Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Light Sets Me Free

Lord Krishna “Everyone should understand that Lord Krishna is the well-wisher of everyone and should take shelter unto Krishna. In this way one can become completely confident and satisfied knowing that he has someone who is able to give him all protection.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

The difference between just learning about a high concept or truth and actually understanding it can be seen through the behavior that results. If we have really understood a particularly groundbreaking piece of information, something which noticeably goes against our current thought processes, the result should be an alteration in behavior, a change in mindset which is visible in the activities that follow. Behavior is based on habit, so when habits aren’t broken, regardless of whatever assertions are made pertaining to purity of activity, behavior cannot be altered,. In the realm of spirituality the same principle applies most appropriately to the concept of God, or the original Divine Being, offering unflinching protection to those who surrender unto Him. The blanket offer for safety from the fears of the temporary world is present in most disciplines of spirituality, but it is rarely understood, acted upon, or taken advantage of.

To see the difference between learning facts and truly understanding them, we can take the simple example of a gambler. Gambling is typically viewed as an unhealthy activity; a vice, something to be avoided. In the Vedic tradition, the set of values and teachings emanating from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, gambling is considered one of the four pillars of sinful life. Sin is not something to be avoided simply because a holier than thou preacher has demanded it. Rather, sin, in all fields of endeavor, is any activity that leads to an unfavorable condition in the future. Mankind’s original sin is the desire to separate from the company of the one entity truly deserving of our undivided and unflinching attention. Every other sin, or unauthorized activity, descends from the initial desire to separate from Supreme Spirit. Higher authorities, those who are knowledgeable of the truths of spirituality and the reasons for their rules and regulations, don’t recommend sinful activities because of the overall negative conditions that result, the most intense of which is the continued separation in terms of consciousness from the Divine Entity, the one person who is wholly aware of all the thoughts, desires and activities of every living entity existing past, present and future.

“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!” (Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)

Lord Krishna Gambling, which as a sinful activity is a descendant of the initial sin of wanting to part from the company of Supreme Spirit, leads to further separation in consciousness from God. But gambling also has many negative side effects in areas not considered to be related to spirituality. The gambling addict typically follows this pattern of behavior: In the beginning the gambler is aware that excessive wagering is bad for them. Perhaps in the past they have been lectured on the issue or they may have seen a film or television series episode dedicated to exposing the pitfalls and harmful effects of taking to gambling without thought. As with any other sinful activity, the fuel that keeps the desire for gambling well and alive is the loss of rationale. According to Vedic shastra, all activity in the material world, the realm that exists separately and apart from the imperishable and sublime spiritual sky, falls into one of three modes: goodness, passion, or ignorance.

Gambling, which is nothing more than a compact form of fruitive activity, falls squarely into the mode of passion. Rajo-guna, or the mode of passion, is very easy to understand because most human beings associate with it by default. The mode of passion involves fruitive activity, or those actions taken to with a desired end result pertaining to sense enjoyment. The object of pleasure for activities in this mode is the individual self, or some other associated entity which possesses a material body. Only the Original Being, the Supreme Divine Entity in the spiritual sky, never assumes a material body. Hence any activity that is not performed for His benefit and which is taken up for some reward pertaining to the gross material body can be considered part of the mode of passion.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.7)

Lord KrishnaWithout knowing life’s ultimate aim, the mode of passion doesn’t appear to have any flaws. After all, even something as simple as working for a living falls under the umbrella of karma. If we didn’t go to work every day, how would we feed ourselves? How would we put food on the table and pay the bills necessary to maintain our lives and our family’s well-being? Yet fruitive activity falls under the mode of passion because the end-result is simply a neutral state, one no different from where the individual started. For example, as a child, an individual starts off with a material body and a life revolved around playing. Toys, video games and sports aim to please the gross senses of the body. As adults, there may be a requirement to work, but the same objects of affection are there, i.e. the senses. Whether one is a child or a grown-up adult with a high paying job, if sense gratification is taken to be the height of enjoyment, the end-result of activity is still the same.

Fruitive activity, or karma, also brings many hardships and distresses, as is evident with gambling. Wagering involves taking a risk, putting money on the line in the hopes of a large payout. As is the case with any game of chance, the payout will not always materialize. Moreover, the potential for high returns clouds the rationality of the gambler. The famous “gambler’s fallacy” follows the mindset of “Oh, I am due to win any time now. Just a few more hands and I’ll surely come out on top.” In a game of chance, there is no such thing as the outcomes evening out; hence the fallacy. The odds of a particular outcome for the tossing of a coin or the spinning of a wheel can be calculated as a probability, which is a mathematical exercise. The gambler, keeping the mind focused on the potential for what might come their way, ignores the logical truths of mathematics, a discipline which doesn’t take into account emotion, desire, or potential gain.

“By acting in the mode of goodness, one becomes purified. Works done in the mode of passion result in distress, and actions performed in the mode of ignorance result in foolishness.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.16)

Lord Krishna During periods of sobriety of thought, gamblers understand the struggles they must tolerate in order to see any paltry gain. Yet they continue to take to gambling anyway. Moreover, if there are any winnings, the satisfaction derived is fleeting. We know this is true because a gambler will often want to parlay their winnings into an even bigger payout. If so much effort was taken to secure something that didn’t even provide any satisfaction, how can the original activity, gambling, be considered worthwhile? Based on the visible results and the continuous cycle of desire and dissatisfaction, the teachings of the Vedas, which state that the mode of passion ultimately leads to distress, are substantiated.

When gambling continues without regulation, the results can be disastrous, as more and more items are put up for wager. People can go into great debt and even lose all of their possessions through gambling. Yet prior to entering a casino or placing a small wager, most gamblers will wholly acknowledge the potential pitfalls associated with their future activity. “Yes, yes, I understand that gambling is bad. I won’t let it get the best of me.” Though knowledge of the dangers of the activity is present, the subsequent behavior is still not altered. The same pattern of behavior is evident in other sinful activities such as illicit sex, intoxication and meat eating. Sinful activity is readily acknowledged to be harmful by the majority of those addicted to it, yet behavior often goes unchanged.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

Krishna and ArjunaThe essence of spiritual practice is summed up in Lord Krishna’s final order in the Bhagavad-gita, wherein He advises Arjuna, His cousin and disciple, to abandon all other forms of dharma, or religion, and simply surrender unto Him. Giving up in terms of fighting with material nature will not cause Arjuna any harm, as Krishna assures him of protection from all sinful reaction. Considering the underlying properties of the soul and its marginal position, Krishna’s statement is completely accurate. As the Supreme Lord, Krishna is the only person capable of removing sinful reactions. As mentioned before, the initial sin is the desire to separate from Krishna’s company, so naturally anyone who would surrender unto the same person that was originally separated from would be free of the root cause of all their heartache and misery.

Skeptics, atheists, and followers of other spiritual disciplines will argue that Krishna is simply a sectarian figure, a Hindu god, and thus the statements of the Gita don’t apply to them. Indeed, similar prescriptions pertaining to surrender are provided in almost every discipline of spirituality. Yet the difference with Krishna’s statement in the Bhagavad-gita is that it is complete in every way. The Lord addresses different dharmas, or systems of religion. Though the term “religion” is commonly associated with spirituality and God, it actually just refers to whatever a person’s ultimate conclusion in life is, what they view as the most important activity and favorable condition. For example, to the gambler, their religion is wagering, weighing the odds in favor versus the odds against them. The ultimate favorable condition is one of victory, wherein the fruits of wagering are received. Any other discipline can follow the same model. Phrases like “This book is my Bible” and “The Constitution is my Bible” reference the extreme devotion felt towards a particular book or philosophy that is not related to spirituality.

Lord Krishna Lord Krishna, as the original Divine Being and supreme object of pleasure for all of mankind, understands that as conditioned entities deluded by the reactions resulting from the original sin of separation from the spiritual world, man will have a tendency to concoct his own dharmas and desired favorable conditions throughout his many lifetimes on earth. Bearing this in mind, Krishna advises Arjuna, and everyone else for that matter, to abandon all other occupational duties, or systems of activity which are given highest priority, in favor of surrender to Krishna. The greatest fear in abandoning our current dharma is that we will end up unhappy, or worse, dead. If one’s perceived dharma is fruitive activity performed for the maintenance of the body, how will surrendering to Krishna be of any benefit? Religious guidelines typically recommend strict austerity, regulation in eating and sleeping, and dedication to some particular sacrificial performance, yet the day-to-day issues of bodily maintenance and mental well-being through association with our fellow man are rarely covered.

But Krishna’s statement is not an empty promise. Rather, one who firmly believes and understands the Lord’s indemnity will never have to fear any reactions in the future, sinful or otherwise. The key is to actually understand what Krishna, or God, says versus pretending to acknowledge the supreme scholarship of divine statements while at the same time remaining firmly committed to activities that fail to provide any lasting pleasure. Surrender is much more than an outward acknowledgment; it involves a change in behavior. Habits, those activities we perform involuntarily due to our being accustomed to them, must be altered in order for behavior to change. Certainly many religious rites and performances across all spectrums of tradition offer the promise of eradication from sin. Even in the Vedic tradition, it is said that if one bathes in a holy place such as the Ganges River all of their sins will be removed. When a student is initiated by a guru, or spiritual master, it is said that the guru takes on all the sins of the disciple. Similarly, in some faiths if a small child takes part in a particular function involving a priest, it is deemed that all their sins for the rest of their life get removed. Even Lord Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, is said to have assumed all the sins for all of mankind through his crucifixion.

ConfessionYet as mentioned before, sin is an unauthorized activity that leads to an unfavorable condition in the future. Just because our sinful reactions may have been removed at one time or another, it doesn’t mean that they can’t come back. If there is no desire to associate with Supreme Spirit, the one entity worthy of our eternal love, respect and association, then there will surely be sin attached to every activity that we perform. This assertion seems overly broad and harsh at the same time, but it reflects the actual situation. If a child places their hand into a fire after being repeatedly warned not to by the parents, there will be a negative reaction in the form of a burn. After the parent has treated the wound and the child has been healed, if the child subsequently places their hand again into the fire, will it not burn?

“The steadily devoted soul attains unadulterated peace because he offers the result of all activities to Me; whereas a person who is not in union with the Divine, who is greedy for the fruits of his labor, becomes entangled.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.12)

Worship of Krishna When the protection from sinful reaction offered through surrender to Krishna is truly understood, behavior will be altered. The activities adopted after surrender don’t have to drastically differ from those performed in the conditioned state; just the intended beneficiary has to change. Rather than work for our own interests, the surrendered souls are advised to do everything for Krishna’s pleasure. As the best friend of the living entities, when Krishna is pleased, so is anyone else intimately associated with Him. Therefore service to the Lord, though considered surrender, bears no similarity to indentured servitude or slavery. Rather, the link between the individual soul and the Supreme Lord that is established through yoga can be considered to be the greatest loving relationship, the only bond where both the lover and the object of affection share the same level of intensity of emotion. When the transcendental link remains firmly established, not only is there a lack of fear of sinful reaction on the individual’s part, but there is no fear of anything. One who surrenders to God loses their will to fight with His external energy known as maya, an illusory force which pervades the material world and deludes conditionally situated entities into taking to fruitive activity as their supreme dharma.

So what sorts of activities do surrendered souls take up? The nature of the actions can vary, but the common component is the object of worship. The Vedas refer to the collection of activities that make up the discipline of the surrendered souls as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Though one may start off chanting the maha-mantra out of obligation, regulation, or fear of potential pitfalls, the ultimate enjoyer is still always Krishna. Chanting is so sublime that it automatically has retraction built into it. One who chants this mantra regularly refrains from sinful activities without any extra endeavor. Though any action that doesn’t have Krishna as the primary beneficiary should certainly be avoided, by always remaining in the state of Krishna consciousness, the sinful activities that were previously habitual gradually lose their taste.

Krishna's lotus feetAnother benefit to surrender at the lotus feet of the dear Lord is that the required activities in life, those that must be performed for the continued maintenance of the body, can be taken up without any fear. Since one of the animal instincts is fear, it is natural for the human being to worry about its future condition. But as the origin of all life and the most powerful entity in all the universes, Krishna never worries about anything. As such, anyone directly associated with Him will benefit not only from the Lord’s attitude but also His ability to provide unflinching protection from the greatest calamities. Knowing that Krishna will protect brings the greatest satisfaction and security, feelings that can be steadily maintained through dedication to bhakti. Since bhakti-yoga represents true love, one that is untainted by any desires for association with worldly objects, it is the only dharma that can bring complete confidence and steadiness of mind.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Strength of Conviction

Monkeys building bridge to Lanka “I tell you this directly: All these monkeys will never follow you. Just as with this Jambavan, Nila and the great monkey Suhotra, I too along with all these monkeys can never be turned away by you from Sugriva’s mission, even if you employ means of diplomacy such as pacification [sama], giving in charity [dana] and so on, or even through punishment [danda].” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.10-11)

tvām na ete hi anuyunjeyuḥ pratyakṣam pravadāmi te |

yathā ayam jāṃbavān nīlaḥ suhotraḥ ca mahākapiḥ ||

na hi aham te ime sarve sāma dāna ādibhiḥ guṇaiḥ |

daṇḍena na tvayā śakyāḥ sugrīvāt apakarṣitum

Is there one path for success in spiritual life that is universally applicable? Since every person takes on different qualities at the time of birth, different ultimate conclusions, or reasons for living, result. A person may read from a specific philosopher’s book one day and be thoroughly convinced of their ideas, but then the next minute something else will be heard that causes the mind to completely shift. The constant changes in philosophies, priority systems and desires make the path in life much more difficult to decide upon. In order to find the proper roadmap, one that can be followed without deviation, an exemplary character with strength of conviction is required; an individual who not only strongly believes in a particular philosophy, but also abides by its principles. The role model must be free of any doubts relating to the supremacy of their adopted path in life, and they must be able to defend their position against detractors and their passionate counterarguments. There can be no better role model in this regard than Shri Hanuman, a divine figure and supremely intelligent living entity, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. During the prosecution of the missions assigned to him, Hanuman never wavered from the righteous path, even when faced with the greatest opposition. Moreover, he stood up against detractors and protected those sincere souls who became doubtful of the chances for success due to bad association.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and RamaWhat is the meaning of life? Why are we put on this earth? By default, the living entity, in any form, takes to sense enjoyment as their main business. The proclivity for stimulation of the mind and the various aspects of the body doesn’t have to be taught, for the behavior is seen even in infancy. Enjoyment of the senses involves meeting the demands of the tongue, stomach, eyes, ears, and overall body. The animals are involved exclusively in seeking sense gratification. They have no concept of tapasya [austerity], niyama [regulation], or dhyana[meditation]. When an animal wants to eat, it will search for food and then eat. When they want to sleep, they’ll sleep. When they want sex life, they’ll go find a complementary sexual partner. The mature human being, armed with a higher intelligence level, has the ability to think critically and analyze both the cause and effect of unregulated sense gratification. The infant can play all day and do whatever it wants, but unregulated behavior ideally doesn’t continue into adulthood; the reason being that overindulgence in sense gratification leads to unpalatable conditions. Eating too much leads to disease, excessive sleep, and a mental and emotional imbalance. Increased sexual activity leads to lust, anger, rage and extreme disappointment. Excessive sleeping results in attachment to inactivity and the loss of ability to earn a living. Excessive fighting leads to the severing of friendships, loneliness and physical harm.

Based on these results, which are commonly encountered and readily perceptible, we see that the human being, in order to live a peaceful life, must regulate their activities in some way or another. This fact alone debunks the theory that human life should be all about sense gratification. We see that too much enjoyment in the material sense can be very harmful. So if sense gratification is not the aim of life, then what is? The inquisitive mind, wanting to transcend animalistic tendencies, will go searching for higher truths, answers to the most puzzling questions of life. In the arena of ideas, there will be many competing theories that aim to solve the timeless riddles of life on earth. One of the more popular theories is that the true aim of life is to serve humanity, or mankind. “After regulating activities to the point that the basic demands of the body are met, one should take to acts of charity, philanthropy and benevolence.” The belief is that if the down-trodden are helped, life will remain peaceful, and both parties, the givers and the takers, will feel mental satisfaction. Yet the superiority of the service to man model falls apart based on the transient nature of sense gratification. If the enjoyment we feel from satisfying our own senses is limited, then surely the same would hold true for those that we help ascend to the identical platform of enjoyment.

When material enjoyment is tossed aside as a viable aim of life, the inquisitive soul may look to the other extreme, the path of severe austerity and restriction on enjoyment. “Since sense activity brings so many unwanted side effects, it is better to just remain in a neutral state, keeping interactions with the outside world limited.” The objectives under this model can vary. Some simply want to avoid any pain and trouble, while others are looking for a spiritual awakening, a nirvana if you will. The benefits of the path of least resistance seem plausible enough, but cessation of activity also has several puzzling aspects to it. If we sit in meditation all day and hope to one day merge into a state of nothingness, how is this any different than remaining in a coma? If we had the misfortune of receiving traumatic head injuries that caused us to remain in a catatonic state for an extended period of time, wouldn’t there be an absence of discomfort? If we’re not even conscious, there is no way for us to feel pain. Surely the aim of human life can’t be to one day reach a permanent state of coma?

Yoga practice Based on identified limitations of their ideal outcomes, we can rule out sense enjoyment and dry renunciation as being the ultimate activities in life. There is another championed discipline that appears to be unique, but actually has results similar to those of sense enjoyment. This philosophy posits that the ideal outcome in life is to acquire mystic perfections, or powers that transcend the limitations put on the soul by the body and the senses. The positive engagements prescribed in this model involve meditational yoga coupled with austerity of fruitive engagement. As an example, a yogi may sit in one position for days on end without eating any food. Some yogis will remain fixed in trance and test their dedication under severe hot and cold scenarios. These practices are indeed successful since the influence of the senses is severely limited. When the senses are controlled, including the life breath, a larger portion of the natural potency of the individual spirit soul is revealed. The body, which includes the outer covering and the internal senses, is simply a shell, a temporary dwelling for the individual. Individuality is rooted in the atma, or spirit soul. Spirit is extremely powerful and the driving force to all activity, a fact evidenced by the limpness of a dead body. When the soul exits the body, the same individual is deemed a corpse, a fact which proves that the soul is the catalyst for activity, the essence of life.

When yoga is practiced properly and to fruition, siddhis, or mystic perfections, are acquired. The resulting perfections can include the ability to travel through space, become infinitesimally small or large, and even hold one’s breath for days at a time. But to the keen observer, these wonderful abilities are simply enhanced versions of sense enjoyment. The resulting happiness is fleeting, for the derived enjoyment is still dependent on the time factor. Time will eventually empty any reservoir of enjoyment. Our pleasurable interactions with nature can be thought of in terms of a car with a gas tank. In order to enjoy, we must fill the reservoir of energy through various activities. Since the resulting enjoyment is limited and thus requires constant repetition of activity, the reservoir eventually empties out. To refill the tank, we must repeat the same difficult activities that were performed before. In this way, we are constantly toggling between favorable and unfavorable conditions. When you add equal parts favorable and unfavorable, you get nothing, or a neutral state.

“I shall now explain the knowable, knowing which you will taste the eternal. This is beginningless, and it is subordinate to Me. It is called Brahman, the spirit, and it lies beyond the cause and effect of this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.13)

Lord KrishnaFrom the nature of the results, we see that meditational yoga, pure sense enjoyment and dry renunciation all essentially lead to a neutral state, one that is dependent on all-devouring time, kala. The purpose of life can’t be the achievement of a neutral footing; otherwise there would be no need to take birth. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, through a variety of forms, present the real meaning of life. A conditioned living entity must first realize that they are not their body; they are spirit soul. The soul is a product of Brahman, or pure spirit which is full of knowledge and bliss. Individual instances of Brahman have a companion, a life-partner if you will. Though the constitutional makeup of the soul is purity, power and knowledge, there is another soul, known as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is more knowledgeable, powerful and pure. In His most complete and original form, Bhagavan is Lord Krishna, who is all-attractive in every area imaginable. Krishna was never created, nor will He ever die. As part and parcel of the original storehouse of spiritual energy, we living entities are also eternal in our makeup. In addition to being uncontaminated and knowledgeable at the core, the individual spirit soul has an active propensity: love. This love is nothing like what we are accustomed to. Since this love is originally directed at the proper object, one who is able to wholly accept and reciprocate feelings of affection on the grandest of scales, it leads to the greatest benefit.

If we love Krishna, why are we put into the material world? Moreover, why isn’t everyone aware of their supposedly natural attraction to Supreme Spirit? When the inherent loving propensity is directed at Krishna, it is pure and uncontaminated. But when it is directed at any other object or entity, it becomes contaminated. Tainted love goes by different names such as affection, benevolence, lust, romantic love and kindness. Even hatred is rooted in love; it is simply the inverse of the natural loving propensity. The contaminated variety of love can only exist in a world that is devoid of God’s personal influence. Since Krishna is everything, His influence is certainly everywhere, but there are specific realms He takes no direct interest in. The world we currently occupy is one of those places. In the material world, the natural loving propensity is clouded through affection and rejection of perceptible temporary objects and enjoyments. The aim of human life is to reawaken the natural spiritual spark, the burning for divine love that is currently in a dormant state. Those who have achieved the constitutional position are deemed liberated and thus become candidates for returning to the purified spiritual realm of the Personality of Godhead.

Radha Krishna To rekindle our natural love for God, many of our present activities can be taken to but with a change in the ultimate object of enjoyment and service. Instead of viewing ourselves, friends, family, pets, countrymen, etc. as the ultimate objects of affection and power, the focus must be shifted to Krishna. When we perform fruitive activity, or karma, there are both unintended and intended consequences. When we take to acquiring knowledge, or jnana, there are similarly various intended results. The same goes for yoga practice. When we take to the same activities prescribed by these various disciplines, but pay no attention to the favorable and unfavorable results, and work for the benefit of Supreme Spirit, or God, we will be purified of all contamination. Purified activities, be they visible work or mental effort, go by the name of bhakti. Since purified work involves linking the individual soul with the Supreme Soul, it is also known as yoga. Therefore the most pure form of work, which is based on the highest philosophy, the sublime engagement, is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Devotional service can involve nine different processes, the simplest and most effective of which is the regular chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Another process of devotional service is carrying out the Lord’s orders, or becoming His servant [dasyam]. Usually these orders are provided by a bona fide representative of God, the spiritual master. For the most exalted individuals, however, the orders come directly from the Supreme Lord in His personal form, as was the case with Shri Hanuman, who had the great fortune of associating directly with Lord Rama, a celebrated incarnation of the original Divine Being.

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

Lord RamaMany thousands of years ago, Rama roamed the earth in the guise of a powerful and kind prince. On one unfortunate occasion, His beautiful wife Sita Devi was kidnapped from the forest of Dandaka. After forming an alliance with a band of Vanaras, Rama gave His new friends the difficult task of finding Sita’s whereabouts. Rama is God, so He most certainly doesn’t require any help from anyone. Yet due to His kind nature and His knowledge of the ultimate objective in life for the living entities, who are His spiritual sparks, He creates situations which allow others to kindly offer service to Him. In Kishkindha, Rama gave the Vanaras, who were headed by their king Sugriva, the opportunity to directly carry out God’s orders.

Sugriva’s most powerful and trusted servant was Shri Hanuman. In the Vedic tradition, Hanumanji is worshiped and adored as one of the most exalted divine figures. This worship came into being as a result of his sincere dedication to Rama. Tasked with finding Sita, the monkeys divided into groups and scoured the earth. Sugriva gave specific orders that no monkey should return to Kishkindha without information of Sita’s location. Moreover, they had one month to find her, and if they didn’t, they would be severely punished. After a month had passed, Hanuman’s party, which included powerful monkeys such as Angada, Jambavan, and Nila, was unable to find Sita. They made their way to a beautiful seashore after having escaped from a majestic cave that had every amenity available.

Hanuman Seeing that they weren’t getting anywhere and that the time for their mission had expired, Angada thought it might be wise to give up. One option presented to him called for the monkeys to return to the demon Maya’s cave and live out the rest of their days in illusory comfort. Angada was leaning towards remaining by the seashore and starving to death. After all, the monkeys had run out of time, so they couldn’t return to Sugriva and inform him of their failure. Hanuman, for his part, was ready to continue searching. As a great devotee, Hanuman’s only interest is to serve Rama and make Him happy. Yet he found himself in a tough situation. The other monkeys looked to Angada as their leader, so the starvation proposal carried some weight. Since Hanuman is extremely intelligent, he decided to employ an authorized tactic of diplomacy known as dissension [bheda], which is described in the Vedas as dividing and ruling, i.e. turning members of a party against one another.

Hanuman began his psychological game by first praising Angada and calling him the most powerful monkey. But then immediately Hanuman changed course and reminded the son of Vali that all the members of the group were monkeys by nature and thus fickle-minded. Since they were away from their wives and children, they would not be able to remain steady on the path of starvation for long. After a while, they would have no reason to listen to Angada anymore, and thus the seemingly peaceful condition of avoiding Sugriva would be ruined. In the above referenced statement, Hanuman is further stirring the pot by praising members of Angada’s army, saying that they are not inferior to Angada in any way. This was a beautiful tactic by Hanuman, since he was essentially encouraging others to continue the fight for Rama’s benefit. Hanuman easily could have chastised everyone for their weak-heartedness and their violation of the mission assigned to them, but he chose a more appropriate tactic. The other monkeys weren’t very convinced of Angada’s position, but at the same time, they didn’t have much confidence in themselves. Hanuman bucked up those sincere souls who really had no desire to give up. He gave them a viable alternative to quitting, and he substantiated his viewpoint with words of praise and logic.

Hanumandeity_cartoonIt must be noted that Hanuman’s statement is also very humorous in one sense. He asserts that even if Angada would employ different diplomatic tactics such as pacification, giving in charity, and even punishment, the monkeys still would never divert their attention from Sugriva’s interests. Yet conspicuous by its absence from Hanuman’s list is dissension, the very tactic he was employing against Angada! “You can try persuasive tactics on us monkeys, but none of them will ever work. Oh by the way, I’m trying out the divide and conquer method on you right now.”

Angada certainly can’t be blamed for his transgression. The material world is governed by maya, or illusion. She is the sincere servant of Krishna; she facilitates the perverted love that the condition living entities want to act upon. Since maya is very difficult to overcome, the aid of one who is immune to her temptations is required. Hanuman is one such individual; he is never tainted by material nature in any way. He is a pure lover of God, and that loving propensity never changes or diminishes. Indeed, the monkeys who helped Rama are also very dear to him, as Angada’s slight lapse in judgment served primarily as an opportunity to allow future generations, present company included, a glimpse of Hanuman’s glorious nature. The monkeys were fortunate to have Hanuman there; as he would be the one to eventually cross over the massive ocean, their greatest obstacle towards success, and find Sita.

Hanuman The competing theories and ultimate conclusions posited by intellectuals, government leaders and scientists certainly can leave the sincere soul seeking the Truth very confused. The proper path can only be found through studying the exemplary behavior of the sincere devotees. Shri Hanuman shows that the aim of life is to always serve the Lord’s interests through the practice of bhakti-yoga. Since the soul has a natural inclination to bhakti, once devotional service is adopted with any level of sincerity, success, that of attaining an eternal link with God held tight by the bond of transcendental love, will surely come. Those who practice bhakti on a regular basis can teach others by their example and their precepts, for there are many sincere souls in this world who are not convinced of abandoning hope for spiritual enlightenment. Shri Hanuman can never be praised enough for his kind services and his loving nature, as he continues to teach generations of sincere souls how to tie all the various pieces of Vedic information into a singular path that can guide all behavior, thoughts and deeds.

Thursday, February 10, 2011


Mother Yashoda with Krishna “Everyone is seeing God in His different aspects; the only difference is that the theist sees God as the Supreme Personality, the most beloved, Krishna, and the atheist sees the Absolute Truth as ultimate death.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

“Have you seen God? Can you show Him to me?” These are some of the challenging questions often directed at those who are religiously inclined and those who are actively preaching the message of love and respect for the Lord found in India’s most famous religious text, the succinct and complete treatise on Vedic philosophy known as the Bhagavad-gita. Any time a preacher takes to kindly passing on information pertaining to spirituality, there will surely be skeptics, uninterested observers, and those who are not willing to listen. When engaged in ordinary conversation, wherein points and counterpoints are exchanged, generally no conclusion is reached in the end. Therefore in order to learn properly, one must take instruction from someone who has weight, a guru, or spiritual master, one who knows the truth as explained to them by previous authority figures. Yet even when hearing from a guru there is a natural urge to see proof, tangible evidence that God indeed exists. The devotees, those whose eyes have been anointed with transcendental love, see the influence of the Lord everywhere. Yet even the atheists, those who are staunchly against religious principles, are forced to see the influence of the same loveable Divine Entity at every turn, especially at the time that matters most: death.

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

Lord KrishnaJust as the time of birth represents the beginning of our pursuits for excellence and enjoyment in the current life, the time of death is similarly as important. At this most critical of junctures, the events of one’s life flash before their very eyes, and the desires and reactions to work are aggregated. Upon review by higher authorities, those in charge of the workings of nature, a new body is given, one commensurate with the desires and work of the eternal and minutely autonomous spiritual entity. Therefore the time of death can be considered the most important time in one’s life, a judgment day if you will. For one who is in knowledge - one who understands the workings of nature, the influences of karma, and the eternality of the soul - there is no fear of quitting the body. Rather, the source of all fear is removed by the knowledge that someone is in charge of distributing the results of action. Surely individuals have free will in their choice of engagement, but the results of action cannot be received without the hand of someone more powerful, someone capable of equally and fairly distributing fruits and doling out punishments.

Is there a difference in outcomes for the person who, as a result of the highest knowledge acquired, does not live in fear even at the time of death, compared to one who remains in complete ignorance up until the end of life? To find the answer, let’s see what happens with the same two individuals during the course of their lifetimes prior to death. In any scope of activity, in any endeavor, there are certain rules and regulations, a right way to do something. Adhering to the restrictions and performing prescribed activities ensures a successful outcome, an ideal future condition, one that is deemed favorable by the worker inspired to take action. Neglecting prescribed duties equates to acting in ignorance, a strict defiance of the established codes of conduct. Not surprisingly, taking this route usually leads to an unfavorable condition, one where the ultimate goal is not met. The specific nature of the activity doesn’t really matter, for the dichotomy of outcomes is seen in virtually any engagement. Something as simple as driving illustrates these principles quite clearly. Operating an automobile requires great attention and alertness. Therefore the need for the sobriety of the driver is a given, a necessary requirement to operate a vehicle properly. One who takes to driving while inebriated surely is going against established codes of conduct. A drunk driver is not only a hazard to themselves, but to other innocent civilians and drivers on the road as well.

Driving requires attention to detail An interesting point to note is that the motive behind the deviation from established codes of conduct does not cause a difference in outcomes. For instance, one may not know that driving drunk is a bad thing. Maybe they are used to being intoxicated all the time so they were never properly educated on what should be done and what shouldn’t. Will this lack of information make any difference? Is there a difference between a drunk driver who knows that what they are doing is bad versus one who doesn’t? Do the laws of gravity behave differently for one who accidentally falls from a high perch as opposed to one who purposely jumps?

The answers to these questions are quite obvious. The laws of gravity are absolute; they apply to everyone equally. Similarly, ignorance and deviation from righteousness have the same effect on activity for every person, irrespective of the motive for action. The Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God spoken by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, provides a brief rundown of the workings of nature, the purpose of human life, and the ultimate aim for the individual. When we speak of individuals, the reference is to anything that has a spirit soul inside of it, anything that is considered life. Though we generally associate religion with human society, the workings of nature and the potency of spirit apply to all forms of life. The human species is unique because only in this form can the spirit soul take the necessary steps to turn away from the darkness of ignorance and progress towards the light of knowledge. As we have seen from the examples already mentioned, ignorance does not lead to any favorable condition in any endeavor of importance. In a similar manner, the ultimate objective of the spirit soul - that of finding true pleasure and happiness, the type that never dries out - can only be realized, understood, and acted upon by one who is in knowledge.

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

Bhagavad-gitaShri Krishna informs us in the Gita that He is the taste of water. Indeed, His influence is everywhere, for He is responsible for the creation, maintenance, and destruction of nature. The spirit soul is aloof from all visible and invisible elements of nature, but due to its association with a temporary and destructible body, the conditioned soul takes on a false identification. Ignorance thus starts at the time of birth; it is the default condition. If one is not educated on the workings of nature, the transmigration of the soul, and the only source of real pleasure, they will remain in ignorance throughout their lifetime. Those who are fortunate enough to take to sincerely learning about Krishna, who is no different than any other person’s God, will surely be able to see the influence of the Lord everywhere. Though there is a tendency to speak in terms of “My God” and “My religion”, there can be no such things. A religion may be concocted by a particular group of individuals, but the workings of spirit and nature are completely scientific. The only difference between spiritual science and material science is that the spiritual discipline emanating from the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, acknowledges the origin of all matter and spirit. Material science acknowledges many different workings of nature, but ultimately the original cause is taken to be chemicals; random elements that just happened to combine on a whim to create life.

Since the information presented to them lacks any authority, those who take shelter of the mentally concocted theories of material science will remain forever in the dark as to the presence of the Lord. Though nature is quite complicated and considered incomprehensible without years and years of scientific study, the origin of all matter and spirit is not very difficult to perceive of or see. The origin of all life is the Supreme Lord, the only God for all of mankind. One who gradually comes to the light of knowledge will be able to see the Divine Entity’s influence everywhere. One who is in knowledge of God and who uses the acquired information to change their way of life is known as a bhakta, or devotee. Knowledge alone does not lead to a proper vision. For instance, one may have a law degree from a prestigious college, but they will not be considered a lawyer unless and until they take to practicing. In the same way, one may know that the spirit soul within the body is the source of identity and that the Supersoul, the expansion of the Supreme Lord residing within the heart, is the most powerful entity, but if they don’t make any tangible use of this information, their knowledge goes to waste.

Shrimati Radharani What is the behavior of a devotee? How do they see God? The ability of man and the taste of water alone provide enough evidence of God’s existence. Just as a famous philosopher once said, “I think therefore I am”, the ability to think and to know one’s existence are evidence enough of God’s supreme nature. “I am” is taken to be proof of one’s existence, but it’s more important to actually know who we are. In the ignorant state, a person isn’t even aware that they are a human being. A fish doesn’t know that it’s wet, nor does it know when to stop eating. Without sufficient education, the human being is no different than the animal. The higher potential for intelligence available to the human being is meant for inquiring about the Absolute Truth, athato-brahma-jijnasa. When the human being reaches the mature stage, it takes to asking about the Absolute Truth, that one entity who is beyond duality, success and failure, and pain and pleasure. There is only one person that meets this criteria: Lord Krishna.

By taking to bhakti-yoga, a discipline which can involve reading, hearing, worshiping, surrendering, and many other activities, one gradually sees the presence of the Lord everywhere. God certainly does have a form; otherwise He would not be able to speak, give instruction and provide salvation. Void and nothingness are incapable of action; only with a form can an entity produce any tangible results. The Supreme Lord’s form is described in great detail in the classic Vedic texts like the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita and Puranas. If we simply take stock of the statements found within these sacred texts, we will be able to get a good idea of what Krishna and His various non-different forms look like. By knowing Krishna’s appearance, we can always remember Him within our hearts and minds.

dark raincloud Goswami Tulsidas, the exalted Vaishnava poet and devotee of Lord Rama, Krishna’s incarnation as a pious prince, through his behavior exemplified the differences between a devotee and a non-devotee very nicely. At the height of his devotional ecstasy, Tulsidas likened himself to a Chatak bird which couldn’t keep its eye off of a raincloud. Lord Rama’s body is of a blue color, similar to that of a dark raincloud. The same hue is present in Lord Vishnu’s and Krishna’s bodies. The Chatak bird is known for only drinking rainwater; hence it is always staring at the cloud that is about to pour rain. Tulsidas uses this analogy to show that a pure devotee doesn’t want anything from anyone else. It only wants to see God at all times. Even if the original form is not there, just the similarity in hue is good enough to constantly remind one of God. The Chatak bird doesn’t need rain to be satisfied, for simply being allowed to practice devotional service is enough to provide pleasure. In fact, the cloud can completely scorn its lover, but as a devoted soul, the Chatak will never stop loving its beloved cloud. Even though the Chatak only eats when there is rain, it nevertheless gazes at its beloved at all times. The devotee, who mimics the Chatak’s behavior, always worships the Lord and sees His influence everywhere, even if there is no perceived return on that investment.

Krishna eating butter The aim of life is to reach the same level of devotion as the Chatak, wherein one worships the Lord with all their heart in an unmotivated and uninterrupted manner. Lest anyone think this level of affection is impossible to acquire, the spirit soul is already inclined towards such service. The spirit soul, by constitution, is blissful, knowledgeable and eternal. The source of bliss is its natural loving propensity, its inherent desire to associate with the Supreme Spirit, Shri Krishna. In the conditioned state, when one is mired in varying degrees of ignorance, the loving propensity is redirected towards other objects and entities. Even hatred is a product of the misdirection; it is simply the inverse of natural love. Only through devotional service can the loving propensity reach its full potential, a state where love is never interrupted or diminished. The Chatak, which represents the behavior of devotees like Tulsidas and the gopis of Vrindavana, exemplifies the highest level of devotional practice perfectly. In the most purified state, not even the object of affection, the loveable Supreme Lord, is capable of deterring the devotee in its practice of bhakti. Only in the pure loving relationship can the beloved lose its influence over the affectionate behavior of the lover.

“I am the only enjoyer and the only object of sacrifice. Those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.24)

Obviously the atheists and non-devotees will remain far away from even understanding the heightened level of affection shown by divine lovers. Through skepticism and strong attachment to matter and sense gratification, the atheist will stubbornly deny the existence of God. Even amongst religionists, there are those who take themselves to be equal to God. Such a notion obviously seems silly, but if one believes that their personal aims and objectives are of paramount importance, the resulting mindset is no different than taking oneself to be equal to the Lord. God’s position is not determined simply on the ability to provide at the highest level. The Supreme Lord is certainly the original proprietor of everything, but this ownership has a deeper meaning. Since Krishna owns everything in this world, the intended use of these objects is for His satisfaction. From this we see that Krishna is also the ultimate enjoyer, the singular beneficiary of sacrifice and religious practice.

Radha and Krishna Krishna’s fixed position as the friend of every living entity forms the third aspect of the Supreme Spirit, one that ties the other two pieces together. Krishna’s universal and unending candidacy for friendship informs the sincere soul that God’s endless property, which is visible throughout this world, is meant to be used for His satisfaction through a loving relationship, one that provides pleasure to not only the Ultimate Enjoyer, but also to those He enjoys with: the devotees. Rather than wait for the time of death to see God, by taking to bhakti right now we can see God’s presence everywhere. The divine vision brings supreme bliss and pleasure and allows an individual to remain firmly fixed in their mood of devotion. Those whose eyes have been smeared with the ointment of transcendental love, premanjana, see the influence of their paramour at every step and every corner. By taking to devotional service through regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we’ll be able to see Krishna at every step we take and with every move we make.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

From Weakness to Strength

Hanuman “Certainly the monkeys are always restless in mind, O best of the monkeys. Being without their sons and wives, they will not abide by your orders.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.9)

nityam asthira cittā hi kapayo hari puṅgava |

na ājñāpyam viṣahiṣyanti putra dārān vinā tvayā

Shri Hanuman is here continuing his psychological game with Angada, the de facto leader of the band of monkeys who had to choose between fighting on and giving up. Hanuman never employs any diplomatic tactic or elaborate scheme to get some personal benefit. The group in question was tasked with a most daunting mission of searching for a princess who was nowhere to be found. After explicit instructions were given regarding the time frame for success, those responsible for carrying out the mission became fearful of the repercussions awaiting them on account of failure. Thinking that success was impossible and that returning back to the commander without any good news was also out of the question, a suicide pact or enjoyment in illusory surroundings seemed more appealing. Hanuman, the faithful servant of the Supreme Lord and the most pious individual, didn’t entertain the thought of quitting for even a moment. Knowing the difficulty of getting others to come over to his point of view, the great devotee employed psychological tactics aimed at creating dissension amongst the individual members of the group. Though the tactic wouldn’t work out as planned immediately, the glorious nature of Hanuman shone through nonetheless.

HanumanSince the events in question took place during the Treta Yuga, which occurred many thousands of years ago, many of the races on earth were more advanced than they are today. The monkeys looking for Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, were known as Vanaras, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “of the forest”. Though they can walk, talk, and speak, Vanaras are usually described as monkeys because of their predominant outward features. Monkeys are certainly a strange choice to lead a reconnaissance mission, but the circumstances were anything but ordinary.

During the specific time period, the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the person we all know as God, descended to earth in a spiritual form which appeared to the ordinary person to be a human being. The Absolute Truth in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, is often described as being both nirguna and saguna. Guna refers to material qualities which bind one to the cycle of birth and death. We all possess gunas, for that is part of the makeup of the living entity residing in the material world. Our identity comes from the atma, or spirit soul, residing within the heart, but the spiritual spark is not visible. Rather, it is covered up by material qualities, or gunas. Since these qualities are temporary and eventually destined for destruction, they have no bearing or influence on the identifiable aspect, the soul.

Lord Rama The Supreme Lord, being the creator of matter and gunas, can never assume a material body. The nirguna description serves as a reminder that His hands, legs, face, etc. aren’t limited in the way that an ordinary living entity’s are. The Supreme Truth possesses a spiritual body, something which is not conceivable to the conditioned living entities. Nirguna can also refer to the expansion of the Lord that resides within the heart of every living entity. Just as the atma forms the basis of our identity, the Paramatma, or Supersoul, represents God’s expansion resting within everyone’s heart. As such, every living entity has God inside. Since the nirguna form is neither visible nor perceptible to the conditioned eye, the Supreme Lord periodically descends to earth in the form of an avatara. The avatara, and their complementary deity representations, are known as saguna, or with attributes. This doesn’t mean that the avatara possesses a material body. It has qualities and attributes which are visible to the eyes of the individuals residing in the material world. There is no difference between the nirguna and saguna forms since they both represent the original Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has an ever-existing spiritual form. The difference lies completely with the angle of vision of the conditionally situated subordinate entities.

Shri Rama enacted wonderful pastimes and set the standard for dharma, or religiosity. Through His behavior He allowed others to get an idea of what God looks like, what His nature is, and what makes Him happy. The Lord also allowed a select few individuals, who now hold an exalted status, to serve Him personally. The Vedas enumerate the inherent qualities of the spirit soul, the foremost of which is an affinity to the Supreme Soul. The Supreme Lord is meant to be served, and the individual soul is meant to perform that service. Working for the pleasure of Supreme Spirit is not the kind of service we are accustomed to. Transcendental service, in its most pure form, is performed voluntarily and without motivation or interruption. When an individual living in the material world becomes aware of the need for this service and subsequently takes to performing it properly, they become liberated from the cycle of birth and death, never having to associate with gunas again.

Lord RamaTo allow others the chance to serve Him, Lord Rama had to create situations where it appeared that He required help. What does this mean exactly? As the original Supreme Lord who is nirguna, Rama can never be baffled, distracted, or put into any distress. All the defects of the phenomenal world only affect those who are enamored by its most powerful governing agent, the master of illusion, maya. Shri Rama is the creator of maya, as the illusory energy works at His pleasure. The individual souls at some time in the past wanted to be deluded into thinking that they could imitate Divine power, similar to how the alcoholic wants to enjoy the temporary and illusory happiness of being drunk. Since the desire to compete with God cannot be facilitated in the flawless spiritual realm, Bhagavan created a world where gunas reign supreme. To keep the effects of gunas at full strength, an illusory agent was required; a position maya fit into very nicely.

Since maya is God’s servant, the Lord can never be deluded by her. Nevertheless, Rama created various situations where it appeared that He needed help. One such predicament involved the rescue of His beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, from the forest of Dandaka. As a faithful and pious individual, Shri Rama always abided by the orders of His father, King Dasharatha of Ayodhya. On a previous occasion, Dasharatha had ordered Rama to exit the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. More than just an exercise in austerity, Rama had to relinquish all ties to the kingdom. He was set on travelling alone, but His wife and His younger brother Lakshmana refused to allow Him to suffer in solitude. They insisted on accompanying Him, demanding to offer service to their beloved Lord.

Hanuman While in the forest of Dandaka, Sita would be kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Not knowing where she was, Rama made His way to the Kishkindha forest along with Lakshmana. The two brothers forged an alliance with the Vanara king Sugriva, who agreed to help Rama find Sita. When the time came to make good on his promise, Sugriva dispatched his giant monkey army to comb the entire earth. The most powerful soldier in the army, and Sugriva’s trusted aide, was Shri Hanuman. Hanuman is no ordinary figure. He is a divine incarnation of the wind-god Vayu and Lord Shiva, the most exalted Vaishnava and eternal servant of Shri Rama. As such, from birth Hanuman was endowed with godly qualities and inclined towards service to the Supreme Lord.

Prior to the egress of the monkey search parties, Sugriva especially took confidence in Hanuman. The most powerful monkeys, including Angada, who was Sugriva’s nephew, were sent with Hanuman’s group. After a month had passed, the monkeys were still unsuccessful in finding Sita. Sugriva had explicitly told his monkeys that they should not bother returning without successfully finding Sita. Indeed, they would be punished severely if they came back with no information. Since the time allotted for their mission had elapsed, two options were presented before the monkeys.  Angada recommended fasting until death, while one of the leading commanders advised that the monkeys stay in a guarded cave by the sea shore and simply enjoy the nice surroundings previously created there by a demon named Maya.

HanumanHanuman, not happy with the sudden divergence in plans, then stepped in to change the course of action. Angada had essentially become the leader of the pack, so Hanuman focused his psychological efforts directly at him. Since the word Veda means “knowledge”, the Vedic scriptures contain information on all different facets of life, including how to properly govern a kingdom. In the sections describing good governance and diplomacy, one of the areas of interest relates to how to get what you want from a hostile party. There are different methods that can be employed, with one of them being dissension, which was the route Hanuman chose. First he praised Angada for being very powerful and capable of fighting off anyone. Then he stated that the monkeys were very fickle in nature and that since they were without their family members and wives, they wouldn’t listen to Angada’s words for very long. Though Angada thought the monkeys would be better off starving to death or hiding in the beautiful cave, Hanuman essentially said just the opposite, that Angada wouldn’t be safe hiding out from Sugriva because the monkeys would eventually turn on him.

Aside from being cleverly crafted and aimed at fomenting dissent, Hanuman’s words were full of fact and completely based in reality. A monkey behaves similar to a human being, for even many scientists have erroneously mentally speculated that man evolved from the ape. Yet the monkey is considered inferior to the human being because of the intelligence factor. A monkey is more inclined towards animalistic activities, which focus primarily on eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The influence of these activities causes their minds to be very fickle, and when their cherished activities are interrupted, they lose all sense of rationality and good judgment. Thus Hanuman invoked a common stereotype about monkeys to reach his desired outcome of continuing the search for Sita.

Hanuman Since as human beings we are similar to the animal species, we too are, by default, fickle-minded. Sex life serves as the strongest attachment, to which spouses and children are closely related. Therefore the greatest cause of distress and loss of rationality comes from the disturbance in family life, the breaking of the bonds formed with our loved ones. Yet as mentioned before, the only way to become nirguna, or free of material qualities, is to take to service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If we take to devotional service, which can involve one or a variety of distinct processes, the primary of which is the chanting of the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, we can hopefully achieve liberation by the end of life.

The problem we may encounter, however, is that devotional efforts, when undertaken alone, can cause disruptions in family life. Since human beings are also fickle-minded like the monkeys, distresses caused by tension in family life will likely take one off the straightened path of devotional service. Refraining from intoxication, eating meat, gambling, and illicit sex is not easy to do when one is constantly under duress and pressure. To remedy the situation, we should use whatever attachments we have and whatever deficiencies in terms of weaknesses we possess to our advantage. What does this mean exactly? If we are attached to family, we should perform our devotional service with them. Obviously this isn’t always possible, but if it is, we should most certainly take advantage. Through adding God to the activities we are accustomed to engaging in, we can turn our weaknesses into strengths.

Success in spiritual life results in the purification of consciousness. The pure mindset is not dependent on any factor except the sincere desire of the aspiring transcendentalist. Unlike other spiritual disciplines which may require strict rules and regulations, the only abiding principle in devotional service is that one should employ whatever practical means are available to them that can effectively change their consciousness. This was the method employed by Hanuman, even though his consciousness never needs purifying. Though he is well-versed in the military arts and the ins and outs of diplomacy, Hanuman has no attachment to any mundane knowledge. Nevertheless, when the time came to serve Rama, he tapped into his storehouse of material wisdom to help further the cause. Hanuman’s only desire was to serve Rama and to find Sita. His psychological tricks would prove to be most wonderful, for even though Angada would initially settle on starving to death, the monkeys would eventually end up trusting Hanuman fully with the most difficult task of crossing over the ocean that stood in between them and the shores of Lanka, where Sita had been taken. Not surprisingly, due to Hanuman’s heroic efforts and his ability to rally the monkey forces, Sita would eventually be found and all would end well.

“Prescribed duties should never be renounced. If, by illusion, one gives up his prescribed duties, such renunciation is said to be in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.7)

Hanuman For those already married and with children, the ideal option is to remain in family life and continue performing prescribed duties. There is no need to renounce anything artificially. We carefully should weigh every option against its effect on the final outcome. We should reject anything which is unfavorable towards the execution of devotional service and accept anything which is favorable. If we turn our attachments into favorable conditions, we can turn our material qualities into spiritual ones. The liberated souls such as Shri Hanuman always possess spiritual bodies. By kindly invoking their names and remembering their wonderful and heroic feats, we can one day hope to have the association of the original Personality of Godhead, the Lord who always possesses a sweet, blissful, and transcendental form.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Best Around

Krishna playing on Putana's body “When the gopis saw little Krishna fearlessly playing on Putana's lap, they very quickly came and picked Him up. Mother Yashoda, Rohini, and other elderly gopis immediately performed the auspicious rituals by taking the tail of a cow and circumambulating His body.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 6)

An interesting behavior characteristic of the most exalted associates of the Supreme Being, the true saints of the world, is that they don’t seek any honor for themselves. Rather, they take the greatest pleasure in seeing and hearing about the triumphs and victories of their loveable objects, be it fellow devotees or the Supreme Source of Pleasure in the spiritual sky, Shri Krishna. The undying divine lovers never try to usurp the position of the superior entity; instead they derive the greatest pleasure simply by knowing that He is great. If they make any effort at all towards the attainment of a specific goal, it is to further increase the glory of the One who has already achieved every success, won every battle, and owned everything that can be acquired. From the sterling behavior of the saintly class, the secret to achieving a peaceful and blissful state of mind is revealed.

Lord KrishnaUpon assuming a dress composed of the various elements of nature, the resulting living being, known as a jiva in Sanskrit, takes to activities which have commensurate positive and negative results. Activities falling under this scope are known as karma, and usually just the possible favorable outcomes are pondered over. Surely there are negative side effects, or pollution, to any fruitive activity, but the unpalatable conditions are discarded or at least minimized in the hopes of achieving that wished-for end. For example, driving an automobile involves a desired goal, that of reaching the intended destination. At the same time, there are negative aspects to operating a motor vehicle, such as air pollution, having to purchase gasoline, owning automobile insurance, and having to maintain the car so that it functions properly. To the objective observer, the negative aspects may even outweigh the positives, but to the pleasure-seeker, the unfavorable elements of driving are discarded, or at least not considered. The desired aim is deemed favorable enough to tolerate whatever unfavorable aspects come along.

Driving is just one small example, but depending on the individual and what stage of life they are in, the goals and objectives can be much larger. For instance, a startup business owner is looking to make it by expanding their production capabilities and hopefully attracting investors who will pour money into the operation. The goal is to one day have a company that produces profits at such a high rate that working is no longer required. Let’s say that such an ambitious individual succeeds in their venture. After years and years of hard work, the company expands to the point that the owner can retire and live happily at home. Now let’s say we have another person who didn’t start their own business, but worked at a simple job for just as long a period of time. Towards the end of the road, the retirement years, the quality of life for the common laborer may not be all that different. The retired successful business owner may reside in a palatial mansion, while the ordinary worker remains in a small apartment, but the absence of the requirement to work is present in both situations.

One can argue that the biggest difference would be in terms of the satisfaction of the mind. The successful business owner can look back on his working years fondly and take great pleasure in his triumphs. He started out with a dream, and through hard work, he achieved everything he wanted. The ordinary worker may not have had such obstacles to overcome, or even goals to shoot for, so he will have less triumphs to ponder over in the latter stages of life. Based on this comparison, we see that the only difference between the two retired workers is consciousness, the thought processes of the mind. As human beings inhabiting a vast land mass known as the earth, there is ample supply of food, clothing and shelter available. One certainly doesn’t need to successfully start and run a large business in order to meet the demands of the body. After all, even the animal species have all of their needs provided by nature. The tiger doesn’t even eat every day, yet it still gets enough food in the form of other animals periodically.

So the real effects of fruitive activity are seen in the formation of one’s thought processes. Yet even with a one hundred percent success rate in karmic engagements, we know that no one can be the most successful or the richest person in any venture. For example, one basketball star may hold many all-time records, but there will surely be other players who surpass them in specific categories of achievement. One man may have billions of dollars in the bank, but it doesn’t mean that there aren’t other wealthy men in the world. Fruitive activity, even when executed to completion of the desired goal, doesn’t necessarily do anything for one’s stature. Based on the impossibility of achieving pure supremacy in any meaningful venture, the bliss that is derived from personal accomplishments can be considered limited.

Lord Krishna The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately assert that there exists one entity who is the richest, most knowledgeable, strongest, most renounced, most beautiful and most famous. Not surprisingly, that person is God, whose original form is that of Lord Krishna. Though Krishna is generally associated with Hindus, He is God for everyone. One who is fortunate enough to realize that Krishna is indeed their God will slowly but surely reach a level of mental satisfaction far greater than that of any karmi, or one who takes to fruitive activity.

The key to ascending to the highest state of mental felicity is realizing and believing in the supremacy of God, something which is easier said than done. Cynicism towards the importance of statements describing the Supreme Lord’s superlative attributes is only natural. “Of course God is the greatest. That doesn’t surprise me. But how does that information help me? How does it improve my current circumstance?” As mentioned before, the most tangible effect of success in fruitive activity is a change in consciousness. Though so many polluting elements must be encountered during one’s rise to the top, the bounty received seems to make it all worth it. But what if we just pretended that we were successful without ever having taken any effort? After all, we see that the most important effect of success is the changing of one’s mindset, so why can’t we just pretend in our minds that we succeeded in whatever fruitive activity interests us?

Football fansLiving vicariously through someone else involves fixing one’s thoughts and desires on another person’s struggles and plight through specific activities in life. Usually those who live vicariously attach themselves to someone who is pursuing grand success, an individual who has a chance at achieving big things. Sports fanaticism is built around this practice. When a particular sports figure or team wins the championship, fans rejoice, even though they don’t know the players personally. Yet through a link in consciousness, by focusing the mind on the plight of the players involved, the fans feel as if they are going through the trials and tribulations themselves. Thus when there is success for the players, the fans feel that they have succeeded as well.

It’s interesting to see that the bliss felt by the fans after a team’s victory often far exceeds the elation felt by the players themselves. This certainly makes sense, as our parents derive greater joy from our successes than we do. If we graduate high school or college, we may not think of it as a big deal, but our parents surely will. The commencement ceremonies are really for the benefit of the parents more than anyone else. Through the bond of love, which is tightly held by a link in consciousness, the loving party, the one that provides support to the worker in their task, feels tremendous satisfaction and bliss upon seeing the success of their loved one.

Krishna pastimesA similar practice is followed by devotees, those who have turned over their consciousness to the Supreme Lord and His exploits. Though God resides in the spiritual sky, He never remains alone. Indeed, He is a person, full of form and figure, but one who is far superior to anyone else. Since He is the owner of everything, all perceptible successes can be attributed to Him. Moreover, due to His causeless mercy, He kindly appears on this earth from time to time in various forms to enact pastimes. The names and features of these forms are described in sacred texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam.

When the Lord takes part in pastimes, His most trusted aides, those devotees who consider God to be their closest family member, lend a helping hand. Yet these sublime servants never try to surpass the master. They derive the greatest pleasure from seeing God emerge victorious in whatever battle He is taking part in; hence there is no desire to imitate the Supreme Lord. Due to their dedicated service, the servants actually surpass the master in stature, as was the case with Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Krishna who appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago. Rama was a famous bow warrior, and His greatest battle took place on the island of Lanka against a demon named Ravana. Rama, in the form of a human being, walked across a bridge made of stones to Lanka, while Hanuman had previously leapt his way across the same giant ocean. Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava poet, accurately notes that Hanuman was given this perk because he served Rama so perfectly.

Building the bridge to LankaHanuman, however, never derived pleasure from his own triumphs; his only business was to serve Rama. Indeed, after Rama successfully defeated Ravana and rescued His kidnapped wife, Sita Devi, Hanuman was granted the boon of remaining on the earth for as long as Rama’s story continued to be told and celebrated. Hanuman is much more powerful than any ordinary entity. Though assuming the form of a Vanara, or human-like monkey, he possesses every yogic siddhi, or mystic perfection. He can do whatever he pleases, be it defeat an enemy in battle or perform some heroic feat of strength. Yet his greatest pleasure comes from hearing about God’s glories found in the Ramayana. Hanuman essentially takes Rama’s triumphs to be his own. He views Rama as his God.

“O Lakshmana, do you rule this earth with Me. You are like My second self, so this glorious opportunity has been presented to you as well. O Saumitra, do you enjoy all the pleasures you desire and the fruits of the regal life. My life and this kingdom I covet for your sake alone.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kanda, 4.43-44)

Sita and Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, also take great pleasure in Rama’s victories. Rama on several occasions mentioned that all His activities were dedicated to Lakshmana, yet Lakshmana never tried to usurp Rama’s power or take away from any of His victories. Lakshmana had no need to strive for personal benefit or fame because his brother was already the most famous person in the world. If God is the most successful person, what need is there for us to tirelessly seek fame? By attaching ourselves to His lotus feet through a tight bond of love, we can bask in all His glory and fame. Since every living entity is His child, we can all look to the Lord as our God.

Sita and RamaSita Devi, as the devoted wife of Rama, shares in all His pious credits. For the Supreme Lord, there is no such thing as piety or sin, for He is the object of all religious practice. But in the material sense, a religiously wedded wife, one following dharma, is allowed to share in her husband’s spiritual merits. Transcending the influences of the visible world, Sita is always with Rama, for even in the spiritual sky the two are always together as Lakshmi-Narayana and Radha-Krishna. Sita can also be considered Rama’s finance manager, the person in charge of keeping stock of the Lord’s limitless wealth and fortunes. In her role as the goddess of fortune, Sita provides benedictions to those sincere souls who aim to please God. In fact, Hanuman’s needs on earth are taken care of directly by Sita. As such, Hanuman has no need to endeavor for material acquisitions, as he is given all he needs to perform his regular devotional duties, activities which include reading from the Ramayana and singing the most beautiful devotional songs in praise of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana.

Krishna pastimes Not only is Lord Rama ever triumphant, but so are all the other expansions of Godhead, including the original form of Krishna. If we are ever feeling down in the dumps or saddened over personal failures, we can always remember the victorious efforts of Krishna, such as the time He sucked the life out of the female demon Putana who had hopelessly come to kill the infant Krishna living in the peaceful and beautiful land of Vrindavana. Krishna’s victories are our triumphs after all, for the Lord resides within each of us as the Paramatma, the Supersoul. Unlike with ordinary individuals who can have their behavior altered for the worse by too much success, Krishna knows exactly how to handle His supreme stature. He is more than capable of dealing with the millions of adoring eyes and ears that remain focused on Him. Success in life can be found very quickly by always remaining with God in the same way that Sita, Lakshmana and Hanuman do. They never try to surpass Rama in anything, but rather they take His successes and glories to be their greatest source of pleasure. Assuming a fixed position at the Lord’s side, we too can always bask in the glory of victory, the transcendental pleasure of knowing that the most sublime, kind, sweet and compassionate person in all the universes serves as its creator, maintainer, destroyer and pleasure-giver. Thankfully that person is Shri Krishna, and His love is available for everyone to keep and hold on to as their most valued possession.