Saturday, May 29, 2010

Destroyer of Foes

Lakshmana “Lakshmana, who is His [Rama’s] brother from a different mother, is very powerful. That tiger among men is Rama's assistant and the destroyer of enemies in battle. His brother named Lakshmana follows the Vedic principles with firm determination. Carrying a bow in his hand, he has renounced his home in order to follow Rama along with myself.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.18-19)

These statements were uttered by Sita Devi under very trying circumstances, but we see that she never missed an opportunity to praise Rama, or His younger brother Lakshmana. In the Vedic tradition, the wife of an elder brother is treated with reverence. She is known as bhabhi in Hindi, and the younger siblings touch her feet and honor her since she is considered to be equal to the elder brother. The Vedas teach us to view all women in society, except our own wives, as our mothers. This is a nice system that ensures that women are protected, which in turn leads to a successful family life.

Sita Devi Sita Devi was the wife of Lord Rama, one of God’s incarnations on earth who appeared many thousands of years ago in Ayodhya. Sita Devi was a person of worship for Lakshmana, but we see from Sita’s example that she viewed Lakshmana to be equal in strength and valor to her husband. Rama and Lakshmana were like one, for Lakshmana was an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, the serpent carrier of Lord Vishnu in the spiritual world. Lakshmana was more than just a great brother, he was Lord Rama’s support system. In her description of Lakshmana, Sita Devi informs us about the qualities that exist in a perfect devotee of God. The Vedas tell us that the aim of human life is to forge a bond of pure love with the Supreme Lord. This relationship with God will enable us to return to His spiritual world after death.

The relationships we form over the course of our lifetime are all checked to some degree. Amorous love requires the other party to reciprocate our feelings; otherwise there is no question of a relationship. Real love means wanting more for the other person than you want for yourself. The closest thing to a pure loving relationship is the one that exists between parents and their children. Mothers especially form a tight bond with their children since they are the ones who carry them in the womb for nine months and then nurse them through the early years. It is somewhat of a thankless task, however. All the nurturing and love shown to the child during the early years gets quickly forgotten once the child grows older. A good parent wants their children to grow up to be self-sufficient and independent. Yet this independence means that the services of the parents will eventually no longer be needed. This is a tough pill to swallow. Children don’t truly appreciate the love shown to them by their parents until they have children of their own.

“My dear Sati, persons who are devoted to Narayana [Krishna] are not afraid of anything. If they are elevated to the higher planetary systems, or if they get liberation from material contamination, or if they are pushed down to the hellish condition of life-or, in fact, in any situation whatever-they are not afraid of anything. Simply because they have taken shelter of the lotus feet of Narayana, for them any position in the material world is as good as another.” (Lord Shiva, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.17.52)

Krishna and Balarama as children The pure relationship with God is similar to the parent-child paradigm in that there is no expectation of reciprocation. A loving parent will always stand by their children, irrespective of whether the children stray from the path of righteousness or remain pious. Pure devotees of God are similar in this regard. They execute bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, without any expectation of reciprocation. In reality, God can never leave His devotees hanging, but the bhaktas nevertheless don’t expect or demand anything from the Lord. Sometimes life can seem to be unfair and in these instances, we may have a tendency to blame God. “I’ve always worshiped You, and I’ve always stayed true to the path of dharma, yet nothing seems to go right for me. If You really loved me, You wouldn’t let this happen.” Neophyte devotees sometimes adopt this line of thinking.

“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)

Advanced devotees don’t ask for ascension to the heavenly planets or even material opulence. They only wish to always think of the Supreme Lord, wherever they may be. Dhruva Maharaja is a great example in this regard. As a young boy, he went to the forest to perform austerities so that his father’s kingdom would be bequeathed to him. After a long time, Lord Vishnu finally appeared in front of the boy. Dhruva was so overwhelmed that he completely forgot why he had gone to the forest in the first place. Vishnu asked him what he wanted, and Dhruva replied that he only wanted to think of the Lord and serve Him for the rest of His life.

Lakshmana Lakshmana was exactly the same way. Lord Rama took birth as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, and his wife Queen Kausalya. The Lord had three younger brothers born to Dasharatha’s two other wives, Sumitra and Kaikeyi. Lakshmana was born to Sumitra and thus was often referred to as Saumitra. Lakshmana was attached to Rama right from their childhood. He loved Rama without any motive or desire. He didn’t think of Rama as an order supplier or protector. On the contrary, Lakshmana viewed himself as Rama’s protector. When the Lord was ordered to spend fourteen years living in the forest as an exile, Lakshmana insisted on coming along.

“By my truth, by my bow, by my acts of sacrifice, and by my acts of charity do I swear this to you, O queen. If Rama should enter a blazing fire or a forest, you should know for certain that I would enter it before Him.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.16-17)

Sita, being a perfect devotee herself, also insisted on accompanying Rama during His exile. While the group was staying in the forest of Janasthana, the Rakshasa demon Ravana set up a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from the cottage, leaving Sita all by herself. Ravana used this opportunity to approach the princess while he was in the guise of a mendicant. In the above referenced statement, Sita is replying to advances made by Ravana, whom Sita had taken to be a brahmana.

Sita started off by identifying herself and giving a brief description of Rama. Next she went on to extol the virtues of Lakshmana. She not only loved praising Rama and Lakshmana, but she also wanted to let the brahmana know that she was well protected. Not only were Rama and Lakshmana great protectors, but they were the epitomes of virtue as well. This was important because Sita wanted to let the brahmana know that there was no reason for him to have any enmity with the two brothers.

Sita describes Lakshmana as the destroyer of foes. Lakshmana was extremely powerful, but he only used that power for good. Ravana was also very powerful, but he used his strength to attack the innocent. Lakshmana was God’s protector, so he only used his powers as part of his service to God. There is no higher form of dharma than this. Dharma means an occupational duty, or religion. There are different types of dharmas based on time, circumstance, and a person’s social status or qualities. The highest dharma is known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. This is the religion that Lakshmana practiced.

Lakshmana Sita also makes mention of the fact that Lakshmana was dedicated to following religious principles with determination. This means that he wasn’t attached to his power. Rather, he viewed service to Rama as his only business in life. Thus he automatically possessed the qualities of renunciation and simplicity. Lakshmana understood that religion was the true aim of life, so he didn’t shy away from performing religious austerities. While living in the woods, Lakshmana would stay awake at night and stand guard while Sita and Rama were sleeping. There are many kinds of prescribed austerities and religious sacrifices which aim to provide various material rewards. Lakshmana’s performance of tapasya and yajna was perfect because he did it only to please Rama. By always being in direct contact with the Supreme Lord, Lakshmana was a maha-bhagavata, which meant he automatically acquired all good qualities.

The qualities possessed by Lakshmana are the characteristics that we should strive to acquire. We too can be the destroyer of foes. In this age, almost all of society is either godless or they view the Lord as an order supplier. The greatest foe is irreligion, which we can easily destroy with logic and reason. By regularly chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can not only get closer to God, but we can arouse God consciousness in others. The key is to chant this mantra regularly and loudly, for the atheists and impersonalist philosophers get quite irritated hearing the holy name of the Lord. In this age, God incarnates through His holy name, thus the process of sankirtana, or congregational chanting, is equally as potent in defeating demons as mundane weapons are.

Rama Darbar We can also take up religion with firm determination by abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. If we follow these guidelines, we can work our way towards becoming maha-bhagavatas. We’ll also be setting a good example for others to follow.

Friday, May 28, 2010

God is a Person

Lord Krishna “O conqueror of wealth [Arjuna], there is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.7)

God is a person. He is not different from us in that regard, for He is an individual who has His own thoughts, words, and deeds. The nature of His actions are quite different and thus He is known as the great person, or maha-purusha. There are some, however, who choose to describe God in an impersonal manner. They don’t believe that God is an individual who creates everything based off His intelligence and desires. Rather, they take God to be an impersonal spirit, a sort of energy. Describing the Lord in this way is actually very difficult to do because it is the natural inclination of the living entity to believe in a personal God. Not only do impersonal descriptions fail to accurately convey the complete picture, but contemplating this form of the divine goes against the very fiber of our being.

Devotee praying to God Every person is religious, even if they don’t realize it. The only differences we see are in relation to the object of worship. The devotees of God worship the Supreme Lord at all times. They are not capable of performing a single action without seeing how it relates to the Lord. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or the original form of God, is Lord Krishna. The Vedas are the oldest scriptures in existence, and when the word “Veda” is translated into English, it means knowledge. This knowledge is flawless in all respects, so it is not something that becomes nullified should a person choose not to believe in it. Facts are facts, regardless of whether we accept them or not. The law of gravity states that certain objects will fall at a certain rate depending on several factors. Whether or not we believe in this law is meaningless, for if we drop something out of a window, it will certainly fall.

The secularists even have a religion. They believe in a set of values and an ultimate aim of life. Their object of worship is matter. They want to gratify their senses to the fullest, thus they choose to associate with matter and derive pleasure from it. There are still others who don’t practice any religious faith seriously, but they still believe in God. This belief in God means that they take the Lord to be a person. Even someone who has no background in religious traditions and no education in religious philosophy has a tendency to believe in a personal God. In times of trouble, they will approach the Lord. “Oh please God, help me out. I don’t ask You for much. In fact, I never ask You for anything. If You grant me this one wish, I promise to never bother You again.” We might have prayed this way when we were children, or even as adults, while falling asleep at night.

Prahlada praying to Narasimhadeva This type of faith seems immature, but it gives us insight into the human psyche. We have an inherent connection with God which causes us to believe in Him. Whatever the method of our worship, we think of God in a personal way, a person who has a form. At this point, one may ask the question, “Where are you going with this? Of course God is a person, who would argue against that?” Well surprisingly enough, there is a large faction of transcendentalists coming out of India who believe that God is formless, that He is not a person. These philosophers refer to themselves as Vedantists because they study Vedanta. Veda means “knowledge” and anta means “end”, thus Vedanta means the end of knowledge, or the ultimate knowledge. Vedanta also refers to the famous Vedanta-sutras, which is a collection of insightful aphorisms penned by the famous sage, Vyasadeva, who was also a partial incarnation of Lord Krishna.

Devotees of God refer to the impersonalist philosophers as Mayavadis. This moniker is given because it accurately describes their belief system. Maya refers to the illusory energy which governs the material world and vada means a conclusion, hence Mayavada means that a person’s ultimate conclusion is that everything is maya, or false. The Vedas, which originated from Lord Krishna, as He so kindly points out in the Bhagavad-gita, inform us that the material world is a manifestation of God’s inferior energy. In order to understand this, we can simply look at the difference between matter and spirit. Spirit is the driving force for matter, because dull matter is incapable of doing anything on its own. Our own bodies are a great example of this. Our hands, legs, arms, etc. are all useless without a driving force within the body: the soul. Once the soul exits the body at the time of death, our hands, legs, arms, etc. all become useless. The body starts to rot and decay, thus proving the inferior nature of matter.

The entire material creation can be thought of as a larger version of our own bodies. There are seas, oceans, land masses, volcanoes, clouds, rain, etc. It appears that these things were all created on their own. They seem to operate independently, but in reality, God is the driving force behind everything in this creation. The material world is considered part of His inferior energy because everything here is temporary and destined for destruction. Spirit, on the other hand, is eternal. Even when we die, nothing happens to our soul. Nature can only harm our body, or matter, but it can never touch our soul.

Lord Krishna Since matter is ultimately inferior, why do we associate with it? Why do we make the aim of our life the accumulation of as much material wealth, fame, and beauty as possible? The reason for this is that matter is governed by an energy known as maya. Maya is created by God and can be thought of as illusion. Since matter is inferior to spirit, the living entities would have no desire to associate with it. However, due to the influence of maya, the living entities become illusioned into thinking that matter will make them happy.

“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)

It is clearly stated many times in Vedic literature that God is above matter and that He is actually the creator of matter. Impersonalist philosophers, however, either don’t believe in these facts or they are unaware of them. They take everything in the material creation to be maya, even the devotional activities of living entities and the pastimes of the Supreme Lord.

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

The Vedas also refer to everything material and spiritual as Brahman, or an impersonal energy. Therefore the Mayavadis believe that the aim of life is to one day merge into this energy. By studying Vedanta and cancelling out all material activity, they hope to one day achieve samadhi, or perfect transcendental realization. The problem with this philosophy is that it ignores the creator of both spirit and matter: God.

Bhagavad-gita The Mayavadi philosophy is dangerous for many reasons, the primary of which is that it propounds impersonalism on the authority of the Vedas. It is one thing for a person to preach atheism or some concocted religious system based on their own thoughts, but if they preach the same theories using the Vedas as evidence, it becomes very dangerous. It is never declared anywhere in the Vedas that God doesn’t exist. Even in the Vedanta-sutras, the Supreme Absolute Truth is described as having many features and performing many activities. More than anything else, the Mayavada philosophy is unnatural and very difficult to explain. For this reason, the Mayavadis make many references to scriptures of other religions.

The Vedas have, by far, the widest breadth of written philosophy and historical evidence of the existence of God. The Vedas also go into great detail about the constitutional position of the living entity and its relationship to the supreme soul, Lord Krishna. For devotees of God, these literatures are complete, or purna, in themselves because since they describe the activities of the complete person, Krishna, they thus naturally inherit His qualities. Devotees don’t need to read anything outside of the original Vedas, the Mahabharata, the major Puranas, and the Ramayana. In addition, many great saints have written their own books which expand on the teachings of the classic texts.  These books expound on the same conclusions and truths as the classic Vedic texts, thus they are completely authorized. Any literary work that follows the conclusions of the Vedas can be thought of to be Vedic literature.

The Mayavadis, however, know that their philosophy is very flimsy. The only basis for their philosophy comes from the intentionally distorted interpretations of the Vedanta-sutras given by Shankaracharya. Aside from this, the Mayavada philosophy has no other authority. Due to this deficiency, its followers love to read the major Vedic texts and give bogus interpretations. They will comment on the Bhagavad-gita, Ramacharitamanasa, and Ramayana by explaining that the Supreme Absolute Truth is formless. Lord Krishna openly declares that He is God in the Bhagavad-gita, but the Mayavadis will say that Krishna is simply an elevated form of Brahman. “Krishna is not saying worship Me, but worship Brahman. We can all become as elevated as Krishna should we continue our study of Vedanta. We are all fragments of the complete impersonal whole; we just don’t realize it yet.”

Krishna is the source of everything The Mayavadis also love to make comparisons to other religious texts. They will comment on a particular verse found in the Gita, or some other great Vedic text, by comparing it to something from Greek mythology, the Bible, or some ordinary literary work. While other religious texts are certainly nice, the Vedic literatures don’t require this kind of interpretation. The meanings of the shlokas are quite evident to the devotees. One who learns the Vedic science from a pure devotee of Krishna certainly will never have a problem understanding anything in the Vedas, for the source of everything is Krishna, or God. If we understand everything in terms of its relationship to God, we will have perfect knowledge on all subjects.

The biggest crime committed by the impersonalists is that they rob people of the chance to have a beautiful, loving relationship with God. Krishna means one who is all-attractive, and this beauty is meant to please the devotees. Matter provides us fleeting happiness and ultimately leads to misery. Krishna is meant to be the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Simply looking at His beautiful face is enough to grant liberation. Spiritual life means directly associating with Krishna, or one of His primary expansions, on one of the many spiritual planets.

The lesson here is that we should not try to take away God’s features. Krishna’s names, forms, and pastimes accurately describe His nature. These features help us to understand Him better, and those who understand God will never have to suffer in the material world again. Just like the Vedantists, the devotees also get liberation. Unlike those who merge into Brahman, devotees maintain their spiritual identity and get to enjoy the sweet transcendental mellows that come as a result of their service. God has always been and will always continue to be a person. Become His devotee and you will be happy.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An Unbreakable Vow

ram_deity “Rama always gives in charity but never takes any. He always speaks the truth and never tells a lie. O brahmana, this is Rama’s highest vow and He is incapable of deviating from it.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.17)

A hero is a person who stands up to help others, even under the most difficult circumstances. When the chips are down, a hero is a person you can count on to save the day. A hero is brave, fearless, and ever committed to the welfare of others. In this regard, Lord Rama, an incarnation of God who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago, can correctly be identified as a hero. Lord Rama was at His best when the going got tough. He was often put to the test, but it was never enough to bring Him down.

Sita Devi In the above referenced statement, Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife, is describing His virtues to the demon Ravana. At the time, Rama, Sita, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were residing in the forest of Janasthana. Lord Rama was the son of a king, but through an unfortunate series of events, He was banished from His kingdom. Sita and Lakshmana insisted on accompanying Him on His sojourn through the forest. Ravana was a Rakshasa demon. He appeared in front of Sita in the guise of a brahmana, so as to fool her into letting her guard down. Ravana had many wives, but after he heard of Sita’s beauty, he had to have her. He set up a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from the group’s cottage. Ravana, while in the guise of a mendicant, used this opportunity to approach Sita and proposition her.

Sita was a little taken aback upon first seeing the brahmana. She had just yelled at Lakshmana to go check on Rama, so she was already a little flustered. At the same time, Sita was a highly pious person, so she knew that etiquette called for her to receive the brahmana in a welcoming fashion. Sita obliged by first offering the brahmana food, water, and a nice place to sit. Ravana took advantage of her kindness by propositioning her. Normally, Sita would have chastised a person for speaking that way. She was completely devoted to Rama after all, and she never even thought of another man. Yet she knew that it wasn’t right to yell at a brahmana, or priest. Thus she decided to kindly identify herself. In so doing, she described the virtues of her husband. In the above referenced statement, she makes special note of Rama’s defining virtuous characteristics. In case the brahmana had any other intentions, Sita made sure to inform him that her husband was brave and courageous. Rama would be coming back at any moment, so the brahmana should know that Rama would defend and protect Sita under any and all circumstances.

From the first part of Sita’s description, we see that Rama always gave in charity and never took any for Himself. Giving in charity is an obvious sign of chivalry and virtue. Charity means voluntarily sacrificing one’s possessions and wealth for the benefit of those in need. The Vedas give us a more concrete definition of charity than what we normally take it to be. In the Vedic tradition, charity should only be given to brahmanas, or priests. Brahmanas engage in specific activities such as reading the Vedas, teaching Vedic wisdom to others, performing sacrifices, teaching others how to perform sacrifices, and accepting charity. Since they generally don’t earn a living on their own, their lifestyle is very meager. They rely on the charity of others to survive. Not only do they accept charity, but they are completely deserving of it. Since all of their activities are religious in nature, they don’t have time to go out and earn a living. Therefore it is the duty of others in society to take care of their needs. This rule especially applied to kings. The kshatriyas, or warrior class, were the rulers of society. They acted as the government, and their primary duty was to provide protection to others. In terms of the body, the kshatriyas can be thought of as the arms. The arms do more than just protect, however, for they can perform certain Vedic sacrifices and also give away charity to others.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana visiting a hermitage Lord Rama used to give very generously in charity. In fact, just before leaving for the forest, both He and Sita gave away all of their most valuable possessions to the brahmanas. One brahmana in particular was shy about asking Lord Rama for charity. At the insistence of his wife, the brahmana went and approached Lord Rama. The Lord was so pleased to see the brahmana that He asked him to throw a rod as far as he could. To the brahmana, Rama would give away as many cows as would occupy the land between the spot where the rod was launched and where it would land. Even after the sage threw the rod, Lord Rama laughed and said that He was only joking, and that He would give the brahmana whatever He wanted. The brahmana was satisfied with the cows given to him, and thus went away happy.

This was the standard etiquette adhered to by all the pious kings of the past. Brahmanas give us so much valuable information. Brahmana means one who knows Brahman, the impersonal effulgence feature of the Supreme Lord. Everything is Brahman, thus one who understands it knows that there is no difference between living entities. Every person is a spirit soul at their core, so there is no reason to use unnecessary violence towards others. Brahmanas teach others how to realize Brahman, meaning they teach others about the non-dual nature of things, and how there is a difference between matter and spirit. Those who know Brahman have a better chance of understanding its source: God.

Lord Rama Lord Rama also never took in charity. The Lord appeared during the Treta Yuga, or the second time period of creation. Some calculations say that this occurred millions of years ago, while others say it was many thousands of years ago. Either way, it was certainly a long time ago, and the governments operated a little differently than they do today. Regardless of the time period, however, all governments are similar with respect to tax collection. A government needs operating revenue, which can only come through the levying of taxes, tariffs, and fees. The kingdom which Lord Rama presided over, Ayodhya, certainly taxed its citizens, but this cannot be considered the acceptance of charity. Charity involves voluntarily giving up money and possessions. Taxes involve coercion, which can be thought of as a forced form of charity. If governments properly provide protection, this taxation, in a limited form, is justified.

“That gift which is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return, is considered to be charity in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.20)

For a kshatriya to accept charity is considered a bad thing because, as mentioned before, charity is only intended for brahmanas. The Vedas tell us that all our material activities involve karma, meaning there are reactions to everything that we do. This includes the area of charity. For example, if we give money to a homeless person on the street, and they in turn use that money to buy drugs or alcohol, we really haven’t done anything worthwhile for that person. In some respects, we have only made their life worse. The Vedas tell us that all charitable giving should be performed with these considerations in mind. If we give money to someone who is not worthy of it, we are actually committing a sin. The sin also applies to the person accepting the charity. Thus Rama was completely pure in all respects, for He knew He wasn’t worthy of others’ charity, and thus never accepted it.

Sita declared that part of Rama’s unbreakable vow was His commitment to telling the truth. This is certainly a rarity for the government leaders of today. In America, most politicians are lawyers by trade, thus they are skilled at cheating the law and using word jugglery to their advantage. This isn’t to say that lawyers are bad people, but rather they are required to be good at certain things in order to do their job well. This includes being able to bend and shape the text of laws to give them new meanings. Politicians are so good at lying and twisting words, that people have come up with a term for the practice: political spin.

Meet the Press Political parties practice spin tactics all the time. In America, the most watched political news shows each week are the Sunday morning talk shows. Between 8 am and noon on Sundays, each major network has a talk show dedicated to covering the biggest news items of the week. These shows feature guests and have roundtable discussions with expert panelists. The guests on these shows are always major political figures; either people running for office, current office holders, or even the President of the United States. Many times, the same guest appears on each show so as to not show favoritism to any particular network. And what is the purpose of going on these shows? To distribute political spin, of course. Each party sends out “talking points” to their members during the week. These talking points stress certain ideas and buzz words to be used when being interviewed. Thus members of both political parties end up all sounding alike. A President can do four different interviews on one particular day and end up giving the same answers to each interviewer.

Lord Rama was not like this. He was dedicated to the truth. It was His commitment to honesty that led Him to the forest. Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, previously promised two boons to his youngest wife, Queen Kaikeyi. After Kaikeyi asked for Rama’s banishment to the forest, Dasharatha was thinking about reneging on his promises. Rama knew that if the king did this, he would be committing a great sin. In order to protect His father’s reputation, and that of the Ikshvaku dynasty, Rama insisted on serving out the fourteen year exile term. Even after Dasharatha passed away later on, Rama still refused to go back to the kingdom, for He believed that Dasharatha’s commitment to the truth didn’t end after his death.

Tulsidas writing about Sita and Rama Lord Rama was an ideal man, husband, older brother, father, and king. More than anything else, He is a hero that we can look up to and worship, for He is God after all. We are the intended beneficiaries of Rama’s heroism. We spirit souls are swimming in this ocean of nescience and hopelessly looking for a way out. Lord Rama, in the form of His holy name, is the life raft that can safely carry us to shore. Those who constantly recite the sacred formula, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are assured of being rescued and taken back to the spiritual world.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Rights of Man

Radha Krishna “Pure love for Krishna is eternally established in the hearts of living entities. It is not something to be gained from another source. When the heart is purified by hearing and chanting, the living entity naturally awakens.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 22.107)

In America, there has been much talk recently about the rights of man. What exactly are human beings entitled to? What freedoms can we expect to have secured by the government and what things are required to be given to us? Mankind has struggled with these issues for centuries, but the Vedas tell us that more than just having rights, each living entity has an inherent duty they must perform.

The issue of health care and health insurance has been at the forefront in recent times. The issue itself stems from the rising cost of medical care. Unlike in times past, medicine today involves the use of high-tech machines, trained professionals who know how to use such machines, and an intricate payment system known as insurance. In the past, people would simply pay the doctor directly out of their own pocket, but today most payments are made through a third-party: either an insurance company or some government entity.

Stethoscope With this added complexity has come an added cost. Simply staying one night in a hospital can now cost over one thousand dollars. By comparison, a night in a hotel room can cost around one hundred dollars. So we see there is a vast difference in price between two similar services, i.e. a room for a night. What’s worse is that many people today cannot afford to keep a health insurance plan. This means that if they get sick, they will have trouble paying the enormous medical costs required for their treatment. This sad situation has led to a movement calling for universal healthcare coverage for all citizens, paid for by the government. This system already exists in countries like Great Britain and Canada, and is now slowly being introduced in the United States.

Supporters of a single-payer system believe that healthcare is a right and not a privilege. This seems like a nice concept in theory, since taking care of our fellow man and doing whatever we can to maintain their health seem like the humane things to do. But if we break things down a little further, the justification for healthcare being a right seems to dwindle. At the core of any healthcare system is the relationship between a patient and a doctor. On one side we have a physician, or a practitioner of medicine. A doctor is essentially running a business, a sole-proprietorship where the service offered is medical treatment. The patient is essentially the customer. If the customer needs medical care, they go to see the doctor. After sufficient service is provided, the customer pays the doctor.

Now let’s examine a hypothetical situation. Suppose that a certain patient is sick but does not have the money to pay for a doctor or the care they provide. Does the patient, i.e. the customer, have a right to the services of the doctor without paying for it? To use another analogy, say that we are in a store and we see a product that we want to buy. We really want this particular product, but we don’t have the money to purchase it. Are we entitled to taking this product without paying for it? Obviously we are not, for that is stealing. The store owner has the rightful claim to his property, as does the doctor to the services he or she provides. A customer, in this case a patient, has no right to someone else’s services or products without paying for them. Say that instead of paying for the medical services themselves, the customer takes money from his or her neighbor against their will. Again, this action is akin to stealing because our neighbors have no say in the matter.

With these facts in mind, we see that healthcare, or health insurance, can never be a right, because the exercise of this right puts a burden on others. The rights to free speech, assembly, or religion pose such no obligations on others. For healthcare to be a right, an all-powerful entity must impose obligations on others in the form of increased taxes and other coercive action. No rational person would ever think that they have a right to another person’s property. Charity is certainly a different issue, for that is completely voluntary and doesn’t impose any restrictions on anyone.

Declaration of Independence True rights exist simultaneously among people. As mentioned before, the exercise of a right by one person does not diminish the exercise of the same right by another. In America, citizens are guaranteed the right to free speech, assembly, press, and religion. The framers of the Constitution believed that these rights exist naturally among all men and that they are given to us by God. The Declaration of Independence of the United States stipulates that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, with life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness being the foremost among those rights. These statements are certainly true because we all do have a right to protect our life, pursue our happiness, and defend our liberty.

The problem with the Declaration of Independence, however, is that it is a man-made document, meaning it is subject to defects. The rights declared in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are certainly valid, but we see that they are incomplete, or limited in scope. For example, the right to life in America is not granted to the animal community. Millions of innocent animals are sent to the slaughterhouses each year simply to satisfy the taste buds of the general population. Nowadays, unborn children are allowed to be killed in the womb through the abortion process. In addition, at the time of the country’s founding, none of the stipulated rights of man were extended to women or African-American slaves. For something to be a right, not only must there be no obligation imposed on others for the exercise of such rights, but it must also simultaneously exist among all living entities. This is where the Declaration of Independence and other famous historical documents fall short.

Lord Krishna Rights are certainly important, but they don’t really provide any guidance to the living entity. We may state that someone has a right to exercise various freedoms, but this doesn’t give the whole picture as it relates to the purpose of our life. To answer these questions, we must turn to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. Rights are certainly given to us by God, but there is actually something more important than the protection of our freedoms. The Vedas tell us that we living entities have an occupational duty, a certain set of activities which we have proclivity for. This occupational duty is referred to as dharma.

Dharma is a Sanskrit word that usually translates to religion, virtue, righteousness, or duty. It is a difficult word to translate because it actually means the essence of something, that which is eternally existing with an object, or that which sustains something. Dharma can apply to anything: water, fire, wind, etc. For example, heat and light represent the dharma of fire, for without heat and light, fire would have no existence. What is the dharma for the living entity? What is it that sustains us? What is it that eternally exists with us? The Vedas tell us that it is the occupational duty of the spirit soul to serve God.

Dharma is all-encompassing, thus it naturally includes all the rights that many of us hold so dear. As stated before, having rights is one thing, but we must have direction as to how to exercise such rights. This is where dharma comes in. The best translation for dharma in this context is religion, or occupational duty. It is our inherent duty to be religious, to act towards pleasing the Supreme Lord. Dharma is a spiritual obligation, and not simply a blind faith that can change on a whim. Our religious affiliations may vary or our faith may change a few times over the course of our lifetime, but dharma never changes.

Is there a specific time that this occupational duty was created? Is there a time in the future where dharma will cease to be our guiding force? To provide clarification in this matter, the Vedas couple the word “sanatana” with dharma. Sanatana means that which has no beginning and no end, thus religion in the Vedic tradition is referred to as sanatana-dharma, meaning the eternal occupational duty of the spirit soul.

Hanuman practicing devotional serviceIt is our eternal duty to be servants of the Supreme Lord. Exercising our rights to free speech and so on can give us temporary feelings of happiness, but in the end, we are left hankering for something; that one thing which will provide eternal felicity. This eternal happiness can only be achieved through engagement in our eternal occupation, sanatana-dharma.

So how do we practice this occupational duty? The Vedas again help us out by giving us another term: bhagavata-dharma. We all know that God is great, but the Vedas try to give us a little insight into just how great He is. God is referred to as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all opulences and all fortunes. Lord Krishna, or God, possesses the qualities of wealth, fame, beauty, strength, wisdom, and renunciation simultaneously and to the fullest extent. Since He is the only person in the world who can lay claim to such attributes, He is known as Bhagavan. Bhagavata-dharma is the occupational duty which aims to satisfy Bhagavan.

So how do we go about serving Krishna? Bhagavata-dharma is also referred to as devotional service, a discipline comprised of nine processes. Hearing and chanting are the two foremost processes, both of which can be easily accomplished by reciting the following mantra out loud: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Devotional service is the only genuine dharma for the living entity. It is an inherent occupation, something which the soul is naturally disposed to. Since we are conditioned by nature, taking up devotional service is a little difficult in the beginning stages. If we stick to it though, we can start to see results very quickly.

“Whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Radha Krishna Due to the distressed condition of our fellow man today, there is an added emphases placed on the concepts of rights. Government officials and citizens can argue as to the exact definition of those rights, but what we know for sure is that we all have a right to perform devotional service. More than just something we are allowed to perform, it is an engagement that we must take up, for it is the only pathway to true freedom; spiritual freedom. Adherence to bhagavata-dharma will solve all the problems of life. If we think of God at the time of death, we are guaranteed to return to our original home in the spiritual sky, where we get to spend eternity in loving association with our best friend, Lord Krishna.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Narasimha Chaturdashi

Lord Narasimhadeva “Lord Shiva said: The end of the millennium is the time for Your anger. Now that this insignificant demon Hiranyakashipu has been killed, O my Lord, who are naturally affectionate to Your devotee, kindly protect his son Prahlada Maharaja, who is standing nearby as Your fully surrendered devotee.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.41)

There is one cause which is responsible for all causes. Each of us has a vital force inside us, but there is one vital force that is the source of all energy. This single dominating force is known as ishvara parama, or the Supreme Controller, and everything rests upon Him. Just as the laws of gravity operate on all objects without any prejudice, this dominating force applies to every living entity. Though most of us refer to this supreme divine entity as God, the Vedas give us much more descriptive names for the Supreme Absolute Truth. This Supreme Lord, who possesses innumerable transcendental qualities, kindly appears in front of our eyes from time to time in various shapes. One such famous appearance occurred many millions of years ago. Narasimha-chaturdashi marks the anniversary of when God came to earth in the form of a half-man/half-lion to kill the demon Hiranyakashipu. Since God’s form was a mixture of a lion (simha) and a man (nara), this specific avatara is known as Narasimhadeva, and He holds a special place in the hearts of devotees around the world.

Lord Krishna pastimes When the Lord comes to earth to enact pastimes, it is a significant occasion. This is because God doesn’t choose to personally appear before us all the time. Most of the good and bad results of our actions are distributed by the demigods, elevated living entities who are given extraordinary powers by God Himself. Karma relates to fruitive activity, or any action taken which further develops the material body, or the outer covering of the soul. In this regard, nothing can really be good or bad as it relates to karma. We may take something to be beneficial to us, but to someone else, the same result can be deemed harmful. Thus the Supreme Lord doesn’t take a personal interest in karma-phalam, or the results of fruitive activity.

Most of us can understand how karma works. You perform a good deed and you will be duly rewarded. You perform a sinful act and you will be punished in the future. It’s interesting to see just how these results manifest. For example, the severity of the negative consequences that come about is commensurate with the severity of the crime committed. Though most followers of the Vedic tradition are vegetarians, there are still some who engage in meat eating. For such people, who are in the mode of ignorance, the Vedas provide a system whereby meat eating is sanctioned with the hopes of allowing the ignorant to further progress in spiritual understanding. When an animal is killed in one of these sanctioned sacrifices, the mantra recited within the ear of the animal goes something like this, “I’m killing you now so that I can eat your meat. You now have sanction to kill me in the same manner in a future life.” Hence, we see the concept of an eye for an eye. What goes around comes around.

For extraordinary cases, God Himself intervenes. These cases don’t involve karma, for as we already mentioned, the demigods take care of distributing the results of fruitive activity. What other type of work is there? Since karma relates to actions which lead to the development of the material body, there is another higher discipline which leads to the development of the spiritual body. The soul is pure, unchangeable, and unbreakable, thus it can never really develop. It can evolve, however, in the sense of where it chooses to reside. We are currently in a conditioned state, meaning our soul is covered by a material dress. This dress is composed of matter, an inferior energy, and thus it constantly goes through changes. We can get a spiritual body, though, if we choose to. In order to develop a permanent spiritual body, we must take up a discipline which is above karma.

Radha KrishnaBhakti yoga, or the linking of the soul with God through works of love and devotion, is commonly referred to as devotional service. How does this activity differ from karma? On the surface, the specific actions may not look all that different, but the mindset of the performer is where the discrepancy lies. For example, we may walk around all day singing our favorite songs in our head, but the purpose of this activity is to provide pleasure to our mind and senses. Another person can be singing, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and have a completely different mindset. Krishna is the original name for God, the same God that all of us worship. Rama is also one of His names, and Hare refers to His energy in the form of His pleasure potency expansions. Thus chanting Hare Krishna is our way of asking God to always allow us to serve Him in an uninterrupted and unmotivated manner. Hence we see there is a gulf of difference between ordinary singing and singing God’s names.

Devotional service actually consists of nine distinct processes, which have been outlined by the great devotee Prahlada Maharaja. Many many moons ago, there was a devotee born in a family of demons. The Vedas give us the lineage of the first few generations of mankind and also of other important species. There was a race of demons known as Daityas, so named because they were born from a woman named Diti. The Daityas inherited demonic qualities at the time of birth, and thus they were enemies of the devotees. Prahlada Maharaja, though taking birth as the son of a Daitya, had the qualities of a devotee. At the time, a great demon by the name of Hiranyakashipu, the eldest son of Diti, was terrorizing the world. He was well acquainted with the principles of dharma, artha, and kama. Yet he was still a demon, meaning he only wanted religiosity, economic development, and sense gratification for his own pleasure. This shows that there are varying degrees of dharma, or religiosity, and that not all dharmas are the same.

Prahlada Maharaja Prahlada, though a son of Hiranyakashipu, was a devotee of Lord Krishna from the time of his birth. This is because while he was still in the womb of his mother, Prahlada heard spiritual topics relating to Lord Krishna from the venerable Narada Muni. Thus the boy, though genetically predisposed to demoniac qualities, was born a devotee. As any good father would do, Hiranyakashipu sent his son Prahlada to school to get a good education. Hiranyakashipu was a king, so naturally he wanted Prahlada to succeed him on the throne one day. In order to be a good king, one must be well educated on matters pertaining to politics, religion, diplomacy, war, and economics. Prahlada, however, had no interest in these topics. He listened attentively to his teachers, but the boy still kept his mind always fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.

One day when Prahlada came home from school, Hiranyakashipu affectionately took him on his lap and asked his beloved son what he had learned. To his surprise, Hiranyakashipu heard all about the greatness of Lord Vishnu from Prahlada. Hiranyakashipu viewed Lord Vishnu, who is the same as Lord Krishna, as his devout enemy. Hiranyakashipu wanted to rule the world after all, so he viewed anyone more powerful than himself as an impediment to reaching that goal. Now, to hear his son extolling the virtues of his enemy was too much for the demon to bear. Immediately Hiranyakashipu chastised Prahlada’s teachers and asked them who had taught his son these things.

The teachers were taken aback, for they hadn’t taught Prahlada anything about Lord Vishnu. This one fact illustrates the difference between a brahmana and a Vaishnava. A brahmana is a priest who is supposed to know Brahman, or the all-pervading impersonal effulgence which contains all things matter and spirit. But just because someone knows Brahman, it doesn’t mean that they know Krishna. Though technically there is no difference between Brahman and God, one who remains stuck on the Brahman platform has an inferior angle of vision compared to someone who knows and loves Krishna. That is because Krishna is God’s original form as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the cause of all causes, including Brahman.

Prahlada being attacked Though repeatedly urged by his father to give up this devotion, Prahlada wouldn’t budge. Thus Hiranyakashipu decided to have his son killed. He ordered his ministers to kill Prahlada, but the boy seemed to be indestructible. The demon’s attendants tried all sorts of different ways to get rid of the young child. The boy was thrown in a pit of fire, hurled off the top of a mountain, thrown in the water, etc. So many different torture methods were tried by the demons, but Prahlada was saved every time just by thinking of Krishna. Finally relenting, Hiranyakashipu allowed Prahlada to go back to school. “If he stays in school, maybe these teachers can finally get through to him.” During recess, Prahlada would instruct his fellow classmates on the glories of Lord Vishnu. As a five year old boy, Prahlada was acting as an exemplary spiritual master, giving his classmates the education they were missing out on. Since Prahlada was a Vaishnava, or devotee of Vishnu, he automatically acquired all the knowledge and qualities possessed by a brahmana.

Prahlada Finally Hiranyakashipu had enough. According to the demon’s estimation, no one was able to kill his son, nor was he getting the proper education. Hiranyakashipu decided it was time to personally kill his son. Before going through with the act, Hiranyakashipu threatened Prahlada. Seeing that his son wasn’t afraid in the least bit, Hiranyakashipu wanted to know what the source of Prahlada’s strength was. After all, Hiranyakashipu’s powers came as a result of performing great austerities and receiving benedictions from the demigods. He knew that Prahlada had not gone through such trials and tribulations and thus his power remained a mystery to the demon. Prahlada responded by telling his father that the source of every person’s strength is the same: God. The Supreme Lord gives each of us the power to act; He is the original purusha responsible for each person’s controlling power.

Narasimha killing Hiranyakashipu Hiranyakashipu was getting sick of hearing about Vishnu. He jokingly asked his son that if this Vishnu person was everywhere, was he in the column that was next to them? Hiranyakashipu then punched the column with his hand out of anger. To the surprise of the demon, a huge sound resulted. A terrific form, never before seen, immediately came out of the column. This being resembled a man and a lion, and its arms were spread in all directions. This form, which was Lord Krishna’s Narasimhadeva avatara, went on the rampage, killing Hiranyakashipu’s associates. Then Narasimhadeva snatched Hiranyakashipu and started punishing the demon. After Hiranyakashipu wailed and moaned, Narasimhadeva let him go. The demigods, who were watching from above, then became afraid since the demon was able to get away. If Narasimhadeva couldn’t kill the demon, then who could? Not to worry though, as Krishna was just toying with Hiranyakashipu. Finally, Narasimhadeva took the demon on His lap and bifurcated him with His claws. Hiranyakashipu was dead, and Prahlada was now safe.

“As a snake captures a mouse or Garuda captures a very venomous snake, Lord Narasimhadeva captured Hiranyakashipu, who could not be pierced even by the thunderbolt of King Indra. As Hiranyakashipu moved his limbs here, there and all around, very much afflicted at being captured, Lord Narasimhadeva placed the demon on His lap, supporting him with His thighs, and in the doorway of the assembly hall the Lord very easily tore the demon to pieces with the nails of His hand.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.29)

Narasimhadeva The lessons we can take away from this incident are too many to count. That is the greatness of God, for we can discuss His activities from now until the end of time and still never run out of points of interest to ponder over. From the descriptions of this incident found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, one can’t help but notice the gruesome manner in which Hiranyakashipu was killed. There are several animated movies that have been made about Prahlada’s life. These movies are obviously intended for all audiences, thus the violence is kept to a minimum. But if we were to accurately portray Hiranyakashipu’s killing in cinema, the movie would be too gruesome for even an R rating. This shows just how merciless the Supreme Lord can be if He gets angry.

God is actually quite nice. Though He is neutral towards all living entities, He takes a special interest in the lives of the devotees. In a nutshell, He takes care of His friends. At the same time, those who do harm to His friends will be punished in the worst possible way. Hiranyakashipu tried to kill his son in so many awful ways, so the Lord returned the favor by showing him just how painful death could be. The circumstances of Hiranyakashipu’s death were no accident either. Many years prior, the demon had pleased Lord Brahma by performing great austerities. Of course the primary concern for any demon is immortality, so that was the first thing Hiranyakashipu asked from Lord Brahma. Brahma could not grant this wish. Not even Brahma is immortal so how could he grant such a benediction to someone else? Not being satisfied with this, Hiranyakashipu asked for other benedictions that would make him immune from so many different forms of attack. He couldn’t be killed at night or in the day, neither in the sky nor on land, nor by any weapon, etc. Being granted so many boons by Brahma, Hiranyakashipu thought he had tricked the great-father into granting him immortality anyway. Hiranyakashipu thought he had all his bases covered, and that there was no way anyone could kill him.

Narasimha deity God, however, is smarter than everyone else. The Supreme Lord never likes to make Brahma look like a liar, so He made sure to keep all of Hiranyakashipu’s boons intact. Thus the Lord appeared as a half man/half-lion, killing Hiranyakashipu on his lap, using his nails. Thus no human being or entity (living or nonliving) caused his death, nor did the demon die on sea or on land, nor by any weapon. After this incident, Prahlada Maharaja offered some wonderful prayers to pacify the Supreme Lord. The great devotee was then handed the reins of the kingdom.

This incident has been celebrated ever since that time by the devotees of Lord Vishnu. Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, Lord Chaitanya, was especially fond of the Narasimha avatara. When He would visit the temple of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Chaitanya would pass the deity of Lord Narasimhadeva while climbing up the steps toward the temple. Lord Chaitanya would offer obeissances to Lord Narasimhadeva by reciting specific prayers found in the Narasimha Purana. These prayers are now sung daily in Vaishnava temples around the world.

“Lord Narasimhadeva is here, and He is also there on the opposite side. Wherever I go, there I see Lord Narasimhadeva. He is outside and within My heart. Therefore I take shelter of Lord Narasimhadeva, the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Narasimha Purana)

Lord Nrishmadeva blesses Prahlada Maharaja Narasimhadeva holds a special place in the hearts of devotees due to His causeless mercy and His ability to provide unflinching protection against the attacks of enemies. There is another famous set of prayers, known as the Narasimha-kavacha-stotram, found in the Brahmanda Purana, which was spoken by Prahlada Maharaja. Those who pray to Lord Narasimhadeva regularly, reciting these prayers with great faith and devotion, will be protected from all the demoniac elements of this world. May Lord Narasimhadeva always protect us and may we always follow in the footsteps of the great Bhakta Prahlada.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Cool Customer

Lord Krishna “O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.15)

Detachment allows us to take even the worst news in stride. It is natural to feel anger or sadness based on the events that occur in our lives. Sometimes people will be hesitant to tell us something, for they know it will cause us great grief. Those who are cool and collected can handle any turn of events without a problem. This is because they possess detachment, and they understand the temporary nature of things. Of all the cool customers, no one is more detached than God. Part of being Bhagavan means You possess the quality of renunciation to the fullest degree. The Lord put this feature on full display during His time on earth as Lord Rama.

Lord Chaitanya God is in need of nothing. There is a famous verse in the Shrimad Bhagavatam that describes the Lord as being atmarama. Lord Chaitanya provided a multitude of purports to this one verse, but the most commonly accepted meaning of atmarama is one who is self-satisfied. Atma can refer to the soul, body, or mind, but most of the time it refers to the soul. Rama means one who gives pleasure, so atmarama means one who derives pleasure from the soul. The soul is often referred to as the self because it forms the basis of our identity. Our arms, hands, and legs are only temporary coverings. We see that even if a person loses a limb in an accident, their identity remains intact. Therefore we can conclude that our identity surely can’t be taken from any of our body parts. In fact, the famous king, Rishabhadeva, stated that any person who associates with their own body, which is made up of blood, puss, and stool, must be considered to have the intelligence of an animal, and more specifically that of an ass.

God is the supreme soul, Paramatma. Everything in this world is created by Him. Though the living entities, jivatmas, never take birth nor do they die, they also are part and parcel of God, representing one of His separated expansions. Since the Lord creates everything, He is not in need of anything, especially self-aggrandizement or material fortunes. Due to His kind nature and pleasing smile, the Lord is loved and adored by everyone in the spiritual world. On the supreme planet of Goloka Vrindavana, Lord Krishna, the original form of God, is happily engaged with His gopas and gopis all day long. If one were to watch television cartoon shows on the weekends, they would see a simple life depicted where the main characters spend all their day playing, not worrying about any big issues. Life in Vrindavana is similar to this, because everyone is in constant association with Krishna. Some are playing with Him in the field, some are having lunch with Him, and others are enjoying with Him in the mood of romantic love.

Lord Krishna's pastimes To rescue the fallen souls, the Lord appears on earth from time to time. This doesn’t mean that He leaves the spiritual world, but rather He expands Himself as an avatara. An avatara is one who descends, thus the term refers to God since He descends from the spiritual world to help His devotees. When God comes to earth, He doesn’t broadcast His divinity to everyone. This may seem strange at first. “He’s God after all. Why wouldn’t He just identify Himself?” This can be explained by studying the concept of free will. We living entities are part and parcel of God, but we still have a minute amount of independence. We don’t have control over how events will pan out, but we do have the freedom to choose how our senses will interact with nature. There are three energies at work in this world: the inferior, superior, and the marginal. By acting in the interests of the senses, we associate with the inferior energy. By acting in God’s interests, we come in contact with the superior energy. Since the choice is ours, the living entities technically belong to the marginal energy.

The Lord comes to rescue those who want to associate with the superior [spiritual] energy, but have trouble doing so because of the condition of society at the time. The Lord also doesn’t disclose His identity because He doesn’t want to force anyone to love Him. The Vedas tell us that the meaning of life is to know, understand, and love God. This pure love for God, known as Krishna-prema, enables one to return to the spiritual world after death. The act of sexual assault certainly can’t be classified as love since the woman is forced into sexual activity. In a similar manner, if God forced us to serve and love Him, our feelings towards Him couldn’t be classified as prema.

Krishna avataras So how do we tell who are the bona fide incarnations? The authoritative scriptures, such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Puranas, give a detailed list of every major incarnation that has ever appeared or will appear in the future. Even the Lord Buddha avatara was predicted in the Shrimad Bhagavatam almost five thousand years ago. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation, never openly declared Himself to be God. Many people realized His divinity and would openly praise Him, but the Lord would always cover His ears, for He wanted to be known as a devotee of Radha-Krishna and nothing else. On rare occasions and in private, Lord Chaitanya would disclose His true identity as a combined incarnation of Radha-Krishna, but such displays were reserved for His confidential devotees. There are many people who claim to be God, but we can use Lord Chaitanya’s example and the statements of scriptures to decipher for ourselves.

One of Krishna’s most famous incarnations was Lord Rama, who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga, or the second time period of creation. One of the more notable incidents in Rama’s life was His banishment to the forest for fourteen years. Born as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha, Rama lived the regal life. He had every material opulence available at His fingertips. He would wake up every day to the sound of mrdangas playing and well-wishers chanting His name. When He was exiled to the forest, He had to give up everything. Essentially, He went from being a prince to a pauper.

“When Rama arrived before His father in preparation for the installation ceremony, Kaikeyi quickly addressed my husband with these words, ‘O Raghava, just hear what Your father previously proclaimed. This kingdom shall be seamlessly given to Bharata. And You shall undoubtedly have to remain in the forest for fourteen years. Therefore, O Kakutstha, You should proceed to the forest and save Your father from untruthfulness.’ Thereupon Rama fearlessly replied to Kaikeyi by saying 'So be it'. Thus my husband, with unflinching determination, complied with her wishes.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.13-16)

Lord Rama In the above referenced statement, Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife, is describing the events that led to the exile. She is speaking to the Rakshasa demon, Ravana, who had approached her in the guise of a mendicant. Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana were residing in the forest of Janasthana. At Sita’s request, Rama and Lakshmana went to chase after a deer which was actually a Rakshasa in disguise. Ravana, in the guise of a brahmana, approached Sita and propositioned her. Sita then identified herself and described the glories of her husband, Rama.

The idea for Rama’s exile actually came from Dasharatha’s youngest wife Kaikeyi. She wanted her son, Bharata, to be the king and thought that things would be easier with Rama out of the way. In her telling of the story, we see that Sita put special emphasis on the fact that Rama fearlessly replied to Kaikeyi that He would have no problem renouncing the kingdom and going to the forest. Kaikeyi was expecting a disagreement to arise, for Dasharatha himself was heartbroken over the idea of Rama’s exile. But as mentioned before, God is atmarama, so He is not attached to the post of king or any other material opulence.

So how do we acquire the same level of renunciation? How do we become atmarama? Well, there are many ways to achieve this goal, but the easiest method for this age is the constant chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The secret is to develop detachment through attachment. If we first rekindle our natural love for God, it will be much easier to remain unaffected by the ups and downs of everyday life. Lord Rama remained steady and calm because had a job to do, namely that of protecting the sages living in the forest and destroying the Rakshasa demons, headed by Ravana. In a similar manner, if we remain steady on the path of devotional service, we will be performing the highest form of yoga. Yoga means linking of our consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness. The Supreme Consciousness is God, and through Him we can achieve anything.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Curbing Our Passions

Dasharatha and Kaikeyi “Being under the control of passion and lust, Rama’s father, Maharaja Dasharatha, wanted to fulfill Kaikeyi’s cherished desire, thus he did not go through with Rama’s installation ceremony.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.12)

Being under the control of our passions is not a good thing. Rather, we are supposed to be the controllers of our senses and our actions; hence the living entities are described as ishvara, or controllers. God is the supreme controller, thus He is also known as Ishvara and also as Parameshvara. Param means great or supreme, so when it is added as a prefix to ishvara, it means that God is the greatest of controllers. The Lord has two separate energies, the superior and the inferior. The modes of nature, which include passion, are part of the material energy. The spirit soul is meant to associate with the spiritual, or superior, energy since that affords one the protections offered by God. The inferior energy offers no such protections, thus it only brings misery, chaos, and despair.

“O son of Pritha, those who are not deluded, the great souls, are under the protection of the divine nature. They are fully engaged in devotional service because they know Me as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, original and inexhaustible.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.13)

Lord Krishna Associating with the material energy leaves us subject to the dangers which lurk around every corner. We see evidence of this in our day-to-day lives. People can die at any moment. Even Olympic athletes can meet with accidents and lose their life, so what does that say about others who take part in higher risk behavior. In fact, something as simple as driving a car can be a very dangerous activity, for thousands of people die each year in traffic related accidents. Aside from the dangers that are caused by Mother Nature, there are others that come about through our own activities. Uncontrolled sex life is considered very dangerous because it causes misery through our interactions with others, and also self-inflicted wounds coming from our mind and psyche.

Sometimes people wonder why romantic love is so difficult. Especially around the holiday season or Valentine’s Day, those who are single wonder what it will take to find their soul mate or their perfect match. In reality, God intentionally made sex life difficult for human beings. This is because He has higher goals for us. The human form of life represents the most elevated of species because human beings have the highest level of intelligence. There can be many debates about who or what we consider to be intelligent, but the Vedas tell us that the truly wise among us are those who understand the difference between matter and spirit. Knowing that spirit is different from matter is one thing, but knowing who is the origin of both is another.

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 10.8)

The Vedas tell us that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the origin of everything. His impersonal feature of Brahman represents the sum and substance of everything in the world, including both matter and spirit. God’s Paramatma feature goes one better because it serves as the Supersoul residing within the heart of every living entity. In His original feature, God is Bhagavan, or the Supreme Lord as a person, i.e. an individual just like us. The point of human life is to reconnect with God in His Bhagavan feature. Those people who know how to reconnect with Krishna are thus considered intelligent. Book smarts and street smarts can only take us so far. Even having a good speaking ability really can only provide us limited success. If anything, such personality traits only serve to fool others into thinking that we’re smart. Real intelligence is that which brings us to serving Krishna.

Sex life is extremely painstaking because God wants us to engage in His service. If He wanted us to engage in unlimited amounts of sex with multiple partners, He would have put us in a different species. The monkeys and dogs have insatiable appetites for sex. They don’t even have to worry about seduction. They don’t think, “Ok, how do I get this girl to like me? I will try to compliment her, or I will send her flowers.” No, the dogs just go up to whoever they want to fornicate with and start their business. Sex life is more complicated for us humans. Every person has different desires and different things that attract them to others. Even when people do get together, there is more difficulty in trying to keep the romantic spark, hence the concept of “the chase is better than the catch”.

The Vedas tell us to not become slaves to our passions, especially sex life. God is the creator of this universe and millions of others. His creating powers are in essence a form of sex life. The romantic love we experience here is actually a perverted form of the pure love that exists in the spiritual world. Our pursuit of domination over women and our desires to enjoy illicit sex stem from our inherent desire to imitate God. God is God, meaning that no one else can be Him no matter how hard they try. God has always been and will always continue to be God. The natural order of things is for us spirit souls to act as His servants. When we become ruled by our passions, we become servants of the inferior energy. In a sense, this is slavery of the worst kind, and it can lead to disastrous results.

Lord Rama In the above referenced statement, Sita Devi is explaining to Ravana how her husband, Lord Rama, ended up being exiled from the kingdom of Ayodhya. During the Treta Yuga, Lord Krishna advented on earth as a pious prince named Rama, born as the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Dasharatha. At the age of twenty-five, Rama was all set to be installed as the new king, but Dasharatha had to change his mind at the last minute. Dasharatha was an extremely pious king, a fact which should be quite obvious considering that God Himself appeared as his son. Still, on a previous occasion, the king had promised two boons of her choosing to his youngest wife, Kaikeyi. Not only had Kaikeyi helped Dasharatha out, but she was also his favorite wife. This was due to her beauty. Kings live in the mode of passion, thus the Vedas allowed them to have multiple wives, provided that they were well cared for and protected. Dasharatha had three wives, but Kaikeyi was the youngest and considered the most attractive.

Dasharatha didn’t need to grant her any boons, but he did so out of affection. When the time came for Rama’s installation, Kaikeyi decided to cash in on her boons. She insisted that Rama be sent to the forest for fourteen years and that her son, Bharata, be installed as king instead. Sita, being married to Rama at the time, insisted on accompanying her Lord, as did Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. While the group was staying in the forest of Janasthana, the Rakshasa demon, Ravana, appeared in front of Sita. Assuming the guise of a mendicant, Ravana propositioned Sita. Rama and Lakshmana were away from the cottage due to a diversion that Ravana had created.

Sita immediately identified herself to the person she thought was a mendicant. She gave a description of her beloved husband Rama. In the above referenced statement, Sita is making sure that Ravana knows that Rama didn’t get exiled from His kingdom through any fault of His own. Rather, it was due to Dasharatha’s weakness, caused by his uncontrolled passions [kama-artah]. Essentially, Sita is giving a warning to all of us that we shouldn’t be too overly attached to sex life. Life is meant for serving God, as she so brilliantly exemplified through her actions.

Sita Devi Sita was a woman and therefore had no formal training in Vedic teachings. However, from the example set by her parents, and through her service to Rama, she picked up on all the major points. Her knowledge of dharma was perfect. Though she was a beautiful woman herself, she knew that it was man’s duty to curb his sexual impulses, and to remain steadfast on the path of dharma.

“I am the strength of the strong, devoid of passion and desire. I am sex life which is not contrary to religious principles, O Lord of the Bharatas [Arjuna].” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.11)

So do the Vedas recommend that we completely abstain from sex? No. If we’re able to completely abstain then it’s good, but the Vedas tell us that we can have sex, provided that we follow religious principles. Actually this should be the mindset we have when we carry out any of our duties. The Vedas provide rules and regulations, but they are not there just to punish us. Rather, these regulations help us curb our senses so that we can better concentrate on learning about God, and use that knowledge to serve Him. Sex life is allowed, but only within the bounds of marriage, and then only for the purpose of having children. Any other kind of sex is considered illicit and sinful. And why is it sinful? Because it causes one to become further bound to the cycle of birth and death. Some religions believe that we only get one life, while the Vedas tell us that we get as many lives as we need to properly understand God. Regardless, if we have desires to associate with the Lord’s inferior energy, it’s safe to assume that we will go anywhere but the supreme abode after our current life is over.

So how do we curb our passions? The easiest way is to take a positive approach. When it comes to religious life, the dos are more important than the don’ts. It is recommended that we stay committed to performing the dos, and that through this commitment, the don’ts will eventually take care of themselves. So what are the dos? The aggregate sum of all prescriptions relating to positive spiritual activity is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. There are nine distinct processes, but the one most recommended for this age is the constant chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Rama Darbar Sita Devi was an expert practitioner of devotional service. She always thought of Rama, surrendered everything to Him, offered Him prayers, chanted His name, served His lotus feet, and so much more. Rama’s other close associates like Lakshmana and Hanuman were also perfect devotees. Therefore they are today worshiped together in what is known as the Rama Darbar. We certainly can’t imitate all the wonderful activities performed by Sita Devi, but we can follow the path she set. By keeping our minds fixed on her lotus feet and the path of devotion that she laid down, we can rest assured that our passions will always be under control.