Saturday, July 2, 2011

Talking to Trees

Lord Rama“By remembering Shri Rama’s holy name, even those who are born into a low caste become worthy of fame, just as the wild trees that line the road to the heavenly realm are famous throughout the three worlds.” (Dohavali, 16)

rāma nāma sumirata sujasa bhājana bhae kujāti |

kutarūka surapura rājamaga lahata bhuvana bikhyāti |

“If this hill could speak, it would tell me of the wonders of the darling of Vrindavana, the seemingly powerless child who had an irradiant beauty and a divine glow about Him. That young boy had the most beautiful complexion, and He carried a flute in His hands and wore a peacock feather in His hair. Yet this essence of innocence, a divine figure in a diminutive form, once held a majestic hill over His head with His little finger for seven consecutive days, providing comfort to the citizens of Vraja who were besieged with torrents of rain falling from the sky. This innocent hill, though seemingly an inanimate object composed of material elements, if it could speak would sing the glories of the wondrous boy who roamed the land of Vrindavana some five thousand years ago. Regardless of the hill’s composition, due to its association with the young child it is forever adored and worshiped. Though seemingly in the lowest possible form of life, one that doesn’t even classify as an animal or a plant, this hill is eternally honored, respected and remembered for its wonderful benevolence in acting as the instrument for the victory of the darling of Vrindavana over the vindictive assault of the king of heaven.”

Tulasi Devi“If this nonmoving plant could speak, it would sing the glories of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Lord who resides in the imperishable sky. This wonderful plant is forever dear to Vishnu, as her level of devotion is exemplary. Though in the form of a plant, a being which is incapable of expressing emotion, those who simply look at her and remember her will have devotion to Vishnu and all His forms for the rest of their lives. Though in a higher species than the objects of matter such as the rocks and hills, a basil plant is still a long way from evolving into a human being, a form which brings the greatest opportunity for the purification of consciousness through advancement in levels of intelligence. Despite the predispositions borne of her species, this sacred plant can very quickly instill love and affection for the Supreme Lord within the heart of anyone who kindly offers their respects to her.”

Normally, if we were to honor a hill or talk to a tree, our behavior would indicate a loss of rationality. “Look at this person. He has obviously gone mad. He is bowing down in front of a hill, and he is talking to that tree. He spends all his time trying to find satisfaction by feasting his eyes on these two aspects of nature.” In the spiritual world, however, there are no rules and regulations and especially no limitations placed upon the various body types. The human species is the most advanced in terms of its potential for intelligence acquisition, but since spirit is the essence of all life, regardless of the particular form it is placed into, a spiritual entity is equally part and parcel of the complete whole, the Supreme Lord, who is known by many names, including Vishnu, Krishna and Rama.

“One who is not in transcendental consciousness can have neither a controlled mind nor steady intelligence, without which there is no possibility of peace. And how can there be any happiness without peace?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.66)

Lord KrishnaKnowledge of the Supreme Person represents the pinnacle of understanding, the highest revelation resulting in the most pure consciousness, a mindset which subsequently never deviates from transcendental topics. A higher consciousness is desired because only through a purification of thoughts can there be any steady peace. And without peace, how can there be happiness? The key to altering consciousness is finding a tangible object to focus the mind’s attention on. By default, the animal instincts kick in at the time of birth, leading to a steady pursuit of sense gratification through activities such as eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Indeed, when the effects of the senses become even stronger, the more harmful engagements like meat eating, intoxication, illicit sex and gambling are taken to. These activities are considered sinful because they lead to the further clouding of intelligence, strengthening the pull and influence of material nature on the conditioned individual. When stuck on the pendulum toggling between acceptance and rejection of material activities, the mind is left no time to contemplate the real meaning of existence and the purpose to life on earth.

Within the human species, those with a high birth are considered the best candidates for transcending the effects of the senses. If we are born into a brahmana family, there is a tremendous opportunity for learning about the Supreme Absolute Truth and devotion to Him. Similarly, if we are born into a well-off family, there is little chance of being bogged down in worries about meeting the basic necessities of life. Therefore there will be more time for the mind to focus on matters of importance.

On the flip side, if we are born into a family of laborers or businessmen, the likelihood of being attracted to the sense objects will increase, thus making it even harder to attain self-realization. A laborer has to work very hard during the day to enjoy a paltry living at night. There isn’t even any time to really think about worthwhile endeavors. The first part of the day is spent in distress under constant pressure, so the off periods are intended to bring relaxation and release from strenuous activity, both physical and mental.

moneyThe businessman is equally as occupied, as he has to constantly work hard to maintain his fortune. They say that if you really want to earn serious money, you have to either own land or start your own business. The revenue from land ownership is very steady, and the value of the property can increase gradually over time. With a business, the revenue comes from the patronage of the average citizen, who is willing to pay a high price if the product or service offered is of quality. When owning a business, there is always concern over competitors and the interests of the consumer. In this way the future is always uncertain. While one year may be very profitable, the next may not. Therefore there is constant worry, leaving little time for higher thinking.

Yet even if we aren’t born into a higher class or our occupations lead us into passionate activity, all hope is not lost. Direct association with the Supreme Spirit is open for every single person. In the present age of Kali, which is marked by the preponderance of hypocrisy and quarrel within society, the easiest method for connecting with the Lord is the regular chanting of His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. No restrictions or prohibitions are placed on the recitation of this sacred formula. Even the lowest born person, one who has no understanding of spiritual life or even the basic morals practiced in a civilized society, can recite the names of Krishna and Rama and gain real benefits.

Lord RamaGoswami Tulsidas, a medieval Indian poet and wonderful human being, ups the ante by stating that one who is lowborn, or kujati, actually becomes famous and worthy of honor by regularly chanting the name of Rama, which both describes the Supreme Absolute Truth’s ability to provide transcendental pleasure and His non-different expansion as the prince of Ayodhya, the jewel of the Raghu dynasty. To give life to his assertion, Tulsidas compares the transformation that results to the way the trees that line the road to the heavenly realm are famous and honored throughout the world. A tree is not a very unique living entity after all. We can find trees everywhere, especially when we are driving our cars. We pass by so many trees in a given day that they primarily go unnoticed. Yet on the path to the heavenly realm, even the ugly trees, the ones that aren’t very tall or noteworthy, are worshiped and adored. This is due only to their association with a land that is considered superior to the earthly plane. In the absence of the higher association, the trees would be considered unremarkable and go unnoticed.

In a similar manner, the ordinary worker, who may be a construction worker, a janitor, or even a servant, is not given much attention for their characteristics. They may get love and affection from friends and family, but in the business world they are not very much appreciated. Yet if the same people take to chanting Rama’s name, they become worthy of fame and honor, which means they surpass even the most exalted members of society in status. More than just a lofty claim, this wonderful truth is supported by historical incidents relating to the Lord’s pastimes on earth. Ironically enough, the wonder and glory of the holy name’s ability to elevate seemingly insignificant living entities extends even outside the scope of human beings and animals. Certain bodies of water, hills, and plants are considered sacred due to their association with Vishnu.

Lord KrishnaAround five thousand years ago, Lord Krishna advented on earth and spent His childhood years in the farm community of Vrindavana. Depending on the spiritual tradition followed and the Vedic scripture of preference, Krishna is taken to be either an incarnation of Vishnu or the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. The Shrimad Bhagavatam describes Vishnu’s vow to appear on earth to alleviate the distresses caused by the influences of the demonic King Kamsa, but the confidential information found in the Brahma-samhita and the teachings presented by Shri Gaurahari, Lord Chaitanya, describe Krishna to be the original and Vishnu to be His expansion. In either case, there is hardly any difference in the results that come from remembering Krishna’s pastimes.

During one incident in Krishna’s childhood, the king of the heavenly realm, Lord Indra, vengefully issued a downpour of rain upon the residents of Vrajubhumi, causing mass flooding. Seeing the perilous condition, which was in part caused by Krishna’s insistence that the residents ignore the puja for Indra that year, Krishna decided to uproot the hill named Govardhana which had just been worshiped. Taking shelter under the massive umbrella-like structure held aloft by Shyamasundara, the residents were saved from sure death. Afterwards, a contrite Indra offered His prayers to Krishna and the transgression was soon forgiven. Yet the incident of the lifting of Govardhana Hill and the importance it played in one of Krishna’s most glorious pastimes were not. Ever since that time, the hill has been honored every year in what is known as the Govardhana Puja. As declared by the Lord to the residents of Vrindavana, worship of Govardhana Hill is as good as worship of Krishna Himself.

Worship of Govardhana HillHow can paying obeisances to a land mass filled with grass and rocks be considered a worthwhile spiritual endeavor? The answer is found in the wonderful assertion made by Tulsidas. The lowborn becomes famous by chanting the holy name of the Lord. Similarly, the land that offers up its service in the divine pastimes is just as intimately associated with the Supreme Lord. An ordinary hill may not be noticed, but one that is closely tied to Krishna will always be honored and never forgotten. Simply looking at the hill or saying its name, Govardhana, immediately brings Krishna consciousness, a disposition which is the ultimate goal in life.

Tulasi Devi, the beloved maidservant of Vishnu, takes the form of a plant. Because of the benedictions offered to her by Lord Vishnu, Tulasi Devi is always associated with Him. Indeed, whoever worships her regularly will very quickly be blessed with devotion to the Lord, or vishnu-bhakti. Though success in other forms of yoga, such as karma, jnana and hatha, require strenuous activity, dedication to the acquisition of knowledge, or adherence to strict austerities, the bhakti process is very simple. Tulsidas elsewhere notes that Shri Rama is certainly God and the most merciful person because He has purposely made those things in life which are essential the cheapest and most abundant. Those things we don’t need are actually more expensive. Similarly, bhakti, which is the only transcendental process required for achieving liberation from the cycle of birth and death, is the easiest and most readily available. Success in bhakti can be had by simply sitting in front of a tulasi plant and chanting the Lord’s names over and over again. The wonderful poet was so adherent to this practice that at the time of initiation he was given the name of “Tulasi dasa”, which means servant of Tulasi Devi.

Tulasi DeviLord Chaitanya has stated that just as Krishna is worshipable, so is His land. The land and the Supreme Personality it is connected to are the same. The real secret to success in life is not to try to forcefully elevate ourselves to a higher social standing or seek out fame and adoration from others. Simply taking to bhakti through regular recitation of the sound vibration representations of the Supreme Lord is enough to gain the proper stature. If even Krishna’s hills and plants are worshipable and capable of granting eternal love and devotion for Him, just imagine what the pure-hearted devotee in the form of a human being can do. The bhaktas can be found in all different shapes and sizes, and there is no end to their glories.

Friday, July 1, 2011


Krishna and Arjuna“Whatever we learn of God from authoritative sources can be described, and that will help us make spiritual progress. This description is called kirtana. If we try to repeat what we hear, we become established in knowledge.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 4)

One of the more amazing aspects of the traditions that follow the original Vedas, the scriptures instituted at the beginning of creation by the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, is the wide breadth and volume of literature that has been produced. While particular spiritual traditions may have their single book that they focus on and study exclusively, the Vedas are not limited in this way. Rather, the truths espoused in the original Vedas - which do nothing more than glorify the Supreme Person, His energies, and the processes aimed at understanding Him - can be described over and over again by new generations of listeners. This further glorification is known as kirtana, and it serves two wonderful purposes. First, it allows the student to further advance in knowledge by making practical use of the information imparted upon them. Secondly, kirtana serves to further enhance the glory of the Person being described. The incomprehensibly large volume of the Vedic literature is another feature that establishes the supremacy of the person whose glories are sung and described.

Lord VishnuWhat are the Vedas? The root word means “knowledge”, but the information contained within these sacred songs, hymns and poems is not meant for acquiring mundane information or learning how to perfect a specific technique. What is mundane information? How can we make subjective judgments on information aimed at achieving a purpose? At their root, the Vedas glorify the Supreme Person, the original divine being. Even within the celebrated songs this person is described by many different names, but each devotee prefers their specific name, be it Krishna, Vishnu or Rama. Regardless of the appellation chosen, to accept the authority of the Vedas is to accept the position of the person glorified within the songs. To say that the Vedas prohibit deity worship or any other process regularly engaged in by followers of the Vedic tradition is to talk utter nonsense. As soon as we hear someone quoting from the Vedas, it is to be understood that they accept Vishnu as the Supreme Lord; otherwise the statements and conclusions uttered by such people have no meaning.

Though there are different branches of knowledge presented, the Vedas are meant primarily for understanding the Supreme Person; otherwise the information presented would be limited and not given much attention. If we want to learn how to become a doctor, we have to study many different books about medicine and science. The books themselves can provide bits and pieces of information about various aspects of life, but the primary objective is to enable one to perform a specific medical task and become familiar with the discipline of healing their fellow man. Similarly, all the songs, truths and postulates put forth by the Vedas are meant for understanding Vishnu, who is beyond the dualities of the material world.

the sunWhat do we mean by duality? There are examples of this everywhere, but we can take something as simple as the sunshine. In the wintertime, the colder months of the year, the sun’s presence is enjoyed and highly sought after. The sun is the beacon of light, providing the desperately needed heat and warmth to save the earth’s population from freezing to death. But in the summer months, when the temperatures are generally warmer, the sun being out in the sky can be the cause of pain. Whenever there is excessive heat, the blazing sun can only further add to the discomfort already inflicted by the high temperatures.

Is the sun any different from one season to another? Does the winter sun bear different properties from the summer sun? Has the sun somehow become favorable to one group of people and unfavorable to another based on the passage of time? Obviously the sun’s position is fixed, but what has changed is the environment and mindset of the people affected. Therefore there is a duality created, one where something constant is viewed in different ways based on circumstances.

Lord KrishnaThe Supreme Lord can be thought of as the spiritual sun; His presence and mercy are always there. He is beyond the dualities of heat and cold, love and hate, and happiness and distress. Not surprisingly, those who are intimately connected with Him through a mood of love and devotion will similarly rise above the temporary ups and downs associated with material life. The Vedas exist for the very purpose of glorifying the Supreme Lord, which in turn brings about favorable conditions. If the mind is focused on the sweet, transcendental form of Shri Krishna - the most attractive and beautiful of all forms of Godhead, and not surprisingly the original one as well - the contemplative person can transcend the effects of their material body and rise to a higher plane of consciousness, one which brings freedom from the doldrums of everyday life.

Though the original Vedas are sufficient for understanding Krishna and glorifying Him, there are many other texts which descend from them, sort of like subsidiaries or supporting documents. On the surface this may seem like an indication of a deficiency in the original texts. After all, the Christians have their Bible and the Islamists their Koran, so why can’t followers of the Vedic tradition stick to one book and just study that exclusively? The Bible has such a strong following that others who are not interested in spirituality but have dedicated their lives to following a more narrow form of personal maintenance refer to their favorite books as “my Bible”. This actually indicates that the real Bible is not sufficient enough for them to take as their primary guiding force in life. If we have one book that we consider our Bible, it means that we look to it as our instruction manual for survival. If this book doesn’t reference spirituality, the nature of the soul, the workings of matter, and the need for rising above duality, then it proves to be insufficient in governing behavior and providing real happiness.

A particular text written at a particular time may be useful and tailored towards connecting with a specific audience, but as time goes by, the circumstances in society do change. The makeup of the modern world is drastically different than it was say even fifty years ago, so new challenges are presented to the spiritual leaders, those aiming to instruct the masses about the need for worshiping God. The ultimate conclusion should never change, however. This is the key. The followers of the Vedas never deny the authority of the original texts, nor do they downplay the supremacy of the person these works glorify. Rather, through kirtana, the same truths originally passed down can be explained in a multitude of ways. Actually, the total number of ways is infinite, as who could ever fully enumerate the glories of the Supreme Person, the one entity who is not limited by the bounds of time and space?

ValmikiTo see how new compositions can prove useful in expounding on the same eternal truths of life originally passed down by God, we can take arguably the first book written in the world, the lengthy poem called the Ramayana, penned by Maharishi Valmiki. At the time of this work’s composition, the Vedas were well established as the only theistic tradition in the world. The Supreme Person they glorified and the traditions put into place for honoring Him were well known to the people of the world. But Maharishi Valmiki, through deep meditation on the holy name of Rama, wanted to glorify the Lord even further. He decided to craft a poem that detailed the life and pastimes of Lord Rama, an incarnation of the original person.

Since the Ramayana reaches the same conclusion as the original Vedas, there is no contradiction raised. Indeed, the Ramayana is very understandable and appealing to those who are naturally inclined towards loving God. The original Vedas are songs and hymns, but the Ramayana describes specific pastimes enacted by the same God that we are all inclined to know and approach. Moreover, writing the Ramayana was a great way for Valmiki to share his loving emotions that coursed through his body. For Valmiki, there is no other God except Rama, and he made this fact well known through his Ramayana.

VyasadevaSimilarly, there are the eighteen major Puranas composed by Vyasadeva, who divided the original Veda into four and wrote an absurd amount of Vedic literature. The Puranas were well established prior to Vyasadeva’s writing them down. Indeed, when Lord Rama was roaming the forests with His wife Sita Devi and younger brother Lakshmana, He would often discuss incidents from the Puranas during periods of rest. The brahmanas, the members of the priestly order, whose task it was to guide society in their steady march towards freedom from the cycle of birth and death, would also recite incidents from the Puranas when speaking in public gatherings.

Vyasadeva simply took the collection of incidents already known to most people and grouped them together into official literary works of art. Arguably his most profound work, the crown-jewel of Vedic literature, is the Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Bhagavata Purana. This wonderful text presents all the truths of the Vedas in a carefully laid out sequence that is easy to understand when studied in the proper order. The major incarnations of Vishnu are also described along with their activities. In the tenth canto of this sacred work is found the activities and pastimes of Lord Krishna, the supreme and original Personality of Godhead. The activities Krishna performed on this earth some five thousand years ago give a glimpse into the eternal pastimes that take place in the spiritual sky, Goloka Vrindavana. One can become liberated by simply hearing this transcendental nectar and relishing the sweetness.

Lord KrishnaEven with the Puranas, Ramayana and original Vedas present, the writing doesn’t stop. Acharyas, spiritual teachers who lead by example, are always authoring more commentaries, poems and books glorifying Krishna. Around five hundred years ago the followers of Lord Chaitanya, Krishna’s preacher incarnation, wrote so many books that it would take a lifetime to simply peruse through them, let alone understand the deep meanings and purports. The brothers Shrila Rupa and Sanatana Gosvami wrote handbooks on devotional service, poems glorifying the qualities of Lord Krishna, and dramas expounding on the lila documented in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, Harivamsha, Mahabharata and other classic Vedic texts.

Becoming familiar with Krishna does not involve only a one-way flow of information. First the knowledge of the soul, its marginal position with respect to the material and spiritual energies, and its inherent link to the Supreme Lord is imparted to the serious student. Simultaneously, the regular chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, takes place. When this chanting is done congregationally, the practice is known as sankirtana. Kirtana is thus usually associated with singing songs about the Lord, but at its root it means “describing”. Therefore the writing of the acharyas and the poets of the bhakti school is equally considered kirtana.

atm machineWhen there is output of information, the speaker’s faith and confidence in the supreme stature of the person they worship is validated. Moreover, another source is created, a branch if you will, for people to come and take information from. The different branches of a bank allow customers to deposit and withdraw money without having to travel very far. If there were only one branch of a particular bank, the customers would be greatly inconvenienced, and thus the bank wouldn’t have many patrons. But with many branches, the breadth, scope and influence of the banking institution can rapidly expand.

Similarly, the more Krishna is glorified in written and spoken word, the more opportunities there are for others to learn about Him. The Vedas are not the exclusive property of the Hindus or those born to Indian parents. The Supreme Lord is the spiritual sun, so His light of transcendental goodness shines on every single person. The devotee, the bhakta who takes in spiritual information from their guru, or spiritual master, and then subsequently outputs the same knowledge in their own way, is the person who knows how to capture the spiritual energy and properly utilize it.

Radha Krishna deitiesIs there a way to use God’s mercy improperly? Well, there is evidence of the improper use of heavenly gifts all around us. The sun, sky, earth, water and fire belong to Krishna’s separated energy. Though they are considered matter, or material, they nevertheless exist for a purpose. When utilized for one’s personal sense gratification or for carrying out wicked plots aimed at achieving world domination, obviously the energy is used improperly. But when the same earth is used to construct a deity form depicting the Supreme Lord’s transcendental body and the forms of His celebrated incarnations, the mercy of God is taken full advantage of. When the tongue we have been given by God is used to eat Krishna prasadam, or remnants of foodstuff offered to the deity, purification takes place. When the hands are used to clap along to the sankirtana party chanting “Hare Krishna”, the mercy of Krishna is utilized fully.

Reading about Krishna’s pastimes and glories in the countless books authored by devotees is as good as chanting, because the hearing process is still there. Whatever the beacon of light on earth, the glorified spiritual master, has learned from his studies of Vedic philosophy can be found in his written and verbal instructions. In this way the sacred texts represent not only the glory of Krishna but also the wonderful and effective nature of the processes employed in understanding Him. The teachings of the devotee and their glorifications of the Supreme Lord prove Krishna’s worthiness of worship. If we follow the simple formula of inputting wisdom from the authorized sources into our mind and then outputting the same glorifications in word and song, our progression towards the spiritual sky will rise to the most rapid pace, one that will guarantee liberation at the time of death.

Thursday, June 30, 2011

From Low to High

Lord Rama with Ahalya“By remembering Shri Rama’s holy name, even those who are born into a low caste become worthy of fame, just as the wild trees that line the road to the heavenly realm are famous throughout the three worlds.” (Dohavali, 16)

rāma nāma sumirata sujasa bhājana bhae kujāti |

kutarūka surapura rājamaga lahata bhuvana bikhyāti ||

This wonderfully sweet, kind and insightful verse should dispel any myths claiming Goswami Tulsidas to be a bigot who only favored brahmanas and looked down on other castes. Every one of the poet’s conclusions follows the teachings of the Vedas, so there is no chance of the dear devotee of Lord Rama ever concocting any opinion on his own. What are commonly known as “castes” are actually referred to in Sanskrit as varnas, which can mean colors or divisions of social standing based on the inherent qualities a person assumes at the time of birth. The so-called “caste system” is present in virtually every field of endeavor, so the Vedas aren’t so foolish as to completely deny the inherent differences in quality and penchant for work that span the multitudes of living entities. Yet qualities only account for variations in the material world and the statuses that result. Since the spirit soul is the identifiable aspect within each life form, every single person is eligible for the supreme abode in the spiritual sky. Even those who seemingly have a low birth and are thus not given much importance in society can become famous and worthy of respect by regularly remembering Lord Rama, the Supreme Lord, and His wonderful name, a sound vibration which automatically transports the contemplative soul back to the spiritual land, where there are no such things as social status and bigotry.

It should be noted that Goswami Tulsidas, who was a brahmana by birth and occupation, had a high regard for the priestly class. This shouldn’t be that surprising, as there have to be some members of society who are inclined towards studying the scriptures, teaching the information contained within such works to others, performing sacrifices, and showing others how to regularly worship the Supreme Lord. In the absence of qualified brahmanas - those who both possess the qualities required to be a priest and who take up the necessary work in their daily lives - society will lack tangible leadership. Without adherence to religion, or a bona fide system of spirituality, mankind is no different than the animal.

“How much greater then are the brahmanas, the righteous, the devotees and saintly kings who in this temporary miserable world engage in loving service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.33)

Lord KrishnaHigh regard for the brahmanas is affirmed in the Vedas many times over, including in many instances by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is no different from His other forms of Lord Rama, Vishnu, Narasimha, etc. God is one, though He can take many forms who each have their own names. The Lord is known as brahmanya-devaya, which means that He is the personality of worship for the priestly class. The existence of other devas, or figures of worship, is inherently implied in this title given to Krishna. Depending on the angle of vision of the individual and their maturity in consciousness, different ultimate conclusions are accepted. In the animalistic mindset, the one adopted at the time of birth, the primary aim is to meet the demands of the senses. As one gets older, how these demands manifest can vary, with some wanting money and others wanting safety and protection for their families.

Brahmanas are those who understand Brahman, or the impersonal aspect of the Supreme Absolute Truth. Accompanying realization of Brahman is the understanding that all life forms are equal and that the material world is a temporary realm where the souls occupy different bodies. With entry there must come exit; therefore with any gains acquired in life, there must be loss as well. Knowing the eternal nature of the soul and how it can never be killed or destroyed, the brahmanas see past the need for sense gratification and the alleviation of distress. For this reason they primarily worship the original Personality of Godhead instead of giving allegiance to heavenly figures who can only distribute material opulence.

brahmanasSince the bona fide brahmanas, those who actually perform the work required in their field, are so knowledgeable and rare to find, they are given an elevated social status in the varnashrama-dharma system, which, for all intents and purposes, is what people refer to as Hinduism. Obviously, due to the effects of Kali Yuga, the dark age of quarrel and hypocrisy we currently find ourselves in, the title of “brahmana” has degraded to the point where people are claiming high status simply off of birth, or janma. There is a lot to be gained by this practice, as one can garner preferential treatment and respect from others without having to do a single thing. Therefore the genesis of the degradation is not difficult to understand, but it should still be remembered that a brahmana must exude the proper qualities and perform the vital work necessary for their occupation in order to be worthy of a high status.

The other three primary divisions of social standing are the kshatriya, vaishya and shudra, or the administrators, businessmen and laborers. Though the caste system is often railed against by those who don’t understand it, the concept of a pecking order and priority system is seen in virtually every field of endeavor. No one can claim to be equal to everyone else in every situation. For instance, if we were to board an airplane and see a young child demand to enter the cockpit and steer the aircraft, would we allow them to do so? After all, the child is no different spiritually than the pilot commanding the plane. One individual may be older and wearing a fancy uniform, while the other is an ordinary human being in plain clothes, but the essence of individuality is the same in both.

Obviously we wouldn’t let just anybody fly the plane, because not everyone has the proper training. Without knowing how to steer the aircraft, the common man would likely crash the plane and kill everyone on board. Therefore the unnatural urge towards universal equality would bring a disastrous result in this situation. Similarly, in sports players are treated differently according to their skill level. In a business environment, the boss is respected, honored and viewed in a unique way by the common man. Even a classroom has a caste system, as the teacher has responsibilities not assigned to the students.

With these divisions present in every sphere of life, why on earth would they be absent in the most important engagement known to man, that of helping everyone become God conscious? The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, don’t recommend blind sentiment. Since the conclusions provided in the sacred texts are derived from knowledge of the Supreme Absolute Truth in His ever-blissful and eternal form, they are not ordinary speculations that are prone to defects. The recommendation for having divisions in society based on quality and work is wholly scientific and capable of producing peace and harmony for all.

So what should those who are not brahmanas do? Is their hope for spiritual enlightenment lost? Do they have to wait for a future birth in a higher caste to get in the good graces of the Supreme Lord? Tulsidas very nicely provides the formula for not only becoming respected in society, but also becoming famous and honored in the eyes of the Supreme Lord and His well-wishers. Let’s first take the point of comparison and study the importance of the different components. Tulsidas notes that the lowly trees [kutaruka] that line the king of paths [rājamaga] leading to the heavenly city [surapura] are famous throughout the three worlds. This comparison is exquisitely brilliant, as it explains so many important concepts. The heavenly realm, the place where the suras, or demigods, reside, is in a higher planetary system within the material world. The difference between something material and something spiritual is that the material is perishable, mutable and ever-changing, while the spiritual is eternally the same in constitution. Therefore any planet in the material world is destined for destruction, even the land inhabited by the demigods, who are exalted living entities blessed with terrific powers.

treesThose who are pious and dedicated to virtue at the very least get ascension to the heavenly realm in the afterlife. Mundane piety without a purified consciousness focused on the Supreme Lord in the mood of love and affection leads to a temporary stay in the city of the suras, where material opulence is available at an absurdly high level. The road to heaven is lined with many trees, as are most paths leading to some destination. Now, when we travel to a common destination, the surroundings are hardly noticed. Nothing can be more ordinary than trees, especially since they are found in abundance when they serve as backgrounds to important areas. On our way to work in the morning, we will likely drive past hundreds of trees, not paying them any attention. What to speak of the lowly trees, bushes and weeds, even the most glorious trees are ignored, for our primary objective is to reach our destination, where some work or enjoyment will take place. Who cares about the minutia surrounding the path to the target destination, as trees and plants are a dime a dozen?

Yet since the heavenly realm is wonderful and unique, even the lowest trees, the ones that aren’t even that tall or beautiful in appearance, lining the road to that land are worthy of fame and attention. A heavenly tree is known as a surataru, and it is capable of granting any wish. If we go up to an ordinary tree and ask for a benediction, we won’t get anything. The tree is a living entity but it is incapable of speech or movement. Indeed, someone who talks to a tree will likely be considered crazy by the rest of society. But in heaven, everything is wonderful and beautiful, and the trees there are not ordinary in the least bit. If we go up to a surataru and ask for sumptuous food, our wish will be granted immediately. There is no limit to the material enjoyment in the land of the demigods, because any wish can be granted by any living entity there, even the abundant trees.

monticelloThe ability of an ordinary object to take on importance due to its relation to something famous is seen in our present life as well. Museums and tourist attractions are built around this very concept. The homes of the Founding Fathers of the United States, great statesmen like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, are visited quite frequently. These homes are just ordinary establishments, so why should there be any fanfare regarding visiting a housing structure made of brick or wood? What can be gained by walking around someone’s house and seeing the rooms inside? These experiences can be had within our own home or the homes of our friends. The museums and tourist attractions are given importance because of their relation to someone famous and respected. Since a great political leader is studied, honored and heard from, anything relating to their life, even the ordinary aspects like a house, a car, or birthplace, become important and worthy of attention.

For those who are in the lower social strata based on their work, there is likely not much attention or honor given to them. For instance, when visitors come to the office building of a Fortune 500 company, they likely won’t want to meet the janitors, secretaries, or ordinary office workers. These workers play a vital role in the success of the company, as somebody needs to handle the day-to-day business to make sure that everything runs smoothly. Yet the fame, glory and honor go to the executives, the suits, and especially the CEO or owner of the company. The higher ups are lower in number as well, as ordinary workers can be found anywhere. It doesn’t take a tremendous skill level to be able to clean, answer phones, or do other menial tasks.

In the varnashrama-dharma system, the common laborers and the businessmen of society aren’t given too much attention. A laborer is deemed less intelligent because of their occupation, and the businessman is considered slightly more intelligent, but still on the lower priority of the scale because of their affinity for earning money. The administrators, or kings, and the brahmanas are given higher priority because of the protection they offer. The kings protect the citizens from dangerous elements, and the brahmanas offer guidance in spiritual life, which itself is the most worthwhile protection anyone could ask for.

Lord RamaYet if one simply remembers the name of the Supreme Lord, who is the most famous and worshipable person in all the worlds, they immediately become the most important and honored. A person can be of a low caste, like an ordinary laborer or businessman, and thus not be considered unique or noteworthy, but if they remember Rama’s name and His glorious activities, they immediately become eligible for fame, just like the otherwise lowly trees lining the road to the heavenly realm.

In addition to becoming famous, such devotees of the Lord become worshipable, or worthy of being approached by those looking to connect with God. A CEO may be honored and respected, and a brahmana may similarly be paid great tribute, but only the divine figures attached to Vishnu worship are considered worthy of being paid the highest homage. Tulsidas isn’t exaggerating by saying that even the low born devotees can become worthy of fame. After all, one who regularly chants Rama’s name knows the true secret in life, that devotional service is the highest engagement for any person. Birth into a high caste may represent a better chance at altering consciousness, but this doesn’t mean that loving God is restricted for other members of society.

There are many examples that prove Tulsidas’ point. During Lord Rama’s time on earth in the Treta Yuga, many low born individuals became famous. Indeed, Rama’s best friends were a band of monkeys living in the Kishkindha forest. Shri Hanuman, a divine Vanara, is arguably the most famous and respected figure for followers of the Vedic tradition. He is not a brahmana or a kshatriya, for he appeared on earth in a Vanara form. Yet he is Rama’s greatest devotee, someone who never forgets the divine activities of the Lord, His wife Sita Devi and His younger brother Lakshmana. The female sage Shabari similarly was totally devoted to Rama, and thus today she is honored and respected for her dedication. Women especially are deemed to have a lesser chance at success in spiritual understanding in the Vedic tradition; hence the importance given to finding a suitable husband to care for them. But even Shabari, who lived in a time when allegiance to Vedic traditions was very strong, achieved the supreme destination by regularly remembering Rama’s name.

Shri Rama DarbarThe roadmap for all the sincere souls of this age looking for salvation is quite straightforward. If we simply chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and remember the glorious activities of Shri Rama and His wonderful devotees, we’ll never have to worry about social standing or the opinions of others. The Supreme Lord will see to it that our service continues uninterrupted and that others can learn from our example and honor the sublime engagement that is bhakti-yoga.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Shravanam Kirtanam

Lord Krishna“Kirtanam actually means "describing." We can describe with music, words, pictures, etc. Shravanam goes hand in hand with kirtanam, for unless we hear, we cannot describe. We don't need any material qualifications in order to attain the Supreme. All we have to do is hear from authoritative sources and repeat accurately what we hear.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 4)

Kirtana is an age old method of worship made very popular through the Vedic tradition. The Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature which expounds on the set of law codes and instructions passed down since the beginning of time from the Supreme Person Himself, has a section where bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is described succinctly by one Prahlada Maharaja, who was a great king in his own right. At the time Prahlada was only five years of age, and when asked by his father what the most important thing he learned in school was, Prahlada responded by listing the nine principle processes of devotional service, of which shravanam and kirtanam were the first two. Though kirtana is commonly associated with chanting and singing about God, at its root the word means “describing”. Not surprisingly we see that the singing that goes on in kirtana parties is all about describing the glories of the Supreme Lord. Thankfully for the devotee and the listeners of the melodious singing, the glories of the person being described are endless. Therefore kirtana in bhakti automatically becomes an eternal occupation, one that can never fully attain its stated goal.

Prahlada MaharajaIsn’t this a bad thing? If our objective is to describe a particular entity and we know from the outset that we will never fully succeed in our venture, isn’t frustration thereby guaranteed? “If I’m trying to describe this person and I know I can’t do it properly, what is the point to even trying?” Unlike with any other attempt at glorification, kirtana in bhakti is beneficial at every step. The justification for taking the plunge into attempting to glorify the Supreme Person - who is described as neti neti in the Vedic literature, which means “not this, not that” - is that the process corresponds directly with the inherent properties of the soul, which is the source of identity within all individuals, including those not part of the human species.

Glorification of worldly figures, friends and family already takes place on a daily basis. It is the natural yearning of the human spirit to be free and to use that freedom to serve. To this end praising is a great way to serve the object of interest. Therefore it shouldn’t surprise us that in spiritual pursuits this serving through glorification would play an integral role. Just having respect for the Supreme Being represents one level of ascendency from the undeveloped consciousness present at the time of birth, but dedication to glorification extracts the full potential for the outpouring of loving emotion found within the worshiper. As an example of the influence the different levels of consciousness have on behavior, when we visit a temple and don’t necessarily know who or what we are looking at, our inhibitions in offering service may not be removed. We may be seeing others worshiping, kneeling down and singing, but we have no idea why any of this is going on. “Who is this person that everyone is so happily engaged in discussing about?”

Lord KrishnaTherefore uninhibited kirtanam must have a source, an initial spark and fuel to subsequently feed its continuation. This is where shravanam, or hearing comes into play. We know that the Supreme Person being glorified can be addressed as Krishna because the Vedas say so and also because of His all-attractiveness. He is described as Bhagavan because He is the most fortunate. He possesses the fortunes of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, renunciation and wisdom to the fullest degree. Besides these distinguishable qualities, He is always adorned by His closest associates, those who never leave Him in terms of consciousness. Narada Muni, Kapila Deva, Yamaraja, Lord Shiva, Lord Brahma, Janaka Maharaja, Vyasadeva, Prahlada, Bhishma, Manu, and so many other exalted figures worship the Supreme Lord at all times. Since they are all mahajanas, or authorities on spirituality, their level of dedication only further solidifies Krishna’s status as the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Bhagavan is considered the most fortunate because of the attributes He regularly exhibits and His reputation established by the words of great devotees. Yet His stature is further enhanced by the divine qualities of His dearmost friends. Shrimati Radharani is the emblem of chastity and virtue, as are the other gopis of Vrindavana. The six Gosvamis of Vrindavana and their followers represent the most intelligent collection of transcendentalists known the world over, and they all worship Krishna with their life and soul. In this way we can go on and on praising Shri Krishna, as the glories of His spiritual descendants know no end.

Shrimati RadharaniBut where did we get all of this information from? How do we know so much about Krishna and the people who love Him? The hearing process, the fuel for the continuous drumbeat of hari-kirtana, provides a steady supply of information to the individual looking to rekindle their constitutional engagement of loving service. Irrespective of the body type, the natural penchant of the living being is to serve. When proper information is supplied through the hearing process, the glorification and service can be aimed in the proper direction, with the engine of kirtana revved up to full speed as a result.

Where do we go to hear information about Krishna? The Vedas, Puranas, Ramayana, Mahabharata and any literature that follows the same conclusion as the original Vedas are all considered Vedic literature. The tie that binds all of these wonderful works together is the subject matter of the information they present. In one sense, Vedic literature is itself kirtana, as it passes on detailed information about that person who is otherwise only known in the abstract: God. The commonality in all religions is the desire to serve the Supreme Person, but only in the Vedic tradition is detailed information provided about the glorious nature of God and why He is ever worthy of our time, effort and love. The Vedas don’t have just one Bible or Koran, but rather hundreds of works which are each complete in their own right.

Lord KrishnaThe neti neti statements describing the Absolute Truth can be taken in a negative light by those who don’t understand its purpose. But to the devotees, neti neti is accepted as the most wonderful gift. Knowing that Krishna’s glories can never fully be enumerated, those anxious to serve God realize that they can spend the rest of their lifetime engaged in kirtana and never reach an end, never exhausting in effort or enthusiasm. What continually fuels their fire is hearing from the sacred texts, especially the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, which safely house descriptions of God’s pastimes and His direct instructions.

“Always chanting My glories, endeavoring with great determination, bowing down before Me, these great souls perpetually worship Me with devotion.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.14)

Krishna Himself states in the Bhagavad-gita that the devotees, the great souls who fall under the protection of the divine energy through their devotion, always chant His glories and thus become dear to Him. Therefore we know from the person it addresses that kirtana is a wonderful process that should be engaged in by everyone. But what if we haven’t read Vedic literature? What if we don’t know the different songs and what they mean? Kirtana, aside from being open to practice in any age, is also universally accessible, especially thanks to the efforts of one saint, who was, not surprisingly, a direct manifestation of the same Shri Krishna. Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead appearing on earth some five hundred years ago, authorized one specific sequence of words to serve as the life of any kirtana party, irrespective of the group’s religious affiliation, level of familiarity with Vedic tenets, age or geographic location. The maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, can be chanted over and over again and provide perfection in results in every respect. Kirtana need not require any other mantra or sound vibration, for “Hare Krishna” can be chanted in any melody or rhythm. Indeed, the most benevolent saints are those who write songs glorifying Krishna and His different incarnations by putting words into a simple format that can be understood by the most number of people.

siksastakam_of_sri_caitanya_with_detailed_commentary_idj845The original Vedas and the classic Vedic texts are composed in the Sanskrit language, which is known as the language of the gods. Needless to say, Sanskrit is one of the most difficult language to understand, for the words are very complex, with terms crunched together to ensure that the most information can be packed into each verse. In this age of quarrel and hypocrisy, where there isn’t the time available for fully understanding Sanskrit, kirtana is there to provide the same benefit, to act as a sturdy boat that can carry an unlimited number of passengers across the ocean of nescience. The songs composed by the saints of the bhakti school are aimed at making the names of Krishna accessible to everyone. Ironically enough, there is no degradation of the knowledgebase, as these songs are complete in the information they present. Goswami Tulsidas, who was especially devoted to Krishna’s form of Lord Rama, wrote a lengthy poem called the Ramacharitamanasa, which describes Rama’s activities and pastimes very wonderfully. Despite the poem’s length, it can still be sung and understood by a wide audience.

Similarly, the Bhagavad-gita, though in Sanskrit, can also be sung; thus allowing the hearing process to take over and provide further motivation to perform kirtana. In this way we see that Prahlada Maharaja did not just list the different processes of devotional service in any order or without thinking. Though surrendering unto God and worshiping Him at all times can provide the same benefits as any other processes of bhakti, hearing and chanting serve as the cornerstones because of their unique effectiveness. Just hearing about Prahlada’s pastimes and level of dedication to Vishnu, which is another name for Krishna, further endears the listener to the Supreme Person. Hearing about God and His devotees keeps the fire of devotion well lit within the belly, allowing kirtana to continue on and on with full vim and vigor.

“Prahlada Maharaja said: Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu [shravanam kirtanam], remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words)—these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.23)

Lord Krishna stealing butterIf we visit a Vaishnava temple and see that the person standing on the altar is holding a flute in His hands and has a smile on His face, we may be interested to know more about Him and why everyone is so given to glorifying Him. But when we hear that this person is known as Krishna because of His all-attractiveness, we become further interested in chanting. When we hear that Krishna, as a young child living in Vrindavana, would playfully go to the neighbors’ homes and steal from their stocks of butter, our interest further increases. When we next find out that the cowherd women who would complain to Mother Yashoda, Krishna’s foster mother, about the Lord’s stealing would then beg her not to punish Him, for even Krishna’s taking of their property was bringing them supreme joy, our attachment to performing kirtana further increases.

When we hear that Krishna, as a young child, lifted up a gigantic hill over His head to provide protection to the residents of Vrindavana from the torrential downpour vengefully instigated by Lord Indra, the king of heaven, the sweetness of our chanting “Hare Krishna” only increases. When we hear from the Bhagavad-gita that Krishna guarantees immunity from all sinful reaction for anyone who surrenders unto Him and abandons all other forms of dharma, or religiosity, our allegiance and firm faith in kirtana increase. When we learn that the same person standing on the altar holding the flute can accept a simple flower, fruit or some water as a gift, we will make sure that we offer Him something prepared with love and devotion every single day, with each offering accompanied by more and more glorification.

Lord KrishnaIn this way we see that the more we hear about Krishna, the more attached we become to His lotus feet, which are the shelter for the saints and those who have abandoned the search for happiness in a material world full of dualities. Kirtana in bhakti knows no end, as the devotees who love Krishna never run out of affectionate feelings for Him. The most valuable boon offered by the most fortunate entity the world has ever known is the ability to continue kirtana. No other entity grants us the benediction of allowing our service to continue uninterrupted and without motivation. Only in bhakti-yoga, the ancient art of divine love, can the full potential for the outpouring of service found within the heart be met. Only with glorification of Krishna nourished by constant hearing does the human being make full advancement in consciousness, embarking on a progressive march which carries the soul towards the spiritual sky, the realm where the air is permeated with the sounds of Krishna’s flute and songs glorifying Him.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Have Your Cake and Eat It Too

Hanuman worshiping Rama“Having sweets in such abundance that they fill up a large bowl, having the power and glory of a king while remaining humble and forgiving, having worldly assets and spiritual assets at the same time - these [seemingly contradictory] combinations of benefits can be acquired easily by having prema for Shri Rama’s holy name.” (Dohavali, 15)

mīṭho arū kaṭhavati bharo rauṃtāī arū chema |

svāratha paramāratha sulabha rāma nāma ke prema |

Everything in the material world, including enjoyment, is checked to some degree or another. We can’t always get what we want. Even if our dreams do come true, there is a price to be paid, as some delights automatically cause other indulgences to diminish in availability. Much progress has been made in the areas of technology and medicine today, but negative consequences have resulted as well, such as rising medical costs and worries over losing health insurance. With every pursuit, there is another set of actions that is neglected, as the human being is limited in its capabilities. Therefore the engagements and enjoyments that are considered the most important are given highest priority, while the noise and pollution resulting from such activities simultaneously get ignored. The famous saying, “you can’t have your cake and eat it too”, speaks to the difficulty in worldly affairs, wherein the forces of nature check every movement. Even if we believe ourselves to be independent and fully capable of providing for our needs, external forces - such as those originating from the mind or body, Mother Nature, or other living entities - come and attack. Yet with the Supreme Lord, the one person who is always beyond duality, there is no such defect or contradiction in pursuit. He is capable of enjoying at both extremes, showing the full range of attributes and qualities simultaneously and to the fullest extent. As such, He is also able to kindly bestow the same abilities and conditions to His ardent supporters, those sincere souls who cast aside all desires for enjoying or renouncing in excess in favor of remaining in Bhagavan’s company at all times.

What are some examples of enjoyments and abilities that are contradictory? Goswami Tulsidas, the celebrated Vaishnava poet and the eternal servant of Lord Rama, mentions a few examples in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali.  He begins by painting the picture of a large bowl full of delightful sweets. In the Vedic tradition, mithai, or sweets, play an integral role in bhoga, or enjoyment, for the Supreme Lord. Since the ultimate objective of human life is to seek out God’s pleasure, there are specific processes that can be adopted that very quickly cause a shift in consciousness. The discipline of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is the topmost engagement, spiritual or otherwise, because it seeks to alter consciousness through explicit acts of love and devotion intended to please the Supreme Loveable Object, our spiritual life partner, the Supreme Lord.

Shri Rama deityA timeless practice of bhakti is the archana-vidhi, wherein prayers, obeisances, food and flowers are offered to the deity representation of God. Though the neophytes and those unfamiliar with Vedic traditions may mistake deity worship for idolatry, the statue or picture that is honored is carefully crafted to match the figure of the saguna forms of the Supreme Lord. In His original form, Bhagavan is referred to as Krishna, or He who is all-attractive. Yet Krishna doesn’t limit Himself to only one manifestation. He is kind enough to assume many other visible forms which are equally as complete in terms of spiritual happiness, bliss, and worthiness of worship. The incarnations and expansions are referred to as saguna because they give the appearance of having qualities, or material attributes, to the conditioned eye. The full breadth and scope of the original transcendental bodies of Krishna and His Vishnu forms are impossible to comprehend for the living entity destined for destruction within their present body. Therefore Krishna kindly incarnates into visible, spiritual forms that appear on earth and enact pastimes. The deities are non-different representations meant to act as worshipable objects that relay the obeisances and prayers offered directly to the spiritual personality in question. The commonly invoked analogy to the mailbox helps explain how this works. A mailbox is just like any ordinary box, but since it is authorized by the post office, any letter placed into it will automatically reach its intended destination. Dropping a piece of mail into any other type of box will not have the same effect.

Similarly, the deity accepts the items properly offered and automatically carries them to Bhagavan, who subsequently enjoys the offering and leaves the remnants as prasadam. Mithai is ideal for offering to Krishna because He especially loves sweets that are made of milk products. Indian sweets are unique in their taste and makeup due to the strong presence of milk and butter. Many Indian sweets take a long time to make, so they are not as readily available as other food items. Neither are large quantities of mithai inexpensive, as milk and butter are not the cheapest food items. Therefore the consumption of Indian sweets is always limited, especially for children, who are given sweets as a reward or delight. How many children are given an entire gallon of ice cream to eat at one time by their parents? The intense sweetness is meant to be enjoyed in moderation, but children don’t always understand the principles behind eating with control. Thus for a child to get such an abundant volume of sweets is unthinkable.  Enjoying such heavenly sweets all the time is not good for the health either, as an imbalance of nutrients results within the body. Just imagine eating candy bars all day and nothing else. Obviously there would be negative health effects. For these reasons the condition of having an abundant supply of sweets, enough to fill a large bowl, is seemingly contradictory, or at least very rare to find.

mithaiTulsidas next mentions the reward of having the abilities of a king while remaining forgiving and controlled in desires. The sequencing of this reference is no accident, as it can directly relate to the previous example of the bowlful of sweets. Let’s say that we are on a diet. Our aim is to lose weight by limiting our food intake during each given day. This seems simple enough; we just watch what we eat and don’t give in to temptation. Now let’s up the ante by placing an entire buffet cart full of food and desserts in front of us the entire day. Our task is still the same, that of limiting food consumption, but now we have to avoid the visible temptation that is directly in front of us throughout the day.

Obviously most of us would fail miserably in this task, as the inclination would be to simply have a few bites of food every now and then, not worrying about the after-effects. Powerful personalities and people in positions of high authority face similar conditions, for being king means being able to get whatever you want. The famous longing, “If I could only be king for a day”, speaks to the desire to have all wishes and wants granted immediately. As a king can have pretty much any desire satisfied, his behavior becomes more and more like an animal’s. The human form of life is meant for tapasya, or austerity, because only through sense control can the Supersoul, the plenary expansion of the Supreme Spirit residing within the heart, be realized. Connecting with the Supersoul results in yoga, the steady practice of which brings liberation to the heavenly realm in the afterlife. Sense demands, on the other hand, lead one further and further away from permanent yoga. And lest we think the senses will leave us alone after being satisfied a few times, the waves of demands keep pouring in, as the material desires of the living entity can never be truly satisfied. Indeed, the more quickly and regularly we feed our sense cravings, the stronger they become. Therefore the king who has every enjoyment at his disposal automatically has the toughest time trying to control his senses, especially in the areas of illicit sex, gambling and intoxication. When sense control is lost, so are forgiveness and kindness. For a celebrity accustomed to receiving heaps of praise from adoring fans, it is very difficult to remain truly humble and down to earth. Therefore those famous personalities who are kind, generous and compassionate are marveled at for their unique ability to maintain a level head.

The third paradox mentioned by Tulsidas is the most broad in scope, and is thus automatically inclusive of the previous two. Artha is a Sanskrit word that refers to profit, which is one of the four primary rewards available to the God conscious individual. Profit doesn’t have to refer to money; it can relate to any type of tangible benefit, or interest. As such, there are two types of profit, worldly and spiritual. In the Hindi used by Tulsidas, artha becomes “aratha”, which can be of the “sva” or “param” variety. Svaratha refers to personal interests, those gains which are seen in the present life. A nice family, a good job, a steady income, etc. are all svaratha. These are very difficult to attain, so it is not surprising to see that this type of profit serves as the impetus for almost all activity and endeavor.

Lord KrishnaParamaratha is supreme for a reason, however, for it relates to the interests of the soul after it has quit its present body. The spiritual spark within the body forms the basis of identity. As such, it never takes birth or dies. When the body is renounced, a new, temporary dwelling is crafted based on the desires and work performed in the previous life. Paramaratha refers to those benefits that lead to a better condition for the soul in the next life. There is no more beneficial future condition than residence in the Supreme Lord’s personal realm in the spiritual sky, a place wherefrom no living entity ever has to exit upon entering once.

“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, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)

Svaratha and paramaratha seem diametrically opposed to one another. As consciousness is the key determining factor in the future destination of the soul, one who is blessed with personal profits will have a mindset firmly attached to their current way of life. If the mind is always pondering how to enjoy money, wealth, home and family, when will there be time to contemplate on the Supreme Object of Pleasure? As such, the consciousness at the time of death will indicate a desire to return to the temporary realm, thus igniting the search for svaratha all over again.

To attain spiritual profits, some kind of renunciation from worldly affairs is necessary. If the mind is firmly attached to activities aimed at satisfying the senses, consciousness will never be purified. Therefore spiritual practices aimed at providing benefits in the afterlife entail dedication to ritualistic performances, the adherence to strict austerities, study of the Vedas, and giving in charity. If spiritual activities take up all the time of the individual, however, what opportunity will there be for personal enjoyment? Therefore paramaratha is seen as being contradictory to svaratha.

Lord RamaYet Tulsidas says that by regularly reciting Shri Rama’s holy name with prema, or love, all of these diametrically opposed rewards can be very easily had. Chanting 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”, falls under the category of bhakti-yoga. This discipline is different from any other system of maintenance or regulation, spiritual or otherwise. The soul’s constitutional position is one completely enveloped by bhakti, or pure love for God. When firmly linked to the Supreme Consciousness belonging to one of Krishna’s transcendental forms, such as that of Lord Rama, who is an incarnation of Godhead and the worshipable figure for the sweet and kind Tulsidas, every activity the living entity engages in is considered profitable and beneficial. The devotee is never in need of anything. All of the seemingly paradoxical occurrences mentioned thus far arrive without any effort.

“Krishna had one brahmana friend whose name was Madhumangala. This boy would joke by playing the part of a greedy brahmana. Whenever the friends ate, he would eat more than all others, especially laddus, of which he was very fond. Then after eating more laddus than anyone else, Madhumangala would still not be satisfied, and he would say to Krishna, ‘If You give me one more laddu, then I shall be pleased to give You my blessings so that Your friend Radharani will be very much pleased with You.’” (Shrila Prabhupada, Nectar of Devotion, Ch 41)

$(KGrHqJ,!jIE3SBQI7 zBN7Gm VRww~~_3We don’t need to just take Tulsidas’ word for it, as there are countless examples illustrating the divine power of the holy name and the sweetness of the results that come from steadiness in bhakti. During Lord Krishna’s childhood years in Vrindavana, one of His closest friends was Madhumangala, who was the son of a brahmana. Madhumangala especially enjoyed eating sweets, so he would often reference different Vedic rituals and make jokes about how they should be performed so that he could enjoy the bhoga offerings. He wouldn’t miss any chance to get jalebis, sandesh, or other wonderful Indian sweets. When Mother Yashoda would call Krishna and His elder brother Balarama to come home from playing to eat, Krishna’s friends would sometimes accompany Him. As any good mother would do, Yashoda would feed them all very sumptuously. Since they were children and such good friends with Krishna, they would receive more food than they could even handle. Therefore Madhumangala would have no problem securing sumptuous mithai by the bowlful; so much so that his stomach would hurt afterwards.

King Janaka of Mithila, the celebrated father of Sita Devi [the eternal consort of Lord Rama], had every royal opulence available to him, yet his senses were completely under control. Though he was originally an expert yogi who focused exclusively on the impersonal aspect of the Supreme Truth known as Brahman, Janaka later became an authority figure on devotional service after being enamored and taken by the two brothers, Rama and Lakshmana. Through the medium of his son-in-law Shri Rama and His holy name, Janaka further glorified himself and his line by remaining ever dedicated to virtue and piety while simultaneously having all the glories and perks of a king.

The simultaneous possession of svaratha and paramaratha is seen in all elevated devotees, as the bhaktas are never lacking anything either in the material world or in the afterlife. Shri Hanuman, the glorious bhakta of Shri Rama, personally has all his needs met by Sita Devi during his time on earth. Since he only wants to chant Rama’s name all day and hear about His pastimes found in the Ramayana, Hanumanji doesn’t require much. Nevertheless, he doesn’t need to exert any extra effort, as the goddess of fortune, the giver of every boon imaginable, makes sure that he has everything he needs.

Hanuman thinking of Sita and RamaThe incomprehensible workings of the holy name and the benefits its constant recitation provides shouldn’t surprise us. Krishna possesses every seemingly mutually contradictory set of attributes. Though the Lord is the most renounced, being atmarama, He still enjoys transcendental loving affairs with Shrimati Radharani and the gopis of Vrindavana. He is the most spiritually lusty, yet He is the most celibate at the same time. He is the greatest bow warrior in His form of Shri Rama, yet He is also the most generous, kind and merciful as well. He is the most controlled in terms of indulgence in sense gratification, yet He can still enjoy every offering of heavenly mithai made to Him by the humble devotees. Since the Lord is fully endowed with every beneficial feature, then surely the same gifts are present in those who are never forgetful of His divine nature and sweet form. Our ordinary affairs may be checked in every way, but he who adores Rama’s name and never lets it go can find enjoyment in every situation and surrounding. If we eat the birthday cake presented before us, we no longer have it, but the holy name of Shri Rama can be enjoyed over and over again and still be there for us to invoke and adore. Just as the fire of bhakti never dies, the devotee’s enjoyment and spiritual profits in sharanagati, or full surrender, never exhaust.