Saturday, April 24, 2010

Service to Humanity

Lord Krishna “The sufferings of humanity are due to forgetfulness of Krishna as the supreme enjoyer, the supreme proprietor, and the supreme friend. Therefore, to act to revive this consciousness within the entire human society is the highest welfare work.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 5.25 Purport)

Comment: “I believe serving humanity is the best way to serve God.”

Response: Sometimes those who are unfamiliar with the true meaning of the Vedas, or those don’t believe that God has a name or a personal form, will take to philanthropy and other charitable work as a way of life. Viewed as service to humanity, this kind of welfare work seems appealing on the surface, but the Vedas tell us that the best way to serve all of mankind is to directly serve the Supreme Lord.

“A person engaged only in ministering to the physical welfare of human society cannot factually help anyone. Temporary relief of the external body and the mind is not satisfactory.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 5.25 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada Service to humanity has limits. This is because at the core, philanthropy and other charitable acts all aim to please the body. In the Vedic discipline, the first instruction given to aspiring transcendentalists is that we are not our bodies, aham brahmasmi. We are spirit souls, part and parcel of God. The body is just a temporary covering composed of material elements made up of the qualities [gunas] of goodness, passion, and ignorance. This is the first instruction given to religious students because understanding this truth presents the biggest hurdle towards making real progress. By default, we all associate and identify with our body. We don’t know anything else, so why shouldn’t we think this way? However, if we apply a little intelligence, we see that our body keeps changing. We started off as a small pea inside the womb of our mother, and through the course of time we developed into full grown adults. Our bodies constantly go through changes, but our identity remains the same. This is because our true identity comes from the soul inside, atma. The soul is eternal, and does not go through birth or death.

“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.17)

Lord Krishna At the time of death, our current body is discarded and we are quickly given a new one. Therefore any intelligent person will not ascribe much importance to the gross material body since it is subject to destruction. Yet philanthropy and general service to humanity work solely on the material platform, aiming to please the demands of the body. The core of animal life consists of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings also engage in these activities, though they manifest in different forms. Humans eat elaborately prepared meals, whereas animals eat whatever they can find in the forest or in the water. Human beings sleep on cushy mattresses while animals sleep on the bare ground. However, the humor is the same. There are varieties of dishes that one can eat, but the resulting pleasure doesn’t vary much at all.

If we study some of the common welfare activities of today, we’ll see that they primarily address the animalistic concerns of the human body. Feeding the hungry and the poor is a very common welfare activity. In America, some people are homeless and in need of a good home-cooked meal. Soup kitchens and food banks do their best to try to make sure that no one in America goes hungry. These are very noble intentions, but what is the result of such activities? If a hungry person is given food, it will certainly give their body pleasure and relief for a brief period of time, but then what? Are all of their problems solved? The animal kingdom actually has no worries for food since God provides everything they need to eat. Human beings are supposed to have a higher level of intelligence, so why would they worry so much about eating?

Another factor to consider is the type of food that is given in charity. The Vedas tell us that every activity done on the material platform, including eating, has karma associated with it. The material platform refers to the material world in which we live. It is classified as material because it has gunas, or qualities, associated with it. Also it is a temporary place full of miseries. The spiritual world is just the opposite since it is composed of God’s superior energy. Spirit is superior to matter because spirit is eternal, whereas matter is not.

“Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.20)

Mother Yashoda seeing the spiritual sky inside of Krishna's mouth One may make the argument that since we are spirit souls living in the material world, how can this place be considered part of God’s inferior energy? The reason is that since we are constitutionally spirit, our natural home is in the spiritual world. Yet we are technically considered a separate expansion of God, jivatama. We are part of God’s marginal energy, meaning we have a choice as to whether we want to associate with His inferior or superior energy.

Material activities refer to anything that keeps one attached to this temporary material world. At the time of death, our work and our desires are measured, and we are given a new body in the next life. Performing material activity means doing things which cause us to take birth again in the material world. By default, all activity is considered material if it is done to satisfy our senses. Eating is included in this category. Therefore everything we eat has karma associated with it. If we feed the hungry with meat and other animal flesh, there is a negative karma that follows. Meat eating involves unnecessary violence towards animals. This naturally has negative karma associated with it, for one must suffer the consequences of the sin of unnecessary violence. These negative consequences don’t just attach to the killer of the animal, but also to the distributor and the eater of the animal flesh. Thus by feeding the hungry with meat, we are actually doing a disservice to them. Other activities such as opening hospitals, helping the poor with money, and searching for cures to common diseases also fall into the material category since they aim to please the body.

“It seems that all welfare activities are bad? What should we do with our time then? How do we help people?” The Vedas tell us that this human form of life is meant for understanding God. The consciousness at the time of death determines the next type of body for the spirit soul. If one elevates their consciousness to the spiritual platform, they are guaranteed to assume a spiritual body in the next life. Spiritual bodies reside in the spiritual world, i.e. God’s home. Once a spirit goes there, it never returns to the temporary material world.

“That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.21)

Hanuman performing devotional service So how do we elevate our consciousness? The Vedas recommend that we practice bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Though it can be classified as a method of self-realization, the spirit soul is actually naturally inclined to serve God in a loving way. Every person believes in God at their core, but this belief and love is currently in a dormant state due to the effects of material nature. By following the regulative principles of bhakti yoga in the beginning stages, this love for God can slowly be aroused. Bhakti yoga is not just a religious practice, but a way of life. Religious leaders around the world recommend that we attend church once a week. Well if thinking about God once a week is a good thing, wouldn’t it be even better to think about Him every day? This is what will truly make us happy. Our life should be adjusted in such a way that we can always be thinking about God.

“If we engage in religious activity all the time, how will we maintain our lives? Don’t we have to work to maintain our families?” The beauty of devotional service is that it doesn’t require renunciation of activity. Bhakti yoga is very comprehensive and can entail many different processes, but the recommended method for this age is the constant chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Krishna and Rama are names of God and Hare refers to His energy potency; Radharani, Sita, Lakshmi, etc. Chanting is so nice because anybody can do it, at any time, and at any place. Thus we can continue our occupational duties and still remain fixed on the transcendental platform.

Hare Krishna Not only should we chant to ourselves, but we should induce others to connect with God through the bhakti yoga process. In addition to regular chanting, devotees are advised to avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. These principles can be taught to any person, regardless of their religious affiliation, skin color, or nationality. God is one, so chanting His name is something anyone can do. The Vedas tell us that Krishna is God’s original name, meaning He who is all-attractive. Inducing others to take up devotional service is the highest benefit to mankind since it helps souls return to the spiritual world.

“The rewards of your service to humanity can only be seen in the afterlife, which is something we can’t even be sure of. Ordinary service to humanity, such as charity and feeding the poor, produces immediate results that we can see.” Actually, we don’t have to wait for the afterlife to see the benefits of bhakti yoga. Since God is the creator of everything, He is the source of the humanity that we aim to please. By serving God, we automatically serve all things related to Him. It is similar to how we feed plants. We pour water on the roots of a plant since this means that all the branches and leaves will automatically be fed. To serve the body, we must supply food to the mouth, which transports the food to the stomach. The stomach then evenly distributes nutrients to the rest of the body. Our arms and legs are certainly parts of our body, but we would never think of trying to intake food through these body parts, for they wouldn’t know what to do with the food we were giving them. In a similar manner, the material creation, which includes humanity, the animal kingdom, plants, and aquatics, can only be properly served by bhakti yoga, or devotional service.

Marriage of Lord Shiva and Parvati“How does bhakti yoga solve problems such as infidelity, violence against women, poverty, etc.?” If we study any common problem in the material world, we will see that the root cause is mankind’s forgetfulness of God. For example, divorce, abortion, and teenage pregnancy all are caused by illicit sex life. Illicit sex is strictly prohibited for devotees, meaning that those who practice bhakti yoga will never have to deal with the resulting problems. If we study the poverty rates in America, we see that the chances of ending up poor are greatly diminished if a person graduates high school, waits until they are married before they have children, and then remains married.

Service to God automatically addresses these issues. The Vedas consist not only of religious sentiment, but are themselves a comprehensive intellectual pursuit. Great scholars and academics have studied important Vedic texts for thousands of years. Vedic guidelines recommend that a person get married as soon as there is any inkling for sex life. Instead of the misery that results from free intermingling between men and women, getting married early on in life under religious principles ensures a happy and successful marriage. Householder life is actually referred to as a spiritual institution, the grihastha-ashrama, in the Vedas. The husband and wife are advised to focus their attention on God, and to perform all religious activities together in the hopes of advancing in spiritual life. Married couples are advised to only have sex for procuring children. In this way, we see that following the regulative principles of bhakti yoga can help people avoid the major problems of the day.

Lord Chaitanya hugging Krishna “But why should we worship one particular God, Krishna, when we can worship and serve the entire whole, which is represented by all of mankind?” God is a person. Since He is the source of everything spiritual, He himself is also a spirit. Therefore we are equal to God in a qualitative sense, yet different in a quantitative sense. This simultaneous oneness and difference is referred to as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva by Lord Chaitanya. The complete whole of mankind and material creation, as we see it, is only one of God’s features, known as Brahman. Impersonalists mistakenly believe that Brahman is the highest spiritual realization, but actually Brahman itself has a guiding force, the Supreme Soul.

“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.3)

Paramatma is God’s expansion as the Supersoul residing within the hearts of every living entity. The Supersoul acts as an impartial witness. Since it is a direct representation of God, it is not subject to the bewilderment or illusion caused by material nature. Paramatma is an expansion of God, meaning it has a source which expanded to create it. This source is Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Bhagavan is God; the supreme person who has forms, pastimes, and spiritual qualities. The beauty of chanting Hare Krishna is that it directly addresses Bhagavan in a loving way. Impersonalists love to recite om instead of Hare Krishna because they refuse to believe that God has a name or a form. Om is certainly a spiritual vibration, but it also was created by God to be used in Vedic mantras and hymns.

“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.8)

Radha-Krishna and associates The best way to serve humanity is to chant God’s names, induce others to chant, and to distribute as much Krishna prasadam as possible. As God is worshipable, so is His food. Prasadam is food in the mode of goodness, prepared specifically for the Lord. Offered with love and devotion, this food is then returned to us by God for us to enjoy. This simple formula of chanting and prasadam distribution will benefit all of mankind.

Friday, April 23, 2010

A Suitable Husband

Radha Krishna “O supreme eternal energy of the Personality of Godhead, O supreme mystic power, O supreme controller of this material world, O goddess, please be kind to us and arrange for our marriage with the son of Nanda Maharaja, Krishna.” (Gopis praying to Goddess Katyayani, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 22)

When a young girl reaches an age suitable for marriage, it is natural for her father to feel apprehension. Fathers generally have great affection for their daughters since it is their duty to provide full protection to the girl in her youth. In the Vedic tradition, when a girl gets married, she is given away to the husband and her family. In essence, she relinquishes ties to her birth parents and creates new ones with her husband’s family. Thus it is imperative for a father to find a husband who will provide complete protection for his daughter.

Mother Yashoda chasing after Krishna In any civilized society, it is seen that the women and children are catered to first. There is even a saying for this, “Women and children first”. This rule applies to emergency situations. If there is a fire or other major emergency relating to life and death, it is the standard etiquette to first ensure the safety of the children and then the women. By nature, women are the fairer sex and also the mothers of society. If we see a family where the children are well behaved and pious, it is to be understood that their mother must have done a good job in raising them. The mother carries the child in the womb for nine months and then looks after the child during the crucial early years. A peaceful society can only come about if there are good parents to guide the children. At the same time, women must be protected; otherwise there will be major problems.

“When irreligion is prominent in the family, O Krishna, the women of the family become corrupt, and from the degradation of womanhood, O descendant of Vrishni, comes unwanted progeny.” (Arjuna speaking to Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 1.40)

Arjuna If the women in society are not protected, one of the negative consequences is the unnatural rise of illicit sex. In the Vedic definition, there are many categories of sins and various definitions of what activities constitute sin. Nevertheless, there are four primary activities which are considered most sinful. By sins, we mean anything that keeps us bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death; something that keeps us away from the righteous path. Our current life is by no means our first one. The gross material body is temporary. It has a time of creation which we refer to as birth. The body also has a time of destruction which we know as death. Throughout this time, our original identity as spirit soul is unchanged. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. The type of birth we have is determined by our qualities and desires. In a nutshell, if we want to remain in the material world, God lets us do so. A sober person will realize that true happiness can never be achieved through mundane sense gratification. The spiritual realm is our true home. If we have a sincere desire to return back to home, back to Godhead, then God will gladly take us there. In this regard, sinful activity is anything which keeps us from achieving the ultimate perfection of life, that of becoming God conscious.

“For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.6-7)

Marriage ceremony of Sita and Rama The four biggest impediments to spiritual advancement are meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex. Of these four, illicit sex is the biggest obstacle since sex represents the highest form of material sense gratification. For this reason, illicit sex should be avoided at all costs. Sex desire naturally exists, so it doesn’t have to be completely eliminated, but rather it should be controlled. Regulated sex life is allowed through the institution of marriage. In novels and cinema, marriage is depicted as an institution of romantic love, but in actuality it is a completely religious institution, aimed at providing spiritual enlightenment. In the Vedic system, a person’s life should be divided into four stages. These stages are called ashramas since they are meant to provide gradual spiritual enlightenment. Married life is the second time period, known as the grihastha-ashrama. If people are married as soon as they have any inkling for sex desire, there is no question of illicit sex. Today, however, this situation doesn’t hold true. Men and women have the independence to freely intermingle. While on the surface this may seem like a good thing, its major pitfall is that illicit sex becomes rampant.

Sex desire is especially strong in men. The idea of men wanting to “sow their wild oats” is not just a myth. Sex desire is very strong and it is also very hard to satisfy. In today’s world, it is quite common to see men jumping from one sex partner to another. In many instances, a person is lauded for his ability to “score” with girls. These “ladies men” actually cheat other women since all they are looking for is sex. A man meets a woman and then tries his best to woo her into having sex with him. After having sex, the man feels no obligation to ever talk to the woman again. If the woman should accidentally get pregnant, she is left to beg for child support or money from the government to help her raise her child. This type of behavior isn’t even seen in the animal society. Animals have no care for decorum or rules of propriety. They will have sex with pretty much anyone and everyone. Nevertheless, we still see that the male animals will often take care of their consorts should the female get pregnant.

The human society is supposed to be a civilized one. We have a much higher level of intelligence than the animals. This heightened brain power should be used to cultivate spiritual knowledge. In Sanskrit, the scriptures are referred to as the shastras, meaning that which governs. It is man’s duty to act in a regulated manner; otherwise he is no different than the animals.

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.16)

It is quite common to see that those who are expert in scoring with women are also expert in lying. Great politicians have become notorious for their philandering ways. This shouldn’t be surprising. These same politicians are experts at lying to their constituents and cheating others out of their hard earned money. It makes sense that they would have no respect for their wives or the women they use for sex.

Janaka finding Sita Fathers are men after all. They know better than anybody else just how vulnerable unmarried women are. This underscores the importance of finding a suitable husband for the daughter and getting her married as soon as possible. This was the situation presented before Maharaja Janaka of Mithila many thousands of years ago. Through his good fortune, he found a young girl one day while ploughing a field. The girl was none other than the goddess of fortune herself, Lakshmiji, appearing on earth in human form. Janaka immediately took the girl in as his daughter and named her Sita since she was born of the earth.

“After seeing that I had reached an age suitable for giving me away to a proper husband in marriage, my father became overcome with fear and anxiety, like a man who was about to become poor. Even if a father be like Indra himself on this earth, he obtains ill treatment from the people in general, both subordinates and superiors, if he keeps his daughter unmarried. Realizing that this precarious situation was not too far off, the king became lost in an ocean of anxiety and could not cross it, like one who has no raft.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.34-36)

Sita Devi Sita Devi was perfect in every regard. She was actually a devotee all her life. People may have different standards for judging character and for rating another person’s piety, but in the Vedic tradition, those who are pure devotees of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are viewed with the highest respect. Pure devotion to God doesn’t come easily, so those who exude such characteristics should be considered first class. Janaka didn’t know that Sita was Lakshmi, but he still understood just how great a daughter he had. For this reason, he found it very difficult to find a suitable husband for her. He thought to himself, “My daughter is perfect in every regard. I can’t think of anyone who would be a suitable husband for her. She is also my life and soul, and if I lose her, I will have nothing. Nevertheless, if my daughter is of age and still remains unmarried, I will be ridiculed throughout society.” Since the kings belonged to the kshatriya class, it was their duty to provide protection for all the citizens and to also set a good example. Honor and reputation meant everything to the kings. Janaka didn’t think anyone was worthy of marrying Sita, but he resolved to get her married anyway since that would maintain the good reputation of his kingdom and all his ancestors.

Sita and Rama For her marriage, Janaka decided that he would hold a grand ceremony where princes would be called to come and try to lift the bow of Lord Shiva. The bow had been given to Janaka on a previous occasion and it was considered impossible to lift and string. This way, even if no one were to lift the bow, at least Janaka would be saved from ridicule. The result of this plan was that Janaka received Lord Rama as a son-in-law. Lord Krishna had incarnated at the same time as Lakshmi, appearing as the pious prince of Ayodhya named Rama, the eldest son of Maharaja Dasharatha.

Among many other things, God is the ultimate protector. One who takes shelter of His lotus feet will never have to worry about anything ever again.

"Give up all varieties of religiousness, and just surrender unto Me; and in return I shall protect you from all sinful reactions. Therefore, you have nothing to fear." (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

Due to his love and affection for Sita, Janaka found the ultimate protector for his daughter. The lesson here is that we should all follow Janaka’s example by leading our dependents towards God. Though it may not be possible to receive Lord Rama as a husband, Lord Krishna in His original form can accept an unlimited number of wives. All women should accept Krishna as their husband, and thus they will always be protected. This was the behavior of the gopis of Vrindavana. As young girls, they visited the temple of Goddess Durga and prayed to have Lord Krishna as their husband. Though they were never formally married, through their personal dealings with the Lord, they had a relationship far more intimate than that of a ordinary marriage.

Radha Krishna Janaka was a great king and great devotee of God. His affection for God and His devotees gave him the intelligence to find the perfect husband for Sita. If we are devoted to God, we can rest assured that we will always find Him wherever we turn.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Easily Illusioned

Lord Krishna “O Brahma, whatever appears to be of any value, if it is without relation to Me, has no reality. Know it as My illusory energy [maya], that reflection which appears to be in darkness.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.34)

One of the most harmful aspects of material life is that it can never be satisfying enough. Material life means associating with maya, or God’s energy which pervades the material creation. Maya tells us that we will be happy trying to satisfy our senses through various activities, thus tempting us into taking up sinful activity. Not only do sins carry negative future consequences, but they have an inherent illusory aspect. This illusion clouds our minds and leads us astray from the path of righteousness, or dharma. If sinful activity continues unchecked, it can lead to our demise.

Sanatana dharma Dharma means religion, religiosity, or righteousness. There can be different duties for different people based on time and circumstance, but the underlying system of spiritual life is known as sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation of man. The Vedas tell us that the eternal dharma is something that never changes, meaning man has only one primary duty in life; that of reconnecting with God. Sometimes people shy away from religion or religious life because they don’t like the rules and regulations associated with it. On the surface, it appears that religion punishes people for no reason. “All the pain and suffering that goes with religious life, why would I want to subject myself to that? Life should be fun, and I don’t want to waste my time punishing myself.” In reality, dharma exists to make our life fun. What we currently view as fun, material life and sinful activity, actually causes us great harm in the end.

There are various definitions for what actually constitutes sinful activity or sinful life, but at its core, a sin is something that goes against scriptural injunctions. Sins have negative reactions attached to them, such as punishment in hellish planets in the afterlife, but the most detrimental part of sinful life is that it causes one to be bound to the cycle of birth and death. Our soul is eternal, but our body is not. The activities of this life are a preparation for the next life. In the same way that we make plans for the next day, week, and month in our day-to-day affairs, the aggregate total of our actions in this life works towards developing the type of body we receive in the next life. Our consciousness, developed by our work and desires, at the time of death determines where are soul will next end up.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord Krishna At the time of death, if our consciousness in on the spiritual platform, i.e. things relating to Krishna or one of His expansions, we assume a spiritual body in the next life. A spiritual body is a requirement for those desiring residence on a spiritual planet. Spiritual planets are free of miseries and suffering, and they are eternal. Just the opposite is true with the material planets. The repeated performance of sinful activity causes our consciousness at the time of death to be on material things. The four primary sinful activities are meat eating, intoxication, gambling, and illicit sex. The negative reactions to these activities are easily perceptible. Meat eating involves unnecessary violence towards animals, gambling involves some sort of cheating, intoxication removes our cleanliness both within and without, and illicit sex causes us to be attached to sex life. These four activities are the most harmful because they keep the mind attached to the temporary, miserable world.

“The material atmosphere, in which we are now living, is called maya, or illusion. Maya means "that which is not." And what is this illusion? The illusion is that we are all trying to be lords of material nature, while actually we are under the grip of her stringent laws. When a servant artificially tries to imitate the all-powerful master, he is said to be in illusion.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 5c)

Maya is known as God’s illusory energy because she entices us into acting sinfully. Illusion means taking something to be what it is not. Since maya causes us to be bound to the cycle of birth and death, she is the cause of misery. However, her true illusion lies in the fact that she makes us think we’ll be happy by associating with her. Modern society is a perfect illustration of this fact. As time continues to pass from the beginning of creation, man’s affinity for adharma, or irreligion, steadily increases. We are currently in the last of the four Yugas, Kali Yuga, so we see that adherence to dharma is minimal. This means that sinful activity is rampant. Due to our rebellious nature, we are constantly trying to introduce more and more sinful activity into our daily lives.

Modern society is practically a sinner’s paradise. Many people think that Christians or other religious groups are on the rise today, but one look at the current situation in America disproves this notion. Millions of animals are killed in the slaughterhouses each year, including poor innocent cows. Religious leaders raise no objection to these activities. Gambling is so rampant that many state governments actually promote it since it brings in higher tax revenues. Intoxication is so widespread that there are growing movements to legalize more forms of it, such as marijuana use. Illicit sex is not restricted in any way. Men and women freely intermingle, and if a woman happens to get pregnant by accident, there is no hesitation in killing the unborn child in the womb through the abortion process. In many states, men can marry men and women can marry women without a problem. Marriage is actually a religious institution created by God as a way to curb sex life, but modern society has made up its own definition and use for it.

State of the Union address The atheists and those committed to adharma should be thrilled with the current situation. They’ve gotten everything they wanted. Since there is virtually no self-policing with regards to sinful activity, everyone should be happy, no? Well we see that this is obviously not the case. If anything, people are more unhappy today than they have ever been. The political landscape proves this notion. The country has jumped from one party to another. The State of the Union Addresses given by presidents are eagerly anticipated, for people are looking for anything to bring them out of their misery. Others are constantly worrying that all of their wealth and possessions will disappear in an instant through economic forces. Others are worried their life of sense gratification will come to an end.

So we see that addiction to sinful activity actually proves to be more harmful than beneficial. This is proof of the illusion. It is similar to how young children complain about the rules imposed by the parents. Good parents force their children to regulate their eating, sleeping, and leisure habits. Meals must be eaten on time, junk food must be avoided, and television viewing is regulated. The current societal predicament is equivalent to putting the children in charge of the house. If the kids were to run things, they would eat whatever they wanted, whenever they wanted. Ice cream, candy, and pizza would be served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Adult movies and video games would be on the television day and night. Everyone would go to sleep very late, for there would be no benefit to sleeping on time and getting up early. This life seems appealing to children, but if they were left in charge, they would soon suffer misery as a result of their unregulated activities. This is how maya works. If we associate with her, we will never be satisfied, and in the end, we will meet with doom.

Hanuman laying siege to Lanka A great example of this was seen many thousands of years ago, during the Treta Yuga, which is the second time period of creation. A Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana had ascended to power. After performing great austerities, he pleased the demigods and received material benedictions from them. Ravana became so powerful that no one could defeat him in battle. He set up a kingdom on the island of Lanka where he and his fellow Rakshasas dedicated their lives to sinful activity. Lanka, like society today, was a sinner’s paradise. On one occasion Lord Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Rama, travelled through Ravana’s kingdom. The Sundara-kanda of the Valmiki Ramayana details what Hanuman saw. Lanka was full of opulence, with many beautiful palaces made of gold. Ravana himself had hundreds of beautiful wives. Everyone was always drunk off wine, with many of the women falling asleep on each other since they were so intoxicated. Ravana himself used to drink wine into the wee hours of the night and enjoy sex life with all his queens. Rakshasas also were dedicated meat eaters. They would range the night and kill great sages and then eat their flesh.

To give protection to the saintly class, Lord Krishna came to earth as Lord Rama, a gallant and brave kshatriya warrior. To protect the sages from the Rakshasas, Rama roamed the forests of India for a brief period of time, accompanied by His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. On one occasion, Ravana’s sister went to Rama’s cottage and propositioned Him. An argument ensued with Lakshmana eventually disfiguring her. She then returned to Lanka and told her brother what happened. Ravana then sent 14,000 Rakshasas to attack Rama. The Lord single-handedly killed all of them without any effort. One of the Rakshasas, Akampana, escaped and returned to Lanka and told Ravana what had transpired. He warned Ravana not to attack Rama, for the demon would be easily defeated in battle. Instead, he advised Ravana to try to kidnap Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita.

“O Ravana, you will see your city of Lanka, which currently is filled with great palatial buildings bedecked with jewels, devastated on account of your desire to kidnap Maithili (Sita).” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.25)

RavanaRavana liked this idea and went to his advisor, Maricha, to see if he could help. In the above referenced statement, Maricha is sternly warning Ravana against such a plan. He knew that if Ravana were to kidnap Sita, Rama would march to Lanka and destroy Ravana and his city. This is a great example of how maya works. Ravana had every material opulence imaginable. No demigod could defeat him in battle; he had all the wine he could ever want, and he had hundreds of beautiful queens. Yet simply by hearing of Sita’s beauty, he became deadest of committing the most heinous of crimes. This is the allure of illicit sex, the most dangerous of all sinful activities.

It was all because of one woman that Ravana lost everything. Though Ravana didn’t take his advice, Maricha’s words would hold true, as Rama would indeed end up killing Ravana in retaliation for Sita’s kidnap. Rama destroyed everything that Ravana worked so hard to achieve. The lessons from Ravana’s life are many, the most important of which is that sinful activity should be curbed. Does this mean we should simply sit quietly and renounce all activity? We can certainly try this method, but it will be very difficult to perform. This is because it is the inherent nature of the soul to be active and to want variety in its activities. An easier way to avoid sinful life is to take to bhakti yoga, or devotional service.

Hanuman performing devotional service The beauty of devotional service is that it not only helps us avoid sinful life, but it reconnects us with God. This is its primary function. Everything directly related to God is spiritual. The Supreme Lord is referred to as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all opulences and fortunes. Anything directly related to Him or His service is known as bhagavata. Devotional service is thus known as bhagavata-dharma because of its relation to Bhagavan, or God. There are nine different processes of devotional service, with chanting and hearing being the foremost among them. Hearing about God and regularly reciting His name will make us happier and happier, and help us prepare our spiritual body for the next life. There is nothing illusory about activities in devotional service, for the results come as advertised.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Back on Earth

Radha and Krishna "The transcendental qualities of Shri Krishna are completely blissful and relishable. Consequently Lord Krishna's qualities attract even the minds of self-realized persons from the bliss of self-realization.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 17.139)

Question: “Don’t the moon landings and other scientific discoveries debunk Vedic science?”

Answer: The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that demigods, or elevated living entities, manage the affairs of material creation. These demigods possess extraordinary powers, and so they are given extraordinary bodies like planets, stars, etc. The Vedas tell us that each of the major planets in the universe has a presiding deity, including even the sun and the moon. Yet scientific advancements such as the moon landing and the Mars rover seem to go against the authorized statements of the Vedas. Upon landing on the moon, the astronauts did not see a presiding deity nor did they find any life. Regardless, this does not mean that the Vedas are wrong.

Easy Journey to Other Planets book Vedic science tells us that the material world is governed by three gunas, or material qualities. There is a difference between matter and spirit. Spirit is the guiding force, while matter itself is dull and lifeless. Spirits souls are expansions of God, and they are thus eternal. Matter, on the other hand, is temporary. The material world was created by God to be a sort of playground for the spirit souls; a place where they could dominate matter. To take birth in the material world, a spirit soul must be placed in a body composed of matter. These bodies are made up of various combinations of the three modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The soul transmigrates from one species to another, life after life, due to activities and desires. These two things, guna and karma, determine what type of body, or species, a spirit soul is placed into in its next life.

Human beings are one of the more advanced species due to their possessing a high level of intelligence. Animals can’t really think beyond eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings have the ability to hanker, lament, and more importantly, contemplate the meaning of life and why they are put on earth. Yet human beings aren’t the only advanced species. The Vedas tell us that there are up to 8,400,000 varieties of life forms. The demigods, or devatas, are highly advanced living entities who are given bodies possessing extraordinary powers. Human beings are all equal in a spiritual sense, but physically there are differences. Some are stronger than others, some are shorter, while some have a higher level of intelligence. In a similar manner, other species also have unique features. An eagle has amazing eyesight. It can see something which is hundreds of miles away very clearly. Dogs and other animals have unique abilities to smell and hear. Pet owners often use dog whistles which are nothing more than sound generating devices. These sounds are barely audible to human beings even though the dogs can hear them.

Since we don’t possess the eyesight of eagles, or the hearing ability of dogs, does it mean that their powers don’t exist? Most people would take this to be a faulty conclusion. Dogs can certainly hear the sounds generated by dog whistles, for they immediately stop what they are doing when these sounds are triggered. Each species has certain trademark characteristics because of the type of body they possess. For example, aquatics live in the water, while humans live on land. If we reversed the situation, both species would die. Thus we see that God gives each living entity a body commensurate with their desires and past karma.

The sun-god The presiding deities of the sun, moon, earth, and other planets also have specific bodies suitable for their activities. The Vedas tell us that there are five primary material elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Depending on the specific planet or geographic location within a planet, one element can be found in abundance over the others. We see that the earth is mostly covered by water. In a similar manner, fire is dominant on the sun. For this reason, the sun-god, Surya, has a body composed of fire. This is something we cannot understand, for if our body were to be covered by fire, we would die instantly. The sun-god and the moon-god certainly do exist, but we do not have the eyes to see them.

“In the Third Canto of Shrimad-Bhagavatam we are informed that those who are expert in fruitive activities and sacrificial methods on earth attain to the moon at death. These elevated souls live on the moon for about 10,000 years (by demigod calculations) and enjoy life by drinking soma-rasa. They eventually return to earth. This means that on the moon there are higher classes of living beings, though they may not be perceived by the gross senses.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 8.25 Purport)

This may seem like a cop out. “Well isn’t that convenient? The Vedas tell us one thing, material science debunks it, and then you tell us that our eyes aren’t capable of seeing these invisible gods. Why can’t you just admit that the Vedas are wrong?” Actually, the presence of the moon-god or sun-god is not very difficult to believe. For example, we could never live in the water since it is not our natural habitat. We could put on some scuba gear and try to artificially remain in the water, but that would be going against nature. In a similar manner, we’re not meant to live on the moon in our current body. We can certainly go there with spaceships, spacesuits, and oxygen masks, but again this is not natural.

“A karmi may work very hard to acquire a million dollars, but as soon as he gets a million dollars he desires another million. For the karmis, there is no end of desire. The more the karmi gets, the more he desires.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 19.149 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada The Vedas provide very limited information on material science because in reality, such information is useless. Modern science is actually God’s gift to the karmis. Since the material world is a place governed by karma, those who choose to remain here are known as karmis, or fruitive workers. Fruitive action is quite simple. We perform such and such activity in hopes of procuring such and such fruit, or reward. The basis for this activity is our desire to imitate God or simply to satisfy our senses. The Supreme Lord creates, maintains, and destroys, so we have a desire to act in a similar manner. Of course we are not God, so we are incapable of creating in the same way that He does. Nevertheless, since the Lord doesn’t want to stand in the way of our independence, He created this material world. Here we can pretend to create, maintain, and destroy. We build advanced machinery, procure great amounts of wealth to maintain our families, and also destroy other living entities such as cows, chickens, and other animals.

This is actually pretend activity because unlike God, we are forced to die and then take birth again. The Supreme Lord is the creator of the material world, which is governed by His illusory energy known as maya. Therefore He can never associate with maya nor can He be subject to her control. Since we have the faulty desire to imitate God, we are ripe for the picking as far as maya is concerned. Mankind’s flawed desire to imitate God is the driving force behind modern day material science.

“So are you saying that all science is bad?” The issue is not about good or bad. The Vedas give us very limited information as far as the workings of the universe go. Vedic information tells us that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, expands Himself into various Vishnu forms who then create the universe. Then elevated living entities, the demigods, are put in charge of running everything from generating offspring to managing the food supply. This concise information is not meant to whet our appetite for knowledge, but rather as a way to keep us focused on the real aim of human life. The Vedas tell us that the human form of life is most auspicious because humans have the ability to know, understand, and love God. Those who develop a love for God and think of Him at the time of death never have to return to the material world.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.9)

!B()s5dgBWk~$(KGrHgoOKiwEjlLmDn3YBKeEOSOS2g~~_12 Human beings are meant to study spiritual science and not material science. Learning about the soul and its relationship with God brings one closer to achieving perfection in life. Material science, on the other hand, brings one further and further away from Krishna’s eternal abode. God is so kind that He facilitates everyone’s desire. All the major scientific achievements of the recent past actually came from God. Atheistic scientists love to discover new things that prove that man can control nature, so God gladly gives them little discoveries from time to time to maintain their faithless attitude towards Him. The moon landing is a great example of this. God basically says, “Ok, you want material advancement? Go ahead and land on the moon. This will further bewilder you into thinking that I don’t exist. In this way, you can keep trying to pick off other aspects of the material creation and remove Me as the cause. In the end, however, your efforts will come up short because you will be forced to give up your current body and then accept a new one at the time of death.”

This is an important lesson. What do these scientific advancements bring us? A longer life? Material comforts? These things can be acquired without the help of material science. Lord Brahma, the great demigod and creator of everything on this planet, lives for billions of years without the aid of any scientific advancement. Many animals also live very peaceful and happy lives. Pigs spend all their time playing with and eating their own stool. We would never think of doing such a thing, but pigs love it. There is even a common expression that people use which compares their happiness to that of a pig’s while it is in stool.

Material scientists aren’t the only people who endeavor for material perfection or powers. Yoga originated from the Vedas as well. Unlike the gymnastics postures and breathing exercises of today, real yoga means achieving communion of the soul with God. There are different ways to achieve this link, with the meditational yoga system being one of the prominent ones. Meditational yoga, when practiced properly, can reward the practitioner with a variety of siddhis, or perfections. An expert yogi can become minute in stature, very light, or even very heavy.

“Having received the permission of Narada, Shukadeva, the son of the Island-born Vyasadeva, saluted the celestial Narada Muni and once more set himself to performing yoga and entered the element of space. Ascending then from the breast of the Kailasa mountain, he soared into the sky. Capable of traversing through the welkin, the blessed Shukadeva, of fixed conclusion, then identified himself with the element of wind.” (Mahabharata)

Yoga Some yogis can actually leave their bodies and travel through space. This was the case several thousand years ago with Shukadeva Goswami, the son of Vyasadeva. In the Mahabharata, there are stories relating to Shukadeva and his yogic perfection. Yet Shukadeva Goswami is not famous for his practice of meditational yoga, but rather for his narration of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana. Shukadeva Goswami achieved probably the highest material perfection in being able to travel through space, but the happiness he derived from that was short-lived. For this reason, he took to bhakti yoga, or devotional service to Krishna instead. This is man’s real business. We are meant to learn about God, and to then use that knowledge to serve Him in a loving way. Since this is our eternal occupation, it is the only thing that can make us truly happy.

Some people might scoff at the idea of a personal being able to fly through space. They take the authorized statements of the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata to be mythology. Even though people might not want to believe that Shukadeva was capable of this yogic perfection, it is still undoubtedly true that material scientists today are working very hard to achieve the very same power. What if they were to get it? What if someone came out with an invention today that would let man go anywhere they wanted to at the speed of the mind? Would this make us happy? We may find it intriguing or fun for a little while, but then what would we do? The problems of birth, old age, disease, and death certainly wouldn’t be stopped. The result would be that material scientists would forge ahead looking for the next big discovery in hopes of finding the permanent happiness which eludes them.

Radha and Krishna We should take note of the lesson taught to us by Shukadeva Goswami. Real happiness can only come from devotional service. Lord Shiva, Hanuman, Prahlada, Janaka, and other countless Vaishnava authorities all tell us to look to God for happiness. In our spiritual pursuits, we should not get distracted by scientific advancements. Devotional service brings pure bliss and happiness. Taking up the regular chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” is the best adjustment we can make. Krishna is the long lost treasure we’ve been looking for.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

A Good Mother

Sita Devi “I was then placed under the care of the chief queen, the pious Sunayana. That highly-esteemed lady raised me with the love and affection of a mother.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.33)

In this passage, Sita Devi is describing the circumstances of her birth and how she became the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. Many many thousands of years ago, Janaka ruled over the kingdom of Mithila along with his wife Sunayana. The couple were childless until one day when Janaka found a little baby girl on a field that he intended to plough. The child was none other than the goddess of fortune, Lakshmiji, appearing in human form. Janaka immediately had an attachment to her and decided that he would raise her as his daughter. This was a joyful day not only for Janaka, but also for his wife. It is the dream of every queen to have a nice child to look after and care for. Being gifted with a daughter was a special bonus for Sunayana.

Everybody Loves Raymond scene The mother-daughter relationship is one of the more unique relationship paradigms. Nothing can compare to it, for the mother-son, father-daughter, and even father-son relationships are completely different. It is usually the case that mothers care for their sons by smothering them with love. The famous television sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond illustrates this phenomenon. The mother on show, Marie Barone, has a special fondness for her youngest son, a thirty-something Ray Barone. She takes her motherly duties very seriously. She involves herself in every aspect of her son’s life, making sure that Ray’s wife is serving him properly. Marie also makes sure that everyone in the family is well fed. Though a fictional television series, the episodes mimic the typical mother-son relationships that exist in real life.

The mother-daughter relationship is usually quite different. Girls face unique challenges while growing up, especially physiologically. The mother is there to guide the daughter and deal with any issues that come up. The mother was once a young girl herself, so she can provide better insights in these areas than a father can. A good mother is also a veteran of married life, so she knows how to properly care for young children and how to maintain a happy home. In the Vedic tradition, these duties take on an added importance since the husband generally takes charge of earning money for the family. Women of the Vedic tradition are perfect in every regard. Though they traditionally never received an education, they were by no means unintelligent. Sunayana especially had a firm grasp of the proper duties of a wife. Her topmost trait however, was her devotion to God. Both she and Janaka focused their lives on service to God.

King Janaka and his wife King Janaka belonged to a long line of pious kings, each of whom was also known by the name of Janaka. During his reign in the Treta Yuga, man was pious for the most part. Kings had specific duties they were entrusted with, the foremost of which was the protection of the citizens. Violence is required on certain occasions, and the kshatriya kings were the ones required to use said violence to maintain law and order. In Sanskrit, the scriptures are known as shastra (pronounced shaah-stra), which means “that which governs”. The Vedic scriptures provide great detail in how a kingdom should be governed. It is the duty of the kshatriya king to abide by the shastras, and to also use shastra (pronounced shuss-tra) to punish those who violate the rules of the scriptures.

On the home front, it was the duty of the queen to manage the affairs of the home. While young boys would go off to be trained with a guru, or spiritual master, the girls would stay at home and remain under the care of the parents until they reached an age appropriate for marriage. Sita Devi’s childhood was no different in this regard. Yet just because she was at home, it didn’t mean that she didn’t get an education. As Stia Devi mentios above, she was raised by Sunayana with the tenderness of a mother. This affection was shown in the form of education on proper etiquette and codes of conduct. Brahmanas, or the priestly class of men, would regularly visit Janaka’s kingdom. Not only would they visit, but they would provide counsel on all matters to the royal order. One of the primary areas of concern for any any parent is the proper upbringing of their children. For this reason, brahmanas would be called to come and look at Sita Devi and predict her future. Sita remembered everything the brahmanas would tell her mother. In this sense, she was the perfect devotee, for she had an eager desire to hear Vedic knowledge. Above all other processes, hearing is the most effective way to transmit and take in knowledge about Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Lord Shiva and Mother ParvatiThough this fact may seem controversial in this day and age, the Vedic tradition is that typically the men would learn all about the Vedas by taking instruction from a guru. Women would learn from their parents in their youth and then from their husbands in adulthood. There is no better example of this principle in practice than the marriage of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. Lord Shiva is known as Mahadeva, or the great demigod. Though classified as a demigod, he is actually sort of in between a demigod and God Himself. He is considered a great Vaishnava, for he spends all his time meditating on the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu, who is God Himself. Parvati is the daughter of the mountain king, Himavat. In her youth, she performed unprecedented levels of austerity for the sole purpose of having Lord Shiva as a husband. Her wish came true and the two have since enjoyed wedded bliss. From reading the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas, we can see how their relationship is an example of a perfect marriage. One day Lord Shiva decided he would recite the story of the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, Krishna’s incarnation appearing on earth during the Treta Yuga. Mother Parvati took on the role of a disciple, attentively listening to every word from her husband and humbly submitting any questions she had.

This is the behavior of an ideal married couple. The husband makes sure to gain a firm grasp of Vedic knowledge, so that he can then discuss relevant topics with his wife. In this way, the husband and wife forge an eternal bond centered around devotional service to God. Sunayana thus raised Sita Devi to be a perfect devotee, wife, and mother, all by following Vedic traditions. When she reached a suitable age, Sita was married off to Lord Rama in an elaborate ceremony. In marriage, Sita proved to be the most devoted wife and perfect daughter-in-law. There is a common stereotype that a wife and her mother-in-law don’t get along. This sort of makes sense since the wife, in essence, takes over the responsibilities of taking care of the husband. These responsibilities originally belonged to the mother, so naturally there will arise some competition between the wife and mother-in-law in regards to who will better take care of the wife’s husband.

Lord Rama with His brothers and mothers Though this friction is almost always there, it didn’t exist in any sense in the relationship between Sita and Rama’s mothers. Though Rama took birth from the womb of Queen Kausalya, he had two other step-mothers in Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Lord Rama, as kind and sweet as He was, viewed all His mothers equally and never showed favoritism towards any one of them. Sita Devi mimicked Rama’s behavior in this regard.

“One who sees the Supersoul in every living being and equal everywhere does not degrade himself by his mind. Thus he approaches the transcendental destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.29)

Sita Devi’s most important attribute was her pure devotion to God. Since she was Lakshmi herself, she naturally possessed pure devotion as soon as she appeared on earth. Nevertheless, both Janaka and Sunayana raised her properly, telling her to view Rama as her deity. A pure devotee is kind towards everyone, what to speak of family members such as parents and siblings of one’s husband.

King Janaka struck gold the day he found Sita Devi. Since she was God’s wife appearing in human form, Janaka and the queen both treated Sita with the respect she deserved. They raised her to be the most exalted princess, a person we can all look up to as a role model. As the perfect devotee of God, she serves as the guru for the whole world. Janaka and Sunayana had the rare opportunity of having direct association with Sita, and they made the most of it.

Shri Rama Darbar In this day and age, Sita and Rama have incarnated in the forms of Their holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By constantly chanting these names and committing ourselves to the path of devotional service, we can show the same affection towards Sita Devi that Janaka and Sunayana did. Nothing makes devotees happier than bringing other sincere souls to Krishna consciousness. By humbly serving and respecting the pure devotees of Krishna, we make the Lord happy and thus we achieve the highest perfection of life.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Highway to Hell

Lord Krishna on the attack “Bewildered by false ego, strength, pride, lust and anger, the demon becomes envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is situated in his own body and in the bodies of others, and blasphemes against the real religion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.18)

Once we witness God’s power and gain a firm understanding of His dominion over all that is, it is a good idea to use that knowledge for our benefit. If after learning about God and His various energies, we remain dedicated to the path of irreligion, we will certainly be doomed. This was the dubious path taken by the Rakshasa demon Ravana many thousands of years ago. Due to his offenses, he had to suffer greatly.

Ravana During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Rakshasas roamed the earth along with humans and many other species. We see today that archaeologists and other scientists theorize about various species that existed many thousands of years ago but that are now extinct. With the aid of Vedic science, we don’t have to theorize about what roamed the earth during notable periods in history. The Vedas come from God, and they are the original system of religion. Their central tenet is that we living entities take our identity from the spirit soul residing within us. Our arms, hands, legs, brain, etc. are all a temporary covering for the soul. This body is temporary because it manifests at some point, performs activities, generates byproducts, and eventually withers away. The soul inside the body remains intact throughout this time.

From the authorized statements of the Vedas, we also understand that the soul has never taken birth, nor will it ever die. It is sanatana, or eternal. Since the soul is described as sanatana, its natural occupational duty is also eternal. In this way, the real religion for all of mankind is known as sanatana-dharma. Since we are pure spirit souls, our makeup is identical to that of God. However, we are not equal to God because our spirit soul has no power to create, nor does it have complete control over its wanderings. God is the great soul, or Paramatma, and we are minute souls, jivatma. As jivatmas, we sometimes have an inkling to imitate God. To facilitate this desire, the Lord allows the spirit soul to associate with material nature; a nature which is considered to be part of God’s inferior energy. Matter is inferior to spirit because matter can’t do anything on its own. We celebrate the life of a person provided that the spirit soul remains inside their body. At the time of death, the soul departs and the body remains, and yet we immediately realize that the person is dead. The body, which is nothing more than matter, is considered useless without a soul to drive its activities and functions.

When the soul comes in contact with the material energy, it assumes a body composed of the material qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. Through desire and work, the soul transmigrates from one body to another, life after life. Since the material qualities can be combined together into many different proportions, the Vedas tell us that the spirit soul can actually take birth in one of 8,400,000 different species. The Rakshasas are one of these species. They are human-like in most respects, but they have a fundamental flaw. Rakshasas are demons by nature, meaning they are dedicated to adhrama, or irreligion. They lack the fundamental knowledge of the difference between matter and spirit, and thus they falsely identify with their body.

Lord Krishna If a person doesn’t believe in God, the afterlife, or the existence of the soul, they will naturally take to sinful activity as a way of life. The root cause of all sinful activity is our forgetfulness of God. One can argue as to what specific activities constitute sin and which don’t, but in reality, not believing in God and then acting on that belief forms the basis for every sin. Aside from various punishments doled out in the afterlife, the most detrimental thing about sinful activity is that it causes one to be found to the cycle of birth and death.

“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)

God is very fair. If we want to forget Him and think of ourselves as God, He will not stand in our way. The Rakshasas that roamed the earth during the Treta Yuga fell under this category of sinners. They wanted to forget God and act in an impious manner, and they were duly rewarded. Rakshasas were rangers of the night who were expert in the art of black magic. They could assume various shapes at will and could also produce illusions and spells at the drop of a hat.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.20)

Aside from meat eating and intoxication, one of the favorite activities of the Rakshasas was harassing the saints living in the forest. Suras, or devotees, are the exact opposite of Rakshasas, or asuras. Brahmanas and advanced devotees are aware of the most confidential knowledge of the Vedas which states that there is an undivided nature that exists between living entities. Since every human being, animal, plant, etc. is really a spirit soul, there is technically no difference between any of us. Since our soul is an expansion of God, we are non-different from Him in a sense. It’s not that we are all God, but rather we are all originally part of His superior energy. Devotees, understanding these facts, take to bhakti yoga, or devotional service, as a way of life.

Hanuman performing devotional service Devotional service is the opposite of sinful life. By trying to imitate God, we slowly build up karma, both good and bad. As long as we have an associated karma, we are forced to transmigrate between the various species. Devotional service is above karma because it is a discipline aimed at pleasing the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna. God is the origin of spirit, so anything directly associated with Him is considered spiritual. Devoting our activities to Him means we are directly associating with the superior energy. This energy is untouched by karma.

Rakshasas don’t like devotees. In ancient times, the demons would range the night and terrorize the sages living in the forest. Maricha was one such demon. He had received great material benedictions from Lord Brahma, thus he thought himself to be invincible in battle. On one particular occasion, he attacked the sacrificial altar set up by Vishvamitra Muni in the forest. To his surprise, Maricha was thwarted in his attack by a young boy who was guarding Vishvamitra. This young child, who was less than twelve years of age, drew a string to His bow and shot an arrow at Maricha. The force of that arrow was so strong that it flung Maricha hundreds of miles away into an ocean.

Lord RamaWhat Maricha didn’t know was that this boy was Lord Rama, God Himself appearing in human form. God, at any age and in any form, can provide perfect protection to His devotees. Vishvamitra had humbly requested Rama to accompany him in the forest and give him protection from the attacks of the Rakshasas. Maricha’s life was spared on that occasion, but those of his fellow Rakshasas weren’t. Rama easily killed the other Rakshasas and put such a scare into Maricha that the demon wouldn’t dare attack Him again.

“Thus I was set free by Rama at the time. However, He killed all of your assistants without any trouble, even though He was only a child at the time and not very well versed in using His weapons. It is for this reason that I’m trying to prevent you from going through with your plan to kidnap Sita. If you create enmity with Rama, you will be overwhelmed with calamities and put into a miserable condition very quickly. You will ruin yourself and you will certainly bring about great distress and affliction to all the sportive Rakshasas of your kingdom, who currently engage their time in conjugal pleasures, performing religious functions, and attending festive social gatherings.” (Maricha speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 38.22-24)

Maricha kept this incident in his memory at all times. Many years later, the leader of the Rakshasas, the ten-headed Ravana, was planning an attack on Rama in the forest of Janasthana. In the above referenced quote, Maricha is trying his best to dissuade Ravana from angering Rama. Maricha stressed the point that when Rama had so badly beaten him, He was just a young child who hardly knew anything about the art of warfare. Many years had passed since that incident, so Rama surely had only become stronger.

Maricha actually didn’t need to tell Ravana all of this. What predicated this decision from Ravana was the fact that Rama had just killed 14,000 of his men in the forest of Janasthana. Rama, His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were serving a fourteen year exile term in the forest when Ravana’s band of Rakshasas came to attack them. Rama easily killed all the demons and now Ravana wanted revenge. In trying to dissuade Ravana, Maricha also warned him that fighting with Rama would only lead to destruction. Maricha had already messed with God and paid the price for it. He had learned his lesson. Rather than see Ravana repeat the same mistake, Maricha tried his best to save his Rakshasa friend.

Lord Krishna deity The lesson here is that it is never too late to turn our life around. God’s presence is felt all around us. We don’t need to fight with Him in order to see that He exists. Every morning when we wake up, we get another chance to abandon our futile attempt to imitate God. A new day means a new chance to take up devotional service, the eternal occupation of the spirit soul.