Saturday, December 18, 2010

Bucket List

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

There are different gradations of the mid-life crisis, the time in one’s life where the future path remains uncertain due to the majority of life’s main objectives having already been reached. To keep the spark of life going, the fire in the belly so to speak, it is not uncommon for a middle-aged individual to make a list of the things they want to do, or accomplish, by the end of their life. Though the list goes by different names such as the “life list” or the “bucket list”, a reference to the “kick the bucket” euphemism for death, the objectives are still the same. When analyzed by one who is spiritually inclined, the bucket list can be viewed both positively and negatively. When viewed in the negative light, the compiler of the bucket list is deemed to be quite ignorant of the natures of time, space, and spirit. Under the positive light, the desire to experience something before one’s impending death brings the necessary urgency required to achieve life’s foremost mission, that of becoming purely spiritually aware and active at all times, including the time when the body is ultimately renounced.

A simple review of the typical life cycle proves helpfulLord Krishna as a child in understanding how the point of creating the bucket list is reached. In the early years, a human being is simply interested in playing. The child has no concern for anything pertaining to romantic relationships, careers, paying bills, or even studying higher knowledge. A young child will simply play all day if not told otherwise. Through regulation and discipline offered by the parents and preceptors, a child can gradually mature into a young adult, and then eventually into a human being. In the young adult years, goals and objectives start to form, namely those pertaining to the occupation one will take up when they reach full blown adulthood. The purpose behind identifying an ideal occupation is fairly straightforward: to provide for life’s necessities. Parents would surely love to take care of their children throughout their lifetime, but due to the age difference, the parents are likely to pass on before the children. Therefore a good parent is one who can raise their children to be self-sufficient adults.

After receiving a formal education, the aim of life shifts to the career area, concerns pertaining to landing a job that provides a salary sufficient to meet one’s basic obligations such as food, clothing, and shelter. The next goal is to have a stable family life, where a compatible spouse and beautiful children are required. By no means are any of these objectives easy to meet, for there is great struggle involved in securing a decent job, especially due to the fluctuating natures of economies. In industrialized nations, the agriculture sector of the economy is very small; therefore the primary occupations adopted service the passions of others. Companies produce goods and services and offer them to the general public. Depending on the mood of the public and their affinity, or lack thereof, for a particular product, a company will either earn a profit or slowly lose money. Since the mode of passion, which is one of the three modes governing this world, is ultimately incapable of providing any lasting satisfaction, the buying and selling habits of a population at large tend to fluctuate. Therefore there is little job security, even though in a system where goods and services are traded peaceably and voluntarily, there will always be jobs to be had, stable or otherwise.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.7)

Lord KrishnaRomantic relationships, which serve as the next step in the ascension towards greater and more intense experiences in material life, are even more difficult to secure and maintain. Men will always complain about women and women will always complain about men, for the sense interests of an individual can never be met to complete satisfaction. Finding a suitable match is difficult enough, but then maintaining the relationship is an even greater task. In any situation where two independent individuals are closely paired with one another, there will be friction and tension. If a unifying force is absent, a common purpose holding the personal interests of both parties in check, there will be great friction. Add children to the mix and what you’re left with is a lifetime of unsteadiness, concern, and obligation.

So let’s say we are fortunate enough to achieve all of our goals that we outlined after our education was completed. Where does that leave us? Is life over? Do we not still have the life force inside of us? It is the nature of every living entity to seek out pleasure. This means that no matter what stage of life one finds themselves in, the desire for thrill and excitement will always remain active. For one who has achieved all of life’s primary objectives, the next aim is to find new thrills, experiences that aren’t necessarily so important but are still appealing enough to take up.

Since there are obligations pertaining to work and family, the limiting factor is time. There may be many thrills that one wants to experience, but the guaranteed nature of death puts a constraint on these desires. Therefore it is not uncommon for one in their thirties or forties to make a “bucket list”, an itemized rundown of all the things they want to do/accomplish before they die. The experiences listed can surely run the gamut of material activities, but they often include things like writing an autobiography, visiting a certain landmark, performing a daredevil stunt such as skydiving or bungee jumping, eating a certain type of food, and even meeting a specific personality. The idea is that if one can achieve all of the items on their list before the time they die, their life will have been worth living.

This is certainly an interesting mindset, for it is based off the assumption that experiencing an enumerated list of thrills can bring complete satisfaction. Yet what gets overlooked is that the person compiling such a list has already experienced many thrills in life. Regardless of how lucky or unlucky a person is, there are moments in their life when they feel supreme pleasure, extreme bliss. In the middle age years, memory of these past experiences may be lost, but the events nevertheless occurred. Using a little intelligence, it becomes obvious that if we already experienced thrills that were later forgotten, what’s to say that we’ll remember any of the future thrills that are on our life list. The point of the bucket list is to be able to lie on our deathbed and look back on our life with complete satisfaction. Yet if the experiences of every thrill remain distant in the mind, what would the difference be if we never actually get to experience any of our desired thrills?

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

Lord Krishna Based on this quick review, we can see that the key to satisfaction is not necessarily a thrilling experience here or there, but rather a permanent shift in consciousness. Consciousness is eternal, something that never goes away or stops functioning. According to the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, consciousness is tied to our identity, which comes from the spirit soul. This brings us to the negative review of the bucket list mindset. The spirit soul, which is the anatomical functioning unit of any life form, never takes birth, nor does it ever die. What we refer to as death is simply the shedding of the outer garment of the soul. There is never a time that the soul stops functioning, and there is never a time when the spiritual spark loses its natural properties. And what are these properties? The soul’s qualities are inherited from the original father, the Supreme Soul.

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.61)

The individual soul, which is known as the jivatma, resides in one body at a particular time. There have been instances in the past where great mystic yogis divided their souls and travelled through space in different ways, but their identities were still the same. They couldn’t perform different activities with the different divisions of their original soul. The Supreme Soul, or Paramatma, is different in this regard. Since it is a direct expansion of God, it is not a division. The Supersoul resides within the heart of every living entity, thereby making God the only entity who is conscious of the thoughts, desires, and hankerings of every living entity, past, present, and future.

Since the Supersoul is non-different from God, it has natural, eternally existing properties. The Supersoul is knowledgeable, blissful, and imperishable. The individual soul, which represents our identity, is a derivative of the Supreme Soul, similar to God in quality but subordinate to Him in quantitative powers. Thus the individual soul is also imperishable, ever-knowledgeable, and prone to a blissful state. The difference in quantitative powers manifests in the form of the jivatma’s fall down from the spiritual sky. The Supreme Lord is always blissful, regardless of His particular form or appearance. This is not the case with the individual. When brought to the material world, the soul must put on a particular suit. This is similar to how astronauts must don proper attire when travelling through outer space. For the soul to survive in the material world, it needs a dress, an outer covering.

Changing of bodies The influences of this outer covering are quite powerful. The primary effect it has on the individual is that it causes him to forget his natural relationship to the Supreme Lord. As a result, identity is taken from the gross body, a collection of material elements which constantly goes through changes, culminating with ultimate destruction at the time of death. Thus the bucket list mentality is simply a byproduct of the false identification adopted at the time of birth, when the soul is placed into a material body. One who is in the know, however, understands that the soul never perishes. The term “lifetime” is simply a demarcation of time, a unit of measure similar to a second, minute, day, year, etc. Just as it would be silly to say there can only be one instance of a second or a year, the viewpoint that we only get one life to live is similarly invalid. The soul is not subject to the influences of time; only the body is. Therefore there is nothing to be lost in terms of opportunity for thrills once death comes. In fact, God is so nice that if one wants to remain tagged to a material body in the next life, they are allowed to do so. At the time of death, a moment of great turmoil and panic, the individual’s desires and reactions to work are measured by the higher authorities of the universe. Based on this assessment, a commensurate body is crafted for the individual’s next life.

“Those who know Me as the Supreme Lord, as the governing principle of the material manifestation, who know Me as the one underlying all the demigods and as the one sustaining all sacrifices, can, with steadfast mind, understand and know Me even at the time of death.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.30)

This brings us to the positive review of the bucket list mentality. Though the soul is eternal and never dies, the time of death is still of critical importance. Though ignorance envelops the individual when they are trapped in a material body, there is no requirement that one remain a devotee of matter perpetually. Rather, if one’s consciousness, which is driven by work and desire, is purified at the time of death, a spiritual body is crafted for the next life. Moreover, this spiritual form roams free in the imperishable realm where the original Personality of Godhead resides alongside His eternal, loving associates. Thus one who achieves a spiritual body and residence in God’s realm never has to worry about descending to the material world again. In this way, the purification of consciousness is actually what brings the greatest thrill.

Though the soul will continue to exist irrespective of outer covering or place of residence, the time of death represents the complete change of dress. This means that if one’s consciousness is not purified at the end of life, they have to start the knowledge-acquiring process all over again in the next life. Thus the same struggles pertaining to occupation, family, and romance will have to be endured again. In addition, there is no guarantee that the next form of body will be a human one. The laws of karma, or fruitive activity, are quite fair, so if one is overly sinful in this life, they will surely have to suffer in the next. The body of an animal brings great opportunities for sense gratification, but nothing beyond that. The animal is not cognizant of impending death, spirit, or matter. Only in the human form of life can one take the necessary steps to understand who they are, why they are where they are, and what they can do to reach the Supreme Destination.

“That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.21)

Radha and Krishna in Vrindavana So how do we purify our consciousness to the point that we’ll get a spiritual body at the time of death? Moreover, should this goal be the only item on our bucket list? The process for achieving purification is quite simple. In fact, though the required discipline can be formally classified as yoga, the associated activities are completely natural and intimately matched with the soul’s intrinsic properties. The discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, not only brings about a permanent shift in consciousness, but it also secures thrills at every moment. Obviously, in the initial stages these thrills will be difficult to realize, but for one who steadily practices the ancient art of the religion of love, there is no question of the lasting benefits to the mind and the psyche.

So what constitutes bhakti? In reality, activities in bhakti are no different than those we already take up, with the only difference being the object of worship. Currently we sing different songs to ourselves, read various books, visit restaurants and nightclubs, and hear about the exploits of celebrities and politicians. Taking these same activities, we can spiritualize them by reading books about Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, or one of His numerous non-different expansions. We can visit His temples and holy pilgrimage sites. We can hear about His glorious activities and of the steep resolve shown by His faithful servants, the exalted Vaishnavas. But the most effective process of bhakti is the chanting of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Japa mala The Vaishnava authorities, the spiritual masters and expert practitioners of bhakti, recommend that one chant this mantra on a set of japa beads, sixteen rounds daily. A japa mala, or rosary set, consists of 108 beads, with the mantra chanted one time on each bead; thus one round of japa equates to 108 recitations of the mantra. If we multiply this number times sixteen, we get the minimum number of mantra recitations per day. Obviously this is quite time consuming, especially in the beginning stages for those whose tongues aren’t familiar with pronouncing Krishna and Rama, the greatest names ascribed to the Supreme Lord of all humanity. Yet simply through this chanting routine, the most potent of religious practices, liberation can be achieved in this very life.

“Real love of God is ahaituky apratihata: it cannot be checked by any material cause. It is unconditional. If one actually wants to love God, there is no impediment. One can love Him whether one is poor or rich, young or old, black or white.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Science of Self-Realization, Ch 1b)

With the bucket list mentality, and even the desire to achieve a purified consciousness at the time of death, there is an end-goal in mind, a disposition where all of one’s accomplishments have been met satisfactorily . With any endeavor, there is an intended state of interruption, wherein the initial motivation for the undertaking of the activity ceases. These properties are observed in virtually all endeavors. There is an initial motivation for the activity, a desired end-goal. Subsequently, when the aim is reached, the activities cease and the motivation goes away. With bhakti, however, the opposite effects are seen. Since chanting Hare Krishna, reading books about the Lord, and associating with fellow devotees bring thrills to the soul at every moment, there is no motivation and no interruption for those in the heightened state of Krishna consciousness. In this way, a pure bhakta automatically achieves liberation, for they are no longer hampered by the negative influences of the material body, a form which acts as a holding cell for those who are spiritually unconscious. For the devotee, the body serves their spiritual needs instead of inhibiting them. This is a role reversal of sorts, wherein the slave becomes the master.

“Oh Rama, for as long as You shall stand before me, even if it be for one hundred years, I will always remain Your servant. Therefore You should be the one to choose a beautiful and appropriate place for the cottage. After You have selected a spot, please then command me to start building.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 15.7)

Shri Lakshmana These ideas sure make for a nice practice in theory, but there is also great tangible evidence available to substantiate the claims. The properties of the soul were not mythically conjured up or devised through some legislative body. Rather, the soul has always bore the property of being a lover of God. When an individual transcends the effects of material nature and takes bhakti to be their life and soul, there is nothing that can stop them from loving God. Similar to the sentiment sung in a line from a famous song, “if loving you is wrong, I don’t want to be right”, the bhakta will continue their service to the Lord no matter the opposition or impediments thrown their way. Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama, exhibited this property beautifully. Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Lord descended to earth, as He likes to do from time to time, in an eternal form visible to the human eye. As a pious and courageous prince named Rama, God roamed the earth and gave His darshana to those deserving of it. A notable portion of His life was spent in the forests of India, where He lived as a recluse alongside His younger brother Lakshmana and wife Sita Devi. On one occasion, Rama, the eldest brother of the family, asked Lakshmana to find a nice spot to erect a cottage for the group. Lakshmana very nicely replied that if he had the pleasure of being with Rama for one hundred years, he would always stand by His side and do whatever He asked him to do. This shows the ideal mood of devotion. Who could ever imagine working at the same job for one hundred years, wherein every day at the office was eagerly anticipated and every moment brought supreme bliss? Yet Shri Lakshmana always felt this way while serving Rama.

Lord Chaitanya and associates Similarly, those sincere souls who chant the maha-mantra for sixteen rounds a day will never give up the practice. One could offer the dedicated devotee millions and millions of dollars to stop their chanting, but they would never accept such an offer. If there is anything we should aim to strive for by the time we leave our current body, it should be the adoption of this mindset, wherein the interests of the Supreme Lord take precedent over all else. The chanting tradition passed on by Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, His disciples, and those following their example, carries with it the secret that unlocks the door to eternal bliss, a level of consciousness where every second is thrilling. One who swims in the nectarean waters of the sound vibrations of the holy names of the Supreme Lord never has to worry about past, present, future, or the potential loss of thrill. The waves of transcendental bliss secure the sincere devotee all the happiness they require.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Index of the Mind

Hanuman carrying Lakshmana and Rama “Abandoning his beggar form and reassuming his monkey form, the elephant among monkeys [Hanuman] placed those two heroes on his back and departed.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.34)

This passage describes one of the most glorious scenes in history. One can meditate on this one picture for an entire lifetime and still continue to derive fresh and new enjoyment from it; such is the nature of spiritual life, the interaction between the Exalted and His loving associates. Just as families are the bedrock of a peaceful and happy society, so the spiritual world is full of families consisting of the most exalted personalities, role models for all of mankind. Of all the exalted spiritual figures, hardly any can rival the valor, strength, humility, and kindness of Shri Hanuman, a fact firmly supported through this one incident.

Hanuman “Don’t talk to strangers” is what our parents told us when we were youths. This is sound advice because you never know what an unknown person wants or what their motives are in approaching you. In a free society, people are allowed to go about their own business with the reasonable expectation of being left alone should they abide by the laws of the state. If a stranger should approach us, naturally there will be some trepidation, some skepticism. “Why is this person talking to me? Are they trying to sell me something? Surely they must have other motives.” Even the most trusting among us would be a little on guard when approached by an unknown person. Yet one stranger in particular is so exalted and kindhearted that simply through a short meeting with him, others are enchanted and pleased to the heart. This individual is Shri Hanuman, an elephant among monkeys, the most powerful of the Vanara race, and an eternal servant of Shri Rama.

Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the Personality of Godhead in human form, Lord Rama, roamed the hallowed earth alongside His younger brother Lakshmana. Both were members of the royal order, expert fighters who wielded the bow and arrow. Their fighting prowess was unmatched; not even thousands of the highest trained fighters could even come close to giving them a contest in battle. In sports, the greatness of a player is often determined by how far they surpass their peers in achievements. Wayne Gretzky is considered the greatest hockey player of all time since he shattered all the existing offensive records of his time. During his prime, he would tally goals and assist numbers that would dwarf the leading scorers of the league. By the same token, Rama and Lakshmana were so skilled at fighting that even the highest class of fighters couldn’t come close to agitating them.

Lakshmana and Rama with Hanuman These two brothers, incarnations of the original Divine Being, roamed the forests of India in search of Rama’s beloved wife, Sita Devi. Their search brought them to the forest of Kishkindha, which was inhabited by a race of monkeys headed by their king Sugriva. Seeing Rama and Lakshmana approaching from his perch on Mount Rishyamukha, Sugriva became fearful. The two princes were pillars of strength and their appearance showed this. Sugriva thought that maybe they had come to kill him, so to allay his fears, he sent his chief minister, Hanuman, to meet with the two princes and see what they wanted. Hanuman, though a Vanara, could assume any shape at will. Similar to the concept of putting on a disguise, Hanuman could make himself appear like a brahmana, or mendicant. He did just that when approaching Rama and Lakshmana. The two princes were part of the kshatriya order, a class of men which provides protection at the advice and consent of the intelligentsia, the brahmanas. Hanuman thought that by seeing a brahmana approaching, Rama and Lakshmana would surely let their guard down. This is precisely what occurred.

“Glaring with the effulgence of the king of mountains, you two brothers look like demigods or those who belong in a kingdom, so how have you arrived in this countryside?” (Hanuman speaking to Rama and Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.11)

Hanuman’s task was to find out what the princes were doing in Kishkindha, but since he was a pure devotee at heart, he couldn’t help but offer kind words of praise. On the fly, without even thinking, Hanuman was able to compose beautiful Sanskrit poetry which eulogized both Rama and Lakshmana. If a stranger were to come up to us and offer kind words of praise, we might not take them seriously since their kind words might be part of their pitch to sell us something. Yet Hanuman’s words were so cogent, heartfelt, and sweet-sounding that Rama was immediately pleased by them. He instructed Lakshmana to make friends with Hanuman and reveal their purpose for being in the woods.

HanumanUpon hearing of Sita’s kidnap and Rama’s search for her, Hanuman was delighted, for he knew that Sugriva could help the brothers find Sita. Giving up his false guise, Hanuman assumed his monkey shape and put the two brothers on his shoulders. Sugriva was staying on the Rishyamukha Mountain at the time, so Hanuman kindly leapt to the top of the mountain, taking Rama and Lakshmana with him. This sequence of events is equivalent to meeting a stranger on the road and then getting in the car with them. Yet Rama and Lakshmana didn’t hesitate at all, for they knew that Hanuman was incapable of lying to them.

Leaping your way to a mountaintop while carrying two grown men is no easy task. It takes great strength and coordination to pull this off. From this one incident, we get an idea of just how strong Hanuman is. Yet even with all his strength, he wasn’t haughty in the least bit. He kindly served Sugriva, Rama, and Lakshmana. Hanuman’s humility is one of his foremost characteristics. His true nature is that of a devotee. A bhakta, a sincere servant and lover, is one who devotes all thoughts, words, and deeds to a particular object or entity. A person can be a devotee of just about anything. Hanuman could have been devoted to so many things and people, but his overarching allegiance was to Rama. This love for the Supreme Lord existed inside of him even before meeting Rama and Lakshmana.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)

Hanuman Devotion to Rama, the Supreme Lord, actually exists inside all of us; we are just currently unaware of it. It takes many lifetimes to rekindle this awareness, but for the exalted personalities, their consciousness of the Supreme is always there. As a result of this purified thinking, all subsequent activities follow in line with revealed knowledge and the established standards of decency and virtue. Hanuman can be thought of as an eternally liberated soul, one who has a pure heart and never deviates from the righteous path. The fire of devotion is raging inside Hanuman, and anyone who associates with him can’t help but notice this wonderful feature. It took Rama and Lakshmana a very short time to see this, and based on the course of future events, their assessment was completely accurate.

“One can understand the mental or conscious position of a living entity by the activities of two kinds of senses—the knowledge-acquiring senses and the executive senses. Similarly, by the mental condition or consciousness of a person, one can understand his position in the previous life.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.29.63)

Hanuman carrying Lakshmana and Rama As a result of this alliance between Rama and Sugriva, Sita Devi was eventually rescued. Her captor Ravana was killed after a fierce battle. Hanuman played an integral role in these events, and so not surprisingly, he is worshiped to this day by millions around the world. He is an important character to study and learn from. As an authority figure on devotional service, Hanuman can share some of his devotion to other sincere souls who wish to associate with the Supreme Lord or one of His non-different forms. If we keep this one image of Hanuman carrying Rama and Lakshmana always in our minds, we will surely always be conscious of the Supreme Absolute Truth. This consciousness will keep us on the virtuous path, giving us the strength to fight off all bad elements in life. As a result of associating only with goodness, we too can slowly start to exude devotion to the Lord. There is a famous proverb which states that the face is the index of the mind, and in the case of devotees, their faces give away their ebullient love and devotion to God. This blissful effulgence is then noticed by others as well, including the Supreme Lord and His representatives. Being recognized in this way, a humble soul can directly offer service to Rama and Lakshmana in the same way that Hanuman did. Moreover, one can offer service to Hanuman, something which pleases Lord Rama even more than service to Him. May we always honor and remember Shri Hanuman, the king of all purified souls.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Broken English

Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami “Even if transcendental literature is written in faulty language, it is acceptable if it is written by a devotee, whereas so-called transcendental literature written by a mundane scholar, even if it is a very highly polished literary presentation, cannot be accepted. The secret in a devotee's writing is that when he writes about the pastimes of the Lord, the Lord helps him; he does not write himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 8.39 Purport)

It’s pretty amazing to think that one person can take to writing a single book and have it become immensely popular. While the bookstores are filled with bestsellers covering a wide range of topics, the greatest selling and most popular books of all time have been of the spiritual variety. In the Vedic tradition, the humble sages, the devotees of Shri Krishna and His non-different expansions, have managed to write the most famous and widely read books in the history of human civilization. Yet ironically enough, they never actively sought out such achievements, nor were they expert grammarians or writers. Rather, they simply had a sincere desire to offer some humble service to the Lord, who subsequently took care of the rest.

It is natural for writers to want their finished product to be of the highest quality. The intention is to have the finished work presented in a lucid linguistic style, one which is both readable and appreciated by the masses. There are certainly different writing styles tailored for different audiences, but writers are advised to adhere to the generally accepted standards. When these standards are violated, the writer is deemed a neophyte, or one who is not very educated. If an author is deemed uneducated, the content of their work is taken less seriously, thereby causing the initial intended purpose of the writing to be thwarted.

While adherence to style and grammar are important in the writing business, these rules are of secondary importance in the discipline of devotional service. The sum and substance of Vedic philosophy can be described in the famous aphorism, athato-brahma-jijnasa, which means “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman, or the Absolute Truth.” The human form of life is considered most auspicious due to the potential for intelligence. An animal may have a certain level of intelligence depending on the particular species, but only the human being is wise enough to realize that it is mortal. Moreover, a human being can use this knowledge to inquire about the origin of life and the reasons for birth, death, old age, and disease.

Bhagavad-gita Human life actually doesn’t begin until an inquiry into the Truth is made. As long as one remains ignorant of the presence of the soul and its attributes, their lifestyle is really no different than that of an animal. Obviously an animal knows how to live the animalistic lifestyle much better than a human being does, so if the human being remains ignorant throughout its lifetime, it squanders a golden opportunity. If a human being wants to enjoy eating, sleeping, intoxication, and unrestricted sex life, it must go to great lengths and suffer through many hardships. Relationships with the opposite sex surely aren’t easy and neither is securing enough wealth to meet the demands of food, clothing, and shelter. The animal, on the other hand, gets food, sex, and intoxicants very easily and without much strain. A monkey enjoys sex life to a much higher degree than a human being ever could.

Thus an intelligent human being aims to inquire about the Absolute Truth and then use the acquired knowledge to take the necessary steps to end the cycle of birth and death. A human being does not take its identity from the body, for this is simply an outer covering which constantly changes. At the time of death, the entire covering is discarded, and a new shell is molded based on the individual’s desires and work. The identity of the individual comes from the spirit soul, whose natural home is an imperishable realm where there are no such things as temporary bodies. In order to enter this eternal realm, the soul must be free of ignorance, delusion, and desires for material association. As long as one retains a desire to lord over material nature, they remain closed off from the spiritual world.

Lord Krishna Devotional service is a discipline which allows a conditioned living entity to gradually climb to a liberated status, a position achieved through the purification of consciousness, or altering of the thoughts and desires of the mind. If our consciousness is completely purified at the time of death, we’ll immediately return to the spiritual land where the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, resides.

Taking to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, is quite simple and completely natural. Divine love is a function of the constitutional makeup of the soul. Since the individual soul, or jivatma, is part and parcel of the Supreme Soul, Krishna, it has qualitative attributes which are similar to the Lord’s. This isn’t to say that the individual souls are equal to God, but rather they are complementary to Him. Krishna’s natural disposition is that of the energetic, the one entity who is ever-deserving of service. This service is provided by the subordinate entities, i.e. us. Since we are to provide the service, we are known as God’s energy. The natural condition of the soul is to be in the company of the energetic, a meeting of the original flame with its fragmental sparks.

“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)

Lord Krishna Constitutional activities are those which help maintain association with Krishna. Any other activity is thus deemed conditional. By default, we are prone to conditioned activities when we are in an embodied form. Any living entity who takes birth in the material world and accepts a material body is considered embodied, or dehinam. Therefore the aim of human life is to adopt constitutional activities and shun conditioned ones. The quintessential constitutional activity is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Krishna and Rama are names of God, and Hare calls out to His energy. Chanting is the most basic form of bhakti-yoga because it involves direct connection with pure spirit. Moreover, any activity that aims to keep one connected with the Lord can also be considered constitutional and thus part and parcel of bhakti-yoga.

Writing for sense gratification belongs in the conditioned category. This designation speaks to the issue of desire. The conditioned state of mind is very difficult to break out of, so in order to be successful in spiritual life, we must play offense by attacking the seeds of desire. The foremost desire - that hankering which is the most formidable impeding force against self-realization – is to satisfy the senses through fruitive activity. People write for different reasons; they are either looking for fame and wealth, or they may simply want to teach others about a particular discipline. For many, writing itself is a therapeutic activity, a way of releasing thoughts and ideas in an uninhibited manner.

In the realm of fruitive activity, good writing requires a style of grammar that will be appealing to a large audience. The underlying intent is to please both the senses of the writer and those of the audience. A writer is wasting their time if nobody reads their books or if even the writer fails to derive pleasure from the end-product. No one can read the books without buying them, so there is a circular condition created right at the outset. Aside from grammar and style, there is the all-important issue of content. Just as the secret to success in real estate is “location, location, location”, the success of a communicator ties directly to “content, content, content”. The subject matter has to be interesting enough to entice others to spend their hard-earned money on the book. For this reason, the bestselling books are usually the ones authored by famous personalities of the political, sports, financial, and pop culture realms.

“An iron rod put into a fire becomes warmer and warmer, and when it is red hot it is no longer an iron rod but fire. Similarly, when a devotee constantly engages in devotional service and thinks of the Lord in his original Krishna consciousness, he no longer has any material activities, for his body is spiritualized.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.7.36 Purport)

Hanuman - a pure devotee Since acts of devotion are considered constitutional, they have nothing in common with conditioned activities, save for maybe outward appearance. This rule applies to the area of writing as well. When writing is undertaken as an act of devotional service, the writers are acting simply out of pure love for the Supreme Loveable Object, Shri Krishna. This means that the writer has no desire for fame, wealth, prestige, honor, or personal therapy. Rather, they are writing simply to make Krishna or one of His devotees happy. In the spiritual world, oneness is shared between Krishna and His pure devotees. It is similar to how an iron rod will eventually turn into fire when placed under the heat of an immense torch. In the spiritual realm, the complete whole consists of Krishna and the devotees, two complementary entities. As such, the aspiring devotees view their spiritual guides and fellow devotees as equally as worshipable as Krishna Himself. If not for the kind work of exalted devotees of the past, we would never find out who Krishna is, what He looks like, or how to please Him.

Since the devotee writer remains unconcerned about grammar, style, and appealing to the general public, it’s understandable to think that the quality of their writing would suffer. If the devotee was able to actually finish writing a book, then surely it wouldn’t be popular with the general public. The only way to make these books popular would be to edit them and present them in a style which was generally acceptable and appealing to the majority of the people of the time. Those attracted by this line of thinking would be severely mistaken. Two notable historical examples, among countless others, prove that pure devotion is all that is required to make a writer’s work both popular and supremely effective at disseminating the essence of spiritual knowledge.

Around four hundred years ago, a Vaishnava saint from Northern India unintentionally firmly established himself as one of the greatest writers in history. This saint was Goswami Tulsidas, and his Ramacharitamanasa, a lengthy Hindu poem which details the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, a warrior prince incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago, became one of the most popular books in history. Prior to Tulsidas’ advent, Lord Rama’s life story was already told in the famous Ramayana poem written in the Sanskrit language by Maharishi Valmiki. Tulsidas particularly wanted to tell the story in Hindi to please Lord Rama and to give the sincere souls of the time a chance to understand the glorious activities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Goswami Tulsidas To understand just how remarkable Tulsidas’ work was, we have to consider Lord Rama’s popularity at the time. Lord Vishnu, Krishna, and Rama are non-different forms of the original Lord, so stories relating to their pastimes were well known in India during Tulsidas’ time. In fact, this has always been the case for the inhabitants of India. Yet somehow, through no personal desire or outward intention, Tulsidas managed to write a poem which would go on to become a staple in the homes of every Hindu. Indeed, he even authored a devotional poem praising Lord Hanuman called the Hanuman Chalisa. This is likely the most recited poem/song in the history of human civilization.

So the results of Tulsidas’ writing are visibly known, but what was his motivation? As a sannyasi, he didn’t have any possessions, wealth, or family ties. This means that he didn’t see a dime from the recitation of his great works. He never received any royalties from the singing of the Hanuman Chalisa. He didn’t have any army of distributors, a publishing company, or a printing press mass producing his work. Moreover, he didn’t even write most of his poems in Sanskrit, which is considered the oldest and highest class language. Many non-devotees and dull-headed brahmanas criticized him for allegedly sullying the good name of the Lord by writing about Him in a common language like Hindi.

“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)

Tulsidas writing the events of the Ramayana In the face of all these opposing forces, how was Tulsidas able to succeed? The answer is pretty simple. He had no desire for fame, prestige, or respect, nor did he want anyone to buy his book en masse. Rather, he simply wanted to think of Rama and please the Lord through his kind efforts. In the realm of devotional service, there is no such thing as superior and inferior service. In Sanskrit, human effort is referred to as paurusham, and from the Bhagavad-gita, we see that the source of paurusham is Krishna. As a result, we really have no abilities of our own. Whatever talents we do possess are on loan from God. Therefore no one person’s service can be considered superior to another’s. Everyone’s abilities come from God.

While there is no quantitative comparison between the humble services offered by different entities, there is a difference in effort. What pleases the Lord is sincerity and dedication to service, rather than the exact nature of the activity. In Tulsidas’ case, Lord Rama was extremely pleased by the level of devotion and dedication shown. Thus he helped Tulsidas in his writing. Tulsidas’ humility, kindness, and love for Shri Rama permeates the sound vibrations that makeup the pages of his transcendental works. This spiritual potency carries over even to versions of his works which are translated into English; such is the power of the message glorifying the Lord. When a devotee writes sincerely and without personal motive, the Lord personally enters the devotee’s mind and helps him choose just the right words to get points across.

Shrila Prabhupada This indeed was also the case with His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Shrila Prabhupada is arguably the most prolific author of Vedic philosophy in the English language. What’s ironic is that English certainly wasn’t his first language. Rather, he decided to make a humble effort at translating the great Vedic texts into English at the request of his spiritual master, His Divine Grace Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura. Shrila Prabhupada’s original works were authored, edited, produced, and distributed all in a very short period of time, yet they became immensely popular. Not only are his books popular, but so are his speeches and lectures. Since many of these lectures were recorded, one can listen to them today. One will notice that when Prabhupada spoke extemporaneously, he often used broken English. He would miss words here and there, and he would fail to properly conjugate others. In addition, he had a very thick Indian accent, thus making it all the more difficult to understand him. Yet for devotees who listen to these tapes, the sounds are like pure nectar. There is not one thing faulty about them. The reason for this is that Prabhupada’s words were completely genuine and without any tinge of personal motive. The sounds are transcendental and replete with pure love and devotion for Krishna.

Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami writing books The miraculous nature of transcendental writing is visible in the works of countless devotees, past, present, and future. The writings of Lord Chaitanya’s exalted disciples and their followers, including Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami, exhibit similar traits, as do the writings of Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of Krishna. This further buttresses the truth that the sincerity of a writer is what matters most. As with any endeavor in devotional service, if the motive is pure, the Lord will take care of the rest. When the writer is connected to the spiritual world, the resulting words can be sourced directly to Krishna Himself.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Hanuman “He speaks clearly, joyfully, and with a pleasing glow on his face. The heroic Hanuman, son of the wind-god, does not appear to speak anything that is false.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.32)

In this passage, Shri Hanuman is receiving the highest praise one could ever hope to get: a personal testimony of character given by the Supreme Lord’s direct representative. The representative of God is known as the guru, or spiritual master. In this instance, the guru takes the form of Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama. From Vedic authority, we understand that Lakshmana is an incarnation of Lord Ananta Shesha Naga, God’s protector in the spiritual world. Lord Anantadeva also appears in other eras in different forms such as Lord Balarama and Lord Nityananda, but regardless of the time or circumstance, he is considered the eternal representative and protector of the interests of the Supreme Lord. Anantadeva’s representative is the bona fide guru, one who follows the same dedication to devotional service as that shown by Shri Lakshmana. Bearing this in mind, Hanuman’s high character is substantiated, for he received great praise from someone as exalted as Lakshmana.

Anantadeva holding Lakshmi and Vishnu A guru in the common vernacular is taken to be an expert. The original Sanskrit meaning to the word is “heavy”. The guru is heavy because he carries the message of God and also because His authority carries great weight. We can think of it in terms of gravitas; the guru carries the highest stature and reputation. This status is earned through acts of devotion to the Supreme Lord and protection of His interests. Why would God, the all-powerful creator and progenitor of all forms of life, need protection? Services are offered voluntarily by the guru as a way of keeping unscrupulous commentators and miscreants from distorting God’s position as the supreme personal controller over all that exists. The guru feels this protection is necessary since many man-made theories pertaining to the origin of life have sprouted into existence since the beginning of time. Aside from those who outwardly deny the existence of God, there are others who refuse to acknowledge that He has an eternal form which is full of bliss and knowledge. The bona fide guru, the most reputed among those carrying spiritual wisdom, not only acknowledges the existence of their supreme object of worship, but they fearlessly and openly declare their dedication to such a divine being.

In this regard, the guru, the spiritual master and wielder of the heaviest knowledge, is the person we must approach in order to receive God’s favor. In the conditioned state, we are incapable of conceptualizing the nature of the Supreme Lord; therefore we must take knowledge from someone who has already seen Him. More than just seeing God, the guru dedicates their life to serving the Supreme Lord. Lakshmana is the origin of the guru system, and all other bona fide gurus can trace their spiritual ancestry to him. Just as we have our own biological ancestry which dates back many generations, one’s spiritual lineage, in order to carry any weight, must trace all the way back to God. If a spiritual guide is lacking such a connection in relation to the teachings they offer, their system of spiritual life must have been concocted by someone other than God or one of His direct representatives.

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)

Rama and Lakshmana Since the guru is the authorized representative of God, he is given full control in determining whether or not a person is worthy of serving the Lord directly. We can think of the guru as the Secretary of State or Chief Minister of the Supreme Lord. God doesn’t need to waste His time with people who aren’t sincere, so He sends the spiritual master to extract the contenders from the masses of pretenders. The behavior of the ideal spiritual master must be exhibited on this earth from time to time in order for a frame of reference to be established. One such manifestation occurred many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga when the Supreme Absolute Truth, the personal Lord of creation, descended to earth in a human form as Lord Rama.

Just as Lakshmana was an incarnation of Anantadeva, Rama was an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, whom Anantadeva gives comfort and protection to in the spiritual world. Vishnu is a plenary expansion of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the one and only God that all of us look to in times of trouble. As part of Rama’s pastimes on earth, He roamed the forests of India for fourteen years. One particular event, the kidnapping of His wife Sita Devi, led Rama to the Kishkindha forest, which was inhabited by Vanaras at the time. In Sanskrit, vana refers to a forest, so a vanara is one who dwells in the forest. Naturally, in order to live in the forest, one needs a body which is made to live in the outdoors and the wilderness. Therefore the Vanaras possessed bodies similar to those of monkeys, though they were also quite human-like. A Vanara isn’t a mythological figure, but rather an advanced form of monkey which existed on earth many thousands of years ago.

Hanuman The chief of the Vanaras living in Kishkindha was Sugriva. Seeing Rama and Lakshmana approaching, Sugriva asked his chief minister, Hanuman, to go see what the two princes wanted. Rama and Lakshmana belonged to the royal order; they were expert warriors who used the bow and arrow as their weapon. Sugriva saw the two princes and became fearful that they might have come to kill him. Hanuman approached Rama and Lakshmana while in the guise of a mendicant. After exchanging nice words, Hanuman revealed his identity and formed a friendship with Rama and Lakshmana. After this, Lakshmana explained the circumstances for their arrival in Kishkindha. Sita had been kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon, and another Rakshasa-bodied individual named Danu informed the brothers that Sugriva would be able to help them. Even before Hanuman had approached them, Rama and Lakshmana were desirous of forming an alliance with Sugriva.

Hanuman was quite pleased to hear this, for Sugriva had been thrown out of his own kingdom by his brother Vali. Therefore he could also use Rama’s help in regaining his own kingdom. The two kings could end up helping each other, a sort of “I scratch your back, you scratch mine” deal. Hanuman eagerly and kindly apprised Rama and Lakshmana of this potential mutually beneficial relationship. Upon hearing Hanuman’s words, Lakshmana spoke the above referenced quote to Rama. From his words, we see that Lakshmana was quite impressed by Hanuman, and he could tell right away that the Vanara possessed the highest character.

Hanuman carrying a mountain Lakshmana says that Hanuman spoke with a delightful countenance. This means that he was quite happy to serve Rama and Lakshmana. This is the key ingredient of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The Vedas tell us that the ultimate goal in life is to be situated in perfect yoga, which is the unbridled union of the soul with God. There are different ways to achieve this union, but bhakti is considered the topmost because it is the yoga of love and something the living entities are naturally inclined towards. In its purified state, the soul is always in union with God in a loving way, similar to how an ideal couple is always together. In order to practice bhakti-yoga perfectly, one must be eager to rekindle their forgotten bond with the Supreme Lord. In this respect, we see that Hanuman was the most eager, and that his enthusiasm couldn’t be held in. When someone is very happy, it usually shows in their demeanor. Happiness and ebullience are hard to keep bottled inside, so from Hanuman’s mannerisms, Lakshmana could tell how sincere his desire to serve Rama was.

Lakshmana’s statement also tells us that Hanuman is both heroic [viro] and truthful. In fact, one of Hanuman’s other names is Mahavira, which means one who is very heroic and powerful. How great must Hanuman be for Lakshmana to decipher these characteristics from only meeting him for a few minutes? It is no surprise that Hanuman today is regarded as the most celebrated figure of the Vedic tradition, for the original spiritual master himself, Shri Lakshmana, vouches for his character. If we take Hanuman’s eagerness to serve Rama, along with his inability to tell a lie, what we get is the most exalted servant of the Supreme Lord. Truthfulness is important because if a person is dishonest, all of their associated attributes are put into doubt. By stating that Hanuman was incapable of telling a lie, Lakshmana declares that it is impossible for Hanuman’s eagerness to be fake or conjured up. Prior to this, Hanuman noted that Sugriva and the other Vanaras would surely help the two brothers find Sita. Combining this with Lakshmana’s assessment of Hanuman’s honesty, we see that success of Rama’s mission was guaranteed simply from the words of Hanuman.

Hanuman Lakshmana’s assertions would be validated by the events that followed. To this day, Shri Hanuman is considered Rama’s greatest devotee, a supreme authority figure on honor, integrity, courage, scholarship, and most of all, devotion to God. Anyone who kindly approaches Shri Hanuman and asks for his blessings will surely find their way to God. Hanuman remains Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita’s favorite person, so we can never go wrong by associating with such a wonderful individual. Shri Hanuman is deserving of the highest praise, for he is the most eager and sincere servant of God, someone who is incapable of diverting his interests.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Lord Krishna with cows “The real independence of a living entity, who is part and parcel of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is to remain always dependent on the Supreme Lord, just like a child who plays in complete independence, guided by his parents, who watch over him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.9.35 Purport)

The “oppressed”, whose cause is often championed by activists, are those deemed to be less fortunate and exploited by those in power. Based on the current makeup of society, women, minorities, and the poor are usually what constitute victims of oppression. While it is undoubtedly true that the natural yearning for freedom gets hindered by other entities, according to the Vedic angle of vision, there is not a single person who is independent. When the pure spirit soul is placed in the temporary and miserable world, it is given a suitable body. One who is embodied is referred to as dehinam in Sanskrit, which means “one who has accepted a material body and thus been put under the forces of nature”. For one who is embodied, the aim of life is to break free of the bondage imposed by the material body. This release can be granted only through adherence to dharma, or the laws of God as passed down through the Vedic system.

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

Lord Krishna How is every person embodied? We can think of it in terms of being trapped in a specific set of clothes. The outer garments worn by the individual soul go through gradual changes, sometimes increasing in power, while at other times decreasing. The changes are guaranteed, and the person wearing the clothes has no say as to when and how the changes manifest. For the pure spirit soul, the individual spiritual spark residing within the body, there is no control over the workings of nature. Surely there is a minute amount of independence in how the soul interacts with its surroundings, but the results of such action are delivered by divine forces, those put into place by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, and His deputies known as the demigods. Therefore anyone who possesses a temporary material body must be considered dependent on nature. No one is independent.

For the individual spirit soul, this realization is very difficult to come by. In the animal species, understanding these higher concepts is impossible. The animals live completely in ignorance, so they are incapable of sin or piety. Moreover, they engage strictly in the activities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending. Human beings often look at other animals and marvel at their lack of intelligence. After all, a dog is willing to eat its own vomit. A pig will roll around in its own stool. For the human being, these are considered vile activities, but for the animal, there is no concept of good and bad. An animal simply acts off its instincts. It will eat whenever it wants to, and it will have sex with whichever animal is available.

The benefit of human life lies in the area of intelligence. The human being is capable of understanding piety and sin, right and wrong, and the temporary nature of life. Since a human being is wise enough to understand that it is mortal, it is also capable of inquiring about the Absolute Truth, that Divine Entity which never takes birth or dies. If the human being does not make this inquiry, then they are essentially no different than the animals. Therefore human life really begins with religion, or spirituality.

“Indeed, human life begins when religion begins. Eating, sleeping, fearing, and mating are the four principles of animal life. These are common both to animals and to human beings. But religion is the extra function of the human being. Without religion, human life is no better than animal life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.1.2 Purport)

Shrila Prabhupada Oppression, racism, bigotry, and sexism are merely products of the animalistic way of life. A person who is not God conscious, one who is unaware that the Supreme Lord’s intervention is responsible for the workings of nature, will be a miser and want to hoard material possessions for themselves. This stingy mentality then leads to greed, an emotion which is kept ablaze through fierce competition. In this way, the natural penchant for cheating takes hold of the ignorant living entity. Oppression is simply a way for the strong to limit the influence of the weak. The actual parties involved can vary based on time and circumstance. In one era, one particular religious group can be the oppressors while the other group remains oppressed. In another era or geographic location, the roles can reverse.

Since women are generally weaker in terms of physical ability, they are prime candidates for subjugation and oppression. Again, this is simply the result of the animalistic mentality, a mindset which completely ignores spirituality. Sometimes, however, those who are unfamiliar with Vedic traditions and the purposes behind them will mistakenly believe that the Vedas call for the subjugation of women. After all, the Vedic tenets are that women should serve and honor their husbands and that they should not remain independent at any time. In actuality, these stipulations represent true benevolence and kindness. Moreover, they are completely in line with dharma and thus don’t need to be apologized for.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.54)

Lord Krishna As mentioned before, the true benefit of human life lies in the area of intelligence. The most difficult concept for the individual to realize is that they are not their body and that they are spirit soul. After realizing these truths of life, the intelligent soul then takes to devotional service, their natural engagement. The soul is meant to be a servant of God, a pure lover of the Supreme Spirit. The Supreme Lord Krishna, or God, is meant to be loved. When the lover and the beloved are together, there is perfect peace and harmony. In fact, the definition of God includes the energy expansions who always serve Him. When the soul becomes liberated through constant loving association with Krishna, there is oneness.

The resulting oneness can be thought of in these terms: If we go to a rock concert, the band and the audience essentially become one when the band is playing music. The audience’s role is to make noise and sing along to the songs, and the role of the band is to supply the music. If either entity is missing, there cannot be a complete concert. Similar examples are seen in other areas of life such as with teachers and their students, and kings and their subjects. In the same way, the complete definition of God involves His loving servants. It is not that the servants assume the same role as the Lord, but rather through their service, there is a singularity in terms of the resulting condition. Therefore the Supreme Lord is always worshiped alongside His pleasure potencies: Sita and Rama, Radha and Krishna, and Lakshmi and Narayana. The Supreme Lord is the energetic and the pleasure potency expansions are His energy.

Radha and Krishna When the husband is devoted to Krishna and the wife devoted to the husband, there is a oneness in the marriage. This system is completely natural and not concocted by any philosopher, spiritual leader, or lawmaker. When both parties in the marriage abide by their duties, there is an ideal marriage, a singular entity that exudes perfect energy. The family is the backbone of society, the basic functional unit of a community, city, state, and country. The Vedic system is geared towards enabling every conditioned soul to achieve liberation by the end of their lifetime. Since every person is born with different qualities due to their past karma, not everyone can take to the same activities. The idea is that whatever qualities one does possess should be utilized for the pleasure of the Lord. The husband is deemed as the deva, or god, of the household. Yet this doesn’t mean that the husband is independent or free from nature’s subjugation. Rather, even the husband is required to take to kind and humble service to the Lord. No one in society is independent; everyone is a dependent of someone, with the topmost person, the leader of men, ideally being a servant of the Supreme Lord.

Under the current circumstances, the common practice is for women and men to be independent in their conjugal relations and their seeking of life partners. While this system may seem practical, it leads to many problems. For starters, there is little to no adherence to dharma while one is in a marriage. Since the bond of matrimony is held together by sense gratification, once the pleasure derived from the spouse’s company wears off, the relationship can dissolve. A marriage is not meant to be ended, for it is a life partnership that enables both parties to steadily increase their God consciousness. When there is a complete perceived independence exhibited by both parties, constant struggle results. Women are left to be exploited by men looking for simple sex life, and men are left to beg for measly sex life which is already available to the animals. For spiritual enlightenment, sex life should be strictly regulated. This is not simply to punish individuals, but rather to enable them to focus on the intelligence acquiring aspect of life.

Sita and Rama's weddingUpon hearing for the first time of how the Vedic marriage system is arranged, a misconception may arise as to the role played by the husband. One may think, “Oh that is certainly nice for the man. He simply is given a wife who will serve him no matter what. Sounds like a pretty good deal for the guy.” What’s ironic is that there is no independence for the man in this system either. For example, one of Lord Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations, Lord Rama, even had to ask His father before getting permission to marry Sita Devi, the exalted princess of Videha. Lord Rama obviously didn’t need to ask anyone for anything, but since He was committed to dharma and setting a good example, after breaking the famous bow of Lord Shiva’s and winning the hand of Sita in marriage, the Lord made sure to get His father’s permission prior to agreeing to the marriage.

“Though being offered to Rama, I was not accepted by Him at the time, for He did not know the opinion of His father Dasharatha, the King of Ayodhya.” (Sita Devi speaking to Anasuya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 118.51)

Sita’s father, King Janaka, was so thrilled to get Rama as a son-in-law that he also gave away other princesses in his family to be married to Rama’s three younger brothers. Rama’s brother Lakshmana received Sita’s sister Urmila as a wife. Lakshmana and Rama were not looking for wives, nor were they in need of them. Yet through the Vedic system, which calls for adherence to dharma and dependence on religious principles at all times, marriage plays an integral role.

Goddess Katyayani - Durga Mata True independence only comes from dependence on the Supreme Lord. Women of the Vedic tradition exude the greatest qualities and the highest level of intelligence. They are by no means weak, nor are they subjugated. Though they are devoted to their husbands, they are completely comfortable in their relationships, knowing full well the laws of dharma and the supremacy of devotional service. Goddess Durga, who controls the material energy, is often worshiped and looked to as a role model for independent women. Yet Mother Durga is independent and powerful due to her dependence and devotion to her husband and to Krishna. Parvatiji is the most chaste and devoted wife, for she performed severe austerities to get Lord Shiva as a husband. Those who are enamored by the material energy are advised to worship her to make progress in spiritual life. Yet she would never agree to the idea of independence for men and women in their personal dealings or the idea of taking to material sense gratification as a way of life. She is the epitome of dharma and virtue.

“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

Lord Krishna As long as there is a material world, there will be oppression. One group may rise to power at a certain time, while at another time they will be oppressed. Peace and harmony in society can only be achieved through service to the Supreme Master, the all-independent and powerful Supreme Lord. Our activities should be geared towards achieving Krishna consciousness at the time of death. This will guarantee a return trip to the spiritual world in the afterlife. As long as one remains in the animalistic mode of life, there will always be cheating, greed, oppression, and subjugation. Through following the Vedic system of dharma, which calls for a strong family life secured through adherence to prescribed duties by both the husband and the wife, we can take great strides towards removing our ignorance. Regardless of our position, whether we are married, single, or in a relationship, the quintessential act of dharma for the people of this age is the chanting of the names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. We should take up whatever activities will help us perform devotional service and avoid those which hamper our devotional efforts. The Vedic system of marriage is intended to allow both parties to perform devotional service without impediment. If this condition can be sufficiently met, then the duties of marriage certainly should be adhered to.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Credit Score

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, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 4.12)

The credit score has become an important metric for consumers, home buyers, and creditors to keep track of. A good credit rating is a requirement for making any important purchase these days. From buying a house, to getting a car loan, to even purchasing a new cell phone, one’s credit history plays a vital role not only in the approval process but also in the rate of interest that is offered. The higher the interest rate, the more the borrower is punished for their substandard credit history and the more the lender is insulated from the potential harmful effects of non-repayment. In order for an entity to be deemed trustworthy and likely to repay their debts, they need to have a good credit rating. Otherwise, the borrower will not undertake the risk associated with offering a line of credit. Along similar lines, from the perspective of the inquisitive mind, spiritual life is also seen as a gamble, a risk of sorts which is not guaranteed to pay dividends. Material activities bring visible benefits and invisible detriments, whereas spiritual activities usually bear the opposite combination of outcomes. In this regard, it becomes easier to take to the forming of a permanent spiritual consciousness, the ultimate objective of human life, if there is a guarantee of the desired outcome. To assure us of the abilities of the Supreme Lord to provide unflinching protection and to prove God’s worthiness of our trust, great devotees like Shri Lakshmana have expounded on the Lord’s qualities and virtues.

ATP Tennis In America, a credit score is maintained by the major credit monitoring agencies. Credit is established once an individual or business borrows a significant amount of money or opens a new credit card. As soon as credit is opened, the payment history and pattern is tracked by these agencies, and based on certain factors, a score is established. This is a rolling score, a metric calculated in a manner similar to the rankings in professional tennis. For instance, let’s say that a tennis player is ranked number one in the world for the current week. That top position in the ranking system means that the player has accumulated more ranking points, which are based off performance in individual tournaments, than anyone else over the past fifty-two weeks. Based on this definition, we see that ranking points continually accrue and dwindle with each successive week. Since there are tournaments virtually every week of the year, a player is constantly accumulating new points based on their performance in the latest tournament, and also losing points based on the fifty-two week scale being advanced. Hence, the rankings keep changing, with the fifty-two week measure providing a sufficient indication of a player’s performance over the past year.

A credit score works in the same way. It takes into account a borrower’s payment and charge history over a given period of time. Since credit card debt and installment loans involve monthly payments, the score can fluctuate based on the payment patterns of the borrower. For example, let’s say that we have a poor credit score due to a series of missed payments in the recent past. If we start to pay our bills on time and at the proper amounts for a few consecutive months, our score will go up. The credit score is also based on the current ratio of debt to debt limit. Say, for example, a person has a $5000 credit limit on one of their credit cards, and their average monthly debt is only around $100. Obviously this is a very good ratio. The high credit limit means that the issuer of the debt, in most cases a bank, has entrusted the borrower with enough leeway to borrow a significant amount of money at one time. When the borrower is not utilizing all of this available debt, the credit bureaus take it as an indication that the borrower doesn’t really need to borrow a lot of money. These two factors combine to make for a good credit rating.

Credit Cards On the flip side, if a borrower uses up most of their credit limit, it usually means that they are having trouble paying their bills. This factor, along with several missed payments, can damage a person’s credit rating. A lower credit rating means higher interest rates and a loss of eligibility for certain finance discounts when purchasing a new car or opening a new charge account at a retail outlet. It seems a little harsh on the lender’s part to restrict access to money in this way, but they are simply weighing the odds of repayment. A lender is in the business of selling money, issuing funds to those in need with an expected return on investment in the form of interest. The last thing a lender wants to do is write-off their loans, for that is akin to throwing money out the window. The credit score allows lenders to better manage their risk, while maximizing their rewards at the same time.

As is obvious to many of us, spiritual life is not a very easy thing to adopt, especially since we are taught from the time of birth to go after sense gratification and economic development. After all, without economic development, how would we meet the basic demands of the body? Spiritual life is a little difficult to take seriously if we’re starving to death. So in this regard, the activities of acquiring wealth and knowledge take precedence over anything else. “Oh let me just get settled down first; then I’ll worry about spirituality and the meaning of life and all that other good stuff.”

This situation likely represents the largest stumbling block towards advancement in spiritual life, with the other hurdle being the lack of interaction with the supreme object of worship. Spiritual life requires taking to a set of prescriptions and guidelines for the purpose of achieving bliss in the afterlife. By definition, this means that we won’t see the fruits of our efforts until after we are long gone, after we have left our current body. Since none of us are entirely sure of what the afterlife brings, it’s a little difficult to have faith in a process that grants rewards which mature at a time to be determined.

Christmas gifts Aside from the issues pertaining to the visibility of the expectant rewards, there is the issue of the visibility of the object of all religious practice: God. If we offer service to our wife, husband, children, or boss, we at least get to see them. The Christmas holiday and birthdays are perfect illustrations of this concept. If we buy someone a Christmas gift, we are essentially offering them a type of service. The rewards of this kindness are seen in the recipients’ reactions to opening their gifts. The service we offer to our employer manifests in the form of a paycheck or a promotion.

With God, however, there really isn’t a direct interaction, at least not for one who is in a conditioned state. What does “conditioned” mean? The Vedas, the original system of spirituality descending from the Divine Creator, teach that upon taking birth in this world, a living entity becomes conditioned. The condition, or predicament, is that of false identification. As mentioned before, the afterlife is the great unknown, something which some people believe in, and others completely disregard. Based on this uncertainty, the living entities have a tendency to identify solely with their current life’s experiences and the ups and downs that come with them. The Vedas describe this identification as being a symptom of conditioned life. The opposite of the conditioned state is the liberated one. When on this transcendental platform, a spirit soul identifies completely with God and their relationship to Him. Since the likelihood of achieving this liberated state greatly increases in the human form of body, the human species is taken to be the most advanced. Moreover, it is the ascension to this liberated state that then becomes the highest occupation of man, the supreme dharma, the sublime engagement. One can see God only after having freed themselves from the false identification inherited at birth.

Lord Rama So it seems that we’re in a Catch-22. In order to see God, we have to take to spiritual life and become liberated. At the same time, since we can’t see God in the conditioned state, it becomes harder to believe in the idea of liberation and the potential for having a face-to-face meeting with the Supreme Lord. To help the conditioned living entities with their dilemma, the Supreme Lord descends to earth from time to time. One such appearance took place during the Treta Yuga when the original form of Godhead, the Supreme Lord for all of mankind, incarnated as a pious and handsome prince named Rama. In India, Lord Rama is celebrated and adored by millions, but we shouldn’t take this to mean that Rama is a sectarian figure or the exclusive property of Hindus. There is no such thing as a God for one subsection of society and a different God for another group. God is the all-powerful, so His dominion and mercy spread across the entire world, to every living entity, irrespective of their place of birth, parentage, skin color, or religious practice.

Shri Rama exhibited all the qualities one would expect from God. He was kind, thoughtful, sweet, heroic, and equally disposed to everyone. This means that He didn’t play any favorites; He didn’t pit one group versus another, declaring one class to be advantaged based on their accumulation of material objects, while declaring another group to be downtrodden due to their lack of material wealth. If He did show any favoritism, it was directed towards the brahmanas, the priestly class of men. The brahmanas, who can be considered a purified form of an intelligentsia, were completely dedicated to Rama, so the Lord’s favoritism towards them wasn’t surprising. Since they were dedicated to the Supreme Spirit, the Lord reciprocated their kind sentiments.

Just by observing Rama’s behavior towards the brahmanas, sufficient evidence pertaining to the Lord’s pure nature and His worthiness of worship is gathered. In addition, the authority of Rama’s closest associates, which include His younger brother Lakshmana, can also be used to substantiate the claims made by the Vedas, the scriptures which perpetually sing of Rama’s glories. The two princes, Rama and Lakshmana, were once roaming the forests of India in search of Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, who had been previously kidnapped by a demon. Making their way to the forest of Kishkindha, the two brothers met up with a Vanara named Hanuman, who was the chief emissary of a monkey-king named Sugriva. Upon meeting Rama and Lakshmana, Hanuman’s heart melted. He immediately took to praising them, extolling the virtues of the two princes he had just met. Rama in turn was quite pleased with Hanuman and thus agreed to form an alliance with Hanuman’s leader.

Hanuman with Lakshmana and Rama After the plan for the alliance was agreed upon, Hanuman was a little curious as to why the two handsome and powerful princes were roaming the forests alone. In response to his questions, Lakshmana gave a brief rundown of their circumstances. The above referenced statement was part of this description, wherein Lakshmana openly declares himself to be a humble servant of Rama. This statement is interesting for many reasons, the primary of which relates to identity. By all accounts, Lakshmana was just as powerful and beautiful as Rama. In fact, many referred to them as twins, with the only difference in appearance being their complexion. Rama was dark-skinned while Lakshmana was fair. Lakshmana was a celestial being as well, a partial incarnation of Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Vishnu is God’s all-pervading form which has four arms and resides in the spiritual world.

Even though he donned all of these wonderful features, Lakshmana still chose to identify himself as Rama’s servant. According to the standard social etiquette of the time, a younger brother’s duty was to serve the elder brother anyway, so in this regard Lakshmana’s identification was understandable. Lest anyone think he was simply following protocol, Lakshmana emphasizes that the reason for his dedication to Rama has only to do with his brother’s qualities. Rama’s virtue and transcendental qualities, gunaih, were so overwhelming that it impelled Lakshmana to dedicate his life to Him.

Rama Darbar The Supreme Lord’s qualities are certainly overwhelmingly great, but in the conditioned state, it is a little difficult to make this reading, for we are blinded by our own desires to imitate the Lord’s abilities in the areas of creation, maintenance, and destruction. Yet even if one hasn’t ascended to the liberated platform, they can begin to make steps towards the sublime state by hearing from authorities like Lakshmana. Rama’s younger brother vouches for Him and declares that the Lord’s qualities are so great that anyone who knows Him will most certainly decide to dedicate their lives to Him. For this reason, Lord Chaitanya, God’s most recent incarnation as a human being to appear on earth, advised everyone to simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and distribute Krishna’s instructions to all of mankind. Through hearing these transcendental sound vibrations, one gets reacquainted with the Supreme Lord, the most deserving object of pleasure. Anyone who renders even a little service is assured of being paid back with the highest interest, that of a return to the spiritual sky at the end of life.