Saturday, January 16, 2010

Under the Influence

Radha Krishna “O Supreme Eternal! If the embodied living entities were eternal and all-pervading like You, then they would not be under Your control. But if the living entities are accepted as minute energies of Your Lordship, then they are at once subject to Your supreme control. Therefore real liberation entails surrender by the living entities to Your control, and that surrender will make them happy. In that constitutional position only can they be controllers…” (Prayers of the Vedas, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.87.30)

The influence of a woman can cause a man to act in all sorts of crazy ways. Men will do things they normally wouldn’t do because of attachment to the object of their affection.

Radha Krishna deities The Vedas declare that the human form of life is especially auspicious since only humans have the mental capacity to understand, know, and love God. The spirit soul is eternally a part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, but it has been placed in this material world since time immemorial due to desires for sense gratification. The soul transmigrates through the various 8,400,000 species in an evolutionary process that culminates with taking birth as a human being. It is not a very common thing to be born as a human, so one should make the most of this wonderful opportunity. The Vedas have declared that starting from childhood, one should be trained in the process of tapasya, or religious austerities. It is not that we should do whatever we want, whenever we want, for that will doom us. Tapasya means voluntarily imposing barriers and limits on ourselves relating to sense gratification. As the saying goes, “Early to bed, early to rise” one should make a habit of rising early in the morning and taking a shower or bath. That should be followed by chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and worshiping the deity of the Lord and so on. If a person is always engaged in this way, they will easily be able to avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex. This regulative system will allow one to steadily progress in spiritual life.

Sex life, especially illicit sex, is the biggest barrier to making spiritual progress. It is the highest form of sense gratification, or maya, and it is the primary cause for us repeating the cycle of birth and death. Dogs and monkeys especially have an uncontrolled desire for sex. They engage in sex all the time and are never satisfied. Human beings aren’t meant to behave in the same way, for we are supposed to be more intelligent than dogs. Yet many of us are completely engrossed in sex life and in lusting after others. This leads to all sorts of problems such as teenage pregnancy, abortion, and sexually transmitted diseases.

There is much time spent trying to think of ways to cure poverty around the world. In America, studies show that those who graduate high school and don’t have children until after they are married are almost guaranteed to not live in poverty. This completely makes sense, for even the Vedas tell us that we shouldn’t have sex unless it is with our wife and for the purpose of having children. The Vedas are the original system of knowledge passed down from God Himself, so everything it contains is flawless. We needn’t spend money on welfare and redistribution programs, for they will never solve any problems. Simply following God’s instruction will make us happy and shield us from a life of poverty.

Lakshmana Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, was a great example of a person who perfected their life by following the teachings of the Vedas. When Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, came to earth many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, He was born as the eldest son of the king, Maharaja Dashratha. The king had planned on installing Rama as the successor to the throne, but at the last second he changed his mind. This was due to the influence of his youngest wife, Kaikeyi. On a previous occasion, Dashratha was involved in a battle against the asuras, or demons. In those days, kings were all expert fighters of the kshatriya race. They served as the leaders in government since they had proven their ability to fight and administer justice fairly. So in this particular battle, Dashratha was in trouble, and Kaikeyi had helped pull him out and bring him to safety. Dashratha was so pleased that he offered her any two boons of her choosing. Kaikeyi, being very cunning, decided to hold on to these boons until a more suitable time arose. On the occasion of Rama’s installation-to-be, she decided to cash in on the boons by asking that Rama’s younger brother Bharata instead be installed as the new king. For her second boon, she requested that Rama be forced to live in the forest for fourteen years. Dashratha had no choice but to grant these wishes, for a king could not go back on his word.

“I like it not, O worshipful one, that Raghava (Rama) should repair to the forest due to the influence of a woman, renouncing this grandeur of sovereignty. The king is old and therefore of perverted judgment, and is addicted to sensual enjoyments. Being under the influence of his wife and passion, what could he not speak?” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand Sec 21)

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is speaking to Rama’s mother Kausalya, stating his objection to the king’s order. Lakshmana from his very birth was attached to Rama. He wouldn’t eat or sleep without his elder brother. When he heard the order imposed on Rama, Lakshmana became very angry. He completely objected, declaring that his father had lost his mind due to his love for Kaikeyi. Lakshmana was a pure soul, for sin could never touch him. Being completely devoted to God, maya ran away in fear at the mere sight of him. From his example, we can learn how to transcend the influence of sin, and completely free ourselves from all material desires, including illicit sex life. By simply devoting ourselves to the Supreme Lord in all thoughts, words, and deeds, we can become the greatest of yogis. Lakshmana was so angered by the treatment shown to his brother that he insisted on accompanying Rama to the forest for fourteen years. Lakshmana was married at the time, for Rama and all three of His brothers were married on the same day in the kingdom of Videha ruled by Maharaja Janaka. Lakshmana renounced everything in favor of serving God, so we can do no wrong by following in his footsteps. In this way, we will never come under the influence of worldly affairs.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Controlling the Mind

Lord Krishna“The working senses are superior to dull matter; mind is higher than the senses; intelligence is still higher than the mind; and he [the soul] is even higher than the intelligence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.42)

Question: “Is the mind considered part of the material body?”

Answer: The material world is made up of five gross elements and three subtle elements. Earth, water, fire, air, and ether make up the gross elements. Every material body that we see consists of these elements to some varying degree. Mind, intelligence, and false ego make up the three subtle elements. They are classified as subtle because they cannot be directly perceived.

Lord KrishnaWe know that the mind exists based on our own life experiences. We are always thinking. Even when we are inactive or in a sleeping state, our mind is still processing thoughts and remembering past events, and making future plans. Using deductive reasoning, we can conclude that other living entities have similar experiences, thus the mind must exist in other people as well. The activities of the mind then lead to the cultivation of knowledge.

"The individual is the passenger in the car of the material body, and intelligence is the driver. Mind is the driving instrument, and the senses are the horses. The self is thus the enjoyer or sufferer in the association of the mind and senses. So it is understood by great thinkers." (Vedic literatures)

The false ego is the third subtle element. This ego is classified as false because it leads one to think in terms of “mine” and “I am”. According to shastric conclusions, this sort of thinking is flawed since God is the actual proprietor of everything. We may have a temporary claim on our body and our possessions, but these things are all given up at the time of death. Even our identification is flawed. Aham brahmasmi, “I am a spirit soul part and parcel of Brahman, the impersonal energy expansion of God.” The atma, or spirit soul, represents are our true identity. The soul is eternal but the gross body is not. By taking birth in the material world, we immediately forget this fact due to the influence of the false ego.

Though it is subtle, the mind is still considered a product of the material world. Since everything here is temporary, one might be tempted to think that the mind should just be ignored due to its flawed nature. Herein lies the catch. Though it is material, the mind can be our greatest friend since it can help us elevate our consciousness. According to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is our consciousness at the time of death that determines the type of body we will receive in the next life.

“In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)

Bhishma remembering Krishna at the time of death This consciousness takes shape in the qualities and attributes of the three subtle elements. At the time of death, the gross body is discarded and the soul is placed into a new body. Thus the events of death and birth simply represent the changing of bodies. The soul remains intact. The subtle body is carried with us to our next life, allowing us to continue our consciousness from the previous life. Often times we will see young children who have unique talents in certain areas, or we’ll see that kids will have an affinity for certain activities. This is all due to their past karma. The deeds performed in previous lives determine the starting point for the next life. If we see that someone is very devoted to God in their youth, it must mean that they were very pious in their previous life.

The mind can be our enemy also, leading us down the path of sinful life. We see this situation in the world today where many people take to meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication as a way of life. Sundays are spent watching the latest sporting events on television. People work hard during the week, so they like to have relaxation time on the weekend. Watching sports and other things on television is a great way to take your mind away from the rigors of everyday life. Yet simply watching these events isn’t enough, for people also gamble on these games and drink alcohol while watching. The addiction to sinful life is all due to a lack of control on the mind. This material world is governed by three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Passion is very strong and the force known as maya is always preying at people’s passions. Thus the mind is constantly being led in every which direction.

paper_poster_QJ80_lAccording to the Vedas, this life is meant for tapasya, or the performance of religious austerities. Tapasya is meant for controlling the mind especially. We see that if we give into the demands of our young children all the time, they will become spoiled. They won’t learn the true value of money and when they get older, they will have a hard time dealing with life’s ups and downs. In a similar manner, if the mind is repeatedly allowed to direct us towards activities of sense gratification, we will also become spoiled and lose self-control. Tapasya is meant to curb the influence of the mind.

Simply controlling the mind is not enough. Tapasya actually means performing austerities for a religious benefit. Something as simple as going on a diet can be classified as an austerity, but in the end, this sort of control doesn’t help us in a spiritual sense. Austerities should be performed to help us advance religiously. The point of human life is to know, understand, and love God. Those who think of Him at the time of death, never have to take birth again.

“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)

Along with the practice of tapasya, the mind should be engaged in activities of devotion to Lord Krishna. That is the best way to control the mind. One can try to negate all activities, but the mind will continue to work. We can never actually stop thinking.

“One who restrains the senses and organs of action, but whose mind dwells on sense objects, certainly deludes himself and is called a pretender.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.6)

Sitting silently in mediation and abstaining from sinful acts are certainly good starting points, but if we still have sinful or material desires, we really aren’t progressing. Devotion to God must come through thoughts, words, and deeds. Simple renunciation can take care of the words and the deeds, but if our thoughts are still devoted to sense gratification, our devotion isn’t complete.

The best exercise for the mind is to captivate it by engaging in devotional service. Technically known as bhakti yoga, devotional service involves performing activities for the benefit of the Supreme Lord. There are nine different ways to do this, with chanting being the method prescribed for this age. Hearing is the most effective way to gain an attachment for Krishna. Chanting takes care of the hearing process because if we recite the Lord’s names out loud, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we will simultaneously engage in the hearing process. Bhakti yoga means using anything and everything at our disposal for service to the Lord. Nothing should be rejected outright.

Hanuman Lord Hanuman is a great example in this regard. The eternal servant of Lord Rama, one of the avataras of Lord Krishna, Hanuman directly engaged in serving the Lord by helping Him rescue His wife Sita Devi from the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Hanuman was a monkey by birth, so he didn’t have any fancy weapons or illusory tricks that he could use when fighting. Nevertheless, he easily defeated and killed many in Ravana’s army by uprooting trees and hurling rocks. Hanuman had no desire to fight, but since he was acting on Rama’s benefit, he had no qualms about using violence. Hanuman even had trouble controlling his mind in the beginning stages. When he first reached Ravana’s island of Lanka, he became overwhelmed upon seeing the grandeur of the city and the strength of the Rakshasas. His mind was telling him there was no way he could emerge victorious. Hanuman decided to forge ahead anyway since only by making a sincere attempt at fighting could there be any chance of Sita’s rescue.

The lesson here is that we should all sincerely make an effort to practice devotional service. If we remember Hanuman through every step, then our success is guaranteed. This is God’s promise to us. By fostering a love for God, our mind automatically becomes controlled. This results in the acquisition of real intelligence and the purification of our ego. We start out out with a false ego, but once we realize the true nature of God and our constitutional position as His servants, the ego becomes real. Once we reach that stage, the mind becomes our best friend.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

A High Birth

Hanuman chasing the sun “A person's conduct and character explain whether they are from a high or low family, whether they are heroic or just falsely proud and arrogant, and whether they are pure or impure.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 109)

One’s character, determined by their innate qualities and the work they perform, determine whether or not they are high born. Simple birthright is not enough. One may claim to be pure and pious, but this character needs to be proven by the actions they perform.

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

Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead On a material level, people generally crave beauty, knowledge, and a high birth. To take birth in a pious, learned, or rich family is considered a great honor. It means that a person certainly must have executed noble deeds in their previous life. Contrary to popular opinion, we don’t get just one life, but rather we are allowed to take birth as many times as we want to. That is God’s mercy upon us, the living entities. This entire cosmic manifestation emanates from Brahman, the source of which is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Some people mistakenly take Brahman to be everything, but the authorized Vedic scriptures definitively declare that God is a person, and the Supreme Personality is Krishna. He has many expansions and forms based on time and circumstance, but Krishna is still the original. He expands Himself as Paramatma, the Supersoul residing in the hearts of every living entity, and also as Brahman for the benefit of the spirit souls. We are all part and parcel of God, equal to Him in quality, but inferior in quantity. God is great, and we are His subordinates. Desiring to lord over material nature, the Lord created the material world and allowed us to take birth here in the form of living entities, jivas.

“Furthermore, O Arjuna, I am the generating seed of all existences. There is no being-moving or unmoving—that can exist without Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 10.39)

Human life is meant for understanding God The theory of evolution posited by Charles Darwin states that species gradually evolve over time through natural selection, with inferior species making way for superior ones. In actuality, it is not the species that evolve, but rather the types of bodies that the spirit souls take birth in. The material creation emanating from Brahman consists of three gunas or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Combing these qualities in infinite proportions, we get up to 8,400,000 varieties of species. It is not that spirit souls only take birth as human beings. Rather we start off as lower species and gradually work our way through other types of bodies such as animals, aquatics, etc. The human form of life is considered the most beneficial since it represents our chance to know and understand God. Plants, animals, reptiles etc. are not capable of committing sin since there are no laws governing their behavior. That is the benefit of taking birth as an animal. One is free to engage in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending without any karmic consequences. Human beings, on the other hand, are given a higher task known as dharma. More than simple religiosity, dharma is the eternal occupational duty of the spirit soul. Therefore the term we know as religion is actually referred to as sanatana dharma in the Vedas. The revolutionary acharya Ramanuja defines sanatana as something that has no beginning nor end. Thus dharma is something that never changes.

This occupational duty can only be executed in the human form of life. In one sense, taking birth as a human being is, in itself, a high birth. In the society of human beings, there are further divisions based on a person’s qualities and the work they perform. If one is born in an aristocratic family, a family of brahmanas, or even better, a family of Vaishnavas, then he is considered to have a high birth. Taking birth into a wealthy family means not having to worry about food, shelter, or clothing. All the governments of the world today are obsessed with the economic problem, regularly holding summits to figure out how to distribute wealth more equitably. Aristocratic families don’t have to worry about this problem. Being born in a brahmana family is one step above an aristocratic family because the brahmanas are considered the highest class of society. In the varnashrama system, the first division is that of the priestly class of men, the brahmanas. This division naturally exists in any society, for we always see a group of people who are more prone to the cultivation of knowledge. Brahmanas live in the mode of goodness, meaning their activities are guided by knowledge of the Vedas. If one is born in a brahmana family, it means that their family lineage, or gotra, traces all the way back to a great sage of the past, such as Vashishta, Bharadvaja, Upamanyu, Katyanana, Gautama, etc.

“If one simply maintains an official position in the four varnas and ashramas but does not worship the Supreme Lord Vishnu, he falls down from his puffed-up position into a hellish condition.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.5.3)

Devotees of Lord Vishnu Taking birth in a family of devotees, Vaishnavas, is the greatest boon. While brahmanas engage in the cultivation of knowledge, the performance of sacrifices, and the educating of the other classes of society, a Vaishnava, or devotee of Lord Vishnu, is considered further advanced because they have reached the highest platform of love and devotion. The purpose of human life is to know and love God. All systems of governance, and dharma itself, exist to help one reach this understanding. This love for God exists naturally, but it is currently in a dormant state due to the effects of nature. If one is born in a Vaishnava family, it means they are automatically exposed to Krishna-katha, talks about Krishna, from their youth. Since a child is the essence of innocence, if they are allowed to hear about Krishna, they are more likely to rekindle their loving relationship with Him. Then, no matter what else happens in their life, that love will always remain.

But simply having a high birth in a brahmana or Vaishnava family is not enough. One may be born a human being, but it doesn’t mean that they will always stay one in future lives. A person’s material desires and the work they perform determine the type of body they receive in subsequent lives:

“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 16.19)

A brahmana must be pure A high birth is a great opportunity, but if one acts impiously or exudes impure qualities, they have squandered a golden opportunity. Bona fide brahmanas are described as shuchi, meaning clean and pure. The status of shuchi doesn’t come automatically by birth. One has to actually display purity in their actions. In society today, one is considered learned and high class if they can speak very well or if they have a degree from a respectable university. People are very proud of their advanced degrees, thinking themselves to be very learned. Elections today are won and lost based on a candidate’s debating skills. Debating involves arguing relative truths, so simply using word jugglery doesn’t actually show signs of purity. In the Vedic definition, one must, at a minimum, abstain completely from meat eating and intoxication in order to be considered pure. Meat eating is bad for many reasons, the primary of which is the negative effect it has on karma. In today’s age, there is an ample food supply of milk, grains, and fruits. Violence towards animals is not required. Thus meat eating today is done simply for the satisfaction of the taste buds. Since karma represents the highest system of fairness, one can naturally conclude that meat eaters will have to suffer the consequences for their violence in the future.

This penchant for unnecessary violence shows signs of impurity. Intoxication is also another unclean habit. A brahmana’s main business is to act as the role model for the rest of society. They are God’s representatives, sent to teach others how to love Him. If a brahmana is addicted to intoxication, they must be considered impure. A caste brahmana, one born in a brahmana family, cannot claim brahminical status if they engage in meat eating or intoxication. Also, a brahmana must be familiar with the injunctions of the scriptures. The primary injunction of the Vedas is that Lord Krishna is God and that mankind’s highest duty is to serve Him with love and respect. A person engaging in any other type of dharma cannot be considered a true brahmana. In previous times, all the great sages such Vyasadeva, Narada Muni, and Maharishi Valmiki all met the proper requirements to be considered shuchi.

Lord Rama greeting His brothers Bharata and Shatrughna The above referenced statement was made by Lord Rama to a group of brahmanas belonging to the royal family of Maharaja Dashratha. God takes birth as a human being from time to time to enact pastimes and to reinstitute the proper standard of dharma. Lord Rama was one such incarnation. At the behest of His father Dashratha, Rama left the kingdom of Ayodhya for the forest, where He was to remain for fourteen years. After the death of Dashratha, Rama’s younger brother Bharata wanted Rama to return to the kingdom and rule as king. Rama wouldn’t budge however, since He wanted to fulfill the order originally given to Him by His father. People tried to persuade Rama otherwise, with one plea coming from one of the brahmanas of the royal court. This brahmana used some word jugglery, almost espousing atheism in a sense, as a way to convince Rama that His dharma was to return to the kingdom. The brahmana actually didn’t believe in what he was saying, but rather was just trying anything to get Rama to come back.

Lord Rama used this brahmana’s speech as an opportunity to give all those present a lecture on what actually constitutes dharma and who should be considered learned and wise. Simply wearing the dress of a brahmana and having a sacred thread are not enough. Character is determined by actions. Rama not only spoke these words, but He lived by them. Rama means one who gives pleasure, and this was certainly true in His case. All the citizens of Ayodhya loved Him very much. His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana were so attached to Rama that they insisted on serving His exile term alongside Him.

Rama and Lakshmana with Shavari In this age of Kali, everything has turned upside down. Brahmanas by birth are acting like shudras, fourth class people, and shudras by quality are pretending to act like brahmanas. For this reason, the primary dharma 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”. By regularly chanting this mantra with faith and devotion, and abiding by the four regulative principles of devotional life, one can elevate themselves to brahmanical status, and more importantly, they can become devotees. God judges our character, not our family lineage. Great devotees like Shavari, Hanuman, Vibhishana, and countless others were loved and adored by Lord Rama. None of them were born as brahmanas, but their qualities were on par or even exceeded those of the greatest sages. This shows the true greatness of devotees. They rise above all material designations to become the highest class people.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

My Buddy

Rama and Lakshmana with their mother “Shatrughna, endued with cleverness, is your helper. Sumitra’s son (Lakshmana) is well known as My best friend. We four worthy sons of that foremost of monarchs will keep him established in truth, O Bharata. Let not your mind despond.” (Lord Rama speaking to Bharata, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 107)

Children have no qualms about openly declaring their love and attachment for the people they know and love. A child will never hold back in identifying someone as their friend, or even best friend. This is a very endearing quality of a child, for it represents pure unadulterated love, something not easily acquired later on in life.

Loving relationships are different for adults. Children are the essence of innocence. Upon taking birth, they live in complete ignorance. The mother, father, and siblings are all that a young child knows. Completely dependent on the parents for everything, a child immediately forms a bond with them. Yet the parent-child relationship is different from that of a pure friendship. The parents have final say in all matters, and their duty is to direct the child in the right direction. For the relationship to work, there must be a level of respect shown to the parents by the child. Some friendly feelings can certainly exist, but in the end, the parents must be respected as the ultimate authority figures.

Lord Krishna and friends in Vrindavana      It is the nature of a child to want to play all day. As adults, we have to either attend school or go to the office every day to earn a living. Children live under the complete protection of their parents, so they are free to have fun all day, playing various games and so forth. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Himself engaged in playful activities with His friends as a youth in Vrindavana. Since the parents are usually occupied in adult activities, the child looks to play with siblings or fellow friends. A child asks very little of a friend. They simply want someone who will play with them, giving them attention and love. If we spend time with children, showing them compassion, patience, and a general interest, they will really take to us. Love forms very quickly since it is in the nature of the child to love others. Children simply want to spend time with their best friends. For this reason, this type of relationship represents pure love, for the child doesn’t demand any reciprocation from the friend.

These types of friendships are harder to form in adulthood since a person gradually acquires inhibitions as they grow older. Adult friendships are limited in a way since they are checked by the requirement of support. As adults, we require support from our friends. Even if our friend doesn’t agree with certain decisions that we make, we nevertheless want them to support us. If that support goes away, so does the friendship. This dependence doesn’t exist as much in children. As adults, our primary form of companionship comes from our spouse. After a person gets married, It is quite common to see them spend less time with their friends. This makes sense because the husband or wife is there providing fulltime love and support. The companionship of the friend isn’t needed as much.

Krishna as a youth For a child, the circumstances are different. The parents are the primary companions in youth, and their duty is to serve as authority figures. Thus the other friendships formed by children end up being valued and cherished more. Children can quickly become strongly attached to a cousin, an aunt, uncle, or other relative because pure friendships are formed. In a similar manner, devotees of Krishna, or God, develop strong loving attachments to the Lord. The friendships between God and His devotees are completely pure. The relationship between Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana was a perfect example of this.

From time to time, God personally appears on earth to enact pastimes and give pleasure to His devotees. One such appearance occurred during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Lord Krishna took birth as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. The first man on earth was Manu and his son was Ikshvaku, the first king of the world. In the Vedic tradition, kings are referred to as Mahipati, meaning the lord of earth. Formerly, the entire world was governed by one king, and the planet itself was known as Bharatavarsha. Ikshvaku set the standard for chivalry and governance, and his descendents followed that same tradition. Several generations later, Dashratha was born into this dynasty. Due to the pious nature of Dashratha and the Ikshvaku family, God decided to take birth in this line. Coinciding with His appearance as Rama, God also expanded Himself into three other human forms who took birth as Dashratha’s three other sons: Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Rama was the eldest but all four brothers were close in age.

Rama and Lakshmana in the forest with Vishvamitra Right from his birth, Lakshmana had an immediate attachment for Rama. He wouldn’t eat or sleep unless Rama was with him. Sometimes it is seen that an older brother will bully the younger one, or that the younger brother will have arguments and disagreements with the older one. None of these situations existed in the relationship between Rama and Lakshmana. The glorious Lakshmana viewed Rama both as his father and best friend. There was pure love and respect right from the very beginning. At the same time, Shatrughna and Bharata were equally as close. All four brothers were completely pious and devoted to the principles of dharma, or religiosity. They all viewed Rama as their savior and most revered object of worship.

As circumstances played out later in life, Rama was forced into exile, taking His wife Sita Devi and Lakshmana with Him to the forest for fourteen years. Bharata was chosen as Dashratha’s successor, with the king eventually quitting his body due to the pain of separation from Rama. Being apprised of the circumstances, Bharata immediately set out for the forest to look for Rama. Bringing Shatrughna and other important members of the family with him, Bharata wanted to convince Rama to come back to the kingdom and serve as the new king. Bharata didn’t want to rule the kingdom while Rama was forced to suffer, so he even came up with the idea of swapping places with Lakshmana.

In response to this show of affection from Bharata, Rama conveyed the above referenced sentiments to him. The main point of His statement was that Dashratha had ordered Him to spend fourteen years in exile and that returning to the kingdom would nullify the order, thus staining Dashratha’s vaunted reputation. Unlike politicians of today, the great kshatriya kings of the past valued their word more than anything else. Rama, being the ever well-wisher of His father, didn’t want to tarnish the good name of His father and the Ikshvaku dynasty. For this reason, He told Bharata to return to the kingdom and to not worry.

Rama also openly declared that everyone knew Lakshmana was His best friend. Devotees only want to be known for one thing, their pure love for God. Unlike great scholars and famous celebrities who sometimes crave the limelight that comes with their notoriety, devotees prefer anonymity and obscurity. They want all the attention placed on God, for they view Him as the most famous, beautiful, wise, powerful, wealthy, and detached of all people. Since God possesses all these opulences in full and at the same time, He is known as Bhagavan, or one who possesses all fortunes. Devotees view Bhagavan as the only object of worship. Naturally, devotees acquire all good qualities as a result of their service, so sometimes they are also lauded and praised. In these situations, the pure devotees still only want to be known for their love for God and nothing else. This is the behavior exhibited by all the great saints, including Lord Hanuman, who is considered one of Lord Rama’ s greatest devotees.

Rama and Lakshmana From Rama’s statement, we can understand that Lakshmana had secured his reputation early on his youth. His only religion was that of serving Rama, and this is what he was known for. Rama, for His part, wholeheartedly acknowledged this. Lakshmana had a pure loving relationship with God. The Lord never breaks this relationship, but actually takes steps to further increase that love day by day. God is always there for His devotees, and therefore, He is their best friend.

The lesson here is that we too can be friends with God. The first step is to befriend His devotees who manifest as the spiritual master, or guru. By regularly chanting God’s names, reading His books, offering Him prayers, and following the instructions of the spiritual master, we can be in constant association with the Lord. Then we can enjoy a lifetime of happiness with our original best friend.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Something To Do

Radha Krishna “Always engaging in the activities of devotional service, devotees feel ever-increasingly fresh and new in all their activities. The all-knower, the Supersoul within the heart of the devotee, makes everything increasingly fresh…” (Lord Vishnu, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.30.20)

Those accustomed to city life often go into culture shock when visiting the country. Without any bars, night clubs, or cinemas, the countryside is known for its open roads, large farmlands, and peace and quiet. This sort of lifestyle is craved by some and, at the same time, loathed by others.

Lord Krishna grew up in the village of Vrindavana America is known for its famous cities. New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Las Vegas are some of the more popular urban areas. Throughout the course of human history, people have had a tendency to congregate to areas which are located near large bodies of water. The presence of rivers, lakes, and oceans means that travelling and interstate commerce can occur without major difficulty. Since people are drawn to these type of places, urban life has become known for having high population densities. To accommodate all these people, buildings have to be built higher and thus we have large skyscrapers throughout the world. Underground train systems such as subways are also quite common in large cities. Many people love living in these types of places. There are restaurants, shops, night clubs, and cinemas around every corner. One can get from one place to another very quickly and easily. New York is known as the city that never sleeps due the plethora of entertainment options that are available.

The rest of America lives in the suburbs and the countryside. The central region of America, having large farms and open fields, is referred to as the Heartland. The population density is much lower in the suburbs, thus the houses are more spacious. Having an automobile is almost a necessity for those wanting to get from place to place. Some towns are so remote that one has to travel at least half an hour to get to any important store, such as a supermarket. In many areas, the local Walmart Supercenter is the most popular destination site on weekends.

New York City People that live in the country generally like it. Life is much more peaceful, with limited distractions. On the other hand, people accustomed to city life often hate the suburbs. “There’s nothing to do here. I am so bored. What do these people do for fun?” These are some of the sentiments commonly uttered by city-folk when talking about the suburbs and countryside. These sentiments refer to the lack of public entertainment options in these areas. New York City is so highly populated that it has two major professional sports franchises in baseball, football, and hockey. Tickets for the New York Giants football team are in such high demand, that there is a waiting list of upwards to ten years for people to even get a chance to buy tickets. Contrast this with some of the remote areas of the country, where the biggest sporting event each week is the local high school football game, and we can see that there is a gulf of difference between the two areas.

This advanced material age means we have more time to spend on leisurely activities. Human beings live primarily in the mode of passion, involving themselves in fruitive activity with sense gratification being the ultimate aim. The senses can never be satisfied on a material level, thus people are always looking for new things to do and new ways to fill their time. Nobody likes to be bored.

Sita Rama Lord Rama, God’s incarnation during the Treta Yuga, spent fourteen years living as an exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya. After the order was given by His father, King Dashratha, Rama’s wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana accompanied Him. Sumantra, the family charioteer, initially took the group to the forest, but then was ordered to return home by Rama. Upon returning to the kingdom, Dashratha asked him how everyone was faring. It wasn’t Dashratha’s desire to send Rama to the forest, but he was forced to do so due to boons he had granted to his wife Kaikeyi on a previous occasion. As soon as Rama left the kingdom, Dashratha was in great pain. Rama was his favorite son, the person he prayed long and hard to have in his life. As a very pious king, Dashratha was childless and worried that the family name wouldn’t continue after his death. Due to this worry, he performed a great sacrifice and was duly rewarded by having Rama take birth as his eldest son, along with three other wonderful boys. Dashratha was anxiously awaiting the report from Sumantra.

"And even in the lonely woods, Sita, as if remaining at home, having fixed her thoughts on Rama, is confidently living without any fears." (Sumantra speaking to Dashratha, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 60)

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana in the forest The charioteer told Dashratha that everyone was alright. Aside from Rama’s welfare, all those assembled wanted to know how Sita was faring. A beautiful, chaste, and kind princess, Sita was loved and adored by all. People pitied her because she was never ordered to leave the kingdom, but rather voluntarily chose to follow her husband. For this reason, they were very angry with Dashratha, for his actions caused someone as beautiful and delicate as Sita to be forced to endure the rigid forest life. Surprisingly, Sumantra informed everyone that Sita Devi was faring just fine. She didn’t appear to be suffering in any way. In fact, she seemed happier than she had ever been. How could this be?

Of all her great qualities, foremost among them was her devotion to Rama, who was God Himself. In every thought, word, and deed, Sita dedicated herself to Rama and His welfare. Rama sternly warned her against coming with Him to the forest, yet through her love and powers of persuasion, Sita was able to convince Him to allow her to come. The wilderness is usually a quiet place. People often retreat to cabins in the forest or mountains to get away from everyone. Great writers have written many books while locking themselves in remote cabins, where they were better able to concentrate. Even during Lord Rama’s time, the great yogis and sages were the only humans that ever thought of living in the woods. The country life is considered to be in the mode of goodness, thereby making it an environment more conducive to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge.

Sita and Rama in the forest It is often seen that women prefer a glamorous lifestyle with expensive clothes and jewelry. They love getting dressed up very nicely and going out on the town. Sita was a great princess, so she didn’t shun this sort of lifestyle, but at the same time, she had no attachment to it. Her only business was to love God. For this reason, she was always happy in His company, wherever that would be. This is the lesson for all of us. Being a devotee means always having something to do, and never being bored. We will always be happy and satisfied serving the Lord. That is the bliss that comes from pure transcendental love.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Praying For Rain

Lord Krishna “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.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.25)

Question: “I practice devotional service regularly, but still from time to time, bad things happen to me. When they do, I can’t help but blame God. ‘Why do You put me through this? I thought You’re supposed to relieve my suffering?’ I know I shouldn’t think this way, but I can’t help it. What should I do?”

Radha Krishna Answer: Many people faithfully observe the regulative principles of devotional service, which consist of the chanting of the maha-mantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) and abstention from the four pillars of sinful life (meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex), but still suffer frustration from time to time. This is because the practice of devotional service does nothing to guarantee material fortunes. In fact, many times just the opposite occurs. Krishna will take away things that we are attached to so that we can better focus on our service to Him. Since our attachments to material things are so strong, many of us get angry and frustrated when bad fortune occurs. Many people try their hardest not to blame God, but they just can’t help it. Generally speaking, this type of anger directed towards God is viewed as irrational, but it can also be a sign of great devotion.

For aspiring transcendentalists, the first lesson taught by the Vedas is that we are not this body. What are we then? We are spirit souls, part and parcel of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The body, along with everything else in this material world, is temporary but our true identity, represented by the soul, is not. The illusory energy known as maya clouds our judgment and causes us to associate with our body. Maya tricks us into thinking that if we perform just enough activity, we will be happy. This is how karma works. Other people are also performing fruitive activities, meaning that everyone is essentially trying to be God. Since there is only one God, every person’s pursuit of material perfection is bound to fail. This failure doesn’t come all at once. Rather, the conditioned living entities suffer many setbacks in life, but this usually doesn’t deter them from trying to find material happiness.

“O son of Pritha, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.13)

There are two energies that exist in this world, the material and the spiritual. The spiritual energy is eternal and full of bliss. The material energy is just the opposite. Everything relating directly to God is part of the spiritual or superior energy. The material energy is completely revolved around matter, which is temporary, thus it is known as the inferior energy. We living entities technically belong to the marginal energy, meaning we have a choice as to which energy, superior or inferior, we associate with. Associating with the spiritual energy means we are afforded complete protection. This protection is for the soul and not the body. Associating with the spiritual energy means we become free from the effects of karma; we are no longer forced to suffer through birth and death. The material energy provides no such protection. The conditioned living entities are competing with each other to become God, thus they are completely in the material energy, where they have no protection. Those who are in the material energy have no right to blame God for their problems, for they have chosen to associate with an inferior energy.

NFL hits The game of American football is a great example in this regard. Though the game revolves around an oblong shaped ball and teams scoring touchdowns, the most appealing part of the game is the violence. Players that carry the ball are chased after by defenders who try to hit them as hard as they can. Football is the ultimate contact sport, with injuries occurring regularly. Players in the National Football League, NFL, often say that the average person wouldn’t last more than one play in a real NFL game. This is because the contact between blockers, defenders, and running backs is something most people have never felt. Football is a game, meaning people have a choice as to whether or not they want to play it. As mentioned before, injuries are very common in the NFL. Most injuries are of the minor variety; someone pulling a hamstring, dislocating a shoulder, injuring their knee, etc. However, there have been many occasions where the injuries were very serious. Several players have become paralyzed from football related injuries. Every season in the NFL, there is at least one game where someone gets seriously injured and lays motionless on the field. Players from both teams usually kneel down and pray to God that the injured player will be alright.

Now praying to God is never a bad thing. Yet this sort of prayer doesn’t make much sense. For defenders, the object of the game is to hit other players as hard as you can while staying within the established rules. In fact, it is quite common to see the deliverer of a big hit celebrate afterwards, as if to pat themselves on the back for a job well done. It is not God’s fault that people get injured during the game. He didn’t force anyone to put on pads and run around and hit people.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.29)

Lord Krishna This same principle can be applied to almost everything in the material world. The entire creation certainly comes from God, but karma is just one of His energies. The Lord doesn’t take a direct interest in the fortunes and misfortunes of those who engage in karmic activity. When bad things happen to us, it logically doesn’t make sense to blame God. Yet we still see that many devotees just can’t help being angry with the Lord when things don’t go their way. This may seem like a bad thing, but it can actually prove to be very beneficial to a devotee.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail. Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krishna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6-7)

Bhishma giving up his body while thinking of Krishna Lord Krishna’s most important teaching in the Bhagavad-gita is that those who think of Him at the time of death never return to the material world. They remain on one of His spiritual planets, Krishnaloka or Vaikunthaloka, for eternity. When we get mad at God for our bad fortunes, we are at least thinking of Him. This sort of mindset isn’t ideal, for it’s not God’s fault that we chose to associate with maya and karma. However, if we think of Him when bad things happen to us, it is highly likely that we will remember Him when good things happen as well. For the devotees who chastise the Lord for their bad fortunes, God has essentially taken ownership of their mind. Krishna is basically saying, “From this point on, you are Mine. You will never be able to avoid thinking of Me. Through the good times or the bad, I will always be on your mind.”

When we are going through tough times, it may be hard to curb our anger towards the Lord, but If we can, we should try to remember the famous prayer of Kunti Devi, the mother of the Pandava brothers. During the Dvapara Yuga, Lord Krishna personally descended to earth and spent much time with His cousins, the Pandavas. The five Pandava brothers were the rightful heirs to the throne held by their father Pandu. But due to a curse, Pandu died prematurely which left Mother Kunti all alone with her children. To make matters worse, Pandu’s brother Dhritarashtra allowed his own sons, headed by Duryodhana, to take over the kingdom. Not only did Duryodhana take over the kingdom, but he tried his best to kill the Pandava brothers through nefarious means. Somehow, through the grace of God, the brothers and their mother managed to escape every calamity. On one occasion, Kunti Devi directly prayed to Krishna and thanked Him for always siding with her sons. She prayed to God to allow her to always be in misery and calamity, for it was during those times that she was able to see and remember Krishna. Such a prayer is indicative of the highest devotion to God.

Krishna always protected the Pandavas The forces of maya are so strong that it is very easy for us to forget this wonderful prayer from Kunti Devi. Those who are suffering through hard times should write down this prayer and read it every day. Kunti’s prayer doesn’t just represent flattering words, but the actual truth. We will inevitably come upon hard times when we take up devotional service. The great Vaishnava saint, Goswami Tulsidas, was reproached by his wife whom he loved very much. She chastised him for having too much of an attachment to her and not enough attachment for Lord Rama. Tulsidas was heartbroken, but at the same time, he used this as an opportunity to increase his devotional service. He turned towards God and what resulted were the Ramacharitamanasa, Hanuman Chalisa, and other great works.

His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada faced similar hardships during his initial preaching efforts in America. As a penniless sannyasi living in New York, Prabhupada had his typewriter stolen and was almost attacked by his drug abusing roommate. He persevered, redoubled his efforts, and what resulted was a worldwide movement which made Krishna a household name.

Actually, if we analyze the lives of all the great saints, we will see that every one of them had to endure major hardships after they decided to seriously take up devotional service. The lesson is that we should try our best not to blame the Lord for our bad fortunes. Even if we can’t help it, we should at least remember to thank Him when things do go right. The best thing to do in a time of crisis is to increase our devotional activity. We can chant more, sing more songs, or read more books. The more we associate with the spiritual energy, the better off we will be. Keeping Kunti Devi and the countless other great devotees of the past in our mind, we can find happiness even on rainy days.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Characteristics of a Devotee

Sita and Rama on a boat “Having come near the middle of the Kalindi (Yamuna) River, Sita prayed to her saying, ‘Hail to you, O goddess! I am crossing you. May my husband successfully complete his vow. Upon Rama’s return to the city ruled by the Ikshvakus, I will worship you with a thousand cows and a hundred drinking vessels.’ Having thus prayed to Kalindi with joined hands, that virtuous lady, Sita, reached the southern bank thereof. And by means of that raft they crossed that fleet-coursing daughter of the Sun, heaving with billows, the river Yamuna with her banks abounding with innumerable trees. Then renouncing the raft and passing by the woods adjoining the Yamuna, they came upon a banyan tree, Shyama by name, of cool shade and verdant foliage. On approaching the banyan tree, Vaidehi saluted it saying, ‘O mighty tree, I bow to you. May my husband fulfill his vow, and may we again see Kausalya and the illustrious Sumitra.’ Having said this, Sita joined her palms and circumambulated the tree.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 55)

Radha and Krishna, pure love When someone is passionate about something or loves someone else very dearly, it’s all they can talk about. It consumes their mind so much that they talk about love to whomever they meet, even if they are strangers.

It is quite natural for boys and girls to be attracted to each other. Especially at a younger age, if a girl meets a nice boy and takes a liking to him, she develops a loving attachment to him. After this attachment is formed, she then spends all her time thinking about his qualities. When she meets with her girlfriends, she talks about all things, good or bad, relating to her boyfriend or husband. “Oh my husband did this today, he did that. I can’t wait to spend time with him this weekend.” This same scenario also holds true for boys that fall in love.

Such situations aren’t exclusive to paramours. People can develop passions for many other things including sports and hobbies. Fans of sports franchises spend hundreds of dollars buying various apparel and merchandise. In America, the tailgate party is a popular pastime at stadium parking lots. Generally, professional football games on Sundays start at 1 pm local time, but fans arrive at the stadium as early as 10 am. They pack up the car with a barbeque grill and various food and drink. They have so much love for their team that they want to spend the whole day thinking about them, gearing up for the big game.

Sita and Rama Love is a nice feeling because it detaches us from our own selfish interests. Everyone who takes birth in the material world naturally tries to please their senses first. Thinking in terms of “I” and “Mine” is not something people have to be taught. Loving someone else means wanting more for that person than you want for yourself. In this sense, love can be very healthy. According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the feeling of love as we know it, is but a mere reflection of the pure love that exists in the spiritual world. On a material level, we may love another person or thing, but that can quickly dissolve, turning into hate. In the spiritual realm, the love is pure since it is directed at God.

Lord Rama, His wife Sita Devi, and His younger brother Lakshmana were travelling the forests of India many thousands of years ago. Rama was the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. Through a serious of unfortunate incidents, instead of succeeding His father on the throne, Rama was living the life of a vanaprasthi, having no home nor any possessions. Ordered to spend fourteen years roaming the forest, Rama left the kingdom, with Sita and Lakshmana coming along due to their loving attachment for Him. In the above referenced passage, Sita Devi is praying to the Yamua rivera and a banyan tree to guarantee her husband’s safety and successful completion of His exile stint.

Rama was an incarnation of Krishna, or God. Sita and Lakshmana were also incarnations of celestials, Lakshmi Devi and Ananta Shesha Naga respectively. Sita was a perfect devotee, completely in love with her husband who was God Himself. This is the second such incident where she prays to a demigod for Rama’s safety. In the Vedic tradition, there are famous rivers and trees which are themselves viewed as devatas, or demigods. There is only one God, but He has many deputies who are referred to as demigods. They grant material benedictions to those who please them. Sita, however, wanted no material rewards. Out of pure love for God, she promised to worship the various rivers if they would comply with her requests.

Sita’s behavior is quite exemplary. The forest is an awful place for any person to live, let alone a beautiful princess such as herself. There are no material comforts in the woods, for one is forced to live an austere life when in the wilderness. Sita didn’t complain for one second though. Rather, she was worried about her husband. At every turn and every step, she only thought of Rama and no one else. She was completely unselfish, not asking things from God, but rather giving to Him.

Lord Krishna and devotees Another point to note is her respect for the various trees and rivers. Members of the modern day ecology movement try to get others to respect and love trees and the environment in general. While such behavior is certainly laudable, one actually acquires all good characteristics simply by becoming a devotee of God. Sita had no attachment to nature, but since she loved Rama so much, she naturally loved the rest of God’s creation. She didn’t look at the trees as something she could cut down and use for her personal interests. Rather, she appreciated the shade and protection afforded by the trees. The rivers are even more valuable. Drinking water, a place to bathe, and a mode of transportation are all provided by rivers. “Oh you are so kind and nice. I respect you. Please protect my husband. If you do so, I will always be pleased with you.” These were Sita’s sentiments.

Devotees are passionate about God. For this reason, they are considered to be the highest class people. Though living in the material world, pure devotees always remain spiritual in nature, jivan-mukta. They exhibit the highest form of love, for they spend all their time talking about and glorifying God. They have the highest love and respect for all of God’s creatures. They are true saints, and having their association is the greatest reward in life.