Saturday, April 9, 2011

Respecting the Predecessor

Hanuman with Rama “Even a decision made after carefully considering what should be done and what shouldn't doesn't come out successful (when undertaken by a careless messenger). Messengers who think themselves learned (but act carelessly) kill all chances for success in the mission.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.40)

arthānarthāntare buddhirniścitāpi na śobhate |

ghātayanti hi kāryāṇi dūtāḥ paṇḍitamāninaḥ

Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, is always conscientious about what course of action should be undertaken. In ordinary activities, the fruitive worker may not pay as much attention to what should be done, for the results will only affect their personal life. But when carrying out the desires and hopes of others, including their closest confidantes and worshipable objects, devotees like Hanuman never want to do anything that will jeopardize success. Rather, they take every precaution necessary to avoid haughtiness and pride, two emotions which lead to blinding ignorance. As Hanuman so accurately states in this passage, no matter how intelligent or powerful an authority figure may be, even if he is following a proper course of action decided after due deliberation, the entire plot outlined for success can be foiled in one second by a messenger who fails to honor and respect the wishes of his master. In a similar manner, the inquisitive transcendentalists of this age have been passed down the most confidential and potent spiritual information from exalted spiritual leaders of the past. One who simply follows these instructions without deviation will surely rescue themselves and anyone else they have the wonderful opportunity to teach. But if haughtiness, greed and feelings of supremacy creep in, all the benefits accrued through the hard work of predecessors can go for naught.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaWhat was Hanuman’s mission? The Supreme Lord, the original form of Godhead, had descended to earth in the guise of a human being to mesmerize those looking for divine enchantment. Regular dog and pony shows are a dime a dozen; there is no shortage of entertainment of the material variety. Due to the potency of the individual spirit soul, human beings, should they set their minds to them, are capable of quite extraordinary feats. The vision of the transcendental body of the Personality of Godhead evokes different sentiments though, feelings not aroused through any other interaction. In the Vedic tradition, the spiritual form of the original Divine Being is described by the Sanskrit word “Krishna”, which means all-attractive. Not only is God the Almighty and the greatest order supplier, He is the very reservoir of pleasure. For His pleasing, countless transcendental associates always remain in His company. In this way we see that God is the primary object of pleasure and that His happiness serves as the source of the greatest comfort for His dependents.

For those who are not purified enough to reside in the spiritual realm, a place where the effects of material nature are absent, the mercy of the Supreme Person is still available. According to time and circumstance, He periodically descends to earth to enact pastimes and grant His darshana, or divine vision, to those who are eligible to have it. Do we need to pass a test to see God? Do we have to pay money to a certain spiritual institution to gain this eligibility? Our sentiments towards the Supreme Lord are measured by the sincerity of our thoughts, desires and wishes. These feelings remain in the heart for safe keeping, with only God knowing how to find them. For those who are the sincerest of the sincere, the individuals who have abandoned any hope for finding lasting pleasure through material contact, Krishna shows special favor.

During the Treta Yuga, which occurred many thousands of years ago according to the timeline of the current creation, Krishna took the outward appearance of a warrior prince named Rama. Roaming the earth for many years, Rama not only displayed His exquisitely beautiful and attractive body to the exalted residents of the town of Ayodhya, but He also created situations that allowed other souls to kindly offer Him service. Goswami Tulsidas, the prolific Vaishnava poet and dear servant of Hanuman, writes that just as otherwise ordinary trees become worshipable when they line the path to heaven, so those born into a low cast become objects of worship when they take to chanting the holy name of Rama. Cast distinctions are not only prevalent in India, but in every corner of the earth and throughout all times in history. Varnas, or qualities, paint different colors on different people. Some individuals are stronger than others, while others are more prone to acquiring intelligence. These differences will always exist, but the commonality of purpose and the equality shared in the nature of spirit never change. Every individual, regardless of their occupation or family lineage, is eligible to practice the art of divine love known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

When one is not spiritually conscious, they can be illusioned by these colors, taking them to be part of the individual’s identity. Depending on what aspect of a company an individual works for, they will receive little or great respect. The secretary of the CEO of a successful business may not receive much attention, but the CEO certainly will. Similar variations in outward behavior are seen in virtually all areas of material life, but in the spiritual sense, everyone is equal. Tulsidas states that even if one is born in a low family, meaning their occupational duty is one that doesn’t garner much respect or attention, if they take to chanting the holy name of the Lord on a regular basis, they not only become respectable, but they become worshipable. A great example of this was seen with the Vanaras of the Kishkindha forest.

Rama and Lakshmana with the VanarasLord Rama, through His yogamaya potency, created a situation where He required the help of others to rescue His kidnapped wife Sita Devi. Abiding by the exile order previously laid upon Him, Rama did not return to His kingdom of Ayodhya to fetch the soldiers that were part of the royal army to aid Him in the search for the beautiful princess. Instead, He enlisted the help of a band of monkeys, Vanaras to be exact. Their king was Sugriva, and his chief minister and warrior was Shri Hanuman. The mission given to the monkeys was quite straightforward: find Sita, give her Rama’s ring as a sign of authenticity, and then return to Kishkindha with information of her whereabouts.

Obviously these weren’t easy tasks to complete, for the Rakshasa demon Ravana had taken Sita and didn’t want anyone to find her. But no task is impossible for Hanuman, who, while leading the most capable division of the Vanara army, leapt his way to the majestic island of Lanka where Sita was staying. Only Hanuman was capable of this extraordinary feat, so he found himself all alone right at the time he needed the most help. Reaching Lanka was one thing, but now he had to enter the city unnoticed. He had to create a guise which would not be detected, but at the same time would allow him to carefully comb the city in his search for Sita. Hanuman, though in the form of a monkey, which is considered a low birth compared to a human being, is a unique individual and soul, a powerful spirit capable of assuming any shape at will. Hanuman can marshal any of the siddhis, or perfections, of yoga, one of which offers the ability to assume a diminutive stature at any time.

HanumanFrom the above referenced passage, we see just how careful Hanuman is about ensuring success in the mission. He very accurately notes that haughtiness and excessive pride of messengers can foil the mission of even the most capable of leaders. From his thoughts we see that Hanuman never considered himself to be smarter than Sugriva or Rama. He never thought, “I am God; I am the most powerful. I can simply destroy this town and rescue Sita all by myself in defiance of the orders given to me.” Deep down, he certainly wanted to do this. He loved Rama so much that he couldn’t stand to bear the thought of His wife being held against her will in some enemy territory. Yet he kept all this anger in check and carefully considered the success of the mission given to him. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would end up finding just the right course of action to take, a path which would eventually lead him to Sita. When he first located her, he was tempted to bring her back to Rama all by himself, but she rejected the idea due to the dishonor it would cause her husband. In this way both Sita and Hanuman showed their true colors as thoughtful, kind, sweet and caring devotees of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

The benevolent Vaishnava acharyas, the devotees of Vishnu/Krishna, have kindly passed down the secrets of the ancient science of bhakti-yoga, which has been practiced since time immemorial. The pinnacle of religious practice eternally remains the sole engagement for Hanuman, Sita, and Rama’s younger brother Lakshmana. In fact, that same level of dedication to devotion has been passed down from generation to generation ever since the beginning of time. More recently, some five hundred years ago, Krishna again appeared on earth, but this time as a preacher named Lord Chaitanya. Shri Gaurahari is the most unique incarnation of the Lord because instead of taking to physically attacking the demons of the world, His weapon of choice was a sound vibration. Lord Chaitanya inaugurated the sankirtana movement, wherein the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, would be chanted early and often every single day. Through their unselfish efforts, Lord Chaitanya and His dear associates spread the holy name of God all across India. In the following few hundred years, a bhakti movement spread like wildfire across India, producing some of the sweetest transcendental nectar in the form of literature and poetry ever tasted.

Lord ChaitanyaIn more recent times, the sincere followers of Lord Chaitanya have managed to extend the reach of the holy name throughout the world. Some of the particulars of the practice of bhakti may have changed, but the foundational elements have not. At the core, devotion to Vishnu involves chanting the maha-mantra at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads, all the while refraining from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, which are considered the four pillars of sinful life. Transcendental sound vibrations are so powerful that one who chants any bona fide name for the Lord will be similarly benefitted. Since Shri Gaurahari exhibited the greatest devotion to Krishna, none of His prescriptions bear any hint of blind sentimentalism or irrational sectarianism. Krishna is a name for God which describes the features of His original form. Similarly, the word “Rama” describes the form of Hanuman’s Lord, and it also speaks to God’s ability to provide the highest transcendental pleasure. Therefore anyone can chant these two names and become liberated from the clutches of material existence.

“Whomever you meet, instruct him on the teachings of Krishna. In this way, on My order, become a spiritual master and deliver the people of this country.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 7.128)

Those who regularly follow the bedrock principles of bhakti-yoga are advised to at least try to pass on the secrets of divine love to others. Lord Chaitanya wanted every person to become a guru by talking about Krishna’s instructions to anyone they would meet, wherever they would go. From this order, we see that the followers of vishnu-bhakti have a mission similar to the one assigned to Hanuman. As a great Vaishnava, a sweet and dedicated servant of the Lord in the form of a monkey, Hanuman reveals in this passage from the Ramayana just what it takes to achieve success in a transcendental mission and what pitfalls to avoid.

HanumanSince the knowledge passed on by Vedic texts such as the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana is so profound, it is natural for an individual to become a little proud after understanding it. The way bhakti works is that it is a constant mental pursuit, one where new ideas and thoughts sprout up at every second. The conclusion, however, always remains the same: abandon all varieties of religion, or dharma, and simply surrender unto the Lord to receive the highest pleasure. But when one remains in constant association with Krishna through thoughts, words and deeds, it is natural that new ideas and ways of explaining the sweetness of the sublime engagement of devotional service would creep up. Nevertheless, humility must always be there. False pride comes from the ego, which is one of the subtle elements of material life. This ego is deemed unreal because, by default, it is based off the attributes of the gross body. Similar to how varying levels of honor are shown to different members of a company based on their specific occupation, the mind tends to get puffed up when great physical strength or high knowledge is acquired.

False ego is solidified through taking pride in our own abilities, even though the highest stature we can reach is that of a measly messenger carrying information of the Divine. But real ego comes from taking pride and confidence in the transcendental message, its originator and our predecessors who kindly passed on this information to us. This was the example set by Hanuman. If one falls victim to false pride and an inflated ego, all the hard work performed by predecessors can go for naught. The prescriptions provided by Lord Chaitanya and the acharyas in His line are quite simple to follow, but if an individual all of a sudden thinks they are smarter than their guru, they are essentially thinking they are smarter than God. This challenging spirit is the root cause of the existence of the material world, a realm where every individual is competing for the title of “supreme ruler”, one that is not up for grabs. Therefore it is of vital importance to follow the example of Hanuman and remain committed to the mission at hand. For the people of this age, the highest dharma, the single regulative principle that trumps all others, is quite straightforward: chant, chant, chant the holy names.

Hanuman thinking of Rama Depending on what transpires during the actual implementation of the mission, certain remedial measures may be adopted, but deviation shouldn’t be the goal from the outset. For example, Hanuman only had to find Sita and return to Kishkindha. He was not tasked with taking down Ravana or destroying any members of his army. Yet while in Lanka, Ravana would find Hanuman and set his tail on fire. In this instance, Hanuman was obviously justified in fighting back, for if he didn’t, Rama’s mission would be thwarted. If Hanuman never returned to Kishkindha, how would Rama ever find out where Sita was? This was Hanuman’s guiding thought process, and it secured him the intelligence needed to handle any and all adverse situations, including the most unexpected ones. Similarly, if we keep at the forefront of the mind Lord Chaitanya’s mission, that of maintaining the powerful flame emanating from the fire composed of the transcendental names of the Lord, we will always have the knowledge necessary to deal with whatever impediments come our way. Hanuman is never defeated in his devotional efforts, and his success rate is owed entirely to his unwavering sincerity of purpose. By remembering and honoring Hanuman on a regular basis, we too will never fail in life’s mission.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Everyday Miracles

Lord Krishna “My beautiful dark friend Krishna is far more liberal than the cloud which can fill up the great ocean with water. Without disturbing the cultivator with rain during the day, the cloud brings liberal rain at night just to satisfy him. And yet when the cultivator wakes up in the morning, he considers that it has not rained enough. Similarly, the Lord fulfills the desire of everyone according to his position, and yet one who is not in Krishna consciousness considers all the gifts of the Lord to be less than his desire.” (Sudama Vipra thinking about Krishna, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 26)

The workings of the spiritual hands of Shri Krishna can be witnessed in every sphere of life, even though the influence and power of the distributor of all effects material and spiritual often go neglected. In addition to breeding contempt, familiarity brings about complacency and unwarranted expectation. Taking the everyday wonders of life for granted, the individual is left searching for miracles, paranormal events which may give evidence to the existence of a higher power. Yet these miracles, which can easily occur through the Divine Will of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, are not required in the least bit, for there are other truly miraculous workings of the universe that take place at regular intervals. One who has a trained eye not only sees and appreciates these events, but they also recognize them as being part of God’s supreme, unending and causeless mercy. Because they are armed with transcendental awareness, the normal workings of the universe bring these individuals possessing a purified vision more pleasure than any seemingly miraculous event brings wonder and amazement to the conditioned eye.

Lord KrishnaThe sun rising every day is taken for granted, as is the falling of the rain. Sudama Vipra, the childhood friend of Shri Krishna, the Supreme Lord, very nicely points out that even though the raincloud showers nourishing water on the field during the middle of the night without bothering anyone, the farmer still wakes up the next day and thinks that it hasn’t rained enough. The cloud in this scenario is very liberal and generous, donating its time and effort so that life may be maintained on the earth. After establishing the cloud to be a kind worker involved in a thankless task, Sudama Vipra points out that Krishna is even more liberal than the cloud, for the rain is only one small representation of the Lord’s immense potency. Everything in this world, including the movement of the sun, the weather, the placement of the various species and the growth of plants, is due to Krishna’s influence. Therefore there is a miracle seen at every corner of existence, with wonderful events constantly taking place that provide further evidence to the Divine’s existence and influence.

Those conditioned by material life and the influence of the senses will not be able to see things properly. Rather than acknowledge the Creator, the original Divine Being who may be addressed by different names in different traditions but still nevertheless exists, the curious mind will try to study the inner workings of inert matter and how various species interact with it. To further their pursuit, the inquisitive souls lacking God consciousness are given full facility to explore the workings of nature, a chase which brings temporary gains that stimulate the mind. Rather than study the man who created the sun, the mind driven by an undeveloped consciousness will look to understand the properties of the sunrays and what molecules are contained within. After increasing their knowledge on the matter, they will then look to harness the energy coming from the sunlight for the advancement of their personal delights, even though the heat of the sun is itself the greatest comfort, the sustainer of life.

Being further illusioned by their discoveries into the workings of external nature, the same individual drifts further and further away from understanding God. When asked about the existence of a higher power, there will be great skepticism, as the dedicated scientist sees no evidence of the Lord’s influence anywhere. After all, the sunshine and earthly elements are entirely composed of various molecules, so unless one can show great ability at manipulating and creating these elements, they can’t be deemed a superior entity. One who knows how to build a spaceship or an airplane is a powerful figure, not the species which already knows how to fly using the body it was given by nature. Members of the animal kingdom can do many things that human beings can’t do, yet no one would ever say that they are more adept or more intelligent than humans are. But when a human being, after much study and physical effort, can replicate a tiny feature naturally exercised by an unintelligent animal, they are praised as having made tremendous progress in the evolution towards a better life.

big bangOnly in the human form of body can intelligence be used to appreciate the true miracles of the surrounding nature that take place every single day. Those who believe the universe and all its species came into existence due to a collision of chemicals have no way of reproducing the same purported reactions using the same set of elements. The chemical explosion theory of creation also doesn’t explain the origin of the chemicals. From where did the elements required for collision come? By taking matter to be the supreme worshipable object, the atheist leaves no tangible base of authority to guide man’s conduct. Without a central authority figure, any and all activity becomes acceptable, as long as it doesn’t prove immediately detrimental to the individual making the judgment. Piety can never be universal under this model because wherefrom would anyone get their authority to tell others how to live? Yet the scientists make precisely these types of assessments by confidently asserting that there is no God. But if we used their own mentally concocted model of creation, these genius deliberators would have to be considered mere collections of chemicals anyway, so why should we believe anything they say? While the spiritualist is rejected by the scientist as being a believer in something that can’t be proven, the rational thinker will rightfully consider the scientist to be a sycophant of their senses and the observations drawn from them, perceptions which, by definition, will be faulty many times over, as to ere is human.

Aside from using the authority of the Vedas or any other set of scriptures to realize the intelligent design behind the creation, we can also take the non-randomness of many of nature’s workings. For instance, the sun rises and sets at regular intervals wherever one lives. The calendar year is another regular measurement that points to the predictable movement of the various planets around the sun. The seasons, which are set weather patterns, also show intelligence, as during certain times of the year the average temperatures are guaranteed to be hotter or colder than normal. The wise person will attribute the intelligence of nature to its creator: God. One deluded by ignorance and led astray by the inner workings of material science, a discipline which has historically had drastic shifts in conclusions, will be left to look for other miracles as evidence of God’s existence.

“In order to deliver the pious and to annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I advent Myself millennium after millennium.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.8)

Krishna's adventsIronically enough, even when the Supreme Lord does descend to earth and perform such miracles, the miscreants still won’t believe it. What to speak of those who take the accounts of such historical events to be mythology, there are many who personally witness these awesome exhibitions of strength and knowledge and still don’t believe in the performer’s superiority. Lord Krishna, the original Personality of Godhead, the all-blissful master of the universe, kindly descends to earth in every millennium during the Dvapara Yuga, the third time period of creation. Since we currently live in the last yuga, Kali, the accounts of the most recently completed Dvapara Yuga are contained in various books like the Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam. The compiler of these works, Vyasadeva, wrote so much literature about Krishna and His expansions that the dull-headed fools of today posit theories that Vyasadeva did not exist. Not only do they take the accounts of events contained within these works to be mythology, but they take Vyasadeva himself to be a mythical character, one who couldn’t possibly have written so many wonderful Sanskrit poems.

Evidence of Vyasadeva’s existence is not only proven by the splendid nature of the works he compiled, but also by the seemingly miraculous efforts of his followers. In recent times, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, an acharya following in the line of disciplic succession descending from Vyasadeva, authored a similarly ridiculous amount of literature, most of which was compiled after the swami had reached seventy years of age. Fortunately for humanity, the swami’s daily activities, lectures and conversations were recorded and preserved on distributable media. Therefore, no sane man can legitimately claim that Prabhupada didn’t write all of the books that he did in such a short amount of time. Surely the miscreants would have liked to believe that Shrila Prabhupada was also a mythical character who couldn’t have compiled such transcendentally sound and bliss-evoking literature over so few years, but due to the preponderance of evidence available, such claims can never hold any water.

“The Trinavarta demon who took baby Krishna on his shoulder went high in the sky, but the baby assumed such a weight that suddenly he could not go any further, and he had to stop his whirlwind activities. Baby Krishna made Himself heavy and began to weigh down the demon.” (Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 7)

Krishna and the Trinavarta demonPrabhupada’s amazing effort validates the existence of Vyasadeva and the ability of any individual, provided they are pure enough at heart, to write volumes and volumes of work describing Krishna and devotion to Him, which is known as bhakti. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature, especially details Krishna’s seemingly miraculous feats. As a small child living in the town of Vrindavana, He battled and defeated many of the most powerful demons the world had ever seen. As a small infant, He was hoisted into the sky by a demon named Trinavarta, who was trying to kill Krishna by trapping Him in a tornado. Though in an infant’s body, Krishna killed the demon and managed to land safely back on the ground. Krishna similarly subdued a powerful and venomous snake named Kaliya and lifted a gigantic hill and held it above His head for seven consecutive days to protect the residents of Vrindavana from the onslaught of rain triggered by an envious Lord Indra from the heavenly planets.

These events prove Krishna’s divine nature and also bring great pleasure to the devotees, those sincere souls who need no further evidence of Krishna’s existence. Sudama Vipra, a poor brahmana, once went to visit Krishna while He was ruling as the king of Dvaraka. Sudama’s wife asked him to visit Krishna to seek some benediction from Him. The two friends, Sudama and Krishna, attended the same gurukula, or school of the spiritual master, in their youth, so Sudama felt a little ashamed to ask the Lord for any personal benediction, but due to his wife’s persuasion he went anyway. After reluctantly offering a small quantity of chipped rice to Krishna, Sudama returned home. While walking back home after leaving the royal palace, Sudama couldn’t help but think of the Lord’s merciful nature and His great kindness. Upon approaching his home, he saw that his house had been converted into an opulent palace, full of every amenity possible. Sudama, knowing that only Krishna could have done this, felt supremely grateful and awe-stricken at the fact that simply by offering a little chipped rice to the one person who is need of nothing such a benediction could be received.

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

Krishna eatingThough Krishna already gives us so much in the form of food, family, friends, shelter and the ability to hear His names and pastimes, it is the nature of the individual entities residing on earth to neglect this mercy, or at least to not appreciate it to the fullest. The rain provided by the cloud created by Krishna gives sustenance to the farmer, but he is always thinking that he needs more and more to maintain his livelihood. Meanwhile, if one offers something as simple as fruit or water to Krishna, the whole world becomes satisfied. The man who has everything and is served by the goddess of fortune herself accepts any small offering made out of love and devotion. Through this behavior Krishna automatically becomes the most magnanimous, kind-hearted, merciful and generous of all entities. These qualities only further support His unwavering position as the Supreme Lord for all of humanity.

Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated poet and devotee of God, makes a similar observation to prove God’s existence. Tulsidas says that Rama, who is another form of Krishna, is certainly God because all the necessities in life are relatively inexpensive and highly abundant, while all the things we don’t need are expensive and rare to find. This is quite a brilliant observation because generally the reverse viewpoint is adopted. Those items which are rare and not readily found are considered valuable and thus become expensive, whereas abundant items are deemed worthless enough to throw away at times. Things like water, grains, fruits and milk are actually necessary to sustain life, to maintain the vital force within the body. Whenever these items become expensive, man has to suffer. Indeed, due to the large natural abundance of life’s necessities, we see that shortages can only occur wherever the influence of the demon class is strong. Otherwise, even the animal community has no problem securing basic necessities, which are readily provided by the Supreme Lord.

Lord Krishna Expensive items such as gold, jewelry, and more recently things like heavy machinery and fancy electronic gadgets, are not necessary for maintaining life. Krishna has kindly made these items more expensive and less in supply than water, milk and grains for our benefit. From the observations of Tulsidas and Sudama Vipra, we see that the indications of God’s existence and kind nature are endless. One simply has to clear their vision through steady practice of bhakti to be able to see and appreciate all of these miracles of nature. Of all of God’s energies, benedictions and direct exhibitions of strength and power, there is no greater miracle than the potency packed into the transcendental sound vibration that represents His original and complete feature. The name of God, when recited regularly and without any ulterior motive, brings one directly into the presence of the Supreme Spirit. The same cannot be said of the recitation of the name of any other object, spiritual or material. By chantingHare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, one can produce God right in front of them and enjoy His association. The name brings all the forms, pastimes and qualities of the Divine, and since there is no charge for chanting mantras that call out to Krishna, there is no financial limitation placed on the ability to see God and appreciate His mercy. By taking to bhakti as a way of life, Krishna’s miracles are seen, appreciated and enjoyed every single day.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Finish What You Start

Hanuman “That task which is about to be completed successfully gets harmed by the thoughtless messenger who acts against time and circumstance, just as darkness is dispelled by the glowing sunlight.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.39)

bhūtāścārthā vipadyante deśakālavirodhitāḥ |

viklabaṃ dūtamāsādya tamaḥ sūryodaye yathā

There’s nothing worse than starting a project, making tremendous progress on it and almost completing it, only to then have it completely destroyed in the end. From these cogent thoughts of Shri Hanuman, the kind-hearted soul carrying the torch of devotional service and shining the light of divine love across every boundary of time and space, we can see that if a messenger undertakes a certain task for his master and that the task is almost complete, one small misstep, a careless act that doesn’t take the auspiciousness or inauspiciousness of the specific time and circumstance into consideration, can lead to ultimate destruction. Hanuman aptly compares the nature of this dissolution to the dissipation of darkness at the outset of morning. The night sky is fully dark, with no hint of light anywhere, save for maybe the moon and the artificial light generated by electricity and fire. Though the darkness may be very dense, as soon as daylight comes, the previous blackout completely vanishes, such is the power of the almighty sun.

sunThe lessons that can be taken away from Hanuman’s analogy are far reaching, and not only for those involved in fruitive activity. Any action undertaken with a desired goal in mind can be considered to fall under the paradigm of karma, or fruitive activity. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, label material activity in this way because the resultant rewards are referred to as phala, or fruits. There is no better comparison to the cause-and-effect nature of action than the growing of plants. Hard work is undertaken to find just the right plot of land, wherein the soil will be fertile and ample water and sunlight will be available to nourish the seeds. All the difficult labor that goes into turning a small seed into a plant is devoted to achieving the final result, that of seeing and enjoying a fruit.

Any endeavor that we take up in relation to sense pleasure follows the same sequence. There is great effort undertaken, with the enjoyment of the manifested end-goal serving as the primary impetus for action. Certainly we will be successful in some of our fruitive ventures, while we will fail in others, but the worst feeling comes from being on the precipice of success and then failing. Sports franchises that make it to the final round or final game of the season and then lose can attest to the pain that results from a near brush with success. The agony of defeat is further increased for those who were directly responsible for the loss. Sometimes victory seems like it’s in the bag, but a player or team makes one grievous error at the worst possible time, costing them the championship. This has been witnessed in many Olympic events, with a notable example occurring in the sport of snowboarding at the Winter games several years back.

Mariano Rivera - closerIf we are about to succeed in the most difficult of ventures, it is important not to ruin everything by making a careless mistake. To this end, time and place must always be considered. Acting hastily is quite silly. For example, in the game of baseball, a closer usually comes in to pitch the ninth inning, which is the final inning of a game that is not tied. The difference between a closer and any other pitcher on the staff is that the closer is geared towards only pitching one inning: the final one. In this regard, he doesn’t have to worry about setting up hitters for future at-bats, or about going long into the game. Based on his assigned duties, his strategy is usually quite straightforward: throw the ball as hard as you can at the strike zone.

An effective closer is one who adapts to the time and circumstance of the game with which he is presented, knowing exactly what is required of him. If, however, he were to adopt the mentality of a starting pitcher or middle reliever, his success rate would not be the same. Every pitcher is colored with a certain hue as far as qualities go. These features are matched up to a particular circumstance in the game. If the same closer were to be brought in earlier in the game, he wouldn’t be as effective. It is often seen that closers have a difficult time pitching in non-save situations, circumstances where the team isn’t leading per se, but they just need someone to keep the game from getting out of hand. Bringing the closer in to pitch in the seventh inning or before also wouldn’t lead to favorable results, as the closer is accustomed to pitching two innings at a maximum, if that. If the closer is brought in at the wrong time, the manager of the team is forced to bring in another pitcher, one not accustomed to finishing out a game, into the ninth inning to secure the victory.

HanumanShri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, was very close to achieving his objective: that of finding Sita Devi, the beloved princess and wife of Shri Rama. Sita had been taken away by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana to the island kingdom of Lanka. Hanuman was the only member of the Vanara force in the forest of Kishkindha who was capable of leaping across the massive ocean to Lanka. Shri Rama, an incarnation of the original Divine Being in the sky, roamed the earth many thousands of years ago to give pleasure to the faithful adherents who had their eyes anointed with transcendental love. It is one thing to say that we love God and that we think of Him all the time, but it is another to actually be able to see Him in a visible form. Only those who are true to the path of bhakti, the ancient art of spiritual love, are granted the supreme benediction of association with the Lord face-to-face.

Interaction with God can involve different rasas, or transcendental mellows, the most basic of which is similar to idolatry, a mood of pure reverence and adoration. Anyone who takes to such worship is certainly very advanced, for they understand the greatness of the Supreme Lord. But personal association goes beyond this, for it is rarely seen in human circles that one person worships another entity by simply sitting still and marveling at the object of interest’s greatness. Rather, love manifests in the form of activities, service offered for the pleasure of the person that is loved. In the same way, when the Supreme Lord descends to earth, it is not for the purpose of allowing only reverential worship, for such a practice can take place in the temple with the deity form. Just as a picture reminds us of our loved ones even after much time has gone by, carved statues and paintings of the Supreme Lord remind the love-starved individual of the greatness and imperishable nature of the Supreme Absolute Truth. Since God is omnipotent and all-pervading, the deity is non-different from Him.

asvādhīnam katham daivam prakārairabhirādhyate |

svādhīnam samatikramya mātaram pitaram gurum

“How can we properly worship our deities, who are not manifest before us, if we neglect our guru, mother and father, who are manifest before us?” (Lord Rama speaking to Sita Devi, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 30.33)

Rama honoring His fatherThe prime ingredient in fruitful worship of the deity is devotion, something difficult to maintain in the neophyte stage, where the mind is still accustomed to viewing the wood or stone statue as being just that, material elements. Therefore, in the Vedic tradition, sincere devotees are advised to first learn to worship their superiors, the parents and the spiritual master, or guru. Lord Rama once appropriately remarked that if one can’t worship those animate beings that are naturally worthy of reverence, parents and gurus, how can they properly worship devas, or divine beings? Parents who are Vaishnavas, devotees of the all-pervading Lord Vishnu, serve as initial objects of worship for their children. As the children grow older, the preceptor, the instructor who is also an ardent devotee of Vishnu, becomes the primary object of worship. One who offers service to such individuals will be honoring the Supreme Lord as well. Just as a pet owner is made happy by the kindness shown by others towards their beloved pet, Rama is even more gratified by the love, respect and services offered to His dear servants.

Honoring the parents and guru is surely the way to go, but for those who have advanced to the highest level of divine consciousness, a state of mind where all thoughts and desires focus on the Supreme Lord and His transcendental form and pastimes, the most worshipable person in any room He walks into personally descends to earth and grants them His association. Just as mundane love is recognized through dedicated offerings, divine love, or devotional service, takes the shape of direct services rendered to the Personality of Godhead. In Rama’s case, He was a powerful and noble prince, one who had every amenity available to Him. As a king, the normal method of offering tribute for inferiors was some type of reverential worship. Though this sort of respect surely indicates a proper mindset, the pleasure felt by the object of worship increases as one further ascends the chain of rasas. To facilitate more love-evoking exchanges of emotion, the Supreme Lord set up circumstances that allowed Him to temporarily renounce His princely form and assume a more average one.

Sita and Rama in the forestRoaming the forests for fourteen years as an exile from His kingdom of Ayodhya, Rama was supremely happy in the company of His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana. Rama is always seen smiling in pictures, and the source of His pleasure should not be surprising in the least bit. Lakshmana and Sita are of the highest character, two divine figures who bear no similarity to any conditioned entity whatsoever. It is understandable that non-devotees and those opposed to Vedic traditions would think that the historical events documented in the Ramayana are part of some mythology, for no one could ever imagine that individuals as pious, noble, kind and dedicated as Sita and Lakshmana could ever roam this earth.

But based on the fact that there are countless pure devotees roaming the earth today, and many from the recent past as well, we can understand that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana are real in every way. Their behavior and qualities exhibited were unique, but not out of the realm of possibility for personalities descending from the spiritual realm. Always enjoying the company of Sita and Lakshmana, how could Rama not be the happiest person in the world? Rama’s pleasure and supreme stature as the original Personality of Godhead are further enhanced by the close association of one other divine figure, one who is as faithful, kind, dedicated, strong, courageous and learned as they come. That individual is Shri Hanuman.

Rama meeting HanumanJust as Rama’s exile to the forest facilitated the pure devotion offered by the likes of the Nishada chief Guha, a kind boatmen in the forest, and various female entities, Sita’s kidnap by Ravana facilitated the kind offerings of service made by the Vanaras, or monkey-like figures, residing in Kishkindha. After Sita was taken away from Him through a backhanded plot, Rama frantically searched for her whereabouts, which eventually landed both He and Lakshmana in Kishkindha, a forest inhabited by monkeys led by their leader Sugriva. Through the diplomatic efforts of Hanuman, an alliance was formed between the two parties, where Rama would help Sugriva gain back his kingdom from his brother Vali and Sugriva would help Rama find Sita.

When the time came for Sugriva’s end of the deal, Hanuman played an integral role. As part of the search party dispatched to find Sita, Hanuman took Rama’s pleasure and mission to be his highest dharma, or ultimate occupational duty. After making his way to Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka, Hanuman was almost at the point of success. One more obstacle, however, lay in his way. He needed to enter Lanka and find Sita without anyone finding out about it.

HanumanFrom the passage above quoted from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman is very aware that success is close. He’s worked so hard to get to Lanka, crossing the ocean through the aerial path and defeating several obstacles thrown his way. If Hanuman were to act hastily at this point, the entire mission could be dashed, with the hopes of Sita’s rescue vanishing at the same time. In this way we see that in devotional service to the Lord, the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga, there is no room for haste or blind sentimentalism. Successfully shifting one’s consciousness to the transcendental realm takes dedication and thoughtfulness driven by concern for the ultimate objective.

Hanuman, taking shelter of his divine intelligence, which was a byproduct of his pure love for Rama, eventually figured out a way to enter Lanka without being noticed. Finding Sita in the ashoka garden, Hanuman relayed information to her about Rama and His commitment to rescuing her. Eventually all would end well, as Rama and the entire army of Vanaras would march to Lanka, defeat Ravana and rescue Sita. To this day Hanuman is always tied to Shri Rama, a pairing of the devotee and the object of devotion.

From Hanuman’s behavior, we see that the consideration of time and place is very important. As spirit souls, our current life is not the first one we’ve had. The human form of body was earned through many lifetimes spent in other species, an evolution driven by the laws of nature. Only in the human form can the living being inquire about God and take the necessary steps to understand the superior nature of divine love. But if this opportunity is squandered, we will have to start all over again in the next life. In the human form of body, all times and places are favorable for the most effective practice of devotional service, 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”.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)

In material endeavors failure at the final stage usually equates to complete destruction. If our daily activities are tied only to eating, sleeping, mating and defending, our behavior is really no different than the animals. Moreover, by maintaining this mindset an animal form of body will surely be granted to us in the next life, thus destroying the wonderful opportunity given to us in the present human form. The wise realize the urgency of the moment, the need to avoid having to start over from scratch. For one who is purely God conscious at the time of death, whose thoughts and desires are fixed at the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, there is no chance of rebirth, only a guaranteed return trip to the spiritual realm.

Krishna's lotus feetThe beauty of devotional service is that no effort goes to waste. If we take to regularly chanting the maha-mantra and avoiding the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, we will surely be purifying our consciousness. But if our maturity hasn’t peaked by the end of life, there is still no loss. In the next life, we’ll take birth in a high family, one that provides conditions conducive to spiritual awakening, and rekindle our divine consciousness ignited from the previous life. This is all the more reason to take to bhakti in lieu of any other activity. Shri Hanuman’s efforts never went to waste, and he never failed in any endeavor aimed at pleasing Rama. Ravana and his forces tried their best to thwart Hanuman’s mission, but just as the darkness is dispelled at the dawn of a new day, the bright transcendental light of Hanuman led to the complete destruction of the darkness of ignorance that pervaded the Rakshasa kingdom.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Many Scriptures

Prahlada Maharaja “…Once upon a time the King of the demons, Hiranyakashipu, took his son Prahlada on his lap and very affectionately inquired: My dear son, please let me know what you think is the best of all the subjects you have studied from your teachers.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.4)

With so many texts available for perusal and study in the Vedic tradition, it becomes a little difficult to choose which work to focus attention on. Which book should we take to be our “Bible”, and which ones should we ignore? Indeed, due to the preponderance of information pertaining to the Personality of Godhead generated from the angles of vision of the conditioned eyes, there is the perception that there exists more than one path towards the final destination, the supreme abode reserved for those who have realized the Absolute Truth. When all the seemingly contradictory pieces of information are sorted and studied in a more formal manner, the different roadmaps leading to success can be considered to belong to one of four unique disciplines: bhakti, jnana, yoga and karma. But just as the Absolute Truth is a singular entity, there can only be one dharma, or essential characteristic of the soul, that keeps one connected with Him. There is actually no contradiction between the truths espoused in any of the Vedic texts, for they all reach the same conclusion, that of ultimate surrender to God being the highest discipline in life.

“All purposes that are served by the small pond can at once be served by the great reservoirs of water. Similarly, all the purposes of the Vedas can be served to one who knows the purpose behind them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.46)

How can Vedic literature and the teachers who champion certain scriptures reach the same conclusion when there are different processes outlined? The most common analogy presented to explain the variety in religious systems stemming from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, is to that of a school system containing many grades. While information taught to first grade students is vastly different from the instruction provided to those about to graduate high school, the apparent incongruity itself doesn’t invalidate the teachings provided to those in the lower grades. One who can gradually build upon their knowledgebase formed in the beginning stages can come to the point where they are deemed educated enough to enter the real world. In a similar manner, in spiritual life any process besides full and complete surrender unto the Lord, who is a Personality in His original form, merely serves as a gradual, evolutionary endeavor aimed at progressing towards the highest understanding. Even though a karmi [fruitive worker] or jnani [mental speculator] may take the Absolute Truth to be an entity different from what His actual position is, when the angle of vision becomes purified, the same entity will be viewed in the proper light. Regardless of the angle of vision of the person aspiring to understand the Truth, the Personality of Godhead’s position never changes.

new2[1][2]Another way to understand the direct connection to the ultimate and proper conclusion found in all the different processes of religion is to study the behavior of one of the most famous devotees in history, Prahlada Maharaja. A king in Vedic terminology is referred to as a raja, so Maharaja means a great authority, one who rules a large subsection of the population. Many millions of years ago, a daitya, one descending from the line of the famous Diti, had amassed great power and was ruling over the earth. Named Hiranyakashipu, this king was demoniac by nature, as this was the trait passed down to him by his mother. Diti and Aditi were two famous sisters, with all of Aditi’s sons having devotional characteristics and Diti’s sons being endowed with demoniac tendencies. Despite his family ancestry and his not-so-stellar character, Hiranyakashipu, through the good work of Narada Muni, had a son who took birth as a devotee. Named Prahlada, this enthusiastic little boy refused to take any system of knowledge to be superior to full and complete surrender unto the Personality of Godhead, who is often addressed as Vishnu or Krishna in the Vedic tradition.

As was the case with any young child in a royal family, Prahlada was made to attend the school of the spiritual master, where he was explicitly trained on governmental affairs. His father was a king after all, so Prahlada was expected to follow in the ruler’s footsteps. But when Prahlada would come home and be asked what he learned in school, he would describe the nine different processes of bhakti-yoga and how they are superior to any other engagement. Hiranyakashipu, an atheist and fully devoted servant of maya, or the illusory energy governing the material world, took Vishnu to be his competitor. When one thinks they have become the foremost entity in the world, they rightfully expect to be worshiped. Hiranyakashipu first of all didn’t like Vishnu because the Lord had previously killed his demoniac brother Hiranyaksha. In addition, the daitya king wanted everyone to worship him instead of the Supreme Lord. Therefore Prahlada’s words were like daggers to his heart. After trying his best to get his son to change his ways, Hiranyakashipu finally decided to have his son killed, as no amount of cajoling could turn the boy’s attention away from Vishnu worship.

Prahlada MaharajaThe different methods attempted by Hiranyakashipu to slay his son evoked interesting responses from Prahlada. Since the right to life is a natural one, there is also a right to defend that very life.  Therefore the act of defending oneself against life-threatening attack does not carry any sin. Yet Prahlada was only five years old, so he had no means to fight off the powerful palace guards and their weapons. Prahlada had studied devotion to Vishnu very well from Narada Muni, who had instructed the boy’s mother while the child was still in the womb. Since Narada was carrying the wonderful message of divine love, the sound vibrations he emitted were able to penetrate into Prahlada’s heart, thus allowing him to have the divine qualities at the time of birth. Knowing well of Lord Vishnu’s promise to protect His devotees, every time the demons would take to attacking him, Prahlada would simply fix his mind on the lotus feet of the Lord. Whether he was thrown into a pit of fire, dropped off the cliff of a mountain, or hurled into the ocean and covered with rocks, Prahlada never broke his concentration on the transcendental realm and the beautiful form of its Master for one second. Not surprisingly, he was therefore able to survive each and every attack.

“Even though a person who has no assets in pious activities performs some good deed, it will have no result. Thus the weapons of the demons had no tangible effects upon Prahlada Maharaja because he was a devotee undisturbed by material conditions and fully engaged in meditating upon and serving the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is unchangeable, who cannot be realized by the material senses, and who is the soul of the entire universe.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.41)

We know from the descriptions of these events found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam that throughout the ordeal, Prahlada always thought of Vishnu, prayed to Him, and thus remained devoted to Him without deviation. However, from the perspective of the outsiders, those who don’t understand the divine nature of bhakti and the constitutional makeup of the soul, Prahlada’s behavior can be viewed in different ways. The karmi, one who is attached to fruitive activity, will equate Prahlada’s prayers to those made by the distressed looking for benedictions from the Almighty. Who among us hasn’t prayed to God when we were in trouble? “O Lord, I don’t ask You for much. Can you help me out just this one time? I promise to never ask You for anything again.” Great spiritual leaders around the world who don’t even necessarily follow Vedic teachings preach about the power of prayer and how important it is. Even followers of Vedic tradition can point to the karma-kanda section of the Vedas and the portions within that prescribe demigod worship, or the offering of obeisances to heavenly figures, for procuring material rewards. Under these viewpoints Prahlada appeared to be an ordinary distressed individual looking to God to save his life.

The meditational yogis, those who religiously perform specific gymnastics and breathing exercises aimed at gaining release from attachment to the senses, will view Prahlada as being the greatest yogi. When one practices mysticism properly, wherein the mind is completely focused on the Supersoul residing within the heart and all external elements are blocked off, out-of-body experiences can be easily had. Yogis acquire what are known as siddhis, or perfections. Siddhis allow the yogi to perform miraculous feats, such as increasing and decreasing in stature, holding one’s breath for a long time, and travelling through space while outside of one’s own body. Indeed, a powerful yogi can even enter into another individual’s body and control their thoughts.

Prahlada concentrating on VishnuPrahlada, by concentrating his mind on God during the attacks from the court henchmen, appeared to be expertly performing yoga. Indeed, in the Vishnu Purana it is described that when Prahlada was lying on the bottom of the ocean under the heaviest rocks that were thrown on top of him, he simply focused his mind on the Supreme Lord residing within his heart. Thus he was able to free himself without a problem and return to shore. Prahlada also regularly spoke about the universal appeal and mercy of the Supreme Lord and how He is the ability in all men. Hiranyakashipu, seeing that Prahlada was unbreakable in his transcendental determination and incapable of being killed by him, asked his son where his amazing powers were coming from, for he was a mere child of five years. Prahlada easily could have responded by invoking the name of Vishnu, Krishna, or the Supreme Lord who was well worshiped by him. Indeed, he could have focused on his own devotional efforts and the great mercy that Vishnu had no doubt shown to him. But Prahlada didn’t go down these avenues. Instead, he answered that the source of his strength was the same as that of his father’s. The weapons used by the palace guards in trying to kill Prahlada also had as their source of power the Supreme Lord. In this way Prahlada accurately pointed out the true nature of the Supersoul, the Paramatma expansion of the Absolute Truth residing within the heart of every living entity. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna confirms that He is the ability in man and the compiler of the ultimate knowledge, or Vedanta.

“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, Bg. 15.15)

Those who take meditational yoga, fruitive activity, or impersonal study of the Absolute Truth to be the ultimate engagement in life, though having progressed from the animal mentality inherited at birth, can never understand that the results of activities, spiritual or otherwise, are distributed by the Supersoul, which is a direct copy of Vishnu. Paramatma is not a division, but rather an expansion of the origin of all energy; thus it retains its full capabilities in every instance. The yogi, when viewing Prahlada’s statements pertaining to the equality in strength shared amongst all individuals and witnessing his amazing powers to withstand the severest pain, will take him to be the most powerful mystic, one who has mastered every siddhi. This is also how Shri Hanuman, another brilliant and exalted devotee, is viewed by the yogis who fail to understand the sublime nature of bhakti. Hanuman is the most dear servant of Lord Rama, a warrior prince incarnation of Lord Vishnu who roamed this earth many thousands of years ago. In his service to Rama, Hanuman made use of many yogic siddhis such as the ability to become very large and small. Yet just like Prahlada, Hanuman’s guiding force was divine love, his undying eagerness to please the spiritual senses of the master of all senses, Hrishikesha, which is another name for Vishnu. Those who have not yet reached the platform of intelligence which acknowledges the simultaneous oneness and difference between the individual soul and the Supreme Lord will take Hanuman’s efforts to be merely those of an advanced yogi.

Hanuman meditating on Sita and RamaThe mental speculators, those who believe the highest Truth to be formless and the material nature of the phenomenal world to be false, will respect Prahlada for his supreme wisdom. “Though his spiritual guides tried to teach him about mundane governmental affairs and how to have success in material life, Prahlada had no interest in this. He was so unattached to the false world around him that he couldn’t be bothered by the attacks of the demons. He had essentially merged into Brahman, the light of the Absolute Truth consisting of all living entities.” The impersonalist speculators will take Prahlada’s behavior to be an indication of the superiority of meditation and the sannyasa order, or the life stage of complete renunciation from worldly affairs.

Though there may be different angles of vision that evaluate Prahlada’s behavior, the ultimate conclusion driving his thoughts, ideas and desires does not change. Prahlada himself declares that bhakti-yoga, or devotion to Vishnu, is the most important activity. Whether his behavior bears similarities to karma, jnana or meditational yoga is not relevant to the discussion because the guiding force to his activity was his knowledge that complete, loving service to the Supreme Lord is the only worthy engagement in life. Vishnu Himself validated Prahlada’s firm belief in Him by later appearing on the scene in a half-man/half-lion named Narasimhadeva to kill Hiranyakashipu. When Narasimhadeva was bifurcating Hiranyakashipu on his lap, Prahlada, instead of protesting, offered his beloved Lord, the person who had saved him from calamity after calamity, a garland as a way to thank Him for appearing on the scene.

Narasimhadeva killing HiranyakashipuPrahlada had no desire to survive attacks, perform feats of yoga, or escape the clutches of the temporary world. He simply wanted to always remain connected in thought, word and deed with Vishnu. In the same way, all the authorized Vedic scriptures, those works descending from the original Vedas and which expound on the same original teachings, ultimately reach the same conclusion and provide the same descriptions of the Absolute Truth. Even the Bhagavad-gita, which is the most concise, complete and authorized of all the celebrated Vedic texts, touches on many subjects that don’t seem to have any relation to bhakti. The Bhagavad-gita is so complete in education that many non-devotees in the form of scholars, religionists and miscreants alike have taken to reading this book and putting forth their own theories as to what can be taken away from Krishna’s instructions.

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

There is really no reason for the mystery or confusion surrounding the true meaning behind the wonderful words of advice given on that famous day a long time ago on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The ultimate conclusion of the Gita is stated by Krishna Himself when He advises Arjuna, His cousin and disciple, to simply surrender unto Him and be absolved of all sin. Surrender is not simply a declaration of faith or the performance of a specific ritual. It is a shift in consciousness brought on by dedication to constitutional activities, those which correspond directly with the natural properties of the soul, or one’s dharma. Prahlada and Hanuman exhibited the attitude of divine surrender in their behavior, not just their speech. They were always Krishna conscious, so they naturally achieved all the perfections brought on by the performance of other processes of religion such as fruitive activity and mental speculation. Whether one chooses to focus on reading the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Shrimad Bhagavatam, or a celebrated Purana, the ultimate conclusion of surrender unto God is always present. One has to have the proper eyes acquired through humble submission to a bona fide spiritual master to see how all the pieces of information tie together. Only when one takes to the sublime engagement of devotional service will everything in this world make sense and be seen in its proper relation to the fountainhead of all things matter and spirit, Shri Krishna.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011


Hanuman praying to Rama “How shall I be able to alone see the daughter of Janaka in secret, without anyone seeing me, so that the mission given to me by Shri Rama, who is self-realized, does not get foiled?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.38)

na vinaśyetkathaṃ kāryaṃ rāmasya viditātmanaḥ |

ekāmekaśca paśyeyaṃ rahite janakātmajām

These thoughts of Shri Hanuman, the faithful and powerful Vanara warrior, are quite interesting to note. Faced with a most difficult task, one that would surely bring him fame should he emerge successful, Hanuman’s thoughts remained focused on the interests of the two main parties involved: Sita Devi and her husband Lord Rama, the prince of Ayodhya and a fully-featured incarnation of the original Divine Being in the spiritual sky. Hanuman, knowing that God is all-pervading and that He sees what actions everyone takes up, focused his attention on pleasing the most loveable object in the world, an entity who had kindly bestowed upon him a divine mission. Such a mindset would not only bring Hanuman success in the endeavor, but it would also secure him eternal fame, as Shri Hanuman today remains forever linked with Rama, His wife Sita, and His younger brother Lakshmana.

“One who is equal to friends and enemies, who is equiposed in honor and dishonor, heat and cold, happiness and distress, fame and infamy, who is always free from contamination, always silent and satisfied with anything, who doesn't care for any residence, who is fixed in knowledge and engaged in devotional service, is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.18-19)

Lord KrishnaThe Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago by the same Shri Rama in the form of Lord Krishna, states that one who is equal in both honor and dishonor is very dear to the Lord, a feature which automatically makes them eligible for fame and respect. The title of “saint” and the characteristic of “saintly” are typically applied to those who are kind, generous and show concern for others. The loving propensity, which is a product of the constitutional position of the soul, exists in every person. Not only is there a potential for love, but the resulting affection also visibly manifests in some way or another in every form of life. Even if you take the most brutal dictator, one who is prone to killing millions of his own innocent citizens, there is at least a natural affection harbored towards sons, daughters, and other family members.

As the intensity and scope of the loving feelings increase in the resulting outward behavior, the more esteemed the person becomes. One who loves not only their family members, but also their neighbors and friends is considered to be a good member of the community. One who loves their fellow coworkers and students like their own community members is viewed as even more saintly. Ascending the levels of saintly behavior that are linearly related to the scope of fraternal feeling, we finally reach the platform of sainthood secured by the greatest of welfare workers, those who show their loving propensity to everyone, including the downtrodden, the poor and those deemed to be suffering. In this way we see that the label of sainthood is tied directly to how intense the natural loving propensity of the soul is exhibited through external acts performed by the outer covering of the spirit soul, the body.

If an individual is equal in both honor and dishonor, their behavior and outlook do not depend on the opinions of others. This surely seems like a nice state of mind to achieve, but it is one not very difficult to adopt. We may scoff at the notion that the opinions of others can affect us, but it would be very difficult to find a person whose state of mind isn’t altered in some way or another by the negative opinions and hate speech directed at them. Only the true saint, one who understands the equality shared by all living beings, can remain firmly established in their position of pure consciousness through thick and thin, the good times and the bad, both honor and dishonor alike.

Consciousness is our most dedicated friend, that one thing that no one else can affect or have access to. Certainly our thoughts and desires manifest in the activities that we take up, but at the end of the day, when we are falling asleep at night, our consciousness is the only thing we have to keep us company. Not surprisingly, it is the contamination of the workings of the mind that serves as the greatest impediment towards achieving the ultimate objective in life, that of returning to the spiritual world. The spirit soul within the body forms the basis of identity. When we use terms like “I” and “Mine”, the object of possession is the soul and not the body. We can jump from one body part to another and keep using the term “my” and not be violating any rules of semantics. But if we say “My soul”, we create a logical confusion, as the term “my” already implies the essence of identity, the soul.

Though the soul is eternal, it jumps from one body type to another through the workings of karma. In fact, this constant changing is witnessed within one lifetime, as every day one’s body goes through various changes. Throughout this shift, the identity still remains the same, as the soul does not change. At the time of death, our thoughts and desires developed over the many experiences within the current life are measured, similar to the concept of one’s life flashing before their very eyes, and based on the nature of our consciousness a new body type is provided. When the thoughts at the end of life are focused on the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Divine Being we all know as God, a new spiritual body is crafted. The spiritual form, unlike the material one, bears the properties of bliss and knowledge throughout every sphere; hence no contamination of consciousness can result.

“The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.8)

Lord KrishnaIf one is forced to again take birth in a material body, their consciousness from the previous life travels with them. It is for this reason that individuals exhibit specific behavioral traits in their childhood. One person may be prone to acting piously, while another is always a thorn in the side of the elders. Such natural inclinations are inherited from desires formed during previous time spent in material bodies. A saint is one who understands these subtleties of nature and thus sees everything clearly. Moreover, they understand that in addition to the individual soul residing within the heart, there is also the Supersoul, the eternal witness. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Lord is addressed by thousands of names that identify His numerous features. These names are helpful because they bring tremendous bliss to those who invoke them. “God” is a generic term, sort of a blank canvas that others can paint as they choose; hence the very invocation of this word can cause some to delight and others to scoff. Some have taken God to be an angry man who mercilessly punishes sinners, while others have made Him out to be an order supplier for sense gratification. But the Vedas kindly reveal that in His original form, the Supreme Lord is the greatest well-wisher of every living entity. But this benevolence doesn’t apply to anything material, i.e. anything related to furthering the interests of the perishable body. Rather, the Supreme Person is the foremost object of pleasure, so His association itself serves as the greatest benefit anyone could receive.

Being keenly aware of these facts, the bona fide saint always aims to act in the Lord’s interests. This means that whatever the ultimate reservoir of pleasure asks him to do will get done, or at least a good faith attempt will be made towards the task’s successful completion. Shri Hanuman, who can be considered a saint among many other things, is Lord Rama’s favorite person in the world. Actually, Hanuman is viewed as the favorite individual by many sincere worshipers, for who wouldn’t develop an undying attachment to such a wonderful, heroic and charitable person after hearing about his exploits? Unlike the saints of society who deliver objects of sense gratification to others, Hanuman doesn’t secure anything related to maya, or illusion, to his devotees. Rather, his greatest gift to mankind is the example he sets of perfect execution of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

As the Supersoul, the Supreme Lord expands Himself into a non-different form that resides next to the individual soul in the heart of every living being. Therefore we are never separated from God in a physical sense, just a mental one. This distinction brings us back to the consciousness issue. One whose consciousness is purified realizes the presence of the Supersoul, and thus their behavior does not deviate in any way from the path that seeks to meet the Lord’s interests.

“The Supersoul [antaryami] within everyone's heart speaks not externally but from within. He instructs the devotees in all respects, and that is His way of instruction.” (Ramananda Raya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 8.265)

Vishnu - the SupersoulWhat does God want us to do? It seems that there are so many opinions on this matter. Some declare that God wants everyone to send money to various houses of worship. Doing so will guarantee a better “seat” in the afterlife, entry through the pearly gates of heaven. “The only way to the heavenly realm is through handing over your hard earned cash to a preacher carrying the message of the Lord.” Others similarly concoct their own ideas of what God wants, but we can actually find the real answer by understanding the nature of the Supersoul. Since the Paramatma resides within the heart of every living being, the Supreme Lord is known as antaryami, or the greatest witness. He is conscious of the thoughts, words and deeds of every form of life, existing past, present and future. The Supersoul knows of every action that we take and of every thought, positive and negative, that goes through our mind. Since He already resides within us as the Supersoul, it would be safe to assume that God would want us to associate with Him. This linking between the two souls is known as yoga, and one who can maintain the bond between the soul and the Supersoul all the way up until the time of death will immediately be transferred to the imperishable realm, where God’s association will be experienced and enjoyed for the rest of eternity.

But it’s difficult to understand the presence and nature of the Supersoul without actually seeing Him. The Supersoul is sometimes described as the nirguna form of Brahman, or that which is unmanifest. Guna is a Sanskrit word which can mean “material quality” or “rope”. The Lord is always nirguna, but from the perspective of the living entity, there are differences between the manifest and unmanifest forms. To provide insight into His transcendental nature, the Supreme Lord sometimes descends to earth in spiritual bodies, forms which are referred to as saguna. God is never with material qualities, but the saguna designation is crafted from the perspective of the living being to aid them in their spiritual understanding, similar to how we say that the sun is rising and setting, when in reality its position never changes.

One of the most celebrated saguna forms of the Supreme Spirit, a direct manifestation of the very same Supersoul, is Shri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya who appeared on earth many thousands of years ago during the Treta Yuga. Since God simply wants us to connect with Him through love, it shouldn’t surprise us that Rama created several scenarios where others could offer that affection in an outward manner. One such situation involved the rescue of Rama’s kidnapped wife Sita from the clutches of the Rakshasa demon Ravana. Rather than find Sita Himself, Rama sought the help of a band of Vanaras, forest dwellers who had bodies similar to those of monkeys. The most powerful Vanara was Hanuman, and when on the precipice of finally meeting Sita, he had some very tough decisions to make.

HanumanIn the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, Hanuman is pondering over what the next course of action should be. He has just arrived on the island of Lanka, the home of the demon Ravana and the place where Sita was being held captive. Getting to Lanka was no picnic, as no one else in Hanuman’s party was capable of crossing over the massive ocean that separated the seashore from Ravana’s island. Yet getting to Lanka was only one small piece of the puzzle. Hanuman’s mission was to find Sita, inform her of Rama’s intention to come and save her, and then return the information of Sita’s location to Rama. Obviously Ravana didn’t want anyone to find the beautiful princess, for that was why he kidnapped her through a ruse hatched up in the Dandaka forest.

Being privy to Hanuman’s thoughts, we see that he wasn’t interested in his own glory at all. His only concern was success in the mission, a victory that would lead to the happiness of both Sita and Rama. Hanuman refers to Rama as the knower of the self, or one who is aware of the differences between body and spirit. Moreover, as an incarnation of the Supreme Lord, Rama was the very all-pervading Self, or Paramatma, in a manifested, spiritual form. Therefore Rama was automatically the knower of all individual souls, or atmas. As the all-pervading witness, Rama understands everyone’s disposition and their eternal link to Him. Since Rama is the all-knowing witness, He automatically becomes everyone’s well-wishing friend, a cheerleader of sorts in the sincere soul’s spiritual endeavors. Knowing Rama’s divine nature, Hanuman would have rather quit his body than let down his beloved Lord.

Rama darbar As a true saint, Hanuman’s loving propensity, even during times of duress, is always at the highest level. Sometimes even acts of violence and deceit are required to get a labor of love accomplished, as was the case with Hanuman. He would end up finding Sita and giving her some solace through an otherwise tumultuous and fearful situation. Returning to Kishkindha, Hanuman would relay all the relevant information to Rama and the other monkey warriors. Not surprisingly, Rama would then rescue Sita and destroy Ravana, glorious acts which were aided by the heroic exploits of Hanuman. Hanuman is the greatest of saints because not only does he exhibit his loving propensity to the fullest degree in his service to Rama, but he inspires others to similarly step up to the plate and dedicate their lives to God. Hanuman is the deliverer of fallen souls, and his method of rescue is the holy name of the Lord, which he chants on a regular basis. Anyone who is fortunate enough to think of Hanuman and his glorious exhibitions of transcendental love even one time should consider themselves extremely fortunate. Whoever associates with this divine saint, the carrier of the message of peace, love and eternal felicity emanating from the transcendental world, will never have their spiritual growth retarded in any way. Just as Shri Rama, the eternal witness, is ever worshipable, so is His greatest devotee, Shri Hanuman.