Saturday, May 15, 2010

Identity Value

Sita Devi “All blessings upon you, I am the daughter of Janaka, the great soul [mahatma] and King of Mithila. My name is Sita and I am the beloved queen of Lord Rama.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.3)

The concept of identity politics seems to have really taken off in recent times, but it is actually an age-old technique. Politicians running for office try to align themselves with various factions, or groups of people who base their identity off a certain trait or interest. For example, politicians will try to identify themselves as being for women, blacks, Hispanics, labor unions, gun owners, etc. This type of strategy is considered very important in regards to winning elections.

The White House In democratic elections, you can’t win over every voter. In two-man races, a simple majority of the vote is required for victory, meaning a large portion of the electorate can still be against you if you end up winning. Therefore most political strategists advise candidates to look at the voting base as a collection or amalgamation of groups and factions. For a candidate, the goal is to energize their base. The base is determined by the political party or set of ideas that the candidate stands for. As soon as you take a stand on any important issue in politics, people will immediately choose sides, resulting in some people being for you and some people being against you. The strategy is to adjust your stances on the issues in the just the right way so that more people are for you than are against you.

Identity politics is a great way to pick off various factions of voters and get them to become solidly in favor of your candidacy. Identity politics works because it tells voters that they can trust such and such candidate because they are similar to them in nature. For example, a black candidate will claim to identify with black voters. “I have been through the same struggles that you have. Therefore, if I am elected, I will fight for you every day.” This same principle applies to other voting groups such as women, minorities, and labor unions.

American flag While identity politics may help people get elected, its logic is seriously flawed. It makes the assumption that all people of a certain skin color, gender, or occupation think exactly the same way. If we give this idea any serious thought, we will quickly realize the flaw in its premise. All women don’t think alike. Every person in this world has certain qualities they inherit at the time of birth, and they also have certain desires that manifest throughout the course of their lifetime. This holds true for any person. The famous saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover”, is appropriate in this regard. The cover of a book serves as its presentation. Some book covers look nice, while others do not. However, the actual content of the book is a different issue. The book cover may be appealing, but it’s the actual words contained within the book that matter. The famous civil rights leader, Martin Luther King Jr, declared that it is the content of a person’s character that matters, and not the color of their skin.

Hanuman keeping Sita and Rama in his heart The idea of equality originates from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. Vedic information tells us that every living entity is a spirit soul at the core, and that the body simply serves as a covering for the soul. It is customary for a government to protect the citizens of its own country more so than the foreigners, or immigrants, who take up residence. A person who takes birth inside the physical boundaries of a country is classified as a national, and is automatically granted citizenship rights. Thus it is the duty of the government to take care of and protect all of its citizens, regardless of their physical attributes. By playing identity politics, groups and classes of people are pitted against one another. This goes against the very nature of government, and thus it is not surprising that most people remain unhappy with the politicians that run their country.

“If we can’t base our identity on our physical attributes, where should we get it from? The Vedas tell us that we are spirit souls, but what does that mean? What is the origin of the soul?” The Vedas tell us that we are part and parcel of God, or Lord Krishna. Our souls are mere fragments of the supreme whole, or the great soul who is known as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is no difference in quality between a particle of gold and a huge block of gold. However, the huge block of gold is certainly greater in value, and thus more important and powerful. In a similar manner, God is the creator and origin of everything, thus His soul, Paramatma, is supreme. Our souls, jivatma, are similar to Paramatma is quality, but far inferior in quantity.

Since we are spirit souls, part and parcel of God, our original nature is that of servant to the Supreme Lord. Everyone serves something, whether they know it or not. Some serve their husband or wife, others serve their children, and others even serve their pets. This service attitude is there in people because that’s what makes them happy. This happiness is a watered down version of the pure bliss that the soul experiences when it engages in bhakti yoga, or devotional service to God. Based on these facts, we can see that every living entity’s true identity comes from their relationship to God. This is precisely how Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, identified herself.

Sita Devi During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Lord Krishna, God Himself, descended to earth in human form as Lord Rama. Maharaja Dasharatha was ruling the kingdom of Ayodhya at the time, and he wished for a son to whom he could pass down his kingdom. Also at the time, the demon race was quickly ascending to power throughout the world. To grant Dasharatha’s wish and to also curb the influence of the demons, God decided He would come to earth as a human and take birth as Dasharatha’s son.

When Rama reached the appropriate age, He was married to the daughter of the Maharaja Janaka, the King of Mithila. Janaka’s eldest daughter was a beautiful girl named Sita, whom he had found one day while ploughing a field. Sita was just a baby when Janaka found her, but he raised her and treated her as his most prized possession. After twelve years of marriage, Sita and Rama embarked on a fourteen year journey through the woods with Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. On one particular day, the Rakshasa demon Ravana came to the group’s camp and created a diversion whereby both Rama and Lakshmana left Sita’s side. Ravana, in the guise of a mendicant, approached Sita and she responded by identifying herself.

Sita was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Narayana. Lord Krishna is the original Godhead, but He has many direct expansions classified as vishnu-tattva. Lord Narayana is one of Krishna’s primary expansions, and thus He can be considered to be as good as God Himself. There is no difference between Krishna and His incarnations, meaning that one can worship Narayana, Rama, Krishna, Vishnu, etc. and they will be worshiping the same original God. Lakshmi is exquisitely beautiful, as was Sita. Sita also had many other great personal features and characteristics. Yet we see that when asked to identify herself by a stranger, Sita didn’t reference anything relating to her exalted personal status.

“He who attributes his virtues to You and holds himself responsible for his sinfulness; who fixes all his hopes on You and loves Your devotees-in his heart dwell, You and Sita.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 130.1-4)

Sita identified herself in terms of her relationship with Rama, God Himself, and Janaka, a devotee of God. This is the behavior of a great soul. Devotees of the Lord know the truth, and thus they never take themselves to be exalted. The devotees are the true mahatmas, for Sita even referred to Janaka as being a mahatma when she identified herself. At the time of this incident, Sita had already compiled a great resume of pious deeds. She was famous throughout the world as an exemplary daughter, wife, and woman. The group was travelling through the forest because Rama had been punished by Dasharatha. Rama insisted that Sita remain in the kingdom, but she refused to abandon her husband. Given the chance to identify herself, Sita downplayed all her personal traits and instead used the opportunity to praise Rama and Janaka.

The lesson here is that we too should strive to base our identity off our relationship with God and His devotees. God is our original friend and object of affection, but due to our conditioned state, we have forgotten Him. It is through the mercy of the pure devotee, the spiritual master, that we can rekindle our loving relationship with God. If we take up the process of devotional service, and remain committed to honoring and serving the devotees, we will give up the false bodily designations we currently apply to ourselves. Instead of claiming to be Indian, American, black, white, man, or woman, if we simply view ourselves as humble servants of Sita and Rama, ours will be an identity worth having.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Big Brother

Krishna and Arjuna “That action performed in ignorance and delusion without consideration of future bondage or consequences, which inflicts injury and is impractical, is said to be action in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.25)

The mode of passion can be so strong that it drives people to do things they know will be harmful to them. Passion means fruitive activity, or being driven to work by one’s desires for rewards and benedictions. In any society there are general rules of propriety that people try to adhere to. Having respect for the property of others is one of them. Yet we still see that there are many people who take to stealing, even though they know it’s not a good thing and that it can have negative consequences. The mode of passion is so strong, that if left unchecked, it can bewilder a person into thinking that stealing is acceptable, when it really isn’t. This is the very definition of illusion; a person who acts on such illusion descends into the mode of ignorance.

Credit Cards In today’s world, one of the common forms of theft occurs with credit cards. Most countries use paper notes and coins as their form of monetary exchange, but with advancements in technology, people can now pay for things using credit cards. Issued by banks, credit cards allow people to make purchases which are tracked through a world-wide electronic system originating at the banks. Once a month, the credit card company issues a statement telling the cardholder how much they have purchased and how much they owe. It’s a win-win situation for both parties. The credit card companies make money by charging interest to customers who don’t pay their full balance each month. The customer is benefitted by not having to carry lots of cash around all the time. Credit cards are accepted almost everywhere these days, even at fast food restaurants. This means that one can ostensibly live without ever having to use paper currency or coins.

There are drawbacks to using credit cards though. If a thief steals cash, they can only use whatever amount of money they stole from a person. Cash is also not very easy to steal because it is a physical object, meaning that the thief has to forcibly take the money away from its owner. Credit cards are a little different, because though it is itself a physical object, it is the number on the credit card which is really important. Simply knowing a person’s credit number allows a thief to make purchases online. Unlike with cash, thieves of credit cards aren’t limited in the amount of money they can steal. Most credit cards have large spending limits, up to $2,000 for a typical card, while there are also many cards that don’t have any credit limit at all. This means that if a thief can steal a credit card, they can purchase thousands of dollars worth of goods, both online and in person at retail stores.

Cash These facts make it very appealing for someone interested in becoming a credit card thief. There is a serious drawback, however, aside from the issues of morality and virtue. All credit card purchases are tracked, for that is the key component to the entire credit system. When paying for something with a credit card, a physical record is automatically created which contains the date, time, location, and description of the purchase. This also has its pros and cons. This tracking system is great for businesses because they can more easily keep track of their expenses. Some credit card companies now issue year-end statements which give a breakdown of your purchases, letting you know how much you spent on gas, food, shopping, etc. This system is harmful for thieves though. If a person loses their credit card or has it stolen, they can very easily call the credit card company and have the card cancelled. This means that the next time someone goes to use the card, the merchant will be able to tell that the card is stolen. When encountering a stolen card, merchants are advised to cut the card up into pieces and report the incident to the credit card company. In severe cases, the police may also be called to the scene. The built-in tracking system of credit card purchases is enough to keep honest people away from using them. People don’t want “Big Brother”, a euphemism for a watch-dog government, keeping track of their every move. Many people prefer to use cash as a way of keeping thieves away and also as way of keeping their spending habits private.

Credit cards Though credit card thieves are some of the easiest people to catch, we still see that many people are drawn to such a nefarious activity. They think that somehow or other they won’t get caught. What leads people to this delusion? The Vedas tell us that the mode of passion is one of the three modes of material nature, along with goodness and ignorance. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tells us that the mode of passion is better than ignorance, but that if our passions are left uncheck, they can lead to lust, anger, resentment, and loss of rationality. This is precisely what occurs with credit card thieves. The seed for their immoral act comes from their desire for some material object, either money or a particular product. Not wanting to pay for it themselves, they warm up to the idea of buying something without paying for it. Thus the initial desire turns to lust, which in turn leads them to committing theft. Anger and resentment come later on when they get caught, but it is the lust which causes their mind to become agitated and forgetful of common sense.

Ravana Uncontrolled passion, descending into ignorance, was what led to the downfall of a great Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana many thousands of years ago. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Ravana had risen to power in the world through his defeat of many great celestials. Ravana had many wives and a beautiful kingdom, yet he wasn’t satisfied with his materialistic way of life. He wanted more. He heard that there was a beautiful woman by the name of Sita residing in the forest of Janasthana. She was married to Lord Rama, a handsome prince and an incarnation of God. Ravana obviously didn’t know that Rama was God, for he didn’t believe in a higher power. He knew of the demigods, but after defeating many of them, he didn’t think they were so powerful. If anything, Ravana thought that he was God.

Ravana’s associates warned him that Sita could not be won over by flattery or huge displays of prowess. They also told him that he wouldn’t be able to defeat Rama. The only way for Ravana to have Sita would be if he kidnapped her in Rama’s absence. Ravana saw no problem with this idea, so he went ahead and made plans to achieve that end. Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were lured away from their cottage, which left Sita vulnerable. Ravana approached her and took her away by force on his aerial car. Ravana’s path home was not free of interference though. The great king of birds, Jatayu, saw what was happening and stepped in to protect Sita.

“Just as the unintelligent, without knowing the future bondage caused by their actions, are vanquished very quickly, so shall you meet with your own destruction in a short time.” (Jatayu speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 51.26)

Lord Rama with Jatayu In the above referenced quote, Jatayu is warning Ravana that he will meet his end for perpetrating the horrible act of stealing another’s wife. Ravana would end up mortally wounding Jatayu in battle, but the bird’s words would indeed hold true. Ravana was so taken away by his passion, that he lost all sense of decency and intelligence. Ravana ruled over the kingdom of Lanka, which was situated on an island very far away from land. He thought that the geographic location of his kingdom insulated him from any serious enemy attack. He thought that by taking Sita to his kingdom, Rama would eventually give up His life, for He would never be able to find her.

Of course this logic was foolish. Just as a thief never thinks they will get caught until it’s too late, so Ravana never realized the folly of his ways until the very end. While flying away on Ravana’s car, several of Sita’s ornaments fell to the earth. Rama and Lakshmana discovered some of these items, which eventually led to their meeting with Hanuman, a great Vanara warrior. Hanuman took them to the Vanara king, Surgriva, and an alliance was formed immediately. It was through the help of Hanuman and the other Vanaras that Rama eventually discovered Sita’s whereabouts. The great Lord eventually marched to Lanka, took on Ravana in battle, and soundly defeated him.

Rama and Lakshmana with the Vanaras The lesson here is that no one can escape the results of sinful activity. With whatever activity we perform, God and His attendants watch us. They keep a ledger of our good and bad deeds. Knowing this, we should take to the process of devotional service. If the Supreme Lord is already tracking us, why not take to pious activity? There is no better deed to perform in this life than to chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The results of our good deeds also come to us very quickly. Those who regularly engage in devotional service will quickly be rewarded with Krishna-prema, or love for God, which is the greatest blessing one can receive.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Making the Most

Sita and Rama “Thus I was given to Rama at the time of the svayamvara (self-choice ceremony). And ever since then, I have been devoted to my beloved husband, the foremost of those possessing strength.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.54)

Herein Sita Devi concludes her narration of the story of her marriage with Lord Rama. Most importantly, we should take note that Sita was indeed thrilled to get Rama as a husband. This isn’t surprising since Rama was loved and adored by all. The story of His marriage with Sita was known throughout the world at the time. It was for this very reason that the venerable Anasuya asked Sita to tell the story in her own words. In her conclusion to the story, Sita made sure to inform the great female sage that her receiving of Rama as a husband was certainly a great benediction, and that she made sure not to let such an opportunity go to waste. Sita Devi openly declared that she had been devoted to Rama ever since their marriage.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna and Balarama In any good marriage, the husband and wife will often poke fun at each other. The husband complains to his friends and family about how the wife nags him all the time or makes him do things that he doesn’t want to do. A wife is often jokingly referred to as the “ball and chain” since she restricts the carefree lifestyle that the husband was accustomed to in his youth. On the other side, a good wife views her husband as being somewhat foolish and helpless. This is actually a good trait since it is similar to how mothers view their children. A good mother nurtures the child throughout life, giving guidance and protection under all circumstances, even if the child is hesitant to accept such love. This is how Mother Yashoda treated Lord Krishna when He was a child growing up in Vrindavana.

“My dear, the glory of Your family, please come back with Your younger brother Krishna immediately. You have been engaged in playing since morning, and You must be very tired. Please come back and take Your lunch at home. Your father Nandaraja is waiting for You. He has to eat, so You must come back so that he can eat.” (Mother Yashoda addressing Balarama, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 11)

This attitude is required of a good mother. The reason for this is that if the mother thought the child was competent enough to be independent, she would have no reason to offer her love. The same scenario applies to wives. A good wife is always there to support her husband, whom she views as helpless and in need of her guidance. In public situations, this love manifests itself in peculiar ways. When a husband and wife are around others, it is quite common for the wife to poke fun at the husband. “Oh, he is so lazy. He doesn’t help me at all. I don’t know how I manage things.” A smart husband will usually bear such insults because he knows they are spoken out of love.

Sita and Rama's marriage As typical as these scenarios are, they didn’t exist in the marriage of Sita Devi and Lord Rama. Lord Rama was an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya. He was a valiant prince, loved and adored by all. Coinciding with His appearance was that of Goddess Lakshmi. In the spiritual world, God doesn’t reside alone, but rather in the company of His devotees. His topmost devotees are His eternal consorts, known as His pleasure potency, hladini-shakti. In God’s four-handed form of Lord Narayana, His consort is Lakshmiji, also known as the goddess of fortune. During Rama’s time, Lakshmi appeared in the form of Sita Devi. When she was a small child, she was given the name Sita by her father Maharaja Janaka of Mithila. Janaka found her one day while ploughing a field. Taking her in his arms and declaring that she was now his daughter, he treated her as his most valued possession. Since it is the duty of every father to marry off his daughter to an appropriate boy, Janaka decided to hold a svayamvara, or self-choice ceremony, to decide Sita’s nuptials. The contest was very simple: whoever could lift Lord Shiva’s bow would win Sita’s hand in marriage. The outcome of the contest was pre-ordained, but nevertheless, many kings came to Mithila to try to raise the bow. All of them failed except for Lord Rama. After lifting, stringing, and breaking the bow in the twinkling of an eye, Rama was garlanded the victor by Sita.

Aside from being Rama’s wife and an incarnation of Lakshmi, Sita was a pure devotee of God. That was her trademark characteristic. She was quiet, kind, dedicated to dharma, and chaste, but she was best known for her unflinching devotion to Rama. This is the point she wanted to convey to Anasuya during their conversation. Receiving Rama as a husband is the greatest boon any woman could ask for. Yet we notice that Sita didn’t state that Rama gave her pleasure throughout their marriage, though this was undoubtedly true. She didn’t say that they had been happily married ever since. No, Sita wasn’t selfish in this way. Actually, she would be excused if she did think along these lines. It is typical for any person in a relationship to analyze things in terms of their own self-interest. This is how we usually evaluate our friendships and intimate relationships. “How is such and such person making me feel? Am I happy? Do they love me as much as I love them?”

Sita Devi We can see from Sita’s statements that this wasn’t how she analyzed her marriage with Rama. Rather, she only thought of serving Him in thought, word, and deed. This is how pure devotional service works. It is human nature to initially seek out God for some personal benefit.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

Approaching God in these ways certainly isn’t bad. It shows a much higher level of intelligence than those people who think of themselves as the doers or those who don’t believe in God at all. Still, pure love means doing everything for the object of your love without expecting anything in return. Just as a mother gives pure service to her child without wanting anything in return, a pure devotee serves God regardless of the circumstance.

Sita Devi What is ironic is that by loving God in this manner, one automatically reaps other benefits. Rama means one who gives pleasure to others. This means that anyone who is intimately associated with Him automatically is bestowed with the highest pleasure. This happiness isn’t of the material variety either. Sense gratification brings temporary feelings of happiness but transcendental pleasure brings the highest bliss. Sita Devi knew this, so she felt no need to tell Anasuya about how happy Rama made her. Sita made the most of the wonderful opportunity of getting Rama as a husband. This is the point she wanted to convey to Anasuya.

“In this age of Kali there is no other religious principle than the chanting of the holy name, which is the essence of all Vedic hymns. This is the purport of all scriptures.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.74)

The Lord doesn’t personally incarnate in human form all the time. He reserves the right to appear wherever, whenever, and in whatever form He chooses. In this age of Kali, the Lord has kindly appeared in the form of His holy name. His name is found in many prayers, hymns, and mantras. In the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, He appears in the names of Krishna and Rama, and Sita Devi appears in the word Hare. Any person can chant this mantra regularly and enjoy direction association with the divine couple.

Hare Krishna The Lord’s names are found not only in great mantras, but also in the Vedic scriptures. Famous books such as the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita, and Shrimad Bhagavatam detail the wonderful pastimes of the Lord during His various appearances on earth. Reading and hearing these pastimes is another way to have direction association with God. This opportunity should not go to waste. The goal of human life is to fix ourselves up to the point where one day we too can openly declare that we associated with God, and that we were devoted to Him ever since. This was the path taken by Sita Devi, and for this she is worthy of eternal love and respect.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The Seeds of Distress

Lord Krishna “From the mode of goodness, real knowledge develops; from the mode of passion, grief develops; and from the mode of ignorance, foolishness, madness and illusion develop.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.17)

Question: “Lord Krishna states that works done in the mode of passion lead to distress. Can you explain that?”

Answer: There are three gunas, or qualities, that govern this material world: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Every living entity has a body composed of a combination of these three gunas. Also, every activity we perform, including religious functions, can be classified into one of these three categories. Acting in the mode of goodness leads to purity, the mode of passion to stress and misery, and the mode of ignorance to stupidity. If we do a quick analytical study of the actions in the mode of passion, we will see that it does indeed lead to pain and suffering.

“That happiness which is blind to self-realization, which is delusion from beginning to end and which arises from sleep, laziness and illusion is said to be of the nature of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.39)

Lord Krishna Characterized by sleep and intoxication, actions in tamo-guna, the mode of ignorance, lead to a loss of intelligence and demotion to a lower species in the next life. Murder, rape, and other vile acts also belong to the mode of ignorance. We see examples of the harmful effects of the mode of ignorance in our daily lives. In America, children attending school have several extended vacation periods throughout the year. The summer break is the longest, consisting of two months, but there are other week-long recesses during Christmas and in February. Most children don’t like to attend school, especially as they get older. Thus they usually spend vacation periods and weekends sitting around the house and remaining inactive. Saturday morning cartoons are popular for this very reason, for children love to sit in front of the television and do nothing all day.

Vacations are nice, but we see that long periods of inactivity can be very harmful. As we get older, if we are unemployed it becomes very difficult to get a good routine of activity going. The unemployed often sleep very late, waking up past noon in many cases. There is no guiding force in their lives to keep them on the straightened path. Sitting around and doing nothing for extended periods of time is not good for our mental health and self-esteem. We need to feel like we are doing something, and that our life actually matters. Vedic wisdom concurs with this conclusion, advising us to avoid the mode of ignorance at all costs.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.7)

Lord Krishna The mode of passion is a step up from ignorance. All the best-selling self-help books pretty much preach the same message: “Find something that you love, a passion, and dedicate yourself to it. Set goals and then work hard to achieve them.” All the materially successful people in the world have followed this plan, thus they try to share their wisdom with others. The logic behind this makes sense. If we work hard for something and then achieve it, it makes us feel good. We feel as if our activities matter and that we have a purpose in life.

“By acting in the mode of goodness, one becomes purified. Works done in the mode of passion result in distress, and actions performed in the mode of ignorance result in foolishness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.16)

If the mode of passion has such good results, why does Lord Krishna say that it leads to distress? The simple answer is that the rewards of our activities are temporary. Everything in this creation is temporary, including our bodies. The soul is eternal, for it never takes birth nor does it ever die. But this material world is a sort of phantasmagoria, a temporary playground for the living entities to act out their desires. We may work hard for something and feel good about ourselves, but this feeling represents a sort of delusion. We are not the doers, meaning we are not responsible for the way nature interacts with our senses. We certainly have a choice in how we act, but we have no control over the results of our actions.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.27)

The mode of passion leads to misery because it never provides satisfaction. Passionate activities aim to please the gross senses and not the soul. The senses can never be satisfied. Family life represents the essence of passion. Having a family is certain nice because it provides an immediate support system, a group of people who love us no matter what. After working hard all day, it is nice to come home to a loving wife and children. As great as family life can be, we see that there are many uncomfortable aspects to it as well. First off, we must work very hard to maintain a family. The world economy today is driven by technology and free enterprise. This means that people’s standard of living is constantly changing, and thus there aren’t many steady jobs. Companies are always looking for ways to innovate and increase productivity. This results in more and more jobs being replaced with advanced machinery and computers. This unsteadiness in the job market means constantly having to worry about how to support our family.

Krishna and Balarama Maintaining a spouse and children aren’t easy things either. A spouse is a life-partner, thus they will demand time and affection from their significant other. In the Hindu tradition, materialistic wives are often compared to witches and tigresses. During the day-time, they attack the husband’s purse strings, always wanting to buy this and buy that. During the night-time, they suck the blood from the husband through sex life. Materialistic husbands aren’t any better. A chaste wife can spend all day taking care of the family and children, only to have the husband come home and engage in intoxication or gambling. Due to the free intermingling of men and women in today’s society, it is much easier for men to have illicit sex with women other than their own wives.

Children are the biggest source of worry. Any parent who has lost a child will tell you that the pain never goes away. The love between a parent and a child is so strong that it can’t be put into words. A parent would rather die than have anything happen to their kids. This love certainly brings about feelings of joy, but the anxieties are endless. A good parent never stops worrying about their child, no matter how old they get or how self-sufficient they are.

Michael Phelps Family life isn’t the only area where the mode of passion causes misery. The world of sports is another great example. The Olympics occur every four years. One of the greatest Olympic athletes in recent times is the swimmer Michael Phelps, who won eight gold medals at the 2008 Summer games. This extraordinary performance launched him to worldwide fame, with many calling him the greatest athlete of all time. Yet we see that Phelps isn’t satisfied. The mode of passion is especially strong in competitive athletes, leaving them always wanting more and more. Phelps loves to compete, so after achieving his previously set goals, he simply sets new ones and works hard to achieve them. Michael Jordan was similar in this regard. He retired from basketball on two separate occasions, only to come back to play again.

The Vedas tell us that this type of activity is, in the end, miserable. Why? Well if we work very hard for something, sometimes putting in years and years of work, and then after we achieve our goal our happiness only lasts for a short time, how can we describe this activity as anything but miserable? Instead of trying to satisfy unending desires, the Vedas tell us to associate with the mode of goodness instead. Goodness is any activity that is performed with knowledge, and not just any ordinary knowledge, but that found in the revealed scriptures.

“As for actions, that action in accordance with duty, which is performed without attachment, without love or hate, by one who has renounced fruitive results, is called action in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.23)

The first instruction given to aspiring transcendentalists is that we are not our bodies. The spirit soul is what matters, thus our life’s activities should be geared towards pleasing the soul. Thus the mode of goodness involves activities such as reading the Vedas, teaching Vedic wisdom to others, performing sacrifices, teaching others how to perform sacrifices, accepting charity, and giving in charity. These are the activities of the brahmanas, or those who are considered to be in the mode of goodness. Following the injunctions of the scriptures makes us smarter. An intelligent person realizes the pitfalls of ignorance and the inherently flawed nature of passion. Those in the mode of goodness understand that all living entities are equal and that it is foolish to identify with the body.

Demigods praying to Vishnu Hence we see how the mode of goodness can lead to purity. Does this mean that we should give up our fruitive activities, or karma, which are part of the mode of passion? Though the mode of goodness is better than passion, it is still nevertheless considered material. Lord Krishna tells us that those in the mode of goodness worship the demigods, and thus ascend to a heavenly planet after death. The demigods are Krishna’s chief deputies in charge of the material creation. Worshiping them is certainly a good thing, but the powers of the demigods are limited. They can only provide material benedictions, and as we see with the mode of passion, no amount of material wealth, fame, or success can provide happiness to the soul.

There is a purified form of goodness, known as suddha-sattva. This mode is characterized by activities in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. If we act in the mode of goodness, the best we can hope for is ascension to a heavenly planet after death. We can remain there for quite some time and enjoy immensely, but our residence there is not permanent. There is every chance of falling back into the material world. Devotional service is aimed at pleasing Krishna, which means that devotees ascend directly to Krishna’s spiritual world after death. Having gone there once, a person never returns.

Nimai-Nitai performing devotional service So how do we practice devotional service? The easiest way is to regularly chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Any person can chant at any time, so we can keep our current occupation and still engage in devotional service. The idea is not to hastily renounce our current activities, but rather to purify them. We can still work hard to acquire money and maintain our family, but we should sacrifice the results of such hard work for the benefit of the Supreme Lord. The home can be purified by regularly chanting Hare Krishna, worshiping the deity, and offering and distributing prasadam. Such activity is considered to be in pure goodness, and represents perfection in life. It will most certainly keep us away from misery.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Two For One

Lakshmana “And my father personally gave to Lakshmana for his wife, my younger sister, the beautiful and chaste Urmila.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.53)

Sita Devi is Goddess Lakshmi herself and Lord Rama is a primary incarnation of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As such, those who are intimately associated with the divine couple automatically acquire all good personal characteristics and good fortune. One needn’t strive for material perfection, for Sita and Rama will provide for all the necessities of a pure devotee.

Sita and Rama There may be different names for God based on the time and circumstance of His appearance or the specific activities He performs, but the Vedas tell us that God’s original name is Krishna, derived from His all-attractive, two-handed form. Contrary to the prevailing opinion, the Supreme Absolute Truth is not formless. Though He can take many different forms, He has an original spiritual body which is full of bliss and knowledge, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha. This vigraha, or body, is real and not temporary nor fake. Everything in this material world is temporary. Some people take everything to be false, brahma satyam jagan mithya. It may be a point of semantics, but since everything in this world is created, maintained, and then ultimately destroyed, material nature cannot be accurately classified as fake or false. Since everything in nature is temporary and subject to the laws of maya, some people think that God and His various incarnations appear on earth in temporary bodies composed of material elements.

“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna, the Supreme Authority and orator of the Bhagavad-gita, unequivocally states that only the unintelligent think in this manner. All the great Vaishnava authorities agree that Krishna never appears on earth in a material body. In the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas, even Lord Shiva makes an emphatic point about this very issue while discussing with his wife, Parvati, the pastimes of Lord Rama.

God’s original and complete feature is that of Bhagavan, which means one who possesses all fortunes. Only God can lay claim to being the richest, wisest, most famous, strongest, most renounced, and most beautiful person in the world. He possesses these features to the fullest degree and at the same time. The word Krishna itself has various meanings, with one of them meaning “all-attractive”. Though photography didn’t exist during the time of the Lord’s advent some five thousand years ago, the authoritative scriptures give us very clear descriptions as to the Lord’s facial features and exquisite beauty. Thus when we see paintings and pictures of the Lord, we get a glimpse into just how attractive He is. Aside from the basic descriptions, we have evidence of His attractiveness based on how He charmed the cowherd girls of Vrindavana. All the gopis wanted Krishna as their husband. Even in adulthood, the Lord accepted so many wives, more than anyone can fathom. In today’s world, maintaining one wife is a difficult job by itself, but Krishna easily maintained more than 16,000 wives during His reign in Dvaraka.

The non-devotees like to criticize Krishna on this fact, saying that He acted lustily by accepting so many wives. They fail to understand that the Lord is atmarama, meaning one who is self-satisfied. He is in need of nothing. Yet during His time on earth, so many women prayed to have Krishna as their husband. As pure devotees, the Lord granted their requests. Accepting so many wives was the Lord’s mercy.

As Bhagavan, the Lord possesses all opulences. In a similar manner, those people who are intimately connected with Bhagavan, the pure devotees, are described as bhagavata. There is a book bhagavata, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, but a person can be a bhagavata as well. From bhagavata, we get bhagavata-dharma, which means the occupational duty of the bhagavatas, or the devotees. Since God possesses all good qualities, those who serve Him in a loving way are showered with benedictions and opulences. In this respect, the bhagavata and Bhagavan are the same.

“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.30)

Radha Krishna Lord Krishna’s wives were all expansions of the goddess of fortune. In the spiritual world, God likes to enjoy, so His immediate expansions serve as His pleasure potency. This energy is known as hladini-shakti. Depending on the specific form of God, this energy also takes a different form. Based on the conclusions of the Vaishnava authorities, the original goddess of fortune is Shrimati Radharani, who is Lord Krishna’s eternal consort. Her immediate expansion is that of Goddess Lakshmi, Lord Narayana’s consort. When Krishna incarnated as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago, Lakshmi also came to earth in the form of Sita Devi. As the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi bestows benedictions upon her devotees and to the devotees of Krishna. Since Sita was a pure devotee of Rama, she was the ideal bhagavata, and thus Sita and Rama can be considered as one.

As part of His pastimes on earth, Lord Rama lifted the illustrious bow of Lord Shiva at the great sacrifice held by Maharaja Janaka, the King of Mithila. Sita was Janaka’s daughter. The story of the marriage of Sita and Rama was very famous throughout the world even during Lord Rama’s time. In the above referenced statement, Sita is giving a summary of the story to the great female sage Anasuya. Rama, His younger brother, Lakshmana, and Sita had stopped at the hermitage of Anasuya and her husband Atri Rishi. Anasuya was very eager to hear firsthand from Sita the story of her marriage.

Janaka was not Sita’s biological father, for Sita didn’t appear from the womb of any mother. He actually found her one day in a field that he intended to plough. From the moment Janaka held her in his arms, he knew that Sita was meant to be his daughter. When she reached the appropriate age, Janaka was torn about trying to get her married. Since he didn’t know her family lineage, it would be impossible to find a suitable husband based on horoscopes. Add to the equation the fact that Sita Devi was a perfect woman, daughter, and person in every respect, we can see why Janaka was hesitant to marry her off. Nevertheless, Janaka decided to hold a contest to see if anyone could lift Lord Shiva’s bow which was given to him on a previous occasion. Many a prince came and gave a valiant effort, but only Rama could lift the bow. This was destiny after all, for no one except God Himself would be a suitable husband for Sita Devi. Janaka was so thrilled to get Rama as a son-in-law that he gave away his other daughter, Urmila, to Lakshmana.

Rama and Lakshmana eating Rama had three younger brothers, but He was closest with Lakshmana.

“Shatrughna, endued with cleverness, is your helper. Sumitra’s son (Lakshmana) is well known as My best friend. We four worthy sons of that foremost of monarchs will keep him established in truth, O Bharata. Let not your mind despond.” (Lord Rama speaking to Bharata, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 107.19)

Straight from the time of their childhood, Lakshmana was inseparable from Rama. He wouldn’t sleep or even eat his meals unless Rama was with him. Such pure devotion never goes to waste. According to the shastras, Lakshmana was an incarnation of Lord Ananta Shesha Naga, the serpent with unlimited hoods who serves as the resting place for Lord Narayana on the planet of Shvetadvipa. Almost equal in potency to God Himself, Lakshmana’s trademark characteristic was his pure devotion to Rama. Generally, people that are somewhat intelligent seek out the three rewards in material life: artha (economic development), kama (sense gratification), and dharma (religiosity). These three things are gained through pleasing the demigods. People wanting money and good fortune pray to Goddess Lakshmi to grant them all their wishes. Yet from the example of Lakshmana, we can see that Lakshmiji automatically supplies good fortune to the devotees.

Sita and family watching Rama lift the bow Lakshmana’s only dharma in life was to serve Rama. As a small reward for this service, he received the beautiful and chaste Urmila for a wife. The Ramayana doesn’t give too much detail about the character of Urmila, but from Sita’s statements, we can understand that she was a perfect wife. Sita Devi is an authority on devotion and character, so if she praises someone, we can understand that the person must be truly special. It shouldn’t be surprising to learn that Sita’s sister had a good character. After all, both Sita and her sister were raised by the well-respected Janaka and his wife Sunayana.

The lesson here is that devotional service always reaps benefits, which sometimes come unexpectedly. We don’t need to strive for material perfections since God and His eternal consort will provide us whatever we need to execute our prescribed duties.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Philosophy Plus Sentiment

Valmiki writing the Ramayana “Bhakti-yoga, devotional service, is the basic principle of all systems of philosophy; all philosophy which does not aim for devotional service to the Lord is considered merely mental speculation. But of course bhakti-yoga with no philosophical basis is more or less sentiment.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.29.1-2 Purport)

Many people around the world profess to belong to a particular religion, but they have little knowledge as to what their faith actually teaches. “I am a Catholic, I am a Hindu, I am a Jew, etc.” Many of us inherit our faith from our parents, but if we aren’t given an education on spirituality during our childhood, it is likely that we’ll grow up to be ignorant of what religion truly means.

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that religion is meant to be an intellectual pursuit. More than just blind faith, religion is defined as sanatana-dharma, meaning the eternal occupation of man. Dharma is religiosity or duty, so it is something that can never change. Dharma cannot be manufactured, nor can it be adjusted based on a person’s whims. The Vedas tell us that not only do we all have an occupational duty, but that this duty is eternal. How can this be possible if man is mortal?

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

The answer is that religion is meant for the soul. Man is certainly mortal, but his soul is not. The soul is the spark that gives life to a body; it is something that comes from God. The Vedas tell us that the Supreme Soul is Lord Krishna, who is also known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The jiva souls, or the living entities, are fragmental sparks of the blazing fire which is God. Since we emanate from the Supreme Lord, our spiritual quality is the same as His. It is similar to how a particle of gold is no different in makeup than a huge gold mine. At the same time, there is a drastic difference in value between a tiny speck of gold and a huge reservoir of gold. Krishna is the huge reservoir, and we are the tiny particles.

Krishna's universal form The Vedas tell us that, as fragmental parts of the supreme whole, it is our occupational duty to remain connected with the source. This means that the soul is meant to always be in association with God in a loving way. Love means caring and having concern for someone or something else. When directed at God, this love is known as prema. Prema is the most purified form of love because it is associated with God, and also because there are no expectations of reciprocation. We may fall in love with a man or a woman in our lifetime, but we often see that we can fall out of love depending on later circumstances. Love for God is not flickering; it is eternal.

If we’re meant to love God, why are we put on this earth? Since the spirit souls are inferior to God, they have a tendency to become illusioned. The greatest illusion is the idea that one can become God. It is this flawed desire that lands the spirit soul in the material world. There is a way out, however, which is religion. Sanatana-dharma is meant for reconnecting the soul with its lost lover, the Supreme Lord. There are many religious systems in existence today, but the only bona fide religion is that which teaches people to know, understand, and love God. There may be different faiths, but dharma never changes. The soul is meant to be with God, and this fact doesn’t change based on time or circumstance.

The problem that exists today is that most religious leaders don’t teach people how to love God. In fact, most leaders don’t even stress love for God as the end-goal. They typically prescribe one of two paths: karma or renunciation. Karma is fruitive activity, and when applied to religion, it is generally associated with achieving ascension to the heavenly planets. “Act in such and such a way and God will reward you. He will give you riches and take away your suffering. He will let you go to heaven after death. Believe in the power of prayer.” This thinking is certainly good because God is the original proprietor of everything. Not a blade of grass moves without Krishna’s direction. However, we see that today many areas of society are very well-off, especially in America. Many people live quite comfortably without giving any attention to religion. Thus they are left to wonder what the purpose of religion is. “I am already wealthy and have plenty of food. Why do I need to pray to God?”

Lord Brahma praying As we see time and time again with famous celebrities, wealth and fame, by themselves, don’t bring happiness. Therefore the Vedas tell us to view God as our only object of pleasure, and not as an order supplier. “God give me this, give me that. If You don’t come through for me, then I’ll stop believing in You.” The Lord is not someone we can command in this way. He may or may not grant our wishes for material success, but in the end, it shouldn’t matter; all our fortunes and misfortunes come to us as a result of karma. The Supreme Lord plays no direct role in karma. We can think of the laws of nature as an impersonal set of rules. Rulebooks are written so as to not favor any particular party. In any game, there are going to be people who want an edge, a way to cheat the system. The rulebook is in place to prevent this from happening. Along with the rulebook, judges, or enforcers of the rules, are required. In the material world, this is handled by the demigods, who are elevated living entities in charge of various departments such as rain, wealth, health, etc.

“Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice, seeking the heavenly planets, worship Me indirectly. They take birth on the planet of Indra, where they enjoy godly delights. When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.20-21)

Life in Krishnaloka Sanatana-dharma is not meant for elevation to the heavenly planets. The Vedas tell us that heaven and hell certainly do exist, but that they are still part of the material world. This means that residence on those planets isn’t permanent. Real heaven can only be found on the spiritual planets of Krishnaloka and Vaikunthaloka. There the Supreme Lord, or one of His various expansions, resides in the company of His eternal servants, nitya-siddhas. The goal of human life is to return to these spiritual planets, for one who goes there never has to take birth in the material world again.

So how do we connect with God? For this age, the Vedas recommend the constant chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Krishna and Rama are authorized names of God, so they are open for anyone to chant. Chanting Hare Krishna does not violate the rules of any religion. This chanting is so beautiful because it is the epitome of dharma. The Vedas tell us that there are different dharmas, or prescribed duties, based on a person’s level of intelligence and their material qualities. In the end, however, the highest form of dharma is known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Chanting God’s name in a loving way falls under the category of bhagavata-dharma. Hare Krishna essentially means, “God, I love You. Please let me always engage in Your service. Let me always think of You, wherever I am. You may elevate me to heaven, or demote me to hell, but please let me keep Your beautiful form in my mind. This way, I can be happy in any situation.”

The other path recommended by the religious leaders of today is renunciation. “The material world is false and miserable. Thus we must block out everything. We must curb our activities and remain steady on the virtuous path. Blocking out the effects of the senses, one can achieve perfection in meditation and renouncement.” This path is certainly valid, for it will help a person eliminate their bad habits and achieve some form of peace. However, there is no enjoyment in the path of dry renunciation. It is the nature of the spirit soul to crave individuality and activity. Variety is the key ingredient in enjoyment, but in dry renunciation we see that there is no variety, thus there is no enjoyment. This makes the path of renunciation very difficult. Another factor to consider is that if a person gives up sinful activity, but still craves these activities in their mind, they really aren’t making any progress. If we still have sinful desires at the time of death, God will not be so unkind as to force us to leave a place that we are attached to. On the contrary, He will allow us to remain in the material world for as long as we have a desire to.

Radha Krishna Bhagavata-dharma is the religion of love. The calls for peace, forgiveness, and curbing the senses from the religious leaders of the world are certainly very nice, but there is more to life than just being virtuous. Dharma can also be defined as righteousness, and the purpose of following the righteous path is to come to an understanding of God. Bhagavata-dharma helps one connect with God immediately. Those who remain steady on the path of devotional service automatically acquire all good qualities. Even renunciation is achieved, for pure devotees of the Lord learn to abstain from illicit sex, gambling, intoxication, and meat eating without any problems.

“Religion without philosophy is sentiment, or sometimes fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation. The ultimate goal is Krishna, because the philosophers who are also sincerely searching after the Absolute Truth come in the end to Krishna consciousness.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 3.3 Purport)

It is natural for us to approach God when we are in distress, but this needn’t be the case. It is far better to learn to love God under positive circumstances than under duress. We certainly must have faith in God, but there must be philosophy as well. The Vedas give us the largest collection of philosophy that exists in the world. Along with developing a steady chanting routine, devotees can learn about Krishna and the soul by regularly reading great books such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Bhagavata-dharma is the true definition of religion, for it is an eternal occupation that delivers pure bliss to the soul.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Descending Process

Lord Krishna "My dear Lord, a person who has received a little favor from You can understand You very quickly. But those who are trying to understand You by the ascending process may go on speculating for millions of years and still never understand You." (Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.14.29)

In Vedic culture, every activity is performed with knowledge and respect for the shastras, or scriptures, and authority figures. The highest authority figures in life are the parents and the guru, or spiritual master. Just as a citizen must obey the laws of the state in order to live in freedom, a person must abide by the directions of pious parents and spiritual guides in order to be successful in life.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna Parents are nature’s gift to us. They serve as our immediate family, loving us no matter what. They also serve as our initial teachers, guiding us through the early years. When a child is first born, it is completely helpless. If not for the constant attention given by the mother, a child surely would not survive. For the first year or so, a baby can survive simply off the milk supplied freely by the mother.

“Mother Yashoda took her son on her lap and pushed the nipples of her breasts into His mouth. And while Krishna was sucking the milk, she was smiling, enjoying the beauty of her child's face.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 9)

A father also plays an important role by providing protection and guidance. For most people, their historical perspective begins from the day they were born. Therefore, it is easy to forget that our parents are much older than us and that their knowledge far exceeds ours. It takes a lifetime of pain and suffering, happiness and distress, and highs and lows to gain a proper understanding on the true nature of things. There are two primary ways of acquiring knowledge. Through the ascending process, we can make certain hypotheses and then carry out actions to see if these guesses hold true or not. Through experience, trial and error, we can come to certain conclusions. This is definitely a valid way to acquire knowledge. A much easier way, however, is to learn by the descending process. This method involves less time and hassle because all it requires is for one to hear knowledge from an authority figure.

King Dasharatha with his family For example, in our youth, we may not understand that fire is hot. This ignorance can lead us to putting our hands in fire, which will immediately cause a burn. Still, we might not realize that all fire has this property of heat, so we may try putting our hand in fire over and over again. Since every living entity has varying levels of intelligence, for some people, it may take getting burned two or three times before they realize that fire is hot enough to cause intense pain. In the end, the proper knowledge is acquired, but at a cost of time and pain to our hand. This same knowledge could have been acquired simply by listening to an authority figure such as one of our parents. “Don’t touch that fire. It will burn you!” If we heed this advice and take it at face value, our knowledge on the matter will be perfect.

Of course it is the nature of a child to be rebellious from time to time. This is unfortunate as it is greatly beneficial to have the knowledge and wisdom available to us from our elderly family members. Knowledge of day-to-day affairs is one thing, but the real purpose of human life is to learn about the soul and its constitutional position. This was described elaborately over five thousand years ago by God Himself, Lord Shri Krishna.

“The Supreme Lord said: My dear Arjuna, because you are never envious of Me, I shall impart to you this most secret wisdom, knowing which you shall be relieved of the miseries of material existence.” (Bhagavad-gita, 9.1)

Lord Krishna Unlike with the example of how we learn about the heat properties of fire, knowledge about Krishna, or God, can only be acquired through the descending process. The reason for this is that the human brain is simply not capable of fully understanding God. Knowledge of the Absolute Truth must be acquired by hearing from a realized soul. The bona fide spiritual master, or guru, is the authority figure when it comes to understanding Lord Krishna. The guru hasn’t concocted any ideas about religion, for he simply heard the truth from his spiritual master, who in turn heard it from his guru, and so forth. Thus we can climb the chain of succession all the way up until we reach the original source: Lord Krishna Himself.

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bg. 4.1)

In our youth, the parents are to be treated as our first devas, or gods, followed by the gurudeva, or the spiritual master, later on in life. The authority of the spiritual master is important because the guru is the person who gives us our second and more important birth. In the varnashrama-dharma system, the brahmanas are referred to as dvija, meaning twice-born. The first birth is the one we take from our parents. This is certainly important, but that alone doesn’t make us any smarter than the animals. The true potency of the human form of body can be realized only when we take initiation from a bona fide spiritual master. Initiation is usually associated with a formal ceremony where one is invested with a sacred thread and given diksha by the guru. This ceremony is certainly important, but initiation really signals the beginning of spiritual life. The student sincerely agrees to pursue a spiritual education under the guidance of the spiritual master.

"The worship of My devotees is better than worship of Me.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.19.21)

Hanuman, a great devotee, was the spiritual master of Goswami Tulsidas The spiritual master is the pure devotee of God, so simply by pleasing Him, we can attain perfection in life. In the traditional Vedic system, all important activities are conducted under the advice and consent of the parents and the spiritual master. This holds true especially with the issue of marriage.

Due the effects of Kali Yuga, marriage today primarily signals the codification of a romantic relationship between a man and a woman. Men and women freely intermingle today, so their natural attraction for each other leads to the boyfriend/girlfriend paradigm. Depending on age, time, and circumstances, couples may or may not decide to eventually get married. If they decide in favor of getting married, the marriage is merely a formality, since nothing really changes in the relationship. For this reason, many times the actual wedding ceremony is performed in an informal setting and in the absence of the parents.

This may be the way of the world today, but it stands in stark contrast to the original institution given to us by God. In the Vedic system, marriage is a completely religious institution, a time in one’s life where they make gradual progress in spiritual understanding. For this reason, marriage is known as the grihastha ashrama. Simply getting married and living a life devoted to sense gratification doesn’t classify one as a grihasthi. This sort of life is grihamedha. To be a true grihasthi, one must consult parents and gurus in the marriage arrangements. In fact, the boy and the girl should have very little say in the matter. The authority figures know the truth, so by following their lead, the marriage can be successful.

Sita Rama This was the example followed Sita Devi and Lord Rama many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna had descended to earth in human form as Rama, and Lakshmiji had also incarnated as Sita Devi. Sita’s father, King Janaka of Mithila, held a self-choice ceremony for Sita’s marriage. Many kings were invited to try and lift the illustrious bow of Lord Shiva. Sita would marry whoever could lift the bow. As fate would have it, Lord Rama would come and lift the bow, breaking it in half in the process. Since Rama performed this glorious deed, the marriage was all set. Or was it?

“Though being offered to Rama, I was not accepted by Him at the time, for He did not know the opinion of His father Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya. Thereupon, after inviting my father-in-law, the elderly King Dasharatha, to Mithila and receiving his approval, my father gave me away to Rama, the knower of the self.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.51-52)

From the above referenced statement, we can understand that the marriage wasn’t formalized until Rama first got permission from His father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. On the surface, this doesn’t seem like it was necessary. Rama was God Himself, so why did He need permission to do anything? Sita Devi was also of the highest character. In fact, the whole reason behind the self-choice ceremony was that Janaka didn’t think there was any man worthy of Sita’s hand in marriage. He figured that if he held the bow lifting contest, no one would win it, thereby absolving him of the sin of not having married off his daughter.

Sita and Rama's marriage ceremony Lord Rama’s primary characteristic was His adherence to dharma, or religiosity. Protocol called for the consultation of the parents, so that’s what He did. In fact, He and Lakshmana didn’t even arrive in Mithila by their own whims. They were serving their spiritual master, Vishvamitra, in the forest at the time. It was at Vishvamitra’s insistence that Rama even tried to lift the bow. Of course Dasharatha not only agreed to the marriage, but he was quite thrilled as well. Janaka was a very famous king, so everyone in Dasharatha’s family was delighted to welcome him as a new relative.

By following protocol, the Raghu dynasty received the blessed Sita Devi in their family. She is the original goddess of fortune, a perfectly chaste woman. Her defining quality is her devotion to Lord Rama; a devotion which is second to none. She set the standard for devotional service. Both Sita and Rama gave full deference to their parents and teachers. Anytime we follow the traditions set forth by Sita and Rama, we will surely be on the right path.