Saturday, November 20, 2010


Shri Hanuman “One cannot speak this way without having been well-trained in the Rig Veda, memorized the Yajur Veda, and thoroughly understood the Sama Veda.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.28)

The ancient scriptures of India are known as the Vedas, which is a Sanskrit word meaning knowledge. Why would the scriptures be addressed in these terms? Real knowledge can only be in relation to the origin of the universe, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Shri Krishna. Any knowledge derived from the conclusion of God being the Absolute Truth will also be considered perfect. The Vedas represent the most complete system of education because they discuss this ultimate conclusion in great detail through the use of carefully crafted hymns, aphorisms, and mantras. Anyone who studies the Vedas thoroughly under the direction of a bona fide spiritual master will be blessed with the knowledge of illumination, information which will lead them back to the spiritual world.

Lord Vishnu The Vedas are also known as the shrutis, meaning that which is heard. In the beginning, the Vedas were only one set of instructions. This singular doctrine, known as the Veda, was passed down through aural reception. The brain power of mankind in the early stages of creation was so great that a person could memorize hundreds of thousands of complex Sanskrit verses after hearing them only one time. Sanskrit is considered the oldest language in the world, and it is written in the script called Devanagari, which means the city of the demigods. Since Sanskrit is spoken in the city where the demigods [highly elevated living entities] reside, it is also known as the language of the gods. Sanskrit comes from God Himself, who first imparted Vedic wisdom into the heart of Lord Brahma, the first created living entity born out of the lotus navel of Lord Vishnu, a plenary expansion of God. The original shruti consisted of wonderful Sanskrit poetry, so no one needed to write it down, nor was there a need to explain it. Simply by hearing the Veda, one could meditate on the Supreme Absolute Truth for thousands and thousands of years.

As time went on, mankind’s mental capacity diminished. Not only did it become harder to memorize the Veda, but it became increasingly more difficult to understand it. To bestow His mercy upon the fallen conditioned living entities, the Supreme Lord partially expanded himself into the form of a great spiritual master and writer named Vyasadeva. Vyasadeva took it upon himself to divide the Veda into four branches: Rig, Yajur, Sama, and Atharva. Vyasadeva wasn’t satisfied with this, so he went on to compile many other books known as the Puranas. These works expounded on the same truths of the Vedas, but in story format. The stories actually described real life events of the past, present, and future. Therefore there is actually no difference between the information contained in the Puranas and the Vedas. Distinctions are made only for the purpose of appealing to a broad-base of scholars, religionists, and devotees. If one cannot understand the language and meaning of the four Vedas, they can take to reading other works such as the Ramayana, Puranas, and Mahabharata.

Valmiki Based on the evolution of the dissemination of Vedic knowledge, we see that the information found in the Vedas actually existed before Vyasadeva’s time. Moreover, many of the incidents described in the Puranas also had taken place before the great sage’s time. Evidence of this is seen with the famous Ramayana, authored by Maharishi Valmiki. Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna, descended to earth in human form as a valiant prince named Rama. While His primary mission was to annihilate the demon Ravana and his kingdom, the Lord also took it upon Himself to travel across the world and associate with His great devotees. One such meeting took place in the forest of Kishkindha, which was inhabited at the time by a race of human-like monkeys known as Vanaras.

The king of this particular clan was a Vanara named Sugriva, who had sought refuge in Kishkindha after being driven out of his kingdom by his brother Vali. Vali was ready to kill Sugriva, but due to a curse, he was not allowed to enter the forest of Kishkindha. Therefore, Sugriva set up shop there, residing on the mountain of Rishyamukha. Sugriva had thousands of monkey warriors with him, but his chief aide was the venerable Hanuman. Today Hanuman is famous throughout the world as a divine figure and pure devotee of God. Most know him for his great feats of strength and his courageous service offered to Rama and His wife, Sita Devi. Yet before Hanuman could offer service to Rama, he had to meet Him. An account of the initial meeting between the two celebrated figures, God and His dear friend, is given in Valmiki’s Ramayana.

Lord Rama While Rama was residing in the forest, Sita was kidnapped by Ravana. While searching for her whereabouts, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were advised to make friends with the monkey-king Sugriva. Upon reaching Kishkindha, Sugriva saw the two princes from his perch on the mountaintop. Fearing that they were sent by Vali, Sugriva asked Hanuman to go down and see what they wanted. He instructed Hanuman to hide his monkey figure, so as to keep the princes from attacking him. Hanuman decided to assume the more peaceful guise of a brahmana, or ascetic. A brahmana is essentially a priest, so others are more likely to behave in a non-threatening manner when encountering such a person.

Hanuman did as he was told, but upon seeing Rama, his heart immediately melted. His mission was to find out why Rama and Lakshmana were there, but Hanuman couldn’t help himself. He immediately went into describing the glories of the two brothers. Hanuman’s speech was exquisite and consisted of wonderful Sanskrit poetry, with many references made to revealed knowledge found in the Vedas. Hanuman kept going and going with his speech until he finally noticed that Rama wasn’t saying anything. Hanuman then gave up his false guise and revealed his true form to the two brothers. He then told them the truth of who he was and his relationship to Sugriva.

Hanuman carrying Lakshmana and Rama In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is reacting to Hanuman’s speech by reviewing the matter with Lakshmana. In this situation, Hanuman was acting as the representative of King Sugriva, so Rama decided to have Lakshmana act as His representative. In reality, Lakshmana is the embodiment of the spiritual master, or guru. The guru’s main business is to act as God’s representative on earth and take the necessary steps to protect His good name, teaching others how to serve Him properly in the process. The spiritual master is also charged with relaying God’s message to others, so as to let them know what the Lord is thinking and what will make Him happy. In this regard, Lakshmana played the role perfectly, as Lord Rama instructed him to speak to Hanuman with pleasing words. Rama was interested in forming an alliance with Sugriva, and due to Hanuman’s good nature, the Lord wanted to welcome him very kindly.

Lord Rama, being God Himself, is very kind to His devotees. He not only gives His representatives the proper marching orders, but He also explains the purpose behind such instructions. In this instance, Rama wanted to explain to Lakshmana why Hanuman was to be treated with kindness and respect. From the above referenced statement, we see that the Lord was quite impressed with Hanuman’s speech. We see that Rama accurately notes that no one could speak in the way that Hanuman did without mastering the three primary Vedas: the Rig, Yajur, and Sama.

“The word trai-vidyah refers to the three Vedas, Sama, Yajur and Rig. A brahmana who has studied these three Vedas is called a tri-vedi. Anyone who is very much attached to knowledge derived from these three Vedas is respected in society.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.20 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada Rama’s observation is a noteworthy one. Since the original four Vedas are so complex and difficult to understand, learned brahmanas typically would choose to focus on only one of them. In rare instances, a brahmana would become expert in two branches, and thus be known as dvi-vedi. If someone knew all three primary branches, they would be referred to as tri-vedi. Trivedi is actually a common surname in India today. People with this last name are descendents of brahmanas who were expert in three different branches of the Vedas. Needless to say, only the topmost scholars would be granted this title. Hanuman was so exalted that he earned this distinction from none other than Lord Rama Himself.

Actually the qualities possessed by Hanuman are unmatched. Though he had the body of a monkey, he had the intelligence of the most learned brahmana. This fact alone should dispel the bogus idea of one’s intelligence or social standing being determined by the circumstances of their birth. While the brahmanas are the highest division of the varnashrama-dharma system, one can only be classified in this group if they exhibit the proper qualities and perform the duties prescribed to them. A person’s bodily features, their family lineage, and their country of origin are not of any importance in this regard. Shri Hanuman, though a divine figure, appeared in the body of a monkey. Though he was genetically predisposed to excessive intoxication and sex life, he had no attraction to these things. Based on the activities he performed in service of Rama, he proved himself to be a learned scholar, a gentle soul, a courageous warrior, and a person unmatched in strength.

More than just being a tri-vedi, Hanuman is a Vaishnava, or devotee of Vishnu. This is his most important characteristic. Lord Rama could identify this immediately, and that is why He advised Lakshmana in the way that He did. After this meeting, Hanuman would kindly carry the two brothers on his back and bring them to Sugriva, with whom an alliance would immediately be formed. Soon after, Sita would be found, Ravana would be defeated in battle, and Lord Rama would triumphantly return home with his entourage consisting of Hanuman and many other Vanaras.

Hanuman What we can take away from this passage is that while Hanuman possesses extraordinary strength and intelligence, he only uses his powers for the Lord’s benefit. Obviously, we don’t possess all of the same qualities as Shri Sankat Mochan, but that shouldn’t stop us from serving the Lord to the best of our ability. We all have some sort of talent, something that we are good at. Some of us are good at personal interactions, dealing with strangers, and meeting new people. Some of us are skilled in writing, singing songs, cooking, gardening, making flower garlands, or doing work on the computer. Whatever our talent is, we should use it unsparingly in service to God. That is the example that Hanuman set for us. He used his expertise of the three Vedas to praise the Lord to the best of his ability. In this way, he proved himself to be a supreme object of worship, someone worthy of our eternal love and respect. Anyone who follows in the transcendental footsteps laid down by Shri Hanuman will undoubtedly very quickly find their way to the Supreme Abode.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Dousing the Fire

Gopis with Uddhava “All the gopis were solaced by the instruction of Uddhava, and they requested him to stay in Vrindavana for a few days more. Uddhava agreed to their proposal and stayed with them not only for a few days, but for a few months. He always kept them engaged in thinking of the transcendental message of Krishna and His pastimes, and the gopis were feeling as if they were experiencing direct association with Krishna.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 46)

Everyone is burning from the fire of separation from the Supreme Lord, even though they may not realize it. The root cause of every pain and every discomfort is this separation, a consciousness where the purified soul feels that it is alone and that it is lacking that one thing in life that will give it solace. The fire of separation can be doused by words describing the transcendental activities, pastimes, and features of the Divine Entity. These words can be put forth by anyone, but when they come from a devotee, one who knows wherefrom the fire of separation ignites, they gain true efficacy. The most powerful solution to all of mankind’s problems, the only way to douse the fire of separation from God, is to hear about and remember His activities.

Krishna's activities Does God have activities? He most certainly does. In order for activities to be performed, there must be a form. It is in this area that the Vedas stand out amongst all other spiritual disciplines. Popular scriptures may give information about a divine entity and the need for human beings to render service unto such a person, but the necessity for this surrender is often neglected or at least not explained in any detailed way. Often times the divine entity is described as being angry and jealous and one who insists that others bow down to Him exclusively. Yet even though the Lord is described in this way, He is deemed to be formless; one who is absent of activity and attributes.

It is sometimes asked what is needed to convert to Hinduism. The reality is that Hinduism, which is really just the modern term that describes the spiritual discipline emanating from the Vedas, doesn’t necessarily contradict any other system of spirituality. Moreover, the Vedas are not something you believe in or convert to. Rather, they simply represent law codes and detailed descriptions of the Divine’s nature, form, activities, attributes, and relationship to His subjects. In this way, non-Vedic spiritual disciplines can be thought of as first and second grade education, which by itself certainly isn’t invalid or unnecessary, while the Vedas represent a high school or college level education on spirituality. The human brain can never truly comprehend the nature of the Divine, for that is one of the primary differences between God and ordinary living beings. However, the Vedas provide as much detail as required to get the picture on what the purpose, or dharma, in life should be.

Lord Krishna In the Vedic tradition, the original Divine Entity is known by the name of Krishna. More than just God, Krishna is Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is not an angry, spiteful, or jealous God, but rather an all-blissful, eternally full of knowledge divine being. The living entities, represented by any life form that has a soul in it, are His tiny fragmental sparks. This means that all forms of life – animals, plants, humans, ants, insects, trees, etc. – are similar to Krishna in quality. The difference lies in the area of quantitative powers. Living entities have no memory of when they were put into their current situation, nor do they know how to put an end to their future fortunes and misfortunes. The Supreme Lord, however, is conscious of every activity performed in the past, present, or future.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)

Since the living entities are one with and different from God, there is an intimate relationship that exists at all times. Currently, we living entities in the human species, who are the most advanced in terms of knowledge, are unaware of this relationship. Hence there is a separation of consciousness. God can never be separated from anything that He creates, but Mother Nature is considered a separated expansion in the sense that the living entities under her control remain unaware of their relationship to the divine. Thus ignorance serves to facilitate the appearance of separation between God and His dearmost devotees. This separation results in a burning sensation which causes the living entities to always struggle through feelings of hankering and lamentation.

The Vedic seers, the representatives of the Lord on earth, tell us that every single problem that we think exists is due simply to this fire of separation. The more we become aware of the real problem, the greater our chances are at putting out the fire. Some of the more common problems in society are poverty, war, famine, high prices for commodities, and unemployment. Yet we know from studying history that each of these problems has been solved to some degree or another at some point in time. People living in America may feel that their economic situation suffers from time to time, but when compared to other nations around the world, there is really no such thing as poverty in America. In addition, when economic times are good, do people’s worries and fears cease? Absolutely not, for new issues are sure to crop up. Even during the greatest economic booms, there is concern about the plight of the poor and the down-trodden, those who are deemed to be not taking part in the economic largesse. No amount of service to humanity, regardless of the sincerity or lack thereof of the participants involved, can douse the fire of separation which is at the root of all miseries in this world.

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

Radha Krishna The devotees, those who acknowledge the presence of a God who is full of form and bliss, realize that association with the Divine Entity is the only path towards salvation. Devotees try their best to link up their consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness. The Vedic tenet, as told by Krishna Himself, is that a person’s consciousness at the time of death determines their fate in the next life. Through this system, we see that no one is more benevolent than Krishna. The idea of accepting God through some formalized ritual and then focusing one’s thoughts, words, and deeds towards sense pleasures is not enough to guarantee salvation. If the living entity is happy in a temporary and miserable world, where their consciousness remains separated from the Supreme, the Lord is not so unkind as to remove such a person from their “comfortable” home. The spiritual world is open to entry for any sincere soul, provided that they want to go there. The genuineness of this desire is measured at the time of death in the form of one’s consciousness.

Thoughts and actions serve to change one’s consciousness, so by practicing devotional service through the chanting of the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the devotees aim to always be connected with Krishna. Goswami Tulsidas, a great devotee of Lord Rama and all-time favorite historical personality of our humble self, compares the activities of a true devotee to that of the Chatak bird. Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, and other vishnu-tattva forms are the same original form of Godhead just appearing in different guises. Devotees of Krishna will argue that since He is the original, other forms are not as powerful. Yet for devotees like Tulsidas and Hanuman, such statements don’t resonate. Even if told that Lord Rama, Vishnu, or Narasimha isn’t as potent as Krishna, such devotees still would never change their object of worship, so staunch is their affection. And in the grand scheme of things there is no difference between worshiping different Krishna forms, as they all can rescue the sincere soul from the cycle of birth and death.

The dark raincloud The Chatak bird is unique in that it only drinks rainwater. It stares at the raincloud at all times, regardless of what else is going on around it. This is a wonderful comparison made by Tulsidas because Lord Rama’s body is the same in complexion as the dark raincloud. The same goes for Krishna and Vishnu. The pure devotees are like the Chatak bird in that they never want anything else except Krishna’s association. Even if they only get a little rain, the level of devotion doesn’t change. Yet just because the devotees are always thinking of Krishna, staring at the cloud if you will, it doesn’t mean that the fire of separation isn’t there. In fact, once a person becomes Krishna conscious, the fire only intensifies since they desperately crave Krishna’s association at all times. If the raincloud should somehow disperse or not appear for a few days, the devotees feel extreme pain.

So what can be done to douse this fire? For the answer, we can look to Uddhava, the cousin-brother of Lord Krishna who had an appearance almost identical to the Lord’s. Around five thousand years ago, Krishna personally descended to earth and enacted wonderful pastimes while in the guise of a human being. For God, there is no such thing as a difference between body and soul. There is no hankering, lamentation, or fire of separation in His consciousness. Yet to kindly attract the hearts and minds of the purified souls of the world, the Lord roamed the earth in what appeared to be an ordinary body. Retaining His dark blue color, Krishna captivated the residents of the village of Vrindavana in His youth. Since there were many unwanted elements in the world at the time, to take care of these demons, the Lord had to shift to the towns of Mathura and Dvaraka when He grew up. Krishna’s birth parents were of the royal order, so the Lord felt duty-bound to become a king and fight off enemies.

The gopis The residents of Vrindavana were members of the farm community, so they had nothing to do with the opulences of royal life. When Krishna left them, they felt as if their life had been taken from them. Though Krishna’s foster parents, Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda, felt especially pained, no one took the separation harder than the gopis, the young cowherd girls. Krishna is not only the name for God’s original form, but it is also a word which means all-attractive. This shouldn’t surprise us, for only God could be the most attractive person in the world. This attraction certainly isn’t a fatal one, except maybe in terms of material life. One who becomes attracted to Shyamasundara, the dark blue beautiful Lord, will certainly have their time in the material world put to a permanent end. Attraction to the most attractive Krishna is most beneficial.

The gopis, most of whom were already married, had surrendered life and soul to Krishna. They enjoyed intimate association with Him on many a night in Vrindavana during Krishna’s youth. From the example of the gopis, we see that the height of devotion to God has nothing to do with rituals, severe penance, the giving of charity, or the taking to any particular social order. While these different aspects of spiritual life can certainly be beneficial in terms of progressing towards the ultimate goal, the height of purified consciousness was already achieved by the gopis through pure love. Since they were on the highest devotional platform, mundane rules and mores of society didn’t apply to them.

Uddhava Since they were so benefitted from intimate association with Krishna, the gopis couldn’t bear separation from the Lord. Krishna knew this of course, so a short while after leaving He sent Uddhava to deliver a message to the gopis. Uddhava was Krishna’s cousin and he had a similar appearance to the Lord. When the gopis knew that Uddhava had a message from Krishna, they took him to the forest where no one else could hear the confidential message. Uddhava read the nice message from Krishna, which offered wonderful praises to the gopis, but the gopis weren’t really interested in formalities. They simply wanted to know what Krishna was doing, how He was feeling, and if He remembered any of them and the enjoyable time they spent together.  Seeing the gopis in a distressed condition, Uddhava advised them to always meditate on Krishna and remember His pastimes.

The gopis were so happy to hear Uddhava’s words that they insisted he remain in Vrindavana longer. In this way, their pains of separation were alleviated by Krishna’s messenger always talking about the Lord’s activities. This is the primary duty of the guru, or spiritual master. The guru is the sublime teacher, one who teaches the fallen souls how to reclaim their prestigious position as servitors of the Supreme Lord. The instructions of the guru can be quite complicated and involve different activities and regulations, but more than anything else, the guru tries to alleviate the pains of separation felt by the devotee. As proved by Uddhava, this fire of separation can only be doused by hearing about and remembering Krishna.

Gopis with Uddhava We may not all be spiritual masters or exalted devotees, but the efficacy of the words of Krishna and discourses pertaining to His activities doesn’t change. Topics of Krishna not only douse the fire of separation felt by the devotees, but they also alleviate the pains felt by every other person in the world. Therefore the best elixir to cure life’s ailments is the distribution of Krishna’s names, fame, glories, and words which describe His activities and attributes. Not only does talking about Krishna make the people on earth happy, but it also pleases all the past great devotees residing in the spiritual world. No group of individuals is more exalted than the gopis, and from Uddhava’s example, we see that simply talking about Krishna is enough to gain their favor. One who is in good standing with the gopis will never have to worry about the fire of material existence ever again.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Highly Esteemed

Hanuman “O Saumitra, subduer of all enemies, welcome with pleasant words this monkey, who is a counselor of Sugriva and a knower of speech who uses words which are sweet, affectionate, and just befitting the situation.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.27)

In this passage, Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is advising His younger brother on how to react to a series of statements made by Shri Hanuman, a great devotee and emissary of the monkey-king Sugriva. Hanuman had just approached the two brothers in the forest of Kishkindha not knowing who they were. Sugriva saw the two princes, who were looking for Rama’s abducted wife Sita, from atop the mountain of Rishyamukha. Fearing that the princes had come to kill him, Sugriva sent Hanuman down to see what they wanted.

Rama and Lakshmana looking for Sita Hanuman assumed the guise of a mendicant before meeting Rama and Lakshmana, thus hiding his monkey-like form. Naturally when hearing such stories we may be tempted to believe they are part of folklore or mythology, but this is not the case with the events of the Ramayana. Arguably the oldest book in history, the Ramayana, as authored by Maharishi Valmiki, chronicles the life and pastimes of Lord Shri Rama, a primary avatara of Lord Vishnu. In the Vedic tradition, Lord Vishnu is considered the chief among the gods, a representation of the original form of Godhead Hari, or Krishna. When Vishnu appears on earth, His form is referred to as an avatara, or incarnation. Lord Rama was one such avatara, and He spent a great deal of time on earth roaming the forests of India and giving pleasure to His devotees. On one occasion, His beautiful wife Sita Devi was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana in Rama’s absence. While roaming the forests searching for Sita, the two brothers were advised to meet up with a monkey-king named Sugriva who would help them find Sita.

When Hanuman first approached the two brothers, his purpose was to find out the reason for their being in the forest. Yet upon seeing Rama’s beautiful face, Hanuman immediately went into praising both He and Lakshmana. The words uttered by Hanuman, though composed on the fly, were no ordinary statements. He used exquisite poetry which leaned upon the immense beauty of the Sanskrit language. Lord Rama was quite impressed by Hanuman’s speech, but Hanuman could not tell what Rama and Lakshmana were thinking. Finally, he gave up his false guise and revealed his true intentions; informing Rama and Lakshmana that he was sent by Sugriva.

Hanuman In the above referenced quote, we get Lord Rama’s initial reaction to meeting Hanuman. Right away, Rama was happy because He knew that He had found a way to meet up with Sugriva. During those times especially, it was important for kings to form alliances. All the kings were of the kshatriya order, which is the administrative or fighting class. Kings were expert fighters themselves, so diplomacy wasn’t such an easy thing to practice. Forming alliances was certainly important, so Rama was happy to see that He had found an emissary of Sugriva.

Lord Rama was also quite pleased by Hanuman’s kind words. The Lord could tell that Hanuman was extremely intelligent, strong, and kind-hearted. He advised Lakshmana to treat Hanuman with kindness and respect, and to address him with sweet words. Hanumanji is worshiped today by millions because of his unmatched character and devotion to Lord Rama. From this incident we can see that Hanuman immediately formed a loving attachment for the Lord, without even knowing who He was. By the same token, Lord Rama also immediately formed an attachment to Hanuman. From this spontaneous display of affection, the secret to success in life is revealed.

Eventually an intelligent person will search for the meaning of life, the purpose to their existence. Since time immemorial great scholars and academics have posited their own theories on the issue, each coming from their own point of view which was shaped by their own life’s experiences. The Vedas, however, come from God, so any truth which is derived from these scriptures can be considered valid, and any truth not derived from the Vedas can be considered faulty. Since the ultimate conclusion of the Vedas is that Lord Krishna, or God, is the Supreme Absolute Truth, it makes sense that the purpose of life would be to connect with this Truth. After all, where there is truth, there is knowledge; and where there is knowledge, there is intelligence; and when one acts under the guidance of intelligence, they follow the righteous path; and when one follows the righteous path, there is no chance of falling down.

Since the purpose of human life is to find out the Absolute Truth, one must know where to go and how to act. To aid us in the process, the Supreme Lord, the Absolute Truth in His personal form, kindly appears on this earth from time to time. Though these appearances are spread out across the extremely lengthy time period of creation, it isn’t required that we personally witness all of the Lord’s activities. The great sages and associates of the Lord kindly record all of His activities into book form. The Ramayana represents one such composition of recorded history. Simply by hearing from the Ramayana, one can gain insight into God’s nature, names, appearances, likes and dislikes.

Rama meeting Hanuman From the incident of Rama’s meeting with Hanuman, we see that the Lord delights in kind words of praise which are offered with sincerity and devotion. Hanuman is known for being a servant of God, but we see that Lord Rama also serves Hanuman. In this particular situation, Lakshmana was acting as Rama’s emissary. When Lakshmana and Hanuman were speaking, it was similar to two heads of state kindly greeting one another. Lakshmana, being a representative of Rama, acted off the advice and consent of Rama. In the above referenced quote, Rama is essentially offering His service to Hanuman through Lakshmana. “Make sure to address him in sweet words, so as to not offend him. He is obviously very kind, sweet, and well versed in speech. Therefore we should take special care not to offend him.”

This is somewhat ironic since most of us look to God to satisfy our needs. If we do something wrong, which is surely a regular occurrence, we look to the Lord for forgiveness, for we don’t want Him to be angry with us. In Lord Rama’s case, He didn’t want Hanuman to be offended by any of His actions. How beautiful the relationship between God and His devotees is. The Lord never allows a devotee’s service to go to waste. He acknowledges everything offered to Him and returns the favor by becoming indebted to the devotee for life.

Hanuman deity It is not surprising to see that Hanuman is immensely popular today. Goswami Tulsidas was especially fond of Hanumanji. Along with authoring the famous Hanuman Chalisa, a beautiful poem which praises the exploits of the famous servant of Lord Rama, Tulsidas also erected several Hanuman temples. If Lord Rama Himself loved Hanuman so much, we most certainly should show the same amount of respect.

So how do we honor Shri Hanuman? As events would play out, Hanuman would take Rama and Lakshmana to meet Sugriva, and an alliance would be formed immediately. Eventually, Sugriva would offer the services of his Vanara army to help Rama rescue Sita. With the help of Lakshmana, Hanuman, and countless others, Lord Rama would march to Lanka, defeat Ravana, and rescue Sita. All of the Lord’s close associates would then triumphantly return with Him to His home city of Ayodhya, where Rama would be installed as the new king.

After some time everyone had to part ways and leave Ayodhya, including Hanuman. Prior to leaving, Hanuman asked Rama if he could remain in his body for as long as the Lord’s story was still told on earth. Lord Rama happily agreed and told Hanuman that He’d give him whatever he wanted. This means that of all the things in this world, nothing provides Hanumanji more pleasure than hearing others sing the praises of the Lord. Therefore the easiest way to bring joy to Hanuman is to regularly chant God’s names. The sacred formula known as the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is wonderful because it incorporates both the names of Krishna and Rama, thus allowing all devotees of God to unite under one message.  Such a mantra brings pleasure to the Supreme Lord and all of His highly esteemed servants.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Leg Up

Gopis of Vrindavana “The gopis were not born of any highly cultured family; they were born of cowherd men, and yet they developed the highest love of Krishna. For self-realization or God realization there is no need to take birth in a high family. The only thing needed is ecstatic development of love of God. In achieving perfection in Krishna consciousness, no other qualification is required than to be constantly engaged in the loving service of Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 46)

In the Vedic tradition, the issue of spiritual masters, or gurus, and their disciples and descendants has always been a point of controversy. The Vedas, the original set of law codes on spirituality, government, science, and any other area of importance, were instituted by the Supreme Divine Entity, the person most of us refer to as God. Yet for this tradition to continue, highly qualified scholars - people dedicated to not only learning the truths about the Vedas, but also to practically applying them in their day to day lives – are required. Since such qualified men are few and far between, anyone who takes direct instruction from them or can trace their family heritage to them feels that they are in select company.

Lord Krishna Everyone is looking for an edge in life, so it's not surprising that someone who would bear such spiritual connections, either through association or family lineage, would feel they have a leg up in the pursuit for perfection in spiritual life. But the real benefit to learning from great sages and appearing in their family is that one is allowed to reacquaint themselves with their dearmost, original friend. Since this benefit cannot be matched, the boon of having a connection to a notable spiritual master takes on an added significance.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Lord Krishna Let’s first establish just what actually constitutes a member of the higher class and why there needs to be one. Life on earth is meant for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge. When this knowledge is acquired and put to use through actions in everyday life, a living being’s consciousness gradually changes. When this consciousness is completely purified and directed at the Supreme Being in the spiritual sky, the person is deemed to have succeeded in the mission of life. More importantly, when this mindset is there at the time of death, the spirit soul residing within whichever life form it has adopted at that time will immediately be transferred to the spiritual sky, where it will never have to leave again. Life in the transcendental realm is similar to life on earth, except that everything is purified. All the sources of misery and anxiety are removed. Therefore one of the names for this realm is Vaikuntha, meaning a place free of anxiety and misery.

So how does one go about acquiring this purified consciousness? At the time of birth, the human being is no different than the animal. Through the discovery process, and more importantly the instructions provided by authority figures, a child learns the essentials of life and what’s needed to survive in it. In a similar manner, in order to change one’s consciousness towards the spiritual path, a bona fide teacher is required. This instructor not only must know the truths relating to the difference between matter and spirit, but they must also be directly connected with the spiritual world. This means that their consciousness must have already been previously purified, an event which then forever altered their way of life and thinking. Only such a purified person can impart the essential instructions to the fallen conditioned soul who is looking for rescue from the ocean of nescience.

Shrila Prabhupada The Vedas give a name to such an instructor: guru, or spiritual master. The spiritual master belongs to a class of men known as brahmanas. The living entity, though it falsely identifies with its ever changing body at the time of birth, is actually Brahman. The transcendent Lord has multifarious aspects and energies, and Brahman is one of them. The combination of all things spirit - the driving force behind all activities in this world - can be thought of as Brahman. Each individual spiritual spark is an equal part of Brahman. When one understands this impersonal energy, that every living entity is equal on a spiritual level, they are worthy of the title of brahmana.

Brahmanas are required in a society because it is very difficult to come to the understanding that all living entities are equal. There are many equality-type movements in existence today, but they all focus on the outer dress of the soul. There is no thought given to the fact that one’s dress may change in the next life, or that the soul residing within may have existed in a different type of body in a previous life. Attention is given completely to the current, temporary condition of whichever group is deemed as down-trodden and in need of help. The brahmanas know that every living entity is in need of instruction since their consciousness is contaminated. One who acquires the status of a brahmana thereby has an inherent duty to teach the other classes of society - be they administrators, warriors, merchants, laborers, or farmers - on matters pertaining to spirituality and how one can go about shifting their consciousness to the spiritual realm.

Maharishi Valmiki Since the brahmanas understand Brahman and have successfully shifted their consciousness, they are given special favor in society. They are seen as the highest division in a system known as varnashrama-dharma. This system is the breakdown of societal and life maintenance for all individuals. Since the brahmanas are so exalted, anyone who associates with them will feel very fortunate. In the early days of creation, any person who took birth from a brahmana father was also deemed a brahmana. This designation was given because the birth was conceived according to specific ritualistic functions. Also, the child would be brought up and trained by its own guru, meaning that one didn’t keep the brahmana designation for life without acquiring the necessary training. In more recent times, anyone who descends from a spiritual master through a tradition of instruction also feels privileged. A brahmana teaches one disciple, who teaches another, and so on. Anyone who finds their way into this chain and obtains the proper information about spiritual life feels they are fortunate for having descended from a particular notable spiritual personality.

The more common issue of contention relates to persons who descend from a great brahmana of the past through a bloodline. In India especially, those who descend from spiritual masters of the past are known as Brahmins, which is simply the current vernacular for a person who claims brahminical status off birth. The scriptures, the authorized Vedic texts, don’t support the notion that one can become a member of the highest class of society simply by taking birth in an exalted family. After all, a brahmana must understand Brahman to have their consciousness changed. If a person is born a Brahmin, but then takes to activities of meat eating and intoxication, it certainly means they have not understood Brahman. A person’s consciousness is exhibited through several outward symptoms, i.e. their behavior. Meat eating and intoxication are considered impure activities because they are indicative of a lack of intelligence. A person who understands that all spirit souls are an equal part of Brahman sees no need to inflict unnecessary harm on any form of life. Similarly, one’s consciousness cannot be focused on the spiritual world when they are intoxicated.

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.42)

Lord Krishna A true brahmana is one who walks the walk in addition to talking the talk. Simply claiming to be religious is not enough; there has to be a change in consciousness manifested through activities and the exuding of specific qualities. Many modern day religious leaders proclaim that one must surrender unto a specific theistic personality in order to achieve salvation. If they neglect this surrendering, they will be punished severely, both in this life and the next. The method of acceptance involves a formal ritual and an open declaration of allegiance. Yet according to the Vedic definition, simply acknowledging the superiority of a specific spiritual personality is not enough. The key is to shift one’s consciousness. Lust, greed, and attachment to matter are so strong that many people will say or do anything to get what they want. In this regard, there is nothing to stop a person from going through perfunctory rituals, which give the appearance of surrender, but then afterwards focus their thoughts and activities on the service of some worldly entity. It also must be said that many of these spiritual leaders refuse to acknowledge the form, name, or propensity for activity of the Supreme Divine Entity. Moreover, they harshly condemn the practice of bowing down to or conceiving of a form for God. Yet from the example of the brahmanas, we see that the key ingredient in spiritual life is consciousness. This change in mindset involves surrender to a particular entity. If the form of Godhead is denied, the chances of worshiping something which does have a form - be it a woman, cat, dog, or political leader - increases.

“Especially in every brahmana's house there must be a shalagrama-shila [stone representation of Vishnu] to be worshiped by the brahmana family. This system is still current. People who are brahmana by caste, who are born in a brahmana family, must worship the shalagrama-shila.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 13.86 Purport)

Lord Vishnu A bona fide brahmana is one who has shifted their consciousness and completely surrendered, both in thought and deed, to the Supreme Divine Entity, or God. A person claiming brahminical status simply off birthright can’t be considered a bona fide teacher. There is another side to this issue, however. While a person born as a Brahmin may be falsely puffed up by their stature, there are certain favorable elements to this mindset. Many Brahmins take their status in society very seriously. They thus take the necessary steps to cultivate spiritual knowledge. They perform religious functions on a daily basis, and more importantly, they worship Lord Vishnu. There are certainly innumerable forms of Godhead, but Vishnu is considered the original, equal to the Personality of Godhead who has a transcendental form, name, and pastimes. Vishnu is the same as Krishna or any other non-different expansion of the Lord. Those Brahmins who actually do take their status very seriously will be wholly dedicated to Vishnu worship from their birth. This not only helps the individual, but also any person related to them who grows up in such a purified environment. Brahmins have a much greater chance of refraining from eating meat, drinking alcohol, and taking to illicit sex than do others simply due to the perceived “high birth”. In addition, they have the greatest opportunity to take to chanting the Lord’s names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

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

Radha and Krishna So we see that the importance of taking birth in a “high” family really lies with the issue of God consciousness. If one has a chance to associate with Krishna through their family life, they are deemed to be the most fortunate person. The family status isn’t necessarily the important issue, but rather the nature of the activities that the family performs. Any person, regardless of their family lineage, can reach the topmost status by having their consciousness changed through activities performed in their daily lives. The gopis of Vrindavana best illustrate this fact. Around five thousand years ago, Lord Vishnu Himself came to earth in His original form of Lord Krishna.

Lord Krishna is a person, a Supreme Person, but nevertheless a personality just like the rest of us. Therefore, when He appears on earth, He retains His form as a person. Others mistakenly take Him to be an ordinary human being, but this is by design. Five thousand years ago, the Lord spent His childhood years in Vrindavana, which was a farm community inhabited by cowherds. The girls of the town also took part in tending cows, selling milk and yogurt, and churning butter. They performed these tasks in addition to maintaining their households. The gopis, the cowherd girls, weren’t educated in a formal setting, nor did they receive any direct training from a brahmana. Yet through their association with Krishna, they had their consciousness purified. They actually never thought of anything else except Krishna’s interests. Their love for Him remains the emblem of devotional consciousness, the high mark of spiritual practice. In fact, aspiring transcendentalists are advised to not even attempt to reach the level of consciousness of the gopis, but rather to seek their benedictions and help them in their service. One who is a sincere servant of Krishna is always willing to help one who wants to make progress in spiritual life.

Lord Krishna's lotus feet The greatest benediction we can give to a child or family member is the association of Krishna at an early age. If we are born in a Brahmin family, the odds of achieving this association are certainly increased, but Krishna consciousness is something that can be taught by any person, provided that their thoughts are directed on the lotus feet of the sweet, all-blissful Lord. The gopis proved that a high birth is not necessary for achieving success in life. If we are fortunate enough to know about Krishna and chant His names on a regular basis, the greatest gift we can give to our family members and children is to pass on this tradition of devotional life. A child who grows up in an environment where devotional service is steadily practiced will certainly have a leg up on their journey towards the transcendental realm.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

All Auspicious

Shri Hanuman “He is a minister of the king of monkeys, the great soul Sugriva, and honoring the king’s desires, he has arrived here in My presence.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.26)

Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama, is all-auspicious. Whoever has the great fortune of coming into contact with Hanuman will be immediately benefitted in all respects. This even applies to miscreants. Hanuman is famous for his feats of strength and his service to Lord Rama, but even his violent acts proved to be helpful to the demons. In this way, we see that whatever Hanuman does eventually turns out to be beneficial to all parties involved.

Hanuman In the Vedic tradition, God is known by the name of Bhagavan, one who is all-fortunate. Sometimes we go on lucky streaks where it seems like nothing can go wrong for us. We have a nice house, job, car, and family, so it seems like we’re sitting pretty. If we went around comparing our good fortune with others, we’d see that some people could claim to be more fortunate than us, while others would obviously not feel like they are fortunate at all. What makes God unique is that He is the most fortunate person in the world. How can we prove this? He is the most beautiful, wise, renounced, powerful, wealthy, and famous person in every single universe. Therefore, the term Bhagavan is accurate in describing His greatness. Bhagavan comes from the root word, bhaga, which means fortunate. It is seen that God is also described as maha-bhagam, meaning greatly fortunate. Since He possesses all these great qualities, when the term Bhagavan is translated into English, it can be taken to mean the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The Vedas tell us that Bhagavan can take unlimited forms, just as the ocean has unlimited waves. Though there are so many forms of Godhead, one of them is the original, the first candle from which all other candles are lit. This person is Lord Shri Krishna, whose original form is also addressed as Shyamasundara, or a beautiful youth with a blackish complexion similar to that of a raincloud. Possessing all good attributes is certainly enough to qualify God as Bhagavan, but there are other aspects to the Lord that serve to further enhance His opulence. One of the great ways to measure a person’s character is to see who their friends are. Who do they hang out with? What kind of characters take the time to become friends with them? In God’s case, He has the best friends a person could ever ask for. Through the makeup of His associates, God becomes even more fortunate; no one has better friends than He does. Of all of His friends, Shri Hanuman can be considered one of His best.

Lord Rama meeting Hanuman Hanuman is a very famous deity of the Vedic tradition. There are temples dedicated to him all across the world, with devotees offering special homage to him on Tuesdays and Saturdays, the auspicious days for Hanuman. Hanuman’s worshipable object is actually not Krishna in His original form, but rather one of His famous incarnations, Lord Rama. During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, Krishna advented on earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama. His appearance coincided with the reign of terror of a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. In order to give pleasure to the pious and protect them from Ravana, Lord Rama took to roaming the forests of India. One day, His beautiful wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped by Ravana through a backhanded plot. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana then went looking for Sita, and they were told to go to the forest of Kishkindha and make friends with a monkey named Sugriva. During those times, the monkey race, known as Vanaras, was quite advanced. Their features were almost identical to human beings, though they maintained many of their monkey traits, such as having insatiable appetites for sex and intoxication.

Upon reaching Kishkindha, Rama and Lakshmana were greeted by a brahmana who welcomed them with kind words. This mendicant was actually Hanuman in disguise. Sugriva had seen Rama and Lakshmana approaching from afar and thus asked Hanuman, his chief counselor, to go down and see what they wanted. Sugriva wasn’t sure if the two princes had come in peace or were looking for a fight. Hanuman had special yogic powers that allowed him to assume any shape at will. Upon approaching Rama and Lakshmana, he offered to them very kind words which were flawlessly crafted and very pleasing to the ear. Lord Rama just stood there as Hanuman continued with his kind words. Eventually Hanuman gave up the disguised form and revealed his true nature and intent.

Rama and Lakshmana In the above referenced statement, Lord Rama is addressing Lakshmana and reacting to Hanuman’s speech. Initially there was trepidation was on both sides, for Rama and Lakshmana didn’t know anything about Sugriva or Hanuman. Actually the Lord is omnipresent, so He certainly knows everything past, present, and future, but while enacting pastimes, He plays the role of an ordinary human being perfectly. We see from Rama’s statement that He is happy to be meeting Hanuman because he is a counselor of Sugriva’s. Previously, Rama was advised to make friendship with Sugriva if He wanted to find out where Sita was. And now here was a very kind monkey named Hanuman who came to take Him to Sugriva.

From this incident, we see that Hanuman is the deliverer of all good things. Even though he initially approached the Lord with some inhibitions, upon seeing Rama’s beautiful face, Hanuman’s heart melted. He immediately went into praising the two brothers with words that came from the heart. After this exchange, Hanuman would carry the two brothers on his shoulders and take them to Sugriva. Hanuman would then go on to perform some of his most famous feats, such as his leaping to Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka, setting fire to the city with his tail, and carrying a huge mountain to help save Lakshmana. Though he is famous today for his wonderful service to Rama, it all started with that fateful meeting in Kishkindha.

Hanuman carrying Rama and Lakshmana Anyone who is graced with Hanuman’s association should consider themselves very lucky. Not only is Hanuman worshiped in so many temples dedicated to him, but he is also part of the famous Rama Darbar, which consists of Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. The Lord is never alone. When we speak of God in His forms of Krishna, Vishnu, or Rama, we include all of the Lord’s associates and devotees. In one sense, pure devotees can be considered to be even more fortunate than the Lord. God has all great qualities and enjoys the service offered by the devotees, but the devotees get to enjoy God. For instance, a devotee of Hanuman gets to enjoy the association of Hanuman and Shri Rama. In this way, they can be considered even more fortunate than the Lord.

An argument may be made that Hanuman didn’t bring anything auspicious to Ravana, the demon who kidnapped Sita. Hanuman was the key component in bringing Lord Rama to Lanka. For those who are unfamiliar with Vedic tenets, any person who is killed directly by God is granted salvation immediately. Salvation is also known as liberation, and it means that a person no longer has to suffer through the cycle of birth and death. Devotees also are granted liberation, but a special kind. Ravana merged into the body of the Lord, while devotees get the benediction of association with God in the spiritual world. Hanuman proved auspicious for Ravana since his presence in Lanka eventually led to the demon’s salvation. Hanuman was also auspicious for Ravana’s younger brother, Vibhishana. Ravana was demonic by nature, while Vibhishana was just the opposite. This was actually due to Ravana’s mother. Initially the demon’s mother approached the great sage Vishrava to bear his children. Since the sage was meditating at the time, he was angry at the lady for disturbing him. He subsequently cursed her to give birth to Rakshasa sons who were sinful by nature. The lady was upset at this, so she asked the sage to somehow balance out the curse by giving her a boon. With his anger mollified to an extent, Vishrava agreed to her request by granting her the boon that one of her sons, though born a Rakshasa, would be pious in nature. Hence Ravana and Kumbhakarna were born as demons, while Vibhishana was born a devotee.

Hanuman setting fire to Lanka Hanuman proved to be auspicious to Vibhishana because when Hanuman set fire to Lanka, he made sure not to touch Vibhishana’s house. Later on, when Vibhishana decided to join Lord Rama’s side in their fight against Ravana, it would be Hanuman who would vouch for Vibhishana, telling Rama that he would be an asset to their side. In this way, we see that anyone who associates with Hanuman will have all of their desires in life fulfilled. It was for this reason that Goswami Tulsidas composed the famous Hanuman Chalisa, a poem in praise of Lord Hanuman. This poem has been recited daily by millions of people for the past several hundred years. It can easily qualify as one of the most famous devotional songs in history, and not surprisingly, it is tied completely to Shri Rama’s most faithful and dear servant.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Thousands of Gitas

Gopis speaking to Krishna “Dear Krishna, we are always busy in our family affairs. We therefore request that You remain within our hearts as the rising sun, and that will be Your greatest benediction.” (Gopis speaking to Lord Krishna, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 27)

The Bhagavad-gita is the most well-known book of the Vedic tradition. It is the closest equivalent to a Bible or Koran in a religious sense, but since the topics discussed within cover the full spectrum of material and spiritual activities, many people outside the scope of the Vedic tradition take to reading it. Considered the introduction to Vedic philosophy, the “ABCDs” of spiritual life in the Indian tradition, the Gita appeals to every type of person. Followers of pretty much any philosophy can find a verse in the Gita that appears to support their position. Be it non-violence, violence, action, inaction, going for what you want, waiting for things to happen, taking to religious functions, rising above religious rituals, etc. – all topics are covered by Lord Krishna, the speaker of the Gita, a book which is also known as the Song of God. This last point is the most important one. The true potency of the Gita does not come from the words or the teachings found within, but rather from the source of the knowledge presented. That source is none other than Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. It is much more beneficial to develop an attachment to the Gita’s speaker than it is to take shelter of the words themselves. Argument and logic can only take us so far in life, while Krishna, being the fountainhead of all knowledge, can turn anyone who connects with Him in a loving mood into the wisest person in the world.

“This material nature is working under My direction, O son of Kunti, and it is producing all moving and unmoving beings. By its rule this manifestation is created and annihilated again and again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.10)

Lord Krishna How do we know that Krishna is God? For starters, the Lord tells us so in the Gita. Moreover, Krishna is often addressed as Bhagavan by the compiler of the Bhagavad-gita, Vyasadeva. Bhagavan is a Sanskrit word which refers to the most fortunate person. We usually equate fortune with the acquisition of money or some other beneficial circumstance. The Vishnu Purana, spoken by Vyasadeva’s father Parashara Muni, groups the different types of fortune into six distinct categories: beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation, and wisdom. Anyone who possesses all of these opulences can be considered the most fortunate, or Bhagavan. Lord Krishna, a historical personality who appeared on this earth some five thousand years ago, is described as possessing all of these opulences at the same time and to the fullest degree. This means that He is God, the Supreme Controller and Ultimate Enjoyer.

Krishna exhibited these opulences through various pastimes. He proved He was the most beautiful by attracting the hearts and minds of all around Him, especially the residents of the town of Vrindavana. He proved to be the richest person in the world from the wealth He possessed while ruling as king of Dvaraka. Moreover, He also could acquire any beautiful item that existed in other worlds, such as the parijata flower which the Lord kindly took from the heavenly kingdom to give to one of His wives, Satyabhama. Krishna proved His strength on many occasions, the most notable of which was His lifting of the gigantic Govardhana Hill when He was merely a child. He not only lifted this hill, but He held it up with one finger for seven days. The fact that Krishna has been talked about and worshiped for at least the last five thousand years is enough to prove His fame. In fact, He has been worshiped since the beginning of time, with generations of devotees regularly chanting His names and offering their obeisances. Krishna’s renunciation was seen when He departed the town of Vrindavana which He grew up in as a child. He had many close associates in Vrindavana, including His eternal consort Shrimati Radharani. Yet His self-appointed duties called for Him to travel to Mathura and then to Dvaraka to battle various demons and deal with political matters relating to His family members. Only the most renounced person could voluntarily give up the association of the most exalted citizens of Vrindavana, people who were completely faultless and pure in nature.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.20)

Krishna leaving Vrindavana Lastly, proof of Krishna’s unmatched wisdom is found in the words contained within the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana, Puranas, and other important Vedic literatures. Out of all these books, the Gita has turned out to be the most widely read since it provides the key concepts of the Vedic tradition in a succinct and straightforward manner. The basic tenet of Vedic philosophy is that the living entities are not their bodies. The soul inside the body is the essence of life, the driving force of all activity. The body is simply a covering for the soul; a temporary manifestation of matter that constantly goes through changes. Birth and death represent the complete changing of bodies for the soul. The transmigration of the soul is an evolution of sorts, with the final destination hopefully being that of the spiritual realm. In the spiritual world, there is no such distinction between spirit and matter. The soul retains its identity and assumes a spiritual body. In this condition, the soul is free to associate with its progenitor, its ultimate reservoir of pleasure, Shri Krishna.

“The whole cosmic order is under Me. By My will it is manifested again and again, and by My will it is annihilated at the end.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.8)

The life cycle of the body is similar to the life cycle of the entire world. Just as the soul is the driving force behind the machine known as the body, the giant soul, or Supersoul, is the driving force behind the activities of nature. The material world constantly goes through cycles of creation, maintenance, and destruction. The temporary and perishable realm remains intact for as long as there are spirit souls who desire to imitate the activities of the Supreme. This desire lands the purified spirit soul in the temporary realm and upon assuming a temporary body, the resulting living entity takes to various fruitive activities. Working under the model of karma would not be so harmful were it not for collisions with other living entities. Each person, or life form, has independence in how they choose to act. Since every person has different desires, there are bound to be collisions in activities, and thus both favorable and unfavorable results. Regardless of the nature of work and the fruits that come to bear, the resulting enjoyment or suffering is temporary. Moreover, once a person’s desires are fulfilled, new desires immediately spring up. The ultimate desire is to become God, the supreme enjoyer and proprietor. Though this desire is the root of all fruitive activity, the title of God can never be acquired by a soul which wasn’t even capable of choosing the time and circumstance of its initial descent to earth. Therefore, the desire to become God remains forever unsatisfied, resulting in an endless cycle of misery and frustration.

“Intelligent persons who are endeavoring for liberation from old age and death take refuge in Me in devotional service. They are actually Brahman because they entirely know everything about transcendental and fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.29)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna All hope is not lost, however. Lord Krishna spoke the famous Gita on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to His dear friend and cousin, Arjuna. This discourse touched on all areas of life, both material and spiritual, with Krishna providing the formula for getting out of the dreaded cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death. The Lord, being the original form of Godhead, kindly stated that anyone who thought of Him at the time of death – one whose consciousness was fixed on the Supreme Lord at the most critical of junctures - would immediately ascend to Krishna’s spiritual realm. Moreover, anyone who returned to such a realm would never have to accept a material body again. Thus Krishna not only explained the concept of reincarnation in the Gita, but He also provided the roadmap for how to escape it.

Though ultimate surrender unto God is the gist of the Gita, the teachings contained within are presented in a very logical way, for the Lord wanted to stay in line with the instructions provided by previous spiritual leaders of the Vedic tradition. Several times Krishna makes references to teachings put forth by learned men of the past. In this way, the Gita is not simply a sectarian or sentimentalist doctrine, but rather an authorized scientific breakdown of the various components of nature. The system of karma, or cause and effect, is a science that is extremely complex. The results of action can be thought of as a giant neural network of outcomes that are managed by elevated living entities known as devas. Krishna, as the creator of this system, is the only person capable of truly understanding it.

“According to one's existence under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith. The living being is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.3)

Bhagavad-gita Since the Gita is presented as a scientific study, some choose to remove Krishna from the picture altogether. Those who do this usually have their own agenda going in. Such philosophers are looking to support their own mentally concocted theories which were crafted up through their own sets of logic and reasoning. Finding what they want in the Gita, they carefully try to cut Krishna out of the picture. This is certainly a grievous error, for Krishna can never be separated from His words. More importantly, Krishna is greater than the Gita. The teachings found within only represent a small fragment of the full scope of knowledge available to the conditioned soul. The human brain is not capable of thinking beyond time, space, logic, and reasoning. Therefore it is considered very dangerous to take complete shelter of argument. Since the concepts of “good” and “bad” are both relative to the scope of activities and the desired result of the performer, no argument can be considered an absolute truth simply based on the words contained within. Any argument can be negated simply through using various logical proofs and truths. Therefore, the end result of dry argument and logic is a position of voidism, or the absence of any truth. When there is void, there cannot be a God; hence it is not surprising to see that the atheists and agnostics, who have no interest in connecting with the Supreme Spirit, are often the greatest servants and devotees of argument and logic.

“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)

The last instruction provided by Krishna in the Gita is the most important. After describing in detail the nature of the soul, matter, the universe, the Supersoul, and the living entity’s position in this complex world, the Lord tells Arjuna to abandon all other dharmas and simply surrender unto Him. Doing so would deliver him for all negative, sinful reactions. The Lord would personally see to it that Arjuna would not have to suffer ever again. Dharma is the Vedic term for religion or occupational duty. Religion is simply a person’s ultimate conclusion, the guiding force for their activities. Since every person has different inherent qualities, they are bound to come up with different ultimate conclusions, or religions. This means that they essentially create their own dharmas. One person is taking their dharma to be the saving of the environment. This leads to activities of planting trees, lobbying against oil drilling, and the promotion of the practice of recycling. Another person is taking their dharma to be the acquisition of material wealth, while another is seeking to eliminate poverty worldwide.

Since none of these occupational duties involve the soul and its future destination, they can all be considered bogus or sub-standard dharmas. In addition, it is seen that many of the followers of such dharmas pick and choose various sections from the Gita and other religious texts to support their ultimate conclusions. Lord Krishna, ever the wise seer, knew that people would try to mince His words and shape and mold the meanings to suit their particular dharma. It is for this reason that He made sure to definitively state His own ultimate conclusion. Lord Krishna, the origin of all knowledge, tells Arjuna, and everyone else for that matter, to abandon all irrelevant dharmas and simply surrender unto Him. By so doing, the living entities would be abiding by the highest dharma, the only occupational duty worth adopting.

Surrendering to Krishna What does surrendering to Krishna entail? Surrender in the military sense equates to giving up, or losing one’s will to fight. Surrender in the area of romance means making yourself completely vulnerable, putting another entity, the object of your affection, in charge of your emotions. The combination of these two concepts can help us understand surrender to God. As stated before, the soul remains in a conditioned state for as long as the desire to imitate God remains. So the first aspect of surrender involves recognition of Krishna’s supremacy and the fallacy of trying to excel Him in areas of creation, maintenance, and destruction. The second aspect of surrendering unto Krishna requires putting Him in complete charge of our emotions. Normally this right is reserved for our significant others or loved ones. It is the nature of the soul to serve, so when this service is directed at the Supreme Spirit, it becomes purified. This service, which represents true surrender, allows the soul to experience never before seen transcendental bliss.

What’s interesting to note is that the more one surrenders unto Krishna, the more their knowledge increases. An example of this effect was seen with the gopis of Vrindavana. Lord Krishna spent His childhood years in the farm communities of Gokula and Vrindavana, where He enjoyed the company of His friends. The gopis, the cowherd girls, were especially devoted to Krishna. They always thought of Him, day and night. They weren’t formally educated, nor did they study the Vedas. They weren’t familiar with Vedanta philosophy or the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, yet their knowledge on all subjects was perfect. This was due to their minds always remaining fixed on Krishna, even when they were separated from Him. They were completely surrendered to Krishna, so they only looked to Him for pleasure. The gopis went along with their prescribed duties as cowherd women, wives, and mothers, but they had no attachment to this work. Their only dharma in life was service to Krishna, taking Him to be the ultimate reservoir of pleasure.

Lord Krishna Therefore it is more important to connect with Krishna than it is to merely take shelter of the postulates and aphorisms of the Bhagavad-gita or Vedanta philosophy in general. Lord Krishna is the fountainhead of all knowledge, so He can create thousands of Gitas in a second, with each being more profound than its predecessor. Similarly, when one is devoted to Krishna and tuned into the spiritual world, they can go on and on explaining spiritual life, seeing everything in terms of its relation to the Lord. The same can’t be said of material topics. We can only take in a certain amount of political, sports, or entertainment information before we get fed up. Topics relating to Krishna, or Krishna-katha, don’t suffer from this defect. The more one surrenders unto the beautiful Lord, the more their attachment for Him grows. Success in spiritual life has a linear relationship with affection for Krishna; the greater the attachment to the Supreme Spirit, the greater the knowledge that is acquired. The Vedic literatures represent the most comprehensive information about spirituality found in this world. Actually nothing can compete with Vedic wisdom; a fact that serves as a true testament to the infallibility and opulence of its greatest orator, expounder, and teacher: Lord Shri Krishna. Bhagavan is always more powerful than any set of words, theories, or truths. Therefore we should always stay connected with this powerhouse of energy, the Supreme Energetic Lord.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Melting Hearts

Hanuman with Lakshmana and Rama “Hearing those words from Hanuman, the glorious Rama, being very happy and smiling, spoke to His brother Lakshmana, who was by His side.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.25)

There are various schools of thought on how one should approach God. Some view Him as all-powerful and a person worthy of the highest respect. Others view Him as an intimate friend, someone who already knows our innermost desires and fears. What if we got the chance to actually meet the Lord face to face? What would we say to Him? How should we act towards Him? A long time ago, a great personality had the tremendous honor of greeting the Lord, who had appeared in human form at the time. This great personality, Shri Hanuman, made the most of his opportunity by speaking pleasant words in praise of God. The Lord, the recipient of such a beautiful sound vibration, was highly pleased upon hearing these words. The Lord’s reaction to this praise shows us that God always hears our prayers and is most certainly satisfied by our kind words, should they be presented sincerely and honestly.

Shri Hanuman Of all the objects of worship known the world over, Hanuman might be the most famous. He is not God, but close to it. The oldest scriptures in the world are the Vedas, which emanate from India. The country of India, as it is drawn out today, hasn’t existed forever, for the nation only got its independence in recent times. The land that India occupies, however, has existed since the beginning of time and is where man first settled. The Vedas come from that land, which is more commonly known as Bharatavarsha. Followers of the Vedic tradition are today referred to as Hindus, but there is no mention of this word in any of the Vedic texts. Rather, Veda means knowledge, so the Vedas represent a collection of eternal truths that are applicable to every single person, irrespective of birthplace.

Originally, Vedic wisdom was passed down through an oral tradition, with hymns and mantras memorized by all the pious sages. No one can quite trace the date of origin of the Vedas, for the scriptures tell us that Vedic information first came from God Himself. Though Vedic knowledge is quite comprehensive, the essential teachings can be summed up in this way: God is great; the living entities are spiritual sparks emanating from the great spirit known as God; human life is meant for reconnecting with God and returning to His spiritual abode. These facts are simple enough to understand, but actually acting out these instructions is a different story. Two necessary pieces of information are what God looks like and what kind of nature He possesses. Thankfully, the Vedas go into great detail in these areas, telling us that God has unlimited forms, with His original being that of Lord Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Lord Krishna But not everyone is attracted directly to Krishna. They are either blinded by the effulgence beaming off His giant body, or they have a natural attraction to some other part of creation. To allow such people to offer worship to Him, God expands Himself into multitudes of forms. The famous Shrimad Bhagavatam states that it is impossible to accurately count all the incarnations of God, for it is like trying to tally up the number of waves in the ocean. Nevertheless, the primary incarnations have been noted down by Vedic scholars. This wasn’t so difficult a task because the primary incarnations, known as avataras, all performed great pastimes directly here on earth, Bharatavarsha. One such incarnation was Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga, or second time period of creation. Lord Rama’s life and pastimes have been well documented in classic texts like the Ramayana and several Puranas, and more recently in the wonderful poem written by Goswami Tulsidas titled the Ramacharitamanasa.

By reading about the activities of Krishna’s different avataras, we can get an idea of who God is and what His features are. This information is certainly nice, but it doesn’t touch on the issue of how we are to act towards the Lord. Theoretical information pertaining to the constitutional position of the soul in relation to God is available, but how should we act upon this information? Luckily for us, devotees of the past have blazed the trail for us to follow. Of all of God’s devotees, we’d be hard-pressed to find one more famous than Lord Hanuman.

Shri Hanuman Hanuman is a monkey-like human figure, technically known as a Vanara. Some will immediately dismiss this as being part of mythology, but it’s not the case. Vedic information states that material bodies are composed of varying combinations of goodness, passion, and ignorance. These three modes of material nature can be studied in depth, but such study isn’t necessary to understand the differences between living entities. Just looking around us, we see that people have different natures. Some people are nice, some are mean, some are strong, some are weak, etc. If we extend this concept out to all the material bodies, such as those of insects, beasts, fish, and animals, we can gain an understanding of how the modes of material nature work. In times past, humanity was generally more pious and pure, so even the monkeys had the ability to talk and communicate. Therefore it is not surprising to see that one of God’s greatest devotees could be a monkey.

Today, Hanuman is worshiped around the world by millions for his bravery, honesty, strength, and chivalry. Hanuman possesses all the good qualities a person could have. More than any other feature, Hanuman is known for his devotion to Rama. He served the Lord purely and without motive, and for this, Hanuman is never forgotten by Rama. Hanuman’s most famous activities occurred in relation to the rescue of Sita, Lord Rama’s wife who had been kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Hanuman is eternally linked with Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and Sita.

Hanuman's pastimes Though Hanuman is famous today for his service to Rama, how did the two actually meet? What was their first encounter like? The Valmiki Ramayana provides accounts of their first meeting. After Sita was kidnapped from the forest of Dandaka, Rama and Lakshmana made their way to the forest of Kishkindha, which happened to be inhabited at the time by a monkey-king named Sugriva. Kishkindha was Sugriva’s asylum, a place where he was safe from the attacks of his rival brother Vali. Upon seeing Rama and Lakshmana approaching, Sugriva became apprehensive, thinking that they were sent by Vali to come and kill him. Sugriva asked his chief minister, Hanuman, to go down to meet Rama and Lakshmana and find out what they wanted.

Hanuman assumed the form of a brahmana and kindly approached the two brothers. He welcomed them with the sweetest words; prayers that were perfectly composed and well-spoken. Hanuman kept going and going with his praise. Even though he was sent by Sugriva to meet the brothers and gather intelligence, Hanuman’s praise was sincere and heartfelt. He didn’t need to think of anything; he simply looked at Rama and Lakshmana and spoke from the heart. Hanuman was so pleased just by seeing Rama that he eventually gave up the ruse and revealed his true identity. He told Rama who he was and how Sugriva had sent him to find out information. Rama’s initial reaction to Hanuman’s kind words is conveyed in the above referenced passage.

Hanuman meeting Rama We see that Rama had a delighted countenance upon hearing Hanuman’s words. This one fact speaks volumes about how one should approach God. Hanuman offered kind words in an unmotivated and uninterrupted manner. Since he lost himself in praise of Rama, he eventually forgot why he was sent there. In this way, there was no motivation for Hanuman’s kind words; he just wanted to please the Lord. Rama, for His part, was greatly delighted. This means that God indeed likes to hear our prayers and that He derives great pleasure from the kind words of His devotees.

“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.30)

How can God feel pleasure? He is, after all, atmarama, which means one who is satisfied by his own self, comfortable in his own skin, so to speak. Rama’s deriving pleasure from Hanuman’s speech doesn’t contradict this fact. The devotees are considered one with the Lord; they are a part of Him. When the devotees give pleasure to the Lord, the Lord is actually being satisfied by the Self, as represented by the devotees. This reveals the hidden secret to success in life. In the conditioned state, we are thinking that we are separate from God. In this deluded condition, we take to praising ourselves and other fallible living entities. It is certainly laudable to offer praise to those who deserve it, but we shouldn’t neglect God at the same time. Since we are part of Him, we have the ability to give Him pleasure. Knowing that we can make God happy, who wouldn’t want to make devotional service to the Lord their only occupation?

Worshiping God So how do we approach God? How do we offer Him prayers? There is no difference between the Lord and His names. Therefore, simply by chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can offer the highest praise. We aren’t required to be great Sanskrit scholars capable of composing well-crafted poetry. It’s the sincerity that counts. In addition, the Lord doesn’t consider who the praise is coming from; any person in this world can take up devotional service, regardless of what language they speak and who their parents are. Love is a universal language, and when directed at the proper object of worship, it can be a beautiful thing.