Saturday, July 10, 2010

Cheaters Never Win

Sita Devi “Your sinful act of coming to the forest and taking me away from the side of my husband will not result in future happiness for you.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.13)

We often hear the phrase, “cheaters never win.” This is certainly true in the long run, but in the short term, we see that cheaters and thieves certainly do get away with transgressing laws. Some of them rise to great fame through underhanded methods. This doesn’t mean that they completely get away with their sinful actions, for cheaters end up paying big time in the end. The same principle holds true for aspiring transcendentalists. There is no quick and easy path to God; we have to put in great time and effort to achieve success. If we try to associate with God or one of His devotees while remaining committed to sinful life, we will surely meet with trouble.

There are countless examples of people who got away with committing crimes but then later on suffered the consequences. The famous football player, O.J. Simpson, is an example of this. Accused of murdering his ex-wife and her boyfriend, Simpson tried to flee the country and escape a trial. After a high-profile, high-speed chase with the police, Simpson eventually turned himself into authorities and faced a trial which was followed by millions on television. To the average observer, the evidence seemed overwhelmingly in favor of Simpson’s conviction on the charges of murder. Nevertheless, with the help of an all-star legal team, Simpson was acquitted of the charges. His defenders rejoiced, but many across the country were flabbergasted, including the friends and family of those who were killed. It seemed that Simpson had gotten away with murder.

As time went on, however, Simpson’s true colors would show. Instead of staying out of the public eye and living a peaceful life, Simpson took to some bizarre behavior. He wrote a book titled, If I Did It, where he pondered the question of how he would have gone about committing the murders had he actually been the culprit. The book was cancelled shortly after its release. Simpson couldn’t stay out of trouble, however, as he was later arrested for breaking into a hotel room and stealing memorabilia which he claimed others had stolen from him. Simpson eventually was convicted on the charges brought against him and forced to go to jail.

“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

Lord Rama These situations occur all the time on a lower scale. The forces of nature delude us into thinking that just because no one is looking, we can get away with committing crimes. For the serial cheaters and serious law breakers, the consequences to their actions are sure to bear fruit. There is another famous saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.” All of our actions have consequences. If we want to achieve something, we have to work hard for it. There are no short-cuts. If we try to cheat our way to success, we will eventually suffer the consequences. For example, students in grade school or high school may cheat on their exams and even get good grades. But later on in life, there will come a point where they won’t have the opportunity to cheat. The things they should have learned in school will then be forced upon them. When this time comes, there will be no one around to help the cheaters. In America, there are some who actually graduate high school without knowing how to read. Obviously for these situations to occur, there must be some serious cheating that goes on, either by the student or the administrators of the school.

Ravana The Vedas tell us that the material world is governed by a force called maya. She is described as an illusory force; she fools us into thinking that we can cheat nature. We are all susceptible to maya’s influence, and if we don’t learn how to control our desires, she can lead us astray. This was the case with the Rakshasa demon Ravana many thousands of years ago. Ravana was born as the son of a brahmana, but he had the qualities of a Rakshasa. Brahmanas are the priestly class of men, so named because they know Brahman, or the all pervading impersonal energy of the Lord. Since a brahmana is required to know Brahman, it stands to reason that simply taking birth from a brahmana father doesn’t automatically grant brahminical status.

Though Ravana had a pious father, he himself was deluded by maya. He was a gross materialist who viewed satisfying the senses as his only business in life. Trying to meet the demands of the senses is not anything out of the ordinary, but there are different ways to go about it. The Vedas provide the system of varnashrama-dharma, where one is allowed to live a life of regulated sense gratification, all with the aim of advancing spiritually. There is another path, however, known as adharma, or irreligion. This was the path taken by Ravana. He certainly performed great austerities and worshiped the devatas, but this worship was performed in the mode of ignorance. He had no desire to improve the future fortunes of his soul; he was only worried about the demands of his body. He used his acquired powers to harass the saintly class of men.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna, or God, is the original proprietor of everything. Since He created the universe, it stands to reason that He is the rightful owner of everything. The Lord is very kind to us though, so He allows us to borrow His property while we perform our activities on earth. Those who act with this knowledge have no desire to encroach on others’ property or to harass other innocent living entities. Sadly, Ravana lacked this knowledge. He wanted to possess all the wealth in the world, and he didn’t care how he got it. The ends justified the means as far as he was concerned.

In the early stages of Ravana’s life, it appeared that cheating was paying off. He and his Rakshasa associates would regularly harass the peaceful brahmanas residing in the forests. These sages weren’t harming anyone; they had taken to forest life since it was quiet and peaceful. By harassing these exalted personalities, Ravana showed just how vile he was. He had no regard for innocent human life. Nevertheless, the demon amassed great wealth, and he ruled over an opulent kingdom in Lanka. He had every material object at his disposal. He regularly drank wine, ate meat, and had sex with a multitude of partners. He was living in his own version of sin city.

Sita Rama As mentioned before, cheaters never win, and Ravana would find this out the hard way. Though he had ample opportunities for sex with his hundreds of beautiful wives, Ravana became infatuated with one woman in particular: Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. In today’s society, men and women are allowed to freely intermingle. Due to the natural psychological make-ups of the two genders, men and women have different ways they go about seeking a mate. They also find different qualities appealing and attractive. Generally speaking, if a man is interested in a particular woman and he finds out that she is either married or in a relationship, he immediately runs the other way. Men tend to prefer women who are completely devoted to them and don’t harbor feelings for other men.

This was not the case with Ravana. He became infatuated by Sita simply from hearing of her beauty. At the time, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had incarnated on earth in human form as Lord Rama. His wife was Sita Devi, an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi. The couple was roaming the forests of India with Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana. Ravana came to the group’s camp in Dandaka, set up a diversion, and then kidnapped Sita. Taking her back to his island kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried his best to win her over, but Sita would not budge. She was wholly committed to the lotus feet of Shri Rama.

In the above referenced statement, Sita is informing Ravana that his sinful act of stealing another’s wife would never lead to his felicity. He would be forced to suffer the consequences. Her words would indeed prove true as Rama would eventually march to Lanka, kill Ravana in battle, and rescue her. All of Ravana’s sins caught up to him. What turned out to be the tipping point was his sinful desire to enjoy God’s wife.

Lord Krishna Krishna, or God, represents the energetic and His pure devotees are His energy. The energy works at the pleasure of the energetic, meaning the pure devotees always act to please the Supreme Lord. Not only do the devotees enjoy pleasing God, but the Supreme Lord enjoys associating with them through various rasas, or transcendental humors.

For us conditioned living entities, association with God and His devotees can come about easily, provided that we remain on the virtuous path. Ravana tried to steal God’s wife and paid dearly for it. By the same token, we cannot achieve transcendental perfection through underhanded methods. If we try to approach the Supreme Lord or one of His devotees while remaining committed to sinful life, we will never make progress. In order to associate with God, we have to sincerely change our desires from all things material, to all things spiritual.

Radha Krishna In this age, the easiest way to remain in contact with the spiritual energy is to constantly chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. At the same time, we should abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. The idea is to always think about God and always be working for His satisfaction. We don’t need to give up all our activities; we just need to spiritualize them. Chanting Hare Krishna wherever we are is a great way to purify any activity. By using the fruits of our labor to meet our spiritual demands, we can slowly become purified.

“Those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form-to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.22)

Sita Rama God is not mean. If we sincerely desire His association, He will gladly grant it to us. Simply abiding by rules and regulations is not enough; the goal is to foster a deep attachment for the lotus feet of the Lord. Seeing how difficult spiritual life can be, many of us choose to put it off until later on. “Let me earn some money now and I’ll take to religion when I get older.” Yet if we remain servants of maya throughout our lifetime, there is no guarantee that we will think of God at the time of death. Even if we take up a little devotional service immediately, we can make tremendous strides.

Let us take up the sublime engagement of devotional service today. If we remain on the righteous path, we will surely be granted the association of Sita and Rama very quickly. Unlike Ravana, we won’t have to steal Sita Devi, for she will kindly appear to the devotee of Shri Rama. As we see from Ravana’s example, the path to perfection does not go through cheating God and His wife, but rather through sincerely serving the Supreme Lord and all His devotees.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Elevator to the Top

Radha Krishna “It can be concluded that a person who is freed from the bodily concept of life is an eligible candidate for pure devotional service. It is also confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita that after Brahman realization, when one is freed from material anxieties and can see every living entity on an equal level, he is eligible to enter into devotional service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 3)

The multitude of yoga systems carry with them various prescriptions and recommendations given to their followers. “Just concentrate on any form of God. They are all the same. Either worship God as saguna, with attributes, or nirguna, without attributes, and it will be the same kind of worship. Whatever trick you can use to gain detachment and understanding of the nature of Brahman, use it.” This seems like a worthwhile technique, but the Vedas tell us that the actual end goal of yoga is not just to realize Brahman, or God’s impersonal energy. Brahman certainly exists, and trying to understand it is a bona fide spiritual practice. However, one’s occupational duty doesn’t stop at Brahman, but rather begins from there.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman [brahma-bhutah]. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.52)

Radha and Krishna One of the more famous verses in the Bhagavad-gita deals with the issue of brahma-bhuta. Bhuta refers to the living entities, i.e. human beings, plants, aquatics, animals, etc. Anything with a soul in it can be considered a living entity. Any material body which has a soul and which is also subject to the laws of nature – birth, old age, disease, and death – can be considered to be a living entity. This classification of a bhuta is made in order to distinguish the living entities from God. God resides within the heart of every living entity, ishvarah sarva-bhutanam, so He is not the same as us. This localized aspect of God which resides within our heart is known as Paramatma, or the Supersoul. When we take all the Supersouls together, along with every bhuta and the sum and substance of matter, we get Brahman.

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

Krishna's childhood activities Brahman is a little tricky to understand. Brahman is God but in a feature different from what we’d normally associate the Lord with. The Vedas tell us that the Supreme Absolute Truth, which has an eternally existing form that is full of bliss and knowledge, can be realized in three distinct features. Brahman is the least granular of these features. Brahman is technically more of an angle of vision than a feature of God. For example, God is Absolute, so anything that comes from Him can be considered to be equal to Him. Let’s take the example of God and His names. The Lord’s primary feature, the person we know as God, is referred to as Bhagavan. Based on the authority of revealed scriptures, Bhagavan’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. Long story short, Krishna is God. When Lord Krishna plays on His flute, runs around with His friends, or creates innumerable universes, the activities are no different from the Lord Himself. In the same manner, when we recite the word “Krishna” or chant it out loud, we are in direct contact with Krishna. That is the meaning behind God being Absolute.

By the same token, everything in this creation is the same as God. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna describes Brahman as that energy which is beyond duality, ignorance, and illusion. Brahman is pure and uncontaminated, an all pervading energy which represents the unmanifested form of the Lord. Krishna impregnates this Brahman in order to create the living entities and the material planets on which they reside. So when we speak of Brahman realization, we can think of it in terms of realizing the oneness of the creation. Since everything that we see is a result of Krishna’s impregnation, we can view everything to be the same as the Lord.

Realizing Brahman is not easy. Those who have achieved a state of oneness, or equanimity, are referred to as brahma-bhuta, or living entities who are on the Brahman platform. There are certain qualities that one acquires as a result of reaching this platform. There is an immediate cessation to hankering and lamenting. We should all be familiar with hankering and lamenting, for these are our primary activities. The brain is so powerful that it is constantly working. Even when we think we are sitting around doing nothing, the brain continues to operate. This operation is involuntary, as it continues even while we are sleeping. Since the brain is always working, it must have something to think about. All the thoughts of the living entity can be grouped into one of two categories: hankering or lamenting.

Hankering means that we want something. “I want to get married; I want children; I want a nice house; I want my team to win the Stanley Cup, etc.” These are desires that we want fulfilled, rewards that we anxiously await. The flip side of hankering is lamenting. “I can’t believe I failed that test; What am I going to do with my life? When will I wake up and realize that I’ll never be happy?” The degree of hankering and lamenting can vary over time, but our thoughts never really deviate from these two activities.

So what can we do to stop this? This is where brahma-bhuta comes into play. If a person realizes that everything is Brahman, or the impersonal effulgence which Krishna impregnates, there is no reason for hankering and lamenting. If a person realizes that everyone is the same in the qualitative sense, what need is there for sadness or ebullience? Since Brahman is pure and uncontaminated, those who realize it automatically inherit its qualities. Who wouldn’t want to be blissful and above the threefold miseries of life which arise from nature, the body and mind, and other living entities?

Since Brahman is so great, many people take to the discipline which helps one realize it. The discipline which explicitly seeks out Brahman is known as jnana-yoga. Jnana means knowledge, and by properly understanding the difference between matter and spirit, one can realize Brahman. Material nature is temporary, for that is the inherent quality of matter. Matter is also subordinate to spirit. Our bodies are an example of this. It is the spirit soul residing within our heart which is the driving force for our activities. Spirit controls our consciousness, which then drives our activities. In addition, every other living entity has a spirit residing within them. Hence, there is no reason to become enamored by matter.

Lord KrishnaInformation about the differences between matter and spirit and the nature of the divine can be found in the Vedanta-sutras written by Vyasadeva. Those who seek to realize Brahman focus their attention on studying Vedanta, hence they are known as Vedantists. From the Bhagavad-gita, we see that realizing Brahman means putting hankering and lamenting to an end. But does this state represent the end? Do our spiritual activities end at Brahman realization? To clarify things, Lord Krishna puts an added emphasis on the word “bhakti”. He says that after a person achieves Brahman realization, then they can take to devotional service, or bhakti.

This is a vital piece of information that should not be overlooked. Realizing Brahman is not the end, but rather the beginning of spiritual life. If we carefully analyze things, this should make sense to us. After all, it is Krishna who impregnates Brahman in the first place. Therefore, we see that there is already an entity that is greater than Brahman. We also know that Krishna’s expansion as the Supersoul resides within the heart of every living entity. This Supersoul, also known as Paramatma, is considered to be a higher realization of God than Brahman due to the simple fact that it is localized. Brahman represents an impersonal energy, but Paramatma has a form and intelligence. Bhakti is the process where one takes direction from Paramatma in order to achieve connection with Bhagavan, or Krishna.

Lord Chaitanya Bhakti is not a new concept. Lord Chaitanya, an incarnation of Krishna, appeared on earth some five hundred years ago to spread the bhakti cult around the world. It was primarily due to His influence that bhakti-yoga became the foremost means of self-realization in this age. Bhakti means devotion or love, and when applied to yoga, it means linking of the soul with God through acts of love and devotion. Simply by analyzing this definition, we can see that bhakti cannot be a modern concoction. Love and devotion are eternally existing; two emotions that naturally exist within all living entities. No one taught us how to love our friends, family members, and significant others. Love doesn’t have to be taught; it is a natural emotion.

Along the same lines, love for God is not a new concept either. It has been practiced since the beginning of time. Examples are always helpful, so let’s take Maharishi Valmiki for starters. The Vedas are so old that no one can accurately come up with their date of inception. Just by reading the Vedas we can find out that there was no time when they were created. Since they emanate from Krishna, the original and oldest person, the Vedas don’t have an inception date. They exist eternally. Nevertheless, there is one book which is commonly viewed to be the oldest book in existence. This book, which is actually a beautiful poem composed in Sanskrit, is the Ramayana. Today there are many Ramayanas, but the original Ramayana was the work penned by Maharishi Valmiki.

Maharishi Valmiki Valmiki’s life story is quite interesting. In his youth, he was a dacoit, so he used to steal for a living. One day he had the good fortune of meeting Narada Muni, a great saint and famous exponent of the virtues of bhakti yoga. Narada is also one of the greatest reformers in history, a spiritual master whose list of disciples serves as the who’s who of transcendentalists. Narada advised Valmiki to sit in quiet meditation and to fix his mind on the name of Rama. Valmiki sat still for thousands of years. He meditated for so long that an anthill formed around his entire body. It is for this reason that he was given the name Valmiki, which means one who took birth from an anthill.

Valmiki writing the Ramayana So we see that Valmiki achieved perfection in life through meditation. He undoubtedly realized Brahman, for he went from being a robber to a saint. Valmiki’s activities didn’t stop at Brahman realization though. It was only after he achieved transcendental perfection that he took to writing the famous Ramayana, which is a historical account of the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations.

This one example illustrates that bhakti is an eternal art, something even practiced by the adi-kavi [the original poet], Maharishi Valmiki. There are many other historical examples of great personalities who took to devotional life after achieving brahma-bhuta. Shukadeva Gosvami, Maharaja Janaka, and the four Kumaras are a few of the more notable devotees in this respect.

“For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krishna, and to subdue it is, it seems to me, more difficult than controlling the wind.” (Arjuna, Bg. 6.34)

So what does all this mean for us? Should we take to meditation? Should we try to realize Brahman? Many spiritual guides do stress the importance of Brahman to their students. Unfortunately, they often don’t go beyond Brahman. Some even take Lord Krishna to be part of Brahman or an elevated form of the divine. They teach their students that we are all part of the divine, fragments of the complete whole. In this way, their understanding is flawed. The concept of Brahman isn’t flawed, but their idea of nothing existing beyond Brahman is what is incorrect.

Lord Krishna In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna goes into great detail about how to practice perfect yoga. It is no easy task, and Arjuna himself deemed it impossible to perform. For this reason, the people of this age are not advised to take up meditational yoga or jnana-yoga. Lord Chaitanya advises everyone in this age to take directly to bhakti. We can think of it in terms of ascending a high-rise building. Karma-yoga, dhyana-yoga, and jnana-yoga are all techniques which can elevate us to the top floor, the roof of the building. But these methods all use the staircase. Bhakti, on the other hand, is the elevator which can take us quickly to the top. As we go further and further into the Kali Yuga, the age we are currently in, the number of steps in the staircase increases, thus making it harder to perform any other yoga except for bhakti.

Bhakti seems easy right? Just get on the elevator and get to the top? The problem is that not everyone wants to take this elevator. To practice bhakti, one must have a sincere desire to associate with and love Krishna. This means that all other desires need to be checked at the door. It is said that liberation and Brahman realization can easily be granted, but that bhakti is rarely given. To get bhakti, we need to be graced with the dust of the lotus feet of a pure devotee of Krishna. This is where Lord Chaitanya’s influence can help us. Not only did Gaurahari spread the glories of the holy name throughout India, but He empowered future generations of devotees to carry on His mission. It is due to Lord Chaitanya’s efforts that the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, became so popular.

Radha Krishna In order to get on the elevator, we must chant this mantra as often as possible. This mantra itself is a manifestation of Lord Chaitanya’s mercy. Lord Chaitanya is both Krishna Himself and a devotee, so we are doubly benefitted by associating with Him. Other yoga techniques are certainly bona fide, but in this age, it is bhakti which is most effective. The beauty of bhakti is that it is both a means and an end. Other yoga systems can take us to the top floor, at which time our devotional service can begin. Bhakti is beautiful because it starts off with love and devotion in an immature state and then slowly develops into Krishna-prema, pure love for God. Throughout this process, we gradually become detached from sense gratification and start to view all living entities equally. In this way we see that devotees automatically achieve Brahman realization without even striving for it. Bhakti is the most sublime engagement and something we should all take up.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Fortune Fame

Hanuman destroying Lanka “Gone is the duration of your life. Gone is your prosperity. Gone is your strength, and gone are your senses. The city of Lanka will become widowed due to your horrible deeds.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.12)

The demon Ravana is here being told that he will soon lose all that he had worked so hard for. A great demon possessing immense riches, Ravana would be forced to relinquish everything due to his stirring the ire of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. To make matters worse, all of Ravana’s associates would also be harmed in a similar matter due to their close ties and dependence on the demon.

Lord Rama Lord Rama is an incarnation of God who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. The Lord appeared in the guise of a human being; a kshatriya warrior famous throughout the world for His fighting prowess. His wife was the beautiful Sita Devi, the daughter of the King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka. Sita was no ordinary woman either; she was an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi. The major religions of the world tell us that God exists, but they don’t go into much detail relating to His name, forms, and pastimes. This is where the Vedas are unique. They tell us that God has unlimited forms, ananta-rupam, but that His primary forms are those of Lord Krishna and Lord Vishnu. In the spiritual sky, Lord Vishnu resides with His wife, Goddess Lakshmi, and His eternal support and friend, Ananta Shesha Naga. Vishnu, also known as Narayana, is a four-handed expansion of Krishna, thus He is the same God that we all pray to.

Lakshmi Narayana with Garuda The main difference between God and we living entities is that God represents the supreme energetic, while we are His energy. The more perfect we become in a spiritual sense, the better we represent this energy. In Sanskrit, God’s pleasure giving energy is referred to as hladini-shakti. Goddess Lakshmi represents perfection in the area of giving pleasure to the Lord. The Vedas tell us that God can be referred to as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all opulences and fortunes. One of these opulences is fortune, or wealth. Vishnu is the wealthiest because the goddess of fortune, Lakshmiji, is His wife. This shouldn’t surprise us as God is the original creator of everything, so it would make sense that He owns all the wealth in the world.

Ravana, a Rakshasa demon who roamed the earth at the same time as Rama, actually had a large pool with a deity of Goddess Lakshmi in his kingdom of Lanka. In the Vedic tradition, Lakshmi and Ganesha are regularly worshiped by those desiring material benedictions. Lakshmi provides good fortune to those who worship her, and Ganesha removes all obstacles in the pursuit of happiness. It is the inherent nature of man to want to improve his living condition. “Please give me all the wealth and fame that I can get and make sure that there are no obstacles in my way.” This is the general mindset of worshipers of Lakshmi and Ganesha. This thinking isn’t necessarily bad, but one should realize the ultimate purpose behind the boons bestowed by these two divine figures.

Lord KrishnaMaterial life represents a sort of prison house for the spirit souls. When a person is sentenced to prison, they are forced to remain inside the confines of a jail or a prison yard. They may perform different activities every day, but essentially the time spent there is meant to serve as a punishment. It is virtually impossible to find true happiness in a prison. The material world is taken to be a macro version of a prison. We can perform different activities and experience different highs and lows, but in the end, our time here is capped, with a fixed time allotted for when we have to give up our body. The entire material creation is also subject to destruction. All this may seem bleak, but there is a silver lining. If we develop a loving attachment to God during our lifetime, we are guaranteed to never return to this prison house.

"Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Ganesha and Lakshmi There are essentially two paths that we can take in life. One path leads to bondage, and the other path leads to liberation. If we remain on the material platform and act solely in the interests of the senses, we remain on the path of bondage. If we act in a way that increases our love and attachment for God, we are on the path of liberation. In this regard, the boons bestowed by Lakshmi and Ganesha should be used by those on the path of liberation. Lakshmi is God’s wife, so she performs everything for the Lord’s benefit. The gifts she bestows upon us in the form of money and good fortune are intended to be used for the execution of devotional service. The same principle holds true for the boons bestowed by all demigods. Lord Ganesha is an exalted personality, well-respected by everyone. He is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, who are both great devotees of Vishnu themselves. By removing our obstacles, Ganesha hopes that we can have an easier time performing our religious duties.

For those who remain fixed to the path of bondage, the boons bestowed by Lakshmi ultimately lead to destruction. This was the case with Ravana. He was living very happily in his kingdom of Lanka. He had everything at his disposal: beautiful women, exquisite palaces, and an army full of highly capable Rakshasas. Yet he wasn’t satisfied with all of this. The pervading energy of material nature is known as maya. Her greatest power is one of illusion. Illusion means taking something to be one thing, when it is actually something else. Maya causes us to believe that material sense gratification will make us happy, when in actuality, it only causes us to be further bound to the cycle of birth and death. Intoxication is a great example of this. Many of us get excited when it comes time to go out and drink, but after the high wears off, we are left to suffer. Vomiting, headaches, hangovers, etc., are the after-effects of excessive drinking. Yet with all this suffering, many of us go right back to drinking alcohol the next day or the next weekend. This is all due to maya’s influence.

Goddess Lakshmi Ravana was under the control of maya. Not satisfied with having hundreds of beautiful wives, he decided to kidnap Sita from the forest while Rama was away chasing a deer. Taking her back to his kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried his hardest to win her over, but she was unbreakable. A human incarnation of Lakshmi, Sita could never take her thoughts away from Rama, or God. In the above referenced statement, she is informing Ravana of what will happen to him for perpetrating such a heinous crime. He will lose his auspiciousness, strength, and his senses [indriyah]. Not only will he lose these things, but he will cause pain to all the members of his kingdom.

One must possess auspiciousness and strength in order to lose it, which means that Ravana certainly was very powerful. Sita warns him, however, that such material boons wouldn’t last forever. Though he worshiped Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma and even kept the deity of Lakshmiji in his kingdom, he hadn’t taken to the path of liberation. Moreover, he directly offended the Supreme Lord Rama and His pure devotee Sita. For Ravana, the same senses that derived pleasure from his material opulences would end up being the cause of great misery and grief to him. All of Ravana’s wives would be widowed. They were beautiful women, and they did nothing to bring about their future pain. Due to Ravana’s one horrible act, so many people would have to suffer.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Sita’s words would hold true as Rama would eventually march to Lanka, destroy all of Ravana’s army, and eventually kill Ravana himself. Even before this, Rama’s faithful servant Hanuman would come to Lanka and set fire to the city. The lesson here is that we should understand what fame and fortune are for. We shouldn’t reject or accept anything outright, but rather we should see how they relate to devotional service. In this age especially, the only dharma for mankind is the constant chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Sita Devi is so kind and sweet. Just as everyone loved Lord Rama, everyone also had similar affection for her. This is the nature of the pure devotee of God; they have no enemies. Lakshmi is nice enough to bless us with so many boons. We should make a serious effort to ensure that none of her gifts are used for the wrong purposes. Everything in this life should be used to glorify the Supreme Lord and distribute His causeless mercy to others. This will purify us and grant us eternal association with the divine couple, Sita and Rama.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


Lord Krishna “All different varieties of atmaramas [those who take pleasure in atma, or spirit self], especially those established on the path of self-realization, though freed from all kinds of material bondage, desire to render unalloyed devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead. This means that the Lord possesses transcendental qualities and therefore can attract everyone, including liberated souls.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.7.10)

When we are satisfied after eating a meal, it means that we no longer crave food. It doesn’t mean that we don’t want to eat ever again; it’s just that at that very moment in time, we are in need of nothing as it relates to food or drink. In a similar manner, there are many ways to satisfy the self, or the soul, through different yoga methods. The resultant contentment is described by the term atmarama, meaning self-satisfied. Yet Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is so wonderful that even the atmaramas are attracted to Him. Since Krishna ultimately attracts every kind of person, service to Him must be considered the most sublime engagement.

Those who are familiar with Vedic terms surely have heard the word yoga before. Normally yoga is taken to be a sort of gymnastics exercise, a discipline where you put your legs behind your head or you sit quietly in a lotus position and chant the syllable om. While this activity is certainly part of yoga, the term actually has a spiritual significance. Most people in society fall into one of two categories: the religious and the irreligious. Those who are religious have an understanding that God exists and that He has dominion over all that be. Yet for many people, this is as far as they go in relation to understanding God. Even great religious leaders around the world don’t take us beyond the concept of an all-powerful God. “The Lord is the savior. Believe in the power of prayer. He will heal you; He will solve all your problems if you believe in Him.”

Lord Krishna with Lord Brahma The Vedas delve a little deeper into the matter. Veda is a Sanskrit word which means knowledge. When used in the spiritual sense, the Vedas represent the highest form of knowledge, the oldest scriptures in existence. The Vedas are so old that no one can accurately date their origin. This should make sense because the Vedas themselves tell us that the origin of all information is God. Since God is the adi-purusham and puranam-purusham, the original and oldest person, scriptures which emanate from Him must be eternal and lacking an inception date. This original system of knowledge is so old that it was originally passed down through an oral tradition. Lord Brahma, the first created living entity, took Vedic wisdom in through the heart. Contemplating on the matter for a long time, he finally decided to take up service to the Supreme Lord, or God.

Lord Krishna The term God itself is a little abstract. What does it actually mean? Is God a person? If so, who is this person? Where does He live? What does He look like? The Vedas shed some light on these issues. They tell us that God is indeed a person, for the word purusha denotes a personality. But again, purusha actually has more meaning. When we refer to someone as a person, we are saying that they have a life force which sustains them. It is not their body which defines their existence, but rather something inside of them which is the cause of all their actions. This source of action is known as the soul, and every living entity has one of these souls inside them. The soul can be found not only in human beings, but in any form of life, including plants, aquatics, and animals.

As the soul is the cause of all activity within a specific form of life, God is the cause of all activity for this entire universe. In this sense, He is also a purusha, or a soul, but His powers are much greater. Those who think of God in terms of His all-pervading power governing the affairs of matter and spirit are directing their worship towards a feature known as Brahman. Brahman is truth; it is infallible, unchangeable, and full of knowledge. In the Bhagavad-gita, one of the most famous scriptures of the Vedic tradition, Lord Krishna tells us that He impregnates this Brahman in order to create all forms of life and matter.

God residing in Hanuman's heart Who is this Krishna? Well, aside from His feature as Brahman, God has two other aspects: Paramatma and Bhagavan. It is not that Brahman is different from Paramatma or that Paramatma is different from Bhagavan. The difference lies in one’s angle of vision. First let us try to understand Paramatma. Just as each one of us has an individual soul residing within our body which is the impetus for all our activities, there is also a second soul which lives right next to our soul. This soul, however, is not ours; it is an expansion of God. Moreover, this soul also lives inside of every other living entity. When we speak of our individual soul and the soul of another individual, there is no relationship between the two. For example, we have no information in relation to the experiences of another person. They may tell us what happened over the course of a given day, but we can’t actually experience those events with them.

The Supersoul is different. All Supersouls are the same in quality and quantity, and they belong to the same person: God. The Supersoul, known as the Paramatma, is an expansion of God. The Lord is so merciful to the living entities that He kindly agrees to live inside each one of them. The Supersoul is a copy of God, an expansion. We shouldn’t think that God has divided Himself among all living entities and that one day He will merge back into the complete whole. God’s powers are so strong that He can make direct copies of Himself and still remain completely unaffected. Though our souls, or atmas, are responsible for the actions that we take, the results of our activities are actually carried out by the Supersoul. This should make sense, as God is the cause of all causes.

“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)

Krishna and Arjuna So far we have reviewed the features of Brahman and Paramatma. As mentioned before, both are representations of God. So who is God? The Vedas tell us that God’s original feature is that of Bhagavan, one who possesses all opulences. We may see one person who is very rich and another who is very strong, but there is only one person who is both the strongest and the wealthiest. This person is God, and He possesses every opulence imaginable to the fullest degree and simultaneously. Being the original personality, He has a transcendental form which is eternally full of bliss and knowledge.

Now that we have a better understanding of who God is and how we can think of Him, what are we to do with this information? What does it mean to be religious? Again, we need only look to the Vedas for the answer. Since the atma and Paramatma are similar in quality, they have an inherent link. The Vedas tell us that the point of human life is to link our soul with God’s. This linking is known as yoga. That’s right, all those gymnastics poses and breathing exercises are meant to help us achieve union of the soul with God. Gymnastics isn’t the only variety of yoga; there are other forms as well. We can link up with God through physical activity, or work. We can also link up with the Lord through intense study of the scriptures, learning the difference between matter and spirit.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman [brahma-bhutah]. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.52)

Lord Krishna performing yoga In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna covers all the different types of yoga. There is one chapter in particular where He describes how to perfectly practice the form of yoga that most of us are familiar with. In this chapter [6], Krishna describes to His cousin and disciple Arjuna how one can go about achieving transcendental pleasure through intense meditation. The Lord says that one should find a secluded place and sit upright while focusing the eyes on the tip of the nose. One must be completely celibate in order to achieve perfection in this type of yoga. Remaining steady in this position, one is to control the mind by keeping it away from objects of sense gratification, keeping it focused on the Supersoul within.

“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.47)

After hearing these instructions, Arjuna deemed this type of yoga impossible to perform. The Bhagavad-gita was spoken some five thousand years ago, so times were much different then. Arjuna thought controlling the mind was as hard as controlling the wind. Lord Krishna then told him that the unsuccessful yogi gets to continue wherefrom they left off in the next life. Then the Lord also specifically addressed the issue of who is the best yogi. Aside from simply sitting in meditation and focusing the mind on the self, the best yogi is one who always thinks of Krishna. In this sense, we see what the goal should be for all those who practice yoga.

Just because Arjuna wasn’t able to practice this meditational style of yoga doesn’t mean that others haven’t perfected it in the past. Any bona fide form of yoga, such as karma, dhyana, jnana, etc., certainly brings about great transcendental pleasure to those who can practice it correctly. However, the authorized scriptures inform us that all these yogas are simply stepping stones to the highest form of yoga: bhakti. Bhakti means love and devotion, and when coupled with the concept of linking the soul with God, we see that it is the discipline where we devote all our activities to God. The beautiful part of bhakti yoga is that it can consist of any type of activity: sitting in meditation, working hard at our jobs, reading the scriptures, etc. The object of our activities is what changes when we take up bhakti. The scriptures also tell us that since bhakti is directed at Bhagavan, it attracts even those who have already achieved self-realization through a different type of yoga. There are several historical examples that we can look to for evidence of this.

Maharaja Janaka Probably one of the most famous kings in history is Maharaja Janaka, the King of Mithila. Many thousands of years ago, there were actually many great kings of Mithila known by the name of Janaka who belonged to the same dynasty, but in this instance we are referring to the great devotee of God and father of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. Krishna is God’s original form, but He expands Himself into various other forms to perform activities on earth and in the spiritual world. Lord Rama was one such expansion. Since Krishna’s expansions are all direct copies of Himself, they are referred to as vishnu-tattva. We living entities are also expansions of God, but we are separated expansions, jiva-tattva. When we refer to worship of God or Bhagavan, it is worship directed either at Lord Krishna or a vishnu-tattva expansion.

Maharaja Janaka is so famous and well-respected that information relating to him is found in many of the great Vedic texts. Not surprisingly, he plays a significant role in the Ramayana, which is an account of the life story of Lord Rama composed by the great Maharishi Valmiki. In the Ramayana, we see that Janaka was blessed to have the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi, come into his family as his daughter. This eventually led to Sita’s marriage with Rama, thus bringing Lord Rama into Janaka’s family. Raising Sita and receiving Rama as a son-in-law gave Janaka tremendous transcendental bliss and joy. This shouldn’t be surprising to us, for Sita and Rama give their devotees more pleasure than they could ever ask for.

Tulsidas Many of us would be surprised to know that Janaka was a great transcendentalist even before Sita appeared in His family. We get hints of this information from the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas. The Ramayana is the original story of Rama’s life written by Valmiki. To make the Lord’s story more accessible to the people of this age, Valmiki came back to earth in the form of Goswami Tulsidas some four hundred years ago. Tulsidas wrote his own version of the Ramayana known as the Ramacharitamanasa, which references the original Ramayana and also descriptions of Rama’s life found in the various Puranas. Since Rama comes to earth millennium after millennium, the exact sequence of events vary each time. Thus the Ramacharitamanasa has some differences from the original Ramayana, but we shouldn’t take this to mean that the descriptions aren’t accurate.

“Tell me, my lord: are these two pretty boys the ornament of a sage’s family or the bulwarks of some royal dynasty? Or, is it that Brahman which the Vedas describe as neti neti [not this] that has appeared in a dual form? My mind, which is dispassion itself in its natural form, is enraptured at their sight even as the Chakora bird is transported with joy at the sight of the moon. Therefore, sir, I earnestly inquire of you: tell me the truth, my lord; hide nothing from me. Deeply attached to them at their very sight, my mind has been forced to renounce the joy of absorption into Brahman.” (Maharaja Janaka speaking to Vishvamitra upon first seeing Rama and Lakshmana, Ramacharitamanasa, Bala-Kanda, 215.1-2)

Marriage of Sita and Rama In the Ramacharitamanasa, there are many references to how Janaka fell down from his platform of equanimity and transcendental peacefulness in order to show love to Sita and Rama. This point references the fact that Janaka was a self-satisfied soul, or atmarama, in his earlier life. In the epic Mahabharata, we see that Janaka was a great yogi and even taught others how to perform meditational yoga. In this sense, he was completely self-satisfied and in need of nothing. The term satisfaction implies that a person isn’t attracted by anything besides their own soul. For example, when we are hungry, our stomach is in a state of dissatisfaction. In this unhappy state, we become attracted to various kinds of food and drink. When the stomach is satisfied, however, it becomes harder and harder to be attracted to food, even if it is our favorite dish such as pizza, lasagna, dosa, laddoo, etc.

Lord Rama This same principle holds true for transcendentalists. By achieving the atmarama platform, a person becomes immune to attraction and repulsion. They’re supposed to take everything in stride, not getting too high or too low. Yet we see that Janaka immediately came off of this platform when he found Sita one day while plowing a field. He also gave way to tearful sentiments whenever he saw Lord Rama, knowing Him to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Ramacharitamanasa makes several mentions of the fact that Janaka knew that he wasn’t supposed to become attracted to anything, but that he couldn’t help it when in the company of Rama, Sita, or Lakshmana. This one fact alone should settle any disputes as to which method of yoga is superior.

Today, Janaka is considered such a great devotee of God that he is included in the list of twelve primary authorities on devotional service. Since bhakti even attracts the self-satisfied, we can conclude that it is the topmost engagement for the soul. It is for this reason that devotees try to induce others to take up the process of devotional service, in lieu of other types of yoga. It is not that devotees decry the practice of jnana, dhyana, hatha, etc., but rather they know that such spiritual practices are only meant to be stepping stones towards achieving pure love for God. We see from the past examples of King Janaka, and also Shukadeva Goswami and the four Kumaras, that impersonal God realization surely brings about self-satisfaction, but that there is an even higher level that a person can reach. In this age, almost no one is able to perfectly practice the meditation that Janaka did. For this reason, we are advised to take to bhakti directly. All the benefits of yoga, such as equanimity, perseverance through good and bad times, and the viewing of all living entities as being part of God, automatically come to us as a result of practicing bhakti.

Lord Krishna Just as Krishna is the cause of all causes, His beauty attracts even those who are deemed to be beyond attraction. Just as Krishna is attractive, so are His names. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can quickly become the best of the atmaramas.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

From The Moon To The Earth

Lord Rama “He [Rama], who is capable of bringing the moon in the sky down to earth or destroying it, or drying up the ocean, can certainly also rescue Sita from this place.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.11)

Human beings have been enamored by the moon since the beginning of time. A huge circular object that remains high in the sky and provides us beautiful light during the nighttime, the moon is something we’ve all wondered about. When we drive at night, it often appears that the moon is following us. It controls our tides and is also linked to our astrological fortunes, so why wouldn’t we want to study it further? Many have believed that if they could just figure out the secret behind the workings of the moon, this knowledge might then open the door to solving the rest of life’s problems.

From the Earth to the Moon - Jules Verne Long before man ever set foot on the moon, the great French science-fiction writer Jules Verne pondered the thought of man’s going to the moon in his book, From the Earth to the Moon, written in 1865. Since then, technological advancements drew man closer and closer to space travel. After World War II, the Cold War started between the United States and the Soviet Union. There was essentially a race to see who could put a man into outer space first. Going to space wasn’t enough though, as there was also a competition to see which country could first land on the moon. The U.S. would win the battle, with Neil Armstrong being the first man to set foot on the moon in 1969.

It was important for America to reach the moon because it showed a sign of technological advancement. The Cold War was a battle of ideologies: capitalism versus communism. The idea was that by landing on the moon first, Americans proved that their brand of government was better than the Soviets. Many people dispute that the moon landing ever occurred, for there are several anomalies related to the event, but to this day it is the widely held belief that man did indeed land on the moon. It is generally viewed as a great triumph.

Moon Landing The moon landing took great effort. Space exploration is not cheap, and the effort cost the government hundreds of millions of dollars. Outer space is not an environment that the human body can survive in, so space exploration requires expensive rocket ships, space suits, and oxygen tanks. Though the moon landing and space exploration in general are lauded as great achievements, what did mankind really gain from such ventures? Were they able to figure out how the moon works? Can they control the moon? We may understand a little bit more about the moon’s physical features, including its climate and atmosphere, but we don’t really understand how it got to be where it is and why it functions the way that it does. In fact, the U.S. government recently bombed the moon in hopes of finding out if there is any water there.

One person who does know about the moon and the rest of the universe is God. This may seem overly simplistic, but it’s a fact that gets lost in the day-to-day goings on of the world. Especially amongst followers of the Vedas, the moon represents a beautiful part of God’s creation that plays an important role in everyday life. The lunar cycle is even used as the calendar system in the Vedic tradition. God created the moon, and through His energies, He manages its functions. This was a point made by Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama.

Sita Devi Many thousands of years ago, God incarnated on earth as a kshatriya prince named Rama. Why would God appear on earth? At the time, there was a Rakshasa demon by the name of Ravana who was harassing the saintly people on earth. Most of the time the Lord remains neutral when it comes to the ups and downs of material life. On the level of karma, or personal fruitive activity, there really is no good or bad. But devotees of God, the true saints of the world, don’t play by the rules of karma. They are engaged in addressing the plight of their own spirit soul and also the souls of every other living entity. For this reason, God pays special attention to His devotees and makes sure that their execution of devotional service continues without interruption.

Ravana didn’t believe in God. He was very powerful, so he thought that he represented the upper limit of strength, wealth, and fame in the world. Lord Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years with Lakshmana, His younger brother, and Sita Devi, the Lord’s wife. Ravana one day kidnapped Sita while Rama and Lakshmana were away from the group’s cottage. Taking her back to his island kingdom of Lanka, Ravana tried his best to win Sita over, but she was having none of it. In response to his advances, she reminded the demon of Rama’s greatness. In the above referenced statement, Sita is telling Ravana that Rama could easily bring down the moon to the earth or even destroy it. Rama could easily dry up the ocean, so for Him, rescuing Sita from the clutches of Ravana would be a piece of cake.

Lord Rama How could a single man control the moon and the oceans in this way? This all seems like part of some mythology or something out of Lord of the Rings. The events of the Ramayana actually occurred in real life many thousands of years ago. It is hard for us to fathom a single man controlling major parts of nature in this way, but Rama was no ordinary man. The scriptures tell us that He was an avatara of Lord Vishnu, who is God Himself. Ravana, too, was no ordinary demon. He was extremely powerful, and the great demigods of the world could not defeat him.

Sita’s words would hold true as Rama would eventually come to Lanka, kill Ravana, and rescue her. Rama didn’t have to struggle at all in His battles with Ravana. When the two first met on the battlefield, Rama defeated Ravana so soundly that the demon was forced to retreat home and take a breather. He didn’t even return to the battlefield right away, for he sent in reinforcements, hoping that they could defeat Rama for him. Unfortunately for Ravana, Rama and His army defeated all the Rakshasas. Finally, the demon was forced to encounter Rama again, and the Lord soundly defeated and killed him.

The lesson here is that it is fine to be intrigued by the wonders of God’s creation, but we should not let this wonder sidetrack us from the real mission of life. The Vedas tell us that the sun, moon, and all the planets are certainly very wonderful, but that they will ultimately be destroyed. Since they were created at some point, they must also be dissolved at some time in the future. That is the nature of the material world. The same principle holds true with our gross material bodies, i.e. our lives. We take birth at some time, perform some activity, and then eventually we die. Knowing this, we should realize that the body is not as important as the controller of the body. That controller is the spirit soul, or atma. Unlike our material bodies, the soul never takes birth, nor does it ever die.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Lord Krishna The soul is eternal, but it can transmigrate between various species. This is due to the effects of guna [material qualities] and karma [fruitive activity]. Intense study of the moon from the material point of view can result in a person thinking that they can control nature. For devotees of the Lord like Sita, the creation [prakriti] is understood to be a minute representation of God’s energy. More important than prakriti is purusha, or the controller of matter. The supreme controller is God. Human life is meant for understanding the supreme purusha, Krishna, and not prakriti. What could we ever understand about nature anyway? We didn’t create it. Even if we could understand it, it wouldn’t give us everlasting bliss and peace.

Perfection in life can only come through association with the Supreme Lord. Lakshmana, Sita, and the great devotee Hanuman were all liberated souls due to their intense love for and devotion to Lord Rama. We too can develop the same level of love and respect by regularly chanting God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Yesterday’s News

The spiritual world “Only the Supreme Lord Himself or His empowered representative can possibly free us from confinement in this dark well. Under their guidance we can come to know of the limitless ocean of the spiritual sky.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Renunciation Through Wisdom, Ch 2.7)

With the advancement of technology, newspapers are slowly going out of fashion, at least the print versions anyway. In many circles, reading the newspaper is considered part of the higher culture. The belief is that anyone who wants to know anything must read the newspaper regularly to keep up with current events. Though most news is read on the internet these days, the same belief system applies to news items of any kind. If we are given an old newspaper or sent a story which is more than a day old, we usually don’t have any interest in it. Newspapers essentially have an expiration date; they lose their importance in the matter of hours. The dead-tree editions of expired newspapers end up being used for packing material, toilet paper, or fuel for a fire in a grill. Based on this, wouldn’t it be more beneficial to read something which doesn’t lose value over time. Moreover, wouldn’t it be worth our while to spend our time learning about facts and truths that only increase in importance as time passes? This is precisely why God gave us the Vedas and all the literatures that are derived from them.

Newspaper It’s the common routine for many people to get their coffee in the morning along with the paper. The newspaper is especially nice for commuters who take public transportation to school or work. Sitting down comfortably in their seat, commuters can skim through the latest headlines, the sports scores, and even the comics on their way to wherever they are going. As soon as the destination is reached, however, the newspaper gets tossed aside. If we do end up saving our old newspapers, it’s only to use them for packing material or any other purpose except reading.

Why do news items lose their importance as time goes by? The answer should be fairly obvious. Let us first examine why we even take an interest in the news. As mentioned before, in many circles, regular news readers are considered to be part of the higher class. “If you read the news, you are up to date on the happenings of society around you. You know what the issues are in relation to elections, you know what the future weather forecast is, and you also know about any recent developments in health and science.” Along the same lines, anyone who doesn’t follow the news must be an ignorant and low class person.

There are others though, who take to reading the news simply out of boredom or the need for entertainment. They may have a particular politician, actor, or athlete that they like, so they’ll take an interest in following their every move. The editorial page also provides insightful opinions on subject matters that we may not be familiar with, so we feel like we are getting an education in addition to being entertained.

These justifications for reading the news seem valid enough. Yet why we do we see newspapers get thrown away one day after they come out? Try giving an old newspaper to someone and they will likely scoff, “This is old. Why are you giving this to me? It has no value.” Newspapers contain written words, so their importance lies in their content. When we say that a newspaper loses its importance after only a single day, we’re saying that the content is what becomes irrelevant. One simply has to examine the contents of an average paper to see why.

Without even reading tomorrow’s news, we can already predict what it will contain. Someone will have been murdered; a politician will have criticized another politician; a sports team will have won and will now think that their chances of capturing the title are good; another team will have lost; fans will be calling for such and such manager to be fired; columnists will be praising another player for performing well; predictions will be made; editorials will be written; the weather forecast will be provided, etc. Now let us go back in time to a newspaper from say a year ago. What we will find is that the nature of the stories is exactly the same. The exact names and circumstances may be different, but the theme of the stories will undoubtedly be the same. We can even go further back in time, five years, ten years, etc., and see the same phenomenon.

“In the material world we are simply chewing the chewed, throwing it away, picking it up and then chewing it again. Spiritual variety is not like this.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 13.29)

Prahlada Maharaja If the news is always the same, why do we keep following it? The great devotee of Lord Vishnu, Prahlada Maharaja, gave us insight into this concept. He referred to the repeated attempts at finding sense gratification in the same areas as “chewing the chewed”. We read one newspaper, take in all the various stories, and get whatever little enjoyment we can out of it. The next day we read the latest newspaper, thinking that the nature of the stories will be different, when in fact they aren’t. Hence the most recent edition of the newspaper is something we’ve already chewed. But since we are illusioned by the forces of maya, we think that we haven’t chewed this information already. This cycle of chewing the chewed repeats itself over and over again.

“Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.20)

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna What is maya? The Vedas tell us that God created this world to be a flawed replica of the spiritual world. The spiritual world is full of bliss and is unchanging. This material world is just the opposite. Matter is always changing, either through human effort [paurusham] or through the influence of the divine [daivam]. Since matter is always changing, we tend to think the enjoyment that we derive from it will also change. This is the effect of maya. Maya means that which is not; she is the illusory energy which governs this material world. Her powers of illusion manifest through her ability to fool us into thinking that matter, which is constantly changing, will give us new feelings of enjoyment. But as we see with the example of the newspaper, what we take to be change is actually nothing more than the same chewed material presented in a different form.

But what choice do we have in the matter? We live in the material world after all, so aren’t we forced to associate with this changing matter? Though everything in this world can be taken to be matter, there are exceptions. The most easily perceivable exception can be found right inside of our bodies. Though our body is composed of matter, it doesn’t form the basis of our identity. For example, we have hands and legs, but we can’t say that our identity comes from our limbs. If an arm gets cut off, we can still survive, meaning that the loss of our hand doesn’t equate to the loss of our identity. Recently, one of our friends noticed a man riding the train in a major metropolitan area. This man had arms, but no hands. Yet somehow he was reading a newspaper and drinking coffee that was purchased from a local market. Reading the newspaper and holding the drink were certainly extraordinary feats by themselves for a man with no hands, but even more remarkable was that this person must have had to pay for his newspaper and drink. Even with his handicap, he didn’t seem troubled in the least bit; he had everything under control.

Lord Chaitanya So we see that our body parts, which are composed of matter, are part of our identity, but at the same time they are not. In a similar manner, we living entities are also part of the supreme whole known as God, yet we are still different from Him. This simultaneous oneness and difference is known as achintya-bheda-bheda-tattva, and it was the truth expounded by Lord Shri Krishna Chaitanya, an incarnation of God who appeared in India some five hundred years ago.

Our identity comes from the spirit soul residing within. The soul is unchangeable, unbreakable, and immoveable. When we use the terms “I” and “Mine”, we are actually referring to our soul. If we lose a hand or a leg, we can stay alive in our current form, but if we lose our soul, our life ends. The event known as death is the exiting of the soul from the body. The soul is not part of maya, hence it is an exception to the rule that all things are material and changeable. There is another exception as well: the Supersoul, or Paramatma. The Supersoul resides within the heart, but it is an expansion of God. Our soul, or atma, only resides within our body, but the Supersoul resides within the bodies of every living entity, thus illustrating the difference between us and God.

Lord Krishna Atma and Paramatma are not products of maya, nor is Brahman, the impersonal effulgence that constitutes all things material and spiritual. Still, both Brahman and Paramatma originate from a supreme person. This personality is known as Lord Krishna, or God. God is the Supreme Absolute Truth, so in this sense He is the opposite of maya. His spiritual world is that which is, meaning a place where what you see is what you get. Though we currently reside in the material world, a perverted reflection of the spiritual world, we can still associate with God in a number of ways.

When we say “we” can associate, we’re referring to the spirit soul within. The soul is currently covered by a material dress which fools us into taking material sense gratification to be the ultimate aim of life. A higher engagement is to associate with something which transcends maya. Paramatma fits the bill. Since it is an expansion of God, the Paramatma can give us supreme bliss, should we choose to associate with it. We just have to know how to achieve this association. This is where yoga comes in. Yoga means linking our consciousness, atma, with the supreme consciousness, Paramatma.

This linking can be achieved through fruitive activities, philosophical speculation, meditation, or through acts of devotion. Acts of devotion are the best way to link ourselves with God because one who devotes their life to God automatically achieves the same benefits as the fruitive workers, mental speculators, and meditators. The Paramatma is within, so it’s not particularly clear as to how we can associate with it. Since Paramatma is God’s representative within our body, it is our duty to take direction from it. Since we’re in the conditioned state, we don’t know how to take this direction. To help the living entities who are genuinely in search of the Absolute Truth, the Lord kindly sends a representative to teach from without. This representative is the spiritual master, and he is a pure devotee of Krishna.

The spiritual master Association with the spiritual master can be of two varieties: vapu and vani. Vapu refers to personal association; offering service to the guru in person. Vani refers to the words and instructions of the spiritual master. Association through vani is achieved by reading the books written by the spiritual master and following the instructions previously given. It is precisely to allow future generations of mankind the association through vani that the great acharyas of the past wrote voluminous Vedic literatures. By reading these great books, we will be engaging in a worthwhile activity. Unlike newspapers, these great Vedic texts don’t lose their significance over time. The spiritual master is a representative of Krishna, who is the original spiritual master. A bona fide guru only teaches those things which Lord Krishna Himself originally taught to great personalities of the past. Seen in this light, the instructions contained within the great Vedic texts can be considered an incarnation of God. Since God is unchangeable, it would make sense that His instructions would inherit the same characteristic. By reading the great Vedic texts, we are directly associating with God.

We may throw away the newspaper or use it for packing material, but we hold onto the Vedic texts. Books like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam have been studied for thousands of years. The epic Ramayana is even older, and yet people are still deriving pleasure from reading it. This is something we should really think about. In our mind, let’s just try to go back in time to one thousand or two thousand years ago. Now let’s think about how different life was and how people engaged in different occupations and spoke different languages. Now let’s ponder this: even during such primitive times, the Bhagavad-gita and Ramayana were being recited, studied, and enjoyed. How amazing is that? This one fact alone proves how valuable these great books are.

“That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.21)

Goloka Vrindavana In today’s advanced technological age, access to information is not a problem. This means that we can read the great Vedic texts at any time and at any place. There really is no excuse not to take advantage of these great works. Many great acharyas have written wonderful commentaries on these books, passing on their wisdom to future generations. Even though these books were written in the past, they are anything but yesterday’s news. The guru carries news from the spiritual world; news which gives pleasure to the soul. By consulting the guru’s vani, we learn how to take instruction from the Supersoul within. The Supersoul will then guide us back to the spiritual world, where we will get to personally witness the latest news and events pertaining to Lord Krishna, His various incarnations, and His devotees.