Saturday, February 6, 2010

No Limits

Krishna defeating the Kaliya serpent “A man bound by the hands and feet cannot free himself-he must be helped by a person who is unbound. Because the bound cannot help the bound, the rescuer must be liberated. Therefore, only Lord Krishna, or His bona fide representative the spiritual master, can release the conditioned soul.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.14 Purport)

In the course of the day-to-day affairs of our lives, we are bound to run into trouble from time to time. This trouble can take various forms. In these situations, we usually turn to friends, parents, teachers, or even the government. All these entities certainly mean well and can provide us some relief, but in the end, their powers are limited. God is the only person who has unlimited powers and potencies.

The people we normally turn to in times of trouble are all flawed human beings. “To ere is human” is how the saying goes. Human beings are flawed because they possess gunas, or material qualities. Each of us is a spirit soul, jivatma, at the core, but through the birth process, we accept a material dress composed of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Each person possesses these qualities to varying degrees and in various combinations. For example, one person may be 75% in goodness and 25% in passion, while another person may be 100% in ignorance. These qualities can be combined in so many ways that we see up to 8,400,000 different species in the world. Even the person who is completely in goodness still has flaws. This is because the material qualities have limits to them. Another meaning for the word guna is rope. Therefore one who possesses gunas is bound up in the repeated cycle of birth and death. Possessing any of the three material qualities means one is driven to act on the level of karma, which is fruitive activity. If we perform activity with a personal desire or motive, we are forced to suffer good or bad consequences. The results of our actions may come to us in this life, or in a future one. Nevertheless, those who have desires at the time of death are forced to take birth again, repeating the entire cycle.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Bhishma remembering Krishna at the time of death Aside from the information we get from the Vedas pertaining to the qualities of nature, we can see for ourselves that human beings are flawed. Our parents give us guidance in the early stages of our life, but in the end, they want us to grow up to be independent adults. In the Western countries, parents try very hard to get their adult age children to move out of the house and start a life on their own. This isn’t done out of selfishness, but out of love for the child. The parents know that they won’t be around forever and that their children must be able to sustain themselves in their absence. Even if we advance to the stage where we are self-sufficient adults maintaining a job and family, our problems don’t end. Relationship troubles, drug addiction, and disease can strike us at any moment.

Economics has been an age old problem for mankind. The Vedas tell us to solve the economic problem by maintaining a small plot of land with a few cows. The cow is the secret weapon in the fight against hunger and starvation. A cow is very easy to maintain and they give us so much food in the form of milk and the products created from it. Sadly this fact has been ignored by most of human civilization in this age of Kali. Nowadays people take to killing innocent cows simply to satisfy their taste buds. With the advancements in technology over the past one hundred years or so, less and less people are engaged in farming. This means that the majority of jobs result from man’s fruitive desires born of the mode of passion.

Capitalism, which is loosely defined as the peaceable and voluntary exchange of goods and services with a respect for property rights and the rule of law, always leads to boundless economic growth. This makes sense because if man is free to pursue his own desires, he will naturally seek out a better life for himself. This capitalist system has been implemented in the United States since its founding. It has yielded tremendous results, as America is considered the great bastion of freedom, a country with the highest overall standard of living in the world. Yet capitalism is still part of the mode of passion, meaning it has defects. One of the greatest defects is that one can never be truly satisfied by artha, or economic development. It is the nature of the mind to constantly crave more and more. Karma is only fair after all. Since everyone has their own desires, there are bound to be collisions. This means that economic growth on a large scale cannot always continue uninterrupted. There are bound to be up and down cycles in a capitalist system.

Currently in America there is a downturn in the economic situation. As mentioned before, these do occur naturally, but the majority of the population doesn’t prepare for these situations. Having grown accustomed to an advanced way of life, any interruption in economic growth can lead to major problems. With the economic downturn, many people have lost their jobs. Since they no longer earn a paycheck, they have trouble paying their bills. One of the largest bills people pay each month is their mortgage. Around eight or nine years ago, the government encouraged people to buy their own homes, even to the point of granting home loans to people who weren’t qualified for them. Fast forward to today, and we have many people who can’t afford to pay the mortgage on their house.

As will happen during any economic downturn, politicians will try to capitalize on the feelings of distress amongst the population. Current U.S. President Barrack Obama ran for office promising to fix the economic problems. After taking office, Obama’s solution was to pass a large spending bill, known as the Stimulus Package. Many people were happy to see this action taken because they thought it would help jumpstart the economy. What has resulted is that the economic conditions are now even worse. This is because the government itself doesn’t have any money. Their wealth comes through the collection of taxes. Taxes come from the producers, those who are successful in the capitalist system. Therefore these stimulus packages are nothing more than the taking of wealth from one group of citizens for the express purpose of giving it to another.

Governments are great entities with lots of money, but even they are limited in their ability to help people. This fact was on full display recently in the city of Detroit. It was announced that part of the stimulus package money was going to be distributed to Detroit residents to help them pay off their mortgages. More than 65,000 people stood in line to fill out applications for government assistance. This seems like a nice idea, but there is one problem. It is expected that only 3,500 or so people will actually end up getting money. Nevertheless the people who waited in line fully expected to be given money.

This is a classic ploy of many governments. They tell citizens to look to them to provide for their needs. The old-style communists used to play a similar trick with bread. By controlling wealth and people’s behavior, the communists could create famine and artificial food shortages whenever they wanted to. In these situations, they would ask the citizens to pray to God to bring them bread. When bread wouldn’t appear, they would ask the citizens to ask the government to bring them bread. When the communist government would deliver the bread, they’d tell the citizens to start worshiping them instead of God.

Lord Krishna If even the government has limited powers, who can we turn to? The answer is God. We may pray for things from the Lord, and He may or may not deliver, but it doesn’t mean that He doesn’t exist. This is because God is generally neutral towards all living entities.

“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)

This doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love us or that He wants us to suffer. Rather the material world is a sort of playground for the spirit souls to come and falsely enjoy. In this regard, God doesn’t stand in our way. Coming to the playground means relinquishing control to the forces of nature, which are governed by karma. With karma, good and bad things happen on their own. This is what we see with economics. People can ask the government for money, but in the end, it is up to the citizens to make the necessary adjustments in their life for survival.

Though the Lord doesn’t have a stake in our material fortunes, He does take a personal interest when it comes to His devotees. For them, He is ready, willing, and able to provide and protect. Many thousands of years ago, the great sages living in the Dandaka forest knew this fact. At the time, they were being harassed by the Rakshasas of the world. Rakshasas are living entities with characteristics similar to those of human beings, except that they are demons by nature. They live off eating the flesh of others, including human beings. They are expert in black magic, and are committed atheists. The sages were all brahmanas committed to performing great sacrifices for the satisfaction of Lord Vishnu. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and Vishnu is His primary expansion.

“You are the ultimate recourse and asylum for us ascetics, who are aggrieved and have been searching for someone to save us from the assaults of the Rakshasa demons.” (Sages of Dandaka forest speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.12)

Lord Rama The Rakshasas were not only harassing the sages, but disrupting their sacrifices and killing them in the process. The sages were in dire need of help, so they turned to Lord Rama. Krishna had incarnated on earth as Lord Rama specifically to give protection to His devotees. Through a series of events, He, His wife Sita Devi, and His younger brother Lakshmana ended up roaming the forests for fourteen years. The sages took this opportunity to personally petition the Lord for His help. The above referenced statement was actually made by Lord Rama to Sita Devi, where He explained to her how the sages had approached Him.

Rama’s powers are unlimited. He was easily able to defeat the Rakshasas, killing their leader Ravana in the process. For God, such activities are mere child’s play. The lesson here is that we should always turn to God for all of our needs. He may not give us material benedictions, but He’ll give us something much more valuable; devotion. The point of human life is not to be successful economically, but rather to attain spiritual perfection. Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu, receive the special benediction of having loving attachment to God’s lotus feet. By approaching the Lord or one of His bona fide representatives, we can be assured of protection in the execution of devotional service.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Karma Phalam

Sita Rama “This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.14)

On a material level, every living entity has certain qualities that they inherit at the time of birth. There are generalities that are attached to each body type, but pure devotees of God transcend these qualities.

At its core, the living entity is a spirit soul, or jivatma. The jivatma is equal in quality to God, but different in quantity. For example, the jivatma can only exist inside one body at a time, while God exists everywhere in His impersonal Brahman expansion. Higher than Brahman is Paramatma; this is God’s expansion as the Supersoul residing in the heart of every living entity. Thus God is conscious of the activities of every living entity, whereas we are only conscious of things relating to our own body. The other difference between us and God, is that God can never be controlled by material nature. He is the Creator after all, so how can one of His energies be superior to Himself? The jivatma, however, is subject to the control of material nature which forces it to repeatedly accept new bodies after death. The actual type of body the jivatma is placed into depends on guna and karma. Gunas are material qualities or modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Every material activity can be classified into one of these three modes. Karma is fruitive activity, or work. Qualities and desires determine what type of body we receive at birth.

Though the gross material body is subject to creation and destruction, it nevertheless exists for a set period of time. The length of time the soul spends inside the body is known as one’s lifetime. Guna and karma fructify in the type of body we receive, meaning the body itself has certain qualities that it inherits. For example, the animal species are prone to certain activities which human beings would never think of doing. A hog loves to roll around in mud, eating stool. The dog loves to have sex as often as it can, not having any discretion in picking a mate. A dog doesn’t even proposition other dogs, but rather takes to sexual activity in an aggressive manner. Monkeys behave similarly. They love to run around, making noise, and they too are known for their insatiable appetite for sex. In fact, some people have even tried to acquire the sex glands of monkeys through surgical means, all in hopes of enjoying sex life to the fullest extent.

Lord Krishna The human being represents an elevated bodily form. It has the intelligence to understand that there is more to life than just eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Still, human beings are living entities after all, and the key component to life on earth is sex. In this regard, the human beings are no different than other species. Actually, as long as one continues to have desires to enjoy sex, they are forced to remain in this material world, repeatedly accepting temporary bodies composed of gunas. God has higher plans for us though. In the human form of life, He wants us to achieve the ultimate aim of material existence, that of returning back home, back to His spiritual world. This can only be achieved by becoming purely God conscious. One who shifts his desires from the material world to the spiritual, becomes eligible to break free of the effects of karma.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has definitively declared that one’s consciousness at the time of death determines their fate in the afterlife. This consciousness is developed over the course of our current lifetime and also previous ones. For example, if we engage in unrestricted sex life during our lifetime, we are more likely to think of sex at the time of death. The laws of karma are extremely fair, so the result will be that we will likely end up in the body of a dog or a monkey in the next life.

“The living entity in material nature thus follows the ways of life, enjoying the three modes of nature. This is due to his association with that material nature. Thus he meets with good and evil amongst various species.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.22)

Sita RamaDevotional service to God is different however. Karma-phalam refers to the fruits, or results, of one’s work. Every action we perform has a resultant reaction, or consequence. This is how karma works and it is very easy to understand. Devotional service, also known as bhakti yoga or bhagavata-dharma, is above karma. Karma-phalam does not touch the devotee. Karma refers to fruitive work performed on the material platform. One may work very hard to earn a nice salary, or one may perform pious deeds to earn good religious merits. Regardless, these are all of the material variety. The work is performed for a desired result. Even if one is unaware of the results of their activities, it doesn’t mean that they are free of karma. Through ignorance, a person can engage in vikarma, or that activity which results in negative consequences, i.e. sins. If one doesn’t know that murder is illegal, but still knowingly kills an innocent person, the law still holds them liable. In a similar regard, karma doesn’t necessarily take into account one’s knowledge, or lack thereof, of the laws of nature. The laws of karma are absolute, with one exception. The devotees working on the bhagavata-dharma platform do everything for the satisfaction of God. This means they have no desire for fruits. It also means they are above the platform of karma.

Sex is considered the highest form of material sense gratification. This is the primary reason for the living entities coming to and remaining in the material world. Wanting to falsely enjoy nature themselves, the living entities are allowed to take birth in various types of bodies. To allow human beings to enjoy sex, God created two genders, male and female. One is the dominator and the other is the dominated. Because of this, there are inherent qualities exclusive to each gender. Males are generally stronger, while females are weaker and thus known as the fairer sex. As far as attraction for a mate goes, women are generally drawn towards men of power and strength. The phenomenon of groupies is an outgrowth of this trait. Rock stars and other famous celebrities have no trouble finding beautiful female sex partners. Usually they have trouble limiting themselves to only one woman. Hollywood actors are always jumping from one girl to another, with divorce being quite common.

“Oh Rama, since the beginning of creation it has been the nature of women to stand by their husbands during good times, and to abandon them during adversity. Women imitate the insatiability of lightning, the sharpness of weapons, and the celerity of Garuda and the wind. But Your wife, Sita, is devoid of all these faults and, just like Arundhati Devi, she is worthy of being glorified. (Agastya Muni speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, Sec 13.5-7)

Sita Devi This isn’t to say that all women are groupies, but it is a natural tendency for a woman to look for specific traits in a man. This is basically what Agastya Muni is referencing in the statement above. He doesn’t mean to say that all women are bad and all men are good, but rather that they are different. Also he is trying to contrast the common traits of women to those possessed by Sita Devi. During the Treta Yuga, Lord Krishna appeared on earth in human form as Lord Rama. He accepted the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila for His wife. Known as Janaki, or Sita, she was beautiful, chaste, and ever devoted to Rama’s welfare.

On one particular occasion, Lord Rama was ordered to renounce ties to His kingdom of Ayodhya and live in the forest for fourteen years. Rama was the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, and He was next in line to be king. Due to His exalted status, both Rama and His wife lived a life of complete luxury. Rama was awakened every day to the chanting of Vedic hymns and the beating of mrdanagas. By renouncing the kingdom, Rama instantly went from being a prince to a pauper. As Agastya points out, Sita was free from any defects born of her gender. During this tumultuous time, she stood by her man with great courage and strength. Rama asked her to remain in the kingdom, but she steadfastly refused.

Forced to take His young brother Lakshmana and Sita with Him, Rama traversed the forests of India. He used the exile as an opportunity to visit all the great sages who had set up hermitages in the woods. Agastya was one such sage, and a very exalted one to boot. Upon meeting Agastya, the group all bowed before him and offered their humble obeissances. Agastya was quite astute however, and He knew full well Rama’s divinity. Amazingly, upon first meeting them, Agastya immediately took to praising Sita. This means that Sita’s devotion to Rama was well known throughout the world at the time.

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

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana visiting a sage According to standard societal etiquette, Agastya was the superior and Rama and His group were subordinates. Yet we see from Agastya’s statements that he viewed Sita as a superior. He declared that she was worthy of being praised as the most devoted of wives. The lesson here is that no matter what type of body we accept at the time of birth, we can transcend any and all material designations by taking to devotional service. Sita is the standard bearer for love and affection for God. As a woman, wife, mother, and devotee, no one can surpass her.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Righteous Path

Rama and Lakshmana “Even a guru becomes worthy of punishment if he becomes arrogant, cannot discern between what is to be done and what is not to be done, and goes astray from the path of righteousness.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.13)

Spiritual leaders are required in every society. In any group of people, there are natural divisions that exist based on qualities and work. According to the Vedas, the intelligentsia is referred to as the brahmana class, and they are the people to go to for spiritual guidance.

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, advise that society be divided up into four divisions, or varnas. The shudras are represented by the laborer class, or people who are untrained in any spiritual discipline. The vaishyas, or the mercantile class, are considered next highest since they have some spiritual education but still spend most of their time engaged in fruitive activity, trying to earn money. Kshatriyas are the warrior class who serve as the military and police. For this reason they are considered to be part of the upper class. The brahmanas are considered the first class citizens since they engage all their time in studying the Vedas, performing sacrifices, and providing spiritual guidance to the other three varnas.

Brahmanas are referred to as dvijas, meaning twice-born, since they are invested with the sacred thread. Similar to the concept of a communion or a bar mitzvah, those following the Vedic tradition take their second birth when they are invested with the sacred thread from their guru. Everyone’s first birth is the one they take from the womb of their mother. This is the beginning of life, but we still remain ignorant until we receive a spiritual education. When one decides to become a serious student of a bona fide brahmana, they are invested with a sacred thread which marks their initiation into brahminical life, or the brahmacharya ashrama.

Vishvamitra with Rama and Lakshmana The brahmanas are highly respected and loved by God. The Lord has personally displayed His affection for them on numerous occasions. When God came to earth as the pious prince named Rama, He accepted Vashishta Muni as His spiritual master. Rama was born in a kshatriya family that had Vashishta as its family priest for generations. Rama and His brother Lakshmana also took further instruction on the military arts from the venerable Vishvamitra Muni. The Lord’s behavior towards these great sages was exemplary. Rama was God after all, so He required no education, but He humbly submitted Himself to these saints just to set a good example. Another one of Lord Rama’s favorite saints was Agastya Muni.

As part of His pastimes, the Lord voluntarily accepted a punishment of exile from His kingdom doled out by His father Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana both accompanied Him during His exile period, a time which was spent mostly travelling across India, visiting the hermitages of all the great sages. It was customary during that time to find great brahmanas living in the forest, for that is where they could enjoy a simple, peaceful, life that was more conducive to making spiritual advancement. One time while the group was travelling through the forest, Rama went into a discourse about Agastya, describing his glories to Lakshmana. The Lord took great pleasure in lionizing the great saint, for He knew that Agastya was a pure soul devoted to Him in thought, word, and deed.

In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is talking to Rama just prior to their leaving the kingdom to start the exile sentence. Rama was actually supposed to be enthroned as the new king, but Dashratha had to change his mind at the last minute due to promises he had previously made to his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Rama took the change in plans in stride without raising any opposition. Lakshmana, on the other hand, was quite angered by the news. He was ready to personally install Rama as the new king and fight anyone who would object to such a decision. In this conversation, Lakshmana is trying to convince Rama to stay in the kingdom and ignore the order of their father. He is making the argument that even spiritual leaders, as great as they may be, should be chastised if they lose their sense of propriety. The original Sanskrit text of the first part of Lakshmana’s statement is quite famous, for it also appears in the Mahabharata, and is often referenced when describing unqualified gurus.

Examples of spiritual leaders falling down can be found all over the news these days. In general, the news media tend to stay away from issues of religion. Anytime they actually do cover it, their stories usually involve some sort of scandal where a high profile priest has acted improperly. In the 1980s, television evangelists were very popular. These preachers had high rated television shows where they would ask people to donate money to them as a means of attaining salvation. It later turned out that many of these preachers were tied to various scandals involving illicit sex and accounting fraud. These issues were so well known at the time, that many rock bands wrote songs about such preachers.

“Anyone who is supposed to be a guru but who goes against the principle of vishnu-bhakti cannot be accepted as guru. If one has falsely accepted such a guru, one should reject him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 8.20.1 Purport)

Lord Krishna According to Lord Krishna, a bona fide spiritual master or brahmana, is that person who is completely devoted to God. One may be a high religious scholar, knowing the ins and outs of the Vedas and how to perform various sacrifices, but that doesn’t mean that they are a devotee. Nefarious religious leaders fall down because they aren’t bona fide to begin with. According to the statement made by Lakshmana, one shouldn’t accept someone as a guru simply based on birthright. A person’s varna is determined by their qualities and the work they perform.

“According to the three modes of material nature (gunas) and the work ascribed to them (karma), the four divisions of human society were created by Me…” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Prahlada is a bona fide guru due to his devotion to God Even if one is a born in a brahmana family, they still have to undergo the proper training in order to be considered bona fide. Otherwise such people are known as dvjia-bandhus, or brahmanas in name only. It is a good idea to stay away from such people as they are likely to lead us down the wrong path. We simply have to be devoted to God, chant His holy names, and look at His beautiful face every day, and we will be on the right path.

“Whether one is a brahmana, a sannyasi or a shudra-regardless of what he is-he can become a spiritual master if he knows the science of Krishna.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 8.128)

According to Lord Chaitanya, if we become perfect devotees and try to persuade others to also become devotees by teaching them about Krishna, we will be acting as bona fide gurus regardless of what our social status is.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Enjoyer of Sacrifice

Lord Krishna “...I am the ritual, the sacrifice, the offering to the ancestors, the healing herb, and the transcendental chant.  I am the butter and the fire and the offering.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.16)

The material world consists of five gross elements: earth, water, air, ether, and fire, and three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and false ego. Of the five gross elements, fire plays a very important role in Vedic sacrifices. In fact, almost all major Vedic rituals and ceremonies are performed in the presence of fire.

Fire represents so many different things: heat, light, purity, etc. Fire burns things to ashes, eliminating their presence from the world. Fire serves as heat which is necessary for life to survive. Even in the modern age of great technological advancement, fire still plays a vital role in our everyday life. The internal combustion engine, considered one of the greatest inventions ever, serves as the catalyst for the major forms of transportation today. This combustion is in essence its own fire; a force so strong that it provides enough energy to start an automobile.

“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.9)

Prahlada Just as combustion is required to start a car engine, the reaction of fire and clarified butter, ghee, is required in order for Vedic sacrifices to bear fruit. The Sanskrit word for a religious sacrifice is yajna. The Vedas themselves give details on many kinds of yajna, but the most important ones are those performed for the satisfaction of Lord Vishnu. Though God has many different names and forms, His original form, adi-purusha, is that of Lord Krishna. Krishna’s direct expansion is Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu then expands Himself into other Vishnu forms, all the way down to the incarnations that appear on earth. Essentially Vishnu and Krishna are interchangeable as far as worship is concerned. When describing the nine processes of devotional service, Prahlada Maharaja mentions vishno-smaranam, which means remembering Lord Vishnu. Prahlada was a great devotee of God, and he used the terms Krishna and Vishnu interchangeably.

There are many different ways to worship Lord Vishnu, but in a formal yajna, there is almost always the presence of a fire. This fire sacrifice is known as homa, or havana. Those growing up in Hindu families are well acquainted with these fire sacrifices. A brahmana or pandita is called to the house and the participants then recite various Vedic hymns and mantras. To conclude the ceremonies, the major participants sit in front of a small pit where a fire is lit. Then after a specific deity is offered obeissances, the participants drop dirt into the fire and say, “Svahah”. Shortly thereafter, the ceremony ends and the fire pit is taken outside so as to limit the amount of smoke in the room. For those unfamiliar with Vedic traditions, this type of ceremony may appear strange, but each part of the process has a special significance.

In the Vedic tradition, there is only God but there are also many demigods who serve as Krishna’s deputies. A demigod is an elevated living entity possessing extraordinary powers. They are not God, but they are god-like. There is a specific demigod assigned to manage each part of the creation. People tend to think that God is directly engaged in every aspect of their life, but He usually is not.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.4)

On one level, everything is occurring through God’s direction, but this isn’t on a personal level. The material creation comes from Brahman, God’s impersonal effulgence. At the end of creation, everything then merges back into Brahman. So in this sense, everything is Brahman, meaning everything belongs to God. However, the Lord does not take a personal interest in the day to day affairs of living entities. Our planet is a sort of playground where the living entities can come and falsely enjoy. Issues of fairness are handled by the laws of nature, of which karma is the governing force. In this regard, Krishna does not have a direct stake in our karma.

“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)

Krishna and Arjuna The demigods are in charge of distributing the results of karma, or fruitive activity. If someone acts piously, the demigods are required to bestow boons. The opposite situation is true for those who act sinfully. The demigods perform their functions through their particular bodies. Since they are elevated living entities who are in charge of various parts of the material world, the demigods can take forms other than those of human beings. For example, the element of fire is actually governed by the demigod Agni. The earth is known as the demigod Bhumi, the moon as Soma, etc. This may seem like mythology or pantheism, but these are the actual facts provided to us by the Vedas. As human beings, it is impossible for us to take the form of fire, but the demigods are elevated living entities, so they can take forms that seem inconceivable to us.

“O sinless one, these irrepressible flesh-eating Rakshasas attack us during our performance of fire sacrifices (homa), or on other auspicious occasions.” (Sages of Dandaka forest speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.11-12)

Agni, as the fire-god, witnesses all Vedic fire sacrifices and distributes boons accordingly. His wife is Svaha, and she was promised a long time ago to be the first recipient of all oblations poured into a fire sacrifice. Homa is very important, especially when it comes to worshiping Lord Vishnu. Qualified brahmanas always perform these sacrifices with great care and attention. In the above referenced quote, the brahmanas of the Dandaka forest are describing to Lord Rama how the Rakshasas harass them during their fire sacrifices. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Lord Krishna who appeared on earth some five thousand years ago. The brahmanas, the priestly class of men, had taken refuge in the forest since the peaceful surroundings were more conducive to spiritual life.

Ravana Rakshasas are demons who are atheistic by nature. Sometimes the term atheist can just mean someone who is unsure of his belief in God, or someone who has not thought about the idea of religion on a deep level. These Rakshasas were more than just atheists; they were asuras. An asura is a devout atheist who believes in material sense gratification as the ultimate aim of life. Religious people are the biggest threat to asuras. Because of this, the demons target brahmanas and do everything in their power to disrupt their religious activities. During Lord Rama’s time, the Rakshasas were ascending in power due to the help of their leader, the ten-headed Ravana.

It is not surprising to see that these Rakshasas would attack the sages during the most auspicious religious occasions. The fire sacrifices for Lord Vishnu were the biggest threat to Rakshasas, for they knew that only God Himself could cause their downfall. Ravana had already defeated many great demigods in battle. Ironically enough, he had performed great austerities in order to please these same demigods. Unlike Lord Krishna, the demigods are required to bestow boons on anyone who adequately worships them. God, on the other hand, only gives His devotees what they need, which isn’t always necessarily what they want.

Lord Rama Ravana had acquired many boons during his ascendency, but he neglected the supremacy of Lord Vishnu. For this reason, the demigods went to the Lord and asked Him to come to earth, and He granted their wish by appearing as Lord Rama. While travelling the forest with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, Rama was petitioned by sages living in the Dandaka forest. They knew that only God could save them from the attacks of the Rakshasas.

Rama happily agreed to protect the sages. He and Lakshmana would go on to defeat and kill many Rakshasas, including Ravana. God always protects His devotees. If we engage in material activities, the Lord will let us do our business. Krishna is the supreme pure, meaning He is sinless. This is how the sages addressed Rama (anagha), for they knew He was above any material desires. Since the brahmanas were committed to performing fire sacrifices, Rama agreed to help them. This shows that God wants us to take up devotional service. If we are committed to performing activities for His benefit, God will take it upon Himself to protect us. He will make sure that our devotional service will be carried out to fruition.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Groundhog Day

Radha Krishna “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)

Groundhog Day is the holiday celebrated in America each year on the 2nd of February. Though not a major holiday by any means, the day is noteworthy for its relationship with winter. Groundhog Day is so named because every year in the city Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, the famous groundhog, Punxsutawney Phil, comes out of his burrow while throngs of people look on. Legend has it that if the groundhog sees his shadow, winter will continue for an additional six weeks. If he doesn’t see his shadow, winter will likely be cut short.

Groundhog Day The Groundhog Day celebration is so popular in Pennsylvania that Hollywood actually made a movie about it titled Groundhog Day. The movie stars comedian Bill Murray, whose character in the film, Phil Connors, is a weatherman for a Pittsburgh television station. He, along with two coworkers, go to cover the Groundhog Day event one year in Punxsutawney. Phil, the weatherman, is not too excited about covering the event, for he doesn’t see the need to travel so far and stand outside in the cold in the wee hours of the morning, waiting for the groundhog to come out. The movie gets interesting when Phil realizes that he is stuck in time, forced to repeat Groundhog Day over and over again. No matter what he does, every day he wakes up is the same. The same song plays on the radio, the same people walk along the same path in the streets, and it is always February 2nd, Groundhog Day. Everyone in the town is excited to the see groundhog, and no one has any recollection of the previous days which Phil has experienced.

Groundhog Day movie Not knowing what to do, Phil decides to try to use his predicament to his advantage. Knowing that the next day will be the same no matter what, why not try to enjoy each day as much possible? One day Phil decides to eat as much junk food as he wants to. He goes to a diner and stuffs himself on doughnuts and other pastries. After a few days of trying this, Phil moves on to trying to seduce women. He makes note of certain women and gathers facts relating to their lives on certain days, only to then use that information in his pick up routine on subsequent days. He manages to successfully seduce women, but even that isn’t enough. After a while, his attempts at sense gratification fail to bring him any happiness. Phil then feels bewildered. He wants a way out of this repetitive cycle, but doesn’t know what to do. Next he tries suicide. He tries to kill himself in all sorts of ways, but nothing works. No matter what happens, he still wakes up every day to Groundhog Day.

To properly convey the relation of this movie with Vedic teachings, we must give away the ending. Phil’s producer, Rita, played by Andie MacDowell, is there alongside him every day covering the Groundhog event. While seeking out Rita’s help in regards to his precarious predicament, Phil develops romantic feelings for her, but is unable to seduce her. He tries everything, from quoting French poetry, to talking about his love for children, and nothing seems to work. In the end, Phil learns to love Rita without any motive. He enjoys her company so much that he loses his desire for liberation from the cycle of repeated Groundhog Days. Instead, he just wishes to have Rita’s association and to love her with all his heart. His loving attachment for her makes him a better person overall. He turns into a good-natured person and befriends everyone in the town. Due to his love for Rita, he becomes a completely different person than the original crotchety weatherman who dreaded covering Groundhog Day. As a reward for his unalloyed devotion to the object of his affection, Phil is finally released from the cycle of repeated days. He wakes up one morning lying next to Rita, and it is February 3rd, the day after Groundhog Day.

Phil Connors Phil’s Groundhog Day is actually a microcosm of the experience our souls go through. The Vedas tell us that our identity comes from the presence of the soul in our body. When we refer to ourselves as “I”, we are actually referring to the soul and not the body. Our hands, legs, and even our property can be referred to as “Mine”, but we can’t take our identity from these things. “I” means aham brahmasmi, “I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of Brahman, God’s all-pervading expansive energy.” As spirit souls, we are pure in nature. Spirit is God’s superior energy, and matter is His inferior energy. This material world therefore represents God’s inferior energy. If we are superior in nature, how did we end up in the material world, where we associate with God’s inferior energy? Though we are equal to God in quality, we are different in quantity. God is the great soul, and we are His separated expansions. Since He is superior to us and since He creates matter, God can never directly associate with matter, or His inferior energy. We, on the other hand, have this flawed hankering to imitate God. Since there can only be one God, the Lord needed to create a playing field, an inferior place, for us spirit souls to come and act out our desires to be like Him.

The material world serves as the field for the material activities of the living entities. A living entity is a spirit soul which assumes a body composed of material elements: earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false ego. God is very kind to us. Since we want to imitate Him, He allows us to come here and assume material bodies and act out our desires. We get to stay here as long as we want to, meaning our desires dictate our future fortunes and misfortunes. Since our material bodies suffer the effects of time and eventually wear out, God gives us new bodies to play in when our current ones cease to function.

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

Lord Krishna This changing of bodies occurs at the time of death. Since the soul is eternal, it can never take birth, nor can it ever die. Our desires at the time of death, along with the work we performed during our lifetime, determine what type of body we will get in the next life. As long as there is some desire to remain in this material world and continue our imitation of God, we are forced to take birth again. So in essence, each life we live is in itself a Groundhog Day. The duration of our lives may be longer than one day, but our activities are more or less the same. We take birth, remain for some time, leave some byproducts, and then die. In our daily activities, we like to eat nice food, sleep on a comfortable mattress, have sex with beautiful men or women, and defend our property and wealth. In a sense, each day in our material life can be considered a Groundhog Day. If we spend one day pursuing sense gratification in one way, and spend other days pursuing the same sense gratification in other ways, there is actually no difference between the days.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.16)

The Vedas tell us that human life is meant for inquiring about God. The famous Vedanta-sutras start off with the aphorism, athato brahma-jijnasa, meaning “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or God.” Living entities don’t exclusively appear as human beings. Rather, there are up to 8,400,000 varieties of species, each tailored to specific qualities and desires. Human life is considered auspicious because human beings have the intelligence to realize their true identity and to also understand the repetitive nature of material life. One doesn’t have to be a Vedic scholar to realize that events in life repeat themselves. In general, most of society believes that success in life comes when you grow up to be self-sufficient and have enough wealth to maintain your bodily needs and wants. However, we see that the wealthy often don’t know what to do after they reach the top of their field. They realize that there is more to life than just material success, but they’re not sure what the “more” is. Even others who may not be wealthy also realize that death is guaranteed and that there must be a higher purpose for our being put on this earth. This search for higher knowledge often leads people to religion, and more importantly, to yoga.

Lord Vishnu Yoga today is commonly thought of to be a secular discipline consisting of various sitting postures and breathing exercises aimed at improving mental and physical health. While yoga certainly does provide these benefits, in its true definition, yoga means union of the soul with God. Since there are different ways to unite our soul with the Supreme Soul, the Paramatma, there are different yoga systems. Two of the more popular systems in the Vedic tradition are jnana yoga and hatha yoga. Jnana is the linking of the soul with God through analytical study of matter and spirit. The Vedas tell us that God can be realized in three primary features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. By engaging in philosophical study through the jnana yoga process, one can realize Brahman, God’s impersonal effulgence. Everything is Brahman. All matter and spirit, and creation as a whole, comprise Brahman.

Hatha yoga is the yoga that most of the world is familiar with, except that in its original form, it includes a spiritual dimension. Sitting postures and breathing exercises are not intended to bring health benefits, but rather to help curb the effects of the senses. When the senses are kept in check, one can focus on God’s expansion as the Supersoul, Paramatma, residing in the heart. Every living entity consists of two souls: the jivatma, which forms the basis of our identity, and the Paramatma, God’s expansion as an impartial witness. Hatha yoga aims to unite the jivatma with the Paramatma.

Both jnana yoga and hatha yoga are bona fide ways to connect our soul with God, and thus they both can provide liberation. However, this liberation is not perfect, and in many ways, is similar to the suicide methods attempted by Phil Connors in the Groundhog Day movie. The reason for this is that jnana yoga results in the merging of our soul with Brahman. Brahman is an impersonal effulgence, and anyone who merges into this energy, which is also known as the brahmajyoti, immediately loses their identity. Since it is the nature of the spirit soul to be active, souls that merge into the brahmajyoti are prone to be released back into material life. We actually witness this phenomenon with many great Vedantists. They perfectly execute jnana yoga and renounce all activities, taking the whole world to be false and Brahman to be the only truth. However, once they reach this exalted position, they crave individuality. Thus they fall back down to the material level and take to acts of philanthropy. Hatha yoga has similar pitfalls. It results in the merging of the soul into the body of Lord Narayana, God’s four-handed form. It is actually Lord Narayana who resides within the heart as the Supersoul.

Lord Krishna In the Groundhog Day movie, Phil Connors didn’t achieve success until he finally gave up his desire for liberation. It wasn’t until he developed a pure love for another living entity, Rita, and all his fellow man, that he was granted release. In a similar manner, we can’t achieve true liberation from the cycle of birth and death unless and until we develop a pure love for God in His personal form. As mentioned before, God can be realized in three distinct features, however, one of these features is superior to the others. God’s original form is that of Bhagavan, meaning the Supreme Personality of Godhead or one who possesses all fortunes. The Vedas tell us that the original Bhagavan is Lord Shri Krishna. Krishna also takes various personal expansions and incarnations classified as vishnu-tattva, which are also equivalent to Him. Real liberation can only come through worship of Bhagavan through the discipline known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti means love, so devotional service means serving God in a loving way, without any personal motive.

“Even though he is offered all kinds of liberation, the pure devotee does not accept them. He is fully satisfied engaging in the service of the Lord.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.29.13)

This is a key point. It is certainly a good thing to desire liberation in the beginning stages, for that is what is needed in order for us to turn our back on material life. However, in order to achieve perfection, we must eventually give up this desire for liberation and serve God in an unmotivated way. This pure love, Krishna prema, is not easy to achieve, but through steady practice of devotional service, we can be guaranteed of success.

“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy. Or he takes his birth in a family of transcendentalists who are surely great in wisdom. Verily, such a birth is rare in this world. On taking such a birth, he again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.41-43)

The beauty of bhakti yoga is that there is no loss on our part. If we fail to achieve success in our current lifetime, in the next life, we get to continue from where we left off. So how does one practice devotional service? There are nine distinct processes, but the most effective method for this age is the constant chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Bhakti yoga is an eternal occupation. Unlike with the liberation offered by other types of yoga, bhakti yogis, or pure devotees of Krishna, get to personally associate with Him on one of His spiritual planets. Therefore individuality remains intact.

“My dear Lord, if You like You can give me salvation from this material existence, or the privilege of merging into Your existence, but I do not wish any of these things. I do not want anything which diminishes my relationship with You as master and servant, even after liberation.” (Lord Hanuman, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 4)

Hanuman praying to Sita and Rama To achieve success, we simply have to follow the example of the great saints. Lord Hanuman is a perfect role model for everyone. A Vanara by birth, Hanuman got to personally associate with God in His form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago. Rama was so pleased with his service that he granted Hanuman eternal devotion to Him. For Hanuman, meeting God was the beginning of his spiritual life. To this day, Hanuman spends all his time chanting Lord Rama’s glories and reading about His pastimes, not desiring liberation in any way. This is the beauty of having a loving relationship with God. Every day is a brand new day, filled with new opportunities for experiencing transcendental bliss.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Destroyer

Lord Shiva “…At the end of the millennium, the Lord Himself in the form of Rudra (Shiva), the destroyer, will annihilate the complete creation as the wind displaces the clouds.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.10.43)

Scriptures of all major religions deal with the issue creation to some degree. The Old Testament of the Christian Bible deals with the beginning of time and which things were created in which order. In a similar fashion, the Vedas also detail the lineage of man and how the universe was first created. On the flip side of creation is dissolution; a topic not often broached.

Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva The Vedas tell us that the current creation isn’t the only one to have ever existed. Rather the universe is created and destroyed repeatedly in a cycle. Lord Krishna is considered the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and the first created being is Lord Brahma. Krishna manages the material world in the form of three guna avataras: Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Brahma represents the mode of passion, for he is deputed with creating everything in this material world, including begetting progeny. All human beings, and all other living entities for that matter, can trace their lineage back to Lord Brahma. He begets children, and in turn those children rule over the earth. Manu is considered the first man. Actually the term “man” has its origin in Manu, the progenitor of human beings. In the Bible there is the story of Noah and his arc, and in the same manner, the Vedas tell us that Manu survived the universal flood through the help of Krishna’s fish avatara, Matsya.

Each creation goes on for a full Yuga, which is millions of years. After this period expires, the world is destroyed by a universal fire caused by Lord Shiva. If one reads the Ramayana and other Vedic literatures such as the Puranas, they will find many references to this fire, which is often referred to as the fire of dissolution. It serves as a great reference point when trying to describe the intensity of someone’s weapon blast or some other calamity. “He released his arrows and the entire sky looked like the fire of dissolution.” Statements along these lines are found throughout the Vedas. So even people who lived along ago knew about how the creation would be destroyed. In fact, many great personalities of the past have actually witnessed the world’s destruction and lived to tell about it. Markandeya Rishi describes it in great detail in a conversation he has with the Pandava brothers. His description is found in the Mahabharata, wherein he tells of how the whole earth was destroyed and afterwards the only person he saw standing was Lord Narayana, who is Krishna’s four-handed form.

Lord Krishna Therefore we can take the statements regarding the destruction of the world as fact. One may wonder why the world has to be destroyed in the first place. The answer is that this material world and everything in it are temporary. Many scholars tend to think of this world as being false. Brahma-satya jagat-mithya is a common phrase uttered by transcendentalists, which means that only Brahman, the impersonal feature of God, is true and everything else in the world is false. Pains and pleasures are certainly real, but they don’t last forever, thus it is more accurate to describe the material world as temporary rather than false. Due to this fact, everything that is created must inevitably be destroyed. Where there is birth, there is death. This is guaranteed.

“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain…” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)

“What goes up, must come down” is another common phrase that describes this same principle. It is for this reason that Lord Shiva sets fire to this world at the appropriate time, destroying anything and everything.

Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna during the Treta Yuga. He came to earth in the form of a pious prince who was dedicated to the welfare of His father Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama was all set to be enthroned as the new king when, by the influence of Dashratha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi, the plans suddenly changed. Rama’s half-brother Bharata was instead chosen as the successor and Rama was at the same time ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years. Rama had three younger half-brothers, with Lakshmana being the one He was closest to. Just as Lord Vishnu, or Krishna, incarnated as Rama, so Lord Ananta Shesha Naga incarnated as Lakshmana. One will often see pictures of Lord Vishnu in Vaikuntha sitting alongside His wife, Goddess Lakshmi. They are usually found sitting on Ananta Shesha Naga, enjoying the protection of his unlimited hoods. Since he is God’s support in the spiritual world, he assumed the same role on earth as Rama’s brother.

Lord Rama had no problem with the new plans, for He wanted to maintain the good name of His father. During those times, kshatriya kings took honor and truth to be very serious matters. Once they promised something, they had to deliver it. Dashratha had promised Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing on a previous occasion, thus it was his duty, or dharma, to fulfill those promises. However, since Rama was his favorite son, someone he couldn’t live without, Dashratha seriously contemplated reneging on his promises. Lord Rama sensed this and thus quickly accepted the order so as to prevent Dashratha’s potential transgression of the rules of propriety.

Lakshmana All set to depart for the forest, Lakshmana was quite saddened and angry at the same time. He couldn’t believe someone would treat his brother this way. “How can the king do this? Rama has done nothing wrong. Everyone loves Him; even His enemies can find no fault in Him.” These were the thoughts that went through his mind. What a wonderful person. Lakshmana had not a selfish bone in his body. His whole life was dedicated to Rama’s welfare. Such a brother, and devotee for that matter, is very hard to find.

“Oh best of men (Rama), using my arrows I will make all of Ayodhya desolate should they turn against You. I will kill all those who side with Bharata or wish him well. During such a time, acting in a soft manner will only bring about disgrace. If our father, being instigated by Kaikeyi, turns out to be our enemy, I will imprison him, or even kill him, myself.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.10-12)

In the above mentioned statement, Lakshmana is boldly declaring his commitment to Rama. He is trying to coax Rama into taking over the kingdom by force. “Don’t worry my brother. You are the rightful heir to the kingdom. I will defend and protect You from anyone who objects to the idea of Your coronation.” Lakshmana was willing to fight even his father and other siblings. Now in reality there was no need for this since Bharata and Dashratha were equally as devoted to Rama. But Lakshmana’s mood of devotion is quite wonderful to see.

Lakshmana’s commitment to even destroy the entire city of Ayodhya with his arrows is rather noteworthy. Lakshmana is considered an incarnation of an expansion of Lord Narayana known as Sankarshana. Ananta Shesha Naga is an expansion of Sankarshana.  Sankarshana is almost equally as powerful as God Himself, thus he has every power to cause the same universal destruction brought about by Lord Shiva. For this reason, it is not a good idea to cross Lakshmana. God should be worshiped and adored, and most certainly not vilified or criticized. Lakshmana took great offense to the treatment shown His brother, thus we should pay careful attention to not offend God and His devotees in any way.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana Creation and destruction are guaranteed, for that is the nature of the material world. Besides the collective whole being destined for destruction, we as individuals will also suffer the same fate eventually. All our prized possession and family ties can be severed at any moment. For this reason, we should take up the process of devotional service immediately. If we become pure devotees of Krishna, we will gain the favor of Lakshmana. Just as he can destroy anything at will, Lakshmana can just as easily protect all the great devotees of the Lord. By gaining his favor, we can be assured that our souls will enjoy an eternal blissful life in the spiritual world after our time on earth is finished.

Sunday, January 31, 2010

Shape Shift

Lord Rama battling the demons “We sages are constantly harassed in the forest of Dandaka by the Rakshasa demons who wear different shapes at will. Only You can protect us, Oh Rama.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.10-11)

One of the more noteworthy characteristics of the modern day terrorists is the way in which they fight. Resorting to any means necessary to inflict pain and fear, the terrorists adhere not to any standard rules of warfare as adopted by the various international governing bodies.

The second great world war, World War II, saw many countries joining together and fighting for a common cause. Since the war involved so many different cultures and geographical boundaries, there were a set of rules adopted afterwards known as the Geneva Conventions. These conventions, along with the previously adopted Hague conventions, set the guidelines for how war should be fought internationally, how prisoners are to be treated, and how civilians are to be protected. Though consisting of a comprehensive set of rules, one of the primary stipulations of these conventions is that those engaged in fighting must wear identifiable uniforms. This not only helps fighters identify whether a fellow soldier is a friend or foe, but it also protects innocent civilians. Not all wars take place on battlefields anymore, a fact which has made those not engaged in fighting, the civilians, much more prone to attack. Standard rules of warfare exist primarily to protect the innocent.

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna The idea of adhering to a set of rules while fighting a war is an outgrowth of the original Vedic system. The Vedas are the first set of scriptures for mankind emanating from India. Aside from knowledge of the soul and its relationship with Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Vedas also provide detailed information on almost all material subjects, from math and science, to politics and war. In Vedic times, wars were fought by the kshatriyas, the warrior class. In the varnashrama dharma system, there is a specific group of people that is responsible for providing protection to the other members of society.

“Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kshatriyas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.43)

This isn’t an artificial designation, because kshatriyas naturally exist in any society. In America, the volunteer members of the armed forces are often lauded and treated with awe and reverence for their sacrifice. This is because most people would not be willing to do what they do, i.e. voluntarily put their lives on the line for the protection of their fellow man. Some people have a hard time grasping the fact that another person would be willing to do this. The Vedas fill us in on this secret by letting us know that the qualities of bravery, strength, and courage automatically exist in certain groups of people. Every living entity is born with a combination of the three qualities of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The qualities of a person are determined by their past karma, or fruitive activity. Our current life is not the first one we’ve had. Since the soul is eternal, it takes many many births in this world, accumulating karma along the way. Thus the kshatriyas acquire their penchant for protection at the time of birth.

The Vedas tell us that violence is necessary from time to time. Since everyone is born with different qualities, it means that not everyone will be nice and peaceful. Some people just won’t take to logic or reasoning. They turn to aggression to deal with their problems. When encountering an aggressor, violence is justified. There are many times when countries, states, and kings will have disagreements that can’t be solved through diplomacy. These disputes inevitably lead to war. In ancient times, these wars were common, and they were mostly fought under the principles of warfare delineated in the Vedic scriptures. In the famous Bharata War that took place some five thousand years ago, fighting would go on vigorously during the day, but at night, both parties would retreat to their camps. During these breaks, there was peace and both sides treated each other amicably.

Fighting and warfare took place as a sense of duty. For this reason, the general rules of warfare were adhered to. The concept is similar to how fighting goes on today in the sport of hockey. Hockey fights only take place when both players mutually agree to drop the gloves. Even then, there is a certain code of conduct. If one player falls down or gets seriously injured, the fighting stops. After the game, the fighting players generally act amicably towards each other.

In the modern age, advanced weaponry has skewed things a little. Fighting now takes place with bombs dropped from 50,000 feet in the air. War is also continuous now, for they don’t stop during the night hours. The Geneva Conventions and other rules were adopted to meet the demands of the changing times. The problem occurs, however, when people outside of the kshatriya class take to fighting. A kshatriya possesses the quality of passion. Yet when someone in the mode of ignorance takes to fighting, they see no need to adhere to the rules of warfare. The terrorists of today are an example of this. Any activity performed in the absence of knowledge and the absence of fruitive activity is considered in the mode of ignorance. Terrorists kill innocent people, including women and children, by blowing themselves up and others around them. In their minds, this is all done for religious purposes. Thus such activity represents the height of ignorance.

In the Vedic tradition, the Rakshasas were the equivalent of today’s terrorists. Also living in the mode of ignorance, Rakshasas were demons that lived off meat eating and intoxication. They were staunch atheists, so they viewed the devotees of God as their number one enemy. Ironically enough, the Rakshasas also believed themselves to be very religious. The Vedas are so comprehensive that they include sections targeted for people in each of the three modes of nature. This may seem strange on the surface. Why would God delineate a dharma for those in the mode of ignorance? The reason behind this is that even the unintelligent should be allowed to make spiritual progress. Even if someone takes to Vedic life for an impure motive, the idea is that they will eventually progress to the highest platform, love of God. This progression can occur very quickly or it can take many many lifetimes.

Ravana - leader of the RakshasasIn the case of the Rakshasas, they performed many great sacrifices to propitiate the demigods. Lord Krishna is the original God who expands Himself directly into His forms of Lord Vishnu and His various other incarnations. The demigods are Krishna’s chief deputies that manage the affairs of the material world. Their duty is to grant boons to anyone who pleases them, irrespective of the worshiper’s motives or personal characteristics. During the Treta Yuga, the Rakshasas, headed by Ravana, propitiated many demigods in order to receive great material rewards. They then used these boons to fight against the very same demigods. Along with terrorizing the demigods, the Rakshasas used to regularly disrupt the sacrifices of the sages living in the forests.

The kshatriyas are the second societal division, and the brahmanas are the first. Since they live in the mode of goodness, the brahmanas spend most of their time cultivating spiritual knowledge and worshiping Lord Krishna. In an effort to remove distractions to their service, the great sages would often choose to live in the forests where they could enjoy peace and quiet. The Rakshasas were so vile that they would hunt these sages down in the dead of night. Not only would they disrupt the sacrifices, but they would kill the brahmanas and then eat them.

The brahmanas weren’t completely helpless. Since they are expert at chanting mantras, they could have cast various spells of their own as a means of self-defense. There were two problems with this however. The first was that the Rakshasas wouldn’t always appear in their original form. These demons were so vile that they would change their shapes at will, sometimes appearing even in the guise of a sage. This is further evidence of their ignorance. Only a person without any decency or scruples would resort to such tactics. The other problem was that the sages did not want to lose their religious merit by casting spells on the Rakshasas. Brahmanas have the power to curse anyone but they are hesitant to do so since cursing someone means they lose part of their accumulated religious merits. On a material level, performing great austerities and pious acts enables one to accumulate spiritual merits. These merits then bear fruit in the afterlife with ascension to the various heavenly planets. However, if a brahmana casts a curse on someone, then these merits become exhausted.

Lord Rama Faced with this conundrum, the sages turned to God to help them. These events took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. At the time, Lord Krishna had descended to earth in human form as Lord Rama, a pious and noble prince. Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and His wife Sita Devi were roaming the forests as part an exile punishment handed out by Rama’s father, Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Seeing the Lord in their midst, the sages took full advantage of the opportunity. In the above referenced statement, Lord Rama is describing to Sita how the sages petitioned Him. In the end, Lord Rama would come through for them by killing many demons, including Ravana.

The lesson to be learned here is that we can always turn to God when we are in trouble. Sometimes we may be in trouble on a material level, so God may or may not help us. But if the issue involves the execution of devotional service, deliverance is guaranteed. That is the covenant of devotional service. If we purely love God and make service to Him the only objective in our life, He will most surely offer us His protection. Nothing makes the Lord happier than to see one of His children executing devotional service. In these instances, He takes it upon Himself to help the devotee, just as He did with the sages of the Dandaka forest.