Saturday, December 26, 2009

Detachment Through Attachment

Lord Rama with brothers, Sita, and Hanuman “One who executes his duties according to My injunctions and who follows this teaching faithfully, without envy, becomes free from the bondage of fruitive actions.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.31)

Lord Rama, God Himself, does everything for His brothers, who are His purest devotees. Wanting fame and fortune is a natural desire inherited by those who take birth in this material world, but the truly pious never covet such things. In His incarnation as Lord Rama, God set the highest standard of piety and etiquette. Being the supreme pure, the Lord never wants to be worshiped in a way that causes harm to others, nor does He want us to act in any way that unnecessarily causes pain and suffering to the innocent.

Modern day world leaders work very hard to acquire power, fortune, and fame. People elected to a high post can easily get caught up in the glamour and attention, and thus falsely think themselves to be more important than they actually are. We see this phenomenon with celebrities who take to philanthropy. Wealthy people often start their own charitable foundations which raise money through banquets, celebrity golf tournaments, and other such public events. Invariably the media will report on such activity by saying that “Such and such person raised such and such amounts of money for a particular cause.” The famous person is thereby lauded for performing charitable work. There is no doubt that philanthropy is a very noble activity, but what gets lost is the fact that the majority of charitable giving is done by the average citizen. One may host a fundraising dinner, but that host is not the one donating the majority of the funds, but rather all the people attending are the ones contributing. The organizer deserves praise, but the donors themselves are what make these events a success.

This concept also applies to political leaders. The President of the United States occupies arguably the most important position in the world, thus it is easy for him to start thinking he is responsible for everything that goes on. Presidents implement various policies and then declare that they have created such and such number of jobs. Taking this line of thinking even further, they declare that they will provide health care, food, jobs, etc. to all the people of the country. This kind of thinking may be well intentioned, but it overlooks many important factors. Businesses create jobs. Entrepreneurs, seeking an improved way of life, take a risk by starting a business. They then hire workers to help boost their productivity, which then leads to higher profits. A president or any other elected official has very little to do with this, yet they are the first ones to claim that they have created jobs. This flawed logic comes about from being too puffed up with power.

God is the source of everything God is actually the proprietor of everything. He is the original person, adi purusham. Everything in this world emanates from the spiritual world, janmady asya yatah. If anyone deserves credit for creating or destroying anything, it’s God and His energies.

“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)

Still, just by taking birth here, we automatically become subject to illusion and other defects. In order to counteract the effects of maya, God gave us the Vedas, the original scriptures for man. The Vedas advise us to live by dharma, or religious principles. By acting in a detached way, adhering to the duties prescribed to us, we can make spiritual advancement and immunize ourselves from the effects of false ego and pride. Lord Rama was a living example of how to adhere to the principles of dharma. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, incarnates on earth from time to time to reinstitute the principles of religion.

As Lord Rama, God appeared as a pious prince, born as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. In order to set a good example, the Lord arranged things in such a way that He was able to let everyone see how a pious person, especially a leader, should conduct themselves. Rama’s trademark quality was that He did everything for His friends, families, and well-wishers. He never did anything for Himself. This fact shouldn’t surprise us. The Vedas describe God as atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. He is in need of nothing. He is Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. Being satisfied in Himself, He has no need to be falsely puffed up, pounding His chest and showing off to people. Rather, He likes to glorify His devotees and make them happy. That is His main business when He appears on earth. The true definition of dharma means acting in accordance with God’s injunctions. Everything the Lord does is in line with dharma, even though certain actions may seem good or bad to us in the material sense.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest Lord Rama’s life is chronicled in many Vedic texts, with the primary account found in the Valmiki Ramayana. One of the major events in His life was His banishment to the forest by His father. Dashratha had promised one of his wives any two boons of her choosing, and she used these boons to send Rama to the forest and install Bharata, Rama’s younger brother, as the new king. The Lord had no desire for the throne, but He did have a desire to maintain His father’s good name. For this reason, He gladly agreed to go to the forest, taking His wife Sita Devi, and His younger brother Lakshmana with Him.

“I swear to you, O Lakshmana, that I wish for religiosity (dharma), sense gratification (kama), economic development (artha), and the earth itself in your interests alone. O Lakshmana, I swear by my weapon that it is for the maintenance and happiness of my brothers that I wish for the kingdom. O mild one, this earth herself is not difficult of being attained by me, but O Lakshmana, I do not through unrighteousness wish to possess myself of Shakra’s state. May fire reduce to ashes any happiness of mine that, O giver of honor, happens to be dissevered from Bharata, yourself, or Shatrughna.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 97)

Bharata was out of town when the events related to the exile unfolded. Upon hearing of what had happened, Bharata immediately set out for the forest to get Rama to come back and take over the throne. The rest of the citizens of Ayodhya used this opportunity to see Rama by following Bharata. Lakshmana, who was Rama’s great protector, upon seeing Bharata and his army coming from a distance, immediately became skeptical. He thought that maybe Bharata was coming to kill Rama so that the Lord wouldn’t threaten his claim to the throne. In the above referenced statement, Rama is trying pacify Lakshmana by telling him that Bharata would never act in such a way. Even if Bharata had come with hostile intentions, the Lord would still never want to harm his brother in any way. He would rather die than have any harm come to any of His brothers, be it Lakshmana, Bharata, or Shatrughna.

Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman fighting Ravana God and His powers are inconceivable, achintya. Yet from this behavior of Rama, we get a slight glimpse into His true nature. Love is the most powerful emotion in this material world, but an emotion even higher than that is the ecstasy that comes from love for God. This emotion is known as bhava, and it is unchecked. The material form of love is often checked by desire for reciprocation and validation. Love for God is completely pure, not tinged by any personal desire. In order for a relationship to be defined as loving, the love must go both ways. Bhava, pure love for God, works in the same way. God loves His devotees just as much as they love Him, maybe even more. The four sons of Dashratha were very close with one another. All the brothers viewed Rama as their deity. Rama knew this, so He openly declared that all His actions were performed as a sacrifice to them.

This is a key point. If God performs activities as a sacrifice for His devotees, shouldn’t we do the same for Him? This is the secret to life. By acting in our personal interest, or even for altruistic purposes such as charity and philanthropy, we still run into a wall eventually. Due to the repetitive nature of karmic activity, one can easily become bewildered by performing the same actions over and over again. The meaning of life is to become God conscious. One who thinks of God at the time of death, never takes birth again in the material world.

“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)

In order to be elevated to this consciousness, sacrifice is required. Every action we perform should be dedicated to God. That is the path of dharma. Lord Krishna Himself declares that one should act with detachment, not craving any fruitive results.

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

This is a nice concept in theory, but unless we apply it to our own lives, it is meaningless. Renunciation and acting with detachment aren’t easy things to implement. How can we become detached from sense gratification if we enjoy it so much? The easiest way to acquire detachment is by having attachment to God and His service. Lord Rama practiced detachment by only acting in His devotees’ interests. We can similarly show detachment by acting in God’s interest and the interests of His devotees.

Hanuman's attachment to Lord Rama This attachment for God actually already exists inside all of us. Due to our conditioned state, however, we have forgotten this love. It simply needs to be reawakened. This revival can occur only through the practice of bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Consisting of nine distinct process, one need only engage in one of them to achieve perfection. Chanting is the recommended method for this age. The maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, fosters attachment to God and His name, so one who chants this regularly will be performing the highest service for himself and his fellow man. By engaging in devotional service, we will automatically be detached from whatever material rewards we acquire, be it wealth or a high position of power. Since our only desire will be to serve God, covetousness will go away.

Friday, December 25, 2009


Hanuman - a humble servant of God “One who thinks himself lower than the grass, who is more tolerant than a tree, and who does not expect personal honor yet is always prepared to give all respect to others can very easily always chant the holy name of the Lord." (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.26)

People in general don’t like to be told what to do or how to act. It is the nature of the living entity to want to be free and to act as it sees fit. Submitting ourselves to the instructions and counsel of others goes against our nature.

According to the Vedas, the material world is composed of five gross elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and false ego. The third subtle element is referred to as false ego rather than just a normal ego since it is the tendency of living entities to falsely think themselves proprietors of nature and the fruits of their labor. Everyone naturally has an ego, in that they think themselves to be the doers of their activities. In reality, we may cause our bodies to act, but results of such action are not determined by us. When someone gives us instruction or tries to teach us something, it directly attacks our false ego.

Mother Yashoda chastising baby Krishna We generally think we are smart and know how to do everything. This sentiment exists in all stages of life, for we can all remember times in our youth when we thought our parents were unintelligent or even crazy. They would impose strict rules on us that never made any sense. We thought they were punishing us simply for their own amusement. They would yell at us for watching too much television or for staying out too late. Yet as we grew older, we realized that our parents were correct in their actions, for our behavior as children warranted such disciplinary measures. Even after realizing this however, we still have somewhat of a “know-it-all” attitude that manifests itself as self-esteem or self-confidence. We believe we can handle our own affairs and that we know the proper course of action in life. Because of this, we are stubborn in seeking help from others. The common stereotype for men is that they will not ask for directions when they get lost. Men will drive around for hours before they will finally admit to themselves that they don’t know the way.

“The spirit soul, bewildered by false ego (ahankara-vimudha), 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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)

Ram blessing Hanuman The Vedas recommend that we break out of this sense of false ego and turn it into a real ego. Our real ego is developed when we understand that Lord Krishna, or God, is responsible for all the workings of this creation. Along with His various energies, it is God who directs the events of the material world. We have no control over them. We shouldn’t falsely think ourselves to the proprietors of this world. Self-esteem isn’t a bad thing, but it should come from real knowledge and not that produced by the false ego. Understanding that Krishna is in charge of everything and not us, results in the highest form of self-esteem. In the Bhagavad-gita, this state of enlightenment is known as the brahma-bhutah platform. As the Lord says, one who reaches this stage gives up all his worries.

“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)

When Lord Krishna advented on earth as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, He was ordered to spend fourteen years as an exile in the forest. Though He was the eldest son of the king, Rama was denied the royal throne due to the request of His step-mother, Kaikeyi. Instead of being installed as the new king, Lord Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom. His wife Sita, and younger brother Lakshmana, insisted on accompanying Him. As they were about to embark on their journey, Rama’s mother, Kausalya, reminded Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to serve Him at all times. Kausalya was a very good mother; good enough to have God take birth as her son. So naturally she was worried about how He would fare in such austere conditions. She was also acting as a good mother-in-law by making sure that Sita was always adhering to her duties. In the Vedic system, once a girl is married, she then belongs to the family of her husband. Sita was much adored by Kausalya, for she treated her as her own daughter. There was never any friction between the two, unlike the stereotypical relationship between a wife and her mother-in-law.

“Hearing her mother-in-law’s words fraught with virtue and interest, Sita facing that lady, said with joined palms: ‘I will do all that the noble one says. I know how I should act by my husband. I have heard all about that (from my parents)’. (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for exile In response to Kausalya’s instructions, Sita made the above referenced statement. It may appear on the surface that Sita was being contentious in her response, thus making her a victim of the false ego, but that was actually not the case. Sita was the perfect devotee of God, so she already knew the proper code of conduct. In fact, Lord Rama tried very hard to get her to remain in the kingdom and not follow Him. Sita, however, made a passionate plea on her own behalf, citing scripture and other authority to buttress her position. Her statements were so perfect that Lord Rama was forced to allow her to come along. Sita required no instruction from anyone regarding the proper duties of a wife.

Sita Rama Though she kindly agreed to oblige Kausalya’s words, Sita also made it a point to remind everyone that she had already been taught all of this information by her parents when she was growing up. Sita was the daughter of Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila. Janaka was a great transcendentalist, very pious and known for being an expert yogi. Due to his great piety, he was rewarded with having the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi, appear as his daughter. Sita was his most prized possession, and he went to great lengths to make sure she had a proper upbringing. Like all great kings of that time, Janaka would regularly entertain great ascetics and brahmanas, or priests. Brahmanas are considered the highest class, so it is the duty of the rest of society to show them respect and take instruction from them. The brahmanas who would visit Janaka would always make sure to meet his daughter Sita and study her astrological attributes. It is customary in Vedic culture for parents to invite priests to their homes and ask them to give predictions on the future of their children. Along with fortunetelling, the brahmanas provided spiritual guidance to Sita’s parents, and the parents in turn passed those traditions and teachings down to Sita. In this way, she received a spiritual education equal to or greater than the education received by students attending gurukulas, or schools hosted at the house of a trained spiritual master or guru.

Sita Devi, a perfect devotee, showed respect to those who were worthy of it, namely Rama’s mother. She easily could have thought to herself, “Who is this person trying to lecture me? Doesn’t she know who I am and how great my devotion is?” Instead, she humbly joined her palms together and offered words of reassurance to her mother-in-law. This is proper conduct. However advanced we may become in our devotional service, we should always remember to show humility and respect to other devotees, our parents, and other elderly members of society. Sita loved Rama with all her heart and soul, and for this reason alone, she is worthy of our respect and adoration. It is in our best interests to follow the example she has set for us.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Worship in Goodness

 Rama and Lakshmana“That thing which falls to my lot on the destruction of friends and adherents, I never accept, even like food mixed with poison.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 97)

Lord Rama, God Himself, here definitively declares that He rejects any offering made to Him that comes at the expense of His devotees. God must be worshiped in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna. Worshiping God in any other way is not sanctioned by the shastras.

According to Vedic philosophy, the material world is governed by three qualities, known as gunas. These qualities manifest as the modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Every conditioned living entity possesses a combination of these qualities. Just as an expert chemist can concoct various combinations of chemicals to create a multitude of compounds, material nature gives the jiva soul up to 8,400,000 varieties of species to take birth in depending on the precise combination possessed of the three mode of nature. By saying that someone possesses a particular quality of nature, it means that they perform activities in that particular mode. For example, people who possess the mode of goodness perform acts that are in knowledge, i.e. in line with the injunctions of the scriptures. Activities performed for the purpose of cultivating spiritual knowledge constitute the mode of goodness.

“The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Bhagavad-gita, 16.1-3)

Hanuman is always in pure goodness The mode of passion includes any fruitive activity, meaning anything we do for our own personal benefit. This makes up the majority of the work that most of us perform. Going to school, working hard at the office, eating food that we like, and playing sports are all part of the mode of passion. The mode of ignorance, or darkness, is any activity performed that is lacking in goodness or passion. Sleeping unnecessarily, eating too much, being intoxicated all the time; these are all in the mode of ignorance.

Just as all our activities can be classified into one of these three modes, so can every religious function we perform. Being religious can have many different meanings depending on who you talk to, but in the Vedic definition, the quintessential religious act is the sacrifice, or yajna. The reason religious activities are classified as sacrifices is that, by nature, we are all accustomed to act for our own self interest. This is the definition of karma. We perform an action which then has a commensurate reaction, either good or bad. If we perform pious activities, good things will happen to us, and if we are sinful, then the reverse is true. The Vedas refer to religion as sanatana dharma, meaning the eternal occupation of man. Our business is to know God, and then to use that knowledge to serve Him. So in essence, religion is the antithesis of fruitive activity or karma. Religiosity is meant to serve as a sacrifice of material activity. Each step we take closer to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we take one step away from the clutches of maya. This is why the highest perfectional stage in life is the sannyasa ashrama, the renounced order of life. This is the last of the four ashramas, where one lives a completely renounced life, depending on Krishna for everything.

“Of sacrifices, that sacrifice performed according to duty and to scriptural rules, and with no expectation of reward, is of the nature of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.11)

Yajna, or sacrifice, is very important, but not all yajnas are the same. They also can be classified into the different modes of nature. The main point to understand is that Lord Krishna can only be worshiped in the mode of goodness. There is only one God even though He has many different expansions, forms, and names. Krishna is the original form, with Lord Vishnu being His primary expansion. For governance of the material world, the Lord expands Himself into the three guna-avataras: Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Lord Brahma is the avatara for people in the mode of passion, Lord Shiva for those in the mode of ignorance, and Lord Vishnu for those in the mode of goodness. Lord Vishnu is considered superior since He is a direct expansion of Krishna and thus in the mode of goodness.

“According to the philosophy of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, Lord Shiva is not different from Lord Vishnu, but still Lord Shiva is not Lord Vishnu, just as yogurt is nothing but milk and yet is not milk nevertheless. One cannot get the benefit of milk by drinking yogurt. Similarly, one cannot get salvation by worshiping Lord Shiva. If one wants salvation, one must worship Lord Vishnu.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.100)

Lord Shiva Aside from Lord Shiva and Brahma, there are many other chief deputies, known as the demigods. They are sort of the Cabinet or government officers who have been invested with various responsibilities by Krishna.

“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.23)

Generally speaking, those who are less intelligent worship the demigods. For example, the great demons Ravana and Hiranyakashipu both performed great austerities in order to please the demigods. They performed these austerities not out of any love or concern for the demigods, but only to receive material boons. That is why demigod worshipers are generally considered unintelligent. Religion is meant to be performed out of pure love for God, and not for any material benefit. Realizing this can take time, so one is given a chance to gradually progress in spiritual life by performing sacrifices for various demigods and by performing other fruitive religious activities. Nevertheless, the great demons of the past never worshiped Lord Krishna or Lord Vishnu because their prayers for material boons would have gone unanswered.

There was a famous incident with the great Narada Muni that illustrates how worship of Lord Vishnu works. A pure devotee of the Lord, Narada travels the three worlds providing spiritual guidance to one and all. He lives the life of a perfect sannyasi, which requires having no connection with women. On one occasion, however, he felt victim to amorous love and desperately wanted to get married to a certain princess. She had a svayamvara ceremony, where she got to choose who she would marry. Narada Muni prayed to Lord Vishnu to ensure that the girl would pick him. The Lord used some word jugglery to trick Narada into thinking that his prayers would be answered, when in reality, the Lord agreed to do what was best for Narada. When the time came to choose, the girl looked at Narada Muni and saw the face of a bear. She immediately eliminated him from the candidacy.

Narada Muni This is the Lord’s mercy to His devotees. If a devotee prays for a material reward, and the Lord decides that it is in the best interest of the devotee, He will happily oblige. He is never required to answer prayers made for a personal benefit. Demigods on the other hand, must reward their devotees, regardless of the motives. Ravana and Hiranyakashipu both had ill motives, for they were great enemies to the sages of the world. Regardless, the demigods had to provide them what they wanted.

In the above referenced statement, Lord Rama is declaring that He never accepts anything offered to Him if it comes at the expense of His devotees. In today’s world, we see many deplorable acts committed in the name of religion. Terrorism, cow slaughter, and even abortion are either sanctioned or not protested by many of the world’s religious leaders. Based on Lord Rama’s statement, we can understand that these religions, as they are espoused today, cannot be considered bona fide.

Religion means to know and love God. Any religious system which aims to achieve this end can be considered bona fide, and any other system must be considered bogus. The proper way to follow religious principles is through the execution of devotional service, also known as bhakti yoga. Bhakti means love and yoga means linking one’s soul with God. We living entities are spirit souls who are part and parcel of God, but God is the Supreme Soul who is so great that He can easily expand Himself as the Supersoul residing in the hearts of every living entity. Devotional service means dedicating all our actions to God. The Vedas describe the Lord atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. That being the case, how can we make someone who is in need of nothing, happy?

Lord Rama God is generally neutral towards all living entities, but He makes an exception for His devotees. His love for His devotees cannot be put into words. Just by judging the actions He performed during His various incarnations, we get a slight glimpse into just how great that love is. Lord Rama’s activities were all performed for the benefit of His friends, family, and dependents. In fact, the above referenced statement was made to pacify Lakshmana, who had become angry upon seeing Bharata approaching their camp. Lord Rama was Krishna Himself in the guise of a kshatriya prince. He, His wife Sita Devi, and younger brother Lakshmana, were serving out an exile term in the forest when Rama and Lakshmana’s brother, Bharata, came to see them. Bharata wanted Rama to come back to the kingdom of Ayodhya and ascend the throne, but Lakshmana was unaware of this, so he was initially suspicious. In order to quell Lakshmana’s anger, Rama informed him that there was no need to be violent against Bharata. The Lord never wants to gain something, in this case the kingdom, at the expense of His devotees. Bharata was just as devoted to Rama as Lakshmana was.

Since God isn’t always physically present before us, the best way to perform devotional service is to serve His devotees. The bona fide spiritual master, the guru, is the true representative of Krishna. Surrendering everything unto the Lord, the spiritual master humbly asks others to become Krishna conscious, for he knows that this will make Krishna happy. Pure devotees return to one of Krishna’s spiritual planets at the time of death, so the spiritual master tries to turn as many people into devotees as possible because it will mean that Krishna will be able to reclaim so many lost souls.

To act in concert with God’s interests, we simply have to pass on the teachings of the great acharyas. Vyasadeva, Goswami Tulsidas, Shrila Rupa Goswami, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, and other great Vaishnava saints have all passed on volumes and volumes of written instruction on the science of devotional service. To serve them, we simply have to induce others to follow their teachings. Love Krishna, chant His holy names, and be happy.

Radha, Krishna, and gopis Krishna has declared many times that pleasing His servant means pleasing Him. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation, taught us to think of ourselves as the servant of the servant of God. This is the proper method of worship. We actually cannot approach God directly in the beginning stages. The spiritual master is the via-medium. If we please the devotees, God will be happy with us and accept our offerings.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sankirtana Yajna

Lord Chaitanya with Lord Jagannatha, Subhadra, and Baladeva “…According to the age, O my Lord, You protect the principles of religion. In the age of Kali, however, You do not assert Yourself as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore You are known as Triyuga, or the Lord who appears in three yugas.” (Prahlada Maharaja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.9.38)

Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is Krishna Himself, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Chaitanya appeared in India some five hundred years ago to spread the sankirtana movement. The authoritative Vedic texts, including the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata, all confirm His divinity. Even though Lord Vishnu is described as Triyuga, meaning one who appears in the three Yugas (Satya, Treta, and Dvapara), He still makes an appearance in the Kali Yuga, though in the disguised form of a brahmana devotee. Lord Chaitanya is the same Lord Krishna who appeared in the past, and worship of Him is as good as worship of God.

The Vedas, along with other major religions of the world, prescribe various sacrificial demonstrations and rituals. The universe is constantly created and destroyed, and the duration of each creation is divided into four time periods called Yugas. For each Yuga, there is a specific process of self-realization that is recommended. This is due to the fact that society’s adherence to dharma, or religiosity, gradually diminishes over time. Accounting for the increase in adharma, the Vedas loosen the requirements for achieving transcendental perfection. This is done to allow anyone, regardless of which age they take birth in, to be able to return back home, back to Godhead.

The Vedas tell us that as spirit souls, we are eternal, but our gross material bodies are not. We come to this material world to enjoy, and this sense enjoyment continues for as long as we want it to. The catch is that our pursuit of happiness is not without consequences. Every action performed has a commensurate reaction, either good or bad. This is karma. As long as we act on the material plane, we must abide by the laws of karma, which determines our future fate. The true mission of life is to break free of the clutches of karma by becoming Krishna, or God conscious. One who thinks of God at the time of death, never has to return to this material world.

"That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. And anyone who reaches it never comes back to this material world." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.6)

Lord Krishna Spirit souls aren’t limited to taking birth in the human species. Based on qualities and desires, a spirit soul can be put into the body of an animal or even a plant. The human form of life is considered a great boon since it represents our chance to acquire knowledge about God. Needless to say, this opportunity should not go to waste. Since the beginning of creation, the religious system originally contained in the Vedas has been passed down from generation to generation to allow mankind to acquire the knowledge necessary for returning back to the spiritual world. The Vedas don’t actually have an equivalent term for religion. What we think of as religion is actually referred to as sanatana-dharma, meaning the eternal occupation of man. It is the duty of the spirit soul to be connected with God eternally, but through misdirected desires for lording over nature, we have been placed in this material world. The Vedas are the personification of sanatana-dharma, and they give us step by step instructions on how to reconnect with our lost occupation.

Based on the specific time and circumstances of our birth and the specific qualities we inherit, we may or may not be able to immediately come to the realization of our nefarious predicament. Upon taking birth, we are actually no different than animals. An animal simply concentrates on four things: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings also engage in these activities, but they should be of secondary importance. Our primary occupation should be service to God. To help us rise above the animalistic way of life, the Vedas give us various systems, sub-religions if you will, that allow us to make gradual progress. The analogy of the school system can be used here. If one receives a high school degree, it means they are able to demonstrate a certain proficiency in various academic subjects. This knowledge is not easy to acquire, thus the school system in America is divided into twelve grades, where one begins in the first grade and gradually advances one grade each year until they finally graduate. The end goal is to graduate from the twelfth grade, but a young child usually can’t acquire all the necessary knowledge right away. They must be taught certain things early on in school, building a foundation, and then build on their academic knowledge year by year.

Religion is very similar in this regard. Probably the most common activity associated with religion is the ritual or sacrificial demonstration. Going to church, wearing certain things on one’s head, uttering certain prayers or mantras; these things are common to all religions. The Vedas have an entire section, known as karma-kanda, dedicated to these rituals aimed at procuring fruitive rewards. Almost all religious rituals are performed for some personal benefit. In the beginning stages, this is certainly not a bad thing. It is quite common today for people to work hard for acquiring great wealth and fame without realizing that God is the actual source of everything.

“The Absolute Truth must be the original source of everything.” (Vedanta-sutra)

Since most people live on the material platform where karma reigns supreme, the Vedas recommend various sacrifices and rituals. The ultimate aim is to teach people that God and His various agents, the demigods, are responsible for all our material rewards. Government, the state, the land, and whatever else actually can’t create anything. Life comes from life.

“In the beginning of creation, the Lord of all creatures sent forth generations of men and demigods, along with sacrifices for Vishnu, and blessed them by saying, ‘Be thou happy by this yajna [sacrifice] because its performance will bestow upon you all desirable things.’” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.10)

Dashratha's fire sacrifice Each ritual has specific rules that apply to them which describe the who, what, where, when, and how as it pertains to the ritual’s performance. In the Vedic tradition, all important rituals are performed in front of fire. The fire is the witness in a sacrifice, with clarified butter being poured on the fire as an oblation. The name Svaha is uttered with each pouring. Other religions have their own specific ceremonies and rituals.

This is all meant to be a gradual stepping stone, a way to elevate a person’s consciousness to a point where they are always thinking about God. To know and love God is the real purpose of religion. The specific rules and regulations may vary based on time and circumstance, but any religion is considered bona fide if it teaches people how to love God.

Though these sacrificial demonstrations serve only as a stepping stone, they are still worth performing, provided that the intentions are noble. Visiting churches and temples, performing pujas in the home, and travelling to places of pilgrimage certainly aren’t condemned. In fact, they are recommended. However, in this age of Kali, these rituals aren’t easy to perform regularly.

Kali Yuga means the age of quarrel and hypocrisy where dharma exists at only one quarter its original strength. Evidence of this is all around us. We are so advanced materially in this age that it is easy to become distracted from religious life. For proof of this fact, we can simply take stock of our own life experiences and those of the people around us. How much time do we spend in the day thinking about God? Many of us make sincere efforts, but it’s not so easy with all the responsibilities that we have. In the modern day, families are spread apart, and two income families are often required. This makes raising children even more difficult. Maintaining a job, a wife or husband, and children all at the same time can be very difficult. The pressures of daily life can get to be too much. With so much going on in our life, worship of God can easily get pushed to the backburner.

Panca-tattva “Shrila Jiva Gosvami cites a verse from the Vedic literature which says that there is no necessity of performing sacrificial demonstrations or ceremonial functions. He comments that instead of engaging in such external, pompous exhibitions, all people, regardless of caste, color or creed, can assemble together and chant Hare Krishna to worship Lord Chaitanya.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 3.52 Purport)

Lord Chaitanya Luckily for us, Krishna knew this situation would manifest in the Kali Yuga. For this reason, He made the path towards self-realization much easier in this age. Elaborate sacrifices aren’t required today. We simply have to think about God as much as we can. So how do we do this? We simply have to chant His name as much as we can, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Unlike the strict rules and regulations attached to grand Vedic sacrifices, chanting can be performed by anyone. The secret to this method’s effectiveness lies in its ability to induce people to both speak and hear God’s name at the same time. Sravanam and kirtanam, hearing and chanting, are the two most effective methods for increasing God consciousness. If one chants out loud, he will automatically hear God’s glorious names. Hearing can also be accomplished in other ways, such as listening to Krishna katha (discourses about Krishna), and reading books about Him.

Chanting is the recommended type of sacrifice for the world of today. One should make a sincere effort to chant the Hare Krishna mantra as often as possible, but at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. If one develops a solid chanting routine and adheres to the four regulative principles of devotional service, they can then venture into other aspects of devotional service such as deity worship, prasadam offering, fasting, etc. The most important thing is to always stay connected with Krishna. That was the point stressed by Lord Chaitanya. Appearing as a brahmana by birth and quality, Lord Chaitanya spread love of Krishna to anyone who was willing to accept it. For this reason, He is the most merciful incarnation of God. The highest honor we can pay Him is to dedicate ourselves to regularly chanting Krishna’s names.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Steady Under Pressure

Lord Krishna “Whoever knows Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, without doubting, is to be understood as the knower of everything, and he therefore engages himself in full devotional service, O son of Bharata” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.19)

Lord Rama, the incarnation of God in the Treta Yuga, played the role of a pious prince dedicated to the rules of dharma. Ordered by His father, the king of Ayodhya, to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile, the Lord unhesitatingly agreed. Upon hearing the news, His wife, Sita, assumed that the order of exile applied to her as well.

In the Vedic system, the husband and wife are considered equals in a religious sense. They both share equally in each other’s merits and demerits. If the husband ascends to heaven, the wife will follow, and in the same way, if the husband comes upon hard times, the wife suffers along with Him. Sita Devi was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, God’s wife in the spiritual world, so she was inherently inclined to serving the Lord. She also grew up in the kingdom of the well-respected king of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka. Though women customarily didn’t attend school and thus never received a formal training in religious principles, Sita paid strict attention to the teachings imparted on her by her parents and the saintly people in the kingdom. She was so well versed in the Vedic scriptures that her intelligence surpassed that of the greatest sages. Sita lived by one principle: devotion to Rama. In actuality, one who lives by this principle is the most intelligent person. Indian people often chant the phrase “Ram Nam Satya Hai” when carrying a dead body to the cremation ground. The meaning of this phrase is that Lord Rama’s name is the truth, for He is God Himself. If the name of the Lord is chanted when one departs their present body, they will immediately be granted liberation from the cycle of birth and death, and spend eternity in the spiritual world with the God.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Sita lived by the principle that Rama was the truth. When informing her of the exile order, Rama tried to dissuade her from coming along by telling her of the dangers of forest life. He explained that she would be safer staying in the kingdom serving the elderly members of the family.

“When through affliction I shall not live after separation, better it is, O Lord, that I die immediately at the time of my being forsaken by you. I cannot bear this grief even for a moment. How shall I be able to live without you for fourteen years?” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 30)

Sita DeviSita Devi was defiant and refused to remain without her husband. She put forth a series of cogent and sound arguments in favor of her position. The above referenced quote was the last statement she made, which was a profession of her love. Her statement represents the nicest thing anyone can say to another person. We all want to be loved, especially by our husband or wife. We crave love so much that we often wonder just how much our significant other actually loves us, if they do at all. Sita Devi openly declared that she would rather die than live in the kingdom alone, forsaken by her husband. Love is shown is many different ways, but Sita’s exhibition was one of the nicest. Telling someone that you cannot live without them shows great attachment and affection. Maharaja Dashratha, Rama’s father, loved His son so much that He died of separation pains after the Lord left for the forest.

According to Vedic doctrine, having such a strong attachment to family is normally considered a bad thing. The material world is temporary, for we see people taking birth and dying all the time. We know that inevitably all of us must die, so having attachment to things and people that are temporary doesn’t make good sense. However, Sita’s attachment was not on the material level. Having a loving relationship with God brings true meaning to life, for the Lord is eternal. He is our best friend, our ever well-wisher who is waiting to embrace us. We living entities have forgotten our relationship with Him, and thus coming under the influence of material nature and the forces of karma, we are forced to repeatedly take birth. Sita Devi’s actions serve as a reminder of the real meaning of life, devotion to God.

Sita’s devotion was so strong and pure, that the Lord was forced to acquiesce and allow her to accompany Him to the forest. Lord Rama was won over by her love. The significance of this point cannot be understated. God is known as atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. He has no need for anyone’s love or service. Unlike the living entities who constantly hanker and lament over things, the Lord is unaffected by the qualities of material nature.

“There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.14)

Sita Rama Even though He is self-satisfied and the supreme controller, He actually can be controlled by His devotees. God willingly puts Himself in a subservient position to His devotees in order to give them pleasure. This was true in the case of Sita, for all her anxieties were immediately removed once the Lord relinquished His opposition to her coming to the forest. This is the sign of true spiritual advancement. One who has steadily progressed in devotion to God no longer hankers and laments like ordinary living entities. In the Vedic system, the shudras are known as the lowest of the four social orders which are determined by qualities and work and not simply by birth. Shudra means one who easily laments. Since they are untrained in spiritual knowledge, they are easily prone to bewailing their misfortunes and becoming dejected over the slightest setback. The brahmanas, on the other hand, are considered the highest class of society since they are very learned in Vedic knowledge. Unlike the shudras, they remain steady through good and bad times due to their practice of tapasya, or austerities. Sita Devi, being a woman, by definition didn’t fall into any of these classes, but from her actions we can see that she was even more advanced than the brahmanas in her mindset. She abandoned all varieties of religion in favor of following her husband. During their marriage ceremony, Maharaja Janaka prayed that Sita would be a good wife and follow Rama as His shadow wherever He went. Even at the toughest moment of her life, Sita would not disappoint her father.

Set to live in the woods for fourteen years, it would appear that Sita’s anxieties should have increased. Lord Rama was the eldest son of the king, thus He and His wife enjoyed all the benefits afforded to someone of such a high stature. In the forest, the couple would have to live as nomads, wandering from place to place, not having a steady source of food or shelter. The forests were inhabited by wild beats, animals, and great sages who lived very austere lifestyles. Also at the time, evil Rakshasa demons were ranging the forests and disrupting the sacrifices of the sages, killing them and feeding off their flesh.

“My dear Govinda, Your promise is that Your devotee can never be vanquished. I believe in that statement, and therefore in all kinds of tribulations I simply remember Your promise, and thus I live." (Draupadi offering prayers to Krishna, Mahabharata)

Krishna protecting Draupadi Similar to how certain people strive under pressure, Sita was immune to the pressures of forest life due to the presence of Lord Rama and His brother Lakshmana. They are the ultimate protectors of this universe, and anyone who takes shelter of their lotus feet is sure to have all their troubles eased. One who is inimical towards God can never be saved in any circumstance, and conversely, one who is devoted to Him will always be protected.

Monday, December 21, 2009


Lord Hanuman “The wise, engaged in devotional service, take refuge in the Lord, and free themselves from the cycle of birth and death by renouncing the fruits of action in the material world. In this way they can attain that state beyond all miseries.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.51)

Strength comes from fearlessness. It is the nature of human beings to be fearful. At their core, animals involve themselves in four activities: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. The defensive mentality arises out of fear. Animals want to protect what they have, so they are fearful of others attacking them. At the time of birth, human beings are no different than the animals. It is only through the cultivation of knowledge that a person can rise to an advanced stage of consciousness. Man’s ability to know and understand God represents the uniqueness of the human form of life. This knowledge of God is the remover of all fears.

Rafael Nadal We need strength to be successful at pretty much any material endeavor. Athletes are a great example of this. In men’s professional tennis during the mid 1980s, Americans John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were on top of the game. Ivan Lendl was right behind them, but he had trouble beating McEnroe and Connors in the big matches. What did Lendl do? He worked on his fitness, increasing his stamina through a rigorous training regimen. As a result, Lendl ascended to the top of the rankings. For the rest of his career, Lendl would dominate both McEnroe and Connors and many other players as well. The same dedication to fitness would be followed by future generations of players including Andre Agassi, Jim Courier, and now Roger Federer. Endurance means strength. Knowing that you can withstand a long and grueling match provides a mental edge over an opponent. Current tennis star Rafael Nadal wins matches through grit and tenacity, physically wearing down his opponent. Nadal seems to have an unlimited supply of energy, which gives him an edge both physically and mentally. Strength plays an important role for athletes in other sports as well. The recent steroid scandal in Major League Baseball centered around the desire for increased strength for batters. With larger muscles, hitters could increase their bat speed, which would in turn lead to more home runs.

Just as physical strength comes from practice and hard work, emotional strength comes from experience and knowledge. We are likely to fail the first time we try to do anything. It is only through experience that we gain the necessary knowledge to be successful. A knowledgeable person knows how to persevere through tough times, not getting too high or too low.

“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)

Even though one may have great physical and mental strength, fear is still there to some degree. Whatever level of success we achieve in material life, there is always the great equalizer waiting at the end; death. At the time of death, all our material possessions must be given up. We have no choice in this matter. Death means the changing of bodies, so our current body is discarded along with all our possessions.

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

Reincarnation We are given a new body upon our next birth, meaning we have to start the learning and strength acquiring processes all over again. No amount of physical training or mental speculation can permanently remove this fear of death.

This fear can only be removed by becoming God conscious, which means connecting with God at all times. Just as a blanket provides warmth and security through the cold night, the Lord can give us unflinching protection throughout our time in this material world. God is one, but He has many names that describe His innumerable qualities. He is Ajita, unconquerable, and Rama, one who gives pleasure. By humbly serving God, we can connect directly with His features, meaning He will make sure that we are always happy and never conquered by demons. This human form of life is meant for understanding God. It has no other purpose. If God wanted us to waste time on mundane sense gratification, He would let us remain in the body of an animal, where we could spend the whole day engaging our senses without worrying.

Human life is meant for developing spiritual strength. Having acquired this strength, a person can never be defeated. In this context, defeat refers to failure in spiritual life. When we engage in material endeavors, we are bound to win sometimes and lose at other times. This is all due to our karma and the karma of others. Spiritual life is different. If we are sincere in our service to God, He will guarantee our victory in all endeavors. Lord Hanuman is a great example in this regard. Though a monkey by birth, Hanuman had tremendous powers of which he was even unaware. He could change his shape at will; he could assume an infinitely large body or become minute in stature. He could fly through the sky simply by leaping off the ground. Hanuman possessed these traits without having to work for them.

Lord Rama with Hanuman Hanuman acquired all these powers automatically since he would need them in his service to God. In the Treta Yuga, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, incarnated on earth as Lord Rama, a pious kshatriya prince. Lord Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped in the forest by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama and His brother Lakshmana enlisted the help of the Vanaras, human-like monkeys, living in the Kishkindha forest. Sugriva was the king of the Vanaras, and Hanuman was their chief warrior. All the monkeys were sent to scour the earth looking for Sita, but it was Hanuman who was able to cross the ocean to the island of Lanka, where Ravana’s kingdom was. He was able to find Sita, set fire to Lanka, and then later return with Rama and the rest of the monkeys to battle against Ravana and the other Rakshasas.

Hanuman had great physical strength, but he also needed great perseverance in going to Lanka. Many demons tried to stop his path, but he was able to thwart them. While in Lanka, he initially roamed through the city incognito, looking for Sita in Ravana’s various palaces. Hanuman was so taken aback by the beauty and grand nature of Ravana’s kingdom, that he began to lament. He thought to himself, “There is no way that I’ll be able to find Sita. Even if I do, how will everyone be able to come here and fight against these Rakshasas? I have failed miserably. I must give up my life.” These thoughts are quite natural. We all get overwhelmed every now and then. But what Hanuman did next was important. He chose to continue fighting instead of giving up. The thing that kept him going was his love for Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, and Sugriva. Hanuman was a pure devotee at heart, so he had no attachment to his great strength. He made the most of what God gave him by utilizing his powers for God’s benefit. This is the lesson for all of us to follow. We are all born under different circumstances, each having their advantages and disadvantages, but regardless, we should use whatever is at our disposal to sincerely serve the Lord.

In the end, it was Hanuman’s great faith and belief in Rama that enabled him to conquer his fear. He proved to be the greatest warrior, and his name is now synonymous with love and devotion to Rama. Hanuman was so famous even five thousand years ago, that Arjuna, Lord Krishna’s cousin and devotee, flew a flag bearing the emblem of Hanuman on his chariot during the famous Bharata War.

The flag of Hanuman If we take up devotional service, we can become fearless. Sincerity is all that is required. Simply wanting to serve God without any personal motive means we have made our life successful. God will take care of the rest. He will give us whatever we need to serve Him.

For one to be considered a bona fide sannyasi, one in the renounced order of life, they must be completely fearless. A person who has taken complete shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord is a true sannyasi. Being completely confident in God’s protection, such a person will have the necessary confidence to overcome any obstacles.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

A Religion For Everyone

Lord Krishna “My dear Arjuna, only by undivided devotional service can I be understood as I am, standing before you, and can thus be seen directly. Only in this way can you enter into the mysteries of My understanding.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.54)

Question: There are so many different religions out there, each having their own scriptures and teachings. How do I tell which one is correct?

Answer: This is a question that comes up quite often from aspiring transcendentalists and those who are generally inquisitive about religion. There are indeed many different religions and scriptures, and this fact can be a huge stumbling block towards making spiritual advancement. In many cases, people can become confused and led down the wrong path.

Authorized religious scriptures must be studied in a mood of devotion. The words are there for everyone to see, but one cannot understand them fully by using a skeptical eye. We see that many great scholars study and translate the various Vedic texts, but even after reading these works in depth, they have no knowledge of Krishna, or God. Rather, they end up comparing and contrasting the various religions, trying to find similarities and common ground. Religious scriptures are not meant to be picked apart in this way. This type of study leads people to think that they are smarter than God and that they can understand the master plan behind the universe. “Oh, these are simply mythological stories meant to be symbolic. There are similar stories in all the religious scriptures. Some person must have concocted these stories to teach a lesson to people.” This is a flawed mindset. This philosophy then descends into downright atheism, where people start thinking that God is just a spirit or energy, and that we are all actually God. This is the mindset of the Mayavadis.

What is passing as the Hindu religion today is not in concert with the lessons found in the Vedas, the original scripture for mankind emanating from India. According to the Vedas, God can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. The impersonalist philosophers, who make up the bulk of those propounding the Hindu religion today, are stuck on the two subordinate features, Brahman and Paramatma. Brahman is the impersonal effulgence of the Lord, an energy that pervades all of creation. Paramatma is the Lord’s expansion as the Supersoul into the hearts of every living entity. These features certainly do exist, but the Lord’s primary feature is that of Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. We are people, personal individuals with an identity borne of the spirit soul. In a similar manner, God also has an original identity, even though He can expand Himself into unlimited forms.

Lord Krishna The Mayavadis don’t accept the feature of Bhagavan. Since they take everything to be maya, or the illusory energy governing the material world, they even take God’s personal expansions to be products of maya.

“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)

Incorporating interesting facts from all the major religions, the Mayavada philosophy is very popular because it tells people to worship the Self, the individual spirit soul, instead of God. “If you do something good, don’t give credit to God, but give credit to yourself.” This is their philosophy. Of course, if the atma (soul) is God, then how did it end up in this conditioned state as a human being, where it is subject to the repeated cycle of birth and death? If the Self is God, then how can it be controlled? The very definition of God is that He is the Supreme Controller, parameshvara. Ishvara parama krishna is the definitive statement, meaning “the Supreme Controller is Krishna”. Krishna is God, or Bhagavan, the Supreme Person who is separate from all of us. We are part and parcel of God, so we are similar to Him in quality, but quantitatively we are different. He is the controller and we are the controlled. Worship of the Self is certainly authorized, but this method is subordinate to direct service to God Himself. If one contemplates the Self, hoping to merge into Brahman, but at the same time denies the existence and authority of God, then they are doomed to failure.

“Literature or knowledge that seeks the Supreme Being can be accepted as a bona fide religious system, but there are many different types of religious systems according to the place, the disciples and the people's capacity to understand.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.146 Purport)

If all of these facts relating to God are true, then why even have different religions? Why not just have one scripture for all of mankind? This was actually the case at the beginning of creation. Lord Krishna imparted knowledge of the Veda to the sun god, Vivasvan:

“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.” (Bg. 4.1)

Hanuman chanting and performing deity worship This single Veda was sufficient in the first age of creation, known as the Satya Yuga. The world that we live in constantly goes through cycles of creation and destruction, with each creation divided into four time periods, or Yugas. We currently live in last Yuga known as Kali. These divisions are noteworthy because man’s intelligence and adherence to dharma, or religiosity, gradually diminishes with each successive Yuga. For this reason, God brings about different religious scriptures and teachings, so as to allow people living in each age to succeed in spiritual life. For example, the recommended process for self-realization is different for each age. In the Satya Yuga, strict meditation was recommended. In the Treta Yuga, people used to perform very elaborate and costly sacrifices in order to please God. In the Dvapara Yuga, many great temples were erected where people would regularly perform worship of the Lord’s deity, His archa-vigraha incarnation. In this age of Kali, the recommended path is sankirtana, or the congregational chanting of the Holy name of God. If we look around us, we see that most people in society spend very little time talking about or contemplating God. Governments around the world are preoccupied with economics and increasing sense gratification. For this reason, God has recommended that we simply chant His name in a loving way, and that such service will be sufficient to return back home, back to Godhead, after this life.

This is not to say that one method is superior to another, but each method is more effective in a particular Yuga due to the qualities of the people at the time. This brings up another justification for the existence of different religious systems. Not only does time play a factor, but circumstance as well. The difference between the material world and the spiritual world is that every living entity in the material world possesses gunas, or qualities. Not only do they possess qualities, but they are forced to perform some work, or karma. Since every living entity has different qualities and performs different work, we see the existence of up to 8,400,000 varieties of species. Religion is only meant for the human beings. Animals don’t have the mental capacity to understand God. This is why taking birth as a human is considered a tremendous opportunity for the spirit soul.

Even amongst humans, there are varying degrees of intelligence based on the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The pious and learned live in the mode of goodness, those seeking after material sense gratification are in the mode of passion, and those who are completely ignorant, always intoxicated and sleeping, they are in the mode of ignorance. God is so kind that He has provided different religious systems for each of the different modes. For example, meat eating is explicitly prohibited for those in the mode of goodness. Since human life is meant for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge, one should live as simple a life as possible. This requires regulation in sleeping and eating. Simple vegetarian food comprised of grains, milk, ghee, and yogurt is sufficient to meet the dietary demands of the body. Meat eating is bad for one’s karma since it involves unnecessarily killing innocent animals simply to satisfy the demands of the tongue and stomach. Karma is the ultimate system of fairness, so if we live off innocently killing other living entities, we will surely be forced to suffer the same fate in the future.

Even though meat eating is prohibited, we see that the Vedas sanction and even recommend various animal sacrifices. On the surface, this may seem like a contradiction, but it isn’t. Animal sacrifice is recommended for those in the mode of ignorance. The Kali Puja is a famous animal sacrifice still practiced to this day. Once a month, a goat can be sacrificed to Goddess Kali. The idea is not to promote animal killing, but to give those in the mode of ignorance a taste of religion. The hope is that by going to so much trouble simply to eat meat, one will gradually rise to the stage where they give up meat eating entirely.

Fire sacrifice during Sita and Rama's wedding In a similar manner, there are various yajnas, or sacrifices, recommended for those in the mode of passion. As part of the karma kanda division of the Vedas, the performance of these yajnas guarantees good fortune and wealth to those in the householder stage of life, grihastha ashrama. These processes are recommended so that people can understand that God is responsible for all of their good fortune. The hope is that gradually one will realize that these temporary fruits are not needed, since one can only be truly happy by serving Krishna, or God.

So which religious system should we follow? The point of any religion is to allow people to reach the point where they know and love God. Which route we take is up to us. We can follow the prescribed rituals and regulations, which represent a staircase to the final platform, or we can take an elevator, leading us directly to the path of loving service to God. The elevator is the process of devotional service, also known as bhakti yoga or bhagavata-dharma. Devotional service is the yoga process where we dovetail all of our activities with service to God. This service must be performed with love and devotion, without any expectation of material rewards. This is the highest religion.

So the only real difference between the various religious systems is just how quickly one can attain love of Godhead. Since the Vedas are the original religion, they actually don’t contradict the statements of any other religion. This may be hard to believe, but one does not have to give up being a Jew, Christian, or Muslim in order to serve Krishna. There is no official “conversion process” to become a devotee of Krishna; one need only be sincere. God is one and He is for everyone. The primary teaching of the Vedas is to love God.

“The highest form of religion is that by which one becomes fully conscious of the existence of God, His form, name, qualities, pastimes, abode and all-pervasive features.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.146 Purport)

For this age, the primary Vedic injunction is that people should refrain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication, and at the same time, regularly chant the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. These principles can be practiced by people of all faiths, for they don’t violate the edicts of any religion. There may be specific recommendations and rituals prescribed by various religions around the world, but they are all meant to elevate one to the platform of love of God. Abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life elevates us to the mode of goodness, which is a stepping stone to the platform of suddha-sattva, or pure goodness. This is the end goal. Simply being a vegetarian is not enough. If we are still hankering after illusory sense gratification, thinking of ourselves as God, then we will be forced to repeat the cycle of birth and death. God is only fair. If we want to stay in this material world, He will not stand in our way.

Gaura Nitai performing devotional service If we have any interest in religion at all, we should sincerely take up this process of devotional service. It begins by chanting, but the general idea is to always stay connected with God. Just as we are happiest when we get to spend time with our friends and family, our souls will be similarly benefitted if we spend time with Krishna. Luckily for us, there are so many ways to connect with Him. We can read stories about Him, chant His name, visit His temples, talk to His devotees, etc. The possibilities are endless. If we happen to belong to a different faith, our service to Krishna will not go in vain. Bhagavata-dharma is for everyone and it makes people even better Christians, Jews, and Muslims. There is no harm in connecting with Krishna. He is all-attractive and very kind. He is the ocean of mercy and friend of the fallen.