Saturday, June 12, 2010

The Forest From The Trees

Sita Rama “O ill-fated Rakshasa, since you wish to take away the beloved wife of Raghava [Rama], surely all these trees must appear to you as made of gold.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.38)

Ravana, the Rakshasa demon king, was so taken away by passion, that he desired to steal away the beautiful wife of Lord Rama, Sita Devi. Sita was the epitome of virtue, as was Rama. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who appears on earth from time to time to annihilate the miscreants and give protection to the devotees. Lord Rama was one such incarnation, and He enjoyed many great pastimes with Sita and His younger brother, Lakshmana. On one occasion, the group’s hermitage in the forest of Dandaka was visited by Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana were away from the cottage at the time, so Ravana used the opportunity to proposition Sita. In the above referenced statement, Sita is sternly rebuking the Rakshasa, telling him that he must be deluded in thinking that he could ever have God’s wife. He must also be mistaking normal trees to be made of gold, which also means that death was surely approaching him, for only a dying person would start to see everything around him as made of gold.

Sita Devi These words uttered by Sita certainly were true. Kama, or sense gratification, is certainly a part of regulated material life, for there is even a famous book known as the Kama Sutra, which details the act of satisfying the senses through sex life. Nevertheless, if kama is left unchecked, it can lead to delusion, madness, and a general straying from the principles of dharma. This was precisely the case with Ravana, a ten-headed demon who terrorized the world during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Rakshasas are a human-like species which live off meat eating, illicit sex, and drinking wine. Ravana was still religious nonetheless, so he performed many great austerities to please the demigods. His style of worship was performed in the mode of ignorance, however. The mode of darkness, or ignorance, is characterized by any activity which lacks intelligence, knowledge, or fruitive activity. In essence, the mode of darkness brings one further and further away from God, often times resulting in demotion to a lower species in the next life.

Ravana certainly performed great austerities involving self-control and the self-infliction of pain. As a result, Lord Brahma granted him any boons of his choosing. Ravana, being deluded by his ignorance, used these boons to increase his material strength and fame. He was given invincibility in battle against any celestial and animal. Normally, such a boon would be a great thing for a king, because it would mean that they could adequately provide protection to their citizens. Ravana, however, used his strength to terrorize other demigods, essentially Lord Brahma’s associates and friends. Ravana defeated his own brother in battle, Kuvera. There was no reason for this fighting except for the fact that Ravana wanted to be God. By definition, God is the most powerful, wise, famous, and beautiful. Ravana didn’t believe in a higher power, for he thought the demigods represented the upper limit of opulence. By defeating them in battle, Ravana thought himself to be God.

Ravana Aside from terrorizing the innocent, Ravana engaged in all sorts of other sinful activity. The Rakshasas of his kingdom were always drinking wine. Through his various conquests of other kingdoms, Ravana had amassed a great collection of beautiful wives. He would always engage in sexual activity with them, with Mandodari being his chief wife. These women were all very beautiful, and anyone would kill to have them as a spouse. Nevertheless, Ravana wasn’t satisfied. This is the danger of kama. Life on earth is meant for realizing God and not for simply satisfying the senses. For this reason the Vedas recommend that we regulate kama as much as possible.

Lord Rama, as part of His pastimes, travelled the forests of India at the same time that Ravana was ruling over his kingdom of Lanka. The demigods had actually petitioned Lord Vishnu, God Himself, to come to earth in human form to kill Ravana and alleviate their suffering. In his haste, Ravana forgot to ask Lord Brahma for immunity from human beings. Ravana never thought that a mere mortal could ever defeat him in battle. Using this loophole, God came to earth as a human in Rama. The Lord was living in the forest of Dandaka with Sita and Lakshmana when the group was attacked by Ravana’s band of Rakshasas. Rama was an expert kshatriya warrior, so He easily defeated all 14,000 of Ravana’s Rakshasa associates.

Angered by this, Ravana decided to kidnap Sita as retaliation. More than just getting revenge on Rama, Ravana heard of Sita’s beauty and decided that he must have her. This shows the seductiveness of kama. Simply by hearing of another’s beauty, Ravana was taken off the righteous path. Even by today’s standards, forcibly stealing another’s wife is considered a deplorable act. Athletes and famous celebrities who get caught in extramarital affairs are scorned by the public. By the standard of material life, Ravana should have been happy and content. Even in today’s world, we see that illicit sex, meat eating, gambling, and intoxication are very common. Abortion is allowed in America, as is cow slaughter. It is a sinner’s paradise, so the atheists should be happy. But we see that is not the case. More than any other group, the atheists are the most miserable among us.

Lord Krishna Again, this is because human life is meant for the cultivation of knowledge. Not just any knowledge; raja-vidya, the king of education dealing with the soul and its relationship with God. The material body that we currently occupy is subject to creation and destruction. However opulent we may be or however much we may satisfy our senses, our experiences here are only temporary. The spirit soul which resides within the body, the atma, is eternal. Since the soul never takes birth and never dies, it must have a natural home. The Vedas tell us that this home is in the spiritual world alongside the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shri Krishna. Ishvara parama krishna, the Supreme Controller is Lord Krishna. Perfection in life is achieved when the spirit soul returns to one of Krishna’s spiritual planets in Krishnaloka or Vaikunthaloka.

Sinful life is harmful because it takes us off the straightened path. All activities should be performed with the aim of returning to God’s spiritual kingdom. Any activity which keeps us bound to the cycle of birth and death is considered sinful. The height of sinful life is illicit sex, a byproduct of uncontrolled kama. We see that Ravana’s sinful life led him to falsely believing he could have Rama’s wife, i.e. taking ordinary trees to be made of gold. This is the definition of maya, taking something to be what it is not. For the devotees, the opposite situation occurs. They end up seeing the trees, and everything else in the creation, as being God’s property. This is the proper way to view things. The Vedanta-sutras tell us that the Supreme Absolute Truth is the original source of everything. All things that we see in this life, matter and spirit, sprouted from the breathing of Lord Narayana at the beginning of time.

Sita Devi The best occupation for the living entity is devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. Kama involves satisfying our own senses, but bhakti-yoga aims to please God. This isn’t an artificial engagement either. The spirit soul is naturally inclined to performing devotional service. This was the path taken by Sita Devi, Rama’s wife. She performed all nine processes of devotional service perfectly. Sita always recited Rama’s name, offered Him prayers, remembered Him at all times, served His lotus feet, became His friend, and surrendered everything unto Him. As a result of her service, she viewed all living entities equally. When Ravana first approached her, he was in the guise of a brahmana, or mendicant. Sita immediately welcomed him and openly declared that everything she had in her possession was intended for the brahmana’s benefit. Her husband was away from the cottage at the time, so she was a little distressed, but she didn’t let that stand in the way of welcoming a guest.

The lesson here is that we should follow the path of Sita Devi and not that of Ravana. Unrestricted kama will lead to our downfall. Unfortunately, Ravana would not heed the advice given to him by Sita. He would forcibly kidnap Sita, an act which ultimately led to his death. Not only was he never able to bring Sita under his control, but Ravana would lose everything when Rama and His army arrived at his kingdom of Lanka. Rama would defeat and kill Ravana, and install Ravana’s brother, Vibhishana, as the new king. Those who follow the path of devotional service will never have to worry about delusion. By regularly chanting God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can see the forest from the trees and see that everlasting happiness can only come through association with the Supreme Lord.

Friday, June 11, 2010


Vishnu avataras “Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service…” (Prahlada Maharaja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.23-24)

Question: “Does it matter whether you are a servant of Bhagavan Shri Rama or Bhagavan Shri Krishna or any other avatara of Vishnu?”

Answer: Most of us understand the concept of God, how He is the creator and the Supreme Lord, and that He has dominion over all that be. But what exactly is the difference between human beings and God? What about the animal kingdom? What is their relationship to the Supreme Lord and to human beings? To answer these questions, the Vedas go into great detail about the constitutional position of spirit and its relationship to the Supreme. In summary, the Vedas tell us that we living entities are all spirit souls at the core, jivatmas. Jiva refers to a living entity – a human being, aquatic, plant, mammal, reptile, etc. Anything with a soul in it, i.e. any form of life, can be thought of as a jiva. The soul is represented by the atma, so when we combine the two terms together, we get jivatma. God, on the other hand, has a soul which is much more powerful than ours. Therefore His soul is referred to as Paramatma. Moreover, our souls are merely expansions of God. The original form of God is Lord Krishna, though He takes innumerable personal expansions which are equal in potency to the original. We living entities are also expansions, but separated, hence we are known as jiva-tattva, while God’s personal expansions are known as vishnu-tattva. By worshiping any of the vishnu-tattva forms such as Lord Vishnu, Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, we will be worshiping the original Supreme Being.

“In the category of vishnu-tattva there is no loss of power from one expansion to the next, any more than there is a loss of illumination as one candle kindles another. Thousands may be kindled by an original candle, and all will have the same candle power. In this way it is to be understood that although all the vishnu-tattvas, from Krishna and Lord Chaitanya to Rama, Narasimha, Varaha and so on, appear with different features in different ages, all are equally invested with supreme potency.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 3.71 Purport)

Vishnu avataras So which form should we worship? Is there a difference between the different forms? Technically, there is, though it is only a subtle difference. To help us understand the difference, let us first analyze the issue of devotion to God. On the highest level of understanding, every single person is a devotee of Krishna; everyone is religious. This certainly doesn’t seem believable, but if we dig deeper into the matter, we’ll see that it is true. As stated before, Lord Krishna is the original form of God, more technically known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the original candle from which all other candles are lit. This means that Krishna is the source of all spirit and matter. This universe that we live in is enormous; it is so big that we have no idea how far outer space actually extends out. From Vedic information, we understand that not only is our universe enormous, but there are countless other universes similar in size. All the universes combined make up the total material creation. On a more granular level, material creation consists of the five gross elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and the three subtle elements: mind, intelligence, and false ego, combined into various shapes and forms.

Every living entity is engaged in some type of worship, which manifests through service. No one is independent, regardless of what they tell you or what they think. Even the richest person in the world, the CEO of the most successful company, is a servant of the customers who buy their products or the shareholders who own the company. So is a wealthy businessman a devotee of Krishna? What if they openly don’t believe in God? What if they are avowed atheists? Well, when we say that Krishna is the source of everything, we mean everything. Wealth, beauty, fame, strength, etc. are all just products of matter when you break them down. Thus we see that atheists are nothing more than worshipers of matter. Since matter is created by Krishna, it is non-different from Him, just as there is no difference between the sun and the sunshine. At the same time, matter is a manifestation of Krishna’s external energy, so in that sense there is a difference, a separation so to speak.

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.5)

Lord Krishna Let us review some of the other kinds of worship. There are those who don’t believe in God, but they love to acquire knowledge. They read as much as they can; philosophy, theosophy, politics, science, etc. These people, known as jnanis, are also worshiping Krishna, for all knowledge emanates from Him. God is Absolute, which means that everything spiritual and material is simply an expansion of one of His energies.

When the jnanis become a little advanced, they may delve into the differences between matter and spirit, trying to understand the ins and outs of all things material and spiritual. As a result of their study, they take to worshiping an energy. They can’t fathom the idea of a personal God or the fact that the divine has an eternally existing form. For such people, the highest truth is an impersonal energy. The Vedas give us a name for this energy: Brahman. Since they can’t come to the platform of devotional service to Krishna, these worshipers, known as jnana-yogis, remain stuck on the impersonal energy. Though they worship Brahman and fail to recognize the supremacy of Krishna, the jnana-yogis are nevertheless indirectly God’s devotees because they are worshiping one of His features.

There are others who can only understand God’s feature as the Supersoul, or Paramatma, which resides within the heart of every living entity. These people are usually referred to as yogis, and they engage in worship of the Supersoul through the practice of hatha-yoga or ashtanga-yoga, processes which involve meditation, sitting postures, and breathing exercises.

“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.23)

Then there are those who worship various demigods. The demigods are elevated living entities. Just as we see there is a difference between the lifespan of a dog and a human being, there is a difference in the lifespan of a demigod and an ordinary human being. Demigods can live for thousands of years, sometimes millions, and they have extraordinary powers which enable them to control wealth, speech, rain, fire, etc. Many followers of the Vedic tradition worship the demigods in order to procure different material rewards and perfections. Since the demigods are personally deputed by Krishna, they are also non-different from Him. Thus the devotees of the demigods are actually worshiping Krishna indirectly.

Lord VishnuThen there are those who take directly to worshiping Krishna or one of His vishnu-tattva expansions such as Lord Rama, Lord Vishnu [Narayana], Narasimhadeva, etc. The term Vaishnava, meaning a devotee of Vishnu, is applied to people who engage in this type of worship. The discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is aimed at pleasing Lord Krishna or one of His vishnu-tattva expansions.

Thus we have the rundown of the different kinds of worshipers, both theists and atheists. Since they are all worshiping some form of Krishna, is their worship considered to be on the same level? This is where distinctions are made. Every person is engaged in some type of service, even though the object of that service may be different. Every object in this world is but an expansion of the original Krishna, or God, hence each person can be thought of to be serving Krishna. Yet not all objects are the same, so there is a difference in the results of such worship.

Let us analyze the results of the different kinds of worship. Lord Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita that a person’s consciousness at the time of death determines their fate in the afterlife. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. The soul will continue to exist, but its outer covering will always change. When the current body is destroyed, the soul immediately is given a new body. The type of body is determined by the consciousness at the time of death, which is determined by the activities performed during one’s lifetime. For the atheists who are involved in worshiping matter, naturally their consciousness will be fixed on some material object at the time of death. This means that they will be given a material body in the next life. This cycle will continue until their consciousness changes.

The impersonalist philosophers spend all their time contemplating the brahmajyoti, or the Brahman effulgence. Thus their consciousness at the end of life will be fixed on an impersonal energy, which will reward the soul with an impersonal body in the afterlife. What does this mean? The soul of the impersonalist will merge into Brahman, thus eliminating their identity. For the yogis, their fate in the afterlife involves merging into Krishna’s four-handed form of Narayana, or Vishnu. The yogis spend their time contemplating the Supersoul, which is nothing more than a localized form of Vishnu residing within the heart. Thus the yogis will be rewarded by merging into Vishnu’s body at the time of death.

Lord Krishna and His pastimes For the devotees of the various vishnu-tattva forms, they will receive personal association with their form of choice in the spiritual world. Lord Krishna resides on the planet of Goloka Vrindavana, which is in the spiritual realm of Krishnaloka, and the various Vishnu forms reside on the Vaikuntha planets. Both Krishnaloka and Vaikunthaloka are part of the highest spiritual planetary systems. These are imperishable universes, so anyone who goes there never has to take birth again. If a person has stopped the cycle of birth and death, it means that they have achieved liberation, or mukti. The impersonalist philosophers and the yogis also achieve a type of mukti, but it is considered a lower form since they have no direct association with a personal form of God.

So now that we know the results of the different types of worship, how do we know which form of Krishna to devote ourselves to? Should we worship Lord Krishna or Lord Rama? What is the difference? In reality, there is no difference; it really just comes down to a matter of taste. If there is any difference at all, it is in the mood of love that is exchanged. From the authorized Vedic texts such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Brahma-samhita, we get information that Lord Krishna is the source of all incarnations and expansions. At the same time, His vishnu-tattva expansions are like identical candles which are lit from the original. In this way, there is no difference in any of the forms.

Lord Vishnu If there is no difference, then why even have so many forms? The reason for this is that the spirit souls are naturally inclined to serve God in different ways. Some like to view God as being very opulent, someone who is all-powerful and exquisitely beautiful. To allow these souls to worship God in a pure way, the Lord expands Himself as Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Narayana. Narayana means the source of all naras, or human beings. The various incarnations can be thought of as coming from Naraynana. Narayana has four arms which hold the conchshell, disc, club, and lotus flower. His beauty and power are both awe-inspiring, for He holds two items of power and two items of beauty in His hands.

Hanuman worshiping Rama According to the authority of the great saints, Lord Krishna is considered to be more attractive than any other form of God. For those who want to enjoy conjugal love with the Lord or pure love of some other variety, Krishna is the person to worship. The authorities even say that Lord Rama is not as attractive as Krishna. Does this mean that worship of Lord Rama is second class? Rama’s greatest devotee is Hanuman, the monkey king and authority on devotional service. No one in this world is more pure, kind, knowledgeable, and pious than Hanuman. Hanuman cannot worship any other form of God; he refuses to see anyone as God except Rama. During Rama’s time on earth, Hanuman personally offered service to the Lord, and so he has no desire to serve anyone else. Before Lord Rama returned to the spiritual world, Hanuman asked for the benediction to be able to remain in his body for as long as the story of Lord Rama’s life was still being told on earth. Hanuman also asked that he be allowed to hear Rama’s glories whenever he was feeling down or unhappy. This is the mood of a pure devotee. They have a particular form of Krishna that they love and they never want to worship any other form.

“It is impossible for me to give up the lotus feet of Lord Raghunatha [Rama]. When I even think of giving them up, my heart breaks.” (Vallabha speaking to his brothers, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 4.42)

Lord Chaitanya Lord Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, Lord Chaitanya, especially stressed devotion to Lord Krishna. In fact, He expounded on the differences between the various Vishnu forms in great detail in discussions He had with His associates.  These teachings can be found in the book, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya. Though He played the role of a devotee of Krishna, Lord Chaitanya never made people switch from worshiping one Vishnu form to another, provided that their devotion was pure. For example, He had an associate named Murari Gupta who was a great devotee of Lord Rama. Lord Chaitanya once asked him to switch to worshiping Krishna, but Murari Gupta couldn’t do it. He said he would rather die than abandon Lord Rama. Lord Chaitanya was very pleased by this level of devotion. The Lord also once met a brahmana named Ramadasa Vipra, who was so engrossed in worshiping Sita and Rama that he was distraught over Sita’s kidnapping, an event which took place thousands of years before. Again, Lord Chaitanya didn’t try to change the brahmana’s object of worship, but rather He took the necessary steps to only increase the brahmana’s devotion to Sita and Rama. Similarly, Lord Chaitanya’s two most famous disciples, the brothers Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami, had a younger brother named Vallabha [Anupama], who was a great devotee of Lord Rama. Vallabha couldn’t join Lord Chaitanya’s movement because he felt he couldn’t properly worship Radha-Krishna. Nevertheless, we know from the Chaitanya Charitamrita that Vallabha ascended to the spiritual planets where Lord Rama resides, thus achieving liberation.

Prahlada praying to Narasimhadeva Prahlada Maharaja, the five year old saint and son of a demon, personally offered prayers to Krishna’s half-man/half-lion form of Narasimhadeva. Prahlada was so attached to Narasimhadeva that he authored a wonderful set of prayers known as the Narasimha-kavacha-stotram. These prayers are dedicated to Narasimhadeva and are recited by devotees around the world daily. Was Prahlada’s form of worship second class? Obviously it wasn’t, for Prahlada is considered one of the great authorities on Vishnu worship, or devotional service.

Sometimes there will be friendly arguments between devotees as to who is greater: Vishnu or Krishna, Krishna or Rama, Narasimha or Krishna, Krishna or Chaitanya, etc. The great saint Vrindavana Dasa Thakura tells us that such arguments between devotees should never be taken seriously, for they are all done out of pure love. Devotees love their specific form of Krishna so much that they’ll even take to criticizing other forms just as a way to praise their specific object of worship.

The lesson here is that we should find a specific form of Krishna that we are naturally drawn to and worship that form purely and with great love. God is everything, but everything is not God. We can’t just imagine some form and take it to be God. Lord Krishna and His various incarnations are eternally existing, thus they are not concoctions of the mind. The avataras, or incarnations, are Krishna’s mercy to us, allowing us to offer service in the mood that best suits us. If we worship vishnu-tattva, we can be guaranteed of personal association with the Lord in the afterlife, thus achieving the highest form of liberation there is.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

True Colors

Sita Devi “Why would you, being a jackal, desire to be with me, who am a lioness and very difficult to obtain in this life? Just as a person can see the sunshine but never touch it, you will never be able to have me.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.37)

God can only be pleased by the good; those with a spotless character. The demons and atheists can never come close to touching God or any of His pure devotees. The Lord and His faithful servants don’t associate with cheaters, liars, and thieves. The deceitful might be able to get away with fooling the common man, but God can never be fooled through false flattery and insincere kind words.

It’s not uncommon for people to think that their society is advanced both materially and socially. For example, today men and women are free to intermingle. This is seen as a positive cultural evolution. Sex life is free and open, with contraceptives used quite often. The practice of abortion is also sanctioned throughout the world. As a result of these advancements, women especially have become more vulnerable to the advances of lusty men. Men generally have a much stronger sex desire than women. Much stereotypical male-female humor revolves around the idea of the man always wanting to have sex and the woman always rejecting him. This theory has some validity to it, for adult aged men do think about sex quite often. Today, for younger men the aim is to try to score with as many chicks as possible.

Marriage of Sita and Rama Seducing a woman is not an easy thing, for it takes alacrity and great skill. The typical playboy has honed his skills through much trial and error. Those who are expert in wooing women are usually also expert in lying and cheating. The two things go hand-in-hand because seducing women is cheating in a sense. The Vedas tell us that women and children should always be protected by the other members of society. For children, protection involves providing for their food, shelter, and clothing. It is also important to keep them away from things that will harm them. These rules apply to women as well. The Vedas tell us that the best way to protect an adult aged woman is to find her a husband. Not only does a husband provide security and a stable family life, but he also protects the woman from being preyed upon by other men for sex. When women aren’t married, they are left unprotected and thus become susceptible to cheating men. Having a one night stand with a woman is really a form of cheating because the man essentially uses the woman for one night and then discards her.

“The strong man's strength should be applied to protect the weak, not for personal aggression. Similarly, sex life, according to religious principles (dharma), should be for the propagation of children, not otherwise. The responsibility of parents is then to make their offspring Krishna conscious.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 7.11 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada For the conditioned souls, it is important to try to always act in the mode of goodness, and this applies to sex life as well. Sex is allowed, but it should be regulated; it should only be used to beget offspring with one’s spouse. Any other type of sex is considered illicit and sinful because it binds one to the repeated cycle of birth and death. One night stands and wooing women simply for sex pleasure are both considered sinful acts, for the women are exploited.

Cheaters do win sometimes, however, and the after-effects aren’t pretty. The men that secure relationships through lying often have trouble once things get more serious. A person’s true colors will eventually show. Relationships can quickly crumble once the other party realizes that they are with a reprobate. This principle holds true not only of amorous relationships, but also with politicians. Since democracy is the popular style of government today, elections are based on who can garner the most votes. A politician gets votes by making promises to various groups of voters. After getting elected, however, it is often seen that the politician will go back on their promises. Running for office and actually governing are two completely different things. More times than not, voters end up regretting their vote once they see the true colors of the candidate they previously supported.

Liars and cheaters hurt themselves and the people they deceive. People invest so much time and emotion supporting their friends, paramours, and political leaders, only to be burned in the end by many of them. Thus we see that even though lying and cheating can provide short term gains, in the long run, they don’t pay. This principle holds true with God and His devotees as well.

Lord Rama Many thousands of years ago, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, advented on earth as a handsome and pious prince named Rama. Krishna has many incarnations, or avataras, and each one serves a specific purpose. Lord Rama’s defining characteristic was His adherence to dharma. Dharma is religiosity, or occupational duty. We can also think of dharma as virtue and piety. Rama paid special attention to dharma because He was a prince born into a very pious family, the Ikshvakus. During those times, the governments were monarchies run by members of the warrior class. There were no votes, for the leaders were all expert fighters who could defeat any enemy in battle. Aside from being expert fighters, the kings were all very pious because they had to administer justice. It is quite common to see police officers violate traffic laws and politicians bend and shape the law in their favor, but the Vedas tell us that this is not ideal behavior. A king must administer justice by punishing criminals. If they themselves break the law, how can they be taken seriously when punishing the guilty? Citizens follow the behavior of their leaders, and if they believe that their king is a cheater and a fraud, they will have less of a reason to obey the laws of the land.

Lord Rama was committed to not only maintaining His own reputation, but also that of His family. On one particular occasion, Rama’s father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, made the mistake of granting two boons to his youngest wife, Kaikeyi. When cashing in her boons, Kaikeyi requested that her son Bharata be installed as king, and that Rama be sent to live in the forest for fourteen years. Dasharatha was in a pickle. As a pious king, he could not go back on his word, but at the same time, he would die without Rama, who was His eldest and most beloved son. Lord Rama took the decision out of Dasharatha’s hands by insisting on obeying Kaikeyi’s requests. He left for the forest along with His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana.

While living in the forest, one day the group’s cottage was visited by the Rakshasa demon, Ravana. Actually this was no coincidence, for Ravana had set up a diversion which lured both Rama and Lakshmana away from the cottage. Ravana had heard that Sita was the most beautiful woman in the world, thus he insisted on having her for himself. He initially approached Sita while he was in the guise of a mendicant, but he soon revealed his true identity. He tried to woo Sita by telling her that he was a powerful king and that he would make her his chief wife. Ravana had many wives whom he cavorted with regularly, yet all that sex wasn’t enough for him, for he could not live without having Sita.

Sita Devi Sita was repulsed by Ravana’s advances. She responded by openly declaring that she was Rama’s devotee. She also described Rama’s glories and informed Ravana of His strength. In the above referenced statement, she is chastising Ravana for even thinking he could be with her. Sita described Rama as being a lion among men, for He was the most powerful person in the world. Being the wife of the lion among men, Sita compares herself to a lioness and Ravana to a jackal. Sita Devi, being a pure devotee of God, was very clever. She knew how to choose just the right words which would both praise Rama and insult Ravana. A jackal is not considered a virtuous animal by any means, while a lioness is considered great and powerful. She essentially told Ravana that the two of them were incompatible. Being a great devotee, Sita would never associate with an enemy of God.

Sita also told Ravana that he could never touch her, just as how one can never touch the rays of the sun. We may see the sunlight or sunshine, but we can never actually touch it. In a similar manner, a devotee of God can never be tainted by the demons. Ravana wouldn’t heed Sita’s advice; instead he would forcibly kidnap her and bring her to his island kingdom of Lanka. Nevertheless, even after months of trying, he was never able to win Sita over. Rama eventually would kill him in battle, thus proving Sita right.

“Sitadevi, the dearmost wife of the Supreme Lord Ramachandra, certainly has a spiritual form full of bliss. No one can see her with material eyes, for no materialist has such power.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 9.191)

The lesson here is that no one can touch Sita Devi except Rama, or God. Sita is the goddess of fortune, Lakshmiji, who is the wife of Lord Narayana, or Vishnu. Narayana, Vishnu, and Krishna are interchangeable names for God since they all represent the original Personality of Godhead. Sita’s only interest is to serve Rama, and she is also very kind to Rama’s devotees. She grants wealth and good fortune to those whose only business is devotional service to God. If we use our wealth for other purposes, we are essentially stealing Lakshmi in the same way that Ravana did. We all saw what happened to him, so it’s not a good idea to go down that path.

Hanuman meeting Sita To capture God’s attention, and the attention of His devotees like Sita, we simply have to regularly chant the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We can be honest with God, for He already knows what’s in our heart. There is no reason to lie to Him or to His devotees. Hanuman, the great devotee of Rama, humbly approached the Lord and served Him honestly and sincerely. As a result, Hanumanji is worshiped to this day by millions, and his name is synonymous with love and devotion to God. He achieved fame and opulence a million times that of what Ravana had while he was alive. We would be better served to be more like Hanuman and less like Ravana.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Melting Pot

Lord Krishna's activities “God has no name, but by His qualities we give Him names. If a man is very beautiful, we call him ‘beautiful.’ If a man is very intelligent, we call him ‘wise.' So the name is given according to the quality. Because God is all-attractive, the name Krishna can be applied only to Him. Krishna means ‘all-attractive.’ It includes everything.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers)

One of the appealing aspects of the United States is that its population consists of people from all different backgrounds. The land itself was mostly uninhabited until the last few hundred years. Though the American Indians already lived there, it wasn’t until the great Puritan Migration in 1630 that the land now known as America turned into what it is today. Since so many different ethnic groups reside in America, the country is often referred to as the great Melting Pot.

If we look around the world, we see that ethnic clashes are quite common. Fights break out due to differences in skin color, cultural backgrounds, and religion. Throughout the course of history, great leaders have proposed various solutions to prevent this fighting. One of the more commonly proposed solutions is the idea of partitioning. A plot of land is set aside for one group of people in the hopes that they will be happy living apart from their enemies. What results, however, is anything but harmony.

Middle East mapEvery U.S. President in recent times has had to deal with the Middle East crisis. This crisis is the result of an ongoing conflict between two groups of people over a small piece of land. The Palestinians claim the land belongs to them, while the Jews believe it to be rightfully theirs. Though the fighting has been going on for years, the violence really started when the United Nations decided to partition Palestine based on ethnicity after World War II. Whether or not this was justified is another story, but we do know what has resulted. The struggle for this small piece of land has led to great violence and bloodshed. Similar issues exist in other places around the world. In Iraq, various ethnic groups populate different sections of the country. Since the U.S. removed the existing Iraqi government back in 2003, there has been an ongoing struggle to see which ethnic group will rise up to run the country.

By contrast, in America these problems hardly exist. Blacks, whites, Asians, Hindus, Muslims, and Jews all live together without any problems for the most part. In many cases, they all reside within the same communities. There aren’t daily suicide bombings or calls for counties and states to be divided up amongst the various ethnic groups. The beauty of America is that any person from any ethnic background can come and live without a problem.

When the country was founded after the Revolutionary War, there was no intention to make America a diverse country. There is no mention of diversity or ethnicity in the founding documents of the country, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. Rather, the country was formed on the basic principles of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The framers of the Constitution believed that each person had a right to be free and pursue their own hopes and dreams, provided that they did not trample on the rights of others.

The implementation of these ideas certainly wasn’t perfect. At the time of the founding, freedom did not apply to women or African American slaves. As the years went on, these issues were corrected. Simultaneously, people from all over the world started coming to America. It didn’t matter where they came from; they knew that they had a decent chance of making a life for themselves in America. There were so many success stories involving immigrants who went from rags to riches that a new term was born: The American Dream.

Lord Krishna America’s appeal was that it spoke to the natural yearning of the human spirit to be free. Though the framers certainly thought their ideas to be highly advanced and philosophical, this concept of freedom has existed since the beginning of time. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this yearning to be free is the central cause behind the creation of the world we live in.

“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)

God is the creator of the universal cosmos. Even though we can’t see Him directly due to our conditioned state, He most certainly exists. Just as the spirit soul residing within the body is the cause of our growth, the great spirit soul, God, is the cause of the universal manifestation, or mahat-tattva. Though nature seems to be working on its own, it has a driver. God created nature and everything else, and without His intervention, nothing could happen. It is said that not even a blade of grass can move without God’s influence.

If God is the creator, one will naturally wonder why He would assume this role. What is the point to our existence? The Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in the world, tell us that God created this material world to allow us to exercise our desire to be free. Of course this type of freedom is flawed because it is not associated with God’s service. Freedom also exists in the spiritual world, but the nature of that freedom is different.  In the spiritual world, our activities are devoted to pleasing the Supreme Lord. This world, which is composed of matter and created by God, allows us to exercise freedom in a different way. Here we get to pretend to be just like God. We can create, maintain, and destroy. We get to enjoy with others and even rise to elevated positions in society.

We see that the material conception of freedom is certainly great, for it leads to the Melting Pot phenomenon. World peace is one of the things most commonly wished for. Peace involves non-violence and mutual cooperation. Freedom is a universal language, thus it speaks to people around the world. This experiment known as America has resulted in a relatively peaceful condition. This is not surprising because the system of government seeks to fulfill the natural desire of all human beings to be free.

The Vedas tell us that matter is inferior to spirit. This means that the material conception of freedom has its limits, as evidence by today’s societal condition. Though people from all different backgrounds live together peacefully, it does not mean that there is no anxiety. People are still more or less living on the material platform where they judge others based on their bodily traits. “Such and such a person is black, white, Jew, etc.” We also tend to judge people based on how much matter they have accumulated, i.e. wealth, possessions, etc. “Oh such and such a person is too rich. They can afford to pay more in taxes so that others can be helped out. This is social justice.” This material vision has resulted in a situation where people bicker over issues relating to temporary things such as money, wealth, fame, etc.

Actually this fighting has been going on throughout the world since time immemorial, but it seems to be coming to a head in America today. Since spirit is superior to matter, if we work in such a way that we meet the demands of our spirit soul, we will all be happy. Just as the living entity has a natural desire to be free, the spirit soul has a natural desire to love God. When we hear people speak of God or religion, many of us get turned off. “Oh what do they know? Are they going to be preaching to me again about what I should and shouldn’t do? They’re just part of some sect; why should I listen to them?”

Many times, these are valid complaints. Religion is the system put in place by God to allow the soul to be happy. The Vedas give us the concept of dharma, which explains the relationship of the soul with God. Dharma is an occupational duty, thus it has a much stronger meaning than religion. Faith is something we choose to take up, something which can change at any time. Dharma is ever-existing; it has always been the constitutional position of the spirit soul to be a loving servant of God.

Though America is most certainly a Melting Pot of different cultures, we see that adherence to religion is lacking. Most people claim to belong to a certain faith, but there are hardly any faithful followers. This is because none of these religious systems speak to the notion about loving God. One leader will tell us to attend church once a week and to ask God to give us things. Another will tell us that God doesn’t exist and that we simply need to behave piously so that we can merge into a giant energy. There are even others who will tell us to never view God as having a form, for that is idolatry, which is strictly forbidden.

Radha Krishna Just as the concept of freedom attracted people from all over the world to come to America, the concept of freedom for the soul, i.e. loving God, will attract people from all different backgrounds. This is the magic of the system known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The Vedas give us various sub-religious systems, but the highest form of religion is that discipline which helps us achieve a pure love for God. Devotional service meets this condition because it causes us to be always engaged in thinking about, remembering, praying, and serving God. If connecting with God will make us happy, why wouldn’t we want to do it all the time?

The great saints tell us that the easiest way to love God is to regularly chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. “God” is the term that is most commonly used for the Almighty. While this is a nice term, it fails to accurately describe the Lord’s glories. Therefore the Vedas give us thousands of names for God, each referencing a specific attribute or opulence of the Supreme Lord. Of all the names of God, “Krishna” is considered the best because it means all-attractive. Since the soul is meant to love God, it makes sense that the object of this love would be the most attractive person in the world.

Just as God has thousands of names, He also has unlimited forms, ananta-rupam. When we worship God in one of these forms, such as Lord Krishna or Lord Rama, we are not engaging in idol worship. Idolatry involves a desire to imitate, to model our actions after a specific person. Young children idolize great athletes, musicians, and movie stars because they hope to one day grow up to be just like them. Idolatry can also involve concocting some form of God based on the whims of the mind. The ever-existing forms of God delineated in the Vedas are thousands of times more beautiful than anything the mind could ever conjure up. Lord Krishna is an eternally existing person who resides in the spiritual world. His beauty, form, and activities are realities and not myths.

“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth-women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.32)

Lord Chaitanya spreading Krishna consciousness Devotional service appeals to everyone because it helps people reconnect with their long-lost friend. Loving God has nothing to do with a person’s skin-color, gender, or nationality. Though the degraded caste system of India is famous today, it doesn’t apply in the arena of love. Aside from connecting with God through chanting, devotional service also involves abstention from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Again, none of these regulations are sectarian. Everyone has a penchant to perform these sinful activities. A little self-control and sacrifice go a long way in religious life.

It is one thing to say that devotional service applies to every single person, but it is another to actually prove it. Luckily for us, we have real-life examples of the universal appeal of devotional service. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, spread the universal message of love for God all across India some five hundred years ago. He induced everyone to chant, regardless of their background. Some of His closest associates weren’t considered bona fide brahmanas, or high class, by the strict followers of the Hindu faith. Nevertheless, Lord Chaitanya showed us that anyone can be a devotee of Krishna, or a Vaishnava, regardless of who their parents are.

More recently, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada spread the universal message of Krishna-prema throughout the world. Though Shrila Prabhupada was born and raised in India, the majority of His disciples were not. Through his hard work and the efforts of his faithful disciples, Krishna consciousness was spread throughout the world. We see that today there are devotees of Krishna in almost every country. Many of these devotees don’t even speak English, yet we see that they have an intense love for God.

Lord Krishna activities With whatever problems we have, with whatever is getting us down, we can always look to God to save us. If we all take up this sublime mission of Lord Chaitanya, we will most certainly be benefitted. Not only will we develop a love for God, but others will join us as well. If we all engage in devotional service, we can turn the whole world into a giant melting pot of spiritual love.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


Lord Rama “I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is a hero and prince of wide renown, who has full control over His senses and mind [jitendriyam], who is mighty-armed, and whose face resembles a full moon.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.36)

Passion can be a very tricky thing. It serves as an impetus for work, but at the same time, if it is left uncontrolled, it can lead to our downfall. Therefore, in the Vedic tradition, those who can keep their passions, which are driven by the senses and mind, under control are considered praiseworthy. This especially holds true with passions relating to sex life.

In the modern culture, men and women freely intermingle, thus relationships are formed based off of free will. A boy is attracted to a girl and vice versa, and the two eventually decide to form relationships. The religious institution of marriage is now mostly based on romantic attraction between men and women. The love that results from this attraction can be quite passionate. Since relationships are determined by free will, the art of seduction holds more importance in society. Men who can seduce or attract a lot of women are considered powerful and strong, whereas those who are awkward around beautiful women are considered weak and unintelligent. Many Hollywood films are based around this concept. A young teenager will be deemed a loser or a geek at the start of the movie, and he’ll slowly work his way towards being able to speak to the girl of his dreams and hopefully have a relationship with her.

Krishna speaking to Arjuna This type of thinking is based on the idea that material sense gratification is the ultimate goal of life. There is no higher sense pleasure than sex, so those who can enjoy it to the fullest are considered successful, whereas those who aren’t are considered failures. Money, wealth, fame, etc. are all based around sex life. Even exercise regimens such as weightlifting and playing sports have sex desire at their core, for the more attractive a man’s body, the more likely he will be to score with attractive women.

“Material nature consists of the three modes-goodness, passion and ignorance. When the living entity comes in contact with nature, he becomes conditioned by these modes.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.5)

Lord KrishnaSex life is usually part of the mode of passion, which along with goodness and ignorance make up the three modes of material nature. The Vedas tell us that the mode of passion involves fruitive activity that, when left unchecked, can lead to lust, anger, greed, etc. This then leads to bewilderment and a forgetfulness of the rules of propriety. A classic example of this scenario was seen with superstar golfer Tiger Woods. Extremely successful at the sport he played, Tiger enjoyed universal acclaim and adoration. One of the richest athletes on the planet, Tiger could score with almost any girl he chose to. Though he was married with children at home, it was recently revealed that Tiger engaged in many extramarital affairs. The number of mistresses was so high that Woods is now seeking rehab for sex addiction.

“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)

The Vedas tell us that sex life can be very dangerous, and thus should be kept in check as much as possible. This doesn’t mean that all sex is bad, but that the act should only be performed when one intends to beget progeny. On a material level, we all accumulate debts at the time of birth, with one of them being to the pitrs, or the forefathers. We would never take birth were it not for sex life, thus we have a responsibility to our forefathers to beget sons as a way of paying them back. Every person is born with different qualities, with some people being more passionate than others. For those in rajo-guna, the mode of passion, gambling and playing sports are allowed. This is because passionate people need an outlet, and competition is one way of acting out one’s passions. The modern day sports athlete is an example of a person in the mode of passion. In previous times, the kshatriya kings were also considered to be in the mode of passion, thus they were allowed to marry more than one woman. Sex desire is very strong in passionate people, so in order to avoid illicit sex, kings were allowed to marry more than one wife provided that they could guarantee the protection and happiness of each and every wife. So when we see today’s athletes engaging in illicit sex life, it is not surprising considering that they are in the mode of passion.

Sita Devi Regardless of what our predicament is, the Vedas tell us that we should control our passions rather than letting our passions control us. Those who can keep their desires in check are virtuous and praiseworthy, while those who are slaves to their senses are not. This was the point stressed by Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God. Many thousands of years ago, Sita was living in the forest of Dandaka when her hermitage was visited by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were away from the cottage at the time, so Ravana took it as an opportunity to try to seduce Sita. He first appeared in the guise of a brahmana and offered kind advances towards Sita. After she rejected him, Ravana revealed his true Rakshasa form and insisted that Sita become his wife.

In response, Sita openly declared that she was a devotee of Lord Rama, and that she would never be devoted to anyone else. In addition, she provided details into Rama’s characteristics and personal attributes. In the above referenced statement, we see that Sita is listing Rama’s control over His mind and senses [jitendriyam] as a character trait. This statement is very important, for it serves two purposes. First, it stresses the point that God is the all-powerful and the most renounced. Sex life in the material world is a perverted reflection of the pure form of love that exists in the spiritual world between God and His pleasure potencies, hladini-shakti. By declaring that Rama had His passions under control, Sita also took a direct jab at Ravana and his character.

Rakshasas are demons by nature, meaning they take to adharma, or irreligion, as a way of life. Ravana was very powerful and materially opulent. He had hundreds of beautiful wives. Having multiple wives was surely allowed for a king, but Ravana still engaged in illicit sex. He and his queens were always drunk, eating meat, and enjoying sex life. He was very proud of his playboy lifestyle. Yet we see that Ravana’s passions were anything but under control. Simply upon hearing of Sita’s beauty and bodily features, Ravana was drawn to her. Like a moth to a flame, Ravana sealed his demise by approaching Sita and forcibly kidnapping her. Lord Rama was God Himself in human form, and He would avenge Sita’s kidnapping by marching to Ravana’s city of Lanka and killing him in battle.

Lord Rama Sita also made mention of the fact that Rama had a beautiful, moon-like face, and that His fame was spread throughout the world. Again, these statements served the same purposes of both praising Rama and insulting Ravana. God is known as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all opulences. When one sees pictures of Lord Rama or takes darshana of His deity in the temple, they will see a handsome prince who is always smiling. That is the Lord’s nature, for He gives pleasure to others. Rama is unbelievably famous; even Lord Krishna and His childhood friends in Vrindavana used to talk about Lord Rama, Hanuman, Lakshmana, Sita and others when they were playing. The Ramayana, a book which details the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, is probably the oldest book in history and it is still read and revered to this day. God is always God, meaning that not only was Lord Rama famous during His time, but that His fame never diminishes. He is just as famous today as He was in the past.

Ravana thought of himself as beautiful and famous, but his opulences paled in comparison to Rama’s. Ravana performed austerities that secured him ten heads; something he viewed as a benefit. Sita Devi, the most beautiful woman to have ever graced the earth, didn’t find Ravana attractive at all. Ravana was proud of his beauty, but Sita directly insulted him by extolling the beauty of her husband, Lord Rama. Ravana also thought he was very famous, for he had defeated many great fighters in battle. In fact, God only appeared on earth as Lord Rama at the request of the demigods, who were all afraid of Ravana. Sita, of course, wasn’t impressed by Ravana’s fame. She was married to God, so she knew who was the more famous of the two.

Sita and Rama The lesson here is that we shouldn’t be led astray by the popular dogma which states that uncontrolled passion and excessive women hunting are virtuous activities. On the contrary, such activities are very dangerous because they bind one to the cycle of repeated birth and death. If a person is addicted to sex life, why would God want to take them away from their passion? On the contrary, the Lord allows such a person to repeatedly take birth, sometimes in a lower species such as a monkey or a dog, where they can enjoy sex life even more. If we can control our mind and senses, we become praiseworthy. A person who has control over their senses is considered sober, or dhira. Self-control is considered a virtue because it increases the likelihood that one will take to spiritual life, which is the ultimate aim of life anyway.

No one was more committed to dharma than Lord Rama. We too should commit ourselves to dharma by controlling our passions and devoting ourselves to God’s service. In this age, the easiest way to honor Sita and Rama is to constantly chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. God is beautiful, praiseworthy, and famous throughout the world, and so are His devotees.

Monday, June 7, 2010


Lord Chaitanya - Krishna's preacher incarnation“Politics will not be able to do even one part of a crore parts, in thousands of eras, of the benefit that the Vaishnavas have done to the world. We are not advising others to be such narrow sectarians as the politicians are.” (Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Shrimad Bhagavatam and the Vaishnava Cult)

In today’s world, if you want to get anything of significance done, if you want to really make a difference, you need to get into government. With democracy being the popular style of government these days, issues are won and lost at the ballot box. Those who can take over the reins of government can bend and shape the laws in their favor. It is for this express purpose that so many lobbying groups exist in America and around the world. These groups consist of average, ordinary citizens who have joined forces for a common purpose. In order to get into government and stay there, one must belong to an even larger group of individuals known as a political party. Identification with a particular party allows others to get a handle on a person’s viewpoints and their understanding of government. Members of political parties often vote the same way on issues, thus making it easier to pass legislation. But how much do these parties really help the common man? By definition, being partisan means favoring one group over another, so how can this benefit all of the people? The Vaishnavas, on the other hand, favor everyone. The teachings of the devotees of Lord Vishnu are meant to advance the plight of every living entity in this world, regardless of cast, color, creed, or nationality. In this regard, we see that the Vaishnavas are the best partisans, for they favor knowledge over ignorance, light over darkness, good over evil.

Capital Building We often hear news commentators bemoan the practice of partisanship. “There is too much bickering going on, nothing is getting done. This can’t be good for the country.” Partisanship means performing activities for the benefit of a specific political party or cause. This actually isn’t so bad on the surface. After all, we all have causes that we believe in, so there is nothing wrong with fighting for these issues. If we take a stand on an issue, there are bound to be others who disagree with us. It is only natural for us to then defend our viewpoints against opposing elements. Partisanship in the political arena takes on a slightly different shape however. Since the parliamentary system of government requires majority votes for legislation to pass, the party system has become very important. People with similar viewpoints align themselves together into voting blocks.

Grouping people with similar beliefs into political parties certainly makes it easier to pass legislation, but there are drawbacks. Once an elected official is put into a position of power, they will likely do whatever they can to remain there. This means that they will take any defensive measures they feel are necessary, such as playing politics or maneuvering votes in such a way so as to remain popular with the electorate. Sometimes the mood of the constituents will go against the established principles of a specific party. In these situations, government officials will vote against their beliefs just so they can remain in power. This happens quite often in the United States. When the Congress and White House are run by the same political party, it stands to reason that legislation will get passed quite easily. Yet as a strategic ploy, the President will often decide to pick off issues of their opposing party. They’ll bring up bills that go against the party principles. Members of Congress who belong to the same party as the President won’t want to vote for these bills because they don’t believe in the merits. In these instances, Presidents will begin a massive lobbying campaign with Congress. Presidential aides will approach other members of their own party and say things like, “Come on so and so, the President really wants this. He needs this vote to keep his poll numbers up and win reelection. Don’t you want to help the party? Why would you vote against this bill then?” This sort of thing happens all the time. More often than not, the President will win the battle. Thus the same people who lauded the party system and openly declared their loyalty to a specific set of core values end up turning their back on their beliefs.

When politics is played in this partisan manner, there are certainly winners and losers in the political sense. We see that the news media often cover the happenings of government as a sort of horse race. When a major piece of legislation passes, they’ll have round-table discussions about who the winners and losers are. “What does this bill mean for so and so’s chances of winning reelection? What does this mean for the losing party? It is a major defeat for them; will they be able to recover?”

Lost in all of this is what the actual effect will be on the citizens of the country. After all, most people are not overtly partisan. They are happy living their lives and providing for their families. They expect government to protect them from thieves, cheaters, and general bad guys. They could care less about what effect legislation will have on a particular party or political figure. In this way, we see that partisanship has its limits. It may lead to heralded pieces of legislation, but these bills always favor one group over another. This goes against the very nature of good government, for every single person has an equal right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. A good government is one that provides equal protection to every person.

Lord Krishna Partisanship doesn’t exist just in government. We see that people band together based on race, ethnicity, gender, and nationality. People living in America worry about what happens to Americans, people living in India worry about Indians, and so on. One may not immediately see the flaw in this practice. After all, shouldn’t we care about our fellow citizen? This is certainly a valid point, but at the same time, aren’t we all the same? Is there any difference between the constitutional makeup of a person living in India and a person living in America? Is there any difference between a person who has dark skin and a person who has light skin?

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

The Vedas tell us that we are all equal on the inside; our identities come from the atma, or soul, residing within us. We certainly do assume different material qualities at the time of birth, and therefore we see varieties in species, gender, ethnicity, etc., but at the core we are all the same. Keeping these facts in mind, wouldn’t it be better to belong to a party or group that aims to help every single living entity? If on the one side we have a party that wants to help all of its countrymen and on another side we have a group that wants to help every single person in the world, wouldn’t it be wiser to associate with the latter group?

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati The Vaishnavas, or devotees of Lord Vishnu, are partisan towards God; hence they are in favor of every single living entity. In the simplest definition, Vishnu is God. There is only one God for every living entity, irrespective of a person’s religious beliefs. There cannot be one God for one group of people and another God for others. For God to be God, He must be Absolute. Something can only be Absolute if it applies to all areas of life. God is one, but He gets tagged with different names based on His limitless activities, transcendental qualities, and forms. The Vedas tell us that the original name for God is Krishna. Lord Krishna’s immediate expansion is that of Lord Vishnu, so essentially there is no difference between the two.

Since Vaishnavas are devotees of Vishnu, they dedicate their lives to serving the Supreme Lord, from whom everything in this world emanates. Therefore, we can naturally conclude that through this service everything else relating to God will also be served. This represents the true potency of the Supreme Lord. We may help members of our city, state, or country, but it doesn’t mean that foreigners will be helped. God is so wonderful that simply by offering Him a little sincere service the entire world becomes satisfied and happy.

“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)

What is the nature of this service? Well, let us see how we currently offer service. When we dedicate ourselves to a particular political party, we may send them money, attend their meetings, and talk about their beliefs. When we serve our family members, we offer them protection, food, and time. When we offer service to our employer, we dedicate ourselves to working hard. When we offer service to our senses, we go to great lengths to seek the pleasures of eating, sleeping, and mating. We’ll go to fancy restaurants, cinema halls, or sporting events simply to gratify our senses.

Panchatattva In all these activities we see that there is association and connection. Service means to be always connected with the object we are serving. In the same regard, service to God simply requires us to always be connected with Him. Therefore, we can chant, hear, remember, offer prayers, cook food, etc., all for the satisfaction of Vishnu. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. God is absolute, so simply by chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can be in direct contact with Him. Similarly, just by looking at His picture or eating the remnants of food offered to Him [prasadam], we remain in the company of our best friend.

Now that we know the nature of the activities performed by the Vaishnavas, how does this service help others? How can chanting Hare Krishna help people around the world? The answer is that bhakti-yoga is the natural disposition of every living entity. Soul represents spirit, which is always superior to matter. The soul represents our true identity, but through association with matter we have forgotten our original nature. The soul’s natural home is in the spiritual world where God resides. God is also spirit, but of a different variety. He is superior to us; it is our nature to be His servant. True eternal bliss can only be found through spiritual activities, i.e. connecting with God. Therefore, Vaishnavas are so kind and benevolent that they not only take to devotional service themselves, but they try to induce as many other people as possible to take up the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga.

“The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by practice of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of occupational duty, is to remember the Personality of Godhead at the end of life.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.1.6)

Bhishma thinking of Krishna at the time of death What is the result of performing bhakti-yoga? Lord Krishna tells us that if we think of Him at the time of death, we immediately return to His spiritual realm, where we assume a spiritual body which is eternally blissful and full of knowledge. And why wouldn’t our spiritual body be blissful? Anyone who lives with Krishna can never be miserable. They can never suffer from poverty, famine, heartache, etc.

So we see that devotional service gives us bliss in the afterlife, but how does this solve the problems of today? How can Vaishnavas solve the age-old problems of poverty and war? To answer this question, one must know the root cause of these problems. The Vedas tell us that since matter is inferior to spirit, anyone who becomes a servant of matter will always be miserable. Matter is considered inferior because it is an expansion of God’s external energy. We spirit souls are part of God’s internal energy, therefore we are superior to matter. Spirit can only be happy when associating with spirit. If we make the aim of our life the acquisition of material wealth, fame, beauty, etc., of course we will end up miserable. It is this flawed pursuit which leads to all of the problems of the world.

Let us give a more concrete example of how devotional service solves things like poverty and war. Poverty is a material designation used to describe the condition of a person who has trouble meeting the basic demands of the body. We see that the animal community doesn’t have this problem. Fish, lions, tigers, etc. aren’t managed by a Federal Reserve Bank, a Treasury Secretary, or an IRS, yet they do just fine when it comes to eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. We human beings are much smarter than these animals, so how can we have any problems in these areas? By taking up devotional service, one aims to please God, who is the supplier of all our food. Anyone who becomes a sincere devotee will never have to worry about dying of hunger or any other basic necessity. Vaishnavas believe in simple living and high thinking. Earn an honest living and acquire the bare minimum number of possessions required to maintain one’s life.

Lord Chaitanya hugging Krishna War is a result of material designations and nothing else. One group thinks they are superior and that they have claim to a certain piece of land. The opposing side believes that the land belongs to them. Arguments ensue and war breaks out. Only through realizing that we are all spirit souls, aham brahmasmi, can we even start to think about stopping war. War can never be completely eradicated, for every person has different material qualities. Not everyone will take to spiritual life, but regardless, war can be greatly reduced through spreading the glories of Krishna to others.

Since devotional service means connecting with God, devotees quickly acquire all the necessary knowledge to manage material affairs. This doesn’t happen through magic either. If someone knows God, they view everything in terms of its relation to the Lord. A person who always keeps Krishna’s interests in mind will know how to do everything the right way, including how to run a government, manage a family, and even care for the poor.

Being a Republican or Democrat means being a loyal member of the caucus and following the party lead. Vaishnavas are the best Republicans and Democrats because they are loyal to every single person in the world. They have everyone’s best interests at heart. The Vaishnavas simply ask everyone to take up devotional service and become relieved of the suffering that results from repeated births and deaths. Vaishnavas believe that every person is endowed with the right to pursue the highest type of happiness, that of going back home, back to Godhead. In this regard, the Vaishnavas are the greatest welfare workers the world has ever seen.