Saturday, August 14, 2010

The Happiest Ending

Lord Krishna “There is a proverb in Sanskrit which says, ‘Disappointment gives rise to the greatest satisfaction.’ In other words, when one's sentiment or ambition becomes too great and is not fulfilled until after seemingly hopeless tribulation, that is taken as the greatest satisfaction.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 31)

Religious scriptures do their best to inform us of the ultimate objective in life, i.e. finding God and developing a relationship with Him. While this assertive approach certainly helps us move forward in spiritual life, there are still some questions that are left unanswered. For example, if material life is so horrible, and a life devoid of God is not worth living, why was this world created in the first place? According to Vedic philosophy, the answer is that the spirit souls cajoled God into creating this phantasmagoria known as material life. Essentially, God knew this place was horrible, but not wanting to interfere with our independence, He let us come here anyway.

While this sheds some light on the issue of creation, it doesn’t answer a larger question. Why would God allow us to suffer in this way? He knows more than we do after all, so He easily could have stopped us from coming here. While mankind has searched for the answer to this question since the beginning of time, a good way to try to understand God’s intentions is to study the nature of love and the enjoyment derived from it. In this regard, the storyline from a typical movie or television show can give us hints into the life cycle of the soul and how the soul trapped in this cycle can ultimately see a happy end to its time on earth.

Cinema Cinema has been popular ever since its inception. An outgrowth of written drama and theater, cinema provides an outlet for the fatigued living entity. Through watching stories unfold on screen, the mentally and physically spent living entities can escape from their daily troubles and pressures. What’s interesting to note, however, is that most stories follow the same plot line. In fact, most people already know the subject matter of a movie before they actually go to see it in the theaters or buy it on DVD. Movie trailers give away the basic story of the movie, stating the problem and the initial steps that are taken towards resolution. Most of us can figure out how these movies will end, especially the action movies. Yet even knowing this, we still attend these movies and derive great enjoyment.

Let us review the story line of a typical movie. This framework also applies to television sitcoms and dramas. The beginning of a movie starts with the introduction to the characters. The audience member is made aware of the setting of the movie, its main characters, and the basic scope of the actions that will take place. Following this introduction, the basic problem of the movie is established. Without a central problem that needs solving, a movie or television show will be boring to watch. If there wasn’t a problem to be solved, the viewer would have no interest in the story. The movie experience would be akin to watching paint dry.

You've Got Mail - classic chick flick After the problem is introduced, the rest of the story focuses on resolution. Most of the time, we already know what the resolution is going to be. For example, in action movies, the bad guys will eventually be caught. The climax of the movie is usually when the forces of good and evil clash against one another in a grand fight. Just when all hope is lost and it looks like the bad guys are about to win, the good guys come back and emerge victorious. This same sequence is followed even in romantic films. The typical “chick flick” details the story of a romantic love affair which for some reason or another doesn’t work out. The man is already involved with another woman, the woman is about to get married to another man, or the parents don’t approve of the relationship. Towards the conclusion of the movie, it looks like true love will never be found, the man and woman will never get together.  But finally something happens which turns things in favor of the movie’s protagonists. Eventually everything ends well, and the moviegoers are left feeling happy. Most of us know that the movies we watch will end in this manner, and yet we still like watching them. Why is this?

The secret lies in the fact that we have to watch the entire movie in order to derive the full benefit. For example, say we were to attend an action movie and arrive late. By some mischance or other, we take our seats during the last half hour of the movie. We would only see the ending, i.e. the climax. We’d see the major struggle and the ultimate victory of the good guys. Yet there wouldn’t be much enjoyment derived out of this experience. We only enjoy a movie if we get to follow along with the struggles of the main characters. Without knowledge of the initial problem, and the several failed attempts at solving that problem, the ultimate resolution doesn’t give us as much joy. We need the struggle in order to savor the victory. This one concept can teach us a lot about why we are put on this earth and how we can go about achieving the happiest of endings.

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

Lord Krishna The famous Bhagavad-gita informs us that our current life is by no means the first one we’ve had. The soul transmigrates from body to body through the process commonly known as reincarnation. Reincarnation has a mystical aspect to it, but it’s really not that difficult to understand. Our current body itself goes through so many changes. We once had the body of a tiny pea living inside the womb of our mother, and yet that same pea turned into an adult body. Throughout this process, the body completely changed, but our identity didn’t. Along the same lines, the soul exits the current body at the time of death and assumes a new one based on karma.

Karma is any activity which leads to the development of a material body. Usually karma is equated with good and bad results, but in reality, it deals exclusively with the development of an outer covering for the soul. Good and bad karma is anything that brings about good and bad results in relation to the material body. Therefore karma really has nothing to do with the soul. The soul may be placed in a higher species or a lower one, but it still remains subject to the laws of nature and reincarnation. The Vedas tell us that the point to human life is to rise above the effects of karma; to secure salvation for the soul. The aim of human life is to end reincarnation and bring the soul back to its original home, the spiritual sky where God resides.

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

Based on these facts, we see that the original problem for the living entity, the cause of all other problems, is its residence in the material world. As long as one has material desires at the time of death, they are forced to take birth in this temporary and miserable world. In order to reside in this material world, one must assume a material body. The secret to success is finding a way out of this misery and pain. This is where our story begins. Our problem has been defined, but not the solution.

house of cards What are some of the solutions we try? The first thing we try to do is find happiness while in the material world. Based on the knowledge of the properties of the soul and the laws of karma, a sober person can understand that true happiness can never be found in this world. Even if one finds great wealth and wonderful material enjoyment, that enjoyment eventually comes to an end at the time of death. In the next life, the person starts the process all over again from scratch. It’s as if we’re working hard to build a giant house of cards, only to have someone come in at the end to knock it down.

We don’t have to wait until the time of death to experience this frustration. Material life means constantly going through cycles of happiness and despair, gain and loss, ups and downs. Our problems stem from the false mindset of “I” and “Mine”. Thinking in these terms, we’re always accepting and rejecting things. One day we’re accepting a gym membership, while the next day we are swearing off of exercise. One day we’re accepting a significant other through marriage, while the next day we are rejecting the same person through divorce. These interests toggle back and forth like a light switch.

Eventually a person grows tired of material enjoyment. Their frustration will lead them to spiritual life. They’ll want to know why they are put through so much trouble and how they can get out of it. Yet not all spiritual paths are the same. In this world, one will find different religious systems, each of which is based on the different qualities that people inherently possess. Therefore a person may take to a sub-standard or inferior spiritual discipline in the beginning stages. For example, the opposite extreme of material enjoyment is renunciation. Material enjoyment is known as bhoga, while dry renunciation is known as tyaga. Unable to find happiness through the pursuit of bhoga, a person will try their hand at tyaga. Tyaga can involve many different exercises: from mental speculation about the differences between matter and spirit, to severe penances and difficult yoga postures.

Just like with bhoga, tyaga can provide some temporary form of happiness. Yet this enjoyment doesn’t last long, for we see that many yogis take to drinking and smoking after their yoga sessions. Great transcendentalists also come back down to material life and take to philanthropy and charity. So material enjoyment doesn’t do the trick and neither does dry renunciation. It sure seems like all hope is lost, doesn’t it? If this is where our movie [the story of our life] ended, it certainly wouldn’t be a movie worth watching. Luckily for us, there is another way towards salvation, the right way.

“The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are surrendered to Me, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss enlightening one another and conversing about Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 10.9)

Shrimati Radharani - always thinking of Krishna The aim of spiritual life is to realize three things: that God is our best friend, the original proprietor of everything, and the supreme object of pleasure. This third point is the most important. According to Vedic information, God has an eternal form which is full of bliss and knowledge. While He can certainly take to any form He chooses, He still has an original body which pure souls can interact with. This original form is known as Krishna, which means one who is all-attractive. Naturally, if one is the most attractive, whoever interacts with such a person will also derive the greatest pleasure. Therefore Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, the panacea of hope and light that the living entities have been searching after for so many lifetimes.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.19)

Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya How do we find Krishna? First, it must be acknowledged that simply making a sincere effort to find Krishna is enough to secure success in spiritual life. Why is this? A person only takes to devotional service after many many lifetimes of trying to find the ultimate happiness. Therefore those who sincerely search after the ultimate reservoir of pleasure must be considered very unique. In the current age, the easiest way to connect with Krishna is by chanting His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. God is absolute, so there is no difference between His original form and His name. Chanting has a wonderful effect; it changes our consciousness. By regularly engaging in chanting or any other process of bhakti-yoga [devotional service], one’s consciousness gradually shifts from material life to spiritual life. One who thinks of Krishna at the time of death immediately transcends karma and returns straight to Krishna’s spiritual abode, where they get to enjoy direct association with the Lord for eternity.

For those who find Krishna, the extreme joy that results can be directly related to the repeated suffering, in the form of defeat after defeat, which was endured in the past. These defeats represented a form of hopelessness. When there is despair, one gives up their hope of victory. If you think you have a chance at winning and you end up succeeding, it certainly brings about joy. But if you achieve victory after thinking that all hope was lost, the enjoyment derived is unmatched. This is the phenomenon that great writers have tapped into since the beginning of time. Lord Krishna, being the original person and poet, invented this concept. By allowing the jiva souls to come to earth and search after Him, the Lord gave these souls the opportunity to eventually experience the highest form of bliss.

Lord Krishna So does this mean we’ll all eventually find Krishna? Surely it does, but when we’ll actually find Him is up to us. Moreover, knowing that we can find Him should be reason enough to take to devotional service immediately. The happy ending is awaiting us right now. We have already suffered enough, so there is no reason to put ourselves through any more pain. We shouldn’t make the story any longer than it needs to be. As the famous playwright Williams Shakespeare said, brevity is the soul of wit. Through Krishna consciousness, let’s wrap this story up and take our souls back to the Lord’s eternal abode.

Friday, August 13, 2010


Lord Rama and brother learning from their guru “Vashishta, who is a maharishi and our father’s priest, begot one hundred sons in one day, only to see them slain again in one day.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.9)

Any parent who has ever lost a child will tell you that the resulting pain never goes away. As soon as a child is born to a parent, an immediate loving bond is formed. The birth of a new child is a time of great joy, yet at the same time, the worrying commences immediately. “What if something happens to my child? They are so small and helpless. What if I fail to protect them? I don’t think I’d be able to live if anything happened to them.” The famous sage Vashishta had to suffer through this very nightmare, the loss of his one hundred sons in an instant. From his handling of the situation, we can take away a great lesson on tolerance and perseverance.

Lord Krishna Vashishta is one of the most celebrated sages of the Vedic tradition. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and as such, they gave us a detailed lineage of the first several generations of mankind. Lord Brahma, the self-create, is considered the first living entity, born out of the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu. Generally we refer to the Supreme Lord as God, but the Vedas try to be more specific in describing Him. In Vedic terminology, God is known as Bhagavan, Vishnu, or Lord Krishna. These names more accurately describe His names, forms, and attributes. God is also known as the Supreme Godhead; a term which speaks to His infinite nature. God can take unlimited forms, ananta-rupam, with His personal expansions being equal in potency to His original form. According to Vedic information, God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, and Lord Vishnu is His primary expansion who handles all matters of creation.

Lord Brahma takes birth from Lord Vishnu, and is thus put in charge of populating the innumerable planets in the universe. Many of the first living entities on earth were great sages, with Vashishta being one of them. To handle governance on earth, Lord Brahma created the kshatriya, or warrior, race. There were two famous royal dynasties started at the time of creation: one coming from the sun-god and the other coming from the moon-god. Vashishta was put in charge of the solar dynasty. He was the family priest for several generations of Ikshvaku kings, including Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations to appear on earth.

Vishvamitra Like most sages of his time, Vashishta established a hermitage where he would perform all his priestly duties. On one occasion, the son of King Gadhi, Vishvamitra, visited Vashishta. At the time, Vishvamitra was a kshatriya king, very powerful and also quite pious. Vashishta was pleased to welcome the king, and he offered him the topmost hospitality. After being entertained to his satisfaction, Vishvamitra wanted to leave, but Vashishta begged him to stay a little longer. After finally acquiescing, Vishvamitra was treated to the highest class food which was offered by Vashishta’s cow named Shabala. Vashishta loved Shabala, for the cow would supply all his needs. Vishvamitra immediately developed an attachment to the cow and wanted to have it for himself. He offered Vashishta all kinds of gold and other wealth, but Vashishta refused to part with his cow. Shabala supplied all of his needs, especially those relating to the performance of religious sacrifices. This is all that Vashishta really cared about, for as a pious brahmana, he had no need for great wealth. There was nothing that Vishvamitra could offer him that would change his mind.

Vishvamitra wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. He took Shabala by force and began to leave. The cow immediately lamented and wondered why Vashishta wasn’t doing anything to fight back. After being petitioned by the cow, Vashishta replied that he was just a brahmana and didn’t have the strength to fight off a great a king as Vishvamitra. To help her master, Shabala agreed to supply whatever Vashishta needed to fight off the king. Thus a great fight ensued with Vashishta eventually emerging victorious due to Shabala’s help.

Vishvamitra was quite ashamed at this defeat, so he decided to convert to a brahmana. Performing great austerities, Lord Brahma eventually became pleased and acknowledged him as a rajarishi, or a saintly king. This didn’t really satisfy Vishvamitra since he didn’t want to be a king at all anymore. Regardless, he remained firm on the path of asceticism and was eventually recognized as a great sage by others. On one occasion while he was still a kshatriya king, Vishvamitra had a quarrel with Vashishta and mounted an attack as a result. In an instant, all one hundred of Vashishta’s sons were killed. Vashishta was greatly aggrieved by this, as was his wife Arundhati. Nevertheless, he tolerated it, for that is the nature of a brahmana.

Rama, Sita, and Lakshmana in the forest Lakshmana reminded his elder brother, Lord Rama, of this incident during a particularly troubling time in the Lord’s life. As part of His pastimes, Rama resided in the forests of India for fourteen years alongside His wife, Sita Devi, and Lakshmana. It may seem strange that a prince would roam the forests for that long, but this was all due to a request made by Rama’s father, King Dasharatha, and Kaikeyi, Rama’s step-mother. The exile didn’t really dispirit Rama, for He had no attachment to anything, including royal life. In addition, Sita and Lakshmana were with Him, so who wouldn’t be happy being in their company all the time?

Yet on one occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. This kidnapping took place while Rama and Lakshmana were away from the group’s hermitage. Upon returning, they saw that Sita was gone. Immediately Rama gave way to lamentation and anger. He was ready to kill everyone in the world and destroy the entire planet in retaliation. Lakshmana then offered some sound words of advice to pacify his beloved brother. The above referenced statement was part of Lakshmana’s advice.

Learning from Vashishta The reference to Vashishta is quite noteworthy because the sage was the spiritual master for both Rama and Lakshmana in their youth. Essentially, Lakshmana’s point is that even their great guru had to suffer through hardships. In one sense, losing a child is worse than losing a spouse because the child is viewed as being completely helpless. Lakshmana was saying that if their spiritual master was able to cope with such a horrific incident, that they, being his disciples, should also be as tolerant. The highest honor a disciple can pay to their spiritual master is to follow their instructions and learn from their example.  Vashishta is described as a maharishi and family priest in this verse, which reinforces the point that even the most exalted of personalities are forced to suffer through tragedies every now and then. 

Lord Rama eventually followed Lakshmana’s advice and composed Himself. The two brothers proved themselves to be first-class disciples by not only listening to the direct instructions given by their guru, but also by learning from the guru’s personal experiences. This is the mercy of the spiritual master. They go through so many trials and tribulations not only for their own benefit, but also to help future generations learn from their experiences. A good spiritual master is one who tries to lead by example. Such a person is known as an acharya.

Sita Devi The lesson here is that we all must be tolerant of the incessantly flowing ups and downs that life throws our way. Lord Rama was God Himself, so He was in no need of anyone’s counsel. Yet just to set a good example and to glorify His great devotees, He pretended to go through so many hardships. Aside from the loss of a child, one would be hard pressed to think of anything worse happening to a person than having their spouse kidnapped and taken into custody by a demon. Sita Devi’s suffering was probably worse than Rama’s, for she had to remain inside a garden where she was harassed by Rakshasis for months. She was even given the ultimatum that if she didn’t agree to become Ravana’s wife after a set time, she would be killed.

The hardships endured by Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana make our day-to-day problems seem miniscule. This is by design, for God is the original spiritual master, the guru for the whole world. He not only teaches through the written words found in the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, and Puranas, but also by example. Lord Rama was extremely tolerant, as was Lakshmana. Sita Devi was able to survive the toughest of situations simply by keeping her mind fixed on the lotus feet of her dear husband.

“One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equiposed in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy, who is always free from contamination, always silent and satisfied with anything, who doesn't care for any residence, who is fixed in knowledge and engaged in devotional service, is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.18-19)

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana For the living entities suffering through the toils of material life, a great deal can be learned from Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. Material fortunes will come and go, but we should learn to tolerate them. This life is not meant for material pleasures, but rather for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. If we are perfectly God conscious at the time of death, we immediately return to the spiritual world where we never have to worry about suffering again. The greatest suffering of all is the repetition of birth and death. Only through commitment to devotional service can we find the cure to this disease. Through tolerance and forbearance, we should keep our minds fixed on the righteous path, as did all the great Vaishnava leaders of the past. Following in their footsteps, we too can successfully put a stop to the spinning wheel of material suffering.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Unmotivated and Uninterrupted

Radha Krishna “Real love of God is ahaituky apratihata: it cannot be checked by any material cause. It is unconditional. If one actually wants to love God, there is no impediment. One can love Him whether one is poor or rich, young or old, black or white.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 1b)

Those who are somewhat familiar with Vedic traditions know about the term “dharma”. Dharma is the supreme occupation, that discipline which keeps one duty-bound to religious service. At the same time, however, there can be different dharmas depending on the field of activity. One person is taking their dharma to be transcendental yoga, while another is sitting around and chanting all the time. Another person believes it is their dharma to hold elaborate religious sacrifices on a regular basis in order to please various elevated living entities known as devatas. While there are certainly different dharmas, only one can reign supreme, and that is the dharma of love. Love is the highest emotion that we feel in our interactions with our fellow human beings, so it stands to reason that it would be the cornerstone of the highest religious practice.

Radha Krishna The religion of love is also known by technical names such as bhakti-yoga and bhagavata-dharma. When translated into English, this sublime engagement goes by the name of devotional service. The two words in the name tell us what this religion is all about: loving devotion to the Supreme Lord in a service attitude. There are different ways to offer service. Today, in industrialized nations, many of the high paying jobs are in the service sector. One business is offering service by running a restaurant, while another is offering IT services: building websites, developing human resource management systems, and doing graphic design. Similarly, in the religion of love, there are different ways one can act out their desire to serve the Supreme Lord. While devotional service can entail many different activities, the key to success in all of these ventures lies in two components: ahaituki and apratihata. Ahaituki means without selfish motive and apratihata means without interruption. In order to be successful in devotional life, one must perform their service without motivation and without interruption.

“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated [ahaituki] and uninterrupted [apratihata] to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)

SAT examIn theory this seems easy enough, but the practical application is a little more difficult. Let us examine the first aspect: unselfishness. This component is particularly difficult to adopt since it is almost impossible to perform any action without a selfish motive. This isn’t to say that man is evil, but it’s just a reality that people perform actions that are in line with their self-interest. Even people who are given to altruism only take up charity in order to make themselves feel better. To sustain their livelihoods, most everyone is either working at a job or studying in school. For those studying in school, the selfish motivation is quite obvious: to graduate. Most people don’t like going to school. They are forced to sit in classrooms, get up at certain times, complete assignments, write term papers, and study for tests. Obviously someone will only subject themselves to this if there is a reward. For young children, the reward is an education, i.e. learning how to read, write, and do arithmetic. These skills come in handy later on in life, for an educated person is more attractive to potential employers.

For American high school students, one of the most important exams is the SAT, which is the unofficial college entrance exam. A high score on this test can land a person in a prestigious university, sometimes even rewarding them with a scholarship. This exam is so important that many parents pay thousands of dollars to send their children to preparation training courses. These courses often last several weeks and they take place outside the hours of the normal school day. Obviously there is no unselfishness in this pay-for-learning system, for the parents want their children to have the best education, and the students want to get into a good college.

Lars UlrichLet us fast forward to adult life. In order to maintain one’s livelihood, a person needs a job that will pay them enough money to meet the basic demands of the body: food, clothing, and shelter. Add a spouse and children to the mix, and the demands are multiplied. Therefore people try to find the best paying jobs that will allow them to somewhat enjoy their workday, while meeting the basic demands of the family at the same time. Even among those who love what they do for a living, there is still a need for compensation. No one wants to work for free. This applies even to people who have millions of dollars and are viewed by the general public as not needing any money. In the year 2000, the heavy metal band Metallica was immersed in a controversy relating to internet file sharing of their songs. A newly launched online music sharing service called Napster was hosting the entire catalog of Metallica music in the format of mp3 computer files. These files, though of lesser quality than the original CD versions of the songs, still sounded almost identical to the highest quality versions. Essentially people were “sharing” Metallica’s music all over the world without the band’s permission. As a result, Metallica sued Napster, demanding that their original songs be removed from the service. Even though they had millions in the bank already, Metallica correctly stated that no one goes to work without expecting to be compensated. The band subsequently suffered great backlash for their stance, with their drummer, Lars Ulrich, becoming the poster child for the anti-file-sharing movement.

The other aspect of devotional life, apratihata, which means without interruption, might be just as difficult to adhere to. In one sense, selfishness and interruption are complementary in the arena of performing work. For example, if we’re studying hard in school to get a degree and a high paying job later on in life, there is an expectation that the work will end at some point. There is an underlying expectation of interruption. An easier way to understand this concept is to study the average work day. In America, the typical forty-hour work week consists of going to work from 9 am to 5 pm, Monday through Friday. Could any of us imagine staying at work all day and night? Quitting time is eagerly anticipated every day, as is lunch time. Most workers perform their work with both of these interruptions at the forefront of their minds. These breaks serve as a form of motivation. “Let me work hard right now so that I’ll be able to relax later.”

For a person to be motivated to do work, they need to know that the work will end at some point. That is the essence of fruitive activity, i.e. work performed for a desired fruit. We plant trees in hopes that one day they will sprout new fruits which can be eaten. Farmers till the land and pay attention to the crops in hopes that they will one day reap a nice harvest. Construction workers expend energy in hopes of completing their projects. Completion of a project means an end to the work.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna Now that we see that it is nearly impossible to perform work without motivation and without interruption, how do we go about practicing the religion of love? Is all hope lost? Are we destined to fail in our spiritual pursuits? Luckily for us, there is one emotion that trumps all standard conventions and transcends all rules. That emotion is love. When we throw love into the equation, selfish motivation and interruption can be tossed right out the window. The most obvious example of this phenomenon can be seen with parents, especially mothers. A good mother loves her child without any desire for self-aggrandizement or emotional happiness. The loving service offered by a good mother also never ends, even when the child has reached adult age. A mother never thinks, “I am done offering my service. I have done all that I need to do for my child, so I will stop now.” There are also others who exhibit similar behavior in their loving dealings. Wives, husbands, children, friends, etc. often devote themselves to their object of affection and work tirelessly for their interests.

When this loving attitude is directed towards the supreme object of pleasure, God, then it is perfect. This is the key ingredient to devotional service, which is the highest dharma. While God is the name that most of us know for the Supreme Entity, the Vedas give us many more names which are more descriptive. In His original form, God is known as Krishna, which means one who is all-attractive. Since every single person in this world is meant to offer Him their love, only God could be the most attractive. Since Krishna is loved by everyone, it would make sense that He is the most attractive.

Krishna and Arjuna So how do we serve Krishna? How do we offer Him our service in an uninterrupted and unmotivated manner? Luckily for us, there are many many great devotees who have offered such service in the past. We need only look to their example to see the proper path. Around five thousand years ago, Lord Krishna personally came to earth and enacted wonderful pastimes. One of His most memorable acts took place on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where He served as the charioteer for His cousin, disciple, and dear friend Arjuna. Kurukshetra was the scene of a great war, with Arjuna being the lead warrior for the Pandavas. On the eve of the war, Arjuna was hesitant to fight, not wanting to kill his friends and family members who were fighting for the opposing side. Lord Krishna took this opportunity to impart spiritual wisdom on His dear friend, informing Him of the meaning of life and the proper way to perform one’s prescribed duties. Arjuna gladly heeded this advice and went on to fight heroically in Krishna’s honor. Arjuna’s service was unmotivated because he really didn’t want to fight in the war. If anything, he was ready to lay down his arms and let the other side win. Arjuna’s service was also uninterrupted, because after the war ended, he didn’t stop his devotion to Krishna. Wherever he went in life, Arjuna always thought about Krishna and how to make Him happy.

Hanuman flying to the rescue Another famous devotee of Krishna is Hanuman. Many many thousands of years ago, Krishna came to earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. Lord Rama is famous even to this day. Since He is non-different from Krishna, millions of people around the world worship Him as God. This was also the case with Hanuman, a Vanara and eternal servant of the Lord. During Rama’s time on earth, His wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Hanuman kindly offered his service to Rama by leaping his way to the island kingdom of Lanka where Sita was. Bringing back news of her whereabouts to Rama, Hanuman then helped in the fight against Ravana’s army, which eventually saw the death of Ravana and the rescue of Sita. Afterwards, Hanuman asked to remain alive on earth for as long as Rama’s story was still being told. In this way, he performed his service without any personal desire and without any interruption. To this day, Hanuman spends all his time engaged in thinking about Rama.

As we can see from the examples of these two wonderful devotees, the key to success in spiritual life is love. It is not that we must be completely unmotivated per se, but rather our motivation should be to please the Supreme Lord. Since this attitude isn’t of the selfish variety, it can be accurately termed as unmotivated. Devotional service is so sublime that there is no need for interruption. Unlike meditational yoga, fruitive activity, and speculative knowledge, there is no end-goal with devotional service. One really isn’t working towards an achievement, say as in climbing a mountain or finishing a marathon. Love doesn’t work that way. When directed at Lord Krishna, love gains its true potency, lighting a fire in the devotee that never extinguishes.

Radha and Krishna The key to successfully changing our consciousness is to spend every minute of every day involved in spiritual life. The easiest way to do this is to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chant, read, look at pictures, visit temples, sing songs, etc. There are so many options available to us. Even if that love isn’t there in the beginning, by sincerely taking to these activities, one’s dormant transcendental attachment will eventually come out.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Nothing Lasts Forever

Lakshmana “My Lord, if, through Your effulgence, You set the entire planet ablaze and put it into a distressful situation, where will the distressed citizens go, O tiger among men, for solace? This [having to deal with temporary setbacks] is certainly characteristic of this world. Even King Yayati, the son of Nahusha, after ascending to the heavenly planets of Indra was touched with inauspiciousness.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.7-8)

This is a nice explanation given by Shri Lakshmana on the temporary nature of God’s inferior energy. Whatever material rewards we receive in life, we can be sure that they won’t last forever. We are also guaranteed to come upon hard times again in some form or another. Even if we receive the highest material benefit of ascension to the heavenly planets, we still run the risk of falling back down to earth, as was the case with the great King Yayati. Keeping these facts in mind, the wise take it upon themselves to associate exclusively with God’s superior energy.

“What goes up, must come down” is how the famous saying goes. Nothing lasts forever. In the course of our day-to-day lives, there are times when we are very happy and times when we are very sad. Sometimes this change in mood can happen in an instant. By repeatedly going through such mood swings day after day for many years, the pattern becomes easier to recognize. Realizing this, we may start to wonder if it’s really a good idea to get too caught up in either extreme; the highs or the lows. The news, friends, work, family, birth, old age, disease, etc; these things all come and go on their own. It is not wise to get too overly attached to anything which is transient.

Masters Golf This is easier said than done however. The world of sports does a good job of illustrating the reality of the temporary nature of highs and lows. Each year there are certain sporting events that are eagerly anticipated: the Masters Golf tournament, Wimbledon for tennis fans, and the Super Bowl for football fans. There is much hype surrounding each of these events, with media doing wall-to-wall coverage before and after. The drama of these events can be quite gripping too. If the Wimbledon Final goes to a fifth set, or if the final round of the Masters goes into sudden death playoff holes, fans remain on the edge of their seats. Finally a victor emerges, and fans either rejoice or despair.

Wimbledon 2007 Let’s fast forward one year after this exciting moment. Does anyone think about who won the tournament the previous year? Some certainly do, especially those fans of the previous year’s winner. Yet once the next tournament starts, the drama begins anew. The previous year’s memories are erased, if not completely, but at least partially. Even if fans reminisce of years past, they can never recapture the same feeling of excitement that existed when the event was actually taking place. For the tournaments we are watching today, the events we are so caught up in that are presently unfolding, the thrills resulting from these experiences will expire very quickly. In tennis and golf, there are four major tournaments each year. This means that as soon as the next major tournament begins, the events of the immediately preceding tournament are forgotten.

This same principle holds true with everything in this material world. Government elections also illustrate this principle. As soon as a new candidate is elected to office, there immediately begins a rush of rumors as to who will run in the next election. The news cycle changes so quickly that no one would dare think of reading a newspaper that is more than one day old. Noticing all of these patterns, the wise realize that there is no need to get overly worked up over victories and defeats, pains and pleasures, or good times and bad times. God’s inferior energy is temporary in nature, so these dualities are bound to exist.

Does this mean that we should just give up all our activities? After all, if we work hard for something, we see that the resulting pleasure doesn’t last very long. The correct approach is to break free of our association with God’s inferior energy and instead become attached to the superior energy. What is the difference between these two energies? God’s personal realm, which includes all of His personal expansions and things created by His internal energy, is known as the spiritual world. The material world is everything else, i.e. the place that we currently inhabit. Spirit is immutable, unchangeable, and eternal. Therefore anything that is part of the spiritual energy will inherit these traits. Though the material world was also created by the Supreme Spirit, God, it has different characteristics. This is by design. God’s external energy is meant to be temporary and flawed because it exists solely for those living entities who want to pretend to be God. There can only be one “God” in the spiritual world, so if we want to imitate the Lord, we have to associate with an inferior energy.

Lord Krishna “So the material world is bad and the spiritual world is good. But I live in the material world right now? How do I get out?” To help the living entities break free of the delusion brought upon by the material qualities, God gave us dharma. More than just religion, dharma is something that is ever-existing inside of us. It is what defines us. Currently we are falsely identifying ourselves as Americans, Indians, African-Americans, whites, etc. Our true identity is that of a spirit soul, an eternal servant of God. Dharma is that discipline which helps us remember this fact. When we understand that we are God’s servants and not ourselves God, our whole outlook on life changes.

“One who can control his senses by practicing the regulated principles of freedom can obtain the complete mercy of the Lord and thus become free from all attachment and aversion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.64)

Those who are God conscious decide that the aim of life is to serve God and nothing else. Therefore they can still do the same day-to-day activities, but they don’t have any attachment to them. If we don’t have any attachment to these activities, why should we even perform them? The answer is that our bodies must be maintained somehow. We can only realize God if we are alive. We all have different qualities and desires, and therefore we have a penchant to perform different kinds of work. This work is what maintains our bodies; therefore it should not be given up on a whim. It is wiser to continue with our prescribed duties, while simultaneously developing a loving attachment to God.

How do we achieve this condition? The easiest way is to regularly chant the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We can also read books about God, visit His temples, talk to other devotees, and sing songs about Him. The possibilities are endless. These activities can all be performed by any person, regardless of their disposition, cultural background, age, etc. This discipline is known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Bhagavata refers to Bhagavan, which is a more accurate name for God. The Vedas tell us that the supreme living entity is so great that the name God doesn’t do Him justice. A better word is Bhagavan, which means one who possesses all opulences and fortunes.

Lord Rama and wife Sital Now that we have established that material life is full of ups and downs and that our real mission in life is to associate with God, does this mean we will achieve perfection? Simply knowing the temporary nature of this world and the ultimate objective in life is not enough. We need these facts reinforced from time to time. We need to consult real-life examples of these principles in action. We also need examples of great personalities who adhered to these principles and made their lives perfect. To help us in our pursuit of religious life, the Supreme Lord Himself personally advents on earth from time to time. One such appearance took place thousands of years ago in Ayodhya, India. The great Vedic texts such as the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam tell us that God has unlimited forms, ananta-rupam. He also has unlimited incarnations that appear on earth, meaning there are too many forms of Godhead to count. However, there is still a list provided of the primary incarnations, or avataras. Lord Rama, the handsome prince of Ayodhya, is considered one of these primary avataras.

Lord Rama’s life was full of so many ups and downs that His primary pastimes were recorded in a wonderful poem known as the Ramayana, authored by Maharishi Valmiki. The sage is considered the author of the book, but that doesn’t accurately describe his role. The Ramayana contains details of historical events, so it wasn’t as if Valmiki just made everything up. Rather, he took the most notable events and related them together in his poem. One of the more memorable events of Lord Rama’s life was His time spent in the forests of India. Banished in exile by His father, Maharaja Dasharatha, Rama roamed the forests for fourteen years with His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. On one occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the demon Ravana while Rama and Lakshmana were not with her.

Lakshmana In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is trying to calm his elder brother, who is quite grief-stricken over the kidnap of His wife. Rama was so upset that He was ready to destroy the whole world, something He was more than capable of doing. Playing the part of a kshatriya warrior, Rama was the greatest of archers. The arrows shot from His bow were equivalent to today’s nuclear weapons in strength. He easily could have destroyed the whole world simply by shooting a few arrows. Lakshmana advised Rama against such action. He wanted to get the point across that good and bad things come on their own, and that one should always remain on the path of dharma at all times.

“He [King Yayati ] reached the heavenly planets by dint of his pious acts, but he fell down from there because of his self-advertisement and criticizing other great souls. After his fall, his daughter and grandson bestowed upon him their accumulated virtues, and by the help of his grandson and friend Shibi, he was again promoted to the heavenly kingdom, becoming one of the assembly members of Yamaraja, with whom he is staying as a devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.12.24 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada To get his point across, Lakshmana referenced a famous incident regarding King Yayati. The great Vedic texts give us the lineage, or vamshas, of the prominent families that existed at the beginning of creation. Each one of these dynasties had a famous king who established the family’s reputation. King Yayati was one such king who was so pious and well-respected that he ascended to the heavenly planets after death. Among most followers of the Christian faith, the belief is that you either go to heaven or hell after death, depending on how you behaved during your lifetime. The Vedas also agree with this conclusion, except they give us more detail as to what actually makes up heaven and hell.

“When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.21)

Lord Rama Heaven and hell are both considered part of the material world, or God’s inferior energy. This means that both realms are subject to creation and destruction. Therefore we can conclude that anyone who resides there must have to leave at some point. The Vedas tell us that our time spent in heaven is commensurate with the merits accumulated from our pious activities. This means that ascending to material heaven does not represent perfection in life. Once we reach there, we are more than susceptible to falling back down to earth. This was the case with Yayati. He made a transgression while residing in heaven and was thus forced to come back to earth. His example is often quoted when describing the reality of reincarnation and the temporary nature of happiness and distress.

What we learn from this is that the performance of pious deeds does not represent the pinnacle of devotional practice. Dharma helps us stay on the righteous path, but our pious activities must lead to attachment to God. If we don’t develop that attachment, we can’t achieve true perfection. Lord Rama was God Himself, so He had no need for self-realization, but to play the part of a human being, He engaged in lamentation from time to time. What’s so wonderful about this incident is that since it describes a conversation between God and His brother, it is completely spiritual in nature. Simply by hearing it, we are associating with the spiritual energy. Eventually Rama would heed Lakshmana’s advice and compose Himself. He would go on to rescue Sita and defeat Ravana in battle. Though nothing in the material world lasts forever, if we dedicate ourselves to bhagavata-dharma, we can enjoy eternal felicity in the imperishable spiritual sky with the Supreme Lord.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010


Lord Krishna “O scion of Bharata, you should understand that I am also the knower in all bodies, and to understand this body and its owner is called knowledge. That is My opinion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.3)

Question: “Those who really love God, they should not be egoists since their whole personality is enveloped by the Lord’s as they surrender to the Lord. Could you please tell me the difference between ego and self-respect?”

Answer: According to Vedic information, the difference between the spiritual world and the material world is that the spiritual world is free of gunas. Gunas are material qualities, also known as modes. These gunas take shape through the gross material elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether, along with the three subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego. We see here that the term “ego” has a prefix: false. When one reassumes their original spiritual position, the influence of their material qualities [gunas] is removed. While this mitigation occurs upon returning to the spiritual world, one can also become free of the effects of material nature while remaining in their present body. This state of bliss is achieved when one develops full Krishna consciousness, a state of mind where all thoughts are directed at God. When one achieves this consciousness, the “false” part of the ego is removed and true self-respect is acquired.

Why does the living entity assume a false ego? Our constitutional position is that of a spirit soul, part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna. Lord Krishna is the same God that everyone worships, irrespective of faith or lack thereof. Even if one doesn’t believe in God, it doesn’t mean that the Lord doesn’t exist. While learned scholars, transcendentalists, philosophers, and mathematicians can ponder the various truths of life, there is one truth that is superior to all others. Since this truth explains every other truth, it is referred to as Absolute. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, tell us that the Supreme Absolute Truth is God, and that He has an ever-blissful form, full of sweetness. This original form of God has a name: Krishna. The living entities, the individual spirit souls, are part of Krishna, so they are the same in quality as God. Yet at the same time, their quantitative powers are far inferior; hence they have no business pretending to act like God.

Lord Chaitanya The highest truth of all, the ultimate conclusion, is that the spirit soul is inconceivably and simultaneously one with and different from God. This conclusion is known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, and it was introduced to society by Lord Chaitanya, a preacher incarnation of God who appeared on earth around five hundred years ago. Based on this definition, we see that the living entities are just like God, but that they are still different from Him. With this ultimate conclusion comes an ultimate relationship. That relationship is a loving one where the living entities are in Krishna’s company at all times. This association takes place in the spiritual world, where Krishna and His various non-different expansions reside. Not everyone worships God in the same way, so there are different moods of loving exchanges between the liberated souls and the Supreme Lord.

So where does the material world fit into all of this? Why are we living apart from Krishna right now? The living entities, at some point in time unknown to them, decided to separate from God. This reemphasizes the inconceivable aspect of the ultimate conclusion. Why would the living entities want to separate from the Lord? To imitate Him of course. That imitation is a sort of affront to the Lord’s authority, a challenge. Since God is always God, no one can imitate Him in the spiritual world. In order for there to be competing “gods”, a world separate from the Supreme Lord is required. Ironically enough, Krishna is so kind that He Himself created a flawed replica of the spiritual world to serve this veyr purpose. This place, known as the material world, is where we currently reside. Here we are forced to go through the cycle of birth and death, reincarnation, for as long as our desire to imitate God continues.

Upon reaching the material world, aside from assuming a body composed of material elements, the soul assumes a subtle body composed of mind, intelligence, and false ego. At this point, the false ego should be quite easy to understand. This ego is deemed false because it is not real; there is no justification for it. Ego refers to supremacy, pride, or the notion of “I am God.” At the time of birth the mind is not consciously aware of this desire to be the God of mankind, but little by little we work our way towards that end. For example, the living entity is the master of the body, or at least we think. Since we decide when to wake up, sleep, eat, talk, move around, etc., we feel like we have control over our body and all its parts. In this respect, we can be deemed as the supreme controllers of the body, ishvara.

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)

Krishna and Arjuna False ego begins to develop from this mindset, for according to Vedic information we are actually not even masters of our own bodies. Krishna, through His expansion as the Supersoul, resides side-by-side with the individual soul in the heart. The individual soul makes the decisions as far as interactions with nature go, but it is the Supersoul who is responsible for the results of action. There are countless ways to illustrate this, but the simplest example comes from life and death. Many of us bemoan the fact that life isn’t fair. Some people don’t drink, smoke, or do drugs their whole life, and yet they meet an untimely death. Others take to dangerous activity, are overtly sinful, and yet live a very long life. Some people are born into wealth, while others struggle in poverty throughout their life. Some people get very good grades in school and then make little money as adults. Others goof off throughout their schooling years and yet end up being the CEOs of the wealthiest companies in the world.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.27)

Why do these differences exist? As great and powerful as we may take ourselves to be, we are not responsible for the results of our actions. The results are doled out by the Supersoul, who is the master of the administrators of the material world, the demigods. Karma, or fruitive activity, is completely fair. We may take a certain action and hope for a desired result, but others also take to fruitive activity. Once all these actions and reactions collide, the results vary. Karma is completely fair, so whatever results we have coming to us eventually will be realized. They may not come to us in this lifetime, but they certainly will manifest in a future one.

These facts alone are enough to shed us of the false ego. We may be the controller of our own body, but the Supersoul resides inside of everyone. In this way, God is much more powerful than we are. The point of human life is to recognize God’s supremacy and think of Him at all times. Those who think of Him all the way up until the time of death get to return to the spiritual world, never having to assume a material body again. The false ego gets removed, and the real ego takes over.

Krishna and Balarama What is the real ego? The ideal relationship resulting from the achintya-bhedabheda-tattva philosophy is that of servant and master, friend and best friend, or lover and beloved. The two parties involved in this relationship are the living entity and Krishna. When a person realizes that Krishna is their best friend, the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, and the original proprietor of everything, then they have shed their false ego and assumed their real ego. This false ego is pretty easy to pick apart since every living entity is equal. What need is there to feel superior to anyone else if every person is meant to be God’s devotee? In this way, we see that the pure devotees of Krishna possess humility and kindness. They never take themselves to be greater than anyone else.

So what role does self-respect play in all of this? If we become humble devotees, does that mean we just sit around and avoid criticizing others, taking ourselves to be lesser individuals? The key component of self-respect is the “self”. When enveloped by the false ego, this “self” is taken to be the individual soul. But based on the philosophy of Lord Chaitanya, this self has a source, a supreme master. Lord Krishna, or God, is really the Superself, the basis of our identity. If we base our self-respect off of Krishna, then there is no reason to avoid self-confidence. Devotees of Krishna are extremely confident in the instructions of the Lord and His bona fide representative, the spiritual master. While the goal of human life is to achieve Krishna consciousness at the time of death, this mindset cannot be adopted without the help of a spiritual master.

Shrila Prabhupada A spiritual master, or guru, is essentially a teacher, one who instructs the puffed up living entities on issues relating to the soul and the source of the real ego. Since the spiritual master must deal with conditioned living entities who possess false egos, they can’t mince their words. Their teachings are bound to ruffle some feathers, i.e. offend some people. This is actually a good thing because if the conditioned living entities, those who want to imitate God’s power of creating, maintaining, and destroying, are flattered and told that their way of life is the right one, how will they make any progress in spiritual life? The spiritual master tells all living entities to give up their attachment to matter, their flawed desire to imitate God, and to take to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The ideal relationship is that of intimate association with the Lord, and this association can actually take place while one is in their present body.

Since God is non-different from the living entities, He is able to expand Himself into other forms which are similar in quality to His original form. Lord Krishna’s names are also expansions of the Lord, except that they are equally as powerful as the Lord Himself. Therefore the Vaishnava gurus advise everyone to chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible. For those who are serious about making progress in spiritual life, it is advised that they perform at least sixteen rounds of chanting this mantra daily on a set of japa beads, along with abstaining from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura It should be fairly obvious to anyone that these recommendations are bound to be met with opposition. “Why do I have to chant so much? Why do I have to give up eating meat? Didn’t God give man dominion over the animals?” When confronted with this opposition, the Vaishnava spiritual masters confidently assert the supremacy of bhakti-yoga and the teachings of Krishna found in the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. This attitude shouldn’t be mistaken to be egoistic or cocky. These great acharyas like Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Bhaktivinoda Thakura, and A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada had no desire to offend anyone, nor did they think themselves superior to anyone else. Their teachings are considered flawless because they were originally handed down by people who followed Krishna’s instructions. Only Krishna is flawless; hence one of His names is Achyuta, meaning one who never falls down.

The Vaishnava saints are actually the most humble individuals. When they take others to task for their way of life, there is an underlying purpose. The guru’s mindset is essentially this: “Oh such and such person: you are very intelligent in material subjects. You are so dedicated to maya, the illusory energy of Krishna which has fooled you into adopting a false ego. If you simply shifted your efforts towards Krishna’s service, you would be much happier. Not only would you be happier, but you could end up being a much greater devotee than me. I am a humble person simply doing my small part by trying to faithfully follow the teachings of my guru. If you were to follow these same teachings, you could become a much better devotee and thereby make Krishna very happy.”

The Vaishnava saints have a very kind attitude, even if it manifests through words that may offend others from time to time. Their intention is certainly not to anger others. Anyone who has studied the great Vedic texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam knows that Vedic philosophy, because it emanates from Krishna, is the sum and substance of all philosophy. It is such a comprehensive spiritual discipline that one who understands it properly will actually understand every other philosophy that has ever existed, currently exists, or will ever exist in the future.

Goswami Tulsidas Yet even armed with this knowledge, the Vaishnava saints don’t look down at anyone. They know that every person is a devotee at heart; someone who simply needs to be cleansed of their contamination accumulated through association with matter. Goswami Tulsidas, the great poet and devotee of Lord Rama [an incarnation of Krishna], often addressed people of other faiths in his writings. Tulsidas’ main prescription, as was Lord Chaitanya’s, was the chanting of God’s names. Through chanting this name, anyone could get whatever they wanted. Since God is everything, if we associate with Him, the reward we get is far greater than anything else that we could want. Tulsidas advised those who wished for earthly riches, those wanting to merge into the impersonal effulgence known as Brahman, those worshiping an all-pervading great one [God] who is considered invisible, and even those wanting to negate all activity, to simply chant Rama’s name. Since chanting brings a person the direct association of the personal Supreme Lord, it clears all inferior desires, bringing the living entity the happiness it so desperately wants.

Lord Krishna A Vaishnava possesses a high level of intelligence as it relates to spiritual life, but this doesn’t mean that there is any air of superiority or arrogance. One should certainly be humble, but this humility shouldn’t stop a person from kindly telling others about Krishna. If we simply sit back and watch others continue to live in misery for fear of offending them, is that a good thing? If Krishna is perfect, then His teachings must also be. If His teachings are perfect, why shouldn’t we kindly pass them on to others? The easiest way to transmit information about Krishna is through the chanting process. By regularly chanting Hare Krishna, Hare Rama, others can begin to connect with God and slowly but surely shed their false ego. True self-respect comes from knowing that Krishna is our friend and ever well-wisher.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Weathering the Storm

Rama and Lakshmana looking for Sita “Tell me, O best of men, which living entities aren't affected by danger, which is like a fire that catches on and then eventually vanishes?” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.6)

One of the more memorable instructions from the Bhagavad-gita is that one should remain calm and peaceful at all times, even through adversity. The Gita is a spiritual text describing the famous conversation between Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His disciple and cousin, Arjuna. The conversation touches on a wide variety of topics, including the eternal nature of the soul and how one should go about conducting themselves in their day-to-day lives. Since the work is so compelling, even non-devotees and religious scholars have taken to studying it. The passages relating to how one should deal with stressful situations are very appealing to people of all persuasions. Lord Krishna’s ultimate instruction is that we should not let the ups and downs of material life get in the way of executing our prescribed duties. Nothing should get in the way of achieving perfection in life.

n24525368223_1401525_1785 Who among us doesn’t have trouble dealing with adversity? Something as simple as bad weather can put us in a foul mood. In the Northeastern part of the United States, the weather is always changing. It never stays too hot or too cold for any extended period of time. People living in this area have to deal with heavy rains, snow, scorching heat, and high humidity. Even during the spring and autumn months, where the temperatures are not extreme in either direction, people have to deal with allergies. The allergic reactions from pollen, grass, and trees can be more painful than even extreme temperatures. Allergies cause our skin to itch, our nose to run, and our eyes to become red.

In industrialized nations, another cause of great discomfort is automobile traffic. The car is certainly a great invention, for it allows anyone to be a captain of their own ship. The automobile is the symbol of freedom, with the inside of the car being a place where no one can boss you around. You can drive wherever you want, at any time of the day or year. Driving should be a smooth task, but what causes hiccups is the fact that there are other drivers on the road. We are all equally citizens after all, so each one of us has an equal right to enjoy our God-given liberty. Problems do arise, however, when there are too many cars on the road. This leads to a condition referred to as traffic. High volume is not the only cause of traffic either. Congestion can also result from car accidents, inclement weather, and road construction. As soon as it starts raining or snowing, people reduce their driving speeds.

Traffic Traffic can be very irritating to the impatient driver. It’s an inconvenience that usually comes unexpectedly. “Why can’t the cars in front of me just move already? Why are they driving so slow?” These are some of our lamentations as we sit in the car and anxiously wait for the traffic to clear. Inconveniences can also be caused by other drivers. Since we all possess different material qualities, not all of us will be “good” drivers. Some will drive slower than others, some will be more willing to adhere to traffic laws, and some will have no concern for other drivers whatsoever. In America, the left-hand lane on a highway is considered the passing lane. If you are stuck behind a slow car, you can move to the left lane to pass that car. Yet many people like to park themselves in the left lane and simply coast. They have no desire to pass anybody. This not only goes against driving etiquette, but it also leads to increased congestion, and eventually accidents. Cars that want to pass now have to hope that the right lane, the slower lane, is free in order to be able to get around the slow car in the left lane.

These and other issues on the road can cause us to lose our temper. There is a common phenomenon known as “road rage” which describes the anger people feel when driving. In America there are driving courses that people can take that will help them save money on their car insurance. These classes, which last for more than five hours, always include a section about dealing with road rage.

Road rage Why is it important to educate people about keeping their cool? In most instances, losing our temper leads to bad things. When driving, if we lose our temper, we are more likely to get into an accident. We may decide to start harassing another car that is out on the road, or we will start cursing and yelling. Simply based on the immediate results of this rage, we can see that it is better to keep our cool. If we step back from the situation, we see that road rage makes absolutely no sense. In the grand scheme of things, if it takes a little longer to get to where we are going, what have we really lost? If someone insults us on the road, what do we really gain by engaging them? On the other hand, if we get into an accident as a result of our rage, we can lose our life in an instant.

The wise are those who realize the temporary nature of life’s ups and downs, and thus always keep their cool. It is better to remain calm and collected since this is a condition more conducive for focusing on the task at hand. While abiding by this principle is important in our normal everyday affairs, it takes on an even greater role in spiritual life. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that human life is meant for God realization. What does this mean exactly? The human being is considered the most advanced species due to its level of intelligence. Animals, plants, and aquatics have no idea who they are, or why they are put on this earth. They don’t even realize they are going to die. Fish are not smart enough to realize that if they eat too much food at one time, they will die.

Through trial and error, and through the teachings passed down by previous generations, we human beings can understand all of these things. Every one of our ancestors has died. They were no different than us when their lives started. They had hopes and dreams; they wanted to be happy and peaceful. Yet in the end, they were still forced to die. Therefore we can conclude that we must also have to die at some point. Knowing this, what is the point to life? Why are we put here on this earth if we don’t get to stay here?

People take different approaches towards answering these questions. Some like to study nature, trying to rule out various reasons as to what the point of life is. The first thing that gets ruled out is sense gratification. By nature, an animal simply wants to take part in eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings also have these tendencies, but since we know that we are going to die, we can see that there must be more to life than just temporary sense gratification.

If sense gratification is bad, then maybe the opposite is good? Maybe the point to human life is to negate all activity and hope to eventually achieve a state of peace? This is the philosophy of the jnanis, or impersonalist speculators. This line of thinking may seem plausible, but it doesn’t explain why we were put here in the first place. If the aim of life is to stop activity, why was there any activity to begin with? If material nature is so bad, who created it? Why does it exist at all?

We can go on mentally speculating in this way forever and never come to a concrete conclusion. The great saints of the past tell us that there is a good reason for this. Our brains are products of this material creation, so they are flawed in nature. We certainly have superiority over all other species in the intelligence category, but this does not mean that we are the smartest person. After all, we weren’t even able to control the circumstances of our birth, so how smart can we actually be? The great sages of India tell us that the smartest person in the world is God. He is the source of all things matter and spirit. It is due to His intelligence that this material world exists. He allowed us to come to this world and associate with matter. For this reason, God is more accurately defined as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This supreme person also has a name: Lord Shri Krishna.

Lord Krishna How do we know about Krishna? We can’t find Him through mental speculation or by performing mathematical proofs. The only way we can even begin to understand Him is to hear from His devotee. A pure devotee of Krishna is one who has learned the science of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, from his own spiritual master. If we ascend the chain of spiritual masters, we eventually make our way to Krishna, or God. Perfect knowledge can only be acquired from someone who is perfect themselves. As human beings we are most certainly a flawed species, prone to committing mistakes and cheating. However, these defects don’t exist in God. Therefore His teachings are perfect, and anyone who properly understands them is also perfect.

“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.34)

The spotless spiritual masters, the great Vaishnava saints, tell us that the point of human life is to use our intelligence to serve God. The process is actually quite simple: learn to love God and you will always remain in His association. The idea is to change our consciousness. Currently all the plans that we make are related to material life, those things which are temporary. Perfection is achieved when our consciousness is changed from the material to the spiritual. We are all spirit souls at our core, but God is the Supreme Spirit. If we think of Him at all times in a loving way, we can achieve perfection in life. If we are Krishna conscious at the time of death, we immediately ascend to the spiritual sky, wherefrom we never return.

Shrila Prabhupada - ideal spiritual master This formula seems simple enough. We just take to any of the nine processes of devotional service, and everything will be hunky-dory. But things aren’t that easy. The famous acharya, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, used to say that the path of devotional life is one riddled with thorns. This means that initially taking up bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service, can be very difficult. This is pretty easy to understand actually. We are so used to our conditional life that spiritual life is something foreign to us. The key components of devotional life are the regular chanting of God’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and abstention from the four pillars of sinful life: meat-eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication.

Just the requirement of giving up intoxication is enough to disqualify many from becoming God conscious. There are other issues to deal with as well, such as friends, family, work, and school. Most everyone is in a conditioned state, so they are unfamiliar with the tenets of the Vedas. Anyone who takes up the sublime mission of devotional service likely won’t have many friends to consult or people to help them. This makes things difficult in the beginning stages. Spiritual life is meant to be simple, so any obstacles that come in our way can seriously hamper our mood.

Lakshmana The key is to always remain steadfast and realize that ups and downs are both temporary. This was the lesson taught by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is counseling Rama by telling Him that peril certainly comes to everyone, but that it quickly disappears just as how a small fire eventually burns out. Lord Rama was an incarnation of God who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. He assumed the guise of a human being and played the role of a pious, kshatriya prince. On one occasion, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped in the forest in Rama’s absence. Unable to find Sita, Rama gave way to lamentation and anger. He was ready to destroy the entire world out of rage; something He was more than capable of doing considering He was God Himself.

One would be hard pressed to find a better brother than Lakshmana. He always looked out for Rama, even though the Lord didn’t require such help. Lakshmana loved Rama purely and without any motive. Since he was a perfect devotee, it’s not surprising to see that his words of advice were perfect as well. Lord Rama was God Himself, but He was playing the role of an ordinary human being. To relate to the rest of us, Rama decided to openly show His grief for having lost Sita. After this talk, however, Rama’s spirits were uplifted and He resumed His search for His wife. With the help of Lakshmana and the Vanara army led by Hanuman, Rama would eventually find and rescue Sita.

Hanuman helping Rama and Lakshmana The best gurus, or spiritual masters, are those who give us the proper advice at just the right time. Lakshmana was one such guru. His instructions were perfect many thousands of years ago, and they still remain so today. We will all most certainly face trouble in our religious pursuits, but we should never let temporary gains or setbacks take us off the straightened path. Heat and cold, pains and pleasures, victories and defeats all come and go on their own. The aim of life is to achieve the ultimate victory of returning back to Godhead. This reward can only be secured by those who can weather all of life’s storms. Always keeping Lakshmana’s words in mind, we can most certainly achieve success.