the maha-mantra, one comes into direct contact with the Lord. This contact with God serves as the highest form of protection for any living entity. Lord Chaitanya taught everyone to take up bhakti yoga all year round. Not merely a method for self-realization, bhakti yoga is the natural disposition of every living entity. Bhakti means love; a feeling which does not have to be taught. Loving God is the purest form of love there is.

To help people reawaken their love for God, Lord Chaitanya and His disciples would tour India and chant the maha-mantra wherever they would go. This is very similar to how people spread Christmas cheer, except it was done all the time. Some people view the loud chanting and the drumbeat of the mrdanga to be annoying, but such sounds are completely transcendental in nature when directed towards the Supreme Lord. This collective sound vibration, known as sankirtana, brings tidings of comfort and joy to any person, of any age, and of any religious persuasion.

God is great, so His glories should be discussed and praised all the time, in every month of the year. His name, quality, forms, and pastimes bring joy and bliss to all His devotees. By taking up devotional service and inducing others to chant, we can create the Christmas atmosphere all year round.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

A Beautiful Morning

Hanuman worshiping Sita Rama  “…Rama used to be awakened with vocal and instrumental music, the tinkling of elegant ornaments, and the peals of goodly mrdangas…” (Bharata speaking to his mothers, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 88)

This one passage describes the essence of deity worship, one of the central components of devotional service. God should be honored and praised at all times, especially in the morning. In His archa-vigraha form, the Lord bestows His mercy upon us by appearing before our very eyes. The same respect that was personally shown to Lord Rama thousands of years ago can also be shown to the deity by people today.

Bharata was one of Lord Rama’s younger brothers and was chosen to succeed their father, King Dashratha of Ayodhya, on the throne. Rama, being an incarnation of Lord Krishna, or God, was Dashratha’s eldest son and next in line for the throne, but due to the influence of Kaikeyi, Bharata’s mother, the system of precedent was overridden. Not only was Rama not chosen to be king, but He was also ordered to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. These events took place a long long time ago during the Treta Yuga. By exiting the kingdom, Rama was forced to life in the wilderness as a hermit with no connection to the royal kingdom whatsoever. Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, and Lakshmana, His younger brother, insisted on accompanying Him for the duration of His exile term. Bharata was away attending to family business when these events transpired. Upon returning to the kingdom, He came to find that Dashratha had died due to separation pains and that Rama was no longer in the kingdom.

Being a pure devotee, Bharata immediately set out for the forest to search for Rama and to beg Him to come back. A large group of people accompanied Bharata, including Shatrughna, the fourth brother, and Dashratha’s wives. One of the first stops Bharata made was at the camp of the Nishada chief, Guha. Nishadas were forest dwellers considered uncivilized, but since Guha was a devoted soul, Rama and His group stopped and took hospitality from him early on in their journey. In talking with Guha, Bharata was shown the very spot where Rama and Sita slept for one night, with Lakshmana standing guard. The above referenced quote is part of a series of lamentations from Bharata, describing his utter dismay upon viewing Rama’s sleeping ground. Rama, aside from being God Himself, was loved and adored by all the citizens of Ayodhya. He was always given the royal treatment while living in the kingdom, so Bharata was appalled to see that his elder brother and His wife had to endure such horrible conditions.

Hanuman performing deity worship Bharata gives a hint into how Rama was treated while living in Ayodhya. Upon waking up, Rama would be greeted with great pomp and pageantry. One can only imagine the religious merit the citizens of Ayodhya must have accumulated in their previous lives. They had the great fortune of being able to personally associate with God. They made the most of this opportunity by always glorifying Him, singing His praises, and treating Him like royalty. They may not have known of Rama’s divinity, but it didn’t matter. Just as the gopis of Vrindavana were always thinking of Krishna, the people of Ayodhya always thought of Rama.

“The Lord's original form is that of Shri Krishna, and Shri Krishna expands Himself into an unlimited number of forms, such as Baladeva, Rama, Narasimha and Varaha. All of these forms are one and the same Personality of Godhead. Similarly, the archa-vigraha worshiped in temples is also an expanded form of the Lord. By worshiping the archa-vigraha, one can at once approach the Lord, who accepts the service of a devotee by His omnipotent energy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Sri Isopanisad, 8)

Though God may not always be personally present before us, we still can worship Him in the same manner through the process of archanam, or deity worship. Not to be confused with idol worship, worshiping the Lord in His archa-vigraha form is as good as worshiping Him personally. God is the Supreme Absolute Truth, who is all-pervading and all-knowing. He can accept any form at will, so it is not such a wonderful feat for Him to appear in the form of a deity made out of stone or wood.

Just as Rama was always given a nice place to rest, so the deity should be treated in the same manner. Sometimes people display various pieces of artwork or they put up pictures that are important to them in their homes. While these decorations are certainly nice, the deity of the Lord should never be treated in this manner. God is the primary object of reverence and worship, so He should be treated as the most exalted guest in the home. There are many specific rules and regulations relating to deity worship, but the primary component is love and respect. Bharata loved Rama so much that just the thought of Rama having to sleep on the bare ground was like a dagger to Bharata’s heart. To avoid any transgressions, one should take great care to avoid offending the deity.

“I’m not a morning person” is a common phrase heard from people who have trouble waking up in the morning. As the law of inertia states, “A body at rest stays at rest”, the sleeping person has a hard time waking up in the morning after a long night’s rest. A new day means a return to the daily grind of work or school. Parents have an even tougher day ahead of them since they must make sure the kids wake up in time and are fed properly before going to school. The famous singer Shania Twain remarks in one of her songs, “If only I could sleep in, wake up on the weekend, oh what a dream that would be”. These are sentiments that many of us share. If we have something to do in the morning that excites us, then waking up becomes a lot easier. Herein lies one of the benefits of deity worship.

Nimai Nitai deities Serving God is the highest purpose in life since it is the eternal occupation of man to be Krishna or God conscious. This is the true meaning of sanatana-dharma. Waking up early and greeting the deity allows us to thank God for being in our life and blessing us with His presence. This human form of life is not easy to come by. Other animals such as cats, dogs, and hogs have no conception of God. Actually, they don’t even realize that they are cats or dogs. All they know is eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. It is the human being that has the brain capacity to understand that there is a higher power, a Supreme Controller, Ishvara, who is in charge of everything. The mission of human life is fulfilled by those who use their intelligence to know and love God. If we show respect to Krishna in the form of His deity, then we will automatically love and respect our fellow man.

The deity allows us to personally serve God. This is the reason that temples exist; they are a place where people can come and worship the Lord together. God has no limitations with His senses either. In His deity form, God can eat with His eyes, even though we can’t. Food that is offered to Him with love and devotion is accepted, and then turned into prasadam:

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

Sita Rama deitiesThe deity can eat, sleep, and even talk. One must have firm faith and devotion, and then gradually these secrets will be revealed. So if we have the opportunity, we should all pay homage to the Lord every morning by chanting His name and offering Him our prayers in the same manner the citizens of Ayodhya did.