Saturday, June 26, 2010


Lord Rama “Those mighty Rakshasas which you spoke of, who have a ghastly form, will all be rendered impotent by Raghava [Rama], just as Suparna [Garuda] removes the venom from serpents.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.6)

In this passage, Sita Devi is comparing Ravana’s Rakshasa demon associates to snakes. There are many varieties of species in existence due to the limitless combinations of material qualities that a living entity can possess. Rakshasas are not a fictional or mythological species, but rather a real-life ghoulish type of living entity. They are human-like, but atheistic in nature. Unlike the suras, or devotees of God, the Rakshasas spend all of their time associating with the mode of ignorance, essentially doing those things which lack intelligence and passion. Snakes are cold-blooded reptiles that attack other species with their deadly venom. For this reason, they are one of the most feared species. The Supreme Lord, however, being the master of all mysticism, can control anyone, regardless of how venomous they are. Therefore one of His names is Yogeshvara.

Lord Vishnu avataras God is one, meaning there isn’t a separate God for each religious faith. One sect may have certain beliefs and dogmas that they adhere to, while another group believes in other things, but God doesn’t divide Himself. No one can become God; He has always been and will always continue to be the Supreme Lord. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, try to give us an understanding of some of the Lord’s features, attributes, and pastimes. This is done so as to help the living entities foster an attachment to God, since that is the only way one can break free of the repeated cycle of birth and death.

God’s qualities and potencies are unlimited, but nevertheless, the Vedas describe some of His most celebrated attributes. Since God has performed so many activities in the past, He has been addressed by many different names, each of which acknowledges a specific incident or characteristic. For example, the original form of God is Lord Krishna, whose name means one who is all-attractive. Krishna Himself has thousands of other names. Govinda means one who gives pleasure to the senses and the cows; Keshava means the slayer of the Keshi demon, Achyuta means infallible, and so forth. These names are important to know because they serve as a way of reminding the living entity of God’s greatness. In our day-to-day lives, we have the tendency to extol the virtues of those who are successful in a material sense. Be they a famous golfer, movie star, or politician, we like to praise others who are capable of doing things that most of us aren’t. This inherent desire to praise others comes from our natural propensity to love God. In this world, however, all of our natural tendencies get misdirected towards imperfect things.

Govinda By definition, anything material, meaning something which possesses qualities of goodness, passion, or ignorance, is considered imperfect, and for two reasons. The first reason is that material qualities are temporary and the source of much grief and distress. Material qualities are known as gunas in Sanskrit, and another translation for guna is rope. Material qualities are considered to be like ropes because they bind the living entity to the cycle of birth and death. In the spiritual world, gunas do not exist. Every spirit soul there is free to associate with God while remaining in a spiritual body. The material world is a sort of flawed replica of the spiritual world. Christians believe that man was made after God, and this is indeed true, for God also has two hands, two legs, and a body that looks similar to ours. The only difference is that Krishna’s body is completely spiritual, whereas our bodies are not. For the living entity, there is a difference between spirit and matter, purusha and prakriti, but God is all purusha.

One of Krishna’s names which we should take note of is Yogeshvara, meaning the master of yoga or mysticism. Most of us are familiar with the vernacular term of yoga, which is generally associated with an exercise discipline consisting of difficult stretching poses and intense breathing exercises. This is actually just a type of yoga known as hatha or ashtanga. The word yoga itself means to achieve union of the soul with the Supersoul. Every living entity’s identity comes from the soul residing within the body, atma. The term atma can refer to body, mind, or soul, so a more accurate name for our soul is jivatma, the soul of the living entity [jiva]. God also has a soul since He is the supreme spirit. Aside from His original form of Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord expands Himself into the Paramatma, or Supersoul. The Paramatma resides within the heart of every living entity, so we all have God inside of us.

“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)

Yogeshvara We are all born into ignorance; a condition which causes us to perform all types of activities except yoga. This really isn’t our fault since we’re not aware of the presence of the Paramatma. Through the grace of the bona fide representative of Krishna, the spiritual master, we can learn about the difference between matter and spirit and the presence of God’s expansion residing within us. Knowing about the Supersoul is one thing, but that itself doesn’t really do anything for us. We can graduate from a great university, but until we actually apply our knowledge in the real world, our degree is meaningless. In a similar manner, simply knowing that God is great and that God exists doesn’t help us any. We actually have to realize God’s presence, which can only be achieved through the practice of yoga.

God reveals Himself in three primary ways: Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan. Bhagavan is His original form, thus it is superior to the other two. Nevertheless, since the Lord can be realized in different ways, there exist different types of yoga. There is jnana-yoga, which involves studying the difference between matter and spirit and gradually negating all activities in hopes of merging with the Lord’s impersonal effulgence known as Brahman. Hatha or ashtanga-yoga involves intense meditation and bodily adjustments aimed at mitigating the effects of the gross senses. This in turn leads to realization of Paramatma. When people speak of yogis, they are usually referring to this class of transcendentalists who perform meditation.

Shukadeva discussing Krishna Since hatha-yoga helps block out the senses, there are naturally some nice side effects that come along. These side-effects are known as siddhis, or perfections. These perfections allow a person to perform miraculous feats, similar to those of the famous Houdini. For example, one can escape out of their body and fly around to different planets. A person can become extremely small and escape out of locked rooms. A person can also become extremely large. In India there are many such yogis who perform this magic in front of others. The Vedic literatures even tell us of a few famous devotees who were once expert yogis. The son of Vyasadeva, Shukadeva Gosvami, was an expert mystic who achieved transcendental bliss. The famous King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka, was a great yogi. He also happened to be the father of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama.

Both Janaka and Shukadeva eventually found a higher engagement. Since they were great devotees, they achieved real perfection in life by taking up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti means love or devotion, so bhakti-yoga involves dovetailing all of one’s activities for the service of God, in His original form of Bhagavan. In one sense bhakti is easy to practice because it simply involves surrendering unto God and dedicating all of one’s activities to Him. On the other hand, the one thing that keeps material life going is the living entity’s flawed belief that it can imitate God.

Lord Narayana So why is it important to know that Krishna is Yogeshvara? Meditational yogis have a hard time ascending to the platform of bhakti. They are attracted by the hope of attaining mystical perfections, or siddhis. They think that if they spend enough time in meditation, they will achieve perfection in life. They will either be able to live forever, achieve mukti [liberation], or possess some great mystical power. The Vedas tell us, however, that no matter how great a yogi one becomes, God always remains superior. He is the master of all mystic power.

Some devotees might get offended hearing that God is compared to a mystic or a magician, for magicians are really ventriloquists, i.e. people who perform fake tricks. God is not that type of magician. He is described as a mystic because that is the language understood by the followers of meditational yoga. Simply by exhaling, Lord Narayana [Krishna’s four-armed expansion] created this and innumerable other universes. Simply by inhaling, these same universes will be ultimately destroyed. A great yogi may be able to move a spoon with their mind, but Krishna creates millions of planets that all float in the air by their own power. We don’t have the power to create anything that can float on its own for even a day, let alone billions of years.

Lord Rama All these facts may seem obvious to many of us. “Sure God is great, I understand that. What’s so important about knowing His mystical powers?” These facts are important because many people either choose to ignore them or don’t believe in them. They believe that the world was created through some random explosion of chemicals, while some even take themselves to be God. The famous demon Ravana was one such atheist, belonging to the latter group. He was no expert in yoga, but he managed to acquire great material wealth and strength by pleasing the demigods, Krishna’s chief deputies in charge of the material creation.

Ravana could defeat anyone in battle, and he was given immunity from defeat against all celestials, animals and other great beings. There was a loophole, however, in that he wasn’t immune against the attacks of human beings. Taking advantage of this, Lord Krishna appeared on earth in the guise of a human being named Rama. Being the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya, Lord Rama was an expert kshatriya warrior, capable of defeating anyone in battle. He was married to the beautiful daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi, and the two roamed the forests of India for fourteen years along with Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana.

The above referenced statement was made by Sita Devi to Ravana. While the group was residing in the forest of Dandaka, Rama and Lakshmana got diverted away from their cottage, which left Sita all by herself. Ravana used this opportunity to come and kidnap her. Taking her back to his island kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried every which way possible to win over Sita. He described to her the great prowess of all the Rakshasas of his kingdom. Ravana essentially thought that Rama was a pauper. “Her husband is a lonely man cast into the forest by His father. Surely she will be attracted by my opulence.” Sita, however, was a perfect devotee, so she was well aware of Rama’s power. She told Ravana that he and his Rakshasas were nothing more than snakes, and that her husband would easily defang them, in the same way that Suparna does.

Garuda carrying Lakshmi and NarayanaSita Rama Suparna is another name for Garuda, the bird-carrier of Lord Vishnu. He is the king of birds, and all snakes are afraid of him because he regularly terrorizes them. Garuda is the faithful servant of God, and snakes are viewed as venomous demons. Sita Devi, ever the poet, used this great metaphor to drive home the point that Lord Rama would easily defeat Ravana. Her words would prove true as Rama would eventually come to her aid and defeat and kill all the Rakshasas of Lanka, including Ravana.

God is the master of all mysticism. He can charm all the snakes in the world, no matter how poisonous their venom may be. Ravana was a snake-like person in that he went behind Lord Rama’s back and kidnapped His wife. He didn’t have the guts to take on Rama in battle and try to win Sita that way, for he knew he would have been defeated. There are many snake-like people around today who take the forms of atheists and enemies of devotees. The lesson we can take away from Sita’s statement is that we have no need to fear any of these demons. God comes to the rescue of the devotees in the same way that He came to Sita’s aid. The Lord can easily remove the venom from the demons of the world, so we simply have to worry about our own activities. We simply have to stick to the path of devotional service and let Yogeshvara work His magic.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Driven by Purpose

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha “It is ignorance of death and life that distinguishes an animal from a man. A man, in the real sense of the term, inquires about himself and what he is. Wherefrom has he come into this life, and where is he going after death?” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 1f)

When trying to explain spiritual life to others, devotees commonly invoke analogies to the animal kingdom. These comparisons are valid because the animal species are very similar to human beings. They go through similar life cycles and also engage in many of the same activities. It is for this reason that enlightened transcendentalists often point to the four primary activities of animals: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, and how human beings should rise above these activities. Animals are vastly inferior in the intelligence department to human beings, so it would be wise for humans to avoid imitating base animalistic tendencies. Yet there are still many who believe that animals don’t have souls and that this fact alone makes the comparison to human beings a faulty one. Even though this premise of animals not having souls is itself flawed, we can still prove the same point, i.e. the need for human beings to rise above animal-like activities, by studying human behavior.

Movie camera Taking animals completely out of the equation, let us closely examine what we human beings feel is praiseworthy activity. How do we determine what the general public views as laudable activity? This is quite easy actually, for we simply need to study the lives of those who are famous, i.e. those who garner much attention and praise from the people at large. The most famous people in any country are usually the movie stars. What are actors good at? They have the talent to stand in front of a camera and recite rehearsed words with the proper timing, expression, tone, and mood. They are also able to act out scenes perfectly with other actors, working on body movements, facial expressions, and sometimes even perfecting difficult physical exercises. It certainly requires great talent to be a good actor, for most of us would get nervous if a camera was placed in front of us. Acting in movies is one thing, but theatre actors, and those who take part in live tapings of television shows, have an even tougher job. They don’t have the luxury of screwing up. These actors certainly make mistakes from time to time, but at the cost of having everyone in the audience witness the transgression. As a reward for their great talent, actors enjoy tremendous popularity. This is especially true of actors who star in popular movies. They become so famous that fans and paparazzi follow their every move, keeping track of who they are dating and what restaurants they visit.

Baseball Aside from actors, there are others who also enjoy great fame and notoriety. Star athletes are praised for their ability to perform under pressure. As a result of their unique talents, athletes in professional sports usually earn a high salary. Sometimes people will have a kneejerk reaction to this, especially when it comes to athletes who play popular sports like baseball. “Oh they are too greedy. They play a game for a living. I would do it for free.” In reality, no one could play professional baseball for free due simply to the fact that no one would pay money to see unskilled players. If you took any odd person off the street and put them at the plate in front of a big league pitcher, they would most certainly strike out every time. It takes great skill to be able to react to a 100 mph pitch thrown at you. Professional baseball players not only have to hit these kinds of pitches, but they have to decide whether or not to swing at them, all in less than a second’s time. Moreover, making it to the major leagues requires great perseverance and skill. More than anything else, baseball is a business, meaning that team owners are primarily interested in turning a profit; hence they only want the best baseball players on their team. Since teams are seeking only the most skilled athletes, competition to make the big leagues becomes fierce. Those who do successfully make it to the major leagues and perform well certainly will be well compensated.

Being a star athlete or movie star is not a very common profession, so the praise these celebrities receive is justifiable. Yet there are still those who excel in other fields who also garner great attention. Successful businessman, politicians, and even philanthropists are lauded for their skill and accomplishments. The reason these people are praised is because they are seen to have had a successful life. In general, most of us believe that success in life comes through the acquisition of material possessions, i.e. money. “Go to school, get into a good college, and then land a high paying job. Start your own business if you can, for you will make even more money and not have to answer to a boss.” This is seen as a successful life. Those who are able to live out this dream are viewed as intelligent and well-off.

Whether a person is great at acting, playing baseball, or even inventing a new computer, the one thing they have in common is that they are expert at action. They are praised for what they do, and not necessarily for what they have or how they behave in their free time. For the successful and talented, the praise thrown their way has nothing to do with animal life. As mentioned before, the core of animal life involves searching for food, taking rest, having sexual relations, and properly defending one’s accumulated possessions. But when we look at the “ideal” person in the material paradigm, we see that they are not praised for their animalistic activities, but rather for their intelligence; pursuits and activities which rise above those of the common man.

Just by studying this phenomenon, we see that the majority of us already understand that life isn’t all about eating and sleeping. If this is so, can achieving material success be the ultimate aim of life? Is the reason for our being put on this earth the pursuit of material perfection; be it starring in a hit movie, running a successful business, or being the best athlete in the world? The answer is no. Though we praise people for their material activities and achievements, the ultimate aim of life cannot be met solely through these activities.

Money To understand why this is so, let us examine the results of the activities performed by the rich and famous. Thus far we have established the fact that the materially successful are intelligent due to the fact that they don’t primarily involve themselves in the four animalistic activities. But what is the result of their material activity? What is the result of starring in a hit movie or running a successful business? Usually these perfections equate to more money. Once our bank balance becomes large enough, what do we spend our newfound wealth on? More material possessions, of course. We buy a nicer house, with wonderful furniture, luxurious mattresses, and a big back yard. We also spend more time eating out and throwing lavish parties. The rich and famous are known for travelling in style, with many of them owning their own private jets. Their houses are so luxurious that journalists and other media people visit these homes and describe the accommodations to others.

So if we get down to brass tacks, we see that success in material activities results in higher quality sleeping, eating, mating, and defending. The rich have nice living arrangements, wonderful food, beautiful wives, and top-of-the-line home security systems. Many celebrities even have their own security detail, which keep the mobs of fans and press at a safe distance. So even though the successful can be praised for their extraordinary talents, we see that the end-result is increased enjoyment in animal life. The successful might spend more time in fruitive activity than the lazy and unmotivated, but more or less, the enjoyment derived is of the same nature. One person may sleep on a floor while another sleeps on a cushy mattress, but the actual enjoyment from sleep doesn’t really vary. Once we are asleep, we all forget where we are and what we are sleeping on.

Lord Krishna So if even material success results in a return to animal life, what activities should we take up? Who should we look to as role models? What is the purpose of our existence? The Vedas tell us that the four activities of animal life are inferior in nature because they only seek to satisfy the demands of the gross senses. Though the senses enable us to interact with nature, they don’t represent our true identity. The gross senses are part of the gross body; a body which is subject to creation and destruction. The spirit soul, or atma, is what represents our true identity. The soul can never take birth nor can it die.

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

Though the soul is eternal, it can become embodied. This is the current predicament we find ourselves in. Our soul is stuck inside a material body which is prone to acting according to the dictates of the senses. If we only focus on meeting these demands, which are animalistic in nature, the senses may give us some temporary relief, but new demands will quickly rise up again. If we still have sense demands at the time of death, the soul is again placed into a material body in the next life. The cycle continues until we are able to break free of our attachment to sense gratification.

The people who are deserving of the highest praise are those who have transcended the animalistic tendencies of the body. Intelligent activity is not represented by the pursuit of material perfections or possessions. Intelligent activity is anything which results in the betterment of the soul. Those who perform actions which yield results that transcend the base demands of the senses are worthy of the highest praise. The Vedas tell us that the only people in life who meet these requirements are the devotees of Lord Krishna, or God.

A devotee is someone who engages in devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. Bhakti means love or devotion, and yoga means linking the soul with God. Devotional service is that discipline which helps us rekindle our loving relationship with the Supreme Lord. Devotional service is a way of life; something which we perform twenty-four hours a day. Though the discipline can comprise of many activities, there is one that yields the quickest and longest lasting benefits. Above all other processes, simply chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can take one to the transcendental platform immediately.

Lord Chaitanya and associates So how do devotees transcend animal life? Since devotees spend all their time engaged in serving the Supreme Lord, they automatically become detached from the needs of the senses. Devotees certainly eat, sleep, defend, etc., but their involvement in these activities is limited. For example, bhakti-yogis eat only vegetarian food which is first offered to Krishna. This food is known as prasadam, meaning the Lord’s mercy. Devotees avoid the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. People unfamiliar with Vedic teachings, upon first hearing of these restrictions, will find them impossible to adhere to. They will immediately associate devotional life with restrictions on diet and alcohol consumption. Ironically enough, most devotees don’t even realize they are vegetarian or that they don’t drink alcohol. Maybe in the beginning stages these things are difficult to give up, but after regularly practicing bhakti-yoga, a person completely forgets about these restrictions. It becomes a part of their way of life.

The lesson here is that we already inherently understand that animal activity is not the ultimate aim of life. We don’t praise people for being able to sleep for long periods of time or for being voracious eaters, aside from maybe the winners of hot dog eating contests. It is due to the illusory forces of maya that we currently laud activity which ultimately results in increased association with animal life. In order to truly transcend attachment to eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, one has to take to devotional service. Only through association with the supreme spirit, Lord Krishna, can we nullify the effects of matter and the senses. This association will deliver us liberation from the cycle of birth and death and a return trip back home, back to Godhead.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Weight of the World

Lord Rama “Born in the family descending from Maharaja Ikshvaku, He [Rama] is highly effulgent and possesses the shoulders of a lion. He, along with His brother Lakshmana, will come and take away your life. If you would have tried to forcibly take me away while in His [Rama’s] presence, He would have made you lie down, killing you in the same way that He killed Khara on the battlefield of Janasthana. (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.4-5)

Life is full of constant pressure. During all stages of life, from youth to old age, there are always responsibilities that demand our attention. The pressures of day-to-day life can get to be too much, so people will often look to outlets such as intoxication and gambling. Material life means always feeling like you have the weight of the world on your shoulders. We living entities aren’t conditioned to handle such pressures, but Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, certainly can. He has the shoulders of a lion and can bear any burden.

Krishna's half-man/half-lion avatara Upon waking up each morning, we have certain obligations that must be met during that particular day. In our youth, those obligations related to school. Since they have more energy than adults, young children are required to wake up very early in order to get ready to go to school. Once in school, they remain there for the majority of the day. When children get home, the real work starts. Homework, projects, and studying for exams take up much of a student’s time at home during the weekdays. There are surely breaks every now and then, including the weekends, but the responsibilities never end.

In America, students go through twelve rigorous years of such schooling, after which time many go off to college, which brings a whole new set of pressures. Once they enter the real world, the pressures take on a whole new meaning. Holding a steady job is much harder than attending school since the breaks are fewer and farther between. Since vacation time is very limited, the only time off comes during the weekends. On top of that, one must support themselves, pay bills, manage household affairs, and keep a family happy. Family life is the essence of material life. Keeping a spouse and children happy is not an easy task. Adults look for ways to relax, but these escapes only provide short-term relief. Even if a person successfully meets all their obligations in a given day, the responsibilities essentially reset when the person wakes up the next morning.

All of this can get to be too much after a while. The retirement age in America is sixty-five, so a person has to go through almost six decades of dealing with constant pressure before they can finally relax. Even those who are inactive, be they unemployed, retired, or disabled, have to deal with constant hankering and lamenting. The Vedas tell us that the mind causes us to always want things that we don’t have, and lament over things that we didn’t achieve or things that went wrong. No one, regardless of their material prosperity or disposition, can escape these two predicaments caused by the human mind.

“Although the word hari has many different meanings, two of them are foremost. One meaning is that the Lord takes away all inauspicious things from His devotee, and the second meaning is that He attracts the mind by ecstatic love for God.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 24.59)

Lord Varaha lifting the earth So how should we deal with such a pressure-filled life? Not surprisingly, the Vedas tell us to rely on God. Instead of keeping the pressure on ourselves, we simply have to put the burden on God’s shoulders. This is okay because the Supreme Lord can certainly handle it. In fact, in one very famous incident, the Lord, taking the form of a boar [Varaha], held up the entire earth and saved it from being deluged by water. So the Lord is designed to take away our pains. One of His names is Hari, meaning one who takes away distresses.

This seems easy enough right? Just shift the pressure to God? The problem is that material life only exists due to the living entity’s desire to imitate God. Long story short, we thought we could imitate God’s ability to create, maintain, and destroy, so the Lord let us take birth in this temporary place we call earth. Here we get to interact with material nature, or maya, and pretend to be the cause of the results of our activities. We think ourselves the doers, a mindset which results in a false sense of proprietorship. The downside is that we also assume all of the pressures that go with preserving our existence.

The plight of modern day governments serves as a great example in this regard. Government only exists to provide protection to the innocent. Each individual has a right to their life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In addition, we have a right to defend ourselves from those who try to infringe upon our property and life. Government therefore represents the collective right of self-defense for a large group of people. We see that today’s governments are mostly struggling, especially in the financial department. In America, the federal government is running massive annual budget deficits of upwards of a trillion dollars. The leaders have promised all sorts of handouts through programs known as entitlements, and they have found themselves strapped for cash as a result. Fearing a revolt from the people, the government is hesitant to cut spending or raise tax rates which are already high. The government is thus forced to sink further and further into debt by issuing treasury notes, most of which are bought up by foreign countries.

Government is the representative of the people, so its problems only reflect the realities that many of us face. Material life is not meant to be easy. This struggle that we endure is by design, for it helps us understand that there is a higher power. The sooner we realize this fact, the better. The real aim of human life is to understand that God is the original proprietor of everything, our best friend, and the supreme object of pleasure. Those who surrender to God can have all their burdens taken away, while those who challenge Him will suffer greatly. This was the lesson taught by Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, many thousands of years ago.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman During the Treta Yuga, God appeared on earth as a warrior prince named Rama. Taking His wife Sita and younger brother Lakshmana with Him, the Lord roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. On one particular occasion, Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from their cottage in the forest, which left Sita vulnerable to an attack by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. He forcibly took Sita away and brought her back to his island kingdom of Lanka. Ravana desperately wanted Sita for his wife, but she detested him. In the above referenced quote, Sita is extolling the virtues of Rama and Lakshmana and explaining how they would have utterly destroyed Ravana if he would have tried taking her while in their presence. On a previous occasion, Ravana had sent an army of Rakshasas to attack Rama in the forest of Janasthana. Rama easily destroyed all 14,000 Rakshasas, including Ravana’s half-brother, the powerful Khara. Sita makes reference to this incident by stating that Rama would have killed Ravana in the same way that He had previously killed Khara.

Rama, being God Himself, had the shoulders of a lion. He and Lakshmana were the greatest warriors in the world, and they used their fighting prowess to defend the innocent. Ravana, on the other hand, acquired his powers unnaturally through boons from the demigods. In a sense, his prowess was on loan from divine elements, but sadly he didn’t realize this. He thought that he was stronger than God. Ravana thought he could handle ruling the entire world. This flawed mentality led him to committing the fatal mistake of kidnapping Sita. Rama and Lakshmana would eventually come through for Sita by marching to Lanka and killing Ravana in battle.

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

the final battle with Ravana The lesson here is that we should transfer the burden of our problems to God. The Lord doesn’t want us to constantly hanker and lament. He wants us to simply execute our prescribed duties without attachment for the result. At the same time, we should dedicate all our activities to Him. Following these two principles, which represent real surrender, we can be protected from all sinful reactions and enjoy a peaceful life. If we try to fight through our day-to-day problems without God’s help, we will always fail in the same way that Ravana did. As validated by Sita, Lord Rama has an effulgence that sheds light upon darkness. We can slowly bring our consciousness out of the darkness and into the light of knowledge by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Little Service

Radha Krishna “Devotional service in Krishna consciousness is so sublime that even a little service to Krishna, knowingly or unknowingly, gives one the greatest benefit.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 6)

There are many causes responsible for the results of action. Some of these causes are direct, while others are indirect. The wise are able to decipher the subtle causes and acknowledge their importance, while the unintelligent mistakenly believe that they are solely responsible for the results of their actions. There are so many little things that go on in day-to-day life that we are unaware of, but which actually play an important role in our good fortune. This especially holds true in spiritual life.

Let us examine something as simple as victory in sports. When a tennis player wins a big tournament like Wimbledon, it is natural to praise them for their efforts. The legend Pete Sampras won seven Wimbledon titles in eight years, while Bjorn Borg and Roger Federer both won five Wimbledons in a row. Sampras had an unbelievable serve which was tailor made for the quick grass surface of the Wimbledon courts. Federer has an all-around game which made him especially successful at Wimbledon. If we examine a single match, however, we can see that it takes more than just one’s own efforts to win.

Federer winning fifth Wimbledon title At the 2007 Wimbledon, Federer was going for a record-tying fifth straight title. In the final, he met his arch rival, Rafael Nadal. This was a rematch of the previous year’s final, which was won by Federer in four sets. This time Federer would be taken the distance to a fifth and final set to decide the match. Early on in the final set, on two separate occasions, Federer faced double break point against him. At the time, Nadal had not lost serve since the opening set of the match, thus an early break in the fifth would probably mean he would go on to win the match. Federer came up big on these break points, serving bombs to get him out of trouble. On one break point, however, Nadal was able to force a rally, during which time he had a shot lined up to win the point. Nadal tried to run around his backhand and hit his forehand up the line to Federer’s backhand side. The ball narrowly missed the sideline and ended up being wide, giving the point to Federer. That would be Nadal’s last chance to break, as Federer would come back to win the match.

Afterwards, Federer enjoyed tremendous praise from the sports media for having won his fifth straight Wimbledon title, yet the astute observer realizes that it if weren’t for the choices that Nadal made, Federer easily could have lost. Nadal’s choice of shots essentially represents action which has commensurate results; almost like a micro version of the system of karma. In order for the fruits of our actions to come about, many actions must be taken and many must also not be taken. Rafael Nadal chose to play a certain way, deciding on a certain strategy throughout the whole match. While this strategy indicates a choice of direct action, it also represents a type of inaction, for if we decide to play one way, we are also deciding to play against another way. Nadal’s style of play was completely out of Federer’s control, meaning that Federer alone couldn’t take credit for his victory.

Everything else in material life works the same way. There are millions of living entities, all performing their own actions. Everyone is making a choice to behave a certain way, to travel to certain places, to say certain things, etc. It is the combination of all these actions that determines the results that we see. Therefore, the wise among us realize that it takes great fortune and the help of many other “little” forces to enable us to achieve the results we are looking for.

Tom Hankds winning an Oscar Some people readily acknowledge the help given by the little people. The legendary basketball star Michael Jordan used to regularly give thanks to the contribution made by the “supporting cast” of players on his team, crediting them for his success. We see similar statements made by movie stars during their acceptance speeches when winning Academy Awards and Golden Globes. They’ll go through the list of all the people they have to thank, such as their co-stars, directors, producers, family members, etc. They realize that it takes the mutual cooperation of a host of people in order to make a movie successful. For an actor to look good, there has to be a good script, good camera work, quality cast members, etc. There is also the business end of things, for no one would know if an actor did a good job unless they actually saw the movie. Thus a distribution company is required, along with marketing, public relations, etc. We see that for just one movie to be successful, so many people have to work together for a common cause.

These principles also hold true in regards to spiritual life. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, emanating from the mouth of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God created everything in this world, including the law codes known as the shastras. The shastras expound on dharma, or the eternal occupational duty of mankind. Dharma is required in order for us to know how to act under all circumstances. Upon coming to this material world, we are enveloped in a cloud of ignorance, not knowing what our purpose is. The Vedas seek to explain the system of dharma to us so that we’ll know what our constitutional position is and how we can go about achieving perfection in life.

234 The Vedas don’t just consist of one book, but rather voluminous collections of stories, teachings, and descriptions of historical events. These books were written to benefit future generations of mankind. Since we are in a conditioned state, we don’t get to associate with God directly in His personal form. Luckily, we are not left to fend for ourselves; we can still connect with God through other methods such as chanting, hearing, remembering, etc. Reading about the Lord and hearing about His pastimes are great ways to reawaken our loving feelings for Him. This is precisely why the great texts such as the Mahabharata, Ramayana, and Shrimad Bhagavatam were compiled.

Almost all of the major Vedic texts were written by Krishna’s literary incarnation, Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva is considered the great spiritual master, or guru, and his teachings have inspired many of the great saints of the past. Along with Vyasadeva, there are other famous authors such as Valmiki and Tulsidas. Around five hundred years ago, Lord Krishna appeared on earth in the form of a brahmana named Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Though Lord Chaitanya didn’t write much Himself, He directly empowered people like Shrila Rupa Gosvami and Shrila Sanatana Gosvami, who were brothers, to write books about devotion to Lord Vishnu, or Vaishnavism. The two brothers then inspired future generations of writers such as Shrila Jiva Gosvami, Narottama Dasa Thakura, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. The most recent acharya of this disciplic succession was His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who himself authored an outstanding number of books, commentaries, and translations, all for the benefit of the English speaking world.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Naturally, devotees have great love and respect for these saints. If it weren’t for their hard work and dedication to Krishna, we would be left with nothing but the daily newspapers and tabloid magazines to read. There would be no spiritual enlightenment and we would be reduced to a life of misery. For the devotees of Krishna, reading books describing devotional service and the Lord’s pastimes is the most enjoyable activity in life. Yet just as we see with other effects in life, the existence of these great books required not only the effort of the great saints, but the help of many other “little” people.

The giants of the Vedic literary world wrote wonderful books, but many other people helped them along the way. For example, Tulsidas wrote the beautiful poem, the Ramacharitamanasa, which describes the pastimes of Lord Rama, but in order for it to become famous throughout India, other people had to enjoy hearing it. These same people then made sure that future generations got the benefit of hearing this wonderful poem. So we see that it is the “little” people, who often go unnamed and unrecognized, that keep the religious traditions alive; they make sure that Krishna remains famous.

Shrila Prabhupada is another great example. He authored most of his books after he had reached the age of seventy. At the time, there were no laptop computers or word processors, so everything had to be handwritten or typed out on typewriters. Yet Shrila Prabhupada found a unique way to produce many books in a short amount of time. The swami would dictate his translations and commentaries into a tape recorder and then send the tapes off to his disciples. These disciples, who were essentially a team of devotees, would then transcribe, proofread, and layout the text into book form. The books would then be bound and shipped off to various centers around the world for distribution. If it wasn’t for the help of these wonderful servants of Prabhupada, these books certainly would not have been produced at the rapid pace that they were.

Prabhupada dictating Let us fast forward to today. How do current generations of devotees take advantage of the wonderful teachings found in Prabhupada’s books? There must be a continuous distribution effort for this to happen. Books don’t just find their way into our lives on their own. There must be an army of book distributors, people who try their hardest to sell and advertise as many of Prabhupada’s books as possible. When we go to a website or visit a temple to purchase a Krishna related book, we owe a huge debt of gratitude to all the people who helped make the book available. Most of us will never know these people’s names, for they humbly offered their service to Krishna without any desire for fame or notoriety.

The example of Prabhupada’s books only covers a short duration of time, but we see that texts such as the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam were compiled by Vyasadeva almost five thousand years ago. The events of the Ramayana took place perhaps millions of years ago, yet people today are still able to take advantage of these wonderful works of transcendental literature. For this to be possible, the help of generations upon generations of little people was required. These people kept the traditions of Vaishnava culture alive. Something as simple as a family tradition ensures that future generations can remain devoted to Krishna. The world landscape has changed drastically over the past five thousand years, and yet the Vaishnava culture remains alive and kicking. This wouldn’t be possible were it not for the sincere devotional efforts of so many people behind the scenes, people we will never know.

Radha Krishna The point to all of this is that we don’t need to become great acharyas to make a positive impact in life. Lord Krishna is satisfied as long as we serve Him to the best of our ability. We all can’t be as great as Vyasadeva, nor should we try to be. Our goal should be to make sure that the efforts put forth by all the devotees of the past don’t go to waste. We are keepers of the faith. We don’t need to be the greatest devotee ever, but we should at least do something. Even performing a little devotional service can go a long way.

To start, we should make sure to chant “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” as often as possible while avoiding the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. The key is to make sure that we are abiding by the righteous path; otherwise our teaching efforts won’t be effective. Simply executing devotional service alone can make a huge difference because we influence so many other people simply by the actions we take. This is something we may not realize, but it is undoubtedly true. If others see that we are committed to the path of devotional service, they will at least know who Krishna is and why people choose to serve Him. Moreover, there will come a time in a person’s life when they will contemplate matters of spirituality and religion. When this happens, these same people are likely to approach someone that they think knows who God is and what spiritual life is all about. If earlier on in life they had the opportunity to meet a devotee of Krishna, they are more likely to approach this same person or at least look into the same discipline practiced by said devotee.

We should try our best to keep the tradition of Vaishnava culture alive. This tradition starts at home. If Krishna is worshiped and adored at home, the rest of our family members will be benefited. If we regularly visit Krishna temples, then the community at large will benefit. Success on a large scale depends on ordinary people doing extraordinary things. In this regard, there is no excuse for us to not take up devotional service, for even the smallest effort can make a huge difference.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010


Hanuman, Rama, and Lakshmana fighting Ravana “O Rakshasa, It might be possible for a person to live for a long time after forcibly taking away Shachi Devi, a woman of unmatched beauty and wife of the wielder of the thunderbolt [Indra]. But a person who abuses me shall not be released from death even if they were to drink amrita [nectar which grants immortality].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 48.24)

One of Lord Krishna’s names is Mukunda, meaning one who grants liberation. The Vedas tell us that reincarnation is a fact and that the soul constantly transmigrates from one body to another until it becomes eligible for liberation, which represents the end of reincarnation. Lord Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, thus He is the only person able to grant this great reward, which is known as moksha or mukti in Sanskrit.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna is God but we see that followers of the Hindu faith often worship many gods. Those who are ignorant of Vedic teachings are often led to believe the false notion that Hindus don’t believe in a single god and that they are polytheistic. This is not the case, for the Vedas decisively state that Hari, one of Lord Krishna’s names, is the original form of God. There are, however, thousands of highly elevated living entities known as devatas. In English parlance, this translates to a demigod, meaning someone who is godly. What does it mean to be godly? The demigods have extraordinary strength and powers not available to the common man. This is by design, for Lord Krishna needs someone to manage the affairs of the creation. The material world is considered to be a representation of the Lord’s inferior energy. Spirit is always superior to matter because without spirit, matter would be useless. We see this fact on full display at the time of a person’s death. The only difference between a living body and a dead one is the presence of the soul. Thus we can conclude that spirit is superior to matter.

The spiritual energy is God’s superior energy, something which He directly associates with. We are also spirit by nature, but we are considered God’s separated expansions. This means that we are god-like in quality, but far inferior to Him in quantitative powers. The living entities, or jiva souls, can most certainly associate with material nature, or God’s inferior energy. The Supreme Lord is the creator of maya, or the illusory energy that pervades the material creation, but He can never be touched by it. Therefore, He deputes other advanced living entities, known as demigods, to take charge of running various departments of creation. There are demigods in charge of creation, maintenance, dissolution, providing rain, doling out wealth, and granting learning ability. The chief demigods are Lord Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Of these three, Lord Vishnu is considered superior because He is a direct, personal expansion of Lord Krishna. Though Vishnu maintains, He still remains aloof from the affairs of the material creation. Essentially there is no difference between Vishnu and Krishna except in Their appearance.

“Narayana [Vishnu] is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and from Him Brahma was born, from whom Shiva was born.” (Varaha Purana)

Lord Vishnu The demigods are highly advanced, but with the exception of Lord Vishnu, they too suffer through birth and death. Lord Brahma lives for billions of years; he is the first created living entity and the last one to die. Yet just because he lives a lot longer than us, it doesn’t mean that Lord Brahma is immortal. In a spiritual sense, we are all immortal because our souls never take birth, nor do they die. However, the concepts of liberation and immortality really apply to the residence of the soul. Liberation, or moksha, means the soul never has to take birth in the material world again. A liberated soul achieves the same nature as God, for the Supreme Lord never associates with His inferior energy. So in this regard, no living entity, including a demigod, can grant liberation. This can only come from Lord Krishna’s grace.

“According to some, Lord Vishvanatha [Shiva] is the great physician who cures the disease of material existence by delivering a person through the ear, which receives the vibration of the holy name of Lord Rama. Because of this, this holy place [a bathing ghat in Kashi] is called Mani-karnika.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 17.82 Purport)

Lord Shiva A point to note here, however, is that Lord Shiva can also sometimes grant liberation. They say that if a person quits their body while in the holy city of Kashi, Lord Shiva whispers the name of Rama into their ear, thus granting them liberation. In these cases, it seems that Lord Shiva is granting moksha, but it is actually occurring through Lord Krishna’s will. Krishna is the original form of God, with Vishnu being His primary expansion. To enact pastimes on earth, Vishnu descends and appears in various guises. When God descends to earth in the form of a living entity, He is known as an avatara, or incarnation. One of Vishnu’s most famous incarnations was that of Lord Rama, a pious kshatriya prince who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga. Lord Shiva is known as Mahadeva, meaning the greatest demigod. He is described as such not only for his extraordinary powers, but also for his great devotion to Lord Vishnu.

Of all of Vishnu’s forms, Lord Rama is Lord Shiva’s favorite. The Adhyatma Ramayana found in the Brahmanda Purana contains a narration of the events of Lord Rama’s life, as told by Lord Shiva to his wife, Parvati Devi. Lord Shiva is such a great devotee that he only likes to speak about Lord Rama. He was very excited to tell the story of Rama to his wife. In this way, we see how a marriage can be made perfect. The husband should be viewed as the foremost deity for the wife. This means that it is the duty of the husband to discuss spiritual matters with his wife, for they will both benefit from this. Devotees are always benefitted by speaking about the Lord, and the recipients of such instruction gain invaluable spiritual knowledge as a result.

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

Why would a person be granted liberation by hearing Lord Rama’s name in their ear? In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna tells us that those who think of God at the time of death never have to take birth again. This is because our consciousness at the time we quit our body determines the type of body we receive in the next life. Our consciousness at a specific point in time is not something we can necessarily control, for it is developed over the course of our lifetime. We have certain things that we think about while we go to sleep each night, and these things can change over time. The consciousness at the time of death represents the sum total of all the experiences of our current life, and even previous ones. Thus it is very hard to ensure that we’ll think about God at the time of death, so Lord Shiva kindly helps the process along.

Ganga Devi It is also said that those who die while residing on the banks of the holy river Ganges also receive liberation. In the Vedic tradition, the Ganges River is taken to be a demigod, Mother Ganga. Again it appears that a demigod is granting liberation, but this is actually not the case. Ganga Devi is considered sacred because she flows from the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. Lord Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has declared that just as Lord Krishna is worshipable, so is His land. Essentially this means that anything directly associated with Krishna is to be worshiped in the same manner as one would worship the Supreme Lord Himself. Since Ganga Devi comes from the lotus feet of the Lord, she is non-different from Him. Therefore, anyone who quits their body while near the water coming from Vishnu’s feet increases their likelihood of attaining moksha.

Based on the authorized statements of the Vedas, we see that only God Himself can grant liberation. Hence He is known by the name of Mukunda, or one who grants mukti. The atheist class, however, don’t realize this. From the beginning of time, there has been an ongoing struggle between the demigods and the demons, who are also known as asuras. The demigods are known as suras because they are devotees by nature. An asura is the opposite of a sura, meaning they don’t believe in God. The asuras constantly clash with the suras because they think that if the godly class is defeated, worship of God will stop. Instead of believing in God, asuras view the Lord as a competitor. They would rather people worship them instead of Krishna.

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna During Lord Rama’s time, there was one asura in particular, known by the name of Ravana, who had risen to power. Ravana was a Rakshasa, a demon with ghastly physical attributes. Rakshasas are meat eaters who range the night while terrorizing the innocent. They have no problem eating human flesh. They are expert in illusion and not afraid to use their black magic powers when battling others. Ravana was quite powerful due to boons he received from Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva. This certainly seems a bit odd. Why would the godly class grant boons to sinful people? Unlike God, the devatas are required to give away benedictions to whoever worships them properly. This is how material nature works. Since matter is part of God’s inferior energy, the Lord has no direct interest in it. God doesn’t play favorites when it comes to material fortunes or misfortunes. Matter is dull and inferior and something we should strive to break free from, hence the Lord does not consider anything in terms of good or bad as it relates to the body and the senses.

“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)

Sita Devi Nevertheless, the living entities are stuck associating with matter by default. Living entities have different desires and possess varying levels of intelligence, so there will always be people who wish to increase their material possessions and opportunities for sense gratification. These people are known as karmis, or fruitive workers. It is the duty of the demigods to facilitate the requests of the karmis. Since there is no distinction between good or bad on a material level, the devatas must grant benedictions to whoever pleases them, regardless of the motive. Ravana, being an atheist, was especially intent on increasing his fighting powers. After he got what he wanted from the demigods, he went to war against the saintly class. He even defeated his own brother, the treasurer of the demigods, Kuvera.

Ravana was extremely wealthy and ruled over a beautiful island known as Lanka. He had hundreds of wives, but one day he heard of a beautiful woman, Sita Devi, who was residing in the forest of Dandaka. Sita was Lord Rama’s wife, and she had accompanied her husband on His sojourn through the woods. Ravana set up a ruse which lured Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, away from their cottage, leaving Sita all by herself. Ravana approached Sita and propositioned her.

Sita was no ordinary human being. When God appears on earth, His pleasure potency expansions from the spiritual world come with Him. Sita was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Vishnu in the spiritual world. Sita was ever devoted to Rama and never thought of another man during her entire life. She sternly rebuked Ravana. Undeterred, the demon prepared to steal her away. In the above referenced quote, Sita warns him of what will happen if he should perpetrate such an iniquitous deed.

Sita Rama In battles between the suras and asuras, Lord Indra is usually the leader of the demigod army. He wields the thunderbolt and is considered very powerful. Sita makes reference to the fact that one has a possibility of remaining alive should they steal Indra’s wife, Shachi. Stealing another’s wife is an act of vikarma. Karma actually refers to prescribed duty, or those actions which allow one to advance to a higher position in the next life. It is similar to the theory of evolution, but this is an evolution of the soul and not the species. Vikarma is abominable activity; those actions which lead to demotion to a lower species in the next life. Stealing another’s wife is quite a deplorable act, so one surely suffers the consequences. However, the punishment doesn’t always come about right away. Sometimes a person desires to sin even more. In these instances, the laws of nature allow the person to remain alive so that they can act out their desires. Not only can such a person remain alive, but they even have a chance at moksha, or liberation. There is always an opportunity for repentance and forgiveness.

Sita Devi accurately stipulates that this opportunity for moksha doesn’t exist for one who insults her. This is because Sita is a pure devotee of God, His most beloved of associates. The Supreme Lord is neutral when it comes to issues relating to the material world, but this isn’t the case for His devotees. The Lord doesn’t mind being insulted personally, for He even appreciates insults when they come from His intimate associates like Sita Devi or Shrimati Radharani. However, He never tolerates ill-treatment towards His devotees. Sita is informing Ravana that even if he should drink nectar which grants immortality [amrita], he still won’t escape death.

Sita Rama The irony is that Ravana did eventually go through with kidnapping Sita, but he still received liberation. This is a special circumstance, however, as Ravana was directly killed by Lord Rama, or God. Since Ravana was thinking of the Supreme Lord at the time of death, he was granted a specific type of liberation. Sita Devi’s comments are still noteworthy, for we should never create enmity with the devotees of God. Sita is kind and sweet, and the giver of great wealth and fortune. All the money that we possess should be considered her property, so we should use it in the right way.

One of Krishna’s names is Madhava, meaning the husband of the goddess of fortune. This means that all the fortune that Lakshmi possesses is used for God’s benefit. We should use the blessings Lakshmiji gives to us for the same purpose. All of our activities should be dedicated to the Supreme Lord. Acting in this way will make us happy. Ravana tried to steal Lakshmi and use her for his own benefit, and it ultimately led to the downfall of his city and all its inhabitants. Due to the special circumstance, Ravana received the liberation of merging into the Lord’s body. For the devotees, however, God bestows the boon of His eternal association, which is a far greater reward than mukti. Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman are eternal servants of Lord Rama. If we remember and honor the Lord with our thoughts, words, and deeds, we too can receive the highest form of liberation, Krishna-prema, or love for God.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect

Lord Krishna “The Lord, being the source of everything that be, is the origin of all austerities and penances also. Great vows of austerity are undertaken by sages to achieve success in self-realization.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.7.6 Purport)

The opening verse of the famous Shrimad Bhagavatam relays an aphorism from the Vedanta-sutras which states that everything in this world emanates from the Supreme Absolute Truth, or God. The Vedanta-sutras are meant to consist of short and succinct phrases or aphorisms, each having deeper meaning and import. This one statement about everything emanating from God can be studied daily and still provide new and fresh meanings. It is for this reason that the bona fide commentary on the Vedanta-sutra, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, is itself quite lengthy. Moreover, great devotees have written their own commentaries on Shrimad Bhagavatam, with other devotees writing commentaries on the commentaries. Thus we see that there is no limit to God’s greatness, for on can go one explaining His powers forever and ever.

Hanuman chanting When we hear that everything emanates from God, we naturally look to objects, i.e. things relating to matter. The mountains, the sky, and the sun are obvious examples of God’s greatness. But even living entities themselves are molded after the Supreme Lord. It is for this reason that we become enamored by the events of birth and death. Planting a seed and watching it grow into a full-blown tree is one of the more amazing sights to behold. The same can be said of watching our children grow up to be adults. Though we tend to only compare objects and their relationship to the Supreme, we can also apply the same principle to various philosophies, disciplines, and exercises. Everyone has some sort of philosophy, regardless of whether or not the basis of their way of life comes from spiritual authority.

Every philosophy that has ever existed actually emanates from the Supreme Lord. To see an example of this principle, we need only study two important Vedic concepts: tapasya and yajna. Tapasya refers to the voluntary acceptance of austerities, or penances. Yajna refers to sacrifice, or in general terms, the active engagement in religious practice; rituals, chants, or travelling to spiritual pilgrimages. Sacrifice and austerity are requirements for anyone seeking spiritual enlightenment, and just as with everything else in this world, they originate from God. The Supreme Lord gave us yajna and tapasya so that we could use them to understand Him better. Many people shy away from religion specifically because of the ritual aspect of it and the need for self-control, or austerity. The irony is that austerity and sacrifice are practiced even outside of the realm of religion. This is another example of God’s greatness, and it also reinforces the meaning of Absolute. Since God is the Absolute Truth, His energies are all-pervading.

A great example of sacrifice and austerity in action can be seen in the arena of rock and roll. This will raise eyebrows right off the bat. “Rock and roll? Isn’t that the extreme opposite of self-control? People dream of becoming rock stars so that they can live a life of hedonism. Sex, drugs, and rock n roll. How can this teach us about religion?“ It is undoubtedly true that the rock star lifestyle is all about indulging the senses as much as possible. Yet if we do a quick study of what it takes to become a successful musical artist or rock band, we’ll see that self-control and discipline are two vital components.

Metallica singer James Hetfield The life cycle of a successful rock band is usually the same, but to help us understand things more clearly, we’ll focus on one example in particular: the heavy metal band Metallica. While they are currently one of the most popular bands in music history, Metallica didn’t start out that way. Like most aspiring bands, Metallica started off as a garage band; four young teenagers getting together in a small room and playing loud music. They all had long hair and a penchant for drinking alcohol. To make it in the rock business is not easy, for there are many bands competing for a record deal. In the early 1980s, Metallica had to play small clubs throughout California just to get recognized. They distanced themselves from the popular hair bands of the time by playing a style of music commonly known as thrash, or something similar to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. Metallica eventually got their record deal and were flown to New York to record their first album.

In the band’s early years, the lifestyle wasn’t luxurious at all. Band members had to travel mostly by bus, taking their equipment with them. They weren’t even headlining acts, so they had to open up for other bands, playing in tiny clubs throughout America and Europe. Slowly but surely their popularity increased, and after about ten years of touring and putting out records, they finally achieved fame throughout the world. Instead of travelling on buses, they now had their own airplanes. Rock stars are famous for the riders that they fill out when they go to different venues. The host of the show will ask what each band member requires in their dressing room prior to the show. Rock stars, demanding that all their senses be satisfied at all times, ask for whatever they want, and most of the time they get it.

Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich Rock stars also have lots of beautiful women who follow them around at every show. There is certainly truth to the notion that rock and roll is all about drinking, drugs, and sex; activities which involve little to no self-restraint. But if we study a little further, we’ll see that a rock band requires self-control and discipline to be successful. The members of Metallica are all in their late forties today, but they play to giant sold-out arenas. All of the members of the band have to take care of their bodies in order to be able to play on stage for two hours at a time. The physical toll is especially great on the drummer, Lars Ulrich. Playing the drums for any other type of music may not be as physically demanding, but playing drums for a heavy metal band is a real workout. Just playing one song involves constantly moving your arms and legs to maintain the quick tempo. A typical Metallica concert is around two hours, so one can imagine how much weight is lost in terms of sweat for the drummer.

Before embarking on any major concert tour, Lars takes up a strict running regimen to get himself into shape. He also makes sure to eat properly before a concert. Though most of the members drink alcohol regularly, they keep a careful eye on their intake prior to a concert. Alcohol can dehydrate the body fairly quickly and can also have an effect on a person’s motor skills. Playing guitar in a heavy metal band requires lightning fast movement of the fingers. The lead guitarist for Metallica, Kirk Hammett, wraps tape around his fingers to prevent bleeding. The singer, James Hetfield, also isn’t immune to the wear and tear of life on the road. During the early 1990s, Metallica toured for two years non-stop. By the end of the tour, James’ voice was failing him, and he was worried that he might be seriously damaging his vocal cords. Ever since that time, Hetfield makes sure to go through a series of voice exercises prior to every concert.

Live concert All this preparation is most certainly a form of austerity. The other piece of the puzzle is activity, or sacrifice. You can’t just put any four people together and expect them to produce beautiful music. A successful rock band is one that has good chemistry and knows how to play songs in front of people. To this end, Metallica, like most other bands, must rehearse constantly to make sure they don’t mess up songs when playing them in front of 50,000 people. This dedication to activity isn’t exclusive to the live arena either. Making a studio record requires just as much effort, for the band members must play their songs over and over again until they get every piece of the song just right.

Though the rock star lifestyle is certainly filled with self-indulgence, if it weren’t for their dedication to austerity and sacrifice, bands like Metallica would never be able to do what they do. In a similar manner, success in spiritual life requires even more dedication. Sometimes we’ll get frustrated in life and turn to God. “Oh Lord, why have You put me through this? Can’t You end my suffering?” These feelings are quite natural, for we are all looking for an easy way out of our misery. But just as we see with other areas of life, success in spiritual pursuits takes some effort and dedication. We can’t just think our way to spiritual perfection. We can study the difference between matter and spirit until we are blue in the face, but God is not a person who can be realized by solving a math problem or by running through a series of logical proofs.

Lord Krishna If we want to reach the supreme destination of God’s spiritual sky, we have to work for it. The key is to figure out what things should be done and what shouldn’t. In addition, we have to know how to control our senses, i.e. how to make sure we perform at peak capacity. This is where the four regulative principles come into play. The Vedas are a very intricate religious discipline, meaning they have branches that apply to all different types of people. As we see in life, people have different desires which lead them towards performing different types of work. In a similar manner, aspiring transcendentalists also have different desires, so the Vedas kindly provide guidance in a wide range of areas. Since some people look to God to fulfill their needs, there is the karma-kanda section of the Vedas which recommends various yajnas, or ritualistic sacrifices. The performance of these yajnas rewards the practitioner with material benedictions. Some people want to stop all activity; they are sick of always having to do something. They’d rather just remain in a dormant state and not have to worry about future suffering. For these people, there is the sankhya system, where one can study the difference between matter and spirit and slowly start to negate all activity. There are others who want great strength and power, so for them the Vedas give the system of meditational yoga, which rewards the practitioners with siddhis, or material perfections.

While these are all legitimate branches of the Vedas, there is one discipline which is considered the topmost. This is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. As the Vedanta-sutras tell us, God is a person; a separate living entity whose intelligence and strengths far exceed ours. Since He is the original person possessing all opulences, it would make sense that having His personal association would be the greatest reward in life. We are all looking for pleasure of some sort, but we see that the enjoyment derived from our current sources of pleasure is short-lived. This is because we’re not channeling our engagements towards the supreme object of pleasure, the one person from whom all other pleasures emanate. That person is Krishna, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Lord Chaitanya and associates chanting Hare Krishna To know Krishna, one must perform some type of austerity. Currently our senses are attracted towards material objects, hence our pleasure is short-lived. In order to shift our desires, we have to starve our senses of the associations they are currently attached to. When encountering an enemy, it is best to attack their strengths right away. Once the enemy’s strengths are eradicated, it is much easier to defeat them. The four things which our material senses are most attached to are illicit sex, meat eating, intoxication, and gambling. Therefore, in order to control our senses, we must refrain from these four activities. This is the starting point.

Austerity is only one piece of the puzzle. We also need some active engagement, something to rehearse or practice. This is where sacrifice comes in. Though the Vedas mention different kinds of sacrifice, the one most recommended for the people of this age is the sankirtana-yajna, or the congregational chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The great Vaishnava acharyas recommend that we chant this mantra as often as possible, and with as many other people as possible. This mantra is so great that it can be put into melodies and sung in the call-and-response format. If one visits Vaishnava temples around the world, they’ll see that the singing of this mantra makes up the majority of the day’s activities.

Lord Krishna At a minimum, we should chant the Hare Krishna mantra at least sixteen rounds a day on a japa mala, or set of prayer beads. One may ask what the point is to chanting so many times. The goal is to be able to chant this mantra just once without any offenses. Offenses are any distractions or ulterior motives we may have when we recite God’s names. Reciting God’s name without offense equates to a perfect recitation. Devotional service is pure when we develop a love for God and don’t expect anything from Him in return. This is the highest form of religion because it rewards us with the eternal association of the Lord, a benediction which cannot be matched.

Everyone is performing some type of austerity and some type of sacrifice. We don’t need to shy away from these principles, but just purify their execution. By regularly chanting and following the four regulative principles, we can one day hope to say God’s name in a pure way. Practice makes perfect.