Saturday, January 9, 2010


Lord Rama as a child “Since a son delivers his father from the hell named Put, a son is called putra; he who protects his ancestors in every way.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 107)

This statement was part of a series of teachings given by Lord Rama to His younger brother Bharata. According to Vedic tradition, the son is the deliverer of the father, thus Rama wanted Bharata and the rest of His brothers to act in such a way that their father, Maharaja Dashratha, would be saved from going to hell.

Lord Rama and family Lord Rama was an incarnation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is not a Hindu god, as some dictionaries define it. God can never be the exclusive property of any group or sect. He is for everyone. Though He has many different forms, expansions, and avataras, there is still only one God. In the Vedic definition, only Krishna or His Vishnu expansions equate to God in His original form. Rama was one such expansion, so He is worshiped by millions throughout India and the world as God Himself. Many thousands of years ago, Maharaja Dashratha was presiding over the kingdom of Ayodhya. He had no sons to pass his kingdom down to, so he performed a great yajna, or sacrifice. Being pleased with him, God decided to take birth as his eldest. Simultaneously, God also expanded Himself into three other forms, thus Dashratha was blessed with four sons who took birth in the wombs of his three different wives. Dashratha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi was the mother of Bharata. On a previous occasion, the king was very pleased with Kaikeyi, so he offered her any two boons of her choosing. Waiting for just the right moment, Kaikeyi decided to ask for the installation of Bharata as king and the banishment of Rama to the forest for fourteen years.

Lord Rama with His father DashrathaRama was the eldest son, so protocol dictated that He would succeed His father as king. Nevertheless, Rama was more than willing to oblige Kaikeyi’s two requests. During those times, the kshatriyas, the warrior class of men, served as the government leaders. Among their many duties was the requirement that they keep their word under all circumstances. It is customary for politicians to lie quite often today, but kshatriya kings would never engage in dishonesty. If they did lie, it was considered a grievous sin. For this reason, Rama agreed to go to the forest. Being ever dedicated to the welfare of His sire, Rama didn’t want Dashratha to commit any sins due to the affection he held for Rama. Bharata was away on business when these events went down. Upon returning to Ayodhya, Bharata found that Dashratha had quit his body due to the pain of separation from Rama. Quickly heading out to the forest in search of his elder brother, Bharata eventually found Rama and begged Him to come back to the kingdom and take over as king. Rama then informed Bharata that it was their duty as the sons of Dashratha to make sure that their father didn’t go to hell. Rama already did His part by going to the forest. Now it was Bharata’s turn to make good on Dashratha’s other promise by ascending the throne. If these two events didn’t occur, Dashratha would be considered a liar and also a sinner, subject to punishment in the afterlife. Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world, and its word for son is putra, meaning one who delivers his ancestors from the hell known as Put. Since time immemorial it has been the tradition for sons and grandsons to annually visit the holy site of Gaya and offer a pinda (rice ball) to their departed ancestors.

“Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu went to Gaya to offer respectful oblations to His forefathers. This process is called pinda-dana. In Vedic society, after the death of a relative, especially one's father or mother, one must go to Gaya and there offer oblations to the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Therefore hundreds and thousands of men gather in Gaya daily to offer such oblations, or shraddha.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.8, Purport)

Our souls are eternal, while our gross material bodies are not. If we are pious we go to heaven, and if we are sinful we go to hell. Residence in either heaven or hell isn’t permanent and we eventually take birth again after an allotted period of time. The really sinful however, don’t go to heaven or hell, nor do they accept a new material body. They remain in a ghost state consisting of just the subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego. The pinda is really intended for these people since they are in such dire straits. Having a son is just an insurance policy which saves one from being stuck in a horrible state in the afterlife. We commit so many pious and sinful deeds throughout our lifetime that it’s difficult to tell what the future holds for us after death. That is the nature of karma, or fruitive activity. Therefore, to eliminate all doubts relating to the afterlife, it is important to rise above the platform of karmic activity.

fight for Ajamila's soul Aside from fruitive activity, there is a higher discipline known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. A pure devotee of God does everything for the satisfaction of the Lord, thus he isn’t subject to the laws of karma. Ajamila is a great example in this regard. A pious brahmana in his youth, Ajamila fell down from his exalted position through association with a prostitute. The couple then had a son who was named Narayana. Even though he was no longer abiding by brahminical principles, Ajamila still had a hint of devotion in him, thus he had the good sense to name his son after God’s four-handed form of Narayana. God is absolute in any form, so He has the same potency in His original form of Krishna as He does in His various Vishnu expansions. Aside from His physical expansions, the Lord also incarnates in the form of His holy name. Therefore there is no difference between the name Narayana and Narayana Himself. This fact would turn out to be very important at the time of Ajamila’s death. On his deathbed, Ajamila called out for his son Narayana out of affection. The agents of Yamaraja, the Yamadutas, immediately came for Ajamila’s soul. Many people believe in the concept of a judgment day where someone judges the activities performed during our lifetime and then makes a determination of whether we go to heaven or hell. The Vedas tell us that this judgment is performed by the god of death, Yamaraja. He is also known as the god of justice, Dharmaraja.

These agents were all set to bring Ajamila in front of Yamaraja for judgment. However, they were intercepted by the Vishnudutas, the agents of Lord Vishnu. They declared that since Ajamila had uttered the name of Narayana at the time of death, he was now to be taken to Lord Vishnu’s spiritual realm. This fact is validated by Lord Krishna Himself.

“…Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)

The Yamadutas, being very puzzled, then returned to Yamaraja and asked him what had happened. They thought the laws of karma were absolute, so they couldn’t understand why Ajamila wasn’t going to hell. He was a sinner after all. Not only was he not going to hell, but he was going to the eternal heaven only found in the spiritual realm belonging to Lord Krishna or one of His Vishnu expansions. How could this happen? Yamaraja explained to his agents that those who abide by bhagavata-dharma, devotional service, are not subject to the laws of karma. Loving service to the Lord elevates a person above any material designation. We see on the highways that there are certain areas where local police officers don’t have any jurisdiction. A person may be speeding, but only a state officer can pull over drivers on specific roads. In a similar manner, the path of devotional service means driving on the spiritual highway to the Vaikuntha planets. Yamaraja and his agents have no jurisdiction on this road.

Rama and Bharata in the forest Bhagavata-dharma should always be practiced. This was the real meaning behind Lord Rama’s statements and actions. “Do everything for Me and you will be happy.” This was exactly the path taken by Rama’s associates. They did everything for His benefit. In actuality, Dashratha didn’t require deliverance from hell since he died while uttering Rama’s name. Nevertheless, Rama set an example for all of us on how to behave properly.

A son or daughter can both deliver their parents from any hellish condition. If a son is purely God conscious, he can deliver not only his parents, but many generations of ancestors, as was done by the great sage Bhagiratha. Women can also serve their ancestors by helping their husbands and children to become God conscious, as was done by the great Savitri, the wife of Satyavana. God rewards parents who raise their children to become devotees. That is the primary duty of a parent. Children give great pleasure to their parents in their youth, but as they grow older, it is important that the children become first class people. There can be no better person in this world than a pure devotee of Lord Krishna. The example set by Lord Rama is the guideline that should be followed by all parents and children. Devotional service is very easy to practice. Simply worship the Lord’s deity in the morning and night, offer and eat prasadam, and invite others to chant the Lord’s glorious names: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The Sweetest Thing

Sita offering food to Ravana in disguise “O Brahmana, do you sit comfortably on this mat. Do you take this water to wash your feet. Do you enjoy these well-cooked eatables growing in the forest, intended for you.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana in the guise of an ascetic, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand Sec 46)

The setting for this scene was a forest in India many thousands of years ago. The goddess of fortune, Lakshmi, had incarnated on earth in the form of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, appears on earth from time to time to enact pastimes and to reinstitute the neglected principles of dharma. As Lord Rama, He came in the form of a pious prince, forced into exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya by His father Maharaja Dashratha.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana accompanied Him during His stint in the forest. In this particular incident, the Rakshasa demon Ravana had come to the group’s hermitage in the forest disguised as a mendicant brahmana. Lord Rama had left the cottage to chase after Ravana’s associate Maricha, who had come in the guise of a deer. Lakshmana went to check on his brother’s welfare, when Ravana approached Sita and propositioned her. In response to the phony mendicant’s advances, Sita duly welcomed him to her cottage. She treated him like a first class citizen, worthy of the highest respect, for she didn’t know that the mendicant was actually Ravana.

This particular incident was cause for one of the most stressful moments in Sita’s life. The demon Maricha, upon being pierced by Rama’s arrows, bewailed out loud in the voice of Rama, screaming for help. Sita believed the voice to be her husband’s, so she immediately ordered Lakshmana to go see what was happening. Lakshmana knew the voice wasn’t Rama’s, but he obliged anyway. As soon as Lakshmana left, Ravana approached Sita.  In this most troubling situation, Sita still took the time to properly receive a guest. According to Vedic guidelines, a guest is to always be treated respectfully, even if he be an enemy. Guests are offered water to wash their feet, and a nice place to sit. The hosts are to then offer the best food they have in the house. In this way, householders earn tremendous spiritual merit by satisfying the wayfarers that come to their door.

Sita Devi Sita Devi, being God’s wife, naturally possessed the best qualities a person could have. It is customary for women to enjoy nice valuables such as expensive jewelry and fancy clothes. Woman usually enjoy shopping very much, while men usually dread it. However in Sita’s case, there was no attachment to material possessions whatsoever. Prior to her stint in the forest, she was living a life of luxury in the kingdom of Dashratha, for she was the wife of the eldest son of the king. Lord Rama asked her to remain in the kingdom for the duration of the fourteen year exile period, but she refused. She renounced the glamorous lifestyle in favor of supporting her husband. Just prior to leaving for the forest, Sita and Rama gave away tremendous riches to the brahmanas. One brahmana in particular was hesitant about approaching the Lord for receiving gifts. Yet at the insistence of his wife, the brahmana humbly submitted himself before Rama and asked Him for His help. Lord Rama laughed and smilingly said that the brahmana could ask for anything and the Lord would supply it for Him.

This represents God’s true nature. Brahmanas are the priestly class in society, dedicating their lives solely towards God’s service. They generally don’t involve themselves in fruitive activity such as acquiring money or seeking after sense pleasure. They voluntarily live a meager lifestyle, so that they can focus all of their time reciting God’s names, performing yajnas or sacrifices, and teaching the rest of society on the principles of dharma and devotion to Krishna. In America today, the definition of poverty is slightly skewed, as the poor typically have a few television sets, own a car, and even have air conditioning in their homes. The brahmanas during Lord Rama’s time were legitimately poor, depending solely on the charity of others for their livelihood. God is very nice to His devotees. Those who depend on Him for everything are never let down. Sita Devi, a perfect devotee in her own right, was equally as kind to the brahmanas.

In this particular incident, Sita Devi herself was living a life akin to that of a homeless person. In the Vedic system of varnashrama dharma, the third ashrama, or stage, of life is known as vanaprastha. This is the stage where the husband and wife give up their home and travel around to all the holy places. Vanaprastha immediately precedes sannyasa where the husband takes to complete renunciation. Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana were essentially living in the vanaprastha mode of life, for they travelled to the hermitages of all the great sages during their time in the forest. All they had was each other, and that was enough to survive. Yet still when approached by someone she thought to be a brahmana, Sita offered him full respect. Living on fruits and roots herself, she declared that all the sumptuous food of the forest was intended for the brahmana, and not for her.

Rama and His army battle Ravana As events would play out, Ravana would take advantage of Sita’s kindness by forcibly taking her back to his kingdom of Lanka. This was all preordained, for Lord Rama needed an excuse to go after Ravana and to kill him. Sita Devi was the secret weapon of the demigods who were terrified of Ravana and wanted to see him destroyed. Lord Rama not only eventually killed Ravana, but His army of monkeys destroyed the entire Rakshasa family ruling in Lanka. As kind as the Lord is to the brahmanas and His devotees, He is equally as unkind to those who do harm to them. Ravana paid dearly for taking advantage of Sita’s hospitality. Sita Devi is the goddess of fortune herself. If we are fortunate enough to receive benedictions from her in the form of wealth and prosperity, we should use it in the same manner that she did, i.e. for serving the lotus feet of the Lord. Sita was one of the sweetest and kindest people to ever grace this earth. We should take every opportunity we can get to reciprocate that kindness. By becoming devotees of the Lord, Sita Devi will always be pleased with us.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Precious Time

Lord Krishna “Although the two birds are in the same tree, the eating bird (jivatma) is fully engrossed with anxiety and moroseness as the enjoyer of the fruits of the tree. But if in some way or other he turns his face to his friend who is the Lord (Paramatma) and knows His glories, at once the suffering bird becomes free from all anxieties." (Katha Upanishad)

No matter how hard we may try, lost time can never be retrieved. Once an event happens, it’s over. We can try to relive experiences in our mind, thinking about how we felt and where we were at the precise moment of certain events, but in the end, that moment is gone. No amount of money can bring it back, and for this reason time can be considered the greatest loss.

Remembering our childhood brings us great pleasure Advancements in technology have brought new ways to relive past experiences. VCR and DVD players and still and video cameras allow us to document our life experiences and those of our children. Parents love to watch home movies of their own childhood and those of their kids. Watching these videos and looking at old pictures lets us reminisce of days gone by. For many of us, these were the halcyon days of our lives, a time remembered very fondly. Perusing through old photo albums helps us go back in time, allowing us to see how we have changed over the years. There is something comforting about bringing our minds back to the past. The present is usually a time for great anxiety. The Vedas describe this world as a place full of miseries, dukhalyam. We have absolutely no idea how events will play out. This uncertainty brings about worry, sochati. On the other hand, the events of the past already took place. We know how everything turned out, so it’s very comforting and safe to go back in time with our minds.

Nothing lasts forever. Anyone with a little intelligence realizes this fact eventually. As soon as we take birth, the dying process begins. Birth, old age, disease and death; these four things are guaranteed for the conditioned living entity. The rules of karma dictate what type of body we are put into after we die. Our fruitive actions and desires are measured by God’s agents at the time of death, and these desires then direct us to our next destination.

“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)

By definition, everything in this world is temporary. As spirit souls, we are constitutionally eternal, but upon accepting a body possessing gunas, or material qualities, we become subject to the forces of nature. “What goes up, must come down” is how the saying goes. Time is the agent of change. As soon as something is created, time begins to do its magic and slowly, day by day, the dying process begins. Everything in this world has a beginning, middle, and end. For this reason, the wise declare that life is short and that every moment of it should be savored and appreciated.

In His form as Lord Vishnu, Krishna passed down the Vedas to Brahma So how do we make the most of our time? This is where the Vedas come in. The original religion for all of mankind, the Vedas were passed down from Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to the first created being, Lord Brahma. Brahma then took charge of creation and passed down this sacred knowledge to future generations. Veda means knowledge and the ultimate knowledge is that which teaches us how to make the best use of our time. According to the Vedas, this human form of life is considered the most auspicious. This auspiciousness is not due to the fact that humans have dominion over the animals and plants. We most certainly do have dominion over all other species, but with power comes responsibility. Human beings are superior to animals in the area of intelligence. By nature, an animal involves itself primarily in four activities: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. The human being, having an advanced brain, should try to rise above these animalistic tendencies. If God wanted us to simply spend our time eating, drinking, and being merry, then He would have put us in the body of an animal. It is highly likely that we indeed took birth in the animal species in a previous life, and for this reason, we should try to figure out why we are currently in the body of a human being.

Above all other attributes, the most important quality of a human being is its ability to know and understand God. The purpose of human life is to recognize this ability and use it for our benefit. So how do we fulfill this purpose, i.e. how do we understand God? This is the mystery that has bewildered people since time immemorial. The answer is that we must follow dharma. In the Vedic tradition, the term religion doesn’t really exist. What we refer to as religion, the Vedas define as sanatana dharma. According to Ramanujacharya, sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end. Dharma means occupational duty. So, in essence, religion equates to our eternal occupation. It is not that we blindly accept some faith and then give it up a few years later. Dharma is our eternal duty, something we should always engage in. It never changes. We certainly have the freedom to decided to go against dharma, but this decision leads to pain and suffering in the form of repeated births.

It is the nature of the spirit soul to be active. The concept of democratic government is an outgrowth of this innate desire in humans. People generally don’t like to sit idly by and do nothing. Not only do we prefer to be active, but we demand variety in our activities. No one likes to repeat the exact same activities every single day. The mind requires constant stimulation and engagement. The Vedas don’t deny this fact, but they tell us that the mind should be controlled.

“The Blessed Lord said: O mighty-armed son of Kunti, it is undoubtedly very difficult to curb the restless mind, but it is possible by constant practice and by detachment.” (Bg. 6.35)

Hanuman practicing real yoga The mind can be reined in through the yoga process. Yoga means having union of the soul with God. This union is required because currently there is a separation between the jivatma, our soul, and the Paramatma, the Supersoul. Paramatma is an expansion of God that resides inside the heart of every living entity. It is our original nature to be in yoga, always connected with God, but somehow or other that bond has been broken. The Vedas give us the necessary knowledge to rekindle that lost relationship.

There are several bona fide types of yoga, but the highest is known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Also known as bhagavata-dharma, devotional service means dovetailing all of one’s activities with the desires of the Supreme Lord. What does Goes want? He wants us to return to His spiritual realm, Goloka Vrindavana or the Vaikuntha planets. Vaikuntha means a place free of any anxiety. Devotional service means acting in such a way that we permanently change our consciousness. A conditioned living entity is always either hankering after something it wants or lamenting over something it doesn’t have. A Krishna, or God, conscious person no longer hankers or laments over temporary things.

Rama meeting Bharata in the forest How does one become Krishna conscious? This state of mind is achieved by following any or all of the nine distinct process of bhakti yoga: hearing, chanting, remembering Lord Vishnu (Krishna), serving the lotus feet of the Lord, worshiping, offering prayers, carrying out the Lord’s orders, becoming friends with the Lord, and surrendering everything unto Him. This was the path to perfection taken by the citizens of Ayodhya many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna, God Himself, came to earth in human form as a prince named Rama. After Rama was exiled to the forest by His father, the king of Ayodhya, the citizens desperately wanted Rama to return and take over the reins of government. Rama’s younger Bharata sought Him out in the forest and beseeched Him to return. The Lord then instructed Bharata on the temporary nature of things and the below referenced statement was part of His teachings. All feelings of happiness and sadness are temporary, so one shouldn’t grieve over the loss of a king. Time destroys everything in the end, so there was no reason to despair over something temporary. This was the lesson taught by Lord Rama.

“A night that has gone by does not return, just as the full Yamuna River, when she has entered the ocean full of water, does not come back. The passing days and nights quickly decrease the lifespan of all living entities, just as in summer, the rays of the sun dry up the water.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 105)

Even after such sound advice, Bharata wouldn’t budge. The parties were at a stalemate until a compromise was finally reached. Rama gave Bharata His sandals and told him to put them on the throne of the kingdom. In this way, Rama could stay in the forest, but His sandals would symbolically rule over Ayodhya. Through this compromise, the Lord showed us how we can execute devotional service perfectly. The citizens of Ayodhya lived without Rama for fourteen years, but they passed the time always thinking of Him, considering the sandals to be no different than Rama.

Today, we are also in a similar situation. God isn’t physically present before us, but He has kindly incarnated in the form of His holy name and the archa-vigraha, or deity. Perfect yoga can be executed by always chanting His glorious name and by regularly viewing and taking care of His deity. God is all-attractive and someone who gives pleasure to all. In our regular endeavors, if we work hard for something but then ultimately fail in achieving it, our valuable time has been wasted. In devotional service however, not even a second is wasted. If one is unsuccessful in achieving pure God consciousness in this life, in the next life, they get to resume from where they left off.

“By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he (the unsuccessful yogi) automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles-even without seeking them. Such an inquisitive transcendentalist, striving for yoga, stands always above the ritualistic principles of the scriptures.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.44)

Rama's triumphant return We really have nothing to lose. Love given to God never goes in vain. Lord Rama triumphantly returned to Ayodhya after fourteen years and took over as the king. He was able to repay the pure love shown to Him by the citizens. From His example, we can understand that God never forgets us, and even the smallest amount of loving service to Him can go a long way. So let us engage in the timeless activity of devotional service. The great Lord Hanuman spends every day thinking of Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana, so we can never go wrong following his wonderful example.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

VIP Treatment

 Radha Krishna “Bhagavan means the Almighty God who is the controller of all opulences, power, fame, beauty, knowledge and renunciation. He is the protector of His pure devotees.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.12 Purport)

When God came to earth in the form of Lord Rama, He spent fourteen years ranging the forest as an exile with His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana. Around twelve years into their exile term, they were living in a cottage they had set up, when a Rakshasa in the guise of a deer came by and caught the eye of Sita.

At the time, the Rakshasas, an evil race of demons who lived off the flesh of humans and other animals, were wreaking havoc throughout the forest, disrupting the sacrifices of the sages. Their leader was Ravana, the ten-headed one. Ravana was feared by all, for he had procured various boons from the demigods that made him almost invincible. His sister Shurpanakha had come by Rama’s cottage previously and propositioned Rama, which then led to an argument, with Lakshmana eventually disfiguring her. In retaliation, the Rakshasas mounted an attack against Rama, which the Lord easily thwarted. Fourteen thousand Rakshasas were slain by Rama in that battle, a fact which greatly angered Ravana. Ravana then devised a plan whereby another Rakshasa named Maricha would come in the guise of a deer and distract Rama and Lakshmana, leaving the path clear for him to swoop in and kidnap Sita.

Sita, Rama, and the deer Upon seeing the deer, Sita wanted to have it, alive if possible. Lord Rama loved His wife very much, so He was more than willing to accept her request. Lakshmana had a strong feeling that the deer was in fact Maricha, but Lord Rama insisted on catching the deer anyway. Unfortunately, events would play out as Ravana had planned, with Rama chasing and killing Maricha, Lakshmana coming to the Lord’s side, and Sita being kidnapped by Ravana.

Now this was all preordained by the demigods, since they needed an excuse for Rama to go after Ravana and to kill him. Kshatriya warriors strictly follow the codes of conduct, which state that an enemy shouldn’t be attacked without cause. Sita Devi was the ticking time bomb, if you will, which led to Ravana’s demise. The Lord agreed to chase after the deer because He treats His devotees differently that He does ordinary people. Sita Devi never asked for anything in her life. She was completely devoted to the Lord’s welfare, even following Him to the forest just so she could support Him in His darkest hour. She easily could have remained in her father-in-law’s kingdom of Ayodhya, but she chose to bear the austere life in the woods simply for the sake of her husband. Rama knew the sacrifices she had made for Him, so He was more than willing to return the favor.

This same type of behavior is exhibited by parents. All children are different, each having their own qualities and needs. If a child is very obedient and nice and never gets into trouble, the parents tend to be more lenient when that child makes a mistake. On the reverse side, if a child is very mischievous, always looking for ways to break the rules, then the parents tend to be much stricter and less likely to grant favors to such a child. God is the same way with us. If we are devoted to Him and only seek to make Him happy, then He rewards our devotion by removing all our sinful reactions. It is said that if one simply eats prasadam, food first offered to the Lord, all sinful reactions become eradicated. The reason for this is that such food is completely spiritual and immune from the effects of karma. If we prepare food for our own satisfaction, it is considered sinful since it keeps us bound to the material world. Any attachment we have for material things keeps us tied to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Eating prasadam brings us in contact with Krishna, which helps us break the attachment we have to the material world.

“It goes against tradition, looks unseemly, and smacks of willfulness on the part of a wife to command her husband in this way, but I am sunk in surprise seeing the countenance of the deer.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, Sec 43)

Sita RamaSita Devi was so nice that she felt bad asking the Lord for this one favor of catching the deer. She apologized for even making such a request, for she knew it was against the standard Vedic etiquette prescribed for wives. In loving relationships, we often see women asking for nice things such as jewelry and expensive clothing. Men naturally like to please their significant other, so they are usually quite willing to go the extra mile to secure their happiness. The Valentine’s Day holiday is built around this concept. On that one special day each year, women expect gifts from their paramours, and the men feel the pressure to live up to the expectations of the female. Sita and Rama’s relationship was above this, for it was something out of the spiritual world. Prior to leaving for the forest, Sita gave away all her valuables to the brahmanas and their wives. Along with her husband, Sita was the ultimate renunciate. Rama knew all of this, and that is why He didn’t hesitate in responding to His wife’s request, for He knew how rarely she ever asked for anything.

God always goes the extra mile to please His devotees. When Krishna personally came to earth, He showed similar favoritism to His wives in Dvaraka. As a great king, the Lord simultaneously maintained 16,108 wives. They all loved Him very much and cherished association with Him, so the Lord expanded Himself in order to simultaneously be with each wife separately. Narada Muni came to earth and witnessed this phenomenon. During the rasa-lila in Vrindavana, Lord Krishna similarly expanded Himself so that each gopi (cowherd girl) could enjoy personal association with Him. This was all done to please those who completely depended on Him for everything. Let us all become top-notch devotees so that we too can enjoy VIP treatment from the Lord.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

A New Beginning

Radha Krishna “Those who are not faithful on the path of devotional service cannot attain Me, O conqueror of foes, but return to birth and death in this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.3)

There are four things that are guaranteed in material life: birth, old age, disease and death (janma, jara, vyadhi, mrtyu). The first event, birth, represents a new beginning, a great opportunity for the spirit soul to cultivate spiritual knowledge and use that understanding to reconnect with God. Yet as soon as the spirit soul comes into contact with material nature, it associates with qualities known as gunas. These qualities manifest themselves in the form of a gross material body. As soon as there is birth, the other three miseries begin to take effect on the body. However strong we may think we are, we all eventually succumb to the forces of old age, disease, and ultimately death.

Krishna and Arjuna Some think of death as the end, while others speculate that it might be the beginning. In reality, it is an event that merely signals the changing of bodies. We get up every morning, take a shower, and then put on a fresh set of clothes. We never think of wearing the same outfit two days in a row, since yesterday’s clothes are probably dirty from us having worn them. Instead, we reach for a fresh pair, something nice and comfortable that will make us feel good. In the same way, death represents the changing of clothes, the shedding of an old and useless body in exchange for a brand new one.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)

Old age represents the effects of time. Nothing can check time; it is a force of nature that is beyond the realm of our thinking. It is inconceivable and it is constantly taking effect. As soon as we take birth, we start the dying process. Little by little, every day we creep closer to that time when our soul will have to give up the current body and accept a new one. Aging goes hand-in-hand with dying. In our youth, our body may grow into its adult form, but at around the age of twenty, the growth stops and decay begins. In a matter of a few short years, the aging process takes effect and our face acquires new wrinkles. We can’t run as fast as we used to. Our metabolism slows down and our stamina is not nearly the same as it was in our younger days. This is all due to the aging process.

Along with old age, disease also speeds up the dying process. There are so many diseases out there, that one can’t even count them all. There’s always a new epidemic popping up, something to scare people enough into taking extreme preventative measures. The swine flu is the latest scare. Government leaders are strongly urging people to get vaccinated from the swine flu, fearing an epidemic. In reality, there is little that can be done to stop disease.

Reincarnation In one sense, the miseries of old age and disease are actually gifts from God. The material world exists to facilitate the desire of the spirit souls to enjoy material sense gratification. In order to keep that enjoyment going at a heightened level, God allows us to shed our decayed bodies and accept brand new ones. He is so kind that He allows us to forget the experiences of our past lives every time we take birth.

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

Lord Rama This loss of memory is for our benefit. If we had the body of an infant, but had the knowledge of a wise man, life would surely be painful. Children love to play and have fun all day, while older people like to relax since they have experienced all of life’s thrills already. By allowing us to forget our past lives, God gives us the opportunity to falsely enjoy material life again and again.

“Just as a strong-pillared house ultimately wears out and decays, so a human being must succumb to old age and death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 105)

Knowledge means power. If we recognize that these fourfold miseries of life are guaranteed, we can hopefully use that knowledge to put an end to our suffering. This was the lesson taught by Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, many thousands of years ago. In the above referenced statement, He is telling His younger brother Bharata that all things in this material world are temporary. Even the strongest pillar must face decrepitude and decay, so what to speak of our temporary material bodies? The situation at hand was that Bharata desperately wanted Rama to return to the kingdom of Ayodhya. The king at the time, Maharaja Dashratha, had passed away due to the pain of separation from Rama, his eldest son. Ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years by Dashratha, Rama wasn’t about to renege on His promise to His father.

Bharata was chosen as the successor to the throne prior to Dashratha’s death. Bharata, however, wanted Rama to rule over Ayodhya since He was the eldest son. He sought Rama out in the forest and begged Him to return. As part of his plea, Bharata argued that Ayodhya would be enveloped in sadness if anyone else were to rule as king. Rama’s retort was that all material things are temporary and that one should not worry about fleeting happiness or sadness.

What should we worry about then? The Vedas tell us that this human form of life is meant for God realization. We possess a high brain power because God ultimately wants us to return to His abode, the eternal spiritual realm. Residence on His planets is permanent, while life here doesn’t have to be. In order to return back to God, we have to follow the principles of dharma, or religiosity. Religion exists to allow man to know and love God. The perfect religion is that which can raise people from animalistic tendencies to a platform of pure love and devotion to the Supreme Lord.

Dharma sets out to do just that. In His incarnation as Lord Rama, Lord Krishna played the role of a pious prince who was dedicated strictly to dharma, and more importantly, to the welfare of His devotees. Dharma is our occupational duty and is not just a blind faith. In order for something to be considered dharma, it cannot change. Someone may change their specific religious faith on a whim, but dharma can never change. The eternal occupation of man, bhagavata-dharma, is to become Krishna conscious. Simply following rules and regulations is useless unless one comes to an understanding of God and the constitutional position of the spirit soul.

“The Absolute Truth is the objective of devotional sacrifice, and it is indicated by the word sat. These works of sacrifice, of penance and of charity, true to the absolute nature, are performed to please the Supreme Person, O son of Pritha.  But sacrifices, austerities and charities performed without faith in the Supreme are nonpermanent, O son of Pritha, regardless of whatever rites are performed. They are called asat and are useless both in this life and the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.27-28)

Hanuman worshiping Rama The lesson here is that we should not be attached to temporary material happiness. Lord Rama renounced everything for the sake of His father. Everything He did was for the benefit of His devotees. We should return the favor by offering our actions as a sacrifice to the Supreme Lord. Practicing devotional service means always connecting with Bhagavan, or God. God transcends the effects of birth, old age, disease, and death, and so do His devotees.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Learning By Example

Hanuman, a great devotee “Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)

Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu, are especially competent to teach others in society. Due to their devotion to God, they automatically acquire a status worthy of respect and veneration. We should humbly submit ourselves to these exalted persons, for they set the best example to follow.

Baby Krishna with parents Our superiors, be it our parents or teachers, have the necessary experience to impart knowledge and wisdom upon us. Our parents have been through the trials and tribulations of life. Maturing from youth to adulthood is not an easy thing. Life constantly throws hurdles in the way of our progression, making it difficult to achieve advancement in knowledge. Young children are always in the discovery mode. Children under the age of five years old just want to play all the time. They wake up and start playing right away. If they get tired they sleep, otherwise they are playing all day and eating only when told to by their parents. While playing, children constantly take in information, discovering new things that enhance their knowledge. Slowly but surely they learn to crawl, walk, and talk. As they mature into adolescents and adults, the learning continues.

“If only I knew then, what I know now.” As adults, when we see old pictures of ourselves we often think, “What was I thinking? I can’t believe I dressed that way back then.” It is very common for college age youths to experiment with drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes. Later on in life however, these same people give up or curb these habits since they realize how harmful they are. When they become parents, they don’t want their children repeating the same mistakes they made in their college days. These sentiments are common because we’re always making advancements in knowledge, learning from our mistakes.

Our parents and preceptors, having gone through life’s experiences already, can save us from making the same mistakes that they made as youths. Parents never want their children to suffer in the same ways that they did. When we are crawling around as youngsters, our parents warn us to stay away from dangerous things such as electrical sockets and staircases. If not for their warnings, we would be at risk for serious injury. Our parents give us curfews, force us to eat our meals on time, and make us do our homework. We might not like adhering to all these rules, but in the end we are benefitted by them, so much so that later on in life, we institute similar rules on our own children.

Marriage of Sita and Rama When Lord Krishna, God Himself, advented on earth as Lord Rama, He was banished from Ayodhya by the king, Maharaja Dashratha, who was also His father. Accompanied by His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana, the Lord was ready to embark for the forest when His mother Kausalya stepped in and offered some words of advice to her daughter-in-law. Concerned very much for the welfare of her son, Kausalya advised Sita to always remain by Rama’s side and to always serve and honor him. Sita Devi was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, who, in the short definition, serves as God’s wife in the spiritual world. Thus Sita was naturally acquainted with all the rules of propriety, for she has been serving the lotus feet of the Lord since time immemorial.

“O exalted one, having learnt from the most exalted women about the major, as well the minor, duties of a wife, how can I now despise my husband, Lord Rama? A husband is indeed a deity to a woman.” (Sita Devi speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 39)

As a good daughter-in-law, Sita respectfully heeded the words of Kausalya, and replied with a few short statements of her own. In the above referenced quote, Sita states that she had learned very well from her superiors all the duties relating to a wife, and that she had no intention of ignoring those instructions.

In the Vedic tradition, the husband is viewed as the foremost deity for the wife. By deity, we mean that the husband is viewed to be as good as God to the wife. Of course he is not the original God, but a good husband who is devoted to serving Lord Krishna should be treated as his representative by the wife. If the wife faithfully serves such a husband, then both are benefitted because they will successfully fulfill the true mission of life, becoming God conscious. People who always keep Krishna on their minds, and who faithfully serve Him, return to His spiritual planets at the expiry of their life.

“While suffering at the time of death, Ajamila chanted the holy name of the Lord, and although the chanting was directed toward his son, he nevertheless returned home, back to Godhead. Therefore if one faithfully and inoffensively chants the holy name of the Lord, where is the doubt that he will return to Godhead?” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.2.49)

Once the soul goes to God’s spiritual realm, it never returns to the material world. In a marriage, it is only required that one party, usually the husband, be expert in serving Krishna. The husband and wife share the same fate once they are married, so if one person is purely Krishna conscious, then the spouse automatically shares in the religious merits. For this reason, it is in the best interest of the wife to make sure her husband is treated nicely and is adhering to the practice of devotional service.

Mirabai worshiping Lord Krishna Growing up, Sita was taught all of this by her parents and the brahmanas that lived in her father’s kingdom of Mithila. Since she received such an expert education, it would be a shame for her to not carry out the instructions provided by her teachers. This is the sentiment of a good student and a pure soul. Saintly people always credit their teachers for everything that they know. Even if they become highly advanced in knowledge, they never think themselves to be smarter than the people who taught them.

By worshiping Rama and standing by His side during the most difficult period of His life, Sita was honoring her teachers by faithfully following their instructions. She never for a second wanted to bring dishonor to her family. In this respect, Sita Devi sets the example that we should all follow. Krishna is the Supreme Deity, so we should all worship Him. All women should first accept Krishna as their first husband; for He is God and can accept and support an unlimited number of wives. Husbands should dedicate themselves to serving God, and teach this same principle to their wives. These were the principles that the great Sita Devi lived by, and the best way to honor her legacy is to follow her example.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Lord Rama “As a ripe fruit has no other fear than to fall, so a man who is born, has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 105)

Lord Rama is God Himself. He appeared on earth many thousands of years ago and enacted many wonderful pastimes which are all chronicled in various Vedic literatures, but most notably in the Valmiki Ramayana and the Ramacharitamanasa. Through His kind mercy, the Lord personally delivers all the knowledge required for us to make our lives successful and return back to His transcendental abode. Since God is the most famous, His words automatically inherit that fame; thus His teachings have eternal relevance.

Lord Rama greeted by Guha God can personally teach everyone because His words have gravity. Whatever group of individuals you collect, be they in a small village or in a large country, there will always be a section that takes an interest in high philosophy and the cultivation of knowledge. In the varnashrama dharma system, these people are known as the brahmanas. Though to be considered a qualified brahmana requires more than just the affinity for higher thought, simply seeking after the answers to life’s questions makes one more advanced than others. Due to this yearning for higher knowledge, there come about a wide variety of philosophical ideas and beliefs espoused by philosophers and intellectuals. Yet for these philosophers to be taken seriously, their words must hold some gravity. Mere logic is not enough. For example, an elderly person is much more likely to be taken seriously than a small child, even if both of them are teaching the same philosophy. The reasoning behind this is that the elderly man is considered more learned simply based off his life experiences. A small child is viewed as ignorant and unintelligent when it comes to higher knowledge.

This may represent a deficiency in people’s observatory patterns, but it is a true fact of life. This principle is commonly displayed in the arena of politics. In the 2000 U.S. Presidential election, then Governor of Texas George W. Bush was running for the Republican Party nomination. He had opinions and stances on a wide array of political issues, but he wasn’t taken very seriously due to his relative inexperience in the political arena. His resume consisted only of six years of service as governor. Right before the party convention, Bush chose former Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney as his vice presidential nominee. Almost every major news media outlet, including both television and print, had the same reaction. They all said that the Cheney pick brought gravitas to the Bush campaign. Cheney’s stances on the issues were no different than Bush’s, for they were both considered Conservatives. However, Cheney had many years of political experience, dating all the way back to the 1970s. His words were much more respected than Bush’s.

Different people are afforded varying levels of respect, but no one has more gravitas than God. He is the original person, adi purusham, and the supreme master, maheshvaram.

“My dear friend, mighty-armed Arjuna, listen again to My supreme word, which I shall impart to you for your benefit and which will give you great joy. Neither the hosts of demigods nor the great sages know My origin, for, in every respect, I am the source of the demigods and the sages. He who knows Me as the unborn, as the beginningless, as the Supreme Lord of all the worlds-he, undeluded among men, is freed from all sins.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.1-3)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna When the Lord speaks, people listen. For this reason, the Ten Commandments of the Bible are held in such high regard. God is one, though He may be called by many different names. He also takes many forms, but according to the authority of the Vedas, the original form of God is referred to as Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Shri Krishna is Bhagavan, and He has many direct expansions who are equal to Him in potency. Lord Rama was one such expansion. At our core we are spirit souls, part and parcel of God. Lord Chaitanya describes our position as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, meaning we are simultaneously one with and different from the Lord. We are the same in quality, but quantitatively we are different. Since our quality is the same as God’s, we are by nature happy, blissful, and full of knowledge. Yet through contact with the material world, we have become subject to the illusion brought on by the qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. No matter how much material covering we may have, a small glimpse of that original spiritual bliss still remains inside of us. For this reason, we are naturally prone to have an attachment to God and His words. Though there are many different religions today, each having their own teachings, we see that the majority of people around the world believe in God. They are not atheists, even though many governments espouse atheistic policies. This natural devotion results in a desire to hear about God, especially His direct words.

The great sages of the past were even more God conscious than we are today, so they savored every direct word spoken by God so much, that they desired to put them into writing. For this reason the Vedic literatures are the most voluminous of any religious tradition. Originally all Vedic knowledge was passed down through oral tradition; the hearing process. The Vedas themselves are referred to as the shrutis, meaning “that which is heard”. As people’s brain power gradually diminished, written scripture was required. God’s direct teachings and glorious pastimes are all chronicled in the great texts such as the eighteen Puranas, Mahabharata, and Ramayana.

The Vedas originated from God, thus they contain a wealth of knowledge. Over and above anything else, God’s primary teaching is that we should not get caught up in the temporary aspect of material nature, and that we should rather focus on returning back to His spiritual realm. This represents a complete paradigm shift from our current way of thinking. Upon taking birth, we immediately identify with our gross material body. This is the first mistake we make since the body is constantly changing and is ultimately destined to be given up at the time of death.

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

Reincarnation Not only the body, but everything in the material world is temporary, from all our possessions to all our family relationships. Most of us realize this at some point in our lives, and this epiphany usually leads to an overwhelming sense of fear. The fear of dying is man’s greatest fear. This is precisely the point Lord Rama is trying to convey in the above referenced statement.

Animals involve themselves in four primary activities: eating, sleeping, mating, and fearing. By default, uneducated human beings don’t act any different. The exact style of eating or sleeping may not be the same as the animals, but man is nevertheless engaged in similar activities. Since we have a higher level of intelligence, we generally seek out the three rewards of life: dharma, artha, and kama. Dharma is religiosity, artha is economic development, and kama is sense gratification. “I want to be religious enough to have enough wealth to be happy and secure. I need enough money so I can then engage in sense gratification.” This is the sum and substance of karmic life, or fruitive activity. We work hard during the day to procure wealth that can then be used to satisfy our senses.

People who are successful in karmic life, those having no problems eating, sleeping, or mating, then take to fearing or defending. “I have all this wealth, but what do I do now? I’m afraid I will lose this all in a second. I especially don’t want to die.” This is the crux of the lesson taught here by Lord Rama. Once a fruit finally ripens, it has nothing left to do but fall down from the tree and die. In a similar manner, the mature human being who has successfully lived to an old age, has nothing else to do but die.

“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 As soon as we take birth, we begin to die. That is the nature of things. “So can we stop death?” No. Death is guaranteed. “Okay, so how do we remove our fear of death?” This is the more important question. One who sincerely looks for an answer to this mystery, has made the most out of this valuable human form of life. The very first aphorism of the famous Vedanta-sutras is athato brahma-jijnasa, meaning “Now is the time to inquire about Brahman, or God.” This is the reason for our being here.

Luckily for us, the Vedas exist precisely to eliminate this fear of death. This fear can actually be eliminated in one second. We just have to surrender to God.

“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)

We have to change our desires. That is the true definition of surrendering unto God. In our conditioned stated, we crave the temporary happiness brought about by mundane sense gratification. Yet by definition, this happiness must go away. That is the meaning of temporary. Knowing that this happiness won’t last, a fear of loss immediately takes over. However, if we desire to have association with Krishna, or God, then there is no fear of dying. Death merely represents a changing of bodies, so it is actually not anything to fear.

One of God’s names is Mukunda, meaning one who gives liberation. A perfectly God conscious person no longer has to endure the repeated cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death. Going to Krishna’s spiritual realm means leaving behind the material world forever.

“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.6)

So how does one surrender and become liberated? One must become God conscious. The events of birth and death happen on their own since they are part of nature. We don’t have to try to check nature since we cannot even begin to comprehend her power. We can’t control the weather, but what we can control is our desire to become God conscious.

Lord RamaWe simply have to foster a desire to hear Krishna-katha, or words spoken by Krishna or talks about Krishna. The above referenced statement of Lord Rama is Krishna-katha since it is God’s direct word. The Lord’s teachings are found in so many great books. We can hear about God by reading these books or by listening to discourses about Him given by great devotees. The hearing process alone can save us. We just have to hear from the right source.