Saturday, March 26, 2011

Always the Best Policy

Hanuman “In my present form I will not be able to enter the city of the Rakshasas, which is protected by cruel and powerful Rakshasas.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.33)

anena rūpeṇa mayā na śakyā rakśasāṃ purī |

praveṣṭuṃ rākśasairguptā krūrairbalasamanvitaiḥ

Honesty is generally considered the best policy, for it is easy to implement and will supposedly get you into the least trouble. Though truthfulness and lack of deceit in dealings are good principles to live by, they are not always the ideal practices. In fact, in many instances dishonesty is a requirement for success. By studying the behavior of one notable personality, a figure who had no other objective than to meet the desires and wishes of his worshipable object, we can gain a true understanding of the purposes and limits of honesty, chivalry, kindness, and any other attribute typically considered laudable and praiseworthy.

93_bigAre there circumstances where even kindness is the wrong way to go? Philosophers and spiritual leaders who speak in platitudes about the virtues of good behavior will garner respect from the attentive audience. This is certainly understandable, as one who is dishonest, mean, stingy and overly critical of others will not go far in life. According to the Vedas, the purpose of the human form of body is to separate oneself from the animal community in terms of consciousness. Since an animal lacks a high level of intelligence, its consciousness focuses entirely on sense demands: i.e. eating, sleeping, mating and defending. In the human life, the spirit soul, the essence of existence, the individual functioning unit within every living being, has the ability to transcend the animal instincts and take to acquiring the highest type of knowledge.

Dishonesty and uncleanliness, both internal and external, are signs of a low grade consciousness. Our thoughts and desires are private; they are the only personal aspects that others can’t know about without being expressly told. But our mindset and priorities can’t be shielded totally, as they are exhibited in our activities. In this way our consciousness becomes visible to outsiders simply by our behavior. Dishonesty and lack of concern for the rights and property of others shows a low level of intelligence. This behavior is indicative of a consciousness which hasn’t advanced very far from the animal tendencies inherited at the time of birth.

“The Blessed Lord said: Fearlessness, purification of one's existence, cultivation of spiritual knowledge, charity, self-control, performance of sacrifice, study of the Vedas, austerity and simplicity; nonviolence, truthfulness, freedom from anger; renunciation, tranquility, aversion to faultfinding, compassion and freedom from covetousness; gentleness, modesty and steady determination; vigor, forgiveness, fortitude, cleanliness, freedom from envy and the passion for honor—these transcendental qualities, O son of Bharata, belong to godly men endowed with divine nature.” (Bhagavad-gita, 16.1-3)

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God, that those possessing the divine nature, the attributes belonging to the saintly class of men, cherish honesty, virtue, cleanliness and a host of other qualities. As such, anyone who tries to ascend to the highest platform of activity and anyone who tries to teach others the importance of behaving in this way will be worthy of praise. But there are still limits to these behavioral characteristics. Honesty is not always the correct policy, and neither is standard virtue. The concepts of good and bad actually only apply to the specific scope of activity. Something is considered virtuous or good if it can help to achieve the desired favorable condition. For instance, virtue for a student involves attending classes on time, finishing assignments and passing examinations given by instructors. The reward for this deference to piety is the successful completion of the course, which in turn leads to further advancement towards graduation. Sin, or the behavior opposed to piety, in this situation would be constant tardiness, refusal to do assignments and ill-preparation for examinations. The end-result would then be failure in the class, which is the inverse of the intended result.

The same principles apply for every other activity. Truthfulness and kindness are considered virtuous because they are beneficial in the majority of activities performed. Moreover, since they help one break free of the animal tendencies, they serve as building blocks towards the ultimate perfection of a permanent God consciousness. One who is fully conversant with the language of divine love never has to take birth again. Actually, simply understanding the transcendental nature of the appearances and forms of the Supreme Lord is enough to put a stop to the spiritually inhibiting effects of nature, which are carried out by all-devouring time, on the spirit soul. The bodies of the living entities are constantly changing, but the souls never shift in constitution. The soul is always intrinsically linked to Bhagavan, the all-powerful Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky. But due to the effects of material forces, the resulting consciousness focused on sense demands clouds one’s knowledge of the eternal relationship to Supreme Spirit. Therefore any activity that can lead to the gradual dispersal of this enveloping, thick cloud can be considered virtuous. Conversely, any activity that causes the further fortification of the cloud of nescience can be considered sin.

Lord KrishnaRegardless of the activity undertaken and the level of intelligence of the performer, the ultimate goal always remains the same:  the satisfaction of the Supreme Lord. Does God want us to do anything specific for Him? As the Supreme Being, isn’t He above making demands? The Lord is typically neutrally disposed towards His sons and daughters residing in the material world. Among those who want to forget Bhagavan and His all-blissful nature, there is really no difference in estimations of character. One person may believe they are virtuous and adherent to piety, while another takes pride in being a rebel, but at the end of the day there is no difference between either entity because they are both lacking God consciousness. The Supreme Lord has three distinct properties that are of relevance to the individual souls residing on the material planets. The first property is that He is the original proprietor of everything. He owns every piece of land and every object of opulence in this world. Even the food that grows from the ground is His. Our material bodies, which include hands, legs, arms and a face, are also Krishna’s property.

The second aspect of God’s nature is that He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. When we incorporate the first truth into the second, we see that all activities are meant to be performed for the Lord’s pleasure. This should make sense, as Krishna is the owner of everything to begin with. We’re playing with His toys, so it would stand to reason that these objects are meant for the pleasure and satisfaction of their owner.

The third aspect to the Supreme Lord’s nature ties together the previous two. This feature is also the most important one to realize. God is the best friend of the living entities. Combining all three properties, we see that by using our best friend’s objects for His pleasure, we are in turn securing tremendous bliss for ourselves. God is not only the supreme enjoyer and the original owner of everything, but He is also the greatest pleasure-giver to those who associate with Him intimately. In this way the implied mission given to all of us is to return to the Lord’s spiritual realm and enjoy His company. It is the dharma of the soul to be a lover of God; it is in our constitutional makeup to crave Krishna’s association. When knowledge of the relationship to the spiritual realm is forgotten, the loving propensity gets misdirected to other areas. In every level of maturity and consciousness, the penchant for service is evident, yet only in the behavior of the bhaktas, or devotees, does the potency for affection reach its full potential.

HanumanOne famous supreme lover of God is Shri Hanuman. A Vanara warrior and pious soul, Hanuman is always conscious of the names, forms, pastimes and qualities of his dearly beloved Shri Rama. As a divine figure and a wholly capable individual roaming the earth many thousands of years ago, Hanuman was once given direct orders by the Supreme Lord. Since Bhagavan is the Supreme Object of Pleasure and the best friend of the living entities, He has a penchant for sportive activity. Though most of these pastimes take place in the spiritual world in the company of purified souls, sometimes Krishna is kind enough to descend to earth and give a glimpse of His wonderful nature to those love-starved entities looking for a way out of the doldrums of material existence. As Lord Rama, the pious and handsome prince of Ayodhya, the original Divine Being enacted blissful lila, or pastimes, and employed others in His service on several occasions.

One such opportunity for devotional service came about after the kidnapping of Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi. Sita’s whereabouts were unknown, so instead of handling the reconnaissance mission Himself, Rama enlisted the help of a group of Vanaras, or monkeys, residing in the forest of Kishkindha. Headed by their leader Sugriva, this band of brave warriors was very eager to serve Rama. Their most capable fighter was, not surprisingly, Shri Hanuman. Indeed, it was Hanuman who had arranged for the alliance between Rama and Sugriva in the first place.

After much effort, the monkeys finally learned that Sita had been taken away to a distant island called Lanka, a place which was the home of the Rakshasa king, Ravana; hence it was infested with ogres who were highly skilled in fighting and prone to employing deceitful tactics. Hanuman, capable of assuming any shape at will, took on a massive size and leapt his way across the ocean to reach the outskirts of the enemy city. Yet before entering Lanka, Hanuman took some time to ponder over things and decide on the best course of action after due deliberation.

HanumanIn the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, Hanuman is thinking to himself as to how he should make his entrance into the city. We see from his thoughts that honesty in this situation would not be the best policy. If we were to consider honesty in dealings as a blanket policy to be invoked universally, Hanuman would have to enter Lanka in his monkey form and announce his intentions. But this wasn’t part of Hanuman’s task. The mission was to find Sita and let her know that Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana were trying everything they could to find and rescue her. In fact, Hanuman wasn’t even asked to bring back Sita, though he was more than capable of doing so.

If Hanuman had taken the honesty route, the intended result, the ultimate favorable condition, could not have been met. The Rakshasas, evil ghoulish creatures who were so vile that they held an innocent princess against her will, surely would try to attack Hanuman if they saw him. In addition, they would likely take action against Sita, thus foiling the Vanara’s plans for meeting his objectives. Weighing these options in his mind, Hanuman decided that he had to assume a different form. He essentially decided in favor of dishonesty.

From this incident we get an idea of how to decipher which course of action should be taken and which paths should be avoided. As mentioned so nicely in the Bhagavad-gita, one who is conscious of God at the time of death will be eligible for liberation, the end to the cycle of birth and death. Gaining release from the tumultuous and miserable whirlwind known as reincarnation forms the basic mission in life, something that will lead us to the most favorable of conditions, a return to our original position. Piety, therefore, on the highest level, cannot be narrowed down to any specific traits or attributes. Rather, the benefits of a certain action should be weighed against the effect the behavior will have on the final outcome. Shrila Rupa Gosvami, an acharya and giant of the Vaishnava literary world, advises us to accept everything that is favorable towards the performance of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and reject anything that is unfavorable.

The activity of bhakti-yoga that is the most favorable is the regular chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex are the most unfavorable in terms of purifying consciousness. Thus these four activities, known as the pillars of sinful life, should be avoided at all costs. A Vaishnava, or devotee of Vishnu or Krishna, through their dedication to bhakti-yoga, automatically becomes the most honest, trustworthy and virtuous person. They also become the most benevolent welfare worker, for they kindly share the secrets of the religion of love to everyone they meet.

Hanuman In the same way that Hanuman had to mask his true form while entering Lanka, the devotee sometimes has to pretend to be taking part in fruitive activity, giving the appearance of being an ordinary worker who is disinterested in spiritual matters. Though Hanuman sometimes took to different forms, neither his objectives nor his consciousness ever changed. He used whatever form he was in to carry out Shri Rama’s business. In the same way, the pure devotee adjusts their behavior to match the specific situation, keeping the end-goal of luring others to God consciousness in mind. Because of his kind dedication and bravery, not only was Hanuman eventually successful in his mission, but he also forever endeared himself to Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. By remembering the wonderful Shri Hanuman, his resourcefulness and dedication to the service of Rama, and his benevolent nature towards all of humanity, we can make great strides in our progression towards the param dhama, the supreme abode in the spiritual sky, a place where everyone lives by the best policy, that of always loving God.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Harvesting Delights

Krishna and Balarama with cows “Once the Lord desired to go early in the morning with all His cowherd boy friends to the forest, where they were to assemble together and take lunch. As soon as He got up from bed, He blew a buffalo horn and called all His friends together. Keeping the calves before them, they started for the forest." (Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 12)

An amazing aspect to the technological revolution of the past two hundred years is that even though participation in the agriculture sector of the economy has been virtually wiped clean, the overall output of food is larger than it has ever been. Due to increased efficiency, the fervent desire to turn a profit, and the innovative spirit of the human mind, more goods can be produced with less effort. As a result, we now have a seemingly unending supply of wonderful products that mostly aim to provide entertainment value. Therefore it is deemed that enjoyment and delights are at their highest levels in human history. Yet upon closer examination we see that these enjoyments don’t come without a cost. Indeed, there is much more toil, effort, misery and worry accompanying the advanced lifestyle, issues that were absent back in the days when over ninety percent of the workforce was engaged in agriculture. For these reasons the transcendentally situated don’t view the current makeup of the world’s economy as being very advanced at all. The mode of goodness, the superior level of engagement for the conditioned souls who have yet to understand their true identity and purpose in life, closely corresponds with rural life, while the mode of passion reigns supreme in the urban and suburban areas. Since the aim of human life is to break free from sense attachments, much progress can be made both in the spiritual and material facets of existence by appreciating and taking to a rural lifestyle, or at least by living by its principles.

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

Lord KrishnaActivity driven by the mode of passion eventually leads to a neutral state. The quintessential example is fruitive activity done simply for the benefit of the ego, such as sports. Even something as simple as a video game can illustrate the same principle. If we were to fire up the latest baseball simulation console game and finish an entire season, where would we end up? Even if we were to win the championship in the pretend game, does that leave us any better off? One may argue that at least the time spent playing was safe and stimulating to the mind, thus it couldn’t be considered harmful. But there is a timer attached to our stint here in this perceptible world, so the aim should be to make the best use of our time. Activity in passion, which can involve any venture seeking a fruitive gain, is considered in the mode of neutrality because it leaves the performer in the same state from where they started. Even something as basic as cooking an elaborate meal, though required for sustenance of the body, when performed for sense gratification is considered in the mode of passion because after the meal is eaten, the individual is right back in the same position. Hunger will surely return, and the same activities will need to be adopted again.

Knowledge acquiring acts are indicative of the mode of goodness. This isn’t to say that every engagement in the highest mode of material nature involves studying or taking exams, but one who abides by the principles of regulative life aimed at achieving a higher consciousness will slowly but surely rise to the proper platform of intelligence. The most difficult realization for the conditioned individual is the proper source of identification, wherein one understands that they are attached to the Supreme Lord in some way or another. Due to the preponderance of competing religious systems, which each claim that their God and their way of life is superior, it becomes difficult to take to any spiritual discipline with any sincerity. Therefore activities in the mode of goodness, which can involve sacrifice, penance and charity, help one to see through the cloud of nescience and understand their nature as Brahman, or the all-pervading spirit. Even if the need for direct and full surrender unto the Personality of Godhead is not accepted, simply taking to knowledge-acquiring activities can allow for a slight understanding of the equality shared amongst all life forms. The intelligence-augmenting techniques employed in the mode of goodness can be compared to the study of the sunshine through observation of the heat and light properties of the phenomenal world without actually looking at or acknowledging the existence of the sun. Even though one who studies the sunshine without knowing the sun will always remain in an inferior standing as far as intelligence goes, they will still have a chance to make progress on the march towards eternal freedom, a life free of association with material contact fueled by the seemingly endless cycle of reincarnation.

The mode of passion rarely leads to any higher knowledge. Indeed, passionate activity, especially that involving competition, must be performed in the absence of cognizance of the equality in constitutional makeup shared amongst all life forms. Without acknowledging the source of all spiritual heat and light, the realization that all life forms are equal can still be had. After all, once the gross body is assumed, a life form grows, performs activities, and leaves byproducts. Once the same dwelling is exited, the body starts to rot and decay. Therefore we can conclude that the defining entity in the individual is the spiritual spark within said form. A trained eye will see past the differences in qualities possessed by the different dwellings and understand the nature of the individual performing the activities. As such, there will be an automatic bond formed and affection felt towards all forms of life, even the animals like cows and ants. For association with the mode of passion to continue, identity must be solely taken from the outer covering, with individuals being viewed as wholly different due to their outward appearances and tendencies.

“That knowledge by which a different type of living entity is seen to be dwelling in different bodies is knowledge in the mode of passion.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.21)

iPodThe modern day advancements, though laudable for their unique ability to carry out important tasks, actually represent a neutral state as compared to the ones enjoyed by inhabitants of times past. How can a world filled with iPods, high definition television, cellular telephones, and the internet be considered on the same level as the rural lifestyle of the days of yore? The accurate barometer is level of enjoyment, something which is not dependent on any outward feature of the phenomenal world. Happiness is simply a state of mind, for you could take one person who is extremely wealthy and find that they are miserable and take another person who lives a completely renounced life and learn that they are always satisfied within the mind. These aren’t mere anomalies but rather factual case studies that highlight the driving force to happiness: consciousness. Anger and frustration are the results of unmet desires, and equanimity results from the ability to take enjoyment out of any situation. Even if one has all the latest technological amenities available to them, there will always be a desire for more. If that want is not met in a satisfactory amount of time, there will be frustration. On the other hand, one who is not wholly attached to any new device that comes out will miss out on the utility of the newly introduced functions, but at the same time, they will not be hankering for any features to be fixed or for the latest updates to be released. Therefore, their frame of mind will be more positive.

It is not uncommon for children growing up today to ask questions like, “How did people used to live without television? How did they survive without the internet? How did they go anywhere without the automobile?” As individual autonomous spiritual entities, it is the nature of all forms of life to seek pleasure. The actual nature of the engagement is not important, as one can find happiness simply by talking to friends and family and by taking walks outside. Society survived for thousands of years without television, and it had no problem doing so. If we were to compare and contrast the rural lifestyle to the modern day fast-paced technologically advanced time, we’d see that many of the most difficult to solve introduced problems of today were absent during times past.

Stock marketWhile modern amenities are surely nice, there are obvious nuisances to deal with. For instance, owning an automobile is useful, but one must regularly fill it up with gasoline and make sure that the insurance coverage on the vehicle is valid. Thus simply by purchasing a car, two new attachments are created, obligations which can be the cause of great frustration and anxiety. Since the agriculture sector represents around three percent of the workforce in America, one must take up service to another proprietor in order to earn a living and put food on the table. Hence one’s family life is not stable in the least bit, as there are monthly issues concerning profitability and job loss. Economics is driven strictly by passion, so there will always be fluctuations in the buying and selling habits of the general public. Just as the waves of the ocean incessantly pound the sands of the shore, the desires of the consumer will constantly pull him in every which direction, thus leading to highs and lows in the profits of the companies that employ the majority of the workers in the nation.

Due to the unstable nature of economics resulting from the dependence on passionate activity, it is almost a requirement that both husband and wife take up jobs outside the home. As such, young children must now be taken care of by friends, family, relatives, or professional help such as nannies and daycare centers. Immediately this brings another cost element into the fray. In addition, property values have now greatly increased because families must constantly shift to wherever the breadwinner’s occupation takes them. The exchange of property is quite common as a result, thus leading to more concerns like paying rent and mortgage. Due to advancements in treatment, medical care is also now more expensive; having insurance coverage is almost required now to be treated anywhere. When all these concerns are factored together, a family must think long and hard before deciding to have more children. Every new child essentially comes with a price tag, bringing new fiduciary obligations for at least eighteen years after birth.

Lord KrishnaNow let’s compare the high-tech lifestyle to the seemingly primitive rural way of life. If one simply owns a plot of land and takes care of a few cows, immediately the economic problems are solved. Not only is there food on the table, but any surplus in production can be sold or traded for goods of necessity. In addition, there is ample space on a farm for children to play and friends and family to stay. As such, there is no concern for childcare or babysitters. Children also can be given constructive work to perform, such as managing the different aspects of the farm, during the daytime. Since there is full stability in terms of occupation, land can remain within the same family for generations, thus eliminating the need for hankering over mortgage payments and rent. Friends and family all live very close to one another, so there is no need to drive very long distances and risk accidents by taking to the roads. An automobile may even be completely unnecessary, as there is no requirement to travel far to meet the necessities of the body. Since everyone is living in a community with a shared love and fraternal spirit, the neighbors essentially become extended family. This is actually the case in many villages in India, where the residents of the community are all seen as belonging to one big family. Therefore there is already a built in support system, one that lessens the blow felt from tragedy and sudden hardship. Instead of begging the government for food, money, clothing and medical care, one can simply look to their neighbor, who will be more than willing to help out. Indeed, if the situations should reverse at some point in the future, the same destitute person will help out the neighbor who previously saved them from hardship.

One may argue that there is no enjoyment in a primitive lifestyle devoid of television, automobiles, internet, movie theaters and night clubs. As mentioned before, the key to happiness is consciousness. While introverted activities such as watching television and reading bring temporary relief from distresses, a higher level of enjoyment typically comes from associating with close friends and family. In many instances, the activities themselves are meaningless, as the important ingredient is being in the company of loved ones. Indeed, a devoted wife will sit through boring sporting events and violent movies simply to remain in the company of her dear husband. Similarly, a loving husband will sit through ballet shows and romantic comedies just to please his wife. The common element in these activities is association, the ability to remain in the company of the object of your affection.

Lord Krishna stealing butterWhile living in the mode of goodness sounds nice in theory, we also have tangible examples from days past of the sublime life that relies on simple living and high thinking. Around five thousand years ago, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the spiritual sun from which all powerful individual sparks emanate, descended to earth in the guise of a seemingly ordinary human being named Krishna. The Supreme Lord can never associate with material elements, but to heighten the enjoyment felt by those who have surpassed the mode of goodness and taken to full God consciousness, Krishna gives the appearance of an ordinary entity. If He were to show off His divine capabilities at every second, what impetus would there be for the offering of sincere love and affection from the individuals so desperately craving a legitimate object of worship?

Krishna’s most delightful pastimes were performed during His childhood years in the rural community of Vrindavana, an area that still exists in India. Vrindavana is a replica of the transcendental realm of the same name that is situated in the spiritual planet of Krishnaloka. During Krishna’s time on earth, Vrindavana was wholly dedicated to the simple life in the mode of goodness, though all the residents were wholly God conscious and thus in pure goodness. They always thought about Krishna at every second, irrespective of what they were doing. The women were traditional housewives, but they were engaged in family business all day. As a farm community, the main source for income and wellbeing was the cows. The cow is the secret to economic freedom well established in the Vedic tradition. Instead of killing cows for meat, if one simply maintains a few of them, caring for them and providing all protection, there will never be any economic scarcity. Indeed, the great Vedic seers, who had very little interest in economics, would describe how to have high production of goods and services in society facilitated through proper taxation methods by pointing to the ways cows are tended to. Goswami Tulsidas, an endearing poet and saint, very accurately notes that if a cow is protected and allowed to graze freely without fear of punishment, it will supply heaps of milk without much extraneous effort on the part of the owner. On the other hand, if the cow is tied down and constantly forced to produce milk, the supply will be very little.

Krishna with cowNot only does this comparison underscore the importance of cow protection, but it also reveals the secret to economic prosperity. The farm community is run by the mercantile class, or the vaishyas as defined by the varnashrama-dharma system. When a producer is allowed to produce, while at the same time prohibited from violating contracts and forcing others into parting with their property, there will always be a very large output of goods and services. Adding cows, the kindest of animals, to the mix brings an abundance of food products made from the milk and butter freely provided. In Vrindavana during Krishna’s time, the women would tend to the household affairs during the day while at the same time producing foodstuffs from the milk given by the cows. The cowherd women, the gopis, would actually go into the neighboring towns and sell their surplus supply of milk, butter and yogurt. As such, they can be considered the original “working women”, fully independent in their actions due to their complete and total surrender in thoughts, words and deeds to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna.

“When Lord Krishna went ahead to a distant place in order to see some specific scenery, the boys behind Him tried to run to catch up and be the first to touch Him. So there was a great competition.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 12)

Krishna and His friends stealing butter Krishna and His childhood mates were tasked with tending to the young calves, so they would go out to the pasturing grounds regularly. Given their lunch boxes by their parents, the children would sit down and eat together, play various games, and have an overall jolly time. The simple lifestyle was certainly more conducive to this type of enjoyment, but the real source of the pleasure was the association of Shri Krishna, who was everyone’s best friend. Anytime there was danger, Krishna protected the cowherd boys and the other residents of Vrindavana. Wherever there is God in the material realm, there are bound to be enemies, those who are envious of the Supreme Lord’s unwavering position as the ultimate authority figure. Yet with Krishna present, the nefarious characters, who were all very powerful, that came to Vrindavana could not even make a dent into the pristine happiness always felt by the residents. Krishna’s exploits were so wonderful and pleasurable that the elderly women, especially Krishna’s foster mother Yashoda, would sing of them on a regular basis. In this way their minds were totally connected with God at all times of the day.

There is no land in this world like Vrajabhumi, Krishna’s beloved Vrindavana which is always filled with the transcendental sweetness of the Lord’s presence. For those who simply remember the time spent there by Krishna and His elder brother Balarama, the faithful servant of the Supreme Lord and His number one protector, there is no chance of the cycle of birth and death repeating. The ancient Vrindavana life, which is mimicked in the spiritual world, is the example to follow, for all aspects of life were perfect. More than just members of a rural community engaged in the simple lifestyle passed down to them by the great Vedic seers, the residents of Vrindavana always kept their minds fixed on the beautiful, transcendental, original, and eternally existing form of their beloved Govinda, Shri Krishna, who always gives pleasure to the cows and to the senses. Regardless of where we find ourselves, either in a bustling city or on a quiet farm, if we can follow the example of the beautiful townspeople of Vrindavana, our time on this earth will have been well spent. Fruitive activity leads to enjoyment that is flickering in nature and the cause of much pain, but one who harvests the delights of the eternal pastimes of the Lord performed in the sacred land of Vrindavana will never run out of enjoyment, either in this life or the next.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

CEO In a Box

Hanuman “Then, that elephant-like monkey, standing on that mountain peak, pondered for a moment how Rama's interests could be met.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.32)

tataḥ sa cintayāmāsa muhūrtaṃ kapikuñjaraḥ |

giriśṛṅge sthitastasmin rāmasyābhyudaye rataḥ

A principle followed in successful enterprises is that managers should do as little as possible. This doesn’t mean that a leader of a project needs to be lazy or that they should simply sit back and allow others to do all the work. Rather, the manager is most effective when he can delegate responsibilities to able-bodied individuals who are capable of taking the ball and rolling with it. No one is more valuable to the owner of a company than the worker who can act as a CEO in a box, taking full control over a project with minimal supervision while simultaneously not deviating from the primary interests of the proprietor. Along these lines, one famous Vanara warrior more than proved his mettle and capabilities in fulfilling the mission assigned to him. Though he is famous today for his fruitful efforts, the actual nuts and bolts of the operation undertaken, the smaller components requiring assembly for eventual completion to become a reality, were anything but easy to put together. But due to his resourceful nature, and most of all his love and adoration for the person he was working for, he was able to decipher the proper techniques to employ.

HanumanVanara is a Sanskrit word that means “one who is of the forest, or vana”. Generally the term is associated with a monkey, a being who is not civilized enough to reside amongst humans. Many thousands of years ago, a group of Vanaras was gifted with divine vision and strength to be used to aid the one person that all of us have a natural desire to serve. The intrinsic property of the soul is that it loves. Just as a general loses his stature and standing when he doesn’t have a mission, a lover without a corresponding object of service becomes devoid of potency. In the conditioned state, the individual soul is forgetful of who it is meant to love, so it spends all its time in perishable lands diverting its affection towards temporary objects and worldly entities. Even romantic love, which is considered the pinnacle of material enjoyment, is a product of this delusion, for it is sought out simply off attraction to an outer covering that is ever changing.

The loving propensity is meant to be directed towards permanence, objects and entities which are ever-existing and capable of reciprocating the pure sentiments of the individual to the highest degree. No one except the Supreme Spirit, a Divine entity who is similar in quality to the individual, is capable of meeting these requirements. Generally the superior entity is known as God, but in more accurate terms, He can be described by names which speak to His blissful nature. Therefore, in the Vedic tradition the Supreme Spirit is known by names such as Krishna and Rama, or one who is all-attractive and capable of delivering transcendental pleasure. Not to be confused with some abstract image concocted by the mind, this real-life spiritual entity kindly makes visible appearances on earth from time to time to lend credence to the scriptural statements describing His glorious nature. Many thousands of years ago the avatara of Lord Rama, the pious prince of Ayodhya and supreme object of pleasure to those with whom He associated, was one such non-different form of the Lord to appear on this earth.

Lord RamaRama’s exploits are documented in many Vedic texts, including Puranas and notable poetry, but the most complete accounts of His life are found in the lengthy Ramayana poem penned by Maharishi Valmiki. From the words found in this wonderful work, we see that Rama had three notable associates to whom He was most intimately tied. Of these three figures, only one was not a direct family member. Not only was this individual not related to Rama in a formal sense, but he wasn’t even a human being. Rather, this exalted servant, who is loved and adored to this day by millions, roamed the earth in the guise of a Vanara, or monkey. Shri Hanuman, the chief minister of the king of monkeys, Sugriva, endeared himself to Rama by taking up a dangerous mission, one in which success was never taken for granted. But Rama, as the ever-wise controller of the universe, knew that Hanuman was right for the job. Though endowed with every noteworthy attribute, Hanuman made his most lasting contribution to this world through his unwavering desire to please Shri Rama and those associated with Him.

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)

What was Hanuman’s mission? When the loving propensity of the spirit soul is properly exercised, the resulting activity can be classified as religious. In a more strict definition, when religious practices are aimed at maintaining a bond of love and affection with the Supreme Spirit, the engagement is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are those who remain completely ignorant of the properties of the soul and its inseparable inclinations. For such ne’er-do-wells, the outer covering of the soul, which is temporary and ever changing, is taken as the identifiable aspect. The demands imposed by the forces belonging to the outer shell, which is known as the body, are given precedence over anything else. Of all the demands of the senses, none is stronger than the urge for sex life. When this inkling is left uncontrolled, chaos and despair surely result.

A famous and powerful king causing terror around the world during Rama’s time can attest to this fact. The ruler of Lanka, Ravana, had every amenity available to him. Fine wine, beautiful women, palatial buildings and the like were all found in abundance in the elegant city of Lanka. Yet since the desires for transcendental interaction weren’t being met through this association with maya, or illusion, Ravana was lured into making the most grievous transgression of coveting another man’s wife. The man and woman in this context were not ordinary by any means. The woman was Sita Devi, and the man was Shri Rama. Sita, as an incarnation of the goddess of fortune, is the representation of the perfected form of energy. One can only be deemed flawless if their potential for loving God is exhibited to the highest degree. Sita Devi loves Rama in every thought, word and deed. Regardless of the time, circumstance, or physical distance between the two, Sita and Rama are always in each other’s thoughts. Though during their time on earth Rama married Sita in an official ceremony in the kingdom of Mithila, which was ruled by Sita’s father Janaka, the two are always linked in consciousness, irrespective of any bonds of matrimony or religion. There cannot be a Sita without a Rama, nor a Rama without a Sita.

Sita and Rama Ravana, being completely ignorant of these facts, decided to set up a diversion which temporarily lured Rama away from Sita’s side one day in the forest. Making the most of the opportunity, Ravana forcibly took Sita back to his kingdom of Lanka and tried his best to win her over. Seeing that his advances were having no effect, Ravana decided to threaten Sita with violence, giving her a deadline by which she had to change her mind or face death. Rama, for His part, set forth a massive search for her whereabouts. This was arranged through Sugriva, whom Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana had formed an alliance with through the help of Hanuman. Sending out his massive monkey army to look for Sita, Sugriva gave special instructions to Hanuman. Actually, both Sugriva and Rama knew that only Hanuman would be capable of succeeding in the mission, for he was endowed with all the divine qualities, with the most important one being eagerness to see Sita and allay her fears.

Finding success in any mission is easier said than done. Hanuman would have to face many obstacles, the first of which was geographical. Lanka was situated far away from any mainland, so in order to reach it, Hanuman had to assume a large size and leap his way across a massive body of water. A monkey growing in size and flying through the air is certainly difficult to fathom, but if we look at the wondrous nature around us we’ll see amazing objects and workings everywhere. Who could ever imagine having a giant mass of chemicals floating in the air and providing heat and light across millions of miles? Who could ever think of a living entity surviving within the body of a tiny ant or in the water through a fish form? But these aspects of nature are realities, as were the wonderful exploits of Shri Hanuman. The Ramayana doesn’t mention anything about mythology, so if we accept the words contained within at face value, we can derive every benefit.

After having successfully crossed the ocean, Hanuman reassumed his original size before approaching the enemy city. When he first saw the opulence of Lanka, Hanuman immediately fell into great doubt. He thought within himself of what might happen in the future and how he was to be successful. He was wondering how anyone, including Shri Rama, would be capable of penetrating the mighty forces guarding the city, the exquisite grandeur that bedecked all the dwellings, and the heavy fortifications protecting virtually every inch of the kingdom. Hanuman resolved within himself that even the four methods employed by kings wanting to achieve their tasks [pacification, giving gifts, fomenting dissent and using punishment] wouldn’t work in this instance.

Hanuman flyingIn the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman, despite his doubts, kept his mind on the task at hand. He didn’t have the luxury of telephoning back to Kishkindha and asking Sugriva and Rama what to do. He didn’t have the option of second-guessing or seeking advice from others. Success rested completely in his hands, as the most important mission had been given to him with full faith and trust. From Hanuman’s behavior, we get a glimpse into his exalted nature, and also a lesson in how one can go about achieving success in any mission. The task at hand was that of finding Sita, but more general than that, it was a mission of meeting the Lord’s interests. Even a fully capable, exalted figure like Hanuman has doubts from time to time. But the difference between Hanuman and ordinary actors is that he doesn’t let his concerns get in the way of progress. As a pure lover of God, he gives precedence to his loving propensity towards Supreme Spirit.

Even while in enemy territory and being attacked by self-doubt Hanuman always kept Rama’s interests in mind, and it was for this reason that he eventually came out successful. Lanka was maya personified, a shining city of material illusion, an example of what can result when the natural link to the Supreme Lord is forgotten. This most powerful fortress of illusion couldn’t be penetrated by any ordinary man; only one who was firmly convinced of the superior nature of the Lord and devotion to Him could successfully enter and find the jewel of all humanity, the beacon of light in any area she resides, Shrimati Sita Devi. For the conditioned souls fortunate enough to accept a human form of body, the implied task assigned is the rekindling of the dormant love for God. If we follow the ways of Ravana, we are sure to meet with distress in the end. Hanuman would find Sita, set fire to the city of Lanka, return to Rama, and then subsequently play an integral role in the final battle between the Vanaras and Ravana’s Rakshasas. Ravana would lose everything, as Rama would defeat him in a one-on-one battle that concluded the hostilities.

Shri Rama darbar Though maya’s influence is strong, finding success in the mission of life is not impossible. The strongest weapon we have is our undying attachment and devotion to the Lord. The natural, yet currently dormant, loving sentiment can be awoken at any time and place by chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare“. The Vaishnava acharyas, those exalted teachers who lead by example, have recommended the recitation of this sacred formula as being the foremost religious practice for the people of this age. Our task is surely a daunting one, especially considering that most others will not be open to taking to bhakti-yoga. The spirit soul, in its travels through various bodies in this material world, steadily increases its aversion to the divine love that is devotional service.

“Krishna can give us whatever we want, even mukti, liberation, but bhakti is a special consideration because when He gives someone bhakti He becomes purchased by the bhakta and becomes a tool in the hands of the bhakta, even though He is the supreme powerful.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 24)

Surely there will be ups and downs in the gradual march towards eternal freedom, and many times it will appear that success is not possible. But as we saw with Hanuman, the secret to achieving victory is to perform our activities for the Lord’s interests. Whether we succeed in gaining release from the cycle of birth and death is ancillary, for the impetus for action should be the Supreme Lord’s pleasure. Not only does bhakti allow us to act out our natural loving sentiments, but it provides tremendous pleasure to that entity who is considered above external stimulation. As atmarama, Bhagavan is satisfied completely in Himself; yet through sincere devotion and love, the Lord can be purchased. Once brought to our side, He never leaves us. Hanuman to this day is always with Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. They never forget him for even a moment, and neither should we.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Always Favorable

Lord Krishna “I pray to have the friendship of Lord Krishna and to engage in His service, and to surrender fully unto Him in love and affection, life after life. I do not want any opulence. I only desire not to forget His service. I simply wish to be associated with His pure devotees. May my mind and activities be always engaged in His service.” (Thoughts of Sudama Vipra, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 26)

As it is ingrained in the identifiable aspect of every life form, there is a perpetual desire fueled by the vision of an ultimate favorable condition to perform activity. As is well known to those employing an intelligent angle of vision, no activity can be undertaken without an initial desire for a future benefit. As such, those behavioral patterns that actually succeed in furthering the progressive march towards success in the intended mission must then be deemed as worthwhile and repeatable. Moreover, the pleasant situations that remain manifest for the longest duration of time must then be deemed as the supreme palatable circumstances, and whatever activities led to such a predicament should be adopted on a regular basis. To the Vedic seers, those who understand the Absolute Truth through deep meditational trance, or samadhi, practiced under the authorized guidance of their own predecessors, there is only one behavioral system capable of bringing favorable results in any circumstance. In fact, there is no other discipline that bears such a property. Any activity that doesn’t follow the line of the sublime engagement, that of divine love aimed at serving and meeting the interests of the Supreme Worshipable Object, will always culminate in an unfavorable condition, even if the unpleasant nature and environment initially go unnoticed. Indeed, only the ancient art of spiritual love, or bhakti, brings auspiciousness through poverty and wealth, sickness and happiness, and pain and distress alike. As such, loving the Supreme Lord becomes the only engagement worth adopting.

IMG_0221Isn’t saying that any activity besides bhakti leads to an unfavorable condition under any and all circumstances too broad a generalization? Aside from the scientific basis for Krishna consciousness, or bhakti-yoga, there are the basic issues relating to enjoyment and the need for it. When clouded by the nescience brought on by material contact, the individual spiritual fragment repeatedly gets thrown into perilous and uncomfortable situations. Because of the acute pain, the immediate desire, or what is known as preyas in Sanskrit, focuses on the alleviation of distress, i.e. removal from the unpleasant situation, which can be either physical or mental. But if we study a few examples, we’ll see that simply removing distress does not lead to any lasting happiness. Just as the waves of the ocean are sure to hit the banks of the shore at periodic intervals, the desires of the conditioned mind illusioned by sense contact are sure to creep up once the previously unendurable negative conditions are removed. Because of this steady pressure applied to the mind, the only path to permanent peace and freedom of thought comes from purifying one’s desires instead of artificially trying to squelch them.

To help us understand the nature of desire more clearly, let’s take the simple example of the neighbor’s car alarm that rings incessantly. Since an automobile is an expensive property, great care is taken to ensure its safety and well-being. To prevent unauthorized entry, theft and vandalism, modern day cars are equipped with security systems which trigger alarms at the sign of intrusion. The ringing patterns of these alert systems are quite uniform, as one can actually hum along to the beeping sounds that result. Yet some of these systems are so sensitive that simply the wind blowing violently or the steady falling rain can trigger them. Because of these defects, those in the surrounding areas are often forced to endure the annoying sounds resulting from the car alarm that goes off without justification. Since the owner of the vehicle may not be in the direct vicinity of the car, and since there is actually no emergency situation, the alarm may continue to ring for hours and hours. This makes life very difficult for those within audible range of the alert, especially if they are trying to sleep, concentrate, work, etc.

“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires — that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still — can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.70)

Lord KrishnaWhen forced to endure such an unpleasant situation, the desires that subsequently flood the mind of the disturbed individual are easy to predict. “Why won’t this stupid car alarm just stop already? I swear, I’m this close to going out there and bashing that car to pieces. I can’t take this anymore.” When the alarm does finally stop, there is a peaceful condition. Happiness arises because there are no more annoying sounds disturbing concentration and bothering the mind. The initial favorable condition desired by the mind was met, and peace and happiness were achieved. But what about on other days when the car alarms aren’t ringing incessantly? In fact, let’s think about the day immediately following the episode with the blaring car security system. Will there be peace of mind? Will the individual think, “I’m so happy today now that the stupid alarm isn’t ringing”? Obviously not, as new thoughts will flood the mind. With new desires come new frustrations, as not all the needs and wants of the individual are met in a timely fashion. As such, the positive favorable condition desired from the previous day turned out to be one that provided flickering happiness. The car alarm stopped, but that was only one small piece of the giant puzzle. In the grander scheme of things, the absence of noise doesn’t do anything tangible for us, as it is the nature of the driving force to all activity, the spiritual spark residing within the body, to crave action and, more importantly, pleasure.

The example of the temporary relief experienced from the removal of a distressing sound can be expanded out to so many other areas of life. If we have a cold and are forced to stay home for a few days, we eagerly anticipate the time when our health will return and we will be able to function normally again. Indeed, the absence of the illness automatically equates to less discomfort in the body. Yet what about the majority of the days of the year when we are not sick? Do we burst with happiness every morning when we are not stricken with ailments? One who has survived a life-threatening illness like cancer may feel rejuvenated for a short period of time after beating their disease, but eventually the positive effects of the lack of the negative conditions brought on by illness will wear off. The mind will immediately jump to another situation and look for new desires to be met. Under such a model, there will be perpetual hankering and lamenting, a situation which can be accurately described as miserable.

NewspaperThere is no arena where the temporary workings of the mind and the constant desire for immediate redress of grievances are better on display than in the news business. Print, television and internet media are full of daily short stories, which are nothing more than quick hits aimed at triggering temporary alarms in the readers. The stories intend to appeal entirely to the emotional aspect of the mind, for if one actually applied a little intelligence, they would realize that paying attention to news items which lose their importance after a day or two is not a worthwhile activity in the least bit. For instance, if someone hands us a newspaper from a week ago, we will likely toss it aside or use it to line a birdcage. Yet when the newspaper first came out, it was eagerly anticipated and widely read. Since nothing has changed as far as content goes, as the quality of the paper and the words contained within haven’t been altered in any way, we can say that the newspaper itself never had any tangible value.

A successful news operation is one that can garner the most attention and concern over items that don’t deal with any type of future auspiciousness, or shreyas. Though this may be unpleasant to hear, there is no doubt that news outlets eagerly anticipate natural disasters, financial crises and heavy snowstorms. During these times of emergency, the helpless public will be drawn to the news providers and become dependent on them. The people providing the news aren’t very much interested in the details of any of these stories. Their behavior is akin to drive-by shooters, as they release a few shocking stories, create panic and alarm amongst the people affected, and then drive off to cover a new topic. One day the news coverage is concerned with high gasoline prices and the anger felt by motorists. But once the gas prices fall, does the angst stop? Surely it doesn’t, as a new issue is introduced, such as unemployment, the mounting national debt or the rising cost of medical care. One who is not trained in the school of bhakti and made aware of the ultimate aim in life will be lured into taking these items of secondary importance to be of topmost interest. But as we saw with the examples of car alarms and illnesses, the simple removal of a distressful situation doesn’t bring any lasting peace or happiness. When engaged in any acts that are not of the constitutional nature, every situation becomes unfavorable, even ones that are initially deemed to be desirable.

Lord KrishnaBhakti, on the other hand, works in just the opposite way. When there is a link in terms of consciousness to the Supreme Object of Pleasure, every situation, irrespective of the perceived favorability or unpleasantness, becomes the most palatable. To see evidence of this, we can look to the life of a famous brahmana, Sudama Vipra. The Supreme Lord, the Personality of Godhead who is always with a transcendental body, descended to earth in His personal form of Lord Krishna around five thousand years ago. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, often make use of two terms when describing methods of worshiping the Supreme Lord: nirguna and saguna. Guna is a Sanskrit word that means “material qualities”, but when applied in this context it simply refers to attributes. Those who are spiritually inclined but unaware of the nature of God and the reasons for serving Him take part in nirguna worship. Saguna worship takes into account knowledge of the various non-different forms of the Supreme Lord and the blissful qualities they possess. Irrespective of the mode of worship, nirguna or saguna, Krishna’s position remains unchanged. Whether one knows what Krishna looks like or doesn’t, the Lord’s status as the supreme object of worship and pleasure does not change.

The majority of the spiritual disciplines of the world today strictly prohibit saguna worship, as it is seen as a form of idolatry. Yet if God is worthy of love and respect, how can He be without form? Indeed, the concept of formlessness, or impersonalism, can only exist if the object in question has a form. Darkness only comes from the absence of light. When there is full illumination, there is no question of being in the dark. One who remains stuck on worshiping an incorporeal God or the formless aspect of the Supreme can never enjoy the sweet, transcendental mellows that come from direct association with Bhagavan, the Supreme Lord who is fully featured with transcendental attributes. Nirguna worship, as performed by those who are ignorant of Krishna’s ever-existing form, is akin to trying to understand the nature of the sun by only looking at the sunshine. If we look around us and see sunlight in various places and then see darkness in others, we may gain an appreciation for the sunlight. We may or may not come to the conclusion that the sunlight has a source. Yet if we simply look to the sky, we’ll see that the sunrays are emanating from a giant solar body, one that is unchanging in its position and effectiveness at dissipating heat and light.

Lord KrishnaThe Supreme Lord, in His original form, is like the proprietor of the sun itself. The saguna forms, which include both the deity manifestations and the direct incarnations that appear on earth, are the fully qualified expansions of the Lord. Indeed, one who steadily follows saguna worship can remember the Lord and properly worship Him in any and all situations. One who knows Bhagavan and His exclusive and simultaneous possession of the attributes of wealth, beauty, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree will be able to conjure up His true nature within the mind at all times. Therefore, for the topmost transcendentalist, nirguna worship becomes the same as saguna worship, as through bhakti the Personality of Godhead is always remembered as He is.

While Krishna was on earth playing the part of an ordinary human being perfectly, He had several close friends, of which Sudama Vipra was one. Krishna and Sudama attended the same gurukula, or school run by the spiritual master, during their youth. When they grew up, Krishna tended to family business, protecting the citizens of Mathura and moving them to the underwater city of Dvaraka, where the Lord served as the de facto ruler, Dvarakadisha. Sudama, as a brahmana by occupation, took on a very austere lifestyle, where he lived with his wife in near abject poverty. Even in this seemingly troublesome situation, he never forgot the lotus feet of his dear friend, Shri Krishna. The Lord can be worshiped in a variety of different mellows by those who understand and realize His transcendental form. Actually, even the impersonalist mode of worship followed by those who refuse to recognize God’s personal form is a kind of transcendental mellow, but one that does not provide any tangible benefit or pleasure. Those who don’t understand the presence of the sun can at most become a great admirer of the sunrays. Similarly, one who doesn’t understand Bhagavan’s true features can at best merge into the glaring effulgence known as Brahman, which emanates off of Krishna’s gigantic transcendental body.

Krishna welcoming Sudama VipraThough Sudama was fine with his life of poverty, his wife was a little concerned for their well being. Therefore she asked him to visit Krishna in His palace and ask for benedictions. The wife knew that Krishna is brahmanya-devaya, or the worshipable object of the brahmanas, and thus He would surely be willing to help out His dear friend from their childhood days. Sudama was a little hesitant to go, as he had nothing to bring as a gift for Krishna. Begrudgingly agreeing to take some chipped rice with him, Sudama made his way to Krishna’s palace. Immediately upon seeing His old friend, Krishna got up from His seat and welcomed Sudama with all the respect that a brahmana should be afforded. Sudama Vipra was treated like royalty. Though the brahmana could never bring himself to ask for anything from the Lord, Krishna noticed the chipped rice he was hiding and immediately snatched it. Partaking of the chipped rice and asking others, including His wife Rukmini Devi, to enjoy the same, Krishna was very pleased.

“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.26)

Lord Krishna While the brahmana was walking back home, he couldn’t help but remember Krishna. All his thoughts were always focused on Bhagavan, so he was constantly in the mood of bhakti. Upon returning home, he saw that his house had been transformed into an elegant palace, and there were no longer any signs of poverty anywhere. He could understand that this was the doing of Krishna, the husband of Rukmini Devi, who is the goddess of fortune. It’s interesting to note that this newfound opulence did not affect Sudama’s behavior in the least bit. He and his wife had their distresses removed, but their dedication to Krishna never waned. In fact, the added financial security only redoubled their strength of conviction in the practice of bhakti, the undying art of transcendental love, the only worthy engagement for the individuals trapped in a mire of sense-driven activities, which bring only flickering happiness and leave tremendous pain.

The Supreme Lord’s potencies are actually all-pervading. One whose eyes have been anointed with the salve of transcendental love acquired through the practice of bhakti see Krishna not only in the deity form, but also in every other aspect of life. Even the taste of water immediately reminds one of Krishna’s greatness. As such, bhakti should be the only engagement for every person desiring a favorable condition. Only in pure Krishna consciousness, wherein one regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can any and all situations be endured. There may be outside noise or there may be great peace and quiet, but in either case, the sound vibration representation of Supreme Spirit should always be well-represented within the mind. The names of the Lord are more powerful than any of His other aspects, be they of the personal or impersonal variety. Bhagavan’s names, of which there are too many to count, are the true jewels in this world, and, as such, they should be treated as the most valuable possessions, objects which can bring about the greatest auspiciousness. These precious gems should be kept safely in the mind and within the heart, and by regularly associating with them, their value will only increase. Following this behavior, the mindset of the conditioned entity will gradually turn from one perpetually in misery to one always in happiness. At the end of life, the purely God conscious soul will immediately be transported back to the land that time never forgets, the anxiety-free spiritual sky where the Supreme Lord and His nitya-siddhas, or eternal associates, reside and enjoy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Never Fail

Hanuman “O king of the Vanaras, he who possesses all these four qualities of courage, vision, intellect and skill as you do never fails in the performance of his actions.” (Celestials praising Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 1.198)

yasya tvetāni catvāri vānarendra yathā tava ||

dhṛtirdṛṣṭirmatirdākśyaṃ sa karmasu na sīdati |

If the worker tasked with a particularly important duty happens to possess courage, proper vision, necessary intelligence and sufficient skill, the likelihood of defeat greatly decreases. One who knows how to marshal these potent attributes can achieve any desired end. A particularly notable historical personality was given a task which seemed almost impossible to complete successfully. Not even the most powerful accompanying forces could even attempt what this person was trying to do; yet due to his possession of the four notable qualities, and more importantly his proper utilization of them, he was able to accomplish his end. For performing such a mighty task, this wonderfully kind and heroic figure’s exploits have been recorded in the annals of history, and he is today considered one of the greatest saints, teachers, servants and divine figures in the world. By carefully studying his nature, activities and mindset, we can learn how to use our own inherent qualities to attain the only goal worth reaching, that of returning to the spiritual sky.

Shri HanumanWhen we speak of going back to God or Godhead, the inherent implication is that we were once in such a purified land. Though we have no memory of being there, based on the statements of authority figures, those in the know, we learn that, as spirit souls, our natural home is in the imperishable sky where the one entity who never succumbs to the influences of the temporary and miserable world reigns as king for all of eternity. That entity is known as God to most, but in the Vedic tradition He is tagged with thousands of names, each of which speaks to His different activities and features. The more descriptive names provide increased pleasure to those wise enough to invoke them, for the sound vibrations immediately bring to mind the Lord’s form and nature.

Why is it important to remember specific aspects of the beneficiary of all religious practice? Most of us have prayed to God at some point in our lives. The devotees, those who believe in God and take service to Him to be the primary mission in life, think of and see the Lord all the time. Yet even the non-believers, the atheists, get to see that Supreme Person, the existence of whom they refuse to acknowledge. Both pious and impious persons see Supreme Spirit, with the difference being that the devotees see Him every day, whereas the atheists see the Lord at the time of death. There are certainly various ways to perceive of the presence of the original Divine Being, for He is all pervading. His original form is described as nirguna, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “without material qualities”. A spirit soul is a powerful individual unit of energy, yet its presence is only perceived through outward symptoms. Similar to how we can tell which way the wind is blowing by observing the movements of a flag, we can tell the presence of the soul by the movements of its outer covering. The exact makeup of the external dress can vary, but the commonality shared amongst all body types is that they are all constituted of material elements. For example, a person may grow hair on their body, but when this hair is cut or falls out, the identity of the individual doesn’t change. The hair is simply a part of the external covering. The entire collection of material elements for a specific individual is thus known as their body. The soul inside is what counts.

Lord KrishnaWith the Supreme Lord, there is no such distinction between body and soul. He is completely spiritual; hence the term “nirguna”. The issue introduced with this property is that it becomes difficult for the individual souls, the jivatmas, to understand what God looks like and where He resides. Though the Lord is without a material form, His spiritual form is both present and inconceivable. His body is so large that one cannot even fathom its size. The reach of His hands, legs and arms is infinite, a measurement that is incomprehensible to the human mind, which is the most advanced in terms of intellect. Not only is God’s form so gigantic, but He can also become infinitesimally small, as is the case with His Supersoul expansion. Though each body type has an individual soul residing within that forms the basis of identity, there is another spiritual entity that resides right next to it within the heart. This soul belongs to God, and it is a non-different expansion coming from His original form. The Supersoul is also often referred to as the nirguna form, as it is unmanifest. The Supersoul is non-different from the original person it represents, but since it is subtle in appearance, it is difficult to perceive.

To aid the fallen individuals, those whose intelligence levels are limited by the properties of their specific body type, in their understanding, the Supersoul, the expansion of the original form of Godhead, takes an outward form from time to time. This isn’t to say that God appears with material qualities, even though these forms are referred to as saguna. The guna aspect is only from the perspective of the flawed vision belonging to the resident of the material world. Since the Supersoul is so difficult to perceive, the same Lord descends to earth in forms which are perceptible to the human eye. Where there is a form, there are activities. So when God appears in an outward dress, He takes to activities aimed at pleasing those who are looking for the highest pleasure. Every individual is looking for some type of happiness; that is the foundation for all action. Even the behavior of one who is simply looking for the removal of distresses can be considered to be driven by the desire for pleasure.

GovindaWhen the saguna forms, the fully potent avataras of the original Supreme Being, perform activities, they are given names by those who witness such remarkable feats. When Lord Krishna, the original form of Godhead, descended to earth some five thousand years ago, He performed many such wonderful, pleasing activities. Since He gave pleasure to the cows and to the senses, He became known as Govinda. Since He lifted a giant mountain at the age of five years, He was addressed as Girivaradhari. Since He killed the Keshi demon, He was known as Keshava. Similarly, in God’s appearance on earth as the prince of Ayodhya, Shri Rama, the Lord took on different qualities. As the son of King Dasharatha, Rama became known as Dasharathi. Since He was the Lord of the Raghu dynasty, Rama was also known as Raghupati.

These are just a few of the different appealing aspects of the Supreme Lord and His avataras. Since there are innumerable qualities and traits possessed by the Supreme Spirit, there are thousands of names with which to address Him. Those who are especially fond of invoking these names are known as bhaktas, or devotees. In the spiritual realm there are only bhaktas. Since there are not any other activities besides devotional service to the Lord, the terms “bhakti” and “bhakta” aren’t even known there. To use an example from worldly life, the terms “darkness” and “light” only apply due to the differences in illumination levels in a particular area. But if there was always light, there would be no such thing as darkness. In a similar manner, the term “bhakta” only comes into being in the temporary realm, where there are other activities that individual souls can take to. The bhaktas stand out because they mimic the behavior of the eternal residents of the spiritual realm. Hence anyone who remains a bhakta up until the time of death will certainly be granted a return trip back to the only place where happiness lives forever. Going back to that imperishable land, the individual soul never has to return to the material realm.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

HanumanTrying to remain a devotee up until the time of death is difficult enough, especially considering that taking to devotional service is itself the most troublesome task in this world. After many lifetimes on earth, the soul becomes more and more averse to divine love that is facilitated through the sublime engagement of devotional service. As a result of this disposition, inducements from others to turn the eye towards God become less and less effective. In order to truly clear our vision and find the proper path in life, we must look to those great devotees of the past; those sincere servants who persevered through all obstacles and eventually triumphed in the end. Of all such figures, none is more celebrated and honorable than Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama.

As part of His pastimes, Rama roamed the forests of the land today known as India for fourteen years. When His wife Sita Devi was kidnapped, Rama and His younger brother Lakshmana went looking for her. Enlisting the aid of a Vanara king named Sugriva, the Lord was hopeful that Sita would be found. Success in this mission rested on Sugriva’s most trusted aide, Shri Hanuman. The first part of the mission was to find Sita. The miscreant who had taken her, Ravana, lived on an island that was far away from any mainland. After Sita’s location was discovered, Hanuman was tasked with crossing the ocean and finding her. Due to his tremendous yogic powers, Hanuman could assume any shape at will. Thus after taking a very large size, Hanuman sprung into the air, using a mountaintop as his launching pad.

Hanuman and SurasaYet his trip to Lanka wasn’t without disturbance. A giant female serpent named Surasa presented the first obstacle, followed by the efforts of a female Rakshasa named Simhikha. But these powerful forces were no match for Hanuman, so he was able to get past both impediments. In the above referenced statement, the celestials in the sky, those who were carefully observing Hanuman’s brave journey across the ocean, are praising him for his abilities. They remark that since he possessed courage, vision, intellect and skill, he would never meet defeat in any venture. Thus they weren’t surprised at his amazing feats of strength and dexterity.

How did Hanuman’s courage manifest? The task of travelling to Ravana’s island of Lanka certainly wasn’t easy. For starters, he was going alone, as his fellow monkey warriors weren’t capable of leaping far enough to make it across the ocean. In addition, the enemy king ruling the island had proved himself crafty enough to take away a beautiful princess from under the nose of the Supreme Lord. Certainly this isn’t a slight on Rama’s part, for the incident was preordained to facilitate the tasks Rama wanted to accomplish. Nevertheless, Ravana was certainly a capable fighter, one who was feared throughout the world. Not only would Hanuman have to brave against Ravana, but he would have to defeat all of Ravana’s Rakshasa associates as well. Only one who is truly courageous would even agree to take on such a task. When faced with obstacles during his flight, Hanuman didn’t buckle under the pressure. He didn’t even think of retreating once after seeing Surasa and Simhika.

HanumanHanuman’s acute vision was displayed in several ways. He was able to ascertain the proper aerial path to Lanka. He was able to accurately identify Surasa and carefully study her various features. Since she was a giant serpent, Hanuman had to survey her entire body in order to figure out how to get past her. Lord Brahma, the first created living being, had granted her the boon that no one would be able to cross her path without first entering her mouth. Normally this would mean instant death for the traveler, so Hanuman had to think of a way to get past her without losing his life. His sharpness of vision allowed him to see things as they were. Later on, when he encountered Simhika, he didn’t know who she was at first. All of a sudden his flight progress was stopped, so Hanuman had to figure out what was going on. He realized that his shadow had been caught in the ocean, something only the demon Simhika was capable of, as Sugriva, the chief of the monkeys in Kishkindha, had previously informed him.

Hanuman’s skill and intellect were both on full display during his encounters with the two obstacles put in his path. He first had to apply his intellect. With Surasa, Hanuman recognized the boon that she was given, and instead of deciding to dishonor the demigods, Hanuman thought it best to stay true to her boon and yet still make it past her. Realizing that he had to enter her mouth, Hanuman kindly asked her to increase her form, for otherwise she wouldn’t be able to swallow him up. Hanuman was already donning a massive stature, so by asking Surasa to open her mouth wider, he essentially tricked her into thinking that he was willing to agree to her demands. After Surasa expanded herself, Hanuman did the same. In this way, the two went back and forth increasing in size a few times. Finally, when Surasa had taken on a massive form, Hanuman showed off his tremendous skill by immediately becoming diminutive in form. With this now tiny body, he quickly entered and exited Surasa’s mouth, thus keeping her boon intact. She was then pleased with him and allowed him to continue.

With Simhikha, Hanuman employed similar tactics. This time, there was no respect to consider relating to any boon. Rather, Hanuman used his intellect to figure out a way to kill the female Rakshasa outright. Increasing his size again, Simhikha matched by increasing her own size. The subsequent steps followed a similar pattern, except this time Hanuman took his tiny form and attacked the demon from within her body. Showing his tremendous skill, Hanuman tore asunder the insides of Simhikha’s body, thus killing her. The demigods were greatly pleased by this, for they had wanted Hanuman to kill her.

Hanuman Not surprisingly, Hanuman would go on to enact even more wonderful pastimes, all of which were intended for the honor and glory of Shri Rama. Hanuman never does anything for himself. Though he is the most praiseworthy person in this world, he takes the greatest pleasure in hearing the glories of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Due in no small part to Hanuman’s selfless efforts, the mission would be successful, and Sita would eventually be rescued. As far as our mission in life goes, we too possess the four qualities of courage, vision, intellect and skill. Though we may not exhibit these attributes on anywhere near a level as that shown by Hanuman, by following his sweet example, we can learn to use whatever tools and abilities we have at our disposal towards attaining the proper goal.

The outward appearance of acts of bhakti compared to any other activity is actually not that different. Everyone has to think; everyone has to eat; everyone likes to sing; and everyone likes to perform some activity for pleasure. Under the bhakti model, one should take to these engagements for the benefit of the Lord. Our courage should be used to bravely remain devoted to devotional service, the only path worth following. Our vision should be used to regularly view the deities and pictures of the Supreme Lord, whose face is so beautiful that His most potent form and name is Krishna, which means “one who is all-attractive”. Our intellect should be applied towards understanding the science of self-realization and our position as part and parcel of the Supreme Lord. In the absence of such a pursuit, our amassed intelligence goes untapped. Lastly, our skills should be used in the execution of the primary aim of devotional service, the altering of consciousness. Chanting and hearing are two skills that are easily utilized through regularly reciting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. For one who applies these four qualities towards the highest mission in life, there is no chance of being turned away from the gates of the spiritual land.