Saturday, October 30, 2010

Angels From Above

Deities from Radha-Vrindavana Chandra temple “When Rupa Gosvami and Sanatana Gosvami went to Vrindavana, there was not a single temple, but by their preaching they were gradually able to construct various temples.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.164 Purport)

It is quite common to see people bemoaning the present condition of society. The complaints cover all different areas such as population size, government leadership, and the state of the environment. Because people understand that the current situation isn’t ideal, they lament the fact that they have little power to bring about change. In the grand scheme of things this is most certainly true, as the most an average citizen can do is go to the ballot box at the time of an election. In this way, individuals are dependent on their fellow man to straighten out problems. For sincere devotees of God, the situation seems even bleaker. Issues relating to economics, environment, poverty, and defense are paltry in comparison to the grander purpose of life. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide intricate detail into the nature of the soul and its constitutional position. Devotees study Vedic literature and through samadhi [meditation and trance directed at the Supreme Lord], they come to understand the meanings contained within. Yet upon seeing that the majority of society is uninterested in adopting measures to remediate the present unfavorable condition of their soul, the devotees become dejected and fearful. “What will happen to the science of self-realization? How will society survive in the future without God consciousness?” In reality, Krishna [God] takes care of everything, so there is no cause for such fears.

Lord Krishna It must be acknowledged that this attitude of the devotee is quite a noble one. By default, man is born ignorant; he identifies solely with the outer covering of the soul; a covering which is known as the body. Since most everyone adopts this type of identification, enjoyment of said outer covering is taken to be the topmost engagement in life. Man’s dharma, or occupational duty, essentially becomes the satisfaction of the body through fruitive activities. Even if religion or spirituality is brought into the mix, at the beginning stages the ultimate objective is still the same. Spirituality is seen as a vehicle for satisfying the senses and alleviating the concerns relating to the future well-being of the body. It takes steady practice in the art of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, to elevate one’s consciousness to the point where they see Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, as the only enjoyer.

Who we identify as the ultimate enjoyer is important because this then drives our activities. Normally we view ourselves as the enjoyers. Sometimes we’ll look to satisfy the needs of others, such as our family members, friends, and pets, but even in this scope, the enjoyer is still the self. Acts of altruism serve to satisfy the desire of the person acting charitably. The only engagement which brings spiritual benefit to two distinct entities is devotional service. The parties benefitted in such an exchange are the individual soul and the Supersoul, or the Supreme Lord. Vedic information states that the entity we normally refer to as “God” is actually a person, or purusha, just like us. Though He is similar in quality to the individual, His quantitative powers are much greater. Since God is great, it is the duty of the subordinate living entities to pay tribute to that greatness. For this service to be truly effective in providing transcendental happiness, it must be offered in a mood of love and devotion. The only way for this mood to be adopted in earnest is for the individual soul to view the Supreme Soul as the ultimate enjoyer. Otherwise, the mode of worship will be similar to a business transaction, wherein the individual is looking for some return on their investment of spiritual service. Even if this business mentality is absent, there is still the possibility of the service being offered in a fearful mood, similar to slavery. The Supreme Lord, being the ever-blissful and fully satisfied Supreme Entity, is not inclined towards any trade activity, nor is He in the business of scaring anyone. A business transaction occurs when two parties are both interested in some sort of profit. Krishna, or God, is the most fortunate person in the world, so He is in need of nothing. In addition, God knows that He’s God, so He doesn’t need to scare people into serving Him.

Radha and Krishna If Krishna is completely satisfied, what need does He have to engage in loving interactions with anyone? The answer points back to the issue of enjoyment. When service is offered to the Divine Energetic, Shri Krishna, in a loving manner, there is enjoyment both for the entity offering the service and the Offered. This ideal relationship is derived from the ultimate conclusion in life, achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which was expounded by none other than Krishna Himself when He appeared on earth around five hundred years ago in the guise of a brahmana sannyasi named Krishna Chaitanya. Lord Chaitanya’s philosophy, which is simply a description of an eternally existing condition, stipulates that the living entities are simultaneously and inconceivably one with and different from the Supreme Divine Force, that entity that we know as God. This ultimate conclusion goes hand-in-hand with the ideal relationship, wherein pure love is exchanged between the individuals and the whole. The two entities are meant to always be together, at least in consciousness. In reality, we can never be separated from Krishna, for He is always residing within our heart as the Supersoul. The issue of separation relates to consciousness. By adopting the false identification that results from body consciousness, we become forgetful of the ultimate conclusion and the ultimate relationship.

So how do we reawaken the purified consciousness? This is where bhakti-yoga comes in. The devotees, the purified souls who have reached the transcendental platform through deep study, meditation, and service to their spiritual guides, have realized the ultimate conclusion. After ascending to this platform, devotees seek to maintain their close relationship with God through activity. Yet devotees are so kind that they don’t hoard information about the Truth to themselves. Rather, they kindly offer to teach anyone who will listen. Lord Chaitanya Himself inaugurated this preaching tradition in the modern age. In addition to being the most effective method for attaining the platform of Krishna consciousness, the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is also the most effective way to preach the transcendental, imperishable, and supreme science of devotional service throughout the world. This congregational chanting process is known as sankirtana.

Sankirtana Since the sound vibrations of Krishna and Rama are non-different forms of the original Personality of Godhead, they inject the creeper of devotional service into the hearts and minds of whoever hears them. Once this creeper is established, it can grow into a full blown tree of devotional service. This growth takes place through the association of sadhus, or saintly members of society. Every notable spiritual personality of the past achieved success through this good association. In this way, we see that the highest welfare activity is to pass this transcendental sound vibration on to every person alive.

Lord Chaitanya’s formula seems simple enough, right? While sankirtana is simple and straightforward, the results aren’t always what the preacher hopes for. The attachment to matter amongst the populace is very strong. Not everyone will want to hear about Krishna. Even if they do hear about bhakti-yoga and the science of self-realization, they may be prejudiced and biased towards their own sectarian views. They will think in terms of “My God” and “Your God” instead of taking to logic and reasoning. The achintya-bhedabheda philosophy is the highest conclusion in life, so understanding it properly can take some time. In many spiritual disciplines, the soul is not even given much credence. Thus many of the concepts contained within the Vedas are foreign to others. Elevation to Krishna consciousness requires a new way of thinking, and for many people, change is not a welcome thing.

Lord Krishna with Lord Chaitanya All of these conditions can certainly dampen the hopes and dreams of the preaching devotee. Fears will inevitably creep in regarding the future. “What if Krishna consciousness dies? How will future generations be saved? It seems as though no one is interested in chanting today.” This is actually a nice attitude to have because it shows the deep love that the devotees have for their fellow man and his future. Devotees know that Krishna is not only the ultimate enjoyer, but that He is also the giver of the greatest pleasure in the world. This pleasure can only be experienced through intimate association with Him.

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

To allay our fears, we simply have to remember that Krishna is the original cause of everything. The Brahma-samhita states that Krishna is the cause of all causes, sarva-karana-karanam. Every result has a root cause. This cause may not be visible to us, as sometimes the results aren’t even visible. Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, teaches us that the results of action, both good and bad, are unseen and indefinite. Yet at the same time, no desired result can be achieved without some action being taken. This means that if we perform an action for some intended benefit, we may not see the result. Either we will quit our body before the result bears fruit, or the fruit itself doesn’t last very long, thus coming and going before we even notice it. But at the same time, no matter the length and nature of the result, there was some action which caused it.

Radha and Krishna in Vrindavana What does all this mean? One of the holiest pilgrimage sites in the world is Vrindavana-dhama, which is located in India. This is the area where Shri Krishna enacted the most memorable and pleasurable of His pastimes during His time on earth some five thousand years ago. We see that museums and monuments are erected at the sites where famous personalities conducted their business. In the same manner, the areas where God and His various expansions performed activities are turned into places of pilgrimage, or tirthas. Vrindavana is a great spiritual tourist attraction today, containing over 5,000 temples and many wonderful sites such as Shyama-kunda and Radha-kunda, two ponds which were created by Krishna and His eternal consort Shrimati Radharani. Govardhana Hill, which is considered Krishna’s land and thus non-different from Him, is also found in this area.

Going to Vrindavana is certainly a beneficial experience for the transcendentally conscious soul, but was Vrindavana always such a great attraction? Actually, around five hundred years ago it wasn’t. Prior to Lord Chaitanya’s advent, the place was essentially a wilderness. This doesn’t mean that Vrindavana had lost its intrinsic value. It was still the same land that Krishna had roamed. Vrindavana is considered a replica of the transcendental abode that exists in the spiritual sky of Krishnaloka. Anyone who lives and dies in Vrindavana is deemed to be a liberated soul; they are on the path towards salvation, which is represented by the cessation of the cycle of birth and death.

Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami      So how did Vrindavana change from being a deserted land to a popular pilgrimage site? As Krishna is the cause of all causes, He was also the cause behind the changes in Vrindavana. Lord Chaitanya, while spreading the cult of devotional service throughout India, ordered His two dearmost disciples, the brothers Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami, to excavate Vrindavana and establish a preaching center there. Lord Chaitanya Himself discovered the lost sites of Radha-kunda and Shyama-kunda. Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami wrote countless books about devotional service; from poems and dramas to handbooks and guides covering every aspect of devotional life. We are forever indebted to these two great saints, along with Lord Chaitanya and everyone who follows in His line, for turning Vrindavana into what it is today.

“As the ignorant perform their duties with attachment to results, similarly the learned may also act, but without attachment, for the sake of leading people on the right path.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.25)

Lord Krishna The point to all of this is that we should perform our prescribed duties without attachment to the results. Krishna will always survive no matter the condition of society. This entire world is His land after all, so He can do with it as He pleases. If there is a lull in the practice of devotional service or if there is a precarious plaguing the world, we can be rest assured that the Lord will take the necessary steps to alleviate the situation. If we continue with our devotional practices and try to help as many honest souls as possible, we will be performing the highest service for our dearmost, ever well-wishing friend: Shri Krishna.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Fruits of the Forest

Shabari “O best among men, thus I was spoken to at that time by those greatly fortunate sages. O best among men, indeed for Your sake I have collected a variety of forest fruits which were growing on the banks of the Pampa Lake, O tiger among men.” (Shabari speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 74.17)

For those new to Vedic traditions, one of the first noticeable practices is the reverence shown to the spiritual master, or guru. We may be accustomed to worshiping God in our minds and offering Him our prayers, but followers of the Vedic tradition offer dandavats when approaching exalted personalities. Dandavats refers to falling on the ground like a rod, or danda, and it is the greatest sign of humility. This obeisance is offered not only in the presence of the guru, but also in the temple to the deity and to pictures of the guru. This style of surrender may seem off-putting to some, but it has a unique purpose. The spiritual master is the via-medium, the boatman who can rescue us from the ocean of misery. The guru has seen the light, and he is kind enough to show others what he has learned. His instructions are actually quite simple, but following through on them without reservation is not.

Sita's marriage to Rama Since we are born ignorant and helpless, we have all followed the instructions of someone at some point in our lives. Parents guide us through the early years, so they usually remain our primary source of knowledge and instruction. The mother-daughter relationship is certainly unique. Fathers love to spend time with their sons and maybe pass along some words of advice, but the mothers take the role of teacher much more seriously when it comes to their daughters. Any good parent wants to one day marry off their daughter to a nice family, finding a husband who matches well with the daughter’s needs and desires. Once the girl leaves the family, she is technically on her own, so it is important that she be imbibed with the fundamentals of life and good values in her youth.

In the Vedic tradition, mothers teach their daughters how to survive in a marriage. Marriage is known as a religious institution, the grihastha ashrama. The husband and wife are to live together for the purpose of cultivating spiritual knowledge. It’s uncommon to find both the husband and wife dedicated to spirituality, so usually the burden falls upon only one of them. In modern times, it is common to see the women take charge of the day-to-day religious duties relating to the family. The wives make sure to perform arati [the offering of a lamp in front of the deity] in the home at least twice a day, offering and distributing prasadam at the same time. The deity shouldn’t be mistaken to be an idol. God is one, so He is the Supreme Lord for every single living entity in this world. Since we don’t have the eyes to see Him in our conditioned state, the Lord is kind enough to take other forms that are more conducive for worship. A person’s identity doesn’t change throughout their lifetime, but we see that we treat them differently depending on their current body. We treat a young child much differently than we treat an elderly person. We like to hold babies, kiss them, and make funny faces at them. We wouldn’t dare repeat the same behavior with the same children when they become adults. Therefore we can conclude that the childhood form of the living entity is the one most conducive for the offering of love.

Deity worship In a similar manner, God is Absolute, but He takes certain forms that make it easier for the living entities to offer worship. The deity is an incarnation of God known as the archa-vigraha, or worshipable body. Deity worship can involve large statues and elaborate rituals, but it can also be very simple. In a typical Vaishnava family, one will find an altar set up somewhere in the home to allow family members to offer worship.

The women usually take charge of this process inside of family life. But where do they learn the correct procedures and prayers to be used in such worship? Where do they learn how to prepare the proper offerings such as ghee and panchamrita? Where do they learn the sacred formulas to chant? This information is taught to young girls by their mothers. When these girls get married and eventually have their own daughters, they then pass down the same information. In this way, we see that the women of the Vedic tradition have their own parampara, or disciplic succession.

Valmiki teaching Lava and Kusha Mothers teaching their daughters is but one example of the guru-disciple relationship. This system only works when there is humble submission. What’s interesting to note is that the instructions given are usually quite simple. A good teacher will stick to a few key points and focus on them. The disciple in this relationship doesn’t have to be a close friend, family member, or one of a higher caste. It can be anyone who is in need of help. The guru is willing to help anyone who is sincerely interested in reforming themselves. An example of this mercy was seen with the great Narada Muni a long long time ago. The Vedas tell us that the bona fide spiritual master is one who is completely devoted to Lord Krishna, or God. This means that they are free from all other defects and desires. Sometimes someone will seriously take up religious life, but since they have accumulated so many attachments from their material life, their devotional life will be mixed. They may enjoy worshiping God, but at the same time, they’ll have other material causes they will spend their time on. The best spiritual master is one who has completely given up all hopes of happiness in material life. Krishna is one who is all-attractive, thus His devotees receive all the happiness they need through associating with Him. Since Krishna provides the highest form of happiness, devotees have no reason to look for happiness anywhere else.

What’s so wonderful about Krishna’s adherents is that they are not misers. They are liberated souls, but they are not content with just having Krishna for themselves. They know the Truth, so they are not afraid to tell it to others, especially those who are trapped in a miserable condition. Narada Muni is one of the most famous gurus in history. His disciples are the who’s who of transcendentalists. On one occasion, Narada was wandering through a forest when he saw a bunch of animals half-killed. They had been shot by a hunter and were on the verge of death. Narada approached the hunter and asked him why he was engaged in such abominable activity. “Either leave the animals alone or just kill them outright. Why are you letting them suffer?” The hunter replied that he was deriving enjoyment from this half-killing and that this was the way he was taught to hunt from his childhood.

Narada Muni visiting the hunter Long story short, Narada advised the hunter to give up killing for a living and instead take to worship of Tulasi Devi, the sacred plant and beloved maidservant of Krishna. The hunter was a little worried though. If he gave up hunting and simply took to worshiping a plant, how would he eat? How would he survive? Narada told the hunter not to worry about it; that he would take care of all the arrangements. How kind is Narada Muni? Since the time of our youth, we are taught all these lessons in life about how to do things the right way and how we should be self-sufficient, but Narada didn’t discuss any of these details. He told the hunter to simply worship Tulasi Devi and not worry about anything else.

The hunter took his advice and, to his surprise, people came to see him, offering large quantities of food as a gift. Narada Muni had told the neighboring residents that a saintly man had come to the forest and was taking up worship of Tulasi Devi. The residents wanted to show respect to such a person, so they brought him more than enough food. And what was the result of this change in lifestyle? The hunter soon became so kindhearted that he would hop around instead of just walking. He didn’t want to hurt a single ant on the ground. This shows the true power of a spiritual master. Following their simple instructions, one can go from being a ruthless hunter to the most harmless person.

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

Shabari welcoming Rama and Lakshmana Many thousands of years ago, Lord Krishna incarnated on earth as a handsome prince named Rama. During one period in His life, the Lord was roaming the forests with His younger brother Lakshmana. At the time, a great female sage by the name of Shabari was also residing in the forest. As mentioned before, women in the Vedic tradition are usually trained up to be devoted wives, caretakers of the family. Shabari, however, was an ascetic, so she transcended all the rules and regulations of material life. She was dedicated to asceticism, and as a reward, her spiritual guides gave her instructions on how to achieve liberation from the cycle of birth and death. They told her that Lord Rama was coming to visit her soon and that she should welcome Him hospitably and offer Him nice food to eat.

In the above referenced statement, Shabari is explaining what her gurus taught her and how she was following their advice. We should take note of the type of offering she made to Rama, that of fruits and berries of the forest. Living the life of a brahmana, Shabari was non-violent by nature and also renounced, so she had no possessions. In this case, what could she offer God? Based on the results of her action, we can see that her offering to Rama was first class. Lord Rama was greatly pleased with her hospitality, and He granted her liberation from the cycle of birth and death as a reward. Shabari ascended to the imperishable spiritual planets after meeting Rama.

Rama eating the fruits offered to Him How was Lord Rama satisfied with some wild fruits? After all, Rama and Lakshmana were accustomed to eating meat. God transcends any and all material designations, but when He comes to earth, He plays the part of a person belonging to a specific class of society. Rama and Lakshmana were members of the kshatriya caste, i.e. they were warriors and administrators by trade. In those times, kshatriyas were allowed to kill certain animals as a way of practicing their fighting skills. As a result, they also ate meat from time to time. We shouldn’t mistake this type of meat eating with the modern day practice of slaughterhouses. All the animals killed by Rama and Lakshmana were offered up in a religious sacrifice prior to eating. This means that the souls of the animals were promoted to a higher species in the next life.

Though Rama and Lakshmana ate meat, we see that Shabari’s spiritual guides didn’t advise her to kill any animals. On the contrary, they told her to gather whatever she could and then offer it with love and devotion. This is the most important factor in religious life. God is the most fortunate; He has all the wealth in the world. So what need does He have for our wealth? He’s not looking for quantity, but quality. Offering whatever we have at our disposal with love and devotion is enough to make the Lord happy.

Lord Chaitanya Lord Chaitanya gave all the people of this age the simplest formula for achieving success in spiritual life. He advised everyone to simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible. Lord Chaitanya was a perfect spiritual master and, being an incarnation of Krishna, He also empowered future generations of disciples to offer spiritual guidance to mankind. Anyone can follow this simple formula of chanting God’s names and eating Krishna prasadam. There is no loss on our part, and as we saw with the examples of the hunter and Shabari, by following the guru’s instructions, all other issues in life are taken care of automatically.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Passive Aggressive

Lord Chaitanya “Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu has very favorably stressed the importance of this process of hearing. According to His method, if people are simply given a chance to hear about Krishna, certainly they will gradually develop their dormant awareness or love of Godhead.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.141 Purport)

Who would have thought that one of the most passive activities could prove to be the most potent form of spiritual activity? Something as simple as hearing can actually aggressively attack the wall of nescience surrounding the conditioned soul. This wall of ignorance precludes one from rekindling their original purified consciousness. Since consciousness, or one’s state of mind, is the driver of activity, if it is clouded or lost in a bottomless pit, naturally the activities that result from such a condition will also be of the lowest variety. In order for activities to be purified, a better way of thinking must be adopted. This mindset can be quickly achieved through the hearing process. Of all the topics that aural reception can focus on, none is more pleasing to the mind than the transcendental subject matter of Shri Krishna. Simply by hearing about Krishna regularly, one can remove all unwanted things in life.

Krishna's activities We are already accustomed to the hearing process. Though television and internet have gained in popularity, the hearing process is still at the forefront of the exchange of information. When watching a television newscast, we are taking in information through the words delivered by the news anchor. When watching a sporting event on television, the broadcasters are feeding information to us constantly. Music is also a form of the hearing process; a way to give pleasure to the mind through the reception of sequences of notes.

Though hearing is a passive activity, it has long lasting results. If we hear of a tragic news story, we will likely talk about it with others. Most people remember where they were and what they were doing when the Twin Towers in New York City were attacked on September 11th, 2001. Immediately upon hearing the news, people started talking about the event with others. The same sequence of activity occurs with anything else that is heard, either intentionally or unintentionally. In this way, we see that hearing plays a vital role in the exchange of information.

Lord Chaitanya Since we hear about so many different topics and subjects, which one is superior? What should we focus our attention on? Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who is also known as Gaurahari, recommends that we listen primarily to topics relating to Krishna. In the Vedic tradition, there is no equivalent term for the English word “God”. Rather, the Supreme Divine Entity is described in terms of His limitless attributes. His original form is known as Bhagavan Shri Krishna. Bhagavan refers to the Almighty’s possession of every opulence imaginable to the fullest degree. The word “Krishna” speaks to the Lord’s all-attractive nature. Taking the two words together, the Supreme Lord is taken as the most attractive person who possesses every desirable attribute at the same time.

Lord Gaurahari is a famous historical personality, preacher, and exponent on the science of self-realization known as bhakti-yoga. Gaurahari is also considered an incarnation of Krishna by His devotees. Another name for the divine in the Vedic tradition is Hari, which means one who removes distresses. No one is more capable of removing all unwanted things from a person’s life than Krishna. Hari, Krishna, and Vishnu are interchangeable names for the original Personality of Godhead. What these forms have in common is that they possess a transcendental body which is of a bluish complexion. Therefore Krishna is commonly addressed as Shyamasundara, or the beautiful one possessing the complexion of a dark raincloud. Lord Chaitanya is known as Gaurahari because He is the same Hari who appeared on earth with a fair complexion.

Shyamasundara Lord Chaitanya’s recommended spiritual practice is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. While chanting is an active engagement, hearing is more of a passive activity. Lord Chaitanya stated that simply by hearing, just by sitting down and listening to the transcendental sound vibrations of Krishna’s names and descriptions of His activities, one can achieve perfection in life.

What is that perfection? As mentioned before, consciousness drives activity. When consciousness becomes purified, when it returns to its original constitutional position, it drives one towards spiritual activities. By their outward appearance, activities of the spiritual variety aren’t very different from normal activities. The difference lies in the identification of two key entities: the enjoyer and the enjoyed. By default, the living entities take themselves to be the enjoyers. This identification drives them towards activities that will satisfy the self. These activities can either involve the acquisition of material objects, relationships, or pleasures. Sometimes the activities can also be deemed as unselfish; engagements where the intended recipient of such service is someone besides the self. Yet even in these situations, the ultimate enjoyer is taken to be the individual performing the activities.

Lord Krishna Spiritual activities are inherently different because they are performed for the pleasure of Krishna. Knowing that Krishna is the ultimate enjoyer and acting off this information are two different things. In order for a person to be considered truly religious, they must abide by the principles of the faith they espouse. If we outwardly acknowledge that Krishna is the only enjoyer, our activities must back up this claim. But due to the cloud of nescience which envelopes us, taking to spiritual activities is not an easy thing. It requires a change in consciousness; something which can easily be acquired through hearing about the Lord.

Why should we hear about Krishna in lieu of other topics? What if we don’t believe in Krishna? What if we have our own God or are not even religious? In truth, every single person in the world is religious. Being spiritually inclined simply means acknowledging a higher power, an authority who serves as the ultimate object of worship and also the ultimate enjoyer. This object doesn’t have to be a divine figure in order for the principle of religiosity to remain valid. For example, one person may take to worshiping their dog by humbly offering it service on a daily basis. The faithful dog owner will rush home to walk their “best friend” on a timely basis, scooping up whatever waste deposits are left by the dog during its walk. The faithful servant of the dog will gladly bend down and offer obeisances in the form of setting up food, cleaning up after accidents, and playing with the dog on the floor.

Krishna's activities Others follow a similar mindset. Fans of fictional movie series such as Star Wars and Lord of the Rings will camp outside movie theaters in anticipation of getting tickets. They will also dress up as their favorite characters and imitate their activities and speaking patterns. This is all a form of worship which involves some sort of hearing. Lord Chaitanya’s recommendation is that we should simply shift the focus of our hearing towards topics relating to Krishna. Since He is the Supreme Pure, He will provide all the happiness that we already get from hearing about other topics and so much more.

So what do topics relating to Krishna deal with? The Lord has been kind enough to appear on earth many times in the past in various guises. During such times, Krishna took on many roles that are familiar to us, such as father, son, husband, prince, king, preacher, spiritual master, warrior, brother, etc. Simply by hearing of His activities in these various roles, we can relate to the Supreme Lord and garner an attachment to Him. This attachment helps change our consciousness. If we constantly hear about Krishna, we will naturally talk about Him with others. Information relating to the Lord is perfect in every respect, for one of Krishna’s names is Achyuta, which means infallible.

“Listen Rama, I will now tell You where You, Sita, and Lakshmana should reside. Those whose ears are like oceans which are constantly replenished by, and never overflow from, streams represented by stories of Your wonderful activities - in their hearts You should make Your charming abode.”  (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 127.1-2)

Sita and Rama in the forest During one of Krishna’s most famous advents on earth, the Lord took on the guise of a handsome prince named Rama. While travelling through the forests of India alongside His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, Rama came upon the hermitage of the illustrious sage Valmiki. Asking the sage if he knew of a good place to set up a camp, Rama was greeted with a description of the qualities of a pure devotee of God. Upon listing each characteristic, Valmiki asked Rama to live in the heart of any person who possessed such noble traits. One of the first characteristics mentioned by Valmiki was the insatiable appetite for hearing about the Lord. The great sage was saying that Lord Rama, along with Sita and Lakshmana, should reside in the hearts of those who eagerly anticipate hearing about God and His glories. Not only do such people take pleasure in hearing of transcendental topics, but they relish every word they are fortunate enough to take in. They also never tire of hearing such stories, no matter how many times they are heard.  These stories are like rivers which flow into an ocean that can never overflow. This means that God rewards those who take the hearing process to be their life and soul. This fact alone should be enough to convince us of the potency of hearing about Krishna.

We should most certainly heed Shri Gaurahari’s advice. Since hearing is a simple and passive activity, there is no reason to shun it. We simply need to spend a few minutes every day to listen to Krishna or descriptions of Him given by great devotees. Hearing can also take place through reading great texts such as the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, and Shrimad Bhagavatam. The transcendental descriptions contained within these texts represent the sword of knowledge which can help us cut away the cloud of ignorance that surrounds us. By holding on to Krishna, His name, and the transcendental sound vibrations which describe Him as our most valuable possessions, the Lord will make sure that such precious commodities remain protected and ever-increasing in value.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Imperishable Realm

Shabari meeting Rama “Those great saints, who are knowers of dharma and greatly fortunate, spoke these words to me: ‘Rama will visit your very pious ashrama. Along with Saumitra [Lakshmana], you should offer Rama the greatest hospitality as your guest. Thus after seeing Him, as a benediction, you will ascend to the eternal realm.’” (Shabari speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 74.15-16)

This one passage from the famous Ramayana succinctly explains the purpose of life. Due to the individuality of the spirit soul, different priorities and philosophies will develop over the course of a lifetime of a living entity. Acting on these desires and aims, individuals take to different activities. One will either succeed or fail in their endeavors, but since none of the objectives are focused on the imperishable, aims and desires will have to be constantly adjusted. For an objective to be considered supreme, it must provide a result which transcends all other results. In the above referenced passage, we are privy to instructions provided by bona fide spiritual guides which aim to produce the highest benefit of life, that of ascension to the imperishable realm, that abode where having gone once, one never returns.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)

Lord Krishna God, the divine creator, the Lord of lords, can assume many shapes and sizes. Since He is so great, some take God to be a man-made creation. This thought process is understandable since the human mind is incapable of conceiving of a perfect entity, someone who is flawless and never falls down. But by carefully studying the workings of this world, we can reach no other conclusion except that which acknowledges God’s existence. How do we know this? For starters, let’s analyze the terms “flawed” and “temporary”. For the concept of fallibility to exist, there must be something which is infallible. If there wasn’t something infallible already in existence, then the concept of fallibility would have no meaning. The same holds true with permanence and mutability. We can only understand what “permanent” means by studying things which are not permanent.

“Whatever action a great man performs, common men follow. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.21)

Simply based on these facts, we can logically deduce that there must be a single infallible and permanent source for everything that we see in this material world. God is that source, but since the concept of “God” is quite abstract, the authoritative scriptures give us more details about the Supreme. When we say a certain set of scriptures is authoritative, it means that people of authority have declared them to be so. And who are the authority figures? Starting from the time of our birth, the first people we hand control over to is our parents. Next come the spiritual leaders, or gurus. We trust these people because they are in charge of our well-being, and they really have no reason to guide us astray. Should our authority figures happen to be flawed, we can still study the example set by those who are virtuous and well-respected. In any society, there will naturally be a leader or group of people that everyone else follows.

Shrila Prabhupada When it comes to understanding God, we must consult spiritual leaders, people who know what they are talking about. The saintly class tells us that God exists and that information about Him can be found in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. The Vedas are the oldest religious books in existence, for one cannot even accurately date their origin. Vedic wisdom was initially passed down through aural reception.  This wisdom states that God has many names, forms, and features, even though He is a singular entity.

This divine leader, the Supreme Lord of creation, kindly appears on earth from time to time to help the fallen souls rekindle their forgotten relationship with Him. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga when Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, roamed the earth. Lord Rama is one of God’s most famous incarnations as He is worshiped to this day by millions around the world. Rama especially draws the attention of devotees because, as His name so aptly describes, He gives pleasure to all He comes in contact with. Not only does Rama please by His smile and His nature, but also through His glorious activities.

Lord Rama's pastimes The activities performed by Rama during His time on earth are so famous that they are chronicled in many Vedic texts. Since Rama appears on earth in every millennium, the exact nature of the events pertaining to His life sometimes differs, but the general sequence is usually the same. The most detailed description of His life and pastimes can be found in the Ramayana, which was compiled by Maharishi Valmiki. The above referenced statement from the Ramayana describes an incident where Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana visited the hermitage of the exalted female sage Shabari.

At the time, Rama and Lakshmana were looking for Rama’s wife Sita Devi, who had gone missing. Sita had been kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Lest we think this was a slight on Rama’s part, Sita’s kidnap was in the cards, part of the great equation that would lead to Ravana’s demise. In fact, defeating Ravana was one of the primary reasons for God’s advent on earth as a pious and powerful warrior. While roaming the forests looking for Sita, Rama was told to visit Shabari, for the female sage was pious and ever dedicated to performing austerities. Upon approaching the ashrama, Rama and Lakshmana were greeted very kindly by Shabari. The gentle lady kindly touched their feet and welcomed them very hospitably. After exchanging pleasantries, Shabari praised Rama as being the foremost of gods and also told Him of what her spiritual guides had previously told her.

Shabari welcoming Rama and Lakshmana From the statements of Shabari’s spiritual guides, we can understand how to achieve perfection in life. In the first part of their instructions, the sages told Shabari to welcome both Rama and Lakshmana hospitably. Hospitality means kindness. This kindness wasn’t of the ordinary variety either, for it was to be directed at God and His younger brother. Can God have a brother? Surely He can. Vedic information tells us that God, whose original form is that of Lord Krishna, does not reside in the spiritual world alone. We know from our own lives that we have more fun when our friends and family are with us. In a similar manner, Krishna is the greatest enjoyer, so this means that His enjoyment comes through association with the most exalted souls. These pleasure-givers are a representation of one of Krishna’s potencies, namely hladini-shakti. The topmost pleasure-giver to Krishna is Shrimati Radharani, the fountainhead of all goddesses of fortune, or Lakshmis. Sita Devi was in fact an incarnation of Lakshmi, i.e. she was the very same Radha from the spiritual world.

There are different moods, or mellows, through which one can have association with Krishna. Pleasure doesn’t always have to come through conjugal love. Krishna also has other associates who give Him pleasure through friendship, fraternity, and parental affection. In this regard, Baladeva, or Lord Balarama, is Krishna’s expansion who offers fraternal love and affection. Balarama is actually the embodiment of the spiritual master, God’s greatest protector. Just as Rama was an incarnation of Krishna and Sita an incarnation of Radha, Lakshmana was an incarnation of Baladeva.

Lakshmana Shabari was advised to act kindly towards God and His brother. The nature of this kindness is also important to note. Shabari was not advised to simply view Rama and Lakshmana with awe and reverence. She was not told to respect them because of their great fighting ability or the fact that they were of the princely order. Instead, she was advised to treat Rama and Lakshmana on the same level as she would treat her own family members. After all, the greatest form of hospitality is to treat a fellow stranger on the same level as we would treat a member of our own family. If a relative comes to visit us after a long time, we go to great lengths to make sure they are happy staying in our home. We will clean up the house and whip up the best food preparations in anticipation. The aim of hospitality is to make the guest feel as if they are residing within their own home. This is how Shabari tried to treat Rama and Lakshmana.

The second part of the instructions given to Shabari is a complement to the first part. The first part details what actions are to be taken. The second part deals with the results, the reward Shabari would gain from performing the prescribed set of actions. The nature of this reward is interesting to note. The sages told Shabari that by serving Rama and Lakshmana, she would ascend to a spiritual realm which is imperishable. We should note that Shabari was not told that she would merge into any energy, nor was she told that she would assume a body just like Narayana’s. On the contrary, her reward would be ascension to a new home.

For there to be ascension, there has to be movement. But what is actually moving? Is Shabari being carried away to a different location? The ascension in this context refers to the soul. The place we currently inhabit, the material world, is temporary and full of miseries. Not only are our surroundings temporary, but so is the body that we currently occupy. The soul within the body forms the basis of our identity, and thus it is only the soul that remains after our current body is destroyed. It is this soul that moves from one body to the next through the process of transmigration, or what is commonly referred to as reincarnation.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.13)

Lord Krishna This transmigration process happens automatically; we really have no control over it. However, we do have a say in where the soul will end up next. By studying the instructions given to Shabari, we see that there is a place where the soul can go and never have to return from. If we never return from this place, then it surely must not be part of the material world. After all, the material world is temporary and destined for destruction. If we live in an area forever, then it must exist forever. Not only must this realm always remain in existence, but so must the body that we occupy while living in this place. Hence, we can understand that those who ascend to this spiritual realm must also be given a body which is imperishable.

The spiritual world must be imperishable because for something to be perishable there must also be a place which is never subject to creation or destruction. The authorized scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam inform us that this ever-existing realm is known as the spiritual world. This shouldn’t be confused with the concept of heaven. Heaven is a place of elevated sense pleasure, a place which allows for enjoyment on a higher level than we are currently accustomed to. The heavenly planets are also considered to be part of the perishable world; so ascension to this realm cannot be considered the highest achievement in life.

The Vedanta-sutras state that everything in this world emanates from the Absolute Truth, or God. The variegatedness of this world is simply a reflection of those things found in Krishna’s realm. If something is considered a reflection, it means that the real thing must exist somewhere. If the real object didn’t exist, there would be no meaning to the concept of reflection.

Rama and Lakshmana The instructions given by the sages to Shabari actually apply to every single person in this world. Though Rama and Lakshmana aren’t roaming the earth today in their original forms, they have kindly incarnated in the form of a transcendental sound vibration. This vibration is known as the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Anyone who treats this mantra with love and respect, who honors this sacred formula by regularly chanting it, will surely receive the same benedictions that were bestowed upon Shabari. This is the magic of devotional service. We should all welcome God into our homes by reciting His name, worshiping His deity, and always remembering His glorious pastimes.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Praise The Lord

Krishna fighting the Keshi demon “When the horse was dead, his mouth became loose and Krishna could extract His hand without difficulty. He did not feel any surprise that the Keshi demon was killed so easily, but the demigods were amazed, and out of their great appreciation they offered Krishna greetings by showering flowers.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 36)

This passage describes the conclusion of an incident where a demon had assumed the form of a horse and attacked Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The original Lord of mankind, the one and only God, descended to earth in His original, transcendental, and blissful body around five thousand years ago in Vrindavana. Especially during His childhood, this original form of Godhead, known by the name of Krishna, took to killing demons that attacked the innocent. A learned man may question the need for God to fight demons. After all, if He is the Supreme Lord, He is most certainly in charge of creating every circumstance and every favorable and unfavorable condition in the world. Therefore the initial attack of any demon must be caused by Krishna in the first place, so why would He want to create such a situation? Is He simply after praise from others? Normally, such a personality trait would be considered a defect, but with the Supreme Lord it isn’t. The praise offered to Krishna actually purifies those who offer it, rather than Krishna Himself. The Lord is the Supreme Pure, atmarama, so He is in need of nothing.

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

Lord Krishna The Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and complete exposition on the original theistic doctrine put in place for all of mankind, states that the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original Personality of Godhead possessing a full form, descends to earth whenever and wherever there is a steep decline in religious practice and the prominent rise of irreligion. Religion can be thought of as any set of guidelines and procedures which enable one to remain connected with God. Irreligion is thus anything which leads to the opposite condition. When there is a rise in irreligion, it means that the practice of activities which keep one separate from God rise to prominence. This situation certainly isn’t favorable for anyone, including those who espouse the belief in a formless God or the absence of an almighty creator. Regardless of the motivations behind irreligious activities, the actions themselves can never lead to any beneficial condition. Since religion is derived from the pure, transcendental, and blissful relationship that exists between the liberated living entities and their supreme object of pleasure, God, religious activities, when practiced properly, automatically keep one in a blissful state. Activities of irreligion, therefore, must inevitably lead to unhappiness since they ensure that the link to the transcendental realm remains broken.

If the irreligionists rise to any sort of prominence, naturally society’s chances for reconnecting with the Supreme Spirit will diminish. Therefore in extreme circumstances, the Supreme Lord personally descends to earth. He takes on the greatest enemies of the theists, thus giving protection to the devotees who aim to remain in God consciousness. One such descent of the Divine took place around five thousand years ago. Lord Krishna, who is God in His original form and possesses all attractiveness and beauty, appeared from the womb of Mother Devaki in Mathura, but was then subsequently transferred to the nearby town of Vrindavana. It was in Vrindavana that Krishna enacted the pastimes which devotees relish the most. The king of Mathura at the time, Kamsa, sent demon after demon to kill Krishna in Vrindavana. Since Krishna is God, these demons didn’t stand a chance when facing Him.

Krishna fighting Keshi demon In the above referenced passage, Lord Krishna has just finished killing a demon named Keshi. This demon assumed the form of a horse, and at the behest of Kamsa, went to Vrindavana to attack Krishna and His cowherd friends. Vrindavana was a farm community, so Lord Krishna decided to fit into the society by playing the role of a cowherd boy. Since Krishna is so attractive, He was the center of attention in Vrindavana. The Lord had many friends who would go out to the pasturing grounds with Him on a regular basis. It was during these outings that the demons would usually choose to attack. Krishna appeared to be an ordinary child to the demons, so they didn’t think they would have any trouble taking on the Lord or any of His childhood friends. This Keshi demon charged at Krishna, but the Lord easily caught hold of him and threw him to the ground. Regaining his senses, the horse charged at Krishna again, but this time the Lord forced His hand into Keshi’s mouth. While in the horse’s mouth, Krishna’s hand began to gradually increase in size. The demon couldn’t take the pain and eventually died as a result.

Upon the death of the demon, the demigods in the sky showered flowers in praise of Krishna. Narada Muni, the great saint, was also on hand to offer kind prayers to Krishna, praising the Lord for His wonderful feats. These demons were very powerful, so it was quite astonishing to see someone in the form of a child killing them so easily. Demigods are known as celestials; they are elevated living entities who reside in the heavenly planets. Since they are devotees of Krishna, they are also known as suras. Since demons are enemies of Krishna and the demigods, they are known as asuras.

Krishna's birthKrishna, as God, is deserving of praise and adoration at all times, regardless of the circumstance. Yet it is certainly interesting to see that during His childhood, the Lord would accept all of the praise that came to Him as a result of situations that He was technically responsible for creating. For instance, the demons that came to Vrindavana were only there to kill Krishna. They only came to kill Krishna because Kamsa had asked them to. Kamsa only wanted Krishna dead because a prophecy had stated that the king would die at the hands of Devaki’s eighth son. If Krishna had not appeared as Devaki’s child, Kamsa would have had no need to try to kill him. The inhabitants of Vrindavana would have been spared the attacks of the demons if Krishna had not been born.

So does this mean that Lord Krishna, God Himself, simply came to earth to receive praise? Is He so petty that He needs to be loved and adored by everyone in order to feel happy? To answer these questions, let’s first review how similar situations play out in ordinary dealings. Young children and spouses serve as good examples in this regard. A typical child will ask for toys, games, and money from time to time. A good parent will hold back in these situations, not wanting to spoil the child. If a child is given whatever they want, whenever they want, they won’t learn the value of money and hard work. When they grow older, they will start to expect others to meet their needs and thus have a difficult time in life.

Krishna with Mother Yashoda But as we all know, sometimes parents just can’t help it. Their child will desperately want something, like a bike or a state of the art video game system, and the parent will budge and purchase the item, usually giving it as a gift for Christmas or a birthday. When the child receives the gift, the reaction will be quite predictable. “Oh Dad, I love you so much! I can’t believe you bought this for me. You’re the best dad in the whole world!” Naturally this will make the parent feel quite happy and satisfied. In these situations, the parents will hardly remember that the toy itself was the impetus for the love and affection shown to them. The child was made happy, and the parent was satisfied at the same time. The psychological reasons for such an exchange of emotion are not taken into account.

Husbands and wives have similar experiences. Valentine’s Day, the wedding anniversary, and the birthday are the three most important days of each year that the husband must make sure to not forget about. From the wife’s perspective, there is usually an expectation of receiving a gift on these special days. A good husband will not only remember these occasions, but he will go above and beyond the call of duty to try to meet or surpass the expectations of the wife. If he comes through with the perfect gift, the wife will surely be happy. “Oh honey, I love you so much. I can’t believe you put so much thought into my gift. I love it, and I love you.” The same cause-and-effect is seen when the wife buys a gift for the husband. If the wife purchases a new electronic device, tickets to a popular sporting event, or cooks an elaborate meal, surely the husband will be very pleased. He, in turn, will offer similar loving sentiments back to the wife as a way of thanking her.

In this paradigm, the loving sentiments directed at the spouse have a root cause, namely the elaborate, thoughtful, and well-timed gift. Ideally, the husband and wife should already love each other completely and without motive. The exchange of loving sentiments shouldn’t be dependent on the giving of gifts. But these situations are commonplace nonetheless. Just as with the giving of gifts to children, the root cause of the resulting happiness and love is ignored, for all the giver cares about is seeing their beloved happy.

Radha Krishna This same principle can be applied to the devotees who offer praise to the Lord. Regardless of whether or not the Lord created the perilous situation for His own satisfaction, the wonderful activities He performed as a result are certainly worthy of praise. More importantly, the offering of praise from the devotee serves to purify their consciousness. It is this purified consciousness, when adopted and maintained permanently up until the time of death, that allows a conditioned soul to become liberated.

Liberation results in the end of the cycle of birth and death. The conditioned soul is meant to always reside with Krishna, but upon taking birth in the material world, it looks for association with anything except Krishna. Therefore, the real purpose behind Krishna’s appearances on earth is to allow the lost souls a chance to reconnect with Him. By witnessing the Lord’s wonderful activities and transcendental pastimes, the living entities become inspired to offer praise to their supreme object of pleasure. In this way we see that Lord Krishna performs a great service for all of humanity by creating situations where He can protect the innocent from the attacks of demons.

Lord Krishna If the Lord didn’t create these situations, our praise would be misdirected towards ordinary human beings. These people may possess great attributes and personality traits, but worshiping them doesn’t really advance the plight of the soul. The only living entities actually deserving of praise are those who take to praising Krishna at all times. Therefore great devotees like Narada Muni and the demigods in heaven serve as objects of worship. They constantly praise Krishna for His exploits, thus setting a good example for the rest of society. Their association helps us in the long run.

We should take advantage of the accounts of Krishna’s activities found in Vedic texts such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana. The calamitous situations, and their subsequent resolutions brought about by Krishna's transcendental activities, described within these books were created for our benefit. God is self-satisfied, so He is lacking nothing. Rather, it is the conditioned souls who are in need of something; an ultimate object of worship, a hero that will never let them down. That hero is Lord Krishna.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Comparing Ramayanas

Worshiping Sita and Rama “O best of men, today, by worshiping You, Rama who is the greatest of all the gods, my religious practices have become fruitful and my ascension to the heavenly realm will surely take place.” (Shabari speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 74.12)

The Ramayana is one of the most famous literary works in history. More than just a book, it is a wonderful Sanskrit poem which describes the life and pastimes of Lord Shri Rama, a pious prince and celebrated avatara of the Supreme Lord. The Ramayana is so famous that it has sprung many spinoffs and offshoots, other variations of the poem which describe the same events in different levels of detail. Since the Ramayana is so old - old enough that we can’t accurately date its composition - it has been studied for centuries. In modern times, scholars, academics, and inquisitive non-devotees have taken to studying the work. They have compared several popular versions and have concluded that the original Ramayana, penned by Maharishi Valmiki, hardly makes any reference at all to Rama being a divine figure, an incarnation of God. Rather, they believe that Rama only became known as a deity many years later. This erroneous conclusion based off mental speculation is refuted many times in the actual text of the Ramayana, including in the section describing the incident where Lord Rama meets the great female sage Shabari.

Goswami Tulsidas In order to put things into proper context, familiarity with the nature of some of the other Ramayanas that have come into existence is required. Probably the most famous alternate version, or supplement to Valmiki’s Ramayana, is the Ramacharitamanasa, a poem written by Goswami Tulsidas during the sixteenth century. This work is often referred to as the Tulsi Ramayana, but it should be noted that Tulsidas never intended for his work to be taken as the original Ramayana. Rather, he named his book the Ramacharitamanasa, which refers to the mind always contemplating the transcendental activities of Lord Rama. Tulsidas’ work is a poem composed in Awadhi, which is a dialect of Hindi. It is funny to see that some scholars have taken up the task to determine whether or not the Ramacharitamanasa is a translation of the original Ramayana. This is humorous because the Ramacharitamanasa was never intended to be a translation, nor has the author claimed that it is one. Rather, it is simply a beautiful poem extolling the virtues of Lord Rama, with a brief summary of His life’s activities included.

What was the need for this great work? After all, the Ramayana is one of the holiest scriptures, complete in and of itself. The completeness is what is important in this regard. The Valmiki Ramayana is very long, consisting of thousands of Sanskrit verses. Included are detailed conversations and blow by blow accounts of the fighting that took place between Lord Rama’s Vanara army and Ravana’s band of Rakshasas. In recent times, several movies have been made of the Ramayana. Obviously the entire work could never be accurately portrayed in a single movie, so each film depicts only a summary of the events. From our personal experience, when we were six years of age, we visited India and through good fortune were exposed to the Ramayana and Lord Rama. When we heard that there were movies made of this Ramayana, we pestered the elders to take us to see one. Our guardians and relatives told us of different Ramayana movies that were in the theaters at the time, but we insisted on seeing whichever one was the longest, which at the time was the Sampoorna Ramayana.

Lord Rama's pastimes The point of all this is that the Valmiki Ramayana is quite lengthy. Even a movie that claims to be sampurna, or complete, surely isn’t. Taking this into consideration, Tulsidas took to writing his own poem about Lord Rama. It should also be noted that we currently live in the age of Kali. This age is known for rampant quarrel and hypocrisy; hence people generally don’t have an affinity for spiritual life. Therefore presenting the original Ramayana to society at large is a difficult task. Tulsidas, being a surrendered soul and pure devotee of Lord Rama, wanted to spread the glories of the Lord to everyone, making the pastimes and activities of Rama presentable to a larger audience.

One will notice many differences between the Ramacharitamanasa and the original Ramayana. The narration itself is different, with Tulsidas’ version being told from the perspective of a conversation between Lord Shiva and his wife Parvati. This conversation appears in the Brahmanda Purana in a section which is known as the Adhyatma Ramayana, or the spiritual Ramayana. Since this version is from a Purana, its author is Vyasadeva, the great compiler of all the Puranas, Mahabharata, and Vedanta-sutras. The Supreme Lord descends to earth in every creation, but the exact sequence of His activities can vary in each kalpa. The events in the Adhyatma Ramayana are described a little differently, with certain key elements deviating completely from the original. For example, one of the major differences is that the form of Sita, Lord Rama’s wife, that is kidnapped by Ravana is only a material version. The Ramacharitamanasa tells us that the real Sita entered the fire just prior to her kidnap, leaving an illusory form for Ravana to take. Upon Ravana’s death and Sita’s rescue, the original form of Rama’s wife reappeared from the fire.

“When Ravana came to kidnap mother Sita and she saw him, she took shelter of the fire-god, Agni. The fire-god covered the body of mother Sita, and in this way she was protected from the hands of Ravana.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 9.202)

Sita emerging from the fire Tulsidas is often criticized for this and other deviations in his work. The harshest critics say that he made his events up, wanting to protect Sita. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, actually corroborated Tulsdias’ version of Sita’s illusory form being kidnapped. Lord Chaitanya, who roamed the earth prior to Tulsidas’ advent, specifically found evidence relating to Sita from the Kurma Purana and showed the original page to a brahmana named Ramadasa Vipra. Ramadasa was a great devotee of Lord Rama and was upset about Sita being kidnapped. Lord Chaitanya, being the original Hari Himself, alleviated the distress of the brahmana by showing him evidence from authorized scripture about the illusory Sita.

The criticisms of Tulsidas are humorous in a sense. Since the saint was so kind and humble, it is understandable that some people would mistake his simple and faithful behavior for lack of intelligence. Yet does anyone seriously believe that Tulsidas didn’t know his version was different from the original Ramayana? The saint was a highly learned scholar who had a firm grasp of all Vedic literature, including the Valmiki Ramayana. According to the statements of various saints, Tulsidas is considered to be an incarnation of Valmiki. The Maharishi was disappointed that his original Ramayana failed to properly extol the virtues of Hanuman, thus he decided to come back and praise Rama’s devotee to the fullest. Tulsidas did just that by writing the famous Hanuman Chalisa, a devotional poem praising Hanuman which is recited by millions of devotees on a daily basis. In fact, Tulsidas took spiritual instruction from Hanuman and can thus be considered his disciple.

Shri Hanuman Since Tulsidas’ work was so devotional in nature, some scholars declared that Valmiki’s version didn’t really claim that Rama was an incarnation of God. To give evidence to this fact, they decided that the initial book of the Ramayana, the Bala Kanda, only came into existence later on and that it wasn’t part of the original Ramayana. They claimed that the rest of the work never mentions Rama as a divine figure, and that He is depicted to be only a great personality who endured many hardships.

Those making these claims aren’t devotees themselves, so they haven’t taken in Vedic wisdom from any authority. If one reads Valmiki’s Ramayana, there is no doubt that Rama is declared to be God. There are many examples of this, including the time the Lord visited the female sage Shabari. Part of Rama’s pastimes involved Him travelling the forests of India as an exile for fourteen years. Rama was of the princely order, and as the eldest son of the king, He was next in line to ascend the throne. Yet due to unfortunate events, Rama was banished from His kingdom for fourteen years. Not able to bear the separation, Rama’s wife Sita, and younger brother Lakshmana, insisted on accompanying Him.

Sita was kidnapped by Ravana while the group was living in the forest. During their search for her whereabouts, Rama and Lakshmana came upon the hermitage of Shabari. Upon seeing the two brothers, Shabari immediately got up and touched their feet. This alone is an indication of Rama’s divinity. Shabari was a brahmana, or one of the priestly class. Rama and Lakshmana were military men, so they were considered subordinate to Shabari according to social etiquette. Nevertheless, Shabari knew who Rama was and thus treated Him appropriately.

Shabari meeting Rama and Lakshmana After Rama posed some nice questions to Shabari, the sage responded with some kind words of her own. In the above referenced quote, she refers to Rama as deva vare, which means the chief of the devas, or gods. Deva refers to a demigod, or a celestial being. Similar to the Christian concept of saints, the demigods are the elevated living entities who possess extraordinary power. Those growing up in the Hindu tradition are familiar with the many gods. Outsiders sometimes mistakenly take this to mean that Hindus don’t believe in a single God, but this is not the case. The original form of God is Lord Shri Krishna, whose immediate expansion is Lord Narayana, or Vishnu.

There is really no difference between Krishna and Vishnu other than appearance. Krishna has two hands and Narayana has four. The reason for the two forms is that people have different ways of worshiping God. Lord Vishnu is intended to appeal to those who view God with awe and reverence. Is there any other way to view God? Yes. Lord Krishna, being God’s original all-attractive form, is meant to attract those who view the Lord with pure love and affection, not caring for His great powers. In this way, we see there are subtle differences between the two forms, but for all intents and purposes, Krishna and Vishnu are the same.

“The highly renowned Rama rages into a fury against those who dare brave against Him. He is extremely powerful, for He can completely stop the onset of a pulsing river simply by using His arrows. Shriman Rama can bring down all the stars, planets, and the sky itself by use of His arrows. He is even capable of saving the earth if it should collapse. The illustrious Rama, if He wanted to, could deluge the whole world by breaking apart the shorelines of the seas. With His arrows, He can resist the onset of the oceans and the wind. After withdrawing the whole world into Himself, that highly renowned best of men, by virtue of His powers, is capable of again creating the whole world with all its creatures.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.23-26)

Lord Rama Lord Rama is the chief of the gods because He is an incarnation of Vishnu. Evidence of this is given in the Bala Kanda of the Ramayana, which describes how the demigods approached Lord Vishnu to help them defeat Ravana. The Lord agreed to come to earth as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. Evidence of Rama’s divinity is also given elsewhere. Akampana, one of Ravana’s assistants, personally witnessed Rama’s fighting power. The Lord was once attacked by fourteen thousand of Ravana’s associates. Rama showed His tremendous prowess by easily killing all the demons. Akampana managed to escape back to Lanka and relay the information to Ravana. In describing the incident, Akampana declared that Rama was capable of swallowing up the entire world and then recreating it with all its creatures. This is a direct reference to Vishnu’s ability to create. Brahman is God’s feature as the impersonal energy, and it is this energy that the Lord impregnates in order to create life on earth.

“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.3)

Lord Vishnu Shabari confirms the fact that Rama is Vishnu by stating that He is the greatest of the gods. What does it mean to be the chief god? Demigods can only bestow material rewards. At best, their worshipers can ascend to the heavenly planets, where they remain for some time before returning back to earth. Worshipers of Vishnu, however, aren’t looking for any material benefits, and as such, they ascend to the spiritual world after death. The spiritual realm represents an eternal abode, a place where we can check in anytime but never have to leave.

Rama’s divinity is not some concoction. Maharishi Valmiki meditated for thousands of years before he took up devotional service and decided to compose the Ramayana. He wouldn’t waste his time crafting such a wonderful poem if Rama were just an ordinary human being. We should always try to take in Vedic wisdom from the proper sources. Since Krishna is so attractive, everyone is enamored by Him, even the non-devotees. Yet if someone doesn’t have the eyes to see Krishna, they will never be able to properly understand literature which describes Him. Therefore we are advised to learn from devotees. This makes sense because the devotees are Krishna’s greatest fans, and as such, they have an eagerness to hear about God. This eagerness results in a desire to study all the great Vedic texts which describe Krishna. Hence devotees know how to take things in their proper context.

Goswami Tulsidas The great saints know that people will try to put forth their faulty interpretations of the famous scriptures, so for the benefit of future generations of sincere souls, summary studies and synthesized poetry are written. By consulting works such as the Ramacharitamanasa, we can understand the essence of Krishna and Rama. If an author understands the proper conclusion about life, that of devotional service to God being the highest occupation, their literature will automatically become first class and beneficial to all of society.