Saturday, November 27, 2010


Hanuman praising Sita and Rama “His words - which were succinct, beyond all suspicion, pleasant, and delivered in a mild tone - flowed easily from his throat and chest.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.31)

Many a phrase have been coined from the works of the famous playwright Williams Shakespeare. The proverb, “brevity is the soul of wit”, is one such phrase which is invoked quite often today in common parlance as a way to teach others how to communicate effectively. A statement is considered witty, or intelligent, if it is clever and conveys a deeper meaning than what it appears to. One of the key elements to wit is brevity. If we have to use many words to get our point across, the wit and charm of our central point will be lost. For example, when telling a joke, it’s usually a good idea to make the narrative short, with the punch line being reached fairly quickly. If one has to tell a lengthy story in order to make a joke, it is likely that the audience will lose interest by the end. Wit not only applies to the area of humor, but it also plays a central role in public speaking. There are several key ingredients to a good speech, and by studying these components, we can also gain a better understanding of what makes a good prayer to the Supreme Lord.

What is the purpose of a speech? Unlike the written word, public speeches involve the hearing process. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, were originally known as the shrutis, or that which is heard. Vedic information was first passed down through an aural tradition, with the written word not being required since most people could remember what they heard. Not only could they remember everything, but they could take in and process information very quickly. While mankind’s mental abilities have diminished through the course of time, it is still undoubtedly true that the hearing process is the best way to take in information.

Shrila PrabhupadaThe practice of proofreading can help us better understand this fact. Writing is not an easy task; it requires great time and effort, with multiple people editing and rereading passages to make sure that they make sense. While reading, a person is essentially narrating written words to themselves in their mind. The narration takes place through visual contact; the eyes looking at certain words and then processing them. Yet the eyes aren’t perfect. Moreover, one might take to reading at a rapid pace and still miss many grammatical errors. This is actually the secret behind the technique known as speed-reading. Speed-reading allows a person to read pages and pages of literature in a very short amount of time. The secret to reading something very quickly is to purposefully only recognize certain words and patterns on a page versus actually narrating every single word inside the head.

In this way, we see that reading at a rapid pace requires a person to purposefully gloss over much of the written text. While speed-reading may be a good way to save time when taking in information, it doesn’t prove to be helpful when proofreading. Moreover, the human eye is so accustomed to seeing words formatted in a particular way that if one or two letters are transposed here and there, an editor may not even notice. A word can be spelled incorrectly, but since it looks close enough to the correct spelling, our eyes will take it to be the correct word. While this behavior may be beneficial when reading text that contains misspelled words, it can also bring some negative side effects. For example, we may read a word completely incorrectly and thus derive a totally different meaning from a sentence. One small word such as “not” or “is” can completely change the meaning and tone of a particular passage.

With the hearing process, these defects are absent. Even if we aren’t paying attention to someone’s speech, if they forget a word or say something incorrectly, we will notice right away. It is for this reason that public speakers try their best to maintain a continuous flow of speech, avoiding stuttering and stammering. Hearing is such a great way of picking up mistakes that many people, including our humble self, use text-to-speech technology to proofread their written words.

Since hearing is such an effective method of information transfer, public policy makers, advocates, and teachers often take to giving lectures and speeches in public. As learned from Shakespeare, brevity is the soul of wit. The least amount of words we can use to get our point across the better. Public speaking involves an audience that sits attentively and listens. If the speaker goes on and on about nothing, it is understandable that the audience would lose their attention. In lieu of listening to the speaker, the audience members may take to sending text messages or checking the latest sports scores on their mobile phones. Along with brevity, there are also tone and rhythm to consider. We may have the nicest sounding speech on paper, but if we deliver it using a hostile tone, people will take away the wrong message. The same principle applies to rhythm. If the words aren’t delivered with the proper timing, the receivers may not pay attention to the special points in the speech.

These facts relating to reading, speaking, and hearing can help us with the most difficult task in life. According to the Vedas, there is only one God. People from one part of the world may refer to Him by one name, while another group may call Him something else, but there is still only one God. In the Vedic tradition, God is given thousands of names, each of which applies to a specific feature exhibited by the Lord. These names also reference various pastimes and activities performed by the Lord during ages past. The Vedas tell us that God’s original name is Krishna, one who is all-attractive. Since God is the most attractive person, it would make sense that the words used to describe Him would also be considered the most attractive. Therefore, one of God’s innumerable names is Uttamashloka.

“Shrimati Kunti Devi has prayed to the Lord just to enunciate a fragment of His glories. All His devotees worship Him in that way, by chosen words, and therefore the Lord is known as Uttamashloka. No amount of chosen words is sufficient to enumerate the Lord's glory, and yet He is satisfied by such prayers as the father is satisfied even by the broken linguistic attempts of the growing child.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.8.44 Purport)

Lord Krishna A shloka is a verse or a hymn of praise. The word uttama is actually a compound word made up of “ut” and “tama”. “Ut” means above or transcending and “tama” refers to darkness. Thus uttama means above darkness or ignorance, i.e. the best. When we put the two terms together, we see that God is referred to as the best verse. This shows just how great Krishna is. The best words, put into the most beautiful verses, are non-different from the Lord. This is yet another feature of Krishna’s which points to Him being the Supreme Absolute Truth. Being Absolute, there is no difference between God and His names, forms, and pastimes. As such, there is also no difference between God and the beautiful words which are used to describe Him.

Hanuman worshiping Rama Who composes these wonderful verses, or uttama-shlokas? Only those who are of the highest class, exalted individuals who transcend the darkness of ignorance, can carefully assembly the proper set of words to praise the only entity truly deserving of it. One such exalted individual is Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama, an incarnation of God. Though Hanuman is forever devoted to Lord Rama, the two did have a very famous initial meeting, the accounts of which are nicely described in the Ramayana written by Maharishi Valmiki. If we were to meet God, what would we say to Him? Would we be able to speak? How would we accurately convey our love for Him? Hanuman was blessed with this wonderful opportunity, and he was more than up to the challenge.

Lord Rama roamed this earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. According to Vedic information, the universe constantly goes through cycles of creation and destruction, so Lord Rama appears and enacts pastimes on this earth whenever and wherever it is manifest. For this reason, the accounts of His life somewhat vary depending on which Vedic text you read. This doesn’t mean that the information is contradictory, but rather, the variety speaks to the fact that God’s appearances are always taking place, both in this universe and in others.

Sita and Rama in the forest As part of His pastimes, the Lord roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. On one unfortunate day, Rama’s beautiful wife Sita Devi was taken away from Him by a demon named Ravana. Rama, being God Himself, could most certainly protect Sita, but the demon created a ruse which lured Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana away from Sita’s side. Finding Sita gone, the two brothers went looking for her, eventually making their way to the Kishkindha forest. At the time, the monkey-king Sugriva was living there along with his counselors and associates. Seeing Rama and Lakshmana approaching, Sugriva asked Hanuman, his chief warrior, to see what they wanted. Hanuman kindly obliged and appeared in front of Rama and Lakshmana in the guise of a mendicant.

Though Hanuman was tasked with finding out Rama’s intentions, he couldn’t help but praise the Lord. God is often referred to as maha-tejah, meaning one who has a wonderful effulgence. Simply by seeing this natural glow and beauty, devotees become enamored. Hanuman immediately took to praising both Rama and Lakshmana by reciting the most eloquent of Sanskrit verses. His shlokas were certainly the topmost, and Rama was very pleased with them. In the above referenced statement, Rama is reacting to Hanuman’s speech by describing its finer points to Lakshmana.

From Rama’s description, we see that Hanuman’s speech was flawless in tone, delivery, and use of words. Rama's description uses negations to convey the flawless nature of Hanuman’s words. The Lord tells Lakshmana that Hanuman's words had no verbosity, and no doubt or suspicion. The words were delivered without any delay, and they did not cause any pain to the listener. From these observations, we see that Hanuman didn’t throw in any unnecessary words. Usually those who aren’t confident about what they are speaking on, or those who are willfully trying to deceive their audience, will use extra words or talk in platitudes. Politicians are famous for this. They’ll come up with vacuous statements such as “We need change”, “I’m a uniter, not a divider”, and “We need to work together”. These statements are designed to essentially cheat the audience into feeling a false sense of optimism and to divert their attention away from the lack of intelligence possessed by the speaker.

Hanuman meeting Rama Hanuman’s speech didn’t suffer from any of these defects. His words were heartfelt. Hanuman even lost himself in his words, going on and on with his praises until he finally had to reveal his intentions to Rama. Sugriva’s trusted minister was charged with finding out what Rama wanted, just in case the Lord had come to battle Sugriva. Yet Hanuman ended up being the first to blink, being overwhelmed by the Lord’s sweetness and luster. A devotee has nothing to hide from the Lord; they feel completely at ease. This was how Hanuman behaved towards Rama, and the Lord was delighted to see such sincerity. Rama essentially told Lakshmana that Hanuman was a friend and not someone they should be worried about. Hanuman’s words were genuine and delivered with the perfect rhythm. Sometimes if we are unsure of what we are saying or if we’re worried about offending others, we’ll take extra time to find just the right words to say. Hanuman didn’t require such hesitation since he was composing uttama-shlokas on the fly. Since he was praising God, he simply had to tap into the feelings that were already resting in his heart. In this way, there was no stuttering or delay for want of a cogent thought.

Following Hanuman’s example, we should also try to address the Lord with kind words which are free of duplicity and fault. While it’s impossible to reach the level of scholarship possessed by Hanuman, we can offer perfect praise to God by constantly reciting His favorite mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The example set by Hanuman is that when one offers prayers to God, they should speak from the heart and not waste any words. Brevity is certainly the soul of wit, and when applied to spiritual discourses, what results are praiseworthy speeches that are free of verbosity.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is the highest religious discipline because it is free of any material defects. The path of devotional service is perfect because it has no hints of desire for fruitive rewards, removal of distresses, or yogic perfections. Just as desire for personal benefit is absent in the discipline of bhakti as a whole, the words we use to address God should also be free of contamination. We never know when the day will come when we’ll get to meet the Lord face to face. When that time comes, we’ll want to make sure that we can quickly come up with some nice words of praise which are heartfelt and to the point. By regular practice of the chanting of the maha-mantra, the most sacred of formulas, we’ll have the best set of prayers resting right on the tip of our tongue.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Torchlight of Knowledge

Lord Vishnu “He [King Muchukunda] could see also that the dense darkness within the mountain cave had already been dissipated due to the Lord's presence; therefore He could not be other than the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He knew very well that wherever the Lord is personally present by His transcendental name, quality, form, etc., there cannot be any darkness of ignorance. He is like a lamp placed in the darkness; He immediately illuminates a dark place.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 50)

In the Vedic tradition, the first instruction given to aspiring transcendentalists is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman”. This conception is absent from those spiritual traditions where the primary focus of attention is on the dedication towards and worship of a particular divine figure. While the sentimentalist mentality can certainly be a bona fide method of spiritual awakening, the knowledge base associated with such a practice is limited. Under the sentimentalist and sectarian models, there is nothing taught about the difference between matter and spirit, the origin of both, and the constitutional position of ordinary spirit in relation to Supreme Spirit. The Vedas are considered the complete, or purna, spiritual discipline since they contain information suited for every type of person, at every level of understanding.

Brahman is usually equated with sublime spirit; that energy which is full of knowledge and bliss. Vedic information states that the living entities are Brahman at the core, but due to their association with matter, they are currently in a conditioned state. The concept of a soul is not exclusive to the Vedic discipline, but the information presented in relation to the difference between body and spirit and the reason for the assumption of a material body certainly is. Spirit is known as purusha, which means male or the enjoyer. Matter is known as prakriti, which is female or the enjoyed. When combined, purusha is superior since it is the driving force behind the actions of prakriti. The interaction between enjoyer and enjoyed is seen in isolated situations at different magnitudes. For example, the human body, or the body of any life form for that matter, displays this interaction. Spirit resides within a dress composed of material elements, thus resulting in the interaction between purusha and prakriti.

The interaction between purusha and prakriti, when studied on the largest scale, provides insight into the nature of the Supreme Divine Entity. Just as the individual spirit soul is the driver of the car known as the body, the Supreme Soul is the instigator of the activities of nature, in this universe and in millions of other ones as well. Brahman can be thought of as the sum and substance of all spirit. If we added up all the souls that exist in this world, we would get Brahman. In this way, we see that every form of life is equal at the constitutional level. The outer coverings of the souls may vary, but the positions of the individual souls do not. It is important for students to know that they are Brahman so they can tailor their activities towards the highest self-interest. In the conditioned state, the living entity falsely identifies with the gross elements of their body, a form which is constantly going through changes. Deluded by false identification, the living entity falls prey to a vicious and never-ending cycle of hankering and lamenting. Each day that we wake up can be considered an instantiation of this repetition on a small scale. The body is changing at every second, so each new day can be thought of as a new birth, with the previous day’s body having changed overnight. When the entire dress is removed and replaced, the events are known as birth and death.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Krishna speaking to Arjuna For the soul, there is never any change. Our soul was the same in quality yesterday as it is today, and it will continue to remain so for eternity. Since the body constantly changes but the soul does not, the aspiring transcendentalist, the wise man, gives priority to the future plight of the soul in lieu of the body. This is where things get a little tricky. If the soul doesn’t change in quality, why should we worry about its plight?

The Supreme Soul belongs to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedas provide thousands of names for this Entity, but the original name is Krishna, one who is all-attractive. No one is better able to capture the hearts and minds of the individual souls than Krishna. He brings so much pleasure that even those who are considered above desire, the meditational yogis, become attracted upon having His darshana. For the Supreme Soul, there are no defects, no unwanted causes and effects. Since the individual soul is part and parcel of the Supreme Soul, it inherits the same qualitative features. Therefore every distinct spark of Brahman is knowledgeable, blissful, and eternal. Yet there is still a difference between a spark of Brahman and the originator of Brahman, Krishna. The individual sparks are always subordinate in quantitative strength to the Supreme Soul, who is also known as Parabrahman. Therefore the individuals have a tendency to fall down into the material world, where their knowledge and bliss get covered up by prakriti. For Parabrahman, such a situation can never occur.

Lord Krishna The gross material elements consist of earth, water, fire, air, and ether. And there are also the subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego. Students of sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation of man as stipulated by the Vedas, are taught to give attention to the purusha inside the body and to worry about returning this entity to the spiritual world, where repeated births and deaths don’t take place. There is no such thing as maya, or the illusory energy of nature, in the spiritual world. For Krishna and His eternally liberated associates, there is no difference between matter and spirit. Not surprisingly, everything in the spiritual world, including each body part of the transcendentally situated individual souls, is spiritual. Based on this information, the aim of life can be logically deduced, that of reassuming an eternal spiritual body by negating the influence of prakriti.

While the easiest and most effective way to reach this goal is to take to the system of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, not every student is inclined to take up this discipline in the beginning stages. Moreover, even those who take to bhakti may not be able to practice it properly until they receive further training. Therefore students are advised to take shelter of two important tools of the trade: jnana and vairagya. Renunciation from sense pleasure is what constitutes vairagya. Adherence to austerity, which includes fasting, abstention from prohibited foods, and celibacy, makes up the core of renunciation. This austerity, also known as tapasya, is done for the benefit of the soul, to help it achieve union with the Supreme Soul. When the effects of the senses aren’t mitigated, the ultimate objective is gradually forgotten and the false identification of body consciousness resumes.

Jnana involves the acquisition of knowledge. Now we’ve reached a point where there appears to be a contradiction. The Vedas tell us that the soul is already knowledgeable and that the mind is considered a subtle material element. So why would we want to use the mind to acquire knowledge when the soul is already knowledgeable? To resolve the issue, we have to keep in mind that the aim of spiritual life is not necessarily to acquire knowledge. Transcendental knowledge already exists inside of the soul; it is characteristic of the individual living entity. Yet upon assuming a gross material body, this knowledge gets covered up. We can think of it in terms of a self-illuminating lamp. Normally a lamp or a flashlight requires some sort of energy source. The soul can be thought of as a torch that doesn’t need any power; it is always beaming the light of knowledge. The material elements, or prakriti, cover up this light. It is akin to the putting of a dark cloth over the flashlight. The weapons of jnana and vairagya, knowledge and renunciation, help the individual remove this covering, thus allowing the natural light to come to the forefront.

Activities in material nature are grouped into three modes: goodness, passion, and ignorance. The mode of ignorance, or tamo-guna, is also known as the mode of darkness. When one takes to activities of this mode, the covering of the self-illuminating lamp known as the soul becomes thicker and thicker. The mode of passion leads to a neutral position, while the mode of goodness leads to the gradual removal of the covering. Therefore, we are advised to take to activities in goodness, which include jnana and vairagya, in accordance with the revealed scriptures.

Though activities in the mode of goodness help us to release the natural light of knowledge inside of us, the only way to permanently return to a position where knowledge reigns supreme is through devotional service. This discipline, also known as the religion of love, is superior to any activity of the material world since it aims to link the soul with its counterpart, its life-partner if you will. As previously mentioned, the soul is similar in quality to the Supreme Soul, which means that Shri Krishna is also a torchlight of knowledge. Not only does Krishna’s lamp never burn out, but it never gets covered up either. Regardless of the consciousness of the individual soul - be it purified or contaminated - the light emanating from the Supreme Lord is always shining. King Muchukunda can personally attest to this truth.

Lord Krishna Around five thousand years ago, the Supreme Lord personally descended to earth in His Krishna form. On one particular occasion, He was engaged in a battle with a king named Kalayavana. This king had attacked the city of Mathura, which was protected by Krishna at the time. Instead of engaging in battle directly with the king, Krishna led him into a cave. Kalayavana thought that Krishna had run away from him, but the Lord had other plans. In that particular cave, King Muchukunda had been lying asleep for many many years. He was granted a boon by the demigods that if anyone should wake him up prematurely, they would be burned to ashes upon one glance by the king. Sure enough, Kalayavana, thinking that the sleeping man in the cave was Krishna, approached the king and kicked him. King Muchukunda awoke, looked at Kalayavana, and immediately burned him to ashes.

Muchukunda burning Kalayavana After this, the king looked around and noticed a great light in the cave. This light was beaming off the body of a beautiful figure who had assumed the form of Lord Narayana, God’s four-handed form residing in the spiritual world. King Muchukunda realized that no person, save the Supreme Lord Himself, could light the cave in this way. King Muchukunda’s firsthand observations, which are carefully noted in the crown jewel of Vedic literature, the Shrimad Bhagavatam, prove that Krishna is the greatest source of light. We can just imagine how much power and energy are required to provide steady light in a dark cave. Yet Lord Krishna was able to dissipate the dense darkness simply by His presence.

Bhakti-yoga is considered to be in the mode of shudda-sattva, or pure goodness. Only through acts of devotion, where one’s consciousness is always fixed on Krishna, can a person directly come in contact with the original torchlight of knowledge. When the Supreme Energetic is matched with the energy, the resulting reaction is one of tremendous potency. The individual spirit souls are the energy, and in their purified state, they are always in Krishna consciousness. In such a condition, the individuals always remain in full knowledge. This light of information subsequently goes everywhere, allowing the purified soul to decipher right and wrong, good and bad, in any and all situations. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and reading books like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, we can gradually let our internal light shine through and give hope to the world enveloped by darkness.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Truth Detector

Shri Hanuman “No faults were noticed on his mouth, eyes, forehead, eyebrows, or other parts of his face. Indeed in all parts of his body, not even the slightest fault could be detected.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.30)

The practice of correctly identifying the truthfulness of the statements put forth by others is certainly an art form. The CIA, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States, employs polygraph tests when conducting background checks for prospective employees. While the results of these examinations, which are commonly referred to as Lie Detector Tests, are inadmissible in court, intelligence agencies believe they have some validity. Sometimes people just aren’t truthful with us, and in order to tell the liars from the honest citizens, more scientific methods of review are required. When it comes to spiritual life, the Lord will often conduct this review Himself to be able to tell whether a person is heartfelt in their expressed sentiments. The truly pious never falter or waver when offering praise to the Lord, thus proving that their sentiments are genuine. This was the case when one of the most famous devotees in history, Shri Hanuman, met his object of worship, Lord Rama.

Hanuman with Rama and Lakshmana The stereotypical car salesman is very good at what he does. The effectiveness of his pitch lies in his ability to lie. He can tell a lie straight to your face without missing a beat. He can talk you into buying a car that you may not have even wanted, for a price that you may not have been willing to pay. While car salesmen are good at lying, most people understand that they aren’t really pious characters. Car buyers know what they are getting into, so they inherently understand that car salesmen have to be good at lying to do what they do. But in other areas of life, telling if a person is honest or not is a difficult thing. Honesty is important because it serves as the bedrock of a properly functioning society. Honesty conveys respect for other people and their property. A person who is dishonest has no problems with lying, which means that they are more likely to steal and perform other acts which violate the law. A government exists primarily to protect property and life, so if cheaters are allowed to run rampant, the entire fabric of society becomes torn.

Employing a few age-old tricks can help us tell whether or not someone is lying to us. The signs of dishonesty are most prominently exhibited during personal interactions. While a person is talking to us, if they make a sudden gesture with their hand, or if they start twitching, or if they don’t look us in the eye, it is likely that they are lying to us. Sudden perspiration is another sign of dishonesty. The famous television sitcom Seinfeld had a humorous episode relating to this situation. One of the main characters on the show, George Costanza, was working for the New York Yankees baseball organization at the time. In this particular episode, Costanza is called into a meeting with other employees to talk about the recent theft of office supplies. During the meeting, George is eating Kung Pao Chicken, a dish which is known for being spicy. As the leader of the meeting continues to stress the importance of catching the thief, George breaks out into a sweat due to the chicken. His boss, however, thinks that George is sweating because he is the one who stole the equipment. The boss immediately calls out George as the thief.

Why do strange bodily movements signal dishonesty? For most people, lying is not a comfortable activity. It’s much easier to be honest because it doesn’t require any effort. In fact, one of the best ways to cheat a polygraph test is to somehow make yourself believe that the lie is the truth. There is a famous saying that relates to how liars lie so much that they eventually believe themselves. This fact helps explain why an honest person has trouble lying and why they make involuntary bodily motions when going through with their lies.

A long long time ago, there took place a meeting between a pure soul, a great devotee of God who was in the form of a monkey, and his loveable object. This devotee’s name was Lord Hanuman, and his devotion was to a particular form of the Supreme Lord known as Rama. Followers of the Vedic tradition are quite familiar with Hanuman and Rama, for they are both worshiped by millions around the world. Hanuman is the embodiment of strength, courage, and most of all, devotion to God. Rama is the object of that devotion, a particular form of God who is known for being pious, kind, chivalrous, and extremely benevolent to His devotees. Rama is usually worshiped with His closest associates: His wife Sita Devi, younger brother Lakshmana, and pure devotee Hanuman.

Rama Darbar The forms of Rama and Hanuman weren’t just concocted by someone’s brain. The two figures are eternally living forms who actually appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago and enacted wonderful pastimes. Even though Hanuman was always a pious soul, he didn’t know of his devotion to Rama until he finally met Him. A detailed description of this meeting is found in the original Ramayana composed by Maharishi Valmiki. Lord Rama is an incarnation of God, so He can never take birth or die. When incarnations, or avataras, come to earth, their births are referred to as appearances. Similarly, when they go back to the spiritual world, their departures are known as disappearances.

Lord Rama appeared during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. The Treta Yuga is noteworthy because it was during this time that mankind’s piety started to dwindle. In the first Yuga, Satya, almost everyone was a pure, devoted soul. Hence there was only one class of men, the brahmanas. Brahmana means one who knows Brahman, but we can take brahmanas to be priests in today’s parlance. One can imagine how nice society was when everyone was a brahmana. With the start of the Treta Yuga came a division in society. The kshatriyas were born, and since they weren’t as pure as the brahmanas, they were given duties aside from spiritual activities. The kshatriyas’ duty was to protect the citizens. This protection was now required since not everyone was a pious soul. The kshatriyas came into existence through two distinct families: one coming from the sun-god and the other from the moon-god. Lord Rama appeared in the Ikshvaku dynasty, which was part of the solar dynasty.

Lord Rama Though Lord Rama appeared in a kshatriya family and carried out the duties of His order, He was still the same Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is never beholden to any laws of society, even though He sometimes kindly agrees to abide by them. Since Rama wanted to maintain the good reputation of the Ikshvaku dynasty, He acted very piously. As part of His pastimes, He roamed the forests of India and visited the great sages living there. Unfortunately, one day His wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped through a ruse set up by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana subsequently went searching for Sita’s whereabouts.

Their search eventually brought them to the Kishkindha forest. At the time, this forest was inhabited by a race of human-like monkeys known as Vanaras. One Vanara in particular had sought refuge in Kishkindha. His name was Sugriva, and he had fled to Kishkindha to escape the wrath of his brother Vali. The two were involved in a dispute, with Vali wanting to kill Sugriva. Luckily, Vali was not allowed to enter Kishkindha due to a curse imposed by a sage. Thus Sugriva was living a life of fear, even though he was completely safe in his surroundings. Sugriva spotted Rama and Lakshmana entering the forest, and thinking that they might be messengers of Vali, he sent his chief minister, Hanuman, down to greet them. Hanuman was given explicit instructions: “Find out what the two princes want. Approach them in disguise and don’t let them know who you are or who I am until you find out their purpose.”

Hanuman gladly obliged, descending from Mount Rishyamukha to meet Rama and Lakshmana. Even though Hanuman was hiding his real form by taking to the guise of a mendicant, he still couldn’t help but praise Rama and Lakshmana. Hanuman immediately went into a very eloquent speech, detailing the beautiful features of the two princes. He kept going and going with his kind words until he finally revealed who he was. He told Rama and Lakshmana his name and why he had been sent down. Lord Rama was very impressed by Hanuman. Rama was also glad to hear that Hanuman was sent by Sugriva, a king that the Lord had previously been advised to create an alliance with since he would help them find Sita.

Hanuman Since Hanuman was Sugriva’s representative, Lord Rama didn’t respond to him directly. Rather, He appointed Lakshmana as His representative. Lakshmana was advised to kindly welcome Hanuman and to let him know that Rama was interested in making friends with Sugriva. Rama and Lakshmana were very close, so the Lord didn’t want to just tell Lakshmana what to do without giving some justification. In the above referenced statement, Rama is explaining to Lakshmana that Hanuman is certainly a sincere soul and that they have nothing to fear from him. Rama was impressed by Hanuman’s use of Sanskrit grammar and his flawless speech.

We also see that Rama could not find any deformities or defects on the face of Hanuman while he was giving his speech. This indicated that Hanuman was sincere in his words. Obviously honesty was at issue from the beginning since Hanuman had first assumed the guise of a mendicant and then changed back to his original form. If he had already tried to fool them with his appearance, why wouldn’t he have done the same with his words? To allay any fears that Lakshmana may have had, Rama pointed out that Hanuman did not show any signs of dishonesty. There was no reason to think that he wasn’t a pure devotee.

Just as Hanuman continued extolling the virtues of Rama without stop, one can go on and on describing the glories of Hanuman. Though he has the form of a forest animal, a lowly monkey, he is the most exalted devotee of Lord Rama. This shows that any person is eligible to receive the Lord’s mercy, regardless of their gender, caste, color, or nationality. Moreover, Hanuman is an object of worship, for as Goswami Tulsidas so accurately points out, he is the gatekeeper to Lord Rama’s kingdom. Since Hanuman is an authority on devotional service, one can never go wrong seeking his blessings and propitiating him with kind words.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and Rama Lord Rama, the ultimate truth detector, could tell what was in Hanuman’s heart. After this initial meeting, the two would go on to form a friendship that exists to this very day. In a similar manner, we should take up devotional service and try to offer kind words to the Lord. He will be able to judge whether or not we are sincere, so the more we purify ourselves through activities like chanting, reading, eating prasadam, and offering prayers, the closer we’ll come to loving God in an honest manner.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

Mother Yashoda and Lord Krishna “The sages, knowing Me as the ultimate purpose of all sacrifices and austerities, the Supreme Lord of all planets and demigods and the benefactor and well-wisher of all living entities, attain peace from the pangs of material miseries.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.29)

Thanksgiving is one of the important holidays in the American tradition. Known for its bringing of families together through frantic travelling and the eating of large portions of food, Thanksgiving has become a tradition of culture shared by citizens from diverse backgrounds. The origins of the holiday are completely grounded in religion, with the original event serving as a way of giving thanks to the Supreme Lord for all His blessings. The lessons of Thanksgiving also unlock the secret to economic freedom and the real purpose of human life.

Thanksgiving Economics is a widely discussed and studied topic because there always seems to be those who are dissatisfied with the outcomes that result. Even in the greatest of economic booms, there are people who are deemed to be suffering, those not participating in the economic largesse of the time. There are many purported experts on economics; intellectuals who hold panel discussions or come out with books which prescribe what should be done to stimulate the economy of a particular area. Stimulus is the main focus, with each expert having their own idea on what it takes to create a viable economy. Yet from studying the example of a small group of brave individuals some four hundred years ago, we see that the secret to economic success doesn’t lie with charts, tables, textbooks, stimulus, or tax policy, but rather with a firm and untiring belief in God and respect for His children.

Economics is actually quite easy to understand, provided that one is honest in assessing their own behavior. The economic viability of a particular region is dependent on the independent actions of many smaller entities. If we can understand how we operate and what our thought process behind making economic-related actions is, we can understand how the system works on a macro level. The driving force behind economic activity is artha, which is the Sanskrit word for profit or economic development. It is in the fiber of the being of the individual to search after its self-interest, or profit. This is often mistaken to mean selfishness, but self-interest is something much simpler and non-threatening. For example, waking up on time in the morning to ensure reaching the office at a specific hour is an act of self-interest. Getting to work on time will equate to keeping one’s job, which will then allow such a person to pay their bills on time. The driving force is self-interest, the search for profit and the desire to maintain one’s livelihood.

The entire economic system follows the same model. People want to work for a living and be paid as much money as possible while providing the least amount of work. The proprietor of a business wants to turn a profit selling their good or service. This shop owner wants their business to be as productive as possible, which means generating the greatest amount of output with the least amount of cost. The consumer is looking to pay the cheapest price for a good that is of the highest quality. All of these factors can balance themselves out, but we see that the driving force is incentive, the desire to fulfill one’s self-interest. Economics experts and politicians run into problems when they only choose to focus on one area of interest, while neglecting others. Since everyone is acting in their self-interest, it would be silly to say that one person’s interest is of more value than another’s. By saying that one business is worthy of succeeding, i.e. turning a profit at a decent rate of productivity, over another, the principle of artha is quantified, something which doesn’t square with the equality that is shared amongst living entities. Yet this preferential treatment is precisely what occurs through targeted economic policy. It is not surprising then to see the angst and dissatisfaction that results.

mayflower_17540_lg A small group of settlers was faced with their own economic issues several hundred of years ago. This group had escaped the land they called home due to the oppressive nature of the government. Desiring more than just economic freedom, this group wanted to freely practice their religion, their worship of God, without any force or coercion from higher authorities.

“Any person who desires the fruits of the four principles religiosity [dharma], economic development [artha], sense gratification [kama] and, at the end, liberation [moksha], should engage himself in the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for worship of His lotus feet yields the fulfillment of all of these.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.8.41)

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the rewards of human life can be grouped into four general categories: dharma, artha, kama, and moksha. Goswami Tulsidas, the great poet and devotee of Lord Rama, accurately points out that achieving all four of these rewards in one lifetime is very difficult. One may get economic success and sense gratification, but these two rewards can get in the way of religiosity. When adherence to religion is absent, there is no question of moksha, or release from the cycle of birth and death. In the animalistic stage, the individual entity is only conscious of sense gratification, or kama. Therefore there is no chance of any advancement to a higher lifestyle while in that type of body. The spirit soul is the driving force behind activity, but when it is trapped in a state of ignorance, it cannot take the necessary steps to rekindle its loving relationship with the Supreme Lord, its life partner by constitution.

Krishna's lotus feet Only in the human form of body can the soul take part in a civilized community, which begins with dharma. But if one only takes to economic development and sense gratification, their life is really no different than that of an animal. The courageous individuals who fled their homeland in Europe were seeking religious freedom more than anything else because that is the real business of human life. Animals cannot serve and love God, nor can they even understand what life and death are about. The individual soul, when placed in a human form of body, can take the necessary steps to change their desires, which in turn alters their consciousness. When this consciousness is purified at the time of death, i.e. when one’s thoughts are focused on the lotus feet of the transcendent Lord, the individual soul is granted moksha, the freeing from the shackles brought on by material contact.

Those fleeing from Europe became known as the Pilgrims, and they set sail for what was known as the New World. They landed on Plymouth Rock in Massachusetts, and eagerly began their new life. There was a wrinkle in their plan however. While they had the religious freedom they were looking for, the other aspects of life, namely artha and kama, were missing. There were no innkeepers or restaurants to greet them, and there were no heated homes to take shelter of. The first winter was very cold and life was extremely difficult. The Pilgrims decided that for their economic affairs, they would have a commune style government. Everyone would live on shared land, and whatever was produced through farming would be equally distributed amongst the community. This sort of central planning is not uncommon to see implemented by governments wishing to work in the interest of the common good. Under the Pilgrims’ model, the personal labor put forth in the production of food grains essentially became a public service.

“Every one of us must be satisfied with those things the Supreme Personality of Godhead has allotted us. We should not encroach upon the possessions of others. This simple idea can be expanded in our daily lives. Everyone should have a piece of land given by the government, and everyone should possess a few cows. Both of these should be utilized for one's daily bread.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 25.101 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada The community was barely surviving in the commune-style system, so the settlers’ dream of freedom wasn’t really panning out. Young, able-bodied men did not feel it was fair to work hard for the production of food, items that would be consumed by others, and not be compensated for such labor. The governor of this new colony, William Bradford, decided that a change needed to be made. He decided to instead divide up the land and give each family their own plot. Moreover, each group was allowed to keep whatever they produced. This simple alteration, wherein the natural penchant for fulfilling one’s self-interest was allowed to be acted upon, resulted in an economic boom. Along with the help from the neighboring Native Americans, who taught the new settlers how to skin beavers for coats and grow corn, the change in economic systems brought about a flourishing society. The first harvest was so bountiful that the new settlers decided to hold a grand feast, where they thanked God for all His blessings. They were really interested in worshiping the Lord after all, so they sincerely thanked Him for giving them the ability to survive in a new land where the conditions weren’t always favorable.

It is often pondered why America, above any other tract of land, has turned out to be such a flourishing society in a material sense. In fact, many nations follow the daily happenings of America very closely, often making comparisons with the economic growth rates of their own country. Yet the secret to America’s success in the area of economic development is not very difficult to understand, nor is it something that can’t be replicated anywhere else. Ironically enough, the path to economic freedom laid out by William Bradford is actually the same path practiced for thousands of years by followers of the Vedic tradition.

As mentioned before, the aim of human life is to learn about God and use that knowledge to lovingly serve Him. Before this pursuit for knowledge can take place, one must have a peaceful lifestyle, one where enough food is readily available. In order for food to be available, there must be production, which comes through farming. In order for farming to take place at a healthy pace, there must be a reward for hard work, an incentive for the producers to produce. By allowing citizens to own property that they can farm on, economic development is allowed to flourish. If a family raises enough food for their personal needs, they can peaceably and voluntarily trade whatever surplus they have. This is precisely what occurred with the Pilgrims, as they began to trade with the American Indians soon after their food production started to pick up. Under the private property model, one family may have a surplus of apples, while another has a surplus of rice. Each individual, acting on their self-interest, will trade for whatever products they want, all the while keeping price and profit in mind. In such a system, production is not a problem, and neither is profit. The resulting economic security allows ample time for the real mission of life: devotional service.

Lord Krishna Ironically enough, only in the human species are there problems with relation to economics. In the animal community, even amongst the carnivores, there is ample food. A tiger only eats animal flesh, and though it cannot find meat every day, it is still given enough food periodically. Though self-interest drives the pursuit of profit, the results to action can only be supplied by God. When the human civilization forgets the Lord’s supremacy and His unmatched ability to provide for everyone, chaos, cheating, lying, exploitation, and greed take over. Lust is the product of misdirected love, wherein one forgets about their loving propensity towards the Lord and instead hankers after some personal association that they know isn’t proper. Unsatisfied lust then leads to greed, the situation where one knows that they already have enough material opulence to survive, yet they continue to search after even more profit. Anger results from frustration, unchecked desires borne of lust and greed which aren’t met. As mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita, these three sentiments are the gateways to hell.

“There are three gates leading to this hell-lust, anger, and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.21)

What is hell? On the highest level of thinking, any person who takes birth in the material world, a land which exists separate from the Supreme Lord, can be considered to be in a hellish condition. When scriptures mention condemnation to a hellish realm, the reference is to the further separation that will occur between the individual soul and the Supreme Lord. The aim is to gradually elevate oneself from a hellish condition to that of a heavenly one. The only heaven that exists forever is in the spiritual sky, where the Supreme Lord, who is always full of form and bliss, interacts with His purified servants, those entities who never desire separation from their prananatha, or Lord of their life air.

“Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor…Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be…” (President George Washington, Thanksgiving Day 1789, A Proclamation)

Though the miracle of Thanksgiving showed the natural desire for man to offer service to God, we know from history that as economic development increased, the desire to thank the Lord diminished. The first President of the United States, George Washington, declared in his 1789 Thanksgiving Day proclamation that the annual holiday was a day of service to God. He asked the Lord to forgive the citizens of the country for their transgressions and to kindly bestow His favor and protection upon them. But we know that if such a speech were offered by a President today, he would be sternly rebuked for having violated the perceived notion of separation of church and state. As mentioned so wonderfully by Goswami Tulsidas, the four rewards of life are difficult to achieve at one time. One reward can cause a person to gradually lose their interest in the others. Therefore the wiser choice is to take directly to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Tulsidas How is bhakti different from economic development? Bhakti can actually be anything, provided that the Supreme Lord is involved and that He is viewed in the proper context. Another analogy given by the intelligent Vedic seers is to that of the number zero. Everything in this world, when removed from its relationship to God, can be taken to be the number 0. When 0 is by itself, it is nothing; it has no value. But when this same 0 is put next to a 1, it becomes 10. Once another numeral is present, adding more zeroes actually increases the value of the resulting number. The Supreme Lord can be thought of as the numeral, and the zeroes as the objects of sense gratification in this world. We may have a thriving business, a wonderful family life, and every object of material sense pleasure at our disposal, but if God is not part of the individual’s thought processes, all other things can be thought of as 0. But when the Supreme Lord is added, the ancillary things in life take on meaning.

Therefore, the secret to success in bhakti-yoga is to simply add the Supreme Lord to activities that are already performed. Since we like to sing songs to ourselves, better to take to chanting the sweet and blissful names of the original Divine Being, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Dancing is certainly a popular activity; otherwise dance clubs would always be empty. Under the model of bhakti, one can direct their dancing for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. The starters of the sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the Lord’s names in public, would regularly chant and dance in the streets as a way of releasing their dormant loving sentiments directed at the Supreme Lord.

Krishna with cows The primary aim of economic development is to provide enough food to eat. One can roam from house to house and place to place enjoying life, but they still need to eat. In this regard, economic development is certainly encouraged, but one is not advised to become dependent on anyone. Once we are dependent on another living entity for our livelihood, we are indebted to them. The only person we should feel directly indebted to is the Supreme Lord, who is the creator of everything in this world. In the Vedic tradition, even the sannyasis, those who are advised to beg for a living, don’t depend on any single individual or family for their well-being. Sannyasis, mendicants in the renounced order, certainly beg for a living, but they don’t ask for alms from the same people every day, nor do they remain in the same dwelling for too long a period of time.

Once we are independent and able to provide for our own food, the aim shouldn’t be to simply eat voraciously with reckless abandon. As we saw with the example of the settlers of the New World, when there is good fortune in terms of abundant food to eat, there is an even greater impetus to thank the Lord. Therefore it is not surprising to see that one of the central aspects to bhakti-yoga involves eating in a spiritually conscious way. For thousands of years, devotees of the Vedic tradition have prepared and offered nice food for the Lord to eat. In His incarnation as the archa-vigraha, or deity, God can take the food which is offered to Him with love and devotion and enjoy it. Such food is known as bhoga, or enjoyment for the sweet Lord who is kind enough to appear in a form visible to the conditioned soul.

Deity worship of Radha and Krishna The resulting food is then left for others to eat. Since it has a spiritual infusion, the remnants are known as prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. In this way, we see that under the model of bhakti, every day can be treated as Thanksgiving. Such a mindset proves to be much more beneficial in the long run, for one who gives thanks every day to the only entity truly deserving of it will certainly be rewarded with moksha at the end of life. Being released from the cycle of birth and death, the soul retains its original nature as eternal servant of the Lord in the spiritual sky, where every second brings another opportunity to give thanks to the most benevolent entity.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Might Have Been

Lord Krishna “Krishna had actually entered the cave to deliver King Muchukunda from his austerity, but He did not first appear before him. He arranged that first Kalayavana should come before him. That is the way of the activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead; He does one thing in such a way that many other purposes are served. He wanted to deliver King Muchukunda, who was sleeping in the cave, and at the same time He wanted to kill Kalayavana, who had attacked Mathura City. By this action He served all purposes.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 50)

When things don’t go our way or if something important to us seems to have slipped away, it’s natural to ponder what might have been. “If only I had acted sooner, maybe the tragedy could have been avoided…If only I had played the game a different way, maybe I would have won.” This second-guessing especially comes to bear after separation from a loved one. Romantic relationships tend to be quite volatile, with the line between love and hate being razor thin. One small misstep and your beloved can go from adoring you to despising you. In these instances, it is natural to question what could have been done to avoid the unpleasant situation. Yet all the second-guessing in the world can never help to bring back time. Moreover, there is no way to accurately predict and understand the millions of cause and effect actions that take place every second. The supreme will of the Divine is responsible for every event that comes to bear. Knowing every person’s motives and desires before they are even acted upon, the Supreme Lord takes the necessary steps to put people into just the right positions so that events can play out exactly how they are supposed to.

Lord Krishna How are events supposed to play out? Doesn’t everything occur as a result of random collision and chance? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, are unique not only because they provide in-depth detail about the Supreme Lord, whose original form and name is Krishna, but also because they focus on areas of the soul, its relationship to the Supreme, enjoyment, hatred, and the nature of activities. Life in the world we live in is governed by the laws of nature, which are managed through a system known as karma. At its foundation, karma is any activity which leads to the future development of the material body. The soul is all-knowing in its localized area; it can be thought of as a self-illuminating source of light. If we have a flashlight that never runs out of battery power, it can provide light wherever it shines at any time. In a similar manner, the soul residing deep within the depths of the body of the living entity is always full of knowledge. When the influence of the soul is not covered up, the spiritual spark shines the light of knowledge not only to the individual, but to any area of life the soul comes into contact with. This means that the soul is already in the know about different aspects of the material creation, along with the spirit’s constitutional position as eternal servitor of the Supreme Lord.

If the soul is all-knowing, why is there ignorance? This is where the influence of the material body comes into play. While the soul is self-illuminating in the areas of knowledge, enjoyment, and bliss, its powers are still limited when compared to those possessed by the Supreme Spirit, Purushottama, Lord Krishna. The relationship between the living entities and God is that of simultaneous oneness and difference. The oneness lies in the qualitative aspect of the soul. Krishna is all-knowing and all-powerful, and since the souls are fragmental sparks emanating from Krishna, they inherit these same qualities. At the same time, Krishna is the Supreme Purusha, or person/enjoyer, so in order for this definition to be valid, His transcendental qualities must exist at a larger scale than those of the living entities. Not only is this dichotomy exhibited through Krishna’s supremacy over all that be, but also through the individual spirit soul’s propensity to become illusioned by Krishna’s inferior energy, material nature.

Lord Krishna When the soul separates itself from the ultimate enjoyer, Krishna, it must assume a temporary body composed of various elements of nature. These elements are known as gunas, which can be translated to mean ropes. Gunas are binding in that they cloud the self-illuminating knowledge of the pure soul. When the soul is encaged in a body composed of gunas, the resulting life form is known as a living entity, or jiva. The jiva is technically considered part of Krishna’s marginal energy because the jiva has a choice as to the nature of activity it chooses to engage in. One path leads to the shedding of the knowledge-blocking gunas, while another leads to the further development of the material body, and thus the continued encagement of the purified soul.

The latter path is known as karma. Most of us take to this path by default. Therefore the material world is considered an ocean of nescience, a place where ignorance reigns supreme. This should make sense because only a person in ignorance would take to activities that lead to further bondage and a shielding of their true identity. Karma is an intricate system of cause-and-effect. Thus when translated into English, karma is known as fruitive activity. In Sanskrit, the results of karma are referred to as phalam, which means fruits. Fruits come about through the sowing of seeds, so all our worldly activities can be compared to the planting of seeds. With karma, the fruits that result from this planting aren’t always palatable. Karma results in both favorable and unfavorable results. On the highest level of thinking, all results of karma are considered unfavorable since they lead to the future development of the material body.

“Just as a tree starts to blossom during the proper season, so the doer of sinful deeds inevitably reaps the horrible fruit of their actions at the appropriate time.” (Lord Rama speaking to Khara, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 29.8)

Lakshmana and Rama battling a demon There is a tendency to personalize the issue of cause and effect. Even if we turn to the Supreme Divine Entity to deliver our cherished fruits, there is still the idea of an isolated relationship. We’re essentially only focusing on our own fruitive work, or causes and effects. The material world is considered a place of misery because each individual is taking part in their own activities. There are bound to be collisions not only in desires, but also in the results of work. Moreover, the laws of nature are very fair and strict. If we take to an activity that is considered sinful, the negative reaction must come to bear. Lord Rama, one of Krishna’s most important incarnations to have appeared on earth, describes the nature of sinful reactions very nicely. He says that just as the flowers blossom on the trees during the proper season, the fruits of sinful activities come to the performer at the right time. To match the nature of the original sinful act, the fruits that result are ghastly.

From Lord Rama’s teachings, we see that not all reactions to activities come to bear right away; hence the analogy to fruits when discussing karma. We may plant a seed on any given day, but the resulting flower or fruit doesn’t come about until much later on. Depending on the specific seed, the resulting fruit may take weeks, months, or even years to manifest. In the same manner, each living entity is performing so many activities each and every day which have reactions that must come to bear at some point in the future. Since every effect has an initial cause, the aggregate total of causes and effects for the billions of living entities in existence is too much for even the most powerful computer to handle. In this regard, excessive lamentation over loss is unnecessary because there is no way for any ordinary entity to accurately decipher or predict the nature of fruitive activity. “Everything happens for a reason”, as the saying goes, and only one person understands all the happenings and all the reasons. That person is Krishna.

Balarama and Krishna in Vrindavana An example always helps to understand these concepts more clearly. Who better to look to than Krishna Himself? The Lord was kind enough to make a personal appearance on this earth some five thousand years ago. Having spent over one hundred years on the planet, the Lord took part in so many activities that devotees still talk about them to this day, deriving great pleasure from hearing anything related to Krishna. After growing up in the farm community of Vrindavana, Krishna went to Mathura to live as a king, as was His prescribed duty. For the Supreme Energetic, Krishna, there are never any required activities, but in order to set a good example for future generations, the Lord kindly adhered to the occupational duties of His specific varna, or societal division. Krishna appeared as the son of Vasudeva, who was a kshatriya, or military leader. Therefore Krishna was groomed to follow in His father’s footsteps. Vasudeva was part of the Yadu dynasty, so there was an added emphasis towards upholding the family heritage of dedication to chivalry and the protection of the innocent.

Lord Krishna took over control of the town of Mathura by killing its evil king, Kamsa, who also happened to be Krishna’s uncle. Kamsa’s father, Ugrasena, was the titular head of the kingdom after his son’s death, but for all intents and purposes, Krishna was the acting leader, the person providing protection from attack. Shortly after Kamsa’s death, one of his dear friends, a king named Jarasandha, came to attack Mathura. He was quite angry at Krishna and His elder brother Balarama for having killed Kamsa, so he brought with him his entire army of countless soldiers. Krishna and Balarama, being the Supreme Divine Entities Vishnu and Ananta Shesha Naga of the spiritual realm, easily defeated Jarasandha and his army. The Lord didn’t kill Jarasandha, however, as it was his destiny to die at a later time at the hands of a different fighter.

Krishna as the king of Dvaraka Jarasandha, though embarrassed at his defeat at the hands of Krishna and Balarama, was resilient. He kept on attacking Mathura, and time after time he would be defeated. One time, he decided to attack Mathura from one side, while another king named Kalayavana simultaneously attacked from the other. Krishna, not wanting to put the inhabitants of His kingdom into any difficulty, had a city built in the sea. Since this city was guarded by gates all around, it became known as Dvaraka. After transferring all the inhabitants of Mathura to the new city in the sea, Krishna came out to challenge Kalayavana. Though Kalayavana was immediately enamored by Krishna, seeing His Vishnu-form, he still nevertheless was ready to attack Him. Krishna then kindly walked away, appearing to flee the scene. Kalayavana raced after Him, but no matter how fast he ran, he was unable to catch Krishna. The Supreme Lord can never be captured in thought, word, or deed by any person who is not a devotee. The Lord finally entered a cave, with Kalayavana following soon after.

Lord Vishnu Thinking that Krishna was hiding from him, Kalayavana was ready to mount an attack inside the cave. But as mentioned before, there is a reason behind every effect. Lord Krishna is the cause of all causes, sarva karana karanam, so He knew exactly what He was doing. At the time, a great king was lying asleep on the floor inside the cave. King Muchukunda had many years prior helped the demigods in their battles against the demons. The demigods, or devas, are celestial beings residing in the heavenly planets. They are god-like, but not on a level equal to the original form of Godhead, Krishna or Vishnu. They are able to offer any material benediction up to the point of liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Liberation, or the end to the future development of the material body, can only be achieved when the individual soul’s original constitutional position is realized. This means that only when the lamp of transcendental knowledge burns throughout the body, when the all-knowing soul takes complete control of the senses, can the individual residing within the body be guaranteed of never having to suffer through birth and death again. This purified condition can only be achieved by one whose consciousness is always fixed at the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord.

Since they were pleased with his service, the demigods asked King Muchukunda to take a boon. The king was fatigued from all the fighting, so he asked to be allowed to take rest for a very long time. Additionally, he asked that if anyone should wake him up prematurely, such a person would be burned to death simply by the king’s glance. After the demigods agreed to his requests, the king took rest in a cave. This was the very same cave that Krishna entered into, luring Kalayavana in with Him. When Kalayavana entered the cave, he saw a man sleeping on the floor, and thinking it was Krishna, he kicked him. Having awoken prematurely, King Muchukunda gave Kalayavana a fiery glance which burned him to ashes immediately. After Kalayavana’s death, Krishna appeared in front of King Muchukunda in His Vishnu form. After offering kind prayers to Krishna, the king asked to be able to always be engaged in the Lord’s service. Krishna, well pleased with the kind words of praise, granted the king’s request and assured him that he would always be able to think of the Lord regardless of the situation. In this way, the king was granted liberation through kind association with God at the same time that Kalayavana was killed.

Kalayavana being burned by Muchukunda Only Krishna knows how the intricate system of cause and effect works. It is better for us to stick to our occupational duties and leave the details to the Lord to sort out. The highest occupational duty is the rekindling of one’s dormant Krishna consciousness. This is the only way to achieve true liberation, an end to the doubt, second-guessing, and suffering caused by the results of karmic activity. The path to a purified consciousness can be found through the persistent chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Monday, November 22, 2010

A Verbal Advantage

Hanuman reading the Ramayana “He has certainly studied well the entire range of Sanskrit grammar, for though he has addressed Me with many words, he has not used a single one out of place.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.29)

To others, a person’s speaking ability conveys their level of intelligence. There is a famous saying relating to the fact that no one can correctly identify a fool until they actually start speaking. Therefore the unintelligent are advised to keep their mouths shut as often as possible. On the reverse side, the wise can show off their acumen by carefully crafting words together. Words are so powerful that they can even mask a person’s unintelligence. Simply by speaking a few eloquent words, one can give the impression that they are learned. Yet the more the pretender is forced to speak, the more their true nature eventually shows. Therefore, only the truly wise can speak on and on without missing a beat, using only the most proper words and not stuttering in the process. This was the case with one very famous devotee thousands of years ago.

Dictionary In the late 1980s, a company called Verbal Advantage started selling self-help tapes aimed at improving one’s vocabulary. The concept was similar to the word-a-day calendars that people often receive as gifts. The sales pitch for such a product is quite straightforward. “Listen to these tapes in your free time, and you will gradually improve your vocabulary. An improved vocabulary can help you communicate more effectively, even possibly landing you a better job.” One of the common requirements listed for potential job applicants is the need for “good communication skills”. This makes sense because most jobs require interpersonal communications. One who can accurately convey their thoughts and expressions to others will be easier to work with and also more productive. Using fancy words by tapping into the reservoir of an expanded vocabulary can give off the impression of intelligence, even when a high level of understanding is lacking.

Usually you can tell when someone is trying to improve their vocabulary. They will use a brand new word, something that is not commonly invoked, in a conversation or in a statement. Immediately the person on the receiving end will ask, “What does that word mean? Did someone give you a word-a-day calendar for Christmas or something?” Just the fact that someone else has to ask what a particular word means immediately puts the speaker in the driver’s seat. If a complicated word is used that no one else understands, the person using the word automatically becomes more intelligent, at least in the specific situation. Often times others won’t want to admit that they don’t know what a particular word means in fear that they will appear to be less intelligent.

Joey Tribbiani The television sitcom Friends had a humorous episode which touched on this issue. One of the characters on the show, Joey Tribbiani, was known for being a male bimbo, someone who was only interested in sex and whose level of academic intelligence was not very high. In one particular episode, an encyclopedia salesmen visit’s Joey’s apartment and tries to sell him an entire set of encyclopedias. Joey immediately flashes back to all the times when he was in the midst of conversations with his friends and they brought up concepts and terms that he was unaware of. In order to fit in, Joey would just smile and nod along, pretending to know what they were talking about. Returning to the present, Joey became interested in buying the encyclopedias, but the cost was too steep. He did have enough to purchase one volume, so he chose the book that dealt with things starting with the letter V. After reading the volume, he tried striking up conversations with his friends about things like Mount Vesuvius and the vas deferens. When the conversation shifted to other topics, however, Joey was again the odd man out.

In no arena is the importance of vocabulary and speech highlighted more than in politics. If a politician cannot speak effectively, or if he stutters and stammers all the time, others will take him to be unintelligent. This is true irrespective of the person’s policies or their behavior behind the scenes. As they say, politics is showbiz for the ugly, so the real strength of a politician is his or her ability to speak. Senators of the United States are famous for their unending speeches which serve as filibusters to stop legislation. If a politician can speak well, people will take him to be intelligent. This is irrespective of whether the politician is telling the truth or not. In fact, since most politicians are lawyers by trade, it stands to reason that the best speakers are also the best at lying. A good lawyer is one who can bend and shape the text of the law to fit his case. While this sort of cheating pays off in the courtroom, when applied to government it can have disastrous results. Yet people still clamor for political leaders who speak well, even if the words they utter are empty or if they rely heavily on electronic devices to feed them their words.

Lord Rama If those who use big words and carefully crafted statements are really masking their intelligence, how do we tell who is smart and who isn’t? A truly learned man is one who can speak well for a long period of time without any notes or reference tools. Not only is their speech perfect, but so is the subject matter they are discussing. In reality, words only exist for one reason: to praise the Supreme Lord. Otherwise, words aren’t really necessary. A person can just go about eating, sleeping, mating, and defending without uttering a single word. A person can even sustain their livelihood without talking. They can just farm all day, cook food at night, and sit at home and relax afterwards. The constitutional position of the living entity is that of part and parcel of God. As a derivative of this disposition, words, which are nothing more than sound vibrations, came into being as a way of kindly addressing the Supreme Person. Therefore, we can conclude that the truly wise are those who can use their excellent speaking ability to praise the Supreme Lord. This was the case with Shri Hanuman, the great devotee of Lord Rama.

During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the original Divine Being appeared on earth in human form. The “Divine” is an abstract term for God. Some religious faiths don’t believe in a God, or they take an energy to be the supreme guiding force. Therefore “Divine” is a less controversial term that anyone can use. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, tell us that this Divine Being has an original form and name: Krishna. Lord Shri Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the fountainhead of all forms of God. Whether someone worships an energy, a representation of the Divine, God, or some celestial being, Krishna is the origin of them all. Since He is the origin, He is also the supreme object of worship and pleasure.

Shrila Prabhupada In the Vedic tradition, prayers are offered to God in the Sanskrit language. Sanskrit uses a script called Devanagari, which means the city of the demigods. The material heavenly planets are inhabited with celestial beings. While this realm is still part of the perishable material world, the people who live there have an advanced lifestyle. They enjoy great opulence and live for an extended period of time. One can think of it as an exclusive club, sort of like the local wine club or fine arts club. To add to their elegant lifestyle, the inhabitants speak in the highest class language: Sanskrit. Sanskrit is today considered a dead language, but this is not entirely true. While it is uncertain whether the language has ever really been the main conversational language on this planet, for even Lord Krishna and the inhabitants of Vrindavana spoke Braja Bhasha, Sanskrit is still recited, written, and sung by many. While today many of the great Vedic texts have been translated into English for the benefit of the people of the world, all important prayers and religious functions are performed using the Sanskrit verses found in the original books. This shows the power of sound vibration. It is not easy to compose a prayer in Sanskrit, for the grammar of the language is very difficult to learn. The words are also complex, with each part of every word having a specific meaning. Words aren’t just thrown around in random combinations; everything is carefully crafted so as to fit the proper meter of the poem, allowing the prayer to be sung. Sanskrit is so complicated that students go through years of training just to understand it.

“Anyone serious about studying the Sanskrit language should first learn grammar. It is said that simply to finish studying Sanskrit grammar takes at least twelve years, but once one learns the grammatical rules and regulations very nicely, all other scriptures or subject matters in Sanskrit are extremely easy to understand, for Sanskrit grammar is the gateway to education.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 15.5 Purport)

The Sanskrit prayers of the Vedas praise Lord Krishna or one of His personal expansions like Lord Vishnu, Lord Narasimha, Rama, etc. One of those expansions, Lord Rama, appeared on earth many thousands of years ago. Since He took birth in a very famous dynasty of kings, He was trained to be an expert bow warrior from childhood. On one occasion, He and His younger brother Lakshmana happened to make their way to the Kishkindha forest. Rama’s wife Sita Devi had just been kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon, so the Lord was trying to find her whereabouts. He was told to make friends with a monkey-king named Sugriva who lived in the Kishkindha forest. Ironically, Sugriva saw Rama and Lakshmana approaching first, so he sent his chief warrior, Hanuman, to greet the two princes and see what they wanted.

Hanuman meeting Rama Hanuman assumed the guise of a mendicant and humbly presented himself before Rama and Lakshmana. Even though he was deputed with finding out their intentions, Hanuman couldn’t help but praise both Rama and Lakshmana. Hanuman was a great devotee of Rama, or God, from birth. Yet it wasn’t until he met Rama face to face that his love was reawakened fully. Upon seeing Rama, Hanuman went into glorious praise of the Lord, using only the highest class language. Hanuman praised Rama for so long that he eventually gave up his guise and revealed his true form. He then told Rama who he was and how Sugriva had sent him.

In the above referenced statement, we see Rama’s reaction to Hanuman’s praise. Rama told Lakshmana to kindly welcome Hanuman, for the emissary gave every indication of being a pious soul. Rama explained to Lakshmana that Hanuman surely was a noble character, for his command of the Sanskrit language was perfect. Rama mentioned that Hanuman used so many words in praise, but that none of these words were used improperly. Not one of Hanuman’s sentences was composed incorrectly. In this way, we see that Hanuman is an expert poet, a person who pleases the Lord with his words.

Hanuman worshiping Rama This isn’t surprising. The great Vaishnava saints have carefully studied the qualities of a devotee. They have concluded that, among other things, devotees are expert poets; they know how to praise the Lord with their words. In this day and age, not all of us have the good fortune of studying Sanskrit for fourteen years, or even understanding the language at all. Fear not, however, as we can still praise the Lord perfectly using one simple Sanskrit phrase: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The key is to utter this sequence of words with as much sincerity and love as possible. If we chant this mantra over and over again, the Lord will similarly remark that we have addressed Him with so many words, with none of them being used improperly. If the original Divine Being is pleased with our words, He will surely grant us unending devotion to His lotus feet, a reward which can’t be matched.