Saturday, December 31, 2011

Double Or Nothing

Krishna's lotus feet“Activity in Krishna consciousness, or acting for the benefit of Krishna without expectation of sense gratification, is the highest transcendental quality of work. Even a small beginning of such activity finds no impediment, nor can that small beginning be lost at any stage.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40 Purport)

You’ve put in your time at the particular job, knowing that you’ve given it your all and that certain goals just will not be achieved no matter how much more effort is expended. The freedom that comes with living in a modern democratic nation, a place where free will is generally not infringed upon by the forces of government, allows the individual to make decisions that will affect their future. Should they be unhappy in a particular scenario, they can change their setting, find a new place to live and work that will hopefully give them the pleasure they are looking for. There is risk at every turn, however. If you leave the one job you have for another, you could potentially end up losing both, and then be left to worry over what might have been. For the spiritualist sincerely trying to gain the Supreme Lord’s favor, however, there is no such risk.

20110223image003“Does a spiritualist think that they are risking something by dedicating more time to spiritual life? Why is there a distinction between spiritual and material anyway? Doesn’t this whole world belong to God? Am I not connecting with the Lord just by living, working to maintain my family? Isn’t service to man sufficient for serving God?” The separation between material and spiritual life exists in the minds of those who don’t understand how to dovetail every single behavior with service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That highest discipline is bhakti-yoga, which aims to keep a link to the divine consciousness in a mood of love through every single activity of the day. Whether to the outsider the behavior appears spiritual or material is of no concern, for the consciousness is focused on the glorious attributes of the Supreme Person. That contemplation then results in work being performed to maintain the concentration, completing the circle. Though the activities may vary, the link to the divine consciousness does not break.

Someone not on the divine platform will make distinctions. For instance, hearing, chanting, remembering, serving, and offering prayers specifically to a deity or divine figure are seen as behaviors bearing no relation to working hard at the jobsite, studying in school, spending time with the wife and kids, going out to watch movies, playing sports, going out to eat at a restaurant, or so many other things. Because there are distinctions made based on the beneficiary of the activity, the proportion between the two behaviors is also monitored. Sort of like how one will manage the portion sizes of their food intake, the person seeing duality in existence will take stock of how much time is dedicated to spiritual life, for there is the feeling that the material and spiritual are mutually exclusive.

Are they not correct? If you’re chanting the holy names of the Lord, like those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, are you not avoiding some other behavior? If you’re sitting in a church or temple, is that not an explicit act of religion that is devoid of material association? When one knows the proper definition of God and acts off of it there can be no distinction, as the mentality from the spiritual activities seeps into the consciousness of the individual and then carries over into their other activities.

As a crude example to see a similar principle in effect, we can take weight training. During the actual period of exercise, the different muscles atrophy; they are stretched to the limit so that they can increase in strength. What results is that during periods of rest the muscles continue to eat, sort of like burning calories without doing anything extra. Thus the short amount of time spent in explicit exercise ends up resulting in calorie burning distributed throughout the day, even during sedentary periods like sleep.

The aim of spirituality is similar, except the benefits are all-encompassing. Submissive hearing of the holy names and pastimes of the Supreme Personality are the most effective form of spiritual activity, as they immediately take the mind somewhere else, a place where the dualities of heat and cold, gain and loss, and elation and suffering are absent. This sort of escape is always sought, such as through movies, books and television shows. The tendency for escape is already there, but in bhakti the destination of the travelling mind is pure, thereby making the hearing spiritual.

Krishna's pastimesDespite these cogent truths passed on by the acharyas of the Vedic tradition, the tendency is to think that if I devote too much time to spiritual life, I’ll eventually renounce everything and leave my important obligations neglected. The flaw that immediately jumps to mind is that the worthiness of the obligations supposedly missed is not taken account of. The sports gambler has the obligation of having an internet connection, a cell phone, and a television programming package that carries all the games that he needs to see. The fact that gambling is rooted in the mode of passion and thus leads to a neutral state is not recognized by the gambler feverishly looking to win the next big payout.

The mode of passion is one of the three modes of material nature that govern behavior and also the types of body assumed. The human being typically falls into the mode of passion, with mixes of the modes of goodness and ignorance sprinkled in. The complete description of these modes can be found in the Bhagavad-gita, the most concise treatise on Vedic philosophy, which happens to be delivered by the origin of all knowledge, Shri Krishna. In short we can say that the mode of goodness leads to knowledge, passion to a neutral state coupled with misery, and ignorance to a much worse off position.

“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 KrishnaThe gambler is in the mode of passion because through the difficult work of making the wager and nervously waiting to see the outcome, even success does not provide enough mental satisfaction to stop the gambler from repeating the same activity. Similarly, the business mogul who has made billions of dollars doesn’t stop where they are, for their activity has not proved to be satisfactory at making them happy.

Following bhakti-yoga by learning the principles of the Bhagavad-gita from someone who knows how to apply the concepts into everyday life eventually gives one the ability to properly assess whether their specific obligations feared over are worth having. For argument’s sake, let’s say that there is some fear in the beginning. “I don’t want to chant Hare Krishna too often or read too many books about Krishna’s wonderful pastimes in the sacred land of Vrajabhumi because I’m afraid I won’t be able to take care of my other needs, which keep a roof over my head and food on the table.” Though this fear exists, in real yoga there is never a chance at becoming a loser in God’s eyes, a fact confirmed by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita.

“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.40)

When contemplating whether or not to take a new job, there is an inherent risk to consider. Say, for instance, that while working at a job that we are comfortably situated in, another offer comes in. This new place is enticing, as it has certain things that we are looking for. One option is to quit the current job and accept the new position. Ah, but there is a risk. What if we fail at the new job? What if we are unable to perform the tasks to the satisfaction of the proprietor? What if we hate the new work environment? What if the people who promised us the job actually go back on their word and give the position to someone else, after we have quit our current job?

In these instances we would become total losers, left without any job. This same risk accompanies every kind of material behavior, those activities where God is not the beneficiary. Indeed, loss is concomitant with gain, as there must be death after birth. The journey through life in the human form involves acquiring certain things and losing others. No property is stable; nothing is permanently retained in our name.

With devotional service, the aim is to purify consciousness, which is an aspect of our identity that stays with us from life to life, as it determined the circumstances of our present birth and the type of nature we assumed. It is seen that some children are born quiet and peaceful, while others are clever, naughty and a general pain in the behind. Some people are born with the ability to adapt to new situations and incorporate the information they acquire very quickly, while others are slow learners and take a long time to complete their tasks. These tendencies are inherited from the previous life, where consciousness was shaped through activity.

With bhakti-yoga, the gains never diminish. Even if we devote much time to studying the Vedas and hearing about Krishna and then simultaneously renounce our other obligations, there is never any risk of complete destruction. If the plunge into spiritual life should result in failure, if somehow we break out of the divine consciousness, we get to start off from the same point in the next life. This benefit is present only in bhakti-yoga and not any other endeavor. You leave a construction site with the job half-finished and you have essentially failed. You may have occupied your time with constructive behavior, but otherwise there is no lasting benefit to the work you put in.

Worshiping Radha and KrishnaIn bhakti, there is at least the seed of devotion to God remaining inside of you, just waiting to be watered again through the association of saints and the submissive hearing of Krishna-katha, or talks about the Supreme Lord in His personal form. With guaranteed progress, there is no reason not to at least give a little time to spiritual life. The saints know that in the current age of Kali conditions in society are not conducive to following spiritual life with any determination. Houses where the names of the Supreme Lord are chanted regularly in earnest are difficult to find, and it seems that even the prominent spiritualists have ulterior motives. Not to fear, though, for the holy name is all we need to connect with God in a mood of love. The recommendation of chanting the holy names in the maha-mantra daily for at least sixteen rounds on a set of japa beads proves to be our best friend, the most effective weapon in our attack against the thick fog of nescience. Just chant the holy names on a regular basis, even if you think it’s an activity that will cause you to lose out on other obligations, and see what effect it has. Changing from one job to another can leave you without any, but making Krishna the beneficiary of your activities instead of material nature will always make you a winner in the mind, for the Supreme Lord will comfortably rest within your thoughts holding His flute and dazzling your consciousness with His sweet vision.

In Closing:

At your current jobsite you’re comfortable,

Smooth sailing, no signs of any trouble.

Then comes an offer from the outside,

To work at new job, give up old and tried.

Now you have a tough decision to make,

Stay where you are or new offer to take.

Trouble when new offer should go south,

A job at either place you are left without.

Only in bhakti-yoga is there not any risk,

Following Krishna brings success that is brisk.

Friday, December 30, 2011

The Sword of Devotion

Hanuman meditating“Or I think that maybe she was taken to Ravana's home and is crying very softly there like a caged myna. How can that wife of Rama, who is born in Janaka's family and has a slender waist and eyes like lotus petals, come under Ravana's control? Whether Janaka’s daughter is spoiled, lost, or dead, it is not possible for me to tell Rama, for she is His dear wife.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.15-17)

athavā nihitā manye rāvaṇasya niveśane ||
nūnam lālapyate mandam panjarasthā iva śārikā |
janakasya kule jātā rāma patnī sumadhyamā ||
katham utpala patra akṣī rāvaṇasya vaśam vrajet |
vinaṣṭā vā pranaṣṭā vā mṛtā vā janaka ātmajā ||
rāmasya priya bhāryasya na nivedayitum kṣamam |

“Do this; do that. Take care of this responsibility; make sure not to forget to do that. What happens if I fail in this task, how will I survive? What if this particular event doesn’t go my way, will I be able to handle the loss? Will others around me be able to deal with the sudden turn of events?” In a realm governed by illusion, man is enveloped by a fearing attitude, knowing full well that everything he is accustomed to having in his surrounding environment can be taken away within seconds. Rather than accept his position that is insignificant in comparison to the larger forces operating in nature, man’s tendency is to try to get a handle on everything by asserting even more control over events. But pretty soon, the possible outcomes can become too much for the mind to handle. Even the dearest servants of the Supreme Lord are not immune to being overwhelmed within the mind, but because their consciousness is focused in the right area, they are eventually able to figure out the proper course of action, to see to it that the situation ends well.

“Is it possible for consciousness to be directed towards an improper place?” Certainly it is, and this shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. If I have a major project due in a class I am enrolled in, my focus of attention should be on the completion of that task. To meet that objective, I have to do preparation work, research, and the actual implementation, followed by a thorough review. This must all be done within the time constraints allotted for the task. The organization, time management, and steadiness of mind are of paramount importance.

dog taking napNow, instead of focusing on the project, let’s say that my consciousness were to drift towards other engagements, things that would help lengthen my procrastination. The nap is the most appealing outlet in such situations. When we fall asleep at night, there is some pressure to wake up at a certain time in the morning. If, after lying in bed for a few hours, we still haven’t fallen asleep, the mind starts to worry. “If I don’t fall asleep right now, at this very instant, I’m going to be tired when I wake up in the morning. Then I won’t be able to do anything properly throughout the day.” The nap, on the other hand, is by definition meant to be an escape from pressure. The nap is an unscheduled period of rest, where there is no set time for falling asleep or waking up. Now, imagine if you have something very pressing that needs to get done. In this situation, the escape that is the nap will be enjoyed even more.

If my consciousness is focused on sleep when it needs to be fixed on the project due in my class, obviously the chances of completing the task on time and in a proper manner will be reduced. Similarly, in the struggle for existence, if the mind remains wrapped around tasks which have been previously completed many times successfully, the bigger picture, the ultimate goal in life, will remain far, far away. On the other hand, when keeping the mind fixed on the Supreme Person, the object of energy from which all energy manifestations emanate, even a temporary setback in a prioritized engagement can be beneficial.

How does this work exactly? For starters, we know from our past experiences that we made it through difficult tasks, jobs that we worried about throughout the implementation. We can take something as simple as graduating from high school to be reminded. For those who passed high school, there were many years of courses and homework assignments to complete. Surely there was pressure felt in the periods of time preceding many of these tasks, yet somehow we made it through just fine. We worried about what might happen if we didn’t succeed, but eventually success was found anyway.

graduationSince the mind is so forgetful, the individual doesn’t remember that he has completed so many difficult tasks previously. Therefore worry tends to crop up over and over again. How do we solve the problem? How do we find peace and satisfaction in life without worrying about the important jobs that need to get done? Moreover, how do we keep the mind from dwelling on the worst possible outcomes? Rather than eliminate the negative thoughts, the assertive approach proves to be more fruitful. Keep the mind attached on the supreme loveable object and His interests, and this will provide insulation from the negative thoughts that have a harmful influence.

Those things in life we view as negative can only be labeled as such if they produce an unfavorable outcome. For instance, the scorching hot rays of the sun in summer can cause sunburn which leaves the skin irritated for weeks on end. But if we just take a little bit of the sun’s rays and make sure to protect ourselves at other times, the rays that were previously negative turn out to be harmless. On a more abstract level, if our negative thoughts can be tossed aside in favor of a positive engagement, one that leads to the best resting place, or param dhama, then even the temporary turmoil caused by the reappearance of those impure thoughts turns out to be a blessing.

This was the case with Shri Hanuman, the most faithful Vanara warrior and dear servant of Lord Rama. Hanuman has a strange appearance; he has the form of a monkey with extraordinary abilities. When it comes to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, it is understandable if someone hereditarily predisposed to religious life would make devotion their primary engagement. For instance, seeing someone born into a family with a rich tradition of spiritual life take to devotional life, regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is not that surprising. What other occupation did we expect them to go into? Did we really think they’d become football players, heads of state, or business moguls?

Lord Rama holding His bowBut when someone who you wouldn’t think would take to religious life becomes a dear servant of the Lord, the effects are far reaching. In the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the forest dwellers were monkey-like, but they also had many human capabilities. Since they lived in the forest, they were still considered less civilized, not cultured enough to get a formal education. Shri Ramachandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead appearing on earth during that time in the guise of a warrior prince, bestows His mercy to all. To avoid this being mistaken for a lofty promise, Rama backs up His supreme position and divine mercy by showering His blessings on every single man, woman, child and creature roaming the earth.

The sun is God’s direct representative, and it shines its light on all the creation. As the spiritual sun, Lord Rama is meant to be worshiped by everyone. Rather than gift the entire world endless amounts of sense gratification, which would do them no good, Rama brings with Him the opportunity for service. Who is granted enrollment? Obviously those who are the most eager would get the highly coveted positions. In all the three worlds, within every inch of space, you could search through and through and you would never find anyone more eager to serve God than Hanuman. To meet his enthusiasm for devotion to Rama, there needed to be a difficult task. That was taken care of by the Rakshasa king Ravana, who through a backhanded plot took Sita away from Rama’s side while the couple was residing in the forest of Dandaka.

The Vanaras of Kishkindha, headed by Sugriva, were tasked with finding Sita’s whereabouts. Hanuman, being their most capable warrior, was the one who made it to Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka. Unfortunately, Hanuman was there all alone. None of the other monkeys, as powerful as they were, could make the giant leap across the ocean separating Lanka from the mainland. Though he had a daunting task ahead of him, Hanuman is never faint of heart. So many obstacles were thrown his way, and yet he managed to maneuver around each one of them, finally making it to the insides of the city.

Shri Hanuman worshiping RamaAfter searching here, there and everywhere, Hanuman still could not find Sita. He found Ravana, his palace, and the beautiful queens living inside of it. Despite this, he still had yet to ever see Sita. Understandably, Hanuman succumbed to some doubts; some mental demons started to appear. He began to contemplate the worst, that Sita might not be alive anymore. He thought of the different ways that she might have been killed, almost testing his resolve to see if he could handle thinking of such horrible occurrences.

In the above referenced verses from the Ramayana, Hanuman is wondering whether Sita has been placed in a cage somewhere and is crying the whole time. Then he wonders how Sita could ever fall under the sway of Ravana, for she is forever devoted to Rama. Next, Hanuman’s mind jumps through the possibilities of how and what to tell Rama. If Sita were dead, Hanuman could never bring that news to Rama. If he had failed to find Sita, the news would be equally as disturbing. Yet if he didn’t say anything, even that was sinful. What to do?

Mind you, at the time Hanuman had already faced so many difficult obstacles and pushed passed each of them. In this respect he had no reason to worry, as the mission was so important that Rama would ensure his success. Nevertheless, he loves Sita and Rama so much that it pains him greatly to even think of failing them. As mentioned previously, if consciousness is situated in the right place, even temporary bouts of mental turmoil can turn out to be a blessing. Hanuman can never divorce himself from Rama and His interests. Therefore he was able to successfully defeat his mental demons and forge ahead, continuing his search. He would eventually find Sita, and the triumphant reunion of the divine couple would occur soon after. Just as Hanuman succeeded by keeping Shri Rama at the forefront of his consciousness, anyone who regularly remembers and honors Shri Hanuman while performing their devotional service, which is man’s ideal occupation, will be able to slash every unwanted desire that should happen to arise. Hanuman gives those who love him the sword of devotion, which can cut through even the thickest covering of doubt.

In Closing:

“Maybe after to Lanka Sita bringing,

She in Ravana’s home like caged bird singing.

Of Ravana how could she ever come under control,

For Sita from Janaka, who of piety has firm hold.

If she is lost, dead or spoiled, whatever the case,

Never I can tell Rama, He of moon-like face.”

Thus Hanuman by his mind greatly troubled,

But with sword of devotion commitment redoubled.

That sweet and chaste lady he would find,

Glory of Rama’s servants the world he would remind.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Catch Me If You Can

Krishna being chased by Mother Yashoda“Yogis cannot capture Krishna by severe penances and austerities, but mother Yashoda, despite all obstacles, was finally able to catch Krishna without difficulty. This is the difference between a yogi and a bhakta.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.10)

Mother Yashoda had everything going against her in her chase for her young son. Being very clever, the young boy could run away at the first sign of trouble. He was quick as well, as He had just speedily left the scene of a minor crime, one which He had perpetrated. On the other side, the beautiful mother was nicely dressed, not wearing clothes conducive to running. As a mature woman, she was weighed down by the upper portion of her body, which hampered her ability to run. The person she was running after also happened to be the most elusive person in the world, who can only be caught by one method. Mother Yashoda unknowingly knew what that method was, and she was therefore able to catch her son.

Krishna and Mother YashodaWhy is this person so elusive? And what is the one method that can be used to catch Him? The Vedas describe the young son of Yashoda by the word Krishna, which means all-attractive. Attraction is what grabs the attention of others; captivating them, reeling their interest in. An attractive painting is nice to look at, for the famous saying is, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” This means that you can look at one picture day after day and find new ways to describe it. Not that the previous descriptions were incorrect or insufficient, but the scene depicted can be so beautiful and have so much context that many new explanations spring forth upon each glance.

Those who know the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the all-attractive Krishna, have a similar experience when trying to describe His glories. While the painting has a measurable context in the background which can be discussed, Shri Krishna is all-inclusive. Every aspect of this creation can be tied to Him, provided that one can use the torchlight of knowledge passed down by the Vedic seers. Though the spirit soul, the essence of identity, is supremely knowledgeable, when entrapped in a covering of nescience, there is no way to find that internal light without using the tools handed down by others.

Does this mean that we can go on studying and studying and never uncover the brilliant knowledge that already belongs to us? Through connecting with Krishna - who is the same in quality as the spirit souls except for the fact that His brilliant features never get covered - one can find the knowledgebase that already belongs to them. With the divine connection comes dexterity in thought, the ability to know every aspect of the creation’s link to Shri Krishna. A person who knows Krishna can look at the grass on the ground and find some way to remember Krishna. They can take a sip of water and have the taste remind them of the Lord, a practice directly hinted at by Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita.

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

Krishna teaching ArjunaConnecting with Krishna occurs through the methods of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, handed down by the spiritual masters of the Vedic tradition. They originally got the necessary knowledge from Krishna Himself, who is thus the origin of any bona fide chain of disciplic succession, or parampara. The principle method of bhakti is hearing, which simultaneously takes place when one regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

We often hear that it is good to worship God in order to put the many obligations in your life into the proper perspective. How to actually go about worshiping is where the paths diverge. Through the holy name one can directly connect with the Lord in all His glory. Chanting the holy name with love is the topmost activity in spirituality, superior to any type of sacrifice, penance, austerity, visit to a pilgrimage site, or meditation.

In other methods of spiritual practice, the ultimate objective, whether known or not, is to reach the point where the holy name is cherished, honored and regularly recited. The example of Mother Yashoda chasing after Krishna is a case in point. Every person is attracted by Krishna and is thus trying to catch Him, but depending on the aspect they choose to associate with, their effort may not be successful. Think of it as looking at the same beautiful painting but with your vision impaired. The atheist, he who is completely in the dark about the changing nature of the body and how spirit is transcendental to matter, has no clue what the picture really looks like. They have no choice but to speculate, formulating theories that can never be tested for validity. Any competing theory is just as good, for no one can validly assert correctness when there is no light.

Even when operating in the dark one is connecting with Krishna in some way, for the material energy comes from Him. The problem is that Krishna Himself is not personally present in the all-pervading impersonal aspect. He is the support of every life form but this doesn’t mean that every life form is God. Just as we can’t communicate with someone by talking to their feet, we can’t directly connect with Krishna by worshiping matter and harboring attachment for it. There are authorized methods of linking with the divine consciousness, and without following these methods there is no chance of catching Krishna.

Krishna holding flute and flowerThose who are somewhat knowledgeable about spirituality can shine some more light on the portrait of Shyamasundara - Shri Krishna with the blackish complexion, holding a flute in His hands and wearing a peacock feather in His hair. But once again the Lord cannot be caught. The gross materialist is known as a karmi, or one who follows fruitive activity. The spiritualists follow jnana, yoga, or bhakti. In jnana-yoga, one learns about the differences between matter and spirit and how the all-pervading spiritual force known as Brahman is superior to the temporary energy manifestation.

The meditational yogi realizes God’s presence locally within the heart as the Paramatma. The yogi is far superior to the materialist, for they explicitly try to capture God within. Yet even after much time in meditation there is still no guarantee of success. In yoga there is no loss from expending effort, for Shri Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita alleviates the fears of those worried over a wasted attempt by telling Arjuna that the unsuccessful yogi takes birth in auspicious circumstances in the next life and gets to resume their yoga from the point at which they left off.

The bhakta, however, captures Krishna completely, even without qualifying themselves through deep study or intense meditation. In the Vedic tradition women are generally considered unintelligent with respect to understanding the high truths of Vedanta, or the ultimate system of knowledge. While to say someone is unintelligent is considered an insult, in bhakti this apparent defect can be very helpful. Basic intelligence is only useful if the proper end is desired. For instance, someone can be very well equipped to do physics and mathematics, but if they use their talents for creating bombs and other items that cause mass destruction, how is their intelligence beneficial to anyone?

Mother YashodaMother Yashoda wasn’t a Vedantist, nor was she a yogi. She did not spend any time sitting in asanas or fixing her eyes on the tip of the nose and meditating on the sacred syllable om. Rather, she was just an ordinary cowherd woman and mother who loved her son very much. Because of her love for her beloved Krishna, who is the Supreme Lord and object of worship for the yogis and jnanis, she was able to capture Him. The Lord even tried to escape from her a few times to enhance the loving exchanges, but He was not able to get away. Yashoda’s net of love was too far reaching for the young Krishna to break free from.

Studying Vedanta philosophy, doing meditational yoga, following strict austerities, and performing sacrifices and rituals are indeed beneficial, for they bring one closer towards realizing and loving Krishna. There is a sacrifice known as the Satyanarayana Puja performed monthly by many followers of the Vedic tradition. This puja yields auspiciousness both in the current life and the next. Part of the worship involves reciting stories relating to Shri Satyanarayana, and at the end of the storytelling it is revealed that Sudama Vipra and Maharaja Dasharatha were some of the famous personalities of the past who performed the puja. By following the sacrifice regularly, in their next births they were able to associate directly with the Supreme Personality of Godhead and offer their pure love to Him. Dasharatha got to have Krishna appear as His son named Rama. Sudama Vipra got to worship Krishna directly in a mood of friendship.

In this way it can be understood that one who takes to bhakti has already performed many pious acts in past lives. The pious behavior indirectly led them to Krishna’s company, but only through the loving attitude were they actually able to catch up to the Lord. In Mother Yashoda’s case, her young son had broken a pot of butter in anger and then ran off with the goods. Seeing what He had done, the sweetheart lady affectionately chased after her child with a whipping stick. Krishna ran away, pretending to be afraid, and though the odds were in His favor, He was nevertheless caught.

Yashoda binding KrishnaHearing about this story is as good as having been there. Though the mind is chanchala, or restless, try to fix it on the holy name of the Lord and discussions of His pastimes. The cowherd mother would capture Krishna in her heart even when He wasn’t by her side. Yashoda would turn His childhood activities into songs and sing them while tending to household chores. One can perform meditational yoga which is very difficult to follow, especially in this age, and maybe hope to one day catch Krishna, after so much time and effort is spent, or one can just chant the Lord’s names, remember His activities, and go on with their routine work. The latter option is not only easier but it is more effective, as proved by the queen of Vraja herself. She is still honored and worshiped to this day, for the heart delights in remembering her fondness for her darling son.

In Closing:

Yashoda’s son of Vraja is darling,

His face precious, and smile so charming.

When He runs away He has the upper hand,

On mother who carries a stick in her hand.

Against Krishna no force is a fair match,

Yet Yashoda her son able to catch.

Thus to jnani and yogi she is superior,

Had no interest in energy that is inferior.

Story of mother’s love for son still told,

Hear it with ears and in mind watch it unfold.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Little Did He Know

Vishvamitra's lotus feet“Welcoming his dear guest and worshiping his feet, the king said, ‘Because you have visited I don’t think anyone is as fortunate as I am.’” (Janaki Mangala, 16)

pūji pahunaī kīnha pāi priya pāhuna |
kaheu bhūpa mohi sarisa sukṛta kie kāhu na ||

Little did King Dasharatha know that the initial words of praise he offered to his revered guest would come back to bite him, for what was first considered a great fortune would turn out to be a painful jab to the heart of this decent ruler, who for all his righteousness was completely attached to his eldest son. Not to fear though, as there would be a silver lining to the dark cloud of separation. Auspiciousness would arrive due to the desires of the worshiped guest. The youthful son and His younger brother would escort the venerable sage, who had come to visit the king to get his permission for their company. Through the direction of the muni, the two brothers would eventually make their way to the tilaka of the earth, Tirahuta, where a grand ceremony was taking place to determine the marriage of the daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi. Dasharatha’s eldest son, whose separation causes so much pain, brought immense delight to the kingdom of Videha, for He would prove to be the only man worthy of being married to the goddess of fortune, Shri Janaki.

Sita and RamaIt is not that only the criminals, miscreants and evildoers cause pain. The saints and their worshipable figure do so as well; such is the duality of the world that we currently occupy. A criminal causes pain to the person they steal from, and the philanderer to their lawfully wedded spouse. The liar inflicts hurt upon those they cheat. The impious ruler cloaks the citizens in a shroud of ignorance, to the point that they can no longer even make out what is the right course of action and what isn’t. Piety and virtue are marked as such for achieving future benefits that continue into the afterlife. The proper set of regulations necessary for achieving a favorable outcome can be considered a system of piety, or dharma. Anything which goes against these regulations, and which thereby jeopardizes the successful outcome, gets tagged as sin.

The miscreant causes pain to others and themselves because they live off of sin. Through ignorance of the purpose to the regulations and the objectives they are trying to reach, or through blatant defiance of the proper path, the impious accept the wrong set of activities. If you build a house the wrong way, the deserved painful reaction will occur eventually. Just because you don’t see the reaction right away doesn’t mean that it will not arrive. Many thousands of years ago, a band of night-rangers [nishacharas] raided the peaceful and serene forests of Dandaka, terrorizing the innocent sages who had taken refuge of the calm confines. Since the sages were helpless and nonviolent and the night-rangers powerful and capable of changing shapes at will, there was really no contest in the battle.

“We have been greatly harassed in Dandaka-aranya by the Rakshasas wearing different shapes at will. Therefore do You protect us, O Rama.” (Sages speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 10.10)

Lord RamaWhy would anyone attack innocent sages? Obviously, to do so one has to be completely ignorant of righteousness. That ignorance causes an enhanced sense of fear. The root cause of the ignorance is the attachment to the temporary body, a form which is destined for destruction. Knowledge of impending death coupled with ignorance of the eternal existence of the spirit soul results in the foolish taking sense gratification to be the ultimate objective in life. Dharma in its original sense has nothing to do with temporary ups and downs relating to a body that is not tied to the essence of individuality, the spirit soul. Dharma as a guiding system is instituted to create the proper path, where detachment from the temporary steadily increases.

The ignorant mind has no knowledge of dharma. The level of stupidity can get so high that sometimes the people that are abiding by dharma are seen as enemies. If I don’t have any scruples, if my belief is that my identity was created at the time of birth and will dissipate at the time of death, I will obviously want to cram as much enjoyment as possible into the short duration of existence that I have. Rules be damned, for what does it matter if someone else is happy? How is their happiness going to do anything for me? Rather, let me just enjoy as much as possible and squelch any competition.

The nishacharas were so ignorant that they didn’t stop at competing with others who were interested in sense gratification. The sages in the forest were religious, and through their spiritual practices they could teach others about the proper aim in life, how to live according to dharma and how to remain detached from the senses. The light of knowledge is the greatest threat to those who live under the veil of darkness. For the ignorant the best option is to root out the competition, for in the arena of ideas there is no competition. How can an uneducated young child argue high points of philosophy with an older person who has experienced what life has to offer and who knows about impending death?

In the realm of spirituality, the nishacharas, or those atheists blinded by mental darkness, are like the uneducated children and the saints given to dharma the educated class. The difference with the night-rangers was that they were mature in bodily development, so they could use brute force to defeat their competition. So vile were these creatures that they would eat the flesh of the sages after killing them. Not understanding how karma works and how negative reactions are due to arrive in the future in the proper season, the night-rangers thought they were safe.

The famous ascetic Vishvamitra was being harassed by these ghoulish creatures, and instead of using his spiritual strength to counterattack their effect, he went to the king of the land, Maharaja Dasharatha, to get personal protection. A brahmana, or priest of the Vedic tradition, can cast spells against enemies, but by so doing they lose some of their spiritual merits, which are difficult to accumulate. The kshatriya, or warrior caste, is in charge of providing protection to all members of society, especially the brahmanas.

Vishvamitra didn’t come to Ayodhya to get Dasharatha’s personal protection. The sage knew that the king’s eldest son, though still young at the time, was more than capable of defeating the Rakshasas. That famous son, named Rama, would many years later defeat 14,000 of the most capable night-rangers all by Himself. In the final confrontation of that battle, Rama informed the opposing group’s leader, Khara, that the gruesome reactions to his horrible work of killing sages was coming to him in the form of death. That death would be instigated by the arrows flying from Rama’s bow.

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

Lord Rama holding bowAt the time of Vishvamitra’s visit a much younger Rama was still capable of providing protection to the sage. King Dasharatha, not knowing the purpose for the visit, got up and welcomed the sage, worshiping his feet and declaring that the visit had made him the most fortunate. A pious king like Dasharatha had already proved his high character by getting such a wonderful son like Rama, who was loved and adored by everyone in the community. Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana once remarked that even Rama’s enemies couldn’t find anything bad to say about Him, for they knew that Rama never held grudges or punished anyone without just cause.

“I have not seen any person in this world, be they an enemy or one punished for heinous sins, speak ill of Rama, even in His absence.” (Lakshmana speaking to Kausalya, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 21.5)

Vishvamitra was famous at the time for his dedication to austerity, and his visit to Ayodhya meant that some of his auspiciousness would be shared with the royal family. In an ideal system, the warrior class provides protection under the expert guidance of the brahmanas. Think of how a politician takes advice on strategy from his campaign advisors. A military man is more focused on showing dexterity on the battlefield, so he is not expected to be supremely knowledgeable on things like dispassion, the meaning of life, and how to act properly in the many different situations that arise.

The brahmanas are completely dedicated to their craft of knowledge gathering, not spending time in fruitive ventures. They don’t earn money to maintain a living, they don’t fight against enemies, nor do they offer menial service to others. Even if they are relegated to these activities, they do them with detachment, maintaining their focus on the primary aim of dharma, that of connecting with the soul of all living beings. That supreme energy is all-pervading and in its original form is a person, a supreme one at that.

Since they know this all-pervading spirit, which is called Brahman, the brahmanas are enlightened. They can give so much good advice to any person fortunate and humble enough to accept it. Dasharatha exhibited the proper attitude when receiving Vishvamitra, and he didn’t exaggerate when he stated that he had become blessed with auspicious merits, or sukriti, through the association. What the king didn’t know was that Vishvamitra had come to take away his beloved son Rama.

Lord RamaThe king did not want to part with Rama, but his deference to dharma took precedence over his attachment. Rather than break protocol and go against the words of the brahmanas, Dasharatha eventually relented and allowed Rama to accompany Vishvamitra. With Lakshmana following Him, Shri Rama would defend the sage’s fire sacrifices, which were for the benefit of society as a whole. Just as a priest gives an auspicious prayer for the benefit of a community, the sacrifices of the brahmanas are to satisfy both the source of Brahman and its many different sparks.

Dasharatha’s son was no ordinary prince. He was the very original Personality of Godhead, the source of Brahman. Lord Rama had come to earth to enact wonderful pastimes, to give pleasure to the likes of Dasharatha and Vishvamitra. Each exalted figure had their specific association they desired, so Rama played different roles to provide that satisfaction. In this way the night-rangers served as a wonderful contrast, showing what the demoniac tendencies are and how they are opposed to the divine inclinations followed by the saintly class, which can extend even beyond the brahmanas.

Though when Rama left Ayodhya His father felt sad, the move would earn the king the goddess of fortune as a daughter-in-law. After accompanying Vishvamitra for a while, Rama and Lakshmana made their way to the kingdom of Videha, where a contest was being held to determine the husband for King Janaka’s daughter Sita. Once again, the same Vishvamitra would visit a kingdom and be well worshiped, but instead of taking Rama away, this time he would bring the Lord’s presence to a kingdom. At Vishvamitra’s behest, Rama would lift the extremely heavy bow of Lord Shiva’s and win Sita’s hand in marriage.

The son of Gadhi, the venerable Vishvamitra, in his heart carries love for the Supreme Lord in His form as Lord Rama. From that quality the muni beams with transcendental knowledge and auspiciousness. Whoever he visits becomes blessed by his association. King Dasharatha showed the proper attitude in welcoming his exalted guest, and from that treatment auspiciousness would come his way as well. Rama and His three younger brothers would be married in Janakpur, and the newlyweds would all return home to Ayodhya. Thus the royal family expanded with the most beautiful princesses arriving, headed by Janaka’s eldest daughter Sita. To this day people still sing of Sita and Rama’s marriage, and they also remember the events that led up to it. The blessed rajarshi, Maharaja Dasharatha, received the auspiciousness due him by following dharma and kindly welcoming the worshipable Vishvamitra. Those who honor and respect the same transcendental family and regularly remember their activities will never be without light in this world otherwise ruled by darkness.

In Closing:

When sage visited little did king know,

That from his home eldest son would soon go.

From good deeds one earns pious credits,

From sage’s visit king couldn’t count merits.

To have dust from lotus feet of devotee,

Great blessing, divine vision soon to see.

With king pious credits to cause separation,

From son Rama, to serve as sage’s protection.

Never mind, for the move to do good to all,

Mighty night-rangers to suffer terrible fall.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Branching Out

Krishna speaking to Arjuna“The original source of knowledge is the Vedas. There are no branches of knowledge, either mundane or transcendental, which do not belong to the original text of the Vedas. They have simply been developed into different branches, They were originally rendered by great, respectable and learned professors.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.4.23 Purport)

That the Vedas are the original source of all knowledge is a little difficult to believe considering the way religion has come to be viewed. As religion today is more a matter of faith or allegiance inherited from your parents, the fact that supreme wisdom about every single piece of regulative information can be rooted in just one set of scriptures seems to hint at dogmatic insistence rather than impartial logic. How can something like dieting come from the Vedas? What about the branches of knowledge relating to computer science and engineering? How can that information have its roots in books compiled so long ago that no one can accurately date their inception? Just as there is loss in clarity once a video cassette tape is copied many times over, the more branches that are created from the original root of wisdom, the further the original source of information gets blurred. The fact that the origin can be forgotten or even denied as an authority figure shows just how far down the branches can descend. Nevertheless, the original source is still there, and anyone who is fortunate and wise enough to tap into it can see things clearly.

”One side says Krishna is God, while another says Jesus, and another says Muhammad, and so on. If they are not considered worshipable figures then they are at the very least prophets who are accepted as authorities. Even in the Vedic tradition, some worship Rama or Shiva or no one at all. How then can we consider any singular source to be the original?” Authority is established at the local level from the results that follow from accepting the claims of information. Someone can tell us an ironclad truth like, “the sky is blue”, but we have no reason to believe them just on their word. They could state something completely false and we’d have no way of knowing if they were incorrect. Based on the worthiness of the information as it pertains to meeting our interests, we can gradually learn to accept someone as an authority. Our hesitation can also be removed if other people that we respect give the same deference to that source.

BGCWith respect to the Vedas, the authority is firmly established after following the foremost recommendations. The fear we may have of falling victim to a bogus system of religion is ameliorated by the stock of great leaders and pious men who have followed the original scriptures of India, whose most concise and complete treatise is known as the Bhagavad-gita. This sacred text starts off with an issue that every man must address at some point: death. Immediately, the speaker of the Gita, Shri Krishna, states that the soul is the essence of identity and that the body is temporary. The soul does not cease to exist after death nor did it come into existence at the time of birth. The soul is always there, regardless of whether we can see it or not.

This information is the foundation for the rest of the knowledge the Vedas provide. The speaker of the Gita goes on to explain why there are so many different kinds of body. The living being enters a realm known as the material world, which consists of three different modes: goodness, passion and ignorance. These modes combine in varying proportions to create the material bodies of the many living beings. Since the combinations can be so many, there are up to 8,400,000 different species.

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

Krishna's lotus feetBased on the modes adopted, a living being develops a certain kind of faith. In the lower species, the faith relates strictly to sense pleasures. The animals don’t know anything beyond eating, sleeping, mating and defending because their bodies are made up almost entirely of the mode of ignorance. In the human form of body, there is variety in engagement. Though the original Veda, which was passed on by the same Shri Krishna at the beginning of time, was meant primarily for those in pure goodness, this doesn’t mean that other living beings are left out.

To understand the distinction, let’s say that because of the body type accepted, a person wants to associate with material nature instead of address the needs of the soul, which is the superior energy. The animals already turn onto this avenue by default, but the human being has the ability to decide in favor of either direction. Since the soul is superior, the Vedas are targeted specifically to meet its needs. Since the soul exists beyond the temporary manifestations of matter, the Vedas address the soul first, for matter is dull and lifeless. You can go up to a rock and explain Vedanta philosophy to it, but it will have no way to absorb the information or act upon it.

The discipline aimed at meeting the soul’s needs goes by several different names. Since the soul has an essential characteristic, or dharma, the disciplinary system aimed at reawakening and maintaining that characteristic is also known as dharma. Since the soul’s dharma is beginningless and endless, the system of regulation also bears the same properties. Hence religion in its purest form is known as sanatana-dharma. Notice the absence of sectarian designation. Notice that there is no mention of eternal damnation or heavenly felicity in this definition. In this way the Vedas present spirituality as a science, something that can be accepted by a rational thinking human being.

Since the essential quality of the soul is the propensity to serve, sanatana-dharma is also known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. The service is carried out in a devotional attitude, with the desired aim being ananda, or bliss. Naturally, if the beneficiary of service is the reservoir of ananda, He would share that bliss with His servants. In this way we get one definition for God, or the Supreme Lord who is intimately tied to the spirit souls. From further study we learn that the living entities are part and parcel of Krishna, and that they struggle very hard in the material existence, a place where sanatana-dharma has to be taught and accepted through discrimination rather than just automatically adopted as the way of life.

“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.5)

Lord KrishnaIsn’t saying that we come from Krishna a dogmatic principle? The fact that there is an entity superior to us has no bearing on sects or traditions. We already know that death is superior to us because it forces us to exit a body when we don’t want to. The irrepressible forces of nature also influence our behavior. If we were superior to nature we wouldn’t have to wait for the sun to come up in the morning or be forced to go to sleep at night. At the same time, we know that we are dominant over dull matter, as we can tell our body where to move and how to act.

The giant collection of material elements has a dominator, someone instigating its movements. Whether we call that person Krishna, God, or material nature is beside the point; the superior entity is there. Through interaction with the modes of nature, however, knowledge of one’s dharma and one’s relationship to the superior entity gets gradually lost. Why would the Vedas allow for this to happen? Why are there different systems of maintenance derived from the original bhagavata-dharma?

The living beings have independence in their choice of association. That is what it means to be superior to an inferior energy. For independence to really have value, the choice of endeavor must be able to fall on either side. This means that there are individuals who choose in favor of serving the inferior material nature over the superior God. Since all knowledge comes from the Vedas, even inferior information can be derived from the original texts. Someone who is attached to the body is thus open to take to systems of maintenance intended for the spiritual healing of the conditioned souls and use them for their own benefit.

Though there are countless examples that illustrate this exploitation, we can take something as simple as meditational yoga to see. Knowing about the soul is one thing, but actually acting off of that information properly is another. To account for the practical side, the Vedas institute various systems of maintenance aimed at enlivening the essential characteristic of the soul. One method is meditational yoga, where one sits in certain positions for extended periods of time and contemplates on the soul residing internally. Krishna reveals in the Gita that He expands into everyone’s heart and rests there as the Supersoul. Yoga means to link, so the meditational system exists to help connect the individual soul with the Supersoul.

As the soul is superior to inferior matter, one who maintains a link in consciousness to God learns to transcend the influence of the senses. Imagine having the flu but not feeling it. Imagine being injured in your leg but not having it affect you at all. Imagine not feeling the chilling cold or the scorching heat. Such abilities are present in the yogi, who only feels the soul and nothing else. Fast forward to today and you see that the ancient system of yoga is used only for the material health benefits and not for finding happiness for the soul. The ancillary benefits received from trying to connect with God are taken as the superior benefits. In fact, they are viewed as the only reason for taking up yoga. “Become healthy by following an ancient system of mysticism.”

The many systems seeking sense gratification are also rooted in the Vedas because information of the senses is first provided there. Without regulation there is no distinction between the animals and human beings. Depending on the aim desired, however, the level of “information clouding” from the original set of Vedic instructions can be very high. Though today more and more media is passed on digitally and thus doesn’t suffer from loss of quality, a few decades ago copying videotapes was a common practice. The problem you had with this method was that each time the tape got copied, the quality of the video degraded slightly. With more and more copies, or generations of video, the original picture could get skewered to the point that you didn’t even know what you were watching.

vhs tapeThe same loss has occurred with the original set of information passed on by Krishna. Bhagavata-dharma is complete information because it helps the soul cope with a land where material nature has a dominating influence. With information on how to stop the influence of the senses, one can find the bliss that they are searching after. That being said, if one is given towards associating with one of the three modes of nature, they can grab ancillary information from the Vedas and use that to form their own system of maintenance. Hence you get different branches of knowledge.

As another example to show how the tree expanded, in the beginning stages of creation, there was only one caste in society: the brahmanas. Everyone was part of the priestly order, given to following religious principles aimed at establishing Brahman realization, which is the preliminary stage for connecting with God. With the passage of time came the introduction of the different castes: the warriors, merchants and laborers. With new class distinctions came new systems of maintenance, which aimed to help the members stay devoted to their particular occupational duties. As this system, known as varnashrama-dharma, is below bhagavata-dharma, it can be considered a branch of the original Vedas.

Within each branch there are also so many smaller pieces of information. Just imagine taking those smaller items and forming your own system of maintenance from them. For instance, the kshatriyas, the warrior caste, have regulations to follow to be able to become expert fighters, to be brave in combat, and to remain vigilant in their defense. One could easily focus on just one of these areas and then create their own disciplinary system off of it. Every system has a type of dharma, or essential characteristic, it is looking to maintain. A weight loss system aims to find a healthy bodily condition, a classroom knowledge of a particular field, and a self-help guide the ability to deal with a specific life condition.

Only bhagavata-dharma, however, addresses the needs of the spirit soul, who is beyond the temporary conditions, favorable or unfavorable, achieved through following the many branches of knowledge derived from Krishna’s original teachings. The original set of instructions still exists to be used. It has been protected by the saintly class of men and passed on through a tradition of spiritual master to disciple.

Krishna speaking to ArjunaWhoever connects directly with Krishna and accepts all of His instructions will learn that the soul’s only business is to connect with God and that through that established yoga one can acquire the knowledge necessary for dealing with life’s other issues. Arjuna, the recipient of the Gita on that famous day on the battlefield of Kurukshetra, used the sublime wisdom imparted to him to fight on without attachment in a difficult war. But more importantly he retained that information so that he could stay connected with Krishna. He who has the reservoir of pleasure at the forefront of their consciousness automatically stays in contact with the original source of supreme wisdom and thus has no reason to fear not knowing which path to take in life.

In Closing:

In Vedas glories of Shri Krishna are sung,

From it many branches of knowledge have sprung.

Like a generated tape there is loss in quality,

Each new copy from original further disparity.

Yet Krishna’s teachings still there to use,

Find meaning of life if we so choose.

Arjuna heard it from Lord and kept Him in mind,

Received victory and detachment combined.

Don’t be victim to useless benefits tantalizing,

Krishna’s company only goal worth realizing.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quitting the Body

Lord Rama“Meditating on Shri Rama’s face, which resembles the full moon and has eyes like lotus petals, that poor lady must have died. Maithili [Sita], descending from Videha kings, must have given up her body while greatly lamenting, 'O Rama and Lakshmana' and 'O Ayodhya'.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 13.13-14)

sampūrṇa candra pratimam padma patra nibha īkṣaṇam ||
rāmasya dhyāyatī vaktram pancatvam kṛpaṇā gatā |
hā rāma lakṣmaṇa iti eva hā ayodhyeti ca maithilī ||
vilapya bahu vaidehī nyasta dehā bhaviṣyati |

The lotus flower is the most beautiful, for simply looking at it brings joy to the heart. The full moon in the dark night brings light to the distressed eye searching for a meaning to life. The city of Ayodhya, the dhama where Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, descended on the ninth day of the month of Chaitra many, many moons ago, is forever holy. Rama’s closest brother, the one who never leaves His side even during the best of times, Shri Lakshmana, is equally as worshipable as Rama and His land. Remembering these objects and people related to the Lord brings all auspiciousness, especially to one who is renouncing their body.

“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 KrishnaWhy is it important to remember something specific while quitting the body? Don’t we just automatically go to heaven when we die? Aren’t we sent to hell to suffer our punishment after the term of our current life is over? While it may be a little difficult to understand, the terms “life” and “lifetime” are relative. The injection of the spirit soul into the womb of the mother and the subsequent exit from the particular form do not have any bearing on the identifiable aspect, the resident calmly living within. Though to the occupant it may seem that they have lived for a very long time, with respect to the age of the universe their duration of life, which starts from the exit from the womb, is not very long at all.

To take a common example to see how time has no effect on the soul, let’s say that we took a picture of ourselves right now. Take out the mobile telephone, point it at our face and take a picture. Now, let’s say we waited a minute and took another picture. There will not be much difference between the two photos, especially as it relates to our appearance. There is no way to judge which picture is older based only on observation.

Let’s fast forward a year, maybe even two. We’ll take a new picture of ourselves and compare it to the ones we took in the past. All of a sudden, there are differences. “What was I wearing? Look at my hair back then, I can’t believe I walked around looking like that. What was I doing when I took that picture?” The only change has been the influence of time on the outer form, the covering of the soul. Our identity has not changed at all. It is easy to forget these things because the influence of time causes our mind to shift to other areas of interest, which means that items of importance from the past automatically get forgotten. Dredging up every one of those memories is nearly impossible, even when looking at old photographs.

So what does this all mean? The time of death is understandably taken very seriously, but the actual effect it has on the soul is nothing. The spiritual spark within cannot be created, destroyed, made wet, burned in fire, or altered in any way. Just as our identity didn’t change when we took those pictures minutes apart, the identity of the soul cannot be altered between the time of birth and the time of death. What can change, however, is residence. This is why it’s vitally important to have a properly situated consciousness while exiting the body.

“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.23)

Lord KrishnaThose who are wise, the pure souls learned in the ancient art of bhakti-yoga and all that it entails, maintain a proper consciousness all the time. This ensures that they have the proper thoughts at the time of death, even if there are longings that seem somewhat painful. In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Shri Hanuman is revealing that Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama, is always pure in thought, word and deed. Even if she is in a distressful condition, her heart is in the right place. What’s ironic is that the situation created by Hanuman’s thoughts quoted above is just hypothetical; he doesn’t know for sure that Sita has quit her body. He is afraid of the worst and is trying to see how he will react to contemplating such horrible events.

Hanuman’s mind led him to this point because he had been searching for Sita for a long time. As a beautiful princess, she was coveted by many a prince, but only Lord Rama was worthy enough to be her husband. God is one, but since He is so kind He descends to earth every now and then for specific reasons. On other occasions, He sends His bona fide representatives to teach specific religious principles. Due to time and circumstance we see different religions. If man was overly attached to killing, the representative brought forth law books that provided a list of do’s and don’ts. If man was overly attached to sex life, the representative would institute rules and regulations aimed at limiting such practices.

But when the Lord comes personally, He does so for His own pleasure, which in turn brings pleasure to others. Appearing in Ayodhya as the eldest son of King Dasharatha, Rama was the delight of the town throughout His life. When He left for the forest for fourteen years with Sita and His younger brother Lakshmana, there was doubt over His return. The same doubts were present in Sita, who always hoped for her husband’s safe and triumphant return to His home kingdom.

Sita and RamaThe successful outcome would be put in jeopardy when Sita would be kidnapped by a Rakshasa named Ravana. The villain took the innocent princess back to his island kingdom of Lanka, with no one knowing where she went. Through an alliance formed with Sugriva, Rama enlisted the aid of a band of monkeys, which included Hanuman, to search for Sita. Hanuman made it to Lanka, but he had difficulty finding Sita. He had searched the entire city and still no success.

As is understandable, Hanuman next suffered through a bout of doubt and hesitation, where he worried over what might happen should he not find Sita. He tried to explain the current situation by going through different scenarios. Though none of these thoughts were actual realities, they revealed just how much Hanuman knew about Sita and how glorious he is. One who knows the transcendental nature of the Supreme Lord’s appearances and disappearances does not, upon quitting his body, ever return to the cycle of birth and death. Yet Hanuman was so glorious that he knew everything about Sita as well.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.9)

Lord Rama had eyes like lotus petals, so His face was the most beautiful. Though he had never met Sita, Hanuman knew of her devotion to Rama. If she were to quit her body, she would obviously be thinking of her beloved’s beautiful eyes. Shri Rama’s face was like the full moon, hence He is also addressed as Lord Ramachandra. If Sita were to quit her body, she would not focus on anything else. She also loved Lakshmana very much, for he was always interested in his brother’s welfare. There has never been a more unselfish person to roam this earth than Lakshmana. Therefore it is not surprising that he is an object of worship, always seen by Rama’s side in famous pictures known as the Rama Darbar.

It is one thing to try to maintain nice thoughts and have your mind focused on God all the time, but it’s even better to focus the mind on someone else doing the same. Add to the equation the distress of being forced away from your husband’s side and you see just how glorious Sita’s dedication in yoga is. Even in someone’s thoughts, she retains her high standing. She is forever an object of worship and someone who should never be forgotten. Before he ever met her, Hanuman had qualified himself to be in her presence by being devoted to Rama and His interests.

HanumanHanuman’s remembering Sita and her undying love for Rama only further strengthened his resolve. If the above mentioned scenarios were actually true, they would serve as further impetus to fight ahead. The fight or flight choice is available to every single living entity. Either abandon the pursuit for self-realization and take your chances with reincarnation, or take the difficult leap forward into spiritual life by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and make the most of this human form of life right now.

The name “Rama” represents Lord Rama or Balarama and “Krishna” addresses the Lord’s all-attractive, original form of Shyamasundara. So many prayers need to be learned and rituals practiced in order to achieve specific ends. Unless we are taught these valuable tools from someone else, they will forever remain a mystery. God, however, never wants to hide Himself from anyone. Therefore the sacred maha-mantra is there for any person to invoke, enabling them to recite the perfect prayer at any time and at any place. This mantra is the easiest to distribute as well, for it can be recited in song or repeated loudly in person with others around. Meditating on these sacred words creates a mindset similar to the ones found in Hanuman and Sita.

Being touched to the heart by Sita’s devotion, Hanuman continued to fight on. No impeding forces, either external or internal, would deter him from completing the mission assigned to him. He would either find Sita or die trying. There was no serious consideration of quitting. Because of this resolve who could ever be more dear to Rama than Hanuman? The love that Sita and Rama feel for Hanuman can never be measured. We only gain a slight understanding of it by familiarizing ourselves with Hanuman’s thoughts, words and deeds.

HanumanVedic teachings forward the concept of working with detachment, following the righteous path that ideally leads to the intended goal. Should there be defeat in the end or pain and misery encountered along the way, just cast them aside, taking them to be little pins pricking the skin that don’t leave a lasting impression. Dharma, or occupational duty, brings all auspiciousness in life, for the soul attains its proper destination, the spiritual sky, from following it.

In the famous Bhagavad-gita, delivered by Lord Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to a hesitant warrior named Arjuna, the final instruction was that Arjuna should fight ahead and not have attachment to the result. Following Krishna’s order is always the way to go. Hanuman did just that by staying true to the mission at hand. Whether he succeeded or not was in the Lord’s hands, but his choice for fighting ahead rested with him. He would not let Rama down in this instance, and history would mark his bravery, dedication, cleverness, intelligence, strength, valor, and most of all, his unmatched love for Sita, Rama and Lakshmana.

In Closing:

At the end of life, when about to die,

Focus on face of Shri Rama, with lotus eyes.

Sita Devi, suffering from separation’s swoon,

Always thought of husband whose face like full moon.

Even in hypothetical Hanuman knew Sita well,

Without meeting her, her devotion to Rama he could tell.

Hanuman to fight ahead, failure not him would deter,

Upon him Rama all successes would confer.

Follow bhakti to maintain pure thoughts’ stream,

Always in comfort of God’s vision beam.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Credibility on Both Sides

Vedic literature“The spiritually powerful message of Godhead can be properly discussed only in a society of devotees, and it is greatly pleasing to hear in that association. If one hears from devotees, the way of transcendental experience quickly opens to him, and gradually he attains a taste in knowledge that in due course develops into attraction and devotion.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.25.25)

The superiority of the Vedas is established through many features, with one of them being the inclusion of every type of religious system, both pious and impious. Every angle of vision is covered by the sacred texts of India, so one who is intimately familiar with these works, studying them under the guidance of a spiritual master, will inherit the same wisdom. More than just having academic knowledge to be used in argument, familiarity with every type of system of maintenance allows for a decision to be made with confidence regarding life’s path. More confidence equates to more faith in the process, and the more sincere desire one applies to an endeavor, the greater their chances of success will be.

Shrimad BhagavatamThe sincere spiritualist of the Vedic tradition practicing the highest system of religion can argue every angle of vision, which means that the opponents of that superior engagement, bhakti-yoga, are immediately put at a disadvantage. If in an argument you have one party who can argue only their own position, and on the opposing side you have one who knows not only their own position but also their opponent’s stance better than they do, obviously the latter party is superior. In addition, whatever decision is reached by the superior party should be the one that is followed.

Under a theoretical analysis this fact may not be easy to decipher, but if we take a few simple examples, we’ll see that the person in authority, the more knowledgeable party, has the upper hand. The most obvious instance of this distinction is seen with parents and their children. If a parent says that it is time to go to bed for their young child, and the child puts up an argument, which side is more knowledgeable? The parent knows the child’s desire for staying awake, the argument they are presenting. The child, on the other hand, doesn’t know what the parent’s stance is, why they are enforcing a strict bedtime. Even if the parent were to try to explain, what could the child really understand? They lack the familiarity with the many days of experience in real life that the parents have. The parents are automatically the superior party based on their knowledge of both sides.

The same principle applies in the classroom. A teacher proficient in the subject matter can answer the questions of the students because they know what angle of vision the students are coming from. The teacher was once a student who had to learn the same information that is now being taught. The student doesn’t have this advantage; therefore they can never stand a chance in an argument with the teacher. The person with more knowledge always has the upper hand because they know the basis of the arguments of the opponents.

In spiritual life, one who doesn’t practice divine love can never properly describe it. This seems like a bold assertion to make, but it is true. Love involves the dedication of activity and thought, which results in a shift in consciousness. The feelings that result can only be described by one who has felt them. For one who hasn’t specifically felt these feelings, if they have learned about them from someone who has the experience, then at the very least they can pass on the proper information to others.

Spirituality is distinct from material life. In this sense there are really only two paths in life. We can either follow the dictates of the senses that are attached to the body or we can work to meet the needs of the soul. The spiritualist stands on firmer ground when explaining the benefits of their path because they have already tasted material life. The default tendency of the human being is to follow the dictates of the senses, an option which represents an unintelligent way of life. If this were not the case, there would be no need for educating children. A child is like an animal in the sense that it doesn’t have the intelligence to regulate activity to reach a better future position. The child is in a human form, so it has the potential to gather the right intelligence, to mature into a sober, rational, and educated human being.

In spiritual life, which is the rejection of material life, there is variety. There are different paths one can choose once they have decided that only following the dictates of the senses is not the way to go. The Vedas cover each of the different angles of vision with respect to spiritual life. The Vedas were purportedly compiled at the beginning of time, descending from the original person Himself. What’s astounding about this is that any new system of maintenance that should crop up either tomorrow, in one week, or in one hundred years is already covered by the Vedas. The sacred texts of India never lose their relevance, unlike newspaper stories and the latest nonfiction books, which have information targeted to the events of a specific time period.

The spiritualist can take the path of mental study, meditation and mysticism, or divine love. Of these, only divine love is all-inclusive. It can even include activity that, to the outsider, looks like material life. For instance, the materialist has a tendency to eat nice food and do work to produce fruits. The devotee in bhakti also eats and works, but they do it for the satisfaction of the fountainhead of all energies, the person from whom this entire creation has emanated. The path of divine love is also the least restrictive in terms of the behavior it allows. The energies are already there for everyone to utilize; it is just that without the proper consciousness, without the right intelligence gathered through both acceptance of information and practical application of those principles, the energy will not be used for the right purpose. When something is used improperly, the results are not palatable.

The materialist not open to hearing about the glories of bhakti-yoga will argue that all paths are the same, and that no one should punish themselves for a reward in the afterlife, about which little is known. “How can we be certain of the afterlife if we don’t even know how long we’re going to live? Therefore why put such stress on death and God and anything spiritual?“ Of course, the constant pain and angst the materialist finds are not accounted for in this argument. Neither is the variety in species, the need for law codes, the differences between the changing body and the individual residing inside, or the guaranteed nature of death.

japa beadsThe materialist has never tried bhakti, so how can they know what it is about? They have never spent time chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in full earnest and for many rounds daily on a japa mala. They have never read the Vedas under the guidance of a spiritual master, nor have their eyes tasted the sweet fruit that is the divine vision. Even someone new to bhakti does not taste these things. Through steady devotion, despite hesitancy in the beginning one can eventually experience these things. And the results are always superior. If they weren’t, how could anyone ever remain on the bhakti path, and how could they accept the difficult responsibility of preaching its glories to others?

The devotee has already tasted material life; they are intimately familiar with the arguments presented by those who have never tried bhakti. We saw in the case of the teacher and the student that the teacher was superior because of their knowledge of both sides. Along the same lines, the sincere spiritualist following divine love is not only knowledgeable of the arguments presented by the materialists, but they also know the points of view of those following the mental and mystic paths of spirituality.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)

Lord Krishna's lotus feetThe mental plane studies external life and tries to make distinctions between this activity and that. When followed under the direction of the Vedas, the individual along this path can practically abstract every type of energy and perceive the oneness shared between all life forms. This singular energy is known as Brahman, or pure spirit. At the same time, knowledge about Brahman represents the limit to understanding through mental effort alone. That there can be variety in spiritual life remains a hidden fact, one which would actually bring the mentalist the happiness they crave.

The mystic given to meditation also doesn’t know much about the pleasure that comes from the path of divine love. They don’t know that who they are meditating on has a spiritual form that is both all-pervading and localized within the heart. Moreover, the mystic abilities acquired don’t do much unless there is a proper beneficiary targeted. If I have the ability to lift up a car with my finger, what good is that going to do for me? You can say that I can use that ability to get paid to move things. That is surely nice, but then I could also get a job doing something else. In either case there is work being performed for personal satisfaction. A yogi who can travel out of their body, become very large or small, or get others to listen to them is not much different from the materialist expert in their specific craft.

In divine love the proper beneficiary of activity is targeted immediately. He is the real source of the pleasure that the devotees receive. Since He is the reservoir of pleasure, the happiness He can give is both unlimited and immeasurable. In every other type of endeavor, either the material or the spiritual, the beneficiary is limited in its ability to provide pleasure. There is service offered in every kind of activity, even if the worker doesn’t know it. With service there must be an object being served. In material life it is the personal senses and the senses of others. In the mental path of spiritual life it is the mind, and in mystic yoga it is the soul coupled with the body.

Krishna holding His fluteOnly in bhakti is God in His personal form the beneficiary. Only the transcendentalist following the principles of bhakti-yoga can taste the highest pleasure. The knowledge of every other type of system of maintenance is but an insignificant byproduct of the practice of devotion. On the outside the devotee may seem like a sentimentalist, but then why should there not be sentiment when looking at the beautiful, smiling face of Shyamasundara, the Supreme Lord in His all-attractive, blissful form? With the most sincere sentiment comes the knowledge necessary to continue the devotional practices. The Vedas are non-different from Krishna because their primary message is that one should follow devotion and nothing else. From that devotion comes full knowledge of every system, thereby making the devotee more knowledgeable and more experienced than any champion of any other system of maintenance.

The human being is endowed with freedom. Without freedom there cannot be crime or pious behavior. As we have a choice as to which direction to take, we should follow one which is championed by those in the know. As only the bhaktas are intimately familiar with the benefits of every system and the reasons why people would follow them, choosing the bhakti path is never a failing option. Even if we are hesitant to try devotional service because of some fear that we have, we know already that so much time is wasted in material life. If it weren’t, there wouldn’t be the time taken to assess whether or not a certain type of system of spirituality is important. Taking the plunge into the inviting waters of devotional service is a worthwhile option that should be taken as soon as possible.

In Closing:

Superior is party within argument,

Who either side’s point can defend.

Students protest teachers with excuse after excuse,

But wise is teacher who knows student’s opinion too.

As far as books go the Vedas stand most tall,

Spiritual or material path, scriptures know them all.

Yogi in bhakti has already tread material path,

Finding superior engagement, abandoned lust and wrath.

Accept bhakti-yoga from devotee’s full experience,

On Krishna and His Vedas have full reliance.