Saturday, February 13, 2010

The Bodyguard

Rama and Lakshmana “By my truth, by my bow, by my acts of sacrifice, and by my acts of charity do I swear this to you, Oh queen. If Rama should enter a blazing fire or a forest, you should know for certain that I would enter it before Him.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.16-17)

Kausalya was the mother of Lord Rama, the incarnation of Krishna or God during the Treta Yuga many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya. Lakshmana was Rama’s half-brother, born to the same father as Rama, Maharaja Dashratha. During those times, the kings ruled not only India, but the entire world, and thus others often addressed them as mahipati. Dashratha had three wives as was customary during those times, and Lakshmana was born to Queen Sumitra, thus he is often referred to by the name Saumitra.

Lakshmana In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is addressing Kausalya and letting her know that if Rama were ordered to do anything painful, he himself would make sure to take the punishment even before it could be handed out to Rama. If Rama were ordered to enter a fire, Lakshmana would jump in first. If Rama were ordered to live in a forest, Lakshmana would lead the way, for he didn’t want Rama to suffer through anything by Himself.

As the eldest son of the king, Rama was the rightful heir to the throne. The king, however, decided to install one of Rama’s other younger brothers, Bharata, as the new king. This was quite out of the ordinary and took everyone by surprise, for all the arrangements had been made for Rama’s coronation. The change of plans only happened as a result of a request by Dashratha’s youngest wife, Kaikeyi. She was Bharata’s mother, and a fit of jealously overtook her upon hearing the news of Rama’s impending coronation. The king granted her two boons as a reward for helping him out during a battle with the asuras many years prior. She used the occasion of Rama’s coronation to cash in on those boons.

Bharata’s ascension to the throne was her first request. Dashratha didn’t like the idea, but he nevertheless went along with it. Kaikeyi’s second request was the kicker; the pièce de résistance. She asked for Rama’s banishment to the forest for fourteen years. Dashratha was so horrified by such a prospect, that he immediately lost consciousness and fell to the floor. He was never actually able to personally give these orders to Rama, for the mere utterance of the words would cause the king to lose his life. Rama came to know about the orders upon visiting the dejected king, who was watched over closely by Kaikeyi. “Oh Rama, Your father is too afraid to give You the bad news. He realizes that a king’s orders can never go in vain, and for this reason he’s unwilling to tell You that You have been banished to the forest”, were the words uttered by Kaikeyi.

Lord Krishna Rama took the news in stride, but Lakshmana wasn’t quite as accepting. From their childhood, Lakshmana was attached to Rama, His best friend and ever well-wisher. The two learned the military arts together, becoming expert archers. They took further instruction from Vishvamitra Muni, who imparted on them many sacred mantras capable of turning the arrows shot from their bows into nuclear weapons. These mantras would prove very useful in future in battles against Rakshasa demons. Pretty much no one except Kaikeyi was happy about the news of Rama’s exile. Kausalya, Rama’s mother, tried her best to dissuade her son, but it was to no avail. In the scene of the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is trying his best to get Kausalya to convince Rama to stay. Lakshmana was ready to mount a coup and install Rama as the king all by himself. He was ready to take on anyone who stood in their way, even Dashratha and Bharata. In actuality, there was no need for this since Bharata and Dashratha were equally as devoted to Rama, but it shows just how much Lakshmana loved his elder brother. In their youth, Lakshmana wouldn’t even eat unless and until Rama was by his side and had started eating. Thus we learn the proper eating etiquette that has since been passed down generation to generation. Prasadam, meaning “the Lord’s mercy”, is sanctified food or other items, that have been first offered to God. This is explained in the Bhagavad-gita where Lord Krishna says that since devotees eat yajna-shishta, or the remnants of food offered as part of a sacrifice, they become free from all sinful reactions.

Though God may not always be personally present before us as He was with Lakshmana, He is still kind enough to appear in the form of His archa-vigraha, or the deity. Those who are ignorant of the Vedic traditions mistakenly take deity worship to be idol worship, some pagan ritual concocted by the mind. In reality, worshiping the Lord’s deity is merely a way to serve Him in the same way that Lakshmana served Rama. It is a great practice followed by millions of devotees around the world for centuries. It fosters love for God in the heart, which is really the most important kind of love one can develop.

Lakshmana even threatened to enter a fire if Rama was so ordered. This was in reference to the practice known as the Sati rite, which has since been abolished. In the ancient Vedic tradition, it was generally considered a good thing if the wife died before the husband, for then she wouldn’t have to suffer the separation pains. In situations where the husband died first, the wife would often voluntarily ascend the funeral pyre of her husband as a way of showing her love and devotion. The husband and wife are considered one person, representing the tightest of bonds. By declaring that he would follow a similar tradition, Lakshmana showed how much he loved Rama. To completely tie your happiness and fortunes to another person represents the highest form of love. Lakshmana was a younger brother, so He required nothing from Rama. He was a servant, meaning He gave service to the Lord, never taking anything.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest Lakshmana insisted on coming along to the forest. This way, He could look after Rama and His wife, Sita Devi. This is the behavior exhibited only by devotees of God. They are so kind and compassionate that they never want to see the Lord put into any troublesome situations. Many people, out of jealousy, wish for bad things to happen to others. “Oh such and such person has too much, they need to be humbled. Oh this team has won too many times, I can’t wait for them to lose.” These are immature thoughts that aren’t exhibited by devotees. Bhaktas have the highest form of intelligence acquired through humble and submissive service to their guru and to God. If ever any doubts arise in our minds as to the proper course of action, devotees of the Lord, such as Lakshmana, are the people that we should turn to.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Vaishnava Authorities

Shiva Parvati and family “Hearing the verdict of Lord Shiva that the name of Rama is as good as a thousand other names of God, Parvatiji dined with her husband after uttering it only once.” (Ramacharitamanasa, Bala Kand, 18.3)

Lord Rama was an incarnation of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who appeared on earth many thousands of year ago. Coinciding with Rama’s appearance was that of His younger brother Lakshmana, who was an incarnation of Baladeva, who is a primary expansion of Krishna in the spiritual world. These two brothers served as protectors not only for the residents of their hometown of Ayodhya, but for the entire world. As a direct incarnation of Krishna, Rama can be thought of as God. The Lord is not exclusive to any particular region or group of people. God is for everyone.

Sectarianism is widespread throughout the world when it comes to religion. Aside from the existence of the major religions of the world such as Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, there also exist subdivisions of the same religions such as Protestants, Lutherans, etc. Even in India there are many different sects, all ascribing to different beliefs. Because of the variety of religious systems in existence, many people mistakenly believe that God Himself is a man-made creation. “If so many people came up with similar conceptions of God, they must have done so out of their own imagination.” This conclusion may seem plausible, but it is not correct.

Lord Krishna The Vedas are the oldest religious scripture in existence. Originally passed down through oral tradition in India, the Vedas represent complete and perfect knowledge of the Absolute Truth, or God. One of the first pieces of information we get from the Vedas is that we living entities are not our bodies. We are actually spirit souls at the core, but by taking birth in the material world, we acquire a body made up of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. These qualities are referred to as gunas in Sanskrit. These gunas account for the variations we see in species. Even in a particular body type, such as the human being, we see varieties in personalities, demeanors, and physical strength. These differences are all influenced by guna. So what determines the qualities with which we are born? The answer is karma, which is the other piece to the puzzle. Karma is fruitive work, which along with desire, determines our consciousness. The consciousness at the time of death determines our destination in the next life.

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

Since not every person has the same level of intelligence or aptitude for spiritual understanding, the Vedas are divided into different sections. The highest form of religion is known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Though technically considered a method of self-realization, bhagavata-dharma is actually the original occupation of every living entity. The other systems such as jnana-yoga, karma-yoga, and hatha-yoga are all meant to gradually elevate one to the stage of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Not every person who attends school will graduate, and in a similar manner, not every living entity who takes birth will take to devotional service right away. It is for this reason that God institutes varieties of religion, each tailored to a specific audience. The idea is that even the demoniac should have a dharma which they can adhere to.

“When the linking up process (of our consciousness with the Supreme Absolute Truth) is predominantly in fruitive activities, it is called karma-yoga, when it is predominantly empirical, it is called jnana-yoga, and when it is predominantly in a devotional relationship with the Supreme Lord, it is called bhakti-yoga.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.46 Purport)

Lord Shiva instructing his wife Parvati In India, we see that one of the largest sectarian clashes that occurs is that between devotees of Lord Shiva and devotees of Lord Vishnu, or Vaishnavas. The Vedas make it perfectly clear that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He has many forms and expansions, but only His vishnu-tattva expansions are considered to be as good as the original. Lord Vishnu is Krishna’s primary expansion, and from Vishnu come the various incarnations, of which Lord Rama is one. Lord Shiva is considered a guna-avatara, an elevated demigod who manages the mode of ignorance, or tamo-guna. There is actually no reason for any conflict between Shiva worshipers and Vishnu worshipers, because Lord Vishnu and Shiva have great love for each other. In the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas, Lord Shiva beautifully narrates the story of Lord Rama’s life to his wife, Parvati. In his narration, Lord Shiva makes it clear that he views Lord Rama as God. Lord Shiva has many specific characteristics, but his most notable one is his devotion to Lord Rama.

In this respect, pure Vaishnavas are actually better devotees of Lord Shiva than most of his other devotees. The reason for this is that Lord Shiva is generally worshiped by those seeking material benedictions. By definition, Shiva is required to give out boons to anyone who worships him purely. He actually didn’t covet this role, for he wanted to spend all his time meditating on the lotus feet of God. Lord Hari (Krishna) advised Shivaji to get married and to serve as a demigod for those in the mode of ignorance. For these reasons, Lord Shiva is one of the greatest servants of Lord Vishnu. Aside from worshiping Lord Krishna or Vishnu, Vaishnavas love and respect all other devotees of the Lord. Shrimati Radharani and the gopis of Vrindavana are adored for this very reason. The great Vaishnava acharyas and spiritual masters are all shown the highest respect. Since Lord Shiva is such a great devotee, Vaishnavas have great love for him.

“Lord Brahma, Bhagavan Narada, Lord Shiva, the four Kumaras, Lord Kapila [the son of Devahuti], Svayambhuva Manu, Prahlada Maharaja, Janaka Maharaja, Grandfather Bhishma, Bali Maharaja, Shukadeva Gosvami and I myself know the real religious principle. My dear servants, this transcendental religious principle, which is known as bhagavata-dharma, or surrender unto the Supreme Lord and love for Him, is uncontaminated by the material modes of nature. It is very confidential and difficult for ordinary human beings to understand, but if by chance one fortunately understands it, he is immediately liberated, and thus he returns home, back to Godhead.” (Instructions of Yamaraja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.3.20-21)

Prahlada Maharaja and Narasimhadeva Devotees love fellow devotees. This is actually part of Lord Krishna’s instructions to us. Krishna tells us that He is even more pleased if we show love and respect to His devotee than if we show the same love to Him. Historically, many of Lord Shiva’s worshipers have been great demons. There once was a famous demon named Vrikasura who worshiped Lord Shiva for the boon of being able to kill anyone simply by touching their head. Shiva was kind enough to grant this boon, and the demon repaid the favor by immediately chasing after Lord Shiva, trying to touch his head and kill him. This is the nature of the demons. They do whatever they have to to get what they want, and they show no gratitude afterwards.

During Lord Rama’s time, another great demon by the name of Ravana had ascended to power. A Rakshasa by birth, Ravana was also a great devotee of Lord Shiva. Ravana used his acquired boons to defeat many demigods in battle. The whole world was afraid of him, including the brahmanas living in the forest. During those times, many sages took to the woods to perform their brahminical duties. A brahmana is essentially a priest, someone whose full-time occupation is the studying of the Vedas and the performance of yajnas, or sacrifices for Lord Vishnu.

Rakshasas are the opposite of brahmanas. Their full-time occupation is intoxication and meat-eating. They are not particular as to what kind of meat they will eat, for they will even devour human flesh. Aside from living a sinful life, the Rakshasas were staunch atheists who viewed the brahmanas as the greatest threat to their way of life. For this reason, they were constantly harassing the sages living in the forest. The brahmanas could have cast their own spells on the Rakshasas, but then they would lose a lot of their accumulated spiritual merits. A brahmana is supposed to be dhira, or one who is self-controlled and sober. They are also supposed to be extremely tolerant and non-violent. If they were to attack the Rakshasas with their curses, they would be going against their prescribed duties.

“Thus we are being persecuted by the Rakshasas dwelling in the Dandaka forest. You and Your brother Lakshmana are the only ones that can protect us. In this forest, You indeed are our Lord.” (Sages of Dandaka forest speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.15)

Lord Rama With no other recourse, the brahmanas petitioned Lord Rama, who was roaming the forest at the time with His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. Rama and Lakshmana took birth in a kshatriya family, so their occupational duty was to provide protection to the rest of society. Since He appeared in the dress of a warrior, Rama had specific societal duties, but it should be understood that God is not required to do anything. In general, He views all living entities equally. Since, by default, almost everyone acts on the platform of karma, God lets nature take its course.

The Lord makes an exception for His devotees. For them, He takes it upon Himself to provide protection. This was the case with the brahmanas of the Dandaka forest. Not only did they ask Rama for help, but they fully surrendered themselves to both He and Lakshmana. The sages declared that Rama and Lakshmana were their masters. In the strict material sense, no one is higher than a brahmana. He is the most respected member of society. A true brahmana does not engage in the service of anyone except God. By voluntarily subordinating themselves to Rama and Lakshmana, the brahmanas gave us the perfect example of how one should surrender to God.

The pure devotee of Lord Vishnu is the wisest person in the world for one simple reason; he knows that God is in charge of everything. Not only does the devotee know that God is the supreme controller, but he has practically realized this fact through the surrendering process.

“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)

The brahmanas in the forest fully surrendered to God, and as a result, they were fully protected from the Rakshasas. Both Rama and Lakshmana would go on to kill many demons, including Ravana. Those two pious princes ended the suffering of the sages.

The only legitimate suffering is that which arises from one’s inability to perform devotional service. Material pains and pleasures come and go on their own, so that’s not why the sages petitioned Rama. Their life’s occupation, loving service to God, was what was in jeopardy. From their example, we learn that the only solution to life’s real problems comes from completely surrendering unto God. This surrender can be easily carried out by regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and executing devotional service in full faith. Rama and Lakshmana are eternal, and they always protect the devotees in every part of the world.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Most Famous

Lord Krishna“O Lord Krishna, please protect Me and maintain Me. O Lord Rama, descendant of King Raghu, please protect Me. O Krishna, O Keshava, killer of the Keshi demon, please maintain Me." (Chanting of Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 7.96)

Celebrities garner great attention from the press. Their day-to-day lives are covered in great detail, with paparazzi following their every move and clamoring for any attention they can get. Since celebrities are in high demand, getting access to them isn't always the easiest thing.

Movie stars are some of the most well known people in the world. Starring on the silver screen, actors appear in films that play in grand theaters across the world. Going to the movies is a unique experience. Unlike watching television, watching a movie in a theater requires one to make a commitment. When we watch television, there are natural breaks that occur due to commercials. Even when watching a DVD, the viewer can pause the movie at any time, or they can switch to some other activity. Movie theaters provide a different atmosphere. One buys a ticket and then settles into their seat, where they are forced to pay attention for at least an hour. While Hollywood movies generally run less than two hours, Indian movies run almost three hours. Most Indian movies that play in the theaters even have an intermission period.

Since focus and commitment are required of the moviegoer, an attachment to the actors can naturally develop. A viewer can be become engrossed in the story, really connecting with the characters and the lives they portray. When the movie ends, the bond between the movie watcher and the actor still lasts. For this reason, the actors themselves can become very famous, with fans wanting to see more and more of them. Fans might even want to follow the day-to-day affairs of their favorite actors or actresses as they are chronicled in famous tabloids and television news shows. In this way celebrities are born.

Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous This type of fame isn’t exclusive to thespians, for politicians and athletes garner great attention as well. The reason for their fame is quite obvious. In today’s world, most of us are taught from a young age that the mission in life is to become materially successful. “Go to school, get a good education, and then get a good job. This way you can always support yourself, have a nice home and family, and thus be happy.” Having this mindset, the average person tends to look up to or admire those who are already materially successful. Famous movie stars are extremely successful in a material sense, for they are both wealthy and famous. The American television show, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, showed everyone just how elegant a lifestyle the average celebrity leads. “Champagne wishes and caviar dreams” was the famous tag line used by the host of the show, Robin Leach. Famous celebrities are powerful and successful. Who wouldn’t be drawn to them?

The problem celebrities run into is that the happiness derived from their fame and fortune has limits. This is the inherent nature of all things material. According to the Vedas, the spiritual world is an eternal place full of bliss. The material world, though a reflection of the spiritual, is temporary and miserable. Anything temporary must be miserable, for even the good things must come to end. Celebrities may be rich and famous, but all of their material possessions must be given up at the time of death. Sure they may leave a nice legacy, but they have no way of enjoying it. Death means giving up everything related to the body. The spirit soul can be put into any type of body in the next life, all depending on qualities and work, or guna and karma.

Though celebrities enjoy massive fame and prestige due to their material successes, we see that they often fall down. Money doesn’t buy happiness. When the thrills of fame and fortune wear off, many famous people fall down and take to drinking, drugs, gambling, and illicit sex. Several famous athletes recently have been involved in extramarital affairs which have led to costly divorces. This proves that material success alone is not enough to make one happy and content. So essentially what’s the point in giving so much attention to celebrities, who although may be very nice, are nevertheless fallible human beings just like us?

Lord Krishna There is one person, however, who possesses wealth, fame, beauty, knowledge, strength, and renunciation to the fullest capacity. That person is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. No is one more famous than God. His name is always called out when people are in trouble. This is because people inherently understand that there is a supreme controller who is greater than everyone else. This is actually a fact. The Vedas tell us that Krishna is God. This is not just a sentiment; being God actually means something. It means that He is the controller, and we are the controlled.

“You are the Supreme Brahman, the ultimate, the supreme abode and purifier, the Absolute Truth and the eternal divine person. You are the primal God, transcendental and original, and You are the unborn and all-pervading beauty.” (Arjuna speaking to Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.12)

Material nature is but a small manifestation of one of God’s energies, yet He is still aloof from it. While nature, with its modes of goodness, passion, and ignorance, continues to baffle us, it cannot touch God in any way. Even when He descends to earth, His body remains completely spiritual. For the living entity, there is a difference between body and spirit. The spirit soul, or jivatma, remains intact at all times. There is no birth or death for the soul. There was never a time when the soul did not exist. The body is different however. It is subject to creation and destruction. We have evidence of this fact based on our own life experiences. The body we had as a child is completely different from the body we have as adults, yet our identity remains the same throughout. We may see baby pictures of ourselves and not recognize who we see, but we can never claim that the person in the picture is not us. Even though the body goes through the processes of birth, old age, disease, and death, the soul never changes. Our identity is eternal.

Hanuman offering prayers to Lord Rama The original nature of the soul is to be a servant of God. In the conditioned state, we become challengers to God. Working hard to accumulate material possessions and powers, we directly take on God’s authority. Such a challenging spirit will never make us happy. This is because no matter how hard we may try, we can never become God. If we could become equal to the Lord, then the very definition of God would become invalid.

"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." (Prayer of Lord Hanuman, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 4)

Many philosophers today actually propound the theory that man is God, and that the aim of life is to realize this fact. For argument’s sake, if this were indeed true, then how could God be put into this conditioned state of ignorance? The Vedas tell us that we are equal to God in the qualitative sense, but vastly inferior to the Lord in a quantitative sense. The Lord can never be subject to maya, or the illusory energy pervading the material world. In His ultimate feature, He is known as Bhagavan, which means one who possesses all fortunes.

God is the most famous person, and unlike with famous celebrities, it is not very difficult to meet Him. Though He is not always physically present before us, He can expand Himself into multitudes of forms. One of His expansions is His name.

"There is no difference between Krishna's body and Himself or between His name and Himself. As far as the conditioned soul is concerned, everything is different. One's name is different from the body, from one's original form and so on.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 17.132)

Lord Chaitanya and associates This concept is somewhat difficult to grasp at first. How can God and His name be non-different? It is a fact however, and one that can be proven. One can make a test by regularly chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and see if they feel any different. There are many Vedic mantras, but this one in particular is most effective in this age because it gives us direct audience with God. Krishna and Rama are authorized names of God, and Hare represents His energy. Chanting “Hare Krishna” means asking God to allow us to engage in His service.

Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation, inaugurated this sankirtana movement, which is the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. As a young sannyasi, Lord Chaitanya would travel across India, going from village to village chanting the names of Krishna.

krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! he

krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! he

krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! raksha mām

krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! krishna! pāhi mām

rāma! rāghava! rāma! rāghava! rāma! rāghava! raksha mām

krishna! keshava! krishna! keshava! krishna! keshava! pāhi mām

Chanting this verse, Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, known as Gaurahari, went on His way. As soon as He saw someone, He would request him to chant ‘Hari! Hari!’” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 7.96-97)

Lord Chaitanya showed by example that one only needs to constantly repeat God’s names in order to be happy. God is the ultimate celebrity. Just as a fan derives bliss from meeting their favorite movie star or athlete, the spirit soul assumes its original position of bliss and knowledge when in association with God. Krishna is so nice. Since He is the origin of everything, we can actually see Him everywhere. We can see Him in His deity form in the temple, in paintings and pictures, and even in other living entities. Yet He is so merciful that He doesn’t want us to settle with just seeing Him. As our ever well-wishing friend, the Lord wants us to meet Him. This can easily be done by chanting His name. Hare Krishna.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Right Attachment

Rama and Lakshmana “Oh queen, I tell you in truth that I am firmly attached, with loving devotion, to my brother Rama.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.16)

Every person has some sort of attachment, either for a person or for some activity. Our country, husband, wife, children, or even the sports we play are some of the more common things that we can have attachments to. While these attachments aren’t necessarily bad, the Vedas tell us that we should try to develop an attachment to the Supreme Lord instead.

Krishna and Mother Yashoda The material world is composed of five gross elements and three subtle elements. Earth, air, water, fire, and ether make up the material elements, and the mind, intelligence, and false ego comprise the subtle elements. It is the nature of the spirit soul to be active, thus the mind of the living entity is always taking it some place or another. In general, most people are involved in activities relating to sense gratification. The tongue and the stomach are the most difficult organs to control, thus the mind leads one to such sinful acts as meat eating and intoxication. We are all looking for sense pleasure, and if we find some activity that provides some temporary variety of it, we have a tendency to develop an attachment to this activity. This sense pleasure is only temporary, thus we have to constantly repeat our engagement in activities to reignite the feeling of happiness. The machine known as the body is in essence a deceiver, only giving us false sense pleasure.

“Hooked into this deceiver, need more and more. Into the endless fever, need more and more. New consequence machine, burn through all your gasoline…” (Metallica, The End of the Line)

Krishna and Arjuna The body and the senses are the ultimate deceivers since they keep telling us that we’ll be happy in this material world. We keep making plans and adjustments here and there, thinking that we’ll finally be happy. In the end, we are forced to give up our bodies at the time of death and then accept a new one based on the actions we performed in this life.

“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)

There are consequences to our actions which force us to accept new bodies in the material world. Sense gratification deceives us in that it never provides us eternal happiness, but rather forces us to repeat the cycle of birth and death.

These things are difficult to put into perspective since we live in the here and now. It may not seem like such a bad thing to have to take birth again, but there is no guarantee that we’ll come back as human beings. That makes it all the more difficult to break out of this repeated cycle. The only path towards salvation is to think of God at the time of death.

“Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; those who worship ancestors go to the ancestors; and those who worship Me will live with Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.25)

Rama and His brothers The human form of life represents an advancement over the the animals since we have a much greater level of intelligence. One should make the most of this opportunity by using their intelligence to develop an attachment for God. This was the path chosen by Lakshmana, the brother of Lord Rama. Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who is non-different from Krishna. In the spiritual world, Vishnu resides with His wife Lakshmi Devi and Ananta Shesha Naga. When He came to earth as Rama, Vishnu brought Lakshmi with Him in the form of Sita Devi, and Ananta Shesha Naga in the form of Lakshmana. Rama had three younger brothers, all sons of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha. Lakshmana was the one closest to Rama, for he was ever attached to Rama right from their childhood. Since they were sons of the king, Rama and His brothers grew up together learning the military arts. Lakshmana always followed Rama in everything. He wouldn’t sleep unless Rama was with Him. He refused to have His meals unless Rama ate first. Lakshmana’s love was completely pure and without motive. Simply hearing of his unflinching faith and devotion to Rama brings joy to the heart.

Rama and Lakshmana eating In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is declaring his love for his brother to Rama’s mother, Kausalya. Rama had just been ordered to leave the kingdom and spend fourteen years in the forest living as a hermit. This was ordered by their father, Dashratha, at the behest of his youngest wife, Queen Kaikeyi. Rama took the news in stride, but Lakshmana was quite outraged by it. Here he is trying to convince Kausalya to talk to Rama and get Him to remain in the kingdom. Lakshmana was ready to mount a coup and take on any enemies that opposed the coronation of Rama. His love was so strong that he knew no other form of dharma, or religiosity.

Men generally have difficulty expressing their emotions. They tend to prefer the path of chivalry, whereby they keep their emotions bottled inside. It is quite common for wives to complain that their husbands don’t say “I love you” enough. This has formed the basis of much stereotypical male-female humor. If they have difficulty expressing their love to their wives or girlfriends, one can only imagine how hard it must be for men to express their feelings to their brothers or male friends. Lakshmana had no such fear. He had no problem telling the whole world that he was attached to Rama.

Shri Rama Darbar This is the trademark characteristic of a bhakta, or devotee. God is the only hope and savior for the devotees. They put all their faith and trust in Him, and they are confident that He will deliver them from all calamities. This confidence removes all their fears, thus they boldly declare their love for God and always engage in His service. This was the path chosen by Lakshmana. He was a great archer, for He could conquer any enemy in battle. Yet this is not what he wanted to be known for. “I am a servant of Rama.” That is how Lakshmana wanted to be known and he had no problem declaring this to the world. He always remained by Rama’s side, through thick and thin. For this reason, He is ever worthy of our adoration and respect. We should follow his lead by developing an attachment for God. If we depend on Him for everything, we will be eternally happy.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The Sublime Engagement

Lord Krishna "Duties [dharma] executed by men, regardless of occupation, are only so much useless labor if they do not provoke attraction for the message of the Supreme Lord." (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.8)

Just as our ordinary material endeavors can bear fruits when executed properly, the performance of religious or pious acts can also lead to the acquisition of material benefits. Religious life is not all about punishing oneself for no reason. In the Vedic tradition, there are many different levels of religion, and on the material level, one can acquire great religious merit through the performance of sacrifices. Yet in the end, these material rewards, along with everything else in this creation, are only temporary. Therefore the aim of life should be to find a higher engagement which transcends the temporary nature of things.

Radha Krishna Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has been so kind to us that He gave us not only one system of religion, but many varieties consisting of sub-religions in a sense. The analogy to dictionaries is appropriate in this regard. One may purchase a very large dictionary which is complete with definitions of all the words of a particular language, or one may buy a pocket dictionary; something compact which serves as a handy reference. Though both dictionaries contain vital information, the larger dictionary is superior due to its completeness. In a similar manner, Krishna originally passed down the Veda to Lord Brahma, the first created living entity. Veda means knowledge, so what was imparted into Lord Brahma’s heart was the essential knowledge required for all of mankind. As time went on, the Veda then became divided into different sections and henceforth became known as the Vedas. With the onset of the Kali Yuga, the age we currently live in, many new religions came about, each tailored for the specific time and circumstances of society. The Vedas tell us that the first stage of religious life begins when one seeks out the three rewards of material life: dharma, artha, and kama. Dharma is religiosity, artha is economic development, and kama is sense gratification. These things go hand in hand. One acts religiously in order that they may procure enough money to enjoy sense gratification at a satisfactory level.

For those who strive for these material rewards, dharma takes a specific shape. As mentioned before, there are different sections of the Vedas, with one of them being the karma-kanda section. Karma is fruitive activity or work performed for a desired result. Karma also means that work which automatically has an associated material reaction. Just because we work hard for something, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t side effects. For example, we may work very hard to earn a nice living, but if we engage in sinful activity, we are bound to suffer the results. Lying, cheating, stealing, illicit connection with women, and so many other sinful activities go on all the time. In a similar manner, pious activities also take place. Engaging in this sort of life means that each one of our actions has a commensurate reaction, either good or bad.

Satyanarayana Katha The karma-kanda section of the Vedas delineates specific sacrifices and religious functions that one can perform for the procurement of material rewards. For example, if one wants to ascend to the heavenly planets in the afterlife, they can engage in worshiping various demigods, or they can perform specific pujas and other sacrifices. Those in the householder stage of life, the grihastha ashrama, are urged to perform many such sacrifices for the benefit of their family. Today one of the most common pujas performed by the householders of the Hindu tradition is the Satyanarayana Katha. Usually performed once a month, this puja grants a husband and wife the boons of a prosperous family life and good health.

In the classic Vedic system, such sacrifices are usually only performed by brahmanas. The priestly class of men, the brahmanas, have specific occupations they are allowed to take up. Yajana and yājana, the performance of sacrifices and the teaching of the performance of sacrifices to others are two of the main businesses of a brahmana. The definition of a brahmana is one who knows Brahman, the impersonal energy of God. Lord Krishna is the original form of God and He can be realized in three distinct ways. His first feature is that of Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. Bhagavan then expands Himself into the heart of every living entity. This expansion is known as the Supersoul, or Paramatma. The Paramatma then further expands into Brahman, which is the impersonal effulgence from which everything in the universe emanates.

“Although the Supersoul appears to be divided, He is never divided. He is situated as one. Although He is the maintainer of every living entity, it is to be understood that He devours and develops all. He is the source of light in all luminous objects. He is beyond the darkness of matter and is unmanifested. He is knowledge, He is the object of knowledge, and He is the goal of knowledge. He is situated in everyone's heart.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.17-18)

Maharishi Valmiki Brahman is the source of all things material and spiritual, thus one who knows Brahman knows how the universe operates. Brahmanas also engage in studying the Vedas and teaching Vedic knowledge to others. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, many brahmanas took to living in the forest, since the peaceful surroundings were more conducive to the performance of sacrifices. At the same time, the Rakshasa class was ascending to power. Living entities can take many forms based on their material qualities and their karma. There are up to 8,400,000 varieties of species. Rakshasas are demons by nature who live off eating flesh. In the human race, meat eaters only eat the flesh of certain animals, but Rakshasas are so vile that they feast on human flesh as well. Aside from engaging in meat eating and intoxication, the most notable trait of Rakshasas is that they are devout atheists. Not to be confused with people who may be unaware of religion, Rakshasas are staunch believers in material life, taking their bodies to be the beginning and end of everything. Since they believe so strongly in adharma, or irreligion, they view the brahmanas, the saintly class of men, as their biggest threat.

“By the powers gained through our performance of religious austerities, we are certainly capable of killing these Rakshasa demons. But at the same time we don’t want to waste our ascetic merits, which took such a long time to achieve, on these demons. Oh Raghava (Rama), these demons are always putting obstacles in the way, making it impossible for us to concentrate on our performance of austerity and penance. Thus we sages are being eaten away by the Rakshasas before we can even issue a curse on them.” (Sages of Dandaka forest speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.13-14)

Lord Rama Feeling threatened by the brahmanas living in the forests, the Rakshasas took to harassing them. They would regularly disrupt the sacrifices of the sages, killing them and then feasting off their flesh. The brahmanas weren’t completely helpless though. All Vedic rituals revolve around sound vibrations; the recitation of sacred hymns and mantras. A brahmana is expert in reciting these mantras. The sages of the forests easily could have cast various spells and curses on the Rakshasas using these mantras. Yet from the above referenced quote, we can see that the brahmanas were hesitant to use these spells because it would mean that they would lose their accumulated religious merits.

This is a key point to understand. Karma-kanda activities certainly bestow rewards, but they are temporary. In essence, the rewards have an expiration date on them. Even those acting completely in the mode of goodness, sattva-guna, are not guaranteed of eternal spiritual life. If one acts piously in this life, they ascend to a heavenly planet in the material world. But residence there is no permanent, and at the expiry of their accumulated merits, they fall back down to earth.

“Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice, seeking the heavenly planets, worship Me indirectly. They take birth on the planet of Indra, where they enjoy godly delights. When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.20-21)

If a brahmana, or anyone else, acts on the material platform and acquires religious merits, those merits eventually expire. Sometimes the boons come immediately, while other times they bear fruit way into the future, maybe even in another life. Regardless of when they are received, all such rewards are only temporary. There’s a catch that goes along with this. If one acts impiously, then their accumulated religious merits diminish. It’s similar to the concept of a see-saw, with a person’s accumulated merits and demerits on opposite sides. This was the fact referenced by the brahmanas when speaking to Lord Rama. A brahmana is supposed to be non-violent. Casting a curse on someone is not considered a good thing, especially for a brahmana who is supposed to be very tolerant. If one does cast a curse, their religious merits diminish.

The brahmanas didn’t want all their hard work to go to waste, so they petitioned Lord Rama to help them. At the time, Lord Krishna had incarnated on earth in human form as Lord Rama specifically to kill the Rakshasas and to protect His devotees.

“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)

Lord Rama and His pastimes Lord Rama didn’t advent just to protect ordinary brahmanas. There is a difference between a brahmana and a Vaishnava, or devotee of Lord Vishnu or Krishna. These brahmanas that approached Lord Rama were all Vaishnavas, and their austerities were being disturbed. It was for this reason that Rama agreed to help them. Devotional service, or bhagavata-dharma, is the eternal occupation of man. The Vedas refer to religion as sanatana-dharma, which, in its purified form, really means bhagavata-dharma. There are nine distinct process of devotional service, and the performance of any one of them gives rewards that far exceed any of those given by the performance of karma-kanda. Bhagvata-dharma is also referred to as bhakti yoga, the linking of the soul with God in love. We have experience that it can take a while to garner love for someone else, while other times it can happen instantly. Bhakti yoga is so nice because it can deliver love at first sight to those who engage in it. Unlike material rewards that have a shelf-life, love for God lasts forever. It can never be diminished or checked.

Lord Rama’s protection of the sages was proof of this fact. The Rakshasas tried to disrupt the loving service offered by the brahmanas. Yet in the end, God personally came to save the sages. Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana would end up killing many Rakshasas, including their leader Ravana. God protects those who take up the sublime engagement of devotional service. That is His promise to us.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Worth A Thousand Words

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana “Rama travelled in the front, with the beautiful Sita in the middle. Lakshmana, carrying his bow and arrows, followed them from behind.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 11.1)

This one passage paints one of the most beautiful pictures imaginable. Simply meditating on this one image can grant liberation from the repeated cycle of birth and death. Lord Rama is God Himself, and Sita and Lakshmana are two of His greatest devotees.

Lord Rama This passage is so wonderful because it exemplifies the loving relationship that exists between God and His devotees. For love to really fructify, it must be requited, or exist in both parties. If we have a great love for a paramour, but find out that the person doesn’t love us back, it causes one of the worst feelings in the world. These situations actually can’t be defined as love since there are no exchanges of feelings. Love with God is not like this, for it is always requited. This pure form of love is known as Krishna-prema.

“…prema can be defined as love of God without any expectation of exchange or return. Actually the words prema and love are not synonymous, yet one can say that prema is the highest stage of love. One who has attained prema is the most perfect human being.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Ch 13)

The Vedanta-sutras tell us that the Absolute Truth must be the source of everything. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead. He resides in the spiritual world, a place which is free of miseries. One of the spiritual planets is known as Vaikunthaloka, which means a place free of anxieties. This entire material universe, with its innumerable planets and solar systems, has its good and bad points, but in the end, everything here is temporary. Some philosophers believe that everything here is false, but it is more accurate to describe all things material as being temporary. This is because pain and pleasure does exist. If we get pricked by a pin, we cannot honestly say that it doesn’t hurt. However, this pain eventually goes away. Pains can be of a greater magnitude, such as diseases, but these are also temporary.

The Vedas tell us that the individual spirit soul represents our identity. Our gross material body is often mistakenly used for identification, but this body is subject to destruction. The only difference between a living body and a dead one is the presence of the soul. When we lament over a person’s death, what actually makes us sad is the departure of the spirit soul. The body remains, but there is nothing inside to give it life.

The original home of the soul is in the spiritual world, where it gets to interact with Lord Krishna in a way that is pleasing to it.

“Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purified by knowledge of Me-and thus they all attained transcendental love for Me. All of them-as they surrender unto Me-I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.10-11)

Radha Krishna Love in the spiritual world is completely pure and free from any defects such as lust. Since the Absolute Truth is the source of everything in the material world, what we know to be love is actually just a perverted reflection of the pure love that exists in the spiritual world.

In the spiritual world, the spirit souls have a pure love for God. However, upon taking birth in the material world, that love is forgotten. Material life is the antithesis of spiritual life. Deluded by the concepts of “I” and “mine”, the living entity falsely believes itself to be the proprietor of nature. This thinking is essentially a challenge to God. “I can provide for myself. I can work hard and accumulate great wealth and then be happy. I can save the world and also make others happy. I am responsible for my fortunes.” This flawed logic causes the living entity to remain stuck in the material world by repeating the processes of birth and death. God is very kind. If we want to stay here, pretending to be God ourselves, He will gladly facilitate such a desire. The Lord does not stand in our way. That is the true definition of independence. If He forced us to love Him, the resultant love would not be pure. True affection can only come about through independent action.

All hope is not lost however. Due to His causeless mercy, the Lord is kind enough to put stumbling blocks in the way of our karmic actions. This impeding force is known as maya, and she always thwarts our efforts to imitate God. On the surface, this appears to be a bad thing. “Why would God want to torture us? Why would He purposefully put stumbling blocks in place?” The first reason is that every living entity has desires. We may want something very much, but there may also be millions of other people who want the same thing. Thus there is a fierce competition for the accumulation of wealth and material fortunes. This inevitably leads to collisions, resulting in failure for many. In this regard, God is not to blame.

God allows maya to defeat us for another, more important, reason. If material nature kicks us enough, we are more likely to realize that God is the supreme controller, and that we can only be happy by serving Him. In this way, the actions of maya can turn out to be our greatest blessing. The shastras state that one cannot seriously take up spiritual life unless they have become disgusted with material life. The sources for these feelings of disgust can vary, but constant defeat in material endeavors can surely be taken as one of the primary causes. Those who are disgusted with material life are more likely to ask the question, “Who am I? Why did I take birth here? What is the meaning of life?”

This is precisely where spiritual life begins. The first aphorism of the Vedanta-sutras is athato brahma-jijnasa, meaning “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or God.” There are 8,400,000 varieties of living entities, but the human form of life is considered the highest because it represents the greatest opportunity for the spirit soul to return back to its original home. Human beings have a high level of intelligence. Man is so smart that he can figure out very quickly that he is mortal. Realizing this fact means one is more likely to act on it.

Radha Krishna The Vedas tell us that the meaning of life is to know and love God. Those who are materially inclined and, at the same time, unfamiliar with Vedic tenets often conclude that the meaning of life is to love. Fictional movies are written along these lines. There is a popular genre of movies known as romantic comedies, which deal with this very subject. The plotline for these movies is usually the same. There is a man or a woman who is unhappy or lonely in life. They meet the woman or man of their dreams and then do their best to secure a relationship. There are struggles along the way, but eventually the man and woman unite and live happily ever after.

The thought is certainly nice, but we see in real life that this type of love doesn’t always last. Often times couples fall out of love, which causes their relationship to end in a breakup or a divorce. The Vedas tell us the aim of life is certainly to love, but that the love must be of the pure variety. The only pure form of love is the one exchanged between God and His devotees.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

Lord Krishna enacting pastimes God personally comes to earth from time to time to enact pastimes, annihilate miscreants, and protect His devotees. By default, the Lord is neutral towards all living entities. Everyone wants to come here to pretend to be God, so in this regard, the Lord doesn’t play any favorites. The material world can be thought of as a playing field, with God overlooking as a neutral observer. The laws of karma serve as the fairness system. Material affairs are managed by God’s chief deputies, the demigods. The Lord makes an exception to His rule of neutrality for the devotees. For them, He is ready, willing, and able to protect and defend them at any cost. This is because the devotees don’t belong to the material energy. All activities can be categorized as being either material or spiritual. The living entities are actually part of the Lord’s marginal energy, meaning they have a choice as to which activities they want to engage in. Those living under the direction of karma belong to the material energy. The bhaktas, or those engaging in devotional service, belong to the spiritual energy. An added benefit of performing spiritual activities is that one is afforded all protection from God or one of His authorized representatives.

During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Lord Krishna came to earth in human form as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya. A pious and handsome prince, Lord Rama was an expert kshatriya warrior, known for His pleasing smile and strict adherence to dharma, or religiosity. As part of His pastimes, Rama accepted banishment to the forest for fourteen years. This order was handed down by His father, Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, both insisted on accompanying the Lord during His exile. The above reference quote describes how the trio travelled through the forest together.

Rama’s standing in front of both Sita and Lakshmana symbolizes God’s commitment to protecting His devotees. Though it appeared that Rama went to the forest due to the exile order, the real reason for the Lord’s advent was to protect the brahmanas living in the forests at the time. Brahmanas are considered the highest class in society because they are the priests. Their occupational duty is to perform religious activity and teach others how to make the most out of life in a spiritual sense. At the time, the brahmanas were being greatly harassed by Rakshasa demons, headed by their leader Ravana. Rama’s purpose in life was to kill Ravana and thus protect the sages in the performance of their sacrifices.

Sita Devi Sita Devi was Rama’s wife and a great devotee at the same time. She was famous throughout the world for her piety and chastity. Her father, King Janaka of Mithila, loved her so much that he held a grand self-choice ceremony, or svayamvara, to decide her nuptials. Lord Rama was the only person worthy of her hand in marriage. When Dashratha handed down the order of exile, Rama begged Sita to remain in the kingdom, where she would be protected. Among humans, forest life is meant only for ascetics since they already live an austere life. Sita was the most exalted princess, who was accustomed to regal life. Yet she refused to remain without Rama. She devoted her whole life to God, so she saw no pleasure in a life without Rama.

By taking her to the forest, Rama took full responsibility for her protection. God loves His devotees so much that He never wants them to suffer. For this reason, He always walked in front of her, making sure no one could attack. Eventually Sita would be kidnapped by Ravana, but this was part of the plan of the demigods, which allowed Rama to have an excuse to march to Ravana’s kingdom and take him on in battle.

There are many ways to judge someone’s character, but one of the easiest methods is to simply examine the friends someone keeps. If a person hangs around reprobates and people committed to sinful life, then it means that such a person must have a flawed character. The opposite situation holds true as well. A person who has friends that are of the highest character, must himself be a praiseworthy personality. When studying Lord Rama’s life, we can see that His associates were some of the greatest people who ever lived. Sita Devi was completely sinless. No one could find any fault in her. Though she was a woman who didn’t receive a formal education, her knowledge of dharma was perfect. No one could defeat her in an argument about religion or the proper code of conduct. And yet we see that such a great person completely surrendered herself to Lord Rama. The great saints in the Vedic tradition have also completely surrendered themselves to God. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, Vyasadeva, Narada Muni, Tulsidas, Prahlada, Janaka, etc. all surrendered themselves unto the Supreme Lord. They viewed Krishna as the ultimate savior. Therefore we can conclude that Lord Krishna is surely great for having such exalted people as devotees.

Rama and Lakshmana The other piece of the puzzle was Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother. God certainly loves His devotees. He will always protect them no matter what. But as stated before, for true love to exist, it must go both ways. The pure devotees don’t simply look at God as an order supplier. “God please give me this, give me that.” Instead, the bhaktas are ready to offer their service. This was the path taken by Lakshmana. As Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana easily could have grown up to be spoiled, expecting His brother to always take care of him. On the contrary, it was Lakshmana who always looked to protect Rama first. He also insisted on accompanying the Lord during His exile. He viewed Sita as his own mother, and Rama as his father. He proudly walked behind Sita, so as to protect her from the side opposite to Rama. The glories of a pure devotee know no limits. Not only did Lakshmana love Rama, but he loved anyone else who loved his brother. There was no competition or jealousy in that regard. Devotees are always happy to be in the association of other devotees.

Lord Rama didn’t require this service from Lakshmana, but He certainly appreciated it. He knows that the bhaktas derive transcendental pleasure from offering their services. For this reason, the Lord is more than willing to encourage the devotees to perform their activities. Some like to chant very loudly, while others enjoy writing books. Some devotees, like Lord Hanuman, love to fight on the Lord’s behalf.

Loving God knows no limits. Unlike with our material relationships which are often checked by forces outside of our control, the pure love exchanged between God and His devotees is unchecked and eternal in nature. Though it is very hard to achieve the same level of devotion as that possessed by Sita and Lakshmana, there is no harming in trying. There are no wasted steps in devotional service. The vision of Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana walking in the forest can be studied forever, since the pastimes of the Lord and His devotees provide us infinite amounts of wisdom. Anyone who keeps this divine image in their mind will surely attain spiritual perfection very quickly.

Befriending God

Lord Rama giving ring to Hanuman “…Since Lord Shri Ramachandra is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vasudeva, He is not attached to anything in this material world. He is the most beloved Supersoul of all self-realized souls, and He is their very intimate friend…” (Prayers of Hanuman, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.19.6)

God is generally neutral towards all living entities. Sometimes we lose sight of this fact due to events that we witness in our personal lives. Car accidents, earthquakes, and other tragedies can make us lose our faith.

The sight of a child battling cancer or some other terminal disease is quite painful to behold. The blood cancer known as Leukemia is quite common today and it affects mostly younger children. Other kinds of terminal diseases also hit people of all ages and at any stage of life. Some of us also have experienced the loss of a loved one due to an untimely death resulting from some accident or another. These tragedies can leave us wondering if there is a God, and if He exists, why would He let people suffer in this way. In actuality, we are all responsible for the things that happen to us due to our karma and the karma of other people. In essence, this material world is a giant playing field where everyone is competing with each other for fruitive gain. In the game of rugby, grown men battle each other over a ball, purposefully inflicting pain on one another. Karma has similar effects to our bodies. When the spirit soul comes to the material world, it must accept gunas, or material qualities. Inheriting the qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance to varying degrees, the living entity is placed in a suitable material body wherefrom they become free to pursue their desires. Karma means activity done for some type of fruitive gain. For example, many of us work hard all day at our job so that we can have a nice car, a big house, and other material pleasures. This is considered karmic activity since we are performing our duties with the hopes of receiving fruits.

Reincarnation Problems arise due to the fact that everyone has different desires, some being nobler than others. Since everyone essentially gets what they want and deserve, different karmas collide, which leads to good results and, at the same time, many tragic results. God actually has nothing to do with all of this. Lord Krishna is completely pure and free from karma. He kindly expands Himself as the Paramatma, or Supersoul, and resides in the heart of every living entity. The Supersoul is a neutral witness not responsible for the desires of the living entity. The material world is managed by the demigods, elevated living entities in charge of doling out material benedictions and punishment as well. Yamaraja is known as the god of justice, similar to the concept of the grim reaper. According to the Bhagavad-gita, the soul is eternal, which means that living entities never die, but rather give up their material bodies and accept new ones based on their karma. Whatever one’s consciousness is at the time of death, that consciousness will determine the type of body they receive in the next life. Yamaraja is in charge of determining whether one goes to heaven or hell and how long they stay there. Heaven and hell are both part of the material world, meaning that residence there is still temporary. At the expiry of a person’s good or bad deeds, the soul returns to the material world where the cycle of karma continues.

God makes an exception, however, for His devotees. Those who think of God at the time of death, meaning those whose only desire is to please the Lord and to have association with Him, are guaranteed to return to Krishna’ spiritual planets, wherefrom they never return. Unlike regular heaven and hell, resident in God’s spiritual world is permanent. Only those who are free from karma are allowed to live there.

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna Just as God is partial to His devotees in a loving way, He is equally as unkind to those who harass His devotees. He doesn’t like it when His devotees are treated unjustly, and in those situations He personally comes to earth to alleviate their suffering.

“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.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Devotees of God have a similar temperament. A sadhu, or saintly person, views every living entity equally, samah sarveshu bhuteshu. They have as much compassion for the ant as they do for their family members. Since they dedicate all their time to serving the Lord, chanting His name, eating His prasadam, and reading the Vedas, the devotees naturally acquire all good qualities. They understand that every living entity is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord and thus is worthy of respect. They make an exception, however, when it comes to the asuras. Since the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing battle between the daivas and the asuras. Daiva refers to a demigod or a devotee, since a pure devotee is considered just as great as a demigod. The asura, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of a daiva, for they are atheistic by nature, completely devoting their life to sinful activity. We see many such people today, for they love to eat meat, gamble, get drunk, and have illicit sex. Not happy with just living a sinful life themselves, they try to push this lifestyle onto others. The devotees are the biggest threat to their way of life, so they spend their time harassing them as much as they can. The modern day proponents of abortion and cow slaughter can certainly be classified as asuras.

Shri Rama Darbar During the Treta Yuga, which was essentially many thousands of years ago, an asura by the name of Ravana was harassing the sadhus residing in the forests. Though born of a brahmana father, Ravana was a Rakshasa from his birth and was committed to a sinful way of life. He knew that the brahmanas represented his biggest threat. So powerful that even the demigods couldn’t defeat him, Ravana’s downfall could only come through God’s intervention. Coming to earth in the the form of the greatest warrior prince named Rama, the Lord was all set to become the new king of Ayodhya and therefore become the Lord of earth. During those times, great kings were referred to as the Lord of earth since their jurisdiction spanned many countries. Rama was born in the family of the Ikshvakus, whose lineage traced all the way back to the first kings in human history. Due to some unforeseen circumstances, the Lord’s installation was disrupted, and He was instead ordered to leave the kingdom by His father, Maharaja Dashratha. Rama had no problem with the request, but His younger brother Lakshmana was quite outraged by it. Lord Vishnu came to earth as Rama and Lord Ananta Shesha Naga, the great serpent residing in Vaikuntha, came as Lakshmana. Ever devoted to Rama from his childhood, Lakshmana viewed himself as Rama’s protector. This is the mood of a perfect devotee. Rather than asking from God, a self-realized person offers their services to God.

“Oh best among men (Rama), on the strength of what law or reason does our father propose to grant this kingdom, which rightfully belongs to You, over to Kaikeyi? Oh chastiser of the enemy (Rama), where will Dashratha get the strength from to install Bharata as king? If there remains enmity with both You and myself, there will be no way for him to hand over the kingdom to Bharata.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.14-15)

Rama and Lakshmana In conjunction with Rama’s exile to the forest, Rama’s other younger brother, Bharata, was to be installed as the new king. This was all the work of Bharata’s mother, Kaikeyi, for both Dashratha and Bharata were equally as devoted to Rama as Lakshmana was. Lakshmana, however, was so devoted to Rama that he didn’t want to even think of anyone else. He viewed the whole situation with disgust and in the above referenced statement, he is trying to convince Rama to stay and usurp power over the kingdom. Lakshmana openly declares that no one should dare carry hostility towards Rama or himself.

This is a warning to all the asuras. Lakshmana is extremely kind, so nice that during their fourteen year exile in the forest, Lakshmana would stay awake at night guarding the sleeping place of Rama and His wife, Sita Devi. He was great friends with all of Rama’s fellow devotees, and He was loved and adored by all. Yet as nice as He was, He was equally as unkind to Rama’s enemies. Many a time the two brothers were involved in battles against Rakshasa attackers, and Lakshmana held nothing back while defending his brother.

If one goes against the devotees, the Lord personally comes to punish them as He did through His incarnations of Narasimhadeva and Lord Rama. If one goes against God, the devotees like Lakshmana also personally come to punish them. The Lord and His devotees go hand in hand, so it is in our best interests to worship and respect them both. The Lord and His devotees are so kind that one needn’t have any hostility towards them. One way to measure God’s greatness is by looking at the company He keeps. We can only imagine how great Lord Rama is, for He has someone as wonderful as Lakshmana for His closest confidante, protector, and well-wisher.