Saturday, February 26, 2011


Lord Vishnu “My dear father, O great sage, I know that your feet are very soft, like a lotus flower, and that My chest is as hard as a thunderbolt. I am therefore afraid that you may have felt some pain by touching My chest with your feet. Let Me therefore touch your feet to relieve the pain you have suffered.” (Lord Vishnu speaking to Bhrigu Muni, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)

It’s natural to view religion as having a serious aura, a protective shield that requires visitors to check their jokes and kidding at the door. Spirituality is the real deal after all, as it touches on issues of life, death and the temporary nature of happiness and distress. But as the opening verse of the Shrimad Bhagavatam so nicely reveals, God is the source of everything in this world, janmady asya yatah, so even humor comes from Him. Therefore, in stories that describe Krishna’s activities and pastimes, along with teachings carrying tremendous import, there is also great humor to be found. And since everything related to the Supreme Personality of Godhead is in pure goodness, even the humorous stories can teach us valuable lessons.

Lord KrishnaTucked away in the sacred verses of the Brahma-samhita, Brahmavaivarta Purana and Shrimad Bhagavatam is authoritative information declaring Shri Krishna to be the original form of Godhead. Indeed, His status as the supreme and original person is further supported by His all-attractiveness. Man can travel far and wide, even at the speed of light through space, and never find any entity who is more beautiful, attractive and ever-youthful than Krishna. Surely, Krishna doesn’t limit Himself to one form, just as we don’t limit our behavior to one activity or interest. Every individual, being a spirit soul, is unique in their tendencies, likes and dislikes. As the well-wishing friend of every form of life - each of which descends from the original, inconceivably brilliant and large transcendental body of the Supreme Person - Krishna makes sure to have enough forms to match the innumerable varieties of penchants for worship. Heck, there is even a formless aspect of the Absolute Truth tailored to those transcendentalists who feel they are too good to lower themselves to the level of the plebs and commoners who take to outward worship through visiting temples and performing religious functions.

While Shri Krishna is the most attractive form of pure spirit because He appeals to the most individuals, His expansion of Lord Vishnu is equally as potent, though He takes on a different form. Vishnu-worship, prayers and chants offered to Krishna or one of His non-different expansions, is the most unique system of spirituality in the world, one reserved exclusively for those who are interested in bhakti, or transcendental love. Bhakti is the pinnacle of religious practice, as all other systems of worship are ideally meant to lead to the stage where all actions are performed in concert with the Lord’s desires, where the sincere servants take direction from the kindest and sweetest of puppet masters, the Supreme Lord. Bhakti, or pure love, is meant only for Vishnu and His different forms and no other spiritual entity. All other forms of worship, including one where allegiance is professed to a generic individual referred to as “God”, are on the lower stages because the pure bliss evoked through bhakti is absent. Krishna has many forms, but only His Vishnu expansions are personal and thus capable of providing direct interaction to the jiva soul, which is naturally geared towards expressing individuality and free activity.

Lord Vishnu riding on GarudaThat Vishnu-worship is unique and supreme is not merely the opinion of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, but rather a fact substantiated by the methods of worship commonly employed and their inferior results. In poll after poll of public opinion, the number of believers in God outweighs the non-believers by a large margin. Yet in order to be considered a worshiper of something, one must make the satisfaction of their object of interest paramount in importance. For example, if we say that we love our spouse, we’ll make their interests more important than our own. Hence we move to different locations if the spouse gets shifted in their job, we go on vacation in areas that we may not like, and we pretend to get along with the in-laws during Thanksgiving and Christmas. This is all done to prove our love, to show that our words of affection aren’t empty.

Yet in the arena of spirituality, the resulting behavioral patterns don’t always match up with the original professions of faith. Worshiping God for any other purpose than love cannot be classified as pure; hence the distinction between Vishnu-worship, or bhakti, and any other style of spirituality. The most common form of religious practice is the asking for benedictions. “God, please help me out. I’m in trouble. I’m suffering so much; I really need You to come through for me.” An individual certainly shouldn’t be criticized for such behavior. At least they have the knowledge to understand that things are out of their control. Yet, we offer similar types of service to other entities. We pay the utility companies so that we have electricity and water. We pay the cable provider so that our favorite channels come on television. We pay the grocer so that we can put food on the table. Worshiping God for the express purpose of receiving benefits, be they material objects or the alleviation of distress, is really no different than offering service to other entities. The method of paying tribute may be different, i.e. instead of writing a check we kneel down in a house of worship, but the end-result, the goal in mind, is the same.

Lord VishnuWorship of Supreme Spirit in a personal form, when taken to the highest level, bears no similarity to any other type of service. Therefore, for those who are seriously interested in substantiating their claims of spirituality, ascension to this topmost platform of service is required. Even many followers of the Vedic tradition fail to ascend to the higher standard of Vishnu-bhakti, for it is very difficult to break free of the fears and demands of material life. Who among us wants to live in poverty? Who wants to be in pain all the time? It’s quite understandable then that the distressed and the worried would look to the greatest order supplier, the eternal leader in the sky, to come through. But when armed with real intelligence, information that allows the individual to understand their constitutional position as loving friend of the Supreme Lord who maintains an unbreakable link to Him that is kept in an active state through a mood of transcendental servitude, there is no need to ask for rewards that act as insulation from pain and misery.

Does this mean that Vishnu worshipers don’t ask God for anything? To nicely illustrate the difference between transcendentalists dedicated to bhakti and those hovering below the surface, we can study an analogy described by Goswami Tulsidas, the kind, humble and sweet Vaishnava poet and devotee of Lord Rama. Just as Krishna is considered to be the same as Vishnu, Shri Rama, the warrior prince incarnation of the Lord who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga, is also the same Lord Vishnu but in a slightly different form. Rama is wholly dedicated to dharma, so He attracts those who take virtue, chivalry, kindness, shyness and other subdued features to be of utmost importance. Tulsidas, in his Dohavali, writes that through his worship of Rama he has essentially turned into a Chatak, a bird which only drinks rainwater. The analogy is very nice because the Chatak is very picky in its style of worship. Not only will it not drink anything except rainwater, but it will never divert its attention from the raincloud, which has the same complexion as Lord Rama, Vishnu and Krishna.

Lord RamaTulsidas devotes several verses to this analogy with the Chatak, with each one beautifully explaining the difference between loving God in a pure way and worshiping the Lord for some benefit. Tulsidas states that some other birds also only drink rainwater, which comes at the holy time of the year during the monsoon season. Yet the Chatak is always superior because it points its beak at the Lord, represented by the raincloud, even when there is no chance of rain. Such a beautiful comparison can be studied every single day and remembered at every moment and still not properly recognized for its brilliance. The other birds are similarly renounced, for they have decided that they will only eat what the raincloud, or God, gives them. Who can argue with the exalted position of such worshipers? They don’t even ask for benedictions from the Lord, so surely they can’t be grouped in with those who simply look to God as an order supplier.

Yet the Chatak, or pure devotee, is always superior because it devotes itself to the Lord every single day, even though it has no desire for rainwater. This represents pure love, the highest level of devotion. The worship of Vishnu in pure bhakti is done for Vishnu’s benefit, and not for any other reason. Whether the raincloud brings water or not is of no importance to the Chatak. If the pure devotee gets tremendous riches or is constantly thrown into trouble, the dedication to worship doesn’t wane. Because of this unflinching vow, Vishnu Himself becomes wholly endeared to the pure devotees, taking them to be His best friends. One can spend an entire lifetime trying to measure the limits of Vishnu’s mercy reserved for His devotees, but the end would never be reached.

Lakshmi and VishnuA glimpse of Vishnu’s merciful nature was on full display a long time ago during a funny incident involving Bhrigu Muni. A group of sages had gathered around after the completion of a sacrifice to discuss spiritual matters. According to Vedic information, the three presiding deities of the material world are Lord Brahma, Lord Shiva and Lord Vishnu. There are actually several different Vishnu forms that descend from the original Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, with every form considered as non-different from the Lord and in pure goodness. We can think of goodness, passion and ignorance as different levels of intelligence, or grades of activities and qualities. One in the mode of goodness is always superior, for they know the subtleties of nature and what should be done and what shouldn’t. The other two modes are mixed, so the influence of goodness isn’t always present. Vishnu is the deity of the mode of goodness, but since these sages were discussing amongst each other in a friendly manner, they failed to reach an ultimate conclusion as to which of the three deities possessed the mode of goodness to the fullest degree.

Bhrigu Muni, as the son of Lord Brahma, decided to test the three worshipable figures and report back his findings to the sages. He first went to Brahma’s realm and purposely refused to offer obeisances upon meeting his father. Even in the least cultured society, there is some greeting that is offered upon initial contact with a close relative; there is either a hug or at least a handshake. In the Vedic tradition the custom is to offer one’s obeisances in the proper manner, showing the highest level of respect. An elder or a spiritually important figure should be respected by falling at their feet. Even today this tradition is alive amongst Hindus when they meet their parents or elders. The child will touch the parents’ feet at the times of greeting and departing. Since his son refused to offer obeisances, Brahma was quite offended. Being in charge of the mode of passion, he was fortunately able to control his anger. Bhrigu Muni was his son after all, so out of affection Brahma decided not to act on his anger.

Lord ShivaBhrigu next went to visit Lord Shiva. This time, Mahadeva got up to receive the brahmana, but the muni not only refused to embrace Lord Shiva, but he openly insulted him, telling the husband of Mother Parvati not to touch him due to his impure nature. As a recurring humorous theme in Vedic literature, Mahadeva is often made fun of for his unorthodox outward dress. As the presiding deity of the mode of ignorance, Lord Shiva assumes a strange outward appearance, one involving skulls and ashes. He also spends a lot of time around crematoriums and places related to death. Therefore, when someone wants to insult Mahadeva or disrespect him, they immediately point to these uncommon features. Lord Shiva, being the all-powerful destroyer and a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, certainly should never be insulted, but it’s indeed humorous to see the nature of the criticism that others take to. Lord Shiva, being insulted in this way, was ready to punish Bhrigu Muni immediately. Fortunately, Parvatiji was able to pacify his anger and prevent him from harming a brahmana, a member of the priestly class.

Thus far Bhrigu Muni had committed offenses by his mind and speech. Offenses of the body are far worse, so Bhrigu reserved this for Lord Vishnu. Reaching the Lord’s abode, the muni found Lakshmi Devi kindly massaging her husband’s feet. This time, Bhrigu decided to kick Lord Vishnu in the chest. In Lord Brahma’s case, there was anger that resulted from the insult, but there was nothing said or done about it. In Shiva’s case, the anger was also there and it almost manifested in violence. In Vishnu’s case, there wasn’t even the slightest hint of agitation. Lord Vishnu kindly arose and welcomed Bhrigu Muni as His most exalted guest. In fact, Lord Vishnu even apologized for having maybe caused harm to the brahmana’s foot due to His all-powerful chest. Bhrigu was certainly astonished. He had just committed the greatest offense, yet the Lord was treating him like a first-class citizen. Since that time, Vishnu keeps the imprint of Bhrigu’s foot on His chest as a sign of the meeting with His beloved devotee.

Lord Vishnu It should be noted that Vishnu doesn’t behave this way with just anyone. Many a time a demon has attacked the Lord or one of His associates, and the response was anything but favorable to the culprit. But in Bhrigu’s case, the so-called offense was made by a brahmana, one who was humble and dedicated to virtue. Bhrigu Muni not only had an exalted birth, but he exuded the qualities of a brahmana and took part in the activities belonging to his class. Such individuals are always dear to Vishnu, as the Lord is their only deva, or god.  Indeed, Vishnu is referred to as brahmanya-devaya, meaning the chief worshipable object of the brahmanas.

“My Lord, You are the well-wisher of the cows and the brahmanas, and You are the well-wisher of the entire human society and world.” (Vishnu Purana, 1.19.65)

The brahmana’s footprint on His chest proves without a doubt that Vishnu is the most merciful of all the forms of Godhead presiding over this and innumerable other planets. If there is sincerity in the mood of worship, the Lord’s mercy will always be there. Through this humorous incident with Bhrigu Muni, we learn that Vishnu has not a trace of any material mode of nature in Him; He is always in pure goodness. There is no offense that can cause Him agitation or deviation from His vow to always protect the saints. Therefore the path in life becomes quite obvious: become a devotee of the Lord and always enjoy His association and the umbrella of safety that it brings.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Sleep With One Eye Open

Hanuman “Bereft of your friends, well-wishers and relatives, you will be terribly afraid at even the movement of a blade of grass.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 54.18)

sa tvam hīnaḥ suhṛdbhiḥ ca hita kāmaiḥ ca bandhubhiḥ |

tṛṇāt api bhṛśa udvignaḥ spandamānāt bhaviṣyasi

Though this kind warning offered by Hanuman is aimed at changing an opinion, it also brings a smile to the faces of those who love the dear servant of Shri Rama. Religious life, including the attached scriptures, rules and regulations, are typically taken very seriously. This is justifiable because spirituality deals with the highest truths, issues pertaining to life and death and the future well-being of the soul. Yet there are also many humorous incidents described in the Vedic texts, with this interaction between Hanuman and Angada being one of them.

HanumanHanuman’s statement illustrates his uncanny ability to pin his debate opponent into a logical corner. By presenting statements derived from accepted truths in such a perfect way, Angada really had no other option but to rethink his stated objective. The context of Hanuman’s statement is his attempt to raise dissension in a particular battalion of warriors who were tasked with finding the whereabouts of a missing princess. Many thousands of years ago, the goddess of fortune, the mother of the universe, appeared on earth in human form as a beautiful princess named Sita. When she reached an appropriate age, she was married, not surprisingly, to Lord Rama, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead.

“God” is too generic a term to sufficiently describe the Supreme Divine Entity who possesses a transcendental form that is eternally full of bliss and knowledge. To provide more information and enjoyment to the attentive listener, the same supreme entity can be referred to as Bhagavan, which means one who possesses every fortune, or estimable attribute. Since the size and scope of His presence are not limited, He kindly appears on earth at different times of His choosing. One such descent took place during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. A yuga is a measurement of time representing a division of the entire span of creation. The earth is not created just once; it goes through cycles of creation and destruction. As time and space are infinite, so is the number of life cycles of the innumerable universes and their many planets.

Sita and Rama marriageIn the Treta Yuga, an epoch where man was still generally pious, the Lord appeared as a handsome and pious prince named Rama. For the title of king to have meaning, there must be a kingdom to rule over. In a similar manner, a divine prince must have an accompanying princess to enjoy life with. Thus Rama was married to none other than Sita, His life partner both on earth and in the imperishable sky. The two enjoyed married life for a long time, but they had to face separation on a few occasions. The nefarious activities of a very powerful demon named Ravana caused the most troublesome and fearful time of separation from Rama for Sita. This lusty individual, who was accustomed to eating animal flesh and drinking wine, created a ruse which allowed him to take Sita away from Rama behind the Lord’s back.

In His subsequent search for Sita, Rama, accompanied by His younger brother Lakshmana, made His way to the forest of Kishkindha, which was inhabited at the time by a race of monkeys known as Vanaras. A Vanara is usually taken to be a monkey, but we can think of them more as a simian species possessing human-like characteristics. They were forest dwellers, so they had a monkey form and animalistic tendencies, but they could still talk and behave in a somewhat civilized manner.

Hanuman meeting RamaThe leader of the monkeys was Sugriva, who forged an alliance with Rama through the help of Hanuman. Shri Hanuman is a celebrated figure in the Vedic tradition, and his worshipable status came into being with his initial meeting with Rama and Lakshmana. Through Hanuman’s efforts, Sugriva was able to befriend Rama and subsequently regain his kingdom from his brother Vali. In return for Rama’s help, Sugriva agreed to help find Sita. The monkey-king dispatched his massive army across the globe to look for the beautiful princess. Though many search parties were sent out, Hanuman’s group was understood to be the most capable, and thus all hopes for success were invested in them.

After a month, Hanuman’s party, which was led by Angada, Sugriva’s nephew, had yet to make any progress. Fearing the wrath of Sugriva, Angada decided to abandon the mission and starve to death. Angada, as a sweet and kind-hearted servant, thought it would be better to spare Sugriva the potential sin of having to severely punish the monkeys for failing in the mission. Yet another commander named Tara thought maybe the monkeys should take refuge in a beautiful cave that was adjacent to the seashore the monkeys found themselves on. Faced with all these options, the monkey host asked Angada for a solution to be crafted where they could remain alive. The logic behind the quitting option presented by the monkeys seemed pretty sound. “If we go back to Sugriva, he will surely be angry with us for not having found Sita. Plus Rama and Lakshmana surely won’t be happy either. Thus it is better to live out our days in this beautiful cave crafted by the demon Maya. Here no one will find us, so we will be able to live in peace.”

Hanuman did not like this new course of action at all. To him, personal comfort was not of any concern. Shri Rama was back at the camp waiting for information about Sita. If the monkeys were to give up and not tell anyone about it, Rama would be left waiting indefinitely. The longer He would have to wait, the more the chances of rescuing Sita would diminish. Even if Sugriva and Rama were to get angry, Hanuman wasn’t afraid to take the punishment, for then at least Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, would be informed of the present situation.

HanumanSo what was Hanuman to do? According to Vedic tenets, teachings which originate from the Lord and have been passed down from the beginning of time, there are three ways for an administrator to deal with opposing elements. One option is to take to flattery, i.e. compliment the enemy and offer gifts. Another option is brute force; take to fighting the enemy directly to compel them to adhere to the dictates of the state. Shri Hanuman chose the third option, that of fomenting dissension.

Being privy to Hanuman’s thought process and knowing which tactic he was employing, studying the subsequent words he directed at Angada surely can evoke laughter. Hanuman addressed Angada in front of all the monkeys to make sure they heard everything he was saying. First, he praised Angada for his great fighting ability and strength. But then Hanuman also praised the other monkeys and said that they wouldn’t be able to stand separation from their loved ones for very long. Monkeys are naturally fickle-minded, as is common for any animal lacking real intelligence. Hanuman also accurately pointed out that Lakshmana, Rama’s younger brother, would be able to rip apart their sanctuary cave by firing a single arrow from his bow. These arrows, which Lakshmana had a numerous supply of and were made of iron, would be so powerful that they would tear apart the cave like a leaf that is cut off from its bed by a sword. On top of the potential destruction, the monkeys would also remember the association of their wives and family members. Missing their company, the monkeys would indeed be prone to abandoning Angada’s course of action.

In the above referenced statement, Hanuman is warning Angada of what would happen once the monkeys would leave. Hanuman predicts that Angada, by living alone, would be so worried about outside attack that he would have to essentially sleep with one eye open. When a person knows they have done something wrong, they are usually quite fearful of getting caught. An innocent person has no reason to be afraid or nervous around people of authority, but a criminal has every reason to be. Since Angada knew he was doing something wrong by abandoning the mission, he would surely spend every minute of every day in trepidation.

Monkey army Through his diplomatic presentation, Hanuman carefully worked his way through a hypothetical situation that resulted in the worst possible predicament for Angada. Once the monkeys would abandon him, they would surely return to Sugriva and inform him of what happened. Sugriva, Rama and Lakshmana would then search out Angada to punish him. They would know where he was because the other monkeys would reveal the location of the secret hideaway. Angada would thus have to be on the lookout for attackers coming to punish him for his transgression.

Hanuman tells Angada that he will be so afraid that even the movement of a blade of grass will scare him. Aside from those with allergies, grass is relatively harmless to all forms of life. Due to its humble position on the floor of the earth, it sways constantly from the blowing of the wind and the actions of others. Angada would be so nervous that the harmless movement of the grass would cause him great fear. In this way Hanuman has totally broken apart Angada’s stated objective of finding peace through renunciation. The premise of the courses of action presented by Angada and the monkeys was that no one would be able to find them in the cave or on the seashore. By informing Angada that the monkeys would eventually turn on him and reveal his location to Sugriva, the original premise was invalidated, thus also nullifying the conclusion of a peaceful condition.

“Therefore, without being attached to the fruits of activities, one should act as a matter of duty; for by working without attachment, one attains the Supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.19)

Lord KrishnaDevotional service, or following the interests of the Supreme Lord, is always the better option. Upon hitting a fork in the road, the path which has the potential to lead to God’s satisfaction should be taken. When activities are adopted that strictly lead to personal interest, trouble lurks around every corner. Whatever pleasant condition one thinks they have accounted for can be picked apart in an instant, as it was with the monkeys in Angada’s party. The devotional path is always safer because it is directly tied to the Supreme Lord. He is the creator of every circumstance in this world, so if one takes to pleasing Him, Bhagavan will most certainly look out for the devotee.

More than just a lofty promise, the vow of Divine protection has played out time and time again. Angada and the other monkeys, after initially deciding upon the starvation option, would eventually continue their search for Sita. Yet their path was not easy in the least bit, with Hanuman meeting many obstacles along the way. But the Lord, as the supreme arranger, seeing that the monkeys were sincere in their service to Him, guaranteed their success. Even Sita Devi, the person whom the monkeys were searching for, granted benedictions to Hanuman after she met him in Lanka. The Lord is never alone; His wonderful and kind spiritual family is always there to offer a helping hand to the sincere soul.

Hanuman thinking of Rama The most important mission in life, the best way to satisfy the Supreme Lord, is to take the necessary steps to join Him in the spiritual world, a reunion which can only materialize through steady practice of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. The quintessential act of bhakti is the chanting of the Lord’s names. No sequence of words better incorporates Bhagavan’s names, potencies and kind nature than does the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Shri Hanuman, after serving Rama to the best of his abilities, received the benediction of remaining on earth for as long as the Lord’s story continued to be told. Thus Hanuman spends every minute of every day thinking about Rama, Sita and Lakshmana and chanting their holy names. He sleeps in peace because he knows that God is always with him. Following any course of action divorced of a relationship to the personal form of Supreme Spirit will lead to constant angst, where one must remain on the lookout at all times. But in spiritual life, the tables turn. When following the path of bhakti, instead of the individual always being on alert for potential enemy attack, it is the Supreme Lord who remains ever vigilant in His defense of His sincere devotee. As such, the latter option, the path of bhakti, is always superior.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Heads I Win, Tails You Lose

Narayana “But if you have faith still in the words of Lord Shiva, my dear king of the demons, then why don't you make an experiment by putting your hand on your head? If the benediction proves false, then you can immediately kill this liar, Lord Shiva, so that in the future he will not dare to give out false benedictions.” (Lord Narayana in the guise of a mendicant speaking to Vrikasura, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)

“Heads I win, tails you lose” is the classic trick played on those who are temporarily out of sorts, youngsters, and those whose intelligence levels have yet to fully develop. The result of a coin toss is that the coin lands either on the heads side or on the tails side. When at a stalemate in negotiations, when no other option is available to settle the dispute, a coin toss is often reverted to since it is simply a game of chance; something which doesn’t inherently favor any party. The first party will choose one side of the coin and the other will choose the other side; thus the winner is determined by whichever side the coin lands on. By saying, “I will win if the coin lands on heads and the opponent will lose if it lands on tails”, a tautology is created; a situation where I win no matter what because the same rule was presented in both sections of the statement, but just in different words. Anyone who is thinking clearly will spot the trick right away and object to the statement, but one whose intelligence has been clouded by attachment to external objects will not notice the deceit. Such was the case with a famous demon a long time ago. He had a tremendous and potentially dangerous power available to him, but through the crafty words of Lord Narayana, crisis was averted.

heads and tailsFor a young child to be fooled by the “heads I win” trick is not surprising at all. Yet adults not only get tricked by such word jugglery in a coin toss but also in the basic arena of gambling. That excessive gambling causes a loss of rationale and unfavorable future results is a fact known to most sober individuals. When betting on a sporting event or playing a card game at a casino, the odds are always in favor of the house, regardless of what one may think. If this weren’t the case, the bookies and casinos would all be out of business. The bookmakers rely on the influences of the external sense objects to keep their business going. Only one who has completely taken shelter of the potential for quick rewards in gambling will continue to throw their money away in hopes of acquiring the fast buck.

The futility of excessive gambling is revealed in the gambler’s behavior itself. For instance, if winning a game of roulette or blackjack is worth the effort, why the need for further gambling? If I win a few hands at the card table, should not that victory bring me some satisfaction? Obviously the pleasure is short-lived; otherwise everyone would stop playing after a few winning hands. The senses, which are attached to the outer covering of the soul, bewilder the individual into taking to passionate activity without any regulation. In any field of endeavor, if there is no attention to detail and a lack of regulation, unfavorable results will ensue. In order to become a certified doctor, one must go through years of schooling and training and then pass a series of examinations. In order to fly an airplane, one must be certified to have completed a set number of hours practicing flying an aircraft. In every venture, even those bringing about tremendous sense gratification such as rock and roll and acting, if there isn’t some regulation and dedication to practice, success will not be found.

Similarly, success in the ultimate mission in life requires self-imposed regulation, or tapasya, from the very beginning. Those children who are spoiled in their youth will grow up to be malcontents and dependent on the government and other entities for their sustenance in their adult years. It is one thing to hit on some hard times and be forced to rely on others for assistance, but it is another to feel that you are entitled to the fruits of someone else’s labor. One who is taught discipline, regulation, and the value of money in their youth will likely grow up to have respect for other individuals and their property. Similarly, those who are taught to regulate the demands of their senses in their childhood years will also be able to cope with the waves of sense demands that continuously pound the shores of the mind.

“O son of Bharata, as the sun alone illuminates all this universe, so does the living entity, one within the body, illuminate the entire body by consciousness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.34)

Lord KrishnaThe spirit soul is the impetus for action; it is the sun in the otherwise dark realm known as the material covering, a shell which is temporary, ever-changing and ultimately destined for destruction. The soul’s natural home is in a realm where there is only spirit, a place that is self-illuminating. Can such a land exist? The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, has such a beautiful, powerful and inconceivably potent body that His home doesn’t require a sun. Indeed, He is the source of all light and knowledge. In the realm we currently occupy, Bhagavan’s influence is felt in an impersonal manner through the workings of nature. His energies also personally manifest through the workings of the Supersoul, the powerful spiritual entity residing adjacent to the individual soul within the heart. Though blessed with the presence of Supreme Spirit within a close proximity, if the jiva, the individual spiritual spark, neglects the presence of the Supersoul, only misery, sprinkled with a few pinches of short-term happiness, will be tasted.

External objects constitute the Lord’s separated energy. Not surprisingly, association with this aspect leads to increased ignorance, wherein the soul drifts further and further away from understanding the influence of the Supersoul and the existence of the spiritual realm, where there is no such thing as a separated energy. Realizing the presence of the soul is very difficult; it requires steadfast practice of yoga, the first step of which involves regulation of sense demands. One who is serious about removing distresses and calming the mind should first of all take to mantra meditation, wherein the sacred formula of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” is recited regularly. If one is able to chant this mantra for a good portion of each day, the opportunities for attack by the external objects and the material senses will be greatly diminished. This mantra is the greatest protective shield, so it should be chanted as often as possible, with a minimum of sixteen rounds daily recitation on a set of japa beads providing adequate insulation from foreign attack.

Shrila Haridasa ThakuraThe acharya of the holy name, Shrila Haridasa Thakura, simply chanted the Hare Krishna mantra all the time and was thus always free from even the most powerful influence of beautiful women. He has kindly informed us that this name is the most important aspect of God because it automatically includes the Lord’s forms, pastimes and attributes. For an entity to be considered an object, it must have these three aspects plus a name. In Krishna’s case, the name is so powerful that it automatically secures the other three aspects. Goswami Tulsidas, the celebrated Vaishnava poet, remarks that the form of the Lord within the heart and the form of the Lord worshiped outwardly, such as the deity or the incarnation, are like the top and bottom sides of a golden box, with the name of the Lord being the actual jewel. The name is Krishna; so it is actually the most precious commodity for those who are firmly attached to the Lord in consciousness.

“Suta Gosvami said: Maharaja Parikshit, thus being petitioned by the personality of Kali, gave him permission to reside in places where gambling, drinking, prostitution and animal slaughter were performed.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.17.38)

Mantra meditation, coupled with sankirtana, the congregational chanting of the same holy names of the Lord, is enough to defeat the influences of the senses which lure one away from God. But to provide even further insulation from the potential clouding of intelligence, one is advised to refrain from four particular activities: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex and intoxication. By staying as far away as possible from these activities, the mind can remain in a sober state, or dhira, thus increasing the odds of remaining fixed in yoga. Only when these four activities are prevalent can ignorance reign supreme, as the personality of Kali, the force of darkness, resides wherever these sinful engagements are patronized. Not surprisingly, the four pillars of sinful life are the best friends of the non-devotees, those who have no interest in performing yoga. If connecting with the Supersoul brings about the highest benefit, who would be against it? The material world exists precisely to facilitate the desires of those who want to imitate God or usurp His authority. Since these objectives can never be successfully met, a temporary realm is required to act as a playing field, a mock playground so to speak. Those who are the lowest among mankind, the dushkritinas, are slaves to the influences of the senses and the sinful activities that are recommended by such contaminated objects of acquisition. Therefore those who are in the lowest stage of understanding, a level of intelligence akin to that of an animal, will not be able to think clearly and realize that they are destroying themselves.

Krishna's lotus feetTo illustrate the wonderfully stupefying effects of the conditioned senses, we can look to the example of the demon Vrikasura. A long time ago, this nefarious character took to worshiping Lord Shiva, a celebrated guna-avatara of Bhagavan. Vrikasura underwent extreme austerities and penances not recommended in the shastras to please Mahadeva, the great divine figure. Lord Shiva is Vishnu’s staunchest devotee; he spends all his time meditating on the Lord’s lotus feet. According to the most confidential and sublime Vedic information, Lord Krishna is the original form of Godhead; He is all-attractive and the provider of transcendental sweetness to those whose eyes have been anointed with pure love, premanjana. Lord Vishnu, who is also known as Narayana, is Krishna’s four-handed form that appears more opulently adorned than does Krishna. For all intents and purposes, Krishna and Vishnu are the same, though there are always arguments amongst transcendentalists as to which form is the original. In either case, exalted celestial figures like Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva always serve Vishnu as their most dear object of worship.

“O son of Bharata, the mode of ignorance causes the delusion of all living entities. The result of this mode is madness, indolence and sleep, which bind the conditioned soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.8)

Lord Shiva is in charge of the mode of ignorance; the field of activity that brings further delusion and madness to the bewildered soul. He is given this task so as to allow even the lowest among men to gradually ascend the chain of spiritual knowledge, ideally culminating with worship of Vishnu. Those in the mode of ignorance don’t know what they want, or at least they don’t know what is good for them. Vrikasura was one such fool, as he was ready to sacrifice his own head in a fire for the pleasure of Mahadeva.

Vrikasura was searching for a benediction from the demigods and upon meeting Narada Muni, he asked the kind sage which entity he should worship. The demon wanted to know which figure would provide him a benediction in the shortest amount of time. This behavior is similar to shopping around various auto repair facilities and asking which store will provide the quickest turnaround time for an oil change. Vrikasura was interested in a business transaction, one with the guaranteed shortest wait time. Narada Muni advised the demon to worship Lord Shiva, for Mahadeva is known as ashutosha, which means “easily pleased”.

Vrikasura and Lord ShivaSatisfied with the recommendation, the demon went to work on his sacrifice, steadfastly engaging in worship for several consecutive days. Seeing that Mahadeva hadn’t approached him, the demon was ready to cut off his head and offer it in the fire. Observing the extreme level of dedication to the sacrifice, Mahadeva finally arrived and saved the demon from committing suicide. Pleased with his austerities, Lord Shiva told Vrikasura to ask for a benediction. From his inquiry of Narada Muni, we know that Vrikasura didn’t want to wait long to receive his benediction, but he also had no idea what type of reward to ask for. Lord Shiva’s wife is Goddess Parvati, the beautiful and chaste lady in charge of the material creation. Seeing that Lord Shiva was pleased with him, the demon figured if he could get a powerful enough boon, he would be able to take away Mother Parvati. Vrikasura thus asked for the benediction of being able to kill any person simply by placing his hand on their head. With the boon granted, Vrikasura immediately went chasing after Lord Shiva, wanting to touch his head in order to kill him and take away his wife.

Lord Shiva fled to Vaikuntha where Lord Narayana resides. Understanding the situation, Lord Vishnu assumed the guise of a brahmachari, or celibate student of Vedic philosophy, and humbly approached the demon. Pretending not to know what was going on, the brahmachari asked the demon what the trouble was. After hearing the issue, Narayana sort of laughed it off, making a few humorous references to Lord Shiva’s ghoulish appearance. These funny statements appear quite often in Vedic literature, as they reference the fact that those who are unaware of Mahadeva’s great powers don’t understand why he wears ashes on his body and why he hangs around cremation grounds. In fact, prior to her marriage, Goddess Parvati’s female associates were terrified at the thought of their friend having to marry Lord Shiva. They couldn’t understand why Parvatiji wanted to marry someone who had such a strange appearance.

Lord VishnuLord Narayana, in the form of a mendicant, then invoked a trick similar to the “heads I win” scam to fix the situation. The Lord very convincingly said that he couldn’t believe that the boon granted by Lord Shiva could work. In fact, if it didn’t work, the demon had full license to go after Lord Shiva and kill him. Narayana asked the demon to first test the boon by placing his hand on his own head. Since he was enveloped in the mode of ignorance, the demon gave no thought to the other potential outcome, that of the boon actually working. Rather, he was convinced by Narayana’s slick words that Lord Shiva was a liar and deserving of immediate punishment. Frothing at the mouth over the prospect of punishing Mahadeva and having Parvati for himself, not thinking rationally, the demon followed Narayana’s advice and placed his hand on his own head. Since Lord Shiva doesn’t give out false boons, the demon’s head immediately cracked, and he died as a result.

Any benediction offered by any entity, divine or otherwise, that doesn’t lead to pure love for God, or bhakti, is not useful in the least bit. Surely the higher authorities can grant any material boons to anyone who pleases them properly, but the greatest benediction of all, undying love for the Supreme Lord, can only be granted by Vishnu Himself. Therefore it is always wiser to directly worship Vishnu, or one of His non-different forms, in lieu of making business transactions with other authority figures. Vishnu will always weigh the benefits of the desired reward against the effects it will have on the petitioner. Vishnu is not so easily pleased, so if we ask for something that will only cause destruction to ourselves and to others, the Lord will certainly not meet our request. At the same time, we never end up losers by approaching Bhagavan because we at least connect with the right person. Eventually, through enough contact, we will be able to see the Supreme Lord for who He is: the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Those whose link to the spiritual world always remains active through firm adherence to bhakti never have to worry about the influence of the senses or being tricked by the gambler’s fallacy. The holy name of the Lord is so powerful that by chanting it regularly, we always end up winners in the game of life, regardless of on which side the coin lands.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Are You Better Off

Hanuman “Remembering their sons and wives, always being hungry and in anxiety, lamenting their painful situation these monkeys will turn their backs on you.” (Hanuman speaking to Angada, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 54.17)

smarantaḥ putra dārāṇām nitya udvignā bubhukṣitāḥ |

kheditā duḥkha śayyābhiḥ tvām kariṣyanti pṛṣṭhataḥ

Originating from Ronald Reagan’s famous debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980, “Are you better off today than you were before?” is now likely the most common question posed to voters by challengers looking to unseat incumbent politicians. More than any other barometer, the simple comparison of one’s life conditions between two periods of time can be enough to determine who will be supported in the upcoming election. Though civics can involve many levels of administration and decision-making and thus be difficult to comprehend, the voting public will ignore all the details and focus directly on the current situation at hand. If they are in a better predicament after having followed a particular leader’s implemented plan of action, they will likely approve of the incumbent’s remaining in office. On the other hand, if things turn sour, voters will turn their backs immediately on the existing leadership, choosing a different course of action. Indeed, a challenger often doesn’t even have to present anything substantive to the voters as far as policy goes. They can simply call for change, without actually defining what they will do differently, and still end up winning office. Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, was well aware of how constituents assess their leaders, and he used this knowledge to advance the interests of his beloved friend, master and worshipable object.

Elections-VOTEIn a democratically elected and run government, passing legislation is not easy. Though presidents and prime ministers get the royal treatment upon assuming office and are viewed as ultimate authority figures, their powers are quite limited. In America for example, the head of the executive branch really can’t do much. At most the president can sign and veto legislation, appoint members to the Cabinet and judiciary, and decide where and when the armed forces go into battle. Even the power to make appointments to the Cabinet and federal judgeships is checked. A president may nominate a person for the Supreme Court, but the candidate must be approved by the Senate, which is the upper house of the legislature. All spending bills must originate in the House of Representatives, the lower house of Congress. Due to these limitations, a president shouldn’t be given full credit or blame for legislation that deals with taxation and spending.

The executive takes on his true power when he speaks. The president, or leader of a nation, is deemed to have the “bully pulpit”, which means that the executive branch has a large platform from which it can attempt to persuade the minds of the members of Congress and the voting public. When the president speaks, people listen. Because of the large megaphone, so much power and influence is ascribed to the executive. When it comes time to vote, the current situation of the country is tagged directly to the leader. The fact that legislation can take years to really take hold is not considered during election season. Rather, the majority of voters make their decision based on the answer to the simple question of, “Am I better off today than I was when I voted for such and such officeholder in the previous election?”

Hit by pitchAt the heart of material life, or fruitive activity, is the family. Man usually can tolerate personal insults and hardships, but when the same are directed at wives, husbands, parents, or children, the harsh treatment becomes intolerable. For example, in the sport of professional baseball, it is not uncommon for batters to get hit by pitches. The pitcher is trying to get the batter out, and since this involves throwing the ball at varying speeds to different locations unknown to the batter, sometimes the pitcher will make a mistake with their pitch and accidentally hit the batter. Getting hit by a baseball travelling at one hundred miles per hour is not a pleasant experience, and the immediate pain that results can cause irritation that boils up to the point of rage. The batter is already angry at being hit, but by maintaining a rational mindset, they can understand that perhaps the pitcher made a mistake.

Yet self-control and rationality go right out the window if the batter gets hit in the head by the ball. Then the errant pitch is deemed a personal attack. “This pitcher is throwing at my head. He is trying to end my career, which will result in my family losing their source of income. Since the pitcher is attacking my family, I must retaliate.” The immediately available option of retaliation is violence. As such, the angered batter then charges the mound and takes swings at the pitcher. The impetus for this violence is the perceived attack on the family members. This speaks to the truth that the family represents the most potent form of material strength, comfort, attachment and affection. If ever a person wants to influence another’s behavior, they simply have to bring up issues of family and the effect a particular action will have on them.

HanumanThe strong attachment man has to his family was well known to Shri Hanuman, a divine figure and object of worship who performed many wonderful pastimes many thousands of years ago on this earth. In fact, Hanuman lives for as long as the story of his supreme object of affection continues to be recited, honored and learned from. Who is Hanuman’s favorite person? Who is that one entity who gives Hanuman so much bliss that he refuses to quit his body for fear of being separated from the name, form and pastimes related to his object of worship? This entity is none other than the Supreme Lord Himself in His form of Lord Rama.

Rama may be considered a sectarian figure, a god of the Hindus, but there is no such thing as a god for one group of individuals and a separate primary deity for another. The Supreme Lord is a universal figure, the person to whom we are all attached based on our constitutional makeup. As individual spirit souls, our nature is to love, affection of the transcendental variety that is directed at one entity, the Supreme Soul. Upon taking birth in a perishable realm, the natural loving propensity gets redirected at other objects and entities. Every intense emotion of this world, even hatred, is related to the natural yearning to serve Supreme Spirit.

“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.14)

Lord KrishnaThe purified souls, those who have transcended the three modes of material nature, can correctly identify the ultimate object of pleasure and worship. The modes of nature, which consist of goodness, passion and ignorance, are difficult to overcome due to their binding effect. Guna is a Sanskrit word that means “quality”, but it can also be translated to mean a rope. A rope keeps the enveloped object bound up in a particular condition. Freeing oneself of the bonds of a rope is not easy; it requires intelligence, strength, perseverance and help from others. Therefore, to become liberated from the effects of material nature, the strongest of which cause the redirection of the loving propensity, can take many successive lifetimes on earth.

Yet some notable personalities, such as Lord Hanuman, a kind-hearted individual beaming with divine energy who assumes the outward dress of a Vanara [advanced monkey], are eternally liberated. Man’s imagination and mental speculation has led to the making of classic adventure movies depicting a world run by apes and also theories that mankind has descended from the simian. But the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, not only give us concrete information about the soul but also of the types of body it can acquire while residing in the material world. The three aforementioned modes of nature can be combined into many different proportions. The result of this most intelligent of scientific experiments is the creation of 8,400,000 different species. Therefore it is not surprising at all to hear that there was once a time when human-like monkeys roamed the earth, as was the case during the Treta Yuga, the second time period [epoch] of creation.

Lord RamaThe Treta Yuga is notable for the high level of piety present amongst members of society, and also for the Supreme Absolute Truth, the universal Lord, the non-sectarian Divine Figure, having descended to earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama during its time. As part of His glorious pastimes, Rama befriended a group of Vanaras living in the Kishkindha forest. Divine mercy is not the exclusive property of any religious sect or country, and it is also not reserved solely for the human beings. A soul is a soul, so any form of life is considered to be part and parcel of God. Just because one person is very intelligent and another is not does not mean that God only gives attention and protection to the more intelligent. The only difference between an animal and a human being is the potential for intelligence. A human being has a greater potential for knowledge acquisition and the ability to subsequently act off of that higher standard of information, but otherwise the basic nature of activities is the same as it is for animals.

The Lord befriended the Vanaras because He wanted help finding His missing wife, Sita Devi. Rama never requires any external information, wisdom, or effort, but since it is the natural tendency of the soul to love, Bhagavan facilitates the exchange of that pure service by creating situations where transcendental activities are required. In the absence of such situations, the purified soul would be prone to misdirecting its love towards things which are not personally God, or maya. The Vanaras living in Kishkindha were actually all celestial figures who had descended from the spiritual world. Indeed, Hanuman was the son of the wind-god, Vayu. Sugriva, a son of the sun-god, Surya, was the leader of the monkey kingdom in Kishkindha and Hanuman was his chief aide.

Monkeys serving RamaFollowing Sugriva’s orders, the monkeys divided up into groups and scoured the earth looking for Sita. Hanuman’s group had the most powerful monkeys in it, including Angada, Sugriva’s nephew. After searching for over a month, the monkeys grew weary. They came up on a beautiful looking cave which had many appealing aspects to it. The allure had no relation to the mission at hand and everything to do with the easy life, i.e. giving up or retirement. Angada convinced the other monkeys to abandon the mission and either take refuge in the cave or simply starve to death on the shore of the nearby ocean.

Hanuman did not like these new options. He thought that, at the very least, they should return to Sugriva and tell him that they had failed in the mission. The cave was appealing to those who wanted to quit because it appeared to be impenetrable and full of material delights. In fact, the hidden dwelling had been created by the demon Maya in days past. Hanuman, knowing that the chosen course of action was incorrect, went to work creating dissension amongst the members of the group. Bheda, or divide-and-conquer, is an age-old tactic taught to aspiring rulers in the Vedic tradition. Governments shouldn’t solely rely on public polling and the pulse of the electorate to make decisions; they should also employ trusted techniques aimed at maintaining peace in the land, methods that deal directly with enemies. While options such as punishment and pacification certainly prove effective, dissension is also a great way of dealing with an opposing element because it picks away at the enemy’s strength from within. Angada’s power came from the support he received from the other monkeys. Therefore Hanuman chose to create doubt in the minds of these monkeys while they were in Angada’s presence.

Hanuman meeting RamaIn the above referenced statement, we see Hanuman accurately pointing out that the monkeys would not remain supportive of Angada for long, especially once they started missing their wives and children. Angada, in this instance, was akin to a political leader who was about to choose a distinct course of action. In due time, however, the voters, represented by the members of the monkey army, would have to decide whether or not to reelect Angada. The appeal of Angada’s potential choice related to the sense pleasures available in the cave and to the lack of punishment from Sugriva. The king of the monkeys had given the soldiers one month to find Sita, otherwise they would face severe punishment. The option of starving to death on the seashore seemed more appealing than dealing with Sugriva’s wrath. But if either of Angada’s options were adopted, after a short while the monkeys would inevitably ask themselves the question, “Am I better off today than I was before?” Since their friends and family would not be around, surely the answer to this question would be “No.” Once this conclusion would be reached, Angada would be dethroned, the monkeys would return to Kishkindha, and all who had abandoned the mission would be punished.

What’s amazing is that Hanumanji realized this future sequence of events within minutes. Hanuman’s wisdom, quick-wittedness and ability to think on his feet are the result of acting in pure devotion, or God consciousness. Hanuman had no particular interest in politics or psychology, but he was more than willing to use whatever tools he had at his disposal to further Rama’s interests. His only concern was completing the mission given to him by Rama. Whatever he could do to achieve success for Rama is the course of action he would take.

The point of human life is to act in God’s interests, which are clearly laid out in the Vedas. The animal has no ability to even understand the presence of the soul, let alone take the necessary steps to free itself from the clutches of material nature that squeeze the life out of the senses at every second. Every person has certain qualities and work prescribed to them, so these duties should be performed with detachment and dedication. The highest duty of all is that of returning back to the spiritual world, where the natural loving propensity can be practiced in a pure way. In order to achieve success in the mission assigned to us, we have to be convinced of its validity. If we ask ourselves the question, “Are we better off today than we were at the time of our birth?”, the answer will surely be “No” if we are not God conscious. After all, at the time of birth, we had no attachments to anyone or anything. We didn’t even have any worries relating to work, school, or family. If our tremendous potential for divine love remains untapped all the way up until the time of death, the soul again gets placed in the material ocean, having to learn how to swim all over again.

Hanuman setting fire to Lanka Progress is not found in technological advancements or supposedly new theories that describe man as the ultimate enjoyer. When one gets closer and closer to reaching the spiritual kingdom, they have made the most permanent and irrevocable progress. The path that leads to the spiritual world is devotional service, a discipline that is open to every single person, regardless of their material qualities and prescribed duties. Any person can chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and worship the Lord at all times. The resulting condition known as Krishna consciousness manifests in activities, as was seen with Hanuman’s behavior. As a reward for his dedication to the Lord, Hanuman would end up successfully finding Sita and returning the information of her whereabouts to Rama. The jewel of the Raghu dynasty, Shri Rama, would march to the island kingdom of Lanka, defeat Sita’s captor and rescue the divine princess. At the end of the day, everyone, including Angada and the Vanaras, would be better off as a result of their perseverance in executing the sublime mission assigned to them. If we follow the example set by the great Vanaras, we too can surely find the best situation in the future.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Vishnu Worship

Worshiping Lord Vishnu “Whenever a devotee wants something from Lord Vishnu, Lord Vishnu first of all considers whether such a benediction will ultimately be good for the devotee. Lord Vishnu never bestows any benediction which will ultimately prove disastrous to the devotee, He is, by His transcendental nature, always merciful; therefore, before giving any benediction, He considers whether it will prove beneficial for the devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)

Brahma, Vishnu, and Mahesha are the three most notable figures of the Hindu faith, the Vedic tradition that has stood the test of time. Though these deities are the face of the most prominent spiritual tradition of India, they each take on vastly different roles. Moreover, their existence doesn’t make the final Vedic scriptural conclusion one of polytheism. Rather, the many deities speak to the varying degrees of activity, desire and reward. Yet of all the notable divine figures, only Vishnu and His non-different expansions stand out due to the nature of the benedictions they offer their sincere adherents. These rewards not only relate directly to the true meaning of life, but they substantiate the supreme role and position assumed by the original Person, that entity we know and address as God.

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

Lord KrishnaIn many social circles, the very mention of God or religion will cause heads to turn and eyes to roll. The flagrant reactions are understandable as God is most often invoked in the context of fruitive activity. As an example, a player may perform very well in a particular sport and then thank God for his victory. Obviously the sentiment is grounded in innocence and kind faith, for the behavior is indicative of a mindset lacking a direct, puffed up ego. Under the influence of false ego, or ahankara, which is a subtle material element, the individual thinks himself to be the doer and the ultimate controller of all outcomes. Yet these claims cannot be considered valid, as none of us are able to escape death. We can try to eat the right foods and abide by all the recommended health guidelines, but we can’t control the actions of others or of nature as a whole. Due to the limited influence we have on external forces, there is virtually no control over the outcomes of action. Only the higher authorities, the divine figures in charge of managing the results of fruitive activity, or karma, know how the future will play out.

In the arena of fruitive activity, it is silly to think that any single individual is more deserving of benefits than another. Hence those who scoff at the mention of God are certainly justified in their initial skepticism and angst. “How is God favoring you? Who are you to say what God thinks and what God wants?” These sentiments indicate at least a subconscious awareness of the limits of fruitive activity and the rewards they provide. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, fill in the missing details. The world we live in is a temporary place, a shadow copy of a more purified realm. Why the dichotomy in makeup? In one place, every individual is completely purified and working to fulfill the interests of the Supreme Friend. In the shadow realm, everyone is competing with each other to become that Supreme Individual. In the purified land, the roles never change, as it is impossible for the most powerful entity to ever lose His post. In fact, He never had to ascend to His lofty perch, for He is always the Supreme Person. In the temporary realm, there may be ascensions and falls of notable personalities every now and then, but no one is capable of remaining the most powerful person in a particular area of interest for any extended period of time. All-devouring death makes sure of that.

If efforts in the perishable realm are ill-fated, why the creation of the land in the first place? The answer is that those souls who want to imitate the behavior of the Supreme Person in the spiritual sky are not allowed to do so in the permanent realm. Instead, they need a playing field, a sort of giant room where they can pretend to be God. After checking in, the conditioned souls deluded by unattainable desires can check out at any time, provided they want to leave. Here, through a few simple steps, we have arrived at the meaning of life and the purpose to our existence. A shift in desire is all that is required, a changing of consciousness, to fulfill life’s mission. When the individual spirit souls, who though uniform in makeup still come in all shapes and sizes in the material world, want to return to the spiritual land and reassume their natural position as eternal servitors of the Lord, they are immediately granted liberation.

Lord KrishnaWhy would we want to serve God? Why is He deserving of our efforts over anyone else? These questions actually further substantiate the aforementioned information provided by the Vedas as to the universe’s genesis. God’s qualities and attributes never change. Since He is eternally locked into His position, He has always been the original proprietor, supreme enjoyer and best friend of the living entities. Taking these three features together, we can deduce that the natural activity for any life form is to use whatever property they have for God’s pleasure. Since the Supreme Lord is the best friend, naturally His happiness will also equate to the benefit of His friends, i.e. every one of us. Proof of these concepts is seen on a smaller scale in the contaminated loving affairs of the material world. Every individual is offering some type of service, even if they are unaware of it. One person loves his senses by eating rich foods and drinking alcohol, while another serves his dog by taking it for walks and cleaning up after it. A woman serves her husband, the husband his parents, the soldier the nation, the elected official the constituents, etc. There is not a single individual who is not engaged in someone or something’s service.

“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)

These service dealings are deemed impure because the objects of pleasure aren’t as potent as the Supreme Lord. Due to this deficiency, the pleasure derived from mundane service is always lacking; hence the constant sprouting of seeds of desire to shift from one venture to another. The living entity knows that it wants to serve; it just doesn’t know who is the most deserving of their love. God, as the Supreme Object of pleasure, is known by different names in the Vedic tradition and also around the world, but His original and most complete appellation is Krishna. This wonderful Sanskrit word speaks to the Supreme Lord’s all-attractive nature in His original form. That Supreme Spirit would be the most attractive entity should make sense, as there would be no point in taking to the service of an entity who wasn’t appealing in every respect. Yet Krishna is not God’s only form; He is kind enough to expand into other non-different spiritual bodies conducive to the particular mood of worship of the individual. The word “individual” speaks to the unique makeup of every spirit soul. Constitutionally everyone is equal, for there is no quantitative comparison between different fragmental sparks of the original spiritual energy. Yet just as no two snowflakes are alike, no two individual spirit souls have the exact same loving propensity towards the Supreme Lord. Some want to engage in loving affairs with God, some want to serve as His friend, while others even want to become His parent. All such transcendental mellows, or rasas, manifest through the personal interactions with Krishna and His different forms.

Mother Yashoda and KrishnaSince material life is governed by an illusory agent known as maya, realizing God’s true position is difficult. Hence the preponderance of flawed spiritual information that equates God with a measly order supplier, a person who only grants prayer requests for alleviation from distresses and the obtainment of various material rewards and does nothing else. Surely the Supreme Lord, as the original proprietor of matter, can supply anything to anyone. He even takes care of the food demands of the numerous species lower than the human being. If a tiger, an animal that lives off the flesh of other animals, is supplied enough food to eat, why wouldn’t a human? Since the necessities of the body are automatically supplied through divine forces, the human form of body is meant for a higher type of transcendental service, one involving an exchange of love. Since not every person will ascend to this highest platform of worship immediately, there are different divine agents, heavenly figures if you will, who serve as objects of service in the gradual progression towards the adoption of a permanent God consciousness, a mindset which, when stable enough, will take the individual soul back to the spiritual realm after the current life is over.

“Material nature consists of the three modes-goodness, passion and ignorance. When the living entity comes in contact with nature, he becomes conditioned by these modes.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.5)

Activities not related to transcendental love can be classified into three different modes: goodness, passion and ignorance. Since activities in goodness lead to the acquisition of knowledge, they are considered pious. Fruitive activities, those acts which lead to temporary gains at the expense of much time and effort, are considered passionate. Ignorant activities are those performed without any regard for future gain or scriptural injunction. Ignorant behavior doesn’t help anyone; the mode of ignorance is what we normally refer to as “stupid behavior.” Not surprisingly, it is advised that we at least rise to the mode of goodness so that our knowledge base will steadily increase. By taking in Vedic wisdom, teaching it to others, performing sacrifices, and giving charity to worthy recipients, our tendency towards competition with God will gradually diminish. The mode of passion is what most human beings take to by default. These are the general activities of karma, wherein one takes to a certain set of actions for the purpose of a material reward. The sublime engagement of divine love is known as bhakti, and it is strikingly similar to karma. The difference between bhakti and karma is the beneficiary of action. Under the mode of passion, karmic activities secure rewards of the material variety meant to be enjoyed by the individual performing them. In the paradigm of bhakti, similar activities may be adopted, but since the rewards are used solely for the benefit of the Supreme Lord, both the performer and the rewards themselves become purified.

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna, through His expansion as Vedic wisdom, is so nice that He allows for people in any mode of life to have some connection to spirituality. Even those mired in the darkness of ignorance are allowed a chance at spiritual upliftment. For such individuals, Lord Shiva, also known as Mahadeva, is the object of worship. Lord Shiva is described as ashutosha, which means “easily pleased”. As an exalted devotee of God, Lord Shiva just wants to spend all his time meditating on the lotus feet belonging to the eternal, blissful and transcendental body of the Supreme Lord. Since his devotees are constantly asking for this and that material benediction, Mahadeva kindly grants it to them without hassle so that they will leave him alone. Moreover, Mahadeva typically remains renounced and without much opulence. As Goswami Tulsidas so accurately notes, in this life those things which are the most needed and valuable, such as simple food grains and water, are readily available and inexpensive. Those items which we don’t really need, such as opulent jewelry and extravagant riches, are very expensive. Tulsidas says that this natural situation gives further evidence of God’s existence and His benevolence. Mahadeva, because of his complete dedication to bhakti, proves the poet’s brilliant observation to be true, as he is in need of nothing too extravagant. Lord Shiva simply requires a calm and peaceful setting and a mat on which to sit while meditating. His devotees, on the other hand, often ask for all sorts of opulences and powers, some of which are used for nefarious purposes. Indeed, these abilities aren’t required in the least bit, but due to their ignorance, these devotees constantly bother Lord Shiva. Nevertheless, anyone who at least approaches Shankara Bhagavan can gain some spiritual benefit that is not available to those on the animalistic platform of consciousness.

Brahma, Vishnu, MaheshaLord Brahma, the first created living entity, is responsible for the mode of passion. Sex life is the best example of passionate activity, for it results in the continuation of life on earth. Those who are very passionate about receiving material rewards such as victory, money, power, etc. often worship Lord Brahma. Indeed, there are many other demigods, or devas, who deliver such rewards to their devotees. It should be noted that these devas are highly exalted living entities who are not tinged by the modes of nature they are in charge of. Rather, they are simply acting at the behest of the Supreme Lord. Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva are very dear to Lord Vishnu, who is in charge of goodness.

Lord Vishnu, though considered a presiding deity of material nature, is different from Brahma and Shiva in that He is a direct expansion of an even more powerful Vishnu of the spiritual world. That Vishnu is Himself an expansion of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Lord Vishnu is generally more opulently adorned than is Krishna, for that is the wish of the devotees. Unlike those in the modes of passion and ignorance, those in the mode of goodness generally understand the differences between matter and spirit and the temporary nature of material life. Therefore when they worship Lord Vishnu, they offer nice items for His satisfaction. Vishnu is adorned with beautiful ornaments because that is how the devotees want Him to appear. “My dear Lord, please accept these offerings from me. You are the original owner of everything, so I am simply giving back to You whatever You have kindly lent me. I am in no need of material opulence, mystic power, or supreme knowledge. All I want is for You and Your eternal associates to be satisfied and for me to always be able to think of You.” In this way, those in the modes of goodness and pure goodness worship in a completely unique and superior way.

Lord Vishnu riding on GarudaYet the effects of material nature are quite strong, so even the Vishnu worshipers will fall down every now and then from the righteous path. But since Vishnu is non-different from the original Lord, worship of Him never goes in vain nor does it lead to the destruction of the worshiper. A great example of this was seen with the famous Narada Muni, an exalted sage and son of Lord Brahma. Narada is known for travelling from planet to planet through the aerial path and always chanting the name of Narayana, which is another name for Vishnu. One time, however, he became enchanted by a beautiful princess and wanted to marry her. She was so much loved by her father that she was allowed to choose her own husband. Narada, not even considering any other deva, immediately petitioned Lord Vishnu to help him. “Please let this beautiful princess choose me in the marriage ceremony”, is what Narada asked of Vishnu. Though Mahadeva, Brahma, and other demigods are beholden to the requests of their sincere devotees, Vishnu is not. This is the difference between worshiping God directly and taking the indirect route through seeking the shelter of other divine figures because of the temporary rewards they can provide. Vishnu thought the matter over and agreed to Narada’s request…sort of.

Vishnu never gives a devotee anything that will harm them. Narada had temporarily fallen down from his perch of elevated consciousness by seeing a beautiful woman. As a sannyasi he had no reason to get married, so the Lord instead decided to make Narada’s face appear like a monkey’s in front of the princess. Thus she didn’t end up choosing Narada, and he in turn became very angry at Vishnu. This shows yet another benefit of worshiping Vishnu. The devotee can get as angry as they want to at Vishnu, but there is nothing that will break their relationship of love. Narada angrily cursed Vishnu to come to earth in human form and be separated from His beloved wife. God can’t be cursed, but since He loves Narada so much, He agreed to the demand, coming to earth as the valiant warrior prince named Rama.

Lord Rama Subsequently, during one time in the forest Lord Rama was visited by Narada. The muni wanted to know why Vishnu had denied his request previously. Lord Rama kindly informed him that He takes special care of His devotees. Those who want to challenge God or forget Him believe they have full independence; thus they ignore the shelter of the lotus feet of Supreme Spirit kindly offered to them. But since the devotees worship in goodness, there is no underlying desire to challenge. Therefore the Supreme Lord always takes into consideration whether the benedictions they ask for will be beneficial or not. Vishnu, as the greatest parent, never stops loving His devotee, no matter how advanced they may become.

Through this kind oversight, the supremacy of Vishnu worship is firmly established. It is not surprising, therefore, to see that dedicated worship of Krishna, Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, and other non-different Vishnu forms is not as popular as the worship of other divine figures or even worship of a God who is without a form. One who exclusively worships Vishnu is certainly the most intelligent, for they know that the Lord will not grant every single one of their wishes. Other demigods may be easily pleased to grant material benedictions, but not the Supreme Lord. Thus any person, regardless of which mode of material nature they find themselves in, is advised to worship Vishnu [Krishna] in all sincerity, as they will come out a winner in any scenario. If they ask Vishnu for something and get it, they will realize that the Supreme Lord is responsible for securing their possessions. If they don’t get what they want, they will either get angry at Vishnu or realize that what they wanted wasn’t necessary. In either case, there is association with Supreme Spirit, a connection which can only lead to a higher position in the future. Those who regularly associate with Vishnu are experts in the ancient art of divine love known as bhakti-yoga. In this day and age, the easiest method of Vishnu worship is the constant chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Even when chanted with contaminated motives, this mantra is so powerful that it will gradually cleanse the mirror of the heart, ultimately leading to the most favorable of circumstances, that of an unbreakable bond with the original Personality of Godhead in the spiritual sky.