Saturday, June 25, 2011

The Setting Sun

Lord Krishna“If it is not possible with our limited senses to perceive a material thing like the sun [after it has set], how is it possible to perceive the nonmaterial? We cannot find out or understand Krishna by our own endeavor. We have to qualify ourselves through Krishna consciousness and wait for Him to reveal Himself.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 4)

After the sun sets at night, there is no way to realize its presence until the next morning, when it appears again by the meticulously timed workings of nature. One can travel across the earth to try to maintain daylight, but this requires much time and effort that will not be worth the sacrifice for most. The sun is always there and in its fixed position, but there is a limitation on perception present on the living entity’s end. Whether we actually see the sun or not has no bearing on its existence. Similarly, the Supreme Lord, who most everyone is searching for in the visual form, cannot be found just by insistence or wishing for His presence. The situation, time and circumstance must be favorable, and a proper conditioning that allows for recognition must also be present. We can wait for the sun to rise again the next morning, but if we keep our eyes closed, we won’t see it. If our consciousness is not purified in the spiritual sense, there is no way to perceive the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His accompanying names, forms, qualities and pastimes.

Lord KrishnaHow is the proper qualification acquired? What steps can we take in preparation for seeing the Supreme Lord, who is addressed as Krishna by many around the world because of His unmatched attractiveness? The key is to shift consciousness, to direct all thoughts and desires towards that hopeful meeting. Without a shift in the primary thought processes of the mind, the living entity will remain ready to perceive everything else; things like the sun, food, water, cinema, sports, beautiful members of the opposite sex, and a host of other allures aimed at providing stimulation to the senses. These objects, when bearing no relation to the ultimate goal of connecting with God, are considered maya, or illusion. They are labeled as such because their association keeps the individual completely in the dark as to the existence of the Supreme Lord and the need for connecting with Him. This should make sense after all, for if we derive tremendous enjoyment from objects of the phenomenal world, what need is there for a higher taste? If our time is occupied in eating, sleeping, mating and defending, why would our thoughts stray towards any other engagement?

Under the mindset driven by material enjoyment, the wonders of nature such as the sun and the moon are seen as objects that facilitate the further dive into sense gratification. The sun is required to grow the food that satisfies the urges of the tongue and the stomach. Water is needed to nourish the same food and to prepare tasty beverages. Sight is required to enhance the enjoyment of association with the opposite sex. Touch is required for a similar purpose. In this way the living entity remains conditioned to perceive the wonders of nature which come of their own accord and in a timely fashion.

sunriseEven while operating under this mindset, where sense gratification is taken as the ultimate aim, there is little control over the interactions with nature. We may want to see the sun very badly, but we still have to wait for the morning sunrise, an event which actually represents the full rotation of the earth and not the movement of the sun. Regardless, we are totally powerless in the matter, though we may not think so. For spiritual life, we are equally as feeble; therefore it is foolish to think that we can just approach someone and ask them to show us God. The Supreme Lord, who is much more powerful than the sun, will reveal Himself to the proper person at the proper time.

To qualify ourselves, to become candidates for the Lord’s audience, we can regularly chant the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Why chant these names over the sacred syllable “om”? Why can’t we just sit quietly and not say anything and have the Lord appear before us? While God is formless and nameless, He is addressed by an unlimited number of names by those who love Him. Krishna refers to God’s all-attractive nature; Achyuta references His infallibility; Govinda His ability to give pleasure to the cows and the senses; Madhava His position as husband of the goddess of fortune; Keshava His defeat of the powerful demon Madhu; and Rama His wonderful incarnation of Lord Ramachandra, who defeated the wicked demon-king Ravana. In this way there are so many names that accurately address the Supreme Lord.

“I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My eternal creative potency [yoga-maya]; and so the deluded world knows Me not, who am unborn and infallible.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.25)

Lord KrishnaWhen we speak of God, we speak of a person, or a personality. Although He is sometimes described as formless in the Vedas, this doesn’t mean that He is lacking a spiritual form. The mind cannot fully grasp God’s wonderfully gigantic and spiritually infused vigraha, or body; therefore it is sometimes said that God is alakshya, or invisible, and nirguna, or without attributes. Yet, just as the sun exists perpetually even when we can’t see it, the Supreme Lord, who is also known as Bhagavan, remains forever blissfully situated in knowledge and truth within a transcendental body.

Calling out the names of God, especially the sound vibration Krishna, places us in the proper mindset because with the holy name come all the qualities, pastimes and forms. With Krishna’s form comes a sportive tendency, a desire to perform pastimes for His own pleasure. When, where and why these pastimes take place is up to Him, for Krishna is not beholden to anyone’s demands or wishes. One person may insist on seeing God, but unless the Lord decides they are worthy of His audience, that meeting will never occur.

The secret known to the bhaktas, or devotees, is that the name of Krishna is non-different from the Supreme Person it represents. This seems a little silly upon first glance, for we can chant the name of a celebrity or an object and not have their presence, but Krishna is God, so He is all-pervading. Just as we enjoy a painting by seeing it, a sweet dish by tasting it, a soft piece of fabric by touching it, and a musical composition by hearing it, we can interact with the Supreme Lord through any of our senses. There is no requirement that we only see God and not perceive His presence in any other way.

“One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.55)

Radha KrishnaThe sound vibration of the sacred maha-mantra is especially potent because it brings Krishna’s presence through the form of His name and it also addresses Him in a mood of love and affection. Since it is up to Krishna to decide when and where He will reveal Himself, it would make sense that He would choose to remain hidden from those who are envious of Him and want to challenge His authority. Why would anyone want to challenge God? Wouldn’t that be a stupid proposition? The existence of the material creation is actually rooted in this jealousy. Only through deference to maya can forgetfulness of God remain perpetually. The soul of the individual, which is the identifiable aspect, is intimately connected with the spiritual world; otherwise there would never be a tendency towards searching for a higher power. While the atheists may think religion was created by man as a way of dealing with death, the understanding of a superior force is ingrained within every soul. Even the non-believer is forced to accept a higher power in the form of nature and its agent of change: time. The atheist may say they don’t believe in God, but at the time of death they will be compelled to succumb to nature’s strongest force.

The attitude that gives full deference to maya essentially mounts a futile attack on the Supreme Lord’s position as the greatest enjoyer, the original proprietor of all objects and the best friend of every living entity. The question may be raised as to how one is supposed to learn these truths of spiritual life, especially considering that human beings are born ignorant. What if a child grows up and isn’t taught anything besides sense gratification? This is often the case, as irreligion is widespread today, and those who do preach the message of divine love so nicely explained in the Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam are considered sectarian, sentimentalists, or people just looking to annoy everyone else into not having any fun in life.

The circumstances of birth, however, are no accident. Past work and desires constantly take effect. Just as the fruits that fall off the tree are the result of the initial planting of the seed and its care by other people and nature, the predicaments and situations we regularly encounter, including the time and place of birth, are the result of past deeds. The original sin, if you will, is the desire to separate from Krishna’s company, to pretend that a higher taste can be found in His absence; hence the descent from the spiritual sky, the original home of the jiva soul, who is similar in quality to Krishna but vastly inferior to Him in quantitative powers. The jiva can choose between the spiritual energy and the material energy. For the Supreme Lord, the source of all energy, there is no such distinction. Wherever He goes and whatever He does, the spiritual energy always follows Him.

Lord KrishnaThrough chanting Hare Krishna in a proper mood, the devotee becomes situated to perceive of the Lord’s presence through sound. Evidence of God’s existence and His personal presence is available to every single person and at every single second. God is with us right now, but we just don’t have the proper consciousness to notice it. The radio waves are travelling through the air at all times, but unless we have a device capable of receiving the signal and knowing what to do with it, we have no way of knowing that the waves are there. The air is filled with tiny molecules that can’t be seen without a microscope or direct sunlight that shows the different particles. In a similar manner, Shri Krishna is within every atom and every inch of space, but unless we have the proper consciousness, one that only thinks of the Lord in a mood of love, the presence of the Supreme Spirit cannot be appreciated.

Chanting Hare Krishna is not a sectarian process either. The information presented thus far about the properties of spirit and the workings of material nature don’t point to any limitations on time, space, geography, or family lineage. There is no such thing as a Hindu soul or an American soul. Sense gratification is the same for the dog as it is for the human being. Similarly, recitation of the name of Krishna is equally as effective in the beginning for one who has no familiarity with spirituality as it is for one who is born into traditions following Vedic culture. The name of the Lord is the ticket to freedom for every single living entity, even those who are not interested in high philosophy or acquiring a high level of intelligence on spiritual matters.

That chanting and hearing are the two most effective ways to perceive God shows that the Supreme Lord is the most benevolent person. God’s fixed position as the best friend of every living entity is evidenced in so many aspects of life, but especially in the fact that those things we really need in life remain relatively inexpensive, while those objects and experiences that we don’t need are fairly costly. Milk, fruit, water and grains are generally available in abundance and less expensive than elaborate preparations and animal flesh. In a similar manner, the mind can be satisfied and stimulated by activities on a small field without needing to spend so much money on travelling to exotic destinations.

Radha KrishnaIn the arena of spiritual life, the proof of the Lord’s unmatched benevolence comes from the fact that the tools necessary for connecting with Him are not expensive to acquire nor are they difficult to practice. Chanting is something anyone can do, even the poorest man. The sound vibration of Krishna’s name is the gateway to spiritual freedom for every person, regardless of their level of education. Consciousness is a force present within every living entity, but only in the human being does it have the potential for being developed fully, and thus purified at the same time. Through adherence to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, which has as its cornerstone the hearing of the sound vibrations that represent the Supreme Lord, the all-powerful spiritual sun, the one entity who never sets and who remains forever active in His vow to protect the surrendered souls, can be seen at all times, and His most inviting rays of spiritual energy consisting of bliss and knowledge can be basked in without impediment.

Friday, June 24, 2011


Lord Rama accepting Vibhishana“The holy name is such a benefactor of the down-trodden that it grants kingdoms to those who chant it. But the mind, O Tulsi, is so obstinate that it does not abandon its habit of searching for grains amidst rubbish.” (Dohavali, 13)

nāma garībanivāja ko rāja deta jana jāni |

tulasī mana pariharata nahiṃ ghura biniā kī bāni ||

To those who have been fortunate enough to dedicate some sincere time to the practice of bhakti, it is no secret that the name of the Lord - the sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth that penetrates the dualities of material existence and the illusions arising from doubt, pain, happiness, gain and loss - can easily bring about any fortune, including a majestic kingdom, to someone who has nothing, a poor and destitute man. Yet the mind, being fickle and ever forgetful of the benevolent nature of the master to whom it is so intimately related, instead takes to rummaging through garbage in search of measly grains, rewards which are readily available even in the absence of such a search. From this wonderful verse provided by the king of poets, Goswami Tulsidas, we see that the key to finding the kingdom of heaven, the secret to unlocking the door to eternal spiritual life, is to remember the glories of the holy name and take it to be the life and soul of every activity, without fail.

Lord RamaWhy such stress placed on the holy name? More importantly, how do we know that its purported capabilities are for real, that it can deliver a kingdom to anyone? Two notable examples recorded in the historic and celebrated Ramayana, the most glorious of poems, apprise us of the benefits that come from both remembering the holy name of the Lord and honoring the very person that it addresses. First there was the Vanara-king Sugriva, who fled his home and sought refuge on Mount Rishyamukha, situated in the Kishkindha forest. As a celestial figure taking birth in the guise of a forest dweller, Sugriva had monkey attributes but also many human-like powers. Living peacefully in his kingdom alongside his brother Vali, everything was going well for Sugriva. After all, who wouldn’t be comfortable occupying a top post in a community alongside their family members?

As is quite clear to the sober person, nothing lasts forever, including a life full of every comfort imaginable. In an instant, Sugriva’s fortunes completely changed, as his brother Vali went from loving him to hating him. Lured into a cave while fighting an enemy, Vali gave explicit instructions to Sugriva to not leave the entrance to the cave until he came out. After a long time had passed and hearing what sounded like Vali’s last breath, Sugriva decided to close up the cave to stop the potentially victorious demon from exiting and devouring the rest of the members of the community. As it turned out, Vali indeed had emerged victorious, and seeing that the entrance to the cave was now shut, he became irate at Sugriva. After fighting his way out, Vali considered Sugriva to be his mortal enemy, accusing him of hatching a plot to take over the kingdom. Sugriva, being the weaker of the two brothers in terms of fighting prowess, would have been killed were it not for a curse previously imprecated on Vali prohibiting him from entering the forest area on Mount Rishyamukha. Thus Sugriva and his Vanara associates sought refuge there, knowing that Vali could never harm them.

Lord RamaLiving in seclusion certainly isn’t fun. Being separated from family members and forced to remain in a tightly packed area is akin to being sentenced to prison. Despite his troubles, through one quick meeting with the Supreme Lord, Shri Rama, the prince of the Raghu dynasty, Sugriva’s fortunes would change for the better. At the time, Lord Rama was looking for His missing wife, Sita Devi, who had been taken away by a Rakshasa demon. Rama was the epitome of virtue and chivalry. He was wholly dedicated to dharma, being the eldest son of the famous Maharaja Dasharatha, the ruler of Ayodhya. Lord Rama is a celebrated incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who, depending on the specific Vedic tradition, is taken to be Lord Vishnu or Lord Krishna in His original form. Either way, Rama is the very semblance of Truth, the worshipable deity descending to earth in a human guise to give pleasure and protection to the innocent.

Hanuman, Sugriva’s chief minister, brokered a deal between Rama and Sugriva, wherein both parties would help each other get what they wanted. Rama first held up His end of the bargain by shooting Vali in the back while the monkey was engaged in a fight with Sugriva. With Vali killed, Sugriva immediately regained his kingdom and his peaceful lifestyle. Rama never forgets His friends, and whatever they ask Him to do, the Lord kindly obliges. Simply by saying Rama’s name and befriending Him, Sugriva went from being poverty stricken and forced to live in exile to the most exalted ruler of the monkeys. Indeed, after a short time, he would repay the favor given by Rama by ordering his massive monkey army, which included Hanuman, to search for Sita.

Sugriva and Vali fightingDue to his adoration for Rama and the nature of the mission at hand, Hanuman would be the one to find Sita and lead the monkeys and Rama to her location. The Rakshasa demon Ravana lived on the island kingdom of Lanka, which was situated far away from any mainland. Hanuman, jumping across the vast ocean, made his way to the island and found Sita and informed her of Rama’s intention and determination to rescue her. While in Lanka, Hanuman happened to be shot by a weapon empowered by Lord Brahma, the first created living entity. Being ever deferent to the creator, Hanuman allowed the weapon to bind him. Taken back to Ravana’s court, Hanuman’s tail was then set on fire as punishment for his having entered the enemy city. Ravana’s younger brother Vibhishana did not agree with this course of action. Vibhishana’s objection was noted by Hanuman, who would subsequently break free of the shackles and use his fiery tail to set the entire city ablaze. Despite his anger at Ravana and the host of Rakshasas, Hanuman made sure to pass over Vibhishana’s palace in his parade of destruction.

Hanuman burning LankaAfter Hanuman left Lanka, Vibhishana found himself in a difficult situation. Rakshasas are prone to sinful activities such as meat eating and intoxication. Yet Vibhishana was pious from the time of his birth, so he was free of all the defects known to his species. He did not like Ravana’s decision to keep Sita, so he advised his brother to return the princess back to her husband Rama. Because he was raging in a fever of lust and desire, Ravana could not understand that what Vibhishana was telling him was in his self-interest. Seeing the refusal of his brother to change his ways, the kind Vibhishana was left with no other choice but to renounce Lanka and Ravana. Seeking the shelter of Shri Rama, Vibhishana made his way to the monkey army. The kindness of Vibhishana knows no limits, as he gave up a lavish lifestyle in favor of showing deference and honor to the Supreme Absolute Truth. By any material estimation, Vibhishana would be considered the worst kind of turncoat, a disloyal brother who had no good characteristics whatsoever.

Not caring what others thought of him, Vibhishana took his only dharma in life to be God consciousness. Indeed, all other forms of piety are meant to lead to the final purification of consciousness, wherein every thought and desire is dovetailed with the interests of the Supreme Lord in His personal form. When he approached Rama’s camp, Vibhishana wasn’t accepted right away. Rather, many of the monkeys were doubtful of his intentions, considering him to be a Rakshasa and thus someone with a shady character. As Rama polled His inner circle to see what they thought, Hanuman stepped up and vouched for Vibhishana, for, as the gatekeeper to Rama’s kingdom, Hanuman can easily decipher who is a devotee and who isn’t. Per Hanuman’s recommendation, Rama immediately accepted Vibhishana into his camp. Instantly, Vibhishana was crowned the new king of Lanka by Rama Himself, as the Lord knew that Ravana would soon be defeated. Sure enough,with the aid of the monkey-army, Sugriva and Vibhishana, Rama would march to Lanka, defeat and kill its evil king, and rescue Sita.

Rama accepting VibhishanaThe accounts of these heartwarming events are documented in the Ramayana, originally composed by Maharishi Valmiki. The glories of Shri Rama and His other incarnations are sung throughout the many Vedic scriptures, the ancient religious books of India. Goswami Tulsidas notes that despite being fully aware of its ability to grant kingdoms to the poor, the holy name of the Lord remains neglected, leaving the mind no choice but to continue its habit of looking for measly rewards amidst piles of garbage. The question of why we are here on earth has been pondered since the beginning of time, but from this one section of poetry we gain a firm understanding of the root cause behind not only creation, but also the continual existence of the phenomenal world. When the spirit soul, the individual autonomous spark within the body, desires to forget the potency and pleasurable aspect of the holy name of the Lord, it is allowed to pursue selfish interests in a land where the personal influence of the Lord is absent. As one who can bestow heavenly delights to those who are suffering, God’s position is that of the ultimate reservoir of pleasure, the object of all affection and effort. But for one who forgets Him, the best they can hope for is measly grains, paltry rewards found amidst a mess of other objects and enjoyments that are put to shame by the delights found in the eternal spiritual kingdom.

Nothing other than forgetfulness of the holy name can explain the fervent desire to satisfy the senses and pray for basic necessities like daily bread and ample sex life. Matter is a temporary manifestation after all, so seeking benedictions from a person who is already supplying every basic need to the innumerable animals roaming the earth is not a resourceful use of time. Sugriva and Vibhishana became kings as a result of their service to Rama, but where they really benefitted was in consciousness. The two figures are forever celebrated as Rama’s devotees, as worshipable personalities who sacrificed their livelihoods to please the Lord. Rama never forgets even the most insignificant service offered to Him in a mood of devotion, and when there is full surrender He forgives every kind of offence committed.

Sita RamaWhen operating under a mundane system of piety and virtue, one which always has more patrons than pure bhakti, or divine love established through the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, rewards such as atonement and maintenance of the present lifestyle are sought after. With the temporary nature of the world and the dangers lurking around every corner, who wouldn’t be tempted to ask for sustenance and the removal of distress? But as the eternal Truth remaining forever fixed in His position of bliss and knowledge, the Supreme Lord is meant to be our source of pleasure, one whose association is found and maintained through acts of service. The spirit soul, which can be placed into 8,400,000 different body types, will always take up service, as the natural proclivity of spirit is to engage in the pleasure of other entities. But when the beneficiary of service is matter or an ordinary living entity, the fearful mentality remains very strong. Only when the attached object is not Supreme Spirit can the soul view abundantly available rewards as being in scarce supply.

The only scarcity in this world is God consciousness. Those who realize this fact simultaneously understand the temporary nature of material life and the need for permanently shifting consciousness in the proper direction. Those who remain forever fixed in thought, word and deed on the lotus feet of Shri Rama understand that the most unique and coveted reward of vishnu-bhakti can be attained in one second. The people who lack God consciousness are the truly poor and to them the holy name can bring the most valuable fortune in the form of the sublime kingdom of Vaikuntha, a realm free of anxiety. The atmosphere of Vaikuntha can actually be created in any place that the holy name of Rama is regularly recited and honored. Therefore to have the association of the saintly class is the highest benefit in life, as the proper mindset and remembrance of the potency of the holy name results from knowing and learning from such exalted devotees.

Tulsidas thinking of RamaTulsidas, as a humble soul, kindly reminds himself in this verse of the potency of the holy name, but he is actually incapable of forgetting Rama for even a second. Though he lived as a sannyasi begging for food, he understood that grains, water and milk are readily available in this world. These commodities are basic necessities, and their general abundance is due to Rama’s mercy. But bhakti, which manifests through acts of hearing, chanting, remembering and worshiping, is always in short supply. Therefore Tulsidas regularly sings the glories of his beloved Rama to bring the spiritual kingdom to everyone, irrespective of caste, gender or religious affiliation. Those who are fortunate enough to accept this mercy then realize the kindness of the saint who brought them the divine vision of Rama, which subsequently remains within their mind forever. As such, not only is the name of Rama a kingmaker, but so is the dedicated servant who travels from place to place distributing the prasadam of Rama’s name and glories. Considering this, the debt we owe to the saints of the bhakti tradition can never be fully repaid, but their tireless efforts can be honored on a daily basis by remembering the holy name and chanting it as often as possible.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Taking and Giving

Krishna eating laddus“Everyone is taking something from God, so why not give something? We are taking from Krishna so much light, air, food, water and so on. Unless these resources are supplied by Krishna, no one can live. Is it love to simply keep taking and taking and taking without ever offering anything in return? Love means taking and giving also.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-Vidya, Ch 2)

At the heart of religious practice is the asking for benedictions from the object of worship. “Please Lord, let my team win the big game…Let me do well on this test…Ensure that my newborn child has a long and prosperous life…Let me never fall into poverty or be stricken with a terrible illness.” That these pleas are made is quite understandable and also indicative of a heightened level of consciousness. Only the fool, he who lacks even a basic understanding of the constant morphing of the nature around him and the guaranteed delivery of death, thinks that he can control everything through his own effort. Paurusham, or human effort, can only take us so far, for the higher powers are well beyond our control. Thus it is always beneficial to pray to God to help us through difficult situations. But we know from our own experiences that He has already given us so much. Therefore on the highest standard of worship there is both taking and giving. The taking part is easy, but the giving aspect is where we run into trouble.

Why are there problems with giving? The first issue relates to who should be on the receiving end of our donation of time, effort and money. Even in the non-profit sector of the economy, there have been many cases of fraud and abuse. If we donate our hard earned money to a worthwhile cause, we expect the recipient organization to utilize that money properly. Charitable organizations are expected to be legitimate, to deliver on their promises. When it comes to religion, giving to God is a little difficult because we aren’t necessarily sure who He is. There seem to be so many religions out there, with each group claiming that their worshipable figure is superior. Despite the apparent muddying of the waters, through careful analysis of how love works, we can make the right decision and thereby figure out to whom we should donate our valuable time and effort.

Shrila PrabhupadaReal love operates through giving and taking from all parties involved. Just taking without giving is exploitation, a fact so nicely pointed out by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in his wonderful work, Raja-vidya, which is a summary review of the Bhagavad-gita, the famous Vedic scripture which presents concise and clear information on spirituality, the differences between matter and spirit, the effects that time has on the body, and most importantly, who God is and how man should worship Him. Since love involves both giving and taking, it would be safe to assume that a system of spirituality that incorporates these two activities to maintain a bond of love with the Supreme Lord would be a legitimate one.

Is there are any other way to worship God? Do any spiritual traditions espouse a belief that one should not love God? To test for validity, to see if the system in question incorporates love or not, we can review the common recommendations put forth. Based on the basic definition of a loving relationship, we can see that simply asking God for benedictions once a week in a place of worship doesn’t meet the standard of pure love. The consciousness of the worshiper in this case may be elevated and advanced beyond the animal’s, but the giving aspect is not there. We give to our children by taking care of them and sacrificing our money and time. The same goes with our spouse and elderly family members. Ironically enough, pets are given more attention than the Supreme Lord under the taking mindset. Prayers to God to grant wishes are made periodically, but pet owners bow down every single day to pick up the waste deposits left by their beloved animals.

prayingSimple prayer seeking a personal benefit is not enough to constitute love. Another avenue of spirituality involves meditation. This is the path taken by those who are fed up with material existence, the constant ups and downs, the dualities that must be encountered on a daily basis, and the unwanted influence of the senses. Meditation is focus; reining in the mind from where it surely will wander off. But again, there is no giving in this discipline, as there is no identified recipient of the meditational efforts. Meditation practiced as yoga can involve different breathing exercises and sitting postures, but there is nothing offered for another entity’s benefit. This is the central component to the practice of giving in love; the offered item must be in the recipient’s benefit.

At this point, the astute observer may raise a few objections. “How can God be benefitted by anything we do? If He is God, shouldn’t He already have everything He needs?” As soon as we cross over this mental hurdle, we will be able to find the true pathway to spiritual freedom. In the Vedic tradition, the Supreme Absolute Truth, the person we refer to as God, is described as atmarama, or self-satisfied. He never lacks anything, but at the same time, He is full of bliss, or ananda. Therefore, by definition, He is capable of feeling pleasure and thereby being pleased. If God can be pleased, why can’t our efforts be the source of that pleasure?

Lord KrishnaTo repeatedly attempt to put a smile on the face of the highest authority figure is the ideal role of the subordinate energy expansions emanating from the Absolute Truth. In His original form, God is described by the Sanskrit word Krishna, which means “all-attractive”. He is the reservoir of all energy, and the multitudes of tiny sparks represent His energy expansions; therefore there is an inherent relationship between the two distinct entities. When the sparks act in the service of the source, there is bliss and harmony for both parties. The source of energy feels the greatest pleasure when there is a loving relationship established with any and all of His sparks. Krishna’s most exalted associates are those who fully utilize their loving potential to seek the Lord’s pleasure. They not only take from Krishna, but they also constantly give Him so much through their loving glances, kind prayers, and overall dedication of time, effort and personal interaction.

Krishna transcends all sectarian and sentimentalist boundaries because of the universal nature of the engagement that seeks to please Him: bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. The religion of love is superior to any form of regulative practice because it is complete in every way; it is free of any defects and does not espouse any type of exploitation. Without establishing a loving relationship with the Supreme Being, there will always be a higher floor of spiritual practice to which one can ascend. The proof of Krishna’s divinity and His supreme status come from the results of practicing bhakti. For instance, we know that we love our paramours, friends and relatives because of the pleasure we derive from the give-and-take exchanges we have with them. Similarly, the love offered to Krishna brings the highest pleasure; therefore it can be understood to be the most advanced type of interaction, as one who is linked in consciousness to Krishna no longer has fear of punishment for transgressing the rules and regulations that go into establishing that relationship.

Radha and KrishnaThe beauty of devotional service is that it is not checked in any way. Our relationships with the creatures roaming the earth must end at the time of death, and they can also be dissolved prior to that through a disagreement or a failure of obligations expected from the counterpart being met. But with the Supreme Lord, the opportunities for service are endless. The most notable spiritual sparks, those who are purely Krishna conscious at all times, are so infused with love that not even Krishna can stop their donations of affection and surrender of their heartfelt emotions. Only in divine love is this powerful force witnessed, as no ordinary object could stir such passions within the individual that they continue with their service day after day, life after life.

With respect to Krishna being beyond requiring service, we can look to the interactions of the young child with their parents to see how superiors can be pleased. A young child will often paint pictures, make drawings, or create sculptures in school and then bring them home to the parents as a gift. “Mom, I made this for you. Dad, I hope you like this.” When these offerings are made with love and affection, the delight felt by the parent is unmatched. The constitution of the gifts is meaningless, as the parents already have everything they need in life. The child is incapable of making anything very wonderful, but just the sincere thought and the desire to give something to the elder is so nice and heartwarming that the parent becomes endeared to the child forever.

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

Krishna eating laddusIn a similar manner, Shri Krishna, as the original father, is endowed with every attribute of opulence imaginable; thus He doesn’t require anything for His happiness. But if we, His children, out of love, offer Him a fruit, flower, a leaf, or some water, the Lord kindly accepts it. Indeed, He dashes to wherever the offering is made, enjoying the gift as if it were the sweetest nectar to be found in the world. Those whose eyes have not yet been anointed with the salve of transcendental love will never be able to understand how this works. Indeed, it takes steady practice in bhakti to become firmly convinced of Krishna’s statement in the Gita where He confirms the pleasure He derives from the sacrifices made by those who love Him.

Donations of time and money to our fellow man can bring personal satisfaction for some time, but with Krishna the giving can be endless. More than anything else, the one thing any person can sacrifice, irrespective of their position in life, is time. Time is best sacrificed when a good portion of the day is spent reciting the Lord’s names. In this regard, no sacred formula is more infused with the loving spirit, one that both takes and gives, than the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. What is the difference between chanting Hare Krishna and asking God for benedictions? In an ordinary prayer, the central component is taking. The desire to get something serves as the most common impetus for the initial jump into spiritual life. In the conditioned state, the living entity believes there is a difference between material and spiritual life. Typically, the material aspect of life takes precedent, and when there is trouble, as there is guaranteed to be, the toggle is switched to spiritual life, wherein the higher power is sought out for benedictions or the alleviation of distress.

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

Lord KrishnaWhen Hare Krishna is chanted properly, the mood is one of love, where giving is as important as taking. Krishna’s name can be recited at any time and in any fashion, such as through singing or writing. Kirtana is typically equated with singing the glories of the Lord with others, but the word’s real meaning is “to describe”. Therefore even writing about the wonders of vishnu-bhakti, or devotional service, and the worthiness of worship of the recipient of the service, Shri Krishna, is considered kirtana. Chanting Hare Krishna itself is the very embodiment of describing the Supreme, as the name automatically carries with it the forms, pastimes, and attributes of the Lord.

The maha-mantra’s superiority over other religious formulas is found in the motive of the actor. There is no desire for alleviation of distress, the merging into an energy of nothingness, release from the cycle of birth and death, or the procurement of a grand opulence. Rather, when the mood of devotion reaches its peak, the motive of the actor is as pure and simple as the young child’s mindset is when offering service to the parents.

Bhakti-yoga is the religion of love because the fuel for action is the desire to associate with the reservoir of all pleasure, to be engaged in His service all the time, and to be allowed to continually glorify Him through kirtana. From these properties bhakti’s supremacy is fully established, and so is that of its prime beneficiary, Shri Krishna, who is actually not different from any other person’s conception of God. Whether we view the Lord as being impersonal, dull matter, nature, an old man with a beard, or a punishing force who tortures us in a lake of fire should we not accept Him, Krishna’s supreme position remains unchanged. But only through bhakti can we get a glimpse into the Lord’s true nature and thus derive the full benefit of our existence, which is to experience ananda of the spiritual variety. Rather than continue to exploit the wonderful benedictions already provided to us by the greatest order supplier, through a simple shift in consciousness, through both taking and giving, we can experience the full spectrum of enjoyment that spiritual life has to offer.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

From Rags to Riches

Lord Krishna welcoming Sudama Vipra“The holy name is such a benefactor of the down-trodden that it grants kingdoms to those who chant it. But the mind, O Tulsi, is so obstinate that it does not abandon its habit of searching for grains amidst rubbish.” (Dohavali, 13)

nāma garībanivāja ko rāja deta jana jāni |

tulasī mana pariharata nahiṃ ghura biniā kī bāni ||

The holy name of the Lord, which automatically brings cognizance of the forms, pastimes and attributes attached to His ever-blissful, knowledgeable and transcendental body, grants everything to those who are poor, either in the financial sense or just in a downtrodden mental state. Though Bhagavan’s ability to provide kingdoms to the weak has been well-documented and glorified, still the mind, because of its aversion to divine love developed over many lifetimes, searches for simple grains amidst rubbish, or garbage. The comparison made here by Tulsidas is quite brilliant because it not only illustrates the ability of the Supreme Lord to fulfill orders of the highest variety, but it also shows the inferior nature of the rewards sought after by the mind lacking God consciousness.

Goswami TulsidasThe issue of saving the poor is perennially at the forefront of most activist movements. It has been this way since the beginning of time. Who is not for helping the little guy? “No one should go hungry, no one should be denied medical treatment, and no one should have to worry about the safety of their family and home.” Bearing similarities to the animals, the human being takes to eating, sleeping, mating and defending without being explicitly taught how to do so. The last aspect, defending, which is driven by fear, comes with constant worry. Objects of the senses are acquired and attachments are formed. From this results a fear that the attached object will be lost, be it through natural disasters, outside forces in the form of other living entities, or disease and the effects of all-devouring death.

Is this fear really warranted? Under the conditioned mindset, where higher concepts pertaining to the differences between body and spirit and the fixed position of the Supreme Personality of Godhead as the best well-wishing friend of every living entity are not understood, the protection of the basic necessities in life is taken to be of paramount importance. If there is a God, then He surely exists to fulfill orders and grant prayer requests, as this is the model of theistic tradition followed around the world since the beginning of time. During the week you spend your time earning a living, taking care of your family and relaxing at night. Then one day each weekend you attend a religious gathering and pray that your life as it is currently constituted continues without interruption. Therefore the prayers offered relate to maintenance and the receiving of gifts to bring satisfaction to the senses.

Is there any other way to worship? Is there any other purpose to religion? Two very simple concepts, which don’t even begin to touch on spiritual topics or dogmatic principles, are overlooked that immediately call into question the mindsets of those who simply want maintenance as their reward from the identified higher power. Animals are similar to human beings in that they too must eat, sleep, and protect their property. We may overlook this obvious similarity because the animal sleeps on the bare ground, eats food we consider to be strange and defends through its animal instincts. Despite the seemingly different way in which they manifest, the activities are more or less the same as what human beings follow. Whether one is sleeping on the floor or on a plush mattress, once the body enters the state of brief hibernation, external influences are eliminated. One man may eat oatmeal in the morning while another feasts on eggs benedict, but the act of eating and satisfying the tongue is present in both circumstances.

tigerIf the animals have the same troubles as human beings relating to the maintenance of their vital force, who looks out for them? Where do they get the food that they need? Do they own farms, go to the supermarket, or even pray to a higher authority to provide their daily meals? Absolutely not, as the animal does not possess the intelligence level necessary for understanding the same concepts that are known to the human being. Instead, Mother Nature, working at the direction of a higher authority, provides even the basest of animals enough food to eat. The tiger won’t eat grass or an elaborate vegetarian preparation. It only wants animal flesh, and since it can’t procure carcasses every single day, it must practice austerity, eating maybe once every two weeks. Nevertheless, the food for the tiger is kindly provided on time.

The other factor overlooked by the individual fearful of losing their stable way of life is that with every action, there must be a reaction. Adoring the initial event of birth without acknowledging its counterpart of death is silly. As soon as there is happiness resulting from birth, there must be distress at the time of death. We can choose to ignore this impending doomful event, and even pretend as if it will never happen, but the ultimate loss of all property will occur nonetheless. Therefore, is it really wise to simply worry about maintenance, when it is understood that no amount of order supplying or protection will prevent the complete loss of property, possessions and relationships?

“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 KrishnaIf death will happen no matter what, is it useful to look to a higher power to fulfill basic orders that have nothing to do with the extremes of birth and death? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, being the original doctrine of spirituality for the world, never give too much importance to the body. The soul within, the spiritual spark, is free of any attachments and detachments. We existed within the womb of our mother before we ever owned a car or home or had to put food on the table. The soul will continue to exist long after the body is renounced. Therefore the future fortunes of the soul are what really matter.

When the properties of individual spirit are known, the level of worship can be altered for the better. The deference given to the Supreme Divine Being should be there regardless, as the intelligent person still can observe that he is basically powerless in the grand scheme of things. If man were God, how was he not able to determine the circumstances of his birth? Moreover, why can’t he just live forever and never be forced to suffer total loss? Athato brahma jijnasa, or the Vedic statement relaying the urgency to understand the soul’s constitutional position, is only the beginning of spiritual realization. Real human life starts with the pursuit of higher knowledge, with the first step being the acknowledgement of Brahman, or pure spirit.

Brahman is only one aspect of the Supreme Absolute Truth. There are generally three distinct energies: spiritual, material and marginal. Brahman is of the same quality as the spiritual, but since it is technically part of the marginal energy, it can toggle between the spiritual and material realms. The material nature also emanates from the Supreme Truth, but since it is a separated energy, it is not conducive to any lasting happiness or pleasure. The source of all energies is the Supreme Lord, who is known by names such as Krishna and Rama in the Vedic tradition. Not only is He kindly assigned sweet and fully descriptive names, but His numerous transcendental forms, including the original, are beyond all dualities known to the mind. The spirit soul, the individual sparks of Brahman, are meant to always reside in the company of the Supreme Lord, who as Bhagavan possesses all fortunes imaginable to the fullest degree and at the same time.

“The total material substance, called Brahman, is the source of birth, and it is that Brahman that I impregnate, making possible the births of all living beings, O son of Bharata.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.3)

Lord KrishnaIn their present state, the individual living beings represent sparks of Brahman impregnated by the Supreme Lord Himself. But this isn’t to say that the jivas, the living entities, remain in the marginal position all the time, or even that their original position is that of Brahman. There is a simultaneous oneness and difference between individual spirit and Supreme Spirit. This concept is presented clearly in the achintya-bhedabheda-tattva philosophy of Lord Chaitanya. The intricacies of this philosophy needn’t be understood fully, for the relationship that is derived is what really matters. Being one with God and different from Him at the same time means that having a loving relationship with the Supreme Lord is the most ideal position for individual spirit. The rekindling of the tight bond to the Supreme Spirit becomes the rallying cry, the only prayer request that ever need be granted.

Since matter is so insignificant in the larger scheme, God certainly grants whatever anyone kindly wants with respect to bodily maintenance. After all, if the same supplies are there for the animals, why would they be denied to the human beings? Goswami Tulsidas, as a devotee of Lord Rama, the incarnation of Godhead roaming the earth many thousands of years ago in the form of a handsome prince, knows full well the power of the holy name. More powerful than simply meditating on the impersonal sound representation of the Truth known as om, and easier and more effective than visiting dedicated houses of worship, the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, especially those found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, is the most authorized and bliss-evoking method of spiritual practice. When recited in the proper mood, the holy names form the topmost prayer, one that is leaps and bounds above any other type of address or statement of praise.

Lord RamaTulsidas mentions that the holy name has proven to grant kingdoms to the downtrodden. While the monkey-king Sugriva and the Rakshasa Vibhishana immediately come to mind, another notable person who could attest to this fact was Sudama Vipra, who, as a poor brahmana, once went to visit His dear friend Lord Krishna, who was ruling over the kingdom of Dvaraka at the time. Krishna, in His original form, advented on earth some five thousand years ago and enacted wonderful pastimes that are described in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown-jewel of Vedic literature. Sudama Vipra, as a childhood friend of Krishna’s, was asked by his wife to approach the Lord for some benediction. The vipra was poor and living an austere lifestyle. How amazing and unique are the Vedas? They not only bypass the issues of poverty and the fearful nature of material life, but they enthusiastically recommend that those seeking true enlightenment limit their interaction with the senses as much as possible. The celebrated Vaishnava teachers, the most noted spiritual figures in the million year tradition of Vedic civilization, have often been the most renounced. Tulsidas himself was a sannyasi, and thus a beggar. One in the renounced order not only gives up attachment to wife and family, but they also have no steady shelter or supply of food. They must beg for everything in life, for the voluntary dependence on others through this authorized method of austerity actually is most conducive to full and complete surrender unto the Personality of Godhead. Practicing the level of devotion required, which is described as sharanagati, or full and complete surrender, is especially beneficial for one in the latter stages of life, when death is lurking around the corner. He who is purely God conscious at the time of death no longer has to take birth again. Hence he no longer has to worry about bodily maintenance, as association with matter completely ceases.

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)

Sudama Vipra visiting Krishna and RukminiSince Sudama was still a householder, his wife was living with him. She was a little worried about their impoverished condition, so she persuaded her husband to visit Krishna and ask for a benediction. Sudama did not like this idea, but he went anyway, bringing with him a bag of chipped rice to offer to Krishna as a gift. Even in the least civilized societies, the custom of bringing something to the home of the person you are visiting is commonly observed. When the home is actually a palatial mansion occupied by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, surely the quality of the offering must increase. But all Sudama could muster up was a bag of chipped rice, which he embarrassingly hid behind him when he met Krishna. Of course the Lord is antaryami, or the all-pervading witness, so He knew what was going on. Taking the bag of chipped rice from His dear friend, Krishna and His wife Rukmini Devi enjoyed the offering very nicely, taking it to be sumptuous food. The brahmana was too embarrassed to even ask for anything, so he eventually left the palace, thinking of Krishna and His kindness on the way home. Of course the goddess of fortune never forgets a devotee and their kind offerings, so when the brahmana arrived at his house, he saw that his home had been transformed into an elegant palace. Even though he received the greatest material opulence as a gift, the brahmana and his wife still never deviated from their commitment to devotional service.

Tulsidas, in a very humble attitude, says that even though it is known that the name of the Lord brings such opulence to those who chant it, still the mind is hooked on its habit of searching for grains amidst rubbish. This comparison is quite deep, profound and worthy of daily discussion. The dichotomy painted relates not only to the benevolent nature of the Supreme Lord, but also to the second class standing and paltry makeup of the rewards commonly sought after. Reciting the name of the Lord brings heavenly opulence and benedictions of the highest value, while any other type of worship - be it gross animal activity that is wholly dedicated to matter or allegiance to an unmanifest form of a higher power who is not clearly defined - brings ordinary grains. Grains, water and milk are basic necessities of life, and thus they are relatively inexpensive and abundant in quantity in comparison to other commodities. Bhagavan, as the richest person in the world, can grant much more than ordinary grains. But when we neglect the chanting of the holy name, we are essentially looking for happiness in the form of paltry grains amidst rubbish that is pure ignorance, or gross matter.

If we had the opportunity to meet the richest person in the world and get from him whatever we wanted, would we ask for simple grains? A pauper asking a wealthy king for ordinary grains isn’t very wise in his request. Therefore when approaching God, we should ask for a much higher reward. Though He has proven His ability to grant kingdoms to the impoverished, the greatest reward God offers is devotion to His lotus feet. Tulsidas and other celebrated Vaishnavas of the past always remained in meager positions, for they had the most valuable treasure residing within their hearts. Their body of literature and unending dedication to glorifying the holy name and the Person it addresses place them in a league of their own.

Lord RamaWe may repeatedly find grains amidst rubbish and garbage, but by chanting the holy names of Bhagavan, residence in the spiritual kingdom, where association with God and His eternally liberated associates is found, is granted immediately. Therefore more than any other regulative practice, one should chant the maha-mantra as often as possible, understanding that any other pleasure seeking is akin to rummaging through garbage. Just as the garbage pickers are pitied for their fallen condition, those neglecting the recitation of the name of the sweet, transcendental and merciful Supreme Lord should be worried about. The scarcity in this world relates not to grains, food, jobs, or the availability of resources. The only thing in short supply is Krishna consciousness, a deficiency which can be easily remedied by chanting the names of the Lord as often as possible in the company of as many of our brothers and sisters as possible.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hearing is Believing

Krishna dancing with the gopis“The sound Krishna and the original Krishna are the same. When we chant Hare Krishna and dance, Krishna is also dancing with us. Of course we may say, ‘Well, I do not see Him,’ but why do we put so much stress on seeing? Why not hearing? Seeing, tasting, smelling, touching, and hearing are all instruments for experience and knowledge. Why do we put such exclusive stress on seeing?” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 2)

If someone were to present us a fresh pizza pie, which happened to be our favorite food, we would no doubt be excited. “I can’t wait to eat this. This pizza looks delicious. I am going to savor every bite and truly enjoy the experience.” But then we bite into a slice from the pie, chew for a little bit, let our taste buds do the work, only to realize that what we are eating is not pizza. Calling it pizza would actually be a crime, as it tastes nothing like our favorite food. What was presented to us is indeed food and may look like pizza on the outside, but through our sense of taste we can properly identify the item to be something completely different. Through this simple example we see that depending on the scope of activity the sense of sight is not always the most trusted source of authority. This especially holds true in the arena of spirituality, where the desire to see God remains strong amongst those searching for a bona fide religion, one that meets all of their objectives, removes their doubts, takes away pains and fears, and gives salvation at the end of life. If a legitimate system of spirituality were to be found, then life could continue without hesitation and worry. Once doubt and self-pity are removed, the mind can be at peace, which is at the cornerstone of any favorable condition. When understanding God, seeing is not always the best option, but hearing about Him, and especially associating with the audio version of the Absolute Truth, can bring about the quickest and most effective relief.

pizza pieThe example with the pizza pie can be applied to other areas of life as well. Let’s say that one of our friends hands us a compact disc whose label reads that it is produced by our favorite recording artist. We will eagerly put the CD into the stereo in our home or car and await the pleasant sound vibrations. But when we play the CD we hear music from a completely different artist. Once again the sense of sight did not prove to be flawless, as our hearing abilities detected that what was presented to us wasn’t genuine. The same principle applies to clothes, as we may purchase a shirt that looks nice and is labeled to be made of cotton, but once we put it on, our skin detects that the shirt is indeed made of a different fabric, one that may or may not be compatible with our desires.

The emphasis placed on seeing the Absolute Truth, or God, is understandable, as visual perception is how we identify important personalities. We see the President or Prime Minister on television, we watch our favorite actors and actresses on the big screen work their magic, and we watch the live action of sporting events to feel exhilaration and thrill. Why should it be any different when we seek out that one person who is meant to be our life’s companion, our partner for all of eternity?

As is quite obvious, sight is not the only sense. Should a person lose their vision, does it mean that their identity gets lost? Do blind people not exist? Are they incapable of feeling thrill and properly identifying others? The answers to these questions are an emphatic “No”, for the other senses take over and are used for identification purposes. Similarly, when understanding God, seeing is not always the best option. From the Vedic scriptures, the ancient books describing the spiritual traditions emanating from India, we understand that many past personalities got to directly witness the pastimes of the original Personality of Godhead and also gaze at His adorable form, only to remain in the dark about His true nature.

Krishna pastimesHow is this possible? Can someone look at God and not recognize Him for who He is? Looks can be deceiving, and based on the consciousness of the observer, the vision will be tinted a certain color. The end-goal in mind, the driving force to a certain set of activities, can cloud judgment and even vision. As an example, the thief who is ready to perpetrate a grand heist will see everyone around him as a potential spy, someone who will likely turn them in or get in the way of their criminal act. Similarly, the criminal who has already perpetrated an iniquitous deed will always be on the lookout for authority figures, afraid of getting caught, remaining suspicious of everyone else. But based on our own experiences, we know that the way others view us has no bearing on our personal makeup or even our mindset.

We may be born into a certain race or tradition of spirituality, but our identity comes from our character and our makeup. If someone else should view us as simply belonging to a particular race and thereby defective, the conclusions derived from their viewpoint would be totally invalid. If another person were to view us as being saintly and superior because of our skin color, the opinions formed would be equally as flawed. Regardless of the external vision and the spotlight that shines on a person, their internal qualities do not change.

Lord KrishnaThe same holds true with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Everyone is searching after Him, though only the truly wise know how to properly identify Him and what that identification brings. On the lowest rung of consciousness, the atheistic person, he who is totally unaware of the presence of God and the need for connecting with Him, searches for the Lord in His external energy of material nature. This is how the animals behave, for they are only concerned with eating, sleeping, mating and defending. In the absence of God consciousness, the human being remains on the level of the animals, seeking out the same enjoyments but through different avenues. Though a human being may sleep on a comfortable mattress and eat expensive steak, the tastes that result are really no different from the sleeping and eating of the animals.

On a slightly higher level, there are those who acknowledge God’s presence, but still take sense gratification to be the ultimate aim. Thus they view the Supreme Controller as a sort of order supplier, a person who needs to be pleased in order to have a happy and peaceful lifestyle revolved around meeting the base animal demands. Just as tribute is paid to other order suppliers in the form of payments of goods received, the Supreme Lord is honored in the specific house of worship at periodic intervals to ensure that He doesn’t get angry with His children who neglect His worship. Once said tribute is offered, the hope is that material life can continue without nuisance.

A step above this level of thought views God as being all-pervasive and beyond the dualities of material existence. By dualities we mean those experiences and emotions of life that are not uniform in their effects. For instance, if a certain team were to win a big game, they would feel elation, while the losing team would feel dejection. Thus there is a duality created, as through a simple outcome of a game, one side feels pain and the other side joy. On another day, after a different outcome, the roles may reverse, thus proving that the conditions of happiness and distress are relative and not indicative of the Absolute Truth. For there to be a God, He must be beyond these temporary conditions and above all the dualities of material nature. When one is aware of the need to transcend dualities, the aim of life becomes to free oneself from all material conditions and gradually merge into nothingness, which is actually a blissful light of energy known as Brahman.

On a higher plane of consciousness, God is viewed as being both all-pervading and localized within the body of each individual. If God resides with us personally, we can take the necessary steps to connect with Him. Yet the senses are always there to lure us into other engagements, bringing us association with maya, or that which is not Brahman. Therefore through meditational yoga, which can involve austerity and dedication to practice of difficult breathing exercises and gymnastics postures, we can connect with the localized aspect of the Truth residing within us, Paramatma, and thus feel tremendous bliss and satisfaction.

Lord KrishnaYet on the highest level of thought, where there is the purest vision acquired through steady practice of regulative principles under a bona fide guide, the Supreme Lord is understood to be all things material and spiritual, but His original form is taken to be the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Bhagavan, an entity who is replete with the six opulences of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, renunciation and wisdom. Bhagavan can only be realized on the highest plane of consciousness because identifying the aforementioned opulences in a person and knowing that they exist simultaneously and to the fullest degree is very difficult. The lower grades of spiritual understanding also get in the way of making the proper identification, especially if the assessment is made through visual media. One person may show us who they believe to be God, but due to our challenging attitude and past experiences, the immediate reaction will be skepticism. “How do you know that this person is God? Some other person is showing me their own God, so who should I believe?”

The sense of sight is so powerful that if a person can show a few magic tricks acquired through yoga practice, they can get a great number of people to believe that they are God. Meditational yoga practiced properly results in siddhis, or perfections. Though the abilities to become really small, really large, and travel outside of the body seem imaginary or fake to us, they aren’t that difficult to understand if we keep in mind the wonderful workings of nature that seemingly take place automatically. The sun burns perpetually without any external source of energy, and the earth continues its rotations and revolutions on the exact same schedule day after day, year after year. Therefore a yogi who can show some magic doesn’t really prove that they are God, though they can fool many people into thinking that they are.

Lord KrishnaThe Vedas also reference many incidents where miscreants and fools saw the Supreme Lord in His blissful form and still didn’t recognize Him for who He was. The Brahman mentality sees all perceptions of the senses as being false, or illusory. Thus if the Supreme Lord does descend to earth, He is seen as a product of maya, a temporary manifestation of the all-pervading Truth. If God takes a material form when appearing on earth, and the living entities also follow suit, then where is the difference between human beings and God? Therefore the realization of Brahman sees all living entities as being God to some extent, except the inferior beings just haven’t realized their true divinity yet. Obviously this raises a contradiction, for if we are God, how can we be deficient in any way? How did we let ourselves become deluded into taking birth as mortal human beings?

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)

Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the very Bhagavan that everyone worships in some way or another, reveals in the Bhagavad-gita that the miscreants and fools think that He assumes the form that He does. Bhagavan is always spiritual in every way, and His energies work at His beck and call. Matter is only false, or illusory, when it is not used to further God consciousness. For the Supreme Lord, there is never a need for self-realization, so the matter that He associates with during His time on earth is not maya. The elements surrounding Krishna are completely spiritual, as the distinctions between material and spiritual life are only there for the benefit of the conditioned souls seeking a higher taste coming from a higher association.

Lord KrishnaSo how do we know that Krishna is God? We can look at a picture of Him, but doesn’t that fall into the category of sight perceptions, which have already proven to be flawed? Ah, but the Vedas account for this. In the Vedic tradition stress is never placed on seeing God, but rather on hearing Him. The hearing process is the most effective as far as information transfer, for the popularity of talk radio directly attests to this. Polling agencies have learned through their surveys that regular listeners of talk radio shows have a much higher level of academic intelligence and familiarity with current events than do the average television news viewers. This makes sense after all, as television news is aimed at appealing to emotion, while discussion through hearing is meant to appeal to intellect. When we hear, we have to pay attention, and when the sound vibrations enter our ears, the mind immediately starts working, processing the information and deciding whether or not the opinions and facts presented will be accepted. A counter response is then generated, one that either affirms or denies the information presented. Many times the mind will work so quickly that a response is elicited that even better describes the same information that was just heard.

So how do we hear God? The best way to hear the Absolute Truth is to listen to His names, for the sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth directly carries His other names, pastimes and qualities. The same can’t be said of any other feature of Bhagavan. For instance, we may see the beautiful and delightful form of Shri Krishna and feel tremendous bliss, but remembrance of His pastimes, qualities and other names isn’t necessarily invoked. Through hearing, however, the holy name directly attacks our surrounding wall of nescience gradually developed over the many lifetimes spent on earth through the process of reincarnation. Just hearing the name brings direct audience with Bhagavan, for it is non-different from Him.

Lord Krishna“Well, that’s just what you say. You say that the name is the same as God, but why should I believe that? And which name should I hear? I’ve seen that in the Hindu tradition there are so many gods and even the purported leader, Lord Vishnu, has over a thousand names.” There are indeed many worshipable figures in the Vedic tradition, but this shouldn’t skewer the viewpoint or the understanding of the existence of a Supreme Controller. In any land there are many important personalities who are paid tribute and honored, but this doesn’t take away the authority of the head of the government. Similarly, the many demigods who are regularly honored and respected are smaller portions, or expansions, of the Supreme Lord’s energy, but there is still only one God, and His mercy applies to every single person, regardless of how one addresses Him.

The names of Krishna and Rama are considered the most sacred and powerful because they best describe the nature of the Absolute Truth. Therefore the most effective way of realizing God is through regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Should we meditate on these names? Should we chant them out loud or just to ourselves? The key is to hear these names; therefore chanting out loud is the best. The more we chant the more we hear, and the more we hear the more we perceive the Supreme Lord.

Lord KrishnaBhagavan is so magnanimous that He can be realized and understood through so many different outlets. Seeing, hearing, touching, tasting and smelling are all ways to connect with Bhagavan, and each of these methods can provide transcendental satisfaction and a permanent shift in consciousness, one which leads to the spiritual realm after the current life is over. But hearing is considered the most effective because it brings the quickest shift in consciousness. Though the promises relating to the future results of hearing the name of Krishna are difficult to accept from the logical point of view, through steady practice and a small leap of faith, the truth of the power of the holy name can be realized. As the perfect prayer, the maha-mantra represents the singular religious practice aimed at bringing all the results of every other spiritual engagement known the world over. Moreover, hearing the name through chanting it regularly can also be accomplished at any time of the day, during any time of the year. Any time is auspicious for having Bhagavan’s association, so if we take shelter of the hearing process, and regularly listen to the Lord’s names and descriptions of His transcendental activities, we will be able to see that the name and the Supreme Person it addresses are one and the same.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Creating Shelter

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 solution presented here by the wonderfully kind Goswami Tulsidas is simple enough to accept. “Chant Shri Rama’s holy name because it will bring all fortunes and every desirable.” Conversely, those who are lazy in their practice of repeatedly creating the transcendental sound vibration representation of the Absolute Truth with the tongue can vanish either today or tomorrow. Not meant to be taken as a threat, but more as a call to action, the poet humbly beseeches every single person to make permanent progress along a path that leads to the highest auspiciousness. More than just telling people what will happen if they fail to find the true light of bhakti - the path of changing consciousness for the better that is alighted when one regularly hears about the Supreme Lord and associates with His dearmost friends, or the sadhus - Tulsidas creates a situation of dire urgency, one where the recitation of the holy name is required for amelioration. Fearing the lethargy that would arise with future generations, the wonderful poet dedicated his life towards making the holy name widely available and setting up traditions where it could be recited regularly by even those who have every unclean desire within their heart.

TulsidasWhy is chanting Rama’s name so important? Though Rama may seem like a sectarian figure meant to be worshiped only by those who are born into the Hindu tradition, the rules and benefits of spiritual life can never apply so narrowly. Even Lord Jesus Christ, the founder of Christianity, spoke of a kingdom of God, where there would be universal brotherhood and respect for all forms of life. You can’t have real religion if there is only focus on specific human beings who have made outward professions of faith. Just as the good parents apply their affection equally to all of their children, even the ones that stray from the path of virtue, the mercy of the Supreme Spirit is open to every form of life, irrespective of their specific body type or level of consciousness.

Lord Rama is celebrated as being one of the primary figures of the Vedic tradition, an incarnation of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The incarnation, or avatara, is arguably the most merciful aspect of the Divine, as without the visible presence of the Supreme Person, His names, attributes and pastimes would be kept away from the living entities so desperately seeking a worshipable object. By studying human history we see that man has always chosen to offer their services to a higher power, even if sometimes the ruling body was a tyrannical one. The desire to serve is locked safely within the heart, and it can never be removed. It is seen that if an adult is not married and is living alone, they will buy a dog or cat to keep them company, as the pet demands a lot of attention, or love, from the owner.

The desire to offer service is always there. When operating under a pure consciousness, which is the original position of the soul, affection is offered to the Supreme Lord. But the questions always remain as to who the Lord is, how to offer Him service, and how to know the difference between blind sentiment and legitimate spiritual practice. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, exist for the very purpose of answering life’s most difficult questions. Rather than run experiment after experiment through the ascending process of knowledge acquisition, more complete information about the Absolute Truth can be had by tapping into the always online link of disciplic succession originating from the Supreme Lord Himself. The descending process of knowledge gathering taps into the storehouse of Vedic wisdom through either reading books or approaching a spiritual master, or guru. Without the guru’s blessing and instruction, the Vedas become almost impossible to understand, especially for the fallen souls of this age.

“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.2.6)

How can we confirm that the Vedas are legitimate? Why not read the Bible or the Koran? In any religion, the pillars must be made of love for God, which then support all other activities, establishing a strong affection that remains up until the end of life. Any method of spiritual practice that can evoke the natural loving sentiments within the heart for the Supreme Lord should be considered bona fide. The Vedas not only provide the most complete detail about the nature of the spiritual realm and the differences between temporary matter and the undying internal energy of the Lord, but they also fill us in on the qualities, names and forms of that entity we are intended to offer our undivided attention to. After all, if we are to worship and adore someone, shouldn’t we know what they look like, what their demeanor is, and what they want from us?

Lord KrishnaIn His original form, God is described as being all-attractive, possessing a complexion similar to that of a dark raincloud, holding a flute in His hand, and wearing a peacock feather in His hair. Due to the wondrous and beautiful nature of this form, the original Personality of Godhead is addressed as Krishna, which is a Sanskrit word that means “all-attractive”. The Supreme Person must have a form; otherwise He is not even an object. Without being a tangible object, He cannot be worthy of worship. Without understanding God’s spiritual attributes, any method of spiritual practice will fall short not only in effectiveness, but also in the ability to arouse feelings of bliss within the heart. In the absence of a known form to worship, man will be more prone to misdirecting his loving propensity towards worldly objects, those things which aren’t personally God. Krishna is everything, but not everything is Krishna. “I am God” is an incorrect statement, while “God is me” is more accurate. The hands and legs are part and parcel of me, but I am not my hand. If someone wants to speak to me or offer me food, they must approach me directly, not simply talk to one of my hands or legs.

“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)

The Supreme Lord must be addressed directly through one of His many non-different transcendental forms. Worship which remains attached to matter, which is an inferior energy, cannot bring about the most sublime reward of eternal association with Krishna in the spiritual world after our time on earth is finished. Connecting with Krishna is sufficient for achieving a permanent shift in consciousness, but since people have different tastes, or rasas, for spiritual life, there are other forms of the Supreme Lord that are the same in potency, beauty and transcendental makeup as the original. Lord Rama, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty, the prince of Ayodhya roaming the earth during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation, is one such expansion. Exalted figures of the Vedic tradition like Shri Hanuman, Agastya Rishi, Kalidasa, and more recently, Tulsidas, all viewed Rama as their worshipable object. Despite the cajoling of others who take to worshiping Krishna in His original form or even Lord Vishnu, who is almost equally as spiritually potent as Krishna and from whom Rama comes, the devotees of Rama will not budge in their allegiance to the husband of Sita Devi, Shri Rama.

Lord RamaIt is said that reciting the name of Vishnu, who is Krishna’s four-handed form presiding over the Vaikuntha spiritual realm, is enough to gain liberation from the cycle of birth and death. The name is the most important aspect of the Supreme Spirit because it can be easily instantiated and automatically incorporates the other three aspects, namely the forms, attributes and qualities. Other methods of worship, such as impersonal meditation, sacrificing the results of fruitive activity, and deity worship are not as potent as chanting the names of Vishnu because they are limited in scope. The limitation with meditation is that the beautiful form of the Lord is absent from the consciousness. Fruitive activity involves devotion to some worldly business for the majority of the day, with only the end result being purified through a sacrificial donation. Deity worship is superior to these other two methods, but one loses their object of adoration once outside the confines of the temple. Recommending that members of a congregation visit a house of worship at least once a week certainly will prove beneficial, but what about the rest of the time? Does God only live in a temple? If we are to worship God with all our hearts, should not we keep Him at the forefront of our consciousness at all times?

The true benefit of the holy name is seen in its ability to remedy the aforementioned deficiencies. The name can be invoked at any time and at any place. Even if one is not allowed to speak for some reason, the voice within the mind can regularly repeat sacred formulas like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and immediately be reminded of the beautiful deity residing within the temple, the qualities of the Divine Being, and the eternal pastimes occurring in the spiritual land. Chanting is the foremost spiritual practice because it automatically purifies and increases the effectiveness of every religious tradition followed. Prahlada Maharaja, the five-year old devotee son of the demon Hiranyakashipu, used to meditate on Vishnu by remembering the holy name within the mind, and thus his worship was first class. He didn’t have temples to visit on a regular basis, nor was he able to perform any elaborate sacrifice. All he had was the name, and that was sufficient for gaining protection from the demonic forces of his father.

Prahlada MaharajaThe Vedas say that even more powerful than the name of Vishnu is the name of Rama. The Padma Purana says that one recitation of the name of Krishna is as powerful as three recitations of the name of Rama. Nevertheless, there are two sides to every story, different ways to look at the same thing. The devotee of Rama will take the statement from the Padma Purana as an even greater impetus for reciting the name of their beloved. “Oh, I have to say Rama’s name three times just to equal one recitation of Krishna’s name? I guess this gives me even more reason to recite the holy name of the son of King Dasharatha over and over again.” Tulsidas especially loved Rama’s name, so his prescriptions all focus around the beauty of regularly chanting it. In the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, the poet synthesizes the benefits of regular recitation of the sound vibration representations of Supreme Spirit and presents them in an easy to understand couplet. Whether we know it or not, all auspiciousness and everything desirable comes to those who associate with Shri Rama.

In the absence of direct association with God through a loving engagement, or bhakti, the individual is left to fend for themselves, forced to live under the dictates of karma, which, as a system of maintenance, is the epitome of fairness. Every action must have a commensurate reaction, irrespective of whether the worker is aware of it or not. Just as an object will fall out of a window despite our ignorance or knowledge of the laws of gravity, the harmful effects of sinful behavior will rear their ugly head at some point in the future. The root cause of all sin is the desire to be separated from God, the best friend of every living entity. Since the aversion to divine love has steadily increased since the beginning of time, as it is fueled by the constant assumption and renunciation of bodies through the process of reincarnation, understanding the root cause of sin and how to eradicate it is very difficult. Therefore the Vaishnava acharyas recommend the chanting process over all others, as it takes the most assertive approach at curing the fever of material existence.

Those who are left to fend for themselves while living under the stringent laws of karma can leave this world either today or tomorrow. Being lazy in chanting the holy name is not a good idea because the travels of all-devouring death are unpredictable. No one knows when they are going to die, and more importantly, they don’t know what type of body they will receive in the next life. We may hear today over and over again that it is important to chant the name of Rama to receive all benefits, but if we die tomorrow and have to take birth again, there’s no telling when or if we’ll ever come back to the same position. With chanting, however, there is never any loss. As Lord Krishna so kindly states in the Bhagavad-gita, the unsuccessful yogi never makes any wasted effort, as he is allowed to continue his devotional practice in the next life at the position from which he left off.

“On taking such a birth, he again revives the divine consciousness of his previous life, and he tries to make further progress in order to achieve complete success, O son of Kuru.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 6.43)

Lord KrishnaTulsidas has laid down the formula for how to erect a sturdy shelter. This is a kind enough act, as the recipe for success is easily understood and presented in a straightforward manner. But the saints are not known to relax on the sidelines while others let their lives rot away. The saint will not only give the formula for success, but he will then try himself to erect the sturdiest shelter possible that can protect the most number of people. Tulsidas did just that by creating so many traditions of recitation of the holy names. He wrote numerous bhajans, or songs of devotion, that became tradition throughout the land. It is much easier to remember a song containing the holy name of the Lord than it is to study the Vedas and follow stringent rules and regulations aimed at elevating consciousness. Tulsidas also wrote the most wonderful poem this world has ever seen, the Ramacharitamanasa, which eloquently describes the life and pastimes of Lord Rama. The original Ramayana is a staple of Vedic literature and thus unmatched in its brilliance. But due to its length and its composition in the Sanskrit language, it is not readily available to those who, for some reason or other, can’t take the time to study it.

Seeing this impediment, Tulsidas created a more accessible Ramayana, one which could be adored, understood and worshiped by all classes in society, even women. It is seen today that regular readings of the Ramacharitamanasa take place, wherein people look for specific benefits such as the alleviation of distress and the granting of favors. Obviously the aim of bhakti is to develop love for God, but since Tulsidas was familiar with man’s aversion to divine love, he created a tradition where at least some pious credits could be gained through regular hearing and recitation of Rama’s name. That a person gains pious credits, or sukriti, through any tradition of recitation of the holy name cannot be doubted. Even a famous Indian politician used to chant part of one of Tulsidas’ bhajans about Lord Rama. Though he invoked the name for political purposes, this leader was nevertheless benefitted by hearing the holy name of the Lord over and over again.

Tulsidas meeting Rama and LakshmanaAs a byproduct of the immense popularity of his poems and songs, Tulsidas is often criticized in scholarly circles for a host of unfounded reasons. Those who read the Ramacharitamanasa for personal benefit obviously aren’t surpassing the material platform, but this doesn’t indicate a defect in the poem or the author. After all, some of the greatest miscreants and atheists in the world have studied the Bhagavad-gita, which is spoken by Krishna Himself. Do their erroneous interpretations and motives indicate a flaw in the text, its speaker or those who take the work to be their life and soul? Obviously not, as the secret to developing bhakti is to understand the sacred texts in the mood in which they were presented. Those who understand Tulsidas’ deep love and affection for Sita, Rama, Lakshmana and Hanuman will take the name of Rama found in the sacred bhajans and poems of the famous kavi to be what it is: the ultimate ticket to spiritual freedom.

Shri Rama DarbarThe saints have kindly erected the shelter made of the tradition of chanting the holy name for us, so we should honor their hard work by taking advantage of this protection. Glorifying the holy name and pointing out the defects in systems of worship other than bhakti surely are noteworthy activities that go a long way towards changing hearts and minds. Yet the saints are so kind that they basically beg others to recite the holy name of the Lord. Even if others are unwilling, the devotees don’t give up, as they just find new ways to make sure that at least the sound vibrations emanating from the spiritual world are heard on a regular basis. This level of kindness can never be truly repaid, but we can at least honor it on a daily basis by making bhakti-yoga our only business in life. Whether we are gone today or tomorrow, the holy name of Rama and the beloved sentiments of His dear devotee Tulsidas can remain with us forever.