Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Rock

Lord Rama “O Kakutstha, if You are unable to tolerate this distress, then how will the common person or the meager be able to tolerate it?” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.5)

Not everyone is born to be a leader, which means that most of us look to others for leadership and guidance. In times of trouble, even the strongest among us look to others for comfort and stability. If a friend or close confidante shows grace under pressure, our spirits are uplifted, and it makes it easier to persevere through tough times. Even if someone just says something as simple as, “Everything’s going to be okay”, it’s enough to give us temporary relief. Having these kinds of people in our life is very important, even more so for society at large. If our leaders exude confidence and show steadiness under pressure, the rest of society will follow suit.

Why is it important to not panic in emergencies? An emergency, by definition, is a troublesome situation. Who wouldn’t give way to lamentation or fear during such a time? This is precisely why it is necessary to have people around who don’t give way to grief, for most of us wouldn’t be so calm. If our authority figures panic under duress, it makes it easier for the rest of us to lose our cool. The famous American television sitcom, Seinfeld, had an episode that illustrated this principle. One of the main characters on the show, George Costanza, was attending a children’s birthday party when a fire broke out. George’s character type was that of a seedy fellow, someone who was selfish and didn’t abide by social conventions. He was always looking for shortcuts in life, and he didn’t care who got in his way.

George Costanza seeing the fireIn this particular episode, when the fire broke out, instead of remaining calm, George panicked. In fact, he lost his cool in the worst possible way. He repeatedly screamed out, “Fire! Fire!” and then ran out of the house, throwing aside any women and children that were in his way. Later on, the adults at the party confronted him regarding his behavior, and George tried to lie his way out of it. The adults were angry because he, as an adult, should have acted more maturely. Young children growing up in school are given lessons on fire safety. The breakout of a fire is one of the more common emergency situations that come up. Students repeatedly go through fire drills, wherein they are told to remain calm and exit the building, single-file, in a controlled manner. If clothing should catch fire, children are taught to remember three words: stop, drop, and roll. These three words are used to convey the need for calm and peace during an emergency. Fire on the clothing requires immediate attention, so it can be considered a greater emergency than a general fire. Yet the protocol during this increased emergency doesn’t call for increased panic, running, or screaming. Rather, the victims are told to immediately stop what they are doing, drop to the floor in a calm manner, and then roll so that the effects of the fire will be limited.

Firefighters The heroes in society are those who don’t get flustered under pressure. Firefighters and police officers are especially recognized for their bravery. In the infamous 9/11 attacks in New York City, firefighters and police officers were called to the rescue. Based on the firsthand accounts of the people on the scene, many firefighters and police officers refused to leave the burning Twin Towers, for they did not want to leave any innocent victims behind. Many of these brave men were told that the buildings were about to collapse and that if they didn’t leave, they would surely die. Many of them still decided to stay, thereby voluntarily giving up their own lives in favor of helping others.

The heroes teach us by example. If they show steadiness under pressure, we are more likely to have our fears allayed. If you conducted a poll around the world and asked people what would be the one thing they would want, the most common response would be “World peace.” Heroes help to give us some semblance of peace, especially during troubling times.

Life in the spiritual world with Krishna By the same token, our life here on earth can be thought of as a continuing saga of misery and heartache, chaos and despair. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this world is not meant to be our permanent home. It is a temporary place, full of miseries. This may seem like a pessimistic view, but it is not intended to be. Human life is considered a great boon because it is our best chance to learn about God and use that information to love Him. This love can then take us to the spiritual world, which is free of anxieties and miseries, Vaikuntha.

The root cause of our anxiety stems from our forgetfulness of God and His powers. This is easy to forget because we are born into ignorance. We have lived many previous lives, and those past experiences determined the circumstances of our current birth. Nevertheless, we are pretty much ignorant once we come out of the womb. We have to be taught everything that we know, either directly by someone else, or indirectly through new life experiences. If no one teaches us about God, or if we remain obstinate in our pursuit of material sense gratification, we will lose touch with the Supreme Lord. Since the material world is ultimately subject to destruction, so is everything contained within. This includes our own bodies, along with all of our possessions and relationships. Knowing that we are going to die is probably the greatest cause of our distress.

“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)

Since we know we are going to die, some of us try to cram as much sense gratification into our lives as possible. This isn’t really a good solution because death is not the end, but rather the beginning of a new life. Just because we die once, it doesn’t mean that we don’t take birth again. But most of us don’t realize that we’ll take birth again, for we have no knowledge of our previous lives. If we understand the imperishable nature of the soul, we can understand that we have no reason to fear death or the loss of our valuable possessions.

Dharma So if we shouldn’t focus on sense gratification, what should we do with our time? What is the purpose of our being put on earth? How should we act? To guide us in our activities, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, gave us dharma, or religiosity. Dharma actually never gets created, but rather exists at all times. Issues arise because we forget what dharma is and why it exists in the first place. The exact definition of dharma is “something which defines the essence of something”. When applied to the living entities, it means that which defines our existence as spirit souls. Since our original nature is to be loving servants of the Supreme Lord, dharma can be taken to be religiosity, or our occupational duty.

This occupational duty manifests through a set of law codes and recommendations that we must follow in order to make our lives perfect. Perfection in life means returning back to Godhead in the afterlife. Knowing that we would have a hard time residing in the material world, Krishna imparted the system of dharma to the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. He then passed it down from generation to generation. The principles of dharma are set forth in the Vedas, which are the original scriptures for mankind. Veda means knowledge, and since the original Vedas expound on the system of dharma, they are considered the highest form of knowledge.

If these scriptures have existed since the beginning of time, why do most of us continue to live in fear? Why do we overly lament over misfortunes, and overly rejoice during the good times? Why are we fearful of death, and why do we go to any means to try to prolong our life of sense gratification? What happens is that, over time, the system of dharma deteriorates. Though we are naturally disposed towards abiding by dharma, contact with material nature tends to skew things. Matter is subordinate to spirit, but we become illusioned into thinking that the reverse is true. Material life means worshiping matter. This worship involves the intense search for sense gratification in the form of beauty, wealth, and fame. These things are all related to matter, something which is controlled by spirit.

“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, Bg. 4.7)

Lord Rama The more time spent associating with matter, the further we drift away from dharma. To reestablish the principles of dharma, to annihilate the miscreants, and to also give pleasure to the devotees, the Supreme Lord personally advents on earth from time to time. One such occasion was during the Treta Yuga when Lord Krishna appeared on earth in the guise of a handsome and pious prince named Rama. Each of Krishna’s incarnations has specific characteristics and features, and as Lord Rama, God was especially focused on abiding by established dharma and setting a good example.

As the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Lord Rama took it upon Himself to uphold the great tradition of the Ikshvaku dynasty. The rulers in this line were all known for their strict adherence to piety. They were all chivalrous and ruled the citizens perfectly. They didn’t play any favorites as far as the people went; everyone was treated fairly. Lord Rama was so well known for His detachment and equanimity that even His enemies had respect for Him. Even though Lord Rama punished them, the criminals knew that He had no personal grudge against them, for He was simply following the proper code of conduct.

Lord Rama not only set an example on how to be a great government leader, but He also taught us how to persevere through troubling situations. We tend to think of God as being very opulent and powerful, and while this is certainly true, the Lord also possesses the quality of renunciation to the fullest extent. This quality was exhibited by Rama through His reactions to a series of unfortunate events. First, the kingdom which was rightfully His was taken away from Him. Not only was Rama passed over to be the next king, but He was banished from the kingdom for fourteen years, forced to wander the forests of India. Then, as a result of being separated from his son due to the exile, Rama’s beloved father, King Dasharatha, died prematurely. To make matters worse, while residing in the forest, Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana.

Lord Rama The combination of these tragic events would be enough to make even the strongest person contemplate suicide. Though Rama was God Himself, He still played along in His role as a human being. After Sita was kidnapped, He lamented greatly. He was ready to destroy the entire world with His arrows. Rama was an expert kshatriya warrior, skilled in using the most powerful of mantras. Recitation of these mantras would make the arrows shot from His bow equal in potency to today’s nuclear weapons. Lord Rama didn’t know what had happened to Sita, so He thought the worst. He gave way to lamentation and grief.

Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, stepped in to console his brother. Instead of giving way to grief, Lakshmana gave Rama a pep talk. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that He is supposed to be a leader. If Rama were to give way to grief, then every ordinary person in society would have an excuse to give up when the going got tough. Obviously Rama wasn’t really grief stricken, for He was God Himself, but this situation nevertheless shows the greatness of Lakshmana. We could only wish to have such a brother as Lakshmana. He was so devoted and pious that he was willing to even correct God Himself.

Eventually Lord Rama regained His composure and decided to continue His search for Sita. He would be successful in finding and rescuing her and killing Ravana in the process. Lakshmana’s words were certainly true though. If Rama had given up, all of His devotees and followers would have an easy excuse to give up and to not try to make the most of their lives. We should all follow Rama’s example and try to remember that we should never deviate from the pious path, even if the worst things happen to us. Good and bad things happen on their own, and we should not let them affect us.

“O best among men [Arjuna], the person who is not disturbed by happiness and distress and is steady in both is certainly eligible for liberation.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.15)

Lakshmana In today’s age, however, it is easy to forget these things. One of the symptoms of the Kali Yuga is that most people are not religious. Taking the gross material body to be the beginning and end of everything, we are worshiping matter instead of God. Therefore it is the duty of devotees of Krishna to follow in Lakshmana’s footsteps. If we believe in Krishna, have knowledge of the Absolute Truth, and have firm faith in the superiority of devotional service, we should take it upon ourselves to share this information with others. Since devotees know that Krishna is the creator, maintainer, and destroyer of all things material, they are able to persevere through even the most troubling of situations. It is incumbent upon the devotees to set a good example for others to follow. Lord Chaitanya said that all of us should become gurus, or spiritual masters, simply by talking about Krishna with others. If we regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and abide by the four regulative principles, other people will have a nice example to follow. We can make the most of this precious human form of life by being solid as a rock in our performance of devotional service.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Delivering the Mind

Hanuman chanting “The Sanskrit word mantra is a combination of two syllables, man and tra. Man means "mind," and tra means "deliverance." Therefore a mantra is that which delivers you from mental concoction, from hovering on the mental plane.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, Ch 2.6)

The advent of the information age has brought a bevy of new ways for information to be transmitted. Transmission can be both sent and received at the same time in what is known as full-duplex transmission. In these message exchanges, there are the transmitters of information and the receivers. The receiver processes the information differently based on how the information is transmitted. This is not only the case with electronic transmissions, where the formats can vary between data packets, flat files, and xml, but also with human interaction. Of all the methods of transmission available, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that voice, or hearing, is the most effective, the best way to take in information, especially as it relates to spiritual life.

Graduation ceremony A good way to get a handle on the current situation of a particular country and its future is to take stock of the graduation speeches given at high schools and colleges. The graduation is a big deal, especially for the parents. In America, graduating from high school means the child has just finished twelve years of rigorous studies, so naturally there will be a celebration to commemorate the achievement. At this ceremony, distinguished students give speeches, along with select faculty members. The speeches given by the teachers, school administrators, and notable guests make for an interesting study. These speeches are intended to give guidance to the graduating students, a look ahead to the future. Naturally, one would expect to hear sound words of advice, with information about what to look for and what activities to stay away from.

Yet many of these speeches often turn into complaint-fests, wherein the speaker bemoans the condition of the country at the time, voicing their dissatisfaction about everything from politics to technology. At one speech in particular that we attended a few years back, students were ridiculed for their way of life and the attention they paid to video game systems, cellular telephones, and the internet. While this type of speech certainly isn’t positive in nature, the seeds of such complaints are quite easy to decipher. The speaker is usually much older, so many of these advancements in technology weren’t around during their time in school. Since the speakers see students giving so much attention to things that they themselves deem useless, naturally there will be gripes and issues raised. Also, the speakers lived with less during their youth and they were still able to get by just fine. Their speeches essentially reflect their desire to have the students avoid attachments to the latest gizmos and gadgets.

iPhone The information age has led to a dramatic shift in the area of communication. This is an area which the elder generation finds much fault with. Since emails and text messages can be sent through smart-phones and computers, many people don’t like to answer their telephones. We were recently informed of an opinion given by a coworker of a friend. This coworker was speaking about the current generation of young adults, which is labeled Generation Y, and describing their information gathering abilities in terms of a machine. This person was a little perplexed by the fact that many of his young coworkers simply refused to answer the phone or respond to voice messages. This led the person to conclude that if today’s generation would be compared to a computer, it would be one that couldn’t process voice, just data.

Obviously people in the computer or IT industry will find this joke more humorous than will others, but the point raised certainly has validity. Sending a text message or an email is a much easier way to transmit information. It is hassle-free and devoid of any personal interaction. Voice interaction, be it over the phone or in person, requires the proper use of tone and expression. One must learn how to express themselves well in a very short period of time, being able to react to the other person’s comments quickly. Email and text allow a person to take in the information and carefully craft a response. There also aren’t time constraints. A text message or an email doesn’t have to be responded to right away. There is also instant messaging, which usually is responded to more quickly, but still has the safety of non-voice contact.

While transmitting information through data is certainly an easier and less confrontational way than through voice, there are some drawbacks, with the most important being that of tone. If we are talking to someone, they can gather the tone of our voice, which then gives added meaning to our words. This tone is lacking in the written word. For example, if we were to tell one of our friends, “I’m going to kill you”, they could usually tell by the tone of our voice that we are kidding. If the same statement was transmitted in a text message, instant message, or an email, they wouldn’t be so sure. As a friend, they could probably tell that we are kidding, but if someone else were to read the data version of this message, they might think that we are serious. This is just one small example but just imagine the issues that come with transmitting information that has hundreds or thousands of words. Tone becomes even more important, and improper interpretation of it can lead to confusion and issues.

Smilies We live in an advanced age after all, so of course people have found ways to get around the tone issue. One of the best ways is through the use of emotion icons or symbols. These fancy looking characters can do a lot to help present a message in just the right way. The savvy communicator knows of all the nice icons and symbols that are out there, such as the flower, heart, smiley face, and butterfly. These symbols are created by pressing select combinations of keys on a standard keyboard. They even have symbols for Sanskrit words such as omkara, or om. Om is the transcendental sound vibration representation of Lord Krishna, or God. It is actually non-different from God; therefore it is used in almost all important Vedic mantras and sacrifices. If we include these symbols in our message transmissions, the recipient can better understand our mood and what we are feeling. Certain instant message programs have many of these symbols built into their system, so the wise users know just the right symbol for each occasion. There are also other tricks of the trade, such as abbreviations, and symbols created using regular keyboard characters such as colons and parentheses.

Omkara symbol All of these issues present challenges to the God conscious devotees, those who want to spread the glories of the Lord to others. How should information about Lord Krishna and bhakti-yoga be transmitted in the proper tone to today’s generation which has trouble processing voice? To find the answer, we can simply look to Krishna Himself, who around five hundred years ago inaugurated a system which is still as effective today as it was then. This system is known as sankirtana, or the congregational chanting of the holy names of God.

Lord Chaitanya sankirtanaVedic information was originally passed down through an oral tradition; people hearing the truth and then speaking it to their loved ones, neighbors, and children. Later on, the ancient Vedic seers saw the need for the written word when mankind’s mental capabilities began to diminish. Even though the eternal truths of life found in the Vedas started to be written down, the hearing process always remained the most effective method of transmission for Vedic wisdom. This hearing process is still just as effective, provided that it is presented in the same authorized way. Lord Chaitanya stressed the chanting process, the repetition of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as the means to salvation. This sequence of words is known as the maha-mantra, and its constant recitation can deliver a person from the cycle of birth and death.

Lord KrishnaVedic wisdom is quite comprehensive, but the sum and substance of it is that the living entities are pure souls that belong with God. Lord Krishna, or God, is the complete soul, the original fire from which all tiny sparks emanate. Krishna is God for everyone, not just the Hindus. He isn’t some mythological figure either; He has an eternal form which is full of bliss and knowledge. While some other faiths refuse to acknowledge the existence of God’s personal form, the Vedas not only tell us what God looks like, but also inform us of His countless names derived from His pleasurable activities. If God can derive pleasure and enact pastimes, then He can most certainly have a form. There is no limit to the number of forms, and many of them are equal in potency to the original, but there is still nevertheless an original candle from which all other candles are lit. This original Personality of Godhead is Krishna, and the maha-mantra addresses Him and His energy in a loving way.

The word “mantra” has taken on its own meaning in modern parlance. It’s usually taken to be a single term or a saying that one repeats in order to stay focused on a goal or to remind themselves of a particular fact. The word itself is Sanskrit for the delivering of the mind. How is the mind delivered? Through the hearing process of course. A mantra is meant to be recited, preferably out loud, over and over again until the mind is rescued from its troublesome circumstance. The Vedic seers didn’t just concoct this idea of the hearing process being the most effective method of data transmission. It is a fact that has existed since the beginning of time, for the Vedas were originally known as the shrutis, meaning that which is heard.

Goswami Tulsidas Chanting Hare Krishna certainly can deliver the mind by taking it to the spiritual plane, but what about the acquisition of knowledge? Vedic information is now stored in great books like the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Even if we read a nice English translation of any of these books, how do we get the tone of the authors? Are there smiley faces and symbols? Luckily for us, these books are all presented in a poetry-style format which is meant to be sung. If one were to visit Vaishnava temples around the world, they would see that the original Sanskrit found in these books is sung in a standard format. This reinforces the hearing process. The ancient sages of India were so advanced that they knew of the issues that would arise in the future. Therefore, they never deviated from this hearing process, and they took it into account when they composed their literature. Even poets like Goswami Tulsidas, whose epic Ramacharitamanasa is one of the greatest devotional books ever written, styled his writings in such a way that the verses could be sung. Can we imagine such a thing? The Ramacharitamanasa is quite lengthy and detailed, and it not only contains philosophical truths, but descriptions of historical events as well. Yet this is all put together in such a way that it can be sung continuously by anyone who has love for God. Tulsidas’ Hanuman Chalisa, a Sanskrit poem which is an ode to Lord Hanuman, is today sung in a wide range of styles by many different artists and devotees. By the same token, the Hare Krishna mantra can also be sung in a variety of different ragas, or rhythms.

Shri Shri Nimai Nitai While there are many kinds of yoga, or processes for linking the soul with God, the topmost is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. This sublime engagement has many components, such as remembering, offering prayers, and worshiping, all of which can bring spiritual perfection. But for the people of this age, the recommended processes are chanting and hearing, kirtanam and shravanam. Devotional service is open for anyone to take up, regardless of their religious affiliation or family history. God is God after all, so anyone who chants his name in a loving way is sure to be heard.

“O descendant of King Bharata, one who desires to be free from all miseries must hear about, glorify and also remember the Personality of Godhead, who is the Supersoul, the controller and the savior from all miseries.” (Shukadeva Gosvami speaking to Maharaja Parikshit, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.1.5)

Radha and Krishna in the spiritual world The lesson here is that if we want to be delivered in spiritual life in the shortest amount of time, we should do our best to take to the hearing process. Hearing certainly is a passive activity, but if the subject matter is transcendental and related to Krishna, then it is most sublime. Chanting Hare Krishna, which was Lord Chaitanya’s foremost spiritual practice and recommendation for the people of this age, is both an active and passive engagement. The active part is in relation to the use of the tongue and its recitation of the words in the mantra, and the passive part relates to the hearing process. If we sit down quietly and chant to ourselves, the process is known as japa, and when done congregationally it is known as sankirtana. Reading is also another form of hearing since the reader listens to the words in their head. The key is to hear from the right source, a devotee; someone who can convey the proper tone in their writings, along with providing the proper meanings.  While this method is certainly effective for acquiring spiritual knowledge, nothing surpasses the process of hearing mantras, especially the maha-mantra. Hearing mantras relating to Lord Krishna automatically helps in the acquisition of knowledge, for these mantras are free from any defects. When Hare Krishna is chanted out loud, the innocent, welcoming, and blissful tone is already built in, for these sweet, transcendental sound vibrations emanate from the spiritual world, where Krishna and His liberated associates enjoy each other’s company. Hearing and reciting the great Vedic mantras can deliver us by bringing the mind the happiness that it so desperately needs.

Thursday, August 5, 2010


Dasharatha quitting his body “Being attached to Your qualities, the king, as we have heard from Bharata, attained the divine nature due to separation from You.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.4)

In the course of our lifetime, we are bound to come upon hard times. Especially as we get older, the days seem to repeat themselves. Since we’ve worked so hard to achieve our goals and maintain a steady family life, it just seems that there needs to be a break at some point. We work hard at the office for five days and then relax on the weekend. When the next week starts, we repeat the same cycle. What is the point to all of this? Why are we alive? Why do we have to perform activities to maintain our body? Even if we never think of these things, others most certainly do. Suicide hotlines exist to deal with these very situations. While there may be a variety of answers given by suicide prevention counselors as to why a person should remain alive, the most important reason is that only by living can we perform devotional service to God. This service is the highest occupation of man and is thus known as bhagavata-dharma. Commitment to this service should be the only thing that keeps us bound to this life.

When we speak of someone being bound to the material world, we are referring to attachment. It is our attachments that guide our activities. When we form an attachment for something, we feel that we can’t live without it. Whether it is a certain type of food, going out on the town, drinking alcohol, or even love for another person, attachments can give us a reason to live, something to make us get out of bed in the morning. In reality, we can most certainly live without these things, but the mind tricks us into thinking that we can’t. These attachments may seem harmless on the surface, but the Vedas tell us that if one keeps these attachments up until the time of death, they will be forced to take birth again.

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

Lord Krishna One may ask, “What is wrong with taking birth again? I think that’s pretty cool. It means that we live forever.” It certainly is a great benediction from God to be allowed to go through the cycle of enjoyment again. It is nice to know that we get second and third chances to get things right. But what exactly constitutes perfection in life? Why do we keep taking birth, and what can we do to stop the cycle? To gain liberation, the first requirement is the firm desire to stop reincarnation. Attachment to material objects doesn’t help in this regard. Attachment results in karma-bandha, meaning it guarantees that we will assume another material body in the next life and be forced to take to fruitive activity again. The aim should be to gain release from having to perform fruitive activities, karma-mukta.

The opposite of like is dislike, or hatred. While some people view reincarnation as a great thing, others are bewildered by it. “You mean I have to suffer through the trials and tribulations of life all over again? I have to go through twelve years of schooling and then work like a dog until the day I die? No thank you!” Many suicide attempts are the result of the inability to cope with the troubles of day-to-day life. Though suicide may seem like a way out of our miseries, the Vedas tell us that it actually leads to more miseries. Suicide involves self-inflicted violence, something which the laws of nature must give punishment for. Suicide involves a sort of material attachment as well, for there is an attachment to the idea of violence. People who commit suicide don’t even take birth again right away like other people. Instead, they remain in their subtle body consisting of mind, intelligence, and false ego. Hence they stay trapped in a ghost-like state until a family descendant performs pious activities in their favor.

King Dasharatha So we see that strong attachment and strong hatred for material life both lead to misery. So what are we to do? In reality, there is only one reason to remain alive: to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to God. As spirit souls, it is our constitutional position to be eternal servants of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is God, even though others may refer to Him by a different name. Even if one is unwilling to accept Krishna as the original form of Godhead, they can still practice devotional service, provided they have an object of worship who is non-different from Krishna. The idea is to perform all of our activities as a sacrifice for the Lord. Similar to how sports teams will dedicate a particular game or a season to a fallen teammate, we living entities should dedicate all of our activities to the Supreme Lord. This was the path taken by the great King Dasharatha many thousands of years ago, and he was rewarded with salvation.

In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is counseling his elder brother, Lord Rama. In the Vedic tradition, God’s original name is Krishna. He resides in the spiritual sky on the planet of Krishnaloka. For the purposes of creation, maintenance, and destruction of the innumerable planetary systems, Krishna expands Himself into Lord Vishnu. To show even more mercy to the fallen living entities dwelling on earth, Vishnu appears from time to time in various guises. As Lord Rama, God appeared as a handsome and pious prince, dedicated to the welfare of the saintly class. Since God is so wonderful, naturally all His closest associates will also be. Rama’s father was Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya.

King Dasharatha with Rama Though Dasharatha had many responsibilities associated with being king, he was not attached to any of them. He neither loved nor hated his title of king; he was firmly detached. Yet he still had someone in his life that served as his reason for living. That someone was Lord Rama, who was the son that Dasharatha had long hoped for. The king’s attachment to his eldest son was no secret. His entire life force was supported by the activities of Rama. In this regard, we see how to attain perfection in life. Even though he didn’t know it, Dasharatha was the perfect yogi in that all his activities were dovetailed with Rama’s service.

Due to a series of unfortunate events, Rama had to leave the kingdom at a young age. He was banished to the forest and forced to reside there for fourteen years, having no connection with the kingdom. Dasharatha couldn’t bear the separation from Rama, so he died soon after Rama left. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama about how and why Dasharatha died, as they had heard from their brother Bharata. It is said that Dasharatha entered the divine [devatvam] realm, or assumed the divine nature. This means that he went to heaven and took on a spiritual body. At the time of Lakshmana’s statement, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, had just been kidnapped by the demon Ravana while the group was residing in the forest. Rama was feeling great grief due to separation from Sita. Moreover, He didn’t know what had happened to her, so He feared the worst.

Lord Rama Lakshmana tried to keep Rama’s spirits up. In essence, he said, “You were the only reason that our father remained alive. He was so attached to You that he gave up his body as soon as You left him. We are all equally as attached to You. If You give way to lamentation right now, what will be left of us? We will have no reason to live. You must continue Your activities so that our attachment will have meaning.”

Lakshmana’s words give us insight into how the great minds think. Why is it a good thing to be attached to God? From Lakshmana’s statement, we see that Dasharatha attained the divine state since He thought of Rama at the time of death. This is God’s promise to us. If we remain attached to material life, we get a material body in our next birth. By the same token, if we remain attached to the supreme spirit, Lord Krishna, we will attain a spiritual state in the next life. Having a spiritual body means we no longer associate with matter. The spiritual world is full of living entities possessing spiritual bodies who constantly associate with the Supreme Lord in His various forms.

Lakshmana We should be very thankful that we are alive and well, for every day that we wake up is another day that we can perform devotional service. If we are dead, we have no control over where we will end up next. We are alive today and conscious of our predicament. We should make the most of this opportunity by taking up the sublime mission of life, that of developing a total loving attachment to God. Though the Supreme Lord may not take birth as our son, we can have the same level of devotion to Him that Dasharatha did by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

If we don’t take up this mission, then our lives are essentially meaningless. Simply getting up every day and performing animalistic activity doesn’t help us or those around us. On the flip side, performing devotional service not only helps the plight of our own soul, but of those around us as well. Aside from giving us a reason to live, chanting and hearing help others find their true purpose in life. The beauty of devotional service is that it is a full-time occupation, complete with variety and nuance. This means that each of us can find our niche in spiritual service, choosing that one special way to show our love for the Lord.

Sita, Rama, and familyThe more people that take up this sublime service, the more that will be rescued from the ocean of nescience represented by the activities of intoxication, gambling, and meat eating; activities which are just like quicksand in how they drag people further and further into hellish life. To make our lives perfect, we simply have to follow the great examples set by Dasharatha, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, and all the other great Vaishnavas of the world. By saving ourselves, we can rescue others and thereby perform the highest service for mankind.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

He Who Hesitates Is Lost

Arjuna “Arjuna was perplexed. He could not understand whether he should fight or not. Similarly, everyone in the material world is perplexed. So we require guidance from Krishna or his bona fide representative. Then we can become enlightened.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, Ch 6.1)

“He who hesitates is lost” is a proverb that describes what happens to someone who is unsure about what to do in a particular situation. Hesitation involves not knowing the proper course of action. In many cases, we have a yes/no response to questions; fight or flight, go or no go, etc. We can either choose to do something or choose not to do something. These predicaments are tough enough, but then there are also conundrums. A conundrum is a situation where there is more than one course of action available. When faced with a conundrum, it is quite natural for a person to hesitate, but if they do, there could be dire consequences. What if they make the wrong move? The other negative aspect to hesitation is that it can take away valuable time. Our choices become that much more difficult when faced with time constraints. Therefore hesitation is not something we want to encounter, but how do we avoid it? The best way is to be armed with knowledge, information which comes from authority. One who is knowledgeable will be confident enough to make the right decisions without hesitating. This knowledge takes on an even greater importance in spiritual life.

To help us better understand the concept of hesitation and its negative consequences, let’s look at some real life examples of people who hesitated under pressure. The world of professional sports is always packed with pressure. In the pros, the players are paid the big bucks so that they can bring home the championship for their home cities. In the four major American team sports [basketball, football, baseball, hockey], each team plays for a home city. Sometimes the team will be affiliated with a state or region, but they still play all their home games in a venue of a particular city. These sports all have a regular season, where teams play a series of games to determine their standings. Based on the win-loss records of the teams at the end of the season, there is a playoff round, a sort of tournament, to determine the champion of the season. It is during this tournament that the pressure really gets applied. A team is playing for all the marbles, the big prize of the season, so every move counts and every mistake is amplified.

Basketball clipboard Each sport has its particular pressures, especially as it relates to time. In the sport of basketball, the pressure really heightens towards the end of the game. Basketball is a timed sport, so whichever team has the most points at the end of regulation time wins the game. Therefore the last few minutes of a game are usually pretty hectic, with frequent timeouts called by the coaches to go over specific plays. Fans often joke that the last two minutes of a basketball game can take longer than the rest of the game due to all the timeouts. Each team gets a specific number of timeouts they can call in a given game. These timeouts are essentially breaks which allow the coaches to huddle their players together and go over strategy and the future course of action. Since timeouts are so important, coaches like to save them until the end of the game. In some professional leagues, the coaches can call a timeout from the sideline, but usually it is a player on the court who asks the referee for a timeout. But what happens if the team doesn’t have any timeouts left? One famous incident tells us all we need to know about the importance of knowing how many timeouts remain.

March Madness Bracket In college basketball, the champion each year is determined by a single-elimination tournament consisting of sixty-four schools from around the country. This tournament is often referred to as March Madness, and it is widely followed by fans around the country, due especially to its being conducive to gambling. Before the tournament, fans fill out brackets, where they try to guess which teams will advance in each round, all the way up until the finals. These brackets are then grouped together into pools, with winners determined by the number of successful outcomes accurately predicted. For the players participating in the tournament, the pressures are especially heightened. College players are looking to make it to the professional ranks, the NBA, so the tournament is their time to shine. Since there is a high turnover of players each year, the teams that make it to the final rounds also vary from year to year. If a team makes it to the final game of the championship round, it is certainly a unique opportunity; something which doesn’t come along every day.

Chris Webber timeout During the early 1990s, the University of Michigan had an especially strong basketball team. Their five starting players were known as the Fab 5 since they were all highly skilled and destined for the NBA. In 1993, they made it to the championship game of the NCAA tournament and faced the University of North Carolina. With North Carolina leading by two points late in the game, Michigan’s Chris Webber brought the ball forward for his team. This was a huge moment in the game; Michigan could tie it with a basket. Usually with so little time left in the game, players immediately call timeout once they get the ball back on offense. Webber wasn’t sure what to do. He dribbled the ball forward a little bit, stopped, hesitated, and then decided to call timeout. There was only one problem though: the team had no timeouts left. Webber was called for a technical foul, giving North Carolina free throws that allowed them to clinch the game. In this most critical of moments, on national television, one of Michigan’s star players hesitated and essentially cost his team a chance at winning the biggest game of the season.

This sort of thing happens all the time in sports, so it was unfortunate that it happened to this specific player in such a meaningful game. A player is certainly culpable for such a blunder, but one must examine the root cause of the hesitation. As mentioned before, knowledge proves to be the most effective at disarming hesitation. If one is armed with knowledge, they will know what to do in the proper situation, when the chips are down and time is short. In basketball and other sports, it is the coach who is responsible for imparting this knowledge to their players. Before crucial plays, a coach takes the responsibility of letting his players know what the situation is in the game and what to do when such and such event happens. In sports, it is often seen that a good coach can make the difference between winning and losing. If players are prepared, they will play without hesitation and thus increase their chances of victory.

Gurukula This same concept holds true in spiritual life. We are all born into ignorance. As infants, we don’t know how to read, write, walk, or talk. We need others to help us along in this process. While most of us eventually learn how to do these things, spiritual life is a different issue. Where do we go to learn about God and our purpose in life? Many of us achieve all of our material hopes and aspirations and still feel empty afterwards. If life is not all about landing a good job and having a secure lifestyle, then what is it about? If we are faced with a life or death situation, how will we know what to do when we don’t even know what our purpose in life is? Luckily for us, one great historical personality was faced with these very troubling questions and had the good fortune of going to the right person for the answers.

Around five thousand years ago, there was a great world war, far greater than anything seen in recent times. This war involved millions of soldiers taking up arms for one cause: the right to rule over a kingdom. According to the rules of propriety as enjoined by the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, the Pandava family was entitled to rule over this particular kingdom. Their father, King Pandu, was the ruler of the kingdom. Pandu had five sons to whom he could pass the throne down to. At the time of his death, the sons of Pandu, the Pandavas, were quite young, so Pandu’s brother Dhritarashtra decided to take the reins of the kingdom. Dhritarashtra was blind, so he wasn’t fit to be a king. He had one hundred sons of his own, so through backhanded means, he allowed his children to take over the government, while shunning the Pandavas at the same time. When all the children grew up, the Pandavas wanted their kingdom back. This eventually led to a great war which was set to take place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Battlefield of Kurukshetra Arjuna, one of Pandu’s sons and lead warrior for his side, was all set to begin fighting. At the time, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, had advented on earth to enact wonderful pastimes and annihilate the miscreant forces. In fact, this great war was the Lord’s way of ridding the earth of sinful elements. Since Krishna was Arjuna’s cousin and dear friend, He decided to act as Arjuna’s charioteer during the war. This way, Krishna remained neutral yet partial to Arjuna at the same time. Right before the war was set to begin, Arjuna asked Krishna to take the chariot to the middle of the field so that Arjuna could survey the situation. Arjuna was feeling weak-hearted. The opposing side, the Kauravas, consisted of many respectable personalities, including Arjuna’s spiritual master and grand-father. Arjuna, being a devotee at heart, didn’t want to kill his kinsmen just to gain a kingdom. He was ready to drop his weapons and surrender, all out of soft-heartedness. But before surrendering, Arjuna decided to put the matter to Krishna. Arjuna was hesitant, and not knowing what to do, he kindly approached his coach, his mentor.

“Now I am confused about my duty and have lost all composure because of weakness. In this condition I am asking You to tell me clearly what is best for me. Now I am Your disciple, and a soul surrendered unto You. Please instruct me.” (Arjuna speaking to Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.7)

Krishna instructing Arjuna Luckily for Arjuna, his coach also happened to be God. The Lord kindly pointed Arjuna in the right direction, giving him a lecture on the meaning of life and the constitutional position of the soul at the same time. This wonderful discourse was chronicled in a very small chapter of the epic Mahabharata, compiled by Vyasadeva. Later on, this small chapter turned into its own book known as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God. This book is famous throughout the world, having been studied by great scholars, theologians, philosophers, and religionists for the past five thousand years.

While Krishna is specifically addressing Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita, the intended audience is all of mankind. Everyone has a relationship with Krishna, or God, and the point to our existence is to rekindle that relationship. We can go about doing precisely that by following the principles found in the Lord’s teachings. The ultimate conclusion of the Gita is that we should abandon all varieties of religion and simply surrender unto Krishna. Put the burden on Him and let Him take care of all the details. Just simply act according to His directions and you’ll never have to worry about hesitation again.

Krishna and But what if we can’t understand the Bhagavad-gita? After all, the song itself is composed in Sanskrit, an ancient language which is very difficult to understand. How can we know the true import of the verses? The key is to learn the Bhagavad-gita, and Vedic wisdom in general, from a person who knows Krishna. The person in the know is the devotee of Krishna, or the spiritual master. Deciphering whether a person is a bona fide spiritual master is actually quite easy. We simply have to ask ourselves if they view Krishna the same way that Arjuna did. Eventually Arjuna surrendered everything unto the Lord, offering Him kind praises in the process. Since they were friends beforehand, Arjuna often addressed the Lord in casual terms, joking with Him, and treating Him like an equal. After all, that’s how we act with our friends; we make fun of them, call them names, and take them to be on the same level as ourselves. Yet after hearing Krishna’s instructions, Arjuna repented for his previous behavior. He was sorry that he hadn’t shown Krishna the respect that He deserved. In reality, Krishna was not offended by Arjuna’s past behavior at all. The Lord prefers to be worshiped in a loving attitude verses a reverential one.

Shrila Prabhupada The way to tell if a spiritual teacher is bona fide or not is to see if they are acting in Krishna’s interests. The Bhagavad-gita is so rich with knowledge that many people often use it to advance their own mentally concocted theories. They study the Gita, but try to take Krishna out of as many verses as possible. The devotee, however, understands that Krishna can never be separated from His words or teachings. If any discussions and topics in the Gita seem abstract, they appear so on purpose, serving as a way to lure in those who have a hard time conceiving of Krishna as God. Nevertheless, the ultimate conclusion of the Gita never changes: become a devotee and act according to Krishna’s directions. This is a simple enough formula that we can all abide by.

What if we can’t find a bona fide spiritual master? What if everyone we meet has their own personal agenda? Luckily for us, one of the greatest devotees of Krishna wrote his own translation and commentary of the Bhagavad-gita. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is the author of the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, the most authorized translation and commentary of this famous work. He also wrote countless other books which expound on the same teachings of the Gita. Therefore anyone can consult these books or the swami’s recorded lectures and be eternally benefitted.

Nimai Nitai chanting Hare Krishna Coming from a line of great spiritual masters started by Lord Chaitanya, who was an incarnation of Krishna, Shrila Prabhupada’s foremost recommendation was that we all chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible, while abstaining from illicit sex, meat eating, intoxication, and gambling. These two recommendations form the bedrock of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Those who follow this highest form of yoga quickly acquire all the knowledge required to act with confidence even under the most stressful of situations.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010


King Dasharatha with his son Rama “Like the demigods obtaining ambrosia, King Dasharatha, after performing great austerities and great deeds, obtained You as a son.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.3)

Obtaining a direct audience with God is the only way to achieve true immortality. Our lives are destined to end at some point, and our future destination remains unknown to us. Great devotees of the past showed us by example how to make the most of our auspicious human life. They performed great austerities and religious functions over many lifetimes to finally achieve direct association with God. The dream of immortality can be realized by following their lead and always performing devotional service.

There are many examples in history of ordinary human beings performing extraordinary religious feats. One such person was Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya during the Treta Yuga. Dasharatha was a highly pious individual who was part of the famed Ikshvaku dynasty. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the first king on earth was Maharaja Ikshvaku. Since he was the first king, he set the standard for good government and chivalry. All his direct descendants were known as the Ikshvakus, and they were all equally as pious. The Shrimad Bhagavatam tells us that the Ikshvaku dynasty finally ended with King Sumitra.

Dasharatha's sacrifice As a pious king, Dasharatha regularly performed elaborate sacrifices. He also lived by austerity, or tapasya. Saintly kings in the Vedic tradition are known as raja-rishis, meaning they are more than just kings. A king refers to a government leader or a ruler of a kingdom or community. The term “king” also connotes an idea of supreme dominion and unfettered sense gratification. “If only I could be king for a day” is how the famous saying goes. This points to how the leader of a country is seen as the most privileged citizen. Leaders call the shots; they make all the decisions. The Vedas tell us that kings have a much higher responsibility than to simply indulge their senses. A king is viewed as God’s representative on earth, so he must be chivalrous and religious at the same time. Though kings weren’t learned Vedic scholars or priests, they were smart enough to know to take advice on all matters from the brahmanas, or the priestly class of men. Therefore a king who abided by the religious codes passed down from generation to generation was considered to be saintly.

Queen Kausalya with Lord Rama Though in the past there were many great kings, Dasharatha is particularly famous because Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, kindly appeared on earth and took birth as His eldest son named Rama. On the surface, this may seem like mythology. “How can God come to earth? This is what every religion tries to do. They take an ordinary human being who displays certain extraordinary traits, and they make him God.” This line of thinking may seem plausible, but the Vedas provide much evidence to back up the claim that Lord Rama was an incarnation of God. Knowing that the less intelligent class of men would be prone to declaring incarnations of God willy-nilly, the Vedas provide a detailed list of all of God’s primary incarnations. Lord Rama is declared an incarnation of God not only in one book, the Ramayana, but in many other books. There are eighteen major Puranas, or books relating to Vedic history, and in many of them, the life and pastimes of Lord Rama are described. Therefore the followers of Lord Rama have much evidence that they can cite to back up the claim that Rama is indeed God.

How did Dasharatha become qualified to have God appear as his son? The first thing he did was perform great austerities. Austerities are known as tapasya, and they are intended to be a sacrifice for God. We all perform some sort of austerity to better our condition, but tapasya is especially geared towards pleasing God. Why would the Lord want us to punish ourselves? It can be thought of as a form of tough love. Tapasya involves severely restricting the influence of the senses. The senses are always telling us to eat more, drink more, sleep more, and have more sex. We all know that too much of any of these activities is bad for us. Tapasya takes this idea of regulation to a new level. By observing fasts on auspicious days, and only eating the remnants of sacrifice, yajna-shishta, tapasvis gain the highest benefit in life.

How can we benefit from fasting? If we starve ourselves for a short period of time because God asks us to, it is more likely that we will think of Him during the fasting period. Not only will we think of Him, but we will be in a weakened condition as well. We will be more likely to develop an attachment to Him since the influence of the senses will be curbed. The Vedas tell us that the primary aim of life is to learn about God, use that knowledge to serve Him, and then eventually develop a loving attachment to Him as a result of performing that service.

Satyanarayana Puja Dasharatha performed great austerities not only in his current life, but in a previous one as well. There is a puja, or religious ritual, observed by householders of the Hindu faith known as the Satyanarayana Vrata. It is usually performed once a month during the full moon, and it involves offering some food, reading a few stories, and performing arati, or the offering of lights. The stories read during this puja tell us of the benefits related to performing it. This puja is essentially a karma-kanda activity, meaning it is performed by those desiring material benefits such as good health and a happy family life. At the end of one of the stories, we are told of some famous people who previously observed the vrata and eventually achieved perfection in life. King Dasharatha is one of the people mentioned. The story states that in a previous life Dasharatha regularly performed the Satyanarayana puja and was rewarded by taking birth as a pious king in his next life whose son would be Lord Rama.

After performing two great sacrifices in particular, King Dasharatha was finally blessed with a son; four in fact. Rama was the eldest son and the one closest to the king. Getting God as a son is one thing, but how does this relate to achieving perfection in life? Due to the attachment he had for Rama, Dasharatha had the great fortune of thinking of God at the time of death. Through a series of unfortunate events, Lord Rama was banished from the kingdom of Ayodhya and forced to roam the forests of India for fourteen years. Dasharatha couldn’t stand to be separated from Rama, so he died shortly after Rama left for the forest. He died while thinking of his illustrious son. The Vedas tell us that this is the best way to die.

Dasharatha feeling separation pain from Rama This may seem strange on the surface. Dasharatha died due to being separated from his son, so how could this be viewed as a good thing? The Vedas tell us that our consciousness at the time of death determines the type of body we will receive in the next life. Many of us are under the belief that if we simply act somewhat piously in this life, then we will go to heaven after we die, and that conversely, the sinful will go to hell. This is true to an extent, but Vedic information provides a little more clarity on the issue. The material creation consists of innumerable planets. Life doesn’t just exist on earth. If we act on the level of karma, meaning if we perform fruitive activity aimed at achieving some desired material result, we can certainly ascend to heaven or descend to hell in the afterlife. However, residence in either place is not permanent because both heaven and hell are part of the material creation. Heaven is considered part of the upper planetary system and hell the lower planetary system. This is why most of us point to the sky when referring to heaven and to the ground when referring to hell.

Lord RamaThis repeating cycle of birth and death, travelling from one planet to another, is known as reincarnation. The type of body we receive in the next life is determined by our consciousness at the time of death. Our consciousness at the time of death is determined by the activities performed over the course of our many many lifetimes on earth. Dasharatha thought of Rama, or God, at the time of death and was thus rewarded with liberation, or immortality in the spiritual world. This makes complete sense if we think about it. The time of death is a time of great panic. The life air is about to exit the body, so we have very little time to get bogged down by the usual problems of life. In this state of panic, our life essentially flashes before our very eyes. The things that are most important to us in life are the things that we will remember during this time. This consciousness is a harbinger of things to come in the afterlife. If we are fortunate enough to remember God at this time, we will surely be rewarded.

“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)

Life in the spiritual world with Radha and Krishna The God conscious travelling soul is rewarded with a nature similar to that of God. In one sense, we are all already immortal. Our true identity comes from the spirit soul residing within, and this soul is not subject to birth, death, or destruction. When we speak of immortality, we are referring to the type of body the soul is placed into. Currently we are considered mortal because our material body is subject to creation and destruction. Immortality can be achieved when we are put into a body which is eternal and unchanging. This type of body can only be acquired in the spiritual world. Matter is subordinate to spirit, and in a similar manner, this world we live in is subordinate to the spiritual world where Lord Krishna, or God, resides. To live in the material world, which is governed by matter, we require a material body composed of the five gross and three subtle elements. To reside in the spiritual world, we require a spiritual body. This spiritual body is awarded to those who sincerely desire association with God. Since God is completely spirit, His body is eternal and always full of bliss and knowledge. By the same token, those who enjoy His company in the spiritual world have a similar type of body.

The above referenced statement was made by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. While residing in the forest, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Initially, Rama was grief-stricken over the incident, so Lakshmana tried his best to console his elder brother. In this statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that Dasharatha worked very hard to get Him as a son, and that He shouldn’t let all that hard work go to waste by giving way to lamentation. Such a wonderful a brother as Lakshmana has never existed on this earth. Though this appears to be part of a pep-talk, Lakshmana is actually cluing us in on Lord Rama’s divinity.

Demigods and demons churning the ocean for ambrosiaLakshmana In his statement, Lakshmana makes reference to the fact that Dasharatha’s achieving Rama was like that of the demigods achieving amrita, or ambrosia. Amrita is considered nectar which grants immortality, so those who are pious are always looking for this. The demigods and demons also once famously churned the sea, from which amrita was produced. Lord Rama is most certainly amrita for anyone who associates with Him. Dasharatha achieved immortality in the spiritual world by getting Rama as a son, so Lakshmana wanted to make sure that Rama remained on earth to grant the same type of liberation to other devotees.

The lesson here is that we too can drink the sweet nectar of immortality that comes through association with God. In this age, God incarnates in the form of His holy names, so we simply need to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in order to achieve perfection. The key is to adjust things in such a way that we may always think of the Supreme Lord in the same way that Dasharatha did. We don’t need to travel to the corners of the earth to look for immortality, for the secret to an eternal, blissful life can be found on the tip of our tongue. Simply reciting God’s name in a loving way and having an affinity for hearing about Him are enough to grant liberation.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Jnana and Vairagya

Radha Krishna “Actually, the cultivation of knowledge or renunciation, which are favorable for achieving a footing in Krishna consciousness, may be accepted in the beginning, but ultimately they may also come to be rejected, for devotional service is dependent on nothing other than the sentiment or desire for such service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 14)

For serious students of Vedic philosophy, jnana and vairagya are two terms that come up quite often. Jnana refers to knowledge and vairagya refers to renunciation or detachment. These are two pillars of spiritual life; one who acquires renunciation and knowledge becomes eligible to take the next critical step: developing love for God. Though knowledge and renunciation certainly are important, they are not prerequisites for devotion. This means that pure love for God, Krishna-prema, which is the highest transcendental achievement, is not dependent on anything besides the sentiment coming from the devotee. There is one group of people in particular who serve as a great example to illustrate this point.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)

Lord Krishna Jnana and vairagya certainly boost our chances of realizing God. The Vedas tell us that those who keep their mind fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord at the time of death never have to take birth again. God does have hands, feet, and a face, but these body parts are transcendental in nature. They are not limited in any respect. God is everything, but everything is not God. For example, our hand is part of our body; hence it can be taken to be the same as the body. However, if the hand is removed, it becomes useless and can no longer be considered part of the body. Therefore our real identity comes from the spiritual spark inside of us. The body is just a covering, a temporary dress that is eventually discarded.

With God, there is no difference between His body and soul. Everything personally related to the Lord is spiritual; therefore anyone can focus on any aspect of His transcendental body, which is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge, and achieve perfection in life. Why is it important to think of God at the time of death? Many of us are familiar with the concept of a person’s life flashing before their eyes at the time of death. This isn’t just some myth or an idea concocted from the experiences of a few select people. Rather, it is a scientific fact, for the time of death is the greatest moment of panic in one’s life. Naturally at this critical stage, one’s life experiences flash before their eyes. In the famous Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna instructs Arjuna that this replaying of one’s life’s events is known as their consciousness at the time of death. Whatever one focuses on at this critical time determines the type of body they receive in the next life.

“In whatever condition one quits his present body, in his next life he will attain to that state of being without fail." (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)

In more simple terms, a person’s lifestyle determines their “deathstyle”. Therefore, the secret to achieving success in life is to cram as many spiritual activities into one’s lifetime as possible. This is not easy, especially since we are accustomed to acting in the interests of the senses. The senses guide us where to go and how to act. Spiritual life means acting in the interests of the master of all senses, Hrishikesha, or God. In order to help us concentrate on spiritual life, the acquisition of knowledge and the practice of renunciation are recommended. The two can go hand-in-hand, for after acquiring the proper knowledge of the soul and its constitutional position in this world, it becomes easier to detach from things which are detrimental to the future well-being of the soul. The reverse situation can also be true, where one practices penance and austerity with the aim of clearing the mind, thus allowing one’s thoughts to focus on the acquisition of knowledge.

Lord Rama and brothers in Gurukula Renunciation and knowledge are actually helpful in achieving success in any activity, not just spiritual endeavors. For example, if a person wants to have a good job as an adult, they must do well in school in their youth. Performing well in school requires the understanding of math, science, reading, and writing. Since it is the inherent nature of the child to desire to play all day, there are several tricks that parents and even students use to help focus on studies. One of the greatest tools is the reward. Taking an example from our own personal experiences in our youth, we would make sure to always do our homework as soon as we got home from school. School is no picnic for children; students are essentially locked up in a prison type environment for eight plus hours in the day. As soon as they get home, children want to play or watch television. We were no different in this regard, yet we came up with a nice system to help ensure that our homework was done. We had no affinity for school work, but to keep school pressures to a minimum, we would do our homework as soon as we got home. We essentially made a deal with ourself: “If you do your homework right when you come home, then you can watch television for the rest of the day. This way you can just sit back and relax later on.”

King Dasharatha performing a sacrifice Now watching television certainly isn’t a productive activity. The point of going to school is not to be able to come home and sit on the couch in front of the television. However, this reward of watching television proved to be an invaluable tool in our academic maturation. This simple trick enabled us to focus on our schoolwork and not fall behind. As a result, we more or less received very high marks in school throughout our youth. In a similar manner, the Vedas also offer various enticements to help the aspiring transcendentalist acquire knowledge and renunciation. There is a section of the Vedas known as karma-kanda, wherein various sacrifices and penances are recommended. The rewards for the performance of such sacrifices can involve ascension to the heavenly planets or general good health. Obviously God is not too concerned with material benedictions, for the material world is temporary and full of miseries. At the same time, He knows that detachment and knowledge are not easy things to acquire, so He sort of tricks us into going after these paltry rewards. It is similar to how a parent will offer candy as a way to get their child to take medicine. The goal is to take medicine, not to eat candy, but the parent needs to be a little clever in their approach.

By performing various rituals and adhering to certain fasting periods, we can make great progress in our spiritual pursuits. At the same time though, the highest religious practice, bhakti-yoga, is not dependent on knowledge or renunciation. Jnana and vairagya certainly do make it easier to come to the platform of bhakti, or love, but this devotion to God is not dependent on anything except the sentiments found in a person’s heart. Moreover, a perfect devotee of God automatically acquires all required knowledge and detachment without separately endeavoring for it. An example of this was seen with the gopis of Vrindavana.

Lord Krishna with cow God is one, but He takes unlimited forms based on time, circumstance, and a person’s penchant for offering service. Though there are limitless forms, as many as there are waves in the ocean, there is still an original form from which all others emanate. That form is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Due to His causeless mercy, the Lord appeared on this earth some five thousand years ago. Though He performed many pastimes in several different cities during His one hundred plus years on this planet, His most pleasurable pastimes occurred in His youth in Vrindavana. Krishna grew up as the foster son of a cowherd family, thus His duties as a child included tending to the cows and taking them out to the pasturing ground. In those times, the women of the town would also engage in tending to cows. Vedic culture stresses great importance on the cow and its protection. A cow is seen as a form of wealth because if a person has a small piece of land and a few cows, all of their economic problems are solved. They don’t require a Federal Reserve Chairman, a Ways and Means Committee, or a politician promising to bring them jobs. Simply by protecting this great animal, the cow, all needs can be taken care of.

Radharani with cow The milkmaids and cowherd girls were known as gopis, and they were especially enchanted by Lord Krishna. Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, emphasized devotion to Krishna in the mood of the gopis. At first glance, this seems a little strange. After all, the Vedas often mention that women are less intelligent in areas of material knowledge. For this reason, traditionally they weren’t given a formal education. This was certainly the case with the gopis; they were all young girls who were married and worked at home, taking care of the family and the cows. Yet these gopis had intelligence that far exceeded that of today’s academic scholars and self-appointed pundits.

The gopis always thought of Krishna, no matter the time or place. Though they were married, their hearts belonged to the Lord. In this way, they were completely detached from the material world and all its governing rules and regulations. They also had the highest knowledge. A great example of this was seen when they would discuss amongst themselves about Krishna’s playing of His flute. When Lord Krishna would play His illustrious flute, anyone who would hear the sound would immediately become mesmerized. All the signs of devotion to God would be visible on their bodies, such as the hair standing on end, devastation, increased heart rate, and tears in the eyes. When Krishna would play His flute, the gopis would talk about how the whole world was benefitted by hearing such a sound, and how the flute itself was benefitted. They wouldn’t limit their knowledge to the localized aspect of the flute. They would delve further into the matter by thinking about the bamboo tree from which the flute was made. They would also think about the neighboring flowers, dirt, and lake by the tree which produced the wood, which produced the flute, which had the special benediction of touching the lips of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Krishna playing His flute This sort of thinking is reserved for the most intelligent class. The greatest economists often discuss the idea of mutual cooperation and the “invisible hand” that helps so many people from disjointed areas around the world produce wonderful products. The gopis took this theory one step further by identifying who this invisible hand belongs to: Krishna. In the Vedic tradition, devotees who are on the highest level of understanding are called paramahamsas. Hamsa refers to a swan. It isn’t a coincidence that intelligent devotees are compared to swans. A swan has the unique ability to take a mixture of milk and water and only extract the milk portion, while leaving the water portion unaffected. In a similar manner, the greatest devotees are the greatest [param] swans because they extract all the good elements from life.

Lord Krishna is the supreme pure, so anyone who sees Krishna in everything is one who sees clearly. This was certainly the case with the gopis. They didn’t outwardly accept or reject anything; rather they studied everything in terms of its relation to Krishna. They saw Krishna in everything, so their vision was always clear. This mindset is reserved for the most intelligent class, those who have acquired jnana. Even today, many great scholars who possess knowledge and renunciation are still blinded by the light emanating from the transcendental body of the Supreme Lord. Hence they take the Absolute Truth to be formless. Essentially, they act in just the opposite way of the gopis, i.e. they try to remove Krishna from everything.

Radha Krishna Lord Chaitanya asked sincere souls who were after spiritual enlightenment to follow the mood of devotion of the gopis. He practiced what He preached, for He always explained everything in terms of Krishna. This is really the only way to explain anything. We can watch the nightly news on television or read the latest paper and see the latest headlines, which are all portrayed as being new and fresh, when in reality they are simply the same stories recycled in a different form. On the surface, it seems as though Lord Chaitanya followed a similar model by explaining everything in terms of Krishna. But since He explained everything this way, His explanations were the only ones worth hearing. His discussions focused on God, so one can repeatedly derive great pleasure from hearing these explanations over and over again.

Radha Krishna The lesson here is that jnana and vairagya are certainly important, but we should still keep in mind that there is an additional step that needs to be taken in order to achieve transcendental perfection. If we always keep the gopis in our mind, especially Lord Krishna’s beloved Shrimati Radharani, there is no doubt that we will be able to remember the Lord’s lotus feet at the time of death.