Saturday, January 29, 2011

Lend Me Your Ears

Krishna's pastimes “Intelligent persons factually take a dip in the ocean of Your nectarean activities and very patiently hear of them. Thus they immediately become freed from the contamination of the material qualities; they do not have to undergo severe penances and austerities for advancement of spiritual life.” (Prayers of the personified Vedas, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

When the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, descends to earth in various forms to perform transcendental, nectarean activities, the nature of His actions is seemingly no different from those of ordinary persons. He gives pleasure and protection to family members and well-wishers, plays a prominent role in humorous incidents, imparts wisdom to others and engages in various sports with different close confidantes. Yet the non-devotee, one who is averse to the divine love that is bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, will have no affinity for hearing such transcendental topics. Rather, they will gladly hear of any topic besides those relating to Krishna. This behavior lays proof to the claims of the Vedas regarding the genesis of the universe.

Lord Krishna “Does God exist? Can you show me proof of His existence?” The paramahamsa, one with a purified vision, will tell you that there is evidence all around of the Almighty’s existence. Just the fact that one can come up with the question relating to an almighty entity is proof enough of a higher power’s existence. Based on the visual evidence around us, we know that life continues after a person dies. The deceased may or may not travel elsewhere, but others around them continue with their activities. The world doesn’t end when a person dies. From this we can also deduce that life existed before the time of our present birth, a fact supported by the statements of our parents and family relatives. If life on a grand scale remains in existence before and after the short duration of time the individual spends in one body, no man can be considered a superior entity; individual life forms are thus powerless.

Yet there must have been an original creator. A skeptic will say that there is no proof of this, and that at best, a series of random collisions between chemicals led to the giant cosmos that we see around us. Yet even the theory of a big bang doesn’t speak to the origin of chemicals themselves. If a series of atoms colliding could create the planets, the sun, and all other forms of life, then surely someone could take these same chemicals and create life again, no? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, certainly do acknowledge the reaction of chemicals as being the forerunner to the workings of nature around us. Yet just as we see how lifeless and useless a dead body is, chemicals are incapable of acting on their own. A Supreme Controller, someone who perpetually exists as a purusha, or spiritual personality, is responsible for the workings of matter on a large scale.

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who know this perfectly engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.8)

Lord Krishna Depending on the geographic location and specific traditions passed down to a set of people, the ever-existing, original spiritual entity is referred to by different names. In the Vedic tradition, He is tagged with names that describe His limitless attributes. His original name, Krishna, not surprisingly, applies to His original form, one which is all-attractive, ever blissful and eternally existing. For the purposes of creation, the original form of Godhead, Shri Krishna, expands Himself into an opulent, all-pervading divine figure known as Lord Vishnu. Vishnu then takes responsibility for creation through exhaling and then destruction through inhaling. Surely we can’t imagine anyone being able to do such extraordinary things simply by breathing, but this doesn’t invalidate the truths of the Vedas. Our inability to understand properly is simply a byproduct of our limited scope of vision. When an average person inhales, they are taking in so many tiny air molecules directly into their body. When the same person exhales, many other molecules are similarly released. The air molecules are considered tiny to the human eye because we can’t see or understand how many there are. In a similar manner, the universe is so gigantic that we have no idea how many planets exist and how many various life forms are dispersed throughout. Therefore the Vedic statements pertaining to Lord Vishnu’s breathing are not symbolic or part of any mythology, but rather assertions of fact that can be substantiated by those who have a higher level of thought derived from a grander vision.

The concept of God creating and destroying is not a novel one, nor is it exclusive to the Vedic tradition. The original theistic tradition of the Indian subcontinent does stand out, however, with respect to why the creation exists. While Krishna is the original form of Godhead, He can expand Himself into limitless smaller entities that retain much of the same potency as that belonging to the original. The comparison in power can be thought of in terms of the sun and the sunshine. When we feel the beaming hot rays of the sun during the day, the sun itself is not actually affected. Rather, its non-different energy expansions known as sunrays are protruding our skin and causing us discomfort. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord is the powerhouse of energy, the original energetic source. The energy expansions which emanate from His body are similarly powerful, but only in a collective sense. The individual sun rays aren’t nearly as powerful as the complete sun. What we think of as hot is nothing in comparison to the steady high temperature on the surface of the sun.

Shrimati Radharani The individual sparks which emanate from Krishna are ever-existing, just as is Krishna. Thus, by constitution, the sparks have free-will, independence and a penchant for loving service. In the spiritual world, the tiny expansions remain in Krishna’s company, so their independence and loving propensities are utilized properly. Is there an improper way to love? The Supreme Lord expands Himself for His own pleasure. As the Almighty God, the Lord can do as He pleases, and just as the enjoyment from our experiences is enhanced when our friends and family are with us, the Supreme Lord takes great delight from associating with His purified energy expansions. Of all the entities that emanate from Krishna’s reservoir of energy, no one is more purified and more indicative of the perfection of loving service than is Shrimati Radharani. She is so beautiful, kind, sweet and loving that she essentially becomes one with Krishna through her service. Sometimes the energy expansions may take themselves to be equal or more powerful than Krishna. Under the mindset of equality, they will desire to become one with the Lord, but this type of oneness can never be achieved. A single ray of the sun can never become its own sun, equal in power and strength.

There can be oneness in terms of the relationship between the two entities. A crude example is the rock concert. A rock band will go out on tour to support their latest album. Concerts are held in large venues ideally filled with fans who want to hear the band play their music live. During the actual performance, if both the band members and fans are completely in tune with each other, there is oneness in the relationship that results. The band members would be incomplete if they played to an empty stadium. There would be no joy derived, and the music would sound lifeless. By the same token, the audience members would have no reason to rejoice or feel pleasure if there was no band. When the two entities are put together, there is equality in the sense that both components represent an equal part of the complete whole that is the resulting relationship.

Radha Krishna In the spiritual world, oneness is achieved through sharanagati, or complete surrender unto the Lord. Voluntary and loving surrender is the constitutional position of the spirit soul that emanates from the storehouse of spiritual energy, Krishna. The universes created by Maha-Vishnu are the result of the desires of the wayward souls, those who misuse their independence. Why would a soul want to separate from Krishna? The nature of independence and free-will is that desires cannot be dictated. Regardless of their constitutional makeup, some souls will simply want to imitate Krishna or try to surpass the magnitude of His beauty, wealth, strength, fame and renunciation. Since such practices cannot go on in Krishna’s realm, there must be a temporary playground created. Similar to how when children who want to imitate the adult activities of their parents are put into a playpen for the day, the wayward spirit souls are sent to a temporary realm where knowledge of their relationship to the Supreme Lord is forgotten.

Information pertaining to the nature of individual spirit fills in the picture more clearly, but there are still the questions of why Krishna would allow the souls to leave and when the separation first took place. As previously mentioned, the individual tiny fragments emanating from God cannot surpass the Lord in the area of knowledge. Due to this apparent defect, no human being can totally understand the big picture of creation and dissolution with any clarity. Supreme knowledge is the exclusive property of the Supreme Knowledgeable. At best, we can acquire a glimmer of information sufficient to return us to our constitutional position as loving servant of the only entity worthy of our service.

“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.17)

Lord Krishna So if we can’t figure out when separation from Krishna first occurred, is there a way to get back to the purified spiritual realm? The Vedas and the seers who pass down Vedic wisdom don’t assume that success in spiritual endeavors will come overnight. Just as it would be silly to think that everyone only gets one day to remain alive, it is nonsense to think that we only get one life to live. A life is simply a division of time, similar to that of a day, week, month, year, etc. The length of this time is longer for some than it is for others, but the constitutional position of the soul does not ever change. The event we know as death is simply the changing of bodies, the discarding of one outer covering in favor of a new one.

What is the need for death if the soul remains tied to the material world in the next life? If a child still wants to play with their toys but their clothes get soiled, the parents will change the child’s outfit and put them back in the pen. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord will not remove spirit souls from their “happy place”, but when the outer dress of the soul starts to decay, a new dress will be provided. Using logical deduction, we can see that if when the time comes for our change of clothes our desires shift from that of wanting to remain in the material world to that of returning to the spiritual world, wherein we’ll enjoy Krishna’s company, liberation will surely be granted.

Altering the desire to remain tied to material nature is easier said than done. Through many lifetimes on earth, the conditioned spirit soul has increased its aversion to divine love. In order to rekindle their loving relationship with Krishna, one can take to basic religious functions such as austerities and penances. These practices are known to spiritualists all over the world. For those with a poor fund of knowledge and those in the neophyte stage of spiritual understanding, adherence to these rules and regulations is compulsory. In the absence of deference to established guidelines, the living entity will likely continue to form attachments to its various toys and thus become further entrapped in the miserable cycle of birth and death that is reincarnation.

The key determining factor, the fuel of the engine of the transmigration of the soul, is desire. If we sincerely want to return to Krishna’s realm, we will be allowed to do so. Austerity and penance, as restrictive activities, certainly can help us break free of our attachment to matter, but at the same time, they don’t do anything to further our attachment to Krishna. The negative activities of spiritual life are certainly beneficial, but there must be positive activities as well. A person training for a marathon can refrain from fatty foods and overindulgence in intoxication, but unless they practice running they will have no chance at completing a marathon.

Similarly, one must engage in positive activities in order to rekindle their loving feelings towards Supreme Spirit. The quintessential assertive activity of the discipline of devotional service is the chanting of the Lord’s names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The name of the Lord is the easiest of the divine incarnations to produce, remember, hold on to and develop an attachment towards. The recitation of the name is open to every type of person, regardless of their family tradition, ethnicity, country of origin, or race. There is also no limit to the number of times that the holy sound vibration can be produced and heard.

Krishna with His friends Chanting, hearing and adherence to the restrictions of the four regulative principles are enough to guarantee salvation for the conditioned soul. But due to Krishna’s mercy, there is yet another way, one that is even more effective, towards developing and maintaining an attachment to the Lord. This method is the hearing of the transcendental pastimes and activities of Krishna and His various non-different expansions performed during their times on earth. Krishna, in His original form, actually roamed the earth around five thousand years ago. Performing beautiful pastimes in the village of Vrindavana, Krishna captivated the hearts and minds of everyone around Him. Fortunately, the great Vedic seers, the true saints and well-wishers of the universe, recorded their thoughts and impressions in written form. Books like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Mahabharata and Bhagavad-gita contain accounts of Krishna’s activities and descriptions and details about His beautiful bodily appearance. If one simply has an affinity for regularly hearing these accounts, they will bypass the need for any other type of religious process, be it austerity, penance, or the giving of charity.

Because the hearing process is simple and efficient enough, everyone would be attracted to it, no? Obviously this is not the case, as books about Krishna, Rama, Vishnu and Chaitanya aren’t nearly as widely read as the latest non-fiction and fiction titles available in the bookstores. The non-devotees, those who are unaware of the real mission in life or their natural relationship to God, are accustomed to hearing about topics relating to anyone besides Krishna. The television networks constantly run documentary shows about various celebrities, chronicling their every move and their rise to stardom. The newspapers are filled with tidbits about different actors, politicians and sports figures. There is even attraction to hearing fictional stories which are portrayed on television and in cinema.

If there already is a great tradition of hearing and dedication to lending an ear to mundane topics, why not shift the focus to Krishna and the transcendental nectar of His pastimes? The situation at hand is yet another indication of the supreme wisdom possessed by the Vedic seers and Krishna Himself. The idea of the conditioned living entity being averse to practicing divine love is not a simple theory that was crafted through a brainstorming session. The repulsion to devotional service exhibited by the souls residing in the mundane world is the practical proof of the claims made by the Vedas pertaining to the reasons for the world’s creation. Not only did the material world come into existence due to the aversion to divine love, but it also continues to remain manifested for as long as the desire remains. Even at the end of the creation, when everything is destroyed and ultimately put back into Vishnu’s gigantic body, the conditioned souls, the challengers of God, are not granted salvation. They will simply be part of the population that inhabits the next creation.

Krishna's pastimes Krishna’s activities are quite similar to those performed by ordinary human beings. This was the intention after all, for the Lord wanted to help the purified souls foster an attachment to Him. The natural loving sentiment cannot be harbored in its most pure form for one who is extremely opulent and imposing as a figure. Rather, love and kind service is evoked voluntarily by those who feel an attachment. Human beings will naturally have an affinity for those who are like them, thus Krishna presented Himself as an ordinary child for the benefit of others. Aside from ignorance and the misfortune of having never heard of the Supreme Lord and devotion to Him, there can be no other reason besides jealousy to explain the conditioned souls’ willful neglect towards hearing about God and His pastimes, especially when the same individuals suffer through so many other activities. If the doubting soul says that Krishna’s lifting of Govardhana Hill and His killing of various demons sound too much like mythology and that they have no attraction to imaginary stories, why are fictional movie series and television shows so popular? If they say that Krishna’s instructions are too restrictive and not worth listening to, why do books which propound scaled down philosophies and theories relating to success in material life sell so well?

“That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.37)

Krishna's pastimes Even if one is averse to hearing about transcendental topics in the beginning stages, they should still force themselves to “suffer” through them. Married couples often make this sacrifice for each other, with men sitting through operas and television dramas and women putting on a good face while watching football and attending action movies. Every conditioned soul is originally married to the Lord in some way or another, so a sacrifice towards hearing should be made. In a romantic relationship, the individual will likely never enjoy doing those particular activities enjoyed by the partner. But in bhakti, the spirit soul will gradually come to relish the transcendental topics relating to Krishna and His divine associates. In fact, the sound vibrations describing such incidents will soon be taken to be the sweetest ambrosia, the only possession worth holding on to. When such an attachment remains at the time of death, the individual soul will not only be guaranteed of hearing about Krishna for the rest of eternity, but they will get to directly take part in His pastimes that are constantly occurring in the spiritual world.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Coming From Rama

Sita Devi “By this symbol, O best of the monkeys, the daughter of Janaka will be able, without any fear, to properly understand that you have come from My presence.” (Lord Rama speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.13)

anena tvām hariśreṣṭha cihnena janakāatmajā |

mat sakāśāt anuprāptam anudvignā anupaśyati

Sita Devi, the daughter of King Janaka, found herself in a very troubling situation, forced to live as a prisoner in the kingdom of Lanka. Ravana, a ghastly demon and king of the city at the time, had forcibly taken the beautiful and chaste princess away from her husband and brought her back to his kingdom to become his chief queen. Sita, however, had different plans. No amount of sweet words, wealth, exhibitions of strength or threats could divert her attention from the lotus feet of her dear husband, Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. To alleviate the princess’ distresses and give her hope and belief in an eventual rescue, Rama sent His greatest servant, dearmost friend and ever well-wisher, Shri Hanuman, to find Sita and give her a message. Knowing that His wife would be suspicious of anyone who approached her due to her precarious situation, Rama gave Hanuman a ring with His name inscribed on it. This way Sita would be able to tell that Hanuman was indeed the Lord’s messenger and that he came in peace. From this one kind act, which was facilitated through Rama’s pure devotee, we can find the way out of the troublesome situation we currently find ourselves in. The name of the Lord carried by the pure devotee is our only means of salvation.

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

Hanuman Why do we need saving? Contrary to the “you only get one life” opinion posited by spiritual leaders and mental speculators, the soul, the basic functional unit of life, is eternal. The individual spiritual spark inherits its qualities from the Supreme Lord. Since God is undying and unborn, so are His tiny fragmental sparks. As individuals emanating from the gigantic powerhouse of spiritual energy, we have never taken birth, nor will we ever die. What we currently refer to as birth and death are simply the events of taking on and discarding outward forms. The body is actually changing and being replaced all the time. The form we had as a child is completely different from the body we possess as adults. Yet throughout this change, which is so subtle that it goes unnoticed by the occupant, identity does not change. The truth of the soul’s eternality is substantiated simply by our own observations. Reincarnation has an aura of mysticism attached to it, but it is actually a very simple concept to understand. Even amongst those who believe that man only gets one life on earth, there is still the belief in the afterlife. Thus such followers are essentially validating the idea of the soul never dying. If the soul never dies, then it certainly never takes birth. If there are present and future lives, there certainly must be previous ones as well.

“That which does not take birth does not die; death is meant for that which has been created, and that which is not created has no death.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 23)

The Vedas, the ancient system of spiritual wisdom emanating from India, state that a soul’s previous lives involved different bodies. Based on the work we performed and the desires we had at the time of our previous death, our present body was crafted. The cycle continues perpetually until desires change from the material realm to the spiritual realm. “You get what you want” is the simplest way to describe how the plight of the soul takes shape. If we desire enjoyment, there is no reason for our leaving the material world. The so-called enjoyment that takes place while in a material body continues life after life. If one behaves piously but still has an attachment to their senses, they ascend to various heavenly planets in the afterlife, where they reside for a set number of years. Upon expiry of their pious credits, the same individuals return to the material world and continue in the system of karma. Similarly, the sinful go to the hellish planets for a fixed duration and then return again to the material world.

Those with a little intelligence, those who understand the differences between body and soul, will eventually realize that the repetitious cycle of birth and death represents misery rather than enjoyment. If something is destined to be destroyed, the associated experiences cannot be considered superior. Due to the impending destruction of the outer covering of the soul, the activities of material life cannot be considered the highest engagement. Since the soul is ever-existing, in order for it to enjoy eternally, it must assume a body which is undying and not subject to decay. Those who realize this fact and are fortunate enough to have the association of the saintly class then take to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The spiritual realm is the one place where birth and death do not take place. Therefore, anyone who ascends to the transcendental realm never has to worry about falling back down to the material world.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.16)

Lord Krishna Due to our conditioned state, we can’t just come up with the path that will lead us to the spiritual world on our own. Rather, we need someone to help us, someone who knows the Truth themselves. Since the soul is tied at the hip to the Supreme Lord, the only viable spiritual discipline is that which involves service to Him. Though there are different names for the Supreme Object of Pleasure, the Vedas provide the most complete and inclusive name: Krishna, which is a Sanskrit word that means all-attractive. Krishna is also known by the name of Rama, which means one who gives transcendental pleasure. Since God is flawless and absolute, His names inherit the same qualities. Therefore the path to salvation, the quintessential act of bhakti, is the regular chanting of the Supreme Divine Entity’s names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

In order to chant the transcendental names properly and understand the bona fide religious practices recommended for the current time and circumstance, guidance is required from one who is a friend of Krishna’s; a feature that automatically makes such an individual a well-wishing friend to the world. Yet it is often difficult to recognize who is a friend and who isn’t in terms of their relation to helping us achieve ultimate liberation from the cycle of birth and death. There are the karmis; those who take to cause and effect activities aimed at achieving a favorable material condition. Most everyone is a karmi by default; they take to certain activities, with a general adherence to socially acceptable forms of piety and virtue, in the hopes of having enough wealth and sense enjoyment, or bhukti. Under strict adherence to karma, there is really no spirituality involved or any worship of a god. Seeing the immediately visible results of cause and effect, fruitive workers take complete shelter of the laws of karma, thinking them to be unrelated to spirituality.

The karmis can be ruled out as spiritually-enlightening friends since they will be forced to suffer through reincarnation. As mentioned before, anyone who desires a material body will be gladly given one by the higher authorities. What’s interesting to note, however, is that even spiritually inclined leaders and so-called religionists often fail to act as friends. Religion is often adopted to advance a personal cause or to receive some personal benediction. One person wants material opulence, another wants many disciples and a good reputation, another wants to achieve powers associated with yoga practice, while another is looking for the cessation of all undesirable conditions. While each of these spiritualists may be well-intentioned and sincere in their beliefs, their ultimate conclusions fall short of service to God. Service to Krishna is not merely a way out of distress, but rather a way towards Supreme Pleasure. Not only is this pleasure desirable, but it is constitutional. It is the inherent nature of the soul to be blissful, full of knowledge and in constant association with Krishna through various transcendental mellows, or rasas. Unless the religiously inclined take the ultimate conclusion to be service to the original personality of Godhead, any spiritual practices adopted can at best be considered second class.

Lord Rama The sincere souls who are looking to reconnect with Krishna surely find themselves in a precarious condition, as even spiritual leaders, those who seem like they would be friends, turn out to be interested in their own agendas divorced of devotional service. Such a precarious condition would seem to indicate that all hope is lost. Yet from studying a notable incident described in one of the oldest books in history, we can learn how to weed out the pretenders and accurately identify the best friends of humanity as it pertains to spiritual life. Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Personality of Godhead descended to earth in His form of Lord Rama, the pious and handsome prince of Ayodhya. On one occasion, Rama’s wife, Sita Devi, was kidnapped from the forest of Dandaka by a demon named Ravana. Not knowing where she was, Rama enlisted the help of a band of monkeys living in the forest of Kishkindha. Their king was Sugriva and his chief assistant was Shri Hanuman, who is described as being the best of the monkeys, hari-shreshtha.  The Sanskrit terms “vanara”, “hari”, and “kapi”, which all can translate to “monkey”, are used to describe these celestial figures who roamed the earth in monkey-like forms as Rama’s dear friends.

Sugriva had a massive army of monkeys, so he divided them up and dispatched them to the corners of the earth to search for Sita. After providing the marching orders, Sugriva turned to Hanuman and offered him nice praise. Sugriva knew that only Hanuman would be able to find Sita and live to tell about it. Sugriva’s direct address of Hanuman was important because the mission didn’t call for Sita’s rescue or the slaying of her captor. These tasks were reserved for Rama, her beloved husband. In order to take on her captor in a fair fight, Rama needed to know where she was first. In reality, Shri Rama knew everything, for He is the Supersoul residing within everyone’s heart. Yet to allow His sincere devotees a chance to serve Him, Rama feigned ignorance.

After hearing Sugriva’s words of praise describing Hanuman, Shri Rama Himself contemplated Hanuman’s attributes and abilities. Deciding that Hanuman would certainly be successful in the mission, Rama gave him a ring with His name inscribed in it. In the above referenced statement, Rama is handing the ring to Hanuman and explaining its significance. Rama’s alliance with Sugriva and the Vanaras came about after Sita’s kidnapping, so she would have no way of knowing who Hanuman was. Moreover, she was stuck in a city where all the citizens abided by the orders of the Rakshasa Ravana. Even if Hanuman were to approach Sita and inform her of Rama’s intentions, she would have no reason to believe his words were genuine. Rakshasas are the masters of illusion, so they will use whatever tricks they can to cheat others. This represents one of the harmful side effects of taking shelter of the material energy. If a person’s ultimate conclusion is that material enjoyment is the topmost engagement in life, they are in essence viewing themselves as God. If everyone adopts this mindset, the resulting condition is one where everyone is competing with each other to be the supreme ruler of the perishable realm. Since it is impossible for anyone to assume this title, one which rightfully belongs to God, collisions will naturally result. These collisions then result in natural disasters, fierce competition, wars, lying, cheating, stealing, etc. The Rakshasas were completely dedicated to maya, or the illusion of material nature, so they were regular victims of such negative side effects.

Hanuman meeting SitaBecause Hanuman would be carrying a ring inscribed with the name of Rama, Sita would know for certain that he was a friend. This is indeed what would happen, as Hanuman would find Sita, show her Rama’s ring, relay information to her, return to Rama and Sugriva with information of her location, and eventually help the Lord defeat Ravana. Due to Hanuman’s sincere and noble efforts, Sita was found and rescued and everyone was happy in the end. For the conditioned souls trapped in the world where fierce competition and chaos occur regularly, finding a true friend is difficult. Yet Sita’s behavior towards Hanuman shows how to make the proper judgment. If someone is carrying the name of Rama, Krishna, Vishnu, or any other non-different form of the Lord, we can identify them as a friend. The name can be carried not only in the form of an inscription on jewelry, but also in the most potent form of the transcendental sound vibration produced by the tongue. Children born of devotee parents are sometimes named after Krishna and Rama, but unless they take to chanting the Lord’s names on a regular basis, they cannot be considered messengers of the Lord. Shri Hanuman is the eternal servant of the Lord and a powerful rescuer of fallen souls. He only has one dharma: service to Rama. He was recognized as a friend by Sita, and his well-wishing nature extends to all of humanity. By humbly submitting ourselves before such a divine figure, we will surely find our way back to Rama, from whom this entire creation emanates.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Getting Along

Lord Krishna with cows “One who sees the Supersoul in every living being and equal everywhere does not degrade himself by his mind. Thus he approaches the transcendental destination.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.29)

Regardless of the specific period of time, squabbles over government and its lack of efficiency will always be present. No matter who is in power or who has just won a big election, the age old questions are sure to arise. “When will the bickering stop? When will the people in government get along and do some good for the people?” The problems, however, stem from government outlays, their intended beneficiaries and the victims who fund such benevolence. Since the modern day democratic style of government involves popular elections, every issue eventually comes down to a popularity contest, wherein one group vies with another for government funds. Since a government is meant to serve an entire class of people, they must view everyone equally. As soon as the impartial viewpoint breaks down, the system starts to crumble, and you are left with agony, angst, disappointment and resentment.

Lord Krishna At the lowest level, a government is simply in charge of a certain section of land inhabited by a group of citizens. To understand the need and purpose of a higher governing authority, we can study the workings of government on a smaller scale than that of a large nation, or even expand the scope out to the largest scale possible. The entire creation, which is the most abstract concept understood by the individual, is managed by a superintendent deity. In the Vedic tradition, the chief is addressed as Krishna, who is the original, all-attractive form of the Lord. In other theistic traditions, the Supreme Being is known as God, but the name is not that important for the purposes of this discussion. Regardless of the name for the original Divine Being, His functions are still the same. He creates everything in this world, including the trees, plants, mountains, oceans, and more importantly, all the people who live here. Therefore He automatically becomes the original father, a person that everyone has a natural connection with at the time of birth.

A good father is one who treats all his sons and daughters equally. This isn’t to say that he behaves in the exact same way with each child, but rather the ultimate aim of the interactions is the same. Let’s think of it this way: Say that we have multiple brothers and sisters. We may be closer with some, while we have enmity with others. But does this mean that we love any one of our brothers or sisters more than the others? For most people, this is not the case, as the love is shown equally to everyone. The same principle applies with our parents. Can we really say that we love our mother more than our father, or vice versa? The answer is usually ‘no’.

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

Lord Krishna With Krishna, an equal amount of love is shown to everyone. There can be no other way for the Lord to act, for as the creator, everyone is tied to Him. It is similar to how the sun shines equally everywhere, without any partiality, yet due to the workings of man and his specific needs, he may or may not utilize the sunrays for his benefit. The question may arise as to why, with Krishna being equal to everyone, some people are born into favorable circumstances, while others are not. Some people live an easy life, while others are constantly struggling. Krishna’s equality manifests in the conditions of the playing field and the rules governing the actions undertaken on it. According to Vedic information, the field of activity known as the material world exists for as long as there is a desire to imitate the father on the part of the limitless children. The Supreme Lord certainly shows an equal amount of affection to everyone, but there is no favoritism shown in the execution of the flawed desire to imitate.

The minute by minute happenings of the material world are governed by elevated personalities known as devas, or demigods. These exalted beings function in a manner similar to those of government ministers, i.e. they act at the pleasure of the supreme commander. When the living entities, the children of God, take to playing on the field, the results of their actions are distributed by the demigods, who work under the system of karma. In English, karma is translated to mean “fruitive activity”. The act of planting a crop, tending to it and ultimately enjoying the resulting fruit is the best way to describe the activities of the living entities. The results of karma are even referred to as phala, which means fruits.

“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, Bg. 3.27)

Lord Krishna speaking to Arjuna Fruitive activity has no direct relation to Krishna. Just as the farmer thinks he is responsible for the bountiful harvest seen at the end of the season, the living entities who have become averse to divine service believe they are responsible for the fruits of their actions, the results to their karmic activity. The individuals are spirit at their core, so they have tremendous leeway in the areas of freedom and free-will, but visible results can never be traced back to the actions of any conditioned living entity. For example, we may work hard at planting seeds on fertile soil and then watch them grow, but such growth could never occur were it not for the material elements of earth, water and sunlight. Nature’s elements were never created by the living entity, nor can they be controlled by him.

The impartial behavior of God towards His children illustrates the ideal practices of good government on the largest scale. On the smallest scale, we can study a typical family, which is headed by the mother and father. Parents love their children so much that there is the urge to spoil them in their youth. Yet good parents will avoid the urge to spoil and instead make their children persevere through some trials and tribulations in the form of austerities. When the child is taken to the supermarket and sees various toys on the shelves, a parent will not buy whatever toy the child asks for. Otherwise the child would become spoiled and not learn the value of money when they get older.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna and Balarama Taking into account the maturation of the child is the key aspect to good parenting. Since the parents are older than the child, they know they likely won’t be around long after the child turns into an adult. As such, eventually the child will have to go from being a dependent to a provider. The aim of the parent is to try to raise the child to become self-sufficient in their adulthood. To this end, the child must be educated and taught the value of hard work and money. In addition, they must understand what it takes to raise their own children. More than anything else, the child must know the true mission in life, that of shedding the desire to imitate God. Since the aversion to devotional service to the Lord has gradually increased since the beginning of time, it is very difficult for the living entity to shed the “I am God” mindset. Some religious leaders even fall victim to this ridiculous line of thinking by openly preaching to others that they are God.

Steady, effective and peaceful spiritual enlightenment can best be accomplished within the bounds of family life, especially early on in life. If a householder regularly practices worship of the Supreme Lord by chanting His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the cloud of nescience that envelops the pure soul will gradually part. The principles of self-sufficiency and education can be taught side-by-side with adherence to religious life, for there is no reason to give up maintenance of the body. When the parents create a spiritual environment in the home, the tradition of devotional life will continue in the family for generations upon generations. Goswami Tulsidas, the great Vaishnava saint and devotee of Lord Rama, wrote beautiful poetry and composed wonderful songs in praise of the Lord. Though his writings are popular with religious scholars and devotees worldwide, he made his most lasting impression with housewives. For centuries, women of the Vedic tradition have chanted the Lord’s holy names found in Tulsidas’ songs while performing their household duties and tending to the children. Just a simple act like singing can do wonders towards raising children properly.

Sita Devi with Lava and Kusha So why do we have constant squabbles in government today? Why are citizens perpetually unhappy with the behavior of their elected representatives? The short answer is that there is a forgetfulness of the ultimate purpose in life. Lest anyone brush aside this reasoning as being too simplistic, we can study the outward symptoms exhibited by government leaders and their voters to give evidence of this fact. Democracy is the popular style of government today because it is deemed the most fair, a system which insulates a populace from the dictates of one bad apple, one leader who has gone astray. While the likelihood of dictatorial rule is certainly decreased, there are some major flaws with democracy, with the most obvious one being that of relative morality. In a democracy, there is no such thing as an absolute truth. In reality, there is only one Absolute Truth, God, but when it comes to government, there must be a foundation of principles upon which the actions of its representatives are based.

In a democracy, these principles can change at a whim. For example, the laws of nature say that if you kill another entity, you will yourself be killed in the future. Therefore in any civilized society, the killing of the innocent is strictly prohibited. “Thou shall not kill” is known as a commandment of the Bible, but this principle is also viewed as a basic standard of decency in any civilized society. But in a democracy, any truth or natural law can be negated by a simple vote. If the majority of the population decides that it is okay to kill an innocent cow or an unborn child in the womb, the practice will be allowed. The proponent of democracy will say, “Well, that is the fairest way. They put the issue up to a vote, and it has now been decided by the people. Would you have it any other way?” Anyone with a modicum of common sense would choose to live in a society where the innocent are protected at all times, irrespective of how the decision to protect was arrived at. After all, if the government, the only entity allowed to use force to impose the laws of the state, is unwilling to protect innocent life, who will?

Ironically enough, the primary source of angst amongst the populace doesn’t pertain to the issues of violence towards animals or fetuses. Theft is another act deemed unlawful in any civilized society. Though God is the original owner of everything due to His being the creator, the conditioned entities residing in the material world are loaned various material elements to aid them in their rekindling of Krishna consciousness. The ultimate objective in life, whether one is aware of it or not, is to become completely God conscious by the time of death. We have a choice as to how we use the material elements that we are loaned from God. We can either use them to further our nescience by taking exclusively to fruitive activity aimed at sense gratification, or we can use the elements to maintain a simple lifestyle that leaves more time for the cultivation of spiritual knowledge.

Regardless of the choice we make, the concepts of ownership and private property are well-known to all. If a person were to go up to another person and ask for their money, the other person may or may not part with it. If the person doing the asking were to then demand the money through the threat of lethal force, the other person would likely then part with it. Such an act would be deemed as theft, for there was coercion and the threat of violence involved. What the thief subsequently does with the money is not important, for the property did not belong to them in the first place. In a democracy, however, the same practice, through a majority vote in Congress or Parliament, can become the law of the land. The government is the one entity that is legally allowed to use force to perform its business. The threat of punishment by incarceration or force is what gives government its strength. In the absence of this awesome power, the government dictates would never be followed.

“When the king protects the citizens from the disturbances of mischievous ministers as well as from thieves and rogues, he can, by virtue of such pious activities, accept taxes given by his subjects. Thus a pious king can certainly enjoy himself in this world as well as in the life after death.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.14.17)

Through a simple majority vote in a government chamber, the practice of forcibly taking property from one group of individuals for the express purpose of giving it to another becomes legal. Government is surely allowed to tax its citizens, but the money must be used to fulfill the purposes of the government, that of protecting property and innocent life. Personal favoritism is not one of these purposes, nor has it ever been. The result of such a practice is constant angst and quarrel between those whose money is being taken and those who are the recipients of the perceived benevolence. Every election now boils down to a debate over who is more worthy of government funds. The treasury is seen as a giant pot that various special interest groups can dip their hands into. During a particular party’s reign, one group gets a larger portion of the pie, while in another leader’s term, another group gets their chance to enjoy the bountiful harvest that arrives during the tax season. Thus there is a constant teetering of the seesaw, or a tug-of-war, between the various voting blocks.

So what can be done to alleviate the situation? There is no one leader who can solve the problem, for another effect of democracy is that individual government officials are quite powerless on their own. Even in America, where the words and actions of the President are followed closely, the executive has very little power to do anything on his own. At most he can sign executive orders and send the military into battle. Legislation, the place wherefrom the giving and taking of tax dollars starts, is crafted by the Congress. The President can sign or veto the legislation produced, but he has very little power to determine the actual language inside.

Shrimad BhagavatamIn a democracy, the leader’s true power rests in his ability to speak to the population at large. The President is deemed to have the bully pulpit, which means that he has the opportunity to get his message across to more people than any other politician can. Due to its tremendous power and outreach capability, the bully pulpit can actually be used to secure the ultimate success in life for a large group of citizens. Just as God views all of His children equally, the exalted sage, the purified Vaishnava, views every living entity as a candidate for returning to the spiritual realm. Therefore the best way to cure angst amongst members of society is to spread the message of Divine Love espoused in the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Ramayana and other notable texts. Tackling issue after issue can only alleviate the concerns of certain groups of people, but when everyone is taught about the true mission in life, that of returning back to the spiritual realm where there is no squabble over private property or the protection of life, the chances of achieving peace and harmony greatly increase.

Just as no one person is worthy of government funds over another, no one person is more worthy of going back to Godhead than anyone else. Every life form is a spirit soul at the core, so even though some may be further grounded to the fatalistic viewpoint that seeks temporary sense gratification at all cost, there is still an opportunity for rescue from the ocean of nescience. The transcendental sound vibration of the holy name, which encompasses all knowledge and goodwill, is the only means of salvation in the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy. Even if we don’t have the bully pulpit of the presidency, we can still teach others simply by the example we set. By regularly chanting the Lord’s names and refraining from the most egregious of sinful acts, a high standard of behavior can be set for our dependents and those we associate with to follow. Through bhakti, everyone can become a spiritual leader; a kind, compassionate and well-wishing friend who can bring about real change.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Token of Remembrance

Rama giving ring to Hanuman “Thereafter, being very pleased, that chastiser of enemies [Rama] gave to him [Hanuman] a ring inscribed with His own name as a token of recognition for the king's daughter [Sita].” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.12)

dadau tasya tataḥ prītaḥ sva nāmāṃka upaśobhitam ।

aṃgulīyam abhijñānam rājaputryāḥ paraṃtapaḥ

Certain symbols and attributes help us to properly identify others. In initial meetings with our fellow man, it is difficult to correctly gauge their qualities and personality types. Just as the laws of gravity apply equally to all objects irrespective of a person’s faith or skepticism towards it, the laws of spirituality, especially as they pertain to intrinsic qualities, apply equally to all forms of life. As such, every form of living being, be it a human, animal or plant, has the same essential characteristic of being a lover of God. The predominant quality of the individual represents their dharma, something which does not change based on time, circumstance or level of understanding. Nevertheless, in the conditioned state, the predicament the living entities currently find themselves in, the foremost nature of the soul is covered by qualities consisting of matter. Material nature envelops the jiva soul in a cloud of ignorance, thus causing forgetfulness of its constitutional position. Another unpleasant side effect to this ignorance is that man is not able to properly decipher who is actually knowledgeable and who isn’t, who knows what their dharma is and who has adopted some other concocted set of law codes to live by. Yet from studying a few important incidents from history, we can gain the necessary knowledge to be able to accurately gauge who is a friend and who isn’t as it pertains to advancement in spiritual life.

“That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives always in the wrong direction, O Partha, is in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.32)

Lord Krishna A friend is someone who shares with us a common interest, experience or quality. Depending on the specific field of activity, the nature of our friends can vary. For instance, if we are avid moviegoers and enjoy studying and critiquing cinema, we will take a liking to others who have similar passions. If we enjoy playing and watching sports, we will make friends with those who similarly enjoy such activities. In this way, we see that friendships are formed off of common interests, likes and dislikes. It’s important to have friends because life is very difficult to manage on our own. We are similar to the Supreme Lord in quality, but our quantitative powers are vastly inferior. God can create, maintain and destroy on the grandest scale, but we cannot. For any activity, complicated or simple, we require the aid of nature and the divine intervention of the Supersoul, God’s expansion residing within the heart. The individual soul, being free to choose its activities, can certainly serve as the impetus for action, but the results of work rest in the hands of more powerful forces.

“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, Bg. 3.27)

Due to the little control we have over the outcome of events, it is nice to have friends who are similar to us in quality, people who themselves have to struggle through life’s ups and downs. Yet identifying who is a friend and who isn’t is not so simple. We have to look for different signs, symbols and characteristics before we can be sure that an otherwise stranger is actually a friend. For example, if we are living in a foreign country and happen to meet someone who speaks the same language that we do, there is the likelihood that a friendship will be formed. This is true in any circle, for people with common interests will band together. Language is so important because it serves as the mode of communication and thought. If there are barriers in language, it will be difficult to share thoughts and ideas. If we happen to find someone who speaks our language, there is a relief in the sense that they will be able to understand our emotions, likes and dislikes.

The greatest friend is one who is a well-wisher to everyone; he shares an interest that is common to every single person. What interest could apply universally? As mentioned before, dharma does not change from person to person. At the core, the essential characteristic of the spirit soul is that of eternal companion of the Supreme Soul, or God. Yet most of us are unaware of this fact due to past karma and desires. The material world is a flawed replica of the spiritual world. Some of the activities and surroundings look the same, but the key distinction is that the Supreme Lord’s personal presence is absent in the material world. This is by design because only in the material world can the individual souls act on their desire to imitate the activities of the Supreme Divine Entity. The conditioned entity, through constant acceptance and rejection of different bodies, remains in the deeply flawed realm for as long as it desires to.

Though the conditioned jiva souls have a desire to imitate God, their essential characteristic, or dharma, does not change. Returning to the constitutional position is quite simple: one has to change their desires. We can’t change our desires if we aren’t aware that our current desires are flawed. Therefore we require the help of one who has already realized the essential characteristic of the spirit soul. Such a person then becomes a friend to all because they help others rise to the highest platform of knowledge.

Shri Hanuman How do we recognize such a person? Where do they live and what do they look like? When an individual realizes their true nature and acts based off this understanding, they are considered liberated. Liberation refers to the release, or moksha, from the cycle of birth and death. Release from the perpetual cycle of misery known as samsara is considered beneficial because when the individual ceases to take birth, his next life will be in the spiritual world. Due to God’s personal absence, the material world is a place full of miseries. This condition is guaranteed because no one can become the supreme controller, or ishvara, though everyone is trying to be in some way or another. One person is trying to be the ishvara of the house, another is trying to rein supreme in a community, while the greatest miscreants are trying to dominate the entire world. Competition for supreme control leads to lust, anger, greed, chaos, tumult, despair and all other inauspicious conditions.

The liberated souls attained their position through humble submission to the Supreme Divine Entity. Though there are different forms and names for this Person, His original form is that of Lord Krishna, who is also known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. At the core, every person is a lover of Krishna. Those who have realized this fact and acted upon it are considered liberated. Such pure souls, who are known as devotees, then take to various activities based on their knowledge of the ultimate conclusion of God being Supreme. These activities, the collection of which forms the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, are performed in a specific manner, with the participants generally assuming a certain kind of dress and appearance. It is not that one is forbidden from engaging in devotional service in the absence of this appearance, but rather such signs and symbols help both the performers and those they encounter. For example, a person can engage in fighting enemies in a formal setting without donning a uniform and still be successful. But at the same time, a uniform proves beneficial because it allows fighters from the same side to understand who is a friend and who is a foe. The uniform also allows non-fighters to know that a military man is coming and to understand what their purpose is. Indications based on dress are similarly useful for police officers and the citizens they protect.

Shrila Prabhupada Devotees of Krishna, who is also worshiped in His form of Lord Vishnu, are known as Vaishnavas. Vaishnavas can generally be recognized by the tilaka marking on the head, tulasi beads around the neck and a simple robe for an outfit. The tilaka represents Vishnu’s lotus footprint, and the tulasi beads represent Tulasi Devi, the beloved devotee of Krishna who kindly grants bhakti to anyone who pleases her. This ensemble constitutes the basic uniform of the devotee, and it allows others to recognize who is a universal friend. Though the specific items making up the outer dress are certainly helpful in allowing others to identify devotees, the true power behind such markings is that they act as symbols of the Supreme Lord. The nature of the message one carries serves as the key determining factor in deciding whether they are a friend or a foe. Depending on the time and circumstance, the need for such identification becomes increased. The sincere devotees, those humble souls who have dedicated their lives to serving the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, require more proof than simply the outer markings on the body. They need to hear or see the name of the Lord in order to be truly won over in friendship. Such was the case with a beautiful and chaste woman who found herself in a terrifying circumstance many thousands of years ago. Her fears were allayed when she was shown a beautiful ring which had the most significant of markings on it. Due to the special engraving, the ring served as a token of remembrance, abhijnanam, allowing the princess to identify both the owner of the ring and its present bearer.

Due to His causeless mercy, the Supreme Lord doesn’t allow the conditioned souls to descend to the material world alone. Rather, He accompanies them in their journeys from body to body. The soul that represents the identity of the individual resides within the heart of the living entity. Next to this soul is the Supersoul, or God’s expansion. Problems arise due to the fact that the conditioned soul is ignorant of the existence of both of these powerful spiritual entities. When one learns to take direction from the Supersoul, all auspicious conditions are met. In order to help the conditioned entities link with the Supersoul, the same Personality of Godhead descends to earth and manifests without in a transcendental body. Such was the case many thousands of years ago when Lord Rama appeared as the eldest son of the King of Ayodhya. There is no difference between Rama and Krishna, for they are the same original Personality of Godhead.

Lord Rama As a pious and handsome prince, Rama had an equally beautiful and virtuous wife named Sita. Sita and Rama are always together, even in the spiritual world. Only Rama is worthy of such a wife. The Lord is often criticized by non-devotees for His treatment of Sita, but in reality His behavior towards such exalted divine figures is flawless. The miscreants are simply envious of the Supreme Lord’s ability to attract and secure such a beautiful and wonderful a person as Sita, thus they take to criticizing Him. One such perceived maltreatment was Sita’s kidnapping at the hands of a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Aside from giving pleasure to the devotees, Rama’s self-assigned duty was to save the world from the attacks of Ravana, a deadly demon who had the intention of ruling the world. As a chivalrous king, Rama would never attack another without just cause. Therefore His excuse came in the form of Sita’s kidnapping.

Being taken back to the island kingdom of Lanka, Sita certainly found herself in a terrifying condition. Ravana tried his hardest to win her over with soft words, but a devotee gives their heart to God. Once the heart is given away in earnest, it can never be taken by another. Therefore Ravana reverted to threats of violence, giving Sita an ultimatum that if she didn’t agree to become his wife after a certain period of time, she would be killed. To make matters worse, Sita was left in a garden and harassed by female associates of Ravana day and night. In this way, she was constantly in a terrifying circumstance, taking everyone to be an enemy. The Rakshasas are masters of illusion, so even when they appear to speak soft and kind words, one would be wise to not take their entreaties at face value. Sita’s only solace were her thoughts of Rama and His activities. Through her behavior she taught everyone how to endure tough situations. Only by keeping one’s consciousness fixed at the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord can fears and worries be allayed.

Sita Devi alone Meanwhile, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana engaged in a frantic search in the forest for Sita’s whereabouts. They were not by her side when she was kidnapped, so they didn’t know where she had been taken. Shri Rama, as the Supersoul in the heart of every living entity, certainly knew what had happened, but to show respect to the role He was playing, He feigned ignorance. This behavior also allowed Him to enlist the help of a band of sincere Vanaras, or monkey-like humans. Their chief warrior was Hanuman, a celestial figure possessing every beneficial quality and attribute. Hanuman’s commander, Sugriva, had vouched for the Vanara’s abilities, and Rama had seen Hanuman’s personal character on full display. Thus the Lord knew that Hanuman would be successful in finding Sita and returning the intelligence he gathered to both Sugriva and Himself.

But the Lord knew that Sita, wherever she was, was certainly in a precarious condition. Therefore she wouldn’t be forthcoming with information or welcoming to just any person. Hanuman, possessing the body of a monkey, wouldn’t immediately appear as a friend to Sita. After all, Rama’s alliance with Sugriva and the Vanaras was only formed after Sita had been taken away. To let Sita know that Hanuman was carrying His message, Rama handed over a ring inscribed with His name on it. The name is non-different from the Lord; it is simply the visible identifier of the sound vibration representation of the Supreme Divine Entity. Shri Rama knew that Sita would recognize this ring as belonging to Him. If Hanuman were to present the ring to her, she would have full faith in his words. She would be able to recognize Hanuman as a devotee because he would be carrying with him Rama’s holy name inscribed on a ring.

Hanuman giving ring to Sita Events would play out exactly as Rama suspected. Sita would accept Hanuman as her greatest well-wisher and friend after speaking with him and seeing the ring. All would end well, as Rama and the Vanaras would eventually march to Lanka, defeat Ravana and his army, and rescue Sita. These incidents illustrate that the presence of the name of the Lord is the most important indicator in determining a person’s qualities. Those who always carry the names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can be taken to be the best friends to all living entities. Devotees always chant this mantra and thereby inform all around them that they come in peace. The miscreants, the non-devotees in false guises, and the foolish atheists will never chant the Lord’s name in earnest, so they can immediately be ruled out as being supreme well-wishers. Hanuman is still worshiped to this day for his devotion to Sita and Rama. Though he doesn’t possess the body of an ordinary human being, he is still nevertheless taken to be a great Vaishnava. He always wears the tilaka mark on his head, beads around his neck, and most importantly, he always chants the name of the Lord. Hanuman is not only Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana’s friend, but he is a friend to the world as well.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Acting Like a Maniac

Lord Chaitanya “While chanting the holy name of the Lord in pure ecstasy, I lose myself, and thus I laugh, cry, dance and sing just like a madman.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.78)

Comment: “Personally I think the Hare Krishna movement is just an Indian fanatical version of fanatical Christianity.”

Response: For the layperson, or one not aware of the intricate truths pertaining to the differences between matter and spirit, the passionate dealings of religionists give off an air of fanaticism. Often times the paths to salvation are presented in a pass-fail, accept or reject, sort of mindset, with the preaching sermon typically including statements like, “Repent ye sinners, for you will suffereth eternal damnation for thy transgression. Surrender now and forever save yourself; otherwise there will be no hope for salvation.” Sometimes similar attitudes manifest in specific issues such as abortion, animal killing, or illicit sex. In extreme cases, acts of terrorism are taken to, where those who are not followers of the specific faith are deemed as infidels who need to be killed. The most famous and successful preaching movement emanating from India, the bhakti movement, may on the surface appear to espouse extreme viewpoints and prescriptions, but the inner-properties of the philosophy and its purpose have nothing to do with fear or force, and everything to do with love.

Sankirtana God is one, and He is for everyone. One certain group may have a specific name for Him, but that doesn’t mean that one group has their own God and another has their own deity. For the definition of God to be valid, He must be a singular entity. The most potent preaching movement to emanate from India aims to connect everyone with God. After all, the majority of the world’s population claims to be religious; they claim to be believers in God. If one has faith in the existence of the Lord, they must act in a way to acknowledge that belief. For instance, if I tell another woman that I love her, such a proclamation is meaningless if I subsequently cheat on her with other women. Declarations of faith and allegiance must be substantiated by activities. Qualities and traits are exhibited in behavior and shifts in consciousness, not by simple statements.

Along this line, the Vaishnava preachers aim to make honest men out of the theists around the world. The aim of the Hare Krishna movement, which is simply an organized preaching effort focused on spreading God consciousness, is to get everyone to turn their love and devotion towards God in lieu of objects of matter. A Vaishnava is a devotee of Lord Vishnu, who is the four-handed form of the original Lord residing in the spiritual sky. Matter is a temporary manifestation representing one of Vishnu’s external energies. Material nature has nothing to do with spirit; hence the body becomes dead and useless at the time of death. The only difference between a living form and a dead one is the presence of the soul. The spirit soul is a fragmental part of a giant spiritual energy known as Brahman. Individual spirit never dies, takes birth, or gets altered in any way, thus making it far superior to dull and lifeless matter.

In the conditioned state, the living entity associates with material elements and takes identification from them. It’s similar to if we would buy a new automobile and then take the car to be part of us. The automobile is simply a collection of metal which is carefully crafted and held together. The collection of parts existed in a dispersed form before we purchased the vehicle, and it will continue to exist should we let go of it. So to take our identity off of our ownership of any vehicle would be quite silly. In the same way, the body, the outer covering of the soul, is taken ownership of at the time of birth. Yet immediately after exiting the womb, the same outer life form starts to change, first going through a developmental period, and then gradually going through a decaying process. Ultimately the body is given up; “ashes to ashes” as they say. Thus identity cannot be taken from something so temporary and lifeless as dull matter.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.13)

Lord Krishna The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, state that since the true identity of the individual comes from the spirit soul within, those activities which aim to please the identifying spiritual entity are what should be adopted. Lord Vishnu, whose more blissful form is that of the beautiful Lord Krishna, is the origin of all spirit and matter. When the activities of the conditioned soul are directed towards the pleasure of Krishna, the spirit soul is satisfied. Not only is there a benefit to the soul, but even the Supersoul, the non-different expansion of Krishna residing within the heart, is satisfied. This makes the practice of service to Krishna, which is known as bhakti-yoga, the only discipline that is freely and voluntarily entered into that satisfies two distinct parties.

Spiritualists from all walks of life, including those claiming to be following Vedic teachings, are sometimes justifiably viewed as being fanatical because the philosophies supporting their most extreme and short-sighted claims are not very deep. For instance, saying that we should surrender unto a specific personality or be forced to suffer in hell is not a very substantive statement. For starters, the threat of punishment doesn’t describe anything about the worthiness for worship of the personality in question, nor does it explain why failure to surrender leads to a hellish condition. Moreover, what exactly constitutes hell? Are we presently not suffering through troubling situations in the places that we reside? Are not the parents that have lost a child, the fallen victims of drug addiction, and the scorned lovers suffering through hell right now?

“The activities or desires that relatively help a soul attain his constitutional position are called piety. The opposite are called sin. Since devotional service to Krishna is one’s constitutional position, when one cultivates this service, then nescience, which is the root cause of relative situations in the form of sin and piety, is gradually fried and abolished.” (Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Shri Krishna Samhita, 10.2 Purport)

Lord Krishna The Vaishnavas, after carefully studying the authorized scriptures such as the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana, can answer all of these questions with great clarity and detail. Lord Krishna is all-attractive; so He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Every person, regardless of their level of faith, is looking for pleasure. Due to His eternally fixed position and character, only Krishna is capable of providing the greatest amount of happiness. Surrender is recommended because there is a loving propensity to the soul. Bhakti is the makeup of the spirit soul, but in the conditioned state, the loving propensity for God gets misdirected to other areas. Surrender unto any entity besides Supreme Spirit will lead to misery, heartache and disappointment in the end. Hell is a temporary condition brought on by separation from Krishna and deviation from the path of righteousness He has set forth. Piety and sin are merely activities which lead to temporary positive and negative circumstances. Piety is the right way to do something, so one who abides by it will gradually come closer to the state of loving God.

The Hare Krishna movement in its modern form was started around five hundred years ago by Lord Chaitanya, a preacher incarnation of Krishna who appeared in India. Up until that time, the Vedas were seen as something to be learned only in isolated confines through personal surrender to a guru, or spiritual master. Moreover, if one wasn’t born into the system of varnashrama-dharma, they were deemed unfit for taking in Vedic wisdom. Certainly the highest truths of the Vedas can’t be understood by everyone, but in the current age where the world’s population is spread across so many different areas, with individuals taking to different activities, there should be some way for others to at least be given the chance to learn about the soul should they be interested. This was the mission taken up by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who through chanting the holy names of God in public, spread love for Godhead all throughout India. His travel itinerary shouldn’t fool us into thinking that He only wanted to teach Indians. Rather, the travels of He and His associates stretched the limits of modern technology at the time. His desire was that everyone should hear the Lord’s name, regardless of where they lived, for the Lord’s name automatically evokes feelings of attachments for the other aspects of the Divine Personality, such as forms, pastimes and qualities.

“Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates of the Pancha-tattva distributed the holy name of the Lord to invoke love of Godhead throughout the universe, and thus the entire universe was thankful.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 7.163)

Pancha-tattva So how does the Hare Krishna movement differ from other spiritual movements which are sometimes perceived to be fanatical? Indeed, how does real bhakti differ from what others know to be Hinduism? The aim of pure bhakti is to get every conditioned entity to simply shift the nature of their activities. Everyone is already accustomed to hearing about something; be it the news, weather, sports or some account of a notable personality. Those following bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, also engage in hearing, but they focus on topics relating to Krishna and His devotees. Hearing is the most powerful and effective way to take in information. When focused on spiritual topics, the hearing process delivers transcendental nectar. Mankind is also accustomed to eating, so the Vaishnava preacher simply asks that others eat Krishna prasadam, sanctified food first offered to the deity representation of the Supreme Lord. Everyone is already accustomed to dancing, so under the bhakti mindset, dancing can be done in accordance with songs praising Krishna and His eternal pleasure potencies.

The pattern should be easy to decipher by now. Bhakti, the purification of all activity and thought, involves adding God to every aspect of our lives. In its purest state, bhakti is practiced not out of fear or the desire for the alleviation of distress, but rather out of pure love. As is quite obvious to seasoned adults, no individual can force another to love them. The marriage system is filled with so much turmoil because it is not possible to get another person to behave “perfectly”. Interpersonal conflicts are a byproduct of the free-will propensity possessed by the living entities. Thus for love of God to be pure, there cannot be any force. The exchanges between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit in the highest state of purity are spontaneous, unmotivated and uninterrupted.

Just as there are already the practices of hearing, eating and dancing, the living entity is similarly accustomed to chanting. Usually a popular song is recited in the mind or the name of a notable personality is repeated. Lord Chaitanya’s sankirtana movement asks that everyone simply chant the Lord’s names in a loving way in order to be delivered from any calamitous situation. No phrase better packs the potency of the holy name than the maha-mantra: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The central practice of the Hare Krishnas is the congregational chanting of this sacred formula, a collective sound vibration which can be accompanied by mrdangas, karatalas and other instruments. For the sublime preacher, the louder the sounds of sankirtana the better, as the more people that hear the holy name of the Lord, the greater the benefit to humanity there will be.

Lord Chaitanya and associates Since the followers of Lord Chaitanya openly take to preaching, they are bound to be up for scrutiny, especially from those who don’t understand the intricacies of the movement. There are several criticisms lodged against the benevolent bhaktas, with many coming from followers of other Vedic-based traditions. One criticism is that the Hare Krishnas are simply performing fanatical worship without any solid basis in philosophy or intelligence. This line of criticism is a little humorous considering the founder of the movement’s unsurpassed level of intelligence. Since Lord Chaitanya was an incarnation of Krishna, His knowledge was perfect on all subject matters. In His youth He was known as Nimai Pandita because His scholarship was so great. He could pick apart any argument or set of words and explain them properly by attaching them to Krishna. He would argue in favor of one viewpoint very seriously and then in the next minute completely debunk His previous argument with a new one. He could go on and on essentially debating with Himself; thus proving the fallacy of trying to explain anything in terms of its relationship to material nature. An activity or object only takes on its true meaning when it is understood in terms of its link to God.

The chanting and dancing aspects to sankirtana are only the surface, or face, of the movement. Behind such a practice is a deep-rooted love for God, a level of attachment firmly grounded in the highest truths of the Vedas. The body of literature produced by the true followers of bhakti is evidence enough of the philosophy’s superiority and the unmatched level of affection felt by the authors towards the Supreme Lord. Though Lord Chaitanya didn’t write any books Himself, He empowered generations of followers to write as much as they could. The brothers Shrila Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami, direct disciples of Lord Chaitanya, are giants of the Vaishnava literary world. Though they wrote their books during medieval times, they didn’t spare a minute in service of Krishna. They wrote volumes upon volumes of books, so much so that one would find it hard to believe that they could have compiled such in-depth and logically sound studies pertaining to religion. The great acharyas who followed these brothers, including Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and more recently His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, wrote lifetimes worth of literature expounding on the philosophy of simultaneous oneness and difference between the living entities and God. This philosophy, known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, is presented practically through the chanting of Hare Krishna, but for those who are further interested in understanding the intricacies of the nature of the relationship between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit, they can consult the works authored by these exalted saints. It should be noted that bhakti is such a strong practice that even those devotees who don’t directly follow in Lord Chaitanya’s line are similarly able to produce volumes of cogent and thought-provoking literature. Goswami Tulsidas authored ridiculously brilliant, bliss-evoking and logical devotional poetry in praise of Lord Rama, another historical personality who was an incarnation of Krishna.

Tulsidas The bhaktas, or those following bhakti, are able to produce so many substantial writings because it is the nature of the soul to be blissful and full of knowledge. The intrinsic knowledge of the soul is uncovered through activities which appear to be related to ordinary knowledge-gathering. But what these studies actually do is uncover the nescience that envelops the soul in the conditioned state. The great saints of the past actually could have gone on writing forever. Their body of work as it stands now could have been multiplied many times over should they have remained on this earth even longer. This illustrates how the bhakti movement reigns supreme over all others in its ability to explain, with sound reasoning and understanding, the superiority of loving God over any other practice, spiritual or material.

“Let not the wise disrupt the minds of the ignorant who are attached to fruitive action. They should not be encouraged to refrain from work, but to engage in work in the spirit of devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.26)

Another argument presented by those who are against the practice of the Hare Krishnas is that the section of the population that is averse to bhakti should be left alone. In fact, Lord Krishna even mentions something similar to this in the Bhagavad-gita, wherein He advises Arjuna not to bother those who are overly attached to sense gratification. Lord Chaitanya’s movement actually doesn’t violate this principle in any way. The chanting of Hare Krishna is a peaceful and loving practice aimed at attracting those who are fed up with material existence. Sankirtana is not intended to convert those who are staunch atheists and non-believers of the existence of spirit. After all, such preaching efforts would be a waste of time, for the preacher would have nothing to gain by engaging in useless argument. The congregational chanting of Hare Krishna is meant to attract those who have an open mind and are looking for a deeper philosophical understanding of spirituality than that presented by others.

Lord Chaitanya Another argument made against the practices of the benevolent bhakti preachers is that religion should be a personal pursuit, not something imposed on others. “I have my own religious beliefs, but I would never tell anyone else how they should think or behave.” This mindset actually shows a lack of evolution of sorts on the part of those who are unwilling to share their spiritual beliefs. Fanaticism, or the enthusiastic distribution of a certain opinion or philosophy, is already seen in virtually every other area of life. Movies, television shows, consumer products and sporting heroes are promoted and talked about by their fans, those who derive enjoyment through association. These admirers don’t keep their feelings to themselves, but rather they share their opinions with others so that they will be similarly benefitted. In the realm of spirituality, the ultimate objective is to develop an intimate relationship with the Supreme Spirit. On this point there is little doubt or contention. However, if full surrender to Krishna practiced through the regulative principles of bhakti brings me satisfaction, shouldn’t I tell others about my experiences? If I kept this information to myself, how would others ever come to know of Krishna and devotion to Him?  Moreover, had previous generations of devotees chose to remain quiet, how would I have ever learned about the sublime engagement of divine love?

It must be said that simply behaving properly according to the regulative principles of bhakti is enough to teach others to some extent. The best way to get through to friends and dependents is to lead by example. At the same time, if one is able to take things one step further and withstand the scrutiny that comes with preaching, they should most certainly take the risk. After all, the only harm that can come from open preaching is the bruising of the ego that comes from the criticisms hurled by others. Yet a truly advanced devotee is not bothered by the opinions of anyone, especially considering that bhakti practices are supported by great personalities like Lord Chaitanya and His followers. If a noble and selfless individual is confident enough to dance and sing in public about Krishna without any shame, shouldn’t they be praised for their benevolence, their ability to show practical evidence of the claims made by the Vedas?

“When a person is actually advanced and takes pleasure in chanting the holy name of the Lord, who is very dear to him, he is agitated and loudly chants the holy name. He also laughs, cries, becomes agitated and chants just like a madman, not caring for outsiders.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.2.40)

Another argument made against the Hare Krishnas is that they are not serving mankind. They are simply forcing their own religious beliefs down everyone’s throats and not allowing others to live their lives. Under this mindset, it is better to take to humanitarian efforts since that can actually help people. Yet in reality, the Hare Krishna movement is based completely on service to man. The difference between bhakti and any other type of service is that bhakti actually saves the soul within. Service to man is certainly nice, but one must know how to serve. A sick man is restricted from eating certain foods, so if another person, through the attitude of charity and benevolence, offers the sick person any restricted item, they are essentially harming them. If a person is addicted to intoxication and illicit sex, giving them more opportunities for engaging in such behavior is providing the greatest disservice.

“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, Bg. 8.5)

Lord Krishna Everyone is looking for happiness and enjoyment, for this propensity is derived from the constitutional position of the soul. Only the bhakti movement seeks to deliver the purified version of the pleasure that everyone is so desperately searching after. One whose consciousness is completely focused on the form of the Personality of Godhead at the time of death will no longer have to suffer through birth and death. This boon is greater than any other temporary relief that is offered by the welfare workers and philanthropists. The divine consciousness can only be reawakened by taking to acts of bhakti, the simplest and most effective of which is the chanting of Hare Krishna.

Fanatical behavior, or the exhibition of uninhibited love, in any area of life besides bhakti will quickly burn out or dry up. The same can’t be said of love for Krishna. Any other type of spiritual practice, be it a ritualistic performance in accordance with karma, silent meditation or philosophical study of Vedanta, does not bring eternal pleasure. At best, these practices can lead to the stage of bhakti, but they can never equal the pleasure and happiness provided by Krishna’s companionship. It is not surprising to see those who are married to processes other than bhakti take to labeling true lovers of God as fanatics. Lord Chaitanya, the greatest “fanatic”, was known for His never-before-seen displays of sublime affection, attachment and excitement towards loving service to Krishna.  He kindly bestowed His mercy on humanity by inaugurating the sankirtana movement. He is still delivering souls to this day, so anyone who is wise enough to grab the hand that He is so kindly extending will be benefitted with the eternal association of Krishna in the spiritual world, the land of the undying fanatics.