Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Memory Remains

Mirabai worshiping Krishna “The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.8)

The Blue Mug is a popular play which is currently touring around the world. Though the initial performances were limited to India, the play has garnered so much attention that there is now worldwide demand to see it. The play is very simple in nature, with the actors hardly using any props, but it has a deeper message that it tries to push across: the importance of having memories. The play’s actors and director may only be trying to convey an artistic message, but they have nevertheless stumbled upon a central teaching of Vedic philosophy.

The Blue Mug Without giving away the entire plot line of the show, the Blue Mug features six actors who tell stories about the formative experiences of their lives. These stories, which are meticulously crafted and told in bits and pieces, with the actors alternating between monologues, take around an hour and a half to tell. Aside from being humorous and entertaining, the stories revolve around a central theme. A nice bonus for attendees is that after the performance, the entire cast and the director come on stage and field questions from the audience. This allows for clarification on specific items of the show. It is during this question and answer period that the director informs the audience that the main theme of the show focuses on the idea of having memories.

All of us remember things from our past; both good and bad. We remember the strangest things: what games we played as children, what our relatives used to say to us, how our parents would punish us, etc. Some of us remember the tragedies as well, such as the first time we had to attend a funeral or where we were when we found out that someone in our family had died. These events are so important that the memories stay with us all the way into our old age. A person who is fifty years old can vividly remember events that took place more than forty years in the past.

The key to remembering an incident is to focus the mind on it from time to time. For example, if something happened to us a long time ago and we never thought about it afterwards, as more time goes by, the more likely we are to forget the event. On the flip side, if something noteworthy happens to us and we constantly remember it and tell stories about it to other people, we are likely to remember the incident for a long time. This makes sense because remembering involves reliving specific moments and contemplating their meanings. Today, it is fashionable for distressed people to blame their parents for their problems. “I was emotionally abandoned as a child, so that explains why I am so distrusting now…My parents used to hit me as a child, so that explains why I can’t deal with anger very well…I have abandonment issues stemming from childhood…I have trust issues, etc.” These are some of the common sentiments expressed on the daytime television talk shows, and they all relate to memories.

The Blue Mug play The message of the Blue Mug play is that everyone needs memories to keep them alive. Great events happen in our lives which shape our character. If we don’t remember these events, it is as if they never happened. It would be quite sad if we couldn’t remember all the important events in our life, for then we would have no purpose behind our activities. We can work very hard today and enjoy with our friends and family, but the joy would be short-lived if we weren’t able to cherish the memories. Going one step further, we can conclude that it is important to not only remember major events in our life, but to also make sure we actually have things worth remembering. If we sit around and do nothing all the time, we will have nothing to remember later on in life.

What we remember actually plays an important role in our mental health, and also in our spiritual well-being. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that what we remember at the time of death determines what the next destination for the soul will be. Any wise person can perceive the presence of the soul within a living entity. If we kill something, it doesn’t mean that we destroy its body or disfigure it. Killing means to cause death, or the exit of the soul from the body of a living entity. Just because someone dies, it doesn’t mean that the soul ceases to exist. Death just means a changing of bodies, the transmigration of the soul.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Reincarnation If the soul never dies, what determines where it will end up after death? Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tells us that it is our consciousness that determines our fate in the afterlife. If our consciousness is on the material platform, meaning our mind is focused on something which is part of the mode of goodness, passion, or ignorance, we will be given a body suitable for association with matter in the next life. In a similar manner, if our consciousness is on the spiritual platform at the time of death, meaning we are thinking about Krishna or one of His personal forms, we will receive a spiritual body in the next life.

What determines our consciousness? As you can probably guess, it is our memories. Even a young person has already lived many many days on earth and thus experienced many major events in their lifetime. The important events are what we remember the most, thus they shape our consciousness. This consciousness is what comes to the forefront at the end of life. Essentially, our life flashes before our eyes.

“The activities of the day evoke dreams at night and induce emotions appropriate to those activities. Similarly, the activities performed in one's lifetime flash across one's mind at the moment of death and determine one's next life. Therefore, if one's present activities are directed toward chanting, hearing, and remembering the Supreme Lord's transcendental name, along with descriptions of His beauty, qualities, pastimes, associates, and paraphernalia, then one's consciousness at the moment one leaves his body will automatically be attracted to the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Renunciation Through Wisdom, Ch 2.6)

Bhishma remembering Krishna at the time of death Armed with these facts, a wise person quickly realizes that having memories is certainly nice, but that it is more important to have the right kinds of memories. Surely it is nice to look back fondly on our childhood or on the great times we spent with friends and family, but these types of memories won’t really further the plight of the soul. In order to achieve spiritual perfection, we must have memories relating to God and spiritual life. A lot of times people will read the Bhagavad-gita or hear about Vedic wisdom from a trusted source and instantly become intrigued. They understand the truths relating to the soul and the temporary nature of the material world, but at the same time, they take spiritual life to be too difficult. They postpone their spiritual pursuits until a later date, thinking that they will have more time for religion once they are old and retired from work.

But as we know, the more time that goes by, the more memories we accumulate. This means that even if we take to spiritual life later on in life, our previous memories from material life will take precedent, outweighing our spiritual memories. This underscores the importance of taking to spiritual life as soon as possible, for there is no time to lose. We don’t know when death will come, so it is better to shape our consciousness at the present moment, rather than waiting for later.

So how do we accumulate spiritual memories? The easiest way is to take up the regular chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting this mantra sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads is enough to change our consciousness, but at the same time, we should avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. These four activities are guaranteed to create memories that we’d soon rather forget. Therefore it is important to avoid these activities altogether, while remaining committed to chanting God’s names.

Radha Krishna Once we get a steady chanting routine going, we can take up other processes such as preparing and offering food to Krishna’s deity, remembering the Lord, offering Him prayers, singing songs about Him, etc. This collective discipline is known as the religion of love, or devotional service. It is the highest discipline because adherence to it will guarantee a lifetime of spiritual memories. Though our current memories may give us pleasure and nostalgia all the way up until the end of life, they become erased once death comes. With Krishna, however, the memories always remain.

“O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities; but Me no one knows.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.26)

Our spiritual memories are ever-lasting since they carry us directly to the spiritual world. Remembering the devotional activities we performed over the course of our lifetime allows us to remember God at the same time. It is this remembrance of God, vishno-smaranam, which, at the time of death, will carry us to the eternal abode, the everlasting, unchanging spiritual realm of Lord Shri Krishna.

Friday, June 18, 2010


Lord Rama“The difference between the son of Dasharatha and yourself is like the difference between gold and a base metal, sandalwood water and mud, and an elephant and a cat in the forest.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.46)

The material world is a place full of dichotomies. There is hot and cold, pain and pleasure, and strength and weakness. In some instances, simple dualities are insufficient in accurately describing a particular object’s potency or power. In this regard, more detailed comparisons are necessary, where certain objects or creatures are compared to others. For example, there is a common expression used to describe heavy rain. People will say “It’s pouring outside”, meaning that the rain is flowing down so steadily that it appears that someone is pouring the water out of a container. These types of comparisons better illustrate certain situations and predicaments. In a similar manner, comparisons are also used to describe both the strengths possessed by God and the limited powers possessed by human beings.

Lord Krishna Now this may seem like a needless task. “Of course God is great. Why would we need to describe His greatness?” This seems true in theory, but in reality we see a different situation. The Vedas tell us that the current age we live in is known as Kali Yuga, or the dark age. It is characterized by the overall lack of adherence to dharma, or religiosity, in society. If we do a quick study, we’ll see that this is indeed true. How many of us spend time thinking about God during the course of the day? Among those of us who do, how much time is spent thinking about God versus time spent thinking about our daily needs arising from work, school, or family? If we answered these questions honestly, we’d see that the majority of our time is spent worrying about our necessities and our future fortunes. The rest of the time may be spent lamenting over misfortunes of the past.

This is the effect of Kali Yuga. The Vedas tell us that man was almost completely pure at the beginning of creation, during the period of time known as the Satya Yuga. Each creation is divided into four time periods, or Yugas, and dharma reduces by one quarter with each successive time period. Kali Yuga is the last Yuga before the ultimate dissolution of the earth. People today are committed to adharma instead of dharma. Dharma is religiosity or occupational duty. There are different dharmas assigned to different people based on their personal qualities and the work they perform, but all dharmas share one thing in common: their aim is to help the soul return to the spiritual world. Though many of us falsely identify with our body, the real source of our identity comes from the spiritual spark, or soul, residing within us. Dharma involves performing those duties which help the soul avoid having to assume a material body again.

Lord Krishna Something is designated as material if it possesses gunas, or the material qualities of goodness, passion, and ignorance. The world we live in is not meant to be our permanent home. It’s a sort of playground for the wayward souls who want to falsely enjoy the senses. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and one of His names is Hrishikesha, meaning the master of the senses. Since He is the master of all the senses, real pleasure can only come from serving Him. In the conditioned state, the living entity becomes a servant to their own senses, or go-dasa. Dharma is a set of law codes and recommended activities that allows one to please the master of all the senses, thus becoming a master of their own senses in the process. The goal of human life is to go from being the slave to the master of the senses. By controlling our material sense urges, we can execute pure devotional service to the Lord. At the time of death, those who wish to associate with Krishna will get to return to His spiritual kingdom immediately, never having to take birth or assume a material body again.

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

When almost everyone around us is so committed to adharma, how can we go about pleasing Krishna? Well, before we can please Him we have to understand who He is. God is omnipotent and omnipresent, and therefore can never be fully understood by the human mind, which is itself a part of the material creation. The mind represents a subtle element of nature, so it’s not something we can necessarily see, but it certainly does exist. Though the mind doesn’t come with us to the spiritual world, it is still important since it can help shape our consciousness. It is this very consciousness that needs purification. Though God can never be truly understood, the Vedas try to describe some of His glories. In order to describe God in a way that people can understand, Vedic authorities use techniques such as comparison and quantification.

These techniques are helpful because we have a limited understanding of the universe. Great scholars and scientists of today are very proud of their knowledge. They believe that they are on the cusp of discovering immortality, thinking that if they do enough research, they will find a way for man to live forever. Using a little intelligence, we can understand just how foolish these thoughts are. For starters, all of us were born into ignorance. The human infant is so helpless that it can’t even feed itself. It’s not even intelligent enough to know where, when, and how to go to the bathroom. Babies are forced to wear diapers and have them changed at regular intervals by their guardians. As children get older, they take in more information through the discovery process. Gradually they become educated enough to become self-sufficient adults who can meet the demands of their bodies.

Some adults take it a step further. In every society there will be an intelligentsia, a group of people prone to cultivating knowledge. Nevertheless, knowledge can only be acquired through personal experience and learning from others. Then there are the geniuses like Albert Einstein and Sir Isaac Newton who make great discoveries. Yet if we apply a little intelligence, we’ll quickly discover that even the greatest scientist in the world has a very paltry understanding of things. This should make sense to us. How much intelligence can a person really have if they had to acquire all their knowledge? In the grand scheme of things, human beings don’t live that long, so they don’t have the time to study each and every person and geographic area in the world.

No matter how intelligent we may think we are, no one in the world is smarter than God. He is the oldest person, so He has seen all there is to see and experienced all there is to experience. Lord Krishna is the original person, adyam purana-purusham. God is also the only person in the world who never had to be taught anything. He has always been God; He didn’t need to take any college courses, read any books, or perform any experiments. God is always God; it is not a title one can acquire.

These facts seem simple enough to understand, but we see that many people either forget God or don’t spend any time thinking about Him. Then there are those who are openly atheistic, thinking that there is no God. Once they acquire enough wealth, fame, and intelligence, they take themselves to be the supreme controller, the ruler of the world. This was precisely the case with the Rakshasa demon Ravana many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. He too was a mortal living entity, born as a son of the sage Vishrava. Yet through the performance of severe austerities, Ravana was gifted with many power augmenting boons by the demigods. He then used his newly acquired powers to wreak havoc throughout the world, defeating many great kings and stealing away their wives.

Sita Devi Ravana’s folly was that he took himself to be invincible. Though he had to work so hard to achieve his fame and fortune, he never thought that there might be a God who was more powerful than himself. Ravana thought the demigods were the most powerful living entities, and having outsmarted them, he believed he was the head honcho of the universe. His hubris deluded him into thinking that he could have the wife of Lord Rama, Sita Devi.

At the same time that Ravana was terrorizing the innocent people of the world, Lord Krishna had appeared on earth in the guise of a human being, the warrior prince named Rama. As part of His pastimes, Lord Rama roamed the wilderness of India for fourteen years alongside His younger brother, Lakshmana, and wife, Sita Devi. Sita was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, so naturally she was the most beautiful woman in the world. Not only was she beautiful, but she was chaste and committed to dharma as well, thus making her a worthy spouse of the prince of Ayodhya. Ravana had hundreds of wives, but after hearing of Sita’s beauty, he insisted on having her. He set up a diversion which lured Rama and Lakshmana away from their cottage in the forest, thus opening the door for him to come and approach Sita.

Ravana’s plan was simple enough. He had carried away many beautiful women before, so he didn’t think this would be that difficult. After all, Rama was only roaming the forests due to the demands of His father, Maharaja Dashratha of Ayodhya. Ravana essentially thought, “What can this man do to me? He doesn’t even have a kingdom; He lives like a homeless man. This woman is way too beautiful to be His wife. I will take her without a fight.”

“The difference between the son of Dasharatha [Rama] and yourself is like the difference between a lion and a jackal of the forest, a sea and a brook, and fine wine and Sauviraka [a sour, fermented wheat drink]. The difference between the son of Dasharatha and yourself is like the difference between gold and a base metal, sandalwood water and mud, and an elephant and a cat in the forest. The difference between the son of Dasharatha and yourself is like the difference between Garuda [son of Vinata and king of birds] and a crow, a peacock and a diver bird, and a swan and a vulture [flesh-eating bird]. Even if you steal me away, Rama, standing against you in battle with His bow and arrows, having prowess equal to that of Lord Indra, will make sure that you will not live very long, like a mosquito that has swallowed ghee.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.45-48)

Lord Narasimhadeva - God's half-man half-lion form Sita vehemently opposed Ravana’s advances. In the above referenced quote, she is comparing his strength to that of Rama’s. She is reminding Ravana of who God is and what He is capable of. Sita was an authority on God’s greatness, for she was a perfect devotee and servant of Lord Rama. If we want to understand the glories of the Lord, we should take instruction from someone who knows Him, i.e. the devotees.

Lord Rama is like a lion and Ravana is like a jackal. Rama is brave, courageous, and strong, whereas Ravana is a sneaky little thief. Rama is like the sea, while Ravana is a lowly brook. The brook has limited powers, especially when compared to the sea. Often times, the movements of the brook are directed by the more powerful sea. In a similar manner, Rama is God Himself, and is thus responsible for all the activities conducted by Mother Nature.

Lord Rama is like fine wine, while Ravana is like Sauviraka, a sour, fermented alcoholic drink. God is great, and everything associated with Him is beautiful and opulent. The living entities, especially the demons, are tiny and puny. The material objects that we derive enjoyment from can be thought of as cheap and tasteless when compared to God’s enjoyment. Rama is like gold, while Ravana is like iron or another inferior metal. Gold is very commonly used to describe something or someone’s greatness, thus making it an apt comparison to God.

Lord RamaLord Rama is like sandal paste, while Ravana is like mud. Sandalwood scents and sandal paste are staples of Vedic rituals and traditions. The fragrance is both purifying and pleasant. Mud is just the opposite; it is considered dirty and something that needs to be removed from the body. God is completely pure and fragrant, while the living entities who associate with maya are considered contaminated. It is not until one associates with God in a loving way that they become purified.

Rama is like an elephant and Ravana is like a cat. During Vedic times, elephants played an important role, especially during military battles. An elephant is extremely strong and difficult to control, whereas a cat’s strength is miniscule. Rama is like Garuda and Ravana is like an ordinary crow. Garuda is the king of birds and the carrier of Lord Vishnu. Krishna is the original form of God, and Vishnu is His primary expansion. Rama was considered an incarnation of Vishnu, thus the comparison to Garuda was appropriate. There is no bird that is stronger or faster than Garuda, so by comparing Ravana to a crow, Sita is saying that he could never be stronger than God.

Lord Rama Sita also used two other bird comparisons, stating that Rama was like a peacock and a swan, while Ravana was like a diver bird and a falcon/vulture. Lord Krishna wears the peacock feather in His hair, so this automatically makes the peacock an auspicious animal. The comparison to a swan [hamsa] is also appropriate because Lord Krishna once incarnated as a swan. A swan has the ability to accept a mixture of milk and water and only drink the milk portion. This means that they can carefully extract the good things out of whatever is given to them. Similarly, exalted devotees are also referred to as great swans, paramahamsas, because they accept the essence of life, Lord Krishna. A vulture, on the other hand, is known for eating carcasses, so it was an apt comparison to Ravana, who as a Rakshasa was accustomed to eating animal flesh.

The lesson here is that there is a vast difference between the living entities and God. Our powers are both small and limited, whereas God’s are both large and unlimited. Rama would show His greatness by defeating and killing Ravana in battle after he had kidnapped Sita, thus proving her words to be true. Lord Rama is very nice, so there is no reason to have enmity with Him. There is no reason to be His competitor, for we will be much better served becoming His devotee. Sita Devi, Hanuman, and Lakshmana view Rama as their dearmost, well-wishing friend and thus they enjoy eternal happiness. We can do the same by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Forgive Me Not

Lord Krishna “…vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.3)

Forgiveness is an important concept not only in religion, but in our day-to-day interactions with our fellow man. Though we may be led astray by anger and resentment from time to time, we don’t enjoy behaving impiously. Most of us don’t go around thinking of how we can anger our friends and family. Nevertheless, we find ways to raise the ire of others, and in these situations we desperately seek forgiveness and atonement. We seek forgiveness from others, and vice versa. In fact, many of us have a difficult time excusing those who have wronged us. But what does forgiveness really mean? What does it mean to be forgiven and what do we get out of it?

Student loan debt The concepts of forgiveness and atonement can apply to almost any area of life, not just religion. For example, debts can be forgiven. At some time or another we may need to borrow money from someone. The amount can be as little as five dollars, or it can be as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars. We have every intention of paying this money back, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we may not be able to meet our obligations. In these situations, some of us look for forgiveness of our debts. There are actually government programs in place today which will forgive the balance of a student loan debt should a person take up a particular public service position. For example, if newly graduated teaching students decide to teach in select underprivileged neighborhoods, they can have their student loans completely forgiven. Governments have a hard time finding people to fill teaching positions in these troubled areas, so they are willing to offer extra incentives to entice potential employees. Debt forgiveness is certainly a very appealing benefit, for no one wants to be saddled with debts that will take their entire lifetime to pay off.

From this example, we get one idea of what forgiveness is. In the case of loans, forgiveness means removing the burden, or negative consequence, from the initial borrower. A student took the action of borrowing money from a certain lender. This action had both positive and negative consequences. On the positive side, the student got to attend college without having to pay for it immediately, but on the negative side, they are forced to pay back the loan, month-by-month until the entire debt is paid off. There are also issues relating to interest, meaning that after all is said and done, it is actually more costly to pay for college through a loan than it is to pay in cash from the outset. When someone seeks forgiveness of a loan, they are asking that the negative consequences to their action of borrowing be eliminated.

This same principle can be applied to all areas of life. If we get into an argument with one of our friends or family members, we can cause them great distress and grief. Arguments are quite common in marriages, for the two parties are very close and share every aspect of their lives together. Husbands can make serious mistakes from time to time, such as forgetting birthdays, anniversaries, yelling at the wife, or in the worst cases, having an affair with another woman. In these instances, the husband desperately seeks forgiveness from the wife, for he knows that he has done something wrong. In seeking forgiveness, the husband wants the negative consequences of his actions to be eliminated. In the case of personal relationships, the negative consequences are anger, resentment, and hatred. Most people don’t enjoy being hated, nor do they prefer to have others angry at them.

ConfessionWe can also study forgiveness from the perspective of the person who is wronged. If someone offends us, calls us names, or even physically harms us, it is natural that we will hold a grudge and have enmity towards that person. When this person comes to us for forgiveness, they want us to forgo our anger and give up all of our feelings of resentment and hatred. Sometimes this is not so easy to do, because if we were to remove the negative consequences to a person’s bad behavior, they would be more likely to continue to behave the same way in the future. Nevertheless, it is considered a virtue to be forgiving. Only the immature and stingiest among us hold grudges forever and never forgive anyone else.

This brings us to the issue of religion. It is in this arena that forgiveness is most often sought. “Forgive me father, for I have sinned”, is how confessionals start in some of the major religions around the world. Confession is certainly a good thing because it means we are admitting to a higher power that we have committed wrongs against others or that we have transgressed the rules of propriety. We go to confession so that we can atone for our bad behavior. This is important because though our dedication to religion may not be all that we want it to be, we inherently understand that there are negative consequences to all of our bad activities. The Vedas tell us that this is due to karma, or fruitive activity. We generally associate fruits with sweet food products that grow on trees and fall off when they become ripe. In a generic sense, fruits can be thought of as the results of action, and they aren’t always positive. Karma refers to fruitive activity, which is any activity that has a positive or negative consequence.

“Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.18)

Lord Krishna When we ask God for forgiveness, we‘re really asking for the negative consequences of our sinful activities to be removed. And what are these consequences? Depending on the religious belief system, the consequences can be overall bad fortune or descension to hell in the afterlife. Actually the system of positive and negative consequences is completely scientific and not determined by any faith system. For example, if we build a house the wrong way, it is guaranteed that there will be harmful side effects. At some point or another, the house will collapse. If we eat too much, it is guaranteed that we will feel ill side effects later on. We may throw up, develop diseases, and even become fat. These activities are sins in the sense that they go against the proper code of conduct for the particular area of interest.

If we expand this concept to all of our activities, we see that everything has positive or negative consequences. It is not a matter of religious faith, but rather something inherent to nature. So when we say, “Forgive me father, for I have sinned”, we’re essentially saying, “O dear Lord, I know that I commit so many abominable activities which I will surely have to suffer from. Please remove this suffering, for I am afraid of having to deal with the pain it will cause.” This plea will certainly help us in the short term. God is not mean after all, so He will surely hear us and try to eradicate our suffering. Anyone who honestly submits themselves before the Lord and asks for His protection is guaranteed of receiving it.

So let’s say that we commit some heinous act, go to God for atonement, and then receive forgiveness. Does everything stop there? More often than not, we end up sinning again in the future. This time we may or may not go to confession, but it really doesn’t matter. God is not meant to be our order supplier. He doesn’t exist simply to remove the reactions to our sinful activity. As stated before, the ups and downs we go through in life are the result of the laws of nature, governed by karma. In this system, God has no direct interest. He may intervene from time to time depending on the circumstance, but in general, He lets nature take its course. For example, we all must die some day. No matter how much we pray or how much we atone, death will still come. This is because death is controlled by nature. God certainly could make sure that we never die, but He has no desire to mess with nature. More importantly, the Lord doesn’t want to intervene on an issue as trivial as death.

“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bg. 2.11)

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna This may seem strange at first, for we all fear death. The quitting of the body is considered to be the worst thing that can happen to anybody, so why would God downplay the significance of such an event? The reason is that birth, death, old age, and disease are guaranteed to occur for every single person in this world. If we engage in fruitive activity, or karma, positive and negative consequences are guaranteed to bear fruit. Realizing this fact, a sober person will question what it is they are asking for forgiveness from in the first place. “If I will be forced to suffer in the future anyway, what need is there for atonement?”

A person who comes to this realization has taken the first step towards acquiring real knowledge and intelligence. Asking God to forgive our sinful acts is certainly a nice thing, but we must realize what the negative consequences actually are. Going to hell or receiving bad fortune aren’t really the negative consequences to sinful activity. The Vedas tell us that what really constitutes sin is anything that takes us away from our relationship with the Supreme Lord. As spirit souls, we are not meant to associate with our bodies. Currently our consciousness is on the material platform, so we think in terms of “I” and “Mine”. “My family, my friend, my country, my religion, etc.” These designations are certainly valid in a sense, but they are wholly inadequate when describing our true identity.

“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind." (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.7)

Krishna tending to the cows The Vedas tell us that our real identity is that of a spirit soul, part and parcel of God. Aham brahmasmi means that “I am a spirit soul which is part of Brahman, or the all-pervading energy representation of God.” Those with the highest level of understanding realize that any activity which takes them away from God should be considered sinful. To understand this point, let’s study some of the basic sins. “Thou shall not kill” is one of the more famous commandments in the Christian tradition. If we kill someone else, we are taking away their life, meaning that we are forcing the event where the soul exits the body. This is sinful because we are causing harm to another living entity for no justified reason. But on an even higher level, this activity is sinful because it is done in ignorance of the presence of the soul. A self-realized person understands that not only are they a spirit soul, but that every other living entity is also. This means that if we kill someone else, we are doing harm to one of God’s children. Unnecessary killing is thus sinful because it takes us away from the understanding that we are meant to serve God.

Killing is one of the more egregious examples of sin, but we can apply the same principle to all other material activities. The Vedas tell us that of all the sinful activities, four are the most harmful. These are meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. Meat eating is sinful because it violates the above mentioned edict against unnecessary violence. Gambling is sinful because it keeps the mind agitated all the time, keeping one always thinking of what move to make next. Intoxication is similarly harmful because it takes away our internal cleanliness, deluding our consciousness. Illicit sex is considered the most harmful because it provides so much material enjoyment. Those who want to enjoy materially must always remain in this world, being forced to suffer through repeated births and deaths.

Radha Krishna The one thing all these activities have in common is that they keep us away from God. That is actually the reason behind the existence of this material world. It is a place where we can be separated from God, for that was our desire a long long time ago. The Supreme Lord did not want us to come here, but He has no desire to force us to do anything. He allows for complete independence. Thus we see that the original sin was not eating a forbidden fruit or engaging in sexual activity, but rather the desire to leave God’s association in hopes of imitating His activities in a temporary and miserable world.

When we approach God for forgiveness, what we really should be asking for is His association. Above all other negative reactions, the worst consequence to performing sinful activity is that it divorces us from God’s association. There can be no worse consequence than this, because without God’s protection, we are left to fend for ourselves. In the absence of the Lord, we must rely on our fellow man to protect and take care of us. This protection is always flawed because our fellow man is just like us after all, meaning they too are prone to committing sins.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

Krishna devotee The only way to achieve everlasting atonement is to avoid performing sinful activities altogether. The onus is on us. We can ask God to forgive us for sinning, but He can’t stop us from performing the same activities again. We must adjust our lifestyle in such a way that we avoid sin altogether. This can be easily accomplished by taking up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Just as sin brings us further away from God, devotional service keeps us always connected with Him. If we always chant the Lord’s names, read books about Him, offer Him prayers, sing songs about Him, and view pictures of Him, we will always remain in His association. This type of connection is just as good as personal association because the Lord is Absolute; there is no difference between God and His name, form, attributes, and books describing His features and activities.

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

By connecting with God all the time, the root of all negative consequences is eliminated. For the pure devotees of God, there is no need for forgiveness because there is no suffering that awaits them. Those who think of God at all times, all the way up until the time of death, are guaranteed to return to His spiritual abode. One who goes there never has to take birth again, which also means that they’ll never have to die again. These rewards are far superior to any temporary relief we get through ordinary atonement.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

A Worthy Partner

Sita and Rama “Since you are one who wishes to assail the beloved wife of Rama, you must also wish to swim across the ocean while wearing a boulder around your neck, and take away the sun and the moon using just your hands. Since you wish to take away Rama's wife, who is of the highest character, you must also wish to put out a blazing fire using just a piece of cloth. Since you are one who wishes to obtain the worthy wife of Rama [His ideal match], you must also wish to walk across iron needles.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.42-44)

In this passage, Sita Devi, the worthy wife of Lord Rama, is explaining to Ravana how ridiculous his idea of having her is. It’s deplorable for a man to covet another’s wife, let alone the wife of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Rama was an incarnation of God, and Sita was an incarnation of God’s wife in the spiritual world, Lakshmi Devi. Sita herein compares Ravana’s lusty desires to impossible feats, or those actions which are so silly that they aren’t even undertaken. She is illustrating absurdity by being absurd. Instead of simply chastising Ravana, she is trying to show the folly of his desires by comparing them to even more ridiculous acts. More than anything else, Sita reaffirms the fact that she is the worthy wife of Rama and no one else.

Janaka finding Sita Sita Devi was born and raised as the daughter of the King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka. When she was a baby, the king found her one day while plowing a field and then raised her as his own daughter. Around the same time, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, advented on earth in the form of a pious prince named Rama. Janaka held a self-choice ceremony, or svayamvara, to decide Sita’s nuptials. Lord Rama happened to attend this ceremony, and after lifting the famous bow of Lord Shiva, won the hand of Sita in marriage. The two lived happily in Rama’s kingdom of Ayodhya for twelve years when Rama was suddenly ordered to leave and not return for fourteen years. The couple then roamed the forests of India along with Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana. They set up a cottage in the forest of Dandaka. It was there that Ravana, a Rakshasa demon, appeared before Sita and propositioned her.

Sita was worthy of Rama and Rama was worthy of Sita. The purity went both ways. On the highest level of understanding, there is no difference between the two because one person is the energy and the other is the energetic. In fact, this is how the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, view a marriage. Through the religious institution of marriage, the husband and wife assume one identity, sharing a common fate in the afterlife. This relationship is an outgrowth of the pure loving relationship that exists in the spiritual world between God and His pleasure potency expansions. God is the original person, adi-purusha, from whom everything emanates. God is the supreme enjoyer after all, so to facilitate His desire for enjoyment, He expands Himself into pleasure potency forms, which are known as hladini-shakti. Krishna is the original form of God, and Shrimati Radharani is the original pleasure potency. From Radharani come all the goddesses of fortune, or Lakshmijis. So in essence, there is no difference between Radha-Krishna, and Sita-Rama.

Radha Krishna As God’s most intimate associate in conjugal love, Sita possesses the highest qualities of devotion. During her time on earth, she never thought of anyone except Rama. She executed the processes of devotional service to perfection. Thus she was the only worthy spouse for Lord Rama. In a similar manner, Rama was the only worthy husband for Sita due to her pious and chaste nature. The relationship between God and His pure devotees operates in a manner similar to that of a good marriage. In a marriage, a husband will love and protect his wife provided that she is completely devoted to him. The husband will excuse all nagging and pestering or anything else he finds to be annoying from the wife, provided that she has no interest other than to serve him. This is the definition of chastity. In a similar manner, Lord Krishna relieves us of all sinful reactions provided that our only interest is to serve Him. It’s not that He gets angry if we forget Him, but He will pay more attention to us if we shift our interests in His direction.

Sita was both a chaste wife and a devotee, so she was doubly worthy of Rama’s protection. In performing her pastimes, Sita always associated with the spiritual energy. The Vedas tell us that God creates two energies: material and spiritual. Material nature is a temporary place which is full of miseries. It can be thought of as a prison house designed to act as a playground for the wayward souls who desire to imitate God. The spiritual energy is a direct expansion of God, so it inherits all of His pure qualities. God is so kind that even while living in the material world, one can associate with the spiritual energy. We can do this by engaging in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. There is no difference between God and His names, forms, and pastimes. Sita Devi associated directly with the spiritual energy by dedicating all her thoughts, words, and deeds to God’s personal form of Lord Rama. She also regularly recited His name, thought of Him, offered Him prayers, and assisted Him in pastimes. In this way, we see that Sita herself was completely spiritual. Though assuming a human body, she never directly associated with material nature, which is also known as maya.

Sita Devi Ravana, on the other hand, was completely engrossed in material life. This immediately disqualified him from ever having Sita’s association. The spiritually enlightened can never be coaxed into mixing with the gross materialists. By the same token, the non-devotees can never touch God or His associates. Ravana was a Rakshasa, so he inherited all bad qualities from the time of his birth. On a previous occasion, Ravana’s mother was cursed by the great sage Vishrava. She wanted to bear a child with the sage, and since she disturbed him while he was meditating, the sage agreed to her desire but also cursed her to have a Rakshasa son. Hence Ravana was born.

Ravana regularly indulged in intoxication, illicit sex, and meat eating. He would even eat human flesh, for he and his associates would regularly kill sages and then feast on their flesh. There was no way Ravana could ever win over a person as exalted as Sita. Instead of explaining these finer points to Ravana, Sita tried to convey the message through metaphors, illustrating absurdity by being absurd.

In the first comparison, Sita states that Ravana surely wishes to swim across an ocean with a rock tied around his neck. Obviously if a person tried this, they would sink. An ocean is hard enough to cross without having a huge weight pulling you down beneath the surface of the water. Sita warned Ravana that if he tried to forcibly win her over, he would surely drown.

In the next comparison, Sita states that Ravana surely had a wish to acquire the sun and the moon using his hands. In the modern age, scientists have developed a way to get to the moon, but only after much endeavor. After spending millions of dollars, all they have done is land there in costly spacesuits. They haven’t learned anything, nor have they advanced their material condition, which is what they were after in the first place. Hence, the moon still eludes them since they haven’t found any use for it. The sun is a completely different story. Even today’s scientists aren’t silly enough to try to go to the sun. One will surely be burned to death before they could even get close to the sun’s surface. In this way, Sita warned Ravana that he would also die if he tried to forcibly win her over.

Hanuman setting fire to Lanka In the third comparison, Sita states that Ravana surely wishes to bind a flaming fire with a piece of cloth. A small fire is not very hard to put out or contain. Taking a simple rag and swatting at the fire can usually put it out. Even a fire extinguisher can do the trick. If the fire gets any bigger, it really becomes a problem. It seems like every year there is at least one wild forest fire that rages across the state of California which officials can’t control. They do their best to try to thin the forests of dry brush, but Mother Nature always seems to thwart their efforts. Once the fire gets big enough, it takes on a life of its own. In a similar manner, Lord Rama’s power was like that of a blazing fire. Ravana was a tiny rag compared to Rama, thus by trying to steal away the Lord’s wife, he would surely be burned to death by the blazing fire represented by Rama’s arrows.

In fact, this is pretty much what happened, except it wasn’t Rama’s arrows, but the burning tail of a monkey. Lord Rama was God Himself, so naturally He had many devotees who were willing to step up and serve Him. Lord Hanuman, a Vanara [monkey-like human], was one such devotee. After Ravana kidnapped Sita, Hanuman successfully infiltrated the city of Lanka and made his way to Ravana. The demon had Hanuman bound and then lit his tail on fire. Through his devotional service, Hanuman had attained all the yogic siddhis, or perfections. He could make himself infinitely small or large at any time. After his tail was set on fire, Hanuman easily broke free of the bonds of the rope by becoming small, and then immediately assumed a large shape. He then dragged his burning tail all around the city of Lanka, shearing it of its beauty.

Ravana's wives mourning over his death In the last comparison of these verses, Sita says that Ravana surely wishes to walk on iron spikes. This metaphor not only references Ravana’s sinful desire to steal away Lord Rama’s wife, but also material life in general. Whether one is seeking bhukti [material enjoyment], mukti [liberation from material activities], or siddhi [perfection in yogic performance], their path is riddled with pain and suffering throughout. This is actually God’s mercy because He doesn’t want us to associate with material life. Shri Krishna is described as having an eternal body, full of bliss and knowledge, sach-chid-ananda. In a similar manner, our souls are also eternally blissful, but through contact with material nature, we are forced into misery. Human life is meant for reconnecting with the spiritual energy, which will allow us to once again assume our blissful spiritual body. One does not have to wait until the time of death to reassume this nature, for the eternally liberated devotees are referred to as jivan-mukta, meaning they are already free of material miseries.

Ravana certainly wasn’t eligible to have Sita as his wife. Since devotees are pious, does it mean that they are eligible to have Sita as their life partner? Pure devotees know that Sita is only meant for Rama. They are happiest when they see the divine couple together. This is how Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, felt. He left his own wife at home in favor of serving Rama and Sita. Lakshmana derived great pleasure from protecting both Sita and Rama while they slept during the night. This is how devotees think.

Hanuman worshiping Sita-Rama Ravana wanted to take Sita and enjoy her for himself. Devotees know that Krishna is the original proprietor of everything. Whatever comes their way, devotees use towards God’s service. They are only happy when in God’s association and they have no desire to enjoy things that belong to Him. God is pro-choice, in that He allows us to choose which direction we want to go in. As Sita Devi states, one who follows Ravana’s sinful path is destined for destruction. Therefore we should choose to be with God instead of against Him.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Celebrate Good Times

Jagannatha Puri “Simply by worshiping Krishna one can easily achieve all the results of heavenly opulence, liberation, supremacy over the planetary systems of the universe, all the opulences of this material world, and the mystic power of performing the yoga system.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.81.19)

In the world of professional sports, there is no end to the competition. Each particular sport has its own season, which includes championships, tournaments, and trophies. Even though these events occur on a regular basis, not everyone comes out a winner. Some teams can go over one hundred years without winning a championship, even though they give it their best every year. Since winning the ultimate championship each season is such a great accomplishment, it makes sense that the victors, along with their fans, want to savor the moment for as long as possible. One of the more popular ways of celebrating a championship in team sports is through the parade. In America, the teams in the four major professional sports all have a home city, so when a team wins a title, there is almost always a parade that follows as a form of celebration. Ironically enough, this parade concept originates from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. There has been one parade in particular, celebrating the Supreme Lord, which has been an annual occurrence for hundreds of years.

The Stanley Cup No parade would be complete without an object of worship. In the arena of team sports, the players are certainly adored and fawned over. But more than just the players, the actual championship trophy is what best symbolizes the extraordinary accomplishment of victory. In all of sports, there is no more celebrated trophy than the Stanley Cup, the reward given to the champion of ice hockey at the culmination of each season. Though there are many professional hockey organizations, the National Hockey League [NHL] is considered the topmost. The league consists of teams from the United States and Canada, but it is truly a global sport, for it boasts the best players in the world. Hockey is especially popular in Canada, but this doesn’t mean that every player in the NHL is Canadian. Russians, Americans, Swedes, and Fins contribute to the dynamic makeup of the league.

The Stanley Cup is named after Lord Stanley, a Canadian government official of the late 19th century. The trophy is over one hundred years old, and it is given to the best team in the league at the end of each playoff season. Though the actual format of the playoffs has changed over time, the basic layout of a typical NHL season has always remained the same. There is a regular season where teams compete with one another to see who will make the playoffs. The playoffs are an elimination round type tournament. For the past quarter century or so, the playoffs have consisted of sixteen teams, eight from each of the two conferences in the league. The conferences, along with their divisions, are divided up by the geographic location of the teams. Teams that are close to one another are put into the same division.

Making the playoffs is itself a great accomplishment. Currently the regular season consists of eighty-two games played between the months of October and April each year. The playoffs is where the fun really begins. Teams are pitted against one another in best-of-seven elimination round series. The first team to win four games in the series advances to the next round of the playoffs. In order to win the Stanley Cup, a team must successfully win four series, i.e. win sixteen games over the course of two months. Needless to say, this is no easy task. Many storied franchises have gone decades without winning the cup. The famous New York Rangers franchise went through a fifty-four year drought after winning the Cup in 1940. It seemed like all hope was lost until finally the legend Mark Messier was able to lead the team to victory in 1994.

Kane scoring the winning goal In recent times, the team with the longest Cup drought was the Chicago Blackhawks, who last won in 1961. Yet through a sudden revival in the team, aided by several young superstars like captain Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the Hawks were able to end the drought in 2010. The conclusion of the final playoff series was quite dramatic, as Kane scored the Cup clinching goal in overtime of game 6. In playoff games, if the score is tied at the end of regulation, the game goes to overtime. Overtime consists of full twenty minute periods, with play continuing until someone scores. The first team to score wins the game; hence overtime is often referred to as sudden-death. This makes for a very exciting finish to playoff games, especially when the stakes are raised. Kane’s overtime goal was unique in that he was the only one to see the puck go into the net. Kane took a shot from a sharp angle, and since the puck went through the goalie’s legs, no one knew where it ended up. Kane, seeing that his shot went in, immediately started celebrating, skating across the ice. Finally, the referees were able to find the puck lodged in the back of the net, signaling victory for the Blackhawks and an end to their Stanley Cup drought.

Captain Jonathan Toews during the parade The city of Chicago wasted no time in organizing a parade. Held two days after the clinching game, the parade brought out millions of Chicago residents, who all came to pay homage to their favorite team and to get a look at the storied Stanley Cup. One of the unique things about the Stanley Cup celebration is that the players and coaches from the winning team get their name inscribed on the trophy. This means that once you win, your name is on the hallowed trophy forever. Unlike other sports, a new championship trophy is not created each year in the NHL; the same Stanley Cup gets passed down from team to team. Another nice tradition that was started in recent times allows each player from the winning team to have the Cup all to himself for one day during the following summer. Some players take the Cup to their hometown, while others find unique ways to celebrate. All of this adds to the mystique and aura of the famed trophy.

When you break things down to their core components, the Stanley Cup and the parade celebrations that follow are all just forms of worship. After all, fans invest great time and emotion in their favorite teams. They spend good amounts of money going to the games, buying jerseys, and watching the games on television. Many fans will even get into arguments with other fans, defending their team’s honor and prestige. So naturally when your favorite team wins, you’ll want to celebrate; you’ll want to show your love. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that of all the objects of worship that are out there, nothing is greater than God. Since God is all-attractive and the supreme giver of pleasure, He is known by the name of Krishna.

Radha Krishna In the Vedic tradition, God is not only worshiped internally within one’s heart and mind, but also externally in the temple. The temple is not simply a place of gathering, but rather an inviting home for a specific incarnation of the Lord known as the archa-vigraha. Vigraha refers to a body or form and archa refers to archanam, or the offering of worship. Thus the deity is the worshipable form of the Lord. Why does God need a worshipable form? The deity exists due to Krishna’s mercy. Just as the Stanley Cup is a worshipable form which represents the milestone achievement of a hockey team, the deity is the worshipable form representing the glorious nature of the Supreme Lord.

The difference between ordinary idols/trophies and the deity form of the Lord is that the deity is non-different from the Lord. Though the archa-vigraha is made out of wood or stone, the crafted image is not something concocted by the mind. Rather, the form represents a specific incarnation, or avatara, of the Lord. An avatara is one who descends from the spiritual world, thus it is an eternally existing form of the Lord. It is not material, so it is not subject to creation and destruction. The deity is a replica of that eternal form, and since God is absolute, it is non-different from the original. Therefore deity worship is one of the central components of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Temple worship is sufficient to allow lovers of God to show their affection and give thanks for the blessings they receive. But as we all know, a celebration is always more fun when more people are involved. For this reason, one of the oldest Vedic traditions involves a parade of the glorious deity forms of the Lord. This parade is known as Ratha-yatra, and it has been going on for centuries in the famous city of Puri.

“A person who sees the Lord's Ratha-yatra car festival and then stands up to receive the Lord can purge all kinds of sinful results from his body.” (Brahmanda Purana)

Ratha-yatra deities As previously mentioned, the deity forms of the Lord aren’t concocted by the mind. Though God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, He takes innumerable expansions based on a person’s natural propensity to offer worship. When Lord Krishna personally descended to earth some five thousand years ago, He brought with Him His brother Balarama and sister Subhadra. Ratha-yatra celebrates the occasion when these three siblings went to Kurukshetra-dhama on the occasion of a solar eclipse. At this event, Lord Krishna reunited with His intimate associates, the gopis from Vrindavana. For the Ratha-yatra celebration, deities of Krishna, Balarama, and Subhadra are placed on elaborately decorated carts and paraded around the city of Puri. What’s interesting to note is the unique appearance of the deities. Though Ratha-yatra celebrates Lord Krishna, the specific form of the Lord put on the cart is that of Lord Jagannatha, the presiding deity of the Jagannatha temple in Puri. Jagannatha is another name for God which means “Lord of the universe”.

Lord Jagannatha There are several interesting accounts of the origin of Ratha-yatra found in the Puranas. Sometimes there are discrepancies found amongst the various Puranas, but this is due to the fact that God's appearances on earth are recurring events, so His pastimes aren't always performed in the exact same way in each kalpa, or creation. For Ratha-yatra, the basic story is that there once was a great king named Indradyumna who wanted to take darshana of Lord Vishnu. Vishnu is just another form of Lord Krishna, so they are essentially the same. When the king arrived at Purushottamma-kshetra, the Vishnu deity was not visible to him. A voice from the sky told the king not to worry and to follow the advice of the great Narada Muni. Narada then advised the king to install a deity of Lord Narasimhadeva, followed by the performance of many yajnas. After this, a voice from the sky instructed the king to send a carpenter into the temple to carve out the deities of Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, Subhadra, and the Sudarshana-chakra that the king wanted to see. The king was ordered to make sure that drums were beating the entire time, so as to ensure that no one could hear the carpenter do his work. Once the deities were completed, the voice asked the king to paint these deities properly. Later on, Narada advised the king to have three chariots made for the deities so that they could be paraded around the city. Hence Ratha-yatra was born.

“Everyone was astonished by the dancing of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and even Lord Jagannatha became extremely happy to see Him.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 13.98)

Lord Chaitanya dancing The real benefit of Ratha-yatra is that it allows people to see the form of the Lord. However large a temple may be, it can’t accommodate as many people as a parade can. In Jagannatha Puri, this annual parade features thousands and thousands of people. The pictures from this event are just astounding. It is even said that Lord Jesus Christ visited Jagannatha Puri prior to becoming a preacher. The Ratha-yatra parade also features loud chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, along with dancing. Lord Chaitanya, Lord Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, was especially fond of Lord Jagannatha and Ratha-yatra. Lord Chaitanya was known for His never-before-seen displays of emotion and love for God. During Ratha-yatra, He would dance in front of the deities like no one had before, showing His intense love for Krishna.

In recent times, Ratha-yatra has become a global affair, with parades occurring annually in cities around the world. This is all due to the sincere efforts of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his disciples. If we get a chance, we should attend one of these parades and bring our friends and family. Just seeing the deity once is an experience that will stay with us for a lifetime.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Death Wish

Rama and Lakshmana fighting Ravana “Do you wish to uproot the teeth from the mouth of a hungry lion, who is the enemy of the swift deer, or from the mouth of a venomous serpent? Do you wish to take away the best of mountains, Mandara, using just your hands? Do you wish to drink deadly poison and come away alive? Since you wish to take away the beloved wife of Raghava [Rama], you must want to rub your eyes with pins and lick a razorblade with your tongue.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.39-41)

Religious leaders warn us of the punishment of eternal damnation for those who don’t accept the supremacy of God. In actuality, just taking birth in this material world is itself a form of misery, for we are constantly struggling with the dualities of happiness and sadness, heat and cold, success and defeat. There is a more severe form of punishment, however, reserved for the enemies of God and His devotees. There are many ways to describe what exactly happens to those who cross the Supreme Lord, but sometimes we require the use of analogy and alliteration to help convey the message. God is not always visible before us, especially if our eyes are materially conditioned, thus it is difficult to comprehend what will happen should we make Him angry or offend His devotees. In this regard, Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, provides a few comparisons and analogies to help us better understand.

Lord Krishna “How can we offend someone that we can’t see?” This is an understandable question, for how do we even know that God exists? The Vedas tell us that the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shri Krishna, can be realized in three distinct features: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Brahman is the all-encompassing energy; the sum and substance of everything; all matter and spirit. In the varnashrama-dharma system, the brahmanas are considered the highest societal division because they know Brahman. One who knows Brahman understands that everything, including every person and every living entity, makes up the complete whole, or Brahman. Hence there is really no difference between any of us. Our material bodies may be different due to the influences of karma [fruitive activity] and guna [material qualities], but at the core, every living entity is equal.

A higher realization than Brahman is Paramatma, or the Supersoul that resides within the heart of every living entity. Our identity comes from the atma, or the individual soul that resides within the heart. Technically this soul is referred to as the jivatma, since it belongs to the living entity. There is another soul that resides side-by-side with the jivatma. This is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul, and it is a direct expansion of God. The jivatma forms the basis of our ordinary consciousness while the Paramatma represents the Supreme Consciousness. It is referred to as supreme because the Paramatma acts as a sort of neutral witness. Since it is a personal expansion of God, it has knowledge of all the events of our current life, and it also remembers everything from our previous lives. The same can’t be said for the jivatma. The Paramatma is also conscious of the experiences and thoughts of every living entity, whereas we are only conscious of the events of our own life. Since the Supersoul is superior to jivatma, the “param” prefix is added to the word “atma”, forming Paramatma. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, “ishvarah sarva-bhutanam hrideshe’rjuna tishthati”, which means the supreme controller, Ishvara, resides within the heart of every living entity.

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)

Hanuman keeping Sita and Rama in his heart Paramatma is an expansion of God; a fact which implies that it has a source. That source is Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In common parlance, the term “God” essentially refers to Bhagavan. God is a person just like us, except that He is much greater in power. There is no difference in quality between Paramatma and jivatma, but the quantitative powers cannot be compared. Since Bhagavan is the source of both atmas, He always remains supreme.

So how can we see God? Since He is both Brahman and Paramatma, the Lord can actually be seen everywhere. The spirit spark, represented by the activities of the living entities, shows us that God exists everywhere. Moreover, Bhagavan takes other forms such as shastra and guru. Shastras are law codes, or religious scriptures. The Vedas, the scriptures emanating from the dawn of time, were passed down by Lord Krishna. Veda means knowledge, thus the Vedas are a collection of the highest truths of life. Krishna also incarnated as Vyasadeva, who authored a tremendous amount of Vedic literature, all of which essentially describes the same teachings of the original Vedas through different mediums such as historical accounts, hymns, and carefully thought out aphorisms.

The guru, or spiritual master, is the pure devotee of Krishna, so his words are directly coming from God. If we studied the teachings of all the great Vaishnava saints of the past, we will find that none of them take credit for their philosophies, ideas, or teachings. They all give credit to their own guru, and to God. The guru is the most knowledgeable person because He knows that Lord Krishna is the Supreme Absolute Truth, and that anything that praises Him or accurately describes His glories is also perfect. Thus when we hear the instructions of the guru, we are directly connecting with God.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna also appears in two other important forms: the deity and the holy name. The deity appears to be made of wood or stone, but since it is crafted by a devotee, it is a direct incarnation of God. In the impersonalist community, the terms “nirguna” [without attributes] and “saguna” [with attributes] are thrown around quite often as descriptions for the Absolute Truth, or Krishna. The deity is referred to as the saguna form since it represents a form of the Lord which has hands, legs, eyes, etc. God certainly has unlimited forms [ananta-rupam], for He can transform and expand Himself into anything. Yet He always remains a person, even through His incarnation as the deity. The Lord understands that we don’t have the eyes to see Him, so He kindly appears in a form that allows us to get around this defect.

In this age especially, God incarnates in the form of His holy name. Those who regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can be in direct contact with God. Hearing is actually more important than seeing because knowledge is best acquired through the hearing process.

Now that we have information about how to see God, what should we do with this knowledge? The Vedas tell us that our most important occupation is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Most of our time is spent satisfying our own needs or those of our friends, family, co-workers, nation, etc. Meeting these needs is a requirement for having a calm and peaceful material life, but the real mission in life is to please the soul and not just the body. The soul can only be satisfied by connecting it with God. This process is known as yoga. There are different types of yoga, but the highest is the one that allows us to connect with God through love. This is precisely what devotional service aims to do. Hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping the Lotus feet, and surrendering everything unto the Lord are some of the primary processes of devotional service. Those who take up this discipline are known as bhaktas, or devotees, and they become very dear to the Supreme Lord.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.29)

Lord Rama By default, God is neutral towards every living entity. Since He wants us to spend our time performing yoga, the Lord makes no distinctions between people who take to karmic activity. With fruitive activity, sometimes we may succeed, while at other times we fail . This success or failure is all of the material variety, meaning that God has no direct association with it. The Lord makes an exception to His rule of neutrality for the bhaktas. The devotees have decided that the purpose of human life is to perform yoga, thus the Lord helps them along in their practice. The flip side of this equation is that the Lord directly intercedes when the devotional service of the bhaktas is disturbed. This is precisely what happened many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga.

A Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana was wreaking havoc throughout the world. Not just an ordinary karmi, Ravana was an asura, an enemy of the devotees. Asuras want the entire world to worship them, thus they view God as their chief competitor. Though God never forces anyone to worship Him, the asuras don’t play by the same rules. They take to aggressive measures to thwart the devotional activities of others. To help protect the devotees, the Lord personally comes to protect them when the situation gets out of hand. To help protect the sages from the attacks of Ravana and his Rakshasa associates, Krishna incarnated on earth as a kshatriya prince named Rama.

Sita and Rama Lord Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years with His wife, Sita Devi, and His younger brother, Lakshmana. On one occasion, Ravana approached the group’s cottage in the forest of Dandaka while Rama and Lakshmana were momentarily away. Wanting to kidnap Sita, Ravana first approached her in the guise of a mendicant. Sita kindly welcomed him, and Ravana replied with subtle advances. Sita kindly rebuked him, informing him of who she was, where she came from, and who her husband was. Ravana heard enough and finally revealed his true nature. In response, Sita Devi strongly chastised him. In the above referenced statement, Sita is comparing Ravana’s desire to have her to that of several stupid and dangerous activities.

By stating that Ravana wished to remove the teeth of a lion, Sita is informing him that Rama was the lion and that Ravana would be eaten up should he try something so stupid. Sita was Rama’s beloved wife, so anyone who would cross her would have to deal with the wrath and punishment inflicted by Lord Rama, who was God Himself. Trying to steal God’s wife was also akin to trying to walk away alive after drinking poison, trying to rub one’s eye with pins, or trying to lick a razor with one’s tongue. These are all ridiculous acts that no one with any intelligence would ever think of trying. Sadly, Ravana didn’t comprehend. He would forcibly kidnap Sita after hearing these words.

Sita and Rama being worshiped The result was much worse than what Sita described. Ravana was a great king who had amassed a great fortune. His island kingdom of Lanka was a sinner’s paradise. He had hundreds of beautiful palaces bedecked with gold, filled with the most beautiful queens in the world. Yet by crossing Lord Rama, he would go on to lose everything. Rama’s faithful servant, Hanuman, would lay waste to the city of Lanka, and then Rama would finish the job by defeating and killing Ravana in battle. Ravana worked so hard to acquire material powers, and they disappeared in an instant after he crossed God.

When one crosses the Supreme Lord or one of His devotees, they must suffer the consequences. Regardless of whether we believe in God or not, the negative reactions that come through offending His devotees will still come to us. Knowing this, we are better off becoming devotees ourselves. Actually, there is no reason to fear Lord Krishna or His devotees. The Lord kindly requests us to become His devotees, but He never forces us, for there is no love in coercion. Those who associated with Sita and Rama in a loving way – such as Hanuman, Vibhishana, and countless others – achieved eternal bliss and happiness. The same can happen for us.