Saturday, March 20, 2010


Lord Krishna “I am eagerly waiting to see that boy of Vrindavana whose bodily beauty is captivating the whole universe, whose eyes are always bounded by black eyebrows and expanded like lotus petals, who is always eagerly glancing over His devotees and therefore moving slightly here and there.” (Bilvamangala Thakur, Krishna-karnamrita)

Hope is defined as the wish for something and the general expectation that it will come true in full. We all have hopes and dreams as children. Some of us want to grow up and be famous, while others long for a safe and secure family life. Hope provides feelings of comfort, for it is something we can hold on to. Hoping for something means that maybe one day we will be out of our miserable condition and finally achieve eternal peace and happiness.

Bills player after losing Super Bowl Hope is required because eventually all of us realize that there are many things out of our control. As hard as we may try for something, the desired result isn’t always attainable. There are many examples of this in our own lives, but the world of professional sports gives us a few notable instances. In the National Football League in the early 1990s, the Buffalo Bills were the perennial powerhouse in the AFC. The NFL is made up of two conferences, the NFC and the AFC, the champions of which meet in the final game of the season, known as the Super Bowl. The Super Bowl is the most widely viewed televised sporting event since it is the biggest football game of each season. Players dream of playing in the Super Bowl since greatness is often measured by how many championship teams a player is a part of. The Buffalo Bills amazingly made it to four consecutive Super Bowls, losing each time. Some of the games were close, while others were not. Buffalo fans hoped that each year would bring a change in their luck, but sadly, it didn’t.

In the world of professional tennis, Roger Federer is considered one of the all-time greats. Federer utterly dominated the game for four consecutive years, 2004-2007. The one thing he had left to accomplish, however, was winning the French Open. There are four major tournaments in each tennis season: the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, and the U.S. Open. Going into the 2006 French Open, Federer had already won the three other majors on multiple occasions. The French Open title was now his dream. Standing in his way was Rafael Nadal, considered one of the greatest clay court tennis players in history. Since the French Open is the only major played on a clay court, Nadal dominated the tournament for four straight years, beating Federer each time. The last three victories over Federer came in the French Open final. Each time, Federer fans thought that events might change and that he might finally win the one title that had eluded him. Fans kept hoping and in 2009, things broke Federer’s way, as Nadal lost in the early rounds. Federer hung tough, fighting his way to the final, and eventually the title. The good fortune he had hoped for came true.

Federer winning the French Open In both these instances, we can see that hope really played no part in the end result. The Bills couldn’t win the Super Bowl because they kept facing better teams. Federer couldn’t beat Nadal, but luckily he finally made it to a final in a year where Nadal didn’t. It is thus easy to conclude that there are many things in life that we just can’t control. This is also the conclusion of the Vedas, the authoritative scriptures of India. The entire material creation is actually governed by karma, which is fruitive activity. I perform some activity in hopes of achieving a material result, while another person performs their own activities, also desiring their own result. These activities and desires collide to create a huge jumbled mess. We may desperately hope for something, but it doesn’t mean we’ll get it, since karma might have other things in store for us. Hope comes from kama, or desires for material sense gratification. The Vedas teach one to become detached from such hopes, since everything happens of its own nature. One can work very hard for something or just sit idly by, yet the results still occur. The key is to act according to one’s duty, with detachment.

“I shall burn down that hope of our father and of Kaikeyi, who is trying to put her son on the throne by obstructing Your installation as king. The power of destiny will not bring as much happiness to my opponents as the distress that I will cause them by my own terrific prowess.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.23-24)

Rama and Lakshmana Many thousands of years ago, Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was all set to spend fourteen years in the forest at the behest of His father, Maharaja Dashratha. Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, was greatly angered by Rama’s decision to live in the forest. Dashratha was actually set to install Rama as the new king, but through the manipulation of Kaikeyi, Rama’s step-mother, Bharata was instead chosen to be the new king. Bharata was Kaikeyi’s son, and Rama’s younger half-brother. Lakshmana was quite offended at this treatment shown to Rama. In the above referenced statement, he is ready to dash the hopes of both Kaikeyi and Dashratha by usurping control of the kingdom by force. A loyal and devoted brother, Lakshmana was ready to install Rama as the new king, in defiance to the wishes of Kaikeyi.

Now in reality, such a drastic step wasn’t necessary. Dashratha had been cursed a long time back that he would have to die due to separation from his most beloved son. This curse was destined to come true, and it manifested through the exile of Rama. Rama also had other more important duties to perform which required His travelling through the forest with both Lakshmana and Sita.

Nevertheless, Lakshmana’s statement gives us insight into how we should view hope. Hopes for material rewards should be abandoned immediately. Not only is such hope not required, the longed-for fruits can only cause us to be bound to this material world. The soul is eternal, but our bodies are not. At the time of death, we are given a new body based on our desires, or the karma we’ve accumulated in this and previous lives.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)

Lord Krishna This cycle continues indefinitely until we come to the point where our desire is to go back home, back to Godhead. This desire comes about when one has acquired a pure love for Krishna, or God. Ironically, Kaikeyi’s hopes would be dashed since as soon as he was informed of the new plans, Bharata decided he wanted no part in ruling the kingdom. He immediately sought out Rama in the forest and begged Him to come back and rule the kingdom. A compromise was eventually reached whereby Rama would rule the kingdom symbolically for fourteen years. Bharata decided He would sit in meditation the entire time, concentrating his mind on Rama.

“I have no love for Krishna, nor for the causes of developing love of Krishna-namely, hearing and chanting. And the process of bhakti-yoga, by which one is always thinking of Krishna and fixing His lotus feet in the heart, is also lacking in me. As far as philosophical knowledge or pious works are concerned, I don't see any opportunity for me to execute such activities. But above all, I am not even born of a nice family. Therefore I must simply pray to You, Gopi-jana-vallabha [Krishna, maintainer and beloved of the gopis]. I simply wish and hope that some way or other I may be able to approach Your lotus feet, and this hope is giving me pain, because I think myself quite incompetent to approach that transcendental goal of life." (Shrila Rupa Goswami, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 18, Great Hope)

Lakshmana’s devotion was so pure that Rama decided to allow both he and Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, to accompany Him in the forest. We may or may not get the material things that we hope for, but if we hope for association with God, we are guaranteed to get it. Things related to the Lord are all spiritual; they are above karma. In this age, God incarnates in the form of His holy name, so if we constantly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we are guaranteed to have His association. Who could hope for anything better?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Truth by Negation

Radha Krishna “The whole process of spiritual culture is aimed at changing the heart of the living being in the matter of his eternal relation with the Supreme Lord as subordinate servant, which is his eternal constitutional position.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.24 Purport)

Question: “The Vedas declare that man has imperfect senses and a tendency to commit mistakes. That being the case, how can we accept the Vedic texts themselves as fact? How can we accept Krishna as God when no one has actually seen Him? How can the Vedic texts be authoritative when they were written by flawed human beings?”

Answer: The existence of many different religions poses one of the biggest hurdles towards advancing in spiritual life. Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Buddhism, etc. all have their own doctrines, and proponents of each of these faiths claim that their scriptures are authoritative. Great theologians and scholars have studied these scriptures and found many similarities in them. This often leads to the conclusion that God must be man-made, and that these religions are just systems created by people to help alleviate their pains. This type of thinking may seem logical, but a quick study of the Vedas helps us realize the actual truth of the matter.

Lord Krishna It is a widely accepted fact that Sanskrit is the oldest language in the world. Emanating from India, Sanskrit is also known as the language of the gods, for all the great Vedic texts are written in this language. In the Vedic tradition, Lord Krishna is declared as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is described as such because there are many forms of Godhead. Krishna Himself expands into multitudinous forms, the primary of which is Lord Vishnu. According to Vedic information, Lord Vishnu simply exhales to produce millions of universes. The first created living entity, Lord Brahma, takes birth from Lord Vishnu’s lotus-like navel. Vedic information is then imparted into the heart of Lord Brahma, who then passes it down to future generations.

A summary version of this information is contained in the Bhagavad-gita, also known as the Song of God. Spoken on the Battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago by Lord Krishna Himself, it is the most widely read and well-known book of the Vedic tradition. Lord Krishna says that He first spoke the Bhagavad-gita to the sun-god, Vivasvan, at the beginning of creation, and that the same knowledge was then passed down from generation to generation. Somehow or other, the chain of disciplic succession was broken, so Krishna Himself came to earth to reinstitute it. Delivering the Bhagavad-gita to His disciple, cousin, and dear friend, Arjuna, the Lord created a new parampara system.

All the great Vaishnava acharyas of today trace their spiritual lineage back to the beginning of creation. The four major Vaishnava sampradayas in existence today link back to a famous acharya of recent times. Ramanuja, Nimbarka, Madhva, and Vishnuswami were great saints who appeared in India during the first and second millenniums. All bona fide saints of today trace their lineage back to one of these four acharyas. These four men then also have their own spiritual links. Ramanuja traces his lineage back to Shri, or Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Vishnu. Nimbarka traces his lineage back to the four Kumaras, Madhva to Lord Brahma, and Vishnuswami to Lord Shiva. This is all described in the Padma Purana, an ancient Vedic text written by Vyasadeva, and incarnation of Krishna who authored the majority of Vedic literature, including the Bhagavad-gita.

Lord Brahma So we see that the Vedic teachers of today base their credentials off the prior acharyas of their line. One may be skeptical of such claims however. “How do we know that Madhva’s lineage traces back to Lord Brahma? We’ve never seen Madhvacharya or Lord Brahma. These could easily be two fictitious characters. After all, the Vedas tell us that man has imperfect senses. Thus the people that wrote the Vedic texts could easily have just been making it up.” This is the way of proving facts through negation. This method proves very useful in logic and argument. Using only negation, one can easily pick up apart any argument. In fact, the entire legal profession is built around this principle. Arguments heard before the Supreme Court are built around negation. One side claims authority based on the written law and case precedent, and the other side tries to discredit the previous case law and also tries to use negation to prove that the written law actually means something other than what the text actually says.

“The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.45)

The Vedas themselves use negation to describe the Absolute Truth. The words “neti neti” meaning “the Absolute Truth is not this and not that” are found throughout Vedic literature. People mistakenly conclude that this means that God doesn’t exist or that He is impersonal, but in fact, neti neti means that God is not of this material world. Regardless, negation techniques certainly do have their place. The Vedas themselves tell us that this material world is full of dualities. What one person may consider to be good, another person may consider to be bad. This is why Lord Krishna advises us to rise above the three modes of material nature and to associate with the divine nature instead.

“Almost anyone expert in studying grammar interprets the shastras in many ways by changing the root meanings of their words. A student of grammar can sometimes completely change the meaning of a sentence by juggling grammatical rules.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 16.32 Purport)

Lord Chaitanya In His incarnation as Lord Chaitanya some five hundred years ago, Lord Krishna openly discussed the folly of accepting and rejecting things on a material level. In His youth, Lord Chaitanya was actually known as Nimai Pandita due to His great logical and thinking skills. He would regularly defeat His classmates in school by picking apart words and their meanings. He was an expert in the area of grammar, and He would even defeat the great scholars of India in debates. Later on in life, to teach the world the true meaning of life, the Lord took the renounced order of life and began spreading the sankirtana movement. He taught us that the only proper way to explain or interpret anything is through the prism of Krishna, or God. Lord Chaitanya famously put forth sixty-one different meanings to the famous atmarama verse found in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam. All these different meanings were put forth in the context of devotional service to God.

Krishna’s ultimate message is that through negation we can certainly understand that this material world is one full of dualities and that mundane arguments are useless. However, negation by itself has limits; something we can realize by studying our own lives. Even the greatest skeptics still show some inherent faith when living their lives. For example, most people know who their father is based on authoritative statements. The mother tells us that such and such a person is our father and we believe her. If we were to use negation, we could easily pick apart such a claim when speaking to others. “How do you know this person is your father? You have no memory of your birth. In fact, you can’t even be sure that this person is your mother. Sure, you can have pictures taken, but how do we know when those pictures were taken? You can have a paternity test done, but how do we know the results are accurate? The doctors certainly weren’t there when you were born. Even if they were, how do we know they are telling the truth? People lie. Actually, everyone lies. Therefore your claim that such and such a person is your father cannot be accepted.”

Krishna and Arjuna This same technique of proof by negation can be used in any area of life. If we were all to use this technique to disprove everything, none of us would take any action. Instead, we choose to have trust and faith in other people and things. When we are driving and we pass through an intersection with a green light, we are inherently trusting the other drivers to stop and adhere to their red light. When we step outside of our home, we are putting trust in others that they will not shoot us or attack us as we walk to our car. These are just small examples, but it is undoubtedly true that trust and faith are central components of our daily lives.

“Thus I have explained to you the most confidential of all knowledge. Deliberate on this fully, and then do what you wish to do.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.63)

Since we need to trust others in order to pursue happiness, we should also invest a similar level of trust and faith in the statements made by the great Vaishnava saints. This isn’t to say that we should just blindly accept every statement of the Bhagavad-gita and become followers right away. The Vedas must be studied as a whole, digested by the mind and contemplated on. At the end of His teachings to Arjuna, Krishna put the onus on Arjuna as to what should be done next. He never forced Arjuna to accept His teachings.

The Vedas make very bold statements that are bound to offend us. This is by design. Material life, governed by maya, sinks deep into our psyche and mindset. Spiritual life is the antithesis of material life, so the Vedas try to hit us with cold, hard facts about the soul and the folly of its association with material nature. It’s okay to be a little confrontational or skeptical at the beginning, but eventually one must have faith in the spiritual master and the words of the Vedas if they are to make advancement. In fact, the great devotees of the past didn’t all start off as followers of the Vedic tradition from the very beginning of their life. In the infant stage of life, human beings are no different than animals. It takes civility and proper education before one can be called intelligent. In a similar regard, it takes faith and dedication before one starts to realize the Vedic teachings and really understand their meanings.

Valmiki The key is to humbly submit ourselves to a devotee of Krishna and have full faith in their teachings. The famous Valmiki Muni was a dacoit in his early life. He had the good fortune of meeting Narada Muni, a saint and pure devotee of Krishna. Following His advice, Valmiki performed tapasya and was eventually rewarded with great devotion to Lord Rama. His knowledge was so advanced that he wrote the famous Ramayana describing the life and pastimes of Lord Rama.

Radha KrishnaWe actually have nothing to lose by putting our faith in the words of the Vedas. Most of us already put faith in ordinary human beings. Millions of people put their faith and trust in leaders such as Lenin and Hitler, and the results were disastrous. Putting our faith in the Vedas and the devotees of Krishna can never cause us harm. One of the greatest devotees of Krishna of the recent past, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, simply requested everyone to chant the maha-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. In conjunction with this chanting routine, he advised everyone to abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex. These regulations aren’t very difficult to follow. There is no loss incurred to those who abide by such regulations. At the very least, it instills discipline and regulation in one’s life, something which is required for success in any venture.

“On taking such a birth (in a high family), he (the unsuccessful yogi) again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.43)

There is no requirement that one must adhere to the teachings of the Vedas. It is completely optional. Mundane logic and negation can certainly help us reach conclusions, but it will never bring us to Krishna. This is because devotional service is a way of life and not a math problem. People are advised to see this for themselves. One can try chanting and following the regulative principles for some time and see where it leads them.

“By gradual development of Krishna consciousness in good association, the living entity can understand that due to forgetfulness of Krishna he has become conditioned by the laws of material nature. He can also understand that this human form of life is an opportunity to regain Krishna consciousness and that it should be fully utilized to attain the causeless mercy of the Supreme Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.30 Purport)

Slowly but surely, those who engage themselves in devotional service have all Vedic knowledge revealed to them. The very same statements which offended us previously, end up making the most sense. This is the magic of God. One who regularly stays connected with Krishna, will very quickly be granted a set of eyes with which to see Him. The pure love exchanged between the Lord and His devotees is a thing of beauty and something that can never be checked or negated.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Creator

Lord Rama “The highly renowned Rama rages into a fury against those who dare brave against Him. He is extremely powerful, for He can completely stop the onset of a pulsing river simply by using His arrows. Shriman Rama can bring down all the stars, planets, and the sky itself by use of His arrows. He is even capable of saving the earth if it should collapse. The illustrious Rama, if He wanted to, could deluge the whole world by breaking apart the shorelines of the seas. With His arrows, He can resist the onset of the oceans and the wind. After withdrawing the whole world into Himself, that highly renowned best of men, by virtue of His powers, is capable of again creating the whole world with all its creatures.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.23-26)

During every election cycle in America, and especially when the presidency is up for grabs, we see politicians make many promises on how they will fix the problems that exist in a particular city, state, or country. Voters like to hear such things because they inherently know that people are suffering in the world and that they need to be helped. Some politicians make more grandiose promises than others, but the themes are generally the same. “I will end your suffering. I will bring jobs back. I will end war. I will clean up the environment.” They are essentially saying that they will make people happy. Sadly, the policies instituted by these politicians rarely succeed, for if they did, there would be no need to keep making new promises.

Lord Krishna Followers of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, know that the underlying problem for man is his forgetfulness of God. Not only should we understand who God is, but we should then use that knowledge to love Him and take to His service. This simple shift in mindset leads to a trickle-down effect whereby everyone in society can be happy. Yet we see that the solutions proposed by politicians never have anything to do with God. In fact, if politicians mention religion at all, they get criticized for imposing their values upon others. People generally take religion to be a kind of faith, something that is not universal to everyone. For this reason, they choose to elect leaders who avoid the issue of faith completely and who look for other ways to solve problems.

One of the more notable issues in the news lately is climate change. Scientists for centuries have made wild predictions about the future of the earth, and the situation is no different today. No less than thirty years ago, the scientific consensus was that the earth was headed for a major cooling period. People were worried if we would have enough food to sustain the population going forward. Only a few years later, these predictions reversed to the point where scientists began claiming there was global warming, which was caused primarily by human activity. Politicians love hearing these predictions because it means they can impose policies that restrict human activity. In essence, they get to form their own religion, anointing themselves as God. Many politicians today openly declare that they will stop the oceans from rising and the temperatures from increasing.

In previous ages, such claims would get you labeled as insane. How can a human being control the weather? If anything, the climate is the one thing that even staunch atheists never thought man could control. Sadly, that is not the case today. The theory of man-made global warming is just that, a theory. There is no scientific evidence to support it. The proponents point to the fact that a consensus of scientists now believes in man-made global warming. Yet this is not how science is supposed to work. It is never meant to be put up to a vote. It was also recently discovered through leaked emails that some of the leading scientists in favor of the global warming theory were lying and hiding their scientific data from the general public. The computer models used by these scientists were also leaked, and as a result, many computer scientists have scrutinized them to find out that the models were flawed. In many instances, the models themselves were bound to the raw data that was inputted; i.e. constant values were hard-coded into the programming routines. This actually violates the central rule when writing computer programs that do modeling. The data and the model itself must be completely isolated; otherwise the conclusions start to favor the data that is inputted. In essence, these scientists were fudging their data in hopes of reaching the conclusions they wanted.

“The whole cosmic order is under Me. By My will it is manifested again and again, and by My will it is annihilated at the end.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.8)

Lord Vishnu Such revelations are not very surprising to devotees of God. The scriptures tell us that God is the Creator, meaning He creates, maintains, and destroys all by Himself. The Vedas give us even more detail regarding creation. Lord Vishnu, the chief expansion of Lord Krishna, simply breathes out once and innumerable universes are created. When He breathes in, the same universes are destroyed. Within each creation, there are other expansions of God which manage the affairs of the world. Krishna’s three guna-avataras, Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, are in charge of the material creation in each universe. Brahma creates, Vishnu maintains, and Shiva destroys.

“O son of Kunti, at the end of the millennium every material manifestation enters into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency I again create.” (Lord Krishna, Bg., 9.7)

These facts are all very simple to understand, but atheists don’t believe in the authoritative statements of the Vedas. Since they have never seen anyone with the power to create in person, they believe that the world was created through a combination of chemicals. If so, where did these chemicals come from? This they can’t answer. Dismissing the Vedas as mere mythology, scientists and politicians take up the quest to figure out how to understand and control nature. This kind of thinking represents the biggest hurdle to spiritual advancement. In fact, it is the main reason for our being in this material world. Thinking ourselves to be God, the Lord allowed us to take birth here, where we could play all day and pretend to be God. Of course we can never become God, even though many pseudo-religionists claim that they are already God. No amount of meditation, renunciation, or fruitive activity can make us the richest, wisest, most beautiful, most famous, most renounced, and strongest person. These attributes can only simultaneously be possessed by Krishna, or God. Therefore He is also known as Bhagavan.

Lord Rama The only possible way a person could believe that man can control the weather is if they don’t believe in God. Religion and atheistic science are diametrically opposed. As mentioned before, God creates everything. One simply has to accept the authoritative statements of Vedas and the great acharyas who follow its teachings. But breaking free of our desire to be like God is not easy. Therefore the Lord personally descends to earth from time to time to remind us of His greatness. This was the case during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. As Lord Rama, God appeared in the guise of a kshatriya prince, famous throughout the world for His dedication to dharma and His fighting ability.

While staying in the forest of Janasthana with His brother, Lakshmana, and His wife, Sita Devi, Rama was attacked by 14,000 Rakshasas sent by their leader Ravana. The Lord single-handedly killed all of them. Akampana, one of the Rakshasas, managed to escape alive. He returned to Lanka and described the events to Ravana. Ravana was a committed atheist who believed that he was the strongest person in the world. Having defeated all the demigods, Ravana thought there was no one in the world who could conquer him. In essence, he thought he was God. Upon hearing what had happened in Janasthana, Ravana couldn’t believe it. He thought for sure that Rama must have had people helping him. Akampana made it emphatically clear that Rama had no help, for Lakshmana was away guarding Sita.

Ravana wanted to retaliate and attack Rama himself. In the above referenced statement, Akampana is trying to discourage Ravana from doing so. “Rama will easily kill you. No one can defeat Him in battle. In fact, He is not human at all.” The descriptions given by Akampana also serve as a way of revealing Rama’s divinity. The scriptures give us vivid descriptions of the Lord’s various incarnations, but God Himself doesn’t disclose His identity to everyone. There would be no purpose to this, for He doesn’t want people to be devoted to Him out of fear. The Lord knows full well that we would be happier serving Him, but He never gets in the way of our independence and free will. Just as we can never force another man or woman to love us, the choice is ours as to whether or not we want to love God.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and HanumanAkampana clearly states that Rama could easily destroy the entire world and then immediately recreate it. This power belongs exclusively to God. We shouldn’t try to be like Ravana and fight God. That will only lead to our demise. Instead, if we sincerely take up devotional service to the Lord, we can have all the peace and prosperity that the politicians always promise. We don’t need higher taxes, more government regulations, or scientific computer models to make us happy, just more sincere devotion to God.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Krishna and Arjuna “The whole cosmic order is under Me. By My will it is manifested again and again, and by My will it is annihilated at the end. O Dhananjaya, all this work cannot bind Me. I am ever detached, seated as though neutral.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.8-9)

“As you sow so shall you reap…Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” These aphorisms, or similar versions of them, are common to most of the major religions of the world. Most everyone can understand these statements since they logically make sense. If you act piously, you will be rewarded, and vice versa.

Lord Krishna This is the system of fairness instituted by God. In the Vedic tradition, God’s original name is Krishna, and He is known as Bhagavan, meaning the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The word Godhead recognizes the existence of many forms of God. Since He is all-knowing and all-seeing, omnipresent and omnipotent, the Lord can expand Himself into many many forms. Some of them are described in the shastras, or scriptures, while many of them are not. Krishna is the supreme fountainhead of all those various forms, the original, adi purusham, as described in the Brahma-samhita. The material world represents but one small portion of His creative powers. Though the Lord creates everything and expands into everything, yet everything is not in Him.

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

The affairs of the material world are managed by the Lord’s energies and His deputies, known as the demigods. We can think of God as a disinterested bystander, an onlooker who allows us to play on this field until we decide we have had enough and want to go back home. The souls who want to play, represented by the 8,400,000 varieties of species, must live by the laws of karma. Activity performed specifically with a desired result in mind is considered karma. Based on this definition, almost everything we do can be considered karmic activity. A person wants to be a doctor, so they study very hard in medical school, wherefrom they learn the tools of the trade. This is karmic activity since the person is working for a desired result. Even religious functions can be classified as karma. Going to church and asking God for things is considered material activity since there is a personal motive. In the Vedic tradition, there are many rituals and mantras prescribed for those seeking the material rewards of artha (economic development), dharma (religiosity), and kama (sense gratification).

Krishna showing His universal form Material nature is a managed energy. Yamaraja, the god of death who is similar to a Grim Reaper”, comes to take souls at the time of death. He judges people’s activities over their lifetime and determines where they will go next. The sinners have to suffer in hell, while the pious ascend to the heavenly planets. Residence in both regions is only temporary. When one’s accumulated merits and demerits expire, the spirit soul again returns to the material world, taking up a new life form based on their past karma.

Through this system, all issues of fairness are addressed. It is quite natural for a person to feel that life is not fair. We might run into streaks of bad luck, where it seems like everything is going against us. Or in other circumstances, we might feel guilty over the fact that our life is peaceful and prosperous, while others get a raw deal. Young children dying of cancer, and others dying in horrific tragedies are all instances of where we are reminded of how life can seem to be unfair. Nevertheless, we should take it on authority that God and His energies handle all issues of fairness. Even most of today’s governments are obsessed with issues of fairness. They’ve created various movements aimed at addressing perceived inequities. Social justice, women’s rights, minority rights, and the redistribution of wealth are movements aimed at “leveling the playing field”. All of these man-made causes have sprung out of ignorance. The laws of karma are very easy to understand, yet most people aren’t familiar with them.

Radha and Krishna While the laws of karma are absolute for those on the material platform, they don’t apply to God’s devotees. This is mentioned specifically by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Bg. 9.29)

The reason behind this is very simple. The devotees have no interest in fruitive activity. Their only purpose in life is to serve the Supreme Lord. For this reason, all their activity is above karma. Not only do they transcend the laws of material nature, but God personally takes charge of their fate. He guarantees that they will come back to Him after their current life is over.

In the same manner, God also personally takes care of the enemies of His devotees. Due to His partiality towards His friends, the Lord either sends one of His representatives, or He personally descends to earth to take care of such miscreants.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.8)

This was the case many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya. Lord Krishna came to earth in the form of Lord Rama, the eldest son of King Dashratha. Set to be installed as the new king, Dashratha was forced to change his mind at the insistence of Kaikeyi, his youngest wife. Rama was instead banished to the forest for fourteen years. Rama had three younger brothers, with Lakshmana being most attached to Him. From their very childhood, Lakshmana would follow Rama everywhere, being completely devoted to his brother. Sibling rivalries occur naturally, but there was no such fighting between Rama and Lakshmana. Lakshmana would not even eat unless Rama had eaten first. Just as Krishna had incarnated as Rama, Baladeva (Krishna’s immediate expansion) incarnated as Lakshmana.

“O king, those same people who have collaborated and suggested this idea of Your exile to the forest, shall themselves be made by me to reside in the forest for fourteen years.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.22)

Lakshmana and Rama with Hanuman Being very affectionate towards his elder brother, Lakshmana was outraged at the decision reached by Dashratha and Kaikeyi. In the above referenced quote, He is boldly declaring that those who have decided on this punishment for Rama will have to suffer the same fate instead. He will personally see to it. Now in reality this was not necessary. Rama gladly accepted the punishment from Dashratha since the Lord had other tasks to accomplish while roaming the forest.

Nevertheless, Lakshmana’s attitude is noteworthy. Similar to how karma operates, those who try to harm the Lord or His devotees will have to suffer even greater punishments than those who commit normal sins. For example, vaishnava-aparadha, offense at the feet of a Vaishnava (devotee of Lord Vishnu), is one of the worst sins one can commit. Lord Chaitanya was quite angry at His mother Shachi for having offended Advaita Acharya by accusing him of convincing Vishvarupa, Lord Chaitanya’s older brother, to take sannyasa, or the renounced order of life. Lord Chaitanya only forgave His mother after she begged forgiveness from Advaita Acharya and took the dust of his lotus feet.

Lakshmana protects not only God, but His devotees as well. The lesson provided here is that we should take to devotional service. If we become devotees of the Lord, we will always transcend karma. As ferocious as Lakshmana is towards the miscreants, he is just as kind towards the devotees. He will always protect us and help us increase our devotion to God. Nothing could be more fair.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010


Lord Rama “Neither the demigods nor any exalted personalities were there helping Rama, for He acted alone. You should not entertain any doubt on this matter. Indeed, Rama shot feathered arrows, plated with gold, which turned into five-headed serpents that devoured all the Rakshasas. The Rakshasas were oppressed with fear, and wherever they went and wherever they turned, they saw Rama in front of them. In this way, O spotless one, have your Rakshasas been destroyed in the forest of Janasthana by Rama.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.18-19)

Gross materialists and atheists have a hard time believing there is anyone superior to the demigods or other exalted living entities. Taking their current life and body to be the beginning and end of everything, they think the sum total of existence is made up of fallible living entities. They don’t believe in a Creator or a higher power. Believing there is no one capable of stopping them, these demons take to sinful life. To remind everyone of His existence and strength, God personally appears on earth from time to time, and torments the minds of such fools.

Lord Krishna The Vedas, the ancient scriptures emanating from India, tell us that there is only one God. Though He is capable of assuming various guises and expanding Himself into innumerable forms, His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. Krishna is known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His direct expansions are known as vishnu-tattva, meaning they are equal to Him in potency. We living entities are spirit souls at our core, part and parcel of Krishna. Though we are not God, we are similar to Him in quality, but not in quantity. To facilitate the desire of the spirit souls to lord over nature and pretend to be God themselves, Krishna created this material world. This world is a temporary place full of miseries, thus it is completely opposite in nature to the spiritual world. Since Krishna Himself never comes in contact with maya, or the presiding energy of the material world, He deputes elevated living entities known as demigods to manage the affairs here. Gods like Lord Shiva, Brahma, Ganesha, etc. all manage different departments of the creation. By rule, they are required to bestow a variety of material benedictions to anyone who pleases them, regardless of the motives of the worshiper.

Lord Brahma talking to Lord Krishna The difference between demigods and God Himself is that the demigods are living entities just like us. They may have extraordinary powers and a longer duration of life, but they are nevertheless subject to birth and death. God, on the other hand, never takes birth nor does He die. He never assumes a material body. Even when He personally appears on earth, His body remains unaffected by material nature. This illustrates another difference between God and the living entities. For God, there is no difference between His soul and His body. He is completely spirit. We, on the other hand, are spiritual in nature, but remain conditioned inside of a body that is subject to birth and death. The gross material body is composed of the three gunas of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Krishna possesses no material qualities; hence He is often described as nirguna.

Since the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing war between the suras and the asuras. Suras are devotees of God and asuras are demons. Asuras don’t believe in the existence of God. They wage war with the demigods because they view them as competitors. Material life means competition. People often wonder why there are so many tragedies and other calamities that take place. The answer is quite simple. The material world is a sort of playing field for the living entities, of which God has no direct interest in. He creates the playground but then stands back and views as an impartial witness. This is because there really is no winning or losing on this playing field. As mentioned before, we are all here because we want to pretend to be God. Since everyone has this desire, competition will naturally ensue. Some people will be more religious than others, thus they will put limits on their pursuit of dharma, artha, and kama, but the asuras will never hold back. They will stop at nothing to acquire wealth, fame, and power.

Ravana For this reason, the asuras have no problems going to war with the demigods. They see great personalities like Indra, Brahma, and Kuvera and think, “Who are these people to think they are more powerful than me? Let me worship them so that I can receive great benedictions. They will be foolish enough to grant my wishes, and I will then use my acquired strength to defeat them. Then I can rule the world and everyone will worship me.” This is precisely how the great Rakshasa demon Ravana thought during his time on earth during the Treta Yuga. He performed rigid austerities to please Brahma and Shiva. He was rewarded with great boons which he then used to battle and defeat the demigods. Everyone in the world was afraid of him.

“Those penances and austerities which are performed foolishly by means of obstinate self-torture, or to destroy or injure others, are said to be in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.19)

One may wonder why the demigods granted all of Ravana’s requests. As mentioned before, the material body is composed of three gunas: goodness, passion, and ignorance. In a similar manner, every material activity, religious activity included, can also be qualified as being in one of these three modes. Ravana’s worship of the demigods was in the mode of ignorance. It is categorized as such because his worship served no functional purpose. Worship in the mode of goodness gives some sort of advancement in spiritual life. Worship in the mode of passion bestows some fruitive reward, but worship in the mode of ignorance only leads to destruction.

This is indeed what resulted for Ravana. He used his acquired powers to battle the suras, or the demigods and the saintly class of men. In fact, his Rakshasa associates would regularly terrorize the quiet and humble sages living in the forests. These great men were living peacefully in the wilderness, not bothering anyone. Ravana’s men would approach the sages in disguise and then pounce on their sacrifices. They would kill the sages and then eat their flesh.

Lord Rama The remedy the situation, Krishna Himself came to earth in the form of a human being. Born as the eldest son of King Dashratha of Ayodhya, Lord Rama quickly became famous throughout the world for His fighting ability. While staying in the forest of Janasthana, He, His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana, were harassed by Ravana’s sister, Shurpanakha. A conflict resulted between her and Lakshmana, which then led to Ravana sending 14,000 Rakshasas to Janasthana to attack Rama and His family. To teach Ravana a lesson, Rama instructed Lakshmana to take Sita away and to protect her. Rama then proceeded to kill all 14,000 Rakshasas by Himself.

One of Ravana’s associates, Akampana, managed to escape Rama’s attack and return to Lanka. In the above referenced statement, Akampana is describing Rama’s prowess. Ravana was dumbfounded that all the Rakshasas were killed. He wanted to know who was helping Rama. This is the mindset of a foolish person. Since he had defeated all the demigods, Ravana thought there was no one in the world more powerful than himself. Upon hearing what Rama had done, Ravana thought for sure that the demigods must have helped Him. Akampana told Ravana to immediately get this thought out of his mind.

The name Rama means one who gives pleasure to others. This pleasure is directed towards the devotees. Just hearing of Rama’s prowess and fighting ability brings great bliss to His adherents. Rama is anything but pleasurable to the enemies of His devotees. Rama’s arrows tormented all the Rakshasas, for wherever they turned, they saw one of Rama’s shafts headed their way, similar to how a heat-seeking missile acts. The Rakshasas were actually greatly benefited by Rama’s attacks. The Lord openly declares that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death is automatically awarded liberation from material life.

“Those who have achieved liberation from material contamination, and those who are demons and are killed by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, become absorbed in the Brahman concept of life and reside in the spiritual sky of the brahma-jyoti.” (Brahmanda Purana)

Lord Rama The Rakshasas in Janasthana were all thinking of Rama at the time of death, so they were immediately granted liberation. Though the material world is generally a place full of miseries due to the competitive nature of man, if one decides to take up devotional service, he can make his life successful. There are different kinds of liberation, and if God’s greatest enemies are rewarded in such a way, one can only imagine what is in store for the devotees.

Lord Krishna is the bestower of five kinds of liberation, of which sayujya-mukti, or the liberation of becoming one with the Supreme, was given to the demons like Kamsa, whereas the gopis were given the chance to associate with Him personally.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 35)

Sadly, not all demons are as lucky as Ravana and the Rakshasas of Janasthana. Death is the great equalizer. All of one’s material strength, acquisitions and relationships are relinquished at the time of death. If one still has material desires at the end of life, they are forced to take birth again. The true mission of life is to abandon our futile attempt to be God. Spiritual life is the antithesis of karmic life. Rama’s exhibition of strength serves as a reminder to all of us that there is only one God, and that we can never become Him. However, we can associate with Him eternally in a loving way if we choose to.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Vaikuntha at Home

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama “The maha-bhagavata, the advanced devotee, certainly sees everything mobile and immobile, but he does not exactly see their forms. Rather, everywhere he immediately sees manifest the form of the Supreme Lord." (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 8.274)

Question: “I love Sri Krishna but temples turn to make worship into a cult similar to the Roman Catholic Church, don’t you think?”

Answer: To those unaccustomed to the Vedic traditions, visiting a temple can be an awkward experience. You walk in and you immediately have to take your shoes off. Then you enter a room where you see a bunch of people with shaven heads, all bowing down before a statue made of stone or wood. Then everyone gathers together and starts chanting, singing, and dancing. At the end, food is distributed and you are told that “you must eat this”, for it is not a good thing to reject this thing called “prasadam”. All of this definitely has a cult-like feel to it, but it is intended to benefit all of mankind. It is due to Krishna’s mercy that the temple exists.

Panchatattva Deity worship appears to be idol worship to the outsider. Idol worship involves adoring or worshiping someone or something. We are all minute spirit souls who have been thrust into this material world where we compete with each other over issues of money, fame, sense gratification, and other material perfections. Thus we have a tendency to worship and adore those people who have already achieved perfection in some material venture. It is quite common for young children to idolize sports athletes. The great golfer Tiger Woods used to idolize former great Jack Nicklaus. Woods would keep track of all of Nicklaus’ achievements and victories. In a similar manner, tennis star Roger Federer used to idolize former players Stefan Edberg and Boris Becker.

At the core of idol worship is the desire to imitate. Deity worship as it relates to Lord Krishna, or God, is nothing like this. Devotees do not want to imitate God, but rather, they want to be with Him and offer Him prayers. This is a key distinction. By default, we all want to imitate God, for that it is the driving force behind the existence of this material world. God creates, maintains, and destroys, so we like to pretend that we can do the same. God is the supreme controller, ishvara, and we too are ishvaras in a sense that we have control over our own bodies. The spirit soul, or atma, is the commander of the ship known as the body. Yet the body is all that we have control over. God is the supreme commander, for He resides within every living entity as the Supersoul, or Paramatma. To take things even further, the Paramatma is simply an expansion of the original form of God known as Bhagavan.

“Although the archa-murti, the worshipable Deity form of the Lord, appears to be made of material elements, it is as good as the spiritual forms found in the spiritual Vaikunthalokas. The Deity in the temple, however, is visible to the material eyes of the devotee. It is not possible for one in material conditional life to see the spiritual form of the Lord. To bestow causeless mercy upon us, the Lord appears as archa-murti so that we can see Him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.217 Purport)

Lord Krishna deity It is to perform the worship of Bhagavan that the deity exists. The deity is known as the archa-vigraha in Sanskrit. Archa refers to archanam, or worship or the offering of worship. Vigraha means embodiment or form, so the deity is a body of the Lord that one can worship. This is not to say that God does not have His own body, for He most certainly does. His spiritual body is completely blissful and full of knowledge, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. The deity directly correlates to Krishna’s original form and His avataras, or incarnations which appear on earth.

This is the part where many people get hung up. “How can God appear on earth? This place is full of miseries and is governed by maya. How can God ever associate with maya?” The idea of the incarnation certainly makes followers of the Vedic tradition easier to criticize. As mentioned before, the deity is not simply stone or wood. It is shaped to match the appearance of specific incarnations of Lord Krishna. Krishna is the original form of God, but He takes many direct expansions to carry out specific duties. The purpose of the incarnation is to punish the miscreants and to give pleasure and protection to the devotees. The deities that exist in temples are constructed to be replicas of the same Lord who appeared on earth in the past. Some of Krishna’s most famous incarnations include Lord Rama, Narasimha, Parashurama, Kurma, etc. Lord Krishna Himself personally appeared on earth some five thousand years ago. Deities are even constructed of His famous devotees like Hanuman, Radha, Shiva, etc. The life and pastimes of all these personalities and incarnations are chronicled in the voluminous Vedic literatures.

The incarnation is another part of Krishna’s mercy. Hypothetically speaking, let’s say the incarnation didn’t exist. Let’s say that God decided that He would never appear on earth. This would certainly make it easier from a criticism standpoint. Outsiders would have less ammunition to make fun of followers of the Vedic tradition. However, this would also make it harder to achieve life’s aim; that of knowing, understanding, and loving God. The Vedas tell us that the spiritual world is our real home, for life there is all about associating with God in a loving way. The material world is just the opposite, for life here is about imitating God and competing with Him. Without the existence of the incarnations, it becomes much easier to worship matter instead of worshiping God. We see that this is the current predicament that most of the world finds itself in.

Hanuman deity The Vedic religion, more accurately known as sanatana-dharma, is focused around developing a loving attachment to God. Other types of religious systems are subordinate because they keep people away from loving God. We see that most of the world today worships matter, in the form of other living entities and their material perfections. Everyone is religious, even the atheists; it’s just the objects of worship that vary. The communists/socialists want everyone to worship government. And who is this government? It is comprised of a set of pseudo-intellectuals/elitists who have anointed themselves as being superior beings. “Trust me and I will make you happy.” Others worship the almighty dollar and the pursuit of everlasting fame and fortune.

Those who know the Supreme Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna, know that no materialist or material fortune can ever make anyone happy. Why is this? It is because matter is inferior to spirit, which is the antithesis of matter. We see evidence of this principle in our own lives. Our body is only important as long as our soul remains within it. At the time of death, the soul exits the body and leaves it to rot and decay. Our own spirit soul is certainly superior to matter, but there is a supreme spirit, known as God, who is superior to everything. Since He is greater than any one person or collection of people, He should be the supreme object of worship.

A religious system that does not include deity worship, or the concept of incarnations, makes it much more difficult to foster attachment to God. The incarnation not only brings a form of God to the world, but also pastimes and teachings. For example, devotees of Krishna relish in the pastimes He performed as a child in Vrindavana. His teachings found in the Bhagavad-gita are so profound that they have even been studied by non-devotee scholars and religionists throughout the past five thousand years. If these pastimes didn’t exist, what would devotees hear about? We would be forced to hear about the exploits of common men; exploits which may certainly be laudable, but which nonetheless fail to provide liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Lord Krishna and His pastimes Since spirit is completely opposite in quality to matter, it makes sense that spiritual life will look completely different from material life. In this regard, temples will always have a cult-like aspect to them. People who visit Vaishnava (related to Vishnu/Krishna) temples are devotees of the Lord, so their goal is not to increase their wealth, strength, or fame, but rather to reconnect with God. Deity worship is a central process of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Chanting, hearing, offering, remembering, etc. are all spiritual activities which many of us are not accustomed to, so it makes sense that the practice of such activities will appear strange.

Mirabai worshiping Krishna The ultimate purpose of a temple is to allow people to see God and hear about Him. It is a place where people can worship together and learn something about the true meaning of life. Christian leaders advise people to attend church at least once a week on Sundays, and followers of the faith use this attendance as a barometer for determining who is religious and who is not. In reality, there is no single litmus test that can determine a person’s devotion to God. The great Vaishnava acharyas all advise us to make religious life our full-time occupation. This is something that can be easily accomplished in this age by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The temple exists to induce people to take up this chanting process. Deity worship involves chanting, the offering of prayers, and the offering of food. Vegetarian food, in the mode of goodness, is prepared with love and offered with devotion to the deity. The Lord spiritually eats the food and then returns everything to the devotee. The resultant food is known as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy, and is considered completely spiritual in quality. For this reason, devotees try to distribute as much prasadam as possible. Those who grow up in Hindu families are quite familiar with prasadam, for the parents demand that their children eat it. “You don’t say ‘no’ to prasadam.” By visiting temples, we can partake of this prasadam and be forever benefitted.

The other good thing about visiting a temple is that it can lead to imitation. Even though we try to imitate God, we have an inherent understanding that our powers are limited. This causes us to have a fragile ego, which then leads us to perform activities that aim to boost our ego and self-esteem. By visiting a temple, we can see how full-time devotees perform their duties. Naturally, we can end up thinking, “I can do this better. This looks simple enough, let me try this at home.” This competitive spirit helps us in the end, for the devotees at the temple would like nothing better than to see other people take up devotional service.

Nimai Nitai worshiping Radha-Krishna In the end, no matter how often we visit temples or how many devotees we associate with, our relationship with God is a personal one. We came into this world alone, and we die alone. Our only true friend is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shri Krishna. It is nice to visit temples, but the end-goal should be to feel like we’re always inside of a temple. This means turning our homes into mini-temples, where the Lord is always worshiped and offered prayers. It is much more beneficial to society to have many homes acting as temples than having just one centralized public place of worship in a community.

We visit a temple, see how things are done, and then take up the process at home. Is this the end of spiritual life? From the example set by Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation, we see that there is one further step that should be taken. While it is nice to worship God on our own, it is even nicer to distribute His mercy to others. Lord Chaitanya set the example by travelling all across India, visiting many temples, and chanting the names of Krishna and Rama wherever He went. This is the perfection of devotion. We too can easily take up this process. By turning our homes into temples, we can invite our friends and family and regularly perform kirtana and deity worship. This is a very simple process which yields tremendous results.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


Lord Krishna “Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the master of all the senses (Hrishikesha). When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. One is freed from all material designations, and, simply by being employed in the service of the Lord, one's senses are purified.” (Narada-pancharatra)

Demigod worship is an important tradition amongst Hindus, or the followers of the Vedas. Householders and young children regularly worship the various demigods out of a sense of duty and also to achieve desired fruitive results. Nevertheless, one should never mistakenly think that the demigods possess the same power and potency as the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna. God is superior, and the demigods are His chief subordinates.

Lord Shiva There are millions of devatas, or demigods, but a few of them are very well known and considered the primary demigods. Lord Shiva is one of the three guna avataras of Krishna. He is in charge of the mode of ignorance. The material world is governed by three gunas, or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Lord Brahma is in charge of passion, Lord Shiva is in charge of ignorance, and Lord Vishnu is in charge of goodness. Of these three, Lord Vishnu is superior because He is the same as Krishna. One may wonder why there would be a demigod for people in the mode of ignorance, i.e. people that are less intelligent and lazy. God is so nice to us that He made the Vedas applicable to everyone. Though not every person will automatically take to bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service to God, there still exist other subordinate systems of religion that people can take to. The idea is that as long as everyone follows some sort of religious system, hopefully they will be able to gradually advance in their current and future lives, up to point where they can finally achieve true knowledge and wisdom.

Lord Shiva is known as Mahadeva, or the greatest demigod. By nature, he is a great devotee of Vishnu, but the Lord has given him the task of providing boons to anyone who worships him. If we pray to Lord Krishna or Vishnu for something, the Lord may or may not grant our wish. He judges our request and decides whether or not the item in question will actually be good for us or not. This is the Lord’s mercy upon us. This isn’t the case with the demigods. They are required to provide boons to anyone who properly worships them. The reasoning behind this can be explained by studying the type of people that worship demigods. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna declares demigod worshipers to be less intelligent.

“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)

Sita and Rama with friends and family This isn’t a slight at the demigods. They are only carrying out the Lord’s orders. Lord Rama, Krishna, Sita, Lakshmana, and other great incarnations and expansions of God all worshiped various demigods during their time on earth. So why would Krishna declare such worship to be second class? By definition, demigods can only offer material boons. Material rewards fall under four distinct categories: dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and moksha (liberation). These rewards are considered material because they are aimed at fulfilling one’s personal desires. While that is generally not a bad thing, especially considering the fact that everyone has desires, material rewards are still temporary in nature. They have a beginning and an end. Even the hope for liberation is considered on the material platform because it involves a selfish desire to be free from miseries.

Krishna and Balarama Devotional service, or bhakti yoga, is the eternal occupation of man. We all love God at our core, but somehow or other we lost touch with Him. If we act towards rekindling that lost relationship, then such acts are considered spiritual. Krishna is the supreme enjoyer. If we work towards pleasing His senses, then we don’t become bound by any material reactions.

We may pray to a demigod to grant us great wealth, but such a gift is only temporary. Our bank balance doesn’t come with us at the time of death. Great wealth can also be a ticket straight to hell because it can lead to greed and miserliness. If one is a miser in this life, they will surely have to suffer the consequences in the afterlife. This same principle holds true with any type of material reward. One should realize that Krishna is actually the source of everything, and He sanctions all the benedictions bestowed by the demigods.

“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, Bg. 7.21-22)

The less intelligent take to demigod worship because they don’t have faith in God. Vedic literature is full of historical incidents of demons taking to demigod worship. The great Rakshasa, Ravana, was a devout worshiper of Lord Shiva. He prayed for many boons relating to the accumulation of great wealth and prowess. He became so strong that those same demigods became fearful of Him. Lord Krishna had to personally come to earth in the form of a human being, Lord Rama, to alleviate the situation by killing Ravana. A similar incident occurred with the demon Vrikasura. He performed great austerities in hopes of pleasing Lord Shiva. Shankaraji eventually appeared to the demon and granted him any boon of his choosing. Vrikasura asked for the power to be able to kill any person whom he would touch on the head. Lord Shiva obliged and the demon immediately began to chase after Shiva, trying to touch Mahadeva’s head. This is a great example of the difference between strict demigod worshipers and the devotees of the Lord Krishna. Vrikasura and Ravana had no care for Lord Shiva whatsoever. They viewed him strictly as an order supplier. As soon as their product arrived, they tossed aside their concern for him. Going beyond just indifference, these demons thought themselves to be more powerful than Shiva.

Vrikasura praying to Lord Shiva Once again, Lord Krishna had to come to the rescue. In His form as Narayana (Vishnu), the Lord intercepted the demon during his chase of Lord Shiva. Appearing in the guise of a brahmachari, Narayana tricked the demon into killing himself.

“’I myself cannot believe that Lord Shiva has in truth given you such a benediction. As far as I know, Lord Shiva is not in a sane mental condition. He had a quarrel with his father-in-law Daksha, and he has been cursed to become a pishacha (ghost). Thus he has become the leader of the ghosts and hobgoblins. Therefore I cannot put any faith in his words. But if you have faith still in the words of Lord Shiva, my dear king of the demons, then why don't you make an experiment by putting your hand on your head? If the benediction proves false, then you can immediately kill this liar, Lord Shiva, so that in the future he will not dare to give out false benedictions.’ In this way, by Lord Narayana's sweet words and by the expansion of His superior illusion, the demon became bewildered, and he actually forgot the power of Lord Shiva and his benediction. He was thus very easily persuaded to put his hand on his own head. As soon as the demon did that, his head cracked, as if struck by thunder, and he immediately died.” (Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)

Rama and Lakshmana During His youth, Lord Rama was set to be installed as the new king of Ayodhya, the successor to His father, Maharaja Dashratha. Due to the nefarious work of His step-mother, Kaikeyi, Rama was instead ordered to leave the kingdom and spend fourteen years roaming the forest as a recluse. Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, was very angered by this treatment shown to Rama. He tried his best to persuade Rama to stay and usurp the throne by force. Lakshmana was willing to fight anyone and everyone who would stand against such a suggestion.

“What to speak of our father, neither all the demigods nor all the people of the three worlds combined could thwart the installation of Rama as king." (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.21)

Lakshmana was a pure devotee, an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, the king of serpents residing in the spiritual world with Lord Narayana and Lakshmi Devi. Rama was intent on following His parents’ orders, so Lakshmana had to use every argumentative trick at his disposal to hopefully convince Rama to stay. Lakshmana boldly declared that no one, including their father or any of the demigods managing the three worlds (bhur, bhuvah, svah), would be able to thwart the Lord’s installation. With this statement, Lakshmana is reiterating the fact regarding Lord Krishna’s potency. God is the original source of everything, and master of all the demigods. If God wants something to happen, no one can stand in His way.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana Lord Rama appreciated Lakshmana’s sentiments, but He still decided to go to the forest, taking His wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana with Him. The Lord had higher purposes to fulfill, so usurping the kingdom at that time wasn’t necessary. The lesson here is that we should still respect the demigods, for they are authorized agents of the Lord. Nevertheless, we should always remember that there is only one Supreme God. If we do want to worship the demigods, then we should do so for Krishna’s benefit. He is so kind to us, that we should take every chance we can get to repay that kindness. Everything in this world should be done as a sacrifice for Vishnu. We should all hope to one day worship the Lord in the same manner as Lakshmana.