Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Emblem of Loyalty

Lakshmana “O You of great intellect, not even the demigods can fathom the level of Your intelligence. Due to bereavement Your wisdom is currently in a dormant state, and I am here to rouse it.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.19)

Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, is the emblem of loyalty. We can dig deep through the pages of written history and scour the earth, but we will never find a more loyal and praiseworthy figure than the beloved younger brother of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His loyalty and dedication to Rama shows us not only how to behave towards our own loved ones, but also how we are to attain the ultimate objective in life. Through unflinching loyalty to the Supreme Divine Entity, we can acquire all praiseworthy characteristics, while simultaneously advancing to the topmost platform of spiritual understanding.

Rama and Lakshmana Loyalty is considered laudable because it is an attribute not easily acquired. The living entity tends to act in its own self-interest; an interest which takes precedent over the interests of others. This behavior certainly isn’t condemnable on the surface, for who wouldn’t want to further their own condition? At the end of the day, we have to live with ourselves and the decisions we make, so who would want to take actions that would lead to misery? If we put the interests of others ahead of our own and end up miserable as a result, we’ll likely blame others for our ill-temperament.

For these reasons, true loyalty is seldom displayed. In the world of sports, it is rare nowadays to see players play for the same team throughout their careers. In days past, free agency was limited, so a player didn’t have much of a choice as to which team he could play for. Whichever team drafted him in the beginning of his career was the team he would likely play for throughout. Teams could always trade a player to another team, but the player had no say in this, so there was no dent made in their perceived loyalty.

Arod signing with the Texas Rangers With free agency, players in sports like baseball, basketball, football, and hockey could take their services elsewhere once their contracts expired. In the open marketplace, all workers are free agents in that they have a choice as to where they want to work. A professional sports league is more of a closed environment, so this freedom is limited. Free agency sought to introduce some of this mobility into the workings of the various leagues. As a result, it is quite common now to see teams drastically change from year to year. Once a star player is up for free agency - especially if they play for a team that doesn't take in much revenue - it is likely that they will go to another team that will pay them a higher salary.

In recent history, no one was more maligned for his free agency transition than the baseball player Alex Rodriguez. A star shortstop for the Seattle Mariners franchise, Rodriguez signed a deal with the Texas Rangers franchise which was, at the time, the most lucrative contract ever offered. Obviously the driving force behind the decision to switch teams was money, so many in the sports media took to criticizing him for his lack of loyalty. The Mariners couldn’t come close to offering the same salary as the Rangers, so there was really no choice for Rodriguez, who was simply acting in his self-interest.

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Loyalty shows that a person is not a miser. It shows that they are grateful for any and all services provided to them in good faith. Of all the persons to ever have traversed this earth, one would be hard pressed to find a more loyal person than Shri Lakshmana. Lakshmana’s stature is enhanced by the fact that he hadn’t been offered much service from the object of his loyalty, his elder brother Rama. In this way, Lakshmana’s loyalty was not only unmatched and uninterrupted, but it was unmotivated. One could say that his behavior towards Rama was driven out of love, but since there was no expectation of reciprocation, we cannot describe this love as being selfish in any way.

Lakshmana’s loyalty was put to the test on many occasions, all of which were opportunities the great warrior prince looked forward to. Rama and Lakshmana roamed the earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. During that time period, royal orders took charge of the governments, and one of the most famous royal dynasties was the Ikshvaku. According to Vedic information, the original system of knowledge for the world, Maharaja Ikshvaku was one of the first kings on earth, so he was the emblem of chivalry, honor, and good governance. Those following in his line took it upon themselves to live up to his standard. Rama and Lakshmana appeared in this dynasty as sons of Maharaja Dasharatha. Rama was the eldest son, and He had three younger brothers: Bharata, Lakshmana, and Shatrughna. As is natural in many families, the siblings sort of grouped together at a young age. Bharata and Shatrughna took a liking to each other, while Rama and Lakshmana were inseparable. All three younger brothers were equally as pious and dedicated to Rama, but Lakshmana couldn’t live without Him. He refused to eat or sleep unless Rama had done so first.

“O Lakshmana, do you rule this earth with Me. You are like My second self, so this glorious opportunity has been presented to you as well. O Saumitra, do you enjoy all the pleasures you desire and the fruits of the regal life. My life and this kingdom I covet for your sake alone.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, 4.43-44)

Lakshmana and Rama The most important day in a prince’s life is the day the reins of the kingdom are handed to him. When this day came for Rama, He kindly approached Lakshmana and asked him to rule the kingdom with Him. This showed that Rama certainly loved Lakshmana very much. Unfortunately, Rama’s coronation would have to wait, as events took a dramatic turn for the worse. Through the disloyal and selfish actions of Bharata’s mother, Kaikeyi, Rama was forced to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. Unbeknownst to him, Bharata was given the thrown, though he was away on business at the time. Ready to leave for the forest, Rama said goodbye to Lakshmana, but the dutiful younger brother refused to let Rama leave alone. Casting aside kith and kin, Lakshmana embarked for the forest with Rama, where the two would live as mendicants not having any claim to the royal perks that rightfully belonged to them. Lord Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, also insisted on accompanying the Lord in His sojourn through the wilderness.

While in the forest, Sita would one day be kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. The Rakshasa devised a plan which temporarily lured Rama and Lakshmana away from Sita. Making the most of this short time period, the demon swooped in and took Sita back to his island kingdom of Lanka. Upon returning to their cottage, Rama realized that Sita was missing. Giving way to lamentation and grief, Rama lost His senses for a moment. Luckily for Him, His younger brother, the emblem of loyalty, the fearless fighter and defender of the innocent, Shri Lakshmana, was with Him.

Lakshmana It is one thing to pledge allegiance to someone, but it is another to actually prove this loyalty. As the saying goes, “A friend in need is a friend indeed”, true friendship and loyalty are measured during the bad times, not the good. It is easy to have friends and well-wishers when everything is going alright, but once the chips are down, once it looks like we are down and out, only our true friends stay with us. In Lakshmana’s case, he never failed to step up to the plate. In fact, as the going got tougher, Lakshmana got stronger and stronger. This was evidenced by the fact that when he saw Rama distraught and disheartened, he didn’t sit back and allow the Lord to remain in a weakened state. That would have been the easy thing to do, but Lakshmana never took the easy road in life. His only dharma, or occupational duty, was service to his elder brother.

Dharma is a Vedic term that is often translated as religiosity, duty, piety, or plain religion. The idea behind dharma is that of an essential characteristic. This definition is more appropriate because whatever a person deems as their essential characteristic is what they will adopt as their way of life, or occupational duty. Thus the characteristic, or dharma, leads to the perceived prescribed duty. One’s primary occupational duty can manifest through religion, piety, or religiosity; hence dharma is often equated to these terms. Vedic information states that every person assumes a different nature based on their karma, or the work they performed previously. Based on this nature, which unfolds in the form of consciousness, each person takes their essential characteristic to be something different. For instance, one person may deem themselves to be very scholarly. They feel that their essential characteristic is that of intelligence, so they take the acquisition of knowledge to be their dharma. Another person feels that their essential characteristic is one of a shrewd businessman whose aim it is to procure and enjoy as much wealth as possible. Thus they take to business as their occupational duty.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)

Lord Krishna Not only are there perceived primary characteristics, but secondary and tertiary ones as well. In this way, dharma gets applied to all areas of activity. There is even a dharma when it comes to building a house, i.e. a set of prescribed regulations that leads to the essential characteristic of a well-built housing structure. So there are many dharmas, but the Vedas tell us that there is one characteristic that reigns supreme. Not only does this characteristic trump all others, but it is actually the same for every form of life. This essential characteristic is that of a loving servant to the Supreme Divine Entity. The individuals are spirit souls at the core, and the Personality of Godhead is the Supreme Soul. The natural order of things is for the individual to be in constant association with the Supreme. This gives transcendental pleasure to both parties, so it is deemed the ultimate favorable condition. Those who take the reattachment of this connection as their foremost occupational duty, the most favorable and important characteristic to acquire, will be abiding by the highest dharma.

Lakshmana was a great warrior who was equally as powerful in battle as Rama. Lord Rama had previously killed 14,000 attacking Rakshasa demons in one sitting so to speak. In this way, He proved to be more than an ordinary man. Others might be tempted to challenge the notion that Rama is God, but simply based off His activities we can understand His divine nature. This doesn’t even touch on the fact that the Vedas mention in many different places, in many different books, that Shri Rama is the same original Divine Being who happens to appear on earth in the guise of a human being. Moreover, Rama was of the topmost character, someone who never openly claimed to be God. We know He is the Supreme Lord based off His activities, and also based on the loyalty shown to Him by Lakshmana. While others may take shelter of their own concocted dharmas, which result in the deification of various fallible entities and objects, the bhaktas, or devotees, are more than happy “taking their chances” worshiping Rama. Simply put, if someone as loyal, noble, and wonderful as Shri Lakshmana tells us that Rama is God, we will believe him. The gods created by the sense demands are always letting us down, but Shri Lakshmana never does. We will gladly follow him to heaven or hell, for simply hearing of his love and devotion to Rama is enough to keep us satisfied in any and all situations.

Lakshmana Seeing Rama lamenting over the loss of His wife, Lakshmana stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. He essentially advised Rama to shake the incident off and continue with His search. His duties as a kshatriya prince called for Him to protect the innocent. Sita was in a dangerous situation, so it was Rama’s duty to try to save her. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is reminding Rama that since He is the Supreme Lord, no one is capable of providing Him instruction. Since Lakshmana is the emblem of loyalty to Rama, he kindly listened to all the instructions provided by the Lord on previous occasions. In this instance, Lakshmana is simply reminding Rama of His own teachings. The Lord greatly appreciated this reminder and would go on to rescue Sita and kill Ravana.

Lakshmana is the embodiment of the spiritual master, or guru. In order to succeed in reconnecting our spirit with the Supreme Spirit, we need someone to instruct us and show us the way in life. This shouldn’t be a foreign concept to anyone. In order to learn how to read, write, and do arithmetic, we need a good teacher. To regain our essential characteristic of loving servant of the Supreme, we need the greatest teacher, one who himself is already attached at the hip to the Supreme Lord. No one is more attached than Lakshmana, so his example is the one to follow. The bona fide spiritual master is one who is as loyal towards the Supreme Lord as Lakshmana. In this way, when looking for a guru, it is quite easy to tell the pretenders from the contenders. If a spiritual master is not loyal to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and instead takes himself to be God or their own interests to be supreme, they will never successfully rescue anyone from the perpetual cycle of birth and death brought on by karma. On the other hand, one who is loyal to the Supreme Lord – one who believes in His ever-existing, transcendental form - will save anyone they teach, even if their teachings aren’t presented in an erudite manner.

Shri Rama Darbar Shri Lakshmana, as a warrior prince by trade, wasn’t outwardly viewed as a great scholar or spiritual master. Yet by remaining loyal to Rama, he had acquired all the knowledge he needed to execute his prescribed duty in life: service to the Lord. By following his example, we can never go wrong. Anyone who associates with this divine prince, who is himself a partial incarnation of Lord Vishnu, will surely acquire the greatest attribute known to man: loyalty to the Supreme Lovable Object, Shri Rama.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Vrindavana

Life in Vrindavana “The word vana means ‘forest.’ Vrindavana is the name given to the forest where Shrimati Vrinda Devi (Tulasi Devi) grows profusely.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 17.193 Purport)

Though golf has the attached stigma of being the sport for lazy, out of shape, old men, the game has many appealing aspects to it, including great competition, attention to detail, and the ability to steadily improve as time goes on. Arguably the nicest part of playing golf is the setting. Golf courses are essentially large parks where players are allowed to walk through and enjoy the scenery while playing a game. In this way, a person is able to both enjoy nature and engage their minds at the same time. In a similar manner, the ideal playing field for devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead also has a beautiful background. This pristine environment is conducive to the cultivation of spiritual knowledge and also acts as a place where loving exchanges between the pure devotees and their beloved take place.

Golf course Since golf is a popular recreational activity, it has many stereotypes associated with it. One of the more common jokes made about golf is that it serves as a way for husbands to get away from their wives. Marriage is the backbone of a strong society, and while married life is certainly ideal for the raising of a family, there are bound to be tensions between the husband and wife. The wife will nag the husband about being lazy and not spending any quality time with her and the kids, while the husband will complain about all the nagging. Golf represents a sort of male paradise, a place free of the influences of the wives, a place where men can be men. The quintessential golf outing consists of four players, usually all friends, playing a full round of eighteen holes. While playing the game is certainly fun, the environment really adds to the experience.

A typical golf outing can take upwards of four hours to complete. Though most players ride around in golf carts, thus allowing easier access to their shots, the game still requires a lot of walking. Not all balls land in areas adjacent to cart paths, so walking is a requirement. Yet even driving the golf carts can be a fun activity, a way to play around on what are essentially toy vehicles. As children, we play in sandboxes or run around on fields. As we get older, we are expected to act in a more civilized manner. Golf certainly has many rules of etiquette, including a dress code which requires collared shirts, certain kinds of pants or shorts, and the fixing of divots in the grass. Even with all these regulations, playing a full round with friends can be a lot of fun. You take a shot and then either marvel at how well you hit the ball or get made fun of by your friends for how lousy a golfer you are. When men get together in a friendly environment, they tend to make fun of each other, with each person trying to top the other’s jokes.

Putting green For the golfer, the objective on each hole is to be able to get your ball to drop in the cup in as few shots as possible. The cup, which represents the endpoint of the hole, is located on a putting green which is a few hundred yards away from the tee off point, so the last few shots require putting instead of big swings. The putting green is arguably the nicest looking area of each hole, with the grass cut very thin and water and trees in the surroundings. In this way, the golfer is rewarded with beautiful scenery that only improves in appearance as one gets closer to the hole. While golf is certainly a competitive sport requiring great skill and attention to detail, for the average player, simply getting to walk through the park-like environment is enjoyable enough. If we walk through a regular park, there isn’t much there to stimulate the mind. In many ways, that is the whole point to walking through a park; getting peace and quiet. Yet golf adds a new dimension by allowing a person to enjoy the scenery of a park, while playing a game at the same time.

Spiritual life has a similar pristine playing field. Depending on the time and circumstance, a person is bound to become inquisitive about God and spirituality in general. In the neophyte stages, one may look at this Supreme Being with awe and reverence. The human being is mortal, while this divine entity known as God is not. The human being is limited in its capabilities pertaining to wealth, strength, beauty, renunciation, and fame. God, on the other hand, has no limitations in these areas. This difference then leads the neophyte to the mood of devotion known as neutrality, or shanta-rasa. In this relationship, the living entity doesn’t necessarily serve the supreme entity known as God, but they still have profound respect for Him. This respect may then lead to the adoption of certain spiritually related disciplines and exercises. People often attend church and temple services due to the respect they have for the Lord.

Lord Krishna According to Vedic information, there are higher levels of devotion, each of which provides more spiritual enjoyment to both the worshiper and the worshiped. Ascension to the higher levels of devotion occurs when one’s association with God in a pure and loving way increases. This association means that there are exchanges: one party takes to certain action and the other party reciprocates. How can these exchanges take place with the Supreme Lord? This is certainly a good question, for most of us are accustomed to worshiping a God who resides in a church or a temple. In many spiritual disciplines, worship of a form of God is forbidden, for it is viewed as idol worship. In the Vedic tradition, the conditioned living entities directly associate with the Supreme Lord in a variety of ways. This association can even take place without ever leaving the home.

Though God is all-pervading and all-powerful, He has an original form. This isn’t to say that He limits Himself to only one form, but there is still nevertheless an original God from which all non-different expansions emanate. While many refuse to acknowledge that the original Godhead has a form, the true followers of the Vedic tradition do not. The justification comes from the authorized words of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, found in scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. In these books, Krishna uses words like “I” and “My” and also goes into descriptions about which things please Him and which things don’t. Lord Krishna tells us that He is God, as do the Vedas, so this alone is used as justification for His worship. Since He refers to Himself in the first person, we can also conclude that Krishna is a person, someone who has a form. If Krishna has a form, He most certainly takes part in activities. These activities aren’t performed exclusively on earth by His various incarnations and expansions. Lord Krishna personally descended to earth some five thousand years ago, and many of His famous incarnations like Lord Rama, Chaitanya, and Narasimha, have also appeared on earth in the past. Since these forms are non-different from Krishna, one can also worship them and be directing their love at the original form of God.

Lord Krishna stealing butter Even though Krishna and His avataras enact pastimes on earth, there is a spiritual world where the Lord always resides and takes part in activity. The spiritual world can be thought of as Krishna’s playing field. After all, if God has a form and enacts pastimes, then He most certainly must have a field on which to play. As we know from our personal experience, playing with other friends is much more enjoyable than playing on a field alone. Since Krishna is the supreme enjoyer, He must have others with whom He enjoys. From Vedic information, we understand that Krishna has associates in the spiritual world. They are liberated souls who interact with the Lord in different loving moods.

If Krishna enjoys in the spiritual world, how can we interact with Him while we are stuck in the material world? Since Krishna has a transcendental form which is eternal and full of bliss and knowledge, devoted souls on earth can offer Him their worship. Instead of meditating on a void or a formless God, devotees can take material elements like earth and stone and create worshipable forms of the Lord based on the descriptions found in the scriptures. These forms may look like idols, but they are not. Since matter is something created by Krishna, when it is used in His service, it becomes purified. This concept is not so easily understood by the neophytes, but if we apply a little intelligence, we see that it is undoubtedly valid. For example, earth and wood can cause us great harm if we don’t utilize them properly. If we smear clay all over ourselves, we will be considered dirty. If we get a splinter caught in our finger, we have to remove it; otherwise there will be pain later on. But if we use the same clay and wood to construct a house for ourselves, we are greatly benefited. Along the same lines, when we use material elements, things created by Krishna, for His service, then we are purifying the elements.

Lord Krishna Since the deity is crafted according to the appearance of the Supreme Lord, it can be considered non-different from Him. In this way, the deity becomes a worshipable object, the archa-vigraha. We may not have the eyes to see the Supreme Lord in His original form, but through the deity, the Lord kindly incarnates in a form that can be worshiped. In this age, a more potent form of the Lord is His name. The names of God found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are non-different from the Lord. Therefore the primary recommendation for the aspiring transcendentalists of today is to chant this mantra as often as possible. Krishna and Rama may seem like ordinary words, but they are the sound representations of the Divine. Letters and words are simply sound representations of things which are spoken, and different symbols such as the heart, butterfly, and smiley face can also serve as the visual representation for different objects, words, and emotions. Krishna is the sound representation of God, so anyone who hears this sound is in direct contact with Him. Man has the great benediction of being able to produce this sound whenever they want to, simply by using their tongue.

Chanting the maha-mantra regularly enables one to shift their consciousness from the material platform to the spiritual platform. From the Bhagavad-gita, we know that anyone who is Krishna conscious at the time of death immediately ascends to Krishna’s realm wherefrom they never have to return. This event represents the end of the cycle of reincarnation and hence is known as liberation. But what happens after liberation? What does the spirit soul do in the spiritual world? As mentioned before, Krishna enacts pastimes in His spiritual land. For the enactment of these pastimes, there is a field. Just as the golf course is pleasurable because of its surroundings, the pleasure one feels while on Krishna’s playing field is augmented by the surroundings. Krishna has several fields in the spiritual world, but His favorite one is known as Vrindavana.

Vrinda Devi Vrindavana is a Sanskrit word which means a forest where Vrinda Devi’s presence is strong. Vrinda Devi is a devotee of Krishna and she arranges for all the wonderful pastimes between Krishna and His most important associates. One of her forms is that of Tulasi Devi, who manifests as the tulasi plant. Plants are also forms of life, for they have spirit souls residing within. The tulasi plant is sacred for followers of the Vedic tradition because it represents Tulasi Devi, the beloved maidservant of Lord Vishnu. Those who worship Tulasi Devi are very quickly granted devotion to Krishna. This devotion then leads to Krishna consciousness, which then leads to liberation. Since only those devotees who possess pure love for Krishna get to associate with Him on His playing field, it shouldn’t surprise us to see that Tulasi Devi is the predominating plant of this forest. Vrindavana is a place full of devotion, and due to the presence of Tulasi Devi and other great devotees, its surroundings are pristine. It is the most beautiful park in the world. It is not a park where one simply sits idly by and falls asleep. Instead, it is a park where one is actively engaged in serving the Supreme Lord. Residents of Vrindavana bask in the sweet transcendental sounds emanating from Krishna’s flute, the beautiful aroma of the flowers, the divine vision of the butterflies flying about, the sight of cows grazing on the pasturing ground, and the frolicking about of the deer and other animals.

Tulasi Devi with Radha and Krishna Lord Krishna is so kind that He created a replica of Vrindavana in this material world. It was in this Vrindavana, which is located in India, that the Lord enacted His most wonderful pastimes when He appeared on earth. Anyone who sets foot on this holy land is surely benefitted spiritually. Based on the descriptions of life in Vrindavana, we can understand that God is the ultimate object of pleasure. The highest achievement in life is to have Krishna’s association and play with Him in His beautiful park. By regularly chanting Hare Krishna, we can make that dream a reality.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Sharpest Knife

Rama and Lakshmana “O You of great intellect, not even the demigods can fathom the level of Your intelligence. Due to bereavement Your wisdom is currently in a dormant state, and I am here to rouse it.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.19)

Tim “The Toolman” Taylor, the famous character from the American television sitcom Home Improvement, said it best: “We need more power!” This is the rallying cry of men around the world. When we want to get a job done right, we like to attack with strength. This means that if we require the aid of a tool or device, we want something that will pack the heaviest punch, for that will increase the chances of success. If we really want to cut into something, we require the sharpest knife in the drawer. In a similar manner, there is no tighter bond in this world than that which ties us to material life. This knot can only be cut by the sharpest of spiritual guides, the sadhu.

Lawn mower Why is an increase in power or the sharpest knife required? Won’t just an ordinary knife do the job? Sometimes this is certainly true. We don’t always want to take the “extra strength” variety of pain relief medication if our headache is only of the minor variety. But for the big jobs, it is undoubtedly true that extra strength equates to a greater chance of success in the mission. For example, if we are mowing a small lawn, we might be fine with just a manual machine which can be pushed by hand. But if we have to mow acres and acres of property, we require a riding lawnmower, something which can be driven around in a manner similar to a golf cart. If we need to tow heavy loads of cargo, a large truck will be much more effective than a small car.

The famous ruler, Alexander the Great, once had the good fortune of encountering the Gordian Knot. This knot was woven in such a way that it was deemed impossible to untie. The legend had it that whoever would untie the knot would become the master of Asia. Alexander the Great, in the process of trying to loosen the knot, decided instead to swipe at it with his sword. Hence the knot was more destroyed than untied. Nevertheless, we see that for the toughest jobs, we require the sharpest of weapons.

The Gordian Knot In a similar manner, the Vedas tell us that we living entities are tightly bound to this material world. How are we tied down? Our individual identity comes from the atma, or soul. The soul is completely pure and uncontaminated at all times. However, to come to the material world, the soul requires a covering, something which masks its true nature. This covering consists of material qualities which are known as gunas. Another definition for guna is “rope”. It is defined as such because material qualities actually keep us tied to this illusory and temporary world.

What does it mean to be tied to the material world? The soul’s natural habitat is in the spiritual world. Spirit is referred to as purusha, and matter as prakriti. The material world consists of both spirit and matter, but the spiritual world only contains spirit. Our place in the material world can be thought of in terms of outer space. The natural habitat for human beings is land, but if we want to go to space, we have to cover our body with an expensive, technically enhanced spacesuit. This spacesuit is equipped with an oxygen tank which allows us to breathe while in space. As long as we are in this suit and have enough oxygen, we can survive in space, even though it’s not where we naturally belong.

The material body – which is composed of varying combinations of the three gunas of goodness, passion, and ignorance - comprises the “spacesuit”, so to speak, for the living entities. This suit is given to us by God. Material qualities are considered binding because if one chooses to associate with them, they are not allowed to return to the spiritual world. In layman’s terms, this means that as long as we want to stay in the material world, we are allowed to do so.

ALord Krishnas previously mentioned, the natural home for the spirit soul is the spiritual world, where Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, resides. We get information from the Vedas that Krishna’s spiritual realm represents the eternal heaven, a place where we never have to return from. Since Krishna is God, there is no difference between His body and spirit, for they are both completely pure and free of material qualities. Krishna’s associates in the spiritual world also possess bodies similar to His, i.e. they too are free of material qualities. Since the spiritual world is our natural home, it is a place full of bliss and free of anxieties.

“O Arjuna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, I know everything that has happened in the past, all that is happening in the present, and all things that are yet to come. I also know all living entities; but Me no one knows.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.26)

If the spiritual world is so great, why would we choose to remain in the material world? This is where the binding aspect of gunas takes hold. The material creation is governed by the forces of maya, which literally means “that which is not”. In simple terms, maya tricks us into thinking that we’ll be happier associating with matter rather than God. This illusory power is very strong, and it explains why it takes many many births before one can even realize the problem. Let’s think about it this way: Only in the human species can we even understand what spirit is and that we are going to die. Fish, lions, tigers, bears, birds, etc., have no clue about these things. Let’s go even one step further: How many people do we know that are actually aware of these laws of nature? How many people even realize that their material lives continue in a repeating cycle until spiritual perfection is achieved?

“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 Thus we see that those who seriously ponder spiritual matters are considered highly advanced. Still, even amongst those who are striving for self-realization, hardly one person will actually become successful in their current lifetime. This fact alone should tell us how strong a knot material nature has tied. So how do we break free of this knot? Just as Alexander the Great needed a sharp sword to cut through the Gordian Knot, we living entities require the sharpest of spiritual guides to help us break free of our attachment to matter. This spiritual guide is thus known as a sadhu, or one who cuts.

Many holy men, especially in India, are known as sadhus, so how do we know who is a bona fide spiritual guide and who isn’t? The answer is that the sadhu must himself be free of attachment to matter. If such a person isn’t attached to nature, then what do they do with their time? What are their activities? The real sadhus are those who are attached to the Supreme Spirit, Lord Krishna. Though Krishna resides in the spiritual world, He gladly expands Himself into various forms that are worshipable for the living entities residing within the material world. For example, since God is absolute, there is no difference between His personal form and His names, activities, and deities. The personal form may only reside in the spiritual world, but the names of God pervade throughout the millions of universes. Thus by regularly reciting the Lord’s names, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we directly associate with the Supreme Spirit. Similarly, by reading about Krishna’s pastimes performed on earth, or those of His various incarnations, we directly associate with the Lord. The archa-vigraha, or the worshipable form of the Lord found in the temple, is also just as good as Krishna. If we view the deity and offer our obeisances to it, we are directly associating with Krishna.

Worship of Radha and Krishna A sadhu can be recognized by his engagement in these aforementioned activities of devotional service. Moreover, the sadhus have no attachment to economic development, mundane religious practice, or sense gratification. The pure sadhu is already liberated, jivan-mukta, so they have no desire for impersonal liberation either. Since they serve Krishna all the time, they naturally help others ascend to the same platform. This is a benevolence the likes of which is not seen anywhere in the world. There are certainly great philanthropists and welfare workers who try to help the downtrodden. Yet this aid is of the material variety and only consists of providing the bare necessities. The sadhu is the most exalted person in the world, and instead of just helping people rise to a comfortable material position, the sadhu aims to turn others into bona fide sadhus themselves. The pure devotee wants nothing more than to see every person in the world surpass even their own level of devotion. They feel this way because they know that if every person becomes a pure devotee, Krishna will be pleased. The sadhu doesn’t mind going to hell or even offending others, as long as Krishna is made happy.

This wonderful benevolence was on full display during one particular occasion involving Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. Rama is one of Krishna’s primary incarnations who appeared on earth many many thousands of years ago to enact pastimes. His life’s story is recorded in the famous Ramayana compiled by Maharishi Valmiki. One of the major incidents of the Ramayana was the kidnapping of Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, from the forest. Lord Rama assumed the role of a valiant warrior prince, the eldest son of the king of Ayodhya. Sita was His beautiful and chaste wife. The couple was roaming the forests of India for fourteen years along with Rama’s younger brother, Lakshmana, when Sita was one day kidnapped by the demon Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana weren’t around when this transpired, and upon learning of Sita’s disappearance, Rama immediately gave way to grief and lamentation.

Rama and Lakshmana looking for Sita Let us try to put ourselves in Lakshmana’s shoes for a moment. Our elder brother has just discovered that His beautiful wife is missing. She could be dead for all that we know. Rakshasa demons are pretty vile, for they’ll even eat human flesh. It is quite likely that Sita was taken by Ravana, and what happened subsequent to that is anybody’s guess. We love Rama so much that we refused to let Him roam the forests alone, for the Lord was only in the forest due to an exile punishment handed down by His father, King Dasharatha. Placing ourselves in Lakshmana’s position, we’d probably sit quietly and let Rama release His grief. After all, who would want to anger a loved one during a time like this? What could we say anyway? If we did say anything, we’d probably use clich├ęs such as, “Don’t worry, everything is going to be alright. We’ll find Sita. I’m sure she’s safe and sound.”

What avenue did Lakshmana end up choosing? Though he was also a warrior prince, Lakshmana was a pure devotee of God, meaning he was a sadhu. A sadhu is only interested in advancing Krishna’s cause, so he doesn’t care about offending others. Their job is to help others break free of the illusion brought on by maya. Lakshmana decided to impart some sound words of advice to Rama, who was playing the role of a person distraught over misfortune. Lakshmana told his brother that His behavior was not becoming, nor was it in line with the duties of a prince. Lakshmana told Rama that even if Sita were dead, the Lord would have no reason to lament or grieve. Good and bad things happen to everyone, even to the celestials in heaven, the demigods. Moreover, the purpose of life is to remain committed to dharma, or one’s occupational duty. Only by adhering to dharma can a person break free of the bonds of material nature.

Lakshmana In the above referenced statement, we see that Lakshmana, who had just put forth cutting words of logic and reason, was still kind in the end. He reminded Rama that no one was capable of instructing Him. Moreover, Lakshmana was just repeating the same teachings that Rama had taught him on many previous occasions. Thus we see that a real sadhu is one who has taken instruction directly from God, or one of His representatives. We should also take note that Lakshmana didn’t claim to be God or tell Rama to view every person as God. Nor did Lakshmana instruct Rama to take shelter of the power of prayer. Many spiritual leaders advise these sorts of things, and though they may be well intentioned, in the end, such instruction does little to help anyone. Material fortunes come and go, so our business is not to bargain with God in the hopes of receiving gifts. Rather, our duty is to be firmly attached to the Lord and execute our prescribed duties with detachment to the fruits.

So how do Lakshmana’s instructions apply to us? The pure devotees of Krishna advise the people of this age to take to regularly chanting the maha-mantra. Though in the beginning stages it is okay to start off with only chanting this mantra a few rounds per day on a set of japa beads, the ideal practice is to chant Hare Krishna for a minimum of sixteen rounds per day. The sadhu doesn’t care if we like him or if he’s popular. He knows the truth and he’s not afraid to speak it. The bona fide representative of Krishna is one who follows the example of Lakshmana. By humbly submitting ourselves before such a person, we are sure to break free of the shackles that currently inhibit our spiritual growth.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Religious Systems

Lord Krishna “It is not a fact that the Lord appears only on Indian soil. He can advent Himself anywhere and everywhere, and whenever He desires to appear. In each and every incarnation, He speaks as much about religion as can be understood by the particular people under their particular circumstances. But the mission is the same-to lead people to God consciousness and obedience to the principles of religion.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7 Purport)

Probably the largest stumbling block towards spiritual realization in the modern age is the existence of so many different religious systems. Growing up in a diverse a country as America, one is exposed to people who come from varying backgrounds, who each speak their own language and have their own divine figure that they worship. With this variety in religion, one can be misled into thinking that spirituality is simply a man-made concoction, that the concept of a God exists simply to alleviate the greatest fear of all: death. A similar line of thinking believes that religion exists to explain the unexplainable; therefore it must be grounded in theories which are impossible to prove. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, are so wonderful in that they not only tell us about God and His creation, but they also explain why so many different religious systems exist.

Let’s first tackle the issue of what religion means. Religion, or spirituality, is simply a discipline of worship. You have one entity: the worshiper, or the person who is subordinate. The complementary entity is the worshipable: the object of worship, the supreme or divine entity. Religion then becomes that system which aims to please the object of worship; a discipline which, at a minimum, defines the relationship between the worshiper and the worshiped. Based on this definition, we see that religion is something that can certainly vary, for the object of worship can differ from person to person. Since everyone has different entities they deem as worshipable, they will have different conclusions as to what the aim of life is and how one should go about attaining it.

“…Due to the great variety of desires and natures among human beings, there are many different theistic philosophies of life, which are handed down through tradition, custom and disciplic succession. There are other teachers who directly support atheistic viewpoints.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.8)

Lord Krishna Since every person has an object of worship, every person is religious. This is indeed true; even the vilest person, the one who denounces God and His followers, is religious. The reason so many different religious systems exist is that each person who has settled on their ultimate objective in life, be it the association of an object of worship or the attainment of a palatable condition, then creates a system to help others reach it. For example, the chain bookstores are filled with books about how to be successful in various ventures. Book titles are usually of the same nature: “The 10 keys to success in business…How to be a good parent…How to make your relationship work…The 10 principles to happiness.” These books are written by those whose ultimate objective related to the specific topic of interest mentioned in the book, be it the accumulation of wealth, a happy family life, or weight loss. In this way, we see that these books represent the scriptures of the authors in that they have a list of do’s and don’ts [essentially pious and sinful acts], along with a promise for a better condition in the future.

When the objects of worship switch from matter to spirit, the discipline can be classified as a religion in the common sense of the word. Even in the arena of spirituality, there are varying recommendations, processes, sins, and ultimate conclusions. The Vedas tell us that these religious systems can be thought of as different grades in an educational establishment. The teachers of these systems claim to have received their knowledge from Divine authority. Taking their claims at face value, we see that the teachers, who manifest as different prophets, are deemed to have a first class understanding of the principles of spirituality. Yet there are still differences in the teachings, and the Vedas tell us that these differences are due to the time and circumstance. Depending on the specific time period, people at large may not be ready for the highest truths of spirituality. Therefore the chosen one, the appointed spiritual master or representative of God at the time, decides to focus on a specific issue. Some choose to focus on the eradication of animal violence, while others persuade society to look to God as the ultimate order supplier instead of a government entity. The point to all of this is that even though one teacher may be teaching a second grade class, while another teaches twelfth grade, the ultimate object of knowledge is still the same. The twelfth graders have no reason to look down upon the second graders, because the younger students are simply working their way up towards the higher platform.

Radha Krishna What is that higher platform? What is the ultimate objective of religion? In the material realm, the ultimate conclusion depends on the individual's viewpoint. A businessperson deems the aim of life to be the running of a successful business, an entity which provides a good or service which is popular enough to secure enough profits to support a comfortable lifestyle. For the marriage counselor, a peaceful marriage condition is seen as the ultimate objective in life, one where both husband and wife are happy in each other’s association. In spiritual life, the ultimate objective is to have a pleasurable relationship with the Supreme Lord. For the subordinate living entity, basking in the transcendental sweetness of the Personality of Godhead in His original form brings the highest pleasure, both material and spiritual, that can exist. This relationship is free of any defects; it is not lacking anything in the area of pleasure. Any other relationship, any other condition, lacks something in the area of happiness. It is for this reason that we take up different engagements all the time, switching from one “pleasurable” activity to another. The ultimate relationship, the connection between the living entity and God, is the one condition that trumps all others.

Not all systems of religion describe this condition or even acknowledge its existence. Even many spiritual disciplines emanating from the Vedas fail to acknowledge the existence of a personal aspect to God, or a God with a transcendental form. Expounders of these faiths take the Supreme Absolute Truth to be formless, thus their ultimate conclusion is that the living entities are meant to merge into an energy known as Brahman. Brahman is certainly God, but according to expert opinion, it is simply the glaring effulgence emanating from the body of the original Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Understanding Brahman is still a legitimate spiritual discipline, especially considering that those who choose this path are unable to conceive of God’s original form. They are either too distraught in their material condition or are simply looking for the negation of all activity. This desire is facilitated through the merging of the soul into Brahman.

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.5)

Lord Krishna There are other spiritual disciplines that simply look to God as an order supplier, a person who provides for the living entity’s needs and wants. “Simply love God and go about your business. At the end of life, you will go to heaven.” This mindset is incomplete in the sense that if a person has a desire to enjoy their senses, God surely wouldn’t remove them from such a position. Under this model, the Supreme Lord would have to be quite unkind. As we all know, we can never force anyone else to love us. This holds true with God as well, so He would never think of taking us back to His supreme abode if we would rather remain in the company of our friends, family, countrymen, and other associates. Yet even this view of God as an order supplier is considered a legitimate spiritual discipline since it acknowledges the existence of a Supreme Lord.

Regardless of their faith or geographic location, pure devotees of the Supreme Spirit can be found everywhere. Vedic information, the highest form of knowledge, tells us that the individual spirit souls, the living entities residing in the material world, were all originally lovers of God. Therefore every single person, regardless of what they deem to be the ultimate conclusion in life, is a devotee at heart. A pure devotee is one who wants to serve God without any motive for personal gain. This personal gain can involve ascension to the heavenly planets, the removal of distress, the acquisition of mystic powers, or the merging into an impersonal energy. Since this definition of a pure devotee has nothing to do with a person’s religious faith, it stands to reason that there are countless pure devotees who are just waiting to serve God. Yet they may be unaware of the highest conclusion, the topmost spiritual discipline that exists. Therefore it is up to those who are constantly occupied in this sublime engagement to help other sincere souls rekindle their loving relationship with the Supreme Lord.

Building of a house The Vedas tell us that the more accurate term to describe religion is “dharma”. Dharma relates to an occupational duty, which is based on the true essence of something. Since the essential characteristic of the spirit soul is its intimate relationship with God, dharma is that discipline which aims to keep the living entity always connected with Him. Dharma is the essence of something, so when applied to different areas, it can take the shape of rules and regulations, the set of standard prescriptions aimed at maintaining the essential characteristic. For example, building a house in the proper way represents adherence to a specific dharma. The recommendations and regulations aimed at helping a person play a musical instrument correctly can be thought of as the dharma for that particular discipline. In this way, we see that there can be many dharmas depending on the specific field of interest.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

Lord Krishna The greatest field of interest is that which encompasses all other fields. The only field that fits this definition is spirituality, or more accurately, that discipline pertaining to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In the famous Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God delivered by Krishna Himself, the final instruction given to Arjuna, Krishna’s cousin and dear disciple, is that he should abandon all varieties of religion, or dharmas, and simply surrender unto the Lord. Krishna is the sum and substance of all religious systems; He is the ultimate object of pleasure. The highest engagement for the living entity is to take up His service.

How do we convince people from different faiths, those who are following spiritual disciplines the equivalent of second and third grade educations, to take up the sublime engagement of devotional service, which represents the ascension to the topmost platform of spiritual knowledge? The Vaishnavas, devotees of Vishnu or Krishna, are certainly on the highest level of understanding. They are the PhD scholars of religion, for they spend all their time serving the Lord without motive. As a result, they tend to view the expounders of other spiritual disciplines, i.e. those who posit ultimate conclusions which fall short of devotional service, as intellectual lightweights. Vedic wisdom is all-encompassing, meaning that someone who reads and thoroughly understands a text like the Shrimad Bhagavatam will be able to understand all other philosophies and religious teachings that have ever existed, currently exist, or will ever exist in the future. Yet even though pure devotees are armed with this knowledge and the understanding that other systems are inferior, they don’t look down at their fellow man. Due to their kind mercy, the Vaishnavas view the intellectual lightweights as ideal candidates for taking up bhakti-yoga.

Lord Chaitanya For the people of this age, there is only one religious process recommended. This process is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and it was inaugurated by Lord Chaitanya, a preacher incarnation of Krishna who appeared on earth some five hundred years ago. Lord Chaitanya wants the whole world to unite under this mantra, the spiritual calling for our time. This chanting process is the most effective method of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Any person, in any country, of any religious persuasion, can repeat this sacred formula and have all their wishes and dreams fulfilled. Krishna is non-different from His name. The name is simply the transcendental sound representation of the original form of Godhead. Therefore this audible form can incarnate; it can appear in any part of the world and serve as the means of deliverance for the suffering conditioned souls. Through chanting, become a devotee of Krishna and immediately rise to the highest platform of knowledge. This simple path to salvation is the gift to the people of this age, and we should not be so unkind as to not accept it.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

As Good As Gold

Lord Rama “O You of great intellect, not even the demigods can fathom the level of Your intelligence. Due to bereavement Your wisdom is currently in a dormant state, and I am here to rouse it.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.19)

Gold is a commodity that has value and importance throughout the world. Formerly, gold was the system of currency in many countries like America, where each paper note was backed by an equal value of gold in the national treasury. Gold is so valuable that people flock to areas where it is in abundance, or where there is even a perceived reservoir, as was seen with the gold rush in the West Coast of the United States during the year of 1849. Yet if one were to discover gold, they likely wouldn’t find it to be very appealing. Gold in an unpolished state appears just like a glob of matter, something that can even be bitten into. Actually that is one way to determine the authenticity of gold; you see if it can be bitten into. It is not until one expertly crafts, shapes, and refines the gold that it starts to shine and take on a life of its own. In a similar manner, we living entities are just like gold in that we are pure and extremely valuable at the core, yet presently we are in an unpolished state, unaware of our true value. It is not until we associate with a pure devotee of Lord Krishna, or God, that we can understand our true nature.

Gold Gold is valuable. How do we know this? Others like to own gold and use it for various purposes. Something is considered valuable if it can be used by others to advance a cause or item of self-interest. If something isn’t valuable, we have no interest in it; we don’t think twice about it. Valuable commodities have just the opposite effect; we want to possess them and watch their value grow. One of the most valuable commodities in the modern age is oil, which is regularly traded on the futures market. This buying and selling is so volatile that simply by betting the future price of oil up or down, the current price of gasoline can drastically change. Gold is considered a real commodity because it will always have value, irrespective of the current economic situation. Currently in America, wealth is determined by how much paper currency a person possesses, but as is seen, the value of these paper notes can change on a whim depending on how the Federal Reserve Bank of America deals with monetary policy. In days past, all currency in America was backed by an equal amount of gold in the national treasury, thus giving the paper notes a tangible value. Though that is not the case today, mankind’s interest in gold has not diminished.

Lord Krishna We living entities are similar to gold in that our value doesn’t lessen with time. Time is the greatest diminishing force since it can reduce anyone and anything. A person may be very strong and stout today, but through the influence of all-devouring time, their strength will gradually diminish to the point where they will die. In a similar manner, great buildings and empires also collapse in due course. We living entities, however, being eternally valuable, are immune to the effects of time. This may seem like a contradiction at first glance. How can we be immune to the effects of time if we are destined to die? Our identity comes from the atma, or soul, residing within us. This soul is eternal, unbreakable, and immutable. It never suffers through birth or death, nor does its value ever increase or decrease.

“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 Rama - Purushottama To understand the soul’s true value, we must first realize where it comes from. If the soul never takes birth, how can it have a source? The soul is technically an expansion of the supreme soul, the Supreme Divine Entity. When this Person who transcends ignorance, Purushottama, expands Himself into separate jiva souls, the separated souls don’t necessarily take birth. Purushottama is existing eternally, and thus so are His expansions. Since we come from God, our nature is exactly like His. The Supreme Lord, whose original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is eternally blissful and full of knowledge. This should make sense to us. If Krishna were miserable and unintelligent, then He couldn’t be God. The idea of a supreme controller implies that He is above any and all defects known to man. We spirit souls are godlike, so we are also eternally blissful, full of knowledge, and not subject to illusion, distress, chaos, tumult, etc.

If we are eternally blissful, why do we suffer through misery? Why are we forced to die? Every day is full of so many miseries. We create so many attachments throughout the course of our lifetime, yet all these bonds are severed at some point. If we watch the news on any given day, we will see tragedy everywhere. Somewhere a building is being blown up, a person’s home is being ruined by a devouring flood, or a government is confiscating wealth and property and turning citizens into wards of the state. If we are godlike, why do we live through so much tumult?

These unwanted events are the result of our current state, a condition where we are bewildered by the forces of material nature, which are governed by maya. Maya means that which is not. By taking birth here, we become subject to her forces. Maya essentially makes us believe that we can achieve unending bliss and peace through associating with everything and everyone except Purushottama. Since God is the only person who can give us real pleasure, the further and further we drift from Him the more we suffer through disappointment and heartache. Thus our original blissful nature becomes covered up by the temporary pains and pleasures we experience in this world. This underscores the difference between God and His separated expansions, i.e. the living entities. Krishna can never become subject to the forces of maya, but we living entities can. In this way, God is always superior.

Shrila Prabhupada The living entities are just like gold, in that our value does not change even when we associate with maya. Yet gold in its raw form doesn’t have much use. It must be shaped and crafted in such a way that all the dust is removed so that it can truly shine. In a similar manner, we living entities are extremely valuable in that we are part and parcel of God. But in order to realize our potential, we must be shaped and molded in the proper way. Where do we go to get fixed up? Who or what can polish us and make us shine? For the solution, we must approach a pure devotee of Krishna, someone who is already shining, someone who already exudes the valuable qualities of truthfulness, eternality, and bliss. That person is the spiritual master, or guru.

The pure devotee of Krishna is the emblem of the true value of the living entity. Being part and parcel of God is certainly valuable in and of itself, for Krishna is the wealthiest person in the world. But the devotees are valuable for another reason. They can teach other living entities how to assume their true nature and become valuable themselves. For this reason, the association of a saintly person is considered the greatest fortune in the world. Great devotees of the past all were polished and shaped into their pure form by other devotees of Krishna. We can take Narada Muni for example. He is likely the greatest reformer in history. He was the spiritual master of so many great saints of the past, including Maharishi Valmiki and Vyasadeva. These two saints have authored the bulk of Vedic literature, so this fact alone speaks to Narada’s greatness. In a similar manner, Goswami Tulsidas was personally instructed on devotion to Lord Rama by Shri Hanuman.

Tulsidas worshiping Hanuman How can we tell who is a pure devotee? How do we know whether a person has transcended the illusory forces of maya? Maya is that which is not, and the opposite of this is the Supreme Absolute Truth. There are varying degrees of truth, for the material world is full of dualities and contradictions. For this reason, God is referred to as the Supreme Absolute Truth, meaning His supreme dominion can never be denied. Since God is absolute, there is no wiggle room as far as His strength and purity go. Moreover, any person who directly associates with the Supreme Absolute Truth also inherits the Lord’s qualities. The pure devotees of Krishna meet this requirement. Instead of associating with illusion, they attach themselves to the Supreme Truth. They have no other business than to serve Krishna in a loving way. Devotees may look different, come from different parts of the world, and even have different skin colors and ethnicities, but one thing they have in common is that they are devoted to Krishna. Their only business in life is to serve Him, think of Him, and always praise Him while in the company of others.

The spiritual master, or guru, takes things one step further. Not only does he devote himself to God, but also teaches others how to reawaken their dormant love for the Supreme. This is the special mercy of the guru. A guru can be any person who gives instruction about devotional service to Krishna. Any person who takes away our accumulated material dust and makes us truly shine is a guru. A great example of such an instructor was Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama.

Rama and Lakshmana searching for Sita During the second time period of creation, the Treta Yuga, Lord Krishna expanded Himself into human form and appeared on earth as the valiant and chivalrous prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. Rama had three younger brothers, with Lakshmana being the one most attached to Him. As part of His pastimes, Rama roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. During this time, His beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Lakshmana was with Rama in the forest, and when the two discovered that Sita was missing, there was instant grief and lamentation. Rama especially took it hard. He frantically searched about the neighboring forests and asked the trees and flowers if they had seen His beloved wife. This behavior was strikingly similar to how Shrimati Radharani, the eternal consort of Lord Krishna, acted when the Lord had left Vrindavana for Mathura. This shows that the Supreme Entity loves His devotees just as much as they love Him.

Seeing his brother in bad shape, Lakshmana stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. The above referenced quote was part of his concluding statements. Lakshmana advised Rama to avoid lamentation, for even if Sita were dead, protocol called for Rama to continue His adherence to dharma, or prescribed duties. Good and bad things happen all the time, but it doesn’t mean that we should give up the activities that we are obligated to perform. Only through proper execution of spiritual activities can one achieve success in life. Thus we see that Lakshmana behaved as the perfect spiritual master.

Lakshmana Rama and Lakshmana were part of the kshatriya, or warrior, class, so how could Lakshmana be a spiritual master? Moreover, Rama was God Himself, so how can He ever take instruction from anyone? These are very important questions, and if we properly understand the answers to them, we will be taking giant steps forward in our spiritual progress. At the end of his statements, Lakshmana made sure to remind Rama that no one could instruct Him, for even the demigods learned everything from Him. This one statement secretly gives away Rama’s true identity as the ultimate divine personality. But Lakshmana also made sure to remind Rama that the instruction he was providing had actually been delivered by the Lord to Lakshmana on many previous occasions. Thus we see that Lakshmana didn’t concoct any of the things he was saying, for he had learned these truths from the highest authority, Rama. Moreover, since God is the original teacher of mankind, He takes pleasure in seeing that His students understand what He teaches them. Rama felt great joy in hearing Lakshmana’s instructions, for it meant that His faithful younger brother had listened attentively, like a perfect student.

Rama and Lakshmana The lesson to be learned from this incident is that we should all adopt Lakshmana’s mindset and listen attentively to the teachings of the Supreme Lord. Where do we go to find these teachings? Luckily for us, when God teaches His devotees, they don’t just keep the information to themselves. They train their own disciples, who then pass it down to their students, and so on. So we simply need to consult a person belonging to the chain of disciplic succession which originates from Lord Krishna. If we approach these devotees, we are assured of success in spiritual life. This association doesn’t have to be of the personal variety either. The great saints have written voluminous literature establishing the supremacy of devotional service to Krishna over all other spiritual disciplines. These books have true value, for they have been read for centuries. Unlike the newspapers and magazines of today, these books don’t get tossed aside after reading once or twice. Their value only increases as time goes on. We simply need to consult these books, read them regularly, and pass on the information contained within to others. In this way, we can assume our true nature as pure servants of the Supreme Lord. Devotees of God are as good as gold in all respects.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Unbreakable

Lord Krishna “The conditioned soul may have one kind of body in the present birth, but he has a different body in the next birth. In the material world, the living entity has no fixed body but transmigrates from one body to another. The Lord, however, does not do so. Whenever He appears, He does so in the same original body, by His internal potency.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.6 Purport)

The common misconception posited by neophyte transcendentalists and enemies of the Supreme Lord is that Krishna and His various expansions appear on earth in material bodies. Material refers to matter, and body refers to the outer covering of the soul. For the individual conditioned living entity, there is a difference between matter and spirit, body and soul. For the Supreme Absolute Truth, there is no such difference. While our bodies constantly change, with the soul repeatedly appearing and disappearing through the processes of birth and death, such changes do not take place for the Supreme Lord. Everything attached to the Lord is always transcendental, so if we are to give any attention to vanity and outward appearance, it should be directed towards Him.

Lord Krishna The desire to look beautiful results in the purchase of makeup products, fancy clothes, and facial ornaments. In this respect, vanity certainly can play a beneficial role, especially when it comes to beautification. If our outward appearance is pleasing, then other things often fall into place. If we’re going on a job interview, we will surely dress ourselves very nicely, in a professional sort of way. If an employer sees that we are appropriately dressed, it shows that we have taken the time to give a positive appearance. If we hadn’t taken this time, the employer may be led to think that we are lazy and that we’re not concerned with detail. A lazy employee is a bad employee, so slovenliness is not the idea we’re trying to convey when seeking employment.

While beautification is also important in other aspects of life, if we were to study every area where vanity plays a role, we’d see that the ultimate objective usually relates to sex life. The woman wants to attract the attention of the man, so she makes sure to wear nice clothing, makeup, and jewelry. Similarly, the man wants to attract the woman, so he pays special attention to his hair, shirt, and cologne. The objective is to connect with an attractive partner and enjoy the resulting relationship.

Radha Krishna This desire for sexual relations through a committed partnership certainly isn’t a bad thing, but it falls short of meeting the ultimate objective in life. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tells us definitively what the ultimate purpose in life is. His teachings are found in the Bhagavad-gita, a book which chronicles a discussion that took place five thousand years ago between Krishna and His cousin Arjuna. Krishna is not a mythological figure, but rather a historical personality who appeared on earth and enacted wonderful pastimes a long, long time ago. His teachings to Arjuna make no mention of the Hindu faith, nor are they directed towards any particular class of men. His instructions touch on issues relating to the soul, its relationship with matter, and its highest occupational duty. In this way, we see that Krishna is not merely a Hindu God, but rather the Supreme Godhead and greatest teacher, a person who is meant to be everyone’s friend and ultimate reservoir of pleasure.

Krishna’s teachings, which are based on the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India emanating from Krishna Himself, touch on a wide range of topics, but the first instruction imparted to the new student, an opening salvo if you will, is the difference between the body and the soul. Individuality comes from the spiritual spark residing within the body. The soul can be thought of as the owner, the chief resident of the material dress. The body can be thought of as the house. This house is composed of material elements, so it cannot be taken as superior. We may reside in a giant high-rise building, but we could never say that the building is superior to the human beings who constructed it or those who reside within it. If not for their tireless efforts and expert planning, the building would have remained in the form of scrap metal and raw materials. The living entity, whose actions are driven by the internal spirit soul, is the master of matter.

Reincarnation The house known as the body is constantly changing, as is obvious to the sober person. The changing of houses, or moving day if you will, occurs at the time of death. At this time, the soul leaves its current home and immediately enters a new one. This new home is located in one of two places: the material world or the spiritual world. If the soul is placed in the material world, its home is again subject to creation, maintenance, and destruction. The opposite is true if the home is in the spiritual world. A spiritual body is unchanging, unbreakable, and full of knowledge. When a person enters their spiritual abode, both their soul and body take on the same qualities. Therefore the ultimate aim of life is to accumulate enough spiritual credits to be able to purchase a spiritual home.

Even if one is unaware of the difference between the material and spiritual worlds, the changing of the bodies should still be evident to them. We see that famous movie and television stars of the past look completely different when we see them in newer movies and shows. Since the activities of their youth were recorded on tape and DVD, it becomes easier to see the difference in the appearances of their bodies. The aging process takes hold and it causes the facial features to lose their beauty. This is only natural since everyone is working their way towards death, a time when the body is completely discarded.

Lord Krishna Armed with this knowledge, the wise don’t pay as much attention to outward appearance. If the body is going to be discarded, how important can it be? The secret to success in life is not to simply reject attention to appearance outright, but rather to direct this concern towards something worth beautifying. No entity in this world is more worthy of our attention than the Supreme Spirit, and thanks to the teachings of Krishna and His devotees, we know that the Supreme Lord has an ever-existing form, a transcendental body which never deteriorates. Since His body is completely spiritual and unchanging, it would make sense that all items of beauty should be directed towards Him.

“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)

How can Krishna’s body be unchanging? While the rules of material nature affect all living entities equally, they don’t apply to God. When Krishna was on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and delivering His spiritual discourse to Arjuna, He was over one hundred years of age. In reality, Krishna doesn’t have an age, but in terms of the amount of time that had elapsed since His appearance in the womb of Mother Devaki, Krishna was over one hundred years old. Though He was old enough to have great-grandchildren, He didn’t look aged at all. You will never see any paintings or pictures of Krishna depicted as an old man. Though He is the oldest person, adyam-purusham, He is always youthful and blissful. The non-devotees have a hard time understanding this fact. They take the laws of nature to be absolute, so even if they think of Krishna as a manifestation of the Supreme Truth, they take His body to be material.

“Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.6)

Krishna and Arjuna Okay, so Krishna’s body is spiritual, but how does this information help us? Where is this spiritual body? How are we supposed to go about decorating it? Luckily for us, Krishna takes other forms which are identical in nature to His original. One such form is His name. While Krishna is the fountainhead of all forms of the Divine, He has many non-different expansions which people can worship with just as much faith and still receive the same result of going back to the spiritual world. One of Krishna’s most celebrated expansions is Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince who appeared on earth long before Krishna did. While both of these forms of Godhead aren’t directly present on earth today, one can still associate with them through their names found in the famous maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The name is the best way to connect with God, especially for the people of this age. But again, we have material elements all around us, so it would be nice to find a way to use them to serve the Lord’s transcendental body. This is where the archa-vigraha, or deity, comes in. Though the earthly elements such as wood, stone, and resin are considered dull matter, when used in the construction of a deity, they become spiritualized. This is a little difficult to understand at first, since we are basically introducing an exception to the rules of nature. We can think of it this way: matter is inferior and the cause of bondage only as long as it is not used for Krishna’s service. When matter is used for our own beautification or for purposes of sense gratification, it has no relation to Krishna. In one sense, matter can never be separated from Krishna since it is something that He created, but when we say that it has no relation to God, this is according to the vision of the living entity. After all, Krishna is not looking for salvation or release from the cycle of birth and death. Separation and association are important concepts only for the conditioned living entities.

Radha Krishna deities So when we construct a nice deity of Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, Narasimha, Chaitanya, and other vishnu-tattva expansions of God, we are purifying the material elements. Since these elements are reconnected with their Creator, they are no longer subordinate or inferior. The lesson here is that we should certainly take the time to clean ourselves up and make our outward appearances presentable, but the primary focus should be on Krishna. The Lord is eternally situated in knowledge, and a person who sees that Krishna’s body is always transcendental is one who truly sees. By decorating the deity, offering prayers to and worshiping it, and chanting the non-different names of the Personality of Godhead in front of it, we can close the deal on the purchase of our spiritual body, the non-changing sublime dress of the liberated soul.