Saturday, January 15, 2011

In Preparation

Lord Krishna “The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.10)

The present life is a preparation for the next. This belief is not simply the viewpoint of a select few group of individuals, but rather, a fact of spiritual science that is supported by the workings of cause and effect as they pertain to our ordinary activities. Karma, the system of fruitive actions and their subsequent results, is completely scientific and fair. Though the system is often looked at in the negative light in terms of demotion to a lower species in the next life, the results of karma, or karma-phalam, are visible right before us. Just as each day is a preparation for the next, the activities in this life determine the future fortunes of the identifying object within the body. Apprising themselves of this fact, the wise take to acts of devotion to the Supreme Lord; activities which lead to the most favorable of conditions in the next life.

Lord Chaitanya worshiping The need for preparing for the next life shouldn’t be too difficult to understand. Our current disposition is the result of activities performed in the past. When we wake up in the morning each day, we plan out what activities we will take up and what goals we hope to achieve. By the time the next day arrives, the results of our previous day’s actions take shape and effect. As an example, for adults, the present family disposition and current occupation are the results of actions taken during childhood and adolescence. We went to school so that we would have an education. Higher knowledge was required to land a decent paying job; one that provides a salary sufficient enough to meet the basic demands of the body.

The time of death represents the limit to which future preparation stretches. If one is unaware of the eternal nature of the soul, the driving force behind activity, they won’t want to think about the end of their current life or anything beyond it. Instead, there will be a desire to frantically secure as many material possessions and enjoyments as possible in the present life. Similar to the behavior of the man who has one week left before he goes to prison, the dying man hopes to enjoy as much as possible before the end of his life. Even though this behavior is certainly a method of preparation, the end goal is one of neutrality. In addition, the enjoyment that results from activities driven by the panicking mindset really has no bearing on the disposition of the soul at the time of death.

To help us understand the nature of these results, let’s take an example of two people who are relatively similar in age. They are both in the twilight years of their lives, waiting for the day when death will come. One person has achieved all of their hopes and dreams in life. Everything they ever wanted to accomplish was done after hard work and great preparation. There is no longer any worry about family, food, or money. Said individual can just sit back and relax. The other person is similar in age, but they didn’t accomplish their most important objectives. Maybe they wanted financial security or a beautiful wife, but these things didn’t materialize. Somehow or other they made their way to the end of life still intact, with no major injuries or diseases.

Is there any real difference between the two individuals? One may argue that the first person got to live out all of their hopes and dreams and thus they lived a full life, whereas the other person was left with despair and thoughts of what might have been. Though this may be the case, both parties still ended up in the same position. Through the influence of time, which devours all, whatever memories we have, good and bad, eventually fade away. As such, whatever preparation we make for a future disposition, our efforts eventually will go for naught since time takes away everything.

Hanuman in meditation Happiness is assumed to be related to nice surroundings and exhilarating experiences, but its source is actually the state of the mind. For example, the second person in our above example easily could just imagine that he had achieved everything in life. If his dream during childhood was to have a successful life in terms of material ventures, he could just pretend that such accomplishments came his way. After all, whatever good experiences we seek out only lead to satisfaction of the mind. If we can find a way to please the mind solely through thoughts and positive thinking, the results are essentially the same.

“By practice of yoga one becomes gradually detached from material concepts. This is the primary characteristic of the yoga principle. And after this, one becomes situated in trance, or samadhi which means that the yogi realizes the Supersoul through transcendental mind and intelligence, without any of the misgivings of identifying the self with the Superself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 6.20-23 Purport)

Here we have stumbled upon the secret known only to the great Vedic seers, those who spent much time in samadhi, or divine trance. Samadhi is not ordinary meditation or the blocking out of unwanted thoughts brought on by the contact of the senses with external objects. Divine trance involves focusing the mind on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, or one of His direct expansions. Meditation cannot focus on void, for the mind is incapable of conceiving of nothing. One can make a test of this: try to focus the mind for a second on nothing; try to stop yourself from thinking. It is impossible, for it is the nature of the spirit soul to engage in activity. When placed into the body of a living entity, or jiva, consciousness serves as the indication of the soul’s penchant for activity. It is the purification of the consciousness that leads to happiness, and thus a better position in the future.

Lord Krishna The discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is also known as God consciousness. It is labeled as such because the practice deals with the future fortunes of the soul; the ultimate preparation leading to the most favorable of future conditions. As previously mentioned, true happiness is a state of mind, something that doesn’t have to be reached through successful achievements or glorious experiences. Controlling the mind unlocks the secret door to the spiritual world, wherein the daily grind of preparation and execution are non-existent and the influences of time and space are checked by the transcendental powers of the Supreme Lord.

God certainly has an ever-existing form; otherwise the variegatedness we see before us would indicate the material world to be a superior realm. If the material world is superior, then there is no need for God or devotion to Him. If there is no God, then why is there death? The Vedas answer all of these questions by informing us of the nature of spirit. As evidenced by the events of birth, old age, disease, and death, the body is constantly changing. It gets created, maintained, and destroyed. Such a temporary dwelling cannot have any bearing on the soul, nor can it be the cause of any meaningful pleasure. After all, every person is looking for pleasure, regardless of their belief in God, or lack thereof.

Since the soul is eternal, it must have a permanent dwelling it can call home. That place is in the spiritual world, where the Supreme Lord, in His original and beautiful form of Lord Krishna, resides. Krishna has hands, eyes, legs, and a face, though these features never diminish nor are they limited in their abilities. Krishna’s complexion is like that of a dark blue raincloud, but this doesn’t mean that He can’t assume other forms with different complexions. Krishna is the most attractive, so His exterior features and bodily hue appeal to the largest cross-section of individuals.

Lord Krishna's lotus feet The mind can be satisfied by concentrating it on the lotus feet of such a compassionate master. When one engages in activities aimed at keeping this transcendental concentration intact, the activities fall under the umbrella of bhakti-yoga. Just as every day brings preparation for the next day, week, month, or year, acts of bhakti serve as preparation for the next life. What is unknown to the gross materialists is that not only are they preparing for the next day, but all of their actions are a preparation for the next life. At the time of death, the slate is wiped clean as far as the previous body goes. However, one’s desires and the results of the work they performed determine the future fortunes of the spirit soul. If one is pious and noble in their current life, they will ascend to the higher planetary systems in the next life, or they will take birth on earth under very favorable circumstances. Evidence of this is all around us, with individuals being born under different circumstances and with different qualities. Some people are born very intelligent, taking to math and science without problems, while others have difficulty learning. Some are born in free countries where goods and services are exchanged peaceably and voluntarily, while others take birth in areas run by tyrannical governments which seize wealth and property.

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

More than just the results of activity, one’s consciousness is what really drives the future destination of the soul; the workings of the mind serve as the most powerful preparation. Therefore it is vital to take to acts of bhakti immediately. This will not only boost the level of worldly happiness, for the individual will be able to keep a peaceful mind by focusing on Krishna, but it will also help prepare a spiritual body in the next life. Though a material body is ultimately dead and lifeless, a spiritual one is not. There is no difference between Krishna’s body and soul. There is complete oneness in that regard. Even when the Lord descends to earth in His various avatara forms, He remains completely spiritual.

Changing of bodies When the soul is awarded a spiritual body in the afterlife, it too takes on a oneness with its body. Thus the fears relating to disease, old age, and death are removed. Even birth is considered an impure time amongst followers of the Vedic tradition. A birth indicates that a spirit soul has fallen from the grace of the Supreme Lover, the Personality of Godhead in the spiritual sky. Though we don’t know when death will come, we know for sure that we have taken birth. This means that we, at some point in the past, desired to separate from the Supreme Lord. This separation is not a good thing, because with birth comes death. With impending death come fear, trepidation, anxiety, and worry about the future.

The fears pertaining to death can cause a person to go one of two ways. The way of the gross materialists, those who are ignorant about the eternality of the soul, is obvious. Enjoy as much as possible and hope for the best. The flaws of this method have already been described. The other path is to take the necessary steps to stop the processes of birth and death, or reincarnation. Only through acts of bhakti, the simplest and most effective of which is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can death be put to a permanent end.

“For one who has accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Mukunda or the giver of mukti, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf's hoofprint. Param padam, or the place where there are no material miseries, or Vaikuntha, is his goal, not the place where there is danger in every step of life.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.14.58)

Just as by hearing a song over and over again it gets stuck in our head, by chanting the maha-mantra over and over again the holy name of the Lord, the most potent incarnation present before the people of this age, gets burned into our minds. When the mind constantly hears this divine chant playing, preparation for a spiritual body begins. When this purified level of consciousness remains at the time of death, release from the cycle of birth and death, moksha, is immediately granted.

Radha and Krishna Therefore we should all immediately begin this preparation. The truths about the soul and its relationship to God have nothing to do with time, circumstance, geographic location, or religious faith. These truths are universal and self-evident, as is the discipline of bhakti-yoga. Anyone can prepare a spiritual body if they simply take to chanting, hearing, remembering, offering prayers, or surrendering everything unto the Lord. The path to eternal freedom is very simple, and the tangible results are seen immediately. If one practices bhakti-yoga properly, even the fear of death is removed; hence the melancholy of old age also disappears. Bhakti never stops, so even if we have achieved all of our goals in life, preparation still takes place all the way up until the time of death. Those who prepare perfectly will be able to execute their mission of divine love without fear. When the consciousness is purified through acts of bhakti, there is no fear of past, present, or future, for Krishna will take care of everything.

Friday, January 14, 2011


Shri Hanuman “No living being on this earth can even equal you in strength either. Therefore do you think of how Sita may be found.” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.6)

Why does the life air exist? At the beginning of each day we get a certain stock of energy, which then gradually diminishes as we take to our various activities. Yet why is this energy even there? Why is it replenished at the dawn of a new day? The Vedas, the beautiful scriptural tradition of India, describe the soul as an entity that is fully energized at all times. Since energy is the essence of spirit, our vigor is derived from the natural properties of the source of our identity. Spirit is the driving force of matter, but the energetic nature of the soul is meant to be utilized in the proper way. The energy is intended to serve the energetic. When the two meet, the resulting spiritual synergy is unmatched. The aim of human life is to tap into our reservoir of strength for the service of the energetic. To see how this can be accomplished we need only consult the examples set by exalted devotees. Of those possessing energy, no one knows how to better utilize their vigor and splendor, tejasa, for the proper purposes than Shri Hanuman.

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

Hanuman worshiping Sita and Rama Hanuman holds a very special position amongst the pantheon of worshipable objects of the Vedic tradition. Assuming the form of a monkey, Hanuman is a divine figure known for his humility, courage, strength, vigor, and eagerness to serve the Supreme Divine Entity. This last qualification actually trumps all the others. We may know of many people who are courageous and strong, but what exactly do they do with these attributes? Every opulence that man possesses has as its source the individual spiritual spark residing within the heart. Yet from the Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and thorough scientific exposition on the original doctrine of spirituality, we see that the soul comes from the powerhouse of energy, the Supreme Spirit. Some refer to this Divine Entity as God, while others consider Him to be an all-pervading energy. While there are various aspects to the Divine, His original form is that of a personality, and a supreme one at that. Though He is nameless, He can be addressed by the appellation of Krishna. Lord Krishna is also known as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He represents the original source of energy, the energetic if you will. All forms of life, all objects containing a spirit soul within, are considered part of Krishna’s energy, or separated expansions as opposed to personal ones.

“The living entity has no separate independent identity. He is the marginal energy of the Supreme. When he is entrapped by material energy, he is conditioned, and when he is Krishna conscious, or aware of the spiritual energy, then he is in his real and natural state of life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bg. 6.2 Purport)

The soul is naturally energetic and full of life, and these attributes are present for the benefit of the energetic. Shri Hanuman embodies this truth through his activities. Since he is an eternal entity, Hanuman never stops serving the Supreme Energetic, no matter where he is or what he is doing. Many thousands of years ago, Hanuman got to directly engage in the Divine’s service, face-to-face. Lord Krishna had come to earth in His Lord Rama incarnation - a non-different form, or personal expansion, of the all-powerful original spiritual entity – and gave the appearance of being an ordinary human being. Yet Rama was no ordinary figure; He was a powerful kshatriya warrior with divine attributes. Faced with the task of reclaiming His kidnapped wife, Rama kindly enlisted the help of a band of Vanaras, human-like monkeys, whose king was Sugriva.

Lord Rama Why would God need help accomplishing a task? As mentioned before, the constitutional position of the fragmental sparks emanating from the original spiritual powerhouse is to serve the interests of the energetic. Yet the most severe negative consequence of coming to this temporary world is that the soul becomes conditioned by the elements of material nature. The most damaging result of this association is that the energy loses sight of its real position. Hence the bewildered spirit souls take to using their potencies towards pleasing the senses they acquired at the time of birth. Just as the body ultimately turns into ashes or gets buried in the ground, so the material senses must also be eventually renounced. The Supreme Energetic does not suffer from this defect. Never was there a time that the Supreme Soul did not exist, nor will there be a time in the future when He ceases to remain Supreme. This property of eternality is also present in the spirit soul. The individual spiritual spark, or atma, always remains subordinate to the Supreme, regardless of whatever temporary gains the conditioned living entity acquires through exertion of its energy.

To kindly nudge the conditioned souls in the proper direction, the Supreme Energetic appears on earth from time to time to enact pastimes and set up situations where those looking to turn away from the influence of the senses are allowed to direct their energies towards the proper cause. Lord Rama had a beautiful and chaste wife named Sita. Actually, she was not a woman of this world, but rather, an incarnation of the Lord’s eternal consort who resides in the spiritual world. Sita’s behavior was top-notch; there was not the slightest trace of sin in her. Yet even she had to suffer through hardships every now and then. Probably the most troubling period of her life was when she was taken captive by the Rakshasa king named Ravana. Not knowing where Sita was, Rama, along with His younger brother Lakshmana, enlisted the help of the monkey-king Sugriva, who was living at the time in the forest of Kishkindha.

Sita and Rama Sugriva had millions of monkeys helping him, but his most trusted and reliable warrior was Hanuman. In the above referenced quote, Sugriva is praising Hanuman’s abilities and asking him to devise a plan to find Sita’s whereabouts. While on the surface the task at hand seemed like that of an ordinary reconnaissance mission, in reality, it was a completely spiritual endeavor. The Supreme Lord presented the opportunity for the exalted Vanaras, who were actually celestials appearing in the guises of monkeys, to offer Him direct service. Not surprisingly, Sugriva looked to Hanuman since he was the most splendorous. He possessed all the qualities required for the task at hand. More than any other qualities, Hanuman’s energy and his eagerness stood out.

In material endeavors, we often praise others for their perseverance and their ability to withstand adversity. Passion goes a long way towards achieving success. The phrase, “I just wanted it more than the other guy”, is often uttered by those who go after something without any fear of failure. Boris Becker, the legendary German tennis player, once said that the fifth set, which is the deciding set in a Grand Slam match, has nothing to do with tennis, but everything to do with heart. The idea is that if you really want something, you’ll be willing to exert whatever energy is necessary to get the job done.

Hanuman chanting This principle especially holds true in spiritual life. All the Vanaras were eager to help Sugriva, but Hanuman was the one who wanted success the most. His passion was not related to padding his own legacy or boosting his stature, but only towards pleasing Rama. As soon as Hanuman met Rama, there was an immediate bond formed. Hanuman knew that this young prince was the person he would dedicate his life towards serving. Hanuman’s behavior is an indication that Krishna’s body is always transcendental, regardless of the particular form He assumes. With the living entities, there is a difference between matter and spirit. The individual soul remains unchanging and undying, but the matter that covers it is just the opposite. Matter is always changing, but since the transformations are so subtle, we may not notice them. For example, if we see a person every day, we are not likely to notice if they gain weight, start to develop wrinkles, or grow taller. Yet someone who goes months without seeing the same person will immediately notice these changes the next time they see them. The changes to matter are constant, for the hair and nails on the body grow at every second.

“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.24)

With Krishna, there is no difference between matter and spirit. Everything directly relating to Him is spiritual. So when Hanuman decided to devote himself to Rama, he was associating directly with the Supreme Energetic. As future events would unfold, Sugriva’s statements relating to Hanuman’s energy would prove to be completely accurate. Hanuman would indeed meet many obstacles on his way towards finding Sita, but in the end he would succeed. His love for Rama, Lakshmana, and Sugriva proved to be too formidable a force for the opposing demons. To this day, Hanuman holds one of the most exalted positions amongst the divine figures of the Vedic tradition. Wherever Hanuman is, you can be sure that Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita aren’t too far away.

Rama Darbar As Hanuman so wonderfully exemplifies, our life air exists for a reason. Our arms, hands, legs, feet, brain, mouth, eyes, and ears are meant to serve a purpose. Everything pertaining to our external body, though material, can be spiritualized by using them for God’s service. In this age of Kali, we are bogged down with so many concocted dharmas, or occupational duties, that we tend to forget what our energy is meant to be directed towards. Therefore the highest authority figures have recommended one simple practice that can allow any person to purify the exertion of their energy. That activity is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The replenishing of our energy reserves each morning should be viewed as a renewed opportunity to take up devotional service. The Lord may not be directly in front of us in His personal form, but He nevertheless remains all around us through His transcendental features. The same all-pervasive nature exists in His associates like Sita, Lakshmana, and Hanuman. By keeping these great figures always in our hearts, we can make sure that our energies are used for the service of the energetic. And after a lifetime of performing this service, the individual spiritual spark residing within the heart, that basis for identity, will be catapulted back to the eternal, transcendental realm belonging to the reservoir of all energy and pleasure, Shri Krishna.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Preyas and Shreyas

Mother Yashoda and Krishna “According to Vedic civilization, a human being must be God conscious. He should understand what God is, what this material world is, who he is, and what their interrelationships are. This is called shreyas, or ultimately auspicious activity.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 9.42 Purport)

An ultimate goal, a supreme benefit which trumps all others, is a concept overlooked by philosophers who expound theories other than complete and full surrender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In order for a benediction to be considered superior, the duration of its existence must be longer than that of any other benefit and the reward itself must also provide greater bliss than any other type of enjoyment. Immediate satisfaction is referred to as preyas in Sanskrit, and the ultimate goal is referred to as shreyas. Only the philosophers following the line of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, touch on shreyas because bhakti is the only discipline which speaks to the eternal nature of the soul, an intrinsic property that the individual is never divorced from.

“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.12)

Lord Krishna While it may be difficult to comprehend, we are all eternal beings. We existed in the past, we exist currently, and we will exist in the future. This information is kindly provided to us in the Bhagavad-gita, the scripture of scriptures, the concise and complete treatise on Vedic philosophy and the science of self-realization. Religion is indeed a science, or at least it is intended to be. Spirituality is assumed to be a matter of faith, and while there is certainly belief required in a bona fide system of self-realization, the differences between matter and spirit are wholly capable of being logically deduced and scientifically observed. At the time of birth, a spiritual spark is injected into the tiniest of bodies. This autonomous entity, the soul, which is bursting with potential for activity, then serves as the catalyst for growth and development, ultimately leading to the exit from the womb of the mother. The growth doesn’t stop there, as the newborn slowly turns into a child, then an adolescent, and then hopefully an adult. The outer covering of the spiritual spark constantly changes, but the impetus for action does not. The spirit soul within the body retains its properties at all times, even after death. At the end of life, the soul exits the body and immediately transfers to another one. The previous body is then left to rot and decay.

The skeptic will say, “What proof do you have that the soul doesn’t die with the body? Can you prove that the soul existed in a body previous to its current one?” Aside from the visual proof of the current body - a form which completely changes from the time of youth to the time of adulthood, with the identity of the individual remaining intact throughout - there is obvious evidence gathered from the nature of matter and its workings. No amount of chemicals can create a life on their own. The body parts, including the hair and nails, are dull and lifeless without the spirit soul within. Proof of this is seen when these appendages and external coverings are separated from the internal spark. They immediately decay and become useless. Therefore we can’t conclude that matter and chemicals are the be all and end all.

“That knowledge by which a different type of living entity is seen to be dwelling in different bodies is knowledge in the mode of passion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.21)

Lord Krishna Understanding these facts is quite difficult, especially due to the cloud of nescience that surrounds the individual soul at the time of birth. Deluded by ignorance brought on by material contact, the individual has the tendency to concoct their own philosophies which take immediate gratification as the end goal of all activity. Such philosophies aren’t surprising to see because it is the nature of the soul to be blissful. Happiness, love, and independence are characteristics of spirit, traits which can never be removed from the individual. In the conditioned state, these tendencies are misdirected, or at least governed by a misguided notion. Yet even without any reference to spirituality, we can conclude that a philosophy which only seeks immediate satisfaction, or preyas, is an inferior one.

A simple example that supports this claim is the lifestyle of the child. As is well understood, small children usually have no desire to work, go to school, or act responsibly. They simply want to play all day. They want their toys and they want them now. This is the typical example of preyas, wherein immediate satisfaction is desired. If such satisfaction isn’t received, the child will cry. Now, will a good parent encourage such behavior for any extended period of time? Will they allow the pursuit of immediate satisfaction to continue uninterrupted? A good parent surely will not. Eventually the child will be enrolled in school and strict limits on behavior will be imposed. This isn’t done to thwart the blissful nature of the child, but rather, to ensure their future happiness. A parent knows that simply playing all day is not good for the child, for in adulthood they will have to be educated enough to hold down a steady job.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna and cows The concern for the future well-being is the first indication of shreyas, or an ultimate goal. In order to secure shreyas, some sort of penance is required, along with adherence to sacrifice, or regulated activity. Without such practices, the ultimate goal is very difficult to come by. One may argue that the philosophies posited by the gross materialists and pseudo-spiritualists do indeed deal with shreyas. For instance, those who practice gymnastics yoga aim to help the body achieve a future condition of good health and flexibility. The advocates of life in the mode of passion, wherein a person finds a particular material interest and dedicates themselves to it, also seem to be seeking a future goal, one of a heightened level of sense gratification.

The Vedic seers, those who have attained true shreyas, understand that such philosophies actually seek preyas, or short-term goals, with the reason being that the time allotted for the enjoyment of the perceived ultimate goal in these activities is still very small in the grand scheme of things. One’s historical perspective begins from the day they were born. We tend to think that the first time we saw a television, automobile, or computer was the first time those particular objects existed. In reality, material life has been going on long before we took birth. In the big picture, our time on earth is miniscule.

The ultimate objectives of a happy and peaceful family life and increased sense gratification through acquisition of material objects are seen as preyas because the body ultimately has to be discarded. We are all bound to die at some point, so true shreyas can only deal with the future plight of the soul. This is where bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, comes into play. Just as the soul is eternal, so is its ideal companion. Though the eternal well-wishing friend is addressed by different names by different people, He is indeed the most attractive, blissful, and pleasure-giving entity. This makes sense because if the soul is going to spend eternity with someone, the complementary entity must be one who can provide the greatest pleasure. In romantic affairs, the concept of a soul mate applies to a significant other who sparks an interest in the heart and provides bliss, excitement, and satisfaction. The Supreme Companion, that one person who gives the soul the greatest satisfaction, proves to be the most sublime lover.

Lord Krishna In the Vedic tradition, this original personality is known as Krishna. He is also known as Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, Chaitanya, and thousands of other names which describe His limitless transcendental forms, each of which, including the original of Krishna, provides transcendental bliss to the conditioned soul seeking the ultimate goal in life. So how do we associate with Krishna? This is the million dollar question. Just as the goals of achieving a good education, landing a decent job, and maintaining a steady family life require some sacrifice and adherence to penance, shreyas in respect to association with Krishna requires a similar level of dedication.

“After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.15)

The key to associating with Krishna is having the right consciousness. A person’s activities drive their mindset, which then forms their consciousness. At the time of death, this consciousness is measured by the higher authorities, who in turn decide where the soul will end up next. When thoughts and desires are fixed on the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Shri Krishna, immediate ascension to the spiritual realm is granted. Not only does the soul ascend to a planetary system that it never has to exit, but it also gets to remain in Krishna’s association forever.

Consciousness is the key to happiness, as it can provide bliss and pleasure to a person while they are still in their present body. Unlike other philosophies which promise a utopian ideal in the future, wherein there is no anger, resentment, hatred, frustration, etc., the discipline of devotional service, or Krishna consciousness, actually delivers all the promised benefits. With other systems, there is certainly a benefit achieved, but the results aren’t everlasting. For example, we can acquire all the wealth in the world and own hundreds of lavish homes, but the mind will still be at work. Frustration is the result of unmet desires. Defeat in the area of sense gratification then leads to anger, resentment, hatred, and the loss of rationality. Such a condition cannot be considered favorable by any fair estimation, therefore the philosophy which led to it must also be considered defective.

Nimai Nitai chanting Hare Krishna Krishna consciousness is superior because it has no relation to material objects or personal relationships. Rather, it deals entirely with the state of the mind and attaining a level of consciousness which leads to satisfaction. In order for the mind to be satisfied, desire must be controlled. Reining in the thoughts and wants of the flickering mind is only possible by taking to bhakti, the quintessential act of which is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting alone is enough to purify one’s consciousness.

Rival philosophers and spiritualists will argue that chanting by itself is not enough, for it does nothing to increase one’s knowledge or level of renunciation. Though such an argument seems like it has merit, one must understand what the purpose is of knowledge and renunciation. Just as the educated student eventually uses their acquired knowledge for their benefit, the knowledge and renunciation achieved in the spiritual field similarly must lead to something. That tangible result is the perfect state of mind: God consciousness. But if one simply chants Hare Krishna all the time and maintains a simple lifestyle, they are essentially achieving the perfect state of consciousness without any extraneous endeavor towards knowledge or renunciation. Knowledge must have a goal, for simply having an education is useless. One may have a law or medical degree, but if they are not steadily practicing, their high education really has no value. In a similar manner, knowledge of spiritual matters must lead to a shift in consciousness; otherwise the information acquired is not put to good use.

Any activity of bhakti-yoga, be it chanting, hearing, worshiping, or remembering, automatically has retraction built into it. If one is regularly hearing from the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita in all sincerity, they aren’t eating meat, drinking alcohol, or engaging in illicit sex. On the other side, if a person is refraining from sinful activities, but hearing about sense gratification or even simply sitting in an empty room, their consciousness remains an open target for attack by the forces of ignorance driven by the illusory energy known as maya.

Krishna's lotus feet Bhakti-yoga is the only discipline which brings about real shreyas. Consciousness is the key to happiness, and any discipline which serves to purify the mind by fixing it on the form and name of the Supreme Lord must be considered a bona fide religion. Such a system is so powerful that the benefits are seen very quickly, even before a person leaves their present body. Short-term goals are certainly nice, but if we’re seeking a more permanent pleasurable condition, we need look no further than to the lotus feet of the all-blissful Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Lighter Than Air

Shri Hanuman “In motion, speed, splendor, and lightness, O great monkey, you, O hero, are exactly like your father, the very powerful wind-god.” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.5)

At this most critical of junctures, Sugriva, the king of monkeys, is turning to his trusted aide, the person he can count on most. The qualities the monkey-king is looking for are energy, swiftness of motion, and agility. The task at hand was quite a formidable one after all, so no ordinary member of Sugriva’s army would be up for the task. Indeed, for this particular mission, Sugriva needed someone he could completely count on to get the job done. That someone was Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama.

Hanuman Literature and cinema often describe the plight of the downtrodden and their adventures in overcoming opposing forces. Of all the conflicts between good and evil ever witnessed, arguably the most intense struggle took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Just as the duration of one’s life can be divided into different stages such as infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood, the duration of the creation is broken up into different time periods, with the attributes and characteristics of the members of society living in each age gradually regressing in the area of piety. During the Treta Yuga, the earth was still relatively young, so the members of society were mostly set on adhering to the principles of dharma, or religiosity.

“In the Satya-yuga everyone was situated in the mode of goodness. Gradually the mode of goodness declined during the Treta and Dvapara-yugas, and the general mass of people became corrupt.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.4.24 Purport)

In the mostly pure age of Treta, there were still demons to be found, with one in particular who had ascended to power. Living on his island kingdom of Lanka, this ogre named Ravana could travel the three worlds and defeat any being, heavenly or otherwise, that would stand in his way. A king needs to be the most powerful man in a particular area since his duties involve providing protection. If a ruler is weak or incapable of defeating enemies, his post is more or less useless. In order to prove their strength and fighting abilities, kings would often tour the world and challenge other kings and great fighters. The standard code of conduct prescribed to the warrior caste, the kshatriyas, called for leaders to take up any challenger who would come their way.

Ravana was no ordinary king. Though he was powerful and capable of protecting his subjects, he would often take to attacking ascetics residing in the forest. This information will immediately raise some eyebrows. Why would the innocent sages be attacked by powerful rulers? After all, a brahmana, or member of the priestly class, is the epitome of non-violence, virtue, and harmlessness. Yet Ravana knew that the sages worshiped God, someone the demon viewed as his number one enemy. The primary difference between a demon and an ordinary person is the belief in a higher power. Not only does the average citizen believe in God, but some of them take to worshiping Him. The Supreme Divine Entity is unique in three specific areas of interest. He is the best friend of the living entities. We may be friendly towards one or many people, but only the Supreme Lord is everyone’s friend, whether they are aware of it or not. God is also the ultimate enjoyer. When we surrender ourselves to someone emotionally, we are essentially putting their needs ahead of ours. The enjoyment of the object of our affection is seen as paramount. The Almighty, as everyone’s friend and companion, is viewed as the most important person in the lives of those wholly dedicated to righteousness and virtue as laid down through scriptural tradition.

Lord Krishna The other important aspect of being God is that You are the Supreme Controller, an entity more powerful than anyone else at creating, maintaining, and dissolving. God is the original proprietor of everything; therefore every object of this world, animate and inanimate, can trace their ancestry back to Him. It is for this reason that the Divine Entity in the Vedic tradition is known by such names as Ishvara [the supreme controller] and Achyuta [one who never falls down]. In addition, the original supreme controlling entity that never falters is described as sarva-karana- karanam, meaning the cause of all causes. Naturally, whoever caused the entire creation to be generated along with its various species would be considered the original cause of everything, and thus also the most powerful person.

“Furthermore, O Arjuna, I am the generating seed of all existences. There is no being-moving or unmoving—that can exist without Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.39)

The mentality of the demon is deluded to such a point that they take themselves to be the most powerful entity. According to the mindset of such fools, in order for their position as most powerful to remain valid, the concept of a God or an original cause must be absent. The demon doesn’t pay any attention to the fact that at the time of their birth they had no fighting or thinking abilities. Their intelligence levels were similar to those of animals. Through good fortune, manifested in the actions of caretakers, teachers, and the forces of nature, a human being is able to acquire the necessary skills to survive in this world. Yet the demon neglects these facts and eventually takes himself to be the most powerful entity and the ultimate enjoyer. This logic is obviously flawed; thus the miscreants, the lowest among mankind, also represent some of the most unintelligent individuals roaming the earth.

It would be one thing if the falsely puffed up fool stopped at this point. After all, thinking oneself to be God doesn’t really harm anybody, right? Ah, but for the skewered mindset of “I am God” to be justifiable, there cannot be any other entity who is worshiped and offered tribute. As such, the demon, by any means necessary, seeks to end the worship of any other entity, be it the Almighty or even another person. If someone else is worshiped as God, it takes away from the demon’s perceived controlling and enjoying powers. If I say that I am God, and yet thousands of others take to worshiping someone else, how can my definition be valid? For this and several other reasons not grounded in any reality, Ravana, the king of all the powerful ghoulish figures of his time, took to harassing the innocent sages residing in the forests. These vipras, great thinkers schooled in all matters material and spiritual, were bothering no one. They had no possessions; they simply performed austerities and sacrifices all day. Yet Ravana and his clan of Rakshasas would invade the sacrificial arenas and then kill the sages. Since they were the lowest among man, members of the demon species, Ravana and his associates would then eat the flesh of the dead sages.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.7)

Lord Krishna dancing on the Kaliya serpent The Supreme Divine Entity, the cause of all causes, seeing the deplorable situation, decided to appear on earth at that time in the guise of a human being to take care of Ravana and give protection to the innocent souls who were sincerely interested in spiritual life. According to the spiritualist’s angle of vision, life on earth is considered to be one that ultimately leads to misery for those who choose to neglect God. But the distressful resulting conditions aren’t directly created by the Supreme Lord. Rather, the forgetfulness of the Divine is the reason for the earth’s existence in the first place. The earth, and any other planet that goes through cycles of creation and destruction, can be thought of as a giant playing field. Anyone who wants to play in such a realm is given full facility to do so. In relation to the games played on this field, there are really no winners and losers because at the end of the day, no one can become God. It is due to this property of the game that any activity on the material platform will end in misery. As far as the activities that actually do take place, the Supreme Lord plays no direct role. As the creator, He certainly sets the rules and puts the necessary entities in place to enforce them, but the pendulum that perpetually swings between victory and defeat doesn’t really interest Him.

The Lord makes an exception, however, when the sincere souls, those who are interested only in pleasing the real God, take to pious activities. For such purified souls, the Lord kindly does whatever is necessary to ensure that their devotional efforts bear fruit. Unlike activities performed in karma, which have material reactions both good and bad, the fruits of devotional activities involve rewards for the soul residing within the body. The spiritual spark is the guiding force for activities, the growth and maintenance of the various cells and tissue matter. Since the outer covering of the soul is eventually discarded at the time of death, it is the individual spiritual entity, jivatma, which retains its form and function at all times. The soul is the primary functional unit of life, the indication of individuality. The Supreme Lord, through His kindness and indebtedness towards His adherents, ensures that the soul disassociated from the objects of the phenomenal world returns to the imperishable spiritual realm after its current stay on earth.

Lord Rama The Almighty’s direct intervention in the activities of the pious not only manifests through the benediction of spiritual rewards at the end of life, but also in the area of protection. If there are outside elements thwarting the practice of genuine adherents of spirituality, the Supreme Lord directly intervenes to ensure that the unwanted elements are squashed. In most instances, Bhagavan, the most fortunate supreme master of all worlds material and spiritual, will send one of His representatives to help the sincere soul, but in special circumstances, He makes a personal appearance. This was the case with Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya. As a son of a king, Rama was trained in the military arts. When the Lord comes to earth, there is no reason for news of His divinity to be spread far and wide. Rather, the enjoyment is heightened when others offer their sincere love and devotion to the incarnation without any knowledge of His true nature. Rama was certainly loved and adored by all the citizens of His hometown, so in this way, the residents of Ayodhya were able to perform devotional service with a pure attitude, taking Rama as their protector and supreme object of pleasure.

Lord Rama’s mission was to rid the world of Ravana, his Rakshasa associates, and their unwanted influence on the pious sages residing in the forests. To set the wheels in motion for the demon class’ demise, Rama needed to first go to the forest, a realm which was reserved for animals, beasts, monkeys, and the most renounced ascetics. While residing in the forest, Rama’s wife happened to get kidnapped by Ravana himself, who set up a ruse to carry out the deed. This actually helped Rama gain the excuse He needed to take on Ravana in a fair fight. But first things first: He needed to find out where His wife Sita was and which demon had carried her away. A group of Vanaras, an elevated species of monkeys, was residing in the forest of Kishkindha at the time. Their leader was Sugriva, and he was fortunate enough to form an alliance with Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana through the efforts of Hanuman, the chief emissary for the monkeys residing in Kishkindha.

Hanuman After Rama helped Sugriva gain his kingdom back, the monkey agreed to help the Lord find His wife. He gathered round his most trusted associates and told them to divide up into teams. Each group would search a specific sphere of the earth for Sita’s whereabouts. After providing marching orders to the various teams, Sugriva then specifically addressed Hanuman, the person thought to be the most capable at carrying out this most important of tasks. In the above referenced statement, Sugriva is directly praising Hanuman by highlighting his attributes. This praise was offered so as to encourage Hanuman in his task. Shri Hanuman, who is still worshiped to this day as the greatest devotee of Shri Rama, is kind, quiet, peaceful, humble, and virtuous by nature. Yet the task at hand called for fighting ability, bravery, and perseverance, so Sugriva wanted to remind Hanuman that he certainly already possessed all of these attributes.

The more difficult the mission, the more capable the challenger must be to succeed. Of all the tasks handed out by Sugriva, the one given to Hanuman was the most difficult. Sugriva knew that Hanuman would have to be the one to find Sita, deal with whichever enemies had taken her, and then successfully and safely return back to their camp. Sugriva’s confidence in him shows just how great Hanuman is. Herein Hanuman is described as being extremely fast, fleet, and splendorous. Indeed, he also has mastery over the ability to become very light, i.e. he possesses the laghima siddhi. Being able to make oneself very light thus makes one extremely agile. Hanuman’s characteristics are compared to the same glorious attributes that belong to his father, the wind-god. Vedic information tells us that each aspect of the material creation has a presiding deity. There is someone in charge of rain, earth, fire, and even wind. The wind-god, Maruta, is considered extremely powerful for obvious reasons. The wind can pretty much destroy anything, and within the body it is considered the vital force. Those who can control the air inside the body can actually perform great feats. Therefore one of the most difficult, yet important, practices of yoga is known as pranayama, which aims to control the vital airs within the body, thus giving the performer good health and control over their senses.

Hanuman was begotten by the wind-god as part of the grander plan to help Rama in His mission. In fact, even Sugriva was a celestial figure, born to the sun-god. In this way, we see that whoever is sincere in their desire to serve the Lord will be automatically given whatever attributes they need to carry out their respective missions. Sugriva’s words would prove to be much more than just lofty praise. Hanuman would eventually find Sita by making use of each of the attributes mentioned by Sugriva in the passage above. To this day, Shri Hanuman is worshiped and adored by millions. His name is synonymous with love and devotion to God. Wherever Hanuman is seen or worshiped, Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana are also there with Him. In this way, he is an agent for deliverance, one who can help us change our consciousness from the flawed mindset of “I am God” to the purified and correct one of “I am part and parcel of God; I am His servant.”

Hanuman The qualities needed to perform transcendental tasks already exist inside of us. The combination of spirit and matter results in individual life forms which are just booming with potential. The intrinsic ability of man, the energy given to us by God, has nothing to do with winning and losing in the game of life, but rather has everything to do with satisfying the senses of the owner of all senses, Hrishikesha, which is another name for God. To tap into our potential, we need to kindly enlist in the transcendental army of the Lord. By so doing, Bhagavan will find a suitable mission for us, a task we are guaranteed to succeed at. For the people of this age, joining the bhakti brigade requires a simple shift in consciousness, a mindset that can be easily adopted by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

I Love People

Lord Chaitanya's sankirtana party “It is the duty of every living being to perform welfare activities for the benefit of others with his life, wealth, intelligence and words.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.22.35)

Charity is typically viewed as a noble activity; something worth taking up. Those who are charitable and enjoy the activity will naturally try to encourage others to follow suit, with the rewards for giving being peace, tranquility, and self-satisfaction. Though surely some will take to charity for the wrong reasons, those who expound on the gloriousness of the service do so because it has brought them great joy. If we find something in life that makes us happy, we like to share our experiences with our friends and family. It is precisely this desire, that of wanting to spread the greatest joy and wealth, that drives the ultimate welfare workers to perform the greatest benefit to all of society. While there may be differences of opinion as to which activities are enjoyable and what are not, the key distinction between a self-satisfied person and a perpetually frustrated one is consciousness. The most potent welfare activity is to use all our wealth, intelligence, and words towards helping others elevate their consciousness.

Lord Krishna According to Vedic information - that sublime knowledge system passed down by Shri Krishna Himself in the illustrious Bhagavad-gita - charity can take on three different natures. Regardless of the mode, the act of giving remains unchanged, but the differences lie in the motivations of those doing the giving. The modes of charity match up directly with the modes of nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. These modes can be thought of as mindsets, driving forces behind specific activities. If a person takes to charity for absolutely no good purpose, or worse, a nefarious one, that giving is deemed part of the mode of ignorance. It is titled as such because there is no benefit provided to anyone, either the giver or the receiver. A simple example of this type of charity is the donation of alcohol or intoxicants to a destitute man who is himself an addict. Such charity proves harmful to the receiver because it keeps them bound to their addiction, and it is equally as harmful to the giver because they have served as the impetus for the further drowning of the addicted man.

Charity given in the mode of passion has a desired personal benefit in mind. This practice is most prevalent in the business world. In order to impress a client or give their company a good image, a CEO will donate a large sum of money to a specific charity. In return, they will receive a plaque, t-shirt, or general recognition from the community which will boost their stature. In many instances, a large donation can get you a seat at the table with other key players in the business field. Since this behavior isn’t really much different from any other kind of fruitive activity belonging to the mode of passion, there is really no tangible benefit received by the giver.

“That gift which is given out of duty, at the proper time and place, to a worthy person, and without expectation of return, is considered to be charity in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.20)

Lord Krishna Charity in the mode of goodness is given to the proper recipient, at the proper time, and without any expectation of reciprocation. Though one would be tempted to equate this type of charity to the monetary donations given to worthwhile causes such as disease research and aid for the downtrodden, there is another vital aspect to charity that must be present in order for the donation to be classified in the goodness category. The actual gift being given must be worthwhile to the receiver. For the gift to have a tangible value, the receiver must also be worthy of the charity offered to them.

To understand these concepts more clearly, we can go back to the example of giving alcohol to the addict. Initially we may think that such and such a person is not well off and thus any charity will be helping them. But in fact, our generous giving only makes their condition worse. A diseased patient is restricted from partaking of certain foods. If we were to think, “Oh, I will be magnanimous and kind to this person by giving them the nicest food. That will show that I am kind and compassionate.” While the attitude may be nice, the giving of prohibited foods can kill the patient. In this way, our so-called charitable nature can prove to be lethal.

So how do we determine who is a proper recipient and what they should be given? To decipher this, we must first understand who we are, the nature of our current predicament, and what steps are required to escape from it. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, state that the root cause behind the existence of the material world is the desire of the wayward spirit souls to separate from their supreme loveable object: God. Though God is described in different terms depending on geographic location and spiritual tradition, His properties never change. He is all-encompassing and all-powerful in every area, especially enjoyment. Perfection in life is achieved when one realizes that God is the best friend of the living entities, the original owner of all worldly objects, and the ultimate enjoyer. This last aspect is the most important. For God to enjoy, He must have others around who give Him pleasure. This is where our services are best rendered.

Radha and Krishna As individual sparks emanating from the original powerhouse, we are meant to always be in association with the Supreme Energetic. Since this most powerful entity is the greatest enjoyer and one who gives the most pleasure to others, His original name is Krishna. Lord Krishna has a transcendental form which is full of bliss and knowledge. The material world, a realm where the tiny fragmental spiritual sparks known as individuals are separated from the Lord, is considered a miserable place. The aim of life thus becomes to remove oneself from the temporary separated status by rekindling the dormant love for Krishna. The key to achieving success is changing one’s consciousness.

Religion and spirituality are often associated with dresses, functions, rites, rituals, and regulations. While these aspects certainly do help the conditioned soul return to the spiritual world, the glue that holds everything together is consciousness. More than anything else, it is one’s mindset that determines their happiness and their fate in life. We can think of it in this way: Let’s say we have two people who are in the same position. They are both sitting on a couch inside of a room. From our perspective as an outsider, we can only see each person sitting down and nothing else; we can’t see their surroundings. One person is in an empty room, while the other is sitting in front of a television. After a few hours, we’ll notice that one person looks quite unhappy and agitated, while the other looks very content. They are both in the exact same situation, but one person is being entertained by television, while another is not. Since their physical dispositions are exactly the same, we can conclude that the only difference is in consciousness. One person’s mind is being stimulated and entertained by visual images and sounds, while the other’s is left to ponder the emptiness of the surrounding room.

This one example can be expanded out on a larger scale to show that the key to happiness and enjoyment is consciousness. We may be able to remove obvious sources of distress such as disease, poverty, and family infighting, but the individual will still be left with their mind and time. Time is the greatest agent for change, for it is always working at diminishing whatever favorable or unfavorable conditions we find ourselves in. Even if we have accumulated the greatest amount of wealth and material possessions, we can still be left unsatisfied, as the mind will always want more and more. Thus we see that in any and all situations time and consciousness remain the predominant forces.

Lord Krishna The key to enjoyment is to shift to a permanent consciousness, wherein one can perform any activity, at any time, and still remain satisfied. For the mind to be satisfied, it must focus on something which provides the greatest amount of pleasure. Not surprisingly, that person is Krishna, or God. This brings us to the ultimate activity in life, the only discipline worth taking up. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, aims to keep one’s consciousness always fixed on Krishna. Through acts of hearing, remembering, worshiping, and offering prayers, one can remain in steady contact with Krishna. For the people of this age, the easiest and most effective method of purifying consciousness is the regular chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The effectiveness of chanting is multi-faceted. For starters, it can be performed anywhere and at any time. Secondly, it takes care of the hearing process at the same time; a practice which is the most effective for acquiring knowledge and intelligence. Knowledge and renunciation are two byproducts that automatically come with bhakti. Whatever information we need to help us in life can be automatically gained through taking to bhakti. The same holds true for renunciation from those activities which are deemed the most harmful to us, such as intoxication, illicit sex, and meat eating.

Sankirtana party Since chanting can be performed out loud, anywhere and at any time, the person doing the chanting essentially becomes a giver. In order for there to be a donor, there must be a receiver. Since the effectiveness of chanting lies with hearing, the receivers are those who hear the sweet transcendental sound vibrations emanating from the chanter. Simply hearing the sounds of Krishna’s names is enough to bring one to the transcendental plane of consciousness. In this way, we see that the greatest welfare activity is to bring the fallen souls of this age to the platform of Krishna consciousness through steady chanting and dedication to bhakti-yoga.

Since the material world is full of frustration, there are times when we will not want to be charitable. For example, if we have a bad experience with a rude person or someone who cheats us, we might be tempted to voice such sentiments as “I hate people” to ourselves. This simple phrase sums up the attitude of frustration and the isolation that results from it. The “I hate people” mindset results in less interaction with others, and thus less of a chance for helping our fellow man.

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

If we apply a little intelligence, however, we’ll realize that one or two bad apples shouldn’t skewer our view of everyone else. In the grand scheme of things, everyone is the same, for we all are spirit souls who are meant to be lovers of God. Sometimes it is difficult to take to charity because we may not want to help our fellow man. Either we feel that everyone is mean, or that they have enough to get by on their own. Even if we do help them, maybe they won’t be grateful for our service.

To those whose angle of vision has been corrected through ascension to the Krishna consciousness platform, everyone in society becomes eligible for rescue through the sound vibrations of Krishna’s names. No other welfare activity carries this property. Helping the downtrodden in a material sense is certainly nice, but not everyone is destitute. Moreover, ordinary charitable activity requires a means test, wherein the donor must take stock of which persons are needy and which ones aren’t. Similar tests for eligibility are also present in other ventures such as finding cures for diseases and helping those who are pushing a political cause.

Since bhakti-yoga is the natural disposition of the soul, everyone is eligible to adopt it as their way of life. Only the sweet, benevolent, and liberated devotee of the Lord adopts the “I love people” mindset and truly means it. What to say of ordinary people, the lover of Krishna is even benevolent to the animal kingdom, including the cows and ants. The devotee benefits others with their words by only speaking about Krishna and bhakti-yoga and by regularly chanting His names. The bhakta, the sincere servant of the Supreme Pleasurable, utilizes their knowledge towards serving others by regularly speaking of the supremacy of the sublime engagement of devotional service and by cutting down the bogus philosophies of the gross materialists who take their paltry enjoyment to be superior. The Vaishnava, the devotee of Vishnu [Krishna], benefits society by using their wealth only for the satisfaction of Krishna. Money is required to do anything significant in life, so the devotee doesn’t shun wealth or monetary gains. Rather, they use everything at their disposal towards furthering the cause of universal brotherhood, peace, and love brought on by the bhakti mindset.

“For one who explains the supreme secret to the devotees, devotional service is guaranteed, and at the end he will come back to Me. There is no servant in this world more dear to Me than he, nor will there ever be one more dear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.68-69)

Radha and Krishna deities As mentioned before, charity must be given to the right person and at the right time. The objects being given must also be of value to the recipient. Under the “I love people” mindset, the bhakta takes to charity that is always in line with the scriptures. For those who are not yet firmly convinced of the supremacy of bhakti-yoga and the futility of life without Krishna, helping out the noble servants of God, the dedicated preachers, is a great way to take to charity. Such sacrifice is always timely and never goes in vain. Since the Vaishnavas are the representatives of the Lord in this world, they are like a giant tree from which branches of knowledge, intelligence, and good fortune sprout. Therefore anyone who regularly waters this tree will surely be benefitted, for the Lord will take very kindly to such a person.

Monday, January 10, 2011

The Creatures of the World

Shri Hanuman “All the worlds - which consist of asuras, Gandharvas, Nagas, human beings, devatas, oceans, earth, and mountains - are known to you.” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.4)

With regards to the visible bodies and other external objects that constitute the nature of this world, the discipline of science tends to focus on the different species, their constitutional makeup, and their tendencies. Neglecting the existence of the soul and its importance, scientists lacking any tangible information on spirituality, and additionally any interest in it, devote their efforts towards studying the functions of atoms, subatomic particles, the effects these elements have on nature, and the growth and decay of various bodies. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, enlighten us as to the cause for these varieties and their subsequent functions: the soul. It is the soul, an individual spiritual spark, that serves as the driving force for not only the activities of the various species, but also for material nature in general. Every effect has a cause, and the movements of the supremely powerful unit of energy known as Mother Nature all take place through the workings of the cause of all causes, the Supreme Divine Entity. The original Divine Being is known by different names to different people around the world, but His nature, power, and position in the larger picture remain forever unchanged. Those who acknowledge this entity’s existence and learn from Him – He who is the cause of all manifestations, tendencies, and movements - will automatically understand the inner-workings of material nature. Moreover, such sophisticated students will not only be well versed in the material and spiritual sciences alike, but they will also know how to utilize their acquired information for the highest purpose, that of pleasing the Supreme Entity.

Bhagavad-gita While the acknowledged total number of species in existence today and the number that have ever existed are always increasing with new discoveries by modern science, the Vedas, which represent the original version of all knowledge that matters, both spiritual and non, to be passed down to mankind, have had the number fixed since the beginning of time. The singular piece of information boldly declared by the Vedas that stands above all others is that the living entities, anything that we would consider to be a life form, are not body, but rather, spirit. This spirit has a name: Brahman. Aham brahmasmi is the first instruction given to new students of the Vedic tradition. This aphorism means “I am Brahman.” What is Brahman? We can think of it as the sum and substance of all things spirit. As mentioned before, spirit is the driving force behind any activity. Dull matter is just that: dull. It is inanimate and incapable of creating life on its own. The essence of the vital force is the soul, the quintessential functional unit of any machine which acts on its own. Even though computers and heavy machinery can be programmed to function autonomously, there is still human effort required in the beginning stages. In Sanskrit this human ability is known as paurusham, which is a word derived from purusha, which means spirit or an enjoyer.

“When a sensible man ceases to see different identities, which are due to different material bodies, he attains to the Brahman conception. Thus he sees that beings are expanded everywhere.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.31)

Every form of life is purusha, or an enjoyer, in the sense that it has dominion over matter. Yet the exact level of strength of a particular entity is not determined by purusha, but rather, prakriti, or matter. Since all forms of life are spirit at the core, they are all equal. Since they are all equal, they represent a portion of the giant spiritual energy known as Brahman. Why is it important to realize Brahman, or at least understand that the living entity is not the body? Brahman speaks to the inherent quality and constitutional position of the spirit soul. Just as every effect has a cause, the placing of the various sparks of Brahman into different body types was also sparked by initial action. The Supreme Divine Entity, that person most of us refer to as God, is known by the name of Krishna amongst followers of the traditions espoused in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and other transcendental masterpieces that follow in the Vedic line. Krishna is the fountainhead of all forms of purusha. He is the cause of all causes, sarva-karana-karanam. Brahman, which consists of all things spirit, is merely an emanation of the powerhouse of energy known as Krishna. Since the sparks that exist in Brahman come from Krishna, they retain the same qualities of purity, bliss, and knowledge possessed by the original entity. However, since Brahman is not the original source, it is not as powerful as Krishna, who is thus known as Parabrahman.

Lord Krishna Since the sparks emanating from the Supreme Energetic are independent entities, they have a choice as to where to take up residence. Naturally, since they are part and parcel of Krishna, their ideal home is wherever Krishna Himself resides. Yet for some souls, the free will aspect of their constitutional makeup supersedes the inherent inclination for divine love, which subsequently causes them to desire to separate from Krishna. This divergence in interest stems from the penchant for imitating Krishna. Since God is the most powerful entity, someone who creates, maintains, and destroys on the grandest scale, some will have a desire to imitate His behavior. Since there can only be one God, the Supreme Lord kindly creates a separated universe, a realm that exists outside the spiritual world. In this temporary land, the wayward spirit souls are allowed to roam free and pursue their personal interests. Essentially any soul that sees itself as the enjoyer is allowed to come to this temporary realm. Even during intermediate periods, when the temporary playing field remains unmanifest, the same souls intent on exercising their free-will remain within the light of Brahman until the time for the next creation arises.

When appearing in the temporary realm, the place we currently reside, the pure and spotless spirit souls assume bodies composed of varying combinations of material elements. In this way, purusha meets up with prakriti; the micro-enjoyer associating with the enjoyed. Obviously this union of soul with matter cannot last permanently, for originally the soul was together with Krishna. Understanding their identity as Brahman allows an individual to take the necessary steps towards reassuming their original consciousness. One who understands that they are Brahman can also realize that association with matter is not their highest engagement. There is a higher taste, a more purified state of existence that one can rise to.

Exactly what is the nature of the temporary enjoyment that the spirit souls experience in the material world? If it’s temporary and substandard, why would they continue to seek after it, while turning their backs on Krishna at the same time? When entering the material world, the soul is placed into different body types depending on karma and guna. Karma refers to fruitive work, or the desire to act. Guna refers to material qualities, or modes. The three modes of material nature are goodness, passion, and ignorance. When mixed up in varying proportions, the combinations of modes result in 8,400,000 different species of life. A mode can be thought of as a nature, something which speaks to an entity’s personality and natural inclinations in the area of fruitive activity. Karma can be thought of as cause and effect. One takes to a particular activity for the purpose of acquiring some type of fruit. Yet regardless of the motive, every action taken has a reaction. Thus karma has so many different consequences, both good and bad, unintended and intended.

Devas worshiping the Lord Each of the different body types allows for a specific kind of enjoyment. Though there are millions of different species, the Vedic scriptures highlight some of the more common ones, especially as it pertains to the different modes of nature. For instance, those in the mode of goodness are known as devas, or demigods. Just as the chief government officers who work for the king or president can be considered privileged citizens, the demigods are Krishna’s deputies in charge of managing material affairs. Since the illusory nature was created to allow the wayward spirit souls a chance at pretending to be Supreme, the transcendent Lord has no personal interest in any of the affairs pertaining to this realm. Yet the material world still requires managers, empowered entities to ensure that the results of action are distributed in a fair, equal, and timely manner. The demigods take charge in this area. They live, not surprisingly, on the heavenly planets, where they enjoy on a heightened scale. Earth is considered part of the middle planetary system, while the heavenly planets are considered the upper system and the hellish planets the lower system.

“Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.18)

Lord Krishna On the lower planetary systems are found those creatures living in the mode of ignorance. These entities usually have ghoulish figures and take part in activities that human beings would consider quite deplorable. The mode of ignorance involves any activity which lacks both intelligence and fruitive intentions. Excessive drinking, unnecessary killing, and deep sleep are behaviors indicative of the mode of ignorance.

Earth is where human beings are found. Other species certainly do exist in this realm, but it is man who has dominion over all the land; he is a species which is mostly in the mode of passion but also has combinations of other qualitative modes. Humans are actually considered the most auspicious species for a conditioned soul to take birth in because of the potential for acquiring the highest intelligence. Though the material world is a place where the soul is allowed to falsely enjoy prakriti, this enjoyment doesn’t have to continue perpetually. As soon as an individual wants to return to Krishna’s spiritual realm, they are allowed to do so. Yet one can’t make this decision unless and until they know about Krishna and why returning to His realm is beneficial. Obviously the animal kingdom isn’t able to acquire this knowledge due to the defects of their body types. Even the demigods have trouble realizing this truth of life. As Goswami Tulsidas so accurately points out, the residents of the celestial planets are so engrossed in their opulence that they forget about their impending death. This forgetfulness may seem surprising considering the fact that the demigods are Krishna’s direct servants. Yet devas often get puffed up with material power and enjoyment, thus making it more difficult for their desires to shift to spiritual matters. Human beings have the greatest opportunity to acquire spiritual knowledge and use that information to achieve liberation, which is the end to the repeated cycle of birth and death.

“There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, which is freed from the three modes of material nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.40)

Lord Krishna Learning about Brahman and all the different species in existence helps a conditioned soul in adjusting their consciousness. One’s consciousness, or mindset, measured at the time of death determines their future destination. If the predominant desire is to associate with Krishna, or one of His non-different expansions, at the time of death, the pure soul will immediately be rewarded with a spiritual body and ascension to the imperishable spiritual land. Learning about the different species and their compositions and tendencies helps us realize that no level of enjoyment in the material world can compare to the spiritual bliss that comes from association with Krishna.

Taking up service to please the Supreme Lord, who is the ultimate enjoyer, represents the highest occupation of man. Regardless of the type of activity we take to, either piety or sin, the end result is simply the changing of bodies. No matter the body type, if there is no God consciousness, the activities performed can be considered a waste of time. One who knows about the different species and their varying levels of enjoyment and misery is more likely to understand that the ultimate aim in life is to take to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, in lieu of personal sense gratification. This supreme level of understanding and knowledge is visible in every thought, word, and deed of one of the greatest devotees of all time, Shri Hanuman.

Lord Rama The material world goes through cycles of creation and destruction repeatedly, with the duration of each creation being divided into four time periods known as Yugas. We are currently living in the last time period, the Kali Yuga, but in the second age, the Treta Yuga, one of Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations appeared on earth: Lord Rama. While the Supreme Being in the spiritual sky is aloof from the day-to-day affairs pertaining to His separated energy, the material creation, He periodically decides to make personal appearances so as to captivate the minds of the pure souls, giving them the boost they need to remain steady on the path of genuine virtue and piety. As Lord Rama, Krishna appeared in the guise of a warrior prince, a man dedicated to protecting the innocent and the practice of Vedic principles.

On one occasion, Rama’s wife Sita Devi was kidnapped and taken to an island kingdom called Lanka. Not knowing her whereabouts, Rama enlisted the help of an army of Vanaras. The Vanaras are one of the 8,400,000 species in existence, and their qualities closely resemble those of monkeys. Since these Vanaras were forest dwellers roaming the earth in a very pure age, their intelligence levels were higher than those of ordinary monkeys. The Vanaras were somewhat civilized, as they organized their affairs according to many of the Vedic tenets. The leader of the Vanaras in Kishkindha was Sugriva, and he agreed to help Rama. The first order of business was to find where Sita was. This was certainly a daunting task since the surface area of the globe is so large. Yet Sugriva had millions of monkeys at his disposal, so he divided them into groups and sent them to scour the world.

Shri Hanuman In the above referenced quote, Sugriva is addressing his chief assistant, Hanuman. He is praising Hanuman by stating the fact that all the creatures of the world are already known to the great Vanara. This was indeed true as Hanuman possessed the greatest knowledge. His intelligence wasn’t limited to scientific matters though. He knew the ultimate purpose in life, that of loving God and serving Him. Immediately upon meeting Rama, Hanuman decided to surrender everything unto the Lord and take Rama’s interest to be his own.

Hanuman knew all about the different species, including those that existed in different worlds, and their tendencies. The heavenly planets are reserved for those entities who behaved piously in a material sense during their previous lives. For example, if we abide by all the rules and regulations of spiritual life, but fail to achieve Krishna consciousness at the time of death, we get to enjoy on the heavenly planets after this life is over. Enjoying in heaven means assuming a heavenly body, like those possessed by the devas [demigods] and Gandharvas [celestial singers]. If we are sinful, we get demoted to the hellish realm where bodies of Nagas [snakes] and asuras [demons] are assumed. These body types are also often seen on earth as well, as the transmigration of the soul begins with the lower species and ideally culminates with the benediction of a human body.

Hanuman Hanuman would encounter many of these species during his search for Sita, but due to his intricate knowledge, he wasn’t surprised by the obstructive efforts of any of them. Whatever obstacle came in his way, Hanuman brushed it aside. He would eventually find Sita’s whereabouts and return the information of her location to Sugriva and Rama. Hanuman knew of all the different species and the flawed nature of material enjoyment. Therefore he took bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, to be his topmost engagement. While Lord Rama would eventually rescue His wife and triumphantly return home to His kingdom and then to the spiritual world, Hanuman would remain on earth. He lives to this day, travelling to wherever Rama’s glories are praised and talked about. In this way, Hanuman is an object of worship, someone we can learn from and kindly approach for blessings. The greatest benediction he offers is courage, determination, and strength in loving and remaining attached to God. Through his grace, we can develop the purified level of consciousness that’s required for returning to the spiritual realm. Studying the activities of the creatures of this world can certainly help us understand issues pertaining to matter, spirit, and enjoyment, but always remembering the activities of exalted personalities like Hanuman will enable us to make the best use of any and all information that we acquire during our time on earth.