Saturday, May 28, 2011

Following Your Nature

Krishna and Arjuna"If you do not act according to My direction and do not fight, then you will be falsely directed. By your nature, you will have to be engaged in warfare." (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18. 59)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is not only the Supreme Lord for the entire earth’s population, including even the animal kingdom, but He can quickly and capably assume any and all important roles. Even when unexpectedly thrust into the role of spiritual master, or guru, He is more than up for the challenge. On one particular occasion, His disciple was perplexed in thought, unable to decide on the proper course of action. Technically, the student had made up his mind to follow a certain path, but since this decision was based on his own nature, a mindset temporarily sidetracked from the divine consciousness, he wasn’t sure of himself. To find the answer, he turned to his dear friend, his charioteer for an upcoming battle. Yet this was no ordinary servant; it was Krishna Himself kindly taking a subordinate role to help out His cousin, the glorious warrior known the world over for his fighting ability. When presenting His subsequent talk, which would later become famous as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God, Shri Krishna not only pointed to the authoritative statements of the Vedas, a scriptural tradition which He personally instituted at the beginning of creation, but He also used cutting logic to get His points across.

Krishna and ArjunaThe checkmate scenario presented to Arjuna, the doubtful warrior, made the proper course of action to take obvious beyond a doubt. The scene for the talk was a battlefield which saw millions of soldiers huddled together to start the greatest war the world had ever seen. Arjuna was fighting for the Pandavas, the side deemed the “good guys”. They had the rightful claim to the throne of the city of Hastinapura, but due to the backhanded methods employed by the competing Kurus headed by Duryodhana, the Pandavas were put into all sorts of difficulty and denied their chance to rule. After all diplomatic efforts were exhausted, the battle to end all battles was ready to commence. There was one slight problem, though. Arjuna became faint of heart, not wanting to kill his family members and spiritual guides fighting for the opposing army. He was all set to drop his weapons and retire to the woods. Indeed, he had convinced himself of the validity of this plan of action based on his own logic and understanding. His nature was that of a chivalrous fighter, but Arjuna temporarily lost sight of the proper goal in life and the duties assigned to him.

“Sanjaya said: Arjuna, having thus spoken on the battlefield, cast aside his bow and arrows and sat down on the chariot, his mind overwhelmed with grief.” (Bg. 1.46)

Lord Krishna kindly stepped in after being sought out for advice from Arjuna. Though the noble soldier was ready to quit, he still could be convinced otherwise with persuasive words coming from a proper authority figure. Therefore Arjuna accepted Krishna as his spiritual master, the guru to guide him down the right path, one that would eliminate the mental distresses he was feeling and keep him committed to dharma, or religiosity. Krishna started by presenting the basic truths of spiritual life: that the living entity is not the body, and that the spirit soul goes through the cycle of reincarnation perpetually until pure God consciousness is achieved. The desires on the mind at the time of death indicate what type of body will be assumed in the future. One who takes on the spiritual consciousness, wherein all thoughts are directed at the Supreme Personality of Godhead, will naturally think of God at the time of death. Therefore they will receive a spiritual form in the next life.

56642_168855686469165_140680535953347_431831_1987_oThe difference between a spiritual body and a material one can best be understood by studying the natures of the two realms. Though we see much variety around us in terms of manifestations, there are really only two places to reside, one spiritual and one material. The material world is populated with individual spirit souls, who are by constitution meant to reside in the imperishable land, and gross matter, which is inanimate and incapable of any force or motion without instigation from spirit. Since the manifestations of matter can come in varying mixtures of the three modes of nature: goodness, passion and ignorance, there is immense variety in the phenomenal world. The variations are so great than the human brain, which is the most advanced in terms of its potential for acquiring intelligence, has not even the slightest idea of the full breadth and scope of the material creation. There are too many planets to count, with each one inhabited by different life forms. Just as the human being is not the only species on earth, the other planets in the countless universes have living entities which have different bodily makeups. Some jivas, or living entities, have bodies composed almost completely of fire, while others even have forms made mostly of air.

“Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice, seeking the heavenly planets, worship Me indirectly. They take birth on the planet of Indra, where they enjoy godly delights.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.20)

The Christian tradition has saints and angels, who are both deemed heavenly and majestic figures. According to Vedic information, such life forms are not at all difficult to comprehend. After all, with a slight adjustment in material makeup, you can have one body that is extremely powerful and another that is totally weak. If an individual is pious during one lifetime, they get promotion to a higher planetary system in the next. Since the heavenly realm allows for increased sense gratification, a body commensurate with the properties of the land is required. Therefore there can be so many heavenly species, each with their own unique brand of abilities. The Vedas cap the list of total species at 8,400,000.

There is a dividing line, however, between the material and spiritual worlds. On the surface, the spiritual sky isn’t all that different from the phenomenal world. Matter is also found there, but it is of a different quality. Gross matter in the mundane world is known as prakriti, and in the spiritual world it is known as daivi prakriti. Ordinary matter is dull and lifeless, and thus considered separate from the individual occupying and associating with it. But in the spiritual land, there is no difference between the bodily forms and their owners. Daivi prakriti is eternal, so the living entities who are encased in such matter remain tied to their bodies without the need for exiting. What leads to the different natures of matter in the two realms is the desire of the living entities. The jivas in the spiritual sky all want to serve Krishna or one of His personal Vishnu forms. In the material land, they all want to serve their own senses. Indeed, as soon as the desire is shifted in earnest towards pleasing Krishna, elevation to the spiritual sky is guaranteed.

Lord KrishnaLord Krishna very nicely explained these high concepts to Arjuna to enlighten him. Spiritual teachers can give instructions and just tell their disciples what to do and what to avoid, but it is much more beneficial to the student if straight information can be imparted first. If the disciple then comes to the proper conclusion on their own, after having been given all the facts, their dedication to the resolved upon path will be a lot stronger. It’s similar to how when arguing with people it is better to ask them roundabout questions, getting them to agree with certain points in the beginning to lead them to the ultimate conclusion, rather than getting into their face and telling them that they’re stupid or wrong.

As the final instruction, the checkmate position that would remove all doubt from Arjuna’s mind, Krishna told his dear friend that if he didn’t fight because of the faulty concoctions of dharma he had made, he would be following his own nature anyway. Krishna essentially presented Arjuna with the choice that all jivas residing in the material world have. We can either follow Krishna’s instructions and carry out our prescribed duties, or we can follow our own nature. Arjuna’s bodily makeup was that of a fighter, a member of the warrior caste. Even if he didn’t listen to Krishna, he was not suited for any other business except fighting. On the other hand, if he followed Krishna’s advice, he could use his natural tendencies for the right purpose.

Krishna’s instruction provides the basic formula for achieving success in the precious human form of life. In the absence of Krishna consciousness, the mind will wander and come up with conclusions that it is not wholly convinced of. The nature belonging to a particular form of body develops from the beginning of life. It is seen that famous athletes were inclined towards their particular sport at the youngest possible age. This means that their body types were conducive to performing a particular activity. Lord Krishna says that the natures of human beings fall into one of four general categories, or varnas. There is the class of intelligent men, or brahmanas, the administrators and warriors, or kshatriyas, the merchants and businessmen, or vaishyas, and the laborers, or shudras. One should follow his nature and not try to forcefully take to the life of another class. The corresponding varna can be determined by a spiritual master during the person’s youth, thereby allowing for proper training to be received.

Krishna and ArjunaBy giving up, Arjuna wanted to take to the life of a brahmana, who is peaceful and nonviolent. But Arjuna was not suited for this lifestyle. Society needs brave people to protect the innocent. We can praise equality movements all we want, but at the end of the day, we see caste divisions in virtually every sphere. Even when walking into a supermarket there are class distinctions. There is the customer and the cashier. Both parties are not equal in their positions nor in their work. Without proper authorization or training, the customer is not allowed to become a cashier. For starters, they wouldn’t know how to operate the registers, and secondly their inclination would be to not pay any money for the goods being purchased. The cashier has the opposite interest; their goal is to collect money for the owner of the establishment. Therefore the class distinctions in this one particular scenario must be adhered to; otherwise there will be disharmony.

By default, the jiva will follow the nature belonging to the particular body it has assumed. But from Arjuna’s example, we see that if one’s nature isn’t coupled to the Supreme Consciousness, intelligence can get easily clouded and lead the person astray. Even if he didn’t listen to Krishna, Arjuna would eventually have to fight. He wasn’t cut out for becoming a mendicant and begging for a living. He was born to fight against those deserving punishment. If he gave up prior to the war he had every right to fight in, he would have to suffer greatly later on. Similarly, the jiva who simply follows his nature guided by the material elements assumed at the time of birth will have to suffer periodically.

ArjunaWhen direction is taken from Krishna, the same nature becomes purified because it can be used towards furthering the ultimate goal of attaining Krishna consciousness. Arjuna would go on to heed Krishna’s advice and fight valiantly, without any attachment to the result. He used his inherent qualities for the right purpose, and subsequently his thoughts never deviated from the lotus feet of the Supreme Lord, who is so attractive that He captivates the hearts and minds of people from all spheres of society, including those following spiritual traditions besides the Vedas. Indeed, all forms of religion are meant to bring about a deep and unbreakable bond of affection towards the Supreme Spirit. Who better to bring about that attachment than the all-attractive Krishna, the most wonderful and beautiful form of Godhead to behold?

The question may be raised as to how to determine the proper course of action for ourselves. Who will guide us when we don’t know what to do? What if we can’t find a spiritual master to approach? This certainly does present a problem, as our natures can’t be guided in the proper direction without some sort of input from a higher authority. Yet there is one quality that we all share, that of a deep, loving attachment for the Supreme Lord found within the heart. The Supersoul, or Paramatma, is God’s expansion residing within the hearts of every living entity. Therefore knowledge can also be acquired from within. The act of chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is universally appealing, as it is in line with everyone’s inherent qualities. Chanting this sacred formula forms the bedrock of the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Even in the absence of a personally present spiritual guide, simply chanting this mantra day in and day out can bring about a spiritual awakening, a connection with the divine consciousness in the form of the Supersoul within the heart.

Krishna and Arjuna fighting aheadWithout adherence to bhakti, we will be forced to follow our own material nature, which has proven to be faulty so many times. If it weren’t, we would never be in any doubt. We would never hesitate or make mistakes. The choice is ours: we can follow the path that’s already led to so much heartache, grief and doubt, or we can simply surrender unto Krishna and be guided on the proper path. Either way, we’ll have to follow some nature, so we might as well side with the one connected to Krishna. Arjuna did, and he was eternally benefitted for it.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Showing Flowers

Lord Rama“Tulsidas says that the Lord is looking especially beautiful joined with Sita and Lakshmana. The demigods are happily showering flowers from the sky, and the whole place has a good aura and good qualities.” (Dohavali, 2)

sītā lakhana sameta prabhu sohata tulasīdāsa|

haraṣata sura baraṣata sumana saguna sumangala bāsa ||

Prabhu, the Supreme Lord, accompanied by His dear wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana is looking extremely beautiful. As eternal figures that are undying in their beauty, mercy, kindness, compassion and generosity, the trio of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana can be worshiped at any time and on any day, by any person in the three worlds. Not only can the fallen individuals trapped in the cycle of material suffering brought on by identification with the earthly realm take advantage of this most delightful vision, but even the denizens of the heavenly planets, those who have earned their high posts through dedication to dharma and the accumulation of pious credits, cannot help but gaze at the Lord adorned with His two most beautiful ornaments: the goddess of fortune and the resting place of all the planets. Anyone who is fortunate enough to remember this vision will find all auspiciousness and good qualities.

Rama, Sita and LakshmanaSaguna is a Sanskrit word that means “with gunas”. A guna can be a material quality, such as goodness, passion, or ignorance, and it can also mean a good quality. When guna is used to reference a good quality or pious behavior, the opposite word is dosha. In this context, Goswami Tulsidas notes that the vision of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana worshiped by the demigods in the sky, the suras, is the resting place of all auspiciousness [sumangala] and good qualities [saguna].

Who is Lord Rama? The Supreme Personality of Godhead is obviously a singular entity, one whose existence is even accepted by the staunchest of atheists at the time of death. Generally, due to the specific circumstances of the time of their inception, the major religions of the world fail to accurately describe the transcendental features of the personal form of the Lord, which is certainly His original and most blissful aspect. Just as every living entity on earth, including the human beings, can attribute their birth to an individual, a body with a personal form and an identity, the creator of everything, the cause of all causes, is also a person, except He has extraordinary powers and abilities.

Lord RamaJust acknowledging God’s presence and greatness represents a step up from the level of intelligence shown by animals, but the true benefit of the Lord’s potencies and His eternal presence within all spheres of life is not received unless and until more information pertaining to His limitless attributes is presented and understood. Along these lines, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, put forth the best attempt at enumerating some of these transcendental features and tagging the different forms of Godhead which specific names of address. Just as we identify friends, family, enemies, etc. through specific names, the Supreme Lord, the ever well-wisher of every life form existing past, present and future, is given various names that allow the fallen souls to make calls for divine help.

Every person is a dependent on something or someone, even if they don’t want to believe it. The most powerful CEO, the richest man in the world, is actually one of the most dependent, as his numerous personal staff and business associates make sure to meet his every demand. The company itself is wholly reliant on the patronizing public for their hard earned money. The wealthiest companies are typically those who have been able to produce products that appeal to the masses, i.e. the common man.

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

PC120048While there is a level of dependence on other living entities during our time on earth, there is actually complete reliance on the Lord of the universe and His potencies during every phase of life. We may look to our immediate superiors to solve our problems, but a more direct approach is to seek out the superior’s superior. Since no one is above God, it is not uncommon for those in distress to appeal to the Supreme Person for redress of their grievances and the alleviation of their suffering. Yet in order to make this address properly, one must know the Lord’s nature, what His names are, and what exactly He promises to deliver.

From Tulsidas‘ nice poetry, we get an idea of what God looks like and what the benefit of knowing His names and forms is. Shri Rama is the name of the Lord that describes His ability to provide transcendental pleasure to others. Sita Devi is His eternal consort, or His purified energy representation. Shri Lakshmana is Rama’s ever well-wisher, the support system if you will. In terms of the chronological history of the current creation, the trio actually appeared on earth many thousands of years ago and roamed about as ordinary human beings. Since God creates matter and the workings of nature, He can never be subject to their influences. The purpose of the divine incarnation is to bless the pure souls with the direct association of God, whose spiritual potency is so great that one needn’t even know they are in the company of the divine. Just as one who drinks water will be benefitted in their health irrespective of their knowledge of what they are drinking, those who consume the beauties and glories of the Supreme Lord found in the wonderful descriptions etched into sacred texts like the Ramayana and the wonderful poetry of Goswami Tulsidas will also be supremely benefitted, irrespective of their knowledge of God.

Sita and RamaSita, Rama and Lakshmana are so beautiful and resplendent that wherever they are, the demigods in the sky always shower down flowers upon them. We can think of the demigods, or suras, as residents of the heavenly realm, the place where the pious go. The concept of a heaven is not foreign to theists around the world, but the Vedas more fully describe the nature of this realm, who goes there, and how long they remain there. Under a vague understanding, heaven is considered the destination for the pious entities who spend their “one life” on earth generally adherent to the dictates of established religious law codes. In providing more concrete information, the Vedas reveal that the spirit soul, the essence of individuality, is an eternal entity and thus not capable of ever taking birth or dying. What we deem a life is simply a demarcation of time, such as a day, month, or year. We celebrate the new year by having a party and being with our friends, but in actuality, the occasion simply marks the turnover of a measurement of time whose starting point is relative. Whether one denotes the new year or not has no relevance to the properties of the body or the soul. The delineations of time are there to make the duration on earth within a particular body more understandable and easier to divide into different sections.

In a similar manner, the time the soul spends in a particular body is also easier to understand once the birth and death processes are considered. Yet irrespective of the relative measurement of a lifetime, the soul remains forever fixed in its level of bliss, eternality and knowledge. So what is the purpose to a particular life, one that involves birth, old age, disease and death? Though the soul’s properties never change, depending on the different fruitive activities adopted, i.e. karma, a future outer covering is crafted. This is similar to how working hard in school or putting in long hours in the office eventually leads to a future condition that is sought out. The soul, through identifying with a material body, develops many desires which it then acts upon. These actions must have results, either good or bad. Those who ascend to the heavenly realm perform activities in line with dharma, or the established law codes of God.

However, just as the body of a person roaming the earth is perishable, so is the exquisitely beautiful and blissful outer covering assumed by a resident of the heavenly realm. Though the level of enjoyment in heaven far exceeds that found in the middle or lower planetary systems, the influence of time and space is still present. As such, even the heavenly figures will have to fall back down to earth eventually. Despite the fact that they are presented heavenly opulences that will eventually dwindle, the suras still don’t fail to worship the Supreme Lord and His eternal associates. Wherever Shri Rama is, the demigods - the entities who are eternally endeared to Prabhu Rama - are always watching and appreciating His pleasurable activities.

“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.34)

TulsidasTulsidas appreciates the showering of flowers upon the illustrious trio. While the soul that more or less accepts the dictates of religion gets to ascend to the heavenly realm in the afterlife, one who develops a firm and loving attachment to the Supreme Spirit never has to take birth again. This is the promise made directly by Lord Krishna, the original form of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gita. As such, Tulsidas, as a brahmana and a sannyasi, certainly followed all the rituals and regulations of spiritual life, but he was more committed to bhakti, or the practice of divine love. Under the bhakti mindset, pure love and devotion to God is developed. Moreover, divine love, or devotional service, is the only spiritual practice that never dies, even in the heavenly realm or the spiritual world itself. Above the material planetary system is an imperishable land inhabited by the Personality of Godhead and the liberated souls who cannot live without His association.

Those who adore the image of Prabhu, Sita and Lakshmana can turn their present surroundings into an atmosphere akin to the spiritual world; such is the potency of bhakti. Tulsidas notes that all auspiciousness and good qualities come from the divine vision of the grand trio who were kind enough to have roamed this earth a long time ago. Though the incidents of the Ramayana - the wonderful poem detailing Rama’s activities performed on earth - took place a long time ago, the image of Shri Rama is as fresh today as it was during the Treta Yuga. Auspiciousness can be found by abiding by the stringent rules of spirituality and adhering to the recommended do’s and don’ts, but an even more powerful practice is to always remember Prabhu Rama and His dear associates. One look at Rama’s smiling face, which is always surrounded by flowers falling from the heavenly sky, is enough to make the soul armed with a choice of association forever turn its back on material existence, a life that always brings misery.

Sita, Rama and LakshmanaJust as we can’t find what we’re looking for by searching in the wrong places, lasting auspiciousness and good qualities can never be found in any place devoid of the Supreme Lord’s personal presence. If the world itself is perishable, how can any result or condition within it be considered superior? Wouldn’t that one entity who never dies be the only person capable of providing real happiness? Attachment to friends, family, society, nation and country do bring about feelings of pride and joy, but even if we don’t want to acknowledge or think about it, these bonds will eventually be severed. Yet Lord Rama and His names and forms are so potent that they continue to be worshiped and adored long after He departs this earth. Moreover, the Lord’s devotees are also celebrated for all of eternity. Goswami Tulsidas wrote his poetry many hundreds of years ago, but these transcendental works continue to evoke tremendous feelings of loving attachment within the heart. The vision of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana being showered with flowers from the heavenly sky is beautiful to gaze upon, and so is the picture of the sincere saint worshiping such a scene. Tulsidas, wherever he is and wherever he goes, always worships Sita, Rama and Lakshmana. As such, he is the most exalted personality, the sweetest, kindest, most thoughtful, generous and humble poet the world has ever seen. Anyone who remembers his worship of Rama will similarly be benefitted with all auspiciousness and good qualities.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Krishna’s Song

Lord Krishna“For any person who is chanting the holy name either softly or loudly, the paths to liberation and even heavenly happiness are at once open.” (Padma Purana)

The Vedas and their followers claim that the world we currently occupy is a sort of shadow-copy of a more purified realm. The exact terminology used is “perverted reflection” or “inverted reflection.” The image in a mirror can come pretty close to matching the actual appearance of the object in question, but there is still a flaw in the orientation of the picture. For instance, if our hair is parted in a certain direction, when we look at ourselves in a mirror, we will never get the same image that is presented to others. If we were to collectively gather every single activity, enjoyment and engagement and compare them to their clones in the spiritual world, we’d find that not only are the behaviors in our present realm reflected in an inverse direction, but so are the results. What appears to be beneficial in the short term actually ends up harming us greatly in the end, whereas that which is very distasteful and seemingly a waste of time in the beginning can turn out to be the most worthwhile. In Sanskrit the ultimate objective is known as shreyas and short-term satisfaction as preyas. Only in the human form of life can the two be distinguished, thus allowing for the ultimate goal to be identified and sought after in earnest.

“That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.37)

Lord KrishnaThe way the inverted reflection works is best seen in the pursuits to please the most powerful sense organs. While the satisfaction of the genitals is seen as the most potent form of sense gratification, there are many harmful side effects to having a consciousness driven by uncontrolled desires for sex life. For starters, much effort has to be undertaken to find a satisfactory level of enjoyment. Even if there is a steady partner available for relations, the satisfaction and stimulation can die down very quickly; hence the preponderance of infidelity and divorce. Uncontrolled eating is also another instance of short term benefits coupling with long term detriments. When the taste buds take over the good intellect belonging to the mind, the resultant desires are to eat meat and drink alcohol. The allure of intoxication is that it will somehow bring alleviation from ordinary distresses. There is the short term stimulation in the form of being drunk or high, but immediately following that is a painful fall. The experience is similar to that of being thrust high into the sky. If we are bounding above the waters and the massive land around us, there will surely be a feeling of exhilaration. There is a reason for the saying, “I feel like I’m on top of the world.” Nevertheless, the thrill of reaching such heights is short-lived, as the laws of gravity always ultimately prevail. And since we are so high in the air, the impact of our fall will be even greater than if we had remained steady on the ground the whole time.

“The mode of passion is born of unlimited desires and longings, O son of Kunti, and because of this one is bound to material fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.7)

The mode of passion in the material world drives a person to activities that are of no benefit to them in the long run. Eating meat is considered sinful because there must be a complementary reaction to the act of unnecessarily killing an innocent life form. This shouldn’t be very difficult to understand. In any civilized society there are certain animals which are considered protected. This identification goes above and beyond the implied protection offered to human beings. There was a famous American football player who in recent years was found to be organizing fights between dogs, with the losing dogs being killed afterwards. He was subsequently sent to jail and vilified by the public for his inhumane behavior. So if killing a dog is worthy of severe punishment and ridicule, why should taking the life of an innocent cow, who is the mother to her children and the world for that matter, be not equally as harmful to one’s karma?

Krishna with cowsThe arguments used to counter this sound logical reasoning are all rather empty. One viewpoint says that the cow’s flesh gets eaten while the dog’s does not. So does this mean that as long as we eat what we kill, the original act of taking another life is not sinful? If fighters eat their opponents after killing them, then there is no harm? Another argument made is that the dog is much more intelligent than the cow, as pets can form friendships with their owners. But in the infant stage, the human being is actually less intelligent than many animals. Does this mean that all infants should be killed? What about those human beings who, for some reason or another, fail to develop their intelligence during the course of their lifetime? Should they be sent to slaughterhouses?

The effects of the senses are so strong that they cause a tunnel-vision-like drive towards immediate satisfaction. In the process, logic, reason and basic standards of decency are thrown to the wayside. Not only is there much resulting pain and misery delivered through the laws of nature, which must provide commensurate reactions to any work performed, but the opportunity for understanding the point of human life is missed. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, don’t present the differences between the material and spiritual worlds without a purpose. The purified realm, the original image from which our current land is reflected, has every amenity and enjoyment available without any hint of sin or negative consequence to action. The proprietor of this land ensures the sanctity of the activities undertaken by the inhabitants, who are always blissful. Not surprisingly, the Supreme Lord, God Himself, is the controller we speak of, and the land in which He resides forever in a personal way is known as Vaikuntha, or that realm free of anxieties, and the highest planet in Vaikuntha is Goloka Vrindavana.

Krishna in VrindavanaWith material activities, there is a price to pay for misdeeds and also for actions neglected. If we wholeheartedly take up a certain engagement, we are naturally going to ignore another. Therefore there is every chance of meeting future distress with any activity that is not tied to the Supreme Lord’s interests. One who takes to pleasing Krishna, who is the original and most attractive form of Godhead, engages in the real business of the soul. Just as the material world is an inverted reflection of the spiritual land, all the activities adopted off of that skewered vision are inverted in their effectiveness. With transcendental activities, just the opposite is true. When bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is made the primary occupation in life, any resultant engagement, even those activities which don’t necessarily seem to be proper or performed in the correct order, can lead to worthy results.

The inner workings of songwriting give a nice illustration of how the dichotomy between the realms manifests. Popular songs are those that are catchy, have lots of hooks, and exhibit talent in terms of singing and playing of instruments. In rock music especially, the songs focus on the guitar playing abilities of the musicians and the uniqueness of the singer’s voice. What’s interesting to note, however, is that many rock songs see the lyrics written at the end of the composition process. For famous bands like Metallica, Iron Maiden, Def Leppard and a host of others, the basic process for writing a song starts off with the riff tape. One of the guitarists or vocalists in the band plays on their instrument for fun during their leisure time. If they come up with a riff or a guitar part they like, they record it onto a tape. When it comes time to write material for an album or a single song, the appointed members of the band sift through all the tapes and decide which parts are good enough to serve as foundations for songs.

music playerAt the beginning stages of the composition, there is obviously only instrumental music. Vocal melodies are added on top of the guitar parts. Even if the vocal melody is the genesis for the song, the end result of the first stage of the process is still the same: a song without any words. If we listen to demo versions of some very popular rock songs, we’ll hear the vocalist humming along with strange noises and words as the song plays. This is because the words for the song had yet to be written in the process. Among members of the famous heavy metal band Iron Maiden, there is even a minor squabble over this very issue. The band’s bassist and de facto leader, Steve Harris, believes that the actual lyrics of songs are not that important. If the melodies are written first, it doesn’t really matter what kinds of words are inserted later on. His reasoning follows that most listeners remember the melodies and the arrangements of the songs and not necessarily the lyrics. The lead singer of the band, however, would rather see the focus put on the lyrics first, as the words give meaning to the song.

But if we study the behavior of the average listener and the components of what makes a popular rock song, we’ll see that Harris is indeed correct. How many of us have heard our favorite song over and over again and not even memorized all of the words? Indeed, many times there are lyric lines that we can’t even understand, so we’ll just make up our own words to sing along to. As rock music is a product of the material world, the actual items of importance, the meaning of the song and the message the singer is trying to convey, are given lower priority in favor of the sound vibrations of the instruments and vocal melodies.

Shrila PrabhupadaHowever, in spiritual life - the original image from which our current life is reflected - just the opposite is true. You can take the sacred formula, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and put it to pretty much any melody and get a wonderful song. This has proven successful in practice, as the maha-mantra, the most effective means of salvation for the people of the current age of Kali, has been recorded in countless rhythms ever since it was made popular the world over by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and his followers and their admirers. Not only is the maha-mantra regularly sung today, but so are other famous bhajans, or devotional songs. As these musical compositions contain the holy name of the Lord and are presented in a mood of love and devotion, the sound vibrations that are produced are completely spiritual. Through connection with God, the inverted reflection turns into the real thing, a tangible representation of the Supreme Lord within the material world.

All the famous texts of the Vedas, including the Mahabharata, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Ramayana, can be sung congregationally or put into musical compositions. Maharishi Valmiki, the poet who composed the Ramayana [which describes the glorious activities of Lord Rama, an incarnation of Godhead], actually taught Rama’s two sons, Lava and Kusha, how to properly sing the entire poem in a public setting accompanied by music. With spiritual songs, the words are given priority over the melody; therefore there is tremendous benefit received by both the performer and the audience. Even if just the melody of a particular spiritual composition is remembered, a benefit is still there, as the sounds of pure spirit continue to play within the mind.

Valmiki teaching Lava and KushaThe aim of human life is to attain yoga, or complete connection with the Divine consciousness. As songs have the ability to be easily retained within one’s mind, there is no better way to remain in yoga than to regularly hear bhajans and glorification of the Supreme Lord, that one entity who many governments around the world claim to trust. If we trust in God, we might as well think about Him. If we are to think about Him, we might as well understand what He looks like, what His attributes are, what pastimes He engages in, and most importantly, how to address Him. God is too generic a term to bring any bliss to the distant observer trapped in a perverted reflection of a land.

As Lord Krishna, God is always full of bliss, or ananda, so that same pure feeling of happiness can be instilled in the devotees when they invoke wonderful names such as Rama, Govinda, Shyamasundara, Keshava, and of course, Krishna to address their supreme object of worship. Through the wonders of music containing the beautiful words describing Krishna, His names and His activities, the mind can be transported directly to the spiritual land, a place where what you see is what you get. God is the Supreme Absolute Truth, so anyone who sees Him regularly will never be a victim to a deceiving image. As the holy name is the link to the spiritual world, the more we can remember it, honor it, and produce it within our minds, the more opportunities we will get to see the Truth. The lyrics of any song containing Krishna’s names presented in a devotional attitude will sweep us back to the spiritual sky, a place wherefrom we never have to return.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Sakala Kalyana

Sita, Rama, Lakshmana“Meditating on Shri Rama, who has Janaki to His left and Lakshmana to His right, brings all auspiciousness and is your wish-fulfilling tree, O Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 1)

rāma bāma disi jānakī lakhana dāhinī ora|

dhyāna sakala kalyānamaya surataru tulasī tora ||

When the mind wanders astray, it is best to bring it back into focus, to keep its attention on something that won’t cause harm. The objects of the senses, the allures of the external world, constantly pull the mind in every which direction. Since these wonderings are mostly undesired, not only should one learn to harness the powerful mind, but they should also find that one object worth paying attention to. The Supreme Lord alongside His energy and His support brings the most pleasurable vision for those practicing dhyana, or steady meditation. Not only does focusing on the perfect image of God keep the mind from being deluded by the senses, but all auspiciousness is found at the same time.

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

Bhaktisiddhanta SarasvatiHis Divine Grace Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura used to say that those who are endeavoring for self-realization should kick the mind each day a certain number of times in the morning and then again at night. Obviously the recommendation applies to internal, metaphorical kicking, as physical harm to the brain would not do any good. The need for such a recommendation speaks to the flickering nature of the thought processes of the conditioned human being. How many of us have tried to focus on positive thoughts and avoid dwelling on negative experiences of the past, only to fail in the end? The mind is so powerful that when left uncontrolled, it can be the source of the greatest distress. Therefore the kindest welfare workers, those sincere devotees of the Supreme Spirit who have been nice enough to share their thoughts with others, have made the issue of tackling the uncontrolled mind a top priority in the foremost system of religious practice, bhakti-yoga.

We can think of devotional service, or bhakti, as a kind of mysticism, though the outward behavior of a devotee may not give the indication of yoga or meditation. After all, yoga today is generally equated with sitting in various postures and performing difficult breathing exercises and gymnastics routines. Meditation is correlated with quietness of motion and the absence of verbal sound. Yet at the heart of both of these techniques is the resultant effect on the mind. Sitting in the various asanas of yoga allows the senses to be controlled in such a way that the mind ultimately does not wander or become agitated by sights, sounds and other external objects encountered during the course of the day. Meditation, or dhyana, is actually a central aspect of the ancient system of yoga first introduced by the Vedas, the scriptural tradition of India.

“Perform your prescribed duty, for action is better than inaction. A man cannot even maintain his physical body without work.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.8)

Krishna and ArjunaThough meditation and mystic yoga are certainly bona fide Vedic practices that prove to be highly effective in delivering their intended results, their implementations in the current age are somewhat defective due to limitations of time and space. As an example, we may sit in a quiet room and meditate on the Absolute Truth for a set period of time, but as soon as our concentration is broken, we are left to perform our daily tasks. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord and greatest orator of Vedic wisdom, accurately points out that even during His time on earth some five thousand years ago He had to perform work. At the bare minimum, one must maintain their body, which involves regulative principles of hygiene and systematic work performed to meet the necessities of food, clothing and shelter. During times where we are engaged in work, which is generally referred to as karma, the individual cannot sit quietly and meditate. In this vulnerable state, the mind becomes an open target to the allures of the senses, forces which emerge victorious when the individual delves into intoxication, gambling, illicit sex or meat eating.

A similar defect is present with mystic yoga practice. Karma is fruitive activity, so even though the gymnastics and breathing exercises of yoga are kinds of work, they are not aimed at procuring visible fruits to be enjoyed. Yet when the body needs to be maintained through work outside of yoga, the concentration and control over the senses slackens. In the current age especially, the amount of time in a given day spent to maintain the body is actually quite high. We must drive very long distances to the office, put in a good amount of hours at work, and then drive all the way home. By the time the diligent worker finally finishes their day, they are too tired to do anything tangible. Not surprisingly, during rest hours the practices of yoga and meditation are subsequently given lower priority, which then leaves the mind open for attack.

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

Lord KrishnaBhakti-yoga is a little different because it directly tackles consciousness, an aspect of the individual that is the most important as far as determining future fortunes. One’s consciousness at the time of death carries them into their next life, so whoever is interested in becoming free from the daily grind and all the punishments that come with it should take aim at altering the regular thought processes of the mind. In bhakti, the mind is trained to always think about God, who is more accurately described as the Supreme Object of Pleasure in the Vedic tradition. More than just an order supplier or an original owner of all objects, God, who is also known as Krishna, is the one entity who gives supreme pleasure to whoever associates with Him in a loving mood. A person whose consciousness is linked with the Supreme Lord is deemed to be in full yoga. Yoga is simply a connection of souls, the addition of two operands. Any other yoga practice besides bhakti has a beginning and end phase, an objective stated at the outset and the hopeful attainment of that goal in the end. But bhakti is the only full-time engagement, the one discipline where the meditation continues perpetually, even into the afterlife.

So what kind of meditation does bhakti involve? The Supreme Lord has many different forms and aspects, each of which appeals to different moods of worship. Goswami Tulsidas, the beloved Vaishnava saint of Northern India, particularly had an attraction to Lord Rama, who is a non-different expansion of Krishna. Rama roamed the earth during the Treta Yuga as a warrior prince. Tulsidas, as an ideal devotee, never worshiped Rama alone, but rather always kept Rama’s associates close by during times of worship.

Sita, Rama and LakshmanaIn the above referenced verse from his Dohavali, Tulsidas describes the perfect picture on which to meditate. Lord Rama is at the center, with His beautiful wife Sita Devi to His left and His younger brother Lakshmana to His right. There is no need to struggle to find any symbolism in this picture, as the beauty, grace, power and benevolence of the individuals in question speak for itself. Rama is the Supreme Lord, Sita is His energy manifestation, and Lakshmana is His dear protector. Rama is never alone; His closest associates are always with Him. Tulsidas’ description in this verse is quite interesting, as he directly tackles the issues of auspiciousness and the fulfilling of wishes. Our attention tends to jump from one place to another when we are desperately seeking a specific benefit. Those who are sexually stimulated glance at various members of the opposite sex in the hopes of having conjugal affairs. The hungry man stares at sumptuous food items to hopefully enjoy the taste that will result from eating. The lover of a particular politician or celebrity will gaze at posters and pictures in the hopes of either one day becoming equal to that person or to be reminded of the glory that comes with success in material ventures.

Tulsidas doesn’t want any of these things. He meditates on Rama, Lakshmana and Janaki [Sita, the daughter of King Janaka] simply for transcendental pleasure. Lest anyone think he will be deprived in some way by performing this highest practice of bhakti, Tulsidas accurately points out that anyone who meditates on such an image will be brought every type of auspiciousness, sakala kalyana. Meditating on worldly objects lures the mind towards that which is not God, or maya. The effects of illusion go beyond simply tricking the mind into misidentification. Illusion caused by sense objects leads to a further attachment to matter, which in turn keeps the consciousness in a conditioned state. The constitutional position of spirit is to be a lover of God, so any activity which has no relation to divine love is deemed conditional, or that which leads to further separation from the Supreme Lord.

Lord RamaSins are the actions that provide negative consequences. The reactions are deemed detrimental because the conditions are not pleasant, nor were they ever intended to be encountered. The greatest negative reaction there could ever be is separation in consciousness from God. Tulsidas directly addresses this fact by saying that by meditating on Rama, all auspiciousness is found. By definition, there cannot be anything unfavorable resulting from direct association with the one entity after whom the entire world is searching. Even the scientists and grossly foolish atheists are searching after God. But since they don’t have any tangible information about Him, they have no idea how to see Him or where to even look. They will scoff at the notion of God’s existence, claiming that they have yet to see any proof that there is a Supreme Spirit. The comet that flies through the sky is greatly admired, for it represents a unique occurrence in nature. But for one who has no interest in science, the travels of the comet are completely meaningless. In a similar manner, the Supreme Lord’s wonderful influences are seen at every second in the visible world, yet one who is not aware of the Divine’s existence will have no interest in appreciating the creation of the world, the regularities in function seen in the planets and the stars, and the man responsible for every result:  God.

When the mind wanders off to associate with worldly objects, the desire for auspiciousness and tangible results remains nonetheless. Even amongst followers of the Vedic tradition, there is a system of practice below divine love that is aimed at providing heightened enjoyment. Similar to going to church to ask God to give you something, there is a system of religious worship aimed at providing worldly enjoyments. By offering tribute to various elevated living entities known as devatas, or demigods, worshipers are promised ascension to the heavenly realm in the afterlife, where material amenities take longer to exhaust. The demigods, who are devoted souls, are referred to as suras. In their splendorous realm, which is still part of the perishable material world, there are wish-fulfilling trees known as suratarus. Just by approaching one of these trees and asking for something, the wished for object will immediately manifest. But since these trees are only found in the heavenly realm, one must first perform dedicated worship of the proper demigods and abide by the rules and regulations handed down.

But for Tulsidas, his surataru is Shri Rama, Lakshmana and Janaki. Not only are they capable of granting all of his wishes, but they do so directly through their image that is contemplated on. Tulsidas only wants to think of God at all times, for that is the nature of the bhakta. This behavior corresponds with the true position of the individual. By meditating on Shri Rama, the worshiper is not only able to focus the mind during the period of meditation, but the image of the Supreme Spirit remains within the consciousness for a considerably long time afterwards. Moreover, when in separation, the fervent desire of the mind will be to have the repeated future association of Rama. “When will I see my beloved again? When will I be able to meditate on the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the most beautiful and handsome prince to have ever roamed this earth? When will I see the giver of liberation to the fallen Ahalya, the slayer of the powerful demon Ravana, and the delight of the celebrated son of Dasharatha, Bharata? When will I see Rama together again with His wonderful wife Sita Devi, the kindest lady to have ever graced this earth who always ensures that devotees of Rama are never bereft of the association of their cherished Lord? When will I next see Lakshmana standing by Rama’s side, ready to protect Him at any and all costs? When will I again see Lakshmana, the greatest spiritual master, one who teaches not only by precept but also by example?”

Sita, Rama, LakshmanaJudging by Tulsidas’ behavior and the beauty of his writing, there was no exaggeration in his assertion of Rama being his surataru. Through his meditation, the poet brought all auspiciousness to not only himself, but also to countless others spanning many generations. The celebrated writer is still bringing pleasure to people the world over to this day, some four hundred years after his time on earth. Rama, Lakshmana and Janaki never let anyone down, so whoever has the good fortune of meditating on their transcendental forms will find auspiciousness everywhere they turn.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Muscle Memory

Lord Krishna“This institutional function of human society is known as the system of varnashrama-dharma, which is quite natural for the civilized life. The varnashrama institution is constructed to enable one to realize the Absolute Truth. It is not for artificial domination of one division over another.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.13 Purport)

The varnashrama-dharma system, or that which is commonly known as Hinduism or the spiritual tradition of the Vedas, provides guidance on how society should be maintained and also how to systematically divide up one’s duration of life into successive functioning units of time that provide a progressive increase in knowledge that ideally culminates in full spiritual enlightenment. Just as the different grades in a school system indicate the ascending levels of intelligence of the students and the corresponding difficulties in studies, the entire lifespan of the individual is similarly compartmentalized in a way to allow for a smooth and peaceful transition to a blissful afterlife. The soul exists forever, so its future fortunes should be the primary focus for all forms of life. In the lower species, there is no chance for even becoming aware of the presence of spirit or its makeup. Only with an advanced consciousness, which can be best developed in the human form of body, is there a chance at reaching the supreme destination, that one place where heat, light and electricity paradoxically remain in vast abundance without requiring any external source of energy. The proprietor of the spiritual land, its king whose term in office never expires, is so wonderful and effulgent that all the necessities of life are abundantly available. The varnashrama-dharma system brings the best opportunity for pushing along as many souls as possible to that imperishable land.

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

Lord KrishnaIn the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, states that He instituted the system of four varnas and four ashramas based on the qualities of the individual and the work ascribed to them. Nowhere does He mention birth, family heritage or social standing as the determining factors. Indeed, this wholly scientific system of dividing society into categories based on the qualities of individuals and the work they should perform is not bigoted in any way, nor is it something that needs to be apologized for. Because of the influence of Kali Yuga, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy we currently find ourselves in, the original system instituted by Krishna has degraded to the point that high status is being claimed simply off of birthright, without any of the necessary qualities and work exhibited.

In the pure form of the system, the divisions of social orders, or varnas, are the brahmana, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra. There must be an intelligentsia, the brains of society, for others to be guided properly. Similarly, able and brave protectors of the innocent are also required. Without law and order, each person would simply make up their own rules and regulations, thus causing many collisions in interests. The influence of the senses is so strong that even the thief thinks that he is abiding by dharma, or religiosity. A humorous instance of this behavior can be seen in the communities which share and distribute live and unauthorized concert recordings, which are more commonly known as bootlegs. Though many bands don’t mind the practice, with some even encouraging it, audience members are generally prohibited from recording any of the performance while attending a concert. After all, the music and compositions are copyrighted material belonging to the performing artists. But to have a memento, something enjoyable to hold on to from the concert experience, some audience members will bring their video cameras and audio recording devices.

rock concertThe bootleg itself is a stolen item, for it is copyrighted material that is prohibited from being distributed. The interesting part comes when the bootlegger decides to share their rare gems with others. For audio recordings, the taper will often insist that no one else downgrade the quality of their original source. This means that if the concert was recorded in a lossless format or on compact discs, the taper doesn’t want others converting the music into mp3 format, which requires compression and thus a downgrade in sound quality, and distributing it to others. Similarly, those who shoot concert footage often author DVDs to be distributed to others. Stipulations are again made prohibiting the practice of reauthoring, wherein the video footage is extracted and then set up on a new DVD with brand new menus, thereby removing the original author and taper from the scene altogether. Those who violate these stipulations are viewed as outcastes and breakers of respected codes of conduct, i.e. sinners.

Even in a society where known contraband is distributed, there is seen the desire to implement rules and regulations. In the absence of a kshatriya order, a section of society that maintains the law and protects the innocent, thieves will be more prominent and rise to varying levels of power. There must also be a source of revenue and production in a healthy society. Without businessmen, whose primary aim is to earn a profit, necessary goods and services would be scarce, as would be jobs. A job, after all, only comes about through a desire to increase productivity. Often times a massive layoff brings hatred and scorn for the proprietor of the business, but we should ask ourselves how and why the jobs existed in the first place. An owner of a company only hires a worker if they think that the prospective employee will help increase output, and thus lead to an increase in profit. When profits start to dwindle, naturally the jobs will start to diminish as well.

moneySince workers play such an important role in the production of goods and services, they must also be present in abundance in society. In this way we have the four social orders, or varnas, recommended by Krishna. Thus far in this discussion nowhere do we see anything about a Hindu faith or a social pecking order based on birth. All parties are meant to work cooperatively for a peaceful condition to result. In the absence of such a system, when individuals don’t have clearly defined roles and qualities to live up to, chaos would naturally ensue.

A common scenario from the business world can help us better understand the scientific basis behind the divisions. Let’s say there is a project at the office that needs completion. If each of the parties involved decided to act as the leader, nothing would get done. “Well, maybe we should do this…Maybe we should do that…I don’t like that idea…Let’s talk about this some more.” Not only is there competition over which course of action to take, but there is also no confidence or focus on the part of the workers. If, on the other hand, everyone has clearly defined roles suited to their specific abilities, there is a much better chance of successfully reaching the target objective. The leader makes everything happen; he or she decides who will perform what task. Then the workers, knowing their roles, can dedicate themselves to their activities without the distractions of added thoughts and pressures.

The varnashrama-dharma system, which is headed by the brahmanas, or priestly class, is meant to provide a similar focus to all individuals during every stage of life. In addition to the social orders, there are the divisions of spiritual life, wherein one starts as a student and gradually progresses to the stage of full enlightenment facilitated through total renouncement from material life. Can we imagine what school would have been like if there weren’t any grades or teachers steering our learning efforts? In the absence of instruction tailored to each student’s level of intelligence, no one would learn anything, and thus the valuable time spent in a youthful form would go to waste.

schoolIn the Vedic system, at the very beginning of instruction students are taught the differences between spirit and body and the need for taking the interests of the Supreme Lord to be paramount. After student life, marriage can be entered into, wherein the solidified family bond provides sustenance to the other orders of society. After many years in marriage, a touring type of retirement can be accepted, where the wife accompanies the husband on spiritual pilgrimages and the like. And then finally, towards the latter years, there can be total renunciation from worldly affairs. This freedom brings the best opportunity for gaining liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

The most important aspect is the ultimate reward, the reason for all the other rules and regulations being put into place. One who thinks of Krishna, or God, at the time of death, never has to return to the perishable land. This means never again having to endure the long years of schooling and the hard work required to maintain a family. As the soul is ever blissful, it always seeks out an ultimate reservoir of pleasure. The only entity that never fails to provide happiness to those seeking it is Krishna. He is described as ananda-mayo ’bhyasat, or always blissful; so anyone who associates with Him will bask in spiritual enjoyment.

Lord KrishnaSince life on earth is so stressful, anything we can do to limit our worries and fears should be welcome. Knowing how to act in every single situation and which course of action to take removes many of the common doubts and fears. When the essential functions of daily life can be carried out under an autopilot type mentality, there is much more time left for searching after real pleasure. The varnashrama system is meant for this purpose and no other; allow for every single person to undertake tasks they are naturally suited for, and let them carry out those engagements without any doubt. Then all the time that was previously spent in worry and fear can be used to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

This mantra is the secret weapon in our war against the illusory forces of material nature. Due to the degradation of society brought on by the Kali Yuga, the original and pure version of the varnashrama-dharma system is very difficult to implement today. But this doesn’t mean that the same principles of regulation and prescribed duty can’t be followed to some degree or another. Fortunately for us, one system of activity is so powerful that it is universally applicable, irrespective of societal conditions. This sublime engagement not only serves as the guiding force for regulative activities and achieving peace of mind, but adherence to it simultaneously brings about a drastic shift in consciousness. Only through bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, can any person, regardless of their qualities and the material work prescribed to them, make advancement in spiritual life during any part of the day.

Radha KrishnaThe core requirement of bhakti-yoga is that one simply think about Krishna. Whatever tool can be used to facilitate this constant remembrance, which represents a link in consciousness to the Supreme, or yoga, should be adopted. Chanting is the most effective method, as it brings association with Krishna in an instant. Just hearing the name of the Lord is enough to evoke cognizance of His forms, qualities and pastimes. The holy name can even be heard just within the mind by remembering the phrase “Hare Krishna”. The bhakti mindset can be further maintained by regulated activities, such as chanting Krishna’s name a prescribed number of rounds daily on a set of japa beads, rising early in the morning and worshiping the deity, cooking and offering spiritually infused food known as prasadam, and reading books written by great acharyas and devotees, those who dedicate their whole lives to serving, honoring and glorifying Krishna.

Even one given to the life of a shudra, a member of the laborer class, can continue their hard work every day without any qualms by regularly remembering Krishna within the mind. Goswami Tulsidas very nicely points out that just as the trees lining the route to the heavenly realm are worshipable, so are the devotees who chant the names of the Lord but happen to have a low birth. Being naturally prone towards menial labor or running a business is deemed a low birth because the activities undertaken are deeply mired in the modes of passion and ignorance, levels of activity which make advancing in spiritual understanding very difficult. Indeed, after working hard during the day at the jobsite, the natural tendency is to relax at night by eating meat, drinking alcohol or having sexual relations. For the business magnate, the desire for future profits and expansion of the business never ceases, even in the off hours. Therefore these classes of men have difficulty in understanding the presence of the soul and how the body constantly goes through change. Recognizing sinful activities and how they further delude the intelligence of the individual is also made more difficult.

But one who chants the name of Rama or Krishna or any other authorized name that describes the Supreme Lord in all His glory not only purifies their consciousness, but they also become a figure of worship. Who would ever imagine worshiping a janitor or a business owner? Would we ever think of walking up to a store manager and offering him our obeisances? But Tulsidas carefully crafts his poetry, so his words describing the glorious nature of the devotee having a low birth are not hyperbole in the least bit. One who regularly chants the names of God naturally remembers the Lord at all times. As such, they are wholly capable of teaching others how to perform bhakti. They may not be acquainted with all the rituals and functions of spiritual life that are known to the brahmanas, but since they are in constant touch with Krishna, their knowledge is perfect. The worship of a Vaishnava, or devotee of Vishnu/Krishna, is actually better than worship of Krishna Himself, for the devotee can show others how to find pure spiritual bliss.

Krishna's lotus feetWhatever mode of work we find ourselves in, we can adopt the principles of bhakti and remain satisfied by knowing that advancement is taking place. Our daily occupational duties can be carried out in an involuntary manner, similar to the way the heart and the lungs operate within the body. When the mind is released from worry by knowing the primary objective in life and the ultimate source of pleasure, so much time is freed up for finding and enjoying spiritual life. Consciousness is the gateway to happiness, and when it is fixed on the lotus feet of Shri Krishna, there is never a chance of being in an extended unpleasant condition, either in the present life or in the next.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Entering Lanka

Hanuman“Entering the auspicious city, which is under a curse and protected by the king of Rakshasas, O Lord of monkeys, do you freely roam about everywhere and search for the chaste daughter of King Janaka at your pleasure.” (Lanka speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, 3.51)

praviśya śāpopahatām harīśvara |

śubhām purīm rākśasarājapālitām |

yadṛcchayā tvam janakātmajām satīm |

vimārga sarvatra gato yathāsukham ||

The faithful servant of Lord Rama, Shri Hanuman, who is one of the most glorious figures to have ever set foot on this earth, was all prepared to begin the most difficult part of his mission, that of entering the enemy city of Lanka and finding the missing princess who was ever deserving of being by the side of her husband. There could be no sin found in Sita Devi, the beloved wife of Lord Rama and the most precious daughter of the King of Mithila, Maharaja Janaka. Sita’s father was himself known as Videha, which means “without a body”. He was aloof from all material pains and pleasures, yet upon finding the child Sita one day while ploughing a field, an exhilarating thrill coursed through his body. This feeling would only be matched when he would later meet the two princes of the Ikshvaku dynasty, the brothers Rama and Lakshmana. When Sita married Rama, the meeting of the goddess of fortune and the Supreme Lord was complete, but due to the workings of a nefarious character, the king of Lanka named Ravana, the divine couple would be separated. To Hanuman would be handed the task of finding Sita and allaying her fears. Realizing that she was in Lanka, Hanuman had a plan of action mapped out and was prepared to enter the city. As we know from our experiences that things in life rarely go according to plan, Hanuman’s immediate transition into the city would not take place without opposition. Faced with a precarious situation, Hanuman would take shelter of his sharp intellect, a benefit acquired through his strong link to the Supreme Consciousness. Armed with all the divine capabilities, Hanuman was able to turn an obstacle into a launching pad towards success.

HanumanWhat was so difficult about finding Sita? Why was Hanuman sent to find her instead of Rama? These issues are all addressed in the Ramayana of Valmiki, one of the oldest books ever written. More than just an ordinary story about heroes and villains, the Ramayana details the life and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Rama. Lest we think of the Ramayana as a book of only sectarian importance, the qualities exhibited by Shri Rama, the work’s main character, give full indication of His divine nature and His ability to provide supreme pleasure to others. God can be defined as the ultimate order supplier, the one entity who can meet any and all demands. He may also be taken as the original proprietor of everything, as the universe sprung forth from His glance. Yet God’s most potent feature and position is that of the Supreme Loveable Object, the one person from whom all happiness can be derived. Love is a powerful emotion because, in its pure form, the actions taken to maintain the sweet feelings never exhaust, and neither do the actors ever lose their enthusiasm for service. In every endeavor except pure love, there exists both a motivation for the work undertaken and an ideal final state, wherein action ceases. Yet since love is all about pleasure, whatever steps are taken to see to the happiness of the loveable object are always fully repeatable.

Lord RamaWith mundane love, the work undertaken is limited by time and the reactions of the lover. Since the Supreme Lord is the one entity who remains eternally within His original body and those of His non-different expansions, only love of the divine variety can continue perpetually. Therefore, the only eternal occupation, that one form of religion that applies universally, is known as bhagavata-dharma. This term is translated to mean devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, because only in devotion can the service propensity inherent to individual spirit be purified and properly utilized. More than just a theoretical idea put forth by select philosophers, the truth of God’s position as the eternally served manifests in the activities performed during the divine descents, of which Rama’s coming to earth was one.

Hanuman, though in a monkey form, was tasked with finding Sita because the mission was an act of love, something that would please Rama. The Lord, as the all-powerful order supplier and chief proprietor, easily could have willed Sita back to His side or at least told everyone where she was. But this sort of exhibition of knowledge would have reduced the opportunities for service by other sincere well-wishers. One may argue that if Sita were found and rescued directly by Rama, the monkeys of the Kishkindha forest then could have taken to sitting quietly and regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Chanting this mantra is the most effective religious practice, as it allows the loving propensity to be acted upon in the highest number of unique situations. Yet these Vanaras, or forest dwellers, were very anxious and eager for action, as is common for the monkey species. The Vanaras wanted to serve with their thoughts, words and deeds. Rama was in their direct company, so what better way to serve Him than by using their natural gifts, their skills in agility, courage and fighting prowess, to help find Sita and deal with her captors?

HanumanOf all the Vanaras in Rama’s company, Hanuman was the most eager. It’s interesting that Rama’s greatest devotee takes on the shape of a monkey, especially since that species is considered prone to overindulgence in sex life and intoxication. If we see a child that is too hyper or an adult who acts uncontrollably, we’ll compare their behavior to a monkey’s. Hanuman and the other Vanaras would sometimes point to the defects known to their race when a mistake would be made or failure was encountered. Though Hanuman was in the form of a forest dweller, his love for Rama was unmatched. As such, he was not limited in any abilities, either physical or mental. He had full possession of all the yogic siddhis, or mystic perfections. He would make use of these powers on his trek to the island of Lanka where Sita was. To reach the distant island, Hanuman assumed a massive form and leaped across the vast ocean.

Having reached Lanka, Hanuman decided to assume a diminutive form so that no one could recognize him. Ready to enter the city at night, Hanuman was exhilarated in thought. The opulence of Lanka, with its high walls, palatial buildings and decorations of gold everywhere, could only be compared to the city of the demigods, Amaravati. Though there were wonderful fortresses and other protective dwellings well represented throughout the city, Hanuman surveyed the situation and rightly concluded that his monkey associates, including Sugriva and the various military commanders, would be able to succeed in penetrating the city. He also remembered the fighting prowess exhibited by Rama and Lakshmana and thus felt greatly satisfied within the mind. In addition to looking for Sita, Hanuman was planning out the strategy for attack for the monkeys’ impending march to the city. Never thinking about himself, Hanuman was always concerned with how to make his friends happy, including Rama and Lakshmana, who were his life and soul.

HanumanPutting ourselves in the same situation, we can just imagine how exhilarated Hanuman was, how excited he was to have the opportunity to serve Rama. Surely his mind was drowned in an ocean of bliss. Yet immediately after becoming thrilled with the prospect of victory, the mundane world, so as to break his meditation, brought forth an obstacle. The personified city of Lanka, which was a woman in a Rakshasa form, came before Hanuman and asked him what he wanted. She wanted to know who he was, where he came from and what he was doing in the city ruled by ogres. Hanuman, as a brilliant statesman fully versed in the art of diplomacy, kindly agreed to answer all her questions in full, but only after she would identify herself. Hanuman basically said, “Sure, I’ll answer you, but you tell me who you are first.”

Lanka did not like this at all. She was not a well-wisher by any stretch of the imagination, and her patience was wearing thin. She again asked Hanuman to identify himself, and this time Hanuman responded by saying that he had come from the forest desiring to see the wonderful city and its interior. From Hanuman’s perspective, the demon had no need to know about the Supreme Personality of Godhead or the mission of His divine servant, especially since such admissions wouldn’t serve any purpose. Lanka, in the form of a female Rakshasa guard, had failed to protect the most innocent person within her confines, Sita Devi. Therefore the ogress was immediately deserving of the stiffest punishment. Yet Hanuman kindly tried to assuage her by lying about his intentions, not letting her know his real reason for being there.

Hanuman striking LankaThe city of Lanka, having lost all patience, then struck Hanuman. Knowing that she was a woman, Hanuman still struck her back, but not with full force. From that powerful blow, Lanka fell to the ground, but Hanuman was merciful to her after that, as he felt bad for having struck a woman. After falling to the ground, the lady’s demeanor and outlook completely changed. She immediately dropped her opposition and became a friend. She told Hanuman that previously the self-create, Lord Brahma, had informed her that when a monkey would come to the outskirts of the city and strike her that the end was near for Ravana and the Rakshasas. Meeting Hanuman, the city of Lanka remembered Brahma’s words and rightfully concluded that the Rakshasas would meet defeat due to the offense made against Sita.

Lanka then told Hanuman to freely enter the city and search about wherever he pleased for Sita. This sudden turnabout wasn’t surprising, as the Ramadutta Hanuman has a tremendous effect on those who meet him. Whoever he comes into contact with automatically becomes benefitted. Even the enemies Hanuman defeats meet an auspicious end because of the role they play in glorifying the most wonderful servant of God. Not surprisingly, Hanuman would go on to find Sita and safely return back to Rama with information of her whereabouts. Hanuman’s entry into Lanka, which started with his striking of the female guarding the city, did indeed signal the end for Ravana and his Rakshasa associates. Anyone who remembers the great Vanara’s craftiness, strength and intelligence displayed during his meeting with the city of Lanka will be benefitted as equally as those who got to personally interact with him. Wherever there is devotional service practiced to perfection, there are all signs of intelligence and strength. Hanuman displayed patience and perseverance by not getting frustrated over the thwarting attempts of the demons. Due to the nature of his mission, he should have been initially greeted with kindness and warmth. But since the Rakshasas were mired in a life of sin, they could not immediately appreciate Hanuman for who he was.

HanumanThough confronted by a violent woman, Hanuman did not hesitate to carry forward with his mission. For the conditioned souls looking to revive their dormant God consciousness, there will be all sorts of impediments placed in their path. Yet if the love is there from the beginning, if there is an undying desire to please the Supreme Lord at the outset, all necessary intelligence will come as well. Hanuman hadn’t prepared for dealing with a woman blocking his way into Lanka to find Sita, but he since remains connected with the Divine Consciousness at all times, he was able to get past the obstacle without damaging the mission. In a similar manner, by always remaining dedicated to the path of devotional service as laid down by Hanuman and all the Vaishnava authorities, we can figure our way out of any and all troublesome situations, while simultaneously keeping the chances of success alive. The greatest gift in life is to be able to hear about Hanuman and the wonderful interactions of the devotees with the Supreme Lord. Just as the glories of the bhaktas know no end, hearing of their sublime exploits never fails to deliver supreme transcendental pleasure.