Saturday, January 2, 2010

Giver of Endless Riches

Radha Krishna “Why are you asking for only one flower? I would like to give you a whole tree of parijata flowers.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Queen Satyabhama, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 4)

According to Vedic injunctions, a woman is to be given protection throughout her lifetime. Similar to the way we treat our children, women are to always be provided for and watched over. They are the caregivers and nurturers in society, thus men must take responsibility for their welfare and safety.

In a girl’s youth, she is to be protected by her father. Maharaja Janaka, the king of Mithila, showed us the proper way to care for our daughters by the way he brought up Sita Devi. As the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi appeared on earth many thousands of years ago on a field in the kingdom ruled by Janaka. He was ploughing his field at the time when suddenly he discovered the baby girl. He was so enchanted by her that he took Sita in as his own daughter. Since she was his prized possession, she was given the best upbringing a girl could have. Though women didn’t attend school back during those times, Sita acquired perfect knowledge of Vedic principles from her mother and father and the brahmanas of the royal court. From Janaka’s example, we can learn the proper way to raise a child. Children should be given full protection and instructed on all Vedic principles throughout their childhood. In the modern age, we sit our children down in front of televisions to watch movies or play video games, but such a lifestyle isn’t very conducive to higher thinking. If we can arouse an interest in religion in our children, we are performing the highest service for them.

Krishna battling the demigods After a girl gets married, she lives under the protection of her husband. Not like the modern day system where husbands and wives get into arguments and then divorce, the Vedic system enjoins marriage to be a lifetime commitment. Even if the husband takes to the renounced order of life, sannyasa, the couple is still considered to be married. When they are living as grihasthis, or householders, the husband is required to protect the wife and ensure that she is always happy and satisfied. If a wife is devoted and chaste, a husband should do everything he can to see to her happiness. Lord Krishna, God Himself, lived by this principle during His time on earth. Once while visiting the heavenly planets, one of Krishna’s wives, Satyabhama, plucked a parijata plant. The demigods became very angry at this and lodged a complaint against Krishna. Unable to settle the dispute peacefully, the Lord, wanting to please His wife, went to war with the demigods over the flower. He of course emerged victorious and brought the flower down to His kingdom of Dvaraka so that His beloved wife could be happy. In this way, the Lord taught us that we should go to great lengths to ensure the happiness and protection of a good wife.

In her old age, a woman is to be protected by the eldest son of the family. In the Vedic system, one’s life is to be divided into four stages or ashramas. The final stage of life is known as sannyasa, where the husband completely renounces family life and dedicates himself to serving Krishna and preaching His glories to others. Though the exact requirements for a sannyasi have changed over time, the most important rule is that there must be no intimate connection with women. Sannyasa means complete renunciation from sex life. The husband and wife are still married, but the wife lives at home under the protection of the eldest son. The great devotee of the Lord, Queen Kunti, lived under the care of her five sons after her husband, King Pandu, died prematurely due to a curse. The Pandava brothers took perfect care of their mother, and she in turn was quite pleased with them.

Sita and Rama Of these three protectors of women, the husband is considered the most important. Once married, a husband and wife become one entity, sharing a common fate in the afterlife. For this reason a husband is to be considered the most important person in a woman’s life, for he can deliver her to the heavenly planets, or better yet, to Lord Krishna’s spiritual planet, where having gone once, one never returns. The protections and benedictions given by the father and the eldest son are very nice, but they don’t compare to what a good husband can do for a woman.

When Sita Devi grew up, she was married to Lord Rama, a kshatriya incarnation of God appearing in Ayodhya as the son of Maharaja Dashratha. Due to unfortunate circumstances, after enjoying twelve years of blissful married life, Lord Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom and spend fourteen years as an exile living in the forest. Sita, the perfect wife, refused to let her husband live in the forest alone, so she accompanied Him along with Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. Just prior to leaving for the woods, Rama’s mother Kausalya imparted some final words of advice to Sita. She asked Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to always serve Him. Now Sita obviously was well aware of her prescribed duties, for she recited them as arguments in her favor when Lord Rama had asked her to remain at home and not follow Him to the woods.

“The father gives in measure. The mother also gives to a limited extent, as does a son. Knowing this, which woman wouldn’t worship the giver of endless riches, the husband?” (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)

Sita responded to her mother-in-law with the statement above. She wanted to let Kausalya know that she was well acquainted with the proper duties of a wife. Sita wanted to stress just how important a good husband is, and how a wife should always worship him. As stated before, a good husband provides his wife an everlasting fortune extending beyond the duration of their current life. “For this reason alone, a husband is worthy of worship and respect”, said Sita.

Krishna with cows It is simply a matter of courtesy. Someone who provides us something beneficial automatically becomes worthy of our respect and kindness. This same principle holds true with cows. Hindus are mistakenly thought of as being cow worshipers, but in actuality they show a deep respect and appreciation for cows and what they offer mankind. Cows freely give us their milk, which can then be used to prepare hundreds of varieties of dishes. For this reason cows should always be protected and honored, instead of mercilessly sent to slaughterhouses. As children, our mothers provide us milk which allows us to grow up to be strong and healthy. Since the cow also provides us milk, they should be afforded the same respect as our mothers. Unnecessarily killing a cow is quite a horrendous act.

Wealthy businessmen and athletes often talk of “giving back”. Though they haven’t really taken anything from anyone, they equate “giving back” with charity and benevolence. The general idea is that one shouldn’t keep taking from someone without acknowledging and respecting the giver. By the same token, Lord Krishna is the ultimate provider. We gladly harvest the fruits of our labor, thinking ourselves to be the instrument behind their acquisition, when in fact everything in this world happens through God’s energies. As great as we may think ourselves to be, it is the rain provided by God that allows our food to grow which sustains our life. If anyone is worthy of our respect, it is God.

This is the lesson taught here by Sita Devi. God is the greatest provider of wealth and fortune, so who wouldn’t want to worship Him? As we get deeper and deeper into the Kali Yuga, many of us are forgetting Krishna and what He does for us. The time is now to turn our attention back towards Him and thank Him for all that He has done for us. Krishna is more than just a provider; He is our dearmost well-wishing friend. If we choose to have a relationship with Him, He can provide us unending happiness the likes of which we have never seen. So let us follow Sita Devi’s example by always remaining connected with the Lord, and honoring Him with all our thoughts, words, and deeds.

Friday, January 1, 2010

What Goes Up Must Come Down

Rama and Lakshmana fighting Ravana “Whatever is piled up, finally disburses. Whatever rises, must eventually fall. Those that come together, separate in the end. Life eventually meets with death.” (Lord Rama speaking to Bharata, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 105)

This instruction given by Lord Rama, God Himself, to His brother is almost identical to that given by Lord Krishna to Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. Everything in this life is temporary, even if we fail to realize it. Whatever one gains, they are sure to lose, with the ultimate loss being one’s life at the time of death. One must not become bewildered by the temporary nature of things.

Immediately upon taking birth, a cloud of ignorance envelops the newborn child. We have information from the Shrimad Bhagavatam that the child in the womb has consciousness of its previous lives. The child promises to remember God in this life and to make sure that they never take birth again. Yet immediately after coming out of the womb of the mother, that experience is forgotten. Not only do we forget the nine months we spent in the womb, but we also forget the experiences of our many past lives.

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

Krishna speaking to Arjuna This forgetfulness is all due to Lord Krishna’s illusory energy known as maya. This isn’t God’s fault, for we want to falsely enjoy in the material world. Maya facilitates our desire. For this reason a newborn child is completely uneducated in spiritual matters, and in actions is no different than an animal. This ignorance then leads to the false identification with the body. This line of thinking continues into adulthood if no spiritual education is given. Since this is the age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the Kali Yuga, most everyone is living their lives under this false pretense. “I am Indian, I am American, I am black, I am white, etc.” In actuality, we are spirit souls, aham brahmasmi. Our body is but a temporary material covering consisting of bile, mucus, air, blood, puss, etc. It is constantly changing, but this change is so subtle that we don’t realize it. Still, we can understand that the body we have as an adult is completely different from the body we had as a child. Our identity has remained the same throughout, so one must conclude that we are not this body. Then what are we? Our identity comes from the atma, or the soul residing within our body. The soul cannot be seen with the naked eye or with fancy scientific instruments. It is similar to the wind in that regard. Yet through the event known as death, we can come to know of its existence. For example, we may have an attachment for a parent or other loved one. At the time of their death, the body remains in front of us, yet we still lament. “Oh my father has died. I am so sad.” But why are we sad? The body still lays in front of us. The reason we lament is because the individual, represented by the soul, has departed the body.

“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…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. 2.20, 2.22)

No sane person can say the gross material body represents our identity. Nevertheless, this is precisely the mode of thinking of many people. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, instruct us to break free of this false logic. In fact the very first instruction of the Vedas is that we are not this body. This simple fact represents the beginning of spiritual instruction, not the end. The end is Krishna, or God. As the saying goes, Ram nam satya hey, “the name of Rama (God) is the truth”. The Supreme Absolute Truth represents the final piece of knowledge.

Thomas Jefferson Aside from the event of death, there are many other ways that God shows us the temporary nature of things. Not only is this body temporary, but everything in this material creation as well. This includes any wealth or possessions accumulated during our lifetime. Great emperors of the past all thought they were immortal and that their reign would never end. Yet not only did they all die, but their empires all vanished as well. In a similar manner, all the great dynasties and empires of today will one day dissolve. Thomas Jefferson, one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, believed such events were a good thing.

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then. It is like a storm in the atmosphere." (Thomas Jefferson to Abigail Adams, 1787)

Not only the power of government, but every person’s power and feeling of false proprietorship needs to checked. Aside from falsely identifying with the body, the other major problem facing the living entities is their desire to lord over material nature. God is one and He is supreme. Yet by taking birth in this material world, by nature we come to believe that we are God in a sense. “I will perform such and such work and then acquire rewards for it. I will make such and such plans and then I will be happy.” This is the mindset of all living entities. Yet material nature, through the laws of karma, always checks our plans. No matter how hard we may try, something is bound to thwart us. No one can be infallible except God, whose many names include Achyuta, meaning one who is infallible.

Diamondbacks beating the Yankees in game 7 It is common to see people be envious of someone else who is successful materially, thinking that everything goes right for them. This is especially seen in the world of sports. The perennially successful teams are the ones hated the most. In Major League Baseball, the New York Yankees are one of the most hated teams. There are thousands of fans who watch Yankee games simply to root for them to lose. The Yankees are one of the oldest teams in baseball, having a rich historical tradition. They have won the most championships and they have the highest annual payroll amongst all teams. This is the primary reason for the hatred directed their way. In the late 1990s, the Yankees had won three World Series in a row, and four out of five going into the 2001 playoffs. Fighting their way through tough teams, the Yankees made it back to the World Series where they faced an upstart Arizona Diamondbacks team. After two miracle ninth inning rallies in games 4 and 5, the Yankees took a 3 games to 2 lead going back to Arizona. Arizona fought their way back to force a decisive game 7. Facing a tough pitcher, the Yankees somehow clawed their way into the lead going into the ninth and final inning. Once again, it seemed like the Yankees could do no wrong. They brought in their ace closer, Mariano Rivera, to pitch the ninth inning. Rivera was pretty much unhittable as a pitcher, especially during the postseason. But the laws of nature took over, and the Diamondbacks did the unthinkable by coming back and scoring two runs off Rivera to win one of the most memorable World Series in history.

Rama meeting Bharata in the forest So however invincible we may think someone is, everyone is destined to fail at some point. Even the most successful people face defeat every now and then. The ultimate equalizer is death since we can’t take our trophies, material possessions, or family relationships with us to the afterlife. Even God personally showed us this example during His different advents on earth. Lord Rama was forced to separate from His dearly beloved brother Lakshmana, His father Dashratha, and even His wife Sita Devi. Lord Krishna similarly had to depart for the spiritual world, leaving the Vrishnis behind. Obviously God can never be killed, nor is His body material like ours. Nevertheless, He gives us that illusion so as to teach us a lesson. God sets up events just right to make it appear that karma affects Him, but one should never think that it actually does.

“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)

Rama and Lakshmana dedicated to dharmaKnowing the temporary nature of this world is one thing, but how should we act on such knowledge? The answer can be taken from Lord Rama’s example. The above referenced statement was made to His brother Bharata while the entire family was staying in the forest. Lord Rama had been exiled from the kingdom at the request of His father King Dashratha, who had since passed away. Bharata, being a younger brother, thought it improper to ascend the throne as Dashratha had wished. Bharata immediately set out to look for Rama in the forest and to beg Him to come back and rule over the kingdom. Rama’s point to Bharata was that everything in this life is temporary, so we shouldn’t be overly attached to good or bad results. The events of our life will play out, but we should never swerve from the path of dharma, or religiosity.

The Vedas declare many different dharmas, or types of religion, but only one is completely free of material effects, and that is bhagavata-dharma. God is known as Bhagavan, so the religious system that aims to connect with Him is known as bhagavata-dharma, also known as devotional service. If we shift our priorities in such a way that we do everything for God’s benefit, we become immune to the effects of karma. The detachment we so desperately seek comes of its own volition. Just knowing that everything in life is temporary is not enough. It is much easier said than done to actually become detached from mundane sense gratification and the desire to lord over material nature. Devotional service helps us foster attachment to God, which will then automatically give us detachment from everything else. This was the example set by Lord Rama. He did everything for the benefit of His devotees, so we should be kind enough to return the favor.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

Sunshine of My Life

Lord Krishna “As long as the sunshine is there, our eyes are useful to a certain extent. But in the absence of sunshine, the eyes are useless. Lord Shri Krishna, being the primeval Lord, the Supreme Truth, is compared to the sun. Without Him all our knowledge is either false or partial.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.11.9 Purport)

In the material world, every device or machine has a key component that defines its existence and makes it operate. Without these key components, these devices fail to operate and become utterly useless.

The automobile was one of the great inventions of the twentieth century. Able to transport people from place to place in a very short amount of time, it grew in popularity very quickly. Nowadays it is the preferred method of transportation for people living in industrialized nations. A car, just like the horse and buggy before it, requires wheels in order for it to work. Without wheels, a car cannot go anywhere. If we get a flat tire, we immediately need to replace it, for just having one malfunctioning wheel can stop a car dead in its tracks. The tires and wheels are so important that race car drivers regularly change them during races so that they can maintain the optimal performance of their car. Without wheels, an automobile is nothing but a hunk of shiny metal that just sits still, not being used by anyone.

Narada Muni A vina is a stringed instrument that is plucked, and it is very popular in India. It is the instrument of choice for the great Narada Muni. Narada is a rishi, or great sage, who is completely dedicated to serving the Supreme Lord Krishna. On one occasion, he was cursed by Daksha, one of the progenitors of man, to never be able to live in one place for more than three days at a time. Because of this, Narada Muni is always travelling the three worlds, providing spiritual instruction to those who need it. He was the spiritual master of the compiler of the Vedas, Vyasadeva. He was also the spiritual master of Maharishi Valmiki. In fact, he transformed Valmiki from a rogue thief into a true saint and expert poet. Narada always carries his vina with him, for he is always singing the glories of Lord Krishna. The strings are the key component of a vina, for the instrument requires the strings to be plucked in order for it to produce music. Without the strings, it is nothing more than a finely shaped piece of wood.

When Lord Krishna incarnated as Lord Rama during the Treta Yuga, He voluntarily accepted the punishment of exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya. The Lord was ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest, living as a recluse, by His father Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. The Lord happily agreed to the request and His wife Sita Devi also insisted on accompanying Him. Sita was the incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who serves as God’s wife in the spiritual world. As the wife is considered the better half of man, so Sita was considered the better half of Rama. She took personally any order given to her husband. If He was to live as a homeless person for fourteen years, then as His wife, she felt it was her duty to suffer the same fate as her husband.

“The Vina without strings does not sound, and the car without wheels does not move, so although having a hundred sons, a woman without her husband cannot attain happiness.” (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)

Sita Devi Just prior to leaving for the forest, Rama’s mother Kausalya gave some words of advice to her daughter-in-law. She requested Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to always serve and honor Him while living in the forest. Sita obviously knew all of this since she was a perfect devotee of God. Devotees, through their sincere service to the Lord, acquire all knowledge relevant to the codes of dharma, or religiosity. After listening to her mother-in-law, Sita humbly replied that she was well acquainted with the proper duties of a wife. Just as a car cannot function without wheels, and a vina cannot product music without strings, so a wife cannot have happiness without her husband. This is the Vedic tenet relating to marriage. Once married, a husband and wife become one person. There is no concept of independence. If the husband is forced to go to hell, the wife must follow. They equally share the merits and demerits of their action. Knowing this, it is in the best interest of the wife to faithfully serve the husband, so that he may be very pious and devoted to the highest dharma, devotional service to Krishna. If a husband becomes a top-notch devotee, the wife is guaranteed to ascend to Krishnaloka or Vaikunthaloka, along with her husband in the afterlife.

Though Sita was referring to happiness in relation to husbands and wives, what she was really saying is that we living entities cannot achieve true happiness without having God in our life. We may have all the material facilities available to us such as a nice car, a large bank balance, a high-definition television, or the latest music player, but these things can never bring about true happiness. The same goes for our family life. We may have a very beautiful wife and wonderful children, but in the end these things are temporary. Our relationship with God is absolute and permanent. The bond we share with Him remains alive even after death.

Material life means constantly hankering and lamenting. These two things are going on constantly and they are the cause of all our pain and suffering. Elevation in spiritual life means putting an end to hankering and lamenting.

“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)

Sita and Rama Sita Devi could feel no happiness without her husband, who was God Himself. While in the forest, she was kidnapped by the evil demon Ravana, who held her captive in his kingdom for many months. She was able to persevere through such a horrific condition by always keeping her mind fixed on Lord Rama. We may not always have the benefit of personal association with the Lord, but thinking of Him, remembering His pastimes, and chanting His names are equal substitutes. God and His names, forms, attributes, and pastimes are all non-different from Him. Simply by remembering, we can have association with God.

Sita Rama Sita Devi gave us the path to true, eternal happiness. Our relationship with Krishna is what defines us, for without Him, we cannot have any happiness. In the Vedic system, the brahmanas, or priestly class of men, are referred to as dvija, or “twice-born”. Our first birth is when we come out of the womb of our mother. The second and more important birth is when we take initiation into spiritual life from a guru, or spiritual master. Real initiation means sincerely devoting oneself to serving Krishna. Pledging our unending devotion to God, we can all take our second birth and begin our real life. Krishna is our dearmost friend and inner life partner. He is always with us, we just need to recognize and love Him. We spirit souls are meant to be eternally blissful and full of knowledge.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Supreme Controller

Lord Rama “No creature is endowed with the power of exercising any control over the course of events. Man has no independent status in nature.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 105)

This is one of the central tenets of Vedic philosophy; man has no independence. He surely has the choice to act as he wishes, but the results are not determined by him. Nature is the ultimate controller, and nature is managed by God and His energies.

Man’s identifying with the gross material body and his thinking that he has independence represent the two largest stumbling blocks towards spiritual advancement. These thoughts occur naturally in every human being, for all we know is our own body. We act in a certain way and we see the consequences, so we naturally think that we are responsible for creating results. If we’re hungry, we eat something, and then we’re not hungry anymore. If we want to succeed in school, we study hard, and then pass our exams. Again, we think ourselves the doer.

The idea of independence works the same way. Some countries are very proud of their independence, celebrating each year on the specific day that freedom was achieved. People can’t be blamed for celebrating nationalism in this way. Many societies have faced oppression throughout history at the hands of dictatorships and tyrannical regimes, so breaking free of these forces is certainly a momentous occasion. But are we actually ever independent?

Revolutionary War The United States has had its independence from Great Britain for over two hundred years, but we see that there is still panic and turmoil every day. Just because one group of people no longer runs the government, it doesn’t mean that problems automatically go away. For the citizens of a particular country, there is never true independence because government is always there to manage things. Some people are happy with the job government is doing, while others are not. Thus a battle for control of the government ensues, which manifests either as elections or, in extreme cases, revolutions. This struggle for power has been going on since time immemorial.

This struggle for control also exists inside of each living entity. At our core, we are spirit souls, part and parcel of God. In order to take birth in this material world, we must accept a body consisting of the five gross elements (earth, air, water, fire, and ether) and three subtle elements (mind, intelligence, and false ego). As living entities, we have a choice in how our senses interact with the elements of nature. In this way, we have a small amount of independence. Yet material nature still reigns supreme. God is one but He is referred to by many different names; each of which describe His various activities and potencies. One of His names is Parameshvara, meaning the supreme controller. We may able to control our bodily functions to some degree, but God can control everything and everyone. The weather system itself is a miracle which scientists have yet to fully comprehend. They may be able to predict the weather a few days in advance, but they have no way of stopping it from raining or making it warm during the winter. They come up with various concocted theories such as Global Warming or Climate Change, but these bogus ideas all crumble over time since they don’t recognize the influence of the sun and God’s control over nature.

“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.19)”

Lord Krishna holding up Govardhana Hill We may act in a certain way, but we actually have no control over how events will play out. The threefold miseries of life will always get in our way. There are miseries brought about by other living entities, by our mind, and by nature. The interference of nature is easy to comprehend. We may work very hard during the day to maintain a nice house and a healthy family, yet one natural disaster can take all of that away in a second. Every year, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes devastate the lives of so many people around the world. Other living entities also get in the way of our plans. The 9/11 terrorist attack was an example of this. People were just minding their own business going to the office one day, when all of a sudden, a plane crashes into their building, killing thousands and destroying the lives of many more.

So why do these miseries occur? With every action that we take, there is a corresponding reaction that must occur through the forces of karma. For example, if we kill another living entity unnecessarily and without just cause, then even if we aren’t punished by the laws of the state, we will be forced to suffer through karma, which is God’s system of fairness. The Lord, residing in the hearts of every living entity as the Supersoul or Paramatma, witnesses all of our actions. If we behave piously, we are rewarded as such, and the opposite holds true when we act sinfully. The laws of karma are absolute and must go into effect. Lord Krishna has deputed Dharmaraja, the god of justice, to handle all issues of fairness. The Vedas actually recommend capital punishment administered by the state for the most heinous criminals so that the sinner won’t have to suffer in a future life through karma. Every Vedic policy is carried out in full knowledge of karma, which serves to check our false idea of independence.

Aside from doling out simple punishments and rewards, karma also determines the circumstances of our birth. For example, taking a look at people born today, we see that those born in wealthy countries have a tremendous advantage over those born in starving countries run by dictatorships. Taking birth in a wealthy family is due to pious activity performed in a previous life.

“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.41)

Lord Krishna No one has a choice in their birth. Yet we see that so many people are falsely claiming to be part of a specific race, ethnicity, or even caste. They feel they are better than someone else simply based on their birth, or they feel that other people are inherently flawed due to their skin color or ethnicity. This thinking is the root cause of racial problems around the world. What these people fail to understand is that they could very well take birth in another race in a future life. The material body is just a covering; we are all constitutionally the same since we are all spirit souls.

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.47)

Knowing that we are not truly independent, does that mean we should just sit idly by and do nothing? Or better yet, should we just act however we want since karma will take care of everything? The answer is that we should act in concert with God’s instructions. The point of human life is to reconnect with Krishna, which will allow us to return to His spiritual realm after death. Though karma is absolute and requires us to repeatedly take birth in this material world, bhagavata-dharma makes one immune to the effects of karma. Bhagavan is a name for God meaning one who possesses all fortunes. Bhagavata is the name for one who is in association with Bhagavan, a devotee, and dharma means occupational duty. So we simply have to make our occupational duty that of constantly serving and being in association with Bhagavan, or God.

The major religions around the world each have one or two primary texts such as the Bible, Koran, etc., but the Vedas have many many major texts. There are too many to really count. This is because the Vedas offer many sub-religious systems for people who don’t want to follow bhagavata-dharma. Luckily for us, the great saints of the pasts, Bhagavatas, have synthesized the Vedic teachings for people of this age. The easiest way to engage in devotional service is to always chant the holy names of God:, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The lesson taught by Lord Rama is that we should follow dharma at all times. The above referenced statement was part of a conversation between Rama and His younger brother Bharata. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Lord Krishna who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago as a prince in Ayodhya. Rama was the rightful heir to the throne, but Bharata was instead given the crown by their father Maharaja Dashratha. Bharata very much wanted Rama to take over, so he told Him how everyone would be miserable if He wasn’t their ruler. Lord Rama then responded with a few statements about how no one has independence, and that dharma should be followed in all circumstances. Rama was following dharma by remaining in the forest, since that was the order given to Him by His father. In those times, kshatriyas (warrior class) served as the kings and their word was more important to them than their life. Rama wanted to maintain the good name and reputation of His father, who had since passed away.

Rama with Hanuman Each of us has our prescribed duties based on our qualities and our age, so it is important that we follow them. The highest duty for every person is to become God conscious. If we practice devotional service to God, we’ll make Lord Rama happy, which is reward enough.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Hare Krishna

Radha Krishna “After searching through all the Vedic literature one cannot find a method of religion more sublime for this age than the chanting of Hare Krishna." (Kali-santarana Upanishad)

Question: “May I know the meaning of Hare Krishna and Hare Rama please?”

Answer: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” is known as the maha-mantra. Maha means great, and mantra means a series of words which are repeated to achieve a certain goal. The term mantra today is generally associated with a slogan or a saying that is intended to help keep a person’s mind focused on a particular task. However, mantras have their origin in the Vedas, the original religious scriptures for all of mankind.

Lord Krishna The Vedas were passed down by Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, at the beginning of creation. He imparted Vedic wisdom into the heart of Lord Brahma, the first created living entity. Lord Brahma is often referred to as being self-born since He did not take birth from the womb of a mother or father. But actually He appeared out of the lotus navel of Lord Krishna in His form as Lord Vishnu, thus God is technically his father. The Vedas are also known as the shrutis, meaning “that which is heard”. The Vedas were originally passed down through an oral tradition since the hearing process is very effective for the transmission of spiritual knowledge. The ultimate teaching of the Vedas is that this human form of life is meant for understanding God. Animals don’t have the capability of understanding concepts besides eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. The human brain was modeled in such a way as to allow it to take in religious information, and to then use that knowledge to engage in devotional service to the Lord. Human life is meant for dedicating every thought and deed to the Supreme Lord. The mind is always working, for one cannot stop thinking for even a second. At the same time, one must always work. The Vedas tell us to purify both of these activities by devoting them to the Supreme Lord Krishna.

Along with thoughts and deeds come words. The speech power of the human being should be utilized for offering nice prayers to God. This actually benefits the living entity more than it does God. This is because we human beings are happiest when we are connecting with God in a loving way. This is where mantras come in. The Vedas consist entirely of hymns and mantras. Each mantra has its own meaning and purpose. For example, one can recite certain mantras to achieve good health, a peaceful family life, and other material benefits. So in this sense, all mantras are not the same. The maha-mantra is considered one of the greatest mantras because it addresses God in a loving way. It is completely pure and free of any material contamination. One who chants this mantra without offenses, meaning without any material motives, will quickly achieve pure love for God.

The famous writer William Shakespeare declared that brevity is the soul of wit. The least amount of words we can use to convey a thought or idea, the better. The less time it takes to make a point, the more effective the message will be. The material senses are so strong that they constantly compete for attention with the mind. Because of this, our minds are always racing, jumping from one thought to another. To really make an impression on the mind, a petitioner needs to make their point in a quick and concise manner. The field of advertising is built around this model. Quick slogans and jingles are very effective because people are more likely to remember them. In a similar manner, it is better to offer prayers to God in a concise way. As mentioned before, offering prayers to the Lord actually benefits us more than it benefits Him. The Vedas describe God as atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. He is in need of nothing, yet He is still kind enough to give attention to His devotees. Since His glories are limitless, one can spend their entire lifetime offering prayers to the Lord and still not come close to fully describing His glories.

“The Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead, is always unlimited, and His glories cannot be completely enumerated by anyone, even by a personality like Lord Brahma. It is said that Ananta, a direct incarnation of the Lord, has unlimited mouths, and with each mouth He has been trying to describe the glories of the Lord for an unlimited span of time, yet the glories of the Lord remain unlimited, and He therefore never finishes. It is not possible for any ordinary living entity to understand or to glorify the unlimited Personality of Godhead, but one can offer prayers or service to the Lord according to one's particular capacity.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.7.24, Purport)

Lord Rama The perfect prayer is one that addresses God’s important attributes in a quick, concise, and loving way. Our main purpose in praying to God is to tell Him that we love Him. The least amount of words we can use to make our point, the better. Talk radio shows illustrate this principle of brevity. Radio hosts are constantly looking at the broadcast clock, for they have a limited number of minutes that they are on the air in each hour due to commercials and other network commitments. Therefore, these hosts must make the best use of their time. A talk show wouldn’t be complete without callers calling in and giving their opinions. The majority of these callers happen to be fans of the show, so they spend the first few minutes of their call praising the host. “Oh I love your show. I’ve been listening for years. You’ve changed my life, etc.” Now if only one caller per show said such things, it probably wouldn’t pose a problem. But most callers feel the need to praise the host in this way before actually getting to the reason for their call. So in order to save precious airtime, the hosts have developed certain catch phrases that the callers can use to get the same point across. Phrases such as “Boo-ya!…You’re a great American…Mega dittos” are all used by callers to address their beloved hosts. Though the phrases may be different, they all essentially mean the same thing. “I love the show. I hope it stays on the air. You’re great.”

The maha-mantra works the same way. By saying “Hare Krishna”, we’re really saying, “God, I love You. Thanks for letting me serve You and always think about You. I hope I never forget about You at any time in my life.” This is the simplest definition of the maha-mantra. The effectiveness of the mantra lies in the fact that it addresses both God and His energy. The word “Hare” refers to Hara, who is God’s energy. Lord Krishna is always seen with His pleasure potency expansion, Shrimati Radharani. Lord Rama is always seen with His wife Sita Devi, and Lord Narayana with Lakshmi Devi. God is the energetic and His devotees are His energy. Hara represents the perfection of the Lord’s energy, technically known as hladini-shakti; God’s pleasure potency.

When praying to God, it is important to address His devotees because that we are striving to become devotees ourselves. Devotees like Radhrani, Sita, Hanuman, Prahlada, etc. are our role models because they represent perfection in life. We can never be the energetic; that title is reserved for God. In fact, one of the reasons for our being in this material world is our desire to try to be God. We falsely believe that if we meditate enough, or accumulate enough riches, that we can one day become the strongest, wisest, most beautiful, or most famous. This actually can never be achieved because these perfections are reserved for God, whose is also known as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. The great devotees are the trail blazers who have shown us how to achieve perfection in life. By uttering “Hare”, we pray to God’s energy to help us become pure devotees as well.

“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is inaccessible to the Vedas, but obtainable by pure unalloyed devotion of the soul, who is without a second, who is not subject to decay, is without a beginning, whose form is endless, who is the beginning, and the eternal purusha; yet He is a person possessing the beauty of blooming youth.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.33)

Radha Krishna Krishna and Rama are two of God’s primary names. According to authoritative scriptures such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Brahma-samhita, God has many forms, but Krishna is the original. Krishna means one who is all-attractive. He is also known as Madana-Mohan because He is capable of even attracting Cupid himself. Rama means one who gives pleasure. Rama can refer to Lord Ramachandra, Krishna’s incarnation during the Treta Yuga, or Lord Balarama, Krishna’s expansion who simultaneously appeared with Him during the Dvapara Yuga. Since Lord Balarama is considered non-different from God Himself, both definitions for Rama are valid, for they each refer to God.

“The holy name of Krishna is transcendentally blissful. It bestows all spiritual benedictions, for it is Krishna Himself, the reservoir of all pleasure. Krishna's name is complete, and it is the form of all transcendental mellows. It is not a material name under any condition, and it is no less powerful than Krishna Himself. Since Krishna's name is not contaminated by the material qualities, there is no question of its being involved with maya. Krishna's name is always liberated and spiritual; it is never conditioned by the laws of material nature. This is because the name of Krishna and Krishna Himself are identical.” (Padma Purana)

The Vedas tell us that there is no difference between God and His name. This may seem strange to understand at first, but through constant recitation of the maha-mantra, we can begin to realize that this is indeed true. Simply calling out God’s names in a loving way means we are directly connecting with Him. The material world is a temporary place full of miseries. God, along with His names, forms, and pastimes, is completely the opposite. He is eternally blissful and full of knowledge. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation, inaugurated the sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the names of God, some five hundred years ago. The maha-mantra was His mantra of choice due to its efficacy. He advised everyone to chant it regularly and to induce others to chant.

Lord Chaitanya and associates chanting Hare Krishna Chanting God’s name is the only way to achieve perfection in the current age. We see evidence of this all around us. The beauty of “Hare Krishna” is that it can be recited by anyone, of any age, and any religious persuasion. Just as God is all-attractive, so are His names. The maha-mantra can be recited on a set of chanting beads (japa mala) to oneself, or it can be sung out loud with others. Either way, if we constantly keep Hare Krishna and Hare Rama on the tip of our tongue, we are sure to always be happy.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Defining Attribute

Sita and Rama dwelling in Hanuman's heart “(Those) who have established their reputation in the world for their knowledge of the rules of propriety – their soul is your excellent abode.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamansa)

Brightness is the defining attribute of the moon. Being intimately associated with the earth, the moon acts as the reflector of sunlight, having a glow and effulgence that pervades the nighttime sky. One cannot separate the brightness from the moon.

Lakshmi Narayana Deities In the same way, Sita Devi’s defining attribute was her devotion to dharma. Dharma means occupational duty, or religiosity. We usually associate religion with faith and ritualistic practices, when in actuality, dharma is the occupation of the living entity, something inherited from birth. It stems from the Vedas, the original scripture for all of mankind. Dharma also has many rules and laws associated with it, but its aim is to bring one closer to God. Sita Devi was an incarnation of Shri Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. Lakshmi is the eternal consort of Lord Narayana, one of God’s forms in the spiritual sky. As Sita Devi, she performed the same functions by acting as Lord Rama’s wife. Lord Rama was God Himself who came to earth in human form to reinstitute the principles of dharma. Sita was very much dedicated to dharma from her very youth, being well acquainted with all the rules of propriety. Though well acquainted with dharma, she actually transcended all rules and regulations by acting as a perfect wife to her husband. Serving God in a loving way is the real definition of dharma. Since she is God’s wife and eternal servitor, all of Sita Devi’s actions are automatically virtuous.

“The worshipful one ought not to place me on the same footing with unrighteous persons. As brightness does not depart from the moon, so I cannot swerve from virtue.” (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)

In the above referenced quote, Sita Devi is responding to words of advice given to her by Lord Rama’s mother, Kausalya. At the time, the couple were about to embark on a fourteen year tour of the forest, where they would live as exiles from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama was the eldest son of the king, Maharaja Dashratha, but due to extenuating circumstances, He was ordered to leave the kingdom and not come back for fourteen years. Sita, acting as the perfect wife, refused to allow her husband to roam the forest alone. As they were about to leave, Kausalya reminded Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to always serve Him, for that is the dharma of a wife. In the Vedic system, a husband and wife are not to lead separate lives. The marriage is a fifty-fifty relationship, but not in the modern day sense. The wife and husband each have their own duties relating to the marriage. If they both execute those duties properly, they both share the religious merit that is earned. The duty of the wife is to view her husband as her deity. She should worship and honor him, and serve him to the best of her ability. If the husband is happy, the couple will have a peaceful family life, whereby they can follow religious observances together. That is the real benefit to having a spouse. A spouse is our life partner that helps us in performing our religious activities. Vedic life revolves around the practice of tapasya, or austerities, which are very difficult to perform alone. A spouse can act as a coach or advisor that ensures we are performing our austerities properly. Tapasya, properly executed, leads us closer to God since it reduces our attachment to material sense gratification. By spending time thinking about God and offering Him prayers, we fulfill the real mission of our life.

Sita Rama Sita Devi, after hearing Kausalya’s words, begged her mother-in-law not to include her amongst the irreligious. Unrighteous persons are those who live on the principles of adharma. Dharma is the code of conduct prescribed by the Vedas, and any act or belief that is contrary to this code is considered adharma. Sita was a perfect devotee, which means she was without pride. However, she was cent percent committed to her husband and to dharma, so she never wanted to be thought of as being irreligious even for a second. In the Ramacharitamanasa, there is a great description of the qualities of a devotee given by Maharishi Valmiki when he was visited by Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana, while they were roaming the forest.

Valmiki instructed Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana to live in the hearts of those who are known for their adherence to dharma. People are known for their different outstanding qualities. Someone may be known to be a great speaker, or a great athlete, or an excellent writer. These are all very nice, but a devotee wants only to be known as a devotee and nothing else. This is their defining quality. They don’t seek fame and fortune for themselves. They only want to be known as devotees of the Lord; servant of the servant of God. They want to be known for their adherence to dharma and for their devotion to Krishna.

Goswami Tulsidas is a great example in this respect. An incarnation of Valmiki who appeared in India some four hundred years ago, Tulsidas wrote wonderful poetry praising Lord Rama and others during his lifetime, with his most famous works being the Ramacharitamanasa and Hanuman Chalisa. However, to this day, very little is known about his life. This can be attributed to several factors, but the real reason is because Tulsidas himself did not covet any fame. He was a very humble man, who used poetry as a means of expressing his love for Lord Rama. Since he was a pure devotee, his writing came out very nice and became very popular at the same time. To this day, the Hanuman Chalisa is recited daily by millions in India. His Ramacharitamansa is a staple in the home of every Hindu. He only wished to be known as a devotee of Lord Rama, and God obliged.

Goswami Tulsidas In the same way, Sita only wanted to be known for her devotion to the Lord. As Lord Rama’s wife, she had no desire for earthly riches or jewel studded crowns. As the wife of the eldest son of the king, she was in line to enjoy the pleasures of royal life to the fullest. Yet she renounced all of that at the drop of a hat. The forest is not considered a suitable place for a person to live, let alone for a beautiful and delicate woman such as Sita. Yet she had no qualms about going, for she insisted on following Rama. She only thought of Rama and His happiness wherever she went. For this reason she is loved and adored by millions today. No one can ever put her on the same footing as an unrighteous person. On the contrary, she is the very definition of righteousness.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

World Peace

Lord Krishna “Disturbance is due to want of an ultimate goal, and when one is certain that Krishna is the enjoyer, proprietor and friend of everyone and everything, then one can, with a steady mind, bring about peace.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.66 Purport)

Contestants at beauty pageants get judged not only on their looks, but also on their intellect. Their intelligence is judged by the answers they give to several insightful questions posed by panelists or judges. One of the questions that is always asked is “What is the one thing the contestant would wish for in life?” The stock answer is “World Peace. I wish for everyone in the world to be happy and living peacefully.” This is something desired by not only Miss America but almost everyone in the world. So how can we actually go about achieving real, everlasting peace?

United Nations Let’s first take a look at some of the more conventional methods. The most popular solution seems to be diplomacy. Panels consisting of world leaders are put together, which then meet on a regular basis discussing the issues at hand. This method is appealing because it doesn’t involve violence and it incorporates communication and dialogue, both of which are usually lacking in relationships between world leaders. In order for diplomacy to work, there must be compromise. This represents the biggest hurdle to peace. Every human being has desires, which they then act upon. This is known as karma.

Karma includes any activity performed which has a material reaction associated with it, either good or bad. Something as simple as getting up in the morning to go to school or work is considered karmic activity since there is a desired end-goal. Students are working towards finishing their studies, and workers go to the office to earn money to support their livelihood. Both are noble activities, but they are still done for a fruitive result. In a similar manner, world leaders each have their own agenda and personal desires that they work very hard for. When these desires conflict, as they almost surely will, disagreements result, and wars ensue.

In Ronald Reagan’s famous 1964 speech in support of presidential candidate Barry Goldwater, he said that if someone wants peace, they can have it in a second. “It’s called surrender. Give up everything you believe in and stand for, and you will automatically have peace, with the opposing side gaining victory.” This perfectly points out the fatal flaw in diplomacy. Weaker parties obviously don’t want to surrender, so instead they make false promises in hopes of lulling the opposition into a false sense of security. Talks take place, agreements are made, both parties claim victory, and peace is achieved. Yet this peace doesn’t last long at all. The Middle East is a great example of this. After the end of World War II, the United Nations decided to partition the Palestine state into a Jewish state, and that one act has led to conflict ever since. Every new president in the U.S. is faced with the “Middle East Crisis”, having to deal with the constant fight over who has the right to rule over the land. There have been countless resolutions and agreements made, but there has been anything but peace.

Everything emanates from Krishna Real peace can only come about when people connect with Krishna, or God. A country may fight over who has control over a certain area of land, but God is the actual proprietor of everything. This entire universe was created by Him in a single glance. At a certain time in the future, everything in this world will be destroyed by Him as well. This is the cycle of creation and destruction that has been going on since time immemorial.

“O son of Kunti, at the end of the millennium every material manifestation enters into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency I again create.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.7)

Though diplomacy usually fails in bringing about peace, the aggressive use of force actually tends to be more successful. If a country gains a decisive military victory, the peace that results tends to last a little longer. The United States was formed after the Revolutionary War which saw the British rulers defeated and driven out of the country. Yet from studying human history, we can understand that states and empires come and go all the time. Some last longer than others, but inevitably, they crumble. This is because fruitive desires can never be satisfied.

“The Blessed Lord said: It is lust only, Arjuna, which is born of contact with the material modes of passion and later transformed into wrath, and which is the all-devouring, sinful enemy of this world.” (Bg. 3.37)

Mother Yashoda and Krishna One can only be peaceful when he no longer has material desires. A person can’t simply give up wanting things. It is the nature of the living entity to be independent and act on their desires. The key is that one simply has to change their desires from the material platform to the spiritual. Shifting desires is already something we’re accustomed to. For example, teenagers and young adults are known for being care-free and engaging in unadulterated fun. Yet there inevitably comes a time when these same people grow up and realize that such activity doesn’t bring them happiness. They then take to family life and shift all their desires towards pleasing their spouse and children. Any good parent will tell you that their children are their life-blood. They do everything as a sacrifice for their children.

This change comes about because we are always happier when we are serving someone besides ourselves. This is due to our original nature, that of servant to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. The spirit soul is completely pure and a lover of God, but due to contact with material nature, it has become trapped in an embodied form, forced to act on the desires of the mind. Just as the parent gains happiness through serving their children, we human beings can achieve the highest form of happiness by serving God. All our other problems will be taken care of as a result.

Aside from issues relating to world peace, there are many other similar minor issues that people try to tackle, such as anger management, domestic violence, teenage pregnancy, etc. What we don’t realize is that these problems are merely symptoms of our biggest problem, the forgetfulness of our relationship with Krishna. Bhagavata-dharma is the occupational duty which connects with Krishna, so one who engages in it will naturally be happy all the time. This equates to a happy family life, which leads to a feeling of security, which leads to a peaceful society, and so forth. Krishna consciousness has a trickle-down effect. The analogy of watering a tree is appropriate in this regard. Serving Krishna means watering the root of the tree, which simultaneously feeds the branches and leaves.

Radha Krishna We can serve Krishna by engaging in devotional service. Chanting His name, reading books written by the great saints, and regularly viewing His deity are activities that take little time but yield big results. We simply have to take the first step towards Him, and He will show us the way. If we employ everything for His benefit and petition others to join us, we can have peace on earth.