Saturday, July 16, 2011

This Is Your Life

Lord Rama“The many past births you spoiled can be rectified right now, today, if you start chanting Shri Rama’s holy name and renounce bad association, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 22)

bigarī janama aneka kī sudharai abahīṃ āju |
hohi rāma ko nāma japu tulasī taji kusamāju ||

“You have spoiled so many lives through sense gratification and forgetfulness of your endearing friend, who is always willing to lend a helping hand and rescue you from peril. Now is the time for escaping the doldrums that are the repetition of days and fixing yourself for going down the right path. Take this opportunity of human life and chant Shri Rama’s holy name, which represents the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself. At the same time abandon the company of those who are headed in the wrong direction. They are destined for rebirth and further separation from the Supreme Loveable Object, whereas you have every opportunity to find eternal peace and happiness in the param dhama, the supreme abode. Don’t let this chance go to waste.”

Lord RamaThis wonderful advice offered by the sweetheart Goswami Tulsidas not only sums up the basic problem facing all living entities, but it also provides the tangible solution, the roadmap to finding peace and prosperity. The Vedanta-sutras, a favorite treatise of the philosophers following Vedic traditions, starts off with a bang by boldly declaring, “athato-brahma-jijnasa”, or “Now is the time for inquiring about Brahman.” Notice that the most famous set of aphorisms focusing strictly on Vedic philosophy and presenting eternal truths in very concise and inclusive terms doesn’t begin by saying, “Now is the time for going after sense gratification.” Nor does it assert that the human form of body is meant for constructing large towers, advancing in technology, travelling far and wide into outer space, or even establishing a comfortable family life. The sense pleasures are there in every conditioned form, but only the human being has the opportunity to understand the need for worshiping a Supreme Person, a way to direct their service propensity towards a tangible object, one whose superior attributes never diminish. Only in the most sublime engagement, which is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, can the cycle of birth and death come to an end.

How do we know that reincarnation is real? How can we be sure that we’ve lived before? Aside from the authorized words attesting to the fact by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Lord and origin of Vedanta philosophy, and also the above teachings from Tulsidas, we can study the experiences from our own life to see how transmigration works. As a quick exercise to help further our understanding, let’s replace the word “day” with “life”. After all, according to the Vedic version what we consider a life is simply a unit of time; a measurement delineating the amount of time elapsed from the point of manifestation of a particular creature to its ultimate demise. The identifiable aspect, the spirit soul residing within, doesn’t have a time of birth or death. It never ceases to be; hence it is described as sanatana, or without beginning and end. At whatever age we currently are, we know that we have lived many days. A senior citizen has lived so many days that their bodily capabilities have greatly diminished. A young child is much more capable of performing work and being enthusiastic in their deliberations, but they too have lived many days on this earth.

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

Lord KrishnaWhat is a “day” really? We usually demark a new day when we wake up in the morning, but has anything really changed? We went to sleep the night before and awoke the next morning, and the sun may have fallen and risen during that time, but has our identity changed? Are we not the same person we were the night before? And what if we didn’t fall asleep and just stayed awake all night instead? Did not a day pass? In this way we see that measurements of time have no effect on our identifiable aspect, the spirit soul within. Indeed, even if we go through changes in consciousness, wherein we start off unintelligent and unable to even walk and progress to the point where we can give lectures on complex subjects in front of classrooms full of eager students, who we are doesn’t get altered in any way.

Now suppose we replaced the “day” concept in this analysis with “life”. The adult aged human being has thus endured many “lives”, repeating cycles of activity occurring consecutively. Regardless of how many lives were endured, and how much the consciousness progressed or regressed, the identity of the individual still didn’t change. The Vedic version of reincarnation is simply a more complete picture which states that just as the identities of the same individual within the womb and within the body of a dying old man on his deathbed are not different, so the properties of the spirit soul continue to exist from body to body. When there is death, what immediately follows is birth, as the same spirit soul is placed into a new body. We consider death a somber event because we can no longer perceive of the departed spirit soul’s presence, but blunt perception shouldn’t act as a determining factor when defining properties. When the sun sets at night, does it cease to be? Obviously it doesn’t go anywhere; just the specific location on the earth is no longer directly in the sun’s vision. Similarly, the soul's exiting of the body doesn’t signal its disintegration.

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)

Lord KrishnaThe circumstances of the next birth are determined by the active desires of the living entity while quitting their body and also the results of past work performed. Again, these concepts shouldn’t be very difficult to understand. In any field of activity the results of action lead to a future disposition. If we build a house correctly, we will have a well-fortified housing structure that can remain erect and sturdy for many years. On the other hand, if we make mistakes during the construction, there are guaranteed to be problems, with the severity of the future damage corresponding with the degree of deviation from the proper procedures.

Our behavior during the course of our lifetime determines the type of body we will receive in the next life. The Vedanta-sutras, and every wise man for that matter, understand that through karma the human being has the best opportunity to make the most favorable future outcome for himself. Reincarnation continues only for as long as the spirit soul within, the driving force to activity, desires to remain in a perishable land separated in consciousness from the eternal life partner. When the desires are turned towards the spiritual sky, where the proprietor of all things matter and spirit resides, the chance for a rebirth on earth vanishes.

Just the fact that we have taken birth indicates that we have wasted many lifetimes. This is the point made by Tulsidas. It’s sad but true; for we may not know when or how we are going to die, but it is a point of fact that we did take birth. And based on the workings of karma, we know that our entry into the womb of our mother only took place because of our desires and work from the previous life. Indeed, since the human species is only one of 8,400,000 varieties of body types available to the conditioned souls who fall down from the spiritual sky, we can also assume that we have wasted many lifetimes on earth toiling through different activities in pursuit of sense gratification. Therefore there is an utmost urgency to fix ourselves up today, to remove any doubt over having a potential rebirth.

Lord RamaSo how do we ensure that rebirth stops? The process of purifying consciousness can be a methodical one involving dedication to specific actions undertaken over an extended period of time, but the guiding principles are pretty straightforward. Tulsidas has summed up the formula for success in just two rules. First he says that we should chant Rama’s name. The holy name of the Lord is non-different from Him, as the sound vibration representations of the Supreme Truth emanate from the spiritual sky. The most amazing and valuable skill of the human being is his ability to create a direct incarnation of the Lord at any time and at any place by simply chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. One may argue that Rama is a sectarian name addressing a Hindu God, Lord Rama, the incarnation of the Supreme Lord during the Treta Yuga. The name of Krishna can be viewed in the same way by those who are unfamiliar with the universal benevolence of the Supreme Lord and His fixed position as the worshipable object for every single person, irrespective of national, racial, ethnic or religious boundaries. Nevertheless, even if one is accustomed to chanting a different name of the Supreme Lord, the effectiveness of the process is still the same. The dedication to chanting must be there, otherwise the consciousness will remain fixed on items and concepts that will bring further rebirth, thus causing the living entity’s best chance at attaining salvation to be squandered.

Along with chanting, which forms the bedrock of the discipline of bhakti-yoga - a system which directly tackles the consciousness of the conditioned individual - there must be some renunciation as well. What do we have to give up? Do we have to live in the forest? Do we have to quit our jobs? Tulsidas says that accompanying the formula of chanting Rama’s name is the need for giving up bad association. Based on the truths presented thus far, deciphering what is good and bad association should be pretty easy. As the spirit soul has spoiled so many lifetimes becoming attached to sense gratification that has provided no lasting benefit, the aim of the sober human being should be to avoid the company of those who are currently smack-dab in the middle of spoiling their lives. This may seem like a harsh restriction, but by making the first recommendation a priority, the renunciation aspect actually takes care of itself.

stethoscopeA review of the key components of success in any field of endeavor can show us how this principle works. Let’s say that our life’s business is to serve in medicine, to act as a doctor and heal the sick. This profession requires not only a lot from the practicing professionals, but also from those who are studying the field. Therefore in order to succeed there are certain conditions that must be met, such as long hours of studying and avoidance of dangerous behavior. Now let’s suppose the doctor or prospective student spends significant time around people who drink, smoke and party on a regular basis. In order to function properly at the office or hospital, an individual must be sober and well-rested. If they are partying all the time, the chances of carrying out their specific tasks properly will greatly diminish. In this way we see that if the priority is first placed on the occupation of medicine, naturally the individual will renounce any and all things that are harmful to their level of dedication. Simply because of the attachment to the job at hand, the proper company will be maintained and the wrong association will be renounced.

Similarly, if the fervent desire is to regularly chant Rama’s names, view His different deity forms in the temple, hear about Him from other devotees, read about His exploits in the famous Vedic texts like the Ramayana, Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam, the association of those who are against such practices will not be very pleasing. Simply by acting selfishly, bad association will get renounced. Indeed, in the beginning stages if a forced effort can be made to have good association, the company of people who are already practicing bhakti, the chances of succeeding increase all the more.

Lord RamaBad association in spiritual life is the company of those who are headed in the wrong direction. As it has been deciphered from the fact that we took birth in this lifetime that many past lifetimes on earth have gone to waste, the aim should be to avoid the assumption of another material body. Those who have not yet realized the need for escaping reincarnation or who are openly averse to divine love are on a train headed in the wrong direction. Maintaining their company equates to jumping on the train with them and hoping to reach the supreme abode at the same time. Renunciation of bad association means avoiding intimate association with someone whose ultimate conclusion in life doesn’t relate to bhakti, or loving devotion to God. When there is intimate association, there is a compromise in terms of beliefs and ideals, wherein the individual turns over some of their happiness and desires to the complementary entity. If the corresponding association has the same ultimate desire, then there is no worry of spoiling the current life, but in any other circumstance there is every chance of falling down and ignoring the importance of bhakti.

The advice provided by Tulsidas is universally applicable, as he wrote this verse in his Dohavali poem many hundreds of years ago. The beauty of the Vaishnavas, the devotees of Vishnu/Krishna/Rama, is that none of their writings are dated. The newspapers and gossip shows have information of fleeting relevance, facts which lose their importance very quickly. But with classic Vedic texts and the commentaries and poems describing them written by celebrated acharyas and saints, the relevance never fades away. Chanting Rama’s name is as important today as it has ever been. So many lifetimes have been spoiled immersed in other activities, engagements which have been tried and tried again, chewed over and over with little to no taste left. On the other hand, the best option is still there on the table, just waiting to be tried. The name of the Lord is the ticket to eternal freedom, and by holding on to it for dear life and repeating it on a daily basis, the delineations of time and space will be no more, as the spirit soul will remain forever in the company of the dear Lord.

Friday, July 15, 2011

The Same As Me

Lord Krishna with cow“Whenever we see any living entity we should think, ‘Here is a spirit soul.’ Anyone who can understand such a spiritual vision of life is pandita.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 8 )

Our treatment of others is directly influenced by how we identify them. If the person standing next to us is considered an enemy, we will not be forthcoming with our thoughts and emotions. When interacting with a salesperson or someone who is only interested in separating us from our money, we will be hesitant to buy what they are selling, even if it’s just advice. On the flip side, if the neighboring person is identified as a friend, someone with a common interest, we will be friendlier towards them and more open in our dealings. For the learned person, there is no such thing as the duality of like and dislike. When this mindset is applied to the vision, every life form is taken to be equal, a spirit soul just like everyone else. This proper identification can prove to be most beneficial for all parties involved.

How do we know that everyone is equal? One way is to do a study of every single life form on earth and notice how they go through growth, development, and decay cycles. We could also research how human beings and animals both eat, sleep, mate and defend, and how they have consciousness. But outward perception is limited by time and space. Our time within a specific body is not infinite; our residence is not fixed. Even the dwelling we occupy, the body, goes through so many cycles of creation and destruction. The body we had as a child is completely different from the body we have as adults. We know for a fact that once we become very old, our body will again be completely different. Yet our identity remains the same throughout, so we can deduce that whatever it is that identifies us must not be tied to the form that constantly changes.

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

Lord KrishnaWe can hopefully deduce all of this information from outward study, which is limited, or we can accept supreme knowledge from the proper authority sources. There is no better place to go for right information than the Vedas, whose most concise and complete scripture is the Bhagavad-gita. In this wonderful work, which is set on a battlefield many thousands of years ago, a bewildered soldier has a discussion with his friend, cousin and charioteer prior to the commencement of hostilities. You see the soldier doesn’t want to fight, because there are friends and family members on the opposing side. Understanding that they too are life forms, he doesn’t want to cause them any harm, especially for something as insignificant as the right to rule over a kingdom.

Rather than rely solely on his identifications formed through sense perception, this soldier had the good sense to take instruction from a more reliable source. He was open to being convinced otherwise should the arguments move him so. He asked his charioteer, who was known to be the well-wisher of every living entity and also the greatest authority figure on knowledge, to settle his doubts about what should be done. This wonderful chariot driver, whose name was Krishna, started off His discourse with a bang, an unexpected jolt of sublime wisdom delivered without hesitation. Immediately He informed the warrior, Arjuna, that the soul is the identifiable aspect within the body. Just as the soul flows with the bodily changes from the time of youth all the way up until old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at the time of death. One who is dhira, or sober, is not bewildered by such changes.

ArjunaThis point raised by Krishna is very important to understand. The constant shifts in the manifested world can certainly delude our consciousness. Arjuna himself was taken off the righteous path duly assigned his class because of identifications he was making with respect to the body. He was thinking that his friends and family on the other side would lose their identities if killed in a fair fight, one that their side had actually instigated. Arjuna was fighting for the Pandavas, who were the rightful heirs to a massive kingdom. The opposing side, the Kauravas, had unjustly usurped this authority and driven the Pandavas out. If Arjuna did not stand up and fight, which was his occupational duty as a warrior to do, then who would ever stand up for justice?

Krishna then informed Arjuna that the pandita, or wise man, views everyone equally. This vision doesn’t just apply to human beings. Whether looking at a cow, dog, learned sage, fighter, laborer, or even a small child, the pandita sees the same essence of life within. As such, their vision is the most inclusive, as it does not discriminate based on outward features. The advantage of having this vision, which is the most accurate, is that one can realize that everyone else is in the same boat of suffering. If we create designations such as “friend” and “enemy” based on perceived differences in outward features, we fail to understand the purpose behind man’s association with material nature.

Lord KrishnaIs there not a difference between a friend and an enemy? Were not the members of the opposing army Arjuna’s enemies? Should he have treated them the same as he did the members of his own army? The equal vision of the pandita is meant to act as a starting point. Our initial identification, which should also be the most inclusive in scope, influences our initial impulses, or our behavior towards others. If I see another living entity and identify them first as being a spirit soul, my subsequent thoughts can follow along these lines. “Oh, here is another spirit soul trapped in an ever-changing body. Their original home, as well as mine, is in a place that is permanent, non-changing, blissful and conducive to knowledge. These properties are beneficial to me as well as to them, for we are both spirit souls. Since I realize that we are both equal, it is my duty to try to instill the same vision of equality in them and help them ascend back to our natural home.”

With this vision a fraternal attitude is immediately adopted. As mentioned before, the soul is the object of identification within any form of life. The outward features are there to be delusional, to result in the formation of factions, castes and prejudices for those who are unaware of their real identity. From the same conversation between Arjuna and Krishna, we learn that the soul’s natural home is in the spiritual world, a transcendental realm situated far above our current one. Based on the desires for contact with changing matter, the soul is granted a body and residence in the perishable realm. When the specific form decays and runs its course of usefulness, a new form is granted. The differences in outward forms are the result of the desires of the conditioned soul and the reactions to the work he performs. Just as when we let go of an object from our hands it will fall to the ground, every single action undertaken under a false identification brings a commensurate reaction.

“Arjuna saw in that universal form unlimited mouths and unlimited eyes. It was all wondrous. The form was decorated with divine, dazzling ornaments and arrayed in many garbs. He was garlanded gloriously, and there were many scents smeared over His body. All was magnificent, all-expanding, unlimited. This was seen by Arjuna.” (Bhagavad-gita, 11.10-11)

Krishna's universal formKrishna also tells Arjuna that the spirit soul who has the proper identification then understands the ultimate mission in life, that of serving God. Finally, Krishna reveals the most hidden secret, the piece of information that will help rescue the fallen souls and enable them to quickly attain a proper vision. You see the person Arjuna was accepting instruction from was none other than the Supreme Personality Himself, the origin of all spirit and life. Krishna supported His claim of divinity by showing off His universal form, the virata-rupa, to Arjuna. So awe-inspiring was this vision that Arjuna could not look at it for too long. He preferred interacting with Krishna in His two-armed form.

Understanding that Krishna is God, or at least acknowledging that God is a merciful personality who is the object of worship, is the most important objective because it provides the person who has adopted the proper identifying system an end-goal, a purpose to their activities following a purified vision. Because everyone is equal in the spiritual sense, the ultimate destination, or ideal home, is the same for everyone. Therefore the first thing that results from acquiring the equal vision is a desire to help every living entity, irrespective of their outward appearance, reach their ideal destination, the spiritual sky where Lord Krishna and His multitude of non-different forms reside. The formula for returning to this land is quite simple. Krishna declared to Arjuna that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death will immediately return to His land and never have to endure reincarnation again.

Lord KrishnaSo what did Arjuna do with his newly acquired information, knowledge which he took from the most authorized source? Did he go up to the opposing fighters and apprise them of their real identities and their need for going back to the spiritual land? As a member of the fighting class, Arjuna’s duty was to protect the principles of religion, which in this case called for the Pandavas to rule over the disputed kingdom. The equal vision is just the starting point, and based on the qualities of the target individual, different courses of action can be taken. For instance, we know that a tiger is a spirit soul, one who is intimately tied to God, but this doesn’t mean that we should go up to one and pet it. A tiger is a ferocious animal that lives off killing others. It has no capacity to understand spiritual instruction, nor should such an attempt to teach even be made.

The equal vision, understanding that everyone else is in the same boat that I am in, brings strong feelings of compassion and kindness. But the effects of material nature should not be forgotten. The ants, trees, animals and other non-human species can be understood to be where they are because of past karma. At the same time, just because they are in a species incapable of accepting spiritual instruction and acting on it doesn’t mean that we should consider them to be inferior to us or worthy of punishment. We don’t kill our dogs and cats because they are less intelligent; so just because a cow’s flesh might be tasty doesn’t mean we should unnecessarily kill them. The cow is a mother with children just like many human beings are, so why should we systematically go on a killing spree to eat beef, especially when so many other varieties of food are available to the human being?

The material qualities continue to act on all embodied living beings, but this doesn’t preclude the person with an equal vision from instructing those willing to learn about spiritual matters. It was Arjuna’s duty to fight, as the time and circumstance did not call for spiritual instruction being imparted to the opposing side, who were all spirit souls just like Arjuna. The equal vision makes it much easier to abide by our prescribed duties borne of our order. If we are suited for performing labor, running a business, administering a community, protecting the innocent, or teaching others about the highest knowledge, we should perform our duties while simultaneously maintaining the equal vision.

Bhagavad-gitaWith respect to the most important instruction found in the conversation between Krishna and Arjuna, a discourse which is famously chronicled in the book called the Bhagavad-gita, the way to think of Krishna constantly is to take to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. Just as the spirit soul is the identifiable aspect within every form of life, the engagement of divine love, or bhakti, is the foremost occupational duty, or dharma, for spirit. While the body types assumed have commensurate occupational duties as they relate to material activities, the penchant for loving God never leaves the soul. In every form of life there is the desire to serve God, but only with a developed consciousness can that service be acted upon fully. Thus we see that the true benefit of acquiring the equal vision of the pandita is the ability to apprise others of the essence of divine love and the benefits that come from practicing it.

The pandita, understanding the true nature of spirit, regularly chants the holy names found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and induces others to take up the same chanting process. Unlike occupational duties tied to the specific body type assumed by the soul, bhakti is not reserved for any specific species. Even a young child can chant Hare Krishna and come into contact with the Lord. When we apply the equal vision to the surrounding world and understand that every other living entity is the same as us, we can understand that their ideal home is in the spiritual land where Krishna resides, a place where the glories of Godhead are sung on a regular basis and the flawed identifications borne of material contact are completely absent.

Krishna and ArjunaThe vision of the pandita starts with the proper identification. “Here is a spirit soul. Here is a person who is intimately tied to Krishna’s service.” Even if we see that another’s body type precludes them from understanding their true nature and the beauty of divine love, we can still maintain our devotional attitude and keep our service going. Arjuna was a member of the warrior caste temporarily deluded by attachments formed off of false identifications, but when he needed help, the original spiritual master, Shri Krishna, was there to properly guide him. The confidential knowledge of the Gita was revealed to Arjuna not because he was a learned scholar or a recognized pandita. He was Krishna’s friend who harbored no ill-will towards the Lord. Similarly, those who are pure hearted and non-envious of God can understand the sublime instructions of the Gita, the transcendental sound vibrations emanating from the lotus mouths of the panidtas ever engaged in devotional service, and the need for returning back home, back to Godhead. The equal vision acquired through hearing from authorized sources allows us to properly identify all forms of life and also speak to those who are interested about the meaning of life and the purpose to our existence. With this clarity in vision and purpose, much of the hesitation that so debilitates us goes away, allowing for life to continue peacefully, with the consciousness focused on that wonderful teacher who so kindly took to instructing Arjuna and the world on that fateful day on the battlefield of Kurukshetra.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Biggest Winner

Lord Rama“Tulsi emphatically says, ‘O mind, hear what I am saying and always take it to heart, for this will benefit you. Remembering Shri Rama’s holy name is the greatest profit, and forgetting Him is the worst loss.’” (Dohavali, 21)

tulasī haṭhi haṭhi kahata nita cita suni hita kari māni |

lābha rāma sumirana baḍo baḍī bisāreṃ hāni ||

The mind is always operating, carrying the living being in every which direction. Even when falling asleep, a time which is viewed as being free of anxiety and not requiring any effort, the mind’s processing operations actually increase in frequencey. As soon as the thoughts start rapidly flying from one point of interest to another, the tired individual falls into a sleeping state. While awake, the desires borne of the sparkling mind can result in forgetfulness of key principles and objectives. Therefore the daily routine is crafted and followed, providing a way to ensure that tasks which are assigned a “beneficial” status during periods of sober thought can be completed, irrespective of the dictates of the senses. In addition to the routine, there are the quick slogans, short sayings that the individual can repeat to remember a specific principle to live by. In the above referenced verse from the Dohavali, the rule so emphatically stressed by Goswami Tulsidas is really the only one that need be remembered, for it covers all the vital aspects of life, such as religion, gain, profit and future fortune. The first truth presented by Tulsidas is the real crux of the rule, as it automatically creates the second condition.

Sita and Rama's marriageWho in this life hasn’t been subjected to heartache and despair arising from defeat and loss? Surely in the past we have suffered greatly and thought that we had lost everything only to realize later on that the setback wasn’t all that bad. The most acute pains arising from loss are felt in the arena of romantic love, or the relationships between men and women. In ancient Vedic times, marriages were arranged by parents, so the boy and girl would not speak with each other until after they were married. The human form of life represents the greatest opportunity for release from the cycle of birth and death. The basic principle of Vedic teachings is that “you get what you want.” If you want to live in the Supreme Being’s company, you are granted His audience. Otherwise you can remain in a separated land perpetually, life after life, until your desires change.

For every living entity, who is a combination of spirit soul and an outer covering composed of varying proportions of material elements, the desire for sex life is the most difficult sense urge to control, which in turn serves as the strongest impediment towards spiritual awakening. Therefore it is not surprising that Vedic teachings would try to attack this urge from the very beginning of life. The child gets a head start because they have no inclination towards sexual activity until they hit puberty. The downside is that the child also lacks intelligence and maturity. Therefore if proper training can be imparted, along with restrictions on behavior, during the early years of life, much progress can be made towards meeting the final objective of being God conscious at the time of death. According to the information presented in the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God and universally applicable treatise on spirituality spoken by Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, one who has his mind fixed on the transcendental form of the Supreme Lord at the time of death never has to return to samsara, or the material life fueled by the transmigration of the soul, or reincarnation.

“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)

Lord KrishnaIf there isn’t a marriage arrangement made, the sexual urges of even the children brought up in a life of celibacy and austerity can take over the mind. If the sexually inclined youth can be married to a chaste and pious woman, then there is every opportunity for continuing the march towards eternal freedom that is a permanent God consciousness. Therefore in times past the marriages were arranged for young children through family tradition, with the astrological charts of the prospective bride and groom compared to see if they were compatible. Even with all the changes brought on by material advancement and the onset of the Kali Yuga, the age we currently live in, the arranged marriage is still somewhat followed in the Vedic tradition.

But there are some wrinkles to the modern incarnation of the system. The boy and girl considering marriage are typically much older now. Since the rural lifestyle is almost nonexistent today, a bride’s family looks for a groom who has a steady job, which typically comes about later on in life. In addition, the boy and girl often talk to each other before the marriage arrangement is finalized. With this method there is every chance of an attachment being formed before there is ever any deal agreed to. In fact, it is completely likely that one of the parties can think that the deal is in the bag, that they are all set to get married, only to have the rug swept from underneath them at the last minute.

Being left at the altar, losing out in a marriage arrangement, or failing at the last moment, when you thought you were on the precipice of victory, can cause tremendous pain. The discomfort felt from loss only increases when the object missed out on is considered high in value. Missing out on a life partner in a spouse seems like the greatest loss; therefore romantic dealings tend to bring the most heartache. The same principle applies to losing a job, a friend or family member, or a lot of money through a bad investment.

TulsidasWhen considering the bigger picture, however, it is understood that the greatest loss can only relate to the fortunes of the soul. In this context, Goswami Tulsidas, a celebrated poet of the Vedic tradition, has an opinion that is completely different from the prevailing viewpoint on loss and gain. Indeed, he himself was greatly attached to his wife in his early life. The kind-hearted souls who are God conscious from the beginning of their lives have tremendous love and affection for every person in the world. This would make sense, as the devotee of the Lord understands that all life forms, including the animals, are God’s sons and daughters. Therefore, surveying every situation with a purified vision, the sincere soul sees every person as their close friend, for everyone is spiritually equal and eligible for returning to the spiritual kingdom.

Tulsidas was so attached to his wife that he didn’t like it when she would leave home. In the arranged marriage system, the new bride misses her family home very much, for after marriage she must live exclusively with her husband and his family. Therefore it is not uncommon for the wife to desire to visit her family home from time to time. Indeed, Sita Devi, the wife of Lord Rama - a warrior prince incarnation of the Supreme Lord - once referenced this very fact while presenting a series of arguments in favor of her accompanying her husband on a fourteen year journey through the forest.

“I shall go to the forest, which is very difficult to overcome and is filled with many deer, monkeys and elephants. Taking Your lotus feet, living in the forest will be very agreeable to me, like residing in my paternal home.” (Sita Devi speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 27.22)

Sita and RamaShri Rama, through a series of unfortunate events, was asked to leave His kingdom of Ayodhya on the very day He was to be installed as the new king succeeding His father, Maharaja Dasharatha. Just like a man left at the altar, Rama was a kind soul who had seemingly lost the opportunity for material wealth and opulence. But one of the qualities of the Supreme Spirit is that He is the most renounced; therefore nothing can phase Him. Losing out on the kingdom did not bother Rama at all, for He was thrilled at the opportunity to prove His father’s truthfulness at a time when it was in doubt. Dasharatha had promised his youngest wife Kaikeyi any two boons of her choosing. Taking the opportunity of Rama’s installation to test out her husband’s commitment to his word, Kaikeyi asked that her son, Bharata, who was also Rama’s younger brother, be installed as the new king instead. For her second boon she put the dagger into Dasharatha’s heart by demanding that Rama be banished from the kingdom for fourteen years.

Dasharatha especially didn’t want to accede to the second request, considering that Rama was his most beloved object. Yet Rama took the news in stride. He was all ready to go to the forest, but He had to tell His kind wife Sita about the turn of events first. He insisted that she remain in the kingdom and be protected from the dangers of forest life. She, of course, was having none of this. Being well versed in dharma, she presented a flawless case in favor of her going. She referenced all the Vedic tenets pertaining to marriage and the duties of the wife. And just in case Rama was fearful that she wouldn’t be happy living in the wilderness, devoid of the company of the royal bards and servants, Sita made sure to mention that she would feel as happy as if she were in her paternal home. This is significant because the wife in the arranged marriage feels the most comfortable in the home that she grew up in. This trait also applies to many of us, as our fondest childhood memories often occurred in our family home. But Sita accurately noted that wherever Rama was, she would be the most happy.

Sita and RamaTulsidas’ wife one time managed to sneak out of the house and make it back to her parents’ home. Seeing that his wife was gone, Tulsidas could not bear the separation. He immediately went looking for her, not being deterred by even a torrential downpour. When he finally made it to her parents’ house, Tulsidas was expecting to be greeted with kind words and praise for his dedication. Instead, his wife chastised him for being so attached to a woman. She remarked that if only he had the same attachment for his beloved Rama, he might actually be something.

Realizing that she was right, Tulsidas immediately left family life and took to sannyasa, the renounced order. The rest was, as they say, history, for he went on to author volumes of wonderful poetry praising the Lord and His greatest devotee, Shri Hanuman. Losing the wife is considered the greatest loss, especially for a husband who is very attached to her. Yet from his own experience, Tulsidas was able to realize that the greatest gain in life comes from remembering Shri Rama. The Supreme Lord is our ever well-wishing friend after all, so how can remembering Him be detrimental? Is not our constitutional makeup to be engaged in the service of that one entity from whom we all emanate? A machine is meant to perform the tasks it was built to take on, so if any other functions are undertaken, surely the results will not be palatable. Along similar lines, the spirit soul is intrinsically configured to love the Supreme Lord through every thought, word and deed. When the body parts are used to serve the senses and the illusory nature enveloping the perishable land, the constitutional position of the soul remains forgotten, and thus supreme profit remains a pipe dream.

Lord RamaIn the above referenced verse, Tulsidas emphatically begs his mind to remember just one fact. The mind will jump from one interest to another very quickly. Even if a realization is made, an epiphany if you will, the chances of forgetting the awakening thought are high. Therefore the kind poet asks his mind to just remember one thing, a key item that will be to its benefit when heard; a point of fact that should be kept within the heart, never to be misplaced. He says that remembering Shri Rama brings the greatest profit, and forgetting the Lord carries the greatest loss. Ironically enough, the first truth automatically creates the second condition. Let’s say, for example, that we have a winning lottery ticket in our drawer at home. The ticket can be exchanged for millions of dollars, which is viewed as the highest gain for he who is not spiritually conscious. Naturally, should the same ticket go missing, the ill luck would be considered the greatest loss, as the potential for the big gain of millions of dollars would vanish.

Similarly, remembering Shri Rama, who is the Supreme Lord Himself, brings satisfaction to the consciousness at every second. Even if we find ourselves in the most difficult of situations, by simply chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, the mind can be delivered, for that is the very purpose of a mantra. The two Sanskrit letters in the word “mantra” refer to the mind and the delivery of it from a perilous condition. The name of Rama is the same as the person it represents. Lord Rama’s name also evokes memories of His other names, forms, pastimes and qualities. Remembering Rama means remembering Sita, Hanuman and the Lord’s dear younger brother Lakshmana, who as a faithful and sincere servant and younger brother is one of the most glorious people to have ever roamed this earth. Studying Lakshmana’s character alone is enough to become firmly convinced of the opinion that loving God is man’s only business in life.

If remembering Rama can also bring memories of His extended spiritual family and their loving dedication to Him, what need do we have for anything else? All other aspects of the phenomenal world are temporary in nature, and thus they will have to be renounced at some point. What goes up must come down, therefore with every attachment there must come separation. With devotion to Rama, however, there is never a chance of being separated from Him, even if there is a seemingly significant physical distance separating the conditioned soul from the spiritual world. Some of the most blissful spiritual feelings are evoked through worship in the mood of separation, which was practiced perfectly by Sita Devi when she had to live without Rama on many occasions. Only Rama can be loved and adored equally in both personal presence and separation, with the mind keeping the transcendental link active.

Rama DarbarIf remembering Rama leads to the greatest profit, those who forget such a benevolent Lord will automatically suffer the greatest loss. Regular remembrance of the Supreme Lord is known as bhakti-yoga, or God consciousness. This practice is not only open to everyone to employ, but it is also part of the soul’s makeup. The mission in the human form of life is summarily presented in the above mentioned prescription from Tulsidas. Even if we have suffered loss after loss and defeat after defeat, just by remembering Rama and chanting His name, our worries can be removed. The mind should be constantly reminded of this fact. Not only should we remember the Supreme Lord, but we should remember to remember Him. He whose mind swims in the holy lake of the transcendental names and activities of Shri Rama and His dear associates emerges from life’s struggles as the biggest winner, for he never again has to suffer the pangs of defeat brought on by material contact.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Have A Little Faith

Lord Krishna“We may put thousands of dollars in a bank because we have faith that that bank will not close down. If we have faith in banks and airlines, why not have faith in Shri Krishna who is acknowledged by so many Vedic literatures and by so many sages to be the supreme authority?” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-vidya, Ch 7)

We put so much faith into entities and people that we have never met, never heard of, or don’t know in the course of our daily lives. The bank can hold up to thousands of our hard earned dollars, promising to keep it safe and secure and available to us whenever we need it. The airline promises to deliver us to the intended destination in a reasonable amount of time if we just pay them a certain amount of money. Full trust is already there in so many exchanges, but when it comes to spiritual life, believing in the promises of a better afterlife, one devoid of heartache, misery, pain, defeat, exhaustion, fear and so many other unwanted experiences, we are extremely hesitant, so much so that we’ll refuse to follow the prescriptions offered to us in a mood of pure sincerity, love, concern and care. But if we just take one small step in an authorized system, a discipline supported by so many people who are capable and worthy of accepting the trust of others, the greatest benefit will come as a result.

cell phone driverJust stepping out the door in the morning requires trust. We’re assuming that, based on our past experiences, no one will attack us and that the weather elements will not harm us. Next, we’ll either step into a motor vehicle or walk down the street. Again, there is trust and faith throughout the process. Driving on the roads requires putting faith in other drivers, people that we know don’t obey the law half the time. How many people do we see driving that actually use their signal lights to indicate that they will be changing lanes? How many people do we see who actually obey the speed limit? Haven’t we countless times witnessed people driving erratically or very slowly because they were talking on their cellular telephone? Yet in these same people we assign full trust that they will not harm us with their automobile while driving.

The same faith is invested in the bank. We work very hard to accumulate money, so to keep it safe we hand it over to a third party. Sure there is a guaranteed protection against losing our money from the federal government, but how can we trust them? We know that politicians lie, cheat and steal to get what they want, so how do we know that when it comes time to insure our money deposited in a fledgling bank, they will come to the rescue?

judge's gavelThe human mind, being the most advanced, has the ability to think critically, which results in a healthy level of skepticism. Through questioning the authority and trustworthiness of others, any and all arguments can quickly be negated. The discipline of law operates on this very formula. A good lawyer is one who can cheat the law by shaping and presenting the text of a particular statute to say and mean something completely different than what the original writers intended. Through skepticism and questioning of authority, arguments can be presented in an array of different angles, thus leaving the final judgment open to interpretation.

Despite the skeptical attitude, the human being nevertheless puts faith into so many things and people. For the dedicated transcendentalist, one who may have originally been skeptical of the promises of spiritual life but then later on practiced the principles himself and saw tangible results, preaching to others about the benefits of transcending the effects of matter and serving the interests of the soul is a difficult task. With so many religions in existence, and with seemingly incongruous visions of the Almighty, there is a general distrust of the truths espoused by spiritual leaders looking to make a difference.

Krishna and ArjunaSo how do we decide what to do? Should we just continue pretending that God is dead, that He doesn’t exist? Just as trust in other areas was established and solidified by the results that ensued after the initial faith was offered, we can tell whether or not a system of spirituality is bona fide by applying a little faith in the beginning stages and then seeing the results that come. This was the tact taken by Arjuna, the lead warrior for a very famous family of fighters around five thousand years ago. Faced with the dilemma of either going to war and fighting for a kingdom that rightfully belonged to his family or quitting and allowing the friends and family members fighting for the opposing army to maintain their lives, Arjuna could not decide what to do. Luckily for him, he didn’t decide right away without thinking. He first presented the matter to his dear friend and cousin Krishna, who happened to be his charioteer at the time.

In the game of golf, if a player is unsure about what club to use or what type of shot to hit next, he might ask his caddie, the person who carries his golf bag around the course. Though the caddie is of a lower stature, his help can sometimes make the difference between winning and losing. Krishna, though Arjuna’s charioteer at the time, was wholly capable of steering His friend in the right direction. Krishna first mildly rebuked Arjuna for being faint of heart. After all, a warrior’s business is to fight the enemy and get the job done without paying consideration to life and death or the well-being of the opposing side. If members of the warrior class did not take on this business, who would? In any society, for there to be peace and prosperity there must be a reliable force which is dedicated to protecting the innocent and bringing evil to justice. If soft-heartedness is found in such protectors, their defending capabilities will suffer.

“My dear Arjuna, how have these impurities come upon you? They are not at all befitting a man who knows the progressive values of life. They do not lead to higher planets, but to infamy.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.2)

Lord KrishnaKrishna continued by discussing the properties of the soul, which is revealed to be the identifying agent within every living form of body. In the eyes of the government, our identity may come through our social security number, our name, our address, or our phone number. With our family, just the name is enough, and with our bosses it is the work that we provide that defines us. But what transcends all of these attributes is the soul itself, which is not attached to the body in any way. Krishna revealed to Arjuna that the soul is not slain when the body is slain, nor does it ever take birth. It exists eternally, while the various bodies it assumes go through changes based on nature’s schedule.

So how does the soul end up in different bodies? What determines the future fortunes of the person, who is identified as a spiritual spark? Again, Krishna, as the best counselor and friend who knows everything, informed Arjuna that whatever state of being one remembers at the time of death, that state he will attain without fail. This is similar to going up to an authority figure and having them ask us what we want. “What do you want my son? Whatever you say, I will give you.” The responses can then run the gamut. “I want to be rich and powerful; I want to have beautiful women all around me; I want to sleep all day; I want to be intoxicated all the time.” For the embodied soul these same desires manifest through consciousness, which is then measured when the soul exits the body, which is the event we refer to as death.

Krishna and ArjunaObviously, at this most critical of junctures, the consciousness, the foremost thoughts within the mind, will be very difficult to predict and control. When one’s life flashes before their very eyes, the events and experiences that had the most significant influence will be remembered first. Therefore Krishna then reveals that the key aspect to shaping consciousness is the activities that are performed during one’s lifetime. In this way the results of action determine the future fortunes of the individual. Hence the system of religion, or dharma, is handed down, with first class, second class and third class subsystems recommended for different grades of people.

Why the different classes of religion? Why not just have one system? Because of the way nature works and the desires of the individual, not everyone will take to the first class system right away. This is similar to how grades are necessary in a school system. The aim of going to school is to eventually become proficient in the subjects being taught. But a student can’t just start at the final grade level and learn everything there is to know. They must work their way through the lower grades, accumulating information and piling onto their knowledgebase, before they can reach the final stage of graduation.

Lord KrishnaSimilarly, one who is in the lower grades of life, such as the animal species or a human form that is not very intelligent, cannot understand the highest truths, including the basic information presented by Krishna relating to the soul. It should be noted that Krishna started off His discourse with Arjuna by describing the properties of the soul and how it is not tied to the body. Therefore we can deduce that this understanding is the prerequisite to any higher form of knowledge. Without understanding the differences between spirit and matter, an individual cannot make any tangible progress in spiritual life.

But those who are driven by lust, anger and greed furthered through intoxication, meat eating and so many other activities that demobilize the spiritual consciousness will have no chance for understanding the liberating truths of life. Therefore there is the third class system of religion, one geared for those in the mode of ignorance. This basic system of regulation allows for a general progression of consciousness, where at the very least promotion to a higher mode in the next life is granted. The second class system is geared towards those in the mode of passion; people who are after fruitive gain acquired through great effort. Since the body will ultimately be discarded, assigning top priority to its well-being and sense happiness is not very intelligent. Nevertheless, if activity in the mode of passion can be regulated, promotion to a higher consciousness can be had.

“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments nor desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.54)

Lord KrishnaThose who follow the first class system of religion understand the differences between body and soul; thus they can act wisely. Krishna tells Arjuna that one who follows this system can eventually reach the stage of consciousness known as brahma-bhutah, which means they understand Brahman, or the all-pervading nature of spirit. Since every form of life is identified by the spirit soul residing within, there is an equality shared amongst all species. A dog may not have the intelligence to speak or do mathematics, but it is still the same in spiritual quality as the most respected human being. The inferior body type belonging to the dog is the result of karma, which is driven by desire. Just because someone makes a mistake every now and then doesn’t mean that they cease being a vital living force. Even the most intelligent among us commit grievous errors from time to time. Therefore the body of a dog, cat, insect or reptile can be viewed as being the result of a temporary fall from grace, a deviation from the purified mentality.

Arjuna’s charioteer presented this logically sound information about the workings of nature, both spiritual and material, and backed it up with statements from authority figures. Nevertheless, the first class system of religion did not represent the summit of activity according to this friend and cousin of Arjuna’s. Rather, there was one higher step to be ascended, one final hill to climb. When one reaches the brahma-bhutah stage, their activity doesn’t stop. Rather, once hankering and lamenting cease due to the equal vision acquired by realization of Brahman, one becomes a prime candidate for taking to devotional service, or bhakti-yoga. This is actually Krishna’s final recommendation to Arjuna as well. The friend, cousin and charioteer at the end revealed Himself to be none other than the Supreme Lord. To prove His divine nature, Krishna displayed His wonderful universal form, consisting of all the planets and their notable personalities. This vision was so wonderful and unique that no one had ever seen it before. Only Arjuna and Sanjaya, the person granted divine vision by Vyasadeva, the literary incarnation of Godhead, could see this wonderful sight on the famous battlefield of Kurukshetra.

“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 KrishnaAfter presenting the relevant information about life and what should be done and what shouldn’t, Krishna concluded His talk by advising Arjuna to simply surrender unto Him and be delivered of all sinful reaction. Arjuna began by being worried about hurting his friends and family fighting for the other side, but he ended by putting all his faith and trust into the one person to whom all of us are forever linked, the Supreme Lord. Arjuna fought ahead not out of any desire for victory or the control over a kingdom. He performed his occupational duties simply because that was what Krishna advised. Though fighting with arrows shot from his Gandiva bow, Arjuna was actually in perfect yoga by listening to Krishna and keeping his thoughts fixed on Him. The Lord revealed in His wonderful discourse to Arjuna, a talk which is now known as the Bhagavad-gita, that anyone who thinks of Him at the time of death no longer has to go through reincarnation, as they will not be forced to suffer the effects of the different material bodies again.

From these teachings we can understand that if we think about Krishna all the time and follow His instructions, we too will be benefitted when the end of life approaches. But lack of trust is the largest stumbling block. How can we believe that Krishna really exists and that He is not just some mythological creation? How can we believe that the events described in the Bhagavad-gita are real? Just as we put faith in the airlines, the bank, and the government, if we put a little faith in the acharyas, those who take Krishna’s words to be their life and soul, we can soon realize that not only is the Bhagavad-gita real, but so is Krishna’s promise to deliver us from all perilous conditions should we surrender unto Him.

Lord ChaitanyaSo who are some of these authority figures on spiritual life? What do they recommend we do? The saints of India, the famous preachers like Lord Chaitanya, Ramanujacharya, Madhvacharya, and many others, all agree that Krishna is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They may worship Him in one of His other forms like Lord Vishnu or Lord Rama, but their ultimate conclusion is still the same. Actually, anyone who professes to believe in God believes in Krishna already; they just may not know the nature of the Person they are worshiping. Even the atheists believe in Krishna; they just refer to Him as death, the all-powerful force that cannot be checked and which stands to take away life’s accumulated gains.

The Vaishnava acharyas, those who practice bhakti dedicated to Vishnu, advise that we regularly chant the Lord’s holy name as our primary system of regulation. First, second and third class systems of religion can help elevate us to a higher platform of consciousness, but due to the effects of the modern age known as Kali, which is marked by rampant quarrel and hypocrisy, following any regulative system is very difficult. How many people do we know that worship God on a regular basis? How many people actually surrender unto Him without any personal motive and without any desire for gain or protection from punishment? Following the principles of religion is very difficult, so in this age a shortcut method has been instituted.

Radha and KrishnaWhen we visit a church or temple and pray for a few seconds, there is a nice feeling that results, one that is rarely found due to the struggles of everyday life. The Vaishnava acharyas ask us to reproduce that feeling as often as possible by regularly chanting the Lord’s names, which are nicely sequenced together in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. With this mantra we can replicate the worship performed in the church, temple or religious sacrifice at any second of the day. The more we chant this mantra the better, as our consciousness becomes steadily purified. We may be skeptical that a formula passed on by spiritual leaders in India can be effective, but if we invest a little faith in the process in the beginning, we’ll see that there is only Truth to be found in the holy name. If we refrain from sinful activities like meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, the benefits from chanting will increase all the more. If we already put faith in unknown people who are only after earning a profit, why not put a little trust in people who are simply interested in pleasing the Supreme Lord and bringing more of His sons and daughters back to Him?

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Stairway to the Stars

Lord Rama“Without the support of Shri Rama’s holy name, how can you hope to have spiritual assets? It’s akin to wanting to climb up to the sky using the raindrops falling from the clouds.” (Dohavali, 20)

rāma nāma avalaṃba binu paramāratha kī āsa |

baraṣata bārida būm̐da gahi cāhata caḍhana akāsa ||

Your dream starts today. The removal of all the perilous conditions, worries, fears and impositions of the world which attack through the vulnerable senses is only a heartbeat away, provided you have the fortitude and strength of conviction to take the difficult step forward. To acquire the necessary bravery, sincerity of thought and purpose, a commitment to the recitation of a specific sound vibration, one that represents the Supreme Absolute Truth in all His glory, must be present. Those who have been fortunate enough to make the chanting of this holy name their primary occupation in life can attest to the validity of the process and also the flimsiness of any other system of dharma, or religiosity. Indeed, without a drastic shift in consciousness, wherein the thoughts of the mind are turned towards meeting the interests of the Supreme Object of Pleasure, trying to secure paramartha, or spiritual profits, is virtually impossible. The paths to spiritual freedom not built on the cornerstone practice of recitation of the holy name are riddled with debilitating forces that present a steady and most formidable opposition. These forces are so strong that very few have overcome them. But with the holy name, a tailwind of massive proportion helps to thrust the sincere spiritualist back to the spiritual world. Presented with these two options for attaining spiritual assets, the choice is rather obvious.

Lord RamaWhat is this “holy name” and why is it so important? Though we think we will be happy with an absence of distress or the living out of a new experience, the key to happiness is actually found in the thoughts and concerns of the mind. When there is calm in this area, when there is no more hankering or lamenting, the consciousness can be considered to be peacefully situated, in a pleasant circumstance. Since the desires within the mind steadily attack the psyche like a raging river, consciousness requires constant pacification and purification. Therefore the recitation of the holy names of the Lord found in the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, becomes all the more important.

While different meditation techniques and the repetition of mantras aimed at calming the mind have been tried for centuries, the sound vibrations of “Krishna” and “Rama” are on a completely unique level. They represent the Supreme Absolute Truth, that entity we are all inclined to serve and worship. This inclination forms the basis of the full spectrum of activity and emotion, including even hatred. The holy name serves as a way to guide the flow of service emanating from the soul back in the proper direction. The soul can be considered a spiritual machine that never stops ticking. Through its attached form, it is constantly working, moving, desiring, feeling, willing, etc. Though the forces of nature may inhibit its effusion of true knowledge and potency, the soul’s active propensity is still always present. Therefore the key to finding a lasting pleasurable situation is to direct the energy along the proper course. Any misdirection naturally will lead to a further clouding of intelligence, bringing about increased misery and unhappiness.

TulsidasBecause of the clouding, the misdirection of the output of energy, the individual soul has great difficulty understanding the worthiness of direct worship of God through recitation of His holy name. Therefore other, less potent, dare we say even “useless”, processes are adopted. Goswami Tulsidas, in the above referenced verse from his Dohavali, is summarizing his opinions on the various religious systems commonly employed. Indeed, even the avowed atheist, one who is completely ignorant of his identity as spirit and the need for spiritual life, is likened to one who tries to understand God without chanting the holy name of Rama. Tulsidas especially preferred the name of Rama, for it represents the Supreme Lord’s non-different form of Shri Ramachandra, the pious prince of Ayodhya and protector of fallen souls. Those who surrender unto Lord Rama are never turned away, with Tulsidas serving as a great example of this fact. The saint only had his devotion to Rama and nothing else. All he wanted to do was glorify the Lord, and because of this so many enemies came and tried to stop him, with some even wanting to kill him.

Was Tulsidas inciting a national uprising? Was he asking others to overthrow the government? Was he instigating violence against innocent people? Obviously he wasn’t doing any of these things. He only glorified his life and soul, Shri Rama, through poetry and song. But because of his sincerity, the poet became extremely popular, and a groundswell of worship of Rama soon followed. Therefore the enemies of the Lord, those who either refuse to acknowledge His existence or take worship of Him to be the greatest assault on the progressive march towards hedonism, became very envious of Tulsidas. The poet nevertheless continued to chant Rama’s name, and, as a result, his devotion never wavered nor his popularity. To this day the miscreants try to attack him and explain his philosophy as being impersonalist, simplistic, or not grounded in the Vedas, but there is nothing they can do to take away his glory. For as long as Shri Hanuman, the faithful servant of Lord Rama, continues to be glorified on this earth, Tulsidas’ fame and honor will remain intact.

Hanuman worshiping RamaIn the preceding verses from the Dohavali, Tulsidas remarked that both the gross materialist and he who is searching after an invisible God are on the wrong path due to their neglect of Shri Rama’s holy name. The human being, at the time of birth, inherits the false identification brought on by material contact. The “I” and “Mine” mentalities are technically invalid because nothing actually belongs to us. The material elements were here before our birth, and they will remain manifest for long after our death. The soul is the identifiable aspect, so if we are to take any identity it should be aham brahmasmi, or “I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of Brahman, the all-pervading Truth.” For the person deluded by the flawed possessive mentality, one option for reformation is to sit quietly and perform basic functions of religious life. Through steady practice and hearing, there can hopefully come an awakening as to the real nature of the individual.

Then there are those who are on the opposite end of the spectrum. They think that everything in the world is completely false and that only the invisible God, alakshyam, is Truth. Following this mentality, they simply negate all activity, live by the strictest austerities and try to worship the invisible Lord, whose form and name remain mysteries. This method of worship is employed by many established religions around the world as well, as the form and personality of the Supreme Lord are denied at every step. Complete worship and surrender under these models involve a basic profession of faith followed by a return to the animalistic way of life driven by meat eating, gambling, intoxication and illicit sex. Even if there are restrictions imposed on these sinful activities, the desires for eating, sleeping, mating and defending remain at the forefront of the mind.

For those who are spiritually inclined but remain ignorant of the forms and names of the Lord, the process recommended is to first look at the living entity’s manifested form, then the Absolute Truth, or pure spirit, and then maya, or the illusory energy, which stands in between the living entity’s real identity as Brahman and his current manifested form. The spiritual energy is original and undying, and it is where the Supreme Lord resides; hence the living entities belong there. The material energy is the separated expansion, having an illusory nature meant to cloud the individual soul into ignorance and forgetfulness of his real position. The jiva, or living entity, is considered the marginal energy, somewhere in between the spiritual and material energies. By constitution, we spirit souls are part of the internal energy, but since we have a choice as to which nature to associate with, we are considered marginal. One who simply views the Lord as invisible and unmanifest will have a very difficult time understanding their real position as the marginal energy. When Lord Rama comes to earth, is He invisible? One who doesn’t know who they are will think that the Lord’s body is also maya, or false. If someone thinks that Rama assumes a body of maya, how can they ever make progress in spiritual life? For the method of worship that studies the unmanifest aspect of the Absolute Truth to bear any fruit, there must be intense study of the different energies and properties, followed by a practical realization of these facts.

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

Lord KrishnaTulsidas says that these other processes are very difficult for a conditioned soul to follow, and that it is better to simply chant Rama’s name instead. Indeed, this is the same conclusion put forth by Lord Krishna in the famous Bhagavad-gita, the most concise and complete discourse on spirituality to be found in this world. After being questioned by His dear friend and disciple Arjuna, Krishna said that following the impersonal path of self-realization is very difficult for the embodied living beings, and that only after much effort is invested in this path can there be any progress made. But for one who is attached to the Lord’s original feature as the Personality of Godhead, consciousness changes very quickly. This path is known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, and the chanting of the Lord’s names is its quintessential activity.

Tulsidas summarizes the futility and difficulty of following any path devoid of bhakti by comparing the processes adopted to that of trying to reach the sky by taking hold of falling raindrops. The drops of falling rain are flimsy at best, so they are impossible to hold onto to begin with. Right away the analogy beautifully illustrates just how difficult it is to find paramartha without chanting the Lord’s name. To make matters worse, the rain is destined to hit the ground due to the influence of gravity. The raindrops are difficult enough to hold onto to begin with, and they are flowing in the polar opposite direction of where the sincere transcendentalist wants to travel. Therefore it is impossible to receive any type of spiritual merits without sincere faith in the holy name of the Lord, which is like a strong pillar.

escalatorIn modern terms, the difficulty in following paths devoid of bhakti can be compared to trying to ascend to a higher floor in a shopping mall by climbing an escalator that travels only downwards. The escalator is a wonderful invention of convenience, as it takes away the need to ascend or descend long flights of stairs by walking. The electronic motor carries the pedestrian to whichever floor they need to go. But in order to travel upwards, an escalator travelling in the right direction is required. Taking the opposing escalator makes reaching the higher floors much more difficult.

Not only does Tulsidas’ analogy to the raindrops apply to spiritual practices outside of bhakti, it can also be used to understand the need for good association. The raindrops are steadily falling away from their original home, the clouds in the sky. Similarly, those who are deluded by the illusory aspects of material nature are drifting further and further away from their original home, the spiritual planets where the Personality of Godhead and His many non-different forms reside. Therefore taking shelter of such bad association, maintaining intimate relations with non-devotees, makes achieving salvation, the bliss that comes with sharanagati, or full surrender, as difficult as trying to reach the sky by climbing the falling raindrops. The non-devotees wholly dedicated to turning their backs on the Supreme Lord can only carry their friends and associates in the same direction they are travelling. Therefore the better option is to take shelter of those going the right way, those who follow the escalator headed straight for the spiritual realm of Vaikuntha.

Lord RamaShri Rama’s name can be held onto, for it is a pillar of strength and conviction. Unlike other processes of religious life, the chanting of the holy name can be applied to any and all situations. If, while falling asleep at night, we are distressed over the outcome of events from the current day or the worries pertaining to what needs to be done in the future, we can invoke the holy name within our minds. On the flip side, if we are in the happiest of conditions, full of glee and exuberance, we can similarly remember the holy name and hold onto it as our sustenance, the glue holding together our comfortably situated consciousness. The forces of material nature are like the winds of a hurricane trying to knock us down from the straightened path. By holding onto the pillar of the holy name of Rama, nothing will be able to knock us down. And even if we should happen to fall, we’ll get right back up again, as the holy name never leaves the bhakta, not even for a second. The rapid currents of the material ocean are difficult to traverse, but by taking shelter of the life raft of vishnu-bhakti, which is inflated and protected through the chanting of the holy names of the Lord, we can cross the ocean of nescience and reach the land of eternal peace and joy.