Saturday, May 7, 2011

Shorn of Brilliance

Hanuman“When the evening came the very powerful Hanuman quickly jumped up and entered the beautiful city, which had great pathways that were well-divided, was filled with rows of mansions, and had golden columns and golden latticed windows that made it resemble the city of the Gandharvas.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.50-51)

pradoṣakāle hanumāṃstūrṇamutplutya vīryavān |

praviveśa purīṃ ramyāṃ suvibhaktamahāpathām

prāsādamālāvitatāṃ stambhaiḥ kāñcanarājataiḥ |


The land we currently inhabit has its appealing aspects to it, especially the wondrous sights and aesthetically pleasing surroundings. But when placed in the proper context, the phenomenal world is one shorn of brilliance, as it is a mere shadow copy of the original realm that never knows decay, destruction, or temporary renovation. The allures of the visible world, which are enhanced by brilliance in the form of valuable jewels and gold, is not appealing in the least bit when separated from the most beautiful object to have ever graced this earth. Indeed, for one who has dedicated their life to serving such a benevolent master, the only appealing aspect of this world is the opportunity it brings for divine service. When not used to further solidify a relationship in the mood of service to the most loveable entity, any worldly object can be considered to be no better than an ordinary particle of dust.

VHSDuring the days of VHS tapes, when a copy of a particular video needed to be made one would play the original tape and then record the relevant sections onto a new tape. Since the content was travelling from tape to tape, the copied version wasn’t as clear as the original. The copied version was thus correctly labeled as “generated”. When a generated version would get transferred to another tape, a further loss in clarity of the picture would occur. Hence the more generated video cassette you got, the more degraded the picture would be. In a similar manner, the world we currently inhabit, the gigantic land mass known as the earth and all the various planets, is a shadow copy of the same land that exists in the spiritual world. This isn’t to say that all the objects fall into precisely the same arrangements, but the overall nature of matter is completely different. In the phenomenal world, matter is dull, lifeless, ever changing, and ultimately the cause of bondage. In the original realm, the same elements are full of life, permanent, and the cause of bliss and enjoyment due to their utility. In the shadow copy realm, which is akin to a highly generated version of the master copy known as the spiritual world, the worldly objects are mistakenly taken to be very appealing and the source of personal enjoyment. Yet items such as gold, silver, and precious jewels really have no tangible value unless they are used for the highest purpose.

Though stuck in a temporary realm that is governed by the illusory force known as maya, through the proper course of action, one which triggers a progressive shift in consciousness, the conditioned soul can return to the land that time never even touches, an area where space limitations are also nonexistent. Those whose vision is cleared through practicing divine love are able to see everything in the proper context and thus remain free from the tendency towards worldly sense gratification. Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, is an example of an individual possessing a pure vision. During the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the eternal proprietor of the spiritual kingdom, the only entity who is ever unchanging and undying in any form He takes on, descended to earth in the guise of a human being, or one that at least appeared to be mortal and the same in quality as everyone else. The living beings, who are linked to the Supreme Truth through the relationship known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva, are also eternal forces, but due to their inferior nature they have a tendency to deviate from their original consciousness and fall prey to the allurements instigated by the senses.

Lord RamaGod and His creation are indeed one, but there is still differences in the magnitude of spiritual potency. The arms and legs of the body are part of our identity when they are attached and functioning properly. If we somehow lose one of these appendages, however, our identities don’t change. We can continue to remain whole even through the loss of an entire body, for identity comes from the spirit soul residing within. Similarly, the Supreme Soul, that person who is the source of all potencies, remains complete and self-satisfied irrespective of what His multitudes of fragmental spiritual sparks are doing or not doing. When the individual soul, who is similar in quality to the Truth but vastly inferior in the quantitative exercise of freedom, remains in the company of the original spiritual fire, there is peace, prosperity and undying happiness. As soon as the sparks turn their backs on the Supreme Master and try to pursue their own level of supremacy, the promise of protection and freedom of movement granted by the Creator are lost. The sparks are essentially left to fend for themselves, though the door always remains open for reentry into the spiritual kingdom.

“Whenever and wherever there is a decline in religious practice, O descendant of Bharata, and a predominant rise of irreligion-at that time I descend Myself.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.7)

Shri Rama appeared on earth out of His own desire to reclaim the sincere souls looking for a return trip back to the imperishable land. The divine lovers, those who have established and maintained a purified consciousness, actually have no explicit wish to return to the personal company of the Supreme. Instead, they take every opportunity to remain connected with God in thoughts, words and deeds. Because God is absolute, there is never actually any separation for the devotees. Indeed, a nice side effect of a purified consciousness is that those things which are detrimentally enticing for the conditioned souls who have turned their backs on the spiritual realm have no effect on the individuals wholly dedicated to the original and bliss-providing engagement, bhagavata-dharma. One’s occupational duty aimed at maintaining an essential characteristic constitutes their dharma. Since all perceived palatable conditions save the eternal link with God are temporary and subject to destruction, every dharma aside from the occupational duty aimed at serving the Supreme Lord is thus considered inferior. The humble sage, who may or may not take on a specific outward appearance, dedicates all his thoughts and deeds to remaining connected with Bhagavan, which is another name for the Absolute Truth that describes His mastery and full possession of the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom. One who abides by the dictates of the supreme dharma always retains their essential characteristic of devotion to God.

HanumanShri Hanuman knows no other dharma besides devotional service. Since he is on the highest platform of consciousness, there is no difference between his body and spirit. His spiritual form effuses love and devotion to God, so much so that he periodically has to expand the size of his external features to accommodate the immense love he has. Though the Supreme Absolute Truth, whose original form is described as being all-attractive and is thus addressed as Krishna, is a singular entity, He still has multitudes of non-different bodies which serve different purposes. The avatara of Rama served the purpose of ridding the world of the dastardly influences of a very powerful Rakshasa demon named Ravana. Since Rama was God, the beautiful qualities found only in Bhagavan couldn’t be completely hidden from those with a clear vision. Hence Rama was the source of great pleasure to the pure souls He encountered, especially Hanuman. Though Shri Hanuman understands the Lord’s all-pervading nature and His kind mercy towards all forms of life, he still does not worship anyone as God except Rama.

Rather than just accept nice gifts and pleasant circumstances, the devotees prefer to always be actively engaged in the service of their object of affection. As such, Rama provided tasks for Hanuman to complete. Since Hanuman was no ordinary figure in terms of wisdom, strength, prudence and courage, the tasks assigned to him were not easy to complete by any estimation; the degree of difficulty of the work corresponded with the level of ability of the worker. While on earth roaming the forests, Rama’s wife Sita Devi was unscrupulously taken away by Ravana back to his island kingdom of Lanka. Hanuman, who lived with a band of celestial monkeys in the forest of Kishkindha, was entrusted with finding her whereabouts. After braving the elements and overcoming adverse conditions along his aerial path over the massive ocean, Hanuman made his way to the shores of Ravana’s capital city. Still, only the first part of the mission was complete. Now he needed to figure out how to infiltrate the city without being noticed. This way he could find Sita, inform her that Rama was coming to her rescue, and then return back to Sugriva, the king of the monkey-party serving Rama in Kishkindha.

HanumanHanuman decided that he would assume a diminutive form and enter Lanka during the nighttime. His newly transformed body had the dimensions of a cat and was wonderful to behold. In the above quoted passage from the Ramayana, we see Hanuman preparing to enter Lanka, which was fully adorned with items of exquisite beauty. In the conditioned state, when one remains ignorant of the unmatched opulence found in the imperishable realm, worldly sights are taken to be very visually appealing. Indeed, with all the pressures of school, work and family, getting away on vacations to visit exotic destinations around the world is seen as a pleasurable activity. Those who have travelled to such areas will recommend to their friends that they have to go to the same places, for they will derive tremendous enjoyment simply from the sightseeing.

Hanuman, in executing his mission for Rama, saw some of the most exquisite palaces and housing complexes ever created. This beauty was compared to that seen in the heavenly planets where the Gandharvas, or celestial singers, reside. Ravana had real wealth, not the kind that can quickly lose its value based on shifts in economic conditions. In the modern age, wealth is determined by one’s net worth, which consists of the aggregate value of the various assets that one possesses. Simply holding a large value of paper currency is enough to be considered wealthy, but as we all know, dramatic shifts in public policy can devalue a currency very quickly. It is for this reason that the workings of the Federal Reserve Bank in America are closely monitored. The chairman of this bank can be considered one of the craftiest speechmakers in the world, for if he makes one small slip up in his addresses, entire markets can drastically change in value. Therefore the content of his testimony before congressional committees is usually quite vague, with no direct endorsement for any specific policy given. Neither does he openly endorse or reject any particular sector of the economy.

Hanuman in LankaReal wealth is something that has value under any and all conditions. Commodities like gold, silver and jewelry are valuable irrespective of the political climate and the level of national debt. If a nation’s economy collapses, you can still take your gold to another region and have a tangible asset. Gold will always be valuable wherever one lives. Since Ravana’s capital city of Lanka was filled with gold, it had real opulence; that wished for by any materialist. Hanuman noticed the beautiful sites and had some appreciation for it, but in the end, he had no attachment to any of it. Any place divorced of its relationship with its original creator must be deemed second class and thus not worthy of attachment. Saintly figures like Hanuman can remain in a secluded forest and still feel as if they are in the most opulent kingdom, provided that they get to remember the Supreme Lord and His immediate family members. Hanuman was searching for Sita, who was the real jewel lying hidden in a city masked by illusory aesthetics, items whose visual appeal, while high by the material estimation, paled in comparison to the transcendental beauty belonging to the Lord’s eternal consort, Sita Devi.

Through his fervent desire to see real brilliance and beauty, Hanuman would end up finding Sita and temporarily allaying her fears. Due to his heinous act of trying to enjoy what rightfully belonged to Rama, Ravana and his opulence would soon be destroyed. On his way out of Lanka, Hanuman would be temporarily taken captive by Ravana and brought in front of his royal court. Setting fire to Hanuman’s tail, Ravana thought that he had taught the monkey a lesson; that he should never mess with Ravana and his Rakshasas. Hanuman, ever the resourceful warrior, took full advantage of his tail being set on fire by subsequently laying to waste the materially enriched city. Assuming a massive form and waving his fiery tail from place to place, Hanuman left Ravana with the most memorable parting shot, a gift that kept on giving, a warning of what was to come his way. Later on Hanuman would return with Rama, His younger brother Lakshmana, and the monkey army commanded by Sugriva. Ravana and his kingdom would be destroyed, and Sita would be rescued.

Hanuman laying waste to LankaThough the palaces and highways of Lanka were exquisitely adorned with gold and other jewelry, their beauty was no comparison to the splendor of Rama’s faithful servant and the radiance and blissful energy of the goddess of fortune herself, Sita Devi. Hanuman, though in the form of a forest dweller, a lowly monkey, is far more beautiful than any site this mundane world has to offer. Simply remembering his wonderful form and his undying devotion to Rama is enough to bring eternal pleasure to the heart. The external world, which goes through cycles of creation, maintenance and destruction, may have aspects to it that are temporarily appealing, but the accounts of the transcendental exploits of Hanuman and the sound vibrations he produces on a regular basis in praise of Rama, Lakshmana, and Janaki represent brilliance that never loses its luster. By regularly reciting the sacred formula of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the undying brilliance of the spiritual world and all of its divine inhabitants can be remembered during every second of every day.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Slight of Hand

Hanuman “At night, on the sun having set, Maruti [Hanuman] contracted his body. Becoming the size of a cat, he was a wonderful sight to behold.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.49)

sūrye cāstaṃ gate rātrau dehaṃ saṃkśipya mārutiḥ |

vṛṣadaṃśakamātraḥ san babhūvādbhutadarśanaḥ

As is so nicely noted in its name, the Ramayana glorifies the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the handsome and pious prince of Ayodhya, Lord Rama, who is a celebrated avatara, a non-different expansion of the Supreme Lord in the spiritual sky. Any work which glorifies God becomes pleasing to those who have turned their backs on material nature in favor of the sublime engagement of divine love. Therefore, the most exalted servants, those who have no inkling for mundane sense gratification and the misery it brings, take great joy from hearing the accounts of the life and pastimes of Shri Rama found in the Ramayana, a poem penned by Maharishi Valmiki. Since the complete definition of God includes His paraphernalia, energies and associates, the Ramayana does not focus exclusively on Rama. Since the poem was regularly recited in the Lord’s kingdom by His two sons, Lava and Kusha, Rama Himself derives great enjoyment from hearing the accounts found within, especially those describing the wonderful exploits of the greatest servant of all-time, one whose dedication, love and affection for his worshipable object was so great that in many respects he surpassed his master in stature. This heightened status was due to the benevolence of the Supreme Lord, to whom we all owe a debt of gratitude. Indeed, that Supreme Benefactor is the source of all good things in this world.

“He who attributes his virtues to You and holds himself responsible for his sinfulness; who fixes all his hopes on You and loves Your devotees - in his heart dwell, You and Sita.” (Maharishi Valmiki speaking to Lord Rama, Ramacharitamanasa, Ayodhya Kand, 130.1-4)

HanumanThe nature of the bhaktas, or devotees, is to attribute all their good qualities to the Lord and lay the blame for all their bad traits at their own feet. One may argue that this mindset is too narrow to be valid, for if God was responsible for the good things in life, surely He is also to blame for any bad situations and maltreatment shown to His fellow sons and daughters. Certainly every outcome can be traced to the cause of all causes, the Supreme Lord, but since the bhakta is a devoted lover, he overlooks any and all perceived flaws in his loveable object. Goswami Tulsidas very nicely points out that the topmost transcendentalist, who is compared to a Chatak bird which does nothing all day but stare at its beloved dark raincloud, is so attached to its object of affection, God, that there is no way to properly measure its love. In ordinary dealings, the limit to our dedication to the object of our affection is measured by our reaction to their maltreatment towards us. Any fall from grace or any lapse in judgment on the part of the worshiped is seen as a character defect, and after enough deficiencies in behavior have been observed, the level of love felt by the corresponding party dwindles. What lover remains dedicated to their object of affection after being wholly rejected time and time again?

Yet the Chatak bird, the pure devotee, through the good times and the bad remains ever committed to its devotion, which itself is the impetus for further dedication. Because of this behavioral characteristic, the devotee remains forever tied to the Supreme Lord, as God stays in their heart at all times. In the Ramacharitamanasa, a devotional poem which synthesizes the events of the Ramayana and presents them in an easier to understand format, the details of a meeting between Maharishi Valmiki and Lord Rama are described. At the time, Rama was travelling through the woods with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana. They were looking for a nice place to set up a cottage, so after humbly approaching Valmiki at his ashrama, Rama asked if he knew of any suitable location. Valmiki cleverly replied by summarizing the qualities of a devotee and stating that Rama and Sita should take up residence in the heart of such an individual. One of the characteristics mentioned by Valmiki is that of holding oneself responsible for all sinful characteristics and attributing any and all beneficial traits to the Supreme Lord. This is a very nice quality, as it is indicative of the devotee’s being on the highest platform of divine love.

Lord RamaAnother quality mentioned by Valmiki during that meeting is that of deriving great pleasure from hearing of Rama’s activities. The ears of a devotee are compared to an ocean which is constantly replenished by hearing of the transcendental pastimes of Rama and His closest associates. It is also noted that no matter how many tributaries and rivers come rushing in, this ocean never becomes overfilled, thus indicating the differences between spiritual qualities and material ones. We may enjoy a particular film or television show and watch it over and over again, but after a certain point, a level of satiation will be reached. We can’t read the same books, watch the same movies, and hear the same songs every single day and not get bored. But the ocean-like mind of the pure devotee is so wonderful that it can absorb the same descriptions of the pastimes of the Lord and the same sound vibrations glorifying His transcendental qualities over and over again without ever being fully satisfied.

The hidden secret of divine love known only to the topmost transcendentalists of the bhakti school is worship in separation. Generally, the primary desire is to unite with the object of affection and enjoy the synergy that results. After all, association is the entire nature of the friendly relationship; meet up with your friends and hang out. Yet with the Supreme Lord, if the consciousness is properly situated, being separated from Him in a physical sense is actually more pleasurable than directly being in His company. This is due entirely to God’s absolute nature, as separation is really not any different than personal contact when on the spiritual plane. The Lord, through His pastimes and names, is just as potent far away as He is when standing right before us. Therefore the greatness of works like the Ramayana cannot be properly measured.

Hanuman readingThe qualities of a devotee provided by Valmiki apply to a large cross-section of individuals, especially those residing in the spiritual world. Though there are countless liberated souls engaged in devotional service, no single person better exemplifies the characteristics of a devotee of God than Shri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior and eternally existing worshipable object. Hanuman, though having had Rama’s personal association and benedictions, worships the Lord almost entirely in the mood of separation. The Ramayana exists primarily for his pleasure, as he takes great joy in hearing the same accounts of Rama’s life and teachings every single day. Though Hanuman is supremely powerful, wholly renounced, and fully capable of harnessing any of the perfections related to mystic yoga, his favorite activities are hearing and chanting about the Supreme Lord.

Worship in separation is not a unidirectional force. Just as the devotees love to hear about the activities of their favorite person, the Supreme Lord and His associates take great joy in hearing of the transcendental activities of the devotees. Just as much as Hanuman loves thinking about Rama, the Lord takes great delight in glorifying and hearing of the exploits of Hanuman. One specific incident relating to Hanuman is described as amazing in the Ramayana of Valmiki. This viewpoint was held not only by the celestials in the sky overseeing the events, but also by Rama, who is antaryami, or the all-pervading witness.

What exactly did Hanuman do that was so wonderful? Did he dress himself very nicely? Did he take on a stature that was extremely powerful? Did he perform some amazing feat for his own benefit? Aside from worship in separation, wherein one hears about the Supreme Lord and keeps Him within their heart and mind, another aspect of devotional service involves direct engagement in a task to be performed for God’s benefit. Hanuman, as the best candidate for service in any and all situations, took up the most daunting mission of finding Sita’s whereabouts. During Rama’s trek through the woods, His wife was kidnapped by a Rakshasa demon named Ravana. This unfortunate occurrence presented an opportunity for service to the Vanaras, or human-like monkeys, residing in the forest of Kishkindha. While Sugriva was their king, Hanuman was their most capable warrior.

HanumanHanuman braved his way across the massive ocean for Rama. How did an ordinary monkey travel over such a large body of water? Why was this journey even required? Sita’s captor, Ravana, had set up camp on the island of Lanka. This kingdom was strategically situated so as to make it difficult for others to attack. Indeed, Ravana didn’t think that anyone would be capable of infiltrating his seemingly impregnable fortress of opulence. Even if someone did manage to make it over the ocean, they couldn’t do much by themselves. How could they stand and fight against the massive Rakshasa army, each member of which was well skilled in the art of illusion?

Of course Hanuman was no ordinary figure. Though Sugriva had many powerful monkeys in his dispatched search parties, only Hanuman was capable of even thinking of getting across the ocean. To accomplish this task, Hanuman first had to assume a massive size. As a master of mystic yoga, such a transformation was not difficult for him. After assuming a gigantic stature, one the size of a mountain, Hanuman assured his friends that he would reach Lanka and find Sita. If she weren’t there, he’d then leap to the heavenly planets and continue searching. If she still wasn’t found, Hanuman would bring the entire kingdom of Lanka back with him to scour out; such was the determination of this great servant.

With the appropriate bodily frame attained, Hanuman took a giant leap off of a mountaintop and flew through the air. Though he met several obstacles along the way, he brushed them aside and reached the shore of Lanka. Just crossing the ocean alone was a difficult task, one duly noted and appreciated by the celestials who had a front-row seat in the sky. Since Hanuman’s mission was reconnaissance, he couldn’t keep his massive stature and enter Lanka. The whole point of the mission was to find Sita and return the information of her whereabouts to Rama. The Lord would then do the needful in respect to fighting Ravana and rescuing His wife.

Hanuman worshiping RamaHanuman could defeat anyone in battle, but his assigned task did not call for direct conflict, especially one instigated by him. The Rakshasas were also well on guard for enemy attack. Though their kingdom was strategically located, it is the nature of the sinful to always be fearful of losing their possessions secured through ill-gotten means. Hanuman finally decided on assuming a diminutive form, one that would allow him to enter Lanka unnoticed. As such, he anxiously awaited the nightfall, and when it finally came, he reduced himself to the size of a cat.

This transformation from a giant figure to a small one having the dimensions of a cat is described in the Ramayana as being an amazing sight. A vision is usually considered amazing and wonderful to behold because it is rare or difficult to duplicate. Various landmarks around the world, such as large towers, unique formations of rocks, waterfalls, etc., are deemed amazing and natural wonders. But Hanuman, as an animate being, was amazing because of his ability to cast aside all ego and desire for fame by assuming a diminutive stature. His massive form was surely a sight to behold, but his assuming a small form for the sake of Rama’s benefit was even more amazing. Not surprisingly, he would go on to successfully infiltrate Lanka, find Sita, allay her fears, and then safely return to Rama and Sugriva.

To this day, Hanuman is worshiped in a variety of forms, some which depict his massive stature that leapt across the ocean and others which show him carrying a giant mountain. Yet when he is pictured with Sita, Rama and Lakshmana, he is seen in a very diminutive form, one which is offering obeisances to the Supreme Lord. Upon first glance, it appears that Rama is imposing His superior stature in this pose, with Hanuman acting as His subject following a reverential attitude. But the truth is that Hanuman’s diminutive stature is completely his own doing; he purposefully makes himself very small in the presence of Rama and His family. Shri Rama tries His best to pick up Hanuman and bring him on an equal level, but Hanuman flat out refuses. As the greatest devotee of God, Hanuman never assumes himself to be equal to the Supreme Lord. Yet due to the perfect attitude he embodies and his undying love and devotion for Rama, he actually surpasses God in many respects.

Rama darbar Goswami Tulsidas notes that the servant who properly serves the master exceeds the master in stature. As proof of this claim, Tulsidas points to how Hanuman leapt over the massive ocean to reach Lanka, while Rama would later walk across a bridge constructed of rocks by the monkeys. The purport is that the servant, through his loving service to the Lord, attains the highest stature due simply to the kind benedictions provided by the Master. As such, it is not surprising to see Hanuman held in such high esteem today. He is the perfect embodiment of love in separation and also humility. He is willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done in the transcendental arena. The garb he has to don and the size he has to assume are of no concern to him. Just as there is no proper way to measure the love felt by the Chatak bird towards its beloved raincloud, which is a metaphor for the Supreme Lord whose bodily hue is dark blue, there is no limit to the glories of Shri Hanuman. Just like an ocean that can never overflow with stories about the original Divine Being in the sky, the body of water that represents the glories of Shri Hanuman can never swell over, no matter how often it is replenished with kind words offered in his favor.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Markup Language

Lord Krishna “Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also confirmed that in this age of Kali, Krishna has descended in the form of sound vibration. Sound is one of the forms which the Lord takes. Therefore it is stated that there is no difference between Krishna and His name.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation to Krishna Consciousness, Ch 6)

The tradition of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveals that sound is the key to attaining freedom, the gateway to eternal life, wherein the soul perpetually retains a special body type that is immune to loss, heartache, pain, misery and an ultimate dissolution. The individual spiritual spark, the essence of life, is eternal, but its present form of body is not; such is the nature of matter. The separated energy of the Supreme Absolute Truth, material nature, which also goes by the name of maya, or that which is not Brahman or pure spirit, brings about illusion, attachment and wanderings in search of an Absolute Truth, an entity of bliss and happiness that does not have any defects. Irrespective of any accompanying processes adopted, hearing the sound of the Absolute Truth, in any form, whether outwardly through a song or inwardly within the mind, serves as the most potent method of self-realization.

htmlEven in areas not seemingly related to spiritual life and religion, the production of sound remains the superior method of information transfer. A great example is seen with the markup language used to render a web page. With the advent of the internet, information can now be passed to millions of people spread across thousands of miles within an instant. Though the underlying technology has grown by leaps and bounds since its inception, at the core of any web page is still the HTML code, or hypertext markup language. In normal circumstances, if you have messages or ideas that you want to communicate to many people where speaking is not an option, you put the words of your message down on paper or you have them typed or printed. With the internet, the same information can still be typed out, but the presentation can be enhanced through formatting using HTML code.

HTML is probably the simplest of all the programming languages to learn, as it is not tied down to specific rules. For programs written in other languages, if errors are made or if certain rules are violated, the program execution will halt; thus requiring a fix by the programmer. HTML is more liberal in this sense, as errors in coding can still result in some type of output displayed to the page viewer. At the same time, an error becomes more difficult to diagnose, as the presentation can vary drastically if the rules of the language are violated. The central programming unit of HTML is the tag. Tags are considered markup language because they don’t appear in the visual output. Say for example that we want to insert a paragraph into our output page. Normally we would just type the words that we would need and save them in a file. But internet browsers must know to treat this paragraph differently than other text, i.e. they must separate the text and indent it properly. By enclosing the relevant text within paragraph tags, “<p>…</p>”, the rendering agent can properly identify the input and thus know how to format the output. The actual text of the tags doesn’t appear in the final display to the end-user.

Similarly, if we want a specific word to have a different color or appearance, the font tag can be used, “<font></font>.” Again, since the tag is markup language, its text will not appear in the output. The markup is simply a signal to the program to render text in a specific way. This simple, yet powerful tool of programming actually provides insight into how words themselves operate. The written word is no different than the spoken word, as the key aspect of the communication remains the sound vibration. When we hear information from others, the specific sounds represent people, places, emotions, things and actions. The written word is just the visual representation of the same sound vibrations. Therefore we can think of alphabet characters as their own form of markup language, as their visual representations have no bearing on the information that is presented. When we see a specific word typed out or written, the brain performs processing similar to that of a web browser. The written word is a markup signaling what type of sound vibration should be produced within the mind. In this way we see that sound vibrations remain at the forefront of all communication transfer.

Bhagavad-gitaNot surprisingly, this key component of information exchange is well accounted for in the Vedas. In fact, all important Vedic information is passed down through sound vibrations, which make up various hymns, poems and songs. Even the most celebrated and widely read Vedic texts, such as the Bhagavad-gita, Ramayana and Upanishads, are all written in poetry style format, allowing them to be sung out loud. Since sound forms the functional unit of information transfer, it represents our ticket to real freedom. The name of the Supreme Absolute Truth, which is nothing more than the sound vibration representation of God, immediately evokes memories of His forms, attributes and pastimes. The name even awakens consciousness of the Lord’s other names; thereby creating a recursive element to transcendental sound. When one’s consciousness is always fixed on these four aspects of the Divine, who as an eternal object is always worthy of worship, association with maya, or that which is not personally God, ceases. When the pure consciousness remains active up until the time of death, liberation from the cycle of birth and death is achieved.

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

In addition to the debates relating to whose religion is legitimate and whose isn’t, there is always competition amongst advocates of the different processes for salvation. One person says it is best to simply sit quietly all day and avoid the damaging attachments that come from worldly life. Another person says that performing mystic yoga, wherein the effects of the senses are mitigated through gymnastics postures and breathing exercises, is the way to go. And still another group is wholly dedicated to the ritualistic sacrifice, wherein worshipers attend massive gatherings on a periodic basis, either weekly or daily, and perform their worship in the company of friends and family.

Lord KrishnaYet just as the sound vibration produced from markup language is the key component of information transfer, it also serves as the most powerful, fastest and stable link to the spiritual world. Consciousness is driven by the mind, which is capable of thinking at speeds faster than anything seen in the outer world. With the speed of the mind, one can travel thousands of miles in distance and hundreds of years into the past. In a similar manner, when the mind produces the sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth, it can travel immediately to the spiritual world, the land where time and space have no influence. As is so nicely pointed out by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gita, the spiritual sky is forever illuminated and doesn’t require any outside source of energy.

“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 15.6)

Due to the superior nature of the eternal realm, whoever can go there, either in mind or in body, will be forever benefitted. Gymnastics, meditation, breathing exercises and ritualistic worship can certainly help one break free of their bad habits developed over the course of many lifetimes in the temporary realm, but only through the sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth can the mind permanently remain connected to the supreme object of pleasure who, as the all-pervading witness, resides not only within the spiritual world, but inside the hearts of every living entity as well.

So which sound vibration should we produce? Does God have a name? How could He be limited in that way? The Vedas describe the Supreme Absolute Truth as having limitless attributes and features. He has no hands, legs, or arms, but He can run faster than anyone else and He can eat anything that is offered to Him. He has no eyes, but He can see all that is going on. His spiritual body parts are indescribable, and it is impossible for one to even begin to understand what Absolute power and strength are like. As such, the Vedas often describe the Absolute Truth as neti neti, “not this, not that.”

Lord KrishnaFaced with the neti neti problem, do the great Vedic seers, the saints who have understood the Truth by having an always active connection to the eternal realm, throw up their hands and spend their time doing nothing? Actually, the neti neti issue brings even greater impetus for serving. Though the Supreme Absolute Truth is considered indescribable, the Vedas and their followers try their best to identify some of His key attributes, features that, when understood, or at least acknowledged, can bring great pleasure to the wayward souls deluded by the pursuit of material perfection. Names like Rama, Narasimha, Achyuta, Keshava and Govinda accurately describe God’s different forms and features. Yet of all the names, Krishna is considered superior because it speaks to God’s all-attractive nature in His original form. Every person in this world is seeking some sort of pleasure. Wouldn’t it make sense then that the most powerful and original entity would be capable of attracting everyone? Indeed, even Krishna’s impersonal features, such as the brilliant light of Brahman and His separated energy of maya, are attractive to the individual sparks that emanate from Him. Thus it totally makes sense that Krishna’s personal feature would be all the more attractive.

The markup language of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, produces the most potent, sublime and enduring sound within the mind. Simply reading this sequence of words, which is known as the maha-mantra, can bring tremendous spiritual merits, or sukriti. The benefits are further enhanced upon constant and repetitious production of this most wonderful sound. When the tongue takes charge of producing the names of Krishna and Rama, the glories are spread to all those within audible range. The sound vibrations produced within the mind through reading the output of HTML can increase our knowledgebase of current events, politics, science and so many other things. But only the sound vibration of the Absolute Truth can put us in touch with our spiritual counterpart, that one entity who is wholly capable of accepting the service we are itching to provide. In any other area of endeavor, both the ability to provide service and the happiness that results are limited by time and the defects found in the performer and the beneficiary. Romantic love seems like it will last forever, but arguments often ensue even after years of being together. Service to our children eventually stops when the kids turn into adults. Service to our senses turns out to be the least rewarding, as eventually objects of enjoyment cease to bring pleasure.

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

Krishna eating butter Krishna is the ultimate reservoir of pleasure and our original object of worship, but since He is God, He is considered above the need for adoration and fame. How do we worship someone who is considered atmarama, or self-satisfied? Again, we can look to the Bhagavad-gita for the answer. Shri Krishna says that if anyone offers Him a leaf, flower, fruit or water with love and devotion, He gladly accepts it. Though He is in need of nothing, the Lord kindly accepts whatever we want to give Him. Even if we are not capable of offering Him anything tangible, simply reciting His name in a loving way is enough to catch His attention. The sound vibration of Hare Krishna ignites a shift in consciousness, leading to a mindset where all thoughts remain focused on pleasing Krishna and swimming in the ocean of nectar consisting of His transcendental forms and pastimes.

Since sound vibration is at the heart of information transfer, finding the superior sound to produce will naturally lead to the best result. Nothing can bring greater pleasure to the ears than the sounds representing Absolute Truth, bliss, knowledge, eternality and divine love. The teachings and methods prescribed by the Vedas, which are also known as the shrutis, or “that which is heard”, never become outdated. The supremacy of the hearing process stands the test of time. Irrespective of technological advancements, sound remains the key ingredient in knowledge acquisition. Just as markup language can be used to properly transfer important information to large masses of people from all walks of life, the written words of Vedic instruction and mantras aimed at glorifying and pleasing the Supreme Lord can help spread the message of eternal peace, love and devotion to everyone.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Adbhuta Darshana

Hanuman “At night, on the sun having set, Maruti [Hanuman] contracted his body. Becoming the size of a cat, he was a wonderful sight to behold.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.49)

sūrye cāstaṃ gate rātrau dehaṃ saṃkśipya mārutiḥ |

vṛṣadaṃśakamātraḥ san babhūvādbhutadarśanaḥ

Shri Hanuman, in any form, is the most wonderful sight to behold. Whether he is engaged in acts of peace, violence, charity, fighting, or describing stories to his best friends, the faithful, pure, dedicated and kind nature of Hanuman is awe-inspiring and brings tears to the eyes of the beholder who can see past the boundaries erected by sectarianism, sentimentalism, and limited knowledge of the wonderful universe and its workings. In this beautiful passage provided by the Ramayana of Valmiki, Hanuman’s use of the anima-siddhi is being greatly appreciated, as the celestial monkey took on a diminutive stature for the purpose of finding a missing princess, the daughter of King Janaka, Sita Devi. Hanuman’s assuming the size of an ordinary cat is both amazing and wonderful to friend and foe alike. The admirer will understand that, as the faithful servant of Lord Rama, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Hanuman was wholly capable of any wondrous feat, while to the foe such descriptions further delude their intelligence and support their claims that the classic Vedic texts represent nothing more than hyped up mythology. But the latter mindset is only present due to the frog philosophy, one where scenes and observations not detected by direct perception are considered lies and untruths. This is indeed a sad occurrence, as the viewpoint is not based on any level of intelligence, nor is it helpful in the grand scheme of things. Those who understand Hanuman and the descriptions of his activities found in texts like the Ramayana and Hanuman Chalisa know that he is a real character and that the only aspect of his life that is seemingly unreal is his dedication to God.

IMG_0255The observations of those who are skeptical of the accounts of the paranormal found in the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, can be compared to the remarks made by the frog who has spent his whole life in a well. If you were to try to describe the size of the Pacific Ocean to someone who has lived inside a well his whole life, it would be very difficult to do. The frog, who represents a person with a limited understanding, would ask, “So, compared to this well, how big is the Pacific Ocean? Is it two times the size? Five times the size of this well? Maybe one hundred times the size?” The frog doesn’t know any better; it is not intentionally being difficult in its attempts to understand the nature of this gigantic body of water, nor is it trying to trip up the person attempting to describe the size of one of the largest bodies of water in the world. The frog only knows what it has experienced; therefore it is incapable of truly understanding the size of any large body of water.

In a similar manner, young children, those in the first and second grades, look to older students, like sixth and seventh graders, as being very authoritative and large in stature. Yet to an adult, a sixth grader is still a young child, one who is not mature in any way. Viewpoints are based on direct sense perception and experience. Since the length and breadth of the entire universe are absolutely impossible to fathom for even the most intelligent scientist, knowledge of the universe and its workings will remain limited. When information is presented describing events and workings of nature that have never been directly perceived, the frog philosopher will use their blunt instruments and bodily senses to try to wrap their minds around the seemingly impossible details.

Only one entity, the Supreme Lord, the creator of everything, can understand all the intricate details of the nature He created. Indeed, if one could attain perfect and complete knowledge, they would lose their position as a fallible living entity. It is actually impossible to think beyond the limits of time and space, as who can actually conceptualize the idea of eternality, or sanatana? The properties of spirit are described as sanatana, which means without beginning and without end. This goes against the very fiber of our sense perceptions, as the descriptions of all events start with a beginning and conclude with an ending. Therefore only God can understand the true nature of time, space, and the amazing workings of the universe. The scientist, through their sincere endeavors, may be able to understand the workings of atoms and how one can use them to their benefit, but they still have yet to wrap their arms around the concept of a tiny pea-like entity surviving in the tiniest of spaces known as the womb. A human being, through the use of advanced machinery and modern science, can travel to outer space at great cost, but they still have no ability to travel within the tiniest of spaces, one which was already inhabited during the prenatal period. How can anyone claim to know everything if even past feats can’t be repeated?

HanumanShri Hanuman, the faithful Vanara warrior and servant of Lord Rama, wasn’t decorated with degrees in various sciences, but he did possess the highest level of love and respect for God. Due to his burning desire to always offer his services to the Lord, he was granted every skill necessary for performing his tasks. In relation to spiritual life, the foremost practice of which is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the qualitative aspects of the service offered cannot be measured or compared. This is because each individual life form is born with different propensities and different abilities as it pertains to worldly work. But what can be measured is the degree to which one taps into their potential for service. In this respect, Hanuman is the greatest devotee, as he did not let any of his abilities go to waste.

“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)

In the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God, the most complete and succinct set of information and instructions pertaining to spirituality the world has ever seen, Lord Krishna, the original form of Godhead appearing on earth in a seemingly human form, reveals that He is the ability in man. The individual spiritual spark is the driving force behind activity, but the results of such work are distributed by the higher authorities in charge of the workings of nature. No one can lay original claim to their abilities, as every tool at their disposal is provided by the Supreme Lord. In Hanuman’s case, he was equipped with extraordinary skills that spanned many different fields of activity. Hanuman had mastery over the Sanskrit language; not only could he understand it perfectly, but he could compose beautiful Sanskrit poetry on the fly, without even thinking. There are many rules that must be followed when composing work in Sanskrit, so to be able to follow them while properly conveying the message at the same time requires great thought and intelligence. Hanuman, though in the body of a human-like monkey, had complete grasp of the oldest language in the world.

“One cannot speak this way without having been well-trained in the Rig Veda, memorized the Yajur Veda, and thoroughly understood the Sama Veda.” (Lord Rama speaking to Lakshmana about Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 3.28)

Hanuman also knew the three primary Vedas to perfection. The original scriptural tradition of India is known as the Veda, which as a word translates to knowledge. Amazingly enough, the Veda simply contains hymns, songs glorifying the Supreme Absolute Truth. Goswami Tulsidas, a famous poet and exalted Vaishnava saint, remarks that the glories of the Lord are well established in the Vedas, which constantly sing His glories. In order to make these hymns more understandable to the fallen people of the material world, the Veda was later divided into branches. Typically brahmanas, or expert priests, would choose to focus their studies on only one of these four Vedas, but those who knew more than one were considered quite learned. Hanuman, through his speaking abilities, proved that he had mastery over the three primary Vedas, though in reality there was nothing about spiritual life unknown to Hanuman.

HanumanHanuman also had mastery over mystic yoga, the ancient art of linking to the divine consciousness through sense control practiced by the sages of the Vedic tradition. Yoga is generally practiced today as an exercise routine due to the health benefits it provides, but the original purpose of the system was to detach the mind from the senses. Just as one who can avoid anger and rage is considered superior to one who can’t, the ability to control the mind and detach it from all objects of sense interaction is considered a superior skill. One who practices the various breathing exercises and gymnastics poses properly can thus acquire what are known as siddhis, or perfections. Because perfections are so difficult to attain, most yogis typically choose to focus their efforts on one or two siddhis. An expert yogi can become larger than the largest object, have out-of-body experiences by travelling through outer space, and survive for long periods of time without breathing. Hanuman, not surprisingly, had mastery over all the siddhis without having to put forth any extra effort. He had no desire to change his shape or travel through space, but these abilities were given to him for a reason. His time to shine would come soon enough.

During the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, the Supreme Absolute Truth, that singular entity worshiped since the beginning of time by different names such as God, Bhagavan and Krishna, descended to earth in the guise of a human being. How can God take birth as a ordinary living entity? This is certainly an extraordinary ability, one lost on those deluded by the frog mentality. If God created all the innumerable planets and the giant sun which never burns out of energy, why can’t He take on the guise of a fallible living entity and roam this earth? He surely isn’t affected by the workings of nature in the same way that ordinary men are, but this doesn’t preclude Him from directly appearing anywhere. He is antaryami after all, or the all-pervading witness of every activity performed by every living entity since the beginning of time. Therefore the only amazing aspect to His appearances on earth is just how well He plays the role of a fallible creature, all the while remaining completely unaffected by material contact. Not only do the non-devotees get fooled by the pastimes of the divine incarnations, but so do the purest devotees.

“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!” (Bg. 4.5)

If someone loves God, how could they get tricked into taking Him to be an ordinary human being? There are two different aspects to the illusory energy that governs this world. One aspect results in the delusion that causes association with the temporary nature. Indeed, this deviation from the divine consciousness is the root cause of the existence of the phenomenal realm. As such, those who take God in His various incarnations like Lord Rama, Narasimha, and His original appearance as Krishna to be simply elevated manifestations of the Absolute Truth contained within bodies composed of maya are further deluded in their understanding. But the other aspect to the illusory energy works directly under the Lord’s supervision to act as an agent to enhance the loving exchanges between the pure devotees and their supreme loveable object. Love is very difficult to practice under the mood of awe and reverence. Surely the respectful attitude is superior to the one that outwardly denies the existence and supremacy of a divine worshipable figure, but it doesn’t represent the height of love. When there is equality or even a feeling of superiority towards the object of interest, the loving exchanges are further increased in intensity. When the loveable object is deemed to be in a distressful condition, the services offered are seen as required, things that must be performed in the hopes of alleviating the pain and suffering of the object that is being cared for. This was how the dealings between Rama and Hanuman worked.

Lord RamaHanuman knew that Rama was someone special, but through the workings of nature and the desire to evoke the natural loving sentiments from His devotee Rama enveloped a cloud of ignorance around His closest associates. While Rama was residing in the forest of Dandaka with His younger brother Lakshmana and wife Sita Devi, the demon Ravana hatched up a scheme to take Sita away. The plan was enacted while Rama and Lakshmana were temporarily away from Sita’s side. Needing to find her whereabouts, Rama enlisted the aid of the Vanaras residing in Kishkindha. If the Vanaras viewed Rama as the person He was, the Almighty Supreme Lord, there would have been less impetus for service. After all, God can never suffer the loss of anyone, nor can He ever be frustrated. One of His names is Achyuta, which means one who never falls down. Love is always better practiced in the mood of unalloyed service, wherein the awe and reverence get suppressed by the pure affection felt by the subordinate party. Such was the case with the Vanaras, who counted Hanuman as their bravest and most sincere warrior. They saw Rama as needing help, a prince who was hurting due to a horrible deed perpetrated by the Rakshasas living in Lanka.

Sugriva, the king of the monkeys in Kishkindha, dispatched search parties around the world to find Sita, but he was sure that only Hanuman would be capable of finding her. His premonition would be correct, as Hanuman would be the only monkey capable of crossing the massive ocean that separated land from the island of Lanka where Sita was. To get across the ocean, Hanuman did not build a boat or an aircraft. Rather, he used his yogic powers to expand himself to the size of a mountain and leap across the ocean, using a mountaintop as his launching pad. He essentially took the aerial path by flying over the ocean after one giant leap. For a large mass, such as an airplane, to remain afloat in air, jet fuel and exact aerodynamic components and measurements are required. In Hanuman’s case, the required abilities were already provided to him. What he needed was strength, determination and perseverance, all of which came easily to him because of his sincerity of purpose. Hanuman always takes Rama’s business to be his own, the Lord’s pleasure to be his pleasure, and God’s apparent discomforts to be his only source of pain.

Hanuman was very eager to see Sita and allay her fears. Living as a captive amongst the vilest of creatures, surely she must have been a little fearful as to her future. When Hanuman reached the shores of Lanka, his challenges only increased. He had crossed the ocean, but now he needed a way to infiltrate the city without being noticed. He finally decided on assuming a diminutive form and entering at nighttime. In the above referenced passage, we see that Hanuman morphed to the size of a cat and that such a sight was wonderful to behold, adbhuta-darshana. Hanuman, though gifted with every prowess imaginable, had no attachment to any of them. He had just assumed a massive stature and leapt across the ocean, so that made it all the more amazing that he could assume a miniature stature not soon after.

HanumanHanuman always chooses whatever form is necessary to accomplish his task. His mastery over yoga isn’t even used for sense control or the ability to perform gymnastics feats. He has no concern over living very long, though the duration of his stay on earth is fixed for as long as Rama’s story continues to be told. Indeed, there is no end to the glories of Hanuman; we can only begin to understand them by studying his behavior described in the Ramayana and other texts. While the different forms assumed by Hanuman in service to Rama are amazing to behold, his love and devotion to the jewel of the Raghu dynasty are far more awe-inspiring. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would successfully find Sita, temporarily allay her fears, set fire to the city of Lanka and return to Rama’s camp. The entire Vanara army, led by Rama and Lakshmana, would then march to Lanka and soundly defeat the enemy. Sita would be rescued, Rama would be made happy, and Hanuman would be forever glorified. To this day, he is always associated with Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. One can hear of his exploits over and over again and never tire of appreciating his glorious nature.

There has never been anyone like Hanuman to roam this earth. His glorious nature only further solidifies the Supreme Lord’s status as the ultimate object of pleasure, the foremost entity deserving adoration. Our valuable human life is meant for serving Rama with the same vim and vigor as that displayed by Hanuman. One who taps into their potential for service to the same degree will always be in the good graces of Hanuman and be able to remember both he and the lord of his life, Shri Rama, for all of eternity.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The Delight of Vrindavana

Krishna and Mother Yashoda “Thus the inhabitants of Vrindavana do not care who is God, and who is not. They love Krishna, that's all. Those who think of first analyzing Krishna to determine whether He is God are not first-class devotees. The first-class devotees are those who have spontaneous love for Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 14)

The darling child runs around Vrindavana, playing with His friends and delighting all the elders. Whether He is tending cows, stealing the supply of yogurt and butter from the neighbors, or showering a fruit vendor with heaps of jewelry and gold, the feelings of the residents remain the same. They are totally enamored by the joy of their life, the small child of Nanda Maharaja and Mother Yashoda who has a bodily hue similar to that of a tamala tree or dark raincloud, for whom they have a spontaneous and unalloyed loving attachment. The rain gives sustenance to the hard ground and allows food and other flowers to grow. In this way the rain is the sustainer of life, and to the residents of Vrindavana, the little child Krishna is the true essence of life, making their days filled with joy and worth living at every moment. Whether they know the true nature of the boy is not important, for they understand that the bliss they derive from His pastimes cannot be found in any other realm or through the association of any other person.

Lord KrishnaAs upstanding citizens of the community wholly adherent to the orders of their varna, or caste, the citizens of Vrajabhumi are cowherds by trade, so they take special care to ensure that the cows are protected and happy. In this wonderful town no animal is ever killed unnecessarily, and due to the purity of thought enveloping everyone’s consciousness, even the accidental deaths of the insects caused by walking on the bare ground are mourned, for the kind-hearted citizens understand the essence of life and the fragile nature of everything in the world around them. The men and women of Vrindavana are the epitomes of virtue, and they staunchly abide by the traditions passed down to them, law codes, rituals and regulations that have as their origin the spoken word of the original form of Godhead, the supreme object of all religious practice.

Ever since the young Krishna arrived with His elder brother Balarama, who is equally as beautiful and enchanting, the Vedic rituals and worship of heavenly figures have become secondary in importance, as they are functions performed out of obligation more than anything else. The real source of pleasure is Krishna. But He is no ordinary child. One after another, demons seemingly incomparable in strength keep making their way into Vrindavana looking to kill Krishna. Yet the small child - whose features are beautiful and delicate in every way, who is so innocent that He carries around a flute, wears jewels around His wrists and ankles, and dons a peacock feather in His hair - is somehow managing to survive these deadly attacks, all the while seeing to it that the demons don’t survive and thus never kill again.

Lord KrishnaThere was the female demon Putana, who though possessing a hideous form, came to Vrajabhumi in the guise of a nurse ready to administer poison to young Krishna. Despite her motive, the sweet Shyamasundara kindly accepted her breast and then proceeded to suck the very life breath out of her. When she fell to the ground after assuming her massive size and hideous form, the beloved child of Yashoda simply played on her lap as if her body were a playground. Then another demon came and took the form of a whirlwind, carrying baby Krishna high into the sky. Again, the beautiful son of Nanda Maharaja not only survived the attack, but also managed to take the life breath out of the demon. Countless more times similar miracles seem to be occurring, such as when the innocent cowherd boys, many of whom are senior to Krishna in age, were saved from a raging forest fire set by another killer in disguise sent from the neighboring town of Mathura.

In each and every case, no matter how intense the attack or how formidable the evil force, Krishna saves His friends and relatives, all the while remaining beautiful and not breaking a sweat. Even when Mother Yashoda reluctantly binds Him to a mortar as punishment for breaking a pot of yogurt, the young boy is able to break free, managing to knock down a pair of trees from which two beautiful celestial figures emerged. Witnessing so many miracles, the residents are beginning to realize that their Krishna is no ordinary figure. That He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the original form of the same Lord that most of us look to in times of trouble, they don’t realize, nor did they care to. At best, Nanda Maharaja and the elderly members of the community think that maybe Krishna is a demigod, one of the saints in heaven responsible for managing the different departments of the material creation.

Lord ChaitanyaIt is the opinion of Lord Chaitanya, the very same Krishna appearing on earth some five hundred years ago in the guise of a brahmana, that the behavior of the residents of Vrindavana, those beautiful and pious individuals who had the direct association of the darling Krishna some five thousand years ago, represents first class devotion to God and the summit of religious practice. Ironically enough, though they are today considered the model for behavior, worshipable objects in their own right, the residents of Vrindavana didn’t even know that Krishna was God, nor were they really interested in testing out His divine capabilities. This mindset can be greatly appreciated and also learned from. The heart is meant to be enchanted, as pleasure is the objective of all activity, even those endeavors that aren’t enjoyed. School is certainly not enjoyable for the young students, but the ideal end-result is a pleasurable condition. The same holds true for going to work, for there is every hope that one day enough money will be saved to allow for retirement, a period of time when work is no longer required.

But what happens when everything is finished? What is the result of all our practices completing to fruition? Does activity stop? The same Lord Krishna describes in the Bhagavad-gita, His famous song sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to His dear cousin and disciple Arjuna, that generally four kinds of pious men approach Him. One who is inquisitive, one who wants to know the nature of the Truth, one who is looking for alleviation from distress, and one who is looking for wealth initially approach Krishna in a mood of devotion. But the residents of Vrindavana did not fall into any of these categories. They had no desire but to enjoy Krishna’s association. Moreover, they didn’t even care who the Lord was or what His capabilities were as far as granting benedictions, teaching them the highest truths of life, responding to their inquiries, and removing their distresses. If they ever did feel any pain, it was when Krishna was not directly in their association. But even the pain of separation from Krishna is one that “hurts so good”. The cowherd girls of Vrindavana, the gopis, were especially immersed in affectionate feelings for the Lord, and they used to worship Him almost exclusively through separation, wherein they would keep their thoughts and memories fixed on His transcendental form and activities throughout the day while performing household duties and tending to family business.

Radha and Krishna with the gopisAs Lord Chaitanya so nicely points out, the residents of Vrindavana are the purest of the pure, and of the pure residents, the gopis represent the pinnacle of spiritual enlightenment, for they swim in the ocean of nectarean bliss that is Krishna-bhakti. More than any other factor, consciousness is what determines our state of being, whether or not we are happy. Let’s say for instance that we enjoy watching movies and television shows. Since life involves much struggle and work simply to maintain the body, leisure time is greatly anticipated. The arduous worker wants to make the best use of their free time, so watching television and listening to music are considered relaxing exercises.

Since the universe of music and movies available for enjoying is seemingly endless, a nice way to amass a large collection is to convert all such media into digital format and store them on hardware. For this project, much time and effort is expended. A hardware device with a high storage capacity is required, such as a file server or portable hard drive. Then the drive itself must be accessible to a viewing or output source, such as a large screen television or a home theater system. After the infrastructure is set up, the most difficult part remains, that of filling up the library, actually acquiring all the music and movies and converting them into the proper digital format to be stored on the server.

We started with a simple desire to relax, and we ended up with an endless engagement, a project that pretty much has no state of completion, as the mind is tempted to acquire more and more media to add to the collection. Every item added is akin to another brick being erected in the fortress of protection. Yet by using a little intelligence, we see that the archiving and storing activity itself has a great effect on consciousness, keeping the passionate aspect of the internal spark of life alive, maintaining a steady working engagement even during time off from work. The real benefit to such activity is not the archiving or even the viewing, but the active engagement of consciousness. Indeed, when all is said and done, the time spent amassing the collection will surely far surpass the amount of time spent relaxing and enjoying the media that was so difficult to acquire and set up in the first place.

ValmikiSince consciousness serves as the key determining factor in mental outlook and happiness, if it has something tangible to focus on, that one object or person that brings about the highest pleasure, the stream of pure thoughts will never end. Indeed, Maharishi Valmiki, the celebrated Vedic poet and eternal servant of Lord Rama, another form of Krishna, describes that for those who are focused on the lotus feet of Shri Rama through love and devotion, stories describing His pastimes are akin to endless waves of rivers flowing into a massive ocean. Since the rushing rivers represent transcendental subject matter, those topics describing the exploits of the Supreme Spirit and His closest associates, the ocean which is the mind can never overflow; the reservoir of pleasure resulting from hearing the nectar that is Krishna and those things directly relating to Him can never be completely filled.

When consciousness is purified through divine contact, all ancillary issues pertaining to spirituality and religion are forgotten. The concerns over whether the object in question is God, what the prescriptions for salvation are, and whether or not the target individual is progressing in their spiritual practices are removed. The residents of Vrindavana never thought about performing bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. They didn’t run self-assessments to see if they were progressing in the purification of their consciousness. They didn’t even care about God, for Krishna was everything to them. Understanding Krishna’s divine nature is meant for enhancing the level of appreciation felt by those who are not yet on the highest level of consciousness. Many great sages and saints marvel at the ability of the Supreme Absolute Truth to descend to earth and roam around in what appears to be the form of an ordinary human being. This appreciation further attaches them to Krishna and devotion to Him.

Krishna with Mother YashodaDoes this mean that the intelligent shouldn’t analyze Krishna? Should we not describe Him as God? Since our consciousness has been fixed on so many things not personally related to Krishna for so long, any knowledge pertaining to His qualities, features, pastimes and desires is very helpful. The residents of Vrindavana can be worshiped, but there is no need to imitate their behavior without properly conditioning ourselves through steady spiritual practice. Just as Mother Yashoda would derive great pleasure by singing about the pastimes of her dear son throughout the day while working, if we simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, during our time on earth, even if we are at work or engaged in some activity that doesn’t seem to be religious, our consciousness will slowly and steadily be purified.

No one can truly understand God, but the more information that is learned about His beautiful form and nature, the greater the opportunity for ascending to the level of consciousness that remains forever fixed on the Supreme Shelter. Unlike the happiness that results from the ceasing of all activity through dry meditation, Krishna consciousness keeps the internal flame of divine love forever lit, carrying the pure individual from one sublime activity to another. Only when the object of affection is pure can the resulting conditions be considered superior. Whether or not one knows that Krishna is God, since all of the Lord’s activities and descriptions of His forms are purely transcendental, the benefit to the attached sincere soul is all the same.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Within and Without

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

Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama and a stalwart of the practice of devotional service, herein reveals his eagerness to see the Mother of the Universe, Sita Devi, who also happens to be Rama’s wife. Ironically enough, at this point in time Hanuman had never met Sita and neither had he any interaction with her. Yet he was so eager to see the kind princess that he was anxiously awaiting the sun to set to allow him to enter the enemy territory of Lanka in the dark of night. Sita had been taken there by a powerful Rakshasa king who had filled his city with beautiful opulence consisting of ornaments, tall arches, gem-studded palaces, and gold. Hanuman was not eager to see any of this, though he certainly appreciated the beauty of the city. The real jewel inside of Lanka was the one woman who was being maltreated and held against her will. Due to the ill-treatment shown this most deserving of worshipable objects, Lanka would soon be shorn of her beauty, as the fiery Hanuman, both literally and figuratively, would burn the entire city, dealing a warning blow to the residents for what was to come.

Hanuman setting fire to LankaThese events transpired in the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. The Supreme Absolute Truth is meditated upon by yogis and discussed by scholars of transcendentalism looking to negate the various illusory aspects of the phenomenal world. But despite how this original Divine Being is approached, His position as the supreme object of worship remains unchanged. Irrespective of how one views God or addresses Him, His actual position is forever fixed. And what exactly is this position? There are three aspects to the Supreme Energetic Personality in the spiritual sky that are helpful for the conditioned entity looking for respite from their toils in the temporary world full of misery and heartache to know. The first property is self-evident: God is the original proprietor of everything. We may purchase a piece of land from someone else or settle upon an area of earth and proclaim it to be ours, but all objects of matter have an original creator. As man is incapable of creating life without the hand of spirit, the proof of ownership of the entire creation naturally falls into the Lord’s hands.

The second key property of the Supreme Lord is often overlooked. God is the ultimate enjoyer; i.e. His pleasure is more important than our own. From the third primary property of the Lord, that of being the best friend of every living entity, the enjoyment aspect can be understood properly. The Supreme Lord, as the ultimate enjoyer, can be pleased by utilizing the property around us, which originally belongs to Him anyway, for His happiness. Subsequently, since God is the best friend and well-wisher of every single form of life on earth, the pleasure resulting from the service offered to Him automatically brings transcendental bliss to the person offering the service.

“The Supreme Lord is situated in everyone's heart, O Arjuna, and is directing the wanderings of all living entities, who are seated as on a machine, made of the material energy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.61)

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Lord is known by thousands of names, the most complete, concise, and pleasurable to recite of which is Krishna, a Sanskrit word which means all-attractive. Not only is Krishna’s position fixed in the spiritual world, the realm situated far above our current abode, but His residence within our hearts is also permanent. There is not a single form of life that does not have this divine expansion residing within them. Since this form of the Lord, which is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul, is not visually manifest to the conditioned eye, it can be addressed as the nirguna form, or the form of the Truth that is without attributes. The nirguna aspect is also sometimes described as alakshya, or invisible.  These descriptions are entirely from the perspective of one who doesn’t have the vision to see the Lord. Just as sometimes we’ll say that the sun is not out today, Krishna, as remaining firmly locked inside of our hearts, can be considered to not be manifest before us in a form that has identifiable attributes. But just as the sun’s position remains completely unchanged irrespective of how we describe it, the Supreme Lord forever retains a transcendental body which is full of form, bliss and knowledge.

To aid the living entity dealt a contaminated vision at the time of birth in identifying the nature of the Supreme Absolute Truth, Krishna periodically descends to earth and takes on visible forms, those which are described as saguna. This isn’t to say that He ever associates with matter, as such a defect is only found in the conditioned entities, those tiny fragmental spiritual sparks emanating from the gigantic fire of energy known as God. In the Treta Yuga, the Supreme Lord, in His visually manifest form possessing transcendental attributes known as Lord Rama, roamed the earth for a considerable period of time. Not only is Rama, who took on the role of a prince and expert bow warrior, worshipable in His direct form, but He is equally as worthy of worship in the deity representations crafted by the devotees for their own pleasure. We may keep a picture of one of our loved ones on hand so that we can remember them, but by looking at this picture we can’t directly talk to the person, nor can we offer them our obeisances. With the Supreme Lord, this limitation is absent. His deity representation, by being empowered by the devotees who create it and duly initiate the worship of it, can be offered worship that directly gets relayed to the Lord Himself. In fact, during Lord Rama’s time there was one specific brahmana living in His kingdom who made a vow to not eat unless he had seen Rama that day. Sometimes when Rama had to leave the kingdom to tend to administrative affairs this brahmana would forgo eating. Not liking the fact that His dear devotee was suffering, Rama had a deity of Himself installed in the brahmana’s home. This way the humble devotee could have darshana of Rama every single day and eat without a problem.

Lord RamaThe dry renunciate, he who has yet to understand the personal nature of the Supreme Absolute Truth, will only take to worshiping the Lord’s unmanifest form. Not understanding that Krishna possesses a transcendental body, the yogi inclined towards meditation will at best be able to contemplate on the exterior effulgence beamed off the Lord’s immeasurably large transcendental body. Since this jyoti, or light, is full of Truth, it is also considered a representation of Krishna, an energy known as Brahman. For one who exclusively worships Brahman, which itself is formless and thus not a candidate for being considered an object, the renounced order of life, or sannyasa, is a requirement. It is for this reason that parents of children who take an interest in the spiritual traditions of the Vedas often get frightened that their beloved offspring will abandon worldly life at an early age and take to begging and destitution. From studying the example of Shri Hanuman, who wasn’t a formally acknowledged sannyasi but still exhibited all the qualities of one, we see that the renounced order of life, when taken to properly, actually has nothing to do with giving up passion. Since the Lord’s personal form is the reservoir of all pleasure, simply meditating on His associated effulgence has no possibility of bringing lasting happiness. One who directly worships Krishna or one of His non-different personal expansions always keeps the flame of devotional service alight. In such a state, there is always eagerness to serve the fountainhead of both the manifested and the unmanifested forms. Indeed, the pure devotee understands the true nature of the expansion of Krishna residing within the heart; thus the worship they perform through remembrance and contemplation on the nirguna form is just as potent and pleasure-giving as their outward worship.

Rama, as a visually manifest incarnation of the Supreme Absolute Truth, dispelled many of the myths and rumors about God’s nature. Goswami Tulsidas nicely explains that the unmanifest form of the Lord is akin to the numeral written on a bank transaction, or check. The visually manifest form, the incarnation or deity that is worshiped, is like the written-word version of the same numeral. Both versions are equivalent, as they both represent Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yet the numeral representation can be easily misunderstood, misidentified, or worse, purposely altered by those wishing to cheat the innocent public. The written-out form of the same number is less prone to error resulting from misperception, as it is a more complete description provided to the conditioned eye, who has the potential to be victimized by illusion, their imperfect senses, their propensity to cheat, and their penchant for committing mistakes. Rama’s appearance on earth dispelled the theory that God is formless and that He is not a personality.

Lord RamaRegardless, the purpose of the Lord’s incarnation is much more intricate than that of saving people from the perils of impersonalism. Indeed, as the supreme object of pleasure, Bhagavan creates situations that allow others to offer their kind service to Him, a practice that every individual, as a spirit soul, is naturally inclined to perform. Divine love, or bhakti, is a characteristic of spirit that can never be removed. In the conditioned state, this loving propensity can be clouded or misdirected to other areas. Even hatred is a product of the bhakti mindset, as it is simply the inversion of the divine loving propensity.

Rama not only allowed others to serve Him by granting them His divine vision, but He also created situations where others could volunteer efforts that best suited their current body type. When Rama’s beloved wife Sita Devi was taken by the Rakshasa demon Ravana back to his kingdom of Lanka, a wonderful opportunity for service presented itself. Who were the lucky individuals tasked with finding Sita? Ironically enough, they were Vanaras, a race of monkey-like forest dwellers residing in Kishkindha. Headed by Sugriva, these monkeys were very powerful and burning with the desire to serve Rama’s interests. Of all the Vanaras, no one was more dedicated to this service than Hanuman. Not surprisingly, Hanuman was also the most capable, as he had mastered every mystic perfection, or yogic siddhi, and his knowledge on all matters material and spiritual was perfect. Hanuman was a pure lover of God, so why shouldn’t he have been the most knowledgeable and powerful entity? The Supreme Lord, as the original proprietor, is also the controller and owner of the material elements that constitute our various bodies. Therefore whatever body type we have, especially if we are in a human form, is vouchsafed to us for the purpose of pleasing Rama. Hanuman’s personal features were perfectly suited for infiltrating Lanka, finding Sita and alleviating her fears.

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

HanumanHanuman put his qualities to good use by leaping his way across a massive ocean and reaching the outskirts of the capital city of the most powerful ogre, Ravana. Hanuman, in addition to being tasked with finding Sita, was also asked to give her the precious ring belonging to Rama as an indication of the authenticity of his purpose. Sita was surely in a grief-stricken position, so she wouldn’t be overly trusting of anyone approaching her, let alone someone in a monkey form. Rama’s ring would serve as Hanuman’s offering to Sita. In the Vedic tradition, when there is worship of the deity or the spiritual master, there is usually some type of physical offering made, which is either a flower, fruit, or some nice food preparation. The offering itself is trivial; the emotion and the sentiment are what counts. Lord Krishna Himself declares this in the Bhagavad-gita, where He states that one can even offer Him something as simple as water and have it accepted, provided that the offering is made with love and devotion.

In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman is preparing to enter Lanka. He has decided to enter the city at night and in a diminutive form, so as to mask his appearance. The Rakshasas would surely be on alert for enemy attack, so if they spotted Hanuman, a fight would result. Hanuman, though capable of destroying the entire city and all its inhabitants, was only tasked with meeting Sita, allaying her fears, and returning the information of her whereabouts to Rama. Settling upon entering the city at night, Hanuman is anxiously awaiting the sun to set, as he wants very badly to see Sita.

Sita DeviIt should be noted that Sita Devi was considered the most beautiful woman to have ever roamed the earth at the time. This is what led Ravana to hatch the ill-fated plot to take her away from Rama’s side. This plot is correctly identified as ill-fated because even though he was able to successfully take Sita away while Rama was not by her side, this move would prove to be fatal to Ravana, as his opulence, position of power, and kingdom would be destroyed as a result. Even though Hanuman had never met Sita, he was still very anxious to see her. He had no desire to enjoy her beauty or take her for himself. As a pure lover of God, he naturally held great affection for any and all of Rama’s immediate family members; such is the glorious nature of Hanuman. Though he is capable of worshiping the Lord perfectly within his heart and mind, Hanuman is just as anxious, if not more, to serve the visual manifestations, the personal forms of the Lord.

His mindset shows the true benefit of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Advancement in spiritual life is not indicated by how many new things we hate or how much of the world we renounce. Surely the advanced transcendentalist will give up the most harmful of sinful activities, including meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, but the greatest indication that one’s natural love for God has come to the forefront of the consciousness is the increased fervor and fire in the belly. The devotee will become more and more eager to engage in the outside world, as everything will be seen as part of Krishna’s grand opulence, mercy and energy. The topmost transcendentalist is known as a paramahamsa, which means a supreme swan. The swan can extract the milky portion from a mixture of milk and water; hence it is able to extract the good from something that is considered contaminated. Similarly, the pure devotee sees God’s personal influence in all areas of life; so he becomes very eager to offer services both internally and externally.

Hanuman’s eagerness would pay off, as he would meet Sita and give her Rama’s ring. To this day, Hanuman is one of the most celebrated figures of the Vedic tradition, as his worship is directly authorized, empowered and recommended by both Sita and Rama. He is never out of their good graces for even a moment, and he never spends a single second not thinking of how to please them. Though he can practice meditation perfectly, he is equally as anxious to serve the Lord personally. Not only does the eternal flame of devotion burning inside lead him to anxiously perform service, but it also makes him very eager to see the Lord and hear about His glories.

HanumanWe should all take full advantage of both inward worship through meditation and chanting and outward worship through seeing the deity in the temple. The best way to keep an attachment to both manifestations of the Lord is to regularly chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The name, being the most powerful representation of the Lord, automatically brings the associated forms, pastimes and qualities. The name is the jewel secured within the box. Just as Hanuman was anxious to see Sita and provide her a kind offering, we would be forever benefitted to be equally as anxious to see, hear, and think about Shri Hanuman and offer him our kind prayers and obeisances. Any day where Hanuman’s name is recited and his qualities contemplated on is surely a good one.