Saturday, May 14, 2011

Good Things For Bad People

Hanuman“Beholding Lanka, which was unimaginable and had an amazing appearance, that great monkey [maha-kapi] became morose and also delighted, as he was very much anxious to see Vaidehi.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.55)

acintyāmadbhutākārāṃ dṛṣṭvā laṅkāṃ mahākapiḥ |

āsīdviṣṇḍo hṛṣṭaśca vaidehyā darśanotsukaḥ

Seeing good things happen to bad people can certainly be the source of great anger and sadness. Life involves a struggle of emotion, the constant fluctuation between favorable and unfavorable circumstances, but seeing those who are overtly sinful and who pay no regard to even the lowest standards of decency rise to any elevated position of power or opulence is enough to make one’s stomach turn. With these visible outcomes faith in the system - one governed by higher authorities who are spiritually empowered figures working under the dictates of the original Divine Being - gets lost. Though jealousy, envy and resentment are not good traits to possess, sometimes we can’t help feeling these emotions when witnessing the seemingly successful triumphs of the gross miscreants, those who challenge the authority of the Supreme Lord at every step. But as long as we maintain an even stronger eagerness to associate with people of the divine nature, the pure devotees and well-wishing friends of all living entities, whatever despondency results from witnessing the temporary gains of the demons will never be able to take us off the proper path in life. Shri Hanuman, the most capable, kind, courageous, intelligent and perseverant servant of the Supreme Lord in His form of Lord Rama, had to deal with anger and resentment harbored towards the king of demons, the ruler of Lanka, Ravana. But due to his eagerness to please Rama and meet His beautiful and chaste wife Sita Devi, Hanuman was never taken off course. The power of divine love always trumps the inhibiting forces instigated by the uncontrolled senses, which act like wild horses that drive the cart known as the body and its operator known as the individual in every which direction.

HanumanWhy do we get angry upon seeing the success of the sinful? The intelligent among us understand that the essence of life is the spiritual spark residing within the body. As such, no amount of temporary gain or loss can affect the nature of this autonomously powerful entity, a force which is immune to the constant changes of the phenomenal world. Nevertheless, there is a general expectation that those who go against the established law codes will be punished. If an individual commits a heinous crime like murder, there is the inherent understanding that they will be punished properly. In the absence of swift and appropriate justice, there will be less faith in the system and an increased anger and resentment harbored towards authority figures by the law-abiding public.

Indeed, this is a primary source of the discord that exists in nations where illegal immigration is a problem. All land in this world originally belongs to God, but in a civilized society, property rights of individuals are respected, as one is allowed to borrow the Lord’s property to maintain a simple lifestyle. In order to protect property and shield a particular area from the influence of potential foreign enemies, immigration laws are adopted. Those who wish to enter a nation from the outside follow the procedures laid down for being granted immigration status.

But there are also others who, through noble or ignoble intentions, flaunt the law by illegally entering a country. When the population of illegal entrants rises too rapidly, discord will result. To the honest citizen, whether or not the illegal occupants should be granted entry is actually not the issue, for the law was openly violated. Therefore it is understandable if the law-abiding public, which includes those who legally migrated to that country, becomes angry when the law-breaking is allowed to continue. This and many other examples of selective application of the law highlight the general expectation that law-breakers not be rewarded.

“In this material world we desire sense enjoyment, but without Krishna or without Krishna consciousness there is no possibility of sense enjoyment. We may have strong arms and legs, but when there is no consciousness—when there is no Krishna consciousness—we cannot even utilize them.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 21)

Lord KrishnaThe material world is full of dualities, though, so not every issue is black and white. Sin and piety are relative terms in the grand scheme of things, for they represent actions which lead to favorable or unfavorable conditions in a particular venture. The law codes instituted by the Supreme Lord represent the ultimate system of piety and virtue because they aim to bring the conditioned entity to the highest platform of understanding, a state of being where consciousness is always fixed on the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead, who is the full and complete manifestation of the original Divine Being. Religion, in the true sense of the term, has nothing to do with blind faith, following rituals on a specific day of the week, or openly pledging allegiance to a particular spiritual personality. Consciousness is the essence of life, the indication of the spiritual spark residing within a body. Consciousness is derived from the Supreme Lord; hence there is only one way to purify it. Krishna consciousness, or that mindset which is always focused on the names, forms, qualities and pastimes of the Supreme Lord Krishna, is the only pure form of religious practice. All other categories of activity, spiritual or otherwise, are subsidiaries of this divine mentality; they are disciplines which can hopefully one day lead to ascension to Krishna consciousness.

Accompanying sin are consequences that are detrimental in the progression towards the ultimate goal. In the largest scheme, which incorporates the highest dharma, or a set of religious law codes aimed at bringing about Krishna consciousness, any activity which brings one further away from their purified consciousness can be deemed sinful. From the definition we see that a negative condition is concomitant with the activity. As such, a specific future consequence is not even required. For instance, focusing the mind on objects of the temporary world is considered sinful because through the conditioned lens these objects are divorced of their relationship with the original creator of matter, God. The Supreme Lord is everything, but He is not personally present within the material elements that constitute each object. Rather, matter represents a separated aspect to His multifarious energies. Krishna consciousness aims to keep the mind totally fixed on the Lord’s personal feature, an aspect which brings direct interaction with Krishna, thus providing the greatest rewards. Devotion to matter, or anything not God, leads only to misery, as the consciousness required for such devotion is completely separated from Krishna.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)

Krishna's lotus feetPiety is any activity which brings one closer to their constitutional position of eternal servant to the Supreme Spirit. Therefore Shrila Rupa Gosvami, a giant of the Vaishnava literary world, recommends that we adopt any activities that are favorable in forging Krishna consciousness and reject any engagements which are unfavorable in the march towards ultimate freedom, the state of mind where hankering and lamenting are removed due to complete and full surrender, or sharanagati, to the lotus feet of the Personality of Godhead. All other systems of piety and virtue derive from the topmost discipline known as bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. Since even realizing the need to adopt a purified consciousness is very difficult for the living entities mired in an endless cycle of reincarnation fueled by material desires, there are smaller, more specialized dharmas that are instituted. Even something as simple as the instructions required to build a safe and secure housing structure can be considered a type of dharma.

For those who are not aware of the differences between spirit and matter, or those who are temporarily taken off of the proper mindset by the allures of the material world, there is the expectation that those who go against the established codes of conduct, or dharma, in a particular activity will be punished in the aftermath. When the overtly sinful, such as killers, perpetrators of violence towards women and dependents, and liars and cheats, are allowed to prosper in spite of their nefarious behavior, there is some bewilderment on the part of the pious.

kurukshetra-war-DC74_lFor instance, after the great Bharata War, which saw the deaths of millions of soldiers, King Yudhishthira, the leader of the victorious Pandava family, naturally expected to have favorable results in the afterlife. Yet upon ascending to heaven, the first person he saw there was Duryodhana, the leading fighter for the defeated Kuru army. Duryodhana had a long history with the Pandava family involving many sinful activities. Duryodhana tried to kill the five Pandava brothers and their mother, Queen Kunti, many times but each plot was foiled through the divine intervention of Shri Krishna, who was the ever well-wisher of the Pandavas. Finally Duryodhana was killed in a battle by Bhima, the physically strongest of the Pandavas. Knowing Duryodhana’s nature, Yudhishthira was very surprised to see him enjoying life in heaven. To remove his concerns, Narada Muni, the greatest reformer the world has ever seen, informed Yudhishthira that those in the material modes of life accumulate both pious and sinful credits during their time on earth. Since there are so many different dharmas for those not on the platform of Krishna consciousness, there are varieties of good and bad reactions to work. Those who are overly sinful get to enjoy the fruits of their limited meritorious behavior by first going to heaven. After residing there for a short time, they get sent to the hellish realms where they will have to suffer longer.

Duryodhana had died on the battlefield, which is considered one of the most glorious deaths. This is not simply a belief of the Vedas, but rather a fact easily understood. A soldier is working under a higher authority, so his actions are not judged in terms of the worthiness of the mission. The soldier is simply a servant who risks their life to meet the interests of the commanding officers. Duryodhana, though a sinful man, still bravely fought on the battlefield following the standard protocol of warfare. Therefore he accumulated pious credits despite his sinful nature. In the end, King Yudhishthira would forget about Duryodhana and what happened to him. Lord Krishna highly favored Yudhishthira, so the king derived more pleasure by always remaining Krishna conscious.

Lord RamaA similar situation occurred with Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama. Many thousands of years ago, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the entity the majority of the world refers to as God, appeared on earth in a divine incarnation known as Rama. Not to be confused with an ordinary figure who later proclaims himself to be God, Rama’s divine nature is mentioned in the authorized Vedic texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Rama also had all of the unique bodily measurements and markings belonging to the Personality of Godhead known as Narayana, or the source of all men.

Bhagavata-dharma sounds nice in concept, but those who are eager to alter their consciousness are helped further when they are given specific activities to take up that result in benefits that can be realized quickly. Shri Hanuman, as an eternally liberated figure, is always eager to serve the Lord. Since there is no fighting in the spiritual realm, when there is a desire for conflict God must come down to earth and bring with Him close associates to act as sparring partners. Ravana, the king of Lanka, played the role of a sinister villain perfectly, as he was a demon who lived off of eating meat, drinking wine, and cavorting with countless beautiful women. His lifestyle was only harming himself for the most part, but he couldn’t contain his demoniac nature for long. Hearing of a beautiful princess residing in the forest of Dandaka, Ravana was intent on making her his chief queen. Even though she was married to Rama at the time, Ravana was not deterred in any way; such was the strength of his lust. In general, if a man sees an attractive woman and then later finds out that she is married, he will lose interest and turn away. Yet Ravana was so infatuated with Sita that he kidnapped her through a carefully executed plan.

Sita DeviRavana’s heinous act created an opportunity for Hanuman to shine. Rama gave the monkey-warrior the task of finding Sita and giving her His ring. Ravana lived on an island kingdom known as Lanka, which could not be easily reached by even the strongest of men. Hanuman, making use of his mystic powers, intelligence and prudence, made his way to the outskirts of the city. But the difficulties were just beginning. Now he had to figure out a way to enter the kingdom and find Sita without being noticed. Finally deciding upon a course of action where he would assume a form having the dimensions of a cat, Hanuman was ready to enter the city. Just prior to crossing enemy lines, Hanuman noticed the beautiful surroundings consisting of golden buildings and archways adorning Lanka.

In the above quoted passage from the Ramayana, we see that Hanuman was quite disheartened upon seeing this opulence, which was both amazing and inconceivable to the mind. The material world is governed by an illusory force known as maya, which is a Sanskrit word meaning “that which is not”. The Rakshasas living in Lanka were kings of illusion, so their entire city and lifestyle represented that which was not God. Their opulence seemed inconceivable, giving off an amazing aura that would serve to weaken the will of any potential enemies thinking of mounting an attack. It’s strange to think of Hanuman as an enemy, but that’s exactly what he represented to Ravana and the interests of his Rakshasa community.

Hanuman was disheartened at the fact that such a cruel demon - one who had the gall to take away the most innocent woman, the religiously wedded wife of Shri Rama - could live in such opulence. Aren’t the bad guys supposed to be punished? There is a saying, “Only the good die young”, which speaks to the fact that the pious tend to have the misfortunes in life and the demons tend to strive materially, even though the opposite should be true. How was Ravana living in such luxury, while Rama, who had been ordered by His father to leave the kingdom of Ayodhya and not return for fourteen years, was living like a hermit ranging the forests without any ties to a royal army? Rama was the epitome of virtue and Ravana the poster child for sin, so why the large discrepancy in fortunes?

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaHanuman was also disheartened because the grand illusion of opulence made for a formidable opposing force. Hanuman was tasked with finding Sita, but he knew there would be opposition if he were to be discovered by the Rakshasas. They would not take too kindly to anyone acting in the interests of Rama, their greatest enemy. Seeing the grand opulence of the city, Hanuman thought that maybe he wouldn’t be able to withstand the enemy attacks and successfully carry out his mission.

So what did Hanuman do? Did he quit? Did he throw in the towel? Was he disheartened to the point that he just marveled at Lanka’s opulence and did nothing else? While the above referenced passage references Hanuman’s despondency, it also says that he was excited about the prospect of meeting Sita. Hanuman’s love for Rama naturally extended to the Lord’s immediate family members like His younger brother Lakshmana and Sita. Sita was Rama’s wife, so Hanuman looked to her as his affectionate mother. His mother was being held captive by a demon, so Hanuman was very eager to see her and allay any fears she had. This love, which beams throughout Hanuman’s body at all times, was a much stronger force than the despondency caused by the intimidating opulence of the grand city.

Sita DeviWhat was the reason for Ravana’s great success and Rama’s misfortunes? Just as time heals all wounds, it also serves as the great equalizer, the agent that distributes the change that is due an individual based on their past deeds. As God, Rama is never subject to the forces of nature, while Ravana’s opulence was simply a temporary illusion, one that was soon to be destroyed by Hanuman himself. The great Vanara warrior would successfully find Sita and give her Rama’s ring. On Hanuman’s way out, Ravana managed to capture the monkey-warrior and set his tail on fire. Parading him around the city with a burning tail, Ravana tried to embarrass Hanuman in front of others. Seeing this, Sita immediately asked the controlling deity of fire, Agni, to not burn Hanuman and to allow the fire on his tail to feel as cold as ice. Sita Devi is the epitome of chastity, piety and virtue, so when she asks a demigod for a favor, they are obliged to immediately respond. In fact, Sita only asks as a formality, for her requests are taken as commands. As the ever-devoted wife of Rama, all the suras, or demigods, are constantly at her service, though she never asks for anything that is not in the interests of Rama or one of His devotees.

Feeling his tail to be nice and cool, Hanuman realized that it was the work of Sita. He then quickly escaped from his shackles and assumed a massive form. Now his tail was enormous in size, and it was still burning with a flame. Though the city had appeared formidable to him before, Hanuman now had a tool, a burning tail kindly provided by Ravana, that he could use to fight back. Hanuman then kindly flew around the city and set it on fire with his massive tail. The punishment for Ravana’s sins would come in the form of the exquisitely beautiful, powerful and perseverant Hanuman. Hanuman would later return to Lanka with an army led by Rama, Lakshmana, and the monkey-king Sugriva. Ravana would meet his deserved death, Sita would be safely rescued, and Rama would triumphantly return home to rule over the kingdom of Ayodhya.

Hanuman burning LankaIn the end, Hanuman’s eagerness to please Rama and meet His wife was enough to get him past the illusory, impeding forces erected by Ravana. In a similar manner, the leniency shown towards miscreants and their temporary ascendancies to positions of prominence can be given secondary importance by those who are constantly practicing divine love through the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Good things sometimes happen to bad people, but since they always remain bereft of Krishna consciousness, even their temporary gains ultimately serve as sources of misery. On the other hand, for one who follows the example set by Hanuman - that of always remaining God conscious - every condition becomes favorable. The devotee perpetually remains eager at every new opportunity to see the Lord, think of Him, worship Him, and offer service to one of His dear servants. Since the ultimate favorable condition is reached through this practice, we can confidently assert that bhakti-yoga, the ancient art of the religion of love, represents the highest form of dharma.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Neti Neti

Teachings of Queen Kunti“Those who are frustrated and confused want to negate this material world. They know what they don't want, but they do not know what they do want.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 25)

Though the true mission in life is to find that one thing that we want, that singular object or engagement which will give us everlasting peace of mind, the focus tends to initially shift towards those things that we don’t want. One after another, an object, experience, person, place, or thing is renounced in favor of something else. As soon as the enjoyment derived starts to fizzle out, another action is adopted. In spite of the repeated attempts and failures at finding true happiness, the human being keeps trying, finding more and more things to renounce in the process. Yet if we understand just what it is we really want and how to get it, the search for success will be a very short and fruitful one.

Krishna and Balarama playingA famous Def Leppard song asks, “What do you want?”, with the accompanying response being, “I want rock n roll.” Indeed, in the younger years, there are many things to search after. The child is after preyas, or immediate satisfaction. Simply play all day and don’t worry about the consequences. The typical day of a small child is quite fascinating from an adult’s perspective. Get up in the morning and start running around. If the parents are awake, jump on their bed and urge them to get up and join in on the fun. Then go into the living room, turn on the television, or start running around the house. If siblings of a similar age are present, the enjoyment is increased even more. Eventually one of the parents will wake up and add some regulation. “Go to the bathroom. Brush your teeth. It’s time to eat.” These required activities are akin to the routine pit stops made by racecar drivers. After getting refueled and cleaned up, it’s back to the pursuit of fun.

Even as the child matures, there is still the penchant for play. The rock n roll attitude is a rebellious one that flies in the face of rules and regulations. “I want to rock n roll all night and party every day.” In the younger years, human beings think they know what they want:  fun all the time, with a little regulation mixed in. But as soon as some maturity is acquired, when a steady job is found and a new family is started, renunciation takes hold. Instead of joining a gym and taking on the obligation of the exercise that comes with it, staying at home and relaxing seems like a much better idea. Instead of rock n roll all night, it’s quiet time at home with minimal distractions. Instead of eating whatever you want, whenever you want, careful attention is paid to diet so as to limit the increase in weight.

As the human being gets older, more and more activities are renounced. Happiness now comes not from new ventures or the pursuit of preyas, but rather, from the absence of activity, the negation of so many engagements that have grown tiresome and are no longer worth the effort. Indeed, when seeking to persuade others to their point of view the advocate will focus more on the negative aspects that are eliminated by their philosophy. Politicians operate in this way. The challengers during election season will point to how rotten things are in the world and how the current officeholder is to blame. Change then sweeps into office, but in a few short years, the new maverick becomes the old hat, the cause of new distresses and pains.

American FlagWhen faced with frustration, the initial impulse is to simply negate activity. If we have a bad experience at a certain place, the easy option is to simply avoid going there in the future. In every engagement that eventually leads to an unpleasant situation, the simplest solution is renunciation. The philosophies of many spiritual disciplines are focused entirely on negation, wherein strict rules and regulations are imposed to allow for an absence of pain. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, describe the Absolute Truth, the one entity from whom everything emanates, as neti neti, meaning “not this, not that.” The pessimistic angle of vision takes this to mean that nothing in this world is good; everything is bad, or false. An engagement that was eagerly anticipated in the beginning but then led to pain and misery in the end is viewed as having been false the entire time. After all, something that is real wouldn’t deceive its targeted beneficiaries.

But simple negation is not enough. If it were, none of us would take to any activity. Instead of simply negating those bad engagements, the wise try to understand why there is an initial impulse to begin with. The mature human being can deduce that all of the fruitive engagements undertaken during his lifetime were ultimately sources of misery, so the question should be asked as to why one action after another was ever taken? What drives the human being to activity?

The Vedas kindly provide the answer. The spirit soul residing within an embodied being, or dehinam, is the essence of life. At its core, the soul craves individuality. When placed in a material body, there is the outer covering composed of material elements, but there are also the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego. It is this ego that drives activity, for everyone needs an identity. If someone disturbs us or says something that we don’t like, it is essentially their ego acting out in the wrong way. When the ego is focused on those engagements which don’t bring about a permanent shift in identity, a position where the individual understands his true position, there will naturally be misery. But when the ego is directed towards activities that maintain and support the constitutional position of the soul, neti neti gets understood for what it truly is.

“I am the Self, O Gudakesha, seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.20)

Lord KrishnaThough the dry renunciates who have the most pessimistic viewpoint pounce on the neti neti statements as evidence that this world is false and full of misery, the true understanding of the Vedic opinion is that the individual spirit soul has endless opportunities for describing, glorifying and serving its most loveable object, the Supreme Lord whose original form is known as Krishna. More than just a sectarian God, Lord Krishna is the very form of Godhead meant to be loved and adored by all of mankind. After all, if we are to acknowledge God’s existence, shouldn’t we know something about what He looks like and how He behaves? If He’s God, then surely He must be beyond duality, doubt, anger, jealousy and the effects of time.

Krishna, as the all-attractive and ever blissful Shyamasundara, is the ideal companion for the soul, whose consciousness determines their well-being. Instead of the temporary pleasure that results from jumping from one activity to another, when consciousness is purified through steady engagement in spiritual activity and control of the material senses that are driven by the constant desires within the mind, there is always happiness and peace. When the soul finds something that it truly wants, there is no consideration even given to renunciation. If all our time is spent in the loving service of our dear Krishna, what need is there to worry about which activities to avoid? If precious moments in life are spent riding the blissful sound waves of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, how can there be any opportunity for outside attack on the senses?

The single greatest source of distress is the fatigue that comes from activities which don’t bring enough enjoyment. For instance, I may be excited to attend a sporting event or a Broadway show, but there is much effort involved in living these experiences. First of all there is the commitment, knowing that you have to be somewhere at a certain time. Then there are the crowds to deal with and the money sacrificed for tickets. Then the experience itself only lasts a few hours, after which the long and arduous journey home is undertaken. This experience may be worthwhile one or two times, but on a regular basis it becomes a great hassle. Why not just enjoy at home and avoid all the stress?

Lord KrishnaBhakti-yoga, or devotional service, takes full advantage of the neti neti concept. Nothing in this world can properly describe the Supreme Absolute Truth’s glory, fixed position, transcendental features and pastimes, along with the sterling nature of His eternal associates, the nitya-siddhas. Faced with this predicament, the individual can take one of two paths. The first is the one taken most often. “Okay, so God is impossible to describe. I guess I just won’t even try then. Let me focus on other activities.” Since the incorrect viewpoint is adopted in the beginning, activities leading to misery subsequently follow. Surely the Lord is impossible to accurately describe, but once He is forgotten, the loving propensity of the soul will drag the individual to perform the same type of worship on worldly objects. Irrespective of caste, color, creed or religious affiliation, man has a natural desire to serve, even if that loving service is offered to the personal self. Since none of the serviceable objects is capable or worthy of accepting unending obeisances and affection from others, the bliss derived for those performing the service is very short-lived and the source of much trouble.

The other path taken in response to the neti neti dilemma leads directly to the spiritual world and hence provides ultimate satisfaction. Neti neti tells us what God isn’t, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t spend the rest of our lives trying to describe and glorify Him. For instance, if God is not the sun, we can say things like, “Not even the sun, which is ever resplendent, full of glory, and dedicated to its dharma of providing heat and light to the millions of living entities around the universe, can compare to the radiance and splendor of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the kindest benefactor.” Since the Absolute Truth is not the raincloud, we can say things like, “The dark raincloud, which has the same complexion as the beautiful Shyama, kindly pours down water upon the fertile land, affording the numerous living creatures the opportunity to sustain their lives, to maintain the vital force within their bodies. As such, the raincloud allows for service to the Supreme Lord through thoughts, words and deeds to continue. In this way, though the raincloud is not Krishna, it is His dear servant, a sustainer of life and thus deserving of praise and recognition by those who swim in the beautiful, transcendental waters of the ocean of divine love.”

Sita and RamaVisible objects may be considered illusory, or not personally the Absolute Truth, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t make use of them to further our consciousness. The celebrated devotees of the past, the Vaishnava literary giants, knew very well the impossibility of fully describing the Absolute Truth and His features, yet they still continued to put forth volumes upon volumes of transcendental literature extolling the glories of Shri Krishna, His various non-different forms, and bhakti, or devotion. Goswami Tulsidas, in his Gitavali, very nicely describes the scene in the forest of Chitrakut when Lord Rama, His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana were residing there many thousands of years ago. Rama is the same Krishna but in the appearance of a warrior prince, a famous member of the Raghu dynasty that ruled the world a long time ago.

When describing the scene of the surrounding nature and the glories of Rama, Tulsidas notes that since the Vedas describe the Absolute Truth as neti neti, it is impossible to properly put the scene into words. Nevertheless, the entire poem, which is not short by any means, is dedicated to glorifying the Lord. The devotees, the bhaktas, know what they want in life: pure love in connection with God through consciousness. Therefore they make the best use of everything around them, including the words of the Sanskrit language and other languages as well. Words are just representations of sound vibrations, so when these sounds are used to further the God consciousness of the individual, they are anything but illusory. Indeed, the Supreme Absolute Truth is anything which directly relates to His personal feature as Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality possessing every opulence imaginable to the fullest degree and at the same time.

Radha and KrishnaLest we think the bhaktas represent unique instances of individuals finding their calling in life, since there is no difference in makeup from one soul to another, it is every individual’s inner desire to love God. The one person who everyone is inclined to serve for the rest of their lives is the Supreme Divine Being in the spiritual sky. Faced with this situation, there are again two options. One is to go against the natural properties of the soul by denying the existence of the Lord and the supremacy of bhakti. Turning one’s back on the sublime engagement of devotional service only leads to a further continuation of the cycle of acceptance and rejection, bhoga-tyaga. Without bhakti, the individual ascends a gradual scale of engagements that are each deemed their callings, but eventually the fire of passion fizzles out.

But those who are wise enough to make devotional service their life’s engagement through following the regulative principles of freedom handed down by Krishna Himself in the Bhagavad-gita and abiding by the recommendations and guidelines put forth by the Vaishnava acharyas, those who lead by example, not only find what they want, but they never let go of it either. For those deluded by a conditioned consciousness, everything in this world is negative, for nothing is satisfying enough. But for the devotee fixed in thoughts of love and devotion to Shri Krishna, the world becomes everything to them, a massive field full of trees and fruits that represent endless opportunities to glorify and further please their most loveable companion residing within the heart.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

That Don’t Impress Me

Hanuman“And wonderful golden archways belonging to the Rakshasas everywhere illuminated the well-decorated city of Lanka.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.54)

kāñcanāni ca citrāṇi toraṇāni ca rakśasām |

laṅkāmuddyotayāmāsuḥ sarvataḥ samalaṃkṛtām

It’s ironic that the entryway into a city filled with some of the most ghoulish and hellish creatures was lined with gold. The archways to the majestic city welcomed the guest by providing a sense of happiness, peace, prosperity, and overall enjoyment. Sadly, these allurements were simply illusion, with a built-in clause accompanying entry; every guest had to check their tendencies towards spiritual life at the door. The pious and spiritually inclined were not allowed to enter this particular kingdom. If they did happen to infiltrate the sturdy fortress protecting the city of gold, they would have to hide their natural tendencies or face constant harassment. Indeed, the one entity from whom all wealth and fortune emanate, the goddess of fortune, was a prisoner in this city. Despite her exalted status, the surroundings forced upon her were anything but golden. Refusing to cavort with the sinful ruler of such a feverish land, that supreme goddess, who had assumed the spiritual form of Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama, was forced to remain by herself in a garden, with the ultimatum of impending death looming over her should she not change her unwavering devotion to her husband.

Sita DeviTo the rescue came the celestial figure who was made of pure spiritual gold on the inside. Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, was tasked with finding Sita’s whereabouts and returning the information of her location to Rama’s camp, where a party including the powerful ruler of the monkey tribe in Kishkindha, Sugriva, was waiting. Upon entering the enemy city of Lanka where Sita was staying, Hanuman not surprisingly noticed the lavish set up, the beautiful surroundings that indicated the tremendous material opulence that filled the city. In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, we see that beautiful gateways had been erected that were made of gold, as if to serve notice of the tremendous opulence of the kingdom to those desiring to enter. Hanuman was nevertheless not deterred by this illusory aspect of the external decoration of the city ruled by the vilest of creatures. Being truly golden himself, Hanuman was on the prowl looking for the source of all fortune in every land, Sita Devi. In this mission, he would not be defeated.

“The foolish cannot understand how a living entity can quit his body, nor can they understand what sort of body he enjoys under the spell of the modes of nature. But one whose eyes are trained in knowledge can see all this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.10)

One who is ignorant of both their impending death and the eternal nature of the soul takes objects of illusion, which are known as maya, to be reality. Ravana, the king of Lanka, figured that if he amassed enough gold, material opulence, female companionship, animal flesh for eating and wine for beverage he would never be without discomfort. In one sense, he can’t be blamed for crafting this priority system, for it is the nature of the animal to seek out the engagements of eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Ignorance envelops the pure spiritual entity, the spark of life, at the time of birth. Without a proper education on spiritual matters provided by a bona fide guru, one who knows the Truth and how to approach Him, the animalistic tendencies will reign supreme. Ravana knew of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, through and through, but he nevertheless could not overcome the illusory aspect of material nature. Therefore he was always in the heat of passion looking for the next opportunity for sense enjoyment.

RavanaSince the spirit soul is a unique entity that is full of vim, vigor, and life, there is always the tendency for ego to become inflated. The ego is based on identification, so when ignorance envelops the consciousness, the source of one’s pride and ego will be their association with external objects of the phenomenal world. For this reason, Ravana, who had performed many austerities to please several key divine figures, took his pride from his tremendous fighting abilities and the lavish set up of his kingdom. Just as we will feel some happiness and superiority if we buy an expensive car or home, Ravana wanted everyone to see just how magnificent his kingdom was. Even the floors of his palaces were lined with gold; such was the level of extravagance he demanded. The rock star lifestyle, which is more or less hedonism, touches on these extremes very often, with celebrities doing outlandish things just because they are able to. Ravana had a huge supply of gold and crystal, so why not line every object with these precious commodities, even if such decorations weren’t required?

When allured by the forces of maya, the individual driven by an animalistic mindset essentially takes himself to be God. “Look at what I have. Look at all my palaces. Look at how many beautiful queens I have. Who out there is greater than me?” One who has achieved great things surely will have justification for feeling pride, but the more valid approach is to acknowledge the original owner of everything, the proprietor who has the rightful claim to every piece of property, developed or otherwise, in all the universes. Not surprisingly, only one person holds this position, and His abilities never diminish, nor does He ever cease to be the Supreme Master.

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition, this wonderful entity is described as having an eternal body which is full of knowledge and bliss. This sach-chid-ananda-vigraha is addressed by thousands of names, but Krishna is considered the foremost appellation, as it speaks to the Supreme’s all-attractive nature. Even those who are forgetful of Krishna and illusioned by maya are linked to the Lord. Maya is created by Krishna after all, so those who are slaves to its forces can be considered indirect worshipers of God. In this way, Ravana was the greatest devotee of the illusory energy governing the temporary world. Though everything comes from Krishna, not all types of worship are the same. For instance, the hands and legs are part and parcel of the body, which is considered a living being for as long as the life force remains intact. But in order to feed the body, food must eventually reach the stomach. The stomach then kindly distributes the nutrients efficiently and fairly to the rest of the body parts. If we decide that since the feet are the same as the body we should offer food to it, there would be no tangible effect. Though the feet are part of the body, they don’t have the ability to accept and deliver any offerings of food to the individual controlling the body.

Similarly, simply worshiping matter will bring no spiritual benefit. Since matter is a separated energy of the Supreme Divine Entity, those who are attached to it will remain apart from the all-blissful Personality of Godhead. The original form of the Lord or one of His non-different expansions - which include the deity manifestations - serve as the authorized objects of worship, those spiritual entities that can provide direct contact with God and thus also bring unmatched bliss and excitement. One such non-different form of Godhead descended to earth during the Treta Yuga. He was known by the name of Rama because of His ability to provide transcendental pleasure to others. He was also known as Raghunandana for being a descendant of King Raghu and one who gave pleasure to those in the family line. This divine prince was also known as Dasharathi, for He was the son of Maharaja Dasharatha, the ever pious and kind king of Ayodhya.

Lord RamaIn order to worship maya, a strong attachment to objects of the phenomenal world must develop. For this attachment to remain strong there must be activities adopted of the conditioned variety. Ravana remained a dedicated worshiper of matter through his activities of intoxication, illicit sex, meat eating, and determination in erecting golden palace after golden palace. Those dedicated to worshiping Rama, however, undertook activities of the transcendental nature. These actions appear similar to the conditioned acts taken up by those worshiping matter, but the end result is different. Matter leads to a further separation from Krishna that is facilitated through illusion. Acts of devotion to God, which are known as bhakti, bring one closer and closer to the Supreme Consciousness, a state of mind where all thoughts, words and deeds are dedicated to the Supreme Lord in a loving spirit.

Hanuman, the faithful warrior serving the king of monkeys, Sugriva, followed the path of bhakti. All of Hanuman’s actions were dedicated to serving Rama and His interests. To allow Hanuman to continue his service without interruption and to also secure his position as one of the greatest all-stars of the spiritual world, Rama created a situation that required the help of others. Rama’s wife Sita Devi was taken by Ravana seemingly in Rama’s absence. Acting out the part of an ordinary human being, Rama went searching for Sita with His younger brother Lakshmana. The two eventually made their way to Kishkindha, where they met up with Hanuman, who then brokered a deal between Rama and Sugriva. The agreement was that Rama would help Sugriva regain his lost kingdom, and the monkey-king would then help Rama find Sita.

HanumanWhen the time came for Sita’s rescue, Sugriva put the burden of success in the mission squarely on Hanuman’s shoulders. Though he was in the guise of an ordinary forest dweller, or Vanara, Hanuman had full capabilities in every yogic siddhi, or perfection. But this wasn’t his greatest strength. Even Ravana and his Rakshasas were supremely powerful. They could assume false guises and defeat powerful warriors in battle. Hanuman’s true potency rested in his firm commitment to the interests of Rama. Because of this dedication, he was given all the abilities necessary to find the beautiful princess of Videha, Sita Devi.

After putting his abilities to good use by assuming a massive size and flying through the air, Hanuman found himself on the outskirts of Lanka. He then used his unmatched intelligence to accurately note that entering the city of the Rakshasas while in his original form would not be a good idea. Just as a priest would stand out while walking through the streets of a gambling city like Las Vegas, Hanuman, as the most faithful servant of Shri Rama, would certainly get noticed right away in the land where illusion reigned supreme. For this reason, the intelligent monkey decided to assume a diminutive stature, one that would allow him to carefully survey every inch of space for Sita’s location while remaining unnoticed.

Though Hanuman was fully aware of Rama’s worthiness of service and His supreme capabilities, he was still a little taken aback by the exquisite opulence that beamed off the outskirts of Ravana’s city. The demoniac try their best to cloud the minds of the pure-hearted souls who are wholly dedicated to chanting the Lord’s names on a regular basis and singing His glories. Logic and reasoning alone won’t convince anyone of a philosophy based on ignorance. The news media are especially popular and well patronized because all they sell is illusion, with one alarm story after another aiming to allure the innocent public into paying attention to topics which are more or less meaningless. If these issues were actually presented as they are, with the illusion removed, no one would pay any attention to them. If Ravana didn’t have his ignorance and sinful nature masked by the exquisite opulence of his city, others would easily decipher that he was nothing more than a pretender, a figure not confident of any of his beliefs. The grossly foolish always live in fear, for they know that once their current life ends, so will their opulence, wealth and fame.

HanumanHanuman noticed and appreciated the wonderful beauty of the city. Several times he thought of quitting, for the aura of opulence seemed too daunting for him to break. Though they sometimes suffer temporary setbacks in terms of thought processes, figures like Hanuman are considered eternally liberated because they never let anything get in the way of their service. Even with all of these allurements, including the gateways lined with gold, Hanuman wasn’t impressed enough to stop his mission. Fighting his way through the illusion, Hanuman would enter the city, eventually find Sita and then temporarily allay her fears.

His business complete, Hanuman set fire to Ravana’s city as a parting shot, giving the king a warning of what was to come when Rama and the entire army of monkeys headed by Sugriva would return. External objects in this world should not be rejected outright; everything should be assessed in terms of its ability to either further increase our God consciousness or hamper it. For Ravana, his gold and other items of opulence only served to further delude him into a hellish mindset. Hanuman, though he harbored no hatred for the wonderful opulence of the city of Lanka, saw no utility for it in his sublime mission.

Sita DeviWhile Hanuman wasn’t too impressed by the golden archways in Lanka, he was wholly humbled and almost brought to tears by the firm dedication and level of devotion shown by Sita Devi, who had found herself in the most perilous of conditions. When Hanuman returned to his monkey friends to tell them what he had seen in Lanka, he remarked that Sita remained alive by always thinking of the glories of her husband. Whenever we find ourselves in a troublesome situation, as we most certainly will due to the stranglehold maya has on this world, if we remember the glorious natures and activities of Sita Devi, Shri Hanuman, and their eternal object of worship, Lord Rama, we too will be able to weather the storm and eventually make our way towards a sublime position. Hanuman is always with Sita, Rama and Lakshmana in consciousness, and if we always stay with Hanuman by remembering his glorious activities, we will always be on the highest platform of thought and remain incapable of being affected by maya and her golden enticements.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Wealth Management

Hanuman“He [Hanuman] saw in that great city seven and eight story buildings inlaid with crystal and decorated with gold. Those houses of the Rakshasas shone brightly with their surfaces studded with vaidurya gems and decorated with strings of pearls.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.52-53)

saptabhaumāṣṭabhaumaiśca sa dadarśa mahāpurīm |

talaiḥ sphatikasaṃkīrṇaiḥ kārtasvaravibhūṣitaiḥ

vaiḍūryamaṇicitraiśca muktājālavibhūṣitaiḥ |

talaiḥ śuśubhire tāni bhavanānyatra rakśasām

You work hard all your life, play by the rules, don’t bother anyone, and somehow manage to secure a high net worth full of valuable assets. When it comes time to protecting your wealth, you will go out of your way to ensure that the best possible care is taken and that all the potential pitfalls and areas prone to mistake are avoided. After all, it takes just one simple slip up, one move that is beyond the acceptable level of risk, to lose your entire fortune. One demoniac king in particular witnessed the devastating effects of improper wealth management, as one egregious transgression cost him everything, including the opulence of his kingdom. With all the wonderful palaces and their beautiful interior decorations adorning his city of Lanka, the king Ravana thought he was immune to loss. Yet due to his maltreatment of one particular individual, who also happened to be the source of all good fortune to not only him but to every single living entity in this world, everything would be lost.

!BkyHRS!Bmk~$(KGrHqYOKkIEsn!E07-YBLZBBurGl!~~_3Where does good fortune come from? Is not wealth rooted in our efforts of perseverance and unflinching dedication through adversity? If we take the risk of starting a new business, somehow manage to avoid having it be part of the ash heap of forgotten and failed ventures, and elevate it to a position of prominence in the world, should we not take some credit for the bountiful fruits that result? Surely there is reason to celebrate the rewards of material opulence that emerge from stiff competition in the business world, but taking ourselves to be the sole doers is a very short-sighted view. It is akin to the running back in football celebrating in the end zone after scoring a touchdown without acknowledging the hard work of the other ten members on the team. After all, if a running back had to face the defense, which consists of eleven players, all by himself, one against eleven, there would be no question of advancing to the goal line.

In a similar manner, success in any material venture requires the mutual cooperation of so many other entities, both large and small. A business that is successful at selling a product must have an appeal that makes the consuming public willing enough to peaceably and voluntarily part with their hard earned cash. Moreover, we know that many businessmen put in long hours at the office, play by the rules, and still don’t end up succeeding. Therefore there must be more to success and good fortune than just the actions of the doer. The actor in these cases is the individual, who gains his identity from the spiritual spark residing within the heart. The individual is the ishvara, or controller, of his body. He is the king of the castle. He decides what to do, where to go, and how to behave. But the other workings of the dwelling capable of action are out of the jurisdiction of the seemingly powerful and autonomous resident, the living entity. For instance, the spiritual spark has absolutely no control over the workings of the heart and the growth and appearance of the outer features. The heart, brain and vital organs operate involuntarily, as there is no conscious effort to keep them going.

“The bewildered spirit soul, under the influence of the three modes of material nature, thinks himself to be the doer of activities, which are in actuality carried out by nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.27)

Bhagavad-gitaThe Vedas, the sacred texts coming down from time immemorial in India, accurately note that there are two spiritual entities residing within every life form. One spirit represents the individual entity, who is localized and very limited in his potencies. The other entity is all-pervading, for He actually resides within every heart, remaining connected through a giant network of consciousness. The individual spiritual spark is incapable of being privy to the consciousness of any other form of life unless and until other entities reveal information of their thought processes. Still, this sort of secondhand information isn’t the same as if one actually got to experience the events described. Even with the individual’s own experiences, consciousness is not perfect, as memories quickly fade. We know that we survived within the womb of our mother for nine months, but we have no memory of this time in our life.

“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, Bg. 4.5)

The all-pervading soul, the one that has a unique, non-different instance in each life form, is conscious of not only every individual’s current life’s activities, but of every act that has ever been performed by any form of life existing past, present and future. In addition, this spiritual entity, which is known as the Paramatma, or Supersoul, is wholly responsible for distributing the results of action. Hence when we see two people train equally as hard for a specific race, with one person finishing the race more quickly than the other, we can understand that the worldly results and effects are due solely to the influence of the Supersoul and not the individual. As such, a wise man, one whose angle of vision has been purified through the acquisition of knowledge and dedication to the lotus feet of the original master of the universe, understands that all the assets he acquires are due simply to the grace of the most powerful spiritual entity, the owner of the divine consciousness.

Lakshmi-NarayanaThe Supersoul, though a direct but subtle manifestation of the original Personality of Godhead, doesn’t personally take part in any of the activities of the individual or in the distribution of outcomes. Rather, the Supersoul directs other entities, empowered living beings, to take charge of controlling various elements like rain, water, fire, wealth, punishment, etc. As far as fortune goes, no one is more wealthy than the Supreme Lord. Since He is married to the goddess of fortune, He is addressed by names such as Madhava and Shripati. Though His wife, who is known as Lakshmi Devi in the spiritual sky, controls all good fortune, her benedictions are not intended to be used unwisely. One who takes himself to be the doer and his worldly objects as his own is certainly not acting under intelligence. If he follows such a mindset and continues to ignore the source of all his wealth, he will gradually slip into a hellish condition. Such was the case with the demoniac king of Lanka many thousands of years ago.

Ravana, as a powerful Rakshasa leader, had tremendous opulence in his kingdom. We know many of the details of his extravagant position from the Ramayana, the beautiful, transcendental poem compiled by Maharishi Valmiki. The descriptions of Ravana’s kingdom and his palaces are found in the Sundara-kanda, or the book of beauty, of the Ramayana. Upon first glance, it may appear that this section is titled as such because of its inclusion of the descriptions of the interior of Ravana’s kingdom. But the beauty in this particular book lies solely in the feats of strength and exhibitions of undying love shown by Shri Hanuman, the servant of Lord Rama. As many waves as there are in the ocean are how many non-different incarnations of the person most of us refer to as God exist. His original form is described as exquisitely attractive and providing of unmatched transcendental bliss. Hence in the Vedic tradition He is known as Krishna. As Lord Rama, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the original Personality of Godhead, took on His warrior prince form, which was not devoid of any of the opulences belonging to the Supreme Person, including the ability to enchant others. Hanuman was one of the enchanted, as he dedicated his life to Rama as soon as he met the Lord. Rama needed some help from Hanuman, as His wife Sita Devi had gone missing. Just as Krishna, who is also known as Narayana in the spiritual world, had descended to the phenomenal world as Rama, Lakshmi had come as Sita Devi, the beautiful princess of Videha. As the most fortunate individual in any situation He finds himself in, Rama could not be married to any woman except Sita.

Sita and RamaThe miscreants are always jealous of God’s power and supreme position. In fact, this envy is the root cause of the existence of the material world. Ravana was unique in that his envy was at the highest level, for he was tasked with playing the role of God’s greatest enemy prior to his descent from the spiritual sky. Every individual is a spirit soul at the core, so by constitution everyone is a lover of God. When the loving propensity remains dormant or forgotten, attachment to worldly objects and opulence ensues. For as long as the delusion remains, the individual soul stays separated in terms of consciousness from the supreme loveable object. In reality, there is never any separation even after the descent of the purified soul from the spiritual sky. The Supersoul always accompanies the individual soul, but in the conditioned state, one takes their wealth as the object needing the most management and protection, while neglecting their actual valuable relationship with the divine entity residing within the heart.

Envious of Rama’s position, Ravana hatched a scheme to kidnap His wife. Rama is antaryami, or the supreme witness, so He knows all that goes on. As such, no one can cause Him any harm without His sanction. He is the Supersoul after all, so the ability that man is so proud of is actually sourced to the Supreme Spirit. Ravana’s taking of Sita set the wheels in motion for his demise. What’s ironic is that he already had tremendous opulence in his kingdom. He even had hundreds of beautiful wives he could cavort with regularly. Yet the benedictions provided by Lakshmi weren’t enough; he had to have her for himself. He had all the wealth in the world, and he protected it very well, but due to his maltreatment of Sita Devi, his fortune would be lost.

Hanuman bravely made his way to Lanka as part of a reconnaissance mission performed for Rama’s benefit. Hanuman’s task was to find Sita, and in order to succeed, he had to infiltrate Lanka. Deciding to assume a stature the size of a cat, Hanuman prepared to enter the majestic city. From the above referenced passage, we see that Hanuman saw seven and eight story mansions whose floors were bedecked with jewels and gold. It is one thing to have a high rise apartment or office building, but it is another to have the floors and surfaces fully inlaid with the most valuable jewels and crystals. This shows that Ravana indeed had tremendous wealth in his kingdom, opulence that he was very keen on protecting. His island was far away from any mainland, so its strategic location provided protection against enemy attack.

HanumanBut Hanuman was no ordinary enemy to Ravana. The demon had managed his wealth very well, but he neglected to take care of the source of all good fortune, that princess staying as a prisoner in the ashoka garden. Sita Devi was not treated very well in Ravana’s kingdom, as she was given an ultimatum that if she didn’t agree to become Ravana’s wife after a certain period of time, she would be killed. In addition, Ravana’s female Rakshasa associates were instructed to instill fear into her and harass her throughout the many days and nights she spent in separation from Rama. Because of his offenses, no amount of wealth management could protect Ravana from losing his assets which he originally had no claim to.

The tremendous opulence of the city was also meant to serve as a deterrent for anyone who thought of attacking. The spiritually disinterested and ignorant always take their mundane wealth and education to be indications of a highlife, one that is superior to the religious systems adopted by those considered destitute and poverty stricken. What the materially intoxicated don’t realize is that the highest class transcendentalist, one who understands the workings of the soul and the temporary nature of matter, sees excessive opulence not used for a tangible purpose as the greatest punishment. Ravana’s palaces were part of an illusion; they masked his high level of ignorance in regards to the supremacy of God and the temporary nature of life. By showing off their opulence, the demoniac hope to instill fear and awe in the saintly class.

Hanuman in LankaHanuman was impressed by the decoration of the city, but this didn’t stop him from proceeding forward. No amount of illusion can derail the train of spiritual freedom that is bhakti-yoga. Hanuman would eventually make his way to Sita, give her Rama’s ring, and then return back to Rama and inform Him of Sita’s location. But just before leaving Lanka, Hanuman gave Ravana a parting shot, a hint of what was to come. After Ravana set Hanuman’s tail on fire, the monkey-warrior decided to make the best use of the situation by expanding to a massive size and using his tail to burn the city. When Hanuman entered Lanka, there was a facade of opulence masking the demoniac nature of the king and his citizens. Upon leaving, Hanuman shore the city of its brilliance, exposing the Rakshasas for who they were, spiritually poverty-stricken individuals wholly deluded by illusion. Ravana’s high-story palaces fell like houses of cards. Rama would march to Lanka with millions of Hanuman’s closest friends and defeat Ravana and the Rakshasas. Sita would be rescued, and all would end well. Wherever Sita is well-protected and kindly served, there is never any chance of losing the most valuable asset one can attain in this life, love for God.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Amazing Discoveries

Radha and Krishna“The creation itself is evidence of the consciousness of the Supreme. Everyone can appreciate the cosmic manifestation and how nicely it is working. The sun and moon rise exactly on time, without deviating even one ten-thousandth of a second, and the seasons change in the same way, bringing with them fruits and flowers.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 17)

With the rapidly advancing age of technology, new software programs, gadgets and devices flood the market every second. For the non-tech savy, figuring out how to use these new programs and devices can be very difficult. Microsoft, one of the world’s software giants, has an entire department dedicated to providing continuing education on how to use their different software tools. It takes years and years of training, both in the classroom and on the job, to become familiar with all the ins and outs of the various development environments and coding languages, not to mention mastering the actual tools that make them function properly. Those who are able to learn these technologies are given complimentary and even playful titles such as “genius”, “geek” and “MVP”. While these honors are well-deserved, what might get overlooked is that someone had to create the devices mastered and ensure that they function properly. Moreover, if it takes geniuses to figure out how to make use of the end product, just imagine how much intelligence was required on the part of the creator. Unfortunately, these finer points are also ignored when dealing with systems of the most complex scale, such as the creation, nature, and life and death. Because of this oversight, the true meaning of life remains safely tucked away within the recesses of the heart, only to be discovered by the rare individuals who are trained to see things properly.

“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)

Lord KrishnaIn the Bhagavad-gita, arguably the single most appreciated, read and studied religious scripture in history, Lord Krishna, the speaker, founder and expert of Vedanta philosophy, or the final conclusion of all knowledge, states that it takes many lifetimes for an individual to finally understand who is behind the amazing creation we call the world. This statement carries the inherent implication that life continues after death and that the individual also existed prior to his current birth. These concepts, which are not merely dogmas of the Vedic tradition, speak to the eternality of spirit, the endlessly mutable nature of matter, and the purpose to our existence. When information pertaining to these subjects is not taken from authority figures such as Krishna and His spiritual descendants infused with intelligence, man remains in the dark and unappreciative of the true meaning behind life. He also fails to learn who the ultimate object of worship and pleasure should be.

Because it functions in identifiable patterns, the whole cosmic manifestation can be greatly appreciated and studied. The sun rises and sets at regular intervals, and the seasons come along at set times during the year. Man has studied nature for so long and become so familiar with its predictable events that he thinks he can alter the weather through driving certain types of automobiles and by recycling paper and aluminum products. But more important than the actual results seen in the external world is the cause Himself, the instigator of all action, the person who instituted this mysterious system known as nature. Where there is a lack of spiritual consciousness, the creator remains unappreciated, and the results are mistakenly viewed as the initial cause and effect. As a result of this flawed understanding, those who can correctly identify a small subsection of the workings of nature are hailed and regarded as geniuses, while the Person who instituted the plan to begin with gets completely ignored.

This behavior is especially seen whenever there is a new scientific discovery made or a new mathematical formula posited. As an example, we know that gravity is a force that applies equally to all objects. Irrespective of our belief system, if we drop an object out of our hands, it will fall to the ground. A long time ago, no one knew what this force was and how it was applied. Eventually scientists came along and discovered that not only will all objects fall, but they will drop at the exact same rate, irrespective of mass. This goes against our initial inclinations, as a rock will surely fall to the ground much more quickly than will a piece of paper. But when wind resistance is removed, i.e. when a vacuum is present, both objects will fall at exactly the same rate of speed. The person who discovered gravity and its properties is rightfully hailed as a genius, someone who has a high level of intelligence.

Microsoft WordSimilarly, those who develop mathematical theorems and physics laws that predict the workings of nature are also celebrated and well-respected throughout society. But a fact that might get overlooked is that the laws of gravity existed long before anyone discovered them. Thousands of years before the celebrated scientists even appeared on this earth, gravity was operating on all objects. In fact, the laws of science have always applied; thus they are not dependent on anyone’s discovery. One person may be an expert on all the ins and outs of a word processing program, knowing how to align paragraphs properly, adjust fonts, and change page sizes without much endeavor, but these capabilities are always present within the program, irrespective of the end users’ awareness of them.

The scientists will say that there is no proof that any single individual created nature and all of its workings. “At best, there maybe was a giant random collision of chemicals that created the wonders we see around us.” But this line of thinking doesn’t pass the smell test. Where in life have we seen any wondrous occurrence, object or independently operating intelligent machinery come into existence without the aid of human effort, or paurusham? One man may be a genius at writing computer programs and developing hardware devices, but without the initial injection from spirit, the hand of a living being, these devices would never stand a chance at functioning properly. The sun rises and sets at regular intervals, and somehow it just does this on its own? The sun has continued to beam heat and light across millions of miles since the beginning of time, and somehow it was created through a series of chemicals exploding? There is no way for man to gain a true appreciation for the sun because he is not capable of creating anything that can burn at even a fraction of the same scope.

the sunThe Vedas, the authoritative scriptures of India, kindly fill in the missing details. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, an individual with the highest intelligence, created this entire cosmos, with all of its intricate functions and workings. Discovering how nature operates is a neat exercise, but at the time of death, these functions will continue, while the body, including the brain, will be discarded. Realizing that an original person, one who is undying and ever existing, created the universe represents advancement from those who champion their intelligence acquired from understanding the workings of the nature created by the original person, but an even higher ascension in consciousness is achieved when the purpose behind the creation and the actions of its creator are understood.

The behavior exhibited by those who exclusively study the results of spiritual action actually provides great insight into the original cause of creation. When so much stress and endeavor is taken to only study the results and celebrate those who are able to understand a small portion of the workings of nature, the focus remains far away from the original person. In essence, man creates their own gods by worshiping the people that can study, manipulate and discourse about matter and its intricate workings. Indeed, for as long as the influence of the original person is neglected, the sun will continue to rise and plants will continue to grow to provide sustenance.

“When, however, one is enlightened with the knowledge by which nescience is destroyed, then his knowledge reveals everything, as the sun lights up everything in the daytime.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 5.16)

Lord KrishnaThe wise understand that the creator should be given precedence in thought and worship. Not only is the original person amazing for having put the sun into a fixed position, but His reason for doing so only further enhances His stature. The essence of life is the soul, or atma. This tiny fragment of pure spirit exists at all times. This shouldn’t be that difficult to understand, as we existed in the tiniest of spaces within the womb of our mother prior to our birth. Though our consciousness wasn’t fully developed at that time, it would be silly to say that we didn’t exist. Proponents of the right to have an abortion have conjured up this idea that the fetus within the womb of the mother is an unviable tissue mass, but deep down they know that’s not the case. Frantic searches for contraceptives and abortion clinics would never be undertaken to deal with something as inconsequential as an unviable tissue mass. Matter cannot do anything on its own; without a spiritual injection matter is dull and lifeless.

Just as we existed before our present consciousness was fully developed, we will continue to exist in the future, as nothing can be done to eliminate spirit. What nature does have an influence over, however, is the future destination of the tiny spiritual fragment. The development of consciousness determines one’s future fortunes. If we are wholly attached to the phenomenal world and its amazing workings, our association remains fixed for the future. If a person loves science, they get to continue their scientific pursuits, life after life. Lest we think the scientist will ever run out of things to study and discover, not even a tiny fragment of the full knowledgebase about nature has even been identified, let alone understood. Indeed, the main difference between the original creator and the tiny fragmental sparks is that the sparks can never possess the same level of intelligence and potency to create as the creator; having complete knowledge is simply impossible for one who is lacking it. The relationship between the two entities, the creator and those roaming the creation, can be described as simultaneously one with and different. The creator also has independence and freedom of activity and association, but none of His behavioral tendencies are checked in any way. The tiny fragments have free will, but they are constantly tossed around by the workings of nature, the system whose effects they are so interested in understanding.

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

Krishna speaking to ArjunaIf we prefer a particular lifestyle, we get to continue it even after we die. In this way the laws of nature are very kind, because when our current outer covering gets old and starts to become useless, a new one is provided. Our desires are tied to our consciousness, which is shaped by our activities. One who remains wholly dedicated to unregulated sex life will obviously have desires relating to sexual activity on the mind at the time of death. Therefore in the next life they will be given even greater license for sex through the body of a monkey or a dog. One who is very intelligent and seeks higher knowledge at every turn will be given the body of a scientist in the next life.

But the truly fortunate never have to take birth again after their present life completes. Lest we think there is an exception to the rule of consciousness being the determining factor, those who put an end to the cycle of reincarnation also develop a consciousness, but the nature of their attachment is different. Rather than being enamored with the unexplainable workings of the surrounding world, the pure hearted saints take to worshiping, honoring and always thinking about the original creator, the person who kindly allows all of his sons and daughters to remain separated from Him for as long as they wish.

The key factor in determining our future abode is desire. When the soul’s sincere desire, which is measured by the consciousness at the time of death, is to be in constant association with the Supreme Spirit, the person who eternally exists within the same form and hence the same type of land, a spiritual body is immediately granted and liberation is achieved. But since nature is so wondrous and man is given so many outlets for his service mentality, it is not very easy to even acknowledge the presence of the original creator. Surely there are many allegiances of faith to a Divine Being, who is most commonly referred to as God, but the focus of attention still remains far away from the divine realm. I may claim to be religious and attend functions and rituals associated with spiritual life, but unless my fervent desire is to serve that entity who I have acknowledged as the creator, my consciousness will not advance to any mature level.

“Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.6)

Krishna and His incarnationsTo ascend to the topmost stage of spiritual enlightenment, we need the aid of someone who knows the Truth, one who has learned it from someone who descends from the line of instruction originating with that Supreme Being. Though He creates matter and the world it governs, the Creator still makes appearances in His grand creation every now and then. Though when He comes He sometimes annihilates miscreants, this business can actually be taken care of by the ordinary workings of nature. His true purpose in descending to earth is to rescue the fallen souls looking for a real source of pleasure. The Creator also institutes the ideal principles of religion, a set of law codes aimed at actually purifying consciousness, not just giving individuals a sectarian view of spirituality that doesn’t provide any tangible benefit.

Irrespective of time, place, circumstance, language and country of origin, the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, always remains the topmost form of spiritual practice. Just as the laws of gravity existed long before anyone discovered them, bhakti has always been the supreme discipline, spiritual or otherwise, for mankind. Those who are fortunate enough to realize this never let go of that sublime engagement, whose quintessential activity is the chanting of the holy names of the original creator, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The scientists who make amazing discoveries are honored when people read their books, hear stories about them, and make the best use of the information presented. In a similar manner, the Supreme Person, who is known as Krishna in His original form due to His all-attractive nature, can be honored and respected by regularly chanting His names, reading about His sportive exploits and making the best use of the information He reveals in texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Though matter and nature on a whole expand from the original person, worshiping and honoring these aspects of the Divine doesn’t constitute personal association. Matter is meant for those who want to be removed from God’s presence and spend all their time enjoying by themselves. Spirit, on the other hand, is reserved for those who want a higher taste and a more in-depth understanding and appreciation of the man behind the mask, the entity who is single-handedly responsible for creating the numerous wonders of the world which are studied by so many.

Lord KrishnaThough Krishna has many personal aspects, His name is considered the jewel, the most valuable possession to those wanting to remain purified in consciousness. The holy name automatically evokes memories of the Lord’s pastimes, qualities, features and other names. Bhakti can be practiced simply by chanting the names of the Lord in a mood of pure love, without any motivation for material advancement or acquisition of mundane knowledge. The jivas, the living entities who are considered in a marginal position that is between the internal energy of spirit and the external energy of matter, always have a choice. They can choose to build their mental muscles by becoming experts in fields that study the nature that seemingly functions independently, or they can remain in the company of the man who created everything. The benefit of understanding the Creator is that the nature of pure spirit can  be discovered, thus causing the same inquisitive soul to lose their desire to exploit matter and its workings. This level of detachment is not dry in any way, and it leads to the highest benefit. The name of Krishna carries all of these wonderful properties, so by regularly chanting and honoring it, the true wonders of the Supreme Spirit and the endless supply of spiritual love that He is ready to offer can be appreciated and enjoyed for the rest of eternity.