Saturday, December 11, 2010

Justification For Faith

Shri Lakshmana “I am His younger brother, Lakshmana by name. Due to His transcendental qualities, I have taken up service to Him, as He is grateful and very knowledgeable.” (Lakshmana speaking to Hanuman about Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.12)

“Worship God and be forever benefitted; just surrender yourself to the Almighty and become free from the reactions to sin.” These are some of the common recommendations given to the spirit souls classified as wayward, those who haven’t yet dedicated their lives to spirituality. While these prescriptions are certainly correct in their underlying assertions, sometimes the doubting soul needs justification, tangible evidence of the Almighty Lord’s ability to deliver one from all perils. Moreover, the cautious individual needs justification as to why this Supreme Being is deserving of such faith. Through studying the faithful relationships formed in other areas of life, the conclusion that God is most certainly deserving of the highest respect, love, and service can be reached.

Lord KrishnaProbably the most visible example of the faithful relationship in the modern age is the marriage. In days past, most marriages, at least in the Vedic tradition, were arranged by parents. Vedic refers to the Vedas, which are the eternal truths espoused by the great seers of India. These sages didn’t conjure up the knowledge found in the Vedas; they learned Vedic wisdom from their superiors, who in turn heard it from their superiors. Climbing the ladder all the way to the top, the source of all Veda, or knowledge, is reached. That original source goes by many names, with the most accurate and attractive one being “Krishna”. Krishna is not only a word that describes God and His features, but it is also the name given to the original form of Godhead.

Since Krishna is the fountainhead of all knowledge, it makes sense that the institution of marriage would emanate from Him. Being much more than a way to punish the sexually active male and grant security to the helpless female, marriage is intended to be a completely religious institution, a bond formed to allow for advancement in spiritual life, which above all other disciplines, is the foremost practice and engagement for the spirit soul. Men and women are naturally attracted to each other, so in this regard marriage is not required. No one needs to be taught how to chase after someone of the opposite sex or how to fall in love with them. The Vedic institution of marriage was put into place so as to allow for a faithful relationship to be forged, wherein both parties help each other achieve the ultimate aim of life, that of realizing God at the time of death. This consciousness, when solidified, transports the wayward soul back to its original home, the spiritual world.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Lord Krishna Gradually over time, however, marriage morphed into what it is today, a codification of a romantic relationship. The sequence of events today is more or less the same. A man and a woman meet, fall in love, and then get married as a way of putting their relationship into writing, giving meaning to their love. In this way, we see that the modern day marriage institution is one based completely on faith. Since it is formed voluntarily, it makes for an interesting study into the nature of faith and the justifications for it. When a woman agrees to marry a man, she essentially says that she will faithfully engage in his service for the rest of her life. Similarly, the man voluntarily accepts the responsibility of faithfully providing for the protection of the woman for the rest of her life.

This faith is adopted based on the qualities of the other party. If the woman didn’t believe that the husband was a worthy character, she most certainly wouldn’t offer her faith to him. She would have no reason to dedicate her thoughts, words, and deeds to him for the rest of her life. By the same token, if the man believed that the woman was unchaste, mean, and generally unworthy of affection, he most certainly wouldn’t put faith into the institution of marriage. In fact, we see that once the justifications for faith diminish, the marriage itself falls apart. If the husband cheats or the woman fails to provide adequate satisfaction to the man, the faithful relationship quickly erodes and sometimes completely dissolves through the divorce process.

George Washington Faithful relationships are formed in areas outside of marriage as well. The military is an institution where faith and service are required. Once again, this faith isn’t adopted easily or without justification. By enlisting in the military, one voluntarily puts their life on the line for the safety of others. In this way, volunteer fighters can be considered to be benevolent and unselfish. Yet in military engagements of a large scale, there must be a leader, a commander who directs troops as to the best course of action. These instructions are very important, for one strategic mistake can lead to the death of many soldiers. When one’s life is on the line, they aren’t likely to take instruction from another person without justification. Therefore a good military commander is one who garners great respect and faith from his followers. America’s first President, George Washington, exhibited such qualities when he commanded the rebel forces in the Revolutionary War. This war eventually resulted in America’s independence, a victory which was due in no small part to Washington’s efforts. Due to his courage, honesty, and perseverance, others took to faithfully engaging in Washington’s service.

We can transfer these same principles to the realm of spirituality. In order to adopt a faithful attitude towards God, one must know of His qualities and of which features He possesses that garner faith. The Vedas go into great detail about the Lord’s names, forms, and attributes, but sometimes just descriptions aren’t enough. To kindly appeal to the natural desire of the living entity to offer service to Him, the Lord appears on earth from time to time. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. The Supreme Lord, the original and oldest person, assumed the guise of an ordinary human being, a pious and handsome prince named Rama. Appearing in a famous family of kings, Rama also had three younger brothers.

Rama and Lakshmana Of all of Rama’s brothers, Lakshmana was closest to Him in friendship. The brothers all loved each other, but there were certain bonds formed in their childhood years. Lakshmana was like Rama’s shadow, while Shatrughna was attached to Bharata. All three younger brothers loved and adored Rama and looked to Him as a father. During the most difficult circumstances in Rama’s life, it would be Lakshmana who would accompany Him. One such troubling time was Rama’s banishment to the forest for fourteen years, an incident which was the result of a series of unfortunate events.

The misfortune wouldn’t end with the exile though. Only Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom, but both Lakshmana and Sita, Rama’s wife, refused to let Him travel alone. While residing in the forest, Sita would be kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana, and Rama and Lakshmana’s search would eventually lead them to the forest of Kishkindha. At the time, this forest was inhabited by a race of monkeys headed by their king, Sugriva. His chief minister was the famous Hanuman, the greatest of Vanaras and a divine figure in his own right. Hanuman descended from Mount Rishyamukha to see what Rama and Lakshmana wanted, for Sugriva was afraid that the two princes, who were unknown to him, had come to kill him.

Hanuman Upon meeting Hanuman, Rama and Lakshmana were quite delighted. Hanuman praised them with the kindest of words, and Rama in turn agreed to make a friendship with him. After the friendship was established, Hanuman kindly asked the two princes how they ended up in the forest. Lakshmana, acting as Rama’s emissary, answered Hanuman by giving a brief history of the sequence of events. The above referenced statement was part of that description.

In this statement directed to Hanuman, Lakshmana is identifying himself. Of all his identifying qualities and attributes, Lakshmana was only concerned with his faith and devotion to Rama. This is how the mahajanas, the exalted devotees, think. They may have many nice features and abilities, but their only concern is service to God. Lakshmana was often described as being an identical twin to Rama, with the only difference being their complexions. Rama had a dark complexion, similar to that of a raincloud, while Lakshmana was fair. But in all other respects, the two brothers were identical, including in the areas of beauty, strength, and appearance. Though he possessed every auspicious attribute, Lakshmana was only concerned with his faith to Rama.

“Rama's younger brother, Lakshmana, has reddish eyes and a voice that resounds like a kettledrum. His strength matches that of Rama's, and his face shines like a full moon. Just as wind gives aid to a raging fire, Lakshmana has joined forces with his brother. It is that best of kings, Shriman Rama, who has brought down the Rakshasas fighting in Janasthana.” (Akampana speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 31.16-17)

Lakshmana Lakshmana was a younger brother, so the standard etiquette called for him to be faithful to Rama. Lakshmana wanted Hanuman, and everyone else for that matter, to know that the cause of his faith had nothing to do with family ties. Lakshmana makes sure to point out that it is due to Rama’s qualities that he is engaged in His service. Rama, or God, possesses every beneficial feature, every quality needed for the formation of a faithful, solid, and loving bond. It was due to Rama’s kindness, compassion, commitment to protection, and reciprocation of love that Lakshmana took to serving Him.

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

From Lakshmana’s description, we can understand that of all the people in this world, God is the most deserving of our faith. Unlike with other living entities, the Lord will never let us down. He recognizes even the smallest service, so there is no reason to not at least try to be faithful to Him. In this age, the easiest way to enter into that faithful relationship, where all service is acknowledged by the most grateful of entities, is to regularly chant the Lord’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Though there are various rites and rituals associated with spiritual life, real faith cannot be established through any official ceremony. The faith must be there in the heart, and it must manifest through acts of devotion. By remaining steadfast on the path of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, we can keep up our end of the bargain as it relates to our relationship with God. With this faith firmly established, the Supreme Lord will surely take care of the rest.

Friday, December 10, 2010


Lord Krishna “The deep vibration of Krishna's flute surpasses the thundering of new clouds and attracts the aural reception of the entire world. Thus the inhabitants of Vrindavana rise and pursue that sound, drinking the showering nectar of Krishna's bodily luster like thirsty Chatak birds.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 19.42)

Question: “Krishna is often depicted holding and playing a flute. Is there any special significance to this flute?”

Answer: There are certainly different forms of the original Personality of Godhead, the almighty entity that we know as God. The varieties in appearance speak to the different natures of man. Not only are there varieties in the human species, but in fact there are up to 8,400,000 different forms of life, each of which has its own tendencies, desires, and activities that bring it pleasure. Only one person is the father of every species, and hence only one person knows how to please everyone. This entity is so potent that by taking to self-pleasing activities, He can attract the hearts and minds of those who are dying to offer their service in a pure and loving way. As the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, the Supreme Lord simply has to engage in one of His innumerable sports to give pleasure to those who are intimately associated with Him, the devotees. Of all the forms of Godhead, only the original, Lord Krishna, is capable of instigating the highest transcendental mellow, or rasa, from the purified soul. Not surprisingly, Krishna’s flute plays an integral role in this divine enchantment.

Lord Krishna Why are there different forms of Godhead if Krishna can just play His flute and attract everyone? Depending on the time and circumstance, mankind will not be so willing to bring forth his natural loving propensity. The loving propensity is a quality derived from the natural properties of the spirit soul. This shouldn’t surprise us, for though it manifests in different ways, love is all around. Love in the mundane sense is directed towards one’s neighbor, friend, countrymen, government leaders, parents, or paramour. Even hate is a product of the loving propensity, a total inversion of the emotion. When intense love gets reversed, it turns into hatred. As individual autonomous units of energy, we have free will in our actions. But this doesn’t mean that we have independence as far as results go, for every other individual has their own free will to act upon their desires.

The power of the individual comes from the soul, which is an expansion of the Supreme Spirit. Not surprisingly, this most powerful spiritual entity is the Supreme Lord. Depending on the time, circumstance, and understanding of the members of society, the Divine Entity is addressed by different names. In the Vedic tradition, the name Krishna is considered the best because it speaks to the Divine’s most important feature: attractiveness. Only God can attract everyone; hence the name Krishna, which means all-attractive, becomes most appropriate. Nevertheless, Lord Krishna, in His original all-attractive form, doesn’t necessarily remain in the material world at all times. His presence is certainly felt everywhere, as not a blade of grass can move without His sanction, but this influence is of the secondary variety. Krishna is in everything, but not everything is in Krishna.

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

Lord Krishna How is God’s influence felt on earth? As mentioned before, the individual spirit soul, which is part and parcel of Krishna, forms the basis of identity and action. Yet the results of action are distributed by the Supersoul, a non-different expansion of Krishna which resides within the heart, next to the individual soul. They say that the size of the individual soul, or jivatma, is akin to a tiny fragment of the tip of a human hair, and that the size of the Supersoul is akin to the size of a thumb. Both of these measurements are relative to the particular body, for every living entity, even a tiny ant, has the Supersoul residing within. The size of the Supersoul is proportionate to the size of the individual.

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

Irrespective of size, both souls are very powerful; yet the Supersoul has greater capabilities. The Supersoul is responsible for the memory of previous experiences and the awakening of divine consciousness. Since the soul is similar in makeup to God, it is ever-existing; it cannot be destroyed in any way. The outer covering of the soul, the body, is temporary; thus the soul can travel from different body types, one after another, life after life. Once a new body is assumed, i.e. when the event known as birth takes place, experiences from previous lives are forgotten. Moreover, when entrapped in a particular outer covering, the individual only remains conscious of its own activities. An individual might become aware of what others are thinking and feeling, but this is only accomplished through external interaction. The soul never travels into another person’s body. Even in the case of powerful yogis who can travel through space with their souls, there is no way to become conscious of what every single person is thinking.

Krishna playing with the Kaliya serpent The Supersoul, on the other hand, resides within every individual, and since it is non-different from God, the Supreme Lord automatically becomes the most knowledgeable entity. He is conscious of the thoughts, activities, and desires of every single viable living entity past, present, and future. When the individual soul takes to connecting with the Supersoul, the activity is known as yoga. When yoga is achieved in a perfect state, the individual is taken back to the spiritual realm, their original home. Once having returned, the purified spiritual sparks remain forever in Krishna’s association, enjoying His company by playing an active role in the Lord’s sportive exploits.

Achieving perfect yoga is not easy, so for the benefit of the conditioned souls illusioned by their contact with material nature, the original personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna Himself, descends to earth in various visible forms. Generally the difference between the Supersoul and the incarnations is described in terms of nirguna and saguna. Nirguna means without material qualities and saguna means with material qualities. The Supreme Lord, as the creator of matter, can never become subject to its influence; hence He is never saguna. Nirguna and saguna are from the perspective of the conditioned entity, who is unable to properly conceive of the Lord’s immensely powerful and gigantic transcendental form. The avataras, or saguna forms, are representations of the same Supreme Lord residing within the heart as the Supersoul.

Krishna and His avataras So what functions do these avataras perform? Depending on time and circumstance, specific activities are taken to. Sometimes there is a particular devilish character running around causing havoc, so the Lord takes to diminishing the effect of this cancer on society. Sometimes there are issues pertaining to evil kings who are enslaving innocent people. The Lord then personally appears, or sends one of His authorized representatives, to free the oppressed people and provide them a roadmap for spiritual enlightenment. Sometimes there is a particularly demoniac king disturbing the activities of the saintly people. Depending on the capabilities of the king and the boons previously given to Him, the Lord will take on a form that meets the criteria necessary for eradicating such a miscreant.

Lord Krishna Himself, the original Personality of Godhead, appeared on this earth some five thousand years ago. On the surface, there seemed to be an outward cause, that of the influences of a monarch named Kamsa. According to a prophecy told to him, Kamsa was to be killed by the eighth son of his sister Devaki. After killing her first seven children, Kamsa eagerly anticipated the birth of the eighth. To fulfill the prophecy and to rid the world of the harmful effects of Kamsa, Shri Krishna, in a diminutive form, appeared from the womb of Mother Devaki as her eighth child. Through a series of interconnected events, Krishna made His way to Vrindavana in His youth, where He would remain for some years until the time was right for Kamsa’s demise. Eventually Kamsa would be killed directly by Krishna in a fight, and the primary purpose for the Lord’s advent would be fulfilled.

Krishna killing Kamsa What’s unique about Krishna’s personal appearance on earth is that although there were outward purposes, the primary driving force of the Lord’s activities was pleasure. In previous incarnations, the Lord was duty-bound to specific forms, rules, and regulations. This isn’t to say that the Supreme Lord can ever be compelled to do anything, but in order to pay respect to the wishes of close associates, the Lord voluntarily abided by certain codes of conduct. In His incarnation as the warrior prince Rama, God adhered to the rules of chivalry and honor assigned to the kshatriya, or warrior, caste. In His incarnation as the half-man/half-lion, Narasimhadeva, the Lord killed the demoniac king Hiranyakashipu in a way specific enough to not break any of the boons previously given to the king by the demigod Lord Brahma. In His incarnation as Lord Buddha, Krishna purposefully spoke against the authority of the Vedas in order to stop the degraded practice of animal sacrifice. As Parashurama, Krishna took to extreme violence, killing the entire kshatriya race many times over.

In His original form, Krishna is only interested in pleasurable activities. Therefore, the pastimes and actions most remembered by devotees, those events that evoke the strongest transcendental loving feelings, are the ones enacted in Vrindavana during Krishna’s youth. Though Krishna appeared from the womb of a woman married to a member of the warrior caste, Krishna’s foster parents were of the mercantile order, vaishyas. Thus Krishna grew up on a farm, tending cows with His fellow friends and neighbors. It is seen that since in the country children have much more room to play, they will spend a large portion of the day running around on various fields and enjoying playful activities. Krishna was no different in this regard; the only difference was the effect of His activities. Krishna was no ordinary boy, and neither were His friends any ordinary children. Krishna’s associates were of the highest consciousness, yogis practicing the ancient art of bhakti. Their level of devotion was so great that they didn’t even know what bhakti was. Oftentimes there are debates as to which type of yoga is superior. Some take to yoga through intense meditation, while others take to the analytical study of the differences between matter and spirit. Bhakti, however, is always superior because it is the only form of yoga that never stops and never diminishes. Bhakti is the essence of spiritual life, the natural disposition of the soul. Only in bhakti does the yogi forget even what yoga is. When in the presence of superior company, all mundane rules, regulations, and distinctions are immediately forgotten.

“My dear sir, Krishna's form was most wonderful when He appeared on this planet and exhibited the potency of His internal energy. His wonderfully attractive form was present during His pastimes on this planet, and by His internal potency He exhibited His opulences, which are striking to everyone. His personal beauty was so great that there was no necessity for His wearing ornaments on His body. In fact, instead of the ornaments' beautifying Krishna, Krishna's beauty enhanced the ornaments.” (Uddhava speaking to Vidura, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.2.12)

Lord Krishna Krishna’s beautiful form is enough to bring supreme pleasure to the eyes. In fact, they say that Krishna’s body is so beautiful that the ornaments He wears actually become enhanced in appearance because they are placed on the Lord’s exquisite body. Normally ornaments work the other way around; they enhance the beauty of the objects they are placed onto. Goswami Tulsidas, our favorite Vaishnava poet, makes a similar observation in his Gitavali, a devotional poem which includes descriptions of the childhood activities of Shri Rama, Krishna’s incarnation in the Treta Yuga as a handsome prince. Lord Rama, whose body is similar in complexion to Krishna’s, was also nicely decorated with ornaments and jewelry in His childhood, as is the custom for mothers of the Vedic tradition to do. Rama’s ornaments were slightly different, as He wore a necklace with a lion’s toenail on it for protection. Nevertheless, the effects were still the same, as the jewelry and accessories took on their true value once they dangled from the transcendental body of the Lord.

There is a common saying that men fall in love with their eyes and women fall in love with their ears. Though the validity of such a statement can be debated, the effect that Krishna had on the ears of His transcendental associates cannot. Through the sweet, melodious sounds emanating from His flute, Krishna enraptured the hearts and minds of His gopa friends, the cowherd boys of the neighborhood. But the reach of sound is far greater than the reach of sight, so the playing of the Lord’s flute would touch all the residents of Vrindavana, including the cowherd women, the gopis. Though most of these women were married, they fell completely in love with Krishna simply by seeing Him and hearing the sound of His flute. In fact, the gopis represent the upper limit of devotion, the highest perfectional stage that anyone - be they a yogi, karmi, or jnani - can ascend to. The gopis’ minds are always fixed on Krishna, irrespective of the task they are engaged in.

“My dear gopis, what auspicious activities must the flute have performed to enjoy the nectar of Krishna's lips independently and leave only a taste for the gopis for whom that nectar is actually meant. The forefathers of the flute, the bamboo trees, shed tears of pleasure. His mother, the river, on whose bank the bamboo was born, feels jubilation, and therefore her blooming lotus flowers are standing like hair on her body.” (Gopis glorifying the song of Krishna’s flute, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.21.9)

Gopis with Radha and Krishna Even when taking part in household chores, the gopis could meditate on Krishna by remembering His form and hearing the sound of His flute. Their level of devotion was so high that simply by hearing the music produced by Krishna’s flute, they could perfectly understand the intricate workings of economics. The gopis would think that the flute itself was extremely benefitted by being able to touch Krishna’s lips. Even the tree that created the flute was benefitted. Keeping the chain of causation going, the ground that held the tree that created the flute that touched Krishna’s lips was also spiritually uplifted due to the role it played in the final outcome. Going even further, the flowers that surrounded the tree that created the flute that touched the lips of the wielder of the flute, Muralidhara, who gave transcendental pleasure to the residents of Vrajabhumi, were also forever spiritually benefitted. Our everyday material products are created through a similar chain of action; with numerous unrelated individuals performing independent actions driven by self-interest that eventually lead to the benefit of the end-user of the product. The gopis took this simple, yet often overlooked, reality of economics and went one step further. They not only understood how the flute was made, but they realized how the resultant object could be used to bring spiritual merit to the actors and activities responsible for its creation.

Is there any special significance to the flute? Why the flute over any other type of instrument? The shortest answer is a question: why not the flute? Shri Krishna, as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the only person in the world that doesn’t have to listen to anyone. If He takes pleasure in playing the flute, who are we to say that He should take to any other instrument? The flute is actually always with Krishna, even in the spiritual world. Penetrating the material elements that cover the soul, transcendental sound vibrations serve as the most effective way to liberate one from the clutches of material existence. These sound vibrations can take the form of words of instruction from the devotees and songs of praise directed at the Supreme Lord, but the most potent sound vibration is that emanating from the flute of the Supreme Lord.

Radha and Krishna Lord Krishna, though growing up in a farm community, later took on the role of a king and married many princesses. Sometimes Krishna was fighting enemies in His adult years, but sometimes He played a more passive role, as He did on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, where He served as His cousin Arjuna’s charioteer. Though Krishna is the worshipable object of the brahmanas, brahmanya-devaya, sometimes He took instruction from spiritual masters to set a good example for the rest of society. Though Krishna was a family man engaged in various daily functions pertaining to home and society, He was the most renounced person, as was exhibited by His separation from His loving associates in Vrindavana. Not only were the gopas and gopis firmly attached to Krishna in an unbreakable bond of transcendental love, but so was Krishna attached to them in the same way. Yet due to the outward cause of having to deal with miscreants, Krishna left Vrindavana behind and spent the rest of His years on earth as a king in Mathura and Dvaraka.

“My dear lotus-eyed Lord, Your statement that we are not a fit combination is completely right. It is not possible for me to come to an equal level with You because You are the reservoir of all qualities, the unlimited Supreme Personality of Godhead. How can I be a fit match for You?” (Rukmini speaking to Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 5)

Shri Krishna once mentioned many of these apparently contradictory qualities in a conversation with His principal wife, Rukmini. Wanting to play with Rukmini a little bit, Krishna sarcastically asked her why she was attracted to Him, for He was not qualified in any way to have such an exalted princess for a wife. Though Krishna was joking, Rukmini retorted that Krishna was indeed correct in His assertions, for as the Supreme Lord, no material designation could accurately be tagged to Him. No one could figure out what caste He belonged to, for even other kings would ridicule Krishna for having tended to cows in His youth. No one could understand His financial disposition either, for although He was the protector of Dvaraka, He wasn’t necessarily the acknowledged ruler of the community. Lord Krishna did not belong to any of the modes of material nature - goodness, passion, or ignorance - because as the Supreme Lord, He was transcendental to all of them; something understood perfectly by Rukmini Devi.

Lord Krishna In this way, Rukmini firmly established Krishna as the most complete manifestation of the eternal Personality of Godhead to ever appear on this earth. Not only is Krishna not beholden to any rules and regulations, but neither are His closest associates. The highest transcendental mellow, that of madhurya-rasa, can only be tasted with Krishna, the wielder of the transcendental flute. In the spiritual sky there is the original realm of Vrindavana, the ever-existing land where the sounds of Krishna’s flute are heard every day. Only those with a pure mind and heart can go there. By always remembering the images of the Lord holding His flute and enjoying with His best friends, one can ensure that the required purification will be achieved, and that at the time of death, the return ticket to Muralidhara’s realm will be kindly given as a reward.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

The Light of Day

Sita Rama “And, O most fortunate one, He [Rama], who is self-controlled, is followed by His wife Sita, just as the highly-effulgent sun is followed at the end of the day by its light.” (Lakshmana speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.11)

This is a very sweet description of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, given by her husband’s younger brother, her devara, Shri Lakshmana. Aside from being an accurate description of the beloved mother of the universe, this statement also informs us of the relationship between living entities and God. The Supreme Lord is supreme for a reason; He has dominion over all that be. No one can question His authority or His power, though many may try to. Since time immemorial mankind has been enamored by this creation, a realm which represents only a tiny fraction of the Divine Entity’s supreme energy. Frustrated in their attempts to find a purpose in life, the ignorant take to criticizing the Lord, or even to outwardly denying His existence. Through his conversation with Hanuman, Shri Lakshmana not only informs us of God’s existence, but also of mankind’s relationship to Him.

Lakshmana Since the human brain is such a formidable force, it can eventually make its way to pondering issues of spirituality. There are always those in society who will remain on a certain ritualistic path, one they inherit from their ancestors or one they choose to follow out of allegiance to certain figures. There are others, however, who require a logical backing to their spiritual efforts. After all, careful consideration is taken before starting any important endeavor, with the pros weighed against the cons, the potential gains compared to the losses, the rewards juxtaposed with the risks, etc. The same discriminating eye will want a solid foundation of empirical and philosophical evidence before jumping into any specific spiritual discipline. In this regard, the first truth that must be established is the relationship between the performer of religious practice and the object of such worship, i.e. God. If mankind doesn’t have a clear definition as to the nature of this relationship, their efforts, honest or otherwise, will go in vain. Moreover, many will simply reject religious practice altogether, for they will see no inherent need to perform activities if there is no clearly defined recipient of the fruits of such action.

On the most basic level, God is taken to be an order supplier. Those who aren’t acutely aware of God’s nature and mankind’s relationship to Him take the Supreme Lord to be someone who grants wishes. “God take care of my suffering. I know that I make mistakes every now and then, but I know You can forgive me.” Under this paradigm, the aim in life is to behave piously to the best of one’s abilities. As long as there is a good faith effort to remain on the virtuous path, God will surely reward the practitioner with ascension to heaven in the afterlife. Heaven is viewed as the panacea, a place of unlimited enjoyment, with no hint of misery or despair. While the mindset adopted by the neophyte certainly paints a nice picture, it leaves many questions unanswered. For instance, what is the nature of the enjoyment in heaven? What sorts of amenities are available there which aren’t available in the mundane world? Moreover, if we simply have to act piously in order to go to heaven, why did we take birth in the first place? What if we don’t want to go to heaven? Will we be forced to enter a realm that we have no desire to associate with?

If these questions aren’t answered to the satisfaction of the inquisitive mind, the chances of straying from the virtuous path increase. Piety involves meeting the demands of a higher power, an authority figure who lays down a set of guidelines. When dedication to piety begins to wane, the individual takes to its basic instinct, that of desiring to meet the personal demands of the body. This mindset can be thought of as the original nature of the current life, for even the animals work off of this mentality. The animal is incapable of higher thought; hence it has no clue as to who God is or what the difference is between piety and sin. Therefore the animal is taken to be quite unintelligent; a being which is even ignorant of its own mortality. The human being is wiser, however, so it knows there must be a higher purpose to action. Yet if that purpose remains undefined, the return to animal instincts is inevitable.

Shrimad Bhagavatam The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that animal life consists mainly of four activities: eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Upon first glance, this behavior seems quite similar to that of human beings. In the human form of body, the idea is not to rid oneself of these activities, but rather to transcend them, performing the necessary functions of the body subconsciously and out of necessity rather than desire. But for one who remains on the platform of animal life, the activities of eating, sleeping, and so on come to the forefront. By desiring exclusively to meet the demands of the gross body, the spiritually disinterested take to satisfying their self-interest. In general, working off the animalistic tendency, activities of self-interest involve the accumulation of wealth, fame, scholarship, and family. The key components of family life are the dwelling, the spouse, the children, and the land. When these four ingredients are present at sufficient levels, one is deemed to have achieved success in the material sense.

Yet upon closer study, we see that simply having a nice house, a beautiful wife, healthy children, and spacious land only amounts to a more civilized form of animal life. Moreover, achievement of such a position doesn’t bring about complete happiness. To see evidence of this, the typical lifecycle of actions caused by base animalistic tendencies can be examined. This analysis is done under the assumption that the individual is lacking any inclination towards spiritual life, or at the very least, they have no knowledge of their constitutional position. The first instinct is to meet the demands of the body, with the pillars of family life viewed as the end-goal. The activities that follow involve studying in school, attending university, and then landing a job which pays a nice salary. A nice salary leads to material possessions and the removal of distress as it relates to meeting the daily demands of the body. Finding food, clothing, and shelter is not a problem for one who has landed a high paying job.

What happens next is quite interesting. Simply removing the anxieties associated with meeting the demands of the body is not enough to provide peace of mind. Rather, the individual shifts their attention towards service to other entities and objects. The first object of service is the significant other; the husband or the wife. The individual spirit soul has a natural loving propensity, a desire to offer affection and service to someone or something else. The most obvious recipient of this love will be the significant other, someone with whom a romantic relationship can be formed. Yet even this service is not satisfying enough, for following a marriage, there is a desire for offspring. The service offered to children is long-lasting and unconditional. In this respect, there is much enjoyment derived from completely loving another being. Yet even this service fails to provide complete satisfaction. Since the loving propensity remains unsatisfied, affection then gets directed towards pets, such as cats and dogs. Many people love their pets so much that they speak of them as if they were their own children.

The loving propensity then expands to other areas such as philanthropy, charity, and nationalism. We can see a pattern starting to develop. The individual’s primary method of enjoyment is serving others. Service is first offered to the body through fruitive activity, but since that fails to bring happiness, the service mentality gets shifted to other areas. Since fruitive activity and service to other living entities fail to bring about ultimate peace, we can therefore classify such activities as inferior and not part of the ultimate objective of life.

Mirabai worshiping Krishna The Vedas kindly fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle. The Supreme Lord, or God, is the ultimate object of pleasure. Success in life is achieved when one realizes their constitutional position as eternal servant of the Supreme Pure and then takes the necessary steps to rekindle their relationship with Him. The terms “rekindle” and “eternal” imply that this relationship with God has existed since time immemorial and that somehow or other knowledge of this bond is currently forgotten. How did this happen? Why is mankind ignorant of their constitutional position?

The short answer is that man wanted to forget God; hence the justification for the creation of the perishable realm. Wanting to imitate the Lord, the individual spirit souls needed a playing field, one which was kindly provided to them by God in the form of the material world. In order to fully imitate God, one must be completely ignorant of His supremacy. To facilitate this, the Lord ordered His external potency known as maya to delude the living entities into a false sense of proprietorship. These facts certainly paint a bleak and hopeless picture, for if God created an energy to delude us, what hope do we have?

Lord Krishna Fortunately for us, the Supreme Lord wants us to come back to Him. There is complete independence given to the living entity in regards to their desires. It is similar to how we can never make another person love us. In order for a relationship to be defined as loving, both parties must equally consent to the formation of the bond. This sheds light on the relationship between God and the living entities. The bond between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit is meant to be a loving one. In this loving relationship, there is a leader and a follower. God is the leader, and the living entities are the followers; not just ordinary followers either, but faithful followers, loving servants who look to satisfy every need and desire of the leader. When the relationship works in this symbiotic way, there is eternal peace and happiness.

Rekindling our relationship with the original object of pleasure should be easy, but due to the forgetfulness of the living entity, the path to success is made more difficult. To help the souls reawaken their attachment to Him, God kindly appears on earth from time to time. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago when Lord Rama roamed the earth. The Vedas subscribe to the idea of a single God for all of mankind. Though there is only one God, He is referred to as “Godhead” since He can take many forms, or direct copies of Himself. Lord Rama was one such direct copy, an expansion of God equal in potency to the original. Rama appeared in the guise of a warrior prince, a dedicated protector of the innocent who was chivalrous, kind, and sweet.

Sita and Rama's marriage As with any other handsome prince, Rama had a beautiful princess for His wife. When God expands Himself to enact pastimes, His associates from the spiritual world also expand themselves to assist Him. This was the case with Sita Devi, Lord Rama’s wife. She was an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, the pleasure potency expansion of the original form of Godhead residing in the spiritual world. Sita had every desirable attribute; she was kind, beautiful, shy, knowledgeable of the rules of propriety, faithful, chaste, and most of all, completely dedicated to Rama.

Unfortunately, Sita would one day be kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. God’s primary business in His appearance as Rama was to kill Ravana, a miscreant who had terrorized the innocent around the world. In order to kill him in a fair fight, the Lord needed an excuse to initiate conflict. Sita’s kidnap would serve as the most obvious justification for eventually battling with and killing the demon.

Lakshmana and Rama with HanumanAfter Sita was kidnapped from the forest, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana didn’t know where she was. Their search landed them in the forest of Kishkindha, which was inhabited by a race of monkeys at the time. Their leader was a Vanara named Sugriva, who sent his chief minister, Hanuman, to greet the two princes and see what they wanted. Upon meeting Hanuman, both Rama and Lakshmana agreed to form an alliance with Sugriva. The monkey-king would help them find Sita, and the two princes would in turn protect him from the attacks of his brother Vali.

In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is describing Rama and Sita to Hanuman, who had asked the princes why they were roaming the forests all alone. In Lakshmana’s description, we see that Rama is compared to the sun and Sita to the sun’s effulgence. This is a great metaphor for describing the relationship between God and His devotees. God is the energetic, the source of all heat and light. The sunshine, the splendor of the sun, is its energy. The energy cannot exist without the energetic, and at the same time, the energy also gives definition to the energetic. Since the living entities are subordinate to God, the comparison to the sun serves as a way of defining the Supreme Lord. Moreover, when the energetic and the energy are together, the sun functions properly. In fact, the sun is so powerful that its position never changes. Even if the sunshine is unaware of its intrinsic properties, the sun continues to remain unchanged in its supreme position.

Sita and Rama in the forest So what does this all mean for us? The goal of human life is to follow the Lord as His splendor, just as Sita did. As individual souls, we are already inclined towards this behavior, but in the conditioned state we become forgetful of this fact. Rama is who He is, the splendorous sun of the spiritual and material worlds. When the individuals assume their proper place as His blissful energy, there is peace and harmony. In any other position, the individuals are prone to defeat, lamentation, anger, and unhappiness. Purification comes through following in the footsteps of the great personalities, the exalted devotees and divine figures like Hanuman, Lakshmana, and Sita. Just as the energetic is worshipable for its existence, so is the energy for its relationship to the energetic. It is for this reason that Lord Rama is always worshiped alongside Sita, Lord Krishna alongside Shrimati Radharani, and Lord Vishnu alongside Lakshmiji. What the Lord’s energy expansions all have in common is that they never divert their thoughts for one second from the interests of the Supreme Lord. This is the example to follow. In the current age, the quickest and most effective method for permanently acquiring the perfected consciousness exhibited by the likes of Sita Devi is the regular chanting of the foremost names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

A Family Treasure

Lord Krishna “You have advented Yourself to minimize the overburden of the world, and in order to fulfill this mission, You have glorified the dynasty of Yadu, appearing in the family as one of its members. My dear Lord, today my home has become purified by Your presence. I have become the most fortunate person in the world.” (Akrura speaking to Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 47)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, glorifies any family that He appears in and any home that He visits. Regardless of a person’s cast, color, creed, or family history, the Supreme Lord acts as the supreme purifier, the one person worth associating with. Prahlada Maharaja, though born in a family of demons, liberated generations of family members by remaining a staunch devotee. Prahlada’s reward for remaining on the virtuous path despite every obstacle thrown his way was an appearance by the Lord in His half man/half lion incarnation of Narasimhadeva. If we want to make our family proud, if we want our ancestors to reap the highest reward of piety, we simply have to become devoted to the Supreme Lord and ask Him to kindly appear in our home.

Narasimhadeva with Prahlada The above referenced quote is part of a series of prayers and kind words offered by Akrura, Lord Krishna’s uncle. Shri Krishna, as the original Personality of Godhead, obviously doesn’t have any blood relatives or parents, but when He advents on earth, He gives the appearance of accepting family members. This is done for several reasons. He wants to show others how to behave towards elders; people in positions of authority and those worthy of respect. In the Vedic tradition, the parents and the guru are to be viewed as a person’s initial objects of worship. The aim of human life is to achieve an unbreakable attachment to the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. Just as variety and sportive activity exists in the world that we live in, the same intricacies and nuances are seen in the spiritual world. If the material world were the only realm with variety, the spiritual world would become an inferior realm and thus one not worth entering. The variety and sportive inclinations of the Supreme Lord manifest through activities undertaken by His transcendental body. Devotees concentrate on the lotus feet of the Lord because feet act as the faithful servants of the body. By becoming a servant of the servant, the proper mindset of humility, kindness, and knowledge is adopted.

The original Personality of Godhead, the Supreme Absolute Truth who is eternally full of form, kindly appeared on earth around five thousand years ago in a prison cell in Mathura. This is certainly an odd setting for a Divine appearance, but then again, this entire world was created from one simple exhalation by Lord Vishnu. So in this sense, whenever and wherever the Lord appears, the time and circumstances automatically become favorable. Kindly accepting Devaki and Vasudeva as parents, Lord Krishna inherited the role of a kshatriya, or warrior prince. Since His family lineage traced back to King Yadu, the Lord was also known as Yadunandana.

Krishna's birth Akrura, though Krishna’s uncle in terms of blood relation, was a pure devotee. He knew that Krishna was the original Personality of Godhead; thus he offered the Lord every respect imaginable. Krishna, however, did not like to break with standard etiquette, so He kindly played the role of a subordinate. Akrura’s predominant desire was to have Krishna visit his home. This desire shouldn’t surprise us. Who among us wouldn’t want the president of a country or any other famous figure to visit our home? The rich and famous have many tasks to perform and places to go. If they were to kindly take the time to visit our home, it would mean that they considered us important.

No one is more important than Lord Krishna, so when He visited Akrura’s home, there was great elation felt by both parties. Generally, the estimation of a family is determined by the acts performed by previous generations, or sometimes even just one figure. For example, any person who descends from one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America surely will consider themselves fortunate. Taking birth in such a family means one becomes a descendant of a person who fought for independence and played a vital role in forming a new nation. Similarly, members of royal dynasties are given much attention simply because of their family ties to ruling monarchs of the past.

Lord Rama When the Lord comes to earth in human form, He usually chooses a very exalted family to appear in. When Krishna advented as Lord Rama during the Treta Yuga, He appeared in the famous Ikshvaku dynasty. This dynasty descends from the sun-god, Surya, while the Yadu dynasty traces back to the moon-god, Soma. In India, it is not uncommon to see devotees of Lord Rama observe specific fasts during the waxing period of the moon, the time associated with the sun-god. Similarly, devotees of Krishna often observe only the fasting periods during the waning period of the moon, since it is associated with the moon-god. The waning period is actually known as the Krishna, or blackish, period.

Needless to say, both the Ikshvaku and Yadu dynasties were already quite famous and well-respected even before the Lord appeared in them. Yet from Akrura’s statement, we see that the Lord fully glorifies any family He appears in. This is the power of pure spirit. It is said that Krishna is so beautiful that He actually beautifies the ornaments He wears, instead of the other way around. The same can be said of His appearances in high-class families. The Ikshvaku dynasty actually worshiped Lord Rama and His wife Sita Devi for thousands of years before their advent. A set of Sita-Rama deities was worshiped and passed down from generation to generation. It is said that these deities are still in existence today in India and are worshiped on a daily basis.

“I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.29)

Krishna visiting the Pandavas When Krishna appears in a family or visits someone’s home, the event can be thought of as the culmination of all pious acts. The Supreme Lord is everyone’s well-wishing friend, so in this regard He doesn’t have any favorites. Yet the devotees are so pious and pure at heart that they manage to break the Lord’s neutrality. For the devotees, the Lord is always willing to pay special attention and grant benedictions. Whether one belongs to a wealthy or famous family is not really important. Any person, regardless of their parentage, can bring glory to their family by having Krishna visit their home.

So how can we get Krishna to pay us a visit? The process is actually quite simple. We just have to have a fervent desire to bring about such a visit, an attachment to the Lord that is so strong that not having Him in our lives becomes the unacceptable condition. Adopting this mindset of a devotee doesn’t really involve any type of formal conversion either. We don’t necessarily have to renounce our current spiritual ties, familial relationships, or occupations. Rather, we are already devotees at the core. It is the constitutional makeup of the spirit soul to be a lover of God. The Supreme Lord can be thought of as a giant powerhouse of spiritual energy and the individual spirit souls as sparks emanating from that fire. The sparks are already intrinsically at one with the original fire. In fact, there really is never any separation. Even while falling to the material world, the individual spirit soul is accompanied by a direct expansion of the Supreme Spirit. This direct copy of the Lord is known as the Supersoul, and it resides within the heart, adjacent to the individual soul. If there is any parting of ways, it is in the area of consciousness. The only conversion required from the individual relates to the object of focus, the shifting of our consciousness from matter to spirit. The ultimate objects of worship need to be converted, or at least justified.

Radha and Krishna - the divine lovers Many of us already claim to be religious. We belong to a specific sectarian group that we inherited at the time of birth. Yet in order to be religious, one must practice the principles of religion. The highest religious principle is to always be thinking of God in a loving way. The narrow-minded sentimentalists will point their finger at others and demand that they surrender to such and such spiritual personality. Yet what does this surrender involve? Can we simply go through the motions of spiritual life, pledge allegiance to a specific personality, and then be done with everything? Surely there must be more to surrender. After all, we see that wedding vows are made and then broken not soon after. A wedding vow is nothing more than a pledge of allegiance to the new spouse. Yet if the marriage can be dissolved through the divorce process or through infidelity, what was the meaning to the wedding vow? It essentially amounted to nothing.

By the same token, simply saying we are Christian, Hindu, Muslim, etc. doesn’t really mean anything unless our consciousness is changed. Surrender equates to giving up our will to fight. But what are we fighting against? The Vedas tell us that in order to remain in the material world, where one is constantly tossed around in the wheel of suffering that is reincarnation, one must have a desire to imitate, forget, or challenge God. Through surrendering unto the Supreme Spirit, these desires borne out of ignorance are relinquished. Becoming a devotee of Krishna involves real surrender, the earnest desire to associate with the Personality of Godhead in one of His non-different forms. Krishna is not the only form of God, though He is the most attractive. The Lord kindly takes to many expansions so as to appeal to each individual’s natural mood of service.

Radha and Krishna dancing Any person, regardless of their religious affiliation, can become a bona fide devotee by taking the principles of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, to be their life and soul. Devotional service is known as yoga because it involves the purification of consciousness. Worshiping ourselves, our fellow man, or matter cannot be classified as yoga. For there to be yoga, there must be two distinct entities; two operands, if you will, that result in a sum. The two terms being added are the individual soul and the Supreme Soul. The resulting condition is that of pure bliss, where both parties are benefitted. This is precisely what occurred with Akrura. He became ever joyful through receiving Krishna at his home, and the Supreme Lord became pleased by seeing His nice devotee.

The unmatched benediction of the Lord’s association can be received by adhering to the regulated principles of freedom laid down by the great acharyas, those liberated souls who dedicated their lives to the service of the Supreme Spirit. The quintessential act of yoga, the easiest and most effective method for changing our consciousness, is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Though this mantra contains Sanskrit words, they are not sectarian by any means. Krishna and Rama are transcendental sound vibration representations of the Supreme Absolute Truth. These names simply speak to God’s all-attractive, pleasure-giving nature. When one grows accustomed to chanting this mantra with love and affection, they can take the next step of formally worshiping the Lord in their homes. This worship is facilitated through the archa-vigraha, the worshipable body representation of the Lord. Those who view the Supreme Absolute Truth as formless can never understand the process of deity worship. Since they can’t imagine God having a form, or they imagine their own form of the Truth, they can’t understand how one can take earthly elements such as wood and stone and engage in direct worship of the Lord.

Krishna's lotus feet The mystery behind deity worship is the purification of material elements. Matter is viewed in a negative light for as long as it is used to further the consciousness of “I am God” or “I am greater than God”. When the same material elements are used to purify one’s consciousness, they become spiritualized. This shouldn’t be very difficult to understand. If we were to receive a new laptop computer as a gift, we wouldn’t be pleased unless we knew how to use it. To a person who is unfamiliar with computers, the laptop is merely a heavy hunk of metal that takes up space and energy. For the person in the know, however, the laptop serves as a great vehicle for productivity, something which saves time and energy. Just because we don’t know how to use something doesn’t mean that it’s worthless.

“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: My dear Prahlada, O most pure, O great saintly person, your father has been purified, along with twenty-one forefathers in your family. Because you were born in this family, the entire dynasty has been purified.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.10.18)

Narasimhadeva In a similar manner, the earthly elements are useless when they are tied to sense gratification. When the same combinations of matter are used for service to God, they take on their true value. The deity becomes the most valuable possession to the sincere devotee, the one thing they can’t live without. Morning and evening, the humble sage, the aspiring transcendentalist, and the divine lover of God will offer prayers and food to this deity, taking the remnants of the offered items as prasadam. In this way, as the eyes of the sincere devotee become spiritualized, the Supreme Lord reveals Himself. As the Lord manifests in the home, the entire family becomes purified, as do generations of ancestors. The most fortunate family is the one that has a pure devotee take birth in it. With the devotee comes Krishna, and with Krishna come all fortune, opulence, and glory.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Alliance

Lakshmana and Rama with Hanuman “Thus addressed, Saumitra, a knower of speech, politely addressed that monkey, the son of the wind-god, counselor of Sugriva, and one himself well-versed in speech.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.36)

When involved in a conflict or grand struggle, several tactics can be employed to increase the chances of victory. Normally when we have a heated conflict, the basic instinct is to take on the aggressor head-to-head in a fair fight. While this method is often employed with varying results, the wise can go about achieving their desired aim, i.e. victory, while exerting the least amount of effort. If you can win without fighting or by limiting the amount of direct conflict, the better it is for your side. In this regard, one of the age old tactics employed by crafty diplomats and strategic fighters is the formation of alliances. One alliance in particular proved to be very helpful many thousands of years ago in taking down a powerful demon who had been terrorizing the world.

In the past ten years or so, the landscape of television in America has drastically changed. Gone is the domination of the four major networks with their nightly newscasts and primetime sitcoms and dramas. Now there are hundreds of channels, with the internet quickly becoming the primary source for information. Changing times call for new strategies and new business models. As a result, many of the new shows that air are reality series. A reality show can be thought of as a low-budget documentary, where cast members are grouped together in situations which are conducive towards the arousal of conflict and intense personal interaction. The name of the game is conflict, for the more fighting there is, the more entertaining the show will be.

A game show or contest really lends itself to the reality television format. A contest already involves a struggle, with contestants competing hard for the ultimate prize. With this type of show, there is no storyline to think up, no writers to hire, and no high paid actors to find. The cast and the struggle are already there; all that is required is a television crew and some fancy editing. Of the reality game shows, the most popular ones have been those focusing around some type of physical exertion, with contestants either forced to live in an exotic destination or pitted against one another in various physical challenges. The struggle for victory is entertaining enough, but what makes these shows even more interesting is seeing the personal interactions. On the surface, one would think that those who are the most physically capable would end up winning these contests. But what we see is that those who are the craftiest in forming alliances and friendships are the ones who actually end up winning.

The physically strong can certainly win challenges and advance far in these contests, but their ultimate victories aren’t guaranteed. Sometimes all it takes is one loss in a competition for a person to get booted from a show. Those who form alliances, however, have a much better chance of winning because they often times end up not having to compete in an elimination round. In many of these shows, the contest is broken down into weekly episodes, with a one-on-one duel concluding each episode. The choosing of the participants for these duels is what makes for good television. The duel contestants are typically chosen by the other members on the show; thus allowing alliances to have a major influence. If a contestant on the show can make friends with enough people, they can form an alliance which determines the duel contestants every week. Through this strategy, one can insulate themselves from having to compete, thereby clearing their path to the final challenge and increasing their chances of winning.

Battle between Rama and Ravana Alliance building certainly isn’t a new concept. The two world wars of the twentieth century involved major alliances in each conflict. Sometimes even enemies joined forces, such as when the United States and the Soviet Union allied against Germany and Japan in World War II. The Treta Yuga, a time period occurring many thousands of years ago, saw one of the greatest struggles in history. According to Vedic information, the duration of each creation is so long that it is nearly impossible to identify major events based on the exact year of their occurrence. To make things easier, the creation is divided into four time periods, or Yugas. The second Yuga is known as Treta. We currently live in the last Yuga known as Kali.

During the Treta Yuga, there was one king in particular who had amassed great power. This ruler resided on the island of Lanka, which was situated far away from any mainland. He would fly around the world and defeat many great kings, thus establishing his supremacy over all. This king was not very pious, however. Therefore he was considered a threat to the innocent people of the world. Wanting to alleviate the threat, the saintly class of living entities, the suras, petitioned the Supreme Lord to help them. Hearing their appeal, the all-pervading Lord Vishnu agreed to appear on earth in the guise of a human being to defeat this demoniac king, who caused so much terror to others that he was named Ravana.

Lord Rama In order to defeat Ravana, the Lord would have to take him on in battle. In order to battle him, the Lord would have to appear in the guise of a living entity whose occupational duty it was to fight. Therefore Lord Vishnu appeared in a famous dynasty of kshatriyas, or warriors, known as the Ikshvakus. Taking birth as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya, the Lord was given the name of Rama, meaning one who gives pleasure to all. Simply taking birth in a famous dynasty and learning the military arts weren’t enough justification to take on Ravana in battle. The monarchs who ruled over Ayodhya had established a tradition of chivalry and adherence to the proper codes of conduct as enjoined in the shastras, or scriptures. This meant that they never took on another king in battle without due cause. The most common cause for fighting was an attack by an aggressor. Since Ravana hadn’t directly attacked Ayodhya, Rama didn’t have any justification to go after him.

For the benefit of the innocent people of the world, justification would come soon enough. Rama would roam the forests of India for fourteen years with His beautiful wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana. Ravana would come and kidnap Sita while the trio was in the forest. Ravana’s transgression was all the justification Rama would need to kill him. First things first, however, as Rama needed to find out where Sita was. He wasn’t by her side when she was kidnapped, so He didn’t know who had taken her or where she went. While travelling through the forest, Rama was advised to form an alliance with a monkey-king named Sugriva. This intelligence brought Rama and Lakshmana to the forest of Kishkindha where Sugriva had set up camp.

Hanuman meeting Rama Sugriva saw Rama and Lakshmana approaching, and not knowing who they were, he feared they had come to kill him. Thus he sent his chief emissary, a monkey named Hanuman, to greet them and see what they wanted. Hanuman gladly obliged and presented himself before Rama and Lakshmana while in the guise of a mendicant. This was done at Sugriva’s command, as the monkey-king thought that by Hanuman masking his appearance, the princes would let their guard down. Hanuman immediately took to praising Rama and Lakshmana. It was as if Rama was the one person Hanuman had waited his whole life for. Not holding anything back, Hanuman spontaneously composed beautiful Sanskrit poetry and directed these kind words to the Supreme Lord.

Lord Rama was extremely impressed by Hanuman’s words, tone, and demeanor. He conveyed these feelings to Lakshmana, who in turn relayed them to Hanuman. In the above referenced passage, Shri Rama is directing His response to Hanuman through Lakshmana. Lakshmana was instructed by Rama to let Hanuman know that they came in peace and that they were ready to join forces with Sugriva.

Hanuman to the rescue Once this alliance was formed, results came rather quickly. Hanuman leapt his way to Lanka, found Sita, relayed information to her, set fire to Lanka, and returned to Rama. Then Rama, Lakshmana, and Sugriva’s entire army marched to Lanka, where Rama would take on and defeat Ravana in battle. As a result, Sita was rescued and everyone lived happily ever after. Lord Rama certainly didn’t need this alliance, for God can defeat anyone by Himself, but He enlisted the help of the monkeys because they were all devoted souls. For the identity of a declared devotee to mean something, they must have a way of showing their devotion to the Lord. Usually this love manifests through religious activities: attending church, singing songs, remembering the Lord, speaking about Him to others, etc. For the most exalted devotees, their faith in God is shown through direct service offered to Him. This was the case with Hanuman.

In order to achieve success in spiritual life, one must be crafty enough to form the proper alliances. By default, man allies himself with material nature, an illusory energy which keeps him focused on everything except the interests of the only person who truly matters. Some may be strong enough to break from this fatal alliance on their own, but as we see with other aspects of life, victory is not guaranteed in every battle. We may be able to fight off the urges of the senses a few times, but eventually we will lose. In order to guarantee success, an alliance with a devotee of God is required. This relationship will guarantee victory in the end. Just as Hanuman brought Sugriva together with Rama and Lakshmana, our alliance with the spiritual master, the purified representative of the Supreme Lord, will bring us together with the Supreme Lord. Once this relationship is established, we can go about directly offering our services to God. This service will substantiate our identity as a devotee, while giving pleasure to the Supreme Lord at the same time. Only through devotional service can the most beautiful and permanent of alliances be formed, the synergy of the energy and the energetic.

“It is not possible for a conditioned soul to directly meet Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, but if one becomes a sincere devotee and seriously engages in devotional service, Lord Krishna sends an instructing spiritual master to show him favor and invoke his dormant propensity for serving the Supreme.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 1.58 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada Where do we go to find a guru? Where do we go to meet devotees to ally ourselves with? If there is sincerity in the desire to take up spiritual life, the Supreme Spirit will kindly send the pure devotee to the rescue. To give an indication to the superior authorities that we are sincere in our desire to return to the spiritual realm, we should regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra is a call for help, the ringing of the siren bell. Chanting this mantra with faith and devotion puts a call in to the Supreme Lord, who in turn sends one of His deputies to come and rescue us. Shri Hanuman proved all-auspicious for Sugriva and his numerous monkey soldiers, bringing them together with the Supreme Object of Pleasure, Shri Rama. Anyone who is associated with a sincere a soul as Hanuman will never have to fear returning to the endless mire of pain and misery brought on by material contact.

Hanuman chanting Shri Hanuman is an ocean of mercy, a friend of the fallen living entities desperately seeking release from the constant pressures brought on by hankering and lamenting. Hanuman is not only a devotee in thought, but in word and deed as well. He is so exalted that he never falls out of favor with Rama. Wherever there is Rama, there is Hanuman. And wherever there is Hanuman, there is victory in devotional service and the defeat of opposing elements. Ravana didn’t stand a chance against the forces of Rama, Lakshmana, Sugriva, the Vanara army, and Shri Hanuman. Thus anyone tied to Hanuman through a bond of respect, love, and affection will surely make the most out of this wonderful opportunity of human life by returning to the spiritual world when their time here is over.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Strong and Silent

Lord Krishna “My dear King Jarasandha, those who are heroes do not talk much. Rather, they show their prowess. Because you are talking much, it appears that you are assured of your death in this battle.” (Lord Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 49)

This humorous, yet insightful passage is from the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown-jewel of Vedic literature. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada performed a wonderful service for humanity by providing a summary study of the tenth canto of this wonderful work. In his book, titled Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, we find accounts of some of the Lord’s wonderful exploits on earth and dialogues from His dealings with enemies and well-wishers. The sportive exploits of the Supreme Absolute Truth are the most mysterious and yet pleasure giving aspects of the Supreme Lord. Those who believe that man is God or that the Supreme Truth is formless are bereft of this enjoyment. Nevertheless, for the devotees, not only are there wonderful stories to relish and remember, but wonderful teachings as well that come directly from the Lord through His transcendental activities.

Krishna Book What makes a hero? What does he look like? How does he behave? In this one incident with Jarasandha, Lord Krishna gives us a glimpse into the differences between the natures of enemies and chivalrous men. One who is in knowledge will certainly behave differently than one who is ignorant. One who is confident in their abilities and knowledgeable as to the source of their powers will certainly have a leg up on those who don’t. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that God is one, though He may go by various names depending on time and circumstance. Of all the names of the Divine, Krishna is considered the best because it is all-encompassing. God is the most attractive person in the world, and He possesses the greatest opulences in all the universes. Since the word “Krishna” means all-attractive, this name references the divine qualities not found in any other entity.

The Supreme Lord is known as the energetic, while the sparks emanating from Him are known as the energy. Krishna can be thought of as a gigantic fire and the individual spirit souls as sparks emanating from that powerhouse of energy. Just as one cannot separate fire from its burning propensity, the individual spirit souls can never be separated from their Supreme Energetic Lord. Yet there can be a divergence in terms of consciousness. If the heat and light emanating from a fire somehow think that there is no source to their properties, there will certainly be ignorance. Though ignorance can arise, the reality of the situation doesn’t change. Regardless of whether heat and light are knowledgeable of their source, the fact remains that the original fire is more powerful than whatever emanates from it.

By the same token, the individual spirit souls, through their descent to the material world, may become forgetful of their relationship to Krishna, but the reality of the inherent link never changes. This truth is reinforced by the fact that the Supreme Lord directly expands Himself as the Supersoul and accompanies the conditioned individual soul in its travels through various bodies in the material existence. A particular lifetime, or the duration of existence for a particular body, is merely a unit of measure, an indication of a certain elapsed period of time. Just as our identity doesn’t change upon the dawning of each new day, the properties of the soul don’t change after death. Each birth can be thought of as simply a new demarcation of time, a resetting of the life clock if you will.

“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)

Lord Krishna Those who become aware of this perpetual cycle of birth and death can take the necessary steps to stop it. One who realizes that they are inherently part and parcel of the Supreme Energetic can take steps to change their consciousness. The thoughts and desires that come to the forefront at the time of death determine the impending body of the dying individual. If the thoughts are focused on the Supreme Spirit, the soul is awarded a spiritual body in the afterlife. Any other consciousness will result in rebirth in a material body. We can think of the individual soul as being tossed around in a clothes-dryer. When the individual is completely dried up of material desires, they are let out of the drying machine. Death represents the time when the soul is checked to see whether it has become fully dry or not. Depending on the nature of the activities an individual engaged in during their lifetime, they can become fully damp again in the next life. Therefore, the wise take to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which guarantees a release from the spinning cycle of rebirth, a cycle which is anything but gentle.

How does one practice bhakti-yoga? The singular component of bhakti is the association of the Lord, a connection easily brought about through the transcendental sound vibrations of His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The ancillary components of bhakti involve the acquisition of knowledge and the taking to renunciation. Knowledge and renunciation, jnana and vairagya, aren’t requirements for liberation or the attainment of pure love for Krishna, but they can certainly help. Knowledge is acquired through reading scriptures like the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, and renunciation is practiced by refraining from the four pillars of sinful life:  meat eating, gambling, intoxication, and illicit sex.

“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, Bg. 7.8)

Lord Krishna For the conditioned soul, probably the most difficult concept to understand is that they are not their body. This seems a little strange on the surface. “If I am not my body then what am I?” Individuality comes from the soul and not from a body which is constantly changing. Those who are ignorant, the mudhas, are unaware of the presence of the soul. They take their own bodies and resulting abilities to be self-created. This thought process is silly due simply to the fact that every person is born completely ignorant and dependent on their family members. If we had to acquire our strength and knowledge, how powerful can we really be? Yet the miscreants, the lowest of mankind, are completely forgetful of these experiences. Not only do they boast of their own prowess, but they feel they can defeat others as well.

An example of such a miscreant was Jarasandha, the king of the Magadha province. Around five thousand years ago, the original Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, descended to earth to deal with the shady elements of society and also to give pleasure to His adherents, those sincerely desiring His loving association. In His youth, Krishna enacted many wonderful, peaceful pastimes in the holy land of Vrindavana. In His adulthood, however, He had to tend to administrative affairs related to ruling a kingdom. After killing the demoniac King of Mathura, Kamsa, Krishna and the citizens of the town were attacked by Jarasandha. In the above referenced statement, the Lord is addressing Jarasandha prior to a great fight.

Krishna and Balarama Jarasandha assembled and brought with him an enormous military force to siege Mathura. Krishna and His elder brother, Lord Balarama, didn’t have nearly as many soldiers fighting for their side. Yet since Krishna is God, and Balarama is His direct plenary expansion, the two brothers could easily defeat Jarasandha. For his part, Jarasandha took to mocking and ridiculing Krishna prior to the fight. He boasted of his own prowess and made fun of Krishna for growing up in a cowherd community in Vrindavana. This is certainly foolish talk from someone who is blinded by the light of material energy. His vision was so clouded that he couldn’t even see the Supreme Personality of Godhead standing right in front of him.

Lord Krishna mentions very appropriately that such talk is employed by fools who are not sure of their prowess. The Lord mentions that true heroes don’t speak much, for they are confident of their abilities. Not only are heroes sure of their own fighting prowess, but they also know wherefrom their power comes. Prahlada Maharaja, the five-year old devotee of Lord Vishnu, had similar encounters with his demoniac father, Hiranyakashipu. Prahlada was very mild-mannered and soft-hearted, yet completely confident of his abilities to withstand any attacks from his father or his henchmen. Hiranyakashipu asked Prahlada where his power came from, and Prahlada responded that everyone’s power came from the Supreme Lord. As the Supersoul residing within the heart, it is the Lord who is ultimately responsible for generating the results of our actions. We may take to certain activities, but the results are out of our control. For instance, one person may work very hard in the gym to build their physique, but another person can surpass their strength level without ever having to lift weights. Each person is allotted their own fortunes in life based on past karma. Yet even still, the fruits of action cannot manifest without the hand of the divine energy, which is managed by Krishna.

“Prahlada Maharaja said: My dear King, the source of my strength, of which you are asking, is also the source of yours. Indeed, the original source of all kinds of strength is one. He is not only your strength or mine, but the only strength for everyone. Without Him, no one can get any strength. Whether moving or not moving, superior or inferior, everyone, including Lord Brahma, is controlled by the strength of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.8.7)

Krishna and Balarama Not only were Krishna and Balarama two great heroes in their present forms on the battlefield, but so were their previous incarnations on earth, Lord Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. Rama was known for being very quiet, peaceful, and chivalrous. Yet He was also the greatest bow-warrior of His time; no one could defeat Him in battle. Lord Krishna turned out to be one hundred percent accurate in His assessment of the situation, as Jarasandha would go on to be soundly defeated. Having other plans in mind, the Lord let the miscreant go after Balarama had captured him. Jarasandha, leaving the field of battle embarrassed, mounted similar attacks on Mathura an astonishing seventeen times. Yet he never managed to defeat Krishna.

Lord Krishna This incident can teach us many valuable lessons. There are certainly a great number of miscreants in the world who boast of their paltry powers and abilities. Those who speak the most have the least confidence, and also the least knowledge pertaining to the source of all strength. Matter is dull and inanimate. It is incapable of transforming or acting without the hand of spirit. Spirit is known as purusha in Sanskrit, and the efforts of individual spirit are thus known as paurusham. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna states that He is the origin of paurusham, or the ability of man. Those who excessively boast of their powers are completely ignorant of the differences between matter and spirit. Jarasandha’s behavior reminds one of the theatrical antics of the heels in professional wrestling, the touchdown celebrations of professional football players, and the self-aggrandizement of blowhard politicians. The true heroes are strong and silent. Of all the heroes in the world, no one is more capable than Krishna. His faithful servants, those who act only in His interests, are similarly heroic. From Krishna’s teachings and the example He set while roaming this earth, we can learn how to decipher the contenders from the pretenders.