Saturday, July 17, 2010

Dangerous Behavior

Mother Yashoda with Krishna “…the ritualistic performances, charity and austerity, which are recommended in the Vedas may temporarily stop one from acting in sinful ways, but as long as the heart is not clear, one will have to repeat sinful activities again and again.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch. 1)

The average lifetime of a human being consists of many days and nights, so major scares are bound to come up every now and then, incidents which bring a person to the verge of death or some other major calamity. If one is lucky enough to survive these scares, they should take every opportunity to prevent them from reoccurring. Some things such as accidents and natural disasters are more or less unavoidable, but other scares come about through choices that are made. By doing a quick study of some of the more common problems people run into, the evidence points to the fact that even the worst scares aren’t enough to prevent people from taking up the same dangerous activities in the future.

Skiing Skiing is one of the more popular sports in the wintertime. Often times a bunch of friends get together, huddle up in a van, and drive up to a mountain. There they set up shop in a lodge, get a lift ticket, and reach the top of the mountain. Skiing is essentially falling down a mountain in a somewhat controlled manner. You’re falling down the mountain, but you try to have control over your body. To make things more interesting, you’re given skis, two long poles attached to your feet, which help you fall down the mountain even faster. Skiing is not easy, and it takes great skill to be able to make it down the mountain safely and in one piece. Most beginners will surely fall several times in their initial attempts, but if you can master the art, skiing becomes a very exhilarating sport, so much so that it is one of the major events of the Winter Olympics.

Good skiers can go down a mountain at the same speed of an automobile on a highway. Falling down a mountain at such a rapid pace is certainly exhilarating, but there is an inherent risk involved. Just one small slip up, one mistake, and you can be part of a serious accident. Since you are travelling so fast, if you lose control, you can start to tumble in such a violent way that you can risk serious injury. Some people die as a result of skiing accidents.

Snowboarding There are other similar sports that one can take up while on a mountain. Snowboarding is very similar to skiing and there is also snowmobiling. Since these activities involve being on a high mountaintop with lots of snow, there are bound to be accidents. Another issue to contend with is the weather. If you’re travelling down a mountain and make a wrong turn, you can get lost very easily. Some people end up stuck on a mountain somewhere with no one around to help them. A successful rescue requires teams patrolling the mountain during the odd hours of the night.

For the people that are stranded, the situation seems pretty dire. You’re out in the cold with no source of food or heat. If you’re stuck somewhere on the mountain, it’s more than likely that you are injured or that your equipment is broken. If that is the case, you are unable to move around and call for help. Another issue to deal with is an avalanche or a snowstorm. This makes it even harder for people to come and rescue you. Luckily, these situations are very rare. Many people are able to survive through them with the help of rescue teams.

Any time one of these emergency situations arises, there is coverage in the national news media about it. Several famous celebrities have been involved in skiing/snowboarding accidents. Many have also been stranded on a mountain and required a rescue. Emergency situations are sure to arise from time to time in any venture, and many skiers and snowboarders do just fine on their own. We have no control over the events of nature, but how do people react to these near-death experiences if they do occur? Do they give up skiing as a result? Do they give up snowboarding? On the contrary, people still take to these dangerous activities knowing full well the risks that are involved.

This is certainly a head-scratcher. This situation is the equivalent of a person getting lost, being rescued, and then immediately taking the same erroneous path again. It’s essentially a repeating cycle of lost and found. Why does this happen? Why do we repeatedly perform activities that we know are bad for us? Skiing is certainly not the only dangerous activity that is out there. We see people getting married, getting divorced, and then immediately remarrying. We see women get pregnant in their teenage years and struggle with raising their child, only to then take to illicit sex life later on.

Harmful behavior can only be eradicated if we have a higher engagement. Simple abstention is not enough since it is the nature of the human spirit to be active. We need to be doing something at all times, even if it involves passive activities such as watching television or sitting on the couch. When we take to activity, we naturally want to do things which stimulate our mind and senses. The problem is that the activities which best stimulate the senses are often those which are the most harmful.

Devotional service So what can be done? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the living entities need a higher engagement, something which transcends all other activities. Not only does this engagement need to occupy our time, but it needs to exceed the sense stimulation provided by our harmful activities. Luckily for us, there is a discipline which fits the bill. Due to our constitutional makeup, we are already inclined towards this activity. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Devotional service is a full-time engagement which involves dovetailing all our activities for the benefit of the Supreme Lord Shri Krishna, or God. This engagement is more than just ordinary religious activity. Religion generally involves various rituals and regulations which are often adhered to without any knowledge of the underlying cause. We often go to church because we have to, not because we want to. We avoid the don’ts and stick to the dos as a matter of duty, not really knowing the who, what, and why. Devotional service is all encompassing, and the justification for the activities it involves is quite clear.

Lord Krishna So what makes up devotional service? We can think of it as the religion of love. Devotional activities are performed simply for the benefit of God, the origin of all matter and spirit. These activities are not performed for a personal benefit, though the performer most certainly reaps the highest rewards. The aim of devotional service also has nothing to do with getting the participants to avoid sinful activity, though they most certainly give up all harmful behavior on their own. Moreover, devotional service doesn’t even require specific activities, for simply having a sincere desire to please God is enough to achieve perfection.

So how does devotional service work? Generally, devotional activities can be grouped into nine categories: hearing, chanting, remembering, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, worshiping, offering prayers, becoming a servant of the Lord, becoming friends with the Lord, and surrendering body, mind, and spirit to the Lord. The two most effective processes for this age are chanting and hearing, both of which can be performed by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This sacred formula is so nice because there is no hidden agenda involved. One does not chant this mantra for peace, good health, or a nice bank balance. Even if one does have hidden agendas, the Lord kindly forgives them. He is not obliged to grant material benedictions; He is just happy to hear us chanting His names. The more sincerely we chant these names, the closer we come to loving God.

Lord Krishna What happens as a result of loving God? For starters, we automatically give up all bad habits. The beauty of devotional service is that it is our natural engagement, something which we are never meant to give up. This is in stark contrast to the mundane activities we currently devote ourselves to. We may take up skiing for a few months, but after a while we’ll jump to something else. We may take to drinking alcohol on the weekends, but soon after we are looking for happiness elsewhere. Devotional service is not like this. One who sincerely takes to the yoga of love will soon be looking for more and more ways to serve the Lord. God is the original friend of the living entities, so those who are able to find Him never want to let Him go.

The Vedas recommend various penances as a way of eradicating sins. Two of the more common penances are charity and austerity. Charity is a form of sacrifice, the voluntary donation of our hard-earned wealth and possessions. Austerity involves renunciation, abstention from the activities that we are most addicted to and that are the most harmful to us. Austerity is the thing which most people focus on in the initial stages of spiritual life. When comparing religious faiths, people will often look right away to the restrictions and the recommended austerity measures. Sincere devotees of Krishna abstain from meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. One look at these four regulative principles is enough to make a person panic.

Lord Krishna But the secret to devotional service is that by taking up a full-time engagement which provides transcendental pleasure, one automatically gives up all bad habits. If you talk to a sincere devotee of Krishna and ask them about the four regulative principles, it is likely they aren’t even consciously aware of them. Devotees soon forget that they are vegetarians and that they don’t gamble. After all, their lives revolve around Krishna, who is the most attractive person in all the three worlds. As the supreme object of pleasure, Krishna causes one to forget their adherence to regulative principles, even if they are already strictly abiding by them.

“For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Pritha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.6-7)

Bhakti-yoga is the highest spiritual discipline because it clears the heart of all dirty things. When we are rescued from life’s calamitous situations, if we don’t clear our hearts and minds, we are likely to go down the wrong road again. Lord Krishna, through His holy name, is the greatest rescuer, for He makes sure that once we find Him, we don’t get lost again.

Friday, July 16, 2010

The Influence of Time

Sita Devi “When the time for the destruction of living entities arrives, people are seen to perform activities that endanger themselves due to the influence of that all-devouring time.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.16)

This is a beautiful cause-and-effect explanation given by Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. The statement itself is a little complicated to comprehend at first, but if we understand the context, we can see that it is indeed a profound explanation of how time works and how the living entities behave at or around the time of death. This statement served as a slick way of reminding the demon Ravana that his days were numbered.

Sita Devi If we analyze the verse, we see that there are two parts to it. The first part says that there is a set time when the living entities are bound to be destroyed. This is the influence of time, which is considered a divine energy created by God. No one can check the power of time no matter how hard they try. It has long been man’s fantasy to travel either back in time or into the future, but there is actually no possible way to do it. The second part of the statement says that when this all-devouring time, or death, arrives, human beings start behaving in ways that cause danger to themselves. Usually, we understand this concept in the reverse order. It is understood that we first take harmful actions, which then lead to death. Here, Sita Devi is saying that it is actually the opposite, meaning that death arrives first. Death then influences the living entities to act in harmful ways so that it appears that they are killing themselves. The harmful activities are merely instruments of death which the living entity has no control over.

Upon first glance, this logic seems a little strange. If a person jumps off a bridge or overdoses on drugs, are they not the cause of their own death? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that we certainly do have a tiny amount of independence in how our senses will react with material nature. However, we have no control over the time of our birth or the time of our death. These are both determined by destiny, or the influence of the divine energy known as time.

If we apply these principles to some common situations, we can gain a better understanding of how time works. Drug and alcohol addicts often act in ways that give the impression that they are trying to kill themselves. Many famous rock stars tried their hardest to kick their drug and alcohol addictions, but they were never able to do so. Eventually, they succumbed to death. In reality though, death had already arrived, and their harmful actions were merely the instruments of death.

The influence of all-devouring time, or death, can be seen in people who are terminally ill. Alzheimer’s patients slowly lose their brain power as time goes by. They become so out of it that they soon fail to recognize their own friends and family. This is all due to time’s influence. Death is usually not a welcomed event, so it is not surprising to see sick people act in strange ways when they are just about to die. Death means that the soul is preparing to exit the body, a body which it has become attached to during its lifetime. Extracting the soul from the body can be a very painful experience, and as we all know, when we are in pain, we lose rationality and our grasp of the proper code of conduct.

Lord Rama Sita Devi directed these words to the Rakshasa demon Ravana, so as to inform him that death was on the horizon. Sita Devi was the wife of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. Lord Rama is one of Krishna’s primary incarnations, the complete list of which is provided in the celebrated Vedic texts such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata, and Puranas. Rama appeared on earth to give Maharaja Dasharatha of Ayodhya a son, to give protection to His devotees, and to kill Ravana. The demon race known as the Rakshasas was steadily ascending to power in the world at the time. Their leader was the ten-headed Ravana who lived with his fellow Rakshasas on the island kingdom of Lanka.

Lord Rama There is a detailed history of the origin of the Rakshasa race given in the Ramayana, but what is most important to know about them is that they are sinful by nature. They may outwardly appear to be religious since they engage in many sacrifices and austerities, but their motives are all nefarious. They adhere to religion as a tit-for-tat system, where they perform certain activities for the express purpose of receiving some material reward. On the surface this isn’t a bad thing since we all possess material desires to some degree. However, these Rakshasas didn’t just want ordinary material boons; they wanted extraordinary powers so they could rule the world. A hostile takeover of the world requires the terrorizing of the innocent, something which Ravana had no problem doing. He and his associates would regularly harass the harmless sages living in the forests of India at the time.

Lord Rama was a great warrior prince. Being God Himself, He could easily defeat anyone in battle simply by using His bow and arrows. His excellent fighting prowess was on full display during one occasion when He defeated 14,000 members of Ravana’s Rakshasa army in the forest of Janasthana. In retaliation, Ravana devised a plan which allowed him to kidnap Sita while Rama was not by her side. Taking her back to Lanka, Ravana thought he could win Sita over by showing her his grand opulence. He even tried to flatter her by saying that she would become his chief queen. Ravana had hundreds of beautiful wives, so by saying that Sita was superior to them in beauty, Ravana was paying her a high compliment.

Sita Devi Sita was having none of this though. Being a pure devotee of God, her mind never once swayed from the lotus feet of her husband and supreme deity of the world, Shri Rama. Sita was also very intelligent, for that is a byproduct of performing devotional service to God. Mundane scholarship has its limits, but possessing knowledge of God enables one to become the smartest person in the world. Sita informed Ravana that his days were numbered. She knew that Rama would come for her and that when He did, Ravana would be easily defeated. In the above referenced statement, Sita is essentially telling Ravana, “Death surely must be coming for you, for why else would you have done something as stupid as kidnapping me? Due to the influence of impending death, people act in ways that cause harm to themselves. This is why you have kidnapped me, for death is coming to you very soon through the arrows released by my husband.”

Sita’s words would hold true as Rama would eventually come to rescue her. Ravana was soundly defeated in battle, dying as a result of the wounds inflicted by Rama. The lesson here is that once death approaches, we have no control over our actions. Therefore it is important that we take the necessary steps to make our lives perfect right now, while we still have our wits about us. And how do we achieve perfection in life? The Vedas tell us that the meaning of life is to think about Krishna, or God, at the time of death. Those who do so will be liberated from the repeated cycle of birth and death.

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

Valmiki thinking of Rama This point may seem contradictory to Sita’s statement. If we have no control over our actions at the time of death, how can we guarantee that we’ll think of Krishna? The answer is that it is our consciousness at the time of death which determines our next body. Consciousness is something that is developed over this lifetime and previous ones as well. It is similar to the concept of a person’s life flashing before their very eyes when they have a near-death experience. All the activities of this life are a preparation for the next.

Knowing this, we should act in such a way that our consciousness is fixed on God at all times. This will increase the likelihood that our consciousness will be pure at the time of death. To achieve this aim, we simply need to regularly chant the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting is one of the exercises that makes up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. All the great devotees of the past, such as Sita Devi, Lakshmana, and Hanuman were expert performers of devotional service. They never feared death, for they knew that their minds were always fixed on God.

Lord Rama with Sita, brothers, and Hanuman Chanting is not the only method of devotional service. We can hear about Krishna, read books about Him, talk about Him with others, worship His deity, etc. There are so many avenues available to us. We don’t know when death will come, but we do know that we have every opportunity to perform devotional service right now. If we achieve perfection in this process, time’s influence over us can be negated.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Madana Mohana Mohini

Shrimati Radharani “The symbol of devotional service in the highest degree is Radharani. Krishna is called Madana-mohana, which means that He is so attractive that He can defeat the attraction of thousands of Cupids. But Radharani is still more attractive, for She can even attract Krishna. Therefore devotees call Her Madana-mohana-mohini-the attractor of the attractor of Cupid.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 1)

When learning about a new spiritual discipline, people often immediately look to the restrictions to gauge whether a particular faith is suitable to them or not. “Okay, so what am I allowed to do and what can’t I do?” For serious followers of the Vedic tradition, those who want to be brahmanas, or the highest class of people, the first requirement is that one should abstain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. These restrictions alone may seem too difficult to abide by, so the inquisitive spiritualist may get turned off from the Vedas immediately. Regardless, every spiritual discipline is aimed at providing some type of personal benefit. In this way religion can be thought of as a self-help system. Of all the different ways of helping the self, there is one that stands head and shoulders above all others. This discipline, known as devotional service, is topmost because not only does it help the soul, but it even attracts God.

Radha Krishna What types of spiritual disciplines are there besides devotional service? We are all familiar with the concept of religion, but that is more of a faith, something we can subscribe to one day and then renounce the next. Spirituality is the more accurate term to describe the discipline involving one’s attempt to reconnect with spirit. Why is spirit important? Spirit is the basis of our identity, the guiding force for all our actions. In the conditioned state, we neglect the interests of the spirit, caring only for the demands of the gross body. One day we’ll be interested in doing well in school, while the next we are focused on landing a good job. Once those issues are taken care of, we shift our attention to areas of sense gratification. “I want to lose weight; I want a better car; I want to marry a beautiful wife, etc.”

These issues are all certainly important, but they deal exclusively with matter. Even the interactions between men and women are considered material affairs because the focus remains on the bodily features of the other person. That is how attraction works after all. Spirituality is something which transcends all of these concerns. Spirituality helps us reconnect not only with our own spirit, but with the source of all spirit: God. The Vedas, which are the oldest scriptures in existence, state that spirituality really means dharma, or one’s occupational duty. This duty applies to every single person, regardless of their age, gender, nationality, or race. This duty is also eternal because it relates to the soul, which itself is eternal.

How do we practice this occupational duty? Moreover, what does this duty entail? Dharma means abiding by a set of rules and regulations aimed at keeping us connected with the soul’s eternal companion, Paramatma, or God. While our individual soul is the driving force of all our actions, the Supersoul [Paramatma] is the driving force of the workings of nature. This Supersoul is an expansion of the original soul of the universe, Lord Krishna, or God. The Supersoul is so wonderful because it resides within the heart of every living entity. We can think of the Paramatma as a sort of neutral witness which is responsible for all activity, and yet still aloof from everything.

Dharma is the set of guidelines which keeps us acting in the interests of God. In this way, it is a much more complete definition for spirituality than is religion. The present problem, however, is that most of us are unaware of the presence of the Supersoul, and even of our own soul. So how do we rekindle this awareness? This is where yoga comes in. Yoga can be translated to mean plus or addition; it is the practice which aims to reconnect the soul with the Supersoul. Yoga is really the term to use when describing activity which has spirituality as its focus.

Hanuman practicing bhakti yoga How do we practice yoga? There are generally four kinds of yogas. One type involves the performance of work, or fruitive activity. Known as karma-yoga, this discipline involves performing specific activities and then giving the results over to God. Another type is jnana-yoga, which is the linking of the soul with the Supersoul through the acquisition of knowledge – reading books, understanding the difference between matter and spirit, and realizing that every living entity is equal. A third kind of yoga is known either as dhyana or hatha. This yoga is what most of us are familiar with – awkward sitting postures, intense breathing exercises, and deep meditation. For this yoga to be practiced correctly, one must focus the mind on Lord Vishnu, the four-armed expansion of Lord Krishna. Vishnu is the all-pervading aspect of God, as evidenced by His residence in the heart of every living entity.

When a person takes up any of these three yoga systems and performs the related exercises properly, they can most certainly realize the presence of God, either in His feature as impersonal Brahman or the Supersoul. Another thing these yogas have in common is that they help the individual in some way. This should make sense because why would someone take up yoga if it didn’t provide some personal benefit? After all, self-interest is the driving force behind all of our activities. Yet there is a fourth type of yoga which not only helps the practitioner, but even goes one step further by attracting God. This wonderful system, known as bhakti-yoga [devotional service], gives pleasure to the soul and also to the source of the soul: Lord Krishna.

Radha Krishna How does this work exactly? What does bhakti involve? To find the answers to these questions, we need only look to the greatest bhakti-yogini, Shrimati Radharani. Who is Radharani? The Vedas, being the original scriptures, tell us that God is God for everyone. This means that one’s religious beliefs are not important. Whether one believes in God or not, or whether they call Him by a specific name is not really important. God is always God, and His love is available for every single person. Since the term “God” is a little vague, the Vedas kindly expand on the term. They tell us that God has an original form, from which all other forms of the divine emanate. This original form is known as Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This description is a little more accurate than the term “God”. Krishna is supreme because there is no one else above Him. He is a personality in that He is purusha, or spirit. He has thoughts, activities, likes, and dislikes. He is not a mortal person like us, but He is nevertheless a separate entity with His own intelligence guiding His activities. He is the source of Godhead, which means that God can take many forms. This doesn’t mean there are many Gods, but rather many different forms of the original Lord. These forms exist for the purposes of carrying out specific activities and also to attract different kinds of devotees. Some people are attracted by God’s opulence, so they choose to worship Him in a reverential manner. To allow such people to serve Him, the Lord expands Himself into Lord Vishnu, who has four arms, immense beauty and opulence, and lives with the goddess of fortune, Lakshmi Devi.

Lord Vishnu As most of us find out through experience, the strongest emotions in life come from romantic love. These emotions are natural, for no one has to teach a man and a woman to be attracted to one another. This type of emotion can also be directed at God. Since it is the highest emotion in the material world, it also represents the topmost emotional exchange in relation to spiritual life. Those who view God in a romantic way, an entity which provides the most pleasure to the soul, can worship the Lord in His original form as Krishna.

The word “Krishna” means all-attractive. Lord Krishna is so kind that He comes to earth in every millennium to annihilate miscreants and enact pastimes for the pleasure of His devotees. When Krishna comes to earth, He brings His spiritual home to this world, along with all His associates. The area of land known as Vrindavana is where Krishna enacted His childhood pastimes when He appeared on earth some five thousand years ago. This same place, Vrindavana, exists in the spiritual world, and it is where Krishna lives eternally. He never leaves Vrindavana. Even if He has to go somewhere else, He always keeps His original form in Vrindavana.

Lord Krishna in Vrindavana Great sages documented the activities which Krishna performed in Vrindavana five thousand years ago. From these descriptions, we get an idea of what the Lord looks like. He is described as Shyamasundara, meaning a beautiful person with the complexion of a dark rain cloud. He is eternally youthful, so His beauty never diminishes. The great sages tried their best to describe God’s greatness, so as a result, the Vedic texts are quite voluminous. A great way to accurately describe something is to use comparison. In this regard, the sages used Cupid as a way to describe Krishna’s attractiveness. Most of us are familiar with the concept of Cupid, a god of love who is attractive in his own right and can also induce others to become attracted to other people. In the Vedic tradition, Cupid is known as the demigod Madana, or Kamadeva. Kama is sense gratification and deva means a demigod. A demigod has extraordinary powers and is godlike, but is still not equally as potent as God. Madana is the authority on love, sex, and general sense gratification. Lord Krishna is so attractive that His attraction exceeds that of Madana, hence one of His names is Madana-mohana. Mohana means an enchanter, thus Krishna is an enchanter of Madana.

Radha Krishna These descriptions give us an idea of Krishna’s greatness and His attractiveness. Shrimati Radharani is Krishna’s eternal consort, the eternal pleasure potency of the Lord. More than just a wife or girlfriend, Radha gives Krishna the greatest pleasure. She is a pure devotee, meaning she only practices devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. What’s even more amazing is that she has no idea what bhakti-yoga is, or at least she pays it no attention. Her devotion is pure and spontaneous, so she has no desire for liberation or the practice of any religion. She is always thinking about Krishna and how to make Him happy. The reason she is the perfect devotee is that not only does she always think about Krishna, but Krishna always thinks about her. As attractive as Krishna is, Radharani is so beautiful that she even attracts Krishna. Hence she is also known by the name of Madana-mohana-mohini.

Why is this important? While we are jumping from different kinds of yoga and even different religious faiths, the key to perfection lies right in front of us in the form of Radha-Krishna. They are considered one entity, and are worshiped together in temples around the world. Radha-Krishna is the meeting of the energetic, Krishna, and the energy, Radha. We need only look to their example to see how to achieve perfection in life. Krishna is so nice that He can accept unlimited numbers of devotees and enjoy with them in any manner they choose. Radha is also extremely kind in that she is more than happy to recommend devotees to Krishna. This is yet another reason for her attractiveness; she is the most unselfish person in the world.

Radha Krishna worship The best reason to take up devotional service is that it will attract Krishna. Who could imagine such a thing? You’re practicing religion and you’re attracting the mind of the Supreme Lord at the same time! The key ingredient in devotional service is love. The sentiment must be genuine. As long as the desire is to please the Supreme Lord, He will make sure that success will be achieved. Any person can practice bhakti-yoga by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This sacred formula is the greatest prayer because it is a kind petition to Radha-Krishna to allow us to engage in their service for eternity. This chanting is the topmost occupation for the soul, the purification of all religious practice.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Lord Rama “By means of a shower of arrows released in battle, He [Rama] will take away your prowess, pride, strength, and impudence from every inch of your body.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.15)

Life is full of many experiences and events which take their toll on our bodies. The aging process wears down the different parts of our body, making our skin look wrinkled and old. The mind also takes a beating from having to repeatedly go through the daily grind. So it is not surprising that many of us look for ways to cleanse our bodies, both internally and externally. There are many popular methods aimed at removing impurities from the body, but none of these target the inner self, the soul. The best way to cleanse the heart, the area where the soul resides, is to constantly associate with God. Though the actual nature of this association can vary, one is still guaranteed to be detoxified of all impurities through the establishment of a relationship with the Supreme Lord.

Lord Rama hugging Hanuman The spa is a nice retreat for those needing some relaxation time, some time to unwind and recharge the batteries. Spas are health resorts usually located near the seaside. Attendees are treated to various cleansing procedures such as mud masks, massages, skin treatments, and exercise routines like yoga and tai chi. These treatments are nice because a person can just relax and let trained professionals take care of their every need. This is in stark contrast to the way we normally operate, where we are required to be responsible in meeting the demands of our employers, family, and friends.

During the course of a day, our bodies accumulate various impurities through the activities we engage in and the places we go. This is why we are required to take a shower every morning, for the body accumulates dust, sweat, and other impurities over a twenty-four hour period. To combat the attack of these impurities, products such as facial cleansers, shampoos, and fancy soaps are used, thus ensuring an always clean body. The body is not the only thing that accumulates impurities, for the mind also attracts all sorts of bad things from the events that are witnessed and the people that are encountered. For mental health, one may try to relax, watch television, talk to close friends, etc. If we are really down in the dumps, we may visit a trained professional such as a psychiatrist or a psychologist.

Spa treatment While these methods are certainly capable of removing impurities, they fail to tackle the primary issue, the root cause of our uncleanliness. Our bodies, including our minds, are products of material nature which is referred to as prakriti in Sanskrit. Prakriti can mean matter, or it can refer to something being female or feminine. This points to the fact that matter is subordinate and not in control of anything. It is dominated; it is controlled by spirit, also known as purusha. We are all purusha in a sense because we are all spirit souls at the core. The soul is the driving force behind our activities, the basis of our identity. The gross material body is incapable of performing activity in the absence of the soul. We know this from studying the event of death. When a person dies, the soul exits the body. As soon as the soul leaves, the body becomes useless and starts to decay. Using deductive reasoning, we can conclude that it is the soul, or purusha, that is important and not the body, or prakriti.

“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 aforementioned detoxification methods all aim to cleanse gross matter in the form of our outward bodies, and subtle matter in the form of our minds. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the soul is eternal, while the body is not. This means that our current life is not the first one we’ve had. Rather, our soul transmigrates from one body to another through a series of lifetimes. Through the course of events that occur in each lifetime, the soul accumulates dust, which then carries over to the next life.

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

The soul itself is always pure, but due to its subordinate nature, it has the propensity to become attached to gross matter in the form of a body. When we take birth, our past activities and consciousness come with us, thus forming a material body with a specific nature. The individual spirit soul, or jivatma, is purusha in a small sense, but it is still inferior to the maha-purusha. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the maha-purusha, or great predominator or person. Unlike us, God can never associate with material nature, or prakriti. On a higher level of understanding, we living entities are prakriti since we are meant for the Lord’s enjoyment. He is the male, or predominator, and we are female, or the predominated. This is not meant to be taken in a negative light. It means that we spirit souls are happiest when we are in loving association with God.

Radha Krishna Through the course of our many lives, dust accumulates around the heart due to all the sinful activities we commit. There are different definitions for what actually constitutes a sin, but at the basic level, any activity which causes us to remain bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death can be classified as sin. God is extremely fair, and He lets us live wherever we want. If we want to stay in this temporary material world, He more than happily obliges. The great sages have declared that desiring to remain in the material world constitutes a sin because we are actually meant for God’s enjoyment. We can think of it in terms of a marriage. In a good marriage, both husband and wife are completely devoted to each other; they have no desire to intimately associate with anyone else. Our relationship with God can be thought of in the same light. We are meant to be loving servants of the Supreme Lord, but by living in the material world, our attention, along with our devotion, goes elsewhere. This certainly isn’t a nice thing, for we have no reason to neglect God. Since material desires represent willful neglect, they are considered sinful.

“Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krishna, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.12)

Lord Chaitanya How do we cleanse ourselves of the effects of our sinful activities? The only way is to constantly associate with God through the process known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Yoga means linking the soul with the Supreme Soul, or God. Bhakti means love or devotion. If we combine the two terms, we see that the only way to achieve perfection in life is to try to link with God in a loving way. How can we associate with God if we can’t see Him? Due to Krishna’s causeless mercy, the Lord can be realized in many ways. In this age especially, Krishna incarnates in the form of His holy name, which can be invoked by regularly chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Devotional service also has other processes such as hearing, remembering, and offering prayers. There are so many avenues available to the conditioned soul as it relates to cleansing the heart.

The great thing about associating with God is that He is the supreme pure. This means that He will automatically cleanse whoever He associates with, regardless of the nature of the interaction. A prime example of this was seen in the interaction between Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna, and Ravana, a Rakshasa demon. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Krishna appeared on earth in the guise of a handsome, kind, and compassionate warrior prince named Rama. Lord Rama was the greatest fighter, but He was still loved and adored by all. This is the beauty of God’s nature. Whether He is pleasing the devotees or punishing miscreants, He is always full of splendor and beauty.

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

Lord Rama When the Supreme Divine Being descends to the material world, He remains completely spiritual. Unlike with the living entities, there is no difference between God’s body and His soul. When the Lord comes to earth to fight the demons, He brings devotees from the spiritual world to be His sparring partners. In this regard, Ravana can be considered a great devotee in spirit, who was playing the role of an enemy. One may ask why God would need to fight with anyone. The answer is that Krishna possesses all qualities and propensities. Just as we have a propensity to wrestle and fight with others from time to time, God too has the same tendency. His fighting is a little different in that all His activities are spiritual. When He fights with demons, it is not only to please His desires, but also to teach everyone a valuable lesson.

Ravana’s trademark characteristic was that he was a devout atheist. He certainly believed in the existence of demigods, or elevated celestial beings, but he thought that by gaining their favor, he could eventually vanquish them. Why would someone want to usurp the power of suras, or saintly people? Ravana wanted to be worshiped as God, and for that to happen, he had to become the most powerful man in the world. He thought he was well on his way towards invincibility by having a great kingdom, tremendous fighting powers, great wealth, and hundreds of beautiful wives. The demigods knew Ravana’s Achilles’ heel however. As with any devout materialist, sex desire is always strong. Many a great man has fallen down due to insatiable lusty desires, and Ravana was no different. Though he had hundreds of beautiful princesses for wives, he had his heart set on the one woman he couldn’t have: Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama.

Sita Devi Along with His younger brother Lakshmana, Rama and Sita roamed the forests of India for fourteen years as part of their pastimes. Ravana heard of Sita’s presence in the forest and became insistent on having her for his wife. All of Ravana’s associates warned him not to raise Rama’s ire and not to take Him on directly in battle. Partially heeding their advice, Ravana decided to steal Sita away by setting up a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana would not be around to fight him. Successfully kidnapping Sita and taking her back to his kingdom, Ravana tried his hardest to win her love, but he was unsuccessful.

In the above referenced statement, Sita Devi is chastising Ravana for his sinful act of stealing another man’s wife. She is also warning him of what will happen when Rama will come to rescue her. Being a pure devotee, Sita was very smart, so she knew how to pick just the right words to irritate Ravana. She knew that Ravana was very proud of his strength and prowess, so she made sure to mention that Rama would take those attributes away by shooting His arrows. It appears that Sita is warning Ravana of bad things to come, but in reality, she is blessing the demon. She is telling him that Rama will come to cleanse him of all his sins. “O Ravana, all of your bad traits will be eliminated once you meet my husband face to face. Since Rama is God Himself, everything associated with Him is purifying, including His arrows. Once those arrows enter your body, you will be absolved of all your sins and become liberated.”

Rama DarbarThis is precisely what happened. As a reward for their participation in battles with Him, God grants the demons the liberation of merging into His body. This reinforces the fact that anyone who thinks of God at the time of death certainly never has to take birth again in the material world. They ultimately achieve moksha, or liberation. The demons such as Ravana are special cases, so it is not advised that we take to sinful life in the same way. We don’t need to fight with God to get His mercy. In fact, those who serve Krishna in a loving way are awarded an even greater type of liberation, that of being allowed to continue their service eternally in the spiritual world. This is a much easier and less complicated way of cleansing our sins. We simply need to perform devotional service at all times, and we will never have to worry about the impurities of material life contaminating us.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hope and Change

Lord Krishna “A conditioned soul cannot deliver another conditioned soul. Only Krishna or His bona fide representative can deliver him.” (King Prithu, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 9)

Most of us are familiar with the term “the blind leading the blind.” This refers to a person who has no vision directing others on where to go. The people that are lost are considered blind in the sense that they cannot see the light, the true path in life. When they ask for help, directions to the supreme destination, they are led astray by someone who is also blind. In order to find the proper path, we must seek out someone who has eyes, a vision which allows them to see things as they are. The Vedas tell us that only God possesses this vision and that He is kind enough to grant these spiritual eyes to His faithful adherents, the bona fide spiritual masters.

Political campaigns always make for an interesting study. Especially in races involving an incumbent, the political fodder gives us insight into how the human mind works. For example, say we have an important election where a challenger is running against an incumbent, an officeholder who has an established record. It is one thing to run for office as a newbie, someone who has no experience. These campaigns are easier to run because you can just make lofty promises. “I will do this; I will do that; I am for hope and change; I will do things smarter and I will do them better.” The incumbents have a little tougher time in coming up with a campaign strategy. This is because they have an established record that opponents can pick apart.

Presidential debate For the challenger, the aim is to portray as negative a picture as possible about the incumbent and the current circumstances. Most challengers run simply off of cause and effect. “Look at how things were four years ago and look at how they are now. Are you happier? Are you better off? If not, then who is to blame? Obviously, the incumbent has led to this dire predicament.” One of the more commonly invoked metaphors is that of a person driving a car into a ditch. The challenger will say that the incumbent drove the country, city, or state into a ditch. They will then follow up with this rhetorical question: “Now that we are in the ditch, how are we going to get out? Are we going to ask the person who got us into this mess to help us out, or are we going to try a new approach?”

In addition to being clever political word jugglery, this is an apt characterization for how many of us handle our problems. When we are unhappy or need guidance in a particular situation, do we seek out those who have been successful, or do we seek out those who are themselves flawed? Judging by the experts that are highlighted on television, we can see that most of the guidance we receive comes from flawed individuals. They have experts for just about every field nowadays. There is an expert on foreign policy, an expert on economics, and an expert on diet and nutrition. Have these people ever run a business, dealt with foreign leaders, or followed a diet plan themselves? Most of them have not. They get branded with the title of “expert” based on their academic scholarship. They either have lofty degrees or they belong to special interest groups. In this way, we see that they themselves don’t have any practical knowledge of the subjects they claim to be experts on.

There is the famous adage which states that “those who can’t do, teach.” There is certainly some credence to this, but it doesn’t mean that the successful teachers don’t know how to do. For example, a good tennis instructor knows how to hit the ball properly and how to prepare for shots. Though they may not have the athletic ability of a professional tennis player, they are still capable of acting out on their instructions. If we want to be successful in any venture, we have to seek out those who have previously achieved success. There is no point to getting help from failures, for no one needs to be taught how to fail. When you walk into a bookstore or library, you won’t find a section which has books on how to fail. On the contrary, the shelves are filled with self-help books which teach people how to be successful in all areas of life.

Lord Krishna To be successful in spiritual life, we must seek out the help of those who are liberated. A conditioned soul cannot rescue another conditioned soul. What do we mean by conditioned? The Vedas tell us that spirituality is more important than material life. Spirituality involves connecting with the spirit soul inside of us, the basis of our identity. When you mix spirit with matter, you get conditioned life. A conditioned soul is someone who does not have any freedom, someone who is forced to reside within a body. By default, this description applies to all of us. Though we have vague memories of our childhood, we never had a choice as to where and when we took birth. Since we had no choice in the matter of birth or death, we must be conditioned. If we do have control over whether birth or death takes place, then we can be considered liberated.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)

How can any person control birth or death? Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, kindly informs us that as individual souls, we transmigrate from one material body to another. In this sense, we are conditioned, bound to the wheel of material existence, samsara-chakra. The liberated soul, however, no longer has to suffer through birth, death, old age, or disease. A soul which achieves liberation while residing in this world is known as jivan-mukta, someone who transcends the effects of matter while remaining in their body. At the time of death, the liberated souls are taken directly to Krishna’s spiritual realm, whence from they never have to return. In this way, they put a stop to reincarnation.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati - a liberated soul So how does one become liberated? The key is to approach someone who is already liberated and learn the art from them. When we approach a conditioned person, as well-meaning as they may be, they will give us prescriptions that aim to further our material condition. They are conditioned souls after all, so what else would they have to offer us? But the liberated souls have nothing to do with matter. They are pure servants of the Supreme Lord; hence they dovetail all of their activities with Him. Doing a quick compare and contrast can help us better understand the difference between a conditioned soul and a liberated one. A conditioned person always jumps between accepting and rejecting. This thinking is represented in terms of “I like” and “I don’t like”. For example, I may join a gym one day and decide that I will dedicate myself to exercising. In this way, I like the gym. After a while though, exercise loses its thrill. Driving to the gym everyday and doing the same exercises gets to be boring, so I decide to quit the gym and never return. My like turns into a dislike.

This liking and disliking goes on all the time. The Vedas refer to this as bhoga/tyaga, enjoying and rejecting. The reason for this fluctuation is that the things we are enjoying are related to matter. Matter is mutable, so it constantly changes. Since it is inferior in nature, the enjoyment derived from it is also subpar. The liberated souls transcend bhoga/tyaga because they aim to satisfy the master of the senses, Hrishikesha. We may have our own senses that we aim to satisfy, but God owns all of the senses. True happiness can only come through service to Him.

Lord Chaitanya chanting Hare Krishna What are the prescriptions given by the liberated souls? In this age, the primary recommendation is that we should constantly engage in Krishna’s service. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, and its primary component is the regular chanting of God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We shouldn’t mistakenly take bhakti-yoga to be a passing fad or a part-time activity. The liberated souls are free from conditioned life because they spend all their time working for Krishna. Obviously this is a very high level of devotion which can’t be achieved overnight, but the desire to reach this end must be there. The reason that chanting is the foremost spiritual practice is that it can be performed anywhere and at any time of the day. Moreover, there is no time limit to this chanting. We can take up the various gymnastics exercises that are part of hatha-yoga, but after half an hour we’ll get tired and move on to something else.

Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is meant to take up all of our time. The key is to always be conscious of God, no matter what we are doing. This is the difference between bhoga/tyaga and bhakti. Bhakti also brings about enjoyment and involves things that we like to do, but the difference is in the area of consciousness. With bhoga, we think of ourselves as the lord and master, and the same with tyaga. Many people take great pride in their renunciation capabilities. “I can go without eating anything for days; I only sleep four hours a day; I don’t eat meat”, etc. These things are certainly very nice, but our renunciation must have a purpose, otherwise the false ego kicks in and we start taking ourselves to be the masters of everything.

Shrila Prabhupada Bhakti-yoga involves service. We can’t see God in our conditioned state, so we are advised to consult with those who can. Our first business is to serve the eternally liberated soul, the spiritual master. How do we tell who is a bona fide spiritual master? Aside from being liberated, the spiritual master is a pure devotee of Krishna. What does it mean to be a pure devotee? This is actually quite easy to figure out. To gauge whether or not someone is a devotee, simply ask yourself what their aim in life is. What is the driving force behind that person’s activities? If the answer to these questions is love for Krishna, then you know the person is a devotee. A spiritual master may rub us the wrong way from time to time, saying things that offend us, but if their intention is to make Krishna happy, then we must take them to be liberated.

The liberated souls are so kind that they don’t want to hog the glory for themselves. Their business is to make other people liberated as well. In this way, they are the greatest freedom fighters, helping the distraught living entities out of the ditch. A spiritual master that all of us can approach is His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He lives forever through His countless books and recorded lectures. We should all make good use of these resources and fix ourselves up to the highest position.

Monday, July 12, 2010


Rama and Lakshmana in the forest “Certainly my husband, the highly effulgent Lord [Rama], joined with my brother-in-law [Lakshmana], is fearlessly residing in the empty forest of Dandaka by taking shelter of His own prowess.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.14)

For the human being, life is full of fears. Defending, or fearing, is one of the four activities of animalistic life, and we human beings inherit these tendencies of animals at the time of birth. It is through culture and good education that we become civilized, but that element of fear always remains with us. As adults, we often try different ways to test our strength and survival skills. Being able to dwell in a vacant forest without any fears is a true sign of manhood and self-sufficiency. These abilities, which aren’t found in most people, were exhibited by Lord Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, many thousands of years ago in the forest of Dandaka.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana residing in the forest Dwelling in the forest is difficult because most of us are dependent on our fellow human being for our livelihood. In today’s world, most everyone works for somebody; they are employees of a larger corporation. No matter how skilled we are at our occupation, our income is dependent on the fate of the companies that we work for and the customers who patronize them. In this regard, we aren’t very independent. Since most of us don’t grow our own food, we rely on the supermarket shelves to supply us with the food that we need to survive. The supermarkets themselves rely on an intricate chain of food producers, suppliers, and delivery men.

“As a ripe fruit has no other fear than to fall, so a man who is born has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)

Lord Rama Aside from relying on others for our livelihood, we inherently understand that the world we live in is a dangerous place. To make matters worse, death is sure to come some day. There is a famous saying from Lord Rama which states that just as a ripe fruit has no other fear than that of falling to the ground, the mature human being has no other fear than that of dying. We have an innate fear that death can happen at any moment, especially at the hands of other living entities. For our protection, we rely on the brave volunteers of society who take up arms in defense of the innocent. The military and police force in America voluntarily put their lives on the line to defend their fellow man. If not for these brave fighters, civilians would be left to fend for themselves.

In this regard, we see that man’s dependencies are vast and far-reaching. If it weren’t for other living entities, most of us would not be able to survive. Being completely self-sufficient is actually an art form. It is a quality that few people possess. For those who desire such a trait, forest life represents the playing field where one can practice their survival skills. The modern day Boy Scouts organization strives to teach self-sufficiency and survival skills to its members. Young boys are taught how to pitch tents, start fires, and administer basic first aid, all by themselves, without the help of any modern technology.

Tom Hanks in Cast Away This idea of pure survival is also depicted in famous movies and television shows. The hit film, Cast Away, starring Tom Hanks, dealt with the theme of survival. The main character in the movie, a parcel delivery man, gets stranded on a deserted island and is forced to provide food, clothing, and shelter for himself. The television sitcom, The Office, also had an episode where the main character in the show, Michael Scott, asks to be left alone in the wilderness without having any knowledge of his whereabouts. In the episode, Michael wants to prove his manhood by being able to successfully survive in the woods and eventually find his way back home after being dropped off in a remote area. The Office is a comedy after all, so obviously Michael is not able to successfully survive by himself. He doesn’t last very long in the wilderness either, for he has no idea how to even start a fire or how to find his food.

Most of us would be terrified if left alone in the forest. There are no restaurants, no hotels, no televisions, and no soda machines. We wouldn’t know what to do. More than anything, we would be pretty scared. To make matters worse, the forest is full of wild animals that would have no problem attacking human beings. Essentially, we would have to sleep with one eye open to make sure that no predators went on the attack in the middle of the night.

Rama and His brothers learning the military arts In the above referenced statement, Sita Devi is referencing the fact that her husband, Rama, and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were both residing in the vacant forest of Dandaka and living fearlessly. Her statements were made to the Rakshasa demon Ravana, who had just kidnapped her and brought her back to his island kingdom of Lanka. In the Treta Yuga, many thousands of years ago, a handsome and pious prince appeared in the Raghu dynasty, a famous line of kings whose ancestry traced back to the first king on earth, Maharaja Ikshvaku. This pious prince was named Rama and He was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the four-armed plenary expansion of Lord Krishna, or God, who resides in the spiritual world.

Rama had three younger brothers, with Lakshmana being the one closest to Him in friendship. Since the boys took birth in a royal family, they were trained in the military arts. During those times, the governments were run by royal monarchies made up of valiant warriors. This class of men was known as kshatriyas, and they were chivalrous, brave, and expert at providing defense to the innocent. Sita Devi, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, married Lord Rama in a grand ceremony in the kingdom of Mithila. The couple was enjoying blissful married life when suddenly Rama was banished from His kingdom of Ayodhya by His father.

Sita Devi Roaming the forests for fourteen years along with Lakshmana, Sita was one day kidnapped by Ravana while Rama and Lakshmana were away from the group’s cottage. Taking her back to Lanka, Ravana tried his best to win her over, but Sita was having none of it. She was completely devoted to Rama in thought, word, and deed. Ravana’s lusty desires were very strong, but he was not able to satisfy them with Sita. She sternly rebuked him and reminded him that she had a husband who was living fearlessly in an empty forest along with His brother.

This is an important point because Sita is trying to contrast the qualities of Rama with those of Ravana. The demon lived in a very opulent kingdom, where he was served by thousands of Rakshasa warriors and hundreds of wives. Ravana himself had great fighting prowess, but he didn’t use any of these skills in kidnapping Sita. Rather than fight Rama directly, Ravana set up a diversion whereby Rama and Lakshmana were lured away from their cottage by a deer, thus leaving Sita all alone. Sita mentions the fact that Rama and Lakshmana are fearless and all by themselves, whereas Ravana, though possessing a grand army, was himself too afraid to fight Rama.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving Ayodhya One may wonder why Rama and Lakshmana, being completely fearless, chose to live in the forest. Rama was God Himself, and one of the Lord’s attributes is that of renunciation. No one can be more renounced than God. This fact should make sense to us because God is the original creator of everything. Renunciation is only difficult for those who have attachments to things. Attachments are formed out of insecurities and fear. God knows that He is the greatest, so He has no need to fear anything, thus He also has no attachments. The Vedas describe God as being atmarama, meaning He is satisfied with Himself. He is comfortable in His own skin, as the saying goes. Rama accepted the punishment of exile so that His father’s reputation could remain intact. Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya, had promised one of his wives any two boons of her choosing. She asked for Rama’s exile and the king was forced to oblige, otherwise he would be made to be a liar. Rama accepted the punishment to keep Dasharatha dedicated to the truth.

Rama and Lakshmana had no problem surviving in the wilderness. In fact, many of the great sages who had set up hermitages in the forest petitioned the two brothers to protect them. Rama and Lakshmana did just that by defeating thousands of attacking Rakshasas. Simply by using their bows and arrows, the two brothers could allay the fears of anyone residing in the vacant forests. Sita’s statement is foreboding evil upon Ravana. Eventually, both Rama and Lakshmana would march to Lanka and kill almost all of Ravana’s Rakshasa associates, including Ravana himself. Sita would be rescued by her heroic husband and His equally brave younger brother.

Sita Rama The lesson here is that we should never think that we are more renounced than God. Lord Rama is a true hero who doesn’t speak much. He lets his actions do the talking. For us mere mortals, we simply have to let the great fearless one, God Himself, protect us. Being her husband, Rama was Sita’s most effulgent Lord, but as spirit souls, part and parcel of God, Rama is our Lord too. He can deliver us from danger in the same way that He saved Sita. Whether we are living in a vacant forest or a crammed city, we simply have to think about the Lord, and He will kindly deliver us from all evils. In this age, the same Lord Vishnu incarnates in the form of His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. If we hang on to this sacred mantra and take it to be our only means of survival, we can transcend any and all fears.

Sunday, July 11, 2010


Hanuman remembering Sita and Rama “The principle of remembering the Supreme Personality of Godhead constantly and not forgetting Him at any moment is meant to be followed by everyone without fail. If this injunction is followed, then all other rules and regulations will automatically fall into line. All other rules and regulations should be treated as assistants or servants to this one basic principle.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch. 2)

One of the most famous devotees of God, Prahlada Maharaja, once expounded on the nature of devotional service and what activity actually makes up this most sublime of engagements. Questioned by his demoniac father as to what the boy had learned in school, Prahlada replied that the most important thing he learned was that life is about devotional service to God, or bhakti-yoga, and that this service entailed nine distinct processes: hearing, chanting, remembering Lord Vishnu [God], serving His lotus feet, worshiping, offering prayers, becoming God’s servant, becoming friends with the Lord, and surrendering completely unto the Lord. Performing any of these nine processes is enough to secure perfection in life, but remembering is especially important because one can remember the Lord at any and all times. Remembering is not dependent on any other process, and moreover, it forms the backbone of one’s devotional practice.

Prahlada Maharaja Why is remembering Krishna, or God, important? The mind is always working. No matter the time or the day, whether we are asleep or awake, the mind is always thinking. And what is it thinking about? Aside from making future plans, the mind is always contemplating matters of the past. In order to dwell on the past, we must remember. Hence it is safe to assume that much of our time is spent in remembrance. Since we spend so much time remembering, naturally our consciousness is affected. According to Vedic doctrine, our consciousness at the time of death determines our fate in the afterlife.

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

This isn’t some dogma that the Hindus have conjured up. It is a scientific fact that can be easily understood. For example, our consciousness already drives our activities, thus determining our future fortunes and misfortunes. An angry person is always thinking about their hatred for others and their frustration in life. Naturally this anger affects their consciousness to the point where they are driven to perform activities in ignorance. By the same token, a pious person is always thinking about good things to do: charity, teaching, the performance of religious activities, etc. Hence their consciousness is adjusted to the point where they are driven to performing such noble acts. Their minds won’t let them do anything else.

Prabhupada dictating Just as our activities are driven by our consciousness, our consciousness is also developed by our activities. Death represents the cessation of material activity. This distinction is made because death only refers to the outer covering of the soul, the body. The body takes birth and dies, but the soul does not. So how does the soul end up in a material body? This is where consciousness comes into play. At the time of death, our consciousness, which is developed over the course of our lifetime, is measured. It is similar to the idea of a person’s life flashing before their very eyes. The human brain is quite amazing; it can process hundreds of thoughts within the blink of an eye. Our brains are moving so fast that the rest of the body can’t keep up. It is for this reason that many people have trouble writing their thoughts down on paper. By the time they get to actually writing with their pen or typing on their computers, the thoughts have left them. The brain has moved on to another set of ideas. This is why many famous writers actually dictated their ideas into a tape recorder, the transcripts of which later were turned into books. This was the case with the famous radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh, who dictated both of his two best-selling books. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada also dictated many of his translations and writings. Several of his books are composed entirely of his lectures and conversations.

Lord Krishna sleeping Since the brain works so fast, it covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time. When we fall asleep at night, our mind starts off thinking about one topic, but then quickly jumps from one area to another. The jumping becomes faster and faster to the point where we finally fall asleep since we are unable to keep up. This thinking then continues while we are asleep, i.e. the dreaming process. The mind will continue to work, regardless of any effort on our part. What we can control, however, is the scope of what the mind can contemplate. Simply put, the mind can only contemplate on things that it has experienced. We can only remember events that we have lived through. Keeping these facts in mind, Prahlada Maharaja recommends smaranam, or remembering, as one of the primary methods of spiritual worship.

When we think of religion, or spiritual life, there is usually a negative stigma associated with it. Why is this? Well, we inherently know that religion is something that is to be taken seriously, something which requires discipline and self-control to perfect. Our natural propensity in life is to act in just the opposite way. We are free spirits, so for this definition to be valid, we must act in an uninhibited way. We can’t be shackled up all the time and still claim to be free. The Vedas tell us that this world is governed by an illusory force known as maya. It is due to maya’s influence that we mistakenly take our current material activities to be conducted in freedom. It is also due to the effects of maya that we take spiritual life to be restrictive and something which cramps our style.

Those who are neophytes in the area of theology, or those who don’t really practice any religion, generally view spiritual life as something made up of many dos and don’ts. “Don’t eat meat; don’t take the Lord’s name in vain; go to church every week; don’t have sex until you’re married, etc.” While these regulations are certainly important, they are subordinate to the primary “do” of remembering. This was the point stressed by Prahlada Maharaja. Appearing in a family of demons many millions of years ago, Prahlada was a saintly person from the time of his birth. At only five years of age, he was a mahajana, an authority on Vaishnavism, or devotion to Lord Vishnu. There is only one God and He is for everyone. The Vedas tell us that He has various forms, with Lord Vishnu being one of them. Lord Vishnu is an expansion of Lord Krishna, the original form of God.

Prahlada At five years of age, Prahlada regularly attended a school taught by his spiritual master. As the son of a king, Prahlada was expected to learn about diplomacy, the art of warfare, and how to perform just enough religious rituals to secure material wealth and prosperity. Prahlada had no interest in these things. When asked by his father what he had learned, Prahlada did not reply with a list of don’ts. He didn’t say, “Father, I learned that one has to abstain from sinful life. I learned that life is all about limiting enjoyment and remaining quiet and silent.” Instead, Prahlada focused only on positive activity. He said that the most important thing in life was to be actively engaged in the Lord’s service.

It must be said that the rules and regulations of religion are certainly important. They exist for a reason. However, simply following these rules is not enough to achieve perfection in life. And what is that perfection? As the soul is eternal, it must also have an abode which it is meant to reside in. We can understand that life on earth cannot be that permanent home based on the fact that this world itself is always changing. We may have grown up in one home in our youth, but as soon as we get older and get married, we buy our own house. Sometimes we are also switching from one job to another, one apartment to another.

Our body can also be thought of as an apartment. The soul resides in one type of dwelling in this life, but at the time of death, it immediately gets transferred to another apartment. As long as the apartment we receive is composed of material elements, the transmigration of the soul will continue. It is not until we get a spiritual apartment, an eternal body composed of bliss and knowledge, that our transmigration ends. So the point of human life, the current life that we are living, is to take the necessary steps to ensure that we go to our spiritual home after death.

The secret to attaining spiritual perfection is consciousness, which is driven by our memories, which are driven by our activities. It is for this reason that we are told to refrain from activities such as drinking, gambling, unrestricted sex life, and the eating of animal flesh. But let’s say that we abstain from these four pillars of sinful life. Is that enough? Surely we will be behaving piously, but does this mean that our consciousness has changed? Even if we give up various types of harmful behavior, if we still engage in fruitive activity with a desire to sin, our consciousness will remain fixed on objects of matter. Matter is subordinate to spirit, and those who are worshipers of matter are guaranteed of getting a material body in the future.

Rama Darbar To really change our consciousness, we have to constantly remember God. How do we do this? Luckily for us, the Lord has appeared on earth many many times in the past and enacted wonderful pastimes. These activities have been chronicled in the great texts such as the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita, and Shrimad Bhagavatam. We simply have to read these texts, or hear about them from devotees, and our consciousness will gradually change. How does this happen? Let’s say, for example, that we read the Ramayana every day. The Ramayana is the life story of Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s chief incarnations who appeared during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Lord Rama’s character was that of a pious prince, someone who never deviated from the righteous path. The point of hearing of Lord Rama’s activities is to always associate with Him. The Ramayana not only allows us to associate with Rama, but with His wife Sita Devi, His younger brother Lakshmana, and His faithful servant Hanuman as well. It is nice to hear about God’s activities, but this doesn’t paint the whole picture. Associating with God is good, but we must remember that we can never become Him. Perfection in life comes by becoming a devotee, so it helps to also hear about the activities of the Lord’s greatest devotees. There will always be comparisons made between the devotees, and debates as to which ones are superior, but one thing we know for sure is that Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman are of the highest quality and character. One can never go wrong by hearing of their transcendental activities.

Lord Rama leaving His kingdom Lord Rama was very pious. He kindly renounced His kingdom in order to maintain the good reputation of His father and His ancestors. The Lord also showed great love and affection for His friends and His wife. Are we supposed to remember Lord Rama’s example, or Lord Rama Himself? We can certainly learn from His pious example, but if we remain stuck on His chivalry, we aren’t deriving the full benefit of the Ramayana. We can be as pious as Rama, but that won’t really get us anywhere in life. Piety is considered part of the mode of goodness, something which provides a temporary return to one’s original consciousness. While this mode is certainly superior to passion and ignorance, it is still nevertheless a material quality, meaning that those who associate with it will have to remain in a material body.

Lord Hanuman The true benefit of the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam is that we can associate with God and remember His activities. Remembering is such a critical aspect of spiritual life because it’s so easy to do. It doesn’t matter whether we are young, old, Hindu, Christian, a man, or a woman, we can all remember God’s activities. Hanuman loved to remember Rama’s activities so much that he was granted the benediction of remaining alive for as long as Rama’s story was celebrated on this earth. Who can be a greater authority on devotional service than Hanuman? He showed us the true value of remembering God.

All the great Vaishnava devotees of the past spent much time remembering. It is for this reason that Shrila Rupa Gosvami, in his Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, states that remembering Krishna under all circumstances is the topmost religious practice. Any other practice is simply a spinoff of remembering. Prahlada Maharaja always remembered Lord Vishnu, through weakness and strength, happiness and sorrow. For better or for worse, Prahlada always loved Vishnu, and the Lord kindly reciprocated that love. That is the example for us to follow. Spiritual life is meant to be fun, to secure us the happiness that we so desperately seek. Let us not try to enjoy God’s kingdom without God. Yoga means linking the soul with God, and by always remembering the Lord, that link can always remain strong.