Friday, December 31, 2010

No Need To Forget

Lord Rama “When angered, Raghava is capable of bringing the entire world, including all devas, asuras, and Gandharvas, under His control simply by taking up His bow.” (Hanuman speaking to Sugriva, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 32.19)

This cogent advice, forever grounded in the truth, was offered by the esteemed, supremely worshipable, Shri Hanuman, the most celebrated servant of Shri Rama. In this passage, we are reminded both of the Almighty’s all-powerful strength and His ability to take away everything visible before us. This world is temporary after all, so there must be a creator and a destroyer. Only the original Divine Being exists forever in His transcendental form; thus He is the only person who lives through the creations and destructions of the innumerable universes. Though there is no reason to ever forget about the original person, the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, the living entities invariably do shift their mind’s attention towards other interests. When the mind starts to drift, it is helpful to be reminded of the Lord’s attributes, especially as it relates to our particular areas of interest.

“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)

Vanaras building bridge to Lanka In this particular instance, the areas of interest relate to a kingdom and all the opulences that come with it. Many thousands of years ago, the forest dwellers in Kishkindha were basking in the reacquisition of a lost kingdom. During those times, the forest inhabitants were known as Vanaras, which is a Sanskrit word which means “of the forest.” Since these events took place so long ago, the species residing in the forests weren’t necessarily human beings or monkeys. The Vanaras were a combination of both; not some mythological creatures, but rather, a species specific to the time period. According to Vedic information, the varieties in species are caused by the innumerable combinations of material qualities that souls accept upon entry into the temporary creation. The only permanent creation exists in the spiritual sky, a realm where the Lord in His original form and His liberated associates enjoy each other’s company. The temporary creation is the world that we currently inhabit, a place full of misery, duality, and heartache. Since every soul has different desires to act out on this temporary playground, they are each given bodies with different qualities to make use of. The Vanaras of the Treta Yuga were one particular type of species who primarily possessed monkey-like characteristics, along with the ability to speak and take in knowledge.

Since they were also human-like, the Vanaras assembled together into kingdoms just as ordinary human beings do. In one particular kingdom, there was a quarrel between two brothers, Vali and Sugriva. On one occasion, Vali was drawn into a cave while fighting with an enemy. Sugriva, who was waiting outside, thought he heard Vali breathe his last, so in order to save the rest of his kingdom from the wrath of the demon, he decided to close up the only exit/entry to the cave. In reality though, it was the demon who had died and Vali who had lived. Able to make his way out of the cave, Vali became enraged towards Sugriva, thinking that his brother had closed up the cave on purpose so as to take over the kingdom. A fight ensued, with Sugriva eventually being driven out of his kingdom.

Rama and Lakshmana Sugriva, taking shelter in the forest of Kishkindha, a place where Vali was forbidden from entering, had the good fortune of meeting Shri Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. Rama and Lakshmana are famous throughout India today, as is Hanuman. Rama is considered an incarnation of Godhead, a primary avatara of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu, Krishna, Rama, and Narayana are interchangeable names for the person the rest of the world refers to as God. These names are more descriptive than the name “God” because they reference specific attributes and transcendental qualities possessed by the Lord. In the case of Rama, the name also refers to a specific incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth and enacted wonderful pastimes.

As Lord Rama, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the blissful Personality of Godhead, roamed the earth in His transcendental form of a pious kshatriya prince. Rama, as the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha, played the part of the pious descendant of the Raghu dynasty based in Ayodhya. While roaming the forests for fourteen years with His younger brother Lakshmana, Rama’s wife Sita Devi was kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Sita was also with the group on their sojourn through the forest, but at the time of the kidnapping, both Rama and Lakshmana happened to be absent from the group’s hermitage. Upon learning of Sita’s disappearance, Rama and Lakshmana frantically began a search for her whereabouts. One particular Rakshasa later informed them that the monkey-king Sugriva living in Kishkindha would be able to help them in their search.

Rama shooting Vali Upon reaching Kishkindha, a meeting between Rama and Sugriva was brokered by Hanuman, Sugriva’s chief minister. This meeting then led to an alliance, a sort of implied agreement. Sugriva wanted to regain his kingdom from Vali and Rama wanted to find His wife. Both agreed to help each other out with what they needed. Lord Rama held up His end of the bargain. Sugriva challenged Vali to a fight, and while the monkeys were engaged in battle, Rama shot Vali in the back with an arrow. Upon the monkey’s death, Sugriva and his subjects regained their kingdom.

Since the Vanaras were more monkey-like than human-like, they naturally took to excessive celebration after their victory. Sugriva spent months engaged in intoxication and sex life with innumerable female consorts. After considerable time had passed, Lakshmana’s patience ran out. Rama was faithful to the agreement, but Sugriva had failed to live up to his end. Sita was still missing and no one knew where she was. Lakshmana then angrily approached Sugriva’s home and asked to have a face-to-face meeting with the king. Hearing of Lakshmana’s anger, Sugriva became afraid and asked his counselors about what should be done. Hanuman stepped in and offered some sound words of advice.

Lord Rama In the above referenced quote, Hanuman is reminding Sugriva of Rama’s powers. Hanuman, who is a pure devotee of Shri Rama, knows the Lord very well. Hanuman never thinks of anyone else, so he never fails to remember Rama’s potencies. Lord Rama is generally depicted as very happy, wearing a pleasing smile on His face. He is God after all, so why wouldn’t He be happy? Yet here Hanuman is reminding Sugriva that Rama can also get angry if need be. It was through the Lord’s fighting prowess that Sugriva was able to enjoy the happiness that he was currently basking in. Therefore it was incumbent upon the monkey-king to hold up his end of the bargain. Lord Rama, as the most powerful warrior the world had ever seen, was not only capable of killing Vali and others, but He was capable of destroying the entire creation, including the residents of different planets. The demigods are the pious elevated living entities who reside in the heavenly planets. The asuras are the demons; they generally reside in the lower hellish planets. The Gandharvas are the celestial singers who entertain the demigods in heaven with their sweet songs. Lord Rama was so powerful that He could bring all of these entities under His control simply by shooting one arrow from His bow.

While Hanuman’s words reference a specific situation where an agreement between two parties was broken, the statement applies to all of us. The natural order of things, the way things ought to be, is to have the living entities constantly serve God. The mood of this service can vary, but the two separate entities, with one being superior and one being inferior, must be recognized. The Lord is meant to be worshiped, and the living entities are meant to provide that worship. But this devotion must be practiced voluntarily.

There is an inherent covenant established between the living entities and their supreme object of pleasure, Shri Krishna. God has already held up His end of the bargain. He supplies our food and other necessities through His different agents who are in charge of the material creation. The Lord has already established the condition in which our service to Him can be carried out. One may be inclined to disagree with this assertion, for how can everyone offer service to God? Aren’t some of us in distressful conditions, forced to suffer through famine, war, and natural disasters? For the people of this age, the easiest and most effective devotional activity is the chanting of the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Since this chanting process is available to all of us, it should be understood that the Lord has already created a condition sufficient enough for our devotional efforts to be carried out without impediment.

Hanuman chanting The ball is now in our court. Sugriva, upon hearing Hanuman’s words, decided to kindly pacify Lakshmana and pay back the debts owed to Shri Rama. Sugriva was eternally benefitted as a result, for Rama was able to find Sita , kill her abductor, and return triumphantly to His kingdom with all His friends and associates. Sugriva not only regained his kingdom, but through his service to Rama, he became famous throughout the world as a great devotee. For the conditioned entities living in the present, there is no reason to forget Rama or His powers. Currently our devotion is directed elsewhere towards objects which are nothing more than transformations of matter. Since God is the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of that matter, we would be better served shifting our devotion towards Him. There is no need to forget the all-powerful and all-merciful Lord. He is kindly awaiting our service and our subsequent return to His spiritual abode.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Fighting For One Cause

Lord Krishna's lotus feet “Intelligent persons who are endeavoring for liberation from old age and death take refuge in Me in devotional service. They are actually Brahman because they entirely know everything about transcendental and fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.29)

Despite the noble efforts of societal leaders, individuals are naturally inclined to viewing others in terms of their relationship to a particular race, gender, nationality, or religious group. These classifications are often revealed through the practices of racism and bigotry; hence the categorization is viewed in a negative light. Yet the practice is so prevalent because grouping individuals in this way allows for similarities and natural bonds with our fellow man to be found. Similarities in distinguishing features make it easier to form friendships and feel as though there are others out there going through similar struggles. Though groupings based off bodily traits and behavior certainly do have some validity, there is one trait that every single form of life shares. When the proper vision is acquired to see this quality in everyone, society at large can work together for the highest common good, a condition which leads to peace and harmony for all.

Though the average human being puts on a new set of clothes every day and gradually progresses through the various stages of life, the grouping of individuals is not usually based on age or outward dress. Rather, distinctions are made between gender, nationality, religious affiliation, and species. In fact, the scientific discipline of biology goes into a deep study of the different kingdoms, phyla, and species of life that are known to be in existence. These groupings are created so as to make life easier to understand. If we know what a particular form of life is prone towards doing, it’s easier to react to them. As a famous children’s animated television show once said, “And knowing is half the battle”, knowledge brings confidence. If we are in the know about something, we will know what to expect and how to react in important situations.

Though there are many movements that push for equality and racial harmony, it is an undeniable fact that issues of race and gender are always part of the public’s consciousness. When filling out any official document of importance, nationality and race are usually addressed. These group distinctions allow a person to find commonalities with their fellow man and thus understand them better. Not only are groupings made off of outward features of the body, but also on occupation and interests in hobbies and so forth. If we practice medicine for a living, naturally we will have things in common with other doctors and medical practitioners. If we write computer programs for a living, it would make sense that we’d have other computer scientists as friends.

Bhagavad-gita The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, teach one very important lesson to aspiring transcendentalists. This instruction is put forth right at the beginning, before the student goes any further in their studies. Aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.”, serves as the first lesson because it helps us understand that we have something in common with every form of life, regardless of the type of body they occupy. There is only one God, but since His potency is so great, He gives off transcendental sparks that are individually autonomous. Since these sparks come from the original fire, there is a natural affinity towards association with the reservoir of energy. Yet the qualities of free-will and independence bring about choices for the sparks. The autonomous entities may not always choose to associate with their intimate life partner, the Supreme Lord. Those who choose against the reservoir of spiritual energy are allowed to take birth in a realm which has nothing to do with God, save for His presence as an impartial observer.

Since every form of life in this material world is in the same predicament and of the same quality, they are all equal. The aggregate total of all spirit makes up Brahman. In this way, every one of us is Brahman at the core, but currently we are covered by a material body which is always changing. This dress, or outer garment, causes false identifications based on race, gender, and ethnicity. These identifications are deemed flawed because they don’t speak to the nature of Brahman. Spirit is completely pure and uncontaminated. Brahman is a way to realize the Absolute Truth, or God. The best way to understand Brahman is to think of the sun and the sunshine. The sun is all-powerful and completely unique. There is nothing like it in the universe. No one can explain its workings or even come close to contaminating it. As such, God is like the sun, only more powerful and complete.

Lord Krishna The sunshine emanates from the sun, so it can be considered non-different from the original solar body. There is no difference in the constitutional makeup between one ray of sunshine and another. Yet the sunshine is not nearly as powerful as the sun. The sunshine’s potency can also be covered up and clouded by other material elements. Though the constitutional makeup of the sunshine never changes, its autonomous nature is checked in a way by the material elements. The sun, however, is never checked. One may be able to block out the effects of the sun for a short period of time, but the sun itself remains exactly in the same position. No one is able to move it.

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

The properties of the sun and the sunshine illustrate the difference between God and the living entities. The sum total of the sunshine can be thought of as Brahman. Since we are all individual sparks, part of Brahman, we are all considered equal. This includes the ants, reptiles, plants, cows, and other forms of life. When one understands this fact, they can create the most inclusive grouping of all. If we understand that everyone is Brahman, we’ll see that everyone is our brother and sister. We are all one, as we are all the same. We are all fighting for one cause, so the more people that join this fight the better.

And what exactly is that cause? As sparks emanating from the Supreme Energetic, our natural position is to be engaged in His service. Yet this engagement cannot be taken up unless and until we realize who we are. The false identifications based off class, gender, and race are related to the outer covering of the soul. This covering is constantly changing, and at the time of death, a brand new set of material elements is provided to the soul, such are the workings of the laws of karma, or fruitive activity. Upon ascending to the Brahman realization stage, a purified individual can take the necessary steps to thwart karma’s effects.

“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, Bg. 18.54)

Lord Krishna Upon realizing Brahman, there is no more hankering or lamenting. Hankering is a result of the desire for some personal benefit, and lamentation comes from failing to achieve whatever was hankered after. Since the outer body is always changing and is subject to eventual destruction, there is no reason to hanker or lament over anything related to it. Rather, the aim of life should be to reunite with the spiritual sun, Shri Krishna. In the Vedic tradition, the one and only God is referred to by many names, each of which speaks to His innumerable transcendental attributes. For a husband, there is great joy derived from hearing his beloved call him by his name. The name is much more personal and indicative of the loving thoughts shared by the paramour. In the same way, addressing God by His different names shows signs of transcendental love directed at the Supreme Loveable Object.

Though there are many names for the Divine Personality, Krishna is considered the most inclusive. It speaks to His all-attractive nature, His position as the best friend of every living entity, and His status as the ultimate enjoyer. Though Krishna can be called directly by saying His name, there is an even better way to address both He and His supreme potency. God is the energetic and the spirit souls are His energy. When the energy is in the company of the energetic, the energy is considered liberated and in its natural habitat. There is one living entity who best exemplifies the transcendental loving spirit, the energy acting in the interests of the energetic. This person is Shrimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Lord Krishna. Both Radha and Krishna can be address by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth-women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.32)

Shrimati Radharani When the Brahman classification is adopted, a bond with our fellow man can immediately be formed and the chanting of the Lord’s names can collectively commence. Along with chanting, there are other processes such as worshiping, hearing, and remembering. When the processes are taken together, or if only one process is exclusively adopted, we get the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. We should note that nowhere in this discipline is their mention of the Hindu faith or one’s birthright, skin color, or gender. This speaks to the nature of Brahman. Brahman is neither American, nor Indian, nor Russian, nor Chinese. Brahman is not male or female. Brahman has no relation to bank balance, stature in society, or physical strength. Every form of life, anything with a soul in it, is Brahman. Krishna is Parabrahman, or the Supreme Spirit, so when Brahman dovetails all its activities with His service, there is peace and harmony. Since we are already accustomed to making designations, why not adopt the most accurate one, a classification that applies universally and brings about the highest benefit?

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


Shri Hanuman “You know that living entities are always coming and going, and thus their lives are temporary. Therefore, the learned people of this world take to performing prescribed worldly duties which yield auspicious results.” (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.5)

A pandita is a learned person, a wise man. The word is now part of the English vocabulary in the form of “pundit”. Though the spelling is a little different, the meaning of the word is pretty much the same. While there are pundits for just about every area of interest, such as sports, politics, and financials, the original Sanskrit word refers to one who knows the highest truth. A learned man understands the meaning of life and how to achieve it. A pandita is considered wise not only because of his empirical knowledge, but also because of how he chooses to act based on that knowledge. Following the behavior of a true pandita, we can decipher the proper path to take.

Wisdom usually comes from experience. There are two ways of acquiring knowledge: the ascending process and the descending process. Through the ascending process, small hypotheses are formed and then tested. As more and more information is gathered from the test results, the scope of the experiments starts to expand, eventually leading to a more detailed, all-encompassing conclusion. The descending process is easier because the same truths which were discovered by careful past observers can be passed down to future generations.

Krishna devouring a fire Learning of the heat properties of fire can illustrate the difference between the two processes quite clearly. A young child can discover that fire is hot by touching it. Certainly this will cause a little pain, but that comes with the territory when acquiring knowledge. Yet just because a single instance of fire is hot, it doesn’t mean that all fire is hot. Therefore the same child can go on repeating the same tests over and over again, continually burning themselves, until they realize that all fire is hot. This is knowledge acquired through the ascending process. The descending process would have provided the same information to the child without any of the painful burns. A wise person could tell a young child that fire is hot and to avoid touching it. Simply accepting this wisdom, the child can gain a perfect understanding of the properties of fire without much endeavor.

While the descending process is superior, individuals still prefer to learn things on their own. Therefore, much knowledge is acquired through the ascending process. For those who adopt this method, one fact slowly learned as time goes by is that the life of the living entity is temporary in nature. Birth and death are always part of the consciousness. Friends, family members, and countrymen die all the time, while mothers give birth to new children every day. Eventually, through enough experience and vision, a wise person realizes that they too will die some day. Not only will they die, but the date of this death is unknown to them.

In the Vedic tradition, the wise person is known as a pandita because they not only understand this truth about life and death, but they take the necessary steps to improve their condition. What does this mean exactly? The body is indeed temporary, as birth and death simply represent the changing of bodies. The central object of interest, therefore, is the future fortune of the soul. The soul is the life force, the essence of individuality. Where the soul ends up is what really matters. The wise person realizes that it is important to pay attention to the plight of the soul immediately, for there is no knowing when death will come.

Hanuman So what does the pandita do? What activities does he take to? How are these activities any different from the ones performed by those who aren’t panditas? For the answer, we can tap into the storehouse of information provided by the great spiritual leaders of the past. Using the descending process to our advantage, we can find out how to achieve perfection in life simply by following the authorized instructions provided by acharyas, or those who lead by example. One such wise person is Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama.

The Vedas, the scriptures emanating from India, are not unique in their belief of God. Many spiritual traditions around the world believe in an all-powerful entity, for that is the essence of religion. The Vedas stand out in that they tell us that this Absolute Truth has an eternal form which acts as a vehicle for loving exchanges with the individual souls of the world. The original spiritual form full of bliss and knowledge is that of Shri Krishna, who is also known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yet God’s sweetness isn’t limited to His original form of Krishna. Rather, due to His kind mercy, He appears on earth in the guises of various personal expansions. These incarnations perform wonderful activities for the protection of the pious, all the while giving pleasure to the surrendered soul. One such incarnation is Lord Rama, the chivalrous prince of Ayodhya who roamed this earth many thousands of years ago.

Lakshmana and Rama with Hanuman While Krishna is the reservoir of all pleasure and sweetness and other aspects of the Divine are typically viewed in a reverential mood, Lord Rama is somewhere in between. He certainly can be revered for His great power and dedication to piety, but at the same time, He can exchange heartfelt affection with the purified souls, the great devotees. Arguably Rama’s greatest devotee is Lord Hanuman, a liberated soul who takes the form of an enchanting monkey. During Rama’s time on earth, Hanuman got to personally offer his service to Rama, exchanging love in the moods of friendship and servitude.

On one occasion, Rama was asked to kill the monkey-king Vali, who was Sugriva’s brother who had driven Sugriva out of his kingdom. Lord Rama came through for his friend Sugriva by shooting Vali in the back and killing him. Vali’s wife, Tara, didn’t handle this tragic event very well, as would be expected for a woman had just become a widow. Seeing her dead husband lying on the ground, she gave way to grief and lamentation, and she bemoaned her situation and also that of her husband’s. Seeing her pitiable condition, Hanuman stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. In the above referenced statement, Hanuman reminds Tara of the temporary nature of the living entities and how they are always coming and going. He also tells her that the wise, the panditas, use their knowledge of the temporary nature of life to take to prescribed activities of this world which lead to auspicious results.

Hanuman This point is quite interesting. Normally, when faced with the idea of certain death, the tendency is to take to the opposite of prescribed duties. The saying, “You only live once”, is often invoked by those who take to a carefree lifestyle, not worrying about their death that may come at any minute. The logic behind such behavior is that if death is going to come, why not enjoy as much as possible before then? From Hanuman’s statement, we see that the wise take the exact opposite approach. Since human beings are always coming and going, it must mean that death is not the end for them. After all, where do these new births come from? These souls must have been alive before to have taken birth again. This may seem like a dogmatic belief of reincarnation subscribed to by the Hindus, but it is not so. The soul certainly remains intact throughout the changes of the current body, so why wouldn’t it remain unchanged after it leaves the body at the time of death?

“Those with the vision of eternity can see that the soul is transcendental, eternal, and beyond the modes of nature. Despite contact with the material body, O Arjuna, the soul neither does anything nor is entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.32)

From Shri Hanuman’s statement, we see that if the time of death is uncertain, one should immediately take the necessary steps to better their future condition. This is how most of us act already, except with a different goal in mind. Plans pertaining to future fortunes are always made, be they in relation to going to school or working hard at the office. The idea behind these plans is to have some enjoyment in the future. If these activities aren’t adopted, the enjoyable condition will never be met. By the same token, prescribed duties, those passed down from the great saints of the past, are meant to provide a future enjoyable condition for the soul. If these activities aren’t taken up, the pleasant spiritual condition can never be met. Moreover, if death should come, the chance for performing these activities is lost. The soul then has to wait until the next birth to again take up these activities. Where and when this birth will take place are unknown, hence the added emphasis on the here and now.

Okay, so we have to take to prescribed duties, but what does that mean? What are some of these duties? In the case of Tara, the prescribed duties involved performing the funeral rites for the husband. These rites help the future plight of the departed soul, and also help the performer to understand the meaning of life and the importance of focusing the mind on spirituality. While the funeral rites are one small aspect of prescribed duties, there is a bigger picture, an ultimate goal which is to be attained. All prescribed rules and regulations are aimed at realizing this goal.

Lord Krishna For the people living in this age, the Kali Yuga, adherence to all the rules and regulations is not possible. Life is very hectic, with so many things begging for our attention and taking up our time. Therefore, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Pure, has recommended that the topmost prescribed duty for the people of this age is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The name of God is the key; it alone can deliver a person. This name is the mother, the father, the guru, the support system, the savior. This name is non-different from the Lord, so those who hang on to this name as their life and soul will certainly be performing the highest duty.

If this highest occupation, the chanting of God’s names, is taken up, then naturally the performer will be rewarded with the greatest benediction. And what exactly is that reward? The individual soul transmigrates through different bodies based on the activities it performs in each lifetime. While this process is continuous, it doesn’t have to be. The God conscious soul, he who keeps his mind fixed on any direct aspect of the transcendent Lord at the time of death, never has to suffer through birth and death. The comings and goings stop, thus the root cause of the temporary nature of life is eliminated. If the soul isn’t thrown around in the clothes dryer known as the material world, where does it go? There is a spiritual sky where the original Personality of Godhead and His non-different expansions reside. It is in this spiritual realm that the devoted soul enjoys the sweetness of association with the Supreme Lord in His original transcendental form.

Hanuman chanting A person may be considered wise based on their mastery of a particular field. Great souls like Hanuman, however, are true panditas, the most learned among us, due to their transcendental knowledge and the activities taken up as a result of possessing that information. The panditas have laid the groundwork for us, so we simply have to accept the knowledge descending from their lotus mouths and act accordingly. The highest prescribed duty for the people of any age is to engage in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to God. Through the chanting process, any person can become a perfect yogi, one who reaps the highest benefit in the afterlife.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


Lord Krishna “Krishna does not change His constitutional position, not even when He appears in this material world. Ordinary living entities have their constitutional spiritual positions covered. They appear in different bodies, and under the different bodily concepts of life they act. But Krishna does not change His body.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 51)

For the conditioned soul, the divine incarnation is very difficult to understand, especially when juxtaposed with nature, matter, and spirit. Though many religious traditions focus exclusively on worship of an exalted personality or divine figure, the Vedas go one step further by carefully analyzing the nature around us and the meaning behind its workings. At the heart of the issue is the difference between matter and spirit, prakriti and purusha. The enjoyer is the spirit and the enjoyed is the matter that the spirit associates with. The most exalted divine figure, the one person who never subjects Himself to the influences of matter, thus becomes the supreme object of worship, the singular entity that the individual souls are meant to be in constant association with. Since the Supreme Entity is the ultimate enjoyer, His pleasure comes from interactions with His subordinate subjects, the individual souls of the material and spiritual worlds. Therefore the aim for any individual unaware of these facts is to shift their mindset from that of enjoyers to that of enjoyed. For this transition to take place, one must have a firm understanding of the differences between matter and spirit and what the living entity’s place in this world is. To help the conditioned soul illusioned by the forces of nature make light of the giant mess which is the material world, the Supreme Entity, the person we all know as God, kindly descends to earth from time to time.

Lord Krishna “How can God take birth?” This is an appropriate question put forth by both friend and foe alike, the inquisitive and the challengers of the authenticity and validity of the truths espoused by the Vedas. The birth and death of the individual is not difficult to comprehend. There is a spirit soul that gets placed inside of a very tiny body, which then grows while in the womb of a mother. After exiting the womb, this new body then gradually develops, exists for some time, leaves some byproducts, and then ultimately gets destroyed. Throughout these events, the identity of the individual doesn’t change. Rather, only the outer covering of the soul shifts. At the time of death, the same individual is placed inside of a new body, where they subsequently go through the same cycle of life all over again. If, however, the individual’s consciousness is purified at the time of death, they get to return to the spiritual realm, a land where birth and death do not take place.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)

Birth and death only take place on the material planets because of the individual’s desire to associate with matter. We can think of matter as being dull elements; things which have no life of their own. Spirit is the driving force behind all action, including the development, maintenance, and destruction of matter. This interaction with gross elements takes place due to the individual soul’s misuse of independence. As an autonomous spiritual entity, an individual soul has a choice in its association. When one’s desires are pure, the natural association is with God and His other liberated soul mates. When desire becomes contaminated, a fall down to the material world follows.

Lord Krishna with cow The nature of the material realm is very difficult to understand. Therefore the human body is considered the most beneficial due to the heightened potential for intelligence. Only in the human form of life can a spirit soul even understand the nature of matter and the inevitability of death. Simply knowing these facts is difficult enough, for sobriety is required to perceive the subtle changes to the body that occur at every second. Yet actually knowing what to do with this information is even more of a daunting task. Therefore, the Supreme Lord, out of His causeless mercy, instituted the system of dharma, or occupational duty, and passed it down through the great Vedic texts. Yet even understanding these literary works is quite difficult, so the Lord kindly sends exalted personalities known as gurus, or spiritual masters, to teach society at large. Yet sometimes circumstances in society get so out of hand that the direct intervention of the Lord is required. In these instances, the Supreme Lord directly expands Himself into a spiritual body and makes an appearance on earth.

“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.24)

Even to the individual who has a basic understanding of the laws of karma and the differences between matter and spirit, it would appear that the incarnation of God would have to assume a material body, one similar to those possessed by the living entities. After all, the laws of nature are absolute, so how could God find a way to bypass them? To understand how the Lord remains completely spiritual, a quick review of the issue of readability can prove helpful. Nowhere is readability more required than in mathematics and computer science. The comma, a grammatical character used to indicate a short pause in a sentence, plays a key role in understanding mathematics. If there is a very large number, say something in the tens of millions, it is very difficult to read, or translate in the mind, when displayed simply as digits. It takes a trained eye to be able to correctly identify a number that large. Therefore commas are used as a way to enhance readability. The comma is inserted inside of the number at intervals of three digits, so as to give the human eye an easier way to correctly identify the number.

comma Though the comma is inserted into the visual form of the number, it has nothing to do with the digits or the value. The comma is a completely independent entity that retains its meaning at all times, regardless of where it is placed. The relationship between the Supreme Lord and the material world can be thought of in the same light. The entire creation, which includes everything matter and spirit, is part of God. The living entity, riddled by the possessive mindsets of “I” and “Mine”, is accustomed to viewing everything from a personal perspective. A wiser person will be able to view groups of individuals at a whole, while an even more intelligent person can see patterns over a large cross-section of groups. The paramahamsa, the spiritualist on the highest level of understanding, sees everything and every person as being equal, or part of God. If their abilities were to be explained in mathematical terms, we’d say that the paramahamsas can correctly identify any number without requiring commas or other tools that enhance readability. This is quite difficult to do, for the gross senses have a debilitating effect on one’s consciousness and mindset. A person who is truly liberated, one who is devoted to God and understanding His true nature, will be able to see everything, including large groups of living entities, in the proper context.

The paramahamsas are a rarity in this world. Therefore the Lord, through His incarnation, descends to earth and acts as a placeholder, a comma if you will. He performs activities, instructs fellow members of society, and displays great feats of strength to show everyone just what God looks like, what His nature is, and where the highest pleasure in life can be found. Though the number of incarnations is too great to count, the Shrimad Bhagavatam and other Vedic texts give us a list of the primary ones. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is considered the fountainhead of all incarnations, but this doesn’t mean that worship of God is performed exclusively through worship of Krishna. Rather, one can worship Lord Rama, Narasimhadeva, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Balarama, Vishnu, or any other non-different form of the Lord and be equally benefitted.

Krishna's avataras Though the Lord comes to this earth to give the conditioned souls a clearer understanding of the nature around them, He is not contaminated by matter in any way. He acts just like a comma inside of the digits representing a number, allowing others to correctly identify the different aspects of the world around them. Whether the comma is there or not has no bearing on the comma or the number. In the same way, Krishna’s creation remains the same whether He is personally present or not. After all, God is everything, so His presence is felt inside of every single atom. The incarnation is the more visible form, a way to unmistakably decipher who is God and who isn’t. The material world is full of puffed up living entities who claim to be God, who is the ultimate enjoyer and the greatest order supplier. Through the activities of the incarnations, one can understand that such individuals are simply cheaters who are destined to repeat the cycle of birth and death for many, many lifetimes.

Not only does the Supreme Lord’s presence enhance the readability of the nature of this world, but so does the influence of His exalted devotees. These entities are essentially exceptions to the laws of nature and the rules pertaining to matter and spirit. Hence there is a difference between those who are devoted to God and those who are simply searching after the annihilation of misery. Matter is only detrimental when it is used for the wrong purposes. Again, this points to the misidentification that occurs at the time of birth. When matter is properly identified for what it is, an individual can know how to utilize it for their spiritual benefit. When matter is used for personal sense gratification, it is certainly very dangerous and detrimental to one’s spiritual progress. When it is used properly, it can become the source of liberation, a way to enlighten the conditioned soul.

Shrila Prabhupada An example often invoked by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada pertaining to this issue can help us better understand it. Say that someone is walking through a shopping mall and happens to drop some money or other possession of value on the floor. A gross materialist will walk past the money and pick it up. They are looking to enjoy matter, so they look at the money as a potential source of enjoyment, even though they know that the money doesn’t belong to them. The dry renunciate, one who has a loathing for matter, will look at the money as a great cause of pain. They see so much potential discomfort and heartache from picking up the money. In addition, their karma, the future reactions to their work, will be hurt by taking someone else’s property.

Only the devotee, the adherent to the true tenets of the Vedas, will view the money properly. A lover of Krishna will pick up the money and look for the rightful owner. The money is not good or bad, but rather a possession that is not being utilized properly. In a similar manner, the nature around us is simply there for us to use for God’s pleasure. It is all His property to begin with, so we have no rightful claim over it. If we are unable to utilize matter properly, then surely renunciation is a good idea, but renunciation by itself will not bring us the transcendental pleasure that we are looking for. Simple abstention from activity is not a source of happiness; otherwise every one of us would choose to remain in a permanent medically-induced coma. The nature of the spirit soul is to enjoy through activity.

Radha Krishna The purification of activity comes through acts of devotion. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and it is the form of religion preached by the incarnations of Godhead and the exalted spiritual masters. The easiest way to practice this yoga today is to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Though these are sound vibrations heard by the material senses, they come directly from the spiritual world. The sound of this sacred mantra, being non-different from the Person it addresses, acts just like the comma in helping us understand our position as eternal servants of the Supreme Lord. This sound will not only increase our level of intelligence, but it will also transport us back to the spiritual world, a place wherefrom we never have to return.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Class Envy

Hanuman "Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?" (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)

Class envy forms the basis of much discord and discontent around the world. This has been true since the beginning of time, and upon closer examination, it is revealed that this conflict is unnecessary. No embodied being can be considered poor or rich in the larger scheme of things, so there is no justification for envy or pity based simply off one’s financial disposition. To help us understand this point more clearly, we can look to the wonderful teachings of Shri Hanuman.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)

Lord Krishna What causes class envy? First, we must acknowledge that life on earth is miserable. This doesn’t mean that every single person is full of misery, but rather, the end of everything, the ultimate conclusion or result of all activity, is misery. Man’s mortality is proof enough of this point. Those who are not spiritually inclined or those who are unaware of the ultimate objective in life take to fruitive activity as their main business. This engagement is referred to as karma in Sanskrit, and there is a reason that the word translates to “fruitive activity” in English. Karma is work performed that has desired and undesired consequences. The results of this work are referred to as phalam, or fruits; hence the term fruitive activity. Regardless of a person’s religious affiliation, age, or place of birth, there is the penchant for performing fruitive activity.

So is karma bad? Depending on the angle of vision, karma can lead to positive or negative results. Material life is considered miserable because no result from karma can be positive enough to compare to the ultimate reward of salvation. In Sanskrit, salvation is referred to as apavarga, which is the elimination of fear, exhaustion, death, defeat, and bondage. Only Lord Krishna, or God, can deliver a person from these calamities. Apavarga not only removes the negative aspects of life on earth, but it also brings about the soul’s return to the spiritual world. The miseries of pavarga are only seen in the material world, a place where the soul interacts with matter. A life devoted exclusively to interaction with matter is considered miserable because no amount of adjustment, shaping, or accumulation of matter can lead to a positive result in the grand scheme of things. The issues of poverty and wealth serve as great examples in this regard.

Lord Krishna The wealthy are deemed to be living the high life. “They have all the money in the world. What need do they have to worry about anything? They drive fancy cars, live in gigantic houses, and have beautiful members of the opposite sex flocking around them.” This viewpoint leads to envy, which then leads to a loss of rationality. Class warfare starts when the non-wealthy seek to punish the wealthy simply because of their financial disposition. “Oh they can afford to pay more. If I had that much money, I surely wouldn’t have a problem spreading the wealth around.” The opposing viewpoint is pity, a mindset adopted by the wealthy. The “poor” are deemed to be suffering; they are viewed as living the low life. “I can’t imagine not having a car and having to worry about how I’m going to eat every night. I feel so bad for them. No one should have to live like that, especially in today’s world where everyone else is so wealthy.”

When these forces combine, you get conflict. The wealthy clash with the non-wealthy; the wealthy fight with the wealthy; and the non-wealthy even argue with the non-wealthy. Every person has their own idea of who is poor and who is rich, and based on these judgments, policies are made. Political campaigns run on the issues of class envy annually. This has been the practice in every country ever since there were elections. “Elect me and I’ll end poverty. I’ll bring back jobs. I’ll make the rich pay their fair share.”

“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bg. 2.11)

So what’s wrong with the mindsets of envy and pity? Aren’t the rich well-off? Shouldn’t the poor be pitied? According to high authority figures who follow the Vedic traditions, there is no reason to lament or envy anyone’s situation. The soul is eternal and unbreakable, while the body is taken to be a shell, a dwelling compared to a bubble, something which can burst at any moment. It doesn’t take much to break a bubble that forms on the water, and in a similar manner, the material body constantly goes through deterioration. As soon as a person is born, the dying process begins. Since everyone lives in one of these shells, how can any person be deemed better off than anyone else? One person may have great wealth, but once their bubble bursts, that wealth remains in the material world, where it gets disbursed and transformed into other objects of matter. A person may be very poor, but again, this is just a temporary condition. In fact, in the Vedic tradition, the highest class of men, the brahmanas, voluntarily accept an austere lifestyle. Fewer possessions and controlled eating allow the mind to better focus on areas of spirituality.

The other issue to consider is the law of karma. Not only are there consequences to our actions, but these reactions are distributed in the fairest possible way. Politicians will promise to take a fair share in taxes and then distribute the money to those in need, but this system is anything but fair. A politician is after votes, so their distribution of tax dollars is strategically targeted to garner the most votes in the next election. The system of karma doesn’t work this way. All the reactions that a person receives are completely fair. Once work is performed, the pending reactions are guaranteed to arrive, irrespective of the person’s character, parentage, bank balance, or physical makeup. In this way, we see that the wealthy and the poor are simply reaping the rewards and punishments of their past actions. If their dispositions are determined by karma, what need is there for pity or envy?

Tara with Vali The time when it is most difficult to avoid pity is right after a love one has died, as was seen with Tara, the wife of the powerful monkey fighter Vali. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Shri Rama, a non-different expansion of the Supreme Lord, appeared on earth and played the role of a pious kshatriya prince. Searching for His kidnapped wife, Sita Devi, Rama forged an alliance with a monkey-king named Sugriva. Vali was Sugriva’s brother, but the two had hostilities dating back to a previous incident where Vali thought Sugriva had tried to nefariously usurp the kingdom from him. Because of this conflict, Sugriva was living in fear of Vali. After joining forces with Rama, Sugriva asked the Lord to help him regain his kingdom. Rama obliged and killed Vali while the monkey was engaged in a fight with Sugriva.

Seeing her husband lying dead on the ground, Tara gave way to excessive lamentation and grief. To help calm her down and alleviate her suffering, Shri Hanuman, Sugriva’s faithful emissary and legendary servant of Rama, stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. In the above referenced quote, we see that Hanuman is asking Tara why she is feeling pity for someone else when she herself is worthy of pity. Tara was viewing Vali as being poor since he was dead, but meanwhile, she had become poor by losing her husband. Though we are ourselves worthy of pity and lamentation due to our being trapped in a bubble-like body, there is still the propensity to lament the position of others. Here Tara was feeling sorry for her dead husband, but she understandably could be pitied by others for her disposition. This sheds light on a natural tendency of man. During times of economic trouble, polling agencies will often go out and ask the public what they feel about the economy. An answer commonly given is, “Oh I’m alright, but I’m really worried about my neighbor. I’m worried how they’ll survive in these tough economic conditions.” But if we think about it, if we don’t have too much difficulty getting by in tough situations, then surely other people must be the same way. This logical mindset goes against the natural urge to pity others, but it is based on intelligence.

Shri Hanuman Shri Hanuman’s statement makes perfect sense, but actually applying the principles in real life is a different story. The end of Hanuman’s statement reveals the root cause of our problems: the bubble-like body. Everyone who resides in a body which is like a bubble is deemed to be equally worthy of lamentation. The real pitiable condition is the repeated cycle of birth and death. The supreme spiritual science of the Vedas confirms that the soul transmigrates from one body to another through the process of reincarnation. This system is driven by karma, which is driven by activity with the desire for fruits. If we want to pity anything, we should pity this condition.

“I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” (Kunti Devi speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.25)

Lord Krishna Fortunately, there is a way out of this cycle. Those who think of God at the time of death are guaranteed to get moksha, or the release from the wheel of material existence [samsara]. The way to guarantee remembering God at the time of death is to start thinking about Him now. There’s no time like the present, so we should all remember the Lord by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Anyone who regularly chants this mantra and takes up the sublime engagement of devotional service will never have to worry about the influences of the bubble-like body again. By first elevating ourselves to a non-pitiable condition, we can then start to help our fellow man. Everyone is in need of this salvation, regardless of how much money they have in their bank account. God is the deliverer of the poor living entities who mistakenly take matter to be their best friend. Rama’s best friend is Hanuman, so by associating with him we can find the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, the supreme spiritual sky.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Evidence That God Exists

Lord Krishna “O son of Kunti, I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)

Question: “Do you have any concrete evidence that God exists?”

Answer: Proof of the existence of God, or a supreme divine authority figure, has been an issue since the beginning of time. There are those who simply don’t believe in a higher power, regardless of how hard they may try or want to have faith in Him. Rather, they require concrete evidence, proof of the claim that this entire creation was intelligently designed by a higher authority, someone who is immune to the effects of birth and death, heat and cold, happiness and distress. For the believers, those who have firm confidence in the existence of a singular Divine Entity, the questions pertaining to evidence supporting God’s existence certainly seem silly. The devotee sees evidence of God’s existence everywhere, at every corner of the globe and in every inch of ethereal space. Life itself is proof of spirit, for without the spiritual spark inside the body, an individual is deemed dead and useless. Just as there is life inside of a small body composed of matter, there is a more powerful life inside of the entire material cosmos. This Superior Spirit is responsible for all the workings of nature, thus any action, inward or outward, is evidence of the Supreme’s potencies. Nevertheless, there will always be skeptics, and their main bone of contention will relate to evidence. In actuality, evidence is merely a product of the material senses, and thus it can never be concrete. Rather, everyone abides by some type of faith, regardless of their spiritual persuasion. The key is to take shelter of the right kind of evidence, i.e. have faith in the right people. Following this tangible belief system ultimately leads to the greatest benefit, which is proof enough of the claims made by the faithful.

“O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.34)

Lord Krishna To understand the nature of evidence, let’s work through a simple example of a situation that occurs quite frequently in real life. In America and other industrialized nations, automobile accidents are quite common. For those incidents involving two motorists who are behind the wheel, the causes and effects of the crash are quite obvious. Both parties perceived with their senses the events that led to the collision. In these instances, the evidence is the eyewitness account. Other times, however, there may not be any other parties around. The hit-and-run is a not so nice part of the life of a car owner. A person parks their car in a parking lot, goes into a store or shopping mall, and then returns to see that someone has hit their car. The other driver has left the scene, so there is no evidence showing who actually committed the crime.

Yet sometimes there are supposed eyewitnesses who write down their observations. They will leave a note on the victim’s car which lists the culprit’s license plate number and a brief description of what occurred. What’s interesting, though, is that this note is not evidence enough to convict the accused of a crime; a fact which speaks to the nature of evidence and authority. A person could have witnessed the entire event firsthand and written about it on paper, but this description alone isn’t enough to convict, with the reason being that anyone can write anything. Any person, regardless of what they saw or didn’t see, could claim that another car hit a parked car. Sometimes the alleged criminal may even have dents and scratches on their car already. But regardless, there is always the possibility that the alleged criminal is innocent, that the person writing the note is either lying or has made a mistake. In these instances, it takes more “evidence”, or proof, to convict the criminal. Camera records are pulled and paint samples are matched. Even after finding all sorts of perceived evidence secured through an exhaustive investigation, the accusers still need to have definitive proof that the accused was driving the vehicle when the hit-and-run happened.

All of this points to the subjective nature of evidence, how it can be perceived differently by different people. Evidence is merely a recorded version of sense perceptions. A person sees, hears, tastes, smells, or touches something and then writes down their experience in a book, newspaper, website, or journal. Descriptions of the experiences can also be orally transmitted to friends, family members, and coworkers. This is how we take in all vital pieces of information. In school we read about famous figures of the past. For example, we only know that George Washington, the first President of the United States, existed because of the written evidence found in books. There are also paintings that were created, but again, the identification and authenticity of the paintings is determined by written evidence in addition to oral tradition passed down from generation to generation.

NFL replay system For the skeptic, successfully nullifying evidence is very easy. Everyone is prone to making mistakes, cheating, having imperfect senses, and being easily illusioned. To ere is human after all, so every one of us can make mistakes. Sometimes you can even have photographic evidence that is disputed. For example, in the National Football League, there are instant replay reviews of many controversial calls on the field. Invariably, there will be calls in a game where the announcers, referees, and players see the same video replay and reach different conclusions as to what occurred. Again, this speaks to the fact that every person has different sense perceptions, worldviews, ulterior motives, and levels of honesty.

So how do we determine what is evidence? A doubting soul may ask what evidence is there of God’s existence, but the same question can be posed to the original questioner. “What proof is there that you exist?” The person may retort with, “Well, I’m talking to you, aren’t I? You’re seeing me, aren’t you? Isn’t that proof enough?” This is a very obvious answer that actually gives us insight into solving the question about God. Surely we know someone exists when we see them and interact with them. Now let’s fast forward one hundred years. Both questioners are now dead, yet what proof is there that either person existed? If someone had written down their observations in a book and that book happened to be preserved for over one hundred years, then we could surely use that as evidence. Similarly, if the third party’s observations were verbally transmitted to a dependent, who then subsequently passed the same information down to other dependents, we could take that verbal affirmation as evidence of existence.

This situation validates the claim that one’s perceptions don’t diminish or increase over time. If I say that someone else exists today, my statement doesn’t lose value over time, nor does it become truer. The truth is the truth; the perception is the perception. Whether we fast forward one hundred years or ten thousand years, the sense perceptions are still the same; hence the evidence is always valid. At this point, a skeptic could question the validity of the initial perception, claiming it to be flawed. After all, everyone has made mistakes, even the greatest of scientists. There was a time when a consensus of scientists believed that the earth was flat. They were all eventually proved wrong, so in the end, their supposed evidence wasn’t proof of anything.

So how do we determine the validity and authenticity of evidence? There is no surefire way. Rather, each of us takes evidence based on authority. This authority is determined by the person accepting the evidence. Again, this speaks to the fact that evidence is subjective and something that requires faith. Therefore, for followers of the Vedic tradition, empirical evidence is not as important as the faith that is ascribed to the statements of those deemed as authority figures. What this means is that it is more important to see the results of having faith in evidence than actually arguing over the authenticity of the evidence itself.

So far this discussion is completely theoretical, so to understand the issue more clearly, let’s use the example of a set of scriptures that is currently perceivable, the Vedas. In India, the spiritual traditions date back so far that no one can actually come up with a concrete date for their inception. These traditions descend from the Vedas, scriptural works which purportedly come from God. The Vedas have no date of inception because God Himself is eternal. The concepts of time and space are merely products of the material world representing the limits to the thinking abilities of the human brain. In the spiritual world, there is no such thing as time and space, or at least their influences are completely irrelevant. Therefore God, and anything He creates, including knowledge, has no beginning and no end.

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

Bhagavad-gitaThe Vedas not only inform us of God’s existence but also of His various descents to the world that we currently inhabit. These appearances are for the purposes of annihilating miscreants and pleasing devotees, those conditioned souls who sincerely desire the association of the Supreme Spirit. Each time the Lord comes to earth, He assumes a different visible transcendental form and takes to different activities. In days past, the sense perceptions of those who were around during the Lord’s descents to earth were passed down through an oral tradition. Later on, these same accounts were written down into wonderful epics such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranas. These books themselves are evidence of God’s existence. Mostly authored by Vyasadeva, the classic Vedic texts describe in great detail God’s names, forms, pastimes, appearances, associates, family members, and the geographical locations of His noteworthy activities.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

Simply based off Vyasadeva’s writings, we have loads of evidence of God’s existence and His teachings. Though Vedic wisdom is quite comprehensive, the ultimate instruction is that one should simply surrender unto the Lord in His personal form as Krishna and be freed from all sins. In addition, Krishna has multitudes of non-different forms such as Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, and Chaitanya, which can also be surrendered to. Though the events documented in Vyasadeva’s works occurred many thousands of years ago, there is no reason to doubt their ever having taken place. The exploits of Shri Krishna and Lord Rama are so widely known that they are documented in many books, not just one or two.

Vyasadeva with Ganesha At this point, the skeptic will argue that since the evidence provided by Vyasadeva describes events of the paranormal, such as talking monkeys and children lifting gigantic hills, it must be mythology or something untrue. In addition, the fact that no one can accurately date these events should only further discredit their authenticity. Some can’t even fathom that a single entity, one man, Vyasadeva, could have written so much in one lifetime. Therefore they even doubt the authenticity and existence of such a person. This behavior is quite humorous, as Vyasadeva’s greatness and authenticity of authorship is mentioned within the works themselves by exalted sages and respectable personalities.

As mentioned before, a sense observation doesn’t lose its validity over time. Just because Vyasadeva wrote the Mahabharata thousands of years ago doesn’t mean that the events described within didn’t happen. Indeed, he even carefully noted down the distinct constellation of stars prior to the famous Bharata War. Analyzing the movements of stars, some scientists have deduced that such a constellation could only have occurred a long time in the past. If we think about it, it’s ironic that the people doubting the authenticity of Rama and Krishna can only raise such doubts because they know of both personalities. For instance, how can we doubt that someone exists when we know who they are, where they were born, what they look like, and when they appeared on earth? High court judges and scholars have concluded that there is no tangible evidence to prove Lord Rama existed, but is not the Ramayana evidence enough? Maharishi Valmiki met Lord Rama and wrote down his observations in a very lengthy Sanskrit poem. Moreover, Rama’s existence is validated in countless other classic Vedic texts. What need is there to prove anything? Rather, how do we even know that these scholars and high court judges exist? In a few hundred years, through the use of skepticism, others can similarly doubt that these past silly judgments were ever made.

“Rama is like a mad elephant in battle. He has a purified and unblemished family lineage for His trunk, brilliance and splendor for His excitement, and two powerful arms for tusks. O Ravana, you are not even qualified to look at Him.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.46)

Lord Rama Many people saw Krishna and Rama directly and still didn’t believe that they were God. Such individuals didn’t even have to rely on the written word of Vyasadeva or the claims of evidence provided by others; they got to experience God’s splendor directly. During Lord Rama’s time, the Rakshasa demon Ravana failed to acknowledge Rama’s divine nature. The Rakshasa Maricha on one occasion had attacked the venerable Vishvamitra Muni during the time of a sacrifice. Rama, at the time a young child, was there with Vishvamitra to protect him. Shooting an arrow at Maricha, Rama launched the demon hundreds of miles away into an ocean. Thus Maricha had firsthand knowledge of Rama’s supreme powers. He subsequently warned Ravana not to anger the Lord or fight against Him. Maricha’s words were evidence of Rama’s divine nature, yet Ravana refused to accept them. In the end, this denial would cost him his royal opulence, worldwide fame, position as an object of fear, and ultimately, his life.

“Anyone could understand that he was just like someone onstage playing the part of Vasudeva in false dress. When Lord Shri Krishna saw Paundraka imitating His posture and dress, He could not check His laughter, and thus He laughed with great satisfaction.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 11)

Similarly, there was an imposter king named Paundraka during Lord Krishna’s time who was claiming to be the real Vasudeva, which is another name for Krishna. He claimed that the real Krishna was simply a fake and that He needed to stop pretending to be God. So this fool saw Lord Krishna in person and still refused to accept Him as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Lord would go on to teach this imposter a lesson, but this incident further illustrates the fact that for those who want to remain in the material world and pretend to be God themselves, no amount of evidence, visual or otherwise, is sufficient enough to prove the authenticity of God’s existence.

Lord Krishna For every individual, the authenticity of evidence is always determined by faith and authority. We view a person or entity as authoritative and thus believe whatever evidence they present to us. This is indeed the same tact followed by the devotees of Krishna. A follower of the Vedic tradition takes Vyasadeva, Valmiki, and other great saints as authority figures. Whatever evidence they provide is willingly accepted. But more important than evidence and faith is the action that is taken as a result. The unmatched, fixed transcendental position achieved by those who follow the prescriptions of the authorized acharyas is evidence enough of the authenticity of the Vedas and their founder.

To illustrate this point more clearly, let’s review some common behavioral traits exhibited by the average person. Surely “average” can mean anything, but with this example, the behavior can apply to any person, regardless of their belief in God or lack thereof. When the average person leaves the home in the morning, they are placing faith in their fellow man to not harm them. Based on their experiences of days past – sense perceptions which have since been stored in memory – the individual leaving the home has faith that no one will kill them, run into them with their car, or attack them when they step out the door. When such a person is driving to work in their car, they have faith that other drivers will adhere to the traffic laws, especially when travelling through a green light. When we drive through an intersection with a green light, it means that the crossing traffic has a red light, which is an indication to stop. If a driver who is on the crossing side does not adhere to this red light, they will enter the intersection at the same time that the other cars are passing. Hence a fatal accident could easily occur. But the first driver has faith, based on past empirical evidence, that the drivers on the other side will adhere to their red light. As mentioned before, every person is bound to make mistakes and perceive things incorrectly. Therefore there is no one hundred percent guarantee that every other driver will adhere to red lights and stop signs.

traffic light We willingly drive through intersections with green lights because we have faith in the previous evidence that was accumulated. This practice, when attached to the right type of evidence, can actually unlock the secret to the spiritual kingdom. Every one of us takes to activity with a desired positive outcome in mind. The nature of the positive condition can vary, but the end-goal is that of a favorable situation. When activities eventually lead to their intended goal, we develop faith in the evidence that served as the impetus for taking up that activity. In this way, we see that the only way to prove God’s existence is to take to the activities that He prescribes. For the people of this age, the great Vaishnava authorities, the devotees who have a firm belief in the existence of Lord Vishnu [Krishna] and His avataras, recommend that we all take to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, as a way of life. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Along with abstaining from meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex, the assertive processes of devotional service will lead to the most favorable of conditions. Since these activities bring about a change of consciousness, they lead to the emancipation of the soul, the release from the cycle of birth and death.

“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, Bg. 11.54)

Krishna's universal form Everyone is looking for some pleasure, but the practices commonly adopted to secure such enjoyment fail in every regard. Even the engagements that do bring about some temporary happiness are riddled with negative side effects. The evidence provided by Vyasadeva and the Vedas in general are not meant to be accepted blindly. As mentioned before, any evidence, regardless of how obvious it may seem, can be invalidated through the use of skepticism. Therefore we should have some faith in the beginning and take to the recommended processes that constitute bhakti-yoga. Arjuna, Lord Krishna's dear friend, was always in the mindset of bhakti, so he was able to see Krishna for who He was, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The proof is in the pudding, so if we follow the instructions of the spiritual masters and the Supreme Lord Himself, we will soon be able to tell for ourselves if the Vedas are authentic and if Krishna really is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Feeling Pity

Shri Hanuman “Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?” (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)

This is quite a brilliant statement from Shri Hanuman, an expert on devotional service, scholarship, Sanskrit, virtue, and every other noteworthy field of activity. It is not surprising to hear such words of wisdom emanating from the lotus mouth of Shri Rama’s greatest servant. This one passage can be studied daily, as it serves as a reminder, a jolt to the brain so to speak, of the futility of lamentation and grief. This reminder is helpful because man is generally prone to hankering and lamenting. It is a common practice to lament the plight of others, viewing them as pitiable. From Shri Hanuman’s statement, we see that any individual remaining within a body which is like a bubble is not justified in pitying any other person who is in a similar condition.

“While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.11)

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition, God’s ultimate feature is taken to be a transcendental form, a body which provides sweetness and unmatched pleasure to those qualified to see it. Why are there eligibility requirements in seeing God? By default, most people don’t want to see the Supreme Lord. If they saw Him they would have no desire to remain in a world that provides fleeting happiness, a place where misery is the end result of all activity. In order to see God in His original form, that of Lord Krishna, the beautiful lotus-eyed controller of the universe, one has to have a sincere desire to associate with the Supreme Spirit. This purified longing is only acquired after other secondary desires are eliminated. What is the nature of these inferior demands? There are attractions for argument, debate, philosophy, and scientific research. These activities whet the appetite of the inquisitive mind belonging to the conditioned soul, he who wants to figure everything out in this world without approaching God. For such persons, the possibilities for acquiring knowledge are endless, for the Lord kindly provides new information piecemeal as a way of satisfying their desire. How nice is Krishna? He even satisfies those who outwardly neglect Him.

Since argument and philosophy can only take the mind so far, they eventually need to be renounced. When associated with study of spiritual matters, dry philosophy and mental speculation can lead to the conclusion that the ultimate feature of the Absolute Truth is voidness. The impersonal energy, technically known as Brahman in Vedic parlance, is void of any enjoyment, pleasure, and interaction. When one attains the platform of Brahman understanding, their ultimate destination is the impersonal energy that is situated at the outskirts of material existence. As the great acharya Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura states, when there is a merging into Brahman, there is no benefit to either party. The soul is not benefitted because its consumption by Brahman only results in the end of individuality, the loss of feeling, sensation, pleasure, etc. Brahman is not benefitted either, for if something is unmanifested, it cannot have any stimulation, enjoyment, or happiness.

Lord Rama For those desiring transcendental pleasure, which is a hankering that always remains with the soul as its eternal characteristic, there is the original form of the Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, who has wonderful attributes of sweetness. These features carry over to His limitless personal expansions. One such form appeared on earth many thousands of years ago to give pleasure to the residents of the town of Ayodhya. As the courageous and pious prince of the Raghu dynasty, Lord Rama took aim at the miscreants of the world, especially the Rakshasas who were harassing the innocent sages of the tapo-vanas, or forests conducive to the performance of austerities. While routing the Rakshasas out of the woods, Rama made His way to the forest of Kishkindha, which at the time was inhabited by a group of monkeys headed by their king Sugriva. Rama was with His younger brother Lakshmana at the time, and the two were searching for Rama’s missing wife, Sita Devi. After a meeting was brokered by Sugriva’s chief agent, Hanuman, Rama and the monkey-king formed an alliance, with Rama agreeing to help Sugriva regain his lost kingdom and Sugriva agreeing to help Rama find Sita.

The first order of business was Sugriva’s feud with his brother Vali. Sugriva was previously driven out of his kingdom by Vali, and in order to gain it back, he would need to fight him in battle. Since Vali was too strong for him, Sugriva wanted Rama to kill Vali for him. The Lord obliged by shooting Vali in the back while he was fighting with Sugriva, and as a result, Vali’s wife Tara became a widow. Upon seeing Vali’s body lying on the ground, Tara gave way to lamentation, feeling pity for her departed husband. In the above referenced statement, Hanuman is offering some cogent words of advice aimed at alleviating Tara’s suffering. While these words were directed to a grieving widow, they serve as some of the most profound teachings known to mankind. One can study the components of Hanuman’s statement over and over again, day after day, and find new applications to their meanings.

shri Hanuman Hanuman starts out by asking a rhetorical question. “Why are you pitying someone else, when you are yourself worthy of pity?” Regardless of age, intelligence, financial disposition, or comfort level in life, there is always a tendency to pity others. We look at someone in a troubled situation and think, “Oh I feel so bad for that person. It’s such a shame what they have to go through. I can’t imagine how hard life must be for them.” This lamentation can be directed at a person who has just lost a loved one, gone through a messy divorce, is suffering through poverty, or has been embarrassed in front of others. When we see a public speaker start to stutter, stammer, sweat, and get nervous, we tend to cringe inside. “Oh boy, this is tough to watch”. These sentiments are evoked even from watching similar behavior depicted in fictional movies and television shows.

All of this speaks to the natural propensity for lamentation. From Hanuman’s statement, however, we see that if we were to accurately apply this mindset to ourselves, we’d see that even we would be worthy of pity. For example, let’s say that we feel bad for someone who is going through a messy divorce. The divorced person will now have to be alone, split time with their children, and fork over monthly payments to their former spouse that they now loathe. If we look at our own situations, many of us are also alone, forced to divide up the time we spend with our loved ones, and obliged financially to so many different things. We may or may not be married or have ever suffered through a divorce, but the feelings of distress will always be there, in one form or another. Therefore, if we are lamenting the condition of others, we should also lament our own predicament.

Hanuman next asks Tara why she is lamenting for the poor, when she herself has now been made poor? This is a very interesting question. Tara is feeling sad over her husband’s death, so she feels that her husband is poor now that he has lost his life. Hanuman’s point is that Tara is the one who has been made poor, for she is now a widow. Tara was a very faithful and chaste wife, so she viewed her husband as her foremost deity. Now that her worshipable object was gone, her life and soul had left her company. In this way, she was much poorer than Vali, whose soul continued to survive. Vedic information states that the soul never dies and that death is merely the changing of bodies. One set of clothes gets old and worn out, and a new set gets put on. The nature of the clothes is determined by karma, or the activities performed during one’s lifetime.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.13)

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna The last part of Hanuman’s question is the kicker. This really gets to the heart of the point he’s trying to convey. The body is compared to a bubble, and since everyone lives in the same type of bubble, no one person is more worthy of lamentation than another. The bubble is a great analogy because it speaks to the temporary nature of the material body. By living for so many years, we may get fooled into thinking that the body is indestructible, or at the very least, that it is difficult to destroy. But in the grand scheme of things, the duration of life for the human being is nothing. It is paltry, pathetic, puny, and tiny compared to the duration of existence for the earth and other planets. When a bubble rises from the surface of water or is generated from soap, it is understood that it doesn’t have long to live. Indeed, the bubble can also be very easily broken. Simply swatting at the bubble or blowing air on it will disintegrate it within a second. When compared to the stability of larger land masses found in the material universe, the body of the human being is considered to be just as fragile as the bubble.

The point to understand is that we all live in one of these bubbles. This means that if we see someone else die prematurely, there is no reason for great lamentation because the same thing will happen to us eventually. One bubble may survive longer than another, but the final outcome is still the same: destruction. Since everyone is residing in one of these fragile establishments, how can any person pity another? According to the advanced transcendentalist’s angle of vision, such sentiments are silly and not based on sound logic and reasoning.

This theoretical knowledge seems all well and good, but for people who are in the eye of the storm, those who are suffering through the untimely death of a loved one, it’s difficult to maintain rationality. We may have daily studied the facts relating to the body and how no one is worthy of pity, but during times of difficulty, the feelings of attachment and loss outweigh those borne of logic and understanding. So what can we do? How do we reach the point where we can truly realize the truths that Shri Hanuman so eloquently describes?

“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)

ShyamasundaraSince the body is just a bubble, the soul residing within it is certainly not worthy of lamentation. At the same time, if the body is just a bubble, what is the meaning to life? Why are we forced to live in such a fragile shell? Is there another type of body that we can occupy, something more sturdy and damage-resistant? To find the answer, we must revisit the issue of the personal form of God. Lord Shri Krishna, the ultimate feature of the Absolute Truth who is also known as Bhagavan, has an eternal body which is full of transcendental bliss and knowledge. Krishna’s beauty, knowledge, and bliss are not exclusively for His own benefit. Rather, others are meant to associate with this feature of the Lord, basking in the glory of the transcendental sweetness of Shri Shyamasundara.

While remaining in a bubble-like body, one cannot associate with Krishna’s original feature without being subject to the influence of time. There may be temporary association, but the final destination of the bubble will still be the same. The key is to develop an attachment to God, a change in consciousness. One who thinks of Krishna at the time of death certainly does discard their shell-like body, but instead of assuming a new covering, they get sent directly to the spiritual world. In that realm, the liberated soul is allowed to enjoy Krishna’s association in the mood of their choosing. Moreover, the soul is given a spiritual body, similar to that of Krishna’s. In this way, not only does the individual permanently remove their fragile material body, but they assume an indestructible and imperishable spiritual body; a form which provides all the pleasure and bliss that one could ever hope for.

Hanuman chanting So how is God consciousness secured? For those who associated with Lord Rama during His time on earth, this consciousness was automatically adopted. The citizens of Ayodhya, Sugriva’s monkey army, and countless others were able to offer service to Rama directly, so their minds were always fixed on Him. The people of this age can associate with the same Lord Rama, and His original form of Krishna as well, by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This style of worship, which is the most effective at delivering liberation, is open to anyone to follow. A conditioned soul, one who is trapped in a bubble-like body, has no reason to pity another conditioned soul. The liberated souls, however, are so kind and compassionate that they desire to turn all the conditioned souls into liberated ones. Their lamentation, which is caused by a voluntary descension from the topmost platform of spiritual understanding, for the spiritually poor serves as the impetus for spreading God’s glories and fame throughout the world. Shri Hanuman is the leading exponent of the virtues of God, and through the instructions he provides, such as those offered to Tara, we can learn how to break free of the temporary material body.