Saturday, April 30, 2011

I Want It Now

Hanuman “Having made up his mind thus, that heroic monkey, Hanuman, eager to see Vaidehi, wished for the sun to set.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.48)

iti saṃcintya hanumān sūryasyāstamayaṃ kapiḥ |

ācakāṃkśe tato vīro vaidehyā draśanotusakaḥ

One who knows the Truth and His nature will do anything and everything in their power to see to the successful end of a task performed for His benefit. Despite their eagerness to get started on their march towards success, they will still wait for the appropriate time and place. Such patience only further enhances the bliss that is felt upon the meeting of the objective, the accomplishment of the task kindly provided by the master of all masters, the most benevolent, munificent, sweet and pleasurable of all entities. Those who are in ignorance of the Truth, however, will not wait for the opportune moment, giving no concern to the auspiciousness or inauspiciousness of the time. Driven by their insatiable appetite for sense pleasure, those not knowing the ultimate purpose in life will do whatever it takes, at any cost and at any time, to get what they want, though what they desire certainly will not benefit them in the long run. The seeker of sense gratification who casts aside the rules of morality and propriety wants every worldly possession and enjoyment right now, and they don’t care how they get them. Through their impatience and servitude towards objects of illusion, such nefarious characters seal their doom. The knower, on the other hand, earns himself eternal fame, glory, and most important of all, undying association with the Truth. Such was the case with Shri Hanuman.

HanumanThe Truth we speak of is known by different names in different circles. He is described as the Absolute Truth because He is beyond duality. In the world that we live in and know, all truths are relative and subject to the vision of the performer and the scope of the actions being undertaken. For instance, kindness and politeness are considered good behavioral traits, as they are beneficial towards maintaining a peaceful and harmonious coexistence with our fellow man. Yet these two qualities are not absolute in their power; there are times when kindness not only is uncalled for, but it is actually detrimental to achieving the desired condition. Piety and sin are generally assigned from the scriptural traditions of a particular group of individuals, but they really relate to activities that lead to positive and negative future conditions. Moreover, they correspond with the scope of the activities at hand. For instance, if we are to build a house, the proper way to erect the beams and align the framework would be considered pious activity. Any planning and construction work that would go against the established guidelines, i.e. those things that would lead to a faulty and dangerous housing structure, would then be considered sinful activity.

Kindness is typically equated with piety because of its relation to the nature of the Absolute Truth. We are all one in quality, as we are all the same, so there is no reason to be visceral in our dealings with others. If anything, we should have the highest compassion and love for our fellow man, for each of us is struggling with the same issues. Even the wealthiest of moguls, he who has every amenity available at his fingertips, must cope with the demands of the mind at every waking hour. Due to the mind’s influences, which emerge through hankering and lamenting, every individual, irrespective of their social standing and level of material opulence, has to endure trials and tribulations. In this respect, there is no justification for being unkind to others simply out of anger, jealousy or greed.

poison bottleNevertheless, in some instances kindness turns into a sin. The most obvious example relates to parents and their children. Let’s say that we see our young child opening the cabinet underneath the kitchen sink and reaching for a bottle of cleaner or some other container holding hazardous liquids. These cleaning agents are considered pious, i.e. beneficial, when used for their specific purpose. If we put cleaner on Formica or on a hardwood floor, the objective of a clean countertop or floor is eventually met. Yet just because the cleaner is beneficial in one area doesn’t mean that it becomes universally applicable. Indeed, if such toxins are ingested by the human being, the result could be sickness or even death.

If the parent watching the child were to think, “I am dedicated to kindness. I will not yell at the child or tell them that what they are doing is wrong, for this will hurt their feelings”, such a mindset would be foolish. Indeed, in this situation just the opposite of kindness is required. The parent must sternly rebuke the child for even thinking of touching such a dangerous item. The child must know beyond a shadow of a doubt that touching hazardous materials is strictly forbidden. Even some kindness mixed into the teaching won’t help. “O son or daughter, please don’t touch this poisonous material. It would not be good for you if you did.” The more the message is couched in kind words, the less effective it will be. In the business world, project managers and bosses give hard deadlines in order to motivate workers to get the job done on time. If the leaders of projects would say, “Oh, go ahead and finish that whenever you like. It’s no big deal”, no work would ever get accomplished. Kindness is beneficial in most dealings, but in the case of giving instruction and signaling emergency situations, kindness can be thrown right out the window, as it can become the most harmful of traits.

Lord KrishnaThe Absolute Truth is one who is beyond duality. In Him are found all wonderful qualities to the fullest degree, characteristics which are always beneficial. Indeed, such an individual is the object of all dharma, or righteousness. Just as kindness is helpful in certain situations, if we took the sum total of all areas where pious and sinful activities have relevance, we’d see that they all exist to please this original Divine Being. Due to His status as being the object of all dharma, or religiosity, He is known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In some circles He is described as God, an authority figure of whom the living entities inhabiting the material world have a vague understanding. According to the Vedas, the original law codes and scriptures instituted by the Truth, God has more descriptive names which speak to His innumerable auspicious features. Since His greatest attribute is that of attractiveness, His most accurate and pleasure-giving name is Krishna. Hence Lord Krishna, the original form of the Absolute Truth, who resides in the spiritual world, is taken to be the most deserving entity of worship, the Supreme Personality who is full of form.

When one dedicates their life to simply serving Krishna, or the Truth, knowledge, renunciation and the ability to act properly in all situations are automatically acquired. The discipline that seeks to keep one always connected with Krishna is known as bhagavata-dharma, or the system of religion that has as its object of pleasure Bhagavan, or the Supreme Truth who is the most fortunate due to His immeasurable and simultaneously existing qualities of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom. Any other discipline, theistic or otherwise, that fails to please Bhagavan will be riddled with defects. The intensity of the detriments secured by such systems corresponds directly with the degree of deviation from the proper object of worship. For instance, below Krishna there are highly exalted living entities known as devatas, or demigods. They are worshiped and adored by millions around the world due to their extraordinary powers, their long durations of life, and their kind natures. Yet the demigods are not God, so the discipline that seeks to please them may be categorized as dharma, but not bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Since the demigods are closely associated with Krishna, as they are His dear servants responsible for distributing rewards to those deluded by material opulence, the detriments received by their worshipers aren’t as severe as they are for others.

“According to one's existence under the various modes of nature, one evolves a particular kind of faith. The living being is said to be of a particular faith according to the modes he has acquired.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 17.3)

Lord KrishnaLife outside of Krishna’s association is managed by three distinct modes: goodness, passion and ignorance. Those who worship the demigods and wish for ascension to the heavenly realm in the afterlife are in the mode of goodness. Those who are simply after sense gratification secured through regulated fruitive activity are in the mode of passion. Sometimes they worship the demigods as well, or even the Supreme Lord in His formless feature, but this is only to secure objects of use in the phenomenal world. Those in the mode of ignorance are wholly unaware of the temporary nature of life and the blissful makeup of the Supreme Lord and service to Him. They take directly to sense gratification without any concern for social conventions, the rights of others, and the laws of karma. Indeed, sometimes it is seen that the ignorant take to demigod worship as well or even worship of ghosts, yet they use the rewards granted to them for nefarious purposes.

One of the most famous characters in the mode of ignorance was Ravana, the Rakshasa king of Lanka during the Treta Yuga. A Rakshasa is a human-like species that is expert at black magic and prone to meat eating, illicit sex and excessive intoxication. The Rakshasas don’t just eat any ordinary meat either; they enjoy human flesh as their first class cuisine. Ravana, though mostly in the mode of ignorance, also delved into the mode of passion from time to time. He worshiped several exalted devatas who granted him tremendous powers, such as invincibility in battle against human beings and the ability to terrorize others. But since he was a Rakshasa given to sinful behavior, Ravana used these boons to harass the innocent and put the entire world into an unending mood of fear and panic.

A good parent is one who doesn’t spoil their children. Tough love is considered beneficial behavior on the part of the guardian because by constantly allowing their child’s sense demands to be met, there will eventually come for the child an unfavorable future situation that it won’t know how to handle. Tapasya, or austerity, of any kind is required for success in every venture. Even in the world of rock and roll, which is known for its hedonism and wild partying, there is strict adherence to the austerities of sobriety and the regulation of practice and rehearsal when albums are being recorded and when live performances are made. For those living in the material world, tapasya in terms of restriction on uncontrolled sense gratification is a requirement for sobriety and clear thinking. If a parent were to give the child whatever toy they wanted every time they asked for one, the child would become spoiled. When they would get the new toy, they would toss it aside soon after and then start crying again to receive something new. Eventually, the child will have to turn into an adult, and the parents won’t be around to meet all of their sense demands. The hard reality of life is that every sense demand cannot possibly be met. For the spoiled child who turns into an adult, life becomes very painful, as money is not appreciated and frustration in endeavors becomes quite common and unmanageable.

RavanaRavana, being ruled by his passions, suffered from many of the same problems encountered by the spoiled child turned adult. Through his boons, Ravana was able to amass a powerful army that protected an exquisitely opulent kingdom. Having defeated so many powerful kings, Ravana had hundreds of beautiful princesses serving at his will. There was no shortage of wine, women, and flesh in Ravana’s kingdom of Lanka. The atheist, or those who have no conception of an Absolute Truth deserving of worship, would have us believe that such a life is one of luxury. Every sinful activity is available without restriction, so what problems could there be?

But just as the spoiled child loses his sobriety and rational thought due to his incessant desire for objects he can’t get, Ravana made the fatal mistake of chasing after the one woman he couldn’t have. Moreover, this beautiful and chaste lady, the princess of Videha, was not possible for anyone to intimately associate with except for her dear husband, Lord Rama. Krishna is considered the best name for the Supreme Lord, but Rama is a close second, as it speaks to the Absolute Truth’s ability to provide transcendental pleasure to His sincere devotees. Rama describes the Truth’s features, and it is also a name tagged to a non-different form of the Lord who appeared on this earth in the Treta Yuga during Ravana’s time.

Sita and RamaRavana, knowing that Sita was off limits, had his mind set on having her regardless. He would not rest until he had Sita by his side. By the very laws governing the universe, it is impossible for Sita, who is an eternally existing figure, the goddess of fortune residing in the spiritual sky, to be with any other man except Rama, or Narayana of the spiritual world. Therefore, Ravana, though knowing he couldn’t have Sita, nevertheless threw caution to the wind and set about hatching a nefarious plot to take her. He would succeed in bringing her back to his island of Lanka, but his progress would permanently halt there. Simple brute force is not enough to win over the beloved wife of the Supreme Lord, a woman who is kind enough to grant all fortunes to those who desire to use their opulence for the pleasure of the Supreme Loveable Object.

To find Sita, Rama enlisted the help of the Vanaras, or monkeys, residing in the forest of Kishkindha. Rama, being the Supreme Lord Himself, certainly didn’t need anyone’s aid, but these Vanaras, especially Shri Hanuman, were very eager to offer their service. Just as Ravana was anxious to commit the sinful act of taking Sita, the Vanaras and Hanuman were filled with anticipation and excitement over the prospect of serving Rama to His satisfaction. Hanuman, being the most powerful and courageous of the Vanara warriors, managed to make his way to Lanka by leaping across the ocean. All by himself on enemy territory, Hanuman gave the next plan of action some careful thought. After due deliberation, he decided on assuming a diminutive form, one that would not be detected by the Rakshasas of Lanka but would still enable him to observe the insides of the various palaces. This way he could find Sita and relay information to her about Rama and His desire to rescue her.

HanumanIn the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see just how eager Hanuman is to meet Sita. Having decided to enter Lanka at night, Hanuman is anxiously awaiting the sunset. If we juxtapose the two powerful individuals, Ravana and Hanuman, and their desires relating to Sita, we see that one entity, the sinful lord of the Rakshasas, was guided strictly off of his own ignorance as it pertains to the laws of society and what acts are considered pious and what aren’t. In this way, driven by his uncontrolled desires for sense gratification, Ravana chose the wrong time, the wrong place, and the wrong person with whom to associate. Since his desired objective was sinful, he had no patience in the matter nor any understanding of what was proper and improper. Therefore, though he was able to take Sita away, his heinous act would ultimately lead to his destruction.

Hanuman, on the other hand, was completely in line with dharma. Serving the lotus feet of Shri Rama is the greatest activity, pious or otherwise, one could ever take up. As wonderful as meeting Rama was, Hanuman was more eager to meet Sita, for she is the beloved wife of the life of Hanuman, Shri Rama. In this way Hanuman would have been justified in losing his patience and taking to some irrational activity while outside of Lanka. After all, who among us wouldn’t be eager to meet the most beautiful woman in the world, a lady who is always in line with dharma and loves the brahmanas, the priestly class of men, with all her heart and soul?

Hanuman meeting SitaBut since Hanuman was on the righteous path, he was able to think clearly and wait for the opportune moment. The eagerness was there, but that didn’t cloud his judgment or cognitive thought. Indeed, Hanuman would successfully infiltrate Lanka, find Sita, temporarily allay her fears, return to Rama in Kishkindha, and then take part in the successful defeat of Ravana and the Rakshasas of Lanka, a battle which was led by Rama, Lakshmana and the monkeys fighting on behalf of Sugriva.

Hanuman is the most glorious of devotees. There is no way to properly measure his eagerness to serve the Lord. His love for Sita, Rama and Lakshmana is so great that he must expand his personal features to accommodate these loving sentiments. Not for one second does Hanuman deviate from the practice of bhagavata-dharma. Indeed, since he is the perfect bhakta, or devotee, it can’t be said that Hanuman ever associates with any other type of activity. He is not after any alleviation from distress, material opulence, knowledge of the Absolute, or adherence to a particular faith. Rather, he is simply a lover of God, through and through. From his kind nature and knowledge of the Truth, he is able to take the appropriate actions at just the right time to see the successful completion of any task assigned him. He is never driven by lust, greed, or the desire for meeting a personal objective. Just as his eagerness to see Sita and bring her good news knows no bounds, so his glory, fame and supreme stature can never be accurately quantified nor do they ever suffer diminution. Hanuman is forever eager to serve the Supreme Lord, and God, in turn, is always eager to see to Hanuman’s welfare.

Friday, April 29, 2011

You Own It

Radha and Krishna “Real independence is to be reinstated in the service of the Lord. Anyone who goes to the Vaikuntha planets or Goloka Vrindavana planet is freely offering his service to the Lord. That is complete independence.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.9.35 Purport)

There is a beauty in actually owning something, especially those items procured through hard work, determination and resolve. Though a famous song says, “the best things in life are free”, when something is purchased through hard earned money, it is assigned a higher value by the owner. Those items gifted to us can be more easily discarded since there was no emotional investment or attachment to begin with. On the other hand, those objects we pay for bring a burden of responsibility, a need to at least get our money’s worth by making a proper utilization of the investment. For the individual stuck in the endless mire of material existence known as samsara, salvation can be easily granted by the Supreme Divine Being. But superior to just being given blanket rescue from all our troubles is earning our way out of misery and into the light of true freedom, for this will secure the most blissful feeling. The Supreme Lord, as the best friend of every living entity, could attempt to compel others to love Him, but in the resulting situation there would be no happiness and no claim to ownership of salvation on the jiva’s part. For these reasons the path of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, remains the only roadmap that provides a lasting benefit, one that can be wholly owned and appreciated by the person who earned it.

Krishna bookLet’s say that we have a book we want to sell. A physical book will cost money to produce, as printing, binding and shipping costs are incurred with each sale. For the producer and the promoter, giving the book away for free is certainly an option, one where all the costs for production are soaked up. On the other hand, the same book can be sold for a nominal fee. Under this model the distribution won’t be as high, as the introduction of price will filter out many more prospective readers. The two scenarios, one where the book is given away for free and the other where the book is sold for a price, result in a variation in cost and profit and also a difference in behavior for the recipients. The free book may sit around in the house for years and years without being opened. There was no initial investment made by the buyer; he didn’t have to work difficult hours at his job in order to afford the book, nor did he ever have to make a choice between purchasing and not purchasing. The free book was accepted because there was no covenant established between the seller and the buyer; no obligation was incurred through the exchange.

One who pays for the book, however, will be much more inclined to read it, as there was some investment made, even if the cost was nominal. Another way to understand the same point is to see what results when a particular television program or series is explicitly purchased versus it coming on television without any extra effort. The major professional sports leagues all have contracts with various networks to have the important games each season broadcast across the country on national television. In addition, each local franchise has their own agreements with specific channels in the local market. If a person living in New York is a fan of the sports franchise in Los Angeles and owns a basic television subscription package, the only way for them to see their favorite team play is if the New York team happens to play the Los Angeles team or if the Los Angeles game is televised nationally. Both cases are very rare, as east coast teams don’t play west coast teams very often, and games are seldom aired on national television for a specific team until the playoffs.

hockey on televisionDue to advancements in modern technology and the abundance of television channels, a fan living in an out-of-market city can now watch all of their favorite team’s games by purchasing a specific sports subscription package with their cable or satellite provider. As such, instead of maybe seeing five or six regular season games with their normal programming subscription, the fan can now watch every game. What’s interesting to note is that as soon as the premium package is purchased, an immediate obligation is created. Now that money has been spent, which is no small amount either, the buyer will want to make good use of their investment by watching as many games as possible. Not only are their favorite team’s games now shown all the time, but so is every game played in the entire league of the sport in question. Before the package was purchased, maybe certain games would be glossed over and not cared about. Even if the favorite team was on television, if they weren’t having a good season or if the game didn’t matter that much, the fan wouldn’t watch it. But now in the mind of the viewer every game has to be watched in order to justify the purchase.

In the realm of spirituality, the search for salvation is likely the most common reason for people turning towards God. They want an end to the misery that is born of endless desires, feelings which constantly rush in like the waves of a river pouring into an ocean. The Supreme Lord, the only eternal entity who is never capable of falling into the pit of material existence, could easily save the fallen soul looking for rescue, but salvation in the true sense of the word is a little more complicated than simply becoming absolved of sins and being transported to a heavenly realm. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, define each infinitesimally small spirit soul wandering through the various universes in ever-changing bodies as a jiva. The Supreme Soul, or God, is described as Brahman, or Parabrahman. The phenomenal world, or matter, is described as maya, or that which is not Brahman.

“The living entities in this conditioned world are My eternal, fragmental parts. Due to conditioned life, they are struggling very hard with the six senses, which include the mind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.7)

Lord KrishnaThe term “jiva” has meaning that can be properly understood once the properties of Parabrahman and His energies are considered. God’s internal energy expands into other spiritual entities, fragmental parts that are similar in quality to the original storehouse of energy. The Supreme Lord is often compared to the giant sun, with His internal energy manifestations representing different rays of the original solar powerhouse. Maya is an illusory force, one that is considered God’s separated energy. Though every force created by the Supreme Spirit is part of Him, because maya is considered separated, it is not worshipable. As a correlation, the hands and feet are part and parcel of the body, but in order to feed ourselves food must be supplied to the stomach. If we offer food to our feet, nothing will happen for the body, as the nutrients in the food will never enter the internal system of the body. In a similar manner, one can offer worship to maya all they want, but there will not be any tangible benefit derived. Everything is in God, but He is not directly inside of every object. The blade of grass is part of the definition of God, but we cannot pick up some grass and say that we hold God in our hands.

The jivas are considered the marginal energy. Qualitatively they are the same as the internal energy, but they are considered marginal because they have a choice as to which energy to associate with, internal or external. The strictly internal expansions are non-different from the Lord. Hence the various incarnations of the Supreme Spirit, such as Vishnu, Rama and Narasimha, are equally as worshipable as the original Lord, who is known as Krishna in the Vedic tradition, the all-attractive and beautiful Shyamasundara. The jivas are always marginal, as that is their makeup. If one makes the proper choice and remains forever in the company of Krishna, they can be considered eternally liberated, but the option for separation is always there even when not exercised.

Lord KrishnaA valid concern may be raised as to why the Supreme Spirit, if He is so powerful, doesn’t just keep the jivas in His company, regardless of the choices they make. Maya is transient after all, for the world we live in constantly goes through cycles of creation and destruction. One who becomes attached to something nonpermanent will surely suffer heartache and misery. Knowing this to be the case, Krishna could just keep the jivas always by His side and shield them from the misery that results from association with maya.

Yet just as Krishna is ever independent and full of energy, so the jivas have free will and independence, though in a minute quantity, in their exercise of activity. The most potent emotion in the perverted reflection that is the material world is love, or the voluntary offering of service to other entities. Similarly, in the spiritual world, Krishna-prema, or deep love and affection brought on by total surrender, or sharanagati, is the highest emotion and most potent spiritual force. For love to be considered valid, it must exist at peak levels in both parties, and the relationship that results must be voluntarily entered into. If the jivas were forced to love Krishna, the sanctity of the resulting relationship would be tainted.

Moreover, when love is forced, the receiver doesn’t properly appreciate the services rendered, similar to how the person being offered something for free later tosses the gift aside. Yet when love for God is developed through the steady practice of bhakti-yoga, whose quintessential activity is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the loving service is appreciated fully on both ends. The path to salvation is kindly provided by Krishna in His wonderful discourse on philosophy, religion and the meaning of life known as the Bhagavad-gita. In this concise yet complete treatise on Vedic philosophy, Krishna states that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death will immediately return to the spiritual land, the eternal abode of the Personality of Godhead. One who goes there never has to leave.

To guarantee that these thoughts occur at the end of life, a shift in consciousness is required. A new way to think can’t be found at the drop of a hat. Our primary thoughts and desires can only be altered through a shift in behavior. Therefore the recommended practices of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which revolve around hearing and chanting, result in a gradual shift in consciousness, a state of mind where all thoughts during the day are focused on Krishna and His satisfaction. Such a religious practice is much more potent than a simple pledge of faith or periodic visit to a house of worship. Any tool that can help further purify consciousness should be accepted, and anything which keeps us from thinking of Krishna in a loving way should be rejected.

Shrila PrabhupadaThe spiritual masters, the acharyas who have kept the bhakti tradition alive for so many years, regularly practiced the devotional formula and saw tremendous success. One who actually makes the necessary effort will feel satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment. Though Krishna resides in the spiritual world, He kindly accompanies the jiva from life to life by also residing within their heart as the Supersoul. As such, the relationship forged with the Supreme Spirit can be considered special and unique to each individual, as even the transcendental mellows, or rasas, can vary from person to person. The commonality in all the relationships with Krishna is the ownership, the purchasing of the Lord’s association and affection through selfless acts of transcendental love.

“…the word pavarga signifies our struggle for existence and our meeting with defeat, exhaustion, bondage, fearfulness and, at last, death. Apavarga means that which can nullify all of these material conditions. Krishna is said to be the giver of apavarga, the path of liberation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 59)

Radha and Krishna The Vedas equate salvation to receiving apavarga, or the removal of defeat, exhaustion, fear, bondage and death. Though Krishna can specifically take away each of these unwanted elements, they are carefully rooted out one by one through steady practice of bhakti. In one sense, Krishna is the doer of all activities and the distributor of every result, but the Divine actions can’t be instigated unless and until there is a sincere desire to associate with the Lord. If we simply call out for salvation but at the same time remain wholly fixed on material association, giving our life and soul to maya’s allures, there is no purpose for Krishna’s intervention. This type of plea is similar to calling a repair man to fix a broken appliance, not paying them after the work is done, and then following the same pattern of behavior that led to the problem in the first place.

Divine love easily brings apavarga, but the pure devotees desire much more than salvation. They want Krishna’s association at all times, irrespective of circumstance and place. Maharishi Valmiki accurately notes that the devotees of Lord Rama, a personal expansion of Shri Krishna, see the Lord everywhere holding His illustrious bow and arrow. Even though the bhakta follows all the rules and regulations of spiritual life and adheres to the perfunctory rituals aimed at advancing consciousness, there is still no end-goal or desire for personal reward. Salvation is actually just the beginning, as once ownership of Krishna’s association is acquired, the joys felt from seeing His beautiful face and hearing the sound of His wonderful flute only elicit even more transcendental activity, engagements which never fail to bring tremendous pleasure.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

In Every Village

Hanuman “Entering at night the city ruled by Ravana, which is very difficult to approach, and searching inside every palace, I shall find the daughter of Janaka.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.47)

rāvaṇasya purīṃ rātrau praviśya sudurāsadām |

vicinvan bhavanaṃ sarvaṃ drakśyāmi janakātmajām

Shri Hanuman, the most faithful, dependable, kind, trustworthy and perseverant servant of the Supreme Lord, herein makes a pact with himself about his future course of action. Having decided on a proper plan, where he will enter the city of the ogres during the dark of night, when no one else will be able to see him, Hanuman declares his belief and determination in accomplishing the task handed to him, that of meeting the princess of Videha, the daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi, who was suffering greatly at the time due to separation from her beloved, Shri Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Hanuman boldly asserts that he will enter every dwelling inside of the enemy city of Lanka to look for Sita. Should he fail to find Janaki in one palace, two, or three, he will not be deterred in any way. Not until he meets Sita, allays her fears, informs her of Rama’s ardent desire to see to her rescue, and hands her the sacred ring belonging to Rama entrusted to him will Hanuman rest in the least bit. Through this unmatched exhibition of dedication and mental fortitude, Hanuman establishes himself as the greatest role model, the hero of all heroes, an undying object of worship and adoration.

HanumanWhy exactly did Hanuman have to sneak into a city in the dead of night and look inside palaces for a princess? The city in question was named Lanka, and it was inhabited by a race of demons known as Rakshasas. Rakshasas sound like mythological creatures, but they are simply a human-like species prone to nefarious behavior. Their most noteworthy behavioral characteristic is their penchant for meat eating; and not of the ordinary variety either. Certain animals are carnivores, while others are herbivores, and within each species there are specific foods of taste. In the human community, there are individuals who enjoy the taste of animal flesh; thus they will take to eating beef, chicken, fish, etc. Yet these Rakshasas were famous for being man-eaters. They were the worst type of cannibals, for the human beings they would kill were the most exalted sages, embodiments of innocence. A child is considered innocent because it doesn’t know any better; so it is incapable of having ill motives and committing sin. For adults, there is motive, desire, competition, cheating, lying, duplicity, and a host of other practices employed to gain the acquired objective. Nevertheless, one class of individuals, the sages, or rishis, renounces all desire and attachment for worldly gain. Their only wish is to please the Supreme Lord. In order to accomplish their objective, they often seek refuge in the quiet surroundings of the forest.

In the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, such an austere and isolated life was possible, as there were minimal requirements to maintain a living. In the modern age, so many obligations are placed upon the average citizen in the form of taxes, insurance, appliance and automobile purchases, and home heating oil and gas. For one who lives in the forest, the bare essentials are provided for without much endeavor. Food can be found in the fruits that fall on their own from the numerous trees and from the roots that are readily available in the earth. Clothing is provided by simple rags, which can be cleaned daily by the river banks. Even shelter can be found quickly in neighboring caves or by erecting a thatched hut. With a simplified lifestyle, there is more time for higher thinking, contemplation on the Supreme Absolute Truth. Generally, mankind has some vague idea about God. This immature concept then brings them to worshiping the Lord out of inquisitiveness, the desire for knowledge, the alleviation of distress, or the procurement of some reward. These initial steps taken towards the Supreme Lord are done so without much knowledge of His fixed position and full feature set. As such, the method of worship employed by those given to meditation and those seeking solitude for their religious practice is of the impersonal variety, wherein one thinks about God but doesn’t necessarily know who or what they are focusing the mind on.

“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)

Lord KrishnaSo how do we find out the full feature set found exclusively in the Supreme Lord? Is there even a way to gather this information? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, were initially passed down through an aural tradition, with the first set of information implanted into the heart of the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. That information was subsequently passed down to Brahma’s descendants, which include all life forms on earth. When the written word was required, the Vedas made their way into book form. The authority and superiority of the Vedas are only enhanced by the format in which they are transmitted. The original Vedas only consist of hymns, short prayers that succinctly and completely describe the Absolute Truth as being an entity with an ever-existing, transcendental, blissful and knowledgeable form. The hymns are the best way to connect with this Personality because they directly speak to His glorious features. The names of the Lord, of which the most complete is Krishna, which means all-attractive, are included in these hymns, thus there is no need for any other type of religious reference tool.

As further time elapsed from the beginning of creation, more detail was required to keep the unsteady mind of the human being focused on the task at hand, that of becoming Krishna conscious. One who is fully cognizant of the Lord’s features, His supreme nature, and His position as the best friend of the living entities does not, upon exiting their body, take birth in the phenomenal world again. Rather, they return immediately to the spiritual sky, where the association of the primary object of thought, the entity that the human being was trying to think about at all times, is found and is never to be lost again. The Puranas, or accounts of historical incidents pertaining to God and His various pastimes, came into being as a supplement to the Vedas. The only purpose of the Puranas is to enhance one’s attachment to God, i.e. to increase Krishna consciousness.

Lord RamaThe sages residing in the forests during the Treta Yuga were doubly benefitted because not only could they seek refuge in quiet surroundings to practice their sacrifices and austerity, but they were also gifted with the darshana of the Supreme Lord. God created this world after all, so He is more than free to make appearances in it every now and then. Since He is self-satisfied, or atmarama, there is no driving force to Krishna’s appearances and disappearances other than His ultimate, undisputed, uninhibited and fully-fixed property of free will. On the surface, the appearance of Lord Rama, the sight for the sore eyes of the sages in the forest, seemed to be caused by the harassment endured by the saintly class at the hands of the Rakshasas.

On the one side you have the humble rishis looking for perfection in spiritual life, and on the other you have the lowest among mankind, those who steadily drift further and further away from the original source of knowledge, heat, and light: Shri Krishna. With a life already dedicated to meat eating, wine drinking, and illicit sex, the Rakshasas living in Lanka had no reason to bother the kind sages who renounced everything in favor of forest life. But sinful life is considered detrimental for a reason. Not only does it fail to bring any tangible benefit, but sinful behavior also further shrouds one in ignorance. Because of their lack of knowledge, the Rakshasas were deluded into thinking that the sages were their enemies, as religious life is always the greatest threat to the sinful.

Mirabai worshiping KrishnaIt is certainly interesting to note the difference in behavior between those who are in knowledge and those who aren’t. For one who is connected with the ultimate source of information, the Supreme Lord and His scriptures, the Vedas, there is nothing that can convince them otherwise of their belief system. This means that a devotee, a bhakta of Krishna, will remain steadfast on the path towards eternal spiritual life, devotional service, without any deviation. Regardless of what others may say, good or bad, in favor or against, the devotee continues his practice. Even if one hundred percent of the world’s population were to go against the regulative principles of freedom that constitute bhakti, the devotee would still continue their practice.

The demon, however, is so unconvinced of the validity of their sinful way of life, one that fails to bring any lasting pleasure, that if they simply hear a competing philosophy, one which derides the practice of attachment to sense gratification, they will immediately feel threatened. Evidence of this fact is seen today in the behavior of those who are offended at the very mention of the word “God” in public. “How dare you impose your religion on me?” Those wanting to pray in public or thank God for His benedictions certainly aren’t imposing any belief system on anyone else. Yet the miscreants feel threatened at the mere mention of spirituality. This further proves that they are not confident of their mentally concocted systems of maintenance which call for lying, cheating and stealing to gain whatever you need or desire.

The Rakshasas couldn’t stand the sages performing rituals in favor of the enjoyer of all sacrifice, Yajneshvara [Krishna], so they decided to attack. The demons would wait until the dead of night when the sages couldn’t properly recognize them for who they were. The ogres would also strike at the opportune moments, just when a sacrifice was about to be performed. Taking to different shapes at will, the demons would pounce when the rishis were most vulnerable. Not surprisingly, the rishis were helpless, as they didn’t want to waste their accumulated spiritual merits on cursing the Rakshasas in retaliation. Fortunately, Shri Rama, the warrior prince incarnation of God, came to the rescue to save the sages. He and His younger brother Lakshmana dispatched thousands of demons to the abode of Yamaraja, the god of death. Seeing his army depleted, the Rakshasa king, Ravana, decided to retaliate by hatching up a plot to take Rama’s wife Sita Devi.

Sita and RamaWith the plot successfully executed, Sita remained a captive on Ravana’s island kingdom of Lanka. What Ravana didn’t know was that Rama had subsequently joined forces with the monkey-king Sugriva living in the Kishkindha forest. The king’s chief emissary and servant was Shri Hanuman, who was capable of singlehandedly destroying Ravana and his entire clan. Hanuman’s assigned mission was more basic: find Sita. Since the daughter of King Janaka would be in a precarious situation and hesitant to trust others, Rama gave Hanuman His ring to present to Sita. In this way the mother of the universe, the goddess of fortune, would be convinced that Hanuman, who was in the form of a monkey, was indeed fighting for the good guys.

Hanuman, after assuming a massive form, leapt his way across the ocean, swatting aside all opposing elements along the way. Through this feat alone Hanuman became worthy of adoration and praise, but his business was only beginning. Now that he had reached the outskirts of Lanka, Hanuman had to figure out a way to enter the enemy territory unnoticed. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman has decided on a plan of action. He will first mask his original form by becoming very small in stature and then creep into the city during the nighttime, just as the Rakshasas had behaved when attacking the sages. Hanuman would be coming in peace, though, performing a mission that would make him famous for all of time. In his thoughts, Hanuman vows to search every palace in Lanka, which itself was no easy task, as the city was gorgeously decked and immensely opulent. Through his hard work and perseverance, Hanuman would successfully find Sita, temporarily allay her fears, and then return the information of her whereabouts to Rama. Eventually, all-devouring death in the form of Shri Rama and His monkey army would come to destroy Ravana’s kingdom and end his life. Sita would be safely rescued, and all would end well.

HanumanIn the present day and age known as the Kali Yuga, the circumstances for practicing spiritual life are a little different, as they are less favorable. The opportunities for taking to renounced life or contemplating on the Supreme Lord by meeting Him in person aren’t widely available. Yoga, meditation, and study of the scriptures are beneficial activities in leading one towards the ultimate platform of Krishna consciousness, but these engagements are considered inferior due to the difficulty in practicing them perfectly. For example, one who lives in a big city or even a suburb may be able to practice yoga for an hour a day, but what will be done with the rest of the time? Studying scriptures is also helpful, but how will the information acquired be used? The sages living in the forest were performing devotional service twenty four hours a day, even while sleeping.

For those of us faced with the impediments brought on by the age of Kali, the religion of love, bhakti-yoga, can still be practiced anywhere and at any time by simply chanting the glorious maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Krishna who appeared in Mayapura some five hundred years ago, specifically empowered this mantra to deliver all the fallen souls of this age. Not only did He put the principles in place for how bhakti should be practiced, but He also took assertive action in bringing this spiritual potion to the people of the world. In days past, the sages would set up ashramas that others could visit to find spiritual enlightenment. But for the tough tasks, Rama sent Hanuman to go and bring spiritual elixir in the form of information about Him and His paraphernalia to those who were outwardly suffering due to separation from Him. In the modern age, the brahmanas, or the highest class of learned priests, are either not very well respected or are themselves not on the highest platform of devotional consciousness. Therefore it is up to the humble saints, the devotees at heart, to take to outwardly preaching if they can.

Lord Chaitanya and associatesHanuman infiltrated the enemy territory in the dead of night to deliver the message of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and in a similar way, the preachers of the gospel of devotional service kindly canvass from village to village, inducing others to take up the chanting process. Who could be against chanting God’s names? After all, people are already accustomed to singing various pop songs in their head. During the holiday season, Christmas carolers are generally treated very well, and all they do is go around from house to house singing different songs about Jesus and Christmas. So in this light, how can those asking others to regularly chant God’s name every day of the year be treated with disdain?

Just as the Rakshasas were clouded in ignorance by their sinful way of life, so those who are unaware of the highest objective of human life and staunchly set in their ways will not take too well to the preaching efforts inaugurated by Shri Gaurahari. But just as Hanuman vowed to search every single palace in Lanka until he found Sita, the humble devotees vow to do their best to spread the most powerful weapon of knowledge, the holy name of God, to every village and every corner of the world. There are millions of individuals in the world who are suffering from separation from the Lord, and they are just waiting to hear news of His activities and pastimes. The names of Krishna and Rama are complete in that they automatically bring the Lord’s forms, pastimes and activities with them. Even Shri Hanuman today engages in chanting the glories of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana as his most pleasurable activity. Those who take to the sublime engagement of bhakti-yoga and kindly teach others about the glories of spiritual life are worthy of the highest praise and adoration. They follow not only the calling of Lord Chaitanya, but also the example set by Shri Hanuman, whose glories and fame know no end.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mental Speculation

Lord Krishna “No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, quality and pastimes of Shri Krishna through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, quality and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.” (Padma Purana)

For those surrendered souls fortunate enough to have the association of a bona fide spiritual master and the good sense to take instruction from him, one of the restrictions imposed in the beginning stages - the point in time where the new student takes to studying the differences between spirit and matter and regularly practicing the devotional principles instilled - relates to mental speculation. The Vedas identify the four most sinful activities, the places where the dark age of Kali can safely reside, to be meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and gambling, as these behaviors bring about the sharpest divergence in consciousness, and subsequently the strongest deviation of the service mentality, to those souls wandering aimlessly in search of a proper object of worship, one who accepts the entreaties, pleas and services of the loving entity without any reservation, one who is incapable of feeling smothered by too much affection. Mental speculation is mentioned by the guru in the list of activities to avoid, as it is usually coupled with gambling. At first glance, this seems like a strange restriction because how can one stop the speculating tendencies of the mind without turning into a robot? But in reality, mental speculation is a very simple concept to understand, and its harmful effects are quite evident to those who know the ultimate conclusion in life.

Can there be a final conclusion, one that trumps all others? This is actually the determining factor in assessing whether a particular spiritual tradition following the original Vedas is bona fide or not. All the celebrated acharyas, the teachers of Vedic wisdom in ages past and present, subscribe to an ultimate conclusion, one that describes the relationship between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit. Religion can involve blind sentiment towards a particular object of worship, but when the mood of service is authorized and practiced properly, there is an inherent relationship that can be concretely defined which drives all activity. When this link is identified properly, the behavioral practices of the individual can then continue in full confidence, without any trepidation over wasted effort or fruitlessness of action.

Lord ChaitanyaLord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the divine preacher and most notable incarnation of Godhead to appear in recent times, very nicely preached the ultimate conclusion, the highest truth in life, through 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”. More than just a mantra for the Hindus, this kindest of prayers, the only callout to God that is devoid of any personal motive and any desire for temporary results, is open to everyone to chant, as Krishna and Rama are names that describe the attributes of all-attractiveness and ability to provide transcendental pleasure found exclusively within the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If the existence of God is to be accepted, then the eternality, blissfulness and full knowledge of His form must also be acknowledged. Without form, pastimes, qualities and names, a worshipable entity cannot be considered an object. Indeed, anything that lacks any or all of these features and subsequently turns into an object of worship will fail to provide a worthwhile benefit to the worshiper, sincere or otherwise.

Lord Chaitanya’s ultimate conclusion, which has always existed but not always been widely understood, is known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, which means “simultaneously and inconceivably one with and different”. The individual souls, the spiritual sparks assuming temporary bodies in the phenomenal world and eternal spiritual bodies in the imperishable sky, are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, who is full of form. At the same time, there is a difference in quantitative powers, as the infinitesimally small sparks can never match the Supreme Lord’s abilities and attributes in the areas of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation. Indeed, only Krishna, the Supreme Lord, is fully conscious of every event occurring past, present and future of every living entity. We may be conscious of our current life’s affairs, but the memories are erased at the time of death. For God, there are never any limitations; hence He always remains Supreme.

“The Blessed Lord said: Many, many births both you and I have passed. I can remember all of them, but you cannot, O subduer of the enemy!” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.5)

Lord KrishnaFrom knowledge of the ultimate conclusion comes an ideal relationship, one which establishes the inferior entities in their constitutional position. Since we are the same as God in quality, we are meant to always be linked with Him. At the same time, since we are subordinate, we are also meant to be the pleasing entity, the one that offers service. This mood of service is best practiced when it is not cajoled, forced or instigated out of fear. Just as the mother offers her child pure love without any external motive, the individual souls are naturally inclined towards loving their Supreme Lord, who always remains with them even if the individual loses its purified consciousness and its corresponding storehouse of knowledge.

In the conditioned state, where knowledge of the ultimate conclusion remains far, far away, the individual needs a set of regulative activities, engagements which will help reestablish the broken link with the Supreme Spirit. Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s method of chanting Hare Krishna not only serves as the best way to teach the achintya-bhedabheda-tattva conclusion, but it is also the quintessential activity of the discipline that keeps one in perfect yoga with God. Yoga, which is the addition of two entities in consciousness, can be practiced in different ways, such as through the acquisition of knowledge, fruitive activity with detachment, and deep meditation and gymnastics exercises. But all of these forms of yoga are meant to culminate in bhakti, or pure love. Hence the discipline of bhakti-yoga remains the foremost occupation for man, the activity that keeps the relationship derived from the ultimate conclusion always in an active state.

Any other conclusion reached and any other behavior adopted can be deemed invalid, subordinate, and one based off mental speculation. It is for this reason that the guru, or spiritual master, who is a Vaishnava at heart, sternly warns his disciple of the dangers of mental speculation. If one is not in knowledge of their inherent link to the Supreme Spirit, they will take to worshiping other entities and objects, including their own senses. To justify their unauthorized behavior, they will then concoct their own theories and ideas as to what the ultimate conclusion is. Indeed, in the absence of spirituality, there is not even the acknowledgement of a more powerful entity and the need to form a relationship with Him. While in many spiritual disciplines the acknowledgement of a superior spiritual entity is present, the identification of an eternal relationship, one that properly describes the eternal nature of the soul and its position of being transcendental to temporary material dresses and material nature itself, remains absent. Hence the activities adopted and results that follow are often no different from what is seen with those who are wholly attached to the interests of the temporary body in full defiance and ignorance of the natural laws of spiritual science as so kindly passed down by the Vedas.

One way to understand the dangers of mental speculation is to picture a dark room full of observers. For some reason or another, there is no light in this room, so everyone must fend for themselves and slowly and carefully make their way around and try to figure out what to do. One individual may put his hand on a particular object and guess as to what it is. “Oh, this must be a lamp. It has a slim neck and a large oval at the top, so it is probably of the halogen variety. I bet you this is one of those black lamps that effuses tremendous light.” Another person may come up to the same object and guess that it is a standing electric fan. “You can feel that the neck isn’t even that long and that the top cylinder has quite a large radius. This must be one of those standing fans that oscillates.” Both individuals posit their opinions, and due to the lack of light, there is no concrete evidence to base the assertions on, nor can a final conclusion be reached.

Shrila PrabhupadaAnother analogy which accurately conveys the paltriness of the knowledge acquired through simple sense perception comes to us courtesy of His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Let’s say we have a frog stuck in a well being visited by another frog. If the visitor frog were to approach the frog living in the well his whole life, he would have a very difficult time accurately describing the size of the Pacific Ocean, a massive body of water that he has personally seen. The frog in the well would ask, “Is the ocean two times the size of this well? Twenty times the size? How big is it compared to this well?” Obviously the frog in the well has a very limited scope of vision, as he can only understand concepts by comparing them to things he has seen. The human being in infancy goes through a discovery process that ideally continues all the way up until death. Yet we know that the earth is massive in size and that human beings have inhabited the land for millions of years. As such, it is impossible for anyone to personally observe all there is to see in just one lifetime.

Through mental speculation devoid of authorized information, conclusions are reached which have no basis in proper knowledge. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, describe events that are seemingly of the paranormal, with young children lifting up gigantic hills, flying monkeys battling demons that can take on different shapes at will, and seemingly ordinary individuals killing off thousands of soldiers with just one bow-and-arrow set. To those who only take shelter of their perceived observations gathered in the current life, there is no way to properly understand the statements of the Vedas pertaining to the activities of Lord Krishna, His incarnations and His devotees. Indeed, the mental speculators will posit theories that Krishna is simply a mythological character and that His instructions represent symbolism more than anything else. “There was never really a battlefield of Kurukshetra. The field described in the Bhagavad-gita represents one aspect, Krishna another, and Arjuna yet another symbolic representation.” They will say that the roaming through the forests by Lord Rama, a celebrated warrior prince incarnation of Krishna, His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana was also symbolic, a representation of the three energies associated with the Absolute Truth. The speculators would rather come up with convoluted theories than actually accept the authority of the sages who took so much time compiling these wonderful works.

Maharishi ValmikiThere is certainly symbolism to be found in the sportive exploits of the original Divine Being, but this doesn’t invalidate the authenticity of the actions. Life always imitates art, so it is not surprising that Krishna would exhibit behaviors that seemingly fall into patterns and can thus provide endless lessons. As the creator of everything in this world, including art, psychology and the like, Krishna is keenly aware of the importance of His activities and how the descriptions of His amazing exhibitions of strength and knowledge can be applied to effect positive change in all different facets of life. Nevertheless, the celebrated and highly exalted Vedic authors, like Maharishi Valmiki and Vyasadeva, had no time to waste on conjuring up images and concocting mythology. The bona fides of these sages were proved through their behavior and their impeccable and unmatched ability to describe the teachings and pastimes of the Lord in the most beautiful poetry form written in the most complex of languages, Sanskrit.

So how do we avoid mental speculation? Do we have to turn into robots who never think for themselves? Revisiting the dark room example, we can think of bhakti-yoga as being the process that allows an individual to have an ever-burning torchlight of knowledge, one that shines light on every aspect of the visible world. Only the sincere devotee can shed light on everything within one room and every sphere of material space. Instead of turning into robots who cease to think critically, the devotee is able to make full use of the massive potential for cognitive thought found within the brain. Evidence of this high scholarship and supreme ability to describe is found in the collected works and documented activities of the greatest Vaishnavas, those who follow in the line of the gopis of Vrindavana, the dear lovers of Shri Krishna.

gopisThe gopis, though ordinary cowherd women who were seemingly uneducated, always thought about Krishna during their time on earth, irrespective of where He was and what He was doing. As such, they understood full well the properties of the sun, clouds, grass, trees, cows, milk, food, etc. Every aspect of life was seen through the magnifying glass of pure bhakti. The gopis thus had a perfect understanding of every aspect of creation.

Lord Chaitanya, being a combined incarnation of Lord Krishna and Shrimati Radharani, the best of the gopis, similarly could explain everything in terms of Krishna. As the most learned scholar of His time, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu could present a perfect argument in favor of one position and then in the next minute provide a counterargument that completely debunked the previous viewpoint. Indeed, He could provide limitless arguments relating to the same subject matter because He knew that everything emanated from Krishna. Knowing the proper conclusion, His primary business in life was to explain everything in terms of its relationship to God. Therefore His explanations, teachings and recommended practices were always perfect in every way. Rather than guessing at what a certain aspect of life represented, Lord Chaitanya could go on and on explaining its beautiful nature and true utility in terms of its relationship to bhakti.

Rupa and Sanatana GosvamisLord Chaitanya’s followers took the bhakti-yoga ball and ran with it. The volumes of literature produced by the bhaktas, or devotees of God, is unmatched in their brilliance, cogency and timelessness. The nightly newscasts can be forgotten the subsequent day, as the information presented loses its relevance rather quickly. While newspapers turn into birdcage liner a few days after they are printed, the works of Vaishnavas like Shrila Rupa Goswami, Shrila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura and Shrila Prabhupada never lose their relevancy. Could we ever imagine writing a book or poem that is studied, worshiped and honored on a regular basis by people living several hundred years into the future? Yet the devotees beaming with the torchlight of transcendental knowledge do precisely that, as they don’t waste any time putting forth temporary, mundane and unauthorized speculations pertaining to the world and the nature of spirit. They have no reason to indulge in mental speculation because they have full faith and confidence in the transcendental words emanating from the lotus mouth of Lord Krishna.

When the proper conclusion is understood and truly realized, the resulting behavior can never deviate from the flawless conclusion that is sharanagati, or ultimate surrender unto God in devotion. Just as the working aspects of life become purified through the proper identification of the only beneficiary who is universally a candidate for love and respect, the thoughts of the pure devotee also attain a state beyond delusion, thus leaving the door open for endless explanation and expounding on the Absolute Truth and His limitless scope. Lord Chaitanya blazed the trail to be followed by those interested in realizing the full potential of the brainpower kindly offered us by Krishna. By honoring that path and its creator, the mind can always be fully engrossed in the sublime pleasure that is Krishna consciousness.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pulling Rank

Hanuman “Therefore, reducing my own form to a small size, I will enter Lanka at night for accomplishing Raghava’s task.” (Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.46)

tadahaṃ svena rūpeṇa rajanyāṃ hrasvatāṃ gataḥ ।

laṅkāmabhipatiṣyāmi rāghavasyārthasiddhaye

“Do you know who I am?”, is the question angrily posed by the righteously indignant blowhards who are too full of themselves to ever endure even the slightest bit of maltreatment or disrespect directed their way. Rather than accept the good and bad points of life like everyone else, the elite, those thinking themselves to be of a higher stock than the rest of the so-called peons of the world, will quickly pull rank by pointing out their high social standing, even though it is a temporary one, to get out of unpleasant situations. This behavior is, not surprisingly, quite common, as who wouldn’t be proud of their lofty position? But those with the highest level of intelligence understand that real pleasure in life can only come through service to the only entity truly deserving of it. High and low positions are merely vehicles for service, menial or otherwise. Whether one is in a lofty position or of an insignificant stature, the desire to serve is still present. Only when the dedicated activity is offered to the most worthy entity is the proper attitude maintained. When in such a purified state, the individual becomes willing to do anything, including deprecate their natural strength, fame, position and beauty, in order to get the task done.

Krishna with Mother YashodaWhat’s wrong with being proud of a respectable position? Shouldn’t a government leader, king, or office-boss be treated differently than others? Doesn’t the respect shown them allow for a peaceful coexistence? Those in important positions are certainly worthy of respect, but does this mean that one should be falsely puffed up by their standing? After all, isn’t everyone’s starting point the same upon exit from the womb? The infant child is wholly incapable of doing anything, except maybe crying. Relying on the parents and guardians for everything, the ignorant child, who possesses a level of intelligence that is inferior to that of many animals, must get an education and follow the proper path, enduring many of life’s ups and downs before reaching a respectable position. Even within an office or government infrastructure, those in the position of power have to earn their way to the top. A President or Prime Minister usually starts out as a mayor, state government representative, or governor before ascending to the highest post in the system. When a person goes from being a governor to president overnight, does anything about their character change? Do they put their pants on in a different way after becoming the leader of a community?

The constitutional makeup of the promoted individual doesn’t change, and neither does their source of individuality. Though the presence of the spiritual spark, the essence of life, may be imperceptible to the human eye, the signs of life are visible in outward symptoms. “I think, therefore I am”, is a valid statement, but going one step further, “A body has a spirit soul inside; therefore it is alive”, is an even more accurate and complete statement. Such a conclusion, though capable of being deduced by the sober individual, isn’t originally concocted by any ordinary brain. Rather, the concept of aham brahmasmi, or “I am a spirit soul”, descends from the Vedas, the original scriptural tradition of the world. Religion is not merely about following rules, regulations, edicts, and putting on strange outfits. Such practices aid in attaining the final goal, but the essence of spirituality is the service offered to the original Divine Being. The loving inclination is ingrained in spirit; hence it is not a tendency that needs to be taught. Through the principles of religion, the natural loving propensity lying dormant within the heart is aroused. Those who awaken the fiery passion for spiritual love thus secure for themselves the greatest freedom, the only true version of liberty. In that purified state, everyone else is viewed equally, and the bodies of the entities are taken for what they are: temporary and ignorance-inducing coverings.

The spirit soul is the basis of individuality in every form of life; therefore any position of power, stature, or respect is simply a temporary manifestation borne of the qualities of a body which is destined for destruction. If a puffed up individual gets maltreated at a restaurant or other public place and then asks, “Do you know who I am?”, an acceptable and valid response is, “Yes, you are a spirit soul just like me and every other form of life.” If the elitist retorts with, “No, I am the president of such and such country”, a counter-response can be, “Yes, but were you the president when you were born? Will you continue to be the president forever? Will not your body eventually become food for a crow? As such, how are you any different than anyone else, and why should you get preferential treatment in this instance?”

“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 KrishnaLord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, reveals in the Bhagavad-gita - the most concise and complete treatise on spirituality, which is free of any defects, including sentimentalism, sectarianism and blind fanaticism - that the learned man, the pandita, views all forms of life equally. Whether the object of interest is a brahmana, one of the priestly class, or a cow, the pandita does not change his viewpoint. This doesn’t necessarily mean the specific treatment offered is the same. For instance, we would not go up to a tiger and pet it thinking that it is equal to human beings in behavioral tendencies. Rather, the equal vision, sama-darshinah, is applied towards understanding and seeing the spirit soul within the tiger. Therefore, the pandita, the learned man, knows that there is no reason to feel superior or inferior to anyone else, nor is there a need to unnecessary kill any other form of life. Maltreatment and offensive words offered by others is actually a great blessing, as it keeps one humble and knowledgeable of their fixed, eternal position.

Besides being the basis for identity in all forms of life, including those residing outside the phenomenal world, individual spirit also has intrinsic properties, natural proclivities, which, when let loose, lead to the highest gain. After all, everyone takes to activity to reach some positive condition. Even the altruist and do-gooders are only looking for personal pleasure through their charitable efforts. The key, however, is to find the one entity whose satisfaction will rain down showers of bliss and happiness on all forms of life. Such an individual would have to be the best friend of every living entity in order to deliver universally applicable results. Fortunately, this is the exact position held by the esteemed Divine Creator, the origin of all life, the most loveable and blissful person, who never knows any diminution in any of His abilities, large or small. Only His satisfaction, brought about through humble, kind, uninterrupted and unmotivated service, can benefit all of humanity.

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition this Divine Being is given thousands of names, each of which speaks to His specific abilities in various areas. One name, Krishna, references the Lord’s all-attractive nature. Since Krishna is capable of enchanting the hearts and minds of all forms of life, He naturally becomes the ideal object of worship. How does one go about offering their service to Shri Krishna? The easiest way is to simply remain in His association. In the visible world, company is best had through personal contact, having the object of interest in one’s close proximity. A second option is to have verbal or written communication, such as through phone, letters, or email. The Supreme Lord, being the all-powerful Absolute Truth, can grant His association to anyone simply through thoughts. If one focuses their mind on Krishna by meditating on His transcendental form or remembering His sublime activities, which are too numerous to count, the Lord’s association is immediately granted. Even meditating on the Absolute Truth is a way of gaining association, though only to the impersonal feature. Yet one aspect of God is so powerful that it automatically arouses loving feelings and association of both His manifested and unmanifested aspects, along with His activities and features. This aspect is the name of the Lord, a sound vibration which is so powerful that it is even greater than the Person it addresses.

The name, which is found in sacred chants like the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is so sublime that it collectively carries the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of the Supreme Person it represents. Goswami Tulsidas notes that the unmanifested form which is meditated on within the mind by great yogis and devotees and the visibly manifested form of the deity which is worshiped by divine lovers are like the top and bottom of a jewelry box, with the holy name being the jewel that is protected inside. Whether one wants to worship the deity or simply sit in meditation all day, the pleasures derived can be greatly increased by keeping the name of the Lord on the tip of the tongue and firmly establishing the sound vibration that results from recitation of that name within the mind’s ear. When we hear an audible sound, naturally the vibration will enter the ears through the external holes. But when we think to ourselves, the same sounds are heard, except from within. When the name of God is chanted out loud, the sound vibrations travel to the insides of the ears of the chanter and whoever else is within audible range. But even if direct chanting isn’t performed, if the name is recited within the mind, the same benefit is there to the individual.

HanumanFor the exalted souls, those who are not haughty in the least bit, there is absolutely no attachment to the body, even though they possess an outward dress that remains completely spiritual. Matter is only viewed as temporary and debilitating when it further clouds the natural intelligence of the pure spirit soul. When one is firmly fixed in their rightful position as eternal servant of God, the material elements become servants of the service offered by the bhakta, or devotee. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the natural occupation of every form of life. In order for this divine engagement to be taken up by a conditioned soul, the aid of material elements is required. Indeed, once the outward elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether, and the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego are employed towards seeking the pleasure of the master of the senses, Hrishikesha, they become immediately spiritualized. Since the devotee knows no other business except bhakti, their entire body beams with spirituality. Such is the case with Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama who is endowed with every beneficial and noteworthy characteristic that can be enumerated.

Several thousands of years back, the master of all senses, the one entity who is intimately attached with every essence of spirituality, kindly descended to earth in a form visible to everyone, though not every person would see this individual for who He was, a divine incarnation of Krishna. Roaming the earth in the guise of a warrior prince named Rama, the Supreme Lord allowed the exalted spirit souls inhabiting earth at the time the chance to offer direct service to Him. There were many noteworthy personalities who made the most of this opportunity by dedicating their lives to Rama’s happiness, but none is more celebrated today than Hanuman, a Vanara who happened to be engaged in the service of the monkey-king Sugriva at the time of Rama’s sojourn through the holy land of Bharatavarsha.

Lord RamaRama not only gives others a chance to see a non-different, blissful and transcendental form of God, but He also creates situations that allow others to offer sincere service. A guru, or spiritual master, is unique in his ability to both impart spiritual instruction to others and create opportunities for service. It is seen that exalted gurus are sometimes driven around in fancy cars and waited on hand and foot by servants. For those gurus who are bona fide, those following in the line descending from the original spiritual master, Shri Lakshmana, the younger brother of Lord Rama and an incarnation of Ananta Shesha Naga, such service offered to their lotus feet doesn’t take away from their stature or purity of thought in any way. Indeed, such treatment allows the shelterable, those needing rescue from the pitfalls of material existence, a chance to offer their services to the Supreme Lord through a proxy. The guru, by accepting service and providing instruction, proves to be the most inclusive welfare worker, as he doesn’t just provide theoretical postulates that need to be contemplated on. Practical knowledge, or vijnana, that is exhibited by the guru’s daily business is more important, as it leads to changes in behavior. A shift in habits brings a purification of consciousness, which by itself is enough to grant the conditioned soul liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Shri Rama, as the origin of knowledge and religious practice aimed at understanding Him, similarly created many wonderful opportunities for those eager to offer their service. One such opportunity involved the finding of the exalted princess of Videha, Sita Devi. Sita is Rama’s wife for all of time, and while on earth she had been taken away by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Sugriva’s task, which would be ultimately turned over to Hanuman, was to find Sita’s whereabouts and return the information to Rama. Hanuman, as the most capable Vanara of Sugriva’s army, made the brave voyage across the ocean to Lanka via the aerial path. Just leaping across the ocean was enough to land Hanuman in the annals of history as one of the most dedicated servants, spiritual or otherwise. Still, setting foot on the outskirts of Lanka was only half the battle. He still needed a way to get into the town and find Sita.

Hanuman crossing the oceanThe wrinkle in the equation was the mighty force of the Rakshasas. These were no ordinary demons; they were elitists who had no justifiable reason to think themselves better than anyone else. They lived a life of depravity, though they thought themselves to be religious. Though they regularly took to killing innocent sages and eating their flesh, the Rakshasas would also perform religious functions aimed at procuring material benefits. Though they were always intoxicated off of wine, they considered themselves the most cultured due to their gold palaces and fancy living arrangements. Hanuman was actually deserving of the highest respect from others because of his stature as Rama’s servant and his ability to teach others about the meaning of life. Yet from the passage quoted above, we see that despite his standing he was more than willing to take on a diminutive form to accomplish Rama’s task.

In this situation, a puffed up individual might be tempted to think along these lines: “I just crossed the ocean in one jump. I fought off several demons and didn’t even break a sweat. I can kill all of these Rakshasas in an instant, such is my power. What need do I have to hide my beautiful form? These demons can learn a thing or two just by looking at me.” Indeed, Hanuman is exquisitely beautiful. Any day that we have the opportunity to see Hanuman, recite his name, or even think about him we should consider ourselves fortunate. If one were to dedicate their whole life to simply glorifying Hanuman, chanting his name, and thinking of his transcendental activities, it would be a life well spent.

Nevertheless, Hanuman, in all his glory, had no attachment to any of his features. Rather, he looked at all of his qualities as instruments for service to Rama. One of his many abilities allowed him to change sizes and shapes. Through harnessing his mystic powers, Hanuman could become very small in an instant. The small form is what he would choose for his entry into Lanka. An individual driven by false ego, being clouded by their ignorance brought on by fame and adulation, would scoff at the idea of becoming small. They would consider it beneath them. But the only thing shameful to Hanuman would have been to quit or see Rama’s mission fail. His dedication to God is his greatest quality, one that cannot be praised enough.

Hanuman Not surprisingly, Hanuman would go on to successfully find Sita, and rough up the Rakshasas a little bit in the process. Then returning with Rama, Lakshmana, and Sugriva’s army, Hanuman would play a vital role in the defeat of Ravana and the Rakshasas. To this day, he is one of the most widely worshiped divine figures in the world. He is the most humble of warriors, and not surprisingly, one of the most powerful as well. Where there is Hanuman, there is always victory in devotional service. Where the presence of the name of the Lord is strong, there is no chance of ignorance, hypocrisy, pomposity, or false identification. One who always adopts the mood of humility, courage, and perseverance exhibited by Shri Hanuman will always be in the good graces of the Lord, the most merciful and deserving of worshipable figures.