Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stepping Down

Bharata worshiping Lord Rama's sandals “O best among the twice-born, it is therefore concluded that the highest perfection one can achieve, by discharging his prescribed duties [dharma] according to caste divisions and order of life, is to please Lord Hari.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.13)

Varnashrama dharma is the prescribed system for the proper functioning of society, as enjoined in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. Varnashrama refers to the four varnas (societal divisions based on quality and work) and the four ashramas (progressive stages in one’s life).

The four varnas are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. Brahmanas are considered the highest class because they live in the mode of goodness, dedicating their time to reading Vedic texts, performing great sacrifices, and teaching others the science of self-realization. Vaishyas are the third class, for they are involved in making money. The modern day concept of the capitalist best describes a vaishya. They are also in charge of protecting cows. Shudras are the laborers; they serve the other three classes. Shudras are not trained in any religious system, so they are not qualified to perform any of the functions of the higher classes.

Arjuna - a great kshatriya The kshatriyas are the second class of men, functioning as the protectors of society. The police and the military make up the kshatriya class. The inherent qualities we see reflected in today’s society don’t exactly lineup one hundred percent to the divisions laid out in varnashrama dharma. The key difference is in the fact that dharma is missing today. All four of the prescribed societal divisions are based quality, work, and religion or occupational duty. Each group has their specific religious duties to perform. The kshatriyas are to serve as the administrators, running the government and providing protection to all the citizens. The governments of the past were never secular. Kshatriya kings would always consult learned brahmanas on all matters of policy. We see that even the vaishyas had specific religious duties to perform, in that they were required to make sure that cows were never harmed in any way. Taking these facts into consideration, today’s society doesn’t really match up to the varnashrama dharma system.

Lord Krishna The four ashramas are brahmacharya, grihastha, vanaprastha, and sannyasa. Brahmacharis are celibate students who take instruction on the Vedas from a guru, or spiritual master. Grihasthis are householders, living with a wife and children, involved in karmic activity, and earning money for their living. Vanaprasthis are retired from family life; they travel around usually with their wife, but they don’t have a set home where they stay. Sannyasis are completely renounced. They depend on Krishna, or God, for everything. These four stages are recommended as a way for one to make gradual advancement in spiritual consciousness. The aim of human life is to perfect the yoga process, whereby one has complete union of the soul with God by the time they die. As Lord Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita, one who practices yoga perfectly never has to return to this material world. They at once attain God’s nature:

"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)

God’s nature is that off eternal bliss and knowledge. As spirit souls, we are also meant to be blissful all the time, but due to contact with material nature, we are forced to suffer the miseries of life while being embodied in a material dress. If we continue down the path of karma, or fruitive activity, we are forced to keep coming back to this world after we die. The only way out of the cycle of birth and death is to become Krishna conscious. This varnashrama dharma system was introduced to help man to do precisely that.

“You can retire to the forest after having ruled over the kingdom for a thousand years. At that time, You can hand over reins of the kingdom to Your sons. Indeed, this tradition was set by the saintly kings of the past who would only retire to the forest after giving charge of the kingdom to their sons, who would then care for the people as their own children.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.25-26)

Rama and Lakshmana God personally comes to earth from time to time to enact lilas, or pastimes, and to provide protection to His devotees. As Lord Rama, God came as a pious warrior prince, the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya. In line to succeed His father, Rama was instead ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest, living as an exile. Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, was quite offended at this treatment directed towards his eldest and most favorite brother. Lakshmana gave a heartfelt speech to Rama, trying to persuade Him to remain in the kingdom and take over the reins of government by force. The above referenced statement was part of Lakshmana’s plea. By telling Rama to first serve His period as king and then retire to the forest, Lakshmana is giving a lesson on the proper duties of a kshatriya king.

In the modern day style of government, presidents and congressmen are elected by the people through free and fair elections. While this system seems nice, it has certain drawbacks. Leaders have a very hard time giving up their posts. In the U.S., Senators serve six year terms, and they can be reelected an unlimited number of times. It is quite common to see Senators serve for thirty plus years, with some even dying while they are still in office. Presidents have an even harder time giving up their post. For this reason, Congress passed the twenty-second amendment to the Constitution, which limits a president to serving a maximum of two terms. In New York City, there was a law on the books which limited the number of terms a mayor could serve. Mayor Michael Bloomberg didn’t want to give up his post, so he persuaded the legislature to change the law.

Lord Rama on the throne with His wife Sita and two sons One may ask the question, “What’s wrong with staying in office for that long? If they’re doing a good job, what’s the harm?” The problem is that regardless if one is a president of a country or a president of a company, one shouldn’t be overly attached to fruitive activity. The secret to life is to be able to act with detachment, performing one’s prescribed duties as enjoined in the shastras, or scriptures.

“You have a right to perform your prescribed duty, but you are not entitled to the fruits of action. Never consider yourself to be the cause of the results of your activities, and never be attached to not doing your duty.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.47)

As mentioned before, perfecting yoga is the real aim of life. If one is attached to material power, they are forced to repeatedly accept new bodies after death. Just imagine having to take birth again, forgetting everything from our current life, and having to attend school all over again. No one would want to do that, yet that’s what exactly what happens if we remain attached to the material world.

From Lakshmana’s statement, we can see that the Vedas recommend a king to step down after ruling for a set period. By taking to the vanaprastha mode of life, one gradually becomes detached from the things that bind them to the laws of karma. This was the tradition adhered to by all the great kings of the pat, for even Dasharatha (Rama’s father) was ready to step down and hand control over to Rama.

Lord Rama was God Himself, so He transcended all of these rules.

“There is no work that affects Me; nor do I aspire for the fruits of action. One who understands this truth about Me also does not become entangled in the fruitive reactions of work.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.14)

Shri Rama Darbar Rama had more important business to attend to, such as protecting the sages the living in the forest and defeating the Rakshasa demon Ravana in battle. For these reasons, it was required for Him to take to the vanaprastha mode of life earlier than normal. His wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana would accompany the Lord in the forest. Later on, Rama would indeed rule the kingdom for a long period of time, eventually handing it down to His sons Lava and Kusha. What we can take away from Lakshmana’s statement is that varnashrama dharma is still a legitimate system worth following. Any activity we can perform that brings us closer to God will benefit us in the end.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Beyond Fallacy

Lord Chaitanya and associates "'In the Age of Kali, intelligent persons perform congregational chanting to worship the incarnation of Godhead who constantly sings the name of Krishna. Although His complexion is not blackish, He is Krishna Himself. He is accompanied by His associates, servants, weapons and confidential companions.'" (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.5.32)

A person’s intelligence is often judged by how they are able to communicate. Someone who stutters and stammers or who uses coarse language is generally viewed as immature or unintelligent. This is the general stereotype that is attached people from rural areas, i.e. “hicks from the sticks”. The educated are viewed as more intelligent because they can articulate thoughts very well and also can successfully craft arguments and defend them against attacks. But just because someone speaks eloquently, does it mean they are smart?

David Boies and Ted Olson - famous laywers In today’s age, scientists and mathematicians are viewed as intelligent simply based off the work they do. The disciplines of physics and astronomy are considered to be beyond the understanding of the average person. When describing the ease with which a certain task can be completed, one will often say, “Hey, it’s not rocket science.” Aside from scientists, lawyers and politicians are also viewed to be very intelligent. Winning elections is not an easy task, and it takes someone with a keen awareness of how to interact with others to be successful. Politicians must take controversial stances on issues and be able to withstand the scrutiny that comes their way. Lawyers have an even tougher job. Their task is to help people who are in trouble. Sometimes their clients are undoubtedly guilty under the eyes of the law, but the lawyers do everything in their power to sway the opinion of jurists in their favor. David Boies, the famous lawyer who defended Napster and Al Gore, and the late Johnny Cochran, the lead attorney for O.J. Simpson, are some of the more famous lawyers of recent times. They are widely accepted as being very intelligent.

A good lawyer uses negation as their primary tactic when arguing cases. Any claim or statement can easily be broken down or defeated simply by using negation. For example, most people widely accept the fact that the sky is blue. Yet someone else can question that statement by asking, “How do you know the sky is blue? Do you know what blue is? Who taught you what is blue and what is not? And who taught them? How do we know that they are not wrong? Just because everyone else believes the sky is blue, does that make it so?” This is a simple example of how negation works, but in the legal arena, it can be taken much further. Jurists can question authority and even cite prior case law in their favor. Word jugglery is the name of the game. A good lawyer will pick apart the text of a law and try to interpret the words to have a new meaning that buttresses their position.

Famous politicians Lawyers and politicians who are viewed as intelligent often find their way onto television shows, either doing interviews or participating in roundtable discussions and debates. A quick study of their arguments shows that they make heavy use of fallacies. A fallacy is a misconception or false conclusion that comes about through flawed logic or reasoning. There are many many different types of fallacy, but we will focus on three of the most commonly invoked ones.

Ad hominem is a very popular fallacy, which is easily recognizable. Person A will make a claim such as “Chocolate chip cookies taste good.” Person B will then say, “Well, Person A is overweight and a liar. Hence, his statement is false. Chocolate chip cookies don’t taste good.” The fallacy of this argument is quite obvious. Person B has not even addressed the issue of how chocolate chip cookies taste. Whether Person A is overweight or dishonest has nothing to do with the validity of their statement.

Tu quoque is another commonly used fallacy. Examples of this can be found almost daily when watching the news. In America, the news typically focuses around the actions of government, and more specifically, the President. The President is always saying something, signing some legislation, or meeting with a group of people. The President’s detractors always look for ways to criticize him. It is quite common for a politician to make the claim, “President A has just agreed to raise taxes. This will be horrible for the economy and the country.” In response, another politician will say, “Well, President B, President A’s predecessor, also passed a similar tax increase bill. I didn’t hear you complaining back then.” This is another obvious fallacy because whether or not President B performed the same action is irrelevant to the claim made about President A. The second politician doesn’t address the claim made by the first politician, thus they have no basis to disprove it.

The Straw Man fallacy is another commonly used logical trick. Person A makes the claim that “Government healthcare is a bad idea because it takes away freedom.  Care will be rationed and there will be no control on demand.” In response, Person B says, “People who are against government healthcare want sick people do die.  They don’t care enough for the poor and they’d rather see people denied medical treatment than fork over any of their own money.” Person B has twisted Person A’s argument into something easier to attack. Person A is not addressing the larger issue of helping people pay for medical care, but rather a smaller issue of government run healthcare. Person B knows that Person A will have a harder time arguing against the idea of sick people dying, therefore they twisted the argument. Person B’s argument is a fallacy because they have not addressed the claim made by Person A.

Armed with knowledge of the various fallacies, we can get a better understanding of just how often they are used. It is much easier to defend an argument or defeat another’s claims by using a fallacy than it is to use normal logic. In this sense, we see that many of the people that are viewed as intelligent are actually just very good at word jugglery. Their arguments, by themselves, don’t have much to stand on. In reality, logic itself has limits. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the material world is composed of five gross elements and three subtle elements, one of which is the mind. Logic, math, and science are products of the human mind. As great as we take the human brain to be, it is nonetheless a product of material nature, meaning it is subject to defects.

Lord Krishna The Supreme Absolute Truth cannot be understood simply through logic and argument. To prove this fact, Lord Krishna, God Himself, came to earth in the form of a pious brahmana some five hundred years ago. Born in Navadvipa, India, Lord Chaitanya grew up to be a learned scholar, respected by all. In His youth, He was known as Nimai Pandita, and He defeated great logicians, including Keshava Kashmiri. Lord Chaitanya’s primary mission was to spread Krishna consciousness throughout India and the world. At the time, the impersonalist Mayavada school was very popular India. They relied heavily on logic and negation in their religious philosophy. They incorrectly asserted that the famous Vedanta-sutras of Vyasadeva described the Supreme Absolute Truth to be formless. Mayavadis engaged in serious study of Vedanta, using the Vedic terms neti neti to negate everything in the material creation.

Lord Chaitanya, being Krishna Himself, wanted to prove the folly of relying simply on negation, and to establish the superiority of devotional service to the Lord. He talked with a famous Mayavadi sannyasi named Prakashananda Sarasvati, and converted him into a devotee of Krishna. Lord Chaitanya was known primarily for His great exhibition of loving sentiments towards Radha and Krishna. He started the sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the holy names of God. He and His associates would tour India and loudly chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Lord Chaitanya Because He engaged primarily in chanting and dancing, many great scholars took Him to be less intelligent. Lord Chaitanya was actually the smartest person of His time. This fact was on display during a famous discussion He had with His friend Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya. Lord Chaitanya took a verse from the Shrimad Bhagavatam relating to God being described as atmarama, and asked Sarvabhauma to explain it. Sarvabhauma then gave Lord Chaitanya nine different meanings. Lord Chaitanya was pleased, but then the Lord Himself gave sixty-one different meanings to the same verse, none of which touched on any of Sarvabhauma’s explanations.

Lord Chaitanya’s logical explanations supported His most important teaching: that Krishna is beyond the realm of thinking. Any argument can be picked apart through negation or through logical tricks, but Krishna is beyond fallacy or any other arguing technique. Lord Chaitanya was the smartest person of His time, yet He used His intelligence to always chant the names of Krishna. This sort of activity seems simplistic, but that is the whole point. Logic and argument are products of material nature and they can easily draw the mind away from the real mission of life, that of knowing and loving God.

"If you are indeed interested in logic and argument, kindly apply it to the mercy of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. If you do so, you will find it to be strikingly wonderful.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.15)

Lord Chaitanya and associates worshiping Radha and Krishna Lord Chaitanya proved that the only proper way to explain anything is to relate it to Krishna, or God. Janmady asya yatah, “The Supreme Absolute Truth must be the source of everything.” Krishna is the fountainhead of all knowledge, so if we explain everything in terms of Him, we will be showing the highest intelligence.

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Radha Krishna “In the material world there is keen competition between animal and animal, man and man, community and community, nation and nation. But the devotees of the Lord rise above such competitions.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.2 Purport)

The human species lives mostly in the mode of passion, performing fruitive activity in the hopes of acquiring fortune, fame, and peace of mind. Since we all have an equal right to perform our activities and work hard for our goals, there are bound to be collisions along the way. This inevitably leads to the formation of rivalries, wherein living entities compete with each other for various rewards and material honors. In the world of sports, the concept of the rivalry is very prevalent, and even considered beneficial from a marketing and profit-making perspective. However everything in this material world is temporary, and if we don’t come to a higher understanding, this rivalry mentality can be very dangerous.

Lord Chaitanya In India, there are many different schools of religious thought that claim to be followers of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures emanating from Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. These different groups each summarize their beliefs into one specific term such as advaita-siddhanta, dvaita-siddhanta, vishishtadvaita-siddhanta, etc. These terms all describe the relationship between the spirit soul and God. Advaita is commonly misinterpreted to mean that there is no difference between God, and that we are all God in a sense. This is the view of the impersonalist philosophers, or Mayavadis. Devotees of God, however, understand that advaita certainly means that we are non-different from God in a sense, but that He still remains superior to and different from us. This is the philosophy expounded by Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation who appeared in India some five hundred years ago.

Advaita means non-dual and it is an appropriate term to describe what is known as Brahman. Since God is the creator of everything, every aspect of this creation, including all the living entities, can be classified as Brahman, or the supreme whole. Since all of us are constitutionally the same, for we are all minute jiva-souls, there is no difference between one living entity and another. Just as the arm is considered part of the body, we living entities are considered part of God’s complete energy. Though there is no difference between God and His energy, there still remains a difference in identity. God is not the same as us, for we have no power to create, maintain, or destroy anything on as grand as a scale as the universe. Lord Chaitanya’s philosophy is called achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, meaning there is an inconceivable and simultaneous oneness and difference between God and the living entities. We are similar to God in quality, but different in quantity. We are minute souls, jivatmas, while God is the supreme soul, or Paramatma. We are independent controllers of our bodies, ishvara, while God is the controller of everything, parameshava.

“The impersonal Brahman can be conceived by persons who are already in the inferior energy of the Lord, but the Personality of Godhead cannot be conceived unless one is in the transcendental position.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.2 Purport)

If God is superior to us, why does the concept of advaita even apply? God’s original form is that of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He then expands Himself as the Supersoul residing within the heart of every living entity. Finally, there is a less granular realization of God known as Brahman. Not every person is apt to understand Bhagavan or Paramatma, but understanding Brahman is a good stepping stone. How does one understand Brahman? The first thing one must realize is that there is a non-duality between all forms of life. In the Vedic system, the brahmanas, or priests, are considered the highest division in society. Brahmana actually means one who knows Brahman. In the great Vedic texts, one will find many references to the fact that the idea of oneness between living entities is exclusive to brahmanas.

Garga Muni Since they are the smartest people in society, it would make sense that the brahmanas would understand that every living entity is an equal part and parcel of the supreme whole. This is not an easy platform of understanding to reach, for every person, by default, adopts the bodily conception of life. What are the symptoms of such a mindset? People who identify solely with the body believe that they are inherently different from other living entities simply based off bodily traits. The concepts of racism and nationalism rely on this thinking. “I am black; I am white; I am American; I am Indian, etc.” While these bodily descriptions certainly are valid, they don’t represent our true identity. The body is something which is created, maintained, and then ultimately destroyed. It is perishable, while the spirit soul residing within the body is imperishable. It is foolish to base one’s identity solely on their body which is constantly changing. We may be an American in this life, but we could very easily take birth as a Russian or a German in the next life. Does that mean we become lower life forms? Certainly not.

If we remain stuck on the bodily conception of life, we remain prone to the forces of nature. One of the primary side effects of material life is that it can lead to fierce competition with our fellow man. We see this in the area of economics quite often. People will complain that all the jobs are going overseas or that there is a large trade deficit, meaning that one country is buying more goods from foreign countries than it is selling home-grown products to outsiders. It is the natural desire of the living entity to want to better its own condition, but if this desire is left unchecked, it can lead to fierce competition, and a general loss of rationality.

A great example of competition is in action can be seen in the sports world, and especially in the sport of tennis. During the 1990s, two American stars, Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi, forged a great rivalry which drew the attention of sports fans throughout the world. Tennis is a worldwide sport, but it is generally not very popular in America when compared to other major sports such as American football, baseball, and basketball. This changes, however, when there are prominent American players at the top of the game. In the early 1980s, there was a huge boom in the popularity of tennis due to the rise of American players John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. McEnroe had a great rivalry with Swedish star, Bjorn Borg, which also helped propel him to the national spotlight.

Agassi and Sampras - 2002 US Open Agassi and Sampras were two completely different players, both on and off the court. Sampras was shy, quiet, and reserved. Agassi was known as being flamboyant, always sporting unique hairstyles and donning extravagant outfits. Agassi’s tennis play relied on brutal baseline strokes. He is considered one of the greatest pure ball strikers of all time. He almost never ventured to the net, for he loved to sit at the baseline and move his opponent around from side to side. Sampras was an attacker. He had a huge serve, and he would follow that up by rushing to the net. The matchups between these two players essentially boiled down to one great server versus a great returner.

The rivalry was very strong, but Sampras pretty much won all the big matches. Even when Agassi was playing his best, Sampras could still beat him, as he did at the 1995 U.S. Open Final and the 1999 Wimbledon Final. In fact, Sampras’ very last professional match was against Agassi at the U.S. Open Final in 2002. At the time, Sampras had not won a tournament during the previous two years, and was seriously contemplating retirement. Agassi was still high in the rankings, but once again, Sampras came out on top. Pete decided to retire after that, feeling there was nothing left for him to accomplish. Agassi hung around for a few more years, but at the end of their careers, Sampras had the better of Agassi as far as accomplishments went. Sampras won 14 Grand Slam Titles (a record at the time), and finished number one in the world for six consecutive years. Agassi had 8 Grand Slam Titles.

Though both players have been retired for several years now, their rivalry came into play recently during an exhibition match. The country of Haiti was recently devastated with a massive earthquake, and people around the world have taken to holding charity events to raise money to help the people of the country. Agassi and Sampras, along with current stars of tennis, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, played an exhibition doubles match, named the Hit for Haiti. Federer and Sampras were on one team, and Nadal and Agassi on another.

Hit for Haiti 2 Anyone familiar with exhibition tennis matches knows that these are generally lighthearted affairs. Normal tennis matches are very stressful; the crowd stays quiet during the points and the players don’t show too much outward emotion since they are busy concentrating on the task at hand. Exhibition matches are meant to be the opposite; a low-key affair where players can let their hair down, so to speak. Most of the time the players don’t even care about the outcome; they are mainly interested in having a good time.

This exhibition match was meant to be even more low-key, as the funds were being raised for the people struggling in Haiti. All four players were wearing microphones, so the entire stadium could hear them during the match. At one point, Sampras, at the urging of Agassi, decided to entertain the crowd by doing an impersonation of Agassi. These impersonations are also quite common at these events; they are similar to comedians roasting each other. Sampras imitated Agassi’s walk and the way he gets ready for a return of serve. It was very lighthearted and everyone was laughing. Sampras then asked Agassi to retaliate. To everyone’s surprise, Agassi decided to open his pockets and say, “I don’t have any money. No, wait, I’ve got a dollar.”

The comment was in reference to a revelation contained in Agassi’s recent autobiography, Open. In the book, Agassi describes an incident from the past where both he and Sampras happened to be at the same restaurant one night. Sampras left right before Agassi, so Andre decided to ask the valet how much Sampras had tipped him. The valet said that Sampras gave him a dollar, a fact Agassi deemed worthy enough for inclusion in his book.

Sampras did not take too well to this insult dished out by Agassi in front of a packed stadium of fans who had come to see a charity tennis match. Sampras thought that Agassi had gotten personal. In retaliation, Sampras drilled his next serve right at Agassi’s head. Agassi ducked and the ball missed him, but he was still shaken up by the gesture. It led him to make another comment about Sampras’ stingy tipping habits. Roger Federer, Sampras’ teammate, immediately joked about how serious the two men took their rivalry. Federer and Nadal are considered to be modern rivals on the tennis court, though their relationship is quite friendly both on and off the court.

“But action performed with great effort by one seeking to gratify his desires, and which is enacted from a sense of false ego, is called action in the mode of passion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.24)

Now both Sampras and Agassi have been retired for years, so this behavior shown at a charity exhibition is quite astonishing. We’re supposed to get wiser and more detached as we get older. This incident illustrates the dangerous nature of the mode of passion, as it manifests in competition. The false ego is so fragile, that any little comment can trigger retaliation.

Krishna speaking to Arjuna Competition certainly isn’t the worst thing in the world, for we all must perform actions to maintain our body. Earning an honest living and competing fairly with other athletes certainly isn’t overtly sinful, but one should understand that the rewards of such competition are only temporary. As much success as we may have in our material ventures, our glory will one day come to an end. The secret to a successful life is to perform our prescribed duties with detachment to the results and the fruits acquired.

“Be steadfast in yoga, O Arjuna. Perform your duty and abandon all attachment to success or failure. Such evenness of mind is called yoga.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.48)

This is much easier said than done. As we saw in the example of Sampras and Agassi, even after retiring from a sport and not having any concern for fame and fortune, one can still hold an attachment to their legacy and ego. The key to acquiring detachment is to first gain an attachment to God. This is the real meaning of life. Our material fortunes and relationships come and go, but our relationship with God is eternal. If we think of Him at the time of death, we never have to take birth again.

“After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.15)

Krishna and Radha The easiest way to think about God is to regularly recite His name in a loving way, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This chanting can be performed by any person, at any stage in life. Chanting is part of bhakti-yoga, or the process whereby one connects their soul with God in a loving way. Krishna is the source of Brahman, so if we understand Him, we’ll realize that all living entities are in the same boat. Instead of competing with one another, we can work together for the highest cause, that of returning back home, back to Godhead.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Karma Amputee

Lord Krishna “Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the original Personality of Godhead, Govinda, who regulates the sufferings and enjoyments of fruitive activity for everyone-from the heavenly King Indra down to the smallest insect [indra-gopa]. That very Personality of Godhead destroys the fruitive karma of one engaged in devotional service.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.54)

Karma is activity performed for a desired result, or a desire to act. Naturally everyone hopes these results will be beneficial to them. This material world is a place full of temporary happiness, so most of us act in such a way as to secure this type of happiness. Karma doesn’t always yield positive results however. Often times, people will go so far as to commit many sins in their quest to achieve happiness. Such activity eventually leads to their ruin.

Throughout most of the world, and especially in the Western countries, meat eating is common. In America, chain restaurants are very popular. One look at the menu for any of these restaurants provides a glimpse into the diet of the average citizen. Meat is almost in every dish. Even something as basic as potatoes, whether they are mashed, fried, or cut up, almost always have some sort of animal flesh on them. Appetizers such as soups and salads invariably have either eggs or some chicken stock in them. Desserts and cakes would seem like a safe bet for vegetarians, but that is not the case. Almost every store-bought baked item has eggs in it.

Krishna and Balarama tending to a cow America is the bastion of freedom in the world. For the time being, people are more or less free to act on their own without any impediments from others. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the name of the game in America. As long as you are not infringing on the rights of others, you are free to act as you wish. Sadly, this freedom isn’t afforded to animals. Cows are mercilessly slaughtered by the millions each year in order to feed the population’s appetite for beef. Not only are cows killed for beef products, but even for cheese. Most cheeses contain rennet, an enzyme procured from the intestines of a slaughtered calf.

Meat eating, along with intoxication and gambling, bring about temporary feelings of happiness. Steakhouses are very popular since people love to eat high quality beef. Major cities like Atlantic City and Las Vegas are paradises for gamblers. Las Vegas is especially appealing since there are casinos all over the place that are open twenty four hours a day. These casinos know what they are doing, so they make all the proper arrangements to lure gamblers to their venues. Once inside, gamblers are given all the food and drink they can consume because the casino owners want their customers to gamble for as long as they can. Intoxication goes hand-in-hand with all of these activities. Night clubs and bars are very popular. In fact the most popular activity amongst young people is “going out”, which means going to a night club or a bar to get drunk.

All these activities may seem harmless on the surface. “I work hard all day. Why can’t I have a little fun from time to time? I like to drink. It makes me feel good. So what if I eat meat? Mankind has dominion over the earth, so we’re only exercising our natural power by eating subordinate forms of life.” This is the general mindset of those addicted to these pillars of sinful life. Upon closer examination, one will find that these karmic activities actually yield harmful results. Take meat eating for example. As stated before, an innocent cow is mercilessly slaughtered in order for there to be beef. In the Vedic system, a cow is to be respected on the same level as one’s own mother. Infants can survive solely on the milk provided freely from cows. Cows don’t bother anyone; they are just living their lives like the rest of us. In fact they are so kind that they give us milk, which can then be turned into so many varieties of foodstuffs. Why should we kill them? There are so many other kinds of food we can eat. The presence of animal rennet in cheese is quite appalling as well. The slaughterhouse is essentially saying, “Come here cow. Give me your milk so I can turn it into cheese. Oh by the way, after you so kindly provide me with cheese, I will kill you so that I can eat your flesh along with the cheese.” Does this seem like civilized activity? Simply to satisfy the senses, one is willing to go to such extreme lengths.

Lord Krishna As mentioned before, karma yields both positive and negative results; it is the ultimate system of fairness administered by Yamaraja, the son of the sun-god. Yamaraja is known as the god of death, for he takes away souls after they die, brings them to his lair, and then decides where they will go next. The merits and demerits resulting from all our actions are calculated. In turn, we are given a suitable body in our next life. Where we end up is solely dependent on our karma. Devotees of God take birth in a pious family where they can continue their devotional service from where they left off in their previous life.

“The unsuccessful yogi, after many, many years of enjoyment on the planets of the pious living entities, is born into a family of righteous people, or into a family of rich aristocracy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.41)

Since karma represents the ultimate system of fairness, we can naturally conclude that meat eaters will have to suffer negative reactions in the future. If one satisfies the senses through unnecessary violence, it is only fair that the same people will suffer cruel punishment in the future for similar reasons. The great acharyas explain that all of the fetuses that are being aborted today are the souls of sinful meat eaters of the past. Sense gratification may seem nice, but one should be careful to study the negative effects of their actions. Intoxication and gambling have similar negative effects. Drinking too much alcohol takes away one’s cleanliness, and gambling takes away one’s honesty. Uncleanliness and dishonesty are two major barriers towards making advancement in spiritual life.

"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, 23.24)

Lakshmana Spiritual life is the point of our existence after all. Our senses can only remain satisfied for so long before they start asking for more and more. This material world is not meant to be a happy place. It is described as dukhalayam in the Vedas, meaning a place full of distresses. This is the essence of the above referenced statement from Lakshmana. Many thousands of years ago, Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, was banished to the forest by His father and step-mother. Lakshmana was Rama’s youngest brother. Being very attached to Rama, Lakshmana wanted Rama to defy their father’s order and take over the kingdom by force.

In his statement, Lakshmana is basically saying, “Those who are banishing you to the forest wanted to achieve some sort of temporary happiness. I will, however, give them an even greater amount of unhappiness through my powers.” Born in the kshatriya race, Rama and Lakshmana were expert archers, unbeatable in battle. Lakshmana was a pure devotee, so he readily renounced everyone, including his own father, in favor of Rama.

Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman In reality, Lakshmana’s proposed intervention wasn’t necessary. Dasharatha, Rama’s father, was actually quite distressed at the prospect of Rama leaving the kingdom. He nevertheless had to abide by the request of his youngest wife Kaikeyi. Rama, for His part, had a greater mission ahead; that of slaying the evil Rakshasa demon Ravana. Staying in the kingdom was not necessary for Rama. Still, we can all learn a lesson from Lakshmana’s actions. This life is meant for serving God. Any activity aimed at achieving any other end can be categorized as sinful. Even if we perform the most pious of acts, such as charity and religious rituals, if such activity keeps us bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death, then what have we really gained? By repeatedly committing sins, we force ourselves to suffer through more and more misery.

“In the Brahma-samhita (5.54) it is said that beginning from the indra-gopa germ up to the great Indra, King of heaven, all living beings are subjected to the law of karma and are bound to suffer and enjoy the fruitive results of their own work. Only the devotee is exempt from such reactions, by the causeless mercy of the supreme authority, the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.28 Purport)

God is our only way out of this cycle of suffering. If we stick to bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, we transcend all the reactions to our sinful activity. Kaikeyi would have to suffer in the future, for Dasharatha would die due to separation from Rama, and her son Bharata was unwilling to ascend the throne. Aside from refraining from sinful activity, we should make sure to act in God’s best interests. This was the path taken by Lakshmana, and for this he is eternally worthy of our love and respect.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Rama Navami 2010

Sita Rama “There was a king named Dashratha, the protector of dharma, as unshakeable as a mountain, true to His promises, well known throughout the world, and whose son is Raghava. Raghava, who is known by the name of Rama, is a righteous soul, famous throughout the three worlds. He has long arms and wide eyes. He is my husband and worshipable deity.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.2-3)

Rama Navami celebrates the appearance of Lord Shri Ramachandra, an incarnation of God who descended to earth many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India. The holiday is named as such because of the specific day in the lunar cycle on which Lord Rama appeared. The Vedic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, with certain days being more auspicious than others. Lord Rama appeared on the ninth day of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra, thus His birthday is celebrated as Rama Navami. It is similar to the concept of the Christmas Holiday where Christians celebrate the birthday of Lord Jesus Christ. Vedic holidays are a little different in that there are many Christmas-type celebrations each year since God takes unlimited forms, anata rupam. Many of these forms appear on earth. God, being the original person, adi purusham, never actually takes birth, so His birthdays are more aptly referred to as appearances. Since the Lord descends from the spiritual world in an eternally existing form, His appearances are known as avataras. Lord Rama is one God’s primary avataras.

King Dashratha The circumstances surrounding His birth were interesting. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, there was a great king ruling over the earth by the name of Dashratha. He only ruled over the town of Ayodhya, but since his dominion was recognized by all the other kings, he was often referred to as mahipati, or the Lord of the earth. Dashratha’s trademark characteristic was his chivalry and kindness. He was famous throughout the world as a great warrior who was dedicated to dharma. The Vedas tell us that an ideal government is one run by the warrior class of men, the kshatriyas. This is because a government’s primary duty is to provide protection to the innocent. Therefore a king, or government leader, must exhibit great fighting skills and strength in order to instill fear in the hearts of the miscreants. If the sinful among us understand that they will suffer the consequences should they harass the innocent, society will function much more peacefully. Thus Dashratha, through his great fighting ability demonstrated in countless wars, established his supremacy throughout the world.

Dashratha pretty much had it all. He was wholly dedicated to dharma, or his occupational duty. Dharma actually means “that which constantly exists with the particular object”. Thus dharma is that which sustains one’s existence. Since the living entity’s existence is defined by its relationship with God, dharma usually refers to religiosity or religious duty. When applied to specific areas, such as government, it refers to the code of conduct or righteousness. Dashratha’s citizens were very happy, and he personally enjoyed life with his three wives. The Vedas tell us that those in the mode of passion, the warrior class, are allowed to marry more than once provided that they can guarantee the complete protection of their wives. The tongue and the genitals are two of the hardest organs to control, so they represent the two biggest stumbling blocks towards advancing in spiritual life. All the Vedic guidelines are put in place so as to help the living entity achieve pure Krishna, or God, consciousness in their lifetime. Only with this mindset can the soul break free of the perpetual cycle of birth and death. We shouldn’t mistakenly think the Vedas and the gurus who follow them are unnecessarily punishing us with their rules and regulations. The complete set of Vedic guidelines represents a form of tough love. Since sex desire is very difficult to control, it is advised that one get married at a very young age, and then only indulge in sex life for the purpose of having children.

From this injunction, we can logically conclude that sex life can only be allowed during one period in every month, when the wife is fertile. The warrior class lives mostly in the mode of passion, meaning they perform work for the purpose of receiving material gain. An outgrowth of living in the mode of passion is that one’s sex desires remain very high. To allow kings to indulge in sex life but still remain committed to dharma, they were allowed to keep more than one wife. This way the women of society were still protected, and the kings could still make spiritual progress.

Lord Rama with parents Dashratha had one thing that bothered him though. He had no son to whom he could pass his kingdom down to. The Vedas tell us that each person acquires three debts at the time of birth. One of these debts is to the forefathers, also known as the pitrs. This logically makes sense because if it weren’t for our parents, we would not take birth under the circumstances that we do. The father must work very hard to maintain the family and the mother goes through so much pain during labor. Thus there is a natural feeling of obligation to repay the great sacrifices made by our parents. This debt actually ascends all the way up the family chain since our grandparents and forefathers also played an important role in determining the circumstances of our birth. The debt to the pitrs can be paid by begetting a son. For Dashratha, this debt was increased due to the fact that he was a king in a very famous dynasty known as the Ikshvakus.

The Bible tells us that God created everything in the beginning. The Vedas give a similar description of the events at the time of creation, including the names of great personalities. The kings are known as rajarishis in the Vedic tradition because they are meant to act as God’s representatives on earth. No one can protect better than God, so He decided that societies on earth would need one of His representatives to provide a similar level of protection on a micro scale. To this end, two lines of famous kings were started at the beginning of creation. One line took birth from the moon-god, Soma, and the other from the sun-god, Vivasvan. The Ikshvakus were part of the solar dynasty, and they were famous throughout the world. If Dashratha didn’t beget a son, he would be doing a great disservice to the family name.

Dashratha receiving the payasamIn order to remedy the situation, the king was advised to hold a grand sacrifice. These events took place in the Treta Yuga, or second time period of creation. The Vedas tell us that for each of the four ages of creation, there is a specific method of worship that is most effective in providing transcendental realization. In the first age, the recommended method was deep meditation. Almost everyone lived in rural areas, thus there were few distractions. Many great yogis lived in forests known as tapo-vanas, meaning forests suitable for the performance of austerities. In the Treta Yuga, the recommended method was elaborate sacrifice. Today, Vedic sacrifices are celebrated on a small scale, with a small fire and some oblations of ghee poured into it. In the Treta Yuga, these sacrifices were very elaborate and required highly qualified brahmanas to perform.

Dashratha performed the Ashvamedha sacrifice, and a subsequent Putrakameshti yajna, as was recommended to him. A great deity came out of the sacrificial altar and handed some payasam to Dashratha. He in turn divided the payasam up and distributed it to his three wives. Very quickly they all became pregnant, with Queen Kausalya eventually giving birth to Lord Rama. Dashratha’s two other wives, Kaikeyi and Sumitra gave birth to Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. Thus the king was blessed with four beautiful sons, but Rama remained his favorite. Lord Rama was Dashratha’s prananatha, or the lord of his life air.

Rama was the son that Dashratha had longed for. Like father like son, Rama too was extremely dedicated to dharma. Never did He speak an ill word to Dashratha, for He loved His father very much. The driving force behind Rama’s activities was His dedication to maintaining the good name of His father. Rama viewed Dashratha as His foremost deity, setting a great example for future generations to follow.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Lord Rama God didn’t appear only to give Dashratha a son. At the time, there was a great Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana who was terrorizing the saintly class of men around the world. Ravana was very strong due to boons he had secured from several demigods, thus everyone was afraid to take him on battle. It was at the behest of the demigods that God decided to appear as Lord Rama. Due to the boons he received, Ravana was guaranteed protection in battle against all types of creatures, including celestials. The only species that could defeat him were the human beings. Thus Lord Rama, appearing in the guise of an ordinary human being, was prophesized to be the destroyer of Ravana.

Since Ravana hadn’t directly attacked Ayodhya, there was no way for Rama to go after him and still remain on the virtuous path. Being God Himself, Rama could have easily done whatever He wanted to, but at the same time, He wanted to set a good example for how a king should behave. To secure Ravana’s demise, the demigods set forth a plan whereby Lord Rama would have an excuse to take him on in battle. The first piece of this puzzle was Rama’s exile to the forest. Dashratha wanted Rama to succeed him on the throne, but plans got changed at the last minute due to a fit of jealousy thrown by Kaikeyi. She requested that Bharata become king and Rama be exiled. Dashratha couldn’t ignore these requests because he had granted her any two boons of her choosing on a previous occasion.

For His part, Lord Rama didn’t want to His father turn out to be a liar, so He gladly accepted the exile punishment. Rama’s beautiful and chase wife, Sita Devi, insisted on accompanying Him, as did Lakshmana. While they were in the forest, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana after a diversion was set up whereby both Rama and Lakshmana were drawn away from the group’s cottage. The demigods were quite pleased by this, for they knew that Ravana had met his end. Lord Rama and Lakshmana eventually marched to Lanka, with the help of a huge band of monkeys, and defeated Ravana in battle. Sita was rescued and the group triumphantly returned to Ayodhya, where Rama was crowned as the king.

Events of Lord Rama's life The beauty of Rama Navami is that it not only celebrates Lord Rama, but all of His devotees as well. In pictures, Lord Rama is usually seen standing alongside Sita and Lakshmana, with Hanumanji offering his obeissances in front of them. Hanuman was part of the Vanara army, and played an integral role in Sita’s rescue and Ravana’s defeat. God is never alone, for His closest associates always remain with Him. This is the view of God given to us by the Vedas. God is the energetic and the devotees are His energy. The two are meant to always be together, side-by-side, enjoying eternal felicity.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Lord Rama is God Himself, so it’s hard to accurately put His qualities into words. Therefore we must study the qualities of His close associates to get an idea. They say that you can judge a person’s character by the company they keep, and in Lord Rama’s case, we see that He had the best friends in the world. Sita, Hanuman, and Lakshmana are so exalted that it is virtually impossible to find a person who can say anything negative about them. Hanumanji is so great that there is an entire book, the Sundara-kanda, in the famous Ramayana poem dedicated to his exploits. Sita and Lakshmana always identified themselves as servants of Rama, and they never ran out of praiseworthy things to say about the Lord.

As spirit souls, part and parcel of God, we are meant to be His energy; we are meant to please Him in the same way that Sita, Hanuman, and Lakshmana do. Celebrating festivals like Rama Navami and Janmashtami are great ways to get into the spiritual mindset. Taking it one step further, we should all try to remember God and His devotees every single day of the year. This can easily be accomplished by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Monday, March 22, 2010


Arjuna “Heroism, power, determination, resourcefulness, courage in battle, generosity, and leadership are the qualities of work for the kshatriyas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.43)

The kshatriya, or warrior, class is required for there to be peace in any society. Not everyone is kind and nice, and some will take to violence in order to solve their disputes. Many people even take to stealing or committing violence against women and children. To protect the innocent, there must be a class of men willing to risk danger in order to stop the bad guys. Of these protectors, the best ones are those that defend based on the religious principles found in the Vedas.

Lord Krishna The Vedas are the original scripture for man, and they represent true and pure knowledge. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, passed down Vedic wisdom to Lord Braham, the first created living entity. Since then, the original Vedas, along with their accompanying texts such as the Mahabharata, Puranas, and Ramayana, have been passed down from generation to generation. The Vedas not only teach us about God, but about how to maintain a peaceful society. They recommend the system known as varnashrama dharma. Breaking down the terms, we see that varnas refer to societal divisions. These divisions actually exist naturally in society based on people’s gunas, or qualities. Varnashrama dharma says that these divisions should exist in society along with an accompanying dharma, or religious duty. The four varnas are brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya, and shudra. Brahmanas are the intellectuals or priests, kshatriyas are the fighters and administrators, vaishyas are the farmers and businessmen, and the shudras are the laborer class. For there to be peace in society, the members of each of these divisions should perform their prescribed dharma, as delineated in the Vedas.

To understand the need for the four varnas, the analogy of the body is given. If society as a whole is compared to the body of a human being, the brahmanas represent the brain, the kshatriyas the arms, the vaishyas the stomach, and the shudras the legs. Though one may argue that the brain is the most important of all these, if the body lacks arms, a stomach, and legs, the brain will have no way to feed itself, thus it will eventually die. Therefore all four parts are necessary in society. As the arms of society, the kshatriyas provide defense, give in charity, perform sacrifices, and manage the affairs of government. In order to be a defender, one must possess certain inherent qualities. We see that these qualities naturally exist in a certain segment of people in any society. For example, the policemen and military men of today can be thought of kshatriyas. Many people are in awe of the courage and bravery shown by members of the military. Many of these soldiers are young and they knowingly put their lives on the line in order to protect people they don’t even know. Most of us would have a hard time doing this. But the Vedas tell us that these warriors possess certainly qualities that are inherited from birth.

One may argue that today’s military and police aren’t true kshatriyas because they are fighting to defend materialism. Due to the effects of the Kali Yuga, most people around the world today are under the control of karma, or fruitive activity. Acting solely for the procurement of wealth, fame, and good fortune, many people lack any real religious knowledge. Most people tend to believe in God, but they don’t really know what that means. Some view Him as an order supplier, while others think that they will automatically go to heaven provided that they aren’t overly sinful in this life. These attitudes lead people to act primarily in the mode of passion, whereby they work very hard for the procurement of various fruits. Since almost everyone in society acts this way, the military and police are in essence providing defense for a passion-driven society.

“Those who are purely in the mode of goodness are called brahmanas. Those who are purely in the mode of passion are called kshatriyas. Those who are in the modes of both passion and ignorance are called vaishyas. Those who are completely in ignorance are called shudras.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.13 Purport)

Lord Krishna Yet just because someone is not aware of religious principles doesn’t mean that they are not a bona fide kshatriya. By default, a kshatriya lives in the mode of passion. There are three modes in material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Goodness represents knowledge, passion represents fruitive activity, and ignorance represents the lack of both. Most human beings live in the mode of passion, and this is especially true of kshatriyas. For this reason, the kshatriya kings of the past used to engage in activities such as gambling and hunting. They were also allowed to marry multiple times. The incredibly pious and well-respected king of Ayodhya during the Treta Yuga, Maharaja Dashratha, had three wives himself. Lord Krishna, when He personally descended to earth and lived as a king in Dvaraka, had 16,108 wives. Now Krishna can never associate with any of the three material modes, but just to play the part of a king, He pretended to live by the mode of passion.

“Considering your specific duty as a kshatriya, you should know that there is no better engagement for you than fighting on religious principles; and so there is no need for hesitation. O Partha, happy are the kshatriyas to whom such fighting opportunities come unsought, opening for them the doors of the heavenly planets.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.31-32)

Lord Rama pouring an oblation during a sacrifice One doesn’t even have to be a “good” person in order to be considered a kshatriya. Those who are familiar with Vedic literature, know that a soldier who dies on the battlefield, observing the proper code of conduct, immediately ascends to heaven, regardless of which side they fought for. The Vedas, being the original religion for mankind, introduced the concept of sacrifice which is now part of every religion. Most Vedic sacrifices occur in the presence of a fire, where ghee (clarified butter) is poured onto the fire as an oblation. Each time the ghee is poured, priests utter the word svaha. For management of the material world, God has deputed various living entities known as demigods to take charge. Each demigod manages a specific aspect of the material creation. The demigod Agni is the god of fire. His wife is Svaha. On a prior occasion, she was granted the benediction of being the first one to receive oblations in fire sacrifices. For this reason, svaha is uttered during yajnas.

Since sacrifices play such a large role in Vedic culture, when describing war and the battles that take place, great saints often use the analogy to the fire sacrifice. A soldier who dies on the battlefield is thought of as an oblation in a fire sacrifice, with the battlefield representing the fire itself. Those who fight honorably for their side and meet with death during battle are viewed as being materially very pious. Therefore they are immediately granted entrance into heaven. During the Bharata War, the lead fighter for the Kurus, Duryodhana, went to heaven after death. This really surprised Yudhishthira, the leader of the opposing army. Yudhishthira was a very pious man and well-respected throughout the world. He was also the son of Dharmaraja, the god of justice. When Yudhishthira went to heaven, he saw Duryodhana there and couldn’t believe it. Duryodhana was very sinful during his lifetime, for he had on several occasions tried to kill Yudhishthira and his brothers through backhanded means. Narada Muni had to then explain to Yudhishthira that since Duryodhana died on the battlefield, the laws of karma dictated that he must spend some time in heaven.

srk Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, also confirmed this fact during His time on earth. Playing the part of a noble kshatriya Himself, Lord Rama once battled fourteen thousand Rakshasa demons in the forest of Janasthana. The last demon he fought in this battle was Khara. There was a little history between Khara and the brahmanas of the time. The Rakshasa race was headed by Ravana, the ten-headed demon and enemy of the demigods. The Rakshasas’ favorite activity was to range the forests in the night and look for brahmanas who were performing sacrifices. The Rakshasas would assume the guise of ascetics and appear before the sages. Having let their guard down, the brahmanas would be attacked by the Rakshasas. Khara and his band of demons would not only kill the sages, but feast on their flesh as well. Just prior to their fight, Lord Rama told Khara that He would kill him and avenge the death of the brahmanas. Lord Rama also mentioned that Khara would be going to heaven, for he would die while fighting nobly in battle.

Based on the examples of Duryodhana and Khara, we see that one doesn’t have to be a learned transcendentalist in order to be considered a noble fighter. Aside from fighting on the battlefield, the main duty of a kshatriya is to serve in government. This makes sense because government itself only exists to provide protection to people. Every person has an inherent right to protect themselves and their property. Government represents the collective right to self defense of a group of citizens.

Since kshatriyas live in the mode of passion, how can they run the government properly? Shouldn’t people in the highest positions of power be knowledgeable? This is certainly true and it is why the Vedas recommend that kshatriyas take advice and consent from brahmanas, the priestly class of men. Brahmanas are non-violent by nature. They spend all their time reading the Vedas, teaching Vedic wisdom to others, performing sacrifices, and teaching others how to perform sacrifice for Lord Vishnu.

We see that the world situation today is so dire precisely due to the lack of bona fide brahmanas. Kshatriyas certainly do exist. In some countries, people are forced into military service regardless of their inherent qualities. In America, the military is currently an all-volunteer force. Even though they volunteer to defend their citizens, we see that the military is not very well supported. Many citizens openly despise the military, taking their actions to be evil.

As with anything else, the solution to all our problems comes through devotional service to Krishna. People can elevate themselves to brahminical status by regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. If kshatriyas can take instruction from pure devotees of the Lord, there is no doubt that we will live in a much more peaceful society.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Seeing God

Rama_Deity “Rama is like a mad elephant in battle. He has a purified and unblemished family lineage for His trunk, brilliance and splendor for His excitement, and two powerful arms for tusks. O Ravana, you are not even qualified to look at Him.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.46)

Quite a few transcendentalists have as their goal to one day see God. They perform rigorous austerities and deep meditation in the hopes of one day meeting the Lord face to face. There are others who wish to one day meet a yogi or an advanced transcendentalist who has seen God. In fact, many saintly people advertise the fact that they have seen God through their meditation. In a similar manner, there are others who want to see God simply because they want others to believe in Him. “Why doesn’t God just come and make everyone His devotee? This way He can remove all doubts relating to His existence.” The truth of the matter is that God is all around us and that anyone can see Him, provided they have the proper set of eyes.

Hanuman worshiping Rama This may seem puzzling. “What do you mean by the right set of eyes? I have the eyes of a human being and I can’t see him. What other kind of eyes do I need?” There is difference between something material and something spiritual. Material objects possess gunas, or qualities. Goodness, passion, and ignorance represent the material qualities, and these are considered faulty because anything possessing gunas must be temporary. It has a beginning, middle, and end. Spiritual things are eternal, meaning they are free of any defects. We can easily see God provided that we spiritualize our eyes.

A good way to illustrate this point is to analyze the disciplines of reading and mathematics. For young children the symbols of any alphabet appear to be just jibberish. Adults can read signs, books, newspapers, etc. because they can understand what words are and what they mean. People who don’t know how to read get no use out of words and sentences. In essence, illiterate people don’t have the eyes to understand written language. It takes years of learning before someone can read properly. Even if we read a book for the first time, we may have trouble understanding it. It sometimes takes us two or three reads before we can really start to grasp concepts and find out the true meaning behind passages and phrases. Mathematics works the same way. At first there are just numbers, but they don’t mean anything by themselves. When we learn how to add, subtract, multiply, and divide, the numbers take on a whole new meaning.

Lord Krishna In the material world our eyes are in a conditioned state by default. At the time of birth, everyone is a conditioned state, meaning they are subject to the laws of nature. Sometimes the living entities are referred to as isvhara, meaning controllers, because they have independence in that they can choose how their senses will interact with nature. However, they are never the controllers of nature. The forces of maya and karma reign supreme in the material world. God, however, is never conditioned. For this reason, He is also referred to ishvara or parameshvara, meaning the supreme controller. The fatal flaw of the human being is that it tries to become the supreme controller right from its birth. The living entity becomes deluded by the concepts of “I” and “mine”. It accepts things that it likes and rejects things that it doesn’t.

In the spiritual world, these dualities don’t exist. God is the controller of everything, so we have no need to falsely think ourselves to be proprietors. On a spiritual level, everything is related to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, thus there is no concept of good or bad. Generally speaking, the mode of goodness, sattva-guna, refers to things that are good or beneficial. However, since it is still part of material nature, even the mode of goodness is flawed. This is because those associating with the mode of goodness can, at best, ascend to the material heavenly planets after death.

“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode develop knowledge, but they become conditioned by the concept of happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.6)

Residence on these planets is temporary, meaning one is forced to return to the material world. Thus the mode of goodness itself cannot grant liberation. Sudda-sattva, pure goodness, does not have this defect. The mission of human life is to rise to the platform of sudda-sattva so that we can permanently remove ourselves from this material world full of miseries.

Many people realize the flawed nature of material life. Thus they seek out God, and more importantly, they desperately want to see Him face to face. However, things aren’t that easy. Since we are so accustomed to conditioned material life, there are a few steps required before we can actually see the Lord. The most important thing we have to change is our desire. Desire itself can never be eliminated. Even people who sit in quiet meditation all day still have some sort of desire, for they want to merge into the impersonal effulgence known as Brahman or simply block out all activity. Instead of renouncing activity, the Vedas recommend that we shift our desires to spiritual things.

Shrila Prabhupada The process of bhakti yoga, or devotional service, can help us purify our desires. More than just a form of yoga, devotional service is a way of life. It is actually an eternal occupation, the original nature of the spirit soul. Bhakti means love and yoga means union of the soul with God. Devotional service is a full-time engagement where we remain connected with God. The first step is to approach a pure devotee, or bhakta. A guru, or spiritual master, is a pure devotee who is also a bona fide representative of God. He is commonly referred to as guru-deva, meaning he is god-like. Since the guru preaches the glories of Krishna, he is to be treated to be as good as God. Humbly submitting ourselves to a Vaishnava spiritual master is the first step towards seeing God.

The guru hasn’t necessarily seen God face to face. Rather, he engages in devotional service all the time, chanting His name, and worshiping His deity. This is actually better than seeing God face to face, because in this way, the guru never stops thinking about Krishna for a second. Seeing God face to face is certainly a nice achievement, but then what do we do after that? Do our desires stop? Do our activities stop? No, those must go on. So it is far better to adjust our activities in such a way that we see God all the time, wherever we turn. This can be achieved by following the instructions of the great acharyas.

The Vaishnava gurus for this age all recommend that we regularly chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. God’s original form is that of Lord Krishna, but He can expand Himself into unlimited forms. For this age, God incarnates in the form of His holy name. There is no difference between God and His name. This may seem strange to us at first, but through sincere and steady chanting, one can quickly realize this fact. The same holds true with the Lord’s deity. The archa-vigraha, God’s worshipable deity form made out of wood or stone, is just as good as God Himself. There are many instances where deities have actually talked to great personalities. Madhavendra Puri was one such saint who had the distinct honor of talking with Krishna’s deity.

The Lord is all around us. Many parents even see God in their children. This is very easy to understand because birth itself is a miracle. In an instant, a brand new person appears in our world. This person moves, sleeps, and talks all without anyone’s help. A spirit soul entering a new body is certainly a miraculous event which proves the existence of God.

Ravana Anyone can easily see God, provided they have purified their minds and eyes through the practice of devotional service. On the flip side, the materially conditioned souls will always have a difficult time seeing God. Those who are atheists or non-believers in the scriptures will never be able to see God, even if He is standing right in front of them. This was the case with the Rakshasa demon Ravana. During the Treta Yuga, the Rakshasas, an evil race of night-rangers who feasted on human flesh, were ascending to power throughout the world. Their leader was the ten-headed Ravana, the powerful king of Lanka who had procured many strength-augmenting boons from the demigods.

Lord Krishna personally advented on earth in human form as Lord Rama to do away with Ravana and to give relief to the demigods. As part of His pastimes, Rama spent fourteen years roaming the forests of India with His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. On one occasion, Ravana sent 14,000 Rakshasas to the forest of Janasthana to attack Rama. The Lord easily defeated the demons all by Himself. One of the demons, Akampana, managed to escape and return to Lanka to tell Ravana what had happened. He told Ravana that Rama couldn’t be defeated in battle, but that He had a beautiful wife who Ravana should kidnap. Ravana had an insatiable sex desire, so he was immediately intrigued upon hearing of the beauty of Rama’s wife, Sita. Ravana went to his confidante Maricha to ask for help.

In the above referenced statement, Maricha is describing Rama’s glories to Ravana. He is openly declaring that Ravana is not worthy to even look at Rama. This was most certainly true. Ravana had evil motives, for no one is worthy of enjoying God’s wife except God Himself. Maricha is advising Ravana to stay away from Rama, for raising hostilities with Him would only lead to destruction. As events would play out, Maricha would end up helping Ravana kidnap Sita. This was preordained by the demigods, for they wanted Rama to have an excuse to battle Ravana and kill him. Eventually, Rama would march to Lanka and personally defeat and kill Ravana in battle.

The lesson from this passage is very clear. God can be easily seen, provided we have the proper eyes to view him. Ravana was an avowed enemy of the devotees of God. He thought himself to be the most powerful person in the world, thus he couldn’t recognize that God himself was before him in the form of Rama. Still, by unintentionally thinking of God at the time of death, Ravana was granted sayujya-mukti, or the liberation of merging into the body the Lord.

Shri Rama DarbarFor devotees, seeing God and merging into Him is not preferred. The great devotee of Lord Rama, Hanuman, is a perfect example in this regard. He was so exalted that he not only saw Rama personally, but he got to personally offer service to Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. Hanuman even carried Rama and Lakshmana on his back on several occasions during battles. Yet from studying Hanuman’s nature and life activities, we understand that meeting God personally was only the beginning of his spiritual life. To this day, Hanumanji spends all his time reading the Ramayana and chanting the glories of Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. He is our role model in this regard. Seeing God is one thing, but it is more important and pleasing to the soul to be eternally engaged in His service. This way, we get to maintain an unchecked relationship with God all the time. The great Vaishnava saint, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, used to say that instead of trying to see God, we should act in such a way that God sees us. By making devotional service our full-time occupation, we can achieve this goal.