Saturday, February 27, 2010

Gaura Purnima 2010

Lord Chaitanya “I offer my respectful obeisances unto the full-moon evening in the month of Phalguna, an auspicious time full of auspicious symptoms, when Lord Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu advented Himself with the chanting of the holy name, Hare Krishna.” (Krishnadasa Kaviraja Goswami, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 13.19)

Gaura Purnima celebrates the appearance day anniversary of Lord Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the most recent incarnation of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to appear on earth. Lord Chaitanya’s most lasting contribution to humanity was His distribution of Krishna-prema, or love for God, to everyone He encountered. He spread Krishna consciousness throughout India at a time when most transcendentalists were dedicated to the monist philosophy of Shankaracharya.

Avataras of Lord Vishnu The Vedas tell us that God can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. God’s original feature is that of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God then takes various incarnations and expansions in order to perform various tasks. The avatara, or incarnation of God, is a concept that the people of India are very familiar with. In olden times India was known as Bharatavarsha since it was ruled by King Bharata. Bharatavarsha actually referred to the entire world, for everyone lived in India during the early stages of creation. For this reason God’s past incarnations usually appeared in India. This isn’t to say that God, or Krishna, is the exclusive property of Indians. In fact the Shrimad Bhagavatam tells us that God’s incarnations are too many to count, therefore the Vedas give reference to only the primary avataras.

Ramanuja Since God has an unlimited number of incarnations, we have seen many people appear in India over the past five thousand years who claimed to be expansions of Vishnu or Krishna. If they personally didn’t declare they were God, then their followers did. Not only were great personalities declared to be incarnations of God, but many were also taken to be incarnations of great personalities of the past. Whether these people were bona fide incarnations or not is up for debate, but one thing we do know is that most of them expounded a philosophy other than devotional service, or bhakti yoga. All great historical personalities appear for a specific purpose based on time and circumstance. Shankaracharya, for example, appeared during a time when the atheist Buddhist philosophy was very popular in India. Shankaracharya preached an imperersonalist philosophy, whereby man was taken to be part of Brahman, and therefore considered to be equal to God. Later on, great Vaishnavas like Ramanujacharya and Madhvacharya appeared to reestablish the supremacy of Lord Vishnu and to teach mankind that there is a difference between man and God.

We certainly owe a debt of gratitude to these great saints, for they helped to clear up misconceptions that existed at the time. Yet there was still something missing in all these philosophies. To finally add the missing piece to the puzzle, Lord Krishna Himself had to appear on earth. As Lord Chaitanya, God came to firmly establish the discipline of bhakti yoga, or devotional service, as the most bona fide method for transcendental realization. The quintessential teaching of the Vedas is that we are not this body. Our identity comes from the soul inside of us, and our body is a sort of temporary residence for the soul. Similar to how we can change apartments or houses based on our desires, our souls also can transmigrate between different bodies that can span many lifetimes. Throughout these changes, our identities don’t change, but our outward appearance and material qualities do.

Incarnations of Krishna The soul’s natural home is in the spiritual world. Temporary bodies can only exist in the material world. For a soul to remain here, it must accept a material body composed of gross and subtle elements. In the spiritual world, every person has a spiritual body which is full of bliss and knowledge. This is because God Himself is completely pure. Since the spiritual world is His home, it inherits all of His pure qualities. In order for our soul to return to its natural home, we must change our desires. Currently most of us have material desires which manifest through hankering and lamenting. Our mind is always hankering after things it wants and lamenting over things it doesn’t have. Material life means always accepting or rejecting things. “I like this. I’m happy doing that. I hate this. I never want to suffer through that again.” If we analyze the conversations that we have with others, we’d see that our statements usually fall into one of these categories. Spiritual perfection can be achieved when we no longer hanker nor lament.

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

Lord Krishna This elevated state of mind is referred to as brahma-bhutah. Brahma refers to Brahman, or the impersonal energy expansion of God. Everything, both matter and spirit, is Brahman. Brahma-bhutah is the stage where one realizes that everything is Brahman, meaning that we are all equal constitutionally. This is true because no matter the type of body we currently possess, we are all spirit souls at our core. Our souls are actually separated expansions of Krishna. Krishna is the great soul, or Paramatma, and we are minute souls, jivatma. There is no difference in quality or quantity between jivatmas, meaning that all living entities are equal on a spiritual level. People who reach the brahma-bhutah platform of knowledge understand this non-duality that exists between living entities.

So how do we reach this elevated level of thinking? The Vedas give us several different methods which are all classified as yoga. Achieving union of the soul with God is known as yoga. All the great personalities that appeared in India over the past five thousand years propounded some version of yoga. Some proposed that people should analytically study the difference between matter and spirit, and use that knowledge to reach the brahma-bhutah platform. Others recommended the mystic yoga process, where one practices various breathing exercises and sitting postures as way of mitigating the effects of the senses.

Many of these processes certainly are bona fide forms of yoga, but they are still subordinate to the highest discipline which is bhakti yoga, also known as bhagavata-dharma or devotional service. Bhagavata refers to Bhagavan, or God, and dharma means occupational duty. Bhagavata-dharma, though classified as a religious system, is actually the natural occupation of the soul. Since spirit souls are personal expansions of God, it would make sense that any discipline that seeks to reconnect with the origin of the soul would be superior to any other religious system. Believing in God and wanting to serve Him is the natural inclination of all living entities. The other yoga systems, such as impersonal mental speculation and mystic meditation, are actually unnatural and thus it is so rare to see people achieve perfection with these methods.

“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.21)

Prahlada offering prayers to Lord Nrishmadeva It is the natural inclination of man to believe in God and to love Him. Even young children take to God very easily, for they know that there is a higher power who is much stronger than they are. Though mankind has a natural affinity for devotional service, we still see that most people don’t take to it as a way of life. This is because we need leaders to guide us. Most of us aren’t trailblazers, meaning we won’t go against the flow of society. If every person is occupied in karmic activity, it will be hard for those religiously inclined to take to devotional service. A strong leader is required who can set a path that can be followed by everyone else. This is precisely what Lord Chaitanya did. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells us that He appears on earth from time to time to reinstitute dharma, or the principles of religion. In His appearance as Lord Chaitanya, God firmly established the supremacy of bhakti yoga, or devotional service to God. Appearing in Mayapur, Lord Chaitanya was a great scholar in His youth. His name was Nimai Pandita, and He was so smart that He regularly defeated the great scholars of His time. Later on in life, however, He gave up mundane scholarship and took to the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Lord ChaitanyaIt wasn’t that Lord Chaitanya gave up critical thinking or analytical study, but rather, He preached that logic and argument have limits. In a conversation He had with Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya, and then later on with Sanatana Goswami, Lord Chaitanya expounded sixty-one different meanings to the famous atmarama verse in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. Lord Chaitanya’s point was that the material world is full of dualities and that everything can be argued in a multitude of ways. What one person considers good, another person may consider bad, and vice versa. Instead of arguing things on the material level, Lord Chaitanya would explain everything in terms of Krishna, or God. Since one of Krishna’s names is Achyuta, meaning the infallible one, it makes sense that any argument formed on the basis of Krishna’s supremacy and infinite glories would also inherit the quality of infallibility.

Devotees like to visit temples, chant God’s names, and read books about Him. Yet most societal leaders tell us that happiness in life comes through other activities such as economic development, sense gratification, or even philanthropy. Some spiritual leaders tell us that real perfection only comes through impersonal mental speculation or the performance of mystic yoga. Lord Chaitanya told us that not only is it okay to engage in devotional service, but that it should be our primary activity. It’s okay to think about God all the time and to want to talk about Him with others.

Lord Chaitanya made it cool to be a devotee. We see that famous celebrities and musicians of today get the “rock star treatment” when they are in public. This refers to the large and raucous crowds that follow these celebrities around in public. In this regard, Lord Chaitanya was one of the greatest rock stars of all-time. He took to the renounced order of life, sannyasa, at only twenty-four years of age. Sannyasa is the last of the four Vedic ashramas, so those in the order are typically older than fifty years of age. Lord Chaitanya was very young, and usually younger people have a harder time being taken seriously. This wasn’t the case with the Lord. He had a huge following of devotees wherever He went. People would marvel at the spontaneous display of affection and love He showed for Krishna, His name, forms, pastimes, and songs.

Lord Chaitanya and associates India has so many great temples that have existed for thousands of years. The events of the Ramayana and Mahabharata are known to almost all the citizens, thus there is a great religious tradition that exists in the country. Lord Chaitanya tapped into the immense love for Krishna that existed naturally within all the citizens. Wherever He went, He asked people to simply chant Krishna’s names, and to induce other people to chant. This simple formula led to a movement that swept through the country. Lord Chaitanya passed down the imperishable science of devotional service to His closest disciples, including the famous brothers Rupa and Sanatana Goswami. They both excavated Krishna’s holy land of Vrindavana and erected many great temples there. The spiritual leaders descending from Lord Chaitanya have produced volumes upon volumes of literature praising Lord Krishna and teaching others how to become pure devotees. These teachings have benefitted millions of people throughout the world.

Devotees can worship Lord Chaitanya and very quickly achieve liberation through His mercy. He is the same Krishna who appeared in Mathura some five thousand years ago. Devotees of any form of Lord Vishnu can take shelter of Lord Chaitanya, for He is the foremost teacher of vishnu-bhakti. Anyone who has ever chanted Hare Krishna in a pure way certainly has received the mercy of Lord Chaitanya, for He specifically recommended the chanting of this mantra in this age. On the auspicious occasion of Gaura Purnima, we remember the Lord and thank Him for all that He has done for us.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Feats of Strength

Lord Rama “Therefore, carrying your bow and arrows, take Sita with you and find shelter in an impassable cave, covered with overgrown trees. My dear Lakshmana, please do not go against my wishes. After swearing by My feet, please go from here and protect Sita. We do not have much time. You are a strong and valiant warrior, and I have no doubt that you could defeat all these Rakshasas, but I wish to slay these night-rangers myself.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 24.12-14)

God’s devotion to His votaries is unflinching. In this passage, Lord Rama is asserting His power over all that be. Living in the forest, Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, was more than capable of handling the impending attack from the Rakshasas, yet just to show the world an example of His prowess, Rama decided to take on the battle by Himself. He wanted to personally teach the demons a lesson.

Lord Rama There are many established beliefs of who is God, what He looks like, and what type of form He takes, if any. Many religious systems espouse the belief that God is impersonal, or that He is an old man, or even that He doesn’t exist. The Vedas tell us otherwise. The ancient scriptures emanating from India certainly do describe the Lord in an impersonal manner from time to time. This is done more as a comparison technique. Any spirit soul that takes birth in the material world must assume a body that is both temporary and miserable. God, being the all-knowing and all-powerful, can never be limited to a temporary body, thus He is sometimes described as having no arms or legs. Nevertheless, God is still one, and He is a person. The Vedas tell us that the original form of God is Lord Krishna. He is also known as Bhagavan, Vishnu, Hari, Vasudeva, etc. These names all refer to the original God, and they exist simply to describe His various potencies.

The original Veda was imparted to the first created living entity, the demigod Lord Brahma. The difference between a demigod and God Himself is that a demigod is a living entity just like us. They may be elevated in material powers, and they may live a lot longer than we do, but their time on earth is nevertheless controlled. They have been granted special powers and jurisdiction over various aspects of the creation by Krishna Himself, but their reign of power eventually expires, similar to how members of Congress serve for a certain number of years after being elected. The Vedas describe God and His endless glories, but due to man’s fallibility, he has a tendency to either forget this knowledge or to not believe in it. Taking this into consideration the Lord personally appears on earth from time to time. In one sense we are all expansions of God since we are equal to the Lord in quality. God is eternally blissful and full of knowledge, and the same holds true for our spirit souls. However, we are subordinate to God and are thus prone to falling down into this material world. Assuming the body of a human, animal, or even a plant, our blissful nature becomes covered by the three gunas of goodness, passion, and ignorance. God, on the other hand, can never be subject to the illusory forces of maya. There is no difference between His body and spirit. When He appears on earth in the form of a human or an animal, His body should never be considered material or a product of maya.

Lord Krishna One of God’s appearances took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. At the time, the demons of the world, the Rakshasas, were ascending to power. The Vedas tell us that there are 8,400,000 varieties of species that exist due to the unlimited combinations of goodness, passion, and ignorance that a living entity can possess. The Rakshasas are one such species. They are demonic by nature, taking the gross material body to be everything.

“They (the demoniac) say that this world is unreal, that there is no foundation and that there is no God in control. It is produced of sex desire, and has no cause other than lust.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.8)

A sober person realizes that they are eventually going to die. Knowing this fact, an intelligent person tries to figure out what the meaning of life is and why they are put on earth. The famous Vedanta-sutras actually address this issue. Their very first aphorism is “athato brahma-jijnasa”, which means “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or God’. The atheistic class, the asuras or Rakshasas, never ponder this question. Thinking that death is the end of everything, they work as hard as they can to secure as much sense gratification as they can in their present life. This has been the philosophy of atheists since time immemorial. Thinking along these lines, the famous Indian philosopher, Charvaka Muni, advised everyone to eat as much clarified butter as they could, and to beg, borrow, and steal their way to money and fame if they had to.

Rama and Lakshmana killing a Rakshasa The Rakshasas of the Treta Yuga were no different in their thinking. Their leader was Ravana, a ten-headed monster who defeated many of the demigods in battle. Lord Vishnu, at the insistence of the demigods, appeared on earth in human form. Vishnu’s appearance was carefully crafted in such a way so as to adhere to the boons that were bestowed upon Ravana. The demigods granted Ravana the boon that no celestial being, animal, etc. could ever defeat him. Human beings were exempt from this list since Ravana never thought a lowly man could ever defeat him. Lord Rama, though in the guise of a human being, was God Himself. Born and raised in the kingdom of Ayodhya, He and His brothers were expert kshatriya warriors. Their fighting skills were unmatched. The arrows shot from Rama’s bow were no ordinary weapons. They were more powerful than any modern nuclear weapon.

As part of His pastimes, Rama accepted banishment to the forest for fourteen years. This occurred due to a misunderstanding in the kingdom, but the real purpose of the exile was to give Rama an excuse to take on the Rakshasas, and more importantly Ravana. Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, accompanied Him during the exile. The group set up a temporary camp in Janasthana. One day they were visited by Ravana’s sister, Shurpanakha. She propositioned Rama, who then jokingly led her to Lakshmana. An argument ensued, and Lakshmana ended up lopping over her nose, disfiguring and humiliating her. Shurpanakha returned to Ravana and complained about what happened. Eventually, Ravana’s brother, Khara, decided to attack Rama. The demon brought an army of 14,000 Rakshasas with him. This shows the nature of the demons. Rama wasn’t bothering anybody, for He was living a peaceful, secluded life with His wife and brother. Yet the demons have no problem harassing the saintly people of the world. With Lord Rama, however, they picked the wrong person to mess with.

Shri Rama Darbar In the above referenced quote, Rama advised Lakshmana to take Sita to a cave and protect her. Rama wanted to take on these Rakshasas all by Himself. The result of the battle was quite predictable. Rama wiped the floor with the demons. He defeated 14,000 Rakshasas in Janasthana without blinking an eye. People who hear of such feats might often be led to think that this is just part of the mythology. “No one can fight that many demons all at once and emerge victorious. This must be part of the mythology, intended to teach us a lesson.”

This incident definitely teaches a lesson, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. God created an enormous astral body that provides heat and light to the entire world. This star, known as the sun, has power that is inconceivable to the human brain. Scientists have studied it since the beginning of time, yet they haven’t even come close to understanding how it works. Not only did God create the sun, but all the other planets as well. These massive planets all float on their own in space. The solar system is certainly not a myth, but a reality. In the same way, when we hear about God appearing on earth and performing miraculous feats, the incidents relating to His life most certainly did occur.

“I enter into each planet, and by My energy they stay in orbit. I become the moon and thereby supply the juice of life to all vegetables.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.13)

As mentioned before, the human mind is incapable of truly understanding God. This is because, by definition, anything material must be fallible. Why is this so? Because our gross material body composed of earth, air, water, fire, and ether, and our subtle body made up of mind, intelligence, and false ego, are given up at the time of death. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. Thus every part of our body, except the soul, is temporary and thus flawed. God is completely the opposite. He is eternal and unlimited in power. Due to His causeless mercy, He appears on earth from time to time just to give the human mind a taste of spiritual life.

Rama and Lakshmana fighting Ravana One who hears about Rama killing 14,000 Rakshasas in Janasthana with faith and devotion will certainly be taking steps towards rekindling their lost relationship with God. The Lord is neutral, by default, to all living entities, but He makes an exception for His devotees. This is because the bhaktas don’t want to associate with the material energy. They want to always connect with God, thus the Lord happily obliges and takes great care to ensure their safety. Rama performed many great feats of strength, including the slaying of Ravana, simply to give protection to His devotees at the time and to allow future generations to bask in the glory of God’s triumph.

God is beautiful at all times. Most people don’t like violence, for it is the nature of the soul to be peaceful and happy. Yet violence is necessary sometimes, and when God acts violently to give protection, it is certainly a thing of beauty. There is actually no difference between the Lord’s peaceful pastimes, such as those performed in the forests of Vrindavana with the gopis and cowherd boys, and Lord’s violent actions, such as those performed by Lord Rama and Narasimha Deva. Whether He is killing demons or melting hearts, God is always glorious.

Thursday, February 25, 2010


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

In life we find that many are devoted to honesty and piety. They value their integrity very much and strive to follow the path of righteousness at any and all costs. One who is thus situated is considered to be living in the mode of goodness according to the Vedas.

King Dashratha with his four sons Material life means the existence of gunas, or qualities. Every living entity possesses the qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance to varying degrees. Sometimes goodness outweighs the other qualities. This is the case with pious and virtuous people. The mode of goodness can be characterized by acts of charity, kindness, and regard for the general welfare of others. Most importantly, the mode of goodness means acting according to knowledge. We are all born ignorant. At the time of birth, we inherit qualities due us as a result of previous karma, but otherwise, we have no knowledge of anything. For this reason we require parents and teachers to guide us along in our formative years. The elders are wiser than us because they have learned through experience. They too were completely ignorant at one point, but gradually they acquired knowledge as they grew older.

Once people acquire sufficient knowledge, they start to act accordingly. For example, we see that many famous celebrities who grew up in poverty now take to philanthropy and other acts of charity. The famous country singer Shania Twain grew up in very austere conditions as a child. Her parents weren’t very well off, so there were many nights when she would go to bed hungry. Later on in life while she was still young, she suffered through the horrible tragedy of having both her parents die in a car accident. Shania was then forced into the role of provider and caretaker of her younger siblings. Through her experience, she gained knowledge of how difficult life could be. For this reason today she strongly support programs which feed the hungry. Her piety was acquired through knowledge and experience.

“From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, grief develops; and from the mode of ignorance, foolishness, madness and illusion develop.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.17)

Lord Krishna Those in the mode of goodness acquire good characteristics such as kindness and peacefulness. Again, these qualities are acquired through knowledge. Most of us really appreciate the kindness that others show to us, so we, in turn, try to give back the same kindness to others. As we grow older, we learn that being angry and worried all the time isn’t very healthy for us. Through knowledge we acquire shanti, or peacefulness.

While these forms of piety and virtue are indeed noble, the highest form of dharma is devotion to Krishna, or God. Actually, all other forms of pious acts are subordinate to this. God has given us the three material qualities as a sort of stepping stone, whereby one can make gradual process towards the ultimate aim of life, love and devotion to God. Sattva-guna, or the mode of goodness, is still a material quality. It is recommended that one act in this mode so that they can ultimately achieve the state of Krishna consciousness, which is pure goodness.

“When the embodied being is able to transcend these three modes, he can become free from birth, death, old age and their distresses and can enjoy nectar even in this life.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.20)

Everything emanates from the Supreme Absolute Truth, Shri Krishna. The Shrimad Bhagavatam states, “janmady asya yatah”. Contrary to the opinion of many, the Supreme Absolute Truth is not formless. God cannot be just a spirit, for He has an identity. Just as our spirit souls identify us, God’s feature as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, identifies Him. Since He is all-powerful and omnipotent, He is capable of taking many forms simultaneously. Yet we shouldn’t mistakenly think that anything and everyone is God. We are His expansions, the same qualitatively as God, but different quantitatively.

“O Lord of earth, the dharma which led You to this path and has blinded Your intelligence, I do not like.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.11)

Lakshmana In the above referenced statement by Lakshmana, we see that pure devotees of God repudiate any form of virtue or piety which goes against God. When Krishna incarnated as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago, He voluntarily accepted banishment to the forest for fourteen years. This order was given by His father, Maharaja Dashratha, just on the eve of Rama’s would-be coronation. Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, was quite outraged at this situation. He couldn’t understand why Rama was going along with this. Lakshmana was more than willing to take over the kingdom by force and install Rama as the new king. Rama agreed to Dashratha’s order out of deference to dharma, or religiosity. He was the eldest son of the king, so whatever the father wanted, that’s what Rama would do. This is generally the proper way for a son to conduct himself. The parents are the first gurus. They are to be treated as good as God Himself. Once a person gets initiated by a spiritual master, signaled by the investiture of the sacred thread, they begin their second and more important birth. At that time, the spiritual master becomes the guru.

Lord Rama adhering to His father’s wishes seemed like the proper thing to do, and it was actually so. However, Lakshmana accurately points out that real dharma is anything which makes God happy. Lakshmana boldly declares His hatred for any other type of so-called virtue. He had no desire to be a pious person if that meant acting against the interests of his brother. In this sense, Lakshmana displayed the highest form of devotion.

Nevertheless, Rama’s actions were still proper. There were higher purposes to be served by His going to the forest, namely the death and destruction of Ravana and his Rakshasa empire. King Dashratha also had been cursed on a previous occasion to the effect that he would die due to the pain of separation from his son at a young age. The curses of brahmanas must always hold true, thus Lord Rama showed deference to this curse. Still, Lakshmana’s mood of devotion was greatly appreciated by Rama. It represented the highest form of knowledge, something we should all strive for. Lakshmana and Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, both were allowed to accompany the Lord during His time in the forest. This was the boon granted them for the pure love they showed Him.

Lakshmana was the incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, or Sankarshana. In essence, He is God’s immediate expansion, almost equal in potency, always serving as His support. The spiritual master is considered the representative of Sankarshana, thus we can always tell whether a guru is bona fide or not by comparing their actions to those of Lakshmana. A qualified spiritual master is one who has as much love and respect for God as Lakshmana did. They serve as the perfect guides, teaching us the real system of piety.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tough Love

Sita Rama “Certainly all these words were spoken by you due to your kind-heartedness and affection for Me. I am very pleased with you, O Sita, for indeed one does not offer instructions and advice to another without caring for them.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.20)

If we really think about it, the best teachers we had during our school years were the ones who pushed us the hardest. Sure there were some teachers we liked better than others, many of whom were very nice to us. But in the end, the ones we learned the most from were probably the ones that kept urging us to perform better and tried to get the most out of our potential. Through this kind of tough love, we were able to push ourselves to the limits, something which helped us immensely in our education and overall transition into adulthood.

Mother Yashoda and Krishna Education starts right from our very birth. The infant child is completely helpless, depending on its parents for its livelihood. Infants can’t move, talk, or even feed themselves without the help of an adult. Thus an immediate teacher-student relationship is formed between the children and the parents. As we get older, we are forced to attend school. Schooling is required for children growing up in America. It is the natural tendency of children to want to play all day long. When Lord Krishna personally advented some five thousand years ago on earth, He spent His childhood days in Vrindavana. He and His elder brother, Balarama, used to go out every day and play with their friends. Mother Yashoda would have to repeatedly call them to come home to eat.

Since children don’t know any better, they just want to have fun all day. School is the antithesis of fun. A student is forced to take instruction on a variety of subjects from an expert teacher. As children, we don’t realize that what we’re learning will come in handy later on in life. It is quite common to hear students ask their teachers, “Why are we learning this? When are we going to have to use this in our life?” Subjects like mathematics, science, and even reading can be very boring for children. The key to getting through school is having good teachers who imbibe a strong work ethic in us.

This work ethic is not easy to come by. Our natural inclination is to have fun, so we need someone in a position of authority to get us to act otherwise. Teachers and parents are ideally suited for this. A good teacher is one that must be hated at some point or another. We tend to like those who are nice to us. This is only natural. But the teacher’s duty is not to be our friend. Their job is to get us to learn, and learning requires hard work. A good teacher is one who constantly pushes us to work harder, so that we can learn more. They don’t throw out compliments very often, for they know that praising our work will only make us complacent. In the beginning, this lack of acknowledgment from a teacher can cause frustration but, in the end, it is just what we need to reach our full potential.

This same theory holds true with our parents. Though it may be in fashion today for parents to want to be friends with their children, this is not ideal. The Vedas tell us that one should not become a person of authority unless they can deliver their dependents from the repeated cycle of birth and death.

“One who cannot deliver his dependents from the path of repeated birth and death should never become a spiritual master, a father, a husband, a mother or a worshipable demigod.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 5.5.18)

Mother Yashoda chastising Krishna A good parent is also one who is hated at some point by their children. When we become frustrated with the rules our parents make or the orders they give us, it usually means they are trying to instill good values in us. In the short term we may hate them, but in the long term, they are helping us out immensely.

This tough love formula is used not only by parents and teachers, but by devotees of God as well, more specifically, by devotees of Lord Krishna. In the Vedic tradition, God in His original form is referred to as Bhagavan, which translates to The Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhagavan actually means one who possesses all fortunes. By definition, no one can be more fortunate than God. Some philosophers espouse the belief that the living entity and God are equal, and that the entire creation is simply a part of Brahman. However, this cannot be true simply for the fact that the living entities are subject to the control of the forces of nature, while God is not. If we take ourselves to be God, then how do we explain the fact that we are forced to repeatedly suffer through birth and death in this material world, a world which is both temporary and miserable?

God is great, and we are His servants. Qualitatively we are one and the same, but quantitatively we are vastly different. The living entities represent one of God’s many energies. On the highest level, God’s energies can be divided into two categories: the spiritual and the material. The spiritual energy is completely pure, free from any defects. Bhagavan, Lord Shri Krishna, is described as having a body which is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. Everything relating to God is spiritual. Even when He takes birth in the material world, His body and soul are still the same; both being spiritual in nature. For living entities, there is a distinction between matter and spirit. Our soul, jivatma, resides inside our gross material body. At the time of death, our material components are discarded, while our soul remains intact.

“This atma is indeed indestructible” (Brihad-aranyaka Upanishad, 4.5.14)

Radha Krishna - the spiritual energy The spiritual energy is that which is eternal and unchanging. The material energy is just the opposite. It is full of ignorance and governed by the three modes of nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance) and fruitive activity (karma). The living entities actually belong to what is known as the marginal energy. It is described as such because we have a choice as to which energy we want to be a part of. In this sense, we have a minute amount of independence. Due to illusion, we tend to think that we are fully independent and in control of our fortunes. We falsely think of ourselves as the doer.

"The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself the doer of activities that are in actuality carried out by nature." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.15.6)

But since we are individual spirit souls, part and parcel of God, we do have a choice in how our senses will interact with material nature. By engaging in devotional service, or bhakti yoga, our senses are used to help us connect with God’s spiritual energy. With any other engagement, be it a lesser form of yoga or plain fruitive activity, we remain attached to the material energy.

The pure devotee is referred to as bhagavata since he is completely connected with God. The bhagavata takes it upon himself to help others come to the spiritual energy. A devotee’s primary business is to serve God in a loving way. This is the natural disposition of the spirit soul. We are all serving something, whether we know it or not. Even the wealthiest person in the world, be they retired or still working for a large corporation, is a servant to someone or something. A pure materialist enjoyer is a servant to the senses, go-dasa. An independent business leader is a servant to the shareholders or to the customers of the company. The Vedas tell us that our natural role is that of servants to God.

Panchatattva - preachers of Krishna consciousness The highest service we can perform for the Lord is to help others reconnect with Him. To this end, the devotees engage in preaching work. Since they have a perfect grasp of dharma, or religiosity, they don’t hold back when it comes to teaching or correcting others. This was the case many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is speaking with His wife, Sita Devi, about specific concerns she had. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on earth as a pious kshatriya warrior. Sita was His chaste and dedicated wife. The two were roaming the forests of India along with Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana.

At the time, many great sages were living in the forest, performing their occupation duties of sacrifice and penance. Their austerities were constantly being interrupted by the Rakshasas, a class of demons who were great enemies of the pious devotees. The sages petitioned Rama for help, and the Lord happily agreed to take up arms in their defense. Sita Devi was a little worried about this, for she was afraid that Rama might take to violence unnecessarily. According to Vedic doctrine, violence is allowed, but only under certain circumstances. Never is one allowed to act violently towards another without due cause.

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

Lord Rama Since Rama’s distinguishing feature was His strict adherence to dharma, Sita didn’t want Him to act in an unrighteous manner. For this reason she shared her concerns with Him. The Lord replied that it was His duty to protect the brahmanas, and that she need not worry. Sita was very kind and good natured, so her advice was given only out of love for her husband. Lord Rama made sure to acknowledge this.

Sita’s behavior was quite exemplary. She was so pious that she was even willing to correct what she viewed as a transgression from her husband, who happened to be God Himself. This is the trademark characteristic of a pure devotee. They believe so strongly in the power of devotional service and dharma that they openly share their concerns with whomever they meet. Sometimes when reading the great Vedic texts such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, or other commentaries by the great saints, we may come across certain passages or statements that offend us. We may even read things that we strongly disagree with at the time or things that make us angry. This is only natural, for it is not the business of the spiritual master, or pure devotee, to falsely flatter others. Changing a person’s mindset from material to spiritual life is not such an easy thing, so it requires the guru to be direct in their teachings. A learned brahmana is also known as a sadhu, which means “one who cuts”.

“To cut something, a sharp instrument is required; and to cut the mind from its attachments, sharp words are often required. The sadhu or teacher shows no mercy in using sharp words to sever the student's mind from material attractions. By speaking the truth uncompromisingly, he is able to sever the bondage.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Perfection of Yoga, Ch 4)

As Lord Rama states above, Sita Devi showed great love by instructing Him so frankly on the rules of dharma. This proves that the devotees of the Lord are engaged in the highest welfare work for humanity. In the current age, devotees boldly advise everyone to give up meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication, and to take to the process of chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This form of tough love is greatly needed, for if we follow the instructions of the great saints such as His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, we will surely be benefitted.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Shastra and Guru

Lord Ganesha writing scripture “The forgetful conditioned soul is educated by Krishna through the Vedic literatures, the realized spiritual master and the Supersoul. Through these, he can understand the Supreme Personality of Godhead as He is, and he can understand that Lord Krishna is his eternal master and deliverer from the clutches of maya. In this way one can acquire real knowledge of his conditioned life and can come to understand how to attain liberation.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.123)

The differences between children and adults are many. Though our identity doesn’t change as we grow older, our consciousness and our level of intelligence certainly do evolve. Doing a quick study of the similarities and differences between adults and children can go a long way in teaching us about God and the meaning of life.

Baby Krishna A newborn child is the essence of innocence. After spending nine months in the womb, a newborn is exposed to the material world. At such time, most babies start to cry right away. It is not until they are settled in the arms of their mother that they start to feel safe. The first few months in a child’s life are very intriguing. An infant is completely helpless. It can’t walk, talk, move, or even eat on its own. It depends completely on the mercy of others. Normally, such a situation would be absolutely terrifying. As adults, we could never imagine a life like that. It would be complete torture. If we stop and think for a second, we realize that an infant will die if it is not helped by others. Left alone, it can do absolutely nothing except cry.

Now let’s take a look at the behavior of a child. Is it fearful? Does it constantly worry? Does it think to itself, “I can’t believe how horrible my life is. I’m incapable of doing anything. I have to wear a diaper and sleep in a crib all night, which looks very similar to a prison cell”? No. A baby is actually quite happy most of the time. Why is this? Because the parents and other family members are always around to provide protection. In most families, the arrival of a newborn is a joyous occasion. For the first few years, families huddle around the baby, looking for any chance they can get to spend time with the new member of the family. People love to carry the baby around, play with it, and do anything possible to get the baby to smile or laugh. Adults talk in strange ways when a baby is around, saying “Goo goo, gah gah” and so forth.

Lord Krishna with Mother Yashoda There is often competition between family members as to who they think the baby prefers the most. “Oh he likes me. He doesn’t cry when I hold him. Everyone else is mean to him, but I know how to take care of the little guy.” Sometimes, older siblings can get jealous over the attention a newborn receives. With all this love and attention, why shouldn’t a child be happy? Such a tiny fellow becomes the master of the house. Though an infant is completely helpless, it is the other family members who become servants of the child. This is all the result of pure love. Love is an emotion people feel at all stages of life. Love is even found in the animal community, so it shouldn’t surprise us that a baby can inherently understand that it is loved by the family members. Thus for the child, there is no need to worry. Just play all day long. If there are any problems, just cry a little and someone will come to help. In fact, one of the biggest problems parents face is spoiling their children. It is the natural inclination of caretakers to try everything possible to keep the baby from crying. But if the baby always gets what it wants, it will quickly become spoiled and thus have a tougher time adjusting to adult life.

The joys of childhood should continue into adult life. The Vedas tell us that it is the natural disposition of the spirit soul to be joyful and full of knowledge. This is because spirit souls are actually expansions of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Qualitatively, we are the same as God, but quantitatively we are very different. Since we are His expansions, He will always be superior to us. Nevertheless, God is described as having a body which is eternally blissful and full of knowledge, sach-chid-ananda vigraha. This is the true nature of spirit. Since we are spirit souls, it is our nature to be happy all the time too. However, material life is the antithesis of spiritual life. This world is both temporary and miserable.

The main source of this misery is our forgetfulness of the relationship we have with God. This relationship is a loving one, where God is the master, and we are His servants. The human form of life is considered unique in that we have the ability to rekindle this lost relationship. The human beings are the most intelligent species. Extra brain power was given to us for a reason, that being to know and understand God. This knowledge then leads to the reawaking of the spiritual consciousness.

Lord Krishna Adults have every reason to be blissful. They can walk, talk, and move around on their own. They can learn how to drive and even get an education on their own. All this means that they have the ability to be completely self-sufficient. This equates to freedom in all areas of life; freedom to find a good job, a beautiful wife, and a nice home. Yet we see that adults are usually much more miserable than the innocent helpless infants. Fear takes over. The Vedas tell us that animal life means engaging in four activities: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Defending means fearing. Adults have a fear of losing everything. “What if I lose my job? Where will I live? How will I pay my bills? What if I don’t finish college? What will happen to me? What if my wife stops loving me? I can’t live without her. What if something happens to my children? They are my life and soul.” Most of all, adults fear death. Our heightened intelligence tells us that our current life is destined to end at some point. What happens after that is a great mystery.

Or is it? The reason a child is so happy is because it understands that the parents are there to provide complete protection from danger. The Vedas tell us that our parents are our first objects of worship. “Honor thy mother and father” as the famous commandment says. As our first teachers and protectors, our parents are worthy of the highest honor and respect from us children. When we become adults, this protection often goes away since we become self-sufficient. The Vedas tell us, however, to change our source of protection. Instead of relying on our parents for everything, adolescents and adults are advised to seek the protection of shastra and guru. Shastras are religious scriptures or, more generically, law codes. God knows that every human being is born into ignorance. Left on their own, people will inevitably fall prey to animalistic tendencies. The source of our fears is our ignorance of the knowledge found in the shastras. The scriptures tell us that the spirit soul is eternal. It is never goes through birth nor death.

“Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all. O descendant of Bharata, he who dwells in the body is eternal and can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any creature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29-30)

Guru and shastra The shastras represent eternal truths. Veda means knowledge, so the original Vedas passed down by God represent the highest form of truth and wisdom. Yet understanding the shastras isn’t very easy. Man is prone to four defects: the propensity to cheat, to be easily illusioned, to have imperfect senses, and to commit mistakes. These four defects manifest in different ways but they all serve as stumbling blocks to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. These defects make it harder to understand the shastras. Therefore God, in His incarnation as Vyasadeva, expounded on the truths of the original Veda by dividing them into four separate sections, collectively known as the Vedas. He went even further by chronicling various historical events relating to God into books known as the Puranas. Still not satisfied, he went even further by writing the famous Vedanta-sutras, a collection of aphorisms aimed to please the jnanis, or those seeking knowledge through mental speculation and high philosophy.

Even with this huge library of Vedic wisdom, we see that man has difficulty in understanding the concepts on their own. A classic example of this can be seen with the Bhagavad-gita. The Gita is the “Song of God” since it was sung by Lord Krishna, God Himself, on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. Though only a very small chapter in a much larger book, the Mahabharata, the Gita contains the essence of Vedic knowledge. Krishna describes the difference between matter and spirit, and the nature of the soul. Nevertheless, the conclusion of the Gita, and also its ultimate teaching, is that mankind should simply surrender unto God, become His devotee, and thus become free of all sinful reactions and fears.

“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)

This conclusion is simple enough to understand. It is clearly laid out. However, we see that many scholars and famous personalities have translated and commented on the Gita, and have completely missed the mark. This is because their study of this famous text was done without the help of a bona fide guru. Along with shastra comes guru, or the spiritual master. Our parents provide the initial education, but then it is the guru’s job to take us the rest of the way. The bona fide spiritual master is a pure devotee of Lord Krishna. He has learned the truth from his spiritual master. Not only has he heard about the truth, but he has realized it through the practice of devotional service. Being a pure bhakta, he is capable of teaching others.

Shrila Prabhupada With the help of a guru, we are able to understand the shastras. The essential teaching of the Vedas is that we should become devotees of Lord Krishna, or one of His direct expansions (vishnu-tattva), and that this surrender will give us eternal peace and happiness. A guru we can all approach is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He elaborately described the essence of the Gita and other famous Vedic texts in a clear and concise way in his books. Translated into several languages, Prabhupada’s teachings are easy to follow and completely in line with the injunctions of the shastras. His primary teaching was that we should all chant the Hare Krishna mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. Along with abstaining from meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication, this chanting routine is enough to provide all the protection one needs.

As spirit souls, we are meant to be happy. The joys of childhood are meant to continue into our adult life. By becoming devotees of Krishna, we can always rest assured knowing that He will protect us from all danger. With the help of shastra and guru, peace on earth can become a reality.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Real Religion

Rada Krishna “The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)

There are various definitions of what exactly constitutes religion. Some take it to be a system of studying God, while others equate religion with piety and righteousness. Based on the authority of Shri Lakshmana, we can understand that real religion is that which is in accord with God’s interests and which teaches people to serve Him in a loving way.

Hanuman executing devotional service The Vedas, the ancient scriptures originating in India at the beginning of creation, recommend various methods of self-realization. In essence, these methods represent their own self-contained religious systems. The highest system is referred to as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti means love and yoga means to have union of the soul with God. Technically, bhakti-yoga isn’t really a religious system, but is actually the eternal occupational duty of man. That is the real definition of religion. It is not something that changes over time or on a person’s whim. Loving God is the natural tendency of the spirit soul, thus a religious system isn’t necessarily required to teach that love; it is inherent in all of us. However, due to contact with the material world, the living entities have forgotten this relationship, and thus God, through His causeless mercy, has given us the roadmap back to His eternal abode in the form of the Vedas.

God can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman (the impersonal energy that pervades all of creation), Paramatma (the Supersoul that exists inside every living entity), and Bhagavan (the Supreme Personality of Godhead). Bhagavan is essentially what most people equate with God. However, over time, various pseudo-yogis and mental speculators have come to believe that Brahman is the only feature of God. Thinking in this way, they have taken away God’s personal aspect, making Him merely an energy that we must merge into. Through this philosophy, many sub-standard religious systems have gained in popularity, such as hatha-yoga and jnana-yoga. All these systems are mentioned by Lord Krishna, God Himself, in the Bhagavad-gita. They are legitimate self-realization methods, though subordinate to bhakti-yoga, provided that one still believes in God’s feature as Bhagavan. If one denies God’s personal existence, then any religious system derived from that line of thinking will be a cheating one.

Lakshmi Narayana The impersonalists, also known as Mayavadis, deny the existence of God in underhanded ways. They may outwardly show respect to Krishna and His various forms, but they teach people to view everyone as God. To achieve self-realization, they recommend concentrating the mind on any form of God or even any demigod. Mayavadi sannyasis refer to each other as Narayana, which is the name of Krishna’s four-handed form residing alongside Goddess Lakshmi in Shvetadvipa. This type of thinking is quite foolish because no one can become Narayana no matter how advanced a yogi they may be. God is one, separate from us and also superior to us. The Mayavadis view everything as Brahman, thus they even equate the demigods to be on the same level as Krishna.

Taking everyone to be equal to God represents a grave offense at the feet of the Lord. The demigods, referred to as devatas or devas in Sanskrit, are elevated living entities who serve as Krishna’s chief deputies in managing the affairs of the material world. They can be best thought of as Krishna’s Cabinet secretaries. Though they are highly elevated and possess great powers, they are nevertheless considered jiva-tattva, meaning they are of the same quality as we living entities. God expands Himself in various forms, meaning that we are all qualitatively the same as the Lord, but quantitatively we are quite different.

Krishna takes various forms that are vishnu-tattva, such Lord Rama, Narasimha, Varaha, etc. These forms are equal in potency to God Himself. Concentrating the mind on these forms is as good as worshipping God. Yet one shouldn’t mistakenly take the various forms of Lord Vishnu to be on an equal level with the demigods. This type of thinking is strongly condemned by all the great devotees, including Lord Shiva. While describing the life story of Lord Rama, Shivaji sternly warned his wife Parvati not to think of Rama and His body as being like that of an ordinary human being. The great devotee of Lord Rama, Hanuman, constantly sings the glories of Sita-Rama and concentrates his mind on their forms. He doesn’t have the time to waste praying to someone who isn’t real or someone who is on the same level as an ordinary human being.

Krishna and Arjuna People who criticize God can never be considered pious or religious. One will often find impersonalist spectators criticizing the activities of Lord Rama, Krishna, and even Lakshmana. These philosophers take the Lord to be an ordinary human, subject to the same defects as themselves. This is a sign of a serious lack of intelligence.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)

When Krishna came to earth as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago, as part of His pastimes, He accepted an order from His father which required Him to live in the forest for fourteen years as an exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya. Rama’s father, King Dashratha, had three wives, the youngest of whom was named Kaikeyi. She wanted her son, Bharata, to ascend the throne, so it was at her insistence that Rama was banished. Dashratha had to abide by her requests since he had granted Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing on a previous occasion. During those times, kshatriya kings were very honest and they strictly abided by their word.

“O righteous soul, why can’t You see that, in the name of religion, both of them are deceiving You and acting in their own interest through dishonest means to keep You away from acting properly?...The act of enthroning anyone except You is not to the liking of the people. Pardon me, but I cannot tolerate this act of the king, O brave one.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.8, 23. 10)

Rama and Lakshmana Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, was quite angered by this development. He loved Rama purely and without any motives, hence he was always looking out for Rama’s welfare. In the above referenced statement, he is pleading with Rama to remain in the kingdom and defy their father’s orders. As part of his argument, he is stating that any act which inflicts harm upon Rama, cannot be considered to be pious. Lakshmana is chastising Dashratha for hatching this scheme with Kaikeyi.

In reality, Dashratha could not be blamed, for he wanted Rama to remain in the kingdom just as much as anybody else. So in this sense, Dashratha was acting piously by adhering to his word. Rama knew this as well and, for this reason, He willingly accepted the punishment handed to Him. Still, Lakshmana’s mood of devotion is quite exemplary. He loved God so much that He couldn’t stand seeing anyone harm Him. This is the example for everyone to follow.

True religion is that system which is in line with God’s interests. God is all knowing and self-satisfied, atmarama. He is need of nothing, but still He is kind enough to accept our service. Lord Rama appreciated Lakshmana’s feelings and rewarded him by allowing him to accompany Him and His wife, Sita, for the duration of the fourteen year exile period. If a religious system teaches one to love and praise God, then it is bona fide. Any other system is a cheating religion and should be abandoned.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Automatic Protection

Lord Krishna “…If the Supreme Lord gives one protection, even though one has no protector and is in the jungle, one remains alive, whereas a person well protected at home by relatives and others sometimes dies, no one being able to protect him.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.2.40)

According to the Bhagavad-gita, those who are conscious of God and believe in His power, initially approach Him for one of four different reasons. Some are interested in acquiring wealth, some are inquisitive to learn about the soul and the transient nature of things in the material world, some want to learn about the Absolute Truth, and there are others who are distressed and are looking for relief from their pains. Anything that can bring one closer to God is certainly a good thing, but the pure devotee is one who appreciates God and loves Him without any motive.

“Pure devotional service should be free from the desire for any material benefit or for sense gratification, as these desires are cultivated through fruitive activities and philosophical speculation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Introduction)

Shrila Prabhupada Viewing God as an order supplier is quite normal. Frustrated in our attempts at finding happiness, it’s not difficult to realize that there must be a higher power who controls everything. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures emanating from India, tell us that the higher power is Lord Shri Krishna. He is known as Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is described as such because there can be many forms of Godhead, but only one original. There are millions of universes and planets, and even millions more living entities. Management of these affairs requires God to expand Himself directly into a multitude of forms. Yet at the same time, Lord Krishna is still the original.

“Krishna who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.1)

Since God is the original creator, He passes down certain law codes that one is recommended to follow. These codes are known as the shastras, or scriptures. They provide information on how society should be run, including how governments should be formed and operated. The living entity is the same in quality with God, but much different quantitatively. For example, we have knowledge of our current life’s experiences, but we have no clue about other people. This is because our soul, jivatma, only resides in our body. God, on the other hand, is so powerful that He has expanded Himself into the bodies of every living entity as the Supresoul, or Paramatma. He resides side-by-side with the jivatma inside everything living entity, meaning He is conscious of all of our activities and desires.

Krishna devouring a fire Since God is great, one of His primary roles is that of protector. Since His power is unlimited, He can provide protection to anyone that asks Him for it. In fact, this protection is actually guaranteed for a certain group of people, regardless of whether they ask for it or not. This is part of the laws of nature relating to spiritual life. For example, in the material world it is the duty of a government to provide protection. In fact, that is its primary role, though it is hardly viewed that way today. Since the modern age is so technologically and economically advanced, governments around the world are now viewed as god-like, sort of like order suppliers. Since democracy is the popular style of government today, any group of people can vote themselves money by backing candidates who promise to provide handouts. In essence, the government is viewed as a large wish-fulfilling cow, and the debate is only about who will get what.

Applying a little logic, one can see that this view of government is severely flawed. For example, every person living in a country is equally a citizen. Therefore no person has a right to someone else’s money. In fact, everyone has an equal right to protection from the government, for that is the reason government was created in the first place. The Declaration of Independence of the United States says that man is endowed by their Creator with the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. This means that man is free to act how he chooses, as long as he doesn’t violate the rights of others. In this regard, each person has a right to defend their property and their life. Government represents the collective right to self-defense of a large community or group of people.

The protection offered by the government is available to every citizen, even without them asking. If a crime is committed, the police will come and do their job without solicitation from anyone. Police officers, firefighters, and military men are duty-bound to uphold their responsibilities to society at large. They take great pride in their work, for they perform their duties without much fanfare. Many times, their brave work goes unappreciated. This is because the protection they offer is automatic and expected by the population they serve.

From time to time, the police or other emergency responders may not be present in a crisis, so one is required to specifically call for help. In America, the 911 telephone hotline specifically serves this purpose. By calling that number, an operator can quickly get a hold of an ambulance or a police officer and have them come and deal with the situation. In a similar manner, even though God’s protection is automatic, sometimes the need arises to specifically ask for His help. This was the case many thousands of years ago in the Dandaka forest.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana meeting with a sage in the forest During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, many great sages took to forest life to execute their prescribed duties. The sages, or brahmanas, were essentially priests by occupation. We tend to view priests today as people who live a similar lifestyle as average folk, except for the fact that they may live in churches. Under Vedic guidelines, the brahmanas are to voluntarily take up a meager lifestyle. The motto is “simple living, high thinking”. By limiting one’s wealth and possessions, a person can better concentrate on studying religion, performing sacrifices, and helping others in society to do the same. When comparing society to the body of a human being, the brahmanas are considered to be the brain. If the brain is distracted with sinful activities such as drinking, smoking, or gambling, it will be very hard for it to concentrate on more important subjects like religion.

The brahmanas took to forest life because it was more conducive to performing sacrifices and study of the Vedas. Urban life can be very noisy and distracting. The other advantage of life in the forest is that one who lives there must accept austere conditions by default. Many people today like to take camping trips as a way of roughing it and getting in touch with nature. Yet there is a big difference between sleeping in a tent for a few days versus actually making the forest your permanent abode. So these brahmanas were very advanced yogis, and also great devotees of Krishna.

Lord Rama God is so kind and sweet, that many people take to worshiping Him in times of trouble. The four reasons for approaching God mentioned above apply to those who have some belief in the existence of a higher power. Sadly, there is also a group of people who not only don’t believe in God, but who also despise those who are religious. The Vedas have many names for these people, but the primary ones are duskritinah and asura. Sometimes we see someone committing abominable acts or purposefully acting against the standard principles of decency, and we wonder how someone could act in such a way. The Vedas tell us that this sort of activity has actually been going on since the beginning of time. The suras, or devotees, and the asuras have always had clashes. The brahmanas living in the Dandaka forest were suras and, by nature, they had no care for anything or anyone except God. It’s not that they didn’t care about other people; it’s just that their primary concern was worship of Lord Vishnu, Krishna’s four-handed expansion. A pandita, or a learned person, views all living entities equally.

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

The asuras are just the opposite. They identify only with their gross material body, which is subject to destruction at the time of death. They don’t have any knowledge of the equality of all living entities. For this reason they take their current life to be the beginning and end of everything. This sort of mindset leads to a sinful way of life, where one wants simply to satisfy the sense demands of the body. For these reasons the asuras view the suras as their biggest enemies. The devotees aren’t bothering anyone, but the asuras know that if the devotees please God, the demigods, and other devotees, then society at large will become pure and committed to dharma. This is bad news for the asuras because that means they will be the outcastes. Thus the asuras take to attacking the saintly people.

Lord Rama This is precisely what happened when the sages took to forest life. At the time, a great Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana was ascending to power, seeking world domination as his life’s mission. Ravana had pleased several demigods and received powers of invincibility from them. As a typical asura, he was not grateful for these boons, but rather used them to attack other demigods, including his own brother. Ravana was so powerful that he conquered many great demigods in battle, yet he still took to attacking the defenseless brahmanas living in the Dandaka forest. Ravana and his band of Rakshasas knew that if the brahmanas could be terrorized into ceasing their religious activities, that there would be no one left to stop them.

“Oh Vaidehi (Sita), it is my duty to protect the sages, even without being asked. But these sages have explicitly asked for My help and I have agreed to protect them. How then can I ignore them?” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.19)

Lord Vishnu, at the behest of the demigods, took birth on earth as the prince named Rama. An expert kshatriya warrior, Rama was banished from His kingdom and ordered to live in the forest for fourteen years by His father. This was all part of the master plan, as the Lord needed an excuse to go to the forest and protect the brahmanas. His brother, Lakshmana, and His wife, Sita Devi, both accompanied Rama during the exile. In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is explaining to Sita that His protection of the brahmanas was implied since He was a kshatriya. Moreover, Rama also had promised to protect the brahmanas after they asked Him for help. Thus Rama was duty-bound to fight off the Rakshasas.

Though Lord Rama is specifically referencing the fact that He was required to protect the sages as part of His kshatriya duties, what He really means is that God always protect the devotees. When we act on the platform of karma, good and bad things happen to us automatically based on our actions. God has nothing to do with this. Material gains and losses are similar to those seen on the world’s stock markets. Each trader and investor has different goals, desires, and ideas of risk. Therefore we sometimes see people make millions, while others lose their life savings. The stock market itself can’t be blamed for any of these events, for it acts as a neutral observer. In a similar manner, karmic activity works on its own, though it is a system instituted by God.

The Lord makes an exception, however, for those who rise above karma and take to the process of devotional service, also known as bhagavata-dharma. Devotees don’t work for any fruitive engagement, even though we may sometimes see them take part in the activities of karmis.

“One is understood to be in full knowledge whose every act is devoid of desire for sense gratification. He is said by sages to be a worker whose fruitive action is burned up by the fire of perfect knowledge. Abandoning all attachment to the results of his activities, ever satisfied and independent, he performs no fruitive action, although engaged in all kinds of undertakings.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.19-20)

Prahlada and Narasimha Since the ultimate purpose of all their activities is to serve God and to make Him happy, the devotees get God’s attention and the Lord, in turn, automatically provides them protection even if they don’t ask for it. The famous Bhakta Prahlada, the five year old son of the demon Hiranyakashipu, suffered through many attempts made on his life, but he survived them all by thinking of Lord Krishna. He did not necessarily ask for protection, but He just simply thought of the Lord, and that was enough to get God’s attention.

Prayers should definitely be offered to God, but the best prayers are those done in loving service. Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Rama, offered a famous prayer that serves as a great example in this regard:

“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."

The lesson here is that if we take up devotional service, we have no need to worry about attacks from the asuras. In fact, chanting the Lord’s name, offering Him prayers, distributing prasadam, and visiting temples is the best way to thwart the attacks from atheists. Rama and Lakshmana would go on to kill many Rakshasas, culminating with the killing of Ravana. The material world is a very dangerous place, especially if we remain exposed to the effects of our karma and the karma of others. In times of trouble, we need only look to the beautiful, magnanimous, and all-merciful Lord Rama. He will provide us the protection we need to continue our adherence to bhagavata-dharma.