Saturday, June 5, 2010

Liberty and Tyranny

Mother Yashoda with Krishna “The actual translation of the word yoga is ‘plus.’ At the present moment we are minus God, or minus the Supreme. But when we make ourselves plus—connected—then our human form of life is perfect.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Easy Journey to Other Planets, Ch 2)

Social commentators and philosophers often seek to establish the moral superiority of liberty over tyranny. This may seem like a strange issue to take up because who would actually believe that tyranny is a good thing? Yet from studying human history over the past five thousand years, we see that mankind has mostly lived under tyranny. Some of these regimes were worse than others, but man was more or less held under the tight control of government. They were told where to live, where to work, and who to worship. It is for this reason that people fight very hard for liberty, and once it is achieved, they work even harder to keep it. Yet if liberty is enjoyed by so many people, how do we ever end up with tyranny?

Hanuman showing Sita and Rama in his heart It is the natural yearning of the spirit soul to be free and unfettered. No one likes being told what to do. Starting from the time of our birth, we love to run around and play and not live by any rules. It takes great cajoling from our parents to get us to eat the right kinds of food, to sleep on time, and to attend school. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this desire to be free is actually a result of natural qualities possessed by the spirit soul. Though we have a tendency to identify with our bodily features, such as our skin color, gender, and birth country, our actual identity comes from the spirit soul residing within. This soul is ever-existing, imperishable, and full of bliss. It makes logical sense to take our identity from the soul, for our body is ever-changing. Though we look different and have more intelligence as adults, there is still no difference between the identity we have as an adult versus the identity we had as a child. The only things that change are our bodily features. Therefore a sober person will realize that one’s true identity comes from the soul.

“According to the Vedic version, the Supreme Lord manifests and expands Himself in innumerable expansions, of which the primary expansions are called Vishnu-tattva, and the secondary expansions are called the living entities. In other words, the Vishnu-tattva is the personal expansion, and the living entities are separated expansions. By His personal expansion, He is manifested in various forms like Lord Rama, Narasimhadeva, Vishnumurti and all the predominating Deities in the Vaikuntha planets. The separated expansions, the living entities, are eternally servitors.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7 Purport)

God and His incarnations The Vedas tell us that the soul is part of the marginal energy of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is the same person that most of the world refers to as God. Though different faiths may have different names for the Supreme Lord, there can only be one God. That is the very definition of all-powerful. God is for every single person, regardless of a person’s belief system. As expansions of God, we inherit His qualities of eternal bliss and knowledge. Though we are expansions of God, we are at the same time different from Him. As God has an internal energy represented by spirit, He also has an external energy represented by matter. We living entities are subordinate to God in that we sometimes have a desire to associate with matter. God, on the other hand, can never directly associate with His external energy. Matter exists solely for the wayward spirit souls to play with in their pursuit to imitate God.

Wanting to be just like the Supreme Lord, imitating His abilities to create, maintain, and destroy, we spirit souls were cast into this ocean of nescience known as the material world. Our desire for liberty came with us, however, and that is why we enjoy freedom so much. It is hard to argue against the moral superiority of freedom. After all, who likes being told what to do? Yet we see that in even the most free of countries like the United States, liberty is slowly eroding. People are more afraid than ever today that the American dream is slipping away.

The United States of America was founded on the principle that every person is endowed by God with the rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Keeping these principles in mind, the Constitution was crafted and agreed upon. Serving as the governing document of the country, the Constitution’s main business was to defend the rights of man from an oppressive government. Though its implementation was certainly flawed in the early years, this new style of government quickly made America stand out in the world. Former President Ronald Reagan referred to the country as a shining city on a hill, a beacon of light. People from all over the world would flock to America to live the American dream. Not only was there economic freedom in America, but religious freedom as well. In the 1600s, long before the founding of the country, the Pilgrims came to the land for the express purpose of religious freedom.

Statue of Liberty Since liberty and religious freedom have universal appeal, America soon became a diverse country. People of all races, ethnicities, and cultures came to America to begin a new life. The United States soon became a melting pot of cultures. Though there is much focus given to the concept of diversity today, we see that diversity occurs on its own, provided that the governing principles of a country apply to every single person. The diversity that resulted in America occurred on its own, without any planning commissions or government programs.

If the liberty enjoyed by the people of America was so great, why didn’t other countries adopt a similar style of government? Moreover, how did we end up with today’s situation where more and more people are worried about an oppressive government taking over private industry? The answer is that if people don’t know what to do with their liberty, tyranny will surely result. One need only look to several examples in recent history for evidence of this. The first half of the 20th century saw the rise of powerful dictatorships in Europe. Hitler and Mussolini were two of the more notorious brutal dictators of their time. Yet how did Hitler and Mussolini come into power? Did Hitler openly tell everyone that he was going to try to wipe out an entire race of people, namely the Jews? Obviously he didn’t. Instead, he capitalized on the freedom and liberty that existed inside of Germany to rise to power. He took a step-by-step approach to eliminating freedoms by appealing to people’s emotions rather than their intellect. He was able to hoodwink enough of the population that pretty soon people were being killed by the government simply because of their religious beliefs.

Similar situations can be found today in African countries. Anyone who watches American television surely has seen advertisements for charity groups which help poor children in Africa. The scenes in these commercials are quite depressing. Hoards of emaciated young children standing in a field, waiting for food and water. Billions of dollars of foreign aid has been poured into these African countries yet the condition remains the same. If we stop and think for a second, we will see that there is no reason for anyone to be poor in any country, especially on the continent of Africa. The birds, beasts, and aquatics have no problems of starvation, for God supplies them food. We human beings are much smarter than the animal species, so should any of us starve? Moreover, Africa has much more land to work with than America, yet America’s food production is so great that it can feed the entire world.

African continent Africa’s poverty can be traced to the rise of tyrannical governments. People were free at one time, yet dictators rose to power and slowly confiscated all the land. They were able to get away with this because they told the middle class and the poor that they were only taking the land of the rich. With the loss of private property, people had no incentive to produce, and thus a food shortage resulted. Poverty came shortly after that, and people were left to beg from foreigners for food. With such a huge land mass, Africa can produce more than enough food for itself, provided that individuals are allowed to own property and keep whatever they earn through trade and production.

Liberty is certainly a good thing, but if we don’t know what to do with our freedom, we will most certainly be susceptible to giving it away. In America, it is common for people to complain about government regulations and red tape. Yet at the same time, these government officials are incapable of doing anything without being elected by the people. In essence, it is the people themselves who are voting for tyranny.

So if liberty leads to tyranny, and tyranny is bad, what should we do? As with every other problem in the world, we simply need to look to Krishna. The Vedas actually never deal with the issue of liberty. This is because even the freest of people can still be slaves to their senses. Real freedom can only be of the spiritual variety. Simply having the ability to do whatever we want is not enough to achieve perfection in life. We need to have a set of guidelines, a goal that we can work towards.

“One who can control his senses by practicing the regulated principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord and thus become free from all attachment and aversion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.64)

Lord Krishna Freedom should be used to serve God in a loving way. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Yoga means linking the soul with God, or in more simple terms, it just means plus, or addition. Bhakti means love or devotion, so bhakti-yoga means devotion plus God. Currently we living entities are just one term in the equation. If we remain by ourselves, we are powerless. We must add God to our lives in order to have any real potency. There are different ways to add God to our lives, but the best way is through loving devotion. This is the natural tendency of the spirit soul, i.e. to love God.

The lesson here is that the perfection of liberty can only be seen in the spiritual world. Part of God’s internal energy, the spiritual realm allows for unfettered access to the Supreme Lord in His original form. The spirit souls associate with God in different transcendental humors depending on their preference. Some act as God’s friend, some as His lover, and others as His faithful servants. Pure liberty means being free from the effects of the senses and the influence of the material world.

By practicing devotional service, we become free of all anxieties. We no longer have to worry about birth and death. We don’t have to worry about our way of life, or whether or not our country will survive. Our real home is in the spiritual world, which is always full of life and vigor, where there is no concept of scarcity. So let us all use our liberty to serve the giver of freedom, God. By regularly chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can begin the pursuit of the highest form of happiness, Krishna-prema.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Auspicious Measurements

Lord Rama “I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is greatly fortunate, fixed in truthfulness, gifted with all auspicious marks, and has the bodily measurements of a banyan tree [nyagrodha-parimandala].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.34)

God is great. The Vedas, the original scriptures for mankind, try to put this greatness into words. The Lord also helps us by appearing from time to time in this world to enact pastimes and protect His devotees. The total number of incarnations is too large to count, but the Vedas give us an idea of the more important ones. Aside from telling us when and where the Lord appears, the Vedas inform us that God’s incarnations can be identified by the presence of auspicious marks on the body.

“This baby has all the symptoms of Lord Narayana on His palms and soles. He will be able to deliver all the three worlds.” (Nilambara Chakravarti remarking on baby Chaitanya’s features, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 14.16)

Lord Chaitanya When God incarnates, His auspicious marks appear on the soles of His feet and also in other areas. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His primary expansion is that of Lord Vishnu. When appearing on earth, these expansions are referred to as Vishnu incarnations. The beautiful auspicious marks of Lord Vishnu also appear on the bodies of His various incarnations such as Matsya, Kurma, Narasimha, Rama, etc. The Lord’s most recent appearance on earth as a human being was as Lord Chaitanya, who also possessed these auspicious marks on His body. Though Lord Chaitanya is not included in the list of major incarnations of Lord Vishnu, His appearance is hinted at in both the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata. In addition to having auspicious marks, Lord Chaitanya also had unique bodily dimensions. His arms and His chest had the same measurements, thus He was referred to as nyagrodha-parimandala.  When translated, this term means that His body had measurements like those of a banyan tree. This same description, nyagrodha-parimandala, also applied to God’s incarnation as Lord Rama, who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga.

Krishna's lotus feet Why would God need to have auspicious marks and unique measurements for His body? When the Lord appears on earth, He doesn’t openly disclose His divinity. Human beings have free will, in that they are not forced to do anything, including love. We have experience of this in our own lives. We may love another person very much, but it isn’t guaranteed that the love will be returned. It works the same way between the living entities and the Supreme Lord. God is the original reservoir of pleasure, but the material world poses an obstacle to the living entities. Here, we are given all sorts of avenues to seek pleasure. We can seek out sense gratification through many different activities, but they all lack a relation to God. The Lord wants to reclaim His lost sons and daughters, but there is no way He can force us to love Him. If there is coercion involved, the relationship can’t be defined as a loving one.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)

The Supreme Lord comes to earth to annihilate miscreants and to give pleasure and protection to the devotees. God is always God, however, thus when He appears in the body of a human being, He will naturally possess extraordinary qualities. These include auspicious marks on His body and unique measurements for His limbs and other body parts. These unique dimensions remind people that He is no ordinary human being, for we tend to be drawn to people who have extraordinary abilities. The Olympic runner, Usain Bolt, was a great example of this. At the 2008 Summer Olympics, Bolt shattered the world record in the 100m dash. The uniqueness of his body is what really intrigued people. It has always been assumed that tall people wouldn’t make good runners because their height would require too much effort from their long legs. Bolt debunked this theory by not only winning gold medals, but by easily defeating the competition. His unique running style and bodily dimensions made him an athlete of interest around the world.

Lord Rama In a similar manner, God breaks the mold when it comes to all areas of opulence. As Bhagavan, He possesses the qualities of renunciation, beauty, wealth, fame, knowledge, and strength to the fullest degree. When the Lord appears on earth, His body is not material, meaning it is not subject to creation and destruction in the same way that ours are. However, in order to fit in with the rest of society, the Lord’s body appears to be material. This, again, is to keep His divinity under wraps as best as possible. The devotees, however, can tell that He is God based on distinguishing features.

In His incarnation as Lord Rama, God took birth as a pious prince, expert at warfare and dedicated to the welfare of the pious. His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana, accompanied Him on a fourteen year sojourn through the forests of India. On one occasion, the group was visited by the Rakshasa demon Ravana, who appeared in front of their cottage in the guise of a mendicant. Ravana was a committed atheist who had intentions of kidnapping Sita and making her his wife. He created a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana were led away from the cottage, leaving Sita all by herself. At first, Ravana approached Sita in a humble manner, but then eventually the demon revealed his true form.

Sita sternly rebuked Ravana. In the above referenced statement, she is describing the glories of her husband to the demon. This was done for two reasons. Sita inherently loved Rama and depended on Him for everything. This is the dharma of pure devotees; they don’t surrender to anyone else except God and His representatives. Sita’s description also served to inform Ravana that Rama was no ordinary man. Ravana had ascended to power by propitiating various demigods with sacrifices and austerities. They rewarded him with many boons, and Ravana in turn used those boons to defeat many great demigods. For this reason, he thought that he was invincible.

Sita and Rama Ravana wasn’t threatened by Rama. “This poor prince is living in the forest like a homeless man. How powerful can He be? I’m richer than He is, and I rule over a large kingdom. How did this man get such a beautiful wife? I will take her for myself.” From Sita’s description, we see that Rama not only possessed auspicious marks, but that He was greatly fortunate [maha-bhagam] and dedicated to the truth. This stood in stark contrast to Ravana’s features. Sita was letting Ravana know that her husband was nothing like him, and that she had no desire to be with such a demon.

In the end, Ravana would not heed Sita’s warnings, and would kidnap her anyway. Rama, with the help of Lakshmana, Hanuman, and the Vanara army, would march to Lanka, defeat and kill Ravana, and rescue Sita. Everything relating to God is beautiful and auspicious. If we make Him the object of our worship and become His dependent, we will always feel as if we are in the presence of greatness. May the all-auspicious Lord Rama grant us the benediction of having His beautiful darshana, day-after-day.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Word of Mouth

Lord Krishna “My dear friends, the cows are also charmed as soon as they hear the transcendental sound of the flute of Krishna. It sounds to them like the pouring of nectar, and they immediately spread their long ears just to catch the liquid nectar of the flute.” (A gopi speaking to her friends, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 21)

In the world of advertising, nothing is as effective in gaining potential clients as word of mouth. A business can distribute as many fliers and run as many television advertisements as they want to, but what really brings customers through the doors is a recommendation from a friend or family member. This same principle can be applied to preaching, or the distribution of the glories of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Word of mouth advertising relies on the recommendations of friends and family members. Advertising can be found everywhere. Wherever we turn, we see a new commercial or a new billboard which is promoting a new product, restaurant, or television show. Network television could not function without paid advertisements. There are hundreds upon hundreds of cable channels in existence today, and none of them would be on the air it if wasn’t for paid advertising from companies wanting to attract new customers.

Social networking With the barrage of advertisements that we are subjected to every day, it becomes difficult to figure out which products to try and which ones to avoid. For this reason, the most effective form of advertising is word of mouth. This form of promotion relies on average citizens doing the advertising for the company, voluntarily and without any pay. For example, a person may try a new type of cold remedy. Seeing that it works for them, they are likely to recommend the product to their friends and family. Other people will be more receptive to these recommendations since they are coming from a close confidante. Our friends and family love to share their passions with us, and vice versa. Our friends understand our likes and dislikes, so they aren’t likely to recommend something to us that we won’t like.

The beauty of the unsolicited advice given by friends and family is that the sentiments are genuine. Advertisers are after only one thing: a profit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, for profit is the reason why businesses operate. Our friends and family aren’t interested in this sort of thing though. They like to share their interests with us because they think it will make us happy. If they try a new restaurant and have a good experience, they are likely to tell us, “Hey, you should try such and such a place. The food was great.” Nowadays with the social networking revolution, people can use websites like Facebook, Myspace, and Twitter to get the word out even faster.

If a company has a genuinely good product, their customers will do all the advertising for them. They will tell their friends and family, who will in turn tell their friends, and so on and so on. Just one good recommendation can turn viral very quickly. This is the best way for a company to “get the word out”, so to speak.

Lord Krishna Devotees of God can use the same principle to spread the word about Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. There is only one God, even though people may refer to Him by different names. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme is addressed in more specific terms than just “God”. The word “God” can mean different things to different people, but it generally refers to the most powerful person, that entity which controls everything.

To more accurately describe God’s position, the Vedas refer to the Supreme Lord as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This description is more accurate because it accounts for God’s primary features. He is most certainly supreme, for there can be no one greater than Him. He is a person just like us in that He is purusha, or spirit. When we think of a person, we think of man and his fallibility, but the term “person” really refers to purusha, or spirit. Matter is known as prakriti and spirit is known as purusha. What identifies us is purusha, for that is what resides within our body. Spirit is always superior to matter. In the same manner, God is also purusha but His controlling capabilities are much greater than ours. He is the controller of the entire creation, including all matter and spirit. So in this regard, He is also known as param-purusha and adi-purusha, meaning the greatest spirit and the original person.

“The highest perfection of the eyes is to see Krishna and Balarama entering the forest and playing Their flutes and tending the cows with Their friends.” (A gopi speaking to her friend, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 21)

Krishna and Balarama The term Godhead implies that God can take many forms. Since He is the original person and ultimate controller of everything, He can expand Himself into an unlimited number of forms, ananta-rupam. Lord Krishna is described as the Supreme Godhead because He is the original form of God. Krishna means one who is all-attractive, and this is most certainly true about the Lord. If we see pictures of Him, we will see a beautiful young boy who has all good features. He is bluish in hue, wears a peacock feather in His hair, and carries His flute. The sound emanating from this flute is like none other. It captures the minds of all who hear it, and fills their hearts with transcendental bliss.

Since God is so wonderful, it is important to spread His glories to others. We are all suffering today due to forgetfulness of Krishna, or God. Our dedication to serving matter is great evidence of this fact. Though most people claim to belong to a particular religious group, we see that they make the aim of their lives the perfection of some material issue. For example, there are so many special interest groups in America. Each group deals with a particular cause, and while some of their goals may be very noble, in the end, they are seeking to adjust something relating to matter. Curing cancer, fighting poverty, lobbying for specific rights, etc. - all fall under the material category since they relate to the body. Our bodies are made up of matter, which as mentioned before, is inferior to spirit.

“This individual soul is unbreakable and insoluble, and can be neither burned nor dried. He is everlasting, all-pervading, unchangeable, immovable and eternally the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.24)

Spirit is immutable and incapable of being destroyed. Since the soul is so wonderful, it naturally makes sense that realizing its presence would make us happy. Our bodies were created at some point, so they are also destined for destruction. Knowing this, only an unintelligent person would give the body priority over the soul. Even greater than our own soul is that of the Supreme Lord’s, or God. He is the fountainhead of all spirit and matter, the creator of Brahman, which is the Absolute Truth. Real religion means connecting with God and engaging in His service.

Lord Chaitanya In this age especially, since people are so attached to matter, it becomes very hard for genuine devotees to get people to turn their attention towards God. Lord Chaitanya, Lord Krishna’s most recent incarnation, who appeared on earth some five hundred years ago, especially stressed the need for preaching. In previous ages, the adherence to dharma, or religiosity, was more prevalent in society, so most people already knew about Krishna. In this age however, most everyone is fallen due to the influence of Kali Yuga. To rescue the fallen souls, Lord Chaitanya asked everyone to take up devotional service to God. Practicing devotional service certainly furthers our own condition, but Lord Chaitanya asked everyone to go one step further and become a guru. “Wherever you go, whomever you meat, simply tell them about Krishna and His instructions. That is the highest mission in life.”

Preaching is certainly easier said than done, but this simple formula provided by Lord Gaurahari can help us achieve success. The first step is that we must take up devotional service ourselves. Our message will not be genuine if we are not practicing the devotional principles. The great Vedic saints are all known as acharyas, for they led by example. True devotion to God can never be quantified and it is not something one can achieve simply by performing rituals; it is more a state of mind. Devotional service is also known as Krishna consciousness, or bhakti-yoga. Yoga means linking of our soul with the Supreme Soul, or God. Krishna consciousness means that we are always thinking of God no matter where we are. If we are not directly engaged in His service, we are at least thinking of His glories or contemplating how we can go about serving Him more.

Hare Krishna The great acharyas tell us that the best way to achieve this level of consciousness is to regularly chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Hare refers to God’s energy and Krishna and Rama are two of God’s primary names. Why is it important to address God’s energy? Well, that is what we are striving to be. Contrary to the opinion of many impersonalist philosophers, we living entities can never become God. It seems silly that anyone would think this possible, but this sort of thinking is very prevalent in India. God is always God; He has never become God, nor will He ever stop being God. That is the very definition of Absolute. As living entities, the best we can do is to become His perfected energy. We are already His energy, but we don’t realize it. Krishna is the energetic, and the living entities are His energy.

By chanting Hare Krishna, we are asking God and His great devotees to help us in achieving perfection. Hare Krishna is the perfect prayer because it doesn’t involve asking for anything material. Many times we’ll approach God when we are in trouble or if we want something. This isn’t why God exists. He is most certainly capable of giving us anything we want, but He is not meant to be an order supplier. He is there to be our supreme object of pleasure, someone who can give us transcendental happiness. This type of happiness is considered the highest because it slips past the surly bonds of material existence.

Along with this chanting routine, we are advised to refrain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. Simply chanting is enough to deliver perfection in life, but it is important that we don’t fall back down to a hellish condition. These four activities are considered the most sinful because they keep us tightly bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death. Sin means anything that keeps us divorced of our relationship with God. Currently we are in a separated state, for the energy and the energetic are not together. Therefore we can conclude that material life itself can only exist in sin. Once sins are eradicated, the pure spirit soul returns to its original home in the spiritual sky.

Lord Krishna So let’s say that we regularly chant the maha-mantra, at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads, and also refrain from the four primary sinful activities. Does this mean our work stops here? While it is certainly nice to practice devotional service, one can perform an even higher service to God by spreading the glories of devotional service to others. In fact, there is no higher discipline than bhakti-yoga. It is more than just a discipline; it is the original occupation of man. Therefore, in the Vedic tradition, religion is commonly referred to as sanatana-dharma and bhagavata-dharma. Dharma is an occupational duty, something that can never change. God is ever-existing and so is the discipline which keeps one connected with Him. Therefore the word sanatana is placed in front of dharma to convey the idea of eternality. Bhagavata is a conjugation of the word Bhagavan, so that also implies direct service to the Supreme Godhead.

How do we spread God’s glories to others? In this age, no one wants to hear about God. If a politician merely mentions the word, people go into a tizzy. “Why are you imposing your religious values on me? Don’t preach to me. You think you’re better than me?” It is natural for people to feel this way. People are apprehensive towards religion because they have yet to encounter a bona fide system which provides any lasting results. Bhagavata-dharma, however, is the highest system of religion; something which applies to all people, from all walks of life.

“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, Bg. 3.21)

The easiest way to get others to become devotees is to simply talk about Krishna. This was Lord Chaitanya’s recommendation, and by doing a quick study, we can see just how effective this method is. Just as our friends and family trust our recommendations for where to shop and where to eat, they will also be open to hearing about religious beliefs, provided that we genuinely believe in them. The easiest way to lead is by example. It is an undeniable truth that people will follow the example of great leaders and other respected personalities. If our parents are vegeterians and refrain from drinking alcohol, we are more likely to follow suit. If our teachers set a good example, we’ll have a high ethical standard to which to model our behavior after.

Devotees of God automatically acquire all good qualities. If we can convey the point that this standard of behavior is the result of engaging in pure devotional service to God, others are more likely to take up the discipline. We have no idea of the profound influence our actions have on others. By regularly engaging in devotional service, we can set a good example for others to follow.

Lord Gaurahari Just as word of mouth proves to be most effective when selling a product, simply telling others about Krishna is the easiest way to induce others to take up devotional service. We simply have to petition others to take up the chanting process. This petitioning can be done in person, over the phone, and even over the internet. Whichever method we are most comfortable with, that is the path we should choose. And unlike the products and services that are advertised on television, chanting does not cost anything. There is no harm in giving it a try. Even a little devotional service performed in this life can go a long way.

Even if we can’t cajole our friends and relatives to take up devotional service through our words, there is still yet another way to preach the Lord’s glories. We simply have to chant His name out loud as much as possible. Since God is Absolute, His name has just as much potency as any of His other personal features. This means that Hare Krishna is a transcendental sound vibration; something which can penetrate through the wall of nescience that envelops us all. If a person hears this beautiful sound enough times, they are sure to become inclined towards chanting themselves. In this way, we see that there are so many options available to us. Lord Gaurahari is the most munificent incarnation of God, for not only did He freely distribute pure love for Krishna to everyone He met, but He empowered future generations of devotees to do the same. If we simply rely on Krishna and put all our faith in Him, He will surely guarantee our success.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010


Sita and Rama “I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is as immovable as a great mountain, as great a lord as Mahendra [Indra], and who, like a great ocean, is incapable of being agitated.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.33)

Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, cannot be shaken or flustered in any way. God is atmarama, meaning one who is Self-satisfied. He cannot be defeated, moved, or agitated by the miscreants. This is the very definition of God. The purport of Sita’s statement is that not only is God immoveable, but so are those who depend on Him. Sita Devi, being Rama’s wife, surrendered herself completely to the care and protection of the Supreme Lord, and thus was able to remain steady on the virtuous path.

Lord Rama All of us are dependent on someone or something, even though we may not know it. Children are dependent on their parents. Parents are also dependent on their children because the sons and daughters take over the lives of the parents. Lovers are dependent on their paramours. We see that the strongest type of depression occurs after a breakup or a divorce. Unrequited love causes pain to the heart. Thus even in loving relationships, there is a full surrender of feelings and emotions to the other person.

Since economic development, or artha, is required for society to function, we see that many of us are dependent on our bosses and the companies that we work for. Even the CEOs and company leaders aren’t independent, for they rely on the general public to purchase their products and services. Government leaders rely on the advice and consent of other officials in government, along with their trusted staff. Since the largest governments of the world today are democracies, the leaders become dependent on the voting public. One small mistake or misstep can lead to a revolt from the constituents, who can kick people out of office come election time.

On the surface, such dependence isn’t bad since we all must serve someone or something. We run into problems, however, since none of the objects of our service is perfect. This means that the protection they provide to their dependents is also flawed. We can use the recent economic crisis to illustrate this point. In the capitalist system, jobs are created through competition. A person has a good or service that they wish to sell to others in a peaceable and voluntary manner. The more products and services a person sells, the greater profit they will turn, which is the reason they are in business to begin with. Many of us think that companies exist to provide a decent wage and health benefits, but that is not the case. A company is in business for one reason: to turn a profit. All of us, being God’s children, have an equal right to pursue happiness. As a result, it is rare to see only one company for a particular industry. Usually many new companies spring into existence who also want to turn a profit offering similar services and goods. This results in competition. The same company that had the market cornered on a specific product or service must now deal with competitors. To maintain revenue stream and profit margins, companies look for ways to increase productivity; hence they hire workers. Competing companies then follow suit, and you eventually end up with what we have today - thousands of companies, both large and small, employing millions of workers around the world.

Even the largest companies, which are publicly traded and bring in millions of dollars in revenue each year, are subject to success and defeat. The buying and selling habits of consumers are always changing, meaning that a company can quickly go from turning a profit to turning a loss. In recent times, there has been a worldwide recession, where the overall output of goods and services has declined sharply. As a result, companies have been forced to cut costs. In most companies, the largest expense comes from labor, i.e. the workforce. When it comes time to tighten the belt, the workers are the first ones to suffer, through layoffs and firings.

Arjuna praying to Krishna Anyone who has ever held a job for a long time will tell you that being let go is not a good feeling. Having a job means having a steady source of income, which results in a sense of security in life. When layoffs occur, this security gets swept away. People are then left to either look for new jobs, or beg the government for help. In this way, we see that no matter how wealthy someone is, or how successful they are materially, they can never be considered infallible or perfect.

“Arjuna said: O infallible one [Achyuta], please draw my chariot between the two armies so that I may see who is present here, who is desirous of fighting, and with whom I must contend in this great battle attempt.” (Bhagavad-gita, 1.21-22)

In the Vedic tradition, God is one, but He has many different names based on His innumerable features and characteristics. One of His names is Achyuta, meaning infallible, someone who never falls down. In the famous Bhagavad-gita, the great warrior, Arjuna, often addresses Lord Krishna as Achyuta. This title can only apply to God because He is perfect in every respect. He is the original proprietor of everything; someone completely independent. Since He is the only person that is perfect, it means that He is the only entity that we should completely surrender to. He never suffers through loss or gain, thus His protection is always perfect. God is unshakeable and so are His devotees.

This fact was on full display many thousands of years ago in the Dandaka forest. Lord Krishna had incarnated on earth as Lord Rama, a pious prince and son of the king of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. While Rama, His brother Lakshmana, and His wife Sita Devi were residing in the forest of Dandaka, they were visited by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. The demon’s trusted aide, Maricha, appeared first in front of Rama’s cottage in the guise of a deer. At Sita’s request, Rama went chasing after the deer, and Lakshmana soon followed. This left Ravana free to approach Sita. The demon knew that Sita was kind-hearted, especially to the saintly class. Taking advantage of this, Ravana assumed the guise of a mendicant and thus approached Sita and begged her for alms. After Sita welcomed him, Ravana propositioned her. Sita politely declined and, at the same time, identified herself and explained to the brahmana that her husband was Lord Rama. She told him that Rama was ever-dedicated to the welfare of the saintly class and that there was no reason for the mendicant to harbor any ill-feelings towards Him or His relatives.

Sita greeting Ravana in the guise of a brahmana Ravana couldn’t stand to hear Rama and Lakshmana being praised in this way, so he finally gave up his act and revealed himself. This time, he openly declared his intention to have Sita as his wife. In the above referenced quote, Sita is sternly rebuking the demon by telling him that she is a dependent of Rama. And who is Rama? Well, Sita explains that Rama is someone as strong as a mountain and resilient as an ocean. A mountain is so large that no one can think of shaking it. People may try to climb a mountain or even ski off of it, but the mountain itself remains unaffected. The ocean also can handle anything that is thrown its way. Tidal waves, hurricanes, tsunamis, and yes, even oil spills, all cause fluctuations in the water, but in the end, the ocean remains intact. Mahendra means maha-Indra, and is a reference to Lord Indra, the king of heaven and the strongest fighter of the demigod army. The Vedas tell us that God is one, but that He deputes thousands of highly elevated living entities known as demigods to manage material affairs. Since the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing struggle between good and evil, the suras and the asuras. The demigods are the suras, and in their battles against the asuras, Indra assumes the role of leader. By comparing her husband to Indra, Sita is letting Ravana know that Rama can never be defeated in battle.

Not only did Sita list all of these wonderful attributes of Rama, but she made sure to state that she was His dependent, someone faithfully engaged in His service and abiding by her vow to always follow Him [anuvrata]. This is an important point. Since Lord Rama, God Himself, was capable of all these great feats, it naturally made sense that His dependents would enjoy all the protections offered from such a strong person. Ravana’s desire to have Sita was so strong that he would eventually forcibly drag her away from the cottage and bring her back to his island kingdom of Lanka. But Sita was a pure devotee of God, which meant that she was also unshakeable. She rebuffed all of Ravana’s advances and never came over to the dark side.

Sita and RamaThe lesson here is that we should become dependents of God and take shelter of His pure devotees like Sita. She is the goddess of fortune who also represents the Lord’s pleasure potency. If we honor and worship her along with God’s representative, the spiritual master, the Supreme Lord will be pleased with us and grant us full protection from all the bad elements in life.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Job Creation

Lord Krishna with cows “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, Bhagavad-gita, 9.27)

There has been much focus lately on the issue of jobs. Actually this is a perennial issue, as all political campaigns try to drive home the importance of economic development and the creation of “good paying jobs” for the citizens. The promises from the politicians are always the same. “I will create such and such number of jobs. I will jumpstart the economy today.” Some politicians now even take to claiming that they can save x number of jobs and thereby keep companies in business. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that jobs actually come about through desire, something which inherently exists inside of every living entity. The system of prescribed work is known as karma and it takes care of providing full employment for everyone. Lord Krishna, or God, is the supreme governor of this world, including the system of karma, so if anyone deserves thanks for creating jobs, it’s Him.

Lord Krishna To give us a clearer understanding of this concept, let us study how a job is created. This is where many of the politicians and economic analysts go wrong. They believe that government action, through either the modification of tax policy or the distribution of hand-outs to various companies, creates or saves jobs. If we look at how jobs are initially created, we see that the government has little to no role. To understand job creation, we have to remove ourselves from the current political and economic situations. Let’s pretend that we are in a brand new country, city, or state which doesn’t have any existing jobs. People have just settled in to live in the area. In any society, there will be people who will desire to further their economic condition. The Sanskrit term for economic development is artha. Along with dharma and kama, artha is considered one of the highest material rewards that one can receive.

To act out their desire for economic development, a person may decide to start a business. This business will sell a particular product, though businesses can actually sell anything, from money to services. The business owner wants to sell his product for a profit, meaning that the cost incurred to a customer to buy the product will be more than the cost incurred to the business owner to create the product. This is the simplest form of business, and it is enough to generate a profit for the business owner. The actual nature of the product is not that important. In this example, let’s say that a land owner has produced an abundance of food and wants to sell the surplus for a profit. The business starts out fine, with modest profits coming in from a small number of sales. Issues arise, however, when the business owner wants to expand his business and sell more products. Now he needs a way to create more inventory, handle the demands of the customers, and manage the day-to-day affairs of the business. To help him meet these demands, the business owner will hire workers, i.e. he will create jobs.

Since the business owner’s primary objective is to turn a profit, he won’t want to pay his employees a salary. A salary, after all, will cut into the profit margins since it will increase the cost to operate the business, thereby increasing the cost to produce the products that the business sells. Workers don’t come cheap though. No one will be willing to work hard for the businessman without receiving some sort of compensation in return. In this regard, we see that the employee is also after a type of profit, i.e. a return on the investment of the time and energy they give to the employer.

Money Since people won’t work for free, the businessman decides to pay his employees. Now, will this salary be high or low? Well, the businessman will only pay his employees just enough to get them to work. Again, his central focus is to turn a profit, so he wants to limit his expenses as much as possible. This is where some people might be turned off. “So he basically wants to exploit his workers? He wants to hoard as much of the profits for himself and pay his workers as little as possible? This is evil.” This may seem like a sinister plot on the part of the businessman, but he is just doing his job. The business only came into being due to the desire to turn a profit.

If we stopped at this point, we’d see that the wages paid to the employees would be very little. Workers would be exploited and the businessman would reap windfall profits. There is a catch however. This businessman is not the only person who gets to act out his desire for economic development. We are all living entities after all, meaning we all have an equal right to pursue our personal interests. What follows is that another businessman, seeing the profit made by the first businessman, decides to start his own business. Again, he will have to hire workers. In order to lure people to his company, this businessman will decide to pay his workers more than what the other company is paying. Now people start to get “good-paying” jobs.

Assembly line Based on this example, we see that competition is the driving force behind economic improvement. Not only is there competition for workers, but there is competition for sales. This means that companies will constantly work harder to innovate and create new and better products that people will want to buy. As long as there is a desire for profit, and competition to achieve that profit, jobs will always be available. In this whole scenario, we haven’t once discussed the issue of the government or the idea of a central planner making moral judgments as to whether someone is earning too much money or not paying enough in salaries. Not a single congressman, governor, or president has intervened to this point.

Does this mean that government should lay off and not bother anyone? Actually government does have an important role in all of this. When a businessman hires a worker, there is an inherent contract that is agreed to. The worker will provide a fixed number of hours of labor and the businessman agrees to provide compensation for that work. If either party breaks their end of the deal, the government certainly should intervene and ensure that the original contract is being followed. The same issue holds true with sales, for a company must be held to account if it takes money from customers and does not deliver the promised goods. The government must ensure that force does not play a role in any of these transactions. A worker should never be forced to work anywhere, a customer should never be forced to buy a product or service, nor should a business be required to sell their product to anyone.

Now let’s analyze the situation today. Governments certainly go far beyond their prescribed duties when it comes to regulating businesses. What happens today is that business leaders spend millions of dollars lobbying political candidates so that they will grant favors to them. A person need only look at the Federal tax code in the United States to see the results of such lobbying. There are all sorts of tax breaks for various activities. The Federal budget is also filled with hundreds of earmarks designed to help certain businesses. In a fair system, no business would be favored over another because no one person’s desires are any more valuable than another’s.

Aside from handing out corporate welfare, governments tackle the issue of fairness. They say that people deserve a “decent, living wage”. Based on the principles of economics as described above, we see that wages have nothing to do with “fairness” or a person’s living conditions. A wage is an agreement between an employer and an employee. An employee agrees to do a certain amount of work and the employer agrees to pay a certain amount for the performance of said work. Arbitrary fairness has nothing to do with it, for both parties are benefitted in a voluntary transaction.  If there was no benefit to be gained, neither party would enter into the agreement.

Lord Krishna's universal form Government leaders will always try to tackle the jobs issue by implementing flawed strategies, but we see that there is actually no need for their intervention. Jobs are created out of desire. The Vedas tell us that this desire exists naturally, for that is how the material world operates. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, thus He is the creator of the world that we live in. This world is intended to act as a sort of playground for the living entities who want to imitate God. This playground has a set of governing rules known as the laws of karma. Fruitive activity, or plain work, is known as karma, and since we all have an equal right to perform karma, there must be a system of fairness maintained that ensures that no one person’s desires are favored over another’s.

The beautiful system of economics, including how it deals with desire and competition, was created by Lord Krishna so as to help the living entities achieve God consciousness. This may seem strange because how can economic development relate to religion? The Vedas tell us that the aim of human life is to understand that God is the original proprietor of everything, our dear friend, and the supreme object of pleasure. As living entities, we require the bare necessities of life (food, water, clothing, and shelter) in order to maintain our lives. Economics is the system that seeks to meet the demands of the body. If a person has a stable occupation, they hopefully will be at peace and thus have more time for cultivating spiritual knowledge.

The Vedas tell us that we can achieve perfection in life by dedicating all of our activities to God. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. To this end, we see that even by performing our occupational duties, we can serve the Supreme Lord. How do we do this? First, we must regularly chant the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Then we should sacrifice our hard-earned money to the Lord. This can be done by purchasing nice flowers to offer to His deity, preparing nice food to be offered and eaten, and also by donating money to construct temples, etc. In this way, we can make the most out of our economic condition.

“Since the Lord is the supreme enjoyer of everything in or outside the universe, it is happiness to be employed by Him. Once engaged in the supreme governmental service of the Lord, no living being wishes to be relieved from the engagement.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.11.33 Purport)

Prabhupada worked tirelessly for Krishna Krishna is the ultimate job creator. Not only did He create the system of karma for the human beings, but He made sure to provide enough food, water, and shelter for the animal kingdom. Birds, aquatics, mammals, etc. don’t require any planning commissions or government bailouts. All of their necessities are provided by nature, which is merely a manifestation of one of Krishna’s energies. By the same token, we human beings can have all of our needs taken care of simply by serving the Supreme Lord. Governments can promise that they will create or maintain jobs, but no one can create desire. That already exists inside of us. At most, a government can create an environment where our desires can be more easily acted upon, but even then, life doesn’t stop once we have a good job. We need to go one step further by using our stable lifestyle to increase our attachment to God. If we make Krishna the supreme object of our desire, we can be guaranteed of a permanent job in the spiritual sky as His loving servant.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Raja Rishi

Lord Rama “Because Rama is firmly resolute and eternally dedicated to dharma, He, wearing matted hair and assuming the form of an ascetic, has entered the forest of Dandaka along with me and His brother.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.20)

In this statement, Sita Devi is explaining how she, her husband Rama, and His younger brother Lakshmana ended up residing in the forest. At the time, a demon, in the guise of a brahmana, was visiting her hermitage. This demon, named Ravana, propositioned her while both Rama and Lakshmana were away. Sita took the opportunity to identify herself and also to extol the virtues of her husband and brother-in-law. Lord Rama, an incarnation of God, was very famous at the time, so it seemed quite strange that He would take up residence in the woods, for He was the son of a king.

Sita and Rama deities Being royalty, Sita and Rama were accustomed to living the high life. In their kingdom of Ayodhya, the couple would awake to the sound of mrdangas playing and people chanting Vedic hymns. Rama’s father was Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya. As the eldest son of the king, Rama enjoyed great popularity and had every material comfort available to Him. His wife, Sita, was the most exalted of princesses and was also loved and adored by all.

We see that in today’s society, royalty and high class people enjoy similar treatment. Government officials in America have the best perks. Sitting Presidents are closely guarded at all times by the Secret Service. The commander in chief has trusted aides who handle all of their day-to-day affairs. Even when a President leaves office, he enjoys Secret Service protection for the rest of his life. A pension is also included, along with the best healthcare coverage in the world. In fact, all members of Congress can choose from some of the best healthcare plans in the country. Pay increases are regularly enacted. Not only are most of a Congressman’s expenses paid for by either the government or by lobbyists, but a large annual salary adds to the perks. Once they leave office, government officials often land high paying jobs as lobbyists or as political analysts on television.

In Vedic times, kings also enjoyed perks that weren’t necessarily available to the rest of society. However, their lavish lifestyle was deemed justified due to the protection they provided. The Vedas often refer to saintly kings as raja-rishis, meaning kings who are devoted and pious. The first king on earth was Maharaja Ikshvaku, the son of Manu, who incidentally was the first man on earth. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells Arjuna that He first imparted Vedic wisdom to the sun-god, Vivasvan, who in turn passed it down to Manu. Manu then taught Ikshvaku, who then passed on that legacy to all his descendants. Lord Rama took birth in the family line of Ikshvaku, thus He was firmly dedicated to dharma and piety.

The Vedas tell us that in addition to providing protection to society, a king should act as God’s representative on earth. This doesn’t mean that the king is God, but rather he is to be treated as good as God. Formerly the brahmanas, or priests, were the highest class of men in society, but the kshatriya kings were also treated to be as good as God because they acted piously. They knew their limitations, thus they took counsel on all matters from the brahmanas. This shows how a society can function properly. Not every person has to engage in the same occupation. This is not possible because everyone has different qualities they are born with and different desires they want to act upon. As long as one follows the directions of a bona fide brahmana, they will be acting piously.

Capital Hill We see that today’s leaders run into trouble because instead of acting as God’s representatives, they try to pretend to be God themselves. This is because they don’t have any belief in a higher power. They take themselves to be the smartest people in the world, part of an elite stock. They view the common man as a peon, someone who is too stupid to know what is good for him. Thus they enact policies which force the common folk into becoming dependent on the government. In this system, the leaders get to pretend to be controllers of society, thereby fulfilling their desire to imitate God. The miscreant leaders of today choose winners and losers in the economic system, divide up land based on ethnicity, all the while exempting themselves from the rules they impose on others.

If someone doesn’t believe in God and tries to act as God to everyone else, they are committing the most grievous of sins. In fact, the root cause of life in the material world is mankind’s desire to imitate God. By challenging the authority of the Supreme Lord, a person inherits all bad qualities. This was the case with Ravana. Though technically he was a great devotee at heart, Ravana played the role of an avowed atheist. He performed many great austerities in hopes of pleasing the demigods. The Vedas tell us that God is one and that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. Krishna then takes unlimited personal expansions known as vishnu-tattva. All other expansions of the Lord, including the living entities, are separated expansions, meaning they are subordinate to God.

Ravana The demigods are included in the list of separated expansions. They are highly elevated living entities who are in charge of managing the affairs of the material world. The material world is part of God’s inferior energy, thus the Lord can never directly associate with it. Since the creation needs day-to-day management and someone to handle maintenance and destruction, the Lord gives charge to the demigods. Unlike the Supreme Lord, the demigods are required to grant boons to anyone who pleases them, regardless of their motives. Ravana took advantage of this loophole by pleasing Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. The boons they gave him allowed Ravana to amass great wealth, fame, and power. Yet just like the modern day leaders, he had no belief in a higher power. He thought the demigods were the most powerful living entities, and by tricking them into giving him boons, Ravana thought he had surpassed everyone in the world in power and strength.

If a person does believe in God and becomes His devotee, then, unlike with the miscreants, they will inherit all good qualities. Lord Rama was not only an incarnation of Lord Krishna, but a pious kshatriya prince. He set the example for good government and proper conduct. In performing His duties as the eldest son of the king, Rama played the role of a raja-rishi. Devotees of God realize that all living entities are equal at their core. Unlike God’s challengers, the devotees realize that the body is temporary and that the spirit soul inside the body is eternal and unchanging. Realizing that all living entities are equal, devotees treat every person with respect and humility. Rama’s behavior was a great example of this. Lakshmana once remarked how no one could find any fault with Rama, even those He had punished. This is quite a striking statement, for one would expect criminals to be angry with those who prosecute them. But everyone knew that Rama didn’t play favorites and that He wasn’t puffed up with power.

Lord Rama’s humility and dedication to dharma would be tested on the eve of His coronation as king. Dasharatha decided Rama would succeed him on the throne, but at the last minute, he ordered his son to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. Modern day leaders would be outraged by such a thought. In America, some Senators serve more than thirty years in office. If it wasn’t for the twenty-second amendment to the Constitution which limits Presidents to serving two terms, most Presidents would also remain in office indefinitely, as was the case with Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Lakshmana, Sita, and Rama in the forest But Lord Rama wasn’t like this. He was dedicated to dharma, which dictated that a pious father should always be listened to. It is especially important for a king to set a good example, otherwise the citizens will follow his bad example. Rama never asked someone to do something He Himself wasn’t willing to do. This is the true test of a spiritual master. The great devotees of God are referred to as acharyas because they teach by example. Lord Rama gladly accepted the exile punishment, taking both Sita and Lakshmana along with Him, for they refused to remain in the kingdom without Him.

There are many lessons to learn here, the most important of which is that we should never try to be God. It is a futile attempt anyway since God is not a title that someone can assume or relinquish. God is always God; He was God in the past and will remain so in the future. As living entities, we are meant to be His energy, or His pleasure potency expansions. We can only give Him pleasure by engaging in loving devotional service. Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana showed us the way by always remaining dedicated to dharma. Dharma means righteousness, religiosity, or occupational duty. The dichotomy between Rama and Ravana illustrates how drastic the difference is between dharma and adharma. Ravana chose the path of adharma and eventually lost everything. His death was quite painful, whereas Rama and His associates abided by dharma and were duly rewarded. In this day and age, an occupational duty we all can adopt is bhagavata-dharma. This dharma can be easily practiced by becoming devotees of God and regularly chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Complete Knowledge

Radha Krishna “O learned Uddhava, those who fix their consciousness on Me, giving up all material desires, share with Me a happiness that cannot possibly be experienced by those engaged in sense gratification.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.12)

Comment: I like to think that I have an open mind about things. I take things from many different religions because I believe that each one of them has something to offer.”

Response: This is surely a good attitude to have, especially due to the fact that there are many preachers out there who simply give recommendations for dos and donts but don’t actually explain the meaning behind them. This style of teaching can be very off-putting and make people shy away from religious life. For those who are open-minded, it’s nice to hear different philosophies, taking those things that we like and eventually adding them together to form a religious philosophy that we can agree to and abide by. There is a much easier way, however, to gain a perfect understanding of all the religious principles that have ever existed. The secret is to study the king of all knowledge, raja-vidya, found in the ancient scriptures of India.

“Some say that people will be happy by performing pious religious activities. Others say that happiness is attained through fame, sense gratification, truthfulness, self-control, peace, self-interest, political influence, opulence, renunciation, consumption, sacrifice, penance, charity, vows, regulated duties or strict disciplinary regulation. Each process has its proponents.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.10)

Lord Rama and brothers learning from their guru The major religions of the world today are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. Each of these faiths have traditions that are appealing to us. Christianity is so nice because it is named after the great Lord Jesus Christ, someone who was so kind and compassionate toward his fellow man that he allowed himself to be killed by his enemies. One of the nice things about Islam is that it teaches dedication to worship. Followers of Islam pray at least five times a day and they try to always remain in a spiritual mindset. Buddhism is nice because it preaches non-violence and also deals with the issue of reincarnation. Judaism is great because its most prominent figure, Moses, gave us the Ten Commandments and also helped free the ancient Hebrews from slavery. With Hinduism, we get the worship of many demigods, as well as wonderful pastimes relating to Lord Krishna and His various expansions.

These are just some examples of things that are appealing from the different religions of the world. These little bits and pieces of information are certainly nice, but simply by following the Vedas, one can understand every religious truth ever expounded. The Vedas come from Lord Krishna, who is known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedas not only tell us that God exists and that He is one, but that He has names, forms, and attributes. One of Krishna’s attributes is that He is purna, or complete. Not only is God complete, but so is anything that directly relates to Him. Since the Vedas represent knowledge of the Absolute Truth, they can also be considered purna. Those who carefully study Vedic literature will find that the essential teachings of every major religion are already accounted for.

“…Due to the great variety of desires and natures among human beings, there are many different theistic philosophies of life, which are handed down through tradition, custom and disciplic succession. There are other teachers who directly support atheistic viewpoints.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.8)

Lord Krishna The Vedas contain various branches of knowledge. This is because every human being inherently possesses different qualities. There are many movements in existence today that seek to equalize the outcome of events, trying to ensure that everyone has the same wealth and enjoyment. This is a nice thought but something that can never exist in reality. Our bodies are composed of a combination of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Because of our different qualities, we each perform different work. Some person may act in the mode of goodness, while another may act in the mode of ignorance. Since we all associate with different modes, the results of our activities can never be the same.

Since every person is different, the Vedas don’t always recommend the same religious practices to everyone. This seems like a strange practice, but it is done for a reason. A person in the mode of ignorance, i.e. someone who is not very intelligent, is less likely to take to a higher form of religious duty, or dharma. Since God is all-merciful, He makes sure that even the least intelligent among us have a religious system that can provide gradual advancement in spiritual life.

And what exactly are we advancing towards? This is where many of today’s religious leaders come up short as far as their teachings go. A Christian or Hindu preacher may recommend pious behavior such as honesty, non-violence, and benevolence, but they don’t really tell us why these activities are good for us. Moreover, many religious leaders claim that we simply have to abide by various rules and regulations and that this behavior alone will be good enough to reward us with perfection in life.

Pious activity is certainly very nice, but if this doesn’t help us develop love for God, it is meaningless. The Vedas tell us that the aim of human life is to know that God is the owner of everything, the best friend of the living entities, and the supreme object of pleasure. Therefore, in lieu of other dharmas [religious systems], we are all advised to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. More than just a method of self-realization, bhakti-yoga is the activity that the spirit soul is naturally inclined towards. We are all meant to associate with God in a loving way, for that is the real purpose behind religion. One who follows the system of bhakti-yoga will be following the highest form of religion.

Maharishi Valmiki - Vedic author Naturally, there will be some objection to this. “Well, that’s what your religion says. Doesn’t every religious leader say that their system is the right one? How is bhakti-yoga different from any other system?” This is a very intelligent question that can be answered fairly easily. It is undoubtedly true that religious leaders around the world claim that their system of religion is the right one. If we do a quick comparison, however, we can see that bhakti-yoga is the topmost religious system. Religion means to worship spirit instead of matter. Matter is ever-changing and inferior in nature. It cannot do anything by itself. Life comes from life. And what is the source of life? Spirit. It is the spirit soul residing within the body that gives it life. At the time of death, the soul exits the body, and the person is thus considered dead. The body still remains present before friends and family, but the person is considered dead because the life force, the spirit soul, has exited.

Since spirit is superior to matter, we should spend our time focusing on worshiping and taking care of spirit. Yet an even higher discipline is to take up the worship of the greatest spirit, the cause of all causes. That spirit is Krishna, or God, who is also known as maha-purusha, or the supreme person. Therefore we can understand that the highest religion is that which seeks to teach us about the supreme spirit. Not only should religion teach us about God, but it should lead us down the path of developing a pure, unalloyed, devotional attachment to Him. By studying the prescriptions given by the religious leaders of the world today, we see that their recommendations fall short in the area of loving God.

Being peaceful, non-violent, honest, and dedicated to performing religious rituals are all certainly noble traits to possess, but if they don’t eventually lead to love of Godhead, we become prone to remaining worshipers of matter. We see that this is the case in the world today. Most people believe in God and also claim to be members of a particular religion. Yet we see that almost everyone is a worshiper of matter, meaning they take material sense gratification to be the ultimate aim of life. Therefore we can conclude that no one is really following their religious beliefs, or that the religious teachings they are following are incomplete.

Shrimad Bhagavatam Bhakti-yoga is purna because it aims to help us achieve the highest goal in life. “Ok, you say the point of human life is to love God, but how do we do that?” To reach this end, devotional service incorporates nine processes, of which chanting is the most effective for this age. There is something magical about transcendental sound vibration. Just as the sound vibrations of our favorite song remain etched in our memories for years and years, the transcendental sound vibrations praising God’s qualities help change our consciousness from the material to the spiritual. If our consciousness at the time of death remains fixed on Krishna, we never have to take birth again.

“All these devotees are undoubtedly magnanimous souls, but he who is situated in knowledge of Me I consider verily to dwell in Me. Being engaged in My transcendental service, he attains Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.18)

Since there is no difference between God and His names, the easiest way to develop a loving attachment for Him is to chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible. Krishna and Rama are bona fide names of God, and Hare refers to His energy. We living entities can achieve perfection in life when we realize that we are God’s energy, meant to serve Him and give Him pleasure. Currently we view ourselves as separate from God, and therefore we compete with Him for wealth, fame, and power. We will always lose this competition because, by definition, no one can be stronger, more famous, wealthier, or wiser than Krishna, or God.

The other component to bhakti-yoga is abstention from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. These activities are considered sinful because they keep us attached to matter. So far we haven’t covered anything that goes against the teaching of any of the major religions. Chanting God’s names? How can that be a bad thing? Abstaining from drinking alcohol, gambling, and unnecessarily killing innocent animals? Surely no saintly person or religious leader would recommend any of these activities to their followers. The overriding principle is that we should become worshipers of the supreme spirit instead of remaining enamored by matter. Our attachment to matter is the reason that life on earth exists in the first place.

Radha Krishna The lesson here is that it is certainly okay to take away good things from various religions, but we should understand that there is an easier way to acquire all good qualities. If we take up devotional service, we will become perfect human beings. A commonly used analogy to describe the difference between the Vedas and other religions is that of a full-sized dictionary versus a pocket-sized dictionary. A pocket dictionary contains the most important words and their meanings and can therefore be considered a valid dictionary. But a full-sized dictionary is considered superior because it has many more words, and therefore proves to be more valuable. If we take to studying the full-sized dictionary, the Vedas and more specifically the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, we can acquire all the religious knowledge that we need. Chant God’s names, develop an attachment to Him, and you will be eternally benefitted.