Saturday, July 31, 2010

Natural Beauty

Lord Krishna “My dear sir, Krishna's form was most wonderful when He appeared on this planet and exhibited the potency of His internal energy. His wonderfully attractive form was present during His pastimes on this planet, and by His internal potency He exhibited His opulences, which are striking to everyone. His personal beauty was so great that there was no necessity for His wearing ornaments on His body. In fact, instead of the ornaments' beautifying Krishna, Krishna's beauty enhanced the ornaments.” (Uddhava speaking to Vidura, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.12)

For followers of the bhakti school, the secret to success is to incorporate God into every activity. More than just simple renunciation or the acquisition of knowledge, bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, involves dovetailing all of one’s activities with service to Krishna, or God. In this way, a person can continue to go about performing their normal activities, but since they are involving the Supreme Lord, everything becomes beautified. Normally, we use ornaments and decorations to add a beautifying effect to the object we are trying to make look more appealing, but in Krishna’s case, the order of precedent is reversed. His splendor is so powerful that it immediately radiates anything it touches.

Lord Krishna Some people are born with natural beauty. They look terrific even when they roll out of bed in the morning. Yet with even the most beautiful people, there is a desire to look better, the need to feel more attractive. When a person feels more attractive, they will act more confidently in front of others. For example, if we spill something on our shirt during lunchtime and then have to walk around all day with the stain still visible, it is likely that we will not be as confident. The mind will be focused on the blemish on our shirt, so naturally we’ll think that others will be focusing on the same area. Since no one likes to go about their day feeling this way, people take the necessary steps to ensure that they look as good as they possibly can. This is especially the case with women.

The famous talk radio host, Rush Limbaugh, once did a humorous bit on his show, where he was discussing the issue of traffic accidents. He stated that one of the easiest ways to reduce traffic accidents was to ban women from farding in their cars. Now this was discussed on a radio show, so not surprisingly many people mistook the word “farding” to be “farting”, which is the slang term for the expulsion of gas. This was actually the intended effect. Angry women called the show and demanded to know how Rush could tell that women were doing this while driving. Keeping the bit going, Rush reiterated the fact that many women certainly do fard in their cars and that everyone could see them do it. Rush eventually revealed the punch line: farding refers to the French term “fard”, which means to apply makeup.

Shrimati RadharaniCosmetics is certainly a profitable industry. Almost every adult aged woman uses some type of makeup product. Again, this is done to enhance one’s beauty. There are also other techniques which are used by both men and women. Designer shirts, pants, accessories, sunglasses, etc., are all things used to enhance one’s beauty. It is undoubtedly true that such decorations do succeed in enhancing one’s appearance. This principle is in full effect during marriage ceremonies. In Western style marriages, the bride usually wears a nice white dress, which is so stunning that it makes the groom’s jaw drop. In love-marriages, the groom has already voluntarily agreed to marry the wife, so it’s safe to assume that he already finds her to be quite beautiful. Yet on the wedding day, the bride takes on added beauty due to her makeup and the dress she wears.

In Vedic style marriages, the beauty is enhanced even more. Anyone who has ever attended an Indian-style wedding knows just how much preparation goes into dressing up the bride. A typical Indian bride wears so many ornaments that she has to walk very carefully as she approaches the groom for the beginning of the marriage ceremony. She wears a nice sari, bangles, a nose ring, and exquisite makeup. The sari is about as ancient a dress as you’ll find, yet it is arguably the most beautiful. All the great women of the Vedic tradition, such as Sita Devi, Shrimati Radharani, and Kunti Devi, used to regularly wear saris. According to several estimations, Sita Devi appeared on this earth millions of years ago, so that alone tells us how long saris have been around.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Krishna's birth The Vedas tell us that there is only one God for every single person, and that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna. How do we know what Krishna looks like? Aside from the countless descriptions given in Vedic literature, the Lord kindly appeared on earth in His personal form some five thousand years ago. Krishna Himself states in the Bhagavad-gita that He comes to earth from time to time to annihilate miscreants and reestablish the true principles of religion. While this is the outward cause, the exalted devotees know the real story behind His appearances. Killing demons and reestablishing religious principles can actually be done by any person, provided they are authorized and abiding by the original instructions of the Vedas passed down by Krishna Himself. The real purpose for the Lord’s appearances on earth is to satisfy the devotees, those who sacrifice heart and soul for Krishna.

In many Vedic texts, Lord Krishna is counted as an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This is certainly true because Vishnu and Krishna are the same; the only difference is in appearance. Krishna has two hands and Vishnu has four. Even in the Ramayana, Lord Rama, who is one of God’s most famous incarnations, on one occasion refers to the future event of Narayana coming to earth in the form of Govinda, or Krishna. So is Lord Rama wrong? Technically He is not, for Krishna and Vishnu are the same. However, from the statements of the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Brahma-samhita, we understand that Krishna is even the source of Narayana. Therefore, when Krishna appears on earth, it is actually in His original form and not necessarily that of an incarnation.

Vasudeva carrying Krishna Lord Krishna performed many wonderful pastimes during His one hundred plus years on earth, but for the devotees, the most pleasurable pastimes took place during the Lord’s youth in Vrindavana. The story of the Lord’s advent is somewhat lengthy so we’ll give a brief summary here: There was a king named Kamsa who had locked up his sister Devaki and her husband Vasudeva. A prophecy had warned Kamsa that Devaki’s eighth son would kill him, so he had her imprisoned. When she gave birth to a child, Kamsa would take it and throw it against a stone wall, killing it. When Krishna appeared, Vasudeva was afraid that Kamsa would kill Him also. Therefore, in the dead of night, Vasudeva took Krishna from Mathura to Vrindavana, where the young child would be raised by His foster parents, Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda.

Lord Krishna In the Vedic tradition, children are always elaborately decorated. Parents derive so much pleasure from their young children, so they like to see them always dressed nicely. Of all the children to ever grace this earth, no one was dressed more nicely than Krishna. Detailed descriptions of His ornaments and clothing are given in the Shrimad Bhagavatam and other Vedic texts. The paintings that we see of Krishna today are all based off these descriptions. In a typical painting, Krishna is seen holding His flue, wearing a peacock feather on His head, rings on His fingers, nice earrings, a beautiful necklace, and a flower garland around His neck. Anyone who saw Krishna dressed like this immediately became enamored. Krishna’s childhood associates were all eternally liberated souls who had performed lifetimes’ worth of penances and austerities to get the chance to see Krishna in His original form.

Though Krishna was so exquisitely dressed, He required none of these ornaments. Being God Himself, He naturally possessed the highest beauty. One of the meanings for the word Krishna is “all-attractive”, and this is most certainly the case with the Lord. The wise devotees could understand that Krishna was so beautiful that He actually enhanced the beauty of His ornaments, and not the other way around. Can we imagine such a thing? We see a nice shirt or a beautiful ring and think that it will make us look beautiful. But do we know anyone who is beautiful enough to enhance the beauty of something that is already considered beautiful? The only person who can do this is Krishna.

Radha Krishna deities How does this information help us? Krishna can be thought of as a touchstone. His beautifying powers are not limited to clothing and ornaments. Anything Krishna touches immediately turns to gold. This means that if we incorporate Krishna into our words, our speeches and songs immediately become transcendental. Therefore devotees make the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, their main occupation. As they get more advanced, devotees install beautiful deities of the Lord, or one of His personal expansions, in their homes to look at and worship. If Krishna makes His ornaments beautiful, imagine what He can do for our homes.

The Vedic tradition, also commonly referred to as Hinduism, is known for its high philosophy and its focus on knowledge and renunciation. Yoga, something which originated from the Vedas, is commonly taken to be the face of Hinduism. Even the famous Bhagavad-gita, spoken by Krishna Himself, touches on topics of renunciation, wisdom, sacrifice, charity, and self-control in relation to the body, mind, and speech. A person who initially glances over these topics may then assume that the Vedic tradition is mostly about renunciation and the elimination of all bad things from life.

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

Lord Krishna While self-control, equanimity, peacefulness, and forgiveness are all certainly nice traits to possess, they are secondary. The ultimate purpose in life is to think of God at the time of death. This consciousness allows a person to return to Krishna’s spiritual realm in the afterlife. Once a person reaches a stage of pure Krishna consciousness, they automatically acquire all good qualities. Armed with this knowledge, devotees take to devotional service right away instead of remaining stuck on other inferior forms of yoga.

The key ingredient in bhakti-yoga is Krishna. Everything in direct association with Krishna becomes purified. Therefore, our food should be prepared and offered to Him first, for the remnants then turn into maha-prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. Our flowers should be first offered to Him, our cars should be used to drive to His temples, our computers used to read books about Him, etc. Let the Lord’s natural beauty rub off on everyone.

Friday, July 30, 2010

The Secret Weapon

Lord Brahma “With Vaidehi [Sita] being thus insulted, all the moving and nonmoving beings of the world were put into a chaotic condition and were surrounded by a dense blinding darkness. The wind did not blow and the sun did not shine. Seeing with his divine vision that Sita was overcome, the illustrious great-father [Brahma] said, ‘My work is done.’ All the supreme rishis who were present felt both pleased and distressed.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 52.9-11)

The kidnapping of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, is one of the more troubling incidents to hear about for devotees. Sita Devi was beautiful, kind, chaste, and never bothered anybody during her time on earth. She was the embodiment of the perfect woman. Simply hearing about her being forcibly dragged into the aerial car of the demon Ravana and made to sit on his lap, is enough to make devotees cringe. This incident leads many to scorn God Himself for allowing such an insult to take place. On the flip side, however, Sita’s kidnapping was a very joyous occasion for the demigods.

Sita Devi Sita Devi is considered an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi, the wife of Lord Narayana in the spiritual world. The Vedas tell us that the original form of God is Krishna, but that He then expands into several vishnu-tattva expansions to perform specific duties. Lord Vishnu, or Narayana, is Krishna’s primary expansion. The only real difference between Krishna and Vishnu is that Vishnu has four hands, while Krishna has two. Again, these differences exist simply because of the different functions that each must perform. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states that He rewards devotees in the manner in which they worship Him. Some devotees prefer to worship Narayana, while others are Krishna bhaktas. In the end, there is no difference between the two.

God is not alone in the spiritual world. Just as we have our own family members in this world, the Lord has eternal associates in the spiritual world. Krishna is the energetic, and His pleasure potency expansions represent His energy. God derives pleasure from His devotees through their engagements in different transcendental mellows, or rasas. The most advanced devotees know how to give the most pleasure to God, thus they are classified as hladini-shakti, or pleasure potency expansions. Krishna’s pleasure potencies are the gopis of Vrindavana, the chief of whom is Shrimati Radharani. In a similar manner, Lord Narayana’s eternal consort is Goddess Lakshmi, a beautiful devi who provides wealth and good fortune to her devotees. Since she is God’s wife, it makes sense that Lakshmi would be in charge of fortune. No one is more fortunate than God due simply to the fact that the goddess of fortune serves Him.

Goddess Lakshmi Vishnu appears on earth from time to time to enact specific pastimes. He takes birth in the guise of a living entity, but His body always remains spiritual. God usually doesn’t come alone either, as His closest family members appear with Him. One of God’s most famous appearances took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. At the time, the demon class of men, the Rakshasa, was steadily ascending to power all over the world. Human beings are considered the most elevated species since they have the brain capacity to understand God. Not only can they learn about spiritual matters, but they can use that knowledge to free themselves from the repeated cycle of birth and death. This liberation is known as mukti, and it is the opinion of the Vedas that the human being has the best chance at achieving this.

The human beings aren’t the only species on earth. Scientists posit various theories about creatures who previously lived on the earth but that are now extinct, like the dinosaurs. We also see that scientists always seem to discover new species that they never heard of before. The Vedas, which serve as the original knowledge base for all things material and spiritual, tell us that there are 8,400,000 different species. This number is so high because the living entity can possess the three qualities of material nature [goodness, passion, and ignorance] in various combinations and permutations. One species can be in 50% goodness, while another may be in 25% goodness and 75% ignorance. The human being mostly lives in passion, but there is a catch. We have a choice as to which mode we want to associate with. Not only can we choose to act in goodness, passion, or ignorance, but we also have the option to rise above these three modes and engage in pure goodness, known as shudda-sattva. The lower species don’t have this choice due to their lack of intelligence.

“The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.45)

Life in Krishnaloka The Rakshasas are a human-like species, so they have similar features to humans, except that they live mostly in ignorance. When someone is associating with the mode of ignorance it means they are performing activities that don’t help their soul advance in the next life. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. Therefore, we can conclude that it is more important to take care of the soul than it is to take care of a body that must eventually be given up. Everyone on earth performs some sort of work. The Vedas tell us that we should perform work that will allow our souls to eventually reach the final destination of Krishnaloka, or the spiritual sky. Once a soul goes back to God’s spiritual world, it never has to come back to the material world.

Acting in the mode of goodness allows one to take birth in a pious family in the next life, or even in the body of a demigod, an elevated living entity. The mode of passion allows one to remain a human being, thus it is essentially a mode of neutrality. The mode of ignorance causes one to descend to a lower species in the next life. This mode is characterized by excessive eating, sleeping, intoxication, and a general disregard for the laws of dharma. The Rakshasas of the Treta Yuga fit right into this mold. Their leader was Ravana, a ten-headed monster who ruled over the kingdom of Lanka. He was always drinking wine and having sex with his innumerable wives. He loved to eat meat, especially the flesh of sages that he and his Rakshasas had personally killed.

Ravana was very powerful and a staunch enemy of the demigods. Krishna and Vishnu represent the Supreme God, and the demigods represent His chief deputies. The demigods are in charge of various departments of the material creation. Though they are also very powerful, they are still fallible living entities. This means that they too are subject to the forces of material nature as manifested through birth and death. Since the beginning of time, the demigods have been engaged in a battle with the demons. The demigods, or godly people, are referred to as suras and the demons as asuras. Ravana was an asura who regularly fought with the demigods. Since he was too strong for them, the demigods were deathly afraid for their lives and also for the future condition of the earth. As a last resort, they sought the shelter of Lord Vishnu. They begged Him to come to earth and kill Ravana, and thereby relieve their suffering.

There was a catch to this though. Lord Brahma had granted Ravana several boons due to austerities he had performed. God is never forced to answer anyone’s prayers since He is aloof from the day-to-day affairs of the material world. The demigods, on the other hand, are duty-bound to grant benedictions to anyone who pleases them properly. Ravana took advantage of this by performing great austerities to please the demigods. They in turn granted him several boons which boosted his strength. They also granted him immunity in battle against all the demigods and other celestial beings. Thus Ravana thought he was immortal. He made a costly mistake, however, in that he forgot to ask for immunity from human beings. Ravana thought that if a celestial couldn’t defeat him, surely no lowly man could.

Lord Rama Lord Vishnu used this loophole to appear on earth in the form of a human being, the prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. One more issue remained though for the demigods. Rama took birth in a very pious kshatriya family that traced their ancestry all the way back to Maharaja Ikshvaku, the first king on earth. This meant that Lord Rama was obliged to adhere to chivalry and the established rules of conduct for a king. One of the most important rules for the warrior class is that they are not allowed to attack another person without just cause. This means that technically Rama couldn’t attack Ravana or take him on in battle without a legitimate excuse. This is where Sita Devi came in.

At the same time that Vishnu was appearing on earth as Rama, Goddess Lakshmi was appearing as Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. Sita and Rama were eventually married, as was their destiny. After twelve years of marriage, the pair roamed the forests of India along with Lakshmana. Ravana, hearing of this beautiful woman staying in the forest of Dandaka, decided that he had to have her. He set up a diversion which lured Rama and Lakshmana away from their cottage, leaving the door open for Sita’s abduction.

Jatayu fighting Ravana While Ravana was flying away on his aerial car with Sita, the king of birds, Jatayu, intercepted him and took him on in battle. After a fierce fight, Ravana eventually killed Jatayu, and then safely flew back to his island kingdom of Lanka with Sita. In the above referenced quote, Lord Brahma is remarking how his work has been accomplished, and the saints living in the forest are described as being both aggrieved and delighted over the incident. The saints were aggrieved because Sita was forcibly taken away from her husband. Yet they, along with Brahma, were happy because they knew that this incident signaled the end of Ravana. Lord Rama now had the excuse He needed to take on Ravana and kill him in battle.

The pious never attack without just cause. Even in today’s world, the police are never allowed to search someone’s property without probable cause. Police officers and FBI officials must obtain warrants prior to searching someone’s house. If evidence is obtained without following the proper protocol, it becomes inadmissible in the court of law. This may seem unfair, as it leads to criminals getting off on technicalities, but these laws are put into place to protect the innocent. Lord Rama, being especially dedicated to dharma, believed in these laws as well. His younger brother Lakshmana once noted that not even the people punished by Rama could find anything bad to say about Him. This was because even the criminals knew that Rama didn’t hold any personal grudges and that He always adhered to the righteous path.

The lesson here is that there is no need to become distressed from hearing of Sita’s kidnap. Lord Rama’s wife was certainly delicate, beautiful, and full of class, but she was by no means weak. Ravana was an extremely powerful demon who could not be defeated by even the greatest celestials. It was his addiction to illicit sex that led to his downfall. In this way, Sita Devi proved to be the secret weapon, the ticking time-bomb so to speak. She singlehandedly took down one of the greatest demons of all time.

Rama Darbar This shows the power of God’s pleasure potency. Sita Devi is meant to associate with God and His devotees. When put into the hands of the demons, or the enemies of God, she proves to be deadly, as was the case with Ravana. When she associates with the devotees, however, she bestows eternal fame and fortune. Lord Hanuman is a great example of this. Unlike Ravana, Hanuman had love and respect for Sita. He served her to the best of his ability, and as a reward, Sita and Rama granted him eternal devotion to their holy feet. To this day, Hanuman is known throughout the world as the greatest servant of Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. If we kindly pray to Sita Devi to allow us to love her and her husband, she will surely be pleased with us and fulfill all our desires.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Listen To Your Heart

Krishna speaking to Arjuna “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)

Question: “I understand that the brahmanas are the brains of society and thus it is important to listen to the brain, but what role does the heart play? Isn’t it equally as important? Should we listen to the heart or to the brain?”

Answer: The famous caste system of India is technically known as varnashrama-dharma. The term “caste” and the stigma attached to it are the result of a limited understanding of the purified system originally implemented by God. In the famous Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states that He instituted the four varnas and four ashramas as a way for society to be divided up, with each person’s corresponding category of varna and ashrama determined by their inherent qualities and the work they perform. Since varnashrama-dharma is not such an easy concept to grasp for the layperson, analogies are used, with the most common one being to the body of a human being.

Krishna as the original fire The highest varna, or division, in this system is the brahmana. A brahmana is a priest, a man of the cloth if you will. The word “brahmana” means one who knows Brahman, or the impersonal aspect of creation. Sometimes spiritual leaders will say that we are all God or that God is part of us. These statements refer to the nature of Brahman, an impersonal aspect that pervades all of creation. We are all God in the sense that we are tiny sparks that emanate from the original spiritual fire, God. Since there is no difference between the spark and the original fire, the spirit souls can be considered to be the same as God. At the same time, there is still the original fire which exists separately and autonomously from the sparks. In this respect, God is always superior to and different from the jiva souls.

A person who knows Brahman understands the nature of the sparks emanating from the fire and how they are all equal in constitution. This is certainly a high level of understanding that is not acquired so easily. To learn discrete math we have to go through years and years of training, studying for exams and solving complex equations. By the same token, understanding that all aspects of the creation, including matter and spirit, are part of one giant energy known as Brahman requires rigorous training of the body and mind. Through penance, austerity, and the study of scripture, a person can elevate themselves to the status of a brahmana.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Since the brahmanas are so intelligent, they are well-suited to act as society’s teachers. While there are teachers for just about every subject and discipline, there needs to be a set of instructors for society as a whole, who can guide the activities of everyone for the betterment of every individual. The brahmanas are the only people suited for this role since they are the only ones who understand the constitutional position of all forms of life. The other three varnas of the varnashrama-dharma system are the kshatriya [warrior/administrator], vaishya [merchant/businessman], and shudra [laborer]. While members of each of these divisions certainly do have positive characteristics, their knowledge is still considered inferior to that possessed by the brahmanas.

In order to help us better understand the system of varnas, the Vedas often use the analogy of the body, with the brahmanas taken as the brain. The brain can be considered the most important part of the body, for it directly guides the activities of the other parts. The arms, stomach, and legs are certainly important, but these body parts need to know how to act. For example, the arms can involve the body in unnecessary fighting or in eating too much unhealthy food. The stomach can also fail to divert its nutrients to the proper parts of the body. The legs can carry the body to dangerous places, putting one’s life in danger. In this regard, the brain is considered the most important because it is the decision maker. The brahmanas are considered the brains of society because they are to guide the activities of everyone else. When this brain is absent, there is no chance of peace and prosperity. To finish the analogy, the kshatriyas are the arms, the vaishyas the stomach, and the shudras the legs.

Lord Chaitanya with Ramananda Raya The keen observer will notice that the heart is missing from this analogy. Is this an oversight on the part of the Vedas? After all, isn’t the heart the most important aspect of the body? A person can be considered brain dead but still alive if the heart is beating. So who is the heart of society, and who should we listen to, the heart or the brain? One thing we should remember is that varnashrama-dharma is the system of maintenance for society; it is not the ultimate perfection of civilization or even of human life. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s famous incarnation as a preacher, once posed questions relating to these issues to Ramananda Raya. The Lord asked him what he thought was the highest perfection of spiritual practice, and Ramananda Raya gave various replies, with Lord Chaitanya kindly rejecting each and every one as not being the most important aspect of spiritual life. Varnashrama-dharma was one of the replies that Ramananda Raya gave, but this was rejected by Lord Chaitanya as being subordinate to acquiring pure love for God.

“The Lord replied, ‘This is external. You had better tell Me of some other means.’ Ramananda replied, ‘To offer the results of one's activities to Krishna is the essence of all perfection.’” (Lord Chaitanya responding to Ramananda Raya’s claim that varnashrama-dharma was the ultimate goal of life, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 8.59)

Krishna with the gopis This conversation resulted in the conclusion that the ultimate objective in life is to go beyond rules and regulations by developing a pure love for God, similar to the way the gopis of Vrindavana used to love Krishna when He was on this earth some five thousand years ago. Varnashrama-dharma and all the other rules and regulations of spiritual life are aimed at elevating one to this perfect consciousness, Krishna consciousness. Varnashrama-dharma doesn’t specifically address the issue of the heart of society because the entire system is aimed at connecting with the heart. The heart of society, and the universe for that matter, is Krishna. He is the center of everything, the original fire, the spiritual sun if you will. Listening to the heart is the goal of human life, so obviously this heart is more important than the brain.

Not only is Krishna the heart of society, but He is the heart in our body as well. Vedic information tells us that our identity comes from the individual soul residing within the heart. This soul, or atma, remains unchanged even after death. This soul jumps from one body to another through the process of reincarnation, but it always remains the source of our identity. Yet this doesn’t tell the whole story. In the hearts of every living entity, there is another soul, known as the Paramatma, which resides side-by-side with the atma. This soul is super or “param”, and it belongs to God. In order to take direction from the heart, to achieve pure Krishna consciousness, one must learn how to connect the individual soul with the Supersoul.

We see that taking direction from the heart is more important than following the dictates of the brain. This is something many of us understand already, for people commonly invoke the phrase, “I followed my heart instead of my brain”, or something to this effect. The important point is that one must first know how to take direction from the heart. Since Krishna is the heart of the universe and the heart of our bodies, He is the one who should be guiding our activities. Yet we can’t take direction from Him unless and until we reach into our hearts and connect our soul with His. In order to achieve this union, we need the help of our trusted old friend, the brain.

Krishna and Arjuna To illustrate this point, we need only look to one of the most famous religious books in the world, the Bhagavad-gita. Known as the Song of God, the Gita chronicles a discussion between a student and his teacher that took place on the eve of a great war. The student, the expert warrior Arjuna, was hesitant to fight against the opposing army. Not necessarily a conscientious objector, Arjuna was more distraught over having to fight against members of his own family who were fighting for the other side. Though the victor would earn the right to rule over a kingdom, Arjuna thought that such a reward wasn’t worth the price that would have to be paid. Thinking that he was following his heart instead of his brain, Arjuna decided that he wouldn’t fight and that he would lay down his weapons and let the other side win.

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

Arjuna This is where Lord Krishna, Arjuna’s cousin, charioteer, and dear friend, stepped in. Krishna also happens to be God, so that is why the discussion that followed became as famous as it did. Krishna informed Arjuna that he was grieving over the body, something which is not worth worrying about. Birth and death come on their own, but the spirit soul residing within doesn’t change. The soul is never killed. Lord Krishna then provided a series of instructions and teachings, concluding with the most important instruction: “Just do everything for Me.” This is the ultimate objective for every person in life: to act in Krishna consciousness. At the end of their discussion, Arjuna decided to fight on, but to also remain detached from the outcome. He was fighting to carry out his prescribed duties as a kshatriya and also to carry out Krishna’s orders.

In the beginning of the Gita, Arjuna was listening to his emotions, generated from a heart which was temporarily disconnected from the ruler of the heart, the Supersoul, and emotionally attached to worldly objects. These emotions are part of the material body, a body which eventually gets discarded. These emotions are so strong that they can cause someone to think that they are following the dictates of the purified heart. When something is really heartfelt or coming out of the heart, it can only refer to things relating to spiritual life, for Krishna is the chief resident of the heart. How did Arjuna finally learn to take direction from a purified heart? He had a teacher, someone who acted as the brain from without.

“Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.23)

Chanting Hare Krishna Arjuna was lucky enough to have God Himself appear as the external teacher, but what about for the rest of us? Who can teach us how to take direction from the purified heart, the Supersoul connected with our soul? This is where the brahmanas come in, more specifically the spiritual master, or guru. The spiritual master is the big brain, someone who can help us detach our material emotions and get us attached to our spiritual inclinations towards serving the Supreme. In this age of Kali, bona fide brahmanas are hard to find, so the instructions of all the great spiritual masters of the past have been synthesized into one short phrase, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Chanting this one mantra is both a means and an end. In the beginning stages, it helps the individual draw the senses towards spiritual life, and in the mature stage it allows one to be totally in yoga, completely connected with the Supersoul residing within the heart. To help us in our yoga practice, the “big brains”, the acharyas, also advise that we refrain from the activities of meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. Along with bringing obvious negative side effects, these activities also cause a person to be more vulnerable to the effects of material emotions.

Prabhupada worshiping Radha Krishna Krishna’s presence is so strong that He acts both as the heart and the brain of society. He is the core of all life, material and spiritual, and through His bona fide representatives, the spiritual masters, He is the greatest advisor and well-wisher to the conditioned souls. If we follow the instructions of the great Vaishnavas, devotees of Vishnu who automatically achieve brahminical status, we can surely listen to our purified heart the same way that Arjuna did. This will benefit us both in this life and the next.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Sita Devi “…but in this world, I will not bring about disgrace on myself.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.22)

One of the nice perks of becoming a pure devotee of God is that you are able to transcend all rules and regulations. Mundane morality is nice, but it only exists for a specific purpose. Simply treading the virtuous path is not enough, for if we fail to develop a loving attachment to God, all our pious activities are essentially a waste of time. The paramahamsas, the truly liberated souls, don’t need to follow any social conventions or prescribed regulations, but they still do so anyway. Even the greatest souls take care to maintain a good reputation for themselves. There are legitimate reasons for this concern.

Lord Krishna The set of law codes that mankind is to abide by is known as dharma in the Vedic tradition. Dharma translates to an occupational duty or that which defines the essence of something. The living entity is an individual spirit spark emanating from Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As a part of God, the soul’s inherent duty is to serve Him. Nevertheless, the material world is considered to be an ocean of nescience where we living entities forget about God as soon as we take birth. In the beginning stages of our lives, it’s not very easy to reawaken the dormant loving propensities that we have for the Supreme Lord. For this reason, Krishna passed down a set of ruling principles, rules and regulations to guide mankind’s conduct. This collective set of rules can be thought of as dharma.

Dharma is intended to help us break free of our attachment to matter, and to allow us to instead focus our concern on the spirit that resides within. This spirit is what defines us, and its presence is the basis for our life. It is one thing to learn about the nature of the spirit soul, but it is another to actually realize that we are not our bodies. To help us gain a practical understanding of the difference between matter and spirit, dharma sets forth a set of recommended guidelines that we living entities can follow. Some of these regulations are pretty simple and straightforward. “Don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t murder, don’t unnecessarily burden others, etc.” These are common laws that are adopted by most societies. There are other more advanced rules and regulations such as fasting on certain days, not eating meat, and not engaging in sex before marriage.

Krishna and Arjuna Virtue exists so that we can one day develop a love for God, who is the original friend. Those who tread the virtuous path naturally acquire auspicious qualities such as peacefulness, honesty, equanimity, and love for all beings. A truly virtuous person does not pick favorites. They don’t like one group of people and hate another, as is common today for many governmental leaders. Most political campaigns are run on the basis of pitting groups against one another: rich versus poor, black versus white, Christian versus Jew, etc. People who think along these lines cannot be considered virtuous due to the fact that every living entity is an equal part of this creation. We are all spirit souls who are under the care of our Supreme Father, Lord Krishna.

The advanced devotees actually go one step beyond virtue. They certainly do acquire all the beneficial traits associated with saintly people, but they take it to another level by dovetailing all of their activities with God’s service. A virtuous person does everything according to the rules of regulations of written guidelines, or scriptures, but a devotee does everything for the benefit of Krishna, who is the author and all rules and regulations. In the Vedic tradition, one of the primary methods of worship is sacrifice. In Sanskrit, the word “yajna” means sacrifice. Yajna also means Vishnu, who is Krishna’s four-handed expansion. This small detail provides great insight into the real meaning behind religion and religious principles. Dharma exists for only one reason: to connect with God.

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura Devotees dedicate all their activities to Krishna as a form of sacrifice. This behavior is called bhakti, or loving devotion. The great acharya, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, states that bhakti is simply the purification of karma, or regulative work. By default, we all engage in karma, which is activity on the material platform. We perform some work so that we can be benefitted in some material sense at some point in the future. When we change the nature of our work by dedicating activities for pleasing the supreme person, Krishna, these works can be classified as bhakti. Those who engage in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, are known as bhaktas.

“Even if one commits the most abominable actions, if he is engaged in devotional service, he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.30)

Since the work performed by bhaktas is completely pure and uncontaminated by any material impurities, the devotees themselves transcend all rules and regulations. This means that the advanced devotees don’t need to abide by mundane morality, for they have already achieved the true purpose of life. Even though this is the case, we often see that devotees take even greater care to abide by the rules and regulations enjoined in the shastras. They have a strong desire to maintain their reputations as virtuous people.

Lord Rama One such example was Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. During the Treta Yuga, the kind and merciful Supreme Lord descended to earth in the guise of a human being named Rama. Born as the eldest son of King Dasharatha of Ayodhya, Lord Rama was groomed to be the successor to the throne. Since God possesses all opulences and fortunes, when He appears on earth to play a particular role, He is naturally the best person at whatever He does. As Lord Rama, God appeared as kshatriya prince, wholly dedicated to dharma and the welfare of the saintly class. Lord Rama was the king of kings, and the greatest of all fighters who used the bow and arrow.

Being beautiful and all-powerful, the Lord was married to Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka of Mithila. We can only imagine how exalted Sita was, for she had the tremendous honor of being Rama’s partner in the performance of His religious duties. Her execution of devotional service was so perfect that Lord Rama, on many occasions, praised her for her dedication. He referred to her as a sadharma-charini since she was dedicated to helping Rama perform His prescribed duties. Sita’s reputation as a chaste and virtuous wife was famous throughout the world.

Unfortunately, on one occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the demon Ravana. These events were all preordained because Lord Rama needed an excuse to take on Ravana in battle. The demon brought Sita back to his kingdom of Lanka and propositioned her. He showed off his wonderful palace, and even bragged of all the beautiful wives that he had. Ravana promised to make Sita his chief queen, and openly declared that he would become her servant. Sita, being a pure devotee, could only think of Rama at all times. She had no desire to even look at Ravana.

Sita and Rama In the above referenced statement, Sita is wrapping up her stern rebuke of Ravana. She hurled carefully crafted insults at him to let him know that Rama would surely come to kill him and that she would never waver from the virtuous path. In this final statement, Sita mentions how it is impossible for her to ruin her good name. She knows that she has deeply insulted Ravana, but she wants to state for the record that she is not sorry for saying such things. In order to maintain her reputation, she had to speak the truth to the demon.

Sita had no desire to be famous and well-known throughout the world as a pious wife. Devotees are above any need for that kind of self-aggrandizement. A bhakta is someone who acts only to please God, meaning they don’t even mind going to hell or being ridiculed by every person in the world, provided that the Supreme Lord remains pleased. So why was Sita concerned about her reputation? The answer is that she was more concerned about Rama and her father, King Janaka. Lord Rama was well-respected throughout the world, even by His enemies. If it should turn out that His wife and devotee, Sita, was able to be won over by a demon, it would cause Him tremendous grief and make Him the recipient of scorn from others. The same would hold true for King Janaka, for the daughter’s behavior is a direct reflection of the parentage she received growing up.

Marriage of Sita and Rama In this regard, we see just how great Sita was. She went against her quiet, shy, and peaceful nature in order to maintain the good name of her husband and her father. The lesson here is that no matter how advanced we become in the execution of devotional service, we should always try to remain on the virtuous path. We certainly don’t require a good reputation, but our good behavior will reflect well on the Supreme Lord. If God is great, then surely His devotees must be great as well. If devotees take to sinful life out of carelessness, others will take note and use such transgressions as ammunition to fuel their attacks against Krishna. Since God is so nice to us, we should be equally as nice to Him and try to show others that He has instilled good values in us.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Lord Krishna “…the word pavarga signifies our struggle for existence and our meeting with defeat, exhaustion, bondage, fearfulness and, at last, death. Apavarga means that which can nullify all of these material conditions. Krishna is said to be the giver of apavarga, the path of liberation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 59)

Vedic wisdom is passed down through the Sanskrit language. Considered a dead language since no one speaks it today, Sanskrit is the original language of the world. The script in which the language is written is known as Devanagari, meaning the language of the gods or demigods. The Vedas tell us that there is a spiritual city/realm where elevated living entities known as demigods live. People who are somewhat familiar with what is known as the Hindu faith know that it subscribes to many gods. This doesn’t mean that each of these gods is the original God, but rather they are elevated living entities. Just like in various parliamentary systems around the world, some leaders are referred to as “Lord” due to their exalted status, there are administrative heads in charge of various aspects of the material creation who are known as devas, or demigods. It is in the city of the demigods that Sanskrit is still spoken; hence all Vedic teachings are transmitted through this language to this day. The language is so comprehensive that every word has deep meaning, especially as it relates to knowledge of the Supreme Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna. A great example of this can be seen with the word “apavarga”.

Lord Krishna When we put the letter “a” in front of a word, it can act as a form of negation. For example, the word “moral” turns into “amoral” when an “a” is placed in front of it. Moral means something which is considered pious and in line with the codes of righteousness. Amoral can mean just the opposite; those activities which are considered sinful and against the established code of conduct. This concept of negation using the letter “a” started with the Sanskrit language, which is the oldest form of communication known to man. They say it is difficult to accurately come up with a Sanskrit dictionary because the total number of words one can come up with is unlimited. We can put the “a” prefix in front of pretty much any word and come up with its negation. This negation concept is also a great way to understand the qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Everything we see in this world has limits to its powers. God, on the other hand, is unlimited, so He is often described as the opposite of each of the flawed aspects of creation that we encounter. Through negation, we can gain a better understanding of the Lord’s potencies.

The concept of salvation serves as a good example. People who take to religious life are often looking to be “saved”. “Oh God, I am in trouble. Please take away my suffering. I want to surrender unto you so I can be saved.” Preachers on television often utter these phrases with confidence: “Give yourself over to Lord Jesus Christ and be saved…Surrender now, or suffer the consequences. Only the Lord can save you.” Obviously, being saved is a nice thing. After all, who wouldn’t want to be rescued, especially by God Himself? But what does it actually mean to get salvation? In ice hockey, a save is a statistical category tabulated each time a goaltender stops a puck from going into his net. The same holds true in soccer, but how does one get saved in relation to God?

Goalie making a saveIn the Sanskrit language, the path of salvation is known as apavarga, and it can only be granted by God. If we analyze the components of the word “pavarga”, we can gain a better understanding of what salvation actually means. Pavarga consists of five separate Sanskrit letters. The first letter is “pa”, which comes from the word “parabhava”, which means defeat. This is an easy concept to understand. In material life, we are always meeting defeat. Let’s take the issue of cooling as an example. With advancements in technology, people can now survive through extreme heat by using air conditioners. These appliances can be small enough to cool a tiny room, or large enough to cool an entire office building. Living in an air conditioned environment is quite comforting, but things aren’t so simple. These devices malfunction quite often, and if one is accustomed to the cool temperature, they will be quite agitated once their air conditioner breaks. In our own experiences, we have purchased several air conditioners in our lifetime, only to see many of them cease to function after a short period of time. This same concept can be applied to all areas of life. No matter how comfortable we are or how well things go for us, defeat is just around the corner.

The next letter from pavarga is “pha”, which is taken from the word “phenila”. This is a type of foam which surfaces on the mouth when a person becomes tired, or exhausted. Exhaustion is very easy to understand, for who among us doesn’t get tired? In America today, almost no one is engaged in agriculture, which means that they have to sustain their livelihoods by taking up forty-hour per week jobs. The pressures of work are year round, so most people tend to be quite exhausted when they come home from a long day at the office. The worry doesn’t end there, for family life is equally as tough. The spouse and children are always in need of something, and the house requires constant maintenance. The responsibilities of adult life are too many to count, thus exhaustion is a natural consequence.

The next letter in pavarga is “ba”, which comes from the word “bandha”, which means bondage. Again, this is easy to understand because we are all bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death in the material world. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. We can think of the soul as being trapped in a drying machine. It is constantly tossed around from body to body through an endless cycle. This is a form of bondage because none of us can remember choosing to take birth here. Moreover, we are bound to the stringent laws of nature which force us to suffer from the three types of miseries: those inflicted by the body and mind, those coming from other living entities, and those coming from nature, which is managed by the demigods. Aside from these miseries, there are the irrepressible forces of nature which manifest through birth, old age, disease, and death. We may discover new vaccines from time to time, but this doesn’t mean that disease can be stopped. The same holds true for aging; no matter how hard we try to prevent it, we all have to get older.

Lord Rama The next letter in pavarga is “bha”, which comes from the word “bhiti”, meaning fearfulness. Animal life consists of eating, sleeping, mating, and fearing. Since human beings are similar to animals, they also have a propensity to defend or fear. We acquire possessions and create relationships and then start to worry about how to maintain them. Lord Rama, an avatara of God, explains that for a mature human being, there is no greater fear than death. It is similar to how a ripened fruit has nothing left to worry about except falling down. This means that even if we achieve all our material objectives in life, there will still be a fear of death. This fearing is not something we have to think about, nor is it something we can control.

The last letter of pavarga is “ma”, which stands for “mriti”, or death. Again, this is something that is easy to understand. Death is something that we can’t control, yet it is a central part of material life. It is considered a miserable event because it represents the end of the line, so to speak. The soul continues to exist, so death only refers to the quitting of the current body by the soul. One’s life as it relates to the current body is considered over at the time of death, and this is considered a miserable event because it is undesired and usually comes about through disease or some other affliction.

Lord Krishna So we see that pavarga refers to death, fearfulness, bondage, exhaustion, and defeat. Lord Krishna, or God, gives apavarga, which is the negation of these five miserable conditions. Salvation means to put an end to these five miseries. Lord Krishna stops death by taking our soul back to His spiritual abode. One who goes there never has to return to the temporary material world. This doesn’t mean that the soul loses its identity. In the spiritual world, the soul is given a spiritual body which allows it to associate with the Supreme Lord in a variety of different relationships. Lord Krishna is never alone; He is always with His eternal associates and devotees. Therefore, God’s spiritual kingdom is the real heaven, a place free of all miseries.

“The Lord, the Supersoul of all living entities, is sober, peaceful and equal to everyone. Since the great devotee Prahlada was protected by the Lord's potency, Hiranyakashipu was unable to kill him, in spite of endeavoring to do so in various ways.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.1.43)

Narasimhadeva protecting Prahlada Lord Krishna takes away all of our fears, hence one of His names is Hari. If we become Krishna’s devotee, what need is there to be fearful? The Supreme Lord guarantees to protect us under any and all circumstances, as He did with His five-year old devotee Prahlada. Becoming a devotee of God means making Him the supreme object of worship. Currently we spend our time singing the praises of other living entities, offering them our service and the fruits of our labor. To become a devotee, we simply have to shift the focus of our worship towards Krishna.

Krishna removes the bondage of material life by taking our soul back to His spiritual world. Thus we see that the true meaning of liberation is to become free from the cycle of repeated births and deaths. Liberation is the end of bondage, and since Krishna can deliver this liberation, one of His names is Mukunda, meaning one who grants mukti.

Narada Muni Exhaustion comes about through material endeavors. In spiritual life, there is no concept of fatigue, for one is devoted completely to the Supreme Lord. To see evidence of this, we can look to the example of the great devotee Narada Muni. Narada travels throughout the three worlds with his vina, always singing the names of Narayana, or God. Narayana is a transcendental sound vibration, so Narada never tires of uttering this word.

One of Lord Krishna’s names is Achyuta, which means one who never falls down. Krishna is also known as Ajita, or one who is never conquered. The beauty of devotional service is that anyone who takes to it automatically acquires many of the same qualities possessed by God. Devotees are referred to as bhagavata since they are in association with Bhagavan. In this way there is no difference between Bhagavan and bhagavata. If Bhagavan is incapable of defeat, the same will hold true for the bhagavatas.

Radha Krishna All of this information is nice to know because it provides meaning to the word “salvation”. When Krishna saves someone, He delivers them from the miseries of pavarga. This information only begins to scratch the surface of the Lord’s greatness. It’s safe to say that anyone who takes up devotional service by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, will quickly be rewarded with apavarga, along with an even greater boon, that of eternal association with Krishna.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Reasons for Living

Sita Devi “Bind or destroy this body of mine, which is deprived of feelings [due to separation from Rama]. O Rakshasa, I will not protect this body or even my life.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.21)

The central teaching of the Vedas is that we are not our bodies. The spirit soul residing within represents both our true identity and the basis of our life. The Vedas also tell us that this soul is similar in quality to God, for it is meant to always be blissful and full of knowledge. Knowing this, one may wonder what the purpose to life is. Why are we forced to remain inside of a body which is destined for destruction? If we all die eventually, why do we even take birth? Why do we have arms, hands, legs, and a brain? Moreover, why should we work so hard to maintain the body, which is essentially just a shell that gets burned or buried at the end of life?

Lord Krishna with Mother Yashoda To answer these questions, let’s first analyze how most conditioned living entities view the body. By default, we are all born into ignorance. This is true for every living entity, and it is evidenced by the fact that an infant cannot do anything for itself except cry. At one time we were all babies who were completely dependent on our parents for everything. All the knowledge that we possess today had to be acquired over many years of trials, tribulations, and schooling. Through knowledge and intelligence we slowly but surely rose above the natural animalistic tendencies that we inherited at the time of birth.

As we grow older, most of us are taught to become self-sufficient individuals. Do well in school, get a good job, be responsible, and raise a family. This is the ideal existence, for if we are able to maintain ourselves and our families, a lot of our worries get eliminated. In a spiritual sense, however, this sort of life is still considered conditioned, meaning it has no influence on the soul. A living entity can be considered conditioned if it has no knowledge about the soul and its relationship to God. The quintessential trait of a conditioned person is that they identify solely with their body. This identification then leads them to think that the aim of life is to meet the sense demands of the body to the fullest degree.

What are sense demands? They can be thought of as anything relating to the four primary activities of animals: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. We all want to feel pleasure by performing activities that make us happy. Eat nice food, have a beautiful spouse, travel to nice places, hang out with our friends, etc. This sort of life certainly provides some level of sense pleasure, but it is very difficult to maintain. For those who have, there is always anxiety in maintaining their possessions. In today’s world, the economic condition is an ever-changing one, with new industries forming and dissolving every day. One hundred years ago, almost half of the population of America engaged in agriculture as their main business. That number is now drastically diminished, yet the food production is as high as it has ever been. All those farmers didn’t become homeless, but rather, they found new ways to earn money. In a similar manner, the IT boom of the last twenty years has created a whole new industry of jobs. People now are becoming computer specialists instead of joining other fields.

All this change means that sustaining a quiet and peaceful family life is not as easy as it used to be. Simply to meet the basic demands of the senses, we must go through so much trouble. The Vedas tell us that there is certainly nothing wrong with working hard to maintain our lives, but at the same time, we should realize that the pleasure derived from this way of life is temporary and fleeting in nature. In reality we don’t have to work that hard to gratify our senses. To illustrate this example, we need only look to the animal community. An animal, such as a dog or a cat, certainly eats, sleeps, mates, and defends just like humans do, except that they don’t hanker or lament. They don’t worry about a mortgage payment, or how they will maintain their wife and children. This is because animals don’t have the intelligence to understand those things. They simply act to satisfy their senses, and they don’t necessarily worry about the quality of their enjoyment. Human beings may sleep on comfortable mattresses, while dogs sleep on the floor, but the enjoyment derived isn’t much different. Sleep is sleep in the end.

Goswami Tulsidas Human beings have a higher level of intelligence for a reason. We are not meant to imitate the animal kingdom. Our arms, legs, and brain are supposed to be used for a higher purpose. To understand what that purpose is, we must first understand what defines our existence. What is that one thing that sustains us? The Vedas tell us that it is dharma. Dharma is sometimes translated to mean religion, religiosity, or virtue, but in reality, it is something that truly defines one’s existence, an occupational duty that never changes. Religion means a kind of faith, something we change at the drop of a hat. One person believes in Christianity, while another believes in Hinduism, while another jumps from one to the other. Dharma is not like that. It is something that is always in existence. For this reason the Vedas refer to religion as sanatana-dharma, meaning the eternal occupational duty of man.

So dharma defines us, but what does that actually mean? Our occupational duties are always in existence, but what do these duties entail? In a nutshell, our dharma is to always remain connected with God, for that is our original constitutional position. The body is merely a temporary covering for the spirit soul that resides within. The soul has transcendental qualities, the foremost of which is attachment for the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Krishna is God, the same God that everyone looks up to and sometimes chastises. We are minute spirit souls, but God is the complete soul, the most superior person, or purusha. Our eternal occupational duty is to always serve Him in a loving way.

Lord Krishna If our eternal duty is to serve God, why are we placed in a world where we are allowed to forget Him? Why do we take on the characteristics of animals at the time of birth? This material world is a type of prison house, a place for wayward spirit souls to go to try to act out their desires to imitate God. The Lord is very kind after all, so anyone that doesn’t want to abide by dharma is not forced to. The Lord is so kind to the deviant souls that He created this phantasmagoria known as the material universe to allow them to come and play.

The soul can be thought of as the actor, the body as the machine or set of instruments, and the creation as the playing field. We have total freedom in how we choose to act, though we have limited abilities to actually affect the outcomes of our actions. This is because every other living entity has an equal right to perform their own fruitive activities. As a result there are bound to be collisions. This complicated system of reward and punishment is all managed by God through His agents known as the demigods. So in this regard, we really have no control over our material fortunes and misfortunes.

The only way out of this temporary prison house is dharma. Abiding by dharma is very easy; we simply have to dovetail all our activities with God’s service. Dharma means pleasing God. How do we go about doing this? There is a term that more accurately describes the nature of our occupational duties: bhagavata-dharma. Bhagavata-dharma means devotional service, or those duties which are aimed at pleasing Bhagavan, or Bhagavata. Krishna, or God, is known as Bhagavan because He possesses all fortunes. Anything directly associated with Bhagavan is known as Bhagavata. Bhagavata can refer to books about God or to devotees who serve Him. In this way, bhagavata-dharma, or being always engaged in God’s service, can be thought of as the highest duty in life.

Hanuman engaged in devotional service As outlined by the great bhakta, Prahlada Maharaja, devotional service consists of nine distinct activities: hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering prayers, becoming His servant, becoming friends with the Lord, and surrendering everything unto Him. As we can see, this affords us many avenues which we can go down as it relates to serving God. Those who engage in bhagavata-dharma are making the most out of their lives. Instead of seeing the body as a source of distress and misery, devotees take full advantage of their hands, legs, mouth, and brain to glorify God, chant His name, and talk about Him with others.

A great example of a person who perfected all nine of these processes was Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama. Though Krishna is the fountainhead of all forms of God, He kindly takes many different direct expansions for the enactment of various pastimes. One such expansion appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. Known by the name of Rama, Krishna played the role of a pious prince, wholly dedicated to the welfare of the pious. Naturally, Rama’s wife was equally as pious, for God can never associate with non-liberated souls. Matter is inferior to spirit, so much so that God can never directly associate with matter. When He appears on earth, His body is completely spiritual, and so are all the people He becomes friends with or marries.

Sita and Rama Sita Devi based her identity on her devotion to Rama. In this way she showed the proper way for a wife to behave towards her husband. The Vedas tell us that a marriage is a fifty-fifty partnership, with each person assigned separate tasks which they must perform with dedication. The husband is assigned with the task of providing protection and the wife with the duty of serving the husband at all times. These duties were heightened in Sita and Rama’s relationship, for Rama was God Himself, and Sita was a pure devotee. The devotees take it upon themselves to always act in God’s interests, and the Supreme Lord takes charge of protecting them. In this way we see how the loving relationship between God and His devotees operates.

Lord Rama Lord Rama’s duties required Him to take on a famous demon of the time, the ten-headed Ravana. The demigods were living in fear of Ravana because he had acquired great fighting ability. Being a committed atheist, Ravana wanted to rule the world, and he thought he could do so by doing away with the devatas. Lord Rama, being God Himself, easily could have just gone to Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka and killed Him, but the Lord wanted to abide by the proper code of conduct assigned to the kshatriya, or warrior, division. This protocol stipulated that Rama couldn’t take Ravana on in battle unless He was provoked. Lord Rama got the excuse He needed when, while residing in the forest of Dandaka, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana.

Hearing of Sita’s beauty, Ravana’s heart became set on having her. Sadly for him, Sita’s heart belonged to Rama. She was incapable of even thinking of another man. In the above referenced statement, Sita is telling Ravana to go ahead and do what he wants with her body, for she is ready to renounce it. Being held captive in Ravana’s kingdom, Sita was unable to perform devotional service, so she deemed her body to be useless. This is the sign of the highest level of intelligence. Sita had no desire to use her body to satisfy animal instincts. If she couldn’t serve Rama, she had no desire to live.

Sita Devi The lesson here is that we should take the necessary actions to ensure that we can always perform devotional service. Our lifestyle should be adjusted in such a way to eliminate as many hindrances to our devotional activities. The four biggest obstacles towards advancing in spiritual life are the sinful activities of meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. Eliminating these activities and simultaneously taking up the regular chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the formula for success. We don’t need to reject everything as being material. Rather, we should judge every activity through the prism of devotional service. “Will such and such activity help me in my devotional life, or will it hurt me?” Thinking along these lines, we can make the most of this wonderful opportunity of human life. If we fail to act according to dharma, none of our activities can be considered worthwhile.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Man of the Cloth

Lord Vishnu with Narada Muni “A person who personally practices the tenets of religion as they are enjoined in the shastras and who also teaches others the same principles is called religious. Simply professing a kind of faith is not a sign of religiousness. One must act according to religious principles, and by his personal example he should teach others. Such a person is to be understood as religious.” (The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 30)

In the Vedic system, brahmanas are considered the highest societal division. For those who have heard about the Indian caste system, the concept of brahmanas, the highest class, and untouchables, the lowest class, is usually what garners the most attention. This class-based society isn’t actually determined by one’s birth, but rather by the qualities that a person exhibits. The divisions of the varnashrama-dharma, the purified form of the caste system, already exist amongst the members of society; the Vedas just give us a formalized breakdown and an open recognition of these differences. When these groups work together, there is peace and harmony, and when they don’t, you get a never-ending struggle for control and power.

Why is there a struggle? In simple terms, in a “classless” society every person will want to be the head. Every designated area of space has a controller. Whether we are talking about a person’s body, a household, a school, a community, or even a country, there will always be a leader, someone who is in charge of governance and the rule of law. In the body, the controller is the soul, or atma. This soul belongs to the individual; hence living entities are often referred to as ishvara, or controllers. God is also ishvara, but His dominion is over the entire creation. The world we live in can be thought of as one of His bodies. In a household the controller is the husband or the elderly family members, in a community the mayor or governor, and in a nation the President. In the modern age, government officials are elected through popular vote. As a result there is always a struggle between those members of society who want to become the leader. Since a classless society is unnatural, there will always be a struggle between those who want to break free from the pack.

The Vedic system for societal maintenance, technically known as varnashrama-dharma, doesn’t subscribe to this classless idea. Every living entity is certainly equal, for there aren’t any differences in the qualities of different atmas. However, the material qualities a person possesses, gunas, certainly do vary. One person may be good at taking in knowledge and processing complex thoughts and ideas. Another person may be courageous and expert at providing defense, while another is good at performing trade and handling business. There are still others who provide the best service known to man, being able to perform manual labor perfectly and without much rest. Since every person possesses different qualities, the varnashrama-dharma system calls for each person to stick to their prescribed duties, while working for the common interest of all mankind.

In order for people to cooperate with each other, there must be a leader, someone to provide guidance. In the varnashrama-dharma system, the intellectual leaders are the brahmanas. When compared to the body of a human being, the brahmanas can be thought of as the brain. The brain is in charge of the functions of the rest of the body. Though it is only located inside the skull, its presence is felt throughout. A body can continue to survive without arms, legs, and a stomach, but if the brain should be removed, the result would be instant death. In this regard, the brahmanas can be thought of as the most important members of society. One doesn’t become a brahmana simply by birthright. While it is certainly beneficial to take birth to brahmana parents, this doesn’t automatically qualify a person to lead society. To act as the brains of society, one must have the sufficient knowledge and training.

Lord KrishnaVedic information is primarily transmitted in the Sanskrit language, which is so nice because all of the words have deep meanings. Aside from identifying the highest class in society, the word “brahmana” actually means something. A brahmana is one who knows Brahman. What is Brahman? Most of us know about God and His supreme authority in the spiritual and material worlds. The Vedas tell us that God has an eternal form which is difficult to comprehend. It is difficult to see God’s form because He has this glaring effulgence which comes off of His body. We can think of it in terms of the sun and the sunshine. It is difficult to look at the sun directly due to its brightness and the rays that emanate off of it. God, in His original form of Lord Krishna, has the same potency. In fact, the sun is merely a manifestation of His external energy.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)

Lord Krishna The effulgence beaming off of Krishna’s body is Brahman. Brahman includes all things matter and spirit. This means that we are also part of Brahman. Since we are all part of this energy, every living entity is equal in its constitutional position. One person can’t take up any more of Brahman than anyone else. Therefore, one who understands Brahman, i.e. a brahmana, understands that there is a non-dual nature between the living entities. Since we are all part of the complete whole, there is really no difference between any of us. This includes other forms of life such as plants, aquatics, birds, and beasts. For a person to be considered a qualified brahmana, they must understand these facts, along with the difference between matter and spirit. As mentioned before, the soul is the ishvara of the body, meaning that matter is subordinate to spirit. The soul is purusha, or the enjoyer, and the body is prakriti, or matter or the enjoyed.

How does one become a brahmana? There is a training process. In order to realize Brahman, one must become detached from their senses. All activity is considered material by default. This is because everything that we do is aimed at pleasing the senses of the body, a body which is made up of matter. To understand Brahman, one must become detached from the senses. The key components to spiritual life are vairagya and jnana. Vairagya is renunciation, refraining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. Jnana is knowledge, understanding the difference between matter and spirit and the absolute nature of Brahman.

“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Bg. 8.3)

Lord Chaitanya Once a person becomes a bona fide brahmana, they have specific duties they must take up. The varnashrama-dharma system is based on a person’s qualities and the work they perform. The symptoms of a brahmana are kindness, peacefulness, self-control, compassion, and intelligence. One must also perform certain kinds of work in order to maintain their status as a brahmana. Two of the primary activities of a brahmana are the studying of the scriptures and the teaching of others about Vedic knowledge. In order to teach, one must first be following the Vedic principles themselves. This is the definition of being religious. Simply saying that you belong to a particular faith is not enough; one must be a believer and a practitioner. This commitment to religious principles was at the core of the movement started by Lord Chaitanya some five hundred years ago. He wanted people with brahminical qualities to take up spiritual life and then go around and teach others about God.

Lord Chaitanya How is this system any different from the religious practices of other faiths? What is so unique about Lord Chaitanya’s movement? In today’s world, most everyone belongs to a particular faith. This faith is usually inherited from the parents. If our parents are Hindu, we will claim to be Hindu. If our parents are Christian, we will claim to be Christian, and so on. But as mentioned before, a person must be practicing the principles of their religion in order to be considered religious. Otherwise, there is no meaning to a person’s faith. This also applies to those who simply go through the motions of religious functions and rituals. On the one hand, going through these functions certainly is a good thing because it increases the chances that a person will take a sincere interest in spiritual life. At the same time, if our emotions aren’t invested in service to God, we can’t claim to be religious. Lord Chaitanya’s movement is unique in that He doesn’t ask people to change their faith, but rather to be true to their word. Lord Chaitanya’s mission is to make honest men out of all the people who claim to be religious.

If people aren’t interested in spiritual life even after attending church so many times, what will turn things around? The necessary ingredient is the instruction of a person who is following the religious principles. This person must also understand the reason behind their activities. For example, our parents likely told us to go to sleep on time during our childhood years. Simply going to sleep on time is enough to give us the intended benefit of proper rest, but what if we were to ask our parents why we had to sleep at a certain time? Children are known for asking nagging questions, and if parents don’t have a good answer, the child will be less likely to adhere to the restrictions imposed on them. A good parent not only will impose rules, but also will understand the reason behind them.

“All purposes that are served by the small pond can at once be served by the great reservoirs of water. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.46)

Lord Chaitanya and associates Spiritual life works in the same way. In order to get others to take to spiritual life, one must be practicing the regulative principles themselves, and also understand the purpose behind them. Lord Chaitanya, who was a preacher incarnation of God, taught His associates and disciples to first elevate themselves to the brahmana standard. What does this entail? The first guideline is that one must refrain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. The other aspect to brahmincal life is the execution of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Devotional service can include any activity as long as it is dovetailed with service to God. Lord Chaitanya’s favorite process of devotional service was the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

These two processes, abstention from sinful activities and regular chanting, are enough to elevate one to the status of a brahmana. But in order to teach others how to become brahmanas, one must understand the reasoning behind these processes. The restrictions are easy to understand. Human life is meant for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge, so one must eliminate all hindrances to the acquisition of that knowledge. As we all know, doing well on a test requires concentration and long hours of studying. The same holds true with getting good grades in our classes. A person must be sober in order to think clearly, thus they should refrain from all activities that take away their sobriety. Meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex all involve agitation of the mind, diverting it from its supreme object of worship. These restrictions aren’t meant simply to punish the living entities, but rather to help them focus on the primary task at hand, the acquisition of spiritual knowledge.

Bhagavad-gita Chanting is the most important of all religious practices. God’s names are absolute, just as He is. This means that any person can chant Hare Krishna and be in direct association with the Lord. Chanting also helps one surpass the realization of Brahman, and go directly to worship of God’s personal form of Krishna. The beauty of understanding Krishna is that one automatically understands Brahman as a result. Krishna is the source of Brahman, so it would make sense that His devotees would acquire all knowledge relating to His expansions.

Lord Chaitanya’s formula is quite simple. Become a devotee of Krishna and then talk about Him with others. “Wherever you go, and whomever you meet, simply tell them about Krishna’s instructions.” Where does one go to find these instructions? We can hear directly from Krishna by reading the classic Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. No one needs to change their religious affiliation. They can remain in their current position and still take to chanting and reading about Krishna. One who practices the principles of the scriptures is religious and worthy of teaching others. If we have any interest whatsoever in spiritual life, we should seriously consider taking up Lord Chaitanya’s recommendations. It only takes a few qualified brahmanas to change the whole world for the better.