Saturday, December 4, 2010

Is Not Null

Lord Krishna “The Lord is personal although impersonal, He is atomic although great, and He is blackish and has red eyes although He is colorless.” (Kurma Purana)

Due to the different definitions of religion and spirituality, there are a variety of disciplines aimed at fulfilling a spiritual purpose. Those with a religious inclination usually follow a particular sentiment or faith towards a particular divine figure or personality. The Vedas, while certainly pointing to a celebrated divine figure, are unique in that they have a high philosophical and logical backing. It is not that other systems are incorrect or invalid, but rather, they are not as complete in scope. This speaks to the nature of time and circumstance. Not every person will be eligible for understanding all the truths of life at the same time. To facilitate the gradual advancement towards the highest platform of knowledge, the Supreme Spirit injects varying degrees of religiosity into society at different times.

Bhagavad-gita The uniqueness of the Vedas is that they cover discussions pertaining to the soul, matter, and the qualities of the Divine. Under blanket sentimentalism, there is no discussion on these matters, for there is no justification given for the current circumstances of the conditioned living entities. There are certainly prescriptions provided for how one is to avoid a dreaded condition in the future, but the past is not discussed. Moreover, the differences between body and spirit are completely ignored, with no reasoning given for the existence of so many different species. The Vedas tell us that the spirit soul inside the body is what counts and that the outer covering of the soul is determined by material qualities and desires. Since there are so many different combinations of qualities and desires, what results is up to eighty-four lakhs of species. The human being is considered the most advanced due to its increased level of intelligence. This higher potential for knowledge is meant for inquiry into the most difficult of questions. Only in the human form of body can the soul take the necessary steps to question and learn about the Absolute Truth, athato-brahma-jijnasa. This is the first step in self-realization, a process which will hopefully allow the conditioned spirit soul to attain liberation from the cycle of birth and death, a release from the forces of nature which impose a material body on the soul.

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

Stating that the purpose of human life is to search after truth certainly isn’t controversial, but differences of opinion arise when the nature of the Absolute Truth and the spirit soul’s relation to it are discussed. The opinions generally fall into one of two categories: personalism and impersonalism. The impersonalists believe that the Absolute Truth is formless. The individual spirit soul is known as Brahman, or an ever-blissful and knowledgeable energy. Every individual, regardless of their body type, is Brahman. The impersonalists therefore take the sum total of all individual spiritual sparks to be Brahman. Since every person is a part of Brahman, the impersonalist believes that every person is God but just not aware of it. Therefore such philosophers recommend that people take to the renounced order of life and quietly chant to oneself, “I am God”, over and over again.

The impersonalist’s viewpoint is a little difficult to explain because most of us don’t think that we are God. Granted, we try our best to imitate His abilities in the departments of creating, maintaining, and destroying, and also enjoying, but we would be foolhardy to think that we are the Almighty God. The impersonalists justify their theory using logic and argument. In fact, they take complete shelter of logic through the technique of negation. They sometimes give deference to the written scriptures and the words of divine personalities such as Krishna, Rama, and Vishnu, but such respect is merely directed at the personality’s ability to exhibit extraordinary qualities. For example, the impersonalists, who are also known as Mayavadis, often respect Krishna and Rama as incarnations of God, but they think that They assumed material bodies just like the rest of us. Essentially they take Rama and Krishna to be elevated manifestations of Brahman who achieved a purified status that the conditioned living entities can equal, should they take the necessary steps. To use an analogy, the impersonalists view the Absolute Truth as a giant body of water. The individual spirit souls are deemed to be different portions of the water which have been bottled up. Therefore the aim of life becomes the shedding of the bottle, the destruction of the container. Once every container is destroyed, the Supreme Absolute Truth can be whole again.

Database tableTo help us understand the logical techniques employed by the Mayavadis in their understanding of the Absolute Truth, we can review some of the basic workings of a database management system. The Vedas often refer to the Absolute Truth in terms of “neti neti”, which means “not this, not that”. Let’s say, for example, that we were to store relevant information about a group of individuals in a database. We might create a single table named “People”. For each record in this table, certain attributes would need to be entered. Let’s say that we have a column in the table called “Has Brown Eyes” that serves as an attribute identifier for eye color. A person can possess one of several different eye colors, but for the purposes of this discussion, let’s focus on whether or not the individual in question has brown eyes. If a person has brown eyes, the value would be set to “true” in the table, and “false” if otherwise.

Now let’s say we want to enter a record in this table for the Supreme Absolute Truth. What would we fill in for the brown eye color column? Does God have brown eyes? Let’s say that we entered “true”. If God has brown eyes, it then means that he doesn’t have any other eye color. This certainly can’t be a valid definition, because if God is limited to only one eye color, He immediately becomes inferior to a person who has a different eye color. For God to be Supreme, He must be all-encompassing. If He is limited in any attribute, He cannot be described as unlimited. Only the conditioned living entities are limited in their attributes. If we have a certain eye color, there is really nothing we can do to change it, aside from wearing contact lenses. Even with this remedy, we aren’t really changing our natural eye color, but rather just masking the natural appearance.

So entering “true” in the “Has Brown Eyes” column is not correct for God. Does this mean that “false” would be correct? Again, we run into the limiting attribute problem. If we say that God doesn’t have brown eyes, it means that someone who does have brown eyes has something on the Supreme Lord. At this point, the Mayavadis, taking shelter of their neti neti argument, will say that the Supreme Absolute Truth must not have eyes. Instead of entering “true” or “false” in the “Has Brown Eyes” column, the Mayavadis would enter a “null” value. In database management, a column in a table can be defined as nullable or not nullable. Usually boolean attributes, those columns which can only have a “true” or “false” value, will be non-nullable. The Mayavadis, however, will declare that every attribute known to man would have to be nullable for the Supreme Lord. When a null value is entered in a column, there is essentially no value; there is no equivalent. When writing queries to pull up data, one cannot search for values where “Has Brown Eyes = null”. The correct terminology for the query would be “Has Brown Eyes is null”. “Is” means something completely different from “equals” in terms of comparison.

Under a viewpoint derived solely from logic and argument, the impersonalist’s assertion is considered valid. The human brain is incapable of understanding mutually contradictory states, or attributes that exist simultaneously within one object. For example, in mathematics, one plus negative one always equals zero. If we take one value and add its negation, the result is always zero. This is where the conclusion of the Supreme Absolute Truth being formless is derived from. A human being has hands, legs, arms, and a face, so if the Supreme Lord is supreme, He must not have any attributes. As soon as the Absolute Truth assumes qualities, His abilities become limited, thus invalidating His property of being Absolute.

“A spiritual body is not formless; it is a different type of body, of which we cannot conceive with our present mundane senses. Formless therefore means devoid of mundane form, or possessing a spiritual body of which the nondevotee can have no conception by the speculative method.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.32 Purport)

Lord Krishna So does this mean that God is formless? The impersonalist’s viewpoint is limited because it relies solely on logic and argument, both of which are products of the material world. The human brain, being a material object, is limited in the sense that it is created, maintained, and destroyed. Therefore any conclusion that it derives on its own must be flawed. The mind is incapable of thinking beyond dualities, time, and space. Therefore to understand the Absolute Truth, one must go beyond the limits of esoteric knowledge and take to understanding spiritual information from authority. There is certainly an inherent element of faith involved in this technique, but then which endeavor in life is devoid of faith and truth? The Mayavadis use logic and argument, but at the end of the day, they invest fully in the abilities of the mind. This is the same mind which can mistake a snake for a rope and a mirage for an oasis. By putting trust in the authorized words of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, and His representatives, one can break free of the bonds of time, space, and duality.

“Krishna who is known as Govinda is the Supreme Godhead. He has an eternal blissful spiritual body. He is the origin of all. He has no other origin and He is the prime cause of all causes.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.1)

The personalists understand that the Supreme Absolute Truth is full of form and life, sach-chid-ananda. His body is eternal and always blissful. Though He has an ever-existing transcendental body, He kindly takes to other non-different forms to allow the conditioned living entities a chance to develop an attachment to Him. This attachment, which is held tight by the bond of pure love, gives the devotee a far greater reward than the cessation of birth and death. The reward for pure bhakti is the eternal association of the full of form Supreme Lord.

Lord Krishna To understand the actual position of Krishna, we can revisit the database example. While the impersonalists will declare that since Krishna cannot have eyes which are both brown and not brown, He must therefore be nothing, the correct way to describe Krishna’s features is to say that He has brown eyes, doesn’t have brown eyes, and also doesn’t have brown eyes and has brown eyes simultaneously. This means that all three acceptable values in the database table – true, false, and null –are ascribed to Krishna. This is the actual valid definition of the Supreme Lord’s position. He most certainly can possess brown eyes because, as God, nothing is beyond Him. If He chooses to not have brown eyes, He can arrange for that also. And if He decides to remain formless, free of any eyes and eye color, His position remains unchanged. The Supreme Lord, as the all-knowing and all-powerful, can take to any form, including one that is formless, at any time. The living entities are certainly Brahman, but Shri Krishna is Parabrahman, the most potent form of the Truth.

The eye color example deals with boolean values, but we can use quantitative analysis as well. Let’s say we have another attribute in the People table for height, which is represented in centimeters. One person may have a height of 100 cm, while another’s is 500 cm. Again, the Mayavadis will say that the Absolute Truth cannot be limited to a single height; therefore He must not have any height at all. They would enter a null value for His height in the table. In actuality, however, Krishna’s height is immeasurable. He can have a height of 100 cm, 500 cm, a null height, and even one that is infinity. Infinity is a numerical value that is always greater than any real number. Infinity implies that the number is so large that it cannot be conceived of. Since Krishna is all encompassing, the lengths of His hands, legs, arms, etc. cannot be measured. Depending on the time and circumstance and the mood of the devotee, the Lord can assume a small height, as He did in His Vamana avatara, a large height, as He did when He showed the universal form to Arjuna, or no height, as He does in His all-pervasive energy of Brahman.

temp12 While the information thus presented represents a somewhat esoteric analysis, it gives credence to the fact that the Supreme Lord is all-merciful and all-powerful. He has different forms and different manifestations, each of which provides different benedictions to the devotee. Even an atheist is a devotee of Krishna; they are simply worshipers of His external energy known as maya. The result of worshiping maya is the continuation of reincarnation. The worship of Brahman is the loss of identity through the merging of the soul with a blissful energy. The Buddhists have a view similar to the Mayavadis, except they don’t believe in an Absolute Truth. They take Brahman to be nothing, or nil; just a lifeless energy. Worship of Krishna or one of His vishnu-tattva forms results in ascension to the imperishable spiritual sky, where one gets to keep their identity while engaging in pleasurable pastimes with the sweet, fully formed, blissful Supreme Lord. If there is variegatedness in the material world, variety must certainly also exist in the spiritual realm and in the form of the Personality of Godhead. By regularly chantingHare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and taking to bhakti-yoga in general, we can find that fully-featured, all-powerful, Supreme Object of Pleasure: Shri Krishna.

Friday, December 3, 2010


Shri Hanuman “O sinless one, certainly, how can any king accomplish his objectives if he doesn't have such a messenger working for him?” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.34)

In many professional sports leagues and organizations, awards are given out at the end of each season. These trophies acknowledge excellence and achievement by specific individuals. Usually there is an ultimate prize or series of prizes each year in a given sport. With team sports, the ultimate prize is the championship at the end of the season, but the annual awards are nice because they recognize individual achievement. Of all the individual awards given out, the Most Valuable Player trophy is the one most coveted. Due to its insightful name, this award has been the subject of much controversy over the years. When it comes to spiritual life, however, there is no greater MVP than Shri Hanuman, a fact validated personally many thousands of years ago by Lord Rama, God Himself.

Bobby Orr The controversy surrounding the MVP award usually focuses on the same issue. In any given season, there is usually one player that stands out in achievement. For example, in the National Hockey League, the “best” player each year is usually the top scorer, the person who tallies the most combined goals and assists. Sometimes a goaltender or defensemen will also be up for the MVP award, but this is usually only if they also have outstanding statistics. For a goalie, the statistical analysis focuses on wins, shutouts, goals against average, and save percentage. With defensemen, the plus/minus metric is taken into consideration, in addition to the point totals. Defensemen and goalies have their own awards each year specific to their position, so this makes it more difficult for them to win the most valuable player award as well. In special situations, like with the famous defensemen Bobby Orr, the achievements of a player are so great that they transcend their position.

Nevertheless, it’s usually seen that the MVP award goes to the player who has the best statistics in the season. In baseball, it’s the player with the most home runs, runs batted in, batting average, etc. In football, it’s the player with the most touchdowns scored, rushing yards, or the highest passer rating. The title of the award actually doesn’t reference anything relating to outstanding achievement or statistical milestones. This is where the controversy comes into play. Some take the term MVP literally, so they feel that the award should be given to a player who provided the most value to their team. For example, one player may not have had as great a season statistically as someone else, but their leadership proved vital in the team’s success. In football, for example, the quarterback is usually the most valuable player, a person who makes the biggest difference for the team. When deciding who was most valuable for a particular season, a reviewer must make a guess as to what would have happened to a team if the player in consideration wasn’t on it.

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

The same criteria for analysis can be applied to the spiritual efforts of notable personalities of the past. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, prescribe many rituals and regulations for people to follow, starting from childhood all the way up until the end of life. Even though there are many prescribed regulations, the ultimate objective remains the same: to become God conscious at the time of death. The laws of nature are pretty straightforward in this regard. Whatever a person’s consciousness is at the time of death, that state they will attain without fail in the next life. This information is confirmed in the famous Bhagavad-gita, a discourse on philosophy, religion, and the meaning of life given by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is given this title because the word “God” doesn’t accurately convey His potencies and His position in relation to the universe. God is one, but there are many forms of God; hence the term “Godhead”. Though there are many forms, only one can be considered original and thus supreme. That form is Krishna. God can be viewed as an impersonal energy, a gigantic energetic force responsible for the movements of all the planets and the elements contained within. While this impersonal feature, which is known as Brahman, certainly does exist, the original form of God is still a personal one.

One who thinks of Krishna, or God, at the time of death immediately puts an end to reincarnation. The soul is eternal in its constitutional makeup, but it can be thrust into an endless cycle of suffering known as samsara. The pain and misery occur when the soul becomes embodied in a material form. This embodiment continues life after life, as determined by the living entity’s consciousness at the time of death. However, if the consciousness is fixed on God at the end of a particular life, the soul is put into a spiritual body in the next life. This spiritual body resides in the spiritual world, an imperishable realm where God and His various personal expansions reside. This place is so wonderful and pleasurable that the soul never has to leave it.

Lord Krishna So how do we ensure thinking of Krishna at the time of death? To help us along, there are the famous Vedic scriptures such as the original Vedas, Ramayana, Puranas, and Mahabharata. These texts are composed in Sanskrit, which is the oldest and most difficult language to understand. In order to truly comprehend Vedic wisdom, one must approach someone who already understands the truths expounded in these great texts. What if we can’t find such a person? What should we do? Luckily for us, the celebrated devotees of the past have written their own commentaries on the famous Vedic texts. They have also put forth a tradition of deity worship and the singing of devotional songs. In this way, we can approach God or one of His representatives simply by visiting a temple or singing a famous song. The most famous chant of all is the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This is considered the most sacred formula, something which is a means and an end towards spiritual realization. Due to this unique property, one can chant this formula at the beginning of their spiritual practice, and continue to chant it all the way through the liberated stage. One needn’t even read any Vedic text or visit any temple if they are regularly chanting this mantra. Krishna and Rama are names of God and Hare refers to His energy, so by regularly repeating this sacred formula without offenses, one is covering all their bases. Such an adherent is directly associating with God.

In addition to the maha-mantra, there are other famous songs penned by great devotees of the past. One of these songs is the Hanuman Chalisa, an ode to Shri Hanuman authored by Goswami Tulsidas. Millions of people around the world chant and sing this hymn on a daily basis to have association with the faithful servant of Lord Rama. And why is it important to associate with Hanuman? Many thousands of years ago, Krishna appeared on earth in the form of a human being named Rama. Krishna is God, but the Lord likes to come to earth from time to time to enact pastimes, reinstitute the principles of religion, and also to give pleasure to those who love Him. Rama certainly fulfilled all of these purposes. He was loved and adored by all in His hometown of Ayodhya. He punished many demons and also gave pleasure to the great sages around the world.

Rama and Lakshmana with Hanuman One of Lord Rama’s most famous devotees got to meet the Lord face to face and offer service to Him. This person was none other than Hanuman, the chief minister of the Vanara king Sugriva. Vanaras can be thought of as monkeys, but since the events of Rama’s life took place so long ago, even the monkeys were highly advanced in those times. Hanuman had the special capability of being able to assume any shape at will. This power came in handy when Sugriva one day saw two princes approaching the forest of Kishkindha. Fearing that these two princes were sent by an enemy to kill him, Sugriva asked Hanuman to go see what they wanted. Hanuman then assumed the guise of a mendicant and humbly submitted himself before the two beautiful warriors.

Hanuman was awestruck when he met the two visitors. Though he was tasked with gathering intelligence in relation to the purpose of their visit, he couldn’t help but praise the two young men, especially the older one who had a darker complexion. In addition to being brave, strong, and pious, Hanuman was also an expert Sanskrit scholar. On the fly, without thinking, he was able to compose beautiful Sanskrit poetry in praise of the two princes. Who was Hanuman praising? Why none other than Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana.

At the time, Rama was looking for His wife Sita Devi, who had just gone missing. After hearing the nice words from Hanuman, Rama had a short conversation with Lakshmana. The Lord was quite moved by Hanuman’s speech, taking him to be a friend and someone He should align Himself with. Sugriva was the king of Kishkindha, and Rama was a king in His own right. For this reason, the Lord didn’t respond to Hanuman directly, but rather instructed Lakshmana on what to say.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama In the above referenced statement, we see Lord Rama offering the highest praise for Hanuman. Prior to this, the Lord had remarked on how learned Hanuman was, and how he had no defects. Rama noticed that his grammar and speech were perfect in every respect. But this praise wasn’t enough. It would have been a wonderful enough compliment if the Lord had said, “Any king who has such a messenger is sure to meet with success.” This in and of itself would have greatly enhanced Hanuman’s stature. The purport of such a statement is that a king may or may not have a messenger like Hanuman, but if they did then their chances of success would be greatly increased. But Rama went much further than this. He wondered aloud how anyone who didn’t have such a messenger as Hanuman could ever meet with success. This opinion has a much larger scope of restriction, for it states that no monarch, regardless of their power or strength, can have their objectives accomplished without having a servant like Hanuman. This means that for one who is in a position of power, such as a king or leader, they must have Hanuman as a counselor, or at least someone on a level equal to him.

Hanuman deity So how does this requirement apply to us? The majority of us aren’t of the royal order, nor are there many monarchies in existence today. Yet we are kings, in a sense, of our own bodies. The body is destined for destruction, but the soul is not. We do have a say in the future destination of the soul. In this way, we see that we are kings in respect to our future spiritual fortunes. Keeping Lord Rama’s rhetorical question in mind, we can deduce that in order to achieve the ultimate perfection in life, that of going back to Godhead, we must have the association of Hanuman or someone like him.

Hanuman is a pure devotee of God. The “pure” in this context means someone who has no other interest except serving God. It’s not that Hanuman is callous or mean towards others; it’s just that he only wants to be in Rama’s association at all times. If not personally with the Lord, Hanuman at least wants to hear about Him or read about His great exploits documented in the Ramayana. It is for this reason that the glories of Lord Rama are sung in Hanuman temples around the world. Praise of Rama is done for the benefit of Hanuman; it is his greatest source of happiness.

Association with Hanuman in his temple is not a one way street though. We please Hanuman by singing Rama’s praises, and he pleases us by showing us the proper path. Hanuman is the gatekeeper to Lord Rama’s kingdom, so if anyone wants association with God in His form of Shri Rama, they must receive the blessings of Hanuman first.

Hanuman If we want to achieve success in life, we must follow the path set forth by the great devotees of the Lord. The bhaktas are already on the perfectional stage, so they can kindly show us the proper way. Not only does the association of a devotee allow us to be successful in our spiritual pursuits, but it is actually impossible to achieve this success without the association of said devotee. In this way, kind-hearted souls like Hanuman prove ever worthy of the title of MVP.

Thursday, December 2, 2010


Radha Krishna “Raising my hands, I declare, ‘Everyone please hear me! String this verse on the thread of the holy name and wear it on your neck for continuous remembrance.’” (Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 17.32)

Names, account numbers, social security numbers, dates of birth, and phone numbers are different identifiers which point to a person or entity in the business and educational worlds. Since these values are easier to remember and unique enough to account for overlap, they serve as ideal identifiers. But a simple name or similar value doesn’t necessarily tell us everything about the person it belongs to. Rather, identities are based on qualities, activities, and attributes. Since a person can live for a long time, the sum total of these features can be difficult to remember and describe at one time. Therefore more compact identifiers are used by others when addressing such personalities. While there are complexities involved in the descriptions of the average individual, there is one person whose activities are limitless and beyond description. Since this person is the Supreme Loveable Object, He kindly provides us with different identifiers to use to gain His association. Of all the different identifiers for the Supreme Divine Entity, there is one string of characters which serves as the most complete address, a callout which can never be mistaken with any other person or entity.

Lord Krishna To help us understand the purpose behind the use of identifiers, let’s take the simple example of a credit card. Charge cards are issued by banks who hope to turn a profit through lending money. A credit card allows for purchases to be made without having to pay cash up front. There is an inherent promise to pay from the cardholder with each transaction. At some point in each month, the billing cycle day, a cardholder receives their statement, which lists the amount due on their account and the date the payment must be received by. Since a bank issues many credit cards, they need a system of record which holds information about the cardholders and their purchases. Moreover, this system must allow for customers to quickly and accurately update, delete, and access various aspects of their account information. On the business side of things, the system of record, which is a database management system, allows for a variety of business intelligence operations such as key performance indicator reporting, trending, data mining, and profit and loss analysis.

When an individual applies for a new credit card, they fill out various pieces of information such as their name, address, phone number, date of birth, and social security number. Out of all of these values, the social security number is the most unique; yet this alone isn’t used to identify the issued credit card. Since one person may hold more than one credit card, in the system of record each card will have the same social security number. Obviously when the bank wants to store information about a particular card, they will input all the values given to them by the customer. So in actuality, the most accurate identifying information for each credit card would be the collective sequence of the different values inputted, such as the social, name, address, etc.

Credit Cards When inputting information for a new credit card, the combination of these different values will be necessary and sufficient in identifying the credit card. But what if we want to access information later on? What if during a specific transaction at a merchant, the system of record wants to access that specific card and be able to create a new transaction record which stores the amount, location, and date of purchase? Looking up the credit card based on the combination of name, social, address, and date of birth would be an expensive operation from the database perspective. The operation is made more difficult when additional records are introduced into the system. We can think of it in this way: Say that all this information was stored on paper in files, and say that we had over one million different accounts at a particular bank. If we wanted to look up information for a specific account in a matter of seconds, it would be nearly impossible if we had to match all the values for name, social, and address. Even if our paper records were filed based on the sequence of names, i.e. alphabetically, this sorting wouldn’t help with the matching of social security number and address.

Database system Due to these complexities, bank cards, and any establishment that uses a database management system, will issue unique identifiers at the time of creation for an account. When the account is first entered into the system, it is issued an account number, something which uniquely identifies the specific combination of values submitted by the cardholder. This account number is often simply an identity value which is incremented by a set number with every insert. For example, the first account holder would get account number “1”, the next person “2”, the next “3”, and so on. This account number is then used for all transactions and historical analysis. When there is a point of sale transaction, it is the account number that is validated. In a database system, in the specific table an index is created on these account numbers, which makes the lookup operation lightning fast.

In this way, we see that the account number is simply a representation of a specific set of values or attributes. The account number directly associates to a specific person, their charges, and their personal information. This sort of identifying technique is used in all areas of life. For example, the page number of a book uniquely identifies all the words contained on a specific page. If we read something of interest on a particular page, we would never tell our friends, “Hey, go to the page which has the following words…” For starters, it is highly unlikely that we would remember the exact words on a specific page. Secondly, it would be nearly impossible for another person to find a page by trying to match all of the words on it. The page number is a much more concise, and still accurate, identifier for the information contained on a specific page. Thus there is no difference between the number of a page and the words the page contains.

Lord Krishna's activities In a similar manner, the name of the Supreme Lord is considered non-different from Him. Our own names identify our activities, times of birth, and attributes. For an individual, it is almost impossible to accurately account for every activity and attribute, so the name serves as a way to describe and identify their activities. For the Supreme Lord, an entity who has every auspicious attribute imaginable, the task of accurately describing His relevant features becomes even more difficult. Therefore the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, refer to Him by thousands of names. The names which most accurately describe Him, however, are Krishna and Bhagavan. Krishna means all-attractive; so this points to the Divine Entity’s ability to attract the hearts and minds of every individual in existence. Bhagavan means that the Lord possesses every fortune imaginable, to the fullest degree and simultaneously. He is the wisest, strongest, most beautiful, wealthiest, most famous, and most renounced person in the universe.

The name of God is non-different from Him. Therefore, when we call out to Krishna, we are directly addressing the Lord. Similarly, the name Rama refers to His ability to give transcendental pleasure. This name also refers to His non-different expansion of Lord Ramachandra. Though the name of God is non-different from Him, there are some limitations to this name. This point of view generally isn’t noted, for the name of the Lord is certainly sacred and free of defects. The limitation is actually from the point of view of the conditioned living entity. The name of the Lord identifies Him, and since God is free of defects, so are His names. Yet if we do a careful analysis, we’ll see that there is actually a more accurate way to directly address God that doesn’t leave any room for error or misunderstanding.

As mentioned before, a name serves as an accurate identifier. If someone calls us by our name or invokes our name in the company of others, our associated facial features, speaking voice, physical appearance, and activities immediately come to mind. There is an issue, however, if someone else possesses the same name. This occurs quite often with common last names in America such as Smith, Johnson, Rodriguez, and Jones. In India, last names such as Patel, Singh, and Sharma are also very common. If many people are identified with the same combination of first and last names, the resulting full name loses its individuality and hence some of its value. In these instances, other attribute values are required, such as a date of birth, middle name, or age, to make an accurate identification.

“Ajamila was a great sinner during his life, but at the time of death he accidentally called for his youngest son, whose name was Narayana, and the attendants of Lord Vishnu came to relieve him from the bonds of Yamaraja, the superintendent of death.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 3.57)

Ajamila being saved The names of God are often given to children by parents who are spiritually conscious. This is actually done out of love for the Lord. Since the name of Krishna is non-different from Him, if a parent names their child Krishna or Rama, they will essentially be saying the name of God all the time. If we happen to say this name at the time of death, we will immediately be granted liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Our bodies are certainly not ever-existing, but our souls are. The soul goes through reincarnation, one birth after another, until it sincerely desires Krishna’s association in the spiritual world. When desires are purified, the soul is immediately taken back to the spiritual world. The sincerity of these desires is measured at the time of death. If one’s consciousness is fixed on Krishna as the life breath is about to leave the body, they will immediately be transported to the spiritual sky, where they will remain forever. By naming their children after Krishna or one of His various expansions, parents increase the likelihood that they will say the Lord’s name at the time of death, as was the case with the famous Ajamila, who called out to his son Narayana [another name for Krishna] at the time of death and was thus saved from going to hell.

There is actually one small limitation to the practice of naming children after God. Goswami Tulsidas, the great devotee of Lord Rama, accurately points this out in his Dohvali. The issue arises when the child named after God later turns out to be a miscreant or a non-devotee. If someone is an enemy of God, the good people of the world will not want to associate with them, even if they are named after Krishna, Rama, or a great devotee like Hanuman. And since the name of a person identifies them, if a pious person were to see or hear the name of such a miscreant, they would not want to say it or even think of it. Tulsidas references this effect to emphasize just how strong a negative influence the miscreants of the world can have on the rest of society. Essentially he says that a rascal is such a nefarious character that even if they are named after God, no one will want to say their name or think of them. Since they are the lowest of mankind, they make the pure devotees of the world hesitant to say or look at their name.

Tulsidas Tulsidas is indeed correct, for if there is someone who we don’t particularly like, seeing their name will put is in a bad mood. We have actually experienced this in our personal life, where we have had the misfortune of reading commentaries on spirituality made by Mayavadis and non-devotees who had such names as Hanuman, Krishna, Ramachandra, etc. They have been given such beautiful names by their parents, but their influence on others is so negative that simply by seeing their names, one is turned off. This certainly isn’t a defect in the name, but rather a flaw in the person and their activities. In this way, Tulsidas tells us to strictly avoid the association of such people, for they even give God a bad name.

The names of the Lord are certainly accurate identifiers, but we see that there are small limitations in the way that the name is invoked by others. Luckily for us, there is one foolproof address, a string of words that can be used to call out to the Lord. This collection of words isn’t very long, so it is easy to remember. Moreover, it can never be misidentified with impersonalism, the plea for material gains, the desire for merging into an energy, or even the acquisition of yogic siddhis. This string of sixteen words addresses the Lord in a kind and loving way. It asks the Lord and His energy for their association for eternity. Thus it forms the perfect prayer, and at the same time accurately identifies the Lord’s most important and unique attribute: His mercy. Since this collection of words is composed in Sanskrit and can be sung or spoken in different tunes, it is also known as a mantra. Since it is the greatest prayer, it is known as the maha-mantra. Anyone who chants this mantra regularly will be forever benefitted.

Maha mantra There are certainly many Vedic mantras, which each address the Lord in different ways. A mantra is simply a series of words which are uttered for a purpose, a phrase which delivers the mind from a precarious condition. In this world, we often find ourselves in a variety of difficult situations, but the root cause of all problems is our separation in consciousness from the Lord. By chanting the maha-mantra, the mind and the soul can be delivered from this worst of conditions. Therefore, for the people of this age, the only recommended spiritual practice is the chanting of the sacred formula, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This holy sequence of words represents the Lord and His pleasure potencies completely and fully. Every attribute, pastime, feature, and activity of the Lord is included in this greatest of identifiers. Through regular chanting of this mantra, there can be no mistaking who we are addressing and what we are asking for. This transcendental sound vibration immediately reaches the spiritual world and lets the Lord know that we earnestly desire His association. Hearing such an honest plea, He will most certainly deliver us.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Secretary of State

Hanuman “Whose heart is not moved by these wonderful words, which emanate from three places [the chest, throat, and head]? Even an enemy, who has his sword uplifted, would be touched by such words.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.33)

One of the more intriguing positions in the American government is the Secretary of State. When a new administration takes over, new Cabinet appointees require approval by the Senate, so there is much fanfare in anticipation of who will fill the key positions. The Secretary of State is noteworthy because they don’t spend much time in the country. Their job responsibilities call for travel around the world and the spreading of the message of the government. In this way, we see that the person who fills this key position must be very learned, kind, wise, and good at speaking to opposing elements. The same concept applies in spiritual life, for the representatives of God try to persuade as many wayward souls as possible to take up devotional service. One representative in particular is quite effective in this area, with his remarkable speaking ability being on full display many thousands of years ago during a famous incident.

State Department While the Secretary of State is a position belonging to the executive branch of the United States government, similar positions are held in governments large and small around the world. Moreover, the position has existed since time immemorial, dating back to the first signs of government. Why is such a position required? Whenever borders are drawn demarcating the boundaries between countries, cities, and states, the lines indicate differences in government. A difference in government means a difference in interests. We can think of it in terms of the houses in a community. Each house is occupied by a family of individuals. The individuals must cooperate with fellow members of the neighborhood in order for there to be peace and prosperity. At the same time, each family has their own interests, goals, and financial dispositions. The differences must be shielded, or at least removed from each other’s path; otherwise there will be constant fighting.

When the workings of a small neighborhood are applied on a much larger scale, you get the current world’s situation: many large countries that each have their own interests which involve the acquisition of land, the restriction or lack thereof in relation to trade, humanitarian rights, and a host of other issues. When we have an argument with our neighbor, the result may be the erecting of a fence or the giving of the cold shoulder when walking by them. When countries argue, however, the consequences can be much worse, the most severe of which involves the death of many of its citizens through warfare. The twentieth century alone saw two major world wars along with a Cold War that lasted for several decades.

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell If we were to narrow down the justifications for maintaining a Secretary of State or chief minister into just one purpose, it would be to avoid war. Contrary to the opinion of some, most people don’t like to go to war. Violence is the last resort, and with war, there is no guarantee of victory. War depletes the treasury, causes needless deaths, and also takes away the security of the citizens. Therefore a wise leader takes every effort to avoid war. The problem is that the differences between countries can be great. Moreover, an effective leader is one who is very passionate about their beliefs. When the passions of world leaders collide, arguments can ensue very quickly. In order to get ideas across to other nations, a leader will employ a representative, someone to go and talk to other world leaders in a cordial manner, while remaining committed to the stance of the leader at the same time.

With secretaries of state and foreign ministers, we see that partisanship is usually kept to a minimum. During summits and important meetings, pleasantries are exchanged and press conferences are held where both parties praise each other’s efforts. The foreign representative’s objective is to be kind, polite, and praiseworthy, while trying to get across their country’s message at the same time. The ultimate objective is to get the other party to agree to your terms. An effective minister is one who knows how to use just the right words to melt the hearts of their counterparts. An effective representative can change the hearts and minds of millions without ever firing a shot.

Hanuman Many thousands of years ago there was an illustrious minister in the form of a Vanara [monkey-like human] who proved his ability to execute diplomacy when it counted most. This person, Shri Hanuman, is still alive today and is not surprisingly worshiped by millions around the world. Hanuman has many great qualities, but he is primarily known for his devotion to Lord Rama, or God. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, detail many different features of the Supreme Absolute Truth, including an impersonal energy known as Brahman. Brahman is compared to the rays of the sun, a blinding light that beams off of a larger source of energy. This source is known as God to many around the world, but in Vedic parlance, He is known as Bhagavan. Bhagavan is one who is the most fortunate, one who possesses all good qualities. Bhagavan’s original form is that of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna is all-attractive, and in His primary expansion as the four-armed Lord Vishnu, He is all-opulent. Vishnu then kindly appears on earth from time to time as an avatara to enact pastimes. Lord Rama, Vishnu’s form as a handsome and pious warrior prince, is one of God’s most famous avataras.

While Hanuman is eternally devoted to Lord Rama, the two still had an initial meeting. The details of this seemingly chance encounter are documented in many Vedic texts, with the accounts varying in levels of granularity. While many Vedic texts give a summary version of this meeting, the most detailed account can be found in the Ramayana authored by Maharishi Valmiki. Lord Rama spent thousands of years on earth, so compiling His biography was no easy task for Valmiki. Therefore the great sage chose to highlight the most noteworthy events of the Lord’s life, with one of them being the meeting with Hanuman. Early on in Rama’s life, the Lord had to roam the forests of India as an exile. During this time, His wife Sita Devi was kidnapped by the Rakshasa demon Ravana while Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were momentarily not by her side. In trying to find Sita’s whereabouts, Rama and Lakshmana made their way to the forest of Kishkindha.

Rama, Lakshmana, and Hanuman At the time, this forest was inhabited by a Vanara king named Sugriva. He had his own problems, similar to those of Rama. Rama had been previously banished from His kingdom, thus resulting in His fourteen year stint in the forest. Similarly, Sugriva had been driven out of his kingdom by his angry brother Vali. Sugriva sought refuge in Kishkindha because Vali was not allowed to enter that area due to a curse imposed by a sage. While on top of Mount Rishyamukha, Sugriva saw Rama and Lakshmana approaching. Fearing that they might be assassins sent by Vali, Sugriva asked Hanuman, his chief minister, to go down and see what the princes wanted. Hanuman gladly obliged, assuming the guise of an ascetic just in case Rama and Lakshmana were indeed sent by Vali.

Descending from the mountain, Hanuman approached Rama and Lakshmana in a humble way, kindly asking them who they were and what they were doing in Kishkindha. While questioning them, Hanuman went into a very nice speech consisting of beautiful Sanskrit poetry which praised both Rama and Lakshmana. This speech was so wonderful that Rama was immediately moved by it. Before responding to Hanuman, Rama talked things over with Lakshmana. In the above referenced quote, Rama is noting to Lakshmana how wonderful Hanuman’s speech was. Lord Rama notes that His heart was indeed melted, and that anyone’s heart, including that of an enemy, would similarly be moved by such wonderful words emanating from the three places where a good speech should come from, namely the head, chest, and throat.

Rama’s praise of Hanuman speaks volumes. It indicates that Hanuman’s speech, though presented as being from an emissary, was not duplicitous in any way. Since the speech was coming from the head, chest, and throat, it was not something memorized or thought up beforehand. Hanuman is so smart that he could generate beautiful Sanskrit poetry on the fly, without even thinking. How was this possible? Hanuman is a great devotee of Lord Rama, so when in the presence of the Lord, he simply has to speak from the heart. The Lord takes care of the rest, for as He accurately points out in the Bhagavad-gita, He is the ability in man.

“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)

Hanuman From Rama’s statement we also see that Hanuman would be able to move the hearts of those enemies who have their swords uplifted. When an enemy raises his sword, it means that he is ready for battle. We can compare it to scenes in action movies where the hero has his pistol upraised with his back against the wall, remaining alert for the attacks of the enemy. Hanuman is so sweet that he can even get the enemies to lay down their weapons. It is this quality of Hanuman’s that can prove to be most beneficial to us.

Upon taking birth in the material world, the living entities become enveloped in a cloud of ignorance. In one sense, this is by design, for the dense fog is a product of the initial cause for the soul’s descent to the temporary and miserable world. In order to remain here, one must be completely ignorant of the presence of the soul and its relation to the Supreme Lord. Spiritual life means coming to the platform of knowledge, understanding that eternal blissful life can only be found in the spiritual world in the presence of God. But taking to spiritual life isn’t easy, especially since the individual grows accustomed to worshiping matter throughout the course of many lifetimes on earth.

“Unless they smear upon their bodies the dust of the lotus feet of a Vaishnava completely freed from material contamination, persons very much inclined toward materialistic life cannot be attached to the lotus feet of the Lord, who is glorified for His uncommon activities. Only by becoming Krishna conscious and taking shelter at the lotus feet of the Lord in this way can one be freed from material contamination.” (Prahlada Maharaja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.32)

Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya So how do we get out of this precarious condition? How do we take to spiritual life and abandon our hopes for material fame and fortune? The Vedas tell us that the only way to attain salvation is to have the benediction of associating with a devotee, one who has already abandoned material life. A person who is not God conscious can be thought of to be donning armor and a sword. This sword is constantly upraised when it comes to dealing with spiritual elements. A devotee can be thought of as a person who has dropped their sword and armor and has wrapped their arms around the Supreme Lord.

The mercy of the devotee is that they don’t just hoard God for themselves. Rather, they perform the thankless task of trying to get others to drop their weapons in relation to spiritual life. This is where Hanuman’s true potency comes into play. After this initial meeting, Hanuman went on to form a great friendship with Rama and Lakshmana. Lord Hanuman would find Sita and help Rama rescue her. For his heroic feats of strength, his dedication to Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana, and his unselfish attitude, Hanuman was granted the boon of remaining in his body for as long as the glories of Lord Rama would continue to be told on this earth. This means that anyone can still approach Shri Hanuman and get his blessings.

Shri Hanuman What does it mean to be blessed by Hanuman? As we see from Rama’s authoritative statements, Hanuman can melt the hearts of enemies. As a result, anyone who kindly approaches Hanuman will slowly but surely take to dropping their weapons. As the perfect foreign minister of the Lord, Hanuman kindly points everyone in the right direction. Anyone who regularly associates with him will surely have their heart moved. Who wouldn’t love Hanuman? Upon seeing his face just once, who wouldn’t want to spend the rest of their lives remembering, honoring, and worshiping him? The result of worship of Hanuman, God’s devotee, is that a person slowly but surely changes their consciousness from the material world to the spiritual. This consciousness, when purified at the time of death, takes one back to the eternal kingdom of God, wherefrom they never have to return.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Powerful Prayer

Rukmini Devi “When the black-eyed, beautiful Rukmini heard the settlement, she immediately became very morose. However, being a king's daughter, she understood political diplomacy and decided that there was no use in simply being morose. Some steps should be taken immediately. After some deliberation, she decided to send a message to Krishna, and so that she might not be deceived, she selected a qualified brahmana as her messenger.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 51)

It’s quite understandable that we would pity our condition in this world from time to time. Sometimes things get so out of hand that we just can’t help wallowing in our misfortune. During these times, even the staunchest of atheists will have an inclination towards prayer and a higher power. “O God, why did you put me in this miserable condition? What can I do? It is out of my hands; I hate my life.” In these situations, or in any situation actually, pleading for help from the Supreme Divine Entity is always the way to go. Instead of sitting idly by and allowing our condition to own us, it is better to ask for aid from the only person capable of alleviating any situation. That person is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Krishna's lotus feet The root cause of our problems usually goes undetected, for that is the primary defect of the animal species. Animals perform many of the same functions as advanced human beings, except that they are limited in their intelligence gathering abilities. For example, an animal may see many of its brethren taken into the slaughterhouse right in front of it, yet when the time comes for the animal to be killed, it is completely unaware of what is going to happen. Animal life is meant for base enjoyment: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings are advanced in that they have the potential to acquire the highest knowledge. Since this potential is difficult to realize to the fullest extent, man remains stuck on lower platforms of intelligence. What does this mean exactly? If we study the nature around us for years and years and gain an understanding about high concepts such as math, biology, chemistry, and physics, our intelligence will certainly be at a very high level. Yet this knowledge is still limiting in that it doesn’t help us go beyond the base animal activities. One living entity may be a pig while another is a PhD scholar, but the enjoyment derived from eating and sleeping is not really any different. The same principle applies to the thoughts and hopes of the individual human being. One person may live in squalor, while another is in a palatial building, but the effects of disappointment are essentially the same. Whether we lose out on a particular meal or a giant merger, the sense of worry and panic takes over equally.

The highest stage of knowledge is that which informs us of our constitutional position and the primary cause of our current condition. This cause will indeed explain the reason for all of our conditions, including the initial event of birth. Though there are various religious systems in existence today, none is more complete than that emanating from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India. Though Vedanta, or the ultimate knowledge, can be quite complicated, the reason for our birth and the type of body we occupy can be explained simply by saying that we desired our current condition. God is one, and He has His own realm where He resides. The soul represents our identity, and it is unchanging. Any soul which desires God’s personal association is allowed to have it. By the same token, any individual who wants to live separately from God and imitate His activities of creating, maintaining, and destroying is also allowed to do so. Hence the souls that reside in the perceptible world all fall into the latter category. It shouldn’t surprise us that this sort of desire can only lead to misery; no one can perform activities in the same way that God can. Therefore, the solution to all of our problems is to change our desires from wanting to have our little problems fixed, to having our original negative condition, the cause for all our problems, remedied.

“Whether one is without desire, or is desirous of all fruitive results, or is after liberation, one should with all efforts try to worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead for complete perfection, culminating in Krishna consciousness.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.3.10)

Lord Krishna Obviously these are high concepts, and those who are entangled in the acquisition of inferior knowledge will not have the time to understand the position of the soul and its most ideal home. Yet regardless of one’s condition, their state of mind, and their level of intelligence, it is always advisable to look to Krishna for answers. The Supreme Lord is so kind that He doesn’t expect everyone to realize the highest form of knowledge right away. This means that the individual’s desires will also likely remain polluted for a long time. Instead of an immediate remedy, the Lord allows any person, with any desire, to have solutions found through devotion to Him. In this way, one is allowed to make a gradual progression in intelligence, with Krishna steadily remaining an object of worship.

For those who are on the highest platform of knowledge - those wanting an immediate stop to their imitation of Krishna - are known as bhaktas, or devotees. A devotee simply wants Krishna’s association and nothing else. This association unfolds through interactions in one of several different transcendental mellows, or rasas. While transcendental scholars have carefully analyzed and prioritized these mellows, in the grand scheme of things, there is no difference between them. If one person wants to associate with Krishna eternally as a friend, and another wants to be His sincere servant, there is no difference in their desires. After all, both individuals want Krishna’s association, a condition which automatically brings liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Yet for those who are not on the level of the devotees, the Lord still kindly lends a helping hand. These individuals generally fall into one of two classes: jnanis and karmis. The jnanis don’t necessarily believe in a personal God. The analogy given to explain the mindset of the impersonalist is to that of a giant ocean of water. The jnanis, those who take to studying the differences between spirit and matter as their primary occupation, believe that the Supreme Absolute Truth, God in a sense, is represented by a giant ocean. The living entities are then created when this ocean is divided up into separate containers of water. Therefore, the ultimate aim becomes the merging back into the ocean. When one is on the highest platform of knowledge, which can only be reached through devotion to Krishna, they see the folly in this mindset. Under the giant ocean model, the Supreme Absolute Truth would have to be flawed since He allows Himself to become divided and trapped in individual containers. If the Lord is flawed, He cannot be considered God. Additionally, the individual is taken as God under this model, which is silly in and of itself. If we are God, how did we become trapped in a miserable condition? If we are God, how are we not able to remember our previous lives?

There certainly does exist a giant reservoir of spiritual energy, with the individual souls being part and parcel of this effulgence. This impersonal energy is known as Brahman, and since we are tiny sparks emanating from Brahman, we too are blissful and full of knowledge. Yet Brahman is simply the outer energy emanating from the transcendental body of Krishna. If one remains stuck on argument, logic, and reasoning devised from strict interpretation of the words found in scripture, they will never be able to see past this glaring effulgence. There are other classes of transcendentalists who have similar conclusions, namely that of eliminating individuality and pain through the cessation of activity. Merging into Brahman, or its similar counterpart of nirvana, represents the loss of individuality. It is akin to spiritual suicide. Yet Krishna is so kind that He even grants these rewards to those who approach Him in earnest.

Radha and Krishna The karmis are those who want material opulence, i.e. enjoyment. They realize that life is difficult and full of misery, so they think that if they just adjust things in the right way, they can remove all the unwanted aspects of life and enjoy all the opulences in front of them. This is the mindset of the majority of individuals in this world, a thought process adopted immediately after the time of birth. This mindset is considered faulty because any final condition or destination which is devoid of Krishna’s association is bound to be a miserable one. Lord Krishna is not only God in the sense of control and power, but also in His abilities to provide pleasure. The dharma of the soul is loving association with its complementary spiritual entity: the Supreme Soul. This more powerful soul belongs to Krishna, thus making Him the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Material opulence, in the form of wealth, beauty, fame, women, wine, etc., exhausts at some point, leaving the individual empty-handed and alone in the end. By exclusively pursuing material opulence, one is forced to repeat the cycle of work and enjoyment over and over again.

Yet even if we want to enjoy opulence, we are advised to approach Krishna in a humble way. He does not force anyone to change or purify their desires. Rather, He is satisfied just seeing that people think of Him and ask Him for help. The benefit to approaching Krishna over other entities is that not only will Krishna likely give us what we want, but He will purify our desires as a result. Dharma is our essential characteristic, something that never changes with time. Therefore through constant association with Krishna, we are guaranteed of eventually reawakening from our spiritual sleep and reconnecting with our long lost lover.

If we find ourselves in an unpalatable situation, which will occur many times throughout our lifetime, we should always look to Krishna instead of just lamenting our condition. If we take action by worshiping Krishna, the chances of our rescue are increased, whereas simple lamentation and self-pity will guarantee a perpetually miserable state. One great devotee, a divine figure and manifestation of the Goddess of Fortune, proved the validity of this theory during one especially troubling time in her life. Her prayers and subsequent rescue by Krishna show us that the Lord will always hear our sincere callings for His association.

Marriage of Sita and Rama The Vedic, or Hindu, system of marriage is quite unique. As mentioned before, the material world is not our natural home. Therefore the aim of any bona fide religious system is to put into place a set of guidelines and regulations which allow a person to gradually realize this fact. Since the allures of sense pleasures are strong, one requires training from the time of birth in matters of spirituality. Therefore in the Vedic tradition, every activity is meant to be regulated, especially sex. The marriage system is seen as the license for sex life, the only time in one’s life where sense demands are allowed to be acted upon, but still in a regulated manner. To that end, marriages are typically arranged by the parents when the children are relatively young. This way, a boy and girl can live peacefully and happily together, without having to worry about finding the right person who may or may not love them for a short period of time.

It shouldn’t surprise us that those who are not very intelligent, those lacking information about the ultimate conclusion of life, will find this sort of marriage system horrifying. Movies produced in India very often focus on the theme of arranged marriages, with the typical plotline involving a girl who is in love with another man but who is then forced to marry someone else by her parents. It must be said that in the classic Vedic system, this rarely occurs because men and women aren’t allowed to freely intermingle. In the modern age, the forced marriage has become a problem due to the fact that men and women meet up and spend much time together before marriage arrangements are made by parents.

Krishna and Rukmini Yet even in the ancient Vedic system, there were instances where the bride-to-be had already sold her heart to another man. This was the case with Rukmini Devi, an exalted princess and daughter of King Bhishmaka. Rukmini was all set to be married to a king named Shishupala, a shady character whom Rukmini had no liking for. The larger problem was the fact that Rukmini had her heart set on marrying Lord Krishna. Around five thousand years ago, the Lord personally descended to earth to enact wonderful pastimes. In His adult years, He lived as the king of a city named Dvaraka. As the Supreme Lord, Krishna was highly effulgent and resplendent, so news of His uncommon and brave activities spread throughout the world. Though Rukmini had never met Krishna, she had heard of His exploits and His devotion to the pious. Simply from hearing of Krishna’s name, form, attributes, and pastimes, she made up her mind to have Him as her husband. Krishna, unlike other non-different forms of the Lord, doesn’t lock Himself down to any codes of conduct, religion, or piety. Krishna is the original and complete Personality of Godhead, so He is actually the object of all systems of piety and virtue. Therefore Krishna can accept an unlimited number of wives, consorts, and associates.

Rukmini Devi Rukmini’s desire to have Krishna as a husband was certainly indicative of her great intelligence and devotion to the Lord. Yet there was still a problem. Her marriage was already arranged with Shishupala, and time was running out. There was nothing she could do to change the situation because her father, as a hospitable king, had already invited guests and made arrangements for the ceremony. He couldn’t go back on his word now. Instead of resigning herself to defeat, Rukmini took action. She wrote a letter to Krishna, which contained her heartfelt plea to have Him as a husband, and she gave it to a trusted brahmana. The princely order is in charge of giving protection and running government, but the brahmanas are really the brains behind the operation. A brahmana is a priest who understands the spiritual equality shared amongst all individual life forms. Moreover, the deva, or god, for the brahmanas is Krishna, who is thus known as brahmanya-devaya. Rukmini entrusted her letter to the brahmana, who subsequently went to Krishna and delivered it to Him in secret.

Not surprisingly, Krishna wholeheartedly accepted Rukmini’s desire for marriage. Rukmini was so intelligent that she not only proposed marriage, but she also outlined a plot which Krishna could follow to facilitate the new plan. During those times, kshatriyas, or those in the royal order, often married women through a kidnapping fashion, something known as the Rakshasa style of marriage. Rukmini proposed that Krishna come and take her while she and her family would be visiting the temple of Goddess Durga on the day of the wedding to Shishupala. No one would suspect any chicanery during this holy time just prior to the marriage, so it would be ideal for Krishna to perform the kidnapping then. This is precisely what would happen, as Krishna would swoop in just like Garuda, the faithful servant and bird-carrier of Lord Vishnu, and snatch Rukmini away from the onlookers, which included Shishupala and other rival kings. Krishna would fend off the attacks that followed and eventually return home safely to Dvaraka with Rukmini. The two would then be married formally and live happily ever after.

Krishna kidnapping Rukmini The incident of Rukmini’s marriage shows us that it is better to pray to Krishna, regardless of our desire, than to sit back and wax poetic. The Supreme Lord may or may not grant our desires for an immediate end to our distressful conditions, but if we remain fixed in consciousness on His lotus feet, He will most certainly grant us His association. This is the greatest boon of all, something which represents the most favorable condition. In this way, the world is advised to unite under one God, the Lord for everyone, Shri Krishna. Rukmini’s intelligent and heartfelt message was delivered through a trusted brahmana, but this certainly isn’t the only way to communicate with Krishna. In this age, we can unite under one God and one mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The Lord listens attentively to this sacred chant, and He takes it as a sign that one of His fellow sons and daughters needs help; help which will arrive shortly thereafter.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pleasing to the Heart

Shri Hanuman “He speaks words which are pure, well-composed, amazing, fluent, auspicious, and pleasing to the heart.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.32)

In this passage, Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is talking with His younger brother Lakshmana about the wonderful qualities of a speech the two have just heard from the great emissary of Sugriva, Hanuman. Amongst followers of the Vedic tradition, there is likely no more a celebrated divine figure than Hanuman. For all his good traits, he is best known for his love and devotion to God. Rama, being an incarnation of that divine figure in the spiritual sky, while engaged in His pastimes on earth, met Hanuman face to face. The above referenced passage touches on their first encounter, a meeting which very much impressed the Supreme Lord. By studying the wonderful qualities exhibited by Hanuman, we can gain insight into the nature of a lover of God and what we should be striving for in relation to spiritual life.

Hanuman worshiping Rama Why is it important to become a devotee? Vedic information, knowledge which emanates from the eternal truths known as the Vedas, informs us that the soul of the living entity is trapped in an endless cycle of birth and death technically known as reincarnation. Since this cycle is viewed in a negative light, the repetition of birth and death is often referred to as a samsara-chakra, or the wheel of existence in the miserable world. Why is material life miserable? For starters, every birth has an accompanying death. Usually a person realizes their mortality at some point in their lifetime. They can understand this fact simply by studying the lives of others. Parents, grandparents, friends, and relatives all die at some point, so it makes sense that every individual must go through the same process. Death is not a welcome event because it is a forced end to one’s life. By the same token, birth is also forced in the sense that no one has control over the circumstances of their entry into their specific body. Since both birth and death are out of one’s control, it’s understandable that material life would be considered miserable.

If material life is so miserable, why are human beings even put on the earth? The material world is a sort of flawed reflection of a more purified universe known as the spiritual world. We can think of the creation as a reflection in the water, similar to how a tree appears in the waves of a pond. The reflection is only temporary, and the ripples of the pond cause the image to change. In a similar manner, this universe is constantly going through change, with creation and destruction occurring at regular intervals. The spiritual world, on the other hand, does not suffer from the same defect. The inhabitants of the spiritual world are also free from all miseries. Therefore one of the names for the spiritual world is Vaikuntha, a place free of anxiety and misery.

The purpose of human life is to allow the soul to rekindle its relationship with the Supreme Lord. God resides in the spiritual world, so anyone who wants to associate with Him will certainly be allowed entry. The problem is, however, that most living entities in the temporary realm have no desire to return to their permanent home. Being illusioned by the forces of maya, they take the reflection to be the original. In order for something to be classified as a reflection, there must be an original form. Not knowing that the earth is a perverted reflection of something real and transcendental, the living entities take to temporary material activities. This crooked path can be straightened through the acquisition of knowledge. This knowledge makes a person sober, or dhira, and gives them the intelligence to understand where their priorities should lie.

A sober person will realize that they would be better served living in a place where there is no birth, old age, disease, or death. As mentioned before, in order to reach this transcendental abode, one simply has to change their desires from material life to spiritual life. This is easier said than done, so to help us along, God gave us the Vedas. The Vedas are scriptures consisting of various branches of knowledge passed on through stories, aphorisms, mantras, and chants. As we all know, not everyone will have an interest in reading scriptures, especially when the subject matter is mostly philosophical. Not to worry though, as the same Vedic teachings can be learned by studying the activities of realized souls of the past. The eternally liberated souls, the mahajanas, set the standard for proper behavior and conduct. Since they understand that the aim of life is to work towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, they serve as the perfect role models for the rest of society.

One such mahajana is Lord Shri Hanuman, the Vanara warrior and eternal servant of Lord Rama. In the Vedic tradition, there are many gods, which are technically known as devatas, or demigods. While there are innumerable gods, there is still only one supreme controller. His original form is that of Lord Shri Krishna, who is also known as Bhagavan. God doesn’t limit Himself to His Krishna form; He takes to many expansions which allow for the living entities to become attracted to Him in varying moods. One of Krishna’s most famous expansions is Lord Shri Rama, the warrior prince of Ayodhya. Rama is not only an incarnation of God, but He is also a historical personality who appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago. Lord Hanuman is attached to God in His form of Lord Rama. In fact, Hanuman doesn’t really look at God in any other way; he is exclusively devoted to Rama in thought, word, and deed.

Hanuman Hanuman is probably the most popular deity of the Vedic tradition. This is due to his good nature and the fact that he possesses all good qualities. As he is a great devotee of Rama, his feature set shouldn’t surprise anyone. The great saints tell us that a person’s academic scholarship, fame, and fortune are meaningless if they don’t have devotion to God. By the same token, a person may be very poor, unpopular, and not intellectually advanced, but if they are pure devotees of God, they should be viewed as members of the topmost class of society. Hanuman is a notable figure in that he possesses all good qualities according to material estimation, while at the same time possessing the highest level of devotion possible to the Supreme Lord.

What are some of Hanuman’s qualities? Who better to tell us about Hanuman than Lord Rama Himself? While the Lord was enacting pastimes on this earth, He met up with Hanuman for the first time in the forest of Kishkindha. At the time, Rama’s wife Sita had been kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana, and the Lord and Lakshmana were roaming the forests looking for her. They came upon the forest of Kishkindha which was at the time inhabited by a race of monkeys [Vanaras] headed by Sugriva. Sugriva actually sought refuge in Kishkindha from the attacks of his brother Vali, who was out to kill him. Rama and Lakshmana were members of the princely order, so when they walked around, they carried their weapons with them. In addition, since they were divine figures, they had a natural luster about them. Seeing the two princes approaching from afar, Sugriva was worried that maybe they were messengers of Vali who had come to kill him. Therefore he asked Hanuman to descend from their perch on Mount Rishyamukha and see what the princes wanted.

Lakshmana and Rama Hanuman gladly obliged, and taking up the guise of a mendicant, he approached the two brothers. Hanuman is always a devotee, but due to special circumstances, from his childhood he was unaware of his extraordinary abilities and his devotion to Rama. This devotion would be rekindled once he met Rama face to face. Therefore, when Hanuman saw the Lord, he immediately went into wonderful words of praise. Eventually Hanuman revealed his true form and the purpose of his visit.

From the above referenced statement, we see that Rama was quite pleased with Hanuman’s words of praise. Since Hanuman was acting as an emissary for Sugriva, Rama didn’t think it appropriate to respond directly to Hanuman. Rather, He instructed Lakshmana to act as His emissary. While advising Lakshmana on how to respond, the Lord couldn’t help but remark on Hanuman’s wonderful characteristics.

Rama described Hanuman’s words as pure [samskara]. Vedic reformatory processes are known as samskaras, and they are considered purificatory rites which allow for gradual elevation in spiritual understanding. Though Hanuman’s initial guise wasn’t real, his words were pure; they were not tainted with any selfish motives or duplicity. Since Hanuman’s words were all in praise of the Supreme Lord, naturally they were free from any impurities of speech.

“Here is another great fault. You have arranged the word ‘bhavani-bhartri’ to your great satisfaction, but this betrays the fault of contradiction. The word ‘bhavani’ means ‘the wife of Lord Shiva.’ But when we mention her husband, one might conclude that she has another husband.” (Lord Chaitanya speaking to Keshava Kashmiri, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 16.62-63)

Lord Chaitanya with associates Hanuman’s words were well-composed. Almost all Vedic information is transmitted through the Sanskrit language, which is also known as the language of the gods. It is not an easy language to master by any means, so anyone who can speak it well is considered highly learned. Hanuman was a Sanskrit scholar, so Lord Rama was impressed by the composition of his words. The rules of Sanskrit are so strict that even the slightest transgression can be picked up by the ear of one who is trained in the language. Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s most recent incarnation to appear on earth, in a famous incident once picked out a defect from a speech given by a great scholar named Keshava Kashmiri. The scholar had used the terms “bhavani” and “bharta” side by side. Bhavani is a name for Goddess Durga which means the wife of Lord Shiva. Bharta means husband, so by speaking bhavani-bharta, the scholar was essentially saying “Lord Shiva’s wife’s husband”. Obviously no one would speak like this, so the statement itself wasn’t very well composed. In addition, it also implies that Goddess Durga may have another husband besides Lord Shiva, something which is not possible at all. Goddess Durga is the model of chastity and dedication to one’s husband. Lord Chaitanya is God Himself, so it makes sense that He would be able to recognize the scholar’s flaw. In a similar manner, Shri Rama carefully listened to Hanuman’s many Sanskrit words, but He instead declared them to be free of any defects.

Lord Rama noted that Hanuman’s speech was amazing or wonderful [adbhuta]. The words were amazing because no ordinary human being could come up with them. Lord Krishna is usually described as adbhuta due to the wonderful activities He performs. By describing Hanuman in this way, we see that even Lord Rama is impressed by Hanuman. That alone should tell us how exalted Hanuman is.

Since Hanuman’s words were spoken without delay [avilambitam], they were considered fluent. The more we learn about the speech, the more amazing it becomes. Hanuman not only addressed Lord Rama with beautiful Sanskrit words which were pure and amazing, but he delivered them without blinking an eye. It’s the equivalent of writing a song or poem on the fly just by looking at someone else. Hanuman’s devotion to Rama was so pure that he was able to compose such beautiful Sanskrit poetry without even thinking.

Hanuman meeting Rama Hanuman’s words were also auspicious [kalyanim]. Something is considered auspicious if it brings about favorable conditions in the future. Lord Rama could tell that Hanuman was going to be His devotee for life and that he would perform miraculous deeds in His service in the near future. Rama wanted to inform Lakshmana that Hanuman was indeed auspicious and that the two brothers would be well served striking up a friendship with him and Sugriva. This auspiciousness mentioned by Rama actually applies to all aspects of Hanuman. It is for this reason that Hanuman is one of the most worshiped deities in the world. Any person who is as devoted to God as Hanuman is certainly will bring about good fortune to anyone they associate with.

Finally, Lord Rama states that Hanuman’s words were pleasing to the heart. The previously mentioned qualities are all well and good, but this last one certainly takes the cake. God is completely self-satisfied; He is in need of nothing. But if someone offers something to Him with love and devotion, the Lord kindly accepts it. If the devotee’s sentiments are pure enough, the Lord’s heart will be pleased by such an offering. Such was the case with Hanuman and his beautiful speech.

Hanuman - the pure devotee From this incident we see evidence of the fact that God can only be pleased by love and devotion. Knowledge, renunciation, self-control, peacefulness, kindness, etc. are all certainly good practices, but the most important quality to possess is love and devotion. This pure love should be directed towards the Supreme Lord in order for it to really mean something. Such was the practice of Shri Hanuman, and for this he is worthy of our eternal love and respect. As Goswami Tulsidas so accurately points out, Hanuman is the gate-keeper to Lord Rama’s kingdom. If we please Hanuman, a devotee who possesses all good qualities, we will most certainly achieve God’s association in the near future. As Hanuman is pleasing to Lord Rama’s heart, he is just as pleasing to the hearts of pure souls around the world.