Saturday, June 18, 2011

Gone Today or Tomorrow

Lord Rama“Those who have chanted Shri Rama’s holy name, keeping it on the tongue, have become auspicious and most happy. But those who are lazy about chanting will meet with destruction sooner or later, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 12)

rāma nāma japi jīha' jana bhae sukṛta sukhamāli |

tulasī ihā' jo ālasī gayo āju kī kāli ||

The Vaishnava, the devotee of Lord Vishnu and His other personal expansions, humbly begs everyone to take to chanting the Lord’s holy names. Not bearing any similarity to a car salesman or the solicitor asking for donations for some personal benefit, the Vaishnava simply wants others to be happy, to find real auspiciousness and to have all of their desires, the real wants of the heart, satisfied. In this respect, there is no time to lose, as at any minute, either today or tomorrow, all-devouring death can come and take everything away. Therefore the saints unhesitatingly put forth their assertion that reciting the holy names is the only pathway towards eternal freedom. The name should be chanted immediately, with the utmost urgency. Those who are lazy in this respect lose their opportunity for success and thus invite unpleasant situations to arrive in the very near future.

japa mala”Why chant a specific name over others that are out there? Can’t I just go to church? Isn’t it good enough to simply believe in God?” Chanting the holy names is so fervently recommended because of the effect it has on consciousness. The secret well known to the Vedic seers is that it is our mindset which actually determines our future fortunes, not any specific actions that we undertake. We can eat right, exercise and abide by all the rules assigned by higher authorities, but death can still come at any moment. Moreover, success in important ventures isn’t guaranteed, despite the strongest and most dedicated effort applied. Auspiciousness and peace of mind arrive only through purifying the consciousness, a force which is steered by the incessant flow of desires. In the immature stage, the individual, who is a spirit soul at the core, is driven to think that by satisfying every desire, eventually the tidal wave of emotions and hankerings will cease. Yet just the opposite occurs, as the more attachments and objects of enjoyment we have, the more seeds of misery and distress are planted.

Faced with this dilemma, the mind’s focus shifts to the other side of the pendulum, the viewpoint which sees renunciation as the pathway to happiness. All the objects acquired then get relinquished and the attachments formed severed, with the hope that maybe desires will finally cease. But when left to sit in an empty room with no one around, the mind has no source of pleasure. Indeed, activity and free-will are concomitant with the soul’s existence, as the spiritual spark desires happiness more than anything. One man may love the nature around him and the opportunities it brings for sense gratification, while another hates life around him with every fiber of his being, but in either case the desire for ananda, or true bliss, is there.

In the absence of a purification of consciousness, the pendulum will constantly swing between enjoyment and renunciation, bhoga and tyaga. Even when religion is accepted, the aim still typically falls into one of these two extremes; hence the reason for the interest in spirituality today being at an all-time low. Renunciation and enjoyment are already present even without adhering to any spiritual dictates, so what is the point to accepting religion then? Those who put forth their dogmatic insistence can be pacified by a simple profession of faith, an acknowledgment that their way of spirituality is correct. “Oh, I’m going to hell if I don’t believe in such and such person? Okay, I believe in him now. Satisfied?”

Simply pledging allegiance to a spiritual personality or attending ritualistic ceremonies on a regular basis won’t bring about a permanent shift in consciousness. The fever known as desire will not subside in any way, so the rivers of hankerings rushing into the ocean that is the mind will continue to pulse, causing the distressed individual to perpetually toggle between enjoyment and renunciation, essentially leaving the perplexed seeker of happiness in the same position from which they started. For any religious practice to be successful and bona fide, it must directly attack consciousness, rooting out the bad elements and leaving the mind free to contemplate happy thoughts, pleasurable experiences and personalities which can be remembered at any time and at any place.

Lord KrishnaThe Vaishnava, he whose consciousness has been purified through activities in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, declares that the simplest and most effective way to attain salvation is to chant the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” Krishna refers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His Shyamasundara form, and Rama refers to the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, Shri Ramachandra. The Vaishnavas don’t uniformly accept one name for the Lord, but the commonality in their beliefs is that one should find the holy name that best suits them, a sound vibration that is authorized and non-different from the original form of Godhead, and chant that to their hearts’ content.

The sectarian follower, the sentimentalist, and the atheist may not be fully sold on the idea that the holy name is unique and powerful. “It’s obvious that the success of chanting is in the meditation and the controlling of desire that results. As such, why can’t I just chant any name or word?” As individual spirit souls possessing freedom of activity, any engagement can be adopted, including the chanting of names that have no relation to the personal form of Godhead. Indeed, this disregard for the personal nature of spirit represents the most egregious flaw in the way religion is practiced around the world. It is not that non-Vedic systems of spirituality are incorrect or illegitimate; they just fail to describe the full pleasure stage, where the form of the original man in the sky is identified, honored, contemplated on, chanted and worshiped. After all, the key to worshiping is remembering, focusing the mind on something that is the source of pleasure. If the attributes, forms, qualities and pastimes of the entity being worshiped aren’t identified, the mind is more prone to worshiping ordinary people, such as celebrities and politicians. It is seen that when there is an absence of a worshipable object such as children or a spouse, a dog or cat is purchased and brought home. The loving propensity is so strong that man will explicitly find an outlet for the endless supply of love that resides within the heart.

“A living entity, by constitution, has the propensity to be attached to something. We see that if someone has no object of attachment, if he has no children, he transfers his attachment to cats and dogs. This indicates that the propensity for attachment cannot be stopped; rather, it must be utilized for the best purpose.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Lord Kapila, Ch 10)

Shrila PrabhupadaThe practice of chanting the holy names of the Lord as passed down by the Vaishnavas is meant to tap into that reservoir of spiritual energy, allowing the heart to be set free. In any other service engagement, the loving aspect is checked to some degree. Either there is a beginning motivation, wherein a specific reward is sought after, or there is a stage of interruption, wherein the loving bond is relinquished. If the dog passes away, the outward exhibitions of love cease. When there is divorce, the sworn allegiance of faith dissolves. These interruptions alone prove that simply chanting any word or name is not enough to permanently alter consciousness for the better.

The chanting process focusing on the names of Vishnu has been authorized by the holy saints of the Vedic tradition, who initially got their impetus for action from the Supreme Lord Himself, who through many Vedic texts has instituted the processes and regulations that give the individual souls the opportunity to love Him to their hearts’ content. Goswami Tulsidas, in the above referenced passage from his Dohavali, very nicely illustrates the dichotomy between those who chant the names of Lord Rama and those who don’t. There is even some humor in this verse, as an expression similar to that of “sooner or later” is used by the poet. Those who chant the name of Rama with their tongue get all auspiciousness, or sukrita, and every type of happiness, sukhamali. But for one who is lazy in chanting, they will be gone either today or tomorrow. “Gone” in this sense means finished, dead, off to another world, etc.

Lord RamaSo, is Tulsidas suggesting that one chant Rama’s name or be forced to suffer the consequences? Actually, the negative reactions are already there. If we fail to take a shower in the morning, we will be dirty and not presentable for the rest of the day. If we fail to eat on time, we will be hungry. If we don’t show up for our final exams, we will fail the courses we are taking. No matter how hard we tried previously, if key activities are neglected, the negative reactions will arrive and be severe in potency. The human form of life presents the greatest opportunity for the purification of consciousness, as one who is wholly aware of the sweet, transcendental and merciful form of the Personality of Godhead never has to take birth again. This cognizance is specifically measured at the time of death, when the moments of life flash before our eyes. If there is still a desire for enjoyment or dry renunciation, a commensurate body is prepared for the next life. This isn’t a punishment or some way of God getting His revenge. These are the workings of nature, which are completely fair and unbiased.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)

With the swinging pendulum of material existence, not only are thoughts constantly changing, but so are the body types the souls are placed into. Therefore the human form of body, which has the greatest potential for the advancement of consciousness, represents the way out, the ticket to eternal freedom. Every second of every day brings renewed opportunity for the purification of consciousness. Therefore if one is lazy about adopting the methods that lead to true freedom in the spiritual sky, wherein the soul gets a permanent spiritual body after death, there is every chance of meeting with destruction. Death can come at any time, so if we fail to make strides towards the ultimate destination, param gatim, there is every chance of having to start over in another body. And there is no guarantee that the next life will be in a human form. Those who are addicted to illicit sex are kindly placed into a dog’s or monkey’s body in the next life, where the desires can be met fully. Those who want nothingness, an end to activity, are similarly rewarded with a merging into a spiritual energy, a place where individuality is nonexistent.

Lord RamaSince none of these situations bring true ananda, there is really no benefit derived. But by chanting Rama’s name, there is every chance at auspiciousness. After all, what better result could there be than a proper shift in consciousness? Everything that we could ever want also comes with the chanting process. If we are worried that chanting alone will not solve our problems related to health, family, money, success, etc., there needn’t be any concern. Rama is the Supreme Lord, so why would He ever abandon those who are linked to Him in consciousness? The true yogis are those who always keep their minds fixed on the lotus feet of the Lord, thinking of His pleasure at every minute. The link is not active in only one direction. If there is love and affection shown from the inferior party, the superior entity, the Supreme Loveable Object in the spiritual sky, will reciprocate by ensuring that the conditions for the execution of such sublime service remain always favorable, in any type of body.

The uniqueness of devotional service is that in the most mature stage it can continue uninterrupted and unmotivated. The chanting process has passed all quality control tests, so one needn’t fear that they are somehow abandoning their current religion or family tradition by chanting the names of the Lord. A change in religious affiliation is not required in the least bit, as adherence to pure bhakti actually brings a greater appreciation for all aspects of life. The same God that was previously understood to be mean, vengeful and an old man soon gets seen in the proper light, with all darkness dispelled. Seeing past the transcendental effulgence beaming off of His gigantic body, the devotee understands God’s position as the sweetest and kindest entity the world has ever known. With the eyes fixed on such a beautiful form, what need is there for any hankering, be it for enjoyment or renunciation?

Hanuman chanting Sita and Rama's gloriesIf we take to chanting, there is no loss, as even saying Rama’s name just once brings tremendous credits, pious merits which never diminish. Even if we aren’t successful in completely purifying our consciousness in the present life, we get to start again in the next life from where we left off. This benefit is only available to the yogis associated with bhakti, as any other endeavor brings a total loss of effort if not completed successfully. If we chant the name of just anything, there is no personal connection with Supreme Spirit. As such, if we have to quit the present body either today or tomorrow, nothing has been done to alter consciousness. Yet, by adhering to the recommendations of the Vaishnavas like Tulsidas, there is every chance at success, even with just the slightest effort. The tongue, as the most powerful agent for change, can bring the individual soul trapped in an endless cycle of misery the eternal freedom and happiness it so desperately craves. Knowing the true power behind the chanting process, it is not surprising therefore to see the urgency with which the saints preach and why they humbly beseech every single man, woman and child to take to bhakti. Possessing this unique level of kindness, their true greatness can never be properly measured. The only way to repay them is to abide by their most fervent desire, that we chant the holy name of the Lord as often as possible, starting today.

Friday, June 17, 2011

God Conscious

worshiping Krishna“Of course if one thinks that Bhagavad-gita and the Hare Krishna mantra are part of the Hindu system and doesn't want to accept them because of this, he can nonetheless attend the Christian church and sing there. There is no difference between this process and that process; the point is whatever process one follows, he must become God conscious. God is neither Moslem nor Hindu nor Christian—He is God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-Vidya, Ch 2)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has been kind enough to bestow upon us the sweetest discipline of spiritual practice known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, for rekindling our relationship with Him. It is in the makeup of the identifying agent of every life form to be intrinsically tied to the interests of the reservoir of pleasure, the fountainhead of all energy, both spiritual and material. Though bhakti can be multi-faceted, its quintessential activity in the modern age, the method that is easiest to implement and repeat, the one that best attacks the consciousness conditioned by life governed by the dictates of the senses, is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This method’s success lies in its ability to tackle the predominant thoughts of the mind through regulative activities, keeping the ears connected to the spiritual world. Seeing God is beneficial, but hearing Him is just as important. The predominant effect of the hearing process is that all the pleasure we are seeking through other engagements is found without any extra endeavor. If there is any defect at all to chanting and hearing about God, it is that once bhakti is taken to as a way of life, other activities previously patronized suddenly turn dull and tasteless.

Mirabai chanting Krishna's nameThese assertions seem well-founded enough. After all, based on a person’s consciousness and the level of interaction they have with a particular task, their psyche can be elevated to new heights. The recommendations put forth by societal leaders that encourage complacency and dependency on one’s fellow man for sustenance are fatally flawed precisely because of the deleterious effect they have on consciousness. When one doesn’t work for a living or simply remains idle all day, not only are they not producing anything tangible or beneficial to anyone else, but their consciousness is also being severely hampered, suppressed to the point that the natural blissful feelings resting within the heart are kept dormant. In this unnatural state, the bewildered soul erroneously looks for happiness through illicit sex, intoxication and meat eating, whereas real pleasure actually comes when the mind is actively seeking to serve that one entity who is most deserving of it.

But despite the profundities espoused in the classic Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita and the testimony of those who take to bhakti as a way of life, those who preach the glories of the religion of love will always meet opposition. Probably the largest impediment, the argument that gets the most supporters, is the viewpoint that Krishna is simply a sectarian figure and that bhakti is a method applicable only to the Hindus. We see so many religious systems in place anyway, so why would what the Bhagavad-gita has to say be any different from the teachings found in the Bible or Koran?

Bhagavad gitaBased on empirical evidence gathered through personal observation and the teachings passed down by the great acharyas, we learn that there is actually no difference between the different religions. Where the Vedas do stand out, however, is in the level of detail, the comprehensiveness of information provided about material nature, the soul, the Supreme Soul, reincarnation, the workings of karma, and most importantly, the qualities and activities of the Supreme Person, the entity most of us refer to as God. In other spiritual traditions there may be lofty ideals posed, roadmaps and guidelines recommended, and vague descriptions of a higher power given, but the level of detail is far less than what is found in the Vedas. Indeed, the ancient art of vishnu-bhakti, or exclusive devotion to the Supreme Person in a mood of love, which calls for a level of dedication that puts all other interests on a lower level [even those of the heavenly figures], is only found in Vedic literature, and more specifically in the works describing the glories of Vishnu and His various expansions.

“Because I am transcendental, beyond both the fallible and the infallible, and because I am the greatest, I am celebrated both in the world and in the Vedas as that Supreme Person.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.18)

Reading the Bhagavad-gita is as good as connecting with Krishna and so is chanting Hare Krishna or any other Vedic mantra that addresses the Lord, the speaker of the Gita, in a loving way. But even if there is strong opposition to chanting Hare Krishna and reading the Bhagavad-gita, the principles of bhakti can still be applied, regardless of the nature of one’s religious affiliation or belief in God. In reality, every single person, regardless of their acknowledgment or lack thereof, is engaged in serving the Lord. For there to be a supreme controller, only a singular entity can fill the post. If there is only one God, then by default He is God for everyone. One particular group may address Him a certain way and understand Him to be old and an angry man, while another takes Him to be the most blissful person holding a flute and playing with His friends all the time, but the entity addressed and worshiped is still the same. Even those who don’t believe in God at all are still worshipers of one of Krishna’s energies: matter.

Lord KrishnaEverything is created by God, so whatever behavior is followed, including even inaction, is a form of worship. Vishnu-bhakti, or devotional service, is unique and thus worthy of being preached because it targets the interests of the Supreme Person, whereas other processes only address a specific energy. For instance, the atheist is strongly devoted to gross matter, elements which are accepted, manipulated and then ultimately discarded at the time of death. Matter in this model is superior to the living entity devoid of God consciousness, because the material elements remain in their form for a longer duration than the individual dedicated to them. The atheist isn’t aware of the eternal nature of the soul and the fact that they will have to associate with matter again in the next life due to their deep attachment to it.

Similarly, those who are on the reverse end of the spectrum, the people who understand that attachment to material nature is debilitating towards spiritual enlightenment, also worship God. They may not know what He looks like or they may even take Him to be formless, or lacking a personality, but they are nevertheless worshiping an aspect of the Supreme Spirit. At the time of death, since their desires are not focused on matter, they will ascend to a spiritual realm. Since they don’t know about God’s form nor do they wish to serve Him, they get placed in an area devoid of both matter and the personal presence of spirit.

Lord VishnuVishnu-bhakti, or Krishna consciousness, is aimed at understanding both the Supreme Person’s position as Bhagavan and the need to serve Him. God is described as Bhagavan because He is the most fortunate. He possesses the qualities of beauty, wealth, fame, knowledge, renunciation and strength to the fullest degree and at the same time. Despite His unique position, He doesn’t use His attributes to simply pump His fists and wield His authority over everyone. Indeed, such domination already takes place through the forces of nature, which will diminish everything acquired in every lifetime through the workings of all-devouring time, which envelop everything like a monster whose hunger can never be satisfied.

Krishna is situated in ananda, or pure bliss. Just as our enjoyment is increased when we have others to play with, Krishna enjoys on the highest level with His eternally liberated associates, souls who have no desire to surrender to matter or to any formless spiritual light. Fortunately, Krishna can accept an unlimited number of friends. When He chooses players to participate in His sportive exploits, there is no such thing as a last pick, or a cutoff demarcating the limit to the number of participants. Whoever is sincere enough in their desire to associate with Krishna is immediately granted the Lord’s association.

Radha KrishnaThe living entities dispersed across the different worlds are also situated in ananda, but to a smaller degree. Therefore everyone is naturally inclined towards associating with God’s personal form, a vigraha that is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. When in the conditioned state, the living entities, who are actually superior to matter, subordinate themselves to the workings of maya, or the illusory energy governing the material world. Therefore religion is put into place to break this attachment, to show everyone that there is a higher taste available, one that doesn’t have to diminish or be the source of any pain.

The science of self-realization is thus not sectarian in any way. The properties of matter and spirit are readily understandable, points of fact that can be accepted and then realized through practice. Even if one isn’t willing to believe in the statements found in the Bhagavad-gita and the need for chanting the holy names, sound vibrations which directly represent His personal form, qualities and attributes, they can still take to legitimate worship in their own right. There is no requirement that a specific process be adopted, as God consciousness is the ultimate aim regardless.

Does this mean that everyone who claims to be part of a specific religious tradition is God conscious? The need for and popularity of chanting Hare Krishna are present primarily because of the acute deficiencies found in halfhearted professions of faith and the widespread practice of sectarianism. Based on public opinion polls we see that the majority of the world’s population is religious. Acknowledging that God exists means that you also recognize the need for serving Him. After all, if the Lord is the Supreme Person, why would we take any other person’s interests to be superior to His? Therefore one who claims to belong to a certain faith must back up their claims by exhibiting a purified consciousness, a mindset revealed through activities.

Judging by all the different movements, special interest groups and popular activities that are in existence, it is quite clear that God consciousness is not very widespread. For instance, if a person claims they are Christian and yet they dedicate their lives to fighting cancer, rooting out poverty, protecting gun rights, lowering tax rates, or addressing any other public policy issue, obviously their allegiance is to objects of matter. When such behavior is followed, there is little to no God consciousness, as the mind is wholly focused on alleviating a certain distress, pain which is guaranteed to occur in any realm governed by gross matter.

“That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives always in the wrong direction, O Partha, is in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.32)

Lord KrishnaBy the same token, one who claims to be religious and then knowingly kills innocent animals or blows up innocent women and children can’t be considered spiritually realized in the least. If such followers claim to be practicing a particular religion, it is to be understood that they are being guided by pure ignorance. The demoniac are so fallen that they take the ultimate aim in life to be the gratification of the senses at all costs. Therefore if they need to, they will find some way to claim that their way of life is religious and in line with the standards of their particular faith.

A God conscious person acknowledges the supremacy of the Supreme Lord and His standing as the original creator. Therefore they will not agree to sending cows to the slaughterhouses by the millions each year. They will not regularly indulge in drinking alcohol, playing card tables at casinos or cavorting with women that are not their wives. Surely a God conscious individual is above rules and regulations, but when driven solely by sinful activity, how can anyone claim they are being deferent to their professed faith?

Vishnu-bhakti aims to address all of these discrepancies, as the Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam provide details into the workings of material life and how one can avoid the common pitfalls that help to maintain the thick cloud of nescience enveloping the soul. If the aim is to become truly conscious of the Supreme Lord at the time of death, then the discipline of devotional service is the way to go. And even if one is not able to understand Krishna’s position as God for everyone, they can still apply the same principles to their own professed faith, as there is no difference between a pure soul who attends a church and one who attends a temple. Devotees of God are not the exclusive property of India or followers of the Vedic tradition. Individuals wholly aware of the need for serving Bhagavan can be found in all walks of life through any time period in history. The more important thing is that spirituality be encouraged and adopted as a way of life.

Radha, Krishna and the gopisBy understanding the principles of bhakti, we can realize that choosing between engaging in material activities and spiritual ones is not necessary. Under the bhakti model, even simple things like getting up in the morning and driving to work become spiritually infused. Worship of a formless God through quiet meditation and intense study of scriptures allows for a deeper understanding of the nature of spirit, and worship in a temple or church encourages glorification of the fountainhead of all spirit, God, in a localized area, but only through chanting the name of the Lord on a regular basis can we understand that He is a personal force that is all pervading. Therefore we can worship Him at all times of the day, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing. In this way the path towards achieving a permanent God consciousness can be laid down and tread without qualms.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

From Drug to Devotee

Lord Rama“In the Kali Yuga, Shri Rama’s holy name is like a kalpataru that gives full refuge and auspiciousness. By remembering that name, Tulsidas has transformed from bhang into tulasi.” (Dohavali, 11)

nāmu rāma ko kalapataru kali kalyāna nivāsu|

jo sumirata bhayo bhāṅga teṃ tulasī tulasīdāsu ||

The sweetheart of all sweethearts, a man who never had a hint of sin or impurity in him, in this verse praises the power of the holy name of the Supreme Lord by declaring it to be a kalpataru, a wish-fulfilling tree capable of purifying even the most impure of persons and giving shelter and auspiciousness to anyone. The bhang leaf is an intoxicant, used by those who are on the lower stages of consciousness and thus looking for an easy escape from the temporary rises and falls of material fortune. Though bhang is sometimes associated with Vedic functions, its use is not intended for the higher classes of men, as it is tied to the mode of ignorance, the lowest of the three modes of material nature. Not only are the drug’s users impure, but so is the drug itself, as it can only lead to a further clouding of consciousness, which is the key ingredient for success in spiritual endeavors. Without a purification of consciousness, no amount of study, austerity, or yoga practice will bring tangible benefits. Yet, as Tulsidas so nicely declares, the holy name of Rama, which is as potent as God Himself, is so wonderful that simply remembering it can turn something as impure as bhang into tulasi, the most sacred of plants.

TulsidasWhy is it bad to remain in an impure state? What is so harmful of being equated with a hallucinogenic drug? Aside from the obvious pitfalls that come with drug addiction, even temporary bouts of drug-induced elation and sensory escape don’t provide any advancement or progression in thought processes. The difference between a child and an adult is the level of maturation in terms of the workings of the mind. The child simply wants to play all day, not caring about regulation, study, austerity or future benefit. If the child had its way, it would never go to school. Instead, life would revolve around television and video games, and food would have to be supplied by the elders at all times.

The advanced consciousness of the adult not only alters activities, but it also ideally leads to a sobriety of thought, a position where the highest gain is understood. In the most mature stages, man starts to question his existence, why he must take birth and eventually die. The Vedanta-sutras, the famous collection of aphorisms describing the Absolute Truth in a very succinct way, open with the declaration, athato brahma-jijnasa, or “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman.” Though man has a natural inclination to understand the concept of a God, or Supreme Controller, Brahman speaks to a more abstract understanding, realizing an energy of Truth that is all-pervading. There is actually no difference between Brahman and God, but due to the lack of information available to the spiritualist not trained in the ancient art of divine love, the first stage of understanding the Supreme Truth involves only the study of impersonal Brahman.

“That knowledge by which one undivided spiritual nature is seen in all existences, undivided in the divided, is knowledge in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.20)

Lord KrishnaEvery single life form is Brahman. Anything with a soul in it is spiritual at the core, and the aggregate collection of all spirit is Brahman. Therefore the first step in spiritual realization is understanding that all forms of life, irrespective of their advancement in consciousness or lack thereof, are equal. The dog, the dog-eater, the learned spiritualist, the cow, the bird, the infant and the adult human being are all equal in their constitution. Differences are noted because of the outer coverings, temporary shells made of combinations of material elements. Just as a pile of clay can be turned into a variety of different objects, the numerous elements of material nature can be crafted and shaped into 8,400,000 different species. Yet the clay is just that: clay. It is dull and lifeless. Unless and until there is an injection of spirit, the clay cannot do anything. Similarly, the material elements are not absolute in themselves; they require the hand of spirit for movement, transformation and destruction.

Realizing Brahman is quite difficult. Based on perception in the childhood years, we see that everything around us is different. Even identical twins have differences in behavior, so how can we come to the conclusion that everyone is equal? The answer, of course, is through education and sobriety of thought. Even in the more mature adult years, while one is constantly intoxicated they are purposely not seeing things for what they are. The infamous “beer goggles” illustrate this point nicely, wherein an inebriated individual craving conjugal relations tends to view members of the opposite sex they normally wouldn’t find attractive to all of a sudden be desirable. Hence not only is there illusion in the sense that the effects of the senses are temporarily subsided, but there is also an intentional blurring of vision.

When the clouds are covering the sky, we cannot see the sun, but this doesn’t mean that the giant source of heat and light has somehow disappeared. We say that the sun sets at night, but in reality, the earth has temporarily rotated out of its view. In a similar manner, just because one is intoxicated and unable to understand the equality of all forms of life, which is the benefit of Brahman realization, it doesn’t mean that there are differences between species. The most important property of Brahman is that it is tied to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. God is the only entity who forever remains fixed in His transcendental body. The living entities making up Brahman are also eternal, knowledgeable and full of bliss, but due to their association with the clay-like elements of matter, they can assume temporary bodies and suffer through subsequent bouts of illusion. The Supreme Lord is the controller of matter, so He can never be subject to its forces.

“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 7.24)

Lord KrishnaThe Brahman level of understanding is only the beginning, just as seeing the sun in the sky is only the first step in comprehending the presence and potency of the wonderful fiery object that has yet to burn out. By studying Brahman exclusively, one can certainly ascend to a high state of consciousness, but there is another level that must be reached. Without knowing the properties of Bhagavan, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the realization of Brahman remains incomplete. It is quite common for spiritualists who only study Brahman to completely ignore the existence of an original Person, a supreme master in charge of the workings of nature. Though we may appreciate the sun when it appears before us, an even higher understanding would come by actually travelling directly to the sun, studying its properties and interacting with its various energies.

Obviously this cannot happen, as man would burn to ashes long before they even came close to the surface of the sun. But with the Supreme Lord there is unmatched mercy, a benevolence that allows the sincere soul to interact with God’s personal form, resulting in a knowledgebase which automatically brings awareness of Brahman. Though the concept of Brahman represents a basic understanding of spirit, familiarity with the outer beams of spiritual light emanating from the inconceivably large transcendental body of the original form of the Lord, God is still nice enough to make personal appearances on earth from time to time, allowing those with a sober mind a chance to directly witness the potency and blissful nature of the Supreme Lord. The appearance of Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, represented one such divine descent, affording the privileged citizens of Ayodhya an opportunity for having all of their wishes fulfilled.

Lord RamaThough Rama may be considered a sectarian figure by the less intelligent, there is no such thing as targeted jurisdiction when it comes to the workings of Supreme Spirit. Regardless of religious tradition or acknowledged belief in a higher power, Bhagavan’s properties do not change. One person may refer to Him as God, while another acknowledges His superior power as all-devouring death, but the penchant for worship and the service mentality of the soul stay the same. Shri Rama is exquisitely beautiful, a powerful bow-warrior, and a prince dedicated to the rules of propriety, or dharma. Indeed, Rama Himself originally imparted the system of sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation of man, to allow the conditioned souls to remain fully sober at all times. Dharma is a set of guidelines aimed at providing a gradual advancement of consciousness. Those who follow dharma will ultimately reconnect with the Supreme Lord through a bond of love held firmly within the heart and mind.

Though there are other non-different personal forms of the Supreme Lord, Goswami Tulsidas, the celebrated Vaishnava poet of medieval India, prefers to worship God in His form of Rama. In the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, Tulsidas states that Rama’s name is like a kalpataru, or wish-fulfilling tree. Who wouldn’t love to have a genie that granted all of our wishes, an enchanting figure emerging from a magical lamp? In the spiritual sky, the land where Rama and His other forms reside, there are numerous wish-fulfilling trees that grant every desire imaginable. Even in the heavenly realm, which is still considered part of the material world, there are suratarus, or trees of the demigods. These trees also grant the wishes of their worshipers.

TulsidasTo substantiate His claim that Rama’s name grants all wishes, Tulsidas reveals that by simply remembering the holy name of the Lord, which is non-different from His original form, he has gone from being bhang to tulasi. The significance of this comparison cannot be understated. Bhang is akin to opium or marijuana. Even in modern civilized societies, which are considered degraded due to the onslaught of Kali Yuga, marijuana smoking is considered taboo, part of the underground drug culture. Tulsidas, as a humble individual, compares his former life, when he hadn’t taken to regularly chanting the holy name of the Lord - which is the only dharma worth adopting in the current age - to be one spent in illusion. If he could compare his former self to a tree or leaf, he would be bhang. Obviously Tulsidas is an eternally liberated soul, one who remembered Rama in some way or another from the beginning of his life, but his statement reveals his humble attitude.

In the Vedic tradition, those who become brahmanas, the priestly class charged with at least understanding Brahman, get a new name at the time of initiation, the event that represents their second birth. Every person gets their first birth from their parents, so in this sense there is really nothing remarkable about emerging from the womb. The second birth is more important because it signals the beginning of spiritual life, the true benefit of the human form of body. Brahmanas are referred to as dvija, because they take their second birth upon beginning their studies with a qualified teacher, who is himself a brahmana. Based on his name now known the world over, at the time of his initiation the young poet was given the name “Tulsidas”, which means “servant of Tulasi Devi”, who is a sacred plant that is revered, honored and worshiped.

Tulasi Devi“Tulsidas” is indeed a terrific name to be given, for it means that one is a worshiper of Tulasi Devi. If they are not already, such a person will also become a great devotee of Lord Vishnu, to whom Tulasi Devi is incredibly dear. Lord Vishnu is considered the brahmanya-devaya, the worshipable object of the brahmanas who are trying to ascend past the Brahman level of spiritual understanding. Shri Rama is considered an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, who resides in the spiritual sky. Lord Krishna, the two-armed form of the Absolute Truth holding a flute in His hands, is considered the original form of Godhead, but worship of Vishnu or one of His incarnations like Rama is equally as effective. The choice of worship is up to the individual, as each of the Vishnu forms has aspects that appeal to specific moods of worship.

Tulasi Devi, though seemingly just a basil plant, is extremely kind and merciful. Vedic statements about Tulasi Devi and her qualities must be taken at face value and understood through explicit religious practice. The human mind, which is limited by time, space and rationality in its cognitive thought, is incapable of truly understanding how a woman can take the form of a plant and grant benedictions to her worshipers. Yet, just as with other aspects of life, the authority of the spiritual teachings descending from the Vedas is validated through the successful results that come from following the practices recommended. Tulsidas’ undying affection and love for Shri Rama is proof enough of Tulasi Devi’s tremendous powers. Vaishnavas honor and adore Tulasi Devi, especially before performing any religious function. Simply chanting the holy names of the Lord, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, in front of a tulasi plant on a regular basis is sufficient for understanding all there is to know about the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Lord RamaThere is no hubris in Tulsidas’ comparison to the tulasi plant, as he is totally honored by the title and considers it a benediction coming from Shri Rama. While bhang is viewed negatively, tulasi leaves are honored and adored. An ordinary poet or writer may not get much fanfare, but a Vaishnava kavi, especially one so devoted to Shri Rama as Tulsidas, will forever be honored and worshiped. In Kali Yuga, the age that we currently find ourselves in, the many rules and regulations associated with sanatana-dharma are very difficult to follow. Not only is intoxication rampant, but so are many other activities that deviate from the standard dictates of religion. Therefore in this age there is no other way to get our true wish, that of rekindling our dormant God consciousness, than chanting the holy names of the Lord. Rama’s name is indeed a kalpataru, as it granted the wishes of many thousands of worshipers by creating such a worthy, intelligent and loveable a saint as Tulsidas. His poetry continues to enthrall, delight and inspire devotees of Vishnu around the world. Though Tulsidas was never worthy of being compared to a bhang, his initiated name was certainly accurate, as Tulasi Devi was extremely merciful upon him. As bhang is associated with the mode of ignorance, tulasi directly equates with Vishnu, who is actually above even the mode of goodness. In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, where there seems to be no place to go for safety and comfort, by remembering the holy name of the Lord and honoring Tulasi Devi, we too can become purified and endeared to the Supreme Lord. And, just as Tulasi Devi grants devotion to Vishnu, so her devotee Goswami Tulsidas and his wonderful words of praise dedicated to his beloved Rama awaken the dormant God consciousness of the sincere souls open to hearing about the Lord and His glories.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Quality Control

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

“Don’t eat meat...Avoid illicit sex…Refrain from intoxication, and stay away from gambling.” These direct recommendations strike at the very heart of material life, especially in its modern incarnation. It is quite normal for there to be skepticism and resistance when hearing these words of advice from those who follow the ancient teachings found in sacred Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita. The initial reaction may be, “Who are these people to tell me what to do? What do they know anyway?” Nevertheless, even if every so-called authority figure is rejected, there will still be a guiding force to activity, a religious system if you will. The difference between the modes of discipline promulgated by the authorized Vedic teachers and the recommendations put forth by those deviating from the principles of regulative freedom as espoused in books like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam is that the Vedic prescriptions represent real dharma, whereas other systems are simply espousals of faith and trust which don’t necessarily speak to the original disposition of the soul.

1248689710-61yapmqtchlThe spirit soul is the guiding force to activity. This can be understood by devotee and non-devotee alike. When the soul is present within a body, the resulting life form moves, talks, studies, learns, eats, sleeps and does so many other things. But once the same soul exits the body, the form is deemed lifeless, dead, no longer useful. The visible elements are usually still present immediately after the soul’s departure, so we can understand that it is the owner of the body who really matters and not the outer ingredients that seemingly perform action. Therefore for a system of regulation to be superior and foremost, it must tackle the interests of the soul first, while giving secondary concern to the demands of the body.

The Vedas, which emanate from the cause of all causes, conclude that the soul has primary characteristics which never diminish or change. The soul is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful, and, most importantly, an eternal servant of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since the soul is impossible to recognize without viewing the actions of the body, it is often considered formless, or without a permanent form. To clear this matter up, Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead who famously spread the holy name of the Lord throughout India some five hundred years ago, kindly revealed that the living entity’s original form, or svarupa, is that of servant of Krishna, or God. Though the soul may travel from one body to another - and from even one place to another within a single lifetime - its foremost characteristic, or dharma, doesn’t change. The individual soul will always remain a servant of Krishna at heart, even if this property is not acknowledged.

Nitai%20GaurangaDharma is ever-existing and not determined by faith or allegiance to a particular figure. Since dharma as a term means the essential characteristic of anything, when applied to spiritual practice, it points to the set of rules and regulations aimed at maintaining the svarupa of the spirit soul, which is the essence of individuality and the spark of life within any independent form, including a plant, tree or animal. The dog, cat and cow all have spirit souls. There is actually no difference in spiritual constitution between animals, plants and other forms of life. Where there are differences, however, is in the type of body assumed and the engagements that result. Only in the human form can dharma be understood and accepted as necessary for attaining the original position. If we were to find our true stature, we would also find the happiest conditions, experiences and situations, thereby ensuring that every result would end up favorable. By the same rule, if we found ourselves temporarily away from our original position, we would be forced to suffer through pain and misery.

Say, for example, that our body is naturally built for running. Our calves and thighs are muscular enough to ensure that we can run at decent speeds, and we derive enjoyment from committing ourselves to the long race. But then let’s say that we took to bodybuilding instead, a discipline which hardly bears any resemblance to running. We may or may not succeed in bodybuilding, but since we are not naturally accustomed to the practice nor are we tailored towards performing the exercises required for success in the discipline, we will not feel the same pleasure that we felt at our more natural home, the track.

“O Rama, You should know that just as fish cannot survive when taken out of water, neither Sita nor I can live without You for even a moment.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 53.31)

LakshmanaThe expression, “like a fish out of water”, explains a lot about spiritual life. The fish is given a specific body type by nature; it must live in the water at all times. The outer covering is so specifically crafted that as soon as the fish is taken out of water, it starts to panic, and if it doesn’t return into its natural environment shortly thereafter, it will die. Similarly, other species are meant to reside in specific habitats, eat certain types of food, and derive enjoyment through specific behavior. When taken out of their natural habitat, pain, discomfort, and even death can result.

Though the different species have unique habitats, they all share the same dharma, that of being a lover of God. The human form is the most auspicious because only the human being can understand the need to reawaken the original characteristic, to take dharma to be the foremost guiding force in life. But accepting the tenets put forth by the Vedas, which represent sanatana-dharma, or the system which describes how the eternal occupational duty of man is carried out, is very difficult for two reasons. For one thing, even getting the opportunity to hear the truths of spiritual life - which describe material nature, the soul, travel through different bodies in the process of reincarnation, God, our position compared to Him, and the need for serving Him - is rare, for most in society are unaware of the need for gathering knowledge which deals with the afterlife. Even many spiritual leaders are eventually exposed to be bogus or severely flawed. They will say to worship God all the time, but then they are eagerly engaged in eating meat, which supports the practice of unnecessary animal killing. Other leaders will simply put forth the rules and regulations without explaining how they fit into the larger puzzle. Without knowing the ultimate goal, that of becoming God conscious by the time of death, how will anyone be made to accept the paths of virtue and righteousness that are needed for drastically shifting the predominant thought processes of the mind?

health and nutritionWhen someone says they are not overly religious or that they don’t necessarily believe in God, it means that they follow some mentally concocted dharma. Since the real dharma of the soul is an eternally existing property, any manmade assumption relating to the foremost characteristic of the individual and the activities necessary for maintaining that property at the highest level will be flawed. Everyone is following some system of maintenance, irrespective of their acknowledgment or denouncement of religion. Examples of this fact can be seen everywhere. Every day the newspapers and internet sites are filled with results from health studies just concluded. One expert says to eat oat bran all the time, while another says to avoid saturated fat. Then another health expert is recommending that we get regular cancer screenings once we reach a certain age.

The recommendations presented aren’t limited to just health issues. Virtually every facet of life has a concocted dharma and accompanying champions of the cause. There are the recommendations relating to charitable giving, recycling, caring for the environment, helping the poor, researching science and medicine, running to find a cure to a disease, and so many other projects. Each one of these engagements has rules and regulations to follow, and the people who don’t follow them are considered sinners, violators of the established covenant. Even in seemingly the most animal-like activities, those driven totally by the demands of the senses, drinking and illicit sex, there are rules and recommendations put forth for achieving a pleasurable outcome. The magazines popular with women are full of beauty tips and recommendations on when the woman should sleep with the man and how to know when a couple should get married. Drinkers are famous for their rules guiding their alcohol consumption, such as whether to drink liquor before beer and how to know when to stop drinking so that one can still drive home safely. Indeed, even the government gets involved in these areas, with public service announcements encouraging particular types of behavior.

Just by studying human behavior, we see that there is always religion, or a guiding force based on a philosophical conclusion. The difference between the system put forth by the Vedas and all the mentally concocted ones is that the end-goal, the identified true characteristic, never changes in the Vedas. Therefore real religion is aptly described by the term “sanatana-dharma”, which indicates that the essential property of the spirit soul can never change, regardless of anyone’s viewpoint. The recommendations put forth in the mentally concocted systems of societal maintenance always change, for new studies regularly debunk previous ones. Otherwise, why would a new study get any attention? First, eating butter was bad for you, so they introduced margarine and other replacements that were made of hydrogenated oils. After some time, these oils were deemed harmful, so they came up with compounds that were free of trans fat. No doubt in the future they will find problems with this method, so they will be left searching for more answers.

“There is no possibility of one's becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)

20101101image002The Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God and most concise treatise describing sanatana-dharma, actually addresses every relevant issue, including eating and sex life. Lord Krishna says that a yogi, one trying to connect the soul with the Supersoul, the expansion of God residing within the heart, should not sleep too much or too little nor should they eat excessively or in too low quantities. As far as sex is concerned, it should be reserved for the grihastha stage of life, which is the married, householder order. After one has sufficiently trained under a guru, or spiritual master, in their youth, they can get married and have sexual relations under regulative principles for the purpose of begetting children. In this way, enjoyment can be had, but in a controlled manner, one that allows for further advancement towards the ultimate goal of life.

The whole point to the recommendations put forth by the non-devotees is to instill some regulation, controls that increase the odds of attaining the final goal. With dharma, however, the end-goal is always the same, that of maintaining the link to the spiritual world, enabling the soul to reassume its svarupa. With the mentally concocted dharmas and the diluted systems of religion, the end-goals always change. One who is given to drinking alcohol and one who is given towards charity work have completely opposite aims. Therefore the relevant systems of maintenance put forward aren’t universally applicable. Indeed, the more one is inclined towards intoxication the less likely they will be to engage in nobler pursuits.

“As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. The self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.13)

Lord KrishnaThough the resulting conditions may be contradictory, there is still a commonality shared in the systems that aren’t real dharma. They all aim to satisfy the gross senses of the body, a form which will be renounced at the end of life, a fact realized very quickly by the sober human being. Since sense demands rise and fall in intensity like the waves of the ocean and never remain completely at peace, the aims of the concocted dharmas are flawed from the very beginning. It is for this reason that so many new self-help books get published at regular intervals and find their way into bookstores. If the previous systems had proved beneficial, there would be no need to write new books espousing new beliefs.

There is also the issue of trust, as one can follow a system put forth by a scientist or philosopher, but there is no guarantee that the recommended methods will succeed, especially if they were developed recently. Even in chemical laboratories that manufacture new vitamins and health compounds, there are quality control tests to ensure that the products are up to par and don’t violate the standard formulas.

Nimai Nitai chanting Hare KrishnaThe benefits of sanatana-dharma are twofold. First, the system addresses the essential characteristic of the soul. Dharma is applicable for every single person; man, woman or child. Loving God is an activity that everyone is naturally prone towards. Therefore the recommendation put forth by the Vedic seers that we regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, applies to every single person, irrespective of their religious affiliation, belief in God or lack thereof, or dedication to some mentally concocted system of dharma. Krishna and Rama are Sanskrit words that describe the wonders of the Supreme Absolute Truth in His original position as a personality ever worthy of our love and adoration. The more service we offer to the Supreme Person, the more our dharma comes to the forefront. When the original quality is fully alive, there is no chance of falling victim to the temptations of the senses, allures which only lead to trouble and bring very little in terms of lasting enjoyment.

Sanatana-dharma has also passed every quality control test. The Vedic seers of the past administered these tests by both using personal observation and seeing how their disciples rose above material life and came into the light of devotion. The ancient art of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, has been practiced since the beginning of time, with notable success story after success story highlighted in texts like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam. Therefore we can use empirical evidence to support the claim that real dharma has never changed. Surely there have been new books written which glorify the Supreme Lord and describe the system of loving Him through perspectives unique to the authors, but the ultimate conclusion is always the same. Dharma puts forth rules and regulations that tie every piece of life together. The Vedas guide every single activity so that the conditions most favorable for adopting a permanent God consciousness at the time of death can be had. These recommendations have been tried and tested, and they work every single time, provided that the devotee is sincere and dedicated enough to the process. Even if there is failure in the current life, the yogi gets to resume from where they left off in their next birth. The same guarantee for success can’t be found in any other venture.

“By virtue of the divine consciousness of his previous life, he automatically becomes attracted to the yogic principles-even without seeking them. Such an inquisitive transcendentalist, striving for yoga, stands always above the ritualistic principles of the scriptures.” (Lord Krishna describing the subsequent birth of the unsuccessful yogi, Bg. 6.44)

Lord KrishnaEven in the rebel lifestyle, the one that says not to trust anyone over a certain age, there are guiding forces, rules and regulations to live by. Indeed, the very warning that one shouldn’t trust a certain person is itself a recommendation that is no different from a statement advising one to trust in a scriptural work or the words emanating from the lotus mouth of the bona fide spiritual master. One person says to follow and another says to reject, but in either case there is a recommendation made. One side bases their opinion off of the limited personal experiences accumulated over the very short time spent in the present body, whereas the other side trusts the opinion that has been passed down, tested, implemented and accepted by so many people spanning thousands of years on earth. Since the beginning of creation the makeup of society has constantly changed, and the people living within certain periods of time always thought they were the most advanced. Despite the changes to the outer world, the principles espoused by the bona fide teachers of spirituality haven’t changed and neither has the effectiveness of their recommendations.

At the end of the day, we are going to end up trusting someone. The numbers are always in favor of the spiritualist who is devoted in thought, word and deed to the Supreme Lord, who is a real person and not a mythical character. By undergoing the proper training and maintaining the correct attitude, we can realize the highest truths of spirituality for ourselves. If we are going to follow a system of maintenance and regulation, why not try one that has been followed, honored, adored and glorified since time immemorial: the discipline of divine love, the only practice that keeps the dharma of the soul ever vibrant and in an active state?

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

From Nothing to Something

Hanuman worshiping Rama“Shri Rama’s holy name is like a numeral, and all religious practices are like zero. When the numeral is not there, zero means nothing. But when it is present, the resultant value increases tenfold.” (Dohavali, 10)

nāma rāma ko aṃka hai saba sādhana haiṃ sūna |

aṃka ga_em̐ kachu hātha nahiṃ aṃka raheṃ dasa gūna ||

This is a famous tenet of Vedic philosophy that Tulsidas has very nicely converted into poetry form in the Hindi language. Indeed, the brilliance of his point cannot be measured, just as the wonder, glory, kindness and dedication of its author cannot be fully appreciated even after hours and hours of study and meditation. This verse especially refers to the numerous regulations and practices of spirituality that have been in existence for many years and also those that will surely arise in the future. Dharma is the essential characteristic of the soul, the natural love it has for God. In order to maintain this characteristic, to ensure that it doesn’t develop or morph into some other unrelated engagement, guidelines and activities are required. Yet there is one common factor to all the recommended practices that links back to the original consciousness of the individual: the holy name. Lord Rama, the Personality of Godhead in the form of a warrior prince who kindly roamed this earth many thousands of years ago, has such a potent name that hearing it automatically energizes every religious practice and method of worship. When the name is absent, however, all methods are akin to zeroes, which are worthless no matter what you try to do with them.

Lord RamaIf you have a zero and try to add another zero, you still get zero. Try to multiply two zeroes, and you’re still left with nothing. Division is even worse, as there is an automatic error when zero is used as a divisor. But if you add a one, or any nonzero numeral for that matter, in front of the zero, you get a tangible value. In fact, all it takes is a single numeral, one instance of the number one, to give the zero real potency. If we have just a single number one, the more zeroes we place next to it the greater the resulting value. Though we may be tempted to think that the value lies in the zero, the essential ingredient is the one. In the absence of the numeral, the resulting number will always be nothing. We could have a giant roomful of zeroes and still have absolutely nothing if not for the one.

This concept shouldn’t be very difficult to understand, as every seemingly independent object has a primary source of energy, something that keeps it ticking. In the human being, the life-giving force is generally acknowledged to be the heart, which is also commonly referred to as the ticker. This one small organ kindly distributes blood evenly to the rest of the body. Moreover, it functions without any extra effort, as there is no switch that turns on the heart or tells it to shut down. In the absence of the heart, none of our body parts would be meaningful at all. If our arm or leg should fall asleep because of a temporary lack of circulation, it becomes lifeless. Yet when these body parts are functioning properly, their vitality is due to the benevolence of the heart, which carefully gives just the right amount of liquid substance to oil the various parts of the machine known as the body.

heartThe Vedas, however, kindly reveal that the essence of life is actually not the heart itself, but rather the entities which reside inside of it. The heart is similar to another other form of matter; it is simply a collection of chemicals made to work under the dictates of the master of the dwelling, the soul. Individual spirit, which emanates from the giant spiritual powerhouse in the eternal sky, is the essence of life. In the absence of the soul, the heart will not function, and thus the rest of the body parts will become useless. We can live in the fanciest apartment or mansion, have hundreds of the most expensive cars in the world and have the most beautiful family, but if the soul exits the body, all our possessions and relationships become nothing.

The soul, as the essence of life, has intrinsic properties, which include eternality, bliss and knowledge. From these properties comes a strong inclination towards service, to offer love to another entity or object. When the beneficiary is bona fide, the outpouring of love reaches its full potential and thus results in life taking on its true meaning. Indeed, religion, or spirituality, is meant for this very purpose, to find for the soul its natural engagement. Having a theoretical understanding of why different processes are adopted is surely beneficial, but more important is vijnana, or practical knowledge, which is acquired through explicit action. In the absence of a change in behavior, even high knowledge goes to waste, as the soul’s natural penchant for service remains untapped.

In the conditioned state, wherein the individual spiritual entity appears in a world full of zeroes which seemingly have different outward appearances, the targeted beneficiaries for service get misidentified. The wholehearted dedication to passing legislation, achieving rights for the downtrodden, and protecting and saving the environment results from the misuse of the serving propensity. These practices may indeed lead to short term benefits for society at large, but since the benefitted objects are zeroes that have no relation to the numeral that is sat, or eternal truth, the resulting conditions are short-lived. What’s worse is that the reservoir for action gets used up unnecessarily, similar to leaving the refrigerator door open all night. In the absence of a real beneficiary, something or someone that gives meaning to the zeroes, the individual becomes an open target for other forces which are not Truth to come in and compete for attention.

“I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)

Hanuman with Sita and Rama in his heartEven in the realm of spirituality, where the true beneficiary, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is understood and acknowledged, the practices adopted can also fall short. The term “yoga” means linking the individual soul with the Supersoul, the expansion of Supreme Truth residing within the heart adjacent to the jiva, or individual soul. The jiva is the catalyst for action, but none of the results can be realized without the intervention of the Supersoul, which acts as a sort of impartial witness. We are fortunate to have God living within us, but He is also kind enough to take the same expansion and rest within the hearts of every other living entity. As such, when external results relating to the manipulation of the innumerable zeroes appear, there are bound to be collisions. No condition that is divorced of its relationship to the personal form of sat can be considered beneficial. In spite of this, the Supersoul is so kind that He doesn’t block any of the desired results. He rests within the heart, waiting for the individual soul to turn its head towards Him.

Even though God is acknowledged as being supreme by those who are religious, the practices adopted often have little to no relation to Him. There are many different yogas, but unless the final piece of the puzzle is accounted for, the need to serve God through a loving bond of affection formed within the consciousness, every regulative practice is deemed nothing, or useless. Though there are a variety of spiritual traditions, worshipable objects and rituals performed throughout the world, any behavior not tied to directly loving God can be classified into one of three categories: fruitive activity, the acquisition of knowledge and mystic yoga practice. Fruitive activity in spiritual life takes on the form of karma-yoga, wherein one works for sense gratification but then at least tries to renounce the results for the purpose of purifying their consciousness. When karma-yoga is not practiced perfectly, there are hints of personal sense gratification that creep in. In these instances, God is viewed as an order supplier, one who grants wishes to those who are failing in life and who have been distressed due to unfavorable turns of events. Going to a house of worship every week and praying for benefits is a type of karmic activity that has hints of spirituality. Since the ultimate beneficiary is not the Supreme Lord, the benefits received remain zero, in spite of the deference given to all other regulations and rituals.

Then there is the acquisition of knowledge known as jnana-yoga, wherein one tries to learn the differences between matter and spirit and the inhibiting nature of the numerous zeroes of the manifested world. But in the absence of an identifiable beneficiary, the ultimate goal remains that of ending activity. If time is spent studying and chanting names which don’t represent the Supreme Lord’s original feature as a personality, the highest gain that can be achieved is a merging into a beam of light, one that doesn’t allow for individuality to continue. Service is a byproduct of individuality, so once the ability to serve is gone, the individual’s essence becomes dormant. Jnana-yoga can be thought of as the polar opposite of karma-yoga, wherein fruitive activity is seen as a bitter pill that should never be swallowed.

Mystic yoga is a combination of karma and jnana in that there is some austerity involved and also a dedicated practice with the body. The ultimate aim of mystic yoga is to achieve a siddhi, or perfection, which then results in some personal exercise of strength which has no relation to God. A yogi can live for a long time, hold their breath for days on end, travel in space with their soul, perform magic feats, and even read minds. Despite their uniqueness, all of these abilities still relate to a world that is ultimately destined for destruction. Moreover, since service is absent, the soul is left in a position not much further advanced from where it started.

Lord RamaIn spite of living in a world full of nothing, all hope is not lost for the sincere soul. The numerous religious practices can be purified and lead to the highest gain when the proper beneficiary is identified and service is offered to Him. This is the point made by Tulsidas. Lord Rama, as the Personality of Godhead, is so kind and sweet that His very name is a non-different expansion of Him. Therefore the highest service for mankind is to simply recite His name over and over again in a loving mood. Unlike every other type of sadhana, or regulative practice aimed at achieving a goal set out by the jiva, chanting the holy name brings direct contact with the Supreme Truth. Just as the individual can be considered the essence of life, the name of the Lord is understood to be the life of every religious practice. When the name is absent, all sadhana is simply nothing; yet when the name is present, honored and worshiped, the religious practices can continually be added on, one after another, to produce very high values.

The potency of the holy name also anoints one confidential engagement as being superior to all others, the one discipline that can unleash the true service potential found within the individual. If we simply go on performing our regular activities and keep the name of the Lord with us, our actions will bear tremendous fruit. For instance, we already like to chant, dance and sing. Indeed, if we hear a catchy song on the radio, the song will remain stuck in our minds for the rest of the day. In essence, the mind is chanting the song over and over again. Dance clubs and parties feature the latest music so that others can let loose and just enjoy the pleasant sound vibrations. Similarly, if we regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, wherever we go, we can be tuned into the radio station belting out the infectious grooves and beats emanating from the spiritual world. As such, any time, day or night, becomes party time within the mind because of the direct connection with Bhagavan, which is the name given to the personality of Godhead describing His exclusive and simultaneous possession of the attributes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge and renunciation to the fullest degree.

Lord RamaIf we have a palatial building considered the greatest architectural wonder, we can derive some pleasure by walking around it and performing various activities within it. But if we dedicate even one room inside to a temple, wherein a deity representation of the Lord is erected and worshiped regularly with the chanting of His names, then the entire building becomes worshipable. The “Hindu” faith is famous around the world for its caste system, but the concept of class distinctions is present in every situation and scenario of importance. When we board an airplane, we don’t allow just any of the passengers to go to the front and fly the plane. Every one of us is surely equal, as the individual soul remains the essence of life within every bodily form. Yet the pilot has completed hours of training and received certification for what he does, so he is in a class separate from those flying as passengers.

The Vedas, as the original scriptures for mankind, don’t overlook the differences in qualitative makeup between various body types. A tiger and a human being are equal in their spiritual constitution, but we would never go up to a tiger, shake its hand and start a conversation with it. There is a need for divisions amongst members of society so that each individual can take to the activities they are best suited for. The name of Rama, however, is so powerful that anyone who chants it, even if they are part of a lower caste, can be considered worshipable. When a respectable gentlemen visits an office building, he usually goes to visit the head of the company or one of their deputies. The cleaning staff doesn’t get many outside visitors or even respect from others. When the same person who performs menial tasks, while earning their honest living, takes to chanting the names of the Lord, they surpass the stature of the boss because they become worshipable. The CEO of the company can be equated to many zeroes, while the lower members of the company are just single zeroes. But if a single zero has just one numeral next to it in the form of Rama’s name, it automatically has a greater value than anything with many zeroes and no numeral.

Worshiping Sita and RamaThe key to success in bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is to take the many zeroes we have around us and attach the Supreme Lord and His name to them. Tulsidas especially prefers the name of Rama, as the Lord’s heartwarming activities are so kindly described in the famous Ramayana poem of Valmiki and in many other Vedic texts. Tulsidas spent his whole life glorifying the holy name of Rama, which is non-different from Krishna, Vishnu, or any other name describing the original Personality situated in the eternal sky. And we might add, just as Rama’s name represents a numeral, so do the names and pastimes of His countless devotees and associates, Tulsidas included. Having the good fortune of reciting the illustrious poet’s name and reading even a single line from his works brings so much pleasure to the heart, for all of his outpourings of affection are intended only to glorify the Supreme Lord and His name.