Saturday, October 2, 2010

Vishnu and Krishna

Lord Vishnu riding on Garuda “The Supreme Personality of Godhead will appear on the earth very soon along with His supreme powerful potencies, and as long as He remains on the earth planet to execute His mission of annihilating the demons and establishing the devotees, the demigods should also remain there to assist Him.” (Message of Lord Vishnu to Lord Brahma and the demigods, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 1)

Question: “Why is Krishna's incarnation considered to be an incarnation of Vishnu when Vishnu is an expansion of the Supreme Personality of Godhead that is Krishna?”

Answer: In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Divine Being is known as Krishna. He is described as the Supreme Personality of Godhead since there are multitudes of non-different forms of the Divine which can also be worshiped with love and devotion, with the devotee of each particular form reaping the same benefits. This isn’t to say that there are many Gods, but rather that the Supreme Lord isn’t so stingy to limit Himself to only one form. Just as there are different inherent qualities possessed by different individuals, there are different ways to offer love and devotion to the Supreme Divine Entity. Therefore this original Personality, who is known as Krishna, takes to various forms to allow the devotees to worship Him in their preferred transcendental mellow, or rasa. Ironically enough, one of Krishna’s primary expansions is so much loved and respected that He is often taken as the original form of Godhead instead of Krishna. This person is Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Narayana, the source of all men. For millions of years, only Vishnu was known as the original Personality of Godhead. In many sacred texts, Krishna is listed as one of Narayana’s primary incarnations. While there appears to be a contradiction on this issue, there actually isn’t one.

“All these incarnations of Godhead are either plenary portions or parts of the plenary portions of the purusha-avataras. But Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself [krishnas tu bhagavan svayam]. In every age He protects the world through His different features when the world is disturbed by the enemies of Indra.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.3.28)

Lord Krishna First let’s cover the basis for Krishna being taken as the original form of Godhead. The Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, and they literally mean “knowledge”. Originally, such transcendental information was passed through an oral tradition, with hymns and prayers memorized and verbalized in the Sanskrit language. Later on, this same information was put into written form. Since the attributes and features of the Supreme Personality of Godhead are unlimited, many books were written, with each one focusing on a particular aspect of the Divine. Of all the texts that were compiled, authorities consider the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana, to be the most important. This text stands apart from other major Vedic works since it focuses almost entirely on Vishnu worship and the life and pastimes of Krishna. Other Vedic texts often deal with the four rewards of life: dharma [religiosity], artha [economic development], kama [sense gratification], and moksha [release from the cycle of birth and death], and how one can go about achieving them. While the alleviation of pains and discomforts are certainly legitimate areas of interest in spirituality, the highest truth is that the individual spirit souls are part and parcel of God. “Eternally separate and almost equal” is the concise definition. God is the Supreme Soul, and we are minute fragments emanating from Him. Due to our constitutional makeup, our natural disposition, or dharma, is to always be engaged in His service, tied to His hip through the bonds of love and devotion.

The Shrimad Bhagavatam states that Lord Vishnu, the four-armed form of the original Personality of Godhead residing in the Vaikuntha spiritual realm, is certainly God. For the benefit of mankind, He kindly descends to earth in various guises from time to time. Though these expansions, known as avataras, appear to be just like ordinary living entities, they are non-different from the original Lord. Therefore they are always completely spiritual, not tinged by the effects of material nature governed by the energy of maya. While the Bhagavatam deals extensively with Lord Vishnu, His pastimes, His attributes, and His features, Lord Krishna, who possesses two arms and an all-attractive transcendental body, is also taken to be the original form of Godhead. His home is in a spiritual land known as Goloka Vrindavana, which is similar in nature to Vaikuntha. Both Vaikuntha and Vrindavana are places where birth and death do not occur, therefore whoever lives there remains liberated from conditioned life.

Lord Chaitanya with Krishna Lord Chaitanya, who is taken by great authorities to be an incarnation of Krishna, appeared on earth around five hundred years ago and preached worship of Krishna to be the topmost spiritual practice. He was especially fond of the Shrimad Bhagavatam and another Vedic text known as the Brahma-samhita. This treatise was compiled by Lord Brahma, the first created being who lives for billions and billions of years. Brahma is considered a demigod, or an elevated living entity. Since he too must go through birth and death, he is not considered to be on an equal footing with Vishnu. Lord Brahma once compiled a great set of prayers in praise of Govinda, which is another name for Krishna. So simply based off the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Brahma-samhita, we can understand that Krishna is the origin of all forms of Godhead. Lord Chaitanya also discussed in great detail the differences between Krishna, Vishnu, and other avataras. These discussions are found in the Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, and anyone who is further interested in this subject matter is advised to consult this wonderful text.

“Shrimad Bhagavatam has listed the avataras, the plenary expansions of the purusha, and Lord Krishna appears among them. But the Bhagavatam further explains Lord Krishna's specific position as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since Lord Krishna is the original Personality of Godhead, reason and argument establish that His position is always supreme.”  (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 2.86 Purport)

Lord Chaitanya inaugurated the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as the topmost religious practice for all the people of this age. Rama refers to Lord Rama, one of Vishnu’s most celebrated incarnations who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago in the guise of a warrior prince. Though He stressed worship of Krishna, Lord Chaitanya never stopped people from worshiping Lord Rama, for in many instances He even helped devotees of Lord Rama increase their level of attachment to the jewel of the Raghu dynasty.

Lord Vishnu There are many who take Krishna to be an incarnation of Vishnu, for this is actually mentioned in many texts, including in portions of the Shrimad Bhagavatam. In addition, probably the oldest book in the world is the Ramayana, which is a Vedic text which deals primarily with the life and pastimes of Lord Rama.  In chronological terms, Rama and other incarnations of Vishnu appeared on earth prior to Krishna. While the Vedic evidence presented by devotees of Krishna is certainly flawless and completely accurate, the claims of Vishnu being the original and Krishna being an expansion can also be justified by referencing several incidents from Vedic history.

For the Vishnu devotees, the circumstances surrounding Krishna’s advent on earth described in the Shrimad Bhagavatam point to the fact that Vishnu descended to earth as Krishna. Bhumi Devi, the presiding deity of the earth, was feeling a great burden, so she kindly approached Lord Brahma to help her. Brahma then went to visit Lord Vishnu and asked Him to appear on earth. Lord Vishnu then kindly obliged and also arranged to have Ananta Shesha Naga, the eternal servant of Vishnu, come to earth in the form of Lord Balarama. Thus Vishnu and Ananta Shesha Naga appeared on earth as Krishna and Balarama.

Lord Vishnu appearing before Devaki and Vasudeva When Lord Krishna appeared from the womb of Mother Devaki in the prison cell of King Kamsa, He displayed His four-handed Vishnu form. This was to let His parents know that He was the Supreme Personality of Godhead appearing as their son. At the time, simply showing His Krishna form wasn’t enough to convey the idea of divinity. This actually points to another area of importance which we will discuss later on.

When Krishna grew up to be an adult, while ruling as a king in Dvaraka, He spent much time with His cousins, the Pandavas. On one occasion, the Pandavas and Krishna met up with Markandeya Rishi, who was originally a great devotee of Lord Shiva, another powerful divine figure and devotee of Lord Vishnu. Markandeya Rishi explained to the Pandavas that during one particular kalpa, he had the benefit of remaining alive during the destruction of the earth. After everything was destroyed, only one person remained: Lord Narayana in the form of a young boy. Inside Narayana’s stomach, Markandeya saw the universal form consisting of all the universes, planets, stars, and living entities. After finishing his description, Markandeya told the Pandavas that the same Narayana was sitting in front of them as Krishna.

“O universal Lord, I wish to see You in Your four-armed form, with helmeted head and with club, wheel, conch and lotus flower in Your hands. I long to see You in that form.” (Arjuna speaking to Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 11.46)

Krishna showing the universal form On the battlefield of Kurukshetra, just prior to one of the greatest wars in history, Krishna took to instructing the leading warrior of the Pandava side, Arjuna. In this discussion, which is chronicled in the famous Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna repeatedly refers to Himself as God and as the divine entity. Yet Krishna at one point shows both the universal form and His four-armed form of Lord Narayana to Arjuna. Again, this speaks to the notion that followers of the Vedic tradition for thousands of years looked to Lord Vishnu as the original personality of Godhead. Since Krishna is non-different from Vishnu, whether one takes Him as the original in lieu of Vishnu is not really important.

This fact is reinforced by the dealings of the other primary avataras of Lord Vishnu. Lord Rama is worshiped as the Supreme Personality of Godhead by millions, and during His time on earth, He too often referred to Himself as God to His confidential associates. In the original Ramayana, the poem compiled by Maharishi Valmiki, Rama mentions that in a future Yuga He will appear on earth as Govinda, which is another name for Krishna. In this way, we see that Rama is non-different from Krishna. Additionally, many sages desired to have intimate relations with Lord Rama, but since the Lord vowed to only have one wife, Sita Devi, He agreed to meet their requests in the future when He would come to earth as Lord Krishna. Similarly, there are devotees who worship other Vishnu forms such as Lord Narasimhadeva. In fact, in the Narasimha Purana, Narasimhadeva is addressed as adim, which means that He is the original Personality of Godhead.

“Lord Narasimhadeva is here, and He is also there on the opposite side. Wherever I go, there I see Lord Narasimhadeva. He is outside and within my heart. Therefore I take shelter of Lord Narasimhadeva, the original Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Narasimha Purana)

Lord Nrishmadeva blesses Prahlada Maharaja So how do we reconcile these differences? Is Krishna the original or is Vishnu? Lord Krishna is certainly the original Personality of Godhead simply based off the teachings of Lord Chaitanya and the statements of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Brahma-samhita, Garga-samhita, and Brahmavaivarta Purana. Yet those who take Vishnu or any of His other non-different expansions as original are not wrong. This is because the differences of opinion only represent different angles of vision. The end-result is still the same. If there is a difference at all between Krishna and Vishnu, it lies in the sweetness of appearance. Vishnu is viewed as more opulent and thus appealing to those who wish to worship the Lord in reverence. Krishna, on the other hand, is supremely attractive, so He generally appeals to those who wish to worship the Lord more intimately. God is everything, but everything is not God. This means that we can worship anything we want, but the results of such worship will vary. Only by worshiping non-different forms of the original form of Godhead, vishnu-tattva, can we receive the benediction of eternal association with Supreme Spirit. Worship of any other entity or object will not secure such a reward. This means that only by worshiping Krishna, Vishnu, or another non-different form such as Rama, Narasimha, Chaitanya, etc., can we be released from the cycle of birth and death.

If a person takes Krishna as the original form, and neglects Vishnu worship, their spiritual progress is not hindered. In the same way, devotees of Vishnu who neglect Krishna worship also aren’t deficient in their spiritual practice. Let’s think of it this way: Say we have a person who only reads the Ramayana and nothing else. They take Shri Rama to be the only form of Godhead and no one else. They dedicate themselves to performing devotional service, chanting the Lord’s names, and viewing His deity form in the temple. Such a person will surely receive liberation in the afterlife and be spiritually fulfilled in every way. Devotees of Krishna sometimes say that Rama’s name isn’t as powerful as Krishna’s and that Shri Rama can only grant spiritual benedictions up to the point of impersonal liberation, while Lord Krishna can engage in loving association with the devotees in the mood of separation. While this sentiment surely is indicative of the great love and devotion of Krishna bhaktas, there are a few examples which speak to Rama’s complete abilities to provide any and all spiritual benedictions.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama Lord Hanuman, the celebrated divine figure of the Vedic tradition, personally offered his services to Rama during the Lord’s time on earth. Hanuman actually doesn’t see God in any other form except Rama. Moreover, Hanuman worships Rama completely in separation. Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana love Hanuman so much that he could receive anything he asks for. Yet prior to Rama’s return to the spiritual world, Hanuman only asked that he be allowed to remain alive on earth for as long as Rama’ story was still being told. In this way, Hanuman is the perfect example of a devotee who worships the Lord through separation. Similarly, Goswami Tulsidas, a saint who took direct instruction from Shri Hanuman, also worshiped Rama in separation. Tulsidas often pointed to the devotion practiced by the Chatak bird towards its beloved raincloud as being the ideal example of how one should go about loving and serving God.

Krishna’s closest associates, including His foster parents, had no clue that He was the original form of Godhead. At best, they thought that maybe He was a demigod appearing in human form. Yet their devotion to Him was fruitful nonetheless. This proves that one doesn’t necessarily have to know all about the different incarnations and expansions to achieve perfection in consciousness. There is no difference between Krishna’s body and spirit, so if we are attached to Him in thoughts, words, and deeds, even if we don’t know that He’s God, the benefit will still be the same. The issue of importance is that we worship and devote ourselves to Krishna, Vishnu, or a non-different expansion. Whether we view Krishna as the original or Vishnu doesn’t matter at the end of the day. The ultimate objective is to be God conscious at the time of death. The residents of Ayodhya all returned to the spiritual world with Lord Rama, for they would follow Him to the ends of the earth. They weren’t concerned with whether or not He was God; they simply loved Him with all their hearts. If we exhibit the same level of devotion to our specific authorized divine object of worship, we too will reap the same reward.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Destroying Our Foes

Lakshmana "O best of the Ikshvakus, considering Your powerful divine and human capabilities, please strive for the destruction of Your enemies." (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.20)

Enemies come in all different shapes and sizes. There are personal enemies; other people that we don’t like or who harass us on a regular basis. Then there are demons inside of us; those things that we are addicted to or thoughts that we can’t get rid of. Regardless of the nature of the enemy, they must be defeated. This is important because if we leave the enemy alone and don’t deal with them, there is nothing to stop them from attacking again. The destruction of the enemy is a requirement for there to be peace of any kind.

Events of the Mahabharata Those who have attacked us before are more than likely to attack us again. This is a concept which is easily understood but often forgotten. Vyasadeva’s magnum opus, the celebrated epic of the Vedic tradition, the Mahabharata, details the plight of five brothers whose kingdom was stolen away from them. Mahabharata literally means “great India”, so it contains many stories relating to spirituality and historical events from days past. This great work shines the spotlight of attention on the five sons of Pandu, who was a great king who died prematurely due to a curse. Though his sons were the proper heirs to the kingdom, it was Pandu’s brother, Dhritarashtra, who allowed his own sons, headed by Duryodhana, to unlawfully usurp control over the kingdom.

“We may be put into various types of dangerous conditions by our family members, the Kurus, but I am confident that You remember us and that you always keep us safe and sound. Devotees who simply think of You are always immune from all kinds of material dangers, and what to speak of ourselves, who are personally remembered by You.” (Kunti Devi speaking to Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 3)

Duryodhana didn’t stop at taking over the kingdom unlawfully. He hatched various schemes that constantly put the Pandava brothers and their mother, Kunti Devi, in trouble. He even tried to kill all of them many times, but each time they were saved. Who came to the rescue? The Pandava brothers were related to Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Sometimes people refuse to accept the fact that God can have a name or a form, so they refer to Him as the Divine. Regardless of how we refer to God, there is no doubt that He can appear on earth from time to time depending on His own whim. Though we can’t enumerate every appearance, the Vedas give us a list of the more important ones. Lord Krishna is actually considered the original form of God, so when He appears on earth, He comes in His original body which is full of bliss and knowledge.

Lord Krishna God doesn’t have any father or mother; He is adi-purusham, or the original person. Nevertheless, to perform His activities on earth, He gives the appearance of accepting parents. When the Lord enacted His pastimes on earth some five thousand years ago, His father was Vasudeva. Vasudeva’s sister was Queen Kunti, the mother of the Pandava brothers. Thus Krishna was cousins with Yudhishthira, Arjuna, Bhima, Nakula, and Sahadeva; the five Pandava brothers. Not only was Krishna related to these great warriors, but He favored them very much. They were all great devotees and pious souls, thus the Lord had no qualms about showing favoritism to them. In one of His most celebrated pastimes, Lord Krishna accepted the position of driver for Arjuna’s chariot during the great Bharata war.

Duryodhana tried to kill the Pandavas in so many ways, but each time the brothers were miraculously saved through Krishna’s intervention. Eventually the brothers had enough and were contemplating going to war with Duryodhana and his side of the family. The brothers were on the fence, since they didn’t want to have to kill family members, including several exalted personalities such as Bhishmadeva and Dronacharya, who were fighting for the other side. Queen Kunti very much was in favor of going to war, for she knew that the kingdom rightfully belonged to her sons. Lord Krishna also intervened in this instance, agreeing with Kunti.

Lord Krishna - Mahabharata Usually when we think of religion and spirituality, we think of peacefulness, kindness, and nonviolence. All of us are God’s children, so why would we want to harm anyone else? The Supreme Absolute Truth can be realized through several different features, one of which is the all-pervading effulgence consisting of everything material and spiritual. This feature is known as Brahman, and we are all part of it. This means that we are all equal to each other in a spiritual sense. Since no one person is better than the other, it would make sense that violence wouldn’t be necessary. Yet Lord Krishna was in favor of going to war on this occasion. His primary reasoning was that Duryodhana was a great enemy of the Pandava family. If the Pandavas forgave all Duryodhana’s transgressions and allowed him to continue ruling over their kingdom, there would be nothing to stop him from sparking future attacks. Krishna made the cogent point that the most dangerous enemies in this world are those we have had quarrels with in the past. These enemies become even more dangerous if we have previously defeated them.

This principle was exhibited by King Jarasandha in his behavior towards Krishna. Jarasandha was not happy that Krishna had killed his friend, King Kamsa. This anger led him to attack the Lord on several occasions. Lord Krishna easily thwarted all the attacks, but He didn’t kill Jarasandha personally. Rather, the Lord built an underwater kingdom of Dvaraka to act as a fort to protect His citizens from outside attacks. Jarasandha was defeated over and over again by Krishna, but that didn’t stop him at all. Instead, he just came back each time with more and more anger. Eventually Lord Krishna manipulated events in such a way that a wrestling match was set up between Jarasandha and Bhima, the strongest of the Pandava brothers. Bhima defeated Jarasandha and tore his body in half, thus killing him.

“Lord Krishna immediately picked up a twig from a tree and, taking it in His hand, bifurcated it. In this way He hinted to Bhimasena how Jarasandha could be killed.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 17)

Bhima fighting Jarasandha Eventually the Pandava brothers decided in favor of going to war, and with the help of Krishna, they would end up victorious. These lessons apply to us because we have so many demons in our life, most of which are internal. The famous adage says that you can’t ignore your problems and hope to have them go away. This certainly holds true with our personal demons. If we have a foe that we have previously defeated, such as lust, greed, or anger, it is more than likely that the same enemy will come back to fight us again. Thus it is important to completely eliminate our enemies if we have the capability to do so.

This was the point stressed by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, many thousands of years ago. If our enemies are other human beings, attacking them isn’t always ideal. Not all of us are meant to be fighters. This is why we have governments, great entities that are tasked with providing protection to the innocent. In this way, the responsibility of eradicating miscreants falls on the shoulders of our protectors, i.e. the government leaders. Many thousands of years ago, the very same Lord Krishna appeared on earth as a handsome and pious warrior prince named Rama. Since Lord Rama appeared in a famous dynasty of kings, the Ikshvakus, it was His duty to provide protection to the innocent.

Sita Devi and Lord Rama On one occasion, Rama’s beautiful and kind wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Ravana and his associates were not only enemies of Rama, but of almost everyone in society as well. Ravana was a noteworthy demon whose rise and fall are well chronicled in the epic Ramayana compiled by Maharishi Valmiki. As the result of a curse given by the sage Vishrava, Ravana was born as a Rakshasa with ten heads and a ghoulish figure. Ravana’s mother was jealous that his step-brother, Kuvera, had acquired so much good fortune and wealth as a result of performing austerities that she influenced Ravana into taking up even great austerities. Thus the demon pleased Lord Brahma and was duly rewarded with many boons, including immunity in battle against all living entities except human beings.

Ravana, being a non-devotee, used his powers for evil instead of good. He immediately went on to defeat many demigods, leaving others to run for cover. He and his Rakshasa associates drove Kuvera out of the island kingdom of Lanka and took it over for themselves. But this wasn’t the height of his atrocities. Ravana especially liked to harass the saintly class of men, the great sages who had taken refuge in the forests. The Rakshasas would perform sneak attacks on the sages, disrupting their sacrifices and then killing them.

When Rama initially found out that Sita was missing, He gave way to lamentation and grief. Who wouldn’t be saddened by such an unfortunate event? It would make sense that Rama would have to sit down for a little while and collect His thoughts. Yet the Lord went a little further than this. He was ready to destroy the entire creation as revenge for Sita’s kidnap. Lakshmana, the ever-faithful and compassionate younger brother, at this time stepped in and offered some sound words of advice to Rama.

Sita Devi and Lakshmana In the above referenced statement, we see that Lakshmana is telling Rama to get up and go after the demons, keeping in mind His great strength. Not only did Rama possess great human strength, but He had all divine qualities as well. This isn’t surprising considering that Rama was an incarnation of God. Lakshmana’s point was that it was important for Rama to go after His enemies for two reasons. The obvious reason was that Sita had been taken away from Him, and thus any person who kidnaps an innocent married woman should certainly be punished. Moreover, if Rama didn’t go after the Rakshasas, who would? If the kidnappers of women and the killers of sages were to be pardoned for their actions, what would stop them from committing the same atrocities in the future? Everything worked out in the end, as Rama indeed would take Lakshmana’s advice and resume His search for Sita, eventually finding the princess and killing Ravana in the process.

“For him who has conquered the mind, the mind is the best of friends; but for one who has failed to do so, his very mind will be the greatest enemy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.6)

Lord Krishna We living entities have a similar dilemma confronting us. We certainly aren’t God, and most of us aren’t tasked with protecting the innocent. Yet this doesn’t mean that we don’t have our own demons to deal with. The Vedas tell us that the human form of life is considered the most auspicious due to the intelligence factor. We can actually realize this fact on our own. We are much smarter than any other species, for we even know that we are going to die. But what should we do with this intelligence? Should we use it to find ways to make our lives more comfortable? This is the avenue that many of us choose, but we see that success is never achieved in this venture.

The rich and famous show us the deficiencies of comfortable living. Though they have everything they could ever want right at their fingertips, the wealthy will often take to opening schools, hospitals, and to giving away money to charity as a way of life. This speaks to the reality that increased happiness is achieved through service to others. In the pursuit for material success, we are serving our own senses, hoping that by acquiring life’s comforts our miseries will go away. When the miseries remain, we take to helping others.

Philanthropy and charity may be noble and well-intentioned engagements, but they still don’t provide everlasting pleasure. Once the flickering happiness goes away, pain will surely follow. Our inner-demons, the mind and the senses, are the sources of this pain. For the conditioned living entities, the senses are under the control of maya. Maya means that which is not, so her forces lead us to chasing things that are not what they seem. When the senses are under maya’s control, they constantly ask for satisfaction. “Just give me some nice food and regular sexual relations, and you and I will both be happy.” This is most certainly illusion because we see that overeating and illicit sex life actually lead to life’s worst problems.

Lord Krishna is Hrishikesha The senses bewilder the mind and lead to the chase after illusion. So what can be done about this? How do we attack our senses? Doesn’t attacking our senses equate to suicide or personal harm? The way to defeat the enemy known as maya is to change our object of service, our ultimate object of affection. In the conditioned state, our senses are under the control of material nature, but in the perfected stage, the senses act according to the direction of the master of all senses, God. Since Lord Krishna is the owner and controller of the sum total of all senses, one of His names is Hrishikesha. The only way to defeat our inner demons is to put ourselves under the control of Hrishikesha.

This seems nice in theory, but how do we actually go about doing it? To find the answer, we must revisit the issue of service. When we offer our service to the senses or to the senses of others, the resulting pleasure is short-lived. To gain permanent happiness, we simply need to direct our service to God. There are many ways to do this, but in this age, the simplest method is the constant chanting of His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This shouldn’t be mistakenly equated with the religious activities that most of us are accustomed to, where we approach God for some personal benefit. Service to God must be unmotivated and uninterrupted. Pure love for Krishna means not wanting anything from Him in return.

Shri Rama Darbar Of course Krishna is not so unkind as to not reciprocate our loving feelings. By taking up the chanting process, and devotional service in general, we slowly but surely put ourselves under the control of the divine energy. Not only does this constant engagement in spiritual activities shield us from the effects of maya, but it also arms us with the sword of transcendental knowledge. Those who are intimately acquainted with this great system of knowledge realize their true potential in life. Demons are meant to be slain, especially by those who are capable of doing the slaying. This was the instruction given by Lakshmana to Rama, but it applies to all of us as well. We should all take up devotional service, learn about God, read about Him, talk about Him, and spread His glories to others. Then all the unwanted elements in life will remain far away from us.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Shining Bright

Lord Chaitanya and associates “O my merciful Lord Chaitanya, may the nectarean Ganges waters of Your transcendental activities flow on the surface of my desertlike tongue. Beautifying these waters are the lotus flowers of singing, dancing and loud chanting of Krishna's holy name, which are the pleasure abodes of unalloyed devotees. These devotees are compared to swans, ducks and bees. The river's flowing produces a melodious sound that gladdens their ears.” (Krishnadas Kaviraja Gosvami, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 2.2)

The uniqueness of the movement started by Lord Chaitanya is in the preaching. It is one thing to adopt a particular spiritual philosophy and practice the recommended rituals and functions, but it is another to actually try to teach these principles to others. Even in the area of teaching, it is much easier to give instruction to someone who kindly approaches the instructor versus actually having to go out and persuade those who may not be inclined to hear such instruction. Lord Chaitanya, a preacher incarnation of God, laid down the formula for the reawakening of God consciousness throughout society: the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. He advised everyone, especially those already practicing the principles of bhakti-yoga, to become gurus by chanting this sacred mantra out loud and distributing God’s name to others. While chanting seems innocent enough, this method of preaching is often met with opposition, some of which is so strong that it can leave preachers doubting the effectiveness of the method. But if we apply a little intelligence, we’ll see that Lord Chaitanya’s movement is meant for a specific class of individuals, a class which is ready, willing, and able to reconnect with the Supreme Object of Pleasure, Lord Krishna.

Lord Krishna Lord Chaitanya is considered an incarnation of Krishna, who is known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead amongst followers of the Vedas. This shouldn’t be mistaken to mean that Krishna is a sectarian God or an elevated personality worshiped by a particular group of people. There is only one God. One group may call Him by a particular name, while another may take Him to be an all-pervasive energy. But regardless, there can only be one God. The Vedas happen to be the oldest scriptures in existence; giving them a unique stature which is further enhanced by the inclusion of the many names of the original form of Godhead. Since God is everything, He is capable of innumerable activities. These activities are driven by the innumerable transcendental qualities He possesses. Taking into account all the activities and qualities that can be identified, the Supreme Lord takes on innumerable names. Of all the names, Krishna is considered the best because it is inclusive of all the aforementioned activities and qualities. Krishna means all-attractive, so in this way we see that only God can be the most resplendent in every feature imaginable. The conclusion of Vedic philosophy is that the conditioned individual spirit souls, the residents of the material world, are meant to inquire about Krishna, learn about His transcendental features, and then ultimately use that knowledge to develop a loving attachment to Him.

This formula seems pretty straightforward. Not only is it easy to practice and understand, but it is also easy to describe to others. So why is Lord Chaitanya’s movement unique? The issue relates to the advent of the Kali Yuga, the age we currently live in. According to Vedic information, the duration of each creation can be divided into four time periods, with dharma, or society’s adherence to the established religious codes, dwindling with each successive Yuga. Since we are in the last Yuga, Kali, society is hardly religious. Among those who are spiritually inclined, many are following a bogus or degraded system. This is true even of followers of the Vedic tradition. In previous Yugas, the highest division of society, the brahmanas, acted as the teachers, the givers of Vedic wisdom. Since brahmanas were respected by others, there was no need for them to go out and actively search for students. The rest of society would automatically seek out the counsel of the brahmanas, sending their children to live with them in their youth.

Valmiki's gurukula In the Kali Yuga, however, many are claiming to be brahmanas simply off birthright; something not in line with the revealed scriptures. Moreover, many brahmanas also claim that Vedic wisdom is meant exclusively for those born into the Vedic system, i.e. those who have a family lineage which dates back to famous brahmanas, kshatraiyas, and vaishyas of the past. If we apply even the slightest intelligence, we’ll see that this logic is faulty. Since spiritual life relates to the relationship between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul, God, the discipline is open to everyone. Ancestry is a material concept, something related to the time, place, and circumstance of one’s birth. This has no bearing on the soul; hence it has nothing to do with a person’s relationship to God or their eligibility for hearing about Him. Certainly some circumstances are more conducive to others when it comes to spiritual life. Taking birth in a family of brahmanas who are actively engaged in Krishna’s service is certainly a great boon. On the flip side, taking birth in a family of non-devotees definitely reduces the chance of being imbibed with the traditions and practices of the Vedas. But in both of these situations, the eligibility for reconnecting with Krishna is not affected. Every individual soul is equal, and thus everyone is a candidate for returning to the spiritual world after their current life ends.

“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth-women, vaishyas [merchants], as well as shudras [workers]—can approach the supreme destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.32)

Lord Chaitanya Probably the most famous book of the Vedic tradition is the Bhagavad-gita, a discourse on spiritual topics given by Krishna Himself. In this book, Krishna mentions that the teachings found within should not be spoken to a person who is a non-devotee or one who is envious of the Lord. These are certainly valid concerns that should be taken into account when teaching others, but the underlying benefit to preaching doesn’t change. Lord Chaitanya, who advented some five hundred years ago, especially stressed preaching about Krishna through the chanting process. Since Krishna is non-different from His name, anyone who hears or recites His name in a loving way could have direct association with the Lord. This association then helps the conditioned living entity rekindle their interest and attachment towards the Lord, paving the way for the acquisition of spiritual knowledge. Therefore Lord Chaitanya, breaking against the current standards of the time, travelled all across India and freely spread the names of God to anyone who would listen. Before leaving this earth, He established an institution of preaching and instruction carried out by His closest associates. That tradition continues to this day through the sincere followers of Shri Gaurahari who have managed to spread Krishna’s glories to people around the world. In this way, the idea of Krishna consciousness being open to every person has gone from being a theory to a reality.

Though Lord Chaitanya’s movement is innocent enough, there is great opposition to it, especially from those who have taken shelter of someone besides Krishna. The reality is that every person is religious, even if they claim otherwise. What differs, however, is the object of worship. Those who are considered irreligious are simply worshipers of matter. They take the material body, which is composed of gross elements like bile, pus, and mucus, to be the beginning and end of everything. Knowing that they are going to die, they try to cram as much material enjoyment as possible into their short time on earth. This activity is often encouraged through the faulty “you only get one life” notion posited by many spiritual doctrines. The Vedas, however, tell us that the spirit soul is imperishable and that the current life of a conditioned living entity is simply a temporary condition. In this state of being, the spirit soul assumes a body composed of matter, the exact combination of which is determined by a person’s previous activities and desires. With new desires and activities come new bodies. In this way, the living entity is always working towards forming a future body. The time of death simply represents the complete change of bodies, the discarding of an old set of clothes in favor of a new one.

Radha Krishna Spirituality aims to shift the living entity’s focus from material life to spiritual life. Spiritual life addresses the plight of the soul. By working to develop a future spiritual body, the development of a future material body ceases. Once this material development is fully stopped, the liberated soul returns to the spiritual world, where it assumes a spiritual body and remains in God’s association forever.

The materialists, the worshipers of matter, don’t want to return to the spiritual world. Therefore they raise opposition to the preaching efforts of the sincere devotees. Gross materialists, mental speculators, and even devout meditational yogis, take shelter of argument, logic, and material enjoyment. Using these tools, they try their best to cut down the transcendental words put forth by the pure followers of the Supreme Lord. In politics, strategists say that it’s never a good idea to put an idea out on the table too quickly; the reason being that as soon as an idea is put forth, opponents can begin to pick away at it. The material world is full of dualities, so what one person views as beneficial, another can view as detrimental. Good and bad are simply relative terms, things which change based on the eye of the beholder. If someone puts forth a statement as simple as “the sky is blue”, there will immediately be opposition. Logic and argument can be applied to any word, so any truth or reality espoused by a philosopher or saintly person can quickly be picked apart simply through negation, skepticism, and the use of argument.

Ravana This was how Ravana and Kamsa, two famous demons of the past, would justify their behavior. Knowing that they were dreadful sinners who were destined for punishment, they wouldn’t dare posit their own theories on life. They lived off of killing the innocent and enjoying as much material opulence as possible. When taken to task for their shameful behavior, these two demons would conjure up their own arguments, attempting to cut down the words of the pious. This behavior continues to this day with the descendants of these two demons, the devout materialists and enemies of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 16.19)

Time, space, logic, and argument are simply creations of this temporary and ever-changing material world. They are meant to serve as the enjoyment for the wayward spirit souls, those who want separation from the Supreme Lord in the hopes of surpassing Him in strength, fame, and wealth. In this way, we see that Krishna is the most benevolent Lord, for He allows those who want to forget Him to take shelter of meaningless concepts. The brain is a material creation after all, and logic and argument serve to give satisfaction to this brain. As established in Lord Chaitanya’s ultimate conclusion of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, the relationship between the Supreme Lord and the living entities is that of simultaneous oneness and difference. This truth is inconceivable, which means that no amount of logic or argument can enable a person to truly understand it.

Lord Chaitanya If we can’t understand God through truths and postulates, what’s the point to studying Vedic wisdom? The purpose of the Vedas, and preaching for that matter, is to give the sincere souls, those wanting to reconnect with their long-lost friend in the spiritual sky, a chance at perfection in life. The most effective way to take in this information is through the submissive hearing process. It was for this reason that Lord Chaitanya established the congregational chanting, sankirtana, as the topmost religious practice. Let everyone in the world hear the transcendental sound vibrations of Hare Krishna, Hare Rama. If even one person reconnects with Krishna as a result of hearing this sound, then it is worth tolerating the insults and opposition of thousands of Kamsas and Ravanas. One pure devotee of Krishna shines brighter than a thousand demons.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spending Capital

Lord Rama “O best of the Ikshvakus, considering Your powerful divine and human capabilities, please strive for the destruction of Your enemies.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.20)

The possession and spending of political capital are pretty important concepts in the area of public policy. Capital usually relates to assets or something which has money-earning potential. In the business world, money earned hopefully equates to profit, so if a person possesses capital it means they have something in their possession which can be used to further their interest, i.e. profit. It is very important to not let this capital go to waste, for if we have a chance to go after what we want, we should take full advantage; “opportunity knocks” as the famous saying goes. While this principle holds true in our business and public policy ventures, it takes on an even greater importance in the area of spirituality and the dissemination of spiritual information.

Congress The importance of having capital and spending it can be easily illustrated in the political realm. Let us examine what occurs when a new President takes office in America. Generally, there is a “honeymoon period” where Congress lets its guard down in relation to fighting with the new President. In today’s day and age, every issue is fought vigorously at the political level. This is because not only are the leaders elected through a democratic process, but so is legislation. Aside from the elections of the many members of Congress, there are many votes that take place in specific committees, on the floor of the House and Senate, and then in conference committee. With so many votes taking place, there is a constant struggle for power. Just changing the minds of a few members of Congress can turn a failing bill into a passing one.

When a new President takes office, they usually inherit some political capital. This means that the country at large is optimistic and is willing to give the “new guy” the benefit of the doubt. So if a new President wants to pass a certain piece of legislation, it is best to try to push it forward during this period. The general theory is that if a politician has political capital, he or she should spend it; otherwise it goes to waste. How does this happen? The news cycle changes every minute of every day. The news media acts like drive-by shooters in a way, jumping into a story, firing a few bullets, causing random chaos, and then jumping on to a new story. This may seem like a harsh analogy, but it is undoubtedly true. News organizations have deadlines to meet and cover stories to write, so they aren’t overly concerned with the fallout to their news coverage. It is more important to have a story and release it than it is to worry about what happens after the story is printed.

newspaper This situation leads to a constantly changing political climate. One minute a President could have very high approval ratings, and the next minute not. Thus one never knows how long their political capital will last. It is best to push forward your agenda when you are popular and things are in your favor than when they are not. The President is deemed to have the bully pulpit, a term which references the fact that people listen when the President speaks. White house press conferences and speeches are covered by media outlets around the world. Even if the President sneezes or accidentally falls down, word about the incident spreads across the world. So if a President does have political capital to spend, he should not hesitate to go forward with his agenda. A high ranking administration official in America recently made the statement that “a crisis is a terrible thing to waste”, referring to how citizens are more apt to accept drastic legislation in the aftermath of a national disaster, natural or economic.

Capital boils down to capability. If one is capable of performing some type of activity, especially pertaining to one’s occupational duties, and fails to act, then it is quite a shame. The concept of nonviolence has gained in popularity over the past hundred years or so. It seems very nice on the surface. “Don’t inflict harm to anyone else.” This is a good principle to live by because we wouldn’t want anyone to hurt us unnecessarily. But what about dealings with aggressors? What if someone attacks us or one of our family members? What if someone breaks into our house and tries to steal our possessions? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that it is our duty to protect ourselves and our dependents. If we have the ability to thwart such attacks, we are required to do so. If we fail to act in these situations, we are liable in the eyes of nature.

Arjuna - a great warrior This should make sense to us. For instance, the primary role of government is to provide protection. Since life is generally peaceful in the Western countries, people often overlook this inherent duty of government. Rather, many people believe that the government’s job is to take care of the “little guy”, to level the playing field, or to go after the wealthy. While these may or may not be noble activities, government only exists to provide protection to society at large. Each one of us has a natural right to protect ourselves and our property, and thus government is an outgrowth of that right. If the government should fail to protect us from the bad guys, we would be left with anarchy and chaos. Government officials, especially those in the police force and military, have an obligation to protect the innocent civilians.

The Vedas tell us that each of us is born with certain qualities. We are all equal in a spiritual sense; i.e. we’re all spirit souls, part and parcel of God. But to live in this world, we assume different forms that possess different characteristics. Thus there can never be an equality of outcomes, as is so longed for by many. Since each of us possess different qualities, we naturally will have different desires and thus perform different work. In any society, there will be a group of people who are braver than the rest. This group will be chivalrous, strong, and prone to fighting under ethical guidelines. Since not every person will possess these qualities, it is incumbent upon those who do to take up the responsibility of protecting others. Should these people fail to abide by their duties, their skills and attributes essentially go to waste. If a person belongs to the warrior class of men, but takes up the occupational duties of a different class, who will be left to provide protection?

This concept holds true for each person in relation to their occupational duties and their qualities. Not only should the defenders defend, but the intelligent should teach. This was the example set by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. God is our supreme object of pleasure, and due to His causeless mercy, He kindly appears on earth from time to time to let us bask in that pleasure. Not only does the Lord descend to earth for the pleasure of the devotees, but He also comes to deal with the miscreants.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)

Lord Krishna Aren’t all of us sinners? Shouldn’t God be here all the time to deal with all of us? We are all most certainly sinners to some degree or another, so the Lord doesn’t use that as justification for His appearances. In general, the Lord is neutral towards everyone since all of us are involved in some type of karmic activity. Karma refers to actions performed for the advancement of our bodily condition. In this respect, there is really no “good” or “bad” bodily condition as it relates to spiritual life. So when and why does God appear? He comes to give protection to His devotees. A person who loves God and spends all their time serving Him has no association with karma. The Lord certainly appreciates such service and He never wants to see it interrupted. Devotional service is executed perfectly when it is unmotivated and uninterrupted.

Where does the interruption come from? As we all know, not everyone is keen on spirituality. On the extreme end, there are many who are openly against spirituality and will do whatever they can to thwart the religious activities of others. When the strength of such demons becomes too great, the Lord personally descends to earth and deals with the situation. This was the case with Lord Rama, who appeared in Ayodhya many thousands of years ago. When the Lord comes to earth, His form is referred to as an avatara, which means one who descends. Where is He coming from? The spiritual world, Vaikuntha, a place free of anxieties, is the eternal home of the Lord and His non-different expansions. Though there are many religious systems, there is only one God, and He is for everyone. The Vedas tell us that God has many names in accordance with His infinite qualities and spiritual activities. His original name and form is Krishna, who then kindly expands Himself into other forms which also reside in the spiritual world. When the avatara appears on earth, it is usually one of Krishna’s expansions who makes the descent.

Lord Rama Appearing in the guise of a kshatriya, or warrior, Rama’s duty was to provide protection to the innocent. In those days, the Treta Yuga, governments were run by the warrior class. We shouldn’t think of it as the military men riding around with tanks and machine guns imposing marshal law on everyone. On the contrary, the kings were quite chivalrous during those times, and they didn’t perform any activity without first consulting the priestly class of men, the brahmanas. Lord Rama, being God Himself, obviously didn’t require any counsel from anyone, for He was the Brahman that the brahmanas were well aware of.

Not only was Rama extremely intelligent, but so was His younger brother Lakshmana. On one occasion, the two brothers were in the forest along with Rama’s wife, Sita, when she was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. This infamous deed went down while Rama and Lakshmana were not by Sita’s side to protect her. Upon returning to their cottage, Rama saw that Sita was missing, so He immediately felt tremendous grief. He started asking the flowers and trees if they had seen her. Then He took to anger and was ready to destroy the whole world as revenge for His wife being taken away from Him.

Lakshmana At this time, Lakshmana kindly stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. The above referenced statement was part of his concluding remarks. We see that Lakshmana wholly recognized Rama’s divinity and fighting ability. He essentially told Rama, “You are more than capable of defeating anyone in this world. Therefore it is Your duty to get up and try to find Sita. If someone has taken her or hurt her, then it is Your duty to kill them, something which You can easily do.” This one statement by Lakshmana is important for two reasons. If a person is capable of defeating enemies, it is their duty to take the necessary actions to do so. If the heroic lie down and give way to lamentation, what hope is there for anyone else? People will have no one to look to for help, and they will feel as if they are not protected. This predicament is part of the storyline of your average Hollywood action movie. The hero goes through some troubling circumstance and seriously contemplates giving up. The people then are left to cower in fear of the enemy.

Lord Rama obviously didn’t need this advice, but He certainly appreciated it. The Lord would heed Lakshmana’s words and resume His search for Sita, eventually finding her and killing Ravana in the process. The second lesson we can take away from Lakshmana’s statement is that if we have knowledge on spiritual matters, we should take every opportunity we can to disseminate that information to others. Lakshmana was Rama’s younger brother, and thus a subordinate. Moreover, Lakshmana looked at Rama as his father, an object of worship. In this troubling situation, seeing his elder brother’s intelligence taken away by grief, it would have been understandable if Lakshmana just sat silently and said nothing. But Lakshmana was an intelligent devotee, having been taught about dharma and spirituality many times previously by Lord Rama Himself. Thus Lakshmana didn’t hesitate to correct his brother, in the end reminding Rama that he was just reiterating the same teachings the Lord had imparted on him on previous occasions.

“The human life is especially meant for self-realization. That is to say, man should come to know what he is, what the world is, and what the supreme truth is. Human life is a means by which the living entity can end all the miseries of the hard struggle for life in material existence and by which he can return to Godhead, his eternal home.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.10 Purport)

Shrila PrabhupadaSo how do Lakshmana’s teachings relate to us? First off, we are all blessed with the human form of life; a form which, in the opinion of the Vedas, is considered most auspicious. Why is this so? It is only in the human form of life that we can understand who we are, what our relationship to God is, and how we can break out of the repeated cycle of birth and death. So immediately upon taking birth, we human beings possess capital in the sense that we can work towards acquiring spiritual profit. If we don’t spend this capital, if we don’t take the necessary steps to understand God, we are no more advanced than the animals.

“Instruct everyone to follow the orders of Lord Shri Krishna as they are given in the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad-Bhagavatam. In this way become a spiritual master and try to liberate everyone in this land.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 7.128)

Lord Chaitanya and associates Then there are those who have been fortunate enough to learn about Krishna by reading the Bhagavad-gita or by hearing from other devotees. For such fortunate souls, it is their duty to try their best to spread this same information to as many people as possible. It doesn’t mean that we all have to take up the renounced order of life and open up hundreds of temples around the world. This certainly would be nice, but it’s not required. The simplest way to teach others about Krishna is to always speak about Him and to always chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting is one way to teach others, but we can also talk about Krishna’s pastimes, explain why the soul is more important than the body, etc. There are so many little things that we can do that will go a long way towards spreading God consciousness around the world. We should have no fear in this respect, for we all have some capability in this area. There is nothing lost in the process, while there is everything to be gained. Spiritual knowledge is a terrible thing to waste, so we should make the most of the opportunities we have. This was the path taken by Lakshmana, and we are forever grateful to him for the example he set.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010


Lord Krishna “Shri Krishna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone's heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.17)

For strict followers of the Vedic tradition, the highest societal designation one can achieve is that of a brahmana. A brahmana is a person who knows Brahman, or the all-pervasive spiritual energy, the representation of the Absolute Truth. All living entities are Brahman, but they are currently unaware of it. When one takes the necessary steps to realize Brahman, they can be recognized as a brahmana. In order to achieve this high platform of understanding, one must refrain from certain activities, with special attention given to four specific engagements. These four activities constitute the pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. While it is fairly obvious why violence towards animals, excessive drinking, and overindulgence in sex life are harmful, the restriction on gambling may seem a bit puzzling. How does refraining from playing dice, betting on sporting events, and hitting up the blackjack table help us in spiritual life? The issue boils down to honesty, a key prerequisite for returning to the spiritual world.

While most of the spiritual disciplines practiced today put forth an idea as to what the ultimate objective in life is, i.e. that of returning to the kingdom of heaven, the cause of the living entity’s current situation is usually omitted. It’s nice to know that our goal should be to act piously so that God will be happy, but why does this behavior please the Lord? Moreover, how did we separate from Him in the first place? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this separation and connection ultimately come down to the issue of desire.

Lord Chaitanya Lord Chaitanya, one of India’s most famous preachers, philosophers, and divine figures, established the ultimate philosophical and spiritual conclusion of achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which states that the living entities, the autonomous individual spirit souls residing in both the spiritual and material worlds, are both one with and different from the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original Personality of Godhead. This equality with God means that the individual souls are blissful in nature and completely independent in their desires. No one can tell the spirit souls what to do, where to go, and more importantly, what to want. At the same time, the original Personality of Godhead, the person we refer to as God, is superior in quantitative powers. God is always superior to and different from the individual souls, so in this respect, His autonomy is greater. Since God resides in the spiritual world, He is the king of His castle, the master of His domain. When the individual souls, the tiny separated expansions of the Absolute Truth, desire to imitate God and His power of authority, they are sent to a different land, a replica of the spiritual world. This isn’t meant to be a punishment, but rather a way for the kind and compassionate Supreme Lord to allow His internal energy expansions to live out their desires. The individual souls have independence in their desires, so if they want separation from the supreme object of pleasure, it is granted.

When religious leaders speak of behaving piously and acting according to the dictates of established scriptures, the underlying motivation is the hope for changing the worshiper’s desires. If a person sincerely desires to return to their original home, the spiritual sky where the Personality of Godhead resides alongside His liberated associates, their wish will come true. The key is to have this desire at the forefront of one’s consciousness, in a purified state, not tinged by any defects. This is where the issue of honesty comes into play. Since God is the Absolute Truth, those who associate with Him must also be truthful. This pure honesty especially applies to desire, the pure passion to associate with God in a loving way, without any need for the usurpation or imitation of the Lord’s powers of creation, maintenance, and destruction. For one who extirpates all dishonesty from the heart, there is every chance of achieving the ultimate objective of returning to the spiritual sky after death. From the Bhagavad-gita, a concise and complete treatise on Vedic philosophy, we learn that the purified souls, those who honestly desire God’s association, immediately ascend to the spiritual sky upon quitting their body. Having returned to the imperishable realm, the liberated soul never has to descend to the flawed material world again.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)

Lord Krishna and Arjuna Why is the material world considered flawed? At this point, the reason should be fairly obvious. Lord Krishna, or God, created the material world to be a place separate from His spiritual abode. Having placed exalted living entities known as demigods in charge of the various departments of the creation, the Lord sits back and acts as a neutral witness as the living entities go about their activities. Since God is not directly involved in the day-to-day dealings of material affairs, the separated realm must be considered a miserable place. Why does Krishna play a passive role? In the spiritual world, all activities are directed at pleasing Krishna, or one of His primary expansions. The liberated spirit soul offers service to Krishna in their particular mood of choice, either as a friend, parent, servant, lover, etc. In the material world, the nature of activities is different. Separated in terms of consciousness from Krishna, everyone is trying to be the Supreme Controller and the Supreme Ruler. While the magnitude of this desire may vary from person to person, the underlying penchant to be lord and master is there.

Now that we have established the root cause of all material activities, the path to success in spiritual life can be easily deduced. If we can eliminate the root cause of our material bondage, the one thing that causes us to repeatedly go through births and deaths, we can begin to take the necessary steps towards liberation. Routing out the flawed desire to imitate God is not an easy thing; therefore the revealed scriptures divide spiritual activities into different sections, with various do’s and don’ts prescribed for the conditioned living entities. For the people of this age, the primary “do” 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”. This “do” is more effective than refraining from any “don’t” because it tackles the root cause of our bondage with an assertive approach. In any field of activity, game, or competition, it is always better to play offense instead of relying on defense. Offense is proactive; the practitioner has a choice in what moves to make, and they don’t live in fear. By proactively engaging in the chanting process, the central component to the sublime engagement known as bhakti-yoga, one can very quickly eradicate the flawed desire to imitate Krishna, and reassume their true nature of Brahman.

Shri Shri Nimai Nitai chanting Hare Krishna Dedication to this offensive strategy is certainly effective, but for most conditioned souls, there must be a defense as well; a set of don’ts that need to be adhered to. In the Vedic tradition, as in any other spiritual discipline, the list of restricted activities is quite comprehensive. Therefore, for the people of this age, the four most dangerous activities, those things which are the greatest hindrances towards advancement in spiritual life, are given attention. These activities are meat eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. Meat eating is sinful because it requires unnecessary violence, something is not allowed in the spiritual world. The laws of karma are quite fair, so if we kill another living entity without justification, we are forced to suffer the negative consequence, the worst of which is the repetition of birth and death. Illicit sex is considered the greatest sin because it keeps one’s desires firmly fixed on the illusory energy known as maya. Maya means that which is not, or that which is the opposite of pure spirit [God]. Attachment to maya, manifested through sex life, guarantees that one will remain in the material world. Intoxication takes away cleanliness and intelligence. An intoxicated person will have trouble understanding matters pertaining to God and also adhering to guidelines. It’s difficult to play offense while drunk. If the goal is to defeat our flawed desire to imitate God, we must be sober during our fight.

Gambling is one of the more interesting sinful activities. At quick glance, it seems sort of strange to include gambling as a primary sin. After all, isn’t gambling just having fun? You get a bunch of your friends together and hit up a casino. You play a little craps, roulette, and blackjack, and have a good time. You can also gamble on sporting events, something which increases the enjoyment of watching the game. If you have something at stake in the game, you’ll take a greater interest in it. The reason gambling is listed as one of the primary sins is that it takes away one’s honesty. This honesty is a requirement for one wanting to return to the spiritual world. If a person is dishonest, how can they be trusted? If we’re telling Krishna that we want to be with Him at all times and that we want to love Him without any motive, how can He believe us if we are committed to dishonesty?

Football To illustrate the influence of dishonesty in gambling, let us study a simple example. In the modern age, playing fantasy sports has become one of the more popular pastimes. Playing a fantasy sport involves getting a group of other individuals together to form teams in a league. Each player owns their own team, which is a lineup consisting of real-life players in a specific sport. The fantasy league follows a sports league, like the NFL, MLB, NHL, etc. For this example, let’s use Fantasy Football. Prior to the NFL season starting, the fantasy teams will hold a draft, where each owner gets to pick the players that will play on their team. Once the draft is over, the teams set their lineups for the first week. In most fantasy football leagues, the format is that of head-to-head, with one team putting their lineup of players against another team’s lineup. Winning and losing are determined by the performance of the real-life players. For example, say that the quarterback I have on my fantasy team has a great week in his game, he will accumulate a certain number of points for my fantasy team. The team with the most accumulated points by all the players in the lineup wins each week.

So far so good, right? No cheating? One of the more intriguing aspects of fantasy sports is the trade. No matter what league you play in, there will always be someone who is looking to swindle other players. They will offer up trade after trade, where they make a proposition to give up certain players on their team in exchange for certain players on the other team. The concept of trading is built exclusively on the principle of cheating. The idea is to cheat the other player, taking his good players while giving him not-so-good players in return. The goal is to find someone who is gullible or unintelligent enough to not realize that he is being swindled.

Goaltender Patrick Roy It can certainly be argued that this tactic isn’t cheating, but rather just an ordinary part of any game. Cheating is usually associated with breaking the rules, ignoring established codes of conduct in order to gain an advantage. Yet why should the definition be limited in this way? The aim of playing dice, roulette, blackjack, or sports in general, is to gain an advantage over the competition. For example, in the sport of hockey, if the goaltender is leaning towards one side during a particular play, the announcers will say that he is cheating. This references the fact that in all fairness, the goaltender would take a certain position in the net, but since he wants to gain an advantage on a particular play, he is leaning towards one side instead of taking the more neutral position.

“I am also the gambling of cheats, and of the splendid I am the splendor. I am victory, I am adventure, and I am the strength of the strong.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 10.36)

The desire to gain an advantage stems from the desire for victory, which is an outgrowth of the desire to imitate God. One of Krishna’s names is Ajita, which means unconquerable. No one can defeat Krishna in any venture without His sanction. Desiring to imitate the Lord, the conditioned living entities are allowed to pursue their dream of attaining “Ajita” status. This desire, however, can never be accomplished, for none of us can cheat the way that Krishna can. God is so great that if He wants to gain an advantage in a particular venture, He’ll gain the best possible advantage. The living entities don’t have this ability.

Roulette The great Vaishnava saints didn’t concoct the idea of the four regulative principles on a whim. There is intelligence behind these restrictions. Gambling robs us of our honesty, an honesty which is required in our dealings with our supreme object of pleasure, Lord Shri Krishna. Gambling also causes agitation of the mind, for one is always looking for the next big pay out. There is the famous concept of the gambler’s fallacy, wherein a person thinks they are due a victory after having suffered so many defeats while playing a game of chance. The odds of winning and losing are purely mathematical, statistics which are easily deduced by students of logic. The gambler, however, desperately desiring victory, throws logic and mathematics out the window.

Lord Krishna For these and many other reasons, we should pay careful attention to the activities that we take up. The ultimate objective is to change our desires. Whatever we can do to regain our pure loving attachment to God is what we should be committed to. The most effective method is the chanting process. By having a strong offense, along with an alert defense, we can gain victory in our battle against maya. Checking all other desires at the door, we can reenter the spiritual world as liberated souls who love Krishna honestly and purely.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Waking Up

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)

Sleep is definitely something we need, but at the same time, we don’t want to be asleep when fun things are happening. In these situations, we prefer to be wide awake so we can enjoy the experience. In a similar manner, spiritual life is meant to provide unending bliss to the soul. In our conditioned state, we are forgetful of this fact, so in order to rekindle the internal spiritual spark inside, we need someone to wake us up from the long slumber that we have been in.

“O son of Bharata, the mode of ignorance causes the delusion of all living entities. The result of this mode is madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.8)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna Sleep equates to inactivity, so in Vedic terminology it is considered to be part of the mode of ignorance or darkness. Darkness and ignorance are essentially the same thing when discussing the issue of knowledge, for one who can't see due to the absence of light will always be in ignorance. The daylight hours are much more fruitful since we can see everything clearly and go about our business without any impediments. The mode of ignorance consists of any activity which negatively affects us, or in the more strict definition, any activity which is lacking in intelligence or passion. It is obvious to see why too much sleep would be considered an activity devoid of intelligence and passion. We certainly aren’t acting with any knowledge when we sleep. Since the mind works in mysterious ways, we don’t even have control over what we will dream about. We don’t really acquire any knowledge while sleeping because we aren’t even able to think clearly. Acquiring knowledge requires thoughts and ideas to be taken into the brain, processed, and then formed into conclusions. When we sleep, we are unable to take in any new information, thus we have nothing new to process cognitively.

Sleep is also lacking in passion because we’re not actively working for a desired result. Sleep is the antithesis of activity, so there is essentially no progress made towards a positive outcome. This isn’t to say that resting isn’t required. Lord Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita that the true yogi doesn’t sleep too much or too little. Everything is done in moderation. So what are the effects of oversleeping? For starters, we’ll miss out on activities of interest. If we oversleep during a weekday, we will be late for work or school. This means that we will miss out on earning money at work or taking in new information at school. Ironically enough, oversleeping actually keeps us tired throughout the day, for the body becomes accustomed to inactivity.

Though sometimes we may think that sleeping all day would be fun, none of us would really prefer this lifestyle. Though sleep provides temporary relief from life’s pressures, there is no enjoyment in inactivity. So how do we conquer this desire to sleep? We must be active. We must have something that keeps us awake at night and gets us out of bed early in the morning. We have certainly experienced these situations in our lifetime. For example, young children love to stay up late on weekends. They’ll do whatever they can - watch television or play video games - in order to stay awake for as long as possible. On the other side of the equation, if we have something to do in the morning hours, we will make sure to get up on time. Nothing will get us up in the morning faster than if we have a plane to catch or a big meeting to attend. In these instances, sleep is of secondary concern.

Thus we see that the antidote for sleep is activity, or passion. It is more important to sleep to live, rather than live to sleep. Though passionate activity can break us away from our desire to sleep, it won’t help us in the spiritual sense. One may ask what is the difference. The answer is that every activity can be classified as material or spiritual. In the simplest definition, material activity can be thought of as anything that pertains to the development of the body.

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

Lord Krishna Material activity is what constitutes karma. Most of us are familiar with this term already. If we see something bad happen to someone else, we’ll say, “Oh, they must have had bad karma.”, or, “Oh, they had this coming to them for a long time. From all the bad things they did previously, they accumulated so much bad karma.” So we associate karma with positive and negative fruitive results. This is certainly one valid definition for karma, but on a higher level, the term really pertains to any activity that leads to the further development of the body. When we speak of good and bad results, we are referring to conditions that affect the body, which is a covering consisting of both gross and subtle elements.

The subtle material elements are mind, intelligence, and false ego. Thus any fruitive result which leads to our happiness can be thought of as something that positively affects the subtle element of the mind. In a similar manner, good fortune such as wealth, fame, and beauty is beneficial to the gross elements, i.e. the outer body consisting of visible elements. The laws of karma are so intricate that the results of fruitive activity aren’t only seen in the current lifetime. Rather, karma also affects what type of body we receive in the next life. “The next life you say?” Yes, our soul is eternal but our bodies are not. Our current life is by no means the first one we’ve had. The soul never takes birth nor dies.

“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, Bg. 2.20)

Lord KrishnaBased on these facts, we see that birth actually refers to the time when our soul accepted its current material covering. Even our current material covering changes, for we don’t have the same body that we used to have during our childhood. Birth and death refer to the body that we currently identify with. Thus karma affects the fortunes of the current and future outer coverings. Moreover, the activities we performed in previous lives determined the circumstances of our current birth and the body we received.

There is another type of activity, however, which is not related to karma. Since karma relates to the development of the material body, it has no bearing on the soul. The soul, or atma, forms the basis of our identity, and it is unchanging. The soul never changes in quality, but it does have one defect: it cannot determine where it will remain on its own. Free-will is certainly an essential characteristic of the soul, but the results of freedom are not in the hands of the soul. Since the soul’s movement is limited, it must associate with the senses it acquires while contained within a material body. In this sense, the soul appears to be trapped, for the gross senses will cause the soul to perpetually remain inside of a material dress through the laws of karma.

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

Lord Krishna Luckily for us there is another soul that resides side by side with our individual soul. This soul is known as the Supersoul, or Paramatma, and is a direct expansion of God. The Supreme Lord is so nice that He kindly expands Himself as the Supersoul and resides within the heart of every living entity. The Supersoul is a neutral observer, someone who is unaffected by karma. Since it is a direct representation of God, the Paramatma cannot be subject to the material forces.

So if the Paramatma is a neutral observer, why is it even inside our body? Couldn’t God just remain in the spiritual world and let everything happen on its own? He most certainly could do this, but He’d rather try to help awaken our dormant love for Him. Material activities are dictated by the demands of the senses, i.e. the body. Spiritual activities, however, are dictated by the Supersoul, the Supreme Spirit. Karma relates to the development of the material body, whereas spiritual activity relates to the future condition of the soul. It is not that the soul changes or acquires new attributes, but rather it evolves. This evolution occurs through a changing of bodies. If one engages exclusively in spiritual activities, the future development of the material body ceases. This development stops because one is guaranteed to receive a spiritual body in the next life. When one receives a spiritual body, they ascend to the spiritual planets, where God Himself personally resides. Anyone who goes there never has to leave.

“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.15)

Hanuman So the formula seems straightforward enough. Take direction from the Supersoul and awaken from our sleeping state. But one question remains. How do we talk to the Supersoul? How do we take direction from it? The answer is that we must approach a pure devotee of the Lord, someone who has seen the truth. The Supersoul dictates from within, but one has to know how to see the Supersoul. This is where the spiritual master, or guru, comes in. The spiritual master guides us in the performance of spiritual activities, an engagement which will allow us to take direction from the Supersoul.

One of the greatest spiritual masters is Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. The Vedas tell us that there is only one God, and that His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, who is thus known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. To kindly lend His assistance to the devotees on earth, Krishna periodically appears in the guise of a human being. One such appearance occurred many thousands of years ago when the Lord incarnated as the prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. Rama had three younger brothers, of whom Lakshmana was the one closest to Him in affection. Lakshmana followed Rama wherever He went, even when the Lord was exiled to the forest for fourteen years.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana Both Rama and Lakshmana were married at the time of the exile punishment. Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita Devi, insisted on coming along, so the three travelled through the woods together for many years. On one unfortunate occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the demon Ravana. This all happened while Rama and Lakshmana were not with her. Upon returning to the campsite and seeing that Sita was missing, Rama immediately gave way to lamentation. He couldn’t live without His most precious Sita, who was devoted to Him in thought, word, and deed.

At this time, Lakshmana stepped in and offered some sound words of advice. He told Rama not to lament and to remain firm on the path of dharma, or occupational duty. He instructed Rama that even if Sita were dead, it was still His duty to fight on and not lament, for every person must suffer through gain and loss in life. In essence, Lakshmana was serving as Rama’s spiritual master, awakening Him from His sleeping state. How could Lakshmana instruct God? In the above referenced statement, we see that even Lakshmana knew that no one could teach Rama anything. Lakshmana had actually learned all these pertinent facts relating to loss and gain from Rama on many previous occasions, and was thus only repeating Rama’s own instructions back to Him. Moreover, Lakshmana reiterated that he was simply trying to arouse knowledge that already existed inside of Rama. The Lord very much appreciated His younger brother’s counsel. This is the way the Supreme Pleasure Giver operates with His devotees. He has so much love and affection for them that He creates circumstances where they can shine. The Lord understands that people will chastise and criticize Him from time to time, which He is fine with, but He never wants to see His devotees criticized. Therefore He takes every opportunity to glorify them.

Shri Rama Darbar The lesson here is that we don’t know what the future holds. Even if we take to passionate activity and avoid sleep, we don’t know what karma will have in store for us. It is better to take shelter of the divine energy, represented by spiritual activity. The great devotees of the Lord advise everyone in this age to take to the simplest spiritual practice of them all, the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting, along with hearing, are the two most effective processes of devotional service. People engaged in such spiritual activity will slowly learn how to take direction from the Supersoul and thus reawaken their loving propensity towards the Supreme Lord.