Saturday, October 9, 2010

The Highest Gain

Rama and Lakshmana "O best of men, what is the use of Your destroying the entire world? After finding out Your sinful enemy, you should uproot him alone." (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.21)

The wise never act on whims. Rather, they carefully study the results of potential actions and then decide whether the reward is worth the effort and the risk associated with the undertaking. Every action carries some risk to it, even something as simple as standing up. This is because every action performed on the material platform has a commensurate reaction. The fruits of action, karma-phalam, sometimes manifest immediately, while at other times they come to us in a future life. There is risk in every action because the results of our karma are unknown to us, and sometimes the results don’t last very long. Thus we never know exactly what might happen when we take on a certain task. To decide what should be done and what shouldn’t, we must carefully study the desired result and then also evaluate whether the resulting fruit is worth having.

Start of the Bharata War So far this sounds somewhat cryptic, so let’s look at a few real life examples to gain a clearer understanding. The issue of violence is often discussed amongst the intelligentsia. The issue itself is quite polarizing, for people immediately jump to one side or the other. Some believe that violence is never necessary. They see the wars going on around them and just scratch their heads. “Why would young men want to kill one another? What is to be gained? Why can’t people just get along in peace? If one side were to commit themselves to nonviolence, then the rest of the world would soon follow.” The immediate results of violent action are easily perceptible. Violence, in its relation to war, leads to death, which signals the end of the current body’s material efforts. When someone dies, they no longer have the opportunity to take actions aimed at satisfying their senses. All ties of affection are immediately relinquished and the friends and family of the departed are left to mourn. Based on these negative consequences, we can understand why many people would be so opposed to violence.

In the paradigm of warfare, the people perpetrating the violence are hoping to achieve the end-goal of victory. Victory signals the defeat of the enemy, with their will to fight being removed. Surrender from the other side then hopefully leads to a peaceful condition for the victors, an end to hostilities. On the flip side, there are those who are in favor of nonviolence. The result of nonviolence is the absence of warfare. When there isn’t war, there will be peace. At the same time, however, aggressors will be let off the hook for any nefarious activity. For example, if one side wants to wage war in order to gain control over a certain tract of land, if the other side chooses nonviolence, naturally the aggressive side will claim victory and take the land for themselves. In this scenario, nonviolence, though saving lives, results in surrender, with the enemy taking over land that might not rightfully belong to them.

Battlefield of Kurukshetra So which side does morality come down on? Are the proponents of war correct in believing that victory is a noble enough goal to make violence worth it? Or are the pacifists correct in asserting that the lack of violence makes surrendering worthwhile? In order to make a rational judgment in any situation, we have to evaluate the fruits of action. So far we have established what the fruits of action will be in both cases, but we haven’t ascribed any merit or demerit to them.

So how do we rate results? This material world is full of dualities. One person may enjoy spicy food, while another person may abhor it. One person may prefer the winter months due to the cold weather, while another person may enjoy the summer months for the bright sunshine and warm temperatures. How do we decide which viewpoint is correct? Is this even possible? It seems like everyone has different desires, and thus we see so many different kinds of work performed. Is there really a way to judge which action is virtuous and which isn’t?

“Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.18)

Lord Krishna According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, there is actually an easy way to decide whether a particular action should be performed or not. What has been described thus far is guna and karma. Guna is a Sanskrit word which refers to material qualities. Each living entity possesses a body composed of a combination of the three gunas of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. In addition, every fruitive activity we perform, or karma, can also be filed under one of these three modes. When rating karmic activity, we usually associate pious acts as those which bring about “good” karma-phalam, or fruitive results. These activities fall under the mode of goodness. If we perform activities in the mode of goodness, we further the position of the material body, both in this life and in future ones. For example, if we faithfully study the Vedas and perform various sacrifices, we will ascend to the heavenly planets in the afterlife. Upon reaching this realm, one is given a heavenly body which allows them to enjoy a thousand times more than they can on earth.

The mode of passion brings about neutral results. For example, working hard simply for the acquisition of money and wealth can be thought of as an act of neutrality. Money is certainly required to maintain our lifestyle, but it quickly runs out, thus forcing us to repeat the cycle of work again. The mode of passion eventually leads to a neutral state in the afterlife. If a living entity is currently in a human body, through action in the mode of passion, they remain in an earthly body in the next life.

The mode of ignorance can be equated with “bad” karma. What we would characterize as “stupid” behavior is what the mode of ignorance consists of. Unnecessarily killing others, stealing, sleeping too much, constant intoxication, etc., all lead to demotion to a lower species in the next life. Thus one should avoid the mode of ignorance at all costs.

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

Goswami Tulsidas So it seems like we have the issue resolved. Simply act in the mode of goodness, and everything will be okay. Ah, but there is a catch. Though action in the mode of goodness leads to a heavenly body in the afterlife, one’s time in heaven is limited. Upon exhaustion of our good merits, we are forced to descend back to earth and go through the entire life cycle again. Goswami Tulsidas, the great devotee of Lord Rama, remarks that it is heard that after enjoying such great opulence in the heavenly kingdom, a person forgets about the time factor and their mortality. In this way, by becoming overly puffed up with pride and material enjoyment, knowledge of the truth gets covered up. Upon returning to earth, we’ll again have to deal with the issue of deciding what action should be performed and what shouldn’t. Those who possess a higher understanding of nature thus realize that even the mode of goodness leads to a neutral state. In this way, all activity of this material world can be considered equal in a sense, since the results of such action are only temporary.

“The branches of this tree extend downward and upward, nourished by the three modes of material nature. The twigs are the objects of the senses. This tree also has roots going down, and these are bound to the fruitive actions of human society.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.2)

So does this mean that we all should do whatever we want because it doesn’t matter in the end? Beyond the material nature is a spiritual nature. Though the spiritual nature is free of gunas, or material qualities, there are still activities performed within it. Spirituality is full of variegatedness. The material world is simply a perverted reflection of the purified realm. The various actions and reactions of material life can be thought of as emanating from a tree which has its roots upwards. This inverted situation is the result of the perverted reflection. The spiritual world contains the actual tree, the purified version of activity and enjoyment. This means that our real business is to take up spiritual activities, those actions which transcend the modes of material nature. Why is it important to rise above the three modes of material nature? As mentioned before, when deciding on whether a particular action should be taken, we need to study both the desired result and its importance. So what are the results of taking to spiritual activity? Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states that anyone who acts towards pleasing Him, i.e. doing those things which will make God happy, will never have to take birth again. Such devotees will ascend immediately to Krishna’s spiritual realm after death. In this way, spiritual activity brings about the highest gain.

Lord Krishna So what constitutes spiritual activity? In addition, does this mean that all the activities we are accustomed to performing are stupid? Sannyasis, or those in the renounced order of life, are often attached with this stigma of having a pessimistic outlook on life. The Vedas recommend that a person gradually progress through four spiritual stages, or ashramas, over the course of their lifetime. Sannyasa is the fourth and final stage where one completely renounces all ties to material life and sincerely engages in serving God. Service to God is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. It involves many different processes such as chanting, hearing, remembering, and offering prayers.

A person who is in the renounced order of life will naturally look at material activity as being second class. They will see people engaging in activities like drinking, gambling, and eating meat and think that such people are simply wasting their time. A bona fide sannyasi is a pure devotee of Krishna, so they don’t simply criticize people for engaging in mundane activity; they view everything with respect to Krishna. A pure devotee puts forth suggestions on what should be done to correct improper behavior. An example of this benevolence was seen with Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama.

Lord Rama Many thousands of years ago, during the Treta Yuga, Lord Krishna incarnated on earth as Lord Rama, a valiant warrior prince, the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya. As part of His pastimes, Rama spent fourteen years in the forest, living as a vanaprasthi with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana. Vanaprastha is the ashrama right before sannyasa, and it is the stage where a person leaves their home and travels around with their wife, living off very little. What’s ironic is that when Rama left for the forest, He had only been married for twelve years and thus wasn’t necessarily ready for vanaprastha. The mendicant lifestyle was forced upon Him as a result of a request put forth by His step-mother Kaikeyi.

Nevertheless, God is the ultimate renunciate, so He had no problem roaming around like a hermit for fourteen years. Unfortunately, during the exile period, Sita would be kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana while Rama and Lakshmana were not by her side. Returning to their cottage, Rama saw that Sita was missing and gave way to lamentation. It is the duty of every husband to protect their wife under any and all circumstances. There is a great responsibility that comes with marriage; it is not simply a license to have sex. In the Vedic tradition, every institution and regulation is intended to provide spiritual wisdom and act as a gradual progression towards the end-goal of Krishna consciousness. Though Rama was God, He was playing the part of a human being, so He abided by all the Vedic samskaras, or reformatory processes.

Sita and Rama When He saw that Sita was missing, Rama felt bad for several reasons. First, He loved Sita very much. That is the beauty of the relationship between God and His devotees. The devotees abandon all desires for worldly enjoyment and take exclusively to devotional service. The Lord, for His part, becomes beholden to the devotees through a bond of deep affection. Sita, being an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, was an exceptional devotee and a representation of Krishna’s pleasure potency, hladini-shakti. Rama cannot live without Sita, and Sita cannot live without Rama. Even in separation, the two are always thinking of each other.

Rama was also disappointed because He had failed to protect His wife. God can never fail in providing protection, but Rama was playing the part of a human being and thus acting like someone who commits mistakes from time to time. What did Rama do next? First, He started wandering through the neighboring woods, asking all the trees and flowers if they had seen Sita. His sadness then quickly turned to anger. The sweet and gentle Lord decided He would destroy the whole world as revenge for its allowing Sita to be kidnapped. At this moment, Lakshmana stepped in to offer some sound words of advice.

Lakshmana Though a younger brother, Lakshmana too was a perfect devotee and thus not afraid to offer His service to God. It is the natural mentality of the dependents to ask for service from their superiors. We often pray to God to do certain things for us. The devotees are a little advanced, and as such, they look for any opportunity to give service to the Lord. In Lakshmana’s case, seeing his brother in a precarious condition presented an opportunity to offer something worthwhile to Rama. What was the nature of Lakshmana’s service? He simply repeated sound words of advice that Rama had offered to him on many previous occasions. He reminded Rama that one should be steady in the execution of their prescribed duties, no matter the result. Even if Sita were dead, it would not be cause for lamentation because every person in life must meet both good and bad fortune.

In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is asking what would be gained by destroying the world. Killing every living entity certainly wouldn’t bring Sita back, so the intended result itself was flawed. Lakshmana advised Rama to find out who took Sita and to then destroy them. The results of such activity would be the deserved punishment of the enemy and the hopeful rescue of Sita. Thus the intended results were in accordance with what Rama wanted. Moreover, by rescuing Sita, Rama would be performing His prescribed duties as a husband and prince. The Lord very much appreciated Lakshmana’s counsel, and in the end, He would do exactly what Lakshmana advised. Ravana would be found and defeated in battle, and Sita would be rescued.

We should apply the same criteria prior to taking up any activity. We should ask ourselves a series of questions. “What will the result of this action be? Is the result even something that I want? Can I choose a different course of action and achieve a more beneficial result?“ Luckily for us, we know that our ultimate objective is reconnecting with God, thus we can juxtapose the results of all activities with the ultimate result of returning back home, back to Godhead. For instance, if we apply this criterion towards the violence issue, we’d see that meat eating is completely unnecessary. Simply to satisfy the taste buds, we are sending innocent cows by the millions to the slaughterhouses each year. The positive result of satisfaction to our taste buds is short-lasting and also cancelled out by the negative reactions to our violence. In addition, meat eating does nothing to bring us closer to God.

Sita and Rama triumphantly returning homeLord Rama, however, took to violence and was acting completely in line with dharma, or occupational duty. This is the easiest way to decide what our course of action should be. Each of us has prescribed duties to perform according to our qualities. If we perform these activities with detachment and, at the same time, engage in devotional service, our lives will be perfect. The highest gain in life is to have association with God and His devotees, so all our activities should be performed with this goal in mind.

Friday, October 8, 2010


Lord Krishna with a brahmana “One who has actually realized that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is situated in everyone's heart and that every living being is part of the Lord does not make any distinction between the brahmana and the shudra, the poor (daridra) and the rich (dhani). Such a person sees all living beings equally and treats them equally, without discrimination.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 9.21.7 Purport)

One of the more common complaints lodged by citizens towards their government relates to the delivery of benefits to specific groups rather than society at large. One politician is looking to help one group of voters, while another is looking to aid a completely different cross-section of people. After applying a little intelligence, the folly of this style of government is quickly revealed. Every citizen is equal in the eyes of the law. No one person should garner any favoritism over another, yet we see that just the opposite occurs. What can be done to rid the government of this practice? When will the day come when our leaders will stop hyphenating every one of us and start looking at everyone equally? While many solutions have been tried, only one works. This solution comes to us from the ancient seers of India; the great saints who spent much time pondering the truths of life, and who subsequently put such truths into written form.

Home construction To solve the issue relating to the hyphenation of citizens, we must first identify the root cause of such a mindset. Why would a politician choose to divide their citizens this way? The most obvious reason lies with vote-getting. In a democratic-style government, the leaders are elected through a popular vote. This means that winning and losing, who gets into power and who doesn’t, are determined by whoever can garner more votes. Depending on the scope of the election, the electorate can be small in size or it can be very large. Tackling a large problem directly can be a bit overwhelming at first, therefore the wise course of action is to divide the problem up into smaller portions. For example, when we are building a house, we don’t think of the finished product right away. Instead, we work on the foundation, laying the groundwork for the rest of the project. Then we handle the different components, like the columns, the electrical layout, and the divisions of the rooms. Similarly, when writing a large scale computer application, the project gets divided into different components. First the architecture is decided upon, then the different components are written. Even inside of each program, there are different modules, or units of code. You start out with something small and eventually work your way towards the finished product.

In the arena of politics, the formula for success is similar. Former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill once quipped that “all politics is local”. This means that since every issue boils down to local interests, the key to success is to find grassroots support amongst various groups who are enthused about voting. Extrapolating this out even further, success in politics relates to turnout, getting your base to come out in large numbers to vote. In order for this to occur, one must identify their base. The base consists of various special interest groups; bands of citizens who have formed together for a common cause. There are special interest groups concerned about taxes, gun rights, benefits for the poor, marriage rights, etc. The key to victory in an election is to first define which of these groups make up your base and then have as many members of this base come out and support you.

American Flag Winning the election is one thing, but governing is a different ballgame. After winning an election, all the people that turned out to vote for you must be rewarded. This is where all the special interest deals and earmarks come into play. Not only do the voting groups need to be rewarded for their efforts in previous elections, but they need to be kept satisfied in order to secure their vote in a future election. Politicians love to stay in office; as long as they are in a position of power, they garner great attention, wealth, and fame.

This special interest mentality is quite off-putting to the majority of the voting public. After all, isn’t the government supposed to administer the law fairly and equally? Taxes are collected from everyone, so shouldn’t the government exist to benefit every single citizen? Yet as much as people complain, the practice of divide-and-conquer continues. Politicians decide to help the African-Americans, Hispanic-Americans, Asian-Americans, Union-Americans, Christian-Americans, etc., instead of just helping all Americans, all the citizens of their country.

The source of the problem is vote-getting. Politicians want to win more than anything else, so they will do whatever it takes to achieve that end, even if it means favoring certain citizens over others. So how do we solve this problem? Do we change our way of government? That could certainly help, but such a change is not necessary. So far we have only discussed one side of the issue: the politician. There is also the other side: the voter. While the politician’s flawed viewpoint is due to his or her desire to gain office, such a mindset would never be adopted were it not effective. The divide-and-conquer technique is only effective if the voters buy into the promises made by the politicians. When politicians say they are for the “little guy”, the Hispanic, the Black, the foreclosure victim, the gun-owner, the businessman, they are hoping that citizens will identify themselves as belonging to one of these groups. Thus it is the mindset of the citizen that is the root cause of the hyphenated phenomenon.

Is this identification flawed? If I am a business owner and a politician says that he’ll help me out, should I not believe him? According to the ancient scriptures of India, this mindset is most certainly flawed. The identity of the individual comes from the soul. Let’s think of it in these terms: The practice of racism is widely shunned today because it is based on discrimination. One person is prejudging the qualities of another simply based on that person’s outward dress, their skin color. A white person is thinking a black person is inferior or defective in nature, and vice versa. It’s obvious to see why such a viewpoint is frowned upon, for a person’s character is determined by what’s inside the body. Just because a person’s skin color is a certain way doesn’t mean that they are defective, inferior, or superior.

Lord Krishna Shunning racism is certainly a good start, but the concept needs to be applied on a larger scale. Taking birth in this temporary and miserable world, the living entity falsely identifies with their outward features. Not only do people discriminate based on race, but on ethnicity, nationality, income, and geographical location as well. If there are no differences between people of the various races, there certainly aren’t differences between nationalities and occupations. One person may be a carpenter, while another is a doctor, but are they not both human beings? Since the Vedas come from God, Lord Krishna to be exact, they relate concrete information pertaining to the differences and similarities between life forms and species. Each individual life form has a spirit soul residing within. It is the presence of the soul which gives something life. Once the soul exits, the life form is considered dead. Vedic information tells us that not only do all human beings have a soul inside of them, but so do all animals, plants, beasts, and aquatics. In this regard, every form of life is constitutionally equal and should be treated as such.

“‘Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the original Personality of Godhead, Govinda, who regulates the sufferings and enjoyments due to fruitive activity. He does this for everyone—from the heavenly King Indra down to the smallest insect [indra-gopa]. That very Personality of Godhead destroys the karmic reactions of one engaged in devotional service.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.54)

So does this mean that we should treat the ants in the same way that we treat our fellow man? The short answer is “yes”, but this mindset is not easily adopted. One must first know the constitutional position of the individual soul. Only then can a person truly realize that all forms of life have a soul in them. Vedic information stipulates that there is a God, and though He may have different names, the name that best describes His all-merciful, all-attractive nature is Krishna. Lord Krishna is the origin of all souls, the island from which all other souls sailed away from at some time unknown to them. Since the natural home for the soul is with God, it is the soul’s inherent duty to always serve the Supreme Lord in a loving attitude. The set of guidelines, regulations, and prescribed activities that enable one to always maintain this link is known as dharma. Mankind is meant to always stay on the path of dharma, and thus always remain connected with Krishna. When the individual soul always remains in the company of the Supreme Soul, knowledge about the equality of all living entities is easily acquired.

Lord Krishna Just as we saw with the tasks of building houses and computer programs, the problem of the hyphenation of the electorate can only be solved by tackling smaller problems first. In this instance, the smaller problem, that of the material “skin disease”, is actually the root problem. We can’t expect our politicians to stop looking at citizens based on their bodily features until we shed this mindset ourselves. This purification of vision can only be achieved by adhering to dharma, and more specifically, bhagavata-dharma. Dharma is the set of law codes established by God, recommended activities aimed at keeping one on the virtuous path. In this sense, dharma can vary based on its intended object of connectivity. This speaks to God’s infinite nature. Some view God as being an all-inclusive energy, while others think of Him as a man in the sky who punishes those who forget Him. In this way, dharma can be directed at different features of the Lord. Bhagavata-dharma is more specific in that it aims to keep the living entity always connected with God in His feature of Bhagavan. Krishna is Bhagavan, the original form of Godhead which is all-blissful and the source of the greatest joy to the individual soul. While bhagavata-dharma can be quite complex, its quintessential act 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”.

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .”  (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

Radha Krishna Those who take up this chanting process are aiming to connect with Bhagavan. They immediately bypass Brahman and Paramatma realization. The mentally concocted objects of worship are also soon forgotten. Bhagavata-dharma is the highest dharma, the only one worth taking up. Through this process, one begins to see every person, every living entity, as being equal. Not only do the hyphens get removed from the various groups of countrymen, but all citizens of the world are seen as equal as well. When the majority of the electorate adopts this angle of vision, the divide-and-conquer method employed by the politicians will always fail. In this age of Kali, there is no way to rid mankind of the skin disease other than through this chanting process. Chant God’s names, stay connected with Bhagavan, and you will soon see that every person around you is a spirit soul who is meant to always be in the Lord’s association. This is the perfect vision.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Spiritual Doctor

Rama and Lakshmana “O best of men, what is the use of Your destroying the entire world? After finding out Your sinful enemy, You should uproot him alone.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.21)

Not only does love work in mysterious ways, but it makes us do crazy things. There is no denying this fact. The affection we feel for our loved ones can be so strong that it drives us to completely overlook rationality and the rules of propriety. When our feelings of attachment drive us close to the edge, we need someone who can help bring back our sanity. This person is our ever well-wishing friend, someone who saves us from ourselves.

Radha Krishna Why does love lead us to madness? The ways of this world are quite mysterious, but it is undoubtedly true that love is the strongest emotion that we know. Love is an outgrowth of service; offering something of ourselves to someone else. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that this penchant for service is derived from our natural disposition as loving servitors of the Supreme Lord. The soul residing within is inherently a part and parcel of the supreme whole known as God. Just as the sunshine has an original source, the sun, we living entities are like fragmental sparks emanating from the huge spiritual fire of energy known as God. These two entities, God and His fragmental parts, aren’t two randomly disjointed entities. There is an explicitly defined relationship between the two. One is superior, while the other is inferior. Thus it is the natural disposition of the inferior to be a servant of the superior. When this natural order of things is in place, both the inferior and the superior live together in harmony.

In our current condition, we are unaware or forgetful of this natural order. Thus our penchant for service gets shifted elsewhere, i.e. to friends, family, and paramours. Since this desire for service is so strong, it leads to the formation of attachment and bonds that are tough to break. Along with the desire for service comes the desire to please the object of our affection. There are two primary effects of our strong attachments. The first effect is seen through our desire to protect our loved ones and to ensure their well-being at all times. A poignant example of this was seen with the kshatriya warrior, Arjuna, some five thousand years ago.

“It is better to live in this world by begging than to live at the cost of the lives of great souls who are my teachers. Even though they are avaricious, they are nonetheless superiors. If they are killed, our spoils will be tainted with blood.” (Arjuna speaking to Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.5)

Arjuna in distress The Bhagavad-gita is one of the most famous religious books in history. Known as The Song of God, the Gita contains the essence of Vedic wisdom. Though the Gita is considered a religious scripture, it is essentially just a transcript of a conversation that took place in real life between Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His cousin Arjuna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. On the eve of a great war that was to see millions of soldiers killed, the lead warrior for the side of the Pandavas, Arjuna, gave way to lamentation and fear. Arjuna became hesitant to fight because he didn’t want to see his friends and family members, who were fighting for the opposing army, put into any type of danger or discomfort.

For a warrior, this wasn’t customary behavior. Being in an army means having to kill the enemy in fair combat. If a fighter is reluctant to fight, it stands to reason that he won’t be very successful in killing enemies, which is the essence of war. War is a terrible thing that should be avoided at all costs. However, once a war starts, the objectives are quite simple: kill people and break things. The more people you kill from the opposing side and the more of their stuff you break, the more likely you are to win. Why would Arjuna, the greatest bow warrior of his time, not want to fight? The opposing side, the Kauravas, consisted of Arjuna’s cousins, grandfather, and spiritual guide. Arjuna didn’t want to hurt loved ones simply to gain a kingdom. His affection for the material well-being of his family members superseded his desire for victory.

Arjuna seeing the universal form In Arjuna’s case, the negative effect of love and affection was unnecessary soft-heartedness. The other negative effect of intense love is extreme anger and rage, which is the polar opposite of extreme kindness. While love makes us feel for our fellow loved ones, it also makes us angry at anyone who causes them any harm. An example of this was seen with Lord Rama many thousands of years ago. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna unequivocally establishes that He is the Supreme Lord and that all other forms of Godhead emanate from Him. In fact, He displayed His terrible universal form to Arjuna; a form which was so awe-inspiring that Arjuna, out of fear, asked Krishna to reassume His original two-handed form.

Though Krishna is the original form of Godhead, He personally descends to earth in other forms from time to time. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the Lord appeared as a handsome and pious kshatriya warrior named Rama. Since Rama was God, it made sense that His fighting abilities were unmatched. Though a great warrior, Rama underwent many hardships throughout His life. This was all done for the benefit of others, thus showing Rama’s magnanimous nature. On one occasion, Rama’s beautiful wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped while the couple was residing in the forest. If a person is in God’s company, no one can harm them. This is because God is the ultimate protector, someone who is undefeated in battle. This was also the case with Rama, but due to a diversion set up by the demon Ravana, the Lord was somehow lured away from Sita’s side. In Rama’s absence, Ravana came and forcibly took Sita away.

Sita and Rama It should be noted that Sita’s kidnapping actually occurred due to the desire of the demigods. Ravana was a great demon, and though Rama appeared on earth to kill him, the Lord still needed an excuse before He could attack. Lord Rama’s vow was to always abide by dharma, or established religious codes. This meant that He never wanted to act in an impious manner, for as the eldest son of a great king, others would follow His example. With Sita’s kidnap, Rama had the excuse He needed to go after Ravana and kill him. In the meantime, however, Rama played the part of an ordinary human being, giving way to lamentation and anger after realizing that His wife was missing.

Upon returning to the couple’s cottage, Rama noticed that Sita was missing, and immediately He gave way to lamentation. He started roaming through the neighboring woods, asking the trees and flowers if they had seen His beloved wife. The Lord is so kind and sweet that He never allows anyone’s love for Him to go in vain. No one in this world can love Rama more than Sita does, and by the same token, no one can love Sita more than Rama does. Thus the Lord kindly reciprocated the love shown to Him by Sita by giving way to excessive lamentation. After the sadness came anger. The Lord was ready to destroy the entire world as revenge for Sita’s kidnap. In His mind, all the neighboring creatures and celestial figures just sat idly by and allowed Ravana to perform his dastardly deed. Thus every living entity in the world was liable for Sita’s kidnap.

Mother Yashoda binding child Krishna We can certainly relate to the incident with Arjuna. In today’s day and age, it is becoming fashionable for parents to be friends with their kids. Children are seen as equals, being allowed to have televisions and video game systems in their room. Children can talk back to their parents, as that is all part of the friendly relationship. This desire to be friends with your children is an outgrowth of the strong affection that parents feel. Being a parent means having to impose strict rules, a practice which results in your kids hating you from time to time. No one wants to see their loved ones in pain, so being a good parent requires emotional strength and the doling out of tough love.

By the same token, we can also relate to the incident involving Lord Rama. It just takes one bad experience to turn our moods sour. If something bad happens to us or to a loved one, we can lose rationality and start to blame others for our problems. For example, say we are travelling to a foreign country like France. If we have a bad experience at a hotel or in a restaurant, we might be tempted to lump all French people with the incident. “Oh I hate French people. I’m never going to France again.” Now obviously this isn’t rational thinking because there are bad apples wherever you go. Moreover, it is this type of irrational thinking that leads to destructive practices such as racism, bigotry, and sexism.

“O descendant of Bharata, he who dwells in the body is eternal and can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any creature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.30)

Lord Krishna In the end, both Arjuna and Rama ended up regaining their senses and continuing with their prescribed duties. How were they able to collect themselves? They enlisted the help of their spiritual guides. In Arjuna’s case, his spiritual master was Lord Krishna. The Lord advised Arjuna to give up his false attachment, born out of unnecessary affection. It was surely a nice gesture on Arjuna’s part, but in reality, nothing would be gained by not fighting. It was Arjuna’s duty as a warrior to fight nobly for his side, for his family had the rightful claim on the kingdom. Moreover, every person’s karma is determined by their own deeds, so there is no need to worry about whether a person will be materially benefitted by a specific action or not. Even if his enemies were to die in battle, Arjuna still wouldn’t be to blame, for the soul is eternal and can never be slain. Armed with these facts, Arjuna decided to stand up and fight.

In Lord Rama’s case, His spiritual master was His younger brother Lakshmana. It is quite ironic actually, for Lakshmana viewed Rama as a father. Nevertheless, true love sometimes involves saying unpleasant things for the benefit of your loved one. This was the case with Lakshmana. In the popular American television sitcom, Everybody Loves Raymond, one of the main characters on the show, Frank Barone, is known for being outspoken and unafraid to say what’s on his mind. Playing the grandfather on the show, Frank believes in toughness and calling it like it is. If a person is acting weak or is hesitating unnecessarily, Frank will tell them to quit their crying and to suck it up. “Stop your pitter patter, Nancy. Stop crying and get back to work.”, are two of his famous phrases.

Lakshmana This was essentially the instruction that Lakshmana gave to Rama, but in a sweeter way. As the ever well-wishing younger brother, Lakshmana would have been justified in sitting back and letting his brother go off the deep end. But as a great devotee of the Lord, Lakshmana loved Rama so much that he wouldn’t let Him deviate from the virtuous path. Lakshmana offered some sound words of advice, basically telling Rama that there was no reason to lament. Even if Sita were dead, there would be no justification for giving up the performance of prescribed duties. Even the great celestials suffer defeat every now and then, what to say of ordinary men.

In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is concluding His words of wisdom. Here he is putting forth a rhetorical question relating to Rama’s desire to destroy the whole world. If the Lord did kill everyone in revenge, what would be gained? It still wouldn’t bring Sita back, and it would also put a black mark on Rama’s reputation and that of His family. Rama very much appreciated this advice, since He knew that Lakshmana only had His best interests at heart. In fact, Lakshmana even reiterated the fact that the things he was saying actually originated from Rama. This is most certainly true, for God is the original spiritual master, the fountainhead of all instruction. Formerly, Rama had offered the same instruction to Lakshmana and His three other brothers. Thus we see that Lakshmana was both a great student and a great teacher.

Worship of Sita and Rama The lesson here is that we all fall down from the righteous path every now and then. Our great affection and natural inclination to serve others will result in these momentary lapses of judgment. As we saw with Arjuna and Rama, it is very important to surround ourselves with godly people. Lord Krishna is God, and anyone who acts on His behalf and serves Him in a loving way can be considered godly. Krishna is Bhagavan and those who serve Him are bhagavata. It is very important to always surround ourselves with Bhagavan if we can or, at the very least, bhagavata. Our attachments are difficult to give up, so it’s always good to keep a spiritual doctor on hand to cure us of our ailments.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Messenger With The Message

Krishna and Arjuna “Krishna is violent to demons, and to attempt to prove that Krishna is not violent is ultimately to deny Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.128 Purport)

The truths contained within the Bhagavad-gita are quite profound. Those who read the book for the first time will find loads of information not found in any other religious doctrine, philosophical treatise, or even Vedic text. The Vedas are the spiritual tradition of India, the ultimate truths of life passed down from generation to generation since the beginning of time. Any scripture which follows the conclusions of the original Vedas can be considered Vedic literature. The Bhagavad-gita certainly meets this criteria. In this wonderful work, which is known as the Song of God, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the person we refer to as God, Lord Krishna, delivers a beautiful discourse on the meaning of life, the role of the living entities in this world, and how one can go about performing their activities while simultaneously remaining on the path towards transcendental perfection

Bhagavad-gita Since this work is so wonderfully composed and contains descriptions of many astounding truths of life - such as reincarnation, the consciousness of the living entity at the time of death, the laws of karma, and the temporary nature of material happiness - it is quite common for non-devotees, those who don’t necessarily believe in a God or in Krishna, to take to reading this book and expounding on it. So many commentaries and translations of the Gita are available, with each work presented in terms of the author’s worldview, their ultimate conclusion. Since only Krishna, or God, can be everything, it shouldn’t surprise us that His teachings would hit home with a large cross-section of people. Those who take the ultimate conclusion in life to be material enjoyment can find what they need in the Gita. There are others who don’t believe in a personal God, an Absolute Truth who possesses an eternal, transcendental form. For them, the Gita contains much discussion about Brahman and the impersonal nature of the Absolute Truth. There are others who believe in meditational yoga as the topmost practice, the ultimate activity derived from the ultimate conclusion. For them, there is an entire chapter in the Gita dedicated to such yoga practice.

Ironically enough, even believers in nonviolence – those who view the complete abstention from the arousal of conflict, physical and mental, to be the ultimate activity in life - take to reading the Gita. We say “ironically” because the setting of the Bhagavad-gita - the podium, if you will, from which Krishna provides His instructions - is a battlefield. Moreover, the Gita concludes with the commencement of one of the greatest wars in history. The death toll from the Bharata War, the war Krishna urged His cousin and disciple Arjuna to fight in, saw the deaths of millions upon millions of soldiers. It is said that the burden of sinful men was too great on the earth at the time, and thus the Lord Himself was petitioned to descend from the spiritual world and rid that burden. This is one of the causes for the tremendous bloodshed that took place. Yet even though the Gita has this backdrop, some use the work to justify their view that nonviolence should be employed under any and all circumstances. While the idea of nonviolence under all circumstances is certainly ideal, basing this conclusion off the Gita is quite faulty. Lord Krishna, or God, is certainly violent from time to time. This violence is not an inconvenient truth, but rather a beautiful activity that speaks to the Lord’s all-merciful nature. Krishna is the messenger in the Bhagavad-gita, but we shouldn’t make the mistake of separating the message from the messenger. The message is secondary; the messenger is more important. The message is actually meaningless without the messenger. Only when we see the message as being part and parcel of the messenger can we truly understand its meaning.

“The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Bhagavad-gita, 16.1-3)

Krishna and Arjuna Let’s quickly review the issue of nonviolence. This principle is known as ahimsa in Sanskrit and it is even addressed by Krishna in the Gita. The Lord states that a realized soul, an upper echelon transcendentalist, abides by many principles and exudes many characteristics. The most important principles and characteristics are listed in the Gita so as to allow those on the lower platform of knowledge, the aspiring devotees, to be able to better gauge who is a devotee and who isn’t. One of the characteristics listed by Krishna is nonviolence. The justification for this is quite obvious. Every living entity, every form of life, is equal in their constitutional position. There is a famous saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” With human beings and other life forms, the covers may be different, but the individuals inside the covers are the same. If we observe two people, where one person is wearing fancy clothes, while another is wearing simple rags, we can’t say that one person is better than the other. One person may have more wealth and pay more attention to detail, but we can’t say that they are any different on the inside. Expanding this idea to an even grander scale, we can think of every living entity as wearing a different set of clothes. These clothes manifest through the different qualities of the body: eyes, legs, hair, ears, height, weight, etc. Not only do the outward features make these “clothes”, but so do the inward features such as temperament, personality, likes, and dislikes. The outward covering is known as the material body, and it is something that gets created, developed, and then ultimately destroyed. The spirit soul within does not change throughout this process, thus making it the basis for identity.

“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)

Since every soul is the same, a spiritual spark emanating from the giant energetic fire known as God, there is no reason to be envious of or to act malevolently towards another human being. We are all in the same boat, so to speak, thrown into this ocean of nescience. We’re all trying to find our way out of this suffering. Some of us are further along in the process than others, but our ultimate objective is the same regardless. Therefore there is no reason to be violent towards another living entity. There is no reason to unnecessarily kill another living entity, regardless of whatever personal justification we may have. This position is universally held, for even one of the Ten Commandments is “Thou shall not kill”. This has since been purposefully misinterpreted by many to mean “Thou shall not murder”, but the principle of nonviolence is still there just the same.

Krishna protecting the cows So does this mean that we should always be nonviolent? Should violence never be used under any circumstance? Though we should never kill another living entity, sometimes it is required. If a human being has no other means of food other than to kill an innocent animal, then it is generally allowed. The reasoning behind this has nothing to do with sense gratification. Say the human being starves to death and thus leaves the animal all alone. Can the animal do anything to further its condition? If the human being remains alive, it is capable of maybe sustaining life around it and saving other living entities. The human being has a higher level of intelligence, so it is granted dominion over the animal kingdom. This shouldn’t be taken as a sanction for unnecessary animal killing, as currently takes place with the practice of slaughterhouses.

Since the human being has a higher level of intelligence, which culminates in the ability to understand God, it has necessary functions to perform. One of these required functions is the providing of protection. Though we should be kind and peaceful towards fellow living entities, not everyone is guaranteed to act the same way towards us. Some people will take to violence regardless of whatever sound counsel is given to them. This was the case with Duryodhana, the illegitimate king of the Kaurava dynasty. Lord Krishna, during His time on earth, tried to broker a peace agreement between Duryodhana and the Pandavas, the five sons of King Pandu who had the rightful claim on the kingdom. Duryodhana rejected this peace proposal, even though it came from God Himself. Goswami Tulsidas, the great Vaishnava poet, mentions this incident in his Dohavali. Tulsidas references Duryodhana’s behavior to remind people to not turn their backs on God. Those who do will have to suffer greatly. How did Duryodhana suffer? Since he rejected the peace offering, the Bharata War was eventually started, with Krishna serving as the charioteer for the leading Pandava warrior, Arjuna. The Pandavas won, Duryodhana and all his army were killed, and the kingdom was returned to the rightful owners.

“If, however, you do not fight this religious war, then you will certainly incur sins for neglecting your duties and thus lose your reputation as a fighter.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.33)

Krishna and Arjuna What would have happened if Krishna and the Pandavas took the nonviolent approach? After all, this was the view of Arjuna and many of his brothers. They were hesitant to fight because war meant that their family members fighting for the opposing side would have to be killed. Arjuna did not want to enjoy a kingdom if it came at the expense of people he respected. Lord Krishna, through His teachings in the Gita, informed Arjuna that it was his duty as a military man to provide protection to the innocent. It was his dharma, or religious duty, to fight. This is quite a strong statement. It wasn’t as if Krishna said, “Oh okay, violence is justified sometimes. Maybe this is one of those times.” The Lord went one step further by telling Arjuna that if he didn’t fight, he would be committing a great sin. Simply based off this one fact, we see how silly it is to try to justify the theory of nonviolence from the Gita. Anyone who does so certainly is separating Krishna from His message.

Why is violence required in some instances? If those who are in charge of protecting the innocent don’t do so, where will people go for help? Who will protect them from the attacks of the miscreants? In this way, not only are the kshatriyas [the warrior/administrator class] charged with providing protection, but so is God Himself. Since Krishna is Absolute and all-attractive, everything He does is beautiful. He is beautiful while standing in the forest with flowers and a peacock feather in His hair, playing His flute, and He is equally as beautiful when killing demons.

Hanuman burning Lanka Not only does Krishna use violence from time to time, but so do His devotees. While fighting in the Bharata War, Arjuna’s chariot was adorned with a flag bearing the emblem of Hanuman. Many thousands of years prior to Krishna’s advent, the Lord appeared on earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. Lord Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by a demon named Ravana who lived on the island of Lanka. To find Sita, the Lord enlisted the help of an army of monkeys whose chief warrior was a pious individual named Hanuman. Lord Hanuman famously leapt across the ocean and made his way to Lanka, where he eventually found Sita. While in Lanka, Ravana had Hanuman bound up and his tail set on fire. Shri Hanuman, though he is kind, sweet, compassionate, and learned, is anything but nonviolent when it comes to interacting with demons such as Ravana. Hanuman freed himself from the ropes around his body, and then took to battle. Since his tail was still on fire, Hanuman decided to set the entire city of Lanka ablaze. Though this was an act of violence on a grand scale, it was still a thing of beauty. Hanuman’s behavior is indicative of the protection that God’s greatest devotees offer the innocent.

Krishna's pastimes We should not try to separate Krishna from His words or activities. God is the most beautiful person in the world, and this beauty is not limited to His transcendental form. This eternally blissful and knowledgeable form, sach-chid-ananda-vigraha, also takes to activities. It would make sense then that the most beautiful form in the world would have the most beautiful activities. This beauty is not limited to Krishna’s peaceful activities. His defense of the innocent and unflinching protection of the devotees evokes loving emotions just the same.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

You Gotta Believe

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)

We appreciate the people who believe in us. Life is a constant tug of war between happiness and distress, so there are bound to be ups and downs that we have to go through. The downs can really leave us doubting our abilities and our chances for success. To get through these tough times, we require outside intervention and the support of our friends and family members. Of all our well-wishers, those who believe in our abilities stand out the most. These are the people we are greatly indebted and most obliged to. Though it may not always appear this way, bona fide spiritual leaders actually believe in all of us; they know that each one of us is capable of achieving spiritual perfection. Our business is to trust these leaders to guide us to the promise land, for their belief in us is a prerequisite for success.

Top Gun To understand this point better, let us look at some of the more popular inspirational movies of recent times. These are the movies that give us goose bumps at the end, the ones that leave us feeling inspired after having watched them. During the 1980s, several of these movies became very popular. Top Gun, The Karate Kid, and Hoosiers were especially inspirational. The storylines were generally the same: an underdog taking on a challenge that seemed too big for him to handle. After struggling and failing several times, the movie dramatically concludes with the underdog emerging victorious. We can relate to these movies because we have been in many situations where we were the underdog. Who among us hasn’t struggled? Who hasn’t felt like giving up when the chips were down? But we know that we can’t give up, because quitters never win.

The characters in these movies go through similar struggles. For example, in The Karate Kid, the main character learns karate in an unconventional manner through interacting with an elderly friend. Eventually the student enters a karate competition, where all his competitors have been trained in top-notch karate schools. There is even a moment when it looks like the character will be unable to continue in the tournament due to an injury. But it is through inspiration and belief that the character finally overcomes all obstacles.

The Karate Kid This type of story inspires us because we know that winning isn’t easy. When we are shooting for a lofty goal, many people will come up to us and tell us that we can’t do it. “Oh you’re too small; you’re not smart enough; you don’t have enough talent”, etc. The naysayers seem to outweigh the well-wishers, and as soon as we encounter a little duress and failure, we start to believe what our critics tell us. In order to be successful, we need people in our corner who have faith in us; people who genuinely believe that we have what it takes to be successful. Bereft of such association, success will be hard to come by. Most of us are not born leaders or self-starters. We require motivation, inspiration, and guidance in the initial phases of an endeavor.

When an actor wins a prestigious award, such as an Oscar, they usually thank all the people that helped them in their career. They also will usually thank a specific teacher for believing in them. The same holds true with successful athletes. When a player wins a prestigious title, it is not uncommon to see them cry. This is because, at that moment, they realize how difficult it was to get to the pinnacle of their field. They also realize that if it weren’t for the people who believed in them, they wouldn’t have achieved success.

Though there are varieties of material endeavors, aspiring to become a perfect transcendentalist may be the most difficult task of all. We are currently in an environment which is not conducive to spiritual life. The Vedas tell us that this world is governed by an illusory force known as maya. Maya means “that which is not”; hence the illusion. The world we live in is full of things that appear to be beneficial to us, while in fact they are more harmful than anything else. There are so many examples of maya’s influence, but we can study something as basic as sex life to see the pattern. The desire to have sex is a natural urge for the human being as well as the animal species. Having the urge and acting on it are two different things. When we act on an impulse, it doesn’t mean that there will always be a positive result. For example, if we are stricken with the chicken pox, the urge is to scratch the infected areas on the body. But we also know that if we do scratch, our relief will only be temporary, while we will increase the likelihood of developing scars in the future. Scratching can also increase the risk of acquiring secondary infections to the swollen areas.

Sex life is similar in this regard. If we act on every sexual impulse, we are likely to encounter unintended side effects. The most obvious unintended consequence of sex life is pregnancy. If a young girl gets pregnant, she must completely turn her life around. Raising a child is a full-time responsibility, something which parents have to worry about for at least the first eighteen years of a child’s life. So we see that a simple act of having sex can lead to a much greater, unintended responsibility. This is how maya works. She fools us into taking something to be what it is not.

Lord Krishna Though the material world is full of illusion, the spiritual world is not. Everything there is exactly how it seems. This is why God is referred to as the Supreme Absolute Truth, meaning there is no duplicity in His dealings, attributes, or residences. Since we are constitutionally spirit, we are meant to associate with this Truth; our destiny is to free ourselves from illusion. Knowing that we should be with God is one thing, but actually achieving that objective is another. We are currently in a conditioned state and under the spell of maya. This spell is difficult to break out of, so we require some help.

Who can help us? If we want to be successful in theater, sports, or broadcasting, it would make sense to approach someone who is already successful in the field. There are so many naysayers out there, but how many of them are actually successful? The nightly television newscasts are full of “experts” who give their opinions on a wide range of subjects, but how many of them actually know what they are talking about? Many of these experts have advanced degrees and thus acquire the title of “doctor”. There is certainly nothing wrong with receiving a formal education, but if we want to be successful in acting, should we approach someone who only has a PhD in theater, or should we talk to someone who is actually in the business? If we want to be a successful politician, should we take counsel from a person with a political science degree or someone who has actually ran for office and won?

Shrila Prabhupada The answers to these questions are fairly obvious, but the reason we ask them is to highlight a larger point. In order to be successful in spiritual life, we must approach someone who is not under the spell of maya. Our goal is to defeat maya and associate exclusively with the spiritual energy, thus it would make sense to consult with someone who has been successful in their fight against illusion. The Vedas tell us that the realized soul is known as the guru, or spiritual master. The term “guru” is used in many different contexts, but one of its meanings is “one who is heavy”. How is a guru heavy? What is the source of their weight? The bona fide guru carries the message of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since God is absolute, there is no difference between Himself and His message. Thus the message of God represents the heaviest truth, or knowledge system, in existence. A person who carries this message also becomes heavy; they possess gravitas, or authority.

Since the spiritual master is a pure devotee of Krishna, they naturally will try to teach others how to become devotees. Since we are currently in a conditioned state, what the spiritual master initially tells us won’t be very pleasing to hear. They will tell us to give up the four primary activities of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. At first glance, this seems like a harsh restriction. “No drinking? No illicit sex? What am I going to do with my time?” Next, the guru advises the aspiring transcendentalist to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. There are many dharmas, or religious systems, but the religion of love reigns supreme. Devotional service is the sublime engagement which automatically provides the rewards of all the other religious systems. This should make sense to us. After all, in the conditioned state, romantic love is held as the most pleasurable activity in life. Though this type of love may seem nice, it is still associated with maya, so there is illusion associated with it. When this love becomes purified, i.e. directed towards Krishna, it goes by the name of bhakti, or Krishna-prema.

Shrila Prabhupada Since the guru is heavy, he won’t sugarcoat his language. When reading the books of the great Vaishnava saints, we’ll often see that they refer to gross materialists, impersonalists, and enemies of God as mudhas, or rascals. “Anyone who is not a devotee of Krishna is a fool; Anyone who takes material nature to be the beginning and end of everything is certainly a rascal; Anyone who thinks that God is formless is a great miscreant.” Now these statements may seem off-putting to us at first, but they serve a distinct purpose. The first point that must be stressed is that these statements are all undoubtedly true. It may not be pleasing to hear, for many of these criticisms may apply to us or someone we know, but these statements are all rooted in fact.

“Don’t we need people to believe in us in order to achieve success? So how will any of us make progress if the spiritual master thinks that we are mudhas?” Actually, the bona fide spiritual master has more belief in us than anyone else we know. This may seem strange, but we have to understand the underlying reasoning behind the way the spiritual master teaches. The guru knows how hard it is to break free of the clutches of maya, so they will tell us the truth from the outset. Since the bona fide guru is a paramahamsa, they don’t view all individuals as mudhas and miscreants. They actually view every person as a pure devotee at heart. We are all meant to be God’s eternal servants, but currently we are forgetful of this fact. Thus the spiritual master takes it upon himself to remind us of the truth. They tell us that if we remain non-devotees in thoughts, words, and deeds, we are most certainly not very advanced. But we can quickly go from being a non-devotee to a devotee. In order to achieve this transformation, we have to have faith in the words of the spiritual master; our ever well-wisher.

Lakshmana The spiritual master believes in us, for they know what our true potential is. They know that each of us can achieve perfection in life by taking up devotional service. Cognizant of this fact, they remind us of the great qualities that we have. They don’t just criticize; they also highlight our good traits and tell us to use them to achieve spiritual perfection. This was the practice followed by Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, many thousands of years ago.

Liberated transcendentalists tell us Krishna is the Absolute Truth and that He possesses all good qualities. This is nice to hear and we can certainly try to theoretically understand these facts, but it is much easier to learn by example. To facilitate this teaching method, the Lord personally appears on earth from time to time to show how real Truth manifests. One such appearance took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, where Krishna incarnated as the pious prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama. As part of His pastimes, Rama roamed through the forests for fourteen years alongside His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana. On one unfortunate occasion, Sita was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Realizing that Sita was missing, Rama frantically searched for her in the forest, but was unable to find her. Fearing the worse, Rama gave way to lamentation and anger.

Lord Rama looking for Sita At this time, Lakshmana stepped in to offer some sound words of advice. God is the original spiritual master, and He chooses select individuals to impart spiritual instruction to. Lakshmana was one such individual, for as the younger brother, Lakshmana would often be instructed by Rama on all matters of life. But God likes to glorify His devotees from time to time, so He presents opportunities for them to shine. This was one such opportunity, where Lakshmana was afforded the chance to act as spiritual master to Rama. In essence, Lakshmana got to show off all that he had previously learned from Rama.

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

What were Lakshmana’s instructions? Initially, he mildly chastised Rama for giving way to lamentation. The first instruction given to aspiring transcendentalists of the Vedic tradition is that we are not our bodies. The soul is eternal and unchangeable, while the body is not. This means that a person is guaranteed to encounter ups and downs, gains and losses, as it relates to the body. The wise person does not let these events affect them. Lakshmana correctly pointed out that even if Sita were killed, it would be no reason to be taken off the righteous path. We should all perform our prescribed duties in life, not being attached to the results of our actions.

In the above referenced quote, Lakshmana is concluding his remarks. We see that even though he chastised Rama in the beginning, Lakshmana is reminding Rama of the great powers He possesses. Lakshmana is essentially telling Rama that he believed in Him. The Lord very much appreciated His younger brother’s words of advice. The Lord would go on to find Sita, defeat Ravana in battle, and triumphantly rescue her. Everything would end well.

Rama and LakshmanaAll can also end well for us if we follow the advice of the Vaishnava spiritual masters. Our powers certainly aren’t as great as Rama’s, but we do have the ability to achieve spiritual perfection. The path won’t be easy, but we must be confident of the spiritual master’s belief in us. The great devotees of Krishna make no distinction between cast, gender, color, or creed. They know that all living entities are capable of reviving their dormant Krishna consciousness. The guru believes in us, but the question remains: do we believe in him?

Monday, October 4, 2010

Words Mean Things

Lord Krishna “There is no difference between the holy name of the Lord and the Lord Himself. As such, the holy name is as perfect as the Lord Himself in fullness, purity and eternity. The holy name is no material sound vibration, nor has it any material contamination.” (Padma Purana)

Of all the religious practices that currently exist and have ever existed in the past, the most effective, according to the Vedas, is the chanting of mantras. A mantra is a sequence of words, a set of sound vibrations repeated in order to achieve a desired result, or an effect. The word itself is a compound Sanskrit word consisting of “man” and “tra”. The “man” part refers to the mind and “tra” refers to deliverance or protection. Thus a mantra is something which delivers the mind from an unpalatable condition. While mantras are very popular amongst religionists, yogis, transcendentalists, and devotees of God around the world, not all of them are the same. To understand the difference between the various mantras and to decipher which ones are legitimate, a study of words themselves is required.

Maha mantra Words are important. Words mean things. These facts are quite obvious but sometimes forgotten. Speaking is such a common activity that it is almost performed involuntarily. As soon as a thought comes to our mind, we want to verbalize it. When a person is considered fluent in a particular language, it means they can speak without thinking about the right words to use. Sometimes if we are in a foreign country or forced to speak in a language unfamiliar to us, before speaking we’ll have to pause for a second or two. The beginning of the speech pattern is the same; we’ll have a thought or idea in our head. The difference is that the mind’s language will be that which we are most comfortable with. In order to speak in the required language of the situation, we’ll have to mentally translate our thoughts before speaking.

Once our ideas finally come out in an audible form, the exact words we choose make a huge difference. Words convey ideas, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. Some words are so powerful that people refrain from using them. Some words can cause so much offense and harm to others that they are deemed unacceptable for common conversation. There is no area where words play a greater importance than in the discipline of law. Since governments today codify all of their edicts and law codes, the written word plays a significant role. This is because laws can remain on the books for years and years. I may be a member of the government today and come up with a new law, but it is likely that the term of the law will far surpass my time on earth. This is especially true of framework governing documents like the Constitution of the United States of America. The Constitution was written at the time of the country’s founding, 1787, and yet it is still quoted, referenced, and analyzed to this day. Therefore the framers of the Constitution, those deciding which laws were the most important, had to carefully pick and choose just the right words to ensure that their ideas were conveyed properly.

Goswami Tulsidas When writing any important document, there is an editing process. When a person or group of people sit down to write an important document, law code, story, book, essay, article, or song, they are bound to make mistakes the first time around. These “errors” are labeled as such by the authors themselves, for there is really no such thing as a mistaken word. Words are just sound vibrations after all, so there is nothing faulty about them. The fault actually lies with the usage of the words in relation to the ideas and tone the author is trying to put forward. After an initial draft is written, the writer will go back and make many edits, which often result in the change of words. Goswami Tulsidas, one of the most famous religious poets in history, paid special attention to meter, rhythm, and tone when composing his devotional poems in praise of Lord Shri Rama, a famous incarnation of Godhead. Tulsidas was a great devotee of Rama, so obviously none of his words of praise for the Lord were faulty. Yet the saint wanted to choose just the right words, the proper sequence of sound vibrations, so as to produce the desired effect of praise for the Lord in a harmonious and emotion-evoking tone.

Since written laws stay on the books for so long, the words that are used are of utmost importance. The legal field involves a form of cheating. Regardless of the nature of a specific law, there are bound to be those who disagree with it. In these instances, the dissenters will hire lawyers to help make the case that the text of the law actually affirms their position. The Supreme Court of the United States hears cases that deal with these issues all the time. For example, the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states that government cannot take private property from any individual unless the property being taken will be used for public use. The citizen must also be duly compensated for the value of their property. This practice falls under the rubric of eminent domain. It is common knowledge that the framers who authored the amendment did so with the intention that government could only seize land in cases where they needed to build a road, bridge, highway, etc. “Public use” was meant to convey the idea of public property. Recently, however, a specific case relating to eminent domain reached the Supreme Court.  This case, Kelo v. City of New London, dealt with a local government seizing private property for the purpose of allowing a private developer group to build a hotel, health club, and offices on the same land. The local government cited eminent domain as their legal justification for their action. The Supreme Court ended up agreeing that the government was allowed to do what they did because the increased tax revenue that would come from economic development constituted a “public use.” Ironically enough, after the land was seized, the private developer was unable to follow through on their plans.

Constitution So we see that just a few simple words interpreted a certain way can provide a completely different meaning. If the framers had provided a little more clarity, maybe the verdict in the Kelo case would have been different. Then again, more words would have given dissenters more opportunities to bend and shape meanings. This is the nature of law, for each side will do whatever they can to win their argument. A good lawyer is one who can ostensibly cheat the written word in his favor.

Words take on an even greater importance in spiritual life. If the Constitution remains the governing document of the United States after several centuries, we can just imagine how much more important the written law codes of the Vedas, which have been around since the beginning of time, are. While there are so many different religious systems in existence, with different ultimate conclusions and prescriptions for achieving perfection in life, the Vedas are unique in that they actually provide us names for the ultimate object of worship, the Supreme Entity. Rather than refer to this Almighty person with a generic name such as “God”, the Vedas give us words, or sound vibrations, which reference different features of the Lord and His different activities. Of all the different names, only one, Krishna, references every opulence and every feature possessed by the transcendent, all-merciful, all-powerful Supreme Lord. Since Krishna is the topmost name, He is referred to as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

“I am the only enjoyer and the only object of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.24)

Lord Krishna enjoying butter All Vedic rituals involve the chanting of mantras. In the Vedic tradition, a ritual is referred to as a yajna, which means sacrifice; sort of. A sacrifice is the voluntary separation or donation of something valuable. A yajna is a more specific type of sacrifice; a ritual where the objects being sacrificed are given to the Supreme Lord or a heavenly figure. The entire purpose of a yajna is to satisfy Vishnu, or God. Lord Vishnu is just another name for God which references His four-handed form as the all-pervading, all-opulent Lord of the universe. Since there is no difference between Krishna and Vishnu, we can also say that the yajna is done for Krishna’s satisfaction.

There are different kinds of sacrifice. While Vishnu is the ultimate enjoyer of the yajna, the purposes for the performance of the sacrifice can vary. Sometimes a person may want progeny, a beautiful wife, material wealth, or the cure to some disease. Of all the different benedictions one can receive, none is higher than the direct association of the Lord. In material endeavors, romantic love is considered the highest engagement, that activity which provides the greatest enjoyment. The key ingredient in romance is association, the meeting of the parties who are in love. In a similar manner, the highest transcendental activity is the meeting of the subordinate living entity with its ultimate object of pleasure. The Vedic seers, the great saints who devoted themselves to Krishna’s service, have summarized the aim of life into three simple objectives: the realization that Krishna is the original owner of everything, the best friend of the living entities, and the supreme enjoyer. When Krishna enjoys, He does so with other living entities. In this way, not only does God enjoy, but so do those He enjoys with. Thus we see that not only is Krishna the supreme enjoyer, but He is also the supreme object of pleasure for the conditioned living entities trapped in an endless cycle of reincarnation.

Radha Krishna Based on these facts, we see that service to Krishna, connecting with the Supreme Lord, is the topmost activity. Whichever activity brings the greatest amount of pleasure, the supreme enjoyment, must be considered the most worthwhile. Not surprisingly, achieving this association with the Lord involves the chanting of mantras. These mantras consist of words, the proper selection of which makes all the difference. For yajnas which are aimed at providing subpar results, or inferior enjoyment, the mantras used must also be considered secondary in stature. This points to the fact that not all mantras are the same. A mantra contains words after all, and these words are transcendental sound vibrations which represent various manifestations of the Supreme Lord. God is everything, but everything is not God. God is the dirt on the ground and the rain in the sky, but the rain and the dirt are not God. Therefore one cannot simply chant the words “dirt” and “rain” and expect to be in God’s association. One who does so will be associating with a separated expansion of the Supreme Lord, something which is part of His inferior energy. Association with inferior energy not only brings inferior enjoyment, but it keeps one firmly attached to the grand representation of the inferior energy: the material world.

Krishna is completely spiritual, so in order to associate with Him one must chant mantras which contain words which reference Him or one of His direct expansions. Of all the various mantras, the one considered most efficacious for the people of this age is the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra consists only of three distinct words: Hare, Krishna, and Rama. Hare refers to God’s energy, the embodiment of pleasure-giving power, the eternal servant of the Lord. Krishna refers to God’s all-attractive, original form. Rama refers to Krishna’s ability to give transcendental pleasure. Rama also references Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations, a divine figure worshiped by millions to this day.

Lord Krishna Why is this mantra more powerful than others? Those who chant this mantra are considered practitioners of sankirtana-yajna. Unlike other sacrifices, this chanting sacrifice is not aimed at producing any material results. Material results have unintended negative consequences, the worst of which is attachment to the temporary and miserable material world. Sankirtana-yajna involving the maha-mantra is free of any defects; it does not provide any unwanted results. Moreover, it purifies the chanter of all unwanted desires and feelings. This means that one may start off chanting this mantra with a desire for a personal benefit, but through connecting with Hara, Krishna, and Rama, those desires are soon forgotten. In this way, Hare Krishna ends up being the perfect prayer, the only mantra ever worth reciting. The transcendental sound vibrations contained within are a cry for help, a sincere call to the complete whole, the Lord of the universe, to come associate with the contrite living entities who have spent so much time forgetting such a merciful master. This mantra should be the only religious practice; our lifeline and only means of salvation. This mantra is the mother, the father, the king, the spiritual master, and the giver of pleasure. Those who take this mantra as their life and soul will become fluent in the most important language, the language of transcendental love.