Saturday, May 22, 2010

Changing the Climate

Lord Krishna “The splendor of the sun, which dissipates the darkness of this whole world, comes from Me. And the splendor of the moon and the splendor of fire are also from Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.12)

Question: “It seems that you like to editorialize against the idea of global warming/climate change. Yet these same movements aim to improve our environment and make our planet a better place. Wouldn’t Krishna want us to be good stewards of His creation?”

Answer: Devotees of Lord Krishna believe that bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the most sublime engagement for all of mankind. Regardless of a person’s geographic location, physical attributes, or religious affiliation, simply by regularly chanting the Lord’s names in a loving way, one can achieve the highest form of happiness imaginable. There are many movements in existence that aim to tackle all sorts of problems in the material world. Capitalism, communism, socialism, environmentalism, etc. all have certain aspects to them that are appealing, but in the end, they all associate exclusively with matter, meaning they only deal with God’s inferior energy. True perfection in life comes through association with the supreme spirit, Lord Krishna, or God. If we get caught up in these other inferior movements, we become more prone to ignoring our relationship with God. This is a decision that can end up being very costly.

Lord Vishnu The Vedas tell us that God is the original creator. Simply by exhaling once, Lord Vishnu creates this and many other universes. The same Lord then later exhales and takes all the universes back into Himself. Each of the material planets has a presiding deity, and the earth is no different in this regard. Known as Bhumi Devi, the earth is our mother whom we should respect and not unnecessarily burden. In this regard, we see that the technological advancements of the past two hundred years have certainly caused an unnecessary burden to the planet. Pollution has increased, and worst of all, mankind has become further bound up in fruitive activity. By working to gratify the senses, people become bound in karma, which then dictates that they be forced to repeat the cycle of birth and death. Human life is meant for breaking out of this cycle, for the soul’s natural home is in the spiritual world with God.

Being good stewards of the environment is certainly in line with religious practice. However, the modern day global warming/climate change movement goes beyond just taking care of the environment. There must be a distinction made between the ecology movement and the climate change movement. Many people are interested in maintaining the ecological health of the planet, and they certainly shouldn’t be criticized for wanting to recycle and keep pollution down. The leaders of the climate change movement, however, are not really interested in anything besides ascending to power.

Globe This is a bold assertion, but if we do a quick study of the situation, we’ll see that this is indeed the case. The most prominent leaders of the climate change movement don’t actually follow any of their own teachings. For example, former U.S. Vice President Al Gore actively preaches that we should limit our carbon emissions, including curbing our burning of fossil fuels. Yet it was discovered recently that his home in Tennessee uses up much more electricity each month than the average American home. The Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has also taken up the fight against climate change. Yet he regularly flies around in his corporate jet, something which causes much more pollution than the average person’s driving of their car. In response to criticism, the governor said that he was investing in carbon offsets, which essentially means that he continues to pollute while some company promises him that they are finding ways to cancel out his carbon emissions somewhere else.

“The Group of Eight industrialized nations joined with developing countries in agreeing Wednesday that average global temperatures shouldn't increase by more than 2 degrees Celsius in a significant new acknowledgement in the fight against global warming.” (G-8 agrees to cap on global temperatures, AP)

If the leaders of this movement themselves don’t practice what they preach, how can we take them seriously? Wanting to take care of the environment is certainly nice, but leaders of this movement believe they can control the average temperature of the planet. Big commissions have proposed temperature caps, whereby governments would impose a restriction on how high the average temperature of a certain area could get for a certain time period. The Chinese government has even floated the idea of seeding clouds in hopes of steering hurricanes and other great storms.

Lord Krishna These ideas seem ridiculous to the average person, yet they are seriously considered by the leaders of the climate change movement. The reason this thinking is so dangerous is that it aims to minimize or take away God’s influence as it pertains to controlling the weather. The climate of the earth is extremely complicated, so much so that computer models and scientific hypotheses are always being revised. We may be able to assume certain climate patterns based on past history, but that is still no guarantee of what will happen in the future. The Vedas tell us that Lord Krishna is responsible for creating this world and all the creatures that reside within it. At a set point in time, He will destroy this very same creation, and then recreate it again.

“O Arjuna, I control heat, the rain and the drought. I am immortality, and I am also death personified. Both being and nonbeing are in Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.19)

The scientists who lead the climate change movement believe that the world was created through a random collision of chemicals. Essentially, this leads them to think that if they can find a way to control and adjust these chemicals, they can control the weather. After controlling the weather, they will look for other things to control as well. For devotees of God, these ideas seem preposterous. These ideas represent a direct assault on the very essence of spirituality. The climate change doctrine can be thought of as its own type of religion. There is a specific set of sins; i.e. the burning of fossil fuels and the driving of SUVs. There are scriptures represented by the scientific journals and agreements formed by international commissions. There is a promised panacea, that of a world with a controlled climate. There is even a God in this movement; the government leaders and spokespeople who will implement the proposed ideas.

In America especially, people are leery of politicians who bring up religion in public. This is because the Constitution has an Establishment Clause whereby Congress is prohibited from establishing a national religion. If a politician were to propose a law that demanded everyone convert to Catholicism or Judaism, there would be a public outcry. Spirituality is a personal pursuit, something that involves an intimate relationship between a person and the Supreme Lord. Religion is not something that can be imposed on people, because at the heart of spiritual life is love for God. Love can never be forced. History is filled with instances where governments tried to force citizens to practice a specific form of religion, and the results were never good. Following this flawed model, the leaders of the climate change movement try to impose their belief system on the entire world, for without intervention from the government, none of their solutions could ever be implemented.

Arjuna praying to Krishna The climate change movement is popular because people have a natural inclination to serve something. They want to take part in a cause higher than themselves; they want to be part of something that will make their life matter. They want to help their fellow man live a better life. These are certainly noble intentions but if we direct our services to the wrong areas, we will essentially be wasting our time. Suppose that the climate change people were right and that we could control the earth’s temperature. Suppose that we decide to work very hard to curb carbon emissions and that in the future, we end up being successful. Pollution becomes virtually eliminated, but do our problems stop there? Have we done anything to advance the plight of our soul? Lord Krishna tells us that anyone who has material desires at the time of death must accept another material body in the next life.

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

The material world is governed by three modes or qualities: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The desire to improve the quality of the environment certainly falls into the mode of goodness, but association with goodness means that we are still interacting with material nature. The human form of life is meant for understanding the constitutional position of the spirit soul. Religion means learning how to love God, for material nature represents Krishna’s inferior energy. As spirit souls, we are part of the superior energy, but due to our forgetfulness of this fact, we have become allured into associating with maya, or material sense gratification. If we remain on the platform of goodness but don’t advance beyond that, we aren’t really doing anything for ourselves.

To illustrate this point, let’s take the example of vegetarianism. Since animals are also living entities, the Vedas advise us to be kind to them and to refrain from killing them unnecessarily. Also, devotees of Krishna try to eat as much prasadam as possible. Prasadam is vegetarian food, more specifically food in the mode of goodness, that is prepared with love and offered with devotion to the deity of the Lord. Krishna then spiritually eats the food and leaves the remnants for us to partake of. Lord Krishna has not asked us to offer Him non-vegetarian food, thus meat is never offered to the deity.

Devotees of Krishna advise others to give up meat eating, illicit sex, gambling, and intoxication, since these make up the four pillars of sinful life. By giving up these practices, one becomes dhira, or sober. Just as being sober is a requirement for those wanting to drive a car, it is also necessary for those wanting to make spiritual advancement. Along with abstention from the four pillars of sinful life, we are advised to chant the names of God as often as possible, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Lord Krishna with cow Yet we see that people have trouble giving up sinful life in the beginning stages, especially meat eating. So which practice is more important; giving up sinful activity or performing the chanting of the holy names of God? The Vedas tell us that it is more important to chant God’s names than it is to simply abstain from harmful behavior. For example, say that we have one person who doesn’t believe in God at all, but remains a strict vegetarian. And let’s say there is another person who has trouble giving up eating meat, but sincerely tries to take up devotional service and chants regularly. In the spiritual estimation, the meat-eating chanter is considered superior because by regularly connecting with God, they will eventually give up all sinful habits automatically. The strict vegetarian, however, is not making spiritual advancement, so their renunciation is considered false and useless, phalgu-vairagya.

“A person who properly performs his regulative duties according to varna and ashrama but does not develop his dormant attachment for Krishna or awaken his taste to hear and chant about Krishna is certainly laboring fruitlessly." (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.8)

Devotional service involves nine different processes, of which chanting is considered the most effective for this age. If we regularly remember God, offer Him prayers, and hear about Him, we are guaranteed to achieve perfection in life. What’s more is that taking up devotional service automatically solves every other problem in the world, including hunger, poverty, and the destruction of the environment. Two of the greatest Vaishnavas in history, the brothers Rupa and Sanatana Goswami, were excellent stewards of the environment without even knowing it. Empowered by Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation on earth, to revive the bhakti cult in Vrindavana, the two brothers spent twenty-four hours a day engaged in Krishna’s service. They were completely renounced, for they lived on basically nothing. They would sleep outside and wear only a small rag for clothing. They ate almost nothing; they spent all their time building temples, writing books, and chanting God’s names. Obviously this type of renunciation is reserved for the most advanced devotees, but their example is well worth noting. One who engages in devotional service gradually loses their taste for karmic life. This means that they automatically use less energy, pollute less, and have less material possessions. Any energy they do use is for God’s service, thus there is no waste or pollution.

Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami writing books Devotees of Krishna try to tackle the spiritual climate change problem. Due to the effects of Kali Yuga, more and more people are turning away from religion and becoming enchanted by various causes pertaining to the material world. If we take up the process of devotional service, we can benefit not only ourselves, but our fellow man as well. The highest welfare activity is the spreading of Krishna consciousness. The planet belongs to Krishna, thus it is not ours to save, maintain, or destroy. We can control the fate of our souls, however, and by regularly chanting God’s names, we can ensure that our soul returns back to home, back to Godhead.

Friday, May 21, 2010


Radha Krishna “So do not think that this movement is trying to convert you from Christian to Hindu. Remain a Christian, a Jew, a Muslim. It doesn't matter. But if you really want to perfect your life, then try to develop your dormant love for God. That is the perfection of life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, 5.1)

Comment: “I’ve read some of Prabhupada’s books and they are all just aimed at converting people to their philosophy. In this way they are no different than the Christian books or the missionaries who try to convert people to their own religion.”

Response: It is natural for people to view preachers of God consciousness with a little skepticism, taking them to be evangelists who are trying to get people to convert to their religion. After all, salesmen will try any technique to get us to buy their product, so religionists must be similar in this regard. However, there is a stark difference between the movement started by Lord Chaitanya five hundred years ago and some of the other popular forms of religious preaching. Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the holy names of God, doesn’t aim to convert anyone to any specific religion, but rather, it tries to help people become reacquainted with their forgotten occupation, an occupation which they are naturally inclined to. That occupational duty, or dharma, is known as love for God.

Lord Chaitanya As soon as you mention the word God, you introduce the concept of religion. As soon as religion is mentioned, people are apt to get defensive. “Such and such person is trying to convince us of some other philosophy, or they are trying to get me to abandon my current religion. What do they know anyway?” These sentiments are common because most people already believe in God, meaning that the majority of the world’s population is religious, or at least claims to be. One group claims they are Christians, while another follows the teachings of the Koran, while yet another claims to be Hindus. Each religion has certain beliefs and ideals that are exclusive to it, along with perfunctory regulations and rituals that the adherents observe.

Even though most of the world believes in God, we see that the primary occupations of man have little or nothing to do with God. To illustrate this point, we can do a quick study of the news media. Every day there are breaking stories on internet websites, in print newspapers, and on cable television about such and such breakthrough or study. “Caffeine will kill you; eating tomatoes cures cancer; you must sleep eight hours or you won’t live long, etc.” These stories interest us because who among us wouldn’t want to live longer? What many of us don’t realize, however, is that these stories don’t just come about on their own. There are loads of special interest groups who drive the news cycle. Essentially all you need is a organization with an acronym, an office, and a fax machine, and you can easily get your story circulated in the news.

There are literally thousands of these alphabet soup organizations. The ACLU, NRA, NOW, AFL-CIO, are some of the more prominent organizations who try to influence public policy. The Center for Science in the Public Interest is the organization that is responsible for driving many of the food-related news stories, such as certain cooking oils being bad for you, and the dangers the drinking soda pop. Since there are so many organizations out there, almost every trivial issue is covered. NOCIRC is one of the more intriguing organizations. Its full name is the National Organization of Circumcision Information Resource Centers, and its aim is to stop the practice of circumcision. Who could ever imagine such a thing? This illustrates the beauty of the freedom that exists for the living entities. In America especially, a person can grow up having a dream of stamping out the practice of circumcision, and that dream can be realized by creating a professional organization.

Though each one of these groups has targeted areas of interest, they share two things in common. The first thing is that since the members of these organizations all come from the general public, we can logically deduce that their members must be religious. There may be a heterogeneous mixture of religious affiliations, but it’s safe to assume that most of the members agree that God exists. This begs the question that if they are religious and believe in God, why are they taking up causes that have nothing to do with spirituality?

Lord Krishna Though the specific issues addressed by these organizations may warrant attention, they share a common bond in that they all deal with improving some material aspect of life. There are two energies at work in this world; the material and the spiritual. Something is considered material if it is related to matter. Any sane man can understand that matter is inferior to spirit. For example, our bodies are only useful as long as our soul resides within it. At the time of death, the soul exits the body, and then the deceased’s friends and family become sad. They realize that the person has left this world. The body remains right in front of them, however, so it is not matter that has exited, but rather, spirit. In Sanskrit, spirit is referred to as purusha, and matter as prakriti. Purusha can be considered to be male and prakriti to be female, hence spirit is the dominator of matter.

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

Religion exists to help the plight of the soul, and not the body. While it is certainly noble to search for cures for cancer, or to find ways to adjust our diets so that we can live longer, in the end, we are still destined to die. Religion is the discipline which helps us deal with the future well-being of the soul, a soul which is imperishable and unbreakable. It is precisely to benefit this soul that the Vaishnava preacher kindly petitions everyone to take up devotional service to God.

Vaishnava refers to a devotee of Lord Vishnu, or God. Lord Vishnu is an expansion of Lord Krishna, whom the Vedas tell us is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This all may seem dogmatic, but Krishna is the same God that everyone in the world worships. There can only be one God, meaning that the different religious faiths all worship the same Supreme Person. The Vedas give us a little further insight into God’s names, forms, qualities, and pastimes.

Shrila Prabhupada The Vaishnava preacher acknowledges that different faiths certainly do exist, but that people should still take up the sublime occupation of devotional service to the Lord. What does devotional service mean? It is the discipline that involves dovetailing all of our activities with service to the Lord. This discipline is not dogmatic or specific to any one particular religion. Most of the world claims to belong to a particular faith, which then means that they must believe in God. The Vaishnava preacher begs people to be true to their faith and not just be religionists in name only. Being religious means taking part in spiritual activities.

Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, asked everyone to simply chant God’s names in a loving way, as often as possible. To unite the whole world under one cause, He asked everyone to take up chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra is open to everyone, for it is not kept a secret. It doesn’t cost anything to chant, and there are no rules relating to when or where a person can recite this most sacred formula. Krishna and Rama are authorized names of God, and Hare addresses the Lord’s energy. Chanting isn’t limited to this mantra, however, for if people have their own authorized name of God, they can chant it and be equally benefitted.

Lord Chaitanya and associates chanting Hare Krishna Along with this chanting routine, Vaishnava preachers advise people to give up the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Meat eating, as it is done today through the use of slaughterhouses, certainly isn’t a religious activity. We are all God’s creatures, so we should do our best not to inflict unnecessary harm on any other forms of life. We can easily survive by eating the plentiful vegetarian food that exists. Meat eating is also bad for our karma, for if we rely on killing innocent animals, we are sure to suffer the same fate in the future. This principle isn’t exclusive to followers of the Vedas; any educated person can understand the concept of “as you sow so shall you reap.”

Intoxication is harmful for obvious reasons. Government leaders and community activists try very hard to get people to not drive when they are drunk. So many people die each year due to alcohol related traffic accidents. If intoxication impairs our driving, it most certainly affects other aspects of our life. In this regard, the Vedic authorities ask everyone to be dhira, or sober. A sober person has a better chance of understanding God and taking up service to Him.

Gambling is bad for us because it agitates our mind; it often involves playing a game for some material benefit. Illicit sex is similar in this regard, as sex is considered the highest material pleasure. These activities should be given up because they only seek to gratify the material senses. Religion is about advancement of the soul, or spirit. Spirit is the antithesis of matter; material sense gratification has no place in any serious religious discipline.

Radha and Krishna The dangers of the four pillars of sinful life are easy enough to understand. They aren’t specific to any religion either. Any sober person can understand that these activities are harmful for the plight of the soul. More than anything else, the Vaishnava preachers teach us the religion of love. “Learn about God, know Him, and ultimately use that knowledge to love Him.” This is a process that anyone can take up, without having to change their religious affiliation. If there is any “conversion” in all of this, it’s a conversion in relation to the object of worship. Instead of claiming to belong to a religious faith while continuing to worship matter through the various pet causes we take up, we would be better served to worship spirit instead. We are all spirit souls, but God is the supreme spirit, so our life is meant to be dedicated to Him. If we chant His name regularly and always think about Him, we will be happy and true to our beliefs.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


Sita Rama “My husband Rama is famous throughout the world. He is pure, truthful, and very gentle. He is mighty-armed, has wide eyes, and is always busy working for the welfare of all living beings [sarva-bhuta-hite-ratah].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.11)

There is no reason to be antagonistic towards God. He is kind, pure, truthful, and very merciful towards everyone. More than anything else, He is a friend to all. This means He views everyone equally, and doesn’t play favorites in relation to anyone’s fortunes and misfortunes. Therefore, there is no reason to hold any animosity towards Him or His devotees. Since God is so great, those who engage in His service, the devotees, also inherit His good qualities.

Lord Krishna - Shyamasundara In the above referenced quote, Sita Devi is describing the virtues of her husband, Lord Rama, to the Rakshasa demon Ravana, who appeared before her in the guise of a brahmana. The Vedas tell us that God is indeed a person and that His original form is that of Shyamasundra, the beautiful Lord Shri Krishna whose complexion is like that of a dark rain cloud. Krishna is always beautiful, and He always appears as a youth. Some people depict God as an old man, and while the Lord can certainly accept any form at will, the Vedas tell us that God is indeed the most beautiful person in all of the universes. He not only possesses beauty, but also every other admirable attribute known to man. Since He possesses all opulences to the fullest degree and at the same time, He is known as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

“Shukadeva Gosvami said: The son of Maharaja Khatvanga was Dirghabahu, and his son was the celebrated Maharaja Raghu. From Maharaja Raghu came Aja, and from Aja was born the great personality Maharaja Dasharatha.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.10.1)

Krishna directly expands Himself into various forms in order to enact pastimes and other transcendental activities. One of His most celebrated incarnations is that of Lord Rama, the prince of the Raghu dynasty. The Vedas give us the lineage of mankind for the first few generations starting from creation. Included in this list are the names of some of the earliest kings who appeared on earth. The first kings that ruled the earth all traced their lineage back to either the sun-god, Vivasvan, or the moon-god, Soma. Those following in the line of Vivasvan were deemed to be part of the solar dynasty. Maharaja Ikshvaku was the first king in this line, but many other famous kings followed, one of whom was Maharaja Raghu. To alleviate the burden put on the brahmanas of the time, Lord Krishna decided to descend to earth in human form as Lord Rama many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Rama was born in the dynasty of King Raghu, and was thus often referred to by the names of Raghava, Raghupati, and Raghuvira.

Sita Devi As part of His pastimes, the Lord travelled through the forests of India for fourteen years accompanied by His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana. Sita was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the goddess of fortune. Though God is one, He appoints many elevated living entities known as demigods to manage various departments of creation. Lakshmiji is in charge of doling out good fortune and wealth. Naturally, God is the richest person in the world and thus it shouldn’t surprise us that He is Lakshmi’s husband. In this way, we see that God is the greatest recipient of the fortunes bestowed by Lakshmi. In fact, all wealth and prosperity that exists in this world is intended to be used in God’s service, for this is exactly how Lakshmi views things.

Just as God is the most beautiful man, His wife is the most beautiful woman. In Sita Devi, the world saw first-hand the most beautiful woman to ever have lived. She was the eldest daughter of the King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka. As fate would have it, she would marry Rama after Janaka held a wonderful bow-lifting contest to decide her nuptials. While Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana were roaming the forests, they decided to set up camp in Janasthana. At the time, there was a Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana who had ascended to power. He had set up shop on the island of Lanka. Having tremendous fighting strength and great wealth, Ravana was a devout atheist. He had hundreds of wives, but one day he heard about this beautiful woman living in the forest of Janasthana with Rama. He hadn’t seen her personally, but just based on the descriptions given to him by his sister, Shurpanakha, Ravana made up his mind that he could not live for another moment without having Sita.

Up to this point in his life, Ravana had gotten everything he ever wanted. First he performed great austerities to please various demigods. Pleased with his tapasya, the devatas granted him extraordinary powers. Ravana used these powers to then conquer other demigods. His strength was so great that the devatas feared that he would soon rule the world. Rakshasas are rangers of the night, meaning they assume various shapes at will and terrorize the innocent. There is no one more innocent than a priest, or a devotee of God. At the time, the priests, or brahmanas, were living in the forests and performing austerities. The Rakshasas would sneak their way towards the sages, disrupt their sacrifices, and then kill and eat them.

It was also customary during this time for kings to quarrel with one another. To the victor go the spoils, and thus Ravana, after defeating many kings in battle, would carry away their wives as a reward for himself. In this way, he managed to marry hundreds of the most beautiful princes in the world. Yet simply by hearing of Sita’s grace and beauty, he immediately forgot about the other beautiful woman with whom he used to regularly cavort. Ravana was warned, however, that he would not be able to defeat Rama in battle or carry away His wife while in His presence. Therefore, Ravana set up a diversion whereby both Rama and Lakshmana would leave Sita by herself in the cottage.

Ravana approaching Sita Ravana’s diversion worked, as both Rama and Lakshmana went chasing after Ravana’s Rakshasa friend, Maricha, who had assumed the guise of a deer. Still, Ravana knew he couldn’t approach Sita in his original ghastly form, which consisted of ten heads. Therefore he assumed the guise of a mendicant and humbly approached Sita, who was by herself. Sita Devi, who was a perfect person in all regards, immediately offered the brahmana some nice food and a place to sit. Ravana then propositioned her, and in response, Sita identified herself and gave a brief summary of her current circumstances.

Sita was a little disturbed by the mendicant’s advances, so she made sure to quickly inform her guest about her husband. In the above referenced statement, we see that Sita identified Rama as having all good qualities. Not only were these statements of fact, but they were also intended to let the brahmana know that there was no reason for there to be any enmity or confrontation. In essence, Sita was saying, “My husband possesses all good qualities. He is a friend to all, so He will certainly give you whatever you want. There is no need for any hostility or any breaking of the rules of propriety.” This message applies not only to Ravana, but to all of us.

Sometimes bad things happen to us, and at the same time, we see good things happen to others. Sometimes even the impious seem to have everything go right for them. In these instances, we may become angry with God. “I’ve done everything the right way for You, but I get nothing out of it. Others, who don’t even believe in You, acquire wealth, fame, beauty, and prosperity. Why have You abandoned me and rewarded the miscreants?” From Ravana’s example, we see that the acquisition of material wealth doesn’t necessarily mean that God has granted any particular favors.

Lakshmana This particular scene in the Dandaka forest makes for an interesting study. On one side, we have Ravana, a miscreant who had no problem killing sages and kidnapping women. He also possessed extraordinary wealth and power. On the other side, we have Sita and Lakshmana, two of the most pious people to ever have lived. Yet all that their dedication to dharma got them was banishment from their kingdom of Ayodhya. In essence, they were wandering around the world like homeless people. So who was more fortunate, Ravana or Sita and Lakshmana?

Obviously the correct answer is that Sita and Lakshmana were more fortunate because they were directly in God’s association. Ravana’s material life was essentially a mirage, for he would lose everything after he kidnapped Sita. Rama, Lakshmana, Hanuman, and Sugriva’s army of Vanaras would eventually march to Lanka, destroy the city, and kill Ravana in the process. Ravana lived what appeared to be a charmed life, but in the end, his uncontrolled senses did him in.

Shri Rama Darbar The lesson here is that God is certainly nice to us, and especially to His devotees. Lord Chaitanya tells us that there is no difference between God and His names and forms. This means that simply by thinking of Krishna, or one of His direct expansions like Lord Rama, we get direct association with God. This is the highest benediction in life. This gift is so valuable that one cannot put a price tag on it. As Sita Devi states, God is of pure character. Those who regularly associate with Him also become purified. In this age, if we constantly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can rest assured that God will always be with us.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Pious Credits

Krishna's lotus feet “O Narada, because I have caught hold of the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, with great zeal, whatever I say has never proved to have been false. Nor is the progress of my mind ever deterred. Nor are my senses ever degraded by temporary attachment to matter.” (Lord Brahma, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.6.34)

Acting in a pious manner can go a long way towards earning respect and praise from others. “No good deed goes unpunished” is a famous aphorism, but we see that more times than not, virtuous deeds reward the performer with prestige and honor. In one sense, it’s almost as if each noble act allows a person to accumulate merits that can later be cashed in for favors and other perks. This theory holds true not only in material life, but with respect to God as well.

“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)

Lord Krishna Most of us realize that we are flawed and that we are sinners. “To ere is human” is how the saying goes, so we realize that we are prone to committing mistakes. The Vedas tell us that man actually has four defects he inherits at the time of birth: the propensity to cheat, to commit mistakes, to have imperfect senses, and to be easily illusioned. Even the most deluded of people realize that they are not perfect. This realization leads many of us to constantly examine and assess our behavior. We often look to the example set by others to determine how we should act. The virtuous set a good example that we can learn from. As the saying goes, “He who hesitates is lost”, most of us don’t like to be unsure in our actions. We want to adopt a certain path in life and stick to it. It is much easier to follow the path set by the virtuous than it is to create our own path and then doubt the decisions that we make.

The virtuous achieve their standing in society based on the deeds they have performed. Once people recognize a person as honest, pure, truthful, and pious, that person then assumes a respected status. This status allows the virtuous to be taken seriously and it also makes it harder to argue against them. A perfect example of this was seen with Bill Bennett, the former Secretary of Education in the 1980s. Known as a pious individual, Bennett even authored an anthology called The Book of Virtues. Since he had a specific political affiliation, politicians of opposing political parties viewed Bennett as a major threat to them. Anytime Bennett would criticize someone, it would be very hard for anyone to counter his arguments due to his respected status.

When it was later discovered that Bill Bennett had a major addiction to gambling, political opponents breathed a sigh of relief. The benefits of Bennett’s pious deeds immediately became exhausted. He turned out to be flawed after all, and his transgressions cost him his exalted status. This proves that pious activity and virtuous deeds can only take us so far. If we don’t use our accumulated merit for the right purposes, our fame and stature can quickly deteriorate. Another example of this principle in action was seen many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga.

For a period of time during that age, the city of Ayodhya was ruled by Maharaja Dasharatha. He was a very pious king belonging to one of the most famous dynasties in history, the Ikshvakus. As was customary during that time, Dasharatha had three wives. His youngest wife, Kaikeyi, was pious and virtuous. Dasharatha was also very attracted to her, so much so that he brought her along one time during a battle with the asuras. During those times, kings belonged to the warrior caste, meaning they were all expert fighters. Similar to how George Washington, a general and war hero himself, served as America’s first President, the great war heroes of the past served as the kings.

Dasharatha with Kaikeyi As King of Ayodhya, Dasharatha’s duty was to fight against the asuras, or demons. According to the Vedic definition, the king is the representative of God on earth, meaning he is to be chivalrous and committed to dharma. Asuras are atheistic in nature, and they view those adhering to dharma as their enemies. For this reason, there has been an ongoing war between the devotees of God and the asuras since the beginning of time. During one particular battle, Dasharatha was wounded, and Kaikeyi had the good sense to remove him from the battlefield. Since she saved his life, Dasharatha granted her any two boons of her choosing. Being a smart lady, Kaikeyi held onto those boons so she could use them at a more opportune time. The perfect opportunity presented itself on the eve of the coronation of Lord Rama, Dasharatha’s eldest son.

As Lord Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita, He personally appears on earth from time to time to annihilate the miscreants and protect the devotees. During the Treta Yuga, one Rakshasa demon in particular was wreaking havoc throughout the world. To alleviate the distressful situation, God came to earth in the guise of a human being. Taking birth as the eldest son of King Dasharatha and Queen Kausalya, God’s incarnation was known by the name of Rama, for He gave pleasure to everyone He met. Dasharatha was more attached to Rama than anyone else, so he decided one day to install Him as the next king. Along with Rama, Dasharatha had three other younger sons who took birth from his two other wives. Lakshmana and Shatrughna were born to Queen Sumitra, and Bharata was born to Queen Kaikeyi.

Kaikeyi Just prior to Rama’s coronation, Kaikeyi demanded that Bharata be given the throne instead. She also insisted that Rama be sent to live in the forest for fourteen years, so as to make sure that Bharata’s initial reign as king would go on without any interference. Dasharatha really had no choice in the matter. As committed to dharma as he was, he was forced to accede to Kaikeyi’s requests. During those times, a king’s word was taken very seriously. If a king lied, he immediately became unworthy of his post. This makes sense because people will naturally follow the example of their government leaders. A government’s primary duty is to provide protection and to punish criminals. If the king himself doesn’t tell the truth, how can he punish others who commit the same crime?

“Bringing my father-in-law under control by means of her virtuous deeds, Kaikeyi begged of that truthful, best of monarchs, two boons; namely the exile of my husband into the woods and the installation of Bharata. Kaikeyi said, ‘I shall never eat, drink, or sleep. I will end my life if Rama is installed.’ Kaikeyi speaking thus, that lord of earth, my father-in-law, begged her to accept diverse riches instead, but Kaikeyi did not agree. At the time, my husband, the highly-effulgent Rama, was twenty-five years old, and I was eighteen.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.7-10)

Sita Devi After Dasharatha agreed to Kaikeyi’s demands, Rama left for the forest along with His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. In the above referenced quote, Sita is explaining to Ravana how she ended up in the forest. After creating a diversion which sent both Rama and Lakshmana away from their cottage, Ravana, assuming the guise of a brahmana, approached Sita and asked her to identify herself. We see that Kaikeyi indeed performed virtuous deeds in her past, but that she used the merit accumulated from such deeds for nefarious purposes. Rama was loved and adored by all; moreover, He was the rightful heir to the throne. Bharata himself was mortified when he found out what his mother had done. Sita also was completely blameless, but she too was forced to live in the forest as a result of Kaikeyi’s deeds.

“O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.27)

The lesson here is that being virtuous is certainly a good thing, but that ultimately it can’t lead to perfection unless such activity is directed towards Lord Krishna, or God. The results of our good and bad deeds eventually expire, and we are left to start over again. In order to achieve perfection in life, we should aim our good deeds towards God’s service. This type of activity is known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, so not only does pleasing Him cause an accrual of spiritual merits, but it also gives us everlasting happiness.

Lord Hanuman, Lord Rama’s great devotee, is an example of a person who dedicated his pious activities to God and achieved perfection as a result. Right after Sita spoke to Ravana, the demon kidnapped her and took her to his island kingdom of Lanka. Later on, it would be Hanuman who would leap across the ocean all the way to Lanka and find Sita. He then served as one of Rama’s chief warriors in His battle against Ravana, which ultimately led to the demon’s death and the rescue of Sita. Rama was very pleased with Hanuman’s service to him. Unlike Kaikeyi, Hanuman didn’t waste his spiritual merits on temporary material things. He only wanted eternal love and devotion to Rama, and the Lord granted his wish.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama Virtue is its own reward. In the spiritual world, pure love is known as prema, which means loving without any expectation of result. This is the real meaning of love and surrender. “God, I do everything for You because I love You. You can offer me nice rewards as a result, but I’m only interested in continuing my service to You, forever.” This is the mood of the pure devotees like Hanuman, Sita, Lakshmana, Radharani, Prahlada, and countless others. The path to perfection has already been laid out for us by the great devotees of the past, so we simply need to follow in their footsteps.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Wall of Separation

Lord Krishna “A faithful man who is absorbed in transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.39)

In America, it is believed that there exists a separation between church and state, and as such many people are proud of the fact that religion is not mixed in with government. “The government cannot promote any religion, nor can they talk about it in the public arena. This ensures that all viewpoints are respected when it comes to religion or irreligion.” This mindset has led to an increase in secularism, especially in the national school system. Since there are no religious doctrines discussed with impressionable young students, people feel this system is an ideal representation of religious freedom. “No one becomes offended and no one is forced to hear about religion.” In reality, this is not possible. Secularism is itself a form of religion, except that it is fatally flawed since it is a man-made religion. Since real religion is something which descends from God, any system which neglects God’s instructions will inherently be flawed. The people who follow such concocted systems will suffer greatly as a result.

Constitutional convention The separation of church and state is itself an erroneous concept. The Founding Fathers of the United States were very religious people and the land of America itself was founded on the concept of religious freedom. In the 17th century, the Pilgrims fled England since they couldn’t practice their religion freely and openly. If we study human history, we will see that there have been countless instances where governments forced people to follow a certain religious doctrine. If citizens didn’t swear allegiance to a specific scripture or faith, they would suffer the consequences. Many times citizens were killed if they didn’t abandon their own religious practices.

"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..." (First Amendment to the United States Constitution)

The issue of religion weighed heavily on the minds of the framers of the Constitution. They wanted to have a government which recognized God’s supremacy, but at the same time didn’t force people to participate in any particular religion. Thus they included the Establishment Clause in the Constitution. It states that Congress, meaning the government, can make no law establishing a national religion. This stipulation makes a lot of sense, for even followers of the Vedic tradition believe in this. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead as declared by the Vedas, expounded on the truths of Vedanta philosophy while on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. This famous discourse presented to Krishna’s cousin and disciple, Arjuna, is chronicled in the Bhagavad-gita. At the conclusion of His teachings, Lord Krishna put the onus on Arjuna as it related to adhering to the instructions.

“Lord Brahma heard the occult sound tapa, but he did not see the person who vibrated the sound. And still he accepted the instruction as beneficial for him, and therefore he engaged himself in meditation for one thousand celestial years.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.8 Purport)

Lord Brahma God doesn’t force us to follow any religious system. The Vedas themselves were first handed down to Lord Brahma, the first created living entity, through the medium of the heart. Brahma wasn’t forced to accept these instructions, but rather he chose to contemplate on them for a long time. This meditation helped Brahma finally realize the presence of the Lord and His greatness. So we see that taking up dharma, or one’s occupational duty, is most certainly a choice, for that is how the material world works. The spirit soul is meant to associate with God, but through desires for fruitive activity, it comes to this material world where it suffers through birth, old age, disease, and death. Religion is God’s mercy upon us, a way to help us return to His spiritual kingdom. More than anything else, religion is put in place not to punish, but rather, to help us understand and love God.

Pure love for God is known as Krishna-prema, and it is nothing like the lusty affairs that exist in the material world. Krishna-prema is pure because it is directed at the supreme pure, Lord Krishna. The love exchanged between God and His devotees is not checked by any forces, meaning there is no requirement for reciprocation. In our own life, we may fall in love with someone and remain attached to them for a while, but should they repeatedly cross us, that love soon turns to hate. Love for Krishna does not work this way. Krishna-prema involves complete surrender; the devotee remains attached to the Lord no matter what the situation. The Lord can send the devotee to heaven or hell, but the love remains the same.

The bona fide religious systems are those which teach the living entities how to awaken their dormant love for God. For true love to exist, it must be voluntarily practiced on both sides. As we all know, we can’t force anyone else to love us, no matter how hard we may try. The relationship between God and the living entities is similar in this regard. God is certainly the supreme controller, ishvara, but He has no control over the feelings and desires of the living entities. We are minute spirit sparks that are similar in quality to the Lord, thus we also have our own form of independence. We are free to act however we wish. Religion [dharma], in the form of the Vedas, was passed down by God to help us reconnect with Him. The Vedas represent a set of guidelines and recommendations for people to follow, especially those who are interested in spiritual life. Nevertheless, adherence to the shastras, or religious law codes, is completely voluntary. Those who ignore the suggestions of the Vedas certainly have to suffer, while those who follow religion enjoy the results that come from associating with God. Nevertheless, there is still no force applied by God. Though dharma is an occupational duty which never changes, the acceptance of this duty remains our choice.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…” (President George Washington, Thanksgiving Day 1789, A Proclamation)

George Washington The Founding Fathers wanted to make sure that religious freedom was protected. Whatever bona fide faith people wanted to follow, they would be allowed to do so. The first President of the United States, George Washington, was a highly religious man. His 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation is more of a religious sermon than it is a political speech. If such a speech were given by a President today, they would surely be tarred and feathered and investigated for breaching separation of church and state. The whole concept of a separation between church and state didn’t come about until many years after the founding of the country. In a famous 1947 Supreme Court case, a few judges, who no doubt had personal objections to hearing about religion, decided to take advantage of a letter written by Thomas Jefferson in 1802, which contained the term “wall of separation between church and state”, as a way to describe the famous Establishment Clause. These judges decided that Jefferson’s words in the letter were the best way to interpret the First Amendment, thus turning the Establishment Clause into something that it never was intended to be; a ban on discussion of religion in public.

“There are 900,000 species living in the water. There are also 2,000,000 non-moving living entities (sthavara) such as trees and plants. There are also 1,100,000 species of insects and reptiles, and there are 1,000,000 species of birds. As far as quadrupeds are concerned there are 3,000,000 varieties, and there are 400,000 human species." (Vishnu Purana)

Lord Krishna As a result of these decisions, secularism is now the mainstay of the American school system. Public schools are not allowed to teach about religion in any way, and many people laud this concept as being ideal. But in reality, people are most certainly taught a religious system; one that is concocted by man. What kinds of things are taught? Students are told that, as a matter of established fact, the universe was created with a “big bang”, a random collision of elements which sprung forth the sun and all the other planets. Life came soon after that on its own. The latest theories presented as facts are global warming and evolution. Any person who does any concrete studies of these theories will find that they have no basis in fact. For example, the theory of evolution states that man evolved from the apes. If that is the case, why are there still apes? Even if a few “intelligent” apes somehow caused their species to evolve, scientists are unable to explain how or why this evolution took place. They ascribe everything to chance, or the involuntary mechanisms of nature.

“This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.10)

Global warming has recently been exposed to be a complete farce, driven by political motives more than anything else. Even the global warming proponents never passed the theory off as concrete science, for they always declared that a “consensus of scientists now believe in it”. For something to be established science, there must be a hypothesis that is proved beyond a shadow of a doubt through controlled experiments. Any person with a modicum of intelligence can understand that no such tests can be performed in relation to the weather and man’s affect on it. Real science is not something that is up for a vote.

What has the secular school system produced? For starters, students graduate from school having no aim or purpose in life. Mathematics, science, reading, and geography certainly can be taught without any spiritual bent, but other than that, students aren’t given any real education. They are not taught about the existence of the soul, nor are they taught about the meaning of life. Instead, they are given information about various isms, such as communism, socialism, capitalism, racism, multi-culturalism, etc. There is no mention of moral codes. The idea is that one should satisfy their senses as much as possible. Should they run into trouble, they can practice safe sex or even get abortions.

“That very ancient science of the relationship with the Supreme is today told by Me to you because you are My devotee as well as My friend; therefore you can understand the transcendental mystery of this science.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.3)

Shrila Prabhupada Secularism doesn’t really help anyone. Since it is a man-made religion, its followers don’t see any tangible benefits. By itself, the human brain is not capable of understanding higher concepts relating to the soul and the existence of a Creator. Thus the only way to take in bona fide spiritual information is through the disciplic succession process, wherein religious information descends from spiritual leader to spiritual leader in a chain. The origin of this chain is God, for the Vedas come directly from Him. The solution to all of our problems in life is to take up a bona fide religion and abide by its principles.

In this age, following religion is easier said than done. In an ideal system, people are taught about religion in the early stages of life. Young children have a lot of energy and this helps them better take in knowledge. The Vedas tell us that this life is meant for tapasya, or austerity. By curbing the influence of the gross senses, we can live a sober life. Those who are in control of their senses, dhira, can understand who God is and what their relationship is with Him. As we advance in age, we become more set in our ways, thus making it more difficult to make drastic changes to our way of life. If we didn’t practiced tapasya in our youth, it is almost impossible to take it up as adults.

Bearing all this in mind, the Supreme Lord has made the path to spiritual perfection much easier in this age. The only bona fide religious system for the Kali Yuga is sankirtana, or the congregational chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. God is one, but He has many names. Krishna and Rama are two of His most important names which any person can chant. If a person belongs to the Christian, Muslim, or Jewish faith, there is no offense committed by chanting Hare Krishna, for love knows no boundaries.

Maharishi Valmiki The great Vaishnava acharyas advise us to chant as much as possible, and at the same time, refrain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. This system actually provides the best education because by regularly connecting with God, we develop an attachment for Him. There is no difference between God and the books which describe Him. This means that if we have an attachment for Krishna, we’ll develop a hankering to read about His activities found in the famous books such as the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita, and Puranas. The knowledge found in these books far exceeds that received from any secular school system.

If we study the lives of some of the great Vaishnava saints, we’ll see that they were all extremely intelligent. Simply by becoming dedicated servants of Krishna, they acquired all the necessary knowledge to be successful in life. We too can become just as smart, but first we must tear down whatever wall exists between us and Krishna.

Monday, May 17, 2010


Sita Devi “Living in the kingdom of the Ikshvakus for twelve years, I enjoyed every delight imaginable to human beings and had all my desires fulfilled. Upon the thirteen year, the king invited all his ministers to an assembly to discuss the installation of Rama as the new king. When it was thus decided in that assembly that Rama would succeed His father as king, my respectable mother-in-law, Kaikeyi, begged for a boon from her husband.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.4-6)

In this world, one of the most beautiful relationships is the one between a mother and her child. The mother-son relationship is particularly strong because the mother views herself as the protector of her helpless son. With good mothers, this attitude continues throughout the child’s life, no matter the age. On the flip side of things, the relationship between the son’s wife and the son’s mother is usually one of the most contentious. The friction that exists between a wife and her mother-in-law has formed the basis of much comedy, playing on the stereotype of the relationship. As tough as this relationship usually is, there was no such friction between Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, and her three mother-in-laws.

Dasharatha's wives with children Yes, that is correct. Sita Devi had three mother-in-laws since Lord Rama technically had three mothers. During ancient Vedic times, the governments were run by kshatriyas. Kshatriya kings were known as rajas, and they lived in the mode of passion. Vedic information tells us that all the activities of living entities can be classified into one of three distinct modes: goodness, passion, or ignorance. Goodness is represented by acts of knowledge, i.e. studying the Vedas and working towards the emancipation of the soul. Passion refers to fruitive activity, or karma, aimed at procuring various boons and results which bear fruit either in this life or the next. Ignorance is any activity which lacks both goodness and passion.

The government’s foremost duty is to provide protection to the citizens. Therefore certain qualities are required of the people who are to provide this protection. Just as any job has a certain skill-set required for success, the job of a kshatriya, or protector, requires one to be brave, strong, courageous, and an expert fighter. These qualities usually aren’t found in people in the mode of goodness, the brahmanas. The brahmanas, or priests, are non-violent by nature due to the fact that they understand the non-duality that exists between living entities. There has been a strong push for equality amongst genders and races in recent times, but the Vedas go one step further by telling us that there is indeed equality amongst all living entities. Constitutionally, there is no difference between human beings and animals. Animals have the same type of soul as human beings because there are actually no differences between the souls of living entities. God is the supreme soul, Paramatma, and we living entities are all jivatmas, minute or ordinary souls.

Arjuna - an ideal kshatriya Since brahmanas understand the equality amongst all living entities, they are not inclined to be violent towards anyone. Also, brahmanas have specific prescribed duties they must perform, which include studying the Vedas, teaching others Vedic wisdom, performing sacrifices for Lord Vishnu, teaching others how to perform sacrifices, and giving and accepting charity. In order to be qualified to perform these tasks, one must go through years of training from a guru, or spiritual master. This means that brahmanas don’t have the time to practice the military arts. Kshatriyas are well-suited for providing protection because they are in the mode of passion. Since they are strong and more prone to physical activity, they are better suited to fight off enemies. Being in the mode of passion has a few drawbacks however. The mode of passion means satisfying the desires of the gross senses, the strongest of which is the desire for sex. The Vedas exist so that mankind can adhere to a set of law codes that will enable their souls to return back home, back to God’s spiritual kingdom after death. The desire for sex is the hardest to control and therefore also represents the biggest hindrance towards spiritual advancement. Sex life is essentially a temporary and illusory form of sense gratification, and it can be very addictive. Those who are attached to sex life are forced to repeatedly take birth in the material world, for life itself can’t exist without sex.

Since kshatriyas are in the mode of passion, it is much more difficult for them to control their sexual urges than it is, say, for the brahmanas, who are in the mode of goodness. Due to this fact, kshatriyas are allowed to marry more than once in order to satisfy their sexual urges. In this way, sex life is sanctioned, but it still remains regulated. On the surface this may seem strange to us. “The Vedas allow for polygamy? Isn’t that for freaks and weirdos?” If the wife remains completely protected by the husband, then this sort of marriage system is actually okay. The other benefit to this system is that it reduces the likelihood of illicit sex because there will be less unmarried women in society. We see that famous rock stars, athletes, actors and actresses today are constantly finding themselves in trouble due to marital infidelity and other problems related to illicit sex. In fact, studies show that one of the best ways to avoid being in poverty is to wait until after you are married to have children, i.e. abstinence until marriage.

Dasharatha with wives The Vedas define illicit sex as any sexual activity that occurs outside the bonds of marriage and also outside of the desire for progeny. Kshatriya kings would often have many wives but they would only engage in sexual activity for the purpose of having children. In this way, even people in the mode of passion could make spiritual advancement. The first king on earth was Maharaja Ikshvaku, the son of Manu, the first man on earth. There are two famous dynasties of kings; one starting from the sun-god and the other starting from the moon-god. Ikshvaku was the originator of the solar dynasty since his father was the son of Surya, the sun-god. Ikshvaku set the standard for good government and administration. His descendants became known as the Ikshvakus and they all followed his example of chivalry and dedication to providing protection.

Therefore it was no accident that when Lord Krishna, God Himself, decided to appear on earth many thousands of years ago, He did so in the Ikshvaku family. Known as Rama, the Lord was the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. Rama took a vow to only accept one wife. His one wife was no ordinary woman either, for she was Sita Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Narayana. Lord Vishnu is also known as Lord Narayana, Krishna’s four-handed form who resides in the spiritual planets of Vaikuntha. Though Rama accepted only one wife, His father had three: Kausalya, Sumitra, and Kaikeyi. Kausalya was Rama’s birth mother, but the Lord treated all of Dasharatha’s wives with the same level of respect. So in this regard, Sita Devi inherited three mother-in-laws at the time of her marriage.

The reason for the friction that occurs between mothers and the wives of their sons is quite obvious. The mother views herself as the ultimate caretaker of the son. She not only bore the child in her womb for nine months, but she nurtured the child through the early years. A good mother, or parent for that matter, is one who doesn’t care about being liked or disliked. They will lay down the law and nag and pester their kids to do the right thing no matter what. Sometimes, kids will become frustrated with their parents or even hate them at times but, in the end, they grow up to appreciate and respect them. The love that a mother shows towards her son never ends. Even if the son reaches adulthood, the giving of instruction and advice never stops. However, when the son gets married, the natural order of things gets shifted a little.

Mother Kausalya with Lord Rama For the son, the wife is a replacement for the mother in a lot of ways. The Vedas provide clear and defined roles for the husband and wife in a marriage. The husband is required to protect the wife completely, and the wife is to serve and honor the husband as her primary deity. Marriage is known as a religious institution, grihastha ashrama, meaning it is meant to help both parties make spiritual advancement. When there is a lack of adherence to dharma, the senses tend to act uncontrollably. This leads a person away from God. Therefore there is a specific dharma assigned to both the man and woman so that they can control their senses while being married. The mother of the husband naturally will feel a little threatened when her son gets married. The wife now becomes the primary caretaker, thus diminishing the mother’s influence. But a good mother will never stop loving her son; therefore she will not hesitate to give advice to the daughter-in-law. This can cause great friction because the wife is essentially being told what to do by a complete stranger. Also, she can’t get into arguments with the mother-in-law because that will upset the husband.

In Sita Devi’s situation, the potential for problems was compounded by the fact that she had three mother-in-laws. Yet from the above referenced statement, we see that her first twelve years of marriage were completely blissful. How was this possible? Sita was a pure devotee right from her birth. Though she never studied under a guru, she could actually teach anyone about the Vedas and the proper duties of a man and woman. She treated all of Rama’s mothers with love and respect and never had any friction with them. They all loved her and treated her like their own daughter.

This harmony existed because Sita was not only a great devotee, but she was living with God. The spiritual world is our natural home. Currently we are travelling in a foreign land, and the worst part about our trip is that we don’t know when it will end. Thankfully for us, Krishna and His bona fide representatives come to rescue us. The Vedas emanate from Krishna, thus they are non-different from Him. The various rules and regulations exist so that one can take the necessary steps to return back to the spiritual world. The devotees are pure liberated souls, meaning they can help others get out of the clutches of maya, or illusion.

Sita and Rama True happiness only comes through association with God. This is what we can take away from Sita Devi’s description of the early years of her marriage. In fact, when Rama was later forced into exile, Sita insisted on accompanying Him. While living in the forest, Sita was equally as happy since she was with God. If we commit ourselves to taking up devotional service, we too can always be happy and look back on our time on earth with the same fondness that Sita did in regards to her early years of marriage.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Self Help

Lord Krishna “By the grace of the Lord, those who have lost their self-knowledge since time immemorial, and who because of this ignorance are involved in a material, conditional life full of miseries, obtain the chance to meet the Lord's devotee. I accept that Supreme Personality of Godhead as the supreme spiritual master.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 8.24.46)

Self-help books sell very well in the bookstores. The self-help gurus who appear on television are also successful in selling their products and systems. This is because most of us are unhappy and we’re looking for ways to find peace of mind. To meet this demand, others have created varieties of self-improvement programs and regimens aimed at getting us out of our funk. Yet we can understand that these systems ultimately fail to deliver on their promises due simply to the fact that so many systems exist. For real help, we need to consult the authoritative scriptures passed down from Lord Krishna, God Himself.

The reason most of us are unhappy is because we’ve run out of things that provide us joy. The “unhappy” can generally be categorized into two groups. First there are those who have failed to achieve their life’s goals. Either they wanted great wealth and fame, or they wanted to have a nice spouse and family to come home to, but neither of these materialized in the end. This left them terminally unhappy, constantly bemoaning their condition. The other group consists of people who have achieved what they wanted in life. They have everything they need and want; from material possessions to familial relationships. Though they worked hard to get where they are in life, they are still left wanting more. “What is the point to life? I have everything I ever wanted, but I’m still unhappy.” This is often the case with famous celebrities, especially musicians and movie stars.

Metallica at Donington The VH1 television show, Behind the Music, was very popular during the late 1990s. The show chronicled the ups and downs of famous artists and musicians throughout history. Though the actual names and circumstances were different in each case, the stories were almost always the same. A band went from obscurity to worldwide fame in a very short period of time. Inevitably certain members of the band took to drugs and alcohol as a way of life. Sex and drugs are the two things most commonly associated with rock n roll. Several great musicians of the past have died as a result of their drug and alcohol addiction. Fans are then left wondering how something like that could happen. Members of famous rock bands feel a thrill that most of us will never feel. They stand on stage and play to thousands of adoring fans who hang on their every move and word. Rock stars have millions of dollars in the bank and beautiful women throwing themselves at them. How could anyone be unhappy living such a lifestyle?

As celebrities soon find out, fame and fortune aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. In the end, the rich and famous find themselves in the same boat as those who have failed to achieve their dreams. Everyone is left wanting something else in life, the missing piece of the puzzle. When we are down in the dumps, what solutions do we try? In reality, we try anything and everything. The local bookstores are filled with books about how to think positively and how to be successful in life. Each person has their own specific ideas. “You must write down the ten things you like about yourself…You must do these five things to be successful in business…You must follow this diet plan to improve your self-esteem.”

Bookstores Self-help gurus don’t limit themselves to the bookshelves. They are all over the television networks, especially during the odd-hours of the day when infomercials run. Some of the people selling these programs are just sheer hustlers who are out to exploit the innocent public. They know that people are unhappy so they put together testimonials and other hype that aim to lure the customer into thinking they will be happy. There are others, however, who are genuine in their desire to help. They themselves were once unhappy and down in the dumps. They developed some plan on their own which ultimately led to an improved conditioned. Being unselfish, these people then took to helping others solve the same problems.

These self-help programs can surely provide some short-term relief. This is especially true of the exercise regimens. Most of us feel like we could stand to lose a few pounds, so we don’t shy away from trying various exercise programs. The successful programs are those that incorporate both an exercise regimen and a strict dieting routine. For those who are obese, following these guidelines isn’t easy. It requires hard work and dedication to lose weight and become fit. In the end, those who are successful in achieving the body they want are surely better off for it. They feel energized and their self-esteem also goes up.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 14.7)

Lord Krishna The problem with all of these programs is that they only provide short-term relief to our unhappiness. That is the inherent nature of the mode of passion, rajo-guna. Passion is born of desire, and the Vedas tell us that material desire can never be satisfied. The mode of passion can be thought of in this light. Picture a man stuck in a ditch with no access to food except for a tree which hangs right above him. Little by little, the tree provides drops of nectar. Each time the stranded man receives this nectar, he is satisfied for a little bit. But after a while, he immediately looks back to the tree and eagerly awaits the next drop of food. In essence, the nectar is merely an illusion, for it never provides complete satisfaction. It repeatedly tempts the person in the ditch and tricks them into thinking that the next drop will the one that will take away all of their suffering.  The person in the ditch essentially forgets about trying to get out of their precarious condition, for they become enamored with the trickling nectar.

This is the nature of the material world, which is governed by maya. Those of us who strictly engage in the mode of passion become subject to this illusion. The only permanent way out is to take to suddha-sattva, or pure goodness. Above the three modes of material nature, pure goodness means connecting directly with God. This is the recommendation put forth by Vedic authority, which is the original self-help system. God knew that we would be unhappy here, so He passed down a set of codes and guidelines to be followed to allow us to achieve transcendental happiness. Hence the Vedas originate from God, and thus represent perfect knowledge.

People might scoff at this suggestion of turning to religion. “I just want to be happy. I don’t want to get all religious. There are so many different religions out there, and I’m not a very spiritual person.” In actuality, all the self-help systems out there are each their own manufactured form of religion. There is the self-help guru, who represents a spiritual master type person, or even a god. There is the self-help book or video which is a form of scripture. There are set guidelines that must be followed and stages that one must go through; these represent sacraments. There are also things that are to be avoided, i.e. sins. No religion would be complete without the promise of an ideal life of happiness at the end, the panacea that we all dream about.

Parampara system The problem with these religions is that they are all concocted by man. As we all know, to ere is human, meaning that the human mind is not capable of coming up with a perfect knowledge system. The Vedas represent real knowledge because they come directly from Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The great Vedic authors didn’t invent any system, but rather just wrote down and memorized the information as they heard it from their spiritual master, who in turn heard it from their spiritual master and so on. This is how the parampara system, or disciplic succession, works. A bona fide religious system is one that can trace its lineage back to God.

Radha Krishna One may argue against the authenticity of the Vedas. “There are so many religions out there who claim to be bona fide, how do I know the Vedas are superior?” The great Vedic spiritual masters never decry any religious system, for the end-goal should always be the same; knowing and loving God. Any religious system which helps one rekindle their forgotten relationship with the Supreme Lord is a bona fide one. God is one. There cannot be a God for one group of people and a different God for another group. There are different religions out there today, each having their own specific doctrines, but none of them really describe the Lord’s attributes. This is where the Vedas are unique. They tell us that the Lord is a person who has names, forms, and spiritual attributes. He enacts specific pastimes for the benefit of others.

Not only do the Vedas tell us what God looks like, but they also tell us what our relationship with Him is. God is great and we are His subordinates. The sooner we realize this, the better. This doesn’t mean that we become slaves held against our will by an angry God. On the contrary, the Vedas tell us that Lord Krishna is the nicest and most merciful person, and that we should voluntarily agree to become His loving servant. This fact unlocks the secret to life. We can only become truly happy when we realize that we are not meant to imitate God. The Lord has the shoulders of a lion and can thus carry any burden. Constantly hankering and lamenting is not our natural condition; we are meant to be eternally happy living in God’s company.

So how do we become servants of God? What does it mean to have a loving relationship with the Lord? The Vedas tell us to engage in bhakti yoga, or devotional service. This is the original self-help system. When we engage in the mode of passion, we perform activities aimed at pleasing our senses. Devotional service involves performing similar activities but for the benefit of the Supreme Lord. This means that we can chant, dance, read books, offer prayers, sing songs, worship the deity, etc., and be participating in pure spiritual activities. The key is to spend time with Krishna. There is no difference between God and His names, forms, and pastimes. Thus simply by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can spend time with God.

Narasimhadeva with Prahlada For the conditioned soul, devotional service represents the start of spiritual life. Those who take it up quickly make it a full-time occupation. Unlike other self-help programs, devotional service is something that is never given up, for it is the eternal occupation of the soul. So why not take up this sublime engagement? It may just turn out to be the last self-help program we ever try.