Saturday, January 23, 2010

Not To Be Forgotten

Hanuman thinking of Sita and Rama “God is situated in everyone's heart. God is not away from us. He is present. He is so friendly that He remains with us in our repeated change of births. He is waiting to see when we shall turn to Him. He is so kind that though we may forget Him, He never forgets us.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure)

Declaration of Independence The government and other authority figures punish those who have committed wrongs to others. Murder, theft, and vandalism are some of the crimes that are worthy of punishment.

Each and every living entity is born with certain rights. The Declaration of the Independence of the United States of America declares these rights to be life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The implementation of this particular document has been flawed in that these rights seem to only apply to men or people, whereas all living entities, even the animals and aquatics, should also be given these rights since they too are God’s creatures. The first ten amendments to the Constitution, known as the Bill of Rights, further describe the rights of the people by putting restrictions on the actions of government. The government shall not make any laws abridging the freedom of speech, press, protest, etc.

A right is something which doesn’t impose a burden on others.

“The way our Constitution's framers used the term, a right is something that exists simultaneously among people and imposes no obligation on another. For example, the right to free speech, or freedom to travel, is something we all simultaneously possess. My right to free speech or freedom to travel imposes no obligation upon another except that of non-interference. In other words, my exercising my right to speech or travel requires absolutely nothing from you and in no way diminishes any of your rights.” (Economist Dr. Walter E. Williams, Bogus Rights)

Along the same lines, recently created rights such as the right to free healthcare and free education aren’t rights under the above definition since they incur an obligation on others in the form of higher taxes.

Lord Krishna and Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra The government’s job is to punish those who violate the rights of others. Murder violates someone’s right to life, so the government has full authority to punish such people. Burglary, or breaking and entering, violates a person’s right to private property, so again the government has a right to punish such criminals. Not only a government, but even an individual has a right to defend themselves. According to the Vedas, a person is allowed to use violence as a form of self defense against aggressors.

“According to Vedic injunctions there are six kinds of aggressors: 1) a poison giver, 2) one who sets fire to the house, 3) one who attacks with deadly weapons, 4) one who plunders riches, 5) one who occupies another's land, and 6) one who kidnaps a wife. Such aggressors are at once to be killed, and no sin is incurred by killing such aggressors.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 1.36 Purport)

Lord Rama God came to earth in human form in Ayodhya during the Treta Yuga. Born as the eldest son of the king, Maharaja Dashratha, the pious prince named Rama was loved and adored by all. A humble man completely devoted to dharma, Rama was next in line for the throne, but due to unfortunate circumstances, He was passed over by the king. As if losing the kingdom wasn’t bad enough, Dashratha also ordered Rama to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was greatly angered by these edicts, and he protested them to Rama’s mother, Kausalya. Lakshmana wanted to know which principle of dharma the king was following in banishing Rama from the kingdom. As stated before, kings and government leaders are justified in punishing those who have violated the rights of others. However, Rama had done no wrong, for He was so kind that He gladly accepted His father’s decision. It was Rama’s right to be the next king, for that was tradition and protocol, so Lakshmana was justified in his anger.

“How can a person dedicated to dharma, without cause, renounce such a son who is like to celestials, simple, well disciplined and affectionate even towards enemies?” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 21)

Rama was such a great person that He was even loved by His enemies. He never bothered anyone, for He lived very simply and was extremely well-disciplined. Just as being in the military requires strict discipline and adherence to codes of conduct, kshatriyas were also required to be extremely resolute. Kshatriyas are the warrior class of men in the varnashrama dharma system, deputed to provide protection to society and to punish miscreants. Rama was trained in the military arts by the family preceptor Vashishta in His youth, and then later on by Vishvamitra Muni. Born in the famous Ikshvaku dynasty, Lord Rama took His role as prince very seriously. He always abided by the orders of His preceptors and parents.

Lakshmana Lakshmana declared that Rama wasn’t worthy of being renounced. Since Rama is God Himself, we can take Lakshmana’s words to mean that God Himself is not worthy of being forgotten. We live in a very advanced technological age, where wealth and prosperity is demanded by all. The worldwide economy, especially in America, experienced a huge growth spurt in the last thirty plus years. However, it has had a downturn recently and that has left everyone up in arms. Everyone expects opulence and wealth to increase at all times, for they are never satisfied with what they have. The Vedas tell us not to worry so much about these things. There are millions of elephants in Africa and all throughout the world who survive on the food provided by nature. Nature emanates from God, so we can understand that God supplies more than enough for everyone.

Economic development happens on its own, so we should concentrate on more important things, like serving and loving God. He supplies everything to us already, without us needing to ask. Since He is so kind and nice, we shouldn’t forget Him. Americans celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday once a year in the month of November, but God is there for us every single day of the year. Instead of renouncing Him, let us embrace Him by chanting His holy name and glorifying His character. This was the method of worship subscribed to by Lakshmana, and we can do no wrong following in his footsteps.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Seeking God’s Protection

Radha Krishna "One is immediately freed from the clutches of maya if he seriously and sincerely says, 'My dear Lord Krishna, although I have forgotten You for so many long years in the material world, today I am surrendering unto You. I am Your sincere and serious servant. Please engage me in Your service.'” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 22.33)

Every person encounters some level of distress in their day to day affairs. These distresses take different forms and the resulting pain can be severe at times. By definition, life on earth is full of miseries, dukhalayam. People have different methods for alleviating distresses. Some seek out the help of friends and family, while others take to intoxication and other sinful activities. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that we need only look to God to help us with all of our problems. Turning to Him will bring us relief from all our pains.

Seeking the counsel of friends and family is certainly a good initial step in finding solutions to our problems. Our elders, especially our parents, are wiser than us because of their life experiences. It is very easy to get caught up in our own personal affairs, so much so that we forget that other people go through pretty much the same problems. Our parents were once our age, so they have an idea of what it’s like to grow up in this world. They have intimate knowledge of the pitfalls and traps of life, so they try to help us avoid them. Aside from our elders, counselors and therapists also serve as beneficial aides. Professional therapists deal with the problems of others on a daily basis, so naturally they are bound to see repetition and patterns in the problems they try to solve. What helps one person out of trouble will likely help others as well.

Lord KrishnaIn the end, the solutions provided by friends, family, and counselors are only temporary. That is the nature of the material world. Everything here is temporary, from pains to pleasures, heat and cold, and light and darkness. The sun goes down at night, but it is guaranteed to rise again in the morning. In a similar manner, the entire creation is destroyed at the end of a full Yuga, but then recreated after some time.

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

Since dualities occur naturally, it is safe to assume that our distresses will go away on their own. The Vedas tell us that there are three distinct types of pain that we suffer from: those inflicted us on by nature, those coming from other living entities, and those caused by our mind and body. Simply by accepting a material body, we become subject to these types of distresses. We can come up with little adjustments here and there to try to avoid problems, but new issues are bound to come up due to desire. Guna and karma, qualities and fruitive desire, govern our lives. The mind is always thinking; always hankering after things it wants and lamenting over things it doesn’t have. Even the wealthiest person in the world isn’t immune to the effects of the mind. Many of us think that if we win the lottery that all our troubles will go away. Yet we see that lottery winners are often the first ones to go bankrupt, for they have no idea how to manage their newfound wealth. There are even think tanks set up, such as the Sudden Money Institute, that try to help people who have suddenly come into large amounts of money.

The wisest among us can put forward the best solutions we have to our problems, and while our intentions are good, these prescriptions inevitably fail at delivering permanent peace and happiness. This is because happiness can only come from connecting with God. The Vedas tell us that there is only one God, and His original form is that of Lord Krishna. He is described as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedas are very precise in their descriptions of God. Though people naturally understand that God is great, the Vedic texts go one step further by giving us details into His greatness. Lord Krishna’s primary expansion is that of Lord Vishnu, who then expands into various incarnations. An incarnation is referred to as an avatara, meaning one who descends. An avatara is described in this way because He is non-different from God.

Lord Vishnu The term “descend” also tells us that God originally resides in the spiritual world. This material world is in a lower planetary system. This place is full of anxieties, whereas God’s spiritual realm is free of anxieties and is thus known as Vaikuntha. Vishnu’s direct expansions are known as Vishnu-tattva, meaning they are the same in potency as Vishnu. We living entities are also expansions of God, but we are classified as jiva-tattva. Jivas are subject to be influenced by the three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Though the jiva is constitutionally a pure spirit soul, part and parcel of Krishna, due to its inferior potency, it can become trapped in the repeated cycle of birth and death. When Krishna comes in His avatara form, His body is not like that of a jiva. The Vedas even give us details into what type of body Krishna has; sach-chid-ananda-vigraha, a body full of bliss and knowledge. This description not only applies to His body in the spiritual world, but also the bodies of His innumerable avataras.

“According to the Vedic version, the Supreme Lord manifests and expands Himself in innumerable expansions, of which the primary expansions are called Vishnu-tattva, and the secondary expansions are called the living entities. In other words, the Vishnu-tattva is the personal expansion, and the living entities are separated expansions. By His personal expansion, He is manifested in various forms like Lord Rama, Narasimhadeva, Vishnumurti and all the predominating Deities in the Vaikuntha planets.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7 Purport)

One of Lord Vishnu’s primary incarnations is that of Lord Rama, a kshatriya king appearing on earth during the second time period of creation, the Treta Yuga. Lord Rama is kind and peaceful, for His very name means one who gives pleasure to others. One look at His smiling face gives devotees transcendental bliss that lasts a lifetime. Since He is as good as God Himself, those who associate with Lord Rama in the mellow of devotion will automatically have all of their distresses removed. This was the path taken by the sages living in the Dandaka forest during Rama’s exile period.

As part of His pastimes, Lord Rama travelled the forests of India for fourteen years along with His wife Sita Devi, and younger brother Lakshmana. As Lord Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita, when there is a decline in religion and a rise in power of the miscreants, God personally comes to earth to give protection to His devotees.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Bg. 4.8)

This was the function of God’s Lord Rama avatara. A Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana had risen to power. He was the king of an island called Lanka, but he was not content. He wanted dominion over the whole world. He knew his only threat lay in the sacrifices performed by the great sages residing in the forests. In the varnashrama dharma system, the brahmanas are considered the highest class. Brahmanas are essentially priests, and their occupational duty is to perform sacrifices, study the Vedas, and give instruction to the other members of society. By performing sacrifices, the demigods are pleased, which in turn pleases God. Ravana knew that if he could instill fear in the sages, they would be hesitant in performing their prescribed duties, meaning that atheism would run rampant.

“O Sita, those ascetics of severe vows that are beset with perils in Dandaka, having personally come to me, who am their refuge, have sought protection at my hands.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, Sec 10)

Lord RamaThis exact situation was starting to happen. A key fact overlooked by Ravana was that God doesn’t just turn the other check when He sees His devotees being harassed. Though God is by default neutral towards all living entities, He makes an exception for those who seek His shelter.

“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)

While Lord Rama was wandering the forest, the sages asked Him to protect them. Sita Devi was a little concerned that maybe Rama would become prone to using violence without cause. To allay her fears, Rama told her that it was His duty to protect those who sought shelter of Him. This lesson applies to all of us. If we humbly seek refuge of Lord Krishna or one of His primary expansions, we are guaranteed to always be protected.

The primary business of mankind is the performance of devotional service, or bhakti yoga. Transcending any material activity, devotional service is a completely spiritual discipline that brings peace and happiness.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.54)

Narasimhadeva protecting PrahladaNaturally, some hankering and lamenting will always be there, along with other distresses, but since we will be engaged in our natural occupation, these distresses will never affect us. We will be able to swat them aside, keeping our minds focused on the lotus feet of the Lord.

The atheists actually pose the biggest problem for devotees. Unlike the everyday distresses caused by material nature, the distresses caused by the atheists can be very serious. Some miscreants, such as Ravana, go so far as attempting to kill devotees. They are so threatened by God that they will try anything to stop worship of Him. Yet from historical examples, we know that those devotees who seek refuge in Krishna will always be protected. A five year old boy, Prahlada Maharaja, sought the refuge of Krishna. The Lord came to the rescue by appearing as a half-man, half-lion Narasimhadeva, to kill Prahlada’s father, Hiranyakashipu.

There are many similar examples recorded in the Puranas and other great Vedic texts. God is real, and the guarantee of His protection is not just a fairy tale. If the Lord doesn’t personally appear, then He sends His authorized representatives. So either way, we should stick to the proper course of action, devotional service. If we need relief from our distresses, we need only look to God to help us. This was the path taken by the sages of the Dandaka forest, and they were duly rewarded.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Loved By All

Rama and Lakshmana “I have not seen any person in this world, be they an enemy or one punished for heinous sins, speak ill of Rama, even in His absence.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 21)

At one time or another, most of us have issued negative statements about someone else when they weren’t around. This activity, known as “talking behind someone’s back”, let’s us voice our concerns or complaints much more easily since the other person isn’t there to take umbrage.

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

Krishna and Arjuna The material world is a place full of miseries. Especially in this age of Kali, quarrel and hypocrisy are rampant. Everyone is competing for sense gratification, so naturally this competition can lead to cheating. Cheating is a manifestation of dishonesty, which then leads to arguments. Since we all have a tendency to cheat, as it is one of the four defects of man, we also tend to view others as cheaters. If someone cheats us or rubs us the wrong way, we usually don’t air our grievances out in the open. We wait until that person is not around, and then we complain to our friends and family. Our deepest feelings don’t necessarily exist until they are voiced out loud. This is similar to the old argument of the tree falling in the forest. Many people believe that if a tree falls in the forest, it doesn’t make a sound unless someone is there to hear it. By the same token, many people think that feelings and emotions aren’t real until they are spoken about. In this way, talking behind someone’s back is a way to give credence to our complaints.

Lord Rama, God’s incarnation during the Treta Yuga, was a perfectly pious prince, born as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya. This family dated all the way back to King Ikshvaku, so it had a tradition of producing pious kings dedicated to dharma, or religiosity. Rama was no different, and since He was God Himself, all His actions were infallible. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, state that society should be divided into four varnas, or divisions based on qualities. The kshatriyas are the second division, consisting of brave warriors who serve as the military and the government administrators. Since the government is in charge of administering justice, kshatriyas would regularly hand out punishment to those deserving it. As an incarnation of God, Lord Rama viewed everyone equally, thus no one could say anything bad about Him; not even those He had punished. Even in His absence, no one could utter a negative word about Rama, for His dedication to the well-being of the citizens was unmatched.

Lord Rama As part of His pastimes, at around the age of twenty-five, the Lord was ordered to leave the kingdom and live in the forest for fourteen years. His father gave Him this order, and Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana protested greatly. In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is complaining to Rama’s mother Kausalya that the Lord wasn’t worthy of being punished, for not even His adversaries could say anything bad about Him. No one would even think of talking behind His back. More importantly, Lakshmana viewed it as His duty to stand up for his brother. Rama was more than happy to follow the orders of His father and depart for the forest. He even tried very hard to dissuade Lakshmana from following Him, but He was unsuccessful. Lakshmana thought that by addressing his grievances to Rama’s mother, she might have enough influence with the king to get him to change his mind.

Lakshmana appeared to be in a very angry mood, but, in a spiritual sense, it was not so. Pure devotees of the Lord feel happiest when they are defending Him. We see a similar phenomenon when it relates to sports teams and their fans. For example, fans of the New York Yankees baseball team love to stand up for their team against attacks from fans of the rival New York Mets baseball team, and vice versa. Politics works the same way. Presidents usually won’t go on the attack against their opponents, but rather it is the Vice President’s duty to stand up for the administration and act as an “attack dog”. We are much happier defending our friends and loved ones than we are defending ourselves. We all can withstand attacks against our character, but it pains us greatly to see those dear to us being unfairly criticized.

Lakshmana took his brother’s punishment very personally. His mood is always that of protector and defender of God. In the spiritual world, Lakshmana assumes the form of Ananta Shesha Naga, a serpent with unlimited hoods who provides protection and comfort to Lord Narayana, God’s four-handed form. Lakshmana serves as the perfect role model for all of us, for it is the eternal duty of man to glorify God. That is the real meaning of religion. We are happiest when we become His devotees and preach His glories to others.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Remover of Distress

Lord Rama “The kshatriya family is the protector of the human race, according to the Vedic system. When the Supreme Personality of Godhead appeared as Lord Ramachandra, He appeared in the family descending from the sun-god, known as Raghu-vamsha; and when He appeared as Lord Krishna, He did so in the family of Yadu-vamsha.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Intro)

It is a reality that ours is a world governed by the aggressive use of force. It is only through a strong government presence that peace and stability can be achieved inside the confines of a community or nation. In the absence of protection from the government, anarchy ensues which then results in everyone living in distress.

iPod Fear of rogues and thieves is the source of this distress. Material life generally means living in the mode of passion where everyone is involved in fruitive activity, or karma, for the acquisition of wealth and the opportunities for sense gratification that come with it. It is the tendency of animals to engage in acts of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. These activities are also seen in humans, with the desire to defend having special significance in this age. We live in a time of great technological advancement where the standard of living is higher than it has ever been. In America, even the average person in poverty owns a home, a car, a microwave, an iPod, and also gets cable or satellite television. These advancements all came about through man’s desire to seek out a better way of life. “Let me work hard and make technological advancements so that I can live in peace. If I have a steady job, a loving family, and a nice house, I will be happy.”

These advancements certainly have increased the quality of our life, mainly in the area of sense gratification. There are so many avenues for one to exercise their sybaritic pursuits. Yet this advancement doesn’t come without a cost. The more wealth we obtain and the more possessions we lay claim to actually result in an increase in anxiety and distress. This is because the mode of defense automatically kicks in. If we get a big house or a nice car, we immediately start to worry about maintaining these possessions. “What will happen if I get sick? What will happen if my house gets broken into? I need to get insurance for all these things. Insurance is costly, so now I have to find ways to afford the insurance premiums to protect all of my possessions.” In this way, it becomes easy for anyone today to constantly be in distress.

The easiest way for us to lose our possessions is for someone to come and steal them. Most of us know that stealing is wrong, but there are many people that simply don’t have a problem with it. They live in the mode of ignorance. According to Vedic teachings, all material activity can be classified into one of three distinct modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Acts done in accordance with revealed knowledge and scriptural injunctions fall under the category of goodness. Passion equates to any karmic activity. This is the mode that most of us live in. The mode of ignorance is any activity done in absence of goodness and passion. Stealing is the quintessential ignorant activity because it goes against every moral code that exists. Someone works honestly to earn a living and buy property, thus they have an expectation that no one will come and take it from them. Yet thieves do precisely that. Acting in the mode of ignorance, they fail to abide by even the smallest standard of decency, casting aside scriptural injunctions and common laws of society.

Government exists to provide protection The government exists primarily to protect us from such thieves. Not only do people steal from us in the dark of night, but many times, theft occurs out in the open with the threat of violence. A robber will approach someone else and threaten to shoot or kill them if they don’t do what they say. Using violence is an easy way to steal from someone else. Hence the government’s primary instrument in providing protection is the use of violence, or at least the threat thereof. Every living entity has a natural right to self-defense. This principle is seen even in the animal kingdom. A government represents the collective right to self-defense of a group of people. In this vein, governments must use violence from time to time to administer justice and provide protection.

This is precisely the injunction of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. The system of societal maintenance recommend by the Vedas is known as varnashrama dharma. The varnas are the four societal divisions or castes. The second division is known as the kshatriya, and they are to serve as the government leaders. The four varnas can be thought of in terms of the body. The brahmanas are the highest class and they serve as the brains of society. Without the brain, the body would be dead and useless. The vaishyas are the merchants and they serve as the stomach. The shudras are the laborers and they serve as the legs. The kshatriyas are the arms of the body, so they can serve many purposes, with providing protection being primary among them. Most importantly, kshatriyas don’t provide protection on a whim, but rather they take instruction from the brains of society, the brahmanas. In a society where kshatriyas are faithfully executing their duties at the advice and consent of the priestly class, anxiety and distress are non-existent.

“O virtuous and knowledgeable daughter of King Janaka, what you have said is befitting your family heritage. You have said beneficial and friendly words befitting your disposition. What, O exalted one, shall I say? You have yourself by your words (furnished an answer to what you had said). Kshatriyas handle bows in order that the word ‘distressed’ may not exist (on earth).” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, Sec 10)

Lord RamaMany thousands of years ago, Lord Krishna, God Himself, appeared on earth as His Lord Rama avatara. Usually God comes to earth to provide protection to His devotees, thus it’s not surprising to see Him take birth in a kshatriya family. In actuality, God can never take birth, but for the purposes of enacting pastimes, He appears to take birth to a specific set of parents. Rama was the greatest kshatriya warrior, expertly trained by the great sages Vashishta and Vishvamitra. In the above referenced statement, Rama is responding to concerns raised by His wife Sita Devi, regarding the use of violence. Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and Sita were ranging the forest of Dandaka where many sages were being harassed by Rakshasa demons. The Vedas tell us that there are 8,400,000 varieties of living entities. Human beings are considered the most intelligent, but there are also many other living entities that are human-like. The Rakshasas are one such race, but their primary characteristic is that they are addicted to sinful life, most notably that of meat eating and illicit sex. They are staunch enemies of religious people, so it wasn’t surprising to find out they were harassing the sages of Dandaka.

The brahmanas approached Rama and asked Him to protect them. Rama happily obliged, but Sita was worried that by carrying around so many weapons, Rama might unnecessarily act violently. This is an important point. Though the Vedas do sanction the use of violence, it must be done in accordance with dharma, or religiosity. Sita Devi reminded Rama of this, and He in turn was very pleased by her wise words. However, He reminded her that it was the primary duty of a kshatriya, or a government leader, to remove distresses from their dependents. By carrying around His bow and arrows, Rama was giving comfort to His dependents, the sages, by letting them know that He would protect them from the Rakshasas.

Sita Rama We can see that much of the world lives under constant distress, a lot of which is caused by government forces. Rather than providing protection to their citizens, governments have become great plunderers of wealth. This may seem like a harsh thing to say, but it is undoubtedly true. One need only watch the news on any given day and see what government leaders are debating over. The government is viewed today as a wish-fulfilling cow. The annual treasury is taken to be a giant pie, with different factions lobbying the government to lay claim to their piece of it. Governments certainly have a right to tax their citizens, provided that they adequately protect them from rogues and thieves. Yet nowadays, the government uses tax money to distribute gifts to various special interest groups and to their friends. In essence, they have turned into the thieves.

The combination of the rapid increase in the overall standard of living and the current government situation has resulted in an unprecedented feeling of distress and anxiety amongst the people of the world. We needn’t fear however. Just as the sages of the Dandaka forest did many thousands of years ago, we can look to God to remove our distresses. The time period we are currently in is known as the dark age of quarrel and hypocrisy, the Kali Yuga. All of today’s societal conditions were predicted many thousands of years ago by the great saints. Since conditions are so bad, God doesn’t appear as a kshatriya in the Kali Yuga until the very end. Rather, for this age, the Lord appears in the form of His holy name. If we simply chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare”, we will be calling God to come and save us.

The lesson is that we all have a right to keep what we honestly earn. Everything is God’s property originally, but He kindly allows us to accumulate possessions and wealth. The real purpose of human life is to know and love God. Keeping this fact in mind, we should try our best to live a simple lifestyle and be content with the possessions that we have, not coveting the wealth of others. As far as protection goes, it is highly unlikely we’ll see a reinstitution of varnashrama dharma. Lord Rama protected the sages of Dandaka with His bow and arrow. In this age, that same bow and arrow has taken the form of the transcendental sound vibrations of God’s holy names.  This transcendental sound is equally as capable of offering us protection. Keeping God’s name on the tip of our tongue, listening to the words of the spiritual master, and concentrating our eyes on the divine form of the Lord’s deity will very quickly alleviate our pains. Simply thinking of Lord Rama will remove our distresses and allow us to always be happy.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


Rama and Lakshmana with Hanuman, the infallible devotee "There are two classes of beings, the fallible and the infallible. In the material world every entity is fallible, and in the spiritual world every entity is called infallible." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.16)

To ere is human, so the saying goes. We all have our faults and deficiencies to some degree or another. No one is perfect after all, for that is the effect of material nature.

Lord Krishna is infallible On the other hand, God is perfect and infallible. He is the only person with such a characteristic, for everyone else is flawed. This is the law of nature, though many of us tend to forget it, or we remain unaware of it. The Vedas tell us that man inherits four defects from birth: the propensity to cheat, the ability to be easily illusioned, the possession of imperfect senses, and the propensity to commit mistakes. Through our imperfect senses we end up lauding the achievements of mortal men while neglecting those of God Himself compiled through the activities of His various incarnations. Cheating is also natural since we’re all struggling to accumulate wealth and fame. Our imperfect senses lead us to mistakenly think that we see water in a desert when it is only a mirage. We also commit mistakes to varying degrees, with some leading to punishment. The prison houses exist for dealing with those who have committed the most grievous mistakes.

In a civilized society, a crime is committed when someone violates the laws set forth by a government. The accused stand trial in front of a judge and a jury of their peers, who then pass judgment on the alleged criminal’s actions. Those found guilty then spend time in prison with other criminals. The key is to make sure that only the guilty get sent to jail. To ensure this holds true, the trial by jury system is most commonly used. If we are judged by our peers consisting of a panel of impartial jurists, then we are more likely to get a fair trial. The jury deliberates based on the testimony presented from both the plaintiff and defendant, witnesses, and bystanders. Science also plays an important role with the recent introduction of forensics and DNA evidence. Videotapes, tape recordings, and photographs also aid in the decision of the jury. Such great effort is taken by both the plaintiffs and the defendants to ensure that the jury has all the evidence they need in front of them. It is very important for a jury to make the proper decision on a person’s guilt, otherwise they will have committed the most grievous of errors by sending an innocent person to jail.

“I do not see any such fault or sin in Rama that He should be banished from the kingdom to range in the woods.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, Sec 21)

Rama and Lakshmana When Lord Krishna incarnated on earth as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago, He was banished from the kingdom by His father, the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. Rama was loved and adored by all, but Dashratha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi wanted her son Bharata to be the successor to the throne instead of Rama. Agreeing to that request, Dashratha was then asked by her to send Rama to live in the forest for fourteen years. Kaikeyi didn’t want Rama to be able to raise any opposition to the coronation of Bharata, so she figured it would be better to get Him out of the picture. Rama willingly agreed to these orders, but His younger brother Lakshmana took great umbrage to them. Being an incarnation of Lord Ananta Shesha, he was naturally disposed to supporting Lord Vishnu, who had now come to earth in the form of Lord Rama. Lakshmana was very angry upon hearing what happened, for He loved His brother very much and knew that He was completely faultless. In his eyes, the most innocent person was being sentenced for no justifiable reason. He was outraged that someone would dare treat his brother this way.

This is exemplary behavior shown by a true devotee. God is often tarnished by people out of frustration. “Oh God, how could you do this to me? How could you let me suffer in this way?” These are common lamentations by people in distress. In reality, our problems are not God’s fault. Through some reason or another, we desired to take birth in this material world so that we could feel a false sense of proprietorship over nature. This hubris has no limits, for now today many think that human beings are even responsible for the weather. “Never mind the sun or the ecosystem, no, it must be man that causes the earth’s temperature to increase or decrease.” These are the thoughts of the modern day atheistic scientists. The true fact of the matter is that God and His energies control everything. We wanted to play in this material world, and He has given full facility to do so.

Rama Darbar The proper course of action is to praise and defend God instead of being angry with Him. This was the path that Lakshmana chose, and for this he is worthy of eternal worship. He loved Rama so much that he insisted on serving His exile period with Him and His wife Sita. While the husband and wife would sleep at night, Lakshmana would stand guard, making sure no one in the forest would bother them. This is the behavior of a saint; someone without any faults. Rama wasn’t alone in being free from sins, for His pure devotees also become sinless through their loving service to Him, as was the case with Lakshmana, Sita, and Hanuman.

So let us spend our time thanking the Lord for being so kind to us, because even though we spend all our time trying to forget Him, He is still so merciful upon us. Being able to see His beautiful form and chant His holy name are the greatest boons in life. We should make the most of this great fortune that has befallen us. If we follow the lead of Lakshmana, we can do no wrong. If we constantly praise the Lord and associate with devotees, we will always be happy.

Monday, January 18, 2010


Lakshmi Narayana in Vaikuntha “No material planet, even Satyaloka, is comparable in quality to the spiritual planets, where the five inherent qualities of the material world-namely, ignorance, misery, egoism, anger and envy-are completely absent.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 5.22 Purport)

The spiritual planets are different from the material ones we currently inhabit. The Vedas, the authoritative scriptures of India, give us detailed information regarding the various planets of the three worlds. Each planet has a distinct climate and other important characteristics, thus requiring a certain type of body for one to live there. Though the actual living conditions vary, these planets share a commonality in that they are all part of the material world, meaning they are ultimately places of misery. On the other hand, the spiritual planets of Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka are free of all miseries.

Krishna is the source of everything Vaikuntha means a place free of anxiety or doubt. It is God’s home. There are many different names for God depending on a person’s faith, but the Vedas give us a list of some of His primary names based on His characteristics. Lord Krishna is the original form of God, with His name meaning one who is all attractive. As the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Lord is also known as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. He possesses the qualities of wealth, fame, beauty, renunciation, knowledge, and strength to the fullest degree. Naturally He is free of all anxieties and distresses. That is the true definition of God. Since He is the Creator, the ultimate source of everything, He cannot be subject to pain and misery.

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

A question that may arise is that if God is the source of everything and is also a person free of miseries, why are there distinctions between the spiritual and material worlds? On the lowest level, the basic characteristic of anything material is that it is temporary. Sometimes impersonalist philosophers and mental speculators conclude that everything in this world is false. They take Brahman, the Lord’s impersonal effulgence, to be the Absolute Truth and everything in this creation to be part of maya, the Lord’s illusory energy. Maya certainly exists, but the happiness and pain we experience is real. The spiritual world exists eternally, but the material world goes through constant cycles of creation and destruction.

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

Krishna instructing Arjuna The spirit souls, who are part of parcel of Lord Krishna, have a desire to imitate God. Since God is the king of the spiritual world, that desire cannot be facilitated on any of the spiritual planets. In order to fulfill the hankering to lord over nature, God created a temporary replica of the spiritual world.

Hence the material world was born with all of its various planets. As the seed giving father, Krishna put us spirit souls into the bodies of various living entities. How was it decided what type of body we would get? Guna and karma, or qualities and desires, determined our fate. There are three gunas: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Since these qualities can be combined in various proportions, we see up to 8,400,000 different types of species in the world. Karma is fruitive activity performed for a desired result. Every person has desires, for that is the guiding force in our life. Our wants and needs dictate our actions. Any activity performed that has a material reaction can be classified as karma.

Since every person has different desires, there are bound to be collisions. There’s a common saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. This principle holds true with everything that we do. All actions have consequences. Sometimes these reactions are visible to us, other times they are not. Regardless, the end result is always misery. Since everybody’s karma is colliding, we inevitably see problems such as famine, war, pestilence, and other horrific tragedies. These events are guaranteed to occur since karma is the ultimate system of fairness. A person may be able to cheat the government by getting away with law-breaking, but no one can cheat God or His energies. The demigods, the chief deputies of Lord Krishna, handle all issues of fairness in this material world. They note our every action, keeping a ledger of our good and bad deeds. By law, the reactions to these actions must bear fruit.

There are temporary moments of happiness. People have desires to taste different mellows. Some people like to listen to music, others enjoy intoxication, while there are those who prefer to watch movies or other things on television. The desire to enjoy in this manner isn’t necessarily bad. Though some of these activities may or may not have sinful reactions to them, the biggest problem that remains is that the enjoyment derived is only temporary. Whether we engage in the mode of goodness, passion, or ignorance, all such activity is considered material, meaning it is temporary. Aside from only providing fleeting happiness, those remaining on the material platform must repeat the cycle of birth and death over and over again.

Herein lies the central problem with the material world. The biggest anxieties or distresses are those relating to death. The giving up the material body and all its possessions is not an event eagerly anticipated by most people. According to the Vedas, for anyone who comes to the material world, the four events of birth, death, old age, and disease are guaranteed. These are all considered miserable events. One may find it puzzling that birth appears on this list. After all, the birth of a new child is usually a joyous occasion in most families. Yet in the Vedic tradition, the event is initially treated similarly to a death. Most major religions follow a grieving process after a death in the family, and the Vedas are no different in this regard. There is a period of impurity in the family immediately following the death of a relative. In a similar manner, there is also the same period of impurity following the birth of a child. The reason for this is that birth means that a soul has again come to the material world. The spiritual world is the real home for the spirit soul, so by taking birth again, it means that the living entity must again suffer the miseries of life.

The spiritual world means association with Krishna This may all seem very bleak, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The spiritual world is free of all these problems. There, guna and karma don’t exist. Even if one acts completely in the mode of goodness in this world, they are still not elevated to the spiritual planets. This is because even the mode of goodness is contaminated in the sense that there are still karmic reactions. One may open a nice hospital or school, give generously in charity, or even work as a teacher, but this altruism is considered material. The reason is that simply helping the gross material body of another living entity is not enough to promote one to the spiritual world.

Shrimad Bhagavatam (Second Canto) states that in Vaikunthaloka, the material modes of nature, represented by the qualities of goodness, passion and ignorance, have no influence. In the material world the highest qualitative manifestation is goodness, which is characterized by truthfulness, mental equilibrium, cleanliness, control of the senses, simplicity, essential knowledge, faith in God, scientific knowledge and so on. Nevertheless, all these qualities are mixed with passion and imperfection. But the qualities in Vaikunthaloka are a manifestation of God's internal potency, and therefore they are purely spiritual and transcendental, with no trace of material infection.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 5.22 Purport)

Getting back to the spiritual world actually isn’t that difficult. Just as one’s desire to lord over material nature keeps them perpetually bound to the cycle of birth and death, if one desires to have association with God, the Lord gladly takes them back to His home.

“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this." (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

In Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka, everyone desires to serve and love Krishna either in His original form or in one of His primary expansions, such as Narayana, Narasimha, Rama, etc. Since it is the soul’s natural inclination to act this way, the problems of hankering and lamenting vanish. Service to God is also free of any of the reactions of karma.

So this seems simple enough. Just desire to go back to Krishna’s world and the Lord will gladly take us. The problem is that material nature has her clutches deep into us, making it very difficult to break free. Aside from just understanding the theoretical knowledge of the Vedas, one has to put the principles into practice. The discipline of reconnecting with God is known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. One can practice this by constantly chantingHare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. One who adjusts their consciousness in such a way that they are always thinking about God, they are already transferred to Vaikuntha in spirit and mind. Along with adhering to the four regulative principles, chanting, reading, hearing, and serving the spiritual master are all activities that will guarantee us of returning back home, back to Godhead.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

The Supreme Personality of Godhead

Lord Krishna “By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them. And yet everything that is created does not rest in Me. Behold My mystic opulence! Although I am the maintainer of all living entities, and although I am everywhere, still My Self is the very source of creation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4-5)

Lord Krishna The major religions of the world have varying doctrines and prescribed regulations. The general principle behind the teachings of each religion is that one should live life in a regulated manner for God’s service. Through the course of human history, various elevated personalities have appeared to expound the principles of each particular faith. People like Jesus, Mohammed, and Moses are all considered great prophets, or even representatives of God. It is often seen that people will include Lord Krishna in this group of prophets. In fact, many celebrated figures of the Hindu faith also describe Krishna in this manner. Though a teacher of religion Himself, it is incorrect to classify Lord Krishna as a prophet.

Most of the major religions of the world give an impersonal description of God. Even Lord Jesus Christ told everyone of a kingdom of God, but never went into detail about God’s features or His personality. A preacher of the Vaishnava mold, Jesus was pure and kind-hearted to the people of his time, begging them to dedicate more time towards prayer and religious life. His central teaching was that people should look to God for everything, a fact which is undoubtedly true. Other great figures such as Moses and Mohammed gave similar instructions. Yet none of these people ever gave concrete information relating to God’s names, His forms, or His attributes.

Krishna is the original person The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, also sometimes describe God in an impersonal way. The Lord is referred to as ishvara, the Supreme Controller, but we see that sometimes the living entities are also described as ishvara. God is also known by His feature of Brahman, the impersonal energy which constitutes the sum and substance of material creation. In describing God in an impersonal manner, the Vedas are not denying that God Himself is a person. On the contrary, the Lord’s ultimate feature is that of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Brahma-samhita describes God as adi-purusham, meaning the original person.

“In the Brahma-samhita, the body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is described as ananda-chin-maya-rasa. The Supreme Personality of Godhead possesses a spiritual body, not a material body. He can enjoy anything through any part of His body, and therefore He is omnipotent.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

Yet still, there is a large section of elevated transcendentalists of the Vedic tradition that take God to be impersonal. This philosophy, known as Mayavada, declares that Brahman is the ultimate source of everything and that man’s duty is to study Vedanta with the aim of one day merging into this impersonal energy. To support their theory, they point to the commentaries on the Vedanta-sutras written by Shankaracharya.

Lord Krishna has a spiritual form The primary basis for the impersonalist philosophy stems from the Vedic description of God as being nirguna, meaning without material qualities. Everything in this material world possesses gunas, or material qualities. In fact, this is the difference between the material world and the spiritual world. In this world, we all take on bodies made up of the elements of nature. Our qualities are a combination of goodness, passion, and ignorance. By declaring God to be nirguna, the Vedas aren’t saying that He has no attributes, but rather that the Lord has no material attributes. For example, we have hands, legs, a brain, etc. By definition, a hand is limited in its capabilities. There is only so much we can do with each one of our material features. In order to accurately describe God’s greatness, the Vedas tell us that the Lord doesn’t have the same type of hands, legs, and arms that we do. God does possess these features, but they aren’t limited in the same way that ours are. For example, God can eat with His eyes, smell with His mouth, etc. Using His eyes, God can accept food offered to Him with love and devotion.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

Through His incarnation as the deity, God eats food offered to Him, spiritualizes it, and turns the remnants into prasadam, meaning the Lord’s mercy.

At the same time, the Vedas also sometimes describe God as saguna, meaning with attributes. Again, this is just to describe the difference between His original form and that of His incarnations. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and other primary Vedic texts declare that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the original God. Even in other Vedic texts, Lord Vishnu is described as God. This is also correct since Vishnu, or Narayana, is Lord Krishna’s primary expansion. From time to time, the Lord descends to earth in the form of a living entity. These incarnations are referred to as avataras. The saguna description applies to the avataras or other vishnu-tattva expansions. In the case of His avataras, the Lord comes to earth in what appears to be the dress of a living entity, but His body remains completely spiritual.

“There is evidence in the Vedic literature that worship may be saguna and nirguna-of the Supreme possessing or not possessing attributes. Worship of the Deity in the temple is saguna worship, for the Lord is represented by material qualities. But the form of the Lord, though represented by material qualities such as stone, wood, or oil paint, is not actually material. That is the absolute nature of the Supreme Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 12.5 Purport)

Narasimha Deva and Prahlada Krishna’s incarnations of Narasimha Deva, Rama, Varaha, etc. are all described as saguna, but we should never think that They possess material bodies. This thinking is strongly condemned by Lord Shiva in the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas. God is a person, and the original person is Krishna.

The Lord in His original feature is referred to as Bhagavan, which means one who possesses all fortunes. The most accurate English translation of Bhagavan is “the Supreme Personality of Godhead”. Krishna is Supreme because there is no one above Him. He is a personality in that He is a spirit soul just like us, except that His soul is not subject to the laws of nature nor is it subject to bewilderment by the forces of maya. He is the origin of Godhead, meaning He can take unlimited forms such as His various expansions and incarnations. Even we living entities are considered His expansions, technically known as His marginal energy. Though He can expand Himself into unlimited forms, He nevertheless remains completely whole and powerful. That is the true definition of God. In the material world, one minus one equals zero, but in the spiritual world, God can create direct copies of Himself without losing any of His original potency.

The Bhagavad-gita is one of the most famous books in history. In the Gita, Lord Krishna describes the science of self-realization and the meaning of life to His cousin and dear friend Arjuna. The book has been studied by devotees, theologians, and philosophers for over five thousand years. The teachings in the Gita are perfect and complete in all respects. Since many philosophers like to study different religions, through the powers of mental speculation, they decide to label Krishna as a great prophet. Even many followers of the Vedic tradition take Krishna to be an elevated manifestation of Brahman. Even though the final instruction of the Gita is that mankind should surrender unto Krishna and be delivered from all calamity, many scholars say that it is not Krishna that one should surrender unto.

“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.11)

Krishna knew that His teachings would be misinterpreted in this manner by pseudo-transcendentalists and non-devotees, so He directly addressed these people in His discourse. The people who take Krishna to be a prophet or an ordinary human being are described as mudhas, or asses, rascals, or fools.

Krishna and Arjuna Lord Krishna is the kindest and most merciful. We have forgotten our constitutional position as servants of His Lordship, so He kindly appears from time to time to reinstitute the principles of dharma and to help us come back to Him. Veda means knowledge, and the origin of that knowledge is Krishna who first imparted Vedic wisdom into the heart of Lord Brahma, the first created living entity. That same knowledge has since been passed down through the chain of disciplic succession. From time to time, that chain gets broken and the Lord personally appears to reinstitute real religion.

“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)

Krishna’s final instruction in the Gita is that Arjuna should abandon all varieties of religion and simply surrender unto Him. This was told to Arjuna only after the entire Vedic system was described in great detail. This means that devotion to Krishna is the highest form of religion, superior to fruitive activity, mental speculation, and mystic yoga. Though Krishna gave this instruction to Arjuna, His invitation is open to anyone. This means that any person of any faith, any country, race, nationality, etc., they can surrender unto Krishna and be delivered. This was the same message preached by Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation appearing some five hundred years ago in India. Lord Shri Krishna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is for everyone.