Saturday, September 4, 2010

Carpe Diem

Lakshmana “Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)

Carpe diem is a popular Latin phrase meaning “seize the day”. This saying has been famous for a long time and was given special attention in the movie, Dead Poets Society. The idea behind the saying is pretty straightforward: seize the day, go for it, just do it, you’ll never win if you never try. A similar slogan was used by the New York State Lottery commission many years back, “Hey, you never know”, as a way to entice people to try their hand at winning millions of dollars in the lottery. Though these slogans generally apply to material endeavors, they can also prove to be very beneficial in spiritual life.

Scene from Dead Poets Society The first question we should ask is why we need such slogans in the first place. Why do people need to be reminded to seize the day or to take chances? The reason is that most of us aren’t self-starters. We all have different desires, but true passion itself is hard to come by. We need someone to motivate and guide us. For example, if it weren’t for our parents forcing us to attend school in our youth, we probably never would have gotten an education. If it weren’t for our bosses requiring us to come into work on time, we probably wouldn’t be very productive. This shows that we have an inherent penchant for procrastination; putting the important things off until later.

One of the primary reasons for this behavior is the fear of failing. Once we start a task, there is all the chance in the world that it won’t come out successful. For example, in our youth we had many projects, term papers, and other reports due in school. Most students wait until the last minute to begin these projects because they are very time consuming. There is a lot of pressure that goes with these assignments also, for writing a long paper is not an easy thing to do. One must come up with a central theme, perform the necessary research, and then actually put all the thoughts and ideas together into words and sentences.

What if we are unable to even think of an idea? What if we stare at our computer screen, or typewriter in the olden days, and just come up blank? What will we do? There is nothing worse than failing an assignment, for it means that we were incapable of successfully completing something that our fellow classmates were able to do. This fear of failure can be crippling, and it is the primary reason that we wait until the last moments before we actually begin our tasks. Again, the reasoning behind this is pretty obvious. If we don’t try, or if we wait until later on to try, we don’t put ourselves out on the line; the chance to fail is eliminated or at least tabled.

Through logic and reasoning, we see that avoiding activity simply due to fear of failing is not a good thing. Let’s take driving for example. The first time we get behind a wheel is certainly a tense situation. Driving an automobile is a serious business, and the consequences of making a mistake while driving are much worse than if we fall off our bicycles. Yet at the same time, if we never take up driving due to this fear, we severely hamper our mobility. In the future, we eliminate ourselves from the running for any jobs that require us to travel by car. We will be forced to live in cities, even if we don’t want to. Also, if we ever get married and have children, we will have no way of transporting our dependents anywhere. We will always have to rely on others to take us places, and this dependence can dampen our spirits and our morale.

Though failing certainly isn’t good in the short term, we see that it is necessary in order for us to make advancement in life. We can learn from our mistakes. Moreover, simply being afraid of failure is not reason enough to avoid activity. It is much wiser to take action and not worry about the consequences. “Abandon all attachment to winning and losing and do what’s right. Carpe diem baby!“ This was the lesson taught by Lakshmana, the divine expansion of Lord Vishnu and younger brother of Lord Rama, an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Lord Rama Many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Divine Entity appeared on earth in human form as Lord Rama. Some will take such statements to be mere mythology or some sectarian belief. There is no doubt that the Vedas, the scriptures emanating from India, are the oldest set of law codes in existence. Originally passed down through aural reception, the Vedas were later put into written word in Sanskrit, which is the oldest language in existence. Though the Vedas come from India, the facts contained within are meant to enlighten every single person on earth. Vedic information states that God is one, but that He appears on earth from time to time for various reasons.

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

Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, is one of God’s primary incarnations. Mental speculators and philosophers will theorize that Rama must have been a great personality who was later taken to be God by the people of the time. “They must have turned Rama into God, for they didn’t know any better.” This sort of thinking seems plausible except for the fact that no one can become God. God is always God; there never was a time when He wasn’t God, nor will there be a time in the future when He stops being God. From Vedic information we understand that Rama was God before He came to earth and that He continues to be God even though He returned to the spiritual world.

“The avatara, or incarnation of Godhead, descends from the kingdom of God for material manifestation. And the particular form of the Personality of Godhead who so descends is called an incarnation, or avatara. Such incarnations are situated in the spiritual world, the kingdom of God. When they descend to the material creation, they assume the name avatara.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.263-264)

!Bt8Dhq!BGk~$(KGrHqUH-DMEvS ,FRj5BL-MdgU5zw~~_3 An incarnation of God is referred to as an avatara in Sanskrit, meaning one who descends. This is important terminology because we see that “descends” means something completely different than “becomes”. An avatara descends from the spiritual world, so Lord Rama never actually took birth or suffered through death. An avatara exists eternally; the only distinction from our point of view is that the avataras usually remain in the spiritual world. When they kindly appear on earth is when we pay attention.

As Lord Rama, God came to earth for specific purposes, the most important of which was to personally kill the Rakshasa demon Ravana. It was important for Rama to kill Ravana because the demon had wreaked havoc throughout the world. The demigods, or elevated living entities, were afraid of Ravana and could not defeat him in battle. This happens from time to time, for we see that the demons in the world sometimes rise to prominent positions of power. Their time in the spotlight is limited, however, as we saw with leaders such as Hitler and Mussolini. Usually the forces of nature take care of these miscreants, but for special cases, divine intervention is required.

Lord Rama So Rama came to kill Ravana. At the same time, He wanted to set a good example for everyone else to follow. Ravana was committed to adharma, or irreligion, thus Rama wanted to show what real dharma was. As the eldest son of a king, Rama displayed exemplary behavior. He was chivalrous, kind, sweet, charitable, and most of all, brave and courageous in clashes with the demons. He never backed down from a fight, as is the code of conduct for kshatriyas, or those belonging to the warrior caste. On one occasion, Rama easily killed 14,000 of Ravana’s associates in battle. Because of this defeat, Ravana hatched up a scheme whereby he was able to kidnap Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita Devi, while both Rama and His younger brother, Lakshmana, were not around to protect her.

When Rama found out that Sita was missing, He gave way to lamentation and anger. He was very attached to Sita, who was the incarnation of the Lord’s eternal pleasure potency. Though God is one, He doesn’t enjoy alone. Just as we tend to enjoy things more when friends and family are around, so the Lord derives the most pleasure when He is in the company of His devotees. This is actually the reason behind our existence, i.e. to realize that we are God’s eternal loving servants and that true happiness can only be found through direct association with Him. Since Sita was a perfect devotee, she couldn’t live without Rama and the same held true for the Lord. With Sita gone, Rama felt as though the wind had come out of His sails. As strong and perseverant as He was, this one setback really got to Him.

Lakshmana At this moment, Lakshmana stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. He reminded Rama that good and bad things come on their own to even the most pious of people, and that the wise don’t let this get them down. Rama actually didn’t need this advice since He was God, but at the same time, He was playing the role of a human being. “To ere is human”, so every now and then Rama showed signs of imperfection. We shouldn’t take this to mean that God is capable of committing mistakes, for that is not the case. The Vedas tell us that the Lord’s original form is that of Shri Krishna, whose many names include Achyuta, which means one who never falls down.

In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reiterating a well-known Vedic tenet relating to karma. Every action that we perform on a material level has a commensurate reaction. Sometimes we don’t see these reactions, or they are short-lived in nature. Thus it is also difficult to determine whether a particular activity is pious or sinful, for the complete scope of the fruits of such action are unknown. Regardless of when the fruits of our work manifest, it is an undeniable fact that action is the root cause of such fruits. In simpler terms, if you want something, you have to work for it. That is essentially what Lakshmana is saying. “You may or may not get what You want, but You can be rest assured that nothing will happen unless some action is taken by someone. Knowing these facts, it is better for You to shake this incident off and resume Your search for Sita.”

Rama and Lakshmana This one statement by Lakshmana is so beautiful and profound that one can study it over and over again and take away new lessons each time. Rama very much appreciated Lakshmana’s words of advice. The two brothers loved each other very much, so there was never any animosity between them. God is the all-knowing and all-powerful. He is most certainly capable of imparting words of wisdom to others, as He did at the beginning of creation to Lord Brahma and also on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to Arjuna. But one of the nice things about being God is that You don’t need to show off. This is what it means to be atmarama, or self-satisfied. The Lord is much happier seeing His devotee glorified, so He takes every opportunity He can to create just the right situations where they can shine. This incident with Lakshmana was one such situation. Lakshmana’s teachings were spot on, and just like a humble devotee, he reminded Rama at the end that he had originally heard these teachings from Him.

What we can take away from these teachings is that there is no reason to sit back on the sidelines and hope for success in life. Moreover, success and failure in material endeavors come on their own through our own karma and the karma of others, so it is more important to seize the day when it comes to spiritual life. After all, the benefit of human life is that we have the ability to learn about the Supreme Spirit. Yet just like with other endeavors, there is an inherent fear there. “What if I take up dharma, or yoga, or whatever it’s called, and don’t succeed? Won’t I have wasted my time?”

Hanuman practicing devotional service This is the beauty of the highest form of dharma known as devotional service, or bhagavata-dharma. If we take a chance and play the lottery, it is highly improbable that we will win. In other ventures, such as starting a business or taking up a new occupation, the chances of failing are also quite high. While it is certainly good to take action and try, if we fail in these endeavors, we don’t really come away with much. Maybe our work ethic improves or we learn how to deal with pressure, but we are still left with failure.

This principle doesn’t hold true with devotional service. Say that we muster up the courage to sincerely take up devotional service. We start chantingHare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads and also abide by the four regulative principles of abstention from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. After all of this, somehow or other, we fall back down. Either we stop chanting as many rounds or our interests shift elsewhere. Let’s say that we aren’t able to correct things by the time our life ends. Does this mean that our efforts went to waste?

Lord Krishna No. As Lord Krishna clearly states in the Bhagavad-gita, there is no loss in performing devotional service. In our next life, we get to start back up again right from where we left off. We see that some children have the great fortune of growing up as devotees. Either they take birth in a family of Vaishnavas or they are introduced to Krishna early on in life, and they remain devotees throughout. These situations are not accidental; it surely means that there was some level of devotional service performed in the previous life. The lesson here is that we have no excuse not to take up service to God, even if it is only at an immature level. We should remember that we’ll never succeed unless we take action. Seizing the day means taking control. And hey, you never know, you just might end up going back home, back to Godhead.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Beyond Speculation

Krishna's advent “Dear Lord, if You did not appear in Your eternal transcendental form, full of bliss and knowledge—which can eradicate all kinds of speculative ignorance about Your position—then all people would simply speculate about You according to their respective modes of material nature.” (Prayers of the demigods, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 2)

Due to man’s fallible nature, he will always search after God, even if he has no information about Him. The results of such attempts will always fail unless one is directed to the proper source, an authorized representative of the Lord who can accurately describe His features, names, and occasions for His appearances. Without such a consultation, one will be prone to mentally speculating about God, concocting their own theories about who the Lord is and what He looks like, and worst of all, coming up with the flawed notion that man is God or that man can somehow become God.

Krishna avataras According to the authorized representatives of the Supreme Lord, the benevolent and munificent Vaishnavas, God appears on earth from time to time to enact pastimes which include the punishing of miscreants, the protecting of the saintly class, and the granting of spiritual benedictions to those possessing a pure heart. What is a spiritual benediction? Generally we look for benedictions which will improve our material condition. We are either suffering through some financial distress, physical ailment, or mental dissatisfaction. Naturally we will look to a higher power to alleviate such suffering. While benedictions relating to these issues are surely nice, the benefits derived are short-lived, for the root cause of the problem is not addressed.

Vedic information states that all problems and all distresses in life are caused by one’s forgetfulness of the Supreme Lord. One can think of it in these terms: Suppose that we are extremely wealthy and possess millions of dollars in the bank. This wealth was acquired through honest means and is at our disposal. Those who are forgetful of God usually view everything through this prism of material wealth. Those who are wealthy are viewed as being extremely happy and full of greed, while those who are not are viewed as unhappy and always wanting. Continuing with the hypothetical situation, suppose that we were forgetful about our wealth. Suppose that we forgot about all the money that we have in the bank. The resulting situation would be one of distress, involving constant hankering and lamenting. We would constantly worry about what will happen to us in the future, how will we feed our families, how will we meet our obligations, pay off our debts, etc. In addition, there would also be concern over something bad happening to us and how we would meet the basic demands of the body after such an occurrence.

Lord Krishna Obviously such worrying is silly if we are actually wealthy. If we simply remembered that we have millions of dollars in the bank, none of these issues would arise. There would be no need to ponder over our material condition and future well-being. Our forgetfulness of God can be thought of in the same light. Every single person descends from God; we are all His children. Though people have varying ideas of what God is and what His qualities are, one would have to assume that wealth would be something He would possess. If the Supreme Lord can create unlimited numbers of universes, surely He is not in need of anything. The Vedas support this opinion by referring to God as Bhagavan, meaning one who is the most fortunate. Fortune refers to positive attributes, of which wealth is one. If our original father is the richest person in the world, what need is there for any distress? What need is there for asking for material benedictions?

Spiritual benedictions are what God grants to the kind-hearted devotees, those who realize that they are descendants of the richest person in all the universes. A spiritual benediction can be thought of as a reward which allows a person to constantly be connected to God. This connection is considered the highest benediction because it completely eradicates all other problems. If one is in constant connection with the Supreme Pure, they are considered to be in yoga, or union. This union allows one to focus on spiritual activities which ensure the sustenance of this wonderful bond. The Supreme Lord, through His appearances on earth, fortifies this holiest of bonds by granting His darshana to His greatest devotees.

How do we know that the Lord has appeared on earth before? Those who saw Him kindly wrote down their experiences in books. Actually these experiences were first described in an oral tradition. Veda means knowledge, and this knowledge was first transmitted through aural reception. For this reason, another name for the Vedas is the shrutis, meaning that which is heard. As time went on, mankind’s mental abilities diminished, thus the written word became necessary. Since this written word was required in order for people to remember Vedic wisdom, the resulting books became known as smritis, or that which is remembered. The Puranas were originally part of the oral tradition, but then later on they were put into book form. Though there are many Puranas, the Bhagavata Purana, or Shrimad Bhagavatam, is considered the foremost because it focuses solely on Lord Krishna and His incarnations.

Lord Krishna The ancient seers of India, the great Vaishnavas, tell us that God is one but that He takes unlimited forms for His own pleasure. The original form of God is Lord Krishna, and His direct incarnations are classified as vishnu-tattva. Lord Krishna and the vishnu-tattva incarnations are described in great detail in the Bhagavatam. These descriptions are not based on mental concoction but rather real life events that took place on this earth some five thousand years ago. That was when Lord Krishna personally descended to this planet and enacted wonderful pastimes. The appearances of the other incarnations took place before that, or will take place sometime in the future. Aside from giving pleasure to the devotees, Krishna’s personal appearance five thousand years ago also firmly established who God is, what He looks like, and what His qualities are. These facts needed to be established to allow future generations to decipher who God is and what the meaning of life should be.

Why is this information required? As mentioned before, if mankind doesn’t know about God, they are likely to speculate on the nature of the divine. This speculation will always have disastrous results because the human mind is incapable of conceiving of its creator. Anyone who conjures up a notion of God in this way will certainly be doomed, and moreover, they will doom whoever follows them. In order to protect the innocent from being fooled in this way, the Supreme Lord descends to earth from time to time to establish the real principles of religion. An example of the attempts at trickery of the mental speculators was seen during the nineteenth century in India. One of the most famous Vaishnavas in recent times was alive during that time period in India. His name was Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura. Though he was a householder and worked as a magistrate, he was an authority on religion and especially devotion to Krishna. He authored many wonderful books which described Krishna’s glories and also compared and contrasted almost every religious system that has ever existed.

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura During Bhaktivinoda Thakura’s time as a magistrate in Orissa, there was a yogi who was claiming to be an incarnation of Vishnu. Taking advantage of this claim, this yogi was engaged in dancing with young girls, thus trying to imitate one of Krishna’s most intimate and wonderful pastimes. This yogi was a charlatan who certainly wasn’t God or even a devotee. People in the community started worrying since this man was acting this way with young girls, but they were afraid to take him on. “What if he is actually Vishnu? If I offend him, certainly I will have to suffer.” Bhaktivinoda Thakura went to investigate the situation. He asked the yogi why he was residing in the jungle and not at the temple of Lord Jagannatha in Puri. The yogi replied that the deity residing in the temple was only wood, while the yogi himself was the real God. Based on this reply, Bhaktivinoda Thakura could immediately recognize that the person was a charlatan. Deity worship is one of the most authorized forms of devotional service, something instituted by Krishna Himself. Though the deity may be made of wood or stone, the devotees never look at it as being different from Krishna. This is how the Supreme Lord has taught us to view the deity, for it is the mercy of the Lord to appear in such a manner.

Bhaktivinoda Thakura ordered the yogi to be locked up. Ironically, shortly after this, Bhaktivinoda Thakura and his family members all contracted a fever. People started worrying that the yogi was maybe applying a curse to everyone, and that if he was able to do this, maybe he really was Vishnu. Bhaktivinoda Thakura held firm in his belief and ordered that the yogi’s hair be cut off, for maybe that was the source of his mystic power. A short while after being put in jail and having his hair cut, the yogi eventually killed himself, thus settling the affair. Because he was an expert on Vaishnavism as expounded in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhaktivinoda Thakura knew all along of the yogi’s trickery . In that wonderful book, all of the primary incarnations of Godhead are listed as well as their features and attributes.

Krishna's associates saw Him as their lovable friend The lesson here is that we should not be misled by the latest incarnations that appear and tell us to worship them. Even when Lord Krishna personally came to earth, He didn’t announce His divinity to everyone. What would be the purpose? If we knew someone was God, it would make it more difficult to offer our service to them in a pure way. Some of the Lord’s most exalted associates such as Mother Yashoda, Arjuna, Uddhava, and the cowherd friends in Vrindavana never looked at Krishna as being God. Instead, they viewed Him as their dearmost friend, someone they were completely devoted to. Surely Krishna revealed His true nature when the time was right, but again this wasn’t broadcast to everyone.

Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth was Lord Chaitanya some five hundred years ago. On the surface, this may seem like another instance of creating an incarnation of Lord Vishnu where there isn’t one. However, based on Lord Chaitanya’s actions, we can see that He could be none other than Krishna Himself. Lord Chaitanya played the part of the most exalted brahmana, a pure devotee of Krishna who spread love for God throughout India. His closest associates knew He was God, but the Lord never wanted to be praised in this way. He would pretend to be greatly offended whenever anyone would address Him in such a manner. This behavior is in stark contrast to the other cheaters who claim to be God, all the while espousing their own made up method of self-realization. Lord Chaitanya’s formula of bhakti-yoga, pure love for God, is the only worthwhile religious system because it speaks to the natural desire of the soul to offer service to its creator.

Lord Chaitanya and associates It is not unnatural to have a desire to see God. As George Harrison famously wrote in his introduction to Shrila Prabhupada’s, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, “If there’s a God, I want to see Him”, it is the natural desire of the living entity to want to associate with the Supreme Spirit. To keep from being duped by false-incarnations and also by our own minds, we should try to regularly hear from the authorized Vedic texts such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Ramayana, and Bhagavad-gita. Moreover, we should hear about these works through the medium of the devotees, those who aren’t God’s competitors. This will help us advance in spiritual life and also give us great transcendental pleasure at the same time.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Cause of All Causes

Lakshmana “Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)

This one statement by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, is so profound that there is no limit to the number of lessons one can derive or explanations one can give. This is the benefit of taking instruction from the highest authority, a pure devotee of God. In the Vedic tradition, Lord Rama is considered an incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. His three brothers are also considered partial incarnations, thus Lakshmana is not only a devotee, but one who possesses divine qualities as well. One concept that this verse explains is that of cause and effect. There is a root cause for every event or result that we see. Though this may be hard to understand at first, a quick study of our own lives can help us better grasp the concept.

Home interior Let’s take a home for example. In America, if one wants to buy a house they usually enlist the help of a real estate agent. This agent then takes prospective buyers from home to home, showing the ins and outs of the houses that are for sale. Each home buyer is looking for different things. Some want to have enough backyard space, some require multiple car driveways, while others need to have a minimum number of bedrooms. Owning a home is considered beneficial because unlike with renting, paying the mortgage on a home means you gradually take ownership of the house. After many many years of making payments, the home finally becomes yours, and thus your monthly expenses greatly diminish.

The downside of owning your own home is that you are now responsible for all the maintenance. Ask anyone who owns a home and they will tell you that managing it is a full-time affair. Problems with plumbing, roofing, water leaks, landscaping, etc. creep up all the time. There is no building manager you can call to help you out, for you are now responsible for everything. Just by examining the ins and outs of a house, we can learn so much. Though we work hard at our jobs to earn enough money to pay the rent or mortgage, the house actually doesn’t get built with money alone. Houses don’t just appear out of nowhere. It takes great work and detailed planning to get all the intricacies of the structure in place. The lawn in the front yard is the result of a person planting seeds and managing the growth of the grass. The pavement in the driveway is the result of someone putting down gravel and cement and making sure it was laid out smoothly. The bathrooms and kitchen result from laying down tile and making sure that pipes get put into the right places. The heating and cooling systems require intricate knowledge of the vents and ducts, etc.

Cause and effect is like a tree As we can see, for everything that we enjoy in life, there is a root cause. This is the nature of action. In Vedic terminology, this system of cause and effect is known as karma. More than just handy work, karma is any fruitive activity performed which carries a material result, either good or bad. Not only is working on a house considered to be karmic activity, but so is just about everything else that we do. Getting up in the morning is karma. The result is that we are able to go about tackling the necessary tasks of the day. Even sleeping is fruitive work, for that allows us to rest and be refreshed for the day ahead.

Why is karma important to understand? Because not only does karma explain how physical objects around us are built, but it also points to how our current body was acquired. The Vedas tell us that our current life is certainly not the only one we’ve had. “You only live once” is a common saying, but it is not completely accurate. If we identify strictly with our current body, then it is indeed true that we only live once. Once death comes our bodies start to rot and decay. A corpse can never be revived or brought back to life due to the fact that the soul has exited the body.

Though the body is ultimately destroyed, the soul, which represents our true identity, never does. It immediately accepts a new body after death, signaling a new life or rebirth. So what determines where the soul will end up next? The answer is karma. Just as we currently make so many preparations for the future - such as where to go on vacation, what to eat for dinner, or where to attend college - in a similar manner, the sum total of all our activities performed over the course of our lifetime determines where the soul will end up after death.

“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 Armed with these facts, we can gain a better understanding of how we ended up in our current predicament. As we can see, there is a root cause for every effect. Though we can see some of the effects of our current work, there are some effects that we can’t see. This is because the activities of our past lives are forgotten. Yet this doesn’t mean that activities weren’t performed. We may have forgotten the events of each day that we spent in school as children, but those events certainly happened. They also resulted in our learning how to read, write, and do arithmetic. We would be hard pressed to remember a time when we didn’t know how to speak, how to walk, or how to read. Yet we know from the statements of our parents that as young infants we were incapable of performing these tasks. But we ended up learning these things over the course of time, after we performed certain actions.

Just because the results of action aren’t immediately visible, it doesn’t mean that there aren’t root causes to the effects that currently are visible. This concept helps us understand the the circumstances of our birth, which were determined by activities taken in previous lives. This is not a myth or a belief, but a scientific fact. In a similar manner, if we expand this thinking even further, we can see that everything in this world has a root cause. This is a belief shared by everyone, even the scientific community. Scientists have for centuries tried to study the history of the universe and how it came into being. Today, there is purportedly a consensus of scientists who believe that mankind has an effect over the climate of the earth. The belief is that through the activities performed by man, the ecology of the earth is altered, and thus the climate as a whole changes.

The earth This line of thinking essentially puts man in charge of controlling nature. But at the same time, these same scientists believe that the universe was created through a massive explosion of chemicals. This is known as the Big Bang Theory, and it espouses the belief that randomness was the original cause of everything. Yet by studying the circumstances of our own lives, we see that it is work that is the cause of everything. The work we perform, along with the work performed by others, determines the events of our lives. Our current life is a result of the work performed during previous lives. At each step along the way, the impetus for performing said work lies with the individual.

The Vedas refer to a person as purusha, which means a controller, enjoyer, or spirit. Purusha is what forms the basis of our identity, for the gross body is prakriti, or matter. Prakriti is incapable of doing anything on its own; it is dull matter. For any activity to take place there must be purusha. Spirit always dominates matter. Thus the Big Bang Theory falls flat simply because matter itself has no energy or intelligence. Matter is incapable of performing work, so it cannot be the root cause of anything.

Lakshmana From Lakshmana’s statement, we see that for any result to appear, either desired or undesired, work must be performed. Everything has a cause. If we traverse the chain of cause and effect all the way up, we will eventually reach an endpoint. This endpoint is not a series of chemicals which collide, but rather a person. This purusha is the greatest of all persons and is thus known as maha-purusha. This person is none other than Lord Krishna, or God.

“God” is a generic term which doesn’t really speak much to the Supreme’s features, attributes, and appearance. Therefore the Vedas give us thousands of names for God, each describing His limitless attributes and potencies. In His original form, however, God is known as Krishna, meaning one who is all-attractive. Lord Krishna is also described as sarva-karana-karanam, the cause of all causes. As the greatest person, He is the original cause of everything. It is He who enters into the grand spiritual whole and causes life to be generated.

“It should be understood that all species of life, O son of Kunti, are made possible by birth in this material nature, and that I am the seed-giving father.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.4)

Lord Krishna Why is it important to know that Krishna is the cause of all causes? One who knows this fact will very quickly understand how all of nature works. There are so many different scientific departments today, each studying how various aspects of nature function and operate. Having knowledge of these things is certainly nice, but what does it do for us? On the other hand, people who know Krishna will inherently understand how nature works, for they will see everything as it relates to God. If we fail to understand the cause of all causes, we will always remain in illusion. We will be able to understand cause and effect on a micro level, but we will nonetheless remain in the dark.

The real benefit of understanding that Krishna is the cause of all causes is that we will realize that our life is meant for serving Him. Currently we believe that we are the doers; we are the cause of all the good and bad things that come to us. This is true in some respects, but at the same time, we see that other living entities play a role as well. They too are performing activities and serving as the cause of various results. When these activities collide, what results is a jumbled mess of outcomes which are hard to predict and control. Therefore the wise take to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.

Lord Krishna Devotional service involves activities performed for the benefit of Krishna. Instead of working for our own rewards, we work towards pleasing the Supreme Lord. This service can involve hearing, reading, smelling flowers, offering food, or even talking about Krishna. The most effective method, however, is the congregational chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The beauty of devotional service is that it is above karma. When we engage in fruitive activity, we are preparing our next body, which will surely be a material one. But since Krishna is the supreme spirit, someone above karma, working to please Him means that we will be preparing a spiritual body for ourselves in the afterlife. Once we get this spiritual body, we’ll immediately be taken to Krishna’s spiritual abode, where we will never have to deal with karma again.

“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.6)

Though the rewards of fruitive activity are unseen and short-lived, they nevertheless require some work to be performed. Fruits don’t grow on their own; they require the actions of planting, watering, and maintaining. In a similar manner, we can’t achieve the ultimate reward of spiritual salvation without performing spiritual work. If we work hard in devotional service, the results will surely come.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Vyasa Puja 2010

Shrila Prabhupada “I offer my respectful obeisances unto my spiritual master, who with the torchlight of knowledge has opened my eyes, which were blinded by the darkness of ignorance.” (Gautamiya Tantra)

How do we find God? How do we find the proper path in life, that road which will lead us to the promise land? Many people have answers, but who should we believe? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the answers to life’s most troubling questions are only known to a select few exalted individuals. These individuals, though they may come in different shapes, sizes, and overall appearances, carry what is lacking to the bewildered soul. These individuals are known as gurus, or spiritual masters, and one who humbly approaches them can have all of life’s problems solved.

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura - a celebrated spiritual master Simply put, the spiritual master is a representative of God. Just as a king or government leader has trusted aides and officers, the Supreme Lord has His representatives on earth. On a more basic level, the guru is a teacher, except that the subject matter they teach is more important than that of any other teacher’s. For one to teach, they have to know. If someone doesn’t know how to do something, their teaching will not be effective. The spiritual master teaches others about God, how to find Him, and then how to serve Him. This last point is the most important: serving God. The basic teaching of the bona fide spiritual masters - those who are friends, servants, and surrendered souls to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna - is that the individual spirit souls are fragmental sparks emanating from the original and gigantic fire known as God. As individual sparks, the wayward spirit souls are similar in quality to the original fire, but vastly inferior in quantity. True bliss, enlightenment, and peace of mind can only be achieved when the sparks return to the original fire, signaling a return to their original habitat so to speak. Upon entering this original realm, the activities of the sparks do not cease, but rather become purified. This purified activity is known as devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.

Judging who is a bona fide spiritual master and who isn’t is quite straightforward. We simply have to tell if a person is surrendered to Krishna or not. We can think of it in this way: Celebrities and star athletes all have agents. These representatives negotiate deals on behalf of their client with higher ups, wealthy franchises, and movie studios. It’s easier to have an agent haggle about dollars and cents than it is for the person to go themselves and squabble with their potential bosses. A good agent is one who represents the interests of their client and not themselves. Naturally, if the client is satisfied, the agent will be as well. The same principle applies to spiritual masters. If a guru is working only on behalf of Krishna, then naturally the Lord will be happy, which will also result in the guru’s happiness.

Lord Krishna - the original spiritual master How does a guru determine what Krishna wants? The answer to this is quite simple as well. A guru has learned the art from their own guru, who learned it from their guru, and so on. Traversing the chain of spiritual masters all the way to the top, one will eventually reach Krishna, or God. This is the other component to determining the bona fides of the spiritual master. If their unbroken chain of disciplic succession doesn’t eventually reach Krishna, their teachings cannot be considered legitimate. At the same time, this chain also cannot be broken through any deviation in teachings. As mentioned before, the guru’s main business is to please Krishna. As strangers trapped in a strange land, the spiritual sparks represented by the individual living entities are lost and unaware of the ultimate purpose in life. The transcendent Lord’s happiness comes through reclaiming His lost souls and having them return to their original home. The guru, as the via-medium, is tasked with creating the mode of transport, taking the individual souls to the point of entry into the spiritual world. In this way, the guru is the ocean of mercy, a transcendental boatman who can carry the wayward souls back to their original destination.

What’s interesting to note is that the most exalted of gurus actually don’t need to produce proof of their disciplic succession in order to be successful in their efforts. Since the message they carry is so pure and powerful, they can deliver fallen souls simply through their instructions. An example of one such powerful guru is Narada Muni. The son of Lord Brahma, who is the first-created living entity and thus original spiritual master of the world, Narada Muni is probably the greatest reformer in the history of mankind. Vedic literature is full of incidents relating to Narada’s healing powers. Because Narada is a great saint and spiritual master, his disciples serve as the who’s who of Vedic writers, poets, and gurus.

Narada Muni A long long time ago, there was a dacoit living in the forest, earning his living by killing people and robbing them of their wealth. This dacoit one day happened to attempt to rob Narada Muni. As a sannyasi [one in the renounced order of life], Narada does not carry anything with him except for his vina, which is a type of musical instrument. Narada has the ability to travel the three worlds, so he makes the most of this power by spreading Lord Narayana’s glories throughout the world. Lord Krishna is considered God’s original form, but Narayana is essentially on equal footing with Krishna; He’s just the four-handed version of God. If one simply devotes themselves to Vishnu or Narayana, they are equally worshiping the original Supreme Lord.

So Narada came upon this dacoit and asked him why he was stealing. Since Narada was a mendicant, he had nothing to offer the thief. After asking the dacoit some insightful questions, to which the dacoit had no tangible answers, Narada convinced him to sit in meditation and chant the name of Rama. While Vishnu is the same as the original form of Godhead, so is Lord Rama, who is considered an avatara of Lord Vishnu. Devotees of Krishna, Vishnu, or any other non-different form of God are known as Vaishnavas. In the Vedic tradition, devotees typically pick one form and devote themselves completely to Him. For example, great authors and saints like Shrila Rupa Gosvami, Sanatana Gosvami, and their disciples worship Lord Krishna along with His pleasure potency Shrimati Radharani. They are not really interested in worshiping God in any other form, except for maybe His preacher incarnation of Lord Chaitanya. Devotees like Goswami Tulsidas, however, only see God as Lord Rama. Tulsidas actually makes many references to incidents relating to Lord Krishna, Vishnu, and other avataras in his writings, but he does so in the mood of devotion to Rama. To Tulsidas, there is no other God except Rama.

Vishnu avataras In this respect, anyone who takes to worship of Krishna, Rama, Narasimha, or any other vishnu-tattva form is worshiping the original form of Godhead. So Narada advised this dacoit to chant Lord Rama’s name, but the dacoit was not able to do so at the time. He wasn’t properly conditioned to chant the transcendental name of the Lord; a name which is non-different from the original form of God. Narada, ever the wise guru, told the dacoit not to worry and to chant “mara” instead. This word means death. Now what kind of spiritual master would advise his student to chant the word “death” over and over again? Ah, but there was a method to this apparent madness. By chanting “mara” over and over again, the dacoit actually was saying the name of Rama without knowing it. We can actually try this ourselves. If we say “mara” over and over again and limit the gaps in between the words, we’ll actually be saying “Rama”. Pretty soon, through regular, coincidental chanting of the name of God, the dacoit gained enlightenment. Since his meditation through chanting was so great, he didn’t even notice the anthill that had formed around him. Upon seeing this, Narada named the dacoit Valmiki, meaning one who is born from an anthill. The rest was history as Valmiki went on to author the original biography of Lord Rama known as the Ramayana. This poem and Valmiki himself are celebrated to this day.

Valmiki writing the Ramayana This is just one example of Narada’s healing powers. He similarly has performed the same magic with other disciples. We should take note of the fact that these disciples don’t ask for Narada’s resume when he comes to teach them. His message is so powerful that simply through his teaching he can deliver anyone. The key component to success is the willingness of the disciple to listen to the guru’s words. This also raises another important point. Contrary to the thought of many, no one can tell anyone else who their guru is. Surely one can make the attempt, sincere or otherwise, to persuade another into surrendering to a specific exalted personality, but that surrender will be meaningless if the disciple is not wholeheartedly in favor of following the guru’s instructions. No one forced the dacoit to listen to Narada Muni. The dacoit listened to the great sage’s words and then decided to surrender himself completely to him and his instructions. In this way, through voluntary and humble submission, the great Valmiki was made. Even though the spiritual master is carrying the greatest message, the burden remains primarily with the disciple. If the disciple is scared or forced into submission, they will not be able to truly appreciate the guru’s instructions.

Shrila Prabhupada The guru’s instructions are so powerful that they remain equally as potent long after the spiritual master has left this world. This is evidenced today by the healing powers of the written instruction and recorded words of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. One of the greatest Vedic authors in history, Shrila Prabhupada started a worldwide movement dedicated to preaching the glories of Lord Krishna, Lord Chaitanya, Bhagavad-gita, and Shrimad Bhagavatam around the world. He turned Krishna into a household name. Though the swami left this world more than thirty years ago, he is still mesmerizing the pure souls who humbly submit themselves before him. Since he wrote so many books and delivered so many lectures, people can still approach him today and learn about Krishna. In fact, people today have an opportunity not available even to the swami’s direct disciples back during his time on earth.

Since he was travelling around the world, opening centers and speaking to large audiences, Shrila Prabhupada’s disciples didn’t have the chance to associate with him on a daily basis. People today, however, can listen to his lectures every single day. His books are quite voluminous as well, for it would take an entire lifetime to read through all of them and fully grasp their meanings. For Vaishnavas, the guru is honored every day of the year, but especially on the anniversary of his appearance day. This day is known as Vyasa Puja, for the Vaishnava spiritual master is a representative of Vyasadeva, the celebrated Vedic saint, author, and direct disciple of Narada Muni.

Shrila Prabhupada Just as Valmiki satisfied Narada by regularly chanting Rama’s name, Shrila Prabhupada and all the gurus in his line can be satisfied by our regular chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. There can be many facets to the collective discipline known as devotional service, but nothing is more effective and more recommended than the chanting of this mantra. To provide a daily routine, a guideline to ensure that chanting and hearing of God’s name was performed, Prabhupada advised everyone to chant at least sixteen rounds of this mantra on a set of japa beads. Though this may take a long time to complete every day, it is the most effective process for spiritual realization in this age. We should all try to adopt this chanting regimen, if not for ourselves, then at least for the great spiritual masters who sacrificed everything for our benefit. Chanting this mantra will make them happy, and thus enable us to offer the greatest gift to the gurus that we owe so much to.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Krishna Janmashtami 2010

Lord Krishna with fruit “While Krishna was going to the fruit vendor very hastily, most of the grains He was holding fell. Nonetheless, the fruit vendor filled Krishna's hands with fruits, and her fruit basket was immediately filled with jewels and gold.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.11.11)

Janmashtami is the appearance day celebration of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The appearance day is the equivalent of the birthday, except that since God never actually takes birth, the occasions of His advents on earth are referred to as appearances. Celebrating the anniversary of this day is important because not everyone has the time nor the dedication to always think about God. In reality, every day should be treated as Krishna’s birthday, for His blessings are around us at all times. Yet by just remembering the Lord’s appearance and His transcendental activities, one makes great progress towards the ultimate spiritual perfection, that of thinking of the Lord at the time of death. Just a little service, a small exchange of sincere emotion and love, directed at the Lord can prove to be pivotal in turning our fortunes around. This principle was illustrated in one small incident during the Lord’s youth.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna When we speak of Krishna’s youth, it is in reference to the timeline of His stay on earth. Around five thousand years ago, there was a powerful king named Kamsa who was ruling over Mathura, a town in what is presently known as India. During those times, “back in the day” so to speak, there was no such thing as India. The land was called Bharatavarsha, for the inhabitants of that land were descendants of the great King Bharata. Sometimes when a king or military leader is very successful or popular, the land will be named after him. This is true nowadays of celebrity figures as well. A famous baseball player, musician, or politician will have streets, buildings, and bridges named after them. Maharaja Bharata was so great that the entire planet was named after him.

Though he was the King of Mathura, Kamsa’s presence was felt in the neighboring lands as well. He crafted strategic alliances with other kings as a way to consolidate his power. Normally this kind of reign isn’t a bad thing. If we have a pious king, one who is dedicated to the welfare of the innocent, it would surely be a good thing to have that king’s presence felt in as large an area as possible. Sadly, this was not the case with Kamsa. From the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature, we understand that Kamsa was formerly a pious soul who made a transgression that caused him to be thrown into the material world. Upon landing in this temporary and miserable place where God is forgotten and man is allured by the energy known as maya, Kamsa assumed all demonic qualities. He was pious from time to time, but his underlying nature was that of a demon. This was by design, for Lord Krishna Himself was destined to come to earth to kill him. When Krishna fights with enemies, His adversaries are no ordinary human beings. Since they act as God’s sparring partners, these demons are some of the most exalted personalities.

Kamsa ready to kill Devaki Kamsa was made aware of his future fate at the most unexpected of moments. His sister Devaki had just gotten married to a kshatriya named Vasudeva. In Vedic style marriages, or in any traditional type of marriage, the bride is deemed to be given away to the groom’s family. Since that is the case, the marriage ceremony represents the parting of the girl from the family she grew up with. To ease the pain of separation, the tradition is that the bride’s brother will usually escort her, along with her husband, to her new home. This is what occurred with Kamsa and Devaki. During their ride to Vasudeva’s home, a voice in the sky proclaimed that Devaki’s eighth son would kill Kamsa. Shocked to hear this announcement, Kamsa took out his sword and was ready to kill his sister immediately. This was certainly strange behavior, for Devaki had done nothing wrong. Yet not wanting to risk future injury, Kamsa lost all sense of rationale. Vasudeva kindly stepped in and was able to pacify Kamsa with clever words. Vasudeva offered to give up each one of Devaki’s sons to Kamsa as a sign of good faith. This way, the husband and wife could go on living, and Kamsa’s fears could be alleviated.

Day and night Kamsa thought about Devaki’s eighth son. He couldn’t sleep, he couldn’t eat, whatever he would do, wherever he would go, he would simply think about this eighth child. Not wanting to take any chances, Kamsa had Vasudeva and Devaki locked up in a jail. With every child that was born to Devaki, Kamsa would take it and throw it against a stone wall. There is much controversy today about the abortion issue, where the child is killed within the womb through some medical procedure. Kamsa didn’t mess around with that idea; he went straight for infanticide. Leaving no room for doubt, he killed the infants in the worst possible way. One certainly has to be the greatest barbarian to take to such action.

Birth of Krishna When Devaki finally gave birth to her eighth child, it was in the middle of the night, at midnight to be more exact. This was no ordinary child; it was the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. Krishna came to earth to save Devaki and Vasudeva, who technically became His biological parents. In order to reveal His divine nature to His parents, Krishna appeared in His four-handed form of Lord Vishnu. Devotees of Vishnu are known as Vaishnavas. Since there is no difference between Krishna and Vishnu, for they are the same original God, devotees of Krishna are also known as Vaishnavas. After offering wonderful prayers to Vishnu, both Devaki and Vasudeva began to worry about what Kamsa would do. Krishna was their savior after all, so if Kamsa were to kill Him, all hope would be lost. Krishna’s parents asked Him to hide His true form out of fear of Kamsa. The Lord then requested Vasudeva to transfer Him to the nearby town of Gokula, which was headed by Nanda Maharaja.

In the dead of night, while all the guards were sleeping, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His blissful, love-evoking infant form, was taken by Vasudeva from Mathura to Gokula. Though the guards were asleep and the shackles removed from Vasudeva, the path to Gokula was not without impediment. There was a strong storm which threatened to obstruct Vasudeva’s path across a raging river. Yet miraculously, Ananta Shesha Naga, the serpent bed of Lord Vishnu in the spiritual sky, appeared on the scene and acted as an umbrella for Krishna and Vasudeva. Just as Shri Lakshmana had stood alongside Lord Rama many thousands of years before, the same Ananta Shesha Naga came to protect Rama in His form of Krishna. As he waded through the Yamuna River, which had kindly allowed for Krishna’s passage, Vasudeva held his son above his head so as to keep Krishna safe from the water. With Ananta Shesha Naga acting as the umbrella for both of them, the scene became quite a memorable one. On the day of Janmashtami, this scene of the three great personalities travelling to Gokula is often remembered by Vaishnavas.

Vasudeva carrying Krishna Upon reaching Gokula, Vasudeva dropped Krishna off at Nanda Maharaja’s house, while at the same time taking the baby girl who had just been born to Nanda’s wife Yashoda. A short while after Vasudeva’s return to Mathura with the little girl, Kamsa found out about the birth of Devaki’s eighth child. Even though the prophecy said that it would be Devaki’s eighth son to kill him, Kamsa wasn’t going to take any chances. When he was about ready to throw the girl on the stone slab, the child slipped out of his hands and took to the sky. The child revealed her true form, that of Goddess Durga, the faithful servant of Lord Krishna and controller of the material energy. She laughed at Kamsa and told him that his angel of death had already appeared in this world and was ready to kill him. Though over the next few years Kamsa would try his best to have the child Krishna killed, he would be unsuccessful in his attempts. Eventually Krishna would come to Mathura and kill Kamsa and thus fulfill the prophecy.

Krishna’s childhood in Gokula and Vrindavana is what the devotees are especially fond of. The residents of these towns loved Krishna.  This was especially true of Krishna’s foster-parents Nanda and Yashoda. There are so many incidents from Krishna’s childhood that evoke emotions of love and attachment; so one can learn great lessons from all of them. One incident in particular really crystallizes the relationship between the devotee and God and what it takes to keep this relationship intact.

Krishna and Balarama in charge of the cows Nanda Maharaja belonged to the farming community, technically known as the vaishyas. The Vedic system for societal maintenance calls for four divisions, or classes, of men. The third division is the vaishya, and their duty is to engage in agriculture, banking, cow protection, and general commerce. The four divisions can be thought of in terms of the different work prescribed to employees of a successful company. In any profitable company, there will be different people engaged in different work. Some people will serve as the leaders; they will be in charge of the big picture, determining what the future course of action will be. There are others who serve as the laborers; they will take to the nitty-gritty, hard labor. Others will be involved in assessing risk and running analysis on profits and future outlooks. Others will be the brains of the productivity side; they will write software and manage the human and physical assets. For the company to be successful, each person must do the job they are best suited for. If a person is suited to be a leader, it would be silly to put them in charge of the hard labor, the nuts and bolts of the operation. If a person is suited to be a salesmen, it would be silly to put them in charge of writing software and doing work that didn’t involve human interaction.

By the same token, a successful and peaceful society requires the cooperation of all four divisions. Since Nanda Maharaja belonged to the mercantile division, he and his family spent most of their time engaged in cow protection. If one keeps a few cows protected and well-maintained, they can have all of their economic problems solved. Nanda Maharaja’s family also took part in agriculture, so they had a decent stock of grain in their house. Grain, milk, butter, yogurt, etc., are all that is needed to survive in this world. There is no need for the eating of animal flesh when these commodities are in good supply.

Krishna taking butter On one occasion, a fruit vendor came to Nanda’s house. At the time, Krishna was very young; He could barely walk or speak. Krishna delighted everyone around Him, especially when He took to imitating the activities of the adults. It is quite common to see young children try to imitate the activities of adults, and Krishna was no different in this regard. The fruit vendor had a surplus supply of various fruits, so they would go out and sell the surplus around town. The buying and selling during those times took place through the barter system. This also teaches us how currencies work. The currency of a given area can actually be anything. In times past, the currencies of particular areas have been gold coins, seashells, and even cigarettes.

When this fruit vendor would come to Nanda’s house, they would receive grains in exchange for the fruit. Obviously there would be a certain amount of grain needed to purchase a certain amount of fruit. Whatever was peaceably and voluntarily agreed upon was the going exchange rate. Lord Krishna must have seen these exchanges going on from time to time. On one particular occasion, baby Krishna decided to make His own exchange. He grabbed a small handful of grains and eagerly approached the vendor to make the trade. Since He was a small child, obviously He couldn’t fit much grain into His hands. To make matters worse, while running towards the vendor, much of the grain fell out of Krishna’s hands. The small child was a little despondent upon seeing that He didn’t have much to offer the fruit vendor, but the vendor was so taken by Krishna’s sincerity that they made the exchange anyway. The Supreme Personality of Godhead kindly offered some grains with love and sincerity, and this was all the fruit vendor needed. This was deemed a fair exchange.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)

Krishna with the fruit vendor After giving Krishna the fruit, the vendor looked at their basket and saw that all the fruit had been transformed into valuable jewels. Everyone was quite astonished and they couldn’t figure out what had happened. The vendor, who was honest, sincere, and a pure devotee of Krishna, offered some small fruits to Krishna and was rewarded with jewels. Obviously as an honest and humble person, the fruit vendor didn’t require these jewels, but the Lord wanted to make them happy. With a more valuable commodity, the vendor wouldn’t have to worry so much about making a living.

This one incident is a great reminder of the meaning of life and how we can go about utilizing everything in our possession the proper way. Since God is the creator, He is the original owner of everything. All of our possessions, bodily attributes, and familial relationships are due to Krishna’s mercy. The Lord offered the fruit vendor a small quantity of grain, but the Lord has already given us much more. The fruit vendor was more than satisfied with this blessing from the Lord, so they returned the favor by parting with something that was valuable to them, a commodity which was the source of their livelihood. By the same token, we should be equally as kind to the Lord by offering Him everything in our possession, including those things we value the most. The most valuable thing that we own is time, so this is what we should sacrifice to the Lord.

Mother Yashoda and Krishna The best way to give our time to Krishna is to chant the Lord’s holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This chanting process is most sublime because it takes care of hearing, speaking, and remembering. Moreover, it is a sacrifice, the yajna of of all yajnas. On Janmashtami Day, and on every other day of the year, we should make the necessary sacrifice to spend time with Krishna. Just as the fruit vendor had their ordinary commodity turned into valuable jewels, the chanting sacrifice will reward us with the beautification of everything in our lives, including our own bodies. At the time of death, our soul will get an upgrade of bodies, from a temporary and miserable one to an eternally blissful and spiritual one. This spiritual body will allow us to associate with Krishna all the time, thus enabling us to derive the same pleasure felt by the residents of Gokula.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Seeds of Pollution

Krishna's lotus feet “Those who drink through aural reception, fully filled with the nectarean message of Lord Krishna, the beloved of the devotees, purify the polluted aim of life known as material enjoyment and thus go back to Godhead, to the lotus feet of Him.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.2.37)

While the advent of modern technology has brought about a generally higher standard of living, some unintended side effects have also come about. These effects are both unexpected and unwanted, with many of them labeled under the category of pollution. This pollution involves both the external, as in the contamination of air and water, and the internal, as in the muddying of mind and intelligence. The followers of the divine engagement, bhakti-yoga, proclaim that simply by dedicating all of one’s activities towards the satisfaction of the Supreme, every problem imaginable can be solved. Naturally, one would assume that this issue of pollution would be one of the issues eradicated, but the exact nature of its elimination remains unclear. Ironically enough, we can look to the example of driving a car to see how one can go about performing their everyday activities and still remain uncontaminated, or pollution-free, and spiritually advanced at the same time.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana travelling by horse and carriage In days past, advanced transportation consisted of horse-and-buggy and water transport such as boats and ships. The first major breakthrough came with the railroad, followed by the automobile. Today the automobile is the quickest way to get around for most people, especially those residing in industrialized nations. The exact nature of the driving can vary from country to country. For example, a driver in India and a driver in America are faced with completely different challenges. A driver in India must deal with pedestrians, animals, bicyclists, and cars all on a very narrow road with little or no adherence to traffic laws from others. In America, the driving is a little more controlled, at least on the highways. This controlled condition allows for cars to travel at much faster average speeds. On major highways, it is quite common for a car to be travelling over 70 mph.

Since a car can travel at such a fast speed, learning how to drive one can be a daunting task. In America, the eligible age for receiving a driver’s license varies from state to state, but it is usually around fifteen or sixteen years of age. Since a car can turn into a dangerous weapon if not controlled properly, student drivers are required to go through hours and hours of training, both in the classroom and out. Eventually a road test is taken, where the prospective licensee demonstrates their driving abilities to a certified examiner. Still, the receiving of a license doesn’t initially affect the attention paid during driving. New drivers tend to be attentive, keeping both hands on the wheel, paying close attention to their speed, and monitoring the cars around them. When they are behind the wheel, they are conscious of their driving and nothing else. They may not even want to look anywhere else or talk to anyone while they are driving.

Marathon runners This condition doesn’t last, however. There comes a time in a driver’s life where they put driving in the background of their consciousness. This doesn’t mean that they start driving poorly or start paying less attention. It just means that the consciousness becomes adjusted to the rules of the road and the ins and outs of driving. In this condition, the subconscious almost takes over in a sense and handles all the issues of the road. This frees the mind to ponder other issues. A similar phenomenon can be seen with runners. Those who are unaccustomed to running long distances are always conscious of where they are going and how they are feeling. “Do I have enough energy to finish? Am I going to make it to the end?” For the advanced runner, however, there is no consciousness of these things. The body essentially starts to move on its own, similar to a sleeping state. The subconscious takes care of the running, leaving the active part of the mind free to ponder other issues.

This condition is nice because it allows a person to multitask. They are able to conduct important activities like driving and running while remaining unattached to them. This same concept can prove to be invaluable in spiritual life. For followers of the Vedic tradition, the highest dharma, or occupational duty, is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. In simple terms, this can be thought of as the religion of love. Its primary activities include chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, along with reading books about the Lord, preparing and offering nice foodstuffs to His deity, hearing discourses about Krishna, and visiting temples. Along with this positive activity, there is the requirement for abstention from the most harmful activities of intoxication, gambling, illicit sex, and meat eating.

“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)

Lord Krishna Just as with every other activity, spiritual life has an ultimate destination. The aim of bhakti-yoga is to elevate one’s consciousness to the point where they are always thinking of God in one of His transcendental forms, at all times. The Supreme Divine Entity certainly does exist, and though He can expand Himself into an all-encompassing energy, His original feature is that of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This same Bhagavan then expands Himself into multitudes of other forms, all aimed at attracting the spiritually inclined conditioned soul. The highest consciousness is that which is constantly fixed on one of these transcendental forms in a mood of pure love.

Upon first glance at these truths there appears to be an issue. If we’re always thinking about Bhagavan, and this consciousness is also the ultimate objective, what are we supposed to do about other issues? The technological age has brought about great pollution, not only from cars and planes, but also from factories and chemical plants. If we simply focus on spiritual life all the time, won’t we be ignoring this issue of pollution? To find the solution, we simply have to look to the example of the expert driver. When a driver becomes accustomed to driving, they eventually shift their focus to other areas, all the while carrying out their duties of driving. The secret to performing bhakti-yoga properly is to put all other mundane activities and issues in the background, adhering to them in a matter of fact sort of way. Essentially the idea is to put the mind on autopilot while doing things unrelated to God consciousness, all the while keeping focused on the beautiful transcendental form of the Lord. The Vedas tell us that God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, who is so beautiful that one of His names is Shyamasundara, meaning the attractive one with a complexion of a dark rain cloud. Not only is this God’s original form, but also His most attractive one.

“The ideal yogi concentrates his attention on Krishna, who is called Shyamasundara, who is as beautifully colored as a cloud, whose lotus-like face is as effulgent as the sun, whose dress is brilliant with jewels and whose body is flower garlanded.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.47 Purport)

Lord Krishna So we see that it is possible to perform our everyday activities of meeting the demands of the body while remaining committed to spiritual life. But how does this solve the issue of pollution? It takes a trained eye to see that devotional service performed in this manner actually already tackles every kind of pollution. Currently, the issues of pollution are taken on from the material point of view. “Driving is putting so much dust and poison in the air, what can we do to stop it? Can we find a new source of fuel that will not inject as many pollutants? Maybe we can raise taxes on gasoline so that people will drive less? Pollution in other areas can be tackled in a similar manner, i.e. using the power of government to force consumers to change their habits.”

The problem with these solutions is that they don’t remove the seeds of pollution. Smog and air pollution are not actually caused by the automobile, but rather the desire for kama, or sense gratification. Kama is one of the primary rewards in life, along with dharma [religiosity], artha [economic development], and moksha [ultimate liberation]. Kama is sought out through dharma and artha, both of which come about through fruitive activities, or karma. In simple terms, since we have a desire to enjoy our senses, we take the necessary actions to acquire that enjoyment. Planes, trains, and automobiles came about through a desire to enjoy material nature. We can also think of it in terms of playing a sport. In the sport of tennis, players played with wooden rackets for a very long time. Then there came a desire to enjoy tennis more by hitting the ball harder. This desire led to the development of graphite rackets, and more recently to the evolution of new types of string. Hence the game was drastically changed not due to technology, but due to the desire to enjoy the sport even more.

New racket technology requires a more violent swinging motion But this enjoyment came with consequences. Many say that tennis today isn’t as enjoyable to watch as in days past due to the extremely fast serves and heavy hitting. Players are also more prone to arm injuries today due to the violent swinging motions. The newer strings are very nice in that they allow players to swing very hard and yet still maintain control of their shots. The drawback is that for one to get this control, they must swing the racket very quickly, a motion which is quite violent for the arm. As amazing as this sounds, if the players don’t swing hard with the new strings, they will actually have less control of their shots. The drawback is that violent swinging has led to an increase in wrist and arm injuries.

These injuries, or negative side effects, can be thought of as pollution in a sense. The same principle took effect with cars. People wanted to increase their speed in travelling, so the automobile and train were developed. While this seemed like a great thing, there came unintended negative consequences such as pollution and accidents. Thousands of people die in traffic accidents each year, but this issue is just swept aside as collateral damage. Pollution, in the form of unwanted negative side effects, is seen in practically every area of increased sense gratification. Even the latest iPods, iPhones, and high-definition televisions come with their own forms of pollution.

Mirabai performing bhakti yoga Simply eradicating the pollution or forcing people to change their level of enjoyment won’t solve any problems. The seeds for pollution, i.e. the never-satisfied desire to enjoy the senses, will still remain. Returning to the issue of bhakti-yoga, we see that the Krishna conscious devotee automatically has these seeds removed. It doesn’t mean their activities are necessarily changed in any drastic manner. They still might drive cars, travel on airplanes, or use smart phones, but the forefront of their consciousness is different. These secondary material activities are performed as a matter of fact, with the ultimate aim being the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. In this way, one makes spiritual progress while eliminating the root cause of pollution. In reality, even the pollution itself is purified due to its utility. For example, if someone drives their car to a temple or to travel to a holy place of pilgrimage, the resulting pollution then becomes purified since it is part of bhakti-yoga. Air is only dirty if it is harmful to our achievement of the ultimate purpose. If our ultimate aim in life is to enjoy the senses, then air pollution certainly represents an impediment. However, if our ultimate aim is to satisfy Krishna, then even something like air pollution becomes tolerable if it is unintentionally generated through acts of devotion.

These concepts may seem a little hard to grasp at first, but those who have practiced bhakti-yoga for a long time can certainly attest to their validity. God consciousness is something that has to be developed; it cannot be acquired solely through intense study. We have to put in the time to see the benefits. Once these benefits are realized, one will see that the proponents of bhakti-yoga are certainly correct in their assessments of pollution and how to deal with it. By following the prescriptions of the bhaktas, we can carry out our day-to-day activities by putting the mind on autopilot, thus leaving our consciousness free to contemplate on spiritual matters.