Saturday, February 5, 2011

Unlocking the Mystery

Bajrang-Bali “O very powerful one, I depend on your might. As you are the best of the monkeys, O son of the wind, do you exert yourself in such a way that by using your extraordinary strength and bravery, O Hanuman, the daughter of Janaka may be found.” (Shri Rama speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.17)

atibala balam āśritaḥ tava aham

hari vara vikrama vikramaiḥ analpaiḥ |

pavana suta yathā adhigamyate sā

janaka sutā hanumān tathā kuruṣva

Followers of the Vedic tradition worship Shri Rama as the Personality of Godhead, the same person that the rest of the world refers to as God. Yet in this instance, we see Rama declaring His dependence on the might and power of another entity. How can Rama be God if He requires the help of others? The answer to this mysterious question uncovers the most well-guarded secret of life, the reason for our being on earth. Studying the personal nature of the Divine, including His names, forms and pastimes, is certainly beneficial, but to understand the complete picture, the full range of the Lord’s attributes, familiarity with the behavior of the Lord’s closest friends, those whose only business in life is to serve Him, is required. Of all the sincere servants, no one is dearer to Shri Rama than Hanuman. For this reason, Rama will do whatever it takes to praise and glorify His dearmost devotee, the son of the wind-god.

rama_face Those following Vedic traditions, the spiritual discipline emanating from India at the beginning of time, give deference to many heavenly and godlike figures. A typical Hindu household has an area set aside in the home where such worship takes place in a semi-formal manner. The altar is typically adorned with beautiful flowers, pleasant incense, ghee lamps and beautiful pictures of the Lord and His various associates. Some households worship God as Shri Vishnu, while others worship Krishna or Rama. There is no difference between these forms, for they all represent the original Personality of Godhead, the Divine figure who is unmatched in excellence, beauty and power. The different forms account for the different viewpoints and penchants for service found in the unlimited spiritual sparks emanating from the transcendental body of the original Lord. Some prefer to worship God in a mood of reverential devotion, while others prefer a more intimate exchange of emotions. Each non-different form of the Lord has attributes and features which appeal to specific tendencies found in the worshipers.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)

These personal expansions of Supreme Spirit weren’t just concocted through some mythological tradition, but rather each incarnation and expansion exists eternally and often appears on earth. Many thousands of years ago, the incarnation of Lord Rama descended to the visible plane and enacted wonderful pastimes. Those with a limited understanding of spirituality and the discipline that worships God in a mood of love and affection have a difficult time understanding the activities performed by such incarnations. The lowest of mankind, the miscreants and the atheists, generally fear religion and spirituality, for they know their behavior doesn’t match well with the law codes established by the various spiritual disciplines. If they do contemplate a “God” in any way, they take Him to be an angry figure. After all, if such miscreants were to amass unlimited powers and capabilities, they most certainly would use them to instill fear in others. The desire to lord over nature in this way is the reason for the existence of the material world. Those who want to imitate the Supreme Lord’s capabilities of dominance, creation and destruction are allowed to carry out their desires on a playing field. The field, of course, must go through development, and since no one can actually equal God in any endeavor, there will naturally be collisions. Hence the material world ostensibly becomes a place full of misery, wherein defeat and heartache are found at every corner.

Lord Krishna The purpose of the incarnation is not to instill fear or to get miscreants to change their ways. If someone has a sincere desire to be God even after being informed of the futility of the endeavor, what can be done to change their mind? The Supreme Lord is completely independent, for that is the natural characteristic of spirit. The individual spirit souls, the jivas, are part and parcel of the Supreme; hence they inherit the qualities of independence and free will. Differences are seen, however, in how the powers of freedom are invoked. God is the Supreme Soul, so His quantitative powers are greater than those possessed by the jiva souls. The jivas have a choice as to how they want to exercise their independence. If they choose to associate with the spiritual energy, the superior nature, they will always remain in the Lord’s company. If they choose to associate with the material energy, the inferior nature, the result will be perpetual misery. The material energy is a separated energy emanating from Krishna; therefore the Lord has no direct role to play in it. Just as the brain controls all the actions of the body, the Big Brain that is Krishna controls all of nature’s movements. The material scientists, those who ignore the presence of the soul, in their pursuit of knowledge can only ascend as far up to the point of understanding the outer workings of nature. The evolution theories posited by Darwin and others ultimately ascribe the control of the changes in species to nature. The non-devotees take nature as their God, not understanding that even nature has a brain. There is no such thing as random collisions, for the regularities that are seen in nature, such as the exact timings of the lunar cycles, sunrises and sunsets, the calendar year, and the properties of various elements cannot occur through chance. There is a person managing all of these intelligently designed functions, and the Vedas accurately identify Him: Krishna.

“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, Bg. 9.29)

The misuse of freewill lands the jiva soul in the material world. When the jiva wants out, when it wants to return to the spiritual land, the Supreme Lord tosses aside His vow of neutrality and directly takes an interest in a small section of the affairs of the inferior world. Usually the workings of matter and sense gratification are portrayed in a negative light, as they should be. But when the same material elements are used to advance the cause of Krishna consciousness, the purification of thoughts, words and deeds, they take on a divine nature, which is Krishna’s exclusive property. Everything certainly emanates from God, but material nature is put in the charge of various elevated living entities.

Lord Rama Shri Rama came to earth to enact pastimes and attract the minds of the jiva souls wanting the highest type of liberation, eternal association with the personal form of the Lord in the spiritual world. As God, Rama had free will to annihilate the whole world and scare everyone into surrendering. But such an act would violate the rules of the game; it would break the concept of independence of emotion and desire. Rama is only interested in arousing the loving sentiments that naturally exist inside of every living entity. Therefore He takes to pleasurable activities designed to attract those who want to be attached to spirit.

“Being fearless under Your protection, O intelligent one, I wish to see all the rivers, mountains and lakes of the forest.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 27.16)

As part of His pastimes, Rama roamed the forests of India with His beautiful wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana. When the Lord enjoys, He doesn’t do so alone. He has eternally liberated associates who join Him in the execution of His pastimes. Sita Devi and Lakshmana are not of this world, for their activities even validate this fact. One cannot hear Sita Devi’s kind words of wisdom and loving sentiments and take her to be an ordinary woman, princess, or daughter. Lakshmana and Rama’s other brothers were similarly spotless in character.

Sita and Rama The Lord’s transcendental entourage is not limited to only His relatives. His dealings with Shri Hanuman and the other Vanaras shows the universal brotherhood shared amongst all forms of life who are dedicated to God. As part of His pastimes, Rama had to take up the rescue of Sita, who was one day kidnapped from the forest by a demon named Ravana. As an actor playing a coveted role, Shri Rama gave the impression of an ordinary human being from time to time. Assuming the spiritual dress of a warrior prince, Rama didn’t display celestial powers or strengths on a regular basis. He fought His enemy with a simple bow and arrow, aided by the chanting of mantras imparted to Him by the venerable Vishvamitra Muni. To help find Sita, Rama enlisted the help of a band of Vanaras, monkey-like humans, living in the forest of Kishkindha. Their lead warrior was a pious individual named Hanuman.

The monkey-king Sugriva vouched for Hanuman’s abilities. Assigning Hanuman with the task of finding Sita, Sugriva offered him the highest praise. Prior to the departure of the monkey host, Shri Rama gave Hanuman His ring. The ring was inscribed with Rama’s name, and it was to serve as a token of identification for Sita. Sita had never met Hanuman up to that point, so the ring would signal to her that Hanuman was a friend of Rama. Hanuman then kindly bowed his head to the Lord and went off on his search along with the other monkeys.

Rama giving ring to Hanuman In the above referenced quote, Lord Rama is praising Hanuman, extolling his virtues and telling him to let all his transcendental qualities loose. Hanuman was extraordinarily strong, pious, brave, resolute and intelligent. Shri Rama here is telling him to tap into all of his abilities and to hold nothing back in the quest to find Sita. Rama boldly declares that He depends fully on Hanuman’s abilities, as he is the best of the monkeys [hari vara].

When a conditioned living entity becomes free from the effects of material nature, their body and mind fuse into an entity that is completely spiritual. The natural knowledge, spiritual strength and bliss that belong to the soul shine through all corners of the body. Shri Hanuman, an eternally liberated soul, has nothing to do with material nature or illusion. Lord Rama, knowing this, asked Hanuman to use all of his spiritual strengths for the highest cause. Rama’s faith and words of wisdom speak to the greatness of Hanuman and the mindset required for achieving liberation. We may not be as strong as Shri Hanuman, but by remembering his example and exerting ourselves fully for the right cause, we can similarly be in the good graces of the Lord.

Hanuman Hanumanji is often depicted with Sita and Rama residing within his heart. In the state where one’s only desire is to be in the Lord’s company at all times, there is never any denial of service or withholding of love and affection. Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are always with Hanuman, irrespective of time, place, circumstance, or any other change in outward condition. Hanuman would go on to find Sita, return information of her whereabouts to Sugriva and Rama, and help the Lord defeat Ravana and rescue the divine princess. To this day, Hanuman is worshiped by millions around the world for his bravery, dedication, unselfishness and pious nature. He possesses every quality required for the execution of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga.

There are certainly many other types of yoga, but they all culminate with bhakti. Loving devotion to the Lord is the highest practice in both the spiritual and material worlds. In fact, any place that bhakti-yoga is performed properly can be considered the spiritual world. By following the example of Hanuman and other great Vaishnavas, we can turn our present miserable condition into a positive one. Goswami Tulsidas immortalized Hanumanji in his famous poem, the Hanuman Chalisa. If we remember all the great servants of the Lord and ask them for their help, success in our yoga practice will be guaranteed. Wherever we are and whatever situation we find ourselves in, we can always remember the Lord, His pastimes, His associates and His names by chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The love the Lord feels for His devotees, especially Hanuman, unlocks the mystery of life, our reason for living. Hanuman lives every day to the fullest by thinking of Sita and Rama, and by always thinking of Hanuman, we can do no wrong.

Krishna’s Mercy Newsletter – February 2011

New eBook Published

Lord Rama:  The Shelter for the Saints

We have taken our series of articles pertaining to the discussion between Sita Devi and Lord Rama about the Lord’s promise to protect the innocent brahmanas of the forest of Dandaka and published them in an eBook titled Lord Rama: The Shelter for the Saints. The title is available in a wide variety of formats - including epub, pdf and mobi - that can be downloaded from Amazon Kindle, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, and the iBooks store on the iPad and iPhone. Below are the links for downloading:



Barnes and Noble:

Book Recommendation

Nectar of Devotion

Title: The Nectar of Devotion

Author: His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

ISBN: 978-1-60293-008-7

Synopsis: A summary study of Shrila Rupa Gosvami’s Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu, this wonderful work provides great insight and detail into the Supreme Lord’s qualities and the different manifestations and symptoms of pure divine love, or bhakti. When discussing the transcendental topics and truths found in the Vedas, the philosophical points are so profound that one can actually remove all hints of theology from them and still get most of the points across. Yet greater than the philosophy is its founder, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Shrila Prabhupada, as he so wonderfully does in all of his works, blends a perfect balance of philosophy and sentiment in this summary study that describes Shri Krishna so well. Among many other poems, descriptions and pastimes, the sixty-four qualities of Krishna are presented, with accompanying historical examples illustrating the exhibition of such transcendental features. This book is a great accompaniment to the Krishna Book which describes the Lord and His pastimes in even greater detail.

From the Archive

Here is a past article titled “Like a Fish Out of Water”

Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana “O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)

Each person is born with specific qualities, or gunas as they are referred to in Sanskrit. The presence of guna and karma is what defines the material world. In the Vedic texts, sometimes God is described as nirguna, meaning without attributes, and sometimes as saguna, meaning with attributes. Every living entity possesses gunas, but God never does. When He descends to earth and takes a human form, He may be described as saguna, but that doesn’t mean that His body is material. It is a grave error to think this way. God is never conditioned in the way that we are. In the spiritual world He is sometimes described as nirguna because He has no set material form, but He is still a person nonetheless.

When the living entities come to the material world, they accept gunas based on their karma. Based on fruitive desires and work performed in the past, a spirit soul is put into an appropriate body. The three gunas are sattva (goodness), rajo (passion), and tamo (ignorance). Just as when we mix various chemical elements together in different proportions we can produce varying compounds, so the infinite combinations of gunas combine to create the various 8,400,000 species.

A person inherits specific characteristics based on the type of body given to them by nature. For example, the aquatic species have gills, meaning they can only survive in the water, whereas human beings are meant to live on land. Penguins have a body suitable for living in colder climates; birds can live on tree branches since they can fly high in the sky, and so on. This is all part of nature. There is nothing anyone can do to change these realities, though human beings have spent a lot of time trying. We invested much time, energy, and money in space exploration, but the Vedas tell us that this is all a waste of time. If we want to go to the moon or the sun, or anywhere else in space, God will happily give us a suitable body for such purposes. We needn’t try to travel to these places in our present bodily form because such efforts will always prove to be futile. Man has gone to the moon, but only after building large spacecrafts. There is nothing natural about a man living on the moon or any other planet except earth. In a similar manner, man doesn’t need to try to fly, for birds already have that capability. God specifically gave us this human form of life so that we could use it for the highest purpose, that of knowing and loving Him.

Lord Rama God has incarnated hundreds of thousands of times; actually too many times to even count. From the authoritative scriptures such as the Puranas and Mahabharata, we get an idea of some of the primary incarnations. One of them was Lord Rama, a pious prince who took birth as the eldest son of Maharaja Dashratha, the king of Ayodhya. Dashratha was part of a long line of chivalrous kings descending from Ikshvaku, one of the first kings in history. Rama was dedicated to dharma and possessed a flawless character; He was loved and adored by all the citizens. In each incarnation, the Lord performs specific pastimes, referred to as His lila, to teach a lesson to His devotees. One such pastime was Lord Rama’s acceptance of a fourteen year exile period handed out by Dashratha. Coming on the eve of His would-be coronation as the new king, Rama took the news in stride and prepared for His departure without much fanfare. His wife, Sita Devi, and younger brother, Lakshmana, however, didn’t take to the news very well. Lakshmana was quite outraged and begged His brother to remain in the kingdom and overtake the throne by force.

Not willing to do that, Rama left for the forest along with Sita and Lakshmana. Early on in their journey, Rama started to lament the plight of His father and mother, so He asked Lakshmana to return to the kingdom and take care of them. In the above referenced statement, Lakshmana is responding to Rama’s request by boldly declaring that both he and Sita could not live without Him, for they would be like fish out of water living in a kingdom devoid of Rama.

These are qualities exhibited by only the most advanced devotees. A bhakta, or devotee, dedicates their life completely to God. While most of us look for happiness in the areas of sense gratification, economic development, or ritualistic religious performances, devotees abandon all these things in favor of direct service to God. He is their only hope and savior, for they know that God is the reservoir of all pleasure. Life with Him is pure bliss and anything else is pure misery. Bhaktas reach an advanced stage of consciousness where they can only think of God at all times.

“Both of you, husband and wife, constantly think of Me as your son, but always know that I am the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By thus thinking of Me constantly with love and affection, you will achieve the highest perfection: returning home, back to Godhead.” (Lord Krishna speaking to Vasudeva and Devaki, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.3.45)

Krishna with His parents Being God conscious is actually the constitutional position of the spirit soul but, through contact with material nature and God’s illusory energy known as maya, the living entities become bewildered into thinking only of material sense gratification and forgetting about God altogether. Material life means always making plans. “I will eat this type of food from now and that will make me happy. I will avoid this particular activity because I am getting very bored of it. I will buy such and such technological device and that will make life so much easier.” These are some of the plans we make, but none of them ever pan out. We are always left wanting more. It’s not our fault since that is how nature is supposed to act. Maya is always throwing things in our way, foiling our every plan because that’s actually what we want. Maya says, “Okay, you want to make new plans? Fine. I will keep throwing obstacles in your way so that you can do just that. After all, isn’t that what you want?” If we could be truly happy in this material world, we would never need to make any plans or adjustments.

Our real position is that of servants of God. God is great and, bereft of His company, we are anything but great. He is the master and we are the servant. He is the fire and we are the sparks emanating from that fire. These are some of the ways the Lord is described in the great Vedic texts. Our real home is in the spiritual world with God. The spiritual planets of Krishnaloka and Vaikuntha are where we are meant to stay. That is where the Lord resides in His original form and also in His various expansions. There are other heavenly planets, but they are all part of this material world, meaning residence there is not permanent. Those who go back home, back to Godhead, never have to take birth again.

“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. And anyone who reaches it never comes back to this material world." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.6)

Hanuman - the perfect devotee Just as fish struggle when taken out of water, we living entities struggle in this material world without God. That is the essence of what Lakshmana is saying. “Don’t leave us in the kingdom without You. We can never be happy in Your absence.” Lord Rama eventually acquiesced, allowing Lakshmana and Sita Devi to accompany Him during His exile period. While travelling in the woods together, Sita and Lakshmana were as happy as they had ever been. This is because they were executing devotional service directly in the presence of the Lord Himself. Later on, even in Rama’s absence, Sita Devi managed to survive the toughest of circumstances by always keeping her mind fixed on the lotus feet of Rama. By following in the footsteps of great devotees, we too can make the best use of a bad bargain. By always thinking of God, chanting His names, reading His books, and worshiping His deity, we can survive any material condition. In the spiritual world, God is constantly being glorified and worshiped by His pure devotees. If we can create the same environment here, our minds can swim in an ocean of bliss.

Krishna's Mercy

Friday, February 4, 2011

Body My Holding Cell

Lord Krishna “The individual soul in the body of a baby cannot show the full power and potency of a grown man, but the Supreme Personality of Godhead Krishna, even when lying on the lap of His mother as a baby, could exhibit His full potency and power by killing Putana and other demons who tried to attack Him. Therefore the spiritual potency of the Supreme Personality of Godhead is said to be eka-rasa, or without change.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

The relationship between the individual and the Supreme Controller, or God, is a subject of interest for those who have accepted the truth of God’s existence. The first realization for the spiritually conscious conditioned human being, that of understanding that man is fallible and destined to die, is not a very difficult conclusion to reach. After all, simply by observing recorded history and the current events around us we can see that no one lives forever. Perceiving the temporary nature of the visible world, the inquisitive mind ponders the justification behind forced death and the reason for life in the first place. These questions, when followed by a search for knowledge along a bona fide path, lead the sincere soul to the understanding of God’s existence. Yet simply knowing that God resides in the spiritual sky or that He is great is not enough to cause a change in activities. For the awareness of imminent death and the permanence of the spiritual sky to be acted upon, the relationship to the Lord must be defined. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide much insight about this most sublime of connections. Though many statements of scripture, including that of “eka-rasa”, tend to point to the sameness between individuals and the Divine Controller, there is still a stark difference in potencies. The dichotomy is fully exhibited in the transcendental activities performed by the Personality of Godhead while on earth, especially those feats of strength seen during His childhood.

Vasudeva carrying Krishna Can God come to earth? Can He have a childhood? These questions only exist due to the differences in qualities between individuals and the Supreme Lord. Individuals are known as atmas, or souls, whereas the Supreme Person is known as Paramatma. The prefix “para” is added to denote superiority, an absence of fallibility without even a trace of a penchant towards illusion. The individual soul is more technically known as jivatma since it has the tendency to fall down into a realm where it must assume temporary bodies. The guaranteed nature of death is attributable directly to birth; without birth there cannot be death. The jivatma, which is constitutionally spirit, has no involvement with birth or death, but since it falls down into a temporary world, it must be given a set of clothes to wear. Since the realm itself is temporary, so must be the clothes that are worn. Since death is guaranteed for anyone who takes birth, there must be a visible change to the qualities of the outfit assumed by the entity taking birth. These changes are driven by the forces of time, which make use of its two most powerful tools: old age and disease. When we combine the four factors together, we see that life in the temporary world involves birth, old age, disease and death.

“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)

Throughout the exterior changes seen in the phenomenal world, the soul does not change, for the very makeup of spirit is immutability, knowledge, bliss and eternality. These properties are inherited from the soul’s life partner, the spiritual link if you will. Each individual has an unbreakable bond to the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky. The Vedas often mention oneness in the makeup of the souls in relation with the Lord and also a oneness in the relationship. These statements are indeed true, but when not properly understood, the mind can be drawn into delusion, the greatest form of which manifests when the individual takes themselves to be Supreme. The jivatma can never become the Paramatma, yet by unharnessed mental speculation not grounded in any reality, the individual can certainly declare themselves to be God and be confident of their faulty assertion.

Krishna subduing the Kaliya serpent So how do we know that the people who claim to be God are wrong? To the sober man, the differences between God and man are obvious, but to help us break down the faulty logic in an authorized way, one that goes beyond simple sentiment and common sense, a brief compare and contrast is required. We know from our birth that our individual soul was forced to accept an outer covering. We know that this event was forced because we have no memory of ever having decided to take birth in the particular womb that we did; nor did we have any say as to what type of body we would receive and which country we would appear in. Simply from the fact that we can’t remember these critical events, the presence of fallibility is understood. The Vedas will accurately point out that these defects are products of the outer covering and not the soul itself. Nevertheless, if the soul is so powerful, why does it lack control over the most important moment in each life: birth? Our parents and grandparents protected us during the first few years of our life, but we have no memory of these incidents. We don’t remember learning how to crawl, walk, or talk, yet this education most certainly took place.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Bg. 4.5)

The Paramatma, however, remembers everything. Since this spiritual entity is a direct expansion of the Supreme Lord, there are no defects or forced migrations in the spiritual sense. The Paramatma kindly accompanies the individual atma from body to body. The kind travel of the Supersoul, which is voluntarily accepted, allows the individual to remain connected with the Supreme Lord, their best friend and supreme object of pleasure. Whatever memory we do have only pertains to the experiences of the current life. The Paramatma, however, can remember not only all the incidents of our current life, but of previous ones as well. In addition, the Supreme Lord is conscious of the events pertaining to every single form of life on earth. This power exclusively held by the Supreme Lord speaks to His unmatched abilities, thus providing concrete evidence of the fact that man can never become God.

Mother Yashoda with Krishna Vedic information gives much detail about the nature of the soul, an entity that is highly powerful and a constant torchlight of knowledge. Flashlights and lamps need some sort of energy source to remain lit, but the soul is self-illuminating. This property is present in every single soul, regardless of the particular body type. This brings us to the most striking area of distinction between God and man. The soul, though always glowing with the light of transcendental knowledge and love, can have its properties masked by the temporary body it assumes. The best illustration of this masking effect is seen with the human infant. The small child, though possessing a high potential for intelligence, is incapable of doing anything tangible. At most it can cry as a form of communication, drink milk that it is offered, and produce waste. With these limited functions, the infant is completely dependent on the elders to protect and take care of it. The infant could not survive without the aid of others. Yet we know from the properties of the soul that the infant is very powerful. It has the torchlight of knowledge, but due to its temporary form of body, its natural potencies become temporarily masked.

The imposed limiting factors apply not only to the infant, but to every type of temporary body. Even in the mature stage, the individual is still limited in its capabilities. It may be able to understand the high philosophy of Vedanta, but it still cannot remember experiences of lives past. Even if the individual could conjure up some memories through mystic meditational practices, nothing tangible can be done with such information. No individual, regardless of their body type, is able to create, maintain, and destroy on the level of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Moreover, no individual entity can provide the same pleasure to the multitudes of spirit souls that God can. The individual soul can never expand itself into infinite forms and reside as the impartial witness in the hearts of all forms of life. There is always equality amongst life forms, but the sameness is due only to the presence of the soul. The outer dresses are always different, with some life forms being extremely powerful and some not. Even the celestials in the sky, the demigods whom many take to worshiping, are trapped in temporary bodies. Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of the famous Lord Rama, once very accurately pointed out that even Indra, the lord of the material heavenly realm, has to suffer through defeat and heartache from time to time. Lakshmana says that any entity that is dehinam, or embodied, must endure temporary losses and gains, for that is the nature of the body type assumed.

“O best of men, what to speak of demigods and even great beings [planets] – every living entity who accepts a material body becomes subject to the influence of destiny.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.12)

Lakshmana The Supreme Lord is not dehinam, so such defects are absent in His sportive exploits. Like the individual souls, the Paramatma is extremely powerful and never subject to illusion. Yet the difference is that God’s powers can be exhibited in any form. None of His abilities are ever masked by any outward dress because the Supreme Lord can never associate with a temporary nature. As the controller and creator of the material world, God has no way of succumbing to its effects. For the original Divine Being, there is never a difference between body and spirit. Even if He appears on earth in a temporary body, the outer covering remains completely spiritual. Our abilities are limited by the outward dress that we assume, but since God’s outward dress is always spiritual, it has no effect on His potencies.

As example is better than precept, understanding these concepts is made easier by seeing them in action. Due to the Lord’s causeless mercy, He not only gives us the detailed information of the Vedas, but He also comes to earth from time to time to show all the fools who think they are God that they have lost all their intelligence. It would be one thing if Krishna appeared on earth and performed all of His miraculous feats as an adult, but that still wouldn’t fully display the spiritual nature of His body. After all, we see adults do extraordinary things quite often in this world, even though their feats are still no match for the Lord’s. In order to fully convey the idea that He is eka-rasa, or without change, Krishna performs some of the most difficult tasks while in bodies that are seemingly powerless.

Lord Krishna As mentioned before, the infant is incapable of doing anything on its own. When Krishna came to earth some five thousand years ago, He also assumed the outward form of an infant right after birth. His years in this form were spent in the farm community of Vrindavana, which was headed by a heart-pleasing king named Nanda and his wife Yashoda. All the residents of the town loved Krishna very much, for they were enamored by His beauty, superexcellent features and loving nature. Just as the strength potency of the Lord is not limited to His particular form of body, so His ability to give pleasure to others is not dependent on features of His external body. Even as a child, Krishna is the most beautiful person the world has ever seen, the only source of pleasure and tranquility to those who are desperately seeking a higher taste.

Krishna’s beautiful outward features certainly showed that He was God, but the fact that He gave others pleasure as an infant didn’t necessarily point to anything extraordinary. Even the Mayavadi, one who thinks himself to be equal to God, can claim to have been the source of pleasure to elders when they were a child. To show that He is not limited by His outward dress, Krishna arranged for demon after demon to come to Vrindavana to try to kill Him. Externally, the impetus for these ill-fated attempts came from the demoniac king of the neighboring town of Mathura named Kamsa. After a prophecy had warned Kamsa that his sister Devaki’s eighth son would kill him, Kamsa had his sister and her husband Vasudeva locked up. After killing Devaki’s first seven children, Kamsa was unable to get his hands on her eighth child, Krishna. Immediately after His appearing from the womb of Mother Devaki, the Lord managed to leave Mathura through the help of Vasudeva. Hearing that Devaki’s eighth child had been born and taken away, Kamsa’s counselors advised him to have all children born within the previous ten days in the neighboring towns killed. Heeding their advice, Kamsa dispatched various demons to carry out the cruel deed.

One such demon was Putana, who was essentially a female witch. She assumed the form of a beautiful woman and entered Vrindavana. During those times, it was not uncommon for various mothers to nurse newborn children. In a close-knit community like Vrindavana, all the neighbors were considered extended family, so if a mother needed help raising a child, there were plenty of people around to help. The closeness of the residents of Vrindavana reinforces the fact that country life is in the mode of goodness, or the most pure material quality. When people live in peace in the country, with life sustained by farming and cow protection, there is generally less strife and minimal competition for resources. Since there is ample property to play on, children are quite happy. Instead of being skeptical of unknown visitors coming on your property, strangers are generally welcomed with open arms.

Krishna killing Putana Due to her exquisite beauty and the kind-hearted nature of the residents of Vrindavana, who were all drowned in an ocean of bliss due to direct association with Krishna, no one objected to Putana’s coming right into Krishna’s room and taking Him on her lap. No one knew who this woman was, but since she was so nicely dressed and in the form of a beautiful woman, they all assumed that she was a member of the community or closely related to Krishna. Putana had prepared beforehand by smearing poison on her breast. Taking Krishna in her lap, she began to feed Him her milk. Lord Krishna, even while in the form of a helpless child, can never succumb to the effects of any outward lethal object. Instead of rejecting the breast of Putana, Krishna gladly sucked whatever milk she was offering. In fact, Krishna began to force the milk out so hard that Putana soon felt great discomfort. Wanting to remove the baby from her breast, she was unable to do so. In the ensuing frantic struggle, she assumed her true hideous witch form and begged for Krishna to let go of her breast. Krishna, of course, would not let go of His vice grip. Finally, Putana’s life force escaped her and entered the mouth of Krishna. Her massive body then tumbled onto the pasturing ground, knocking down many trees. Throughout this tumultuous event, Krishna was just fine, pretending as if nothing had happened. The women quickly scooped Him up off of Putana’s dead body and prayed for His protection. They couldn’t believe that He could survive such an incident without injury.  They loved Krishna so much that they never took Him to be the Supreme Lord.

For the individual souls, such a feat of strength and invincibility is impossible. Not only was Krishna not hurt from this incident, but Putana was immediately granted liberation, the end of the cycle of birth and death; such is the mercy of the Lord that even a horrible female demon like Putana was granted the wonderful benediction of acting as the Lord’s mother. Though after hearing of this incident others may be surprised by Krishna’s activities, for devotees there is no difficulty in believing of His astonishing powers. When the Vedas say that Krishna’s hands and legs are everywhere, it means that His reach and His abilities are too far for anyone to fathom. Even in the form of a tiny infant, He is capable of the most amazing feats. By regularly hearing of such incidents, we can better understand the differences that exist between the individual souls and God. Moreover, we can slowly but surely regain our firm attachment to the Lord through the bond of transcendental love. When pure love for God remains tightly secured around our consciousness at the time of death, we will be rewarded with the greatest benediction: eternal association with Krishna in the Supreme Sky.

Krishna and His pastimes In the spiritual land, there is always oneness in the relationship between God and His exalted associates. Each side forever remains respectful to their role, with God acting as the reservoir of pleasure, and the individuals serving as the source of that pleasure. Though the roles are different, there is an equality shared by both parties, as they are equally as responsible for the blissful nature of the exchanges. As individuals, our duty is to remain firmly established in the role of transcendental loving servitor, without change. Irrespective of the type of body we assume, devotional service to Krishna should never be renounced, for as soon as it is, every unwanted condition imaginable results. Even if we forget our natural role, it is ours to reassume at any time should we choose to. In this way, not only is Krishna the most powerful and pleasurable, but the most merciful as well.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

The Moon and The Stars

Hanuman “Then taking with him the leading monkeys of great strength, that monkey, the brave son of the wind-god, looked like the moon of pure orb in the sky after the parting of the clouds, brightened by a cluster of stars. (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.16)

sa tat prakarṣan hariṇām mahat balam

babhūva vīraḥ pavanātmajaḥ kapiḥ |

gata aṃbude vyomni viśuddha maṇḍalaḥ

śaśī iva nakṣatra gaṇopaśobhitaḥ

The sight of the glowing moon in the sky accompanied by bright stars is a thing of beauty. The brilliance of the scene reaches true perfection when the clouds have parted, allowing for the natural radiance of the celestial bodies to shine down to earth. This most beautiful occurrence of nature best compares to the wonderful beauty and glow that radiated off of Shri Hanuman, who was accompanied by his Vanara associates, when he embarked on a special task, the locating of a lost princess. Since the assigned duty involved service to the one person who is more worthy of our service than anyone else, the inner light of devotion and love shone through in these great personalities.

Hanuman Shri Hanuman is one of the most celebrated divine figures in the world. Though he has the outward appearance of a Vanara, which is a monkey-like human, he possesses not a single defect. The Vanara form of body is certainly not perfect, and neither is the human form. Any material body has limitations, so what really counts is what one makes of their current condition. There is the famous saying that if life gives you lemons, make lemonade. From the material point of view, Hanuman certainly was handed a lemon of a body. A monkey is known for its insatiable appetite for intoxication and sex life. When these two activities are at the forefront of consciousness, intelligence naturally suffers. Hanuman lived with a band of other Vanaras in the forest of Kishkindha on the top of a mountain many thousands of years ago. The monkeys themselves would often point to the deficiencies borne of their race when making mistakes. An example of this was seen with Sugriva, the king of the Vanaras at the time, and the mistake he made of not repaying a favor owed to the Most Favorable.

The monkeys lived on Mount Rishyamukha for a reason. Sugriva had a brother named Vali, and the two had become mortal enemies. On one occasion, Vali was engaged in a fight which led him into a cave. Vali told Sugriva to wait outside the cave for him to return. After a short while, Sugriva heard the sound of someone dying. The voice sounded quite similar to Vali’s, but Sugriva decided to wait outside the cave anyway. After a long while had passed, Sugriva finally decided to leave. He made sure to close up the hole in the cave to keep Vali’s killer from escaping.

Not surprisingly, Vali had actually come out victorious, and when he saw that the cave was closed up, he became irate. He accused Sugriva of hatching a scheme to kill him and take over the kingdom. Thus a fight ensued, and since Sugriva was inferior in fighting ability, he was driven out of the kingdom. Sugriva surely would have died were it not for a curse a sage had previously laid upon Vali. This curse kept Mount Rishyamukha off-limits to Vali, thus making it an ideal sanctuary for Sugriva and his associates.

Rama and Lakshmana meeting Hanuman While residing there, Sugriva was once visited by Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead in human form. The incarnation of God is certainly a wonderful benediction provided to the conditioned living entities. The Vedic assertion, one based on information passed down from the highest authority figures, is that the spirit souls residing in the material world are here due to their desire to imitate the Supreme Lord. This viewpoint is affirmed in the behavior exhibited by the conditioned souls. It is our natural penchant to think that we are God in varying magnitudes. The husband thinks he is the supreme controller of the house, the businessman of his company, the mayor of his town, the president of his country, etc. Even the social welfare worker thinks they are God in the sense that they believe they can successfully redistribute income amongst society at large. The welfare workers feel that through the proper efforts of government action and charitable giving poverty can be eliminated. A similar mentality is adopted by those who wish to eradicate other unpalatable conditions, such as diseases, abuse against the innocent, and environmental destruction.

While the intentions of the champions of each of the aforementioned causes may or may not be noble, there is an inherent ignorance that serves as the catalyst for action. We may have certain control over a particular field of activity, but there is no way we can control the behavior of the millions of entities in the universe. Moreover, nature is much more powerful than we are. Yet the mindset of “I am God” continues perpetually even when faced with defeat, chaos, despair and disappointment. To allow the conditioned living entities who are trying to imitate Supreme Spirit to understand their true purpose in life, God often comes to earth in the guise of an ordinary human being. The Divine appearance, known as the coming of an avatara, allows the conditioned soul to take up their natural engagement, loving service to God. Devotional service didn’t become a “natural” occupation at any point in time. It has always existed and will continue to exist in the future; such is the meaning of dharma, or an essential characteristic. Dharma never changes. The law codes provided by the Vedas are as good today as they were millions of years ago.

The “I am God” mentality is the cause of the flawed notion that somehow man today is more evolved and thus requires a new set of law codes. To those following this model, the Vedas have become outdated. They are viewed as scriptures providing rules and regulations that don’t make sense anymore.  But in actuality, not only are the pearls of Vedic wisdom timeless in their effectiveness, but they are even explained in ways that never become outdated.  For example, the Mahabharata and other famous Vedic texts go into great detail about how society should be managed by government, including with respect to the issue of taxes. In today’s world, taxes are a hot-button issue. If you are in favor of low taxes, you gain the good graces of the producers, but then the vulture-like competitors, those purely driven by envy, will hate you. They will accuse the low-tax advocates of siding with rich businessmen who are exploiting the common man. The vulture believes that an entity should be taxed very highly as a form of punishment and as a way of transferring wealth back to the proper owners.

Lord Krishna with cows Though this issue is insignificant in the bigger picture, the Vedas don’t gloss over it.  Rather, Vedic tenets call for taxes to be set at a certain amount; a fixed measure that is rarely to be raised. The typical tax rate listed is one sixth of a producer’s income. This number wasn’t just hatched up on a whim or imposed as a way to benefit a certain class of men. Rather, there is logical reasoning behind it. The purpose of a government is to spend money on necessary expenditures, the primary of which involve protecting the innocent. If the government doesn’t protect innocent life and property, who will? In order to spend money, the government needs a source of income, i.e. taxes. But if you tax a person or business too much, they will lose their incentive to produce. For example, if we were to raise the tax rate to one hundred percent for a given year, the amount of tax revenue collected would actually be zero. The intended result would be a huge windfall in tax dollars, but since the money is essentially being confiscated, there would be absolutely no production. The Mahabharata uses the analogy of milking a cow to describe how to properly tax. If all of a cow’s milk is taken, there will be none left for the calves; hence there will be starvation. Yet if the cow is allowed to roam freely and have enough milk to give to its dependents, it will produce a seemingly endless supply of milk for the owner. When taxation is described in these terms, the tenets can be universally understood, in any era. The principles of taxation and good governance don’t change based on time, circumstance, or which political party currently holds office.

Just as the ancient law codes of the Vedas have the same efficacy today as they did in the past, the natural disposition of the soul remains the same regardless of time or circumstance. There are certainly differences in the makeup and behavior of society at particular times. In some eras, man is generally pious, while in others he is not. Therefore the incarnation tailors its appearance to fit the mood of the time. During the Treta Yuga, society was quite deferent to dharma and law codes, so the Lord appeared as an extremely pious and chivalrous prince named Rama. Ironically enough, the Lord had also previously appeared in the guise of a warrior, who was named Parashurama, yet His demeanor was quite different. Parashurama dealt with a degraded kshatriya order by killing them twenty-one times over.

Lord Rama Rama had a different demeanor, one that was appealing to the people of the time. Yet His life was not without mishap and misfortune. God can never suffer in any way, but during His time on earth, the divine power known as Yogamaya comes and gives Him a helping hand. This energy is supremely powerful and works under the direct supervision of the Lord. Yogamaya gives the appearance of inflicting ordinary suffering and calamity, but since her effects relate to the Supreme Lord and the devotees, there is really no discomfort to the incarnation, who is always aloof from the effects of material nature.

Yogamaya’s workings led to Rama’s exile from the kingdom of Ayodhya. Forced to roam the forests as a recluse for fourteen years, Rama took with Him His younger brother Lakshmana and wife Sita Devi. The illusory energy operating directly under God’s orders would work her magic again when Sita would be kidnapped from the forest by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Rama and Lakshmana, in their search for Sita, eventually made their way to Kishkindha. Rama met up with Sugriva through Hanuman’s efforts. The Lord agreed to help Sugriva defeat Vali in return for his help in finding Sita. Rama held up His end of the bargain, but Sugriva got lost in the enjoyments of regal life. When a good period of time had passed since Rama’s help was offered, Lakshmana angrily approached Sugriva to find out what was going on. Sugriva apologized and blamed his monkey nature for his transgression.

Rama shooting Vali After regaining sight of the task at hand, Sugriva dispatched his enormous army of monkeys around the world to find Sita. Hanuman was his chief minister, so Sugriva knew that if anyone would be able to find Sita, it would be Hanuman. After Sugriva extolled the heroic monkey’s virtues, Shri Rama did the same and then gave him His ring to give to Sita. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, Hanuman and the Vanaras are embarking on their journey. Hanuman is described as being exquisitely beautiful, like the bright moon in the cloudless sky accompanied by multitudes of stars.

The more pure a devotee becomes, the more their natural luster shines through. Hanuman and the Vanaras, though possessing outward appearances that seemed wild and uncivilized, were engaged in pure devotional service. They were given a task by God Himself, and they took the completion of their assigned mission to be their life and soul. Since their motives were pure, their dharma, or essential characteristic, came to the forefront as they began their task. In a similar manner, if we adopt our proper life’s engagement, that of returning to the spiritual world by linking our consciousness with the Divine’s interests, we too can shine bright. Though dharma never changes, the exact methods of practicing it can vary due to changes in effectiveness. The end-result, thinking of God at the time of death, is the same, but the exact roadmap for achieving this result can vary based on time and circumstance. In the current age, the recommended process for rekindling God consciousness is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

Hanuman and his pastimes Chanting certainly seems like a simple, child-like process. The effects, however, are anything but inferior. As a result of regularly saying the Lord’s names with love and dedication, our natural proclivity towards service to the Supreme Spirit will eventually come out. The cloud of ignorance currently shields our natural inner-beauty. Through chanting and devotional service in general, the clouds of nescience can part. When they do, the Supreme Lord will appreciate us in the same way that He was endeared to the Vanaras and Hanuman for their selfless dedication, bravery, sincerity and singularity of purpose.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Gateway to Freedom

Lord Krishna “At the present moment the human society teaches one to love his country or family or his personal self, but there is no information where to repose the loving propensity so that everyone can become happy. That missing point is Krishna, and the process of devotional service teaches us how to stimulate our original love for Krishna and how to be situated in that position where we can enjoy our blissful life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krsna, the Reservoir of Pleasure)

To be successfully convinced of a new way of thinking, a new philosophy on life, one’s current philosophy needs to be challenged. A successful challenge is mounted when the information presented sinks in with the target audience. Of all the methods of information transport, none is more potent and better at delivering results than hearing. More powerful than seeing or witnessing in person, hearing, when tied to the proper source and subject matter, directly attacks the thought processes of the listener. Through active listening, thought and argument are immediately provoked, forcing the recipient to take stock of their current worldview and philosophy on life. Once argument is provoked, the challenger either mounts a response or shows an eagerness to hear more of the counterargument. When faced with the most difficult task in life, that of finding our way out of the endless cycle of birth and death brought on by material contact, the solution is to take to the hearing process, lending our ears and thoughts to topics relating to that one person who can give us the pleasure we are so desperately looking for: Lord Krishna.

Freedom is described as a natural yearning, but why do we need it? Are we not already free in the world that we currently live in? In the arenas of politics and human affairs, the restrictions imposed on movement and choice are always at issue. By applying a little intelligence, one can realize that initially all forms of life were free. Even the animals were allowed to roam freely on the earth, choosing what to eat, where to live, and how to enjoy. If the animals are afforded this uninhibited motion, then surely the human beings must as well. The difference between a human being and an animal is that a person has a much larger capacity for intelligence. Potential is meaningless unless tapped into, so if the human being doesn’t make the most of their advanced form of body, they remain at the same level as the animal. The infant human being is actually less intelligent than many adult animal species, yet due to its potential for acquiring knowledge, the human can eventually take to activities guided by the highest knowledge.

Ironically, though the human being has the highest potential for intelligence, it has the most problems. The dog or cat never has to worry about the mortgage payment, in-laws, family squabbles, job security, or an overarching government. Rather, your average animal simply takes to eating, sleeping, mating and defending without any worries. An animal isn’t even wise enough to know that it will eventually die. The human being, though armed with this knowledge, misuses their freedom by taking exclusively to sense gratification, a propensity which mimics the animal species. Though we all start off with independence and total freedom, it is the free exercise of our power that eventually results in tyranny and discomfort.

Lord Krishna True freedom is a state of mind, not an exercise of outward features. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately point out that the identity of the individual, regardless of its particular body type, comes from the spirit soul residing within. Even the animals are identified with their soul and not their outer dress. The purpose of the creation is to allow for the wayward souls, autonomous spiritual entities with limited powers, to imitate the workings and functions of the Supreme Object of Pleasure. God is not a manmade concoction, nor is He an order-supplier working at the will of His children. He is much more than any fictional character or gift-giver; He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Though God is the original enjoyer of everything, He doesn’t exercise this ability alone. Instead, He joyously engages in sportive activities with those who choose to associate with Him. When the desire for the Divine’s association dwindles, the living entities are allowed to pretend to play God on a temporary playing field. Not surprisingly, the result of the game driven by ignorance will always be pain and suffering, due simply to the fact that the greatest enjoyer, and thus the greatest source of pleasure, has nothing to do with the playing field.

From the unhappiness that results from the misuse of free will, we see that there can never be true freedom when God is absent from the thought processes of the living entity. No amount of adjustments or exercises of freedom can bring about a permanent favorable condition in a world devoid of Supreme Spirit. Even in family life, which is seen as the ultimate goal for those who are looking for worldly enjoyments, there is great struggle and pain. Though we may see a nice family that appears to be happy, there is much conflict that is masked. The husband-wife dynamic is a very difficult one to get control over, with each party having their own interests. Just as a football team cannot succeed with two quarterbacks, and an army with more than one head leader, a marriage cannot succeed when both parties take the helm. One person must agree to lead and the other must abide by the instructions of that leader.

Even when the marriage is following these standards, there are other issues to contend with, such as in-laws and children. With divergent viewpoints, there will always be struggle. And based on the fact that every individual in this world has a desire for freedom and the exercise of that free-will there will certainly be clashes. Not everyone will want to exercise their freedom in the same way. Some will want to adhere to the standards of civilized life enjoined by the shastras, or scriptures. Others will want to enjoy all the time, seeking preyas, or short-term gain, and not caring for societal dictates and mores. Therefore it is not surprising to see husbands beating wives, wives cursing out the parents of their husbands, children being mistreated, and divorce. Such issues are the result of desires for freedom meeting at a head and colliding. When two automobiles travelling at high speeds collide, surely the result will be chaos. When the desires associated with independence devoid of God’s association collide with one another, the results are similarly not pretty.

“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.34)

Krishna and Arjuna Though Krishna allowed the wayward souls to descend to the temporary playing field, He is not so unkind as to leave them there permanently unattended. Rather, the doors to the imperishable heavenly realm are always open, provided that one wants to return. In this way, real freedom can be found in a second. The process to secure liberation involves surrender, which results from the purification of desire. For a conditioned soul who has developed an aversion to divine love over many lifetimes to turn around and surrender unto Krishna, they have to be convinced of the validity of the process and the rewards it will provide. To be firmly convinced of an opposing viewpoint, one’s current thought processes have to be challenged. The conditioned mind must be instigated into seriously taking stock of the causes and effects that are visible in the present life and how such a cycle will forever repeat in the absence of spiritual purification.

Approaching someone and pointing out the flaws in their way of life and thought processes is a simple way of stimulating argument and discussion. Personal contact is how most arguments are battled currently, so this practice isn’t necessarily anything new. The effectiveness of such an approach can be debated, but we know for certain that there are some cons to this form of information transfer. For starters, the person being instructed will likely feel threatened in a way and thus immediately be put on guard. As soon as someone else starts telling us that we’re doing something wrong, the initial reaction is, “Who does this person think they are? As if they are so perfect; I’ve seen this person’s flaws, so who are they to talk to me? What do they know anyway?”

The emotional counter-challenge presented really has no relation to the statements previously provided by the challenger. Rather, the defense is one based on instinct, a viewpoint that immediately looks for flaws in the other person’s character and presentation. This isn’t to say that all personal contact follows this line, but certainly there is a great possibility of it. The Vedas, the scriptures passed down from Krishna at the beginning of creation, inform us that there is a superior method of information transfer, one that is most effective at tackling the conditioned entity’s flawed thought processes. This method is the hearing process, and its effectiveness is evidenced by the fact that the Vedas themselves were first passed down through an aural tradition. For many thousands of years, there was no written word or televised addresses given by great leaders. Rather, all important information, that pertaining to the thoughts, words and deeds of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was passed down through the hearing process, with one instructor kindly discoursing on topics relating to Krishna in the company of others. Though there was some personal contact involved, the hearing process was at the forefront, as the audience took in the words, processed them, and passed them on to their dependents.

Though the Vedas and their followers are great advocates of the hearing process, evidence of the effectiveness of acquiring knowledge through hearing can be seen in discussions pertaining to worldly matters as well. For example, say that we presented a political speech to two different people. One person saw the speech given on television by the politician, while the other listened to a radio broadcast of it. The person who heard the speech would likely have much more to say about it later on. In the hearing process, there are no distractions pertaining to visuals. There is no attention paid to the speaker’s appearance and his body signals. In the audible medium, the content speaks for itself, and since the information is directly taken in by the ear, the mind immediately begins to process what it learns. Surely the more controversial elements will not be accepted blindly, but that is a good thing. The listener will have to process the information, decide whether or not they agree with it, and then produce a response.

Worshiping Krishna When the hearing practice is applied to spiritual discourses, the results are outstanding. If we hear lectures about the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Ramayana delivered by lovers of God, the information is directly imparted into our mind. As soon as something unfamiliar is encountered, the brain starts to work. Since the conditioned entity has grown accustomed to separation from Krishna over many births, the natural instinct is to challenge the deliverer of the divine message. The challenging spirit may appear to be detrimental, but it is actually beneficial. When spiritual information is presented by an authority figure, one who is completely surrendered unto Krishna, it is flawless. When the recipient challenges such information, they will have to come up with an argument that is somewhat presentable. When said argument gets subsequently defeated by the speaker, as it surely will, the recipient will have to either regroup or reassess their original thought process. The more times the challenging conditioned entity is defeated in their arguments, the more likely they are to ultimately surrender unto the speaker, who will in turn teach them how to go back home, back to Godhead.

Thus we see that hearing about Krishna represents the gateway to real freedom, a permanent return to the spiritual sky, where every day brings loving association with the only person truly capable of providing happiness. When freedom is misused, the results are troublesome, but when free will is directed at the person who has granted us that independence, the results are unmatched in their brilliance. Understanding how to properly use our freedom is very difficult, so commitment to the hearing process is required. Only through challenging our current thought processes can we be convinced of the supremacy of the sublime engagement known as devotional service. Only when the conditioned entity has firmly established the transcendental practice of chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in their daily lives can the doors to the heavenly kingdom be opened for them.

With the visual transfer of information, such as video and televised programs, the challenge to the thought processes aren’t there. Visual media are intended to appeal to emotion rather than intellect. Emotions are based solely off the attachments to various objects of the senses. The senses themselves are temporary, so simple emotional stimulation is not very conducive to the acquisition of knowledge. If anything, it diverts the attention of the conscientious individual away from the real mission of life, that of returning to the spiritual sky. Hearing, being free of these defects, forces the listener to apply intelligence and reason. It is for this reason that even emotional appeals pertaining to material affairs have a very slim chance of succeeding in mediums such as talk radio. An audience member can find lack of substance anywhere, for ignorance is simply the absence of intelligence. When unintelligence is presented regularly in an audible form, the listener will quickly be able to identify it for what it is: useless information. Ignorance is best transported through visual media; hence the popularity of the debauchery so commonly portrayed in television, news and film.

Lord Krishna Fortunately for us, the exalted Vaishnava saints of the past have documented much of their verbal instruction. Krishna’s liberated associates have no need to perform any activity in this world, but due to their causeless mercy on the fallen souls, the Vaishnavas take to kindly instructing others. By consulting their written instructions found in books like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and commentaries on the same, we can have our thoughts stimulated into natural emotions of pure love for God, or bhava. Reading is another type of hearing, for it is an isolated form of aural reception wherein the inner voice serves as the via-medium for the information transfer. Hearing through reading is greatly effective, as even the outside distractions of the world are removed, allowing the reader to focus specifically on the teachings presented. When the instruction comes from the proper source, i.e. a lover of Krishna, the results will always be favorable.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Starting a New Task

Hanuman with Rama and Lakshmana “Thereupon taking the ring and placing it on his head, with folded hands, that foremost and best of monkeys, praised Rama's lotus feet and then departed.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.15)

sa tat gṛhya hariśreṣṭhaḥ sthāpya mūrdhni kṛtāñjaliḥ |

vanditvā caraṇau caiva prasthitaḥ plavagarṣabhaḥ

Shri Hanuman’s exemplary behavior in this scene shows the proper way to start any new task. The more important the mission, the greater the impetus for surrendering fully to the Supreme Loveable Object, the only entity worthy of our obeisances. Humble submission to the most worthy recipient reminds the performer that success in the mission is not determined strictly by their own effort. Rather, the underlying cause to every event in nature is the hand of the most powerful and original person: God. We may take the impetus for action, but the results are determined by the nature around us, which is under the control of the divine energy. Just as the soul is the driving force behind the activities of the body, the giant soul is the spark behind the complex and unimaginable inner workings of nature. Not only should every task begin with the offering of obeisances to God, but the same level of spiritual consciousness should be active throughout the performance of said tasks. Following this model, the performer is doubly benefitted.

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

Krishna's lotus feet The obvious benefit to performing a task correctly is the realization of the desired result. For example, if we put in long hours at the library and study very rigorously, the likely result is that we will perform well on exams and thus earn a high mark in the class. If we put great effort into building a home, the resulting fruit will be an aesthetically pleasing and peaceful dwelling. Regardless of the complexity or simplicity of the task, the importance of first invoking the names of God and surrendering ourselves fully to Him does not diminish. Goswami Tulsidas, a famous Vaishnava poet, states that following this pattern of behavior will allow us to reap the greatest rewards in life. The desired fruit is not as important as the procedures laid down to procure them because, as we all know, nothing lasts forever. What goes up must come down. Therefore the fruits of our labor will be flickering in two areas. The enjoyment derived from the reward will certainly be short-lived, a fact evidenced by the many different engagements taken up in the course of one’s lifetime. If the fruits of action provided unending bliss, there would be no need to take to new activities in the hopes of acquiring new rewards.

The fruits of labor are also flickering in the duration of their existence. A nice house can last for several decades, but eventually the structure will start to decay and eventually collapse on its own. The current dwelling of the soul, the body, is destined for destruction at the time of death. No object is given more attention than the body, which is a sort of tree that gets watered on a daily basis. The desired fruits come through the enjoyments resulting from engagements in various activities like eating, sleeping, mating and defending.

Since the fruits of action are temporary, as are the enjoyments derived from them, it is more important to go after permanent rewards. By invoking the holy name of God and paying homage to His lotus feet prior to undertaking any important activity, we not only increase the chances of success in the endeavor, but we also ensure that our consciousness will be altered. If we think of the Supreme Lord prior to taking an important examination, when we succeed, we will not only reap the reward of a passing grade, but also that of remembering God. Vishno-smaranam, or remembering Lord Vishnu, throughout a single endeavor increases the likelihood of remembering God again in the future. While the enjoyment from the passing grade on the exam may not last very long, the change in consciousness from the material to the spiritual world can lead to the greatest boon imaginable: liberation.

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

Lord Krishna Those who think of the Supreme Lord at the time of quitting the body no longer have to suffer through birth and death, a reward which also marks the end of fruitive activity. Without the need to associate with karma, one no longer has to work hard for fruits that are unseen and flickering in nature. In the spiritual world, the soul assumes a spiritual body and thus engages full-time in service to the Lord. Transcendental service is not categorized as karma because there are no perishable results that come from it. Moreover, service to the Supreme Spirit is the natural engagement of the liberated soul. Surrender brings about true bliss because it is our constitutional position to be completely dedicated to the one person who will not let us down.

Offering obeisances directly to the Supreme Lord, His authorized deity form, or His representative is a practice adopted by those who are serious about spiritual life. Often times the practice of prostration in spiritual life is shunned by others who are unfamiliar with its purpose. The issue boils down to love, which, when practiced purely, involves complete surrender. The optimal loving relationship between a man and a woman involves complete surrender by both parties, which involves the shedding of all inhibitions and the voluntary relinquishing of control over one’s emotions. When we are surrendered to our senses or to our own well-being, we are essentially in charge of our emotions. Happiness and sadness are determined by the activities that we take up and the mindset that results. In a loving relationship, responsibility for one’s happiness and sadness is handed over to the other party, the object of affection. No one forces us to make this transfer of ownership; we voluntarily give it up.

It is certainly an important step to put someone else in charge of our emotions. So why do we do it? As with any other activity in life, the intended result is pleasure. By loosening our inhibitions and becoming completely vulnerable to our paramour, there is a potential for tremendous bliss. The ideal resulting happiness culminates in the act of making love. It is for this reason that sexual relations in their purified form are referred to as love. In the absence of emotional exchange, the act is no different than animal sex, where the impetus for action is the raw desire to satisfy the demands of the genitals.

So the key ingredient to love is surrender. Issues arise, however, when surrender doesn’t bring palatable results. Indeed, the act of making love doesn’t last very long, so afterwards both parties are left in a state of uncertainty. “Does she still love me? Is she happy with my service to her? What if she leaves me? What will I do?” If the emotional needs of just one party in a loving relationship aren’t met to the proper level of satisfaction, anger, resentment and hatred can result. When the negative emotions become predominant, the loving relationship quickly dissolves, and the parties are left to return to their previous guarded states. Additionally, both individuals will think twice before voluntarily giving up control over their emotions to someone else again.

The flaw in the mundane loving relationship traces directly to fallibility. Love is certainly a natural emotion, as is the desire to surrender fully. Problems arise when the objects of affection are themselves fallible. If we surrender to someone who is incapable of handling the responsibility of our emotions, we will certainly meet frustration. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, tell us that the natural characteristic of the soul is that of a lover. Every single life form, from the insignificant ant to the resident of the heavenly planets, is a lover at heart. The essential characteristic, or dharma, involves a loveable object as well. That person is the Supreme Lord, the Supreme Soul who resides eternally alongside the individual spirit soul.

Radha and Krishna The Supreme Soul is so powerful that He can act as the complementary lover to every single soul in existence. The qualitative makeup between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul is the same, but one entity is superior and the other is inferior. One is meant to serve, while the other is meant to be served. This is the natural order of things. When the server thinks itself to be the served, or if the server decides to offer its service to another server, the resulting condition is unpalatable and not ideal. True bliss and harmony come when the individual soul takes to its dharma, or natural characteristic, by serving the Supreme Lord.

By offering obeisances to the Supreme Lord or one of His authorized representatives, one can slowly but surely come to understand the Supreme Loveable Object’s fixed position. The more fully one surrenders, the more vulnerable they become. The more vulnerable they become, the more the Supreme Lord takes charge for their spiritual well-being. When the served is always remembered by the server, the resulting condition is that of perfect yoga. When one is in perfect yoga at the time of death, the nescience that caused the server to think itself supreme is forever removed.

No matter how strong we are and no matter how big or small the task, we should always offer our obeisances to the Lord first and remember that success in any venture comes through His effort. The great authorities on spirituality and bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, follow this model of behavior. One such devotee is Shri Hanuman. A long time ago, the Supreme Lord incarnated on earth in human form. The Supreme Lord, as the energetic spiritual fire, can never become subject to the forces that He creates. Since He is always worthy of service, when He assumes a body of a human being, the natural order of things is not altered. There is no difference between the Lord’s body and His soul; both aspects are identically spiritual.

Lord Rama with Hanuman Lord Rama was a warrior prince, so He naturally took to protecting the innocent. As mentioned before, the dharma of the individual soul is to serve the Supreme Soul. Keeping this in mind, Rama also created situations which allowed other sincere souls to offer Him their service. One such situation involved the finding of the Lord’s wife, Sita Devi. A demon named Ravana had taken her to his island kingdom of Lanka. Rama was residing in the forest at the time with His younger brother Lakshmana. Due to orders given by His father, Rama was not allowed to go back to His kingdom and collect His army. Not to worry though, as He enlisted the help of a band of Vanaras living in the forest of Kishkindha.

The leader of the Vanaras was Sugriva, and his chief warrior was Hanuman, a divine figure and pure devotee of Rama. Lord Rama knew that Hanuman would be the one to find Sita, so the Lord gave him a ring to deliver to her. The ring had Rama’s name inscribed on it, thus it would be recognizable to Sita. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman offered his obeisances to Lord Rama before embarking on his journey. Just prior to this, Sugriva had extolled the virtues of Hanuman, listing all of his wonderful capabilities and strengths. Lord Rama concurred with Sugriva’s assessment, so Hanuman essentially had both of their blessings.

Hanuman offering obeisances Since Hanuman possessed amazing strength, courage and firmness of resolution, success in the venture was guaranteed. Rama was actually overjoyed simply by thinking of Hanuman going to search for Sita, for the Lord knew that success was to come very quickly. Yet as endowed with divine prowess as Hanuman was, he still made sure to offer obeisances to Rama and invoke His good name prior to starting his task. Through his behavior, Hanuman showed that he was always God conscious, not letting a second go by without remembering the lotus feet of his dear Lord.

Not surprisingly, Hanuman would be successful in executing his tasks. Sita would eventually be rescued through his noble efforts. For his undying devotion, dedication and adherence to piety, Hanuman is viewed as one of the greatest Vaishnavas, a humble and dear servant of Shri Rama. We can certainly never equal his heroic feats, but we can learn a great deal from the example he set. He proved that the most important activity in life is to always remember the Lord. Doing so ensures success in any effort that involves devotional service. In our struggle to purify our consciousness, we should always remember Hanuman and his behavior towards Shri Rama. Before taking up any task, small or large, the Supreme Lord, the guru, and the great devotees, all liberated figures in their own right, should always be offered obeisances, either personally or at least within the mind.