Saturday, November 6, 2010

Stirring the Lord’s Passions

Sita and Rama “All those things which were pleasurable when she [Sita] was with Me now don’t appear pleasing because I am without her.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 1.70)

If one is really passionate about something, they will try to find ways to accurately convey the intensity of the emotion. Some people will curse, while others will make references to objects which are seen as the height of enjoyment and good feeling and then declare them to be paltry in comparison to the object of their affection. An even higher level of love is displayed by those who are unable to cope in the absence of their loveable object, their significant other who defines their life. The words, “I can’t live without you”, are uttered quite often, but how many people actually mean them? While there are those who can certainly remain in their bodies when separated from their object of pleasure, the quality of life can still be greatly hampered due to the separation. For the Supreme Lord, life without His pleasure potency is not very attractive, nor palatable. Since every individual entity is an expansion of this potency, everyone is meant to be in the Lord’s company and provide Him pleasure. Of all the pleasure-givers, only those purified souls, the exalted entities who have no other business than to please the Lord, succeed in stirring the transcendental passions of the Supreme Lord. One such divine lover is Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama.

“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana A fish cannot survive when taken out of water. Once it is removed from its natural habitat, a fish doesn’t feel sad, bored, or dejected. No, the fish will die within seconds of being removed from its natural home; such is the great attachment it feels towards its dwelling. In this way the fish can be thought of as the greatest lover of water. The fish exudes a love which is so strong that death is immediately caused upon separation from the loveable object. Thus it is not surprising to see divine lovers, those who give their hearts to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, make references to fish when comparing their loving feelings towards God. Though we can’t accurately trace out the origin of the phrase, “like a fish out of water”, we know that it was in existence many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. During this time the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original Godhead who is always full of form and bliss, kindly descended to earth in the guise of a handsome and pious prince named Rama. Not only did God come to earth in the form of an ordinary entity, but so did His closest associates from the spiritual world. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana was an incarnation of the all-powerful Lord Baladeva, and Sita Devi was the avatara of Shri Lakshmi, the wife, for all intents and purposes, of God in the spiritual world.

Man tends to form attachments with those he finds to be similar in nature. This makes sense because if we were to hang around someone who had a completely different worldview than us, clashes and conflict would surely arise. Friendship is about sharing experiences, thoughts, concerns, and joys. If one is constantly arguing with another over the ultimate conclusions in life and the philosophies derived from them, there will be little time for enjoyment. Shri Rama, as a qualified incarnation of the Lord, possessed every noteworthy attribute imaginable, including chivalry, piety, and kindness. So, not surprisingly, others who took virtue and piety very seriously were attracted to Rama and thus befriended Him. Shri Lakshmana not only possessed great attributes, but He also happened to be Rama’s younger brother. Similarly, Sita Devi, who is ridiculously kind, generous, and respectful, was married to Lord Rama. God is never alone; His closest associates are always with Him. You can tell a lot about a person by the company they keep. In Rama’s case, we can understand that He could be none other than the Supreme Lord simply based on the exalted nature of His closest associates.

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana leaving for the forest As a pious prince, Rama had to undergo hardships which most of us wouldn’t want to endure. For example, the Lord had to roam the forests for fourteen years at the behest of His father, the King of Ayodhya. Rama never committed any sin, nor was He worthy of malevolence from anyone else. He easily could have invoked His good name and character to fend off the order of exile, but that was not in His nature. Since only He was ordered to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya, Rama was all set to go alone. Lakshmana and Sita, who could not live without Rama, insisted on accompanying Him. Lakshmana even invoked the analogy to fish, and said that he and Sita would not survive in Rama’s absence.

This behavior shown by Lakshmana and Sita is indicative of a high level of love and devotion. Refusing to separate is the best way to accurately convey loving sentiments towards another. Dying in the absence of someone else surely shows that the life breath is not important enough to remain inside the body once the vital force has been removed. Generally the vital force is taken as the soul or the heart, so when a person says they will die without another, it means that the object of affection has essentially taken over the role of the life force, or heart, of the person who is in love.

Sita and Rama Yet there is another way to judge a person’s level of affection. Sometimes the life breath may not escape in the absence of the loveable object, but the level of affection felt still remains at its summit. In these instances, the stranded lover maintains a glimmer of hope, the faint expectation that their loveable object will return to them. This was the case with Rama, as His wife would be kidnapped right from under His nose one day while residing in the forest. It should be noted that Rama, as an incarnation of Godhead, is always beyond the effects of mundane lamentation, anger, and illusion. Yet to accurately play the part of a fallible living entity, the Lord engaged in lamentation and despair from time to time. The occasion of Sita’s kidnap brought about one of these displays.

Sita was taken to the island kingdom of Lanka by the demon Ravana. He wanted the beautiful lady for himself, and since he couldn’t defeat Rama in a fair one-on-one battle, Ravana had to resort to underhanded means to get what he wanted. Yet he would never succeed in his ultimate objective, as Sita is incapable of being with any other man except Rama. If Ravana had ever gotten close to her, Sita would have immediately quit her body, and Ravana’s head would have been smashed to pieces. The latter scenario would have taken place due to a curse previously imprecated on Ravana which stated that he would die immediately if he ever forced himself on another woman.

Rama and Lakshmana looking for Sita After Sita was taken away, Rama and Lakshmana began a frantic search for her whereabouts. Eventually they made their way to a majestic lake called Pampa. At the time, the spring season was setting in, so Rama decided to point out the beautiful scenery to Lakshmana. There was a purpose behind such words, as Lakshmana surely had seen the signs of spring before. Spring is the season of hope and opportunity, where the senses are stimulated by the fragrant aroma of flowers and the sweet humming of the insects. Rama remembered that Sita especially loved this season and that she would always point out various flowers to Him. From Rama’s descriptions, we can surmise that spring was the favorite season for the couple, as it served to enhance their loving exchanges.

Though Rama didn’t quit His body upon Sita’s abduction, He still revealed symptoms of deep love and affection for her. In the above referenced statement, we see that Rama is not deriving any pleasure from the signs of spring this time around. These objects were surely beautiful before, and they brought Him much pleasure. But this was due to the fact that Sita was previously with Him. Now, these same signs of spring, which had not changed in any respect, were not appealing to Rama at all. Rama’s sentiments are an indication of the highest attachment and affection. Shri Rama had remarked that bhavah, or loving attachment, was well situated in Sita, and that the same attachment to Sita was well situated in Him. Bhavah also means natural ecstasy, or an ingrained nature. So by invoking this term, Rama was relaying the truth that it is part of Sita’s makeup to be a lover of God and that this same makeup, directed towards the individual souls, exists in the Supreme Lord. God is everyone’s Lord after all, so it would make sense that He would be the strongest lover.

Sita and Rama This incident with Rama also reveals the hidden secret to making one’s life successful. Objects of nature are what they are; their properties don’t change too drastically. In this example, the flowers of the forest were the same as they were the previous year. Yet this time around, the object of cohesion, the person that put all the pieces of the puzzle into place, wasn’t there. Hence the beautiful objects of spring lost their value. In the same way, this world is full of material objects, some of which seem pleasurable and others which don’t. The secret to success in life is to attach surrounding objects to service to Krishna. This practice is known as bhakti-yoga, and it is something we are all inclined to perform.

The individual soul is a part and parcel of the Supreme Soul, so there is an inherent quality and, more importantly, a relationship that can be derived from this disposition. This derived relationship is a loving one, wherein the individual remains in constant association with its superior. This connection is maintained through words, thoughts, and deeds. When the external objects of this world are used to maintain this link, when they are used to keep one’s mind focused on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, they take on their true value. Otherwise, everything just remains dull and useless in the grand scheme of things.

One may argue that many people who are not God conscious derive great enjoyment from objects of matter. Though they are not worshiping the Supreme Lord, how can we say that these objects are of no value? The answer is that an object’s value is determined by a person’s ultimate conclusion in life, or their dharma. Dharma is an occupational duty, and since the highest occupation in life is usually associated with religion, dharma is generally taken to mean religiosity or piety. Dharma can be anything depending on the field of activity. For example, there is a dharma for building a house, winning a race, losing weight, and practicing medicine. In any field of activity, there will be a right way to do something, a set of guidelines and procedures aimed at achieving success in the venture. This “right way” is the dharma of that particular activity. Thus any external object that can help keep a person adherent to their particular dharma will be taken as palatable.

Though there are different dharmas, not all of them are the same; there is a priority system. One’s inherent dharma is their relationship to the Supreme Lord. It is the essential characteristic of the individual soul to be a lover of God. When other dharmas that keep one in ignorance of this characteristic are adopted, the objects associated with such occupational duties must be deemed lifeless and dull in the grand scheme of things. For example, wood and stone are needed to erect statues and buildings, but if these buildings are used simply for sense gratification, the wood and stone must be considered dull and lifeless in the larger picture.

Shri Rama Darbar deities On the other hand, if the same wood and stone are used to construct temples and deity representations of the transcendental form of the Supreme Lord, the objects assume their true value. The key to success in life is to attach everything to God’s service. Otherwise, every external object is simply a product of maya, or illusion. Shri Rama, not having Sita by His side, did not find enjoyment in even the most beautiful of surroundings. This proves just how much the Lord loves His exalted devotees; those who don’t derive any enjoyment out of life save for devotional service. For this reason Shri Rama is never worshiped alone; His closest associates, Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman are always with Him. These divine figures not only give pleasure and protection to the devotees, but they also provide the greatest happiness to the Supreme Lord. The same fruits and flowers that don’t appeal to Rama in the absence of Sita can give the Lord tremendous pleasure when offered to Him with love and devotion in the presence of the mother of the universe, Shrimati Sita Devi.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Govardhana Puja 2010

Lord Krishna with cow “According to the instruction of Lord Krishna, Nanda Maharaja and the cowherd men called in learned brahmanas and began to worship Govardhana Hill by chanting Vedic hymns and offering prasadam. The inhabitants of Vrindavana assembled together, decorated their cows and gave them grass. Keeping the cows in front, they began to circumambulate Govardhana Hill.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)

According to the Vedic seers, those who spent much time in samadhi [divine trance], this material world can trace its origin to the desire of the individual souls to imitate their Supreme Master. Similar to how a child desires to imitate the adult activities of its parents, the autonomous spirit souls, who are full of free will and independence, choose to challenge the Supreme Lord in the areas of creation, maintenance, and destruction. To facilitate this desire, God, the original Divine Being, creates a temporary and perishable world wherein the imitators are allowed to roam free. Gaining release from this flawed mindset is quite difficult, so it takes many lives on earth to achieve perfection in a spiritual sense. There are different gradations of transcendentalists, some of whom are further along in the purification process than others. Yet even for those who are on a higher level, the personal assistants of God, breaking free of the challenging spirit is not easy. These elevated personalities often fall victim to their puffed up ego borne of unlimited passions and perceived abilities. To grant His mercy to His closest associates, and also those who depend on the Lord for everything, Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, enacts wonderful pastimes on this earth, one of which involves the lifting of a giant hill. This pastime and its associated religious rituals are so famous that they are honored every year on the occasion of Govardhana Puja.

Lord Krishna God can most certainly come to earth. As the origin of life, He is free to act as He wishes. The CEO is the boss of the company; no one can tell them what to do. Since God is the original boss, no one can force Him to live by any rules that are created for others. For instance, a human being requires a womb and a mother to take birth. Similarly, death is also a requirement for life. For the definition of a life to be valid, there must be both birth and death. For the Supreme Lord, such restrictions are not applicable. He can appear out of any object or person, and He can remain forever in a particular body if He chooses. In His original form, the Lord possesses a transcendental body, something not conceivable to the human brain. When we think of a body, we conjure up a form which is created, remains for some time, and then ultimately decays. Moreover, the functions of this body are limited. Hands can only do certain things; legs can only help one walk and run, the brain can only think, etc. With the Supreme Lord, such body parts are transcendental and thus capable of performing any function. The Supreme Lord, in the body of a young child, can lift an enormous mountain and hold it up without any effort for seven consecutive days. This is precisely what He did during one famous incident; a pastime which reminded everyone, including the demigods in the spiritual sky, of the Lord’s supreme power and benevolent nature.

Around five thousand years ago, Krishna descended to earth in His original, transcendental form. Usually when God comes to earth, He does so as an avatara. An avatara means one who descends; hence it refers to the Supreme Lord and His innumerable appearances on earth. Though Krishna is often listed as an avatara of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Godhead possessing four hands and an opulent appearance, the Lord actually exists eternally on the spiritual planet of Krishnaloka. When Krishna came to earth, He spent His childhood years in the farm community of Vrindavana. Since the time period was so long ago, it shouldn’t surprise us that agriculture was a mainstay of society. Even as recently as one hundred years ago, almost forty percent of the workforce in America was involved in agriculture.

“Farming, cattle raising and business are the qualities of work for the vaishyas, and for the shudras there is labor and service to others.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.44)

Lord Krishna with cows In the Vedic tradition, the farmers are part of the division of society known as the vaishyas. Not to be confused with a simple caste based off birthright, vaishyas have specific duties entrusted to them, one of which is cow protection. The cow represents the best kept secret of the economics field. By simply owning and properly taking care of a cow, one can take great strides towards eliminating poverty. The protected animals belonging to the farming community in ancient times proved to be the original “cash cows”, with one’s wealth even being determined by how many cows they owned. This may seem silly, as a cow is simply an animal, but if one owned a small plot of land with a few cows, there would be no chance of famine or poverty. The greatest fear for any family is to lose their source of income and thus have no way to put food on the table. The cow solves this problem by freely supplying milk, which can then be transformed into varieties of dishes.

Lord Krishna, growing up under the care of His foster parents Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda, would regularly go out to the pasturing grounds and tend to the cows. In India, the rainy season is especially important, as all the nutrition needed for the grains, the source of life, is provided during a few months of the year. One time after the rainy season, Krishna noticed His father preparing for a grand sacrifice, or religious ritual. Inquiring into the matter, Krishna was informed by Nanda Maharaja as to the purpose of the sacrifice. “Lord Indra, the king of heaven, supplies us all of our necessities in the form of rain, which comes from the cloud. Were it not for Indra’s mercy, we would not be able to sustain our livelihoods. Therefore we are preparing to worship Indra through a grand sacrifice”.

Lord KrishnaHearing these words from His father, Krishna decided there was an opportunity to play with Indra’s pride. As mentioned before, this pride, which is known as false ego, is the single root cause behind the existence of the material world. The demigods, or celestials, can be thought of as saints or angels. They have bodies which possess extraordinary powers, but since they too must suffer through birth and death, they are deemed conditioned. A liberated soul is one who remains in a spiritual body at all times in the company of the Supreme Lord. In order to come to the material world, a pure soul must become conditioned by the modes of nature. The demigods, though living mostly in goodness, can still fall victim to false ego from time to time. Lord Krishna wanted to play a little trick on His dear friend Indra, while at the same time purifying him of his false ego.

In response to Nanda’s words, Krishna said that the hills and mountains were the real sources of sustenance. As agriculturists, the residents of Vrindavana were supported by the cows more than anything else. The cows would graze on the nearby mountains, so if anyone was deserving of worship, it was the neighboring hills, Govardhana Hill in particular. Delighted by the cogent words of his beautiful son, Nanda Maharaja did not raise any opposition. He instructed all the residents to instead direct their preparations and offerings to Govardhana Hill. A wonderful ceremony was performed, with charity and food given to the brahmanas, the priestly class of men. At the end of the ceremony, Shri Krishna, assuming the person of Govardhana Hill, kindly spoke to the residents and informed them of His satisfaction. Lord Krishna, in His original childhood form, at this time also offered obeisances to Himself in the form of Govardhana Hill.

“Just see how Govardhana Hill has assumed this huge form and is favoring us by accepting all the offerings. One who neglects the worship of Govardhana Puja, as I am personally conducting it, will not be happy.” (Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 24)

Raincloud Lord Indra, watching the festivities from his perch in heaven, was not happy at all at this turn of events. Seeing that his sacrifice was neglected, he decided to exact revenge on the residents. He called for his trusted aide, a personified cloud named Samvartaka, to deluge the town with water. Indra gave his assurance that he would aid in the process by creating a giant storm. Following through on the plans, Indra sent forth a torrential downpour on the residents who had just worshiped Govardhana Hill. The winds were howling, and the water levels started to rise rapidly. The cows were especially affected. Mothers tried to protect their calves to the best of their abilities, but they saw many of their babies floating away in the high waters. Having no other recourse, the cows and residents of the town took complete shelter of Krishna. They prayed to Him to protect them.

It should be noted here that the residents did not pray to Indra to forgive them, nor did they feel remorse over having neglected his worship. They were in the direct presence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who was the jewel of Vrindavana, the supreme object of pleasure to all the residents, young and old. Krishna had performed many wonderful feats previously, so the residents knew that only He was capable of saving everyone from this most troubling weather event.

Lord Krishna lifting Govardhana HillAs the deluge was wreaking havoc, Lord Krishna stepped in and picked up the giant Govardhana Hill. Taking it as an umbrella, the Lord placed the hill above His head and held it up with one finger. Krishna informed the residents and cows to come under the shelter of the hill and to not worry about its massive weight. Krishna assured them that the hill would not fall as long He was there. Following the Lord’s directive, the residents were rescued by remaining underneath the giant umbrella-like hill for seven consecutive days. When the rain finally stopped, the residents returned to the town, and Krishna replaced the giant hill where it was before.

Indra offering prayers to Krishna Indra, feeling remorse over his actions, kindly appeared before Krishna and offered his obeisances. In his prayers, Indra stated that Krishna had now solidified himself as the protector of the cows. He was completely worthy of the names of Gopala and Govinda, which mean one who gives pleasure and protection to the cows and the senses. Lord Krishna, the most merciful and kind-hearted of souls, was satisfied with Indra’s prayers. While it is easy to criticize Indra for his transgression, we should remember the the king of heaven is the dearmost friend of the Lord. Krishna, the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, derives great enjoyment from associating with His friends. Therefore the pastimes of the lifting of Govardhana Hill and the quelling of Indra’s pride are both sources of pleasure to Krishna and His devotees.

After pacifying Krishna in this way, Indra asked for one more favor. He informed the Lord that a son of his was roaming the earth at the time. This son was none other than Arjuna, the brave warrior of the Pandava family and cousin to Krishna. Indra asked that Krishna kindly protect Arjuna at all times. Krishna replied that He most certainly knew who Arjuna was and that it was His plan to rid the earth of the burden felt by the sinful elements of society. Krishna gave Indra the benediction that Arjuna would never meet with defeat while the Lord remained on the earth. He promised Indra that Arjuna and his four brothers would emerge victorious from a future war that would see the death of millions. Thus satisfied, Indra returned to heaven, and Krishna continued His wonderful childhood pastimes in Vrindavana.

Lifting Govardhana Hill Govardhana Puja has been celebrated annually ever since the festival was inaugurated by Krishna. Just as Krishna is worshipable, so is His land. The Lord confirmed through His own actions that Govardhana Hill was a direct manifestation of Himself, and since this hill still exists in Vrindavana, devotees view it as the most sacred of pilgrimage sites. Around the world, devotees celebrate the Govardhana Puja each year by erecting mock hills made of halva and other nice food preparations. After the ceremony, the wonderful prasadam represented by pieces of the hill is enjoyed by all. By regularly remembering Krishna, His transcendental form, and His wonderful pastimes aimed at pleasing His devotees, we will be able to shift our disposition from challenger of God, to that of lover of God. If this loving attitude remains with us up until the time of death, our liberation from the cycle of birth and death will be assured.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Diwali 2010

Sita and Rama returning home “Seeing the city of Kishkindha, which was formerly protected by Vali, Sita, who was feeling shy out of love, then spoke the following humble words to Rama: ‘O King, I wish to enter Your capital city of Ayodhya with You, accompanied by the beloved wives of Sugriva, headed by Tara, as well as the wives of the other Vanara leaders.’” (Valmiki Ramayana, Yuddha Kand, 123.23-25)

Diwali is the homecoming of homecomings, one of the greatest celebrations ever seen on this earth. We read of festive occasions of the past, wherein excitement and joy were experienced on the grandest scale. Usually these celebrations relate to the victory of a certain king, ruler, or oppressed group of citizens. In the case of Diwali, the celebration deals with the triumphant return of a group of noble characters who were put through the toughest trials and tribulations, experiences that would make even the strongest person buckle. To honor and celebrate their joyous victory and successful return home, the residents of the town of Ayodhya lit many wonderful lamps and placed them around the city. This splendorous scene was so memorable that it spawned an annual celebration known as Diwali, or the festival of lights.

Christmas lighting Christmas is celebrated with wonderful decorations and elaborate lighting. Other holidays and festive occasions are celebrated in a similar manner. If we want to be put into a joyous mood, visually appealing surroundings are helpful. Just as putting on a nice set of clothes enhances the presence we convey to others, putting up nice decorations around the house serves as a way to lighten the mood and make visitors feel welcome and happy. Many thousands of years ago, the visitors were actually former residents, members of the royal order. They had been banished from the kingdom for fourteen years prior due to ill fortune and family infighting. Victory never comes easily, especially when life and death are at stake and fighting with demons and the kidnap of a beautiful princess are thrown into the equation. Once exiled, the return of this group was never guaranteed, so the citizens prayed every day and never diverted their thoughts from the lotus feet of their abandoned one, their beloved prince whose birthright was the kingdom. Hearing that He was arriving, the citizens made sure to go all out to welcome Him. Aside from playing nice music and decorating the streets and buildings, the citizens lit lamps, or dipas, as a way to worship their divine leader and His entourage upon their return.

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)

Why were the citizens so attached to this group? Many thousands of years ago, during the Treta Yuga, the world was ruled by a pious king named Dasharatha. He belonged to a famous family of rulers known as the Ikshvakus. Maharaja Ikshvaku himself was one of the first kings on earth, so his descendants all followed his wonderful example of chivalry and dedication to dharma, or righteousness. Yet Dasharatha was saddened because he had no heir to pass the kingdom down to. The Vedas inform us that a man assumes three debts at the time of birth, with one of them being to the forefathers. If it weren’t for the great efforts of our parents and grandparents, we could never take birth under the circumstances that we do. Therefore it is incumbent upon men, especially those of the royal order, to repay the favor to their ancestors by begetting sons. This also ensures that the family name continues. If a specific section of society is ruled by a good government, there will generally be peace and tranquility. Dasharatha was fit in every way to be king, but since he had no heir, there was some apprehension about the future.

King Dasharatha and familyThrough good fortune and the performance of a sacrifice, Dasharatha was blessed with four sons, all of whom were incarnations of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Vishnu. The eldest son Rama was a direct expansion of Vishnu, so He was fully and completely non-different from God. Rama came to earth for a specific purpose, that of defeating a particularly strong demon named Ravana. Dasharatha was naturally attached to Rama from the time of His birth, but due to divine will, he was forced to part with Rama before he wanted to. Fate is a product of time, which is nature’s agent of change. Nature is controlled by the demigods, or the divine figures residing in the heavenly realm. These celestials needed Rama to have an excuse to kill Ravana, so they had to set the wheels in motion for the Lord’s exile from Ayodhya. They got what they wanted when Dasharatha’s youngest wife, Kaikeyi, suddenly demanded that her son, the younger brother of Rama, Bharata, succeed the king on the throne instead of Rama. In addition, she asked that Rama be sent to live in the forest for fourteen years.

Dasharatha could not prevent these two desires from being fulfilled. He had previously agreed to give Kaikeyi any two wishes of her choosing. Though Dasharatha never could actually give the orders to Rama, the Lord took it upon Himself to execute the will of the queen. As descendants of Ikshvaku, members of the family had a duty to abide by their word. Rama would not allow His father to be made out to be a liar. In addition, Dasharatha had been cursed previously to die as a result of separation from his beloved son. This indeed would occur as the king would give up his life shortly after Rama’s departure for the forest.

Rama and Lakshmana with the Vanaras The Lord took with Him His beautiful wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana. Rama was simply required to roam the forests in the garb of an ascetic, but of course His time in the woods would be eventful. Ravana’s imminent demise was secured when he hatched a scheme to take Sita away while she was not with Rama and Lakshmana. Seeing that His wife was taken away, Rama travelled the forests and eventually formed an alliance with a monkey king named Sugriva. The Vanaras, monkey-like humans, had taken refuge in the forest of Kishkindha, where Sugriva and his massive army, which included Shri Hanuman, lived. Rama and Lakshmana, forging an alliance with Sugriva, eventually made their way to Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka to take on the demon in battle. After fierce fighting and tremendous bravery shown by the monkeys, Rama was able to successfully defeat and kill Ravana. Upon rescuing Sita, the Lord and His closest associates ascended the celestial car, which originally belonged to the demigod Kuvera, and embarked on their journey back to Ayodhya.

Sita and RamaAt the time, Rama had been separated from Sita for almost a year. Therefore as they were travelling back home on this celestial airplane, the Lord pointed out all the various points of interests relating to His journey. He showed Sita all the places she had not seen due to her kidnap. At one point, Rama showed Sita the forest of Kishkindha, where He forged the alliance with Sugriva and Hanuman. Sita, who is the kindest and sweetest person to have ever graced this earth, in a very shy manner, politely asked Rama if the airplane could stop in Kishkindha to pick up the wives of the monkeys, including Tara, who was Sugriva’s wife.

Sita and Rama, being the divine couple and the mother and father of the universe, are always on the same page. Their natures match up perfectly, and this incident is another reminder of that fact. Lord Rama refused to return home to Ayodhya alone. He loved the Vanaras so much because of the selfless devotion they showed to Him. The Supreme Lord is all-powerful, so He doesn’t need anyone’s help in any endeavor. But since it is the nature of the individual soul to act in God’s service, the Lord kindly accepts whatever devotion one shows to Him. The monkeys asked nothing of Rama; they simply served Him due to their pious nature. They had no enmity with Ravana; neither had they even met Sita. But they knew who Rama was, and since He was in trouble, they took His pain to be theirs. These are the workings of love. True love means wanting more for the object of your affection than you want for yourself. The Vanaras met this requirement completely, and their love did not go unnoticed. Rama made sure to fit as many of them as he could onto the celestial car returning to Ayodhya.

Sita, Rama, and familySita Devi, for her part, only really knew Shri Hanuman, Sugriva’s faithful minister who had bravely fought off all of Ravana’s evil elements and made his way to see Sita prior to the final battle. Sita is forever Hanuman’s well-wisher, and since the other monkeys also helped her husband, she had a deep love and respect for them as well. On this return trip home, Sita empathized with the plight of the wives of the monkeys. They had to remain at home while their heroic husbands went to battle one of the greatest demonic forces the world had ever seen. Surely they were deserving of praise and adulation as well. Sita wanted all the wives to come and join in the festivities in Ayodhya. Sita didn’t want to celebrate alone. She wanted every person who played even the tiniest of roles in her rescue and her husband’s triumph to bask in the glory of victory. Lest there be any doubt on the matter, this incident proves that the Lord and His consorts never forget even the slightest service that is offered to them with love and devotion.

The Supreme Lord is never alone. When we speak of Rama, Vishnu, and Krishna, their closest associates and family members are included. The Lord is never worshiped alone; His pleasure potency expansions such as Sita, Radha, and Lakshmi are always with Him. In the case of Lord Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman are also always with the Lord. Just as Rama is worshipable, so is His land of Ayodhya. Just as the land of Ayodhya is worshipable, so are the divine residents who stood vigil for the fourteen years of Rama’s exile. Just as the residents of Ayodhya are worthy of praise and respect, so are the selfless Vanaras for their heroic efforts in service of Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana.

Rama's triumphant return and coronation On Diwali Day, we remember the Lord and His family. We remember the great homecoming they received and the wonderful services offered to them by their pure devotees. Even if one is unable to understand the divine nature of Sita and Rama, they will still be benefitted by the couple’s association. Sita and Rama’s characters and behavior resulting from their nature have never been seen since on this earth. Simply hearing of their extraordinary kindness, benevolence, chivalry, bravery, and loving feelings towards all of humanity is enough to purify the heart. If one simply remembers this great scene of the triumphant return of Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita, along with the Vanaras and their family members, they will never fall out of grace with the Supreme Lord and His family. Keeping this divine vision in the mind up until the time of death, the soul will become liberated and return to the transcendental sky, where every day is a festival of lights and every minute brings the divine vision of Sita and Rama.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Master Key

Lord Krishna with Ganesha “I worship the primeval Lord, Govinda. Ganesha always holds His lotus feet upon the pair of tumuli protruding from his elephant head in order to obtain power for his function of destroying all obstacles on the path of progress in the three worlds.” (Brahma-samhita 5.50)

One of the more controversial aspects to the spiritual traditions emanating from the Vedas is demigod worship. The impersonalists, those who don’t believe in a God with a form, or those who take the Supreme Absolute Truth to be a giant energy composed of the aggregate total of all spirit, feel that worship of any “god” is on the same level, regardless of the personality in question. The ultimate objective of the impersonalists is to free themselves from attachment, lust, anger, greed, and desire. So whatever method one can adopt to achieve such an end is justified. To this end, they take the worship of various divine figures to be simply a way to understand the impersonal energy known as Brahman. The impersonalists label the practice of meditating on the formless Absolute Truth as nirguna worship and the practice of offering obeisances to and concentrating on a specific qualified divine figure as saguna worship. In this way they take every individual living entity to be God. They believe that every person is an equal part of the divine, but that the presence of this quality is forgotten.

Shiva-Parvati-Ganesha The Vedic tradition is filled with famous and worshipable divine figures such as Lord Shiva, Brahma, Vishnu, Surya, Durga, and Ganesha. The scriptures all say that Vishnu is superior amongst these personalities and that He is the original personality of Godhead. The other exalted figures listed, along with thousands of other elevated personalities, are known as devatas, or demigods. They act as the Lord’s chief ministers. Saying that every elevated personality is on equal footing with Vishnu is akin to denying Vishnu’s supremacy. In this way the impersonalist philosophy is one that rejects the notion of an Almighty God. Yet the controversy relating to demigods doesn’t end here. Even amongst those who do acknowledge the supremacy of Vishnu and His various non-different expansions such as Krishna, Rama, and Narasimha, there is still the adherence to the practice of demigod worship. At least in this age, devotees of Vishnu, who are known as Vaishnavas, generally don’t worship the demigods explicitly. This creates a sort of clash with those pious persons who do take to worshiping the demigods. So which side is correct?

“Men of small intelligence [alpa-medhasam] worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)

Lord Krishna To find the answer, we can look to none other than Vishnu Himself. Since the original Godhead instituted all forms of religion and their various practices, it would make sense that He would be the one to settle any and all disputes. Another advantage we have is that Vishnu has kindly appeared on earth many times throughout the course of history. His most famous teachings appear in a book called the Bhagavad-gita. This work is a poem containing words of instruction offered by Vishnu on a battlefield around five thousand years ago. At the time, Vishnu appeared on earth in the guise of a human being named Krishna. Most Vedic texts list Krishna as an incarnation of Vishnu, while works such as the Brahma-samhita state that Krishna is actually the original form of Godhead and that Vishnu is merely a non-different manifestation of the divine. In either case, Vishnu and Krishna are the same, so when Krishna provides instruction, it is the same as if Vishnu were providing them, and vice versa.

Though these instructions given by Krishna were comprehensive and intricate, He made brief mention of the demigods and those who take to worshiping them. In one section, Krishna mentions that sacrifice to the demigods is important, for through this practice, one can achieve all necessities in life such as rain, food, shelter, etc. At the same time, the Lord downplays the results achieved from worshiping the demigods, calling them temporary and providing of fleeting happiness. He also says that those who are less intelligent, those with less brain substance, take to worshiping the demigods.

“In charge of the various necessities of life, the demigods, being satisfied by the performance of yajna [sacrifice], supply all necessities to man. But he who enjoys these gifts, without offering them to the demigods in return, is certainly a thief.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.12)

Yet from Krishna’s activities, we see that He even took to worshiping various devatas during His time on earth. Moreover, the same can be said of Lord Rama, Vishnu’s avatara who appeared on earth thousands of years before Krishna. Formerly, man was generally more pious than he is today, so most people spent the majority of their time engaged in religious affairs. Worship of the demigods was a central part of religious life, so everyone who was pious took to such activity.

Lord Rama worshiping Lord Shiva So is Krishna contradicting Himself by calling demigod worshipers unintelligent? The key distinction lies in the mode of worship. As an example, we may offer service to our boss during some part of the day, and then offer service to our family members later on. The actual offering of service is not as important as our priority system, i.e. what we view as the most important activity. For most of us, we offer service to our boss so that we can ultimately offer service to something or someone else. In this way the boss is rarely viewed as the ultimate object of worship, for our efforts are focused either on ourselves, our family, our friends, or the Supreme Lord. This last entity is the most important. As long as we view the ultimate objective in life to be the worship and love of the Supreme Lord, then all our activities will support this conclusion. If we worship the demigods as part of our worship of Krishna, then it is certainly sanctioned. The unintelligent, however, take to worshiping the demigods either as their supreme dharma in life, or as a means of satisfying some object of worship other than Krishna.

An example would be helpful in understanding this distinction. While Krishna or Vishnu is the original form of Godhead, Lord Shiva and Lord Brahma are very close runners up. They are guna-avataras of Vishnu, or expansions of the Lord who manage the material affairs. Since they come under the subjection of the laws of nature, they cannot be considered the same in quality as Vishnu. Since God creates material nature, He cannot be subject to her stringent laws. This fact remains true even when the Lord personally appears on earth. For example, the sun offers its rays and light to all of creation, regardless of the cleanliness or impurity of the objects it touches. The sun can suck up moisture from an ocean or from a puddle of urine and still remain pure throughout. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord can contact material nature yet still remain free from any laws of karma.

Lord Ganesha Though Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva are part of the material world, they are still highly exalted. They are Vishnu’s chief ministers. Lord Shiva’s wife, Mother Parvati [Durga], is considered the controller of material nature. She is the “mother” in Mother Nature. Lord Shiva is also a great Vaishnava; he spends all his time meditating on the lotus feet of Vishnu. His favorite form of Vishnu is Lord Rama. When Lord Shiva isn’t meditating on Lord Rama, he is describing the Lord’s glories to his wife. In this way Shiva and Parvati are two of the most exalted personalities in the world. Not surprisingly, their son, Lord Ganesha, is equally as respectable. He is so pious and pure that before any Vedic ritual is performed, obeisances are first offered to him. This is a special benediction granted to Ganesha by Vishnu Himself.

These facts highlight the intimate relationship that exists between the devatas and Vishnu. The two entities are always in line with each other, with one providing the orders, and the other following them. Yet not every person will take to worshiping Vishnu. The result of Vishnu worship is liberation, or the end of the cycle of birth and death. Many don’t want this liberation, for they would rather continue to enjoy material nature. For such people, worship of the demigods is recommended as a way of maintaining a connection with spiritual life. The devatas can grant material benedictions to anyone who pleases them. This is the power granted to them by Lord Vishnu. The Supreme Lord is the most munificent entity after all. He has no desire to take people away from their happy place. He grants the conditioned souls complete independence in this regard. The caveat, however, is that if one wants to remain in the material world, they are forced to live by its rules. These rules are governed by the system of karma, which is completely fair and just. One person may act in a certain way to meet a certain desire, but others have a similar right to act in their own self-interest. When these interests collide, as they most certainly will, chaos, despair, defeat, rejection, lamentation, anger, and so many other undesirable side effects will result.

Lord Krishna Such laws don’t exist in the spiritual world; hence attention to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is seen as the foremost spiritual practice. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and following the other processes of devotional life aimed at pleasing Krishna, one can ascend to the spiritual sky after their current life is over. Those who worship the demigods as their ultimate spiritual practice are considered less intelligent because any material reward, regardless of whether it is desired or undesired, can only lead to flickering happiness. Moreover, material rewards keep one bound to material nature. This bondage inevitably leads to the aforementioned undesirable situations. Hence anyone who would consider such a situation to be palatable certainly must be considered unintelligent.

So if this type of demigod worship is not recommended, then what kind is? The Brahma-samhita, one of the most concise and powerful Vedic texts, provides the answer. The demigods are most certainly acknowledged in this wonderful book of devotion to Krishna, but they are described in the proper context. Lord Ganesha is described as the powerful entity who removes obstacles from the path of those who worship him. This boon-giving power is obtained through the mercy of Govinda, which is another name for Krishna. If we worship Lord Ganesha to help remove the obstacles in the path of our spiritual pursuits, then this most certainly must be considered an intelligent activity.

“O Mother Ganga, protected by you, may this son of the intelligent and great King Dasharatha honor the order of His father. After having completed fourteen years of living in the forest, He, along with His brother and myself, will certainly return here again. Then, O beloved Devi, having safely arrived here again, I will joyfully worship you, O Ganga, who are capable of fulfilling every desire [sarva-kama].” (Sita Devi praying to Mother Ganga, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 52.83-85)

Sita Devi For those growing up in a family which has a deep-rooted tradition in Vedic culture, demigod worship is regularly adhered to. This was the case with the Ikshvaku family, a dynasty of kings who ruled the world many thousands of years ago. Lord Rama, an incarnation of Vishnu, appeared as a prince in this dynasty a long time ago. His beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, was wholly dedicated to virtue and the traditions of Vedic culture. She knew of all the proper rituals and functions to perform, and all the various devatas that needed to be worshiped. One time Lord Rama and Sita even worshiped Lord Vishnu on the night prior to Rama’s installation as the new king. The next day, however, Rama would be sent to the forest instead of becoming the new king. While roaming the forests, Sita would often pray to various sacred rivers and trees, which are also considered devatas in the Vedic tradition, and ask them to ensure Rama’s safe return to His kingdom at the expiry of His exile term. Sita was so wise that she didn’t initially take to worshiping these demigods, but rather she made a deal with them. She told them that if they came through for Rama, who was Vishnu, then she would worship them to their hearts’ content. Eventually all did end well, so Sita made good on her promise and regularly offered worship to Mother Ganga and various other demigods.

If we already have family traditions relating to demigod worship, there is no need to give them up. These traditions can be thought of as family heirlooms, magical keys which are passed down from generation to generation. For those who don’t grow up in this tradition, acquiring this type of key is not necessary, for worshipers of Krishna are bestowed the master key which unlocks every door, including the one to the spiritual world. In the performance of all of our activities, we should keep Vishnu’s satisfaction at the forefront of the mind. The demigods are the Lord’s closest aides and servants, so showing respect to them certainly will please Vishnu as well. In this age of Kali, there isn’t much time for religious practice, so whatever devotional efforts we do take up should be aimed directly at Krishna. Since devotional service satisfies the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the demigods automatically become satisfied as well. Goswami Tulsidas, the wonderful saint and exalted author of beautiful poetry devoted to Lord Rama, would often invoke the names of Lord Shiva, Mother Parvati, and Lord Ganesha at the beginning of his poems. He asked them not for any personal benefit, but rather to help him in his pursuit to please Rama.

Lord Krishna with Ganesha In this way we see that there is no need for controversy as it relates to demigod worship. The devatas are certainly individuals just like the rest of us. They are not imaginary figures or elevated representations of Brahman. Since they are dear servants of the Supreme Lord, there is no reason to disrespect them. One should understand that any and all rewards received in life should be used for Vishnu’s satisfaction. This is the secret known to the bhaktas, the devotees of the Lord. They have been kind enough to share this secret through their teachings and their actions. We should make good use of this information by acting upon it.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Love Gets Me Every Time

Sita Devi and Lord Rama “Not able to see Vaidehi, that lotus-eyed lady who was always fond of lotus flowers, life no longer attracts Me.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 1.67)

Those who are new to Vedic traditions and Vedic philosophy will notice that the term “maya” is invoked quite often. The word itself means “that which is not”, and it is tagged to the illusory energy which pervades this material world. What does an illusory energy entail? Everything in nature is directed by intelligence, a higher authority who is in charge of the extremely complicated workings of the elements of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. Nature encompasses the qualities, desires, and activities of billions and billions of living entities of all shapes and sizes. Who could ever control these events, and more importantly, who could ever predict how future events will play out? Since nature is so complicated, it is easy for us to become illusioned by the course of events, taking things to be what they are not, looking for happiness in areas which only cause misery. Self-realization is the pursuit which gets us past maya, allowing us to see things clearly and understand the purpose of everything and how it fits into the big picture.

Lord Krishna What are the symptoms of a self-realized soul? How do they counteract the effects of maya? Since maya is “that which is not”, the opposite of maya is that which is, or more plainly, the Absolute Truth. This Truth has different names and forms depending on a person’s intelligence and angle of vision, but the Vedas tell us that the original form of the Absolute Truth is Lord Shri Krishna, who is also known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is a fancier way to describe God. Krishna is the Absolute Truth because He is beyond illusion, and anyone who connects with Him similarly transcends ignorance. Since Krishna is also known as maha-bhagam and Bhagavan, those who are connected with Him are known as bhagavatas. Bhagam means “fortunate” and maha means “great”, so Bhagavan means one who is the most fortunate. This should make sense because who can have more fortune than God? If Krishna is Bhagavan, surely His friends will be similarly fortunate.

As a byproduct of this fortune, devotees are able to transcend the effects of maya. This quality is acquired through constant contact with Truth, an Absolute one at that. If we know the Truth, we have no chance of being illusioned. This principle can be thought of in terms of darkness and light. Darkness is simply the absence of light. Once light appears, the darkness is immediately dispelled. In a similar manner, once a person understands Krishna, the darkness caused by maya is immediately removed.

Devotional service How does transcending maya affect our behavior? Devotees connect with God through a series of activities which are collectively known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Devotional service can be thought of as any activity which provides transcendental pleasure; actions taken that allow a person to be connected with God. These activities can involve chanting, hearing, worshiping, or simply remembering. In this way we see how easy it is to remain connected with Truth. “Whenever you are in trouble, just simply remember Krishna. Focus your mind on Him, and you will be safe.”

A side effect of performing devotional service is that a person loses their taste for any activity which is divorced from service to Krishna. This means that anything we do that has no relation to the Supreme Lord will now be viewed as boring and dull. One example is drinking. Intoxication is taken to out of boredom more than anything else. Weddings are a popular drinking occasion because most of the guests don’t want to be there. A marriage is a special day for the bride, groom, and parents, but the guests don’t really enjoy getting dressed up and having to sit around for hours with hundreds of strangers. To get over the tension and boredom, guests often take advantage of the “open bar”; availing themselves of the free alcoholic drinks. This intoxication brings about short term relief, as it allows guests to temporarily escape from their precarious condition.

Lord Krishna Devotees of Krishna, however, have no desire to drink. Why is this the case? The simplest reason is that devotees don’t put themselves into boring situations. As mentioned before, when a person is in trouble or in an uncomfortable situation, they can simply remember Krishna’s smiling face and be delivered from all pain. Since this remembering process can be practiced at any time and any place, devotees never have a need for intoxication. Therefore they have no desire to get drunk, even if drinking provided them temporary happiness in the past.

The inverse of the principle dealing with the sweetness of activities and their relation to Krishna holds true as well. Let’s take the example of a love song. When a person falls in love with a new significant other, they’ll often remark how the love songs they hear on the radio finally make sense to them. They may have heard these songs many times before, but the words never made sense to them; the emotions conveyed by the singer didn’t resonate in any way. But when a person falls in love, the love songs start to make sense because the person can identify with the singer and the message. Thus something which was previously unpalatable suddenly becomes palatable due to its relation to the person’s object of affection.

Chanting Hare Krishna In a similar manner, devotees of Krishna take up new activities which they previously wouldn’t have found enjoyable. Chanting is the bedrock of devotional life. In this age especially, the most effective method of self-realization is the constant chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. When one is in a conditioned state and under the influence of maya, hearing this mantra may not result in any spiritual stimulation. But the same person, after having taken up devotional service with sincere faith, can hear this mantra again and again and feel tremendous spiritual satisfaction. When one is practicing devotional service, they are connected with the supreme object of pleasure: Krishna. Thus any activity that has a relation to Krishna automatically becomes pleasurable.

Just as devotees relish anything that is related to Krishna, Krishna takes joy from anything related to His devotees. A great example of this was seen with Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. Lord Krishna is the original form of Godhead, but His various incarnations and expansions are equally as potent. Lord Rama is one of Krishna’s most famous incarnations, and He is loved by so many around the world that He is often taken to be the original form of Godhead. This is all part of the Lord’s mercy. He understands that different people will be attracted to different features of Bhagavan, so He kindly takes to many forms, each of which is suited to a particular person’s method of worship. Whether someone takes Lord Rama, Lord Krishna, or Lord Vishnu as the original form of God, they are still worshiping the same Supreme Lord.

Lord Rama Lord Rama is especially attractive to devotees since He performed so many activities during His time on earth. Loving God is easy in concept, but in practice it’s a little more difficult. Therefore we need other items of attraction such as pastimes, quotations, and teachings that allow us to further develop an attachment to the Supreme Lord. God is the original tree, and His activities, forms, and names can be thought of as branches which expand from the giant tree. We simply need to grab on to any branch belonging to this tree in order to make our lives perfect.

Another reason Lord Rama is so endearing to the devotees is that His associates are so pure and kind. Lord Rama’s wife Sita Devi is especially noteworthy. Krishna is considered the energetic and His pleasure potency, Shrimati Radharani, is considered the energy. Sita is an incarnation of Radha, so she is also a manifestation of God’s pleasure potency. Since there is really no difference between God and His pleasure giving energy, Sita is just as worshipable as Rama. Sita’s most outstanding characteristic is her devotion to Rama. While on earth, she never thought of another man, nor did she derive pleasure from any activity which was performed in Rama’s absence. This is the highest standard of devotion reserved for only the greatest personalities. We certainly can’t imitate Sita’s wonderful activities, but we can follow her example.

Sita Devi We often hear about how we should be devoted to God and never think of anyone else. We also see the example set by divine figures such as Sita and know that we should learn from it, but what about the other side of the equation? How does Krishna feel towards His devotees? Does He acknowledge our service? Does He think of us? To answer these questions, we simply have to study one passage from the famous Ramayana, the original poem describing the life and pastimes of Lord Rama. The above referenced words from Lord Rama were uttered shortly after Sita had been kidnapped while residing in the forest of Dandaka. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were looking for Sita when they came upon a lake named Pampa. At the time the spring season was just setting in, so Lord Rama was pointing out the various flowers and trees to Lakshmana.

This may seem a little strange at first glance. Why is Rama explaining the symptoms of spring to Lakshmana? After all, both of them were grown men, so they obviously had full knowledge of what spring was. Rama wasn’t explaining spring in ordinary terms though. He looked at everything in terms of its relation to Sita. Rama explained to Lakshmana how both He and Sita had enjoyed the springtime in the past and that this year they couldn’t enjoy it because they weren’t together. Rama remarked how Sita would get excited at seeing certain flowers and how she would rush over and call Him to come see the wonderful signs of spring.

Sita and Rama in the forest As beautiful as the spring season was, Rama wasn’t deriving any enjoyment from it this time around. As the Lord mentions in the quote above, He wasn’t happy at all because Sita wasn’t with Him. The beauty of the flowers paled in comparison to Sita’s beauty. Nature didn’t appeal to Him because Sita wasn’t there to enjoy the surroundings with Him. She had eyes like lotus petals and she was very fond of the lotuses in the forest, but seeing these beautiful surroundings without Sita didn’t bring any pleasure to Rama. So this one statement should remove all doubts as to whether or not the Lord thinks of His devotees. Shri Rama never forgets Sita for even a second.

Sita is the greatest of devotees, so it would make sense that Rama would be attached to her. But this same attachment also applies to any pure devotee. If we surrender ourselves to the Supreme Lord, He won’t leave us hanging. He won’t leave us lonely. We can be rest assured of this. Lord Rama would eventually find Sita and rescue her from the clutches of the demon Ravana. Even when they would be separated later on in life, the Lord always kept her in His mind. In the latter years of His time on earth, Rama would always keep a deity of Sita with Him while performing religious functions. Sita, to her credit, always kept her thoughts on Rama while raising their two sons, Lava and Kusha.

Shri Rama DarbarTaking to devotional service will purify our vision. Love will get us every time. Once Krishna enters our hearts, He will change our minds and cause us to enjoy any activity that is related to Him. As we progress in our service and our consciousness advances, we will start to see everything in terms of its relation to the Supreme and thus be able to enjoy life to the fullest.

Monday, November 1, 2010


Lord Krishna “Some look on the soul as amazing, some describe him as amazing, and some hear of him as amazing, while others, even after hearing about him, cannot understand him at all.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.29)

The Bhagavad-gita, a complete synopsis on Vedic philosophy and instruction, provides insight into the presence of the soul, its relationship to the Supreme Living Entity, and the regulated and prescribed activities that are derived from such a relationship. Since these activities are of the divine nature, they serve to provide permanent happiness to anyone who adopts them, regardless of their disposition, belief system, or current level of happiness. Rather, one’s belief or non-belief in the presence of the soul has no bearing on the results that are achieved by the practice of this most sublime engagement. Through careful study of the major philosophies that have existed since the beginning of time, and the recommended activities derived from such beliefs, we can see that bhakti-yoga, or acts of devotion to the divine, serve to provide happiness to even the greatest of non-believers.

Vedic information states that human beings can be generally classified into one of two categories: suras and asuras. Suras are believers in God, those who make a good-faith attempt at serving and loving the Lord. Asuras are considered miscreants, for they hold steadfast to their belief in the supremacy of man and the nonexistence of a Supreme Entity. Since everyone adopts a certain way of life, even the asuras branch out into sub-religions and systems of activity which sometimes mask their non-belief in a God. Yet even with all the various philosophies that are concocted, the general belief systems of the asuras can be grouped into one of two categories: material acquisition and material annihilation. Material acquisition further breaks down into two more categories: sense gratification for the individual and sense gratification for others, i.e. altruism.

Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura For a detailed analysis of these different philosophies, one can consult the many books authored by the exalted Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, one of the most famous Vaishnava saints of recent times. He spent much time and effort dissecting and picking apart the most prominent theistic and atheistic philosophies that have ever existed, while at the same time establishing the supremacy of the sublime engagement of devotional service to the Supreme Personal Godhead. For the asuras, the materialists who don’t believe in a God, the commonly held belief is that there is no soul. Matter is the root cause of everything; after death, the existence of the individual ends. Therefore the ultimate objective of life is to enjoy as much as possible. Some believe that this enjoyment should be sought out by any means necessary. “Lie, cheat, steal, and do whatever is required to find enjoyment. After all, you only live once, so you might as well make the most of it.”

Believers in such a system don’t have any conception of a system of fairness such as karma. Rather, they think all actions and reactions occur on their own, without a central controller. There are others, however, who do believe in karma, but don’t necessarily understand who administers it or why it exists in the first place. Therefore they adopt a mindset similar to that of the gross materialists, except that they seek to satisfy their senses within the bounds of nature’s laws. “Do whatever you can to satisfy your interests, but make sure that you don’t take any action that will harm you in the future. Be mindful of the reactions to your work.”

Then there are those who take to an approach which is deemed unselfish. They believe the ultimate aim in life is to please as many other people as possible by enabling them to seek out sense enjoyment. Since the intended beneficiary of such work is not the individual performing the action, the discipline is deemed to be an unselfish one. Yet since the ultimate objective is to satisfy one’s own concerns of pity and the lamentation over the condition of others, the actions adopted, be they charity or philanthropy, are most certainly selfish.

Then there are those who believe in the annihilation of activity. They take material nature to be a miserable place, one where sense enjoyment actually serves as the cause of future pain and heartache. Therefore the ultimate objective in life is to cease all activity and thus cut off the root of misery. Since the end-goal is again that of a palatable condition, a state of being where the senses are allowed to seek enjoyment through the absence of pressure, pain, and discomfort, the philosophy can be considered a selfish one. Moreover, since the presence of the soul, the ultimate driver of activity, is ignored, the philosophy must be considered as one belonging to the asura class.

changing bodies Among the suras, the presence of the soul is generally acknowledged. This soul is seen as the guiding force behind all activity; a fact evidenced by the events of birth and death. At the time of birth, the soul is injected into a tiny life form, thus causing it to grow. The life form grows for a certain time, performs activities, leaves some byproducts, and then ultimately dwindles. The annihilation of the living entity comes at the time of death. During this time, the material elements generally remain as they were, with the only difference being the exit of the soul from the body. Since matter existed before and after the duration of the soul’s presence within said matter, the soul must be taken as the superior entity. The soul is the guiding force in all life forms and also the cause of the resulting actions taken by such forms.

Acknowledging the presence of the soul is only the beginning of spiritual realization. One must take the necessary steps to understand why the soul continually enters and exits various forms of bodies. Vedic philosophy, which is so eloquently explained by Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gita, states that the soul has a relationship with the Supreme Divine Entity. The exact name for this divine controller can vary based on time, circumstance, and the intelligence level of the people in society at large, but the entity itself never changes. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Entity is given various names, which are based on its various forms, activities, and qualities. Of all the forms of the divine, the original is known as Bhagavan Shri Krishna.

Lord Krishna Bhagavan is a Sanskrit word which describes an entity that possesses every opulence imaginable to the fullest extent and at the same time. This designation is important because there is no living entity in the fallible material world who could ever meet such a requirement. Granted, those exalted suras, the purified devotees, since they connect with Bhagavan at all times, can also be referred to as Bhagavan. This should make sense because if the Supreme Form of Godhead is considered the most fortunate entity in the world, how much more fortunate is the surrendered soul who remains in His association at all times? Just as the wife assumes the last name of the husband at the time of marriage, the purified living entity acquires the title of Bhagavan through their faithful and loving service to the Supreme.

Krishna is a Sanskrit word which means all-attractive. This gets us to the heart of the issue. The soul is indeed very powerful and the driving force behind the activities of every living entity. Yet matter belongs to an inferior nature and can thus never give the soul the satisfaction it desires. This happiness can only come through connecting with the most attractive of souls, the Supreme Entity known as Krishna. Therefore the ultimate conclusion is that the individual soul is part and parcel of the Supreme Soul. Though a part of the infinitely powerful Supreme Godhead, the individual soul is still separate from Him. Since the soul is separate from God, there must be an ideal relationship that can be derived from this disposition.

Lord Krishna That relationship is one that involves Krishna-prema, or transcendental love. This love is evoked through acts of devotion, steady action which keeps one’s consciousness always fixed on Krishna, or God. The activities that enable one to maintain this consciousness are collectively known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. These activities can actually be of any variety, often appearing similar to those adopted by the gross materialists, do-gooders, and annihilationists. Yet it is the object of worship, the identification of the ultimate enjoyer, which differs in bhakti-yoga. Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura actually gives a very nice definition of bhakti. He states that bhakti is simply the purified name for karma. When activities in karma stop going by the name of karma, they can be labeled as bhakti. The quintessential activity of bhakti-yoga is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This chanting is similar to the material activity of singing songs to oneself, but the objective is different. This chanting is directed not at another fallible living entity or even the self, but rather to the original divine entity, the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. As the Supreme Enjoyer, Krishna acts as the beneficiary of all activity, the one person worthy of all our efforts and hard work.

Acts of love and devotion to God are so potent that they actually provide happiness to even those who don’t believe in God. Even after hearing of the soul, its constitutional position, and its relationship to Krishna, many asuras will remain steadfast to their belief that matter is supreme. They will continue their pursuit of material enjoyment, even though these pursuits always lead to misery. If the accumulation of sense objects was the ultimate objective of life, every living entity would achieve happiness very early on in life. Upon taking birth, the young child is completely ignorant of spiritual matters. Their inclination is to play all day, eat as much as they want, and go to sleep whenever they feel like it. Yet parents closely safeguard their children from such uncontrolled behavior. This is done for the child’s benefit, for it is a well-known fact that unregulated sense gratification during the childhood years can only lead to trouble later on in life. A spoiled child will be less likely to acquire intelligence, hold down a decent job, or be able to support itself.

Gambling causes agitation of the mind This alone should debunk the idea of sense gratification being the ultimate aim. Yet let’s look at it from another angle. The four primary sinful activities of material life are meat-eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex. The Vedas demark these four activities over all others as the most sinful due to the harm they inflict on the future fortunes of the conditioned soul. Yet for the gross materialists, those who don’t believe in the presence of the soul, these activities are seen as the pinnacle of material enjoyment. So what results from taking up these activities in an unregulated manner? Are people better off? Are they happier? Quite the contrary actually, as those who adopt these activities as their primary way of life are often the most unhappy. Meat eaters suffer from various diseases, including obesity, heart disease, and high blood pressure. Intoxication leads to death on the highways, disease of the liver, and loss of brain cells. Gambling leads to loss of money, agitation of the mind, and dishonesty in dealings. Illicit sex life is probably the most detrimental. Unregulated sex life is the single greatest cause of poverty around the world. Those who have to raise children before they are financially stable will have problems for the rest of their lives. Sex life is also very costly, for maintaining a significant other is not an easy thing. Based on these facts alone, we see that the activities derived from the conclusion of the gross materialists most certainly don’t aid in providing the enjoyment that is seen as the ultimate objective in life.

What about the do-gooders, those who take unselfishness to be the ultimate aim of life? The same problems exist, for in order to help another person enjoy their senses, they must be given facility to take up the same sinful activities. If sinful activities lead to misery for me, they certainly will also have the same negative effects on those I try to help. The argument invoked by the unselfish will be that every person requires a minimum amount of sense gratification in order to be happy. Therefore mankind should seek to “level the playing field”, so to speak. This argument is debunked by the mere fact that the persons offering the charity already enjoy a decent level of sense gratification. If a modicum amount of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending were enough to provide happiness, no one would ever need to take to unselfishness. After all, the unselfish behavior is based off the selfish desire to feel good about helping others. If one felt good by having decent food, clothing, and shelter, there would be no need to increase that happiness by taking to charity and philanthropy.

Cruise vacation What about the annihilationists/voidists? If sinful activity causes harm and misery, then surely the opposite must be the secret to enjoyment. To uncover the flaw of this mindset, let us take a simple example of something that is seen as material enjoyment. The cruise vacation is deemed one of the more enjoyable experiences by many. You get aboard a giant boat that is filled with every amenity imaginable. Food, drink, and entertainment are available around the clock, all within walking distance. Not only are these enjoyments nearby, but the setting is unmatched, for one is on a luxury boat that has a great view of the ocean. This is only part of the vacation. The boat also docks in various exotic destinations, islands which themselves offer many enjoyable activities. The cruise is the ultimate vacation, so who wouldn’t like it?

But there are those who view such a vacation as a torture trap. “What if I don’t want to stuff my face all day and drink alcohol all the time? What if I don’t care about seeing the ocean or a beach? I’d rather just enjoy my time on land. I would hate to go on one of these trips.” In this way, we see that simple annihilation cannot be the ultimate objective in life since some people don’t derive any pleasure from it. To the enjoyers of nature, renunciation from activity seems quite unfitting and devoid of pleasure.  What is enjoyable to one person is not to another, and vice versa.  Thus the mind is always toggling between accepting and rejecting things.

All of this information leads us to the secret behind happiness. Happiness is a state of mind, a situation where thoughts, worries, ideas, and plans are in a state of peace and balance. Since happiness is derived from this mental condition, no amount of material enjoyment, or lack thereof, can be the root cause behind peace and tranquility. Happiness results from controlling the mind. Devotional service is seen as the only universal activity because it seeks to change one’s consciousness. This consciousness is merely a representation of the state of the mind. If one’s consciousness remains purified, they will always be in a happy state, regardless of their level of material enjoyment or renunciation.

“Just fix your mind upon Me, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and engage all your intelligence in Me. Thus you will live in Me always, without a doubt.”  (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.8)

bhakti Since bhakti-yoga purifies one’s consciousness, it is applicable to every single person, regardless of their belief system. This means that the happiness the gross materialists and the renunciates are so desperately seeking can actually be achieved through bhakti-yoga. This fact alone speaks to the supremacy of the divine engagement. To devotees, such truths aren’t surprising to see because anything directly related to God will surely be superior. The activities derived from the conclusions of the atheists and material enjoyers don’t even succeed in achieving their stated goals. This alone invalidates their philosophies. The activities derived from the ideal loving relationship with God are so sublime that they give enjoyment to every single person. Therefore, all of us, regardless of our belief system, should take up this engagement and hold on to it for dear life. This is the only path to happiness, both in this world and the next.