Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Sinner’s Fruit

Rama and Lakshmana “Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

Nature’s laws are in motion at every second of every day of the year. The calendar year can be divided into four distinct seasons which each have specific climatic characteristics. Autumn is the season right before winter, and inevitably during this time each year, leaves and other flowers fall off trees and eventually die. This is because these plants can’t survive the cold conditions of winter. Nevertheless, during the next spring season, new flowers and plants are guaranteed to appear again, signaling a new birth. These facts of nature serve as a great metaphor for describing how the process of karma works.

“The living entity is bound around the neck by the chain of maya because he has forgotten that he is eternally a servant of Krishna.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 22.24)

Lord Chaitanya and Prabhu Nityananda Karma has many different definitions, but in its simplest form, it means work. Work means action. One cannot live without performing action. Even if we sit idly by, just thinking to ourselves, we are still performing some work with our mind. Karma is an energy created by God, which along with guna, helps the material world function. The spirit soul is originally part and parcel of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation on earth, tells us that the spirit soul, being initially very blissful and happy in its relationship with God, somehow or other forgot (bhuli' gela) its true nature and instead wanted to be just like God. Thus since time immemorial, the living entity has been part of the material energy, forced to repeatedly go through the processes of birth and death. Since the spirit soul wants to forget God, the Lord gladly obliges such a request.

Karma represents the antithesis of spiritual life. Work and action can be performed for many different reasons, but all paths eventually lead to the same end-goal, that of wanting to be God. The Lord is the Almighty, being all-powerful and all-pervasive. Illusioned by the forces of maya, the living entity thinks that by working in a certain way, it too can be just like God. “God produces, so why can’t I? God destroys, so let me do that too. God enjoys very nicely, so I will try to enjoy just as much as Him.” These sentiments represent a flawed system of logic. Eventually, there is a limit to our material wealth, fame, and beauty. The ultimate equalizer comes at the time of death, when we are forced to renounce all of our possessions, relationships, and acquired strength. The important point is that this renunciation is not voluntarily, for almost no one wants to die. Only God is infallible, thus He is known as Achyuta.

Lord Krishna is Achyuta For karma to function properly there must be reactions to the work that we perform. God doesn’t stand in our way of our pursuit to be just like Him. At the same time, He is completely fair. He doesn’t play favorites, picking and choosing who will win and lose in this pursuit which is destined to fail. Rather, He creates karma, guna, and maya, and then stands back and witnesses as a neutral observer. The reactions of karma are fair and absolute. For every action that we perform, there is a commensurate reaction, either good or bad. In actuality, there really is no good or bad on the material platform, but sometimes people take certain outcomes to be good and others to be bad. For example, pious works result in ascension to the heavenly planets after death. This certainly seems like a good thing, but residence on the material planets, such as those occupied by the demigods, is temporary. Once the merits acquired from our pious deeds expire, we are forced to take birth again. This same principle holds true for the sinful. They suffer in hell for a certain period of time, and then eventually work their way back to the human species of life.

We don’t always have to wait for the afterlife to see the results of our actions bear fruit. Just as the spring season always sees new flowers growing, the sinful are guaranteed to feel anguish when the time comes for them to reap their fruits. Sometimes people think they can act however they want to, and that if no one is looking, no one will know that they did something bad. This is certainly not the case. God and His deputies keep a ledger on our activities. At the time of death, our consciousness is measured along with the activities we performed during our lifetime. These two things then determine the type of body we receive in the next life. The sinful think that they will never suffer for their actions, but karma plays no favorites.

In modern day governments, we see that laws exist on the books that are supposed to apply to all citizens without any preference. Yet we always see that those who are responsible for executing these laws, the government officials and courts, certainly do pick and choose when to punish people. For example, in the United States there are strict immigration laws. Those who want to come live in the United States must either be sponsored by an employer or be related to someone who is already a citizen. There are tight limits set on how many immigrants can come to the country each year. For those who come here legally, the government keeps a close eye on them, making sure they are abiding by immigration guidelines. At the same time, we see that there are millions of people who already live in America illegally. The majority of these people entered the country through the Mexican border, and have remained here living under the radar of the government. Actually, the government is fully aware of their presence but they refuse to do anything about it due to socio-economic and political reasons.

"It is the living entity's constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna because he is the marginal energy of Krishna and a manifestation simultaneously one and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire. Krishna has three varieties of energy.” (Lord Chaitanya, CC. Madhya 20.108-109)

Hanuman - a great devotee Karma doesn’t work the way our governments do. Karma applies to everyone, including sinners. There are varying degrees of sins, but the worst kinds are those perpetrated against devotees of God. This is because God has promised to protect His devotees. There are essentially two energies that exist in creation; the spiritual and the material. The spiritual energy is anything that is directly associated with God, while the material energy is that governed by guna and karma. The jiva-tattva, or living entities, are technically part of the marginal energy because they have a choice as to which energy they want to associate with. The laws of karma are absolute but one has a choice as to whether or not they want to participate in material activity. God is certainly neutral to those who fall under the jurisdiction of karma, but He is anything but passive when it comes to His bhaktas, or devotees. As God’s faithful servants, the devotees realize that the material world is a temporary place full of miseries. At peace with their constitutional position as servitor and friend of the Lord, devotees exclusively interact with the spiritual energy, only performing activity which is related to serving Krishna and other devotees. For such saintly people, the Lord has promised to always provide them protection against those who wish them harm.

“…O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.31)

Shri Rama Darbar During the Treta Yuga, God personally came to earth to make good on that promise. At the time, a clan of Rakshasas, headed by a demon named Ravana, was ascending to power. Every living entity possesses the three qualitative modes of nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance) to varying degrees. Rakshasas are living entities similar to human beings, except they live mostly in the mode of ignorance. They are expert in black magic and spend all their time drinking wine, eating meat, and having sex with as many different people as possible. They have an insatiable appetite for sex. Not only do they live a life dedicated to sin, but they think there is merit to this lifestyle. “Life is short, why not enjoy as much as I can? The demigods are there to grant material benedictions which will then lead to happiness.” With this fatally flawed mindset, Rakshasas view any truly pious person as an enemy. Not only do they hate devotees of God, but they do anything in their power to disrupt their devotional service.

Krishna came to earth in the form of a pious prince named Rama specifically to put a stop to the harassment inflicted by the Rakshasas. At the time, Ravana and his associates liked to prey on the sages living in the forests. One of the primary activities of a brahmana, or sage, is yajna, or sacrifice. There are different types of Vedic sacrifices, but they all usually involve some sort of fire. Forest life is ideal for the performance of fire sacrifices and the practice of tapasya, or austerities. Who could ever think of bothering a peaceful person living in the forest performing such pious deeds? These sages weren’t inflicting harm on anyone, nor were they even a burden to other members of society. Yet these Rakshasas decided to disrupt the sacrifices in the dead of night. Rakshasas are expert in illusion, so they used to assume various guises and initially approach the sages in a peaceful way. Once the brahmanas let their guard down, the Rakshasas would assume their original form and start to attack. After killing the sages, the Rakshasas would feast on their flesh.

Lord Rama These demons were so foolish that they thought there were no consequences to their actions. Taking their material body to be the beginning and end of everything, they were unaware of the forces of karma. Normally, sinful activity can bear fruit in various forms such as bad fortune or descension to hell. These demons were a special case however. For the sin of killing brahmanas, Lord Rama personally came to deliver the fruits of their sin. In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is talking to one particular demon, Khara, prior to killing him in battle. Rama and His family were stationed in the forest of Janasthana. Ravana sent 14,000 Rakshasas to kill Rama, but the Lord easily defeated them all by Himself. Rama here is reminding Khara that punishment is guaranteed for the sinful, just as new flowers are guaranteed to grow on a tree in season.

"Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this." (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

Khara and the other Rakshasas were so sinful that they got the benediction of being killed by God Himself. Ironically, if God personally comes to kill you, you are guaranteed liberation from the cycle of birth and death. This may seem strange, but it is so because these Rakshasas were thinking of Rama, or God, at the time of death. If such a reward is available to God’s enemies, one can only imagine what is in store for His devotees. If we always keep the Lord on our minds, we are guaranteed to always be on His.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Ultimate Renunciate

Lord Krishna “The person who possesses all wealth, strength, fame, beauty, knowledge and renunciation is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan.” (Parashara Muni, Vishnu Purana, 6.5.47)

Renunciation is not an easily acquired trait. It is considered a virtuous quality because renunciation requires one to be self-satisfied and to break free of attachments to material sense pleasures.

Lord Krishna Most of us are strongly attached to our bodies and the sense enjoyment that it affords. We also have attachments to all sorts of things: food, friends, family, sex, intoxication, etc. It seems that everyone has some sort of vice. This is a natural result of the living entity’s contact with material nature. By accepting a gross material body, one immediately becomes illusioned into thinking in terms of “I” and “Mine”, taking the sense pleasures in their current life to be of paramount importance. Yet even in material affairs, we see many people who take to renunciation. Dieting is a great example. If someone thinks they are too fat or unhealthy, they will voluntarily accept an austere diet regimen in hopes of changing their physique. Others around them become astonished at their eating habits. “How can you eat so little? You have great self control, you’re like a yogi. Are you dieting? You must be.” In actuality, controlling one’s eating habits is a part of the regulative principles of spiritual life. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, highlights the importance of moderation in the Bhagavad-gita.

“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, Bg. 6.16)

Sleep is just as important as eating. The pseudo-scientists who appear in news stories prescribe at least eight hours of sleep every night, but the great Vedic saints tell us that six hours is plenty. Sleep is required for the proper functioning of the brain, but too much inactivity can lead to lethargy and depression. Everything should be done in moderation. This helps one control their senses which results in a peaceful mindset that is more conducive to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge.

In order for one to practice moderation, they must possess the quality of renunciation to some degree. It’s not so easy to renounce things, especially when others around us try to persuade us to act otherwise. A great example of this was seen when football star Barry Sanders announced his retirement in 1999. A great running back in the National Football League, Sanders was on the verge of breaking the all-time rushing yards record held by Walter Payton at the time. Based on past performance, Sanders would have easily eclipsed the record during the 1999 season, if not for his sudden retirement. Fans, and especially those in the media, couldn’t understand what Barry was thinking. Why would he give up such a lucrative career, especially when he was so close to being officially crowned as the greatest running back of all time? This is the general nature of those in the media; they view sense gratification as the ultimate aim in life. For this reason they spend all their time glorifying those who are successful in acquiring material wealth and also those who possess great material skills. Barry Sanders had no attachment to football, or to any great records.

Lord Rama Renunciation is undoubtedly a good quality to have, but it should be used for the right reasons, namely the advancement of spiritual life. The aim of human life is know, understand, and love God. Only then can the soul break out of the perpetual cycle of birth and death. God came to earth as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, and as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dashratha, He was the rightful heir to the throne. Instead of succeeding His father, Rama was ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest. This order was made at the request of Rama’s step-mother, Kaikeyi, who was owed two boons from Dashratha. Rama accepted the order because He didn’t want Dashratha to be branded a liar.

“Who do you agree to the the desires of our father and Kaikeyi, who are of unrestrained habits, ever intent on our mischief, and are our enemies known by the name of parents? Although it is Your opinion that their actions are influenced by destiny, still, it does not please me that You are overlooking it. Destiny can only overwhelm those who are destitute and weak. The self-respecting, great warriors do not bow down to the influence of destiny.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.14-16)

Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother and was completely devoted to Him. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is trying to persuade Rama to ignore the order and remain in the kingdom. It appears that he is criticizing Rama by saying that “only You would think of Dashratha’s welfare at a time like this.” In actuality, Lakshmana is paying Rama a compliment and also teaching us about God’s qualities. In essence, Lakshmana is saying, “O Rama, most people in this material world would be greatly attached to their royal kingdom and all the comforts it affords. They would crave the royal crown very much and upon losing the opportunity to become king, they would be greatly distressed. You, however, seem completely unaffected by all this. Rather, You are more concerned with the welfare of Dashratha and Kaikeyi, the two people directly responsible for Your current predicament. You are so kind that You don’t even blame them, but You instead attribute all of this to destiny. Only You could be capable of this since You are God Himself.”

Lord Krishna, or any one of authorized forms such as Rama, can be defined as God since He possesses six opulences simultaneously and to the fullest extent. Renunciation is one of those opulences, along with beauty, wealth, fame, strength, and wisdom. God possesses the quality of renunciation to the fullest extent possible, thus it was no problem for Rama to abandon the kingdom. In actuality, both Rama and Lakshmana were correct in their actions. Rama came to earth specifically to reinstitute the principles of dharma and to kill the evil demon Ravana. His going to the forest set the wheels in motion for Ravana’s demise, for the forest was where Ravana would come and kidnap Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife. At the same time, by following the orders of His father, Rama set the example of how one should always listen to pious parents. Dashratha was a descendant of Maharaja Ikshvaku, one of the first kings to ever rule the earth. Both Dashratha and Rama took it upon themselves to maintain the good name of the Ikshvaku family.

Lakshmana Lakshmana was also a great renunciate. At the time, he was also married, but he renounced everyone in favor of Rama. That is the mood of a pure devotee. They have neither attachment nor any hatred for anyone. They view devotional service to God as their only mission in life and they judge every person and every action based on how it relates to God. Dashratha was also Lakshmana’s father, but we see that Lakshmana was more than willing to criticize him and go against his orders. Lakshmana sided with Rama on all matters and his devotion was so great that Rama allowed him to come to the forest with Him and Sita.

The lesson here is that we too can have great powers of renunciation if we take to the process of devotional service. By attaching ourselves to God’s interests in the same way that Lakshmana did, we will be able to give up any and all unnecessary attachments to things material. This will help us further advance in spiritual life, allowing us to ultimately renounce this material world and return back home, back to Godhead.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Allayer of Fears

Shri Rama Darbar “Upon observing the brahmana's rigid vow, Lord Shri Ramachandra ordered His younger brother Lakshmana to deliver a pair of Sita-Rama Deities to the brahmana. The brahmana received the Deities from Shri Lakshmanaji and worshiped Them faithfully as long as he lived.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 9.11, Purport)

Lord Krishna If a devotee has something troubling their mind, God takes care of the problem personally. This is because the Lord never wants His most beloved friends, the devotees, to suffer unnecessarily at any time in their execution of religious duties which are dedicated to Him. Similar to how a parent is there to mend the wounds of their children, God is always standing by, ready to defend those who love Him.

Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as defined by the Vedas. Man has a general conception of a God, or a higher power who is in control of everything. The scriptures of the major religions of the world provide varying definitions of what is God and what His powers are. The Vedas, the original scriptures for mankind emanating from India, give us the most detail about who God is, what He looks like, and what His attributes are. Since God is the Supreme Lord, He can take any form at will, and unlike our bodies which are subject to birth and death, God’s body is eternally blissful and full of knowledge, sach-chid-ananda vigraha. The Lord even expands Himself into different forms, with one of them being the impersonal Brahman.

“And I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman, which is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness, and which is immortal, imperishable and eternal.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.27)

With all the forms that He can take, many mistakenly come to the conclusion that God is just an energy or that there are many different Gods. For this reason the Vedas refer to the Lord as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. Bhagavan also means the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is a person just like us, but He is the supreme person. He is the source of Godhead, meaning God can take many different forms, but that Bhagavan Shri Krishna is the original, ishvara parama krishna. To enact pastimes on earth, the Lord expands Himself into His various lila-avataras. One of the primary lila-avataras appeared on earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. The Vedas tell us that this world isn’t created just once, but rather over and over again in a repeating cycle of creation and dissolution. Just as there is a set number of hours in a day, there is a set number of years that each creation exists for. This number makes up its own unit of measure, known as a Yuga. This complete Yuga then gets divided into four smaller Yugas. Creation is divided into these time periods to distinguish the general spiritual attributes of a society. In the first time period, known as the Satya or Krita Yuga, man is almost one hundred percent God conscious. With each successive Yuga, man’s religiosity declines by one quarter.

Lord Rama appeared during a time when religiosity was still very high. He took birth in the solar dynasty, a descendant of Maharaja Ikshvaku, the first king on earth. The solar dynasty is that which comes from the sun god, Vivasvan. Vivasvan’s son was Manu, the first man on earth, and Ikshvaku was Manu’s son. Several generations later, Lord Rama took birth in this pious dynasty as the son of Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. This dynasty was especially known for its dedication to dharma. Society requires a certain group of people to provide protection to the innocent. The Vedas refer to this group as the kshatriya, or warrior, class. These warriors are brave and chivalrous, and they serve as the government. It is the natural inclination of people to look to government to help them with their problems. This is an outgrowth of the relationship we have with God. The Lord is the master, and we are His servants. That is the original relationship which we spirit souls all had with God, but somehow or other, we ended up in this material world where we have forgotten that relationship. The material disease is represented by the mindset of “I” and “mine”. This is a flawed way of thinking because God is actually the owner of everything. Whatever we may think we possess, our accumulated wealth and our family relations are all temporary and subject to destruction.

Lord Rama God is the original protector, and so the Vedas tell us that a good government is one that serves as His representatives on earth. In this manner, it is okay to look to government for help, provided that they are governing in accordance with God’s instructions found in the Vedas. In the guise of a human being, Lord Rama set the example of how a king should behave. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others, and this was certainly the case with the eldest son of Dashratha.

As part of His pastimes, the Lord ended up roaming the forests of India for fourteen years alongside His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. At the time, the great sages, or brahmanas, had taken to forest life since it was more conducive to asceticism. The kshatriyas are required to provide protection to all members of society, but especially to the brahmanas, the priestly class of men. The brahmanas serve as the brain of society, meaning they give proper guidance to everyone on how to make the most of their life. This doesn’t mean that brahmanas simply tell others how to earn money or enjoy sex life. The real purpose of life is to know and love God. This is an easy to thing to do, provided that one is controlled and sober, dhira. Since this isn’t always the case, brahmanas give guidelines on how to make progress spiritually. Generally, they recommend the performance of sacrifices, vishnu-yajna, and the performance of tapasya, or religious austerities.

Not only do the brahmanas teach others how to engage in religious activity, but they themselves dedicate their whole lives to religion. The word acharya means one who leads by example, thus bona fide brahmanas practice what they preach. Forest life is much quieter than urban life, with fewer distractions around, so many brahmanas set up cottages in the forest during Lord Rama’s time. These forests were referred to as tapo-vanas since they were conducive to the performance of tapasya.

However, the performance of their religious duties was greatly hindered by Rakshasas. The Vedas tell us that there are 8,400,000 different species of life because each living entity possesses the three qualities of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance, to varying degrees. Therefore human beings aren’t the only intelligent life forms. Rather, there are many species that are human-like, and the Rakshasas are one such species. Unlike human beings, Rakshasas are demonic by nature. They are staunch atheists, engaging in meat eating, illicit sex, and intoxication as a way of life. They are so abominable, that they view the brahmanas as their greatest enemies. One of the trademark characteristics of a brahmana, or saintly person, is that they enjoy universal acclaim and adoration. Since they voluntarily and freely spread the highest form of love, Krishna-prema, it is not surprising to see that most everyone will appreciate them. Even those that aren’t religiously inclined still respect the brahmanas.

Ravana This fact tells us just how demoniac the Rakshasas were. They hated the brahmanas, and they held nothing back in their attacks against the saints. Similar to how terrorists act today, the Rakshasas would approach the sages in disguise. Once the brahmanas let their guard down, the Rakshasas would show their true form and then attack. Stopping the sacrifices weren’t enough, for the Rakshasa would kill and then eat the flesh of the sages.

By good fortune, Lord Rama and His group happened to be roaming the forests during this troublesome time. The sages made the most of this great opportunity by directly petitioning the Lord for help. Both Rama and Lakshmana immediately agreed to take up arms to protect the sages. Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife, had a few concerns over this. The Vedas are very explicit as to when violence is allowed and when it isn’t. It is considered sinful to act violently towards another person without just cause. She was afraid that, by Rama carrying His bow and arrows all the time, He might be prone to preemptively striking against the Rakshasas, something which would be against the principles of dharma.

Lord Rama was only in the forest due to His adherence to dharma. Dashratha had given the exile order due to the request of his youngest wife, Kaikeyi. Rama easily could have ignored the order, but that would have made Dashratha a liar. Rather than give His dad a bad name, Rama chose to take up the life of a mendicant. Sita Devi knew this, so she didn’t want her husband’s religious merit to diminish. Rama was God Himself, and Sita was Goddess Lakshmi, but the pair still played the role of ordinary human beings. Sita is actually an eternal devotee of Lord Rama.

Sita Rama Sita was so sweet that she presented her concerns to Rama in the nicest possible way. She even remarked that such instruction given by a wife was certainly against the proper rules of conduct, but that she loved Him so much that she didn’t want to see Him falter. Lord Rama acknowledged her concerns and allayed her fears by reminding her that the Rakshasas had attacked first. He also told her that it was His duty to protect the saints, even if they hadn’t approached Him.

“Having addressed these words to the daughter King Janaka, His dear wife Sita, the great soul and wielder of the bow, Lord Rama, returned with Lakshmana to the beautiful tapo-vana.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.22)

The importance of this incident is that God personally removed the fears and concerns of both Sita Devi and the brahmanas residing in the forest. Sita’s concerns were removed when the Lord nicely explained to her His devotion to the saintly class of people. The brahmanas were then protected by Rama and Lakshmana, who would both go on to kill many Rakshasas. The Rakshasa leader, Ravana, would eventually be killed directly by Rama at the culmination a great battle. These incidences aren’t unique, but they remind us of God’s unflinching devotion to His devotees. If one of His bhaktas faces a problem, the Lord either directly comes to fix the situation, or He sends one of His authorized representatives, the spiritual master. There are three notable examples in this regard.

Narasimhadeva killing Hiranyakashipu Many years prior to His advent as Lord Rama, Krishna personally came to earth in a half-man/half-lion form named Narasimha. He appeared so as to give protection to His five year old devotee, Prahlada. Just as Rakshasas are demonic in nature, so are the Daityas, the sons of Diti. Prahlada was born a Daitya, but he was a pure devotee at heart. Unfortunately, his father Hiranyakashipu was not. A demon very similar to Ravana, Hiranyakashipu was very strong and well off materially. He thought himself to be God, so when he saw Prahlada engaged in devotional service, he became very angry. The young child refused to give up his devotion to Krishna, so Hiranyakashipu tried to kill him in so many ways. Yet each and every attempt failed, for the Lord gave protection to Prahlada. There was even one time when Prahlada was put into a pit of fire by a demon woman named Holika. Hiranyakashipu thought that Holika would survive the fire due to a boon she had received. However, the boon didn’t work since Prahlada was in her lap. The reverse situation ended up occurring, with Holika burning to ashes and Prahlada surviving. This event was the genesis of the annual holiday known as Holi, which is celebrated by millions of Hindus each year. God finally had enough and personally appeared as Lord Narasimhadeva and took Hiranyakashipu on his lap, and bifurcated him with His claws.

When Lord Rama triumphantly returned home after killing Ravana, He was installed as the king of Ayodhya. The people all loved him, especially the brahmanas. There was one brahmana in particular who would go see Rama every day. In fact, He would not eat without first seeing the Lord. Since Rama had to go away on business from time to time, the brahmana would not be able to see Him. On these occasions, the brahmana would starve himself. Upon hearing of this great devotion, the Lord was both happy and sad. He was honored by the devotion shown, but at the same time, He didn’t want His devotee to suffer unnecessarily. So to alleviate the situation, Rama had Lakshmana install a deity of Himself in the brahmana’s home. He instructed the brahmana to view the deity to be as good as Himself, thus he could now take his meals every day. This deity actually existed even before Lord Rama’s time and it has since been passed down to various saints, including Lord Hanuman. It is still in existence to this day in India.

Lord Chaitanya A third instance of God’s devotion to His devotees occurred some five hundred years ago with Lord Chaitanya. The shastras tell us that in the Kali Yuga, the Lord appears secretly in the guise of a brahmana who is known for spreading the sankirtana movement, which is the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. This brahmana was known as Lord Chaitanya, and He appeared in India specifically to deliver the fallen souls of this age. After taking sannyasa at the age of 24, the Lord travelled extensively across India, inducing everyone to take up the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. On one particular occasion, Lord Chaitanya was received as a guest of a brahmana who was a great devotee of Lord Rama. Lord Chaitanya actually named this brahmana Ramadasa Vipra, due to his devotion. Ramadasa was so happy to receive Lord Chaitanya, but he had one thing on his mind that disturbed him greatly. He couldn’t bear the thought of Ravana touching the body of Sita Devi. During Lord Rama’s time in the woods, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, an event which triggered the eventual collapse of Ravana and his Rakshasa empire. Lord Chaitanya assured the brahmana that Ravana had actually stolen a false copy of Sita, for the original had taken refuge in the fire just prior to the kidnapping.

“At Rameshvara, Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu had a chance to read the Kurma Purana, in which He discovered that the form of Sita kidnapped by Ravana was not that of the real Sita but a mere shadow representation.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 1.117)

Later on during His travels, Lord Chaitanya found evidence in the Kurma Purana to back up His claim regarding Sita. The Lord immediately thought of Ramadasa Vipra. In order to allay the brahmana’s fears once and for all, the Lord tore the relevant page from the Kurma Purana and replaced it with a hand-written copy. Taking the original page back to Ramadasa Vipra, the Lord gave him evidence of the fact that the real Sita was indeed never touched by Ravana.

Sita Rama The lesson here is that God’s protection only comes when we associate with the divine energy. The material energy is full of dangers lurking around every corner. This is because karma itself is so complicated that we never know when good or bad things will happen to us. If we achieve the greatest material wealth, it is still temporary in nature. We will be forced to give it up at the time of death. Devotional service, on the other hand, is an eternal occupation. Since it is the natural inclination of the spirit soul to act as a servant to God, once taken up, the execution of bhakti yoga never stops.

We have nothing to lose and everything to gain by taking up religious activity. The highest form of religion is that which brings us closer to loving God. Religion performed simply for material benefit is second class and subject to victory and defeat. Pure devotional service means never losing because God Himself will personally see to it that we succeed.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


Rama and brothers at Gurukula “Oh Rakshasa, the sages dwelling in the Dandaka forest are highly pious and always follow the virtuous path. What do you gain by killing them?” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.6)

The heavy metal band Metallica has a song called Wasting My Hate, which describes the futility of investing so much negative emotion and concern over someone else. Hate is an emotion stronger than indifference or apathy, so the song urges people to not waste their hate, but to rather keep it for themselves. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, have a similar view. The Vedas advise everyone to use every precious moment in life to love God and His devotees.

Michael Chang holding the French Open trophy Sometimes the pious, or God conscious people, are not viewed favorably. Christian-style preachers on television and in the streets are often seen pointing their fingers and yelling at people, telling them they are going to hell for their sins. “Repent now, or face eternal damnation in hell.” This type of prosthelytizing is surely over the top and people certainly have a right to react negatively. “Who are these people to tell me how to live? Are they not sinners themselves? Why are they bothering me?” While this type of preaching may be extreme, there are others who are simply religious by nature and like to talk about God. Though their thinking may be slightly flawed, they at least think of God more often than others do. The famous tennis player, Michael Chang, used to point to the sky after he would win a match, thanking God for his victory. When he won the French Open at only 17 years of age, the youngest player to ever win, he sincerely believed that it was an act of God, that Lord Jesus Christ wanted him to win.

Open by Andre Agassi Such sentiments are certainly nice. Whether God played a direct role or not in Chang’s victories is debatable, but at least he had God on his mind. Yet many people were upset by Chang’s behavior and praise of God. Fellow player, Andre Agassi, took great umbrage.

"Once more, I square off against Chang, who’s developed a bad habit since we last met. Every time he beats someone, he points to the sky. He thanks God- credits God—for the win, which offends me. That God should take sides in a tennis match, that God should side against me, that God should be in Chang’s box, feels ludicrous and insulting. I beat Chang and savor every blasphemous stroke.” (Andrea Agassi, Open)

Agassi didn’t think that God would care who wins a tennis match. There are others who react similarly to people of faith. These feelings are usually a result of insecurities. Feeling inadequate with their level of faith or their lack of religious knowledge, they don’t like hearing from others who are so sure about what they believe. Pious people are viewed negatively as a result.

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, by His inconceivable supreme energy, time, causes the interaction of the three modes of material nature, and thus varieties of energy become manifest. It appears that He is acting, but He is not the actor. He is killing, but He is not the killer. Thus it is understood that only by His inconceivable power is everything happening.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.11.18)

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, sheds light on some of these issues in the Bhagavad-gita, also known as the Song of God. The Lord tells us that this material world is governed by guna and karma. Gunas are material qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance, and karma is fruitive activity, or work. All of our fortunes, good and bad, come as a result of the work we perform. This holds true in every area of life. Whatever work we perform for a material benefit, there must be an associated reaction, either good or bad. Sometimes the fruits of our work don’t appear right away. The consequences may appear to us later on in this life or even in a future one. Lord Krishna, though the creator of the system of karma, is aloof from it. He has no personal stake in our material fortunes and misfortunes.

He makes an exception, however, for His devotees. Bhaktas work only for the Lord’s benefit. Knowing this, God takes a personal interest in the lives of His devotees. This means that sometimes He will interject and give us bad or good fortune. This may seem odd. “Why would God make bad things happen to us?” As the famous devotee, Kunti Devi, teaches us, sometimes bad fortune is good because it reminds us of God. If we are too wealthy and too well-off, we may forget about the Lord and instead think of ourselves as god-like. For this reason sometimes the Lord takes away material wealth from a devotee. This is an act of love.

“Bewildered by the modes of material nature, the ignorant fully engage themselves in material activities and become attached. But the wise should not unsettle them, although these duties are inferior due to the performers' lack of knowledge.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.29)

Lord Krishna It takes many many lifetimes for one to finally become a pure devotee. This is because the forces of nature are very strong. Most people work on the platform of karma, thinking that working hard for material prosperity will eventually give them peace and happiness. For people who are committed to this lifestyle, the Lord does not stand in the way. He advises the devotees to also leave them alone. Devout karmis, or fruitive workers, are on a freight-train heading straight towards a set destination, either heaven or hell. Residence in either place is temporary. The fruits of our material actions certainly do manifest at some time, but they still have an expiration date on them. Once the rewards or demerits expire, one is again cast into the ocean of material existence. Devotees love to talk about God, so it is difficult for them to stay silent about their feelings. For this reason God advises the bhaktas to remain in the company of others bhaktas. It is okay to associate with karmis if they have a sincere interest in learning about God.

In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is addressing the Rakshasa demon, Khara. Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, was roaming the forests of India with His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. At the time of His appearance, the Rakshasas were harassing the sages living in the forest of Dandaka. Rakshasas are a species of demons who are expert at black magic, spending all their time eating meat, drinking wine, and harassing the pious. As mentioned before, the Lord advises the devotees to leave the non-devotees alone. At worse, devotees will try to peacefully preach to the non-devotees about the glories of God. Yet we see that Rakshasas, and many committed atheists, love to harass the devotees. One can only imagine how vile these people are.

For the sober person, there is no need to harass the pious. The devotees sing God’s praises, write books about Him, visit His temples, and discuss His pastimes with others. Because of their devotion to God, they automatically inherit all good qualities. They are peaceful and happy all the time. The famous King Yudhishthira, a cousin and devotee of Krishna, was also known by the name ajatashatru, meaning one who has no enemies. Devotees are liked and adored by all people, even the karmis. The committed atheists, however, despise the devotees. They are committed to their atheistic way of life, so they hate anyone who believes in God and His supremacy. Krishna and all things relating to Him are the antithesis of materialistic life; a life which is both miserable and temporary.

Hanuman worshiping Rama Instead of keeping their hate to themselves and letting the devotees be, the demons actively engage in harassing the pious. This hate actually serves no purpose, as Lord Rama says. There is nothing to be gained by harassing a saint. The Rakshasas killed many sages in the forests, but they still weren’t happy. Ravana, the leader of the Rakshasas, had many beautiful wives, but he was still not satisfied. He felt compelled to assume the guise of a brahmana and kidnap Lord Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita. Though these events took place many thousands of years ago, Rakshasas still exist today, but they take different forms. Sometimes they get elected to lead governments and sometimes they act as terrorists, blowing themselves up in public places, killing as many innocent people as they can.

So what can the pious do to protect themselves? Devotees are advised to continue executing devotional service and let God take care of the rest. Lord Rama’s statement to Khara was made just prior to their battle. Fourteen thousand Rakshasas had come to Janasthana where Rama and His family had set up camp. Lord Rama single-handedly destroyed them all, including Khara. The Lord doesn’t take very kindly to the harassment of His devotees. Not only does He take special interest in the fortunes and misfortunes of His bhaktas, but He also personally appears on the scene to give them protection.

Lord Rama God’s hate is never wasted. “Rama” means one who gives pleasure to all. Lord Rama is usually seen smiling, since He is peaceful by nature, but if someone should cross one of His dependents, He unleashes a wrath the likes of which we have never seen. The demons certainly do waste their hate when it comes to their feeling towards devotees of God. The Lord, however, never wastes His hate, for His anger results in the complete protection of the saints. If we become sincere devotees, God will always protect us.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

A Regulated Mind

Hanuman chanting God's glories “Whatever is achieved by meditation in Satya-yuga, by the performance of yajna in Treta-yuga or by the worship of Krishna's lotus feet in Dvapara-yuga is also obtained in the Age of Kali simply by chanting and glorifying Lord Keshava.” (Padma Purana)

God doesn’t conform to us, but rather we must abide by His orders. That is the true path towards happiness and peace. Those who are enemies of God, or those who are less intelligent, concoct a version of God based on their mental speculation. Thus they will never be successful in spiritual life.

Goddess Durga Some spiritual leaders advocate meditation on a formless energy known as Brahman. This is indeed one of God’s features, but it is different from God Himself, the Supreme Personality. These religious leaders declare that one can meditate on any form they choose, such as Lord Ganesha, Goddess Durga, the sun-god, etc. and that all these forms are equal. This directly contradicts what is found in the authoritative Vedic scriptures, yet nevertheless these are the kinds of things regularly taught by pseudo-religious leaders around the world.

“I am in everyone's heart as the Supersoul. As soon as one desires to worship the demigods, I make his faith steady so that he can devote himself to some particular deity. Endowed with such a faith, he seeks favors of a particular demigod and obtains his desires. But in actuality these benefits are bestowed by Me alone.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.21022)

According to the Vedas, Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead; a single God, master of all, complete in six opulences. He takes various forms and expansions which are all equal to Him in potency, but God Himself remains one. There are various demigods who serve as chief deputies to Krishna. Since they are highly elevated living entities, they have extraordinary powers, enabling them to grant boons to their devotees. This is all sanctioned by Krishna, for He put a system in place whereby people can make gradual advancement in spiritual life. However, these demigods are never equal in potency to Krishna, nor do they claim to be. Those who take Krishna and the other demigods to be equal don’t really have faith in the Vedas. They love to compare various religions, finding contradictions and similarities, and then come to their own conclusions based on mental speculation. For this reason they take everything in this world to be mithya, or false. Meditation is seen as the ultimate aim of life, so people are advised to concentrate their minds on any form they choose, since everything is ultimately believed to be false anyway. These leaders view Krishna as a mere representation of Brahman, not taking Him to be God.

krs22bye_1250219415 This type of thinking is not authorized by the scriptures. One has to take knowledge from authority since our minds are not capable of understanding God. Every person is born with four defects: the propensity to be illusioned, to cheat, to have imperfect senses, and to commit mistakes. Because of this, religious instruction has to be taken from Krishna Himself or His direct representative. In the Bhagavad-gita, the Lord declares that He first gave spiritual instruction to the sun-god, who then passed it down to future generations.

“The Blessed Lord said: 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.” (Bg. 4.1)

These are factual statements made by the Lord. The Vedas are the ultimate source of knowledge, the original scriptures of the world. One isn’t required to come to conclusions based on mental speculation because God has already answered all of our questions. We simply need to humbly submit ourselves to Him and His representative, the spiritual master. Krishna doesn’t decry the process of meditation. Rather He says that if you want to meditate, you should concentrate on His four-handed form of Vishnu, or Narayana. That is real meditation. Lord Rama even practiced this on the eve of His installation as king.

"Then raising the vessel of ghee (clarified butter) to His head, He in accordance with the ordinance began to offer oblations to the flaming fire on behalf of the mighty deity. Then, having partaken of the remaining quantity of the ghee, Rama prayed for His own welfare, and meditated on Narayana...” (Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 6.3-4)

Hanuman meditating on Sita and Rama Yoga means having union of the soul with God. There is no other meaning to yoga, though today it is generally equated with various breathing exercises and sitting postures. People make up their own forms of yoga now and sell it to the masses. It is actually not possible to invent any yoga system, since the various types of yoga are clearly defined in the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic texts. Those who concoct their own form of religion are doomed to failure right from the outset. What’s worse is that anyone who follows their line of thinking will also be doomed.

“Being capable of acting otherwise, why are you abiding by the unrighteous words of our father, who is under Kaikeyi’s full control? I regret that You did not realize that this disturbance was put into place with sinful intentions. Indeed this conduct is worthy of censure.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, VR. Ayodhya Kand, 23.12-13)

In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is quite angry about Lord Rama being sent to the forest for fourteen years. Rama is one of Krishna’s primary incarnations, appearing on earth during the Treta Yuga. Born as the eldest son of the pious king, Maharaja Dashratha, the Lord was ordered to leave the kingdom, giving up all ties to the throne. This was at the request of Dashratha’s youngest wife, Kaikeyi. Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother and close confidant, didn’t take this news lying down. He wanted Rama to defy the order and usurp the kingdom by force if necessary. His argument was that Rama was God and that He needn’t conform to anyone.

Rama and Lakshmana In concept, Lakshmana was absolutely correct. As previously mentioned, those who make up their own religion will always meet with failure in spiritual life. However, Lord Rama had a higher purpose to serve, namely the destruction of the Rakshasa demon, Ravana. On a material level, the rules of propriety tell us that the orders of a mother and father should always be adhered to in all situations. This system was put in place by God so as to teach us how to respect others. Our parents are our first deities, followed by the spiritual master. By respecting them, we learn to have respect for the Supreme Father, God.

Lakshmana is God’s support system, His immediate expansion in the spiritual world. When a bona fide spiritual master speaks, it is to be understood that Lakshmana, or Baladeva, has incarnated in him. We must worship God in the same way that Lakshmana did, always looking out for the interests of the Lord. He never wanted Rama to conform to anyone and that is stance we should take as well. In this age, performing meditation according to the guidelines of the shastras is very difficult. Thus today the only bona fide religious practice is sankirtana, or the congregational chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Sadharma Charini

Sita Rama “My dear beautiful wife, what you have said is befitting the occasion and also indicative of the greatness of your family heritage. You are dearer to Me than My life, for you are My companion in the performance of religious duties.” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.21)

Society has various definitions of what constitutes a charitable or selfless act. Welfare work is usually equated with philanthropy, or the giving of money to charitable institutions or providing help to those who are considered disadvantaged. These acts are undoubtedly noble, but the Vedas tell us that there is an even higher type of service we can offer our fellow man. Helping others become God conscious is considered the highest welfare activity. Taking it one step further, those who help others in their execution of religious activities and devotional service are considered even more saintly.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, describes different types of sacrifices and pious deeds in His famous discourse to His disciple and cousin, Arjuna. Known as the “Song of God”, the Bhagavad-gita informs us of the different types of charitable activities and which mode of material nature they fall into: goodness, passion, or ignorance.

“That gift which is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return, is considered to be charity in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.20)

If we look at any society, no matter how opulent it might be, there are bound to be those who are struggling. In America, famous athletes tend to earn a lot of money. This is because the four major sports of baseball, basketball, football, and hockey, along with tennis and golf, garner great attention from the general public. Stadiums are often filled to the capacity and television ratings are very high. This leads to increased merchandise sales. The result is that there is plenty of money to go around between the organizers of these sports and their participants, the players. Many of these athletes are very young, and their new-found wealth can be overwhelming. Not knowing what to do with all their money, they take to philanthropy. Famous athletes such as Tiger Woods, Andre Agassi, and Roger Federer have all started their own charitable foundations. Agassi was so ambitious that he even started his own school in his hometown of Las Vegas.

These charities all target those who are considered disadvantaged or poor. Agassi’s school was created so as to allow underprivileged youths in Las Vegas to have an equal chance at a good education. The school was so popular in the beginning that many students from outside Las Vegas ended up applying and were granted admission. Agassi eventually had to go to court to block these outsiders from attending the school. In his mind, these people were wealthy enough that they didn’t need the help he was offering.

Lord Krishna Herein lies the flaw with charity that is done on the material level. The Vedas tell us that the difference between the spiritual world and the material world is that the material world is one governed by gunas, or qualities, and karma, or work. The three qualities of material nature are goodness, passion, and ignorance. Each living entity possesses these qualities to varying degrees. Every action we perform, or karma, can also be classified into one of these modes. Charity performed in the mode of goodness reaps great spiritual merit. The performers ascend to the heavenly planets after their current life is over. Yet since the mode of goodness is still part of the material world, acts of charity by themselves don’t grant liberation.

Unlike the material world, the spiritual world is free of karma and guna. Life there is eternally blissful since it is the original home of the spirit souls. Due to our desire to imitate God, we were allowed to take birth in the material world. By acting in any of the three modes of nature, we are perpetually bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death. There is only one way out of this material world, and that is to think of God at the time of death.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

Charity on the material level also takes other forms. Many foundations are formed to fund research into fighting various cancers, such as breast cancer and leukemia. Then there are other organizations formed to help those coming from abusive families or relationships. People working for these groups certainly have noble intentions, but according to the Vedic definition, everyone in this material world is suffering. Actually, simply by taking birth here, one is deemed to already have suffered. The Shrimad Bhagavatam gives us information on the mindset of the child in the womb.

“Therefore, my Lord, although I am living in a terrible condition, I do not wish to depart from my mother's abdomen to fall again into the blind well of materialistic life. Your external energy, called deva-maya, at once captures the newly born child, and immediately false identification, which is the beginning of the cycle of continual birth and death, begins.” (SB 3.31.20)

Taking birth means the spirit soul is again subject to the miseries of material life. Every living entity must suffer through old age, disease, and eventually death. Therefore anyone who acts in such a way as to cause the cycle of birth and death to repeat is deemed to be suffering. This situation describes almost everyone, for we are all associating with karma. Any work performed for a desired material result, or that work performed according to prescribed duty aimed at achieving material advancement, can be classified as karma. Vikarma is any work performed that causes one to fall further down the chain of species. Akarma is work that is performed to help one break free of the repeated cycle of birth and death.

To this end, we see that regular acts of charity don’t help the performer achieve perfection because they are still associated with karma. The recipients of such charity are benefitted in a material sense, but not in a spiritual sense. Since the material senses can never be fully satisfied, simply helping someone’s material condition won’t help them achieve the ultimate purpose of life, which is to become God conscious. Therefore the shastras state that there is an even higher form of charity and welfare work that one can perform.

Sita Rama In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is praising His wife’s devotion to Him and the counsel she freely offered to Him. Lord Krishna is the original form of God but He periodically expands Himself into human form for specific purposes. As Lord Rama, God came to earth to annihilate the miscreants in the form of the Rakshasas, headed by their leader Ravana. By killing the miscreants, the Lord would, at the time same time, be providing protection to His devotees. Lord Rama’s advent took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. The brahmanas, the priestly class of men, had taken to forest life in hopes of further advancing in their spiritual pursuits. Brahmanas have several specific occupations they can undertake, which are delineated in the shastras. One of their primary duties is to perform worship of Lord Vishnu, Krishna’s primary expansion, by holding great sacrifices. At the same time, they are advised to perform austerities, known as tapasya, with the aim of freeing themselves from attachment to material objects. Tapasya is intended to help one advance spiritually. Every living entity has two souls residing within the body, the individual soul (atma) and the Supersoul (Paramatma). The “para” distinguishes the Supersoul from our individual soul. This is because the Paramatma is the direct expansion of God. Some philosophers falsely believe that God divides Himself into the Paramatma, and that at the end of creation, everything merges back into Him. In actuality, God expands Himself as the Paramatma, but at the same time, remains unchanged and complete in His potency.

Hanuman keeping Sita and Rama in the heart Due to the influence of the material senses, the living entity is unaware of the presence of both the atma and Paramatma. This forgetfulness leads one to falsely identify with their gross material body, which is temporary in nature. The body is so temporary that it is changing every second. The body we had as a child is completely different from the body we have as an adult. Yet we still see people falsely identifying themselves as belonging to a specific race or even a particular nationality. The purpose of human life is to break free of these bodily designations and to realize that we are spirit souls, aham brahmasmi. By performing tapasya, we can get closer to connecting with the Paramatma residing within us. One who realizes the presence of the Paramatma can then start to take dictation from Him. The directions of the Paramatma are known as the divine consciousness, which is different from the material consciousness.

“For one who is so situated in the Divine consciousness, the threefold miseries of material existence exist no longer; in such a happy state, one's intelligence soon becomes steady.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.65)

During Lord Rama’s time, the sages took to the forest since it was more conducive to spiritual life. The Rakshasas knew this, so they would range the night looking for these sages. Not only would the Rakshasa disrupt the fire sacrifices, but they would kill the brahmanas and then eat them. The shastras list specific sins and the consequences associated with them, but there is no higher sin than killing a brahmana; especially if he is a Vaishnava, or devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana Lord Rama, His wife Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, happened to be roaming the forests of India at the time these events were unfolding. The sages directly approached Rama and asked Him to protect them. The Lord happily obliged. It was actually no coincidence that Rama was there in the forest at the time. God came to earth in the form of Lord Rama specifically at the insistence of the demigods. Ravana had defeated them in battle many times, and due to the boons he had received from Lord Brahma and Shiva, he was unbeatable in battle from any celestial being. Only a human being could defeat him. For this reason the demigods asked God to come to earth in human form. When the brahmanas in the forest approached Him, Lord Rama was ready, willing, and able to defend.

Yet Sita Devi had a few concerns relating to this request. Rama’s signature attribute was His devotion to dharma, or religiosity. As a pious prince, Rama set the example for the rest of society on the proper rules of etiquette and behavior for a leader. Sita Devi, a devoted wife and extremely pious person in her own right, was worried that Rama might take to violence without just cause. She raised her concerns to Rama in a very nice way. In response, the Lord told her not to worry because it was actually His duty to protect the brahmanas. Since the Rakshasas had already attacked, Rama’s defense of the sages was more than justified.

Rama knew what was in Sita’s heart, so He very much appreciated her concern. In the above referenced quote, He mentions that she is dear to Him, especially because she is a partner in the performance of His religious duties. This one statement teaches us the true meaning behind marriage. In the Vedic tradition, a virtuous wife is referred to as sadharma-charini since she is the partner in the performance of religious activities. Aside from merely providing regulation of sex indulgence, marriage life is meant to be a completely spiritual institution. For this reason it is known as the grihastha-ashrama.

Marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama Lord Rama’s statement not only applies to those who are married, but to all people. The ability to practice religion is the real benefit to this human form of life. The Vedas refer to religion as sanatana dharma, meaning the eternal occupation of man. It is our inherent nature to be servants of Lord Krishna, or God. Yet material nature lures us into being servants of our senses. The regulative principles of bhakti yoga serve as a starting point to helping us break free of this mindset. When one first takes up devotional service, there are several rules and regulations they must adhere to, the primary of which involve abstention from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication.

Anytime we take up a new endeavor, success is not guaranteed. What can really boost our chances of success is having someone else there to help us. People wanting to lose weight often visit a personal fitness trainer. This person serves as a coach in way, pushing the person to exercise hard and eat right. The devotee of God acts in a similar manner. Aside from being a servant of God themselves, the devotee performs the highest welfare work by inducing others to take up devotional service. The shastras tell us that the highest reward in life is to have association with the saints. Pure devotees of Krishna are considered true saints, and having association their association means having access to a wealth of knowledge, guidance, and wisdom.

We are eternally indebted to the great Vaishnava saints and acharyas of the past such as Goswami Tulsidas, Vyasadeva, Lord Chaitanya, and Shrila Prabhupada, who were all trailblazers. They dedicated their lives to serving Lord Krishna and helping others become devotees. Sita Devi herself set the standard of excellence in the execution of devotional service. We should all take up bhakti yoga by following in the footsteps of these great authorities. If we are fortunate enough to make progress and become God conscious, we should then take to helping others achieve the same goal. Acting as someone’s companion in their performance of religious acts is really the nicest thing we can do for someone else.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Holi 2010

Prahlada Maharaja “Daityas, as truly as Vishnu is present in your weapons and in my body, so truly shall those weapons fail to harm me.” (Prahlada Maharaja speaking to Hiranyakashipu’s attendants, Vishnu Purana)

Holi is one of the most famous Hindu festivals celebrated each year. Known for its festive atmosphere, the playful throwing of colors on friends and family members, and singing and dancing, the holiday has its origin in religion and faith in God. Holi is named after the demon and sister of Hiranyakashipu, Holika. The annual occasion of Holi celebrates the thwarting of Holika’s attempt at killing Hiranyakashipu’s son, Prahlada.

Hiranyakashipu Hiranyakashipu was a Daitya, or demon or asura, who ruled the earth millions of years ago. The Vedas provide a detailed lineage of man starting at the beginning of creation. There were two famous sisters, Diti and Aditi. The sons of Aditi became known as the Adityas, and they were all pious and devoted souls. The sons of Diti became known as the Daityas, and they were all demons by nature. Hiranyakashipu was a Daitya, and a committed atheist. Similar to the Rakshasa demon, Ravana, Hiranyakashipu performed great austerities for pleasing the demigods. They granted him several power augmenting boons and immunity from all sorts of enemies. Hiranyakashipu used these boons to terrorize the innocent, including the demigods. The demigods were so afraid of him that they would assume the guise of human beings and other species and then roam the earth incognito in hopes of avoiding Hiranyakashipu’s wrath.

Lord Vishnu The Vedas tell us that there is only one God, Lord Krishna, ishvara parama krishna. The demigods, or devatas, are highly elevated living entities who manage various departments of the material creation. Essentially, the demigods are very powerful and one is advised to approach them if they are in need of any material benediction. Just seeing that the demigods were running around in fear is indication enough of just how powerful Hiranyakashipu was. The demon was ruling over his kingdom when he had a son, whom he named Prahlada. The boy was the son of a Daitya, so Hiranyakashipu assumed that the child would worship him as his foremost deity. The Vedas tell us that the parents are the initial objects of worship for human beings, for the parents provide support and guidance during the early years of our life. Prahlada was certainly devoted to his father, but more so towards Lord Vishnu. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His primary expansion is that of Lord Vishnu. Krishna has two hands and Vishnu has four hands, but other than that, there aren’t really any differences between the two forms. When discussing matters of devotion to God and the origin of man, the names of Krishna and Vishnu are interchangeable.

“Narada Muni delivered his instructions both to me, who was within the womb, and to my mother, who was engaged in rendering him service. Because he is naturally extremely kind to the fallen souls, being in a transcendental position, he gave instructions on religion and transcendental knowledge. These instructions were free from all material contamination.” (Prahlada Maharaja speaking to his classmates, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.7.15)

Prahlada offering prayers Prahlada was born a devotee due to the grace of Narada Muni. When Hiranyakashipu’s wife was pregnant, Narada came and taught her about devotion to Krishna. The child in the womb, Prahlada, heard all this information and remembered it upon taking birth. This one fact alone teaches us so much. For expecting mothers, the best way to take care of the child in the womb is to listen to Krishna-katha, or talks or discourses about God. This will ensure that the child will grow up to be a devotee. If one is completely devoted to Krishna in this life, they will never have to suffer through birth and death again. In this way the mother can be an instrument of liberation. One of Lord Krishna’s names is Mukunda, meaning one who grants mukti, or liberation. The Vedas tell us that the soul is eternal, but that the body is not. Once the soul departs the body, it must continue to take repeated births for as long as it has material desires. Lord Krishna is the giver of mukti because only by thinking of Him at the time of death can we free ourselves from having to take birth again. By imbibing Krishna consciousness to the child while in the womb, the mother can jumpstart this liberation process.

As a child of only five years of age, Prahlada attended the gurukula, or school run by the spiritual master. When Prahlada would come home after school, Hiranyakashipu would ask his son what he learned. “Oh father, I learned that the supreme controller of all is Lord Vishnu. He is the greatest person of all, for everything in this world, both matter and spirit, emanate from him.” Hiranyakashipu became outraged after hearing this. He was a demon after all, so he didn’t believe in a God. He thought that through fruitive activity and the performance of austerities that he himself had become the most powerful person in the world. He demanded that his son worship him instead of this Vishnu person. Prahlada kindly replied, “Oh father, there is no need to be angry. Lord Vishnu is inside of everyone, meaning He is inside of you as well. He is the benefactor of all creatures, so there is no reason to hold a grudge against Him.”

“My dear friends, if you can place your faith in my words, simply by that faith you can also understand transcendental knowledge, just like me, although you are small children. Similarly, a woman can also understand transcendental knowledge and know what is spirit and what is matter.” (Prahlada Maharaja, SB 7.7.17)

Hiranyakashipu chastising Prahlada Hiranyakashipu couldn’t stand to hear this so he chewed out Prahlada’s guru. The guru answered, “Oh demon, this boy hasn’t learned these things from me. I haven’t taught him anything relating to Vishnu, just those things necessary for running a kingdom.” Prahlada went back to school but refused to change his ways. During recess, he lectured his classmates on the fleeting nature of material happiness, and how one can find true eternal bliss. “Lord Vishnu is the creator. Pleasing the senses only serves as temporary happiness, thus it is essentially useless. If we please the cause of all causes, we can gain liberation, meaning we will never have to suffer through this miserable existence in the material world.” Again Hiranyakashipu questioned Prahlada as to what he had learned and again the boy replied, “Oh best of the asuras, know that Lord Vishnu is the greatest and that we should all be devoted to Him if we want to make our lives perfect.” Prahlada was very keen, for he underhandedly insulted his father by calling him the best of the asuras. Demons loved to be praised, so Hiranyakashipu didn’t understand that Prahlada was insulting him by calling him an asura, which is a demon or non-devotee. Not only that, but Prahlada referred to him as the greatest demon.

Prahlada being thrown off a mountain Hiranyakashipu decided to kill his son instead of hearing him praise Lord Vishnu. The best of the asuras was also worried that Prahlada would soon convince others to take up devotional service. This is the real reason the demons take to harassing the devotees. They simply don’t like the fact that people worship God instead of them. All the oppressive governments of the world, past and present, operated on this principle. Hiranyakashipu tried every which way to kill his son, but none of them worked. He instructed his agents to attack his son with weapons, but as Prahlada mentions in the above referenced quote, none of those weapons could hurt him. Hiranyakashipu didn’t give up, however. Prahlada was thrown off the cliff of a mountain, bitten by serpents, and thrown to the bottom of the river. Yet the boy survived all these attempts simply by focusing his mind on Lord Vishnu. While lying on the floor of the ocean, Prahlada was bound up and covered by rocks, yet simply by thinking of Lord Vishnu residing within the heart, Prahlada became one with God, in a sense. This is the power of devotion. Devotees understand that God is both one with and separate from the living entity. God is one with all of us in that He resides within our heart, right next to our soul. Perfection in life can be achieved by connecting with this feature of God, known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. At the same time, Bhagavan is the source of the Supersoul, thus the living entities always remain subordinate. After connecting with the Supersoul, Prahlada felt liberated while remaining in his own body. He was easily able to break free of his shackles and rise to the surface of the water. In these ways, Prahlada always survived simply through the grace of God.

Prahlada and Holika Holi celebrates one particular miracle relating to Prahlada’s life. Hiranyakashipu had a sister named Holika, who had a special power that granted her immunity from the effects of fire. Hiranyakashipu thought this presented a great opportunity to finally be able to kill Prahlada. He decided to send Holika into a blazing fire while holding Prahlada in her lap. The result would be predictable enough: Holika would survive and Prahlada would die. Of course just the opposite happened. Prahlada kept his mind fixed on the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, and instead it was Holika who was burned to ashes. This event has been celebrated ever since as Holi.

Prahlada Maharaja was a great devotee who authored a number of insightful prayers to Lord Vishnu, who appeared in front of him in His half-man/half-lion form of Narasimha Deva. We can learn a lot from this young child. He continues to be an object of worship to this day and a great authority on bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to Lord Krishna. The lesson is that we should remember God at all times, from our childhood all the way up until the time of death. God exists within us as the Supersoul and without as the spiritual master. These two things, working together, can deliver us perfection in life. Anyone who remembers Prahlada Maharaja and his teachings will surely attain eternal devotion to Lord Krishna.