Saturday, June 4, 2011

Keep the Home Fires Burning

Lord Rama“If you wish to light both your inside and outside, place the jewel-decorated lamp of Shri Rama’s holy name at the doorway of your mouth, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 6)

rāma nāma manīdīpa dharu jīha deharī dvāra |

tulasī bhītara bāharehum̐ jauṃ cāhasi ujiyāra ||

It’s a dark night. You’ve been on the road for a long time, and you’re looking for a place to provide some comfort, protection and relief from the distresses of your journey. It’s late at night, so visibility is not so good. You pass by many houses, but the glaring indication of an inviting abode, the sign you are looking for, is the lamp burning outside the home. This light can come in the form of a street light or a nice set of candles. Indeed, one who keeps a lamp studded with many jewels, or manidipa, at their doorstep signals that their home is a refuge for anyone seeking it. The light in the front not only burns brightly on the outside, but it shows that there is a light shining inside of the home as well, where warmth, succor, food, drink and shelter can be found. The lit lamp outside the home serves as an open invitation for stranger and friend alike to come and be greeted with a smiling face. In a similar manner, one who chants the holy name of Shri Rama, keeping the non-different expansion of the Supreme Spirit on the tip of their tongue, lights up both their outside and inside. The tongue, as the instrument for speech, serves as the gateway to the soul, allowing for an individual’s character, nature, demeanor, and most importantly, consciousness, to be observed, studied and relished by others. Anyone who regularly chants the Lord’s name will keep both their inside and outside fully lit with transcendental bliss.

Lord RamaWhy is chanting the holy name so important? Aren’t there other ways to decipher a person’s consciousness? Can’t we look at their face and tell what their mood is? According to the Vedic authorities, those who spend time in samadhi, or divine trance, contemplating and understanding the highest truths of life passed down by their predecessors, the name of the Supreme Spirit is the most powerful incarnation, especially in this age. Though there is a wide variety of opinion on theology - with some believing that man invented God to cope with the realization of his impending death, and others sternly chastising those who don’t accept the benevolence of a particular savior - the Vedic opinion, one which is based on the authority of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is that the properties of spirit and their relationship to a higher power never change. Rather, the soul remains eternally blissful and knowledgeable, though when placed in a temporary covering composed of inhibiting elements, remembrance of the intrinsic properties gets temporarily lost. This ignorance then leads to a complete forgetfulness of the relationship with the more powerful spiritual entity, the Supersoul, the direct manifestation of God residing within the heart. Not only is the relationship to God always ready to be reestablished, but it is the only link that allows the natural desire to love and provide service to be fully acted upon. God’s true position, His feature that brings Him universal appeal and worthiness of being worshiped, is that of best friend to all life forms. Our friends are those with whom we voluntarily engage in sportive pastimes and talks. In this respect the relationship with the Lord is no different, as there are various rasas, or transcendental mellows, that provide pleasure to the liking of the individual.

Yet due to the ignorance enveloping the phenomenal world, the land where material elements cloud the natural torchlight of knowledge found in spirit, not only is the inherent relationship with the Supreme Lord - whose most complete and original feature is that of Shri Krishna, the all-attractive divine figure - forgotten, but the realization of the true purpose in life also remains far away. Therefore only in the conditioned state is a person advised to take to various rules, regulations and procedures of theistic traditions to rediscover their inherent knowledgebase. One who is properly educated can then learn how to make use of all of their valuable tools and abilities. Of all the organs in the body, the tongue is arguably the most important to control, as it can lead to great pain and heartache when not used properly. In ignorance of Krishna’s grand nature and open offer for transcendental love, the tongue takes to worshiping mundane objects such as animal flesh and wine. Enjoyments relating to food and drink are vehicles to satisfy the incessant desires of the material senses. These desires are compared to the raging river which constantly pours into a giant ocean. No matter how many waves rush in, the ocean is never filled completely; hence it continually accepts an inflow of water. Since the tongue is never satisfied in material endeavors, it acts to further bind the lost soul in an endless cycle of misery, wherein the hope for happiness remains bright, but satiation is never achieved.

“Before giving up this present body, if one is able to tolerate the urges of the material senses and check the force of desire and anger, he is a yogi and is happy in this world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.23)

Lord KrishnaThe conditioned soul is deemed lost because his original home is in the spiritual land, where he has God’s direct association. Some may not want to worship Krishna, as they may take Him to be a sectarian figure and not the original form of God. Fear not, however, as the Lord is not so unkind as to insist on worship of only His original form. Indeed, He takes to many other personal expansions, all of which are spiritual in nature and can thus provide liberation, satisfaction and spiritual fulfillment. Lord Rama, the pious prince of Ayodhya, is one such non-different divine form who is kind enough to appear on earth every now and then. Since the name Rama means one who gives transcendental pleasure, anyone who chants it regularly, like Goswami Tulsidas, will forever swim in the ocean of transcendental bliss. Maharishi Valmiki accurately notes that devotees of Rama, those who have turned their back on material life and engaged their tongue solely in chanting Rama’s name and glorifying Him, take tremendous satisfaction in hearing of the Lord’s pastimes. Their hearing of Rama’s glories and pastimes can also be compared to rivers raging into the ocean. While in material life the constant flow of desires is considered detrimental because the ocean representing the satisfaction of the individual never gets filled to the brim, in spiritual life the effect of the same result is reversed. The waves of desire, when taking the form of Rama’s pastimes, also fail to fill up the ocean of spiritual satisfaction in the devotee, but this is a great thing because it means that there is more and more desire to hear of God’s glories. The bhakta, or devotee, never tires of practicing bhakti, as divine love is the original engagement for the soul, something which defines the spiritual spark’s very existence.

The secret in the holy name is that hearing it automatically evokes memories and consciousness of God’s forms, attributes and pastimes. The other aspects of the divine, such as the visible form known as the deity, or saguna manifestation, God’s qualities and His sportive exploits, don’t necessarily evoke sentiments of other aspects when heard or seen. For instance, seeing the deity in the temple doesn’t automatically remind the observer of divine pastimes or the Lord’s name. Those who are unable to understand or accept the path of bhakti but are still interested in learning about the Absolute Truth remain stuck on the nirguna platform, where the Lord is viewed as not having a form. Nirguna and saguna are Vedic terms that describe how the conditioned entities, those whose eyes have not yet been properly trained to see the divine influence everywhere, view the Supreme Lord. Nirguna means “without qualities” and saguna means “with qualities”. Regardless of how anyone sees Him, God always remains transcendentally situated and fully formed with spiritual attributes and qualities that are incomprehensible in their magnitude.

Lord RamaOne who cannot understand Krishna’s all-pervading and transcendental nature takes the Absolute Truth to be formless. This mindset, where all that can be understood is nirguna, represents an incomplete realization. Bhaktivinoda Thakura, the exalted Vaishnava acharya, astutely observes that the impersonal feature of the Lord known as Brahman is not an object. Therefore there is no benefit to taking it to be the highest manifestation of the Truth. A person’s ultimate conclusion in life determines their activities, which then shape consciousness. This consciousness then determines the future destination of the soul. If one’s mind is fixed on the impersonal aspect, the perceived nirguna form, the soul merges into the light of Truth that is Brahman at the end of life. Since Brahman is not even an object, as it lacks names, forms, attributes and pastimes, there cannot be any tangible benefit for the merged soul. Upon entering the light of Brahman, identity is immediately lost, and the potential for divine service remains untapped.

By the same token, taking the saguna form - which is the deity or the vision of the incarnation, or avatara – as the highest understanding also shows some immaturity in thought. Saguna worship is definitely superior to nirguna understanding, because one who thinks that the Lord is formless essentially takes man to be no different than God, as the spirit soul is also without a material form. This narrow viewpoint can then lead to the nadir of material existence, the lowest point, the most detrimental mindset of “I am God”. Saguna worship at least has some benefits to it in that the spiritual attributes and personal nature of the Lord are understood. Yet one who only worships saguna without understanding higher truths might be mistaken to believe that God only exists in His specific worshiped form or that He only resides in the temple. Indeed, as one who is antaryami, or the all-pervading witness, God’s influence is everywhere. The Supersoul, the expansion of the Supreme Spirit residing within the heart, validates this fact. The Supreme Lord is everywhere, and His personal influence is not limited to His deity form or the vigrahas of His various personal expansions, including that of His original form.

The holy name is the gateway to freedom, the lamp decorated with jewels that lights the devotee up from both within and without. Since the holy name is a direct incarnation, it pervades all aspects of material life. The name allows the bhakta to remember and worship God without any restriction or limitation. Time, space and outside influences cannot ever stop the devotee from their dedication to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. At the very least, even if one finds themselves in a very distressful situation, the name of the Lord is there to shield them from pain and suffering. Indeed, great devotees like Prahlada Maharaja and Draupadi, who found themselves in dire circumstances on a few occasions, simply remembered the holy name and were saved from all calamity.

Krishna saving DraupadiJust as the burning lamp outside the home hints at the warmth and friendliness of the residents, the devotee who keeps the jewel lamp of Rama’s name on their tongue will shine their transcendental qualities onto others. When we see pictures of Shri Hanuman chanting Rama’s name, he is always happy. As his whole body is beaming with transcendental love, he becomes a true object of worship, a person whose association brings alleviation from the most acute pain and suffering experienced in this world; hence one of Hanuman’s names is Sankat Mochan. Hanumanji was very influential on Tulsidas, as he provided the saint counsel and spiritual strength. Tulsidas is a direct representative of Hanuman, so the prescriptions he provides are flawless in every way.

By not chanting God’s name on a regular basis, both the inside and outside of the body remain in darkness. On the inside, the natural knowledge of the soul remains covered up by a wall of nescience. As a result, there is hesitancy at every step, with second guessing and constant worry over what course of action should be taken. On the outside, the internal ignorance shows when the individual becomes protective of their own interests and takes others to be enemies. When lacking a spiritually situated consciousness, the human being is no different than the animal. Not all animals are venomous or predatory, but due to their ignorance, the animal kingdom is unable to think beyond the basic necessities of the body, which include eating, sleeping, mating and defending. The true advantage of the human form of life is the higher potential for gathering the spiritual variety of intelligence, which can bring about the highest gain.

Hanuman worshiping RamaWhen the inside of the body is lit up with love and devotion for God, one’s consciousness becomes purified. From this illumination come constitutional activities, the collection of which makes up the discipline of devotional service. One who takes to bhakti as their way of life automatically becomes the greatest welfare worker, the shelter for those needing it. The Vaishnava acharyas all recommend this process of chanting the holy name, and instead of wondering what all the fuss is about, if we actually heed their kind advice, we too can beam with transcendental wisdom and emotional satisfaction at all times of the day. Lord Chaitanya, the celebrated incarnation of Krishna appearing on earth some five hundred years ago, established the tradition of chanting the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads. Even if we take to this chanting routine begrudgingly, simply applying a little force to the mind, convincing it of the worthiness of the process, the benefits will still come. The names of Rama and Krishna are ever powerful, as they represent the only jewel lamps that never require fuel and can never burn out. Anyone who holds on to this light and keeps it by the doorway of the mouth will have all auspiciousness and be the reservoir of spiritual energy for anyone who kindly approaches them.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Working in Harmony

Mother Yashoda and Krishna“In Goloka Vrindavana, the living entities are serving Krishna as friends, cowherd boys, gopis, lovers, fathers, mothers and so on. Even the trees, water, flowers, land, calves and cows serve Krishna in Goloka Vrindavana. This is also our business, but somehow or other we do not like to serve Krishna; therefore we have been put into the service of maya, in the three modes of material nature.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 12)

Who are we? Why are we placed into this world? The bewildered soul feels as if he is a stranger in a strange land, forced to roam an area where the proper course of action is not easy to decipher. In addition, there are the obvious pains and miseries to deal with, which can be inflicted by forces of nature, the mind and the body, and the influences of other living entities. Why can’t there just be peace and harmony? Why is there war, famine, pestilence, greed, envy, pride and so many other destructive agents? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, fill in many of these details to the best level of understanding possible, for the human mind is incapable of gaining complete knowledge. This very deficiency is indicative of the primary difference between the superior entity and His subordinates. This discrepancy also provides a clue into helping us find the proper course of action in life, a path which leads to a reinstatement of the natural order. When the individual’s identity is properly understood, all work can be performed under the proper mindset and for the most worthwhile aim, thus relieving the distresses that are regularly encountered.

“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.17)

Lord KrishnaThe most difficult realization for the conditioned soul bewildered by the forces of nature to come upon is the proper identification. What does this mean exactly? Sense perceptions form the basis of all opinion and thought. This should make sense after all, for if we don’t hear, see or taste something, how will we understand anything? From the time of birth, what is known to us is our body; so the various parts it has, such as the hands, legs, face, and mind, are taken as the identifiable aspects. But through the sublime vision of the Vedas and the people who disseminate Vedic wisdom, the confidential information revealing the real identity of the individual comes to be known. The essence of individuality is the spirit soul, which is part and parcel of a higher being. From One came many, but the many can never be equal to the One. A piece of paper may be folded up and then ripped into many different pieces, thereby destroying the original, but in spiritual understanding, the Original can create an infinite number of fragments and still never be destroyed. Only in the spiritual world, a realm not affected by the pangs of material existence brought on by the forces of time, can one plus one equal one and two minus two equal two.

As the individuals have come from the Original, there is an inherent relationship established between the two entity types. The many are meant to act in the service of the Original, for one entity always remains superior and the other always subordinate. In the absence of this relationship in an active state, the many can never find a permanent, peaceful condition. The genesis of the material world, the realm we currently occupy, can be traced to the desire to break free from the constitutional position. When service to the Supreme Entity is neglected, there must be unhappiness and misery. At the same time, the Original never changes His position, as He is eternally situated in transcendence. Therefore the offer to rejoin His association is always open. One simply has to understand their true nature and follow the steps necessary for rekindling their dormant love for the Supreme Lord and all problems will vanish.

dishwasherTo help us better understand how and why turning our backs on our constitutional position has such a deleterious effect, we can study the workings of modern appliances and machines. By taking something as simple as a dishwasher we can see how specific components are meant to work in a certain way, and how deviating from the intended functions can have harmful consequences. With a dishwasher, we get a wonderful invention that allows for loads of dirty dishes to be cleaned at one time. When manually cleaning plates and glasses, there is much effort taken to wipe, wash and dry each plate, glass, knife and fork individually. Especially if one has a big family or if one is working in a large eating establishment, the number of dirty dishes can pile up very quickly. Therefore the dishwasher becomes a godsend, a machine that can save so much time and effort by washing many dishes at one time while requiring little manual labor.

The dishwasher has a specific constitutional position, meaning it can only be used to wash certain kinds of items. Inside of the machine there is typically a rack, which stipulates that the plates and glasses be aligned in proper order, with sufficient space separating them. This ensures that every dish is cleaned properly and thoroughly. There is also a designated dispenser for the dishwashing detergent, and the cycles of the machine are tailored specifically to clean and dry metal, porcelain, glass and silver utensils and kitchen items.

Now let’s say we wanted to clean our clothes inside of a dishwasher. This seems like a silly proposal, as there already exist machines to wash and dry clothes, but in a realm where there is freedom of action, anything is possible. It would be silly to go on violent rampages or ingest lethal doses of drugs and alcohol, but people go to these extremes regardless. Freedom brings with it the possibility of all outcomes occurring. The rational thinkers may realize that certain activities are foolish and should thus be avoided, but this doesn’t universally preclude the harmful actions from being committed. Therefore there is every possibility of a person placing shirts, pants or underwear into a dishwasher to clean.

laundryThe results of such a transgression are pretty obvious to predict. A clothes washing machine moves the garments around and spins them so that they will be easier to dry later on. The dishwashing machine has a completely different goal in mind. If the dishes were to be moved around, there would be a high risk of breakage during the process. Therefore the items requiring cleaning remain stationary. Because of this feature, a dishwashing machine will not clean clothes very well. In addition, the drying cycles are completely different; therefore the clothes can be damaged by the levels of heat employed.

Putting clothes in a dishwasher is one small example out of many actions that can be taken which violate the constitutional nature of the objects in question. Indeed, even in the washing machine if certain clothes are put through the incorrect cycle, the clothes can be damaged. Sweaters can shrink drastically in size if the wrong heat levels are applied during the drying stage. Mixing bright colors with whites will result in clothes with a pink color after washing. In this way, the constitutional position, the dharma of the particular object, must be maintained; otherwise the results will be unpleasant.

For the spirit soul, the machine occupied at the time of birth serves as the instrument for work. Identity comes from the spiritual spark within, with the body taking direction from it. Since the soul’s dharma is to be a lover of God, the natural occupational duty of the body becomes to act in the interests of the soul’s essential characteristic. Activities like hearing, chanting, remembering and worshiping God in all His glory are what the various body parts should be used for. When constitutional activities are absent, or when they are not given highest priority amongst all other behaviors within a daily routine, the body does not get utilized properly. As we saw with the dishwasher, if a machine is misused, there cannot be beneficial results. The miseries we see around us are due only to forgetfulness of God, a transgression which causes every resultant action taken to be unnatural.

Shrila PrabhupadaBut to understand that we are not our body is very difficult. How is it possible to realize that every aspect of our outer covering is simply dead matter that doesn’t represent who we are? The example often cited by wonderful and kind devotees like His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada to properly convey the principle of true identity relates to the hands and the stomach. The hands are very useful body parts capable of doing so many things. For the kshatriyas, the warrior class of men, the hands can be used for fighting, performing religious sacrifices, and giving in charity. Though a military man has many responsibilities pertaining to the defense of the innocent, his hands are still capable of bringing tangible benefits and carrying out prescribed duties in so many other areas of activity. The stomach, on the other hand, has the specific role of distributing the nutrients found in food to the rest of the body. Though the stomach seems to work involuntarily, its functions are regulated by the workings of nature, which dictate how material elements interact. As soon as food is ingested, the stomach knows just where to redirect the relevant nutrients.

What would happen if the hand decided that it was going to enjoy food for itself? The hand is equally as related to the body as the stomach is, so why should it be deprived of enjoying sumptuous food? Obviously this mindset is silly, for the hand’s constitutional position in eating is to serve the owner of the body by taking food and placing it into the mouth. In the absence of real knowledge of the way that food should be ingested, the hand would simply touch and hold food and do nothing else. Therefore there would never be any tangible benefit received.

The hands and stomach are attached to the body, so it is a little difficult to understand that they are separate from the individual. But what if we took the example of something similar to a hand, like a spoon? Say that the hand decided to hold a spoon and use it to pick up food and bring it to the mouth. When the spoon is attached to the body, it essentially becomes one with the individual, an appendage to the machine occupied by the soul. If the spoon decided to act outside of its intended functions, such as by writing, holding weapons, performing sacrifices, or lifting objects heavier than normal food portions, there would be no benefit to the body. The spoon can even be renounced without the individual being affected at all.

All of the body parts work in the same way, including the mind. Every aspect of the outer covering of the soul is a temporary manifestation of matter. The soul is given the giant machine known as the body to gain release from the cycle of birth and death. The human form of life is considered the most auspicious because only a human being can understand the high concepts that explain the differences between matter and spirit. The animal will forever think that its hands and legs form its identity. It is seen that a human being can survive after losing a hand or a leg; thus how can identity be taken from the body? Prosthetic limbs can perform many of the same functions as the original body parts, so there should be no difficulty in understanding that we are spirit soul, aham brahmasmi.

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.22)

Lord KrishnaWhen the body parts act in the interests of maintaining the foremost characteristic of the soul, its sanatana dharma, there is no question of unhappiness or distress. The residents of Goloka Vrindavana, which is situated in the spiritual sky, best exemplify what the proper course of action looks like and what comes as a result of being wholly conscious of the Supreme Lord. The original fire of spiritual energy is known by many names in the numerous spiritual traditions around the world, but the Vedas proclaim that the two names “Krishna” and “Rama” best describe and address that Supreme Being. Krishna is the most attractive entity in all the universes. He is of a bluish complexion and is exquisitely beautiful. Just one look at His smiling face is enough to destroy the pride of the living entity deluded by the forces of nature. Dharma can be reinstated in just one second through a pure, loving sentiment directed at the Supreme Lord. Rama describes God’s ability to provide the most intense transcendental pleasure to the individual souls. This name is also used to address Krishna’s expansion as the warrior prince Lord Rama, who roamed this earth many thousands of years ago.

The non-different forms of Godhead are many, but the original personality never changes. Anyone who is devoted to God in thought, word and deed will never have to worry about the damaging effects of using the various aspects of material nature incorrectly. The residents in the spiritual land of Vrindavana always work for Krishna’s pleasure. Everyone there is wholly deferent to their specific mood of worship, the relationship they have established with Govinda, the pleasure giver to the senses and the cows. Normally we think of service as requiring a respectful attitude, where the servant doesn’t speak up and strictly follows all the orders given by the master. In the spiritual land, the service mentality can follow many different rasas, or transcendental mellows. The work of a devotee acting as Krishna’s parent is different from the actions undertaken by Krishna’s friend, but the mood of love and devotion is the same. The mother sometimes chastises Krishna and treats Him as if He were helpless, while the friend views the Lord as an equal, a confidante whose company should never be renounced.

Radha and KrishnaAll of these relationships can be established by any person residing in the material world through commitment to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Chanting the names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the bedrock of real yoga. Material nature is only illusory and the source of misery for as long as its various components are used improperly. When the bhakti mindset is adopted, all the parts of the machine known as the body can be used to reach the param dhama, the ultimate destination of the Supreme Abode belonging to the Supreme Person.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Mantra Yoga

Lord Rama“Subsisting on fruits and milk, chant Shri Rama’s holy name for six months. Tulsidas says that by following this formula all auspiciousness and every perfection will arrive in the palm of your hand.” (Dohavali, 5)

paya ahāra phala khāi japu rāma nāma ṣaṭa māsa|

sakala sumaṇgala siddhi saba karatala tulasīdāsa ||

The ancient art of mysticism [yoga] originating from India is indeed a very potent form of spiritual practice. More than just exercise and breathing routines aimed at providing benefits to one’s overall health, real yoga, when practiced properly and to fruition, brings about various siddhis, or mystic perfections. These are powers and abilities unknown to most, as just even hearing their descriptions is enough to turn the most interested observers into skeptics. Real yogis can make themselves very large or small at the drop of a hat. They can travel outside of their body and produce objects at a whim. They can survive through a burning fire and remain alive while knee deep in a river that is ice cold. Yet, for the devotee these mystic perfections, which come about through strict austerity and dedicated practice, are really not worth anything in the absence of a relationship to the Supreme Lord. Rather, one who is in concert with the divine consciousness and the dictates coming from the spiritual sky will always be in a pleasurable condition and be given all the tools necessary for the performance of their assigned duties. Goswami Tulsidas accurately points out in this verse that all the auspiciousness and perfections that come from yoga practice can be similarly attained with minimal effort through a slight alteration in the targeted beneficiary.

yogaYoga’s popularity today shouldn’t be that difficult to understand. After all, who wouldn’t want to improve their health? If we are sick and constantly diseased, how can we enjoy any aspect of life, spiritual or otherwise? Yet the true Vedic scholars, those whose eyes have been anointed with the salve of transcendental love, or premanjana, understand that any ability or peaceful condition that doesn’t lead to a proper shift in consciousness is not very worthwhile. Even the body, which is given highest precedence as far as maintenance goes for the individual, is destined for destruction. Only the animal species and those human beings who have not yet reached their full potential for intelligence think that everything finishes at the time of death. Due to this ignorance, the immediate satisfaction of the body and its prolonged health achieved through great endeavor are seen as the paramount responsibilities, interests which supersede all others.

Those trained in the high philosophy that accompanies real spiritual life understand that the soul should actually be given first billing. One may acquire a big house and land an important job, but eventually everything will be finished. As life in the phenomenal world existed prior to our birth, it will continue to remain manifest long after we have left our present body. As such, we can conclude that life itself is eternal, incapable of being destroyed. The plight of the spiritual spark, the catalyst for action in any form which is deemed full of life, is the top priority for the intelligent human being, one who understands the eternal nature of the soul and what it takes to get placed into a body that never dies and never fails to provide satisfaction.

The pitfalls of strict dedication to yoga practice in the absence of advancement in God consciousness can be understood by studying the results of fruitive activity, or karma. For those who are a little advanced and have transcended the base animalistic tendencies of seeking after immediate satisfaction of the senses, there are generally three different paths available for spiritual progress, not including the sublime and most fruitful path known as bhakti. Understanding that hedonism is not the answer to life’s problems, the mature human being can take to fruitive activity [karma], study of the differences between matter and spirit [jnana], or meditational mysticism [yoga]. Karma is reserved for those seeking heightened pleasures through regulated activity. The majority of those who consider themselves religious follow the karma path, as they seek to maintain a steady level of piety and decency of conduct in order to be benefitted in the future, through rewards that either aid health and family or bring ascension to a heavenly realm. The philosopher route brings about a change in thought processes, but behavior isn’t really altered except for maybe the elimination of certain activities. Therefore jnana remains a purely theoretical path, one that can only lead to the negation of all activity and the ultimate merging into a spiritual effulgence of bliss, wherein the identity of the individual is lost.

MarathonMystic yoga, though seemingly a combination of karma and jnana, is actually more similar to karma. To understand the similarities, let’s take the example of a marathon runner. Karma in the spiritual sense typically involves work aimed at pleasing a divine figure or set of godly authorities in charge of distributing results. Karma in the absence of spiritual life is wholly dedicated to satisfying the senses through specific work. Training for a marathon is a unique practice because it actually seeks sense gratification through the formation of a skill; hence the similarity to mystic yoga. One who trains to run a marathon must go through so many austerities. Diet must be altered, drinking and smoking should ideally be cut out, and intense practice must be performed. Running a marathon is no joke after all, so if you want to complete all 26.2 miles in one stretch in a decent time, you have to be very physically fit.

For most people training to run a marathon, the aim is to simply complete the race using a moderate pace that is free of any stops and periods of walking. Many individuals have achieved this goal, and afterwards they felt tremendous satisfaction. There is a great sense of accomplishment, that something seemingly impossible can be achieved through hard work and dedication. Indeed, those who train for running marathons often have something they are trying to prove or someone they are running away from. The loneliness of the long distance runner brings some peace and calm to the mind, as no one else is out there to support you except yourself. The thrill and exhilaration from completing something so difficult all by yourself brings about a great boost in self-esteem.

So let’s say that we train for and complete a marathon. Our self-esteem is now higher, and we’ve proven to ourselves that we can do anything we set our mind to. But now what? Where do we go from here? Won’t any other activity follow a similar pattern? After training very hard to complete specific tasks and seeing the successful completion of the mission, won’t we be left to find a new task afterwards? This is actually the situation faced by the mystic yogi, who, after great endeavor and strict austerity, attains tremendous powers, capabilities that far exceed those exhibited by ordinary individuals. Indeed, the most famous cheaters in the realm of spirituality, those who have claimed to be God in human form, have been mystic yogis who showed off some perfection, such as disappearing or creating some other magic, to support their claims of divinity. Many innocent, and at the same time gullible, people were misled into believing these erroneous claims, and hence they took to the wrong path of spiritual life, one that brought no benefit at all.

Lord RamaIf yoga performed through such great endeavor can lead the person to thinking that they have become God, how can we honestly say that any tangible benefit is derived from the practice? Taking oneself to be God is the most glaring indication of insanity. This is the point raised by the devotees, those who transcend karma, jnana and yoga and take only to bhakti, or divine love. The key to happiness and eternality of pure emotion is a properly situated consciousness, where the mind is always tied to the interests of the most powerful divine lover, the supreme object of pleasure. In the Vedic tradition, this entity, who is known as God around the world, is described by thousands of names such as Krishna and Rama. God is certainly the most attractive individual, and He can also bring about the greatest transcendental pleasure to His devotees. Hence the names Rama and Krishna are completely bona fide and non-sectarian. Every single person is open to worshiping the Supreme Lord as Rama or Krishna, though the general tendency for the ignorant is to remain far away from the Lord’s direct presence, not even taking to explicit worship.

This is the misfortune of the souls who follow paths in life that are not authorized and incapable of providing the highest bliss. In every other field of activity, the ultimate objective is pleasure, so why should this property be absent in spiritual life? God is meant to provide the greatest pleasure to the soul, as He is its life companion. Just as the sun shines equally over all the land, the Lord’s mercy is universally available. The differences in outcomes to action are seen due to the variations in degrees to which that mercy is taken and made use of. Only the bhaktas, the pure devotees whose thoughts always remain focused on God, understand, appreciate, and never take for granted the divine mercy shown to them.

Lord RamaDepending on the specific tradition followed, either Lord Krishna is taken as the original form of Godhead or Lord Vishnu is, with Krishna and Rama considered His incarnations. In either case, since all the personal expansions of the original Supreme Lord are extremely potent and non-different in their ability to provide salvation and eternal pleasure, the devotee’s viewpoint in this regard is not that important. Indeed, the topmost devotees of Shri Krishna are those who don’t even look at Him as being God. They simply think of Krishna as their best friend, their most intimate life partner whose interests always remain paramount.

Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated Vaishnava poet, views Lord Rama, the expansion of Godhead appearing on earth during the Treta Yuga, as his most worshipable object. Even one who is a Krishna or Vishnu devotee can take great pleasure and knowledge from Tulsidas’ teachings, which are perfect, sublime and always relevant. In the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, Tulsidas is specifically tackling the issue of meditational yoga. Every reference made herein has a direct link to the practices and rewards of mysticism. Tulsidas presents the well-known principles of mystic yoga and makes a comparison to the same practices and results when applied to the realm of bhakti, whose quintessential practice is the chanting of the holy names of God, such as those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.

“To practice yoga, one should go to a secluded place and should lay kusha-grass on the ground and then cover it with a deerskin and a soft cloth. The seat should neither be too high nor too low and should be situated in a sacred place. The yogi should then sit on it very firmly and should practice yoga by controlling the mind and the senses, purifying the heart and fixing the mind on one point.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.11-12)

Lord KrishnaTulsidas is especially fond of chanting Rama’s name, as the name of the Lord automatically invokes memories of His forms, pastimes and qualities. As mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita by Lord Krishna Himself, to practice yoga properly one must find a secluded place and a comfortable sitting area where no insects or other distractions will be present. There must be complete celibacy and strict adherence to meditation while remaining seated in an erect posture. Food and drink also play an important role, as the acquisition of various siddhis requires austerity in food intake. The secret behind the effectiveness of meditational yoga is the reduction of the influence of the senses. In the conditioned state, the senses play an integral role in shaping behavior; therefore one who is interested in advancing spiritually and making full use of the massive potential for meaningful activity found within the soul must control their senses. Of all aspects of the material body, the urges of the tongue and genitals are the most difficult to control. Hence they form the main focus of austerity in spiritual practice, especially in meditational yoga. There must be complete celibacy for a bona fide yogi, and the urges of the tongue must be controlled as well.

To acquire a desired siddhi, generally at least six months of steady dedication to yoga is required. In the absence of the recommended conditions and practices, there is little chance of any tangible benefit coming from the ancient yoga system. Yet Tulsidas says that instead of limiting your food and drink intake to nothing or next to nothing, just take simple milk and fruits and consume them in portions you are already accustomed to. Implied in this recommendation is that one refrain from sinful foods such as those in the mode of darkness and restricted items such as animal flesh. During Tulsidas’ time, medieval India, meat eaters and those addicted to intoxication never really took to any prescribed Vedic practices, for such people were considered outcastes in all respectable spiritualist circles.

Instead of severely limiting the intake and portion size of fruits and milk, one can continue eating the amounts that already satisfy them. For instance, if our usual meal consists of a glass of milk and two bananas, there is no need to change. The key point made by Tulsidas is that instead of remaining dedicated to some difficult yoga practice for six months, chant Rama’s name for just as long a period. There is no need to starve or punish yourself during this time.  Just eat some nice fruit, drink milk, and chant the Lord’s name repeatedly.  Indeed, through this formula every auspicious result [sakala sumangala] and every mystic perfection [saba siddhi] will come in the palm of your hand [karatala].

“Regardless of time or place, one who chants the holy name, even while eating or sleeping, attains all perfection.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Antya 20.18)

Is there some disingenuousness in these promises? Will chanting God’s name for that long a period enable us to perform wonderful feats of magic and have out of body experiences? The difference with the bhakti formula is the altering of consciousness that results, something absent in other forms of spiritual practice. Karma may bring about respect for higher authority figures and a temporary future condition that is pleasant, jnana an increase in knowledge, and yoga a feeling of pride and accomplishment in activity, but none of these engagements links one directly with the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Maharishi ValmikiOn the other hand, one who regularly chants Rama’s name is in direct connection with the Supreme Lord, even if they are averse to the practice in the beginning stages. The holy name is the most potent incarnation of this age; hence it forms the bedrock of the religion of love, bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The saints like Tulsidas know that in the conditioned state the majority of spiritualists are only interested in finding auspiciousness or mystic ability, so it is better to simply ask them to chant without initially explaining all the ins and outs of consciousness and the need for altering it. Indeed, this is how a famous reformation once took place. Maharishi Valmiki, a great sage whom Tulsidas is considered to be an incarnation of, was a dacoit in his early life. Having the great fortune of one day meeting Narada Muni, arguably the world’s greatest reformer, Valmiki was advised to give up his stealing and simply chant Rama’s name. Since Valmiki was unable to say “Rama”, Narada told him to chant “Mara” instead, as repeating this sound over and over again would produce the name of Rama just the same. Narada didn’t explain anything important to Valmiki at the time, nor did he tell him what chanting would bring. After subsequently chanting for a long period of time, so engrossed in the holy name was the dacoit that an anthill eventually formed around him; hence he was given the spiritual name of Valmiki by Narada. Through chanting Valmiki attained the auspiciousness of a purified consciousness and the perfection of being able to write the famous Ramayana poem, a celebrated Sanskrit work which describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama.

“And of all yogis, he who always abides in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.47)

Hanuman worshiping RamaThose who were initially reluctant to take to chanting but then subsequently took it up can elaborate further on the beautiful feeling of being enraptured by the sweet sound of the holy name. Six months is quite a long time, so anyone who chants God’s name in such a regulated manner will certainly shift their consciousness. A siddhi, or perfection, is a great ability, so in this regard those who are able to always keep the activities, names and forms of the Supreme Lord at the forefront of the mind can be considered the greatest yogis. Shri Hanuman, who has mastery over every mystic perfection [an ability he acquired without any strenuous endeavor], spends all his time chanting Rama’s name and thinking of the Lord, His wife Sita Devi, and His younger brother Lakshmana. As Tulsidas’ guru, Hanuman imbibed in the saint the same dedication to bhakti. Therefore whatever recommendations Tulsidas provides actually come directly from Hanuman. Though there are many forms of yoga today, only mantra-yoga built on the sacred formulas describing the endless glories of the Supreme Lord proves to be universally efficacious. Simply by trying the six month formula, wherein a most potent chant like the maha-mantra is recited up to sixteen rounds daily on a set of japa beads, we can see for ourselves whether or not auspiciousness and perfection accompany bhakti.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Killer Smile

Lord Krishna“When a devotee with all his heart and soul serves Krishna, dresses Him in nice garments and gives Him a flower, Krishna smiles. If you can get Krishna to smile upon you just once, your life's goal is fulfilled.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 7)

Shyamasundara, the original and ever existing form of the Personality of Godhead, has an inexhaustible reservoir of sweetness just ready to flow onto whoever is sincere enough to look at His wonderful face and body. The jivas, the conditioned living entities that are technically part of the marginal energy emanating from the Supreme Spirit, have exercised their freedom by turning their faces away from God. As nothing can be separated from the origin of everything, the material nature and all its miserable components are certainly non-different from the Supreme Lord, but since they are not part of His personal, internal energy, their association cannot bring anywhere near the level of satisfaction to the heart so desperately looking for eternal pleasure that one simple and sincere glance at the smiling face of the Personality of Godhead can. From the wonderful prescriptions provided by the sweetheart of a devotee and saint, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, we find an easy way to bring to our vision that enchanting smile, an image which subsequently paints a mental picture that won’t go away anytime soon. Indeed, Krishna’s smile is so beautiful that it will kill the pride of even the staunchest of atheists.

“Dear Krishna, You are the killer of all the fears of the inhabitants of Vrindavana. You are the supremely powerful hero, and we know that You can kill the unnecessary pride of Your devotee as well as the pride of women like us simply by Your beautiful smile.” (Songs of the gopis, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 31)

Radha and KrishnaDoes Krishna exist? Aren’t the stories found in sacred texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam just mythological? After all, what rational human being would ever believe in flying monkeys, children lifting gigantic hills, or planets managed by people? Surely these were all concoctions borne of ignorance, the mental speculations of those who didn’t have the advanced knowledge of material science available today. But if such a conclusion were to be followed, then the entire breadth and scope of Vedic literature would have to be discounted. This includes the very existence of Krishna and all the references to geographical locations that are known to exist in real life. In addition, the very tangible information pertaining to medical science and the movements and distances of the different stars in the sky would also have to be ignored. The famous teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, where knowledge pertaining to material nature, the properties of spirit, the reason for the continuation of conditioned life, and the way to get out of the clutches of illusion are very concisely and fully presented, would also have to be discarded.

To cherry-pick certain statements and label them as valid while simultaneously ignoring others as being imaginary is not a very scientific way of accepting information. Using skepticism, any theory can be debunked and thus labeled as false. After all, anyone can say anything. Even newspaper stories, which are respected because of the stature of the originating establishment and the supposed editing and fact-checking that is done prior to a paper’s release, are known to be fabricated from time to time. In actuality, authority is most often determined by first testing the validity of the prescriptions provided and the information presented. For instance, we accept the information from our parents relating to the circumstances of our birth and who our siblings are. Based on the accuracy of that information, we can then tag our parents as authority figures. The same principle applies to virtually every type of information transfer. We know that past world leaders and historical personalities existed and performed activities because of the documented sense perceptions contained within books. Anyone could easily question the authenticity of these works and thereby delegitimize both the books and the existence of the people described within the pages.

NewspaperThe proof that the documented evidence relating to the Supreme Lord and His pastimes is true can be found in the results that come from following the prescriptions provided. A principle Vedic instruction, among many other important points of fact, is that mankind is part of the spiritual energy, one which exists eternally and originally without delusion in an imperishable land. As soon as one’s sincere desire is to return to the original realm, all miseries and pains vanish. Shifting desire in the right direction requires a change in consciousness, which serves as the primary indication of pleasure or pain. Regardless of the present circumstances or the level of material accumulation, the thoughts within the mind can put the individual into a pleasant or miserable condition. As consciousness is the key to finding eternal freedom, it must be focused on something tangible, something real.

The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, recommend that the mind be focused on the names, pastimes, qualities and forms of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose original form is described as being all-attractive; hence the name “Krishna”. While the different traditions emanating from the Vedas, which can be likened to branches growing from the root that is the source of all Vedic wisdom, may ascribe different names and forms for the original entity, there is still no doubt that God is a person and that His transcendental body is attractive. Some take Vishnu, or the four-handed form of the Absolute Truth, to be the original source, while others even accept Lord Rama, the warrior prince expansion of Bhagavan, to be the fountainhead of all incarnations. Regardless of the identification, the fact remains that the Absolute Truth is capable of providing supreme bliss. Even if Vishnu, Rama, or some other non-different form of Godhead is taken as the original, there is still no doubt about Krishna’s attractiveness. His smile is as sweet as they come, so anyone who is fortunate enough to worship Him on a regular basis will reap sublime benefits.

GovindaHow can we worship Krishna if we don’t believe in His existence? Surely there will be skepticism in the beginning, as the accounts of the wonderful and amazing found within the Vedas make believing in the Supreme Spirit and His ability to hear our sincere prayers a little difficult. But anyone who is even fortunate enough to hear about Krishna from an authorized source, a person who has unflinching faith in the merciful and kind nature of Govinda, the pleasure-giver of the senses and the cows, will have their dormant Krishna consciousness aroused eventually. Even the atheists, the avowed haters of God, the disbelievers in religion, worship Krishna to some degree or another. The soul is filled with a blissful nature that never goes away. In the conditioned state, when there is separation from the personal aspect of the Supreme Spirit, the loving propensity gets misdirected towards worldly objects. Indeed, missing the proper target of service is the root cause of all pain and misery.

Love manifests in service. The attitude which seeks to put a smile on someone’s face steers activities. The hopeless romantic tries their best to bring happiness to their paramour. To this end, they will whisper sweet nothings in the ear, write love letters, compliment the appearance and attributes of their beloved, and take great measures just to maintain the pleasure of the object of their service. The pet-lover will go to great lengths to evoke just one affectionate embrace from their cat or dog. The dedicated servant of the nation will risk their lives to protect the innocent, and one simple “thank you” is enough to keep them enthusiastically committed to their service. Similarly, the politician receives satisfaction from seeing the smiling faces of their constituents after a victory in an election.

Lord KrishnaTo have the vision of a smiling face, so many avenues for service are travelled down. Not surprisingly, the same process, but in a purified form, when directed at the proper recipient of love and affection, can bring about the best result. Just one smiling glance from the face of the Supreme Lord Krishna can cause a permanent shift in consciousness. As the transcendental smile is infectious, it can cure the conditioned soul of the material disease, whose acute onslaught has led to a gradual descension into hellish life signaled by a virtual absence of spiritual awareness. The effects of Kali Yuga, the age we currently live in, are such that adherence to dharma, or religious principles, is practically nonexistent. The concept of a regulative system and its necessity are still there, but since the ultimate objective is sense gratification, or enjoyment without Krishna, the principles instituted don’t work and lead to nothing more than a more opulent animal life. The differences between the human beings and animals are subtle and can be tied directly to intelligence. The human mind has a higher potential for the acquisition of knowledge, so unless that opportunity is fully availed of, the resultant lifestyle of eating, sleeping, mating and defending will be no different from a dog’s or hog’s.

Okay, so seeing Krishna smile should be one of the main goals in life, but how do we go about making this happen? Where does Krishna live? How can we see Him? As He is all pervading, Krishna is everywhere. The key is to properly train the eyes to be able to notice His presence. Just as the microscope is required to see atoms and elements that are impossible to be noticed by the naked eye, a special training is required to detect the presence of the only person whose beauty never diminishes, the Supreme Lord who has a blissful and eternal form.

Shrila PrabhupadaIn this regard Shrila Prabhupada has provided a nice roadmap, prescriptions aimed at receiving the darshana of the smiling face of the Lord. The first requirement is that there be a willingness to serve from the devotee, a mentality that is accepted with full heart and soul. The simplest and most effective method of transcendental service is the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This wonderful sound vibration serves as the perfect prayer, as it is devoid of any desire for sense gratification or alleviation of distress. Who among us hasn’t prayed to God for something? “Oh please Lord, just help me out this one time. I don’t ask You for much, so if You come through for me this one time, I will never bother You again.” Chanting the holy names is different from any other religious practice because it simply requests the presence of the Supreme Spirit within the consciousness of the otherwise forgetful individual. Indeed, the recitation of the name itself brings about the requested association, as the name is not different from the Supreme Personality it represents.

“Let there be all victory for the chanting of the holy name of Lord Krishna, which can cleanse the mirror of the heart and stop the miseries of the blazing fire of material existence. That chanting is the waxing moon that spreads the white lotus of good fortune for all living entities. It is the life and soul of all education. The chanting of the holy name of Krishna expands the blissful ocean of transcendental life. It gives a cooling effect to everyone and enables one to taste full nectar at every step.” (Lord Chaitanya, Shikshashtaka, 1)

When chanting is practiced regularly, the mirror of the heart is gradually cleansed, thus causing a purification of consciousness. The more one chants sincerely the more the heart and soul get attached to the sublime engagement of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. Service to the Divine can involve hearing, chanting, remembering, worshiping the deity, and many other processes. The deity is the wonderful benediction granted to the souls just dying to have more outlets for their service. By taking material elements such as wood, stone or marble and crafting a statue or picture representation based on the descriptions of Krishna’s form found within the sacred texts, the resulting object becomes non-different from Krishna and thus worshipable. It is an error to think that the spiritual land is without variegatedness or form. If our perishable land was the only place that contained prakriti, or matter, then the spiritual sky would immediately become an inferior place. Though both places have visible substances, the difference lies in the makeup of the matter and its effect on consciousness. The spiritual land is filled with daivi prakriti, or divine matter. As such, the residents of the Vaikuntha planets, the spiritual sky that is free of anxieties, don’t see any difference between matter and spirit. In the conditioned state, our bodies are ever changing, with the full forms being regularly discarded and accepted through the events of birth and death. But in the spiritual sky, where there is association with daivi prakriti, there is no difference between body and spirit.

Lord KrishnaWhen the deity is constructed by devotees following authorized instructions and recommendations, its comprising material elements become completely spiritual. The previously ordinary prakriti turns into daivi prakriti through its association with Krishna. When the deity gets installed and is served regularly, the devotees have a tangible object of worship, a way to see God all the time. Those who don’t believe in Krishna or who remain insistent on their dogmatic principles will be bereft of this divine association. They will take the deity to be a mere idol, some mentally concocted object of worship. In reality, a spiritual discipline which ignores the potency and validity of deity worship must and will always be second class. After all, regardless of the spiritual tradition, the need for the purification of consciousness cannot be argued against. Even in material endeavors such as performing well on a job or graduating from school require a purification of thoughts and a steady focus on the task at hand. In spiritual life, if the ability to worship a tangible object with body, mind and soul is denied, then the consciousness is left to focus on everything except the Supreme Lord. Thus the very restriction on outward worship, which is not based on any rational thought, becomes the strongest impediment towards the stated objective, that of attaining salvation.

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

After the deity is erected and the devotee maintains their steady chanting routine, if they can offer some garments, food, or a flower with sincerity, there is every chance of getting Krishna to smile. The acute observer may interject at this point and say, “How can the appearance of the deity change? Once the face is carved out and a smile is put on Krishna’s face, how can that image ever be altered?” Once again, the issue boils down to the vision of the observer, and more importantly, its level of purity. They say that a picture is worth a thousand words; so anyone who looks at an image will have different thoughts and judgments. If we were to look at the same picture at different times of the day, we may perceive different aspects and notice certain features that were previously overlooked. Our level of consciousness thus determines the nature of our vision.

Lord KrishnaWhen there is full sincerity in the bhakti attitude, and when something nice is offered to the Supreme Lord with full faith, there is no doubt that the smile seen on the deity will increase in potency and beauty. Once this smile is seen, when the vision of the observer has been purified to the point that the transcendental smile emanating from the spiritual world is perceived just once, the goal of life is fulfilled. Does this mean that seeing Krishna’s smile gives us full license to take part in sinful activities afterwards? Since only the sincere devotee gains the vision necessary to accurately perceive of the killer smile coming off the deity, there is no chance for falling down from the elevated platform of divine consciousness once the grand vision is received. Krishna’s smile is so attractive that the onlooker will want a repeat of the same miraculous vision day after day. As such, the end-goal of a shift in consciousness is automatically achieved. May that wonderful smile of the kindest person known in all the worlds be forever ingrained in our mind’s eye, and may we never again make the grievous and foolhardy transgression of neglecting His service.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Abhimata Deta

Tulsidas meeting Rama and Lakshmana in Chitrakuta“Prabhu always resides in Chitrakuta alongside Sita and Lakshmana. For those who chant Shri Rama’s holy name, the Lord fulfills all their desires, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 4)

citrakūṭa saba dina basata prabhu siya lakhana sameta|

rāma nāma japa jāpakahi tulasī abhimata deta ||

Leave it to Goswami Tulsidas to put the reader into the best of moods. Not only is there hope for a bright future given in this verse, but the most beautiful picture, one that never has to fade away or be removed from the memory, is painted for the listener who is sincerely interested in real profit, parama-artha, a reward that never diminishes in its returns. Only through chanting the holy names of God can all desires, regardless of their nature, be fulfilled.

Lord RamaWhat if we want to do some nefarious activity or if we want something that we shouldn’t have? Can we still chant Rama’s name and be guaranteed of seeing the results that we don’t even know are harmful? Is that how God operates? To understand the secret behind chanting, familiarity with the beauty and importance of Chitrakuta and other holy places is helpful. Lord Rama along with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana roamed this earth many thousands of years ago. In fact, since they are direct manifestations of eternally existing divine figures, the trio is always enacting pastimes in some universe or another. Just as the sun is rising at this very second somewhere on earth, the Supreme Lord along with His closest associates is appearing on some planet at this precise moment and enacting wonderful pastimes for the pleasure of those who desperately need it, the sincere devotees who have handed over control of their emotions and happiness to the most pleasurable person and the treasure house of all good qualities.

The only entity who is universally a candidate for receiving the potent emotional force capable of flowing from the soul is the Supreme Soul, who is known by many names in the Vedic tradition. Lord Vishnu is most commonly taken to be the original form of the Lord, while some texts say that Shri Krishna, often considered an incarnation of Vishnu, is actually the original form, for He is the most attractive and thus capable of engaging in rasas, or transcendental mellows, not available to devotees of other forms of Godhead. Regardless of the knowledge base or belief system present in the devotees, the non-different forms of the Lord are so powerful that devotion to them brings about tremendous bliss and simultaneous release from the cycle of birth and death. Just as a star athlete repeatedly participates in seasons and tournaments of his specific professional sport, the players engaged in material activities repeatedly take birth in the phenomenal world until their desires for material association cease. The professional athletes are helped by the fact that their abilities eventually diminish due to age; thus making them no longer able to play after a period of time.

“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)

Lord KrishnaWithin the materially manifest world, old age and disease lead to retirement in the form of death, but since the desire to play is still present, a new body is given for the next life. As such, the cycle of birth and death known as samsara continues perpetually until desires are changed. Worship of the Supreme Spirit also takes place in cycles, except that there is no misery involved and no diminution of abilities. Instead, devotional service, or the sublime engagement of connecting with God through a purified consciousness, is the only activity that continues without interruption and is not driven by any motivation. This seemingly paradoxical combination can only be understood by those who are in divine trance, or samadhi. Once that blissful state is attained, there is not even concern over whether one is behaving properly or not, for the fire of devotion rages so intensely that all unwanted influences are automatically removed.

How do we reach the samadhi state? How does an individual who is eternally conditioned through playing on the field of material nature shift their desires towards service to the Supreme Lord? In order to change consciousness, behavior needs to be altered. For behavior to change, habits need to shift, i.e. routine activities need to be altered to the point that new habits are formed that help maintain a link with God in yoga. The honest skeptic will at this point question how one can know who God is with any ontological certitude. After all, weren’t there many television evangelists who urged their followers to send in money to get a better seat at the table? Simply giving away money to a specific figure will not get you a seat in heaven, and neither is the heavenly realm the ultimate destination. What we conceive heaven to be is actually just a nicer version of the playing field we are currently on. We can think of the heavenly realm as a higher professional sports league, one that has more enjoyments and state of the art venues. Yet the cycle of birth and death is still present, thus making ascension to heaven an inferior reward for the sincere spiritualist.

Purifying consciousness through a shift in behavior requires a steady object of worship, a beneficiary of the service propensity of the soul. Irrespective of one’s engagement and their level of dedication to spirituality or lack thereof, the element of service is always present. The CEO is serving his senses and his customers, the worker the boss, the wife the husband, the children the parents, the politician the constituents, and so on. No one is independent, for even the most selfish person is serving their own needs. When service is offered to the only entity truly worthy of accepting it, the resulting benefits are unmatched. Not only does the consciousness of the entity offering the service change, but the love felt towards the object of service never diminishes in any way. The reason for the variety in engagements present before us is that the different worshiped objects fail to provide supreme pleasure. Each one of the previously mentioned serving relationships found in material life can be broken due to disagreements or the expiry of the intended benefits. For instance, if an ordinary worker gets another job or retires, they no longer feel the need to serve their current boss. If the husband and wife should start having strong disagreements, the loving relationship can break through divorce or separation.

Lord VishnuLove for God, the all-attractive spiritual powerhouse, doesn’t follow the same pattern. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, kindly enumerate some of the more important incarnations, or expansions, of the original Lord to appear on earth. Each form has specific features that attract worshipers, and since these incarnations are like candles lit from the original person, they are equally as capable of providing spiritual benefits. Though the tendency for those who are not familiar with the Vedic tradition will be to take Rama, Krishna and Vishnu to be sectarian figures or mythological characters, the truths of the Vedas are revealed to whoever is fortunate enough to sincerely adopt the recommended practices, especially those pertaining to bhagavata-dharma, or devotional service. The Vedas prove to be enough of an authority for millions around the world to accept vishnu-bhakti as a legitimate spiritual practice, but even one who is skeptical can still take to chanting the Lord’s names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and see for themselves what all the fuss is about.

Goswami Tulsidas, a prolific writer and an absolute sweetheart, was especially devoted to Lord Rama, the warrior prince incarnation of God. They say that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, always resides in Vrindavana, the holy land that is always filled with Krishna’s most dear devotees like the gopis, Mother Yashoda, Nanda Maharaja, and the sacred tulasi plant. Even though Krishna sometimes leaves Vrindavana when He appears on earth, the higher authority figures reveal the secret that Krishna actually never leaves His favorite land; other expansions or forms of the Lord are who exit and take part in pastimes elsewhere. As such, anyone who is fortunate enough to go to Vrindavana will be blessed with Krishna’s presence.

Lakshmana, Rama and SitaIn a similar manner, Tulsidas says that Shri Rama along with Lakshmana and Sita is always in Chitrakuta, the remote forest that played an integral role in a specific time period of Rama’s life. As the eldest son of a king, Rama was the rightful heir to the throne of Ayodhya, but due to a series of unfortunate events, for which Rama was not to be blamed, the throne was passed on to Rama’s younger brother Bharata. To add insult to injury, Rama was ordered to leave the kingdom and not return for fourteen years. He would have to roam the forests in the garb of an ascetic, thus not having ties to anything, royal or otherwise.

Rama kindly agreed to the requests, as this would ensure the good name of His father, King Dasharatha. The Lord then embarked on His journey taking Sita and Lakshmana with Him, for they refused to remain at home without their beloved for such an extended period of time. Early on in their travels, the group visited the hermitage of the illustrious sage and poet, Maharishi Valmiki. After humbly offering His obeisances, Rama asked Valmiki if he knew of a good place to set up camp. Valmiki used this question as an opportunity to describe the sublime qualities of Rama’s devotees, stating that Sita and Rama should reside in the hearts of such individuals. After finishing his description, Valmiki informed Rama of the nice area known as Chitrakuta.

Meeting ValmikiBased on the sage’s recommendation and the way in which it was presented, we can understand that Chitrakuta is full of good qualities. After all, Valmiki stated that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana should always reside in the hearts of those who never tire of hearing of the Lord’s pastimes. Those who attribute all of their bad traits to themselves and all of their good fortunes to Rama, who worship the guru, the brahmanas and the cows as their life and soul, and who always chant Rama’s names forever have Sita and Rama residing within their heart. Indeed, the devotees take to devotional practices and don’t ask for anything except undying devotion to Rama’s feet.

Whichever place Rama chooses to live will have the properties mentioned by Valmiki, even if the area seems to be an inanimate land that is not capable of thought or worship. Chitrakuta is Tulsidas’ favorite holy spot because Sita, Rama and Lakshmana live there in pure happiness without any hint of the material opulence found in royal kingdoms. There is nothing wrong with wealth, jewels and pompous worship when they involve God, but the most elevated saints, those who are always in divine trance through chanting and remembering, prefer to worship the Lord in a more intimate mood, one that is stripped of any reverence that inhibits the full expression of transcendental love. When God is worshiped as the greatest order supplier and the richest entity, the mood of the devotee tends to be one of fear and respect. In the mood of pure love, however, such a closeness is established that the fears pertaining to God and His punishments are completely removed. Rama in Chitrakuta represents the most endearing form of the Lord, one that can only be worshiped in a loving attitude. Those who are afraid of God and those who are steeply entrenched in the mindset of respect worship images of Sita, Rama and Lakshmana in other settings like the kingdom of Ayodhya.

Lord RamaTo those who chant His name on a regular basis, Shri Rama, as the benevolent Lord, grants whatever is desired, abhimata deta. First the proper scene is set, that of Rama in Chitrakuta, and then the chanting takes place. With this combination the mind remains focused on God in a bliss-evoking mood; thus making the desires of the chanter quite obvious to decipher. In the topmost stage of devotion, there is still an interest, even though the behavior of the bhakta is described as unmotivated, ahaituki. One who goes to a demigod or saintly personality may be granted whatever they want, but with Vishnu-worship, the effect of the desired fruit is taken into consideration by the benefactor, the Supreme Lord. Nevertheless, this discrimination doesn’t contradict Tulsidas’ assertion in any way. If one understands that Sita, Rama and Lakshmana always reside in Chitrakuta and then they take to chanting Rama’s name, naturally their desires will be focused on just one thing: the continuation of bhakti. Rama will always grant this wish, as the ability to chant God’s name just one time without offense is considered the greatest boon, one that is available only to those who sins have been completely washed away.

“Persons who have acted piously in previous lives and in this life, whose sinful actions are completely eradicated and who are freed from the duality of delusion, engage themselves in My service with determination.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.28)

Sita, Rama and LakshmanaChanting God’s names is the only recommended dharma, or system of religion, for the current age. Even if one is full of selfish desires, plans for self-destruction or other tainted motives, chanting Rama’s name will always prove to be a benefit. At their core everyone desires to love God, even if they are unaware of it. So by remembering the forms of the Lord that are the most bliss-evoking, the dormant desire for a pure loving relationship with the undying Supreme Spirit can be awakened. Service to any entity besides God will not fulfill all desires, for the rewards received will expire at some point, thus causing new desires to sprout up. Only the bhaktas steadily engaged in service are akama, or without desire, because their primary wish in life, eternal association with the Supreme Lord, remains forever fulfilled.