Saturday, November 13, 2010


Lord Krishna “But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.40)

In order for a way of life to be adopted, something that will be adhered to and followed, there must be an element of faith. Even the greatest of skeptics have a firm faith in their way of life. This faith especially plays a prominent role in spiritual life. Regardless of the logic and evidence that is presented, naysayers will point to the fact that no one can prove that divine personalities like Lord Krishna and Lord Rama exist. They will say that following the traditions of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is meaningless because no one can prove without a doubt that Krishna is God or that such a person as God actually exists. To find the solution to any problem, one must have a little faith in the beginning stages. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, so anyone who seriously adopts the prescriptions put forth by the exalted Vaishnavas will surely see tangible benefits in the near future.

The Vedic system is quite straightforward, easy to understand, and not much different than the systems presented by other faiths, except in the level of detail presented. The basic outline for a religion is that in the beginning there was nothing except God. He then took to creating the planet and its population. Next, He set forth the principles and guidelines that one should follow in their day to day lives to remain on the pious path. Deviation from this path would be labeled as sin, which is considered a bad thing.

Lord Krishna Vedic evidence provides detail into these same truths. The person known as “God” is actually Krishna or Vishnu depending on how high up the chain of non-different forms of Godhead one wishes to ascend. The universe was indeed created by God, but for a purpose. The creatures that populated the earth were actually purified spirit souls who resided in the transcendental realm previously. Earth was created so as to allow these individuals an opportunity to play out their desires to imitate the Supreme Master. In this way, Krishna is one with His creation, but aloof from it at the same time. Similar to how parents will drop their children off at daycare or at a camp for a day, the material world can be considered a temporary place where the wayward spirit souls who want to try their hand at playing God are dropped off.

Piety and sin refer to the activities that bring one closer to or further away from returning to the spiritual realm. Why would someone want to return? For the definition of “God” to be valid, there can only be a singular entity who occupies this post. If there are multiple “Gods”, then the term “God” doesn’t really mean anything. Under Vedic terminology, the supreme divine entity is addressed by thousands of different names which speak to His limitless transcendental features. His original feature or body goes by the appellation of Bhagavan, which means the most fortunate. There can only be one person is more fortunate than any other person. If there were two Bhagavans, the word couldn’t be used to describe the most fortunate person. It must be noted that often times other exalted personalities and devotees are addressed as Bhagavan, but this is only because they are in association with Krishna. This speaks to the oneness and difference between the living entities and the Supreme Lord. There is separation since there can only be one God, but there is also oneness since the purified devotees, who are completely devoted to Krishna and with Him at all times, can be considered on an equal level as God.

Radha Krishna The pious path brings one closer to union with the Supreme Lord in the state known as yoga. Sin is anything which brings one further away from achieving this union. In this way, we see that the material creation can only exist for as long as the desire for sin remains in the wayward spirit souls. Working off this information, the ultimate objective in life is to eradicate sin - those activities which cause a temporary separation from the Lord - and to become completely engrossed in thoughts of Krishna. This mindset is known as Krishna consciousness and it can be easily adopted by anyone who regularly chants “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” with sincere love. All other aspects of piety descend from this devotional practice. Along with chanting, there are the processes of hearing, remembering, worshiping, surrendering, and many others. Consciousness is shaped by past activities and also serves as the driver of future activities. Therefore the changing of consciousness serves as the most important aspect of spiritual life. Changing one’s consciousness is more important than blindly following a particular exalted personality or some mentally concocted system of piety. Our consciousness is exhibited through outward symptoms. One cannot claim to be God conscious and then take to acts of killing innocent women and children in the name of religion. The symptoms of God consciousness are the exhibition of every beneficial and praiseworthy characteristic; traits which automatically come to those who are in complete connection with Bhagavan.

This all seems straightforward enough. Take to Krishna consciousness through acts of devotion and all other things will fall into place. Yet any time logic and reason are presented to further a point, irrespective of the field of interest, there will be skeptics. With relation to bhakti-yoga, the skeptics will question how a person can know that the soul exists and that its original home is in the spiritual world. “If Krishna is the Supreme Enjoyer, why would He let us come to this miserable material world? How do we even know that Krishna really exists and that He’s not just some mythological figure?” Such skeptics will often come to their own conclusions about life. They will postulate about the essence of life by saying things like, “I don’t firmly believe in anything. I can’t be sure that Krishna or anyone else is God; therefore I can’t seriously adopt any religious discipline. Anyone who does so is simply kidding themselves. Life is about keeping an open mind and not being judgmental.”

Lord KrishnaThe irony is that even the atheists, agnostics, and skeptics have their own religion and belief system. For instance, when the skeptic says that they don’t judge or that they don’t firmly believe in anything, their statement explaining this fact is itself a bold assertion. One side asserts that Krishna is God, while the other firmly believes that they can’t be sure of anything. The skeptic wholly takes shelter of his belief in non-belief, essentially turning himself into a God. A person’s religion or their belief in a “God” represents their ultimate conclusion or philosophy in life. When a person takes shelter of a mentally concocted viewpoint such as skepticism, they are essentially worshipping themselves. Their own mind came up with the idea, and since they believe firmly in this idea, they are worshipers of the mind. The same principle can be applied to any person, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.

If every person believes in someone or something, how do we determine which entity is worthy of such faith and adoration? First off, we can immediately rule out human beings from being worthy of worship. This is because the human being, along with any other living entity, is mortal. How can a living entity who once roamed around in diapers be capable of being the ultimate object of worship? Moreover, if the person who is being praised is loved and adored simply for a theory they concocted in their mind, wouldn’t it stand to reason that any other person could concoct their own theories? Then doesn’t this make every person worthy of the title of “God”?

These facts reinforce the Vedic assertion that this world was created so as to allow the wayward spirit souls a chance to go hog-wild in their pursuit to become the ultimate proprietors and ultimate enjoyers. Devotees are more than happy to put their faith in Krishna over any ordinary living entity. They are willing to take the chance of believing the transcendental words found in the Ramayana, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and many other great texts.

Devotional service does involve worship of human beings, but these are no ordinary living entities. The Vaishnavas, the lovers of Vishnu [Krishna], exhibit all the qualities that come with bhakti-yoga. Such exalted figures sincerely took up bhakti under the guidance of their own spiritual master, who in turn learned it from his guru, and so on. Traversing the chain of gurus all the way to the top, one will eventually reach Vishnu or Krishna. In this way, an ordinary living entity who is naturally prone to wanting to compete with God becomes the most exalted of figures through establishing a firm link to the transcendental world. Such personalities never claim to be God, for they are merely humble servants of the Supreme. Anyone who follows their prescriptions will surely be benefitted in the end. The same can’t be said of those who follow the mentally concocted theories of the skeptics and atheists.

“We think there is no need for any other book than the Bhagavatam. Only those other books are acceptable that say something in its favor; the deliberations that go against it, are not worth being called spiritual.” (Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Vaishnava Cult)

Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura Based on our personal experiences, the happiness and overall positive outlook of a person tends to have a linear relationship with their belief in and love for God. From the teachings of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, we understand that the best way to judge a person’s philosophy on life, or their ultimate conclusion, is to see how closely it matches to the philosophy found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature. The more a person’s religion, or spiritual system, matches up to this wonderful work, the greater their chances will be at spiritual perfection.  By following the prescriptions of the Bhagavatam, one’s demeanor and outlook will also be positively affected. We have often found that the atheists, skeptics, and enemies of Krishna are some of the most miserable people you would ever meet. This makes sense after all, for if one ignores the instructions of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, they are left to take shelter of matter and sense gratification. The material senses can never be satisfied, regardless of whether the senses belong to the individual or to some other entity. Simply acquiring material wealth, beauty, and fame never leads to happiness. Even if one is trying to distribute these opulences to those who are deemed “less fortunate”, the same end-result of misery will be present.

Devotional service Devotional service, on the other hand, when practiced properly and without selfish motive, leads to happiness for the performer, the instructing spiritual master, the Supreme Lord, and anyone in contact with such transcendental activities. Since this powerful effect is not seen in any other discipline, the supremacy of devotional service is firmly established. Whether we are skeptics, theists, atheists, agnostics, or firm believers in God, we should seriously adopt this practice of devotional service. Even if there is no faith in the beginning stages, Lord Chaitanya, the inaugurator of the sankirtana movement, will kindly guide the humble spiritualist in his efforts. The mercy of Shri Gaurahari is that He will increase one’s devotion to whichever form of Godhead they are naturally inclined to serve. In this way, we never have to give up our divine object of worship in lieu of another. The aim is to simply have faith in God and always be thinking of Him in a loving way. Every person believes in something or someone. If we’re going to believe in someone, it might as well be Krishna. No ordinary human being could have spoken the words found in the Bhagavad-gita or performed the wonderful activities of the lifting of Govardhana Hill and the displaying of the universal form. These activities are reserved for Krishna and His non-different expansions. Taking shelter of such a Lord, the devotee will never meet defeat.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Poker Face

Hanuman “When I have spoken to you thus, why are you not responding to me? A pious soul named Sugriva, who is a warrior and a hero among Vanaras, being expelled by his brother, wanders the earth with a distressed mind.” (Hanuman speaking to Rama and Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.19-20)

To be successful in the card game of poker, one must know how to hide their emotions. This practice keeps others in the dark, leaving them always second-guessing the player’s moves. Poker is a card game which involves gambling on each hand, so it is not possible to win every round. Therefore, the real winning and losing comes in the area of betting; deciding how much to wager and assessing the quality of the cards possessed by the opponents. If the other players have good hands, it is wise to fold right away, not betting any extra money. If you have a good hand, the smart play is to increase the bet in hopes that the fellow players will increase the overall pot, allowing for a bigger payoff. Since so much rides on whether a person has a good hand or not, it is important to not give away the makeup of your cards to your fellow player. In this regard, it helps to have a good “poker face”; a blank expression on the face which doesn’t allow the opponents to tell whether or not you have a good hand. In more abstract terms, when a person is able to keep others from knowing the workings of their mind, it is said that they are grave. This is one of the numerous qualities possessed by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Lord Krishna Why is it important to be grave? Moreover, why is it important to know that God is grave? So much of religion hinges on faith and surrender, the relinquishing of the fight to reign supreme over all of mankind. Surrendering is easier said than done, so any bits of information we can gather about the person we are surrendering to can go a long way towards helping us give up our fight against material nature. To aid us in this process, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, give us thousands of names for God. It is not that God has a name, but rather He is identified by His numerous qualities and activities. For example, when Lord Krishna personally appeared on earth some five thousand years ago, He lifted a giant hill and held it up with the tip of His finger. Therefore one of His names is Girivaradhari. Lord Krishna also once killed a demon named Madhu, hence He is often referred as Madhusudana. Similarly, He killed another demon named Keshi, so He is known as Keshava. Figured out the pattern yet? Since Krishna killed the demon Mura, He is sometimes addressed as Murari.

Though it may seem otherwise, God does not spend all His time killing demons. He also gives pleasure to His friends. Since He is all-attractive, He is known by the name of Krishna. Since He gives transcendental pleasure to His devotees, He is known as Rama. Krishna is the god of the brahmanas, or the priestly class of men, thus He is known as brahmanya-devaya. He gives pleasure to the cows and the senses, so two of His other names are Govinda and Gopala. To ere is human, which means that every living entity is fallible to some degree. No matter how exalted we may become or how many millions of dollars we have in our bank accounts, we are all prone to falling down at some point or another. Since God is the only person who can never fall down, He is known as Achyuta, or the infallible one.

The Nectar of Devotion Devotees relish these appellations, and they also love to discuss the activities which led to the anointing of these names. The advanced devotees, like Shrila Rupa Gosvami, are so engrossed in Krishna consciousness that they like to scientifically break down Krishna’s attributes and exceptional qualities. In his book, Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, Rupa Gosvami gives a breakdown of Krishna’s different features and the different emotions that constitute bhakti. He also provides examples from Krishna’s pastimes to help the reader understand each of these points. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada wrote a summary study translation of this great book and titled it The Nectar of Devotion. For the purposes of this discussion, we are interested in the section of this book which describes Krishna as being grave.

“A person who does not express his mind to everyone, or whose mental activity and plan of action are very difficult to understand, is called grave.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 26)

So why is it important to be grave? Our thoughts are the only possessions that we can keep completely private. Friends, family, and co-workers are around all the time, so they more or less know all about us; the things we like, our temperament, our nature, the things we don’t like, etc. Our parents know the most about us, for they enjoy telling embarrassing stories about our childhood to friends and family. This is quite natural because our parents knew us back when we couldn’t even walk. Even when we become adults, the parents still see us as helpless young children, so they like to remind us of our past shortcomings from time to time.

Though our close confidantes know our faults and weaknesses, no one has access to our thoughts. It is the one thing that belongs exclusively to us, so it is something we should try to hold on to as best we can. A person who can keep their emotions in check and keep others from knowing what’s going on in their head is certainly praiseworthy. If a person is grave, it usually means that they have the upper hand in situations. If someone doesn’t know what we’re thinking or how we’re feeling, they are likely to tip their hand first. They will volunteer their thoughts and give away their emotions before we will. This keeps us in control.

Lord Rama Of all the grave people in all of the universes, no one is better at keeping their emotions concealed than the Supreme Lord. There are many past incidents where this quality was displayed, but one of the more humorous ones related to an exchange between Lord Hanuman and Lord Rama. Lord Krishna expanded Himself into the form of a pious kshatriya prince named Rama during the Treta Yuga. As part of His pastimes, Lord Rama roamed the forests of India along with His younger brother Lakshmana and His wife Sita Devi. On one occasion, Rama and Lakshmana were wandering through the forest of Kishkindha looking for Sita, who had just been kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana. At the time, a group of Vanaras [human-like monkeys] were living in Kishkindha. Their leader was the great fighter Sugriva, who saw Rama and Lakshmana approaching while he was on the top of the Rishyamukha mountain. Kishkindha was an asylum for Sugriva; he was living there out of fear of his brother Vali. The two had gotten into an argument which led to a great fight. Vali wanted to kill Sugriva, so the monkey fled to Kishkindha, an area which was off-limits to Vali due to a curse invoked by a brahmana.

Sugriva didn’t know who Rama and Lakshmana were, so he sent his chief warrior, Hanuman, to go and see what was going on. Sugriva asked Hanuman to assume a false guise just in case Rama and Lakshmana were emissaries of Vali who had come to kill him. While most people are aware that Hanuman is a great devotee of Lord Rama, this particular incident marked the first meeting between the great devotee and his supreme object of worship. It is kind of humorous if we think about it; Hanuman’s first meeting with Rama involved fear, trepidation, and deceit.

Hanuman did as he was told, choosing to approach Rama and Lakshmana in the guise of a mendicant since others tend to behave honestly towards holy men. Though Hanuman was asked to put on an act by welcoming the two brothers, he didn’t need to work too hard. After all, Hanuman was a pious soul from the time of his birth, so simply by seeing Rama and Lakshmana, he knew they were no ordinary human beings. Hanuman immediately began praising them through the most eloquent of speeches. After going on and on about their glories, Hanuman was surprised that Rama and Lakshmana weren’t responding. “I’m praising them so well, why aren’t they saying anything? Why aren’t they identifying themselves?” Finally, Hanuman cracked and revealed his true nature, telling Rama who he was and why he had come down.

Hanuman's service to Rama From this one incident, we see that no one has a better “poker face” than God. This was a very nice exchange that displayed Rama’s wonderful mercy. Since Lord Rama was grave, Hanuman was not able to understand His intent or mindset. This allowed Hanuman to go on and on praising the Lord, something which pleased Hanuman, Rama, and Lakshmana. God certainly likes to be praised by His devotees, especially the most exalted personalities like Hanuman. By keeping His emotions in check, the Lord allowed Hanuman to offer kind service to both He and His brother. Every quality possessed by the Supreme Lord is beautiful and pleasure-giving. We may not be able to tell what is on the Lord’s mind, but He most certainly can read our thoughts. Therefore it is wise to remove all inhibitions to the execution of devotional service by openly surrendering ourselves to the Lord.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

All Encompassing

Lord Krishna “The ordinary conditioned human being may think the conditioned soul, who is covered by his materialistic senses, mind and intelligence, to be equal to Krishna, but Lord Krishna is just like the sun, which, although it sometimes may appear to be so, is never covered by the cloud, snow or fog or by other planets. When the eyes of less intelligent men are covered by such influences, they think the sun to be invisible. Similarly, persons influenced by the senses and addicted to material enjoyment cannot have a clear vision of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Narada Muni, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 29)

Comment: “Krishna is all-encompassing. Everything, both good and bad, is Krishna. Therefore it is pointless to say that one person is acting properly, while another person isn’t. Krishna is everyone and everyone is Krishna.”

Response: The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are so intricate and complex that people often derive many conclusions from them. One of the most harmful and erroneous conclusions is that man is God or that everything in this creation is on an equal footing since it was all created by God. Other faiths don’t necessarily run into these issues because their knowledge base isn’t as complete. While other religious systems certainly can prove effective when practiced in the proper mindset, the principle method of worship essentially involves sentimentalism or sectarianism. The Vedas, which certainly include sentiment and dedication to notable personalities, are unique in that they provide a fine level of detail into the nature of the soul, where it comes from, and what will ultimately lead to its benefit. These truths are presented through cutting logic, thought-provoking aphorisms, and transcendental activities enacted by the Personality of Godhead. This last point is the most important. Since there is an original Personality of Godhead, it is impossible for the minute living entities, ordinary human beings, to be on an equal footing with Him. Since there is a superior entity, there is also a superior discipline that trumps all others. This discipline is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

What do we mean by disciplines? Religion is generally associated with a theistic tradition or some type of faith. If we delve a little deeper into the issue, we’ll see that religion is essentially a person or group of people’s ultimate conclusion. A final conclusion is one that trumps all others. For example, say that we are learning how to drive. There are secondary conclusions such as knowing when to turn, when to accelerate, when to break, and when to park. There are so many secondary truths or conclusions that one must follow, but the sum total of all conclusions can be thought of as the ultimate conclusion. This truth encompasses all the rules necessary to drive properly, safely, and successfully towards one’s final destination. This same principle can be applied to all ventures. Every person is performing some type of work, whether they know it or not. Therefore there are many conclusions reached based on the scope of activities.

Lord Chaitanya A person’s ultimate conclusion in life can be considered their religion. Even the atheists and agnostics can be considered religious. Their highest truth is that the senses need to be gratified either through activities aimed at satisfying their personal self or through activities of philanthropy and altruism. Those who are religious generally view their ultimate conclusion to be the satisfaction of a particular spiritual figure. The Vedas provide a little more clarity on this issue. The truths that are derived from the Vedas all deal with the soul and its relationship with a divine entity. The all-encompassing conclusion, the one truth that explains all other truths, was put forth by Shri Krishna Chaitanya, a preacher, brahmana, and incarnation of Godhead who appeared on this earth around five hundred years ago. His conclusion is known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, and it states that the individual spirit souls, the living entities, are simultaneously one with and different from the Supreme Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna. Moreover, the human mind is incapable of properly conceiving of this relationship.

The collective teachings of the Vedas are found in many scriptures, the primary of which are the Ramayana, Puranas, Mahabharata, and Vedanta-sutras. These texts focus on the greatness of God, explaining His various names, forms, and attributes. In addition, the relationship of the living entities to the Supreme Lord is also presented. Not only are there descriptions of the transcendent Lord’s wonderful features, but there are also postulates and truths presented which negate other false or lesser truths. What does it mean to negate a truth? In the area of mathematics, logical proofs are often used to prove or disprove the validity of statements. The same concept applies in spiritual life. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, is often described with the terms neti neti, meaning “not this, not this”. This phrase means that Lord Krishna is not this world. He can only be found in the spiritual world.

The Mahabharata, which is one of the primary Vedic texts mentioned above, contains a small chapter which later turned into a famous book known as the Bhagavad-gita. This book is noteworthy because it chronicles a conversation between Lord Krishna and His disciple Arjuna during Krishna’s time on earth. Though the text is essentially a transcript of a conversation, Krishna plays the role of a teacher, or spiritual master. Therefore the words take on an added importance. Yet the truths found in the Gita are so profound that even non-devotees take to reading this wonderful book. The nature of enjoyment, lust, anger, greed, happiness, sadness, karma, birth, death, God, atheism, and so many other topics are covered.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna Because the truths found in the Gita are so profound, there is an urge to remove Krishna from His teachings. The achintya-bhedabheda-tattva states that the living entities are the same as Krishna in one sense. Krishna validates this by stating that He is in every aspect of the creation, but everything is not in Him. Since God creates everything, nothing can be considered separate from Him. At the same time, Krishna makes sure to remind us that there is only one God. Just because we are part of the entire creation and thus part of the complete whole known as God, it doesn’t mean that we are the original God. We can never be as powerful as Krishna.

Problems arise when people take shelter of argument and logic in lieu of Krishna. Studying various statements found in the Gita and other books, such philosophers take the words to be absolute. Logic and argument work in such a way that any truth can be negated simply through skepticism. For example, if I were to say that the sky is blue, another person could use logic and argument to question my assertion. “How do you know the sky is blue? How do you even know what blue is? How can you trust your eyes? Just because everyone else says the sky is blue, does that mean they are right? Since you cannot be completely sure of your assertion, it cannot be considered true. Therefore anything else you say also cannot be considered true.” In this way, a simple truth like the sky being blue is negated. When we apply this concept on a grander scale, we see that the entire sum and substance of the universe becomes nullified, or equivalent to zero. This is the practice of the class of transcendentalists known as the Mayavadis. They believe in a formless Absolute Truth known as Brahman. While the Vedas certainly do acknowledge the existence of Brahman, the Supreme Absolute Truth remains a personality. This personality, whose name is Krishna, has a transcendental body which is full of bliss and knowledge. The effulgence that beams off His body is known as Brahman. Those who are unable to see through this effulgence remain stuck on the Brahman realization.

Lord Krishna Aside from the Mayavadis, there are those who take Krishna’s statement pertaining to God being everything the wrong way. Such philosophers conclude that since Krishna creates everything, nothing can be considered bad. Murderers, liars, cheats, and thieves are simply associating with a certain aspect of Krishna’s creation, so they can’t really be considered any worse than the pious saints. Since God is everything, everything must also be God. In one sense, this is certainly true. Lord Krishna can never be separated from His energies. There is a separation, however, in the area of consciousness. Moreover, regardless of the nature of the living entity, man is always looking for happiness through enjoyment. Krishna is everything, but depending on the type of energy one associates with, the nature of the enjoyment will vary. In addition, certain energies belonging to Krishna actually bring about misery instead of happiness, hence the distinction between piety and sin, virtue and vice.

“Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes and faces, and He hears everything. In this way the Supersoul exists.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.14)

Spiritual activities derive their uniqueness from the nature of enjoyment. Potency is what distinguishes God from any other entity. Only the original form of Godhead, the Almighty Creator, is capable of providing on the grandest scale. The reach of His arms and legs is endless. His body is so large that He is capable of devouring the entire creation in a second, and then reproducing it right afterwards. In fact, this very description of the Supreme Lord, in His form of Lord Rama, was given by the demon Akampana. Even the enemies of the Lord are aware of His capabilities. Yet what separates the demons from the devotees is the nature of enjoyment. Not only does the Supreme Lord fulfill orders which are incapable of being fulfilled by any ordinary living entity, but He also provides the greatest enjoyment possible. This is what separates Krishna from any other person. In this area, there is no equality amongst living entities. Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure.

“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)

Radha Krishna As mentioned before, regardless of the specific activities adopted, people are seeking enjoyment. There is really no such thing as good or bad in a spiritual sense because the resulting conditions of fruitive activity are temporary. The soul is eternal, but its outer covering is not. The body is always changing, as is the giant body known as the creation. Sin is any activity which leads to a temporary unfavorable condition at some point in the future, while piety leads to a temporary favorable condition. By this definition alone, we see the difference between acts of bhakti and acts of karma. Any activity which results in a temporary consequence can be considered an act of karma. The actual consequence is not of importance, for one person may deem a specific consequence favorable, while another may view it the other way. One person likes ice cream, while another loathes it. In this way, enjoyment is a relative thing. Unless a particular enjoyment is tied to Krishna, it is considered second class.

Every person is religious because every person has an ultimate object of worship and someone or something that they view as the ultimate source of pleasure. When the primary object of worship is part of Krishna’s separated energy, the resulting consequence is the continuation of the cycle of birth and death. When the worshipable object is part of Krishna’s internal energy, which is represented by pure spirit, the associated result is association with that spirit. Here we get a hint into why Krishna comes to earth from time to time. Since God is the supreme spirit, those who associate with Him will receive the highest form of enjoyment. This is why devotees, those who choose to associate regularly with Krishna through chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, try to induce others to take to bhakti-yoga as well. They know that everyone is looking for happiness, regardless of which aspect of Krishna’s energy they are currently associating with. Since association with Krishna’s separated energy, represented by activities that aim to please the gross senses of the temporary body, can never lead to true happiness, acts of karma must be considered second class. The devotees try to help others see the folly in their ways so that their enjoyment, which is ultimately what they are after, can be increased.

Bhagavad-gita Taking shelter of argument and logic is not a very good idea because it can lead to a neutral position. If everything becomes negated through categorization and the grouping of activities into logical units, the resulting condition is essentially the same as the starting point. If after reading the Bhagavad-gita, a person comes to the conclusion that everything is God so it doesn’t matter what activities we take up, they haven’t changed anything about their outlook or the nature of their activities. This begs the question as to why the Gita exists in the first place. Why would Krishna come to earth to espouse the belief of negativity or voidism, when such philosophies already exist in Krishna’s absence? The Lord would have no need to codify a religion of neutrality in a book such as the Gita or Shrimad Bhagavatam.

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

We know that Krishna comes to earth for a reason. His mission cannot be the spreading of a philosophy that claims that all activities are the same, for the last instruction given in the Gita is that we should surrender ourselves completely to Krishna and give up all other dharmas. Dharma can mean religiosity, but the more accurate definition is an essential characteristic. Whatever someone views as their essential characteristic will determine the nature of the activities they take up. If someone believes that the essential characteristic of man is that he is his body, then the activities adopted from this line of thinking will involve sense gratification. By the same token, if a person believes their essential characteristic is that of oneness with nature, their activities will be devoid of any spiritual interaction. Such a mindset makes one prone to falling back down to the platform of sense gratification, or worse, subscribing to the idea that they are God.

Radha Krishna Lord Krishna states that one should abandon all other dharmas except that of surrender to Him. This is because our essential characteristic is that of being enjoyed. Who enjoys us? Krishna, of course. Yet there is full independence in this relationship. The Lord does not force us to surrender unto Him. Therefore anyone who wants to remain in association with material nature is given every opportunity to do so. The Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and other Vedic texts are intended for those who are looking for a higher taste, the type of satisfaction that never leaves them worse off from where they started. Therefore the ultimate activity resulting from the ultimate conclusion is that of bhakti-yoga. Acts of devotion are devoid of any association with inferior energies. Those who take to the path of bhakti get to associate with Krishna, or one of His non-different forms such as Rama, Narasimha, or Chaitanya, for all of eternity. This surrender can only come about when we see past the glaring effulgence of Brahman and abandon our worship of logic and argument. Lord Krishna is not of this material world, and neither are we. When both the energetic and the energy are together in the spiritual world, the resulting fusion is a thing of beauty.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Meeting of the Minds

Hanuman meeting Rama “Sent by the great soul Sugriva, the king of Vanaras, I have arrived here. My name is Hanuman and I am a Vanara.” (Hanuman speaking to Rama and Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.21)

Shri Hanuman is one of the most famous objects of worship for followers of the Vedic tradition. He is kind, sweet, gentle, strong, courageous, and the grantor of the boon of devotion to Lord Rama. Though Hanuman is well-known throughout the world, it is still nice to revisit the incident of his first meeting with Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. The above referenced statement from the Valmiki Ramayana is from that first meeting, where Hanuman graciously introduces himself to the two brothers, whom he would later go on to be a faithful servant of. Devotees of God can revel in these wonderful words and also derive great lessons from them.

Lord Rama Who is Lord Rama? Simply put, He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is certainly great, but how can we measure that greatness? In order to properly understand abstract terms, we need a frame of reference, something we can use as a comparison. Since God is the greatest person in every respect, the leader in every metric ever created, it is difficult to gain a firm understanding of His glorious nature. To aid the fallible human being in its quest for knowledge, the Supreme Lord descends to earth from time to time in various shapes and sizes. During these appearances, the actual form of the Lord, known as an avatara, depends on mankind’s propensity towards spirituality at the specific time. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, mankind was generally pious. Though the Treta Yuga itself consisted of thousands of years, there was a brief period of time where society was wholly dedicated to chivalry and righteousness. In the Vedic tradition, the term dharma is used to convey righteousness, religiosity, or general piety. During this specific time when people were dedicated to dharma, God decided to descend to earth in human form so that the people of the time could directly offer their worship to Him.

This form of the Lord, known by the name of Rama, appeared as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, Maharaja Dasharatha. Dasharatha was no ordinary king; he was a descendent of one of the first kings on earth, Maharaja Ikshvaku. Ikshvaku was a descendent of the famous solar dynasty, so all the members of this line were extremely pious. Not only were the Ikshvaku kings chivalrous, but they actually set the standard for good government. Dasharatha, who lived up to the Ikshvaku tradition in every respect, had one thing missing in his life: a son. It is important for a male to beget male children because this enables them to repay their debt to the forefathers. Though it seems like we have no control over the circumstances of our birth, it is not the case. Each person is placed with a specific mother and father based on their previous life’s activities. If we are born into a pious family, it is no accident. Since our forefathers enabled us to take birth in the family that we did, it is up to us to continue the family line, enabling future pious souls to have a chance at spiritual advancement.

Dasharatha and family Now granted, the debts we incur at the time of birth can easily be paid off by becoming devotees of God. Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is the true mission in life, so one who takes to this sublime engagement automatically becomes absolved of all sins and material debts. Nevertheless, Dasharatha still wanted to keep the family traditions going; he wanted a son to whom he could pass his kingdom down to. Due to Dasharatha’s good nature and dedication to chivalry, God decided to reward the king by appearing as his son. The Vedas tell us that God’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, and that Krishna’s immediate expansion is that of the four-handed Lord Vishnu. Vishnu then descends to earth as various avataras, or incarnations. Lord Rama is one of Vishnu’s most famous avataras, and since He appeared during a time where religiosity was greatly adhered to in society, Rama too made sure to act very piously.

By performing many great activities during His time on earth, Lord Rama allowed future generations to relish in His transcendental pastimes by reading about them in the great Vedic texts. Though it is certainly a blessing to hear about these activities millions of years later, it is considered an even greater boon to have been around during Lord Rama’s time. This was the benediction reserved for the greatest of souls, of which Hanuman was one. As part of His life’s journey, Lord Rama ended up roaming the forests of India for fourteen years alongside His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana. Unfortunately, Sita would one day be kidnapped while the group was in the forest. This all happened for a reason, as the Lord needed an excuse to take on the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Since Rama was dedicated to adhering to the rules of warfare, He wasn’t allowed to go after Ravana without just cause. Once the demon kidnapped Sita and took her back to his island kingdom of Lanka, the Lord had the excuse He needed.

Hanuman meeting Rama After Sita was taken away, Rama and Lakshmana were initially unaware of her whereabouts. They scoured the forests and eventually made their way to Kishkindha. This particular forest was inhabited by a race of human-like monkeys known as Vanaras. Their leader was Sugriva, who had set up camp on the mountain of Rishyamukha. Sugriva had a brother named Vali whom he was deathly afraid of. The two got into an argument once, with Vali vowing to kill his brother. Sugriva immediately fled and found asylum in Kishkindha. On a previous occasion, a curse was pronounced on Vali which prohibited him from entering Kishkindha. While on the Rishyamukha Mountain, Sugriva could see Rama and Lakshmana approaching. Not knowing who they were, the monkey-king got scared, thinking that they might be emissaries of Vali coming to kill him. Sugriva then asked his chief warrior, Hanuman, to go down and see what the two princes wanted. He told Hanuman to assume a false guise so that the brothers would not know who he was. Hanuman gladly obliged.

Hanuman was no ordinary monkey. He was the son of the wind-god, Vayu, so he was extremely strong. Veda means knowledge, so the Vedas themselves present comprehensive information on all important subjects. The Vedas tell us that the vital force of man, aside from the soul residing within, is wind, or air. Yoga is practiced quite regularly today, with one of its most popular exercises being pranayama, a breathing routine aimed at controlling the wind inside the body. The idea is that wind represents strength, so anyone who can harness this strength can achieve equilibrium within the body and also great powers. Hanuman, being the son of the deity of the wind, was thus a great yogi and naturally very strong. Due to several other benedictions he received from the demigods as a child, Hanuman could perform other great feats as well. He could assume any shape at will, and his knowledge of Sanskrit was perfect. When he first approached Rama and Lakshmana, he glorified them with sweet words which were perfectly formed.

Hanuman worshiping Rama Above all these great personal characteristics relating to speech and strength, Hanuman’s defining attribute was his devotion to God. Ironically enough, he was unaware of this great devotion until he met Lord Rama face to face. Nevertheless, we see that he was a pure devotee at heart, for he had no problem accurately describing Rama and Lakshmana’s glories. Hanuman derived so much pleasure by praising the two brothers that he eventually gave up the ruse. In the above referenced statement, we see Hanuman honestly identifying himself, going against Sugriva’s orders.

How did this happen? Up to this point, Rama and Lakshmana had not uttered a word. They listened attentively to the kind words put forth by Shri Hanuman. For the devotees, there is no duplicity in their dealings with the Supreme Lord. Even though Hanuman was ordered to act in a certain way, simply by seeing his prana-natha, the Lord of his vital air, he completely surrendered himself. One look at Rama’s beautiful face was enough to take away all his inhibitions. The rest, as they say, was history. Hanuman would lead Rama and Lakshmana to Sugriva, with the brothers subsequently forging an alliance with the Vanara king. Hanuman would end up being the chief warrior in Rama’s successful fight against Ravana.

To this day, the name of Hanuman is synonymous with love and devotion to God. His glories are limitless. A person could spend many lifetimes trying to describe Hanuman’s greatness and still not reach the end of his splendorous attributes. The Vaishnava saint, Goswami Tulsidas, summarized Hanuman’s greatest attributes in his famous Hanuman Chalisa. This poem is recited daily by millions around the world. Hanuman is the gate-keeper to Lord Rama’s kingdom. Those who wish to become devotees of the Lord are advised to first receive the blessings of Shri Hanuman.

Rama Darbar Sita, Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman are worshiped together in what is known as the Rama Darbar. Though the relationship between Hanuman and Lord Rama is well-known today, it all started on that fateful day in the forest of Kishkindha. We should take advantage of the Vedic texts that recount this wonderful incident. Moreover, we should follow Shri Hanuman’s lead by taking up devotional service ourselves. One should learn to approach the Lord in the same way that Hanuman did, that is by offering kind prayers and obeisances. As a result of his surrender, Hanuman forged an eternal relationship with the Lord. The same thing can happen for us. In this day and age, the easiest way to approach God and offer Him kind prayers is to regularly recite the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Let our soul remain connected with the Supreme Soul for eternity. Let us always remember the lotus feet of Shri Hanuman and the wonderful love he has for the Supreme Lord.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Paying Tribute

Lord Krishna “The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hari, is the soul and the Supersoul of all living entities. Every living entity is a manifestation of His energy in terms of the living soul and the material body. Therefore the Lord is the most dear, and He is the supreme controller.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.7.49)

While religion usually connotes the idea of spirituality and dedication to a supreme spiritual entity, in reality it is simply whatever a person’s ultimate conclusion is. An ultimate conclusion leads to activities. Since these activities are based on a person’s primary belief system, it can be deduced that said activities are of the topmost importance to the performer. In this way, a person’s faith can be described by their ultimate conclusion. Those who take to fruitive activity, acts which lead to the satisfaction of the senses, both subtle and gross, as the ultimate conclusion in life are known as believers of the karmavada or karma-mimamsa philosophy. Ironically enough, a belief in God or a worship of a divine entity doesn’t necessarily change the conclusion in such a philosophy. In many respects, the divine figure is simply seen as the facilitator of the rewards reaped in the karmavada system. Thus even if there is the presence of a God, if the primary activities one adopts relate to karma, the resulting system is one of atheism. More than a simple order supplier, God is the Supreme Enjoyer, that entity who takes part in the topmost pleasure-giving loving exchanges with the surrendered souls. This exchange can only take place through one system: bhakti-yoga. This system is thus the only bona fide religion.

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

Lord Krishna Let’s review the various aspects of karmavada to gain a better understanding of the superior nature of bhakti. Karma is generally associated with good and bad results. If we perform pious activities, we’ll accumulate good karma, and if we take to sinful activity, our karma will be bad. A more technical definition of karma is any activity which leads to the development of the material body. The soul is the true identity of the individual, the life force that serves as the spark for all activity. While the soul takes the impetus for actions, the results are doled out by a Supersoul, or Paramatma. This soul belongs to the Supreme Divine Entity, the Almighty Lord. How one can connect with this Supreme Entity will be discussed shortly.

Since we are born into ignorance, not all of us become aware of the presence of the soul and its constitutional position. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, summarize the purpose of life into two basic action items: learn about God and use that knowledge to serve Him through love. Such a practice will benefit the soul, allowing it to transcend karma. Since knowledge of God isn’t easily acquired nor understood, most of us remain on the platform of karma. This means that we take to activity in hopes of gaining some reward. The law of karma stipulates that every action has commensurate reactions. Sometimes the reactions are favorable, while other times they are not. Regardless of our intentions, the reactions, both good and bad, will most certainly come.

The gross materialists, those who have no knowledge or belief in the existence of the soul, often take to karma as a way of life; they don’t believe there is anything higher or more important than the system of action and reaction. From intelligence acquired through experience, such believers gain a basic understanding of cause and effect. They know that if they take to certain activities, they can increase their chances of achieving their goals. The end-goals usually involve some sort of sense gratification. For example, students take to karmic activity in school in hopes of graduating. After graduating, they can hopefully land a nice job and meet the basic demands of the body. While the intentions are certainly noble, the end-result is simply sense gratification. Even something as universally appealing as peace of mind relates to the senses.

School is just one small example, but pretty much any activity in the cause and effect paradigm follows the same pattern. So far, there has been no mention of God or a divine figure in this system. Those who are a little wiser, however, understand that God exists. They take to worshiping Him, or one of His authorized officials known as the demigods, to meet the demands of life. Such adherents most certainly work hard at acquiring the necessary fruits of their labor, but they still take time to worship a divine figure. The exact mode of worship can vary. Some attend a church or a temple on a regular basis. Others take to more formalized worship such as the performance of sacrifice and other rituals. Others take to austerities such as fasting and meditation. The Vedas document many historical incidents where exalted personalities took to such methods and received the benedictions of their choice.

Is there a difference between the person acting in karma without knowledge of God and one who looks for the same goals but through following religion? In reality, there is not. Since the end-goal is sense gratification, either method is essentially the same. Karma works on an absolute platform, which means that the results of action must bear fruit. Whether or not we want such fruits is meaningless. Actions are actions after all, so the laws of nature stipulate that such actions must have consequences. The more important point is that by simply viewing God and His representatives as order suppliers is not enough to be called religious. We already look for others to fulfill so many orders in life, so by viewing God in the same light, we are essentially putting Him on equal footing with ordinary living entities. This certainly cannot be considered a pious mindset or even an intelligent one.

Cable channels A few examples will help us understand the flaw in the “worship for benefits” system. Currently we look to so many entities as order suppliers. Our parents are the first caretakers. Through kindly adhering to their rules and regulations, we get fed, clothed, and housed during our youth. When we grow a little older, we offer service to our teachers, who in turn provide us an education. In adulthood, we offer service to our employer, who in turn grants us the benediction of a salary. This salary is then used to fulfill even more orders. We pay tribute to the cable and satellite companies by offering them our hard earned money. In exchange, we are rewarded with hundreds upon hundreds of television channels, along with internet service. When we go to the supermarket, we input orders with suppliers and store clerks. They fulfill our orders by giving us products in exchange for our money.

This system is certainly a nice one. We kindly, or even unkindly, approach another entity, offer them some service, and then get rewarded with our wished-for object. Are the karmavada or karma-mimamsa systems any different? If we attend a church or temple service and pray to a divine entity to fulfill our wishes and needs, is this any different than approaching our bosses or parents? The argument may be made that the method of worship, i.e. the inputting of the order, is different when it comes to spiritual matters. We don’t fall to our knees and pray to the supermarket owner to give us fruit. We don’t perform austerities and chant mantras to cajole our bosses into paying us.

Though the services offered during religious functions in the karmavada system seem different than non-religious services, there is actually no difference. Just because the method of tribute is different doesn’t mean that the mode of worship is different. In both systems, the more powerful entity, the person or group being offered service, is seen as the order-supplier. Just because we pray to God instead of sending Him a check doesn’t mean that we are viewing Him any differently. No one really likes their boss. In fact it is quite common for coworkers to get together and make fun of the boss, owner, or CEO of the company. Different coworkers will take a stab at imitating the boss’s voice, speaking patterns, and activities. The employers are almost never happy with the boss, yet they still offer their service. This is because the ultimate objective is to realize the fruits of labor.

Lord Krishna with Arjuna So if performing acts of karma in religious life bears a strong similarity to atheism, what constitutes real religion? The Vedas tell us that the title of “God” is not determined by one’s ability to fulfill desires. The Supreme Lord in the Vedic tradition is described as Bhagavan, which means one who possesses all fortunes. Bhagavan’s original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, whose name means all-attractive. Krishna possesses wealth, beauty, renunciation, fame, knowledge, and strength to the fullest degree and simultaneously. He can most certainly provide any reward that a person may want, but the Lord is not obliged to do so. Moreover, our purpose in life as individual souls is not to simply look for these rewards, which are temporary in nature and providing of flickering happiness.

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

For the karmavadis, those who take fruitive activity and the results obtained to be the ultimate religion in life, there are the demigods to bestow boons and benedictions. In the famous Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna describes such worshipers as less intelligent, alpa-medhasam. They are described as such because the demigods provide rewards that simply enhance the gratification of the senses. The senses are tied to the body, and the body is ultimately given up at the time of death. The soul, however, is not; it exists forever. The reactions of our work determine the type of body we receive in the future. Even after death, our karma comes with us and determines the circumstances of our next birth.

Radha Krishna Since our nature is that of spirit, it would make sense that the ultimate objective in life would be to satisfy the needs of the soul. This is where Krishna comes in. He is the Supreme Spirit, someone who is similar in quality to us, but vastly superior in quantity. Satisfaction for the soul is achieved through intimate association with the Supreme Spirit, union of the soul with the Supersoul. This linking is known as yoga. The goal of human life is to attain perfect yoga, the forging of a permanent bond between the soul and Bhagavan.

If we’re searching after yoga, isn’t that a material benediction? Aren’t the bhakti-yogis simply taking to acts of karma and looking at Krishna as an order supplier? Krishna is the reservoir of pleasure. Bhakti is love or devotion of the purest variety. By taking to acts of bhakti, one becomes free of the reactions of karma. The reactions may still be there, for bhakti often involves fruitive activities, but the consequences are discarded. They have no bearing on the future destination of the soul. The results of actions are essentially burned up and dried out through bhakti. Bhakti is simply the purification of karma.

Krishna should be looked at as our chief worshipable object not for the benedictions He can provide us, but simply because He is worthy of our service. Bhakti-yoga can consist of many activities, but the most effective one for this age is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This chanting is not performed for any personal benefit. It surely brings about peace of mind and contentedness, but these are just pleasant side effects. The real aim of this chanting is to remain connected with Krishna through yoga. Chanting represents an exchange that benefits both parties involved. Lord Krishna, as the Supreme Lord, is certainly capable of deriving pleasure. He enjoys the company of His liberated associates, those who take the Lord’s satisfaction to be their only religion. We can become one of these associates should we sincerely take to bhakti.

Hanuman chanting the Lord's names Ironically enough, by acting selflessly for the Supreme Lord’s satisfaction, all the rewards sought out by the karmavadis are automatically acquired. This means that even the karmavadis, those who refuse to acknowledge the ever-blissful and attractive form of the Supreme Lord, should take to the bhakti process, for they will get all the results they need without any of the negative consequences. Of course for bhakti to be truly potent, it must be performed in a selfless manner. The aim should be to please Krishna’s desires.

While a pure, selfless attitude may be difficult to adopt in the beginning stages, if we look to the examples of great devotees, we can surely perfect our practice. Liberated souls like Shri Hanuman, Shrimati Radharani, Prahlada Maharaja, and countless others are performing bhakti-yoga at all times. They are neither poor nor down-trodden. In fact they are deemed to be the most opulent living entities, for they always remain in Krishna’s association, both in mind and spirit. Therefore exalted souls are also referred to as Bhagavan. Narada Muni, the great saint and son of Lord Brahma, is often addressed as Bhagavan by Krishna Himself. Since Narada’s heart and soul are always with Krishna in perfect yoga, he also deserves the title of Bhagavan.

Lord KrishnaWe should resist the urge to look to God as an order supplier. There is also no need to fear Him. The Supreme Lord is superior to us, but this superiority doesn’t exist for the purpose of providing results of karma. The Supreme Lord has no stake in karma; it is a system He created for the spirit souls who wanted to pretend to be Him. Karma is reserved for those who wish to spend all their time forgetting Krishna’s supremacy. Krishna’s superior nature is intended to provide spiritual satisfaction to the living entities, who all have a natural desire to serve and love. When this service is directed at the all-blissful Supreme Lord, the resulting condition is unmatched.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Clearing Our Vision

Rama and Lakshmana “Who wouldn't become fearful seeing these two, who have prolonged arms, possess large eyes, wear arrows, bows, and swords, and who look like sons of demigods?” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 2.20)

Not only are there innumerable forms of Godhead, but there are also different ways to view Him. God is always God, and His original form is that of the beautiful Lord Shri Krishna, who is also known as Shyamasundara. But due to different conditions in material life and different levels of spiritual vision, people can view the same Lord in different ways. Some see Him as His original kind self, while others see Him as extremely opulent. For those who are suffering through the pangs of material misery, God can be an imposing figure, someone who instills fear immediately upon sight. This fear isn’t very difficult to remove; it simply requires one to make a few small adjustments to their way of life. Once fixed up in the right position with the proper set of eyes, we can see the Lord as the most harmless and loveable person in the world. This is how Shri Hanuman always viewed the Lord, even at their first meeting.

Lord Hanuman Material life entails the struggle for existence. Every single person in this world is struggling, even if they are unaware of it. This seems like a negative way to view things, the glass half-empty type of mentality, but it is solidly grounded in reality. For example, let’s take the most well-off person, one who has loads of money in the bank and never has to work again for the rest of their life. Does this financial security bring about peace of mind? Money alone doesn’t secure peace, for the living entity must always be active. We always have to be doing something. Most of our activities revolve around maintenance. Sleeping, eating, cleaning up, doing laundry, and running household errands are all part of maintaining the body, keeping the internal vital force secure.

The basic activities of an animal life are eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Since human beings are animal-like, they naturally take to these activities as well. The human being can certainly eat nicer food and enjoy dishes that take hours and hours to prepare. The taste buds are tough to satisfy, so the palate needs to be constantly cleansed with new dishes. The twenty-four hour television cooking channels are on the air for this very reason. These networks show food all day long, with some hosts visiting famous restaurants and diners around the country, and other hosts giving recipe tips. Even though the nature of eating is different for human beings, the activity is more or less the same as it is with animals.

The same principle holds true with defending. Defense is caused by fear; being afraid of losing possessions, familial relationships, and one’s own life. It is the animal instinct to defend, and since human beings are like animals, they will also take to defense. Since human beings have a higher level of intelligence, they feel they have a lot more to defend than ordinary animals. For example, a beaver constructs a dam and then worries about defending itself. Similarly, the human being goes into great debt to own their home and then has to worry for the next thirty years about meeting the monthly mortgage payment. Human beings also worry about so many other things: relationships, employment, source of income, the future, etc.

It is this fearing that is the root cause of the miserable condition of material life. Matter is temporary, mutable, and thus inferior to spirit. For this reason, the living entity’s natural home is in the spiritual world, where there is no fear or anxiety. The spiritual planets are known as Vaikuntha, a word which means a place free of anxiety and worry. This condition can only exist in the presence of God, the supreme spirit. God is the owner of everything and the creator of matter. Since He creates material objects, He naturally doesn’t have any fear of losing or acquiring them. The human beings, being part and parcel of God, should be similarly immune to the effects of matter, but due to their conditioned state, they fall prey to lamentation and grief.

“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)

!B5MVbGgCWk~$(KGrHqJ,!gwEyEQMBfwvBMsqf0VEyw~~_3 For the human being, there is no greater fear than death, the loss of life. Since this is the greatest fear, all other fears are derived from it. Being afraid is bad enough, for it causes mental anguish and makes it more difficult to live peacefully. Another negative side effect to fear is that it causes us to have a skewed vision of God. For instance, those who are overly sinful naturally have a fear of religion and the Supreme. When they hear about religion or spiritual life, they automatically look to the restrictions. “Ok, if I take to this religion, what will I be allowed to do? Can I eat meat? Can I have sex?” The strictest adherents to the rules and regulations of spiritual life are known as brahmanas in the Vedic system. A brahmana is a person who knows Brahman, which is God’s feature as the all-pervading energy, the sum and substance of all matter and spirit. In order for a person to be considered a bona fide brahmana, they must be free of all sinful tendencies, the most potent of which manifest through meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. For the average conditioned living entity, abstention from these activities seems impossible.

The four regulative principles are enough to keep a person from trying to become a brahmana. These restrictions can also cause a person to always view God and spirituality through a negative prism. Since they know they can’t give up the most sinful of acts, such people will always feel like they are offenders of God, and so when they see a form of the Lord, such as the deity in the temple, they don’t necessarily see the Lord to be a kind and gentle person. Rather, they view the Almighty as a strict punisher, an executive who maintains law and order. Since God is all-powerful, He can most certainly assume the role of punisher, for He has often appeared on earth to do just that. But His original nature is that of a kind and sweet person, the ever well-wishing friend of the living entity. God’s original name is Krishna, which means one who is all-attractive. It stands to reason that the most attractive person in the world would also be the source of the greatest pleasure. If someone gives us the highest pleasure, how can we be afraid of them?

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna appeared on earth many thousands of years ago for the purpose of doling out punishment to one particular miscreant, the Rakshasa demon Ravana. By default, the Lord is neutral towards every living entity. Material life revolves around the unending pursuit of sense stimulation through the acquisition of matter. Since matter is part of the Lord’s inferior energy, God really has nothing invested in it. This means that when it comes to the “rat race” of material existence, the Supreme Lord doesn’t play any favorites, nor does He really care who wins and who loses. On the highest level of thinking, there is really no such thing as winning or losing in the material sense.

What is the point to life then? We can think of life’s mission in terms of the hot and cold game. Young children often play a game where they hide something from one of their friends. Since the location of the hidden object is not disclosed outright, the object seeker will move around the room and be told that they are either getting hotter or colder to the location of the object. Getting hotter means they are close to finding the object, and getting colder means they are being led further away. The object of life in the material world is to eventually find the source of all heat and energy: God. Keeping this in mind, all of our activities either lead us closer to Him or draw us further away. The wrench in the equation is the process of reincarnation. We may feel like we are getting hotter after we have achieved a stable and comfortable existence, but at the time of death all of our material possessions are removed, and we are forced to start from scratch again in the next life. For this reason, material life is considered neither hot nor cold in relation to God. Spiritual life, on the other hand, is the main business of the living entity. Life after life, we are meant to get closer to the light. Even if we fail to achieve the supreme destination in the current life, in the next life we get to start from where we left off in the previous one.

“By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he [the unsuccessful, reincarnated yogi] automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles-even without seeking them. Such an inquisitive transcendentalist, striving for yoga, stands always above the ritualistic principles of the scriptures.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.44)

Sages performing sacrifice For people who take to the hot and cold game in relation to spiritual life, God takes a special interest. Not only will He help the sincere spiritual seekers find what they are looking for, but He will also punish anyone who intentionally gets in their way. This was the case during Ravana’s time. A Rakshasa demon by birth, one of Ravana’s favorite activities was terrorizing the innocent saints dwelling in the forests. These saints were all brahmanas, and they had taken to forest life because it was more conducive to spiritual practice. The quiet surroundings and meager lifestyle were conducive to the cultivation of transcendental knowledge. In essence, they were getting closer to God. Ravana was a demon by nature, so he didn’t really believe in an absolute authority. He knew of the demigods, the elevated living entities in charge of the material creation, but he didn’t think there was anyone above them. Seeing the sages take to spiritual life, Ravana was not very happy. He and his band of Rakshasas would regularly attack these sages during occasions of sacrifice. To understand the behavior of the Rakshasas in modern terms, it was as if priests were being attacked while giving sermons in church on a Sunday. The Rakshasas had no shame; they would kill the sages and then eat their flesh.

The world was terrified of Ravana, so it took the Supreme Lord Himself, Hari, to come to earth to deal with the situation. God appeared in the guise of a pious prince named Rama. Since Rama was chivalrous and dedicated to dharma, He didn’t go out and attack Ravana right away. Rather, He needed an excuse to attack; otherwise His violence would appear unjustified to others. Rama’s excuse would come in the form of a fateful transgression from Ravana. While Rama was dwelling in the forest of Dandaka with His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana, His cottage was approached by Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana were just lured away by a distraction set up by Ravana. This enabled the demon to forcibly take Sita away back to his kingdom. Upon returning to the cottage, Rama saw that Sita was gone, so He immediately set about searching for her.

Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman Rama and Lakshmana eventually made their way to the Kishkindha forest. This forest was of special interest because a powerful group of monkeys, known as Vanaras, lived there. The leader of this band of monkeys was Sugriva. In reality, Sugriva was the son of a celestial, the sun-god Surya. Sugriva had a powerful brother named Vali whom he was quite close with. Unfortunately, the two had a major disagreement once which led to a great fight. Fearing death at the hands of Vali, Sugriva sought refuge in Kishkindha. Due to a curse, Vali was restricted from entering this forest; hence Sugriva and his monkeys were safe from his attacks.

While Rama and Lakshmana were approaching, Sugriva could see them from his perch on Mount Rishyamukha. Immediately he was apprehensive. He knew that Vali couldn’t attack him, so he figured that these two imposing figures must be emissaries of Vali, or worse, hit-men coming to take him out. Rama and Lakshmana were warriors by trade, so they carried their weapons with them at all times. Hanuman, Sugriva’s trusted aide, immediately told him not to worry. It is interesting to see the difference in attitudes. Hanuman saw the same two men, but he wasn’t afraid at all. Being a great devotee from birth and also a pure soul, Hanuman saw God and His younger brother for who they were.

In the above referenced quote, we see Sugriva posing a rhetorical question to Hanuman about the fear that Rama and Lakshmana impose on anyone who looks at them. Why was there such a difference in vision? Why did one person fear God and another didn’t? The difference was in the clarity of vision. Sugriva was living a distressed life, being always in fear of Vali. It was this fear that clouded his vision and didn’t let him see God for who He was. Hanuman, on the other hand, is Rama’s greatest devotee. This devotion was inside him before he even met Rama. To allay his fears, Sugriva asked Hanuman to go down to meet the two men and see what they wanted. After finding out their intentions, Sugriva would take the appropriate action.

Hanuman with Lakshmana and Rama The lesson here is that we don’t need to fear God. In the conditioned state, we can never see Him properly. The key is to take to devotional service so that we can gradually start to see His presence everywhere. In the purified state, we can see Rama and Lakshmana as two great sources of pleasure. Though they carry deadly weapons, to the devotees these items are just as beautiful as lotus flowers. Goswami Tulsidas correctly states that Hanuman is the gate-keeper to Rama’s kingdom. This truth was revealed in this incident with Sugriva. It was through Hanuman that Sugriva would become a devotee of Rama and help in Sita’s rescue. We can follow the same path by regularly showing our love and respect to the peaceful and kind Hanuman. If he is pleased with us, he will surely allow us into Rama’s kingdom so that we can see the Lord for who He is: the Supreme Personality of Godhead.