Saturday, June 11, 2011

Tell Me What To Do

Radha Krishna“Knowledge, jnana, means understanding our relationship with Krishna. A wise man asks, ‘What is my duty to Krishna?’ Once we understand our relationship with Krishna and our duty to Him, we naturally become reluctant to engage in material activities. This is called vairagya, detachment from material activities. Jnana and vairagya can be awakened by bhakti-yoga.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 18)

When first presented with spiritual teachings, the attentive listener, the person on the receiving end of the valiant preaching efforts of the ebullient and sometimes boorish devotee of a worshipable personality, can have one of two reactions. Especially when information is presented by followers of the Vedas, the ancient system of spirituality passed down since time immemorial through a tradition of hearing wisdom and subsequently acting upon it, the choice of action is a pass/fail one; black or white, fight or flight, yes or no, etc. Those who are emphatically opposed to the teachings calling for complete and total surrender unto a supreme personality presented before them might have the reaction of, “No way, Jose! Not me. This stuff might be important to you, but I can’t believe what you’re saying. I already have my God and I’m fine with Him.” But then there is the inquisitive soul, he who has some interest in hearing more about this Supreme Person whose name is Krishna and who always carries a flute and wears a peacock feather in His hair. Just hearing descriptions of His glorious nature is enough to reel in the sincere soul who is looking for a bona fide spiritual path to follow, one that becomes a way of life and thus provides the topmost transcendental bliss. In these cases, the initial reaction of the recipients will invariably be, “Okay, I’m ready to surrender to Krishna, but now what? What do I do? What is my responsibility to Him?”

Lord KrishnaBy delving further into the matter, we can see that responsibilities of any kind share a common trait. In the realm of spirituality, this trait’s importance becomes more pronounced. From studying example after example of different activities, a pattern starts to emerge. We see that duty is accepted to maintain a predominant characteristic, be it a personal quality, situation, or relationship. For instance, the husband has the duty of protecting the wife and taking care of the family interests. The inherent quality of a marriage is that husband and wife are together in each other’s company. Therefore the natural obligation handed to both parties is that they do whatever is necessary to maintain the defining characteristic of the relationship. Any new responsibilities that emerge will be derived from the ideal condition. The husband must earn a living to support the family; the wife must take care of the children; the husband must ensure that his wife is well taken care of in health; the wife must ensure that the family life is peaceful, stable and welcoming to outside guests, etc. Thus we see that so many duties and responsibilities come about on their own simply through understanding the nature of the relationship, the ideal condition.

Along the same lines, the individual living being gets their predominant characteristic from their relationship to the Supreme Lord. This should make sense after all, as God is the original creator, the source from which everything spiritual and material emanates. The Bhagavad-gita, the concise treatise on spirituality espoused by Krishna Himself and which follows the Vedic system, says that the spirit soul, the individual autonomous unit of energy within any form of gross matter that is deemed living, never takes birth and never dies. The spirit souls are sanatana, or eternal, just like the person to whom they are intimately related. It appears that we have a contradiction here, as by saying that the spiritual energy comes from some place, it implies that spirit souls have a beginning, and thus the stipulation of no birth loses its meaning. The actual situation can be thought of in this way: The spirit souls come from God, and since the Lord has no birth or death, the souls can also be considered eternal. These sparks forever exist, so their individuality is always there, even when it lies in a dormant state, such as during the time it may spend in the light of Brahman, the brahmajyoti.

Vedic teachings are precisely geared towards enlightening the wayward souls on their proper identity. In the absence of this sound instruction, identification will be taken from outer features; hence the existence of practices like racism, nationalism, sectarianism, ethnocentrism, and so many other “isms”. All of the equality movements that have sprung up over the course of human history are aimed at eliminating some level of false identification, but unless and until the relationship with the Supreme Lord is defined, which obviously can’t happen until the Supreme Person Himself is properly understood and identified, no mentality can be considered all-inclusive.

Radha and Krishna with cowThe flaws in the mindsets that are supposedly based on spirituality are revealed when inhumane practices like animal slaughter and terrorism follow. Those eating the meat of slain cows and even those running the slaughterhouses may be avowed followers of a particular faith, people who openly claim to believe in God, but since they engage in sinful activity by killing innocent members of the Lord’s creation, it can be understood that they have not been made aware of the properties of individual spirit and the soul’s ability to reside in up to 8,400,000 different life forms, including those belonging to the animal kingdom.

Similarly, the religious zealots engaged in blowing up buildings, setting off bombs in crowded places, and holding innocent women and children hostage to further a political purpose actually have zero understanding of spirituality. Based on their concocted theories and their own prejudices, they use religion as an excuse to further their personal interests which are driven solely off the animalistic mindset.

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

Lord KrishnaThe comparison to the animal species is appropriate because only in the human form of body can the soul develop a consciousness that is wise enough to even ponder the question of identity. Indeed, anyone who asks the question of “Who am I?” is considered very wise according to the Vedic estimation. Out of the few who will ask this question, an even smaller percentage will take the necessary steps to understand their true position and what that means. Again, out of the small amount of the inquisitive population that will take the necessary steps to try to understand the Supreme Spirit, an even smaller number will actually understand that God is the most attractive person possessing the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree and simultaneously, thereby making Him ever worthy of the name of “Krishna”.

Let’s say that a soul has been fortunate enough to cut through all the noise and see through the pretenders espousing versions of spirituality that fail to be all-inclusive in their practices and ideology. Let’s say that a person even accepts Krishna, or some other non-different expansion of the same personality, as God. Then what? What are they to do? After identifying who Krishna is, what steps need to be taken? The relationship between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit is nicely summarized in the philosophy of Lord Chaitanya known as achintya-bhedabheda-tattva. We label this philosophy as belonging to Shri Gaurahari, the preacher incarnation of Godhead, only because He was the first one to openly identify it and preach exclusively off of it. Indeed, since God and His infinitesimal sparks are sanatana, the relationship between them cannot be explained in a philosophy or truth which is conjured up within the mind. Rather, Lord Chaitanya was just kind enough to reveal the ultimate truth to everyone and then show us how to act off of it.

Lord ChaitanyaHis philosophy states that the individual souls are simultaneously one with and different from the Supreme Lord. And lest we rack our brains for the rest of our lives trying to understand how this is possible, Lord Chaitanya says that this simultaneous oneness and difference is inconceivable to the mind, or achintya. The proper course of action is to act off of this disposition rather than take to understanding the specific truths and laws of nature that go into its construction. Generally, on the lower stages of spiritual understanding, when the sincere soul is not yet ready to fully surrender their thoughts, words and deeds to Krishna, individual components like jnana and vairagya are required to help further increase devotion. Jnana is knowledge, such as understanding the differences between matter and spirit, the workings of the universe, and the eternality of individual spirit. Vairagya is renunciation, giving up those engagements which further solidify the animal tendencies inherited at the time of birth. These two components are very helpful in making progress in spiritual understanding.

When one takes directly to serving Krishna and agrees to abide by their duty to Him, both jnana and vairagya come automatically. Since there is a simultaneous difference and oneness in makeup between us and Krishna, there is a natural relationship that results. Krishna is superior and we are inferior, so it would stand to reason that we would act as His servants and He would accept our kind efforts. As the reservoir of pleasure, Krishna, or God, is meant to always be pleased, for His happiness is shared with His devotees. Though the relationship with God never changes, when the bond is not identified, the actions undertaken by the individual soul don’t lead to Krishna’s direct pleasure. Therefore the inherent duty of every spirit soul roaming this and every other universe is to maintain the link in consciousness with the Supreme Spirit through expressive acts of love and devotion.

Mother Yashoda with KrishnaLest we think we are being forced into worship and being made subjects of an all-powerful ruler, the service mentality is already present within everyone. Irrespective of the engagement and the identified beneficial condition, there is always service required to maintain the utmost characteristic. The example of the marriage was mentioned previously, but we can also use any relationship to see that the pattern followed is the same. In the office environment, the subjects, i.e. the workers, are employed to maintain the profitability of the company. From this simple relationship come many new responsibilities, smaller tasks and obligations that must be met. The CEO works to accept the service from the workers and also to maintain the good standing of the company. The politician acts in the interest of the constituents, the students for the pleasure of the teacher, the police officer to protect the distressed citizen attacked by rogues and thieves, the disciple to glorify and please his spiritual master, etc.

If service is present in every field of endeavor not related to spirituality, why should it be absent in maintaining the link to the one person who is superior to everyone else? My duty to Krishna is to maintain the link to Him in consciousness through acts of devotion that are collectively known as the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service.  Bhakti-yoga’s quintessential activity, the one behavior that best solidifies the understanding of the individual and their unbreakable friendship to the Supreme Person, and also the one practice wholly recommended by Shri Krishna Chaitanya, is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This mantra is directly tied to Lord Chaitanya, as He was kind enough to remove the cloak of secrecy previously tied to it and reveal it to the rest of the world. Many mantras of the Vedic tradition are rightly reserved for specific students and rituals that are difficult to complete. But the maha-mantra addresses the Lord in a mood of love and devotion, and most importantly, it contains His two most potent names, Krishna and Rama. These sound vibrations describe God’s features as the all-attractive personality and the entity who provides transcendental pleasure to His devotees. These names also reference two forms of Godhead that are non-different from one another.

“The living entity is an eternal servant of Krishna, the Supreme God.” (Lord Chaitanya, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 20.108)

Shri Shri Nimai Nitai chanting and dancingBased on the example set by Lord Chaitanya, we see that everyone’s duty is to regularly chant the maha-mantra, at least sixteen rounds a day on a set of japa beads if possible. In the Vedic system, when the guru initiates a disciple he chants a specific mantra on a set of beads and then hands those beads over to the disciple to use in their spiritual practice. The idea is that the beads become empowered by the representative of the Lord, a spiritual master who appears in a chain of disciplic succession which has as its source Shri Krishna. With the recommendation of chanting Hare Krishna sixteen rounds daily, there is tremendous potency already built in. We can think of the sixteen rounds recommendation as having been personally empowered by Lord Chaitanya Himself, for He knew that future generations would have a difficult time answering the question of, ”What is my duty to Krishna?” This chanting regulation is sufficient in taking up a significant portion of each day, thereby allowing the sincere soul to gain both knowledge and renunciation through the simplest and most effective of practices.

Vasudeva carrying Krishna to VrindavanaOnce the bhakti mindset, that of pure love and devotion for Krishna, envelops the sincere soul, the subsequent occupational duties seemingly emerge on their own. The humble devotee takes whatever steps are necessary to maintain the fidelity of their relationship to Krishna. This means that whatever is favorable towards the furthering of Krishna consciousness is accepted, and whatever leads to a return to the conditioned life that proved miserable for so many lifetimes is rejected. Refraining from the sinful engagements of meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, the steady devotee’s mind becomes free to always think of Krishna and relish His pastimes that continue to occur throughout the innumerable universes in existence. Right now, somewhere in space, Krishna is appearing from the womb of Mother Devaki and asking Vasudeva to transfer Him to Vrindavana. Somewhere Krishna is lifting the mighty Govardhana Hill and protecting the residents of Vrindavana from the torrential downpour instigated by Indra. Somewhere Krishna is speaking the Bhagavad-gita to Arjuna, and somewhere the Lord is enjoying pastimes with the gopis and their leader, Shrimati Radharani. If we make chanting Krishna’s names our main occupation, we can be assured that wherever we go and whatever we do, the sound vibrations emanating from the spiritual sky can be heard, even in a land seemingly divorced of its relationship to God. Hearing God is as good as seeing Him, so following bhakti principles will allow any space to be turned into a spiritual land very quickly.

Friday, June 10, 2011


Lord Rama“Meditation on saguna is not very tasteful, and nirguna remains far away from the mind. Therefore, take the life-giving remedy of Shri Rama’s holy name, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 8 )

saguna dhyāna ruci sarasa nahiṃ nirguna mana te dūri |

tulasī sumirahu rāmako nāma sajīvana mūri ||

As soon as there is birth, there is death. In this sense there is no reason to be too concerned with the end of life, as it is part and parcel of the ride. If we are to overly lament the exiting of the soul from the dwelling it has grown accustomed to, we might as well cry tears of pain and distress when there is a birth, for as soon as the infant exits the womb they are guaranteed to have to suffer separation at some point in time. As the essence of life within all forms of independent bodies, the soul is pure and eternal in its constitution. Yet since matter is the opposite in quality, dull and lifeless, he whose focus remains completely on the inanimate objects of this world - manifestations that are incapable of acting on their own - can be considered dead inside. When all time is spent in an intoxicated state, the addict becomes one with their habit of choice, taking on the impure nature of alcohol and drugs. In a similar manner, through exclusive association with matter and delusion fueled by plans and hopes for furthering sensual enjoyments, the soul remains trapped within the body, with its real energy, service and love depressed. One practice, however, proves most effective at unleashing the full potential for spiritual power, thus giving life to any dying man.

“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)

Lord KrishnaReligion, or spirituality, exists for the benefit of the dying man, he who has assumed a material body that is destined for destruction. Since the soul is eternal, what we consider a life is actually a demarcation of time. Just as we spend a specific number of hours in school or at work on a given day, the soul spends a certain amount of time in a particular dwelling, one that constantly changes, until their time is up. If the occupant’s desires are not purified by the time of exit, they will be forced to repeat the same cycle of association in the future, with the measurement of a lifetime starting over; sort of like a resetting of the clock. The cycle can be compared to the student who has failed to understand the key concepts of his particular class or grade and is then forced to repeat the same class. Only in a bogus school system would a child be advanced to another grade without sufficient knowledge acquired. Indeed, the grade level has a meaning; it represents the minimal level of understanding of the students within that classification.

The soul inside of dead matter is deemed temporarily lifeless in the sense that its true potential for action, pleasure and service goes unmet. Religion seeks to not only deal with impending death, but also to find an engagement which is eternally fulfilling, one that provides the most satisfaction. Ironically enough, the panacea of spiritual life needn’t be found only in the afterlife, as the soul travelling through reincarnation is fully capable of transcending the effects of matter. Yet to break free of the animal instincts strengthened over so many lifetimes spent in the temporary realm, help is required, instruction from one who has seen the light themselves.

Though the different spiritual traditions of the world can provide prescriptions for salvation which appear to be unrelated to one another, pretty much all methods of worship can be grouped into two general categories: saguna and nirguna, or personal and impersonal. When the Supreme Lord, the ultimate object of worship, is described as being beyond the senses and lacking a perceptible form, the type of worship employed is of the nirguna variety, which means “without qualities”. This isn’t to say that God is without a form. As a person intelligent enough to create the massive universe and all of its pieces which function like clockwork, the Lord certainly cannot be void. His transcendental body is described in the Vedas as sach-chid-ananda, or eternally full of bliss and knowledge. Due to association with matter, the conditioned living entity cannot think beyond the dualities encountered on a regular basis; therefore the term “nirguna”, which comes from the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, very nicely describes God’s unique feature of being beyond all qualities perceived by the human eye.

“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 12.5)

Lord KrishnaNirguna worship doesn’t necessarily have to focus on the impersonal aspect of the Absolute Truth, which is known as Brahman in the Vedic tradition. If a supreme person is identified, whether He is addressed as God or something else, if the followed methods of worship don’t involve direct service to Him derived from knowledge of His transcendental form and features, the practices fall into the nirguna category. There is great difficulty and struggle in taking to this route of spiritual awakening. The conditioned entity is essentially tasked with understanding a being who doesn’t have a form and yet is beyond all duality and temporary manifestations of matter. Indeed, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead and original form of the Absolute Truth, very accurately points out in the Bhagavad-gita that those who take to understanding the unmanifested feature of the Absolute Truth find great trouble in their path. Nirguna, when not properly understood, remains far away from the worshiper.

The key ingredient of worship is remembrance, which is a product of consciousness. When we complete a class in school, our grades on the final exam and our production throughout the course period indicate to the instructor whether or not we are fit for advancing. For the natural acrobat known as the soul, its consciousness is measured at the time of death to give an indication to the higher authorities of where and when the next placement will occur. The dying man can continue to live in association with dead matter through a consciousness driven by material desires, or he can find endless spiritual bliss through remembrance of the Absolute Truth.

When the nirguna aspect is not properly understood, i.e. when the Absolute Truth is thought to be formless and beyond perception, purifying consciousness becomes very difficult. We have a hard time comprehending an entity who is not formed through material qualities and who doesn’t have to listen to anyone. As such, the nirguna aspect remains far away from the worshiper, for even those who claim to understand it are often misguided themselves. The most severe transgression resulting from improper understanding of the Absolute Truth is the misconception that man is himself God. If I tell you that nirguna is formless and beyond comprehension, and then I subsequently tell you that I am that very same nirguna form, what authority does the other person have to challenge my assertion? Indeed, not only is the nirguna form very difficult to understand, but it is also a ripe target for charlatans, thieves, and cheaters who try to bring about some concocted method of worship. Only when the real form of the Lord remains a mystery can practices such as philanthropy, charity, environmentalism, animal slaughter and same sex relations be mistaken for the highest occupational duty in life, or dharma.

Sita, Rama and LakshmanaTo remove the doubts of those who are unable to understand nirguna properly, and to also expose the cheaters who have boldly proclaimed to be God, the saguna form manifests from time to time on earth. Saguna is “with attributes”, but again, this doesn’t mean that God can ever associate with matter. The labels of nirguna and saguna are strictly from the perspective of the conditioned eye whose spiritual potency is in a dormant state caused by a longtime association with matter. The saguna form can be the qualified expansion of the original Personality of Godhead or the original person Himself who appears on earth and enacts pastimes. Saguna also refers to the deity representation, a marble or stone statue, or even a picture, that represents the incarnation or the original form of the Lord.

Saguna worship is typically practiced in a temple or in a specific area within the house designated for prayer and worship. Though matter is dull and lifeless, when it is used to properly advance the consciousness of the individual, it becomes completely spiritual. As such, the picture or deity representation of God actually transcends all gunas for those who worship it properly. Saguna worship is far superior to nirguna worship because there is much less chance for error. The incarnation exposes all the cheaters who try to lure the innocent into worshiping them in lieu of offering obeisances to the real form of Godhead. The material world continues to remain in existence for as long as there is even one soul who desires to imitate God or challenge His abilities in the areas of creation, maintenance, destruction and enjoyment. The discrepancy in levels of attention cause the strongest jealousy, as God has been loved and adored by the most people throughout the course of human history. The cheaters who try to explain nirguna as being formless and thus bereft of intelligence are seeking to have everyone worship and idolize them. Thus they represent a direct challenge to God’s authority. Moreover, since they have failed to understand the Lord’s true position as a person with spiritual attributes, these cheaters are wholly incapable of providing any tangible benefit to their worshipers.

Lord KrishnaBut even with strict saguna worship there are some limitations. As mentioned before, the key to spiritual enlightenment is a purification of consciousness. Surely while one looks at the deity form in the temple they can feel tremendous bliss, but the conditioned soul is accustomed to tastes of the phenomenal world, such as impure foods, intoxicating beverages, and sights of beautiful members of the opposite sex. Since especially in today’s day and age it is very difficult to meet the basic demands of the body, the majority of the time in each week is spent working for a living. As a result, during work hours activities are focused on material engagements, thus leading the eyes to look at objects which are not the saguna form. God is certainly everything, but matter is considered His separated energy; hence there is no personal presence of the Supreme Spirit within anything that is material. The hands and legs of the body are considered part of the person, but we still can’t talk to someone’s feet and expect them to hear us or respond. Similarly, worshiping dull matter through steady allegiance of action and attention doesn’t bring any advancement in consciousness.

Due to these circumstances, developing a taste for worshiping the saguna form is very difficult. So what can we do? Goswami Tulsidas very nicely provides the answer. He says that the nirguna form remains far away from the mind and that the saguna form is difficult to develop a taste for. But remembering the holy name of Lord Rama is like finding an herb that gives life to a person who is dying. The name is the most powerful incarnation of the Supreme Lord because it can automatically evoke memory of His other names, forms, pastimes and qualities. Understanding Brahman, or that which is considered nirguna, can lead to a higher level of intelligence, but since Brahman is not an object, it doesn’t have names, forms or attributes. The saguna form evokes memories of God’s transcendental features, His pastimes and qualities, but the names, which bring tremendous transcendental sweetness to the tongue, mind and ear, remain far away. It is also very difficult to develop a taste for something just by staring at it. The worshiped object’s features may be understood and remembered while in the direct presence, but the active propensity to love is not utilized fully when the worshiper is silent. In this respect the holy name is the most potent incarnation of God, as it can be meditated upon, remembered and invoked regularly, by any person, at any time and at any place.

So which name should we chant? Tulsidas especially likes the name of Rama, which describes the Lord’s ability to provide transcendental pleasure to others. Rama is also the name of the incarnation of Godhead who appeared on earth during the Treta Yuga as a handsome warrior prince. Since Tulsidas is a poet, it’s understandable if he would use hyperbole every now and then to get his point across, but his statements pertaining to the potency of remembering Rama’s name are anything but exaggerated. If we find ourselves in the most difficult circumstances, where we feel like our life is being taken away or that our time on earth is not being utilized properly, simply remembering Rama’s name can arouse spiritual stimulation from within. Who wouldn’t be elated by remembering Rama’s beautiful smile, His protection of the innocent citizens of the world with the use of His bow and arrow, His deep love and affection for Sita, Lakshmana, Hanuman and all the Vanaras in Kishkindha, His ability to kill 14,000 Rakshasas without needing any outside help, and His dedication to the truth by coming through on His promises? Lord Rama’s most sincere vow is that He will grant protection to anyone who surrenders unto Him.

Lord RamaSurrender in the spiritual sense is a state of mind where the competition with God is renounced and the Supreme Lord is voluntarily handed over full control over one’s emotional well-being. The surrendered soul maintains their acknowledged inferior position through acts of devotion in what is known as the discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Not surprisingly, the quintessential act of bhakti is chanting sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. The Vedas declare that the benefit of chanting the name of Rama three times can be had by reciting the name of Krishna just once. Krishna means all-attractive, so it is the best word to describe the ultimate feature of the Absolute Truth. Nevertheless, for devotees of Lord Rama, the supposed deficiency in His name brings only greater justification for chanting it even more and remembering it at all times.

The beauty of the prescription given by Tulsidas is that not only is the dying man given a life-saving herb in the form of Rama’s name, but the saguna and nirguna aspects become perfectly understood as well. In strict nirguna worship, the object of service is vaguely understood to be a beam of light, or a transcendentally situated energy. In the neophyte stage of saguna worship, the Supreme Lord is understood to exist only within the temple or wherever His personal body resides. But through steady chanting and dedication to bhakti, God’s all-pervading nature is properly understood. Not only is His original feature of Bhagavan, or the most fortunate Supreme Person, realized, so is His universal presence and His fixed position within the hearts of every living entity as the Supersoul. Only the bhakta, or devotee, can understand that both saguna and nirguna refer to the same person, the only entity worthy of our service. Not only does God’s kingdom represent the realm of eternal life, but His name, which is non-different from Him, is the spark which ignites the undying flame of devotion within the conditioned entity, who is otherwise dead inside. There is no limit to the glories of the holy name, a sound vibration which should always be remembered, through freedom and duress alike.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Instilling Discipline

Lord Krishna“The standard of material education is sense gratification, but the highest standard of spiritual education is knowledge of the science of Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Chaitanya, Ch 31)

The immature child can be likened to a skull full of mush; their mind can be molded and shaped into pretty much anything through proper training and education. Therefore the nature of the instruction they receive becomes all the more important, as when the ultimate objective in life is properly identified the necessary steps can be taken towards meeting it. Otherwise the education given to young children simply enhances their ability to eat, sleep, mate and defend; activities which are already prevalent in the animal community. As the human being is the most advanced species in terms of intelligence capacity, the instruction given to impressionable youths should be aimed at enabling them to transcend the basic demands of the senses through strict austerity, penance and adherence to regulative principles. This instilled discipline will ideally allow the soul to have freedom in the future.

schoolStating that a child should be taught austerity and penance is necessary because the modern system of education fails to provide this instruction. There is certainly some type of discipline and regulation instilled simply based off the schedule of a school system. If the child has to wake up early to catch the school bus and remain in each of their classes for an allotted period of time, there is some discipline automatically built in. But in the larger picture, the nature of the information presented and the exercises recommended to realize that knowledge are what are at issue.

In any basic primary educational institution, young children are taught reading, writing, arithmetic, science and maybe some history. Such knowledge and understanding are essential if one wants to be a productive adult, as reading and math skills are necessary for landing decent paying jobs that allow the individual to maintain a home and family. But when you delve further into these activities, you see that they focus primarily on the ability to eat, sleep and mate on a higher level in the adult aged years. After all, working to maintain a living that sees sense gratification as the most important driving force for activity must, by definition, be aimed at increasing the comforts of sleeping, eating and sex life.

Lord KrishnaIs this focus harmful? Is it detrimental in some way? What should the focus of education be? In the Vedic tradition, the ancient system of spirituality emanating from India at the beginning of time, the first instruction taught to aspiring transcendentalists is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” Brahman can be thought of as the all-pervasive aspect of the Absolute Truth, or God, but in reality it is simply the beam of transcendental light emanating off of the inconceivably large, transcendental body of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Brahman realization is stressed from the very beginning because understanding that one is not their body, which is temporary and destined for destruction, is the most difficult task in life.

The equality movements focusing on breaking barriers erected through prejudices formed off of race, class, religion and gender all try to tackle the same issue that is dealt with right from the very beginning by the Vedic teachers. He who is looking for racial equality tries to compare the black man and the white man and show that they are equal, and she who is looking for gender equality espouses the belief that men and women are equal in all respects, but only the spiritual master, or guru, of the Vedic tradition presents the most inclusive definition for equality, wherein all life forms, even the ants, cows, birds, beasts, etc., are considered equal to the human being. This understanding is absent in society today due to the influence of Kali Yuga, the age known for its rampant quarrel and hypocrisy.

When the young student learns that they are Brahman, or pure spirit, they can take the necessary steps to truly understand what that means and then act off of that disposition. If we learn that we are gifted in music, sports or writing, naturally we will then take the proper training to hone in our skills in that particular discipline, thereby making the best use of our talents. In a similar manner, since every individual is a spirit soul, when they learn how to act off of their constitutional position, they can achieve the highest gain in life, a condition of eternal felicity that simultaneously brings alleviation from all distresses rooted in the activities that currently take precedence in importance.

gurukulaThe strongest inhibiting factor in understanding that we are Brahman is the influence of the senses. In this respect the animals have no chance at ever realizing their equality in spiritual makeup. A dog, cat, pig, or bird cannot be given instruction on the wisdom of the Vedas, nor can they be guided along in spiritual practices. Young children, however, most certainly can. Therefore along with the first instruction comes a set of procedures aimed at allowing the influence of the senses to be transcended. Since eating is the most difficult of the material sense urges to control, a required austerity for children is to regulate food intake. In the classic Vedic system, students would attend the gurukula, or school run by the family spiritual master, who is considered a bona fide representative of the Supreme Lord. The guru is not equal to God, but he is to be treated on the same level. The idea is that all the obeisances offered to the guru eventually make their way up the chain of disciplic succession back to the Supreme Lord Himself, who is the fountainhead of all knowledge.

In addition to taking instruction daily from the guru, the students would go out and beg for alms from the householders. Through this system so many issues were solved without any outside help needed from government bodies. The food for the students was taken care of, as well as the well-being of the guru. Therefore no tuition was required, as the member of the brahmana class, the priestly order, lives a very simple lifestyle dedicated to serving God and preaching His glories to others. The food procured by each student would not be partaken of directly; it would first be handed to the guru, who would then distribute it as he saw fit. If the student didn’t get any food from his guru, it was understood that he had to fast that day. Obviously there wasn’t an overabundance of food to go around, as through begging the food intake will be limited. So, automatically students were taught tapasya, or austerity, in their eating habits.

There was also complete celibacy throughout this time. A student attending the gurukula is known as a brahmachari, or one who is following the principles that allow for the understanding of Brahman, the Absolute Truth. Restraint in terms of association with women is vital in this period, as the sexual urges will only distract the student in their pursuit for higher knowledge. Indeed, it is seen that when there is trouble in relationships or when love goes unrequited, the scorned lover can be thrown into a tizzy, where they lose motivation for work, school and life in general. Therefore in the critical student years, association with women would be strictly prohibited, thereby instilling another form of restraint.

“Work done as a sacrifice for Vishnu has to be performed, otherwise work binds one to this material world. Therefore, O son of Kunti, perform your prescribed duties for His satisfaction, and in that way you will always remain unattached and free from bondage.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.9)

Lord KrishnaThe secret to this ancient system of instruction was that once students would finish their studies, they would have a solid foundation on which to base their life’s activities. There was regular practice of austerity, penance and sacrifice. The yajna, or religious sacrifice, is meant for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord, who is known as the enjoyer of all sacrifice, Yajneshvara. In this age especially, the only recommended sacrifice is the sankirtana-yajna, wherein the holy 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”, are recited regularly. When the student is taught that they are Brahman, they are also made to understand that the Supreme Spirit is Parabrahman; hence there is an inherent relationship between the two. One is superior and the other is inferior. When the inferior voluntarily acts in the interests of the superior without any motivation and without interruption, the resultant transcendental link becomes the greatest source of pleasure. The bond of pure love established with the Supreme Lord becomes the most valued possession. It is the rekindling of this relationship that forms the foremost mission for every single life form, but especially for the humans.

Education has no other purpose than to instill the understanding of Brahman and Parabrahman in students. Surely there will be different departments of instruction, with specific courses only focusing on a certain discipline, but the glue that holds everything together should be this mission of instilling sense control in the students so that they can go on to make the most of the valuable human form of life. The human being doesn’t need to be taught how to eat, sleep, mate or defend any better. These activities will take place even without explicit instruction. Though there may be sex education courses offered, no one needs to teach a man how to be attracted to a woman and vice versa. Though health and nutrition courses focus on the latest scientific studies pertaining to which foods to eat, man does not have to be taught how to look for food and enjoy it. It also should be noted that these scientific studies constantly contradict themselves, as they reach ridiculous conclusions that certain foods can prolong life while others cannot. There is no magic pill to living long, as the effects of karma, which manage cause and effect, determine the results of all action. Karma is another important concept ignored in modern education, as there is no thought given to the spiritual laws governing the actions of man. If one violates the laws of the state, they will surely be punished, so why should it be difficult to comprehend that violating the laws instituted by God will similarly bring negative consequences?

When the instruction of aham brahmasmi is taught to adults, the recommended practices become much more difficult to employ. Eating meat, gambling, taking to intoxication, and enjoying illicit sex can occur periodically or for one or two days, but as soon as the activities start to repeat, they turn into habits. These habits then become very difficult to break, regardless of how enthusiastic the spiritual instructor is. Therefore the acharyas, the exalted spiritual masters who lead by example, have recommended the sankirtana-yajna over any other practice. The tradition of strict austerity and proper education given in times past is very difficult to implement today, especially when the modern education establishment is focused more than ever on teaching about sense gratification and how to secure more of it.

Radha and KrishnaWhen the senses are starved of association with maya, or material nature, there is a better opportunity for taking to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti is a natural engagement, as the spirit soul is charged with energy just waiting to be released in a service attitude. Indeed, in the absence of knowledge of bhakti and the need for it, the individual takes to serving so many other entities. When austerity is coupled with spiritual practice, the transcendental love found within the heart comes to the forefront and leads the enthusiastic soul towards finding more and more ways to serve their beloved Lord, who is known as Krishna in His original form due to His all-attractive nature.

Austerity and penance are the focus of instruction for human beings in their youth, but the ultimate objective is to find felicity in an active engagement, one that never fails to provide pleasure to the sincere worker. Therefore it is seen that the bhaktas, or devotees, not only take to chanting and refraining from sinful activities, but they will also read about Krishna, visit His temples, hear stories about Him, offer service to the devotees engaged in preaching the Lord’s glories to others, and participate in so many other transcendental activities. Armed with the proper education, which already exists within the soul, the devoted individual makes the best use of their valuable human form of body by remaining purely God conscious all the way up until the time of death, after which they return to the imperishable spiritual sky, where everyone not only realizes that they are Brahman, but also that Krishna is their ultimate source of pleasure.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Protective Coverings

Lord Rama“In the same way that a golden jewelry box holds the most precious gem inside, while remembering the nirguna aspect in the heart and keeping the saguna aspect in front of the eyes, place Shri Rama's supremely auspicious holy name on the tongue, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 7)

hiyam̐ nirguna nayananhi saguna rasanā rāma sunāma |

manahum̐ puraṭa saṃpuṭa lasata tulasī lalita lalāma ||

Today is a good day. It’s our birthday, and we’ve just received lots of presents from friends and family who’ve attended a celebration to mark the occasion. Amidst the heap of gifts, one stands out in particular. It’s a new iPad, the latest popular electronic device to hit the market. This sleek and elegantly designed little tablet packs some real power, as it allows the user to read books, view photos, surf the internet and watch videos with ease while it rests comfortably within the hands. No heavy machine to carry around, and no eye straining monitor to stare at for hours on end. The iPad is a game-changer, a new way of viewing multimedia and interacting with the world. Yet with these wonderful features that are packed into the brand new toy that now means so much to us comes a concern over protection. “How will I safeguard this wonderful new device from getting scratched? How will I ensure that I can carry it around and not have it get damaged? Let me find a nice case for it.”

ipadA similar pattern of thought is followed by owners of many other high end devices, including cellular telephones. The touch screens on these new devices are sensitive by design, as they must be responsive to even the slightest pressure applied by the fingers. With this sensitivity comes vulnerability to foreign elements, such as too much force, water damage, and contact with sharp objects. The owner who purchased their new gadget will want to protect their investment, and the person who was gifted their device will want to ensure that their treasure remains usable for a long time. There is a wide variety of protective cases available, with each one meeting different requirements. Some people choose extra protection over aesthetic appeal, while others want a fancy looking case that is pleasing to the eye. Some are very interested in being able to move the object around when placed within a bag or pocket, so they will stay away from the cases that are rubberized and can easily accumulate lint and dust. To others this very gripping is what they are looking for, as they want to eliminate all chances of the device slipping and falling to the ground.

Regardless of the case, it is the device that remains important. Even if a nice golden case were to be found, one which met every requirement of the owner, it is still the device itself that is the true gem, for the potential for enjoyment comes with its use. In a similar manner, with the variety of prescriptions proposed for attaining salvation in the spiritual sense, the waters tend to get muddied, with each system appearing to be valid in its own right. But there is only one true gem of spiritual practice, and when it is understood and seen as being more important than all the other disciplines and procedures, which can be likened to the sides of a golden box or protective cases themselves, the living entity can make real progress in their march towards eternal freedom.

Krishna and Balarama playingWhy is there even a need for enlightenment? Why can’t we just play with our toys for the rest of our lives? Why does God and spiritual life even have to be pondered? Though these things don’t have to be thought about, they should, for that is the benefit to the human form of body. The young child doesn’t worry about school, growing up, mortgage payments, getting married, having kids of their own or so many other adult responsibilities. They simply play all day and seek fun through their full reservoir of energy. As an adult, if you walk into any establishment where young children are around, you will see that they are much more active than the parents. They will have no trouble running around from place to place and speaking in volumes not appropriate for general conversation. They are filled with energy after all, so they have trouble sitting still for too long.

Just because the child doesn’t think about the responsibilities of an adult doesn’t mean that the concerns of the mature human being are invalid or a waste of time. On the contrary, the adults run the show, so the deference they give to their priorities ensures that the children can enjoy each day and have fun. Similarly, when the living entity turns their eye towards spiritual life, towards understanding the highest truths and the reason for their existence, a much more enjoyable life can be found. More than just avoiding punishment for sinful activities or reaching a heavenly realm of which little is known, connecting with a higher power is meant to provide a higher taste. This should make sense after all. In any other sphere of activity, engagements of ascending importance correspond to a higher level of enjoyment. The expert karate student will not have any fun going up against a neophyte competitor. The meat eater capable of having filet mignon on a regular basis will not settle for chuck steak. The drinker of fine wine will derive less enjoyment from cheap booze.

“Besides this inferior nature, O mighty-armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine, which are all living entities who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.5)

Lord KrishnaThe aim of spiritual life is to connect with a higher being, whose association brings the most enjoyable taste, one that transcends the level of satisfaction and enjoyment brought on by the senses and their contact with material elements. Matter is dull, lifeless and incapable of autonomous movement. Even the elements of wind, earth, fire, and water collected in large numbers are incapable of acting on their own. Some higher power, an autonomous spark, is there to guide the functions and instigate action. The living entities, or any form of life encased in gross matter, are the superior energy in this world, but due to ignorance they willingly subordinate themselves to the inferior energy, matter.

What does this mean exactly? Revisiting the iPad example, the case is only the covering after all, as it protects the valuable product from damage. If we were to get a golden case, one which was very valuable because of the components used in its construction, this still shouldn’t shift the priority system. The device inside the case would still be more important because that is what we are trying to protect. With the living entities, the gem residing within the body is the soul, the individual atma. The body, which is like a covering or fancy case replete with tremendous capabilities, is never as important as the soul, for we know that the body changes all the time.

golden boxJust as the iPad remains the same despite changes in cases, the spirit soul remains unaffected by the constant shifts in composition to their outer covering. We know that we once survived inside of a case that was no larger than the size of a pea. This was the shape of our dwelling when we lived inside of our mother’s womb prior to birth. When we entered the world and saw light for the first time, our body will still very small. Through it all we managed to mature into adulthood, but what happened to our previous bodies? What happened to the form we had as a child? Obviously these coverings were discarded in favor of more useful ones, cases that would allow the individual’s desires to be better met.

Based on the discussion thus far, the body would have to be considered inferior to the soul, as it can be discarded without the individual’s identity changing. This should make sense, as we can constantly change cases for our favorite electronic gadget and still not lose the functionality of the original device. But when the cases are given more importance, when they are admired and taken care of while the device itself is never utilized, the behavior would have to be considered unintelligent. Similarly, the animalistic tendencies towards eating, sleeping, mating and defending are not very intelligent because they do nothing to address the needs of the soul.

fancy carThe spiritual spark craves association more than anything, the pleasure that is divine association. When not illuminated by the torchlight of transcendental knowledge, the individual takes its own covering and the coverings of others to be the sources of identity. Hence the demands of the senses, which are still important, are given precedence over the needs of the soul. To eat is required to maintain the body, but to go beyond meeting the basic necessity for nutrients is not very wise. We need a car to get us to and from work and to take us to important places, but if we go beyond this need and try to make the car our best friend, something we admire and adore more than other aspects of our life, the behavior is not very wise. How much can a car really do for us anyway?

Too much attention paid to sex life, eating nice foods, sleeping and protecting our possessions fails to make proper use of the human form of body. This is where spirituality comes into play, as it addresses the needs of the soul. Yet, not all religious processes are the same. The highest transcendental taste comes from direct association with the Supreme Being, the person from whom all energies emanate. In the Vedic scriptures, He is described by thousands of names. The importance of this tagging system should not be overlooked, as it plays a vital role in helping us find the engagement that has eluded us for far too long.

When the Supreme Being is not very well understood, He is described by terms such as God, Brahman, formless spirit, the Almighty, and other generic monikers. Those who invoke these terms out of respect have certainly advanced past the level of ignorance found in the animals, but still there is another level to be reached. The word “God” can mean so many different things to different people. If you just mention the word in public some people may get offended. “How do you know who God is? Why are you imposing your viewpoint of God on me?” These are valid concerns, as without information taken from authority, all man can do is speculate about God and His nature. When a clear definition of God is absent, those who are driven only by self-interest, or svartha, tend to think that God’s only business is to meet their demands. “When there is trouble, pray to God, and He will hear you and answer your requests. Feel the power of the Lord with you through prayer. He will get you through your difficult times and give you the happiness you want.”

“The Supreme Lord said, The indestructible, transcendental living entity is called Brahman, and his eternal nature is called the self. Action pertaining to the development of these material bodies is called karma, or fruitive activities.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.3)

Lord KrishnaIn the Vedic tradition, the corresponding term for the highest being not fully understood is “Brahman”. Every living entity is part and parcel of Brahman, which is the Absolute Truth. Beyond the dualities of heat and cold, life and death, pain and pleasure, and happiness and sadness is Brahman. The outer covering of the soul goes through changes, but the soul itself does not. Therefore by coming to the realization of Brahman, a living entity can understand that whatever shifts they experience in life are only temporary and that their soul will live on. The soul is the greatest natural acrobat, jumping from one life form to another.

To know that we are spirit is one thing, but to actually say that you have realized Brahman, or the impersonal feature of God, is another. Since under the model which seeks connection with the all-pervading Absolute Truth there is no tangible information presented about the features of Brahman, or even where it comes from, the spiritualist is left with very limited tools for advancing in consciousness. The recommended path for the brahma-jnani is nirguna worship, wherein the Absolute Truth is considered formless and thus meditated upon within the heart. The definition of nirguna should be understood in its proper context, as it applies to the conditioned entity who has associated with their outer covering for so long and is thus unable to properly envision the transcendental form of the Supreme Person. Since their own body is temporary and inferior to spirit, the conditioned entity given to nirguna worship assumes that Brahman must also be without attributes. This is humorous in a sense because the very label of being “attributeless” is itself an attribute. On an even higher level of thought, something can only be without form if there exists something with a form. Darkness can only be present if light exists, for darkness is the absence of light.

“From the beginning of creation, the three syllables- om tat sat - have been used to indicate the Supreme Absolute Truth [Brahman]. They were uttered by brahmanas while chanting Vedic hymns and during sacrifices, for the satisfaction of the Supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 17.23)

Lord KrishnaNirguna worship typically involves giving up all activity and chanting the sacred syllable om. In the Bhagavad-gita, one of the most celebrated scriptures of the Vedic tradition, it is said that om is a direct representation of the Absolute Truth, Brahman. Om is to be given the highest respect, as it is found in almost every important Vedic mantra. Coupled with meditation on the nirguna feature is study of Vedanta philosophy, which covers the differences between matter and spirit in great detail. Through these processes, renunciation is solidified, and ideally at the time of death the soul will choose in favor of formless spirit. Turning their back on material life, the nirguna worshiper eventually merges into the Brahman effulgence.

However, as there cannot be formelssness without a form, there is a higher realization of the Absolute Truth, one which connects with the source of Brahman, the fountainhead of all matter and spirit. The Vedas describe the Absolute Truth as being without hands and without legs but capable of accepting every offering made to Him and running faster than the wind. There is no contradiction here, as these descriptions point to the spiritual attributes possessed by the Supreme Lord. The material arms and legs we get at the time of birth are dull matter in that their capabilities are limited to the specific body type and the nature of the realm in which they operate. With God, His features are not limited in any way. There is no difference between His body and His spirit. This is something very difficult to understand, so to help the living entities along in their spiritual enlightenment, Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead possessing the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, knowledge, fame, renunciation and wisdom simultaneously and to the fullest degree, makes appearances on earth every now and then. Enacting wonderful pastimes and imparting sublime teachings, the Lord then returns to the spiritual world, His eternal abode.

Lord KrishnaAs the events of the divine descents are documented by sages in the great Vedic texts, anyone interested in advancing past nirguna worship can do so by following what is known as saguna worship. When the Lord is understood to be fully featured with transcendental attributes, the living entity can remember those forms and meditate upon them. This is where the deity and the picture representations come in. Superior to meditating on what is viewed to be essentially nothing within the heart is gazing at the non-different expansion of Bhagavan manifested in earthly elements such as wood and resin. Ordinary matter is dull and lifeless, but when it is used to construct replica forms of the Supreme Person and His various incarnations, it becomes fully spiritualized. The deity or picture of the Lord is the authorized object of worship, as it is non-different from the person it represents.

Saguna worship is superior to nirguna worship because there is less of a chance for error. When God is considered formless or without a personality, it becomes easier for a cheater to trick the public into thinking that he is God. “I have become God through my intense meditation and study of Vedanta. Worship me and I will show you how to become God as well.” Of course these are silly proclamations, as no one can become God. Bhagavan is the Supreme Lord and has always been so. Yet in the absence of information of the Lord’s spiritual forms and attributes, such cheaters can gather large followings. The prescriptions they provide will glide their followers further down into hellish life.

“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.9)

Lord KrishnaAs the aim of life is to purify consciousness to the point that God, in one of His non-different spiritual forms, is remembered at the time of death, every spiritual practice should be understood in that light. In this sense both nirguna and saguna worship are very important, as they are aimed at purifying consciousness. Goswami Tulsidas accurately compares these processes to the sides of a golden jewelry box. The box itself is made of gold, therefore its importance and opulence are not ignored. Nevertheless, what’s inside the box is what is more important. Correspondingly, the holy name of the Lord, which is a direct incarnation of His original feature of Bhagavan, is the real jewel of spiritual practice, a way of remembering and connecting with God through a transcendental mellow, or rasa, at all times.

Nirguna worship is imperfect because it doesn’t clearly define the Supreme Lord’s features. Saguna worship has a defect in that when one is not in the presence of the deity or incarnation, there is the chance that God can be forgotten or His worship neglected. With the holy name placed on the tongue, religious life can continue uninterrupted. The name can be invoked at any time and at any place, thus making it the most powerful incarnation. The holy name also brings consciousness of both the saguna and nirguna aspects to the conditioned living entity. Indeed, when consciousness becomes fully purified, the proper understanding that both nirguna and saguna are the same is achieved. Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan are just different realizations, for the Supreme Lord’s position does not change at any time. Depending on the cloud cover on a particular day, we’ll say that the sun is either out or not out, but the sun itself is always there. Similarly, the spiritual reservoir of energy, the fountainhead of all things matter and spirit, remains fully formed and featured in His home in the spiritual sky despite how we choose to worship Him.

Lord RamaThe question remains as to which name should be chanted. Tulsidas prefers the holy name of Lord Rama, who, depending on the tradition followed, is considered either the original form of the Lord or an expansion of Godhead. Though the different Vaishnava factions have varying conclusions in this regard, it is agreed upon that the non-different forms of Bhagavan are equally as capable of providing transcendental pleasure to their devotees. Whether Rama is taken as the original or Lord Krishna, the darling of Vrindavana and the life and soul of Shrimati Radharani, the benefit to the sincere devotee is still there. As producing the names of Krishna and Rama is the best way of addressing the Supreme Absolute Truth in a loving way, the maha-mantra becomes the most important sequence of words to remember and relish on the tongue. Those who regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, find the true gem of spiritual life, something which secures the highest transcendental taste. The whole point of our existence is to one day bask in the glory and bliss that comes from direct association with the Divine. All other processes of spiritual life, be they of the higher or lower variety, can at best become the sides of a golden box. But nothing can take the place of the valuable gem that is the constant recitation of the holy name of the Lord.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Practical Application

Lord Krishna“The name of Krishna and Krishna are nondifferent, but we cannot realize this intellectually. We have to practice chanting Hare Krishna to realize it. When we actually advance in devotional service and chant the Hare Krishna maha-mantra offenselessly, we will realize that Krishna and His name are nondifferent.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 12)

The most important tenet presented by those following the bhakti school of spirituality, or devotional service, is that the sound vibration representation of the Supreme Lord, i.e. the holy name, is non-different from the person it represents. Therefore simply repeating, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, with firm faith and enthusiasm is enough to realize the presence of God and take to His service for the rest of the time spent on earth. Such a practice will bring about a change in consciousness, with a resulting mindset being so pure that no amount of attack from the impeding forces coming from material nature, the body and the mind, or other living entities will ever break the devoted yogi from his connection to the Supreme Consciousness. While these principles are easy enough to describe and teach to others, real understanding only comes about through practical application. There is only so much that a mental exercise can do towards attaining the final goal. Time must be spent implementing these ideas for there to be results.

graduationThe simple example of acquiring a high school diploma illustrates the need for practical field work very nicely. At the most basic level, the passing of high school indicates that the student has achieved a certain level of understanding and thought, especially as it pertains to subjects like math, science, reading, writing and social affairs. But in order to complete high school, one must traverse upwards through the twelve grades eventually leading up to graduation. At the beginning of the process, we could tell the student what he or she needs to do in order to successfully complete the required courses, but the intellectual understanding wouldn’t bring about the proper mindset that is required at the end. For instance, we could tell a student that they will have such and such understanding at the end of the process, that they will be able to read properly and solve mathematics problems, but unless and until they take the courses and do the necessary work, they won’t be able to properly realize what this understanding entails.

As another example of the same concept, young children and adolescents are often told of the difficulties faced by parents. A good mother or father will constantly worry about their child. “Did they eat enough today? Are they doing their homework? What if they constantly defy my wishes and never do anything I ask of them? What will happen if they don’t pass their courses in school and don’t end up getting a good job later on in life? What if they never get married and have to live the rest of the life alone?” These worries are present to some degree or another in every parent, and simply understanding these fears prior to entering marriage and having children provides a good foundation for expectation.

Mother Yashoda and KrishnaNevertheless, it is not until the first child is born that the person previously instructed on all the ins and outs of parenthood really gets a feel for what others go through. That first drive home from the hospital with your son or daughter sitting in the backseat immediately brings a desire to protect, wherein the interests of the newborn, helpless individual are taken to be of utmost importance. Every second is spent in the child’s company in the early years, with the primary intention of having them grow up to be independent. In this sense, the attached parent is only asking for future separation pain, for the child will grow up to be independent and not reliant on the parents for anything. Because of the desired result, the job of a parent, especially a mother, becomes the most thankless task, one that proves beneficial for the person being served, while ultimately leaving the loving parent all alone.

In the realm of spirituality, the answers to all of life’s puzzling questions, realizations that remove all doubts, can be found in bhakti, which is love or devotion to the Supreme Lord. While other processes of spirituality such as meditational yoga, intense study of the scriptures, and sacrificing the rewards of work to higher causes signal elevation in consciousness from the animalistic mindset inherited at the time of birth, it is not until the loving propensity of the soul is allowed to burst out and act without impediment that a permanent shift to a blissful consciousness can be achieved. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the ideal candidate for receiving the endless love just ready to be supplied by the love-starved conditioned soul, who has been thrown around in the clothes dryer known as material existence for far too long.

Lord KrishnaWhile Krishna may be considered a sectarian figure, the god of the Hindus, His appeal is universal. The Supreme Lord, to be the most powerful and pervading entity, must be the worshipable figure for every single person. Just because one person is born in India and another in America doesn’t mean that they should have different objects of worship. After all, what is the difference in their makeup? If we were to switch the two people at birth, they could very easily grow up to become accustomed to their surroundings. Therefore a simple geographical shift can bring about all the requirements conjured up by those who take family lineage and place of birth to be the determinant factors for caste, stature and corresponding religion. Krishna is a Sanskrit word that means “all-attractive”; therefore His is the perfect name to use when addressing God.

The celebrated scriptures of the Vedic tradition, such as the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Mahabharata, describe Krishna as blackish in complexion, having the bodily hue similar to that of a dark raincloud. He wears a peacock feather in His hair and holds a flute in His hand. Instead of being invisible or an old-man, Krishna never ages in appearance. He always looks like he’s around sixteen years of age. In this way His attractiveness never diminishes. Since He is Bhagavan, He has full control over the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom. He holds these qualities simultaneously and to the fullest extent. Proof of His abilities has been well-documented in the Vedic texts, which describe His innumerable pastimes enacted on this and many other planets. Since Krishna exists eternally, His activities know no end. Though He appeared on this earth five thousand years ago and took part in playful sports in the land of Vrindavana, Krishna’s pastimes never stop. Just as the sun is always rising in some part of the world, Krishna-lila is always taking place in some planet in the many universes in existence.

Lord KrishnaBhakti-yoga allows the consciousness of the individual, who is always seeking a pleasurable object to focus on, to tap into the train of Krishna’s divine sports, a transcendental car that never stops; it just keeps on rolling along. This train can accept passengers at any time, and those who wish to remain onboard never have to depart. Every need and want is met, as the only desire is to associate with Krishna or one of His non-different forms known as avataras for all of eternity in a variety of transcendental mellows, or rasas. We like to travel and take up hobbies because the lifestyle we have at home sometimes becomes monotonous and boring. Yet if we were able to have all of our desires for variety and enjoyment met in one place, why would we ever want to travel far away? The bhakti mindset achieves this very condition, essentially turning the mind into the greatest amusement park, one filled with rides and attractions all related to Krishna and His exploits.

This all sounds wonderful, but how do we actually go about acquiring the proper consciousness? It is in this area that bhakti’s true supremacy is revealed. Unlike other rewards in the realm of spirituality which come about through strict regulation and difficult practice followed for an extended period of time, Krishna consciousness can come about in one second. As long as one constantly chants the names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra and refrains from sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, there is every chance of a purified consciousness coming about in a very short amount of time. Even if one is averse to chanting the name of Krishna because it is viewed as sectarian, if there is another authorized name available to repeat which represents the same Supreme Lord then there is no harm.

Lord KrishnaThe key is the holy name after all, as it represents the person that it addresses. The same can’t be said of any other entity or object. We may chant the word “television” over and over again, but that won’t put our favorite program on right in front of us. With Krishna, thoughts of His pastimes and the sounds of songs glorifying Him are not different from Him. The very name of Krishna is the Lord Himself. These concepts are certainly difficult to understand, especially for the conditioned soul who has been trapped in a cycle of birth and death fueled by the desire for material enjoyment since time immemorial. But through steady practice in bhakti, the realization of the potency of Krishna’s name can be had.

The solution of “chant Hare Krishna” applies to every situation. If there is poverty, the remedy is a purification of consciousness. Statistics show that in free countries poverty is almost always caused by poor life decisions, such as dropping out of high school and having children out of wedlock. Chanting the name of Krishna in the discipline of bhakti-yoga solves these problems because illicit sex is automatically eliminated, and the thirst for higher knowledge never ceases. The sincere soul will always want to increase their knowledge acquiring capabilities so that they can read and hear about Krishna even more. Indeed, the legendary acharyas loved Krishna so much that they dedicated their whole lives to describing His glories in book, poetry and song form. The length and breadth of the literature compiled by the vishnu-bhaktas, or devotees of Vishnu[Krishna], are unmatched in human history. Normally when a book is published or a newspaper article written, the relevance of the content is lost as time goes on. If the writer only focuses on current events or some specific political or social issue, once a new issue takes on a higher importance or when the matter in question gets resolved, the previously written words lose their importance.

HanumanWith books about Vishnu there is never any chance of diminution in importance. The relevance of the compiled works remains for as long as God continues to be worshiped. A great example of this is seen with Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama. Rama is non-different from Krishna; therefore His name is included in the famous maha-mantra, the sacred formula that purifies consciousness. Rama is also a historical personality who appeared on earth many thousands of years before Krishna’s advent in Mathura. Hanuman, as a faithful and dear servant, exhibited strong devotion and bravery in acting for Rama’s benefit. Therefore Rama granted Hanuman the boon of remaining on earth for as long as the Lord’s glories and pastimes, which are nicely related in the Ramayana poem, continued to be told on earth. Since the Ramayana is still glorified today, we can understand that Hanuman is still alive and deriving the topmost transcendental pleasure from hearing about his beloved Rama.

A fact which might get overlooked in all of this is that Hanuman’s relevance hasn’t decreased at all. Since he performed such wonderful service for Rama, he was obviously praised and adored during the Lord’s time on earth many thousands of years ago. But since he is always tied in consciousness to Rama and His inexhaustible activities, Hanuman remains relevant for as long as the object of his affection is glorified. Therefore simply through bhakti, which is Hanuman’s only engagement, the devotee’s thoughts, words and deeds remain ever worthy of hearing about. The works which describe Krishna’s glories and attributes are just as everlasting in their importance as is Krishna Himself. Therefore those who author these praises remain objects of worship for all of time.

“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.40)

Lord KrishnaPresented with the wonderful theoretical and historical evidence about bhakti, there really is no reason not to at least try the practices so fervently recommended by those who purified their minds by wrapping their thoughts and desires around the interests of the Supreme Lord. The name of Krishna is the key element; it can save us from any and all calamity. Only one who is extremely wise and lacking in false ego will have the fortitude and courage necessary to find eternal life in bhakti. The proof of the tangible results offered by devotion to Krishna is well-represented, but not until we actually take the steps ourselves to see what the fuss is about will we gain any benefit. With bhakti-yoga there is no loss, as Bhagavan becomes powerless when facing His dearmost devotees. Divine love is such a potent force that Krishna Himself cannot convince the devotees to stop their desire to serve Him. Therefore there is no chance for any sincere bhakta to fail in their endeavor. Just as Krishna cannot stop anyone from loving Him, He can’t allow anyone who is dedicated in their desire to perform bhakti to ever go permanently back to the miserable way of life that is the material existence.