Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Glories of Agastya

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana visiting a sage “The sage Agastya is of such a purified nature that in his hermitage a liar cannot live, nor a deceitful person, nor a wicked person, nor one that is committed to sinful activity.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 11.90)

Lord Rama, and incarnation of God, is describing the noteworthy characteristics of the great Agastya Muni. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide a genealogy of creation which gives a list of the noteworthy personalities who first appeared on earth. Lord Brahma is the first created living entity. He is often referred to as the self-create, but he actually took birth from the navel of Lord Vishnu, who is Krishna’s expansion. From Brahma, all other living entities were born. The Vedas provide a list of the most notable saints who first took birth, and Agastya Muni is included in that list.

Agastya Muni Lord Rama, His wife Sita Devi, and His younger brother Lakshmana were roaming the forests of India many thousands of years ago serving out Rama’s exile punishment. Rama used this as an opportunity to visit the great sages who had set up hermitages in the forest. The sages, or brahmanas, are the priestly class of men. Their occupational duty is to act religiously all the time. This doesn’t mean that they simply hold perfunctory religious functions from time to time, but rather, they are engaged in cultivating spiritual knowledge twenty four hours a day. Their religious duties include studying the Vedas, teaching Vedic knowledge to others, performing great sacrifices, and teaching others how to perform sacrifice. All the while, the sages engage in rigorous austerities, known as tapasya. Tapasya involves strict regulation of eating and sleeping habits. Through tapasya, one can better understand God, for the senses are less agitated.

Forest life is quite conducive to the performance of sacrifice and austerity. For this reason, many brahmanas set up hermitages in the forest. The Vedas tell us that one of the greatest benedictions in life is to have association with a saint. This is because the saints know the highest truth, Lord Shri Krishna. God is referred to as Bhagavan in Vedic literature, meaning He possesses all fortunes. He is also described as the Supreme Absolute Truth. This is because truth can be relative depending on the specific circumstance. However, there is no higher truth than God, thus He is the supreme truth which is absolute, meaning it can’t be disputed. Lord Rama was that very same absolute truth appearing in human form. God loves His devotees, so He enjoys personally paying them a visit when He gets the opportunity to.

Lord Rama Agastya Muni was one of Rama’s favorite sages. While travelling to his hermitage, Rama described the saint’s glories to Lakshmana. There was one story in particular relating to Agastya that Rama very much liked. He gave a summary of this historical incident to Lakshmana. There once were two asura brothers named Ilvala and Vatapi. Asuras are the opposite of suras, or devotees. Since the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing fight between the asuras, the atheists, and the suras. Suras engage all their time in glorifying God and spreading His glories to others. Asuras are gross materialists at heart, so they view the suras as their greatest enemies. Ilvala and Vatapi were no different in this regard. They could assume any shape at will, and they happily feasted on the flesh of human beings.

The brothers had a regular scheme they used to execute. Ilvala would assume the guise of a brahmana. Pretending to be peaceful and kind in nature, he would invite others to a grand feast. Meanwhile, Vatapi would assume the shape of a goat. Ilvala would then cook up the goat and feed it to the brahmanas as remnants of a sacrifice. In days past, sages would perform many grand sacrifices, which often involved the killing of animals. This shouldn’t mistakenly be equated with today’s practice of killing animals in slaughterhouses. In a properly performed Vedic sacrifice, the soul inside the animal is immediately promoted to a higher species in the next life. Meat eating occurred only as part of Vedic sacrifices. In this age of Kali, there are no qualified brahmanas available to perform such sacrifices, so the practice has been abolished.

As the sages were feasting on the goat flesh, Ilvala would call for Vatapi to come out. The demon would then burst out of the stomachs of the sages, killing them all. The two brothers would then feast on the flesh of the dead sages. One day, the great Agastya Muni happened to get invited to one of these feasts. When Ilvala called out for Vatapi, Agastya simply laughed at him. “There is no use in calling for your brother, for he has gone to Yama’s abode (the god of death)”, said Agastya. Angered by the sage’s word, Ilvala then assumed his original Rakshasa form and rushed at the sage. Agastya then burned him with his eyes, killing him instantly.

This wonderful story was narrated by Lord Rama so as to describe the glories of Agastya. He was no ordinary saint. He was so exalted that his hermitage and its surroundings were completely free of enemies. The Rakshasas were too afraid to step foot anywhere Agastya.

Lord Rama made mention of the fact that liars, cheats, and other sinful people could not live near Agastya either. His hermitage was so sanctified that it automatically repelled asuras. This was the case because a saint is the true representative of God on earth. He has only one business; devotional service. Part of devotional service requires teaching others. By nature, the devotee of Krishna is kind and liberal, meaning he will gladly speak about God to anyone who listens with a pure heart.

Krishna with cow A sage will not waste their time teaching people who are not interested. This is because not everyone will become a devotee in their lifetime. In a spiritual sense, everyone is equal. The atma, or spirit soul, and Paramatma, or Supersoul, reside inside the body of every living entity. In that sense, there is equality. However, guna and karma cover the souls residing within the body, thus we see differences in the species. Gunas, which are material qualities, and karma, which is fruitive work and desire, can never be the same for everyone. Even in the spiritual world, where guna and karma don’t exist, we see differences in desires. Some people like to associate with Krishna as a friend, while others prefer to be His conjugal lover. Others prefer devotion in the mood of servitorship. The spirit soul, by nature, has identity and individuality. This explains why those who merge into the impersonal Brahman risk eventually falling back to the material world. Merging into Brahman means losing identity, something which is unnatural. When the desire for individuality returns, the soul must unmerge and regain its identity. Pure devotees of Lord Krishna, however, never lose their identity because they always maintain their individuality as devotees. Radha and all the other gopis are always dancing with the Lord in Krishnaloka.

The lesson here is that one should approach a spiritual master in the same way that Rama approached Agastya. Any pure devotee who voluntarily teaches others about God can be classified as a guru, or spiritual master. Spiritual knowledge can only be acquired through humble submission to the guru. Arguments between friends can be entertaining, but knowledge is never acquired in this way. By the very nature of their relationship, friends view each others as equals. If one friend states an opinion, the other friend will often argue simply for the sake of conversation.

Shrila Prabhupada This type of argument is not helpful when interacting with a spiritual master. Questions certainly should be posed, but they should never be in the challenging spirit. One must be pure, honest, and kind when interacting with a great sage. Otherwise, the guru will simply stop teaching. The pure devotee is completely satisfied in serving Krishna in an unmotivated fashion. They are not desperate to have many disciples. Whether they have one disciple or one thousand, the devotee remains content in his devotional service.

“It is krishna-prasada, Krishna’s mercy, that He sends a bona fide spiritual master to the deserving disciple. By the mercy of Krishna, one meets the bona fide spiritual master, and by the mercy of the spiritual master, the disciple is fully trained in the devotional service of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya, 19.152 Purport)

Even if we approach a devotee by reading their books, true knowledge will not be revealed to us if we are hostile to the guru’s teachings. The great Vedic texts contain ordinary words, but if one is blessed with devotion and respect for God and His devotees, then these words turn into great nectar, relieving one of all material distresses.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Pleasing the Spiritual Master

Rama and Lakshmana “…Lakshmana, who is very beautiful and opulent, always serves Lord Rama.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 6.90)

Lakshmana is so glorious. Always ready to defend his brother through thick and thin, such a person is worthy of our highest love and respect. From his very birth, Lakshmana had only one interest at heart; the welfare of his brother, Lord Rama.

God comes to earth in many different forms according to time, place, and circumstance. In the Treta Yuga, the Lord came in the form of a brave and pious prince named Rama, born as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya. Rama had three younger brothers, with Lakshmana being the one He was closest too. Just as Krishna, or Vishnu, incarnates on earth, so His expansions such as Ananta Shesha Naga and Lakshmi also incarnate. Lakshmana was an expansion of Ananta Shesha Naga, the serpent with unlimited hoods who serves as the resting place for Lord Narayana in the spiritual planet of Shvetadvipa. Lakshmana played the same role in the material world; that of number one supporter of God. From their childhood, the two were inseparable, with Lakshmana unable to even sleep without his brother. As a perfect devotee, he wouldn’t even take meals unless Rama was there with him.

“That foremost of persons (Lakshmana) did not even attain sleep without Rama’s company, nor did he partake of any sweetmeat that was offered, unless Rama partook of it with him.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Bala Kand, 18.30-31)

Rama and Lakshmana eatingAs the events of their lives unfolded, Rama reached the appropriate age for becoming king. With everyone expecting His coronation, the plans were suddenly changed with Bharata chosen as the successor to the throne instead. At the same time, Rama was ordered to live in the wilderness for fourteen years, having no ties to the kingdom. This was all the doing of Kaikeyi, mother of Bharata and youngest wife to Dashratha. Rama had no problem accepting the new plans, but Lakshmana was outraged. Just as most of us don’t mind being insulted ourselves, but take greater offense to things said about our loved ones, so Lakshmana took great umbrage with the treatment shown to his brother.

“Oh Rama, with me standing by Your side protecting You with my bow, and You appearing like Yamaraja (the god of death) to the enemy, who would be capable of stopping your installation as king?” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Vm. Ayodhya Kand, 21.9)

Rama and Lakshmana Not wanting to go quietly, in the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is trying to convince Rama to stay in the kingdom and take over the throne by force. Since Rama was the eldest, He was the rightful heir to the kingdom, so Lakshmana saw nothing wrong with taking back what was due Him. Lakshmana boldly declared that no one would be able to stand in their way, for he would be right by Rama’s side protecting Him with his bow and arrows.

Rama and Lakshmana were born in a family of kshatriyas whose lineage dated all the way back to Maharaja Ikshvaku, the first king in human history. Kshatriyas are the ruling class of men, part of the varnashrama dharma system prescribed in the Vedas. As sons of the king, both Rama and Lakshmana received instruction from their spiritual master, Vashishta, and then further training in military arts from the venerable Vishvamitra Muni. Rama and Lakshmana’s fighting prowess was great and they also had expert knowledge of various mantras which augmented the power of their arrows. Back in those times, all fighting was done with bow and arrows. Just as today there are very powerful nuclear weapons, the same type of artillery existed back then but in the form of arrows. By perfectly uttering specific mantras, one could shoot an ordinary arrow and give it the same power as the greatest of nuclear weapons. In this way, Lakshmana could protect and defend anyone.

“With the club and the disc He (Lord Vishnu) chastises the miscreants so that they may come to their senses and know that they are not all in all. Over them there is the Supreme Lord. And by bugling with the conchshell and offering blessings with the lotus flower, He always assures the devotees that no one can vanquish them, even in the greatest calamity.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 17)

Lord Vishnu God can be very nice, as was demonstrated by Lord Rama and His nature. However, to punish the miscreants, the Lord is willing and able to use force at any time. When we see pictures of Lord Vishnu, He is seen holding two items representing peacefulness; the lotus flower and conch shell, and two items representing force; the club and the disc. Both sets of items are equally as beautiful, for watching the Lord protect His devotees gives great pleasure. Lakshmana had tremendous power, but He only used it for good. In actuality, Rama’s other brothers were all equally as devoted as Lakshmana, but due to his affection for Rama, Lakshmana didn’t hesitate in standing by his brother’s side.

Lakshmana is the symbol of the spiritual master. A holy man is often referred to as a sadhu, which means one who cuts. Since they are God’s representatives, spiritual masters dedicate all their thoughts, words, and deeds towards protecting and serving the Lord. For this reason, they don’t say things just to make people happy, but rather they speak the truth as it relates to Krishna. From Lakshmana’s example, we can see that the Lord’s devotees renounce anything and everything in favor of serving the Lord. They don’t stand idly by when they see the Lord being blasphemed or treated improperly. By the same token, one who properly serves the spiritual master enjoys all the protections afforded by God’s representative. The best way to serve the spiritual master is to always chant the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This will be most pleasing to the guru and, in turn, be most pleasing to the Supreme Lord. By gaining the favor of the sadhu, Lakshmana will protect us and give us the necessary strength to serve God in the same manner that he did.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Coming Through For Us

Lord Rama “Lord Shri Ramachandra is so kind and merciful to His devotees that He is very easily satisfied by a little service rendered by anyone, human or not.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.19.8 Purport)

God loves His devotees so much. If we study the events of human history, we would be hard pressed to find anyone who graced this earth who was nicer to His devotees than Lord Rama. The very name Rama means one who gives happiness and pleasure to others. Though born in the warrior caste, Rama was loved and adored by all due to His staunch devotion to dharma, or religiosity. No sin could be found in Him, yet the Lord Himself felt embarrassed when the sages of the Dandaka forest came to for protection from the harassment of the Rakshasas.

Lord Krishna According to the Vedic system, society should be divided into four varnas, and correspondingly one’s duration of life should be divided into four spiritual institutions known as ashramas. Collectively, this system is referred to as varnashrama dharma. It is a misconception that one is born into a specific caste. It is clearly stated in the primary Vedic texts that one’s guna and karma, qualities and work determine their caste.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

The first division is known as the brahmana, which is the priestly class. If one were to compare society to the body of a human being, the brahmanas would be considered the brain. The brain guides the functions of the other body parts. In fact, if one’s brain stops working, they are considered brain-dead, meaning their body has become useless. The Vedas recommend the varnashrama dharma system, but we see that such divisions don’t necessarily have to be implemented by force, but rather, they exist naturally. In any large group of people, there will always be a certain section that has an affinity for cultivating knowledge and practicing religion. This is because every person is born with different qualities, combinations of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The brahmanas are considered to be in the mode of goodness since their actions are guided by intelligence. This intelligence is not simply of the “book smarts” variety. Real intelligence means following the injunctions of the Vedas, the original religious doctrine for all of mankind. Veda means knowledge, and the highest knowledge is that emanating from God. At the beginning of creation, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, imparted perfect knowledge into the heart of Lord Brahma, the first created living entity. Since then, this knowledge has been passed down from generation to generation, initially through oral tradition, and more recently through written scripture. The Vedas are also known as the shrutis, meaning that which is heard. Knowledge is best acquired through the hearing process, and this is primarily how Vedic knowledge was first disseminated.

The highest form of knowledge is that which leads one to acquire devotion to God. In this respect, advanced brahmanas are guided in all of their activities by their devotion to Krishna. There are specific occupations outlined for a brahmana, such as teaching, reading, performing sacrifices, teaching others to perform sacrifices, and liberally donating in charity, but the guiding force of all of their work is their devotion to God. It is for this reason that brahmanas are so highly esteemed in God’s eyes.

The people that are truly worthy of adoration and respect are the devotees of God. In modern society, generally the people that receive the most praise are those who are very successful materially. There are nightly television shows dedicated to chronicling the day to day affairs of celebrities and wealthy businessmen. This is because people that are untrained in any Vedic discipline view the ultimate aim of life to be the acquisition of wealth, fame, and beauty. This then leads to kama, or sense gratification. Since media people wish to one day live an elegant lifestyle, they love to follow people who already have achieved such fame and notoriety.

tiger-woods3 Yet just because someone is successful in a material sense, it doesn’t mean that they are actually worthy of the praise and adulation they receive. Tiger Woods, the legendary golfer, was recently caught in an adultery affair with possibly several women. The media is running wild with the story. This is a gold mine for them because Tiger enjoyed almost universal acclaim throughout his career. He was seen as a flawless individual, someone who dominated the golf circuit and also dedicated himself to philanthropy. Tennis star Andre Agassi recently had a similar thing happen to him. He came out with a new book, in which he admitted that he several times used crystal meth, an illegal drug, and then lied to the tennis governing body when his drug test results came up positive. Both Agassi and Woods enjoyed great reputations prior to their mishaps, but they will be the first ones to admit that they are not flawless individuals. The fault actually does not lie with them. They never chose to be as famous as they became, nor did they hold themselves up as role models.

Since the brahmanas serve as God’s representatives on earth, they are considered to be flawless. This doesn’t mean that they don’t make mistakes from time to time, but it does mean their activities are not on the material platform.

“Even if one commits the most abominable actions, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.30)

Pure devotees act entirely for Krishna’s benefit, meaning everything they do is directed towards advancing their own Krishna consciousness and the devotion of others. They are the best teachers because they freely distribute the greatest gift in the world, Krishna prema, love for God. They acquire all good qualities automatically as a result of their service. Maharishi Valmiki, a great brahmana and poet himself, gives a beautiful description on the qualities of a devotee in the Ramacharitamanasa. Of all their good qualities, the devotees’ defining attribute is their unflinching faith and belief in God and His protection.

“He who attributes his virtues to You and holds himself responsible for his sinfulness; who fixes all his hopes on You and loves Your devotees-in his heart dwell, You and Sita.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 130.1-4)

Visit to Valmiki's hermitageThe qualities of devotees were on full display many thousands of years ago in the Dandaka forest. Lord Rama, His wife Sita Devi, and younger brother Lakshmana were roaming the forests of India, serving out a fourteen year exile sentence. At the time, the Rakshasa demon Ravana had ascended to power. Aside from being meat eaters and wine drinkers, Rakshasas are staunch atheists who derive pleasure from harassing devotees. Many great brahmanas were living in the forest since the quiet surroundings made it more conducive for cultivating spiritual knowledge. The Rakshasas knew the only threat to their power came from the brahmanas. There were many great warriors back then, but none of them could defeat Ravana. Yet Ravana knew that the brahmanas could perform sacrifices and maybe call upon a higher power to come and save them.

“Hearing those words voiced by them (the brahmanas), I, resolving to act in accordance with their request, said. ‘Be gracious to me.’ It is a great dishonor for me that such brahmanas, who are themselves worthy of being approached, actually seek Me and ask for protection. Then I asked the brahmanas, ‘What shall I do for you?’” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.7-10)

Lord RamaLittle did Ravana know that the demigods had already set the wheels in motion for his demise. Lord Rama’s appearance was no accident, for God was petitioned by the demigods to come to earth to kill Ravana and protect the sages. In the above reference statement, Rama is describing to Sita how the sages came to Him and asked for His protection.

Lord Rama took birth in a kshatriya family. The kshatriyas are the warrior class, considered the second highest division in the varnashrama dharma system. They are strong and brave, but they are not all brawn. Every one of their activities is done with the advice and consent of the brahmanas. It is for this reason that Rama said He was ashamed that the brahmanas came to Him. Since their occupational duty is to serve God, brahmanas never accept a job serving someone else. Rather, it is the duty of the members of the other castes to serve and honor the brahmanas, heeding their sound advice. Similar to how a son would be embarrassed if his father came to him for help, kshatriyas don’t feel it is proper for brahmanas to ask them for things. By Rama’s statement, we also get a hint into His true nature. Since brahmanas cannot seek out the help of anyone except God, their petitioning Rama was not in violation of this rule. Rama was God Himself.

More than just ordinary brahmanas, the sages living the forests were Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu. Lord Krishna’s primary expansion is Lord Vishnu, so essentially Vishnu and Krishna refer to the same person. A person may be a brahmana, expert in the injunctions of the Vedas, but a Vaishnava is considered more advanced since they are pure devotees of Krishna. God loves the brahmanas, but more so the Vaishnavas. By default, the Lord is neutral towards all living entities, but He makes an exception for His devotees. There are many examples of the Lord’s affection for His bhaktas, and this incident with the sages of the Dandaka forest was one of them. Lord Rama would come through for the sages by eventually marching to Ravana’s kingdom and killing him in battle. In a similar manner, if we fix ourselves up to become pure devotees, the Lord will also come through for us whenever we need Him.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Return On Investment

Bala Krishna and Mother Yashoda “...O Nalakuvara and Manigriva, your lives have now become successful because you have developed ecstatic love for Me.” (Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 10)

For the first ten years of His exile term, Lord Rama, along with His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana, extensively toured the forests of India, visiting the homes of some of the most exalted sages in history. On the surface, it appears that Rama and His family were benefitted by such visits, but in reality, by receiving Rama as a guest in their home, all the past religious deeds performed by the sages finally bore fruit.

Lord Krishna Most people believe in God. Whether or not they know how He looks is a different story. Many religious systems describe God as impersonal, being an all pervading energy. Since this material world is a place full of miseries, many frustrated karmis hope to one day see God face to face. In fact, this is the precise goal of many yogis. They spend hours and hours in silent meditation or in deep study of Vedanta. To them, seeing God is considered the ultimate goal of life. Therefore we can conclude that those who do actually meet God face to face must be very pious and fortunate.

The great sages living in the forests of India many thousands of years ago not only met God, but they received Him as a guest in their homes. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, God advented on earth in the form of a pious prince named Rama. Some people mistakenly believe that it is not possible for God to take birth in this world. “God is the complete energy. This world is a place governed by guna and karma, and it is temporary in nature. God can never associate with such a place.” Logically, this may appear to make sense. However, God is above any logic or stringent rule system. Since He created this world and everything in it, He can most certainly appear here whenever He chooses. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna fills us in on precisely when and why He comes.

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

Lord Rama During Lord Rama’s time, there was a powerful Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana who had steadily gained in power. He performed great austerities for pleasing the demigods. Though he was a demon by nature, the demigods were forced to overlook this fact. This is the difference between Lord Krishna, God Himself, and His chief deputies, the demigods. We may certainly approach God in hopes of procuring material wealth, fame, or fortune, but He is not required to grant anything to us. Krishna is completely pure, suddha-sattva. This means that He wants us, His children, to also rise above the three modes of material nature, and to act on the platform of pure goodness. Therefore, for His humble devotees, He doesn’t necessarily give them what they want, but rather what they need.

The demigods, on the other hand, are required to bestow boons on anyone who pleases them properly. Ravana propitiated Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva, and they granted him many boons. He was given ten heads and the promise that no demigod, celestial being, or animal could kill him. In his haste, he forgot to ask for immunity from human beings. Since he was so strong, he thought there was no way for an ordinary man to defeat him. The demigods used this loophole to petition Lord Vishnu, Krishna Himself, to come to earth in the guise of a human being. Thus Lord Rama appeared. At the time, Ravana’s band of Rakshasas was wreaking havoc throughout the forests of India. The great sages, the brahmanas, had taken to forest life since it was more conducive to the performance of austerities and sacrifices. Brahmanas perform austerities not simply as a form of self-punishment, but as a way of advancing in spiritual life. The more one is attached to the animal activities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, the further away they go from spiritual life. The human being is meant to learn about God and to then use that knowledge to break free of the repetitive cycle of birth and death. Tapasya, or religious austerity, is a great tool in the transcendentalist’s arsenal.

Along with tapasya comes yajna, or sacrifice. The Vedas mention many different kinds of sacrifice, each performed for a specific purpose. The best sacrifice is that done for the pleasure of Lord Vishnu. In a sacrifice, there is typically a fire, with oblations of ghee poured into it while Vedic hymns are recited. Forest life is therefore ideal for performing both tapasya and yajna. The Rakshasas knew this, so they specifically targeted the sages that were residing in the forest. Assuming various shapes at will, the demons would disrupt the sacrifices, kill the sages, and then eat them. Lord Rama appeared for many reasons, the primary of which was to give protection to these great sages.

In order to fulfill His mission, Rama needed an excuse to roam the forests. This was facilitated by His step-mother, Kaikeyi. She asked Rama’s father, Dashratha, to install her son Bharata as the new king and also to banish Rama to the forest for fourteen years. Refusing to remain in the kingdom, Sita Devi and Lakshmana accompanied the Lord during His exile term. The trio essentially took to the vanaprastha mode of life.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.13)

The Vedas recommend that a person divide the duration of their life into four spiritually related time periods, or ashramas. They are called ashramas because each stage is meant to provide spiritual advancement, ultimately leading to pure Krishna consciousness. The first stage is called brahmacharya, which is celibate student life. Next comes grihastha, which is married householder life. Vanaprastha then follows. The exact definition of vanaprastha has changed over the years, but it can basically be thought of as pseudo-retirement. Householder life is the only time when one is allowed to perform fruitive work. One needs a roof over their head and food on the table. To provide for the basic needs of their family, a person is allowed to work. Yet this type of activity isn’t supposed to continue forever. Once the children are old enough, a person is advised to stop working and to take to retired family life, vanaprastha.

Since they are in a spiritual institution, vanaprasthis are advised to visit sacred pilgrimage sites known as tirthas. These sites benefit mankind because they all relate to specific past activities of Lord Krishna or His expansions. Since tirthas are holy sites, many saintly people reside there. This represents the real benefit of visiting a tirtha. The Vedas state that one of the highest benedictions in life is to have association with a saint, or a pure devotee of God. This is because a pure devotee is the most munificent social worker. Pure devotees don’t engage in mundane charity work. Rather, they disseminate Krishna prema, love for God, to any and all persons, regardless of caste, color, or creed. For this reason, it is considered most beneficial for a person to approach one of these saints and take instruction from them.

“As Rama lived in the asylums of the ascetics and amused Himself through their good graces, ten years smoothly passed.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 11.26-27)

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana visiting sages Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana set a great example for future generations by visiting as many great sages as they could. They didn’t let a great opportunity go to waste. Since Rama was God Himself, it may seem puzzling that He would travel to the hermitages of these great sages. Shouldn’t they have been the ones visiting Him? In reality, the answer is yes, but God actually likes to serve His devotees as well. The sages living in the forest had performed many great austerities in the past. All their hard work paid off since they received the benediction of having Rama personally visit their homes.

Lord Rama also liberated many of these sages by visiting them. When Lord Krishna personally advented on earth some five thousand years ago in Vrindavana, He liberated two brothers who had taken birth in the forms of trees. As part of His childhood pastimes, Krishna once broke a pot of yogurt in anger. Mother Yashoda then chased after Him with a stick, finally catching Him and binding Him to a mortar. After she returned to the kitchen, baby Krishna released Himself by pulling on the mortar. By dragging the mortar, the Lord caused two trees to fall down. When the trees collapsed, the spirits of two men appeared and began to offer prayers to the Lord.

“O Lord, our father known as Kuvera, the demigod, is Your servant. Similarly, the great sage Narada is also Your servitor, and by their grace only we have been able to see You personally. We therefore pray that we may always be engaged in Your transcendental loving service by speaking only about Your glories and hearing about Your transcendental activities.” (Prayers of Nalakuvara and Manigriva, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 10)

Krishna liberating Nalakuvara and Manigriva The living entities inside the trees were actually brothers in a previous life. On one particular occasion, they insulted the great sage Narada, who in turn cursed them to take birth as trees. He told them that their liberation would come when Lord Krishna Himself would knock them down. Many similar incidents also occurred during Lord Rama’s time in the forest. The Lord personally liberated all the great souls He encountered. Agastya, Valmiki, Bharadvaja, Anasuya, Shavari…all were delighted to see Lord Rama, along with Sita and Lakshmana, face to face.

The lesson here is that God loves His devotees. Though He is neutral towards all living entities, He makes an exception for those who love Him without any motive. We should never think that God forgets us. By visiting the great sages, Lord Rama also showed that one doesn’t have to work very hard to try to see God. Rather, they simply have to act in a way that God will see them. In this age, the best way to get God’s attention is to constantly chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Unconditional Love

Rama and Lakshmana “The activities of Lord Rama were full of suffering, but Lakshmana, of His own accord, tolerated that suffering.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 5.150)

Rama with three brothers, wife, and Hanuman When Lord Krishna came to earth as Lord Rama, He was born as the eldest son to the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. Tradition called for the eldest son to succeed as king, therefore Dashratha one day decided that he was ready to install Rama as his successor. All the arrangements were made, the townspeople were very excited; both Rama and His wife Sita had fasted the night before, so everything was in place for a grand ceremony. As fate would have it, Dashratha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi interjected in the nick of time to spoil the whole affair. Cashing in on promises previously made to her by the king, Kaikeyi wished for Rama to be exiled from the kingdom instead of becoming the new king. Kaikeyi’s son Bharata would be crowned as the new king, with Rama being completely out of the way living in the forest for fourteen years.

Lakshmana and Rama eatingLord Rama had three younger brothers: Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Lakshmana was the closest with Rama, for he adored Him from their very childhood. Lakshmana would always play with Rama and viewed himself as His servant. He wouldn’t even eat anything unless Rama had eaten first. In this way, he showed us the proper conduct for a devotee. Prasadam is sanctified food, known as the Lord’s mercy since it has first been offered to God. Devotees of Krishna don’t prepare food for themselves, but rather they cook for the Lord’s pleasure. Unlike us, the Lord can eat with any part of His body, so by placing food in front of His deity or picture, the Lord comes and eats the food. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord openly declares that He accepts things 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.” (Bg. 9.26)

Radha Krishna deities The Lord is so kind that He eats the food, but leaves everything there for us. For this reason, it is known as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. Anyone who eats such food is highly benefitted, for it is completely free of karma. Karma means fruitive activity or material work. Fruitive activity naturally has reactions associated with it, either good or bad. If we do good work, we are materially benefitted. In the same manner, if we are overly sinful, it is to our detriment. When something is karma-free, it has no material reactions. In reality, the concepts of good and bad are on the material platform, meaning they are more or less the same. We may achieve great material benedictions like wealth, fame, and beauty, but these things are only temporary. Even if we ascend to the heavenly planets of sva-loka after this life, our time there is limited, and we are thus forced to return to the material world and suffer through miseries again.

When we eat for our own sense gratification, there is naturally karma associated with it, especially if we are eating meat. If we are unnecessarily killing animals to satisfy our tongue and stomach, then naturally we will have to suffer the same fate in the future at the hands of another animal or living entity. Prasadam is so wonderful because it is completely free of karma. Instead of giving material benedictions, it immediately washes our sins away and increases our God consciousness. That is the aim of life, namely to think of God at the time of our death. We often hear the notion that one’s life flashes before their eyes at the time of death. The Vedas subscribe to this theory as well, except they go one step further. Lord Krishna declares that one’s consciousness at the time of death determines the type of body they will receive in the next life. So when our life flashes before our eyes, we will be conscious of those things most important to us. For this reason, Krishna advises that one should think of Him at the time of death, because if this happens, the soul immediately gets transported to His spiritual abode where it never has to return from. In this way Vedic culture is geared towards achieving that end. Always thinking about God is the aim of life, because that will ensure that we think of Him at the time of our death.

lor10aLakshmana was an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, the serpent with unlimited hoods who serves as the resting place for Lord Narayana in the spiritual world. God has many forms, with one of the primary being His four-handed form of Lord Narayana, also known as Vishnu. When God comes to earth, He also brings along His closest associates. His wife in the spiritual world, Goddess Lakshmi, also came to earth with Him in the form of Sita Devi. Lakshmana, being a perfect devotee from his birth, was very angered by the order of exile given by Dashratha. Rama had no problem with it, for He knew that a king must abide by his word. Dashratha had made a promise to Kaikeyi previously, so it was his duty to grant her request. Lakshmana, on the other hand, could care less about such rules of propriety. His only dharma, or religion, was that of service to Rama. He couldn’t believe that his father would dole out such a punishment to someone as pure and good-natured as Rama. The Lord was loved and adored by all the citizens of Ayodhya, for they eagerly anticipated His coronation. Lakshmana was so angry to see his brother treated this way by Dashratha that he proposed that both he and Rama overthrow the government and rule the kingdom by themselves.

“Even before people come to know of this proposal of exile, you should, along with my help, take control of the government for yourself.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.8)

Now this suggestion was certainly very rash and not in line with the proper mode of conduct. However, it was done out of pure love, so Lord Rama appreciated it very much. There are nine different processes of devotional service as outlined by Prahlada Maharaja, with one of them being surrendering everything to the Lord. Lakshmana exhibited this quality by renouncing all His family ties and acting only in the interest of Rama. This is the highest form of devotion which exists only in the best of devotees. This actually serves as a great example for all of us. In today’s world, it is quite fashionable to disregard God and His instructions. Most religious leaders today love to stress the fact that God loves us no matter what we do. Now that is certainly true; there is no denying that. However, if God is that kind to us, shouldn’t we try to love Him the same way? Instead, through poor leadership, people today have been trained to take that love for granted. God’s unconditional love is used as an excuse to continue a life full of sins. Addicted to gambling, intoxication, illicit sex, and meat eating, today’s society is fully engrossed in material sense gratification.

Just as Lakshmana was angered at the ill treatment shown to his brother, so the devotees of today are angered by the way God is neglected. Taking someone’s love for granted certainly isn’t a nice thing. Devotees want everyone to love God simply for who He is. He loves us so much that He actually gives us whatever we want. If we want to continue a life full of sinful activity, He happily obliges us. Those who are addicted to sexual activity are rewarded with the body of a dog or a monkey in their next life. Those who love to eat animal flesh are similarly rewarded with the body of a lion or a tiger in their next birth. By the same token, if we want to be by God’s side, He will gladly let us serve Him. This was the path taken by Lakshmana, and for this he is worthy of our highest respect and honor. Following in the footsteps of the great saints and devotees is our only path towards salvation. Jaya Shri Lakshmana.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Battling the Asuras

Rama and His army battling Ravana“…Ravana, although born of a brahmana father, Vishvashrava, was nevertheless called an asura or rakshasa because of his offenses against Lord Ramacandra (Vishnu) and Hanuman (a Vaishnava)…” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 3.147)

Hanuman - a pure devotee of God The devotees of God are the true saints of this world. Their pure love for Krishna enables them to acquire all good characteristics automatically, without much endeavor. Due to their staunch faith and belief in the mercy of the Almighty, the devotees serve as the greatest welfare workers, helping others break out of the perpetual cycle of birth and death. However, not everyone takes kindly to their religious efforts. Their main source of opposition comes from the staunch atheists, the asuras. These enemies of God will do anything to thwart the execution of devotional service by others.

Often times we’ll watch the news and we’ll hear a reporter or a field expert bemoan the current predicament of the world. Invariably, they’ll say that things have never been worse and that there is too much infighting and bickering going on in government and around the world. They long for the halcyon days of the past when opposing parties got along and didn’t fight so much. It is nice to wish for a peaceful condition, but in actuality, fighting has been going on since the beginning of time. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, give us a detailed history of creation. The primary texts of the other major religions of the world also provide similar lineages, but the Vedas go one step further in that they tell us about creations past, present, and future. The earth we live on today is destined to be destroyed and then recreated in the future.

“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)

As far as this creation goes, the first living entity was Lord Brahma, who took birth from the navel of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu is an expansion of Lord Krishna, who is the original Personality of Godhead. Every living entity on this earth is a descendent of Brahma. From Brahma sprung the 8,400,000 varieties of species. Amongst the humans and other man-like species, we get information that there are generally two types of people, suras (devatas) and asuras. The suras are devotees; they believe in the Supremacy of God. The asuras are the atheists; they don’t believe in God. Since the beginning of creation, there has been an ongoing struggle between the suras and the asuras. Through the course of time, the specific issues over which people fought may have changed, but the root of the problem still always boils down to the issue of belief in God.

As a result of their atheism, the primary characteristic of an asura is that they believe this material world to be the beginning and end of everything. They identify solely with the gross material body. They think in terms of “I” and “mine” and also base their existence on their physical attributes. “I am American; I am Indian; I am black; I am white.” These distinctions certainly do exist, but the asuras believe that at their core, they are different from everybody else simply because of their physical attributes.

Vyasadeva The Vedas tell us that this sort of thinking represents the height of ignorance. The very first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists is aham brahmasmi, meaning “I am a spirit soul, part of Brahman.” Brahman is the impersonal effulgence emanating from Lord Krishna. Brahman is the sum and substance of creation, comprising all of matter and spirit. By understanding the truth that “I am Brahman”, one can understand that they are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, who is the source of Brahman. Some people mistakenly take Brahman to be the end of spiritual understanding. People who study Vedanta often times come to this conclusion. Veda means knowledge and anta means end, thus Vedanta means the end of knowledge. Though many of the aphorisms in the Vedanta-sutras describe God in an impersonal way, this is done primarily as a reference tool. The author of the Vedanta-sutras, Vyasadeva, Himself has written a commentary where he states without a doubt that God is a person and that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. This commentary is known as the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana.

Once a person realizes that they are a spirit soul, they can advance further in their spiritual education. Next comes the stage when a person realizes that not only are they a a spirit soul part and parcel of God, but that every living entity is equal to them constitutionally. This is one of the hardest facts to understand. We only have knowledge of our own life experiences. Our soul is enclosed in our gross material body, thus we can only experience life through our own senses. This makes it difficult to realize that every other person goes through similar experiences because they are also spirit souls at the core. Sometimes the bodies of other living entities are different, but this is only due to the laws of material nature as they manifest through guna and karma. Gunas are material qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance, and karma is fruitive activity or material desire. Walk through any big shopping mall on a weekend, and you’ll see hundreds of people all going to different stores looking for specific items. They are all wearing different clothes, walking in a different way, and also willing to spend different amounts of money. This is a microcosm of how the entire universe works. People have different qualities and desires, thus they are put into different types of bodies. This does not mean that all of us are different, or that one person is better than another.

Krishna and Arjuna When one gains further knowledge of the soul and matter, they can work towards the ultimate aim of life; that of knowing and loving God. As stated before, the universe is constantly being created and destroyed. This tells us that everything here is temporary. For this reason, simply working for sense gratification and the accumulation of wealth is not the ultimate aim of life. All our possessions and relationships will have to be given up at the time of death. This means there has to be a higher meaning to our life. The Vedas tell us what that higher purpose is. In the human form of life, we can understand God and hopefully develop a love for Him. This love actually doesn’t need to be developed, but rather aroused. This is because our natural disposition is to be a devotee; a sura or devata. Through contact with material nature, ignorance envelopes our psyche, and we become forgetful of our relationship with God as His servant. Instead, we become bewildered into thinking that we are the master, and that we can become God through karmic activity. True knowledge is acquired once we realize that permanent happiness can only come through the execution of devotional service to Krishna.

"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)

The devotees have realized these facts already. With their minds fixed on the highest platform of knowledge, they engage in acts of loving service to God and His pure devotees. If a person doesn’t have perfect transcendental knowledge, or even if they have no information about God, they are not likely to disturb the activities of the suras. The asuras are actually more than just atheists. An atheist can mean someone who doesn’t believe in God, but an asura actually believes in something; the materialistic way of life. Living in ignorance and identifying solely with their temporary body, they base their life’s activities around hoarding opportunities for sense gratification. Since asuras don’t know anything beyond death, they want to falsely enjoy as much as they can in their lifetime. To enjoy to the fullest, they must thwart the activities of others, since they view others as competitors in their pursuit of material wealth.

Demons throwing devotee Prahlada off a cliff The suras, or devotees, represent the biggest threat to the asuras. This is because the devotees are very charitable in their distribution of knowledge. They disseminate knowledge of Krishna and the Vedas to anyone who is willing to listen. This knowledge then leads others to give up their materialistic way of life. Hence more devotees are created, with the asuras eventually becoming a minority. The asuras are well aware of these facts, so they do their best to stop the activities of the devotees. They will stop at nothing to impede the worship of God. In order for a person to be successful in an attack, they must have power. A weaker opponent likely won’t be successful in battle. Knowing this, the asuras of today have taken to government to implement their atheistic ideas. As polls often show, the majority of the population believes in God to some degree. This makes it difficult for asuras to convince others of their philosophy on life. Thus they look to government to impose their way of thinking on the citizens. This is precisely the tact taken by communists. One will find that it is very difficult to preach about Krishna, or religion in general, in any communist or fascist state. Devotees will be censored, and many times put in jail for trying to chant the holy names of God in public.

“Communism is a movement of shudras, and capitalism is meant for vaishyas. In the fighting between these two factions, the shudras and vaishyas, gradually, due to the abominable condition of society, the communists will emerge triumphant, and as soon as this takes place, whatever is left of society will be ruined. The only possible remedy that can counteract the tendency toward communism is the Krishna consciousness movement…” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.20)

Even in the democracies of the world today, there has been a gradual turn to socialism, which is the younger brother of communism. So we can see that eventually, most of the world’s governments will take to thwarting religious activity. So what can be done? One need only look to the example of the great sages living in the Dandaka forest many thousands of years ago. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, many brahmanas set up camp in the woods. The peaceful atmosphere of the wilderness was more conducive to the execution of Vedic rituals and study of the scriptures. The demons of that time, the Rakshasas, were so merciless that they would harass the harmless sages living in the forests. Not only would the Rakshasas disrupt their sacrifices, but they would even eat the sages after killing them. The Rakshasas knew that if they could scare the brahmanas into giving up their occupational duties, there would be no opposition to their demoniac ambitions.

“Always dwelling in the forest and subsisting on fruits and roots, these sages cannot attain peace due to the Rakshasas of cruel deeds. These ascetics are devoured by terrible Rakshasas living on human flesh. While being eaten away, the sages dwelling in the forest of Dandaka, those best of the twice-born ones (brahmanas), said to me, ‘Please come to our rescue.’” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, Sec 10)

Lord Rama To alleviate the situation, the brahmanas looked to God. At the time, Lord Krishna had incarnated on earth as a pious prince named Rama. The greatest kshatriya warrior, Rama was roaming the forests with His brother Lakshmana and wife Sita Devi. The sages petitioned Rama to protect them from the demons. In the above referenced statement, the Lord is describing the plight of the sages to Sita. These brahmanas were very smart. They know that anyone who surrenders everything to God will always be guaranteed of protection.

"Give up all varieties of religiousness, and just surrender unto Me; and in return I shall protect you from all sinful reactions. Therefore, you have nothing to fear." (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

As events would play out, Lord Rama would indeed protect the sages. He would eventually remove all of their fears by killing the leader of the Rakshasas, Ravana, in a fierce battle. There are many other examples in history of God providing unflinching protection to His devotees. That is His promise to us. If we stay committed to performing our duties in devotional service by chanting God’s names and delivering His glories to others, we will be immune from the attacks of the asuras.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

A Long Life

Radha Krishna “In this endeavor (Krishna consciousness) there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40)

It is a widely accepted fact that the life expectancy in America is as high as it has ever been. People today live longer than their ancestors primarily because of advancements in medicine and health care technology. One would think this good news would equate to a higher level of happiness in society, but we see that is not the case. Instead, medical advancements have brought on a whole new set of problems.

Every material advancement has unintended consequences. This is because we are not meant to be happy in this temporary world full of miseries. One may wonder why we are here in the first place if life is so bad. The reason can be traced back to the desire of the spirit soul to lord over material nature. God is great. He is so powerful that others want to imitate Him by pretending to create things and rule over others. This desire lands them in this material world. It is similar to a playground, in that this world serves as a field for the karmic activities of man. This lifestyle is allowed to continue due to the presence of maya, God’s illusory energy. Maya tricks us into identifying with our gross material body; a body which is subject to destruction at the time of death. Everyone eventually realizes that they are going to die; nevertheless, they still try to make adjustment after adjustment in hopes of satisfying the demands of the body.

Lord Krishna Since it is destined to be destroyed, there is nothing that can give permanent happiness to a body which is composed of five gross elements (earth, water, fire, air, and ether) and three subtle elements (mind, intelligence, and false ego). Only the soul that resides within the body is permanent, unchangeable, and blissful by nature.

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

If we act in the interest of the soul and the Paramatma, God’s expansion as the Supersoul, then we are working towards eternal peace. Acting in accordance with the demands of the body and its senses only brings about temporary happiness, and increased misery. The automobile serves as a great example. Considered one of the greatest inventions of the twentieth century, the automobile revolutionized the transportation industry. People can now travel great distances in short amounts of time. This means that we have greater flexibility in deciding where to live and work. We also aren’t required to grow food on our own, since we can just drive to the local market which is always fully stocked with every kind of food imaginable. With such living conditions, who wouldn’t be happy?

Yet we see the automobile has brought many miseries as well. Since practically anyone is allowed to drive a car, we see many cars and drivers out on the road. This means that new roads and bridges must be built. The existing roads also need to be constantly maintained. All this brings along added expense. Cars can travel very fast, upwards of eighty miles per hour. Every one of us is born with different qualities, or gunas. This means that some of us will be good drivers, while others will not. Put thousands of good drivers on the road alongside the bad, and you are bound to have many accidents. Since cars travel so fast, many of these accidents are fatal. There are literally thousands of automobile related fatalities each year, and no one bats an eye. Yet if a few thousand people die in a war, there is a public outcry.

Ford Model T So we see there is a price for advancement. This is the inherent nature of activity performed in the interests of the body, or karma. Actions are not without consequences. Sometimes the results of our actions can be seen, while other times they bear fruit many years later; sometimes even in another lifetime.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)

The reason that material advancement fails to provide increased happiness is because it is part of the mode of passion. All activity on the level of karma can be classified as belonging to one of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, or ignorance. The mode of goodness constitutes any activity done with knowledge, or in accordance with the regulations of the scriptures. The mode of passion is any fruitive activity. The mode of ignorance is any activity which lacks goodness or passion. Most human beings are engaged in the mode of passion. We want a nice job when we grow up, so we study hard in school. As adults, we want a nice house and car, so we make sure to work very hard, even changing jobs if we have to. This is all part of the mode of passion.

“By acting in the mode of goodness, one becomes purified. Works done in the mode of passion result in distress, and actions performed in the mode of ignorance result in foolishness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.16)

Stethoscope Adjusting our material comforts also falls into the mode of passion. On the surface, fruitive activity doesn’t appear to be bad for us. Yet we start to run into problems when our desires grow stronger and stronger as a result of our material success. The advancements in medicine are a great example of this. So much research has been done in the area of fighting diseases, that today the life expectancy is as high as it has ever been. In actuality, people lived much longer in previous Yugas. The Vedas tell us that each creation is divided into four time periods, with man’s duration of life dwindling with each successive Yuga. We are currently in the last Yuga known as Kali. The Vedas tell us that man generally lives to one hundred years of age in the Kali Yuga. In previous Yugas, people lived for hundreds and even thousands of years. These are the authorized statements of the great Vedic texts, but sadly this information is unknown to today’s scientists.

Life support machines, organ transplant surgeries, and life saving drugs are staples of the medical profession today. Yet just as with the automobile, these advancements have failed to bring about increased happiness. This may seem hard to believe, for after all, people are living longer on average, so wouldn’t that in and of itself lead to an increase in happiness? The biggest problem is that this advanced medical technology doesn’t come without a price. Medical machinery isn’t cheap, and neither are the latest drugs. Pharmaceutical companies invest millions of dollars in drug research. They make this investment for one reason; the hope of one day turning a profit. This motive may be viewed as evil by some, but it is actually quite natural. Businessmen are in business for one reason; to earn a profit. As long as there are many businessmen honestly competing for profit, society is usually benefitted. This fierce competition for profit leads to the discovery of life prolonging drugs, more jobs, and a healthier economy.

Doctors are also part of the equation of modern medicine. Becoming a doctor is no easy task. In America, after graduating from high school, it takes around ten years before someone can start practicing medicine for real. Even then, doctors usually have hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loan debt to pay off. They must also pass medical examinations and adhere to stringent government regulations.

All these factors lead to an increased cost for the patient. Life can be prolonged, but it comes with a price. Even the added cost, by itself, shouldn’t really pose a problem. After all, people are more than willing to spend top dollar for a nice car, television, or house. Yet for some reason, people have become wary of paying for medical treatment on their own. Health insurance is now the name of the game. Rather than pay the doctors themselves, most people now have health insurance. This may seem like a good thing, but it has also led to an increase in costs. For example, consumers as a whole would never dream of paying upwards of one thousand dollars per night in a hotel room. Yet that is precisely how much it costs to spend one night in a hospital, but since this cost is paid through the insurance companies, the patient has no knowledge of it. All they see is the monthly premium cost. Thus the power of the consumer is limited, meaning costs aren’t controlled directly by market forces.

Free To Choose Since health insurance premiums rise so rapidly, many people now believe there is a health care crisis. There is a strong push to have a national healthcare system, wherein the government manages and pays for all medical services. Again on the surface, this doesn’t seem bad. “Free health care? Why not?” Yet we see from its implementation in other countries that national health care leads to a rationing of care and decrease in quality. This is totally in line with the laws of economics. If the government is controlling costs and profits, doctors have no incentive to provide better care. Not only does the quality of medical treatment decline, but also there is no control on supply. Price not only conveys information about what producers and consumers are thinking, but it also correlates with supply and demand. When price is taken out of the equation, supply runs out.

“Prices perform three functions in organizing economic activity: first, they transmit information; second, they provide an incentive to adopt those methods of production that are least costly and thereby use available resources for the most highly valued purposes; third, they determine who gets how much of the product – the distribution of income. These three functions are closely interrelated.” (Milton Friedman and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose, Ch 1)

Lord Dhanvantari - an incarnation of God and founder of Ayurveda Let us compare modern medicine with the classic Vedic system. Veda means knowledge, and the original Vedas emanating from India contain knowledge not only about religion, but of material subjects as well. Even medicine is covered in what is known as Ayurveda. This system was started by Lord Dhanvantari, an incarnation of Krishna.  Today Ayurveda is generally equated with holistic or homeopathic medicine. It is seen as an alternative style of treatment, but a long time ago, it was the primary way medicine was practiced. Ayurveda focuses on the three components or elements of the body: kapha (mucus), pitha (bile), and vayu (air). If these three elements are in balance, the body is healthy. Likewise, a disproportion of any one of these elements will lead to bodily discomfort and disease. In Vedic times, the brahmanas, the priestly class of men, would serve as doctors. Brahmanas are the knowledgeable class of men. Their duty is to study the Vedas and to instruct others on Vedic wisdom. They are so smart that they can teach anyone in any discipline. Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, took birth as a kshatriya, or warrior. Growing up, He was trained in the military arts by brahmanas, Vashishta and Vishvamitra.

Brahmanas would make house calls, and afterwards, would be paid. It was considered a great sin to not properly receive any guest in the home, let alone exalted sages. Brahmanas didn’t practice medicine for a profit, but rather simply to help others. Since the medicines were all natural, there wasn’t a great cost incurred on the patient.

This all stands in stark contrast to today’s system. Malpractice lawsuits are very common. The overall lack of God consciousness in society has led to an attachment to sinful activity and a mood of miserliness. The average sinful person generally thinks along these lines: “I want to eat whatever I want, whenever I want, regardless if innocent animals such as cows have to be slaughtered. In my leisure time, I want to gamble and drink as much alcohol as I see fit. Then I want to satisfy my sexual urges at any cost. If a girl happens to get pregnant, we will simply kill the child in the womb through the abortion process. While engaging in this sinful activity, if I get sick, I want to go to the doctor and have someone else pay for it. If the doctor makes a mistake, I want to sue him for everything he’s worth.” This type of mindset can only come about when there is a lack of spiritual education. With the current situation, people will never be happy, regardless of any advancement in medicine.

It is unlikely that we’ll ever return to the traditional Vedic system of medicine. So what are we to do? The answer for every material problem is always the same; Lord Krishna. Our forgetfulness of our relationship to the Supreme Personality of Godhead serves as the root cause of all our problems. One simply has to arouse their inherent love for God. Love conquers all, and love for God allows us to endure any and all hardships. The first step towards reconnecting with God is to constantly chant His name, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

This body is temporary. Whether we have a long or short life doesn’t really matter in the end. If we still have material desires at the time of death, we are guaranteed to take birth again in the material world. This is quite a sobering fact. Yet if we develop an attachment to Lord Krishna, He will immediately transport us to His spiritual abode at the time of death. Reaching the spiritual sky, we can enjoy an eternal life of bliss and knowledge in the association of our best friend, Lord Krishna.