Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Spiritual Hut

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana in the forest “Then, making an offering of flowers and performing customary rites to ensure the peacefulness of the home, Lakshmana showed the hermitage he built to Rama.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 15.25)

In this passage from the Ramayana, we see that Lakshmana has just built a hut for Rama, Sita, and himself to live in. The trio was travelling through the forests of India at the time and they needed some type of housing to stay in. Lakshmana worked very hard to make Rama, who was God Himself, happy. In this way, he showed us what the real purpose of a home is.

Shri Rama Darbar The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that everything in this life is meant to be used for serving God. Naturally, this includes the home. To survive in this world, a person needs a few bare essentials. These include food, water, clothing, and shelter. Though these are bare essentials, we see that many people try to increase the quality of these four things. The Vedas tell us that simple vegetarian food is enough to live off of. Not only is it easy to produce and inexpensive to purchase, this type of food doesn’t require unnecessary violence towards innocent animals. Many people mistakenly believe that animals don’t have souls. Yet we see that an animal engages in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, just as we humans do. As soon as the life force, the soul, exits the body of an animal, its body becomes useless. This is also how the human body works. In fact, an infant, or small child, often has an intelligence level equal to or even less than that of an animal. We would never be foolish enough to think that an infant doesn’t have a soul. In the same way, it is incorrect to say that animals aren’t living entities.

Lord Krishna Eating vegetarian food means we don’t have to cause unnecessary harm to animals that aren’t bothering us. Vegetarianism is recommended for another reason. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tells us that He accepts flowers, food grains, milk, or water to eat. In the Vedic tradition, devotees offer food to God in His form as the deity. Though appearing to be made of wood or stone, the deity is completely spiritual in nature. It is God’s incarnation, for being the Almighty means the Lord can take any form He chooses to.

Aside from adhering to a simple diet, regulation and moderation in the areas of clothing and shelter are important too. The fashion industry survives on people’s desire to constantly buy new clothes so as to keep up with the times. Magazines and television shows fill us in on what’s hot in fashion, and what all the celebrities are wearing. In reality, once we reach adulthood, we have no reason to ever buy new clothes. For children, buying new clothes makes sense because they are always growing. For adults, unless our clothes wear out, there’s really no reason to ever go shopping. Nevertheless, we see that shopping malls are continually packed, especially during the Holiday Season. Variety is the key to enjoyment, so buying new clothes gives a temporary feeling of material enjoyment.

Housing is an area which has seen great improvements over the past one hundred years. In days past, people would primarily live near bodies of water and in warm climates. This made sense because there would be both drinking water and a place to regularly bathe. Living in a warm climate area meant that food could be grown almost year-round and that families wouldn’t have to worry about heat for the harsh winter. With the modern petroleum based economy, people can pretty much live anywhere now. In the United States, the northeastern section of the country is heavily populated, even though they go through some of the harshest winters. When the Pilgrims first arrived here in the 1600s, they had great difficulty in surviving their first winter. Today, with oil and gas heat, living in a cold weather city is not a problem.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.7)

These advancements should take away many of the issues related to finding an appropriate home to live in. Things aren’t that simple, however. The mode of passion is very strong. Its most lasting effect is that it causes one to have unlimited desires. Finding a nice home with a steady source of heating and water is not enough. There are many others issues to consider now when buying a new home. We may want a garage, a washer/drier room, a spacious kitchen, enough rooms in the house to host family and other guests, etc.. Cooling is another issue. The hot summer months can be very uncomfortable. The invention of the air conditioner has brought great relief from the heat. So now when buying a home, people often look for central air conditioning systems, whereby the entire house can be kept at a set temperature regardless of the outside weather conditions.

All these issues are undoubtedly important, for the home is where the heart is. But from Lakshmana’s example, we see the true purpose for a home. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga. As part of His pastimes, He accepted an exile punishment from His father, King Dashratha of Ayodhya. Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, and His wife, Sita Devi, both accompanied Him during His exile. Lakshmana loved Rama so much that He couldn’t stand to be without Him for a minute. Lakshmana was a faithful servant and a first class devotee of God. About ten years into their exile, the group made their way to the woods of Panchavati at the advice of the famous Agastya Rishi.

Lakshmana Reaching Panchavati, Rama asked Lakshmana to build a nice cottage for the group to live in. The fearless servant, Lakshmana, went to work and, after building a beautiful hut, he showed it to Rama. Lakshmana didn’t build the hut for his own pleasure. He was perfectly content staying awake every night and guarding both Sita and Rama as they slept. He took great care in building the hut simply for Sita and Rama’s pleasure. This is the mood of a pure devotee. He is always eager to serve the Lord. He views everything in this world in the context of God and service to Him. We too can easily follow Lakshmana’s great example.

“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.47)

Radha Krishna deities A home can be used to worship God. Generally, people who are religiously inclined visit temples or churches to offer their prayers to God. This makes sense because temples exist for this very reason. People go there to see God and to hear about Him. But visits to the temple are not meant to be the end of spiritual life, but rather the beginning. Lord Krishna tells us that those who always think of Him will return to His spiritual abode at the end of their current life. Thus the aim of human life is to adjust our activities in such a way that we are always thinking about God. The temple is a great place to start, but the end-goal should be to reach a point where we always feel like we’re inside a temple.

The easiest way to achieve this feeling is to always chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting, by itself, is good enough to bring spiritual perfection. However, over the course of many lifetimes, we have accumulated a multitude of sins. In this age of Kali especially, we have taken up many bad habits such as intoxication, gambling, meat eating, and illicit sex life. To keep from falling down from the spiritual consciousness, the great acharyas advise that we try to always engage in devotional service. An easy way to do this is to dedicate our homes to God. In most Hindu families, one will find an altar for Lord Krishna or one of His direct expansions, such as Lord Vishnu or Lord Rama. Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu, offer prayers and worship at this altar at least twice a day. Deity worship can be very complicated but, in its simplest form, it includes arati. The lighting and waving of a ghee lamp, accompanied by the chanting of Vedic hymns, essentially defines what an arati.

Hanuman worshiping Lord Rama As we advance in our practice of devotional service, we can add on to this process of deity worship. Just as chanting to ourselves is enough to give us perfection, chanting out loud can induce others to become perfect devotees as well. The sankirtana movement is based on this principle. One doesn’t need large musical instruments to perform kirtana, for they can simply sit in front of a deity in their home, chant out loud, and have others clap along.

The idea is to use the home as a place of worship. This is how Lakshmana viewed the cottage he made. “Sita and Rama will be very happy here. I will defend them at all times. This hut will always remind me of my Lord.” This is how devotees should view their homes. We should use everything at our disposal for God’s service. The home is a great place to start. If the Lord feels welcome in our home, we are guaranteed to feel spiritual bliss at all times.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Like a Fish Out of Water

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana “O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)

Each person is born with specific qualities, or gunas as they are referred to in Sanskrit. The presence of guna and karma is what defines the material world. In the Vedic texts, sometimes God is described as nirguna, meaning without attributes, and sometimes as saguna, meaning with attributes. Every living entity possesses gunas, but God never does. When He descends to earth and takes a human form, He may be described as saguna, but that doesn’t mean that His body is material. It is a grave error to think this way. God is never conditioned in the way that we are. In the spiritual world He is sometimes described as nirguna because He has no set material form, but He is still a person nonetheless.

When the living entities come to the material world, they accept gunas based on their karma. Based on fruitive desires and work performed in the past, a spirit soul is put into an appropriate body. The three gunas are sattva (goodness), rajo (passion), and tamo (ignorance). Just as when we mix various chemical elements together in different proportions we can produce varying compounds, so the infinite combinations of gunas combine to create the various 8,400,000 species.

A person inherits specific characteristics based on the type of body given to them by nature. For example, the aquatic species have gills, meaning they can only survive in the water, whereas human beings are meant to live on land. Penguins have a body suitable for living in colder climates; birds can live on tree branches since they can fly high in the sky, and so on. This is all part of nature. There is nothing anyone can do to change these realities, though human beings have spent a lot of time trying. We invested much time, energy, and money in space exploration, but the Vedas tell us that this is all a waste of time. If we want to go to the moon or the sun, or anywhere else in space, God will happily give us a suitable body for such purposes. We needn’t try to travel to these places in our present bodily form because such efforts will always prove to be futile. Man has gone to the moon, but only after building large spacecrafts. There is nothing natural about a man living on the moon or any other planet except earth. In a similar manner, man doesn’t need to try to fly, for birds already have that capability. God specifically gave us this human form of life so that we could use it for the highest purpose, that of knowing and loving Him.

Lord Rama God has incarnated hundreds of thousands of times; actually too many times to even count. From the authoritative scriptures such as the Puranas and Mahabharata, we get an idea of some of the primary incarnations. One of them was Lord Rama, a pious prince who took birth as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Dashratha was part of a long line of chivalrous kings descending from Ikshvaku, one of the first kings in history. Rama was dedicated to dharma and possessed a flawless character; He was loved and adored by all the citizens. In each incarnation, the Lord performs specific pastimes, referred to as His lila, to teach a lesson to His devotees. One such pastime was Lord Rama’s acceptance of a fourteen year exile period handed out by Dashratha. Coming on the eve of His would-be coronation as the new king, Rama took the news in stride and prepared for His departure without much fanfare. His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana, however, didn’t take to the news very well. Lakshmana was quite outraged and begged His brother to remain in the kingdom and overtake the throne by force.

Not willing to do that, Rama left for the forest along with Sita and Lakshmana. Early on in their journey, Rama started to lament the plight of His father and mother, so He asked Lakshmana to return to the kingdom and take care of them. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is responding to Rama’s request by boldly declaring that both he and Sita could not live without Him, for they would be like fish out of water living in a kingdom devoid of Rama.

These are qualities exhibited by only the most advanced devotees. A bhakta, or devotee, dedicates their life completely to God. While most of us look for happiness in the areas of sense gratification, economic development, or ritualistic religious performances, devotees abandon all these things in favor of direct service to God. He is their only hope and savior, for they know that God is the reservoir of all pleasure. Life with Him is pure bliss and anything else is pure misery. Bhaktas reach an advanced stage of consciousness where they can only think of God at all times.

“Both of you, husband and wife, constantly think of Me as your son, but always know that I am the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By thus thinking of Me constantly with love and affection, you will achieve the highest perfection: returning home, back to Godhead.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Vasudeva and Devaki, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.3.45)

Krishna with His parents Being God conscious is actually the constitutional position of the spirit soul but, through contact with material nature and God’s illusory energy known as maya, the living entities become bewildered into thinking only of material sense gratification and forgetting about God altogether. Material life means always making plans. “I will eat this type of food from now and that will make me happy. I will avoid this particular activity because I am getting very bored of it. I will buy such and such technological device and that will make life so much easier.” These are some of the plans we make, but none of them ever pan out. We are always left wanting more. It’s not our fault since that is how nature is supposed to act. Maya is always throwing things in our way, foiling our every plan because that’s actually what we want. Maya says, “Okay, you want to make new plans? Fine. I will keep throwing obstacles in your way so that you can do just that. After all, isn’t that what you want?” If we could be truly happy in this material world, we would never need to make any plans or adjustments.

Our real position is that of servants of God. God is great and, bereft of His company, we are anything but great. He is the master and we are the servant. He is the fire and we are the sparks emanating from that fire. These are some of the ways the Lord is described in the great Vedic texts. Our real home is in the spiritual world with God. The spiritual planets of Krishnaloka and Vaikuntha are where we are meant to stay. That is where the Lord resides in His original form and also in His various expansions. There are other heavenly planets, but they are all part of this material world, meaning residence there is not permanent. Those who go back home, back to Godhead, never have to take birth again.

“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. And anyone who reaches it never comes back to this material world." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.6)

Hanuman - the perfect devotee Just as fish struggle when taken out of water, we living entities struggle in this material world without God. That is the essence of what Lakshmana is saying. “Don’t leave us in the kingdom without You. We can never be happy in Your absence.” Lord Rama eventually acquiesced, allowing Lakshmana and Sita Devi to accompany Him during His exile period. While travelling in the woods together, Sita and Lakshmana were as happy as they had ever been. This is because they were executing devotional service directly in the presence of the Lord Himself. Later on, even in Rama’s absence, Sita Devi managed to survive the toughest of circumstances by always keeping her mind fixed on the lotus feet of Rama. By following in the footsteps of great devotees, we too can make the best use of a bad bargain. By always thinking of God, chanting His names, reading His books, and worshiping His deity, we can survive any material condition. In the spiritual world, God is constantly being glorified and worshiped by His pure devotees. If we can create the same environment here, our minds can swim in an ocean of bliss.

Thursday, February 18, 2010


Krishna avataras “The avatara, or incarnation of Godhead, descends from the kingdom of God for material manifestation. And the particular form of the Personality of Godhead who so descends is called an incarnation, or avatara. Such incarnations are situated in the spiritual world, the kingdom of God. When they descend to the material creation, they assume the name avatara." (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.263-264)

The uniqueness of God’s incarnation as Lord Rama was His dedication to dharma, or religiosity. The Lord appears on earth periodically, each time for a specific purpose. Each avatara exhibits specific qualities and traits which appeal to different groups of people. All incarnations share one thing in common; they appear to give protection to the devotees.

Lord Krishna There is a class of pseudo-transcendentalists who don’t believe that God can appear on earth. The Vedas tell us that God can be realized in three distinct aspects, with one of them being Brahman, or the impersonal effulgence. Brahman is also described as the Absolute Truth since it is non-different from God. It is the all-encompassing energy. Everything material or spiritual can be thought of as Brahman. Yet in the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells us that the Paramatma, or Supersoul, is more a complete feature than Brahman.

“The Supersoul is the original source of all senses, yet He is without senses. He is unattached, although He is the maintainer of all living beings. He transcends the modes of nature, and at the same time He is the master of all modes of material nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.15)

Still, the Paramatma is not the ultimate source of everything. It is merely an expansion of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhagavan is God’s original form who is known by various names such as Krishna, Ishvara, Achyuta, etc. Bhagavan is a person, an individual just like us. We are equal to God in quality, but far inferior to Him in quantity. God is great, and we are His subordinates. Yet many atheists and impersonalist speculators take Brahman to be the Supreme Absolute Truth, the beginning and end of everything. For this reason, they don’t believe that God can personally appear on earth. Rather, they believe that everything merges into Brahman at the time of universal dissolution, and then releases again when the next creation commences. Yet Lord Krishna definitively states in the Bhagavad-gita that He appears on earth from time to time in His personal form.

“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 Krishna is so smart that He knew that many would consider Him to be an ordinary human being. For this reason, He made sure to mention these people in His teachings to His dear friend and disciple, Arjuna.

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

Birth of Krishna We see that this is certainly true, for there are many fools who take to either criticizing Krishna or to labeling Him as a prophet. The Vedas tell us that Krishna is unequivocally God Himself. Since the Vedas represent the ultimate authority, one must accept the statements contained within.

“…The last class of duskritina is called asuram bhavam ashrita, or those of demonic principles. This class is openly atheistic. Some of them argue that the Supreme Lord can never descend upon this material world, but they are unable to give any tangible reasons as to why not.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 7.15 Purport)

This material world isn’t meant to be our permanent home. The question may then be raised, “Why are we here?” One can ask the “why” question an unlimited number of times until they reach a point where the question can no longer be answered. This is because the mind itself is part of the material creation, meaning its capacity for knowledge and intelligence is limited. By definition, something is considered material if it is temporary and flawed. Everything in this world is subject to creation and dissolution. This is why the first teaching of the Vedas is aham brahmasmi, “I am a spirit soul”. Though we may think otherwise, our bodies are temporary, for they must be given up at the time of death. Yet our souls are eternal, meaning they are completely spiritual in quality.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.20)

God created this material world so as to allow the spirit souls to enjoy false proprietorship over nature. Since God is so great, He has many imitators. Those who want to pretend to be God are allowed to take birth in the material world. Of course we can never be God since He is infallible, achyuta, and we are not. Therefore this world is a place full of miseries, dukhalayam.

In general, God is neutral towards every living entity. This is because, by default, we all act on the platform of karma, or fruitive activity performed with desires. “I act in a certain way because I expect a certain result.” This is the basis of karmic activity. Since everyone else also acts in this way, not all desires can be accommodated. There are bound to be collisions. For this reason, we see both good and bad results to our actions. God is completely aloof from such activity. The material world is a sort of playing field, with the demigods serving as the umpires or referees. A referee has no stake in the game; his only duty is to make sure the rules are properly adhered to. The demigods, God’s chief deputies, handle all issues of fairness as they relate to karma.

Hanuman performing devotional service God makes an exception to this rule of neutrality for His devotees. This is because devotional service is also known as bhagavata-dharma. Dharma is religiosity, or occupational duty. It is defined as such because the Vedas tell us that religion is not meant to be some flickering belief system, but rather it is mankind’s duty. The spirit soul, jivatma, is by definition subordinate to God, so its inherent duty is to act solely for the Lord’s pleasure. Those acting in this way are engaging in bhagavata-dharma. Bhagavan is one who possesses all fortunes, and bhagavata is a conjugation of Bhagavan, meaning that which is associated or connected with God. Bhagavata can refer to the book, Shrimad Bhagavatam, or to the devotee. Because devotional service is above karma, God takes an interest. The Lord makes sure to protect those who sincerely engage in His service. Usually He sends His authorized representative, the spiritual master, to come and help the devotees, but on special occasions, the Lord personally appears.

One such appearance occurred during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Taking birth as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya, Lord Rama was God Himself in the guise of a pious prince. Dashratha belonged to the exalted Ikshvaku dynasty. The sun god, Vivasvan, is one of the most important demigods in the Vedic tradition. His son was Manu, the first man on earth. Manu’s son was Ikshvaku, who served as the first king of earth. Thus Lord Rama took birth in the solar dynasty, famous around the world for its dedication to dharma. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others and this was certainly the case with Dashratha’s eldest son. Rama was loved and adored by all, even by the miscreants He would punish.

Events of the Ramayana The details of His life and pastimes are described in the famous Ramayana, written by Maharishi Valmiki. One of the major events in Rama’s life was His exile from the kingdom of Ayodhya. His younger brother, Lakshmana, and His wife, Sita Devi, both accompanied Rama during His fourteen year exile period in the forest. At the time, many great sages had taken to life in the forest since it was more conducive to the cultivation of knowledge and the performance of religious sacrifices. The Rakshasa demons had also risen to power at that time due to the strength of their leader, the ten-headed Ravana. Rakshasas are atheist by nature, so they viewed the sages as their greatest enemies. This is true not only of Rakshasas, but of all committed atheists. They cringe at the mere mention of God or religion. They take aggressive steps to root out religion from all areas of life.

“Indeed, I can renounce my own life, or even You, O Sita, along with Lakshmana, but never my promised word, especially those promises made to brahmanas.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.18)

The Rakshasas of that time were quite brutal. They would not only disrupt the sacrifices of the sages, but they would also kill them and feast on their flesh. God appeared as Lord Rama specifically to give protection to the sages and to kill Ravana and his band of Rakshasas. In the above referenced quote, Rama is describing His dedication to the brahmanas. The sages of the Dandaka forest had humbly approached Rama to ask for protection, and the Lord agreed to take up arms in their defense. Sita was concerned that Rama was maybe running the risk of committing unjustified violence. To allay her fears, Rama explained that He and Lakshmana were duty-bound to always give protection to the saintly class.

Rama’s comparing His love for the brahmanas to His love for Sita and Lakshmana is noteworthy. Sita and Lakshmana were so exalted that they were allowed to accompany Rama during the exile. None of the other members of the kingdom were this fortunate. Lord Rama easily could have said that He would never renounce the sages, but such a statement may not have been so believable. Everyone in the world knew how much He loved both Sita and Lakshmana. By stating that He would renounce either one of them before going back on the promise he made to the sages, the Lord stressed just how much He loves His devotees who surrender everything to Him.

Lord Krishna stealing butter Lord Rama is best known for His dedication to piety and dharma. When God personally appeared as Lord Krishna in the Dvapara Yuga, He didn’t always abide by established dharma. His advent was more intended for giving pleasure to His devotees in Vrindavana. In actuality, God’s activities can never be classified as adharma, since He is the very definition of virtue. The rules of piety and righteousness only exist to provide a way for people to understand God. By themselves, mundane pious acts are actually meaningless. Only when they are dovetailed with service to the Lord or the cultivation of spiritual knowledge do these acts become meaningful. Nevertheless, Krishna appeared to break many rules, and also many promises. Since Krishna was more dedicated to enacting pleasurable pastimes, and Rama more dedicated to abiding by dharma, there are often debates as to which appearance was better. In the end, they are both the same one and only God, so it’s really just a matter of personal taste.

“Being freed from attachment, fear and anger, being fully absorbed in Me and taking refuge in Me, many, many persons in the past became purifled 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, Bg. 4.11)

Lord Krishna’s ultimate instruction in the Bhagavad-gita is that if one surrenders to Him, He will protect them from all sinful reactions. This is the most important thing to understand. Those who take this instruction seriously will have nothing to fear. God will always protect His surrendered devotees, just as He protected the sages of the Dandaka forest.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

At Your Service

Lakshmana “Oh Rama, for as long as You shall stand before me, even if it be for one hundred years, I will always remain Your servant. Therefore You should be the one to choose a beautiful and appropriate place for the cottage. After You have selected a spot, please then command me to start building.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 15.7)

Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, uttered these words in response to Rama’s request that he build a hut in the forest of Panchavati. Lord Rama was God Himself. Along with His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana, Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. When God appears on earth, He performs various pastimes which are referred to as His lila. Though Lord Rama lived for thousands of years, some of His most celebrated lila occurred during His time in the forest.

Panchavati cottage Rama chose Lakshmana to build the hut for a few reasons. Someone needed to protect Sita while the hut was being built. Even today, the wilderness is not completely safe for human beings. Wild animals are lurking around every corner. Rama, being the husband, wanted to provide unflinching protection to His wife. Also, Lakshmana was more than capable of building a hut. Both Rama and Lakshmana were born in a kshatriya family. In the Vedic system, society is to be divided into four groups, or castes, based on one’s qualities and the work they perform. The modern day Hindu caste-by-birthright system is famous throughout the world, but the original system was never meant to be based on a person’s family heritage.

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

Maharishi Valmiki Lord Rama was born into a very pious kshatriya family. The first division in the varnashrama-dharma system is the priestly class of men known as the brahmanas. The divisions prescribed by the Vedas aren’t artificial. In any society or large group of people, there are bound to be some who are more prone to seeking higher knowledge. Generally referred to as the intelligentsia, this group has certain qualities that enable them to think on a higher level. The brahmanas are similar in this regard, except that they seek the highest form of knowledge, Vedic wisdom. Veda means knowledge, and the original Vedas themselves represent the eternal truths of life. This is because Vedic wisdom comes directly from God, who imparted knowledge of the Self into the heart of Lord Brahma, the first created being, and this knowledge has been passed down ever since.

Brahmanas are peaceful by nature. Their high level of intelligence tells them that violence is not necessary in most cases since the gross material body is temporary, whereas the soul is eternal. The brahmanas spend all their time trying to please the soul. The second division of society, the kshatriya, is deputed with providing protection to everyone. We see that kshatriyas also naturally exist in society. Police officers, firefighters, and volunteer military men are all kshatriyas in spirit. Yet the Vedic definition of a warrior is a little different. War, fighting, and general protection should be provided in accordance with the shastras, or religious law codes. Rama and Lakshmana were both born into a very pious kshatriya family, known as the Ikshvakus. According to the genealogy of man provided to us in the Vedas, Manu was the first human being to appear on earth. In fact, the word “man” is derived from Manu. Manu’s son was Ikshvaku, who served as the first king on earth. As the first ruler, he was completely pious. The Manu-smriti, or the Laws of Manu, give step-by-step instructions for rulers to follow. Lord Rama’s father was Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya, and a direct descendant of Ikshvaku. All the rulers in this family were chivalrous and well-respected throughout the world.

Rama and brothers learning from their guruThough Rama and Lakshmana were born as kshatriyas, they couldn’t be considered great warriors simply off their high birth. A varna, or caste, is determined by one’s occupation. Just as one cannot be considered a doctor without receiving the proper training, one cannot be considered a brahmana, kshatriya, or vaishya without receiving an education from a guru, or spiritual master. For their education, Rama and His three younger brothers humbly served their family priest, Vashishta. We see in schools and colleges today that most teachers specialize in certain subject areas. We may have one teacher for math, and another for science. The unique qualification of the gurus during Vedic times was that they were expert in all subjects. Brahmanas not only could teach others how to become brahmanas, but also could provide training for kshatriyas and vaishyas. One of the duties of a brahmana is that they become learned Vedic scholars, pathana. The Vedas contain complete knowledge on all relevant subjects. They give guidance not only on how to know and love God, but on other areas as well, such as how to properly defend, how to run a business, how much to tax citizens, etc.

Rama and Lakshmana Rama and Lakshmana were fortunate in that they had two gurus. The venerable Vishvamitra Muni provided them further training in the military arts. Though Rama was God Himself, He set a good example by accepting a spiritual master. Since God is the all-powerful, He can perform any activity with any part of His body or with any object. Still, as a kshatriya warrior, Rama’s weapon of choice was the bow and arrow. Vishvamitra imparted special mantras unto both Rama and Lakshmana. By uttering these sacred and confidential mantras, the arrows shot from their bows would have a potency similar to that of a nuclear weapon. This shows the greatness of a guru who is a product of the Vedic system.

While traveling in the forest, Lord Rama asked Lakshmana to built a hut, for He knew that His brother was more than capable. Similar to how the Boy Scouts of today teach members how to survive in rugged conditions, the spiritual masters of the past would teach students how to survive in the forest. Being properly taught by both Vashishta and Vishvamitra, Lakshmana had no problem building a great hut out of whatever materials he could gather in the forest.

The reply to Rama’s request shows how great Lakshmana’s love for his brother was. It also teaches us an important lesson. Lakshmana mentions that even if he were to spend another hundred years with Rama, that he would still remain his servant. Lakshmana was an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, the faithful servant of Lord Narayana in the spiritual world. Lord Ananta Deva assumed the same role when He came to earth as Lakshmana, for Lord Rama was the very same Narayana in human form. The Vedas tell us that the meaning of life is to know and understand God. There are many methods of self-realization such as ashtanga-yoga, buddhi-yoga, karma-yoga, etc., but one method is considered superior. That method is bhakti-yoga, which is also known as devotional service.

Lord Vishnu lying on Ananta Shesha Naga Followers of bhakti-yoga are referred to as bhaktas, meaning those who love God. Lakshmana was a bhakta of Lord Rama, and his statement proves that bhakti-yoga is an eternal occupation, something never to be given up at any time. All other inferior methods of self-realization have an end-goal. For example, the impersonalist philosophers have a desire to merge into God’s impersonal effulgence known as Brahman. These philosophers take Brahman to be the beginning and end of everything, even though Lord Krishna Himself declares that He is the original source of Brahman. Nevertheless, through renunciation of activity and study of Vedanta, these philosophers work very hard to merge their existence into the Brahman effulgence.

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.5)

Lord Kapila instructing His mother Buddhists have a similar mindset, though they completely deny the existence of God. They hope to nullify all activity and one day reach a state of complete void, known as nirvana. Even among those who believe in the personality of Godhead, there are many who desire to merge into the Lord’s body. The followers of the Patanjali yoga system desire to merge into Lord Narayana’s body. In His expansion as the Paramatma, or Supersoul residing in the heart of every living entity, God appears in His four-handed form of Lord Narayana, or Vishnu. Thus the personalist meditators try to concentrate on this form.

“A pure devotee does not accept any kind of liberation—salokya, sarshti, samipya, sarupya or ekatva—even though they are offered by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Lord Kapila, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.29.13)

Though difficult to perfect, these systems can certainly bring success to some. However, the benefits are short-lived. This is because it is the inherent nature of the spirit soul to want individuality. We are all the same on a spiritual level because we are all spirit souls, part and parcel of God. Yet just as we all have different material desires, there are differences in spiritual desires as well. When a soul merges into Brahman or Narayana, it eventually wants to regain its identity. Thus it is thrown back into material life. We see evidence of this with many great Mayavadis. They work very hard to realize Brahman, but then they eventually fall down and again take part in material activities such as philanthropy.

Devotional service is different. The Vedas define religion as sanatana-dharma, meaning the eternal occupation of man. Since the soul is eternal, it makes sense that it would need an occupation to engage in. That occupation is devotional service, or pure loving service to God. A famous radio talk show host in America often exclaims that he was born to host his radio show and that his audience was born to listen. In a similar manner, God is meant to rule, and the spirit souls are meant to be His servants. This is the natural order of things; a situation where everyone is completely happy.

Lord Nrishmadeva and Prahlada The material world represents the opposite situation. Here everyone thinks themselves to be God, assuming responsibility for their own fortunes and misfortunes. We do have independence in that we can choose how our senses will interact with material nature, but, in the end, it is God and His energies that decide what happens. Karma is the ultimate system of fairness, and something we have no control over. Since it is unaffected by karma, devotional service is our way out of this material world. Also known as bhagavata-dharma, devotional service is the original occupation of man. Unlike the other methods of self-realization, it has no end. When one becomes a pure devotee of God, his love never stops.

“O my Lord, I am Your unmotivated servant, and You are my eternal master. There is no need of our being anything other than master and servant. You are naturally my master, and I am naturally Your servant. We have no other relationship.” (Prahlada Maharaja speaking to Narasimhadeva, SB 7.10.6)

Lakshmana’s behavior was a perfect example of the eternal nature of love for God. He was a pure devotee right from birth. As a child, he wouldn’t eat his meals unless Rama was with him. This kind of devotion is very rare, for sibling rivalries are quite natural. It is usually not until adulthood where brothers and sisters start to get along well. In childhood, it is customary for brothers and sisters to compete with each other for attention and affection from parents and other family members. This situation never existed with Rama and Lakshmana. Lakshmana remained devoted in adulthood, all the way to the end of his life. The beauty of devotional service is that one can achieve perfection even before they quit their present bodies. The term jivan-mukta refers to one who is liberated while in their present body. This isn’t a utopian concept, but a reality for pure devotees. Since love for God is something that never stops, one who has achieved pure love during their lifetime is considered to already be liberated.

Rama and LakshmanaSo how do we become devotees? Lakshmana shows us the way. In His words directed to Rama, we see Lakshmana’s eagerness to serve God. He was anxiously awaiting orders from the Lord. When we want to help or serve someone, we just love having them ask us to do something. When a man is sick, it is often seen that a wife or mother will pester him with requests. This is because the devoted wife is eager to please her husband, especially when he is in distress. Children are often the same way with their parents. They are eager to cook food for their parents, or help them around the house. For pure love to exist, it must go both ways. Children love their parents so much that they often want to repay the love shown to them by their mother and father.

Lakshmana and other pure devotees are always eager to serve the Lord. Though God may not always be physically present before us, we too can directly offer Him service. Around five hundred years ago, God appeared on earth in a covered incarnation as Lord Chaitanya. His mission was to deliver Krishna-prema, or love for Krishna, to every person on earth. Being the most munificent incarnation of God, He provided an easy way for all of us to become devotees and gurus at the same time. He advised us to simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible, and to speak about Lord Krishna to others. “Chant the name of Krishna and induce others to chant.” These were His instructions, and they are so simple that even a child can execute them to perfection. Lord Rama derived great pleasure from Lakshmana’s devotion, and we too can make God happy by following Lakshmana’s example.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Krishna and Arjuna "Every man is certainly controlled by destiny, which determines the results of one's fruitive activities...Destiny is the ultimate controller of everyone. One who knows this is never bewildered." (Nanda Maharaja speaking to Vasudeva, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.5.30)

Destiny represents our fate, something preordained by a higher power. Destiny and fate are created by God, who is all-knowing and all-seeing. Thus we have no actual control over where it takes us.

People react to destiny and fate in different ways. Some people deny its existence altogether. “I am the maker of my own fortune. Nothing is preordained; things just happen by chance and luck.” Others believe in destiny completely, taking every moment of their life to be significant since they believe it to be pre-arranged. “It was fate that I met such and such person on a specific day. All the stars lined up correctly on such and such day for me to have such great fortune.”

Lord Vishnu - the Creator The Vedas, the ancient scriptures coming from India, tell us that everything is preordained by God and His energies. The material world was created by Lord Krishna through His various expansions. After creation, the demigods were given the responsibility of managing material affairs. Everything happens at their direction according to the laws of karma. Fruitive activity performed by the living entities is classified as karma, for these acts have consequential reactions, both good and bad. Karma represents the perfect system of fairness. “As you sow, so shall you reap.” Since karma is accumulated in this lifetime and in previous ones, it is constantly dictating our fortunes. It explains the reason why some people are born into horrible conditions, while others are born very well off. Karma explains why some people suffer horrific tragedies in their lifetime, while others enjoy unending good luck. So in one sense, people do have a certain amount of control in the karma that they create, yet destiny still exists since God knows how everything will turn out.

Rama and Lakshmana God is one, the Supreme Lord of all living entities. Due to His causeless mercy, He personally comes to earth from time to time in human form. One of those times occurred many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India, where the Lord took birth as the eldest son of King Dashratha. Trained in the military arts, Lord Rama was destined to be the successor to the throne held by His father, but a series of unfortunate events got in the way of that plan. Due to a few poor decisions made by Dashratha, Rama was ordered to evacuate the kingdom and live as a recluse for fourteen years in the forest. Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, was quite offended upon hearing such news. He insisted that Rama remain in the kingdom and usurp the throne which was rightfully His. Rama tried to calm Lakshmana down by telling Him that everything was already predetermined, that their precarious condition was the result of fate.

“Oh best of the heroic kshatriyas, This greatly misplaced misconception of Yours is certainly born of Your attachment to a faulty set of religious principles and to Your looking upon everyone without any skepticism. Indeed, how can such a fearless person like Yourself be capable of speaking this way about destiny? Why are You praising destiny, which is weak and helpless? How are You not doubtful of both of them (Kaikeyi and Dashratha), who are sinful in nature? Oh righteous soul, why can’t You see that, in the name of dharma, both of them are deceiving You and acting in their own interest through dishonest means to keep You away from acting properly?” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.6-8)

Lakshmana Lakshmana wasn’t buying into any of this business about destiny. He also believed in fate, but He believed more in the power of his elder brother. He couldn’t believe that Rama was falling prey to the hands of destiny, since He had all the power in His hands. Rama could easily overtake the throne by force with Lakshmana by His side. This is the path Lakshmana is recommending in the above referenced verse. “You are a kshatriya, a member of the warrior class. You can make Your own fate. Why are you giving up and bewailing destiny?”

So who is right in this situation? Technically, both Rama and Lakshmana are correct. Destiny undoubtedly exists, but it doesn’t mean that we should sit back and do nothing. On the contrary, knowing that everything is preordained actually provides us even more impetus to act piously and in an unattached manner. This is the central teaching of the Bhagavad-gita, which was spoken by Lord Krishna to His disciple Arjuna. On the eve of a battle between two warring families, Arjuna was feeling soft-hearted. He was the leading warrior for his side, the Pandavas, but he suddenly decided that he didn’t want to engage in killing those on the opposing side. Lord Krishna, acting as Arjuna’s charioteer, took the opportunity to give him a lesson on the meaning of life. He told Arjuna that all the enemies on the other side were already dead, so he had no reason to worry about killing them. No one is actually the killer of anybody, since death is guaranteed.

“He who thinks that the living entity is the slayer or that he is slain, does not understand. One who is in knowledge knows that the self slays not nor is slain…All the great warriors-Drona, Bhishma, Jayadratha, Karna-are already destroyed. Simply fight, and you will vanquish your enemies.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.19, 11.34)

Krishna urged Arjuna to execute his duty without attachment. He urged him to fight in the war since that was his job.

“Considering your specific duty as a kshatriya, you should know that there is no better engagement for you than fighting on religious principles; and so there is no need for hesitation.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.31)

Krishna and Arjuna The lesson is that if we follow our prescribed religious duties in life, then we incur no sin. Destiny is already decided for us and for everybody else, so there is no use in rejoicing over it or being overly dejected from it. Above being simply detached from our activities, the aim of life should be to become attached to God. This was the path chosen by Lakshmana. Whatever Rama wanted him to do, he did. Lord Rama was committed to dharma, or religiosity, and for this reason He willingly accepted banishment to the forest. He acted according to His prescribed duty, in an unattached manner. Lakshmana, being a perfect devotee, was ever attached to God, so he insisted on accompanying the Lord during His time in the forest. Lakshmana’s only dharma was pleasing God. In the end, they were both correct in their actions. We should all follow our prescribed duties with detachment, and, at the same time, foster a loving attachment to the Supreme Lord.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Rescuing the Soul

Lord Krishna “The demoniac believe that to gratify the senses unto the end of life is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus there is no end to their anxiety.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.11)

Everyone is looking for safety in life. The world-wide peace movements are an outgrowth of this desire. We all have possessions and family ties that we want to secure. It is the natural propensity of man to want to defend his property and protect his loved ones. This propensity is a byproduct of karma, or fruitive activity. Yet the Vedas tell us that this world is a temporary place, full of miseries, dukhalayam. The only way to protect ourselves from all dangers is to look to Lord Krishna, or God.

There are ways to protect almost anything related to the material world. The insurance industry survives on this very concept. These days you can buy an insurance policy for just about anything; health, life, automobile, home, etc. Lately the problem of identity theft has cropped up. Thieves have taken to stealing the social security numbers of others, and then imitating their identity. They use these false identities to open up credit cards and make other fraudulent purchases. When it comes time to pay, the burden falls on the person whose identity was stolen. In the entrepreneurial spirit, companies, such as Lifelock, have surfaced that now offer protection against identity theft.

Marriage of Shiva and Parvati Aside from protecting possessions and identities, people are always looking to protect their way of life. The Vedas tell us that there are four primary components to sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Sex is considered the highest form of material sense gratification, thus the Vedas advise one to strictly regulate this practice. Marriage was actually instituted by God so as to allow people to regulate their sexual urges. In the traditional system, parents would marry off their children as soon as they had any inkling for sex life. In this way men and women could live peacefully, without worrying about chasing after sex. Of course today’s situation is quite different. Since men and women are free to intermingle, illicit sex is quite common. Aside from being sinful, this sort of lifestyle has noticeable harmful short-term consequences. Sex life is meant for procreation, so those who engage in it illicitly run the risk of unwanted pregnancies. To combat this problem, modern health experts have advised the use of contraceptives such as condoms. Yet condoms don’t work all the time and people are still left with unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases. This reality doesn’t scare people enough to give up illicit sex. As a last resort, people now take to the practice of killing an unwanted child in the womb, or abortion. In this way the initial sin of illicit sex worsens into an even worse one of child killing.

The problems relating to illicit sex serve as an example for how material life works. Activity done on the level of karma has intended and unintended consequences, both good and bad. Yet the fruits of this activity are temporary. The mind is always hankering after things it wants and lamenting over things it doesn’t have. All our possessions, along with all our relationships, are temporary. Even the thrill resulting from sex doesn’t last very long, and yet still people go to so much trouble just to engage in it. The Vedas tell us that this life is meant for God realization. This can only be achieved by curbing the demands of the mind and living a life of moderation.

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)

Yoga means concentrating on God By engaging in tapasya, or austerities performed for a religious benefit, we can marshal our forces for a higher purpose. Working hard at eating, sleeping, and mating is the business of the animal kingdom. We see that as soon as an advanced lifestyle is achieved, the propensity to defend kicks in. By the rules of nature no amount of defending can give perfect protection for our material possessions or activities. This is because this very world itself is subject to destruction.

“When Brahma's day is manifest, this multitude of living entities comes into being, and at the arrival of Brahma's night they are all annihilated.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.18)

The world is destined to end, just as it was destined to be created many millions of years ago. One can hang on as much as they want, but the forces of nature will eventually take everything away. This fact is on full display in the health care industry. There is a growing movement in America to get national health care implemented, a system whereby all medical procedures are subsidized by the government. Proponents of this system state that everyone has an inherent right to free medical care offered by doctors and hospitals. The idea is that if people don’t have health care, they will die. This may or may not be true, but we know for a fact that people who do have health care most certainly will die. In fact even wealthy people with the most luxurious health insurance plans still die, sometimes at very young ages. This is because karma determines our birth and death, and not any health insurance plan or the care of any doctor. If God’s forces of nature decide that it is our time to die, there is nothing in the world that can stop that.

“We have personal experience of a person of such demoniac mentality, who, even at the point of death, was requesting the physician to prolong his life for four years more because his plans were not yet complete. Such foolish people do not know that a physician cannot prolong life even for a moment. When the notice is there, there is no consideration of the man's desire. The laws of nature do not allow a second beyond what one is destined to enjoy.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 16.11-12 Purport)

Bhishma thought of Krishna at the time of death There are many countries that already have a national health care system in place, and we see that people are still dying. In fact, since market forces and prices are out of the equation, we see that there is nothing in place to control demand or to increase the quality of care. For these reasons the waiting times for medical treatment are, on average, very high. Many people die simply waiting to get to treatment.

In a single-payer system where prices are controlled, a doctor has no incentive to lure more patients his way. Also since profits are controlled, prospective doctors are lured away from the field of medicine, thereby decreasing the number of practicing doctors, which then leads to long waiting lines.

Health care, driving, sex life, etc., no area of material life is immune from problems. The fact of the matter is that no amount of insurance or money can provide perfect protection.

“Those who are not actually philosophers, scientists, educators, administrators, etc., but who pose themselves as such for material gain, do not accept the plan or path of the Supreme Lord. They have no idea of God; they simply manufacture their own worldly plans and consequently complicate the problems of material existence in their vain attempts to solve them. Because material energy (nature) is so powerful, it can resist the unauthorized plans of the atheists and baffle the knowledge of ‘planning commissions.’” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 7.15 Purport)

Radharani is always performing devotional service Man’s real business is to engage in his eternal occupation; bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Lovingly performing work for the Supreme Lord is a timeless discipline that can never suffer destruction or loss. Even those who take up this type of yoga, and still don’t fully achieve Krishna consciousness in this lifetime, get to continue their service in the next life.

“On taking such a birth (in a high family), he (the unsuccessful yogi) 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. 6.43)

Knowing these facts, intelligent people make devotional service the primary duty of their life. This was precisely the path taken by the sags living in the Dandaka forest many thousands of years ago. Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, had appeared on earth to provide protection to His devotees. The Lord comes to earth from time to time to also kill the demons, but this is not necessarily required. The laws of karma usually take care of all good and bad forces. On the highest level of understanding, there is actually no concept of good or bad in a material sense. Any activity which keeps one bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death is considered bad in the spiritual sense. In this regard even mundane pious activity is considered bad because it only leads to ascension to one of the heavenly planets in the material world. The time of residence there is fixed since it is commensurate with the amount of spiritual merits accumulated during one’s lifetime. These merits eventually expire, causing one to fall back down to earth.

During Lord Rama’s time, many sages had taken to living in the forest for performing their sacrifices and austerities. These brahmanas were very smart. They renounced the materialistic way of life in favor of tapasya and yoga. Problems arose, however, in the form of Rakshasa demons. There are are 8,400,000 varieties of species in the world, each possessing different qualities. Rakshasas are atheists by nature, who are expert in black magic. They live off meat eating, intoxication, and illicit sex. The saintly people are their greatest enemies. The sages actually don’t care about the Rakshasas, but the Rakshasas view the sages as the biggest threat to their way of life. The Rakshasas know that if all of mankind takes to devotional service, their sinful way of life will wither away. For this reason the Rakshasas took to harassing the sages by disrupting their sacrifices. Many sages were even killed and eaten, so horrible were these demons.

“After hearing these words spoken to Me by the sages residing in the Dandaka forest, O daughter of Janaka, I promised to provide them My complete protection. Having already vowed to offer this protection, it is impossible for me to act in any other way while I am still alive. Indeed, the truth is always dear to me.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.16-17)

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman The sages living in the Dandaka forest went to Lord Rama as a last resort. Playing the role of the perfect prince, Rama was roaming the forest as an exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya. This was done at the behest of His father, Maharaja Dashratha. Rama was accompanied by His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. Rama and Lakshmana were known as the greatest warriors of their time, expert in the military arts. The sages asked Rama and Lakshmana to protect them. In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is explaining to Sita how the sages approached Him and how He promised to protect them.

On the surface, this situation appears to be that of a prince protecting a group of priests, but in reality, it is God offering perfect protection to His sincere devotees. Rama and Lakshmana would indeed come through for the sages by eventually killing thousands of Rakshasas, including their leader Ravana. Ravana was extremely powerful and had amassed great amounts of wealth. His island kingdom was even set up so far away from land that it seemed impenetrable. Yet his wealth, piety, kingdom, and possessions were all destroyed due to his sinful activities committed against the sages and Sita.

The lesson here is that everything in the material world is temporary and subject to destruction, regardless of whatever we may do in the areas of security and protection. Devotional service is just the opposite. Since it is directly connected with God, it is blissful, provides knowledge, and most importantly, it is eternal. Pure love for God can never be checked, even by the demons. This was proven by the protection offered by Lord Rama.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Easy Way

Lord Krishna “The Lord's form is always youthful. Every limb and every part of His body is properly formed, free from defect. His eyes and lips are pinkish like the rising sun. He is always prepared to give shelter to the surrendered soul, and anyone so fortunate as to look upon Him feels all satisfaction. The Lord is always worthy to be the master of the surrendered soul, for He is the ocean of mercy.” (Narada Muni, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.8.46)

Becoming one of God’s servants is very easy to do. It can take one second, as in the case of Lord Hanuman, or it can take many many births. The famous book, the Bhagavad-gita, concludes with Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, telling His cousin and disciple, Arjuna, to abandon all varieties of religion and simply surrender unto Him. By so doing, one can be guaranteed of protection from all sinful reactions. This direction was given to Arjuna, but it applies to all living entities. Surrendering to God is the easiest way to achieve perfection in life but, for some reason, we living entities have a hard time fully surrendering unto the Lord. What gets in our way?

Hanuman surrendering to Lord Rama To answer this question properly, we must first investigate why we are put in the material world in the first place. The question of why we’re put on earth has been pondered by great theologians and philosophers since the beginning of time. The American television sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, had an episode dedicated to this very question. A child on the show, Ally, asks her parents, Ray and Debra Barone, why God puts people on earth. The rest of the episode then focuses on finding an answer to the question. Since the show is meant to be funny, the actors handled the issue with a nice combination of seriousness and humor. In the end, they are unable to find a suitable answer to the question.

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, actually provide the best answer to life’s most puzzling question. There are many religions in the world today, but the teachings of the Vedas represent the first religion on earth.

“I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)

Lord Krishna According to Vedic information, our actual identities come from the spirit soul, aham brahmasmi. Our body is akin to an outfit, something that we put on, wear for a while, and then take off. The giving up of the body is what constitutes the event known as death. Yet through all these changes of the body, the soul remains intact. Consciousness at the time of death determines what type of body the soul will receive in the next life. If we live a life of sense gratification, with attachments to our activities, friends, family, and other possessions, we will naturally think of them when we are dying. The laws of karma thus dictate that we remain in the material world in the next life, forced to take birth again. This cycle of birth and death repeats ad infinitum until we are ready to return back to the spiritual world.

Though time and space are material concepts, the limits of which are inconceivable to the human mind, the Vedas do provide us information as to where we were before our first birth. Essentially, we come to the earth for the same reasons that we remain here. Wanting to pretend to be God, the spirit souls were allowed to come to this material world, which is governed by gunas (qualitative modes) and karma (fruitive activity or work). The original nature of the soul is to be God’s servant, but sometimes the soul wants to imitate God. That’s exactly what the human being is allowed to do while on earth.

God creates, and so do the human beings through sex life. God has an original form with hands, legs, and a face. Thus the living entity is also allowed to have similar features in the body of a human being. The difference between the material world and spiritual world is that the material world is temporary and full of miseries. The living entities falsely think themselves to be enjoyers. Thinking that we are the enjoyers is a false notion because we’re actually not in control of anything.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.27)

This entire material creation is but a small expansion of God’s energy. Living here, we are not God, but we pretend to be God-like. The living entities falsely think of themselves as purusha, or enjoyers. In actuality, we are prakriti, or the enjoyed. Who are we enjoyed by? God. Purusha is usually associated with the concept of spirit, and prakriti with matter. Matter is dull and incapable of acting on its own. When mixed with spirit, matter comes to life. Our material body is an example of this. After we die, our bodies are useless and start to decay. The body is only useful as long as there is a spirit soul residing within.

Though we are spirit in the sense that we control the matter that is our body, the ultimate spirit is God. Inside of every living entity exists two souls; the individual soul (jivatma), and the Supersoul (Paramatma). Paramatma is God’s expansion. The jivatma represents the Self, or our identity. Each jivatma can only reside in one body at a time. Due to this fact, we only have consciousness of our own life experiences. We suffer through our own pains and pleasures, but we are not conscious of the pains of others. We may be able to relate to the grief that others feel, but this is only through comparing their life experiences with our own. We don’t directly take part in the activities of other living entities. The Supersoul, however, exists within every living entity. This is a testimony to God’s greatness. He is conscious of every living entity.

Krishna and Arjuna The material disease means remaining ignorant of the presence of the Supersoul. This delusion then leads us to start thinking that we’re smarter than God. There is a class of transcendentalists known as the Mayavadis, who essentially preach atheism, using the Vedas as their justification. Mayavadis believe that originally everything belongs to Brahman, or God’s feature as the impersonal effulgence that covers the material world. These impersonalist philosophers study the Gita, but they don’t surrender unto Krishna. They either take the Lord to be an ordinary human being or an elevated form of Brahman. Their theory is that the Supreme Absolute Truth is formless, which essentially means that there is no God.

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

Many of these Mayavadi philosophers are also very fond of studying many different religions, trying to find common ground amongst them. This analytical study leads them to concoct flawed theories such as Lord Krishna being merely a prophet, and not God Himself. The Bhagavad-gita is the Song of God. Many of the passages start out with the phrase shri bhagavan uvacha, which means “God said”. The word Bhagavan has special significance. It means one who possesses all fortunes, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Gita is also a conversation between Krishna and Arjuna. When describing God and His various potencies, Krishna uses the words “Me” and “Mine”. How can one then conclude that He is formless? Krishna is most certainly a person, and He is God Himself.

Krishna is Bhagavan All these flawed theories come about due to man’s competition with God. Many people think they are smarter than the authors of the great Vedic texts. This mindset is very hard to break free of, and Krishna Himself states that it takes many many births for one to truly understand Him.

“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.3)

It takes many births to understand God because it takes the experience of many lifetimes before one finally gives up their quest to surpass God in power. No matter what one’s material successes are, nature provides the great equalizer in the form of death. Yet still, since people have accumulated karma, they are forced to take birth again, forgetting the experiences of their previous lives. This is similar to how a boxer will continue to get up even after getting knocked down repeatedly. It is not until the living entity realizes the futility of even playing the game that he starts to head down the right path.

A person needs to be kicked really hard by material nature before they realize that they cannot be God. Once they give up this notion, they can then start to inquire as to what the meaning of life is. The famous Vedanta-sutras start off with the aphorism, athato-brahma-jijnasa, which means “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or God.” Inquiring about God signals a very important step in the life of a human being. Simply having a sincere eagerness to know and understand God is sufficient enough to be successful. This is because once God sees our sincere desire, He will lead us in the right direction.

Panchatattva chanting Hare Krishna Though there are many different methods of transcendental realization, only one stands head and shoulders above the others. This method is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. On a material level, bhakti-yoga is classified as a method of self-realization, but it is actually the eternal occupation of man. God exists to be our master, and we exist to be His servant. This is the natural order of things. All other self-realization techniques, such as jnana-yoga, hatha-yoga, and karma-yoga, are meant to eventually lead to bhakti, or pure love for God.

So how do we practice devotional service? In this age, it is very simple. We simply need to chant the Holy names of God as often as we can: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra is most efficacious in this age, for it addresses God in a loving way. It’s basically saying, “God, I love You. Please let me always think of You, and let me always be Your servant.” There is no nicer prayer than this. It signifies complete surrender to God. Regularly chanting this mantra, without offenses, will solve any and all problems. This mantra helps us give up our false ego, and assume our real ego. The false ego leads us to think that we are God. The real ego reminds us that we are eternal surrendered servants of the Lord. Assuming this consciousness, we can easily return to the spiritual world and remain there forever.