Saturday, July 9, 2011

Furthering a Purpose

Lord Krishna“From all points of view, if we make an analytical study of the Vedic literatures, we will find that the ultimate summit of knowledge is to surrender unto Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 7)

The jigsaw puzzle starts off as a conglomeration of disjointed pieces, a seemingly difficult to understand mess that is supposed to finally fit together to reveal an image, a resting place for the eyes that is the result of the mental effort expended. The numerous conclusions reached by the human brain are similarly meant to further a purpose. When the individual points of fact are stacked on top of one another, further progress is made towards the ultimate conclusion. Unless and until that final stage is attained, the pieces of the puzzle will be viewed as just that, individual pieces that don’t have any relation to one another. On the other hand, when the final conclusion is revealed and properly understood, all the individual aspects of life - including the difficulties, trials, tribulations, heartache, tumult, despair, chaos and even the good times - will be seen in the proper context and appreciated for what they are: steppingstones in the path towards final salvation.

jigsaw puzzleTo see how smaller conclusions can further a larger purpose, let’s review the typical lifespan of a human being. The spirit soul placed inside of a human form starts off as an infant, not knowing how to do anything except maybe cry. Through trial-and-error and accompanying instruction provided by authority figures, or gurus, the infant learns how to crawl, walk, talk and follow sound advice. The crawling and walking lead to much bigger and better things later on in life. With further maturation comes schooling, which can take upwards of twelve years to complete. The school system is the most obvious example of how different conclusions are specifically sequenced to further a higher purpose. In each grade level, different pieces of information are taught, foundational building blocks towards acquiring the target knowledge system, the possession of which indicates the student’s worthiness to graduate. Graduating high school requires proficiency in certain subjects. In this regard, schooling is not actually required, as all that is needed is information and the ability to demonstrate knowledge of it. But the twelve years of schooling is there to reinforce concepts and allow for a slow accumulation of intelligence, as cramming the information necessary for graduation into the mind in one fell swoop is difficult. It is better to gradually acquire, remember and exercise information instead.

School is just one example, but once the individual takes to the work force, they have to similarly train themselves in whatever discipline they follow. A medical man has to go through years of training before he is certified to practice healing patients. The lawyer similarly must learn the ropes and work their way up the ladder towards success. So in virtually every field of activity, wherever some type of conclusion is made, there is a higher purpose to be fulfilled. One logical deduction leads to another, with hopefully the final conclusion bringing a most palatable situation.

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

Lord KrishnaWhen it comes to understanding the truths of spiritual life, the same pattern can be followed. The first instruction taught to students of the Vedic tradition is aham brahmasmi, which means “I am Brahman.” What is Brahman? The light of truth, the spiritual energy that is beyond duality, illusion and temporary changes is Brahman. Every individual life form, irrespective of their outward dress, is Brahman. This information is important to understand at the beginning of instruction because once we know who we are, we can both decipher and follow the proper path in life. If we hit a fork in the road and don’t know where to go, we’ll consider many factors before deciding which path is the correct one. For the human being, which is a species that represents the most advanced in terms of potential for intelligence, there are more than just two paths; there are many such forks in the road of life. If we don’t know who we are, we will never know the right path to take.

If someone doesn’t know that they are Brahman, how will they identify themselves? Is there such a thing as a wrong identification? Well, let’s think about a similar situation involving individuals on a team. In an office environment, a worker serves at the pleasure of the boss, who guides the employees along the proper path. The aim of the establishment is to turn a profit selling their good or service. Every person, even the most insignificant worker, is a vital piece of the puzzle, meaning they have a hand in the success of the company. If one of the workers should misidentify themselves, taking their personal whims and desires to be more important than the company’s, the attainment of the end-goal will suffer. In a more egregious deviation, if the worker identifies with another company instead of their own, obviously this faulty identification will lead to an unpalatable condition in the future. The company will suffer, because the worker will take to the wrong activities, engagements which won’t further the end-goal of turning a profit.

If the human being doesn’t understand that they are Brahman, they will follow all the wrong activities in life, especially once they reach an age of maturity. A small child can be guided in their behavior by elders and spiritual authority figures, but once the same child becomes old enough to make their own decisions, it becomes much more difficult to persuade them to remain on the proper path. Moreover, if the guides don’t know how to correctly identify themselves, they will lead others astray.

“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.34)

Shrila PrabhupadaWithout understanding that we are Brahman, our behavior will mimic the animals. An animal is a life form just like us, but it doesn’t understand anything significant about spirit, birth, death, old age, disease, or the temporary workings of nature. Rather, the animal is driven strictly by sense demands, as it associates completely with its temporary body. The human being, without proper education of Brahman, will adopt a similar mentality. Indeed, the preponderance of meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex can be attributed entirely to the lack of knowledge of the proper identification. If we think we are our bodies, which are lumps of matter that are ever-changing and ultimately discarded at the time of death, when it comes time to make choices in life that can have a significant impact, we will make the wrong ones.

The conclusion that reveals that we are spirit souls thus allows us to make further progress towards the ultimate goal. It should be noted that aham brahmasmi is not the last instruction, nor is it the final conclusion. It is the first piece of the puzzle, though it is one that almost no one has, especially in today’s day and age. From the understanding of Brahman, one can shape their activities to actually realize their position as spirit. Knowing how a computer works doesn’t necessarily mean we can fix a broken one. Rather, practice and real life experience with fixing malfunctioning computers will help us make use of the theoretical information acquired. In a similar manner, knowledge of Brahman is only one aspect of self-realization. There must also be vijnana, or the practical application of theoretical concepts.

Activities in Brahman differ from animal activities because they maintain the knowledge of spirit and the essence of the individual. From knowledge of Brahman, other conclusions can be reached that will help the further progression towards full enlightenment. For instance, after learning that we are Brahman, we can make inquiries into the nature of spirit. From further study, we learn that the soul is immutable, unchangeable, and primeval. The soul is not slain when the body is slain. Moreover, the soul is sanatana, or without a beginning and without an end. No one can destroy the soul, change its properties, make it wet, burn it, or create it. The soul is always there.

“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.23)

Lord KrishnaUnearthing these conclusions then leads to other inquiries. “If the soul is eternal, what happens to the human being after he dies? Moreover, where was the soul before my present birth?” From further study in Vedanta, or the ultimate knowledge system passed down since the beginning of time by the celebrated rishis living in what is today known as India, we learn that just as spirit has certain properties, so does matter. The outer covering of the soul consists of an inferior energy known as prakriti, or matter. The soul, or purusha, is superior to matter, but due to delusion it thinks otherwise. The false identification accepted at the time of birth is rooted solely in ignorance of the properties of matter and its ability to foment delusion.

In the deluded condition, the spirit soul, unaware of its nature as Brahman, puts itself under the jurisdiction of guna and karma. Gunas are material qualities, or different gradations of matter. There are three primary gunas [goodness, passion and ignorance], which can be mixed up in so many different proportions; thus resulting in the seemingly unlimited number of unique species. The Vedas top the count off at 8,400,000 different distinct species, or bodies consisting of combinations of the three modes of nature. Karma manages cause-and-effect for life forms that are tied to matter. The spirit soul is aloof from the temporary manifestations of matter, but when placed inside of a material body, the soul becomes subject to the cause-and-effect system of karma, which is supremely fair in its workings. Just as we know that an object will fall to the ground if we should let go of it from our hand, the spirit soul must take on another body after it exits its current one. The type of body assumed in the next life is determined by the work that was performed in the previous life. Work is driven by desire, which is shaped by the qualitative makeup of the body assumed. Thus so many factors go into what type of body is received and what type of lifestyle is enjoyed or suffered.

These factors make it all the more important to understand Brahman and take to activities that please the soul and not the body. Therefore whatever engagements we can take up that will keep the mindset of aham brahmasmi alive will be beneficial in the long run. Conversely, anything we do that keeps us attached to our body and under the jurisdiction of karma will be to our detriment, even if there are temporary gains and fleeting periods of happiness along the way. A sober person does not overly rejoice over good fortune or lament too much over bad times, because they understand the temporary nature of life in a material body. The soul is eternal, so what use has it to invest so much emotion in fleeting happiness and experiences?

Lord KrishnaOnce we know about Brahman, matter and karma, the next question that may be asked is: ”how did we get trapped in this cycle of reincarnation, wherein bodies are always changing through the workings of karma? Is it possible to break free from this cycle? Is there an entity more powerful than Brahman? Where did Brahman come from?“ Now we’re getting closer to the final conclusion. Indeed, anyone who even asks these questions just once in their lifetime and sincerely looks for answers will be guaranteed of finding them. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, declare that there are two distinct powerful entities, Brahman and Parabrahman. Both are the same in quality, but one is vastly superior in quantitative powers. Parabrahman is the fountainhead of all energies, both spiritual and material. Brahman’s qualities are due entirely to Parabrahman, as the supreme source of energy simply expands into tiny fragments that are similar in quality to His nature. In this sense, we are all God, but small “Gods”. There is a much larger God, who is a singular entity and never subject to the influence of any of His energies. He can expand as many times as He wants and still remain completely whole in His form and potency.

To understand and realize Brahman, the Vedas recommend various practices. Those who know that they are not matter but spirit and wish to be cognizant of this at all times take to reading the Vedas, teaching Vedic wisdom to others, performing sacrifices and rituals enjoined in the scriptures, teaching others how to perform the same rituals, accepting in charity and giving in charity. Such activities belong to the mode of goodness, and if one is able to transcend even this mode and remain situated in Brahman up until the time of death, they no longer suffer through birth and death or association with matter. The brahma-bhutah stage, the platform of enlightenment where one learns and truly realizes that they are Brahman, is above the material consciousness. As such, when the time of death comes, the choice made by the individual is for spiritual life; a decision which is fully respected.

Lord KrishnaBut what happens when birth and death stop and the Brahman platform is maintained? After reaching Brahman, one has almost made it to the end, the ultimate conclusion. The last step that remains is researching Parabrahman and understanding His nature. For this the Vedas have provided much information, as Parabrahman has too many names to count. His original and most complete name is Krishna, which means “all-attractive”. Based on this description, we understand that Krishna has a form and is thus a personality. Unlike the deluding matter of the temporary world, prakriti in the spiritual land is divine. Those who stay stuck on the Brahman platform have a difficult time understanding this; therefore they remain far away from the association of Parabrahman in His original blissful form.

To aid the sincere souls in their understanding and in reaching the final destination, the Supreme Lord personally descends to earth and enacts pastimes periodically. Some of His most important and remembered pastimes relate to His providing of instruction, especially that given on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago to the Pandava warrior Arjuna. In this series of teachings, which are collectively known as the Bhagavad-gita, or the Song of God, Krishna delves into the topics previously covered, such as the nature of spirit and the workings of matter. But since the message comes from Krishna, who is the fountainhead of everything matter and spirit, the final conclusion is ultimately reached. The Lord declares that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death immediately attains His nature, which means they are granted residence in His eternal kingdom of Goloka Vrindavana, which is situated above the Brahman effulgence, the destination for those who are only Brahman realized.

“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.66)

Lord KrishnaNot only does Krishna reveal this secret information about liberation, but He also provides the simplest path towards achieving that highest goal. His final instruction to Arjuna is that he should just surrender unto God and be delivered of all sinful reaction. This call for surrender is the most important instruction, the final conclusion if you will. Indeed, one who understands this and then acts upon it immediately surpasses the need for all other instruction. One who surrenders to Krishna wholeheartedly through a shift in consciousness automatically gains a higher level of intelligence and knowledge than the person studying Brahman and the workings of karma. The smaller conclusions are meant to eventually reach Krishna, so obviously one who goes directly to the Lord without any ill motive and in a mood of pure love will have no need for understanding smaller conclusions, which by themselves don’t bring Krishna’s blissful association.

So how does surrender take place? The simplest way is to remain focused on God through consciousness, which can best be achieved by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. What’s even more astounding is that once perfect Krishna consciousness is attained, the other important pieces of information presented by the Vedas become much more appreciated. Just as the final jigsaw puzzle reveals the utility and importance of the individual pieces, knowledge of Krishna, His pastimes, His forms and His bliss-evoking names reveals the true importance of understanding Brahman, the temporary nature of life, the need to refrain from attachment, and the eternality of the soul. The highest purpose in life is to understand Krishna. This is the conclusion of all Vedic scriptures, and anyone who knows this will never be denied admittance on the boat travelling across the ocean of nescience and reaching the supreme destination.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Final Exam

Lord Rama“You refer to everything as ‘mine, mine’, but can you tell me who you are or what your real name is? Silently perform religious practices and hear transcendental subject matters to understand everything properly, says Tulsi, or simply chant Shri Rama’s holy name.” (Dohavali, 18)

mora mora saba kaham̐ kahisa tū ko kahu nija nāma |

kai cupa sādhahi suni samujhi kai tulasī japu rāma ||

In many higher education courses, the final grade, the assessment of the student’s overall ability to assimilate the knowledge they have been imparted into their thoughts and ideals, is partly determined by attendance in the course itself. Showing up is half the battle, as even in the work environment just being on time and leaving a little late can do wonders in keeping the position and looking good in the eyes of the boss. The employer wants to see that work is being done; just taking the employee’s word for it is not enough. After all, the laws of inertia state that a body at rest will tend to remain at rest. Therefore an inactive worker will have a difficult time taking on new tasks and completing assignments required for achieving the objectives of the business owner. On the other hand, the person who is always active, ready to face new challenges, keeping the mind always occupied in affairs, will have a much easier time taking on new work. The concept is similar to having one athlete who has warmed up versus another who has been sitting on the sidelines all day.

examDespite showing up to class regularly, there is still the requirement that the student pass an examination or at least a series of assignments. Simply hearing information is a good start, but it’s not enough for successful completion of the course, for there has to be proof that the transmitted sound was actually processed within the mind of the listener and fully understood. The classroom is a place where the mind can zone out very easily, for if the subject matter does not interest the student, they will have the tendency to take shelter of laziness and daydreaming. Therefore the exams almost become a requirement, as they are meant to reinforce the principles presented and also keep the student actively engaged.

Passing examinations is such a powerful indicator of proficiency that it can even trump the need to show up to class regularly. For instance, if one student arrives on time to the classroom every single day but then doesn’t understand anything they are hearing, what is the use of their attendance? What do they gain by the teacher’s association? On the other hand, one who learns everything that needs to be understood but doesn’t show up to class has no need to show their attendance record or their allegiance to hearing. They already understand everything, so what is the purpose to following perfunctory rules and regulations?

In the game of life, the largest stumbling block towards achieving transcendental enlightenment is the proper understanding of identity. To this end, the mentalities of “I” and “Mine” reinforce the cloud of ignorance assumed at the time of birth. We are taught to share in our youth, because otherwise we would tend to hoard our possessions and consider everything as being the same in quality as us. When we receive a new toy, we obviously didn’t have any claim to the material that went into the toy’s construction prior to our ownership of it. Therefore it is understood that possession itself is temporary. We can part with something just as easily as it was acquired. Those who understand this have a higher level of intelligence.

“I” and “mine” are rooted in ignorance of the identity of the individual and his relation to the Supreme Lord. Matter is a temporary manifestation that covers up the intelligence of the otherwise fully knowledgeable soul. Matter does come from somewhere, though. Once the source is understood, it becomes much easier to realize the identity of everything, including the personal self. To this end religion was instituted, providing a systematic way for the false identification adopted at the time of birth to be gradually renounced.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)

Lord KrishnaThe soul is the essence of individuality and the source of identity within every life form. This information can be taken from the authority of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His teachings found in the sacred Bhagavad-gita, one of the most revered scriptures in history. Though Krishna presents these basic truths of spirituality to His dear friend and cousin Arjuna, the presence of the soul can actually be understood through simple perception. We know that life continues on earth after someone dies and that life existed prior to our birth. Therefore we know that life continues on and on, even though the temporary coverings the soul assumes change all the time. Our body is changing at every second; we just can’t perceive the subtle differences unless we juxtapose two images of ourselves taken between significant periods of time.

When the soul is present within a body, there is autonomous movement. Sometimes the movements are even involuntary, such as with the heart, lungs and eyes. As soon as the soul exits, the same body becomes dull and lifeless. Therefore we can see that the spirit soul is the essence of individuality and even the body can’t be considered “Mine”. If even our hands and legs are temporary objects of matter that can come and go in a second, how can we claim full ownership of our land, possessions, and family relationships? Moreover, how can we take our identity to be related to our skin color, religious affiliation, or country of origin?

Breaking free of the “I” and “Mine” mentalities is very difficult. Fortunately for us, the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, provide many different pathways towards achieving enlightenment. It is not that the Vedas are the only scriptural tradition of the world. They are, however, the one set of religious works that has the most information available about the Supreme Person and His creation. Religion is what distinguishes the human beings from the animals. Since the human being has the potential to understand their true identity, real religion must incorporate knowledge of spirit and matter and also how the Supreme Lord is related to both.

Lord ChaitanyaAll such information is found in the Vedas. Simply by hearing regularly, performing ritualistic practices and contemplating on the subject matters heard, one can slowly but surely realize who they are. And what are we exactly? Lord Chaitanya, the preacher incarnation of Godhead who made the sankirtana-yajna, or the sacrifice of chanting the holy names of the Lord, famous throughout India around five hundred years ago, states that the living entity’s original form is that of servant of God. Aham brahmasmi, the proclamation of “I am Brahman” revealed in the Vedas, is actually only a partial understanding. Learning that I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of the sum total of spiritual energy known as Brahman helps to shed the possessive mindset taken on at the time of birth. But to understand the nature of spirit and how the individual is tied to the Supreme Lord requires a further dive into spiritual subject matters.

Dedication to hearing and following sadhana, or regulative practice, are enough to gain the proper understanding of our identity. This is the point raised by Goswami Tulsidas in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali which is directed at the gross materialist ignorant of their identity as spirit. Unlike with the classrooms holding discussions on material subject matters, there is no exam required for those hearing regularly about God and devotion to Him. If one simply hears from the right source about the different energies and how God created them, they can slowly but surely attain their true position. Following regulative principles at the same time affords the bewildered spirit soul a chance to remain occupied. Regulative practices include rising early in the morning, attending timely ceremonies at a formal place of worship, abstaining from sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, and eating food that has first been offered for sacrifice.

“The devotees of the Lord are released from all kinds of sins because they eat food which is offered first for sacrifice. Others, who prepare food for personal sense enjoyment, verily eat only sin.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 3.13)

Lord Krishna - the enjoyer of sacrificeHearing about God is so powerful because it is in line with the soul’s natural position. God is superior and the spirit souls, His fragmental parts, are inferior. When knowledge of the superior is regularly imparted to the inferior, the natural order of things is maintained. The key, however, is to hear from the right persons. While the possessive mentality is flawed, so is the inverse mentality that sees everything as being false. On the one side you have those who associate completely with their temporary bodies, and on the other you have those who think that everything, including objects of matter related to spiritual life, is false. Under the latter mentality, the Supreme Absolute Truth is taken to be formless or invisible. Thinking everything is false, or maya, is dangerous because it keeps the soul in the dark about its true identity. The individual spirit souls are part and parcel of God, simultaneously one with and different. We are one with God because the Lord can never be separated from His energies, similar to how the attached arms and legs are one with the body. At the same time, we are not God; therefore it is silly to think that we are completely one with Him. Under the “God is invisible” mentality, nothing in the phenomenal world is taken to be beneficial, including activities in bhakti, or devotion.

Though hearing about God regularly from the proper sources and adhering to sadhana can eventually bring about the proper understanding of identity, a superior method is the chanting of the holy name. This is the point of emphasis raised by Tulsidas. Hearing regularly is sufficient for attaining a proper understanding, but there is a risk in that the soul may become lazy. Moreover, if the mind is daydreaming or not paying attention, the effectiveness of the hearing process will suffer. We can sit through boring lectures in college because we know that eventually there will come an exam and a time when the class will be completed. With sadhana, however, the practices are meant to continue all the way up until the time of death. Therefore if we are bored in our hearing or if we aren’t paying attention, how much longer will we keep our regulative practices up?

Hanuman chanting Rama's nameWith chanting, however, the soul remains completely active. Chanting is also superior because it automatically includes the hearing process. By regularly reciting sacred mantras like, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the mind understands that the Supreme Lord is a person separate from the individual, yet always with them. Chanting the holy name of Rama, which addresses God’s form as the two-armed prince of Ayodhya, maintains the image, pastimes and transcendental qualities of the Supreme Lord within the mind. The practice is akin to remembering a loved one or friend by always looking at their picture. The difference is that God is Absolute; therefore He is not different from His name.

Chanting is more beneficial than dry regulative practice and passive hearing because it is the most unselfish activity one can take up. Reciting the holy name of Rama is done for God’s pleasure. The acts we normally consider as being unselfish or under the rubric of altruism are actually rooted in self-interest or the interests of the perishable body. My body does not belong to me, and neither do the forms assumed by other living entities belong to them. Therefore helping the material senses of others through charity and benevolence doesn’t lead to a full shift in consciousness.

Lord RamaLord Rama, on the other hand, brings with Him supreme wisdom and pure bliss. A person who is intimately associated with Rama through His name regularly recited by the tongue gains the most beneficial association. Rama is also known as Hrishikesha, or the master of all senses. Pleasing the Lord leads to pleasure for the living entities intimately connected with Him. Therefore the recommendation given by Tulsidas proves to be most effective at breaking apart the selfish attitude driving the activities of the individual ignorant of their true identity. Chanting God’s names is an outward acknowledgement of the soul’s constitutional position as servant of God. Therefore it automatically becomes the most worthwhile activity to take up.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

God Loving

Radha, Krishna with the gopis“The gopis have set the standard of devotion for the whole world. By following in the footsteps of the gopis by constantly thinking of Krishna, one can attain the highest perfectional stage of spiritual life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 46)

The self-described “God-fearing” citizens have an interesting realization, as they explicitly attempt to distance themselves from those who do not fear God. If I say that I love my country, inherently implied in the declaration is that others don’t love their country or that my patriotism is in doubt in the minds of others. The very existence of God-fearing citizens indicates that some people don’t fear a higher power at all, that they don’t believe there are unseen negative reactions to behavior. Perhaps they don’t believe in God or they think that everything happens automatically as a result of visible cause-and-effect; so what need is there to fear a higher power? Though having a fear of receiving punishment from the highest authority figure, the person from whom everything in this world emanates, indicates an advanced consciousness, an even higher realization is to transcend fear and develop love towards that same person. A God-loving person is one who has truly developed their consciousness and made the most of the valuable human form of body.

Lord KrishnaAre there people who really don’t fear God? The most visible examples are those people who commit heinous acts such as theft and murder. After all, how could someone who really believes in God condone the acts of violence perpetrated against the innocent, such as the killing of a child in the womb? To justify their viewpoint, the religiously inclined proponents of abortion rights will either say that it is up to the woman to choose how to deal with her body or that life itself doesn’t begin until birth. If life starts at birth, what would cause the fetus in the womb to ever grow? We know that with living entities there is life inside of the body as long as there is autonomous movement seen, functions which no one else can control. The necessary ingredient to life, the essence of individuality, is the spirit soul residing within. As long as the soul is present, no one can validly claim that a particular lump of matter is dull and lifeless.

The fetus within the womb, which started off as a tiny pea in size, can only develop when the presence of life, the indication of a spiritual spark, is inside. In the absence of this vital force, the fetus would never emerge from the womb. Indeed, just the fact that the fetus needs to be killed/aborted is indication enough of its autonomous growth. If the fetus weren’t a life, there would be no reason to kill it, as ending something is only possible when it is in a continuous, active state of existence.

With respect to the other argument of having free will to choose what to do with one’s body, the same can be said of any person and their actions even outside the scope of abortion. Let’s say that the baby finally makes it out of the womb. Now, all of a sudden, it’s not okay to kill the child? Free will is always there, as human beings are more than open to perform the worst kinds of acts, even against their fellow man. The concept of crime is introduced when the natural rights of others are infringed upon by the exercise of freedom. Indeed, a crime cannot be committed unless and until the freedom of at least one individual is exercised.

“They [the demoniac] believe that to gratify the senses unto the end of life is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus there is no end to their anxiety. Being bound by hundreds and thousands of desires, by lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense gratification.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.11-12)

Bhagavad-gitaThe God-fearing person acknowledges that there are sinful activities. The term “sin” usually connotes religion and the violation of an edict found within a particular scripture. Because of this general definition, the atheists and those who are not God-fearing will discount the concept of sin as being sectarian or a matter of faith. “Well, what if I don’t believe in that book? Then obviously piety and sin don’t apply to me.” But sin is actually just a negative reaction to a particular action. For instance, if we are building a house and we decide to make up our own plans, ignoring those created and handed down through tradition and the input of authority figures, our actions will indeed be sinful. The sin will become obvious once the negative reactions to the incorrect construction techniques manifest. Depending on the degree of deviation from the system of maintenance, i.e. how improperly the house was built, the severity of the sin can be large or small. In spite of our lack of acknowledgement of the sin, the negative reaction will come forward nonetheless.

The same principle applies in spirituality. Books on religion are there for informational purposes, as the laws of nature are governed by higher authorities. In addition to governing human behavior, these same people manage the population of animals and aquatics as well, even though such species have no concept of piety and sin. Reactions will always be present to actions. With the human species, however, there is a higher potential for intelligence, so the results of sin and piety carry over into the next life as well. Indeed, the present circumstances are the result of past activities performed, either in the current life or previous ones. Whether one is ignorant of the laws of karma or wholly aware of them makes no difference as far as the reactions manifesting.

So what is the benefit of being God-fearing then? If the reactions come regardless, is not the person who refuses to acknowledge God in the same boat as the person who regularly attends church? While knowledge of piety and sin have no bearing on the reactions to work, it can alter behavior. If I know the right way to do something, I will have a better chance at avoiding pitfalls and mistakes. If a person understands that there is a higher authority managing the results of action, there will be greater care taken to avoid sinful behavior. This is the entire benefit to being God-fearing. One who fears the powerful hand of the Almighty will try to avoid sinful acts like killing innocent life, stealing from others, telling lies, and refusing to honor one’s parents. In this sense the acknowledgement of God’s existence turns out to be a blessing, as beneficial results can be found, which is reason enough to remain on the righteous path.

“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.20)

Krishna and ArjunaThe temporary gains resulting from following pious behavior represent neither the summit of existence nor the height of pleasurable experience. The spirit soul is the essence of individuality in all forms of life, so it has distinct properties that remain unchanged through the passage of time and the workings of nature. Irrespective of the body type assumed and the circumstances endured resulting from actions falling under the jurisdiction of karma, the spirit soul remains eternal, primeval, ever-knowledgeable, blissful and wholly tied to the Supreme Spirit. God is not just a punisher; He is a person who has distinct properties, features which are effused in a smaller proportion on the innumerable spiritual sparks, the living entities residing in the material and spiritual worlds. The real benefit to having a higher level of intelligence is being able to understand the properties of the soul and its relationship to God.

Better than fearing God is loving Him. Who could argue against this? One who loves God actually doesn’t have to fear Him in any way. When there is fear of God or a study performed on His ability to punish others for transgressing the laws put forth in various scriptures, an element of knowledge is present. But with knowledge comes discrimination, as that is the benefit to increasing intelligence. If we didn’t use our knowledge to discriminate, our expanded brain power would be useless. With knowledge we can understand that placing our hand into a fire will cause a severe negative reaction. Hence there is discrimination in the viewing of objects, a surveying which subsequently alters behavior.

“Thus the inhabitants of Vrindavana do not care who is God, and who is not. They love Krishna, that's all. Those who think of first analyzing Krishna to determine whether He is God are not first-class devotees. The first-class devotees are those who have spontaneous love for Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 14)

Mother Yashoda and KrishnaDiscrimination can be used to learn about God in the beginning stages, but on the platform of love there is no need for such assessment. Does the good mother decide whether or not her small child is worthy of her affection? Do we consider whether or not our parents have treated us well before deciding to take care of and love them? On the highest platform of spiritual consciousness, one that is at the constitutional level, there is not even attention paid to God’s status as the Almighty. The mood of pure love is there, and that is all that is required to maintain one’s spiritual existence and thought processes.

Since this sounds like a theoretical analysis about a plane of consciousness not capable of being reached, we can study the example of the gopis of Vrindavana to understand just how real loving God can be. The gopis are cowherd girls, and though they reside eternally in the spiritual land of Goloka Vrindavana, they descended to this earth some five thousand years ago along with the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Krishna. While the ignorant may take Krishna to be a sectarian figure, the wise understand that if God is to be the Almighty, He must be all-attractive as well. If He is forever blissful and beautiful, He most certainly must be able to enchant the hearts and minds of everyone He encounters. If He is a “He”, He must also be a personality. If He creates a realm, He can most certainly appear in it whenever He chooses.

gopis with KrishnaWhen Krishna appeared on earth, He gave every indication of being the Supreme Person. Short of actually declaring it openly to everyone, Krishna showed that as Bhagavan He is the richest, wisest, strongest, most famous, most beautiful, and most renounced person to have ever graced the earth. Evidence of the abundance of these features is documented in many Vedic texts, especially the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Despite His stature, Krishna doesn’t ask anyone to fear Him, nor does He want simple adherence to rules of propriety. Fearful emotions and fealty to law codes are present in even those who don’t know Krishna, so what need would there be for the Lord to demand something that is already being followed by many around the world?

Krishna’s primary purpose in coming to earth is to grant His association to others and allow future generations to get a glimpse into what eternal spiritual life is like. While Krishna is the object of worship, the gopis are the standard bearers for how that worship should be practiced. They loved Krishna so much that they didn’t even care that He was God. They were not interested in following rules of social morality and virtue, for their motivation was to be in Krishna’s association and gain pleasure from interactions with Him. As mentioned before, piety is meant to bring about a favorable condition in a particular venture, so the gopis viewed mundane piety as being meant to keep them in line with dharma and maintain their good standing in the town of Vrindavana. But piety of this kind would also keep them away from Krishna’s association, so for this reason they sometimes bypassed the standard rules that apply to others.

Shrimati RadharaniThe gopis, as God-loving residents of Vrindavana, did everything for Krishna and felt tremendous pain when separated from Him. Whether they were punished or not was not important to them, for they just thought of Krishna all day and appreciated His beauty and the wonderful sound that emanated from His flute. The yogis, mental speculators and fruitive workers are never given the same reward of intimate association with Krishna that is granted the gopis. Other systems of piety rooted in reverence for God can ideally lead one to the pure love, or bhakti, platform, but bhakti itself is so powerful that it does not depend on anything else. In the heightened state of consciousness, there is no discrimination made over whether Krishna is God; there is just pure love. Bhakti automatically brings knowledge of the rules necessary for maintaining the transcendental link and also the proper level of renunciation required for keeping away unwanted elements, things like gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, which only keep one further separated from God in consciousness. Sinful behavior not only increases forgetfulness of God, but it also increases the likelihood of invoking discrimination when hearing about Krishna from authorized sources like the Vedas and those who follow Vedic teachings.

Radha KrishnaOne who is self-identified as God-loving proclaims to everyone that their highest object of worship is the Supreme Lord and that this assignment was made not out of fear, but pure love. The love is exclusive and not tainted in any way, as there is no expectation of reciprocation, material benefit, or reward of protection from calamity. Surely such benefits are easily acquired, but the point to the existence, the reason for even being a vital force, is realized and enjoyed through the bhakti mindset. To keep the fire of devotion alive, the devotee regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and maintains their “God-loving” title up until the time of death.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mine Mine

Lord Rama“You refer to everything as ‘Mine, Mine’, but can you tell me who you are or what your real name is? Silently perform religious practices and hear transcendental subject matters to understand everything properly, says Tulsi, or simply chant Shri Rama’s holy name.” (Dohavali, 18)

mora mora saba kaham̐ kahisa tū ko kahu nija nāma |

kai cupa sādhahi suni samujhi kai tulasī japu rāma ||

From the very beginning of their lives, children who are watched over carefully by guardians, interested parents, and well-wishing teachers are taught the importance of sharing. Should the child simply go from toy to toy and object to object saying, “Mine, Mine”, their attitude is considered one that needs changing. “Sharing is caring” as they say, so if a youngster can learn the importance of working with others and acquire some level of detachment from sense objects, their maturity into adulthood can accelerate. But the teachings of the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, don’t stop there. In addition to learning that toys and objects of enjoyment need to be shared, the individual residing within any form of body must make the most of the opportunity of the human life by understanding who they really are. Unless and until that understanding is present, the selfish mentality will continue in some way or another.

Krishna and BalaramaLabeling everything as “Mine” is silly for the child because they are incapable of producing anything on their own. Even the toys in the room that are only played with by the child were originally provided by someone else. It would certainly be silly to have a deep obsession and sense of ownership over something that we didn’t purchase ourselves. Even in the adult years, the importance of sharing tends to get forgotten when the ego expands through personal achievements. Say, for instance, we work very hard at our job and save up enough money to buy something we want. When we purchase the item and bring it home, obviously we will refer to it as “Mine”. But is this mindset accurate? Did we create the parts that went into the construction of our cherished object? Where were these parts before our time on earth and where will they go after we finish our time here?

The Vedic teachings stipulate that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is the original owner of everything, including every manifestation of matter. The spirit soul within the body is the identifying aspect, a spark of energy that never dissipates in intensity or potency for action. The objects that can be perceived through the senses are technically on loan from God for our enjoyment. Just as we don’t really own our home or car if we still owe money to the bank that loaned us the money to make the purchase, the Supreme Lord maintains His ownership over matter for all of eternity. We may borrow and use the elements found in material nature, but there is never a transfer of ownership. The main reason for this policy of repeated lending is that man cannot remain in the same body perpetually. There will come a time when the current outer covering of the soul gets renounced, thus leaving the resultant elements again up for auction to whoever needs to use them. Sometimes the vacated body is burned to ashes and thus mixed in with other outside elements. When the body is buried, it gradually morphs into the earth. In the worst case, the corpse becomes food for a crow. In this way we see that the temporary ownership transfers every minute, with new lessees coming and going. Therefore it would be silly to refer to anything as ultimately belonging to us.

footballThe root cause of the flawed “I” and “Mine” mentalities is ignorance of the self. This is the point addressed by Goswami Tulsidas in the above referenced verse from the Dohavali. Any conditioned individual, one who is ignorant of God’s supremacy and original claim of ownership, will be deluded by the “Mine” mentality, labeling everything as belonging to them. The harm in thinking this way is that it doesn’t lead to any tangible benefit. One who knows their dharma, or occupational duty based on their constitutional position, can take the necessary steps towards reaching the final destination, param gatim. On the other hand, the ignorant will never head in the right direction. Say, for example, one is playing the game of American football. If they are playing on the defensive side of the ball, should they happen to intercept a pass or pick up a fumble, the objective is to run with the ball towards the endzone being defended by the offensive team. But one who doesn’t know the objective of the game will be prone to running the wrong way. Running in the opposite direction only helps the opponents; thus it goes against the characteristic condition, or dharma, of the player and his team.

If identification remains flawed to the point that sense objects are deemed ultimate possessions to be enjoyed in the absence of the company of the Supreme Spirit, the actual owner of the body goes the wrong way in life, the direction opposite from that which leads to liberation. The freeing from the cycle of birth and death is important not only because of the release granted from the effects of material nature but also because of the beauty of the future destination, the correct “endzone”. From Vedic information kindly passed on by past humble devotees, who were nice enough to note down their observations and careful analysis in wonderful books which are now considered scripture, we learn that the soul’s eternal position is that of servant of the Supreme Lord. God was born to be served and we were born to voluntarily take up His service. Obviously there is no birth for either entity, but the principles still apply. We have no way of understanding something that has no beginning and no end, or sanatana, therefore terms like “original” and “constitutional” are invoked.

The first challenge is how to accept the fact that the soul is meant to be a servant of God. Who is God anyway, and how do we know that He is worthy of our worship? Also, how do we engage in this service? There are a few options available to the soul deluded by the “Mine” mentality. As the soul is eternally the same in constitution, anyone who can realize its presence can slowly but surely understand the blissful nature of the sublime engagement of devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. As the soul resides within the heart, the more the sincere spiritualist can minimize the effects of the gross senses, the greater the likelihood of developing the proper identity. To this end, there are many processes, rituals, regulations, restrictions and recommended practices, all of which form the bases of the many different religions in existence. Though there are so many theistic traditions, provided that the proper identification is ultimately realized, any system of spirituality can be accepted.

Krishna with cowIn the absence of the proper identification, no amount of spiritual healing can alter the flawed mindset of false proprietorship. For instance, if a spiritual discipline calls for regular worship of God but then also sanctions and even recommends the slaughter of innocent animals, there cannot be any tangible knowledge acquired. Why is this? The soul is the source of identity not only within the human body but also in every other life form. Anything we consider life, those outward objects which seemingly function on their own, has a spirit soul inside. There is no need to unnecessarily kill any other being. The practice of mass animal slaughter simply to satisfy the taste buds is one based on gross ignorance of the eternal nature of spirit and its acrobatic abilities to jump from one body type to another through what is commonly referred to as reincarnation.

Similarly, those who take to worshiping a Supreme Being only to receive benedictions in the form of material opulence and the alleviation of distress also fail to understand the true nature of spirit. The individual soul is the identifiable aspect in all forms of life, and with that identity comes a natural activity, an engagement which is the primary source of pleasure. If the mind continues to rely on material objects, those things which the individual has no rightful claim to, as the ultimate sources of pleasure, then the true properties of spirit remain a mystery. The soul must have an eternal engagement, and in this business there must be a beneficiary of activity. Only when the object of service is Krishna, or God, has the true identity of the soul been understood.

Lord RamaBased on the difficulty of understanding God and the soul through strict religious practice - which can include quiet meditation, adherence to regulative principles, and hearing transcendental topics – the individual conditioned soul would be better suited taking directly to a version of its eternal engagement. This is the recommendation made by Tulsidas. He says that the soul deluded by the “Mine” mentality should either remain quiet and perform sadhana, or regulative religious activity, or simply chant the name of Rama. Tulsidas prefers the latter option, as it is more potent and a direct manifestation of bhakti.

Krishna is the name for God describing His all-attractiveness, and Rama describes His ability to provide transcendental pleasure. Depending on which Vedic tradition you follow, you will consider Krishna the more potent and original form of Godhead or you will believe in Lord Rama and no one else. Since they are the same entity, there is really no distinction between the differing viewpoints. The Supreme Lord is one from whom come many, including countless non-different personal expansions. The benefit of chanting Rama’s name is that the Supreme Lord is identified first. From this comes cognizance of His brilliance, attractiveness, original claim of ownership on every property, status as the ultimate enjoyer, and fixed position as the best friend of every living entity.

“We get all this information simply from chanting?” Yes. The holy name and the person being addressed are the same. This is what it means to be Absolute. We can call out the name of any ordinary object, but that doesn’t mean it will automatically appear before us. Such is not the case with Bhagavan, God who possesses every attribute of opulence simultaneously and to the fullest degree. Simply calling out His name is enough to reawaken the supreme wisdom already resting within the heart. The hidden secret is that we are already aware of the Supreme Lord’s capabilities and position. We already understand our true identity and the supremacy of the bhakti process. But in the conditioned state, when the material elements surround the otherwise pure soul, the torchlight of knowledge, which requires no external source of energy, gets covered up. We may put a shade over a lamp and reduce the intensity of its visible light, but this doesn’t mean that the lamp stops shining. Indeed, the lamp itself is unaffected; just the outward perception has changed. Similarly, even the strongest material covering of ignorance cannot have any effect on the properties of the soul.

ValmikiWhy does chanting work better than the regulative processes of religion? Why is chanting Rama’s name superior to sitting quietly and hearing? The key distinction is in the identity of the beneficiary. Under any model besides bhakti, the enjoyer remains the individual. And since the perceived identity of the enjoyer in these models is flawed, the results that come from the practices remain inferior. In bhakti the only enjoyer is Rama. Even devotees who don’t know who or what they are chanting about receive the greatest benefit. The motivations remain pure in bhakti, as it is impossible to regularly chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and maintain the possessive mentality for long. Valmiki Muni was a dacoit in his youth, but just by hearing the name of Rama from regularly chanting the reverse sounding word, “mara”, he was able to become transcendentally enlightened. The thief suffers from the worst case of the flawed possessive mentality. If even a robber can turn into a devotee with a perfect understanding of the self, just imagine what can happen for those who are sincerely interested in spiritual life from the beginning.

The holy name is the cure for all ailments and delusions. Those who are wise enough to follow the kind prescriptions offered by Tulsidas will soon develop the only purified form of possessiveness, that of identifying God as theirs. While taking material objects to be “Mine” is considered harmful, viewing the Supreme Lord as being your only friend and savior is the most wonderful mentality, one that maintains an unbroken link in consciousness with the spiritual world .

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The Good and The Bad

Lord Krishna“O son of Kunti, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress, and their disappearance in due course, are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.14)

One of the central tenets of Vedic philosophy that is so nicely pointed out by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God which contains truths of life not found in any other poem or scriptural text, is that both good and bad, the temporary gains and setbacks encountered in life, are on an equal level. The plight of the spirit soul is what counts, for the spiritual spark is the basis of identity within every form of life. Favorable and unfavorable circumstances are not always the same, thereby introducing duality. The soul is meant for a state beyond subjective judgment, one where there is only Truth. No amount of scientific research, sense pleasure, or renunciation alone can extract the highest truth, only pure love and devotion dedicated to the entity that is never bewildered by duality.

Lord KrishnaSo what exactly do we mean by both good and bad being equal? After all, isn’t everyone seeking a better condition, one free of pain and misery? Indeed, the highest spiritual realm is known as Vaikuntha because it is free of anxieties. The proprietor of Vaikuntha is the Supreme Lord in His various Vishnu forms, as He is all-pervading, ever-opulent and full of spiritual attributes. God is a universal figure who is not limited in scope and whose mercy is not restricted to any particular region or spiritual tradition. While the stubborn sentimentalists and sectarians will claim that anyone who doesn’t believe in their “God” is destined to suffer eternal damnation, the link between the individual soul and the Supreme Soul can never be broken, only forgotten in terms of consciousness. This is the predicament currently facing the living entities roaming the earth, the jiva souls tossed around in the clothes dryer of material existence that is set to the “reincarnation” cycle.

While the jivas endure cycles of birth and death, the Supreme Lord does not. Hence He has an unchanging spiritual form and also a home which bears the same properties of eternality, bliss and knowledge found in His body. Under the vague conception of God, the Lord may be seen as an angry person, an old man, or someone who severely punishes those who don’t surrender unto Him fully. In reality, just forgetting God leads to all other troubles encountered. Remembrance of the Lord, on the other hand, brings about favorable circumstances in any condition. So just based on this definition we see how the dualities present themselves. Good and bad in the absence of God consciousness cannot be considered permanent or anything worthwhile.

winterTo take a simple example that illustrates these points, let’s review the workings of the rain in the spring season. As a person ages, winter becomes more unpleasant. Children prefer the winter season because of the snowstorms and the time off from school. In addition, the Christmas holiday also occurs in the wintertime, so this means new gifts coming in and loads of fun for the children. But the cold chill of the winter and the havoc caused by snow are not pleasant in the least bit for adults. For the elderly, the cold weather can become too much to bear; hence the mass migration to warmer climates by those who are retired from working.

The spring season is a welcome time for obvious reasons; it signals the end of the winter, the long awaited departure of the cold and the unpleasant weather. But with the spring comes the rain, which is not universally adored. Surely the plants, grass, trees and farmers enjoy the rain and the nourishment it provides, but rain disrupts outdoor events and travel. People travelling to baseball games, or even those playing outdoor sports, have to deal with inclement weather and the possibility of cancellations. Motorists must maneuver through increased traffic due to the rain and also the hazardous road conditions created by puddles and decreased visibility.

rainIn this way we see that one person may loathe the rain while another may delight in it. Additionally, the falling rain means that the sun will likely not be out in the sky, leading to a darker mood and dreariness of mind. But has the rain purposefully done anything, good or bad? Are not the clouds equally disposed towards all they shower their rain upon? The rain itself does not change in properties, just the circumstances of the affected individuals. Depending on what one’s occupation is and what goal they are trying to achieve, they will view the rain, which is wholly neutral, favorably or unfavorably. Thus we see that good and bad are completely relative, dependent on the position of the affected individual. Moreover, we can’t really make a moral judgment as to which viewpoint is correct. Can we blame the motorist stuck in traffic because of the rainstorm for getting angry? Can we honestly say that the farmer elated by the rainfall is in the wrong?

The same principles apply in the area of scientific advancement. Due to the increased potential for intelligence, the human being can study the nature around it, understand their own mortality, and also take the necessary steps to stop death. This is correct; only in the human form of body can death be stopped permanently. The pathway towards achieving this wonderful feat is known to the Vedas and their followers, and among them only a select few will take the necessary steps to make the dream a reality. Lord Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita that anyone who knows Him, how He never takes birth or dies, and how He has a fully transcendental form never has to go through the cycle of birth and death upon quitting the body. Krishna also states that out of many thousands of men, only a few will endeavor to understand Him and the eternal nature of the soul. And then out of these few, an even smaller number will actually achieve perfection in their pursuit of transcendental knowledge.

“Out of many thousands among men, one may endeavor for perfection, and of those who have achieved perfection, hardly one knows Me in truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.3)

Lord KrishnaThough the chances for achieving liberation are slim, the opportunity is nevertheless there. Man must be humble enough to accept the proper information as it descends from authority. Everyone comes up with their own theories crafted through personal experience and scientific research, but the truths of the Vedas have accounted for the activities of many thousands of men spread across many thousands of years. Moreover, the truths and postulates presented are not mentally concocted, but rather instituted by the Supreme Lord, Shri Krishna, who is undying and existing since time immemorial. As such, the Vedic prescriptions, which ultimately call for full surrender to God, have passed all quality control tests. They do not require any more field research or logical proofs to be accepted. One who follows the system of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master is sure to reap all the rewards that are promised by Shri Krishna.

On the other hand, the discoveries unearthed by scientists and their research, while surely laudable and amazing in their own right, can only bring about conditions that fall under the scope of duality. The automobile, airplane, television and a host of other technological advancements are seen as modern marvels, but since they fail to further a purification of consciousness, they are fraught with negative reactions. The automobile brings an increased risk of death. The airplane allows for travelling far distances in short periods of time, but then there are all sorts of other issues to deal with, such as airport security delays, costly fares and inconveniences caused by other travellers. The television and other gadgets have led to increased lethargy and laziness. Today there is a widely accepted “obesity epidemic”, wherein the population is viewed as not exercising enough. Also, because of the ability to travel lengthy distances in short amounts of time, families are often spread far apart and workers travel hundreds of miles in a week to earn a living. With the increased responsibility required to maintain the advanced lifestyle, there is little to no time for contemplating the highest truths of life. Religion is seen as a rubber stamp business, where a few perfunctory rituals are considered good enough to provide insulation from a hellish future condition.

A fact that gets lost in the enjoyment of the new “advancements” is that a hellish condition is already simultaneously created. So in this sense the scientific research brings both good and bad, with the overall effect being negative when juxtaposed with the mission in life, that of becoming God conscious by the time of death. Another factor to consider is that the scientist engaging in research must eventually die, leaving behind all of their work. Yet someone who doesn’t take to scientific research, who simply engages the senses all day in eating, sleeping, mating and defending, also dies. So what is the difference between the two individuals? The scientist has used their intelligence towards furthering the cause of sense gratification, while the non-scientist has made no use of their intelligence, but rather fully engaged their senses in satisfying the demands of the body, a shell which must eventually be discarded.

Krishna in VrindavanaConsidering these facts, it would be safe to assume that a process that aims to stop death would have to be superior to both mental speculation through scientific research and gross material association through activities like gambling, meat eating, illicit sex and intoxication. The process for stopping death is nicely provided by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, and it is explained more thoroughly through accounts of historical incidents found in the Puranas, the most important of which is the Bhagavata Purana, or Shrimad Bhagavatam. This wonderful work is considered the crown jewel of Vedic literature, as it not only contains further instructions from Krishna and His followers but also has descriptions of the blissful pastimes performed by the Lord in the holy land of Vrindavana some five thousand years ago. Anyone who truly knows Krishna will not have to take birth again, which means that they won’t have to die again either.

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

As part and parcel of Krishna, the soul is also eternal in its constitutional makeup. We never really die, but the terms “birth” and “death” are used to refer to the outer covering of the soul. With Krishna, there is no difference between any of His energies. The spiritual and material energies are the same for Him. There is no difference between Krishna’s body and Krishna’s soul. For us living entities, however, there is a distinction between the body and the soul, as the jiva is the marginal potency of the Supreme Spirit. The marginal designation comes from the jiva’s ability to exercise a choice in association. When the desire is to enjoy the senses, a material body is accepted and a corresponding residence is found, a place where dualities exist.

Once the jiva chooses the spiritual energy for association, however, release from the material realm is granted. In order to make this choice be known, one must be sober and have a fully developed consciousness. Consciousness exists to keep the jiva attached to Krishna in every thought, word and deed. Only in the human form of life can consciousness fully develop. We can go up to a dog and speak to them about the truths found in the Bhagavad-gita and the need for worshiping God, but they will not understand what we are saying. The limitations borne of their body don’t allow for an advanced consciousness. The human body is the only material form that has this potential; hence it becomes vitally important not to waste the opportunity of a human birth. Good parents don’t let their children play throughout childhood, for this will not make the most of their potential for acquiring knowledge. The saying, “it is a shame that youth is wasted on the young”, references the fact that young children have lots of energy. They can wake up early in the morning, play throughout the day, and still have a full tank of energy at night. It is for this reason that young children are sent to school for long hours during their youth; so that they can make the most of their enthusiasm.

Viewing the human birth in the same light, we see that it is critically important to ensure that the proper education is received in one’s lifetime. This education involves learning about the soul, the differences between matter and spirit, the relationship everyone has to God, and the need for serving Him. A fully developed consciousness is achieved when there is pure love and devotion to Krishna. Any other type of consciousness - even when formed after much scientific research, mental exercise, performance of austerity, donation in charity, or meditational yoga- will not bring about full liberation. The soul’s position is to be a lover of God, through and through. Pure love means having no other desires, no opportunities for being lost in the ocean of duality, where each wave carries a different, temporary condition.

Radha and KrishnaSo how do we love Krishna? Can we force it? How do we know that we won’t be wasting our time? The scientist and the gross materialist both die, but doesn’t the devotee also perish at the end of life? Obviously there must be an element of faith in the beginning stages of any endeavor. Even the words of the scientist are accepted on faith, as are the prescriptions put forth by the self-help gurus on television peddling their latest book. The prescriptions of the Vedas can be accepted on faith in the beginning, but through regular chanting of, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the proof to the claims made by the acharyas, those spiritual leaders who lead by example, is found. Krishna consciousness can be developed within one’s lifetime, thus giving the soul a glimpse into what is in store in the bright future of the afterlife. The scientists and gross materialists give us both good and bad in terms of results, but only the purification of consciousness through bhakti brings about the most favorable condition, Krishna’s association.

Monday, July 4, 2011

In Your Dreams

Lord Rama“Those who lack worldly assets even in their dreams and are denied entry into the path of attaining spiritual assets can eliminate their torments and pains by remembering Shri Rama’s holy name, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 17)

svāratha sukha sapaneham̐u agama paramāratha na prabesa |

rāma nāma sumirata miṭahiṃ tulasī kaṭhina kalesa ||

Being down on your luck is one thing, but actually being completely hopeless in all respects, both materially and spiritually, is completely different. The truly destitute are those who can’t even find relief from distress in their dreams, when the mind, one of the key elements of the subtle body, carries the individual far, far away to a distant land with different surroundings. “If I could only be king for a day” and “If I could only get away for a few moments” are the refrains of those desperately looking for peace, an escape from the calamitous condition they currently find themselves in. Yet for those who lack hope even in their dreams and have no chance at salvation in the afterlife, the regular cognizance of the Supreme Spirit brought on by recitation of a specific sound vibration can bring relief from every type of discomfort. The torment of the nightmare ends when the dream is over, but if the real life situation is just as unfortunate as the dreamt about condition, there isn’t even relief upon waking up. But the holy name of the sweet Lord, the ocean of mercy and the friend of the distressed, eliminates all pangs, as it brings transcendental enlightenment and undying pleasure at the same time.

There are tradeoffs with any activity we take up. For instance, if we strive for success in running a business, the family life will suffer. The business owner thinks about profit, loss, productivity and maintaining a vibrant work force at all hours of the day. As such, the priority system within the mind places the interests of the business at the top, which means that any other entity, even close family members like the wife and children, will be assigned secondary importance. A lower standing in the priority system automatically carries some type of neglect, which in turn helps to sever even the strongest of bonds.

“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.23)

Lord KrishnaWhen activity in the human form of life is studied at an abstract level, it is seen that there are generally two paths that can be taken. One leads to liberation, or eternal spiritual life, and the other leads to further bondage. The spirit soul, the entity of identification within any form of life, exists perpetually, but its outer covering can constantly change. There is immortality in the sense that individual spirit never changes in properties. It can never be destroyed, slain, or altered in any way. When we think of living forever, the concept relates to remaining within a particular life form without change. This can only be facilitated in a spiritual land. The material world is an area existing separately from the imperishable land. Spirit is immutable and matter is ever-changing, but this doesn’t mean that matter is absent in the spiritual land. There is a higher nature, referred to as daivi-prakriti, which remains constantly tied to the liberated spirit soul. In the mundane world there is a difference between body and spirit, or the temporary covering and the identifiable agent residing within. But in the original, imperishable land, the outer covering and the master of the body are both of the same quality.

The path to immortality can be found in the activities following a bona fide spiritual tradition. Association with the blunt senses, which act as the interactive agents of the body assumed at the time of birth, leads to a further attachment to objects of the mundane sphere. Therefore no amount of material activity can bring about liberation. There may be an overall adherence to piety and virtue which can lead to a higher birth in the next life, but as long as the desire to enter the imperishable sky ruled over by the Supreme Person is absent, the resulting body type will not exist perpetually. The concept of demigods is well known to followers of the Vedic tradition. As elevated living entities residing in the heavenly planets, the devas, also known as suras, can live for very long periods of time and display uncharacteristic levels of strength and activity. In other spiritual traditions there are similar heavenly figures, like angels and saints. Yet no matter the magnitude of material dexterity exhibited, either through outward activity or in the area of knowledge, no being can live forever when they are embodied.

reincarnationGenerally the path towards liberation is viewed as being diametrically opposed to the path that leads to further involvement in reincarnation, or the changing of bodies. Therefore one who dedicates their life to following a particular roadmap is automatically denied the benefits of the other path. For instance, those who are overly sinful take to meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. The sin tagged to these behaviors relates to the further separation in consciousness from the Supreme Spirit that results. The thoughts within the mind at the time of death determine the next type of body received. The living entity is known as a jiva, and it has a choice as to which realm to reside in. Being constitutionally spirit, the jiva’s original home is in the spiritual sky, but due to aversion to divine love, and even jealousy of the Supreme Being, the desire to lord over nature in a temporary realm lands the otherwise pure soul in a miserable place.

Not surprisingly, the path that grants liberation requires abstention from sinful activities. On the most basic level, the liberated path calls for practices like adherence to rules and regulations of religious life, studying scriptures, teaching spiritual knowledge to others, performing sacrifices, and teaching others how to worship. The liberated path brings paramartha, or heavenly delights or spiritual profits. Paramartha can be equated to pious credits accumulated through adherence to the basic tenets of religion. If one is desperately seeking paramartha, then the worldly delights, which are known as svartha, are difficult to obtain. On the flip side, those who are wholly dedicated to sinful activity receive worldly pleasure in the form of sumptuous food, ample sex life and great wealth, while remaining shut out of spiritual assets.

Tulsidas with Rama and LakshmanaThen there are those who are completely destitute, not able to gain worldly or heavenly pleasures. These are the people addressed by Goswami Tulsidas in the very nice verse from the Dohavali quoted above. Indeed, Tulsidas addresses those who don’t even know worldly pleasures in their dreams. It is one thing to be poor and bereft of nice food and the association of beautiful partners of the opposite sex, but it requires descending to an even lower level of destitution to not even be able to imagine material pleasure in your dreams. After all, who can stop us from dreaming about wonderful things? Yet those who are destitute find themselves in so much distress that they can’t even imagine what pleasure is.

The most unfortunate are also denied entry into the path that brings heavenly pleasures, as they haven’t had the time to take to spiritual life. Due to their misfortune they may have never even been taught about the need to seek for benefits in the afterlife. After all, the animalistic mindset follows the demands of the senses at every moment, not even considering future loss or gain. Therefore human society really begins with religion, as the ability to know, understand and love God serves as the prime benefit to the human form of body.

Lord RamaTulsidas sets the table by describing the most destitute in society and then puts forth the solution to their problems: chanting the holy name of Rama. Even if one is the lowest born in society, engaging in the worst type of behavior and not respected by anyone, the name of Rama is so pure that it automatically brings deliverance and eliminates all difficulties and pains. How does this work exactly? Who is Rama and why is remembering His name capable of such amazing things? The Supreme Personality of Godhead is a singular entity, but due to His causeless mercy He expands into a multitude of forms that make appearances on earth. Rama is the name given to the jewel of the Raghu dynasty who roamed this earth during the Treta Yuga, the second time period of creation. Though wholly dedicated to dharma, or religiosity, Rama was still the same original Lord, so His mercy was open to anyone who surrendered unto Him fully in thought, word and deed.

The secret in remembering Rama’s name is that the holy name automatically carries with it information of God’s forms, pastimes and activities. Lest we think this knowledge is unknown to those not familiar with the Vedic history recorded in books like the Ramayana and Shrimad Bhagavatam, one of the properties of the soul is that it is ever-knowledgeable. Indeed, it is considered a torchlight of knowledge which doesn’t require an external energy source. In any form of body, the soul retains its brilliant properties, but due to the influences of material nature, sometimes the intrinsic awareness of the Supreme Spirit and the benefit of worshiping Him gets clouded. The holy name is the sharpest knife capable of slicing apart the thick wall of nescience surrounding the consciousness. As such, anyone who remembers the Lord’s name will slowly but surely reawaken their dormant God consciousness, bringing about memory of the other aspects of the Lord as well.

Lord RamaIs there a difference between remembering Rama’s name and taking to activities aimed at leading to the spiritual world? If the sincere soul seeking spiritual enlightenment and liberation is lacking a loving attachment to the Supreme Lord, the highest destination that can be reached is the brahmajyoti, which is a beam of spiritual light emanating off of the original and inconceivably large transcendental body of the Supreme Lord spanning the entire cosmos. The defect of residence in the light of Brahman is that individuality is not retained. Therefore the bliss of brahmananda, or merging into Brahman, is far inferior to the unending joy felt in the presence of the Personality of Godhead in one of His different forms residing in the Vaikuntha planets, the realm right above the brahmajyoti.

Since Rama is a personal form of the Lord, remembrance of His holy name falls under the category of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti is not merely a method of self-realization; it is the constitutional position of the spirit soul. All other religious practices descend from the original occupation of bhakti dedicated to Vishnu, or God. Both svartha and paramartha bow down at the feet of loving devotion to God exhibited by the devotees, as no reward can compare to the association of the Supreme Lord within the mind. Consciousness is the key determinant in the mindset of the individual, not their bank balance, the satisfaction level of the stomach, or the number of pious credits they have accumulated. Whether one is abounding in material delights or possessing a large account of spiritual merits, if there is no bhakti, there cannot be any lasting peace. On the other hand, one who is completely destitute, the lowest person in any room they walk into, but remembers Lord Rama, His name, His associates like Lakshmana, Sita and Hanuman, and His glorious devotees like Tulsidas, is to be considered the wealthiest person in the world. Whatever distresses are encountered are quickly removed, as the blissful nature of the Supreme Lord and the potency of His name will quickly dissolve all unpleasant aspects of life.

Lord RamaOur dreams allow for an escape from the tumultuous struggles of life in the mundane world, but the rescue is temporary. With Rama’s name, however, what you see is what you get. His name is the very essence of Truth, so anyone who is fortunate enough to remember it regularly will find themselves living out the most wonderful dream. By regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, that Supreme Destination which is difficult to approach for even the greatest yogis and scholars will be reached within a second.