Saturday, April 10, 2010

The Most Beautiful

Lord Rama “At the time, there were not yet visible any signs of manhood on the boy’s beautiful face, which was dark-blue in complexion and had an all-auspicious gaze. Rama had a gold chain round His neck, a small tuft of hair on His head, wore only one piece of clothing, and held a bow in His hands.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.14)

Among all the major religions of the world, Hinduism is especially known for its beautiful artwork. Since there are so many famous demigods and saints, we see that many of them are depicted in beautiful statues and paintings. More importantly, the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, Lord Krishna, and His primary expansions are also seen in famous pictures and other works of art. If one visits stores in India, they will see pictures of God everywhere. These depictions of the Lord aren’t based on the imagination of the mind, but rather come from the authorized statements of the Vedas.

Lord Krishna Every religion has its major scripture that is revered and widely read. What is referred to as the Hindu religion today can be more accurately described as sanatana-dharma. Both being Sanskrit words, sanatana means that which has no beginning or end, and dharma means religiosity or occupational duty. The Vedas are the original scriptures espousing sanatana-dharma. Veda means knowledge, and there can be no higher knowledge than that which explains God. The Vedanta-sutras tell us that everything in this world emanates from the Supreme Absolute Truth. Knowledge is included in this definition, meaning that the topmost knowledge system also comes from God.

The Vedas were originally one doctrine known simply as the Veda. The information contained within was passed down through an oral tradition. As time passed, man’s mental capabilities diminished, therefore requiring a written form of scripture. Lord Krishna, the original personality of Godhead, partially incarnated as a great sage by the name of Vyasadeva, who not only divided the Veda into four separate branches, but also further explained Vedic knowledge in the form of stories. These ancient stories became known as the Puranas. Each Purana is quite lengthy since it chronicles the life and pastimes of the Supreme Lord and His various incarnations. Vyasadeva’s most famous work is the Mahabharata, which is also sometimes referred to as the fifth Veda. Literally meaning “Great India”, the Mahabharata contains the entire history of the world up until around five thousand years ago. Lord Krishna’s pastimes on earth are also detailed in this book, along with His great discourse on religion known as the Bhagavad-gita.

Lord Krishna delivering Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna’s return to the spiritual world signaled the beginning of the Kali Yuga, the last of the four time periods of creations. Kali Yuga is known as the Dark Age since quarrel and hypocrisy are rampant in society during this time. Because of this decline in religiosity, people’s adherence to the Vedic doctrine is greatly diminished. Even the professed followers of Vedic traditions, the brahmanas, became lax in their responsibilities at the outset of the Kali Yuga. They started to abuse the animal sacrifice process in order to enjoy meat eating. As a result, people started to break away from the original religion of the Vedas. They started forming their own religions, with their own set of scriptures. The situation we are left with today is that there exist many different religions, with followers of each group claiming their religious system is correct.

A common trait of the major religions of the world today is that they describe God in an impersonal manner. The Vedas tell us that we are spirit souls at our core, and that our constitutional position is that of servitor to the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna. This material world is a flawed replica of the spiritual world, and thus is not meant to be our permanent home. Due to the pure nature of the soul, most living entities inherently recognize the existence of a God. Since this is the case, most of the major religions of the world acknowledge the existence of a God, but they don’t go into much detail regarding His name, form, or attributes. Religious leaders generally prescribe adherence to a set of rules and regulations. They ask people to be God conscious, to pray, and to act in a righteous manner. Nevertheless, their depiction of God is that of an impersonal spirit.

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

The Vedas definitely do acknowledge an impersonal aspect of God. This feature is known as Brahman, which is also referred to as the Absolute Truth. Brahman is typically defined as the sum and substance of all things material and spiritual in this world. However, Brahman is a limited realization of God. The Vedas tell us that the Supreme Lord can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. A higher realization than Brahman is Paramatma, which is God’s expansion as the Supersoul residing in the heart of every living entity.

“Although the Supersoul appears to be divided, He is never divided. He is situated as one. Although He is the maintainer of every living entity, it is to be understood that He devours and develops all.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.17)

Bhagavan Shri Krishna Paramatma is a higher realization than Brahman because it describes the personal aspect of the Supersoul, which resides within everyone. And yet the Supersoul also has a source, which is Bhagavan. Many religious leaders tell us that God is great, but the Vedas go one step further by attempting to put this greatness into words. Bhagavan means one who possesses all fortunes. Only God can possess the qualities of wealth, fame, beauty, renunciation, power, and wisdom to the fullest degree and at the same time. Since God is the fountainhead of all these features, only He can possess them to the fullest extent. Bhagavan also means the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is a person just like us, except that He is the supreme and original person, adi-purusham.

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

God has a personal form. We see that many famous conversations and instructions of the Lord are chronicled in the Vedas. These statements typically start with the words “Shri Bhagavan uvacha”, which mean “The Supreme Lord said”. We also see that Krishna uses possessive terminology such as “Mine” and “I am”. For the living entities, this type of thinking is flawed, for God is the actual proprietor of everything. We really have no claim on anything since our most prized possession, our body, must be given up at the time of death. Since God is the source of everything, His use of the words “Mine” and “I am” is completely justified. This terminology also proves without a doubt that God is a distinct person. Sometimes foolish scholars or atheists study the Bhagavad-gita and write commentary on its teachings, and still take Krishna to be an elevated form of Brahman or, even worse, an ordinary human being. Krishna is the ultimate authority on Vedic knowledge, so when He says “I” and “Mine”, He is referring to Himself as God, and not as some impersonal energy.

Avataras Brahman is an impersonal effulgence which pervades all of creation. However, there is something beyond the Brahman conception, or the brahma-jyoti. This is Lord Krishna’s spiritual realm known as Krishnaloka. For those incapable of fostering an attachment to God’s original personal form, they remain stuck at Brahman. They can never enter the Lord’s spiritual realm where the spirit souls enjoy personal association with God and His direct expansions. Direct expansions refer to vishnu-tattva forms of the Lord. The living entities are also expansions of the Lord. God has an inferior energy known as the material world, and a superior energy known as the spiritual world. We living entities are technically part of the marginal energy because we have a choice as to which energy we associate with. Lord Krishna’s primary expansion is that of the four-handed Narayana, or Lord Vishnu. Lord Vishnu then further expands into other Vishnus and incarnations technically known as vishnu-tattva. All these expansions are considered to be as good as God Himself since they are part of the spiritual energy.

“The worshipers of the demigods will be promoted to the respective planets of the demigods, but devotees of the Supreme Lord will go back home, back to Godhead.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.25)

Lord Rama The highest achievement for the living entity is to learn about Lord Krishna, or one of His expansions, and to gain an attachment to Him. This attachment will lead one back to the spiritual world at the time of death. Once a spirit soul returns to Krishna’s personal realm, they never return to the material world. To aid the living entities in rekindling their love for God, the Lord personally descends to earth from time to time. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago in the town of Ayodhya. An avatara means one who descends, thus the Lord Rama avatara represented Krishna’s descent to earth as a pious prince. Born as the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya, Rama was loved and adored by all family, friends, and neighbors. As part of His pastimes, Rama served a fourteen year exile period in the forest. At the time, Rakshasa demons were on a rampage against the saintly class who had set up hermitages in the forest.

Lord Rama specifically appeared on earth to grant protection to these sages. He and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were expert defenders, well versed in military science. On one occasion during Rama’s younger days, a particular demon by the name of Maricha came to harass the venerable Vishvamitra Muni. To his surprise, Maricha found that Vishvamitra was guarded by an exquisitely beautiful and powerful prince. Not knowing that this person was Rama, Maricha proceeded to attack, an act which caused Rama to soundly defeat him in battle. In the above referenced statement, Maricha is describing the features of Lord Rama, as he saw them, to the Rakshasa leader Ravana.

From this description, we see just how beautiful God is. Since Rama is a qualified incarnation, there is no difference between Himself and Krishna. He is God, and His body is completely spiritual and exists eternally. Maricha was very fortunate to see God face to face. He was no ordinary soul, for he surely had performed many pious deeds in his previous lives. In fact, as events would play out, Maricha would be killed by Rama, and would thus have the benefit of seeing and thinking of God at the time of death.

Most of us don’t have the good fortune of seeing God face to face. There is no need to worry, however, as Maricha and other great personalities have described the Lord’s features in great detail for us. Maricha’s statement is by no means the only description of Lord Rama found in the Ramayana. In fact, Lord Krishna’s beauty is described in great detail in the Bhagavata Purana and other famous texts. These descriptions are not only statements of fact, but they serve as a benefit to us. Great devotees have used these descriptions to paint pictures of the Lord and to construct beautiful sculptures of Him.

Rama and Lakshmana with Vishvamitra Worship of God in His personal form is the highest form of religion. There is no difference between a picture or deity of the Lord and God Himself. Hindus are not lowly idol worshipers because since the material elements of stone and wood are used to create a deity, the elements become spiritualized. These forms aren’t imagined either, as they are based on the authoritative statements of the Vedas. God is so kind, beautiful, and merciful that we will all benefit by taking up His service. In this age, not only does the Lord incarnate in the forms of His pictures and deities, but He also appears through the transcendental sound vibrations of the His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The aim of human life is to love God. This love can easily be awakened by viewing beautiful pictures of Him, and by chanting His holy names.

Friday, April 9, 2010


Lord Krishna “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)

There are generally two kinds of gurus in the Vedic tradition. There is one spiritual master who provides instruction and guidance to an aspiring transcendentalist. This person is known as the siksha-guru, and he essentially provides an introduction into sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation of man. Not only do they give an introduction, but they also can provide continuing education depending on the student’s eagerness to learn. The second type of spiritual master is the diksha-guru, or the person who gives formal initiation.

“The Gayatri mantra is very important in Vedic civilization and is considered to be the sound incarnation of Brahman. Brahma is its initiator, and it is passed down from him in disciplic succession.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.35)

Garga Muni All religions have certain rites of passage prescribed for their followers and the Vedas are no different in this regard. In Vedic terminology, a rite or purificatory process is referred to as a samskara. There are many recommended samskaras for people starting from birth and going all the way until the end of their life. Even marriage is known as a samskara. Diksha provides formal initiation through the investiture of a sacred thread to the student. This is known as the upanayana-samskara. Along with the sacred thread, the student is given a mantra, which typically is the famous Gayatri mantra. The guru teaches the student how to chant this mantra regularly in order that they may make spiritual advancement. The most important aspect of formal initiation is that the student agrees to fully abide by the orders of the spiritual master. Initiation is the beginning of spiritual life, not the end.

The diksha-guru must be a recognized brahmana who is capable of bestowing a proper mantra on the student. The Padma Purana states that for this age, one must take initiation from a guru belonging to one of the four primary Vaishnava sampradayas in order for their mantra to have efficacy. In this age of Kali, having a guru has become sort of a fashion, with many bogus spiritual masters coming out of the woodwork. They each have a specific mantra. Some charge for their mantra, while others tell their students that they can become God by regularly chanting it. It is for this reason that the Padma Purana warns against accepting mantras from unauthorized persons.

Words mean things. Evidence of this fact can be seen in our day-to-day lives. There are so many words in use today that cause offense to certain classes of people. These words became so offensive that a movement was created to stop people from uttering them in public. Known as political correctness, this system is in wide use today in society. Many famous celebrities and television and radio broadcasters have suffered tremendous public relations damage due to uttering various racial epithets. Sometimes these words were uttered intentionally, while other times they were just honest mistakes. Nevertheless, society always came down hard on such people.

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha, the two sons of Lord Rama The Vedas tell us that words have special significance when it comes to religion. The Vedas are made up of mantras and hymns. Not all mantras are the same. Each mantra represents a specific combination of sounds uttered in sequence so as to produce a desired result. There are mantras for just about everything. The mantra given by a spiritual master is intended to fit the student’s qualities and work. If a student is a brahmana, the initiating mantra is intended to help the student understand Brahman, or God. If a person seeking spiritual perfection receives an inappropriate mantra, their religious efforts will essentially go to waste. For this reason, the Vedas insist that people of this age get their mantra from a bona fide disciple of a sampradaya that traces its lineage back to Shri Lakshmi, Lord Shiva, the four Kumaras, or Lord Brahma.

Before one can be formally initiated, they need some sort of introduction to spiritual life. This is where the siksha-guru comes in. Whereas the diksha-guru must be a brahmana by quality and work, the siksha-guru can actually be anyone. Upon taking birth, we accept our parents as our original teachers. This is why the Vedas declare that a person’s first object of worship should be their parents. In Vedic times, filial piety was so strong that sons and daughters would touch their parents’ feet and circumambulate them whenever they would depart. Our parents get us through the early years, but what separates us from the animals is our ability to know and understand God. This knowledge isn’t acquired on its own, for we need someone to teach it to us. Depending on our life’s circumstances, we may or may not follow all the prescribed samskaras during our lifetime.

For this reason, it is even more important that we have the good fortune of meeting someone who can ignite the spiritual spark inside of us. This person can be anyone, provided that they know and understand God. In many cases, the siksha and diksha gurus are the same, but it isn’t a requirement. The famous Dhruva Maharaja took initial instruction from his mother, Suniti. She wasn’t qualified to give him formal initiation however.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati So how do we find a bona fide instructing spiritual master? The answer is that God will send us one if we are sincere in our desire to learn. The key is to be able to recognize who is a bona fide guru and who isn’t. A bona fide spiritual master is one who is a pure devotee of Krishna. Sometimes a spiritual master may rub us the wrong way with their initial instructions. A pure devotee has taken full shelter of the Supreme Lord, and thus is completely confident in all of their beliefs. Sometimes if we see someone who is so sure in what they believe, we can get turned off. This may also occur when we hear from a spiritual master. We must decipher, however, if the guru is acting in Krishna’s interest. As long the spiritual master’s devotion to the Lord is not in doubt, we will eventually overcome any obstacles that we might impose on ourselves.

Whether a person is a siksha or diksha guru, the important point is that we must learn about Krishna from them. This instruction can be taken by sitting face-to-face in front of a spiritual master and listening to their words. However, direct association is not a requirement. If we listen to a recording of the guru’s instructions, then the effect is the same. In a similar manner, learning the guru’s teachings found in books and other written instruction is also just as good as in-person association. In many instances, this type of distance learning is more beneficial because the hearing process becomes more isolated. Visual distractions and social conventions are eliminated, allowing one to learn in a comfortable environment.

Rama and Lakshmana protecting Vishvamitra Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, believes so strongly in the concept of receiving instruction from a guru, that He Himself took initiation from gurus during His various advents on earth. In the Treta Yuga, Krishna came to earth as the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya named Rama. As the eldest son of the king, Lord Rama was groomed to be a kshatriya warrior from His birth. On one occasion, the venerable Vishvamitra Muni came to the kingdom and asked Maharaja Dasharatha to allow Rama to accompany him in the forest. At the time, Rakshasa demons were terrorizing the sages living in the forest and disrupting their sacrifices. Dasharatha hesitatingly agreed, and so both Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, accompanied Vishvamitra.

“Then, after Vishvamitra had prepared himself for performing a sacrifice in the forest of Dandaka, Rama, twanging His wonderful bow, came by the side of the sage to protect the sacrifice.” (Maricha describing Rama’s protecting of Vishvamitra, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.13)

Both Rama and Lakshmana took instruction in their youth from the royal priest, Vashishta. Since Rama was God Himself, He required no instruction, but He abided by the orders of a spiritual master just to set a good example. Later on, Vishvamitra imparted special mantras unto both Rama and Lakshmana during their initiations. As an expert brahmana, Vishvamitra knew of mantras for just about any occasion. Since Rama and Lakshmana were warriors, Vishvamitra gave them mantras specifically intended to augment their fighting ability. By uttering these sacred Sanskrit words, Rama would be able to turn one of His arrows shot from His bow into something as powerful as a nuclear weapon. This again proves the fact that words mean things. Vishvamitra didn’t just give this mantra out to anyone, for he reserved it for the most pious princes of his time.

Rama and Lakshmana serving Vishvamitra Shrila Prabhupada In this age of Kali, everything is topsy-turvy as far as adherence to dharma goes. For this reason, God has simplified things. There is one mantra that everyone can chant. Made famous by Lord Chaitanya some five hundred years ago in India, the maha-mantra is open to anyone. Lord Chaitanya, an incarnation of Krishna, purposefully distributed this mantra freely throughout India. He humbly requested that everyone simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. One does not have to be a Hindu nor do they require formal initiation to chant this.

“The spiritual master awakens the sleeping living entity to his original consciousness so that he can worship Lord Vishnu. This is the purpose of diksha, or initiation. Initiation means receiving the pure knowledge of spiritual consciousness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 9.61)

As we progress in chanting, other aspects will fall into place. The great Shrila Rupa Goswami has written in great detail about how one can go about becoming a devotee in his book, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada has translated this and many other great Vedic texts. Though he is no longer physically present in this world, Shrila Prabhupada continues to teach through his multitude of books and recorded lectures. He is a siksha-guru that everyone can approach. If we submit ourselves to a Vaishnava spiritual master and follow their instructions, we are sure to awaken our love for God.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

The Beautiful Warrior

Lakshmana “These arms of mine, which are fit for wearing sandalwood pulp and armlets, distributing wealth in charity, and protecting friends and family, shall today, O Rama, be used to do whatever is necessary to stop those who wish to obstruct Your installation as king.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.38-39)

God can be equally merciful through the use of violence or nonviolence. The dualities of the material world do not apply to Him, for He is the very definition of virtue and purity. We cannot apply our mundane morals to Him.

“Intelligence, knowledge, freedom from doubt and delusion, forgiveness, truthfulness, self-control and calmness, pleasure and pain, birth, death, fear, fearlessness, nonviolence, equanimity, satisfaction, austerity, charity, fame and infamy are created by Me alone.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.4-5)

Lord Krishna The quality of ahimsa, or non-violence, is described in the Vedas as virtuous. As living entities, we are all in the same boat as far as our experiences go in this material world. We are all spirit souls at our core, but somehow or other we have accepted a material body subject to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Disease and old age afflict everyone. The only way to break out of this cycle is to come to the platform of real knowledge. What is that knowledge that we have to acquire? It is not knowledge of how to invent the latest high-tech gizmo. It’s not knowledge of how to increase our bodily comforts or even how to increase our duration of life. The purpose of human life is to use our God-given intelligence to come to the platform of understanding and loving God. This can only be achieved through rendering pure loving service to Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His devotees.

By understanding that we are all part and parcel of Krishna, we see that there is no need for us to be unkind to our fellow man. To go one step further, there is no reason for us to be violent towards others. The mode of passion can sometimes get the better of us. Lust leads to anger, and anger leads to violence. This type of violence is in the mode of ignorance, so one who can control his anger by acting in a non-violent manner is considered virtuous. Unnecessary violence is certainly deplorable, but this doesn’t mean that non-violence is the only path to take under all circumstances. This is where the concept of ahimsa has been misinterpreted. Every one of us possesses the three qualities of material nature (goodness, passion, and ignorance) to varying degrees. For this reason, we see that people have different demeanors, temperaments, and ethical standards. Not every person is nice, with some people being downright dangerous. In order to give protection to the innocent, a class of people is required who can fight off enemies.

Arjuna - a great kshatriya warrior This class of people is known as the kshatriya, and they make up one of the four varnas, or natural societal divisions based on quality and work. Metaphorically speaking, human society can be thought of as a person. For a person to function properly, they must have a brain, arms, a stomach, and legs. The kshatriyas represent the arms of society. The violence they use is sanctioned by the Vedas since it is only invoked when necessary. Lord Krishna Himself advised His disciple and cousin, Arjuna, to perform his prescribed duties as a kshatriya by fighting in the Kurukshetra war:

“Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me, and at the same time you should continue your prescribed duty and fight. With your mind and activities always fixed on Me, and everything engaged in Me, you will attain to Me without any doubt.” (Bg. 8.7)

According to the Vedas, a warrior who dies while fighting on the battlefield immediately ascends to heaven. This is because fighting on religious principles is not an easy thing to do, so such acts of bravery are duly rewarded. If a society lacks a strong kshatriya presence, then anarchy will ensue since the innocent will have no one to protect them. The miscreants will run hog wild and atheism will run rampant.

God comes to earth from time to time in human form to personally provide us protection from such miscreants. Many thousands of years ago, appearing as the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, God assumed the guise of a pious prince named Rama. Lord Rama had three younger brothers who were all virtuous and dedicated to His welfare, but Lakshmana was especially close to Him. On one occasion, Rama was banished from the kingdom for fourteen years by Dasharatha. This was not due to any fault of Rama’s, but rather to promises that Dasharatha had made to one of his queens. This made Lakshmana very angry. He couldn’t stand to see Rama treated this way. In the above referenced statement, he is trying to persuade Rama to ignore Dasharatha’s order and ascend the throne by force.

Rama and Lakshmana In Vedic times, governments were religious monarchies run by kshatriyas. Born in a family of great kings, Rama and Lakshmana were trained in the military arts by great sages. They were actually the greatest warriors on the planet. Lakshmana easily could have installed Rama as the new king by force, and this is exactly what he was suggesting. Lakshmana is making the point that the same hands that he used for executing the nonviolent duties of a kshatriya, could also be used for thwarting the actions of the miscreants. Both acts are equally as pious. The main business of a kshatriya is to provide protection. In the day-to-day affairs, kings would also smear sandalwood pulp on themselves, distribute charity to brahmanas (the priestly class of men), and maintain family relations by making trips to various cities. Here, Lakshmana is stressing the point that his hands are certainly fit for performing those tasks, but that one shouldn’t forget that his hands can also be used for protecting Rama.

By nature, God is very nice and equally disposed towards all living entities. The name Rama actually means one who gives pleasure to others. That was Lord Rama’s nature. He was loved and adored by all the citizens of Ayodhya. Even Dasharatha loved Him very much. Violence wasn’t required in this situation, but Lakshmana suggested it anyway out of love for his brother. Though God is neutral towards everyone, He makes an exception for His devotees. If they are put into trouble, He takes special care to give them protection. Sometimes He sends His authorized representative, or He even personally appears to offer that protection.

“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)

Lord Vishnu God can be both peaceful and hostile, and still be equally as pleasing to His devotees. Lord Vishnu is a good example of this principle. As Lord Krishna’s four-handed form seated in the hearts of all living entities, Lord Vishnu (Narayana) carries four items in his hands: the conchshell, the lotus flower, the disc, and the club. The first two items, the conchshell and flower, are peaceful. The conchshell is blown during pujas and other ceremonies relating to deity worship as a way of welcoming God. Lord Krishna Himself blew a conchshell at the beginning of the Kurukshetra War. The lotus flower is significant for many reasons. Its beauty and shape is used to describe the Lord’s features, including His eyes and navel. Its wonderful scent is also very pleasing to the living entities. It is also regularly offered to the Lord with love and devotion during religious ceremonies.

“When Shishupala was abusing the kings who were about to attack him, Lord Krishna took up His disc, which was as sharp as the blade of a razor, and immediately separated the head of Shishupala from his body.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 19)

Krishna killing ShishupalaThe disc and club represent God’s weapons of choice when defending His devotees. Lord Krishna’s weapon is the sudarshana-chakra, which He has used on many occasions. One time, the rascal Shishupala insulted Krishna in front of a gathered assembly, and in response the Lord very nonchalantly hurled His sudarshana-chakra, which immediately cut off Shishupala’s head. The disc then kindly made its way back into Krishna’s possession.

Rama and Lakshmana used their bow and arrows for their weapons. More than just wielders of ordinary weapons, the pair were expert in chanting mantras which augmented the power of their arrows. Rama’s arrows would also return to His quiver after going through His enemies.

Ordinarily, this sort of violence can be very off-putting, but since it is a display of God’s causeless mercy to His devotees, such activities are quite beautiful. That is the secret behind God and His actions. The four items of Lord Vishnu are equally beautiful to the devotees. It may be a difficult concept to grasp at the beginning, but one who follows the path of devotional service will gradually come to understand this.

By the same token, if a devotee uses sanctioned violence to protect God and His interests, it is equally as beautiful. This was displayed by Lakshmana as well as the Vanara army, headed by Hanuman. In this age of Kali, the best weapon we can use to defeat the miscreants is the sword of knowledge. That sword can be easily acquired by one who constantly chants the Lord’s names, reads His books, and humbly serves His devotees.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Lakshmana is one such devotee. He is God’s protector. One who is devoted to Krishna has nothing to fear from Lakshmana, since he is also their protector. He protects God’s interests, so if we follow the path of devotional service, he will also protect us.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

A Proven Method

Lord Rama “…There is no one else in this world who has the power to resist the Rakshasas except your son Rama. O king, you are undoubtedly a great protector of the demigods, and your exploits performed during past wars are well-known throughout the three worlds. O annihilator of the enemy, even though your son is merely a boy, He is very powerful and capable of controlling the enemy. Therefore, O destroyer of foes, let your great army remain here and please allow Rama to accompany me. May there be all good fortune for you.”(Vishvamitra speaking to Maharaja Dasharatha, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.8-11)

Kunti praying to KrishnaThe major religions of the world describe God as being great. Man is fallible, but God isn’t. The Vedas go one step further by telling us just how great God is. The above referenced passage gives us further descriptions and insight into God’s greatness. This is the true benefit of the Vedic literatures. These descriptions of God can be used to foster an attachment to Him, something which results in the termination of the repeated cycle of birth and death.

“I wish that all those calamities would happen again and again so that we could see You again and again, for seeing You means that we will no longer see repeated births and deaths.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.25)

A living entity is a spirit soul that assumes a body for the purpose of performing activities in the material world. There are three modes that govern material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Because these modes can exist in varying degrees, we see up to 8,400,000 different species in the material world, with each species having specific characteristics and a penchant to perform certain activity. Human beings are only one species, but the Vedas tell us that there are many other species which have human-like characteristics, with the Rakshasas being one of them. They are demons by nature, meaning they are devout atheists, primarily engaged in sinful life.

"In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord Krishna There are various definitions of what actually constitute a sin, but in its simplest form, a sin is any action which causes one to assume a material body; something which divorces a person from their relationship with God. The Vedas tell us that the current life we have is not our first, for we repeatedly go through birth and death as many times as we want to. Our desires and the work performed during our lifetime are measured at the time of death. We are then given a new body commensurate with our desires and our work. This system is very fair because, in essence, we always get what we want and deserve. This material world is not our original home. The spirit soul is, by nature, spiritual, meaning it belongs to the spiritual world where God and His various expansions reside. In the spiritual world, there is no such thing as material qualities or karma.

In order to return to the spiritual world, we living entities must think of God at the time of death. The time of death is usually quite painful and also a time of great panic. The spirit soul is leaving the body, meaning that all vital functions, including breathing, must stop. There is no way to guarantee that we will be able to think of a particular thing during our last moments. Therefore the Vedas tell us to adjust our actions over the course of our lifetime, because these activities will determine our consciousness at the time of death.

This is where sinful activity comes in. Technically, any material activity is considered sinful if it causes us to remain in the material world. However, four primary activities are considered most sinful, for they are most effective in causing one to remain in the material world. These activities are meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication, and collectively they are known as the four pillars of sinful life. Meat eating is bad for our karma since it involves unnecessary violence towards animals. If we live off needless killing, we are sure to suffer for it in the afterlife. Illicit sex is probably the most detrimental to our karma since it represents the highest form of material pleasure. If we want to enjoy material nature, God will not stand in our way. If we want to have unregulated sex, He will gladly keep giving us new bodies so that we can enjoy. Gambling is a good way to kill time, but it also causes great agitation of the mind. Gamblers are never at peace, meaning that at the time of death, they will be thinking of what game they can play next or how much money they can win. Intoxication leads one to the mode of ignorance or darkness. Drinking and drugs take away one’s ability to think clearly, thereby making it much harder to think of God at the time of death.

During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the Rakshasa population was higher than normal. The four pillars of sinful life represented their religion in a sense. Their leader at the time, Ravana, was a poster child for sinful life. He ruled an island kingdom of Lanka, which had many great palaces all decked with gold. He had an insatiable desire for sex, so he kept many wives who were always drinking. When Lord Hanuman went to Lanka searching for Sita, he went through many of Ravana’s palaces and found that all the women were drunk. They were so out of it that many of them were sleeping on top of one another in the wee hours of the night. Rakshasas also enjoyed eating meat. Regular animal flesh wasn’t enough, for they would kill humans and then eat them.

Vishvamitra approaching Dasharatha This type of sinful activity should have been enough to keep them satisfied, but that is not the case with demons. Not only were they dedicated to sinful life, but they viewed it as their reason for living. Taking the gross material body to be the beginning and end of everything, they viewed devotees of God as their greatest enemies. During that time, many great sages had taken to forest life since it was more conducive to spiritual activity. One of the primary activities of a brahmana is the performance of sacrifice. During a fire sacrifice, clarified butter is poured into a fire as an oblation. This then acts to feed the demigods, God’s chief deputies in charge of managing material affairs. The demigods were the enemies of the Rakshasas, thus the demons figured if they could disrupt the sacrifices of the sages, the demigods would be cut off at the source.

One of Ravana’s chief deputies was a demon named Maricha. The above referenced statement is actually part of a narration given by Maricha to Ravana. Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, eventually came to earth at the behest of the demigods to kill Ravana and the other Rakshasas. On one particular occasion, Rama killed 14,000 of Ravana’s associates who had come to attack Him. Upon hearing the news, Ravana wanted to get revenge on Rama by kidnapping His wife, Sita Devi. Ravana proposed the idea to Maricha, and in response, Maricha informed him that Rama was undefeatable in battle. To illustrate this point, Maricha recalled an incident from the past.

Dasharatha with his son Rama Being a Rakshasa himself, Maricha used to range the forests and wreak havoc on the sages. One of these sages, Vishvamitra, went to the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, for help. Dasharatha was Rama’s father, and at the time, Rama wasn’t even twelve years old. Vishvamitra insisted that Rama come with him to the forest to give him protection. Dasharatha had been childless for a long time, so he performed a great sacrifice in the hopes of getting a son. When Rama was finally born, Dasharatha instantly formed a great attachment to Him. Under no circumstances did Dasharatha want Rama to leave the kingdom. The king offered to send all his military men to protect Vishvamitra. After all, Dasharatha and his army had successfully fought off demons many times in the past. The Vedas tell us that there has been an ongoing war between suras (devotees) and asuras (demons) since time immemorial.

Vishvamitra would not leave without Rama. This is the true nature of a devotee. There are many systems of religion and spiritual practice, but for pure devotees, they only take to bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. God, in His original form, is known as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. Bhagavata means anything that directly associates with Bhagavan. Therefore Bhagavata can refer to the book, Shrimad Bhagavatam which describes Krishna’s glories, and it can also refer to Krishna’s pure devotees.

Vishvamitra was a great ascetic who had a great history of his own which is described in detail in many Vedic literatures. He wasn’t a brahmana by birth, but he preformed many great austerities to become one. Though he was expert at performing sacrifices, at meditating, and even studying Vedanta, Vishvamitra abandoned all these practices in favor of pure devotional service. He knew that all other processes of religion are meant to be stepping stones that elevate a person towards achieving pure love for God. He knew that Rama was all he needed for protection from all calamities. Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, would eventually accompany Vishvamitra and protect the great sage from the demons.

Lord Rama Taking to devotional service means bypassing all other systems of religion. God is great, so directly associating with Him equates to the greatest religious practice. For this age, instead of trying other methods of self-realization, we simply need to chant God’s names as much as possible, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010


Krishna controlling the Kaliya serpent “You have advented Yourself to fulfill Your own statement that You come within this material world just to protect the principles of religion and annihilate unwanted miscreants.” (Narada Muni offering prayers to Lord Krishna, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 36)

God is the most powerful, the all-omnipotent. Sometimes we forget the power that He has, or at other times we have trouble comprehending His greatness. For these and many other reasons, the Lord comes to earth from time to time to display His prowess, reminding us of His potencies.

Lord Brahma offering prayers to Krishna God doesn’t do this to show off. The Vedas describe Him as atmarama, meaning self-satisfied. He is in need of nothing, for He can survive through any condition. Devotees, however, love to see the Lord in action. Similar to how people enjoy happy endings to stories, the pious like to be reminded of God’s greatness. It gives them a feeling of peace and serenity. There is so much that we encounter in our everyday lives that goes against God and His injunctions that it can be difficult to bear. Sinful activity is quite prevalent and it can lead to a distressful condition. During these desperate moments, the devotees pray for the Lord to personally appear and alleviate the situation.

“Your appearance and disappearance are made possible by Your inconceivable energy just to give protection to the faithful devotees and to annihilate the demons.” (Lord Brahma offering prayers to Lord Krishna, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 14)

There is nothing that brings more pleasure to the devotees than seeing God victorious in His battles against the demons. These pastimes are so pleasing that people like to relive them over and over again. Through the grace of the great saints of India, many of these events have been recorded in written form in the various Puranas, Mahabharata, and Ramayana.

Krishna killing Kamsa The other reason God chooses to personally display His prowess is to baffle the atheists. Since the beginning of time there has been an ongoing war between the daivas and the asuras. Daivas include demigods and the devotees of the Lord. The asuras are the atheists. The devotees are more than happy to execute their devotional service in a peaceful manner, not concerning themselves with those who are not interested in worshiping God. The asuras, however, see devotees as the biggest threat to their sinful way of life. Asuras have no belief in God, so essentially, they don’t believe in anything. Since their value system is so flimsy, they feel threatened by the devotees. For this reason, they try as hard as they can to disprove the existence of God. They go about this in several ways, with the primary method being the acquisition of great material wealth. “Look at me! I have so much power and money. These other people are so poor that they have taken to worshiping a God who doesn’t exist.” This was the mindset of famous demons like Ravana and Hiranyakashipu.

Another way atheists go about attempting to disprove the existence of God is through scientific research. The Vedas describe the difference between matter (prakriti), and spirit (purshua), but most scientists are only interested in matter. They believe that if they try hard enough, they can reach a point where they can create life from matter. They have yet to succeed, but that doesn’t stop them from trying. The fatal flaw in their logic stems from the fact that God is achintya, or inconceivable. The gross material senses can never truly comprehend the nature of God. Even the widely subscribed to Big Bang Theory can’t explain how the initial “bang” took place. We are incapable of fully understanding God because we living entities are part of God’s marginal energy, meaning we aren’t on the same level as God. Our intelligence is limited by the powers of our mind, which uses material objects as reference points.

The Dr. Frog analogy is appropriate in this regard. A frog living in a well all its life knows only of what it has experienced. If someone comes to the frog and tries to explain the size of the Pacific Ocean, the frog will naturally ask, “How big is this ocean? Is it bigger than this well?” The Pacific Ocean is infinitely larger than any well, yet the frog doesn’t know anything outside of his current habitation. This same principle can be applied on a macro level to all of human civilization. Even with the invention of various spaceships such as the Mars rover, we still don’t have the slightest clue into how large the universe actually is; such is the nature of God and His powers of creation.

Rama and Lakshmana with Vishvamitra One of God’s appearances on earth took place many thousands of years ago in the town of Ayodhya. When the Lord appears in human form, He likes to take birth in a kshatriya family, because it is the duty of the kshatriya warriors to provide protection to the rest of society. Lord Rama was the greatest kshatriya warrior. Both He and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were trained by the great sages Vashishta and Vishvamitra. The brahmanas are the highest class in the varnashrama dharma system since they dedicate all their time to studying the Vedas and performing various sacrifices and rituals. Since brahmanas are directly engaged in serving God, they have perfect knowledge of all material subjects. They can train others not only on priestly matters, but on all areas relating to fighting and defense. Vishvamitra, being pleased with the respect shown to him by Rama and Lakshmana, imparted on them various mantras. The recitation of these mantras would turn an ordinary bow and arrow into a weapon equal to the magnitude of a nuclear bomb. A mantra is a sound vibration uttered for a particular purpose. The entire Vedic system revolves around mantras. Sound vibrations are very powerful, so the flawless recitation of a mantra can yield great results.

“Who is there, proud of his fighting prowess, that shall be able to withstand me when I appear on the battlefield holding a bow with my fingers covered by a shield made of alligator-skin? Killing one with a number of arrows, and sometimes many with a single one, I shall drive shafts into the vital organs of men, horses, and elephants. Oh Lord, today I shall display the strength of my arrows by removing the king’s power and making You the Supreme Lord.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 23.34-36)

Rama and Lakshmana Rama was the rightful heir to the throne, but His father, King Dasharatha, instead chose Rama’s younger brother, Bharata, to succeed him. In conjunction, Rama was ordered to spend fourteen years in the forest as an exile. Lakshmana didn’t take these orders very well and he tried his hardest to get Rama to defy them. He proposed to Rama the idea of a coup, with himself leading the fight against any enemies. The above referenced statement was part of Lakshmana’s arguments intended to persuade Rama.

Lakshmana’s words weren’t exaggerations. He was Rama’s brother and also an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, who is almost as potent as God Himself. The two brothers fought and killed many demons during their time on earth. On one occasion, Lord Rama personally slaughtered 14,000 Rakshasa aggressors in Janasthana. These Rakshasas were all associates of Ravana, sent by him to go to Janasthana and kill Rama. These historical accounts aren’t exaggerations or mythology. Killing that many Rakshasas is mere child’s play for Lord Rama and for Lakshmana as well.

Rama appreciated Lakshmana’s mood of devotion, but eventually decided against the coup idea. Instead, Rama abided by the exile order but allowed Lakshmana and Sita Devi, Rama’s wife, to accompany Him. Lakshmana was able to display His prowess while in the forest and also later on during the battle to rescue Sita from Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka.

Rama and Lakshmana fighting Ravana The lesson here is that God is great. This is a fact agreed upon by all the major religions of the world. The Vedas, being the original scripture for mankind, go one step further by describing just how great God is. His name, form, expansions, pastimes, and attributes are described in great detail in the various Vedic texts. Other religions of the world may have one or two books they consider as scripture, but the Vedas have volumes and volumes of books detailing God’s glories. Originally this information was passed down through an oral tradition, but due to the kindness of the great sages, they were eventually put into written form. Each one of these books is very large, for the Mahabharata alone contains around 100,000 verses. If we simply set aside a little time to read these books every day, keeping a mood of faith and humility, we too can take great pleasure in God’s victories.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Through The Never

Radha Krishna “O my Lord, everything within material nature is limited by time, space and thought. Your characteristics, however, being unequaled and unsurpassed, are always transcendental to such limitations. You sometimes cover such characteristics by Your own energy, but nevertheless Your unalloyed devotees are always able to see You under all circumstances." (Stotra-ratna of Yamunacharya)

Life poses many tough questions, the most important of which focus on the origin of life. “Where did I come from? Why are we here? Who are we? Why do I have to die? Where was I before I took birth and where will I go after death?” Great theologians and scholars since time immemorial have pondered over these cogent questions but have failed to find any tangible answers. Real answers to these questions can only be found in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India emanating from Lord Shri Krishna, or God Himself. The Vedas tell us that God represents all that is, ever was, and will ever be. He is the Supreme Absolute Truth.

Mother Yashoda seeing the universal form inside Krishna's mouth So how do we know Vedic information is correct? We take it on authority. When we read books in school or take instruction from our teachers, we believe what they are saying based on the principle of authority. Hearing is the most effective way to take in knowledge. In our youth, we acquire knowledge and wisdom through the words of our parents. Our mother tells us who our father is and where we were born. When we get older, our family members tell us stories of our childhood and how we looked as babies. We were alive during these occasions but we have no ability to remember them. In order to gain knowledge, we must trust the authority of the words of our parents and elders.

Hearing can also take place by reading. Great writers and teachers have put their instructions and stories into written word so that anyone can learn from them in an easy way. We usually don’t question the authority of written word as long as it was published in the recent past. For books released during our lifetime, we never question whether or not the information in them is true. We trust that the author was honest when writing the book. However, as we go further back in time, we have a tougher time believing in what we read. This is only natural because, for most of us, our historical perspective begins from the day we were born. If we look back at old pictures of our parents, it is hard for us to imagine how life was like back then. In reality though, there isn’t much difference between the past and the present. For example, this exact moment in time will one day be part of the distant past. Yet if we look around, none of us would think we’re living in a dilapidated period, or in some ancient age. Yet future generations will undoubtedly look back to this precise moment as being part of the olden days.

Events that took place thousands, or even millions of years ago, seem impossible to comprehend. This is the nature of time and space. They are both never-ending. “When was the beginning of time? If God created everything, then who created Him? Where does space end? If I keep travelling in outer space, will I eventually reach an end?” If we seriously ponder these thoughts, we realize that these are very disturbing questions.

“You are the origin without beginning, middle or end. You have numberless arms, and the sun and moon are among Your great unlimited eyes. By Your own radiance You are heating this entire universe.” (Arjuna speaking to Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.19)

Arjuna praying to Krishna The Vedas give us the best possible answers to these questions. They tell us that time and space are both concoctions of the material mind. By definition, anything that is material must be flawed. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the fountainhead of everything. He has two distinct energies: spiritual and material. The spiritual energy is the superior energy represented by Krishna’s personal Self, vishnu-tattva, and all the living entities, or jiva-tattva. The material energy is inferior and it consists of the entire material creation which we currently inhabit. The unlimited universes and all their planets were all created by God to act as a sort of playing field for the spirit souls. As jiva-tattva, we have a choice as to which energy we want to associate with. The Vedas tell us that we are currently associating with material nature due to our own desires. Yet since the material world was created by God, it must also be subject to destruction. We spirit souls, however, are never created nor destroyed. That is the nature of spirit.

Since the material world is temporary, it is inferior and limited. Upon entering this world, the spirit souls assume a body belonging to one of the 8,400,000 species that exist. Each material body possesses a variation of the qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. In scientific terms, each material body consists of the five gross elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether, and the three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and false ego. Since the mind is considered a subtle material element, it is by nature flawed. This means that the mind is incapable of thinking beyond time and space. There is no beginning or end in the spiritual world where Krishna resides.

“One who, at the time of death, fixes his life air between the eyebrows and in full devotion engages himself in remembering the Supreme Lord, will certainly attain to the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.10)

Lord Krishna If there is no such thing as time in the spiritual world, why does Krishna make references to a person’s time of death and how they will never return the material world once they reach His abode? This is certainly a valid question, for the term “never” itself implies a measurement of time. The reason Krishna uses this terminology is so that we can better understand Him. We can never truly understand God or His greatness. This is why Vedic science is referred to as Vedanta, meaning the end of knowledge or the ultimate knowledge. God is the source of Vedanta, so this means that He represents the highest form of knowledge that can be acquired by our limited brain functions.

“O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities; but Me no one knows.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.26)

In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna explains that He imparted the imperishable science of bhakti-yoga to the sun-god at the beginning of creation. Arjuna, Krishna’s cousin and disciple, couldn’t fathom this. “How could this person standing before me, Krishna, have been alive at the beginning of creation? Not only that, how can He remember what happened back then?” This fact illustrates the difference between the living entities and God. We are god-like in that our spirit souls are identical in quality with God, however, we are minute in quantity compared to God. We are somewhat conscious of our current life’s experiences, but God is so great that He is not only conscious of our current life, but also those of every living entity, past, present, and future.

Lord Krishna and other Vedic authorities speak in terms of time and space in order to help us can gain a better understanding of spiritual nature. It is much easier for us to take in knowledge when it is presented in terms that we are familiar with. All of us are quite familiar with time and space for we use these as references in almost all of our activities. For this reason, Vedic wisdom relies heavily on time measurements to help us better understand God.

Lord Krishna In the end, the material mind is limited in its capability and thus is never able to go beyond the concepts of time and space that are exclusive to God’s inferior energy. So what are we to do? The Vedas refer to religion as sanatana-dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning or end, and dharma means occupational duty, or religiosity. Essentially, it is the eternal occupation of man to know and love God. Since our real business is to associate with Krishna in the spiritual world, endeavoring to find the origin of time or attempting to reach the end of space are both wastes of time. Perfection in life comes when we give up this futile search and realize that not only can we never answer these questions, but that there is no need to.

The spirit soul is meant to be happy. Lord Krishna is described as having an eternal body, full of knowledge and bliss, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. Since we are part and parcel of God, we are also meant to be eternally happy. Yet that happiness cannot be found in this world. Pure bliss only comes through direct association with the Lord. This is why God and His authorized representatives lobby so hard to get us to take the necessary steps to return to the spiritual world. Once we reach the spiritual planets of Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka, we give up our hankering for answers to useless questions pertaining to the temporary material world.

The desire for self-realization must exist in the beginning stages if one is to make progress. The famous Vedanta-sutras begin by stating that “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or the Absolute Truth.” The benefit of human life is that we have the necessary brain power to gain a slight understanding of God. If we misuse our intelligence for material pursuits, we will have squandered a great opportunity. If we remain on the material platform, we will continue twisting and turning through the never. But if we make a sincere effort to reconnect with Krishna, we will be paving our way back to the spiritual world.

Radha Krishna In the current age, the quickest path to the spiritual world can be found by regularly chanting God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By engaging in chanting and other processes of devotional service, we will slowly progress to the point where we will give up our pursuit of self-realization. For those who have developed a pure love for God, they no longer desire liberation or answers to life’s questions. In essence, this state represents the perfection of life.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

A Hero At Any Age

Hanuman holding Lakshmana and Rama "You are the gate-keeper of Shri Rama's kingdom, where none may enter without your permission." (Goswami Tulsidas praising Hanuman, Hanuman Chalisa)

One of the great things about Vedic literature is that it is not targeted to any particular age group or demographic. Emanating from Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the eternal wisdom of the Vedas applies to all people, from all walks of life. Religion is intended to be an active, intellectual pursuit. Religion, in its purified form, means dharma, or occupational duty. It is very easy to act according to adharma, irreligion, but adhering to a set of standard guidelines is much harder. Going further and trying to understand why those guidelines even exist represents another level of intellectual pursuit. Nevertheless, God is for everyone, and this means that even young children can take to His service.

Toy Story The most financially successful children’s television cartoons and animated films are the ones that can appeal to people of all ages. Disney and Pixar produce many blockbuster hits that aim to entertain young children. Most of these movies are rated G, meaning they are suitable for all audiences. Children love going to the movies and seeing their heroes in action. Yet the movie producers are smart enough to understand the importance of also entertaining the adults during these movies. For this reason, movies like Shrek, Finding Nemo, and Toy Story have dialogues and plot lines that appeal to people of all ages. Not only are these films popular when they are first released, but they turn into timeless classics. As people grow older, they find new meanings to the stories.

The Jetsons television cartoon show illustrates this principle. Originally airing in the early 1960s, with new episodes produced in the mid 1980s, the show depicted a dream, or hope, of a future space age. Instead of driving cars, everyone drove a spaceship, with robots and advanced machinery taking care of many day-to-day tasks. In one particular episode, George Jetson, the main character of the show, is invited to a football game by his boss, Mr. Spacely. A problem arises however, in that both George and Mr. Spacely had prior engagements scheduled with their wives that night. Spacely and George both agree to lie to their wives so that they can go to the game. During the game, George is chosen as the winner of a free mink coat. While the prize is handed out, the television cameras pan to the box where George and Spacely are sitting. The wives happened to see their husbands on television and immediately became irate over being lied to. After the game, Mr. Spacely and George went to George’s apartment, where they were greeted by the angry wives. George had an idea to split the mink coat into two separate garments. The husbands then gave their wives the mink garments as a gift and said that they knew they were going to win the coat, so that’s why they went to the game and lied about it.

The Jetsons This one episode of a fictional cartoon show has an appeal for people of all ages. Young children enjoy it because it is an animation that is light on the adult content. The characters fly around in fancy spaceships and attend football games, so there’s no reason a child wouldn’t find that appealing. Yet this same episode evokes laughter amongst adults, for all husbands have dealt with wives who came in the way of their watching sports. Many wives have also dealt with husbands who lie to them. The episode also played on the stereotype that women love to receive expensive gifts. All in all, we see that a person who first watched this episode as a child, can watch it twenty years later and derive completely new meanings from it.

The Vedas are similar in this regard, except that they convey the highest possible knowledge. The scriptures tell us that this human form of life is meant for knowing, understanding, and loving God. This knowledge will allow us to break free of the cycle of birth and death. Liberation means we will get to spend eternity with God in the spiritual world after our current life is over. This subject matter seems very serious, so one may wonder how the Vedas can appeal to children. Well, aside from the original Veda which contained multitudes of hymns praising the Lord, Vedic wisdom was also passed down in the form of stories. These stories, which are actually historical accounts, are found in the Puranas and the Ramayana. Maharishi Valmiki authored the Ramayana many thousands of years ago, and in it the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, are described in great detail.

Events of the Ramayana For children, the plot line of the Ramayana is very appealing. Lord Rama is a handsome prince with a beautiful wife named Sita. She eventually gets kidnapped by a demon named Ravana, and thus the rest of the story focuses on Sita’s rescue. Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, are expert archers, and they enlist the help of monkeys who have supernatural powers. Together, Rama and the monkeys storm the island of Lanka, where an epic battle between Rama and Ravana ensues. It is obvious to see why such a story would appeal to children. There is a hero and a villain along with an all-star supporting cast. In India, the epics of the Vedas are talked about quite often and even depicted in cinema. The spiritual tradition is so strong that even the poorest person living in the most remote village in the country knows about Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, and Hanuman. Children grow up hearing about Rama’s exploits and how He was able to defeat Ravana. Sometimes, young children get so caught up in the Ramayana that they spend their playtime pretending to be Rama. Kids will make their own makeshift bow and arrow set and run around the yard pretending to be just like Rama and Lakshmana.

“Thus both Balarama and Krishna enjoyed Their childhood pastimes, imitating the monkeys of Lord Ramachandra who constructed the bridge over the ocean and Hanuman, who jumped over the water to Ceylon. And They used to imitate such pastimes among Their friends and so happily passed Their childhood life.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 11)

Monkeys building bridge to Lanka The difference between the Ramayana and ordinary movies and television shows is that the Ramayana depicts actual historical events. Though it may appear to be mythology, the advent of Rama and the killing of Ravana actually occurred in real life. In fact, Rama’s story is not exclusive to Valmiki’s Ramayana. There are eighteen major Puranas, and in many of them are found descriptions of Lord Rama’s pastimes in varying levels of detail. Sita, Rama, Hanuman, and Lakshmana were so famous throughout India that they were regularly discussed even during Lord Krishna’s time some five thousand years ago. Krishna personally advented on earth in His original form, and during His childhood He spent much time playing with His cowherd friends in Vrindavana. Shrimati Radharani and other cowherd girls would often invoke Lord Rama’s name and remember His pastime of building a bridge to Ravana’s city of Lanka. In one funny incident, Lord Krishna tried to convince the gopis that He in fact was the same Lord Rama, but they wouldn’t believe Him. So to prove them wrong, He built a bridge across a pond along with the help of monkeys. Even after that, the gopis still playfully chided Him.

Since Lord Rama is God Himself, He remains a hero at any age. The same person who was attached to the Ramayana as a child, gains an even greater understanding of Valmiki’s epic as an adult. It is a comprehensive text, with verses that are full of meaning and import. Matters of life and death, the eternity of the soul, and the temporary nature of the material world are all covered in the Ramayana. As we grow older, new challenges confront us and new doubts arise in our mind. The teachings of God and His representatives serve as a sword which cuts off all these doubts.

The most important lesson of the Ramayana and other major Vedic texts is that devotional service to God is the highest form of dharma. Besides Lord Rama, the other hero of the Ramayana is Rama’s eternal servant Hanuman. Just as God is glorious, so are His devotees. To this day, Hanuman is revered by millions around the world, for his name is synonymous with love and devotion to God. As long as Lord Rama’s story continues to be told, Hanuman remains on earth where he infuses love for God to all who worship him.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman God and His devotees remain heroes throughout our lifetime. It doesn’t matter where we live, how old we are, or what religious sect we belong to, God is for everyone. Lord Krishna gave us the great Vedic texts so that we could always remain connected with Him. This causeless mercy of the Lord should not go to waste. Whether we have five minutes or five hours, we can all be benefitted by spending a little time reading these great books. Lord Rama is the greatest hero and He is waiting to rescue us from this world of nescience.