Saturday, January 8, 2011

Overcoming Obstacles

Hanuman “O foremost of monkeys, neither on the earth, nor in outer space, nor in the sky, nor in water, nor in the home of the celestials do I see anything that can impede your movement.” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.3)

Life is full of obstacles. Things not working when they should, objects of necessity breaking, responsibilities, and people asking for things are the nuisances of everyday life that never go away. After all, constant pressure and obstruction is the nature of material life, which is driven by the pursuit of perfection in the areas of sense gratification and lordship over possessions and other living entities. Since ultimate perfection in this endeavor will always fail, the end result is misery. Moreover, the state of discomfort is facilitated through obstacles and roadblocks in our path, each of which causes frustration and loss of rationale. Forced to live through such troubling situations, it’s nice to know that there have been others who faced similar troubles and were able to somehow get through them. One historical personality in particular had a herculean task in front of him, that of scouring the globe in search of a kidnapped princess. While he certainly met many obstacles along the way, he was able to brush them aside by relying on his strength, determination, and love for his supreme object of worship, Shri Rama. Following this heroic figure’s example, we too can become successful in the real objective of life, that of serving the Supreme Lord with every ounce of our heart, mind, and soul.

Shri Hanuman What kinds of pressures does the average person have to deal with? Work, or occupation, is the most obvious type, an engagement whose pain and misery are spared for no one. Since in today’s age agriculture is not the predominant occupation, individuals must take up service to some employer to meet the basic demands of food, clothing, and shelter. These proprietors are running their own establishments, businesses which aim to earn a profit. Since profit requires the providing of a good or service, the hours of operation for the business span the majority of the daylight hours of every day of the week, including weekends. In addition, larger companies function off of database and IT networks in the background, configurations which, when operating properly, go unnoticed. Those who manage these components have to worry about errors and failures at all hours of the day and night. If something goes wrong on a weekend, there is no one else around to fix the issue. The person in charge of the particular failing component will be forced to find some way to connect to their system and fix the error.

Why do errors come unannounced and at the worst times? To ere is human after all, so whoever is in charge of managing different components of the IT infrastructure is sure to make mistakes every now and then. The errors can be caused by honest mistakes, laziness, or a general lack of accountability and thinking. One person may decide that the network needs maintenance at a particular hour of the day, while another member of the IT staff is counting on the network being operational at that time to ensure that processing of a particular business component can occur. The lack of communication between the two parties will result in an error in processing at the most inopportune of times. This error then affects business functions, which then affects profits and the loss thereof.

Server diagram In this age especially, the pressures of work are seemingly unbearable. As such, many workers like to leave their pagers, cellular telephones, and laptops at home during the weekends and during vacations. It’s nice to just let go every now and then and not constantly worry about things breaking. Surely this is a nice idea in concept, but the reality is quite different. Aside from work pressures, there are the daily issues relating to home life. Supplies of food, drink, and other household necessities are always running low. If the pressures of work weren’t enough to handle already, one has to also remember to regularly patronize the supermarket to pick up the necessary supplies for the house. Thus far we haven’t even mentioned the requests and demands made by friends and family members. Material life means always being pulled in every which direction and meeting frustration in every endeavor.

What can we do to solve the problem? How do we actually achieve peace of mind? Can we ever remove the obstacles that come in our way? Luckily for us, one celebrated divine figure met more obstacles, each of which was great in its intensity and thwarting powers, than any man could ever dream of. His impediments were in relation to a much greater task, that of finding a missing princess. Yet through it all, this figure remained firm and resolute. He surely gave way to grief and lamentation from time to time, and indeed he feared failing, but in the end he always chose to forge ahead, because only through perseverance could there be a chance of ultimate success.

“O most intelligent Uddhava, the living entity, called jiva, is part and parcel of Me, but due to ignorance he has been suffering in material bondage since time immemorial. By knowledge, however, he can be liberated.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Uddhava, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.11.4)

Hanuman This heroic personality was none other than Shri Hanuman, the faithful and eternal servant of Lord Rama. We can think of Lord Rama as God, but He is actually much more. How can a person be more than God? The term “God” is generally associated with an almighty figure, someone who can meet any and all demands, and one who is more powerful than anyone else. This is surely the case with Lord Rama, but He also has the ability to provide the greatest pleasure to the individual living entities. The spirit souls that reside in this and other perishable realms are known as individual spiritual entities, or jivas. A soul is referred to as atma, and jiva refers to a marginal living force, so we living entities are technically known as jivatmas. Inside of our bodies reside another soul, however, known as the Paramatma. This soul belongs to God. The aim of human life is to figure out how to connect with the Supreme Soul and derive pleasure from its association. Religion is meant exclusively for this purpose, irrespective of how anyone else may view the discipline.

To connect with Shri Rama, who can also be addressed as the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one must take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Since the original form of the original Divine Being is actually the source of all other forms, He is known as the source of Godhead. Other aspects of the divine can be reached through knowledge-acquiring activities, fruitive work, and mystic yoga. Yet none of these processes seeks to meet Bhagavan, or the Supreme Person. Therefore the pleasure that results from any activity that is devoid of bhakti is inferior to the pleasure felt by those who are in intimate association with Bhagavan.

“It is not possible for a chandala to tread heavily on an altar which is beautifully decorated and situated amongst a sacrificial fire, pots, and ladles, and sanctified by the mantras of the brahmanas. Similarly, I, being the religiously wedded wife of one who is Himself ever committed to dharma, am firm in my vows and thus, O lowest of the Rakshasas, it is not possible for me to ever be touched by you, who are a sinner.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.18-19)

Sita and Rama So how does one practice bhakti-yoga? There are a host of different processes, each of which is wholly capable of being supremely effective, but the general idea is to be engaged in the Lord’s service. Many thousands of years ago, Shri Rama personally appeared on earth and enacted pastimes. On one occasion, His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi was kidnapped from the forest of Dandaka. We can scour the annals of human history and never find a woman like Sita. She is not of this world. As Rama’s religiously wedded wife, she was completely dedicated to Him and also to the pious entities of this world. During her time on earth, Sita was always looking to please Rama, His friends, family, and brahmanas living in the forests and the towns. In the Vedic system, the priests are referred to as brahmanas; a term which references their knowledge of Brahman.

While Bhagavan is God’s original feature as the complete and most fortunate person, Brahman is the effulgence that emanates from His gigantic transcendental body. When the avataras of Godhead come to earth, it is seen that their bodies are similar in dimensional measurements and appearance to those of ordinary human beings. Generally, the incarnations, and the deity representations carved to match their auspicious bodily features, are known as the saguna forms of the Lord. Guna means a material quality, something which only individual souls can possess. The Supreme Lord never touches matter, so it can never be said that He comes under the control of gunas. Nevertheless, the term saguna is used to illustrate the fact that even during His time spent on earth, the Lord possesses transcendental qualities, those which are perceptible to the conditioned eye fooled by the illusory workings of nature. God has arms, legs, and a face, but the scope and function of these features cover the entire universe. Lord Rama gave the appearance of ordinary arms, but these transcendental body parts were capable of destroying thousands of attacking demons in a matter of minutes. Therefore there is no way to accurately describe the Lord’s features or to properly worship Him. Yet He is still kind enough to appear on earth in a transcendental form which can be worshiped and offered service to. When the Supreme Lord personally returns to His spiritual realm, or when He is not visually manifest before the surrendered soul, the deity serves the same function as an object of worship wholly capable of providing spiritual benedictions.

Lord Krishna Brahman is the effulgence glaring off the Lord’s original transcendental body. In the spiritual world, the Lord’s form is described as nirguna, which means “without material qualities”. This term also describes the Lord’s form that appears to those who are meditating upon the Supreme within the mind, i.e. when personal contact with Bhagavan and the deity is absent. The Lord’s arms and legs are so gigantic that they exude an effulgence which covers up the entire universe. The individual spiritual sparks are all tiny fragments of this blissful light which is known as Brahman. Therefore, one can take to activities which lead to the merging of the soul into Brahman, but it certainly is a higher discipline to be engaged in the service of the original Person from whose arms, legs, etc. Brahman emanates.

Sita is perfect in every respect. She is equally as divine a figure as Lord Rama. She is Rama’s wife for all of eternity; therefore she still exists to this day. She can surely be offered worship by the devotees. No one is kinder, no one is more dedicated to the pious, and no one is more loving than she is. Yet even with all of these wonderful characteristics, she had to suffer through the horrible ordeal of being kidnapped. A Rakshasa demon at the time was slowly ascending to power on earth. His name was Ravana and once he heard about Sita’s beauty, he had to have her. He set up a scheme where he was able to forcibly take her back to his island kingdom of Lanka. No one knew where Sita was, including Rama and Lakshmana, the Lord’s younger brother.

Rama and Lakshmana The two brothers, while searching for Sita, made their way to the forest of Kishkindha, where there lived a monkey-king named Sugriva, who, through the efforts of his chief minister Hanuman, ended up forging an alliance with Rama. Agreeing to help the Lord find and rescue Sita, Sugriva approached his most trusted aide, Shri Hanuman. In the above referenced quote, Sugriva is assuring Hanuman of his confidence in him. Sugriva states that nothing will be able to impede Hanuman’s path. Wherever Hanuman would go to find Sita, be it on land, in air, or on water, nothing would be able to stop him. Not even in the land of immortals, amara ālaye, where the supremely powerful demigods reside, could anyone stop Hanuman from serving Rama. Sugriva’s words would indeed hold true as Hanuman would be able to successfully find Sita, relay information to her about Rama, and then return to Sugriva and Rama and inform them of what he had seen. Eventually, off the intelligence gathered by Hanuman, Rama would march to Lanka, kill Ravana, and rescue Sita.

It should be noted that Hanuman did indeed meet obstacles in some of the areas mentioned by Sugriva. Hanuman’s journey to Lanka was a very long and arduous one, the events of which have been described in great detail in the Ramayana of Valmiki. Today, Hanuman is a celebrated figure because of his devotion to Rama. Different scenes from his trek to Lanka, including the famous leap across the ocean, are depicted in pictures and sculptures and thus remembered by the devotees. So in the above referenced statement, Sugriva isn’t mistaken when he says that there would be no obstacles to obstruct Hanuman. This speaks to the fact that an obstacle can only be classified as such if it is effective in thwarting one’s ultimate objective. Hanuman faced so many potential obstacles, some in the form of demons aided by boons granted by celestials, and others in the form of geographic limitations, but he was able to fight through them. In this way, nothing was able to impede Hanuman’s march towards success. There was no way he was going to go down without a fight.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama One should always try to remember Hanuman, his perseverance, and his love for Shri Rama. Such a practice will help us in all of our endeavors, but especially those pertaining to devotional service. With all the pressures of school, work, home, and family, taking up bhakti-yoga in this day and age is not an easy thing. While the quintessential act of bhakti-yoga is the chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, a practice as simple as this is neglected by the majority of the world’s population. Obstacles such as daily pressures, skepticism towards spiritual life, and the belief that one can themselves become the greatest order suppliers or enjoyers serve to divert attention away from bhakti-yoga. By remembering Shri Hanuman, Lord Rama, His wife Sita Devi, and the illustrious Shri Lakshmana, not only can we remain steady in our service to Bhagavan, but we can continue to derive the highest transcendental pleasure at every step. Whatever the obstacle or impediment, simply remembering Hanuman’s devotion is enough to pull us across the finish line, where the Supreme Lord is waiting to embrace us with wide-open arms.

Friday, January 7, 2011

The Dying Man

bg “A person is said to be established in self-realization and is called a yogi when he is fully satisfied by virtue of acquired knowledge and realization. Such a person is situated in transcendence and is self-controlled. He sees everything - whether it be pebbles, stones or gold - as the same.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.8)

Some of the more humorous plotlines to a movie or television show are the ones involving the faking of an illness. In fact, the more serious the illness that the character pretends to suffer from, the greater the humor that is derived. There is certainly nothing funny about being stricken with cancer, but when a character fakes having such a deadly disease in order to garner sympathy from others, the resulting situations can evoke great laughter. It is undoubtedly true that we treat diseased individuals far differently than we treat healthy ones. If a person is suffering from an illness, they essentially turn into a victim and thus become a recipient of charity, pity, and kindness from others. Those with a little intelligence, being able to perceive the subtle differences in treatment and the root cause behind the shift, will immediately see the contradiction and flaw in such a pattern of behavior. If we are nice to people when they are sick, why aren’t we nice to them when they are not? Has the person’s character changed in any way? Are healthy people undeserving of kindness and compassion? This mature level of thinking is automatically attained by those who are in knowledge. Proper knowledge, that information that leads to the highest level of intelligence, can be easily acquired by those who take to bhakti, or love and devotion to God.

If there is a horrific accident or other tragic event that takes place overseas, the subsequent news stories will invariably give the death toll figures broken down by the nationality of the victims. For example, if a bombing takes place in Europe, the newspapers in the United States will report how many American deaths there were, as if somehow an American dying is cause for greater concern than anyone else’s death. This practice speaks to a larger issue, one that is fully illustrated in the interactions between the sick and the healthy. If someone is dying from cancer, they are deemed to be in a tragic condition. Therefore others will naturally treat them in a kinder way. “Oh, such and such is suffering so much. I can’t imagine getting cancer at such an age. We should go out of our way to be nice to them.”

Saints football team This concern is shown towards any person or group of individuals who is deemed a victim. In 2005, the city of New Orleans was devastated by a hurricane and its subsequent aftermath. The home stadium for the New Orleans football franchise, the Saints, was badly damaged in the storm, thus leaving the team homeless in a sense. During the following football season, the Saints became the sentimental favorite for fans and press around the country. Noted commentators would remark, “We are all Saints fans this year.” The motivation behind such sentiments is surely noble, for the team and the city had suffered through a great loss. The natural inclination is to treat those who are suffering in a better way than those who are not.

It is humorous to see comedy writers take advantage of this behavioral pattern by composing scripts that call for certain seedy characters to fake an illness. This was the case in an episode of the famous sitcom Seinfeld, wherein the character played by Jon Lovitz thought he had cancer, told others about it, and then found out that he didn’t. Seeing all the attention the cancer announcement got him, the character didn’t bother to tell anyone that there was never any cancer. Other shows have had storylines where characters faked being in wheelchairs in order to get assistance and favoritism from others.

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

Lord Krishna So is there anything wrong with preferential treatment towards victims? Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tells us that a pandita, or learned person, sees everyone equally, sama-darshinah. As such, a pandita observes an ant, a lump of gold, and a human being to ultimately not have any differences. This isn’t to say that the nature of the interactions is the same, but rather, the heartfelt emotions and sentiments exuded are of the same quality. It’s not surprising that this high level of observation and thought is reserved for the most learned class of men. In the grand scheme of things, every one of us is dying, with the only difference being the exact date of death, the duration of our suffering. Cancer is seen as a death sentence because it quickly speeds up the dying process, but every living entity slowly starts to die as soon as they are born. The body in which the soul occupies is the greatest death trap.

“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)

The soul is the functioning unit of life; it serves as the guiding force for all activity. Even the workings of nature are directed by a soul, as the attraction felt by atomic particles is due to the influence of the powerful divine energy, a force managed by God. In this way, the individuals always remain subordinate to the higher powers. Though the original Divine Being can be called by different names, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that His most complete name is Krishna, which is a Sanskrit word that means all-attractive. Just as electrons are attracted to protons, the individual spirit soul is attracted to the Supreme Soul, who is commonly addressed as God. Both of these souls enter the body of a living entity, but knowledge of their presence remains clouded to the individual; such is the influence of material nature.

Lord Krishna So how do we go about realizing the presence of the soul and its life partner, the Supersoul? The Supersoul is nothing more than the localized representation of God. The Supreme Lord is all-pervading, but since the individual soul has an inherent attraction to Him, God kindly expands Himself as the Supersoul and resides within the heart of every living entity. The effects of cancer and other diseases, and the attention shown to the victims, can actually teach us about the soul and the fatalistic nature of life. Though disease brings about discomfort, pain, and death, the ultimate end of life is guaranteed even in the absence of such pain. Whether one is diseased or not, simply by associating with a bubble-like body destined for destruction, they are still in a painful condition.

Usually the victim status is attached to one who is outwardly suffering. Yet based on the knowledge of the soul and the temporary nature of all life, this method of identification is misleading. There are varieties of suffering, with the mind serving as the root cause of all displeasure. Let’s juxtapose two seemingly dissimilar predicaments and see if differences in treatment and behavior from others is warranted. On one side you have the cancer patient, and on the other you have the healthy person. The suffering of the cancer patient is obvious: physical pain along with the loss of hair and the fear of impending death. Since these conditions are absent in the healthy patient, the non-diseased individual is deemed to be better of.

But are they? The highest authorities versed in Vedic wisdom have categorized all the workings of the conditioned human mind into two activities: hankering and lamenting. We hanker after the things that we want, and we lament over those things we fail to acquire. Lamentation certainly is a cause for grief. One who overly laments will thus be in a perpetually unpleasant frame of mind, which then naturally leads to unhappiness. Following this simple chain of causation, the healthy person reaches the same predicament as the cancer patient, that of a distressed condition. One may argue that the healthy patient has no justification for their grief, for they are not suffering from any debilitating disease. “If they are unhappy, it is their own fault. They have their health, so what are they complaining about?” Ah, now we get to the crux of the issue.

Bhagavad-gita The Vedas declare this material world to be one full of miseries. The natural home of the soul is in the spiritual world with the Supreme Lord. When the individual desires separation from God, it is granted its wish in the form of a temporary playing field populated with temporary bodies. In the material world, the living entity gets to play on the field for as long as it desires to remain separated from its complementary spiritual entity. Since the “happy place” for the soul is with the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky, no amount of time spent on the playing field known as the phenomenal world can provide any lasting happiness. The guaranteed nature of death is simply a built in clause to the contract wholly agreed to by the living entity upon their departure from the spiritual sky. The Supreme Lord has no desire to send His sons and daughters to such a temporary and miserable place, but since He cannot force anyone to love Him, He has no choice but to agree to the request by drawing up the terms of the contract.

“This is the most confidential part of the Vedic scriptures, O sinless one, and it is disclosed now by Me. Whoever understands this will become wise, and his endeavors will know perfection.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.20)

Armed with this information, which is the exclusive property of those confidential associates of Krishna, the pure devotees and spiritual masters, we see that the cancer patient is just as much worthy of their physical ailment as is the healthy person their mental ailment. Since all negative material conditions ultimately lead to distress of the mind, and eventually to death, there really is no distinguishing between the two victims. Taking another example, if we have a rich person and a poor person who both suffer from stomach ulcers, is either person any more a victim than the other? Usually the poor person is given more attention and pity because they don’t have the means to enjoy their senses to the same level as the rich person. But if both are suffering from lamentation and worry that manifests in the form of a hole in the stomach, are not the two pains equal? Should not both parties be treated as victims?

Though the picture seems bleak, there is an easy way out of perpetual pain, a path that can be taken by both victim and non-victim alike. In actuality, the kind behavior shown towards cancer patients and other perceived victims is laudatory and something that should be followed by all people. Yet this kindness shouldn’t be reserved exclusively for perceived victims, but rather, for every living entity. Every person is suffering from separation from the Supreme Lord, even if they are unaware of it. Every person is an eventual victim of death, so there is no reason to maltreat any living entity. Even the ants, dogs, cats, and cows suffer through birth, old age, disease, and death. Hence we should respect non-human forms of life as well, not giving them any unnecessary pain.

Shrila Prabhupada Treating everyone equally and with kindness is easier said than done. Just as there are far fewer holders of doctoral degrees than there are students of the various sciences, ascending to the pandita platform, the highest level of intelligence pertaining to spirituality, is not easy, for it requires great theoretical and practical knowledge to be able to maintain an equal vision while observing the external world. Fortunately, such intelligence already resides within us, though in a dormant state. Aside from being a lover of God, the individual soul is eternally knowledgeable and full of bliss. Bhakti, which is the loving aspect of the soul, can be thought of as existing within a container composed of knowledge. In the conditioned state, the location of this container and its contents are forgotten. One can take to reading scriptures and studying high philosophy in order to eventually discover this container, but there is a much easier way to remove the cloud of nescience brought on by material contact.

As bhakti is the natural disposition of the soul, so are the activities that derive from it. These activities are collectively known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Since love is the natural tendency of the spirit soul, bhakti cannot be divided into different sections and aspects. Rather, there are different activities which are indicative of the natural affection held for Krishna, so anyone who takes to these engagements will slowly but surely rekindle their attachment for the Lord. The activity which best brings out the bhakti spirit is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Radha Krishna If everyone were to chant this mantra regularly and with firm determination, the vision of the pandita would come to them very quickly. Since bhakti is the precious jewel residing within the heart, once it is acquired, its container in the form of knowledge will be gained as well. The expensive ring purchased from the jewelry store naturally includes the protective box as well. As such, a pure lover of God will automatically achieve the status of pandita and thus be able to see everyone with an equal vision. Seeing every person for who they are, an undying soul trapped in perishable bodies that spin through an endless cycle of reincarnation fueled by material desires, the highly learned take to educating others about bhakti and the need for chanting and other transcendental processes. While concern, kindness, and charity are nice ways to help the victims of society, the greatest welfare work is to reconnect the fallen souls with their long-lost object of pleasure, the Supreme Lord. Fortunately for us, this ultimate reservoir of pleasure already resides within everyone, so by taking to bhakti-yoga, the cure for the dying man, the key that unlocks the door to eternal life, can very easily be found.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

How To Serve

Shri Hanuman “Sugriva, the lord of all the forest inhabitants, being greatly pleased, spoke to Hanuman, the powerful son of the wind, as follows:” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.2)

An aspiring transcendentalist, one who is learning the art of practicing spirituality to perfection, will often wonder exactly what specific service is required in their spiritual pursuits and what the nature of their activities should be. As with any engagement involving passionate individuals, there is the desire to effect change, to make a difference. For followers of the bhakti school, the religion of love, the path to take is not always clearly laid out. By yourself, it’s not easy to practice bhakti, let alone induce others to take up the sublime engagement. Yet by studying wonderful examples from the past, where exalted personalities were able to discover their own path to success, we too can find our calling and be engaged in pursuing our passion of pleasing the Supreme Lord.

Hanuman to the rescue The desire to effect change is seen in almost every area of life. Mothers, and sometimes fathers, join together to form the PTA [Parent Teacher Association] to address any problems and issues that come up at the school that their children attend. Friends and neighbors form Neighborhood Watch Committees to deal with issues of crime and vandalism in their community. There are so many activist groups and causes in existence, with each focusing on a particular area of interest.

The most common arena where change is sought is politics, or government. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, describe the material world as a temporary place that is full of miseries. This seems like a bleak outlook, but there is a reason for the honest, but albeit unpleasant to hear, assessment put forth by the Vedic seers. The material world is considered a flawed replica of the spiritual world. In the transcendental realm where God, in His original form of Lord Krishna, resides, there is peace and harmony amongst all the liberated souls. Each individual knows their role; they are working towards satisfying the Supreme. They view Krishna as the ultimate enjoyer; therefore there are no issues or conflicts pertaining to their own satisfaction. When Krishna enjoys as a result of actions taken by His loving servants, the persons doing the serving are also benefitted. There is surely competition, but since it relates to Krishna’s pleasure, even one-upmanship becomes beneficial. There is no such thing as competition in the material sense because no one is trying to become God.

Krishna and Balarama in VrindavanaIn the land we currently inhabit, the same spirit souls who were once in Krishna’s company now take on a material dress known as a body. In this dress, the individual soul is the master, or at least it thinks it is. The soul indeed serves as the impetus for activities, but none of the results, visible or invisible, can be realized without divine intervention as it manifests through the laws of nature. Just as the soul provides the life spark to a dull body, the grand spiritual spark, the Supreme Spirit, provides life to nature. Not even a blade of grass moves without Krishna’s influence.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)

In the material world, the individual sees himself as God, and thus seeks out personal enjoyment. Problems arise, however, when other individual souls, who are equally as autonomous in the management of their bodies, decide to act out their own desires for becoming the Supreme Controller and Supreme Enjoyer. Hence collisions arise. Since it is impossible for anyone to actually become God, the end result is always misery. Faced with this predicament, any government system that neglects the position of Bhagavan, the Supreme Person who possesses every opulence imaginable simultaneously and to the fullest extent, as the supreme enjoyer will lead to misery.

Taking a quick glance at the prominent governments of the world today, we see that they indeed do neglect the superiority of spirit. As is natural for any public official, the instinct is to look to fulfill the desires and necessities of their constituents. In less intrusive forms of government, the individual is seen as the proprietor and thus free to go about pursuing their passionate activities aimed at pleasing the senses. In either case - strong government control or passive government oversight - the end result is misery. Hence citizens will perpetually be complaining about the government and what it needs to do to fix the present unpalatable situation.

So, what are some of the actions taken to bring about this change? In reality, the individual is powerless. Change in public policy requires the masses of people to agree that the current situation is not favorable and that a newer style of government, represented by different candidates holding office, will be able to turn things around. The individual surely has a role in this system. They can take to a propaganda campaign, wherein they try to persuade the hearts and minds of others to look in a new direction. This sort of activism is certainly nice for the individual since it allows them to be engaged in the cause they care so deeply about. Yet, due to the makeup of the electoral system, this work is guaranteed to be fruitless for half the parties involved. Since success can only be achieved when other autonomous entities become equally as passionate about the issue, the activist is faced with the sad reality of likely defeat.

Lord Krishna Spiritual life, however, does not suffer from this defect. Surely, if we are trying to save the world, i.e. trying to bring everyone to the highest platform of knowledge, Krishna consciousness, success will be difficult to achieve. But spiritual life is more focused on the individual and their relationship with their best friend in the spiritual sky. While in the material world the individual soul is separated from Krishna, this parting is only in the area of consciousness. The Supreme Lord is Ishvara, which means the Supreme Controller. As Ishvara, Krishna is able to appear everywhere; He is omnipresent. As such, He also resides within us, side-by-side with the individual soul in the heart.

“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.15)

If Krishna is already with us, then what’s the problem? The issue pertains to memory; we are forgetful of the presence of the Lord in our body. His spiritual presence is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul. The aim of life is to achieve yoga; the union of our identity with Krishna. In this way, we see that perfection, the ultimate palatable condition, is first achieved at the individual level. Though spiritual life can involve congregational worship, such as the collective chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” and formalized deity worship, at the end of the day the quintessential functional unit of devotion is the personal relationship established between the individual and its Supreme Object of Worship, Krishna.

Hanuman As a cause, bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is nice in that it only requires action by the individual. There is no requirement to change the hearts and minds of others, though this would certainly be a great benefit to society if it could be accomplished. Even if the entire world is against Krishna, if we are able to successfully change our own consciousness to the point where we are always thinking of Bhagavan and His satisfaction, we will have achieved perfection in life.

One of the common problem areas for aspiring devotees is gauging progress. We may sincerely take up the process of chanting the Lord’s names and follow other principles, but the issues pertaining to activism and effecting change remain. “How do I know that I’m on the right course? I have all this passion to serve the Lord. I want to do more, but I don’t know what that more is. How can I figure out what to do?” To find the answers to these questions, we need look no further than to the example set by one of God’s best friends. Not only is this entity a devotee, but he is also a celebrated divine figure, someone worshiped by millions around the world on a daily basis. This figure is Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama.

It should be noted that Krishna is not a sectarian figure. Even in other spiritual disciplines, where Krishna specifically is not mentioned, the concept of a God is still there. The information lacking in other traditions of spirituality pertains to God’s form and His attributes. God may be described as great or formless, but this doesn’t really speak to His true nature. For God to be God, He must be a personality. In order to be a personality, He must have a form. Therefore, the Vedas kindly give us information as to the forms, attributes, activities, and names for the Supreme Personal Absolute Truth. In this way, Krishna is merely the more complete definition for God, the man behind the mask created by those with a limited understanding. Anyone who is honestly worshiping God is actually worshiping Krishna. There is no truth to the concept of “My God” versus “Your God”.

Hanuman worshiping Rama While Krishna is the original form of Godhead, He kindly expands Himself into non-different forms, one of which is His warrior prince incarnation known as Shri Ramachandra, or just Rama. There is often debate amongst Vaishnavas, devotees of Vishnu, as to who is greater, Krishna or Rama. The lovers of Krishna will point to the fact that He is more complete in His features and attributes, and that while Rama is non-different from Krishna, He is not equally as capable of providing bliss and pleasure to the devotees. As with any other argument, the truths can be considered relative. For example, a devotee of Lord Rama derives all the bliss and pleasure in the world simply by thinking of His smiling face. In this way, how can the bhakta be lacking in anything? Actually, these debates as to which non-different form of Godhead is superior are a good thing. They allow devotees to stand up for their guy, their beloved. Anytime this love can be exhibited in a peaceful manner through kind words of praise, it only serves to solidify the lover’s spiritual consciousness.

Rama and Lakshmana Shri Hanuman is one such devotee who thinks of God as Rama and no other. He really has no interest in worshiping any other form. Not only does Hanuman have a strong belief in Rama’s supremacy, he was also able to personally meet the Lord and offer Him service. These events took place many thousands of years ago when the Lord roamed the earth. During one period in His life, Rama, as a pious and noble prince, was forced to travel the forests of India for fourteen years. Taking His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana with Him, Rama was happily engaged in serving His exile term. Unfortunately, one day Sita would be kidnapped through a sinister plot hatched by a demon named Ravana. Unable to find Sita’s whereabouts, Rama and Lakshmana made their way to the forest of Kishkindha, which at the time was inhabited by a race of forest dwellers headed by their king Sugriva.

These inhabitants of the forest, who were known as Vanaras, had features very similar to those of monkeys. For this reason, they are often referred to as monkeys, but it should be noted that their intelligence levels closely resembled those of human beings. Lord Rama forged an alliance with Sugriva through the kind efforts of Hanuman. Sugriva was looking to regain his lost kingdom from his brother Vali, and Rama was looking to rescue Sita. Thus there was potential for both parties to help each other out. Rama took the first step by killing Vali, allowing Sugriva to regain his kingdom.

Sugriva and Vali fighting Then it was Sugriva’s turn to repay the favor. The monkeys were aware that Sita was taken away by a demon, but they didn’t know where he lived. Thankfully, Sugriva had an army consisting of thousands of monkeys. He divided them up into groups and dispatched them to search the various corners of the world. Though all the monkeys were engaged in the search, Sugriva looked especially to Hanuman for success. Shri Hanuman was the best man for the job, someone who proved himself in the past. After all, it was through Hanuman’s efforts that Sugriva was able to meet Rama and Lakshmana.

In the above referenced passage, we see that Sugriva is very pleased with Hanuman and about to give him the task of finding Sita and relaying information about Rama to her. This is an important incident because it shows just how any devotee, if they are properly qualified, can be engaged in the Lord’s service. Hanuman started off with a pure heart. He had a sincere desire to serve the Lord. Because he was sincere and possessed all good qualities, the opportunity for service eventually presented itself. Hanuman would indeed go on to find Sita after overcoming many obstacles. Through his service to Rama, Sita would eventually be found and rescued. To this day, Hanuman is one of the most important figures of the Vedic tradition, someone who possesses all auspicious attributes. His name is forever linked with Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana. Hanuman didn’t have to lead a movement or cause a change in society to please the Supreme Lord. Rather, his individual acts of devotion were enough to make him famous for eternity.

Hanuman One should be perseverant and committed to the cause of changing their consciousness first. If we regularly chant Hare Krishna and abide by the four basic principles of abstention from meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication, our opportunity for service will surely come. The Supreme Lord never ignores the pleas of His adherents. If He sees that someone is passionate about pleasing Him, He will certainly provide every opportunity to them to act out their transcendental desires. May we always remember this glorious incident where Shri Hanuman, the faithful devotee of Lord Rama, was given the herculean task of finding Mother Sita. May we always be as eager, confident, and courageous in our service to the Lord and His devotees.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Comings And Goings

Lord Krishna “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, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)

Question: “There are several prevailing opinions regarding Krishna’s departure from the material world. Can you shed light on the issue?”

Answer: Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, periodically appears and disappears on this earth. This isn’t to say that He is a magician performing illusory acts to entertain the individual souls, but rather, He is never capable of taking birth or dying. The same actually holds true with the individual spirit souls as well, as the concepts of birth and death are created from the conditioned angle of vision. When one’s mindset is purified, i.e. when they regain their natural consciousness, they see things as they are instead of as they are not. In the conditioned state, the individual is clouded by ignorance borne of the illusory energy known as maya. We have no control over the circumstances of our birth, yet we somehow lament over death. If we’re going to feel sad, why not lament over birth, something just as uncontrollable as our death? Krishna’s appearances on earth, both in the personal form and those of His various avataras, are certainly well celebrated and marveled over. Yet the same is not true for His disappearances, His subsequent departures to the spiritual world. Shri Krishna’s return to the spiritual world is especially a topic of controversy, for the non-devotees and gross materialists love to use this event as proof that Krishna is not a divine figure and certainly not the original form of Godhead. From basic analysis of the descriptions of this event, we can see that the Lord’s ascension to the spiritual sky certainly wasn’t anything out of the ordinary for Him, nor was it an indication of any sign of fallibility. Rather, Krishna’s ascension to the spiritual sky was just another sign of His causeless mercy shown towards every living entity.

Shri Krishna God is one; He cannot be the exclusive property of any set of individuals. The concept of a Supreme Lord implies that no one can be above Him. Since it is impossible for anyone to successfully challenge the Lord’s supremacy, it means that God is the fountainhead, the original source of everything. Therefore, all forms of life, regardless of their outward dress, can trace their lineage back to the original Divine Being. In the Vedic tradition, details pertaining to the Lord’s appearances, activities, and transcendental forms are provided. Since there are innumerable forms, there is often confusion as to which is the original and which isn’t. The sacred and flawless Vedic texts declare the fountainhead to be an entity who has a transcendental, eternal, and blissful body.  Since this entity is all-attractive, He is known as Krishna, whose immediate expansion, or other non-different form, of Lord Narayana is also often taken as the original. Even the Ramayana, the epic poem detailing the transcendental activities of Lord Rama, doesn’t contradict this fact. Rama is no different from Narayana, so the ultimate conclusion of who is the original form of Godhead remains the same. Since there is no difference between Narayana and Krishna, we can use the two names interchangeably and thus consider the two forms to be the same.

Around five thousand years ago, Narayana came to earth as Krishna. This is the information given to us by the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata. In other texts, Krishna is taken as the original form who personally descended to earth. In either case, the original Lord of mankind made a divine appearance for the sake of annihilating miscreants and pleasing the purified souls, the devotees who have no other business than serving the Supreme Loveable Object in thoughts, words, and deeds, at all times. Krishna’s visible form was first seen in the town of Mathura. Immediately after appearing from the womb of Mother Devaki, the Lord was transferred to the neighboring town of Vrindavana, where He grew up as a child and tended to cows. In His adult years, Krishna returned to Mathura and then subsequently formed His own kingdom of Dvaraka. The most notable incident of Krishna’s adult life was His role in the Bharata War, a massive fight that saw the death of millions of valiant soldiers. Not surprisingly, the side that Krishna was on, the Pandavas, won.

Krishna the butter thief Devotees usually discuss and relish the pastimes performed by Krishna in Vrindavana. From His adult years, the famous discourse given on the battlefield to Arjuna, the lead Pandava warrior, is similarly a topic of great interest. This sublime set of instructions, which was personally delivered by Krishna, forms the basis of the illustrious Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and complete exposition on Vedic philosophy. While devotees focus on Krishna’s activities and His teachings, the non-devotees and atheists like to discuss the Lord’s activities that made Him appear to be human. After all, Krishna did roam this earth in the guise of an ordinary living entity, so naturally He would perform some activities that didn’t seem to be of the divine nature. The key point to understand is that these activities gave the appearance of fallibility. The Supreme Lord is Achyuta, which means one who is infallible. Fallibility is the quality of the conditioned soul who lives under the dictates of nature. God is the creator of nature, so He is incapable of being controlled by it.

These facts are difficult to understand for the gross materialists. They live strictly off true and false concepts, wherein all conclusions are derived off of personal experience. Since the scientific community has never seen a person appear out of the womb of a mother without the prior act of conception, they take the descriptions of Krishna’s appearance found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam to be mythology, some ordinary event which was later hyped up into something it wasn’t. To substantiate their claims, the atheists will point to Krishna’s activities with the young cowherd girls of Vrindavana and His ultimate disappearance from the earth, which saw Him being shot in the foot by a hunter named Jara.

So are the atheists correct in their assessment? If not, why then would Krishna give this appearance of fallibility? The answer is that every individual soul has independence and free will. This is not something given to us by God, but rather, something we always possess. Just as God is the Supreme Controller who never assumed that title, as individual sparks emanating from the original spiritual fire, we naturally inherit the quality of freedom. The difference between God and ourselves is that the activities we can take up based off our freedom are limited. The root cause of the material creation is the misuse of the free will property. The individual spirit souls, desiring to imitate their loveable master, were given a temporary and miserable playing field. This field is temporary because it has to be created. Since it manifests at the will of the hand of Supreme Spirit, it most certainly must be destroyed at some point as well. Since there is both creation and destruction, the end result of any activity performed on such a turf is misery.

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

Lord Krishna If the material world is so miserable, why would Krishna create it? The desires of the individual souls are never denied. The wished-for objects of sense gratification may not always come to fruition, but the desires themselves are not thwarted. Since the individual souls wish to remain apart from Krishna, they are allowed to remain in the material world perpetually. When the Lord makes His divine appearances on earth, His aim is to take back those souls looking for liberation, the jivatmas who have had enough of the pretend life. Krishna is kind enough to enact His sweet pastimes for the satisfaction of such purified souls. By relishing these transcendental activities, one’s consciousness gradually becomes purified to the point where the ultimate enjoyer is seen as Krishna instead of the gross senses. When this purified mindset is maintained up until the time of death, release from the cycle of birth and death is granted.

Even with all of this information available to them - knowledge which mind you costs nothing to acquire - the majority of the conditioned souls will not take to Krishna consciousness. Rather, they remain steadfast in their challenge to the Lord’s authority. Obviously such an effort will be futile, for every conditioned soul is a slave to the forces of nature. Mother Nature’s most powerful agent is all-devouring death, which appears on the scene through the agent of change known as time. No conditioned entity is immune from the effects of time; thus the pursuit to surpass God in strength, stature, and level of enjoyment will eventually fail.

“I have heard Your instruction on confidential spiritual matters which You have so kindly delivered unto me, and my illusion is now dispelled.” (Arjuna speaking to Krishna, Bg. 11.1)

Krishna and Arjuna A gross materialist, an asura, or non-devotee, will have trouble convincing others, and even themselves, of the supremacy of their way of life dedicated to sense gratification. The truths found in the Vedas are quite logical and profound, so anyone who honestly and sincerely hears them from the right sources will be firmly convinced of the supremacy of the engagement of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The non-devotees, not wanting to chant or take part in any activity of bhakti, hold steadfast to karma. To support their ingrained attitude, they will look for any piece of information that debunks the notion that Krishna is God. Though the classic Vedic texts such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, and Shrimad Bhagavatam are filled with hundreds of thousands of profound verses, the asuras will scour these pages for one tiny little quote or incident that, when taken out of context, can allay their fears of God’s existence and supremacy. This behavior is indeed sad but true, as the atheists are afraid that Krishna might actually be God, for if that were the case, it would mean that the sinful way of life is the wrong one.

Due to His kind mercy, the Supreme Lord gives the asuras all the evidence they need. The Lord first exhibits qualities of strength which are impossible for an ordinary person to believe. Not only does He appear on this earth without the act of conception, but He kills powerful demons and lifts gigantic hills with just one finger. Since the asuras can’t imagine a tiny child performing such wondrous feats, they take Krishna to be a myth. Then there are some non-devotees who accept the idea of Krishna’s appearance, but who still don’t want to devote their lives to Him. They will look to Krishna’s intimate activities with the gopis of Vrindavana as evidence of Krishna’s fallibility. “How can God dance around with young girls? This is who we are supposed to worship?” Of course, thought is never given as to why God should forbid Himself from dancing with young girls. The Supreme Lord is self-satisfied, and He is the object of dharma, or religiosity. Piety and virtue only exist to help the individual understand Krishna. The Lord has no need to abide by these rules which are intended for the conditioned souls, those whose flawed desire in life is to challenge God. In addition, the interaction with the gopis actually proves Krishna’s divine nature. As the Supreme Lord, He will grant whatever anyone wants, provided that their hearts are pure and their motives properly situated. The gopis are the greatest lovers of the Supreme Spirit, so if they desire to dance with Krishna, the Lord will most certainly accede to their request.

Krishna with the gopis There is yet another class of asuras who accepts Krishna’s appearance and His activities with the gopis but still doesn’t take Him to be God. They will point to His disappearance, an incident where the Lord was shot in the foot by a hunter. Never mind the fact that the Mahabharata explicitly states that Krishna was willingly ready to return to the spiritual world and that He knew what was going to happen, the asuras will ignore any evidence that goes against their central religious belief, the notion of Krishna being fallible. These are all the workings of Krishna’s divine energy known as maya, an illusory force which clouds the intelligence of the conditioned souls who desire to remain in the material world. The workings of maya prove that the Lord is the most munificent of all devas, or gods.

The question may be raised as to why Krishna would leave the earth in such a manner, especially since it runs the risk of deluding the minds of the pure-hearted devotees. The answer is that even devotees sometimes fall victim to the influences of power, greed, resentment, and anger. But since they are pure at heart, the Lord doesn’t hold such actions against them. Rather, He takes the necessary steps to ensure that the powers they believe they possess remain intact. As an example, Narada Muni, the great saint and devotee of Narayana, once cursed the Lord to take birth on earth and become separated from His beloved wife. Narada had prayed to Vishnu to allow a beautiful princess to choose him for marriage. Narada is a sannyasi, so he has no business intimately associating with women. Bhagavan always protects His devotees, so He most certainly wasn’t going to allow Narada to fall down from his exalted position. Therefore the Lord, in a very slick way, appeared to grant Narada’s request, but in reality didn’t. When the princess chose another man for marriage, Narada realized that it was Vishnu’s fault and then subsequently cursed Him.

Narada Muni Of course God can never be cursed. No one is capable of telling Him what to do. But the Lord, as a great father is apt to do, plays along since the person doing the cursing doesn’t know any better. It is similar to how a parent will make wagers with their children while playing certain games. If the parent loses, they agree to the terms of the wager, even though the young child has no say so in the matter. The adult remains superior regardless of whatever action is taken. Since Narada is so kind and pure, Vishnu decided to wholeheartedly abide by his curse. Vishnu agreed to appear on earth as Lord Rama, the beloved prince of Ayodhya. He would most certainly be separated from His innocent wife Sita for an extended period of time, but the goals set out prior to His appearance were still met.

When Krishna roamed the earth, similar behavior towards the Lord was exhibited by other exalted figures. When Krishna was residing in Dvaraka, His chief queen was Rukmini Devi. The divine couple was once visited by the brahmana Durvasa Muni. The brahmanas, or priestly class, are loved by Krishna very much. In the Vedic tradition, a guest is to be received very hospitably, especially if he is a brahmana. Durvasa decided to test Krishna’s level of dedication to the brahmanas and the etiquette of hospitality by making one outrageous request after another during his visit. Yet every outlandish request he made was met by both Rukmini and Krishna. One of the requests involved spreading frumenty, or payasa paste, all over their bodies. Krishna and Rukmini agreed to do this, but the Lord neglected to spread the paste on the sole of one of His feet. Durvasa, after admitting that he was just testing the couple, granted them the boon that whichever part of the body they spread the paste on would be immune from the attacks of others. Noticing that Krishna had missed the spot on the sole of His foot, Durvasa remarked that he was disappointed in Krishna.

“There is no one in the world, except for Myself, who is capable of ridding the world of the Vrishnis. I am very well aware of this, as I am trying to bring this destruction about. By cursing Me and the Vrishnis in this way, O you of excellent vows, you have helped Me in accomplishing My task. The Vrishnis are incapable of being slain by any other entities, including human beings, devas, and Danavas. Therefore, the Yadavas will end up destroying each other.” (Krishna responding to Gandhari after she had cursed the Vrishnis, Mahabharata, Stri-parva)

Lord Krishna After the Pandavas won the bloody Bharata War, the mother of the leading fighters for the defeated party, Gandhari, began to bewail her plight. Saddened by the death of her hundred sons, she immediately blamed Krishna. As a result of her anger, she cursed the Lord and His Vrishni dynasty to be destroyed after thirty-six years. The Lord, instead of yelling at her or laughing at her gall in imprecating this curse, kindly accepted it. He told Gandhari that He was looking for an excuse to leave this earth and put an end to the Vrishnis and that the curse had now given Him one. Sure enough, when the time came, all the Vrishnis would be destroyed due to a terrible internal quarrel. Krishna and His brother Balarama left the scene and retired to the forest. Balarama, after entering a deep meditational trance, assumed His form of Ananta Shesha Naga and returned to the spiritual sky. Krishna similarly laid down for meditation after remembering the words of Durvasa and Gandhari. At this time, a hunter named Jara came and accidentally shot Krishna in the foot. Touching the Lord’s feet, the hunter felt remorseful. Immediately after this, Krishna ascended to the spiritual world, where He was greeted by all His divine associates.

“Bewildered by false ego, strength, pride, lust and anger, the demon becomes envious of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is situated in his own body and in the bodies of others, and blasphemes against the real religion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 16.18)

The Mahabharata really doesn’t leave much room for doubt as it pertains to Krishna’s return to the spiritual world. Nowhere does it say that the Lord was taken by surprise or that He died like an ordinary man. He returned to the spiritual world in His transcendental body, the way that He always returns after appearing in the material world. As mentioned before, the controversy is only from the side of the asuras and gross materialists. But this disagreement will always be there. Even during Krishna’s time, there were many demons who refused to acknowledge His supremacy. Enemies such as Shishupala would make fun of the Lord for associating with the cowherd community during His childhood. These enemies thought Krishna was not fit to be a king, for it was beneath the royal order to engage in agriculture. The Shishupalas of the world will always be around, for that is the root cause of this material existence. For the devotees, Krishna’s appearances and disappearances are easy to understand. Armed with this proper understanding, the purified souls liberate themselves from the cycle of birth and death.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Best Man For The Job

Hanuman “Sugriva in particular broached the subject of finding Sita with Hanuman, for he was convinced that Hanuman, the best among monkeys, was capable of accomplishing the desired purpose.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.1)

“I’ve got my best man on it”, is an assurance we’ve likely heard when seeking out help in the accomplishment of a difficult task. Everyone is a dependent in this world, either to another living entity or to nature. The only truly independent entity in the universe is the Supreme Lord. Since we are similar to Him in quality, we also have the ability to create, maintain, and destroy on a small scale. Yet to live a peaceful life, to have all of our needs and desires fulfilled, we need the cooperation and help of other living entities. This holds especially true in the arena of spiritual life. Stimulation of the spiritual senses, which is the polar opposite of material sense gratification in terms of the reward it brings, can only be accomplished through association with the Supreme Spirit. Where to find this Divine Entity and how to go about connecting with Him are known only to the most exalted and purified of souls. Of all the saints and divine servants of Bhagavan, none can be considered greater than Shri Hanuman.

Hanuman Some of the basic problems encountered in the life of a karmi, or fruitive worker, involve repairs and renovations. If there is damage to our automobile, we will likely take it to an auto body shop or the dealer’s repair facility. Aside from the cost concerns, the owner of the car wants to make sure that their car will be fixed up properly. With all the money that is going to be spent, the owner needs assurance that their hard earned wealth doesn’t go to waste and that the car will be safe to drive later on. The same expectations are present in construction and renovation projects. There is typically a leader of the repairing party, the group that is to perform the renovations and do the gritty work to repair whatever needs to be fixed. The leader not only provides the estimate, but also gives assurances as to the quality of the delivered product. To allay the fears of the apprehensive customer, the leader will often say things like, “Don’t worry. I’ve got my best man on the job. He never lets me down. He will surely come through for you.”

Often times this could just be the proprietor blowing smoke, but the principle behind the statement is certainly valid. The tougher the project, the more important it is to put the right people to work. It is said that a good leader or manager is one who does the least amount of work. This doesn’t mean that they are lazy, but rather, they know how to delegate. If a leader is constantly involved in the minutia of the project, performing hard labor and taking to various tasks, who will manage the operation? A good manager is one who can assess the skills of the members of the team and then assign tasks based on these qualifications. For the toughest tasks, those aspects of the project requiring the most attention and skill, the leader relies on their all-stars, their representatives, servants, workers, etc., who shine under pressure. Such dedicated servants, reliable workers, make the boss proud and feel confident that the task at hand can always be accomplished.

Hanuman and the Vanaras While this principle applies to all areas of endeavor, including police work, military operations, and housing projects, we’d be hard pressed to find a tougher task than that of the rescue of a kidnap victim. Yet this is precisely what a powerful king faced many thousands of years ago. Luckily for this leader, he had the all-star of all-stars, the most reliable living entity to have ever graced this earth, acting as his chief emissary. This superstar was none other than Shri Hanuman, and through his wondrous acts he proved to be the most reliable servant of not only his king, but of the Creator of the universe.

Many thousands of years ago, a beautiful and pious prince took birth in the royal dynasty of the Ikshvakus. This dynasty ruled the world, for the progenitor of their line, Maharaja Ikshvaku, was actually the first king on earth. Though the royal family’s supremacy spread far and wide, the base of their operations was stationed in the city of Ayodhya, which is located in the land today known as India. The splendorous prince born to Maharaja Dasharatha, the king of Ayodhya at the time, had every auspicious feature and measurement. In the Vedic tradition, the time of birth and facial and bodily features of a newborn are judged by expert priests. Based on the measurements and time of birth of Dasharatha’s new child, the priests concluded that He must be a divine figure. Only Lord Narayana, the Supreme Lord Himself, could possess all of these qualities.

“I am faithfully engaged in the service of Rama, who is greatly fortunate, fixed in truthfulness, gifted with all auspicious marks, and has the bodily measurements of a banyan tree [nyagrodha-parimandala].” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 47.34)

Lord Rama What was unknown to the residents of the town at the time was that this child was indeed Narayana appearing on earth in human form. Narayana is a Sanskrit word that means “the source of all naras”, or human beings. Hence the word is an appellation for God. The word “God” can mean so many things to different people. To some, it symbolizes the greatest order supplier, one who can provide anything to anyone. In this way, we see how other “gods” are created based on the arena of activity and the ability of the entity to provide for various necessities. Over the course of human history, many governments have tried to act as “God” to their citizens. They took over control of all producing capabilities and thus required the citizens to go through government for all of their needs.

In the Vedic tradition, the concept of God is certainly described through the ability to meet demands and wants. Narayana references the Almighty’s fixed position as the source of all creation. Since man is a kind of god of his own body, whoever created man would certainly be the owner of everything. So in this way, Narayana automatically means God. At the same time, there is another aspect to being the origin of all man and the greatest order supplier. Mankind seeks out different rewards and desires, and thus they view whoever can meet the majority of these demands as their worshipable object. Yet there is an end-result to these desires being met: enjoyment. By default, the conditioned entity views itself as the ultimate enjoyer. The acknowledgment of this viewpoint may appear baffling. “What are you talking about? Of course I’m the enjoyer. I’m the only one living in my body. Who else could be the enjoyer?”

Radha and Krishna enjoying It is with respect to this particular issue that the Vedas stand out from any other spiritual discipline. Not only is God deemed to be the ultimate order supplier and the source of all men, but He is also the ultimate enjoyer. Based on this information, the aim of human life becomes to seek out the most powerful divine entity and provide for His enjoyment. Such an endeavor speaks to the constitutional position of the soul as being the “enjoyed”. In Sanskrit terms, purusha refers to the enjoyer and prakriti refers to the enjoyed. In the material world, the living entities, the spirit souls, are purusha in that they seek to enjoy their senses through association with dull matter, or prakriti. But in the grander scheme of things, individual life forms are actually prakriti. Whoever can realize this by the time they quit their body is deemed to have achieved perfection in life. At the expiry of the current life, such a knowledgeable individual immediately returns to the spiritual world, where they get to be enjoyed by the Supreme Lord for eternity. The Divine Spiritual Entity, whose original name and form is that of Shri Krishna, enjoys with the living entities and thus provides the enjoyed with a level of satisfaction never before seen.

Realizing that God is the Supreme Enjoyer is not easy. Therefore, the Lord kindly appears on earth from time to time to exhibit His transcendental beauty and allow others to associate with Him. Shri Rama’s birth was one instance of this benevolence. As a warrior prince, Rama spent many years on earth putting forth the principles of dharma, or religiosity, and enacting wonderful pastimes. During one particular lengthy sojourn into the forest, His beautiful wife Sita Devi happened to get kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Not knowing her whereabouts, Rama, along with His younger brother Lakshmana, eventually came to the forest of Kishkindha. There they met the monkey-king Sugriva, who agreed to help Rama find Sita.

It should be noted that Sugriva and the members of his kingdom are often referred to as monkeys, but this is not entirely accurate. The Sanskrit word for their species is “Vanara”, a term which refers to “vana”, which means the forest. So the Vanaras are essentially living entities of the forest. Based on many statements found in the scriptures, including ones made by Sugriva and his associates, the features of the Vanaras closely resemble those of monkeys. They have tails, they like to jump around, they like to steal people’s fruits, they like to drink honey to their satisfaction, and they also have an insatiable appetite for sex life. These descriptions certainly do point to the monkey species, hence the reason for the reference to Sugriva as a monkey. Since they were technically monkey-like, the Vanaras had many human-like features as well, such as the ability to talk, think, etc.

Hanuman Sugriva had an army of powerful Vanaras at his disposal. Since no one knew where Sita was, a sort of scavenger-hunt of the entire world was required. This would be difficult even in today’s advanced technological age, but back during those times, it was even harder. Sugriva had thousands of monkeys ready to serve him, but finding Sita was the most important of tasks. Faced with this difficult situation, Sugriva turned to his trusted aide, the one person he knew wouldn’t let him down, Shri Hanuman.

In the above referenced verse from the Ramayana, Sugriva is about to address Hanuman and entrust the success of the mission with him. We see that Sugriva had no doubt that Hanuman could accomplish this task. Hanuman was the best man for the job. Since he would go on to validate Sugriva’s intuition, it shouldn’t surprise us that Shri Hanuman today is one of the most widely celebrated divine figures. Though he faced many obstacles in the form of land masses, oceans, and demons, Hanuman was eventually able to find Sita, relay information to her about Rama, and then return to Sugriva. Not only did he help in finding Sita, but Hanuman also played an integral role in the subsequent battle between Rama, who was accompanied by Sugriva’s army, and Ravana and his Rakshasa clan. Due to his bravery courage, and dedication, Hanuman is considered Rama’s greatest servant, the person who never loses and never fails to accomplish the tasks assigned to him.

The aim of human life is to change our consciousness from that of material enjoyment to that of spiritual enjoyment. Lord Narayana certainly helps us out by coming to earth from time to time and performing activities, the descriptions of which are recorded in wonderful books for future generations to cherish. Yet consulting God directly is not recommended. Rather, it is better to approach one of His servants. The devotees, or bhaktas, are the most qualified for the job of reclaiming the lost conditioned souls who are seeking their return to the spiritual world. Since this task is also a spiritual one and in the interests of Shri Rama, Hanuman once again stands tall as the best man for the job.

Hanuman Goswami Tulsidas, the great Vaishnava poet and devotee of Lord Rama, declares that Lord Hanuman can provide anything to anyone who kindly approaches him. When Tulsidas was in distress or pain, he would often call out to Hanuman or at least remember him. While Hanuman is certainly capable of providing us any benediction, the greatest reward he can give us is devotion to Shri Rama. He is the gatekeeper to the spiritual world, and anyone who kindly pleases him will surely be allowed in. Hanuman is the best man for the job of helping us cross over the ocean of nescience that separates us from the spiritual world. Sugriva was eternally benefitted by coming through for Shri Rama, but this success never would have been achieved without Hanuman. In a similar manner, if we put our full faith and trust in the son of the wind-god, the greatest of the Vanaras, Shri Hanuman, we can be assured of success in our spiritual endeavors.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Dead Inside

Lord Krishna “Lord Krishna is the self-sufficient Supreme Personality of Godhead, yet because He was playing the role of a human being, He became very depressed for a moment, as if He had actually lost His father. But at the next moment He could understand that the arrest and killing of His father were demonstrations of the mystic powers which Shalva had learned from the demon Maya.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 22)

One of the more intriguing aspects to the Lord’s pastimes performed on earth is His outward display of affection, which includes both elation and lamentation. After all, emotions swing in both extremes. If there is great joy as a result of an auspicious moment, surely there will be tremendous grief over a tragedy. These are the workings of ordinary human beings, so if the Lord is to play the role of one of us, He must do so to perfection. Yet how could Krishna, the purported Supreme Personality of Godhead, the controller of the universe, take to lamentation like an ordinary man? Doesn’t this prove that He cannot be God? To find the answer, we can look to the behavior of saintly people, those who have become detached from the workings of the senses. These sages, who are above hankering and lamenting, spend all of their time worshiping the Supreme Lord, the one and only God of the universe. If these exalted personalities are renounced, how then can their supreme object of worship be of a lower stature?

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 18.54)

Chandler Film, television, and theater often do a wonderful job at portraying ordinary events and sentiments in a humorous manner. The hit television sitcom Friends certainly had many episodes which depicted the workings of the average person very well. One episode in particular dealt with the issue of crying and the emotions shown after a tragic event. For those unfamiliar with the show, the basic plotline of each episode deals with the day-to-day goings on of a group of six friends who are all around thirty years of age. The character of Chandler is known for being particularly witty, as he takes to humor as a defense mechanism. In one episode, the other friends discover that Chandler is unable to cry. No matter the occasion, joyous or somber, Chandler cannot bring himself to tears. This leads Joey, Chandler’s best friend, to declare that Chandler is “dead inside”. Monica, who is Chandler’s significant other, then attempts to make Chandler cry by creating several hypothetical situations, scenarios which have her dying in the future and leaving a note from the beyond, or the couple witnessing the birth of their new child. Even after being presented with both cases, Chandler is unable to get himself to cry. He doesn’t necessarily feel ashamed over his unique ability, but at the same time, he knows that he is out of the ordinary in this area.

The episode’s humor comes from the fact that it is very difficult for anyone to become detached from the effects of the senses. Indeed, emotion is the essence of life, and a lack of it signals a dormant state of consciousness, or does it? The Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of India and the world, accurately state that one’s identity comes from the spirit soul, which is Brahman. Aham brahmasmi is a Sanskrit phrase which says that a person comes to a proper understanding when they realize that they are a spirit soul, part and parcel of the sum total of spirit known as Brahman. Brahman is truth; it is beyond duality, change, loss, or gain. It is important to understand Brahman because the faulty identification that we assume at the time of birth has nothing to do with Absolute Truth. Thinking in terms of “I” and “Mine”, the conditioned living entity, one who is uneducated in spiritual matters, takes the outer covering of the soul to be the permanent and unchanging truth. This, of course, is a faulty identification because the body is constantly changing. It is subject to creation and destruction.

“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bg. 2.11)

Arjuna A wise person, realizing the temporary nature of everything in this world, including their own bodies, understands that grieving over temporary losses is not a productive activity. Even an event as horrible as death only represents a temporary change; the shedding of a set of clothes for the soul. The soul can never be killed, cut, or dried up. It is always in existence; hence it is known as truth, or Brahman. The soul inherits its properties from the Supreme Absolute Truth, Parabrahman. This Supreme Truth has a personality and a transcendental form. Though He may be addressed differently depending on time, circumstance, and geographic location, He is still a singular entity.

In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is known as Krishna, or Vishnu. The learned man, a pandita, takes to worshiping Krishna through acts of charity, sacrifice, and renunciation. The goal of renunciation is to become detached from the senses. How does one break free of the influence of the senses that it must interact with? Every emotion we experience is based on some exchange of information that relies on sense perception. We either hear something, see something, smell something, touch something, or taste something and feel good or bad. Depending on the intensity of the emotion, the result can be elation or depression. Is it possible to actually transcend these emotions?

From the example of Chandler in Friends, we see that there are certainly people who can avoid crying over tragic events. The saintly individuals, those who are aiming to achieve perfection in spiritual life, actually make ascension to this superior level of detachment a goal. Based on perceived worldly experiences, we see that often the greatest source of distress relates to sexual relations, the dealings between a man and a woman. Under the flawed bodily identification that we all inherit at the time of birth, an individual becomes attached to another individual’s outward features. Sex life is entirely based on sense pleasures and attraction to bodies which are ever changing. Therefore the serious transcendentalist will make controlling his sexual urges his top priority. Civilized spiritual life, one following the flawless law codes instituted by the Supreme Lord, calls for one’s duration of life to be divided into four distinct stages, or ashramas. In every stage except one, married householder life, sex life is strictly prohibited.

Tulsidas In days past, even the women of the Vedic tradition would chide men who were overly attached to sex life. If a man was seen falling victim to the urges of his senses, he would be rebuked by others in society, including chaste women. Goswami Tulsidas, one of the most celebrated devotional poets in history, was so attached to his wife that he refused to allow her to leave home and spend time with her family. When she happened to leave one night to her parents’ home, he travelled through a storm just to go see her. Rather than praise Tulsidas for his great affection and attachment to her, his wife sternly rebuked him for being attached to a body which was nothing more than flesh, blood, and stool. As a learned man, a brahmana, Tulsidas was supposed to be detached from conjugal attraction and instead focused on serving God. He indeed took this lesson to heart, turning his back on married life immediately and dedicating the rest of his life to serving Lord Rama, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead.

So not only is it possible to become detached from the senses, it is actually considered beneficial behavior. Saintly men are the spiritual leaders of society. They teach others about bhakti-yoga, or devotional service to God. If they were to overly lament over death, which is nothing more than the dissolution of a body which is destined for destruction, where would the common man go for strength? Through their exemplary behavior, the sages prove to be the greatest teachers and welfare workers. Since they lead by example, they are known as acharyas.

Lord Krishna This makes Krishna’s behavior during His time on earth all the more puzzling. Around five thousand years ago, the Supreme Lord descended to earth in His original form to take on demons and enchant the hearts and minds of the purified souls looking for liberation in the form of sublime pleasure. While the soul is eternal, it can assume temporary material bodies in a perpetual cycle. This transmigration, known as reincarnation, continues until the individual has had enough and wants out. Liberation doesn’t simply signal the end of the cycle, but rather, it marks the beginning of a new way of life, one involving the association of the Supreme Lord in the spiritual world.

“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form-to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.22)

For those sincerely looking to rekindle their forgotten relationship with Krishna, the Lord provides what they lack and preserves what they have. Who would try to take away what the saints possess? The answer, of course, is demons; the lowest of mankind who have no desire for release from the attachment they have to their senses. When Krishna descends to earth, He especially takes to dealing with these seedy characters who harass the innocent. One such demon was named Shalva, a miscreant so puffed up with false pride that he directly attacked Krishna while the Lord was ruling over Dvaraka.

Lord Krishna with Mother Yashoda God can never take birth or die, but when He appears on earth, He accepts exalted personalities as parents. Krishna’s parents during His advent five thousand years ago were Vasudeva, who was of the warrior caste, and Mother Devaki. Though Krishna spent His youth under the care of His foster parents in Vrindavana, when He was a grown man, He ruled over the kingdom in the sea, Dvaraka, where Devaki, Vasudeva, and other close family members lived with Him. Obviously as a powerful king, Krishna was attacked on many occasions by demons. In fact, the root cause behind the existence of the temporary and perishable realm is the envy of the conditioned souls, those who are jealous of God’s abilities in the areas of creation, maintenance, and destruction. More than anything else, they are jealous of Krishna’s ability to enjoy. Rather than take part in that enjoyment with the Lord, i.e. take to devotional service wherein one regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and worships the deity, the foolish will take to their own concocted path to pleasure, while denying the existence of God at the same time.

The demons who fought with Krishna were especially powerful. One of the noteworthy benedictions given to miscreants killed by Krishna is that they receive liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Since these nefarious characters, though possessing every undesirable personality trait known to man, think of God at the time of death, they are ultimately rewarded. Since their minds are focused on the Supreme Lord at all times, they transcend the attachment one has to the senses. The behavior of such demons shouldn’t be imitated, but it should serve as a reminder of the benevolent nature of Krishna. If even demons are granted such benedictions, one can only imagine what is in store for the saintly person who thinks of Krishna in a loving way at all times.

Krishna killing Shalva Shalva was expert at black magic and illusion. While fighting with Krishna, the demon was getting his butt handed to him, so instead of fighting honorably, he decided to take shelter of illusory powers. Shalva was able to conjure up an illusion where a crying person approached Krishna and informed the Lord that Vasudeva had been taken prisoner of Shalva. The demon then appeared on the scene with Vasudeva in his custody. Right in front of Krishna, Shalva then cut off the head of the Lord’s father. Seeing such a horrible scene, Krishna immediately gave way to excessive lamentation. This display of emotion didn’t last for very long, as the Lord eventually realized that what He had seen was just an illusion. Regaining His senses, Krishna would go on to defeat and kill Shalva.

So why did Krishna lament? As Bhagavan, the Lord possesses every opulence imaginable, including that of renunciation. Yet if He was able to cry over an illusion showing His father’s death, how could He claim to be God? A similar question was pondered by Mother Parvati, the controller of the material nature and wife of Lord Shiva, an exalted divine figure and greatest devotee of Lord Vishnu. Many thousands of years prior to Krishna’s advent, the Lord came to earth as Rama, an adept and pious prince. On one occasion, Rama’s wife Sita was kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Seeing that Sita was missing, Rama similarly gave way to lamentation and grief. Parvatiji, who was accustomed to viewing her husband as the Supreme Lord of the universe, couldn’t understand why he took to worshiping Lord Rama. Of all of Lord Vishnu’s forms, Rama is Shiva’s favorite.

Shiva, Parvati, and Ganesha Lord Shiva could understand what Mother Parvati was thinking, so he immediately dealt with her concerns. He told her to never think that Rama was an ordinary man, because even though He was in the guise of a fallible human being, He was still the Supreme Lord, the original form of Godhead for all of humanity. His displays of emotion were simply part of His pastimes, a way to show everyone His human side. When we worship the Lord by hearing of His activities, we can’t just label some of His pastimes as transcendental and discard the others. Krishna’s displays of emotion actually don’t need to be excused or explained away. Whether Krishna is killing demons, teaching others about the Vedas, or crying over tragic events, all of His activities are transcendental and worth hearing about. Krishna’s crying is as important as His defense of the innocent.

For those bewildered by the Lord’s behavior, understanding the innate relationship between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul can help shed some light on the issue. Dharma is one’s occupational duty borne of the inherent characteristic of the soul. The soul, being the driving force to all activity, is an autonomous entity that is both knowledgeable and blissful. Yet this spiritual entity is not meant to reside alone; it has a life partner. That complementary entity is the Supreme Lord, the eternal loveable object of the soul. For love to be valid, the affectionate emotions must exist between both entities involved in the relationship. The purified souls such as Vasudeva certainly show their love to Krishna through activities, thoughts, and words. The Supreme Lord, for His part, does not simply take in this love and not offer any in return.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna’s crying over the apparent death of Vasudeva shows that God loves His devotees just as much as they love Him, if not more. Though an ordinary man may cry over the death of a loved one, Krishna will cry in a manner more intense than has ever been witnessed on this earth. As the reservoir of all pleasure and energy, Krishna can display emotions to the extreme. His exhibitions of lamentation and worry only substantiate the claims of the devotees who take Krishna to be the Supreme Lord. The renounced saints are able to transcend the effects of the senses, essentially deadening the internal attachments formed over many lifetimes. Yet the only way to become truly “dead inside” from a material perspective is to become completely alive by taking to devotional service. Sharanagati, the bliss resulting from total surrender unto the feet of the Supreme, secures great pleasure for the soul. Annihilation of misery and sense attachment is only one piece of the puzzle. The rest can be filled in by hearing of Krishna’s glorious activities and developing a loving attachment to Him.