Saturday, March 5, 2011

Positive Thinking

Hanuman “Just as the arrows released by Raghava travel at the speed of the wind, so I will travel swiftly to Lanka, the city protected by Ravana. If I do not find the daughter of King Janaka in Lanka, with the same force I shall go to the realm of the demigods.” (Hanuman addressing the Vanaras, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.39-40)

yathā rāghavanirmuktaḥ śaraḥ śvasanavikramaḥ |

gaccettadvadgamiṣyāmi laṅkāṃ rāvaṇapālitām ||

na hi drakśyāmi yadi tāṃ laṅkāyāṃ janakātmajām |

anenaiva hi vegena gamiṣyāmi surālayam||

The power of positive thinking is not a myth or a pipe dream. The chances for success in any venture are increased when the end-goal can be visualized, when the mind attempts to understand the potential feelings of elation that come after the proposed plans have been successfully implemented. In the absence of this picture, the visualization of victory, the chances of failure will only increase. But thinking positively is not easy, especially as the tasks increase in level of difficulty. Of all the jobs standing before us, none is more compelling and full of urgency than the gaining of release from the repeated cycle of birth and death. To picture perfect success in this venture, the mental image of the great warriors of the past, who, come hell or high water, never viewed defeat as an option, is required. Of all such warriors, none is more glorious, wonderful and beautiful to behold than Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama.

HanumanWhy does positive thinking work? The simplest answer is that pessimism is much easier to adopt. Just as the laws of inertia state that a body at rest will stay at rest, it is the natural tendency of the fatigued living entity to sit back on the sidelines and not even make an attempt towards victory. The sleeping state, one of ignorance and inactivity, is much easier to embrace than is an active one. In order to remain fervently engaged, there must be passion, and in order for the reservoirs of eagerness to remain at full levels, there must be an end-goal, a driving force to push the passionate individual across the finish line.

If positive thinking was so easy, there wouldn’t be so many books written on how to succeed in life. Entering a library or bookstore, you can’t find a section on how to sit back and relax your way to financial freedom. There is no section of the store devoted to the great procrastinators in history. On the contrary, volumes upon volumes of books are written about positive thinking and the keys to achieving success through hard work and perseverance. If we study the famous success stories of the past, we’ll see that all of the climbs to the top involved highly motivated and perseverant workers. The successful weren’t going to tolerate failure under any circumstances, even if it meant suffering through defeat after defeat.

The pioneers take all the arrows. The trailblazers in any field of activity suffer the most in their pursuit for perfection and success. Others who follow in their footsteps often have an easier time because the path has been laid out for them, with the potential pitfalls already identified. A glaring example of the benefits of one man leading the pack is seen in the talk radio industry in America. Around twenty five years ago, AM radio, which features news, talk, weather and anything besides the playing of popular music, was deemed a dying brand. The only talk shows that did succeed were local ones that focused on providing recipes to housewives and giving basic news rundowns.

Fast forward to today and talk radio has become one of the most popular mediums for information exchange and discussion. It seems that everyone who has any fame wants to get their own show. The stark change in popularity came about primarily through the success of one man, a person who was determined to be on the radio since his very childhood. Rush Limbaugh’s parents were of the World War II/Great Depression generation, so they wanted their children to become educated and land steady jobs. Through earning a college degree, one could have the financial security they needed to avoid the pangs of economic depression. The Limbaughs’ eldest son Rush had no affinity for school though. After dropping out of college after a brief stint, Rush was determined to make it in the radio industry, his life’s dream.

Yet success wouldn’t come easy; he would be fired seven different times from different radio gigs. One station manager told him that he didn’t have the necessary skills to be on the radio. The natural inertia and penchant for negativity in the average human being would have caused most people to quit at this point. After all, nothing inflicts a stronger bruising to the ego than does getting fired. Yet Rush, driven by a passion, persevered and eventually landed a radio show that allowed him to do the program the way he wanted. The rest was history, as the popularity of talk radio surged as a result of Limbaugh’s tremendous success and unique model of syndication.

Rush is not the only success story to cause a dramatic shakeup to an industry, as similar triumphs over adversity are witnessed in virtually every field of interest. It is said that Wayne Gretzky singlehandedly made ice hockey popular in Los Angeles and the surrounding areas after he was traded to the Kings franchise. While entertainment, business, politics, and sports all require positive thinking and perseverance in order to attain success, the realm of spirituality is much tougher. Reaching the pinnacle of spiritual practice requires a change in consciousness, a drastic shift to the predominant thought processes. In the conditioned state, the individual takes itself to be the ultimate object of enjoyment; thus all activities are geared towards self-satisfaction. On the surface this makes sense. After all, we have to live with ourselves, so we might as well make sure we are happy. No one else is going to love us as much as we will. While it is certainly important to meet the needs of the self, how one can go about doing this is where problems arise, as the proper identification of the self is necessary in order to find lasting satisfaction.

Lord KrishnaThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that it is the nature of the spirit soul to serve. For all the interests we are trying to meet, the catalyst for action is the penchant towards service. This tendency is derived from the natural constitutional position of the soul, that of a sincere servant of the Supreme Lord. Just as some people are born to lead, while others are born to follow, every spirit soul is made to act for the pleasure of Supreme Spirit. God’s original and only position is that of the ultimate worshipable object and reservoir of pleasure. The original position of the sparks emanating from the giant fire of energy known as God is that of loving servants; individual entities whose pleasure comes from tapping into the glories and pastimes of the supremely nectarean, all-blissful Personality of Godhead.

So this seems simple enough. Become a servant of God and all happiness will be achieved. Ah, but there’s a catch. Since time immemorial the soul’s aversion to divine love has steadily increased. The longer one remains in the material world, the stronger the aversion becomes. The more one drifts away from their constitutional position, the more they will take to serving other interests, such as those of their fellow man. Even sense gratification is a type of service, wherein the allegiance is to the senses.

While service to others may seem like a noble enough engagement, the enjoyment derived is inferior. Material nature is the cruelest of mistresses; she tells us that we’ll be happy associating with her, but her promises are as empty as the air. The illusion leads to a voluntary enlistment in her service, but all we get in return is a repetition of the miserable cycle of birth and death. Therefore, the aim of life is to gradually shift consciousness, moving away from serving unworthy worshipable objects, while simultaneously inching closer towards servicing that one person who never lets anyone down.

Lord KrishnaThe Vedic seers, those who have no other business besides divine love, have documented their thoughts, revelations and prescriptions on the matter of purified service in the classic Vedic texts. Though the instructions can be quite comprehensive and multi-faceted, the sum and substance is that the living entities must engage in God consciousness through a discipline known as bhakti-yoga. Acts of sense gratification involve allegiance to the senses, those belonging either to the personal self or to others. Bhakti is the purification of all activity since it is a faithful dedication of not only action, but also consciousness, to the master of the senses, Hrishikesha. “God” is too generic a term for describing the Supreme Being, so the Vedas give us many more names for the same Person. Familiarity with these names is helpful because it serves to further increase the attachment to Supreme Spirit. The more one is attached to God, the more they will be willing to serve.

The quintessential act of bhakti is harinama-japa, or 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”. Regular recitation of the sound vibration representations of Supreme Spirit is also the most effective spiritual activity because it can be universally instantiated; it can be practiced at any time and at any place. As such, our consciousness is eligible for purification at all times throughout the day. The more one takes to chanting, the more their consciousness gets fixed up.

HanumanYet just as the Supreme Lord doesn’t limit Himself to only one form, there are other outlets for service to Bhagavan which are just as powerful as japa. Carrying out the Lord’s orders is another aspect of devotional service, and it is something that has been practiced to perfection many times in the past, including by Shri Hanuman, the powerful, courageous, sweet, humble and learned Vanara warrior who roamed the earth at the same time as Lord Rama, a celebrated avatara of the original Personality of Godhead. Attachment to God is nice in theory, but the practical application is more difficult due to the influence of the senses. To lend credence to the teachings put forth by the Vedas, Krishna kindly appears on earth from time to time to enact pastimes. By appearing in a personal form, the Lord also allows other exalted personalities to directly offer their service to Him, thus showing others what it means to be Krishna conscious.

To accept service from other sincere souls, Bhagavan must place Himself into apparently troubling situations from time to time. As mentioned before, it is the natural position of God to reign supreme over all. Yet if He appeared on this earth and simply pounded His chest and imposed His will on others, there would be no chance for anyone to offer their love. If a person is deemed extremely powerful and in need of nothing, others will not have any desire to show their love in the form of aid and assistance. Even in the arena of romantic love, it is seen that the greatest service is offered by those who view their significant others as downtrodden and incapable of maintaining themselves. A good wife is one who lovingly views her husband as being an idiot, a viewpoint often exhibited in the presence of others, wherein the wife will constantly correct and make fun of her husband’s shortcomings. Not surprisingly, husbands will not appreciate such behavior, but the actions of the wife are indicative of the highest loving sentiments. If the wife viewed the husband as superior and completely independent, she would have no need to come forth and offer assistance.

Lord RamaIn Lord Rama’s case, the most troubling situation He encountered was the kidnapping of His wife, the beautiful princess of Videha, Sita Devi. Sita was taken from Rama through a backhanded plot hatched by the demon-king of Lanka, Ravana. In His subsequent search for her whereabouts, Rama forged an alliance with a band of human-like monkeys known as Vanaras living in the forest of Kishkindha. Their leader was the monkey-king Sugriva, and his chief warrior and most trusted aide was Hanuman.

After allying with Rama, Sugriva dispatched a search party to look for Sita, with the lead group including Hanuman. Though initially faced with great difficulties, the monkeys finally made some headway when they learned of Sita’s whereabouts through the kind words of a bird named Sampati. The catch was that Sita’s location, the island of Lanka, was across a vast and deep ocean, one that couldn’t be crossed by any ordinary entity. Though at this point it seemed that all hope was lost, Jambavan, one of the elderly monkeys in the party, informed Hanuman of his divine lineage, the circumstances of his upbringing, and his immense powers.

HanumanUpon learning of his mastery over all mystic perfections, which included the ability to expand or contract his physical stature at a whim, Hanuman gradually increased the size of his frame. Though a kind and humble servant who always thought of Sugriva’s and Rama’s interests, Hanuman was not weak in any way. He knew that the hopes of the monkeys, Rama, His brother Lakshmana and Sita rested with him. Rather than be timid and just wish for success, Hanuman took assertive action by boldly altering his bodily size to match the difficulty of the task and mentally preparing himself to meet and overcome any and all obstacles.

From the above referenced passages from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman confidently declaring that nothing will stand in his way of finding Sita. These statements were uttered while Hanuman was standing atop a mountain peak, from which he was to make his giant leap across the vast ocean. Since he had assumed a massive size, many trees were destroyed and animals scared away in the process of his ascension to the top of the mountain. Others looked at the beautiful, giant figure with awe and reverence. Fear is the impulse reaction when witnessing such a phenomenal event, but the inhabitants of this land knew that Hanuman was performing devotional service for Shri Rama.

The confidence and unwavering attitude that jump off the page while reading Hanuman’s statement are wonderful to behold. Hanuman was born of the wind-god Vayu, so by saying that he would travel to Lanka at the speed of the wind, he was honoring his father. The comparison to the wind is actually made in reference to the speed of the arrows shot from the illustrious bow of Shri Rama. Taking birth in a pious royal family, Rama was a warrior by trade. His arrows were no ordinary weapons; they were the most powerful agents of destruction for the targets they always reached. Not only was Hanuman faithfully serving Rama, but he had the good Lord always on His mind. He not only boldly declared that he would be successful in his venture, but he made sure to invoke Rama’s name and attributes. Krishna consciousness is not just exhibited through pledges of allegiance and the performance of rituals. It is a way of life. A pure devotee is incapable of deviating the mind from thoughts of Bhagavan. Rama’s arrows are also His dear servants, so when they are released from the bow, they are on their own to act for the Lord’s pleasure. Hanuman, adoring every aspect of his beloved Rama, kindly compared himself to the divine arrows that never fail to make their marksman proud.

Hanuman’s determination was so strong that even if he couldn’t find Sita in Lanka, he would boldly jump up to the heavenly region to look for her. The assumption here is that if Sita wasn’t in Lanka, Ravana might have already killed her. Even if she wasn’t in the middle planetary system, Hanuman was prepared to fly to the heavenly realm to safely return Rama’s wife to Him. Obviously such an action wasn’t necessary, as Sita is the most powerful divine mother, an incarnation of Goddess Lakshmi and the eternal consort of Shri Rama in the spiritual world. Ravana was as much capable of travelling back in time as he was of even touching Sita, let alone killing her.

Rama Darbar From Hanuman’s glorious attitude we see that success in the most difficult task of remaining God conscious requires sincere dedication and confidence. Just as the expert golfer about to make an important putt will envision the ball dropping into the cup, the expert devotee will see the finish line of the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. If such positive thinking is absent, there will be no chance for success. Laziness, inertia and negative thoughts are maya’s most powerful weapons in her steady assault on the psyches of conditioned living entities. The only way to break free of illusion is to focus the mind on something permanent, real and ever-blissful. The lotus feet of the original, transcendental and eternal form of the Personality of Godhead meet these qualifications. Lord Hanuman always kept his mind focused on Rama, and due to this dedication, his devotional efforts always satisfied Rama, Lakshmana and Sita. Attachment to God never goes in vain, and anyone who remembers the positive nature of the thought processes of devotees like Hanuman will never meet with defeat in their spiritual endeavors.

Friday, March 4, 2011


Lord Krishna “By proper utilization of thoughtfulness, one comes to the stage of thinking of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. By thinking of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one becomes free from the contamination of the faulty association of the material world, and thus one becomes peaceful. The world is in a disturbed condition because of a scarcity of such peaceful devotees in human society.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 34)

Aid to struggling African nations seems to always find itself among the top causes adopted by the well-wishers of humanity. The kind gestures offered to the down-trodden are certainly noble and worthwhile, as the inhabitants of poverty ridden areas lack basic necessities such as drinking water and shelter. While providing remedial measures to areas which have a scarcity of necessary resources is a worthwhile activity, a better solution would be to tackle the root of the problem. Why are these sections of society disadvantaged to begin with? The dedicated welfare worker may retort with, “Well, I’m not concerned with that. These people need help right now. Who cares how they got to where they are?” Actually, finding out the source of the problem is far more important than offering temporary solutions, especially when playing in the field of material activity, where bodies and situations constantly go through cycles of creation and destruction. Indeed, you can feed a man for a day by providing him a hot meal, but by giving him the necessary tools to provide for himself, he can have food for the rest of his life.

iPadSome will say the root cause of scarcity is greed. “Too many have nots and too few haves. The greedy take to hoarding all the resources for themselves, thus limiting the potential for production by others.” While there is no doubt that greedy businessmen are interested in only one thing, profit, their behavior alone doesn’t explain rampant poverty. From studying the most successful businesses in the world, we see that the majority of them can source their wealth to support from the common man. For instance, computer and software companies get rich off of people buying their products and using them. Apple Computer makes millions of dollars selling music players, computers and portable entertainment devices that aren’t necessarily inexpensive. Their latest high tech product, the iPad, is overpriced in the estimation of many, yet the device still sells extremely well. The truth is that a key factor in making millions of dollars is finding a product that appeals to the common man, producing it at a low cost, and then selling it at a price that will garner a profit. So in this sense, the greedy businessman has nothing to gain by forcing his customers into poverty. He is not benefitted by mass starvation and famine.

The other credited source for poverty is tyranny. This idea certainly has more validity, but again, there is a root cause for the iron-fisted behavior of a ruling tyrant. In a system of totalitarianism, land and property are confiscated by a higher authority, one that assumes absolute power. The producers are punished for no other reason than their success. With an overarching government, the rulers view the wealthy citizens as their enemies, for they are providing for the common man better than the government ever could. As an example, giant superstore chains in America are often hated by government officials and their attached lobbying groups. The purported justifications for this hatred range from the companies not offering sufficient health benefits to the fact that the laborers at such stores are not unionized, but the real reason for the gripe is that the common man, the average citizen, is hugely benefitted from patronizing such institutions. For those who take government officials to be God, or the ultimate order supplier, other free individuals cannot exist who supply the majority of the needs to the ordinary man. Being soundly defeated by their competitors in the private sector, the government officials vying for supremacy are left with no other option but to confiscate property and land. They are able to get away with their unseemly behavior by invoking class envy. Indeed, this is the major cause of poverty in the suffering African nations, where private property rights are nonexistent due to government intervention.

Is the cure for scarcity the removal of tyrannical regimes? After all, an area where goods are freely produced and traded will surely see an economic boom. This was indeed the source of the first great harvest seen in the New World by the Pilgrims. After implementing a new competition driven economic system, the Pilgrims’ harvest was so bountiful that they decided to hold a grand feast and give thanks to God. This feast subsequently became the annual tradition known as Thanksgiving. Yet simply removing tyranny is not the answer, as even the unpleasant, oppressive behavior of powerful governing bodies has a root cause. Simply instituting a competitive system driven by private property rights will not do the trick, because there is every chance for greed and corruption leading to the increase in power of the almighty government in the future. Those who are successful in a free market system are often its greatest enemies. The successful capitalist will have no qualms about lobbying government to grant favors to their specific industry, thereby crumbling the very system that allowed for prosperity.

The solution to the scarcity issue can be found from studying the very nature of freedom. Throughout the course of history, there have always been struggles between liberty and tyranny. Who wouldn’t agree that being free is better than being oppressed? Yet the history of the world is that of oppression, showing that people have chosen to be put under the control of governments that weren’t concerned with their interests. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, clue us in as to why such behavior takes place in spite of the natural preference of man for uninhibited movement. The spirit soul, the individual autonomous spark within each life form, is the basis of identity. Though the soul is imperceptible to the human eye, it can be recognized through outward symptoms, namely, the movements of the body. We know that a soul is inside of a particular form if the body is moving, breathing, or talking. When these functions cease, we know that the soul has left the body.

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

Lord KrishnaThese perceptions indicate that the soul is very powerful, but where did it come from? Where does the spiritual spark go upon exiting the body? What are its properties? At the core, the soul has an affinity for God. Divine love is built into the spirit’s makeup; it is a property that cannot be removed. In fact, the desires to affectionately embrace the Supreme Soul and seek out its pleasure are the most dominant features of the individual soul, even trumping its properties of full knowledge and eternality. Just as fire is known by its heat and light properties, the soul is known by its pure loving propensity manifested through the service attitude. In order for there to be love, there has to be a beneficiary, an entity to whom affection can be directed. Since the soul is always in a state of existence, the ideal recipient of its service must bear the same property. Not surprisingly, that ultimate reservoir of pleasure is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Just as the soul wants to act upon its transcendental affection at all times, its loveable object must be capable of accepting service and subsequently providing the greatest pleasure. It is in this area that Krishna stands out amongst all other benevolent masters and objects of interest. The name Krishna is Sanskrit for “all-attractive”, so it serves as a much better appellation for the original Divine Being than does the word “God.” Krishna is the original Godhead, the same person everyone in the world worships, despises, adores, or fails to acknowledge.

Lord KrishnaThough everyone, including the atheist, believes in God, they may not know who He is, what He looks like, or what their relationship to Him is. How can the atheists, who outwardly deny the existence of a Supreme Being, who despise every aspect of divine love and the worship of any entity aside from matter, be servants of the Supreme Lord? When the intrinsic loving property pushes activity towards Krishna, the soul remains in a purified state. Due to the resulting connection, which is known as yoga, all knowledge and proper behavioral characteristics are acquired. It is said that the soul is like a self-illuminating lamp of knowledge; therefore it never has to actually acquire any information. The education that individuals are subjected to in terms of schooling and instruction from higher authorities merely serves to remove the covering of nescience that envelops the spiritual fragment, which is resting comfortably within the heart.

Birth is a time of great importance because this is when the covering of ignorance surrounds the soul. When trying to see through the dense fog of illusion, not only is the eternal knowledge clouded, but the aim of activity goes off center as well, causing the natural loving propensity to miss its target. Not surprisingly, the Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, refer to the living entity faced with this predicament as conditioned. The conditioned living entity, a pure spirit soul residing in a temporary covering composed of material elements which are deemed inhibiting, redirects its loving propensity towards worldly objects and temporary relationships that fall short of providing happiness in every way. The atheist is simply a lover of God who has directed their natural affection towards objects of matter, including the senses. The fruitive worker, who is a bit more advanced than the staunch atheist, directs their service mentality towards acquiring and enjoying the fruits of their labor, such as the home, car, family, children, etc., through regulated activities based on some system of piety. One step above the fruitive worker is he who loves saintly people, the poor. and the exalted living entities in charge of the material creation. Such individuals attempt to help the disadvantaged and the victims of scarcity.

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

Lord KrishnaOnly when the burning desire to perform service is directed at the Supreme Object of Pleasure can the right system of knowledge be revealed. One may question that since everything is created by God, what is wrong with worshiping matter or other temporary objects. The answer is that the Lord’s influence is certainly seen in everything, but direct service, one that leads to perfect yoga, can only be offered to His personal self or one of His representatives. The feet, hands and legs are different parts of the human body, but if we want to feed ourselves, we have to go through the mouth and eventually reach the stomach. If we offer food to our foot, nothing will come of such service, regardless of how devoted we are. Indeed, such a method of worship is rooted completely in ignorance. In the same way, serving matter, which is Krishna’s external energy, does nothing to further our knowledge, enhance our bliss, or purify our behavior.

When the penchant for loving service misses its intended target, what results? Revisiting the issue of liberty, tyranny is nothing more than the misuse of freedom. You cannot have tyranny without liberty; therefore the primary objective is not to simply root out oppressive behavior, but rather, to find a proper use for liberty. If we have freedom and don’t know what to do with it, we will naturally offer our service to worldly objects, those things which are temporary and bear no direct relation to Supreme Spirit. The resulting service, since it is neither natural nor authorized, will eventually lead to tyranny, even if there was a peaceful condition to begin with. For example, the greed exhibited by politicians is simply an outgrowth of the staunch devotion to matter. A businessman has a strong affinity for money, so he’ll do whatever he can to acquire as much of it as possible. If he sees the opportunity for increased profits through partnership with government officials, he will most certainly take hold of the chance. The politician who is after fame and worship from the common man will then violate the laws of nature by confiscating the property of others.

Lord KrishnaThis output of effort is actually a waste of time, as the Supreme Lord is capable of providing for simple acquisitions of matter and much more. History has shown Bhagavan to be the greatest benefactor, bestowing kingdoms upon the most downtrodden who had the good sense to chant His name regularly. Yet when one ignores Krishna’s helping hand and instead worships matter, they are essentially searching for tiny food grains within heaps of garbage. A grain is typically an abundant commodity, so it is not very valuable. Searching amidst rubbish for something as ordinary as a food grain isn’t a very wise use of time, but when deluded by ignorance, the conditioned entity takes the grain to be more valuable than the eternal kingdom capable of being bestowed by the ruler of all worlds material and spiritual.

When the service mentality is directed at Krishna, the opposite behavior is seen, i.e. instead of trying to hoard material resources, the predominant desire is to increase everyone else’s happiness. The pure lover of God is known as a bhakta, or devotee. Through engaging exclusively in acts of chanting, hearing, remembering, worshiping, offering prayers and the like, the devotee remains in constant contact with Krishna. Behavior following bhakti automatically solves the scarcity problem because it leads to the highest form of knowledge. Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava and devotee of Lord Rama, remarks that evidence of God’s existence can be seen in the price of worldly objects. Those things which we actually need, like food grains and water, are readily available and inexpensive. Those things that we don’t need, such as valuable jewels, palatial mansions and fancy cars, are expensive. Understanding this dichotomy and the purpose behind it, the devotee automatically avoids the greedy mentality, voluntarily adopting a meager lifestyle and taking only what is required to continue their standard of devotional excellence. Only through a purified vision acquired through divine love can the uncontrolled competition that results in lying, cheating, stealing and lobbying the government for favors be eliminated.

Lord ChaitanyaWhat about the food problem? How does worshiping God remove the fears pertaining to putting food on the table? In the conditioned state, man lives to eat, sleep, drink and be merry. On the other hand, the purified devotee lives only to perform bhakti. Hence they automatically acquire the knowledge necessary to provide for their sustenance. Whatever food is procured in the home is prepared and offered to Krishna first, with the results turning into prasadam, or the Lord’s mercy. Lord Chaitanya, the greatest preacher and most merciful saint the world has ever seen, kindly informed one of His disciples one time that the devotee’s body belongs to God. Therefore the bhakta takes special care to maintain the body for Krishna’s service. Where there is worship of the Supreme Lord in pure goodness, without any impure motives, there is always an abundance of life’s necessities. Water, food grains, milk and other bare essentials are always available.

The devotees can solve their food problems, but how does that help others who are suffering right now? Not only do the bhaktas reveal the potential for happiness brought on by utilizing the loving propensity properly, but they are also kind enough to teach others how to evoke their natural love for Supreme Spirit. In addition to showing love to everyone equally, a saint is someone who is able to evoke the highest loving sentiments in any type of person, irrespective of their religious affiliation or standing in society. By helping others arouse their natural love for God, all the problems in the world get solved. Good behavior, the proper use of liberty and the reduction in conflict are all measly, insignificant byproducts of bhakti-yoga. Rewards pertaining to comfortable outward conditions are considered paltry in comparison to the loving emotions exchanged between the individual and the Lord of their life, Shri Krishna. Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura used to say that the only scarcity in this world is that of Krishna consciousness. The more bhaktas there are in the world distributing the mercy of the Lord, the less problems there will be.

Sankirtana What is the quintessential act of bhakti? What is the one activity we can take up that will aim our natural loving propensity at the right target? Which engagement will help us make the best use of our God-given freedom? Shri Gaurahari, Lord Chaitanya, inaugurated the sankirtana movement, the congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord, to save the fallen conditioned souls of this age. God is the same for everyone, but explicitly reciting His names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, proves most effective at evoking transcendental, loving sentiments both in the chanter and in the hearts of those who are within audible range of the transcendental sound vibrations emitted. The sound of Krishna’s name is so powerful that it immediately creates the greatest motivation to maintain life. When there is motivation, a fire in the belly, there is no scarcity in production. The most abundantly produced products are the ones that sell very well, so when introduced into the marketplace of ideas and philosophies, the ancient art of bhakti immediately becomes the most demanded commodity. The more people that chant the Lord’s names, the more devotees there will be. The more bhaktas there are, the greater the influence of bhakti in the arenas of philosophy and metaphysics will be. When the natural loving sentiment towards God takes hold of society at large, the only remaining scarcity will be ignorance, a shortage we can all live with.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Blistered Earth

Hanuman “Then, that most powerful and brave monkey, like the smooth water roamed with ease across the grass that had the hue of a vaidurya stone. That sagacious monkey, like an agitated lion swept aside many deer and other animals, scared away the birds, and crushed down trees with his chest.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.3-4)

atha vaiḍūryavarṇeṣu śādvaleṣu mahābalaḥ |

dhīraḥ salilakalpeṣu viccāra yathāsukham

dvijān vitrāsayan dhīmānurasā pādapān haran |

mṛgāṃśca subāhunnighnan pravṛddha iva kesarī

The importance of protecting the environment and its plant life is fairly obvious to those who are cognizant of the role their surroundings play in everyday life. After all, we have to live with the nature around us, for surroundings are what constitute an “environment”. Respect for other forms of life is also in line with piety, as showing concern for nature serves as an outlet for the natural kindness and affection found within the heart. Under the selfish mindset, identification with the gross body, an outer covering for the soul which constantly goes through change, only strengthens. Through acts of sacrifice, penance and charity, one gradually becomes detached from the flawed attachment to their gross senses and current form of body. Yet the mundane rules of piety and virtue are not absolute, for there is a method behind the so-called madness of the prescriptions in spiritual life, religion, or any basic system of right and wrong. Irrespective of the specific activity, the ultimate objective should be to please the Supreme Being, that singular entity who is our life partner. Though He always remains with us, our knowledge of His presence lies behind a dense wall, a thick cloud covering of nescience. Acts of piety and virtue help to dissipate this thick ignorance. But when one ascends to the highest platform of consciousness, even performing those activities which seem sinful on the surface are actually completely in line with the highest cause, and thus free of any negative reaction.

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

Lord KrishnaUnderstanding the limits of piety and sin is a little tricky. Typically, virtue is attached to activities that we are supposed to perform and sin is anything we shouldn’t. If you abide by piety, you will be rewarded in the future, and if you take to sinful life, you will be severely punished. Some preachers will even openly declare that everyone who takes to sin and ignores the desires of a specific spiritual personality will be forced to suffer eternal damnation in hell. “Repent for your sins, or forever suffer for your transgressions!” In actuality, hell and heaven are simply areas with severe temporary conditions resulting from ordinary acts of goodness and ignorance. Piety can be thought of as the right way to do something, so it doesn’t necessarily have to apply to religion. The same holds true for sin. Since the outer covering of the soul is temporary and destined for destruction, no condition that leads to flickering happiness or distress can be taken to be eternal or the final fate of the soul. The individual soul, or atma, remains in existence forever. As such, it is closely tied at the hip to another entity that never perishes: the Supreme Soul, or Paramatma. No action can cause any spiritual entity to die or change in quality.

If there is a defect with the individual atma, it is seen in its travels. Unlike the Paramatma, the jivatma can be cast into the ocean of nescience, where it is forced to repeatedly accept temporary bodies and endure varying degrees of heavenly and hellish life. As mentioned before, piety is simply the right way to perform an activity; an action that leads to the proper and expected outcome or condition. For example, if we are building a house, there is a right way to align the columns, build the walls, and insulate the structure from outside heat and cold. If we follow the prescribed guidelines, the favorable condition of a peaceful, safe, and comfortable living establishment will be had. By the same token, if we fail to act according to the proper path, we will suffer negative effects, the severity of which depends on the magnitude of the deviation. For instance, if we apply paint to one of the walls incorrectly or use the wrong color, this type of sin will lead to an unpleasant sight, but nothing more. However, if we commit a more grievous sin, like not supporting a beam properly, the result can be a disastrous one, such as the collapse of the entire structure and the deaths of those living inside of it.

Following the same pattern, pious acts with a larger scope, such as nonviolence and protection of the environment, lead to favorable conditions for the outer covering of the soul in the future. At the same time, the rules of piety are not absolute, and by adhering to them, we only find temporary positive conditions. Revisiting the house example, if we erect the structure correctly, we get a nice home to live in, but then what? Do our activities end there? Have we achieved success in life? Surely we haven’t, as we’ll have to take on new activities and again subject ourselves to the paradigm of sin and piety. The building of the home is only a small example, but the illustrated principles can be expanded out to all activities pertaining to the embodied, or dehinam.

“The Vedas mainly deal with the subject of the three modes of material nature. Rise above these modes, O Arjuna. Be transcendental to all of them. Be free from all dualities and from all anxieties for gain and safety, and be established in the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.45)

Lord KrishnaWith respect to the protection of the environment, say that we have the most beautiful surroundings, where no trees are ever knocked down and no animals are ever hurt. What will we do after that? Will the mind stop thinking? Do our desires stop? Since individuality is an intrinsic property of the soul, the penchant for activity never ceases. Therefore, to elevate to the highest platform of transcendental existence, one must rise above mundane piety. Caring for other forms of life surely is noble, but activities that deal strictly with temporary bodies do not represent the upper limit of the soul’s engagement. The individual spirit, jivatma, is the functioning unit of the body, so the future well-being of the soul is what really matters.

The argument may be made that if we are to give primary concern to the atma, what is the purpose to the material nature around us? Why are there trees, plants, animals, and an environment in general? Initially, such objects, including the body of the living entity itself, were provided by the Supreme Being, who is known by the name of Krishna in the Vedic tradition, to allow for imitation of the most mature, powerful and sublime activities of the Supreme Lord. One angle of vision takes God as the adult and the individual souls as His children. This viewpoint is invoked here strictly for comparison purposes, as the Lord’s supremacy is so great that nothing can accurately compare to it. But we do see that young children like to imitate their parents, so the analogy works well when describing the desires of the innumerable spiritual sparks emanating from the original source of energy. Since the young children can never take to real adult activities, there must be a playground of sorts created wherein they can feel as if they are acting like adults. Taking the same scenario and applying it to the spiritual world, which is full of children that are always under the care of the Supreme Father, we get an idea of how the material world was born.

More important than understanding when, why or how the world was created is the issue of how to permanently escape from it. Is piety the answer? Is sin the ticket to freedom? The key that unlocks the gate leading out of the material world can be quite easily acquired; provided we change our desires. Once the children lose their interest in imitating the adults, release from the playpen is immediately granted. But reaching that state of selflessness is easier said than done. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India instituted by Krishna, don’t expect every individual to achieve the purification of desire in one lifetime. Therefore piety is recommended as a way to allow for a gradual evolution through higher stages of consciousness, ultimately resulting in a body and a predicament that are most conducive towards achieving liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

PrabhupadaThough it can take many lifetimes’ worth of pious behavior to gain release from the playground known as the phenomenal world, there is a much simpler way that is flawlessly effective. The same objects that are viewed as the source of personal enjoyment can be used for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. This is the vision the saints, the celebrated devotees of Krishna, use to survey their surroundings. A simple example often cited by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada can help in this context. Say we are in a shopping mall and we see some money that an unknown fellow shopper has dropped on the ground. The foolish enjoyer, one who wants to imitate God’s powers in the areas of creation, maintenance and destruction, will quickly snatch up the money and think of how to spend it. This money surely doesn’t belong to them, but they have now taken false ownership of it and plan to enjoy it for their own sense pleasure. “You snooze, you lose” is the underlying attitude guiding the gross enjoyer in this situation. On the flip side, one who is prone to renunciation will see the money on the floor and not dare pick it up. It is a grievous sin to take the property of others, for such an act will be the cause of future bondage and a hellish condition. “Better to ere on the side of caution and leave the money alone”, is what they’ll think. Anyway, what will they do with the money, as it is simply a product of material nature that leads to further illusion?

Only the third person, he who picks up the money and returns it to the rightful owner, follows the correct procedure, one that is superior to both personal enjoyment and renunciation. Only with this path will the owner’s property be utilized for their benefit. Obviously, sometimes it’s difficult to find the person who dropped the money, for once it is announced that cash has been found, many people will come forward to claim that it is theirs, but the intention behind the behavior illustrates the proper mindset and the correct course of action to take under all circumstances. Even if we are unable to find the original owner, the sentiment is still correct, and it also gives an indication of how to achieve success in the spiritual sense.

The entire world, with all its plants, trees and animals, belongs to God. Therefore the real path to liberation, one that follows a system of dharma that is above the mundane paradigm of piety and sin, is to use everything for the Lord’s pleasure. The problem is that due to the dense illusion clouding our consciousness, we don’t know where to find God and how to offer anything to Him. It seems that every person has their own God and their own philosophy on life, so how do we know who to trust? As they say, “the proof of the pudding is in the taste”, so the validity of the bona fide path of spirituality expounded by the exalted Vaishnavas, the true authorities on spiritual life, is found in the execution of the recommended actions and their subsequent results. It is not that we have to blindly follow such leaders, but rather, we have to kindly hear what they have to say and then make our own judgments using sound logic and reasoning. Surely there is an element of faith involved, especially in the beginning stages, but then which activity is bereft of trust? We can either put faith into gross materialism, which we know will only lead to flickering happiness and misery, or we can put our trust in the devotees of Krishna who have learned the art of devotional service from their own guru, or spiritual master.

“Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krishna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.7)

Lord KrishnaThe prescriptions offered by the Vaishnavas are pretty straightforward. “Devote yourselves to God and think of Him at all times. Spend as much time as you can hearing, worshiping, remembering, and offering prayers to the Lord.” Those who make this type of devotion to God their way of life practice the ancient art of bhakti-yoga. As a form of yoga, there is an explicit attempt to link the soul with the Paramatma, but the loving sentiment towards Supreme Spirit actually exists naturally in the soul. There would never have been a desire to imitate God were it not for the intimate relationship that exists between the individual soul and the Supreme Lord. Since bhakti is the ideal consciousness, all impurities from the activities adopted are removed. The divine consciousness automatically brings knowledge of the proper course of action for any and all circumstances.

The descriptions and glorifications of bhakti are full of lofty ideals and promises for future happiness, but how do we actually go about incorporating divine love into our current activities? What are the indications of a purified consciousness? Examples always help, and fortunately for us, the Vedas are filled with vivid illustrations of bhakti in practice. One of the most celebrated bhaktas is Shri Hanuman, the eternal servant of Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty and non-different form of Godhead who roamed this earth many thousands of years ago. In the above referenced passage, Hanuman is embarking on his journey to find the whereabouts of Rama’s missing wife, Sita Devi. A beautiful and shy princess, Sita was taken away from the side of her husband by the Rakshasa demon Ravana while she was residing in the forest with Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana. The two brothers were not with her at the time of her abduction, so they were unaware of her whereabouts.

“Your sinful act of coming to the forest and taking me away from the side of my husband will not result in future happiness for you.” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.13)

Sita and Rama Rama and Lakshmana eventually forged an alliance with a band of monkeys living in the forest of Kishkindha. Their chief warrior was Hanuman, who after being apprised of his divine powers, took to leaping across the giant ocean that separated the monkey search party from the island of Lanka, where Ravana had taken Sita. From the above passage, we see that Hanuman, who assumed a massive size to make his way across the giant ocean, initially destroyed many trees that were part of the surroundings and scared away animals that were in his path. Based on the rules of mundane piety as they pertain to caring for the environment, this was surely an abominable act. Hanuman, in preparing for his launch off of a mountaintop, essentially blistered the earth by tromping over it. The modern day environmental movement is fueled by the viewpoint that mankind is an evil force responsible for pollution and the destruction of its surroundings. So under this mindset, Hanuman would be labeled as one of the greatest sinners, a person surely worthy of punishment.

!BzpGpGQ!2k~$(KGrHqEOKkUE)MZUhbcnBMW6BuyIsg~~_3But to this day Hanuman remains one of the most widely revered spiritual figures in the world. As mentioned before, all objects of this world, including the pristine surroundings provided by Mother Nature, belong to God. The beautiful property in the form of trees, rivers, parks, and forests have been kindly lent to us for the purpose of rekindling God consciousness. How to go about utilizing everything around us for the pleasure of Krishna is not simply left to a theoretical exercise. True God consciousness can be exhibited in outward symptoms recognized by the nature of the activities that result. As bhakti is akin to transcendental love, the affection for the Supreme Lord must be shown in the activities of the devotee; otherwise the claims of attachment through consciousness are meaningless.

Hanuman, upon meeting Rama, knew that he would dedicate his life to Him. Hanuman validated his eternal allegiance during his brave trek to Lanka, where he would meet and defeat many opposing elements. The fact that he destroyed trees along the way is not a black mark against his character in the least bit. Even the damage inflicted by Hanuman was a sight of beauty, for it was concomitant with the massive size that he assumed to take on the herculean task presented him. Hanuman’s duties required him to battle against some of the toughest evil elements in the world, so he needed to assume a massive size. As a humble servant of the Lord, Hanuman is usually seen in a normal sized stature, one that is purposefully deferent to the glorious and worshipable position of His beloved Shri Rama. But if need be, by making use of his mastery of every mystic perfection, Hanuman can expand himself to an enormous size.

Rama DarbarWhether he is offering kind words of advice, killing enemies, humbly approaching Sita, or destroying trees and forests as a result of assuming a massive size, Hanuman is always beautiful. Regardless of the preventative measures we adopt, this earth will ultimately be destroyed, for that is the destiny for anything that is created. The aim should be to act in Krishna’s interests at all times. Such behavior will not only purify our own consciousness, but it will also help everyone around us, including future generations, in their quest for spiritual freedom. When there are evil elements in the world such as Ravana, there is bound to be incidental destruction resulting from the heroic efforts of the servants of Bhagavan. Such action need not be apologized for. Hanuman’s glories know no end, and the beautiful form that made its way to Lanka is something to be celebrated forever and ever.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


Lord Krishna “Being beyond the range of limited sense perception [adhokshaja], You are the eternally irreproachable factor covered by the curtain of deluding energy. You are invisible to the foolish observer, exactly as an actor dressed as a player is not recognized.” (Queen Kunti speaking to Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.18.19)

A good actor is not recognized for who he is - an ordinary human being just like the rest of us. Rather, due to his extraordinary dramatic talents and the promotion of his different shows, films and plays, he is able to create a completely different persona, one that is respected, adored, and even sometimes worshiped by a large portion of the population. What’s interesting is that those who offer their obeisances in the form of ticket purchases, time spent following the day-to-day gossip and personal dealings, and general dedication of thoughts know full well that the target individual is simply playing a role, acting out their rehearsed lines. Yet the performance itself is so powerful that the audience willingly puts themselves under the spell of illusion, so as to enhance the enjoyment of the experience. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna, during His various personal appearances on earth puts on the greatest of performances, one that not only enchants the pure-hearted, but also keeps the miscreants far, far away. Bhagavan, the original Divine Being, when playing the role of an ordinary living entity can only be recognized for who He is by the trained eye, a purified vision that is actually able to perceive the Supreme Spirit’s adhokshaja feature for what it is. Blunt instruments, hypotheses, scientific experiments and direct perception are not enough to recognize the transcendental actor known as Krishna. But hearing from authority sources such as Kunti Devi, the mother of the famous Pandava brothers, can provide perfect information that can subsequently be used to make a flawless identification.

Lord KrishnaThe idolatry directed towards famous actors and actresses can only be rooted in a flawed identification. After all, just because an individual plays a doctor on television doesn’t mean that they know how to practice medicine in real life. Yet this precise illusion envelops even members of the highest levels of government and politics, which is often humorously referred to as “showbiz for the ugly”. There have been instances in the past where actors who played a prominent role championing some social cause in a film were then later called to testify before Congress to lend their “expertise” to the matter. It is undoubtedly true that the most popular actors are treated like royalty, for they are offered great respect and attention in a wide variety of public circles. In many cases the worshipers visibly exhibit their pure ignorance by offering obeisances in a manner similar to the way worship is performed in a traditional house of spirituality, or temple.

This strange behavior is certainly indicative of the tremendous acting abilities of the celebrities in question. After all, concomitant with a successful theatrical performance is the fooling of the audience. The better the actor can convince the audience that they are the character they are portraying on stage, the more their performance will be respected. The audience members know they are witnessing a scripted and rehearsed scene, but through their willful neglect, they allow themselves to be enchanted. The senses, which are a product of the material nature, are so strong that they typically lead to misery, as the seemingly innocent soul is dragged into activities that it would otherwise avoid. Only through service, kind love offered to others, can the negative influence of the senses be mitigated. Moreover, when purified through acts of transcendental love, the senses become the greatest source of pleasure.

When the individual offers their loving service to a non-worthy recipient, the cause of the behavior is considered to be illusion, or maya. This isn’t to say that actors, actresses, family and friends aren’t worthy of being loved and adored, but rather, the ultimate object of worship should always remain a singular entity, one who is constitutionally fit to accept uninterrupted obeisances from every individual the universe over. An actor may be hailed for his ability to play the role of a noble, heroic character, but in real life he is no different than any of the rest of us, for as the saying goes, “he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else”. The Supreme Lord, who is the greatest actor, is described as the ultimate reservoir of pleasure in the Vedic tradition. Yet when cast under the spell of illusion, it’s difficult for the conditioned entity to understand this feature of the Divine. Moreover, if one’s mind can be willfully captured by actors playing on a stage, surely they will also be subject to the influences of the greatest dramatic performer, Shri Krishna.

Krishna and His pastimesWhy would someone who is intended to be our ultimate object of worship take to acting? The cause relates directly to desire. Just as the audience member purposefully puts himself under illusion to enhance the enjoyment derived from watching their favorite actors, the conditioned entity purposefully forgets the sublime and powerful nature of the Supreme Lord to take to a lower class of enjoyment. Indeed, this really isn’t any enjoyment at all, just a perceived level of happiness brought on by forgetfulness of Supreme Spirit and association with an inferior energy. Since the entity lacking true God consciousness is fooled into thinking it will be happy in the absence of Krishna’s association, the resulting behavior is one based completely off illusion.

As the best friend of every living entity, the Supreme Spirit has no desire to forcibly break the illusion. Rather, He is responsible for creating it. If an audience member wants to be lured into worshiping an actor, the person playing on stage will not stop the performance and say, “Please stop paying attention. I’m just acting after all.” Instead, he will take the audience member’s eagerness as an added impetus for putting on a good show. In a similar manner, one who is eager to forget God is allowed to do so in the greatest possible way by becoming subject to the influences of maya, the illusory energy who is a direct servant of Shri Krishna.

“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThere are two aspects to maya. The illusory force is justifiably viewed in a negative light by the elevated transcendentalists, but there is still some beauty in maya’s effects. She is so great that she can fool an individual into thinking that they are God. Taking oneself to be equal to Shri Krishna, who as the Supreme Person is known as Purushottama, represents the nadir of material existence, the lowest level the thought processes of the human being can descend to. Such an individual, being the greatest victim of illusion, works under the dictates of mahamaya. Krishna is so powerful that even His illusory forces are a sight to behold.

“Yogamaya is the internal potency of the Supreme Lord; she also works under the Lord's direction, but she works in the spiritual world. When the living entity puts himself under the direction of yogamaya instead of mahamaya, he gradually becomes a devotee of Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Ch 30)

Then there is yogamaya, which works directly under the Lord’s supervision to cast a spell over those sincere souls who want to increase their love not for actors, family members, or politicians, but rather, for the Supreme Lord Himself. Indeed, yogamaya is the original maya energy, with mahamaya being her partial manifestation aimed at deluding the non-devotees. To show His mercy upon the sincere souls looking to purify their existence, Krishna descends to earth in various non-different guises - sometimes as a fish, sometimes as a boar, and sometimes as a human being. Around five thousand years ago, He appeared in His original form, that of a personality known by names such as Krishna, Vasudeva, Govinda, Damodara, Keshava and Achyuta.

Vasudeva carrying his son KrishnaInfluenced by yogamaya, most devotees were not able to accurately perceive Krishna’s unique and unmatched transcendental position during His time on earth. But Kunti Devi, the mother of the five Pandava brothers, cousins and friends of Shri Krishna, was able to see the Lord for who He was. On one occasion she offered nice prayers to the Lord, wherein she declared that He is adhokshaja, or one who is not perceptible to the external senses. We can recognize that an actor is a human being by studying the workings of the film industry and watching interviews of the actor when he is outside of his particular role. But with the Supreme Lord, we can never understand His fixed position unless we hear from devotees like Kunti Devi. No amount of experimental knowledge, theoretical or practical, will lead the human brain to properly conclude that God exists and that His original form is the all-blissful Krishna. This evidence must initially be accepted on the faith of the words of authority figures, those who know Krishna and who kindly pass down information pertaining to the Lord’s transcendental features to their descendants.

“Those miscreants who are grossly foolish, lowest among mankind, whose knowledge is stolen by illusion, and who partake of the atheistic nature of demons, do not surrender unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.15)

Just as mahamaya’s powers of illusion are quite potent, Shri Krishna is similarly able to fool others into thinking that He is an ordinary human being. Not only was the behavior resulting from illusion exhibited by miscreant and devotee alike during the Lord’s time on earth, but it continues to this day. The devotees, working under yogamaya, understand that Krishna is God, but to enhance the enjoyment of associating with Him, they sometimes kindly take the Lord to be an ordinary figure. This doesn’t mean that they treat Krishna without respect or fail to offer love to Him. On the contrary, the intensity of the loving exchanges only increases in the service offered by bhaktas who are simply attracted to Krishna for His blissful features, not caring for His position as the Lord of the universe.

Mother Yashoda and Lord KrishnaThe miscreants, on the other hand, are under the influence of mahamaya, so their misidentification of Krishna is based solely on their desire to compete with God. Even with all the evidence provided by the authority figures and Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita, the non-devotee will not see the Lord for who He is. Indeed, if such an acknowledgment were present, it would be an open admission that a painful death was on the horizon, for the deviant soul’s heart remains always set on ascending to the top of the materialistic platform, something which has no relation to the personal aspect of the Lord. As the Supreme Person, God supplies orders and accepts worship from subordinates. The grossly foolish think that by acquiring enough material objects and amassing enough power, they can usurp this position, one that is never even up for grabs. In a democratic country, the head positions are always up for election, which means that any person can ascend to the top post of the government. As soon as an individual assumes the top post, they get treated completely differently. The President of the United States is just an ordinary man after all, for before being elected to office, he wasn’t treated all that well. Yet as soon as he gets sworn in, he travels on Air Force One and hears Hail to the Chief wherever he goes, and he gets wide respect from people around the world.

Bhagavan’s position bears no similarity to any role of importance in the mundane world. The post of God is not up for grabs, nor is it possible for anyone to properly imitate the behavior of the Supreme Person. Krishna is not only the greatest order supplier, but He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. As the best friend of the living entity, His pleasure has a direct effect on the happiness of others. Though he is adhokshaja, He can be personally approached by kind and humble service, including that offered to one of His representatives, the spiritual master. Kunti Devi recognized Krishna for who He was, yet she still appreciated His acting abilities. If we recognize the actor on stage for who he is, the enjoyment derived from the performance goes away. Yet for even the devotees who possess full knowledge of Krishna’s position, there is still great enjoyment derived from His childhood activities, those incidents that included naughty behavior and the killing of demons. In fact, hearing of any of Krishna’s activities, be they of the violent or peaceful variety, is enjoyable to those who understand His blissful nature.

“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)

Krishna stealing butterThe Lord is always present in this universe, even when His original form remains in the spiritual sky. As the greatest actor, Krishna conceals Himself through His energies. The sunshine, the wind, and nature are all Krishna. Even the taste of water is a manifestation of the Lord’s energy. Though there is only one energetic, the reservoir of all potency, there is still no difference between the energetic and the energy. Krishna’s energies are all around us. Even the most illusioned person, one who is addicted to intoxication, can slowly but surely perceive of Krishna’s presence, greatness and worthiness of worship by just understanding that the Lord is the taste of their intoxicant. If one is accustomed to drinking wine, if they simply remember Krishna as the taste of their beloved beverage, they can start to conceive of His supreme nature.

The Lord is certainly everywhere, including within the heart, but if one’s consciousness is not purified, they will not be able to understand Krishna’s position. One who tries to worship God without understanding who He is, in spite of the greatest outward acknowledgments and professions of faith, will be more prone to worshiping worldly objects, those things which do have a form perceptible to the blunt senses. Therefore, the key is to understand Krishna from the authorized words of the sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, and by taking direct instruction from the Vaishnavas, the exalted devotees of the Lord. Worshipable figures like Kunti Devi, who know of Krishna’s acting talents, think of the Lord at all times. When He is not directly in their company, they remember and honor Him within the heart and mind. Knowing full well Krishna’s omnipresent nature, such individuals also worship the Lord’s external, manifested forms, such as the archa-vigraha and the numerous avataras like Lord Rama and Narasimhadeva.

Radha Krishna worship One who tries to worship the Lord in His seemingly invisible form, alakshya, which is imperceptible to the blunt senses [adhokshaja], while willfully neglecting the worship of His outward forms, such as the deities, incarnations and original form in the spiritual land of Goloka Vrindavana, is certainly a great fool. Indeed, Krishna’s invisible aspect is actually the same as the visible for those on the highest platform of consciousness. The visible form is not illusion; it is the very essence of reality. Krishna’s form is completely transcendental and free from any of the debilitating effects of material nature. With the ordinary actor, there is a difference between the personality and the role, but in Krishna’s case, everything is the same. There is no difference between the Lord and His body, so anyone who associates with any direct feature belonging to the Personality of Godhead will surely be benefitted.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Shri Hanuman

Hanuman reaching for the sun “Then, after seeing the newly risen sun in the great forest when you were a boy, taking it to be fruit and wanting to catch it, you jumped up and flew towards the sky.” (Jambavan speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 66.21)

abhyutthitam tataḥ sūryam bālo dṛṣṭvā mahā vane ।

phalam ca iti jighṛkṣuḥ tvam utplutya abhiutpato divam

Shri Hanuman, the powerful Vanara warrior and faithful servant of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is one of the most celebrated divine figures in the world. The regular adulation and worship directed his way has gone on for thousands of years, dating back to the time of his initial advent on earth, when he aided the victorious side in one of the greatest battles this world has ever seen. Since the entire universe goes through many cycles of creation and destruction, the circumstances surrounding Hanuman’s birth are a little different each time around. The most often referenced account is provided in the sacred Ramayana of Maharishi Valmiki, which actually describes Hanuman’s early life in two different sections; such is the greatness of the fearless devotee. Hearing of his birth and his tremendous courage shown in battles against the enemies of the Lord is enough to secure transcendental bliss for a lifetime. Such figures are put on this earth at just the right time and place to allow current and future generations of conditioned souls a chance at understanding true greatness, courage, strength, perseverance, and most importantly, devotion to the Lord.

HanumanPure love for God, or bhakti, is the constitutional position of the soul. Though we tend to identify with our outward features, it is the spirit soul inside which forms the basis of identity. “I” and “Mine” really refer to the soul and not the body. We may have the form of a human being in the present life, but in a future one we may be born as a demigod, a plant, or even an animal. The soul can never be discarded, burned up, dried, or cut into pieces. No matter the trials and tribulations it endures, the soul can never change in properties. Part and parcel of the soul’s makeup is a deep and unadulterated love for God. When the individual spiritual spark is placed in a temporary realm, wherein birth, old age, disease and death constantly repeat, knowledge of the loving propensity gets forgotten. Therefore the aim of human life is to rekindle the pure connection with God through activities in divine love. Unlike conditioned activities, acts of devotion lead to liberation. Just as in an elementary school classroom there are two paths, one which leads to knowledge and subsequent elevation to the next grade, and another which forces the student to retake the same class in the following year, in the material world the living entities have a choice as to which type of engagement they will adopt, as free-will and independence are also characteristics of the soul.

“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.9)

Lord Krishna Material activities, those actions that aim to satisfy the senses of the temporary body, are deemed conditioned and thus leading to bondage. The binding aspect shouldn’t be difficult to understand, as the body is temporary and subject for destruction, so any activity which aims to satisfy it will also end in destruction. Since such engagements also do nothing to purify consciousness, the soul remains bound to the cycle of birth and death. The Supreme Lord, the one and only God for all of humanity, is very kind. Through His separated energies, He gives those who do not worship Him personally what they want, even if their desires won’t lead to eternal freedom. If the individual wants to remain tied to the repetitious activities of sense gratification based off false identification, they are free to do so.

There is another class of activity which has the opposite effect; it slowly but surely breaks the bonds of attachment to the phenomenal world, thus leading to liberation, or the cessation to the cycle of birth and death. These activities, which are collectively known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, spark a change in consciousness. While the body is temporary and ultimately discarded, consciousness travels alongside the soul from life to life. It is the consciousness that determines the type of body the individual receives in the next life. As is readily perceptible, young children are born with certain qualities. One child will naturally be very peaceful and quiet, while another will be antsy and very talkative. These natures are determined by the previous consciousness of the soul. When one’s mindset is completely purified by remaining transcendentally situated at the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, a spiritual body is given in the next life. A spiritual form is a permanent one that is of the same quality as the soul. While the temporary outer covering composed of material elements has a spiritually inhibiting effect, the transcendentally situated form lacks any propensity for illusion or activities leading to bondage. Thus the Krishna conscious soul is free to associate with the Supreme Lord in their specific mood of choice.

How does a change in consciousness come about? Though we are in a temporary body, the key is to take to acts of bhakti, one of the simplest and most effective of which is hearing. Though the Supreme Lord remains invisible to the soul deluded by the sense consciousness, He kindly makes appearances on earth to give the inquisitive and love-starved individuals a chance at liberation. One such appearance took place many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. During that time, the original personality of Godhead, who is known as Krishna or Vishnu in the Vedic tradition, descended as a handsome and pious prince named Rama. Just as there is a natural interest in the workings of the notable royal families of today, there was a great interest in the day-to-day dealings of the famous Ikshvaku dynasty, which ruled the world. Their king at the time was Maharaja Dasharatha, who was so pious and kind that everyone loved him. Lord Rama was the king’s eldest son and the heir to the throne that was missing for such a long time.

Rama with His brothers, Sita and HanumanFrom the time of His birth, everyone was enamored by Rama’s activities and also those of His three younger brothers: Bharata, Lakshmana and Shatrughna. When one rises above the animalistic stage and gains a basic understanding of spirituality but still hasn’t achieved pure God consciousness, there are four rewards in life that are deemed most precious and worthy of attaining: dharma [religiosity], artha [economic development], kama [sense gratification] and moksha [liberation from birth and death]. They say that during Dasharatha’s time, these four rewards manifested in the forms of his four young children. In fact, these beautiful boys, who were all non-different forms of Vishnu, were rewards far greater than anything anyone could ever ask for. Devotion to the feet of these sweet children would bring the greatest gift of all: bhakti, which is an eternal flame of love that illuminates any form the soul happens to assume.

Those who lived in Ayodhya at the time certainly were transcendentally benefitted by seeing Rama and His brothers all the time, but in order to give future generations a chance to hear about the wonders experienced by the citizens of Ayodhya, the Lord took to transcendental activities performed outside of the town as He grew up. These actions were so blissful and beautiful that they were chronicled by Maharishi Valmiki in a wonderful poem called the Ramayana.

Rama and LakshmanaAs part of His pastimes, Rama roamed the forests of India alongside His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi and Lakshmana. On one unfortunate occasion, Sita was kidnapped from the forest while not in Rama or Lakshmana’s presence. In their subsequent search for her whereabouts, Rama and Lakshmana forged an alliance with a Vanara king named Sugriva, who was living in the forest of Kishkindha. Vanaras are usually taken to be monkeys, but the Sanskrit word itself means “one of the forest”. Based on the descriptions of their activities and their notably strong penchant for intoxication and sex life, we can understand that the Vanaras were very monkey-like, but they still retained many human tendencies. Species themselves don’t evolve, for matter is incapable of doing anything on its own. However, the body types in which the souls are injected certainly can change over time. The Vedas cap the list of distinct species at 8,400,000, with the Vanaras being one of them.

Sugriva sent out search parties to scour the earth for Sita’s location. Though the monkeys were divided into groups, Sugriva knew that the party which included Shri Hanuman, his most faithful and dear servant, was the only one with any legitimate chance at success. Sure enough, Hanuman’s group, after much stress and turmoil, finally stumbled upon Sita’s location. Through the help of a bird named Sampati, Hanuman and his monkey friends were informed that Sita was taken to an island kingdom of Lanka. There was just one problem: getting to the island. The monkey party was on one side of the water, and Lanka was all the way on the other side of the ocean. Realizing their dilemma, the monkeys each asserted how far they could jump. Similar to the old game show Name That Tune, each monkey stepped forward and said they could jump a certain distance. Realizing that none of these distances were long enough to make it across the ocean, Jambavan, one of the elderly monkeys in the group, approached Hanuman and asked him why he was silent. Up to this point Hanuman had not even ventured a guess as to how far he could jump.

HanumanJambavan took the opportunity to inform Hanuman of his tremendous prowess inherited from his father. Not knowing the circumstances of his birth, Hanuman was told the beautiful story about the early years of his life. There once was a celebrated celestial nymph who was exquisitely beautiful. Due to a curse imprecated by a sage, she was subsequently born as a monkey. Given the name of Anjana, she was later married to a monkey named Keshari. Though she was in the form of a Vanara, Anjana still retained some of her celestial powers, one of which included the ability to assume any shape at will. One day she decided to assume a human form and roam the top of a mountain which had a beautiful cloud amassed around it. The wind-god, Vayu, then saw her and became enamored.

Though this seems like a poetic trick of personification or a mythological tradition, the Vedas inform us that each of the material elements has a presiding deity. We can think of it in this way: As human beings, we can most certainly enter the water, but it is not our natural habitat. We could never survive in water because our specific body type is made to reside on land. Fish, on the other hand, can only survive in water. They would immediately die in any other environment. Just because we can’t survive in the water doesn’t mean that other living entities aren’t meant to live there. In the same way, each of the various planets of the universe has living entities with specific bodies residing on them. Even the sun is considered a deity, for it is presided over by a powerful living entity who possesses a body of fire.

manasā asmi gato yat tvām pariṣvajya yaśasvini |

vīryavān buddhi saṃpannaḥ putraḥ tava bhaviṣyati

mahāsāttvo mahāteja mahābala parākramaḥ |

langhane plavane caiva bhaviṣyati mayā samaḥ

“Since after embracing you I have entered you with my mind, O famous lady, a son who is powerful and endowed with intelligence will be born to you. He will be mighty, highly effulgent, very powerful, valorous, and my equal in flying and leaping abilities.” (Vayu speaking to Anjana, Valmiki Ramayana, 66.18-19)

Wind, along with earth, water, fire and sky, is one of the central elements of the material world. It has a presiding deity named Vayu who is responsible for its workings. The importance of this responsibility would be highlighted shortly after Vayu’s meeting with Anjana. Seeing the beautiful woman on the mountaintop, Vayu brought her close to his body, a gesture not appreciated by Anjana. She made a vow to only accept one husband, and now this strange person was seemingly violating her. Vayu allayed her fears by informing her that he had not had any intercourse with her, so her vow of chastity had not been broken. But due to the embrace, Vayu had impregnated her using his mind. Being with child, Anjana went to a nearby cave and gave birth to a Vanara son endowed with the celestial powers of his father.

Hanuman heading towards the sunWhen he was still a child, the young boy one day saw the sun in the sky and mistook it for a fruit. Wanting to grab the fruit and eat it, the child leaped into the sky and made his way closer and closer to the sun. His jumping ability and swiftness weren’t remarkable considering Vayu was the boy’s father. Even though the child was eventually repulsed by the massive splendor of the sun, he did not get discouraged in any way. Indra, the king of the heavenly planets, saw the child approaching his realm, and possessed by anger, he hurled a thunderbolt at the young boy. Being struck by Indra’s vajra, the child in the sky was throttled back and subsequently collided with a mountain. Since his jaw was broken by the impact with the mountain, the child was thenceforth known as Hanuman.

Seeing his son attacked and injured, Vayu was not happy at all. As revenge, he decided to cease functioning; so subsequently there was no wind anywhere on the earth. Obviously, this led to chaos and disaster, so the sages and demigods pleaded with Vayu to give up his anger. To pacify Vayu, Hanuman was granted the benediction from Lord Brahma of being invincible in battle. Indra, who was the cause of the whole mess, granted Hanuman the boon that he would never die unless he wanted to. When Jambavan finished his story, he also reminded Hanuman of his great powers borne of the ancestral link to the wind-god. Jambavan encouraged Hanuman to assume a massive form to cross over the ocean. The comparison was made to Trivikrama, the incarnation of Vishnu also known as Vamanadeva, who once shifted from a dwarf body to a massive form and covered the earth in just three steps. Jambavan also stated that Hanuman’s strength and speed were equal to that of Garuda, the celestial bird-carrier of Lord Vishnu.

These references to Vishnu were no accident, for the monkeys were involved in devotional service to Rama, a celebrated incarnation of Vishnu. Reminded of his sterling ancestry and prowess, Hanuman gladly abided by Jambavan’s words and assumed a massive form. Hanuman then boldly asserted that no one would be able to defeat him and that he would easily cross over the ocean. He assured the monkeys that Sita’s whereabouts in Lanka would be found. The rest, as they say, was history, as Hanuman would bravely leap across the ocean, find Sita, set fire to Lanka, return to Rama and Sugriva, and then play a major role in the final battle against Ravana. All would end well, as Ravana would be defeated by Rama, and Sita would be reunited safely with her dear husband. For his efforts, Hanuman was granted eternal devotion to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. To this day he remains always fixed in thoughts of love and devotion to them. Hanuman easily could have been granted liberation from the cycle of birth and death, but as a pure devotee and divine figure, he didn’t want any such reward, as bhakti is even greater than moksha. He only asked that he be able to remain on this earth for as long as Rama’s story continued to be told.

Hanuman and his glorious activities This means that anytime we say the name of Rama, or anytime we chant the glorious names of the Lord found in the sacred maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, Shri Hanuman hears us and is pleased at the heart. As the gate-keeper of the spiritual kingdom inhabited by the glory of the Raghu dynasty, Hanuman doesn’t require an entrance fee, a cover charge, or steep penances and austerities as prerequisites for entry. He simply asks that we try to love Sita and Rama as much as he does. Surely this is not possible, but if we remain fixed on the path of devotional service and never forget the glorious Hanuman, the son of Anjana and the darling of the devotees of Rama, our efforts in this life will be successful. The potency of the human form of life lies not in the ability to enjoy the senses, but rather in the potential to understand and associate with the Supreme Spirit and His dearmost associates like Shri Hanuman.