Saturday, May 21, 2011

Seeing Vishnu Everywhere

Lord Vishnu“That great hero among monkeys saw the rising moon, which had a color as white as milk or a lotus fiber, the luster of a conchshell, and resembled a swan swimming in a lake.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.58)

śaṅkhaprabhaṃ kṣīramṛṇālavarṇa |
mudgacchamānaṃ vyavabhāsamānam |
dadarśa candraṃ sa haripravīraḥ |
ploplūyamānaṃ sarasīva haṃsam ||

The Supersoul, the direct expansion of the Supreme Absolute Truth that resides within the heart, is the all-pervading witness, a knower of all actions, past, present and future of every single living entity. We may be able to hide our pious and sinful deeds from the watchful eye of the government and others in positions of power, but the highest authority figure, He who is described as antaryami, sees all. Although He is the supreme witness and the root cause behind every visible result, He takes no direct interest in the worldly activities of the ishvara, or controller, of the individual body. Rather, He stands by and watches the jivatma, or individual soul connected to a temporary covering, engage in various enjoyments and sufferings, all the while remaining present as the best friend, a well-wisher who is ready, willing and able to provide the topmost instructional system aimed at achieving liberation from the temporary ups and downs associated with material contact. Those who understand the callings of this benefactor, who is like a transcendental bird that remains forever perched within the heart, are not only able to take to the proper course of action and activities recommended by shastra, or scripture, but they also start to view all the worldly objects around them as being part of the original Divine Being. Through this purified vision, the formidable and blissful presence of Lord Vishnu, the all-pervading aspect of the Absolute Truth, gets noticed everywhere.

koorma-purana-DJ76_lWhatever the mind is focused on for a given period of time is what it will likely see in its external observations. For instance, a thief is only interested in taking objects of value from others. As a result, he is always suspicious of getting caught. In addition, the thief also always keeps an eye out for new projects, i.e. new items that can be stolen. This aggregate mindset can be described as theft consciousness, wherein all thoughts and desires are focused on the foremost task of thievery. Similarly, one who is in love with a paramour will think of their beloved wherever they go. If they spot a shop selling nice flowers such as roses, they will stop in and purchase a nice bouquet to give to their life partner, their beloved whose company serves as their reason for living. In this way, we see that activities and desires sort of paint a color across the eyes that causes all objects to be seen through a specific prism.

When under the spell of bhakti, the eyes are anointed with pure and undying love for God. A paramour may serve as an object of love and interest for one person, but likely that relationship is exclusive. Indeed, the personal and direct nature of the romantic relationship enhances the attachment and bliss felt by the participants. One who gives their love away freely is referred to by derogatory names, for they are considered violators of fidelity. The Supreme Lord, as the ever well-wishing friend of all forms of life, can take part in the most intimate of relationships with every single person and yet still remain completely dedicated to everyone. Therefore anyone who takes to bhakti-yoga, or the divine engagement of devotional service, can have God all to themselves and at the same time induce others to enjoy with Him also.

“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who is Shyamasundara, Krishna Himself with inconceivable innumerable attributes, whom the pure devotees see in their heart of hearts with the eye of devotion tinged with the salve of love.” (Brahma-samhita, 5.38)

Lord KrishnaGod is the creator of everything, but only when the eyes are anointed with transcendental love can the Lord’s influence be seen everywhere. This truth was validated by the behavior of Shri Hanuman, the exalted Vanara warrior and eternal servant of Lord Rama. The Supreme Lord expands Himself into direct, fully capable copies that reside within the hearts of all living entities. It is heard that great mystic yogis of the past sometimes divided their individual souls up into different pieces and thus expanded the reach of their consciousness. Nevertheless, even with this division each individual remained a singular entity. With the Supreme Lord, there is never a division, but rather an expansion. It is not that God has been broken up into millions of different containers which will one day meld back into each other. The Paramatma, or Supersoul residing within the heart, is a distinct and autonomous entity who is simultaneously a most merciful divine incarnation, an ever well-wishing friend and kind companion of the wayward soul wanting to try their hand at creating, maintaining and destroying.

The soul certainly does have independence, but this free will can only lead to positive outcomes when the engagements undertaken match the nature of the performer. For instance, we may own a laptop computer which is capable of carrying out many different complex functions, but if we use the device as a paper weight or as a tray to carry our food, we aren’t really making the best use of it. The laptop can obviously be useful in these settings, but the true potential of the device remains untapped. The laptop is meant to handle word processing, internet, email, and many other software related tasks. The internal computing abilities are what give the laptop its identity. In the conditioned state, the living entity takes to observing nature around it and concocting various theses about the origin of the earth and the manipulations of matter that are required to further enhance the human experience. Yet the higher potential for intelligence that is exclusively found in the human species is not intended to be used for such paltry and useless endeavors.

LaptopSaying that material science used to further sense gratification is a waste of time seems like a rather bold assertion, but if we juxtapose the life of the scientist with the life of the animal, there is no question as to which entity is better off. The typical animal - which is completely ignorant of math, science, philosophy and religion - takes primarily to eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Food is amply available from nature without any need of a governing body, a progressive income tax, a Federal Reserve chairman, or an equal redistribution of wealth. Shelter is also provided by nature, as is sex life. The animal has no concerns over mortgage payments, conflicts with coworkers, or maltreatment from paramours. The animal is even unaware of its impending death; hence the most potent fear of life is absent.

The human being endeavoring to understand the nature around it through scientific analysis is constantly in trouble and worry. For starters, scientific experiments require great time, education, endeavor and resources. And if a large experiment should turn out successful, the only tangible benefit is some advancement in material comfort. An astronaut may train very hard to travel thousands of miles into outer space, but the same enjoyment is felt by the animal which hardly moves at all during the day. Indeed, a human being who simply stays at home and enjoys with their family members has no need to travel long distances. The scientist will argue that their research is advancing the cause of human civilization. Yet if death occurs for both the animal and the human being, what does it matter where one travels or how they get there? Has not the scientist wasted much valuable time in finding their paltry level of enjoyment which the animal obtains all the same without any frenzied pursuit?

Human beings do have a higher potential for intelligence, as knowledge of the Absolute can never be separated from the soul. Even in the body of an animal, the soul has a full level of intelligence that can beam throughout the body. Yet only in the human species can the nescience enveloping the knowledgeable soul through material contact be removed. When one regains their constitutional position, the activities adopted then tap into the full potential for bliss and knowledge that is part and parcel of spirit.

HanumanSince Shri Hanuman is fully infused with spiritual energy and the desire to serve the source of all matter and spirit, God, he is never clouded by nescience. All of his time is spent in the light, even when there is apparent darkness in the surroundings. Just prior to his entry into the enemy territory of Lanka, Hanuman assumed the size of a cat. The onlookers, the denizens of the celestial realm, were quite amazed by this transformation, for Hanuman had not too long before assumed a massive stature to cross over an expansive ocean. The princess of Videha, Sita Devi, had been taken captive by the king of Lanka, the Rakshasa named Ravana. Since Lanka was far away from any mainland, only a truly capable warrior was able to reach it. Not having access to aerial cars or machine powered boats, Hanuman expanded his size to match the difficulty of the mission. Leaping off a mountain peak, Hanuman then flew through the air and reached the shores of Lanka.

In the spiritual world, Sita Devi is Goddess Lakshmi, the controller of fortune and the wife of Lord Narayana, the source of all men. There is only one God, but He expands into different spiritual forms to perform specific functions. For the purpose of creation, Lord Vishnu, the very same Narayana, exhales in the spiritual sky and creates the universal cosmos. The first created living entity, Lord Brahma, who takes birth from the lotus like navel of Vishnu, then takes charge of creation. Sometimes Vishnu Himself likes to come to earth to deal with nefarious elements and give pleasure to His ardent supporters. Rama was one such incarnation of Vishnu, and Sita, Rama’s wife, was the corresponding incarnation of Lakshmi.

Lakshmi NarayanaSince Hanuman and his monkey associates were so eager to serve Vishnu, the Lord provided them an opportunity to do so by asking them to find Sita. Hanuman was the most capable of the Vanaras associated with Rama, as he was really a celestial figure in the form of a monkey. The scientists of today have certainly made tremendous advancements in the areas of aviation, electricity and medicine, but they have yet to study the soul, its properties, or how it can be detached from the influences of the senses. Through the ancient art of yoga, one can harness the true power of the soul and thus invoke various siddhis, or perfections. Hanuman, through no extraneous endeavor, was an expert yogi capable of using all of the mystic perfections; thus he could assume a large or diminutive stature at any time. A person can sit inside of a massive rocket ship and thus consider their size to be expanded, but there has yet to be discovered a materially scientific way of assuming a small size at will. But from the fact that we survived months within the womb of our mother prior to birth, we can understand that the soul, the individual functional unit of life, is indeed capable of existing in the tiniest of bodies.

Through yoga practice, an outward dress of any size can be had without difficulty. Evidence of variation in body types is seen all around us, as the elephant and the ant are both living entities with souls, but they have vastly different external sizes. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, accurately note that there are no differences in the qualities of souls between living entities, just variations in outer coverings. One who has harnessed the massive capabilities of the soul can escape the bonds of the material body that was given to them by nature.

HanumanAfter Hanuman finally made it to Lanka via the aerial path, his difficulties were just beginning. He was now in enemy territory, so he wanted to make sure that the Rakshasas living in Lanka would not see him. At the same time, he needed to look for Sita and deliver to her Rama’s ring. After downsizing his form, Hanuman was ready to enter the city. From the above referenced passage, we see that just prior to entering enemy ground, Hanuman noticed the bright moon in the sky, a shining object which appeared to come out of nowhere to help him see the path ahead. Hanuman decided to enter the city in the dead of night to minimize the chances of others spotting him. The moon, realizing the sublime nature of Hanuman’s task, kindly alighted the way for him.

The comparisons used to describe the brightness of the moon in this passage are not accidents by any means. The Supersoul witnesses all actions undertaken, including those by Hanuman. But with the pure souls, the observations are not unidirectional. Just as the Supreme Lord witnesses all of our actions, the bhakta sees the imprint and markings of the Lord wherever they turn. Lord Vishnu, the four-handed form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is known by His various symbols, which include the conchshell and lotus flower. In two of Vishnu’s hands are the club and disc, which are both used to punish the miscreants. For the devotees, those who are peaceful towards the Supreme Lord, His dictates, and His devotees, i.e. those who follow the path of dharma laid down in the shastras, Vishnu holds in His other two hands the conchshell and lotus flower. Hanuman noticed that the moon was as white as the lotus stalk or milk and that its brightness was just like the luster of a conchshell.

Vishnu in ShvetadvipaLord Vishnu resides on the planet of Shvetadvipa, which translates to “white island”. In this realm there is an ocean of milk upon which the lotus flowers that surround Lord Vishnu rest. Lakshmi Devi is known as Padmini because she is always on a lotus flower enjoying the company of her husband. The swan is also tied to Vishnu and His devotees because of its purity. A swan always remains amidst lotus flowers and is able to separate the milky portion out of a mixture of water and milk. The crow, a bird of a lower stature, chooses to remain around garbage and lower kinds of floral life; hence it is generally associated with the opposite of purity. Thus Hanuman, by observing the moon, only noticed auspicious symbols associated with Lord Vishnu. The moon that was providing light to Hanuman looked like a splendorous swan swimming in a lake.

“How can that female swan who is accustomed to sporting with the king of swans amidst lotus flowers ever cast her eyes on a water-crow that stays amidst bunches of grass?” (Sita Devi speaking to Ravana, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 56.20)

The swanlike moon would help Hanuman in his most difficult mission, one that called for him to enter the land inhabited by the crow-like Rakshasas and their leader Ravana. Previously, when Ravana had tried to win Sita over, she sternly rebuked him by comparing him to a crow and Rama to a swan. The purport of her statement was that since she was accustomed to associating with the supreme swan that was her husband Rama, she could never degrade herself by remaining with an impure crow like Ravana. The devotee always sees the Supreme Lord’s influence in everything good in this world. Even when encountering the evil elements such as Ravana, thoughts of Vishnu and His purity remain forever at the forefront of the mind of the bhakta. The moon, which appeared just like Vishnu to the ever devoted Hanuman, aided him in his battle against the crows of Lanka. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would triumph in his mission by finding Sita and safely returning to Rama and informing Him of her whereabouts. Wherever there is Vishnu, there is purity of vision. And whenever the vision is pure, as it was with Hanuman, success in the most sublime engagement of devotional service is guaranteed.

HanumanFor the conditioned souls battling the crows of the modern world who are intent on persuading others to follow any activity besides pure surrender and devotion to God, keeping the thoughts fixed on Hanuman, Sita, Rama, and other pure divine figures is the only option. Though we may not be able to see Vishnu at every step while in the conditioned state, we can most certainly produce His most powerful incarnation, His transcendental name, at any time. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the swanlike presence of the Supreme Lord and all His glorious paraphernalia can be seen in all that is good in this world. When the vision is cleared through this type of consciousness, even liberation from the cycle of birth and death will be viewed as an insignificant achievement. With devotion in full surrender the true potential for action found in the soul is realized, and the faithful servants like Hanuman are pleased. One who sees and hears Vishnu everywhere can never remain in darkness.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Rendezvous With Destiny

Radha and Krishna“Since Krishna is the source of our generation, or the supreme father, no one can be a better friend than Krishna, nor can anyone be a better well-wisher.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 9.18 Purport)

With some friends, it doesn’t matter how much time you spend away from them, the ease of interaction and compatibility in thoughts and interests will always remain. Despite the number of years spent separated, during which time new interests and desires are sure to be introduced, upon meeting again, all the old stories and common points of interest return. Interestingly enough, we have had a strong connection with one entity in particular since the beginning of time. No matter how much time passes or how much we try to forget His presence, His open offer of friendship and kindness never expires. Should we have the good fortune of understanding this notable personality and His ever-merciful nature, the loneliness brought on by material contact can forever fade away.

Every living entity assumes different qualities at the time of birth. This is readily perceptible to even the least spiritually conscious individual, as we see that certain children take to quiet behavior in their youth while others are overly active and driven to naughty behavior. The visible signs of a person’s inherent nature first appear in the early years, for it is not uncommon to learn that the great success stories in the entertainment, sports and business worlds polished their abilities while they were young. A star golfer likely first picked up a club before they were able to talk, a businessman honed in his skills at trading and earning a profit while still in school, and an actor was drawn to giving performances in the home in front of family and guests.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)

Lord KrishnaThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, kindly provide some background information in this regard. Based on the past desires of the essence of individuality, the individual spirit soul, a specific body type was crafted. For instance, if we wanted to be a star athlete in a previous life and took the necessary steps to direct our consciousness in that area, the next form of body was crafted perfectly to meet those desires. The reactions to our past work also played a role in our fortunes, as every action has a commensurate reaction, which can be favorable or unfavorable. This is how karma, or fruitive activity, operates.

The shaping of material bodies based on desire and work is generally considered an Eastern concept, but we actually see evidence of the workings of action and reaction in our daily endeavors. If an individual puts in the time to study and do well in school for the purpose of succeeding in a specific career path, they will likely get what they want later in life. Similarly, if someone should neglect an important action like stopping at a red traffic light or yielding to oncoming traffic, there will likely be a negative result in the form of a traffic accident. Where the Vedas are unique is that they don’t assume the reactions to work stop with death. Indeed, the spirit soul lives forever, as we know that life existed on earth prior to our birth. We also know from the passing of other entities that life will continue to exist should we leave our present body. Since the material nature continues to exist, it is safe to assume that the soul will exist perpetually as well.

The accumulation of reactions to work is not exclusive to the spirit souls dwelling in human bodies; the soul can be placed into any form. The animal species, those we view to be wholly ignorant, are spirit souls who have desires to enjoy their senses without any impediment. One who is addicted to sex life will have a much easier time fulfilling their desires in the body of a dog or a monkey than in a human form. The influence of adhyatmika miseries, those brought on by the mind and personal senses, is greatly reduced in the animal kingdom. A human being gets ulcers worrying about how to pay the rent, find a life partner and deal with issues at home and at the office, but the ignorant animal has no such concerns. They don’t even have to worry about wooing members of the opposite sex; they just have intimate relations with whoever is around.

The human being is advanced in its ability to acquire intelligence. The key is to make use of that potential, as imitating the eating, sleeping, mating and defending habits of the animal doesn’t represent any real advancement. A human being lacking God consciousness is really no different than an animal and can even be considered a less evolved species due to the increased miseries brought on by the mind, which is constantly hankering and lamenting. The pendulum consisting of the desire to enjoy and the need to renounce constantly swings back and forth, bringing about seeming changes in thoughts and circumstances, while not really taking the individual to any elevated level of consciousness.

Though the human species is considered the most advanced, based on the qualities assumed at the time of birth, there are still varying penchants for desire and interest. Friendships are formed based on common interest, as we will bond with people who like the same things that we do and who engage in the same types of activities that we enjoy. It’s interesting to note, however, that friendships cannot be forced. We can work with someone every day in the same office for years and try our best to form a connection with them in terms of interest and conversation, but if there is no compatibility in natures, a true friendship will never be formed. With some people it is very difficult to have conversations and develop a rapport that makes their association enjoyable.

With our good friends, however, no amount of time spent apart can break the connection. Indeed, the actual time it took to originally form the friendship could have been very short, maybe even a few weeks or months. To use an example, the friendships created during the short four years of college don’t necessarily bring about continued association after graduation. Individuals eventually part their separate ways and go on to settle down in cities that can be many miles apart. Yet upon reuniting with their college friends, the spark is still there in the conversations. Even when meeting after many years, it feels as if no time has passed at all, as the dialogue flows smoothly and evenly, with the interests still remaining the same.

“Physical nature is known to be endlessly mutable. The universe is the cosmic form of the Supreme Lord, and I am that Lord represented as the Supersoul, dwelling in the heart of every embodied being.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.4)

Lord KrishnaThese strong connections are rare in occurrence and thus worthy of appreciation. Fortunately for every form of life, there is a connection to a singular entity that remains forever intact, regardless of the level of awareness of the relationship. Just as the spirit soul forms the basis of activity and individuality within every form of life, there is a more powerful soul, one that emanates from the Supreme Person, that accompanies the individual spiritual spark in its travels from one life form to the next. Depending on the time, circumstance, and spiritual tradition of the specific geographic location, this individual can be addressed by different names, but the Sanskrit word “Krishna” very nicely describes His all-attractive features. The person most of us know as God must be more attractive than anyone else; otherwise His features would be inferior. If the Supreme Being were deficient in any category of opulence, He couldn’t be deemed greater than anyone else; hence He would also lose His status as the person most deserving of worship.

As the predominant proclivity of the soul is to seek pleasure based on attractiveness, Krishna becomes the ideal beneficiary for our service. Depending on the person we interact with and our level of connection with them, offering service can be quite difficult. It’s much easier to serve someone with whom we have an identified relationship. And the more intimate the relationship, the stronger the affection and kindness will flow. Moreover, if there is to be service, there must be a tangible benefit derived, something which satisfies the emotional needs of the performer.

Through the ancient practice of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the soul finds the occupation that it is naturally tailored towards. Through the religion of love, the service penchant that is part and parcel of individual spirit gets fully tapped into. Not only does the human being have a higher potential for intelligence, but he also has the ability to make the best use of his natural desire to love. Only when the beneficiary has a tremendously powerful connection with the servitor can the resulting engagement be deemed superior. As Krishna is all-attractive, He is capable of providing the greatest pleasure to the naturally inclined to serve living entity.

In the conditioned state, where knowledge of Krishna’s friendship is forgotten, the soul takes to serving other entities or even itself. Since the beneficiaries of such service don’t all carry the same level of connection, the resulting happiness through association can vary in potency. But only with Krishna can the link in consciousness remain firmly established once rekindled. Despite the thousands of lifetimes spent in ignorance of Krishna’s kind residence within the heart as the Supersoul, the Lord is openly willing to embrace us should we have the good sense to turn inwards and acknowledge His welcoming arms.

Krishna and BalaramaSo how do we connect with the Supersoul? With our friends, we can meet with them personally after a long time and reignite the natural connection, but where do we go to find Krishna and talk to Him? The secret is to meet with a pure devotee, one who is already connected with the Supersoul through consciousness. This meeting can take place at any time in life and be supremely potent in its effectiveness. As an example, Prahlada Maharaja, while within the womb, heard of the glories of Shri Krishna and devotion to Him through the words of Narada Muni spoken to his mother. At the time of birth, Prahlada was able to recall this wisdom by connecting with the Supreme Consciousness. Despite all the subsequent efforts of his father, King Hiranyakashipu, to get him to turn his attention towards fruitive activity and royal administration, Prahlada was only interested in bhakti. Indeed, when his father asked him what he learned in school, Prahlada told him that the most important business in life was to take to hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping, offering prayers, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, carrying out the Divine orders, becoming friends with God and completely surrendering unto the Supreme Spirit.

The unbreakable friendship can be established immediately through tapping into the Divine consciousness. For the conditioned entities of the modern age, the most powerful tool to bring about remembrance of Krishna and His names, pastimes and qualities is the regular recitation of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Every individual is inclined towards repeating this sacred formula, which is known as the maha-mantra. Since everyone is a long lost friend of Krishna’s, any of the processes of bhakti can be considered constitutional, or engagements we are accustomed to.

Lest we consider bhakti to be simply an ancient art of the Hindu tradition, we know that certain learned activities for the human being are practiced and perfected universally. For instance, the newborn has no idea how to walk, though through practice and sincere effort, this ability is eventually mastered. Once someone can walk, the activity is never renounced. Walking is such an integral part of daily activity that it occurs almost involuntarily. Similarly, bhakti-yoga, connection to Krishna through an always active link in consciousness, becomes second nature to the sincere devotee interested in remaining forever in the company of that one individual with whom they will always feel comfortable. Just as meeting with a long lost friend brings us comfort and happiness, reuniting with Krishna leads to the greatest joy, a level of satisfaction capable of allowing the individual to endure any and all situations. After speaking of the glories of bhakti, Prahlada Maharaja was subsequently tortured and made to live in the most fearful of conditions by his father, who was indirectly engaged in the service of the Lord through a mood of hatred. Even hate is a product of the natural loving propensity, as it is simply a complete inversion of the mood of transcendental affection.

Prahlada MaharajaYet through it all, Prahlada maintained his steady demeanor, as his best friend saved him from danger at every step. Finally, the same friend, the Supreme Lord, appeared on the scene in a seemingly strange guise of a half-man/half-lion. This specific form, now celebrated as Narasimhadeva, took care of Hiranyakashipu and thereby permanently removed the sources of external distress for Prahlada. Though he got to see God personally, Prahlada never changed his level of devotion. Through steady allegiance to bhakti, the long awaited rendezvous with Krishna brings the most tangible result of a permanent shift in consciousness. As such, at the time of death, the individual is no longer subject to the cycle of birth and death known as reincarnation. Rather than have to relearn the basic activities of an animal, the liberated soul earns Krishna’s personal association for all of eternity.

Lord Krishna with cowsThough the connection with Krishna is never broken, it can be forgotten. When memory of the Divine link is rekindled and activities are adopted based on that understanding, the pendulum of material enjoyment and distress immediately ceases. The Krishna conscious person is never without their best friend for even a second; therefore there is no opportunity for unhappiness, loneliness or distress.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Lighting The Dead End Street

Hanuman“As if lending assistance to him [Hanuman], the moon, with its many thousands of rays, arose in the sky in the midst of a host of stars and covered the earth with a canopy of its light.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.57)

candro’pi sācivyamivāsya kurvaṃ |

stārāgaṇairmadhyagato virājan |

jyotsnāvitānena vitatya loka |

muttiṣṭhate naikasahasraraśmiḥ ||

In this passage from the Ramayana, it is said that the moon, in all its glory, shone light on the wonderful, faithful, beautiful and splendorous Shri Hanuman as he made his way into the darkest of regions, the land of Lanka which had been turned into a hellish place due to the sinful deeds of the inhabiting Rakshasas and their leader, the mighty king Ravana. The moon’s bright light aided Hanuman by alighting his path and all the surrounding areas, but it also allowed the sincere onlookers to have a clear picture of Hanuman’s glorious activities, his splendid devotion in the service of Shri Rama, the Personality of Godhead. Hanuman is always resplendent wherever he goes; hence the world always benefits anytime it can get a glimpse of his greatness, his sweetness of thought and deed that permeates every one of his actions. The moon, under the pretense of providing light in the dark of night, found a wonderful viewing position in the sky to observe some of Hanuman’s most amazing feats.

HanumanWhy the need to watch Hanuman? What was he doing travelling in the dead of night into the city of Lanka in the first place? Was he not welcomed there with open arms? Was not an Ellis Island there to greet him and grant him access to roam freely? The land of Lanka was once a very beautiful place, as it served as the home of Kuvera, the treasurer of the demigods. In Sanskrit, the word “deva” is translated to mean a god, but often times Vaishnavas, devotees of Lord Vishnu, translate the word to mean demigod. While some may take exception to this, the translation is quite accurate. The celestials in the sky – those who reside in the land of the immortals, whose capital city is Amaravati - are certainly very powerful, but they are destined for death at some point, though the end of their life may come after thousands of years. Yet there is one deva who is supreme; hence He is referred to by terms such as “deva varah” and “Bhagavan”. The chief person can be addressed by adding a prefix to the term “god”, or instead the subordinate devas can be described as demigods. The latter practice deprecates the position of the devas versus explicitly elevating the position of the Supreme Godhead.

“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)

From the Bhagavad-gita, the song of God sung by Lord Krishna, who is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the source of all human beings, or Narayana, we learn that repeated birth and death take place even in the home of the demigods. Since His land is never subject to creation or destruction, the original form of Godhead is always supreme. God is the only entity who lives forever within the same spiritual body. The tiny fragmental sparks emanating from the original spiritual fire certainly inherit the property of immortality, but due to their subordinate nature, they can sometimes take on various outer coverings composed of material elements that are temporary in nature. As such, in a conditioned state, the spiritual sparks can develop false identifications and suffer the pain that results. For the Supreme Lord, there are no such defects.

Lord KrishnaKuvera was given residence in the island kingdom of Lanka, and he was living there very peacefully. Meanwhile, a clan of Rakshasas headed by a demon named Sumalin sought to have Lanka all for themselves. After they attacked Kuvera and created many disturbances, the Supreme Lord Vishnu Himself descended from the spiritual sky to deal with the situation. Riding on the back of Garuda, the celestial bird carrier of Vishnu, the Lord routed all the Rakshasas out of Lanka and thus allowed Kuvera to live peacefully. Since man will always act according to his nature irrespective of repression or temporary setbacks, Sumalin was in no mood to give up. He decided to take a different course of action. Knowing Kuvera to be the son of the exalted sage Vishrava, Sumalin sent his daughter to approach the sage and ask to have a child with him. When she approached Vishrava, he was deep in meditation, and being able to decipher what she wanted, he cursed her for having bothered him during an auspicious time. She was granted her wish of a child, but due to the curse, the child would be born a Rakshasa prone to sinful activity. Having remorse for her transgression, the lady then asked the sage to grant a benediction that would counteract the curse. Mollified to an extent, Vishrava granted her the boon of having another Rakshasa son who was prone to righteousness from his very birth.

In this way, Sumalin’s daughter gave birth to three Rakshasa sons through Vishrava. Ravana was born mostly in the mode of passion, Kumbhakarna in the mode of ignorance, and Vibhishana in goodness. They were all quite capable and powerful in their youth, but seeing that Kuvera was enjoying nicely in Lanka, the mother asked the sons to pray to Lord Brahma, the first created living entity and oldest person in existence aside from God. Only through this method could her sons equal Kuvera in opulence. After undergoing severe austerities and penances to please Brahma, Ravana was granted the boon of being able to defeat anyone in battle, save a human being. Kumbhakarna, being tricked by the goddess of speech, mistakenly asked to be allowed to sleep for very long periods, while only remaining awake for short intervals to eat as much as he could. Vibhishana asked to always remain dedicated to dharma, or the set of law codes instituted by the Supreme Lord.

RavanaWith his newfound powers, Ravana went about touring the three worlds and defeating the greatest fighters. Kuvera abruptly abandoned Lanka after being informed of Ravana’s new unmatched fighting ability. Taking hold of the city along with Kuvera’s celestial airplane, the Pushpaka, Ravana gradually transitioned the beautiful land into one full of ignorance. Though the opulence of Lanka remained, with wonderful palaces full of gold and jewels filling every inch of space, the majority of the land was enveloped by the cloud of ignorance brought on by material contact. For ignorance to reign supreme, the light of knowledge must be kept out. It is seen in bars and nightclubs that the lights are dimmed greatly and that the music blasts at very high volumes. The main business in these establishments is intoxication and the hope for illicit sex through blind meetings between men and women. Since these activities don’t require any intelligence, the atmosphere must match the nature of the engagement. If the lights were left on and peace and quiet were steady, the torchlight of knowledge that can only shine through sobriety, clear vision and meaningful conversation would make the ignorant activities difficult to remain faithful to.

Lanka was similarly enveloped in mental darkness twenty four hours a day, with the blindness being especially strong at night. The residents, headed by Ravana, were accustomed to eating meat, drinking wine and engaging in unregulated sex life. Light is not conducive to these activities, so at the time that Hanuman chose to sneak into the city, the nighttime, there was darkness all around, both literally and figuratively. The moon, knowing Hanuman’s mission to be most sublime, decided to beam its beautiful rays all across the land, allowing Hanuman to see clearly while he entered the darkest of realms.

HanumanIf Hanuman were a Rakshasa or one prone to ignorant activity, he may have been welcomed with open arms. But he was on a mission of peace, rescue and knowledge. The princess of Videha, the beautiful Sita Devi, had been taken away from the side of her husband while residing peacefully in the forest of Dandaka. Ravana had taken her, for although he had hundreds of the most beautiful princesses as wives, he had to have the one woman he considered was the most beautiful. In reality, no one can be with Sita Devi except Lord Rama, her husband. No amount of force, violence, or sweet words can ever deviate Sita’s mind from the lotus feet of her dear husband. Indeed, when she was first married to Rama, she was terribly afraid of touching His feet, which is customary for newly married wives in the Vedic tradition to do. Lord Rama, the Personality of Godhead appearing on earth in a human form to make good on the one loophole to Ravana’s powers of immunity, had liberated the female sage Ahalya simply by stepping on her while she was in the form of a stone. Immediately upon feeling the transcendental impression of the Lord’s lotus feet, Ahalya reassumed her natural form and was transported to the spiritual sky to be in the company of her husband, Gautama Rishi.

The pure devotees, those who love God without any motive, have no desire for this type of liberation. Heavenly enjoyment and the bliss resulting from merging into the wonderful light of Brahman are not appealing in the least bit to exalted personalities like Sita. Fearing that she would receive the same benediction as was given to Ahalya, Sita at first was hesitant to touch her husband’s feet. She never wanted to be out of Rama’s company for even a second. Yet while in Lanka, not only was Sita separated from Rama, but the prospect of reuniting with Him seemed dim. Ravana’s palace and city were well protected, for the sinful know deep down that they are inviting punishment through their behavior. Even through all their intoxication, the sinful have an idea of the temporary nature of life and the so-called happiness it brings. Therefore those who are unaware that all property originally belongs to God take the most drastic measures in protecting their possessions and way of life.

Sita and RamaHanuman was tasked by Sugriva, the king of the monkeys residing in Kishkindha, to go find Sita and return with information of her whereabouts. Rama could have destroyed the whole world as revenge for Sita’s kidnap, but Hanuman and the other Vanaras were quite eager to serve Him. Neither in the heavenly realm nor on earth is there anyone more eager than Hanuman to serve God. As such, he was given the most important task of infiltrating Lanka and finding Sita. Making his way to the outskirts of the city, Hanuman decided to assume a small stature, one having the dimensions of a cat. When he entered the city, the moon decided to shine brightly, allowing Hanuman to always see where he was going. By entering at night, there would be less chance of being recognized by the guards of the city who were always on edge.

Hanuman is always beaming with the light of devotion, as the seemingly material elements that surround him have no bearing on his psyche or deep love for Sita, Rama, and Lakshmana, the Lord’s younger brother. Indeed, the material elements work under Hanuman’s command; they are his sincere servants. Though Hanuman gives the appearance of being a monkey, he is a divine figure through and through. Sincere devotees of Hanuman take umbrage with the fact that he is described as a monkey when the words of the Ramayana are translated into English. The term used to describe the apelike servants of Rama is Vanara, which literally means “of the vana, or forest”. Yet in other areas of the Ramayana, the same Vanaras are referenced through words such as kapi and hari, both of which can mean “monkey”. So the passages that describe Hanuman as being a monkey are certainly accurate, but from his behavior we know that he wasn’t limited to his body type. Just as Lord Vishnu, when approached by the demigods to descend to earth, stated that He would appear in a human form as Rama, the Vanaras were all celestial figures appearing as monkeys. Though Vishnu refers to Rama as an ordinary human, we know that the Supreme Lord can never assume any material dress or be subject to the influences of the perishable land. The same goes for Hanuman, as the monkey form simply facilitates the beautiful activities he takes up.

HanumanNot surprisingly, Hanuman would succeed in his mission, as he would find Sita, allay her fears, and safely return to Sugriva’s camp. The moon was fortunate enough to witness all of these events by shining its bright light. It derived great pleasure from Hanuman’s activities, and many generations since then have also been pleased to the heart by hearing of the Vanara’s wonderful exploits. Lanka once again became full of transcendental light after Ravana was defeated by Rama and Vibhishana subsequently installed as the ruler. Yet the city never shone brighter than when the moon lit the path for the beautiful Hanuman to enter and perform his magic. Wherever Hanuman goes he brings with him his brilliant effulgence, and wherever there is his light of devotion, there is peace, prosperity and the firm faith that we will one day reunite with our best friend, the Supreme Lord.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Staring at the Sun

Lord Krishna“By chanting and hearing of Krishna we can actually associate with Him, for He is absolute and nondifferent from His names, qualities, forms and pastimes. As we associate with Krishna, He helps us to understand Him and dispels the darkness of ignorance with the light of knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 7)

“Can you show me God? Have you seen Him?” These are certainly legitimate questions to pose to transcendentalists and others who claim to be somewhat advanced in knowledge. But at the same time, the questions are somewhat incomplete, as the highest spiritual practice is not to simply rest the eyes on the beautiful form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The true magnificence, grandeur, beauty and awe-inspiring nature of such a form can never be truly understood by anyone, let alone the Lord Himself, as He even once descended to earth in the form of a preacher named Krishna Chaitanya to test His hand at devotional service and see what all the fuss was about. Despite man’s limited ability in understanding the Supreme Lord, all hope is not lost, as the greatest transcendental taste is provided from hearing descriptions of God, His names, pastimes and attributes. For those on the topmost platform of transcendental consciousness, this hearing is just as good as seeing, as under the pure mindset thoughts never deviate from that one entity who is capable of providing more pleasure than anyone else.

new-1Why is there even a need to see God? Obviously, the things we are currently accustomed to observing must not be cutting it. If we see God, then maybe we can truly believe in His existence. If we see the Lord, we can ask Him why He hides Himself from everyone and why we are forced to suffer so much. But seeing alone doesn’t always bring about the best understanding. We can take the sun as an example to see why this is the case. The brilliant disc in the sky provides heat and light constantly to innumerable living entities spread across thousands of miles. Now just imagine if we undertook the nearly impossible task of trying to understand the sun by simply looking at it. For starters, depending on the time we decided to make our observations, the sun would strike back with its glaring effulgence, a splendor so powerful that it would bring pain and discomfort to the eyes. Indeed, staring at the sun for too long can hamper vision for the rest of the day, as the glow from the light leaves an extended imprint on the eyes.

Even if we looked at the sun at a time when it was less intense in its contact on the specific portion of the earth that we were standing on, such as during sunrise and sunset, the actual amazing nature and characteristics of the sustainer of life in the sky could never be understood. From a distance one man may speculate as to what the sun is like, while another will posit his own theory. In this respect, seeing is not believing in the true potency and benevolent nature of the sun. Yet if we took a different approach, where we observed the world around us, we could gain a more thorough understanding. For instance, we know that when the sun rises in the morning, the result is that there is light all around us. Conversely, when the sun sets at night, everything turns pitch black. The artificial light that man has created is fully humbled by the abundance of natural light provided by the sun. Therefore we can conclude that one of the properties of the sun is that it has tremendous light.

SunriseFrom our observations, we also deduce that when the sun is seen in the sky, the temperature outside gets a little warmer. When there is no sunlight, there is also a better chance of it raining, with clouds filling up the sky. From the presence of clouds we can reach another astute conclusion: the sun actually never disappears; it only gets covered up by other elements. Advancing further, we can understand that the sun actually doesn’t rise or set; the earth just rotates out of its direct view. Through these other symptoms, which have no relation to staring directly at the sun, we can understand so many things about the sun’s properties.

In our endeavor to fully understand the Supreme Lord, we can similarly apply tests of the functions of nature around us and gather information about the differences between spirit and matter and the workings of life. The functions of the sun represent only one tiny portion of the scheduled tasks and random movements of Mother Nature and the innumerable living entities that populate her land. Even if we somehow or other gained an understanding of the outer workings of nature, there are still the mysterious functions performed within each body type. The heart of the human being continues to beat throughout the day, even while we are sleeping. Breathing also takes place involuntarily. Miraculously, through eating food and drinking water we are able to stay alive.

All of these perceptible functions actually give us an understanding about God, for we see that nothing in this world can exist without a creating source. Since even the human being comes from a previous fusion of life forms, the mother and father, there must be an original creator. From accumulating so many conclusions, we gain some understanding of the properties of spirit and the nature of Supreme Spirit. Thus far we have not directly looked at God or seen Him, but our knowledge and appreciation of His potencies have increased.

Lord Vishnu with BrahmaThe Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, reveal that the hidden truths of life were originally imparted to the first created living entity, who subsequently passed down the same information to his worthy descendants and disciples. As such, even the first created living entity had a father, who is the person we all know as God. Interestingly enough, Lord Brahma, who took birth from the stem emanating from the lotus-like navel of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord, didn’t take in Vedic wisdom by staring at Vishnu’s glorious and opulently adorned body. Instead, all the knowledge Brahma acquired came from within the heart, where the transcendental wisdom was kindly placed by Vishnu. Therefore, since the beginning of time, the secret to gaining knowledge of the Absolute has been the hearing process, understanding information from external sources through hearing and then resting that knowledge comfortably within the heart, where the essence of life, the spirit soul, is located.

Though we may be tempted to think that the Vedic version of creation is simply a fairy tale crafted as part of a mythological tradition, we can understand the importance of the hearing process from other areas of life as well. Say that we have a picture of one of our elderly relatives, like a great-grandfather, lying around the house. We can maybe venture a few guesses as to his demeanor by studying the photograph, but to gain a true understanding of his life and precepts, we have to ask relatives, people who either knew him personally or heard information about him from others. In the same way, to understand God properly, simply observing a few pictures and scouring nature for the Absolute Truth will not do. The descending process of information transfer starting from Vishnu Himself must be tapped into. Luckily for us, the Vedic seers are more than happy to share their supreme information with us, provided we are eager to listen and not tainted by motives of competition and jealousy.

“The Blessed Lord said: I instructed this imperishable science of yoga to the sun-god, Vivasvan, and Vivasvan instructed it to Manu, the father of mankind, and Manu in turn instructed it to Ikshvaku.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.1)

Lord KrishnaCould anyone be jealous of God? Surely they can, as this envy is precisely the cause of the existence of the phenomenal world. When first hearing such a statement, we’ll want to challenge it or take it to be some sort of dogmatic insistence aimed at converting others to follow the Vedic tradition. But from observation of outward symptoms this claim is completely validated. How much time is spent glorifying God on a regular basis? How much time is dedicated to describing His activities, forms, names and pastimes? Indeed, there is great attention given to names and activities, but of ordinary human beings. There is much worship and adulation, but of celebrities, rock stars, movie stars and famous athletes. The penchant for service naturally exists in every single individual. Even the lonely man who has no wife or children will purchase a cat or a dog to have an outlet for their love.

When there is all of this affection being regularly distributed, why the lack of attention shown to God? Since He is the creator, it is naturally understood that the Supreme Lord is the wisest, most renounced, most famous, most beautiful, most wealthy and the strongest. Since He possesses these attributes simultaneously and to the fullest extent, He is known as Bhagavan. Who wouldn’t be jealous of Bhagavan? After all, He enjoys more than anyone else and He is never put into any trouble. Only when the attitude to challenge Bhagavan ceases can any real progress in consciousness be made. The human being has already shown the desire to love, so when the beneficiary of such effort is pure and above all darkness, not only is the intended object of worship pleased, but so is the person offering the service.

The phenomenal world continues to exist for as long as the aversion to divine love, which is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, continues. As long as nature around us is only studied for the purposes of increasing mundane knowledge or enhancing sense gratification, there will be no end in sight to the miseries brought on by material contact. Even death is not the end, as in the next life the soul is simply placed into a new body whose type is commensurate with the desires and work performed in the just completed life. Lest we think reincarnation is a dogmatic belief of those descending from the Indian subcontinent, we can understand the eternality of spirit by simply observing the way life continues to exist before and after the appearances of various living entities. Based on the knowledge given to us by our parents and the recorded history of the world, we know that life on earth functioned just fine before we were born. We also know that life will continue after our passing because others around us have passed away and our lives didn’t end. Therefore the eternal nature of spirit is confirmed by basic outward perception. Just as life as a whole continues before and after death for other entities, it will continue perpetually for us as well.

“And 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, Bg. 8.5)

!BYFkUQgBWk~$(KGrHgoOKkQEjlLmWTSVBKfvlNfHww~~_3In the Bhagavad-gita, the Supreme Lord, in His original form of Shri Krishna, kindly explains the truths of life, the eternal nature of the soul, and what it takes to see and understand Him. The simplest formula for achieving liberation from ignorance and misery is provided: think of the Lord at the time of death. If we want to be Krishna conscious by the time we quit our body, shouldn’t we know what the Lord looks like? Also, if it has already been established that simply seeing God isn’t that big a deal, how will our consciousness ever be altered? This is where the hearing process comes to the rescue once again. Just as hearing a pleasurable song can immediately transport us back in time to when we first heard and enjoyed that song, hearing discourses about Krishna, or Krishna-katha, can immediately transfer us back to the spiritual world. The worshiped deity representations and pictures of the Lord are crafted off of specific information contained within sacred texts like the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Shrimad Bhagavatam describing the transcendental features belonging to the forms of the Supreme Lord’s ever existing original body and those of His numerous incarnations.

Seeing the deity form in the temple is seeing God. In the ignorant state, we have no idea how this bucking of the laws of nature through spiritual infusion can occur, but a trained eye can see the influence of Krishna not only in the deity but in every aspect of the creation as well. Staring at the sun puts a powerful glare in our eyes, but through this process we at least know that the sun is there. But a young child doesn’t even know what the sun is until they are told about it. Similarly, the deity looks just like a stone or wood statute to those who aren’t familiar with the Vedic traditions and the importance of altering consciousness. Indeed, if words can bring joy to the mind and songs pleasure to the ears, why can’t the divine vision of the deity bring a permanent shift to a transcendental consciousness, one which is always thinking about God in a loving way?

Lord KrishnaSuperior to trying to understand God by observing the workings of the multitudes of spiritual entities, who are technically known as Brahman, and better than simply staring at the deity is hearing about the Lord and His pastimes. And while the descriptions of the forms, pastimes and attributes can certainly bring about a clearer picture of the Lord within the mind, more potent than any other aspect of the Supreme Spirit is His name. Therefore the foremost recommendation for aspiring transcendentalists of this age is to simply chant the holy names of Bhagavan, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The glories of the holy name know no bounds, as these sound vibrations are non-different representations of the person they address. Krishna is God’s name that describes His all-attractive nature. Rama refers to His ability to infuse transcendental pleasure into anyone who is willing to accept it. Hare refers to His perfected energy manifestation, that beautiful entity who always engages in Krishna consciousness without any deviation.

Calling out the names of God is the most wonderful activity because it serves as an alert, a signal to the higher authorities that someone is interested in learning more about Krishna. Pretty soon thereafter, information about Krishna’s beautiful childhood form that roamed the earth five thousand years ago in Vrindavana is understood. Though the sun beams a tremendous effulgence, there is still a physical object behind all the glare. In a similar manner, the splendor of the universe is simply the effulgence beaming off of the original transcendental body of the Supreme Lord. Only by penetrating this covering can a glimpse of true spiritual understanding be attained. The most purified souls, however, are so kind and sweet that Krishna goes out of His way to provide them the topmost transcendental pleasure. Therefore He sometimes makes a divine appearance on earth in forms that look awfully similar to ordinary human beings. Due to the tremendous capabilities and beauty of these forms, the wise are able to decipher the actor from the role.

Lord KrishnaThough devotees have their specific favorite forms and incarnations, it’s hard to argue against exclusively worshiping the sweet and beautiful childhood form of Krishna that enchanted all the residents of Vrindavana. He wore a peacock feather in His hair, the Kaustubha gem around His chest, and held a lotus flower in one hand and His wonderful flute in the other. All the while Krishna kept smiling, defeating the pride of many thousands of cupids. Devotees never got tired of seeing this wonderful form, and even when Krishna would go out to play during the day, they would maintain the mental image of His face by singing His glories and describing His playful sports such as stealing butter from the neighbors, playing with the cows, and mesmerizing the residents with His flute playing. Indeed, never has this world or any other realm heard a sound as sweet as the audible nectar produced by the flute of Muralidhara, Lord Krishna.

“While churning, she [Mother Yashoda] remembered the childish activities of Krishna, and in her own way she composed songs and enjoyed singing to herself about all those activities.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.9.2)

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaThe descriptions of Krishna’s pastimes and attributes discussed by sages, put into poetry form and sung by devotees like Mother Yashoda in Vrindavana, and documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam represent only a small glimpse of the endless rays of spiritual sunshine available to those who humbly and kindly approach one who follows the Vedic tradition of bhakti. Hearing about Krishna is always superior to any other activity, as through understanding His transcendental nature, the divine vision remains forever lit within the mind. Through this method we can see God at all times of the day, whether we are in trouble or in the happiest of moods. Staring at the sun for too long will hurt our eyes, but hearing about Krishna will only bring us pleasure, as the mind’s eye can forever remain locked in on the transcendental form of Shyamasundara, the beautiful darling of Vrindavana who has the hue of a dark blue raincloud.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Enhancing Stature

Hanuman“He [Hanuman] entered the famous city, which had rows of white interlaced buildings and valuable golden archways, and was ruled by the arms of Ravana and fully guarded by ogres of terrible might.” (Valmiki Ramayana, Sundara Kand, 2.56)

sa pāṇḍurodviddhavimānamālinīṃ

mahārhajāmbūnadajālatoraṇām |

yaśasvināṃ rāvaṇabāhupālitāṃ

kṣapācarairbhīmabalaiḥ samāvṛtām

Hanuman is glorious enough as he is, for he is full of dedication, courage, tenacity, strength, intelligence, and most of all, devotion to the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is all-pervading, so His energies are distributed everywhere. Simply by enjoying the taste from drinking water one can immediately remember the Supreme Lord and His blissful nature. From the influence the many worldly objects around us have on our psyche, we tend to forget the supremacy and merciful nature of that one entity who is capable of providing the soul a sufficient level of happiness. Because of this deviation in thought, to connect with God we require visible objects, transcendental forms which evoke memories of the pastimes of the Lord and which give us glimpses into His blissful nature. More pleasure evoking than the Lord Himself are His various connected aspects, of which the feet are one. Nothing is more humble and dedicated in providing service than the feet; hence the lotus feet of the Lord are meditated upon first. But the living entities who provide direct service to these feet can be even more pleasurable to hear about. And among the divine servants, you would be hard pressed to find one more beautiful and kind than Shri Hanuman. The descriptions of the opulence of his enemy provided in the famous Ramayana only serve to enhance the appreciation and attachment one feels to Hanuman’s lotus feet, sentiments which lead to the greatest benefits.

The soul is naturally disposed towards harboring a deep and strong affection for God. Any person, at any age, and at any place can take to devotional service by simply persuading the mind to focus on the Supreme Lord and His names, forms, qualities and pastimes. Though the concept of divine service is very straightforward, its practical application is not. The first stumbling block is being able to properly determine who is God and who isn’t. One religious group claims their spiritual figurehead and subsequent method of worship are authorized, while another group claims that their way of life is the correct one. What’s missing in most of these presentations is substantive information about the qualities of the entity we are supposed to worship: the Supreme Lord. When concrete knowledge about God’s names and His places of residence is lacking, the initially innocent living entity becomes prone to directing their service propensity towards worldly objects, which include their own senses. As such, a simple and straightforward process of real religion, that of remembering, gets ignored in favor of practices which only bring misery.

Chanting is the most powerful method of the discipline that returns a lost soul to their constitutional position of always thinking about the Supreme Lord and His original personal form. Again, an issue arises as to what exactly should be chanted. If we don’t know who God is, how can we know what words to use to express our heartfelt feelings for Him? Though there is no shortage of known religious systems, this diversity doesn’t invalidate the ability to properly decipher God’s names. If the Supreme Lord is fixed in His position, His powers must apply universally. Just because one person takes birth in a certain country to a specific set of parents doesn’t mean that they are any more worthy of worshiping God than anyone else. Based on this fact alone, we see that not only does God’s presence pervade through every space, but so do the names used to address and worship Him. If He is everyone’s Lord, God must be the most attractive entity in the world. Therefore the Sanskrit word “Krishna” appropriately applies to Him. Eating, sleeping, mating and defending may provide temporary gratification to the senses, but it would be safe to assume that God provides pleasure that transcends all the effects of the material world, a land which is governed by all-devouring time and nature. Hence the Sanskrit word “Rama” would also be an appropriate appellation for the original Divine Being.

Lord RamaIf mortal human beings enjoy the company of friends and associates, we’d have to assume that the Supreme Lord’s enjoyment would at least be on an equal level. In order to enjoy, He surely must have transcendental associates. In this sense, the Sanskrit word “Hara” would be an appropriate term to use to address God’s energy manifestations, those entities who are meant to provide pleasure to the Lord. We’d also have to assume that the energy manifestations which actually do engage in worship all the time without being swayed by the various religious systems would be equally as worthy of worship. If someone gives pleasure to God, and we want to make God happy, it couldn’t hurt to be friends with that person who pleases the Lord. Therefore, addressing God and His energy would be a tangible method of worship. In this way, chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, becomes a very appropriate and effective method of self-realization, something that can be practiced anywhere and at any time.

Chanting the name is certainly nice, but our thoughts still might get misdirected towards worldly objects, those things which are more clearly defined and manifest before us. Worship through recitation of a name or thoughts on an impersonal void don’t necessarily solidify our attachment to the Supreme Lord right away. “What does God look like? How does He behave? What does He want us to do?” To answer these questions, the Divine makes various appearances on earth and enacts pastimes, the accounts of which are found in the sacred texts of the Vedic tradition. The Ramayana, arguably the oldest book in existence, details the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, an incarnation of the original Personality of Godhead who descended to earth in human form as a pious prince. Just hearing about Rama is enough to bring tremendous pleasure to the soul, but the enjoyment is further enhanced by observing the behavior of those who are wholly dedicated to Him. In this select group of individuals, no one is more dear to Rama than Shri Hanuman, the most capable Vanara warrior residing in Kishkindha.

HanumanJust as the feet are the dedicated servants of the body, the Vanaras of the Kishkindha forest, who were headed by the monkey-king Sugriva, are the most exalted servants of Shri Rama. God doesn’t require anything; He is self-satisfied. It is in the nature of the soul to crave individuality, a tendency which manifests through activity. There is a famous philosophical saying, “I think therefore I am”, and in the spiritual realm the corrected assertion is, “I love therefore I exist.” Without divine love, the soul loses its identity. Though there may be temporary periods of dormancy, the loving propensity never leaves the soul. When the loving force is allowed to be acted out in an uninhibited manner, the resulting behavior is a thing of beauty, as was so nicely illustrated by Hanuman

Though in the form of a monkey, or forest-dweller, Hanuman was beaming with eagerness to serve the Supreme Lord when He roamed the earth. Simple thoughts weren’t enough for Hanuman; he wanted tangible engagements, activities he could undertake to show Rama just how much he loved Him. The Lord isn’t stingy at all in this regard. If He sees an eagerness to serve, He will go out of His way to present opportunities to the humble servant to shine. Moreover, He will take the necessary steps to ensure that they are successful in the prosecution of their tasks. Going even one step further, the success that results from the service offered by the servant elevates them to a supreme stature, sometimes even surpassing the level of adoration and fame owned by the Supreme Lord. This is all due to God’s grace, as the servant who properly serves the master actually exceeds him in stature. We are kindly reminded of this truth by Goswami Tulsidas, another faithful servant of Lord Rama and great devotee of Hanuman.

Hanuman crossing the oceanThough Hanuman’s eventual success in the mission assigned to him was guaranteed, his future glory would be enhanced by the seemingly insurmountable opposing forces he faced. Rama’s beautiful and chaste wife, Sita Devi, had been taken to the island kingdom of Lanka by the very powerful Ravana, who was a master of illusion. Rather than rescue her Himself right away, Rama, abiding by a punishment handed down to Him by His father, enlisted the help of the Vanaras residing in Kishkindha. Though Sugriva’s massive monkey army was dispatched to look for Sita, only Hanuman was actually capable of finding her. This was due to the formidable strength of the Rakshasa force and the strategic location of their hideaway. Lanka was situated far across a massive ocean which was not easily crossable by even the most powerful monkeys in Sugriva’s army. Nevertheless, Hanuman, by assuming a massive stature, was able to leap his way across the ocean and successfully reach the outskirts of Ravana’s majestic city.

This was just the beginning of Hanuman’s quest; the real difficulties lay before him. It is seen that in a tournament of any major professional sport, the pressure really mounts towards the later rounds. In tennis, the Wimbledon Final carries a lot more pressure than a first round match in the tournament. The Super Bowl is the most important game of the football season; not the opening week. As one advances towards their achieved aim, the fear of losing everything that has been gained along the way gets introduced. The loser in the final round of a tournament can feel like all of their previous effort went to waste, as the ultimate goal was not attained. Hanuman had performed a miraculous feat that would firmly establish him in the annals of history as one of the greatest and most powerful divine warriors. But if he failed to find Sita, which was his stated objective, his other efforts would essentially become meaningless.

In the above referenced passage from the Ramayana, a description of the outskirts of Lanka is provided just prior to Hanuman’s entry. The monkey warrior had decided to assume a small stature, one having the dimensions of a cat. Hanuman’s figure was described as adbhuta, or wonderful to behold. The details of the opulent decorations inside Lanka are provided nonetheless to increase the listener’s appreciation of Hanuman’s bravery and dedication to service. The gateways of the city were interlaced with beautiful ornaments, thus giving off a heavenly feel. If even something simple as a gateway is bedecked beautifully, the implied understanding is that the rest of the city is extremely wealthy. If there is no shortage of opulence on even the walls and the building windows, there must not be anything second or third class in the city. For Hanuman this meant that he would not find anything in Lanka that would be easy to destroy or cheap in value.

Sita DeviThe edifices were joined together, thus indicating that the powerful demon force was united in their dedication to sinful activity. Ravana was a Rakshasa, so he was naturally prone to meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and perpetrating violence on the innocent. Though he thought himself to be very pious and a knower of the Vedas, his intelligence was no greater than that of an ass. He thought he could have Sita Devi, the religiously wedded wife of another man, for himself. It is impossible for Sita to be divorced from Rama’s association at any time. No aspect of material nature can ever touch her. Indeed, she is the very donor of all the wealth and fortune that we see in the world. Those who misuse her kindly donated gifts are destined for destruction in the same way that Ravana was bound to lose all that he had worked so hard to amass.

It is also stated that Lanka was protected by Ravana’s arms and the Rakshasas of great might. Up to this point, Hanuman’s immense strength and intelligence were already well established, but these statements are meant to convey just how formidable a force Hanuman was up against. He didn’t have to deal with just beautifully adorned mansions to search through; there was also an opposing army that was on the lookout for intruders. They were wholly capable of defeating even the most powerful fighters. Hanuman was all by himself, so for him to succeed in this type of mission would be no small feat. If he could successfully find Sita and return information of her whereabouts to Rama, his triumph would go down as one of the greatest exhibitions of craftiness, dedication and perseverance in history.

Hanuman worshiping Sita and DeviAs mentioned before, when the desire is pure and the eagerness for service genuine, the Supreme Lord will Himself guarantee the success of the mission. Thus it was not surprising to see Hanuman succeed in finding Sita and thwarting the attacks of the Rakshasas. The massive monkey-army would later march to Lanka with Rama, and Ravana would eventually be destroyed, with Sita’s safe rescue following. The opulence of the city and the strength of its protectors only further increase Hanuman’s glory. If Shri Rama has someone as wonderful, pure, kind-hearted and dedicated as Hanuman worshiping Him on a daily basis, He must be the original Supreme Lord that we are all meant to worship. Sita and Rama’s divine qualities are enhanced by the wonderful attributes of their greatest servant, Shri Hanuman. Just as Hanuman’s glories know no end, so our appreciation for him will never wane.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Full Sobriety

Radha Krishna“When one's intelligence, mind, faith and refuge are all fixed in the Supreme, then one becomes fully cleansed of misgivings through complete knowledge and thus proceeds straight on the path of liberation.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.17)

“I can drink you under the table…Boom, Boom! I can handle shot after shot of the hardest liquor and not be fazed in the least bit…After drinking so many beers within a few hours, I don’t even get slightly drunk.” Oddly enough, in social circles the ability to hold one’s liquor is considered a sign of manliness, a skill or ability that should be sought after. This mindset is a little strange because the whole aim of intoxication is to escape from the senses. One who has trouble reaching the state of illusion after much intake of alcohol surely shouldn’t be praised for their ability, for they have difficulty in achieving the end-goal. Being capable of holding large amounts of liquor within the body is akin to being able to withstand multiple blows to the head by a hammer. If we said, “I’ve tested that it takes about 10 hard blows from a hammer to my head before I get knocked out”, would that be considered an accomplishment? Irrespective of how long it takes, isn’t the final state, that of unconsciousness, a detrimental one? The ego, which is part and parcel of the material body, would be better served finding a more tangible accomplishment or ability to hang its hat on, a skill which not only represents true strength and advancement, but also gives others a proper example to follow.

Liquor bottlesDelving further into the realm of social drinking, the tests for fitness tend to focus on the individuals who do drink regularly and how long it takes them to reach inebriation. The formula for comparison is fairly straightforward. Whoever can handle the most liquor without becoming intoxicated is deemed the best drinker. But when we apply a little logic, if the ultimate objective is to escape from the senses, shouldn’t the individual who gets drunk on say one beverage be considered superior? Let’s apply the same concept to a work environment. Say we have one worker who constantly needs attention, time off, and cajoling from the boss to get their work done. Then we have another worker who doesn’t require any supervision at all. They not only get their work completed on time, but they are barely even noticed by the boss due to their quiet demeanor and high level of confidence.

Obviously the second worker is superior because they are more efficient. The ability to produce at equal or higher levels with a minimal intake of resources equates to a higher efficiency. It is not surprising that amongst those who regularly take to drinking the rules for efficiency get reversed. The man who requires more intake of alcohol to reach the stated objective somehow gets superior status, while the truly efficient drinker is deemed a lightweight. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, describe this entire material world and its varieties of engagements and allures as coming from a tree whose branches are inverted. The root of the tree is at the top and the growth continues downwards. The top is considered the divine heavenly realm, a place that knows no loss or diminution. There are also branches that extend upward, and they represent the transcendental realms where the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in His various Vishnu forms and also His original form of Shri Krishna, resides alongside His eternally liberated associates.

“The branches of this tree extend downward and upward, nourished by the three modes of material nature. The twigs are the objects of the senses. This tree also has roots going down, and these are bound to the fruitive actions of human society.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.2)

Krishna and Balarama in VrindavanaWhen In Krishna’s association there is no need for intoxication, as the spiritual senses are constantly energized through acting out roles choreographed by the Supreme Director Himself. In one area of the imperishable realm, Krishna is playing with His cowherd friends on the pasturing grounds. They play games familiar to normal school children, except at the center is Krishna. They even play the pass around game, where one boy’s lunch is taken away and then passed around amongst the other children, leaving the boy fearful that he will not get his lunch back. Then there are wrestling matches with Krishna, who is so kind that He allows His friends to win and feel as if they are superior to Him.

But the most beautiful aspect of the spiritual world known as Goloka Vrindavana, which is the topmost upward branch of the inverted tree, is the sound that permeates the land, an audible vibration that emanates from the magical flute of Krishna, who is thus known as Muralidhara, or the wielder of the flute. If the cows are going astray or if there is any temporary disturbance, Krishna can simply play His flute and all His dear friends will be enamored and satisfied to their hearts’ content. There is no sound in any world, mundane or spiritual, higher or lower, that compares to the intoxicating notes produced by Krishna’s flute. This sound is the essence of spiritual life; it carries the sublime bliss that comes with the direct association of the most attractive, original and ever-merciful form of the Supreme Spirit.

Krishna playing His fluteBut upon the living being’s descent to the material world, the inverted tree springs downward branches that bring attachment and a reversal of sound logic and reasoning. Rather than enjoy the natural highs that fill the air in Krishna’s realm, man is left to search for illusory escapes from the senses. To play on the field that manifests on the lower side of the tree, the soul requires a dress, a sort of temporary spacesuit. This body is composed of the material elements of earth, water, fire, air and ether. The body can have fire? Science has established that the living human being has an internal temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. For this temperature to be maintained there must be natural heat within the body, for when the environment takes on the same temperature, we consider it to be very warm. The element of fire can also be absent in some forms of body; hence the existence of cold-blooded species.

“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)

But even more important than the gross elements surrounding the conditioned soul are the subtle elements of mind, intelligence and ego. Due to the inverted nature of the material world, the ego of the embodied being is considered false; something the drinking example very nicely illustrates. The subtle elements subsist from life to life, as the outer coverings are discarded in favor of new ones at the time of death. As long as the predominant desires are similar to the nature of the lower realm, that of being opposite to reality, bodies are continually composed and discarded.

ReincarnationSince the ego is always present, there is no reason to attempt to artificially eliminate it. The key to finding the root of the inverted tree is to purify desire, which can be facilitated through directing the ego to the proper area. In the conditioned state, man takes himself to be the ultimate enjoyer. Hence he takes pride in accomplishments related to the personal self. Yet even the drinker who can hold their liquor must eventually renounce their ability at the time of death. Indeed, they had no say so in the type of body they received at the time of birth, who their parents were, or what type of surroundings they grew up in. Even their ability to drink large amounts of alcohol was acquired through much endeavor. They had to have money to purchase liquor, find ways to get to the drinking saloon, and be fortunate enough to remain alive after repeated nights of drinking.

Developing an ego off of these abilities is silly because another person can follow the same course of action and reach the same destination. In addition, many people are knocked down during their pursuits by outside forces. The Vedas are so nice that they have correctly identified the three primary sources of misery in this world. One force comes from the demigods, or celestial beings. Known as adhidaivika miseries, these are the pains inflicted by natural disasters such as earthquakes and floods. Then there are adhibautika pains, those emanating from other living entities. We may try to remain as peaceful and kind as we want, but there could always come an outside force, either a terrorist or a deranged lunatic, that rolls into town and wreaks havoc. The third category of miseries is known as adhyatmika, or injuries that are self-inflicted. Not only can the mind cause us great distress by dwelling on miserable experiences and unwarranted fears, but fatal diseases can also crop up from within the body.

Even with the pride of having a certain ability, man is still unable to escape the three sources of misery. Another man may try just as hard in the same field of endeavor, but due to outside forces, an internal disease, or a natural disaster, he is unable to succeed. Would it be correct for the successful individual to attribute his greatness to his ability to escape forces which are so powerful that no man can control them? Obviously this sort of thinking is not very intelligent; hence it is not very wise to develop the ego on abilities and accomplishments that are subject to the three sources of misery.

Lord KrishnaBut the ego exists for a reason. The spirit soul craves individuality, as independence is built into its makeup. When the ego is solidified through proper consciousness and activities geared towards pleasing the Supreme Lord, it becomes legitimate and worthy of praise. Taking the same drinking example, if we were to apply the tolerance practice to chanting, the ego could become our best friend. Though there are varieties of prescriptions for achieving spiritual salvation, the ultimate objective is to shift consciousness, to attain a state of mind where all thoughts are dovetailed with the interests of the Supreme Lord through a loving attitude. Though the exact methods can be complex and require expert supervision from a bona fide guru, or spiritual master, the simplest and most effective spiritual practice for the fallen souls of this age is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

The effectiveness of chanting this mantra lies in the potency of sound. Just as the wonderful sounds emanating from Krishna’s flute in the spiritual sky enrapture the kind associates residing in Vrindavana, the non-different forms of the Supreme Lord in the shape of the sound vibrations of His names can quickly and effectively dissipate the false ego and reignite the original consciousness. As a developed consciousness is the true sign of elevation, one who can find their original state of mind, that of pure Krishna consciousness, will achieve success and find pleasure at every corner in life. The recommendation is that we chant the Hare Krishna mantra as often as possible, but at least through a regulated system known as japa, or quiet meditation.

Japa malaJapa is performed on a set of beads that are aligned on a string. There are 108 beads, with one head bead representing Krishna, or God. One round of japa consists of chanting the specific mantra one time on each bead; hence one round equates to 108 recitations of the mantra. To really attack the contaminated consciousness, a dosage of 16 rounds per day of japa is recommended by the spiritual doctors, the Vaishnavas who themselves are always thinking about Krishna and how to please Him. Adhering to this regulation will be difficult, especially in the beginning stages. But the same ego that led to consuming large portions of alcohol can be utilized for developing a strong chanting regimen. While being able to hold your liquor causes negative effects like money lost and the final state of total inebriation, the ability to increase the chanting routine to a large number of rounds each day not only satisfies the ego, but it leads only to a better condition, one where consciousness is forever satisfied.

With intoxication comes a short-term escape from the senses, followed by a period of great misery. Only in the period of escape can there be any enjoyment, temporary or otherwise. With bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, since the conditioned consciousness is directly attacked, the resulting benefits are felt at all times. Not only does the ego become firmly attached to the practice of chanting, but other aspects of bhakti take hold as well. Those who chant regularly are better equipped to renounce the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. With every new ability comes further solidification of the ego, as it forms an attachment to something worthwhile and praiseworthy.

Krishna with the gopisThe pinnacle of spiritual life is reached when the ego is so far advanced that not even Krishna can shake the individual from their desire to perform bhakti. Indeed, such a level of devotion is only found in the gopis of Vrindavana and other select exalted figures. Nevertheless, the potential for success is always there. When the ego is firmly attached to Krishna, not even the Lord can stop the devotee from performing their service. The residents of Vrindavana are always tied to Krishna and His satisfaction, so their pride and sense of self-worth come from their confidence in always being able to think of Him. Because of their spiritual tunnel-vision, they never even see the lower portions of the inverted tree that only yield branches and leaves of misery nourished through improper attachment. The perpetually intoxicated man is deemed “wasted” because he loses all faculties in the inebriated state, but one who is always feeling a natural high through Krishna’s association automatically becomes the most capable person, as the purified ego ensures that deviation from the sublime mission of devotional service will never occur.