Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Soothing Light

Hanuman thinking of Sita and Rama “How can I ensure that the purpose of my task does not get destroyed? How shall I avoid mental disparity, and how do I ensure that my crossing of the ocean does not go for naught?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.41)

na vinaśyetkathaṃ kāryaṃ vaiklabyam na kathaṃ bhavet |

laṅghanaṃ ca samudrasya kathaṃ nu na vṛthā bhavet

Have you ever forgotten to do something that was very important? Have you ever made a mistake that just seemed inexcusable, a transgression as simple as forgetting to fill up the car with gasoline? These careless mistakes can lead to damaging results, leaving us scratching our heads as to why something so simple could have been overlooked and what could have been done to avoid the mistake. “I can’t believe I let that happen. How on earth could I be so absent-minded? I need to do something in the future to avoid making the same mistakes again.” Invariably, the solutions will involve reminders, hints from friends, and maybe even personal notes left in strategic locations. But if we study the issue a little more closely, we’ll see that the key ingredient to carelessness is the caring itself. When the mind gets diverted to other areas of interest, the initial primary activity immediately takes on a secondary importance, thus increasing the chances of error. Only one individual, one supreme entity, brings about so much sublime pleasure that those who fix their thoughts on Him never get diverted from the tasks that are aimed to please Him.

driver talking on cell phoneA classic example of carelessness is seen with the motorist talking on their cell phone while driving. Operating a motor vehicle is a serious business, as mistakes made on the road can be fatal. While driving on the road, it is very easy to spot another motorist who is not paying attention. The first indication of their lack of awareness is a very low speed in their driving. Generally drivers travel at or above the posted speed limit; so if a car is seen travelling unusually slow on a local road, it is an indication of some problem. The driver may be looking for a particular building or house that they have never visited before, searching for something on the passenger seat, or combing their hair; or perhaps they are simply just poor at driving. In many instances, the motorist is talking on their mobile telephone, or in other words, they are distracted. Such behavior is seen on the fast highways as well, where drivers plant themselves in the left lane, the lane used to pass slower cars, and don’t move out of it. Pretty soon a giant row of cars starts to line up behind the slower driver, and if these obstructed cars are fortunate enough to pass on through the right or middle lanes, they look back at the slow car and notice that the driver is talking on their cell phone.

From the driver’s perspective, talking on the phone is beneficial because it makes the time go by very quickly. Driving is a necessity and not necessarily a pleasant experience. Who would want to sit in traffic all day or have to drive for an extended period of time just to get to work? Working is itself a chore; something we do out of necessity more than desire. Therefore we’ll jump at any opportunity to make the time in the car pass more smoothly. Conversation is arguably the best way to keep the mind engaged, so the motorist on the cell phone enjoys not having to remain conscious of time and the length of their trip.

But an inattentive driver is more prone to accidents and other issues. Therefore it is wiser to remain focused on the task at hand than to divert the mind towards other interests. This principle holds true in virtually every sphere of life where attention to detail is required. Carelessness and recklessness only come about through a diversion in desires, the mind wandering off in a direction not related to the present realm of activity. The only surefire way to remain focused on the task at hand through its completion is to develop a sincere desire to adopt that activity.

Lord KrishnaIn order for desire to remain active, the end-goal, the soothing light at the end of the tunnel, must bring a supremely tangible benefit. No one takes to activity that will knowingly harm them in the end. Even self-destructive behavior has an end-goal of seeing some type of favorable condition. Therefore the higher the pleasure, the greater the desire will be to perform the activity. The more intense the desire, the greater the attention to detail there will be. No reward is higher than the association of the Supreme Divine Entity, that person who provides the most pleasure to the pleasure-seekers.

Labeling this person as God is too simplistic an identification. In the Vedic tradition the original Divine Entity is known by three primary characteristics. He is the original proprietor of everything; so all the possessions that we lay claim to actually belong to Him. This makes sense because at the time of birth we are penniless and without any possessions. Just because we find objects of matter or are given them through the exchange of work and money doesn’t mean that we can claim to be original owners of anything. The Supreme Lord, as the Almighty Creator, holds the property rights to every object of matter, which is nothing more than a manifestation of His external energy.

The Supreme Lord’s second feature is that He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. Presently service is offered to ourselves, friends, family, coworkers, children, pets, paramours and communities. Each recipient of our service can be considered an object whose pleasure we seek. But God is so sublime that He is the most inclusive and largest reservoir of pleasure, for He accepts the humble service of every living entity inhabiting the innumerable universes. This fact firmly establishes Him as the only entity worth serving.

The Lord is also the best friend of every living entity. This feature ties the other two together. From these facts we can deduce that the most sublime engagement in life is to take whatever possessions we have and use them for the pleasure of the reservoir of all energy. Since He is our best friend, God’s pleasure automatically equates to increased happiness for us. In this way the activities of transcendental love bring about the highest rewards, the most spectacular enjoyment. Those who are keenly aware of these properties never get diverted in their business. They remain fixed in the constitutional activities that are bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

HanumanOnly those who are firmly fixed in bhakti can avoid recklessness at all times. Carelessness comes from not caring one hundred percent about the activity that one is engaged in. If the Supreme Lord, whose original form is known as Krishna, provides full sweetness to the living entity, there is no chance that other “cares” will take precedence in the engagement of bhakti. Similarly, through the strong bond formed to the transcendental world and its proprietor, mental disparity, anguish, lamentation, and other ill conditions brought on by the mind can be avoided. Full knowledge of the beauty and supremacy of the Supreme Lord keeps the mind firmly interested in meeting the objectives of the most important mission. Shri Hanuman’s behavior in the enemy territory of Lanka perfectly illustrates this fact. Many thousands of years ago, a divine creature, one in the form of a monkey, took up bhakti-yoga by directly serving the Supreme Lord, who had appeared on earth in human form as Shri Rama.

This faithful servant of Rama, or Ramadutta, known by the name of Hanuman, was given the task of infiltrating a formidable enemy’s home territory and locating a missing princess, the wife of Lord Rama, Sita Devi. Hanuman braved his way across the massive ocean and reached the outskirts of Lanka. But now the battle was really beginning. How was he going to get into Lanka without being noticed? What type of form would be both beneficial in masking his appearance and allowing for keen observation?

HanumanFrom the above quoted passage of the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman was indeed concerned with all of these issues. He especially wanted to avoid mental disparity, or carelessness, for that would squander any opportunity to find Sita. In actuality, just the mere fact that Hanuman was worried about being careless is proof enough that he can never behave in a way that diverts his attention from serving the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord. Rama had created this situation so that Hanuman would have an opportunity to act out his pure love for God. A general without a mission is never happy, for the important title he owns loses its meaning unless it can be acted upon. In the same way, a lover of God needs an outlet for their emotions, a way to exhibit their love for the ultimate reservoir of pleasure.

To those who are sincere enough, Krishna provides all the opportunities for service. Since Hanuman was engaged in an activity that was to bring him the highest pleasure, his mind never diverted to other areas of interest. He had no reason to think of anything or anyone else, for in his mind the rewards resulting from activities devoid of devotion to God paled in comparison to the ultimate benediction of seeing the Supreme Lord and His wife happy. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would figure everything out and be able to successfully enter Lanka and find Sita. Returning back to Rama with his intelligence information acquired through great difficulty, Hanuman would later come back to Lanka with Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and a massive army of monkeys. They would soundly defeat the king of Lanka, Ravana, and all his associates, rescuing Sita in the process.

Rama DarbarThe mood of devotional service exhibited by Hanuman is actually every single person’s natural proclivity. Only when acting in divine love can we avoid the pitfalls of carelessness and recklessness. In an activity that brings about the highest pleasure, there is no need for distraction or assuaging the passage of time. But since we are so accustomed to adopting subordinate activities, in the beginning stages of devotional life there must be strict attention paid to particular behavior and actions. The most effective exercise of bhakti is the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

“From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the Self.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.26)

Revisiting the example of driving a car, it can be asked how taking to bhakti will help us avoid carelessness on the road. The chanting of the holy names of the Lord is the most potent form of religious practice because it brings about a change in consciousness. Contrary to prevailing thought, happiness is not determined by the size of one’s bank balance, the amount of material possessions, or the nature of personal interactions. Rather, happiness is directly tied to consciousness, or thought processes. One who can control the mind through steady practice in bhakti can unlock the secret to eternal bliss.

Lord KrishnaSince Krishna, or any one of His non-different expansions for that matter, is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, thoughts fixed on His lotus feet or His activities naturally brings tremendous bliss to the mind. One whose consciousness is always focused on the Lord’s form, pastimes and attributes will be in a happy state. Yet since we have so many activities to perform to maintain our body, it is easy to withdraw from this purified consciousness. Therefore the highest authorities, especially the acharya of the chanting of the holy name, Shrila Haridasa Thakura, say that the Lord’s name is His most powerful feature. Unlike the other individual aspects of God, the name automatically awakens thoughts of the Lord’s pastimes, attributes and forms. Indeed, Goswami Tulsidas remarks that the form of God that one keeps in the mind and the form that one outwardly worships in the temple or in person are like the top and bottom of a jewelry box, while the name itself is the jewel. As such, the name can be invoked anywhere to remember and associate with other features of the Lord. The name is non-different from God Himself.

HanumanThus the best way to avoid distraction is to chant the holy names as often as possible. God has thousands of names, each of which addresses a specific transcendental feature. There is no requirement that one exclusively chant Rama and Krishna, for reciting any authorized name regularly can bring about the same shift in consciousness. But Lord Chaitanya, the most merciful incarnation of Godhead, has specifically empowered the names of Krishna and Rama found in the famous maha-mantra. Therefore those who chant this sacred formula on a regular basis will have the best chance at permanently shifting their consciousness towards a sublime state. Whether driving in the car, working in the office, taking care of children, or even sleeping, holding on to the holy name for dear life is our only hope for success. Those who respect the sound vibration representation of the Supreme Spirit and treat it like the valuable jewel that it is will never have to worry about carelessness or failure in any important endeavor.

To this day Hanuman always chants the glories of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. Therefore it is not surprising to see that he is a celebrated figure of the Vedic tradition, one who is ever-worthy of our love, adoration and respect. Hanuman never fails in his tasks because he always works in the interests of Rama. There is never a chance of carelessness because Hanuman doesn’t concern himself with anything except Rama’s happiness. Since the Lord is the best friend of the living entities, His happiness results in the pleasure of others, just as the water poured on the root of the tree nourishes all the branches and leaves. The Supreme Lord is kind enough to reside within our heart as the Supersoul. Those who realize His presence can understand their inherent link to God and the affectionate relationship that exists. The Lord never stops being our friend, and through adopting bhakti as a way of life, we can remember this fact every day.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Get Up

Shri Shri Nimai Nitai “As expressed in a song by Thakura Bhaktivinoda, Lord Chaitanya says, jiva jaga, jiva jaga. The Lord asks every sleeping living entity to get up and engage in devotional service so that his mission in this human form of life may be fulfilled. This awakening voice comes through the mouth of a pure devotee.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.20.25 Purport)

If the recipient of knowledge is actively engaged throughout the learning process, the teaching techniques will be all the more effective and the information being transmitted will be assimilated much more quickly. For the disengaged student, a steady inflow of instruction will lose its power to effect change after a short period of time, as a wall will be erected around the mind that causes new information to simply bounce off without being absorbed. An effective teacher is one who can elicit responses from their students throughout the teaching process, thus allowing the student to feel that they are alive and making real progress. Not only does knowledge best transmit through these techniques, but so do natural emotions of love and attachment. Simply sitting idly by and observing can certainly evoke the natural loving spirit, but the emotion is enhanced further by an active engagement, where explicit tasks are performed for the pleasure of the loveable object. Such intricacies were not lost to one of the greatest spiritual preachers this world has ever seen. Knowing full well the human psyche and the tendencies of loving emotions, His method of teaching the highest truths of the Vedas, whose most potent message says that Divine Love is the superior engagement for all forms of life, was tailored to appeal to every single person, across every single land.

chalkboardAs is quite obvious to the sober individual, people are born with specific characteristics, tendencies and appearances which aren’t uniform from person to person. Since every person is born with different natures, they will take to learning in different ways. Therefore students in a classroom will behave according to their nature, with some being eager to learn and some not paying any attention at all. This latter group is noteworthy, because even though a student is sitting in a classroom and taking instruction from a bona fide teacher, if their heart and mind aren’t into the subject matter, they won’t learn anything. The ants and the flies are also in the classroom, but since they lack the potential for intelligence and the sense awareness to pay attention to what is being spoken, they do not benefit in any way from the kind instructions of the teacher. When the human being, through distractions of the mind or through simple apathy, ignores what they are hearing in a classroom dedicated to teaching an important subject, there is no benefit received.

The good teachers are fully aware of these tendencies, so they will try their best to keep their students awake, giving them opportunities to participate and show what they have learned. The unruly students, those who are comfortable in their inactive position, may not take too well to this teaching method, but despite their grumblings, they end up better off for having participated. The hearing process is supremely effective in knowledge transmittal because it elicits argument and analysis of philosophy within the mind of the recipient. A challenge to the thought processes of the brain immediately will trigger counterarguments and deep thought, causing the listener to think wisely before retorting. The more one argues in this way, the more sound their base of reasoning becomes, and thus the higher their level of intelligence reaches.

Mother Yashoda and KrishnaThe benefits of active participation are not limited to the arena of instruction. Having a steady stream of purposeful activity also helps to keep an emotional attachment to one’s loveable object. For instance, parents love their children, but if the kids weren’t in need of help, the strength of that love would be diminished. The natural loving spirit is there, but if not acted upon, other forces, which are brought on by the demands of the senses, can take precedence. Therefore it is seen that infancy is the time in the child’s life where it receives the most love from others. Parents huddle around the child, make funny faces at it, speak in broken words, and always love to pick up the child and carry it around. Even changing dirty diapers isn’t frowned upon because it brings another opportunity for the natural loving spirit to be shown. When the child grows up, the loving propensity in the caretakers is still there, but it is not allowed to be acted upon in the same way. The point of becoming an adult is to mature into a self-sufficient individual capable of taking care of one’s needs. Therefore, by definition, when the child gets older the opportunities for service diminish for the parents and elderly relatives. When the opportunities for service are there, the potential of the loving emotion is fully realized.

Not only is the hearing process effective when instruction is passed on in a classroom or through a lecture, but it also proves a formidable force when the same information is presented through a song. Hence some of the most popular celebrities are song writers, singers and rock bands. If we simply hear a song on the radio, it can remain stuck in our heads for the next few days, with the words constantly repeating. Instead of waiting to turn on the radio to hear the station playing your song, you can just have it playing within your mind all the time. The catchy song, one full of hooks and other techniques aimed at grabbing the attention of the listener, creates a strong bond between the fan of the music and the artist who composed and performed it.

rock concertThe loving experience between the fan and the artist is enhanced during the rock concert or live performance. There is really no reason to attend a live concert other than to increase the enjoyment felt from association with the music. After all, the band will be playing the same songs that are recorded on their albums. Indeed, the album versions of the songs are arguably the best sounding ones, as great care was taken to ensure the accuracy of the performance and the acoustics of the various instruments. The studio engineer can also perform many tricks, such as multi-tracking and fading, that can’t be duplicated during a live performance.

Fans will flock to see their favorite bands play around the world because the live experience brings an exchange of emotion, one party offering their love and another party accepting it. Simply by stepping out on stage and playing the songs from their albums, the rock band can enjoy tremendous adulation and favor from the members of the audience. The crowd members paid a good deal of money to sit in the seats and listen to the band play after all, so the band really isn’t obligated to do much beyond just playing the songs correctly. The fans already like the songs, so what need is there to expend any extra effort?

Yet the intelligent artists, those who are keenly aware of what it takes to keep the flame of love alive within the body, will carefully craft their show to include sections of crowd participation, wherein a oneness is created between the band members and the audience. The singular powerful entity is created from the relationship that results, not from an equality in abilities or actions. The band will always be the band, so they will not allow crowd members to all of a sudden take to playing all the songs. Rather, there is an intimate bond shared when the fans are allowed to feel like they are part of the show and contributing to the uniqueness of the atmosphere.

To the band member on stage, nothing causes more exhilaration and thrill than to see the audience members singing along to the songs. As such, the wise performing artists will purposefully create breaks in songs, allowing the crowd to further act upon their singing desires. For instance, the famous rock band Def Leppard during the early 1980s would create a long break in their songs Another Hit and Run and Rock of Ages, wherein the tempo would be slowed down and the sound of the guitars subdued. The whole point was to have the singer talk to the crowd and get them to scream as loud as they could at various intervals. The singer would lead the charge and the audience members would respond. After a few minutes of this call-and-response exchange, the rest of the song would continue. Indeed, many other rock bands employ similar techniques to allow the crowd to sing along and feel part of the show. The songs that are most conducive to this type of interaction are staples in the live performances, as Metallica’s famous anthem Seek and Destroy now concludes every show, for the crowd participation is at its peak during this song.

“Intelligent persons factually take a dip in the ocean of Your nectarean activities and very patiently hear of them. Thus they immediately become freed from the contamination of the material qualities; they do not have to undergo severe penances and austerities for advancement of spiritual life.” (Prayers of the personified Vedas, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 32)

Krishna and His activities The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, very accurately note that the most effective way to take in information is through hearing. As such, the Vedic scriptures, works which contain the highest truths, are presented in poetry form. The fact that the Vedas can be sung makes them all the more astounding considering the deep import and knowledge that is contained within. The Bhagavad-gita, which is arguably the most famous religious work in the world, is known as the “Song of God”, as it was sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, to His dear cousin and disciple Arjuna.

Simply singing the Vedas is enough to make a dent with the listening public, those who may or may not realize that their highest dharma, or occupational duty, is to take to devotional service to God, wherein the natural loving spirit meets the one object capable of accepting and reciprocating an endless amount of affection. Only in the divine engagement of bhakti-yoga can each day bring new and fresh opportunities for service that keep the fire of devotion ever lit within the devoted individual. But there is a difficulty in understanding the Vedas for the people of this age because of the issue of language. What to speak of for ordinary men, the Vedic hymns and writings, which are composed mostly in the Sanskrit language, are difficult to comprehend for even those familiar with the languages used, as Sanskrit is known as the language of the gods, meaning it is meant for the highest class of individuals.

Lord Chaitanya and associates Not to worry, though, as the Vaishnava saints appearing in the Kali Yuga come to rescue the fallen conditioned souls at all costs, without worrying about the limits imposed by language, time or circumstance. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the greatest exponent of bhakti, put forth a flawless technique aimed at teaching the masses about love of the Supreme Godhead. It should be noted that knowledge, eternality and bliss reside permanently within the soul; these qualities don’t need to be taught, imbibed or forced. In the conditioned state, the internal torchlight of knowledge gets covered up by the nescience of the material world. By taking to activities which are seemingly knowledge-acquiring, one’s supreme intelligence is allowed to come free. Hence taking instruction from teachers is really more about reawakening knowledge than it is about learning new concepts.

Just as knowledge perpetually exists with the soul, so does love for God. The key to eliciting loving responses from the general public is to find a way to arouse the natural endearment that is harbored for the Supreme Spirit, who is addressed by different names in different times but still remains a singular entity. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Lord is known as Krishna, a word which speaks to God’s all-attractive nature. Since every soul is a lover of God, it would make sense to describe the Lord as being supremely attractive. Not only is Krishna beautiful, but so are the words that describe Him and the songs that detail His exploits and His wonderful characteristics.

!Bi8LHOwBGk~$(KGrHqUH-DkEs 2qnryPBLRcEE6usw~~_3 Lord Chaitanya, Krishna Himself appearing on earth in the guise of a brahmana around five hundred years ago, introduced the sankirtana-yajna, or the sacrifice of chanting the holy names of God in a congregational manner, as the most potent and universal method of self-realization for the people of the Kali Yuga, the age we currently live in. Simply singing the verses of the Bhagavad-gita and other Vedic texts is certainly enough to deliver the mind to some extent, as the powerful sound vibrations heard from pure devotees enter the ear and immediately start to attack the wall of nescience brought on by material contact. But from the example of the student in the classroom, we saw that if information stops making sense and that if there is no active response from the mind, no amount of hearing will make any dent with the listener. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, always concerned about the well-being of His students, which consist of every man, woman and child past, present and future, introduced a process which keeps the audience member, the potential student and future lover of Krishna, always actively engaged, feeling alive throughout the process.

The bhajan, or devotional song, is the next step up from the direct singing of the Vedas. The bhajan is often composed in a dialect native to the people of a particular area, thus allowing the truths of the Vedas to be presented in a more appealing form, one that is easily understandable. Since the bhajan is nicely sung, it exudes the symptoms of pure love found in the singer and the author of the songs. Though the bhajan is a step up from simple hearing of truths and lectures expounding on the greatness of Krishna, sankirtana, the method enthusiastically recommended by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, is even more effective.

Lord Chaitanya dancing in sankirtana Just as the rock band creates breaks in their live performance to allow for audience participation, the leader of the sankirtana party sings songs in such a way that the listeners are not only allowed to sing along, but they are wholly encouraged to participate as much as possible. To increase the effectiveness of sankirtana, the leader needs a song, or a tag line, that can be easily understood by the listener which, at the same time, accurately conveys the qualities of the Lord and the benefits of devotional service to Him. There is no more superior aspect to Krishna than His names. The name automatically evokes thoughts and memories of His pastimes, qualities and attributes. All other direct aspects of God are surely spiritual, but they do not carry the same potency as the name. The song sung by the sankirtana party leader must include these names in order to effectively evoke Krishna consciousness, or remembrance of God, within the listener.

As instituted by Lord Chaitanya, the most potent tag line, the most powerful and effective song for any sankirtana leader, is the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By singing this song out loud in a call-and-response format, the audience members are allowed to sing along as loudly as they can. Moreover, there is no explicit break to the singing, as the song doesn’t include any other tag line, beginning, end, bridge, guitar solo, etc. Though one would think such a style of music would become monotonous, the sankirtana party leaders and their audience members that dance and sing in ecstasy remain in a high fever of transcendental love for a very long time. No other exchange of song or music style bears such properties. Lord Chaitanya, as the inaugurator of the sankirtana movement, kindly beseeches everyone to get up, leave their seats and move their feet at the sound of the message of transcendental love, universal brotherhood and full dedication to God espoused in the short, simple, but supremely effective phrase of the maha-mantra. Joining Lord Chaitanya in this never-ending song, our hearts and minds can merge into the ocean of transcendental bliss, where there is never any disconnect from the Supreme Lover, Shri Krishna.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Three Questions

Shri Rama in Hanuman's heart “How can I ensure that the purpose of my task does not get destroyed? How shall I avoid mental disparity, and how do I ensure that my crossing of the ocean does not go for naught?” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.41)

na vinaśyetkathaṃ kāryaṃ vaiklabyam na kathaṃ bhavet |

laṅghanaṃ ca samudrasya kathaṃ nu na vṛthā bhavet

The Sundara-kanda of the Ramayana is named as such because of the beauty of the sound vibrations contained within this most wonderful section. More than just music or lyrical poetry, the sounds of this specific portion of one of India’s most sacred and revered texts describe the exploits, thoughts and graceful nature of one of the most celebrated divine figures in history: Shri Hanuman. The beauty of this chapter can be, in fact, attributed entirely to Hanuman’s prominent role in it, his substantial presence in the true story of a lifetime. With the above referenced passage the higher authorities have kindly allowed us to be privy to Hanuman’s thoughts just prior to his commencement of the most difficult task in his mission, a job which no ordinary human being, or celestial for that matter, would be up to. Despite the difficulty of the mission, success would surely come, as that is the destiny for the Lord’s beautiful and beloved friends.

HanumanLord Hanuman, though in the outward form of a monkey, first appeared on this earth many thousands of years ago for a specific purpose. The Supreme Lord of humanity, the entity we all know as God, personally descended from His spiritual abode to enact wonderful pastimes on the earthly planet, allowing the illusioned human beings and animals a chance to get a glimpse of the form of the original Divine Being. God is always with us, even if we may be in the dark about His presence and His position as the all-pervading witness, antaryami. Through His expansion as the Supersoul, a manifestation that is often considered unmanifest or without visible qualities [nirguna], God resides within the heart of each life form. Through the remembering process that is at the core of the discipline of yoga, one can try to connect with the Supersoul and feel His presence. But as is evident from most engagements, interaction with an outward appearance always proves more helpful, as that is how we identify everything else in life. A meditational yogi may be very attracted by things that are invisible, or alakshya, but he nevertheless still identifies with his body and the bodies of others. If ordinary individuals have outward forms that are visible, why can’t the Supreme Lord?

When such a visible form appears on earth, it comes solely for the benefit of the eyes. Indeed, there is no purpose to having the power of sight other than to gaze at the Supreme Lord’s form, understand His true nature, and then subsequently view everything in life with the proper vision. The manifested form of the Supreme Lord is always transcendental, and thus it is not subject to the laws of nature. God created nature and all its intricate and complex workings, so how could He be subject to the influences of natural forces? In the outward dress of a warrior prince, Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord, roamed the earth alongside His younger brother Lakshmana, wife Sita Devi and many other associates. It is said that the blissful energy which empowered the exalted demigods Lord Brahma and Lord Shiva through a single drop could be found in such abundance in the town of Ayodhya, the place where Rama first appeared and then later ruled over, that the land and the residents were swelling over with blissful delight, such is the power of pure devotion to God. Yet the purpose of the Lord’s appearance wasn’t strictly to mesmerize others, though this certainly occurred, as was evident during Rama’s visit to the kingdom of Videha in His youth. The king of the town, Maharaja Janaka, was known as Videha due to his expertise of meditational yoga. “Deha” refers to the body, and Videha is one who has transcended the effects of the senses brought on by the body. Janaka was thus known as one incapable of being swayed by emotion, good or bad.

Rama and LakshmanaKing Janaka had a beautiful daughter whom he needed to get married off. A pious king will reap great scorn and ridicule from others should he keep his daughter unprotected in her adult years. For his daughter Sita’s nuptials, Janaka decided on holding a bow-lifting contest, wherein the winner would get Sita’s hand in marriage. Rama and Lakshmana, though young at the time, were roaming the neighboring forests with the venerable Vishvamitra Muni, protecting his sacrifices from the attacks of demons. At the behest of Vishvamitra, the two brothers entered the kingdom of Videha and met Janaka. The residents of the town were totally mesmerized by seeing Rama and Lakshmana. They would talk amongst themselves of how even Lord Brahma, the progenitor of all life on earth and the first created living entity, couldn’t ever dream of creating two such beautiful human beings. This speaks to the high knowledge possessed by the town’s residents. The soul is the driving force to the movements of matter, so the body is simply a constructed dwelling for the soul, a structure which is created, maintained and then ultimately destroyed. Seeing Rama and Lakshmana’s beauty, the residents couldn’t imagine anyone creating such wonderful forms. It is said that even the townspeople became “Videha” by seeing Rama and Lakshmana, for they had “out of body” experiences through their transcendental bliss. This is indeed the behavior exhibited by those who see God personally and harbor great affection for Him. It is said that Janaka even couldn’t understand who the two brothers were, for he thought maybe they were the same impersonal energy called Brahman he had meditated on. “Perhaps they are the same Brahman appearing in two beautiful forms”, he thought, thus proving that the bliss and delight that comes from the divine vision is higher than even the understanding of the all-pervading nature of the Absolute Truth, which itself is simply a light emanating from the Lord’s original transcendental body.

Capturing the hearts and minds of the sincere souls by giving His darshana is certainly nice, but the Lord knows an even higher transcendental emotion is evoked when direct service is offered to Him. This was the opportunity given to Hanuman and a select few others. After Rama would win the bow contest, Sita would be married to Him, and twelve years into their marriage the couple would have to roam the forests as exiles. Of course Lakshmana came with them, as he refused to live without Rama. Lakshmana, though a warrior prince just like his brothers, had only one dharma, or occupational duty in life, that of serving Rama.

Sita and Rama marriageWhile in the forest, Sita would be taken away by the powerful Rakshasa named Ravana through a backhanded plot. This incident served two purposes. It gave Rama an outward excuse to go after the enemy king, and it also served as an opportunity for others to enlist in the service of the transcendent Lord. Forming an alliance with the monkey-king Sugriva, Rama and Lakshmana were assured of finding Sita through the help of the army of monkeys. This eager pack of forest dwellers was led by Hanuman, an individual who is as dear to Rama as anyone. Hanuman, though formally a minister in Sugriva’s kingdom, was a pure soul from the time of his birth, a dedicated devotee of God in every thought, word and deed.

This dedication would be proved on many occasions, including during Hanuman’s entry into Lanka. Ravana lived on an island far away from any mainland, so it was very difficult, if not impossible, for any ordinary person to reach its shores. But Hanuman was no ordinary person. He assumed a massive form and jumped across the ocean to reach the island. Yet getting to Lanka was only half the battle. Now he had to figure out a way to infiltrate the enemy territory without being noticed. The last thing Hanuman wanted to do was fail, for he took Rama’s orders to be his life and soul.

Hanuman crossing the oceanIn the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see evidence of Hanuman’s conscientious nature. He is asking himself three simple questions that, if answered properly, will always lead to success in a mission. He first asks himself how he can continue on without foiling the purpose of his work. This speaks to the workings of passionate activity. We may start an endeavor with a specific goal in mind, but there are many distractions that come along the way, allurements of every kind. For example, we may take up the task of building a house, and halfway through it we think that it’d be nice to change some of the plans. “Maybe I should install another bathroom. Ooh, it would be great to have a nice garden in the backyard, with maybe a deck right next to it. Let me get started on building the deck.” Obviously worrying about ancillary items will only divert attention away from the task at hand, that of building the house. In Hanuman’s case, he easily could have gotten distracted by wanting to fight the Rakshasas guarding the outskirts of Lanka. After all, they were partners to one of the worst crimes perpetrated in history. Ravana and anyone who served him was worthy of the harshest punishment. Hanuman, as a most powerful fighter, easily could have destroyed all of these enemies, but this wasn’t the mission. From his thoughts we see that he didn’t want to get distracted from the task at hand, that of finding Sita.

Hanuman’s next question is sort of humorous. He asks himself what can be done to avoid mental disparity, which can also mean recklessness or thoughtlessness. The Vanaras are a type of human-like monkey race, with the monkey traits dominating the human-like abilities. A human being is unique in its potential for intelligence, so in this case Hanuman is trying to avoid letting his monkey side take over. A monkey is known for being uncontrolled in its eating, drinking and mating habits. Those who have visited India are well aware of the fact that monkeys roaming the villages have no problem coming up to you and stealing your food. This is their nature after all. Hanuman was always worried about letting his monkey tendencies take over. This thought process only further enhances his stature, for it is a well-known fact that Hanuman is a completely transcendental figure, not subject to any of the deficiencies borne of his body-type.

HanumanHanuman wanted to avoid recklessness because acting without thinking is the quickest way to foil a mission. Going back to the house-building example, if we neglected to be thoughtful while building a certain portion of the house, the entire foundation could be destroyed. Say one day we showed up to the job intoxicated and decided to work on putting in a certain beam or other foundational piece. In the intoxicated state, there is less attention paid to detail, so the chances of making a mistake are increased. If the beam is erected improperly, or if some other piece vital to the foundation is destroyed through careless use of power tools, the hard work previously performed can go for naught. In Hanuman’s case, thoughtlessness could jeopardize Sita’s safety and Rama’s chances of ever seeing her again. Thoughtlessness can also come from mental disparity, or anxiety. Say we are building our house and working towards its completion. If we start lamenting that the work is too difficult or that we’ll never finish, obviously our chances for success will be hampered. Similarly, Hanuman did not want any temporary setbacks or potential roadblocks dampening his enthusiasm for finishing the mission.

Hanuman’s third question brings together the previous two. He wants to make sure that his now celebrated feat of leaping across the ocean doesn’t go to waste. As a living entity Hanuman is not ordinary in any way and neither are his exhibitions of strength and courage. Leaping across an expansive ocean is an unheard of task for a human being, let alone a monkey; hence the tendency for unintelligent scholars and non-devotees to label the events of the Ramayana as mythology. When extraordinary land masses such as planets can float on their own in outer space, what’s to stop an individual from leaping across an ocean? The only aspects of the Ramayana that can give the hint of mythology are the exalted characters and their level of devotion to Shri Rama. Hanuman’s dedication, love, kindness, thoughtfulness and pure devotion offered to Rama are qualities rarely found in any person. Thus it would be natural to think that Hanuman doesn’t exist or that he never roamed this earth. But from the behavior of the keepers of the faith, those who pass on the traditions of the Ramayana and other ancient Vedic texts, we can understand that pure devotees certainly do exist, and they roam the earth to this day. They are proof positive that, though rarely seen, wonderful, worshipable figures of the likes of Hanuman are real in every way.

Hanuman with Rama and LakshmanaIf Hanuman’s mission were to be foiled at such a late stage, the great feat of leaping across the ocean wouldn’t mean anything. It is similar to how an individual athlete may have a great performance in a particular game, but if their team doesn’t win, the effort goes for naught. If a baseball player hits three homeruns in a game but then makes an error in the ninth inning to cost his team victory, the homeruns turned out to be meaningless. Similarly, Hanuman, always desiring Rama’s interests, never wanted to waste all the efforts he had previously put in towards the ultimate victory.

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

So how did the events play out? Was Hanuman able to answer these questions and achieve success? Of course he was, as such a sincere servant of the Supreme Lord is never defeated. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the original form of the Personality of Godhead, states that He is the ability in man. As spirit souls, we make the choice as to how we want to interact with nature, but the results of our actions are distributed by higher authorities. Hanuman was engaged in the most sublime business of serving the Lord, so Shri Rama ensured his success in the venture. Unlike with material endeavors, acts of dedication and love that fall under the umbrella of devotional service never go in vain. There was no opportunity for Hanuman to fail, but the questions he posed to himself just served to further enhance his glory. Hanuman never thinks himself to be God, though he possesses all godly qualities. He never thinks himself to be the ultimate object of worship, though as Rama’s dear servant he is indeed worthy of eternal worship. Hanuman never thinks himself to be unbeatable in battle, though from his exploits we can understand that no one can stand against him in any fight. Hanuman is always worried about failing to please Shri Rama, but as we know from the famous Rama Darbar picture, Hanuman is always with Rama in thought, word and deed.

For us mere mortals roaming the earth in human form, the task at hand is quite simple: become God conscious by the end of life. One who thinks of the Lord at the time of death will automatically be granted liberation and thus return to the spiritual sky, where a permanent, transcendental and blissful body will be assumed. The path to achieving this shift in consciousness is laid down by the great acharyas of this age, started by Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the preacher incarnation of God. He has empowered one specific sequence of Sanskrit words with the ability to grant liberation to all persons, men and women alike. This string of words is known as the maha-mantra, and by regularly chanting it, all yogic perfections, all material opulence, and most importantly, all successes required in life will be achieved fairly quickly. “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” is Lord Chaitanya’s favorite formula, and He has specifically tasked all of us with chanting this mantra and kindly making it available to others.

Lord ChaitanyaFrom Hanuman’s example we see that even the most exalted divine figures remain conscientious at every step. We too should periodically ask the same three questions that Hanuman posed to himself prior to entering Lanka. Before taking on any important action, consideration should be made about the task at hand and the relation of the potential action to the final goal. The primary aim of life, becoming God conscious, should never suffer as the result of any action. In this way anything favorable towards the performance of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, should be accepted, and anything unfavorable should be rejected. Secondly, recklessness should always be avoided; hence the requirement for abstaining from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. These four activities are considered the most reckless because of the damage they inflict on the mission of life. Sinful activities solidify the wall of nescience enveloping the consciousness of the conditioned living entity, causing him to lament over even the most meaningless defeats. Finally, all the hard work that we put in, such as chanting, hearing and talking about God, should not go to waste through ill-conceived plans. Consciousness is a force that gets regularly fueled by activity. When conditioned activities are adopted, those actions which have no relation to the ultimate mission in life, the energy of spiritual consciousness gradually diminishes in the current life. Therefore care should be taken to avoid depleting the stock of spiritual energy gathered through activities in bhakti.

“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.40)

Hanuman Anyone who makes a sincere effort at connecting with the Supreme Spirit will never be a loser. If we are unfortunately not successful in perfecting God consciousness in this life, we get to resume our efforts in the next life from the same position that we left off. This speaks to the merciful and magnanimous nature of Hanuman’s Lord. Just as He ensured Hanuman’s success in every beautiful venture he took up, Shri Rama will make sure that we ultimately succeed in life’s mission, provided our motives are pure.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The Saintly Class

Lord Krishna “Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto Lord Krishna, who is the worshipable Deity for all brahminical men, who is the well-wisher of cows and brahmanas, and who is always benefiting the whole world. I offer my repeated obeisances to the Personality of Godhead, known as Krishna and Govinda.” (Vishnu Purana, 1.19.65)

The brahmana is the highest of the four divisions of social orders instituted by the Supreme Lord for the general welfare of the population desperately needing control and adherence to religion in their day-to-day affairs. The word “brahmana” references the fact that the member of the highest caste is familiar with Brahman, or the impersonal, visually unmanifest, all-pervading aspect of the Absolute Truth. Brahman is spirit, and that which is not Brahman is considered maya, or illusion. A trained eye, one that takes full shelter of the information of the shastras, is required to be able to correctly view all forms of life as being equal, part and parcel of the Supreme Absolute Truth. More than any other specific task assigned them, the brahmanas, as the highest and most respected members of society, must be worshipers of Lord Vishnu, the four-handed, ever-opulent and all-pervasive personal form of the Supreme Lord residing in the spiritual sky. In the absence of Vishnu-worship, the brahmana does not make the most of his potential, as his knowledge remains stalled on the Brahman platform. At this elevated stage of thought, the light of transcendence is seen, but the source of the energy remains invisible. But the brahmana who does properly worship Vishnu, or His non-different forms such as the vishnu-avataras and the original personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, not only reaches the peak of knowledge acquisition but also performs the greatest benefit for society.

“According to the three modes of material nature and the work ascribed to them, the four divisions of human society were created by Me. And, although I am the creator of this system, you should know that I am yet the non-doer, being unchangeable.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.13)

Lord KrishnaWhy the need for societal divisions? Why even have brahmanas and other castes? In the conditioned state, the soul is wholly unaware of its true nature, that of an undying spirit. The soul can never be cut into pieces, be made wet, burned or dried. Though such changes may take place with the outer covering of the soul, or the visible indication of life, the spiritual spark itself remains unaffected. Since we gather our information through both perception and precept, if we are not taught the differences between matter and spirit, we will always remain on the level of the animals, wherein the activities of eating, mating, defending and sleeping will be taken as paramount in importance. When the existence of the soul is denied or forgotten, the impulses arising from the sense organs, of which the tongue and genitals bring the strongest urges, are given highest priority. To learn about the nature of spirit is one thing, but to truly realize it is another. Therefore the brahmanas, the highest class in the societal maintenance system known as varnashrama-dharma, not only understand spirit, but they also truly realize, through steady practice of devotion, the equality shared between all forms of life.

“Peacefulness, self-control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, wisdom, knowledge, and religiousness—these are the qualities by which the brahmanas work.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.42)

A brahmana is qualified as such based on possessing certain qualities such as cleanliness, purity, equality of vision, tolerance, humility and devotion to religion. They also must take to specific activities. A brahmana performs sacrifices, teaches others how to perform sacrifices, studies the Vedas [the eternal truths of life passed down since the beginning of time from Krishna Himself], teaches Vedic wisdom to others, accepts charity and gives in charity. A brahmana can be thought of to be a priest, a man of the cloth. While all forms of life are equal, the activities adopted according to the modes of nature are different. A brahmana lives in the mode of goodness, which is the topmost rung of the ladder of material qualities. When other modes like passion and ignorance are introduced, the personal qualities assumed vary and differences in occupation result. Those who are not purely in the mode of goodness take to administrative affairs, fighting, defense, business, agriculture, or menial service to others. Irrespective of one’s outward occupation, the ultimate aim of life remains the same, that of learning of the Supreme Spirit’s nature and the individual soul’s relationship to Him.

One who is fully aware of the simultaneous oneness and difference between God and the individual souls at the time of death immediately transcends all the effects of material nature and returns to the spiritual sky, the source of Brahman. There are three different gradations of residence. One is the spiritual sky, which is the original realm. In this land the Supreme Lord and His various forms reside alongside the eternally liberated spirit souls. The next realm is Brahman, which is the blissful light emanating from the transcendental body of the Personality of Godhead. The third realm is the material world, a land where matter becomes the predominant force, with temporary manifestations coming into existence at periodic intervals.

“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.3)

Krishna speaking to ArjunaThe souls in the material world are all Brahman because the light of the brahmajyoti is from where they all most recently came. The Supreme Lord, as the seed giving father, impregnated Brahman and thus caused the entire creation and all its creatures. At the time of dissolution, those souls still not craving a return to the original spiritual realm remain within the light of Brahman until the time comes for the next creation. In this way ascension to the light of Brahman is not much of an achievement, for there is every chance of fall down in the future. When one returns to the spiritual land where Krishna and Vishnu reside, there is no chance of returning to Brahman or the material world governed by maya.

Can someone be a brahmana and not a devotee of Vishnu? Since material nature is so complex and has intricate workings, there are different degrees of systems of spirituality instituted, with each aimed at providing a gradual progression towards the realization of the ultimate Truth, Vishnu. In the absence of devotion, a brahmana can still perform his prescribed duties such as enacting Vedic sacrifices and teaching others about the esoteric truths found in the Vedas. If devotion to Vishnu is absent, the highest platform a brahmana can ascend to is that of Brahman realization. Similarly, this is all they will be able to teach their students and dependents about. Since association with the Supreme Lord in one of His personal forms is a higher benediction, a brahmana who is a devotee of Vishnu is far more advanced and thus described as a Vaishnava.

Lord RamaUnlike with the brahmana status, which requires knowledge of Brahman and explicit occupational duties to be undertaken, the title of Vaishnava is open to all members of society, irrespective of caste, age, gender, ethnicity and country of origin. Goswami Tulsidas, the great poet and devotee of Vishnu’s form of Lord Rama, kindly points out that just as the otherwise ordinary trees that line the path to the heavenly realm are worshiped and adored, those who are born in low castes but take to chanting the holy name of Rama become equally as worshipable. It’s interesting to note that the poet doesn’t say that such an individual automatically turns into a brahmana, as such material designations are of minimal importance. A brahmana is an occupational post, one where specific duties are adhered to. A devotee of Vishnu, or a Vaishnava, is more respected than a brahmana because they immediately become worshipable. A Vaishnava may not take to openly teaching others about Vedic wisdom and they may not even be respected as a learned scholar, but since they know Vishnu and the importance of chanting His names, they become more respected and praiseworthy than an ordinary brahmana.

“A brahmana should be a worshiper of Vishnu, and he should also instruct others how to worship Him.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 10.50 Purport)

When a brahmana does take to worshiping Vishnu, the benefit to society is tremendous. The effect is similar to how when a famous celebrity takes to a particular activity, automatically the cause gets more popularity and fame. A brahmana, who is already generally respected for their high knowledge, by taking to vishnu-bhakti can teach others the supreme truths of life and how devotion to God is the highest dharma, or occupational duty. Murari Gupta, a famous devotee and associate of Lord Chaitanya’s, set the ideal example of how a brahmana and householder should behave. When it comes to understanding Brahman and the temporary and illusory nature of life around us, not only is the brahmana position considered beneficial but so is the stage of life known as sannyasa. A brahmana in the renounced order of life is given tremendous respect because of their way of life. It is one thing to say that material nature is the cause of great pain and bondage, but it is another to back up your words by renouncing worldly attachments and taking to the life of a mendicant. A sannyasi especially has more facilities to preach the truths of the Vedas, as renunciates are not inhibited by demands of work and family.

Lord ChaitanyaMurari Gupta, though a householder, still proved to be an extremely effective teacher and distributor of the holy name of the Lord. Though he was a doctor for a living, he spread as much spiritual healing as he did physical. Though Lord Chaitanya, who was Krishna Himself appearing on earth to distribute the holy names of the Lord through the congregational chanting of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, specifically recommended worship of Radha and Krishna, Murari Gupta still could not abandon his attachment to Lord Rama. Lord Chaitanya tested his devotion on several instances, and Murari Gupta proved his love for Shri Rama every time. In this way Murari showed the example of an ideal brahmana and householder. He never begged for money, nor did he haphazardly abandon his occupational duties. He worked within the bounds of the qualities he was given and dedicated his life to preaching the glories of the Lord.

Shri Krishna is especially the deva, or worshipable god, of the brahmanas and the cows. There are millions of other celestial figures who are each powerful in their own right. A vaishya, one tasked with taking to business and food production, may pray to several demigods to bestow mercy upon them in the form of rain and good fortune. A kshatriya may worship the family deity or the celestial figures in charge of bestowing strength and good fortune amongst their kingdom. But the brahmanas, those who know the temporary nature of fruitive activity and the resulting rewards, are meant to simply worship Vishnu, or Krishna. The Supreme Lord is especially kind to the brahmanas, as he knows they are wholly dedicated to His service. A Vaishnava brahmana, one who exhibits all the qualities of the mode of goodness, takes complete shelter at the lotus feet of Lord Vishnu. As such, they become ideal members of society and great proponents of the supremacy of the practice of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.

Radha and Krishna Murari Gupta, through his great devotion to Vishnu and his supreme knowledge, was able to properly identify Lord Chaitanya for who He was, Shri Krishna Himself. The saintly class of men in the Kali Yuga all follow Lord Chaitanya’s example of regularly chanting the holy names of the Lord. Shri Gaurahari especially popularized congregational chanting, or sankirtana, as being the most potent and powerful form of deliverance for the fallen souls of this age. By taking shelter of Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the brahmanas who regularly worship and spread the glories of Vishnu, we can be rescued from the troublesome situation brought on by material contact.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Passing The Baton

Hanuman “Even a decision made after judging between 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

It’s the home stretch, the final leg of the race. Everything is riding on these final few laps, as the teams are neck and neck. Hopes for victory lay in the hands of the final runner, the anchor man. Taking the baton from his teammate, the eager galloper, the runner deemed the fastest and most reliable by the rest of the team, swings into action, going stride for stride with the other racers. Yet all of a sudden, the relay anchor, the individual in whom all the trust and hope for victory are invested, decides to chart their own path, one unknown to anyone else. Though the entire team had prepared to run a specific type of race, factoring in all the ups and downs and pros and cons of the various options, weighing them against one another, this last runner, thinking himself smarter than the rest of his teammates, decides to chart a different path, one he thinks will indelibly mark him with fame and glory.

passing the batonIn this scenario will the anchor lead the team to victory? In a relay race, the secret to victory is good teamwork. Runners circle around the track at very high speeds, but the key to success is teamwork.  The greatest emphasis on the need for solidarity and harmony amongst members of the team with different qualities comes with the exchange of the baton, a rod-like object which is held in the hand while running. In a relay race featuring alternating runners, the handoff of the baton must be smooth and free of any hiccups, for the natural speed of the runners must not be inhibited. Runners, or any athletes involved in some sort of relay race, will map out a strategy, a game plan for victory, beforehand. The leader of the team will decide which runners will take part in which legs of the race. Usually the anchor is the fastest runner on the team, the one who has to do the least thinking. “Simply take the baton and go”, or “Run Forrest, run!”, as it was said in a famous movie.

The desired achievement is quite obvious: victory. Triumph will be shared by all the members of the team, not just the anchor. Therefore not only does the last runner have to be very fast, but he also must bear the pressure of the entire team’s hope for victory on his shoulders. Obviously this is a difficult burden to carry, but the job is made easier by preparation in the form of marching orders from the leader. The identified guide of the team will map out a certain strategy, marking things to look for and things to avoid, advising how fast a runner should travel and when it is necessary to turn on the afterburners, or the high speed. In the famous spoof movie Spaceballs, on the spaceship belonging to the villains there was a humorous demarcated level of speed known as “Ludicrous Speed”, which is meant to poke fun at the different speeds such as “hyper” and “warp” shown in various films. For the runner, there is no need to turn on “Ludicrous Speed” unless he is in dire straits. The aim is to win the race, and not to look pretty or break any records. Therefore constant attention must be kept on time and circumstance, with unnecessary actions being avoided.

Ludcirous speedIf the anchor person, who acts similar to a messenger who is carrying an important message or is executing a vital task, takes matters into their own hands and neglects the orders given to them, the chances of defeat greatly increase. There is always the slight hope that victory will come regardless, as the workings of cause-and-effect in material nature are difficult to predict. But if the runner, the person finishing the last leg of the final march towards victory, should scrap the plans of the leader out of haste, pride, or ego, the hopes of the entire team can be dashed. Such behavior is not at all uncommon, for it is the natural propensity of man to be driven by his ego, a subtle element of material nature which is deemed false in the Vedic definition.

Bhagavad-gitaThe Vedas are the ancient scriptures of India, the oldest law codes pertaining to spirituality in existence. The practice of spirituality certainly can be subject to different interpretations and meanings, but under the Vedic sense, the basic idea is to enable a living being to take the necessary steps to understand God. This gradual progression towards ultimate knowledge begins with the understanding that one is not their body, aham brahmasmi. Spirit is the guiding force behind the actions of life forms. The spirit inside the body never changes in quality, but the outer coverings certainly do. Not only do the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether cause both imperceptible and noticeable shifts in appearance over time, but the subtle elements of mind, intelligence, and false ego also change.

The ego is deemed false in the beginning stages of spiritual pursuits because it is based on a faulty identification. Since we are all Brahman, or part of the Absolute Truth, our identity has nothing to do with the appearance and makeup of our outer covering. Yet in the conditioned state, the one adopted at the time of birth, identity is taken solely from outward features and attributes such a skin color, nationality, gender and physical strength. Obviously these are all variables, values not constant from individual to individual. The most difficult concept to realize is that every other living entity is travelling in the same boat that we are in. It is the inherent tendency to criticize others or feel bad for them, but every single person in the world suffers through the same pains and defeats that we do. Moreover, their aim in life, their ideal final destination, is the same as well. The easiest thing to do is criticize someone else, for that doesn’t require any thought or intelligence.

“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)

Lord KrishnaThe wise, however, see the equality shared amongst all life forms. Armed with this knowledge difficult to acquire, they can see the goodness in every single person. Hence the topmost transcendentalist is known as a paramahamsa, a swanlike individual who can extract nectar from any aspect of life. And what are these good things that are perceived? Not only is every individual constitutionally spirit, but their identifiable aspect has a source, a place wherefrom the spiritual spark emanates. All of us are equal in spiritual makeup, and we also have the same original father: God. Regardless of what the Supreme Being may be called and what specific set of law codes may be implemented to understand and serve Him, His position as the Supreme Father never changes. Individual spirit is simply an expansion of Supreme Spirit. Both are similar in quality; they are blissful, eternal and knowledgeable. But Supreme Spirit is far greater in potency, a fact evidenced by the fall down from the spiritual sky by the individual souls.

While falling from the spiritual realm, a place where false ego and other material elements are nonexistent, the spirit soul, through assuming a material body, earns the title of jiva. The primary symptom of the jiva is false identity, which then results in false ego. Real ego is assumed when the individual understands their fraternal relationship with all life forms and their link to the Supreme Person. Any other consciousness is thus deemed a product of the false ego. Either way, ego is always there, for that is the essence of individuality. Even in the liberated state, the individual maintains their identity in the spiritual world alongside Bhagavan in His most blissful and sweet form of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If God is anything, He is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure. There can be no denying this, as there would be no reason to surrender unto the Lord simply out of fear. For God to be the ultimate object of worship, He must be capable of providing the greatest pleasure, transcendental or otherwise, to the individual soul, an entity which is always looking for stimulation of the mind and the senses.

Lord KrishnaThe purified individual, one who realizes their true nature, has no traces of false ego. Again, this doesn’t mean that they lose their individuality or even their confidence. To understand the difference in behavior between one who is suffering from the false ego and one who has completely freed themselves from it, we can study the thoughts and desires of Shri Hanuman during his time in Lanka. Not only is God the Supreme Spirit in the spiritual sky, but He also accompanies the jivas during their descent to the material world. In His nirguna aspect, or unmanifested form, the Lord resides within the heart as the Supersoul. Nirguna and saguna are terms usually invoked by the class of transcendentalists known as monists, those who believe that every individual being is God and that true perfection in life comes when all the individual pieces of Brahman merge back into one. But Nirguna and saguna are actually terms applicable for the benefit of only the conditioned souls. Due to the limitations of our present bodies, we cannot properly perceive of the Supreme Spirit residing within our heart. From authorized statements found in the Vedas, we understand that the Supersoul assumes the four-handed form of Lord Vishnu, a plenary expansion of the Supreme Personality. But since this form cannot be seen by the individual, it is often referred to as nirguna, or without material qualities.

“The Supersoul is the original source of all senses, yet He is without senses. He is unattached, although He is the maintainer of all living beings. He transcends the modes of nature [nirgunam], and at the same time He is the master of all modes of material nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 13.15)

The Lord, knowing the deficiencies of our body types, kindly descends to earth in visible forms every now and then as well. When such a form appears before the eyes, it is described as saguna. For the Supreme Person, there is never any difference between His forms; His position as a divine entity possessing an eternal transcendental form never changes. Nirguna and saguna are simply terms derived from the angle of vision of the individual, similar to how we say the sun is setting and rising, when in fact its position never changes. Since the bodies assumed by these saguna forms of the Lord are always transcendental and free from the effects of nature, they are also known as avataras, or those who descend from the spiritual world. One of the most famous avataras is Lord Rama, the valiant warrior prince of Ayodhya who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga.

Lord RamaThe saguna form, aside from giving succor to the eyes of the transcendentally love-starved individuals, allows those who are eager to serve God the opportunity to engage in activities to please Him. Such was the case with Hanuman, as he was tasked with a very important mission. Through the workings of yogamaya, the transcendental illusory energy directly operating under the purview of the Supreme Lord, Rama’s wife Sita Devi was taken away to an island kingdom named Lanka by a Rakshasa demon. Rather than find her Himself, something He was more than capable of doing, Rama enlisted the aid of a band of monkeys residing in the forest of Kishkindha. Ravana, the king who took Sita, was very opulent and extremely powerful. Suffering the worst kind of disease brought on by the false ego, Ravana surely thought he was God, the most powerful entity in the world. Shri Rama, being the Lord incarnate roaming the earth at the time, partnered with monkeys to show everyone that true strength comes from service to the Lord and not through any worship of heavenly figures or acquisition of material wealth.

Hanuman’s mission was straightforward: find Sita and return information of her location to Rama and Sugriva, the leader of the monkeys. While the objectives were simple, the task was by no means easy, but then again, Hanuman was not a normal servant. A pure lover of God, Hanuman had mastery of every perfection of mystic yoga, the greatest strength an individual could have, and also the highest intellect known to man. He was completely under the shelter of real ego, the mindset derived from knowing one’s position as eternal servant of the Supreme Lord. Marshaling his strength and yogic perfections, Hanuman was able to leap across the massive ocean surrounding Ravana’s island and make his way to the outskirts of the enemy city.

HanumanCrossing the ocean was just the first part of the task. Now that he was on the outskirts of Lanka, Hanuman needed to figure out how to infiltrate the enemy territory. Surely any normal man would be proud of his accomplishment of having reached Lanka via the aerial path, but Hanuman had no time for fist-pumping, end-zone celebrations, or dancing. The next part of his task was arguably the most difficult, that of finding a way into Lanka without being noticed. Hanuman could assume any form at will, but he needed to choose an appearance which would allow him to survey the situation without being noticed.

In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see just how dedicated to Rama Hanuman was. Knowing that he was tasked with a very important mission, the last thing Hanuman wanted to do was screw it up. He didn’t want to become a victim to the false ego, wherein he would decide on some path that wasn’t agreed upon for the sake of achieving even greater fame. As a powerful fighter, Hanuman could have defeated Ravana and his entire army. This fact was known to Hanuman, as he would confirm this many years later in his discussion with Bhima, the strongest of the famous Pandava brothers, described in the Mahabharata. Fighting Ravana wasn’t the assigned mission, for that wouldn’t have guaranteed finding Sita. Hanuman also could have been puffed up and tempted to take Sita back himself. He in fact would later propose this to Sita Devi out of great affection for her. Yet again, such an act wouldn’t guarantee victory, as there was the chance that Sita could be injured during the subsequent attack from the Rakshasas seeing Hanuman fleeing.

HanumanSo what did Hanuman do? He eventually succeeded of course, and it was due entirely to his great attention to detail and his respect for the wishes of his most loveable object, the team leader, Shri Rama. Hanuman wasn’t able to text message back to base for advice, nor was he able to place a call into headquarters. He had to rely on his intelligence and his fixed devotion to Rama’s interests to figure out the proper course. Needless to say, Hanuman is incapable of foiling the plans adopted by the highest authority figures. In fact, Hanuman is the greatest agent for liberation, a kind messenger whose thoughts, words and deeds exude supreme confidence in the power of the unbreakable bond that exists between God and His sons and daughters. Hanuman would be rewarded for his successes with eternal devotion to the feet of Sita and Rama. Anyone who remembers him on a daily basis will similarly be able to succeed in the mission of life, that of becoming purely God conscious at the time of death, and also be thrilled to the heart from having his transcendental association.

Due to his inherent attributes, Hanuman had every reason to be puffed up, but he wasn’t. His confidence and ego came from his relationship with Rama. In a similar manner, there is no reason for our false ego to exist perpetually. We all have the same link to Shri Rama and to other non-different forms of the Lord. For the people of this age, the way to serve God is to honor the desires and instructions of His dear servants, the Vaishnavas. All the authorized Vaishnavas declare that the only means of salvation in the present time is the regular chanting of the holy names of the Lord. Some say we should chant Rama’s name all the time, while others advise us to chant the most potent name of Shri Krishna. In reality, the name doesn’t matter, as long as the sound vibration recited is authorized and representative of the attributes, forms and pastimes of the original Divine Being. There is no requirement that one chant a specific name only in defiance of their natural loving tendencies towards a specific form of the Supreme Lord. Nevertheless, the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is so nice because it is all inclusive. It consists of sound vibrations which, when regularly recited, please the ears of all sincere devotees of God around the world. This mantra has been kindly passed down to us by Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s preacher incarnation. Taking the baton, we should run with it by reciting this sacred formula as often as possible, and in the process pass the holy name on to others. If we honor this most wonderful collection of words in this way, we will not only ensure fame and honor for ourselves, but we will also guarantee victory in the game of life for those whose lives we touch.